The Duma and the People
|Written||9 May 1906|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 10, pages 396-399.
The question of the Duma’s attitude towards the people is the topic of the day. Everybody is discussing it, and it is being discussed with particular zeal by the Cadets who pre dominate in the Duma. Here is a very interesting opinion expressed by the Left-Cadet Nasha Zhizn, which often reflects the views of the best of the Cadets.
“The question naturally arises, where is the border-line of unity between the Duma and the people? Where is the limit beyond which the Duma will either become the plaything of popular passions or, on the contrary, will be dissociated from the people and the parties? The attitudes of the people to the Duma will become dangerous if they are allowed to be spontaneous. Some important event will occur, and an outbreak of spontaneous discontent will at once affect the Duma, which will not find it easy to maintain the position of an independent instrument of the popular will, acting in an organised way. The history of, say, the French Revolution, provides numerous examples of the people’s representatives becoming playthings of the mob. But the opposite may happen: complete indifference. Can we say with certainty that if the Duma is dispersed the people will really support it? Will not even those who are demanding immediate and extremely radical decisions from the Duma pass by with a sceptical smile and say: we told you that the Duma was impotent? But what will they do; and when will they do it?”
And the author calls for the organisation of all sorts of clubs and meetings for the purpose of establishing living contacts between the Duma and the people. “Friendly criticism of the Duma and active support for it—this is the noble task of the present day.”
How strikingly these well-meaning utterances of a high-minded Cadet reflect the impotence of his party, and of the Duma in which that party reigns! Clubs, meetings, living contacts with the people! Why talk so pompously about obvious things? Does it need proof that clubs and meetings are useful? The very first breath of free air that came with the present upswing led to the holding of meetings, the organisation of clubs, the expansion of the press. This will continue, so long as outside obstacles do not put an end to it. But this is all a matter of technique, so to speak. Clubs, meetings, newspapers, the press, petitions (very strongly advocated by our Right Social-Democrats) all help the Duma to know the opinion of the people, and the people to know the Duma. All these things are a thousand times necessary, of course. They all undoubtedly organise and inform. They all serve to establish “contact”. But think, what kind of contact? Purely technical contact. The Social-Democratic workers’ organisations must carefully watch the Cadet Duma. There can be no argument about that. But however well they are informed and however well they may be organised, their “contact” will not be contact of interests, of identical tasks, or of identical political behaviour. And that is the whole point. Our high-minded radical sees only how contacts are established, he has not noticed the content of the contacts; he has overlooked the difference in class interests, the difference in political tasks.
Why has he overlooked this? Because, being a Cadet, he is unable to see, or is afraid to admit, that the Cadet Duma is behind the broad masses of the people.The Duma is not leading the masses of the politically conscious peasants in the struggle for land and freedom. It is lagging behind the peasants, restricting the range of their struggle. Needless to say how far the Duma is lagging behind the proletariat. The Cadet Duma is not the leader of the peasant masses and of the working class, but a “high-minded” mediator, dreaming of an alliance on the right and of sympathy from the left. The Cadet Duma is what the Cadets have made of the Duma. And the party of “people’s freedom” is a bourgeois party, wavering between the democratic petty bourgeoisie and the counter revolutionary big bourgeoisie, between the desire to lean on the people and fear of the latter’s independent revolutionary activity. The more acute the struggle between the people and the old regime becomes, the more intolerable is the position of the mediator, the more impotent will be those who waver. Hence the dejected tone which marks the above-quoted passage and all the speeches of the Cadets. Hence their bitter complaints about their own impotence. Hence their eternal attempts to throw the blame for their own weakness, irresoluteness and instability on the people.
Ponder deeply over the significance of this fear of a “high minded” bourgeois radical lest the Duma become the play thing of popular passions, the plaything of the crowd! These wretched people realise that they cannot be the vehicle of popular passion, the leader of the people, and so they blame the people for their own impotence and backwardness, contemptuously refer to it as the crowd, and disdainfully refuse to serve as a “plaything”. And yet all the freedom that still exists in Russia was won only by the “crowd”, only by the people, who heroically came out into the street, who made countless sacrifices in the fight, and who with their deeds supported the great watchword: freedom or death. All these actions of the people were the actions of the crowd. The whole new era in Russia was won, and is being maintained, only by popular passion.
But you, the party of words about “people’s freedom”, you dread popular passion, you are afraid of the crowd. And yet you have the effrontery to accuse the “crowd” of being indifferent! You, sceptics by nature, sceptics in your entire programme, sceptics in all your half-hearted tactics, describe the people’s disbelief in your phrases as “scepticism”! Your political horizon does not stretch further than the question: will the people support the Duma?
We put the question the other way round. Are the Cadets in the Duma supporting the people? Or are they trailing in the wake of the people? Will these sceptics support the people when it “does” again what it has already done for the cause of freedom? Or will they put spokes in its wheel, damp down its energy, accuse it of anarchism and Blanquism, the spontaneity of folly and the folly of spontaneity?
But the masses of the peasantry and the working class will do as they see fit, contemptuously throwing aside the miserable fears and doubts of the flabby bourgeois intelligentsia. They will not support the Duma. They will sup port their own demands, which the Cadet Duma has so in completely and inadequately expressed.
The Cadets think that they are the hub of the universe. They dream about peaceful parliamentarism. They have taken dreams for reality. They, if you please, are fighting, and so they must be supported. But is not the opposite the case, gentlemen? Is it not you who are constantly uttering a phrase that nobody in really parliamentary countries ever thinks of uttering, the phrase: “They will disperse the Duma?” Whoever takes the trouble to ponder seriously over the meaning of this phrase, over the state of affairs in which it has to be uttered, will realise that the future holds out for us either an abomination of desolation painted up with spurious phrases, or new deeds accomplished by the crowd, new deeds accomplished by the great passion of the people.
We cannot expect any help for this cause from the Cadets. Let us hope that the minority in the Duma, the “Trudovik Group” and the “Workers’ Group”, will take a stand different from that of the Cadets. It is not support for themselves that they will solicit from the people, nor will they proclaim themselves a force in our toy parliament: they will concentrate all their efforts and all their activities on helping in some way to promote the great work ahead.