The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

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   The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

The Cracow Conference

Chapter VI
The Cracow Conference

The “Six” and the Bolshevik Central Committee – The Questionnaire of Lenin – How Connections with the Central Committee were kept up – The Cracow Conference– The most important Decisions of the Conference – Lenin’s Suggestions and Directions – The Journey of the Deputies to the Provinces – The Mood of the Workers in the Provinces

The Social-Democratic fraction in the Fourth State Duma was an integral part of the Russian Social-Democratic Party. The fraction played an important part in the work of the Party, but it was only one of the Party organisations. Decisions and resolutions of Party congresses and conferences, bearing on the work of the Social-Democratic fractions in the previous Dumas, defined the fraction as an auxiliary organisation subordinated to the Party and to its Central Committee. This subordination within a strictly centralised system was the prerequisite of successful revolutionary work. Work in underground conditions was impossible unless we adopted this principle. It was only owing to such an organisational structure that our Party was able to overcome the difficulties of the transition period between the two Russian revolutions.

In the Menshevik camp this strict subordination to the directions of the centre was not recognised. In the preceding Dumas, the Menshevik members ignored and violated Party discipline, acting independently of the leading centres of the Party. They regarded the fraction as a super-party organisation and often set it in opposition to the Party centre. The same policy was followed by the Menshevik deputies in the Fourth Duma.

The Bolshevik deputies, on the contrary, were bound by close and indissoluble ties to the leading Party organisations. The entire election campaign to the Fourth Duma had been conducted under the guidance of and in accordance with the instructions of our Central Committee. From Cracow, where our Party headquarters abroad were located, thousands of threads stretched forth, uniting into a single web all our organisations engaged in the election campaign. In addition to issuing general instructions, the Central Committee played an active part in the selection of candidates at the workers’ electoral colleges. Thus the Bolshevik deputies entered the Duma as the representatives not only of the local organisations, but of the Party as a whole.

The Duma elections and the entire activity of our “six” from its commencement were under the immediate guidance of Comrade Lenin. During the course of the elections he followed with extreme care the spirit of the workers, the illegal election meetings, directed the election propaganda of Pravda, etc. In article after article in that newspaper, he appealed to the workers to vote for the Bolsheviks against the wire-pulling Liquidators.

Immediately the elections were over and the workers’ deputies had arrived in St. Petersburg, Lenin took up the question of the organisation of the fraction, interested himself in each individual deputy, summed up the results of the campaign, investigated the circumstances under which the elections had taken place and examined the instructions given to the deputies by the voters.

A special questionnaire was sent out from Cracow to all deputies elected from workers’ electoral colleges. Nineteen points of this questionnaire contained detailed questions on the course of the election campaign and on the deputies themselves. The questionnaire dealt very fully with the degree of workers’ participation in the elections, the causes of inadequate attendance at meetings, the prevalence of boycottist sentiments, the distribution of election literature, the methods of drawing up lists of candidates, the debates at meetings, the personnel of the delegates, the activity of other parties, repressive measures applied during the elections, etc. AH stages of the elections were covered, from the election of delegates to the election of deputies; at the same time relations with the electors of the other electoral colleges, especially the peasants, were investigated. Other questions dealt with various phases of Party work– the organisation of illegal meetings, the circulation of our newspaper and underground publications, the degrees of influence exercised by Bolsheviks and Liquidators and similar questions.

Lenin requested every deputy not to confine himself to formal answers, but to give a coherent account of the campaign in his district and to describe everything that occurred at the elections. “These questions should in no way be discussed officially with the fraction – that would result only in red tape and squabbles; the deputies should answer themselves and as quickly as possible,” wrote Lenin.

As the activity of the fraction developed the connection of our “six” with the Central Committee and above all, with Lenin, became closer. Material, information, etc., was sent to Cracow, and from Cracow the Bolshevik deputies received literature, theses for speeches, instructions on separate questions which arose in the course of their work. These contacts were maintained through letters in code and through Party members who crossed the frontier illegally and by every other possible means. Every opportunity was used and of course everything was done in strict secrecy. Names were never mentioned in correspondence; instead numbers agreed on beforehand or nicknames were used. I was referred to as No. 1, Malinovsky as No. 3, Petrovsky as No. 6, Samoylov as No. 7, Sverdlov was called Audrey, Stalin Vassily, etc. These nicknames and numbers were changed whenever it was suspected that the secret police had guessed their identity.

