V. I.   Lenin

The Election Campaign and the Election Platform

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 278-286.
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 elections to the Fourth Duma are due to be held next year. The Social-Democratic Party must launch its election campaign at once. In view of these forthcoming elections a “livening-up” of all parties is already noticeable. The first phase of the period of counter-revolution has obviously come to an end. Last year’s demonstrations, the student movement, the famine in the countryside, and, last but not least, the strike wave, are all unmistakable symptoms showing that a turn has set in, that we are at the beginning of a new phase of the counter-revolution. Intensified propaganda, agitation, and organisation are on the order of the day, and the forthcoming elections provide a natural, inevitable, topical “pretext” for such work. [It should be noted in parentheses that those who, like the small Vperyod group among the Social-Democrats, are still hesitant with regard to these elementary truths which have been fully corroborated by reality, by experience, and by the Party, those who maintain that “otzovism” is a “legitimate shade of opinion” (Vperyod, No. 3, May 1911, p. 78), thereby forfeit every claim to be regarded in any way as a serious tendency or trend in the Social-Democratic movement.]

To begin with—a few remarks about the organisation and conduct of the election campaign. In order to launch it at once, it is necessary for the illegal nuclei of the R.S.D.L.P. to start work immediately on their own initiative throughout the country, in all and sundry legal and semi-legal organisations, in all the big factories, among all sections and groups of the population. We must look sad reality straight in the face. In most places there are no strictly   defined Party organisations at all. There is the working-class vanguard, which is devoted to Social-Democracy. There are isolated individuals, and there are small groups. Therefore the first task of all Social-Democrats is to take the initiative in organising nuclei (a word excellently expressing the idea that the objective conditions call for the formation of small, very flexible groups, circles, and organisations); it is the task of all Social-Democrats, even where there are only two or three of them, to gain some “foothold”, establish connections of one kind or another, and start work that is systematic even if very modest.

In view of the present situation in our Party, there is nothing more dangerous than the tactics of “waiting” for the time when an influential centre will, have been formed in Russia. All Social-Democrats know that the work of forming such a centre is going on, that everything possible toward this end has been done by those who are primarily responsible for this work; but all Social-Democrats must also be aware of the incredible difficulties created by the police—they must not lose heart at the first, second or third failure!—and all should know that when such a centre has been formed, it will take it a long time to establish reliable connections with all the local organisations, and the centre will have to confine itself to general political guidance for some considerable time. There must be no delay in the organisation of local nuclei of the R.S.D.L.P., nuclei that will act on their own initiative in a strictly Party spirit, function illegally, start at once on the preparatory work for the elections, and immediately take every possible step to develop propaganda and agitation (illegal printing-presses, leaflets, legally published organs, groups of “legally functioning” Social-Democrats, transport facilities, etc., etc.)—any delay would jeopardise the whole work.

The principal question for Social-Democrats who value the elections primarily as a means for the political enlightenment of the people, is, of course, the ideological and political content of all the propaganda and agitation to be carried on in Connection with them. That is what is meant by an election platform. To every party at all worthy of the name a platform is something that has existed long before the elections; it is not something specially devised “for the   elections”, but an inevitable result of the whole work of the party, of the way the work is organised, and of its whole trend in the given historical period. And the R.S.D.L.P., too, already has a platform; its platform already exists and has been naturally and inevitably determined by the Party’s principles and by the tactics which the Party has already adopted, has already applied, and is still applying, during the entire period in the political life of the nation which in a certain respect is always “summed up” by elections. The platform of the R.S.D.L.P. is the sum total of the work which revolutionary Marxism and the sections of the advanced workers who remained faithful to it have accomplished in the 1908–11 period, the period of the orgy of counter revolution, the period of the June Third, Stolypin regime.

The three main items that make up this total are: (1) the programme of the Party; (2) its tactics; (3) its appraisal of the dominant-ideological and political trends of the given period, or the most widespread of them, or those which are most harmful for democracy and socialism. Without a programme a party cannot be an integral political organism capable of pursuing its line whatever turn events may take. Without a tactical line based on an appraisal of the current political situation and providing explicit answers to the “vexed problems” of our times, we might have a circle of theoreticians, but not a functioning political entity. Without an appraisal of the “active”, current or “fashionable” ideological and political trends, the programme and tactics may degenerate into dead “clauses” which can by no stretch of the imagination be put into effect or applied to the thousands of detailed, particular, and highly specific questions of practical activity with the necessary understanding of essentials, with an understanding of “what is what”.

As for the ideological and political trends typical of the 4908-11 period and of particular importance for a proper understanding of the tasks of Social-Democracy, the most prominent among them are the Vekhi trend, which is the ideology of the counter-revolutionary liberal bourgeoisie (an ideology fully in line with the policy of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, no matter what its diplomats say), and liquidationism, which is the expression of the same decadent and bourgeois influences in a group which has contact with   the working-class movement. Away from democracy, as far away as possible from the movement of the masses, as far away as possible from the revolution, that is the theme of the trends of political thought that hold sway in “society”. As far away as possible from the illegal Party, from the tasks of the hegemony of the proletariat in the struggle for liberation, from the tasks of championing the revolution, that is the theme of the Vekhi trend among the Marxists, the trend that has built a nest for itself in Nasha Zarya and Dyelo Zhizni. No matter what is said by narrow-minded practical workers or by people who wearily turn away from the difficult struggle for revolutionary Marxism in our difficult epoch, there is not a single question of “practical activity”, not a single question of the illegal or legal work of the Social-Democratic Party in any sphere of its activity, to which the propagandist or agitator could give a clear and complete answer, unless he understood the full profundity and significance of these “trends of thought” typical of the Stolypin period.

