V. I.   Lenin

The Narodnik-Like Bourgeoisie and Distraught Narodism

Written: November 5 (18), 1903
Published: First published in December 1, 1903 in Iskra, No. 54, signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, publisher??, pubdate??, Moscow, Volume 7, pages 104-112.
Translated: Fineberg Abraham
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) © 2002 Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
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Russian Marxists have long been pointing to the degeneration of the old, classical, revolutionary Russian Narodism that has been going on steadily since the eighties. Faith declined in a special system of peasant economy, in the village commune as the germ and basis of socialism, in the possibility of avoiding the path of capitalism by an immediate social revolution, for which the people were supposed to be already prepared. The demands for all kinds of measures to bolster up peasant economy and “small people’s production” in general were the only ones to retain any political significance. Essentially, this was already nothing but bourgeois reformism; Narodism melted into lib eralism; a liberal-Narodnik trend arose that would not or could not see that the measures envisaged (credits, co operative societies, land improvement, enlargement of land holdings, and all the rest) did not go beyond the framework of existing bourgeois society. The Narodnik theories of Mr. V. V., Mr. Nikolai on[2] and their numerous echoers only served as a quasi-scientific cloak for this unpleasant but indubitable fact. Marxist criticism tore off this cloak, and the influence of Narodnik ideas on Russian revo lutionary circles began to ebb with. amazing rapidity. These ideas were already becoming in fact the exclusive pos session of the stratum to which they were kin in spirit— Russian liberal “society”.

West-European Bernsteinism was a new current that strengthened and at the same time modified the above- mentioned trend. There is truth, it seems, in the saying that a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country”.   Bernstein had no luck in his own country, but, on the other hand, his ideas were “taken seriously” and applied in practice by certain socialists in France, Italy and Russia, who rapid ly evolved into exponents of bourgeois reformism. Fructi fied by these ideas, our liberal-Narodnik trend acquired new followers of the ex-Marxist variety and at the same time matured inwardly, discarding certain primitive illusions and reactionary accretions. Bernsteinism served its pur pose—not by transforming socialism, but by giving artic ulation to the new phase of bourgeois liberalism and removing the socialist mask from certain quasi-social ists.

A highly interesting and instructive example of the mingling and fusion of European opportunist and Russian Narodnik ideas is to be found in Mr. L. ’s article “The Agrarian Question” in No. 9 (33) of Osvobozhdeniye. This is a truly programmatic article; it diligently sets forth the general credo of the author and systematically applies it to a defVhite sphere of problems. This article will become a landmark in the history of Russian liberalism, denoting a big step forward in its shaping and consolidation.

The author dresses his bourgeois liberalism in a coat cut according to the latest fashion. Repeating Bern stein almost word for word, he tries with an amusing earnestness to persuade the reader that “liberalism and socialism can by no means be separated from each other, let alone contrasted to each other: they are identical and inseparable in their fundamental ideal. Socialism offers no menace to liberalism, as many fear; it comes not to destroy, but to fulfil the commandments of liberalism." The wish, as we know, is father to the thought; and Mr. L. and his like would very much wish the Social-Democrats not to separate themselves from the liberals, and to have them understand socialism “not as ready-made dogmas and petri fied doctrines claiming to take account in advance of the whole course of historical development” (and so on, quite in the spirit of Revolutsionnaya Rossiya), but “as a general ethical ideal” (which, as we know, all philistines, the lib erals included, regard as unrealisable in this earthly vale and as belonging to the realm of the hereafter and of “things in-themselves").

