V. I.   Lenin

Against Boycott

Notes of a Social-Democratic Publicist


The recent Teachers’ Congress,[3] in which the majority was influenced by the Socialist-Revolutionaries,[4] adopted a resolution calling for a boycott of the Third Duma. The resolution was adopted with the direct participation of a prominent representative of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. The Social-Democratic teachers and the representative of the R.S.D.L.P. abstained from voting, as they considered that this question should be decided by a Party congress or conference, and not by a non-Party professional and political association.

The question of boycotting the Third Duma thus arises as a current question of revolutionary tactics. Judging by the speech of its spokesman at the Congress, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party had already decided that question, although we do not yet have any official decisions of the Party or any literary documents from among its members. Among the Social-Democrats this question has been raised and is being debated.

What arguments do the Socialist-Revolutionaries use to support their decision? The resolution of the Teachers Congress speaks, in effect, about the utter uselessness of the Third Duma, about the reactionary and counter-revolutionary nature of the government that effected the coup d’état of June 3,[5] about the new electoral law being weighted in favour of the landlords, etc., etc.[1] The case is presented   in such a manner as if the ultra-reactionary nature of the Third Duma by itself makes such a method of struggle or such a slogan as the boycott necessary and legitimate. The impropriety of such an argument is absolutely clear to any Social-Democrat, since there is no attempt here whatever to examine the historical conditions of the boycott’s applicability. The Social-Democrat who takes a Marxist stand draws his conclusions about the boycott not from the degree of reactionariness of one or another institution, but from the existence of those special conditions of struggle that, as the experience of the Russian revolution has now shown, make it possible to apply the specific method known as boycott. If anyone were to start discussing the boycott without taking into consideration the two years’ experience of our revolution, without studying that experience, we would have to say of him that he had forgotten a lot and learned nothing. In dealing with the question of boycott we shall start with an attempt to analyse that experience.


The most important experience of our revolution in making use of the boycott was, undoubtedly, the boycott of the Bulygin Duma.[6] What is more, that boycott was crowned with complete and immediate success. Therefore, our first task should be to examine the historical conditions under which the boycott of the Bulygin Duma took place.

Two circumstances at once become apparent when examining this question. First, the boycott of the Bulygin Duma was a fight to prevent our revolution from going over (even temporarily) to the path of a monarchist constitution.   Secondly, this boycott took place under conditions of a sweeping, universal, powerful, and rapid upswing of the revolution.

Let us examine the first circumstance. All boycott is a struggle, not within the framework of a given institution, but against its emergence, or, to put it more broadly, against it becoming operative. Therefore, those who, like Plekhanov and many other Mensheviks, opposed the boycott on the general grounds that it was necessary for a Marxist to make use of representative institutions, thereby only revealed absurd doctrinairism. To argue like that meant evading the real issue by repeating self-evident truths. Unquestionably, a Marxist should make use of representative institutions. Does that imply that a Marxist cannot, under certain conditions, stand for a struggle not within the framework of a given institution but against that institution being brought into existence? No, it does not, because this general argument applies only to those cases where there is no room for a struggle to prevent such an institution from coming into being. The boycott is a controversial question precisely because it is a question of whether there is room for a struggle to prevent the emergence of such institutions. By their arguments against the boycott Plekhanov and Co. showed that they failed to understand what the question was about.

Further. If all boycott is a struggle not within the frame work of a given institution, but to prevent it from coming into existence, then the boycott of the Bulygin Duma, apart from everything else, was a struggle to prevent a whole system of institutions of a monarchist-constitutional type from coming into existence. The year 1905 clearly showed the possibility of direct mass struggle in the shape of general strikes (the strike wave after the Ninth of January[7]) and mutinies (Potemkin[8]). The direct revolutionary struggle of the masses was, therefore, a fact. No less a fact, on the other hand, was the law of August 6, which attempted to switch the movement from the revolutionary (in the most direct and narrow sense of the word) path to the path of a monarchist constitution. It was objectively inevitable that these paths should come into conflict with each other. There was to be, so to speak, a choice of paths   for the immediate development of the revolution, a choice that was to be determined, of course, not by the will of one or another group, but by the relative strength of the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary classes. And this strength could only be gauged and tested in the struggle. The slogan of boycotting the Bulygin Duma was, there fore, a slogan of the struggle for the path of direct revolutionary struggle and against the constitutional-monarchist path. Even on the latter path, of course, a struggle was possible, and not only possible but inevitable. Even on the basis of a monarchist constitution it was possible to continue the revolution and prepare for its new upswing; even on the basis of a monarchist constitution it was possible and obligatory for the Social-Democrats to carry on the struggle. This truism, which Axelrod and Plekhanov tried so hard and irrelevantly to prove in 1905, remains true. But the issue raised by history was a different one: Axelrod and Plekhanov were arguing “beside the point”, or in other words, they side-stepped the issue which events put to the conflicting forces. by introducing a question taken from the latest edition of the German Social-Democratic textbook. The impending struggle for the choice of a path of struggle was historically inevitable in the immediate future. The alternatives were these: was the old authority to convene Russia’s first representative institution and thereby for a time (perhaps a very brief, perhaps a fairly long time) switch the revolution to the monarchist-constitutional path, or were the people by a direct assault to sweep away—at the worst, to shake—the old regime, prevent it from switching the revolution to the monarchist-constitutional path and guarantee (also for a more or less lengthy period) the path of direct revolutionary struggle of the masses? That was the issue historically confronting the revolutionary classes of Russia in the autumn of 1905 which Axelrod and Plekhanov at the time failed to notice. The Social-Democrats’ advocacy of active boycott was itself a way of raising the issue, a way of consciously raising it by the party of the proletariat, a slogan of the struggle for the choice of a path of struggle.

