V. I.   Lenin

The Victory of the Cadets and the Tasks of the Workers’ Party



What Was the Objective Significance of Our Participation in the Duma Elections?

The Cadets’ victories have turned the head of our liberal press. In the course of the election campaign the Cadets succeeded in rallying all, or nearly all, the liberals. News papers which hitherto had not been associated with the Cadet Party have in effect become the organs of that party. The liberal press is overjoyed. On all sides we hear cries of exultation and threats addressed to the government. And a very characteristic circumstance is that these cries are constantly intermingled with sometimes malicious and some times condescending digs at the Social-Democrats.

Look what a mistake you made by keeping out of the elections! Now you see it, don’t you? You will admit that you were mistaken, won’t you? Now you appreciate the advice of the wise and far-sighted Plekhanov, don’t you?—These and similar utterances may be read in the columns of the liberal press, bubbling over with elation. Comrade Stepanov (in his article “From Afar”, in the symposium The Present Situation) has very aptly remarked that Plekhanov’s present experience is something like what happened to Bernstein. Just as Bernstein was once carried shoulder-high by the German liberals, and lauded to the skies by all the “progressive” bourgeois newspapers, so today there is not a liberal news paper in Russia, or even a liberal newspaper article (even Slovo, yes, even the Octobrist Slovo!) that does not embrace and kiss and fondle the wise and far-sighted, reasonable and sober-minded Plekhanov, who had the courage to rise in arms against the boycott.

Let us, then, see what the victories of the Cadets have proved. Whose mistake have they revealed? Whose tactics have they proved to be barren?

Plekhanov, Struve and Co. keep on telling us that the boycott was a mistake. Why the Cadets should think so is quite clear. Their proposal to secure the election to the Duma of one working man from Moscow (see Nasha Zhizn, March 23) shows that the Cadets appreciate the assistance of the workers, that they desire to strike a bargain with the Social-Democrats in order to round off and consolidate their victory, and that they are just as ready to strike such a bargain with the non-party workers as with the Social-Democratic Party. That the Cadets should abhor the boycott is quite natural, for it implies refusal to support them, the Cadets, refusal of the “Left” to strike a bargain with them, the Cadets.

But what does Plekhanov want—and the Mensheviks, or our Russian anti-boycott Social-Democrats, who gravitate towards him (some unwittingly and others wittingly)? Alas, alas! Plekhanov, the boldest of them all, the one who most consistently,most freely and most clearly expounds his views, shows again and again, in the fifth issue of his Dnevnik,[1] that he does not know what he wants. We must take part in the elections, he shouts. What for? To organise revolutionary local self-government, as advocated by the Mensheviks? Or in order to go into the Duma?

Plekhanov twists and turns and wriggles, and resorts to sophistry to avoid answering these plain, blunt and clear questions. After remaining silent for months and months when the Mensheviks, in the columns of Iskra, were already advocating revolutionary local self-government (and when he was unequivocally signifying his sympathy with the Mensheviks’ tactics), Plekhanov now suddenly hurls a most contemptuous phrase at this “celebrated revolutionary local self-government” of the Mensheviks. Why and how celebrated, Comrade Plekhanov? Was it not the very Bolsheviks whom Plekhanov now wants to fight, and who long ago proved that this slogan was inadequate, indefinite and half hearted, that helped to make it “celebrated”?

No reply. Plekhanov explains nothing. He pronounces his dictum like an oracle and passes on. But the difference between an oracle and Plekhanov is that an oracle predicts events, whereas Plekhanov pronounces his dictum after the event; he brings in the mustard when the meal is over. When, before the October revolution, before the December uprising, before the revolutionary upsurge, the Mensheviks were talking about “revolutionary local self-government”, Plekhanov was silent, although he approved of the Mensheviks’ tactics in general; he was silent, as if waiting in bewilderment, not daring to make up his mind. Now, when the revolutionary tide has ebbed, when the “days of freedom” and the days of insurrection are past, when all the various Soviets of workers’, soldiers’, railwaymen’s and other deputies have left the scene (Soviets which the Mensheviks thought were organs of revolutionary local self-government, and which the Bolsheviks regarded as rudimentary, disconnected, spontaneous and therefore impotent organs of revolutionary state power)—in short, when the question has lost its acuteness, when the meal has been consumed, Plekhanov comes along with the mustard; he displays that wisdom and far-sightedness concerning yesterday that Messrs. Struve and Co. admire so much.

