V. I.   Lenin

The New Senate Interpretation

Published: Proletary, No. 9, December 7, 1906. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 332-340.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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When political strife assumes open forms to any extent, it is remarkable how quickly and vividly events put every tactical step to the test. Even before many of the delegates of the All-Russian Conference of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party have had time to return to their localities and report to their Party organisations, a totally new light has been thrown on the vexed question of blocs with the Cadets, which is now the central political question of the day.

At the Conference of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party it never occurred to any delegate that the Social-Democrats could even slightly weaken, or modify in any way, their independent tactical slogans in the election campaign. Formally, the corner-stone of the resolution submitted by the Central Committee and adopted by 18 votes to 14 (the Bolsheviks, Poles and Letts) was the complete independence of the platform and slogans of the R.S.D.L.P. Alliances of any permanence with other parties on the basis of any “relaxation” whatsoever of our political platform were absolutely prohibited. And the whole controversy between the Right and Left wings of the Social-Democratic Party. revolved around the questions: “Are the Right-wing Social-Democrats adhering to this principle in actual practice? Are they not violating it by sanctioning blocs with the Cadets? Is not the distinction between ’technical’ and ideological agreements artificial, fictitious and merely a verbal one?”

But ... apparently, in our Party too, i.e., in its actual “constitution”, there is an institution of the nature of a Senate; by means of Senate interpretations, there is a possibility of Party “laws”, decisions of official Party bodies, being   turned into their very opposite. The new Senate interpretation of the decisions of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party came, as might have been expected, from Geneva. It was published in the Cadet newspaper Tovarishch in the form of “An Open Answer”[3] (just like Lassalle!) by G. Plekhanov to a reader of that paper “who does not consider him self either a bourgeois or a Social-Democrat”. Our Party quasi-Lassalle hurries to the assistance of the reader of a news paper which is virtually the organ of the renegades of Social-Democracy.

The reader of Tovarishch asked G. Plekhanov, among other things, “what, in his opinion, could serve as a joint election platform of the Left and extreme Left parties”. G. Plekhanov answered: “To this question there can be no other answer than: a Duma with full power.”

“There can be no other answer”.... These words of our quasi-Lassalle are probably fated to become “historic”, at least in the Gogol sense of the term. Plekhanov condescend ed once to listen to a report in which it was stated that there was a certain Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, that some sort of an All-Russian Conference of that Party was being convened, and that both the Central Committee and that Conference were drawing up a reply to questions which are of interest not only to Madame Kuskova and Mr. Prokopovich, Plekhanov’s present colleagues, but also to the socialist workers of Russia. Not in the least disturbed by this, G. Plekhanov proclaims: “There can be no other answer than mine.” And these high and mighty words are published in a Cadet newspaper at a time when the whole reading public of Russia already knows of another answer, given by all the representatives both of the regional bodies and of the central body of the whole Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.

Verily, this is a “history” of the sort that Nozdrev[4] was so often the hero of.

However, let us get to the point of this unique and inimit able answer of our inimitable G. Plekhanov.

First of all we note that he cannot even conceive of the possibility of agreements at the first stage without a joint election platform. We Bolsheviks find this opinion greatly to our liking. By this admission, Plekhanov has done the   Mensheviks a disservice. We have repeatedly pointed out, at the Conference, in controversy with the Mensheviks and Bundists, and also in No. 8 of Proletary,[1] that agreements at the first stage will inevitably affect our Party position in coming before the masses and that consequently, whatever our desires and plans may be, such agreements will inevitably acquire the colouring of a certain ideological rapprochement, and will in some measure obscure, diminish and blunt the political independence of the Social-Democratic Party. G. Plekhanov, with his characteristic adroitness and party tact, has confirmed our charges against the Mensheviks. In fact, he has gone even further than our accusation by advocating a joint platform, i.e., a definite ideological bloc with the Cadets.

It turns out that not only in the Russian state, but also in the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, Senate interpretations discredit those for whose benefit they are issued.