The liberals, naturally, want—excuse the vulgarism!— to show off their wares to the best advantage, to identify political liberalism in Russia with social-economic democracy. It is a very “well-meaning” idea, but at the same time very muddled and very artful. Well-meaning because it ex presses the kind intention of a certain section of the lib erals to work for broad social reforms. Muddled, because it is based on contrasting democratic to bourgeois liberal ism (again quite in the spirit of Revolutsionnaya Rossiga!); the author apparently has no inkling of the fact that in any capitalist society there are bound to be some bour geois-democratic elements who stand for broad democratic and social-economic reforms; like all the Russian Millerands,[3] he would like to identify bourgeois reformism with socialism, understood, of course, “not as ready-made dogmas”, etc. Lastly, it is a very artful idea because the author assures himself and others that the sympathy with reform—"concern for the needs and interests of the people, ’Narodism’ in the true and fine ethical sense of the term — which is entertained by a certain section of the liberals a certain historical moment is, or could be, a permanent attribute of liberalism as such. That is so naYve as almost to be touching. Who does not know that every bourgeois ex-goverument, every “His Majesty’s Opposition” always clamours about its true, fine and ethical “Narodism"—as long as it remains in opposition? The Russian bourgeoisie plays at Narodism (and sometimes sincerely) just because it is in opposition, and not yet at the helm of state. The Russian proletariat’s reply to the artful blandishments of the Osvobozhdeniye gentry will be: “Pas si bite, messieurs! We are not such fools, gentlemen, as to believe that."

From these general arguments as to the identity of liberalism and socialism, Mr. L. passes to the general theory of the agrarian question. In a matter of a dozen lines he demolishes Marxism (once again in the spirit of Revo lutsionnaya Rossiya), presenting it for this purpose, as is customary, in a vulgarly simplified form and proclaiming it to be contrary to experience, scientifically unproved, and generally false! It is highly characteristic that the only confirmation he adduces is a reference to European socialist (his own italics) literature— Bernsteinian, evidently.   A very convincing reference. If European (Euro pean!) socialists are beginning to think and argue like bourgeois, why should not Russian bourgeois proclaim them selves both Narodniks and socialists? If the Marxist view of the peasant question “were incontestable and the only possible one, it would," Mr. L. assures us, “place all of Zemstvo [sic!] Russia in a terrible, a tragic position and doom it to inaction, in view of the demonstrated impossibil ity of a progressive agrarian policy and of rational and effective aid to peasant economy in general." The argument, as you see, is unanswerable: because Marxism demonstrates the impossibility under capitalism of any degree of lasting prosperity for at all broad sections of the peasantry, it the relore places “Zemstvo” (a slip of the pen for “land owning"?) Russia—the Russia, that is, that lives by ruining and proletarising the peasantry—in a terrible, a tragic position. Why, yes, that is one of the historic services of Marxism: it has once and for all placed in a terrible, a tragicomic position—the ideologists of the bourgeoisie who deck themselves in the toga of Narodism, social-economic democracy, etc.

To finish with Mr. L. ’s theoretical exercises we have now only to quote the following gem. “Here” (in agri culture), we are told, “there is not and cannot be that auto matic I! I progress which is to a certain extent possible in industry, depending on the objective [LI development of technology." This inimitable profundity has been borrowed in its entirety from Messieurs the Kablukovs, Bulgakovs, E. Davids and tutti quanti, who in their “learned” works justify the backwardness of their own ideas by the tech nical, economic and social backwardness of agriculture. The backwardness of agriculture is indubitable, it has long been recognised by Marxists and is fully explainable; but as for this “automatic [if only to a certain extent I progress in industry”, and the objective development of technol ogy—it is just sheer gibberish.

