V. I.   Lenin

The Elections in the Worker Curia in St. Petersburg

Published: Prostiye Rechi, No. 3, January 30, 1907. Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the text in Prostiye Rechi.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 62-69.
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 elections of workers’ delegates are an extremely important event in the political life of Russia and in the his tory of our labour movement, an event that has not yet been properly appreciated.

For the first time all parties with any standing among the proletariat have come before the masses of the workers, not with general programmes or slogans, but with a definite practical question: to the candidates of which party will the masses of the workers entrust the defence of their interests? As everyone knows, the system of elections in the worker curia is, of course, far removed from proper democratic representation. Nevertheless, the masses of the workers are making themselves heard in the elections. And the broad masses of the workers are witnessing a struggle between parties, that is, between definite political parties, for the first time in Russia.

Elections of workers’ delegates have already taken place in many parts of the country; but nothing like complete and exact information on the struggle of the parties in these elections is as yet available. The newspapers give only the most general, approximate, and superficial conclusions. Unless our Party officials, and especially the advanced workers themselves, undertake the necessary and extremely important task of studying the course and the results of the elections in the worker curia, we can definitely say that we shall lose extremely valuable and necessary material for the future development of Party work and Party agitation.

The general impression produced by the elections in the worker curia in Russia is unanimously summed up by all newspapers as follows: complete victory for the extreme Lefts, primarily the Social-Democrats, the Socialist-Revolutionaries coming second.

The elections have fully borne out the fundamental thesis of Social-Democracy: as a class, the proletariat is revolutionary. The proletarian masses are Social-Democratic in their aspirations and sympathies. The proletariat is the most revolutionary class in Russia.

All the talk about the Social-Democratic Party in Russia not being a workers’ party has in fact been refuted by the elections. Only liberals who are deliberately lying, or opportunists who indulge in idle words can now doubt the mass proletarian character of the Social-Democratic Party in Russia.

Before passing from general to particular conclusions, we must make the reservation that nothing like complete data is yet available. However, we consider it not only possible, but absolutely necessary to suggest a number of further conclusions, not with the idea of claiming to have exhausted the question, but for the purpose of submitting it, as a question of vast importance, for the consideration of all comrades, evoking an exchange of ideas, the collection of material, etc.

The striking thing revealed by the first newspaper re ports is the difference between Russia proper and Poland, which is much more advanced economically, culturally and politically. In Russia, in St. Petersburg and Moscow, at any rate, there are no frankly bourgeois parties that enjoy even limited support among the proletariat. The Social-Democrats preponderate absolutely; considerably less influence is exercised by extreme Left bourgeois democrats who regard themselves as socialists, namely, the Socialist Revolutionary Party. There are no Cadets among the workers, or at any rate, a very insignificant number of them.

In Poland there is a frankly bourgeois party that stands to the Right of the Cadets, and has played a conspicuous part in the elections—the Narodowci (Narodowi-Demokraci—National-Democrats).[2] This fact cannot be attributed to police and military persecution. The Polish bourgeoisie,   which skilfully plays upon the national oppression of all Poles and the religious persecution of all Catholics, seeks and finds some support among the masses, and, of course, among the Polish peasantry.

It is, however, self-evident that it would be absurd to deduce from this difference that there is some exceptional advantage intrinsic in Russian backwardness. This is not the case. The explanation is much simpler: it is due to historical and economic, and not to national, differences. There are in Russia immeasurably more survivals of serfdom among the masses of the people, in the rural districts, in the agrarian system—hence the more primitive, more direct revolutionary sentiments among the peasantry and among the working class, which is closely connected with the peasantry. This revolutionary sentiment undoubtedly expresses a general democratic (which in essence means bourgeois-democratic) protest, rather than proletarian class-consciousness. And then, our bourgeoisie is less developed, less class-conscious, less skilled in political struggle. It neglects activities among the proletariat not so much be cause it could not win a certain section away from us, but because it stands in less need of popular support (than in Europe and Poland). For the time being, it can rely on privilege, bribery, and brute force. The time will come, however, when in this country, too, all sorts of people of bourgeois origin will preach such abominations as nationalism, something in the nature of Christian democracy, anti-Semitism and so on, to the masses of the workers.

Let us now pass on to Russia proper. First of all, there is the noteworthy difference between St. Petersburg and Moscow. In Moscow the Social-Democrats gained a complete victory over the Socialist-Revolutionaries. According to some reports, not yet fully verified it is true, about 200 Social-Democratic delegates were elected, as against a mere 20 Socialist-Revolutionary delegates!

