Tony Cliff

Lenin 1

Chapter 13
Dark Reaction Victorious

The Revolution Still Advancing

ALTHOUGH THE revolution had been in decline for several months and reaction had set in, Lenin continued to believe that it was still on the upswing. Thus, soon after the defeat of the December 1905 insurrection, he wrote:

What is the state of the democratic revolution in Russia? Is it defeated, or are we merely passing through a temporary lull? Was the December uprising the climax of the revolution, and are we now rushing headlong towards a “Tsarist Constitution” regime? Or is the revolutionary movement, on the whole, not subsiding, but rising, in preparation for a new outbreak, using the lull to muster new forces, and promising, after the first unsuccessful insurrection, a second, with much greater chance of success? [1]

And he answered these questions in the following way:

The new outbreak may not take place in the spring; but it is approaching, and in all probability is not very far off. We must meet it armed, organised in military fashion, and prepared for determined offensive operations.

In accordance with this, the Bolshevik conference that assembled in Tammerfors (Finland) on 12-17 December 1905, also

counselled all party organisations to make broad use of the electoral assemblies not in order to bring about, in submitting to the police restrictions, any elections to the Duma, but to broaden the revolutionary organisation of the proletariat and to agitate in all strata of the people for an armed uprising. The uprising must be prepared at once, without delay, and organised everywhere, for only its victory will give us the possibility of convoking a genuine popular representation, that is, a freely elected Constituent Assembly on the basis of a universal, direct, equal and secret ballot. [2]

Three months later, in a draft resolution written for the Unity Congress of the RSDLP, Lenin was still insisting that the uprising was an immediate prospect: “At the present time armed uprising is not only the necessary means of fighting for freedom, but a stage actually reached by the movement.” [3]

At the beginning of June 1906, he wrote: “It is quite evident that we are now passing through one of the most important periods of the revolution. Signs of a revival of the broad, mass movement against the old order have been visible for a long time. Now this revival is reaching its climax.” [4] In July, he still saw the revolution rising: “The possibility of simultaneous action all over Russia is increasing. The probability of all partial uprisings merging into one is increasing. The inevitability of a political strike and of an uprising as a fight for power is felt as never before by large sections of the population.” [5]

However, six months later, at the beginning of December, he revised his estimate of the situation. And without making any apology, he explained why he had lagged behind others – the Mensheviks above all – who had declared the revolution defeated months before:

The Marxist is the first to foresee the approach of a revolutionary period, and already begins to rouse the people and to sound the tocsin while the philistines are still wrapt in the slavish slumber of loyal subjects. The Marxist is therefore the first to take the path of direct revolutionary struggle ... The Marxist is the last to leave the path of direct revolutionary struggle, he leaves it only when all possibilities have been exhausted, when there is not a shadow of hope for a shorter way, when the basis for an appeal to prepare for mass strikes, an uprising, etc., is obviously disappearing. Therefore a Marxist treats with contempt the innumerable renegades of the revolution who shout to him: We are more “progressive” than you, we were the first to renounce the revolution! We were the first to “submit” to the monarchist constitution! [6]

A revolutionary cannot accept the defeat of the revolution until objective facts leave no room for doubt. The revolutionaries are the last to leave the battlefield.



Wrong perspective

There was an international slump in 1907, which Lenin expected to bring about a revival of the revolutionary struggle. Thus, in a draft resolution for the fifth Congress of the RSDLP, he wrote: “A number of facts testify to the extreme intensification of destitution among the proletariat and also of its economic struggle ... This economic movement must be regarded as the main source and foundation of the entire revolutionary crisis that is developing in Russia.” [7]

The view that an economic crisis heightens the revolutionary struggle was generally accepted by Russian Marxists. The only exception was Trotsky, and he was proved absolutely right.

