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Socialist-Revolutionary Mensheviks

V. I. Lenin

As early as the beginning of 1905 the Social-Democrats pointed out that the draft programme of the S.-R. (Socialist Revolutionary) Party marked a definite turn "from Narodism[5] to Marxism".[1] It was obvious that the party making this turn was bound to undergo internal disintegration.

The ideological and political disintegration of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party is now a fact. The Minutes of the First Congress of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, published in book form in Paris this year, clearly indicate all the lines of this disintegration. The current political literature of the "Maximalists" and of the representatives of the nascent "Toilers' Popular Socialist Party" has conclusively revealed the full extent of this disintegration.

The two big splits which occurred in the ranks of Social-Democracy—the split between the "Economists"[6] and the old Iskrists in 1900-03, and the split between the "Mensheviks" and "Bolsheviks" in 1903-06—were the result of an acute struggle between two trends characteristic of the whole international socialist movement, viz., the opportunist trend and the revolutionary trend, in their peculiar forms corresponding to particular stages of the Russian revolution. The Socialist-Revolutionary Party, however, at the very first attempt at anything like a public statement testifying to its having a real party character, split up into three trends: (1) the Left—the "Maximalists"; (2) the Centre—the S.-R.'s of the old type; and (3) the Right—the opportunists (otherwise called "Legalists", "Toilers' Popular Socialists", etc.) with whom we shall deal in the present article. The contours of all three trends can be clearly seen from the Minutes of the First Congress of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. We have now a vivid literary expression of the trends which have broken away (or are breaking away?) from the "Centre". The Maximalists have published Straight to the Goal and a detailed programmatic pamphlet by Mr. Tag—in,[7] entitled: Principles of Labour Theory. The opportunist Socialist-Revolutionaries have expressed their views, carried almost to their logical conclusion, in the writings of Mr. Peshekhonov & Co. Mr. Chernov, the representative of the "Centre", was quite right in his article in Mysl (or maybe Golos, Dyelo Naroda,[8] etc.) in calling the Maximalists "vulgar socialists", but, if we are not mistaken, he has said nothing in the press so far about the opportunist Socialist-Revolutionaries. The concubinage of the Socialist-Revolutionary "marsh" and the Socialist-Revolutionary "extreme Right" in these newspapers was not without effect.

The division of the supporters of the "labour principle", the admirers of Lavrov and Mikhailovsky, into three trends is an important political event in the history of Russian petty-bourgeois radicalism. Marxists must pay full attention to this event, for it throws a sidelight on the trend of the maturing political thought of the awakening Russian peasantry.

The main contradiction in the programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries is their oscillation between Narodism and Marxism. Marxism demands that a clear distinction be made between the maximum programme and the minimum programme. The maximum programme is the socialist transformation of society, which is impossible without the abolition of commodity production. The minimum programme proposes reforms that are possible even within the limits of commodity production. Confusion of the two inevitably leads to all sorts of petty-bourgeois and opportunist, or anarchist, perversions of proletarian socialism and inevitably obscures the objects of the social revolution to be achieved through the conquest of political power by the proletariat.

From the standpoint of the old Russian Narodism, of the principles of Lavrov, V. V., Mikhailovsky & Co., the distinction between the maximum programme and the mini mum programme is superfluous and incomprehensible, for the theory of Narodism denies that the laws and categories of commodity production can be applied to Russian peasant economy. The more or less consistent disciples of Lavrov and Mikhailovsky (as well as of V. V. and Nikolai—on[9] who are undeservedly forgotten, for present-day Narodniks have no other source of economic ideas) were inevitably bound to be hostile to this Marxist division of the programme into a maximum and a minimum. And the very first attempt of the Socialist-Revolutionaries to transform their circles into a party revealed the strength and trend of this hostility. The supporters of the revolutionary trends in Narodism asked: Why demand only the socialisation of the land? We demand the socialisation of the mills and factories too! Down with the minimum programme! We are Maximalists! Down with the theory of commodity production!

Actually, this Maximalist trend almost coincides with anarchism, as one would expect.

