V. I.   Lenin

The Boycott

Written: Written August 12 (25), 1906
Published: Published August 21, 1906 in Proletary, No. 1. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 141-149.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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The Left-wing Social-Democrats must reconsider the question of boycotting the State Duma. It should be borne in mind that we have always presented this question concretely, and in connection with a definite political situation. For instance, Proletary (Geneva)[4] wrote that “it would be ridiculous to renounce utilising even the Bulygin Duma”[1] —if it could come into being. And in referring to the Witte Duma in the pamphlet Social-Democracy and the State Duma (by N. Lenin and F. Dan), N. Lenin wrote: “We must by all means carefully reconsider the question of tactics... The situation has changed” at the time of the Bulygin Duma (see p. 2 of the pamphlet cited).[2]

The principal difference between revolutionary Social-Democracy and opportunist Social-Democracy on the question of boycott is as follows: the opportunists in all circumstances confine themselves to applying the stereotyped method copied from a specific period in the history of German socialism. We must utilise representative institutions; the Duma is a representative institution; therefore boycott is anarchism, and we must go into the Duma. All the arguments used by our Mensheviks, and especially by Plekhanov, on this topic, could be reduced to this childishly simple syllogism. The Menshevik resolution on the importance of representative institutions in a revolutionary period (see Parttiniye Izvestia,[5] No. 2) strikingly reveals the stereotyped and anti-historical nature of their argument.

The revolutionary Social-Democrats, on the contrary, lay chief emphasis on the necessity of carefully appraising the concrete political situation. It is impossible to cope with the tasks of the revolutionary epoch in Russia by copying in a biased manner one of the recent German stereotyped patterns, forgetting the lessons of 1847-48. The progress of our revolution will be altogether incomprehensible if we confine ourselves to making bare contrasts between “anarchist” boycott and Social-Democratic participation in elections. Learn from the history of the Russian revolution, gentlemen!

This history has proved that the tactics of boycotting the Bulygin Duma were the only correct tactics at that time, and were entirely justified by events. Whoever forgets this and argues about boycott without taking the lessons of the Bulygin Duma into account (as the Mensheviks always do) is certifying his own mental poverty, his inability to ex plain and take into account one of the most important and eventful periods of the Russian revolution. The tactics of boycotting the Bulygin Duma were based on a correct appraisal of the temper of the revolutionary proletariat and of the objective features of the situation, which made an immediate general outbreak inevitable.

Let us pass to the second lesson of history—to the Witte, Cadet Duma. Nowadays we often hear Social-Democratic intellectuals making repentant speeches about the boycott. of that Duma. The fact that it did assemble and undoubtedly rendered indirect service to the revolution is considered to be sufficient reason for penitently confessing that the boycott of the Witte Duma had been a mistake.

Such a view, however, is extremely biased and short sighted. It fails to take into consideration a number of very important facts of the period prior to the Witte Duma, the period of its existence and the period after its dissolution. Remember that the electoral law for that Duma was promulgated on December 11,[6] at a time when the insurgents were waging an armed fight for a constituent assembly. Remember that even the MenshevikNachalo” wrote at the time: “The proletariat will also sweep away the Witte Duma, just as it swept away the Bulygin Duma.” Under such circumstances the proletariat, could not and should not have   surrendered to the tsar without a fight the power to convene the first representative assembly in Russia. The proletariat had to fight against the autocracy being strengthened by a loan on the security of the Witte Duma. The proletariat had to combat the constitutional illusions which, in the spring of 1906, formed the entire basis of the election campaign of the Cadets and the elections among the peasantry. At that time, when the importance of the Duma was being immeasurably exaggerated, the only means of combating such illusions was the boycott. The degree to which the spread of constitutional illusions was connected with participation in the election campaign and in the elections in the spring of 1906 is strikingly revealed by the attitude adopted by our Mensheviks. Suffice it to recall that, in spite of the warnings of the Bolsheviks, in the resolution of the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party the Duma was referred to as a “power”! Another instance: with complete self-assurance, Plekhanov wrote: “The government will fall into the abyss when it dissolves the Duma.” In reply to him it was said at that time: we must prepare to push the enemy into the abyss and not, like the Cadets, place hopes on its “falling” into the abyss by itself. And how soon the words then uttered were proved correct![3]

