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The Social-Democrats and the Duma Elections

V. I. Lenin
The Social-Democrats and the Duma Elections

The Conditions Under Which the Social-Democratic Conference was Convened, and Its Composition

The object of the conference of the St. Petersburg organisation was to adopt a final decision on the most important political question of the day, namely: whether or not to enter into agreements with the Cadets at the first stage of the Duma elections.

The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party is organised on democratic lines. This means that all the affairs of the Party are conducted, either directly, or through representatives, by all the members of the Party., all of whom without exception have equal rights; moreover, all officials, all leading bodies, and all institutions of the Party are subject to election, are responsible to their constituents, and are subject to recall. The affairs of the St. Petersburg organisation are managed by an elected body, the St. Petersburg Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The supreme body of the St. Petersburg organisation, in view of the impossibility of bringing together all the members of the Party (about 6,000), is the conference of representatives of the organisation. To this conference all members of the organisation have a right to send representatives: one delegate for a definite number of Party members; one delegate for every 50 members, for instance, the ratio that was adopted for the last conference. These representatives must be elected by all the members of the Party, and a decision adopted by the representatives is supreme and final for the whole of the local organisation.

But this is not all. In order that the settlement of a question may be really democratic, it is not enough to call together the elected representatives of the organisation. It is necessary that all the members of the organisation, in electing their representatives, should at the same time independently, and each for himself, express their opinion on the point at issue before the whole organisation. Democratically organised parties and unions cannot, on principle, dispense with such a canvass of the opinion of every member without exception, in the most important cases at any rate, and especially when it is a question of a political action in which the masses act independently, e. g., a strike, elections, the boycott of some important local institution, etc.

Why is it considered insufficient to send representatives in such cases? Why must there be a canvass of the opinion of all members of the Party or what is called a “referendum”? Because the success of mass actions requires the conscious and voluntary participation of every individual worker. A strike cannot be conducted with the necessary solidarity, voting at elections will not be conducted intelligently, unless every worker consciously and voluntarily decides for himself the question: to strike or not to strike? to vote or not to vote for the Cadets? It is impossible to decide all political questions by canvassing the opinion of all members of the Party: this would involve endless, tiresome and fruitless voting. But the most important questions, and especially those which are directly connected with some definite action by the masses themselves, must, for the sake of democracy, be settled, not only by sending representatives, but also by canvassing the opinion of all members of the Party.

That is why the St. Petersburg Committee resolved that the election of delegates to the conference should take place only after the members of the Party had discussed the question of whether to enter into agreements with the Cadets, only after all members of the Party had voted on that question. An election is an affair in which the masses take a direct part. Socialists consider that the political consciousness of the masses is the main force. Consequently, every member of the Party must express his considered opinion on the question whether or not to vote for the Cadets at the elections. Only after this question has been openly discussed by all the Party members assembled is it possible for each one to adopt an intelligent and firm decision one way or the other. Only on the basis of such a decision can the election of representatives to the conference be, not the result of clannishness, friendship or force of habit (“We will elect our Nikolai Nikolayevich or Ivan Ivanovich!”), but the result of the considered decision of the “rank and file” themselves (i.e., of all the members of the Party) as to their own political conduct.[1]

The elections to the Duma, i. e., the primary and main voting for delegates or electors, will be carried out, not through representatives, but by every voter individually. Consequently, if we want to be socialists in deeds and not only in words, socialists organised in a really democratic workers’ party, then we must see to it that every worker is clear on the question of whether to vote for the Cadets or not. To entrust representation to Ivan Ivanovich, who is an acquaintance of ours, or to Sidor Sidorovich who is a decent fellow, is not enough; the essence of the question at issue must be intelligently examined by the “rank and file”. Only when that is done will the democratic decision be the considered democratic decision of the masses and not only the decision of representatives elected because “we know them”.

The St. Petersburg Committee is the elected leader of the whole Social-Democratic organisation in St. Petersburg and St. Petersburg Gubernia. To lead the membership in a matter like the Duma elections, it was obliged (if it recognised democracy not in words only) to seek the conscious participation of the whole membership in the elections. And in order that the participation of the whole membership in the elections might be conscious and united, it was necessary that not only representatives of the Party, but that every member of the Party should give a definite answer to his St. Petersburg Committee on the question: Does he or does he not stand for agreements with the Cadets?

Such is the significance of the “debate”, that is, of the discussion that took place on the controversial question itself before the election of representatives. At every meeting of Party members, before proceeding to elect representatives to the conference, there had first to be a discussion of the controversial political question. The opinion had to be heard of a representative of the St. Petersburg Committee, i.e., of the leading local body, and also of those who represented other views. After the discussion all the Party members voted whether or not they were in favour of agreements with the Cadets. The votes were counted by a committee of scrutineers, consisting of representatives of both sides (if there were two sides on this question in the Party unit). Only by this procedure could the St. Petersburg Committee ascertain the considered opinion of the whole Party membership, and consequently, be in a position to lead the masses, not blindly, but on the basis of their full understanding of the question.

This explanation was necessary because at the conference disputes arose regarding the “discussion” and the canvass of opinion of all the members of the Party.

That these disputes were uncalled for is the more obvious to Party members for the reason that the Central Committee’s own letter of November 10 regarding the settlement of the question (whether to enter into agreements) by the local organisations definitely recommends “preliminary discussion” of the question by all members of the Party.

