V. I.   Lenin

The Social-Democrats and the Duma Elections



What is the Significance of the Menshevik Walk-Out at the Conference?

Some readers may think that the conclusion we have drawn is too drastic. We, however, think that it is unworthy of a socialist to conceal or blur the truth concerning a serious   political matter. We must call a spade a spade. We must expose all subterfuges and pretences, so that the mass of the workers may clearly understand what is going on. Only bourgeois parties regard elections as a game played behind the scenes and a division of the spoils. A workers’ party, however, must first of all help the people clearly to understand the relations between the parties, to understand their own interests and the objects of the struggle, to understand what is going on behind the scenes.

We have seen that the complaints about the composition of the conference of the St. Petersburg organisation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, about its refusal to divide, were mere evasions. We know that the real issue is a simple one. The Mensheviks wanted an agreement with the Cadets at all costs. The Mensheviks knew that the majority of the members of the St. Petersburg organisation did not share that view. At the All-Russian Conference the Mensheviks decided to abide by the decision of the local organisation in each locality. Now they have broken their promise and are trying to achieve their objects by means of a split.

Today (January 13) the 31 Mensheviks who walked out of the conference have already declared in the St. Petersburg newspapers that they have made proposals for a bloc to the Cadets and to all the Trudovik parties; not only to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Trudoviks (with whom the conference offered to make an agreement), but also to the “Popular Socialists”.

So the matter is perfectly clear. The class-conscious proletariat has decided to conduct an independent election campaign. The petty bourgeoisie (including the Trudoviks) is vacillating, rushing from one side to another; it is quite capable of preferring a deal with the Cadets to a struggle based on principles. The Mensheviks are the petty-bourgeois section of the workers’ party. At the very last moment, on the flimsiest pretexts, they are abandoning the revolutionary proletariat and going over to the Cadets.

That this conclusion is right is best confirmed by the Cadet newspapers. No one will suspect the Cadets of being in sympathy with the views of the St. Petersburg, i.e., the Bolshevik Social-Democrats!

Look at Rech, the central organ of the Cadet Party. Everybody knows perfectly well that Rech, in unison with Tovarishch, has been constantly egging the Mensheviks on to a split, and seeking every opportunity to praise them, care fully distinguishing them from the Bolsheviks. As soon as it became known that the Mensheviks had walked out of the Social-Democratic conference, Rech (January 11) published an editorial entitled: “The Social-Democratic Conference and Agreements”. This article openly applauds the “determination” of the Mensheviks and welcomes the split which they have initiated. This article openly declares that “outside the bloc of the revolutionary parties in the narrow sense of the word” (i.e., the St. Petersburg Social-Democrats and those to whom they have made proposals for an agreement, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Committee of the Trudovik Group) there remain the Mensheviks and the Popular Socialists (the most moderate and semi-Cadet of all the petty-bourgeois Trudovik parties).

And the Cadets say outright that they are prepared to “resume” negotiations with “both these moderate socialist parties”. They say outright that “the differentiation [division] which has taken place among the socialist parties promises to bring the ideas of the moderate socialists on Duma tactics somewhat closer to our own [i.e., Cadet] ideas on this subject”.

Coming from the leading Cadet newspaper, this statement is extremely important. The Cadets not only appreciate the practical results of the Menshevik change of front. They see clearly that the split engineered by the Mensheviks is of fundamental significance, i.e., that this split in fact will change the attitude of the Mensheviks towards the fundamental concepts of the political struggle and the tasks of the working class. The Cadets understand perfectly well that the Mensheviks have veered, not only towards accepting agreements in practice, but also towards the fundamental views of the bourgeoisie; that they have departed from the proletarian policy and have approached the bourgeois policy. Rech plainly states that the moderate socialists (that is to say, the Mensheviks) are approaching the Cadet tactics, are actually recognising Cadet priority and leadership. Al though they do not yet know whether the Socialist-Revolutionaries   and the Trudoviks will accept the proposal of the Social-Democratic conference, the Cadets are already reckoning with a very definite alignment of political forces: the liberal bourgeoisie will lead the moderate petty bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeois section of the proletariat; the revolutionary proletariat will act independently, and draw with it, at best (best for us, worst for the Cadets) only a part of the petty bourgeoisie.

This is how the Cadets depict the situation. And it cannot be denied that in this respect the Cadets are quite right. As the sun is reflected in a drop of water, so the small episode in St. Petersburg reflects the constant relationship between the policies of the liberal bourgeoisie, the working class and the petty bourgeoisie that inevitably characterises all capitalist countries. Everywhere and at all times the liberal bourgeoisie tries to bribe the uneducated masses with sops in order to divert them from revolutionary Social- Democracy. The Cadets are beginning to apply in Russia the “English” bourgeois method of fighting the proletariat, i. e., not by violence, but by bribing, flattering, dividing and cajoling the “moderates”, by making them Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, electors, etc.