The advocates of active boycott, the Bolsheviks, correctly interpreted the question objectively posed by history.   The October-December struggle of 1905 was really a struggle for the choice of a path of struggle. This struggle was waged with varying fortune: at first the revolutionary people got the upper hand, wrested from the old regime a chance to immediately switch the revolution on to monarchist-constitutional lines and set up representative institutions of a purely revolutionary type—Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, etc., in place of the representative institutions of the police-liberal, type. The October-December period was one of maximum freedom, maximum independent activity of the masses, maximum breadth and momentum of the workers’ movement on ground cleared of monarchist-constitutional institutions, laws and snags by the assault of the people, on a ground of “interregnum”, when the old authority was already undermined, and the new revolutionary power of the people (the Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’, and Soldiers’ Deputies, etc.) was not yet strong enough to completely replace it. The December struggle decided the question in a different direction: the old regime won by repulsing the assault of the people and holding its positions. But, of course, at that time there were no grounds as yet for considering this a decisive victory. The December uprising of 1905 had its continuation in a number of sporadic and partial mutinies and strikes in the summer of 1906. The slogan of boycott of the Witte Duma[9] was a slogan of struggle for the concentration and generalisation of these uprisings.

Thus, the first conclusion to be drawn from an analysis of the experience of the Russian revolution in boycotting the Bulygin Duma is that, in the objective guise of the boycott, history placed on the order of the day a struggle for the form of the immediate path of development, a struggle over whether the old authority or the new self-established people’s power would be called upon to convene Russia’s first representative assembly, a struggle for a directly revolutionary path or (for a time) for the path of a monarchist constitution.

In this connection there arises a question, which has often cropped up in the literature, and which constantly crops up when this subject is discussed, namely, that of the simplicity, clarity, and “directness” of the boycott   slogan, as well as the question of a straight or zigzag path of development. The direct overthrow or, at the worst, the weakening and undermining of the old regime, the direct establishment of new government agencies, by the people—all this, undoubtedly, is the most direct path, the most advantageous as far as the people are concerned, but one that requires the maximum force. Given an overwhelming preponderance of force it is possible to win by a direct frontal attack. Lacking this, one may have to resort to roundabout ways, to marking time, to zigzags, retreats, etc., etc. Of course, the path of a monarchist constitution does not, by any means, exclude revolution, the elements of which are prepared and developed by this path as well in an indirect manner, but this path is a longer, more zigzag one.

Running through all Menshevik literature, especially that of 1905 (up to October), is the accusation that the Bolsheviks are “bigoted” and also exhortations to them on the need for taking into consideration the zigzag path of history. In this feature of Menshevik literature we have another specimen of the kind of reasoning which tells us that horses eat oats and that the Volga flows into the Caspian Sea, reasoning which befogs the essence of a disputable question by reiterating what is indisputable. That history usually follows a zigzag path and that a Marxist should be able to make allowance for the most complicated and fantastic zigzags of history is indisputable. But this reiteration of the indisputable has nothing to do with the question of what a Marxist should do when that same history confronts the contending forces with the choice of a straight or a zigzag path. To dismiss the matter at such moments, or at such periods, when this happens by arguing about the usual zigzag course of history is to take after the “man in the muffler”[10] and become absorbed in contemplation of the truth that horses eat oats. As it happens, revolutionary periods are mainly such periods in history when the clash of contending social forces, in a comparatively short space of time, decides the question of the country’s choice of a direct or a zigzag path of development for a comparatively very long time. The need for reckoning with the zigzag path does not in the least do away with the fact that   Marxists should be able to explain to the masses during the decisive moments of their history that the direct path is preferable, should be able to help the masses in the struggle for the choice of the direct path, to advance slogans for that struggle, and so on. And only hopeless philistines and the most obtuse pedants, after the decisive historical battles which determined the zigzag path instead of the direct one were over, could sneer at those who had fought to the end for the direct path. It would be like the sneers of German police-minded official historians such as Treitschke at the revolutionary slogans and the revolutionary directness of Marx in 1848.

Marxism’s attitude towards the zigzag path of history is essentially the same as its attitude towards compromise. Every zigzag turn in history is a compromise, a compromise between the old, which is no longer strong enough to completely negate the new, and the new, which is not yet strong enough to completely overthrow the old. Marxism does not altogether reject compromises. Marxism considers it necessary to make use of them, but that does not in the least prevent Marxism, as a living and operating historical force, from fighting energetically against compromises. Not to understand this seeming contradiction is not to know the rudiments of Marxism.

Engels once expressed the Marxist attitude to compromises very vividly, clearly, and concisely in an article on the manifesto of the Blanquist fugitives of the Commune (1874).[2] These Blanquists wrote in their manifesto that they accepted no compromises whatever. Engels ridiculed this manifesto. It was not, he said, a question of rejecting compromises to which circumstances condemn us (or to which circumstances compel us—I must beg the reader’s pardon for being obliged to quote from memory, as I am unable to check with the original text). It was a question of clearly realising the true revolutionary aims of the proletariat and of being able to pursue them through all and every circumstances, zigzags, and compromises.[11]

Only from this angle can we appreciate the simplicity, directness, and clarity of the boycott as a slogan appealing to the masses. All these virtues of the slogan are good not in themselves, but only in so far as the conditions of struggle for the choice of a direct or zigzag path of development are present in the objective situation in which the slogan is used. During the period of the Bulygin Duma this slogan was the correct and the only revolutionary slogan of the workers’ party not because it was the simplest, most forth right, and clearest, but because the historical conditions at the time set the workers’ party the task of taking part in the struggle for a simple and direct revolutionary path against the zigzag path of the monarchist constitution.

The question arises, by what criterion are we to judge whether those special historical conditions existed at the time? What is that distinctive feature in the objective state of affairs which made a simple, forthright, and clear slogan not a mere phrase but the only slogan that fitted the actual struggle? We shall take up this question now.


[1] Here is the text of this resolution: “Whereas: (1) the new electoral law on the basis of which the Third Duma is being convened deprives the working masses of that modest share of electoral rights which they had hitherto enjoyed and the winning of which had cost them so dear; (2) this law glaringly and grossly falsifies the will of the people for the benefit of the most reactionary and privileged strata of the population; (3) the Third Duma, by the manner of its election   and by its make-up, is the product of a reactionary coup; (4) the government will take advantage of the participation of the popular masses in the Duma elections in order to interpret that participation as a popular sanction of the coup d’etat—the Fourth Delegate Congress of the All-Russian Union of Teachers and Educational Workers resolves: (1) that it shall have no dealings whatever with the Third Duma or any of its bodies; (2) that it shall take no part as an organisation, either directly or indirectly, in the elections; (3) that it shall, as an organisation, disseminate the view on the Third State Duma and the elections to it as expressed in the present resolution.” —Lenin

[2] This article was included In the German volume of collected articles Internationales aus dem “Volksstaat”.The title of the Russian translation is Articles from “Volksstaat”,published by Znaniye. —Lenin

[3] This refers to the Fourth Delegate Congress of the All-Russian Teachers’ Union, held June 19-24 (July 2-7), 1907, in Finland. It was attended by 50 Socialist-Revolutionary, 23 Social-Democrat, and IS non-party delegates, representing nearly two thousand organised teachers of Russia. The following questions were on the agenda: adoption of the Union Rules, elections to the Third Duma, attitude towards other trade unions, attitude towards the modern Zemstvo, boycott of discharged teachers’ posts, mutual benefit societies, and other items. The Congress was held in an atmosphere of tense ideological struggle between the Social-Democrats and the Socialist-Revolutionaries.

In calling the Teachers’ Union a “professional and political” union, Lenin had in mind that under Clause 1 of the Rules it fought for a free school while at the same time endeavouring to improve the material conditions of the teachers; it was, at one and the same time, a teachers’ trade union and a political league of struggle for a free school.

[4] Socialist-Revolutionaries (S.R.’s)— a petty-bourgeois party formed in Russia at the end of 1901 and beginning of 1902 through the amalgamation of various Narodnik groups and circles (The “Union of Socialist-Revolutionaries”, “Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries”, and others). Its official organs were the newspaper Revolutsionnaya Rossiya (Revolutionary Russia) (1900-05) and the magazines Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii (Herald of the Russian Revolution) (1901-05) and Znamya Truda (Banner of Labour) (1907-14). The S.R.’s failed to perceive the class distinctions between the proletariat and petty proprietors; they glossed over the class differentiation and antagonisms within the peasantry, and rejected the leading role of the proletariat in the revolution. The views of the S.R.’s were an eclectic medley of Narodism and revisionism; they tried, as Lenin put it, to “patch up the rents in the Narodnik ideas with bits of fashionable opportunist ‘criticism’ of Marxism”   (see present edition, Vol. 9, p. 310). The tactics of individual terrorism which the S.R.’s advocated as the principal method of struggle against the autocracy caused great harm to the revolutionary movement, since it made it difficult to organise the masses for the revolutionary struggle.

The agrarian programme of the S.R.’s envisaged the abolition of private ownership of the land and its transfer to the village communes on the basis of the “labour principle” and “equalised” land tenure, as well as the development of co-operatives of all kinds. The S.R.’s called this programme “socialisation of the land”, but there was nothing socialist about it. Lenin’s analysis of it showed that the preservation of commodity production and private farming on the common land does not eliminate the domination of capital, does not save the toiling peasants from exploitation and ruin nor can co operation be a saving remedy for the small peasants under capitalism, since it serves to enrich the rural bourgeoisie. At the same time Lenin pointed out that the demand for equalised land tenure, while not socialist, was of a historically progressive revolutionary-democratic nature, since it was aimed against reactionary landlordism.

The Bolshevik Party exposed the S.R.’s attempts to masquerade as socialists, waged an unremitting struggle against the S.R.’s for influence on the peasantry, and revealed the harm their tactics of individual terrorism were causing the labour movement. At the same time the Bolsheviks were prepared, on definite terms, to come to temporary agreements with the S.R.’s in the struggle against tsarism.

The heterogeneous class character of the peasantry determined the political and ideological instability and organisational disunity of the S.R. Party, and its members’ continual vacillation between the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Already during the first Russian revolution of 1905-07 its Right wing split away from the party and formed the legal “Trudovik Popular Socialist Party” (Popular Socialists), whose views were close to those of the Constitutional-Democrats; the Left wing organised itself into the semi-anarchist League of “Maximalists”. During the Stolypin reaction the S.R. Party was in a state of complete collapse ideologically and organisationally. The First World War found most of the S.R.’s taking a social-chauvinist stand.

After the victory of the bourgeois-democratic revolution of February 1917, the S.R.’s, together with the Mensheviks and Cadets, were the mainstay of the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government of the bourgeoisie and landlords, and the leaders of the party (Kerensky, Avksentyev, Chernov) were members of that government. The S.R. Party refused to support the peasants’ demands for the abolition of landlordism and stood for private ownership of the land; the 5. 11. ministers in the Provisional Government sent punitive expeditions against the peasants who had seized the landlords’ estates.

At the end of November 1917 the Left wing of the party founded a separate Left Socialist-Revolutionary Party. In an endeavour to   maintain their influence among the peasant masses, the Left S.R.’s formally recognised the Soviet government and entered into an agreement with the Bolsheviks, but very soon turned against the Soviet power.

During the years of foreign military intervention and civil war the S.R.’s engaged in counter-revolutionary subversive activities, zealously supported the interventionists and whiteguard generals, took part in counter-revolutionary plots, and organised terrorist acts against leaders of the Soviet state and Communist Party. After the civil war they continued their anti-Soviet activities within the country and as whiteguard émigrés abroad.

[5] Coup d’état of June 3(16), 1907—a counter-revolutionary act by which the. government dissolved the Second Duma and altered the electoral law. On the basis of a trumped-up charge framed by the Okhranka (the secret police) against the Social-Democratic members of the Duma, accusing them of being connected with a military organisation and, preparing an armed uprising, Stolypin, on June 1, 1907, demanded that these members be banned from taking part in the Duma sittings; sixteen members of the Social-Democratic group in the Duma were to be. arrested. A committee was set up bye Duma to verify the charge. Without waiting for the results of this committee’s investigations, the government, on the night of June 3(16) had the Social-Democratic group arrested. On June 3, the tsar’s manifesto dissolved the Duma and announced modifications in the electoral law, which greatly increased representation of the landlords and the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie in the Duma and considerably reduced the already meagre representation of the workers and peasants. This was a gross violation of the Manifesto of October 17, 1905 and the Fundamental Law of 1906 under which no laws could be issued by the government without the approval of the Duma.

