V. I.   Lenin

Against Boycott

Notes of a Social-Democratic Publicist



We have left an examination of the strongest and the only Marxist arguments in favour of a boycott to the last. Active boycott has no meaning apart from a broad revolutionary upswing. Granted. But a broad upswing evolves from one that is not broad. Signs of a certain upswing are in evidence. The boycott slogan ought to be launched by us, since that slogan supports, develops, and expands the incipient upswing.

Such, in my opinion, is the basic argument which, in a more or less clear form, determines the tendency towards boycott among Social-Democrats. Moreover, the comrades who stand closest to direct proletarian work proceed not from any argumentation “constructed” according to a certain type, but from a sum total of impressions derived from their contact with the working-class masses.

One of the few questions on which so far it seems there are not, or were not, disagreements between the two factions of the Social-Democrats, is that of the reason for the protracted lull in the development of our revolution. “The proletariat has not recovered”—that is the reason. Indeed, the brunt of the October-December struggle was borne by the proletariat alone. The proletariat alone fought in a systematic, organised, and unremitting way for the whole nation. No wonder that in a country with the smallest percentage of proletarian population (by European standards), the proletariat should have found itself utterly exhausted by such a struggle. Besides, ever since December the combined forces of governmental and bourgeois reaction have been striking their hardest all the time at the proletariat. Police persecutions and executions have decimated the ranks of the proletariat in the course of eighteen months, while systematic lock-outs, beginning with   the “punitive” closing down of state-owned factories and ending with capitalist conspiracies against the workers, have increased poverty among the mass of the working class to an unprecedented extent. And now, some Social-Democratic functionaries say, there are signs of a rising challenge among the masses, a mustering of strength by the proletariat. This rather vague and indefinite impression is supported by a stronger argument, namely, indubitable evidence of a business revival in certain branches of industry. The growing demand for workers should inevitably intensify the strike movement. The workers will be bound to attempt to make up for at least some of the tremendous losses they sustained in the period of repression and lock-outs. Finally, the third and most powerful argument is the one that points not to a problematical or generally expected strike movement, but to a single great strike already decided upon by the workers’ organisations. At the beginning of 1907, the representatives of 10,000 textile workers discussed their position and outlined steps for strengthening the trade unions in that industry. The delegates have met again, this time representing 20,000 workers, and they resolved to call a general strike of the textile workers in July 1907. This movement may involve up to 400,000 workers. It originates in the Moscow region, i.e., the biggest centre of the labour movement in Russia and the biggest trade and industrial centre. It is in Moscow, and only in Moscow, that the mass workers’ movement is most likely to develop into a wide popular movement of decisive political importance. As for the textile workers, they are the worst paid and least developed element of the total of the working class, who participated least of all in previous movements and who have the closest connections with the peasantry. The initiative of such workers may be an indication that the movement will embrace much wider strata of the proletariat than before. As regards the connection between the strike movement and the revolutionary upswing of the masses, this has already been demonstrated repeatedly in the history of the Russian revolution.

It is the bounden duty of the Social-Democrats to concentrate supreme attention and special efforts on this movement.   Work in this field should certainly be given precedence over the elections to the Octobrist Duma. The masses should be made to see the necessity of converting this strike movement into a general and broad attack on the autocracy. That is just what the boycott slogan means—a shifting of attention from the Duma to the direct mass struggle. The boycott slogan means imbuing the new movement with a political and revolutionary content.

Such, roughly, is the train of thought which has led certain Social-Democrats to the conviction that the Third Duma must be boycotted. This argument in favour of the boycott is undoubtedly a Marxist one, and has nothing in common with the bare repetition of a slogan dissociated from specific historical conditions.

But strong as this argument is, it is not enough, in my opinion, to make us accept the boycott slogan straightaway. This argument emphasises what no Russian Social-Democrat who ponders the lessons of our revolution should have any doubts about, namely, that we cannot renounce boycott, that we must be prepared to put that slogan forward at the proper time, and that our way of stating the boycott issue has nothing in common with the liberal, wretchedly philistine way—to keep clear of it or not to keep clear of it?[1] –which is devoid of all revolutionary content.

