V. I.   Lenin

A Bold Assault and a Timid Defence

Published: Ekho, No. 12, July 5, 1906. Published according to the Ekho text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 96-100.
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.README

It has long been known that the reactionaries are bold and that the liberals are cowards.

New confirmation of this ancient truth is provided by the Cadets’ draft of the State Duma’s appeal to the people on the question of the land. Unfortunately, the Trudoviks’ draft is no better than that of the Cadets. This time the Trudoviks are quite helplessly trailing behind the liberal bourgeoisie. But there are the Social-Democrats in the Duma; will they not come to the rescue?

Recall how this question of the State Duma appealing to the people arose. In its reply to the address from the throne the State Duma expressed itself in favour of the compulsory alienation of the private estates for the benefit of the peasantry. The Goremykin Cabinet concisely, clearly and with magnificent firmness and determination answered: “Impermissible.”

But the Cabinet did not confine itself to this gruff, police-official refusal. No, the Cabinet Ministers have learned something from the revolution. The Cabinet Ministers do not intend to confine their duties to making formal replies to formal questions of the Duma. The reactionaries are not formalists, they are practical men. They know that the real power is not the Duma, but the people. They want to carry their propaganda to the people. Without wasting precious time, they forthwith drew up an appeal to the people. It was this government communication (of June 20) that suggested the idea of the Duma appealing to the people. The government showed the way, the Duma trailed behind the government, as it was incapable of being the first to take a course worthy of a genuine representative assembly of the people.

How was the government’s communication framed? Like a real fighting manifesto of the reactionary monarchist party. Oh, the reactionaries are not bashful in the least! They know how to write in militant terms. In their “communication” they plainly speak in the name of the government. Indeed, why should they stand on ceremony? The liberal professors claim that we are living under a constitutional system and that the Duma is also a part of the government. Let the professors chatter! Let them amuse the people with their constitutional antics! We reactionaries are practical men. We know that, in fact, we are the government. We say so plainly. As for the quibbles and formalism of these liberal pedants, we don’t care a fig for them. We say plainly and openly: peasants, you don’t know what is good for you. Compulsory alienation is no good to you; and we, the government, will not allow it. All the peasant talk about the land is lies and deception. It is the government that takes most care of the peasants. Even now it is ready to offer them sops. But the peasants have got to understand that they can not expect improvements to come from “sedition and violence”; they can be obtained only by “peaceful labour” (they should have added: for the landlords) and as a result of the constant care our autocratic government takes of the peas ants.

Such was the gist of the government’s communication. It is an actual declaration of war on the revolution. It is an actual manifesto of the reactionary autocracy saying to the people: We shall tolerate no nonsense! We shall crush you!

And now the Cadets, and the Trudoviks who this time are in complete captivity to them, have set about answering the government’s challenge. The draft replies of the Cadets and the Trudoviks have been published today. What a miser able, truly pitiful impression these two drafts create!

The reactionary camarilla does not hesitate to break the law and to declare that what is formally only a small part of the government is the real and entire government. The Cadets and Trudoviks like Shchedrin’s sapient gudgeons,[1] take shelter in the reeds of the law. They are hitting us with lawlessness, say these snivelling “people’s”, if you please, representatives, but we are defending ourselves with the law! The Duma, acting in accordance with the law,   expresses itself in favour of compulsory alienation. According to the law “no proposal of the government can come into force” without the consent of the Duma. We, in accordance with the law, have appointed a committee, a big one, of 99 members[2].... This committee is drafting “a carefully considered and properly framed law”.... Let the people “peace fully and quietly await the conclusion of the work of promulgating this law” (the Trudoviks deleted this utterly, indecently abject concluding sentence! Their consciences pricked them. But they inserted instead a statement about organising “local land institutions”, treacherously remaining silent about the fact that the Duma, in other words, its Cadet majority, avowedly wants these institutions to be landlord and bureaucratic organisations).

For shame, gentlemen, representatives of the people! It is disgraceful for you to pretend that you do not under stand what every Russian muzhik even in the remotest village now understands, namely, that in Russia today there is a wide gulf between laws on paper and the facts of life; that it is impossible for the transfer of all the land to the peasants and complete freedom for all the people to be achieved by the peaceful means of allegedly-constitutional and strictly legal efforts. If you lack the courage to write as firmly as the camarilla, and to utter your revolutionary truth as candidly, in answer to its reactionary truth, you should not have undertaken to reply to the Cabinet. The laws governing the Duma do not provide for an appeal to the people. That being so, oh wise men of the law, keep to your “interpellations” and do not meddle in a field where you have neither the courage, nor the straightforwardness, nor the ability to compete with the reactionaries, who are practical men and know how to fight!

