V. I.   Lenin

Three Questions

Published: Prosveshcheniye, No. 1, December 1911. Signed: Peterburzhets. Published according to the Prosveshcheniye text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 433-445.
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 verbatim reports of the State Duma, even of the Third Duma, represent extremely interesting and instructive political material. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the supplement to the rag called Rossiya is worth more than all the liberal newspapers. For the liberal newspapers make it their business to whitewash the liberals, and to gloss over the presentation of essential problems, by the Rights on the one hand, and by the representatives of the real masses of the population on the other; they invariably introduce an element of falsehood into the appraisal of the real nature of our “home policy”. Yet it is precisely the way in which the various questions are presented, and the appraisal of the real nature of the issues involved, that is of prime importance in dealing with all the socio-economic and political problems of the present period.

We shall try to illustrate the above, as far as possible, by the debate in connection with three questions: on the secret political police, the famine, and the “temporary” Regulations of 1881.[2]

The first meeting of the current session of the Duma opened with a speech dedicated to Stolypin by the Chair man, an Octobrist. An interesting feature of the speech was the statement made by the leader of the Octobrists that “his [Stolypin’s] constant concern was to ensure steady, even if cautious and circumspect, progress along the path of political and social development in Russia”. Well put isn’t it? Stolypin in the capacity of a “progressist”! Many a democrat who read Rodzyanko’s speech must have paused to ask why, under the present system of government, under the present political regime, and as long as there exists the class whose policy Stolypin put into effect, there can be no other kind of “progress” except the kind that we are witnessing   at present, a kind of “progress” which fails to satisfy even the Octobrists. What a pity that none of the members of the Duma who were present during that speech[1] —those of them who pose as representatives of democracy—displayed any desire to dwell on the class roots of the Stolypin brand of “progress”.

Yet the debate on the secret political police was a suit able occasion for going into that matter.

Stolypin “trusted the honourable A. I. Guchkov”, thundered Markov the Second, “and his no less honourable friends in the Duma Centre. And he paid with his life for his trustfulness. The tranquillity which we experienced is the tranquillity of the grave. There is no other tranquillity. (Voices from the benches on the left: Hear, hear!) There is a revival of revolution.... There is no tranquillity, revolution is imminent. Revolution must be fought, we must fight it tooth and nail, we must give no quarter (laughter on the Left), we must hang all those rascals, fanatics, and scoundrels. That is all I have to say in opposition to the motion that this question be recognised as urgent[3]”.

That was how the representative of the landowners presented the question.

Markov the Second was followed by Rodichev, who spoke on the real substance of the question. As usual, he spoke eloquently. But this eloquent liberal presented the question in an incredibly crude way. Liberal words and words—nothing more. “When their [the Octobrists’] Central Committee,” exclaimed Mr. Rodichev, “declares with reference to the opposition that it is bent on assassinating its political antagonists, that is a shameful lie. But I am ready to forgive   you this lie if you vow to put an end to the serpent that has acquired power over the Russian government, to put an end to the spyocracy.” (See page 23 of the Verbatim Report in Rossiya, and also page 24, again with a “vow”.)

Impressive language—terribly impressive! Rodichev is prepared to forgive the Octobrists if they “vow” to put an end! But isn’t it all bluff, Mr. Windbag? Not only the Octobrists, but you, Cadets, as well—no matter how much you “vow”—cannot put an end to any serious evil. Your talk about “vows” in connection with so grave a question only serves to obscure the political consciousness of the masses instead of enlightening them; you muddle peoples’ minds by the din of words, instead of calmly, plainly and clearly explaining why the “serpent” has acquired power in the present instance, why it was able to and had to acquire power.

