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)


Appendix III

When I speak of a narrow understanding of Marxism, I have the Marxists themselves in mind. One cannot help remarking in this connection that Marxism is most atrociously narrowed and garbled when our liberals and radicals undertake to expound it in the pages of the legal press. What an exposition it is! Just think how this revolutionary doctrine has to be mutilated to fit it into the Procrustean bed of Russian censorship! Yet our publicists light-heartedly perform that operation! Marxism, as they expound it, is practically reduced to the doctrine of how individual property, based on the labour of the proprietor, undergoes its dialectical development under the capitalist system, how it turns into its negation and is then socialised. And with a serious mien, they assume that the whole content of Marxism lies in this “scheme,” ignoring all the specific features of its sociological method, the doctrine of the class struggle, and the direct purpose of the inquiry, namely, to disclose all the forms of antagonism and exploitation in order to help the proletariat abolish them. It is not surprising that the result is something so pale and narrow that our radicals proceed to mourn over the poor Russian Marxists. We should think so! Russian absolutism and Russian reaction would not be absolutism and reaction if it were possible, while they exist, to give a full, accurate and complete exposition of Marxism, setting forth its conclusions without reservation! And if our liberals and radicals knew Marxism properly (if only from German literature), they would be ashamed thus to distort it in the pages of the censored press. If a theory may not be expounded—keep silent, or make the reservation that you are giving a far from complete exposition   of it, that you are omitting its most essential features; but why expound only fragments of it and then howl about its being narrow?

That, indeed, is the only explanation of the absurdity, possible only in Russia, that people are regarded as Marxists who have no idea of the class struggle, of the antagonism necessarily inherent in capitalist society, and of the development of this antagonism; people who have no notion of the revolutionary role of the proletariat; even people who come out with purely bourgeois projects, provided they contain such catchwords as “money economy,” its “necessity,” and similar expressions, which require all the intellectual profundity of a Mr. Mikhailovsky to be regarded as specifically Marxist.

Marx, on the other hand, considered the whole value of his theory to lie in the fact that it is “in its essence critical[1] and revolutionary.”[4] And this latter quality is in deed completely and unconditionally inherent in Marxism, for this theory directly sets itself the task of disclosing all the forms of antagonism and exploitation in modern society, tracing their evolution, demonstrating their transitory character, the inevitability of their transformation into a different form, and thus serving the proletariat as a means of ending all exploitation as quickly and easily as possible. The irresistible attraction of this theory, which draws to itself the socialists of all countries lies precisely in the fact that it combines the quality of being strictly and supremely scientific (being the last word in social science) with that of being revolutionary, it does not combine them accidentally and not only because the founder of the doctrine combined in his own person the qualities of a scientist and a revolutionary, but does so intrinsically and inseparably. Is it not a fact that the task of theory, the aim of science,   is here defined as assistance for the oppressed class in its actual economic struggle.

We do not say to the world: Cease struggling—your whole struggle is senseless. All we do is to provide it with a true slogan of struggle.”[5]

Hence, the direct task of science, according to Marx, is to provide a true slogan of struggle, that is, to be able to present this struggle objectively as the product of a definite system of production relations, to be able to understand the necessity of this struggle, its content, course and conditions of development. It is impossible to provide a “slogan of struggle” unless we study every separate form of the struggle minutely; unless we trace every stage of the struggle during the transition from one form to another, so that we can define the situation at any given moment, without losing sight of the general character of the struggle and its general aim, namely, the complete and final abolition of all exploitation and all oppression.

Try to compare with Marx’s “critical and revolutionary” theory the colourless trash which “our well-known” N. K. Mikhailovsky, in his “criticism,” expounded and which he then did battle with, and you win be astonished that there can really be people who regard themselves as “ideologists of the working people,” and confine themselves . . . to that “worn-out coin” into which our publicists transform the Marxist theory by obliterating everything that is vital in it.

Try to compare with the demands of this theory our Narodnik literature, which, after all, is also prompted by the desire to be the ideological spokesman of the working people, a literature devoted to the history and to the present state of our economic system in general and of the peasantry in particular, and you will be astonished that socialists could be satisfied with a theory that confines itself to studying and describing distress and to moralising over it. Serfdom is depicted not as a definite form of economic organisation which gave rise to such and such exploitation, such and such antagonistic classes, certain political, legal and other systems, but simply as abuses by the landlords and injustice to the peasants. The peasant Reform is depicted not as a clash of definite economic forms and of definite economic   classes, but as a measure taken by the authorities, who “chose” a “wrong path” by mistake, despite their very best intentions. Post-Reform Russia is depicted as a deviation from the true path, accompanied by the distress of the working people and not as a definite system of antagonistic relations of production with a certain development.

Now, however, there can be no doubt that this theory is discredited, and the sooner Russian socialists realise that with the present level of knowledge there can be no revolutionary theory apart from Marxism, the sooner they devote all their efforts to applying this theory to Russia, theoretically and practically—the surer and quicker will be the success of revolutionary work.

To give a clear illustration of the corruption the “friends of the people” have caused in the “meagre Russian thought” of today by their call to the intelligentsia to exert a cultural influence on the “people” so as to “create” a real and proper industry, etc.—let us cite the opinion of people who hold views sharply distinct from ours, namely, the “Narodopravtsi,” these direct and immediate offspring of the Narodovoltsi. See pamphlet, An Urgent Issue, 1894, published by the Narodnoye Pravo party.

