V. I.   Lenin

What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats

(A Reply to Articles in Russkoye Bogatstvo Opposing the Marxists)


Let us now see how Mr. Mikhailovsky fights ...

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Let us now see how Mr. Mikhailovsky fights the Social-Democrats. What arguments does he level against their theoretical views, against their political, socialist activity?

The theoretical views of the Marxists are set forth by the critic in the following manner:

The truth” (the Marxists are represented as declaring) “is that in accordance with the immanent laws of historical necessity Russia will develop her own capitalist production, with all its inherent contradictions and the swallowing up of the small capitalists by the large, and meanwhile the muzhik, divorced from the land, will turn into a proletarian, unite, become socialised, and the trick is done, the hat reappears, and it only remains to put the hat on the head of now happy mankind.”

And so, if you please, the Marxists do not differ in any way from the “friends of the people” in their conception of reality; they differ only in their idea of the future: they do not deal at all, it appears, with the present, but only with “prospects.” There can be no doubt that this is Mr. Mikhailovsky’s idea; the Marxists, he says, “are fully convinced that there is nothing utopian in their forecasts of the future, and that everything has been weighed and measured in accordance with the strict dictates of science”; finally and even more explicitly: the Marxists “believe in, and profess, the immutability of an abstract historical scheme.”

In a word, we have before us that most banal and vulgar accusation against the Marxists long employed by all who have nothing substantial to bring against their views. “The Marxists profess the immutability of an abstract historical scheme!!”

But this is a downright lie and invention!

No Marxist has ever argued anywhere that there “must be” capitalism in Russia “because” there was capitalism in the West, and so on. No Marxist has ever regarded Marx’s theory as some universally compulsory philosophical scheme of history, as anything more than an explanation of a particular social-economic formation. Only Mr. Mikhailovsky, the subjective philosopher, has managed to display such a lack of understanding of Marx as to attribute to him a universal philosophical theory; and in reply to this, he received from Marx the quite explicit explanation that he was knocking at the wrong door. No Marxist has ever based his Social-Democratic views on anything but the conformity of theory with reality and the history of the given, i.e., the Russian, social and economic relations; and he could not have done so, because this demand on theory was quite definitely   and clearly proclaimed and made the corner-stone of the whole doctrine by the founder of “Marxism” himself—Marx.

Of course, Mr. Mikhailovsky may refute these statements as much as he pleases, by arguing that he has heard “with his own ears” the profession of an abstract historical scheme. But what does it matter to us, Social-Democrats, or to anybody else, that Mr. Mikhailovsky has had occasion to hear all sorts of absurd nonsense from people he has talked to? Does it not merely show that he is very fortunate in the choice of the people he talks to, and nothing more? It is very possible, of course, that the witty interlocutors of the witty philosopher called themselves Marxists, Social-Democrats, and so forth—but who does not know that nowadays (as was noted long ago) every scoundrel likes to array himself in “red” garments?[1] And if Mr. Mikhailovsky is so perspicacious that he cannot distinguish these “mummers” from Marxists, or if he has understood Marx so profoundly as not to have noticed this criterion—most emphatically advanced by Marx—of the whole doctrine (the formulation of “what is going on before our eyes”), it only proves again that Mr. Mikhailovsky is not clever, and nothing else.

At any rate, since he undertook a polemic in the press against the “Social-Democrats,” he should have had in mind the group of socialists who have long borne that name and have borne it alone—so that others cannot be confused with them—and who have their literary representatives, Plekhanov and his circle.[4] And had he done so—and that obviously is what anybody with any decency should have done—and had he even consulted the first Social-Democratic work, Plekhanovs Our Differences, he would have found in its very first pages a categorical declaration made by the author on behalf of all the members of the circle:

We in no case wish to cover our programme with the authority of a great name” (i.e., the authority of Marx). Do you understand Russian, Mr. Mikhailovsky? Do you understand the difference between professing abstract   schemes and entirely disclaiming the authority of Marx when passing judgement on Russian affairs?