As we can see now from the material in the archives, the secret police in its turn gave us nicknames which varied in different localities.

The “Black Cabinet” (a secret police department for opening and examining letters) at the General Post Office read all letters addressed to Social-Democratic deputies. Therefore we rarely used the post, or if we did we arranged for letters to be sent to other addresses.

The secret police obtained their most important information from agents-provocateurs. We were, of course, aware that we were surrounded by spies, but it was difficult to discover them. Therefore the strictest secrecy was maintained and a system of conspiracy pervaded everything from the top to the bottom.

Every violation of the system of conspiracy was in itself a ground for suspicion, and made us wonder whether a police scheme was being hatched. I remember one characteristic case. Kiselyov, a Party member employed at the Putilov works, once sent me a letter by post referring to a question to be decided by the St. Petersburg Committee. The fact that the letter was sent in the ordinary way by post and without using any code aroused in me the suspicion that the author was connected with the secret police. I reported the matter to the St. Petersburg Committee and the fraction and it was decided to watch Kiselyov and to be careful in our relations with him. Subsequently our suspicions proved to be well-founded, for Kiselyov turned out to be an agent-provocateur.

We were not always successful in detecting such police agents before harm was done, for they in their turn observed strict secrecy and were very cautious. Yet it can be said that, however well organised the tsarist police were and however well informed they may have been, our relations with Party organisations and, in particular, with the Central Committee were concealed by an efficient technique of conspiracy.

Correspondence and communications through third persons did not, however, enable us to discuss details of our plan of work or to deal fully with questions of our activity both inside and outside the Duma. More direct contact was required to use the experience and to learn the opinions of the workers’ deputies, around whom Party work within Russia was centred, the more so since the convocation of regular Party congresses in illegal conditions presented enormous difficulties.

As I have already mentioned, the calling of a conference of the Central Committee and the Bolshevik deputies somewhere abroad had been mooted before the opening of the Duma. It was proposed that this conference should outline a plan on which the whole of the activity of the Duma fraction should be based. But the conference had a much wider importance, it had to deal also with the tasks of the Bolsheviks in the new period of growing revolutionary activity among the workers and with the consequent developments within the Social-Democratic Party. As the result of its deliberations and decisions, it became one of the outstanding events in the history of our Party and of the revolutionary struggle.

The convocation of the conference, which was to be held at Cracow in Galicia, coincided with the Christmas recess of the Duma. The Bolshevik deputies were unable to leave St. Petersburg at once owing to the strike and lock-out at Maxwell’s factories. Only after the strikers’ maintenance funds had been organised and all workers’ organisations mobilised to help, were we able to go to Cracow.

The Cracow Conference sat from December 28, 1912, to January 1, 1913. For purposes of camouflage it was called the February Conference and figured as such in the press and in Party literature. Lenin was in the chair and in addition to the deputies the following were present: Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, G. Zinoviev, A. Troyanovsky, Valentina Nikolayevna Lobova, E. Rozmirovich and a few other comrades, delegates from big working-class centres. Of the deputies, Petrovsky, Malinovsky, Shagov and myself were present.

A year had passed since the Prague Conference, January 1912. That year had been one of powerful development of the revolutionary movement, which found its expression in the growth of political and economic strikes, in mass demonstrations, in the creation and consolidation of the workers’ press, etc. Big developments had also occurred within the Party during this period; a sharp cleavage between the two sections of the Social-Democratic Party and an acute struggle between us and the Mensheviks. Liquidationist tendencies, clearly indicated in speeches and articles, were dominant among the Mensheviks.

The division between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks was spreading throughout the whole labour movement and everywhere the revolutionary policy of the Bolsheviks was gaining ground. The elections to the State Duma, which had given us a decisive victory in the workers’ electoral colleges, were most instructive in this respect. They demonstrated the enormous influence that the Bolsheviks exercised over the masses and that the working class was following the Bolshevik path in its revolutionary struggle.

