V. I.   Lenin

Against Boycott

Notes of a Social-Democratic Publicist



The boycott is one of the finest revolutionary traditions of the most eventful and heroic period of the Russian revolution. We said above that it is one of our tasks to care fully guard these traditions in general, to cultivate them, and to purge them of liberal (and opportunist) parasites. We must dwell a little on the analysis of this task in order correctly to define what it implies and to avoid misinterpretations and misunderstandings that might easily arise.

Marxism differs from all other socialist theories in the remarkable way it combines complete scientific sobriety in the analysis of the objective state of affairs and the objective course of evolution with the most emphatic recognition of the importance of the revolutionary energy, revolutionary creative genius, and revolutionary initiative of the masses—and also, of course, of individuals, groups, organisations, and parties that are able to discover and achieve contact with one or another class. A high appraisal   of the revolutionary periods in the development of humanity follows logically from the totality of Marx’s views on history. It is in such, periods that the numerous contradictions which slowly accumulate during periods of so-called peaceful development become resolved. It is in such periods that the direct role of the different classes in determining the forms of social life is manifested with the greatest force, and that the foundations are laid for the political “superstructure”, which then persists for a long time on the basis of the new relations of production. And, unlike the theoreticians of the liberal bourgeoisie, Marx did not regard these periods as deviations from the “normal” path, as manifestations of “social disease”, as the deplorable results of excesses and mistakes, but as the most vital, the most important, essential, and decisive moments in the history of human societies. In the activities of Marx and Engels themselves, the period of their participation in the mass revolutionary struggle of 1848-49 stands out as the central point. This was their point of departure when determining the future pattern of the workers’ movement and democracy in different countries. It was to this point that they always returned in order to determine the essential nature of the different classes and their tendencies in the most striking and purest form. It was from the stand point of the revolutionary period of that time that they always judged the later, lesser, political formations and organisations, political aims and political conflicts. No wonder the ideological leaders of liberalism, men like Sombart, whole-heartedly hate this feature of Marx’s activities and writings and ascribe it to the “bitterness of an exile”. It is indeed typical of the bugs of police-ridden bourgeois university science to ascribe an inseparable component of Marx’s and Engels’s revolutionary outlook to personal bitterness, to the personal hardships of life in exile!

In one of his letters, I think it was to Kugelmann, Marx in passing threw out a highly characteristic remark, which is particularly interesting in the light of the question we are discussing. He says that the reaction in Germany had almost succeeded in blotting out the memory and traditions of the revolutionary epoch of 1848 from the minds of the people.[3] Here we have the aims of reaction and the aims   of the party of the proletariat in relation to the revolutionary traditions of a given country strikingly contrasted. The aim of reaction is to blot out these traditions, to represent the revolution as “elemental madness”—Struve’s translation of the German das tolle Jahr (“the mad year”— the term applied by the German police-minded bourgeois historians, and even more widely by German university-professorial historiography, to the year 1848). The aim of reaction is to make the people forget the forms of struggle, the forms of organisation, and the ideas and slogans which the revolutionary period begot in such profusion and variety. Just as those obtuse eulogists of English philistinism, the Webbs, try to represent Chartism, the revolutionary period of the English labour movement, as pure childishness, as “sowing wild oats”, as a piece of naïveté unworthy of serious attention, as an accidental and abnormal deviation, so too the German bourgeois historians treat the year 1848 in Germany. Such also is the attitude of the reactionaries to the Great French Revolution, which, by the fierce hatred it still inspires, demonstrates to this day the vitality and force of its influence on humanity. And in the same way our heroes of counter-revolution, particularly “democrats” of yesterday like Struve, Milyukov, Kiesewetter, and tutti quanti vie with one another in scurrilously slandering the revolutionary traditions of the Russian revolution. Although it is barely two years since the direct mass struggle of the proletariat won that particle of freedom which sends the liberal lackeys of the old regime into such raptures, a vast trend calling itself liberal (!!) has already arisen in our publicist literature. This trend is fostered by the Cadet press and is wholly devoted to depicting our revolution, revolutionary methods of struggle, revolutionary slogans, and revolutionary traditions as something base, primitive, naïve, elemental, mad, etc. ... even criminal ... from Milyukov to Kamyshansky il n’y a qu’un pas![1] On the other hand, the successes of reaction, which first drove the people from the Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants Deputies into the Dubasov-Stolypin Dumas, and is now   driving it into the Octobrist Duma, are depicted by the heroes of Russian liberalism as “the process of growth of constitutional consciousness in Russia