Very often it may be useful, and sometimes even essential, to give the election platform of Social-Democracy a finishing touch by adding a brief general slogan, a watch word for the elections, stating the most cardinal issues of current political practice, and providing a most Convenient and most immediate pretext, as well as subject matter, for comprehensive socialist propaganda. In our epoch only the following three points can make up this watchword, this general slogan: (1) a republic; (2) confiscation of all landed estates, and (3) the eight-hour day.

The first point is the quintessence of the demand for political liberty. In expressing our Party’s stand on questions of this nature, it would be wrong to confine ourselves to the term political liberty or some other term such as “democratisation”, etc., wrong because our propaganda and agitation must consider the experience of the revolution. The dissolution of two Dumas, the organisation of pogroms, support for the Black-Hundred gangs and clemency for the heroes of the Black Hundreds, Lyakhov’s exploits in Persia,[1] the coup d’état of June 3, and a number of further “minor coups d’état” which followed it (Article 87, etc.)—is a far from complete record of the deeds of our monarchy   as represented by Romanov, Purishkevich, Stolypin and Co. Situations do arise and have arisen in history, when it has been possible for a monarchy to adapt itself to serious democratic reforms, such, for instance, as universal suffrage. Monarchy in general is not uniform and immutable. It is a very flexible institution, capable of adapting itself to the various types of class rule. But it would be playing fast and loose with the requirements of historical criticism and treachery to the cause of democracy if one were to proceed from these indisputable abstract considerations and draw conclusions from them with regard to the actual Russian monarchy of the twentieth century.

The situation in our country and the history of our state power, particularly during the past decade, clearly show us that none other than the tsarist monarchy is the centre of the gang of Black-Hundred landowners (with Romanov at their head) who have made Russia a bogey not only for Europe, but now even for Asia—the gang which has developed tyranny, robbery, venality of officials, systematic acts of violence against the “common herd”, the persecution and torture of political opponents, etc., to the inordinate dimensions we know today. Since this is the real face, the real economic basis and political physiognomy of our monarchy, to make the demand for, say, universal suffrage the central issue in the struggle for political liberty would not be so much opportunism as sheer nonsense. Since it is a question of choosing a central issue to be made the general slogan of the elections, the various democratic demands must be arranged in some sort of likely perspective and proportion. After all, one might only raise laughter among educated persons and create confusion in the minds of the uneducated if one were to demand of Purishkevich that he behave decently toward women and that he should realise the impropriety of using “unprintable” language, or if one were to demand tolerance of Illiodor,[2] altruism and honesty of Gurko and Reinbot, respect for law and order of Tolmachov and Dumbadze, and democratic reforms of Nicholas Romanov!

Consider the question from, so to speak, the general historical standpoint. It is obvious (to all, except Larin and a handful of liquidators) that the bourgeois revolution in Russia has not been consummated. Russia is heading for   a revolutionary crisis. We must prove that revolution is necessary and preach that it is legitimate and “beneficial”. This being the case, we must conduct our propaganda for political liberty so as to pose the question in all its aspects, formulate the goal for a movement that is bent on victory and not one that stops half-way (as was the case in 1905); we must issue a slogan capable of arousing enthusiasm among the masses who can no longer endure life as it is in Russia, who suffer because they are ashamed of being Russians, and are striving for a really free and really renewed Russia. Consider the question from the standpoint of practical propaganda. You cannot help making clear even to the most benighted muzhik that the state must be governed by a Duma which is more freely elected than the First Duma, by a Duma elected by the whole people. But how are we to ensure that the Duma cannot be dispersed? Only the destruction of the tsarist monarchy can guarantee this.

It may be objected that to issue the slogan of a republic as the watchword of the entire election campaign would mean precluding the possibility of conducting it legally, and thereby show that recognition of the importance and necessity of legal work is not seriously intended. Such objections, however, would be sophisms, worthy of the liquidators. We cannot legally advocate a republic (except from the restrum of the Duma, from which republican propaganda can and should be carried on fully within the bounds of legality); but we can write and speak in defence of democracy in such a way that we do not in the least condone ideas about the compatibility of democracy with the monarchy; in such a way as to refute and ridicule the liberal and Narodnik monarchists; in such a way as to make sure that the readers and the audiences form a clear idea of the connection between the monarchy, precisely as a monarchy, and the despotism and arbitrary rule reigning in Russia. Russians have gone through a long school of slavery—they have learnt to read between the lines and add what the speaker has left unsaid. “Do not say ‘I can’t’—say ‘I shan’t’”—that is the reply we must give Social-Democrats who are working legally, should they plead that it is “impossible” to make the demand for a republic a central point in our propaganda and agitation.

