V. I.   Lenin

The Significance of the St. Petersburg Elections

Written: Written on February 4 (17), 1907
Published: Published on February 11, 1907 in Proletary, No. 13. Published according to the newspaper text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 98-103.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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The election campaign in St. Petersburg is drawing to a close. The elections are only three days away, and by the time the reader sees these lines the results of the voting in St. Petersburg will be known.

One might think it useless to discuss the significance of the St. Petersburg elections until they are over. But that is not so. The election campaign in St. Petersburg has such a long history and has provided such an abundance of unusually instructive political material that its significance is already quite clear. Whatever the outcome of the elections, there can be no doubt that the St. Petersburg campaign of 1906-07 already constitutes an important, independent stage in the history of the Russian revolution.

The St. Petersburg election campaign has been a definite gain for the revolution, first, because it has brought out the relations between the political parties and revealed the frame of mind (and, consequently, the interests and ’the entire political situation) of the different classes, and then it has served in a big, public, mass event, as a practical test of the various answers given to the fundamental questions of Social-Democratic tactics in the Russian bourgeois revolution.

The main events in the St. Petersburg election campaign occurred with the speed of a whirlwind. And in this whirl wind, when immediate action was necessary at all costs, the true nature and character of the various parties and trends revealed themselves as never before. No formal ties or party   traditions were able to withstand this whirlwind—organisations broke asunder, promises were broken, decisions and positions were changed, and every day brought momentous news. The clashes between the different parties and trends were unusually sharp; polemics, sharp enough even in ordinary times, developed into a mêlée. This is not due to the fact that Russians have no self-restraint, or that they have been warped by illegal conditions, or that we are ill-bred—only philistines can bring forward such explanations.

No, the sharpness of these clashes, the fury of the struggle, was due to the depth of class differences, to the antagonism of the social and political trends which events brought to the surface with unexpected rapidity, and which demanded immediate “steps” from all, brought them all into collision, and compelled each to defend in struggle, auskämpfen, his proper place and his real line of policy.

All parties have their headquarters in St. Petersburg, the hub of political life in Russia. The press is not of local, but of national significance. It was therefore inevitable that the struggle of the parties in the St. Petersburg election campaign should become an extremely important symptom, a portent and prototype of many future battles and events, parliamentary and non-parliamentary, in the Russian revolution.

At first the question at issue was the seemingly petty, secondary, “technical” question of an agreement between all the opposition and revolutionary parties against the Black-Hundred danger. But this “simple” question actually concealed the fundamental political questions of: (1) the attitude of the government towards the liberals, the Cadets; (2) the real political trend of the Cadets; (3) the hegemony of the Cadets in the Russian liberation movement; (4) the political trends of the petty-bourgeois Trudovik parties; (5) the mutual class interests and political affinity of the moderate Popular Socialists and the revolutionary Socialist-Revolutionaries; (6) the petty-bourgeois or opportunist section of the Social-Democratic Labour Party; (7) the hegemony of the proletariat in the liberation movement; (8) the significance of the visible and open, and of the invisible and concealed elements and “potentialities” of the   revolutionary petty-bourgeois democratic movement in Russia.

And this abundance of political questions was raised and settled by events, by the course of the election campaign itself. These questions were raised against the will of many parties and without their being aware of them— and they were settled “violently” even to the extent of breaking all traditions—and the outcome was a surprise to the vast majority of the politicians taking part in the campaign.

“The Bolsheviks scraped through by a fluke,” says the philistine, shaking his head over all these surprises. “It was just a stroke of luck.”

Such talk reminds me of a passage in the recently published letters of Engels to Sorge. On March 7, 1884, Engels wrote to Sorge:

“A fortnight ago, my nephew from Barmen, an independent Conservative, came to visit me. I said to him: ’We have reached such a pitch in Germany that we can simply fold our arms and make our enemies do our work. Whether you repeal the Anti-Socialist Law, extend it, tighten it up or modify it—will make no difference, whatever you do, you will play into our hands. ’Yes,’ he replied, ’circumstances are working wonderfully in your favour.’ ’Well, of course,’ I replied, ’they would not if we had not correctly defined them forty years ago and had we not acted accordingly.’ My nephew made no reply.”[2]

The Bolsheviks cannot speak of forty years, of course— we are comparing something small with something very big—but we can speak of months and years of Social-Democratic tactics in the bourgeois revolution defined in advance. The Bolsheviks did indeed fold their arms during the most important and decisive moments in the election campaign in St. Petersburg—and circumstances worked for us. All our enemies, from the formidable and ruthless enemy Stolypin, to the revisionists, “enemies” with cardboard swords, worked for us.

