V. I.   Lenin

How Plekhanov and Co. Defend Revisionism

Published: Proletary, No. 39, November 13 (26), 1908. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 281-285.
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.
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The editorial comment in Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, i. e., by Plekhanov and Co., on our analysis of Comrade Maslov’s letter[1] in Proletary, No. 37, has now appeared as a separate supplement to No. 8–9 of Golos.

This “Comment”, in length about half a column of Proletary, merits the attention of Russian Social-Democrats, for it shows how petty factional interests have led Plekhanov and Co. to defend theoretical revisionism with the aid of the most unseemly sophistry. Here are the facts.

We are the most determined and absolutely irreconcilable opponents of that re-examination (revision) of Marxism which is being performed under the reactionary influence of the ideologists of the West-European bourgeoisie and whose object is to strike at the roots of the philosophical, sociological, and economic doctrines of Marx and Engels,” That is the first sentence of the comment. “Most determined and absolutely irreconcilable opponents”— could it be put more sharply? It would be hard to produce a more grandiloquent formula for the promises of Plekhanov and Co.

But ... the trouble is that our “irreconcilable” enemies of revisionism resort to a very meaningful “but” in relation to Maslov (and Plekhanov and Co. wrote this Comment precisely in connection with Maslov’s article, precisely on the question of Maslov’s revisionism).

But we have never been Marxist sectarians,” Plekhanov and Co. declare, “and we realise only too well that one can differ from Marx and Engels on one question or another,   and far from perverting their point of view or repudiating their method, remain true to both.” And this example is cited: Cunow, a Social-Democrat, had “partial differences with Engels” on the question of “the origin of the matriarchate”, but “only a morbid mind could accuse him, of revisionism on these grounds”.

The foregoing holds good also for our attitude to Comrade Maslov’s views on Marx’s theory of rent. We do not share this view” (Golos adds editorially: “Comrade Martynov made the specific reservation in No. 4 of Golos that he did not agree with Comrade Maslov’s amendment to the theory of absolute rent”), “but we do not regard it as revisionism....”

The reader can now follow the Plekhanov and Co. trend of reasoning. We are “absolutely irreconcilable opponents of revisionism”, but—“we do not regard it [Maslov’s view on the theory of absolute rent] as revisionism”. Revisionism strikes at the roots of Marx’s doctrine, whereas Maslov differs with Marx on a partial issue—such is the line of defence taken by Plekhanov and Co., and fully amplified by the reference to Cunow.

We ask the unbiased and thinking reader: is this not sophistry? Marx’s theory of absolute rent is declared a “partial issue”! Differences on his theory of rent are equated with the fact that Cunow had “partial differences” with Engels on the origin of the matriarchate! Plekhanov and Co. apparently consider their Mensheviks little children to be fed on such explanations. One has to have no respect for oneself or for one’s reader to play the clown like this in discussing cardinal questions of principle. Plekhanov and Co. themselves begin their explanation with a solemn phrase in which revisionism is described as striking at the roots of Marx’s and Engels’s doctrine. Very well. But do Plekhanov and Co. renounce that attitude in the case of Maslov? Yes or no? Or have Plekhanov and Co. penned their comment only to conceal their thoughts?

Maslov has declared, in a number of articles and in several editions of his Agrarian Question, that (1) Marx’s theory of absolute rent is wrong; (2) the appearance of such a theory is due to the “rough” nature of Volume III; (3) “diminishing returns” are a fact; (4) if the theory of   absolute rent were correct and the “law of diminishing returns” wrong, the Narodniks in Russia and the revisionists the world over might prove to be right.

These were the four points which were held against Maslov in the Proletary article from which the whole polemic began. But just see how Plekhanov and Co. react. First, they very modestly confine themselves to the question of rent, i. e., they maintain complete silence on all the other questions. Is this not defence of revisionism? Are Plekhanov and Co. going to deny that the revision of Marx’s theory about the absurdity of both the law and “fact” of diminishing returns “is being performed under the reactionary influence of the ideologists of the West-European bourgeoisie”? Secondly, the theory of absolute rent is equated with a partial question, with differences (“partial”) over the origin of the matriarchate!