The supporters of the opportunist trends in Narodism, the Narodniks of the eighties, raised another cry: What earthly use is a maximum programme, or proletarian dictatorship? Socialism is a remote prospect! Why frighten the masses away with a name like "Socialist-Revolutionaries"? Why demand a "republic"? What's the use of an illegal party? Down with the whole lot! Down with the maximum programme! Down with the "dangerous" clauses of the minimum programme! Instead of a programme, let us have a "platform" of an open, legal, non-republican "Toilers' Popular Socialist Party"![2]

Against either of these tendencies the S.-R. Centrists, the old members of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, have no other defence than to invoke the laws of commodity production and virtually to adopt the standpoint of Marxism. The accusations levelled at the S.-R. Centre by the Right and the Left at the First Congress of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, namely that the S.-R. Centre was Marxist, that it wanted to compete with the Social-Democrats, to start out from Social-Democratic principles, were therefore quite justified. This Centre's transition to Social-Democracy is now simply a matter of time. And the sooner the revolutionary parties can exist quite openly, the sooner that time will come. No prejudices against Marxist "dogmatism" can withstand the inexorable logic of events.

The brief existence of the Cadet Duma coincided with the first appearance of representatives of the peasant masses in the general Russian political arena. It was inevitable that the Socialist-Revolutionaries should seek an understanding with these representatives and try to organise them politically on the basis of their Socialist-Revolutionary programme. It turned out that the Social-Democrats had, in a comparatively short time, formed a Social-Democratic Party Group in the Duma. The S.-R.'s, on the other hand, were never able to act except behind the backs of the Trudoviks. In political solidarity the small producer at once proved to be far inferior to the working class. Moreover, even behind the backs of the Trudoviks the Socialist-Revolutionaries were unable to carry through a united political campaign. On the land question, which is the basic question for the peasantry, the split between the opportunists and the Centrist S.-R.'s was soon revealed. In the arena of "parliamentary action, the former gained the victory among the representatives of the masses: they rallied 104 Trudoviks for the opportunist Land Bill,[10] whereas only 33 Trudoviks (out of the same 104) subsequently supported the Land Bill that corresponded to the programme of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party.

This split, which occurred in an open political action in the sight of the whole people, inevitably led to the systematisation of the disagreements which had caused it. Mr. Peshekhonov, one of the leaders of the S.-R. opportunists, went further than anyone else in this systematisation. Here are his views, his "outlines and scope of the platform"... of the peasant Cadets:

"The revolutionary demands must conform to and be commensurate with the revolutionary forces" (p. 194, Russkoye Bogatstvo, No. 8). Therefore "the line of land and liberty" must not be "carried too far". Instead of the maximum and minimum programme of "the two socialist parties, the Social-Democrats and the Socialist-Revolutionaries", the petty bourgeois needs a united "platform" to serve as "a plan of campaign, not for a long period (right until socialism), but only for the immediate future". The rest of the road to the final goal is a "remote prospect" (p. 196). Therefore, the republic must be deleted from this "platform": "We must reckon with the psychological factor.... The monarchist idea is too deeply rooted in the popular mind.... A thou sand years have not passed in vain.... This psychology of the broad masses must be reckoned with.... The question of the republic calls for extreme caution" (198). The same with the national question. "Here, too, we must reckon with the psychology of the people, formed by its thousand years history".... "Therefore, we deem it necessary to go to the masses, not with the slogan of independence for nationalities [and not their self-determination—adds the author elsewhere], but with the demand that arises in actual life, namely, the demand for their autonomy." In short, Mr. Peshekhonov bluntly puts the question: "Can we win complete freedom?" And he bluntly answers: "No."

Next he puts the question: "Can we take the whole of the land?" And he also answers: "No." Caution, caution, caution, gentlemen! The peasant deputies in the Duma said to Mr. Peshekhonov: "We were sent here to get land, not to give it up." At present the peasants want neither the socialisation (equal division) nor the nationalisation of the land. They are afraid of both. They only want additional land. "It would therefore be more expedient not to push the 'land' line to its logical conclusion in the platform" (p. 206). "I think it is even dangerous at the present time to raise the question of general equalisation" (p. 205). "Allotment land and privately-owned land not exceeding the labour norm must be left in the possession of the present owners" in conformity with the Land Bill introduced by the 104, and the transfer of the whole land to the nation must be postponed—also, evidently, as a "remote prospect".

Caution, moderation and scrupulousness must be exercised in choosing the means of struggle as well as the method of organisation. An armed uprising? "I [Peshekhonov] tirelessly pray: May this bitter cup pass us by!... It would be only too deplorable if anyone were to regard an uprising not as an unfortunate possibility, but as a fatal necessity.... It is dangerous ... to make use of it carelessly ... the whole movement might come to grief" (No. 7, Pp. 177-78). The main task of the moment is to organise "the forces of the people". "I scarcely believe that this task can be carried out at all satisfactorily by our two existing socialist parties. It is time to realise that a secret organisation cannot embrace the masses. The Cadet Party has also declared itself bankrupt in this matter. Evidently, this must be undertaken by someone else, and for this purpose, I believe, we need a legal socialist party." (No. 7, pp. 179-80.)

