VLADIMIR ILYITCH ULIANOV (LENIN), creator of the Bolshevik Party, leader of the Russian Revolution, founder of the Communist International, was born at Simbirsk, on the middle Volga, on April 23rd, 1870. His father, Ilya Ulianov, was an inspector of elementary schools; his mother was called Maria Blank. All their children were revolutionaries.
Lenin, the second son, at the age of seventeen learned that his brother Alexander Ulianov had been arrested in St. Petersburg, charged with a conspiracy to assassinate Tsar Alexander III, and executed.
At, or near, Kazan, on the Volga, Lenin studied law and took his degree. At Kazan he studied something else—the writings of the founders of scientific Socialism, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and attained a rare mastery of their teachings. Thus equipped, after some little practice of law on the Volga, he went in 1893 to St. Petersburg, where he joined in the circles of Social-Democrats there, and from the beginning took an active and leading part. It was under the stimulus of his ardour and grasp of Socialism that in 1896 the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was formed. It was at his instance that the young Socialist intellectuals not only explained the teachings of Marx and Engels, but plunged into agitation.
The workers in a factory were discontented. Why? Theirs might seem a relatively small complaint: they had not, in the Russian winter, any facilities for hot water at this factory. Lenin, whose vision already extended to the future of the human race, set himself to draft a leaflet expressing this need and demand for hot water. It was the same thing as well-intentioned middle-class people in England were doing: and yet, it was not the same thing. For this Archimedes, who saw in the worker the man of the future, was feeling for the fulcrum whereby to shift the world.
Revolutionary work was bound up with a thousand such simple welfare measures as these—ordinary economic demands.
But there were some who thought that all the workers had to do was to stick to their economic demands. Politics was a matter not for the lower classes, but for “their betters.” Therefore they denied the need for an independent workers’ party in Russia, at the very same time as many of the trade union leaders in Britain, themselves Liberals, were against an independent Labour standpoint. They opposed the revolutionary struggle of the working class for the overthrow of Tsardom. They preached “pure and simple” trade unionism. Let the Liberal capitalists take the Labour movement under its wing as regards politics. Economic demands were enough for the workers. The system of such a way of thinking came to be called “Economism.” Against this Lenin fought as vigorously as he had combated the Narodniki.
Some others who had also argued against the Narodniki’s dream of a jump from peasant petty production to “peasant Socialism” carried their argument to the point of becoming advocates of capitalism. Of these the best known was Peter Struve. He claimed at that time to be a Socialist; but in fact he represented the Liberal capitalists. The capitalists at this time were trying to make their weight felt, and were ready to make play with the powerful engine of thought called Marxism against the reactionary-romantic attitude of the Narodniki, which damned capitalism and all its works and hoped it would never take root in Russia. Peter Struve,1 on the other hand, tended to praise capitalism and all its works; and he, with his followers, received the name of Legal Marxists. With them the revolutionary Socialists (the Social-Democrats) had been in alliance, as against the Narodniki, but the alliance was short-lived, and changed into struggle against Legal Marxism. Lenin, even while the alliance subsisted, had severely criticised the standpoint of Struve.
Thus, in the tremendous task of carrying on the workers’ struggle under the police repression of Tsardom, there was added, thus early, the burden of struggle against false and misleading policies within the working-class movement. After a severe illness in the spring of 1895, Lenin went abroad for four months, made the acquaintance of the exiled leaders of the Emancipation of Labour Group, and stimulated them to new publishing activities. He studied the Socialist movement as it existed then in Western Europe, visited Germany, Switzerland, and France, where, in Paris, he met Laura, the daughter of Karl Marx, and her husband Paul Lafargue.
