V. I.   Lenin

The Government’s Policy and the Coming Struggle

Published: Proletary, No. 3, September 8, 1906. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 184-188.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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About eighteen months ago one of the humorous periodicals published by the German Social-Democrats contained a cartoon strip of Nicholas II. The tsar was depicted in military uniform and laughing. He was teasing a shaggy peasant with a crust of bread, now putting it almost into his mouth, now snatching it away. The face of the shaggy peasant now shone with a smile of satisfaction, now frowned with vexation as the bread was snatched away just as he snapped at it. The lettering on this crust of bread was “constitution”. The last “scene” however, shows that the peasant, after a desperate effort to bite off a morsel of bread, had bitten off the head of Nicholas Romanov.

This was a very apt cartoon. For some years, in fact, the autocracy has been “teasing” the Russian people with a constitution, a constitution that was just on the point of being “almost completely” granted, only to be withdrawn and replaced the next moment by the same old tyranny, the same police system of abuses and iniquities in a much worse form. How long is it since we had almost the most democratic “parliament” in the world? How long is it since the whole press was discussing the question of a Cadet Cabinet as an immediate and real possibility? It is hard to believe that this was only two or three months ago. A couple of ukases, manifestoes and ordinances, and the old autocracy is again reigning supreme, the gang of universally condemned, discredited and publicly execrated embezzlers, hangmen and pogrom-mongers are hard at it again, heaping indignities upon the people, wrecking, robbing, beating, gagging, poisoning the air with the unbearable stench of serfdom.

From the standpoint of the development of the revolutionary struggle of the people, these rapid changes from short “days of freedom” to long months of rabid reaction are due to the equilibrium which has set in between the conflicting forces since last autumn. The autocracy is no longer strong enough to rule the people, the people are not yet strong enough to shake off this pogrom-mongering government. So the two conflicting forces stand facing each other like rival armies, now resting from the struggle for a time in order to recuperate, now hurling themselves anew into the battle against the hated enemy.

The publicists of the Cadet press and the Novoye Vremya press[1] are essentially alike in their moralising estimate of these vacillations. Both condemn and deplore the vacillation, indecision and wavering of the government, and exhort it to be “firm”—one lot demanding firmness in repression, the other demanding firmness in establishing the promised constitution. None of them has any conception of the class struggle that is changing the actual alignment of social forces.

As this struggle develops, class-consciousness and solidarity will inevitably grow in the ranks of the revolution and in the ranks of reaction, and sharper and more ruthless forms of struggle will inevitably be adopted. Nothing could be more effective than these rapid transitions from “days of freedom” to “months of shooting” in diminishing the ranks of the passive and indifferent, in drawing new strata and elements into the struggle, in developing the class-consciousness of the masses by throwing into vivid relief first one and then another aspect of the autocracy through the various experiments which have been made throughout Russia. The quicker and the sharper these transitions occur, the sooner will matters come to a head owing to the inevitable preponderance of the social forces on the side of freedom.

The class-conscious workers can therefore view quite unperturbed the astoundingly rapid “progress” of the autocracy on the path of repression. Keep it up, Messrs. Romanov, Trepov, Ignatyev and Stolypin! The more zealously you keep to that path, the sooner will you exhaust your last reserves. Do you threaten us with a military dictator ship, to put the whole of Russia under martial law? But it   is certainly the revolution that stands to gain most of all from such martial law. A military dictatorship and martial law will necessitate the mobilisation of increasing masses of troops, but the repeated mobilisations of the most “reliable” troops—the Cossacks—have already caused greatly in creased discontent in the ruined Cossack villages and have increased the “unreliability” of these troops. Martial law costs money, and the autocracy’s finances are already in a desperate condition. Martial law leads to increased agitation among the soldiers and teaches the population to be undaunted even by. the most “frightful” forms of repression; Poland and the Baltic Provinces are eloquent proof of this.

We said that the reaction is “threatening” us with a military dictatorship. This, strictly speaking, is incorrect, for now, after the introduction of military courts[2] in nearly all the provinces, including the “border regions”, i.e., in 82 out of the 87 provinces in the Empire, it is ridiculous to speak of a military dictatorship as a matter of the future. It is already present, and a change in name, the use of a more “frightful” word (“dictatorship” instead of “special emergency measures”), the appointment of a single dictator cannot add one jot to the system of wholesale arrests, deportations without trial, punitive expeditions, searching people in the street and shooting by order of army officers. A military and police dictatorship already reigns in Russia. These measures of repression have gone so far that revolutionaries who have been accustomed to such “treatment” ever since the days of Plehve, suffer from them relatively little; the brunt of them falls on the “peaceful” population, whom the Stolypins are “agitating” with most commendable success.

The measures of repression carried out in the winter followed a real revolutionary uprising with which the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie had no sympathy, and yet it was these measures that produced an all-opposition Duma from which the revolutionary elements benefited most. The measures of repression in the autumn follow upon a phase of legal “constitutionalism”. It cannot be that they will result only in a more radical Duma.