Do you realise that you acted dishonestly by representing the first opinion you happened to hear from your interlocutors as Marxist, and by ignoring the published declaration made by a prominent member of Social-Democracy on behalf of the whole group?

And then the declaration becomes even more explicit:

I repeat,” Plekhanov says, “that the most consistent Marxists may disagree in the appraisal of the present Russian situation”; our doctrine is the “first attempt at applying this particular scientific theory to the analysis of very complicated and entangled social relations.”

It would seem difficult to speak more clearly: the Marxists unreservedly borrow from Marx’s theory only its in valuable methods, without which an elucidation of social relations is impossible, and, consequently, they see the criterion of their judgement of these relations not in abstract schemes and suchlike nonsense at all, but in its fidelity and conformity to reality.

Perhaps you think that in making these statements the author actually had something else in mind? But that is not so. The question he was dealing with was—"must Russia pass through the capitalist phase of development?” Hence, the question was not given a Marxist formulation at all, but was in conformity with the subjective methods of various native philosophers of ours, who see the criterion of this “must” in the policy of the authorities, or in the activities of “society,” or in the ideal of a society that “corresponds to human nature,” and similar twaddle. So it is fair to ask, how should a man who believes in abstract schemes have answered such a question? Obviously, he would have spoken of the incontrovertibility of the dialectical process, of the general philosophical importance of Marx’s theory, of the inevitability of every country passing through the phase of . . . and so on and so forth.

And how did Plekhanov answer it?

In the only way a Marxist could.

He left aside entirely the question of the “must,” as being an idle one that could be of interest only to subjectivists, and dealt exclusively with real social and economic   relations and their actual evolution. And that is why he gave no direct answer to this wrongly formulated question, but instead replied: “Russia has entered the capitalist path.”

And Mr. Mikhailovsky talks with the air of an expert about belief in abstract historical schemes, about the immanent laws of necessity, and similar incredible nonsense! And he calls this “a polemic against the Social-Democrats”!!

If this is a polemicist, then I simply cannot understand what a windbag is!

One must also observe in connection with Mr. Mikhailovsky’s argument quoted above that he presents the views of the Social-Democrats as being: “Russia will develop her own capitalist production.” Evidently, in the opinion of this philosopher, Russia has not got “her own” capitalist production. The author apparently shares the opinion that Russian capitalism is confined to one and a half million workers. We shall later on again meet with this childish idea of our “friends of the people,” who class all the other forms of exploitation of free labour under heaven knows what heading. “Russia will develop her own capitalist production with all its inherent contradictions, and meanwhile the muzhik, separated from the land, will turn into a proletarian.” The farther in the wood, the more trees there are! So there are no “inherent contradictions” in Russia? Or, to put it plainly, there is no exploitation of the mass of the people by a handful of capitalists, there is no ruin of the vast majority of the population and no enrichment of a few? The muzhik has still to be separated from the land? But what is the entire post-Reform history of Russia, if not the wholesale expropriation of the peasantry, proceeding with unparalleled intensity? One must possess great courage indeed to say such things publicly. And Mr. Mikhailovsky possesses that courage: “Marx dealt with a ready-made proletariat and a ready-made capitalism, whereas we have still to create them.” Russia has still to create a proletariat?! In Russia—the only country where such a hopeless poverty of the masses and such shameless exploitation of the working people can be found; which has been compared (and legitimately so) to England as regards the condition of the poor; and where the starvation of millions of people is a permanent thing existing side by side, for instance,   with a steady increase in the export of grain—in Russia there is no proletariat!!

