V. I.   Lenin

The Economic Content of Narodism and the Criticism of it in Mr. Struve’s Book

(The Reflection of Marxism in Bourgeois Literature)


Chapter III

The Presentation of Economic Problems by the Narodniks and by Mr. Struve

After finishing with sociology, the author proceeds to deal with more “concrete economic problems” (73). He considers it “natural and legitimate” to start from “general propositions and historical references,” from “indisputable premises established by human experience,” as he says in the preface.

One cannot but note that this method suffers from the same abstractness noted at the beginning as being the main defect of the book under review. In the chapters we are now coming to (the third, fourth, and fifth), this defect has resulted in undesirable consequences of a twofold nature. On the one hand, it has weakened the definite theoretical propositions advanced by the author against the Narodniks. Mr. Struve argues in general, describes the transition from natural to commodity economy, points out that, as a rule, such and such happened on earth, and with a few cursory remarks proceeds to deal with Russia, applying   to it, too, the general process of the “historical development of economic life.” There can be no doubt that it is quite legitimate to apply the process in this way, and that the author’s “historical references” are absolutely necessary for a criticism of Narodism, which falsely presents history, and not only Russian history. These propositions should, however, have been expressed more concretely, and been more definitely set against the arguments of the Narodniks, who say that it is wrong to apply the general process to Russia; the Narodniks’ particular way of understanding Russian reality should have been compared with the Marxists’ other way of understanding that same reality. On the other hand, the abstract character of the author’s arguments leads to his propositions being stated incompletely, to a situation where, though he correctly indicates the existence of a process, he does not examine what classes arose while it was going on, what classes were the vehicles of the process, overshadowing other strata of the population subordinate to them; in a word, the author’s objectivism does not rise to the level of materialism—in the above-mentioned significance of these terms.[1]

Proof of this appraisal of the above-mentioned chapters of Mr. Struve’s work will be adduced as we examine some of its most important propositions.

Very true is the author’s remark that “almost from the outset of Russian history we find that the direct producers’ dependence (juridical and economic) on the lords has been the historical accompaniment of the idyll of ‘people’s production’” (81). In the period of natural economy the peasant was enslaved to the landowner, he worked for the boyar, the monastery, the landlord, but not for himself,   and Mr. Struve has every right to set this historical fact against the tales of our exceptionalist sociologists about how “the means of production belonged to the producer” (81). These tales constitute one of the distortions of Russian history, meant to suit the philistine utopia in which the Narodniks have always lavishly indulged. Fearing to look reality in the face, and fearing to give this oppression its proper name, they turned to history, but pictured things as though the producer’s ownership of means of production was an “ancient” principle, was the “age-old basis” of peasant labour, and that the modern expropriation of the peasantry is therefore to be explained not by the replacement of the feudal surplus product by bourgeois surplus-value, not by the capitalist organisation of our social economy, but by the accident of unfortunate policy, by a temporary “diversion from the path prescribed by the entire historical life of the nation” (Mr. Yuzhakov, quoted by P. Struve, p. 15). And they were not ashamed to tell these absurd stories about a country which had but recently seen the end[2] of the feudal exploitation of the peasantry in the grossest, Asiatic forms, when not only did the means of production not belong to the producer but the producers themselves differed very little from “means of production.” Mr. Struve very pointedly sets against this “sugary optimism” Saltykov’s sharp rejoinder about the connection between “people’s production” and serfdom, and about how the “plenty” of the period of the “age-old basis” “fell only” [note that!] “to the lot of the descendants of the leibkampantsi[15] and other retainers” (83).

Further, let us note Mr. Struve’s following remark, which definitely concerns definite facts of Russian reality and contains an exceptionally true thought. “When the producers start working for a distant and indefinite and not for a local, exactly delimited market, and competition, the struggle for a market develops, these conditions lead to technical progress.... Once division of labour is possible,   it has to be carried out as widely as possible, but before production is technically reorganised, the influence of the new conditions of exchange (marketing) will be felt in the fact of the producer becoming economically dependent on the merchant (the buyer-up), and socially this point is of decisive significance. This is lost sight of by our ’true Marxists’ like Mr. V. V., who are blinded by the significance of purely technical progress”. (98). The reference to the decisive significance of the appearance of the buyer-up is profoundly true. It is decisive in that it proves beyond doubt that we have here the capitalist organisation of production, it proves the applicability to Russia, too, of the proposition that “commodity economy is money economy, is capitalist economy,” and creates that subordination of the producer to capital from which there can be no other way out than through the independent activity of the producer. “From the moment that the capitalist entrepreneur comes between the consumer and the producer—and this is inevitable when production is carried on for an extensive and indefinite market—we have before us one of the forms of capitalist production.” And the author rightly adds that “if handicraft production is understood as the kind under which the producer, who works for an indefinite and distant market, enjoys complete economic independence, it will, I think, be found that in Russian reality there is none of this true handicraft production.” It is only a pity that use is made here of the expression “I think,” along with the future tense: the predominance of the domestic system of large-scale production and of the utter enslavement of the handicraftsmen by buyers-up is the all-prevailing fact of the actual organisation of our handicraft industries. This organisation is not only capitalist, but as the author rightly says, is also one that is “highly profitable to the capitalists,” ensuring them enormous profits, abominably low wages and hindering in the highest degree the organisation and development of the workers (pp. 99-101). One cannot help noting that the fact of the predominance of capitalist exploitation in our handicraft industries has long been known, but the Narodniks ignore it in the most shameless fashion. In almost every issue of their magazines and newspapers dealing with this subject, you   come across complaints about the government “artificially” supporting large-scale capitalism [whose entire “artificiality” consists in being large-scale and not small, factory and not handicraft, mechanical and not hand-operated] and doing nothing for the “needs of people’s industry.” Here stands out in full relief the narrow-mindedness of the petty bourgeois, who fights for small against big capital and stubbornly closes his eyes to the categorically established fact that a similar opposition of interests is to be found in this “people’s” industry, and that consequently the way out does not lie in miserable credits, etc. Since the small proprietor, who is tied to his enterprise and lives in constant fear of losing it, regards all of this as some thing awful, as some sort of “agitation” in favour of “a fair reward for labour, as though labour itself does not create that reward in its fruits,” it is clear that only the producer employed in the “artificial,” “hothouse” conditions of factory industry can be the representative of the working handicraftsmen.[3]

