V. I. Lenin

Stolypin and the Revolution

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 24, October 18 (31), 1911. Published according to the Sotsial-Demokrat text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 247-256.
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.README

The assassination of the arch-hangman Stolypin occurred at a time when a number of symptoms indicated that the first period in the history of the Russian counter-revolution was coming to an end. That is why the event of September 1, quite insignificant in itself, again raises the extremely important question of the content and meaning of the counter-revolution in Russia. One discerns notes of a really serious and principled attitude amid the chorus of reactionaries who are servilely singing the praises of Stolypin, or are rummaging in the history of the intrigues of the Black-Hundred gang which is lording it over Russia, and amid the chorus of the liberals who are shaking their heads over the “wild and insane” shot (it goes without saying that included among the liberals are the former Social-Democrats of Dyelo Zhizni who used the hackneyed expression quoted above). Attempts are being made to view “the Stolypin period” of Russian history as a definite entity.

Stolypin was the head of the counter-revolutionary government for about five years, from 1906 to 1911. This was indeed a unique period crowded with instructive events. Externally, it may be described as the period of preparation for and accomplishment of the coup d’état of June 3, 1907. The preparation for this coup, which has already shown its results in all spheres of our social life, began in the sum mer of 1908, when Stolypin addressed the First Duma in his capacity as Minister of the Interior. The question is, on what social forces did the men who staged the coup rely, or what forces prompted them? What was the social and   economic content of the period ushered in on June 3? Stolypin’s personal “career” provides instructive material and interesting examples bearing on this question.

A landowner and Marshal of the Nobility,[1] he was appointed governor in 1902, under Plehve, gained “fame” in the eyes of the tsar and the reactionary court clique by his brutal reprisals against the peasants and the cruel punishment he inflicted upon them (in Saratov Gubernia), organised Black-Hundred gangs and pogroms in 1905 (the pogrom in Balashov), became Minister of the Interior in 1906 and Chairman of the Council of Ministers after the dissolution of the First Duma. That, in very brief out line, is Stolypin’s political biography. The biography of the head of the counter-revolutionary government is at the same time the biography of the class which carried out the counter-revolution—Stolypin was nothing more than an agent or clerk in its employ. This class is the Russian landed nobility with Nicholas Romanov, the first nobleman and biggest landowner, at their head. It is made up of the thirty thousand feudal landowners who control seventy million dessiatines of land in European Russia—that is to say, as much land as is owned by ten million peasant house holds. The latifundia owned by this class form a basis for feudal exaction which, in various forms and under various names (labour-service, bondage, etc.) still reigns in the traditionally Russian central provinces. The “land hunger” of the Russian peasant (to use a favourite expression of the liberals and Narodniks) is nothing but the reverse side of the over-abundance of land in the hands of this class. The agrarian question, the central issue in our 1905 Revolution, was one of whether landed proprietorship would remain intact—in which case the poverty-stricken, wretched, starving, browbeaten and downtrodden peasantry would for many years to come inevitably remain as the bulk of the population—or whether the bulk of the population would succeed in winning for themselves more or less human conditions, conditions even slightly resembling the civil liberties of the European countries. This, however, could not be accomplished unless landed proprietorship and the landowner monarchy inseparably bound up with it were abolished by a revolution.

Stolypin’s political biography is the faithful reflection and expression of the conditions facing the tsarist monarchy. Stolypin could only act as he did in the situation in which the revolution placed the monarchy. The monarchy could not act in any other way when it became quite clear—became clear in actual practice both prior to the Duma, in 1905, and at the time of the Duma, in 1906—that the vast, the overwhelming majority of the population had already realised that its interests could not be reconciled with the preservation of the landowning class, and was striving to abolish that class. Nothing could be more superficial and more false than the assertions of the Cadet writers that the attacks upon the monarchy in our country were merely the expression of “intellectual” revolutionism. On the contrary, the objective conditions were such that it was the struggle of the peasants against landed proprietorship that inevitably posed the question of whether our landowning monarchy was to live or die. Tsarism was compelled to wage a life-and-death struggle, it was compelled to seek other means of defence in addition to the utterly impotent bureaucracy and the army which had been weakened as a result of military defeat and internal disintegration. All that the tsarist monarchy could do under the circumstances was to organise the Black-Hundred elements of the population and to perpetrate pogroms. The high moral indignation with which our liberals speak of the pogroms gives every revolutionary an impression of something abominably wretched and cowardly, particularly as this high moral condemnation of pogroms has proved to be fully compatible with the idea of conducting negotiations and concluding agreements with the pogromists. The monarchy had to defend itself against the revolution, and the semi-Asiatic, feudal Russian monarchy of the Romanovs could only defend itself by the most infamous, most disgusting, vile and cruel means. The only honourable way of fighting the pogroms, the only rational way from the point of view of a socialist and a democrat, is not to express high moral condemnation, but to assist the revolution selflessly and in every way, to organise the revolution for the over throw of this monarchy.