After a period of big battles and defeats, a crisis has the effect of depressing rather than arousing the working class. It undermines the workers’ confidence in their powers and demoralises them politically. Under such conditions, only an industrial revival can close the ranks of the proletariat, pour fresh blood into its veins, restore its confidence in itself and make it capable of further struggle. [8]

In retrospect Trotsky could correctly say:

The world industrial crisis, which broke out in 1907, extended the prolonged depression in Russia for three additional years, and far from inspiring the workers to engage in a new fight, dispersed them and weakened them more than ever. Under the blows of lockouts, unemployment and poverty, the weary masses became definitely discouraged. Such was the material basis for the “achievements” of Stolypin’s reaction. The proletariat needed the resuscitative font of a new industrial resurgence to revive its strength, fill its ranks, again feel itself the indispensable factor in production and plunge into a new fight. [9]



Reaction Victorious

The years 1907-10 were years of dreadful reaction. The retreat of the labour movement can be measured by the catastrophic decline in the strike movement after the peak of 1905. [10]


Number of workers
on strike

(in thousands)


of all workers

1895-1904 (average)





















“In 1908, and even more 1909, the number of strikers was far smaller even than the average of the 10 years prior to the revolution.” [11] The decline in political strikes was especially marked. Figures for strike-days were as follows: [12]


Total strike days


Political strike days

1895-1904 (total)















The decline of the revolution left the initiative completely in the hands of the Tsarist government and mass White terror took place.

During the dictatorship of Stolypin over 5,000 death sentences were passed and over 3,500 persons were actually executed – this was at least three times as many as during the whole period of the mass movement (not including of course shootings without trial, after the suppression of the armed insurrection). [13]



Disintegration of the Labour Movement

Once the revolutionary movement was on the decline, and the Tsarist government had regained its confidence, the process of disintegration of the labour movement proceeded rapidly. After it was beaten in battle, the decline in morale intensified and the retreat turned into a complete rout. Workers showed no capacity for further resistance. The whole movement fell to pieces.

On 1 March 1908, Lenin wrote:

More than six months have passed since the reactionary coup of June 3, and beyond doubt this first half-year has been marked by a considerable decline and weakening of all revolutionary organisations, including that of the Social Democrats. Wavering, disunity and disintegration – such have been the general feature of this half-year. [14]

But he did not surrender easily. He clutched at any straw that might indicate an upturn in the movement – such as an increase in illegal publications or the persistence of local and factory groups. In January 1909, he hopefully proclaimed: “The recent All-Russian Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party has led the party out on to the road, and evidently marks a turning-point in the development of the Russian working-class movement after the victory of the counterrevolution.” [15]

But his optimism was totally baseless, and the indications of an upturn unfounded. In actual fact, at the conference Lenin referred to – held in December 1908 – there were only four delegates from Russia. [16] Stalin described the situation at the time in an article called The Crisis in the Party and Our Tasks.

It is no secret to anyone that our party is passing through a severe crisis. The party’s loss of members, the shrinking and weakness of the organisations, the latter’s isolation from one another, and the absence of co-ordinated party work – all show that the party is ailing, that it is passing through a grave crisis.

The first thing that is particularly depressing the party is the isolation of its organisations from the broad masses. At one time our organisations numbered thousands in their ranks and they led hundreds of thousands. At that time, the party had firm roots among the masses. This is not the case now. Instead of thousands, tens and at best hundreds, have remained in the organisations. As regards leading hundreds of thousands, it is not worth speaking about ... It is sufficient to point to St. Petersburg, where in 1907 we had about 8,000 members and where we can now scarcely muster 300 to 400, to appreciate at once the full gravity of the crisis. We shall not speak of Moscow, the Urals, Poland, the Donets Basin, etc., which are in a similar state.

But that is not all. The party is suffering not only from isolation from the masses, but also from the fact that its organisations are not linked up with one another, are not living the same party life, are divorced from one another. St. Petersburg does not know what is going on in the Caucasus, the Caucasus does not know what is going on in the Urals, etc., each little corner lives its own separate life. Strictly speaking, we no longer have a single party living the same common life that we all spoke of with such pride in the period from 1905 to 1907. [17]

The movement was in actual fact in complete disarray. For instance, in the summer of 1905, the Moscow district had 1,435 members. [18] The figure rose in mid-May 1906 to 5,320. [19] But by mid-1908, it had dropped to 250, and six months later, it was 150. In 1910, the organisation ceased to exist, when the district secretary’s job fell into the hands of one Kukushkin, an agent of the okhrana, the secret police. [20]

The first to leave the sinking ship were the intellectuals. In March 1908, Lenin commented on “the flight of the intellectuals from the party,” and quoted a number of correspondents to support this statement.