Why Comrade Plekhanov is displeased with revolutionary local self-government remains a secret. Plekhanov now agrees with the Bolsheviks that revolutionary local self-government “confuses” a lot of people (Dnevnik, No. 5); but by all appearances, Plekhanov thinks that this slogan is too radical, whereas the Bolsheviks think it too moderate. Plekhanov thinks that this slogan goes too far, whereas we think that it does not go far enough. What Plekhanov wants is to draw the Mensheviks away from this idea of “revolutionary local self-government” to sober, practical work in the Duma. We, however, want—and not only want,but consciously and distinctly call for—a step forward from the idea of revolutionary local self-government to recognition of the necessity for systematically setting up integral, methodical and dynamic organs of insurrection, organs of revolutionary power. For all practical purposes, Plekhanov shelves the slogan of insurrection (although he dares not say so openly and definitely); it is therefore quite natural that he should   also reject the slogan of revolutionary self-government, which without an insurrection, and unconnected with an insurrectionary situation, would be ridiculous and harmful make-believe. Plekhanov is slightly more consistent than his fellow-thinkers, the Mensheviks.

And so, why should we after all take part in the elections, Comrade Plekhanov, and how? Not for the sake of revolutionary local self-government, which only “confuses” people. To participate in the Duma, then? But here Plekhanov is overcome with timidity. He does not want to reply. But as n+1 comrades in Russia desire to do something definite among the masses of the workers, and not merely “do the reading” of the diaries of an author who “does the writing”, and as these n+1 pestering correspondents demand a specific reply, Plekhanov loses his temper. It is difficult to imagine anything more helpless and more curious than his angry statement that it would be pedantic, formalistic, etc., to expect the voters to know what they are voting for, and why. But dear Comrade Plekhanov! Your friends the Cadets, and our workers as well, will simply laugh you out of court if you come before the masses and seriously begin to advocate this magnificent programme: take part in the elections; vote; but don’t ask what you are voting for, or why. Vote on the basis of the Duma election law; but don’t dare think (that would be pedantic and formalistic) that you are voting for candidates for the Duma.

Why has Comrade Plekhanov, who was once able to write clearly and give specific answers, become so obviously muddled? Because, having wrongly appraised the December uprising, he has formed a totally wrong notion of the present political situation. He finds himself in a position where he does not dare to think out his ideas to their logical conclusion; he is afraid to face realities squarely.

But the unvarnished realities of the “Duma campaign” are now clear to everyone. Facts have now answered the question what was the objective significance of the elections and of participating in them, irrespective of the will, consciousness, speeches and promises of those participating in them. The very reason why Comrade Plekhanov, the most determined of Mensheviks, dare not declare straight forwardly for participating in the Duma elections is that it   is now perfectly clear what this participation means. Participation in the elections means either supporting the Cadets and striking a bargain with them, or playing at elections. The very facts of life have proved this. In No. 5 of his Dnevnik Plekhanov was compelled to admit the correctness of the second half of this argument; he was compelled to admit that the slogan of “revolutionary local self-government” is absurd. In No. 6 of his Dnevnik, Plekhanov will be compelled, unless he refuses to consider the issue on its merits, to admit that the first half is also correct.