It is hardly necessary to dwell at particular length on the importance of the demand for the confiscation of all landed estates. At a time when the Russian villages never cease groaning under the burden of the Stolypin “reform”, when an extremely fierce struggle is going on between the mass of the population on the one hand and the “new land owners” and the rural police on the other, and when, according to the testimony of extremely conservative people hostile to the revolution, bitterness such as has never before been seen is making itself felt ever more strongly—at such a time the demand must be made a central plank of the whole democratic election platform. We shall only point out that this is the very demand that will draw a clear line of demarcation between consistent proletarian democracy and not only the landlord liberalism of the Cadets, but also the intellectual-bureaucratic talk about “standards “consumption standards”, “production standards”, “equalitarian distribution”, and similar nonsense, of which the Narodniks are so fond, and at which every sensible peasant laughs. For us it is not a question of “how much land does the muzhik need”; the Russian people need to confiscate the entire land of the landowners, so as to throw off the yoke of feudal oppression in the entire economic and political life of the country. Unless this measure is carried out, Russia will never be free, and the Russian peasant will never eat anything like his fill, nor will he ever be truly literate.

The third point—the eight-hour day—stands even less in need of comment. The counter-revolutionary forces are frantically robbing the workers of the gains of 1905; and all the more intense, therefore, is the struggle of the workers for better working and living conditions, chief among which is the introduction of the eight-hour day.

To sum up, the substance and mainspring of the Social-Democratic election platform can be expressed in three words: for the revolution! Shortly before his death Lev Tolstoi said—in a tone of regret typical of the worst aspects of “Tolstoi-ism”—that the Russian people had “learned how to make a revolution” all too quickly. We regret only the fact that the Russian people have not learned this science thoroughly enough, for without it they may remain the slaves of the Purishkeviches for many centuries to come. It is   true, however, that the Russian proletariat, in its striving to achieve the complete transformation of society on socialist lines, has given the Russian people in general, and the Russian peasants in particular, indispensable, lessons in this science. Neither the gallows erected by Stolypin, nor the efforts of Vekhi, can make them forget these lessons. The lesson has been given, it is being assimilated, it will be repeated.

The basis of our election platform is the programme of the R.S.D.L.P., our old programme of revolutionary Social-Democracy. Our programme gives a precise formulation of our socialist aims, of the ultimate goal of socialism; and it is a formulation, moreover, which is particularly emphatic in its opposition to opportunism and reformism. At a time when in many countries, including our own, reformism is raising its head and when, on the other hand, there is a growing number of indications that in the most advanced countries the period of so-called “peaceful parliamentarianism” is drawing to a close and a period of revolutionary unrest among the masses is setting in—at such a time our old programme assumes even greater significance (if that is possible). With regard to Russia the programme of the R.S.D.L.P. sets the Party the immediate aim of “over throwing the autocratic tsar and establishing a democratic republic”. The special sections of our programme dealing with the questions of government, finances, and labour legislation, and with the agrarian question, provide exact and definite material to guide the entire work of every propagandist and agitator, in all its many aspects; they should enable him to particularise on our election platform in speaking before any audience, on any occasion, and on any subject.

The tactics of the R.S.D.L.P. during the period of 1908–11 have been determined by the resolutions adopted in December 1908. Endorsed by the Plenary Meeting held in January 1910, and tested by the experience of the whole “Stolypin period”, these resolutions provide an exact appraisal of the situation and of the tasks dictated by that situation. Just as before, the old autocracy is still the main enemy; just as before, a revolutionary crisis is inevitable, and Russia is again heading for such a crisis. But the situation is not the same as before; autocracy has taken “a step in the transformation into a bourgeois monarchy”; it is trying to strengthen   feudal landed proprietorship by a new, bourgeois agrarian policy; it is trying to arrange alliances between the feudal-minded landowners and the bourgeoisie in the reactionary and servile Duma; it is making use of widespread counter revolutionary (Vekhi) sentiments among the liberal bourgeoisie. Capitalism has advanced a few steps, class contradictions have sharpened, the split between the democratic elements and the Vekhi type liberalism of the Cadets has become more pronounced, and the activity of the Social-Democrats has extended to new spheres (the Duma and “legal opportunities”), which enables them to broaden the scope of their propaganda and agitation despite the counter-revolution and even though the illegal organisations have been badly “battered”. The old revolutionary tasks and the old, tested methods of revolutionary mass struggle, that is what our Party champions in this period of disorganisation and disintegration, when it is often necessary “to start from the beginning”, when, in view of the changed circumstances, it is necessary to resort not only to old methods, but also to conduct the work of preparation and gather forces for the impending period of new battles in a new way, and by new methods.


[1] Lyakhov, V. P.—colonel in the tsarist army, was in command of the Russian troops that suppressed the revolutionary movement in Persia in 1908.

[2] Monk Illiodor (S. M. Trufanov, born 1889)—one of the leaders of the Black Hundreds.

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