Further, let the reader ponder over the direct meaning of Plekhanov’s “Cadet-Social-Democratic” slogan: “a Duma with full power”—irrespective of the attitude of the different parties towards it. The words “a Duma with full power” signify a demand for full power for the Duma. Which Duma? Evidently, the one to which Russian citizens will now elect deputies on the basis of the Law of December 11 and the Senate interpretations. For this Duma, G. Plekhanov proposes to demand full power. Evidently, he is convinced that this Duma will not be a Black-Hundred Duma, for he could not demand full power for a Black-Hundred Duma. To issue the slogan of “a Duma with full power” and at the same time to shout about the serious danger of a Black-Hundred Duma, is to defeat one’s own case. It is tantamount to confirming the opinion of the Bolsheviks that there is really no serious danger of a Black-Hundred Duma being elected, and that the Cadets are either inventing or in some cases exaggerating this danger for their own selfish ends, namely, to shake the faith of the workers and of all revolutionary democrats in their own strength, to free the Cadet Party of the “danger from the Left” which is really threatening it. Rech itself, the official organ of the Cadets, has acknowledged that danger   in the report of the Cadets on the progress of the election campaign in St. Petersburg Gubernia.

Let us pass on to the real political meaning of Plekhanov’s slogan. Its inventor is in raptures over it. “This general formula,” he writes, “exactly expresses in algebraic form the political task that is most urgent today for the Lefts and the extreme Lefts”, while allowing them to preserve all their other demands absolutely intact. “The Cadets’ conception of a Duma with full power cannot be the same as that of the Social-Democrats. But both need a Duma with full power. Therefore, both must fight for it.”

It is clear from these words that Plekhanov is fully aware that this slogan is bound to be understood differently by the Cadets and the Social-Democrats. The slogan is the same, “common” to both, but the Cadets’ “conception” of this slogan cannot be the same as that of the Social-Democrats.

In that case, what is the purpose of a common slogan? What is the use of submitting slogans and platforms to the masses at all?

Is it only for the sake of appearances, to cover up some thing that should not be explained to the masses, to perform behind the backs of the people a parliamentary manoeuvre that promises all sorts of advantages? Or is it to raise the class-consciousness of the masses and really explain to them their present political tasks?

Everyone knows that bourgeois politicians always come forward with all sorts of slogans, programmes, and platforms to deceive the people. Bourgeois politicians always, especially before elections, call themselves liberals, progressives, democrats and even “radical socialists” solely for the purpose of catching votes and deceiving the people. This is a universal phenomenon in all capitalist countries. That is why Marx and Engels even referred to bourgeois deputies as people “die das Volk vertreten und zertreten”, i. e., who represent and repress the people through their parliamentary powers.[5]

And here we have the “veteran” Russian Social-Democrat, the founder of Social-Democracy, proposing a platform for the first general Party election campaign which it is known will be interpreted by the Cadets in one way and by the Social-Democrats in another! What does it all mean?

If the Cadets and the Social-Democrats cannot have the same conception of a Duma with full power, neither can the broad masses of the people, for the Cadets and the Social-Democrats represent the interests of certain classes, their strivings and prejudices. Evidently, Plekhanov regards the Cadets’ conception of a Duma with full power as wrong, and all wrong conceptions of political aims are harmful to the people. Consequently, Plekhanov is advancing a slogan in a form that is known to be harmful to the people, for it leaves a wrong conception unexplained and concealed. To put it simply and bluntly, this means deceiving the workers and the whole people for the sake of an appearance of unity between the Cadets and the Social-Democrats.

What is wrong with the Cadets’ conception of a Duma with full power? Plekhanov does not say. This silence proves, firstly, that Plekhanov is using the election campaign (the presentation of an election platform is a step in the election campaign) not to clarify the minds of the people but to obscure them. Secondly, it takes away all meaning from Plekhanov’s conclusion that “both the Cadets and the Social-Democrats need a Duma with full power”. This is sheer non sense concealed by verbal trickery: two different parties need the same thing, which each conceives of differently! Which means that it is not the same thing: the first comer will convict Plekhanov here of a logical blunder. We might as well symbolise both an autocratic monarchy and a democratic republic with the letter “a” and say that different parties are free to substitute different arithmetical values in this general algebraic formula. That would be typical Plekhanov logic, or rather Plekhanov sophistry.