As the reader will see, it cannot be denied that Mr. Peshekhonov's views are consistent, harmonious and rounded off. This champion of the monarchy, this political trickster, who justifies the knout on the grounds that it has a thousand years of history behind it, has not left much of the official programme of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. And if the "real" S.-R.'s[3] could all through the Duma period cleverly conceal such differences of opinion, if in order to conceal them they could even collaborate on the same newspapers, it only proves how far political hypocrisy can go.

What is the socio-economic class basis of S.-R. opportunism? The fact that Peshekhonov & Co. are trying to adapt themselves to the interests of the thrifty muzhik, are adulterating socialism to suit his interests.

Take the main question, the land. Mr. Peshekhonov twice repeats with relish the words of the peasant-Trudoviks which pleased him so immensely: "We were sent here to get land, not to give it up." Indeed, those words are very significant. But they utterly refute the petty-bourgeois illusions of Narodism, and confirm all the propositions of the Marxists. These words clearly prove that the proprietary instincts of the average muzhik are already awakening. And only those who are absolutely ignorant of political economy and West-European history can be unaware of the fact that the more political liberty and democracy extends, the stronger these instincts grow and develop.

What conclusion should a person to whom socialism is not just an empty phrase have drawn from the words of this shrewd, thrifty muzhik, chosen by the "masses"? Obviously, the conclusion that such a class of small proprietors cannot be the vehicle for socialism; that socialists can and must support the small proprietor class in its struggle against the landlords solely because this struggle has a bourgeois- democratic significance and can have bourgeois-democratic results; that it is the duty of a socialist not to obscure but to expose the antagonism of interests between the working masses as a whole and these small proprietors, who want to strengthen and consolidate their own economic position, and who will be hostile to any idea of "giving up" the land or anything else to the mass of the propertyless and destitute. "We want to get land, not give it up!" Can anything better express petty-bourgeois proprietary instincts and aspirations?

From this a Social-Democrat draws the following conclusion: we must support these small proprietors in their struggle against the landlords and the autocracy because of the revolutionary bourgeois-democratic character of this struggle. If they win, the conditions of the whole people will be improved, but this will be an improvement and development of the capitalist system. Therefore, we must not pander to the proprietary or owning instincts of this class, but, on the contrary, at once begin to combat these instincts and explain their significance to the proletariat, warning the proletariat and organising it in an independent party. Our agrarian programme is: to help the small proprietors to cast off the serf-owners by revolutionary means; to point out to them the conditions for achieving nationalisation of the land as the best agrarian system that is possible under capitalism, and to lay bare the great difference between the interests of the proletarian and those of the small proprietor.

The small shopkeeper's socialism involves a different conclusion: we must "reckon" with the psychology of the "masses" (the masses of small proprietors, not the propertyless masses); we must bow servilely to the proprietor's desire to "get" something from the landlord, but not to "give up" anything to the proletarian; to please the small proprietor we must relegate socialism to the dim "remote future"; we must recognise the desire of the petty proprietor to consolidate his own economic position—in short, we must describe as "socialism" subservience to the narrow egotism of the small proprietors and truckling to their prejudices.

Monarchist sentiments are a prejudice. Perhaps you think that it is the duty of socialists to combat prejudices? You are mistaken; 'toilers' socialism" must adapt itself to prejudices.

Perhaps you think that the antiquity and "stability" (??) of the monarchist prejudice call for a specially ruthless struggle against it? You are mistaken. "Toilers' socialism" deduces from the antiquity of the knout merely that it must be treated with "extreme caution".

True, Mr. Peshekhonov, in fighting—or pretending to fight—the Cadets, repeats all the Cadet arguments in favour of the monarchy. Well, what harm is there in that? Do you still not know that a bourgeois radical fights a bourgeois liberal only for the purpose of taking his place and not for the purpose of replacing his programme by a substantially different programme? Have you forgotten the history of the French type of Trudovik socialists, that is, the radical socialists, who "fought" the French Cadets, only to act in exactly the same way as the latter when they themselves became Cabinet Ministers? Do you not see that there is no more difference between Mr. Peshekhonov and Mr. Struve than there is between Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky?[11]

Mr. Peshekhonov guesses, perhaps, that there is some material connection between the desire "to get land, not to give it up", and the monarchy. In order "not to give it up" you must protect it. And the monarchy is nothing but the hired police protection of those who do not want "to give up" against those who are capable of taking.[4] The Cadets need a monarchy to protect the big bourgeoisie. The "Trudovik socialists" need a monarchy to protect the thrifty muzhiks.

