V. I.   Lenin

Against Boycott

Notes of a Social-Democratic Publicist



And so the conditions for the applicability of a boycott should he sought, undoubtedly, in the objective state of affairs at the given moment. Comparing, from this point of view, the autumn of 1907 with that of 1905, we cannot help coming to the conclusion that we have no grounds today for proclaiming a boycott. From the standpoint of the relation between the direct revolutionary path and the constitutional-monarchist “zigzag”, from the standpoint of mass upswing, and from the standpoint of the specific aims of the fight against constitutional illusions, the present state of affairs differs sharply from that of two years ago.

At that time the monarchist-constitutional turn of his tory was nothing more than a police promise. Now it is   a fact. Not to acknowledge this fact would be a ridiculous fear of the truth. And it would be a mistake to infer from the acknowledgement of this fact that the Russian revolution is over. No, there are no grounds whatever for drawing such a conclusion. A Marxist is bound to fight for the direct revolutionary path of development when such a fight is prescribed by the objective state of affairs, but this, we repeat, does not mean that we do not have to reckon with the zigzag turn which has in fact already taken definite shape. In this respect the course of the Russian revolution has already become quite definite. At the beginning of the revolution we see a line of short, but extraordinarily broad and amazingly rapid upswing. Next we have a line of extremely slow but steady decline, beginning with the December uprising of 1905. First a period of direct revolutionary struggle by the masses, then a period of monarchist-constitutional turn.

Does this mean that this latter turn is a final one? That the revolution is over and a “constitutional” period has set in? That there are no grounds either for expecting a new upswing or for preparing for it? That the republican character of our programme must be scrapped?

Not at all. Only liberal vulgarians like our Cadets, who are ready to use any argument to justify servility and toadyism, can draw such conclusions. No, it only means that in upholding, at all points, the whole of our programme and all our revolutionary views, we must bring our direct appeals into line with the objective state of affairs at the given moment. While proclaiming the inevitability of revolution, while systematically and steadily accumulating inflammatory material in every way, while, for this purpose, carefully guarding the revolutionary traditions of our revolution’s best epoch, cultivating them and purging them of liberal parasites, we nevertheless do not refuse to do the humdrum daily work on the humdrum monarchist-constitutional turn. That is all. We must work for a new, broad upswing, but we have no ground whatever for butting in blindly with the slogan of boycott.

As we have said, the only boycott that can have any meaning in Russia at the present time is active boycott. This implies not passively avoiding participation in the   elections, but ignoring the elections for the sake of the aim of a direct assault. The boycott, in this sense, inevitably amounts to, a call for the most energetic and decisive offensive. Does such a broad and general upswing exist at the present moment, an upswing without which such a call would be meaningless? Of course not.

Generally speaking, as far as “calls” are concerned, the difference in this respect between the present state of affairs and that of the autumn of 1905 is a very striking one. At that time, as we have already pointed out, there were no calls throughout the previous year to which the masses would not have responded. The impetus of the mass offensive took place in advance of the calls of the organisations. Now we are at a period of a lull in the revolution when a whole series of calls systematically met with no response among the masses. That is what happened with the call to sweep away the Witte Duma (at the beginning of 1906), with the call for an uprising after the dissolution of the First Duma (in the summer of 1906), with the call for struggle in answer to the dissolution of the Second Duma and the coup d’état of June 3,1907. Take the leaflet of our Central Committee on these last acts.[1] You will find there a direct call to struggle in the form possible under local conditions (demonstrations, strikes, and an open struggle against the armed force of absolutism). It was a verbal appeal. The mutinies of June 1907 in Kiev and the Black Sea Fleet were calls through action. Neither of these calls evoked a mass response. If the most striking and direct manifestations of reactionary assault upon the revolution—the dissolution of the two Dumas and the coup d’etat—evoked no upswing at the time, what ground is there for immediately repeating the call in the form of proclaiming a boycott? Is it not clear that the objective state of affairs is such that the “proclamation” is in danger of being just an empty shout? When the struggle is oil, when it is spreading, growing, coming up from all sides, then such a “proclamation” is legitimate and necessary; then it is the duty of the revolutionary proletariat to sound such a war-cry. But it is impossible to invent that struggle or to call it into being merely by a war-cry. And when a whole series of fighting calls, tested by us on more direct occasions, has proved to be unavailing,   it is only natural that we should seek to have serious grounds for “proclaiming” a slogan which is meaningless unless the conditions exist which make fighting calls feasible.

If anyone wants to persuade the Social-Democratic proletariat that the slogan of boycott is a correct one, he must not allow himself to be carried away by the mere sound of words that in their time played a great and glorious revolutionary role. He must weigh the objective conditions for applying such a slogan and realise that to launch it assumes indirectly the existence of conditions making for a sweeping, universal, powerful, and rapid revolutionary upswing. But in periods such as we are now living in, in periods of a temporary lull in the revolution, such a condition can in no circumstances be indirectly assumed. it must be directly and distinctly realised and made clear both to oneself and to the whole working class. Otherwise one runs the risk of finding oneself in the position of a person who uses big words without understanding their true meaning or who hesitates to speak plainly and call a spade a spade.


[1] Leaflet of the C.C.— “Letter to Party Organisations” No. I written in connection with the coup d’état of June 3. “The proletariat and its spokesman—revolutionary Social-Democracy,” the letter states, “cannot leave the government’s act of violence unanswered and unprotested. Social-Democracy does not give up the idea of continuing and developing the revolution.” Without calling for immediate action, the C.C. of the R.S.D.L.P. appealed to the Party organisations to “support and go the whole way in developing mass movements as they arise, and in cases where the active and decisive support of the broad masses can be counted on, to immediately take upon themselves the initiative in the movement and notify the C.C. about it”.

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