Stolypin the pogrom-monger groomed himself for a ministerial post in the only way in which a tsarist governor could;   by torturing the peasants, by organising pogroms and by showing an ability to conceal these Asiatic “practices” behind glib phrases, external appearances, poses and gestures made to look “European”.

And the leaders of our liberal bourgeoisie, who are expressing their high moral condemnation of pogroms, carried on negotiations with the pogromists, recognising not only the latters’ right to existence, but their leadership in the work of setting up a new Russia and of ruling it! The assassination of Stolypin has occasioned a number of interesting revelations and confessions concerning this question. Witte and Guchkov, for instance, have published letters concerning the former’s negotiations with “public figures” (road: with the leaders of the moderate liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie) about forming a Cabinet after October 17,[2] 1905. Among those who took part in the negotiations with Witte—these negotiations must have taken a long time, because Guchkov writes of “the wearisome days of protracted negotiations”—were Shipov, Trubetskoi, Urusov, and M. Stakhovich, i.e., the future leaders of the Cadets, and of the Party of Peaceful Renovation,[3] and of the Octobrist Party. The negotiations, it turns out, were broken off on account of Durnovo, whom the “liberals” refused to accept as Minister of the Interior, while Witte demanded this in the form of an ultimatum. Urusov, however, a leading light of the Cadet Party in the First Duma, “ardently supported Durnovo’s candidacy”. When Prince Obolensky suggested Stolypin for the post “some of those present supported the idea, others said that they did not know him”. “I remember definitely, “writes Guchkov, “that no one raised the objection of which Count Witte writes in his letter.”

Now the Cadet press, in its desire to emphasise its “democracy” (don’t be funny!), particularly, perhaps, in view of the elections in the first curia in St. Petersburg, where a Cadet opposed an Octobrist, is trying to sling mud at Guchkov for those negotiations. “How often,” writes Rech in its issue of September 28, “the Octobrist fraternity with Guchkov at their head, joined hands with Mr. Durnovo’s colleagues in order to please the powers that be. How often, with their eyes riveted on the powers that be, did they turn their backs on public opinion!” The same reproach   levelled by the Cadets at the Octobrists is repeated in a number of variations in the leading article of Russkiye Vedomosti of the same date.

But, pardon me, gentlemen of the Cadet Party, what right have you to reproach the Octobrists, since your representatives also took part in those very same negotiations and even defended Durnovo? At that time, in November 1905, were not all the Cadets, like Urusov, in the position of people who have “their eyes riveted on the powers that be” and “their backs turned on public opinion”? Yours is a “family quarrel”; not a matter of principle, but rivalry between equally unprincipled parties; that is what we have to say apropos of the present reproaches levelled by the Cadets against the Octobrists in connection with the “negotiations” at the end of 1905. An altercation of this sort only serves to obscure the really important and historically undeniable fact that all shades of the liberal bourgeoisie, from the Octobrists to the Cadets inclusive, “had their eyes riveted on the powers that be” and “turned their backs” on democracy from the time our revolution assumed a really popular character, i.e., from the time it became a democratic revolution because of the democratic forces taking an active part in it. The Stolypin period of the Russian counter-revolution is characterised specifically by the fact that the liberal bourgeoisie had been turning its back on democracy, and that Stolypin was able to turn for assistance, sympathy, and advice first to one then to another representative of this bourgeoisie. Had it not been for this state of affairs, Stolypin would not have been able to give the Council of the United Nobility dominance over the counter-revolutionary-minded bourgeoisie and obtain the assistance, sympathy, and active or passive support of that bourgeoisie.