It was the duty of the proletariat to exert every effort to preserve the independence of its tactics in our revolution, namely: together with the politically conscious peasantry against the vacillating and treacherous liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie. But it was impossible to employ these tactics during the elections to the Witte Duma owing to a number of circumstances, both objective and subjective, which, in the vast majority of localities in Russia, would have made participation in the elections tantamount to the workers’ party tacitly supporting the Cadets. The proletariat could not and should not have adopted half-hearted and artificially concocted tactics, prompted by “cunning” and confusion, of elections for an unknown purpose, of elections to the Duma, but not for the Duma. And yet it is a historical fact, which cannot be abolished by the silence, subterfuges and evasions of the Mensheviks, that not one   of them, not even Plekhanov, dared advocate in the press that we should go into the Duma. It is a fact that not a single call was issued in the press to go into the Duma. It is a fact that the Mensheviks then selves, in the leaflet issued by the Joint Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., officially recognised the boycott and confined the dispute only to the question of the stage at which the boycott was to be adopted. it is a fact that the Mensheviks laid emphasis, not on the elections to the Duma, but on the elections as such, and even on the process of electing as a means of organising for an uprising and for sweeping away the Duma. Events proved, however, that it was impossible to carry on mass agitation during the elections, and that the Duma alone provided certain opportunities for carrying on agitation among the masses.

Whoever really makes an effort to consider and weigh all these complicated facts, both objective and subjective, will see that the Caucasus was only an exception which proved the general rule. He will see that contrite speeches and explaining away the boycott as a piece of “youthful impetuousness” reveal an extremely narrow, superficial and short-sighted estimate of events.

The dissolution of the Duma has now clearly demonstrated that in the conditions prevailing in the spring of 1906 the boycott, on the whole, was the right tactics and advantageous. Under the conditions which then prevailed, only by means of the boycott could the Social-Democrats fulfil their duty of giving the people the necessary warning against the tsar’s constitution and supplying the necessary criticism of the chicanery of the Cadets during the elections; and both (warning and criticism) were strikingly confirmed by the dissolution of the Duma.

Here is a small instance to illustrate the above. In the spring of 1906, Mr. Vodovozov, who is half-Cadet and half Menshevik, was whole-heartedly in favour of participating in the elections and supporting the Cadets. Yesterday (August 11) he wrote in Tovarishch[7] that the Cadets “wanted to be a parliamentary party in a country that has no parliament and a constitutional party in a country that has no constitution”; that “the whole character of the Cadet Party has been determined by the fundamental contradiction between   a radical programme and quite non-radical tactics”.

The Bolsheviks could not desire a greater triumph than this admission on the part of a Left Cadet or Right-wing Plekhanovite.

However, while absolutely rejecting faint-hearted and short-sighted speeches of repentance, as well as the silly explanation of the boycott as “youthful impetuousness we do not by any means reject the new lessons of the Cadet Duma. It would be pedantic obstinacy to be afraid of frankly admitting these new lessons and taking them into account. History has shown that when the Duma assembles opportunities arise for carrying on useful agitation both from within the Duma and around it; that the tactics of joining forces with the revolutionary peasantry against the Cadets can be applied in the Duma. This may seem paradoxical, but such, undoubtedly, is the irony of history: it was the Cadet Duma that clearly demonstrated to the masses the correctness of what we might briefly describe as “anti-Cadet” tactics. History has ruthlessly confuted all constitutional illusions and all “faith in the Duma”; but history has undoubtedly proved that that institution is of some, although modest, use to the revolution as a platform for agitation, for exposing the true “inner nature” of the political parties, etc.

Hence the conclusion: it would be ridiculous to shut our eyes to realities. The time has now come when the revolutionary Social-Democrats must cease to be boycottists. We shall not refuse to go into the Second Duma when (or “if”) it is convened. We shall not refuse to utilise this arena, but we shall not exaggerate its modest importance; on the contrary, guided by the experience already provided by history, we shall entirely subordinate the struggle we wage in the Duma to another form of struggle, namely, strikes, up risings, etc. We shall convene the Fifth Party Congress; there we shall resolve that in the event of elections taking place, it will be necessary to enter into an electoral agreement, for a few weeks, with the Trudoviks (unless the Fifth Party Congress is convened it will be impossible to conduct a united election campaign; and “blocs with other parties” are absolutely prohibited by the decision of the Fourth Congress). And then we shall utterly rout the Cadets.