The first month of the work of the Duma fraction showed that the workers’ deputies were following a correct policy. At the same time, it became clear that the Mensheviks were conducting, and would in future continue to conduct, a stubborn struggle against the workers’ deputies, who opposed their revolutionary tactics to those of the majority of the fraction. From the point of view of the interests of the working class the Mensheviks, in the first Duma session, contrived to commit many errors. These errors, harmful to the revolutionary movement, had to be definitely condemned.

These were the questions dealt with at the Cracow Conference. On these matters of great revolutionary importance, the conference had to give directions for the future activity of the Party. After several days’ work, a number of decisions were taken which solved many practical problems, gave an estimate of the political situation in Russia and defined the policy of the working class.

The Cracow Conference, recognising the extreme importance of unity, emphasised that unity was possible only subject to the condition that the secret illegal organisation was acknowledged. The reunion must take place “from below – in the shop committees, district groups, etc. – with the workers themselves checking in fact whether the illegal organisation is being recognised and whether the revolutionary struggle is being readily supported and revolutionary tactics adopted.” [F]

This resolution stressed once again the breach between us and the Mensheviks and the necessity for a persistent struggle against the corrupting influence of the Liquidators on the workers. Another resolution stated: “The only true type of organisation in the present period is an illegal Party composed of nuclei each surrounded by a network of legal and semi-legal societies. The illegal nuclei must be organisationally adapted to the local everyday conditions.” The chief task was stated to be the setting up at factories and works of illegal Party Committees with one leading organisation at each centre.

The conference recognised that the best type of organisation was that which prevailed at St. Petersburg, The St. Petersburg Committee was composed of delegates elected by the districts and of co-opted members, which resulted in a very flexible organisation, in close touch with the nuclei, and at the same time well concealed from the secret police. It was also recommended that regional centres should be organised and contact maintained with the local groups on the one hand and the Central Committee on the other by a system of delegates. The resolution on organisation established a harmonious system firmly welded from the bottom to the top.

One of the crucial questions at the conference was the report of our Duma fraction. The work of the fraction was subjected to careful and minute discussion. During the first month of the Duma, the fraction had had to take a number of decisions on important matters. The admittance of Jagello to the fraction, the declaration and the first interpellations were points which enabled the conference to judge the activity of the Duma fraction and to note the mistakes committed by the Menshevik majority.

1. The conference notes that, in spite of unparalleled persecutions. and governmental interference in the elections, in spite of the Black-Hundred-Liberal bloc against the Social Democrats, which was definitely formed in many districts, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party achieved great victories in the elections to the Fourth Duma. Nearly everywhere there was an increase in the number of votes received by the Social Democrats in the second city electoral colleges, which are being wrested from the hands of the Liberals. In the workers’ electoral colleges, which are the most important for our party, the RSDLP enjoys undivided rule. By electing only Bolsheviks as deputies from the workers’ electoral colleges, the working class has unanimously declared its unswerving loyalty to the old Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and its revolutionary traditions.

2. The conference welcomes the energetic work of the Social Democratic deputies in the Fourth Duma as expressed in the introduction of interpellations and in the declaration which, in the main, defined correctly the basic principles of Social Democracy.

3. Recognising, in accordance with Party tradition, that the only correct policy is for the Duma Social-Democratic fraction to be subordinated to the Party as a whole, as represented by its central organisations, the conference considers that, in the interests of the political education of the working class and to ensure the maintenance of a correct Party policy, it is necessary to follow every step of the fraction and thus establish Party control over its work.

The conference resolutely condemned various actions of the Mensheviks which were not in accordance with the general policy of the Party. By accepting Jagello into the fraction, thereby indirectly approving the secessionist activity of the Bund, the Mensheviks, in the opinion of the conference, accentuated the split among the Polish workers and delayed the achievement of the unity of the entire Party. In the course of a Duma speech, A.I. Chkhenkeli, a Menshevik, under the pretext of “creating the necessary institutions for the free development of each nationality,” spoke in favour of organisationally distinct national Social-Democratic parties within Russia, the conference strongly condemned this speech, which was delivered in the name of the fraction, as a direct violation of the Party programme. “Concessions to nationalist tendencies, even in such a disguised fashion, are inadmissible in a proletarian party.” Finally, the fraction, the conference pointed out, had neglected its duties by voting for the Progressive motion on the ministerial declaration instead of submitting its own.

