V. I.   Lenin

The State Duma and Social-Democratic Tactics[1]

Written: Written In January 1906
Published: Published in February 1906 In the pamphlet The State Duma and Social-Democracy by Proletarskoye Dyelo Publishers. Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the pamphlet text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 10, pages 101-111.
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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The Law of December 11[2] has brought up, once again, the question of our tactics in relation to the Duma. Shall we take part in the Duma elections, or not? This is the question that is being eagerly discussed in the columns of our bourgeois-democratic press. And it was on this question that the conference of organisations of the “Majority” in the R.S.D.L.P. recently expressed its opinion. This conference, which was attended by representatives of twenty six organisations (fourteen of them composed of workers, elected by over four thousand organised members of the Party), took the place of the proposed Fourth Congress of the Party, the convocation of which had been announced by the Central Committee. The Congress could not be held because of the railway strike, the Moscow insurrection, and various other events in the most far-flung parts of Russia. But the delegates who had gathered organised a conference of the “Majority” which, among other things, also discussed the Duma elections. This question it decided in the negative, that is, in the sense that the Party should not take part in the elections. The following is the relevant part of the resolution adopted by the conference:

Ever since October 17, the autocratic government has been trampling upon all the fundamental civil liberties won by the proletariat. The government has drenched the country in blood, shooting down with artillery and machine-guns the workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors fighting for liberty. The government scoffs at the nation-wide demand for the convocation of a constituent assembly, and by its Law of December 11 is trying once again to deceive the proletariat and the peasantry, and to stave off its final destruction.

The Law of December 11 practically bars the proletariat and the bulk of the peasantry from the State Duma; and its object is by all sorts of roses and police restrictions to ensure in advance the predominance in the Duma of the Black-Hundred elements of the exploiting classes.

This conference is convinced that the whole of the class-conscious proletariat of Russia will reply to this new tsarist law by resolutely   fighting against it, as well as against any other travesty of popular representation.

This conference holds that the Social-Democrats must strive to prevent the convocation of this police Duma, and must refuse to take any part in it.”

The resolution then goes on to recommend all Party organisations to take full advantage of the election meetings, but not in order to carry out any sort of elections under police restrictions. They should do so in order to expand the revolutionary organisation of the proletariat and con duct agitation among all sections of the people in favour of a resolute struggle against the autocracy; for only after complete victory has been achieved over the latter will it be possible to convene representatives of the people elected in a truly free manner.

Is this decision correct? To answer this question, let us first of all examine the objections that may be raised against it. What may now be urged in favour of participating in the Duma is that the workers have obtained some rights in electing the Duma, and also that there is now somewhat greater freedom to carry on agitation than in the period of the “first”, Bulygin, Duma promised by the Law of August 6. These considerations—together with the suppression of the insurrection in Moscow and elsewhere, after which some period of lull is necessary to rally and train fresh forces—have naturally been inclining the “Minority” in the R.S.D.L.P. in favour of participation in the election of at least the delegates and electors. Such Social-Democrats believe that we ought not to try to get into the State Duma, that we ought not to go beyond the stage of electing electors; but that we ought to use the opportunities offered by the election in the workers’ curia to carry on agitation, and to organise and politically educate the proletariat.

In reply to these arguments, we will first of all observe that they follow quite naturally from the general principles of the Social-Democratic world-outlook and from Social-Democratic tactics. We representatives of the “Majority” must admit this, to avoid running to factional extremes that may prove an obstacle to Party unity, which is so absolutely essential now. We must by all means carefully reconsider the question of tactics. Although events   have confirmed the correctness of our tactics towards the 6th of August Duma, which was really frustrated, boycotted, swept away by the proletariat, it does not automatically follow that the new Duma can be frustrated in the same way. The situation has changed, and we must carefully weigh up the arguments for and against participation.

We have briefly outlined what we believe to be the main arguments in favour of participation. Let us now pass to the arguments against it.

The new Duma is undoubtedly a caricature of popular representation. Our participation in the elections will give the masses of the people a distorted idea of our appraisal of the Duma.

There is no freedom to carry on agitation. Meetings are dispersed. Delegates are arrested.

If we swallow the bait of Dubasov’s “constitutionalism”, we shall be unable to unfurl our Party banner before the masses, and shall weaken our Party forces with little benefit to the cause; for if our candidates come forward “legally” we shall merely provide the police with ready-made lists of people to be arrested.

In most parts of Russia civil war is raging. The lull can only be a temporary one. Continuous preparation is essential. It is both inadvisable and impracticable for our Party to combine this with elections held under the Law of December 11. We shall be unable to take part in the elections “legally”, even if we wanted to; the conditions of the struggle will not permit it. There may be exceptions, of course; but it would be irrational for their sake to cause confusion, disorganisation and disunity in our nation-wide proletarian tactics.