This aspect of the matter deserves special attention, precisely because it is lost sight of, or intentionally ignored, by our liberal press, as well as by such organs of liberal labour policy as Dyelo Zhizni. Stolypin not only represented the dictatorship of the feudal landlords, and anyone confining himself to this characterisation has understood nothing of the specific nature and meaning of the “Stolypin period”. Stolypin was minister during a period when counter-revolutionary sentiments prevailed among the entire liberal   bourgeoisie, including the Cadets, when the feudal landowners could, and did, rely on these sentiments, when they could, and did, approach the leaders of this bourgeoisie with “offers” (of hand and heart), when they could regard even the most “Left” of these leaders as “His Majesty’s Opposition”, when they could, and did, refer to the fact that the ideological leaders of the liberals were turning towards them, towards the side of reaction, towards those who fought against democracy and denigrated it. Stolypin was minister during the period when the feudal landowners bent all their efforts to inaugurate and put into effect as speedily as possible a bourgeois policy in peasant life in the countryside, when they had thrown overboard all romantic illusions and hopes based on the muzhik’s “patriarchal” nature, and had begun to look for allies among the new, bourgeois elements of Russia in general and of rural Russia in particular. Stolypin tried to pour new wine into old bottles, to reshape the old autocracy into a bourgeois monarchy; and the failure of Stolypin’s policy is the failure of tsarism on this last, the last conceivable, road for tsarism. The landowner monarchy of Alexander III tried to gain support in the “patriarchal” countryside and in the “patriarchal element” in Russian life in general. That policy was completely defeated by the revolution. After the revolution, the landowner monarchy of Nicholas II sought support in the counter-revolutionary sentiments of the bourgeoisie and in a bourgeois agrarian policy put into effect by these very same landowners. The failure of these attempts, which even the Cadets, even the Octobrists can no longer doubt, is the failure of the last policy possible for tsarism.

Under Stolypin the dictatorship of the feudal landowner was not directed against the whole nation, including the entire “third estate”, the entire bourgeoisie. On the contrary, the dictatorship was exercised under conditions most favourable for it when the Octobrist bourgeoisie served it with heart and soul, when the landowners and the bourgeoisie had a representative body in which their bloc was guaranteed a majority, and an opportunity was provided for conducting negotiations and coming to an agreement with the Crown, when Mr. Struve and the other Vekhi writers reviled the revolution in a hysterical frenzy and propounded   an ideology which gladdened the heart of Anthony, Bishop of Volhynia, and when Mr. Milyukov proclaimed that the Cadet opposition was “His Majesty’s Opposition” (His Majesty being a feudal relic). Nevertheless, despite all these favourable conditions for the Romanovs, despite all these conditions being the most favourable that can be conceived from the point of view of the alignment of social forces in twentieth-century capitalist Russia, Stolypin’s policy ended in failure. Stolypin has been assassinated at a moment when a new grave-digger of tsarist autocracy—or, rather, the grave-digger who is gathering new strength—is knocking at the door.

*     *

Stolypin’s attitude to the leaders of the bourgeoisie, and theirs to him, is most fully characterised by the relations that existed at the time of the First Duma. “The period from May to July 1906 was decisive for Stolypin’s career,” writes Rech. What was the centre of gravity during that period?

The centre of gravity during that period, was not, of course, the speeches in the Duma,” states the official organ of the Cadet Party.

That is a valuable admission, isn’t it? How many lances were broken at that time in tilts with the Cadets over the question of whether the “speeches in the Duma” could be regarded as the “centre of gravity” during that period I What a torrent of angry abuse and supercilious doctrinaire lecturing was let loose in the Cadet press against the Social-Democrats who, in the spring and summer of 1906, maintained that the centre of gravity during that period was not the speeches in the Duma! What reproaches were levelled by Rech and Duma at the whole of Russian “society” at that time because it dreamed about a “Convention” and was not sufficiently enthusiastic over the Cadet victories in the “parliamentary” arena of the First Duma! Five years have passed since then; it is necessary to make a general estimate of the period of the First Duma, and the Cadets proclaim quite nonchalantly, as if changing a pair of gloves, that, “of course, the centre of gravity during that period was not the speeches in the Duma”.

Of course not, gentlemen! But what was the centre of gravity?

Behind the scenes,” we read in Rech, “a sharp struggle was going on between the representatives of two trends. One recommended a policy of compromise with the people’s representatives, not even shrinking at the formation of a ‘Cadet Cabinet’. The other demanded vigorous action, the dissolution of the State Duma and a change in the election law. That was the programme advocated by the Council of the United Nobility which enjoyed the support of powerful influences.... At first Stolypin hesitated. There are indications that on two occasions, with Kryzhanovsky acting as intermediary, he made overtures to Muromtsev, proposing to discuss the possibility of forming a Cadet Cabinet with himself as Minister of the Interior. But at the same time Stolypin undoubtedly maintained contact with the Council of the United Nobility.”