Although the resolution on the Duma Social-Democratic fraction contained nine points, only six were published in the Party press because the other three dealt with matters which it was inadvisable to make public. Owing to the loss of all documents referring to the Cracow Conference, these three points have not yet been reproduced, and it would be very difficult to quote them from memory after a lapse of fifteen years. They referred to the work outside the Duma of the Bolshevik “six” to whom the conference delegated many important tasks in connection with illegal Party work. The conference also dealt with the question of co-opting the Bolshevik deputies on to the Central Committee.

During our stay in Cracow, the work of the “six” was discussed in general and in detail in our conversations with Lenin and other members of our foreign centre.

The workers’ deputies, said V.I. Lenin, must use the Duma for agitation and help to develop the revolutionary movement by exposing both the tsarist government and the hypocrisy of the so-called liberal parties. The workers’ deputies must be heard by the entire working class of Russia. But activity in the Duma was only a part of the work of the fraction; as an integral part of the Party the Bolshevik “six” must take part in the vast work to be done outside of the Duma. ’I’he organisation and guidance of Party groups and activity in the Party press and in the trade unions were among the important duties of the workers’ deputies and demanded from them continual work and effort.

The workers’ deputies must remain in touch with the masses and all working-class organisations, legal and illegal, must regard the Duma Bolsheviks as the leaders and organisers of the revolutionary struggle. Lenin constantly stressed these points in conversation with us.

On the recommendation of Comrade Lenin himself I was charged with the duty of publishing Pravda. Lenin told me that being the deputy for St. Petersburg, the representative of the St. Petersburg workers, I must take on that task. Pravda pursued not only educational and propagandist aims, but it was also the most important centre for organisation. He emphasised the point that my duty was to work there.

We returned from Cracow armed with concrete practical instructions. The general policy to be followed by the “six” was clearly outlined and also the details as to who was to speak on various questions, the material that should be prepared, the immediate work to be done outside the Duma, etc. Coming, as we did, from an extremely complicated and hostile environment, this direct exchange of ideas with the leading members of the Party and above all with Lenin was of the utmost importance for us.

Lenin approached each deputy individually and succeeded in reinforcing in each of us the will to conduct an intense and sustained struggle. On the other hand, our participation in the work of the conference played a considerable part in determining the decisions reached. We were thoroughly acquainted with the sentiments of the masses and our contributions to the discussions enabled the conference to grasp the attitude of the workers and to draw the necessary conclusions.

On their return from Cracow, all the workers’ deputies, taking advantage of the Duma recess, toured the constituencies from which they were elected. These journeys were undertaken in order to give an account of the first Duma session and to increase the activity of the local illegal nuclei, thus carrying out the decisions of the Cracow Conference.

Such tours, which were undertaken between the Duma sessions and sometimes in the middle of a session, did much to stir up the activity of the local working-class movement. The deputies established new Party contacts and renewed old ones, organised new Party nuclei and did a great deal of agitation and propaganda, at the same time receiving recommendations and instructions from the workers of their district. An instruction which was given to all the Social-Democratic deputies was that they should visit their districts as often as possible and keep generally in close contact with their constituencies.

It must be admitted that the workers’ deputies did this. Each one of us received daily a large volume of correspondence, which supplied detailed information of what was taking place and in which various recommendations and demands were expressed. All this served as material for our Duma work, was worked up and summarised in questions to the government and dealt with in our speeches on government bills, etc.

Still more material was gathered on the personal trips of the deputies, which were a continual source of anxiety for the tsarist secret police. The police were unable to prevent the deputies from making these tours, since parliamentary immunity still existed for the workers’ deputies, but they seized the occasion to watch all those whom the deputies consulted. Before the Duma session terminated, the police department used to send orders to all governors and heads of secret police departments to watch carefully for the arrival of the revolutionary deputies “into the provinces entrusted to their care.” Our distinguishing characteristics were enumerated and our photographs attached. Then at the railway station, the workers’ deputy would be met by an escort of “pea-coloured overcoats” (as the spies were called) and shadowed wherever he went.

To make doubly sure that the deputy should not be lost sight of, the St. Petersburg secret police would often arrange for one of its men to accompany the deputy to his destination until the local spies took up their work. The St. Petersburg spy delivered the deputy to the provincial spy against a receipt, as if he were handing over some inanimate object. Nevertheless we often caused some confusion by escaping their notice “in an unknown direction.” The police could not always discover when we were leaving and, needless to say, we endeavoured to do so secretly, going to the station from anywhere but where we lived.

