V. I.   Lenin

The Debate on the Extension of the Duma’s Budgetary Powers[2]

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 1, February 1908. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 13, pages 432-438.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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The question of extending the budgetary powers of the Duma was debated at three sessions held on January 12, 15, and 17. The Cadet Party brought in a Bill for that purpose signed by forty Duma members. Representatives of all the parties spoke on the subject and the Minister of Finance made two long speeches on behalf of the government. A representative of the Social-Democratic Labour Party also spoke. Arid the debate concluded with the unanimous (so says Stolichnaya Pochta[3] for January 18) adoption of the Octobrists’ motion that the Bill for the extension of the Duma’s budgetary powers be referred to committee “without going into the extent of these changes”, i.e., the changes to the Rules of March 8, which considerably restricted the budgetary powers of the Duma.

How could such a strange thing happen? How could the Third Duma, a parliament of Black-Hundred die-hards, unanimously adopt a motion of the Octobrists, which virtually falls in with the government’s wishes and was presented after the first speech of the Minister of Finance, who anticipated just such an outcome. In substance, the Cadets’ Bill is unacceptable; on particular points—why not modify the law. So declared the Black-Hundred Minister. And the Octobrists worded their proposal accordingly, stressing the fact that they did not go into the extent of those changes in the law.

That the Octobrists saw eye to eye with the Black-Hundred Minister is not surprising. Nor, to anyone familiar with the nature of the Constitutional-Democratic Party,   was it surprising that the Cadets withdrew their wording (in which, of course, nothing was mentioned about their not going into the extent of the changes which they themselves had outlined!). But that the Social-Democrats could be a party to this kind of unanimity is incredible, and we should like to believe that Stolichnaya Pochta did not tell the truth, and that the Social-Democrats did not vote for the Octobrists’ motion.

However, there is a more important issue here than the question whether the Social-Democrats voted for or against the Octobrists. And that is the question of the mistake undoubtedly committed by the Social-Democratic deputy Pokrovsky 2nd. It is to this mistake and to the real political significance of the debate of January 12, 15, and 17, that we wish to draw the attention of our readers.

The Russian Duma has no budgetary powers, for “by law” the rejection of a budget does not prevent it from being put into execution. That law, promulgated by the counter revolutionary government after the defeat of the December uprising (February 20, 1906, the notorious “Fundamental Laws”), makes a mockery of popular representation at the hands of the Black Hundreds, the tsar, and the landlords. And the “Rules” of March 8, 1906, further emphasise this mockery by imposing a multitude of petty restraints on an examination of the budget in the Duma and by even laying it down (Article 9) that “during the discussion of the draft state budget, items of revenue and expenditure which have been inserted in the draft on the basis of existing laws, civil, lists, and schedules, as well as royal commands issued by way of supreme governance, cannot be excluded or modified”. Is this not a mockery? Nothing that conforms to the laws, to the civil lists, to schedules, or simply to the royal commands, can be modified! Is it not ridiculous, after this, to talk about the budgetary powers of the Russian Duma?

The question now arises—what were the tasks of the bourgeois democrats, if they are really fighting for freedom, in the face of such a situation? What were the tasks of the workers’ party?—in this article we are speaking only of the tasks of parliamentary struggle and of the parliamentary representatives of the respective parties.

Obviously, the question of the Duma’s budgetary powers had to be raised in the Duma in order to make quite clear to both the Russian people and to Europe the Black-Hundred contemptuous attitude of tsarism and to show the complete powerlessness of the Duma. The immediate practical object of such clarification (not to mention the basic task of every democrat—that of revealing the truth to the people, making them see the light) was further determined by the question of the loan. The Black-Hundred government of the tsar could not have held out after December 1905, and could not hold out even now, without the help of world capital of the international bourgeoisie in the shape of loans. And the world bourgeoisie is giving billions in loans to an obviously bankrupt tsar, not only because it is lured, like all moneylenders, by the prospect of big profits, but because it realises its own vested interest in the victory of the old regime over the revolution in Russia, for it is the proletariat that is marching at the head of this revolution.

