V. I.   Lenin

On the Beaten Track!

Published: Proletary, No. 29, April 16 (29), 1908. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 40-47.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.README

Assessment of the Russian revolution, i.e., of its three first years, is the topic of the day. Unless the class nature of our political parties is ascertained, unless the interests and the mutual relations of classes in our revolution are taken into account, no step forward can be made in defining the immediate aims and tactics of the proletariat. We intend in this article to draw the attention of our readers to one attempt at such an assessment.

In issue No. 3 of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata,[1] F. Dan and G. Plekhanov have written, the one a systematic assessment of the results of the revolution, the other summarised conclusions about the tactics of the workers’ party. Dan’s assessment amounts to this, that hopes of a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry were bound to prove illusory. “The possibility of new revolutionary mass action of the proletariat ... depends to a great extent on the position of the bourgeoisie.” “In the first stages [of such up surge], so long as the mounting revolutionary working-class movement has not stirred up the town middle class, and the development of revolution in the towns has not lit a conflagration in the countryside—the proletariat arid the bourgeoisie will find themselves face to face as the principal political forces."

On the tactical conclusions to be drawn from this kind of “truth” F. Dan is obviously reticent. He was evidently ashamed to say, in so many words, what follows automatically from his statement, namely, that the working class should be recommended to adopt the famous tactics of the Mensheviks, that is, support of the bourgeoisie (recall the blocs with the Cadets. support of the watchword of a Cadet   Ministry, Plekhanov’s Duma with full powers, etc.). But Plekhanov supplements Dan by ending his article in issue No. 3 of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata with the words: “It would be a good thing, for Russia if the Russian Marxists in 1905-06 had been able to avoid these mistakes made by Marx and Engels in Germany more than half a century ago!” He is referring to underestimation of the capacity of capitalism at the time to develop further, and overestimation of the capacity of the proletariat for revolutionary action.)

Nothing could be clearer. Dan and Plekhanov are trying ever so carefully, not calling things directly by their proper names, to justify the Menshevik policy of proletarian dependence on the Cadets. So let us look more closely at the “theoretical case” they try to make out.

Dan argues that the “peasant movement” depends on the “growth and development of the urban revolution in its bourgeois and proletarian channels”. Therefore the rise of the “urban revolution” was followed by the rise of the peasant movement, while after its decline “the internal antagonisms of the countryside, held in check by the rise of revolution, once again began to become acute”, and “the government’s agrarian policy, the policy of dividing the peasantry, etc.,. began to enjoy a relative success”. Hence the conclusion we have quoted earlier—that in the first stages of the new upsurge the main political forces will be the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. “This situation,” in Dan’s opinion, “can and must be made use of by the proletariat for such a development of the revolution as will leave far behind the point of departure of the new upsurge, and will lead to the complete democratisation of society under the badge (sic!] of a radical [!!] solution of the agrarian question."

It is not difficult to see that this whole argument is based on a radical failure to understand the agrarian question in our revolution, and that this incomprehension is badly covered up by cheap and empty phrases about “complete democratisation”, “under the badge” of a “solution” of the question.

F. Dan imagines that “hopes of a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” depend and depended on Narodnik prejudices, on forgetting the internal antagonisms in the countryside and the individualist character of the   peasant movement. These are the usual Menshevik views, long known to everyone. But hardly anyone yet has revealed all their absurdity so strikingly as F. Dan has done in the article in question. Our most worthy publicist has contrived not to notice that both the “solutions” of the agrarian question which he contrasts are in keeping with the “individualist character of the peasant movement"! For the Stolypin solution, which in Dan’s opinion is enjoying “relative success”, is in fact founded on the individualism of the peasants. That is unquestionable. Well, and what about the other solution, which F. Dan called “radical” and bound up with “the complete democratisation of society"? Does the most worthy Dan imagine, by any chance, that it is not founded on the individualism of the peasants?

The trouble is that Dan’s empty phrase about “the complete democratisation of society under the badge of a radical solution of the agrarian question” serves to conceal a radical piece of stupidity. Unthinkingly, groping like a blind man, he bumps up against two objectively possible, and historically not yet finally chosen, “solutions” of the agrarian question, without being able clearly and precisely to grasp the nature of both solutions, and the conditions in which one and other are feasible.

Why can Stolypin’s agrarian policy enjoy “relative success"? Because within our peasantry capitalist development has long ago brought into being two hostile classes— a peasant bourgeoisie and a peasant proletariat. Is the complete success of Stolypin’s agrarian policy possible, and if so, what does it mean? It is possible, if circumstances develop exceptionally favourably for Stolypin; and it means the “solution” of the agrarian question in bourgeois Russia in the sense of the final (up to the proletarian revolution) consolidation of private property over all the land, both that of the landlords and that of the peasants. This will be a “solution” of the Prussian type, which will certainly ensure the capitalist development of Russia, but an incredibly slow development, endowing the Junker with authority for many years, and a thousand times more agonising for the proletariat and the peasantry than the other, objectively possible and also capitalist, “solution of the agrarian question”.

