V. I.   Lenin

Against Boycott

Notes of a Social-Democratic Publicist



The connection between the boycott and the historical conditions characteristic of a definite period of the Russian revolution should be examined from still another angle. What was the political content of the Social-Democratic boycott campaign of the autumn of 1905 and the spring of 1906? Its content did not, of course, consist in repeating the word boycott or calling on the people not to take part in the elections. Nor was its content confined to appeals for a direct assault that ignored the roundabout and zigzag paths proposed by the autocracy. In addition to and not even alongside this theme, but rather at the centre of the whole boycott campaign, was the fight against constitutional illusions. This fight was, in truth, the living spirit of the boycott. Recall the speeches of the boycottists and their whole agitation, look at the principal resolutions of the boycottists and you will see how true this is.

The Mensheviks were never able to understand this aspect of the boycott. They always believed that to fight constitutional illusions in a period of nascent constitutionalism was nonsense, absurdity, “anarchism”. This point of view of the Mensheviks was also forcibly expressed in their speeches at the Stockholm Congress,[1] especially— I remember—in the speeches of Plekhanov, not to mention Menshevik literature.

At first sight the position of the Mensheviks on this question would really seem to be as impregnable as that of a man who smugly instructs his friends that horses eat oats. In a period of nascent constitutionalism to proclaim a fight against constitutional illusions! Is it not anarchism? Is it not gibberish?

The vulgarisation of this question effected by means of a specious allusion to the plain common sense of such arguments is based on the fact that the special period of   the Russian revolution is passed over in silence, that the boycott of the Bulygin Duma is forgotten, and that the concrete stages of the course taken by our revolution are replaced by a general designation of the whole of our revolution, both past and future, as a revolution that begets constitutionalism. This is a specimen of the violation of the method of dialectical materialism by people, who, like Plekhanov, spoke about this method with the utmost eloquence.

Yes, our bourgeois revolution as a whole, like every bourgeois revolution, is, in the long run, a process of building up a constitutional system and nothing more. That is the truth. It is a useful truth for exposing the quasi-socialist pretensions of one or another bourgeois-democratic programme, theory, tactics, and so forth. But would you be able to derive any benefit from this truth on the question as to what kind of constitutionalism the workers’ party is to lead the country to in the epoch of bourgeois revolution? Or on the question as to how exactly the workers’ party should fight for a definite (and, precisely, a republican) constitutionalism during definite periods of the revolution? You would not. This favourite truth of Axelrod’s and Plekhanov’s would no more enlighten you on these questions than the conviction that a horse eats oats would enable you to choose a suitable animal and ride it.

The fight against constitutional illusions, the Bolsheviks said in 1905 and at the beginning of 1906, should become the slogan of the moment, because it was at that period that the objective state of affairs faced the struggling social forces with having to decide the issue whether the straight path of direct revolutionary struggle and of representative institutions created directly by the revolution on the basis of complete democratism, or the roundabout zigzag path of a monarchist constitution and police-“constitutional” (in inverted commas!) institutions of the “Duma” type would triumph in the immediate future.

Did the objective state of affairs really raise this issue, or was it “invented” by the Bolsheviks because of their theoretical mischievousness? That question has now been answered by the history of the Russian revolution.

The October struggle of 1905 was indeed a struggle to prevent the revolution from being switched to monarchist-constitutional lines. The October-December period was indeed a period which saw the realisation of a proletarian, truly democratic, broad, bold, and free constitutionalism that really expressed the will of the people as opposed to the pseudo-constitutionalism of the Dubasov and Stolypin[2] constitution. The revolutionary struggle for a truly democratic constitutionalism (that is, one built on ground completely cleared of the old regime and all the abominations associated with it) called for the most determined fight against the police-monarchist constitution being used as a bait for the people. This simple thing the Social-Democratic opponents of the boycott absolutely failed to understand.

Two phases in the development of the Russian revolution now stand out before us in all their clarity: the phase of upswing (1905) and the phase of decline (1906-07). The phase of maximum development of the people’s activity, of free and broad organisations of all classes of the population, the phase of maximum freedom of the press and maximum ignoring by the people of the old authority, its institutions and commands—and all this without any constitutionalism bureaucratically endorsed and expressed in formal rules and regulations. And after that the phase of least development and steady decline of popular activity, organisation, freedom of the press, etc., under a (God forgive us!) “constitution” concocted, sanctioned, and safeguarded by the Dubasovs and Stolypins.

Now, when everything behind looks so plain and clear, you would hardly find a single pedant who would dare to deny. the legitimacy and necessity of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat to prevent events from taking a constitutional-monarchist turn, the legitimacy and necessity of the fight against constitutional illusions.

Now you will hardly find a sensible historian worthy of the name who would not divide the course of the Russian revolution between 1905 and the autumn of 1907 into these two periods: the “anti-constitutional” period (if I may be allowed that expression) of upswing and the period of “constitutional” decline, the period of conquest and achievement of freedom by the people without police (monarchist)   constitutionalism and the period of oppression and suppression of popular freedom by means of the monarchist “constitution”.