In December 1895, Lenin was arrested (for being a Socialist), imprisoned for fourteen months, and then, in February 1897, exiled to Siberia. Siberia, to Western ears, had, up to 1914, only one meaning. It was a place of exile. From the year of the Dekabrist rising up to 1885, 773,000 persons had been exiled to Siberia: and long before 1825 the tale of the Siberian exiles had been known in Western Europe, as witness Macaulay’s famous reference to the journey of Elizabeth from Tobolsk to Moscow in the book The Exiles of Siberia. Many friends of Pushkin were sent there. Several of the best-known Russian authors were exiled there, notably Chernishevsky, the revolutionary-democratic writer who was flung out into the icy wastes of the far north-east. Like his predecessors, and like nearly all the outstanding revolutionaries up to 1917, Lenin had also to undergo exile. The official document has been preserved, and runs as follows:
“The Police Department informs Vladimir Ilyitch Ulianov, junior barrister, that, in accordance with His Majesty’s order of January 29th, 1897, resulting from his conviction of a crime against the State, he, Ulianov, is to be exiled to Eastern Siberia, under police surveillance, for a period of three years, until January 29th, 1900.”
In Siberia, near Minussinsk, on the upper waters of the great River Yenisei, Lenin spent his years of exile, studying, working (together with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, he translated the Webbs’ History of Trade Unionism), analysing the lessons of the past, planning for the future.
After his term in Siberia, Lenin went abroad, where he was to spend the rest of his life up to the Revolution of 1905, a period of five and a half years, and then, after a short interval, up to the Revolution of 1917. He lived in Germany, in Switzerland, in France, in England,2 and in what was then Austrian Galicia. He worked ceaselessly. His work and his life, the creation of the party, the preparation for revolution, are so bound up together that it is impossible to separate them.
To the party we must now, therefore, turn.
The name “Bolshevik” was born in London. Its birthplace was a historic accident in the summer of 1903, a congress of the Russian Social-Democrats, begun in Brussels was, owing to police interference, transferred to the capital of the British Empire. The Congress lasted three weeks or more. During its sessions, the main questions of the Russian revolution were thrashed out. In the divisions of opinion, those who supported the standpoint of Lenin were in a majority. They came to be called the “Bolsheviki” for the simple reason that the Russian word for majority is bolshinstvo, and “Bolsheviki” literally means majorityites, or, as the French say, majoritaires. Similarly, the minority came to be called “Mensheviki,” from the Russian word menshinsivo, meaning minority.
At this Congress, then, Bolshevism emerged as a trend of political thought. The understanding of its origin and development is the clue to the history of the Russian Revolution.
How did Bolshevism arise?
Lenin, nearly seventeen years later, in his “Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Ailment, gives the following account:
“Bolshevism arose in 1903 on the very firm foundation of Marxian theory. And the correctness of this—and only this—revolutionary theory has been proved not only by the experience of all countries during the entire nineteenth century, but particularly by the experience of the wanderings and vacillations, the mistakes and disappointments of revolutionary thought in Russia. For almost half a century—approximately between the forties and nineties of last century—advanced thinkers in Russia, under the oppression of an unprecedented, savage, and reactionary Tsarism, sought eagerly for the correct revolutionary theory, following each and every ‘last word’ in Europe and America in this sphere with astonishing diligence and thoroughness. Russia achieved Marxism as the only correct revolutionary theory, virtually through suffering, by half a century of unprecedented torment and sacrifice, of unprecedented revolutionary heroism, incredible energy, devoted searching, study, testing in practice, disappointments, checking, and comparison with European experience.”
The bearers of the Marxian theory had for many years taken the name of Social-Democrats. From the time, in 1883, when the first group of Russian Social-Democrats was formed, it took the most part of twenty years of struggle to form the Social-Democratic Labour Party. There was, first of all, a long gestation period of ten years when there was as yet no Labour movement in Russia, though the labourers were not seldom out on strike. This was the period of the rise and consolidation of the theory and the programme of Social-Democracy.