Political realities have utterly shattered the Mensheviks’ tactics, the tactics they advocated in their “platform” (the hectographed leaflet mentioning the names of Martov and Dan, issued in St. Petersburg at the end of 1905 or beginning of 1906) and in their printed statements (the Bulletin of the Joint Central Committee outlining the tactics of both sides, and Dan’s article in a certain pamphlet). These tactics were to participate in the elections, but not to elect members of the Duma. We repeat, not a single more or less prominent Menshevik dared even hint in the press that we should go into the Duma. And it is these “pure” Menshevik tactics that the facts of life have completely shattered. It is hardly possible now to so much as talk seriously about participating in the elections for the sake of “revolutionary local self-government”, of withdrawing from the gubernia election meetings, etc. Events have shown very, clearly that such playing at elections, at parliamentarism, can only compromise Social-Democracy, can only result in disgrace and scandal, and nothing else.

If any further confirmation of this is required, it is provided most strikingly by the Moscow Regional Committee of our Party. This is an amalgamated organisation, consisting of the Majority and Minority factions. The tactics it adopted were also “amalgamated”, i.e., they were at least half Menshevik tactics, namely, to take part in the election of delegates for the purpose of consolidating Social-Democratic influence in the workers’ curia, and then to wreck the elections by refusing to elect the electors. This was an attempt to repeat the tactics adopted towards the Shidlovsky Commission.[5] It was the “first step” on the lines recommended by Comrade Plekhanov:   we will take part in the elections, and go into the matter more thoroughly afterwards.

As was to be expected, the Menshevik-Plekhanov tactics of the Moscow Regional Committee ended in a complete fiasco. The delegates were elected, among them Social-Democrats and even members of the organisation. Then came the anti-boycott law.[6] The delegates found themselves on the horns of a dilemma: either to go to prison for agitating in favour of the boycott, or elect the electors. The Regional Committee, like all our Party organisations, conducts its agitation underground, and so it proved unable to cope with the forces it had set in motion. The delegates broke their promise, they tore up their imperative mandates and— elected the electors. Among those elected were also Social— Democrats, and even members of the organisation.

This writer witnessed a very painful scene during the meeting of the Moscow Regional Committee, when that leading Social-Democratic organisation discussed what was to be done after the failure of the (Plekhanov) tactics. The failure of the tactics was so obvious that not a single Menshevik member of the Committee spoke in favour of the electors participating in the gubernia election meeting, or of revolutionary local self-government, or anything of the sort. On the other hand, it was difficult to decide to impose any penalty on the worker delegates who had acted contrary to their mandates. The Committee could do nothing but wash its hands of the situation, and tacitly confess that it had blundered.

Such was the result of the Plekhanov tactics of voting without carefully considering (without even desiring to think carefully, without desiring to think at all: see Dnevnik, No. 5) what we were to vote for, and why. At the first impact with reality the Menshevik “tactics” were shattered; and this is not surprising, for these “tactics” (participation in the elections, but not in order to elect) consisted entirely of good words and good intentions. The intentions remained intentions and the words, words; but what actually occurred was dictated by the inexorable logic of the objective political situation: either elect in order to support the Cadets, or play at elections. Thus events have fully borne out what I wrote in my article, “The State Duma and Social-Democratic   Tactics”: “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” (p. 5).[2]