Duma elections held under the Law of December 11 and under the rule of the Dubasovs and Durnovos[3] are mere playing at parliamentarism. It is beneath the dignity of the proletariat to be a party to such a game.

The tactics of the mass party of the proletariat must be simple, clear and straightforward. The proposal to elect delegates and electors, without electing deputies to the Duma, however, is a confused and ambiguous solution of the problem. On the one hand, it accepts the legal form   of elections under the law. On the other hand, it “frustrates” the law, for the proposed elections will not be con ducted for the purpose of carrying out the law, of electing deputies to the Duma. On the one hand, an election campaign begins; on the other, it breaks off at the most important stage (in the elections as a whole), just when the actual composition of the Duma is to be decided. On the one hand, the workers are to restrict their elections (of delegates and electors) within the absurd and reactionary limits of the Law of December II. On the other hand, these workers’ elections, which avowedly give an incomplete and distorted picture of the progressive aims of the proletariat, are expected to achieve these aims outside the Duma (in the shape of some sort of illegal representation or illegal Duma, or popular Duma, etc.). The result is an absurdity: elections on the basis of a non-existent franchise to a non-existent parliament. The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in St. Peters burg and Moscow were elected by the workers themselves, not in accordance with “legal forms” prescribed by the police. And the arrest of the members of these Soviets taught the workers a very important lesson. These arrests showed how dangerous it is to trust pseudo-constitutionalism, how insecure “revolutionary local self-government” without the victory of the revolutionary forces, how inadequate a temporary non-party organisation, which can sometimes supplement, but cannot in any sense replace a solid, lasting militant party organisation. The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in the two capitals fell because they lacked firm support in the shape of militant proletarian organisation. If we replace these Soviets by meetings of electors or of delegates, we shall be substituting verbal support for militant support, would-be parliamentary support for revolutionary support. This will be the same as trying to replace a missing gun by one drawn on cardboard.

Furthermore, if we participate in the elections, we put the proletariat in a false relation to the bourgeois democrats. The latter are splitting up again. The moderate liberals (Cadets) are staunchly in favour of participating in the elections. The radicals are prone to boycott them. The class background of this split is clear: the Right wing of the bourgeoisie is prone to come to terms with reaction through   the Duma. The Left wing of the bourgeoisie is prone to form an alliance with the revolution, or at any rate to back it (recall how the Union of Unions associated itself with the manifesto on the financial bankruptcy of the government issued by the Executive Committee of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies[4]). The boycott tactics provide a clear and correct expression of the proletariat’s attitude towards the revolutionary and the opportunist bourgeoisie. The tactics of participation would cause utter chaos, and prevent the proletariat from distinguishing between its immediate allies and its enemies.

Lastly, the practical objects of participation can be attained to an equal, if not greater, degree by the boycott. An assessment of the strength of the proletariat, agitation and organisation, and the predominance of the Social-Democrats in the workers’ curia can all be achieved by the revolutionary use of election meetings instead of formal participation in them; for this there is no need whatever to elect “delegates” and “electors”. There is less chance of achieving all this if forces are diverted to these ridiculous legal elections; for we ourselves reject the objects of these elections, and it is not in the least to our advantage to inform the police about them. In practice, what will happen probably in nearly every case will be the revolutionary use of the election meetings, and not participation in them; for the workers will not submit to the police restrictions, will not eject “unauthorised persons” (i.e., the Social-Democrats), and will not abide by the election regulations. By the force of circumstances, of the revolutionary situation, there will be no elections at the “election” meetings; they will be transformed into meetings for party agitation outside of and despite the elections; in other words, the result will be what is called “active boycott”. Whatever view we take of things, however we interpret our views, and whatever reservations we make, our participation in the elections will inevitably tend to foster the idea of substituting the Duma for a constituent assembly, the idea of convening a constituent assembly through the Duma, etc. The tactics of exposing the fraudulent and fictitious character of representation in the Duma, of demanding the convocation of a constituent assembly by revolutionary   means and yet participating in the Duma, can only con fuse the proletariat at a revolutionary moment: they can only strengthen the position of the least class-conscious elements of the mass of the workers, and of those working-class leaders who are least scrupulous and least principled. We may declare that our Social-Democratic candidates are completely and absolutely independent, and that we are participating in the elections on the strictest possible Party lines: but the political situation is more potent than any number of declarations. Things will not, and cannot, turn out in keeping with these declarations. Whether we like it or not, if we participate now in the present Duma elections, the result will inevitably be neither Social-Democratic nor workers’ party policy.