Let us deal further with Mr. Struve’s argument about agriculture. Steam transport compels a transition to exchange economy, it makes agricultural production commodity production. And the commodity character of production unfailingly requires “its economic and technical rationality” (110). The author considers this thesis a particularly important argument against the Narodniks, who triumphantly claim that the advantages of large-scale production in agriculture have not been proved. “It ill becomes those,” says the author in reply, “who base themselves on Marx’s teachings, to deny the significance of the economic and technical peculiarities of agricultural production thanks to which small undertakings in some cases possess economic advantages over big ones—even though Marx himself denied the importance of these peculiarities” (111). This passage is very unclear. What peculiarities is the author speaking of? Why does he not indicate them exactly? Why does he not indicate where and how Marx expressed his   views on the matter and on what grounds it is considered necessary to correct those views?

Small-scale agricultural production,” continues the author, “must increasingly assume a commodity character, and the small agricultural undertakings, if they are to be viable enterprises, must satisfy the general requirements of economic and technical rationality” (111). “It is not at all a matter of whether the small agricultural enterprises are absorbed by the big ones—one can hardly anticipate such an outcome to economic evolution—but of the metamorphosis to which the entire national economy is subjected under the influence of exchange. The Narodniks overlook the fact that the ousting of natural economy by exchange economy in connection with the above-noted ’dispersal of industry’ completely alters the entire structure of society. The former ratio between the agricultural (rural) and non-agricultural (urban) population is changed in favour of the latter. The very economic type and mental make-up of the agricultural producers is radically changed under the influence of the new conditions of economic life” (114).

The passage cited shows us what the author wished to say by his passage about Marx, and at the same time clearly illustrates the statement made above that the dogmatic method of exposition, not supported by a description of the concrete process, obscures the author’s thoughts and leaves them incompletely expressed. His thesis about the Narodniks’ views being wrong is quite correct, but incomplete, because it is not accompanied by a reference to the new forms of class antagonism that develop when irrational production is replaced by rational. The author, for example, confines himself to a cursory reference to “economic rationality” meaning the “highest rent” (110), but forgets to add that rent presupposes the bourgeois organisation of agriculture, i.e., firstly, its complete subordination to the market, and, secondly, the formation in agriculture of the same classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat, as are peculiar to capitalist industry.

When the Narodniks argue about the non-capitalist, as they believe, organisation of our agriculture, they pose the problem in an abominably narrow and wrong way, reducing everything to the ousting of the small farms by the   big, and nothing more. Mr. Struve is quite right in telling them that when they argue that way they overlook the general character of agricultural production, which can be (and really is in our country) bourgeois even where production is small-scale, just as West-European peasant farming is bourgeois. The conditions under which small-scale independent enterprise (“people’s”—to use the expression of the Russian intelligentsia) becomes bourgeois are well known. They are, firstly, the prevalence of commodity economy, which, with the producers isolated[4] from one another, gives rise to competition among them, and, while ruining the mass, enriches the few; secondly, the transformation of labour-power into a commodity, and the means of production into capital, i.e., the separation of the producer from the means of production, and the capitalist organisation of the most important branches of industry. Under these conditions the small independent producer acquires an exceptional position in relation to the mass of producers—just as now really independent proprietors constitute in our country an exception among the masses, who work for others and, far from owning “independent” enterprises, do not even possess means of subsistence sufficient to last a week. The condition and interests of the independent proprietor isolate him from the mass of the producers, who live mainly on wages. While the latter raise the issue of a “fair reward,” which is necessarily the gateway to the fundamental issue of a different system of social economy, the former have a far more lively interest in quite different things, namely, credits, and particularly small “people’s” credits, improved and cheaper implements, “organisation of marketing,” “extension of land tenure,” etc.

The very law of the superiority of large enterprises over small is a law of commodity production alone and consequently is not applicable to enterprises not yet entirely drawn into commodity production, not subordinated to   the market. That is why the line of argument (in which, by the way, Mr. V. V. also exercised himself) that the decline of the nobles’ farms after the Reform and the renting of privately-owned land by the peasants refute the view of the capitalist evolution of our agriculture, merely proves that those who resort to it have absolutely no understanding of things. Of course, the destruction of feudal relations, under which cultivation had been in the hands of the peasants, caused a crisis among the landlords. But, apart from the fact that this crisis merely led to the increasing employment of farm labourers and day labourers, which replaced the obsolescent forms of semi-feudal labour (labour service); apart from this, the peasant farm itself began to change fundamentally in character: it was compelled to work for the market, a situation that was not long in leading to the peasantry splitting into a rural petty bourgeoisie and a proletariat. This split settles once and for all the issue of capitalism in Russia. Mr. Struve explains the process in Chapter V, where he remarks: “There is differentiation among the small farmers: there develops, on the one hand, an ’economically strong”’ [he should have said: bourgeois] “peasantry, and, on the other—a proletarian type of peasantry. Features of people’s production are combined with capitalist features to form a single picture, above which is clearly visible the inscription: here comes Grimy” (p. 177).

Now it is to this aspect of the matter, to the bourgeois organisation of the new, “rational” agriculture that attention should have been directed. The Narodniks should have been shown that by ignoring the process mentioned they change from ideologists of the peasantry into ideologists of the petty bourgeoisie. “The improvement of people’s production,” for which they thirst, can only mean, under such an organisation of peasant economy, the “improvement” of the petty bourgeoisie. On the other hand, those who point to the producer who lives under the most highly developed capitalist relations, correctly express the interests not only of this producer, but also of the vast mass of the “proletarian” peasantry.

Mr. Struve’s exposition is unsatisfactory in character, is incomplete and sketchy; on account of this, when dealing   with rational agriculture, he does not describe its social and economic organisation, and, when he shows that steam transport replaces irrational by rational production, natural by commodity production, he does not describe the new form of class antagonism that then takes shape.

