V. I.   Lenin

The Second Ballot in Russia and the Tasks of the Working Class

Published: Zvezda, No. 25 (61), April 3, 1912. Signed: M. Sh.. Published according to the Zvezda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 562-568.
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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More and more frequently we corns across examples showing how widespread is the wrong idea people have of the second ballot under our electoral law. Dan, writing in No. 1–2 of Nasha Zarya, said that our tactics at the second ballot must be the same as in Western Europe. Martov, writing in No. 8 of Zhivoye Dyelo, directly pointed to the “German workers” as an example for the Russian workers to follow in their tactics at the second ballot. A special article dealing with the second ballot, recently published by Trotsky, is based on the same error.

The error is repeated so frequently, that we cannot help wondering whether the “general leaning” in certain quarters to the same error of fact is not due to the unwillingness to appreciate the tasks of working-class democracy in the fight against the Cadets.

In Russia, the law of June 3, 1907 does not provide for a second ballot of the German type; in fact, it does not provide for any “second ballot” at all in the strict sense of the term; it only provides for supplementary or new elections. The second ballot in Germany is a choice between two candidates only, those who have received the highest number of votes in the first elections. In the case of the Germans, the second ballot decides solely which of the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes is to be elected.

There is nothing of the sort in Russia. According to our law, any number of any candidates may run for election in the second ballot. Strictly speaking, it is not a second ballot, but new or supplementary elections. Therefore, all references to the German example are quite wrong!

The main article of the law dealing with the second ballot is Article 106 of the Regulations governing the elections. Here we read: “Delegates of the preliminary assemblies and, likewise, electors elected at the assemblies of voters, are recognised as such if they have received more than half the votes cast at the assembly”.

Here we have the clearly expressed requirement of an absolute majority in the first round of the elections. Further, the same article states that in cases where no absolute majority has been obtained, “supplementary elections are to be held for the remaining vacancies” (that is to say, for all the electors except those who have been elected by an absolute majority).

Who is regarded as elected at the “supplementary elections”? “Those who obtained a relative majority of the votes,” it is stated at the end of this article, “are to be regarded as elected.”

The same is stipulated in the law of June 3, 1907 with regard to the second ballot in the case of direct elections, i.e., in the cities of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Kiev, and Riga. Only instead of using the expression “a relative majority of the votes”, Article 140 speaks of “the greatest number of votes”. Finally, provision is also made for the second ballot at the elections of members of the Duma by gubernia electoral assemblies—in case none of the candidates received “more than half of the votes cast”, i.e., an absolute majority. When a second ballot is taken “those who have received a relative majority of the votes cast are regarded as elected”. (Article 350.)

Consequently, our electoral law does not provide for any thing like the second ballot in Germany. In this connection there can be nothing more erroneous than to refer to the example and conduct of the German workers. In the official edition of the Regulations Governing the Elections to the State Duma, issued by the Ministry of the Interior, St. Petersburg, 1912, it says in Clause 14 of the interpretations of Article 106: “Persons who took no part in the first round of the elections may also be permitted to participate in the supplementary elections”. It is obvious that this refers not only to new voters, but also to new candidates. The law permits the nomination for the second   ballot of a candidate who did not stand in the first elections.

The question is, what political conclusions for our election tactics should be drawn from this feature of the June Third election regulations.

The first, fundamental, and most general conclusion is the, following: our law, unlike the German law, provides a wider field for election agreements at the second ballot. In Germany it can be only a question of choosing the lesser evil: those defeated at the first elections (and they are all those excluded from the second ballot) can have no other aim. In Russia, if on the one hand in the primary elections there were no victors, on the other hand there would, strictly speaking, be no defeated contestants, for each may try his luck a second time, in a new contest, by concluding agreements of various kinds with one ally or another.

In Germany, for one thing, the working—class candidate cannot derive any benefit for himself, i.e., any direct benefit, from the fight between the Right parties and the bourgeois opposition parties. He may support the liberal opposition against the Rights if both are of practically equal strength; but he cannot take advantage of a tie between his liberal and reactionary opponent to win the victory himself. In Russia the latter is possible.

Hence the second conclusion. The Russian electoral law, unlike the German law, provides working-class democracy with a wider field for fighting the liberals at the second ballot. In Russia, as in most West-European countries, two wings (or two groups of parties) of the ruling propertied classes predominate in the elections: “conservatives” and liberals, the Black Hundreds and the “opposition”. The workers are fighting both groups of parties. The backward sections of the people, who at first awaken to the struggle against feudalism and absolutism, do not immediately realise their tasks in the struggle against capital, and usually follow the liberals for rather a long time. That is why the working-class parties, when their influence is growing, as a rule win over more followers from the liberals than from the Rights. Hence the usual hypocritical wailings of the “Cadets” of all countries about the working—class parties allegedly playing into the hands of the reactionaries,   weakening the “general forces of progress”, and so on and so forth.

