V. I.   Lenin

Vulgar Socialism and Narodism as Resurrected by the Socialist-Revolutionaries

Published: Iskra, No. 27, November 1, 1902. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 263-270.
Translated: ??? ???
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
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Ridicule has its good effects. In the articles entitled “Revolutionary Adventurism,”[See pp. 186-207 of this volume.—Ed.] we expressed the firm conviction that our Socialist-Revolutionaries would never agree to state their theoretical position in unambiguous and precise terms. To refute so malignant and unjust a suggestion a series of articles has been started in No. 11 of Revolutsionnaya Rossiya under the title “Questions of Programme.” Good! Better late than never. We welcome in advance all articles in Revolutsionnaya Rossiya on “questions of programme” and we promise close attention directed towards ascertaining whether it will actually be possible to extract any programme from them.

With this end in view, let us examine the first article, “The Class Struggle in the Countryside,” but we shall first remark that when our opponents say (No. 11, p. 6) “our programme has been set out,” they are once more being unduly ... “carried away.” You must admit, gentlemen, that this is not true! You have not yet set out any programme, i.e., you have not only failed to produce a complete exposition of your views as officially endorsed by the Party (a programme in the narrow sense of the word, or at least a draft programme), but you have not even defined in the least your attitude towards such fundamental “questions of programme” as the question of Marxism and opportunist criticism of it, or the question of Russian capitalism, and of the position, significance, arid tasks of the proletariat which   that capitalism has called into being, and so on. All we know of “your programme” is that you occupy an altogether indefinite position between revolutionary Social-Democracy and the opportunist trend on the one hand, and between Russian Marxism and Russian liberal Narodism on the other.

We shall now show you, using the issue you have taken up, the kind of inextricable contradictions you are entangled in, as a result of this laboured attempt to sit between two stools. “It is not that we fail to understand, but we deny that the present-day peasantry as a whole belongs to the petty-bourgeois strata,” writes Revolutsionnaya Rossiya (No. 11). “We regard the peasantry as being sharply divided into two fundamentally different categories: 1) the working peasantry which lives by the exploitation of its own labour-power [!??] and 2) the rural bourgeoisie— middle and petty—which to a greater or lesser extent lives by the exploitation of the labour-power of others.” The Socialist-Revolutionary theoreticians, who consider that the “essential distinguishing feature” of the bourgeois class is its “source of income” (use of the unpaid labour of others), discover “tremendous similarity in principles” between the rural proletariat and the “independent farmers” who live by applying their own labour to the means of production. “Labour, as a definite category of political economy, is the basis of the existence of both groups. This is one point. Another is that under present conditions both are mercilessly exploited.” Consequently, they must be put into a single category of the working peasantry.

We have deliberately presented the arguments of Revolutsionnaya Rossiya in such detail in order to enable the reader to ponder over them and to appraise their theoretical premises. That these premises are without foundation is patent. To look for the fundamental distinguishing feature of the various classes of society in their sources of income is to give precedence to relations of distribution, which in reality are only a consequence of relations of production. This error was long ago pointed out by Marx, who described as vulgar socialists those who failed to see it. The fundamental criterion by which classes are distinguished is the place they occupy in social production, and, consequently,   the relation in which they stand to the means of production. Appropriation of one part or another of the social means of production and its application to private enterprise, to undertakings organised for the sale of the product, is the fundamental distinction of one class in present-day society (the bourgeoisie) from the proletariat, which is deprived of the means of production and sells its labour-power.

To proceed: “Labour, as a definite category of political economy, is the basis of the existence of both groups.” It is not labour that is a definite category of political economy, but only the social form of labour, the social organisation of labour, or, in other words, the mutual relations of people arising out of the part they play in social labour. The same mistake in vulgar socialism, which we have analysed above, is repeated here in another form. When the Socialist-Revolutionaries say: “In essence, the relations between farmer and farm-labourer, on the one hand, and between independent peasants and the money-lenders, the kulaks, on the other, are exactly the same,” they are reproducing in its entirety the mistake of, say, German vulgar socialism, which, in the person of Mühlberger, for example, stated that in essence the relations between employer and worker are the same as those between house owner and ten ant. Our Mühlbergers are equally incapable of distinguishing between the basic and the derivative forms of exploitation, and confine themselves to declamations on the subject of “exploitation” in general. Our Mühlbergers are equally incapable of understanding that it is precisely the exploitation of wage-labour that forms the basis of the whole predatory system of today, that it is the exploitation of wage-labour that leads to the division of society into irreconcilably opposed classes, and that only from the point of view of this class struggle can all other manifestations of exploitation be consistently gauged, without lapsing into vagueness and abandoning all principles. Our Mühlbergers must therefore meet from those Russian socialists who value the integrity of their movement and the “good name” of their revolutionary banner a rebuff just as decisive and merciless as that which the German Mühlberger met.