Then in the years 1894 to 1898 Social-Democracy appeared as a social movement, a rising of the masses of the people and as a political party. This was the period of childhood and adolescence. At the end of this period, in 1898, a Congress of Social-Democrats in Minsk (now capital of Byelorussia) formed the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. But as all the participants in the Congress were immediately arrested by the police, who at the time raided every active centre, the newly formed party organisation was annihilated.
From 1897 onwards had come a stage of confusion, disintegration, wavering. The great strikes of 1895-6 had brought the close attentions of the police upon the Social-Democrats, and especially upon the “St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class” and similar leagues in a dozen other cities of Russia. The revolutionary Marxists were hunted out and sent to prison and Siberia. The adherents of “Economism” were, therefore, left in a favourable position for the spread of their doctrines. Their credo was spread widely: and the refutation of it by Lenin had to come from remote Siberia. Hence the confusion period lasted on for a couple of years.
Out of the struggles of these closing years of the nineteenth century there came full clarity with what Soviet historians call “The Iskra Period.” Iskra (the Russian word meaning “spark”) was the name of the newspaper issued in Switzerland and in London from the end of 1900 to 1903, under the editorship mainly of Lenin. Iskra, in its opening declaration by Lenin, set itself the goal of bringing about unity of ideas amongst Russian Social-Democrats as the preliminary to effective organisation. “Before we can unite,” wrote Lenin, “and in order that we may unite, we must first of all firmly and definitely draw the lines of demarcation.” Iskra was to be fully Marxist: and it waged a consistent struggle against all the lukewarm “revised versions” of Marxism then current both in Russia and in the rest of Europe. Iskra also gathered together the Social-Democratic groups inside Russia and guided the organisation of the Second Congress of the party. It was at this Second Congress in the summer of 1903 in London that the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party was constituted, and its programme adopted. It was also at this Congress and as a result of its discussions that the Bolsheviks got their name and Bolshevism was born. Open and clear struggle for the revolutionary theory and practice of Marxism, of scientific Socialism, as first taught by Marx and Engels: open, straightforward fight against all distortions, wavering, back-sliding, all that would weaken or defeat the advance of the working class; this had characterised Iskra and the earlier writings and activities of Lenin, this was to characterise the Bolsheviks thenceforward. The details of those struggles are of the greatest interest to the student. Without an understanding of them there is no understanding of the revolution. Here it is only possible to present these struggles (including those immediately before and after the 1903 Congress) in the very broadest outline.
The first struggle was against the Narodniki. It was against the confusion of petty-bourgeois democracy with Socialism. The point on which the controversy turned in 1894, when Lenin wrote his famous pamphlet Who are These “Friends of the People?” was whether or not capitalism was likely to develop in Russia—that is, whether Socialism was likely to come through class struggles within a developed capitalist society. To-day the question seems to us incredible, but it is incredible to us largely because of the struggle that took place then, largely because Lenin, in his History of the Development of Capitalism in Russia, a work of immense scholarship and grasp of economic theory, completed by him in his Siberian banishment, disposed for ever of the Narodnik Economic theory.
The second was the struggle against opportunism, which from this London Congress of 1903 was to assume the form of Menshevism. This was in no sense a purely Russian question. It came to be of international extent. It covered a whole epoch of history. Representing essentially the influence exerted upon the working-class movement by other classes, especially by the bourgeoisie, it had been seen in germ from 1870 onwards, and had been criticised by Marx and by Engels. After the death of Engels in 1895, opportunism received its theoretic “justification” from the publications of the German, Eduard Bernstein. The struggle between Bolshevism and Menshevism was the struggle between two tendencies in the international Socialist movement, between revolutionary Socialism and opportunist Socialism.