This, gentlemen, is mental acrobatics! And you are using them to conceal your public defence of revisionism. For you do not venture to state openly that recognition of absolute rent and negation of the law (or “fact”) of diminishing returns are not the “roots” of Marx’s economic doctrine on the agrarian question. You defend your “own chap” by adjusting Marx to fit Maslov, by declaring that, in Maslov’s case, the very roots of Marx’s theory are no more than a matter of “partial differences”. You thereby confirm what Proletary (No. 33[2] ) said about the Menshevik theoretical Famusovs,[3] who reward their household by agreeing to regard Marx’s economic theory as a “partial” question and by putting it on a par with the question of the origin of the matriarchate.

Plekhanov and Co. are, “irreconcilable enemies of revisionism”—but if you are a Menshevik, don’t be afraid of these dread words! You can go to the Golos editors, knowing that for Mensheviks irreconcilability is very reconcilable— so much so that they are prepared to equate “uprooting of theory” with “differences over the origin of the matriarchate”. Indulgences are being offered cheap, ladies -and gentlemen, the sale is on!

But to continue. We do not share Maslov’s views on rent, say Plekhanov and Co. Martynov has already made a reservation to that effect, they add. The “individual” whom the editors of Proletary described as “Maslov’s guardian angel” (i. e., Plekhanov), has “often [listen to this!] polemised in the press [Golos italics] with Comrade Maslov on subjects closely related to our agrarian programme”.

That, literally, is what Plekhanov and Co. say in their “Comment”!

Learn from your editors how to write disclaimers, Menshevik comrades. Here you have a classical example. The point at issue is revisionism, and the controversy began about whether it was theoretical irreconcilability or only petty factional spite that made Plekhanov refer to several of his opponents, in the Party organ, as “Messrs.” But the “disclaimer” says: Plekhanov “often polemised in the press” with Maslov, but not about the rent theory and not about Maslov’s deviations from Marxian theory.

Is there a suitable parliamentary expression to describe such methods? Plekhanov, who is a lover of theoretical controversies, and is able, on occasion, to turn them into campaigns, has never, not once, polemised with Maslov about what constitutes his revisionism, i. e., his negation of the absolute rent theory, his describing it as a “rough note”, his defence of the “fact” of diminishing returns, or about whether or not the Narodniks and revisionists might have proved to be right if Maslov had not refuted Marx. Not once did Plekhanov argue on these points: he polemised about something quite different, namely, side issues, which the Menshevik Tartuffes[4] have now concealed behind a subtly hazy, deliberately misleading and diplomatically confused phrase: “subjects closely related to our agrarian programme”!

Brilliant, what? One cannot help congratulating Plekhanov and Co. on this opening defence of revisionism! One cannot help recalling politicians of the Clemenceau stamp. Clemenceau, “irreconcilable” enemy of reaction, “often polemised” with it, but now, with reaction in the   saddle, Clemenceau makes reservations and ... serves it. Plekhanov is an “irreconcilable” enemy of revisionism. Plekhanov has “often polemised” with Maslov (on every imaginable subject except Maslov’s revisionism). And now Maslov has come out against Marx, repeating his old arguments against the Marxian theory in the pages of Golos, but Plekhanov and Co. only make reservations!

Buy your indulgences, literary gentlemen, sign up with the Mensheviks! Tomorrow you will be given the opportunity to refute Marx’s theory of value as well in the pages of Golos—with the reservation in a comment by the editors that they “are not in agreement”....

Will not Proletary endeavour,” Plekhanov and Co. ask in the same Comment, “‘to substantiate its remark’ about the connection between Maslov’s. reflections on absolute rent and the programme which repudiates nationalisation?” With the greatest of pleasure, dear “irreconcilables”. Here is a brief first substantiation to start. with:

Is it possible, while failing to. understand Marx’s theory of absolute rent, to appreciate the role of private property in land as an obstacle to the development of the productive forces of capitalist society?”

Consult Maslov, “irreconcilable” Plekhanov and Co., and answer that question, which gives you the substantiation you want!


[1] See pp. 247–54 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] See pp. 189–90 of this volume.—Ed.

[3] See Note 95.—Ed.

[4] Hypocrites: the character typifying this vice in Molière’s comedy of the same name.—Ed.

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