In Germany, the working-class candidate can measure strength with a liberal at the second ballot only in instances when the Rights have been defeated in the first round of the elections, and are excluded from the second ballot. In Russia a working-class candidate can, and therefore should? compete in the second ballot against a liberal whenever the Right has obtained a smaller number of votes than the liberal in the first elections. In other words: when a second ballot is taken in Germany, the working-class candidate can meet the liberal only “in single combat”; in Russia, however, it is possible for the second ballot also to be a “three-cornered contest”, i. e., one in which Right, liberal, and working-class candidates participate. In cases of a second ballot in Russia, therefore, there may occur more instances when the mass of the workers will be interested in securing the election of their own candidate.

We have now come to the third conclusion. In Russia, bearing in mind the present political divisions, a particularly wide field is open at the second ballot for the so-called Left bloc in all the curias and at all stages where the liberals are stronger than the reactionaries (the latter including, of course, all the Rights, the Nationalists, and the Octobrists, i. e., all the government parties without exception). Wherever the liberals at the first elections prove stronger than the reactionaries, and the working-class candidates weaker than the liberals, it is the duty of the workers, both from the viewpoint of the political task of organising the forces of democracy in general, and from the viewpoint of electing working-class candidates to the Duma, to make common cause with bourgeois democracy (Narodniks, Trudoviks, etc.) against the liberals.

Are such instances likely to occur often?

Not very often in the gubernia electoral assemblies; here, in most cases, the liberals will be weaker than the reactionaries, and it will, therefore, be necessary to form a bloc of all the opposition forces in order to defeat the reactionaries.

In the peasant curia, the political divisions are less definite and distinct; here the tyranny of the police is felt more   acutely than anywhere else; here delegates, electors, and even candidates for election to the Duma, are most keenly aware of the necessity to “conceal” their true “face”; there are very few worker candidates so far as party affiliation is concerned. The political task to be performed in this curia is, unquestionably, to organise the forces of democracy and combat the influence and prejudices of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie. As for the second ballot, it is difficult to draw any definite conclusions regarding the frequency of one contingency or another, or even regarding the number of actual cases of a second ballot.

In the landowner and the first urban curias the role of democrats in general and of working-class democrats in particular is too insignificant to be dwelt on at all.

There remains the second urban curia. Here there are quite a few workers and voters close to the workers: shop assistants, worker tenants, pensioners, etc. Here there is at least something resembling a political press and some thing in the nature of meetings. In brief, this is the principal field for a second ballot, with the voters directly participating. Now, how do matters in this curia stand with regard to the party alignment of the voters?

A fairly exact, even if indirect, answer to this question is provided by data on the party allegiance of the electors of the second urban curia in the elections to the Third State Duma. According to the returns published in the Cadet Rech (1907, No. 241) for 4,897 electors out of a total of 5,161 in 51 gubernias of European Russia, the 533 electors in the second urban curia were divided by parties as follows: opposition parties 405 (100 “Lefts”, 209 Cadets, and 96 Progressists), Right parties 101 (17 moderates, 19 Octobrists and 65 Rights), 21 independents and 6 whose party affiliation was unknown. The three main groups of parties contending in the present elections are clearly indicated here: 100 democrats, 305 liberals, 101 Rights.

The liberals are thus more than three times as strong as the Rights, whose strength is practically equal to that of the democrats. As a rule, therefore, there can obviously be no question here of any danger of a Black-Hundred victory. It is further obvious that the main task of working-class   democrats in this curia is to fight the liberals. At the present juncture particularly, when, as even the liberals, Octobrists and Purishkeviches admit, there is undoubtedly a general swing to the left in the country, this fight must be put in the forefront. Obviously, in the first stage of the elections the working-class candidates must wage an absolutely independent struggle, putting forward a hundred per cent working-class election lists. In the second stage, at the Second ballot, it will in the majority of cases be a question of a fight of democrats against liberals.

In order to conduct that struggle it will be necessary for the Marxists at the second ballot to make common cause with all democrats (i.e., also with the bourgeois democrats, Narodniks, Trudoviks, etc.) against the liberals. The entire behaviour of the notorious “responsible opposition”, the Cadets, in the Third Duma, the entire policy and tactics of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie, on the one hand, and on the other, the present movement among the shop assist ants, provide a particularly favourable ground for this fight by the democrats, organised by the workers, against the liberals, i.e., against the Cadet Party. Inasmuch as the second urban curia is the one in which there will be the greatest number of cases of a second ballot, the principal line to be pursued by the workers at the second ballot is precisely this: with the democrats against the Rights and against the liberals.

In the final analysis, we come to the conclusion that the liquidators and their defenders are committing both a “technical” and a political mistake on the question of the second ballot. “Technically”, they are committing a mistake by confusing the German second ballot with the Russian “supplementary” or new elections. Politically, they are committing a mistake by sinking down to a liberal labour policy, by confining themselves to general phrases about supporting the opposition against the flights. Actually, the general task of the Marxists in present-day Russia, the task of organising the workers as the vanguard of democracy against both the Rights and the counter-revolutionary liberals, as well as our special position in the principal “second ballot” curia, demand a different slogan. In cases of a second ballot, primarily in the second urban curia, common cause is   to be made more often with all democrats against the liberals and against the Rights; and only subsequently it may be necessary at the second ballot to join the general opposition bloc against the reactionaries.


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