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Franz Mehring on the Second Duma
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 383-389.
In a recent issue of Die Neue Zeit, journal of the German Social-Democrats, there appeared a leading article bearing the usual mark of its usual leader writer, Franz Mehring. The author notes that in the usual discussion on the budget the Social-Democratic speakers, Singer and David, took advantage of the opportunity to prove how steadfastly Social-Democracy, supposedly defeated at the last elections, is defending its proletarian position. The German liberals, on the contrary, those who at the last elections had joined forces with the government against the clerical Centre and against the Social-Democrats, found themselves in the pitiful position of humiliated allies of reaction. “The liberal bourgeoisie,” says Mehring, “are playing the role of an obedient slave [the German Dirne actually means “prostitute”] of the Ost-Elbe Junkers, for the sake of pitiful doles given by the latter.”
We quote these sharply-spoken words verbatim, to give our readers a clear picture of the difference in tone and content between the Social-Democratic presentation of the question of the liberals in Germany and the presentation that is frequently to be met with in the Russian Cadet newspapers. It will be remembered that those papers sang a quite different tune in respect of the outcome of the German elections, spoke of the mistakes of the Social-Democrats who, it was said, had ignored bourgeois democracy and adopted “a one-sided hostile position” towards it, etc.
All this is en passant. What we are interested in here is not Mehring’s assessment of German liberalism,, but his assessment of the Russian Duma and Russian liberalism, whose slogans (“Save the Duma”, conduct “positive work”) he analyses with wonderful clarity and aptness.
Here is a complete translation of the second part of the article.
German Liberalism and the Russian Duma[edit source]
“... To understand the immeasurable insignificance of those debates it is worth while glancing back some sixty years to the United Landtag in Berlin, when the bourgeoisie first girded their loins for the parliamentary struggle. Even in those days the, bourgeoisie did not cut a heroic figure. Karl Marx pictured it thus: ’...without faith in itself, without faith in the people, grumbling at those above, trembling before those below, egoistic towards both sides and conscious of its egoism, revolutionary in relation to the Conservatives and conservative in relation to the revolutionists, distrustful of its own mottoes, phrases instead of ideas, intimidated by the world storm, exploiting the world Storm; no energy in any respect, plagiarism in every respect; common because it lacked originality, original in its commonness; dickering with its own desires, without initiative, without faith in itself, without faith in the people, without a world-historical calling; an execrable old man, who saw himself doomed to guide and deflect the first youthful impulses of a robust people in his own senile interests—sans eyes, sans ears, sans teeth, sans everything.’
“Despite all that, however, the bourgeoisie of that day was able to keep the purse under its thumb and withhold the incomes of the King and the Junkers until its own rights were ensured; it preferred to be subjected to the disfavour of the King rather than surrender its birthright to help the royal bankrupt.
“Compared with the present-day free-thinkers, the liberals of the United Landtag were much more far-sighted. They laughed at the chatter about ’positive work’ and preferred to hold up a matter so important to the welfare of the country as the building of the eastern railway rather than renounce their constitutional rights.
“There is all the greater reason for recalling those times, since the end of the budget debate in the Reichstag coincided with the opening of the Second Russian Duma. There is no doubt that the parliamentary history of the Russian revolution has so far more closely resembled that of the Prussian revolution of 1848 than that of the French revolution of 1789; the history of the First Duma in many respects strikingly resembles that of the notorious ’assembly of conciliators’ that at one time held its sessions in a Berlin theatre, resembles it even in respect of the ineffective appeal not to pay taxes, issued by the Constitutional-Democratic majority after the dissolution, an appeal that disappeared into thin air. And in Prussia, too, the new Landtag convened by the government bore a more marked oppositional tinge, like the present Russian Duma, and was then dispersed a month later by armed force. There is no lack of voices prophesying a similar fate for the new Russian Duma. The over-wise liberals come out with the excellent advice: save the Duma, and win the confidence of the people by ’positive work’. As understood by those who give it this is about the most foolish advice that could have been offered the new Duma.
