Th. Rothstein 1907

Social Democrats and Their Tactics In The Russian Duma

Source: Justice, 30 March 1907, p. 6;
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

“The day,” once said Bebel, “when I find myself praised by my enemies, I will understand that all is up with me.” If the opposite be also true, then the Russian Social-Democrats in the Duma have every reason to look forward to a long and prosperous career. They have scarcely been a fortnight in the Duma than they have become the best-hated party there—hated by the reactionaries no less than by the Liberals. One can notice this even from the way in which Reuter’s Agency reports their speeches and talks of their “isolation”; but only by reading the Russian bourgeois press can one form an idea of the extent to which the hatred towards the Social-Democrats has already taken root in all parties which are represented in the Duma. Of course, there is, per se, no special virtue in being hated. But, as we know from our own experience as well as from the experience of our comrades abroad, the hatred of the bourgeois parties towards Social-Democracy is but a sign of their fear of it—“Odiunt quia metuunt,” to paraphrase the well-known words of the Roman Emperor—and their fear is but the sign of our successfully doing our work in arousing the class-consciousness of the proletariat, and crystallising it in opposition to them. That, however, is not to be taken to mean that Russian Social-Democracy is carrying on an active propaganda against the bourgeois parties—more especially against the Liberals—in the same way as it is done in this and in all other countries, where the direct class-war is the sole or, at least, the most important, issue of the historical moment. In Russia, we must not forget, the very conditions—that is, the political conditions—of such a direct class-war have yet to be fought out, and it is in the midst of this latter fight that the Russian Social Democrats have to awaken and to consolidate the proletarian class-consciousness, and pit it against the Liberal bourgeoisie. This creates a tactical problem, the like of which nowhere has the Social-Democracy ever had to grapple with, and it is not surprising it should cause endless discussions and as endless dissensions.

For what is the problem? Briefly stated, it is this: The proletariat, in order to be able to effect its economic and social emancipation, must first gain the political conditions which would enable it to carry on the class war, and this means that it must first get rid of the autocracy. So much has been recognised by the Social-Democracy from the first moment of its existence. Now, however, comes in the difficulty. The proletariat is not the only class in Russia interested in the abolition of the autocracy. There is the peasantry and there is the bourgeoisie, both of which would like to see the autocracy swept away—the former, perhaps, not so intensely as the latter because it does not yet quite clearly see the connection between the autocracy in the centre, and the economic and political evils which oppress it in the villages, and the latter not so actively as the former, since it is afraid of the consequences of a popular upheaval. Had the Russian proletariat not been class-conscious, the situation would, ceteris paribus, have been comparatively simple. As in France and elsewhere, the bourgeoisie would have led, the proletariat would have fought in the streets under its banner, and the peasants would have summoned “Captain Swing,” with the result that the bourgeoisie would have obtained all the nuts, and the “other fellows” would have got all the shells and all the kicks.

