Lenin and the Tsarist Duma
A review of August H Nimtz, Lenins Electoral Strategy from Marx and Engels through the Revolution of 1905: The Ballot, the Streetsor Both
Publisher: International Socialism
Date Written: 09/01/2018
Year Published: 2018
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX22302
Donnelly reviews Nimtz's two volume account of Lenin's pre-revolution electoral strategy and summarises the thesis that Lenin's critique of reformism in parliamentary democracy was rooted in the conclusions of Marx and Engels.
A review of August H Nimtz, Lenins Electoral Strategy from Marx and Engels through the Revolution of 1905: The Ballot, the Streets -- or Both and Lenins Electoral Strategy from 1907 to the October Revolution of 1917: The Ballot, the Streets -- or Both (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), both £69.
August Nimtz's two-volume work on Lenin's electoral strategy provides an impressively detailed account of the work of the Bolsheviks in the Russian parliament, the Duma, during the pre-revolutionary period. In doing so, it shines a light on a fascinating but often overlooked area of the history of the Russian Revolution.
The creation of a Duma was a gain of the 1905 Revolution, which shook the absolutist state. While the uprising failed to overthrow the monarchy and transform the semi-feudal social relations of Russian life, it did force Tsar Nicholas II to grant limited constitutional reforms such as a legislative assembly.
But from its birth, this state Duma was a deeply undemocratic institution. Rather than being elected on a one-person, one-vote basis, parliamentary representatives were elected from each social class: landlords, wealthy city-dwellers, workers and peasants. The allocation of delegates was heavily weighted towards the rich. There was to be a deputy for every 2,000 landlords, but only for every 30,000 peasants or 90,000 workers. Moreover, Lenins Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) was still an illegal organisation, which the Tsarist state constantly clamped down on.
Faced with this monstrous caricature of democracy, Lenin faced an uphill struggle trying to win Russian radicals to participating in elections. Cynicism was understandably rife, not only among groups like the Socialist Revolutionaries, who believed that the struggle against Tsarism had to be waged through terrorist means, but also from Lenins own comrades in the RSDLP.