Let us now consider the composition of the conference itself. At first, all the representatives elected by the respective organisations were admitted without a verification of the elections (i.e., without verification of “credentials”). There were in all 71 representatives, or delegates, of whom 40 were Bolsheviks and 31 Mensheviks, distributed as follows (by districts).
BolshevikMenshevikTotalVasilyevsky Ostrov 7 6 13
Vyborg 2 5 7
City 5 7 12
Railway 1 2 3
Lettish 2 – 2
Moscow 4 5 9
Narva – – –
Neva 2 1 3
Okruzhnoi 9 2 11
Artisans (shop assistants) 4 1 5
Petersburg 3 2 5
Estonian – – –
Military organisation 1 – 1
Total 40 31 71

Two Estonian delegates (both Bolsheviks) and one Lettish delegate (Menshevik) were absent. Had they been present, there would have been 42 Bolsheviks and 32 Mensheviks.

Hence it is clear that the Bolsheviks were in the majority from the outset, before the credentials were verified. Consequently, all talk about the Bolsheviks having an “artificial” majority falls to the ground. Complaints that the Bolsheviks did not endorse all the credentials have now been inserted by the Mensheviks even in the bourgeois press. They forgot to inform that press, however, that the Bolsheviks had a majority even before the verification of credentials!

To make the question of who had the majority at the conference even clearer and to settle it once and for all, let us take, not the number of credentials, but the total number of votes cast by members of the Party.

We shall then get the following figures:
For the BolsheviksFor the MensheviksUnchallenged votes . . . 1,848[2] 787
Challenged votes . . . . 300 946
Total votes 2,148 1,733

Thus, in all, about 4,000 (3,881) Party members voted. The Bolshevik majority is over 400.

Thus, it is beyond doubt that even if all the challenged votes were regarded as being in order, the Bolsheviks would still have had a large majority. Consequently, the disputes over the validity or invalidity of certain votes had nothing to do with the question of the Bolshevik majority; the dispute was over the question of how to carry out to the full the principle of democratic representation.

Why did the Bolsheviks cancel some of the credentials? Because the challenged credentials could not be recognised as being in order. And irregular credentials cannot be placed on the same footing with regular and unchallenged credentials.

Which credentials were challenged? Those that were not regularly issued; for example, those that were not certified by a committee of scrutineers, those issued without discussion before the voting, or without voting on “platforms” (i.e., where they failed to ask all the voters whether or not they were in favour of agreements with the Cadets). Irregular credentials cannot be regarded as having been democratically issued.

Now the question arises, what was to be done with the challenged credentials? It was impossible to examine each case separately. This would have entailed sitting an extra day, and the conference was pressed for time. It was scarcely able to get through the business by the date on which the workers had to go to elect the delegates (January 7).

There was only one way out: to raise the “basis of representation” for all the challenged credentials, i.e., to count them at the rate of one representative for every 75 votes instead of one for every 50. This method was adopted for three reasons: (1) it did away with arbitrariness and mutual irritation in estimating individual challenged credentials; (2) it put the challenged credentials on both sides on the same footing; (3) it was based on a decision taken by the St. Petersburg Committee long before the conference—namely: the St. Petersburg Committee had decided, in cases where it was quite impossible to conduct democratic elections to a conference (e.g., where it was impossible to call meetings owing to police restrictions), to admit representatives who were elected not quite democratically, but in such cases to raise the basis of representation, i.e., to allow, not one delegate per 50 members, but one per 75, per 100, and so on.

Now take the number of challenged and unchallenged votes. If we take the unchallenged votes, counting one delegate per 50 votes, we get 37 Bolsheviks and 16 Mensheviks. If we take the challenged votes, counting one delegate per 75 votes, we get 4 Bolsheviks and 12 Mensheviks. The total is 41 Bolsheviks (plus one from the military organisation, where democratic elections were impossible) and 28 Mensheviks.

The 70 credentials finally endorsed were distributed by districts as follows:

BolshevikMenshevikTotalVasilyevsky Ostrov 7 6 13
Vyborg 2 4 6
City 5 7 12
Railway 1 2 3
Lettish 2 1 3
Moscow 4 4 8
Narva – – –
Neva 2 1 3
Okruzhnoi 9 1 10
Artisans (shop assistants) 4 – 4
Petersburg 3 2 5
Estonian 2 – 2
Military organisation 1 – 1
Total 28 42 70

Hence it is plain that complaints about the composition of the conference are quite groundless. Of course, if you shout to an uninformed public about the rejection of the credentials of this person and about the disqualification of that person, you may for a moment create an impression, if the public does no consider the matter carefully. But this is mere wrangling, not controversy.

One need only examine all the facts relating to the composition of the conference to see clearly that there was nothing arbitrary in raising the basis of representation for all the challenged votes. After all, i was not by mere chance that 2,635 votes were entirely unchallenged and only 1,246 were challenged! And it cannot be seriously maintained that the bulk of the challenged votes were challenged at random without any grounds whatever!

Only think, for instance, what it means to vote “with out a platform”, as the Mensheviks have done so often (which is the very reason why nearly 1,000 of their votes were challenged). It means that no all the members of the Party are asked whether they are in favour of agreements with the Cadets or against them. The election of delegates takes place without such a canvass of opinion, or without a platform. It means that the conference has no means of knowing exactly the opinion of the Party members! It means that the membership itself is not consulted on a controversial question (involving the action of the rank and file). Can irregularities be avoided under such circumstances?

Can a sincere advocate of democracy in organisation defend such a method of voting? Democracy does not mean that the masses must trust their individual representatives because they know them; it means that the masses themselves must vote intelligently on the substance of the very important questions at issue.

Finally, complaints about the composition of the conference must be regarded as groundless for the additional reason that a number of similar conferences have been held in St. Petersburg recently. A year ago there was a conference on the question of the boycott. The Bolsheviks obtained a majority. In the period of the First Duma there was a conference on the question of supporting the demand for a Duma (i.e., Cadet) Cabinet. The Bolsheviks obtained a majority.

Is it not ridiculous to say now that the Bolshevik majority on the question of electoral agreements with the Cadets could be an accidental one?
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