How did opportunist Socialism originate? Lenin, writing in 1913 on The Historical Destiny of the Teaching of Karl Marx (the main thing in the teaching is “the elucidation of the world-wide historical rôle of the proletariat as the builder of a Socialist society”), divided world history into three main periods since the Communist Manifesto of 1848, to wit: from the 1848 Revolution to the Paris Commune of 1871; from the Paris Commune to the Russian Revolution of 1905; from 1905 onwards. In the first period Marx’s teaching was only one of many streams or fractions in Socialism and only at the end of this period of storm and revolution does pre-Marxian Socialism expire. “The second period (1872-1904.),” he wrote, “is distinguished from the first by its ‘peaceful’ character, by the absence of revolutions. . . . The West enters into a phase of ‘peaceful’ preparation for the epoch of future transformations. . . . The teaching of Marx gains a complete victory. . . . The theoretical victory of Marxism forces its enemies to disguise themselves as Marxists. Liberalism, rotten to the core, tries to revive itself in the form of Socialist opportunism.” He goes on to say: “The period of preparation of the forces for great battles is interpreted by them as the renunciation of these battles. Improvements in the position of the slaves, enabling them to carry on a fight against wage-slavery, is explained by them in the sense that the slaves are selling their liberty rights for a penny. In a cowardly fashion they preach “social peace” (i.e. peace with slave-ownership), renunciation of the class struggle, etc. They have many adherents among Socialist parliamentarians, the various officials in the Labour movement, and the “sympathising intellectuals.”
From the late nineties onwards, the struggle developed inside the Second International (founded in 1889 on the basis of Marx’s teachings) and within the parties of the Second International. The Bolsheviks played their part in this struggle, both nationally and internationally, from 1903 onwards. Indeed, within Russia the issues had been joined several years earlier. Lenin, dealing in 190’7 with the struggle during the preceding dozen years in Russian Social-Democracy, concluded that “Legal Marxism,” “Economism,” “Menshevism,” were different manifestations of the same historic tendency.
“The ‘Legal Marxism’ of Struve (1894), and the like, was the reflection of Marxism in bourgeois literature. ‘Economism’ as a distinct tendency in the Social Democratic movement in 1897 and the following years, in reality put into practice the programme of the bourgeois-liberal credo: economic struggle for the workers-political struggle for the Liberals. ‘Menshevism’ is not merely a tendency in literature, not merely a tendency in Social-Democratic work; it is an organised faction which, during the first period of the Russian Revolution (1905-1907), pursued a distinct policy which virtually subordinated the proletariat to bourgeois liberalism.”
The main question in which this subordination of the proletariat appeared was the prerequisites and perspectives of the revolution. The prerequisites had already been part of the controversy with the Narodniki, both as regards the social and economic conditions of Russia and the fight for the recognition of the worker as the man of the future; the working class as the class which would lead all the others, or, as the scientific description runs, the fight for the hegemony of the proletariat. The new question which arose in the acutest way at and after this 1903 London Congress was twofold: first, the question of the character of the revolution and its driving-forces, and, secondly, the fight for a party which, in its tactics, organisation, and programme, would be capable of carrying through the revolution.
First let us take the question of the character and driving-forces of the revolution then approaching, the Revolution of 1905. A clear distinction has to be drawer between two kinds of revolution—the one, the bourgeois revolution against feudalism or medievalism; the other, the proletarian revolution against capitalism or imperialism. We may find examples of both in the history of France. The great French Revolution of 1789 onwards was an example of the first kind—the bourgeois type of revolution. The Paris Commune of 1871 was an example of the second type of revolution.
This distinction was already clear to most of those present at this London Congress in 1903. They knew the historic distinction which put in one class the English Puritan Revolution of the mid-seventeenth century, the American Revolution of 1776 onwards, the great French Revolution of 1789, and the successive similar bourgeois revolutions that occurred right through the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth. They knew, too, that in those countries where the bourgeois revolution had already been carried through (e.g. America, France, England), the prospect that confronted the proletariat and the masses of the people was a proletarian Socialist revolution.