This other solution Dan has called “radical”, without thinking of what it implies. It is a cheap catchword, and there is not the very germ of an idea in it. Stolypin’s solution is also very radical, since it is radically breaking up the old village commune and the old agrarian system in Russia. The real difference between the peasant solution of the agrarian question in the Russian bourgeois revolution, and the Stolypin-Cadet solution, is that the first destroys the landlords’ private property in land beyond question, and peasant private property very probably (we shall not deal here with this particular question of the peasants’ allotment land, because all Dan’s arguments are wrong even from the standpoint of our present “municipalising” agrarian programme).

Now one may ask, is it true that this second solution is objectively possible? Beyond doubt. All thinking Marxists are in agreement on this, for otherwise the support by the proletariat of the small proprietor’s striving to confiscate large-scale landed property would be a reactionary piece of charlatanry. In no other capitalist country will a single Marxist draw up a programme supporting the peasants’ aspiration to confiscate large-scale landed property. In Russia both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks are in agreement as to the necessity of such support. Why? Because objectively, for Russia another path of capitalist agrarian development is possible—not the “Prussian” but the “American”, not the landlord-bourgeois (or Junker) but the peasant-bourgeois path.

Stolypin and the Cadets, the autocracy and the bourgeoisie, Nicholas II and Pyotr Struve are all agreed that there must be a capitalist “cleansing” of the decaying agrarian system in Russia by preserving the landed property of the landlords. All they differ on is how best to preserve it, and how much of it to preserve.

The workers and peasants, the Social-Democrats and the Narodniks (Trudoviks, Popular Socialists, Socialist Revolutionaries included) are all agreed that there should be a capitalist “cleansing” of the decaying agrarian system in Russia by means of the forcible abolition of the landed property of the landlords. They differ in this, that the Social-Democrats understand the capitalist character in   present society of any agrarian revolution, however ultra-radical it may be—municipalisation and nationalisation, socialisation and division—while the Narodniks don’t understand this, and wrap up their struggle for peasant-bourgeois agrarian evolution against landlord-bourgeois evolution in philistine and utopian phrases about equalisation.

All the muddle and shallow thinking of F. Dan are due to the fact that he has radically failed to understand the economic basis of the Russian bourgeois revolution. The differences between Marxist and petty-bourgeois socialism in Russia on the question of the economic content and significance of the peasants’ struggle for the land in this revolution loomed so large for him that he has “failed to notice” the struggle of the real forces in society for one or other of the objectively possible roads in capitalist agrarian evolution. And he has covered up this complete incomprehension with phrases about the “relative success” of Stolypin and “the complete democratisation of society under the badge of a radical solution of the agrarian question".

Actually, the situation in regard to the agrarian question in Russia today is this. The success of Stolypin’s policy would involve long years of violent suppression and extermination of a mass of peasants who refuse to starve to death and be expelled from their villages. History has known examples of the success of such a policy. It would be empty and foolish democratic phrase-mongering for us to say that the success of such a policy in Russia is “impossible”. It is possible! But our business is to make the people see clearly at what a price such a success is won, and to fight with all our strength for another, shorter and more rapid road of capitalist agrarian development through a peasant revolution. A peasant revolution under the leadership of the proletariat in a capitalist country is difficult, very difficult, but it is possible, and we must fight for it. Three years of the revolution have taught us and the whole people not only that we must fight for it but also how to fight for it. No Menshevik "methods of approach” to the policy of supporting the Cadets will drive these lessons of the revolution out of the consciousness of the workers.

To proceed. What if, in spite of the struggle of the masses, Stolypin’s policy holds good long enough for the “Prussian” way to succeed? Then the agrarian system in Russia will become completely bourgeois, the big peasants will grab nearly all the allotment land, agriculture will become capitalist, and no “solution” of the agrarian question under capitalism—whether radical or non-radical—will be possible any more. Then Marxists who are honest with themselves will straightforwardly and openly throw all “agrarian programmes on the scrap-heap altogether, and will say to the masses: “The workers have done all they could to give Russia not a Junker but an American capitalism. The workers call you now to join in the social revolution of the proletariat, for after the ‘solution’ of the agrarian question in the Stolypin spirit there can be no other revolution capable of making a serious change in the economic conditions of life of the peasant masses.

That is how the question of the relationship between a bourgeois and a socialist revolution in Russia stands to day—a question muddled up particularly by Dan in his German version of his Russian article (Neue Zeit,[2] No. 27).

Bourgeois revolutions are possible, even inevitable, in Russia as well on the basis of Stolypin-Cadet agrarian policies. But in such revolutions, as in the French revolutions of 1830 and 1848, there could be no question of “the complete democratisation of society under the badge of a radical solution of the agrarian question”. Or, more precisely, in such revolutions only petty-bourgeois quasi-Socialists will still babble about a “solution” (and especially a “radical” solution) of an agrarian question which has already been solved in a country where capitalism is fully developed.

