The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

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   The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

The Split


Chapter XIII
The Split

Our Ultimatum to the Mensheviks – The Split – How the Workers Reacted to the Split – Echoes in Party Organisations – Plekhanov against the “Seven” – The Significance of the Split for the Party

On our return from Poronino, the six workers’ deputies proceeded to their various districts to report on the conference and to put into operation the decisions of the conference on the question of organisation. At the request of the Central Committee I went out to the Bejetzk works at Bryansk, where we had a strong organisation; during the whole period of my membership of the Duma I remained constantly in touch with the workers there.

We returned to St. Petersburg in time for the opening of the autumn session of the Duma on October 15. At the first meeting of the Social-Democratic fraction, which was held on the following day, a special announcement was at once made by us. After briefly describing the position which had arisen in the Party, we presented our demands for equality of treatment for both wings of the fraction, stating at the same time: “We demand an immediate reply. In the event of a refusal, we shall leave the fraction.”

Chkheidze tried to avoid the discussion of our demands: “Is the meeting willing to discuss the declaration of the six deputies?” he inquired, and being assured of his usual majority he wanted at once to put the question to the vote.

In answer to our protest against such a method of procedure, one of the “seven” came to the assistance of the chairman with the suggestion that the meeting should first discuss the current affairs of the fraction and then pass on to the consideration of the issue raised by the “six.” But, definitely refusing to continue to work as a united fraction until we received a reply to our demands, we left the meeting in a body.

The Mensheviks were obviously taken aback by this determined action and at first were at a loss as to how to react. Therefore, in order to gain time, they requested us to present the declaration in writing and promised to give a reply within a week, inviting us meanwhile to continue to participate in the work of the fraction. On the next day we handed in the following declaration:

A year of common work in the State Duma has given rise to much friction and a number of clashes between us and you, the other seven Social-Democratic deputies. The differences were frequently discussed openly in the press, and your last decisions, taken just before the closing of the Duma in June, when a number of the members were away, show the utter impossibility of continuing the present state of things. These decisions mean that by virtue of your seven votes you intend to refuse to allow the Bolshevik “six” one of the two seats on the budget commission or a representative to a most important organisation.

Coming on top of your repeated refusals to allow the workers’ deputies one of two speakers put up in the Duma, this decision is more than we are prepared to stand.

You are aware that we have been, and are, acting fully and exclusively in the spirit of consistent Marxism, adhering, as we do, ideologically to all its decisions. You know, comrades, that we do not exaggerate when we say that our activity is in complete harmony with the ideas and will of the vast majority of the advanced Marxist Russian workers. This is proved by the way in which Pravda, the first workers’ newspaper created by the upsurge of the labour movement in April–May 1912, has rallied the majority of the working class. It is proved by the elections in the workers’ electoral colleges to the Fourth State Duma, when in every case Bolsheviks were elected as deputies, revealing that in comparison with the workers’ electoral colleges for the Second and Third Dumas, there has been an enormous growth of Marxism and anti-Liquidationist ideas among the class-conscious Russian workers. It is also apparent in the results of the election of the Board of the St. Petersburg Metal-Workers’ Union and in the history of the first workers’ newspaper in Moscow.

It is clear that we consider it our duty to act in strict conformity with the will of the Russian workers united under the banner of Marxism. Yet you, the other seven deputies, choose to act independently of that will. You adopt decisions which are in opposition to it. We would remind you of your acceptance of the Polish deputy, Jagello, into the fraction, although he was not recognised by any Social-Democrat in Poland, and also of your adoption of the nationalist slogan of cultural autonomy against the wishes of the workers, etc. We have no exact data about your relations to the Liquidationist tendency, but we believe that you incline towards it, although only in a half-hearted fashion. But, be that as it may, it is apparent that you do not consider yourselves bound by the opinions and demands of the class-conscious Russian workers with whom we work hand in hand.

In these conditions every Socialist, every class-conscious worker, in any country in the world would condemn outright your attempt to suppress us by your one extra vote and to use this slight advantage to force down our throats a policy which is rejected by the majority of the Russian workers.

