V. I.   Lenin

Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.

A Letter to the St. Petersburg Workers



Attitude Towards the State Duma

On the question of the Duma, the reporter from the faction that predominated at the Congress was Comrade Axel rod. He too, in a long speech, refrained from discussing the comparative merits of the two resolutions (the committee submitted two resolutions, because the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks could not reach agreement), from stating in precise terms the views of the Minority on this question, but gave a “general outline” of the meaning of parliamentarism. He went far afield, took a long excursion into history, and drew a picture of parliamentarism, of its significance, its role in the development of proletarian organisation, in agitation, in the awakening of the class-consciousness of the proletariat, and so forth. Casting innuendoes all the time at “anarchistic-conspiratorial” views, he soared entirely in the realm of abstractions, in the lofty sphere of platitudes and magnificent reflections on history which were applicable to all times, to all nations and to all periods in history in general: but which, owing to their abstract character, were useless for dealing with the concrete features of the concrete matter in hand. I remember the following particularly glaring example of the incredibly abstract, vapid and general way in which Axelrod presented his case. Twice in his speech (I made a note of this) he touched on the question of bargains, or agreements, between the Social-Democrats and the Cadets. Once he touched on it in passing, spoke of it in disparaging terms, and in a word or two expressed his opposition to all agreement. The second time he dealt with it at greater length and said that, speaking generally, agreements were permissible, except   that they must not be hole-and-corner doings by committees, but public agreements visible and clear to all the workers, and must represent important political steps, or actions. Such agreements, he said, would enhance the significance of the proletariat as a political force, would-more clearly and distinctly reveal to it the machinery of politics and the different positions and different interests of the various classes. They would draw the proletariat into definite political relationships, teach it to see its enemies and ill-wishers, and so on and so forth. It was arguments of this kind that Comrade Axelrod’s very long “report” consisted of. One can not relate them—one can only give an idea of them by giving an example or two.

In my report in reply I said, first of all, that Axelrod had painted a very pretty, in fact, a charming picture. He had painted it lovingly and skilfully, applying vivid colours and fine strokes. The only pity was that the picture was not drawn from life. It was a fine picture—there could be no doubt about that—but its subject was purely imaginary. It was a splendid study on the theme of the significance of parliamentarism in general, a fine popular lecture on the functions of representative institutions. The only pity was that he said and explained absolutely nothing about the concrete historical conditions of the existing Russian “parliament”, if one may call it that. Axelrod, I said, had given himself entirely away by his remarks on agreements with the Cadets. He had admitted that the importance of such agreements—sometimes inevitable when genuine parliamentarism exists—depended on the possibility of coming out openly before the masses, on the possibility of banishing the old “hole-and-corner” method and substituting for it agitation among the masses, the in dependence of the masses, and public utterances before the masses.

Magnificent things, sure enough. But are they possible under the Russian “parliamentary” system? Or rather, is this the form that real mass actions take in Russia under the present real (and not pictorial) objective conditions? Is it not the case, Comrade Axelrod, that Social-Democrats are obliged to make the appeals to the masses that you desire by means of illegal leaflets, while the Cadets have newspapers printed in millions of copies at their disposal? Would it not   have been better if, instead of uselessly depicting the charms of parliamentarism (which nobody denies), you had told us how matters really stand as regards Social-Democratic newspapers, meetings, clubs, and unions? Surely there is no need for me to prove to you, a European, that your general remarks about parliamentarism tacitly presuppose news papers, meetings, clubs and unions, and that all these are part and parcel of the parliamentary system?

Why did Axelrod in his report confine himself to platitudes and abstract propositions? In order to leave in the back ground the concrete political realities of Russia in the period February-April 1906. These realities reveal much too sharp antagonisms between the autocracy and the downtrodden but indignant proletariat and peasantry. To charm his audience with the picture of parliamentarism in general, he had to tone down these antagonisms, to blunt them, to draw an “ideal” plan of an ideal, open agreement with the Cadets; and above all he had to make an abstraction of these sharp antagonisms, forget them, say nothing about them.

In order to assess our actual disagreements and not to soar in the skies, I, in my report, compared the two resolutions and analysed them in detail. It appeared that there were four main points of difference between the Menshevik and Bolshevik resolutions on the Duma.

