|Written||21 May 1906|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 10, pages 444-449.
Comrade Plekhanov, in Kuryer, has addressed a letter to the workers. In that letter he advises the workers how to act. He argues as follows. The government is allowing full freedom for the sharpest criticism of the Duma. It is doing so in order to weaken the people’s support of the Duma. The government wants to provoke the workers to fight before they are ready. The workers must thwart the government’s plans. The fact that bourgeois parties predominate in the Duma should not deter them. The bourgeoisie, which predominates in the Duma, is demanding freedom for all and land for the peasants. Therefore the whole people should support the Duma.
This argument is a mixture of truth and error. Let us calmly examine Comrade Plekhanov’s ideas and advice in detail.
According to Comrade Plekhanov’s first idea, the govern ment is allowing full freedom for the sharpest criticism of the Duma in order to weaken the people’s support of the Duma.
Is that true? Let us see. Where has the sharpest criticism of the Duma been expressed lately? In the columns of such newspapers as Nevskaya Gazeta, Dyelo Naroda and Volna, and at public meetings. The liberal bourgeoisie, the Cadets who are in the majority in the Duma, are beside themselves with rage over this criticism, and particularly over the public meetings held in St. Petersburg. The Cadets even went so far as to express surprise that the police is ignoring socialist meetings.
How has the government reacted? It has suppressed Dyelo Naroda and Nevskaya Gazeta, and has prosecuted Volna three times. It has banned public meetings and has announced that it will take proceedings against those responsible for the meeting held in the Panina Palace on May 9.
This clearly shows that Comrade Plekhanov is wrong. He is guilty of a gross error.
Now let us examine Comrade Plekhanov’s second idea. The government wants to provoke the workers to fight before they are ready. The workers would be unwise to allow themselves to be provoked; they would be unwise to issue a call to arms at the present time.
This is quite true, but Comrade Plekhanov expresses this idea so inadequately as to invite the most harmful misinterpretation. He forgets to add, first, that the government’s whole conduct and its entire attitude towards the Duma are making inevitable another struggle outside the Duma. Secondly, he does not say that the workers in common with the peasantry will have to take up this struggle despite the wavering and treacherous liberal bourgeoisie.
Comrade Plekhanov does not realise that by inadequately expressing a correct idea he brings grist to the mill of the liberal bourgeoisie, which has secured the banning of socialist meetings. The bourgeoisie is making out that all of the socialists’ references to the Cadets being no good and to the struggle outside the Duma are a harmful challenge to the workers to fight immediately. The bourgeoisie is deliberately lying about the socialists, and Plekhanov, wrongly appraising the political situation, helps these lies.
Take Volna, for example, which the bourgeoisie has at tacked and reviled most of all. Has Volna called for a fight immediately? No. The bourgeoisie was lying about Volna. Two weeks ago Volna (No. 10) wrote: “We must not force the pace of [i.e., artificially accelerate, drive on, whip up] events. It is not in our interest to hasten an explosion at present. There can be no doubt about that.” That is clear enough, isn’t it? Why, then, did the bourgeoisie spread lies and slander about the socialists? Because the socialists were telling the truth when they said that a struggle outside the Duma was inevitable, and that this struggle would be waged by the proletariat and the peasantry despite the treachery of the liberal bourgeoisie.
Take the resolution adopted at the meeting in the Panina Palace (this resolution was published in Volna, No. 14, and in a number of other newspapers). Does this resolution call for an immediate fight? No, it does not. Why, then, did the liberal bourgeoisie and all the Cadets go mad with rage against this resolution? Because it tells the truth, by exposing first of all the government (“making a mockery of popular representation”, “preparing to resort to force”), and then the liberals (“timidly and inadequately express the people’s demands”, “waver between freedom and the old regime”); because this resolution calls upon the Trudoviks, the peasant deputies, to act resolutely, absolutely independently of the Cadets; and lastly, because this resolution plainly says that a decisive struggle outside the Duma is inevitable. The bourgeoisie has distorted the meaning of this resolution in order to make it appear that the socialists were in sanely calling for a fight immediately, and in order to divert attention from the charges that were actually being made against the bourgeoisie. It has behaved in this way because it understands its own interests correctly. Comrade Plekhanov is wrong in echoing the bourgeoisie, for he misunderstands the proletariat’s real attitude towards the government and the bourgeoisie.