This conclusion, however, does not by any means reveal the whole complexity of the task that confronts us. We deliberately emphasised the words: “in the event of elections taking place”, etc. We do not know yet whether the Second Duma will be convened, when the elections will take place, what the electoral laws will be like, or what the situation will be at that time. Hence our conclusion suffers from being extremely general: we need it to enable us to sum up past experience, to take note of the lessons of the past, to put the forthcoming questions of tactics on a proper basis; but it is totally inadequate for solving the concrete problems of immediate tactics.

Only Cadets and the “Cadet-like” people of all sorts can be satisfied with such a conclusion at the present time, can create a “slogan” for themselves out of the yearnings for a new Duma and try to persuade the government of the desirability of convening it as quickly as possible, etc. Only conscious or unconscious traitors to the revolution would at the present time exert all efforts to divert the inevitable new rise of temper and excitement into the channel of an election and not into that of a fight waged by means of a general strike and uprising.

This brings us to the crux of the question of present-day Social-Democratic tactics. The issue now is not whether we should take part in the elections. To say “yes” or no in this case means saying nothing at all about the fundamental problem of the moment. Outwardly, the political situation in August 1906 is similar to that in August 1905, but enormous progress has been made during this period: the forces that are fighting on the respective sides, the forms of the struggle, and the time required for carrying out this or that strategic move—if we may so express it— have all become more exactly defined.

The government’s plan is clear. It was absolutely right in its calculations when it fixed the date of the convocation of the Duma and did not fixcontrary to the law—the date of the elections. The government does not want to tie its hands or show its cards. Firstly, it is gaining time in which to consider an amendment of the electoral law. Secondly— and this is the most important—it is keeping the date of the elections in reserve until the character and intensity of   the new rise of temper can be fully gauged. The government wishes to fix the date of the elections at the particular time (and perhaps in the particular form, i.e., the form of elections) when it can split and paralyse the incipient uprising. The government’s reasoning is correct: if things remain quiet, perhaps we shall not convene the Duma at all, or revert to the Bulygin laws. If, however, a strong movement arises, then we can try to split it by fixing a date for the elections for the time being and in this way entice certain cowards and simpletons away from the direct revolutionary struggle.

Liberal blockheads (see Tovarishch and Rech) so utterly fail to understand the situation that they are of their own accord crawling into the net set by the government. They are trying with might and main “to prove” the need for the Duma and the desirability of diverting the rising tide into the channel of an election. But even they cannot deny that the question of what form the impending struggle will assume is still an open one. Today’s issue of Rech (August 12) admits: “What the peasants will say in the autumn ... is still unknown.” ... “It will be difficult to make any general forecasts until September-October, when the temper of the peasantry is definitely revealed.”

The liberal bourgeois remain true to their nature. They do not want to assist actively in choosing the form of the struggle and in moulding the temper of the peasants one way or another, nor are they capable of doing so. The interests of the bourgeoisie demand that the old regime be not overthrown, but merely weakened, and that a liberal Cabinet be formed.

The interests of the proletariat demand the complete overthrow of the old, tsarist regime and the convocation of a constituent assembly with full power. Its interests demand the most active intervention in moulding the temper of the peasants, in choosing the most resolute forms of struggle, as well as the best moment for it. On no account must we with draw, or obscure, the slogan: convocation of a constituent assembly by revolutionary means, i.e., through the medium of a provisional revolutionary government. We must concentrate all efforts on explaining the conditions for an uprising: that it must be combined with the strike movement;   that all the revolutionary forces must be rallied and prepared for it, etc. We must resolutely take the path that was indicated in the well-known manifestoes: “To the Army and Navy” and “To All the Peasants”, which were signed by the “bloc” of all revolutionary organisations, including the Trudovik Group. Lastly, we must take special care that the government does not under any circumstances succeed in splitting, stopping, or weakening the incipient uprising by ordering elections. In this respect the lessons of the Cadet Duma must be absolutely binding for us, viz., the lessons that the Duma campaign is a subordinate and secondary form of struggle, and that, owing to the objective conditions of the moment, direct revolutionary actions by the broad mass of the people still remain the principal form of struggle.

