The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

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   The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

The Social-Democratic Fraction of the Fourth State Duma

Chapter III
The Social-Democratic Fraction of the Fourth State Duma

After the Elections – Visits and Letters from Workers– The Composition of the Social-Democratic Fraction – Jagello, the Deputy from Warsaw – The Bolshevik “Six.”

The State Duma opened a month after the elections in St. Petersburg. This month was spent in preparations for the formation of the Social-Democratic fraction, and in other preliminary work connected with the activity of our fraction.

Activity within the Duma was only a small part of the tasks which confronted the workers’ deputies, the predominant part of their work taking place outside of the Duma. Immediately the elections were over, I became absorbed in this and was faced with many new Party and trade union duties, work for Pravda, etc.

As it had been decided that I should visit the editorial offices every day, I was in close touch with Pravda. At that time Pravda was under the direction of Comrade Stalin, who was living “illegally,” and who had also been charged with the conduct of the recent election campaign and with the preparations for the organisation of the Duma fraction.

When I met Stalin, he raised the question of the necessity of arranging, even before the Duma opened, a conference between the Central Committee and the workers’ deputies. Such a conference would, of course, have to be held abroad.

At the conference, a plan of action for the Bolshevik section of the Duma fraction was to be worked out and a number of questions connected with our future activity discussed. I entirely endorsed Stalin’s proposal, being of the opinion that it was necessary for the workers’ deputies to establish close contact with the Central Committee from the outset. We did not succeed, however, in convoking the conference before the opening of the Duma. It was decided to postpone it until the first Duma recess, when it would be possible to prepare for it in a more systematic manner.

I met Comrade Stalin frequently both at the editorial offices and elsewhere. Often Stalin would come to my apartment in disguise in order to avoid police spies. During this initial period, Comrade Stalin’s advice was of great help to me and to the other workers’ deputies.

During my daily visits to the Pravda offices, I met the representatives of labour organisations and became acquainted with the moods of the workers. Workers came there from all the city districts and related what had taken place at factories and works, and how the legal and the illegal organisations were functioning. Conversations and meetings with the representatives of the revolutionary workers supplied me with a vast amount of material for my future activity in the Duma.

The workers kept in close touch with their deputies, whom they regarded as the genuine representatives of their interests. As soon as the results of the elections were published in the press, workers of various factories began to apply to me with the most diverse requests and questions. In order to meet delegates from the factories and, at the same time, to be nearer the Pravda office, it was necessary for me to live in the centre of the city. After having taken my discharge from the works, I hired an apartment in Shpalernaya Street in the neighbourhood of the State Duma and moved there from my former home beyond Nevskaya Zastava.

The police spies, who had not been inattentive to me even when I was employed at the works, became more assiduous when I was elected delegate; after my being chosen as an elector their numbers increased still further, and now they positively besieged my apartment, watching my every step and following all my visitors.

Every day I received a voluminous correspondence not only from St. Petersburg, but also from other cities, and many workers called to see me. In order that these consultations with the masses should continue, I published in Pravda the hours of my “reception” at home. Some of these numerous visitors called on behalf of various organisations, while others came on personal matters.

The conversations and letters touched upon absolutely every aspect of the workers’ lives. I was kept informed of the work accomplished and of the persecutions incurred by the trade unions, of strikes, lock-outs, unemployment, and new cases of police oppression. I was asked to intercede on behalf of those arrested, and received many letters from exiles, who requested me to organise financial and other material relief for them. Among those who came on personal matters, some even asked if I could help to find work for them. Very often visitors called in order to talk about the Duma and its work, to express their wishes and to give advice.

It was necessary to answer all the letters promptly and to deal with the requests. In a number of cases I had to initiate petitions and conduct negotiations with various government institutions. All this took a lot of time and my day was fully occupied even before the Duma opened.