In St. Petersburg the reverse is the case: everyone is astonished at the unexpectedly high percentage of Socialist-Revolutionary delegates. Of course, the Social-Democrats predominate over the Socialist-Revolutionaries, but not overwhelmingly. The proportion of Socialist-Revolutionaries is estimated at 33 per cent or even (though this   is hardly correct) at 40 per cent. Whichever figure we take for the time being until the detailed returns, are available, we can understand why rank-and-file Social-Democrats in St. Petersburg feel that they have been beaten iii the worker curia. Even if one-third of the delegates are Socialist-Revolutionaries, that is actually a defeat for the Social-Democrats in the capital—a defeat in comparison with what we have seen in the rest of Russia, and with what all of us, as Social-Democrats, regard as normal and essential.

This is a fact of tremendous importance.... In St. Petersburg the extreme Left bourgeois democrats deprived the socialists of their overwhelming preponderance in the worker curia. It is our duty to give this fact the closest attention. All Social-Democrats must set to work to study this phenomenon carefully and find the correct explanation for it.

The general impression of the St. Petersburg Social-Democrats, who are amazed by the results of the elections of January 7 and 14, can be summed up as follows: (1) it was at the biggest factories, the strongholds of the most class-conscious, the most revolutionary proletariat, that Socialist-Revolutionaries inflicted the most telling defeat on the Social-Democrats; (2) the Socialist-Revolutionaries defeated mostly and in the main the Menshevik Social-Democrats. Where a Socialist-Revolutionary candidate opposed a Bolshevik Social-Democratic candidate, the Social-Democrats were far more often, in most cases in fact, victorious.

The supreme significance of both these conclusions is obvious. We must therefore take good care that these are not mere impressions but conclusions drawn from exact and verified data that can leave no room for two interpretations. It is, of course, extremely unlikely, almost impossible even, that the consensus of opinion of active Social-Democrats in the most diverse districts of St. Petersburg is mistaken. Of course, it would be ridiculous pedantry to expect revolutionaries who are at present overwhelmed with election work to compile exact and accurate statistics; nevertheless, the principal data, the main facts and figures can and must be collected, for they will be essential in all our Social-Democratic work in St. Petersburg for a long time to come.

Below we deal with this question in greater detail (see the article: “The Struggle Between the Social-Democrats and the Socialist-Revolutionaries in the Elections in the Worker Curia in St. Petersburg”). We shall here confine ourselves to an appraisal of the political significance of this relative defeat of Social-Democracy at the elections in the St. Petersburg worker curia.

First of all, it must be noted that the numerical preponderance of Social-Democratic delegates is obviously an indication of the greater number of factories in which the Social-Democrats have organisational groups. More detailed information will probably confirm what the Social-Democrats observed in the days of freedom in October, namely, that the Socialist-Revolutionaries carry on no effective, prolonged and serious organisational work among the proletariat, but just grab at any opportunity that may crop up and push resolutions through at meetings when feeling runs high, taking advantage of any moment of excitement to win votes through frothy and flashy “revolutionary” phrases and speeches.

This element of the Socialist-Revolutionary victory will, in all probability, be noted by every conscientious investigator as a feature of the recent elections in the worker curia in St. Petersburg. The whole point here, in the final analysis, is that a “revolutionary” petty-bourgeois party is incapable of steady and consistent proletarian activities; at the slightest change in the workers’ temper, it completely disappears from the working-class suburbs. Only at certain moments is it able to exploit the as yet insufficient political education of the masses, “captivating” them with their ostensibly broad presentation of questions (actually nebulous, intellectualist flummery), playing on their undeveloped class-consciousness, demagogically utilising the traditional “back-to-the-land” urge in cases where rural connections still exist, and so on and so forth.

Naturally, the bourgeois character of the revolution leads to the working-class districts being “raided” from time to time by hordes of radical and truly revolutionary bourgeois youths who have no class backing and who, when ever there are signs of a new upsurge or a new onslaught of the revolution, turn instinctively to the proletariat as   the only mass that is engaged in a serious fight for freedom. Socialist-Revolutionary speakers at workers’ meetings are a kind of stormy petrel indicating that the proletariat is in fine fettle, has recuperated somewhat, and is regaining strength after former defeats, that something is beginning to ferment among proletarians, something deep and wide spread,which will make them grapple again with the old order.

A comparison of the October and “Duma” periods with that of the present elections, and a simple statistical assessment of the number of permanent Socialist-Revolutionary organisational groups would undoubtedly show the truth of this explanation.

But it would, of course, be very foolish to confine ourselves to this explanation, and shut our eyes to the fact that it was at the largest factories, where the workers are most class-conscious and experienced in battle, that the Socialist-Revolutionaries defeated the Social-Democrats. Fortunately, we already know that, in fact, the extreme Left bourgeois democrats defeated not Social-Democracy, but the opportunist vulgarisation of Social-Democracy.

