A “Responsible Opposition” and the Participation of the Constitutional-Democrats in the March 1 Conference

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The newspapers have already had a good deal to say about the conference held on March 1 between government spokes men and certain members of the Duma; however, the importance of this conference as far as the position and aims of the “opposition” in the Duma is concerned, has not by any means been sufficiently highlighted.

We would remind our readers that just before March 1 a number of liberal newspapers in St. Petersburg, Moscow and the provinces, raised and animatedly discussed the general question of a Duma in the doldrums, the Duma’s impotence and lifelessness, of members fleeing from the Duma, the aims of the opposition, and so forth.

Just before March 1, Milyukov and Shingaryov, the most outstanding leaders of the “Constitutional-Democratic” Party, came out in the St. Petersburg and Moscow press against Mr. Struve for his appeals for “reform of the government”, as well as against the Right-wing Cadet V. Maklakov for his “pessimistic-optimistic” appeals for an agreement with the Octobrists. Just before March 1, Mr. Milyukov did his utmost to pose as an opponent of Vekhism, i.e., of consistent and avowed counter-revolutionary liberalism.[1]

The composition and the character of the March 1 Conference proved once again that all the flimsy reservations made by the Constitutional-Democratic Party leaders against P. Struve and V. Maklakov, all their efforts to pose as being “more Left” than the aforesaid politicians, are sheer hypocrisy and an attempt to hoodwink democrats. In actual fact it was the policy of the Vekhists among the liberals that triumphed at this conference, the policy of Struve and V. Maklakov, not of Messrs. Milyukov, Shingaryov and Co., the Constitutional-Democratic Party’s official leaders and diplomats.

The conference was attended only by representatives of the government parties and of the liberal-bourgeois opposition; neither the Social-Democrats nor the Trudoviks (bourgeios democrats) were invited (on the pretext that they are “anti-militarists on principle, and always vote against all war credits”. The real reason, however, is that the sponsors did not want to receive a reasoned and public refusal, which would certainly have been forthcoming, at least from the Social-Democrats).

When the opposition members—according to a most official report in Rech—“attempted to raise the question of our domestic policies” they were told that the only question that could be discussed was that of war credits, and that “government spokesmen do not deem it possible at this conference to make any statements on questions concerning domestic policies”.

Nevertheless,” wrote fleck, “several deputies, among them I. N. Yefremov, A. I. Shingaryov and others, did, in their speeches, touch upon questions concerning the internal situation.”

So much the more irrelevant, ridiculous, absurd and undignified, it must be said concerning this statement, was the role played by the Cadet, Constitutional-Democratic, deputies. Were their party called the Moderate Liberal-Monarchist Party, i.e., a name truly expressing its class nature and its real political character, the conduct of the Constitutional-Democratic deputies would have been quite normal from the party point of view. But for people who wish to be considered democrats, for people among whom even such Right-wingers as V. Maklakov publicly declare that they have lost faith “in the possibility of a way being found out of the impasse without revolutionary upheavals and cataclysms” (this is exactly how Mr. Shingaryov himself expounded V. Maklakov’s views in Rech No. 55, for February 26; and Mr. Milyukov himself wrote in the same vein in the issue of that paper for February 25)—for such people, participation in a conference with the Rights and Octobrists was a public slap in the face.

The Constitutional-Democrats slapped their own faces. By participating in the conference they publicly repudiated their own statements about their “loss of faith”. They publicly demonstrated their readiness to prove that their faith was alive, and this is tantamount to readiness to serve and be subservient.

Trust the Cadets to understand perfectly both the inseverable connection that exists between home and foreign policies and the significance of “allocating credits”....

  1. See pp. 129–31 of this volume.—Ed.