Th. Rothstein 1907

The Third Duma — a Retrospect and a Prospect

Source: Justice, 16 November 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.

By the time this article reaches the reader, a new chapter will have opened in that strange drama called the Russian Revolution. The third Duma will have assembled, marking a fresh and distinct stage in the counter-revolutionary movement now entering upon its third year. Thanks to the new electoral law which had been issued by the Czar on June 16 last, in defiance of the Constitutional Manifesto of October 30, 1905, declaring that no law may henceforth be promulgated without the sanction of the elected representatives of the nation, the third Duma will represent an overwhelming reactionary majority, thus enabling the autocracy to parade in legal dress, and to use the very instrument of liberty for its suppression.

As we look back over the road travelled by the Revolution since its commencement, we can distinguish three distinct stages. The first stage embraces the period till the end of 1905, when the curve of the Revolution reached its summit. By dint of unheard-of sacrifices, and after a series of actions, each more daring and dramatic than the last, the proletariat succeeded in bringing autocracy to its knees, and in wringing from it a Constitution. This victory, however, contained within it the germs of a defeat. In a bourgeois and semi-bourgeois society the proletariat cannot for long play the leading part. The class antagonisms are bound sooner or later to reassert themselves, even in the midst of a common struggle for liberty, and then the proletariat is isolated and left to its own resources. This was precisely the case after the victory of October, 1905. The proletariat was still pursuing the enemy to his den, when the propertied classes took fright of its power, and refused to support it in its further attacks on the Czardom. The triumphal run of the proletariat then came to an end, and together with it the progress of the Revolution. The autocracy perceived the isolated state of the proletariat, and having challenged it to a general battle in the streets of Moscow in December, 1905, crushed it by the sheer superiority of its military forces.

The second stage began—that which was marked by the ruthless breaking up of the forces of the proletariat, and the gradual recapture by the autocracy of all the positions which it had lost over and above the main fortress surrendered in virtue of the Manifesto of October 10. To an outsider it might have seemed—and to the Russian bourgeoisie it did seem—that the Revolution was now reverting to the position to which it was historically entitled under the given correlation of social forces. So true, however, was it that the Revolution was mainly due to the initiative and the driving power of the proletariat, that when the first Duma met in May, 1906, it was soon found that with the defeat of the proletariat the autocracy no longer felt itself bound even by its own Manifesto, and did not feel the least inclined to adapt itself to the conditions established by that State act. The Duma gave itself the illusion that even without the proletariat it was still able to assert the main position gained during the October days, and at one time it seemed as if that illusion was to blind even the autocracy, and induce it to recognise what appeared as inevitable. But the self-deceit only lasted for one moment. At a critical hour when the supreme economic interests of the ruling class were at stake, the autocracy mustered all its courage and dispersed the Duma.

What followed perfectly justified the autocracy in its expectations. There was nobody to take up the cudgels on behalf of the national representatives, the proletariat being powerless in its isolation, and nobody else being inclined towards revolutionary action. From that moment the overthrow of the Manifesto of October 30 became question of time. In the consciousness of its power the autocracy had no need to stop at paper promises, and was, hem its standpoint perfectly justified in preparing a complete restoration

That it did not do so after the first Duma was only due to financial considerations, necessitating for the sake of Europe some show of parliamentarism. The second Duma, however which assembled in Match, 1907, showed clearly that the rights of the nation were wholly fictitious, and that the autocratic regime was for all practical purposes exactly the same as before October, 1905. The dissolution of the second Duma, accompanied as it was by a coup d’é tat in the shape of an arbitrary alteration of the electoral law in favour of the reactionary class of the large landlords, dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s for all those who, like the Russian Liberals, the “Cadets,” still entertained some illusions as to the real state of affairs.

And now we have the commencement of the third stage—the stage of the unalloyed rule of the counter-revolution. The coup d’é tat has done its work. The preponderating electoral power which it gave to the reactionary classes, together with the numerous other tricks of the electoral “geometry,” has led to the return to the Duma of a majority of deputies who either belong to parties which avowedly aim at the restoration of the status quo ante October, 1905, or, while professing their attachment to Constitutional principles, are yet prepared to assist the Government in its struggle with the Revolution and in its endeavours to uphold the authority of the Czar. Only a small minority of not more than one-third will belong to the parties of opposition, the Social-Democrats numbering about 15; and the Liberals about 30 or 40. In these circumstances the position may seem hopeless, and in a sense it is so. The majority will vote the Government everything it wants—loans, recruits, the most extravagant budgets—and will, if called upon, assist it in muzzling and even suppressing the Social-Democrats. This position may yet be complicated by another circumstance. It will no doubt be in the interest of the Government to appear to lean rather to the Left than to the Right—i.e., it will pretend to repudiate the ultra-reactionary designs and promptings of the extreme reactionaries. This will afford the Liberals the pretext to enter with the moderately Conservative parties into a bloc —formally for the support of the Government against the Restorationists, that is, for the defence of the Constitution, but practically for the support of the Government against the Revolution, in the hope that they may thereby induce the autocracy to keep the Duma as a permanent institution of the State. It is possible that these tactics may succeed for a time. But apart from the question of the value of such a Parliament for the nation, the position cannot last very long. The more subservient the Duma becomes, the less inclined will the autocracy be to grant any concessions, and as even the classes which are represented in the Duma by the Liberals and the moderate Conservatives cannot possibly do without a certain modicum of political rights, which will enable them to further their economic interests, but which are incompatible with the autocratic regime, a conflict is inevitable, as a result of which the Duma will once more be dissolved, but at the same time the Manifesto of October 30 will also be repealed.

It is useless to try to anticipate the developments which may follow such an eventuality. Our opinion is that thrown back into common bondage the bourgeoisie will recover its sense of solidarity with the proletariat, so far as the question of political liberty is concerned, and the revolutionary struggle will commence afresh. In the meantime, however, we have no doubt that the present Duma will also be the last under the Manifesto of October 30. By having cut themselves off from the proletariat soon after the victory of 1905, the bourgeoisie has virtually re-established the autocracy, and will not regain the vital conditions of its own development unless and until it again places itself by the side of the proletariat, and supports it in its revolutionary struggle.