It is obvious that this outlook of the "Trudovik socialists" inevitably leads to a pedantic and trite attitude to an up rising ("an unfortunate possibility"; compare this with Mr. Struve's articles in Osvobozhdeniye, in the summer of 1905 about the "mad and criminal advocacy of an uprising"). Hence, the lofty contempt for "secret organisations" and the yearnings, in August 1906, for a "legal socialist party". To the objective historical conditions which make an up rising inevitable, which compel the ignorant masses, in spite of all their prejudices, to wage a struggle precisely against the monarchy in defence of their own vital interests, and which convert all Manilov yearnings for "a legal socialist party" into grist for the mill of Ushakov[12] & Co.— to these objective conditions Peshekhonov & Co. do not give a thought. The admirers of Lavrov and Mikhailovsky are obliged to reckon with the psychology of the downtrodden masses and not with the objective ·conditions which are transforming the psychology of the militant masses.

To sum up. We know now what it means to be a Toilers' Popular Socialist. "Toilers"' means pandering to the interests of small proprietors who want "to get, but not to give up". "Popular" means pandering to the monarchist prejudices of the people, to the chauvinistic fear lest certain nationalities should secede from Russia. "Socialist" means declaring socialism to be a remote prospect and replacing what political tricksters consider a narrow, doctrinaire and irksome programme by a wide, free, flexible, mobile, light, thinly-clad and even stark-naked "platform". Long live the "Toilers' Popular Socialists"!

Mr. Peshekhonov & Co. are the first swallows of incipient social reaction among the Russian peasantry. The good god has sent the Peshekhonovs down from heaven as living proof of the Marxist proposition regarding the dual nature of every small producer. A peasant is endowed both with reason and with prejudice; he possesses the revolutionary qualities of a person who is exploited, and the reactionary aspirations of the small proprietor anxious "to get, but not to give up". Mr. Peshekhonov & Co. are the ideological expression of the reactionary aspects of the small peasant proprietor. Mr. Peshekhonov & Co. are contemplators of the "rear" aspect of the Russian muzhik. They are doing in the realm of ideas hit the Gurkos and Stishinskys are doing in a coarse, material way, bribing the peasant bourgeois with the sale of crown and state lands.

Whether such palliatives will perceptibly weaken the inevitable impact between the masses and their exploiters in a sharp struggle is still a big question. It is still a big question whether the traditional peasant prejudices, fostered by all sorts of opportunists, will be sufficient to out weigh the good sense of the poor peasantry that is being awakened in the flames of revolution. In any case, the Social-Democrats will perform their duty of developing and refining the revolutionary consciousness of the peasantry.

Let Mr. Pesheknonov & Co. serve as a warning to the Right-wing Social-Democrats. When criticising the Toilers' Popular Socialists we might, sometimes, have said to certain Menshevik Social-Democrats: mutato nomine de fabula narratur (the fable is about you, only the name is changed). We, too, hive in our ranks people who yearn for a legal party, who are ready to substitute a platform for a programme, to sink to the level of the masses. We have Plekhanov, who delivered his famous verdict on the December rising: "They should not have taken to arms." We have Malishevsky, a contributor to the Otkliki Sovremennosti,[13] who attempted (although not in Otkliki Sovremennosti) to delete the republic from our programme. It would be very useful for these people to take a good look at the Peshekhonovs in all their "pristine beauty".


[1] See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 83-89.—Ed.

[2] See particularly Mr. Peshekhonov's articles in the July and August issues of Russkoye Bogatstvo,[14] and also newspaper reports on the formation of the "Toilers'Popular Socialist Party",and on the meetings of its organising committee, or St. Petersburg Committee, etc.—Lenin

[3] In spite of all their grandiloquent revolutionary phrases.—Lenin

[4] Another instrument for the police protection of proprietors is called the standing army. Peshekhonov writes: "The democratic republic implies ... perhaps, the substitution of the armed nation for the standing army" (No. 8, p. 197). Please, gentlemen, admirers of Lavrov and Mikhailovsky, will you candidly explain what this magnificent "perhaps" means?—Lenin

[5] Narodism (from the word narod—people)—a petty-bourgeois trend in the Russian revolutionary movement, which arose in the sixties and seventies of the nineteenth century. The Narodniks stood for the abolition of the autocracy and the transfer of the landlords' lands to the peasantry. At the same time, they denied that capitalist relations and a proletariat were bound to develop in Russia, and they therefore considered the peasantry to be the main revolutionary force. They regarded the village commune as the embryo of socialism. With the object of rousing the peasantry to struggle against the autocracy, the Narodniks went to the countryside ("among the people"). The Narodniks started out from an erroneous view of the role of the class struggle in historical development, considering that history is made by heroes who ,are followed passively by the mass of the people. In their struggle against tsarism the Narodniks used the tactics of individual terrorism.