“Recently through lack of intellectual workers the area organisation has been dead,” writes a correspondent from the Kulebaki Works (Vladimir area organisation of the Central Industrial Region). “Our ideological forces are melting away like snow,” they write from the Urals. “The elements who avoid illegal organisations in general ... and who joined the party only at the time of the upsurge and of the de facto liberty that then existed in m any places, have left our party organisations.” And an article in the Central Organ entitled Questions of organisation sums up these reports and others which we do not print, with the words: “The intellectuals, as is well known, have been deserting in masses in recent months.” [21]

A year later, at the end of January 1909, Lenin described the sad state of the movement in the following words:

A year of disintegration, a year of ideological and political disunity, a year of party driftage lies behind us. The membership of all our party organisations has dropped. Some of them – namely, those whose membership was least proletarian – have fallen to pieces.

The main cause of the party crisis ... is the wavering intellectual and petty-bourgeois elements, of which the workers’ party had to rid itself; elements who joined the working-class movement mainly in the hope of an early triumph of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and could not stand up to a period of reaction. Their instability was revealed both in theory (“retreat from revolutionary Marxism”) ... and in tactics (the “whittling down of slogans”) as well as in party organisation. [22]

In a letter to Maxim Gorky written in February or early March 1910, he once again noted “the tremendous decline among the organisations everywhere, almost their cessation in many localities. The wholesale flight of the intelligentsia. All that is left are workers’ circles and isolated individuals. The young, inexperienced worker is making his way forward with difficulty.” [23]

In October of the same year he wrote:

The deep crisis of the workers’ movement and the Social Democratic Party in Russia still continues. Disintegration of the party organisations, an almost universal exodus of the intellectuals from them, confusion and wavering among the Social Democrats who have remained loyal, dejection and apathy among fairly wide sections of the advanced proletariat, uncertainty as to the way out of this situation – such are the distinguishing features of the present position. [24]

In December, he complained that “the Russian Collegium of the Central Committee had not met once during the year.” [25] In May 1911, he wrote: “At present the real position of the party is such that almost everywhere in the localities there are informal, extremely small and tiny party workers’ groups and nuclei that meet regularly. They are not connected with each other. Very rarely do they see any literature.” [26]

The activities of agents provocateurs contributed to the disintegration of the movement. In 1910 and early 1911, all Bolshevik members of the Central Committee working in Russia were arrested. [27]

The okhrana infiltrated almost all the party organisations and an atmosphere of suspicion and mutual distrust thwarted all initiative. At the beginning of 1910, after a number of well-calculated arrests, the provocateur Kukushkin became head of the Moscow district organisation. “The ideal of the okhrana is being realised,” wrote an activist. “Secret agents are at the head of all the Moscow organisations.” The situation in Petersburg was not much better. “The leadership seemed to have been routed, there was no way of restoring it, provocation gnawed away at our vitals, organisations fell apart.” Not a single conference was held abroad with representatives of the Russian party that was not attended by at least one okhrana agent.

In 1912, when the legal Bolshevik daily Pravda was founded in Petersburg, two police agents, Miron Chernomazov and Roman Malinovsky, were on the editorial staff, the former as an editor and chairman of the editorial board, the latter as contributing editor and treasurer. From Malinovsky, the police obtained a complete list of people who contributed donations to the paper and a complete list of subscribers. Malinovsky was also chairman of the Bolshevik group in the Duma, and a member of the Central Committee. Lenin admired him. “For the first time we have among our people in the Duma an outstanding workers’ leader.” [28] He used to call him abroad for the most confidential meetings, and revealed important secrets to him.