To give a clearer idea of how muddled our Socialist Revolutionaries’ “theory” is, we shall approach the question   under discussion from its practical aspect and try to illustrate it by concrete examples. In the first place, the vast majority of the petty bourgeoisie is everywhere and always working and being exploited. Otherwise, why should it be classed among transitional and intermediate strata? In the second place, small artisans and tradesmen are working and being exploited in a commodity-producing society in exactly the same way as the peasants are. Perhaps our Socialist-Revolutionaries would like to create also a “category” of “working” trade-and-industrial population instead of the “narrow” category of the proletariat? Thirdly, in order that the Socialist-Revolutionaries may appreciate the importance of the “dogma” they so dislike, let them try to visualise a peasant living near some town, who, without hiring any hands, lives by his own labour and by the sale of all kinds of agricultural produce. We make bold to hope that even the most ardent Narodniks will not venture to deny that this sort of peasant belongs to the petty bourgeoisie and that it is impossible to “unite” him in the same class (mark you, we are talking of a class, not of a party) with the wage-workers. But is there any difference in principle between the position of this kind of commercial farmer and that of any small farmer in a society of a developing commodity economy?

The question now arises how can we account for the fact that Messrs. the Socialist-Revolutionaries are (to put it mildly) drawing closer to vulgar socialism? May it not be a chance peculiarity in this particular writer? To refute this supposition it will suffice to quote the following passage from No. 11 of Revolutsionnaya Rossiya, where the writer exclaims: “As if it were all a matter of the size of one and the same economic category” (the big and petty bourgeois) “and not of a difference in principle” (just listen to that!) “between two categories, viz., labour economy and bourgeois capitalist economy!" It would be difficult for us even to imagine a more complete and obvious confirmation of what we said in our article, “Revolutionary Adventurism”: scratch a Socialist-Revolutionary and you find Mr. V.V. This sentence alone is enough to explain the Socialist- Revolutionaries’ position to anyone at all familiar with the evolution of Russian social and political thought. It   is a known fact that at the bottom of the pale-pink quasi-socialism which used to embellish (and still embellishes) liberal Narodism, the trend prevalent in our educated society, lay the idea that peasant “labour economy” and bourgeois economy are diametrically opposed. This idea, various shades of which have been elaborated in detail by Messrs. Mikhailovsky, V.V., Nik.—on, and others, was one of the strongholds that Russian Marxism directed its criticism against. If, we said, you want to help the peasantry, which is being ruined and oppressed, you must be able to abandon illusions and squarely face the reality that is destroying the nebulous dreams about labour economy (or “people’s production”?) and revealing to us the petty-bourgeois character of peasant economy. In Russia, as everywhere else, small-scale labour economy can be developed and consolidated only by turning into petty-bourgeois economy. This transformation is actually in progress, and the working peasant’s true and real tendency towards small enterprise has been irrefutably confirmed by the facts of life. As commodity economy develops, our peasants, like all small producers and by the very fact that they are such, come under the category of petty bourgeois: they break up into a minority of entrepreneurs and a mass of proletarians; the latter are connected with the “petty proprietors” by a series of transitional stages of being half-workers and half-proprietors (such transitional forms exist in all capitalist countries and in all branches of industry).

What then has been the attitude of the Socialist-Revolutionaries towards the supplanting of one trend of socialist thought by another, towards the struggle between the old Russian socialism and Marxism? They simply tried to evade making a thorough analysis of the question as long as they could. And when such evasion was no longer possible, when those who wanted to form a separate “party” were asked to give a clear explanation, when they were forced to reply, forced by derision and by a direct accusation of a lack of principle, only then did these people take to reiterating the old Narodnik theory of “labour economy” and the old errors of vulgar socialism. We repeat: we could not have wished for better confirmation of the charge we brought against the Socialist-Revolutionaries, viz., of utterly   lacking principle, than this article in No. 11, which at tempts to “unite” the theory of ’labour economy” with the theory of the class struggle.

*     *

As a curiosity, we will add that in No. II of Revolatsionnaya Rossiya attempts are made to give a “plausible” explanation of the decision to avoid all polemics on matters of principle. We are told that Iskra misquotes in its article, “Revolutionary Adventurism.” An example? It omits, for example, the words “in certain places” (in certain places the land is passing from capital to labour). How dreadful! An irrelevant phrase has been omitted! Or, perhaps, Revolutsionnaya Rossiya will dare assert that the words “in certain places” have a relation, even the slightest, to the question of appraising the process of the passing of land in general (whether or not it is a bourgeois process)? Let it try.

