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Two Utopias

V. I. Lenin

Utopia is a Greek word, composed of ou, not, and topos, a place. It means a place which does not exist, a fantasy, invention or fairy-tale.

In politics utopia is a wish that can never come true—neither now nor afterwards, a wish that is not based on social forces and is not supported by the growth and development of political, class forces.

The less freedom there is in a country, the scantier the manifestations of open class struggle an4 the lower the educational level of the masses, the more easily political utopias usually arise and the longer they persist.

In modern Russia, two kinds of political utopia have been most persistent and they exert a certain influence on the masses owing to their appeal. They are the liberal utopia and the Narodnik utopia.

The liberal utopia alleges that one could bring about appreciable improvements in Russia, in her political liberty, and in the condition of the mass of her working people, peacefully and harmoniously, without hurting any one's feelings, without removing the Purishkeviches, with out a ruthless class struggle fought to a finish. It is the utopia of peace between a free Russia and the Purishkeviches.

The Narodnik utopia is a dream of the Narodnik intellectuals and Trudovik peasants who imagine that a new and just division of the land could abolish the power and rule of capital and do away with wage slavery, or that a "just", "equalised" division of the land could be maintained under the domination of capital, under the rule of money, under commodity production.

What is it that gives rise to these utopias? Why do they persist rather strongly in present-day Russia?

They are engendered by the interests of the classes which are waging a struggle against the old order, serfdom, lack of rights—in a word, "against the Purishkeviches", and which do not occupy an independent position in this struggle. Utopia, or day-dreaming, is a product of this lack of independence, this weakness. Day-dreaming is the lot of the weak.

The liberal bourgeoisie in general, and the liberal-bourgeois intelligentsia in particular, cannot but strive for liberty and legality, since without these the domination of the bourgeoisie is incomplete, is neither undivided nor guaranteed. But the bourgeoisie is more afraid of the movement of the masses than of reaction. Hence the striking, incredible weakness of the liberals in politics, their absolute impotence. Hence the endless series of equivocations, falsehoods, hypocrisies and cowardly evasions in the entire policy of the liberals, who have to play at democracy to win the support of the masses but at the same time are deeply anti-democratic, deeply hostile to the movement of the masses, to their initiative, their way of "storming heaven", as Marx once described one of the mass movements in Europe in the last century.[1]

The utopia of liberalism is a utopia of impotence in the matter of the political emancipation of Russia, a utopia of the self-interested moneybags who want "peacefully" to share privileges with the Purishkeviches and pass off this noble desire as the theory of "peaceful" victory for Russian democracy. The liberal utopia means day-dreaming about how to beat the Purishkeviches without defeating them, how to break them without, hurting them. Clearly, this utopia is harmful not only because it is a utopia, but also because it corrupts the democratic consciousness of the masses. If they believe in this utopia, the masses will never win freedom; they are not worthy of freedom; they fully deserve to be maltreated by the Purishkeviches.

The utopia of the Narodniks and Trudoviks is the day dreaming of the petty proprietor, who stands midway between the capitalist and the wage-worker, about abolishing wage slavery without a class struggle. When the issue of economic emancipation becomes as close, immediate and burning for Russia as the issue of political emancipation is today, the utopia of the Narodniks will prove no less harmful than that of the liberals.

But Russia is still in the period of her bourgeois and not proletarian transformation; it is not the question of the economic emancipation of the proletariat that has most completely matured, but the question of political liberty, i.e. (in effect), of complete bourgeois liberty.

And in this latter question, the Narodnik utopia plays a peculiar historical role. Being a utopia in regard to the economic consequences that a new division of the land should (and would) have, it is an accompaniment and symptom of the great, mass democratic upsurge of the peasant masses, i.e., the masses that constitute the majority of the population in bourgeois-feudal, modern, Russia. (In a purely bourgeois Russia, as in purely bourgeois Europe, the peasantry will not form the majority of the population.)

