V. I.   Lenin

The Meaning of the Crisis

Published: Zvezda, No. 18, April 16, 1911. Signed: V. Ilyin. Published according to the Zvezda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 168-172.
Translated: Dora Cox
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 notorious Cabinet and political crisis of which so much has been written in the press, poses more profound questions than the liberals, who are making the most noise about it, think. They say that the crisis confronts us with the problem of violation of the Constitution. Actually what the crisis confronts us with is the Cadets’ and the Octobrists’ mistaken conception of the Constitution, the profound delusion entertained on that score by the two parties. The more widespread this delusion becomes the more insistently must we explain it. The more the Cadets try to use their accusations against the Octobrists as a means of peddling their wrong ideas about the allegedly “constitutional” character of the crisis, ideas common to the Octobrists and the Cadets, the more important it is to explain this community of ideas now being revealed.

Let us take the recent reflections of Rech and Russkiye Vedomosti on the slogan for the elections to the Fourth Duma. For or against the Constitution—that, say the two main Cadet publications, is how the question is being and will continue to be presented.

Now take a look at the reasoning of the Octobrists. Here is a typical article by Mr. Gromoboi in Golos Moskvy for March 30. It is entitled “A Disturbed Ant-Hill”. The Octobrist publicist tries to persuade those, in his opinion, conscientious defenders of Mr. Stolypin who “fear the idea of joining the opposition” by proving to them “that they are taking the wrong steps”. “To a constitutionalist,” exclaims Mr. Gromoboi, “there can be no graver sin than the violation of the Constitution.” What can be said on the essence of the matter? asks Mr. Gromoboi; and answering, says:

Again the flintlock, nationalism, volitional impulses, state necessity? Alas, we have heard all that before, and we have also heard promises that were not justified.”

To the Octobrists (and to the Vekhi writers who under stood most deeply and expressed most vividly the spirit of Cadetism) Stolypin’s policy was an attractive “promise”. This “promise”, the Octobrists confess, was not justified.

What does that mean?

Actually, Stolypin’s policy was not a promise, but has been the stark political and economic reality of Russian life in the last four (or even five) years. Both June 3, 1907, and November 9, 1906 (June 14, 1910), were not promises but reality. This reality has been put over and enforced by the representatives of the big landowning nobility and of the élite of the merchant and industrial capitalists, organised on a national scale. When today the spokesman of the Octobrist, Moscow (and, consequently, the all-Russia) capitalists says—“they have not been justified”—that sums up a definite phase of political history, a definite system of attempts to satisfy, through the Third Duma, through Stolypin’s agrarian policy, etc., the demands of the epoch, the demands of Russia’s capitalist development. The Octobrist capitalists worked conscientiously and assiduously, sparing nothing—not even their pockets—to help these attempts; but now they are obliged to confess that the promise has not justified itself.

Consequently, it is not a matter of broken promises, or of “violation of the Constitution”—for it is ridiculous to dissociate March 14, 1911, from June 3, 1907; the point is that the demands of the epoch cannot be satisfied through what the Octobrists and the Cadets call the “Constitution”.

The “Constitution” which gave the majority to the Cadets in the First and Second Dumas could not satisfy the demands of the times, nor can these be satisfied by the “Constitution” which made the Octobrists the decisive party (in the Third Duma). When today the Octobrists say—“they have not been justified”, the meaning of this confession, and of the crisis which has extorted it, is that the constitutional illusions both of the Cadets and of the Octobrists have again been shattered, this time finally and completely.

The democratic movement jolted the old out of its groove. The Cadets deprecated the “excesses” of the democratic movement and promised to accomplish the new by peaceful, “constitutional” means. These hopes were not justified. It was Mr. Stolypin who tackled the job of accomplishing the new—but in such a way as to ensure that the changed forms would reinforce the old, that the organisation of the diehard landowners and of the pillars of capital would fortify the old, and that the substitution of private ownership of land for the village commune would create a new stratum of defenders of the old. For years the Octobrists, working hand in glove with Mr. Stolypin, tried to bring this about, “unhampered by the menace” of the democratic movement which for the time being had been suppressed.

These hopes have not been justified.