That is how history is written by the educated, learned and well-read liberal leaders! It appears that the “centre of gravity” was not the speeches, but the struggle of two trends within the Black-Hundred tsarist Court clique! Immediate “attack”, without delay, was the policy of the Council of the United Nobility, i.e., the policy not of individual persons, not of Nicholas Romanov, not of “one trend” in “high places”, but the policy of a definite class. The Cadets clearly and soberly see their rivals on the right. But anything to the left of the Cadets has disappeared from their field of vision. History was being made by “high places”, by the Council of the United Nobility and the Cadets; the common people, of course, took no part in the making of history! A definite class (the nobility) was opposed by the party of people’s freedom, which stands above classes, while the “high places” (i.e., Our Father the Tsar) hesitated.

Is it possible to imagine a higher degree of selfish class blindness, a worse distortion of history and forgetfulness of the elementary truths of historical science, a more wretched muddle and a worse confusion of class, party and individuals?

None are so blind as those who will not see democracy and its forces.

Of course, the centre of gravity during the, period of the First Duma was not the speeches in the Duma. It was out side the Duma, in the struggle between classes, in the struggle waged by the feudal landowners and their monarchy against the masses, against the workers and peasants. It was precisely during that period that the revolutionary movement of the masses was again on the upgrade; the spring and summer of 1906 were marked by a menacing upsurge of the strike wave in general and of political strikes, of peasant riots and of mutinies in the armed forces in particular. That, Messrs. Cadet historians, was why there was hesitation in “high places”. The struggle between the trends within the tsar’s gang was over the question whether, bearing in mind the strength of the revolution at the time, they should attempt the coup d’état at once, or whether they should bide their time and lead the bourgeoisie by the nose a little longer.

The First Duma fully convinced the landowners (Romanov, Stolypin and Co.) that there could be no peace between them and the peasant and working-class masses. This conviction of theirs was in complete accordance with objective reality. All that remained for them to decide was a question of minor importance; when and how to change the election law, at once or gradually? The bourgeoisie wavered; but its entire behaviour, even that of the Cadet bourgeoisie, showed that it feared the revolution a hundred times more than it feared reaction. That was why the landowners deigned to invite the leaders of the bourgeoisie (Muromtsev, Heyden, Guchkov and Co.) to conferences at which they discussed the question of whether they might not jointly form a Cabinet. And the entire bourgeoisie, including the Cadets, conferred with the tsar, with the pogromists, with the leaders of the Black Hundreds about the means of combating the revolution; but never once since the end of 1905 has the bourgeoisie ever sent representatives of a single one of its parties to confer with the leaders of revolution about how to overthrow the autocracy and the monarchy.

That is the principal lesson to be drawn from the “Stolypin period” of Russian history. Tsarism consulted the bourgeoisie when the revolution still seemed to be a force; but it gradually applied its jackboot to kick out all the   leaders of the bourgeoisie—first Muromtsev and Milyukov, then Heyden and Lvov, and, finally, Guchkov—as soon as the revolutionary pressure from below slackened. The difference between the Milyukovs, the Lvovs, and the Guchkovs is absolutely immaterial—it is merely a matter of the sequence in which these leaders of the bourgeoisie turned their cheeks to receive the ... “kisses” of Romanov-Purishkevich-Stolypin and the sequence in which they did receive these ... “kisses”.

Stolypin disappeared from the scene at the very moment when the Black-Hundred monarchy had taken everything that could be of use to it from the counter-revolutionary sentiments of the whole Russian bourgeoisie. Now this bourgeoisie—repudiated, humiliated, and disgraced by its own renunciation of democracy, the struggle of the masses and revolution—stands perplexed and bewildered, seeing the symptoms of a gathering new revolution. Stolypin helped the Russian people to learn a useful lesson: either march to freedom by overthrowing the tsarist monarchy, under the leadership of the proletariat; or sink deeper into slavery and submit to the Purishkeviches, Markovs and Tolmachovs, under the ideological and political leadership of the Milyukovs and Guchkovs.


[1] Marshal of the Nobility—the representative of the nobility of a gubernia or uyezd in tsarist Russia, elected by the local nobility for each uyezd and gubernia. The Marshal of the Nobility was in   charge of all the affairs of the nobility, held an influential post in the administration and took the chair at the Zemstvo meetings.

[2] In the Manifesto of October 17, 1905, the tsar, terrified by the revolution, promised the people civil liberties and a constitution.

[3] The Party of Peaceful Renovation—a party of big commercial and industrial capitalists and big landowners; it was formed in 1906 and united the Left Octobrists and the Right Cadets.

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