This same defect in the presentation of problems is to be observed in most of the arguments in the chapters under examination. Here are some more examples to illustrate this. Commodity economy—says the author—and extensive social division of labour “develop on the basis of the institution of private property, the principles of economic freedom, and the sense of individualism” (91). The progress of national production is bound up with the “extent to which the institution of private property dominates society.” “Maybe it is regrettable, but that is how things happen in actual life, it is empirically, historically established co-existence. At the present time, when the ideas and principles of the eighteenth century are treated so light-heartedly—the mistake it made being in fact repeated—this cultural-historical tie between economic progress and the institution of private property, the principles of economic freedom, and the sense of individualism is too often forgotten. Only by ignoring this tie can one expect economic progress to be possible in an economically and culturally undeveloped society, without the principles mentioned being put into effect. We feel no particular sympathy for these principles and perfectly well understand their historically transient character, but at the same time we cannot help seeing in them a tremendous cultural force, of not only a negative, but also a positive character. Only idealism which, in its hypotheses, imagines it has no ties with any historical succession, can fail to see it” (91).

The author is quite right in his “objective” statement of “historical co-existences”; all the more pity that his argument is incompletely stated. One would like to say to him: complete the argument! reduce all these general propositions and historical notes to a definite period of our Russian history, formulate them in such a way as to show why and in precisely what way your conception differs from that of the Narodniks, contrast them with the reality that has to serve as the criterion for the Russian Marxist,   show the class contradictions that are concealed by all these examples of progress and of culture.[5]

The “progress” and the “culture” that post-Reform Russia brought in its train are undoubtedly bound up with the “institution of private property”—it was not only introduced for the first time in all its fulness by the creation of a new “contentious” civil process which ensured the same sort of “equality” in the courts as was embodied in life by “free labour” and its sale to capital; it covered the holdings both of the landlords, rid of all obligations and duties to the state, and of the peasants, turned into peasant proprietors; it was even made the basis of the political rights of “citizens” to participate in local government (the qualification), etc. Still more undoubted is the “tie” between our “progress” and the “principles of economic freedom”: we have already heard in Chapter I from our Narodnik how this “freedom” consisted in liberating the “modest and bearded” gatherers of Russia’s land from the need to “humble themselves to a junior police official.” We have already spoken of how the “sense of individualism” was created by the development of commodity economy. By combining all these features of Russia’s progress, one cannot but reach the conclusion (drawn, too, by the Narodnik of the seventies) that this progress and culture were thoroughly bourgeois. Contemporary Russia is far better than pre-Reform Russia, but since all this improvement is wholly and exclusively due to the bourgeoisie, to its agents and ideologists, the producers have not profited by it. As far as they are concerned the improvements have only meant a change in the form of the surplus product, have only meant improved and perfected methods of separating the producer from the means of production. That is why the Narodnik gentlemen display the most incredible “flippancy” and forgetfulness when they address their protest against Russian capitalism and bourgeoisdom   to those who in fact were their vehicles and exponents. All you can say of them is: “they came unto their own, and their own received them not.”

To agree with that description of post-Reform Russia and “society” will be beyond the capacity of the contemporary Narodnik. And to challenge it, he would have to deny the bourgeois character of post-Reform Russia, to deny the very thing for which his distant forefather, the Narodnik of the seventies, rose up and “went among the people” to seek “guarantees for the future” among the direct producers themselves. Of course, the contemporary Narodnik will possibly not only deny it, but will perhaps seek to prove that a change for the better has taken place in the relation under review; by doing so, however, he would merely show all who have not yet seen it, that he is absolutely nothing more than the most ordinary little bourgeois individual.

As the reader sees, I have only to round off Mr. Struve’s propositions, to formulate them in another way, “to say the same thing, only differently.” The question arises: is there any need for it? Is it worth while dealing in such detail with these additions and conclusions? Do they not follow automatically?

It seems to me that it is worth while, for two reasons. Firstly, the author’s narrow objectivism is extremely dangerous, since it extends to the point of forgetting the line of demarcation between the old professorial arguments about the paths and destiny of the fatherland, so rooted in our literature, and a precise characterisation of the actual process impelled by such and such classes. This narrow objectivism, this inconsistency in relation to Marxism, is the main defect of Mr. Struve’s book, and it will be necessary to dwell on it in particularly great detail, so as to show that it originates not from Marxism but from its inadequate application; not from the author seeing criteria of his theory other than reality, from his drawing other practical conclusions from the doctrine (they are impossible, I repeat, unthinkable unless you mutilate all its main tenets), but from the fact that the author has limited himself to one, the most general aspect of the theory, and has not applied it quite consistently. Secondly, one cannot but agree with the idea which the author expressed   in his preface that before criticising Narodism on secondary issues, it was necessary “to disclose the very fundamentals of the disagreement” (VII) by way of a “principled polemic.” But in order to ensure that the author’s aim should not remain unachieved a more concrete meaning must be given to almost all his propositions, all his rather general remarks must be applied to the concrete problems of Russian history and present-day reality. On all these problems the Russian Marxists still have much to do to “reconsider the facts” from the materialist standpoint—to disclose the class contradictions in the activities of “society” and the “state” that lay behind the theories of the “intelligentsia,” and, finally, to establish the tie between all the separate, endlessly varied forms of appropriating the surplus product in Russia’s “people’s” enterprises, and the advanced, most developed, capitalist form of this appropriation, which contains the “guarantees for the future” and now puts in the forefront the idea and the historical task of the “producer.” Consequently, however bold the attempt to indicate the solution of these problems may seem, however numerous the changes and corrections that result from further, detailed study, it is none the less worth indicating specific problems, so as to evoke as general and broad a discussion of them as possible.

The culminating point of Mr. Struve’s narrow objectivism, which gives rise to his wrong presentation of problems, is the way he argues about List, about his “splendid doctrine” concerning a “confederation of national productive forces,” about the importance for agriculture of developing factory industry, and about the superiority of the manufacturing and agricultural state over the purely agricultural, etc. The author finds that this “doctrine” very “convincingly speaks of the historical inevitability and legitimacy of capitalism in the broad sense of the term” (123), and about the “cultural-historical might of triumphant commodity production” (124).