After giving a splendid rebuttal to the kind of Narodniks who say that “under no circumstances, not even on condition of broad liberty, must Russia part with her economic organisation, which ensures (!) the working people an independent place in production,” and that “what we need is not political reforms but systematic and planned economic reforms,” the Narodopravtsi go on to say:

We are not defenders of the bourgeoisie, still less are we admirers of their ideals; but if a malicious fate were to present the people with the choice of ’planned economic reforms’ under the protection of Zemsky Nachalniks who zealously guard them from the encroachments of the bourgeoisie, or the bourgeoisie themselves on the basis of political liberty, that is, under conditions which ensure the people the organised defence of their interests—we think the people would obviously gain by choosing the latter. At the moment, we have no ‘political reforms’ which threaten to deprive the   people of their pseudo-independent economic organisation; what we do have is what everybody everywhere is accustomed to regard as bourgeois policy, expressed in the grossest exploitation of the people’s labour. We have neither broad nor narrow liberty; what we do have is the protection of social-estate interests, which the agrarians and capitalists of constitutional countries have ceased to dream of. We have no ’bourgeois parliamentarianism’—society is not allowed within cannon-shot of the administrative machine; what we do have is the Messrs. Naidenovs, Morozovs, Kazis and Byelovs, who demand that a Chinese Wall be set up for the safeguarding of their interests, side by side with representatives of ’our loyal nobility,’ who go so far as to demand free credits for themselves to the tune of 100 rubles per dessiatine. They are invited to serve on commissions, they are listened to with respect, and they have a decisive voice in cardinal questions affecting the economic life of the country. Yet who stands up in defence of the interests of the people, and where? Is it not they, the Zemsky Nachalniks? Is it not for the people that agricultural labour squads are being projected? Has it not only just been declared, with a frankness bordering on cynicism, that the only reason the people have been granted allotments is to enable them to pay taxes and to perform services, as the Governor of Vologda put it in one of his circulars? He only formulated and expressed aloud the policy that the autocracy, or, more correctly, bureaucratic absolutism, is fatally pursuing.”

However nebulous the Narodopravtsi’s notions still are about the “people,” whose interests they want to defend, and about “society,” which they continue to regard as a trustworthy organ for the protection of the interests of labour, one cannot but admit that the formation of the Narodnoye Pravo party is a step forward, a step towards the complete abandonment of the illusions and dreams about “different paths for the fatherland,” towards the fearless recognition of the real paths, and towards the search on their basis for elements for a revolutionary struggle. Here we clearly see a striving to form a democratic party. I speak only of a “striving,” because, unfortunately, the Narodopravtsi do not implement their basic thesis consistently. They still talk of amalgamation and alliance with the socialists, refusing   to realise that to draw the workers into mere political radicalism would only mean severing the worker intellectuals from the mass of the workers and condemning the working-class movement to impotence; for it can be strong only by defending the interests of the working class completely and in every way, by engaging in economic struggle against capital, a struggle inseparably bound up with a political struggle against the servants of capital. They refuse to realise that the “amalgamation” of all the revolutionary elements can be much better achieved by the separate organisation of the representatives of the different interests[2] and by the joint action of the two parties in particular cases. They still go on calling their party a “social-revolutionary” party (see the Manifesto of the Narodnoye Pravo party, dated February 19, 1894), although at the same time they confine themselves exclusively to political reforms and most carefully evade our “cursed” socialist problems. A party which so ardently calls for a fight against illusions should not foster illusions in others by the very first words of its “manifesto”; it should not speak of socialism where there is nothing but constitutionalism. But, I repeat, one cannot form a correct judgement of the Narodopravtsi unless one bears in mind that they spring from the Narodovoltsi. It must, therefore, be admitted that they are taking a step forward by basing an exclusively political struggle—unrelated to socialism—on an exclusively political programme. The Social-Democrats whole-heartedly wish the Narodopravtsi success, wish that their party may grow and develop, that they may form closer ties with those social elements which take their stand by the present economic system[3] and whose   everyday interests really are most intimately bound up with democracy.

The conciliatory, cowardly, sentimental and dreamy Narodism of the “friends of the people” will not stand up long when attacked from both sides: by the political radicals for being capable of expressing confidence in the bureaucracy and for not realising the absolute necessity of political struggle; and by the Social-Democrats, for attempting to represent themselves almost as socialists, although they have not the slightest relation to socialism and not the slightest inkling of the causes of the oppression of the working people or of the character of the class struggle now in progress.


[1] Note that Marx is speaking here of materialist criticism, which alone he regards as scientific—that is, criticism which compares the political, legal, social, conventional and other facts, with economics, with the system of production relations, with the interests of the classes that inevitably take shape on the basis of all the antagonistic social relations. That Russian social relations are antagonistic can hardly be doubted. But nobody has yet tried to take them as a basis for such criticism. —Lenin

[2] They themselves protest against faith in the miracle-working powers of the intelligentsia they themselves talk of the need to draw the people themselves into the struggle. But this requires that the struggle be bound up with definite everyday interests and, consequently that a distinction be made between the different interests, and that they be drawn separately into the struggle. . . . But if these separate interests are obscured by bare political demands that only the intelligentsia understand, will this not mean again turning back, again confining everything to the struggle of the intelligentsia alone, whose impotence has only just been admitted? —Lenin

[3] (I.e., the capitalist system)—and not by the necessary rejection of this system and the waging of a ruthless struggle against it. —Lenin

[4] See Afterword to the second edition of Volume One of Marx’s Capital (K. Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1959, p. 20).

[5] Lenin quotes from Marx’s letter to Ruge (dated September 1843). Fuller quotations from this letter will be found on pages 184-85 of this volume.

  Appendix II |  

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