In this case the police reprimanded the house porters and doorkeepers for not letting them know of our departure, while the porters protested in self-justification that the deputies had not informed them of their departure, had not presented passports to be endorsed and had not fulfilled other formalities.

The shadowing of workers’ deputies was so persistent and open that members of our fraction sometimes lost their patience and wired to the minister demanding that they should be left in peace. It was never stopped on that account, the only result of the complaint being that the spies were exhorted to carry out their work more efficiently and to try “not to irritate” the deputies. On the other hand the local authorities, following the instructions of the police department, made use of every pretext to cut short the deputy’s tour “on legal grounds” or if luck favoured them to find material for his prosecution.

I believe it was to Comrade Muranov that the following incident occurred whilst he was in one of the Volga towns. He was in his apartment when the police arrived, arrested the landlord and then started to search the house. Muranov’s case was lying on the table and when a police officer wanted to open it he protested, stating that he was a deputy, and produced his documents from the case. The officer was forced to retire, but later his superiors reprimanded him severely. He was told that so long as Muranov had not produced his papers, which were in the case lying some distance from him, the officer conducting the search should not have “believed” that Muranov was a deputy and therefore should not have allowed him to approach the case “which might have belonged to some other person.” Then he should have seized the occasion to examine the contents of the case in the hopes of finding some evidence which might serve for a charge against the deputy, or, perhaps, against the whole Social-Democratic fraction.

Not daring to attack us openly because of their fear of revolutionary outbreaks of protest, the police confined themselves to strict surveillance of our movements. On the other hand, all those who had even the remotest relations with the workers’ deputies were subjected to cruel persecution. The position of a workers’ deputy was an exceptionally hard one; the least carelessness on his part was liable to cause, not only the imprisonment of individual comrades, but also the destruction of whole organisations. Therefore when setting out on our provincial tours (and more so in St. Petersburg itself) we acted as secretly as possible and tried to avoid the spies who were shadowing us. In the small provincial towns where all comings and goings can be clearly observed and where the arrival of a member of the State Duma was an important event, it was by no means easy to preserve secrecy. Yet the members of our fraction worked hard in the provinces and greatly strengthened the activity of local legal and illegal organisations. The tours of the workers’ deputies usually resulted in a development of the strike movement, in the creation of new party nuclei, in an increase of subscribers to Pravda and generally in the intensification of revolutionary activity.

On their return from the first trip to the provinces in January 1913, all the workers’ deputies remarked on the great growth of revolutionary feeling among the workers. The period of apathy, typical of the preceding years of reaction, was finally left behind. Throughout the working class there was evident a will to struggle, a striving for organised action and a lively interest in the political life of the country.

My comrades of the fraction were unable to give their reports at big legal meetings – all such meetings were invariably prohibited by the governors; they had to speak illegally or organise short meetings at factories without police authorisation.

On the whole, the workers approved of the first month’s work in the Duma. They noted with satisfaction that our declaration contained the “unabridged” demands of the working class; the speeches made on the occasion of our first interpellation were also endorsed. The workers asked many questions about the Duma and were very interested in the details of Duma work. They were also curious about the enemy camp, the Black Hundred “diehards,” of whom Purishkevich and Markov had acquired special notoriety.

The general attitude to the Duma, however, was clear and definite: the workers expected no ameliorations from it; they fully realised that the proletariat could only obtain satisfaction by a persistent revolutionary struggle. During their journeys, the Bolshevik members were able to verify the correctness of the decisions of the Cracow Conference in regard to Liquidationist tendencies and Party unity. The Liquidationist tendency, which arose among and was chiefly supported by the intellectual publicists, was completely foreign to the workers and was altogether absent from many districts. Consequently in many Social-Democratic groups, the acute controversy waged between Pravda and Luch was not understood. It was apparent that to achieve unity, it was not diplomatic negotiations at the top that were necessary, but the participation of all members of the local nuclei in underground activities and the cessation of struggle against such activities. By this means Party unity would become a fact.

This opinion fully corresponded to the policy laid down by the Cracow Conference.