However, excursions into the realm of science are no more than an architectural ornament to Mr. L.’s article. True practical politician that he is, he offers us, along with sheer muddle-headedness in general reasoning, an extremely sober and business-like practical programme. True,   he makes the modest reservation—in his stilted official Russian—that he disclaims all intention of adumbrating a programme and confines himself to intimating his atti tude—but that is just his modesty. Actually, we have in Mr. L. ’s article a very complete and detailed agrarian pro gramme for the Russian liberals, which only lacks stylistic editing and paragraphing by clauses. It is a programme in a consistent liberal spirit: political liberty, democratic tax reform, freedom of movement, a peasant democratic agrarian policy aiming at the democratisation of landownership. With a view to this democratisation, it demands freedom to leave the village commune, the conversion of the latter from a compulsory into a voluntary association similar to any economic association, and democratic rent laws. The state” should facilitate “the transfer ·of land to the Ia bouring masses” by means of a number of measures, namely: extension of the activities of the Peasant Bank, conversion of the royal demesne into state demesne, “the creation of small farms, individual or co-operative, not using hired labour”, and, lastly, compulsory alienation or redemption of lands essential to the peasants. “Of course, this compulsory redemption must be placed on a firm basis of law and attended in each particular case by reliable guarantees”, but in some cases it must be effected “almost [sic! I uncondition ally"—for example, in relation to the “cut-off lands”,[4] which create something in the nature of feudal relations. In order to abolish semi-feudal relations, the state should be given the right of compulsory alienation and compulsory demarcation of the plots in question.

Such is the agrarian programme of the liberals. A paral lel between it and the Social-Democratic agrarian pro gramme naturally suggests itself. Where they resemble each other is in the identity of the immediate tendency and the similarity of most of the demands. Where they differ is in the two following cardinally important points. Firstly, the Social-Democrats want to effect the abolition of the remnants of feudalism (which both programmes directly advance as the aim) by revolutionary means and with rev olutionary determinatioji the liberals—by reformist means and half-beartedly. Secondly, the Social-Democrats stress tkat the system to be purged of the remnants of feudalism   is a bourgeois system; they already now, in advance, expose all its contradictions, and strive immediately to extend and render more conscious the class struggle that is inher ent in this new system and is already coming to the sur face. The liberals ignore the bourgeois character of the system purged of feudalism, gloss over its contradictions and try to damp down the class struggle inherent in it.

Let us consider these differences.

The reformist and half-hearted character of the liberal agrarian programme is clearly apparent first of all from the fact that it does not go beyond “compulsory redemp tion”, and only “almost” unconditional at that, whereas the Social-Democratic agrarian programme demands the alien ation of the cut-off lands from their old owners without compensation, and countenances compensation only in spe cial cases, and then at the expense of the land of the nobility. Nor, as is well known,[1] do the Social-Democrats reject expropriation of the landed estates in their entirety, but only regard it as impermissible and irresponsible to include this demand, which is not appropriate under all circumstances, in the programme. The Social-Democrats from the very start call on the proletariat to take the first revolutionary step in conjunction with the well-to-do peasants in order then at once to go farther, either in conjunction with the peas ant bourgeoisie against the landlord class, or against the peasant bourgeoisie and the landlord class if they have joined forces. The liberals even at this stage, in the struggle against semi-feudal relations, shrink from class action and struggle. They want to entrust the reform to the “state” (forgetting the class character of the state) with the help of local self-government bodies and “ad hoc” commissions, drawing a parallel—nothing could be more characteristic—between the compulsory alienation of the cut-off lands and the compulsory alienation of land for building railways!! Our liberals could not have more clearly expressed, or rather betrayed, their cherished wish of surrounding the new reform with the same “conveniences” for the ruling classes as always and everywhere attend the   sale of land to the railways. And this in the same breath with the fine phrases about substituting a peasant democrat ic agrarian policy for the agrarian policy of an aristocratic caste! In order to effect that substitution in practice, you have to appeal, not to the “public interest”, but to the oppressed class—the peasantry—against the oppressing class—the nobility; you have to rouse the former against the latter, have to call for revolutionary action by the peas antry, not for reformist activity by the state. Farther, when they talk about abolishing semi-feudal relations, the liberals refuse to see the precise nature of the relations that they propose to purge of feudalism. Mr. L., for example, repeats the catchphrases of Mr. Nikolai—on, Mr. V. V. and the rest about “the principle of recognising the tiller’s right to the land he cultivates” and about the “virility” of the peasantry, but is modestly silent about the “principle” of bourgeois farming and the exploitation of wage-labour by these virile peasants. That it is the position of the petty-bourgeois members of the peasantry which would inevitably be strengthened and consolidated by the consistent application of democracy in the agrarian sphere, the bourgeois democrats do not and will not realise. In the proletarisation of the peasantry Mr. L. (again like the Narodniks and in the spirit of Revolutsionnaya Rossiya) refuses to see a “type of development”, declaring it to be due to “the survivals of serfdom” and “the general p athological condition of the countryside"! Presumably after we get a constitution we shall see the end of the growth of the towns, of the flight of the poor peasants from the countryside, of the change-over of the landlords from the labour-rent sys tem to the use of wage-labour, and so on! Depicting the beneficent effect of the French Revolution on the French peasantry, Mr. L. speaks glowingly of the disappearance of famines and the improvement and progress of agricul ture; but about the fact that this was bourgeois progress, based on the formation of a “stable” class of agricultural wage-labourers and on chronic pauperism of the mass of the lower strata of the peasantry, this Narodnik-like bour geois, of course, says never a word.

