V. I.   Lenin

Tactics of the R.S.D.L.P. in the Election Campaign

Interview Granted to a Special Correspondent of L’Humanité[2] on February 17 (March 2), 1907

Published: Published on April 4, 1907, in L’Humanité, No. 1082. Published according to the L’Humanité text. Translated from the French.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 145-151.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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The last Congress of Russian Social-Democracy, held in Stockholm in April 1906, decided that the Social-Democrats should not conclude any election agreements with bourgeois parties. This principle was immediately applied in the elections to the First Duma in Siberia and the Caucasus. Would it be equally valid for the Second Duma? The Bolsheviks said “Yes”, the Mensheviks said “No”. The Bolsheviks demanded an extraordinary congress to decide the question. At the beginning of November, only a conference was held, at which all Party organisations were represented. The Mensheviks, jointly with the Bund, supported a proposal on an agreement with the Cadets in the forthcoming elections. The Bolsheviks, jointly with the Letts and Poles, condemned such an agreement. The proposal of the former obtained 18 votes, that of the latter, 14 votes. The conference decided that local organisations must state their own views on the question. “Let it be in St. Petersburg as elsewhere”, the Bolsheviks deliberately told the Mensheviks.

Two things must be understood: on the one hand, the Mensheviks, notwithstanding their name, have a majority in the Central Committee of the Party—in other words they are the masters of its general policy; on the other hand, the Bolsheviks have a majority in the St. Petersburg and Moscow Gubernia Committees. To have the two metropolitan cities against it, is a difficult and humiliating situation   for the Central Committee. This explains the attempt on the part of the Central Committee to put through a Menshevik policy in St. Petersburg and Moscow at any cost. For the elections in St. Petersburg the Central Committee took the risk of infringing local autonomy by provoking a split as soon as an excuse was found.

The St. Petersburg organisation has not yet held the gubernia conference that was envisaged by the All—Russian Conference in November. For a long time the liberal news papers have been conducting a lively discussion of election tactics. They were afraid that the socialists would act without them and muster the masses, without them and against them, around the banner of the revolution. They fulminated against the Bolsheviks, persistently qualifying them as “sectarians, dogmatists, Blanquists, anarchists, etc.”, but they wanted to conduct the election campaign jointly with the other revolutionary parties, and put up a joint election list with them. They have the biggest St. Petersburg newspapers, so it was easy for them to make themselves heard. The Bolsheviks had only their illegal newspaper Proletary at their disposal, which is published abroad and appears only twice monthly.

In secret and through their underground connections, the Menshevik Central Committee informed the Cadets that the Social-Democrats’ tactics depended on their committee alone, and not on the Bolshevik Gubernia Committee. This was revealed at an informatory conference held early in January and attended by representatives of the Cadets, the Popular Socialists, the Trudoviks, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Social-Democrats. All were in favour of a joint election list. All—except the delegate from the Gubernia Committee who announced, after the conference, that the committee would take a decision only some days later. Then the delegate from the Central Committee intervened. “It would be better,” he stated, “if the agreement were not concluded by the organisation as a whole but by each election ward separately [there are 12 such wards in St. Petersburg].”

“But this is the first I hear of such a proposal!” the delegate from the Gubernia Committee replied. “Is this the plan of the Central Committee?”

“No, it is my own idea,” answered the delegate from the Central Committee.

To one who understands, half a word is enough. The Cadets understood. Rech (official organ of the Cadet Party), Tovarishch (organ of the Left Cadets, something like the Millerand-Socialists), and Strana (organ of the Party of Democratic Reform[3]) all announced that the Mensheviks constitute the reasonable part, the model part, the decent part of Social-Democracy. The Bolsheviks represent barbarism. They prevent socialism from becoming civilised and parliamentary! But it has been announced in the presence of Milyukov, the leader of the Cadets, that the Bolsheviks would act separately.

