The First Results of the Political Alignment
|Written||18 October 1905|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 396-404.
The account of the Conference of Social-Democratic Parties and Organisations in Russia published in our previous issue affords an opportunity of drawing certain conclusions, at least preliminary, regarding the present-day political alignment. The Conference of Social-Democratic Parties and Organisations (the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, the Bund, the Lettish Social-Democratic Labour Party, the Polish Social-Democratic Party, and the revolutionary Ukrainian Party) unanimously accepted the tactic of an active boycott of the State Duma. The necessity for increased agitation against the State Duma in the direct sense of that word, the necessity to agitate against all parties favouring participation in the State Duma, and, finally, the imperativeness of preparing for armed uprising have now, it may be said without exaggeration, been recognised by the entire revolutionary Social-Democratic movement, irrespective of national distinctions. The principles underlying the tactics adopted by the CC of the RSDLP and advocated by us in Proletary, beginning with No. 12 of our paper, i.e., for the last two and a half months, now underlie the tactics of practically the entire Social-Democratic movement in Russia, with one lamentable exception.
This exception, as the reader knows, is the Iskra and the “Minority”, which has seceded from the RSDLP The “Organising Committee”—its practical centre—was represented at the Conference. We do not know how its delegate voted, but it is a fact that the Organising Committee refused to endorse the Conference’s resolution. This was to be expected after the Southern “Constituent” Conference of new-Iskrists adopted its extremely unwise and fundamentally opportunist resolution on the State Duma, which we analysed in detail in Proletary, No. 21.
In this way, the political alignment is quite clear. The question of the attitude towards the State Duma has occasioned what is probably the first joint discussion of political tactics by the opposition and the revolutionary parties, by the legal and the illegal press. This is a giant stride forward in comparison with the previous period in the movement. Formerly, a gulf separated the opposition from the revolutionaries, legal work from illegal work. The movement has made such tremendous progress during the last ten months or so that the gulf has in considerable measure been removed. The revolutionary struggle has carried the “legal” opposition on to the crest of the wave, almost to recognising that a revolution is on. Hitherto, strictly speaking, we could not even discuss tactics or the behaviour of political parties with representatives of the legal opposition, for in fact there were no parties except the revolutionary and illegal, and “political activities” coincided fully with those of “political offenders”, if one disregards the “activities” of the autocracy and its henchmen. Now, the State Duma has naturally and inevitably become a subject of discussion for the mass of the people—for people of all shades of opinion, all tendencies and parties. The revolutionary struggle has cleared the road for revolutionary discussion in the legal press, at Zemstvo meetings, student assemblies, and workers’ mass meetings.
Practically the first to start the discussion on the attitude to the State Duma were the Zemstvos and the radical intelligentsia, who are most directly concerned with the sop thrown by the tsar, and who were best informed of it—even prior to the publication of the Manifesto of August 6. The discussion then spread to the whole political press in Russia, both the free (i.e., illegal) press which gave frank and full expression to all its arguments and slogans, and to the legal press, which wrote in Aesopian language for a boycott, and openly against it.
The political alignment, that precursor of a demarcation between the political parties and classes of all the peoples of Russia, began to take shape on the boycott issue. Should the Duma be entered, or not? Should the Duma be nipped in the bud, or accepted? Should the struggle be waged within the Duma, on the basis of the Duma, or outside the Duma, apart from the Duma, against the Duma? That was the inescapable issue both for the privileged handful of the electorate and for the masses, “who had no rights”. Today we have on this issue, which was of course tackled from a thousand various points of view and with thousands of variations and “dissenting opinions”, the returns supplied by a “canvass” of public opinion as presented by the entire press and by the aggregate of the declarations made by all the various political organisations, political meetings, assemblies, etc.
These returns are as follows:
Views on the Duma fall into three clearly defined main categories, which fully correspond to the three main and basic social forces involved in the present revolution: the views of the Black Hundreds (the autocracy), of the liberals (the bourgeoisie), and of the revolutionaries (the proletariat). The Black Hundreds seized on the Duma as the best means, most likely the only possible or even conceivable means, of saving the autocracy. The liberals criticised the Duma adversely, but accepted it, being irresistibly drawn to lawful paths and to compromise with the tsar. Headed by the proletariat, the revolutionary people, denounced the Duma, proclaimed an active boycott of it, and by their deeds have already shown that they are striving to convert this active boycott into an armed uprising.
It would be worth our while to dwell on these three main categories in somewhat greater detail.