But the problem for Russia, as for other countries, was that since the revolutions of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth there had come into existence a new class, the proletariat. What part was this class to play in a revolution which in its content, by common agreement, would be bourgeois-democratic? With sterile dogmatism, those who were afterwards to be known as the “Mensheviks” reached the conclusion that if the content was bourgeois-democratic, then the leading driving-force must be the bourgeoisie. That is to say, the Russian capitalists must lead, and the Russian proletariat must give their support in the struggle to abolish Tsardom and to end the survivals of medievalism.
The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, said that it was necessary for the proletariat, as the only class revolutionary to the end, to lead the masses of the Russian people in the struggle against absolutism. Though it would not be the proletarian Socialist revolution, nevertheless the proletariat alone could lead this revolutionary fight for freedom. Why? Because the development of capitalism, the development of the capitalist class in struggle with the working class, meant that the Russian capitalists would compromise with Tsardom in their fear that “the revolution would go too far,” and therefore that in fact the revolution would be defeated.
The Menshevik argument then went that even on the assumption that the proletariat must lead, it should lead in conjunction with the bourgeoisie in order to have all enlightened forces arrayed against Tsardom: for Tsardom would be backed not only by the landlords, but also by the masses of ignorant and backward peasantry.
The Bolsheviks denied this, and answered: It is precisely the ignorant and backward peasantry who, because of their terrible conditions, extreme exploitation, age-long misery, can become allies of the proletariat led by the proletariat. The proletariat as the leading driving force, united with the vast masses of peasantry, can crush the resistance of the autocracy and neutralise this compromising bourgeoisie.
From this it can be seen that the debate of these three weeks in London and after, summing up a debate that had gone on for years in the underground organisations, was concerned with the highest question of strategy; and the strategy of revolution is much more complex and more dynamic than the strategy of military or naval war. Even in the extremely simplified presentation given above, it should be clear that the strategy of revolution compared to the strategy of ordinary warfare is as mathematics compared to arithmetic.
Consequent on this main question was the question of the party. Lenin had already, as the result of his experiences of the struggle of the nineties, demanded in his writings in the Iskra and in his manual of revolution, What Is To Be Done, the building of a party of professional revolutionaries:
“I used to work in a circle that set itself great and all-embracing tasks; and every member of that circle suffered to the point of torture from the realisation that we were proving ourselves to be amateurs at a moment in history when we might have been able to say, paraphrasing a well-known epigram: ‘Give us an organisation of revolutionaries and we shall overturn the whole of Russia!’ And the more I recall the burning sense of shame I then experienced, the more bitter are my feelings towards those pseudo-Social-Democrats whose teachings bring disgrace on the calling of a revolutionary, who fail to understand that our task is not to degrade the revolutionaries to the level of an amateur, but to exalt the amateur to the level of a revolutionary.”
Naturally this was not a question of the same urgency for those whose policy “virtually subordinated the proletariat to bourgeois liberalism.” For subordinates in a revolution do not have the responsibility of leadership, and have not, therefore, the same concern in the creation of a vanguard party of a particular quality, capable of carrying through the revolution.
Actually, it was on this question of the party, and particularly the organisational structure of the party, that Bolsheviks split from Mensheviks. The membership rule, as proposed by Lenin, ran as follows: “A member of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party is one who recognises its programme and supports it materially as well as by personal participation in one of the organisations of the party.” For the phrase italicised, Martov, supported by Trotsky, proposed an amendment which would have opened the door to all elements of confusion, wavering, opportunism. It would have made all and sundry members of the party, so that it would have been difficult to distinguish the doers from the talkers. “Our task,” said Lenin in his reply to Martov and Trotsky, “is to safeguard the consistency, the steadfastness, the purity of our party. We must strive to raise the calling and significance of a party member higher, higher, and still higher—and that is why I am opposed to Martov’s. formula” (speech of August 15th, 1903).