It is undoubtedly the duty of Russian Social-Democrats to study our revolution most carefully and thoroughly, to acquaint the masses with its forms of struggle, forms of organisation, etc., to strengthen the revolutionary traditions among the people, to convince the masses that improvements of any importance and permanence can be achieved solely and exclusively through revolutionary struggle, and to systematically expose the utter baseness of those smug liberals who pollute the social atmosphere with the miasma of “constitutional” servility, treachery, and Molchalinism. In the history of the struggle for liberty a single day of the October strike or of the December uprising is a hundred times more significant than months of Cadet flunkey speeches in the Duma on the subject of the blameless monarch and constitutional monarchy. We must see to it—for if we do not no one else will—that the people know much more thoroughly and in more detail, those spirited, eventful, and momentous days than those months of “constitutional” asphyxia and Balalaikin-Molchalin[4] prosperity so zealously announced to the world by our liberal-party and non-party “democratic” (ugh! ugh!) press with the amiable acquiescence of Stolypin and his retinue of gendarme censors.

There is no doubt that, in many cases, sympathy for the boycott is created precisely by these praiseworthy efforts of revolutionaries to foster tradition of the finest period of the revolutionary past, to light up the cheerless slough of the drab workaday present by a spark of bold, open, and resolute struggle. But it is just because we cherish this concern for revolutionary traditions that we must vigorously protest against the view that by using one of the slogans of a particular historical period the essential conditions of that period can be restored. It is one thing to preserve the traditions of the revolution, to know how to use them for constant propaganda and agitation and for acquainting the masses with the conditions of a direct and aggressive struggle against the old regime, but quite another thing to repeat a slogan divorced from the sum total of the   conditions which gave rise to it and which ensured its success and to apply it to essentially different conditions.

Marx himself, who so highly valued revolutionary traditions and unsparingly castigated a renegade or philistine attitude towards them, at the same time demanded that revolutionaries should be able to think, should be able to analyse the conditions under which old methods of struggle could be used, and not simply to repeat certain slogans. The “national” traditions of 1792 in France will perhaps for ever remain a model of certain revolutionary methods of struggle; but this did not prevent Marx in 1870 in the famous Address of the International from warning the French proletariat against the mistake of applying those traditions to the conditions of a different period.[5]

This holds good for Russia as well. We must study the conditions for the application of the boycott; we must instil in the masses the idea that the boycott is a quite legitimate and sometimes essential method at moments when the revolution is on the upswing (whatever the pedants who take the name of Marx in vain may say). But whether revolution is really on the upswing—and this is the fundamental condition for proclaiming a boycott—is a question which one must be able to raise independently and to decide on the basis of a serious analysis of the facts. It is our duty to prepare the way for such an upswing, as far as it lies within our power, and not to reject the boycott at the proper moment; but to regard the boycott slogan as being generally applicable to every bad or very bad representative institution would be an absolute mistake.

Take the reasoning that was used to defend and support the boycott in the “days of freedom”, and you will see at once that it is impossible simply to apply such arguments to present-day conditions.