In short, the difference between Mr. L. ’s agrarian pro gramme and the Social-Democratic agrarian programme reproduces   in miniature with remarkable fidelity all the gen eral differences between the minimum programmes of liber al and proletarian democracy. Whether you consider these programmes as theoretically expounded by their respective ideologists or as practically applied by their respective parties and trends, or whether you look at the history of, say, 1848, you will find just these two fundamental differ ences between the liberal and the Social-Democratic approach to the immediate practical aims: on the one hand, reformist haif-heartedness in the struggle against the survivals of feudalism and a glossing over of the class antagonisms of “modern” society; on the other, a revolutionary struggle against the remnants of the old order with a view to extending, developing and intensifying the struggle of classes in the new society. Of course, these fundamental differ ences, which spring from the very nature of developing capitalist society, assume very different forms in different national states and at different times. An inability to rec ognise the “old” bourgeois democracy behind the new and peculiar forms is characteristic of its ideologists, con sistent and inconsistent. Under the latter head we must, for example, class Mr. P. Novobrantsev (see Revotutsion naya Rossiya, Nos. 32 and 33), that representative of “dis traught Narodism” who, in reference to Iskra’s attacks on Osvobozhdeniye for being a bourgeois class publication, ironically remarks: “A fine bourgeoisie, we must say!" “Mr. Struve," Revolul sionnaya Rossiga condescends to inform us, “is a representative of the ’intelligentsia’, and not of the ’bourgeoisie as a class’, for he does not set out to unite or lead any classes or social estates." That is all very well, gentlemen! But had you given a little thought to the matter you would have seen that Mr. Struve is a repre sentative of the bourgeois intelligentsia. As to the bour geoisie as a class, the Russian proletariat will see it as such on the historical scene only when there is political freedom and the government is almost directly a “commit tee” of one or another section of the bourgeoisie. And only “socialists by mistake” can fail to know that it is their duty to teach the working class to recognise the bourgeoisie both in its activities and in its ideas, both in its mature state and in its dreamy youth.

As for dreaminess, Mr. Novobrantsev is your man for that. But our article is already so long, and Mr. Novo brantsev’s world outlook and agrarian-historical views present so much that is interesting, especially when taken parallel with those of Mr. L., that we must postpone their discussion until another time.


[1] See Plekhanov’s statement in No. 4 of Zarya and mine in thereply to X. (See present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 446-47.—Ed.) —Lenin

[2] V. V. and Nikolai —on were the pseudonyms of V.P. Vorontsov and N. F. Danielson—ideologues of the liberal Narodism of the eighties and nineties.

[3] Millerand—a French reformist “Socialist” who in 1899 joined a reactionary bourgeois government.

[4] The cut-off lands (otrezki) were the portions of the land cut off from the peasant holdings by the landlords at the time of the abolition of serfdom in 1861.

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