Within a few months after this 1903 Congress, the Menshevik splitters were doing their utmost to nullify the main decisions of the Congress, and had plunged into a fierce faction fight against the Bolsheviks. Lenin in January 1904 had to draft an open letter to the members of the party which posed the question whether it was to be a real party or a mere clique, and ended with sharp denunciation of the minority in the words:
“ Down with disrupters!
“Long live the party of the proletariat, the party that is able in practice to obey the decisions of the party Congress and to respect party discipline and organisation!
“Down with pharisaic talk!”
The third struggle was against what may best be described by the somewhat cumbrous name of petty-bourgeois revolutionariness. This petty-bourgeois revolutionariness borrows something from anarchism, and has as its basis, not the proletariat, but the small proprietor and his like in capitalist countries.
Lenin very clearly defined this petty-bourgeois revolutionariness, this other enemy of Bolshevism inside the working-class movement.
“ For Marxians,” he wrote, “it is well-established theoretically—and the experience of all European revolutions and revolutionary movements fully confirms—that the small owner (the social type which, in many European countries, is very numerous and widespread), who, under capitalism, is constantly oppressed and suffering, and whose conditions of life often take a sharp and rapid turn for the worse, moves easily when faced with ruin to extreme revolutionism, but is incapable of displaying consistency, organisation, discipline, and firmness. The petty-bourgeois, ‘ gone mad’ from the horrors of capitalism, is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries. The weakness of such revolutionism, its futility, its liability swiftly to transform itself into obedience, apathy, phantasy, and even into a ‘mad’ infatuation with some bourgeois ‘fashionable’ tendency—all this is a matter of common knowledge. But a mere recognition in the abstract, a theoretical recognition of these truths, does not at all free revolutionary parties from old mistakes which always appear unexpectedly in a somewhat new form, in new trappings, in more or less original surroundings. . . .
“Anarchism was often a kind of punishment for the opportunist sins of the working-class movement. Anarchism and opportunism were two deformities, one complementary to the other” (“Left-Wing” Communism).
The Bolsheviks took over the struggle against the party which, more than any other, expressed the tendencies of petty-bourgeois revolutionariness, namely, the Socialist Revolutionary Party of Russia—descendants of the Narodniki. It was this party, commonly called the S.R.s, which rejected Marxism and therefore took no trouble to make a scientific estimate of the class forces, who were deaf to the old words of wisdom, “Look before you leap.” It was this party which practised individual terror and attempts at assassination which the Marxists, on the grounds of expediency, had rejected.
In an article appearing in Iskra in 1902, Lenin wrote:
“The Social-Revolutionaries have included terrorism in their programme, preaching it in its modern form as a method of political struggle, and have thus done the most serious harm to the movement by destroying the indissoluble connection between Socialist work and the mass of the revolutionary class. No verbal assurances or invocations can disprove the unquestionable fact that modern terrorism as it is practised and preached by the Social-Revolutionaries is not in any way linked with work among the masses, for the masses, and together with the masses; that the organisation of terroristic acts by the party distracts the very scanty organisational forces we have from their difficult and by no means completed task of organising a revolutionary workers’ party; that in practice the terrorism of the Socialist-Revolutionaries is nothing more than fighting in single combat, the sort of fighting that has been wholly condemned by the experience of history.”
But the tendency towards petty-bourgeois revolutionariness was not limited to this particular party; it was to emerge, from time to time, within the organisations calling themselves Marxist. The peculiarity of the struggle after this 1903 London Congress was that in the ranks of the Mensheviks there were found some who were afterwards to be characterised as the “Left,”3 and who were always capable, like Trotsky, of finding leftist phrases to defend an opportunist position. As early as 1904 Lenin began to use the term “Balalaykin”—the type of artful twaddling lawyer in the satires of Saltykov-Shredin—to describe Trotsky and his phrase-mongering.
Thus, outside the ranks of the Social-Democrats, petty-bourgeois semi-anarchist revolutionariness appeared chiefly in the S.R. Party. Inside the ranks of the Social-Democrats it appeared, to begin with, as a variety of Menshevism.