I think Mr. Mikhailovsky deserves to have a monument erected to him in his own lifetime for these classic words![2]

We shall, incidentally, see later that it is a constant and most consistent tactic of the “friends of the people” to shut their eyes pharisaically to the intolerable condition of the working people in Russia, to depict this condition as having merely been “shaken,” so that only the efforts of “cultured society” and the government are needed for everything to be put on the right track. These knights think that if they shut their eyes to the fact that the condition of the working masses is bad not because it has been “shaken,” but because these masses are being shamelessly robbed by a handful of exploiters, that if they bury their heads in the sand like ostriches so as not to see these exploiters, the exploiters will disappear. And when the Social-Democrats tell them that it is shameful cowardice to fear to look reality in the face, when they take the fact of exploitation as their starting-point and say that its only possible explanation lies in the bourgeois organisation of Russian society, which is splitting the mass of the people into a proletariat and a bourgeoisie, and in the class character of the Russian state, which is nothing but the organ of the rule of this bourgeoisie, and that therefore the only way out lies in the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie—these “friends of the people” begin to howl that the Social-Democrats want to dispossess the people of their land!! that they want to destroy our peoples economic organisation!!

We now come to the most outrageous part of all this indecent, to say the least, “polemic,” namely, Mr. Mikhailovsky’s   “criticism” (?) of the political activities of the Social-Democrats. Everybody realises that the activities carried on among the workers by socialists and agitators cannot be honestly discussed in our legal press, and that the only thing a decent censored periodical can do in this connection is to “maintain a tactful silence.” Mr. Mikhailovsky has forgotten this very elementary rule, and has not scrupled to use his monopoly contact with the reading public in order to sling mud at the socialists.

However, means of combating this unscrupulous critic will be found even if outside of legal publications.

As far as I understand,” Mr. Mikhailovsky says with assumed naïveté, “the Russian Marxists can be divided into three categories: Marxist spectators (indifferent observers of the process), passive Marxists (they only “allay the birth pangs”; they “are not interested in the people on the land, and direct their attention and hopes to those who are already separated from the means of production”), and active Marxists (who bluntly insist on the further ruin of the countryside).”

What is this?! Mr. Critic must surely know that the Russian Marxists are socialists whose point of departure is the view that the reality of our environment is capitalist society, and that there is only one way out of it—the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. How, then, and on what grounds, does he mix them up with some sort of senseless vulgarity? What right (moral, of course) has he to extend the term Marxists to people who obviously do not accept the most elementary and fundamental tenets of Marxism, people who have never and nowhere acted as a distinct group and have never and nowhere announced a programme of their own?

Mr. Mikhailovsky has left himself a number of loopholes for justifying such outrageous methods.

Perhaps,” he jokes with the easy air of a society fop, these are not real Marxists, but they consider and proclaim themselves as such.” Where have they proclaimed it, and when? In the liberal and radical salons of St. Petersburg? In private letters? Be it so. Well, then, talk to them in your salons and in your correspondence! But you come out publicly and in the press against people who (under the banner   of Marxism) have never come out publicly anywhere. And you have the effrontery to claim that you are polemising against “Social-Democrats,” although you know that this name is borne only by one group of revolutionary socialists, and that nobody else should be confused with them![3]

Mr. Mikhailovsky twists and turns like a schoolboy caught red-handed: I am not the least to blame here—he tries to make the reader believe—I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes.” Excellent! We are quite willing to believe that there is nobody in your field of vision but vulgarians and scoundrels. But what have we, Social-Democrats, to do with it? Who does not know that “at the present time, when” not only socialist activity, but any social activity that is at all independent and honest evokes political persecution—for every one actually working under some banner—be it Narodovolism,[5] Marxism, or even, let us say, constitutionalism—there are several score phrase-mongers who under cover of that name conceal their liberal cowardice, and, in addition, perhaps, several downright rascals who are feathering their own nests? Is it not obvious that only the meanest vulgarity could make any of these trends responsible for the fact that its banner is being soiled (privately and secretly, at that) by all sorts of riffraff? Mr. Mikhailovsky’s whole argument is one chain of distortions, misrepresentations, and manipulations. We saw above that he completely distorted the “truths” which are the Social-Democrats starting-point, presenting them   in a way in which no Marxist at any time or place has, or could have, presented them. And if he had set forth the actual Social-Democratic conception of Russian reality, he could not but have seen that one can “conform” to these views in only one way, namely, by helping to develop the class consciousness of the proletariat, by organising and uniting it for the political struggle against the present regime. He has, however, one other trick up his sleeve. With an air of injured innocence he pharisaically lifts up his eyes to heaven and unctuously declares: “I am very glad to hear that. But I cannot understand what you are protesting against” (that is exactly what he says in Russkoye Bogatstvo, No. 2). “Read my comment on passive Marxists more attentively and you will see that I say: from the ethical standpoint, no objection can be made.”