The liberal utopia corrupts the democratic consciousness of the masses. The Narodnik utopia, which corrupts their socialist consciousness, is an accompaniment, a symptom, and in part even an expression of their democratic upsurge.

The dialectics of history is such that the Narodniks and the Trudoviks propose and promote, as an anti-capitalist remedy, a highly consistent and thoroughgoing capitalist measure with regard to the agrarian question in Russia. An "equalised" new division of the land is utopian, yet a most complete rupture—a rupture indispensable for a new division—with the whole of the old landownership, whether landlord, allotment or "crown", is the most necessary, economically progressive and, for a state like Russia, most urgent measure towards bourgeois democracy.

We should remember Engels's notable dictum:

"What formally may be economically incorrect, may all the same be correct from the point of view of world history".[2]

Engels advanced this profound thesis in connection with utopian socialism: that socialism was "fallacious" in the formal economic sense. That socialism was "fallacious" when it declared surplus value an injustice from the point of view of the laws of exchange. The theoreticians of bourgeois political economy were right, in objecting to that socialism, in the formal economic sense, for surplus value results from the laws of exchange quite "naturally", quite "justly".

But utopian socialism was right from the point of view of world history, for it was a symptom, an expression, a harbinger of the class which, born of capitalism, has by now, in the beginning of the twentieth century, become a mass force which can put an end to capitalism and is irresistibly advancing to this goal.

Engels's profound thesis must be borne in mind when appraising the present-day Narodnik or Trudovik utopia in Russia (perhaps not only in Russia but in a number of Asiatic countries going through bourgeois revolutions in the twentieth century).

Narodnik democracy, while fallacious from the formal economic point of view, is correct from the historical point of view; this democracy, while fallacious as a socialist utopia, is correct in terms of the peculiar, historically conditioned democratic struggle of the peasant masses which is an inseparable element of the bourgeois transformation and a condition for its complete victory.

The liberal utopia discourages the peasant masses from fighting. The Narodnik utopia expresses their aspiration to fight, and promises them a million blessings in the event of victory, while this victory will in fact yield them only a hundred blessings. But is it not natural that the millions who are marching to battle, who for ages have lived in unheard-of ignorance, want, poverty, squalor, abandonment and downtroddenness, should magnify tenfold the fruits of an eventual victory?

The liberal utopia is a veil for the self-seeking desire of the new exploiters to share in the privileges of the old exploiters. The Narodnik utopia is an expression of the aspiration of the toiling millions of the petty bourgeoisie to put an end altogether to the old, feudal exploiters, but it also expresses the false hope that the new, capitalist exploiters can be abolished along with them.

Clearly, the Marxists, who are hostile to all and every utopia, must uphold the independence of the class which can fight feudalism with supreme devotion precisely because it is not even one-hundredth part involved in property owner ship which makes the bourgeoisie a half-hearted opponent, and often an ally, of the feudal lords. The peasants are involved in small commodity production; given a favour able conjuncture of historical circumstances, they can achieve the most complete abolition of feudalism, but they will always—inevitably and not accidentally—show a certain vacillation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, between liberalism and Marxism.

Clearly, the Marxists must carefully extract the sound and valuable kernel of the sincere, resolute, militant democracy of the peasant masses from the husk of Narodnik utopias.

In the old Marxist literature of the eighties one can discover systematic effort to extract this valuable democratic kernel. Some day historians will study this effort systematically and trace its connection with what in the first decade of the twentieth century came to be called "Bolshevism".


[1] The expression is taken from the letter appraising the Paris Commune which Karl Marx wrote to L. Kugelmann on April 12, 1871 (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1958, Vol. II, p. 463).

[2] Lenin is quoting from Frederick Engels's preface to the first German edition of Karl Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, pp. 12–13).

Written: Written in October 1912
Published: First published in Zhizn No. 1, 1924. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 355-359.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan

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