From Narodism to Marxism
A legal newspaper recently expressed the opinion that this is no time to dwell on the "antagonism" of interests among the different classes opposing the autocracy. This opinion is not new. We have come across it, of course, with reservations of one sort or other, in the columns of Osvobozhdeniye and Revolutsionnaya Rossiya. It is natural that such a point of view should prevail among the representatives of the bourgeois democrats. As far as the Social-Democrats are concerned, there can be no two opinions among them on this question. The combined struggle of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie against the autocracy must not and cannot make the proletariat forget the antagonism of interests between it and the propertied classes. To get a clear idea of this antagonism it is necessary to have a clear idea of the profound differences that exist between the points of view of the different trends. This does not imply, of course, that we should reject temporary agreements with the adherents of other trends, both with the Socialists-Revolutionaries and the liberals, such as the Second Congress of our Party declared permissible for Social-Democrats.
The Social-Democrats consider the Socialists-Revolutionaries to be the representatives of the extreme Left group of our bourgeois democracy. The Socialists-Revolutionaries resent this opinion of them and regard it as a mean attempt to humiliate an opponent and to question his sincerity and good faith. Actually, such an opinion has nothing whatever to do with suspicion; it is merely a Marxist definition of the class origin and the class nature of the views of the Socialists-Revolutionaries. The more clearly and definitely the Socialists-Revolutionaries state their views, the more they confirm the Marxist characterisation of them. Of great interest in this respect is the draft programme of the Party of the Socialists-Revolutionaries published in Revolutsionnaya Rossiya, No. 46.
This draft is a considerable step forward, not only in relation to clarity of exposition of principles. The progress is to be noted in the content of the principles them selves, the progress from Narodism to Marxism, from democracy to socialism. Our criticism of the Socialists-Revolutionaries has obviously borne fruit; it has compelled them to lay particular stress on their socialist good intentions and the views which they hold in common with Marxism. All the more glaring, on the other hand, are the features of their old, Narodnik, vaguely democratic views. We would remind those who are prone to accuse us of being contradictory (recognising the socialist good intentions of the Socialists-Revolutionaries, while defining their social nature as bourgeois-democratic) that examples of socialism, not only of the petty-bourgeois but of the bourgeois variety, were long ago analysed in the Communist Manifesto. The good intentions of being a socialist do not rule out a bourgeois-democratic essence.
A study of the draft reveals three main features of the Socialist-Revolutionary world outlook. First, theoretical emendations of Marxism. Second, the survivals of Narodism in their views of the labouring peasantry and the agrarian question. Third, the same Narodnik survivals in their view of the impending Russian revolution as non-bourgeois in character.
I said emendations of Marxism. Precisely. The whole main trend of thought, the whole framework of the programme, points to the victory of Marxism over Narodism. The latter is still alive (kept so with the aid of injections of revisionism of the latest style), but only as partial "corrections" of Marxism. Let us take the main general theoretical emendation, the theory of the favourable and unfavourable relation between the positive and negative sides of capitalism. This emendation, insofar as it is not completely muddled, introduces the old Russian subjectivism into Marxism. The recognition of the "creative" historical activity of capitalism, which socialises labour and creates "a social force" capable of transforming society, the force of the proletariat, denotes a break with Narodism and a transition to Marxism. The theory of socialism is founded on the objective development of economic forces and of class division. The emendation: "In some branches of industry, especially agriculture, and in en tire countries" the relation between the positive and negative sides of capitalism "is becoming [how far they have gone!] less and less favourable". This is a repetition of Hertz and David, of Nik.—on, and of V. V. with his theory of the special "destinies of capitalism in Russia". The backwardness of Russia in general and of Russian agriculture in particular is no longer regarded as the backwardness of capitalism, but as a uniqueness justifying backward theories. Alongside the materialist conception of history we get the time-worn view according to which the intelligentsia is capable of choosing more or less favourable paths for the country and of becoming the supraclass judge of capitalism, not the mouthpiece of the class that is begotten by capitalism's destruction of the old forms of life. The fact that capitalist exploitation in Russia takes on particularly repellent forms because of the survival of pre-capitalist relations is overlooked in typical Narodnik fashion.