The professorial character of the arguments of the author, who rises, as it were, above all definite countries, definite historical periods, and definite classes, stands out here in particular relief. However you look at this argument—whether from the purely theoretical or from the practical   aspect, such an assessment will be equally correct. Let us begin from the former. Is it not strange to think of being able to “convince” anybody at all of the “historical inevitability and legitimacy of capitalism” in a particular country by advancing abstract, dogmatic propositions about the significance of factory industry? Is it not a mistake to raise the problem in this way, so beloved of the liberal professors of Russkoye Bogatstvo? Is it not obligatory for a Marxist to reduce everything to ascertaining what is, and why it is so, and not otherwise?

The Narodniks consider capitalism in this country to be an artificial, hothouse plant, because they cannot understand the connection between it and the entire commodity organisation of our social economy, and fail to see its roots in our “people’s production.” Show them these connections and roots, show them that capitalism also dominates in its least developed and therefore worst form in people’s production, and you will prove the “inevitability” of Russian capitalism. Show them that this capitalism, by raising labour productivity and socialising labour, develops and renders clear the class, social contradiction that has come into being everywhere in “people’s production”— and you will prove the “legitimacy” of Russian large-scale capitalism. As to the practical aspect of this argument, which touches on the problem of commercial policy, the following may be noted. Although they stress primarily and most emphatically that the problem of free trade and protection is a capitalist problem, one of bourgeois policy, the Russian Marxists must stand for free trade, since the reactionary character of protection, which retards the country’s economic development, and serves the interests not of the entire bourgeois class, but merely of a handful of all-powerful magnates, is very strongly evident in Russia, and since free trade means accelerating the process that yields the means of deliverance from capitalism.

The last section (XI) of the third chapter is devoted to an examination of the concept “capitalism.” The author very rightly remarks that this word is used “very loosely” and cites examples of a “very narrow” and “very broad”   way of understanding it, but lays down no precise attributes of it; the concept “capitalism,” despite the author’s analysis, has not been analysed. Yet, one would have thought it should present no particular difficulty, since the concept was introduced into science by Marx, who substantiated it by facts. But here, too, Mr. Struve would not let himself be infected with “orthodoxy.” “Marx himself,” says he, “viewed the process of the transformation of commodity production into commodity-capitalist production as perhaps more precipitate and straightforward than it is in actual fact” (p. 127, footnote). Perhaps. But since it is the only view substantiated scientifically and supported by the history of capital, and since we are unacquainted with other views, which “perhaps” are less “precipitate” and “straightforward,” we turn to Marx. The essential features of capitalism, according to his theory, are (1) commodity production, as the general form of production. The product assumes the form of a commodity in the most diverse social production organisms, but only in capitalist production is that form of the product of labour general, and not exceptional, isolated, accidental. The second feature of capitalism (2)—not only the product of labour, but also labour itself, i.e., human labour-power, assumes the form of a commodity. The degree to which the commodity form of labour-power is developed is an indication of the degree to which capitalism is developed.[6] With the aid of this definition we shall easily see our way among the examples of incorrect understanding of this term cited by Mr. Struve. Undoubtedly, the contrasting of the Russian system to capitalism, a contrast based on the technical backwardness of our national economy, on the predominance of hand production, etc., and so often resorted to by the Narodniks, is quite absurd, since capitalism exists both where technical development is low and where it is high; in Capital Marx repeatedly stresses the point that capital first subordinates production as it finds it, and only subsequently   transforms it technically. Undoubtedly, the German Hausindustrie and the Russian “domestic system of large-scale production” are capitalist-organised industry, for not only does commodity production dominate, but the owner of money also dominates the producers and appropriates surplus-value. Undoubtedly, when the Russian “land-holding” peasantry is contrasted to West-European capitalism—something the Narodniks are so fond of doing—that, too, merely shows a lack of understanding of what capitalism

is. As the author quite rightly remarks, “peasant semi-natural economy” (124) is also to be found in some places in the West, but neither in the West nor in Russia does this do away with either the predominance of commodity production, or the subordination of the overwhelming majority of the producers to capital: before this subordination reaches the highest, peak level of development, it passes through many stages that are usually ignored by the Narodniks despite the very precise explanation given by Marx. The subordination begins with merchant’s and usury capital, then grows into industrial capitalism, which in its turn is at first technically quite primitive, and does not differ in any way from the old systems of production, then organises manufacture—which is still based on hand labour, and on the dominant handicraft industries, without breaking the tie between the wage-worker and the land—and completes its development with large-scale machine industry. It is this last, highest stage that constitutes the culminating point of the development of capitalism, it alone creates the fully expropriated worker[7] who is as free as a bird, it alone gives rise (both materially and socially) to the “unifying significance” of capitalism that the Narodniks are accustomed to connect with capitalism in general, it alone opposes capitalism to its “own child.”

The fourth chapter of the book, “Economic Progress and Social Progress,” is a direct continuation of the third chapter, and covers that part of the book which advances data of “human experience” against the Narodniks. We shall   have to deal here in detail, firstly, with the author’s wrong view [or clumsy expression?] concerning Marx’s followers and, secondly, with the way the tasks of the economic criticism of Narodism are formulated.

Mr. Struve says that Marx conceived the transition from capitalism to the new social system as the sudden downfall, the collapse of capitalism. (He thinks that “certain passages” in Marx give grounds for this view; as a matter of fact, it runs through all the works of Marx.) The followers of Marx fight for reforms. An “important correction has been made” to the viewpoint that Marx held in the forties: instead of the “chasm” separating capitalism from the new system, a “number of transitional stages” have been admitted.

