The Third Duma and Social-Democracy

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Author(s) Lenin
Written November 1907

Published: Vperyod No. 18, November 1907. Printed from the Vperyod text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 41, pages 209.2-216.1.
Collection(s): Vperyod

The Third Duma,[1] convened on the basis of the electoral law which was promulgated by the tsar after the dissolution of the Second Duma on June 3, 1907, opened on November 1, 1907. The old electoral law, issued en December 11, 1905,[2] was a far cry from universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot, and distorted the will of the people, turning the Duma into an ugly expression of that will—especially after the “interpretation” of the law given in the second Duma by the Senate, consisting of old civil servants and justices entirely subservient to the tsarist autocracy. On June 3, the tsar deprived the workers, peasants and urban poor of the trifling electoral rights they had enjoyed. In this way, the autocracy committed another heinous crime against the people by forging popular representation and handing the Duma over to the landowners and capitalists, the mainstay of the tsarist autocracy and the age-old oppressors of the people. That they would dominate the Duma could have been predicted. That is exactly what happened.

At present, returns are in on the election of 439 members of the Duma. The eight non-party members aside, the other 431 belong to four main groups: 1) the largest—the Right wingers, Black-Hundred deputies, numbering 187; 2) then the Octobrists[3] and parties close to them, numbering 119; 3) the Cadets and like-minded men, 93; 4) the Left-wingers, 32 (of them, 16 to 18 Social-Democrats).

Everyone knows who the Black-Hundred men are. It is true that among their adherents there is a section of ignorant, unclass-conscious workers, peasants and urban poor, but their governing core consists of feudal-minded landowners, for whom the preservation of the autocracy is the only salvation, because it alone can help them to plunder the public till, receiving grants, loans, good salaries and handouts of every sort; the autocracy with its police and army alone gives them the possibility of keeping in bondage the peasantry, which suffers from lack of land and is fettered with labour services and irredeemable debts and arrears.

The Octobrists also include landowners, mainly those who engage in large-scale sales of grain from their estates and require the patronage of the autocracy to secure lower customs tariffs on their grain abroad, to keep down the costs of transporting the grain abroad by Russian railroad and to secure the best possible prices from the treasury when it purchases the alcohol, which many landowners produce from potatoes and grain at their distilleries, for the vodka monopoly. But apart from these predatory and greedy land owners, many of the Octobrists are equally predatory and greedy capitalist manufacturers, factory-owners and bankers. They, too, are in need of the government’s patron age to secure high tariffs on foreign goods, so that Russian goods could be sold at three times their price, to secure fat contracts from the treasury for the capitalist factories, etc. They want the police and the army to turn the workers into the same sort of slaves that the peasants are under the feudal-minded landowners.

Naturally, the Octobrists are very close to the Black Hundred men. Should the Duma examine government revenue and expenditure—they will put their heads together to see that the full burden of the taxes falls on the peasants, the workers and the urban poor, while the revenues go into the pockets of the capitalists, the landowners and senior civil servants. Should the question arise of allocating land to the peasants or improving the condition of the workers—the Black-Hundred men and the Octobrists will pull together to sell, at a threefold price, only those lands which they do not need, stripping the peasants, impoverished as they are, of everything they have; they will try very hard to fetter the hands and feet of the workers, who are already hard pressed by the burden of capitalist exploitation. And, of course, both the Black-Hundred men and the Octobrists will strain very hard to have the largest possible police and army to provide protection for their “precious” life and their “sacrosanct” property: after all, they fear the revolution like the plague, they are terrified by the prospect of a mighty drive by the workers and peasants rising to the great struggle for liberty and land. Together the Octobrists and the Black-Hundred men will constitute a vast majority in the Third Duma: 306 out of 439 members. This majority can do just what it wants. It is against the revolution, or, as the more common saying is, it is counter-revolutionary.

But there may be questions on which the Octobrists will differ with the majority of the Black Hundreds. The latter’s effrontery knows no bounds. They are sure that the police truncheon, the whip, the machine-gun and the bayonet alone will put down any revolution, any popular urge for light and freedom. They would like to rely on the autocracy and do as they wish with the public revenue, using it for their own benefit, taking over all the lucrative posts and treating the country as their own estate. The Octobrists remember that up to now the landowners and the civil servants have run things in a way that gave them every thing and left hardly enough for the capitalists. Two plunderers—a Black-Hundred man and an Octobrist—quarrel over a succulent titbit, over who is to get more. The Octobrists refuse to let the Black Hundreds have everything or even the greater share: just recently, the Japanese war gave them an object lesson, making them realise that the Black Hundreds bungled things in such a way that they inflicted losses even on themselves, to say nothing of the capitalists and the merchants. That is why the Octobrists want to take over some of the power in the state and wish to frame the constitution for their own benefit and, naturally, not for the benefit of the people. In so doing the Octobrists want to deceive the people by diverse laws which have the appearance of introducing reforms and improving things for the state and the people, but actually serve the interests of the rich. Like the Black Hundreds, they are of course prepared to rely on the machine-gun, the bayonet and the whip against the revolution, but to be on the safe side they want to seal the ayes of the masses with the aid of fraudulent reforms.

To do all this, the Octobrists need allies other than the Black Hundreds. It is true that in these matters as well they hope to detach a section of the Right Wing from the ultra-Black hundreds of the Union of the Russian People,[4] but that is not enough. That is why they have to seek for other allies who are also hostile to the revolution, but who are enemies of the Black Hundreds, favour fraudulent or petty reforms, and support the constitution in the interests of the big and possibly a section of the middle bourgeoisie.

It is easy for the Octobrists to find such allies in the Duma: they are the Cadets, a party of that section of the landowners, the big and middle bourgeoisie which has quite adapted itself to conducting a really good Capitalist economy, like that in the West-European countries, and based likewise on the exploitation and oppression of the workers, the peasants and the urban poor, but an exploitation which is clever, subtle and artful, an exploitation you do not see right through all at once. There are many landowners in the Cadet Party engaged in real capitalist operations, and similar factory-owners and bankers, many lawyers? professors and doctors with good incomes, derived from the rich. It is true that in their programme the Cadets promised the people a great many things: there was universal suffrage and all the freedoms, an 8–hour working day, and land for the peasants. But all that was said merely to attract the masses of people, for they never actually made any straightforward proposal for universal suffrage even in the first two Dumas; their bills on the freedoms were in fact aimed at giving the people as little freedom as possible; in the Second Duma they proposed a 10–hour day instead of the 8–hour day, and they were prepared to let the peasants have land which was of no use to the capitalist economy, and which carried redemption payments, and let them have so little of it that even if the peasants got it, they would still have to work for a wage on the neighbouring landowners? estates. That was a clever trick to which the workers did not rise at all, very few peasants did and only some of the urban poor actually took the Cadets at their word. Today, after the dissolution of the two Dumas, the Cadets have grown very quiet and are making up to the Octobrists: they declared that they regard the revolutionaries and especially the Social-Democrats as their enemies, and, believing the Octobrists to be constitutional-minded, voted for an Octobrist to fill the post of Duma Chairman. The deal is ready. It is true that Minister Stolypin does not apparently want a permanent deal and wants to keep the Cadets in submission, thereby exerting an influence on the Octobrists, but in practice there will still be constituted another majority in the Duma—the Octobrists and the Cadets. Together they number 212, slightly less than half, but they will also have the non-party men behind them, and these number 8, so that the majority will be there; and even among the Rightists some might vote with the Octobrists and the Cadets on some questions. Of course, this other majority will also be counter-revolutionary and will fight against the revolution; it will merely covet up with trifling reforms which are of no use to the people.

Can these two majorities in the Third Duma defeat the revolution?

The great Russian revolution cannot stop until the peasants receive land in any appreciable quantity and until the masses of people secure the main influence on the administration of the state. Can we expect the two Duma majorities to produce all that? The question is in itself ridiculous: = can the feudal-minded landowners and plunderous capitalists be expected to give land to the peasants and give up the supreme power to the people? No! They will throw a starving peasant a crust, after stripping him of everything he has, and they will help only the kulaks and the sharks to make themselves comfortable, taking all the power for themselves and leaving the people oppressed and subjugated.

The Social-Democrats must naturally do everything they can to continue the people’s great cause—-the revolution, the struggle for liberty and land.

In the Duma, the government behind the Octobrists, and the Cadets want to play a double game. The government, while stepping up its persecutions and putting down Russia with the aid of bayonet, noose, prison cell and prison camp, pretends to be an advocate of reform. The Cadets, who have actually embraced the Octobrists, pretend that they are real champions of liberty. Both want to cheat the people and stamp out the revolution.

Let us see that this does not happen! The Social-Democrats, consistent and loyal fighters for nation-wide emancipation, will unmask the hypocrites and the cheats. Inside and outside the Duma they will expose the tyrannies of the Black-Hundred landowners and the government, and the Cadet tricks. They will—they must—understand that there is now need for more than a relentless struggle against the government; the Cadets must not be given either direct or indirect support.

The Social-Democrats must above all raise their voice to expose most sternly and relentlessly the foul tsarist crime perpetrated on June 3, 1907. Let the proletariat’s spokesmen in the Duma explain to the people that the Third Duma cannot serve their interests, that it cannot meet their demands and that this can be done only by a sovereign constituent assembly elected through universal, direct and equal suffrage by secret ballot.

The government will propose new laws. The Octobrists, the Cadets and the Black Hundreds will do the same. All these laws will be a brazen swindle of the people, a gross violation of their rights and interests, a mockery of their demands, a mockery of the blood shed by the people in the struggle for liberty. All these laws will provide protection for the interests of the landowners and the capitalists. Each of these laws will be a fresh link in the chains of bondage which the oppressors and the parasites want to clamp on the workers, the peasants and the urban poor. Not everyone will understand this right away. But the Social-Democrats know and understand this, and that is why they will expose this boldly before the cheated people. In so doing, they must devote special attention to the laws which relate to the people’s most vital needs: the laws on land, the laws on labour, on state revenue and expenditure. In branding the violence and fraud of the feudal-minded land owners and the capitalists, the Social-Democrats must explain their demands to the entire people: full powers for the people (a democratic republic), unrestricted liberty and equality, the 8-hour working day and the easing of working conditions for labour, confiscation of large estates and the handing of land over to the peasants. They must also point to the great goal which the proletariat of all countries sets itself—socialism, complete abolition of wage slavery.

Alongside the Social-Democrats in the Duma there is a small group of Left-wingers, mainly the Trudoviks. The Social-Democrats should urge these men to go along with them. This is especially necessary when there is occasion to direct questions to the government which is running rampant all over Russia like a wild beast. Every day, the watch dogs of tsarism—the police, the gendarmes—and the higher authorities—ministers and governors—permit themselves gross acts of violence and lawlessness. They must be ex posed and branded. And it is up to the Social-Democrats to do this. But a question to the government requires the signatures of 30 members of the Duma, and the Social-Democrats will hardly number more than 18. Together with the other Left-wingers they are 32. The Social-Democrats must draw up the questions and urge the Left-wingers to join them. If the Leftists really cherish the great cause of liberty, they must do so. A heavy blow will then be inflicted on the government, like those the Social-Democrats inflicted on it with their questions in the Second Duma.

Such are the main tasks of the Social-Democrats in the Third Duma. Our comrades have some hard work to do. They will be there among enemies, malicious and ruthless. Efforts will be made to stop their mouths, and they will be showered with abuse, they will perhaps be expelled from the Duma, brought to trial, thrown into prison and exiled. They must be firm, in spite of all persecutions, they must hold high the proletariat’s red banner and remain loyal to the end to the great cause of struggle for the people’s emancipation. And all of us, comrades workers, must join forces in supporting them; we must lend a sensitive ear to their every word, respond to it, discuss their acts at meetings and rallies, reinforcing by our sympathies and approval their every correct step, helping them with all our strength and resources in the struggle for the cause of the revolution. Let the working class be united in supporting its spokesmen, and in so doing may it strengthen its unity which it needs in the great struggler—the time when the “last decisive battle” is fought.

  1. The Third Duma held five sessions from November 1 (14), 1907, to June 9 (22), 1912. Elected on the basis of the June 3 electoral law the Third Duma was dominated by the Black Hundreds and the Octobrists, and was a pliant tool of the tsarist government in its counter-revolutionary policy of violence and repression against the revolutionary forces of Russia.
    At the opening of the first session there were 11 parties and groups, including: Right-wing (extreme Right-wing, nationalist and moderate Right-wing)—147 deputies; Octobrists—154; Polish-Lithuanian-Byelorussian group—7; Polish kolo—11; Progressive group—28; Moslem group—8; Cadets—54; Trudovik group—14; and Social-Democrats—19.
    The Social-Democratic group in the Third Duma, despite the very difficult conditions, the small size of the group and some initial mistakes, did a great deal, thanks to the presence of the Bolshevik deputies, in exposing the anti-popular policy of the Third Duma, and in the political education of the proletariat and peasantry of Russia, through speeches in the Duma and work outside it. p. 209
  2. The Electoral Law of December 11 (24), 1906, on the convocation of a “legislative” Duma was issued by the tsarist government at the height of the Moscow armed uprising. It assured the landowners and capitalists of overriding domination in the Duma. The First Duma, elected under the law, was a Cadet one. p. 209
  3. Octobrists—members of the Octobrist Party (or the Union of October Seventeen) formed in Russia after the issue of the tsar’s manifesto of October 17 (30), 1905. It was a counter-revolutionary party representing and fighting for the interests of the big bourgeoisie and landowners engaged in capitalist operations; it was headed by the well-known Moscow industrialist and real-estate man A. I. Guchkov and the big landowner M. V. Rodzyanko. The Octobrists gave full support to the tsarist government’s domestic and foreign policy. p. 209
  4. Union of the Russian People—an ultra-reactionary, diehard organisation of monarchists, formed in St. Petersburg in October 1905 to fight the revolutionary movement. It had branches in many towns of Russia.
    The Union wanted to preserve the autocracy, semi-feudal landed estates and privileges for the gentry. “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, National Character”, the nationalistic slogan of the serf period, was its programme slogan. Its chief methods of fighting the revolution were pogroms and assassinations.
    After the dispersal of the Second Duma, the Union broke up into two organisations: the Chamber of St. Michael the Archangel, led by Purishkevich, which called for the use of the Third Duma for counter-revolutionary ends, and the Union of the Russian People itself, led by Dubrovin, which continued the tactics of open terrorism. Both outfits were liquidated during the bourgeois-democratic revolution in February 1917. After the October Socialist Revolution, former members of these outfits took an active part in counter-revolutionary revolts and plots against the Soviet power. p. 212