V. I.   Lenin

Political Parties in the Five Years of the Third Duma

Published: Zvezda, No. 14 (50), March 4, 1912. Signed: K. T.. Published according to the Zvezda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 497-502.
Translated: Dora Cox
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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In the Rech Year Book for 1912—that miniature political encyclopaedia of liberalism—we find an article by Mr. Milyukov: “Political Parties in the State Duma in the Past Five Years”. Written by the acknowledged leader of the liberals, and an outstanding historian at that, this article deserves our special attention, all the more so since it deals with what may be termed the most important pre-election subject. The political results of the activity of the parties, the question of their role, scientific generalisations regarding the alignment of social forces, the slogans of the forth coming election campaign simply ask to be written about, and Mr. Milyukov had to touch on all these points, once he had tackled the subject, no matter how much he tried to confine himself to a plain relation of the facts concerning the “external history” of the Duma.

The result is an interesting picture, illustrating the old, but ever new, subject: how is Russian political life reflected in the mind of a liberal?

The party of people’s freedom,” writes Mr. Milyukov, “which in the First Duma predominated numerically and in the Second Duma morally, was represented in the Third Duma by only 56–53 deputies. After holding the position of a leading majority it became an opposition party, retaining, however, its dominant position in the ranks of the opposition, both numerically and qualitatively and by the strict group discipline which characterised the speeches and voting of its representatives.”

The leader of a party, writing about political parties, declares that his party “retained ... its domination ... qualitatively”. Not bad—only this self-advertisement might have been somewhat more subtle.... And, then, is it true that the Cadets dominated in respect of strict group discipline? This is not true, for we all remember the numerous speeches of Mr. Maklakov, for example, who isolated him self from the Cadet group and took up a position to the right of it. Mr. Milyukov made an incautious statement: for, while it is safe to advertise the “qualities” of one’s party, because such an appraisal is entirely subjective, the facts at once refute the advertisement of party discipline. It is characteristic that the Right wing of the Cadets—both in the Duma, in the person of Maklakov, and in the press, in the person of Messrs. Struve and Co. in Russkaya Mysl—took their own line and, far from adhering to strict discipline, they destroyed all discipline in the Cadet Party.

To its left,” continues Mr. Milyukov, “the people’s freedom group had only 14 Trudoviks and 15 Social-Democrats. The Trudovik group retained but a shadow of the importance it had formerly had in the First and the Second Dumas. The somewhat better organised Social-Democratic group came out from time to time with sharp invectives regarding ‘class contradictions’, but, in essence, it could not pursue any tactics other than those also pursued by the ‘bourgeois’ opposition.”

This is all, literally all, that the distinguished historian has to say about the parties to the left of the Cadets in the twenty pages of his article. But the article is supposed to be devoted to an examination of the political parties in the State Duma—it goes into the minutest details of every shift in the ranks of the landowners, dealing at length with the sundry “moderate-Right” or “Right-Octobrist groups” and with every step taken by those groups. Why, then, are the Trudoviks and the Social-Democrats practically ignored? For to describe them as Mr. Milyukov does is tantamount to ignoring them.

The only possible answer is: because Mr. Milyukov has a particular dislike for these parties, and even a plain statement of generally known facts regarding these parties would run counter to the interests of the liberals. In fact,   Mr. Milyukov is perfectly well aware of the reshuffling effected in the composition of the electors which reduced the Trudoviks to “a shadow of the former importance they had had” in the Dumas. This reshuffling, which was effected by Mr. Kryzhanovsky and other heroes of June 3, 1907, undermined the Cadet majority. But can this justify the ignoring and, even worse, the distortion of data relating to the importance of parties having very small representation in the landowners’ Duma? The Trudoviks are very poorly represented in the Third Duma, but they have played a very great role during these five years, for they represent millions of peasants. The interests of the landowners especially demanded the reduction of peasant representation. But, we should like to ask, what interests prompt the liberals to brush aside the Trudoviks?

Or take Mr. Milyukov’s ill-tempered sally against the Social-Democrats. Is it possible for him not to know that the “tactics” of the latter are distinguished from that of the Cadets not only because there is a, difference between a proletarian and a bourgeois opposition, but also because democracy differs from liberalism? Of course, Mr. Milyukov knows this perfectly well, and he could quote examples from the modern history of all European countries to illustrate the difference between democrats and liberals. The point is that when it concerns Russia the Russian liberal refuses to see the distinction between himself and the Russian democrats. It is to the advantage of the Russian liberal to pose before the Russian readers as a representative of the whole “democratic opposition” in general. But this advantage has nothing in common with the truth.

Actually, it is common knowledge that the Social-Democrats in the Third Duma pursued tactics absolutely different from those of the bourgeois opposition in general and of the Cadet (liberal) opposition in particular. It may be safely asserted that, had Mr. Milyukov tried to deal with any one specific political issue, he would not have found a single one on which the Social-Democrats did not pursue fundamentally different tactics. Having chosen as his subject a survey of the political parties in the Third Duma, Mr. Milyukov distorted the principal and cardinal point: that there were three main groups of political parties, which   pursued three different kinds of tactics—namely, the government parties (from Purishkevich to Guchkov), the liberal parties (Cadets, Nationalists and Progressists), and the democratic parties (the Trudoviks representing bourgeois democracy, and working-class democrats). The first two generalisations are clear to Mr. Milyukov, he sees perfectly well the essence of the affinity between Purishkevich and Guchkov on the one hand, and all the liberals on the other. But he does not see the distinction between the latter and the democrats, because he will not see it.