And if you do draw up an appeal to the people you must write the truth, the whole truth, the bitter and unvarnished truth. You must say to the people:

Peasants! The Cabinet has issued its appeal to you. The Cabinet Ministers do not want to give you either land or freedom. The Cabinet Ministers brazenly speak in the name of the whole government; they speak against the Duma, although on paper the Duma is supposed to be part of the government.

Peasants! The Cabinet Ministers are in actual fact the autocratic government of Russia. They don’t care a fig for your people’s representatives in the Duma; they jeer at them and delay everything by their police-lawyer quibbling. They mock at the demands of the people and, as if nothing had happened, continue their policy of murder, violence, plunder and pogroms.

Peasants! You must know that the Duma is powerless to give you land and freedom. The Duma is tied hand and foot by the laws of the police government. You must secure that the representatives of the people have full power, all the power of the state, in their hands. Do you want land and freedom? If you do, then secure the convocation of a national constituent assembly, secure the complete abolition of the old regime all over the country, secure complete freedom of elections!

Peasants! Know that you will never be free unless you free yourselves. The workers understood this, and by their struggles compelled the government to yield the concessions of October 17. And you, too, must understand it. Only when you do so will you be a revolutionary people, that is, a people that knows what it must fight for, a people that knows how to fight, a people that knows how to vanquish its oppressors. Utilise your deputies in the Duma, those who represent you in the Duma; unite more closely and solidly all over Russia and prepare for a great struggle. Without a fight you will get neither land nor freedom. Without a fight you will have ruinous redemption payments forcibly foisted upon you; you will have foisted upon you land committees consisting of landlords and bureaucrats who will deceive and rob you as they did in 1861.[3]

Peasants! We are doing all we can for you in the Duma. But you must complete the job yourselves if you really want conditions in Russia to be different from what they are now, even though there is a Duma.

*     *

But it would be ridiculous to propose such an appeal in the Duma.

But would it? Is it not more ridiculous to write “appeals to the people” in the stilted language of the hidebound Russian   lawyers that the Cadets and (to their shame be it said) the Trudoviks use? Do the people exist for the Duma, or does the Duma exist for the people? Is freedom to exist for the Duma, or is the Duma to serve the cause of freedom?

*     *

Let the Cadets’ appeal, the Trudoviks’ appeal and our appeal be read at any peasant meeting! We will hear what the peasants say in answer to the question: Who is right?


[1] Sapient gudgeon—the representation of a cowardly philistine in a story by the Russian satirist M. Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin.

[2] This refers to the Agrarian Committee of the First State Duma set up to draft a Bill on the land question. On June 6 (19), 1906, at the 22nd session of the Duma, 91 members of the Committee were chosen (the Cadets predominating among them, with 41 persons). Afterwards, in accordance with a decision that was adopt ed, the Committee was supplemented by a further eight members (3 from the Caucasus, 3 from Siberia and 2 from Central Asia). The chairman of the Agrarian Committee was a Cadet, A. A. Mukhanov.

[3] This refers to the “Peasant Reform” which abolished serfdom in Russia in 1861. The Reform was made necessary by the entire course of Russia’s economic development and by the growth of a mass movement among the peasantry against feudal exploitation. It was a bourgeois reform carried out by the serf-owning land lords. Landlordism was preserved. The peasant could receive an allotment of land only according to the quota established by law (and with the agreement of the landlord), and had to make a redemption payment for it. Approximate estimates show that after the Reform, the nobility possessed 71,500,000 dessiatines of land and the peasants 33,700,000 dessiatines. The Reform enabled the landlords to cut off and appropriate one-fifth or even two-fifths of the lands formerly cultivated by the peasants. The landlords remained in possession of the best parts of the peasants’ allotments (the “cut-off lands”, woods, meadows, watering places, grazing-grounds, and so on), without which the peasants could not engage in independent farming.

The peasants’ redemption payments for their allotments of land amounted in fact to direct spoliation of the peasants by the landlords and the tsarist government. The period during which the peasants made their redemption payments to the tsarist government was fixed at 49 years with interest at 6 per cent. The arrears of redemption payments due increased from year to year. Redemption payments made to the tsarist government merely by peasants formerly under landlords amounted to 1,900 million rubles, whereas the market price of the land which passed into the hands of the peasants did not exceed 544 million rubles. In actual fact the peasants were made to pay hundreds of millions of rubles for their land, which led to the ruin of the peasant farms and mass impoverishment of the peasants.

V. I. Lenin called the “Peasant Reform” of 1861 the first mass act of violence against the peasantry in the interests of nascent capitalism in agriculture—the landlords were “clearing the estates” for capitalism. For material on the 1861 Reform see V. I. Lenin’s “The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Downfall of Serfdom”, “The Jubilee” “The ’Peasant Reform’ and Proletarian-Peasant Revo lution” (Collected Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 17).

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