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)


( How Mr. Struve Explains Some Features of Russia’s Post-Reform Economy )

( Chapter IV )


Let us pass to the last point in Mr. Struve’s theoretical arguments, namely, to the “problem of markets for Russian capitalism” (245).

The author begins his examination of the Narodnik-devised theory about there being no markets in this country, with the question: “What does Mr. V. V. understand by capitalism?”   That question is a very relevant one, since Mr. V. V. (and all Narodniks in general) have always compared the Russian order of things with some “English form” (247) of capitalism and not with its basic features, which have a different appearance in each country. It is only a pity that Mr. Struve does not give a complete definition of capitalism, but points in general to the “domination of exchange economy” [that is one feature; the second is the appropriation of surplus-value by the owner of money, his domination over labour], to “the system we see in Western Europe” (247), “with all its consequences,” with the “concentration of industrial production, capitalism in the narrow sense of the word” (247).

Mr. V. V.,” says the author, “did not go into an analysis of the concept ’capitalism,’ but took it from Marx, who mainly had in view capitalism in the narrow sense, as the already fully established product of relations developing on the basis of the subordination of production to exchange” (247). One cannot agree with that. Firstly, had Mr. V. V. really taken his idea of capitalism from Marx, he would have had a correct idea of it, and could not have confused the “English form” with capitalism. Secondly, it is quite unfair to assert that Marx mainly had in view the “centralisation or concentration of industrial production” [that is what Mr. Struve understands by capitalism in the narrow sense]. On the contrary, he followed up the development of commodity economy from its initial steps, he analysed capitalism in its primitive forms of simple co-operation and manufacture—forms centuries apart from the concentration of production by machines—and he showed the connection between capitalism in industry and in agriculture. Mr. Struve himself narrows down the concept of capitalism when he says: “The object of Mr. V. V.’s study was the first steps of the national economy on the path from natural to commodity organisation.” He should have said: the last steps. Mr. V. V., as far as we know, only studied Russia’s post-Reform economy. The beginning of commodity production relates to the pre-Reform era, as Mr. Struve himself indicates (189-90), and even the capitalist organisation of the cotton industry took shape before the emancipation of the peasants. The Reform gave an impulse to the final development in this sense; it pushed the commodity form of labour-power   and not the commodity form of the product of labour to the forefront; it sanctioned the domination of capitalist and not of commodity production. The hazy distinction between capitalism in the broad and in the narrow sense[1] leads Mr. Struve apparently to regard Russian capitalism as something of the future and not of the present, not as something already and definitely established. He says, for example:

Before posing the question: is it inevitable for Russia to have capitalism in the English form, Mr. V. V. should have posed and settled a different one, a more general and hence more important question: is it inevitable for Russia to pass from natural to money economy, and what is the relation between capitalist production sensu stricto and commodity production in general?” (247). That is hardly a convenient way of posing the question. If the present, existing system of production relations in Russia is clearly explained, then the problem of whether this or that line of development is “inevitable” will be settled eo ipso. If, however, it is not explained, then it will be insoluble. Instead of arguments about the future (arguments beloved of Messrs. the Narodniks) an explanation of the present should be given. An outstanding fact in post-Reform Russia has been the outward, if one may so call it, manifestation of capitalism, i.e., manifestation of its “heights” (factory production, railways, banks, etc.), and theoretical thought was immediately faced with the problem of capitalism in Russia. The Narodniks have tried to prove that these heights are something accidental, unconnected with the entire economic system, without basis and therefore impotent; and they have used the term “capitalism” in too narrow a sense, forgetting that the enslavement of labour to capital covers very long and diverse stages from merchant’s capital to the “English form.” It is the job of Marxists to prove that these heights are nothing more than the last step in the development of the commodity economy that took shape   long ago in Russia and everywhere, in all branches of production, gives rise to the subordination of labour to capital.