Let the Mensheviks or the Plekhanovites try to refute this conclusion—not by words but by deeds, by facts. After all, every local organisation of our Party is now autonomous as far as tactics are concerned. How is it that nothing good and practical has come of Menshevik tactics anywhere in Russia? Why has not the Moscow group of the R.S.D.L.P., which is a Menshevik group and not amalgamated with the Bolshevik Committee, drawn up a “Plekhanov” plan of campaign, or one of its own, for the elections that are to take place in Moscow the day after tomorrow, on Sunday, March 26? Not because it did not want to, of course. And, I am sure, not because it did not know how. It was because the objective political situation dictated either boycott, or support for the Cadets. Now among the electors elected for Moscow Gubernia there are Social-Democrats. The results of the elections are quite definite. The gubernia election meeting. will not be held yet awhile. There is still time, Comrade Plekhanov. There is still time, Menshevik comrades! Why don’t you advise these electors what to do?[3] Show   them, at least for once, that you have tactics for an event and not after it. Should these electors simply walk out of the gubernia election meeting? Or should they walk out and form a revolutionary local self-government? Or should they hand in blank ballot papers? Or, lastly, should they vote for candidates for the Duma, and if so, for whom? For their own Social-Democratic candidates, for the sake of a futile and hopeless hole-and-corner demonstration? And lastly, the main question that you, Menshevik comrades and Comrade Plekhanov, must answer is: What are these electors to do if their votes are to decide whether the Cadets or Octobrists are to be elected? If, for example, the Cadets have A minus 1 electors, the Octobrists have A, and there are two Social-Democratic electors? To abstain[4] would mean helping the Octobrists to defeat the Cadets! Thus, the only course open is to vote for the Cadets and to beg the latter to leave you a seat in the Duma as a reward for that service.

This is by no means an imaginary conclusion. Nor is it a polemical dig at the Mensheviks. It is a conclusion drawn from reality. The participation of the workers and of the Social-Democrats in the elections leads to this in practice, and only to this. The Cadets rightly took into account what happened in St. Petersburg, where the non-party worker ten ants voted for them to prevent the Octobrists from winning. Taking this into account, they made a forthright offer to   the Moscow workers: support us and we will get one of your electors into the Duma. The Cadets appreciated the real significance of Plekhanov’s tactics better than Plekhanov himself. By their proposal they anticipated the inevitable political result of the elections. If Social-Democratic worker electors had been in the place of the non-party worker electors, they would have been confronted with the same dilemma: either retire from the elections, and thus help the Black Hundreds; or enter into a direct or indirect agreement or deal, tacit or written, with the Cadets.

0 yes, it is not for nothing that the Cadets are now smothering Plekhanov in their embraces! And the price of these embraces is obvious. Do ut des, as the Latin saying has it: give and take. I embrace you because you, by your advice, are getting me extra votes. True, that may not have been your intention; you have even been ashamed to confess publicly that we have embraced you. You tried by fair means and foul (particularly by foul!) to get away from answering the questions that too importunately, too closely probed into the details of our love match. But it is not what you want, not what you think, not your good (from the Social-Democratic standpoint) intentions that count. What counts are the results—and those are in our favour.

The Cadets’ interpretation of Plekhanov’s tactics is correct. That is why they obtain the results they desire: the workers’ votes, a deal with the workers, and involvement of the workers in joint responsibility with the Cadets for a Cadet Duma, for the Cadet policy.

Plekhanov’s interpretation of the tactics he proposes is wrong. That is why his good intentions merely pave the way to hell. Social-Democratic election agitation among the masses, organisation of the masses, mobilisation of the masses around the Social-Democrats, and so on, and so forth (see the rhetoric of Dan, Plekhanov’s fellow-thinker, in his pamphlet), all remain a dead letter. Much as some of us may desire these things, objective conditions are against them. We do not succeed in unfurling the banner of Social-Democracy before the masses (remember the case of the Moscow Regional Committee); it is impossible to transform an underground organisation into a legal one; the helm is wrenched   from the powerless steersman who has been flung into the quasi-parliamentary torrent without proper equipment. What we actually get is not a Social-Democratic, not a workers’ party policy, but a Cadet labour policy.

But your boycott has proved absolutely useless and impotent, the Cadets shout at us from all sides. The workers who wanted to make a laughing-stock of the Duma and of us Cadets, by their example of a boycott, the workers who elected a dummy to the Duma, were very clearly mistaken! The Duma will not be a dummy, but a Cadet Duma!