We cannot under any circumstances admit this to be right. No “correction” whatever, either important or unimportant, has been made to Marx’s viewpoint by the “followers of Marx.” The fight for reforms does not in the least imply a “correction,” does not in the least correct the doctrine of the chasm and sudden downfall, because this struggle is waged with a frankly and definitely admitted aim, that of reaching the “fall”; and the fact that this requires a “number of transitional stages”—from one phase of the struggle to another, from one stage to the next—was admitted by Marx himself in the forties when he said in the Manifesto that the movement towards the new system cannot be separated from the working-class movement (and, hence, from the struggle for reforms), and when he himself, in conclusion, proposed a number of practical measures.[16]

If Mr. Struve wanted to indicate the development of Marx’s viewpoint, he was, of course, right. But then, this is not a “correction” to his views, but the very opposite—their application, their realisation.

Nor can we agree with the author’s attitude towards Narodism.

Our Narodnik literature,” he says, “seized upon the contrast between national wealth and the well-being of the people, social progress and progress in distribution” (131).

Narodism did not “seize upon” this contrast, but merely stated the fact that in post-Reform Russia the same contradiction was to be observed between progress, culture,   wealth and—the separation of the producer from the means of production, the diminution of the producer’s share in the product of the people’s labour, and the growth of poverty and unemployment—as that which had led to this contrast being made in the West, too.

“...Owing to its humanity and its love for the people, this literature immediately settled the problem in favour of the well-being of the people, and as certain forms of people’s economy (village community, artel) apparently embodied the ideal of economic equality and thus guaranteed the well-being of the people, and as the progress of production under the influence of increased exchange held out no promise for these forms, whose economic and psychological foundations it abolished, the Narodniks, pointing to the sad experience of the West in regard to industrial progress based on private property and economic liberty, countered commodity production—capitalism, with a so-called ’people’s industry’ that guarantees the well-being of the people, as a social and economic ideal for the preservation and further development of which the Russian intelligentsia and the Russian people should fight.”

This argument clearly reveals the flaws in Mr. Struve’s thesis. Narodism is depicted as a “humane” theory which “seized upon” the contrast between national wealth and the poverty of the people and “settled the problem” in favour of distribution, because the “experience of the West” “held out no promise” for the well-being of the people. And the author begins to argue against this “settlement” of the problem, forgetting that he is only arguing against the idealist and, moreover, naïve daydreams that are the cloak of Narodism, and not against its content, forgetting that he is committing a serious error by presenting the question in the professorial manner usually adopted by the Narodniks. As we have already stated, the content of Narodism reflects the viewpoint and the interests of the Russian small producer. The “humanity and love for the people” expressed in the theory derive from the downtrodden condition of our small producer, who has suffered severely both from the “old-nobility” system and traditions, and from the oppression of big capital. The attitude of Narodism towards the “West” and towards its influence   upon Russia was determined, of course, not by the fact that it “seized upon” this or that idea coming from the West, but by the small producer’s conditions of life: he saw that he was up against large-scale capitalism which was borrowing West-European technique,[8] and, oppressed by it, built up naïve theories which explained capitalism by politics instead of capitalist politics by capitalist economy, and which declared large-scale capitalism to be something alien to Russia, introduced from outside. The fact that he was tied to his separate, small enterprise prevented him from understanding the true character of the state, and he appealed to it to help develop small (“people’s”) production. Owing to the undeveloped condition of class antagonisms characteristic of Russian capitalist society, the theory of these petty bourgeois ideologists was put forward as representing the interests of labour in general.

Instead of showing the absurdity of Narodniks’ presentation of the problem and explaining their “settlement” of it by the material conditions of the small producer’s life, the author himself, in his own presentation of the problem, betrays a dogmatism which reminds one of the Narodniks’ “choice” between economic and social progress.

The task of criticising the economic principles of Narodism ... is ... to prove the following:

“1) Economic progress is a necessary condition for social progress: the latter emerges historically from the former, and, at a certain stage of development, organic interaction between, interdependence of, these two processes should, and in fact does, manifest itself” (133).

Speaking generally, this is, of course, a perfectly true statement. But it indicates the tasks of criticising the sociological rather than the economic principles of Narodism: in essence, it is a different way of formulating the doctrine that the development of society is determined by the development of the productive forces which we discussed in chapters I and II. It is, however, inadequate for the criticism of the “economic principles of Narodism.” The problem must be formulated more concretely, it must be reduced from progress in general to the “progress” of   capitalist society in Russia, to those errors in understanding this progress which gave rise to the ridiculous Narodnik fables about the tabula rasa, about “people’s production,” about Russian capitalism having no basis, etc. Instead of talk about interaction manifesting itself between economic and social progress, the definite symptoms of social progress in Russia of which the Narodniks fail to see such and such economic roots, must be shown (or at least indicated).[9]

“2) For that reason, the question of the organisation of production and of the level of labour productivity is one that takes precedence over the question of distribution; under certain historical conditions, when the productivity of the people’s labour is extremely low, both absolutely and relatively, the predominant importance of the factor of production makes itself felt very acutely.”

The author here bases himself on Marx’s doctrine of the subordinate importance of distribution. As an epigraph to Chapter IV a passage is taken from Marx’s criticism of the Gotha Programme[17] where he contrasts vulgar socialism to scientific socialism, which attaches no great importance to distribution, explains the social system by the way the relations of production are organised and considers that such organisation already includes a definite system of distribution. This idea, as the author quite justly remarks, runs through the whole of Marx’s theory, and is extremely important for an understanding of the petty-bourgeois content of Narodism. But the second part of Mr. Struve’s sentence greatly obscures this idea, particularly because of the vague term he uses, “the factor of production.” Some confusion may arise as to the sense in which this term is to be understood. The Narodnik adopts the viewpoint of the small producer, whose explanations of the misfortunes he suffers are very superficial; for example, he is “poor,” while his neighbour, the buyer-up, is “rich”;   the “authorities” only help big capital, etc.; in a word, his misfortunes are due to the specific features of distribution, to mistakes in policy, etc. What viewpoint does the author oppose to that of the Narodnik? The viewpoint of big capital, who looks down with contempt upon the miserable little enterprise of the peasant-handicraftsman and who is proud of the high degree of development of his own industry, proud of the “service” he has rendered by raising the absolute and relative low productivity of the people’s labour? Or the viewpoint of its antipode, who is now living in relationships which are so far developed that he is no longer satisfied with references to policy and distribution, and who is beginning to understand that the causes lie much deeper, in the very organisation (social) of production, in the very system of social economy based on individual property and controlled and guided by the market? This question might quite naturally arise in the reader’s mind, especially since the author sometimes uses the term “factor of production” side by side with the word “economy” (see p. 171: the Narodniks “ignore the factor of production to a degree that is tantamount to denying the existence of any system of economy”), and especially since, by comparing “irrational” with “rational” production, the author sometimes obscures the relationship between the small producer and the producer who has lost the means of production altogether. It is perfectly true that from the objective point of view the author’s exposition is no less correct on account of this and that it is easy for anyone who understands the antagonism inherent in the capitalist system to picture the situation from the angle of the latter relationship. But, as it is well known that the Russian Narodnik gentlemen do not understand this, it is desirable in controversy with them to be more definite and thorough and to resort to the fewest possible general and abstract postulates.