From telegrams and local information we gradually obtained a picture of the election results throughout Russia, and very soon the approximate composition of the Social-Democratic fraction in the future Duma became known. Not all the information, however, was sufficiently precise or reliable. Thus, it was not clear who Mankov, the deputy from Irkutsk, was. The news of the election of a Social-Democratic deputy for the Maritime district in Siberia proved to be erroneous; later on it transpired that the deputy was not a Social-Democrat, but a Trudovik. In general, the setting of the elections was such that no absolute reliance could be placed on the communications of the official telegraphic agency. Very often the telegrams simply stated that a “Left” had been elected, but it was unknown to which Party he belonged.

We only knew which deputies had actually been elected after they had come to St. Petersburg. Being a St. Petersburg deputy, I published an announcement in Pravda inviting all Social-Democratic deputies arriving in St. Petersburg to a discussion on the organisation of a fraction. I invited them to obtain my address from the editorial office of the newspaper. This announcement was made for the purpose of putting the deputies in touch with Pravda immediately, and thus bringing them under the influence of the Bolshevik organ. Thus the first meeting-place of the Social-Democratic deputies in St. Petersburg was the editorial office of Pravda; it was only after they had been there that they went to the State Duma. The Mensheviks, Chkheidze and Skobelev, also visited Pravda and tried to establish “friendly” relations with the Bolsheviks.

After the majority of the Social-Democratic deputies had arrived in St. Petersburg, conferences were held to exchange information concerning the instructions and opinions of the various regions from which they came. At first we held our meetings in the Taurida Palace, but subsequently at our own premises. The fraction rented an apartment of four or five rooms at 39 Rozhdestvenskaya. These headquarters were immediately surrounded by the police, who kept continuous watch on the entrance and windows.

As in the Second and Third Dumas, the Social-Democratic fraction in the Fourth Duma began as a united fraction, comprising both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. But unlike the preceding cases, a sharp struggle broke out at once between the two groups. The Third Duma had opened in a period of violent reaction and decline in the revolutionary struggle; the elections to the Fourth Duma, on the other hand, had taken place when the labour movement was on the up-grade. The working class, taking up the revolutionary fight again, was rapidly liberating itself from Liquidationist tendencies. At the elections in the workers’ colleges the struggle between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks had flared up with exceptional passion and it was natural that it should be continued in the Social-Democratic fraction. Accordingly from the first meeting a state of intense hostility prevailed between the Bolshevik and Menshevik sections of the fraction.

The first meeting of the fraction was held a short time before the opening of the Duma. Taking advantage of their majority in the fraction the Mensheviks attempted to secure most of the seats in the presidium of the fraction, but we forced them to yield almost half the seats to the Bolshevik section. Chkheidze, a Menshevik, was elected chairman, Malinovsky, a Bolshevik, vice-chairman, and Tulyakov, another Menshevik, treasurer. The two other members of the presidium were the Bolshevik, Petrovsky, and the Menshevik, Skobelev.

There were fourteen deputies in the Social-Democratic fraction, six being Bolsheviks and seven Mensheviks. The last member, the Warsaw deputy, Jagello, supported the Mensheviks. The majority for the Mensheviks, although an insignificant one, seemed at first sight to entitle them to claim that they had the support of the majority of the working class. This claim, however, was far from true. Closer examination of the election results shows that the Bolsheviks were really the leaders of the workers and that the Bolshevik deputies were the only genuine representatives of the working class in the State Duma.

All the elections in the six workers’ colleges of the largest industrial areas had resulted in victories for the Bolsheviks. The Menshevik deputies, on the contrary, were elected from non-working-class centres, chiefly the border provinces, where the majority of the population was petit bourgeois. The distribution of workers in the areas concerned shows for whom the working class voted. In the six provinces with workers’ electoral colleges there were 1,008,000 workers (in factories and mines), whereas in the eight provinces which returned Mensheviks there were 214,000 workers, or if we include the Baku province, where the workers were disfranchised, 246,000 workers. From these figures it is obvious that, in fact, the Bolsheviks represented five times as many workers as the Mensheviks. Only an electoral system specially designed to reduce the representation of the working class could bring about such a correlation of forces within the Social-Democratic fraction.

