Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


F. The Agrarian Programme

The inconsistency of principle of the anti-Iskra-ists and the “Centre” was also clearly brought out by the debate on the agrarian programme, which took up so much time at the Congress (see Minutes, pp. 190-226) and raised quite a number of extremely interesting points. As was to be expected, the campaign against the programme was launched by Comrade Martynov (after some minor remarks by Comrades Lieber and Egorov). He brought out the old argument about redressing “this particular historical injustice”, whereby, he claimed, we were indirectly “sanctifying other historical injustices”, and so on. He was joined by Comrade Egorov, who even found that “the significance of this programme is unclear. Is it a programme for ourselves, that is, does it define our demands, or do we want to make it popular?” (!?!?) Comrade Lieber said he “would like to make the same points as Gomrade Egorov”. Comrade Makhov spoke up in his usual positive manner and declared that “the majority [?] of the speakers positively cannot understand what the programme submitted means and what its aims are”. The proposed programme, you see, “can hardly be considered a Social-Democratic agrarian programme”; it . . . “smacks somewhat of a game at redressing historical injustices”; it bears “the trace of demagogy and adventurism”. As a theoretical justification of this profundity came the caricature and over simplification so customary in vulgar Marxism: the Iskra-ists, we were told, “want to treat the peasants as something homogeneous in composition; but as the peasantry split up into classes long ago [?], advancing a single programme must inevitably render the whole programme demagogic and make it adventurist when put into practice” (p. 202). Comrade Makhov here “blurted out” the real reason why our agrarian programme meets with the disapproval of many Social-Democrats, who are prepared to “recognise” Iskra (as Makhov himself did) but who have absolutely failed to grasp its trend, its theoretical and tactical position. It was the vulgarisation of Marxism as applied to so complex and many-sided a phenomenon as the present-day system of Russian peasant economy, and not differences over particulars, that was and is responsible for the failure to understand this programme. And on this vulgar-Marxist standpoint the leaders of the anti-Iskra elements (Lieber and Martynov) and of the “Centre” (Egorov and Makhov) quickly found themselves in harmony. Comrade Egorov gave frank expression also to one of the characteristic features of Yuzhny Rabochy and the groups and circles gravitating towards it, namely, their failure to grasp the importance of the peasant movement, their failure to grasp that it was not overestimation, but, on the contrary, underestimation of its importance (and a lack of forces to utilise it) that was the weak side of our Social-Democrats at the time of the first famous peasant revolts. “I am far from sharing the infatuation of the editorial board for the peasant movement,” said Comrade Egorov, “an infatuation to which many Social Democrats have succumbed since the peasant disturbances.” But, unfortunately, Comrade Egorov did not take the trouble to give the Congress any precise idea of what this infatuation of the editorial board consisted in; he did not take the trouble to make specific reference to any of the material published by Iskra. Moreover, he forgot that all the fundamental points of our agrarian programme had already been developed by Iskra in its third issue,[1] that is, long before the peasant disturbances. Those whose “recognition” of Iskra was not merely verbal might well have given a little more attention to its theoretical and tactical principles!

“No, we cannot do much among the peasants!” Comrade Egorov exclaimed, and he went on to indicate that this exclamation was not meant as a protest against any particular “infatuation”, but as a denial of our entire position: “It means that our slogan cannot compete with the slogan of the adventurists.” A most characteristic formulation of an unprincipled attitude, which reduces everything to “competition” between the slogans of different parties! And this was said after the speaker had pronounced himself “satisfied” with the theoretical explanations, which pointed out that we strove for lasting success in our agitation, undismayed by temporary failures, and that lasting success (as against the resounding clamour of our “competitors” . . . for a short time) was impossible unless the programme had a firm theoretical basis (p. 196). What confusion is disclosed by this assurance of “satisfaction” followed by a repetition of the vulgar precepts inherited from the old Economism, for which the “competition of slogans” decided everything—not only the agrarian question, but the entire programme and tactics of the economic and political struggle! “You will not induce the agricultural labourer,” Comrade Egorov said, “to fight side by side with the rich peasant for the cut-off lands, which to no small extent are already in this rich peasant’s hands.”

There again you have the same over-simplification, undoubtedly akin to our opportunist Economism, which insisted that it was impossible to “induce” the proletarian to fight for what was to no small extent in the hands of the bourgeoisie and would fall into its hands to an even larger extent in the future. There again you have the vulgarisation that forgets the Russian peculiarities of the general capitalist relations between the agricultural labourer and the rich peasant. Actually, the cut-off lands today oppress the agricultural labourer as well, and he does not have to be “induced” to fight for emancipation from his state of servitude. It is certain intellectuals who have to be “induced”—induced to take a wider view of their tasks, induced to renounce stereotyped formulas when discussing specific questions, induced to take account of the historical situation, which complicates and modifies our aims. It is only the superstition that the muzhik is stupid—a superstition which, as Comrade Martov rightly remarked (p. 202), was to be detected in the speeches of Comrade Makhov and the other opponents of the agrarian programme—only this superstition explains why these opponents forget our agricultural labourer’s actual conditions of life.