Have a heart, gentlemen! You are naive, or pretending to be naïve. If the Duma turns out to be a Cadet Duma, the situation will be different; but the Duma will be a dummy all the same. The workers were guided by a wonder fully sensitive class instinct when, by their matchless demonstration of voting for a dummy, they symbolised the future Duma, warned credulous people, and disclaimed all responsibility for playing at dummies.

You don’t understand that? Let us explain it to you.


[1] Dnevnik Sotsial-Demokrata, No. 5.—Lenin

[2] See p. 109 of this volume—Ed.

[3] These lines had been written when I read in Rech,[7] No. 30, of March 24, the following correspondence from Moscow: “So far as one can judge at present, the chances of the Cadets and Right parties at the coming gubernia elections are about equal: the Octobrists (11), the Commercial and Industrial Party (26) and the representatives of the extreme Right parties (13) have a fairly definite total of 50 votes; the Cadets (22), if to them we add the non-party progressives (11) and the workers (17), also have 50. Success in the contest will be deter mined by 9 electors whose sympathies are unknown.”

Let us assume that these 9 are liberals and that the 17 workers are delegates of the Social-Democratic Party (as Plekhanov and the Mensheviks would like them to be). The totals will then be: Cadets 42, Rights 50, Social-Democrats 17. What else can the Social-Democrats do except enter into an electoral agreement with the Cadets about the distribution of the seats in the Duma?—Lenin

[4] There is hardly need to add that by voting for their own Social-Democratic candidate, these two would actually be helping the Black Hundreds. Voting for the Social-Democratic candidate would be tantamount to abstaining, that is to say, to passively retiring from the fight in which the Black Hundreds were heating the Cadets.

P.S. In the text above it was erroneously stated that the gubernia election meeting would not meet yet awhile. It has already met. The Black Hundreds have won, because the peasants could not come to terms with the Cadets. Incidentally, the same issue of Nasha Zhizn from which we obtained this information (No. 405, March 28) says: “The newspaper Put reports from a reliable source that many Menshevik Social-Democrats took an active part in the elections (in Moscow) yesterday, and voted for the people’s ’freedom ticket’.” Is this true?—Lenin

[5] The Shidlovsky Commission—a government commission appointed by the tsar’s decree on January 29 (February 11), 1905, “to enquire without delay into the causes of discontent among the workers in the city of St. Petersburg and its suburbs” in view of the strike movement that bad followed the “bloody Sunday”, January 9. The Commission was beaded by Senator N. V. Shidlovsky, a member of the Council of State, and included officials, chiefs of government factories, and factory owners. It was also to have included workers’ delegates elected according to a two-stage system. In connection with the elections to the Commission, the Bolsheviks did much to expose the true aims of the government, which hoped the appointment of the Commission would divert the workers from the revolutionary struggle. When the electors demanded from the government freedom of speech, of the press and of assembly, inviolability of the person, etc., Shidlovsky announced, on February 18 (March 3), 1905, that the demands could not be met. Thereupon most of the electors refused to elect delegates, and addressed an appeal to the workers of St. Petersburg, who supported them by going on strike. On February 20 (March 5), 1905, the Commission was dissolved without having started work.

[6] The reference is to the tsar’s decree of March 8 (21), published on March 11 (24), 1906, during the elections to the First Duma. The decree provided that incitement to boycotting the elections was punishable by four to eight months’ imprisonment.

[7] Rech (Speech)—a daily newspaper, central organ of the Cadet Party. It was published in St. Petersburg from February 23   (March 8), 1906, and its virtual editors were P. N. Milyukov and I. V. Hessen, with M. M. Vinaver, P. D. Dolgorukov, P. B. Struve and others closely collaborating. On July 22 (August 4), 1906, the paper was suspended, and on August 9 (22) resumed publication. It was closed by the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet on October 26 (November 8), 1917. It continued to appear till August 1918 under different titles—Nasha Rech (Our Speech), Svobodnaya Rech (Free Speech), Vek (Century), Novaya Rech (New Speech) and Nash Vek (Our Century).

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