Proletary, No. 7, November 10, 1906.
Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 267-270.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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This is an old story: the boycott of the State Duma. A Menshevik comrade writing in Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 3 (“Situation or Position?”) tells it in the following way:
“When history presented us with the plan of the Bulygin Duma, we, acting upon our general principles, recommended the organisation of parallel unofficial elections to a People’s Duma, in opposition to the Bulygin Duma, to which we had no access. But when, after the December uprising, we were faced
Stop, my dear historian, one moment! That you skip over the events between the Bulygin plan and the December uprising is a small matter, merely a chronological leap. But to do likewise with your tactics and “principles” is another thing; this leap is—to say the least—diplomatic. Did you recommend only “unofficial elections”? Did you treat the Bulygin Duma only as an institution to which you “had no access”? And so, for the sake of your People’s Duma you in tended to boycott the Bulygin Duma? Or ignore it? But did you not at that time wage war on certain boycottists? Did you not insist that an active part should be taken in the “Bulygin” election campaign which was expected at that time? Did you not demand that the Party should support the Left liberals at the elections, etc.? How is it that you have for gotten all that?
“But when, after the December uprising, we were faced....” Stop, you have omitted another small point. Russia boycott ed the Bulygin Duma, but up to now there is still no People’s Duma.... Well, have you admitted that your tactics in those days were mistaken? No, your answer to the boycottists was that your tactics in regard to the Bulygin Duma were correct, only the revolution prevented them from being seen in all their glory.... Now, having recalled all this, continue your story.
“But when, after the December uprising, we were faced with the convocation of the new Witte Duma, we recommended participation in the primary stages of the elections, counting upon two possibilities: either the very fact of our participation would evoke a revolutionary upsurge that would sweep away the Witte Duma....”
Stop, my dear historian, stop, what has come over you? “The fact of our participation would evoke a revolutionary upsurge....” No, really, you must be joking! You have always accused the Bolsheviks of naïvely exaggerating our strength—and to think that you should speak seriously of a revolutionary upsurge—and what an upsurge: one “that would sweep away”, etc.—which could be evoked by the “fact of our participation”. No, of course, not seriously.
And so: “... either the very fact of our participation would evoke a revolutionary upsurge that would sweep away the Witte Duma and call into being a representative institution more advantageous to us; or the revolutionary upsurge would not come immediately, in which case, not only would we be able to go into the Duma, but the very state of affairs would compel us to do so, as was the case in Lefortovo District of Moscow.”
Excuse me, but, if I remember rightly, you never said a word about this “or” at the time.
True, we did not—our historian replies.
“True, in the pamphlet published by the joint editorial board we said that we did not recommend participation in the elections directly to the Duma. But we did it, we tied our hands beforehand, only for the sake of a compromise, in the hope of arriving at some agreement with the boycottists for working out uniform tactics. This was ’opportunism’ on our part—we deliberately adapted ourselves to the obsolete, short-sighted views of our boycottist comrades, and this we sincerely repent.”
So that’s it! You were saying one thing and thinking an other. And you said it to the proletariat and the whole revolutionary people.... You “repent” it! But don’t you know the saying: “Caught lying once, who will trust you again?” What if your “repentance” is also caused by your “adapting” yourselves to somebody’s “obsolete” or “short-sighted” views? Where is the limit to such “opportunism”, to such “compromises”? What should be our attitude to any of your slogans when you yourselves admit that your slogan on one of the most important tactical questions was not put forward sincerely? Why, anyone might well believe, after this, that you call yourselves Social-Democrats only for the sake of “adapting” yourselves “to the obsolete and short sighted views” of the revolutionary proletariat.
Well, I must say something in your defence. In the heat of controversy you have cruelly wronged yourselves. You were sincere boycottists at the third stage of the elections, just as we were sincere boycottists at all st ages of the elections. But we were boycottists all together. Nebst gefangen, nebst gehangen—“caught together, hanged together”. You want to “hang” us now for having been boycottists. But in that case, my dear comrades, you will have to hang yourselves as well: you have been caught at the same game. “But we have repented,” you declare. Well, that mitigates your offence. But it does not acquit you, or exempt you from punishment. Well, not hanging, but how about a good flogging, for instance? Is that what you are after?
As for ourselves—we have not repented. We said and still say: boycott or non-boycott is a question not of principle, but of expediency. The boycott of the First Duma was expedient. It gave the mass of the people a vivid, concrete, proletarian appraisal of the Duma as an institution incapable of solving the fundamental problems of the revolution. The dissolution of the Duma and all that followed it have confirmed this appraisal; the mass of the people clearly perceives that here, too, the proletariat proved to be their natural leader in the revolution, warning them beforehand of the sterility of constitutional illusions! The boycott diverted the attention and the forces of the government, and thus contributed to the victory of the bourgeois opposition at the elections. The boycott united the broad proletarian masses in a single act of revolutionary protest. Its agitational and organisational effect was enormous.
The boycott performed a great service—but its work is already done. A proper appraisal of the Duma was given, a telling blow was struck at parliamentary illusions—there is no need to do it over again. At the present time a boycott will not divert the forces of the government—the latter has certainly learned the lesson of the past elections. The work of agitation and organisation can be performed just as well by taking part in elections as by boycotting them—unless the electoral law is changed very much for the worse. If it is, then, perhaps, we may have to resort to the boycott again. But we may not have time to bother with Duma elections at all if big revolutionary battles begin again.
Thus, boycotting remains a question of expediency. The only point is that for the time being we do not see sufficient grounds for a boycott.
Whoever feels guilty, let him repent; but in doing so, let him strew ashes on his own head and let him rend his own garments, not other people’s. And one should not distort history and commit libel in a fit of repentance—not even against oneself.