Having simplified the question into a naked contrast of worker and capitalist, the spokesmen of our “Centre” tried, as often happens, to ascribe their own narrow-mindedness to the muzhik. “It is precisely because I consider the muzhik, within the limits of his narrow class outlook, a clever fellow,” Comrade Makhov remarked, “that I believe he will stand for the petty-bourgeois ideal of seizure and division.” Two things are obviously confused here: the definition of the class outlook of the muzhik as that of a petty bourgeois, and the restriction, the reduction of this outlook to “narrow limits”. It is in this reduction that the mistake of the Egorovs and Makhovs lies (just as the mistake of the Martynovs and Akimovs lay in reducing the outlook of the proletarian to “narrow limits”). For both logic and history teach us that the petty-bourgeois class outlook may be more or less narrow, and more or less progressive, precisely because of the dual status of the petty bourgeois. And far from dropping our hands in despair because of the narrowness (“stupidity”) of the muzhik or because he is governed by “prejudice”, we must work unremittingly to widen his outlook and help his reason to triumph over his prejudice.

The vulgar-“Marxist” view of the Russian agrarian question found its culmination in the concluding words of Comrade Makhov’s speech, in which that faithful champion of the old Iskra editorial board set forth his principles. It was not for nothing that these words were greeted with applause ... true, it was ironical applause. “I do not know, of course, what to call a misfortune,” said Comrade Makhov, outraged by Plekhanov’s statement that we were not at all alarmed by the movement for a General Redistribution,[4] and that we would not be the ones to hold back this progressive (bourgeois progressive) movement. "But this revolution, if it can be called such, would not be a revolutionary one. It would be truer to call it, not revolution, but reaction (laughter ), a revolution that was more like a riot.... Such a revolution would throw us back, and it would require a certain amount of time to get back to the position we have today. Today we have far more than during the French Revolution (ironical applause ), we have a Social-Democratic Party (laughter )...." Yes, a Social-Democratic Party which reasoned like Makhov, or which had central institutions of the Makhov persuasion, would indeed only deserve to be laughed at....

Thus we see that even on the purely theoretical questions raised by the agrarian programme, the already familiar grouping at once appeared. The anti-Iskra-ists (eight votes) rushed into the fray on behalf of vulgar Marxism, and the leaders of the “Centre”, the Egorovs and Makhovs, trailed after them, constantly erring and straying into the same narrow outlook. It is quite natural, therefore, that the voting on certain points of the agrarian programme should have resulted in thirty and thirty-five votes in favour (pp. 225 and 226), that is, approximately the same figure as we observed in the dispute over the place of the Bund question on the agenda, in the Organising Committee incident, and in the question of shutting down Yuzhny Rabochy. An issue had only to arise which did not quite come within the already established and customary pattern, and which called for some independent application of Marx’s theory to peculiar and new (new to the Germans) social and economic relations, and Iskra-ists who proved equal to the problems only made up three-fifths of the vote, while the whole “Centre” turned and followed the Liebers and Martynovs. Yet Comrade Martov strives to gloss over this obvious fact, fearfully avoiding all mention of votes where the shades of opinion were clearly revealed!

It is clearly evident from the debate on the agrarian programme that the Iskra-ists had to fight against a good two-fifths of the Congress. On this question the Caucasian delegates took up an absolutely correct stand—due largely, in all probability, to the fact that first-hand knowledge of the forms taken by the numerous remnants of feudalism in their localities kept them from the school-boyishly abstract and bare contrasts that satisfied the Makhovs. Martynov and Lieber, Makhov and Egorov were combated by Plekhanov, by Gusev (who declared that he had “frequently encountered such a pessimistic view of our work in the countryside” as Comrade Egorov’s “among the comrades active in Russia”), by Kostrov,[5] by Karsky and by Trotsky. The latter rightly remarked that the “well-meant advice” of the critics of the agrarian programme “smacked too much of philistinism”. It should only be said, since we are studying the political grouping at the Congress, that he was hardly correct when in this part of his speech (p. 208) he ranked Comrade Lange with Egorov and Makhov. Anyone who reads the minutes carefully will see that Lange and Gorin took quite a different stand from Egorov and Makhov. Lange and Gorin did not like the formulation of the point on the cut off lands; they fully understood the idea of our agrarian programme, but tried to apply it in a different way, worked constructively to find what they considered a more irreproachable formulation, and in submitting their motions had in view either to convince the authors of the programme or else to side with them against all the non-Iskra-ists. For example, one has only to compare Makhov’s motions to reject the whole agrarian programme (p. 212; nine for, thirty-eight against) or individual points in it (p. 216, etc.) with the position of Lange, who moved his own formulation of the point on the cut-off lands (p. 225), to become convinced of the radical difference between them.[2]

Referring to the arguments which smacked of “philistinism”, Comrade Trotsky pointed out that “in the approaching revolutionary period we must link ourselves with the peasantry”.... “In face of this task, the scepticism and political ’far-sightedness’ of Makhov and Egorov are more harmful than any short-sightedness.” Comrade Kostich, another minority Iskra-ist, very aptly pointed to Comrade Makhov’s “unsureness of himself, of the stability of his principles”—a description that fits our “Centre” to a tittle. “In his pessimism Comrade Makhov is at one with Comrade Egorov, although they differ in shade,” Comrade Kostich continued. “He forgets that the Social-Democrats are already working among the peasantry, are already directing their movement as far as possible. And this pessimism narrows the scope of our work” (p. 210).