Zinoviev, who was very close to Lenin, was later so say: “At this unhappy period the party as a whole ceased to exist.” [29]



Life in exile is unbearable

During the period of reaction, life for revolutionaries abroad became almost intolerable. Walking the Geneva streets, Lenin murmured, “I feel just as if I’d come here to be buried.” Krupskaya, commenting on this, says, “Our second period of emigration ... was ever so much harder than the first.” [30]

Lenin’s first stay abroad lasted five years, but they were years of a rising movement, years of hope. The second lasted 10, beginning with the reaction and the disintegration of the movement.

Isolated and impotent, the émigrés became involved in furious quarrels, denounced one another bitterly, accused everybody of being traitors, and blamed one another for their terrible defeats. Lenin described the torment:

There is much that is painful in the life of the exiles ... There is more poverty and want among them than elsewhere. The proportion of suicides is particularly great among them, and the proportion of those among them whose whole being is one bundle of sick nerves is incredibly, monstrously great. Indeed, how could things be different with tormented people? [31]

He wrote to his sister Maria on 14 January 1908: “We have been hanging about in this damned Geneva for several days now ... It is an awful hole, but there is nothing we can do. We shall get used to it.” [32]

Some 10 months later, planning to leave for Paris, he wrote to his mother: “We hope that a big city will put some life into us all; we are tired of staying in this provincial backwater.” [33]

Yet another year later, in February 1910, he wrote: “Paris is a rotten hole in many respects ... I am still unable to adapt myself fully to it (after living here for a year!).” [34]

In the autumn of 1911, when Anna came to visit him in Paris, he could not conceal from her that the second emigration had been extremely painful. “His state of mind was noticeably less gay ... One day when we were walking together, he said to me: ‘Will we be able to live until the next revolution?’” [35]

On 11 April 1910, he wrote to Gorky, “Life in exile is now a hundred times harder than it was before the revolution. Life in exile and squabbling are inseparable.” [36]

On the domestic level, poverty dogged their lives. Krupskaya recollected:

... we were so poor. Workers managed to eke out a livelihood somehow or other, but the conditions of the intellectuals were very bad. It was not always possible to become a worker. To live at the expense of the exiles’ funds ... and to feed in the exiles’ dining-room was humiliating. I remember several sad cases. One comrade tried to become a French polisher, but it was not easy to learn the trade, and he was forced to change his jobs frequently. He lived in a working-class district far from where the other exiles lived. At last he became so weak from lack of food that he could not leave his bed and wrote to us asking for money. He asked, however, that it should not be brought directly to him but left with the concierge.

Nikolai Vasilievich Sapozhkov (Kuznetsov) had a hard time. He and his wife found work at painting pottery, but they earned very little and one could see this giant of a man positively withering away; his face became furrowed with wrinkles as a result of slow starvation, although he never complained of his condition. There were many cases like that.

The saddest case of all was that of Comrade Prigara, who had taken part in the Moscow uprising. He lived somewhere in a working-class suburb, and the comrades knew little about him. One day he came to us and began to talk excitedly and incoherently about chariots filled with sheaves of corn and about beautiful girls standing on the chariots, etc. It was obvious that the man was insane. Our first thought was that it was due to starvation. Mother began to prepare something to eat for him. Ilyich, his face pale with pity, remained with Prigara while I ran to call a friend of ours who was a mental specialist. The latter came, had a talk with the sick man, and said that it was a serious case of insanity, brought on by starvation. The case was not critical he said, but it would develop into a persecution mania and the patient was likely to commit suicide. He had to be watched. We did not even know his address. Brittman went to see him home, but on the way he disappeared. We roused our group and organised a search, but in vain. Later his corpse was found in the Seine with stones tied to his neck and feet – he had committed suicide. [37]



Bad communications with Russia

Their isolation from the tiny movement that survived in Russia added to the strain on the life and nerves of Lenin and his co-workers abroad. Communications between Lenin and the underground had always been poor, but in the period of reaction, they deteriorated still further, until they became practically non-existent.