Up till 1917, the movements, controversies, and personalities just described remained largely unknown to English readers. They were “underground” movements. The “old mole” of revolution was working in the earth fast enough; but there was little visible. Nevertheless, the Russian Revolution, in many of its aspects, was clearly mirrored to the West by three great writers—Tolstoi, Chekhov, and Gorky. From these it was possible to behold, not only proletariat and peasantry, but intellectuals and bourgeoisie, together with Poles, Finns, and other subject nationalities, all expecting the coming of revolution as the only way out of the prison of people that was called the Russian Empire.
Count Leo Tolstoi (1828-1910), one of the greatest figures of world literature, was born into the class of serf-owning landlords, into the world of the isolated Russian village. His adult life witnessed the dissolution of that village world under the impact of capitalism. His writings are an imperishable record of the misery, poverty, and helpless anger of the peasantry, a trumpet-tongued protest against their oppression. Yet at the same time he remains the aristocratic landlord who neither sees, nor even wishes to see, the way out of that misery through class struggle and revolution, but seeks out of the traditional past to find a solution and a method. Therefore, Tolstoi presents a contradiction. But this contradiction itself mirrors the confused and contradictory life of Russia, especially of the peasantry, in the epoch from the reform of 1861 up to 1904. Tolstoi carries on his remarkable fearless protest against the social lies and insincerity of the Tsardom, a voice of health against social decay; and at the same time, in a kind of intellectual hysteria, beats his breast and declares: I am wicked; I will mortify the flesh; I will eat no more meats. The fierce critic of capitalist exploitation, of the farce of justice, of the brutality of the Government, the man who challenged this growth of riches together with poverty and degradation and torture of the masses, at the same time gave out the slogan, “Resist not evil.” He penetrates below the shams of social life with the most sober realism, laying facts bare; and at the same time offers the solution of a new purified religion which could only end in paralysing the revolutionary activity of the peasants.
But here Tolstoi faithfully expressed the contemporary peasantry of Russia. Without any love of social science he exhibits the peculiarity of the bourgeois democratic revolution maturing in Tsarist Russia as a Peasants’ democratic revolution. For a whole generation and more the peasants dreamed as Tolstoi dreamed. Naïvely they hoped for the ending of the oppression by the landlords, Tsarist officials, capitalists, moneylenders. They thought of a peasants’ Socialism which, because the peasantry are a class deriving from the feudal era, approached in some of its aspect to the feudal Socialism described by Marx and Engels in the 1848 Manifesto of the Communist Party.
“Feudal Socialism,” wrote Marx and Engels, “half lamentation, half lampoon; half echo of the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty, and incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart’s core, but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history. . . .”
But the biting words of the same Manifesto, on Christian Socialism, still more closely apply to Tolstoi’s outlook.
“Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a Socialist tinge. Has not Christianity declaimed against private property, against marriage, against the State? Has it not preached, in place of this, charity and poverty, celibacy and mortification of the flesh, monastic life and Mother Church? Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat” (Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1847-8). In another aspect, Tolstoi and that peasantry whom he mirrored represented that critical Utopian Socialism which, while it most valuably criticises existing society, and has therefore the most enlightening effect on the working class and on the masses, inculcates universal ascetism and social levelling in its crudest form. To this end, it rejects all political and especially all revolutionary action.
“They wish to attain their ends,” wrote Marx and Engels, “by peaceful means, and endeavour, by small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure, and by the force of example, to pave the way for the new social gospel” (Manifesto of the Communist Party).
We shall see that the significance of this fantastic aloofness from the political struggle, mirrored in the actions of the peasantry, lasted only until, the Revolution of 1905. Thereafter, the epoch mirrored by Tolstoi had come to an end and a new stage was to begin.