To conclude our examination of the Congress discussion of the programme, it is worth while mentioning the brief debate on the subject of supporting oppositional trends. Our programme clearly states that the Social-Democratic Party supports “every oppositional and revolutionary movement directed against the existing social and political order in Russia”. One would think that this last reservation made it quite clear exactly which oppositional trends we support. Nevertheless, the different shades that long ago developed in our Party at once revealed themselves here too, difficult as it was to suppose that any “perplexity or misunderstanding” was still possible on a question which had been chewed over so thoroughly! Evidently, it was not a matter of misunderstandings, but of shades. Makhov, Lieber, and Martynov at once sounded the alarm and again proved to be in so “compact” a minority that Comrade Martov would most likely have to attribute this too to intrigue, machination, diplomacy, and the other nice things (see his speech at the League Congress) to which people resort who are incapable of understanding the political reasons for the formation of “compact” groups of both minority and majority.

Makhov again began with a vulgar simplification of Marxism. “Our only revolutionary class is the proletariat,” he declared, and from this correct premise he forthwith drew an incorrect conclusion: “The rest are of no account, they are mere hangers-on (general laughter ).... Yes, they are mere hangers-on and only out to reap the benefits. I am against supporting them” (p. 226). Comrade Makhov’s inimitable formulation of his position embarrassed many (of his supporters), but as a matter of fact Lieber and Martynov agreed with him when they proposed deleting the word “oppositional” or restricting it by an addition: “democratic-oppositional.” Plekhanov quite rightly took the field against this amendment of Martynov’s. “We must criticise the liberals,” he said, "expose their half-heartedness. That is true.... But, while exposing the narrowness and limitations of all movements other than the Social-Democratic, it is our duty to explain to the proletariat that even a constitution which does not confer universal suffrage would be a step forward compared with absolutism, and that therefore it should not prefer the existing order to such a constitution." Comrades Martynov, Lieber, and Makhov would not agree with this and persisted in their position, which was attacked by Axelrod, Starover, and Trotsky and once more by Plekhanov. Comrade Makhov managed on this occasion to surpass himself. First he had said that the other classes (other than the proletariat) were “of no account” and that he was “against supporting them”. Then he condescended to admit that “while essentially it is reactionary, the bourgeoisie is often revolutionary—for example, in the struggle against feudalism and its survivals”. “But there are some groups,” he continued, going from bad to worse, “which are always [?] reactionary—such are the handicraftsmen.” Such were the gems of theory arrived at by those very leaders of our “Centre” who later foamed at the mouth in defence of the old editorial board! "Even in Western Europe, where the guild system was so strong, it was the handicraftsmen, like the other petty bourgeois of the towns, who displayed an exceptionally revolutionary spirit in the era of the fall of absolutism. And it is particularly absurd of a Russian Social-Democrat to repeat without reflection what our Western comrades say about the handicraftsmen of today, that is, of an era separated by a century or half a century from the fall of absolutism. To speak of the handicraftsmen in Russia being politically reactionary as compared with the bourgeoisie is merely to repeat a set phrase learnt by rote.

Unfortunately, there is no record in the minutes of the number of votes cast for the rejected amendments of Martynov, Makhov, and Lieber on this question. All we can say is that, here too, the leaders of the anti-Iskra elements and one of the leaders of the “Centre”[3] [3] Another leader of this same group, the “Centre”, Comrade Egorov, spoke on the question of supporting the oppositional trends on a different occasion, in connection with Axelrod’s resolution on the Socialist-Revolutionaries (p. 359). Comrade Egorov detected a “contradiction” between the demand in the programme for support of every oppositional and revolutionary movement and the antagonistic attitude towards both the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the liberals. In another form, and approaching the question from a somewhat different angle, Comrade Egorov here revealed the same narrow conception of Marxism, and the same unstable, semi-hostile attitude towards the position of Iskra (which he had "recognised"?), as Comrades Makhov, Lieber, and Martynov had done. —Lenin joined forces in the already familiar grouping against the Iskra-ists. Summing up the whole discussion on the programme, one cannot help seeing that of the debates which were at all animated and evoked general interest there was not one that failed to reveal the difference of shades which Comrade Martov and the new Iskra editorial board now so carefully ignore.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 420-28.—Ed.

[2] Cf. Gorin’s speech, p. 213. —Lenin

[3]Note: This footnote has been moved into the body of the document.

[4] By this was meant general redistribution of all the land (cho ray peredel)—a slogan widespread among the peasantry of tsarist Russia.

[5] Kostrov—pseudonym of the Caucasian Menshevik N. N. Jordania.

  E. The Equality of Languages Incident | G. The Party Rules. Comrade Martov’s Draft  

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