The St. Petersburg Conference that was to decide the question of election tactics was held on January 6. It was attended by 39 Bolsheviks and 31 Mensheviks. The latter at first challenged the correctness of the credentials. Though they dared not claim a majority, this did, however, serve them as a pretext for walking out of the Conference. Their second pretext: they demanded, in accordance with the proposal of the Central Committee of January 4, that the organisation divide into two parts for a decision on the question of election tactics—that there should be separate conferences for St. Petersburg City and St. Petersburg Gubernia. To anybody who knows the St. Petersburg Social-Democratic organisation, based partly on place of residence, partly on the national principle (the Lettish and the Estonian sections) or on the principle of employment (the military and the railwaymen’s sections), this was not only a contravention of the organisation’s autonomy, but even, in certain respects, contrary to common sense. The Conference, therefore, declared itself against this proposal, which did not in any way accord with its principles and, moreover, had been put to it as imperative.

The thirty-one delegates walked out of the Conference, and the Central Committee announced that the minority was relieved of the necessity of submitting to the decision of the majority. This was not merely a challenge, but the Central Committee’s announcement of a split.

The thirty-one organised their own separate committee and participated in the negotiations that the Cadets were   conducting with the Left bloc of Trudoviks, Popular Socialists and Socialist-Revolutionaries. However, the appearance of a new actor on the stage upset the deal. On January 4, Novoye Vremya published an article by the Octobrist Stolypin, brother of the minister. “If the Cadets had the courage to make a complete break with the revolutionary groups and take a firm stand on constitutional ground, their party would be legalised,” he wrote. A few days later (January 15), Milyukov called on Minister Stolypin, and two days after his visit all Cadet newspapers reported that the Cadets had broken off negotiations with the Left. But this game brought the Cadets no advantage; they had only seriously but unnecessarily compromised themselves. They were unable to accept Stolypin’s conditions.

As for the Mensheviks, they compromised themselves at the same time, no less seriously and just as unnecessarily. At first, despite Milyukov’s visit to Stolypin, they continued their talks with the Cadets and with the Left groups. It was only on January 18 that the Conference took place at which the split occurred and at which they were unable to come to an agreement on the distribution of seats for the deputies. Furthermore in that same period, Rech wrote that in order to alienate the Bolsheviks the Cadets were giving the Mensheviks the seat that had been promised the worker curia, and the Mensheviks did nothing by way of protest against this extraordinary method of trafficking in workers’ votes. Far from it! The Central Committee continued bargaining with the Cadets, which meant consenting to their terms. It was this fact that aroused the workers’ indignation! It was this selfsame fact that made me write my pamphlet “The Hypocrisy of the Thirty-One Mensheviks”,[1] for which the latter want to arraign me before a Party tribunal.

After the Conference of January 6, at which the split occurred, the Bolsheviks declared: “If the Lefts, including the Mensheviks, conclude an alliance with the Cadets, we shall wage the struggle alone. If the negotiations end in a breakdown, we, in our turn, will propose the terms of an   agreement, and the acceptance of these terms will mean for them the acceptance of the principle of proletarian hegemony.”

The negotiations between the Lefts and the Cadets ended in a breakdown (the Conference of January 18); this was our first victory. We proposed terms for a Left bloc that would not enter into a deal with the Cadet Party; these terms were accepted on January 25 by all except the Mensheviks. This was the second victory. Of the six places in St. Petersburg, we proposed two for the worker curia, two for the Social-Democrats, and two for the other parties. And it was obvious that the worker curia would elect two Social-Democrats. Fifteen days still remained to election day, but something happened then that the Cadets had not expected—in addition to the Black-Hundred list, the Octobrist list, and the Cadet list, there appeared the election list of a Left bloc including neither Cadets nor Mensheviks.

At their previous conferences with the Left parties, the Cadets had offered t.he Lefts two seats, while the Lefts had claimed three. When the Cadets saw that our Left bloc had been formed against them, they took fright and entered in their list only three candidates from their party. Of the other three places they offered one to Professor Kovalevsky (Party of Democratic Reform), the second to the priest Petrov (a very popular demagogue, a Christian Democrat) and the third to the workers. They made this last concession, incidentally, in order to prevent a storm of indignation among the people.

The Cadets won the elections, but it must be stressed that the Left bloc polled 25 per cent of the total number of votes in St. Petersburg and that they were victorious in the Vyborg District. In mans’ districts the Cadets won by a very small majority. In five districts it would have been enough to gain a further 1,600 votes to ensure a victory for the Left bloc; in Kolomna District the Lefts were short of only 99 votes. The Mensheviks, therefore, prevent. ed a victory of the Left parties in St. Petersburg; nevertheless, the revolutionary Left is, in general, stronger in the Second Duma than it was in the First.