Let us take it for granted that everything the Social-Democratic adherents of the boycott say about the changed temper of the workers, about the industrial revival, and about the July strike of the textile workers is wholly in accord with the facts.

What follows from all this? We have before us the beginning of a partial upswing of revolutionary import.[2]   Must we make every effort to support and develop it, and try to convert it into a general revolutionary upswing, and then into a movement, of an aggressive type? Undoubtedly. There can be no two opinions about this among the Social-Democrats (except, perhaps, those contributing to Tovarishch). But do we need the boycott slogan for developing the movement at this very moment, at the beginning of this partial upswing, before it has definitely passed into a general upswing? Is this slogan capable of promoting the movement today? This is a different question, one which, in our opinion, would have to be answered in the negative.

A general upswing can and should be developed from a partial upswing by direct and immediate arguments and slogans without any relation to the Third Duma. The en tire course of events after December fully confirms the Social-Democratic view on the role of the monarchist constitution, on the necessity of direct struggle. Citizens, we shall say, if you do not want to see the cause of democracy in, Russia going steadily faster and faster downhill as it did after December 1905 during the hegemony of the Cadet gentlemen over the democratic movement, then support the incipient workers’ movement, support the direct mass struggle. Without it there can be no guarantee of freedom in Russia.

Agitation of this type would undoubtedly be a perfectly consistent revolutionary-Social-Democratic agitation. Would we necessarily have to add to it: Don’t believe in the Third Duma, citizens, and look at us, Social-Democrats, who are boycotting it as proof of our protest!

Such an addition under prevailing conditions is not only unnecessary, but sounds rather odd, sounds almost like mockery. In any case, no one believes in the Third Duma, i. e., among the strata of the population that are capable of sustaining the democratic movement there is not and cannot be any of that enthusiasm for the constitutional institution of the Third Duma that undoubtedly existed among the public at large for the First Duma, for the first attempts in Russia to set up any kind of institutions provided they were constitutional.

Widespread public interest in 1905 and the beginning of 1906 was focused on the first representative institution, even though it was based on a monarchist constitution. That is a fact. That is what the Social-Democrats had to fight against and show up as clearly as possible.

Not so today. It is not enthusiasm for the first “parliament” that forms a characteristic feature of the moment, not belief in the Duma, but unbelief in an upswing.

Under these conditions we shall not be strengthening the movement by prematurely putting forward the boycott slogan, we shall not be paralysing the real obstacles to that movement. Moreover, by doing so we even risk weakening the force of our agitation, for the boycott is a slogan associated with an upswing that has taken definite shape, but the trouble now is that wide circles of the population do not believe in the upswing, do not see its strength.

We must first of all see to it that the strength of this upswing is demonstrated in actual fact, and we shall always have time afterwards to put forward the slogan which in directly expresses that strength. Even so it is a question whether a revolutionary movement of an aggressive character requires a special slogan diverting attention from ... the Third Duma. Possibly not. In order to pass by some thing that is important and really capable of rousing the enthusiasm of the inexperienced crowd who have never seen a parliament before, it may be necessary to boycott. the thing that should be passed by. But in order to pass by an institution that is absolutely incapable of rousing the enthusiasm of the democratic or semi-democratic crowd of today it is not necessary to proclaim a boycott. The crux of the matter now is not in a boycott, but in direct and immediate efforts to convert the partial upswing into a general upswing, the trade-union movement into a revolutionary movement, the defence against lock-outs into an offensive against reaction.


[1] See Tovarishch for a specimen of liberal argumentation by L. Martov, a former contributor to Social-Democratic publications and now a contributor to liberal newspapers. —Lenin

[2] Some hold that the textile strike is a movement of a new type which sets the trade-union movement apart from the revolutionary movement. But we pass over this view, first because to read a pessimistic meaning into all symptoms of phenomena of a complex type is generally a dangerous practice which often muddles many Social-Democrats who are not quite “firm in the saddle”. Secondly, if the textile strike was found to have these characteristics we Social-Democrats would have to fight against them in the most energetic manner.   Consequently, in the event of the success of our struggle the question would be just as we have stated it. —Lenin

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