“History does not approve of repetition, and the new Duma is a product of a revolution that differs greatly from the second Prussian Parliament. It was elected under such pressure that, by comparison, the infamy and baseness of the ’imperial falsehood league’ could well be called mild. The Left is no longer dominated by the Constitutional-Democrats in the present Duma, but has been strengthened by a powerful socialist group. Nor is it easy to dissolve the Duma now. Tsarism would not have engaged in that process of exerting pressure at the elections, as wearisome as it was disgusting, if the question of the dissolution of the Duma had depended entirely on the tsarist government. For its creditors, tsarism needs a popular representation that can save it from bankruptcy, and it would, furthermore, have been impossible, even if things had not been so bad, to elaborate a more pitiful electoral system and exercise still more brutal pressure at the elections.
“In that respect Prussian reaction held another big trump card in 1849; by annulling universal suffrage and introducing the three-class system of elections, it obtained the so-called popular representation that did not offer any effective resistance and was nevertheless something in the nature of a guarantee to the creditors.
“The Russian revolution has shown, through the elections to the new Duma, that it has much wider and deeper scope than the German revolution then had. It is also quite certain that the revolution has not elected the new Duma by chance, but has every intention of making use of it. But the revolution would be betraying itself if it were to listen to the wise counsels of the German liberals, and tried to obtain the confidence of the people by ’positive work’ as those liberals understood it; if the revolution were to act in that way it would be taking the same road of lamentation and disgrace that German liberalism has been following for the past sixty years. That ’which this amazing hero regards as ’positive work’ would only lead to the new Duma helping tsarism extricate itself from the clutch of its financial troubles, and would receive in return a pitiful dole in the shape of such ’reforms’ as the ministry of a Stolypin can hatch.
“We shall make clear the concept of ’positive work’ by an historical example. When the National Assembly effected the emancipation of the French peasantry in a single summer night in 1789, the mercenary genius and adventurer Mira beau, constitutional democracy’s most celebrated hero, baptised the event with the catchword ’disgusting orgy’, but in our opinion it was ’positive work’. The emancipation of the Prussian peasants, on the contrary, which dragged along at a snail’s pace for sixty years—from 1807 to 1805— during which an infinite number of peasant lives were brutally and ruthlessly sacrificed, was what our liberals call ’positive work’ and proclaim from the house-tops. In our opinion, that was a ’disgusting orgy’.
“And so, if the new Duma wants to fulfil its historic task it must undoubtedly engage in ’positive work’. On this issue there is a gratifying unanimity. The only question is: what sort of ’positive work’ is it to be? For our part, we hope that the Duma will prove to be a weapon of the Russian revolution that gave it birth.”
This article of Mehring’s, whether we like it or not, gives rise to some thinking about the present trends in Russian Social-Democracy.
In the first place, we cannot help noting that the author compares the Russian revolution of 1905 and the following years, to the German revolution of 1848-49, and the First Duma, to the famous “assembly of conciliators”. This last expression comes from Marx. That is what he called the German liberals of that day in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. This appellation has gone down in history as a model of proletarian thinking in its assessment of a bourgeois revolution.
Marx gave the name of “conciliators” to the German liberals of the revolutionary epoch, because bourgeois-liberal political tactics were at that time based on the “theory of conciliation”, the conciliation of the Crown with the people, of the old authorities with the forces of the revolution. These tactics expressed the class interests of the German bourgeoisie in the German bourgeois revolution; the bourgeoisie were afraid to carry on the revolution to its consummation; they feared the independence of the proletariat, feared the full victory of the peasantry over their medieval exploiters, the landlords, whose farming still retained many feudal features. The class interests of the bourgeoisie forced them to come to terms with reaction (“conciliation”) against the revolution, and the liberal intellectuals who founded the “theory of conciliation” used it to cover up their apostasy from the revolution.
The excellent passage quoted by Mehring shows how Marx lashed out at bourgeois conciliation in a revolutionary epoch. Anybody who is familiar with Mehring’s edition of the writings of Marx and Engels in the forties; especially the articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, knows, of course, that very many similar passages could be quoted.
Let those who, like Plekhanov, attempt by reference to Marx to justify the tactics of the Right wing of the Social-Democrats in the Russian bourgeois revolution give this some thought! The arguments of such people are based on ill-chosen quotations; they take generalisations on support for the big bourgeoisie against the reactionary petty bourgeoisie and apply them uncritically to the Russian Cadets and the Russian revolution.
Mehring provides such people with a good lesson. Anybody who wants Marx’s advice on the tasks of the proletariat in the bourgeois revolution should take precisely his statements concerning the epoch of the German bourgeois revolution. It is not for nothing that our Mensheviks so timidly avoid those statements. In them we see the most complete and most clear expression of that ruthless struggle against tile bourgeois conciliators that our Russian Bolsheviks are con ducting in the Russian revolution.