Thus, the only object of raising and debating this question in the Duma could be that of exposing the whole truth. Practical reform activity could not, at this time and in this situation, be the aim of a democrat, because, first, the impossibility of reforms on the basis of the existing Fundamental Laws of the Duma’s budgetary powers is obvious, and secondly, it would be absurd, in a Duma composed of Black-Hundred die-hards and Moscow merchants, to propose that its powers, the powers of such a Duma, should be extended. The Russian Cadets (whom only ignoramuses or simpletons can regard as democrats) did not grasp this task, of course. In raising the issue, they forthwith placed it on a false basis—that of a partial reform. We do not, of course, deny the possibility and necessity of a democrat or a Social-Democrat sometimes raising the question of a partial reform. But in such a Duma as the Third Duma, at such a moment as the present, on such a question as budgetary powers, already hopelessly crippled by inviolable Fundamental Laws, this was absurd. The Cadets could raise the question as a matter of partial reform—we are willing to concede them even that—but democrats could not treat this question in the way that the Cadets have done.

They stressed the so-called business aspect of the matter, the inconvenience of the Rules of March 8, their disadvantage even to the government, and the story of the way various idiotic laws against the Duma were drafted in the idiotic government offices of Bulygin, Witte, and others of that gang. The spirit of the Cadets’ presentation of the issue is most saliently conveyed in the following words of Mr. Shingaryov: “In the Bill we have introduced there are no encroachments [on the prerogatives of the monarch], no ulterior motives [!!] whatever. All it seeks to do is done for the sake of convenience of the Duma’s work, for the sake of its dignity, for the sake of completing the work we have been called upon to do” (our italics; p. 1263 of the official Stenographic Record of the session of January 15, 1908).

Such a person befogs people’s minds instead of enlightening them, because what he says is nonsense and a bare faced lie. We cannot alter this inescapable conclusion, even if this Mr. Shingaryov and his whole fraternity of Cadet politicians sincerely believed in the “value” of their “diplomacy”. A democrat should reveal to the people the gulf that lies between the powers of parliament and the prerogatives of the monarch, and not deaden the public mind, not distort the political struggle by reducing it to an office-routine correction of the laws. In thus presenting the issue, the Cadets show in fact that they are rivals of the tsar’s bureaucrats and the Octobrists, and not champions of freedom, not even freedom for the big bourgeoisie. Only bureaucrats vulgarly flirting with liberalism, and not representatives of a parliamentary opposition, can talk like that.

The speech by the representative of the Social-Democrats, Pokrovsky 2nd, we gladly acknowledge, reveals a quite different spirit, presenting the issue in a fundamentally different way. The Social-Democrat stated bluntly and clearly that he considered popular representation in the Third Duma falsified (we are quoting Stolichnaya Pochta for January 18, since the verbatim reports of this session are not yet available). He stressed not minor points, not the official derivation of the law, but the ruined and oppressed state of the masses, of the vast millions of the people. He rightly declared that “one cannot speak of the budgetary powers of the Duma without irony”, that we were demanding not   only the right to recast the whole budget (Kokovtsev, a government official with a lucrative post, argued in the Duma mainly against Shingaryov and Adzhemov, government officials without lucrative posts, over the question whether “recasting " was permissible and to what extent), but to “remodel the whole financial system” and “reject the government’s budget”. He concluded with a no less correct and, for a member of the workers’ party, obligatory demand for “full power of the people”. On all these points Pokrovsky conscientiously and correctly upheld the Social-Democratic point of view.

But in doing so, he committed an unfortunate mistake— judging by newspaper reports, the whole Social-Democratic group committed that mistake in giving such instructions to its spokesman. Pokrovsky declared: “We support the proposal of the 40 because it tends towards an extension of the budgetary powers of a popular representative assembly.”

What was the object of this declaration of support for a proposal that was plainly lacking in principle, that was plainly inadequate, plainly signed by unprincipled people who were incapable of showing the slightest firmness—a proposal that was plainly and for all practical purposes worthless? This was not support for the militant bourgeoisie (a formula which many people like to use to justify their political spinelessness), but support for the wavering liberal-Octobrist bourgeoisie. That this was so, was proved immediately by the facts. The Cadets themselves proved it by withdrawing their proposal and joining with the Octobrists in the motion to have the Bill “referred to committee without going into the extent of the changes in the law” (I). For the hundredth and thousandth time “support” given to the Cadets led to those who supported them being deceived. For the hundredth and thousandth time the facts have revealed how shoddy and impermissible are the tactics of supporting liberal, Cadet proposals that follow the line, etc.[1]

If the Cadets, instead of joining with the Octobrists, had put to the vote a declaration stating clearly and precisely that the Duma was powerless iii financial matters, that popular representation was falsified, that the country had been ruined by the autocracy and a financial débâcle was unavoidable, and that under such circumstances the democratic representatives would not give their support to any loans—that would have been an honest act on the part of the bourgeois democrats, an act of struggle and not an act of dull-witted flunkeyism. It would have been our duty to support such an act, while not forgetting. to stipulate our own independent Social-Democratic objectives. Such an act would have contributed to the enlightenment of the people and the exposure of the autocracy.