The Narodnik theory stands revealed still more clearly in the notions on the peasantry. Throughout the draft the following words and phrases are used without discrimination: the toilers, the exploited, the working class, the labouring masses, the class of the exploited, the exploited classes. If the authors stopped to think over the last term ("classes"), which escaped them unguardedly, they would realise that it is the petty bourgeois as well as the proletarians who work and are exploited under capitalism. What has been said of the legal Narodniks can be said of our Socialists-Revolutionaries: to them goes the honour of discovering an unheard-of type of capitalism without a petty bourgeoisie. They speak of the labouring peasantry, but shut their eyes to a fact which has been proved, studied, weighed, described, and pondered, namely, that the peasant bourgeoisie now definitely predominates among our labouring peasantry, and that the well-to-do peasantry, although entitled to the designation labouring peasantry, cannot get along without hiring farm-hands and already controls the better half of the peasantry's productive forces.
Very odd, indeed, from this point of view, is the goal which the Party of the Socialists-Revolutionaries has set itself in its minimum programme: "In the interests of socialism and of the struggle against bourgeois-proprietary principles, to make use of the views, traditions, and modes of life of the Russian peasantry, both as toilers in general and as members of the village communes, particularly its conception of the land as being the common property of all the toiling people." This objective seems, at first blush, to be a quite harmless, purely academic repetition of the village-commune utopias long since refuted both by theory and life. In reality, however, we are dealing with a pressing political issue which the Russian revolution promises to solve in the very near future: Who will take advantage of whom? Will the revolutionary intelligentsia, which believes itself to be socialist, utilise the toiler conceptions of the peasantry in the interests of the struggle against bourgeois-proprietary principles? Or will the bourgeois proprietary and at the same time toiling peasantry utilise the socialist phraseology of the revolutionary-democratic intelligentsia in the interests of the struggle against socialism?
We are of the view that the second perspective will be realised (despite the will and the consciousness of our opponents). We are convinced that it will be realised because it has already nine-tenths been realised. The "bourgeois proprietary" (and at the same time labouring) peasantry has already made good use of the socialist phrases of the Narodnik, democratic intelligentsia, which harboured illusions of sustaining "the toiler traditions and modes of life" by means of its artels, co-operatives, fodder grass cultivation, ploughs, Zemstvo warehouses, and banks, but which actually promoted the development of capitalism within the village commune. Russian economic history has thus proved what Russian political history will prove tomorrow. The class-conscious proletariat has the duty to explain to the rural proletarian, without in any way withholding support of the progressive and revolutionary aspirations of the bourgeois labouring peasantry, that a struggle against that peasantry is inevitable in the future; it has the duty to explain to him the real aims of socialism, as opposed to the bourgeois-democratic fancies of equalised land tenure. With the bourgeois peasantry against the survivals of serfdom, against the autocracy, the priests, and the landlords; with the urban proletariat against the bourgeoisie in general and against the bourgeois peasantry in particular—this is the only correct slogan for the rural proletarian, this is the only correct agrarian programme for Russian Social-Democracy at the present moment. It was this programme that our Second Congress adopted. With the peasant bourgeoisie for democracy, with the urban proletariat for socialism—this slogan will have a far stronger appeal to the rural poor than the showy but empty slogans of the Socialist-Revolutionary dabblers in Narodism.
We come now to the third of the above-mentioned main points of the draft. Its authors have by now broken with the view of the consistent Narodniks, who were opposed to political freedom on the grounds that it could only result in turning over power to the bourgeoisie. But the survivals of Narodism stand out very clearly in the part of the draft which characterises the autocracy and the attitude of the various classes towards it. Here too, as always, we see that the very first attempts of the petty-bourgeois revolutionary intelligentsia to clarify its conception of reality lead inevitably to the complete exposure of its contradictory and superannuated views. (Let us, therefore, remark, parenthetically, that disputes with the Socialists-Revolutionaries should always be reduced to this very question of their conception of reality, since this question alone clearly reveals the causes of our deep-seated political divergence.)