At the time of the German bourgeois revolution Marx considered the basic tasks of the proletariat to be—carrying on the revolution to its consummation, the winning of the leading role by the proletariat, the exposure of the bourgeois conciliators’ treachery and the capture of the masses of the people, especially the peasantry, from the influence of the bourgeoisie. This is an historic fact that can be ignored or evaded only by those who take Marx’s name in vain.
Mehring’s assessment of “positive work” and “disgusting orgy” has an intimate, inseverable connection with this.
This parallel of his is such a well-aimed thrust at the Russian liberals, the Cadets, who are now engaged in the Second Duma in approving the budget of the military-court-backed autocracy, that Mehring’s words would only be weakened if anything of substance were added to them.
We counterpose Mehring’s presentation of the question to that of the Right wing of the German Social-Democrats. Readers will, of course, know that Mehring and the entire editorial board of Die Neue Zeit are on the side of revolutionary Social-Democracy. The opposite or opportunist stand is held by the Bernsteinians. Their chief press organ is Sozialistische Monatshefte. In the last issue of that journal (April 1907) there is an article by Mr. Roman Streltzow entitled “The Second Russian Parliament”. The article is overflowing with wrathful mouthings against the Bolsheviks, whom the author, apparently for greater venom, calls "Leninians”. How conscientious this Streltzow is in keeping the German public informed, can be seen from the fact that he quotes the sharpest passages from Lenin’s pamphlets written at the time of the St. Petersburg elections, but keeps silence about the treacherous split arranged by the Mensheviks, the split which caused the struggle
But all this is en passant. What is important to us is the way the question is presented in principle by the Bernsteinian. The Mensheviks, especially Plekhanov, come in for praise as the realist wing of Russian Social-Democracy. Vorwärts, central organ of German Social-Democracy, has been reprimanded by the “realist” for a sentence to the effect that the people have not sent advocates (Fürsprecher) but leading fighters (Vorkämpfer) to the Second Duma—“Vorwärts apparently has the same rosy view of the present situation in Russia as the Leninians” (p. 295 of the above-mentioned issue). The author’s conclusion is clear and definite. “Therefore,” he writes, in concluding his article, “saving the Duma [Erhaltung der Duma] is so far the purpose of the opposition taken as a whole.” Further—the socialists must not “waste their forces in a completely useless struggle against the Cadets” (p. 296, ibid.).
We will leave it to our readers to make the comparison between Mehring’s way of thinking about the “disgusting orgy” and the Streltzows’ way of thinking about the “Save the Duma” slogan.
Such a comparison is well capable of replacing commentaries on the Bolshevik and Menshevik policies in the present Duma—commentaries on the Bolshevik and Menshevik draft resolutions on the attitude to the State Duma.
- ↑ No. 23 (25. Jahrg., Bd. 1) (New Times, No. 23. 25th year, Vol. 1.—Ed.), March 6, 1907.—Lenin
- ↑ The budget debates in the Reichstag.—Lenin
- ↑ Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1958, p. 69.
- ↑ Neue Rheinische Zeitung (New Rhenish Gazette) was published in Cologne from June 1,1848 to May 19, 1849, Marx and Engels being the chief collaborators, the former the editor-in-chief. The news paper ceased to exist after the publication of No. 301, owing to persecution by the reactionaries. (See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, pp. 328-37.)
“Assembly of conciliators” was the name Marx gave to the Frankfurt parliament convened in Germany in May 1848. (See Marx Engels-Lenin, Zur deutschen Geschichte, 5. 302.)
- ↑ The German bourgeoisie will betray their natural allies, the peasantry,” said Marx in 1848, in assessing the role of the peasantry in the bourgeois revolution.—LeninNeue Rheinische Zeitung, Nos. 234 and 235, March 1 and 2, 1849; Marx-Engels-Lenin, Zur deutschen Geschichte, Bd. II, S. 307.
- ↑ Incidentally, it may be worth while adding that we are, in any case, profoundly and heartily grateful to Mr. Streltzow for his effort to denigrate the Bolsheviks in the eyes of German Social-Democracy. Mr. Streltzow does this so well that we could not wish for a better ally for the propagation of Bolshevism among German Social-Democrats. Keep it up, Mr. Streltzow!—Lenin