V. I.   Lenin

The Priesthood in the Elections, and Elections with the Priesthood

Published: Nevskaya Zvezda No. 27, October 5, 1912. Published according to the text in Nevskaya Zvezda.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 341-344.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
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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According to reports in the press, the congresses of small landowners and deans of churches in 48 gubernias of European Russia have elected 7,990 delegates, including 8,516 priests. The latter make up 82 per cent.

The complete returns for the fifty gubernias cannot much alter this result.

Let us, therefore, see what these elections signify.

The law provides that the small landowners and the parishes shall elect one delegate per electoral category established for participation in the landowners’ congress. This means that the number of delegates must be proportional to the amount of land owned by the electorate.

Statistics for 1905 give the following data for the fifty gubernias of European Russia:

Church estates . . . 1,900,000dessiatines
Lands privately owned by priests 300,000 ”
Total owned by the priesthood 2,200,000 ”
Lands privately owned by towns- people . . . 3,700,000 ”
Lands privately owned by peas- ants . . . 13,200,000 ”
Lands privately by other categories . . . 2,200,000 ”
Total of small holdings owned by “laymen” . . . 19,100,000 ”

These data probably take account of small holdings to a lesser extent than of the lands owned by the priesthood, Nevertheless, it follows that the small private holdings   total 21,300,000 dessiatines, of which priests own 2,200,000 dessiatines, or a little over one-tenth. Yet the priesthood has elected upwards of eight-tenths of the total number of delegates!!

How could that come about? It was simple enough. The fact is that small landowners seldom go to elections—they lack the means and take little interest in the matter; be sides, the police put a thousand obstacles in the way of free elections. The priests, however, have all been “induced” to attend.

The priests will vote for the candidates who suit the government. This explains why even the landlords are murmuring, to say nothing of the bourgeoisie. The Octobrists and the nationalists are murmuring too. They all accuse the government of “engineering” the elections. But the landlords and the big bourgeoisie themselves would like to engineer the elections.

Thus there is a clash between absolutism, on the one hand, and the landlords and the bourgeois bigwigs, on the other. The government wanted to secure the backing of the landlords and the top strata of the bourgeoisie; as is known, this idea underlies the whole law of June 3, 1907.

As it happens, however, the government cannot get along even with the Octobrists. It has not succeeded in organising even a feudal-bourgeois monarchy of a kind “satisfactory” to these classes.

Unquestionably, this failure has in fact been acknowledged by the government, which has set about organising its own officials in the shape of the subordinate, dependent priesthood!

In the science of history, this device of a government which retains the essential features of absolutism is called Bonapartism. In this case, it is not definite classes that serve as a support, or not they alone, and not chiefly, but hand-picked elements, mostly from among various dependent sections of the population.

How is the possibility of this phenomenon to be explained in “sociological” terms, i.e., from the standpoint of the class struggle?

It is due to a balance between the forces of the hostile or rival classes. If, for example, the Purishkeviches are   competing with the Guchkovs and Ryabushinskys, the government may—provided there is a certain balance between the forces of these rivals—gain greater independence (within certain, rather narrow limits, of course) than when either of these classes has a decisive superiority. If, on the other hand, this government is historically linked by continuity and so on with especially “vivid” forms of absolutism, and if militarist and bureaucratic traditions in the sense of non-electivity of judges and officials are strong in the country, then the limits of that independence will be still greater, its manifestations still more open, the methods used in “picking” voters, and electors voting on orders from above, still more crude, and tyranny still more tangible.

It is something like this that contemporary Russia is passing through. The “step towards transformation into a bourgeois monarchy”[1] is made more difficult by the borrowing of Bonapartist methods. Whereas in France the bourgeois monarchy and the Bonapartist empire differed clearly and sharply from each other, in Germany Bismarck gave models of a “combination” of the two types, with those features which Marx called “military despotism”[2]—to say nothing of Bonapartism—obviously predominating.

It is said that the carp likes to be fried in sour cream. We don’t know whether the philistine likes to be “fried” in a bourgeois monarchy, in old feudal absolutism, in the “latest” type of Bonapartism or in military despotism, or, lastly, in a certain blend of all these “methods”. But while the distinction may seem very small from the point of view of the philistine and so-called “legal order”, i.e., from a purely juridical, formally constitutional point of view, it is substantial from the point of view of the class struggle.

It won’t make things easier for the philistine to know that he is being beaten not only in the old way but in the new as well. But the stability of a regime pressing down the philistine, the conditions of development and disintegration of this regime, and its capacity to suffer a rapid fiasco   all depend to a large degree on whether we are confronted with more or less evident, open, solid and direct forms of rule of definite classes, or with various indirect, unstable forms of their rule.

The rule of classes is harder to eliminate than the unstable forms of the superstructure steeped in the shabby spirit of old times and supported by a picked “electorate”.

The experiment of Sabler and Makarov in “organising” the priesthood for the Fourth Duma elections should be of considerable interest to everyone, both “sociologically” and in terms of practical politics.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 15, p. 347.—Ed.

[2] See Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1958, Vol. II, p. 33).

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