When advocating the boycott in 1905 and the beginning of 1906 we said that participation in the elections would tend to lower the temper, to surrender the position to the enemy, to lead the revolutionary people astray, to make it easier for tsarism to come to an agreement with the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, and so on. What was the fundamental premise underlying these arguments, a premise not always specified but always assumed as something   which in those days was self-evident. This premise was the rich revolutionary energy of the masses, which sought and found direct outlets apart from any “constitutional” channels. This premise was the continuous offensive of the revolution against reaction, an offensive which it would have been criminal to weaken by occupying and defending a position that was deliberately yielded up by the enemy in order to weaken the general assault. Try to repeat these arguments apart from the conditions of this fundamental premise and you will immediately feel that all your “music” is off-key, that your fundamental tone is false.

It would be just as hopeless to attempt to justify the boycott by drawing a distinction between the Second and the Third Dumas. To regard the difference between the Cadets (who in the Second Duma completely betrayed the people to the Black Hundreds[6]) and the Octobrists[7] as a serious and fundamental difference, to attach any real significance to the notorious “constitution” which was torn up by the coup d’état of June 3, is something that in general corresponds much more to the spirit of vulgar democracy than that of revolutionary Social-Democracy. We have always said, maintained, and repeated that the “constitution” of the First and Second Dumas was only an illusion, that the Cadets’ talk was only a blind to screen their Octobrist nature, and that the Duma was a totally unsuitable instrument for satisfying the demands of the proletariat and the peasantry. For us June 3, 1907 is a natural and inevitable result of the defeat of December 1905. We were never “captivated” by the charms of the “Duma” constitution, and so we cannot be greatly disappointed by the transition from reaction embellished and glossed over by Rodichev’s phrase-mongering to naked, open, and crude reaction. The latter may even be a more effective means of sobering the ranting liberal simpletons or the sections of the population they have led astray....

Compare the Menshevik Stockholm resolution with the Bolshevik London resolution on the State Duma. You will find that the former is pompous, wordy, full of high-flown phrases about the significance of the Duma arid puffed up by a sense of the grandeur of work in the Duma. The latter is simple, concise, sober, arid modest. The first resolution   is imbued with a spirit of philistine jubilation over the marriage of Social-Democracy and constitutionalism (“the new power from the midst of the people”, and so on and so forth in this same spirit of official falsehood). The second resolution can be paraphrased approximately as follows: since the accursed counter-revolution has driven us into this accursed pigsty, we shall work there too for the benefit of the revolution, without whining, but also without boasting.

By defending the Duma against boycott when we were still in the period of direct revolutionary struggle, the Mensheviks, so to speak, gave their pledge to the people that the Duma would be something in the nature of a weapon of revolution. And they completely failed to honour this pledge. But if we Bolsheviks gave any pledge at all, it was only by our assurance that the Duma was the spawn of counter-revolution and that no real good could be expect ed from it. Our view has been borne out splendidly so far, and it can safely be said that it will be borne out by. future events as well. Unless the October-December strategy is “corrected” and repeated on the basis of the new data, there will never be freedom in Russia.

Therefore, when I am told that the Third Duma cannot be utilised as the Second Duma was, that the masses cannot be made to understand that it is necessary to take part in it, I would reply: if by “utilise” is meant some Menshevik bombast about it being a weapon of the revolution, etc., then it certainly cannot. But then even the first two Dumas proved in fact to be only steps to the Octobrist Duma, yet we utilised them for the simple and modest[2] purpose (propaganda and agitation, criticism and explaining to the masses what is taking place) for which we shall always   contrive to utilise even the worst representative institutions. A speech in the Duma will not cause any “revolution”, and propaganda in connection with the Duma is not distinguished by any particular merits; but the advantage that Social-Democracy can derive from the one and the other is not less, and sometimes even greater, than that derived from a printed speech or a speech delivered at some other gathering.