Mr. Struve’s view of Russian capitalism as something of the future and not of the present was expressed with particular clarity in the following argument: “So long as the contemporary village community exists, registered and consolidated by law, relations will develop on the basis of it that have nothing in common with the ‘people’s well—being.’” [Surely not just “will develop”; did they not develop so long ago that the whole of Narodnik literature, from its very outset, over a quarter of a century ago, described them and protested against them?] “In the West we have several examples of the existence of individual farmsteads alongside of large-scale capitalist farming. Our Poland and our south west territory belong to the same order of things. It may be said that in Russia, both the community villages and those consisting of individual farms approach this type, inasmuch as the impoverished peasantry remain on the land and levelling influences among them are proving stronger than differentiating influences” (280). Is it merely a matter of approaching, and not of already being that type at this very moment? To determine “type,” one has, of course, to take the basic economic features of the system, and not legal forms. If we look at these basic features of the economy of the Russian countryside, we shall see the isolated economy of the peasant households on small plots of land, we shall see growing commodity economy that already plays a dominant role. It is these features that give content to the concept “small individual farming.” We shall see further the same peasant indebtedness to usurers, the same expropriation to which the data of the West testify. The whole difference lies in the specific character of our juridical system (the peasants’ civic inequality; forms of land tenure), which retains stronger traces of the “old regime” as a result of the weaker development of our capitalism. But these specific features do not in the least disturb the uniformity of type of our peasant system and that of the West.

Proceeding to deal with the theory of markets itself, Mr. Struve notes that Messrs. V. V. and N. —on are caught in a vicious circle: while the development of capitalism requires   the growth of the market, capitalism ruins the population. The author very unsuccessfully corrects this vicious circle with his Malthusianism, placing the blame for the ruin of the peasantry on the “growth of the population” and not on capitalism!! The mistake of the authors mentioned is quite a different one: capitalism not only ruins, but splits the peasantry into a bourgeoisie and a proletariat. This process does not cut down the home market, but creates it: commodity economy grows at both poles of the differentiating peasantry, both among the “proletarian” peasantry, who are compelled to sell “free labour,” and among the bourgeois peasantry, who raise the technical level of their farms (machinery, equipment, fertilisers, etc. Cf. Mr. V. V.’s Progressive Trends in Peasant Farming) and develop their requirements. Despite the fact that this conception of the process is directly based on Marx’s theory of the relation between capitalism in industry and in agriculture, Mr. Struve ignores it—possibly because he has been led astray by Mr. V. V.’s “theory of markets.” This latter person, supposedly basing himself on Marx, has presented the Russian public with a “theory” claiming that in developed capitalist society a “surplus of goods” is inevitable; the home market cannot be sufficient, a foreign one is necessary. “This theory is a true one” (?!), declares Mr. Struve, “inasmuch as it states the fact that surplus-value cannot be realised from consumption either by the capitalists or by the workers, but presumes consumption by third persons” (251). We cannot agree with this statement at all. Mr. V. V.’s “theory” (if one may speak of a theory here) is simply that of ignoring the distinction between personal and productive consumption, the distinction between the means of production and articles of consumption, a distinction without which it is impossible to understand the reproduction of the aggregate social capital in capitalist society. Marx showed this in the greatest detail in Volume II of Capital (Part III: “The Reproduction and Circulation of the Aggregate Social Capital”) and dealt with it vividly in Volume I as well, when criticising the thesis of classical political economy according to which the accumulation of capital consists only of the transformation of surplus-value into wages, and not into constant capital (means of production)   plus wages. To confirm this description of Mr. V. V.’s theory let us confine ourselves to two quotations from the articles mentioned by Mr. Struve.

Each worker,” says Mr. V. V. in his article “The Excess in the Market Supply of Commodities,” “produces more than he consumes himself, and all these surpluses accumulate in few hands; the owners of these surpluses consume them themselves, for which purpose they exchange them within the country and abroad for the most varied objects of necessity and comforts; but however much they eat, drink or dance (sic!!)—they cannot dispose of the whole of the surplus-value” (Otechestvenniye Zapiski, 1883, No. 5, p. 14), and “to be more convincing” the author “examines the chief expenditures” of the capitalist, such as dinners, travelling, etc. We get it still more vividly in the article “Militarism and Capitalism”: “The Achilles’ heel of the capitalist organisation of industry is the impossibility of the employers consuming the whole of their income” (Russkaya Mysl, 1889, No.9, p.80). “Rothschild could not consume the entire increment to his income ... for the simple reason that this ... increment constitutes such a considerable mass of articles of consumption that Rothschild, whose every whim is satisfied as it is, would find himself in very great difficulties,” etc.