The preponderating influence which the Bolsheviks enjoyed among the masses can also be proved by comparing the numbers of deputies elected by the workers’ electoral colleges to the previous State Dumas. In the Second Duma, twelve Mensheviks and eleven Bolsheviks were elected by the workers’ colleges; in the Third there was an equal number of each; while in the Fourth Duma, only six deputies were elected, but they were all Bolsheviks. At the time of the Second Duma, which coincided with the London Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, the majority of the Party was definitely Bolshevik; and in the Fourth Duma there could be no doubt that the Bolsheviks had the support of at least three-fourths of the revolutionary workers.

The fact that the composition of the Social-Democratic fraction did not correspond to the Party composition was not accidental. The opportunist character of parliamentary labour parties is common to all bourgeois countries. This is partly due to the electoral system which, under any bourgeois regime, is directed toward limiting the rights of the most progressive, revolutionary workers, and partly to the greater adaptability to and interest in parliamentary activity displayed by the non-proletarian elements of socialist parties – the petty bourgeoisie, the office employees, and above all the intelligentsia.

Whereas the Bolshevik wing of the fraction consisted only of workers who came to the Duma straight from factories and workshops, three of the Menshevik seven were intellectuals; Chkheidze was a journalist, Skobelev an engineer, Chkhenkeli a lawyer. These three were elected in the Caucasus, which had also sent Mensheviks to the previous Dumas. A decisive factor in this Menshevik stability in the Caucasus was the local opposition to the policy of Russification pursued by the tsarist government. The Caucasian elections, in particular, show the extent to which the Mensheviks were dependent on the votes of the petty bourgeoisie. The four Menshevik deputies who were workers were also elected from the border provinces: Buryanov from the Taurida Gubernia (Crimea), Tulyakov from the Don region, Khaustov from the Ufa Gubernia, and Mankov from the Irkutsk Gubernia. The support of voters, politically indifferent, but who upheld a nationalist movement against the imperialist oppression of the government, contributed greatly to the success of these deputies.

Mankov’s election was actually achieved against the will of the working-class voters. At the Irkutsk provincial electoral meeting, only twelve out of the twenty electors took part. The remaining eight were “disqualified,” and no new elections were held to replace them. This electoral trick prevented the Irkutsk workers from electing their candidate and unexpectedly Mankov was successful, although his Liquidationist views had been rejected by the workers. Simultaneously with the arrival of Mankov in St. Petersburg, the fraction received a protest from the Irkutsk workers against his election. At one time there was a question of Mankov ’s resignation, and an annulment of the Irkutsk elections was demanded. At first even the Mensheviks wavered on the question whether Mankov, with such “testimonials,” should be admitted into the Social-Democratic fraction.

The election of the Warsaw deputy, Jagello, who supported the Mensheviks, was still more irregular. Jagello was a member of the Polish Socialist Party in which petty bourgeois, nationalist tendencies were predominant. The Bund [1] made an (election alliance with this Party against the Social-Democrats. This fact alone revealed the Bund as a secessionist organisation which had transgressed the decisions and directions of the Party, since the Party had categorically refused to admit the Polish Socialist Party into its ranks. The Social-Democrats obtained a majority at the elections, and of the three workers’ electors, two, Bronovski and Zalevski, were Social-Democrats. Jagello, the candidate of the bloc, was the third, and could only be considered as the candidate of a minority of the workers. The representatives of the Jewish bourgeoisie, since they did not venture to put up a candidate of their own, voted for this representative of the minority to ensure that a Polish nationalist with anti-Semitic tendencies should not be elected. Thus Jagello was elected by a bloc, consisting of the Polish Socialist Party, the Bund, and the Jewish bourgeoisie, directed against the majority of the Warsaw workers who had supported the Polish Social-Democratic Party.

