Th. Rothstein 1907

The Russian Duma and Liberal Treachery

Source: Justice, 20 April 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.

We do not profess to know, nor could, we think, even those on the spot tell, what would happen if the Duma were suddenly dissolved. One thing, however, is tolerably clear. If the Duma is still tolerated by the Stolypin Government it is through no fear of a national rising. It may be right or may be mistaken. The course of the Russian revolution has taught us to be careful about our predictions, and more than once the unexpected has come to pass. But if the Stolypin Government does not disperse the second Duma as it did the first, it is solely due to financial considerations—that is, to the fear that without the sanction of some sort of national representation no more money will be obtained from abroad. The position at the same time is such that without an immediate loan of some 30,000,000 or 40,000,000, even the current liabilities cannot be met, while the Budget of the next year cannot even be contemplated without a big loan, or the very army will have to be disbanded. The position is thoroughly desperate, and, willy-nilly, the Government has to stand the Duma, hateful as it is.

That it should, under the circumstances, do so with but little grace is only unintelligible to men like the “Times” correspondent, who, for some unaccountable reason, has taken it into his head that Stolypin is a statesman, who sees the political necessity for a Russian Parliament, and that it is only due to his lack of constitutional habits of mind that he now and then indulges in antics more suited for a Turkish Pasha than for a Minister who has a Parliament to deal with. The position is much simpler. The Government regards the Duma as an insult and humiliation, and being compelled to tolerate it for a time, kicks against the pricks like a newly-broken horse. There is no idea of standing it at minute longer than is dictated by stern necessity, and when the moment of delivery from its pressure comes, it will ignominiously be driven out from the Taurida Palace like a pack of menials.

In Russian party circles this is well understood, and because it is well understood, the different parties of the Opposition pursue different tactics. Broadly speaking there are two main lines of tactics advocated and acted upon by the Social-Democrats and the Cadets (Constitutional Democrats) respectively, the remaining parties either following in the orbit of one or the other, or hesitating between the two. The former, starting from the premise that nothing but the organised pressure of the people will bring about in Russia a constitutional and parliamentary government, insist on the necessity of turning the period of comparative security, separating the Duma from the fatal moment when it will have to take a final decision on the Budget, to the greatest possible account by using every opportunity for demonstrating to the nation the nature of the autocracy, and for creating an active system of co-operation between the people and the Duma, so that the former may both become organised, and feel its vital connection with the work and fate of its representatives. With this end in view, they proposed, when Stolypin announced his intention to lay before the Duma the programme of the Government, to have a thorough discussion on the subject so as to show the people what autocracy means. Later on, when the question of famine relief came up for consideration, they advocated the establishment of local relief committees elected by the people for the administration of the relief funds, under the supervision of emissaries of the Duma, in order that the Duma may come into direct contact with the people, and that the latter may become closely attached to its deputies. Similarly, when the Government demanded the other day the suspension of four Socialist deputies on the plea that they were being prosecuted for revolutionary propaganda, the Social-Democrats demanded that the Duma should consider the subject in plenary sitting, so as to afford the people an insight into the police methods of the Government. These are but few examples among innumerable others, but they suffice to show what the Social-Democratic tactics aim at. The Duma is regarded by them as an instrument for the further development of the revolution, and their action is mainly dictated by the consideration of the effect it may have on the nation outside.

Quite different are the Cadet tactics. The Cadets do not believe in the possibility of the resurrection of the revolution; neither do they desire it; and having thus only the good grace of the Government to fall back upon for the preservation of what small modicum of national representation: has been obtained, they aim mainly at winning it. Formerly it was different. During the first Duma, the Cadets, though also sceptical about the powers of the revolution, still believed that by Parliamentary means they could overcome the autocracy, and compel it to yield to the demands of the national representatives, and, in particular, to grant responsible government. Later events have shown their mistake, and now, though they still indulge from time to time in optimistic prophecies, they have come to the conclusion that far from gaining additional powers the Duma will have to be thankful if it is allowed to exist at all, even as it is. Hence they not only endeavour to avoid everything which may bring about a conflict with the Government, but actually try to win its favour by being as submissive as possible. To the Government declaration of policy they have replied by silence; to the Social-Democratic proposal to establish local famine relief committees they replied that a parliament can only control, but not act; and the demand of the Government to suspend the incriminated Socialist deputies they referred to a committee, in order to examine it there in all secrecy. Their speeches are, if possible, still more conciliatory than their acts. When the subject of the field courts-martial came up for discussion, their strongest condemnation of them was from a legal point of view, and when the Duma began the debate on the Budget, the Cadet speakers confined themselves to technical points. In both cases it was the Social-Democrats who placed the debates on, the proper political level, and the speeches delivered on this occasion by comrades Alexinsky and Tseretelli belong to the best political and oratorical efforts of the present Duma, and do credit to the International Socialist movement.