The defeat of such a declaration in the Duma and the violent opposition such a proposal would have raised among the Black Hundreds would have been a historical service rendered by the democrats and probably a new phase in the struggle for, freedom. But now the Cadets have once again proved bankrupt. Social-Democratic comrades in the Duma, protect the honour of the socialist workers’ party! Do not allow yourselves to suffer failure by giving support to such liberalism!

One violent member of the Right in the Duma departed from the Octobrists’ tactics, which aimed at glossing over differences and coaxing the Cadets into an agreement. The Black-Hundred Kovalenko bluntly declared in the Duma on January 12 that he was against introducing the Cadets’ Bill in the Committee (p. 1192 of Stenographic Record). But apparently he voted, did this hero, with the Octobrists; he was brave only in words. He admirably illustrated the real state of affairs by referring in his speech to the following example as proof of the need for emergency measures: “Take, for instance, the insurrection in Moscow, the dispatch of punitive detachments. Could the government have had   time to follow the ordinary course?”... (p. 1193). It is a pity that Social-Democrats do not catch these sparks of truth that come from the Black Hundreds. You are right, deputy colleague—he should have been told. There is no place here for the ordinary course. Let us drop hypocrisy and admit that we are living through not “an ordinary course”, but civil war; that the government is not ruling, but fighting, that the state of things in Russia is one of barely restrained insurrection. That would be the truth, and it would do the people good to be reminded of it more often!


[1] The “Bezgolovy”[4] newspaper Stolichnaya Pochta, through the mouth of a Mr. Saturin, announces that “the opposition, very sensibly [!] voted for it [for the Octobrist motion]. As a result the amendment [that is, the motion to abstain from determining the extent of the changes] was adopted unanimously” (January 18, p. 4, “From the Assembly   Hall”). Long live the unanimity between the Russian “Bezgolovy” liberals and the Octobrists and ministers of the Black-Hundred tsar! —Lenin

[2] The Debate on the Extension of the Duma’s Budgetary Powers was first published in Sotsial-Demokrat, the Central Organ of the   R.S.D.L.P., issue No. 1, February 1908. The article was reprinted in the newspaper Proletary, No. 27, March 26 (April 8) of the same year with a postscript by Lenin (see p. 439 of this volume).

Sotsial-Demokrat—Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P., an illegal newspaper, published from February 1908 to January 1917. Issue No. 1 appeared in Russia, but thereafter the paper was published abroad, first in Paris, then in Geneva. The Editorial Board, according to a decision of the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., was made up of representatives of the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks, and the Polish Social-Democrats. Over eighty articles and other items of Lenin’s were published in Sotsial-Demokrat. On the paper’s Editorial Board Lenin fought for a consistent Bolshevik line. Some of the editors (Kamenev and Zinovyev) took a conciliatory stand towards the liquidators and tried to obstruct Lenin’s policy. The Menshevik editors Martov and Dan sabotaged the work of the Editorial Board while at the same time openly defending the liquidators in Golos Sotsial-Demokrata. Lenin’s uncompromising fight against the liquidators led to Martov and Dan retiring from the Editorial Board in June 1911. From December 1911 onwards Sotsial-Demokrat was edited by Lenin.

[3] Stolichnaya Pochta (Metropolitan Post)—a Left-Cadet newspaper, published in St. Petersburg from October 1906 to February 1908.


[4] Bezgolovy (Headless)—ironically applied by Lenin to the Bezzaglavtsi, a group of bourgeois liberals (S. N. Prokopovich, Y. D. Kuskova, etc..) formed around the journal Bes Zaglaviya (Without a Title). In 1908, the Bezzaglavtsi published the newspapers Stolichnaya Pochta and Nasha Gazeta.

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