In spite of the fact that Jagello declared that he would accept all the decisions of the Social-Democratic fraction, we strongly objected to his being admitted. The Bolsheviks did not wish to appear to sanction the secessionist step taken by the Bund. At most we were willing to accept him as an affiliated member of the fraction just as the Lithuanian Social-Democrats, who at that time were not members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, had been accepted in the Second Duma.

The Mensheviks, however, received Jagello as an ally who could give them an extra vote in their struggle against the Bolshevik wing of the fraction. They wanted to include him unreservedly as a member of the fraction with the same rights as the other deputies. We protested resolutely against such an utter contempt of Party decisions, and, after a long and stubborn struggle, we forced the Mensheviks to give way. This was one of the first issues on which the two factions fought. Jagello was admitted into the Social-Democratic fraction as a member with limited rights. He exercised a vote on questions of Duma activity and had the right to advise, but not to vote, on questions of the internal life of the Party. Comrade Stalin referred as follows to this decision in an article in Pravda:

The decision of the Social-Democratic fraction is an attempt to discover something in the nature of a compromise. Whether the fraction has found the way to peace remains to be seen. In any case it is obvious that the Bund did not obtain a sanction for its secessionist step, though it tried hard to get it.

Subsequent development showed that Stalin’s sceptical view on the possibility of a reconciliation between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in the fraction was fully justified. The Bolshevik worker deputies were determined to carry out the will of the workers who had sent them to the Duma and they waged a constant struggle against the Liquidators.

All our Bolshevik “six” were workers who came to the State Duma from the very heart of the working class. Each of us from early childhood had experienced personally all the “charms” of the capitalist regime. For all of us the oppression of the tsarist government and the ruthless exploitation of the working classes by the bourgeoisie and its henchmen were far from being abstract theories – we had experienced them ourselves.

The working class, after enormous difficulties, after many losses and cruel defeats, had obtained the right to send its representatives to the State Duma. By our struggle against the existing regime conducted in the very jaws of the enemy, we had to justify the enormous losses suffered by the Russian workers. The consciousness of this great and responsible task still further increased the revolutionary energy and strengthened the will of the workers’ deputies, when they were fighting both the open enemies of the proletariat and those hidden enemies who attempted to hold hack the revolutionary movement.

Four metal workers and two textile workers formed the Bolshevik “six” in the Fourth Duma. Petrovsky, Muranov, Malinevsky, and I were metal workers, Shagov and Samoylov were textile workers. The Bolshevik deputies were elected in the biggest industrial areas of Russia: G.I. Petrovsky was deputy for the Yekaterinoslav Gubernia, M.K. Muranov for Kharkov Gubernia, N.R. Shagov for the Kostroma Gubernia, F.N. Samoylov for the Vladimir Gubernia, R.V. Malinovsky for the Moscow Gubernia, and myself for St. Petersburg.

But in fact the workers’ deputies did not represent only those regions which had elected them, for as soon as our election became known, we received letters, declarations, and resolutions from workers of various regions entrusting us with the representation of their interests. I quote as an example a letter which I received in the beginning of November, 1912:

Dear Comrade, you know from the newspapers the sad result of the elections in the Kursk Gubernia. Owing to the electoral law of June 3, the Markovists, the worst enemies of the workers, were elected to the Duma. Thus the vital interests of the proletariat are left undefended. Therefore, we, a group of Kursk delegates, charge you, the chosen representative of the St. Petersburg workers, and the other members of the Social-Democratic fraction in the Fourth Duma, with the defence of the interests of our constituents and we endorse the instructions given to you by the proletariat of St. Petersburg. With fraternal greetings. THE DELEGATES OF THE KURSK GUBERNIA.

The Dvinsk workers wrote as follows:

Only Black Hundreds were elected from the Vitebsk Gubernia. Not a single representative of the working class was able to enter the Taurida Palace through the barrier erected by the law of June 3. We, the progressive workers of Dvinsk, send to the Social-Democratic fraction as a whole our warm fraternal greetings and request it to assume the defence of the interests of democracy in the Gubernia of Vitebsk.