The tactics recommended by the conference of the “Majority” are the only correct tactics.

The position taken up by the “Cadets” provides interesting confirmation (indirect) of this conclusion. In its “death bed” issue (of December 20) Narodnaya Svoboda argues as follows on a question which has arisen once more—whether to go into the Duma.[5] The immediate task is to convene a national constituent assembly. The newspaper takes this proposition for granted. Who is to convene this constituent assembly, and how? In Narodnaya Svoboda’s opinion, three answers may be given to this question: (1) The lawful (or de facto, the autocratic) government; (2) a provisional revolutionary government; (3) the State Duma as an “authority competing with authority”. It goes without saying that the “Cadets” are in favour of the third “solution” and urge the necessity of participating in the Duma precisely in order to achieve it. They reject the first solution, as they have given up all hopes of the government. Concerning the second solution they give us the following highly characteristic specimen of argument:

Can we count on the practical achievement of that provisional government of which even today—amidst the bloody fumes of a suppressed insurrection—the revolutionary parties still dream? We say quite plainly: no, we cannot—and not because armed uprising is impossible: Moscow has proved the reverse; and not because such an insurrection must, as sure as fate, be suppressed by armed force: who can foretell the future?

We cannot count en a provisional government because it will not in any circumstances—not even in the event of a successful insurrection—be strong and authoritative enough to ’restore the shattered temple’ of the land of Russia. It will be swept away by the waves of counter-revolution surging up from the depths of society.

The Russian revolution has been going on, not for months, but for years; during this period it has managed to take a sharp and definite course; and we must say quite candidly that this course is neither towards armed uprising nor towards a provisional government. Let us not shut our eyes to facts. The liberal intelligentsia, the peasantry and the proletariat are all revolutionary; but the revolutionary co-operation of these three elements under the banner of armed uprising is impossible. We will not go into the question of who is right and who is to blame: the fact remains a fact. That being so, from what elements can the vaunted provisional government of the revolutionary parties arise? What can it be? The dictatorship of the proletariat? But it is useless talking about the dictatorship of the proletariat in present-day Russia....”

We have deliberately reproduced this argument in full, because it splendidly, and with a lucidity rare for the “Cadets”, conveys the substance of the liberal-bourgeois point of view. The flaws in this argument are so obvious that we need dwell on them only briefly. If the possibility of armed uprising has now been proved and if the hopelessness of its victory cannot be proved in advance, then of what value is the argument that “it will be swept away by counter-revolution”? It is a ridiculously weak excuse. There has never been a revolution without counter-revolution, nor can there be. Today, for instance, October 17 itself has been swept away by the wave of counter-revolution; but does that prove that constitutional demands have lost their vitality? The question is not whether there will be counter-revolution, but who, in the last analysis, after the inevitably long battles, with their many vicissitudes, will be the victor.

Narodnaya Svoboda realises that this question can be answered only by an analysis of the social forces. It makes this analysis, and admits that the proletariat, the peasantry and the liberal intelligentsia are all revolutionary. But then it “decrees”: their “co-operation under the banner of armed uprising is impossible”. Why? This is the pivot of the question, and it cannot be settled by bare statements.   The fact that remains a fact is that the proletariat and the peasantry are rising, with the co-operation of at least some part of the bourgeois intelligentsia. By admitting the fact (which now no longer needs anyone’s admission) that armed insurrection is possible, admitting. that it is impossible to predict that all later outbreaks will fail, the newspaper has cut the ground from under its own arguments. It saves itself only by a quibble: it repudiates the possibility of the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., of a socialist dictatorship, whereas it should have talked about the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. These classes are assured of the sympathy and co-operation of a certain section of the petty bourgeoisie in general, and of the bourgeois intelligentsia in particular; the only question is the degree of organisation and fighting capacity. This is a very important and serious question, of course; but only those who obviously want to evade an answer would attempt to answer it offhand in the negative.

The position of the liberal landlords is clear. They want to take part in the Duma precisely because they do not want to take part in the revolutionary struggle. They want the Duma convened precisely because they do not want the revolutionary convocation of a constituent assembly. They want the Duma precisely because they want a deal. Thus the difference between the attitude of the liberals and that of the Social-Democrats towards the Duma quite distinctly reflects the difference between the class attitude of the bourgeoisie and that of the proletariat. And how hopeless is this sighing for a deal and for a Duma, in a period of acute civil war, is shown, among other things, by the suppression of the “Cadet” newspapers and the miserable existence of the whole liberal press in general. Every day all this press publishes heaps of facts which show that the representation in the Duma is an utter fraud, and that anything like free agitation and proper elections are utterly impossible. The realities of the revolutionary and counter revolutionary situation prove, more convincingly than any number of arguments, that dreams about participating in the Duma for the purpose of fighting are futile, and that the tactics of active boycott are correct.