All these arguments, as you see, are based on the naïve view that the capitalist’s purpose is only personal consumption and not the accumulation of surplus-value, on the mistaken idea that the social product splits up into v+s (variable capital+surplus-value) as was taught by Adam Smith and all the political economists before Marx, and not into c+v+s (constant capital, means of production, and then into wages and surplus-value), as was shown by Marx. Once these errors are corrected and attention is paid to the circumstance that in capitalist society an enormous and ever-growing part is played by the means of production (the part of the social products that is used for productive and not personal consumption, not for consumption by people but by capital) the whole of the notorious “theory” collapses completely. Marx proved in Volume II that capitalist production is quite conceivable without foreign markets, with the growing accumulation of wealth and without any “third   persons,” whose introduction by Mr. Struve is extremely unfortunate. Mr. Struve’s reasoning on this subject evokes amazement, especially as he himself points to the overwhelming significance of the home market for Russia and catches Mr. V. V. tripping on the “programme of development of Russian capitalism” based on a “strong peasantry.” The process of the formation of this “strong” (that is, bourgeois) peasantry that is now taking place in our countryside clearly shows us the rise of capital, the proletarianisation of the producer and the growth of the home market: the “spread of improved implements,” for example, signifies precisely the accumulation of capital as means of production. On this problem it was particularly necessary, instead of dealing with “possibilities,” to outline and explain the actual process expressed in the creation of a home market for Russian capitalism.[2]

With this we conclude our examination of the theoretical part of Mr. Struve’s book, and can now try to give a general, comprehensive, so to speak, description of the main methods used in his arguments, and thus approach the solution of the problems raised at the outset: “Exactly what in this book may be assigned to Marxism?” “Which of the doctrine’s (Marxism’s) tenets does the author reject, supplement or correct, and with what results?”

The main feature of the author’s arguments, as we noted from the start, is his narrow objectivism, which is confined to proving the inevitability and necessity of the process and makes no effort to reveal at each specific stage of this process the form of class contradiction inherent in it—an objectivism that describes the process in general, and not each of the antagonistic classes whose conflict makes up the process.

We understand perfectly well that the author had his grounds for confining his “notes” to just the “objective” and, what is more, the most general side; his grounds were, firstly, that in his desire to confront the Narodniks with the principles of hostile views, he set forth principia and   nothing more, leaving their development and more concrete examination to the further development of the controversy, and, secondly, we tried in Chapter I to show that all that distinguishes Narodism from Marxism is the character of the criticism of Russian capitalism, the different explanation of it—from which it naturally follows that the Marxists sometimes confine themselves just to general “objective” propositions, and lay emphasis exclusively on what distinguishes our understanding (of generally-known facts) from that of the Narodniks.

Mr. Struve, however, it seems to us, went too far in this respect. Abstractness of exposition frequently yielded propositions that could not but cause misunderstanding; the way the problem was posed did not differ from the methods current and dominant in our literature, the method of arguing in professorial style, from on high, about the paths and destiny of the fatherland and not about specific classes pursuing such and such a path; the more concrete the author’s arguments, the more impossible did it become to explain the principia of Marxism and remain on the heights of general abstract propositions, the more necessary it was to make definite reference to such and such a condition of such and such classes of Russian society, to such and such a relation between the various forms of Plusmacherei and the interests of the producers.

That is why we thought that an attempt to supplement and explain the author’s thesis, to follow his exposition step by step, so as to show the need for a different way of posing the problem, the need for a more consistent way of applying the theory of class contradictions, would not be out of place.

As to Mr. Struve’s direct deviations from Marxism—on problems of the state, over-population, and the home market—sufficient has already been said about them.


[1] There is nothing to show what criterion the author uses to distinguish these concepts. If by capitalism in the narrow sense is meant only machine industry, then it is not clear why manufacture should not be singled out, too. If by capitalism in the broad sense is meant only commodity economy, then there is no capitalism in it. —Lenin

[2] As this is a very important and complicated problem, we intend to devote a special article to it.[3]Lenin

[3] Lenin deals with this problem in detail in his book The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899). See present edition, Vol. 3. p. 499

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