Most of the personal contacts Lenin had were made at party or factional gatherings. But these were now very badly attended by delegates from inside Russia. The December 1908 conference, as we have already mentioned, drew only four Russian delegates. The next assembly, “The Enlarged Editorial Board of Proletarii”, held six months later, in June 1909, was attended by five delegates from Russia: three from the same areas as the December conference, and two who had escaped from Siberia and were thus somewhat out of touch.

Gorky, who was politically opposed to Lenin at this time although the two men corresponded frequently, was somewhat more successful at his school, which opened in Capri in August 1909. Yet even this event was attended by only 13 Russian committeemen. It did enable Lenin to broaden his contacts somewhat, as five students and one organiser walked out of the school in November as “Leninists” and came to Paris to meet Lenin. The other eight students followed suit when the school finished in December.

Thus from December 1908 to December 1909 Lenin met just 22 Russian committeemen. During the next 15 months, up to Lenin’s own school at Longjumeau held in the spring of 1911, he met no Russian committeemen at all. In December 1910, he had attempted “to repeat the Capri experiment” with the students at the school that Bogdanov and Lunacharsky, also at this time opposed to Lenin, had organised at Bologna, but his attempt failed completely. [38]

Correspondence with Russia was also very irregular. Before the 1903 conference, Lenin wrote some 300 letters a month to Russia, but now his correspondence dried up almost completely. The Collected Works (fifth Russian edition), which contain his letters for this period, reproduce or refer to very, very few letters into Russia: 9 for the whole of 1909, 15 for 1910, 7 for 1911, and 8 for the first half of 1912. (The number increases appreciably after this: 31 for the second half of 1912, 43 for 1913, 35 for the first 7 months of 1914.) [39]

To make matters worse, the Russian correspondents were often not very helpful. They often wrote in very obscure language, either genuinely to fool the censors, or as a pretext when they either had nothing to report, or wished to obscure the real situation. Thus Lenin complains, “Nikolai has sent in a letter full of joyful exclamations, but absolutely useless,” and “instead of letters you send us various telegraphically brief exclamations which are quite incomprehensible,” and, “I have received your two letters and am very much surprised by them. What could seem simpler than writing to us simply and clearly what the matter is.” [40] They frequently did not write at all, and scattered through Lenin’s letters from 1909 to 1916 are remarks like “it is a pity that we did not receive any news from you earlier – we are terribly cut off here, we tried to make contact with you and Vyach, but were unsuccessful” [41], or, “Dear comrades, we have had no news from you for a long time” (this to the Russian Bureau of the Central Committee!) [42]; these individual remarks are summed up in the plea, “For God’s sake give us more contacts. Contacts, contacts, contacts, this is what we have not got.” [43]

The difficulties were increased by the fact that the system of distribution of the Bolshevik newspapers, which until 1910 were all produced abroad, broke down after 1905 and was never properly re-established. Hardly any copies managed to be smuggled into Russia. In addition, the committeemen often complained that the journals published abroad were so out of touch with affairs at home that they were practically useless. In 1909, Stalin wrote:

... the organs that are published abroad, apart from the fact that they reach Russia in extremely limited quantities, naturally lag behind the course of party life in Russia, are unable to note in time and comment on the questions that excite the workers and, therefore, cannot link our local organisations together by permanent ties. [44]

This is a good example of the thinking of a “practical” activist, proud of the organisational work he has carried out under difficult conditions and contemptuous of the émigré discussion groups that he has “outgrown”. It was echoed by Piatnitsky at the Prague conference in 1912: “I attacked the editorial board violently because it sometimes forgot that the Central Organ – the Sotsial-demokrat – existed not only for the comrades abroad who were familiar with all the party quarrels, but mainly for the comrades in Russia.” [45]

Dr. N.A. Semachko, himself an émigré, wrote after the revolution, “usually émigré disputes were seen as the clashes of has-beens cut off from life. To a significant extent even I who directly participated in these disputes thought like this.” [46] One of the seven members of the Central Committee, Suren Spandarian, at the January 1912 conference that elected him, expressed doubts about the need for émigré groups at all: “Let those who wish to work ... come into Russia with me.” [47]



Lenin teaches how to retreat

To lead an army in retreat is usually a far more difficult task than to lead one on the offensive. Without doubt, one of the most difficult chapters in the history of Bolshevism was that of the years of reaction, years in which Lenin was more isolated than ever before or afterwards. Many years later, he could look back and observe that revolutionary leaders need to learn how to retreat.