For good or for evil the actual situation in Russia is different, and the question arises—what ought to be the attitude of the proletariat towards the other parties struggling after their fashion against the autocracy? To simply join them, even if the proletariat could wipe out the consciousness of its identity, would be highly detrimental, not only for the proletarian interests, but also for the interests of the revolution, because the proletariat would have to abate its revolutionary energy, and thereby eliminate the greatest driving force of the revolution. On the other hand, to stand entirely apart would mean, as has been proved by the course of the revolution, to expose the proletariat to the brunt of the tremendous fight, to court defeat, and, consequently, to foredoom the revolution to impotence. What course remains, then? A portion of the Social-Democrats—the Lenin section—say: the proletariat has to go hand in hand with the revolutionary peasantry and fight the treacherous bourgeoisie. This sounds very plausible and very revolutionary, since the proletariat, together with the peasantry, would probably be able to bring the revolution to a victorious issue, even without the assistance of the bourgeoisie. Unfortunately, not everything which sounds plausible and revolutionary is in reality so, and in our opinion the other section of the Russian Social-Democracy—that under Plekhanoff—is nearer to the truth. Its arguments amount substantially to this: In the interests of the preservation and further development of the class-consciousness of the proletariat, it is as detrimental—nay, more detrimental—to go hand in hand with the parties of the peasants than with those of the Liberal bourgeoisie, since in the first case the proletariat, thanks to the Socialist garb assumed by the peasant parties, the Labour men and the Revolutionary Socialists, may easily be misled into thinking that all “Socialists” are alike, and be dragged thereby into the quagmire of petty bourgeois Radicalism, while in the latter case no one, thanks to the glaring differences, will confuse our identity, and fall into the mistake of thinking that we and the Constitutional Democrats are alike. But the interests of the revolution do not at all demand any alliance of Social-Democracy with later parties. It is sufficient if we support every party which works for the overthrow of the autocracy, and from that point of view the Liberal parties are as good and deserving as any other. Marx and Engels themselves, at the time when Germany was struggling for political freedom, derided in their Communist Manifesto those “true Socialists” who wished to proclaim noon at eleven o’clock, and fought the Liberals instead of supporting them in their action against Absolutism. They said that it is the business of the Communists to support every movement which aims as the establishment of political conditions necessary for the development of the class-war, and in this they made no exception against the democratic bourgeoisie. It is quite true that we thereby help the bourgeoisie to power; but is there any sane man at the present moment who doubts that the present revolution in Russia cannot lead to Socialism, but must end in the substitution of a bourgeois regime for the present autocracy? Again, it will be said that the Liberal parties have a large following, and instead of gaining over the latter, or a portion of it, to our ranks, we by our assistance to the Liberals strengthen the latter’s sway over it. To this it may be replied that precisely because the Liberal following is large, we cannot afford to neglect it in our struggle against the autocracy, while it depends entirely on the conduct of the Liberal Party itself whether its sway over the people grows or not. If it yields to our pressure, and carries on the fight against the autocracy vigorously, it will certainly increase its influence, but then the victory of the revolution will come sooner and be more complete. If, on the other hand, it halts and hesitates, and pursues a policy “to promise, pause, prepare, postpone, and end by letting things alone,” then the greater part of its following will come over to our side, and the forces of the revolution will again increase.

It is this latter policy, formulated and illustrated by Plekhanoff and Axelrod and their friends in a thousand different ways, with an ability and consistency and persistency which will mark one of the most striking pages in the history of the international Socialist thought and practice, which gradually made its way against the more elementary, more, so to say, spontaneous and immediate views of the majority of the Social-Democrats, and is now, to all intents and purposes, the accepted policy of the Social-Democratic Party in the Duma. During the elections in St. Petersburg (the opposite policy got the upper hand, and the majority of the Social-Democrats refused to have anything to do with the Constitutional Democrats, entering into a bloc with the Labour Group, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Popular Socialists against them, thus dissolving the specific Social-Democratic element in a mish-mash mixture of quasi-Socialism, and fighting the very party which they had to use as a battering-ram against the walls of the absolutist Jericho. No sooner, however, did they enter the Duma than they abjured all alliances, but were prepared, while retaining their full independence, to support any party, including the Constitutional Democrats, which will act as the situation demands. And as the other quasi-Socialist parties thought fit at the same time to at once form a common opposition, a bloc with the Liberals, thus finding their true level, the Social-Democrats were called nasty names and charged with treachery, and a desire to help the reactionaries by splitting the opposition vote!

Well, the Russian Social-Democrats, though yet a young party, have as tough a skin as their comrades in other countries, and the charges of doctrinairism, sectarianism, and fanaticism, leave them undisturbed. They supported the election of a Liberal to the office of the President of the Duma, and voted for the candidates of various Socialist parties to the Duma bureau. When, however, the Liberal-cum-Socialist bloc decided to meet the declaration of the Premier in silence, merely proposing to pass to the order of the day, lest the Government dissolve the Duma, the Social-Democrats declared they would not be a party to such tactics of “passive resistance,” and resolved to meet the Government declaration by a counter declaration of their own. For this they were again subjected to a shower of abuse, coupled with the threat that they will be left alone in their isolation to make what arrangements they like with the parties of the right. Instead of which, as the voting on the Famine Relief Committee has shown, it is the Liberals who were left to make their arrangements with Stolypin and the parties of the Black Hundreds, while the entire Left was compelled to vote with the Social-Democrats.

No wonder then, that they are hated. The Liberals feel that unless they act as the Social-Democrats dictate, they will have to act as the Government dictates, in which latter case their game is up, while the quasi-Socialists perceive that once they choose to call themselves parties of the Extreme Left, the logic of the situation commands them to follow the tactics of the Social-Democrats. Thus the successful application of a policy, correctly devised in accordance with the teachings of Marx and Engels, makes forty-seven Social-Democrats in the Duma the predominant influence there, and turns the Duma into what it ought to be — into a means for the further development of the forces of the revolution.