Take Comrade Plekhanov’s third idea. “The bourgeoisie in the Duma is demanding freedom for all and land for the peasants.” Is this true? No, it is only half true, or only a quarter true. The bourgeoisie is not demanding, but begging from the old authorities. The bourgeoisie has forbidden all talk about “demands” in the Duma. The bourgeoisie (the Cadets) is demanding such “freedom”, of the press for example, that people can be clapped in gaol or sent to penal servitude for publishing socialist speeches. The bourgeoisie is demanding, not land for the peasants, but sale of part of the land to the peasants (for the payment of compensation is a form of buying and selling). Is Comrade Plekhanov right in keeping silent about this inadequacy and timidity of the bourgeois proposals, about the wavering of the Cadets? No, he is absolutely wrong. What is the significance of Comrade Plekhanov’s mistake? It is extremely dangerous for the proletariat, and jeopardises success in the struggle for freedom. All socialists agree that this struggle will be decided outside the Duma, and that it may flare up, even if we do not wish it, in the not very distant future. In this struggle the proletariat can, and must, march with the peasantry, and not trust the wavering, treacherous, turncoat liberal bourgeoisie. There is nothing more dangerous in a fight than trust in turncoats. Keeping silent about the timidity, vacillations and treachery of the liberal bourgeoisie on the eve of a new turn towards a new struggle, we do harm to the proletariat and to the cause of freedom.
Now for Comrade Plekhanov’s last idea, or piece of ad vice. “The whole people must unanimously support the Duma.” The fact that bourgeois parties predominate in the Duma should not deter the workers.
It is true that the workers should not be “deterred” by this. In fact, they are not. They are prepared to support the bourgeoisie in the fight against the government. But the question is, which bourgeoisie, how is it to be supported, and in which struggle? It is customary for the Cadets’ to hush up these questions, which expose their instability; but it is unseemly for the Social-Democrat Comrade Plekhanov to keep silent about them.
Supporting the “Duma” as such means supporting a Cadet Duma, for the Cadets predominate there. Marxists should not regard the Duma as an organ of “popular” representation in general. They are in duty bound to inquire which classes this Duma represents.
Can we support a Cadet Duma at all? No, because the proletariat must expose and denounce every wavering and irresolute step the Duma takes. On the very page on which Comrade Plekhanov’s article appears, the comrades of Kuryer write: “...the Left section of the Duma [i.e., the Trudovik and Workers’ Groups] meekly suffer the humiliating and reactionary tutelage of Mr. Muromtsev and Mr. Dolgorukov...” (the Chairmen of the Duma, Cadets both). Now that is true. That is exactly what genuine socialists should say. Can the “people”, or the proletariat, unanimously support a “Duma” that is the instrument of the reactionary tutelage of the liberals over the Trudoviks? No, they cannot and will not.
There are two main bourgeois parties in the Duma— the Cadets and the Trudoviks. The former represent the compromising, treacherous bourgeoisie, which is obviously preparing to make a deal with the autocracy and is obviously incapable of waging a resolute struggle. The latter represent the toiling petty bourgeoisie, who are incredibly downtrodden, who dream of an equalised division of the land and who are capable of waging a resolute and self-sacrificing struggle, into which they are being driven by the whole course of events and by the whole conduct of the government. Which bourgeoisie should the proletariat support “immediately”? The latter, warning the “people” against the unreliability of the former. The proletariat must and will support the Trudoviks against the Cadets, exposing the “reactionary tutelage” of the Cadets over the Trudoviks, and calling upon the Trudoviks to throw off this tutelage.
Now for the last question: how to support, and in which struggle? To support anybody in the Duma means voting for him. It is common knowledge that the Workers’ Group refused to vote for the Cadet (in general, the “Duma’s”) reply to the address from the throne. The workers’ deputies unanimously refused to “support” the Duma. Were the workers “mistaken” in this, too? If Comrade Plekhanov thinks they were, let him say so plainly; such things must be said without equivocation.
Real and serious support will be given outside the Duma. It is not we who determine this, but the whole course of events, the very nature of the present struggle; for this is not a struggle between the Duma and the Ministry, but a struggle between the people and the old authorities. It is strange and wrong to call such “support of the Duma” merely “support”. It will be a resolute fight outside the Duma. The proletariat must start this fight only jointly with the peasantry. The proletariat and the peasantry will win this fight, despite the instability, vacillations and treachery of the liberal, Cadet, “Duma” bourgeoisie, and its philandering with reaction.
We now see how bad is the advice Comrade Plekhanov gives the working class. Our Unity Congress made a slight mistake in pushing the Party somewhat towards the right, and in inadequately appraising the danger of overdoing support of the Cadets. Comrade Plekhanov is making a big mistake by going much too far to the right, and by calling upon the proletariat to support the Cadets and the Cadet Duma fully, completely and without reservation.
- Kuryer (The Courier)—a legal Menshevik daily published in St. Petersburg in May and June 1906.
- Dyelo Naroda (People’s Cause)—a legal Socialist-Revolutionary daily newspaper published in St. Petersburg in May 1906.
- See p. 390 of this volume.—Ed.
- See p 409 of this volume.—Ed.
- See the article, “The New Draconian Bill”, in Volna, No. 22.—Lenin
- Lenin is referring to the Cadet “Draft Law on the Press”, published in Reck, central organ of the Cadets, on May 17-18 (30-31), 1906. The draft envisaged penal servitude for a term of up to eight years for violating the tsarist censorship regulations.