Now the period of constitutional illusions, the period of the First and Second Dumas is quite clear to us, and it is no longer difficult to grasp the importance of the fight which the revolutionary Social-Democrats waged at that time against constitutional illusions. But at that time, in 1905 and the beginning of 1906, neither the liberals in the bourgeois camp nor the Mensheviks in the proletarian camp understood this.

Yet the period of the First and Second Dumas was in every sense and all respects a period of constitutional illusions. The solemn pledge that “no law shall become effective without the approval of the Duma” was not vie lated at that period. Thus, the constitution existed on paper, never ceasing to warm the cockles of all the slavish hearts of the Russian Cadets.[3] Both Dubasov and Stolypin at that period put the Russian constitution to the test of practice, tried it and verified it in an effort to adjust and fit it to the old autocracy. They, Dubasov and Stolypin, appeared to he the most powerful men of the time, and they worked hard to make the “illusion” a reality. The illusion proved to be an illusion. History has fully endorsed the correctness of the slogan of the revolutionary Social-Democrats. But it was not only the Dubasovs and Stolypins who tried to put the “constitution” into effect, it was not only the servile Cadets who praised it to the skies and like flunkeys (à la Mr. Rodichev in the First Duma) exerted themselves to prove that the monarch was blameless and that it would be presumptuous to hold him responsible for the pogroms. No. During this period the broad masses of the people as well undoubtedly still believed to a greater or lesser extent in the “constitution”, believed in the Duma despite the warnings of the Social-Democrats.

The period of constitutional illusions in the Russian revolution may be said to have been a period of nation wide infatuation with a bourgeois fetish, just as whole nations in Western Europe sometimes become infatuated with the fetish of bourgeois nationalism, anti-semitism, chauvinism, etc. It is to the credit of the Social-Democrats   that they alone were not taken in by the bourgeois hoax, that they alone in the epoch of constitutional illusions always kept unfurled the banner of struggle against constitutional illusions.

Why then, the question now arises, was the boycott a specific means of struggle against constitutional illusions?

There is a feature about the boycott which, at first sight, involuntarily repels every Marxist. Boycott of elections is a renunciation of parliamentarism, something that looks very much like passive rejection, abstention, evasion. So Parvus regarded it (he only had German models to go by) when, in the autumn of 1905, he stormed and raged, angrily but unsuccessfully, attempting to prove that active boycott was all the same a bad thing because it was still a boycott.... And so also is it regarded by Martov, who to this day has learned nothing from the revolution and is more and more turning into a liberal. By his last article in Tovarishch[4] he has shown that he is unable even to raise the problem in a way that befits a revolutionary Social-Democrat.

But this most objectionable, so to speak, feature of the boycott as far as a Marxist is concerned is fully explained by the specific features of the period that gave rise to such a method of struggle. The First monarchist Duma, the Bulygin Duma, was a bait designed to draw the people away from the revolution. The bait was a dummy clothed in a dress of constitutionalism. One and all were tempted to swallow the bait. Some through selfish class interests, others through ignorance, were inclined to snatch at the dummy of the Bulygin Duma, and later at that of the Witte Duma. Everyone was enthusiastic, everyone sincerely believed in it. Participation in the elections was not just a matter-of-fact, simple performance of one’s usual civic duties: It was the solemn inauguration of a monarchist constitution. It was a turn from, the direct revolutionary path to the monarchist-constitutional path.

The Social-Democrats were bound at such a time to unfurl their banner of protest and warning with the utmost vigour, with the utmost demonstrativeness. And that meant refusing to take part, abstaining oneself and holding the   people back, issuing a call for an assault on the old regime instead of working within the framework of an institution set up by that regime. The nation-wide enthusiasm for the bourgeois-police fetish of a “constitutional” monarchy demanded of the Social-Democrats, as the party of the proletariat, an equally nation-wide demonstration of their views protesting against and exposing this fetish, demanded a fight with the utmost vigour against the establishment of institutions that embodied that fetishism.

There you have the full historical justification not only for the boycott of the Bulygin Duma, which met with immediate success, but for the boycott of the Witte Duma, which, to all appearances, was a failure. We now see why it was only an apparent failure, why the Social-Democrats had to maintain their protest against the constitutional-monarchist turn of our revolution to the very last. This turn in fact proved to be a turn into a blind alley. The illusions about a monarchist constitution proved to be merely a prelude or a signboard, an adornment, diverting attention from preparations for the annulment of this “constitution” by the old regime....

We said that the Social-Democrats had to maintain their protest against the suppression of liberty by means of the “constitution” to the very last. What do we mean by “to the very last”? We mean until the institution against which the Social-Democrats were fighting had become an accomplished fact despite the Social-Democrats, until the monarchist-constitutional turn of the Russian revolution, which inevitably meant (for a certain time) the decline of the revolution, tile defeat of tile revolution, had become an accomplished fact despite the Social-Democrats. The period of constitutional illusions was an attempt at compromise. We fought and had to fight against it with all oar might. We had to go into the Second Duma, we had to reckon with compromise once the circumstances forced it upon us against our will, despite our efforts, and at the cost of the defeat of our struggle. For how long we have to reckon with it is another matter, of course.