As we tried to show by a concrete example in Chapter I, the difference between Narodism and Marxism lies wholly in the character of their criticism of Russian capitalism. The Narodnik thinks that to criticise capitalism it is sufficient to indicate the existence of exploitation, the interaction between exploitation and politics, etc. The Marxist thinks it necessary to explain and also to link together   the phenomena of exploitation as a system of certain relations in production, as a special social-economic formation, the laws of the functioning and development of which have to be studied objectively. The Narodnik thinks it sufficient, in criticising capitalism, to condemn it from the angle of his ideals, from the angle of “modern science and modern moral ideas.” The Marxist thinks it necessary to trace in detail the classes that are formed in capitalist society, he considers valid only criticism made from the viewpoint of a definite class, criticism that is based on the precise formulation of the social process actually taking place and not on the ethical judgement of the “individual.”

If, with this as our starting-point, we tried to formulate the tasks of criticising the economic principles of Narodism, they would be defined approximately as follows:

It must be shown that the relation between large-scale capitalism in Russia and “people’s production” is the relation between a completely developed and an undeveloped phenomenon, between a higher stage of development of the capitalist social formation and a lower stage;[10] that the separation of the producer from the means of production and the appropriation of the product of his labour by the owner of money are to be explained, both in the factory and even in the village community, not by politics, not by distribution, but by the production relations that necessarily take shape under commodity economy, by the formation of classes with antagonistic interests which is characteristic of capitalist society;[11] that the reality (small production) which   the Narodniks want to raise to a higher level, bypassing capitalism, already contains capitalism with its antagonism of classes and clashes between them—only the antagonism is in its worst form, a form which hampers the independent activity of the producer; and that by ignoring the social antagonisms which have already arisen and by dreaming about “different paths for the father land,” the Narodniks become utopian reactionaries, because large-scale capitalism only develops, purges and clarifies the content of these antagonisms, which exist all over Russia.

Directly connected with the over-abstract formulation of the tasks of the economic criticism of Narodism is the author’s further exposition, in which he seeks to prove the “inevitability” and “progressive character,” not of Russian capitalism, but of West European. Without directly touching on the economic content of the Narodnik doctrine, this exposition contains much that is interesting and instructive. In Narodnik literature voices have been heard time and again expressing distrust towards the West European labour movement. This was most strikingly expressed during the recent polemics of Messrs. Mikhailovsky and Co. (Russkoye Bogatstvo, 1893-1894) against the Marxists. We have seen no good from capitalism yet, Mr. Mikhailovsky wrote at that time.[12] The absurdity of these petty-bourgeois views is excellently proved by Mr. Struve’s data, especially since they are drawn from the latest bourgeois   literature, which can on no account be accused of exaggeration. The passages quoted by the author show that in the West everybody, even the bourgeois, realises that the transition of capitalism to a new social-economic formation is inevitable.

The socialisation of labour by capital has advanced so far that even bourgeois literature loudly proclaims the necessity of the “planned organisation of the national economy.” The author is quite right when he says that this is a “sign of the times,” a sign of the complete break-up of the capitalist system. He quotes extremely interesting statements by bourgeois professors and even by conservatives who are compelled to admit that which Russian radicals to this very day like to deny—the fact that the working-class movement was created by the material conditions brought into existence by capitalism and not “simply” by culture or other political conditions.

After all that has been said, it is hardly necessary for us to deal with the author’s argument that distribution can make progress only if based on rational production. Clearly, the meaning of this postulate is that only large-scale capitalism based on rational production creates conditions that enable the producer to raise his head, to give thought and show concern both for himself and for those who, owing to the backward state of production, do not live in such conditions.

Just a word or two about the following sentence which occurs in Mr. Struve’s book: “The extreme inequality of distribution, which retards economic progress, was hot created by capitalism: capitalism inherited it” from the epoch which romantics picture as flowing with milk and honey (p. 159). That is true if all the author wanted to say was that unequal distribution existed even before capitalism, something Narodnik gentlemen are inclined to for get. But it is not true if it includes a denial that capitalism has increased this inequality. Under serfdom there was not, nor could there be, that sharp inequality between the absolutely impoverished peasant or tramp, and the bank, railway, or industrial magnate, which has been created by post-Reform capitalist Russia.

Let us pass to Chapter V. Here the author gives a general description of “Narodism as an economic philosophy.” “The Narodniks,” in Mr. Struve’s opinion, are the “ideologists of natural economy and primitive equality” (167).

We cannot agree with this description. We shall not repeat here the arguments advanced in Chapter I, proving that the Narodniks are the ideologists of the small producer. In that chapter we showed exactly how the small producer’s material conditions of life, his transitory, intermediate position between the “masters” and the “workers” lead to the Narodniks’ failure to understand class antagonisms, and the queer mixture of progressive and reactionary points in their programme.

