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 )


In addition to a criticism of the theoretical content of Narodism, Mr. Struve’s book contains, among other things, several remarks relating to Narodnik economic policy. Although these remarks are given cursorily and are not developed   by the author, we nevertheless must touch on them in order to leave no room for any misunderstanding.

These remarks contain references to the “rationality,” progressiveness, “intelligence,” etc., of the liberal, i.e., bourgeois policy as compared to the policy of the Narodniks.[1]

The author evidently wanted to contrast two policies that keep to the existing relations—and in this sense he quite rightly pointed out that a policy is “intelligent” if it develops and does not retard capitalism, and it is “intelligent” not because it serves the bourgeoisie by increasingly subordinating the producer to them [the way in which various “simpletons” and “acrobats” try to explain it], but because, by accentuating and refining capitalist relations, it brings clarity to the mind of the one on whom alone change depends, and gives him a free hand.

It must, however, be said that this quite true proposition is badly expressed by Mr. Struve, that owing to the abstractness peculiar to him he voices it in such a way that one sometimes wishes to say to him: let the dead bury the dead. In Russia there has never yet been a shortage of people who have devoted themselves, heart and soul, to creating theories and programmes that express the interests of our bourgeoisie, that express all these “urgent needs” of strong and big capital to crush small capital and to destroy its primitive and patriarchal methods of exploitation.

If the author had here also adhered strictly to the requirements of the Marxist “doctrine,” demanding that exposition be reduced to the formulation of the actual process, and that the class contradictions behind each “intelligent,” “rational”   and progressive policy be disclosed, he would have expressed the same thought differently, would have posed the question in another way. He would have drawn a parallel between those theories and programmes of liberalism, i.e., of the bourgeoisie, which have sprung up like mushrooms since the great Reform, and factual data on the development of capitalism in Russia. In this way he would have used the Russian example to show the connection between social ideas and economic development, something he tried to prove in the first chapters and that can only be fully established by a materialist analysis of Russian data. In this way he would have shown, secondly, how naive the Narodniks are when they combat bourgeois theories in their publications, and do so as though these theories are merely mistaken reasoning, and do not represent the interests of a powerful class which it is foolish to admonish, and which can only be “convinced” by the imposing force of another class. In this way he would have shown, thirdly, which class actually determines “urgent needs” and “progress” in this country, and how ridiculous the Narodniks are when they argue about which “path” “to choose.”

Messrs. the Narodniks have seized on these expressions of Mr. Struve’s with particular delight, gloating over the fact that the unhappy way they have been formulated has enabled various bourgeois economists (like Mr. Yanzhul) and champions of serfdom (like Mr. Golovin) to seize upon some phrases torn out of the general context. We have seen in what way Mr. Struve’s position, that has placed such a weapon into the hands of his opponents, is unsatisfactory.

The author’s attempts to criticise Narodism merely as a theory that wrongly indicates the path for the fatherland,[2] led to the hazy formulation of his attitude to the “economic policy” of Narodism. This may be regarded as a wholesale denial of the policy, and not only of a half of it. It is, therefore, necessary to dwell on this point.

Philosophising about the possibility of “different paths for the fatherland” is merely the outer vestment of Narodism.   But its content is representation of the interests and viewpoint of the Russian small producer, the petty bourgeois. That is why the Narodnik, in matters of theory, is just as much a Janus, looking with one face to the past and the other to the future, as in real life the small producer is, who looks with one face to the past, wishing to strengthen his small farm without knowing or wishing to know any thing about the general economic system and about the need to reckon with the class that controls it—and with the other face to the future, adopting a hostile attitude to the capitalism that is ruining him.

It is clear from this that it would be absolutely wrong to reject the whole of the Narodnik programme indiscriminately and in its entirety. One must clearly distinguish its reactionary and progressive sides. Narodism is reactionary insofar as it proposes measures that tie the peasant to the soil and to the old modes of production, such as the inalienability of allotments, etc.,[3] insofar as it wants to retard the development of money economy, and insofar as it expects not partial improvements, but a change of the path to be brought about by “society” and by the influence of representatives of the bureaucracy (example: Mr. Yuzhakov, who argued in Russkoye Bogatstvo, 1894, No. 7, about common tillage as projected by a Zemsky Nachalnik and engaged in introducing amendments to these projects). Unconditional warfare must, of course, be waged against such points in the Narodnik programme. But there are also other points, relating to self-government, to the “people’s” free and broad access to knowledge, to the “raising” of the “people’s” (that is to say, small) economy by means of cheap credits, technical improvements, better regulation of marketing, etc., etc. That such general democratic measures are progressive is fully admitted, of course, by Mr. Struve, too. They will not retard, but accelerate Russia’s economic development along the capitalist path, accelerate the establishment of a home market, accelerate the growth of technique and machine industry by improving the conditions of the   working man and raising the level of his requirements, accelerate and facilitate his independent thinking and action.

The only question that might here arise is: who indicates such undoubtedly desirable measures with greater accuracy and ability—the Narodniks or publicists like Skvortsov who has so much to say in favour of technical progress and to whom Mr. Struve is so extremely well disposed? It seems to me that from the Marxist viewpoint there can be no doubt that Narodism is absolutely to be preferred in this respect. The measures proposed by the Messrs. Skvortsov relate to the interests of the entire class of small producers, the petty bourgeoisie, in the same measure as the programme of Moskovskiye Vedomosti relates to those of the big bourgeoisie. They are designed not for all,[4] but only for certain of the elect, who are vouchsafed the attention of the authorities. They are, lastly, abominably crude because they presume police interference in the economy of the peasants. Taken all in all, these measures provide no serious guarantees and chances of the “productive progress of peasant economy.”