Since Mr. Rodichev does not explain this, since he is afraid of looking simply and directly at the root and the essence of the question, the thing that distinguishes him from the Octobrists is not the way he presents the question, nor his principles, but only the sweep of his eloquence. We need but pay just a little attention to his speech, we need only to ponder over it a little to see that, in substance, Mr. Rodichev shares the standpoint of the Octobrists; it is only for this reason that he can promise them “forgiveness” if they “vow”. All these offers of forgiveness and all these vows are nothing but a farce played by liberals afraid of more or less consistent democracy. Hence the approach to the question which we see in Rodichev’s words about “proportion”, in his defence of Lopukhin, etc. At bottom there is no distinction between the stand taken by the Octobrists and that taken by the liberals.

On the other hand, consider the speech of Pokrovsky the Second. He began by pointing out that the question put by him and his colleagues “is entirely different in substance” from that put by the Octobrists. And, notwithstanding the fact that there were a few somewhat inept passages in the question put by Pokrovsky the Second and his colleagues, this distinction in substance was correctly noted. “We are not worried,” said Pokrovsky the Second, “by what seems to worry you—that the political police may spell ruin for the government; what worries us is that the political police,   which the government is cultivating with your assistance, spells ruin for the country.”...

And Pokrovsky the Second tried to explain—not declaim but explain—why the government needs the political police, and what are the class roots of that institution (class roots are not affected by “vows” and offers of “forgiveness”). “The government,” said Pokrovsky the Second, “had become completely alien to society, it had no support whatever in society, because it was the enemy of democracy and in itself consisted only of the paltry remnants of the extinct class of the nobility; therefore it was obliged [our emphasis] to entrench itself, to separate and isolate itself from society—and so it created the political police.... Thus we see that as the broad social movement grows and ever larger sections of democracy are swept into this movement, the significance and the influence of the political police also grows.”

Pokrovsky the Second apparently felt that the word “society” used here was not explicit in that context, and so he began to use the correct word “democracy” instead. At any rate he tried—and that was the great service he rendered—to explain the essence of the political police, to throw light on its class roots, and on its connection with the entire system of government.

Even if we overlook Mr. Rodichev’s unrestrained and vulgar phrase-mongering, is it not obvious that the presentation of the question by Pokrovsky the Second and Gegechkori was as different as earth and sky from the presentation of the question by the Rodichevs? Yet the essential feature distinguishing the presentation of the question by the workers’ deputies was their consistent application of democratic principles, only of democratic principles. It is one of our most important tasks in the Third Duma in general, after the period 1906–11 in particular, and especially on the eve of the elections to the Fourth Duma, to explain the pro found difference between genuine democracy and the liberalism of the Cadets (the liberalism of “society”) who take the name of democracy in vain.

Let us now turn to the second question, that of the famine. The first to speak was Mr. Dzyubinsky, and he spoke very badly. Not that there was anything wrong with his facts,   he had certainly marshalled the proper facts and presented them simply, clearly, and truthfully. He showed no lack of sympathy for the famine-stricken people, he certainly sympathised with the sufferers and was not remiss in his criticism of the government—he criticised it all the time. But his speech was not that of a democrat but of a liberal official; this was its principal defect, and this is also the principal defect of the entire attitude of the “intellectual” members of the Trudovik group, a defect which is even more clearly shown in the verbatim reports of the proceedings in the First and Second Dumas. The only distinction between Dzyubinsky and the Cadets was that the former’s speech was free of the counter-revolutionary notes which no attentive person could fail to distinguish in all the speeches of the Cadets. Judging by the presentation of the question, however, Dzyubinsky did not go far beyond the liberal official’s point of view. That is why his speech was so infinitely weak, so murderously tedious, so wishy-washy, particularly as compared with the speech made by his colleague, another member of his party, the peasant Petrov the Third, in whom, as in almost all the peasant members of the Trudovik group in the First and Second Dumas, one feels a genuine democrat to the marrow of his bones, a democrat “rooted in the soil”.

Observe how Mr. Dzyubinsky starts his speech. In speaking of the famine he lays the main stress, of all things, on the relief clauses of the Relief Regulations of June 12, 1900! You feel at once that this man, this political leader, received his most vivid impressions of the famine, not from personal experience, not from his own observations of the life of the masses, not from any clear ideas of that life, but from a textbook on police law. To be sure, he used the most up-to-date and best textbook written by a most liberal professor, one who is as liberal as they make them.