Here let us merely add that its former, i.e., progressive, side brings Narodism close to West-European democracy, and for that reason the brilliant description of democracy given over forty years ago in connection with events in French history can be applied to it in its entirety:

The democrat, because he represents the petty bourgeoisie, that is, a transition class, in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously mutually blunted, imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally. The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the people’s rights; what interests them is the people’s interests. Accordingly... they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes. They do not need to weigh their own resources too critically.... [13] If in the performance their interests prove to be uninteresting and their potency impotent, then either the fault lies with pernicious sophists, who split the indivisible people into different hostile   camps[14] ... or the whole thing has been wrecked by a detail in its execution, or else an unforeseen accident has this time spoilt the game. In any case, the democrat comes out of the most disgraceful defeat just as immaculate as he was innocent when he went into it, with the newly-won conviction that he is bound to win, not that he himself and his party have to give up the old stand point, but, on the contrary, that conditions have to ripen to suit him” (ihm entgegenzureifen haben. Der achtzehnte. Brumaire, u.s.w., S. 39).[18]

The very examples which the author himself quotes prove that the description of the Narodniks as ideologists of natural economy and primitive equality is wrong. “As a curiosity it is worth mentioning,” says Mr. Struve, “that to this day Mr. —on calls Vasilchikov a liberal economist” (169). If we examine the real essence of this designation we shall find that it is by no means curious. In his programme Vasilchikov has the demand for cheap and widespread credit. Mr. Nikolai —on cannot fail to see that in the capitalist society which Russian society is, credit will only strengthen the bourgeoisie, will lead to “the development and consolidation of capitalist relationships” (Sketches, p. 77). By the practical measures he proposes, Vasilchikov, like all the Narodniks, represents nothing but the interests of the petty bourgeoisie. The only thing that is curious about this is that Mr. —on, sitting as he does side by side with the Russkoye Bogatstvo publicists, has “to this day” not noticed that they are exactly the same type of little “liberal economists” as Prince Vasilchikov. Utopian theories easily reconcile themselves in practice with petty-bourgeois progress. This description of Narodism is still further confirmed by Golovachov, who admits that to distribute allotments to everybody is absurd and suggests that “cheap credits be provided for working folk.” In criticising this “astonishing” theory, Mr. Struve calls attention to the absurdity   of the theory, but he appears not to have observed its petty-bourgeois content.

When speaking of Chapter V, we too cannot help dealing with Mr. Shcherbina’s “law of average requirements.” This is important in estimating Mr. Struve’s Malthusianism, which stands out clearly in Chapter VI. The “law” is as follows: when you classify the peasants according to allotment you get very little fluctuation (from group to group) in the average magnitude of peasant family requirements (i.e., of expenditure on various needs); Mr. Shcherbina calculates this expenditure per head of the population.

Mr. Struve emphasises with satisfaction that this “law” is “tremendously important,” since, he avers, it confirms the “well-known” law of Malthus that “the living standard and the reproduction of the population are determined by the means of subsistence they have at their disposal.”

We cannot understand why Mr. Struve is so pleased with this law. We cannot understand how one can see a “law,” and what is more, a “tremendously important” one, in Mr. Shcherbina’s calculations. It is quite natural that where the manner of life of different peasant families does not differ very considerably we get averages that vary little if we divide the peasants into groups; particularly if, when making the division into groups, we take as the basis the size of the allotment, which is no direct index of a family’s living standard (since the allotment may be leased out, or additional land may be rented) and is equally available to both the rich and the poor peasant possessing an equal number of taxable members in the family. Mr. Shcherbina’s calculations merely prove that he chose a wrong method of classification. If Mr. Shcherbina thinks he has discovered some law here, it is very strange. It is equally strange to find confirmation of the law of Malthus here, as though one can judge of the “means of subsistence at the peasant’s disposal” from the size of the allotment when one disregards the leasing out of land, “outside employments,” the peasant’s economic dependence on the landlord and the buyer-up. About this “law” of Mr. Shcherbina’s (the way Mr. Shcherbina expounds this “law” indicates that the author attaches incredibly great importance to his average figures, which prove absolutely nothing) Mr. Struve says:   “‘People’s production’ in the present case simply means production without the employment of wage-labour. It is undoubted that where production is organised in that way the ’surplus-value’ remains in the hands of the producer” (176). And the author points out that where labour productivity is low, this does not prevent the representative of such “people’s production” living worse than the worker. The author is carried away by the Malthusian theory, and this has led him to formulate inexactly the proposition cited. Merchant’s and usury capital subordinates labour to itself in every Russian village and—without turning the producer into a wage-worker—deprives him of as much surplus-value as industrial capital takes from the working man. Mr. Struve rightly indicated earlier on that capitalist production sets in from the moment the capitalist steps between the producer and the consumer, even though he buys the ready-made ware from the independent (apparently independent) producer (p. 99 and note 2), and it would be no easy job to find among the Russian “independent” producers those that do not work for a capitalist (merchant, buyer-up, kulak, etc.). One of the biggest mistakes of the Narodniks is that they do not see the very close and indissoluble tie between the capitalist organisation of Russian social economy and the absolute dominion of merchant’s capital in the countryside. The author therefore is perfectly correct when he says that the “very combination of the words ’people’s production’ in the sense they are used by the Narodnik gentlemen does not fit in with any actual historical order. Here in Russia ’people’s production’ before 1861 was closely connected with serfdom, and then after 1861 there was a rapid development of commodity economy, which could not but distort the purity of people’s production” (177). When the Narodnik says that the ownership of the means of production by the producer is the age-old basis of the Russian way of life, he is simply distorting history to suit his utopia, and does so by playing tricks with words: under serfdom. means of production were supplied to the producer by the landlord in order that the producer could engage in corvée service for him; the allotment was a sort of wages in kind—the “age-old” means of appropriating the surplus product.   The abolition of serfdom did not mean the “emancipation” of the producer at all; it only meant a change in the form of the surplus product. While in, say, England the fall of serfdom gave rise to really independent and free peasants, our Reform immediately effected the transition from the “shameful” feudal surplus product to “tree” bourgeois surplus-value.