The Narodniks in this respect understand and represent the interests of the small producers far more correctly, and the Marxists, while rejecting all the reactionary features of their programme, must not only accept the general democratic points, but carry them through more exactly, deeply and further. The more resolute such reforms are in Russia, the higher they raise the living standard of the working masses—the more sharply and clearly will the most important and fundamental (already today) social antagonism in Russian life stand out. The Marxists, far from “breaking the democratic thread” or trend, as Mr. V. V. slanderously asserts they do, want to develop and strengthen this trend, they want to bring it closer to life, they want to take up the “thread” that “society” and the “intelligentsia” are letting slip out of their hands.[5]

This demand—not to discard the “thread,” but, on the contrary, to strengthen it—is not the accidental result of the personal mood of some “Marxists” or other, but is necessarily determined by the position and interests of the class they wish to serve, is necessarily and unconditionally dictated by the fundamental requirements of their “doctrine.” I cannot, for reasons that are easily understandable, pause here to examine the first part of this proposition, to characterise the “position” and “interests”; here, I think, matters speak for themselves. I shall only touch on the second part, namely, the relation of the Marxist doctrine to problems that express the “breaking thread.”

The Marxists must raise these problems differently than Messrs. the Narodniks do. The latter pose the problem from the viewpoint of “modern science, modern moral ideas”; the matter is presented as though there are no profound causes of the failure to implement such reforms, causes contained within production relations themselves, as though the obstacle lies only in grossness of feelings, in the feeble “ray of reason,” etc.; as though Russia is a tabula rasa on which nothing has to be done except properly outline the right paths. That way of presenting the problem, of course, guaranteed it the “purity” of which Mr. V. V. boasts, and which is merely the “purity” of ladies’ college daydreams, of the kind that makes Narodnik reasoning so fit for armchair conversations.

The way these same problems are posed by the Marxists must necessarily be quite different.[6] Obliged to seek for the roots of social phenomena in production relations obliged to reduce them to the interests of definite classes, they must formulate these desiderata as being the “desires” of   such and such social elements and meeting the opposition of such and such elements and classes. Such a way of posing the problem will absolutely eliminate the possibility of their “theories” being utilised for professorial arguments that rise above classes, for projects and reports that promise “splendid success.”[7] That, of course, is just an indirect merit of the change of viewpoint referred to, but it is also a very great one, if we bear in mind how steep is the slope down which contemporary Narodism is slipping into the bog of opportunism. But the matter is not limited to mere indirect merit. If the same problems are posed in their application to the theory of class antagonism [and this, of course, requires a “reconsideration of the facts” of Russian history and reality], then the replies to them will provide a formulation of the vital interests of certain classes; these replies will be intended for practical utilisation[8] by those interested classes and by them alone—these replies will, to use the splendid expression of a certain Marxist, break out of the “cramped chamber of the intelligentsia” towards those who themselves participate in production relations in their most highly developed and pure form, towards those who are most strongly affected by the “breaking of the thread,” and who “need” “ideals” because they are badly off without them. Such a way of raising issues will instil a new stream of life into all these old problems—taxes, passports, migration, Volost boards of administration, etc.—problems that our “society” has discussed and interpreted, chewed over again and again, solved and re-solved, and for which it has now begun to lose all taste.

So then, no matter how we approach the problem, whether we examine the content of the system of economic relations prevalent in Russia and the various forms of this system in   their historical connection and in their relation to the interests of the working people, or whether we examine the problem of the “breaking of the thread” and the reasons for its “breaking,” we arrive, in either case, at one conclusion, that of the great significance of the historical task of “labour differentiated from life,” a task advanced by the epoch in which we live, that of the universal significance of the idea of this class.


[1] Let us indicate some examples of these remarks: “If the state ... desires to strengthen small but not large landownership, then under the present economic conditions it cannot achieve this aim by chasing after unrealisable economic equality among the peasantry, but only by supporting its viable elements, by creating an economically strong peasantry out of them” (240). “I cannot fail to see that the policy which is aimed at creating such a peasantry (namely, “economically strong, adapted to commodity production”) will be the only intelligent and progressive policy” (281). “Russia must he transformed from a poor capitalist country into a rich capitalist country” (250), etc., up to the concluding phrase: “Let us go and learn from capitalism.” —Lenin

[2] The author of Critical Remarks indicates the economic basis of Narodism (pp. 166-67), but in our view does so inadequately. —Lenin

[3] Mr. Struve very rightly says that these measures might merely “bring to fruition the ardent dreams of certain West-European and Russian landowners about farm labourers who are strongly bound to the land” (279). —Lenin

[4] That is to say, of course, for all to whom technical progress is accessible. —Lenin

[5] In Nedelya, No. 47, 1894, Mr. V. V. writes: “In the post-Reform period of our history, social relations in some respects have approximated   to those of Western Europe, with active democracy in the epoch of political struggle and with social indifferentism in the subsequent period.” We tried to show in Chapter I that this “indifferentism” is no accident, but an inevitable result of the position and the interests of the class from which the representatives of “society” emerge and which in addition to disadvantages derives by no means unimportant advantages from contemporary relations. —Lenin

[6] If they pursue their theory consistently. We have already said much about Mr. Struve’s exposition being unsatisfactory precisely because of his failure to adhere to this theory with greatest strictness. —Lenin

[7] Mr. Yuzhakov’s expression. —Lenin

[8] Of course, for this “utilisation” to take place a tremendous amount of preparatory work is required, and what is more, work that by its very nature goes unseen Before this utilisation takes place a more or less considerable period may pass during which we shall say out right that there is no force capable of providing better paths for the fatherland—as against the “sugary optimism” of Messrs. the Narodniks who assert that such forces exist and that all that remains to be done is to advise them to “leave the wrong path.” —Lenin

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