Of course, subordinating the Duma campaign to the main struggle, assigning a secondary role to this campaign for the contingency of an unfavourable outcome of the battle, or postponing the battle until experience of the Second Duma is obtained—such tactics may, if you like, be described as the old boycott tactics. On formal grounds this description might be justified, because, apart from the work of agitation and propaganda, which is always obligatory, “preparation for elections” consists of minute technical arrangements, which can very rarely be made a long time before the elections. We do not want to argue about words; in substance these tactics are the logical development of the old tactics, but not a repetition of them; they are a deduction drawn from the last boycott, but not the last boycott itself.

To sum up. We must take into account the experience of the Cadet Duma and spread its lessons among the masses. We must prove to them that the Duma is “useless”, that a constituent assembly is essential, that the Cadets are wavering; we must demand that the Trudoviks throw off the yoke of the Cadets, and we must support the former against the latter. We must recognise at once the need for an electoral agreement between the Social-Democrats and the Trudoviks in the event of new elections taking place. We must exert all our efforts to counteract the government’s plan to split the uprising by ordering elections. Advocating their tried revolutionary slogans with greater energy than ever, Social-Democrats   must exert every effort to unite all the revolutionary elements and classes more closely, to convert the upsurge that is probable in the near future into an armed uprising of the whole people against the tsarist government.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 9, p. 182.—Ed.

[2] Ibid., Vol. 10, pp. 104-05.—Ed.

[3] See present edition, Vol. 10, p. 476.—Ed.

[4] Proletary (The Proletarian)—an illegal Bolshevik weekly, official organ of the R.S.D.L.P., founded in accordance with a resolution of the Third Congress of the Party. Lenin was appoint ed editor-in-chief by a decision of a plenary session of the Party’s Central Committee, on April 27 (May 10), 1905.

Proletary was published in Geneva from May 14 (27) till November 12 (25), 1905, a total of twenty-six issues being brought out. Active in the work of the editorial board were V. V. Vorovsky, A. V. Lunacharsky and M. S. Olminsky. Proletary continued the policy of the old, Leninist Iskra, and maintained full continuity with the Bolshevik newspaper Vperyod.

Lenin wrote more than 50 articles and items for Proletary, his articles being reprinted in local Bolshevik periodicals, and also published in the form of leaflets.

Publication of Proletary was discontinued shortly after Lenin’s departure for Russia in November 1905, the last two issues (Nos. 25 and 26) being edited by V. V. Vorovsky.

[5] Partiiniye Izvestia (Party News)—a newspaper, the organ of the Joint Central Committee of the R.S,D.L.P., which was published illegally in St. Petersburg on the eve of the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the Party. Two issues were brought out: those of February 7 (20) and March 20 (April 2), 1906. The editorial board was composed on an equal basis of editors of the Bolshevik organ (Proletary) and the Menshevik organ (the new Iskra). The Bolshevik members of the editorial board included Lenin, Lunacharsky and others.

Lenin’s articles “The Present Situation in Russia and the Tactics of the Workers’ Party”, “The Russian Revolution and the Tasks of the Proletariat” were printed in Partiiniye Izvestia over the signature “Bolshevik” (see present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 112-19, 135-45). After the Congress, publication of the newspaper was discontinued.

[6] The Law of December 11 (24), 1905, was the law on elections to the State Duma. By it the voters were divided into four curias: agricultural (landlords), urban (bourgeoisie), peasant and workers’. One landlord vote was made equivalent in value to three votes of urban bourgeois representatives, 15 peasant votes or 45 workers’   votes. The law ensured the huge preponderance of the clique of landlords and capitalists in the Duma.

[7] Tovarishch (The Comrade)—a bourgeois daily newspaper published in St. Petersburg from March 1906 to January 1908. Formally, it was not the organ of any party, but in effect it was an organ of the Left Cadets. Mensheviks also contributed to the newspaper.

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