J. V. Stalin

The State Duma and
the Tactics of Social-Democracy 1

March 8, 1906

Source : Works, Vol. 1, November 1901 - April 1907
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2008
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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.

You have no doubt heard of the emancipation of the peasants. That was the time when the government received a double blow: one from outside—defeat in the Crimea, and one inside—the peasant movement. That is why the government, harassed on two sides, was compelled to yield and talk about emancipating the peasants: "We must emancipate the peasants ourselves from above, otherwise the people will rise in revolt and secure their emancipation themselves from below." We know what that "emancipation from above" was. . . . The fact that the people at that time allowed themselves to be deceived, that the government's hypocritical plans succeeded, that it strengthened its position by means of these reforms and thereby postponed the victory of the people, shows, among other things, that the people were still unenlightened and could easily be deceived.

The same thing is being repeated in the life of Russia today. As is well known, today, too, the government is receiving a double blow: from outside—defeat in Manchuria, and inside—the people's revolution. And the government, harassed on two sides, has been compelled to yield again and, as it did then, it is again talking about "reforms from above": "We must give the people a State Duma from above, otherwise the people will rise in revolt and convoke a Constituent Assembly themselves from below." Thus, by convening the Duma, they want to subdue the people's revolution in the same way as, once upon a time, they subdued the great peasant movement by "emancipating the peasants."

Hence, our task is—to frustrate with all determination the plans of the reaction, to sweep away the State Duma, and thereby clear the road for the people's revolution.

But what will the Duma be? What will be its composition?

The Duma will be a mongrel parliament. Nominally, it will enjoy powers to decide; but actually, it will have only advisory powers, because the Upper Chamber, and a government armed to the teeth, will stand over it in the capacity of censors. The Manifesto definitely states that no decision of the Duma can be put into force unless it is approved by the Upper Chamber and the tsar.

The Duma will not be a people's parliament, it will be a parliament of the enemies of the people, because voting in the election of the Duma will be neither universal, equal, direct nor secret. The paltry electoral rights that are granted to the workers exist only on paper. Of the 98 electors who are to elect the Duma deputies for the Tiflis Gubernia, only two can be workers; the other 96 electors must belong to other classes—that is what the Manifesto says. Of the 32 electors who are to elect the Duma deputies for the Batum and Sukhum areas, only one can be a representative of the workers; the other

31 electors must come from other classes—that is what the Manifesto says. The same thing applies to the other gubernias. Needless to say, only representatives of the other classes will be elected to the Duma. Not one deputy from the workers, not one vote for the workers—this is the basis upon which the Duma is being built. If to all this we add martial law, if we bear in mind the suppression of freedom of speech, press, assembly and association, then it will be self-evident what kind of people will gather in the tsar's Duma. . . .

Needless to say, this makes it more than ever necessary resolutely to strive to sweep away this Duma and to raise the banner of revolution.

How can we sweep away the Duma—by participating in the elections or by boycotting them?—that is the question now.

Some say: We must certainly participate in the elections in order to entangle the reaction in its own snare and, thereby, utterly wreck the State Duma.

Others say in answer to this: By participating in the elections you will involuntarily help the reaction to set up the Duma and you will fall right into the trap laid by the reaction. And that means: first, you will create a tsarist Duma in conjunction with the reaction, and then life will compel you to try to wreck the Duma which you yourselves have created. This line is incompatible with the principles of our policy. One of two things: either keep out of the elections and proceed to wreck the Duma, or abandon the idea of wrecking the Duma and proceed with the elections so that you shall not have to destroy what you yourselves have created.

Clearly, the only correct path is active boycott, by means of which we shall isolate the reaction from the people, organise the wrecking of the Duma, and thereby cut the ground completely from under the feet of this mongrel parliament.

That is how the advocates of a boycott argue.

Which of the two sides is right?

To pursue genuinely Social-Democratic tactics two conditions are necessary: first, that those tactics should not run counter to the course of social life; and second, that they should raise the revolutionary spirit of the masses higher and higher.

The tactics of participating in the elections run counter to the course of social life, for life is sapping the foundations of the Duma, whereas participation in the elections will strengthen those foundations; consequently, participation runs counter to life.

The boycott tactics, however, spring automatically from the course of the revolution, for, jointly with the revolution, they discredit and sap the foundations of the police Duma from the very outset.

The tactics of participating in the elections weaken the revolutionary spirit of the people, for the advocates of participation call upon the people to take part in police-controlled elections and not to resort to revolutionary action; they see salvation in ballot papers and not in action by the people. But the police-controlled elections will give the people a false idea of what the State Duma is; they will rouse false hopes and the people will involuntarily think: evidently the Duma is not so bad, otherwise the Social-Democrats would not advise us to take part in electing it; perhaps fortune will smile on us and the Duma will benefit us.

The boycott tactics, however, do not sow any false hopes about the Duma, but openly and unambiguously say that salvation lies only in the victorious action of the people, that the emancipation of the people can be achieved only by the people themselves; and as the Duma is an obstacle to this, we must set to work at once to remove it. In this case, the people rely only upon themselves and from the very outset take a hostile stand against the Duma as the citadel of reaction; and that will raise the revolutionary spirit of the people higher and higher and thereby prepare the ground for general victorious action.

