V. I.   Lenin

The Unsound Arguments of the “Non-Party” Boycotters

Published: Ekho No. 9, July 1, 1906. Published according to the Ekho text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 77-82.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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In a leading article the other day Mysl argued that the Trudovik Group in the State Duma must not be “split” by the formation of party groups. The boycott of the Duma, it says, made it a foregone conclusion that the extreme parties would not have their groups in the Duma. The Trudovik Group will be far more useful as a non-party organisation working in conjunction with its local, non-party “supporting groups”.

This argument is utterly false. Non-party revolutionism is a necessary and an inevitable phenomenon in the period of a bourgeois-democratic revolution. The Bolshevik Social-Democrats have repeatedly emphasised this. Parties are the result and the political expression of highly developed class antagonisms. The characteristic feature of a bourgeois revolution is that these antagonisms are undeveloped. The growth and expansion of the non-party revolutionary-democratic element is therefore inevitable in such a revolution.

The Social-Democrats, as the representatives of the class-conscious proletariat, cannot pledge themselves not to participate in the activities of the various non-party revolutionary associations. Such for example, were the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, the Peasant Union, and to some extent the Teachers’ Union, Railwaymen’s Union, etc. We must regard participation in the activities of such associations as a temporary fighting alliance between the Social-Democrats and the revolutionary bourgeois democrats. Only if we look at it in this light can we avoid injury to the vital and fundamental interests of the proletariat, vindicate the absolutely independent socialist point of view of the Marxists, and form   independent Social-Democratic Party organisations wherever there is the slightest opportunity for doing so.

To regard the formation of such independent Social-Democratic organisations as “splitting” the non-party revolutionary organisations is to display, firstly, a purely bourgeois outlook, and secondly, insincerity or shallow thinking in one’s claim to be non-party. Only bourgeois ideologists can regard the organisation of socialists in a separate party as a “split”. Only those who are insincere, i.e., those who have inward qualms about their own concealed bias for a party, or those who have not given sufficient thought to the question, can regard the formation of party organisations as the “splitting” of the non-party organisations. It is illogical, gentlemen. To be non-party means being neutral towards the different parties (within the limits of the general aims of revolutionary democracy). The condemnation of adherence to a party that is expressed in the word “split”, is a departure from neutrality and from being non-party and shows obvious bias for a party. You are either hypocrites, or you cannot think logically, gentlemen. In point of fact your outcry against splits and in favour of non-party organisation is intended to cover up your qualms about your own bias for a party. A genuinely non-party advocate of, let us say, a constituent assembly would not regard it as a split if some of those who held the same view formed an independent party, while continuing fully to subscribe to this demand.

Thus, let non-party revolutionaries develop non-party revolutionary organisations. Good luck to them! But let them stop shouting so much about the party revolutionaries who, they allege, are “splitting” the non-party revolutionaries.

Now about the boycott. We are convinced that the boycott was not a blunder. In the concrete historical situation that prevailed at the beginning of 1906 it was necessary and correct. After sweeping away the Bulygin Duma, and after December, it was the duty of the Social-Democrats to continue with equal vigour to hold aloft the banner of struggle for a constituent assembly and to exert all efforts to sweep away the Witte Duma too. We performed our revolutionary duty. And despite all calumnies and the belated repentance   of some people, the boycott did a great deal to sustain the revolutionary spirit and Social-Democratic consciousness of the workers. The best criteria of this are: 1) the fact that the rank-and-file workers supported it; 2) the brilliant way in which it was carried out in the particularly oppressed border regions; 3) the fact that the government issued a special law against the boycott.[2]

The opinion that the boycott was mistaken and useless is wrong and short-sighted. It was useful not only from the moral and political, but also from the immediate and practical point of view. It diverted all the attention and efforts of the government to the struggle against the boycotters. It put the government in a ludicrous and idiotic position that was much to our advantage. The government was compelled to fight for the convocation of the Duma and as a consequence, it could pay very little attention to the composition of the Duma. The boycott was, to use a military term, a frontal attack, or a feint frontal attack, without which it would have been impossible to outflank the enemy. This is exactly what happened. We revolutionaries made a feint frontal attack, of which the government was mortally afraid, so much so that it passed an incredibly idiotic law. Meanwhile, the liberal bourgeoisie and the non-party revolutionaries took advantage of this frontal attack, which drew the main forces of the enemy to the centre, to start a flanking movement. They got into the enemy’s rear and stealthily made their way into the Duma, penetrating the enemy camp in disguise.

Everybody behaves after his own kind. The proletariat fights; the bourgeoisie uses stealth.