But in Russia a capitalist agrarian system is very far as yet from having been developed. This is clear not only to us, both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, not only for people who sympathise with the revolution and hope that it may rise again; it is clear even to such consistent, conscious and frankly outspoken enemies of the revolution and friends of the Black-Hundred autocracy as Mr. Pyotr Struve. If he “cries with a loud voice” that we need a Bismarck, that we need the transformation of reaction into revolution   from above, it is because Struve sees in Russia neither a Bismarck nor revolution from above. Struve sees that the Stolypin reaction and a thousand gallows alone are not enough to create a landlord-bourgeois Russia, made safe for the Knecht. You need something more, something like the solution (albeit a Bismarckian solution) of the historic tasks of the nation, like the unification of Germany, the introduction of universal suffrage. But Stolypin can only unite Dumbadze with the heroes of the. Riga museum![3] He even has to abolish the franchise introduced by Witte under the law of December 11, 1905![4] Instead of peasants contented with Dan’s “relative success” of the agrarian policy, Stolypin is forced to hear “Trudovik” demands put forward even by the peasant deputies of the Third Duma!

How can Pyotr Struve, then, not “cry with a loud voice”, not groan and weep, when he sees clearly that it isn’t working—that we are still not getting anything like a well-regulated, modest, moderate and precise, curtailed but stable “constitution"?

Struve knows very well where he is going. But F. Dan has learned nothing and forgotten nothing during the three years of revolution. He is still, like a blind man, seeking to drag the proletariat under the wing of the Struves. He is still muttering the same reactionary Menshevik speeches about our proletariat and bourgeoisie being able to appear as “the principal political forces” ... against whom, most worthy Dan? Against Guchkov, or against the monarchy?

The incredible lengths to which Dan goes here in painting the liberals in rosy colours is revealed by his German article. He is not ashamed even to tell the German public that in the Third Duma the petty bourgeoisie in the towns chose “progressive electors” (meaning the Cadets) while the peasants gave 40 per cent of reactionary electors! Long live the “progressive” Milyukovs and Struves, applauding Stolypin! Long live the alliance of the Dans and the Milyukovs against the “reactionary” peasants, displaying their Trudovik spirit in the Third Duma!

And Plekhanov falsifies Engels to serve the purpose of the same reactionary Menshevik theories. Engels said that   the tactics of Marx in 1848 were correct, that they and only they really provided reliable, firm and unforgettable lessons for the proletariat. Engels said that these tactics were unsuccessful in spite of their being the only correct tactics. They were unsuccessful because the proletariat was insufficiently prepared, and capitalism was insufficiently developed.[5] While Plekhanov, as though he were trying to make fun of Engels, as though to gladden the heart of the Bernsteins and the Streltsovs,[6] interprets Engels as though he “regretted” Marx’s tactics, as though he later admitted them to be mistaken, and declared his preference for the tactics of supporting the German Cadets!

Will not G. Plekhanov tomorrow tell us that in regard to the risings in 1849 Engels came to the conclusion that “they should not have taken to arms"?

Marx and Engels taught the proletariat revolutionary tactics, the tactics of developing the struggle to its very highest forms, the tactics which rally the peasantry behind the proletariat—and not the proletariat behind the liberal traitors.


[1] Golos Sotsial-Demokrata (Voice of the Social-Democrat)—a newspaper, organ of the Menshevik liquidators, published from February 1908 to December 1911, first in Geneva and later in Paris.

[2] Die Neue Zeit—the theoretical journal of the German Social-Democratic Party, published in Stuttgart from 1883 to 1923. Up to October 1917 it was edited by Karl Kautsky, and subsequently by Heinrich Cunow. Several works by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were published in this journal for the first time, among them Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme and Engels’s Contribution to the Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic Programme of 1891. Engels often gave pointers to the editors of Die Neue Zeit and criticised the journal for its deviations from Marxism. Prominent leaders of the German and international labour movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contributed to the journal, among them August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, Paul Lafargue, and G. V. Plekhanov. Beginning with the middle nineties, after the death of Engels, the journal regularly published articles by revisionists, including a series of articles by Eduard Bernstein “Problems of Socialism”, inaugurating a revisionists’ crusade against Marxism. During the First World War (1914-18) the journal took a Centrist stand and virtually supported the social-chauvinists.

[3] Dumbadze, I. A.—a Black-Hundred general of the tsarist army. As military chief of the town of Yalta he was conspicuous for his brutal treatment of the peaceful population.

The Riga Museum—torture-chamber of the Riga Police Investigation Department where prisoners under examination were cruelly tortured. When the practices of the police were exposed in the press the tsarist government tried to deny the charges by declaring that the instruments of torture kept by the police had been collected “for museum purposes”. As a result of this “explanation” the torture-chamber became known as “the Riga museum”.

[4] The law of December 11(24), 1905—an electoral law for elections to the First Duma. Under this law the electorate was divided into four curias, namely, agricultural (landlords) , urban (bourgeoisie),   peasant and worker curias. The vote of a landlord was equivalent to 3 votes cast by the urban bourgeoisie, to 15 peasant votes, and to 45 workers’ votes. The electoral law gave to a handful of landlords and capitalists an overwhelming preponderance in the Duma.

[5] This refers to Engels’s introduction to Marx’s pamphlet The Class Struggles in France (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1958, pp. 118-38).

[6] Streltsov, B. V—a Social-Democrat, a revisionist.

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