"The class of big, manufacturers and tradesmen, who are more reactionary than anywhere else," we read in the draft, "stands more and more in need of the protection of the autocracy against the proletariat".... This is false; for nowhere in Europe is the indifference of the advanced bourgeoisie towards the autocratic form of rule so evident as in our country. Discontent with the autocratic regime is growing among the bourgeoisie, regardless of its fear of the proletariat, in part simply because the police, for all its unlimited powers, cannot crush the working-class movement. In speaking of "a class" of big manufacturers, the draft confounds the subdivisions and groups within the bourgeoisie with the entire bourgeoisie as a class. The in correctness is all the more patent in that it is precisely the middle and petty bourgeoisie that the autocracy is least of all capable of satisfying.
"...The landed nobility and the village kulaks stand more and more in need of such support against the labouring masses in the villages...." Indeed? Where, then, does Zemstvo liberalism come from? Whence the attraction for the enterprising muzhik on the part of the uplift (democratic) intelligentsia and vice versa? Or does the kulak have nothing in common with the enterprising muzhik?
"...An irreconcilable and growing antagonism is arising between the existence of autocracy and the whole economic, social-political and cultural development of the country....
In this they have reduced their own premises ad absurdum. Is it possible to conceive of an "irreconcilable antagonism" with the entire economic, as well as other, growth of the country that would not be reflected in the mood of the classes in economic command? It is one or the other: Either the autocracy is really incompatible with the economic development of the country; in that case it is incompatible also with the interests of the entire class of manufacturers, tradespeople, landlords, and enterprising muzhiks. That this class has been controlling "our" economic development since 1861 is probably not unknown even to the Socialists-Revolutionaries (although they were taught the contrary by V. V.). That a government incompatible with the bourgeois class in general can make capital out of the conflicts between the groups and strata of the bourgeoisie, that it can make peace with the protectionists against the free traders, enlist the support of one stratum against another, and keep up these equilibristics for years and decades, is borne out by the whole trend of European history. Or, in our country the manufacturers, the landlords, and the peasant bourgeoisie "stand more and more in need" of the autocracy. In that case we should have to accept the notion that they, the economic lords of the country, even taken as a whole, as a class, do not understand the interests of the country's economic development, that not even the advanced, educated and intelligent representatives and leaders of these classes under stand these interests!
But would it not be simpler to accept the idea that it is our Socialists-Revolutionaries who do not understand the situation? We need but see: a little further on, they themselves admit "the existence of a liberal-democratic opposition, which embraces chiefly (in point of class) the intermediate elements of the educated society". But is our educated society not a bourgeois society? Is it not bound by a thousand ties to the tradesmen, manufacturers, land lords, and enterprising muzhiks? Can God have possibly ordained for Russia a capitalism in which the liberal-democratic opposition is not a bourgeois-democratic opposition? Do the Socialists-Revolutionaries know of any precedent in history or can they conceive of any case in which the opposition of the bourgeoisie to the autocratic regime was not or would not be expressed through the liberal, educated "society"?
The muddle in the draft is the inevitable outcome of confounding Narodism with Marxism. Only Marxism has given a scientifically correct analysis, confirmed more and more by reality, of the relation between the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialism. We, like the rest of the world, have bourgeois democratism and working-class democratism. With us, as with the rest of the world, the Social-Democrats must expose mercilessly the inevitable illusions of the bourgeois democrats and their ignorance of their own nature. With us, as with the rest of the world, the class-conscious proletariat must support the bourgeois democrats in their opposition to the survivals of serfdom and their struggle against them, against the autocracy, without forgetting for an instant that it is a class by itself, and that it has as its class aim the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.
V. I. Lenin
Nikolai —on—pseudonym of N. F. Danielson, an ideologue of liberal Narodism in the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century.
The reference is to the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861.
Published: Vperyod, No. 3, January 24 (11), 1905.
Source: Lenin Collected Works,
Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 83-89.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker