V. I.   Lenin

Against Boycott

Notes of a Social-Democratic Publicist



Looking back at a struggle that is already over (at least, in its direct and immediate form), there is nothing easier, of course, than to assess the total result of the different, contradictory signs and symptoms of the epoch. The out come of the struggle settles everything at once and removes all doubts in a. very simple way. But what we have to do now is to determine such symptoms as would help us grasp the state of affairs prior to the struggle, since we wish to apply the lessons of historical experience to the Third Duma. We have already pointed out above that the condition for the success of the boycott of 1905 was a sweeping, universal, powerful, and rapid upswing of the revolution. We must now examine, in the first place, what bearing a specially powerful upswing of the struggle has on the boycott, and, secondly, what the characteristic and distinctive features of a specially powerful upswing are.

Boycott, as we have already stated, is a struggle not within the framework of a given institution, but against   its emergence. Any given institution can be derived only from the already existing, i. e., the old, regime. Consequently, the boycott is a means of struggle aimed directly at overthrowing the old regime, or, at the worst, i. e., when the assault is not strong enough for overthrow, at weakening it to such an extent that it would be unable to set up that institution, unable to make it operate.[1] Consequently, to be successful the boycott requires a direct struggle against the old regime, an uprising against it and mass disobedience to it in a large number of cases (such mass disobedience is one of the conditions for preparing an upris ing). Boycott is a refusal to recognise the old regime, a refusal, of course, not in words, but in deeds, i. e., it is something that finds expression not only in cries or the slogans of organisations, but in a definite movement of the mass of the people, who systematically defy the laws of the old regime, systematically set up new institutions, which, though unlawful, actually exist, and so on and so forth. The connection between boycott and the broad revolutionary upswing is thus obvious: boycott is the most decisive means of struggle, which rejects not the form of organisation of the given institution, but its very existence. Boycott is a declaration of open war against the old regime, a direct attack upon it. Unless there is a broad revolutionary up swing, unless there is mass unrest which overflows, as it were, the bounds of the old legality, there can be no question of the boycott succeeding.

Passing to the question of the nature and symptoms of the upswing of the autumn of 1905 we shall easily see that what was happening at the time was an incessant mass offensive of the revolution, which systematically attacked and held the enemy in check. Repression expanded the movement instead of reducing it. In the wake of January 9 came a gigantic strike wave, the barricades in Lodz, the   mutiny of the Potemkin. In the sphere of the press, the unions, and education the legal bounds prescribed by the old regime were everywhere systematically broken, and by no means by the “revolutionaries” alone, but by the man-in-the-street, for the old authority was really weakened, was really letting the reins slip from its senile hands. A singularly striking and unerring indication of the force of the upswing (from the point of view of the revolutionary organisations) was the fact that the slogans of the revolutionaries not only evoked a response but actually lagged behind the march of events. January 9 and the mass strikes that followed it, and the Potemkin were all events which were in advance of the direct appeals of the revolutionaries. In 1906, there was no appeal of theirs which the masses would have met passively, by silence, or by abandoning the struggle. The boycott under such conditions was a natural supplement to the electrically charged atmosphere. That slogan did not “invent” anything at the time, it merely formulated accurately and truly the upswing which was going steadily forward towards a direct assault. On the contrary, the “inventors” were our Mensheviks, who kept aloof from the revolutionary upswing, fell for the empty promise of the tsar in the shape of the manifesto or the law of August 6 and seriously believed in the promised change over to a constitutional monarchy. The Mensheviks (and Parvus) at that time based their tactics not on the fact of the sweeping, powerful, and rapid revolutionary upswing, but on the tsar’s promise of a change to a constitutional monarchy! No wonder such tactics turned out to be ridiculous and abject opportunism. No wonder that in all the Menshevik arguments about the boycott an analysis of the boycott of the Bulygin Duma, i. e., the revolution’s greatest experience of the boycott, is now carefully discarded. But it is not enough to recognise this mistake of the Mensheviks, perhaps their biggest mistake in revolutionary tactics. One must clearly realise that the source of this mistake was failure to understand the objective state of affairs, which made the revolutionary upswing a reality and the change to a constitutional monarchy an empty police promise. The Mensheviks were wrong not because they approached the question in a mood devoid of subjective revolutionary   spirit, but because the ideas of these pseudo-revolutionaries fell short of the objectively revolutionary situation. It is easy to confuse these reasons for the Mensheviks’ mistakes, but it is impermissible for a Marxist to confuse them.


[1] Reference everywhere in the text is to active boycott, that is, not just a refusal to take part in the institutions of the old regime, but an attack upon this regime. Headers who are not familiar with Social-Democratic literature of the period of the Bulygin Duma boycott should be reminded that the Social-Democrats spoke openly at the time about active boycott, sharply contrasting it to passive boycott, And even linking it with an armed uprising. —Lenin

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