First, the Mensheviks made no appraisal of the elections. At the time of the Congress the elections had been held in nine-tenths of Russia. These elections had undoubtedly provided ample political material for a realistic, and not fanciful, picture of the situation. We weighed up this material very frankly and carefully, and said: it shows that in the vast majority of places in Russia participation in the elections meant supporting the Cadets, and that it was not really a Social-Democratic policy. The Mensheviks say not a word about this. They are afraid to put the question on a concrete basis. They are afraid to face the facts and to draw the necessary conclusions from this position between the Cadets and the Black Hundreds. They do not appraise the actual elections, their results as a whole, because such an appraisal would prove them wrong.

Secondly, throughout their resolution the Mensheviks take, or regard, the Duma as a legal institution, and not as   an instrument that expresses the will (or lack of will) of certain elements of the bourgeoisie, not as an instrument that serves the interests of certain bourgeois parties. In their resolution, they speak of the Duma in general, of the Duma as an “institution”, as an instrument of popular representation in its “pure” form. This is not a Marxist method of argument but a purely Cadet method; not a materialist but an ideal ist method, in the worst sense of the word; not a proletarian class method, but one of philistine vagueness.

Take, for example, the following extremely characteristic expression in the Menshevik resolution, I said at the Congress: “(4) that these conflicts [with reaction I, compelling the State Duma to seek support among the broad masses...” (I am quoting from the draft which the Mensheviks submitted to the Congress). Is it true to say that the Duma can and will seek support among the broad masses? Which Duma? An Octobrist Duma? Certainly not. A Duma of peasants’ and workers’ deputies? It has no need to seek support, for it has, has had, and will have support. A Cadet Duma? Yes, this is true as regards such a Duma, and only such a Duma. A Cadet Duma certainly has to seek support among the broad masses. But as soon as you give the Mensheviks’ abstract, idealistic and general formulation a definitely class content, you at once see that its wording is incomplete, and therefore wrong. The Cadets strive to lean on the people. That is true. That is word for word what our (Bolshevik) resolution on the attitude to wards the bourgeois parties says about them. But our resolution goes on to say that the Cadets waver between the desire to lean on the people and fear of its revolutionary independence. No socialist will dare deny the justice of the words I have underlined. Why, then, did the Mensheviks, in a resolution on the Duma, when it was already known that the Duma would be Cadet in character, tell only half the truth? Why did they only note the bright side of the Cadets, and say nothing about the reverse side of the medal?

Our Duma is not the incarnation of the “pure idea” of popular representation. Only bourgeois philistines among our Cadet professors can think so. Our Duma is what the representatives in it of definite classes and definite parties make of it. Our Duma is a Cadet Duma. If we say that it is striving to lean on the people and do not add that it is afraid of   independent revolutionary activity by the people, we will be telling a downright lie, we will be misleading the proletariat and the whole people. We will be yielding in the most unpardonable way to the mood of the moment, and show that we are under the spell of the victories of a party that wavers between liberty and the monarchy, that we are incapable of appraising the true nature of that party. The Cadets, of course, will praise us for this reticence, but will the class-conscious workers do as much?

Another example. “The tsarist government is striving to check the revolutionary upsurge,” say the Mensheviks in their resolution. That is true. But is it only the tsarist government that is striving to do that? Have not the Cadets shown a thousand times already that they, too, are striving both to lean on the people and to check its revolutionary up surge? Is it proper for Social-Democrats to put the Cadets in a better light than they deserve?

And I drew the following conclusion. Our resolution says that the Duma will indirectly help to develop the revolution. This is the only correct formula, for the Cadets waver between revolution and reaction. Speaking about the Duma, our resolution plainly and bluntly says that the in stability of the Cadets must be exposed. To say nothing about this in a resolution on the Duma means indulging in a bourgeois idealisation of “popular representation in its pure form”.

And practical experience has already begun to refute the Mensheviks’ illusions. In Nevskaya Gazeta,[2] you will even now find statements (not systematically consistent, unfortunately) to the effect that the Cadets in the Duma have not been behaving in a revolutionary way and that the proletariat will not permit “deals between the Milyukovs and the old regime”. In saying this, the Mensheviks fully bear out the correctness of my criticism of their resolution at the Congress. In saying this, they are following in the wake of the revolutionary tide, which, although relatively weak, has already begun to reveal the true nature of the Cadets, and is already proving that the Bolshevik presentation of the question is correct.

Thirdly, I said, the Menshevik resolution does not draw a clear distinction between the various types of bourgeois democrats from the point of view of proletarian tactics.   The proletariat must, to a certain extent, march with the bourgeois democrats, or “march separately, but strike together. But with which section of the bourgeois democrats must the proletariat “strike together”, in the present Duma period? You yourselves,Menshevik comrades, realise that the very existence of the Duma is bringing up this question—yet you dodge it. We, however, have said plainly and bluntly: with the peasant or revolutionary democrats, neutralising, by our agreement with them, the instability and inconsistency of the Cadets.

In reply to this criticism, the Mensheviks (especially Plekhanov, who, I repeat, was the actual ideological leader of the Mensheviks at the Congress) tried to make their position more profound”. Yes, they exclaimed, you want to expose the Cadets! But we are exposing all the bourgeois parties. Look at the last part of our resolution: “to reveal to the masses the inconsistency of all the bourgeois parties etc. And Plekhanov proudly added that only bourgeois radicals attack solely the Cadets; we socialists expose all the bourgeois parties.

The sophistry hidden in this seeming “deepening” of the question was resorted to so often at the Congress, and is so often resorted to now, that it is worth saying a few words about it.

What is this resolution about? Is it the socialist exposure of all bourgeois parties, or defining which section of the bourgeois democrats can help the proletariat now to carry the bourgeois revolution still further forward?

Clearly, it deals with the latter and not with the former question.

If that is clear, there is no point in substituting the first question for the second. As regards the attitude to be adopted towards the bourgeois parties, the Bolshevik resolution clearly speaks of the socialist exposure of all bourgeois democracy, including that of revolutionary and peasant democrats. But as far as present-day proletarian tactics are concerned, the question is not one of socialist criticism, but of mutual political support.

The further the bourgeois revolution advances, the farther left the proletariat seeks for allies among the bourgeois democrats, and the deeper it goes from their upper ranks to their lower ranks. There was a time when help could come   from Marshals of the Nobility and from Mr. Struve, who (in 1901) put forward the Shipov slogan: “Rights and an Authoritative Zemstvo”.[3] The revolution has gone far beyond that. The upper ranks of the bourgeois democrats have be gun to desert the revolution. The lower ranks have begun to awaken. The proletariat has begun to seek allies (for a bourgeois revolution) in the lower ranks of the bourgeois democrats. And today, the only correct definition of the tactics of the proletariat in this respect will be: with the peasantry (who are also bourgeois democrats: don’t forget this, Menshevik comrades) and with the revolutionary democrats, paralysing the instability of the Cadets.

And again. Whose line have the first steps of the Cadet Duma proved correct? Reality has already outstripped our debates. Reality has compelled even Nevskaya Gazeta to single out the Peasant (“Trudovik”) Group[4] in preference to the Cadets, to seek a rapprochement with it and to expose the Cadets. Reality has proved that we were right in our watch word: the proletariat’s allies until the victory of the bourgeois revolution is achieved are the peasant and revolutionary democrats.

Fourthly, I criticised the last clause of the Menshevik resolution concerning a Social-Democratic group in the Duma. I pointed out that the great bulk of the class-conscious proletariat had not voted. Would it be advisable under these conditions to impose official representatives of the Party on this mass of workers? Can the Party guarantee that the candidates had really been chosen by Party organisations? Will not the fact that the first Social-Democratic members of the Duma are expected to come from the peasant and town petty-bourgeois curias create a certain danger and an abnormal situation? The first candidates of the Social-Democratic Labour Party to the Duma, not chosen by the workers’ organisations, and not under their control.... Comrade Nazar’s[5] amendment, which demanded that Social-Democratic candidates to the Duma be nominated by local workers’ organisations, was rejected by the Mensheviks. We demanded a vote by roll-call, and recorded our dissenting opinion in the minutes.[1]

We voted for the amendment moved by the comrades from the Caucasus (to participate in the elections where they have not yet taken place, but not to enter into any blocs with other parties), because the prohibition of blocs, of agreements with other parties, was undoubtedly of great political significance for the Party.

I will add that the Congress rejected the amendment of Comrade Yermansky (a Menshevik who regarded himself as a conciliator), who wanted participation in the elections to be permitted only in those cases where it was possible to carry on agitation among the masses and to organise them on a large scale.

The representatives of the national Social-Democratic parties—the Poles, Bundists and, I think, also the Letts— took part in the debate on this question, and emphatically declared for the boycott. They stressed the necessity of taking specific local conditions into account, and protested against the settlement of a question like this on the basis of abstract arguments.

On the question of the formation of a Social-Democratic group in the Duma, the Congress also passed an instruction to the Central Committee, which, unfortunately, was not included in the decisions of the Congress published by the Central Committee. The Congress instructed the Central Committee to inform all Party organisations specifically: (1) whom, (2) when, and (3) on what conditions it has appointed as Party representatives in the parliamentary group, and also to submit periodical reports of the activities of these Party representatives.[6] This resolution instructs the local workers’ organisations to which the Social-Democratic deputies in the Duma belong to keep control over their “delegates” in the Duma. I will mention, in parenthesis, that this important resolution, which shows that the views of Social-Democrats on parliamentarism differ from those of bourgeois politicians, was unanimously condemned, or ridiculed, both in Mr. Struve’s newspaper Duma[7] and in Novoye Vremya.

Lastly, in concluding my narrative of the debate on the State Duma, I will mention two more episodes. The first was the speech of Comrade Akimov, who had been invited to at tend the Congress as a consultative delegate. For the information of those comrades who are not familiar with the history   of our Party, I will say that since the late t1890s Comrade Akimov has been the most consistent, or one of the most consistent, opportunists in the Party. Even the new Iskra has had to admit this. Akimov was an “Economist”[8] in 1899 and subsequent years, and has remained true to type. Mr. Struve, in Osvobozhdeniye, has extolled him more than once for his “realism” and for the scholarly quality of his Marxism. There is hardly any difference between Comrade Akimov and the Bernsteinians of Bez Zaglavia (Mr. Prokopovich and others). Naturally, the presence at the Congress of such a comrade could not but be valuable in the struggle between the Right and Left wings of Social-Democracy.

Comrade Akimov was the first to speak after the reporters on the question of the State Duma. He said that he did not agree with the Mensheviks on many points, but he fully agreed with Comrade Axelrod. He was in favour not only of going into the Duma, but also of supporting the Cadets. Comrade Akimov was the only consistent Menshevik at the Congress in openly standing up for the Cadets (and not in a covert way, not by saying, for example, that the Cadets were more important than the Socialist-Revolutionaries). He openly rose in arms against the appraisal of the Cadets that I made in my pamphlet The Victory of the Cadets and the Tasks of the Workers’ Party. The Cadets, he said, “are really a party of people’s freedom, but a more moderate one”. The Cadets are “orphan democrats”, said our orphan Social-Democrat. “The Mensheviks have to put up artificial barriers to prevent themselves from becoming accomplices of the Cadets.”

The reader will see that Comrade Akimov’s speech merely served as additional and convincing evidence of the direction our Menshevik comrades are taking.

The second episode showed this from another angle. This is what happened. In the original draft of the Menshevik resolution on the State Duma proposed by the commit tee, Clause 5 (on the armed forces) contained the following sentence: ... “Seeing for the first time on Russian soil a new authority, sprung from the depths of the nation, called into being by the tsar himself and recognised by the law”, etc. In criticising the Menshevik resolution for what may mildly be called its imprudent and optimistic attitude towards the State Duma, I also criticised the words I have underlined,   and said jestingly: should we not add “and sent by God’s grace” (meaning authority)? Comrade Plekhanov, a member of

the committee, was frightfully angry with me for cracking this joke. What, he exclaimed in his speech, must I listen to these “suspicions of being an opportunist”? (His exact words, as I wrote them down.) I have served in the army myself, and I know the military man’s attitude towards authority; I know of the importance he attaches to authority recognised by the tsar, etc., etc. Comrade Plekhanov’s resentment exposed his vulnerable spot, and showed still more clearly that he had “overdone it”. In my speech in reply to the debate, I said that it was not a matter of “suspicions”, and it was ridiculous to use such pitiful expressions. Nobody was accusing Plekhanov of believing in the tsar. But resolutions are not written for Plekhanov; they are written for the people. And it was indecent to disseminate among the people such ambiguous arguments, fit only for Messrs. Witte and Co. These arguments would turn against us, for if we stressed that the State Duma was an “authority” (?? this word alone reveals the excessive optimism of our Mensheviks), and an authority called into being by the tsar, then it would be inferred that this lawful authority must act according to the law, and obey the one who “called it into being”.

The Mensheviks themselves realised that Plekhanov had overdone it. On a motion that came from their ranks, the words underlined above were deleted from the resolution.


[1] See pp. 303-04 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Nevskaya Gazeta (The Neva Newspaper)—a legal Menshevik paper published in St. Petersburg in May 1906.

[3] Shipov’s slogan “Rights and an Authoritative Zemstvo”, which Struve supported in his introduction to Finance Minister Witte’s memorandum “The Autocracy and the Zemstvo”, was criticised by Lenin in the article “The Persecutors of the Zemstvo and the Hannibals of Liberalism” (see present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 31-50).

[4] Trudoviks (from trud, “labour”)—a group of petty-bourgeois democrats in the Russian Duma, consisting of peasants and also of Narodnik-minded intellectuals. The Trudovik Group was constituted in April 1906 from the peasant deputies to the First Duma.

The demands of the Trudoviks included the abolition of all restrictions based on the social-estates and on nationality, the democratisation of the Zemstvos and town self-government bodies, and universal suffrage in the elections to the Duma. The Trudovik agrarian programme proceeded from the Narodnik principle of   equalised land tenure: the formation of a national fund made up of state, crown and monastery lands, and also of private estates where they exceeded the established labour norm, with provision for compensation in the case of confiscated private estates. Lenin pointed out that the typical Trudovik is a peasant who “is not averse to a compromise with the monarchy, to settling down quietly on his own plot of land under the bourgeois system; hut at the present time his main efforts are concentrated on the fight against the land lords for land, on the fight against the feudal state for democracy”. (See present edition, Vol. 11, p. 229.)

In the Duma the Trudoviks vacillated between the Cadets and the Social-Democrats, their vacillations being due to the very class nature of the peasants, who are petty proprietors. Since the Trudoviks represented the peasant masses, the tactics of the Bolsheviks in the Duma were to arrive at agreements with them on individual issues with a view to waging a joint struggle against the Cadets and the tsarist autocracy.

In 1917, the Trudovik Group merged with the “Popular Socialist” Party, and gave active support to the bourgeois Provisional Government. After the October Revolution of 1917, the Trudoviks sided with the bourgeois counter-revolution.

[5] Nazar—the Bolshevik N. N. Nakoryakov.

[6] For the Central Committee instructions on the parliamentary group, which were approved by the Unity Congress, see The C.P.S.U. in Resolutions and Decisions of Its Congresses, Conferences, and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee, Moscow, 1953, Part 1, pp. 137-332, Russ. ed.

[7] Duma—a daily evening newspaper published by the Right wing of the Cadet Party in St. Petersburg from April 27 (May 10) to June 13 (26), 1906. Its editor was P. B. Struve, and among its contributors were S. A. Kotlyarevsky, P. I. Novgorodtsev, I. I. Petrunkevich, F. I. Rodichev, L. N. Yasnopoisky and ether members of the First Duma.

[8] Economism”—an opportunist trend in Russian Social-Democracy at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, a variety of international opportunism. The newspaper Rabochaya Mysl (Workers’ Thought) (1897-1902) and the magazine Rabocheye Dyelo (The Workers’ Cause) (1899-1902) were organs of the “Economists”, whom Lenin called Russian Bernsteinians and whose programme was set forth in the so-called Credo, written in 1899 by Y. D. Kuskova.

The “Economists” limited the tasks of the working class to an economic struggle for higher wages, better working conditions, etc., asserting that the political struggle was the concern of the liberal bourgeoisie. They denied the leading role of the party of the working class, considering that the party should merely observe the spontaneous process of the movement and register events. In deference to spontaneity in the working-class movement, the   Economists belittled the significance of revolutionary theory and class-consciousness, asserted that socialist ideology could arise out of the spontaneous movement of the workers, denied the necessity of socialist consciousness to he brought into the working-class movement by a Marxist party, and thereby paved the way for bourgeois ideology. Tile “Economists”, who denied the need for a centralised working-class party, favoured a sporadic and amateurish Social-Democratic movement. “Economism” threatened to divert the working class from the class revolutionary path and to turn it into a political appendage of the bourgeoisie.

The views of the “Economists” were thoroughly criticised in Lenin’s writings “A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats” (direct ed against Credo; written in Siberian exile in 1899, it was signed by 17 exiled Marxists), “A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy”, “Apropos of the ‘Profession de Foi’\thinspace", and “A Talk with Defenders of Economism” (see present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 167-82, 255-85, 286-96 and Vol. 5, pp. 313-20). Lenin completed the ideological defeat of “Economism” in his book What Is To Be Done? (see present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 347-529). Lenin’s Iskra played a major part in the struggle against “Economism”.

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