Under the new electoral law one elector was elected to the landowners’ curia from 230 people, to the urban curia of the first degree from 1,000 people, to the urban curia of the second degree from 15,000 people, to the peasants’ curia from 60,000 people, and to the workers’ curia from 125,000 people. The landlords and bourgeoisie were able to elect 65 per cent of all the electors, the peasants 22 per cent (formerly 42 per cent), and the workers 2 per cent (formerly 4 per cent). The law deprived the indigeneous population of Asia tic Russia and the Turkic peoples of the Astrakhan and Stavropol gubernias of the franchise, and reduced the number of deputies re turned by Poland and the Caucasus by half. All persons throughout Russia who did not know the Russian language were deprived of the franchise. The Third Duma elected on the basis of this law, which assembled on November 1, 1907, was a Duma of Black-Hundred and Octobrist deputies.

The coup d’état of June 3 was, in Lenin’s words, “a turning-point in the history of our revolution” (see present edition, Vol. 15, “The Straight Road”), which ushered in the period of Stolypin reaction.

[6] The Bulygin Duma—the consultative “representative body” which the tsarist government had promised to convene in 1905. The tsar’s manifesto, the law providing for the establishment of the Duma, and regulations governing elections to it were promulgated on August 6(19), 1905. It came to be known as the Bulygin Duma because the Bill inaugurating it was drafted on the tsar’s instructions by A. G. Bulygin, the Minister of the Interior. Electoral rights were granted only to the landlords, the big capitalists, and a small number of peasant householders. The peasants were given only 51 out of the 412 seats established by the law. The majority of the population—the workers, poor peasants, farm-labourers, and democratic intelligentsia—were deprived of the franchise. Women, servicemen, students, persons under twenty-five, and a number of subject nationalities were not allowed to vote. The Duma had no right to pass laws and could merely discuss certain questions in the capacity of a consultative body under the tsar. Lenin described the Bulygin Duma as “the most barefaced mockery of ‘popular representation’\thinspace" (see present edition, Vol. 9, p. 194).

The Bolsheviks called upon the workers and peasants to actively boycott the Bulygin Duma, and concentrated their agitational campaign around the slogans of an armed uprising, a revolutionary army, and a provisional revolutionary government. The Mensheviks considered it possible to take part in the elections to the Duma and stood for co-operation with the liberal bourgeoisie.

The Bulygin Duma boycott campaign was used by the Bolsheviks to rally all the revolutionary forces, to organise mass political strikes, and to prepare for an armed uprising. The elections to the Bulygin Duma did not take place, and the government failed to convene it. It was swept away by the mounting wave of revolution and the All-Russian political strike of October 1905. On the subject of the Bulygin Duma, see Lenin’s articles “The Constitutional Market-Place”, “The Boycott of the Bulygin Duma, and Insurrection”, “Oneness of the Tsar and the People, and of the People and the Tsar”, “In the Wake of the Monarchist Bourgeoisie, Or in the Van of the Revolutionary Proletariat and Peasantry?” and others (see present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 351-55; Vol. 9, pp. 179-87, 191-99, 212-23).

[7] The Ninth of January 1905—“Bloody Sunday”, the day on which, by order of the tsar, a peaceful procession of St. Petersburg workers was shot down. The workers were marching to the Winter Palace to present a petition to the tsar.

This cold-blooded massacre of unarmed workers started a wave of mass political strikes and demonstrations all over Russia under the slogan of “Down with the Autocracy I”. The events of January 9 precipitated the revolution of 1905-07.

[8] Potemkin—armoured cruiser of the Russian Black Sea Fleet the crew of which mutinied on June 14-24, 1905. The revolutionary outbreak on the Potemkin was of great political importance, since   it was the first time that any big tsarist military unit had joined the revolution.

[9] The Witte Duma—Russia’s First Duma, convened on April 27 (May 10), 1906 on a franchise drafted by the Prime Minister Witte. Although the electoral law governing elections to the First Duma was anti-democratic, the tsar did not succeed in convening a wholly docile Duma. The majority in the Duma were Cadets, who tried to win the confidence of the peasantry with false promises of re forms, including an agrarian reform.

The tsarist government dissolved the Duma on July 8 (21), 1906.

[10] The man in the muffler—the chief character in Chekhov’s story of the same name, typifying the narrow-minded philistine, who fights shy of all innovations and display of initiative.

[11] See Friedrich Engels, Flüchtlingsliteratur, Internationales aus dem Volksstaat, Berlin, 1957.

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