Mr. Dzyubinsky criticised the Regulations of June 12, 1900. Now see how he criticises: “Practically from the very moment the Regulations of June 12, 1900, were issued, both the government itself and society recognised that they were unsatisfactory”.... The government itself has recognised that they are unsatisfactory, hence, the task of the democrats is to amend the Regulations of June 12,   1900, so that the government itself may consider them “satisfactory”! You can plainly visualise the atmosphere of a Russian provincial government institution. The air is stale, it reeks of a government office. The company is made up of the governor, the prosecutor, the colonel of the gendarmerie, the permanent member and two liberal members of the Zemstvo. One of the liberal members argues that it is necessary to present a petition for amendments to the Regulations of June 12, 1900, since “the government itself has recognised that they are unsatisfactory”.... Have a heart, Mr. Dzyubinsky! Why, indeed, do we democrats need the Duma, if we are going to carry into it too the language and manners, the way of “political” thinking and the presentation of questions which were pardonable (if they were pardonable) thirty years ago in a provincial government office, or in a snug philistine “nest”—the private office of a liberal engineer, lawyer, professor, or Zemstvo member? A Duma is not needed for that!

There is a proverb: “You can tell a man by the company he keeps”. When you read the Duma verbatim reports you feel like paraphrasing that proverb in regard to some of the deputies as follows: “Show me whom you are addressing when speaking from the rostrum of the State Duma, and I’ll tell you who you are”.

Mr. Rodichev, for instance, like all the Cadets, always addresses his words to the government and the Octobrists. Mr. Rodichev, like all the Cadets, calls upon them to take a vow” and, on that condition, is willing to “forgive” them. In substance, this brilliant phrase uttered by Rodichev (who involuntarily let his eloquence betray him into telling the truth) perfectly expresses the entire spirit of the political stand generally taken by the Cadets in all the Dumas, in all the important pronouncements of the Constitutional-Democratic Party in parliament, in the press, and in the ante-rooms of ministers. “I am ready to forgive you this lie if you vow to put an end to the serpent that has acquired power over the Russian government”—these words should be chiselled on the monument which it is high time to erect to Mr. Rodichev.

But Mr. Dzyubinsky is not a Cadet, nor is he one of those political illiterates who regard the Cadets as a democratic   party. He calls himself a Trudovik, a Narodnik. But he lacks democratic sense to such an extent that when he rises to speak from the rostrum of the State Duma he continues to address officials. He lacks the proper democratic sense to such an extent that he does not address his words to the mil lions of famine-stricken peasants—and in Russia it is possible to address them from the rostrum of the Duma, and so far, in fact, only from the rostrum of the Duma—but to the few hundred officials who know about the Regulations of June 12, 1900.

The Regulations of June 12,” said Mr. Dzyubinsky, “were intended to serve a purely political purpose; their purpose was to eliminate the Zemstvo-run public organisations and concentrate the relief work among the population entirely in the hands of the government.”

The Regulations of June 12 were intended to serve a purely political purpose.” What sort of language is this? How it reeks of hoary antiquity! Twenty-five or thirty years ago, in the cursed eighties of the past century, that was precisely the language Russkiye Vedomosti used in criticising the government from the Zemstvo point of view. Wake up, Mr. Dzyubinsky! You have slept all through the first decade of the twentieth century. While you were asleep old Russia died and a new Russia came into being. In this new Russia you cannot use the language you do—reproaching the government for intending its regulations to serve a “purely political” purpose. With all the good intentions, manners, and benevolence of your language it is more reactionary than that of the reactionaries in the Third Duma. It is the language of people—or of provincial officials who fight shy of all politics—who regard “politics” as something in the nature of sorcery, and dream of a relief campaign “without politics”. The only way to speak to the Russia of today is to appeal for a change from one kind of politics to another, from the politics of one class to the politics of another class or other classes, from one political system to another. This is the ABC not only of democracy, but even of the most narrow liberalism—if we take the meaning of these political terms seriously.