As regards the Black Hundreds, it might have been expected (and this expectation was expressed by people inclined to take the Duma in all earnest, even, if we are not mistaken, the Iskra group) that the supporters of the autocracy would directly or indirectly sympathise with a boycott, or absenteeism, as our servile press frequently puts it. These people might have been expected to say in effect: Let them boycott the Duma; so much the better for us, for in that case the Duma will be composed more completely of Black-Hundred elements. Since there are conservative organs in Russia capable of denouncing tsarist ministers for excessive liberalism, and voicing discontent with “an excessively weak” government, such a view could easily be expressed just as clearly as many views held by constitutionalists, or even more clearly. But it was here that a mistake made itself felt, a mistake made by people who took the Duma seriously, and began to talk of a struggle on the basis of the Duma, of supporting a struggle in the Duma, etc. It could be seen immediately that the autocracy was terribly in need of a legal Duma opposition, that it was terribly afraid of a boycott. Why? The answer is very simple: because it had become absolutely clear that it was utterly impossible to govern the country without coming to terms with at least a section of the bourgeoisie as a class. It was impossible to govern the country, to obtain money, or to continue existing without coming to terms with the Right wing of the bourgeoisie. Irrespective of our autocracy’s Asiatic savagery, and the many features of antediluvian barbarism it has retained in such an unusually pure form throughout the centuries, the autocratic government is nevertheless the government of a capitalist country, linked with Europe, with international markets and international capital by thousands of inseverable ties. The dependence of the autocracy on the bourgeoisie of All Russia is a supreme material dependence, which may be concealed behind hundreds of medieval annexes, or weakened by millions of bribes doled out to individuals or groups by the Court (titles, sinecures, concessions, sops, favours, etc., etc., etc.), but at every crisis in the people’s life it must manifest itself with decisive force.
It is not a matter of mere chance that we now see Mr. Witte currying favour with the liberals, delivering liberal speeches, which are reported in the legal press, conducting “informal negotiations with Mr. Gessen”, the leader of the Constitutional-Democrats (the cable from the St. Petersburg correspondent of The Times), or that we see the foreign press teeming with news about the tsar’s liberal plans. Of course, there is no end of lies and intrigues in all this, but then the tsarist government, and for that matter any bourgeois government, cannot make a single step in its policies without resorting to lies and intrigues. Of course, there is a great deal of the most shabby chicanery, occasioned by the arrival in St. Petersburg of representatives of French and German bankers to negotiate a new loan of 500,000,000 rubles of which the tsarist government stands in dire need. But then the entire system of governmental dependence on the bourgeoisie inevitably engenders cases of chicanery in connection with all the various deals and trickery accompanying this dependence.
It is imperative for the autocracy to “make peace” with the bourgeoisie, and it is obliged to exert itself to this end; naturally, in this connection it wants to dupe public opinion in Europe and Russia. And the State Duma is a splendid means for achieving this end. A legal bourgeois opposition in the Duma is just the facade for a state system recognised by the bourgeoisie, a façade that might help the autocracy to extricate itself from its predicament.
This explains why Moskovskiye Vedomosti, that organ of conservative opposition to the government, speaks of the Duma boycott not with malicious joy or derision, but with a gnashing of teeth and the rage of despair. This explains why Novoye Vremya, organ of the Black Hundreds, attacks the “absentees” and tries to enlist even Bebel for the struggle against the idea of a boycott (Proletary, No. 20 ). The Black Hundreds are afraid of a boycott, and only the blind or those out to justify the liberals can now deny that the boycott would be fully successful if it were endorsed by the leading figures of the Zemstvo and municipal congresses.
But the gist of the matter is that the liberal bourgeoisie’s fundamental interests as a class incline it towards the monarchy, a two-chamber system, law and order, and moderation, towards a struggle against the “horrors” of an “uninterrupted revolution”, the “horrors” of a revolution after the French model.... The turn taken by the liberal bourgeoisie, the Osvobozhdeniye adherents and the Constitutional-Democrats away from radical phrases about a boycott towards a deter mined war against it, is the first major political step by the Russian bourgeoisie as a class, a step which reveals its treacherous nature, its “criminal intent”—to perpetrate treachery against the revolution. This is no mere intent (for which alone no law can hold one accountable, as some smart lawyer among the Osvobozhdeniye gentry would probably object), but an actual attempt to commit this crime, and even a consummation of the crime. We are living at a very rapid pace now. The times have long gone when it was necessary for us to rouse the bourgeoisie to political awareness in general (though such times are quite recent according to ordinary chronology, which is inapplicable to revolution). Gone, even, are the times when it was necessary for us to help the bourgeoisie to organise itself into a political opposition. They are now awakened, have organised themselves, and an entirely different task stands on the order of the day, a great task which only the tremendous strides of the revolution have made real and possible—that of reaching an agreement with the tsar (the task of capital) and that of neutralising treacherous capital (the task of labour).