What inference is to be drawn from all this as regards the boycott of the Third Duma? Is it, perhaps, that the boycott, which is necessary at the beginning of the period   of constitutional illusions, is also necessary at the end of this period? That would he a “bright idea” in the vein of “analogical sociology” and not a serious conclusion. Boycott cannot now have the same meaning that it had at the beginning of the Russian revolution. Today we can neither warn the people against constitutional illusions nor fight to prevent the revolution from being turned into the constitutional-monarchist blind alley. Boycott cannot have its former vital spark. If there should be a boycott, it will in any case have a different significance, it will be filled in any case with a different political content.

Moreover, our analysis of the historical peculiarity of the boycott provides one consideration against a boycott of the Third Duma. In the period at the beginning of the constitutional turn the attention of the whole nation was inevitably focused on the Duma. By means of the boycott we fought and were bound to fight against this focusing of attention on the trend towards the blind alley, to fight against an infatuation that was due to ignorance, unenlightenment, weakness, or selfish counter-revolutionary activity. Today not only any nation-wide, but even any at all widespread enthusiasm for the Duma in general or for the Third Duma in particular is completely ruled out. There is no need for any boycott here.


[1] The Fourth (Unity) Congress of the R.S.D.L.P was held in Stockholm, April 10-25 (April 23-May 8), 1906.

It was attended by 112 delegates with the right to vote,representing 57 local organisations, and 22 consultative delegates. In addition, there were representatives from the non-Russian Social-Democratic parties: three each from those of Poland and Lithuania, the Bund, the Lettish Social-Democratic Labour Party, and one each from the Ukrainian Social-Democratic Labour Party and the Labour Party of Finland, and a representative of the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The Bolshevik delegates included F. A. Artyom (Sergeyev), M. F. Frunze, M. I. Kalinin, V. I. Lenin, S. G. Shaumyan, and V. V. Vorovsky. The Congress discussed the agrarian question, the current situation and the class tasks of the proletariat, the attitude towards the Duma, and organisational questions. There was a sharp struggle between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks on all issues. Lenin delivered reports and made speeches at the Congress on the agrarian question, on the current situation, on the tactics to be assumed in regard to the elections to the Duma, on the armed uprising, and other questions.

The Mensheviks’ numerical preponderance at the Congress, though slight, determined the character of the Congress decisions. On a number of quest ions the Congress adopted Menshevik resolutions the agrarian programme, the attitude towards the Duma, etc.). The Congress adopted Lenin’s formulation of Paragraph One of the Party Rules. The Congress admitted into the R.S.D.L.P. the non-Russian Social-Democratic organisations: the Social-Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania, an4 the Lettish Social-Democratic Labour Party and adopted a draft laying down the conditions on which the Bund could join the R.S.D.L.P.

The Central Committee elected at the Congress consisted of three Bolsheviks and seven Mensheviks. Only Mensheviks were elected to the Editorial Board of the Central Organ.

An analysis of the Congress is given in Lenin’s pamphlet Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 317-82.)

[2] Dubasov—the Governor-General of Moscow who suppressed the Moscow armed uprising in December 1905. Stolypin— Russian Prime Minister.

[3] Cadets— (abbreviated) members of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, the chief, party of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie in Russia. Founded in October 1905, its membership was made up of representatives of the bourgeoisie, Zemstvo leaders of the landowning class, and bourgeois intellectuals. Leading personalities of the party were P. N. Milyukov, S. A. Muromtsev, V. A. Maklakov, A. I. Shingarev, P. B. Struve, and F. I. Rodichev, among others. To hoodwink the working people the Cadets called themselves the “Party of People’s Freedom”. Actually, they did not go beyond the demand for a constitutional monarchy. They considered it their chief aim to combat the revolutionary movement, and sought to share the power with the tsar and the feudal landlords. During the First World War the Cadets actively supported the tsarist government’s aggressive foreign policy. During the bourgeois-democratic revolution of February 1917 they tried their hardest to save the monarchy. They used their key positions in the bourgeois Provisional Government to pursue a counter-revolutionary policy opposed to the interests of the people, but favouring the U.S., British, and French imperialists. After the victory of the October Revolution the Cadets came out as implacable enemies of the Soviet power. They took part in all the counter-revolutionary armed actions and campaigns of the interventionists. Living abroad as émigrés after the defeat of the interventionists and whiteguards, the Cadets did not cease their anti-Soviet counter-revolutionary activities.

[4] Tovarishch (The Comrade)—a bourgeois daily published in St. Petersburg from March 15(28), 1906 to December 30, 1907 (January 12, 1908). Though formally not the organ of any particular party it was in fact the mouthpiece of the Left Cadets. Active contributors were S. N. Prokopovich and Y. D. Kuskova. The newspaper also published contributions from Mensheviks.

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