The whole of Dzyubinsky’s speech was pervaded with the same spirit. He spoke of the circular instructions   regarding the collection of taxes, of the tax spiral, of reduced railway fares for harvestmen and peasant delegates, he spoke about seed being received too late for the sowing, of cows demanded as security for credits advanced—because the government is more interested in feeding cattle than in feeding people—and about the fact that peasants would rather borrow 75,000 rubles at 12 per cent interest from a private bank than go through the red tape of borrowing 70,000 rubles interest free from the treasury. He wound up by citing informative letters from the localities that describe appalling distress. But in the whole of this very well-intentioned speech there was not a spark of democratic feeling, not a trace of appreciation of the tasks of democratic “politics”. What undoubtedly does follow from his speech—and this was what the well-intentioned Mr. Dzyubinsky wanted to prove—is that our regime is rotten; but the trouble is that the speaker did not even notice that at the same time there “followed” from his speech the rotten morals of a rotten liberal official.

The next speaker but one after Dzyubinsky was Count Tolstoi, deputy from Ufa Gubernia. He is very far removed from Trudovik views, but he spoke exactly like Dzyubinsky: “Guided by some sort of political considerations, the government is systematically preventing the Zemstvos from taking part in relief work, with the result that a vast section of the common people are suffering”.... Dzyubinsky’s and Count Tolstoi’s speeches could have been made twenty and fifty years ago. In these speeches there still lingers the spirit of the old, now fortunately dead, Russia, in which there were no classes that were aware, or beginning to be aware, of the difference between the “politics” of the various sections of the population, and that had learned, or had begun to learn, to fight openly and directly for their conflicting interests—the Russia of “common people” at the bottom and liberal Zemstvos and for the most part non-liberal officials on the top. At that time both “the common people” and the liberal Zemstvos were most of all afraid of “some sort of political considerations”.

Turn over a few more pages of the Verbatim Report. There you come across speeches which, on the whole, could not have been made in Russia either fifty or twenty years   ago, nor for that matter, seven years ago. There is an altercation between Markov the Second and Petrov the Third—men with numbers to their names,[4] as if deliberately to show that we have before us typical representatives of the various classes, that there are many like them. Markov the Second is attacking in the old way; Petrov the Third, on the other hand, is defending himself and is passing from defence to attack not in the old way.

Markov the Second: “The wordy and completely irrelevant attacks are to be explained, of course ... by the fact that, no matter what the Russian Government does, there will always be those who raise the people to revolt...”. “In the Western gubernias ... people are toiling on the land and doing things which your people on the Volga refuse to do [it is not quite clear whom the speaker means by the words “your people on the Volga” for the only speaker who preceded him was the Trudovik Kropotov from Vyatka Gubernia; apparently, “your people on the Volga” did not refer to any member of the Duma, nor to anything that was or might have been said in the Duma, but to something else], for there are too many loafers on the Volga, and this must be borne in mind.... We know that there are many among your famine-stricken people who actually ought to be made to starve, so as to compel them to work instead of loafing.”

Petrov the Third, although he is not from the Volga but from Perm Gubernia, replies: “Let me remind you again, gentlemen, that if Markov the Second is not a loafer he ought to recall the years 1905 and 1906 after which the landed gentry received millions in subsidies from the state treasury. What does that mean? This is what you should have remembered first; you had no right to cast a slur on the peasants.”

Markov the Second (from his seat): “Easier there, you!” These “Seconds” and “Thirds” behave very rudely, don’t they?

What lack of restraint compared with the well-mannered, respectable, official language which the Dzyubinskys used to prove to the Marshals of the Nobility that the relief regulations of 1850 ... of 1900 I mean ... are not perfect! It is as if we had just emerged from the respectable private office of a respectable “public figure” into the crush and   jam of some city square or busy street. What lack of decorum, what disorder! But we shall see later how “order” was introduced—not by the Chairman, as you might think, oh no!—but introduced by a respectable public figure, Mr. Shingaryov, member of the Constitutional-Democratic Party. However, let us finish with this picture of contemporary manners.