The meaning of the phrase in the Cadet Rech about “resumption” of negotiations is also clear enough. When the Social-Democrats were united and the revolutionary Social-Democrats were predominant among them, the negotiations were broken off. Now that “both the moderate socialist par ties” have broken away from the revolution, the Cadets declare: “negotiations may be resumed”.

If the reader is not quite clear as to what these words mean in practice, we will explain them to him. The Cadets offered two seats (out of six) to the Lefts, namely: one seat to the workers’ curia and one to the socialists generally. The negotiations were broken off. Now the Cadets are inviting the “moderate socialists” again: “Come back, Mr. Customer, perhaps we can come to terms. We will give one seat to the Mensheviks and another to the ’Popular Socialists’, or, in a fit of generosity, we will even give you three seats.”

That is what the Cadets mean by “resumption” of negotiations: we made no concessions to the Lefts; but we are willing to make concessions to the moderate Lefts!

Persons who are naive or politically inexperienced may shake their heads, express doubt, sympathise, etc., as much as they like; it will not alter matters. After all, it is not how a certain result was obtained that is important, it is the result itself that is important (i.e., for the Cadets it is not important, but for the masses of the workers who wish to adopt an intelligent attitude towards politics, it is very important).

We do not know exactly how the negotiations between the Mensheviks and the Cadets were conducted—whether in writing, or by word of mouth, or by mere hints. It is possible that prominent moderate Mensheviks simply hinted to the Cadet leaders that a split was likely among the Social-Democrats, hinted that they would agree to agreements on a district basis. And the Cadets, of course, were quick to take the hint: “they” will split the St. Petersburg Social-Democrats, and we will include “them” in the district election list! “They” will help us, and we will help “them”. Is this deal less effective, business-like and definite than if “they” had gone straight to Kutler, Milyukov or Nabokov and said in plain words: We will split the St. Petersburg Conference of the Social-Democratic Party for you, and you will help us to get elected on some district list?

It is a fact that this is precisely the policy that is pursued by the bourgeois liberals and the opportunist Social-Democrats in all constitutional countries. The Russian workers must learn to understand this policy if they do not want to be led by the nose. Chernyshevsky said in his day: “Those who are afraid of soiling their hands had better keep away from politics.”[1] Those who take part in the elections and are afraid of soiling their hands in turning up the muck of bourgeois politics had better get out. Kid-gloved simpletons only do harm in politics by their fear of facing facts.

Another statement in the bourgeois press that fully con firms our estimate of the split is that made by Madame Kuskova in Tovarishch (January 10). She, too, welcomes the Mensheviks, incites them to bring about an irrevocable split, advises them not to “compromise” with the Bolsheviks, and promises them the assistance of the Rabocheye Dyelo group.

To understand Madame Kuskova’s article, one must know who she is. We will say who she is, as the majority of the workers do not know her.

The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party was founded in 1898. In 1899 Madame Kuskova and M. Prokopovich were members of the Party, to be exact, members of the section abroad, which was led by Plekhanov, at that time a revolutionary Social-Democrat. Madame Kuskova, however, was then, as now, an opportunist; she advocated petty-bourgeois views in the Social-Democratic movement and championed Bernsteinism, which, in the final analysis, means subordinating the working class to the policy of the liberals. Madame Kuskova expressed her views most clearly in the celebrated Credo (which means a symbol of faith, a programme, an ex position of world-outlook). This Credo said the following: “The workers must conduct the economic struggle, and the liberals the political struggle.” The Rabocheye Dyelo people (as the opportunists in the Social-Democratic movement were then called) were substantially inclined to take the same view. Plekhanov declared a war to the knife against these views (in which he was assisted by the Russian revolutionary Social-Democrats), and on this issue split the section of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party abroad. He wrote a pamphlet entitled Vademecum (a Guide for the Rabocheye Dyelo people), in opposition to the opportunists, especially Madame Kuskova.

Madame Kuskova was expelled from the Social-Democratic Party. With Prokopovich, she went over to the liberals, the Cadets. Later on she left the Cadets as well, and became a “non—party” writer for the “non—party” Cadet newspaper Tovarishch.

Madame Kuskova is not an isolated case. She is a typical specimen of the petty-bourgeois intellectual, who imports opportunism into the workers’ party and wanders from the Social-Democrats to the Cadets, from the Cadets to the Mensheviks, and so forth.

These are the people who are beating the drum and cheering in honour of the split that the Mensheviks are causing among the Social-Democrats in St. Petersburg.

These are the people to whom the workers who follow the Mensheviks are handing over the cause of the proletariat.



[1] Chernyshevsky, N. C. (1828-89)—the great Russian revolutionary democrat, materialist philosopher and writer.

Lenin is referring to Chernyshevsky’s work Carey’s Letters on Political Economy to the President of the United States of America.

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