As a matter of fact, Plekhanov utters a downright falsehood when he says that both the Cadets and the Social-Democrats need a Duma with full power or, what is more, a popular representative assembly with full power, which he discusses all through the second part of his article. A popular representative assembly with full power is a constituent assembly; moreover it is a constituent assembly not side by side with the monarch, but after the overthrow of the tsarist government. If Plekhanov has forgotten this simple truth, we advise him to read the Programme of the Russian Social-Democratic   Labour Party, especially the last paragraph, which deals with this very point.

The Cadets do not need such a popular representative assembly with really full power; it would be dangerous for them and fatal to the interests they represent. It would exclude the monarchy, so dear to their hearts and valuable for their bourgeois pockets. It would deprive them of their hope of redemption payments for the landlords’ lands. All this is so true that even Plekhanov, in No. 6 of his Dnevnik, speaks of the Cadet’s selfish class distrust of the idea of a constituent assembly and says that, fearing a constituent assembly, the Cadets are making peace with the Stolypin gang.

We already quoted these passages from Plekhanov’s Dnevnik, No. 6, in No. 8 of Proletary,[2] and pointed out that Plekhanov must now withdraw the statements he made but yesterday. His phrase “the Cadets also need a Duma with full power” is just such a withdrawal of his own words.

Plekhanov’s main falsehood logically and inevitably leads to a number of others. It is false to say that a “popular representative assembly with full power is in itself a preliminary condition for the achievement of all the other ... demands of all the progressive parties”, that “without it, not one of these demands will be achieved”, that the struggle of the Lefts and extreme Lefts will begin only when “it [the popular representative assembly with full power] becomes a fact”. A popular representative assembly with full power is the culmination of the revolution, its final and complete victory. But the Cadets want to halt the revolution, to put a stop to it by small concessions, and they say so openly. By trying to make the workers and the whole people believe that the Cadets are capable of fighting for the complete victory of the revolution, Plekhanov is thrice deceiving the masses of the people.

“So far we have only a Mr. Stolypin with full power,” writes Plekhanov. We do not know whether this is a slip of the pen, or another example of false Cadet language (“a Duma with full power = a tsarist Duma with Ministers   appointed by the tsar from the Duma majority”), or a ruse to escape the censor, Far from having full power, Stolypin is just an insignificant lackey of the tsar and of the tsar’s Black-Hundred Court gang. If the pogrom disclosures in the Duma have not convinced Plekhanov of this, let him read what the liberal newspapers say bout the all-powerful influence of the Union of the Russian People.

“Now,” says Plekhanov, “the Left and the extreme Left parties must join forces against those who do not want a popular representative assembly with full power, or, perhaps, any popular representative assembly at all.”

Consequently, they must oppose the Cadets, who do not want a popular representative assembly with full power.

Plekhanov scored nicely against himself when, ostensibly combating doctrinairism, he set us n example of the worst Jesuitical doctrinairism. From the standpoint of their group, the Bolsheviks could rejoice at his performance, for a stronger blow at Menshevik tactics could hardly be imagined. As members of the united Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, however, we feel ashamed of it.

The official organ of the Cadets, Rech, answered Plekhanov in a way that will, perhaps, cure even the tamest Social-Democrats of their opportunist illusions. Its first reply, a leading article in issue No. 226, of November 25, consists entirely of mockery over Plekhanov’s proffered hand, and it is the mockery of a liberal who has not forgotten the attacks that Plekhanov and his Iskra colleagues made on the opportunism of the liberals. “In this case too,” says the Cadet organ, jeering at Plekhanov, “Mr. Plekhanov is making highly commendable and praiseworthy efforts to move his colleagues a little to the Right of the most Right positions they occupy.” Nevertheless ... we must object.