This is repeated when he deals with the class basis of the various parties. To the right of him Mr. Milyukov sees this basis and reveals it; but he grows blind the moment he turns to the left. “The very law of June 3,” he writes, “was dictated by the united nobility. It was the Right wing of the Duma majority that undertook to defend the interests of the nobility. To this the Left wing of the majority added the defence of the interests of the big urban bourgeoisie”. How edifying, isn’t it? When the Cadet looks to the right he draws distinct lines of “class contradictions”: here the nobility, there the big bourgeoisie. But the moment the liberal turns his glance to the left he puts the words “class contradictions” in ironical quotation marks. The class distinctions disappear: the liberals, in the capacity of a general “democratic opposition”, are supposed to represent the peasants, the workers, and the urban democrats!

No, gentlemen, this is not scientific history, nor is it serious politics—it is cheap politics and self-advertisement.

The liberals represent neither the peasants nor the workers. They merely represent a section of the bourgeoisie—urban, landowning, etc.

The history of the Third Duma is so generally known that even Mr. Milyukov cannot help admitting that on frequent occasions the liberals voted together with the Octobrists—not only against (the government), but also in favour of certain positive measures. These facts, in view of the common history of Octobrism and Cadetism (which in 1904–05, up to October 17, 1905, were one), prove to everyone to whom   historical reality means anything at all that the Octobrists and the Cadets are the two flanks of one class, the two flanks of the bourgeois Centre, which vacillates between the government and the landowners, on the one hand, and democracy (the workers and the peasants), on the other. Mr. Milyukov fails to draw this fundamental conclusion from the history of “the political parties in the Third Duma” only because it is not to his interest to do so.

In a new way and under new circumstances, the Third Duma has confirmed the fundamental division of Russian political forces and Russian political parties of which there were definite signs in the middle of the nineteenth century, and which acquired a growingly distinct shape in the period 1861–1904, rose to the surface and became fixed in the open arena of the struggle of the masses in 1905–07, remaining unchanged in the 1908–12 period. Why is this division valid to this day? Because the objective problems of Russia’s historical development—problems which have always and everywhere, from France in 1789 to China in 1911, formed the content of democratic change and democratic revolutions—have as yet not been solved.

This is grounds for the inevitably stubborn resistance of the “bureaucracy” and the landowners, as well as for the vacillations of the bourgeoisie, for whom changes are essential but who are afraid that the changes may be made use of by democracy in general and by the workers in particular. In the sphere of Duma politics this fear was particularly apparent among the Cadets in the First and the Second Dumas, and among the Octobrists in the Third Duma, i.e., when those parties represented the “leading” majority. Although the Cadets contend with the Octobrists, they take the same stand on questions of principle and it is really more a matter of rivalry than of a fight. They share with them a cosy place near the government, alongside the landowners; hence the apparent keenness of the conflict between the powers that be and the Cadets, their closest rivals.

While ignoring the distinction between the democrats and the liberals, Mr. Milyukov goes into extraordinary detail and examines at great length, with gusto, one might say, the shifts in the ranks of the landowners: Rights, moderate-Rights, Nationalists in general, independent Nationalists,   Right Octobrists, plain Octobrists, Left Octobrists. No serious significance can be attached to the divisions and shifts within these limits. At most they are connected with the substitution of a Tverdoonto for an Ugryum-Burcheyev[1] in an administrative post, with the change of persons, with the victories of circles or coteries. In everything essential, their political lines are absolutely identical.

Two camps will contend [in the elections to the Fourth Duma]”, insists Mr. Milyukov, in the same way as the entire Cadet press never tires of insisting. That is not true, gentlemen. There are three principal camps that are contending and will contend: the government camp, the liberals, and working-class democracy as the centre towards which all the forces of democracy in general gravitate. The division into two camps is a trick of liberal politics, which, unfortunately, does occasionally succeed in misleading some sup porters of the working class. Only when it realises the inevitability of a division into three main camps, will the working class be able actually to pursue, not a liberal labour policy, but a policy of its own, taking advantage of the conflicts between the first camp and the second, but not allowing itself to be deceived, even for a moment by the sham democratic phrases of the liberals. The workers must not allow themselves to be deceived, nor must they allow the peasants, the mainstay of bourgeois democracy, to be deceived. That is the conclusion to be drawn from the history of the political parties in the Third Duma.


[1] Characters from the works by M. Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin.

Tverdoonto—a retired administrator travelling abroad, from the series of essays Abroad.

Ugryum-Burcheyev—a satirical portrait of a mayor, drawn by Saltykov-Shchedrin in his History of a Town, who came to be recognised as a typical example of reactionary, stupid and narrow-minded officials.

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