This, of course, is nothing but a rehash of his former wretched subterfuges.

Tell us, please, how one would characterise the conduct of a person who declared that he was criticising social revolutionary Narodism (at a time when no other type of Narodism had yet appeared—I take such a period), and who proceeded to say approximately the following:

The Narodniks, as far as I understand, are divided in to three categories: the consistent Narodniks, who completely accept the ideas of the muzhik and, in exact accordance with his desires, make a general principle of the birch and wife-beating and generally further the abominable policy of the government of the knout and the club, which, you know, has been called a peoples policy; then, shall we say, the cowardly Narodniks, who are not interested in the opinions of the muzhik, and are only striving to transplant to Russia an alien revolutionary movement by means of associations and suchlike—against which, however, no objection can be made from the ethical standpoint, unless it be the slipperiness of the path, which may easily convert a cowardly Narodnik into a consistent or courageous one; and, lastly, the courageous Narodniks, who carry out to the full the peoples ideals of the enterprising muzhik, and accordingly settle on the land in order to live as kulaks in good earnest.” All decent people, of course, would characterise this as vile and vulgar scoffing. And if, furthermore, the person   who said such things could not be rebutted by the Narodniks in the same press; if, moreover, the ideas of these Narodniks had hitherto been expounded only illegally, so that many people had no exact idea of what they were and might easily believe whatever they were told about the Narodniks—then whoever would agree that such a person is. . . .

But perhaps Mr. Mikhailovsky himself has not yet quite forgotten the word that fits here.

But enough! Many similar insinuations by Mr. Mikhailovsky still remain, but I know of no job more fatiguing, more thankless and more disgusting than to have to wade through this filth, to collect insinuations scattered here and there, to compare them and to search for at least one serious objection.


April 1894



[1] All this is said on the assumption that Mr. Mikhailovsky has indeed heard professions of abstract historical schemes and has not invented anything. But I consider it absolutely imperative in this connection to make the reservation that I give this only for what it is worth. —Lenin

[2] But perhaps here, too, Mr. Mikhailovsky may try to wriggle out by declaring that he had no intention of saying that there was no proletariat at all in Russia, but only that there was no capitalist proletariat? Is that so? Then why did you not say so? The whole question is one of whether the Russian proletariat is a prolelariat characteristic of the bourgeois or of some other organisation of social economy. Who is to blame if in the course of two whole articles you did not utter a word about this, the only serious and important question, but preferred instead to talk all sorts of nonsense and reach the craziest conclusions? —Lenin

[3] I shall dwell on at least one factual reference which occurs in Mr. Mikhailovsky’s article. Anybody who has read that article will have to admit that he includes even Mr. Skvortsov (author of The Economic Causes of Starvation) among the “Marxists.” But, as a matter of fact, this gentleman does not call himself a Marxist, and the most elementary acquaintance with the works of the Social-Democrats is sufficient for anybody to see that from their standpoint he is nothing but a most vulgar bourgeois. What sort of Marxist is he if he does not understand that the social environment for which he projects his progressive schemes is a bourgeois environment, and that therefore all “agricultural improvements” actually to be observed even in peasant farming are bourgeois progress, which improves the position of a minority but proletarianises the masses! What sort of Marxist is he if he does not understand that the state to which he addresses his projects is a class state, capable only of supporting the bourgeoisie and oppressing the proletariat! —Lenin

[4] Reference is made to the Emancipation of Labour group, the first Russian Marxist group, founded by G. V. Plekhanov in Geneva in 1883. Apart from Plekhanov, P. B. Axelrod, L. G. Deutsch, V. I. Zasulich, and V. N. Ignatov belonged to the group.