At the beginning of the election campaign in St. Petersburg the whole opposition, all the Lefts, were opposed to the Bolsheviks. Everything possible or conceivable was done against us. Yet everything turned out as we said.

Why? Because long before (as long ago as “Two Tactics”,[1] 1905, in Geneva) we gave a far more correct assessment of the government’s attitude towards the liberals and the attitude of the petty-bourgeois democrats towards the proletariat.

What killed the bloc that was almost arranged between the Cadets and all the “Lefts” except the Bolsheviks? The negotiations between Milyukov and Stolypin. Stolypin beckoned—and the Cadet turned his back on the people to fawn like a puppy on his Black-Hundred master.

Was this chance? No, it was necessity, because the fundamental interests of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie compel them to abandon the revolutionary struggle con ducted together with the people at every decisive moment, and seek a compromise with reaction.

What was the cause of the absolute instability and spinelessness of all the petty-bourgeois (Narodnik and Trudovik) parties and of the Mensheviks, the petty-bourgeois section of the workers’ party? Why did they waver and vacillate, dash from Right to Left, follow in the wake of the Cadets, and hold them so dear?

Not because of the personal qualities of the individual, but because the petty bourgeois is inevitably inclined to follow in the footsteps of the liberal, to drag along behind him, because the petty bourgeois has no faith in himself, is unable to endure temporary “isolation”, is unable to face the baying of the bourgeois hounds without fear and trembling, has no faith in the independent revolutionary struggle of the masses, of the proletariat and peasants, shirks the role of leader in the bourgeois revolution, renounces his own slogans, and adapts and accommodates himself to the Milyukovs.

And the Milyukovs accommodate themselves to Stolypin!

The Bolsheviks determined their policy themselves, and in advance, unfurled their own banner, the banner of the revolutionary proletariat, before the people.

Down with hypocritical fables about a Black-Hundred danger, about “fighting” by paying calls on Stolypin! Those who really want freedom for the people and victory   for the revolution—let them follow us, both against the Black-Hundred gang and the Cadet hucksters.

We will fight independently, under all circumstances. We are not afraid to “isolate” ourselves from your cheap and nasty, petty and miserable tricks and transactions.

With the proletariat for the revolution—or with the liberals for, negotiations with Stolypin—voters, make your choice! Make your choice, Messrs. Narodniks! And you too, Menshevik comrades!

And having determined our line, we sat back, and waited for the outcome of the scrimmage that had begun. On January 6 our conference unfurled our banner. Until January 18 Milyukov grovelled at Stolypin’s feet while the Mensheviks, Narodniks and non-party people, grovelled at Milyukov’s feet.

They all got themselves in a tangle. They were all playing at diplomacy, and wrangled and quarrelled among them selves to such an extent that they could not march to get her.

We did not play at diplomacy, and denounced them all for the sake of a clear and open declaration of the principles of revolutionary proletarian struggle.

And all who were capable of fighting followed us. The Left bloc became a fact. The hegemony of the revolutionary proletariat became a fact. The proletariat led all the Trudoviks and a large part of the Mensheviks, even intellectuals.

The banner of the proletariat has been raised at the St. Petersburg elections. And whatever the outcome of the first serious elections in Russia in which all parties have participated—the banner of the independent proletariat, which is pursuing its own line, has already been raised. It will be held high in the parliamentary struggle and in all other forms of struggle that will lead to the victory of the revolution.

By the strength of its own independence, consistency and firmness, the socialist proletariat must win over the masses of oppressed and downtrodden peasants, the masses of wavering, vacillating and unstable petty-bourgeois democrats, and alienate them from the treacherous liberal bourgeoisie, thus gaining control over the bourgeoisie, and,   at the head of a popular mass movement, crush the hated autocracy—such is the task of the socialist proletariat in the bourgeois revolution.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 9, pp. 15-440.—Ed.

[2] Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Sorge, Stuttgart, 1921, S. 193.

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