In most of the statements and articles on the elections, this question is pushed into the background more than any other, or is even obscured altogether. Yet it is the question of the ideological and political content of the election campaign, the most important question, one which has to be elucidated, or all other questions, and all the usual data on “opposition percentages” and so on, will completely lose their value.
The most widespread reply to this question is that the issue was whether there was to be a constitution or not. That is how the Rights see it. That is how the liberals see it. The view that there were in effect two warring camps, one of them fighting for and the other against a constitution, runs through the entire Right-wing and liberal press. Mr. Milyukov, the Cadet Party leader, and Rech, the official organ of that party, put forward this theory of two camps in no uncertain terms, doing so, moreover, on behalf of the conference of the Cadet Party.
But look at this “theory” from the standpoint of the outcome of the elections. How did it stand the test of reality?
The first step of the new Duma was marked by a bloc of the Cadets and the Octobrists (and even some of the Rights) around the “constitutional” candidature of Rodzyanko, whose speech, alleged to contain a constitutional programme, was enthusiastically acclaimed by the Cadets.
The Octobrist leader Rodzyanko, who, as we know, is regarded as a Right Octobrist, considers himself a constitutionalist, as does Krupensky, the leader of the “Centre faction”, or conservative constitutionalists.
To say that the issue was over the constitution means saying nothing, for the question at once arises as to what kind of constitution is meant. Is it a constitution in the spirit of Krupensky or Rodzyanko or Yefremov-Lvov or Maklakov-Milyukov? And then comes an even more important question, one that does not concern wishes, statements or programmes—all of which remain on paper—but the real means of achieving the desired objective.
With regard to this cardinal point (the only serious one), Mr. Gredeskul’s statement—reprinted by Rech (No. 117) in 1912—that there is no need for a new revolution, and that what is needed is “merely constitutional work”, remains unrefuted and irrefutably correct. Ideologically and politically, that statement unites the Cadets and Octobrists much more closely and thoroughly than the assurances of devotion to a constitution, and even to democracy—assurances repeated a thousand times—are supposed to divide them.
Probably some 90 per cent of all the newspapers read in Russia are Octobrist or liberal. This press, by suggesting to the reader the idea of two camps, one of which favours a constitution, exerts an immensely corrupting influence on the political consciousness of the masses. One has only to think that all this campaign culminates in Rodzyanko’s “constitutional” declaration which Milyukov has accepted!
In view of this state of affairs, one cannot insist sufficiently on repeating old truths of political science, truths that are forgotten by many people. In Russia, the urgent question is: what is a constitution?
A constitution is a deal between the historical forces of the old society (nobiliary, serf-owning, feudal, absolutist) and the liberal bourgeoisie. The actual terms of this deal, and the extent of the concessions made by the old order, or of the victories won by the liberal bourgeoisie, will depend on the victories of the democrats, of the broad mass of the people (primarily the workers), over the forces of the old.
Our election campaign could have its culmination in Milyukov’s acceptance of Rodzyanko’s “declaration” only because what the liberals are actually seeking is not abolition of the privileges (economic, political, etc.) of the old society, but their division between (to put it briefly) the landlords and the bourgeoisie. The liberals are more afraid of the democrats’ popular, mass movement than they are of reaction; this accounts for the liberals’ impotence in politics, which is amazing from the standpoint of the economic strength of capital.
In the June Third system, the liberals have a monopoly as a tolerated, semi-legal opposition, and the beginning of a political revival (to use a much too weak and inaccurate term) brings large sections of the new, rising generation of democrats under the influence of these monopolists. That is why the essence of the issue of political liberty in Russia today amounts to making it clear that there are three and not two warring camps, for it is only the latter camp, the one glossed over by the liberals, that really has the strength to achieve political liberty.
The issue in the elections of 1912 was not at all a “constitution”, for the Cadets—the chief liberal party, which mainly attacked the Octobrists and defeated them—identified themselves with Rodzyanko’s declaration. The battle, held fast in the police grip of the June Third system, was fought over the awakening, strengthening and unification of an independent democratic movement free from the vacillation and “Octobrist sympathies” of the liberals.
That is why it is a fundamental mistake to see the real ideological and political content of the election campaign only from the “parliamentary” standpoint. What is a hundred times more real than all “constitutional” programmes and platforms is the question of the attitude of the various parties and groups towards the Political strike movement which marked the year 1912.
One of the surest ways of distinguishing between the bourgeois parties of any country and its proletarian parties is to examine their attitude to economic strikes. A party which in its press, its organisations and its statements in parliament does not fight together with the workers in economic strikes is a bourgeois party, no matter how much it may avow that it is “popular”, “radically socialist”, and so on. In Russia, mutatis mutandis (the appropriate changes having been made), the same must be said about parties that wish to pass for democratic: don’t invoke the fact that you have written on a certain slip of paper: “constitution, universal suffrage, freedom of association, equality of nationalities”, and so on, for these words are not worth a copper but show me your deeds in connection with the political strike movement of 1912! Even this criterion is not quite complete, but it is a serious criterion nevertheless, and not an empty promise.
 In addition to the Rech articles of the time, see Mr. Milyukov’s statement in the Duma on December 13, 1912: “The Chairman [Rodzyanko] delivered a speech ... he made his declaration, which we recognised to be our own” (Rech No. 343, December 14)!! There you have the Cadets’ constitutional (don’t laugh!) declaration! —Lenin