Petrov the Third: “It is said that if funds are allocated for relief, the people will spend the money on drink. That is not true, gentlemen. Whose duty is it to prevent this? The fact is that in many gubernias the people have requested that the taverns be closed down, but nothing is being done about it. It is possible, yes, that the population spends part of the money on liquor; but how about yourselves, Markov the Second and you other gentlemen, how much do you spend on liquor? Perhaps, if we divide the total per head, it will turn out that you spend much more on drink than the peasants do.... As long as the land, which ought to belong to the peasants, is in the hands of such Markovs, Purishkeviches, and their fraternity, famines will most certainly keep recurring. But these gentlemen will say that the peasants are to blame for the famine because they are loafers.”

Markov the Second (from his seat): “Our peasants are not starving”.

Petrov the Third: “I think, gentlemen, that the cardinal point of the question of how to put an end to all starvation is that the land must be taken from those who do not cultivate it, from the ‘non-loafing’ gentlemen, and transferred to those who do. So long as you do not transfer the land, and I know for certain that you will not, the peasant population will starve. It is thus obvious that strife similar to that which took place in 1905 is again inevitable, and you yourselves are inviting that strife, for a hungry man is like a beast and you, therefore, are provoking the population to make a revolution and to wrest by force what belongs to it by right.”

If Muromtsev had been Chairman of the Third Duma he would have surely stopped the speaker—in the First Duma he always stopped speakers for such inappropriate statements. In Muromtsev’s absence, Shingaryov, who spoke next, took it upon himself to restore “order”. He immediately   took Markov the Second to task for “speaking in a tone worthy of a cheap show”, and then he went on to lecture Petrov the Third on how to argue with the Markovs. Markov’s party colleague Vishnevsky, said Mr. Shingaryov, “spoke sincerely” and came out in favour of supporting the question. He, Shingaryov, expressed the “hope that the government will show more wisdom than Deputy Markov had shown in his speech.... It is the duty of a representative of the Russian people to say to gentlemen: Shame on you”.

Rodichev and Shingaryov thus put Markov utterly to shame and, on top of that, Shingaryov, by the model manner in which he polemised with Markov, utterly confounded “the Third”.

The last of the questions which form the subject of these notes concerned the “temporary” Regulations of August 14, 1881, i.e., the notorious Regulations for the protection of the state, which have been systematically reaffirmed in the course of thirty years and which represent the actual constitution of Russia. The main speakers on this question were Teslenko and Milyukov, and the episode that provided the finishing touch was the “expulsion of Jellinek”, i.e., the expulsion of Teslenko for fifteen sittings for quoting a pas sage from Jellinek,[5] despite Teslenko’s statement that his words had “nothing in common with the construction which is now, apparently, being put on them by those who want to vote” in favour of expulsion.

Without going into greater detail in respect of this interesting episode, we shall merely note that even in the presentation of this, politically so plain and clear, question of the Regulations of August 14, 1881, Mr. Milyukov, the leader of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, managed to provide a “brilliant” illustration of specific Cadet narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy. “Gentlemen,” exclaimed Milyukov, “there is no question more urgent than the one we have raised, for it represents the principal and fundamental contradiction of Russian life [can the contradiction between a scrap of paper and Russian life be called the contradiction of Russian life?]; it is the contradiction between the existing system of government and the methods of administration.”

That is not true, Mr. Milyukov. The very Regulations of August 14, 1881, their thirtieth anniversary, and their “peculiar” “juridical nature” prove that there is perfect harmony between the “existing system of government” and the methods of administration, that there is no “contradiction” at all. Considering, as he does, that there is a contradiction between the two, and trying, as he does, to make it appear that a gulf lies between the “system of government” and the “methods of administration”, Mr. Milyukov thereby descends in his criticism of the evil from the plane of the democratic struggle to that of liberal good wishes. By the very fact that he is creating the fiction of a gulf between things that are indissolubly connected in real life, Milyukov is lending support to juridical and state-law fictions that are intended to facilitate the justification of the evil, to obscure its real roots. Milyukov thereby takes an Octobrist stand; for the Octobrists, too, do not deny the existence of the evil, but try to remove the formal contradictions while leaving intact the real omnipotence of the bureaucracy from top to bottom and from bottom to top.

