J. V. Stalin

Boycott the Conference 1

September 29, 1907

Source : Works, Vol. 2, 1907 - 1913
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.

The question whether to participate in or to boycott the conference with the oil owners is not a question of principle for us, but one of practical expediency. We cannot lay down a hard and fast rule to boycott every conference, as certain embittered and not quite sane "individuals" propose. Nor can we lay down a hard and fast rule to participate in every conference, as our Cadet-like comrades manage to do. We must approach the question of participation or boycott from the point of view of living facts, and of facts alone. It may turn out that, given certain facts, certain conditions, our task of uniting the masses will make our participation imperative —and in that case we must certainly participate. Given other conditions, however, that same task may render a boycott imperative—and in that case we must certainly boycott the conference.

Furthermore, to avoid confusion, we must first of all define the concepts with which we are operating. What does "participating" in a conference mean? What does "boycotting" a conference mean? If, in formulating common demands, electing delegates, etc., etc., at meetings, our aim is not to prevent the conference from being held, but, on the contrary, to go to the conference in order, submitting to and relying on its standing orders, to negotiate with the oil owners and in the end reach an agreement of some kind—we must describe such behaviour on our part as participation in the conference. But if, in drawing up demands, electing delegates to formulate these demands better, and in popularising and publishing the demands that have been formulated, our aim is not to participate in the proceedings of a conference with the oil owners, but to prevent the conference from being held, to frustrate any agreement with the oil owners before a fight (we think an agreement after a fight, especially after a successful fight, is essential)—then we must describe our conduct as boycotting the conference; active boycotting, of course, because it will result in the prevention of the conference.

Under no circumstances must tactics towards a conference be confused with tactics towards the Duma. The object of participating in or boycotting a conference is to prepare the ground for an improvement of the conditions prevailing in the oil fields, whereas the object of going into or boycotting the Duma is to improve general conditions in the country. The fate of a conference is determined wholly and exclusively by the proletariat in the given locality, for, if the proletariat does not participate, the conference automatically falls through, whereas the issue whether to go into or to boycott the Duma is determined not by the proletariat alone, but also by the peasantry. And finally, an active boycott of a conference (its prevention) can be conveniently carried out without active operations, and this is not the case with the results of boycotting the Duma.

After these general remarks, we shall proceed to the concrete question of boycotting the forthcoming conference.

The history of the economic struggle waged by the Baku workers may be divided into two periods.

The first period is the period of struggle up to recent times, during which the principal roles were played by the mechanics, while the oil workers 2 simply and trustfully followed the mechanics as their leaders and were as yet unconscious of the enormously important part they played in production. The tactics pursued by the oil owners during that period may be described as the tactics of flirting with the mechanics, tactics of systematic concessions to the mechanics, and of equally systematic ignoring of the oil workers.

The second period opens with the awakening of the oil workers, their independent entry on to the scene, and the simultaneous pushing of the mechanics into the background. But this entry bore the character of a burlesque, for 1) it went no further than the shameful demand for bonuses, and 2) it was tinged with the most fatal distrust towards the mechanics. The oil owners are trying to take advantage of the changed situation and are changing their tactics. They are no longer flirting with the mechanics; they are no longer trying to cajole the mechanics, for they know perfectly well that the oil workers will not always follow them now; on the contrary, the oil owners themselves are trying to provoke the mechanics to go on strike without the oil workers, in order, thereby, to demonstrate the relative weakness of the mechanics and make them submissive. Parallel with this, the oil owners, who previously had paid no attention to the oil workers, are now most brazenly flirting with them and treating them to bonuses. In this way they are trying completely to divorce the oil workers from the mechanics, utterly to corrupt them, to infect them with slavish faith in the oil owners, to replace the principle of uncompromising struggle by the "principle" of haggling and obsequious begging, and thus make all real improvement impossible.

It was with these objects in view that the forthcoming conference was "thought up."

Hence it is obvious that the immediate task of the advanced comrades is to launch a desperate struggle to win over the oil workers, a struggle to rally the oil workers around their comrades the mechanics by imbuing their minds with utter distrust of the oil owners, by obliterating from their minds the pernicious prejudices in favour of haggling and begging. We must loudly and sharply tell (not only in words but with facts!) the masses of the oil workers who have come on to the scene for the first time, and in such a clumsy and burlesque fashion at that ("beshkesh," 3 etc.), that improvements in conditions of life are not granted from above, nor as a result of haggling, but are obtained from below, by means of a general struggle jointly with the mechanics.