We are forced to recognise that our differences as to how work should be conducted both inside and outside the Duma are irreconcilable. We are convinced that your conduct in refusing us a just proportion of representation aims at a split and precludes the possibility of our working together. But in view of the insistent demand of the workers to preserve the unity of the Social-Democratic fraction, if only for outward appearances, if only in the Duma work, and being of opinion that the experience of the past year has shown that it is possible to achieve such unity by agreement in our Duma work, we request you to state once for all, precisely and unambiguously, that no further suppression by your seven votes of the six deputies from the workers’ colleges is to take place. The preservation of a united Social-Democratic fraction is only possible if there is a full recognition of equality between the “six” and the “seven” and if our work in the Duma follows the line of an agreement between us on all questions at issue.

This declaration was published in Pravda together with an appeal to all workers to support the demand of the “six.” On the same day, Pravda opened a campaign against the “seven” and explained the meaning of the struggle which had arisen in the fraction. One of the articles contained figures showing the number of workers in the districts from which Social-Democratic deputies had been elected: nine-tenths of the total number lived in the districts which had returned Bolsheviks, while one-tenth stood to the credit of the Menshevik seven. Many articles exposing the Liquidators and explaining the criminal part which they were playing in the struggle against the Party were received from members of the Central Committee abroad, including some from Comrade Lenin.

“Rally to our defence!” was the appeal of Pravda. “Our patience is exhausted. The workers’ deputies approached the majority of the fraction requesting freedom to carry out their work and to fulfil the tasks imposed on them by the proletariat; the ‘seven’ answered as before by trying to shirk the issue. Therefore the workers themselves must settle the question. We appeal to all those to whom the interests of the working class are dear, to rally to the defence of the workers’ representatives and to declare to the ‘seven’ that the workers will not allow the will of their chosen deputies, the consistent Marxists, to be violated.”

The workers of St. Petersburg responded readily to our appeal and their example was followed by the workers of other big cities. The columns of Pravda were filled with resolutions passed by the workers condemning the behaviour of the “seven” and promising support to the workers’ deputies. The following is one of the first resolutions received before the Mensheviks had given an answer to our demands:

We, the workers in the gun workshop of the Putilov works, having learned from the press of the disputes that have taken place in the Social-Democratic fraction in the State Duma, state that we regard the demand of the six deputies elected from the workers’ electoral colleges, who are the representatives of the Russian working class as a whole, to be perfectly correct. Further, we require from the seven deputies the recognition of the right of the “six” to guide all the work concerning working-class tactics.

During the first week after the publication of our declaration to the Menshevik “seven,” Pravda received resolutions adopted by the workers of twenty-five factories and signed by over 2,500 workers. Moreover, four meetings of delegates representing about a hundred works in the St. Petersburg area declared against the Liquidators and for the “six.” Similar resolutions were carried by the executive committees of the four trade unions representing some 3,000 members.

At that time, when the split was imminent, all our Party organisations did good work amongst the masses. Several meetings were arranged by the Metal-Workers’ Committee and all our “six” spoke daily at gatherings of workers who were keenly interested in the struggle against the Mensheviks. In some districts the supporters of the Mensheviks, when they learned that one of us was to speak, invited also a representative of the “seven.” The debates which followed on such occasions usually ended in the discomfiture of the Mensheviks, since the majority of the workers, once they had grasped the true character of the quarrel, sided with the Bolsheviks and demanded that the Duma fraction should pursue a Bolshevik policy.

Whilst refraining from giving a direct answer to our demands, the seven published a lengthy explanation of their position in the Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta, which now appeared in place of Luch. Their policy was perfectly clear. They wished to delay the matter as long as possible and, while conducting a campaign in the press and among the workers, to bring in some way pressure on us from outside. But their calculations were all wrong; our decision had been taken after serious consideration and could not be affected by a few days’ delay.

We attended the regular meeting of the fraction on October 21, and again demanded an answer to our conditions. Chkheidze, in the name of the “seven,” replied that a final answer would be given within four days and meanwhile they considered it possible for work to be continued only on the old basis, i.e. without recognising equal rights for both sections of the fraction. The meeting then adjourned and separate conferences took place of the “six” and the “seven” with Comrade Novosyolov, the doorkeeper of the fraction, acting as intermediary to convey proposals from one to the other. Finally we informed the “seven” that we were willing to wait a few more days, but that during this time we would not take part in the general voting of the fraction but would announce the collective decision of the “six” on any question that arose.