And we must explain to the masses our participation in the Octobrist Duma just as simply. Owing to the defeat of December 1905 and the failure of the attempts of 1906-07 to “repair” this defeat, reaction inevitably drove us and will continue to drive us constantly into worse and worse quasi-constitutional institutions. Always and everywhere we shall uphold our convictions and advocate our views, always insisting that no good can be expected as long as the old regime remains, as long as it is not wholly eradicated. We shall prepare the conditions for a new upswing, and until it takes place, and in order that it may take place, we shall work still harder and not launch slogans which have meaning only when the revolution is on the upswing.

It would be just as wrong to regard the boycott as a line of tactics counterposing the proletariat and part of the revolutionary bourgeois democracy to liberalism and reaction. The boycott is not a line of tactics, but a special means of struggle suitable under special conditions. To confuse Bolshevism with “boycottism” would be as bad as confusing it with “boyevism”.[8] The difference between the Bolshevik and Menshevik lines of tactics is now quite clear and has taken shape in the fundamentally different resolutions adopted in the spring of 1905 at the Bolshevik Third Congress in London and the Menshevik Conference in Geneva. There was no talk then either of boycott or of “boyevism”, nor could there have been. As everyone knows, our line of tactics differed essentially from the Menshevik line both in the elections to the Second Duma, when we were not boycottists, and in the Second Duma itself. The lines of tactics diverge in every field of the struggle whatever its means and methods may be, without any special methods of struggle peculiar to either line being created. And   if a boycott of the Third Duma were to be justified or caused by the collapse of revolutionary expectations in regard to the First or the Second Dumas, by the collapse of a “lawful”, “strong”, “stable”, and “genuine” constitution, it would be Menshevism of the worst kind.


[1] There is only one step.—Ed.

[2] Cf. the article in Proletary (Geneva), 1905,[9] “The Boycott of the Bulygin Duma” (see present edition, Vol. 9, pp. 179-87.—Ed.), where it was pointed out that we do not renounce the use of the Duma generally, but that we are now dealing with another issue confronting us, namely, that of fighting for a direct revolutionary path. See also the article in Proletary (Russian issue), 1906,[10] No. 1, “The Boycott” (see present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 141-49.—Ed.), where stress is laid on the modest extent of the benefits to be derived from work in the Duma. —Lenin

[3] See Marx’s letter to Kugelmann of March 3, 1869. (K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, p. 263).

[4] Balalaikin—a character in Saltykov-Shchedrin’s Modern Idyll; a liberal windbag, adventurer, and humbug, who places his selfish interests above all else.

Molchalin—a character in Griboyedov’s play Wit Works Woe typifying an unprincipled climber and toady.

[5] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, 1958, p. 497.

[6] Black Hundreds—monarchist gangs formed by the tsarist police to combat the revolutionary movement. They assassinated revolutionaries, assaulted progressive intellectuals, and organised anti-Jewish pogroms.

[7] Octobrists—members of the Octobrist party (or Union of October Seventeenth), founded in Russia after the promulgation of the tsar’s Manifesto of October 17(30), 1905. It was a counter-revolutionary party representing and defending the interests of the big bourgeoisie and landlords who engaged in capitalist farming. Its leaders were the well-known industrialist and Moscow houseowner A. I. Guchkov and the big landowner M. V. Rodzyanko. The Octobrists unreservedly supported the home and foreign policies of the tsarist government.

[9] Proletary (The Proletarian) (Geneva issue)—an illegal Bolshevik weekly, central organ of the R.S.D.L.P., founded in accordance with a resolution of the Third Congress of the Party. By a decision of a plenary meeting of the Party’s Central Committee on April 27 (May 10), 1905, Lenin was appointed Editor-in-Chief of the paper. It was published in Geneva from May 14 (27) to November 12 (25), 1905. Altogether twenty-six issues were brought out. Proletary followed the line of the old, Lenin Iskra, and maintained full continuity of policy with the Bolshevik newspaper Vperyod.