It is this task that the revolutionary proletariat, which is marching at t.he head of the revolutionary people, has assumed, while remaining true to its duty of awakening, encouraging and rousing its “mates” in the struggle against medievalism and serfdom, and at the same time passing on from less revolutionary to more revolutionary “mates”. It is not the Duma that has been “taken in earnest” by the revolutionary proletariat under the guidance of Social- Democracy, but those words, promises and slogans about a Duma boycott which popped out of the mouths of the radical windbags of the bourgeoisie by reason of their levity, extreme youthfulness and exuberance. The proletariat has translated boycott talk into reality; it has done so by openly and unequivocally raising the standard of armed uprising; it has done so by inaugurating not only the broadest possible agitation, but open street fighting as well (in Moscow); it has done so by fraternising with the radical youth, the vanguard of the masses, the peasant masses in particular, whose class characteristics have not yet fully taken shape, but which are infinitely oppressed and exploited. Without entering into any agreements or concluding any pacts, the socialist proletariat has united with the awakened sections of revolutionary bourgeois democracy, for the accomplishment of a practical militant task. During the great Moscow events (great as a portent, not in themselves), the proletariat and the revolutionary democrats did the fighting, while the liberals, the Osvobozhdeniye people and the Constitutional-Democrats conducted negotiations with the autocracy.
The political alignment has become quite clear: for the Duma, to preserve the autocracy; for the Duma, to limit the autocracy; against the Duma, to destroy the autocracy. In other words: for the Duma, to suppress the revolution; for the Duma, to halt the revolution; against the Duma, to bring the revolution to a victorious conclusion.
There was an exception—a sad and regrettable exception—which marred the distinctness of the class alignment (thereby, like all exceptions proving the general rule). This was the opportunist wing of the Social-Democratic movement, as represented by the new Iskra. However, this exception too—the narrow sphere of illegal organisations abroad—stemmed from a very important and very instructive logical development, which we predicted. The Conference which we mentioned above united the revolutionary Social-Democrats. Iskra remained united—not by virtue of an agreement, but by virtue of the course of events— with Osvobozhdeniye. In the illegal press, the revolutionary Social-Democrats and the extreme Left wing of the revolutionary bourgeois democrats came out for an active boycott. It was the opportunist Social-Democrats and the extreme Right wing of the bourgeois democrats who declared against the boycott.
Thus we have confirmation of what was shown in the analysis of the most important of the new-Iskra resolutions on tactics (see Lenin’s Two Tactics), namely, that Iskra is descending to the level of the liberal landlords, whereas Proletary is raising the masses of the peasants to its own level; Iskra is descending to the liberal bourgeoisie, whereas Proletary is raising the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie.
Anyone familiar with Social-Democratic literature knows the catch phrase long ago launched by Iskra—the Bolsheviks and Proletary have veered towards the Socialist-Revolutionaries, towards the extreme bourgeois democrats. There is a grain of truth in this, as there is in all catch phrases. It does not express mere chagrin on the part of the Iskrists; it reflects an actual phenomenon, but does so as a concave mirror would reflect an object. This actual phenomenon is the fact that the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks represent respectively the opportunist and the revolutionary wings of the Russian Social-Democratic movement. Since the Iskrists turned to opportunism, they were bound to arrive at the conclusion that the Bolsheviks are “Jacobins” (to use a term of eighteenth-century political divisions). These accusations merely confirm our view on the Right and Left wings of the present-day Social-Democratic movement. These accusations by the opportunists are just as flattering to us as was the accusation hurled at us by Rabochaya Mysl in 1900 to the effect that we were following in the footsteps of Narodnaya Volya. The actual way in which political tendencies throughout Russia are grouped politically on a major question of tactics has proved in practice the correctness of our appraisal of Iskra’s stand ever since the Second Congress of the RSDLP
The alignment of illegal parties effected at the Conference of all Social-Democrats thus naturally supplements the alignment of all parties on the Duma question. If the Iskrists have proved a regrettable exception, the fact that they are only an exception gives us new faith in the validity of the rule, in the victory of revolutionary Social-Democracy, in the realisation of the consistent slogans of the Russian revolution. Although the liberals’ banality and the vulgarisation of Marxism by some Marxists may at moments of gloom seem an omen that our revolution too will turn out to be a banal, abortive, and incomplete revolution like the German Revolution of 1848, nevertheless the vitality of the principles of revolutionary Social-Democracy inspires us with a stimulating faith, and the actions of the heroic working class uphold that faith. The revolution draws a splendid line of division between political tendencies, serves as a splendid reductio ad absurdum of erroneous opinions. So far the revolution in Russia has been progressing in such a way as to justify the hopes for its complete victory inspired by the present situation at home and abroad. And the sight of the autocracy’s consternation and the liberals’ confusion, the sight of the bold revolutionary energy of the proletariat, which is taking the peasantry in tow, lead us to believe that “our train will go as the German never did”
- See pp. 356-73 of this volume.—Ed.
- See p. 321 of this volume.—Ed.
- See p. 47 of this volume.—Ed.
- Lenin is quoting from the poem by N. Dobrolyubov In a Prussian Railway Carriage, signed “Konrad Lilienschwager” and published in 1862 in No. 8 of Svistok (The Whistle), a supplement to Sovremennik (The Contemporary) magazine.