The Emancipation of Labour group played a great part in disseminating Marxism in Russia. The group translated into Russian, published abroad and distributed in Russia the works of the founders of Marxism: Manifesto of the Communist Party by Marx and Engels; Wage-Labour and Capital by Marx; Socialism: Utopian and Scientific by Engels, etc. Plekhanov and his group dealt a severe blow to Narodism. In 1883 and 1885 Plekhanov wrote two drafts of a programme for Russian Social-Democrats, which were published by the Emancipation of Labour group. This was an important step forward in preparing the ground for, and in the establishment of, a Social-Democratic Party in Russia. An important part in spreading Marxist views in Russia was played by Plekhanovs essays: Socialism and the Political Struggle (1883), Our Differences (1885) and The Development of the Monist View of History (1895). The Emancipation of Labour group, however, committed serious errors; they clung to remnants of the views of the Narodniks, underestimated the revolutionary capacity of the peasantry, and over estimated the role of the liberal bourgeoisie. These errors were the embryo of the future Menshevik views held by Plekhanov and other members of the group. The Emancipation of Labour group had no practical ties with the working-class movement. V. I. Lenin pointed out that the Emancipation of Labour group “only theoretically founded the Social-Democracy and took the first step in the direction of the working-class movement.” (The Ideological Struggle in the Working-Class Movement. See present edition, Vol. 20.)

At the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. held in August 1903 the Emancipation of Labour group announced that it had ceased its activity as a group.

[5] Narodovolism, the tenets of the Narodovoltsi—members of the secret Narodnik terrorist political organisation Narodnaya Volya (Peoples Will ) which arose in August 1879, following the split in the secret society Zemlya i Volya (Land and Liberty). The Narodnaya Volya was headed by an Executive Committee which included A. I. Zhelyabov, A. D. Mikhailov, M. F. Frolenko, N. A. Morozov, V. N. Figner, S. L. Perovskaya, A. A. Kvyatkovsky. The immediate object of the Narodnaya Volya was the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy, while their programme provided for the organisation of a “permanent popular representative body” elected on the basis of universal suffrage, the proclamation of democratic liberties, the land to be given to the people; and the elaboration of measures for factories to pass into the hands of the workers. The Narodovoltsi were unable, however, to find the road to the masses of the people and took to political conspiracy and individual terror. The terroristic struggle of the Narodovoltsi was not supported by a mass revolutionary movement, and enabled the government to crush the organisation by resorting to fierce persecution, death sentences and provocation.

After 1881 the Narodnaya Volya fell to pieces. Repeated attempts to revive it during the 1880s ended in failure—for example, the terrorist group organised in 1886, headed by A. I. Ulyanov (V. I. Lenin’s brother) and P. Y. Shevyryov, which shared these traditions. After an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Alexander III, the group was exposed, and its active members executed.

While he criticised the erroneous, utopian programme of the Narodovoltsi, Lenin expressed great respect for the selfless struggle waged by its members against tsarism. In 1899, in the “Protest by Russian Social-Democrats,” he pointed out that “the representatives of the old Narodnaya Volya managed to play an enormous role in the history of Russia despite the fact that only narrow social strata supported the few heroes, and despite the fact that it was by no means a revolutionary theory that served as the banner of the movement.” (“A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats.” See present edition, Vol. 4.)

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