Further. Iskra cut the quotation short at the words “by the state,” although this is followed by “of course, not by the present state.” Iskra (we will add) was even more malicious: it had the impudence to term this state a class state. Will our opponents who “have been stung to the quick” assert that the state spoken of in the “minimum programme” under examination is not a class state?

Lastly, Iskra quoted the leaflet of April 3, in which even Revolultsionnaya Rossiya itself found the appraisal of terrorism exaggerated. Yes, we did quote the reservation made by Revolutsionnaya Rossiya, but we added that we regarded all this as mere “juggling” and vague hints. Revolutsionnaya Rossiya was greatly displeased by this, and has set out to explain and give details (thereby confirming in fact that there was an obscurity which required explanations). What are its explanations? At the demand of the Party, you see, amendments, were made in the leaflet of April 3. These amendments, however, “were considered in adequate,” and for that reason the words “in the name of the Party” were deleted from the leaflet. But the words “published by the Party” remained, and the second (the “real”) leaflet, which was brought out on the same date,   April 3, did not say a word about differences or exaggerations. Having given these explanations and realising that they only confirm the legitimacy of Iskra’s demand for an explanation (in the words “juggling and hints”), Revolutsionnaya Rossiya asks itself the question: how could the Party have issued from its own press a leaflet with which is was not in agreement? The answer given by Revolutsionnaya Rossiya is as follows: “Why, in exactly the same way as Rabocheye Dyelo, Iskra, Rabochaya Mysl,[3] and Borba[4] all appear with the imprint of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.” Very well. But, in the first place, we have publications of different kinds, and they are printed not at the “Party” print-shop, but at the print-shops of the various groups. In the second place, when Rabochaya Mysl, Rabocheye Dyelo, and Iskra all appeared at the same time we ourselves said that this was confusion. What follows from that? It follows that the Social-Democrats themselves lay bare and brand confusion in their own ranks and try to get rid of it through serious work on theory, whereas the Socialist-Revolutionaries begin to admit that there is confusion in their ranks only after they have been exposed, and take the opportunity once again to boast of their broad-mindedness, which permits them to issue, on the same day and on the occasion of the same political event, two leaflets in which they give two diametrically opposite interpretations of the political significance of this event (a new terroristic act). Knowing as they do that no good can come of ideological confusion, the Social-Democrats preferred “first to draw a line of demarcation and then to unite,”[1] thereby ensuring both durability and fruitfulness of the future unity. But the Socialist-Revolutionaries, while interpreting their “programme” in different ways, each at his own sweet will,[2]   maintain the fiction of “practical” unity and superciliously say to us: it is only among you, Social-Democrats, that various “groups” exist; we have—a party! Quite true, gentlemen, but history teaches us that sometimes the relations between “groups” and parties are like the relations between Pharaoh’s lean kine and fat kine. All sorts of “parties” exist. For example there was a Workers’ Party for the Political Liberation of Russia and yet its two years of existence passed as tracelessly as its disappearance did.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 4, p. 354.—Ed.

[2] You have only to compare Our Tasks, published by the former League of Socialist-Revolutionaries, with the Manifesto of the former Socialist-Revolutionary Party (see No. 5 of Iskra), then with the editorial statement in No. 1 of Vestnik Russkot Revolutsii, the “programme” articles in Nos. 7-11 of Revolutstonnaya Rossiya and the pamphlet, Freedom, published by the so-called Workers’ Party for the Political Liberation of Russia, whose fusion with the Socialist-Revolutionary Party was recently announced in Revolutstonnaya Rossiya. —Lenin

[3] Rabochaya Mysl (Workers’ Thought)—a newspaper, the most con sistent organ of the “economists,” which was published from October 1897, to December 1902. Sixteen numbers were issued. The first two numbers were mimeographed in St. Petersburg; Nos. 3-11 were issued abroad, in Berlin; printing of Nos. 12, 13, 14, and 15 was effected in Warsaw; the last, No. 16, was issued abroad. The newspaper was edited by K. M. Takhtarev and others.

Lenin criticised the views of Rabochaya Mysl as a Russian variety of international opportunism in his article, “A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy” (see present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 255-85), in articles published in Iskra, and in the book, What Is to Be Done?

[4] Lenin gives a detailed assessment of the Borba group in his article, “On the Borba Group” (see p. 160 of this volume).

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