The revolutionary parties had to complete their education. They were learning how to attack. Now they had to realise that such a knowledge must be supplemented with the knowledge of how to retreat in good order. They had to realise – and it is from bitter experience that the revolutionary class learns to realise this – that victory is impossible unless one has learned how to attack and retreat properly.

And with justified pride he went on to recount:

Of all the defeated opposition and revolutionary parties, the Bolsheviks effected the most orderly retreat, with the least loss to their “army,” with its core best preserved, with the least significant splits (in point of depth and incurability), with the least demoralisation, and in the best condition to resume work on the broadest scale and in the most correct and energetic manner. The Bolsheviks achieved this only because they ruthlessly exposed and expelled the revolutionary phrase-mongers, those who did not wish to understand that one had to retreat, that one had to know how to retreat.

In concrete terms, to retreat meant to withdraw from the field of the direct, open, revolutionary struggle, and instead “to work legally in the most reactionary of parliaments, in the most reactionary of trade unions, co-operative and insurance societies and similar organisations.” [48]



The Attitude to the Duma Elections

For several years (1906-10), the question of what attitude to take towards the Duma was of central importance. This problem led Lenin into disagreement both with the majority of his own faction – the Bolsheviks – and, for different reasons, with the Mensheviks.

The issue came up as early as May 1905, before either the Bolshevik Congress or the Menshevik Conference, when it was announced that the Tsar had instructed the new minister of the interior, Bulygin, to work out a draft for a consultative representative assembly. The Mensheviks favoured participation in the elections. They did not alter their position even when, on August 6, the statutes of the Duma were published, making it clear that it would have very limited power and that the election process itself would be very undemocratic. Voters were to be divided according to social “estates,” with extremely limited representation for the workers, and there were to be many stages in the election process. The Bolsheviks came out in favour of an “active” boycott of the elections.

At the beginning of September 1905, a conference of all Social Democrats – Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Latvian Social Democrats, Polish Social Democrats, the Jewish Bund, and the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party – decided, with the exception of the Mensheviks’ representatives, to support the boycott. Lenin explained what it implied in an article called The Boycott of the Bulygin Duma and Insurrection, written in August 1905. “As distinct from passive abstention, an active boycott should imply increasing agitation tenfold, organising meetings everywhere, taking advantage of election meetings, even if we have to force our way into them, holding demonstrations, political strikes, and so on and so forth.” [49]

On 11 December, a statute was published containing a new electoral law. This, while confirming the division of the voters into social “estates” and the many stages of the election, made significant concessions in the direction of workers’ and peasants’ representation. It greatly increased the numbers of representatives to be elected by the workers, and even more so by the peasants. Nevertheless, the plural voting for the wealthier sections of society and the indirect elections were openly undemocratic, weighting the system so as to give more representation to landlords than to peasants; workers and peasants were to vote separately from the other classes of the population.

It allowed for one elector to every 2,000 voters in the landowner curia, one to each 7,000 in the urban curia, i.e., the vote of a landlord was equal to three votes by the urban bourgeoisie, 15 peasant votes, and 45 workers’ votes. The electors from the worker curias constituted only 4 per cent of the electors who elected deputies to the state Duma. [50]

When Lenin argued for an active boycott of the election to the Duma, he made it clear that the tactic was based on his assumption that the revolution was going to continue to gather momentum. He wrote, “An active boycott ... is unthinkable without a clear, precise, and immediate slogan. Only an armed uprising can be that slogan.” [51] After the defeat of the Moscow uprising in December 1905, he continued to argue in favour of the boycott, on the ground that the revolution had been halted only temporarily and a further uprising was not far off.