Only if we have this task in mind can we correctly settle the question of the conference.

And so, we think that participation in the forthcoming conference, a call for co-operation between the oil owners and the workers with the object of drawing up a binding agreement now, before a general struggle, when there is still the partial struggle, when the general struggle still lies ahead, when the oil owners are handing out bonuses right and left, divorcing the oil workers from the mechanics and corrupting their newly awakened consciousness, we think that "to go to the conference" in such a situation means not obliterating but still more strongly ingraining "beshkesh" prejudices in the minds of the masses. It means imbuing the minds of the masses not with distrust of the oil owners, but with trust in them. It means not rallying the oil workers around the mechanics, not drawing them nearer to the mechanics, but abandoning them for a time, throwing them back into the clutches of the capitalists.

Of course, "it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." At the present moment a conference may also be of some use in the organisational sense, in the sense of "extending the struggle," as Comrade Kochegar 4 expresses it. But if the harm caused by the conference undoubtedly exceeds this some use, then the conference must undoubtedly be cast aside like useless lumber. For if Comrade Kochegar is ready "to go to the conference" mainly on the grounds that this conference "organises" and "extends the struggle," then we simply cannot understand why it would not be right "to go to the conference" also when the tide of the movement is rising, on the eve of a general struggle, at the beginning of a general struggle that is being organised. What is there to be afraid of? At such a time "general organisation" and "extension of the struggle" are especially necessary, are they not? At such a time the masses should least of all fall for concessions from above, should they not? But the whole point is that electing delegates in itself does not mean organising the masses. The whole point is that to organise (in our and not in the Gapon sense of the term, of course) means first of all developing consciousness of the irreconcilable antagonism between the capitalists and the workers. So long as that consciousness exists, all the rest will come of itself.

This is exactly what the forthcoming conference cannot do.

In view of this, the only tactics in keeping with our task under present conditions are the tactics of boycotting the conference.

The boycott tactics best of all develop consciousness of the irreconcilable antagonism between the workers and the oil owners.

The boycott tactics, by shattering "beshkesh" prejudices and divorcing the oil workers from the oil owners, rally them around the mechanics.

The boycott tactics, by imbuing distrust of the oil owners, best of all emphasise in the eyes of the masses the necessity of fighting as the only means of improving their conditions of life.

That is why we must launch a boycott campaign: organise works meetings, draw up demands, elect delegates for the better formulation of common demands, distribute the demands in printed form, explain them, bring them to the masses again for final endorsement, etc., etc., and we must do all this under the slogan of boycott in order, after popularising the common demands and utilising the "legal possibilities," to boycott the conference, make a laughing-stock of it, and thereby emphasise the necessity of a struggle for common demands.

And so — boycott the conference!


Gudok, No. 4, September 29, 1907


1. This article was written in connection with the proposed convocation of a conference of the oil owners with representatives of the Baku workers. The tactics of boycotting the conference, which the Bolsheviks pursued at that time, met with wide support among the masses of the workers. From October 10 to November 1, 1907, meetings of workers were held in the oil fields and works in Baku to discuss the question of the conference. Two-thirds of the workers attending these meetings expressed themselves against participating in the conference. The Mensheviks, who advocated participation in the conference at all costs, sustained defeat.

2. Oil workers—the workers employed in boring oil wells and bailing oil. Mechanics—the workers employed in the machine shops, electric power stations and other auxiliary plants serving the oil wells.

3. "Beshkesh" (gift)—the term applied to the system, widely practised by the Baku oil owners, of giving the workers small sops in the form of bonuses with the object of keeping them out of the political struggle and of splitting the labour movement. The amounts of these bonuses varied and were fixed entirely at the discretion of the employer. The Bolsheviks strongly opposed the inclusion of bonuses in strike demands and fought for increases in basic wage rates.

4. Rochegar (stoker)—the pseudonym of I. Shitikov (Samartsev)— the official editor and publisher of the newspaper Gudok.