The ensuing fraction meeting showed that the Mensheviks were far from considering any renunciation of the power which their one-vote majority gave them. They refused to allow us a speaker on the interpellation concerning the press and proceeded to appoint two Mensheviks. It is interesting to note that they stated that since there was no difference of opinion between the two wings on this question there was no reason to have a speaker from each. Thus, if there were differences of opinion, a Bolshevik should not speak because that would destroy the unity, and if there were no differences, then, too, it was not necessary for a Bolshevik to address the Duma.

At the next session of the Duma the “seven” demonstrated the extent to which they accepted Liquidationist principles. The Menshevik, Tulyakov, speaking on behalf of the fraction, declared: “The freedom of association, which includes the right to hold meetings, is our fighting slogan.” Thus Tulyakov openly proclaimed a Liquidationist slogan which had been definitely opposed by the Party because it was substituted for the genuine revolutionary demands of the workers.

Finally, on October 25, the Mensheviks gave their long-awaited answer to our declaration. As we expected, they rejected all of our demands and proposed to continue the work of the fraction along the old lines. After receiving the written reply, we left the meeting. This was the last meeting of the united Social-Democratic fraction of the Fourth State Duma. The split had become an accomplished fact.

On the following day Pravda published the following appeal of the “six” addressed to all workers:

Every worker, on reading the reply of the seven deputies in which they reject all our demands, will undoubtedly ask himself: “What is the next step?”

Will the fraction reunite? Will the workers allow the seven deputies who keep aloof from the Marxist organisation to speak in the name of Social-Democracy? What are we, the six workers’ deputies, to do now that the “seven” have decided by means of their one-vote majority to follow a policy which is contrary to the will of the workers?

We realise that the workers demand the unity of Social-Democrats in the Duma. When we asked the proletariat if they agreed with our conception of how that unity should be achieved, thousands of workers replied: “We do.” We are convinced that this is the opinion of the majority of Russian workers.

For the sake of that unity, we did not discontinue our work within the fraction and did all we could to prevent the majority in the fraction destroying that unity. We had the right to expect that the seven deputies would put aside factional considerations and would listen to the voices of the hundreds and thousands of workers who, by their resolutions, approved our demands.

But this did not happen. The “seven” rejected our demands, ignored the workers and countered their clearly expressed will. We are now faced with the necessity of maintaining an independent existence. That must now be clear to all workers to whom the interests of the Marxist organisation and the cause of the proletariat are dear.

We appeal to you, comrades, for support in this critical period.

We had now finally broken with the “seven.” On October 27 we held the first meeting of the new Bolshevik fraction of the State Duma and sent an official notification to the “seven” that in view of their refusal of our demands, we should henceforward constitute an independent fraction in the Duma. For the purpose of joint action from the Duma tribune we told the “seven” that we were prepared to open special negotiations whenever necessary.

At the same time we published another statement in Pravda announcing the organisation of the Bolshevik fraction and explaining the causes of the split. We wrote:

It is common knowledge, that for some time past, two tendencies have been struggling for mastery within the ranks of the classconscious, organised workers: one upholding the old slogans written on the old proletarian banner, the other represented by leaders who reject these slogans, declare the past of Social-Democracy to have been a kind of masquerading and preach the substitution of partial for basic slogans.

These two tendencies have been struggling for a number of years within the workers’ ranks and, obviously, there could be no conciliatory attitude towards such a tendency. The “seven” made use of their voices, not only to advocate their views within the fraction, but also in order to give effect in the Duma to a line of policy rejected by us, a line of Liquidationist policy ... We could not submit to our old banner being outraged, to our old demands being ignored. For the sake of our demands, and in order to serve the cause of the working class, we deem it our duty to come out in defence of our slogans, and to withdraw from a place where they arc ignored. Comrades, we shall now single-handed keep our banner flying both inside and outside the Duma and we appeal to you for assistance in this responsible work.