It is easy to see which of the two tactics is right. As a matter of fact, the Cadets themselves perceive that they are slowly but surely being dragged into the mire of opportunism in which they will suffocate. Their only argument, or rather apology, is: What else is there to hope for but the favour of the Government? So at least their case was frankly stated the other day by M. Miliukoff, their foremost leader. It shows how utterly senile Russian Liberalism is, in spite of the brief period of its existence, how distrustful of the powers of the people, how impotent for any energetic action.

That the Government would be such fools as not to avail themselves of this Cadet “psychology,” could not be expected, even by its bitterest detractors. The threat of dissolution, like the sword of Damocles, is kept hanging over the Duma with the special purpose of frightening the Cadets into submission, and every day brings the news of fresh acts of Ministerial arbitrariness, intended to bully the Duma, and particularly the Cadets, and make them obedient and humble. Like the boy in the wood crying “Wolf, wolf!” M. Stolypin has already a little overdone these tactics, and not only the Extreme Left, but even the foreign press correspondents are beginning to recover their senses, and perceive the emptiness of the threats. But on the Cadets they are still having a marvellous effect. They have become so thoroughly paralysed with fright that the only cry they can utter is one for mercy. “Don’t discredit us too much,” was, in substance, the bitter cry of M. Roditcheff to Stolypin the other day; “we will do everything for you, forget everything, only spare us a little in the eyes of the nation.”

The thing would be comical if it were not so serious. Thanks to the submissiveness of the Cadets, the Government is building up a majority for the Budget, and will thus gain the object for the sake of which it is still keeping up the show of a national representation. One might have thought that precisely the Budget would have been made by the Cadets the ground on which to give the Government battle royal. For one thing it is pre-eminently a parliamentary ground. Then the Government itself, in an unguarded moment of frankness, declared that it attached the greatest value to the sanction of the Budget by the Duma. Lastly, the Cadets know it as well as anybody else, that with the passing of the Budget not only will the existence of the Duma be a mere matter of days, if not hours, but the Government will he armed with new means to continue the war against the nation. Yet, so thoroughly have the Cadets lost their wits that they have actually, and in the teeth of the solemn declarations made but a few weeks ago, declared in advance that they will pass the Budget! It should he noted that the law does not allow the Duma any scope for altering the estimates to any appreciable extent. One part of the Budget is exempted from its competency by the so-called Fundamental Laws which the Duma cannot even touch without infringing the prerogatives of the Czar. The other part is exempted by virtue of a law which cannot be altered except by a special legislative act, while the remaining portion of the Budget consists of the expenditure in connection with the railways, State liquor traffic, and other similar undertakings, which represent going concerns, and cannot be either liquidated or appreciably tampered with at the present moment.. It would thus seem that the even apart from everything else, might have made at least the extension of the budgetary rights of the Duma the condition for passing the Budget. But they refuse to do even that, and for fear of raising a conflict which may bring about a dissolution, they are prepared to sell even the primordial rights of Parliament, which they value so highly.

It is, indeed, impossible to be indignant with them; they are too contemptible as men and as politicians. Nevertheless, their treachery will cost Russia new torrents of blood, in which, let us hope, not only the autocracy but they themselves will ultimately be drowned. The Russian Government may, with their aid, yet obtain a new lease of life for some short period, but the catastrophe will come all the same. The financial situation is too hopeless to be patched up even by a series of loans, while at the same time ever wider and wider circles of the population are being. drawn into the stream of the revolution. The eruption of 1905 proved inadequate to throw down the autocratic edifice which stood for centuries; but it has released new forces, and opened new channels, and now the work of the revolution is again proceeding underground till a new eruption will complete what the first began.