Active boycott (was: Re: Voting Democrat)
ccc6639 at vip.cybercity.dk
Sat May 25 00:15:36 MDT 1996
Zeynep Tufekcioglu wrote:
> Btw, anybody ever heard of a tactic called "active boycott"? That's when you
> refuse to vote, and organise people *not to vote* in the circus called
> elections. If you're strong enough, you burn the ballot boxes. Or even if
> you enter the elections as an independent, you pledge not to sit in the
> parliament if elected, the campaign is just another opportunity to speak up.
The Bolsheviks used the "active boycott" tactic - but when? In 1905!
They did it not only because the Duma elections were very undemocratic
(which they were indeed: the Duma had no influence, election process
favored the privileged layers heavily against workers and peasants).
They did it because they assumed the revolution was still rising - i.e.
there was *an alternative* to the Duma. Lenin argued:
"an active boycott ... is unthinkable without a clear, precise and
immediate slogan. Only an armed uprising can be that slogan."
But when individual Social Democrats *were* elected he argued just a few
months later that they should be supported. What had happened was that
the boycott had not succeeded in preventing the Duma to convene *and*
that an armed uprising in the near future was no longer on the agenda.
So he argued for utilizing the Duma seats - not for refusing to take
A few months later he argued against repeating the boycott - alone
among the Bolsheviks. In a draft resolution in 1907 he stated:
"1) active boycott ... is correct tactics on the part of the
Social Democrats only under conditions of a sweeping, universal,
and rapid upswing of the revolution, developing into an armed
uprising, and only in connection with the ideological aims of
the struggle against constitutional illusions arising from the
convocations of the first representative assembly by the old
2) in the absence of these conditions correct tactics on the
part of the revolutionary Social Democrats call for participation
in the elections, as was the case with the second Duma.
It took a hard debate to win this argument with the Bolsheviks and it
was in this debate Lenin said the famous words:
"since the accursed counter-revolution has driven us into this
accursed pigsty, we shall work there too for the benefit of
the revolution, without whining, but also without boasting".
Later, in 1917, they were able to use these experiences: They participated
in elections throughout 1917 and only withdrew from the so-called pre-
Parliament when the armed uprising was the next step.
The point is that as long as there is no *immediate* alternative to
parliament then what is the point of boycotting? For many of the
most militant and active of the Bolsheviks it was a "wishing back" to
the months of revolution and not facing reality.
The same argument took place in the German KPD in 1918-9 after the
Emperor had been kicked out. The KPD (against Luxemburgs arguments)
decided *not* to take part in the elections. By doing so they showed
themselves to be anti-parliament, but - as most workers were not
revolutionary at the time - they also failed to address the
"constitutional illusions" of the majority of workers *in a concrete
way*. It took a long time for them to regain what they had lost by
Of course there can be other situations than armed uprising where
boycott can be used, but it has to be argued very concretely. I
would argue that as an immediate armed uprising is not on the agenda
(neither in the US, nor in Turkey) and as revolutionaries are still a
small minority that "active boycott" is not to be considered.
PS: In the first elections to the EU parliament a maoist group in
Denmark argued for boycott. And as the turn-out for these elections
were considerably lower than it would be in national elections, they
called it a victory for their line. But I doubt anybody else than the
maoists themselves (who counted less than 200 members) believed in that.
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