Eventually, both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, who had changed their minds, boycotted the elections to the Duma, but individual Social Democrats ran in defiance of party instructions. Many of them were reasonably successful, which brought a hasty admission from the Mensheviks that they had made a mistake in boycotting the elections. When the Duma assembled on 28 April 1906, a number of Social Democrats were among the deputies. Fourteen of them were organised into a separate Social Democratic Group. In later elections, the Georgian Mensheviks succeeded in getting a further five members elected.

In May, Lenin remarked on this election victory in an article entitled The Social Democratic Election Victory in Tiflis:

We welcome the successes of our comrades in the Caucasus ... Our readers know that we were in favour of boycotting the Duma ... But it goes without saying that, if real party Social Democrats have now been elected to the Duma on really party lines, all of us, as members of a united party, will do all we can to help them to fulfil their arduous duties. [52]

When the Stockholm Congress of the RSDLP (April-May 1906) assembled, the Menshevik delegates from Transcaucasia proposed that the party should give up its boycott and nominate candidates to the elections that were still pending. The Bolshevik faction accused the Mensheviks of betrayal. But, to their consternation, they found that Lenin was the only Bolshevik delegate to side with the Mensheviks. In fact, he ignored faction discipline and voted with the Mensheviks.

At the end of June 1906, he wrote, justifying his new position,

Does the fact that we boycotted the Duma necessarily mean that we must not form our party group in the Duma? Not at all. The boycotters who ... think so, are mistaken. We were obliged to do – and did – everything in our power to prevent the convocation of a sham representative body. That is so. But since it has been convened in spite of all our efforts, we cannot shirk the task of utilising it. [53]

On August 12, he came out unequivocally for an end to the boycott:

The left-wing Social Democrats must reconsider the question of boycotting the state Duma. It should be borne in mind that we have always presented this question concretely, and in connection with a definite political situation. [54]

The time has now come when the revolutionary Social Democrats must cease to be boycottists. We shall not refuse to go into the second Duma when (or “if”) it is convened. We shall not refuse to utilise this arena, but we shall not exaggerate its modest importance; on the contrary, guided by the experience already provided by history, we shall entirely subordinate the struggle we wage in the Duma to another form of struggle, namely, strikes, uprisings, etc. [55]

After making this change in his line, Lenin found himself isolated from the other Bolsheviks. At the third conference of the RSDLP, in Kotka (Finland), on 21-23 July 1907, he proposed a resolution against the boycott (the official spokesman of the Bolsheviks, Bogdanov, put a resolution in favour of it). Not one Bolshevik delegate supported Lenin. Instead they accused him of betraying Bolshevism.

Lenin’s draft resolution stated:

(1) active boycott, as the experience of the Russian revolution has shown, is correct tactics on the part of the Social Democrats only under conditions of a sweeping, universal, and rapid upswing of the revolution, developing into an armed uprising, and only in connection with the ideological aims of the struggle against constitutional illusions arising from the convocation of the first representative assembly by the old regime;
(2) in the absence of these conditions correct tactics on the part of the revolutionary Social Democrats call for participation in the elections, as was the case with the second Duma. [56]

Lenin was not concerned about the fact that he reached the conclusion that it was necessary to cease boycotting the Duma elections later than the Mensheviks. On the contrary, a “mistake” of this sort was no mistake at all. “The revolutionary Social Democrats must be the first to take the line of the most resolute, the most direct struggle ... and must be the last to adopt more circuitous methods of struggle.” [57]

He also understood very well that the Bolsheviks arguing for a continuation of the boycott included many of the best revolutionary fighters, and that they argued as they did with the best intentions.