Revolutionary tactics must be clear, distinct and definite; the boycott tactics possess these qualities.

It is said: verbal agitation alone is not enough; the masses must be convinced by facts that the Duma is useless and this will help to wreck it. For this purpose participation in the elections and not active boycott is needed.

In answer to this we say the following. It goes without saying that agitation with facts is far more important than verbal explanation. The very reason for our going to people' s election meetings is to demonstrate to the people, in conflict with other parties, in collisions with them, the perfidy of the reaction and the bourgeoisie, and in this way "agitate" the electors "with facts." If this does not satisfy the comrades, if to all this they add participation in the election, then we must say that, taken by themselves, elections—the dropping or not dropping of a ballot paper into a ballot box—do not add one iota either to "factual" or to "verbal" agitation. But the harm caused by this is great, because, by this "agitation with facts," the advocates of participation involuntarily sanction the setting up of the Duma, and thereby strengthen the ground beneath it. How do those comrades intend to compensate for the great harm thus done? By dropping ballot papers into the ballot box? This is not even worth discussing.

On the other hand, there must also be a limit to "agitation with facts." When Gapon marched at the head of the St. Petersburg workers with crosses and icons he also said: the people believe in the benevolence of the tsar, they are not yet convinced that the government is criminal, and we must, therefore, lead them to the tsar's palace. Gapon was mistaken, of course. His tactics were harmful tactics, as January 9 proved. That shows that we must give Gapon tactics the widest possible berth. The boycott tactics, however, are the only tactics that utterly refute Gapon's sophistry.

It is said: the boycott will separate the masses from their vanguard, because, with the boycott, only the vanguard will follow you; the masses, however, will remain with the reactionaries and liberals, who will pull them over to their side.

To that we reply that where this takes place the masses evidently sympathise with the other parties and will not anyhow elect Social-Democrats as their delegates, however much we may participate in the elections. Elections by themselves cannot possibly revolutionise the masses! As regards agitation in connection with the elections, it is being conducted by both sides, with the difference, however, that the advocates of the boycott are conducting more uncompromising and determined agitation against the Duma than the advocates of participation in the elections, because sharp criticism of the Duma may induce the masses to abstain from voting, and this does not enter into the plans of the advocates of participation in the elections. If this agitation proves effective, the people will rally around the Social-Democrats; and when the Social-Democrats call for a boycott of the Duma, then the people will at once follow them and the reactionaries will be left only with their infamous hooligans. If, however, the agitation "has no effect," then the elections will result in nothing but harm, because by employing the tactics of going into the Duma we would endorse the activities of the reactionaries. As you see, the boycott is the best means of rallying the people around Social-Democracy, in those places, of course, where it is possible to rally them; but where it is not, the elections can result in nothing but harm.

Moreover, the tactics of going into the Duma dim the revolutionary consciousness of the people. The point is that all the reactionary and liberal parties are participating in the elections. What difference is there between them and the revolutionaries? To this question the participation tactics fail to give the masses a straight answer. The masses might easily confuse the non-revolutionary Cadets with the revolutionary Social-Democrats. The boycott tactics, however, draw a sharp line between revolutionaries and the non-revolutionaries who want to save the foundations of the old regime with the aid of the Duma. And the drawing of this line is extremely important for the revolutionary enlightenment of the people.

And lastly, we are told that with the aid of the elections we shall create Soviets of Workers' Deputies, and thereby unite the revolutionary masses organisationally.

To this we answer that under present conditions, when even the most inoffensive meetings are suppressed, it will be absolutely impossible for Soviets of Workers' Deputies to function, and, consequently, to set this task is a piece of self-deception.

Thus, the participation tactics involuntarily serve to strengthen the tsarist Duma, weaken the revolutionary spirit of the masses, dim the revolutionary consciousness of the people, are unable to create any revolutionary organisations, run counter to the development of social life, and therefore should be rejected by Social-Democracy.

Boycott tactics—this is the direction in which the development of the revolution is now going. This is the direction in which Social-Democracy, too, should go.


1. IJ. V. Stalin's article "The State Duma and the Tactics of Social-Democracy" was published on March 8, 1906, in the newspaper Gantiadi (The Dawn), the daily organ of the united Tiflis Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., which came out from March 5 to 10, 1906. The article was an official expression of the Bolsheviks' stand on the question of the tactics to be adopted towards the Duma. The preceding number of Gantiadi had contained an article entitled "The State Duma Elections and Our Tactics," signed H., which expressed the Menshevik stand on this question. J. V. Stalin's article was accompanied by the following editorial comment: "In yesterday's issue we published an article expressing the views of one section of our comrades on the question of whether to go into the State Duma or not. Today, as we promised, we are publishing another article expressing the principles adhered to on this question by another section of our comrades. As the readers will see, there is a fundamental difference between these two articles: the author of the first article is in favour of taking part in the Duma elections; the author of the second article is opposed to this. Neither of the two authors is expressing merely his own point of view. Both express the line of tactics of the two trends that exist in the Party. This is the case not only here, but all over Russia."