We submitted all the differences which arose between us and the Liquidators to the consideration of the working class with no fear as to the result. This was a moment of great historic importance. The division of the Party into Mensheviks and Bolsheviks extended from the bottom to the top, but so far the question of a split had only become urgent within the illegal underground organisations which included the most revolutionary class-conscious workers. Now this question, which had enormous influence on the course of the Russian revolution, had to be answered by the entire working class. By supporting our Duma “six,” the Russian proletariat would show that it was determined to struggle not only against the tsarist autocracy but against the bourgeois regime as a whole. For us, as for the Mensheviks, the position that the working class took on the question of the split in the Duma fraction was a matter of life or death as far as Party organisation was concerned. The correctness of the whole of our political line was, as it were, submitted to a general test, to be effected by the widest masses of the Russian proletariat.

We were under no misapprehension as to the seriousness of the step which we had taken in finally breaking with the Menshevik “seven” and appealing for support to the masses of the workers. The advisability of the split had often been discussed by the Party centres and a close examination of all the circumstances strengthened the opinion that the working class would follow us and not the Mensheviks. Yet some Party comrades still wavered and asked whether it was not premature to make a complete break, whether the support of the workers would be unanimous and whether we ought not to make another attempt to preserve at least a semblance of unity.

A feeling of enormous responsibility to the working class weighed heavily upon us during those days. Conscious of that responsibility we awaited with anxiety the workers’ response to our appeal; although sure that the majority of the workers would be with us, we could not calculate the extent or the nature of their support. All Party organisations threw themselves into the task of conducting an agitational campaign in favour of the “six.”

The question of the position which the workers would assume was, in fact, reduced to the question of how powerful will be the response of the St. Petersburg proletariat. Both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, therefore, devoted most of their attention to the conquest of the workers of St. Petersburg. At every factory, in every workshop, the question of the split in the fraction was the subject of heated controversy and hvely discussion and members of our “six” were continually asked to attend meetings to explain the reasons why the Bolsheviks left the fraction. From St. Petersburg the campaign rapidly spread throughout the country, the workers’ deputies sent letters, appeals, etc., to their constituencies and in reply there was a stream of resolutions, greetings and promises of support.

The campaign grew wider in extent, embracing more and more of the workers. The split was at first a matter of discussion in the narrow Party nuclei; later it became a topic in trade union branches and other legal workers’ organisations and finally it was a subject which interested the entire working class.

Despite the difficulties, all the workers’ resolutions received by our “six” bore genuine signatures, although such an action rendered the signatories liable to arrest and exile or at least to dismissal. Consequently the number of signatures could not give a correct idea of the number of workers who supported us, the more so since, in many cases, the resolutions were signed by representatives of several hundreds or thousands of workers. Nevertheless the number of resolutions and the number of signatures received by us is significant when compared with the numbers obtained by the Mensheviks. The “seven,” assisted by the Party apparatus and press of the Liquidators, had, of course, launched a campaign against us, but in the first few days after the split it was apparent that their position was hopeless.

By November 1, in the course of two weeks, Pravda and our fraction received over eighty resolutions of support bearing over 5,000 signatures. During the same period, the Mensheviks could only muster 3,500 signatures. And even this proportion was not maintained, since the Mensheviks had exhausted all their efforts in the first weeks, and every day saw a falling off in the number of Menshevik resolutions while the number of resolutions in favour of the “six” continued to increase. In the course of the next month our lead was still more pronounced; the flow of pro-Menshevik resolutions from the provinces ceased almost entirely, whereas our supporters were only beginning to act.

By December 1 it was clear that the Bolsheviks could count at least two and a half times as many supporters among the Russian workers as the Mensheviks. The amount of money collected by each group among the workers was also significant, The Mensheviks were able to raise only about 150 rubles for every 1,000 which we obtained.

The split in the Duma fraction and the organisation of an independent Bolshevik fraction had important results within the Russian Social-Democratic Party. All Party organisations and Party groups decided one way or the other on the question, thus joining one of the two wings of the formerly united Party.

Our fraction received many letters from groups of comrades in prison and exile, where thousands of revolutionary workers were living at that time. Being far away and detached from recent developments, not all of them saw at once the correctness of our position; some thought that by each side making some concessions it would still be possible to preserve unity. The split was especially painful to former Social-Democratic deputies of the previous Dumas. A group of ex-deputies of the Second Duma, who were in exile in Siberia, sent us a telegram imploring us to find some way of preserving a united fraction. After a time, however, they, like all genuine revolutionary Marxists, saw clearly that the final break with Menshevism was not only historically inevitable but also absolutely necessary for the successful progress of the revolutionary struggle.