The revolutionary bourgeois democrats shirked battle with revolutionary Social-Democrats and, in fact, defeated only those who trail along in the wake of the non-revolutionary bourgeoisie, those who advocate blocs with the Cadets. This is most clearly corroborated by the evidence of Social-Democratic Party workers on the character of the speeches delivered by the Socialist-Revolutionaries, and by facts on the Socialist-Revolutionaries’ “victory” over the Mensheviks.

The St. Petersburg elections took place on January 7 and 14. On January 7 the workers of St. Petersburg learned that the thirty-one Mensheviks had broken away from the Social-Democratic Conference in order to bargain with the Cadets for seats in the Duma. For the whole following week the St. Petersburg bourgeois press exulted and rejoiced, praising the Mensheviks, inviting them to be seated next to the Cadets, and applauding their renunciation of the revolution, their joining the “opposition bloc”, “the moderate-socialist parties”, etc., etc.

The rout of the Mensheviks in the big factories is the first warning the proletarian masses have given the vacillating opportunist intellectuals!

The Mensheviks have turned towards the Cadets—the proletariat of St. Petersburg have turned away from the Mensheviks.

The Socialist-Revolutionaries took advantage of the split among the Social-Democrats, took advantage of the workers’ indignation at the Cadet-like Mensheviks, and did so with brazen alacrity. In the working-class suburbs they attacked the Social-Democrats for forming blocs with the Cadets (without saying anything about the Bolsheviks and the St. Petersburg Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.), but in the city they themselves were bargaining with the Cadets! It is now clear why they have been so carefully concealing from the public their views and their resolutions on blocs with the Cadets, and their blocs with the Popular Socialists, and so on and so forth.[1] They commit all the sins of Menshevism clandestinely, but when they confront the workers they reap applause and win votes by castigating Menshevism.

The organiser of the Semyannikov Subdistrict League of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, whose report we quote below, writes in that report on the elections at the huge Semyannikov Works, as follows: despite the Bolsheviks’ protests, the Mensheviks nominated Comrade X.[3] “At an election meeting at the works, a Socialist-Revolutionary intellectual spoke and severely criticised Comrade X’s Menshevik arguments in favour of an agreement with the Cadets, and, as the workers said, Comrade X ’was in the soup’.” In the eyes of the masses the defeat of the Mensheviks was complete. “When the masses learned,” we read in the same report, “that the Social-Democratic candidates were in favour of an agreement with the Cadets and that those candidates were Mensheviks, they said then and there [at the works] that they would not vote for the Mensheviks.”

This makes it quite clear why, during the election of delegates for the Social-Democratic conference, the Mensheviks were opposed to voting in accordance with platforms, i.e., were opposed to a direct vote of the masses themselves on the question of blocs with the Cadets!

“At the Nevsky Stearin Works, in the Menshevik factory subdistrict, a worker, N. M., who had been nominated as a delegate, declared bluntly: ’Now that I have heard that the Social-Democrats are in favour of an agreement with the Cadets, I am going over to the Socialist-Revolutionaries.’ And he did go over, and was elected delegate!!”

Such is the shameful state to which Social-Democracy has been brought by these miserable opportunists, who are capable of breaking away from the workers’ party on the eve of the elections, in order to haggle with the Cadets for seats.

The only conclusion to be drawn from this by a Social-Democrat who values the honour and good name of the proletarian party is that ruthless war must be waged on Menshevism in St. Petersburg. We must open the eyes of the workers to the people whose Cadet policy is driving the workers away from socialism and towards the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

The Socialist-Revolutionaries have captured the biggest factories from the Mensheviks. We must recapture them from the Socialist-Revolutionaries. We must send new agitators and fresh revolutionary Social-Democratic literature to the biggest factories and explain to the workers that they have fallen out of the hands of the Cadet-loving Mensheviks into the hands of Cadet-loving Socialist-Revolutionaries.

The whole course of the St. Petersburg election campaign, all the facts of the endless vacillations of the Mensheviks, of their efforts to enter a counter-revolutionary bloc with the Cadets (after they broke away from the workers’ party), and of their bargaining, jointly with the Socialist-Revolutionaries, with the Cadets for seats, give us a wealth of ammunition with which to fight both the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries at the big factories in St. Petersburg.

The big factories must and will become strongholds of revolutionary Social-Democracy, inaccessible to opportunists and petty-bourgeois revolutionaries alike.


[1] They published the resolution of their St. Petersburg Committee after the elections in the worker curia.—Lenin

[2] Narodowci (Narodowi-Democraci–National-Democrats)— the counter-revolutionary nationalist, party of the Polish bourgeoisie, formed in 1897. During the 1905-07 revolution the Narodowci became the main Polish counter-revolutionary party, the “Polish Black Hundreds” (Lenin). p. 63

[3] Comrade X–V. G. Chirkin, who in 1907 supported the Mensheviks.

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