An Organ of a Liberal Labour Policy
Before me lie three issues of the St. Petersburg weekly newspaper Zhivoye Dyelo which began publication in January last.
I invite readers to look closely at the sermons which it preaches.
The main political question of the day is the elections to the Fourth Duma. Martov’s article in No. 2 is devoted to this subject. The slogan he puts forward reads: “We must endeavour to dislodge reaction from its positions in the Duma.” And in No. 3 Dan repeats this idea—“The best way to weaken its pernicious influence [that of the Council of State] is to wrest the Duma from the hands of the reactionaries.”
The slogan is clear, and every class-conscious worker will have no difficulty, of course, in seeing that it is not a Marxist, not a proletarian, not even a democratic, but a liberal slogan. It is the slogan of a liberal labour policy.
Here is Martov’s defence of this slogan: “Is this task feasible under the existing electoral law? Unquestionably, it is. True, this electoral law guarantees beforehand a majority of electors from the landowners and the first urban [capitalist] curia in a considerable [?] number of gubernia assemblies.
In his attempt to defend a bad cause Martov was at once forced to make a flagrantly wrong assertion. The electors from the landowners plus the first urban curia comprise an absolute majority, not “in a considerable number” of gubernia assemblies, but positively in all of them (in European Russia). And this is not all. In 28 out of 53 gubernias, the electors sent by the landowners alone comprise an absolute majority in the gubernia assemblies. And these 28 gubernias send 255 deputies to the Duma—out of a total of 442, i.e., again an absolute majority.
In order to defend the liberal slogan about “dislodging reaction from its positions in the Duma” Martov had to begin by whitewashing the Russian landowners so as to make them look like liberals. Not a bad beginning!
“However,” Martov continues, “the last elections showed that among the landowners and the big urban bourgeoisie too, there are elements hostile to the Black-Hundred, nationalist and Octobrist reactionaries.”
True. Even some of the electors delegated by the landowners are members of the opposition, Cadets. What conclusion is to be drawn from this? Only that the Duma majority elected on the basis of the law of June 3, 1907, cannot be shifted farther than a landowners’ “liberal” opposition. The landowner has the last say. This fact remains true, and Martov tries to evade it. Consequently, only if the landowner joins the opposition can the “opposition” (of the landowners) gain the upper hand. But that is precisely the crux of the whole question; can one say, without turning into a liberal, that the (landowners’) “liberal opposition will be capable of dislodging reaction from its positions in the Duma”?
In the first place, we must not gloss over the fact that our electoral law favours the landowners. Secondly, we must not forget that the landowners’ “opposition” has all the distinguishing features of so-called “Left Octobrism” (with which the Cadets are permitted by their last conference to form blocs!—something that it is no use Martov keeping quiet about). Only comical liberal politicians can talk about a possible victory of “Left Octobrists”, and of “wresting the Duma from the hands of the reactionaries” or of “dislodging reaction from its positions in the Duma”.
The task of worker democrats is to take advantage of the conflicts between the liberals and the present majority in the Duma for the purpose of strengthening the democratic forces in the Duma, and by no means to support liberal illusions about the possibility of “wresting the Duma from the hands of the reactionaries”.
Our author lands into an even worse mess when he turns to a question of principle, to the question as to what significance should be attached to the eventuality of “the entire opposition breaking down the Black-Hundred Octobrist majority in the Duma”.
“It is to the interest of the workers,” argues Martov, “that power in a class state should be transferred from the hands of the savage landowner into the hands of the more civilised bourgeoisie.”
A wonderful argument. Only a minor detail has been for gotten—a mere trifle—that “it is to the interest” of the Russian “more civilised bourgeoisie”, the liberals, the Cadets, not to undermine the power of the savage landowner. “It is to the interest” of the liberals to share power with him, taking care not to undermine this power and not to place a single weapon in the hands of democracy.
That is the crux of the matter! And it is to no purpose that you try to evade a serious question and, with an air of importance, chew the cud of trivial commonplaces.
“By strengthening their representation in the Duma,” says Martov, “the Cadets and the Progressists will still not be able to assume power, but it will facilitate their advance towards power.” Well, well. If that is the case, why is it that, since 1848, the German Cadets and Progressists have “strengthened their representation” in Parliament time and again, but, for all that, they have so far “not come to power”? Why is it that during sixty-four years, and to this very day, they have left power in the hands of the Junkers? Why is it that the Russian Cadets, although they “increased their representation” in the First and Second Dumas, did not “facilitate their advance towards power”?
Martov accepts Marxism only insofar as it is acceptable to any educated liberal. It is to the interest of the workers that power should be transferred from the hands of the landowner into the hands of the more civilised bourgeois—every liberal in the world will subscribe to this “conception” of the “interest of the workers”. But that is still not Marxism. Marxism goes further and says: (1) it is to the interest of the liberals not to undermine the power of the landowner, but to take a place next to him; (2) it is to the interest of the liberals to share power with the landowners in such a way as to leave absolutely nothing to the worker or to democracy; (3) power actually does “fall out” of the hands of the landowners and “passes into the hands” of the liberals only when democracy triumphs in spite of the liberals. You want Proof? Take the entire history of France and the latest events in China. In the latter country the liberal Yuan Shikai would never have come to power even provisionally, even conditionally, if Chinese democracy had not scored a victory in spite of Yuan Shikai.
If the commonplace maxim that a liberal is better than a member of the Black Hundreds is all that Struve, Izgoyev and Co. accept in the way of Marxism, the dialectics of the class struggle is a sealed book both to the liberal as well as to Martov.
To sum up: precisely in order that power in Russia may actually “pass” from the hands of the landowners into the hands of the bourgeoisie, democracy in general, and the workers in particular, must not be deceived and enfeebled by the false slogan of “wresting the Duma from the hands of the reactionaries”. The practical task that faces us at the elections is by no means to “dislodge reaction from its positions in the Duma”, but to strengthen the forces of democracy in general and of working-class democracy in particular. This task may sometimes clash with the “task” of increasing the number of liberals, but five additional democrats are more important to us, and more useful to the proletariat, than fifty additional liberals.
Hence the following conclusion which Martov refuses to draw, even though he does pretend to agree that the Cadets are not democrats, but liberals: (1) in the five big cities, in the event of a second ballot, agreements are permissible only with the democrats against the liberals; (2) at all the ballots and in all the agreements at the second stage, precedence should be given to agreements with the democrats against the liberals, and only subsequently may agreements be concluded with the liberals against the Rights.
- Zhivoye Dyelo (Vital Cause)—the weekly legal newspaper of the Menshevik-liquidators, published in St. Petersburg from January 20 (February 2) to April 28 (May 11), 1912. Sixteen issues appeared.
- The five big cities where, according to the electoral law, there were direct elections with second ballots were St. Petersburg, Moscow, Riga, Kiev and Odessa.