Some Social-Democratic circles abroad too did not grasp the nature and meaning of the split in the fraction, but hovered between the two camps, passing from Bolshevism to Menshevism and vice versa. One of the largest of these groups, Vperiod (Forward), thought that the split was the result of the “absence of a single leading Party centre, enjoying the confidence of the majority of Party members.” The Vperiodists recognised that the demands of the “six” were just, but they thought that the whole question only amounted to minor organisational clashes within the fraction. Thus they entirely missed the significance of the split and the fundamental differences which had led to it.

The leading committees of both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks issued outspoken and clearly expressed statements on the question of the split.

The following resolution was adopted by the St. Petersburg Committee of our Party.

We send warm greetings to the six workers’ deputies who now constitute the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Fraction, and who in the whole of their activity were guided by the will of the Marxist organisation and remained true to the old programme and tactics of Social-Democracy. Without striving to accomplish so-called positive work, they have boldly proclaimed from the Duma tribune the fundamental slogans of the proletariat ...

Then, after enumerating the principal motives of the “six” in presenting their demands to the Menshevik “seven,” the resolution concluded as follows: “We emphatically condemn the seven deputies and consider that they have no right to assume the title of ‘Social-Democratic fraction’ and that, being unworthy to represent the workers, they should resign their seats unless they are willing to restore unity and act in agreement with the Marxist organisation and the ‘six’.”

This resolution was published in the Proletarskaya Pravda, and in order to deceive the censor, it was called “resolution of the leading institution of the St. Petersburg Marxists.” For the same reasons the word “Party” was replaced by the expression “Marxist organisation,” as in other resolutions and articles printed in the newspaper.

At about the same time, the Liquidationist Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta published the appeal issued by the Mensheviks’ Organisational Committee which, also for censorship considerations, was called the “leading institution of the Social-Democratic workers who united in August 1912.” The Mensheviks called us “deserters,” “violators of the workers’ instructions,” “supporters of the Lenin circle,” “secessionists,” etc., and appealed for support on the ground that they were the only genuine representatives of the working class. We have already seen the results of their appeals. Having been defeated in the agitational campaign among the workers, the Mensheviks made another attempt to bring pressure to bear on our “six.” Taking advantage or the lack of information concerning Russian affairs among foreign Social-Democratic parties and of the fact that it was their nominee who represented the fraction on the International Socialist Bureau (of the Second International), the Mensheviks decided to raise the question at the next meeting of the Bureau. Chkheidze and Skobolev left for London, where the Bureau was to meet on December 1.

Hoping to gain also the weighty support of Plekhanov, Chkheidze wired to him in Italy asking him to come to London to express his opinion on the split at the Bureau meeting. Plekhanov, however, not only declined to come to London, but sent a letter to the International Socialist Bureau stating that he supported the “six” and considered that the Mensheviks were to blame for the split. At the same time, since he believed that this matter finally clinched the question of a split in the Sociai-Democratic Party, Plekhanov decided to resign from the Bureau, on which he was the representative of the whole Party. The following is an extract from his letter:

The differences of opinion which have existed within the Russian Social-Democratic Party during the last few years have now led to the division of our Duma fraction intŠ two competing groups. This split occurred as the result of certain regrettable decisions taken by our Liquidationist comrades, who chanced to be in a majority (seven against six). Since a decisive blow has been dealt at the unity of our Party, I, who represent among you the whole Party, have no other choice but to resign. This I am doing by the present letter.

During their struggle against the seven deputies, the Bolsheviks had carried new positions and considerably widened and deepened their influence among the workers. The Party had not wavered, and it emerged victorious and strengthened. The split in the fraction and the creation of an independent Bolshevik fraction was discussed by thousands of workers, and the fact that such questions. obtained wide publicity was of extreme organisational and political importance. The campaign in support of the “six” resulted in an influx of workers into the ranks of the Party, and the whole of our Party work was infused with new vigour. Many revolutionary workers, who until then had no clear notion of the essence of the Party differences and inclined towards the Menshevik-Liquidators, joined the Bolsheviks as the result of the information gained during this period.

Fundamentally the question of the split was the general question of how the Party organisation should be built up. By supporting our Bolshevik “six,” the workers showed that they had chosen their path, the path which conducted the Russian proletariat to the final victory.