What Tolstoi was able to do for the peasantry and for the whole of Russian life, Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) did for the middle classes. Chekhov, a doctor by profession, son of a small trader and grandson of a serf, was in his origin typical of the classes whose features he portrayed and typical also in his atmosphere of pessimism. He is at once more restricted and more widespread than Tolstoi. Tolstoi portrays on his gigantic canvas a scene which is specifically Russian, or, at any rate, East European and Asiatic, a scene reproducible in the Balkans and in every country in which society after centuries of medievalism is buffeted and shaken by the impact of capitalism. Chekhov, without himself necessarily knowing it, portrayed something common to the whole of Europe and America when he describes the middle classes, and especially the intelligentsia, that section whose culture, artistic or scientific, enables them only to put their talents at the service of the ruling class, whichever it may be, and in whom any awakening to the condition of society is accompanied by an agony of helplessness.
With remarkable insight and correctitude, Bernard Shaw described his war-time play, Heartbreak House, as “an English phantasia on a Russian theme.” Just as Shaw in this Heartbreak House, his bitterest and in some ways his deepest play, describes the world of the middleclass intelligentsia of which he is himself a part, so, too, Chekhov described the world to which he belongs.
Though Chekhov resigned in indignant protest from the Russian Academy when Tsar Nicholas II cancelled the election of Maxim Gorky to it in 1901, and in other ways showed himself as a humane spirit, he, like the intelligentsia he portrays, remained only a passenger on the vessel.
The last of this great trio, Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), is at once valid for the Russian scene, like Tolstoi, and for the international arena, like Chekhov. In his earlier writings, from 1892 onwards, he portrays chiefly, not the working class, but that semi-proletariat which, though existing in other countries, was a specific feature of the development of capitalism in Tsarist Russia. The millions of landless, or practically landless, peasants roaming about the countryside, moving north and south with the change of seasons like migratory fowls, turning from this job to that, a semi-proletariat, was a feature described by Lenin in his History of the Development of Capitalism in Russia. The early Gorky might serve as a documentation of these pages of Lenin. But with the development of the working-class struggles Gorky develops. At first a rebel against society, he becomes, in his The Stormy Petrel in 1901, the year of his first imprisonment, a revolutionary; in 1905 completed the process of development. In his unforgettable Mother, and thereafter to the end of his life, Gorky portrays the life strivings of that Russian working class, brother to the working class in each country. He becomes a member of the Bolshevik Party and a figure of world literature, and at the same time the foremost representative in the world of the revolutionary literature of the working class of all countries.
1. Peter Struve later became a Liberal; then, before 1914, became leader of the Right Wing of the Liberals; after 1917 a counter-revolutionary “minister” of the monarchists in the Civil War; and is now an émigré, still writing against Lenin in a magazine published under the wing of London University.
2. Lenin came to London in April 1902. He spent much of his time in the Reading Room of the British Museum. In her memoirs, his wife tells how Lenin also studied living London: “He loved going long rides about the town, on top of an omnibus. He liked the movement of this huge commercial city. The quiet squares, the detached houses with their separate entrances and shining windows adorned with greenery, the drives frequented only by highly polished broughams were much in evidence—but, tucked away near by, the mean little streets inhabited by the London working people, where lines of washing hung across the street and pale children played in the gutter—these sights could not be seen from the bus-top. In such districts we went on foot, and, observing these howling contrasts in richness and poverty, Ilyitch would mutter through clenched teeth and in English: ‘Two nations!’”—Memories of Lenin, by N. Krupskaya (Martin Lawrence, 1930).
3. Inside the Social-Democratic parties of Europe, the Right or Right-Wing signified the opportunists and the Left the revolutionary Socialists. In addition, the semi-anarchists were placed in quotation marks as “Left” and the same notation was used for those who use revolutionary phrases to justify a Right-Wing policy. In the Second International and after, the Bolsheviks regarded themselves as the true Left.
Next: III. The Revolution of 1905