In the eighties and nineties the Narodniks began to reconcile themselves to tsarism; they expressed the interests of the kulaks and carried on a relentless struggle against Marxism.

[6] Economism—an opportunist trend in Russian Social-Democracy at the turn of the century, a Russian variety of international opportunism; its organs were the newspaper Rabochaya Mysl (Workers' Thought), 1897-1902, and the magazine Rabocheye Dyelo (The Workers' Cause), 1899-1902. The programme of the Economists whom Lenin called Russian Bernsteinians, was embodied in the so-called Credo, written in 1899 by Y. D. Kuskova.

The Economists restricted the tasks of the working class to the economic struggle for higher wages, better working conditions, etc., asserting that the political struggle was the business of the liberal bourgeoisie. They denied the leading role of the workers' party, which, they considered, should merely observe the spontaneous development of the movement and register events. In their glorifying of "spontaneity" they belittled the importance of revolutionary theory and class-consciousness, declaring that a socialist ideology could arise from the spontaneous workers' movement. By denying the need to imbue the workers' movement with socialist consciousness through the Marxist Party they cleared the way for bourgeois ideology. They defended isolation and amateurishness in the Social-Democratic movement and opposed the creation of a centralised working-class party. Economism threatened to divert the working class from the revolutionary class path and turn it into a political appendage of the bourgeoisie.

Lenin made an extensive criticism of the views of the Economists in his works: "A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats" (which was directed against the Credo and was written during his exile in Siberia in 1899, where it was adopted and signed by seventeen exiled Marxists), "A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy", "Apropos of the profession de foi", "A Talk with Defenders of Economism" (see present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 167-82, 255-85, 286-96, Vol. 5, pp. 313-20). Lenin achieved the ideological rout of Economism in his book What Is To Be Done? (see present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 347-529). A major part in the fight against Economism was played by Lenin's Iskra.

[7] Tag—in—a pseudonym of the Socialist-Revolutionary Maximalist A. G. Troitsky.

[8] Golos (The Voice)—a daily newspaper of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, published in St. Petersburg in April-June 1906.

Dyelo Naroda (People's Cause)—a daily newspaper of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, published in St. Petersburg in May 1906.

[9] V. V. (pseudonym of V. P. Vorontsov) and Nikolai—on (pseudonym of N. F. Danielson) were ideologists of the liberal Narodniks in the eighties and nineties of the last century.

[10] Agrarian Programme of the "104"—the "Draft of Fundamental Principles" of the land law put forward in the First Duma over the signatures of 104 peasant deputies on May 23 (June 5), 1906. The draft put forward demands for: establishment of a nation wide stock of distributable laud formed from state, crown and monastery lands, as well as privately-owned lands, if the estates exceeded the established labour norm; the right to hold land to be given only to those who actually till it. Compensation was envisaged for alienation of privately-owned land. The implementation of the land reform was to be in the hands of local peasant committees elected on a completely democratic basis. For Lenin's account of this plan see p. 469 in the present volume.

[11] Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky—characters in Gogol's comedy The Inspector-General.

[12] Ushakov—one of Zubatov's agents; in the autumn of 1905 he organised the "Independent Social Workers' Party" and published Rabochaya Gazeta (Workers' Gazette) with government money. This party of "independents" tried to combat the Social-Democrats, but met with no success among the workers.

[13] Otkliki Sovremennosti (Contemporary Reactions)—a Menshevik magazine which was published legally in St. Petersburg from March to June 1906. Five issues appeared.

[14] Russkoye Bogatstvo (Russian Wealth)—a monthly magazine published in St. Petersburg from 1876 to the middle of 1918. In the early 1890s it became the organ of the liberal Narodniks. From 1906 it was, in effect, the organ of the semi-Cadet "Popular Socialist" Party.

Published: Proletary, No. 4, September 19, 1906.
Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 197-206.

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