The gang of pogrom-mongers feels that repression is futile and is desperately looking for support. On the one hand, the attempts to come to terms with the Octobrists   have failed; on the other, Pobedonostsev & Co. are preparing to make a clean sweep of all “constitutions”. On the one hand, the universities are being re-opened and the venal press is clamouring for a strong liberal policy. On the other hand, even the congress of the Cadet Party is prohibited (how Stolypin & Co. are helping those Cadets!), and the press is being persecuted worse than under Durnovo. On the one hand—military courts; on the other—a broadly conceived attempt to come to terms with the rural bourgeoisie.[3]

The government feels that its only salvation lies in strengthening the rural, muzhik bourgeoisie in the village communes as a bulwark against the mass of the peasantry. But instead of approaching this objective with considered and cautious steps, as Guchkov & Co. would have done, instead of stealing up to it in a skilful and subtle way, as the Cadets are doing, the police Derzhimordas[4] go about it so crudely, stupidly and clumsily that it is more than probable that their whole “campaign” will end in a fiasco. The peas ant bourgeois element is numerically weak, but economically it is very strong in the countryside. Provision of land from landlords, as well as other land, by redemption payments in accordance with the Cadet agrarian reform would have given some slight satisfaction to the whole of the peasantry and would have admirably achieved the aim towards which the autocracy is “pushing forward” clumsily, namely: it would have enormously strengthened the peasant bourgeoisie and made it a bulwark of “order”.

The Romanovs, Trepovs, Ignatyevs and Stolypins, how ever, are too dense to see this. In the Duma they brusquely refused to give land to the peasants and now they are putting up crown and state lands for sale through the officials. Whether this will actually induce the influential sections of the rural bourgeoisie to take the side of the present government is a big question, for the pack of officials will procrastinate, rob and take bribes as the Romanovs and their gang have always done. That the masses of the peasantry will get “heated up” more than ever when they hear about the sale of crown and state lands is beyond doubt. In very many cases these sales will mean that the peasants will have to pay more, for rent will be converted into redemption payments. And to compel the peasants to pay more for their   land is the best thing the government, could think of doing to facilitate our agitation against the government. It is an excellent way to exasperate the peasants more than ever and to swing them over to our slogan: absolute refusal to make any payments for the land, the whole of which must go to the peasants after the victory of the revolution.

The government’s ineptitude in its flirtation with the peasant bourgeoisie is due partly to the stupidity characteristic of every police government, and partly to extreme shortage of funds. The finances are in a very bad way. Bankruptcy threatens. Foreign countries are refusing to lend money. The internal loan is not being taken up. It has to be forcibly and secretly raised from the capital of the savings-banks, secretly because the savings-banks depositors would be least of all disposed to buy government bonds now. The autocracy’s lackeys are beginning to sense the inevitability of the collapse of the gold currency and of unlimited issue of paper currency.

Keep it up, Stolypin & Co.! You are doing good work for us! You are rousing the population better than we ourselves could do it. You have gone to the limit with your measures of repression, thus demonstrating to all that the militant, revolutionary onslaught, too, must go to the limit.


[1] Novoye Vremya (New Times)—a daily newspaper published in St. Petersburg from 1868 to October 1917. Under various editors it repeatedly changed its political trend. Moderately liberal at the outset, after 1876 under the editorship of A. S. Suvorin it became the organ of reactionary circles of the nobility and the bureaucracy. Following 1905 it became an organ of the Black Hundreds After the bourgeois-democratic revolution in February 1917 it supported the counter-revolutionary policy of the bourgeois Provisional Government and rabidly vilified the Bolsheviks. The newspaper was closed down by the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet on October 26 (November 8), 1917. Lenin called Novoye Vremya the acme of venality in the press. He wrote: “Novoye Vremya-ism became an expression equivalent to the concepts: apostasy, renegacy, toadyism” (Collected Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 18).

[2] The military courts were established by a Council of Ministers decree of August 19 (September 1), 1906, for combating the revolutionary movement. They were introduced by the Governor-General, the head of the administration or persons vested with equivalent authority in localities declared to be under a state of siege or under special emergency regulations. The military court consisted of a chairman and four members from army or naval officers and was endowed with wide powers. The decree on military courts gave the authorities the right to hand over an accused to the court “applying punishments in suitable cases according to war-time laws”. (Legislation of the Transition Period, 19O4-O6. St. Petersburg,   1907, p. 621.) The court satin private and its sentence came into force immediately and had to be put into effect without delay.

[3] Lenin is referring to two ukases of the tsarist government: that of August 12 (25), 1906, on the sale of part of the crown land (belonging to the tsarist family), and that of August 27 (September 9), 1906, on the sale of state land through the Peasant Bank.

[4] Derzhimorda—the name of a policeman in Gogol’s comedy The Inspector-General, which became used as a general designation for an insolent, boorish bully and oppressor.

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