The experiment we have conducted has been highly instructive. First, we see that the St. Petersburg workers   persist in remaining Bolsheviks, stoutly determined to defend the autonomy of their organisation against encroachment by the Central Committee. Then, we now know what we ought to think of the Black-Hundred danger, an argument that was dragged out into the open to justify an agreement with the Cadets during the first stage of the elections. This is nothing but an invention to deceive the socialist parties and protect the Cadets from the Left danger. For, indeed, “the real danger to the Cadets is from the Left”, as Rech was once forced to admit. “Whoever votes for the Left makes it possible for the Rights to break through,” the Cadet newspapers hammered away at us for weeks. This slogan provided them with a means of planting doubt among the wavering. By their bold campaign they brought about a situation in which the Left bloc obtained fewer votes (13 per cent) in Moscow than in St. Petersburg, be cause we had no newspaper of our own in Moscow. But they could not prevent the revelation of the incontestable truth— the Black-Hundred danger was a lie and a pretext. There were four election lists in Moscow just as there were in St. Petersburg; neither in St. Petersburg nor in Moscow did the alliance of the Black Hundreds and the Octobrists bring the Rights victory. We are in possession of figures that can be quoted in case of necessity.

The Mensheviks are thus at liberty to adhere to the Cadets and serve them. We shall not follow them. Neither will the people follow them. The Cadets’ behaviour has been such that the masses are swinging more and more to the Left. If Milyukov imagines that by speaking of our “adventurous policy” and classifying our banner as a “red rag” he will deprive us of followers, we can only invite him to continue talking such nonsense, for it is to our advantage. The Cadet-like Mensheviks would be wise to give thought to the fact that at those St. Petersburg factories where the workers were formerly Bolsheviks, Bolsheviks were again elected, but that at those factories where the workers were formerly Mensheviks and where propaganda was conducted mainly by Mensheviks—the Socialist-Revolutionaries were victorious! The Socialist-Revolutionaries themselves must have been amazed at the number of votes they received. How grateful they should be for Menshevik   opportunism! As far as we are concerned, such results can only fortify our conviction that today, more than ever, our duty and the guarantee of our success lie in joint work, not with the liberal bourgeoisie, who want to put an end to the revolution, but with the democratic peasantry, against the baseness and treachery of the bourgeoisie, who are day by day becoming more and more counter-revolutionary. The best policy is, once again and always, the frankly revolutionary policy, the bitter, completely independent struggle under the proletarian banner which by degrees is gathering around our party the countless masses of democratic peasants together with worker proletarians.


[1] See pp. 33-34 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] “The daily newspaper L’Humanité was founded by Jean Jaurès in 1904 as the organ of the French Socialist Party. In 1903 the news paper welcomed the beginning of the revolution in Russia and expressed the solidarity of the French people with the “Russian nation that was creating its own 1789”. The editors of the newspaper organised collections for the benefit of the Russian revolution. During the First World War (1914-18) the newspaper fell into the hands of the extreme Right wing of the French Socialist Party, and adopted a chauvinist position.

In 1918 the newspaper was taken over by Marcel Cachin, a prominent leader of the French and international working-class movement, who became its, political director. In the period 1918-20 L’Humanitè opposed the imperialist policy of the French Government, which sent its armed forces against the Soviet Republic. From December 1920, after the split in the French Socialist Party and the formation of the French Communist Party, the newspaper became the Central Organ of the Communists. At the beginning of the Second World War, in August 1939, the newspaper was banned by the French Government and went underground. During the nazi occupation of France (1940-44) the newspaper was published illegally and played a tremendous role in the struggle for the liberation of France from the fascist invaders.

In the post-war period the newspaper has conducted a constant struggle to strengthen the national independence of the country, for the unity of working-class action, for the strengthening of peace and friendship between peoples, for democracy and social progress.

[3] The Party of Democratic Reform—a liberal-monarchist bourgeois party founded at the beginning of 1906 during the elections to the First Duma, from elements who found the Cadet programme too Left. The party had ceased to exist by the end of 1907.

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