Despite the police and the persecution to which anyone corresponding with the Bolshevik deputies was exposed, workers from all corners of Russia sent us their instructions, greetings, and promises of support.

Expressing their desire to keep in touch with the deputies, the workers at the same time invited their deputies to maintain close contact with the proletariat of St. Petersburg, which was ever the advance guard of the revolutionary movement. The following clause was included in the instructions sent to Muranov by the workers of the Kharkov locomotive sheds and by the Social-Democratic city, factory, and railway groups:

In any acute political situation the deputy is bound to consult the workers who elected him to the State Duma and also to establish the closest relations with the St. Petersburg proletariat.

Similar instructions were received by the other workers’ deputies. The support of the St. Petersburg workers was of great importance to the Bolshevik deputies. When speaking from the Duma rostrum, the Bolsheviks, accusing and exposing the government, always felt sure that there, outside the walls of the Taurida Palace, they would find support among the St. Petersburg workers, who, by their strikes and demonstrations, rendered the impression made by the Duma speeches many times more effective. Workers from the other regions of Russia quickly followed this lead, but the first onslaught was always carried out by the strong, picked ranks of the St. Petersburg workers.

Pravda expressed the spirit of the St. Petersburg workers when it welcomed the beginning of our Duma work in the following terms:

The editors of Pravda welcome the Social-Democratic fraction of the Fourth Duma and wish it success in its difficult and responsible duty of steadfastly and consistently defending the interests of the proletariat and of democracy as a whole.

Pravda also published the following greeting from a group of St. Petersburg workers:

In the Fourth Duma a few benches, a small sector of the semicircle of the Duma, are occupied by deputies who really represent the people and whose hearts beat in unison with the hearts of the Russian workers and peasants. These are the workers’ deputies, the Social-Democratic fraction.

All these messages assured us that we entered the Duma supported, not only by the hundreds of thousands of workers who had taken an active part in the elections, but by the whole of the Russian proletariat. This strong and intimate connection with the masses, which became stronger as time went on, was of immense assistance to us in our extremely complicated and difficult Duma work.

The difficulties of work in the Duma were mitigated in the case of the Mensheviks by the fact that they possessed more people acquainted with such tasks. The Menshevik leader Chkheidze had for five years been the chairman of the Social-Democratic fraction in the Third State Duma. During this period he had gathered considerable experience and had learned how to manœuvre through the complex maze of Duma rules of procedure. The habit of speaking from the Duma rostrum was also important, as was too the knowledge of special methods by which one could withstand the pressure exercised by the chairman and defeat the attacks ui the Black Hundred majority.

So-called experts assisted all Duma fractions in their work. They were partisans and sympathisers of the parties represented in the Duma. With their aid, the necessary material for speeches was collected, bills drafted, interpellations framed, and the texts of speeches discussed and approved. Such experts were of special importance for the Social-Democratic fraction because our Party was illegal.

The work of the Social-Democratic deputies was assisted by Party publicists and journalists as well as by those members who possessed the necessary training (lawyers and economists, etc.). They included both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The Mensheviks, however, were considerably more numerous because the Bolsheviks, more formidable enemies of the tsarist government, suffered much more from the persecutions of the secret police. The Mensheviks enjoyed a relatively larger degree of legal facilities and a number of their prominent members lived comparatively undisturbed and for long periods in St. Petersburg, engaged on literary and social work. Such Menshevik leaders as Dan, Potresov, and Yezhov, for example, lived legally.

Quite a different state of things prevailed among the Bolsheviks. At various periods. Comrades Stalin, Sverdlov, Kamenev, Olminsky, Molotov, Krestinsky, Krylenko, Quiring, Concordia Samoylova and other leading Party workers took part in the work of the fraction. But they appeared in St. Petersburg illegally and for short, periods only, between an escape from exile and a new arrest.

1. The Jewish Social-Democratic League (Menshevik) – Ed.