[1] This relation between objectivism and materialism was indicated, incidentally, by Marx in his preface to his Der achtzehnte Brumaire der Louis Bonaparte. Marx, after mentioning that Proudhon wrote of the same historical event (In his Coup d’état), says the following of how the latter’s viewpoint is opposed to his own:

Proudhon, for his part, seeks to represent the coup d’état [of Dec. 21 as the result of an antecedent historical development. Unnoticeably, however, his historical construction of the coup d’état be comes a historical apologia for its hero. Thus he falls into the error of our so-called objective historians. I, on the contrary, demonstrate how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relation ships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part” (Vorwort).[19]Lenin

[2] Even today it cannot be said to have ended altogether. On the one hand, we have the land-redemption payments (and it is well known that they include not only the price of the land, but also the redemption from serfdom); on the other hand, labour service by the peasants in return for the use of “cut-off lands,” for example, are a direct survival of the feudal mode of production. —Lenin

[3]The entire process is expressed in the fact of petty production (handicraft) approximating to ’capitalism’ in some respects, and in others to wage-labour separated from the means of production” (p. 104). —Lenin

[4] This, of course, refers to their being isolated economically. Community landownership does not eliminate this in the least. Even where the land re-allotments are “equalitarian” in the highest degree the peasant farms single-handed on his own strip of land; hence be is an isolated producer working on his own. —Lenin

[5] Contra principia negantem disputari non potest (you cannot argue against one who denies principles.—Ed.)—says the author about an argument with the Narodniks. That depends on how these principia are formulated—as general propositions and notes, or as a different understanding of the facts of Russian history and present-day reality. —Lenin

[6] Das Kapital, Il Band (1885), S. 93. The reservation must be made that in the passage referred to Marx gives no definition of capitalism. In general, he did not offer definitions. Here he only refers to the relation between commodity and capitalist production, the point dealt with in the text.[20]Lenin

[7] The Narodniks always describe things as though the worker separated from the land is. a necessary condition of capitalism in general, and not of machine industry alone. —Lenin

[8] Cf. above-mentioned article in Otechestvenniye Zapiski. —Lenin

[9] It may be argued that I am running too far ahead, for did not the author say that he intended to proceed gradually from general problems to concrete ones, which he examines in Chapter VI? The point is, however, that the abstractness of Mr. Struve’s criticism to which I refer, is a distinguishing feature of the whole of his book— of Chapter VI and even of the concluding part. What most of all requires correcting is his way of presenting problems. —Lenin

[10] An analysis of the economic side should, of course, be supplemented by an analysis of the social, juridical, political, and ideological superstructures. The failure to understand the connection between capitalism and “people’s production” gave rise among the Narodniks to the idea that the peasant Reform, state power, the intelligentsia, etc., were non-class in character. A materialist analysis, which reduces all these phenomena to the class struggle, must show concretely that our Russian post-Reform “social progress” has only been the result of capitalist “economic progress.” —Lenin

[11] A “reconsideration of the facts” of Russian economic realities, especially those from which the Narodniks obtain the material for their schoolgirl dreams, i.e., peasant and handicraft economy, should show that the cause of the producer’s oppressed condition does not lie in distribution (“the muzhik is poor, the buyer-up is rich”), but   in the very production relations, ·in the very social organisation of present-day peasant and handicraft economy. This will show that in “people’s” production, too, “the problem of the organisation of production takes precedence over the problem of distribution.” —Lenin

[12] We must mention that in Mr. Struve’s reply Mr. Mikhailovsky finds that Engels betrays “self-admiration” when he says that the dominating, overwhelming fact of modern times, which makes these times better than any other epoch and justifies the history of their origin, is the working-class movement in the West.

This positively atrocious reproach hurled at Engels is extremely typical of contemporary Russian Narodism.

These people can talk a lot about “people’s truth,” they know how to talk to our “society” and to reprove it for making a wrong selection of the path for the fatherland, they can sing sweetly about “now or never,” and sing it for “ten, twenty, thirty years and more,” but they are absolutely incapable of understanding the all-embracing significance of independent action by those in whose name these sweet songs have been sung. —Lenin

[13] The Russian Narodniks are exactly the same. They do not deny that there are classes in Russia which are antagonistic to the producer, but they lull themselves with the argument that these “pirates” are insignificant compared with the “people” and refuse to make a careful study of the position and interests of the respective classes, to examine whether the interests of a certain category of producers are interwoven with the interests of the “pirates,” thus weakening the former’s power of resistance against the latter. —Lenin

[14] In the opinion of the Russian Narodniks the pernicious Marxists are to blame for artificially implanting capitalism and its class antagonisms in the soil in which the flowers of “social mutual adaptation” and “harmonious activity” bloom so beautifully (Mr. V. V., quoted by Struve, p. 161). —Lenin

[19] See K. Marx and F. Engels, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 244.

The book by Proudhon mentioned in the text is called The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d’État. p. 425

[15] Leibkampantsi, from Leibkompanie (personal bodyguard), the title of honour bestowed on the Grenadier Company of the Preobrazhensky Regiment in 1741 by Tsarina Yelizaveta Petrovna for having placed her on the Russian throne. They were given estates and all sorts of special privileges, while those of them who were not of noble origin were made hereditary nobles. The nickname “Leibkampantsi” was put in circulation by M. Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin in his Poshekhon Tales. p. 426

[20] See K. Marx, Capital, Vol. II, Moscow, 1957, pp. 116-17. p. 437

[16] See K. Marx and F. Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” Selected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1958, pp. 53-54. p. 439

[17] Gotha Programme—the programme of the German Social-Democratic Party adopted in 1875 at the Gotha congress, where unity was established between the two German socialist parties that had previously existed separately; they were the Eisenachers (who were led by Bebel and Liebknecht, and were under the ideological influence of Marx and Engels), and the Lassalleans. The programme suffered from eclecticism, and was opportunist, since the Eisenachers made   concessions to the Lassalleans and accepted their formulations on vitally important points. Marx and Engels subjected the Gotha draft programme to withering criticism, for they regarded it as a considerable step backwards even as compared with the Eisenach programme of 1869. (See K. Marx and F. Engels, “Critique of the Gotha Programme,” Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958. pp. 13-48.) p. 442

[18] See K. Marx and F. Engels, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, pp. 278-79. p. 448

  A Criticism of Narodnik Sociology | I  

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