A few words in conclusion about how our agitation for an active boycott of the Duma should be conducted within the Party in view of the amalgamation of the factions and the complete unification of the R.S.D.L.P. now taking place.

Amalgamation is essential. It must be supported. In the interests of amalgamation, we must contend with the Mensheviks on tactics in a comradely way; we must strive to convince all the members of the Party, and convert our polemics into a practical setting forth of the pros and cons, an explanation of the position of the proletariat and its class aims. But amalgamation does not in the least oblige us to gloss over disagreements on tactics or to refrain from explaining our tactics fully and sincerely. Nothing of the kind. The ideological struggle for the tactics that we regard as correct should be carried on openly, straightforwardly and resolutely to the end, that is to say, until the unity congress of the Party meets. Tactics determine the immediate activities of a party, and therefore a united party can have only one set of tactics. These tactics must be those agreed to by the majority of the members of the Party: when the majority has taken a definite stand, the minority must submit to it in its political ’conduct, while retaining the right to criticise and to advocate a settlement of the question at the next congress.

In the present situation in our Party, both factions have agreed to the convocation of a unity congress, and both have agreed to submit to its decisions. The unity congress will decide what are to be the united tactics of the Party. Our duty is to do everything to hasten the convocation of this congress, and to strive with the utmost vigour to bring home to every Party member as clearly as possible the tactical differences on the question of taking part in the Duma, so that, in voting for delegates to the joint congress that will unite our Party and our tactics, all Party members may make their choice not haphazardly, but with deliberation, with a complete knowledge of the case, and after fully weighing up the arguments of both sides.


[1] The article “The State Duma and Social-Democratic Tactics” was written in support of the resolution “On the State Duma”, adopted by the First Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. in Tammerfors in December 1905.

[2] The Law of December 11 (24), 1905—a law on the elections to the Duma, promulgated by the tsarist government as a certain con cession to the workers at the height of the Moscow armed uprising. Unlike the regulations governing the “consultative” Bulygin Duma (August 6, 1905), the new law envisaged the establishment of a “legislative” Duma. It added to the curias established earlier—agricultural (landlords), urban (bourgeoisie) and peasant—a workers’ curia, and somewhat extended the composition of the urban electorate, without increasing, however, the total number of electors from the urban curia. The suffrage was not universal, for upwards of two million working men, landless peasants, nomads, service men and young people under 25, as well as all women, were disfranchised. Nor was the suffrage equal. The class character of the electoral system found expression in the fact that there was one elector for 2,000 voters from the agricultural curia, 7,000 from the urban, 30,000 from the peasant and 90,000 from the workers’ curia, that is, one landlord vote was equated with three votes cast by the urban bourgeoisie, 15 peasant votes and 45 workers’ votes. The electors from the workers’ curia made up a mere four per cent of the total number. In the case of the workers’ curia, only workers in undertakings employing not less than 50 workers were allowed to vote. Undertakings employing from 50 to 1,000 workers sent one delegate. Major undertakings sent one delegate for every 1,000 people. The suffrage was not direct. The electoral system established for the workers was three-stage, and for the peasants four-stage. The ballot was practically not secret. The law ensured an overwhelming predominance of landlords and capitalists in the Duma. Lenin pointed out that the law virtually added nothing new to the procedure of election to the Duma.

[3] Durnovo. P. N. (1844-1915)—one of the most reactionary statesmen of tsarist Russia. In 1905, he was Minister of the Interior and took drastic steps to crush the first Russian revolution.

[4] Lenin is referring to the “Financial Manifesto” published by the Social-Democratic and liberal press on December 2(15), 1905, over the signature of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., the Chief Committee of the All-Russian Peasant Union, and other organisations. The Manifesto stressed the necessity of depriving the tsarist government of budget revenue, and called on the population to refuse paying redemption or any other payments to the Treasury, and to withdraw its deposits from the loan and savings banks and the State Bank.

The Bureau of the Union of Unions, which met on December 4(17), 1905, resolved to put the question of adherence to the Manifesto on the agenda of the next congress of the Union. But the Fourth Congress of the Union, called in January 1906, did not discuss that item.

[5] The reference is to the leading article in Narodnaya Svoboda (People’s Freedom), No. 5, December 20, 1905 (January 2, 1906), written by the Cadet V. M. Hessen.

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