Lenin wrote about 90 articles and items for Proletary, whose political character, ideological content, and Bolshevik angle they determined. Lenin performed a tremendous job as the paper’s manager and editor. V. V. Vorovsky, A. V. Lunacharsky. and M. S. Olminsky regularly took part in time work of the editorial board. Important work was also done by N. K. Krupskaya, V. M. Velichkina, and V. A. Karpinsky. The paper had close ties with the labour movement in Russia, publishing articles and items written by workers who participated directly in the revolutionary movement. The collection of correspondence locally and its delivery to Geneva were organised by V. D. Bonch-Bruyevich, S. I. Gusev,and Al. Ulyanova-Yelizarova. The editors’ correspondence with the local Party organisations and readers was handled by N. K. Krupskaya and L. A. Fotieva.

Proletary reacted immediately to all important events in the Russian and international labour movement and waged an irreconcilable struggle against the Mensheviks and other opportunist   revisionist elements. The newspaper carried out a great deal of work in propaganda for the decisions of the Third Congress of the Party and played an important part in organising and ideologically uniting the Bolsheviks. It consistently defended revolutionary Marxism and worked out all the fundamental issues of the revolution which was developing in Russia. By highlighting the events of 1905, Proletary helped to rouse the broad masses of the working people to the struggle for the victory of the revolution.

Proletary exercised great influence on the local Social-Democratic organisations. Some of Lenin’s articles in the paper were reprinted in local Bolshevik papers and circulated in leaflet form. Publication of Proletary was discontinued shortly after Lenin’s departure for Russia at the beginning of November 1905. The last two issues (Nos. 25 and 26) were edited by V. V. Vorovsky, but for them too Lenin wrote several articles, which were published after his departure from Geneva. p 42

[10] Proletary (The Proletarian) (Russian issue)—an illegal Bolshevik newspaper published from August 21 (September 3), 1906 to November 28 (December 11), 1909 under the editorship of Lenin. Altogether 50 issues were put out. An active part in the work of the Editorial Board was taken by M.F. Vladimirsky, V.V. Vorovsky, A.V. Lunacharsky, and I.F. Dubrovinsky. The technical work was handled by Y.S. Schlichter, A.G. Schlichter, and others. The first twenty issues were prepared for the press and set up in Vyborg (printing from the matrices sent was organised in St. Petersburg; for purposes of secrecy the newspaper carried the statement that it was published in Moscow). Eventually, owing to the extremely difficult conditions created for the publication of an illegal organ in Russia, the Editorial Board of Proletary, in accordance with a decision of the St. Petersburg and Moscow committees of the R.S.D.L.P., arranged to have the paper published abroad (Nos. 21-40 were issued in Geneva, and Nos. 41-50 in Paris).

Proletary was in fact the Central Organ of the Bolsheviks. The bulk of the work on the Editorial Board was done by Lenin. Most of the issues carried several articles by him. Altogether over 100 articles and items by Lenin on all vital issues of the revolutionary struggle of the working class were published in Proletary. The paper devoted a good deal of space to tactical and general political questions, and published reports on the activities the C.C.. of the R.S.D.L.P., the decisions of conferences and C.C. plenary meetings, C.C. letters on various questions of Party activity, and a number of other documents. The paper was in close touch with the local Party organisations.

During the years of the Stolypin reaction Proletary played an important role in preserving and strengthening the Bolshevik organisations and combating the liquidators, otzovists, ultimatists, and god-builders. At the plenary meeting of the Party’s. Central Committee in January 1910 the Mensheviks, with the help of the conciliators, succeeded in obtaining a decision to close down the paper on the pretext of fighting factionalism.


[8] Boyevism—from the Russian word boyevik, a member of the revolutionary fighting squads, who, during the revolutionary struggle, used the tactics of armed action, helped political prisoners to escape, expropriated state-owned funds for the needs of the revolution, removed spies and agent provocateurs, etc. During the revolution of 1905-07 the Bolsheviks had special fighting squads.

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