Should We Boycott the State Duma?
The Platform of the Majority[edit source]
The party of the working class, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, is becoming united. Its two halves are merging and are preparing for a unity congress, the convocation of which has already been announced.
But there is still one point on which the two halves of the Party disagree—the State Duma. All Party members must be clear on this question, in order to be able to make a deliberate choice of delegates for the joint congress, in order to settle the dispute in accordance with the wishes of all members of the Party, and not only with those of its present central, and local bodies.
Bolsheviks and Mensheviks are agreed that the present Duma is a miserable travesty of popular representation, that this fraud must be exposed, and that preparations must be made for an armed uprising to bring about the convocation of a constituent assembly freely elected by the whole people.
The dispute is only about the tactics to be adopted towards the Duma. The Mensheviks say that our Party should take part in the election of delegates and electors. The Bolsheviks advocate an active boycott of the Duma. In this leaflet we shall set forth the views of the Bolsheviks, who at a recent conference of representatives of twenty-six organisations of the RSDLP adopted a resolution against participation in the elections.
What does an active boycott of the Duma mean? Boycott means refusing to take part in the elections. We have no wish to elect either Duma deputies, electors or delegates. Active boycott does not merely mean keeping out of the elections; it also means making extensive use of election meetings for Social-Democratic agitation and organisation. Making use of these meetings means gaining entry to them both legally (by registering in the voters’ lists) and illegally, expounding at them the whole programme and all the views of the socialists, exposing the Duma as a fraud and humbug, and calling for a struggle for a constituent assembly.
Why do we refuse to take part in the elections?
Because by taking part in the elections we should involuntarily foster belief in the Duma among the people and thereby weaken the effectiveness of our struggle against this travesty of popular representation. The Duma is not a parliament, it is a ruse employed by the autocracy. We must expose this ruse by refusing to take any part in the elections.
Because if we recognised the permissibility of taking part in the elections, we should have to be logical and elect deputies to the Duma. Indeed, the bourgeois democrats, such as Khodsky in Narodnoye Khozyaistvo, actually ad vise us to enter into election agreements with the Cadets for that purpose. But all Social-Democrats, both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, reject such agreements because they realise that the Duma is not a parliament, but a new police fraud.
Because we cannot at present derive any advantage for the Party from the elections. There is no freedom to carry on agitation. The party of the working class is outlawed; its representatives are imprisoned without trial; its news papers have been closed and its meetings prohibited. The Party cannot legally unfurl its banner at the elections, it cannot publicly nominate its representatives without betraying them to the police. In this situation, our work of agitation and organisation is far better served by making revolutionary use of meetings without taking part in the elections than by taking part in meetings for legal elections.
The Mensheviks are opposed to electing deputies to the Duma, but wish to elect delegates and electors. What for? Is it in order that they may form a People’s Duma, or a free, illegal, representative assembly, something like an All- Russian Soviet of Workers’ (and also Peasants’) Deputies?
To this we reply: if free representatives are needed, why bother with the Duma at all when electing them? Why sup ply the police with the lists of our delegates? And why set up new Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and in a new way, when the old Soviets of Workers’ Deputies still exist (e.g., in St. Petersburg)? This would be useless and even harmful, for it would give rise to the false, utopian illusion that the decaying and disintegrating Soviets can be revived by new elections, instead of by making new preparations for insurrection and extending it. And it would simply be ridiculous to appoint legal elections on legally fixed dates for the purpose of an insurrection.
The Mensheviks argue that Social-Democrats in all countries take part in parliaments, even in bad parliaments. This argument is false. We, too, will take full part in a parliament. But the Mensheviks themselves realise that the Duma is not a parliament; they themselves refuse to go into it. They say that the masses of the workers are weary and wish to rest by participating in legal elections. But the Party cannot and must not base its tactics on the temporary weariness of certain centres. This would be fatal for the Party; for weary workers would choose non-party delegates, who would merely discredit the Party. We must perseveringly and patiently pursue our work, husbanding the strength of the proletariat, but not ceasing to believe that this depression is only temporary, that the workers will rise still more powerfully and more boldly than they did in Moscow, and that they will sweep away the tsar’s Duma. Let the unenlightened and ignorant go into the Duma—the Party will not bind its fate with theirs. The Party will say to them: your own practical experience will confirm our political forecasts. Your own experience will reveal to you the utter fraud the Duma is; and you will then turn back to the Party, having realised the correctness of its counsel.
The tactics of the Mensheviks are contradictory and in consistent (to take part in the elections, but not to elect deputies to the Duma). They are unsuitable for a mass party, for instead of a simple and clear solution they pro pose one that is involved and ambiguous. They are not practical, for if the lists of delegates fall into the hands of the police, the Party will suffer a heavy loss. Finally, these tactics cannot be put into effect, because if the Mensheviks appear at the meetings with our programme, the inevitable result will be that instead of legal elections there will be the illegal use of meetings without elections. The police regime will transform the Mensheviks’ participation in meetings from Menshevik participation in elections into Bolshevik revolutionary use of the meetings.
Down with the Duma! Down with the new police fraud! Citizens! Honour the memory of the fallen Moscow heroes by fresh preparations for an armed uprising! Long live a freely-elected national constituent assembly!
Such is our battle-cry; and only the tactics of an active boycott are compatible with it.
- See pp. 103-04 of this volume.—Ed.