What has been justified is the words of those who pointed out the futility and harmfulness of constitutional illusions in epochs of rapid and radical changes such as the early twentieth century in Russia.

The three years of the Third, Octobrist Duma, and of its Octobrist “Constitution”, of the Octobrists’ “life of peace and love” with Stolypin, have not vanished without leaving a trace: the country has made further economic progress, and all and sundry “Right” political parties have developed, grown, shown their worth (and have spent themselves).

The agrarian policy of the Third Duma has shown itself in operation in most of the villages and in the most out-of-the-way parts of Russia, where it has stirred up the discontent that had lain dormant for centuries, unceremoniously revealing and accentuating the existing antagonisms, emboldening the kulak and enlightening those at the other end of the scale. The Third Duma has had its effect. And so have the first two Dumas, which produced so many good, well-meaning, innocuous and impotent wishes. The collapse of the constitutional illusions of the years 1906 to 1910, incomparably more pronounced, has been revealed within the shell of the “constitutional” crisis of 1911.

In point of fact, both Cadets and Octobrists alike based their policy on these illusions. They were the illusions of the liberal bourgeoisie, the illusions of the Centre, and there is no essential difference between the “Left” Centre (the   Cadets) and the “Right” Centre (the Octobrists), since, owing to objective conditions, both were doomed to failure. The old has been jolted out of its groove. But neither the Left nor the Right Centre has achieved the new. Who is going to accomplish this inescapable and historically inevitable new, and how, that is a moot question. The “constitutional” crisis is significant because the Octobrists, the masters of the situation, have admitted that this question is again an “open” one; they have written “unjustified” across even their apparently most “valid” aspirations, aspirations which are valid from the merchant’s point of view, and are commercially sober and modest. The “constitutional” crisis is significant because the experience of the Octobrists has revealed the extreme narrowness, poverty and impotence of the Cadets’ catchword—who is for the Constitution, and who is against it.

The democratic movement has shown this slogan to be inadequate. The Octobrist movement has corroborated it by the experience of yet another phase of Russian history. The Cadets will not succeed in dragging Russia back to the former naïve constitutional illusions.

The orthodox Octobrists,” writes Mr, Gromoboi, “are having a fit of nerves; they declare that they will resign from the Bureau, and do not know what to do about their fellow-constitutionalists. Their agitation is unjustified. They should remain calm in the knowledge that truth is on their side, and that this truth is so elementary, so universally recognised, that it does not need a Copernicus or a Galileo to prove it. They should go on calmly doing their duty—declare that unlawful actions are unlawful, and without fail, making no compromises, reject the unlawful law.”

That is an illusion, Mr. Gromoboi! You cannot dispense with “a Copernicus and a Galileo”. Your own efforts have brought no “justification”, you will not manage without them.

When we contemplate this disturbed, teeming ant-hill—the servile press, servile orators, servile deputies [and, you might add, Mr. Gromoboi: the servile, slavish bourgeoisie]—we can only out of humanity pity them and gently remind them that they can no longer serve P. A. Stolypin; they can only cringe before him.”

But P. A. Stolypin is not unique—he is typical; he is not an isolated individual, but is “hand in glove” with the Council of the United Nobility. The Octobrists have tried to live in harmony with him under the new conditions—under the conditions of a Duma, of a “Constitution”, of the bourgeois policy of ruining the village commune à la Tolmachov. And if they failed in the attempt, it is by no means Stolypin’s fault.

“...After all, the entire strength of people’s representatives is derived from their contact with the people; and if they [the Right Octobrists] lose ... their ‘identity’ by the very fact that they are giving such support [support to Stolypin and his violation of the Constitution], what will they be worth then?”

So this is what we have come to! Octobrists speak of “contact with the people” as the source of “strength of people’s representatives”! That is really funny. But no more so than the Cadet speeches in the First and Second Dumas about “contact with the people” alongside their speeches, say, against local land committees. The words which sound funny when uttered by Cadets and Octobrists are by no means funny in themselves; they are significant. For—despite the intentions of those who utter these words today—they express, once more, the collapse of constitutional illusions—which is a useful by-product of the “constitutional” crisis.


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