Like the genuine Cadet that he is, Milyukov—far from even noticing that, for a “democrat”, he has hopelessly muddled things, and that he is arguing like an Octobrist—is even proud of his “statesmanlike” presentation of the question. Immediately after the words quoted above we read:

This contradiction, gentlemen, is so obvious that even in your midst [Mr. Milyukov is, of course, addressing the “leading party of the Third Duma”—the Octobrists] it has been pointed out quite frequently; but very seldom did you reach the substance, the root, the primary cause, which we are discussing today. As a rule, what did you make of this problem of the contradiction between the system and the methods of government? You pleaded that the customs of administration cannot be rooted out at one stroke ... [the reference is correct so long ... so long as the entire “administration” is not removed, and this is something the Cadets themselves do not countenance] ... you referred to the local administrative bodies not obeying central instructions, instructions issued by the central authorities; the most that you dared, was to accuse the central authorities   of not giving proper instructions. To you this has always been a question of facts, to us it is a question of right.”

You refute yourself splendidly, Mr. Milyukov! The Octobrists are right, a hundred per cent right, when they refer to the close and indissoluble connection, to the closest and most indissoluble connection, between the central and local authorities. From this fact a democratic conclusion must be drawn, for it would be ridiculous to deny this connection after all that Russia knows about Tolmachov, Dumbadze, Reinbot, Illiodor, the murderers of Herzenstein, etc. You, however, are drawing the conclusion, naïve in its half-heartedness, that it is a “question of right”. But who is going to determine the extent of this right? How will you reach an “agreement” on this point? What is political right, if not the formulation, the registration, of the relationships of might? You have copied your definitions of right from West-European textbooks which record what has come into being as a result of a long period of battles in the West, as a result of the established (until disestablished by fundamentally different movements of the working class) balance of forces among the various elements of the West-European bourgeoisie, the West-European peasants, the West-European feudal landowners, government authorities, etc. In Russia this period has just begun, here the question is presented—such is the current historical situation—precisely as a question of “facts”; you, however, shrink back from this plain and clear presentation of the question, hiding your head, covering it with a magic cap of invisibility woven from the fictions of “right”. Yours is the standpoint of a liberal official, not of a democrat.


[1] We learn from the speech of Markov the Second that the workers’ deputies were not in the hall at the time. “You,” said Markov the Second, addressing the workers’ deputies, “... frankly expressed your attitude ... when your benches were vacated a little while ago.... You withdrew.... Even if I don’t respect you for that, I can under stand you.” Markov the Second very often behaves in the Duma like a common rowdy. But the words quoted above, as well as very many statements of his colleagues, show clearly that the question is present ed from the standpoint of a definite class. This outspokenness is, as a rule, a hundred times more useful for the development of the political consciousness of the masses than the hackneyed phrases of the liberals who claim to be “above classes”. —Lenin

[2] The questions were discussed at the sessions of the Third Duma held on October 15 and 17 (28 and 30), 1911.

[3] Urgent question. In Russia’s Duma procedure questions were not usually put directly to a minister or submitted for debate without having first been examined by a commission. The Duma itself, however, could decide that a question was “urgent” and should be the subject of an immediate debate. As the reader can see from this article, the debate on whether a question was sufficiently urgent for a debate could obstruct any real discussion of it and ensure its relegation to a commission. From this it follows that no question raised by a small minority in the Duma could ever be voted “urgent” and discussion on it permitted.

[4] Men with numbers to their names—ordinal numbers were added when several members of the Duma had the same name (e.g., Markov the First, Markov the Second).

[5] Jellinek, Georg—a German bourgeois lawyer.

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