Now, too, we put the political responsibility for the Duma that was convened by the camarilla, that is subordinated to the camarilla, and is haggling with the camarilla, entirely upon the Cadets. It was our bounden duty to do this because of the dual nature of the composition and activities of the Duma; it has something that we must support, and something that we must strenuously combat. Only bourgeois politicians can forget, or refuse to see, this duality. Only bourgeois politicians can stubbornly ignore the role of the Duma as the instrument of a counter-revolutionary deal between the autocracy and the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie   against the proletariat and peasantry. Whether this deal will succeed even temporarily, and what its consequences may be, no one can tell at present. In the last analysis, this will depend on the strength, organisation and political consciousness of the popular movement outside the Duma. That the representatives of the class that is capable of making such a deal predominate in the Duma, that negotiations for it are now in progress, and that the first, tentative steps towards it are being taken, are facts. No “denials” by the Cadets, nor the silence of the Mensheviks can conceal them.

If that is so—and it certainly is—then it is clear that the interests of the proletarian class struggle imperatively demanded that the proletariat should maintain complete political independence. It had to act differently from the liberal bourgeoisie, which is ready to snatch eagerly at any sop that is thrown to it. It had to warn the people with all the energy at its command against the trap that was being contrived by the camarilla. It had to do all in its power to prevent the convocation of a sham, Cadet, “representative assembly of the people”. All this it tried to achieve by means of the boycott.

That is why the arguments of those Right-wing Social-Democrats who, to the amusement of the bourgeoisie, are now repudiating the boycott and denouncing their own conduct in the recent past are extremely trivial and amazingly unhistorical. For after all the Mensheviks, too, were boycotters; only they wanted to boycott the Duma at a different stage. It is enough to recall two historical facts,, to forget which would be unpardonable for a Social-Democrat who attaches any value to his past. The first fact: the leaflet of the Joint Central Committee of our Party, which consisted of an equal number of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, plainly stated that both sides agreed with the idea of a boycott and disagreed only about the stage at which it should be carried out. The second fact: not a single Menshevik in any Menshevik publication advocated going into the Duma; and even Comrade Plekhanov, who is so “resolute”, did not dare to do so. For a Social-Democrat to repudiate the boycott is tantamount to distorting the recent history of the Party.

But does the fact that we boycotted the Duma necessarily mean that we must not form our Party Group in the Duma?   Not at all. The boycotters who, like Mysl, think so, are mistaken. We were obliged to do—and did—everything in our power to prevent the convocation of a sham representative body. That is so. But since it has been convened in spite of all our efforts, we cannot shirk the task of utilising it. Only bourgeois politicians who care nothing for the revolutionary struggle, and for the struggle for the complete success of the revolution, can see anything illogical in this. Let us recall the example of Liebknecht, who denounced, flayed and spurned the German Reichstag in 1869, but went into the Reichstag after 1870. Liebknecht fully appreciated the importance of the revolutionary struggle for a revolutionary and not a treacherously bourgeois representative assembly of the people. He did not cravenly repudiate his past actions. He quite rightly said: I did all I could to fight against such a Reichstag, to fight for the best possible result. The result turned out to be the worst. I shall be able to make use even of this worst result without betraying my revolutionary traditions.

Thus, the boycott cannot be used to deduce that we must refrain from utilising the Duma, or from forming our Party Group in it. The issue is an entirely different one, namely, that we must exercise the greatest caution (and this is the issue that the Bolsheviks raised at the Unity Congress, as anyone can see by reading their draft resolution[1] ). We must consider whether we can utilise the Duma now by working inside it; whether we have Social-Democrats who are suit able for this work, and whether the external conditions are favourable for it.

We think that the answer to these questions is in the affirmative. We have had occasion to point out minor mistakes our Duma deputies have made, but on the whole they have adopted a correct position. An alignment has arisen in the Duma actually corresponding to the revolutionary situation; the Octobrists and the Cadets on the right, the Social-Democrats and the Trudoviks (or more correctly, the best of the Trudoviks), on the left. We can and must utilise this alignment to warn the people against the dangerous side of the Cadet Duma, so as to develop a revolutionary   movement not restricted to the Duma, to Duma tactics, to Duma aims, etc. In view of this alignment we shall—if we manage things properly—also utilise the non-party revolutionary democrats, and at the same time come forward definitely and determinedly as a Social-Democratic, proletarian party.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 292-93.—Ed.

[2] This refers to the tsar’s ukase of March 8 (21), 1906, published on March 11 (24), 1906, by which those convicted of campaigning for a boycott of the elections were liable to 4-6 months’ imprisonment.

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