The Cadet’s objections are the type of answer that a factory owner would give to a worker who has come to beg some thing of him after dissociating himself from his fellow-workers who are making a joint demand backed by a strike. You come to me asking for a favour? Good. But what use are you to me if your unreasonable colleagues do not follow your example? What use are you to me if you do not go all the way? A Duma with full power? Well, well! Do you think I am going to discredit myself in the eyes of the people who   stand for law and order? You must say: a Cabinet. consisting of members of the Duma majority. Then we shall agree to a joint platform with the Social-Democrats!

Such is the gist of the reply in Rech, which is studded with subtle ridicule both of Plekhanov’s naive “algebra” and of the fact that he, in November 1904, was a member of the leading body of the Social-Democrats (Plekhanov was then a member of the Editorial Board of the Central Organ and chairman of the Supreme “Council” of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party), the body which rejected the “famous Paris agreement”[6] with the bourgeois democrats. At that time we had an “algebraic symbol”, namely, “a democratic regime”, says Rech, ironically. By that we meant a constitutional monarchy. The Socialist-Revolutionaries, who agreed to the pact, meant a democratic republic. You refused then, Mr. G. V. Plekhanov. Have you now grown wiser? We Cadets commend you for it, but if you want to talk business, you must go farther to the right.

And Rech openly admits that the Cadets were also leading the people by the nose with the slogan of a “constituent assembly”. We Cadets wanted a constituent assembly “with the preservation of the prerogatives of the monarch”, and not a republican constituent assembly. It was to our advantage to attract the sympathies of the masses by means of this deception, but now it is more important for us to win the sympathy of the tsarist gang. Therefore, away with this “dangerous”, “ambiguous” and “hopeless” slogan of “a Duma with full power”, which “panders to pernicious revolutionary illusions”. We demand that the Social-Democrats stick to their former, Central Committee slogan: support for a Cabinet consisting of members of the Duma majority. “with all the consequences” that follow from it. And these consequences are, not to weaken, but to strengthen (sic!) the Cadet majority in the Duma.

In the next issue of the Rech the editorial specially explains to the tsar’s Black-Hundred gang (ostensibly explaining the question to Plekhanov) that the Cadets do not need a Duma “with full power”. To proclaim the Duma as having full power means a coup d’état. The Cadets will never agree to that. “We Cadets are not at all striving for a Duma with full power, nor are we obliged to do so.” “Has Mr. Plekhanov,   in spite of his usual perspicacity, failed to learn” this lesson “from the course of events”?

Yes, the Cadets’ jeer at Plekhanov’s usual perspicacity hit the nail on the head. The whole course of events of the Russian revolution has failed to teach Plekhanov to understand the Cadets. He has received a well-merited punishment in that the Cadets have scornfully rejected the hand proffered by a Social-Democrat acting independently of his Party and contrary to its wishes.

The reply Rech gave to Plekhanov is also of general political importance. The Cadets are swiftly moving to the Right. They do not hesitate to say that they will come to terms with the Black-Hundred monarchy and destroy “pernicious revolutionary illusions”.

The workers of the whole of Russia will, we feel sure, turn this lesson to good account. Instead of entering into blocs with the Cadets they will wage an independent election campaign, win over the revolutionary bourgeoisie and sweep aside into the slough of political treachery the whole gang of bourgeois politicians who are deceiving the people with phrase-mongering about “people’s freedom”.


[1] See p. 312 of this volume—Ed.

[2] See p. 318 of this volume—Ed.

[3] Lenin ironically compares Plekhanov’s opportunist “Open Answer to a Reader of Tovarishch” with F. Lassalle’s “Offenes Antwortschreiben an das Zentralkomitee zur Berufung eines Allgemeinen Deutschen Arbeiter-Kongresses zu Leipzig” (1863).

[4] Nozdrev—a notorious braggart and cheat in Gogol’s Dead Souls.

[5] See Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 520).

[6] The “famous Paris agreement”—an agreement on “basic principles and demands” in the struggle against the autocracy adopted in November 1904 at the Paris Conference attended by delegates from the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, the Polish Socialist Party, Georgian Bourgeois Nationalist Party of Socialist-Federalists (“Sakartvelo”), and others. The conference of delegates of the R.S.D.L.P. and national Social-Democratic organisations convened by the Council of the R.S.D.L.P. refused to take part in the Paris Conference.

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