There is no doubt that, in many cases, sympathy for the boycott is created precisely by these praiseworthy efforts of revolutionaries to foster a tradition of the finest period of the revolutionary past, to light up the cheerless slough of the drab workaday present by a spark of bold, open and resolute struggle. But it is just because we cherish this concern for revolutionary traditions that we must vigorously protest against the view that by using one of the slogans of a particular historical period the essential conditions of the period can be restored. It is one thing to preserve the traditions of the revolution, to know how to use them for constant propaganda and agitation and for acquainting the masses with the conditions of a direct and aggressive struggle against the old regime, but quite another thing to repeat a slogan divorced from the sum total of the conditions which gave rise to it and which ensured its success and to apply it to essentially different conditions. [58]

Lenin demanded from the Bolsheviks a readiness to face realities: “Since the accursed counterrevolution has driven us into this accursed pigsty, we shall work there too for the benefit of the revolution, without whining, but also without boasting.” [59]

Many years later, looking back, he said,

Compromises are often unavoidably forced upon a fighting party by circumstances ... The task of a truly revolutionary party is not to declare that it is impossible to renounce all compromises, but to be able, through all compromises, when they are unavoidable, to remain true to its principles, to its class, to its revolutionary purpose, to its task of paving the way for revolution and educating the mass of the people for victory in the revolution.

To agree ... to participate in the third and fourth Dumas was a compromise, a temporary renunciation of revolutionary demands. But this was a compromise absolutely forced upon us, for the balance of forces made it impossible for us for the time being to conduct a mass revolutionary struggle, and in order to prepare this struggle over a long period we had to be able to work even from inside such a “pigsty”. History has proved that this approach to the question by the Bolsheviks as a party was perfectly correct. [60]




1. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.10, p.135.

2. KPSS v Rezoliutsiiakh, op. cit., vol.1, pp.100-01.

3. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.10, p.152.

4. ibid., vol.1, p.17.

5. ibid., p.130.

6. ibid., p.351.

7. ibid., vol.12, p.142.

8. Trotsky, My Life, op. cit., p.223.

9. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., pp.126-27.

10. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.16, pp.395-96.

11. ibid., p.395.

12. ibid., p.406.

13. Pokrovsky, op. cit., vol.2, p.284.

14. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.15, p.17.

15. ibid., p.345.

16. Krupskaya, op. cit., p.192.

17. Stalin, op. cit., vol.2, pp.150-51.

18. Lane, op. cit., p.104.

19. Martow, Geschichte der russischen Sozialdemokratie, op. cit., p.195.

20. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p.95.

21. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.15, pp.17-18.

22. ibid., pp.345-46.

23. ibid., vol.34, p.411.

24. ibid., vol.16, p.289.

25. ibid., vol.17, p.17.

26. ibid., p.202.

27. ibid., p.581.

28. ibid., vol.36, p.21.

29. Zinoviev, op. cit., p.241.

30. Krupskaya, op. cit., p.148.

31. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.18, p.319.

32. ibid., vol.37, p.372.

33. ibid., pp.396-97.

34. ibid., p.451.

35. ibid., p.56.

36. ibid., vol.34, p.421.

37. Krupskaya, op. cit., pp.185-86.

38. ibid., p.218.

39. D.A. Longley, Central Party Control in the Bolshevik Party, 1909–17, mimeographed 1973.

40. Lenin, Sochineniia, 5th Russian edition, vol.48, pp.54-55.

41. ibid., vol.47, p.223.

42. ibid., vol.48, p.267.

43. ibid., p.58.

44. Stalin, op. cit., vol.2, p.159.

45. Piatnitsky, op. cit., p.162.

46. Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, no.2(14), 1923, p.452.

47. Istoriia KPSS, Moscow 1966, p.369.

48. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.31, p.28.

49. ibid., vol.9, p.182-3.

50. ibid., vol.12, pp.513-4.

51. ibid., vol.9, pp.182-3.

52. ibid., vol.10, pp.423–24.

53. ibid., vol.11, pp.80–81.

54. ibid., p.141.

55. ibid., p.145.

56. ibid., vol.13, p.60.

57. ibid., vol.11, p.278.

58. ibid., vol.13, pp.39-40.

59. ibid., p.42.

60. ibid., vol.25, pp.305-06.


Last updated on 10.12.2003