V. I. Lenin

Some Sources of the Present Ideological Discord

Published: Proletary No. 50, November 28 (December 11), 1909. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 16, pages 87-94.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) © 2004 Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.  

In the present issue of Proletary we print one of the numerous letters we have received pointing out the tremendous ideological discord among the Social-Democrats. Special attention is merited by the ideas on the subject of the “German line” (i.e., the prospect of Germany’s development after 1848 being duplicated in our own country). In order to trace the sources of the mistaken opinions current in this very important question, for without its clarification the workers’ party cannot devise correct tactics, we shall take the Mensheviks and Golos Sotsial-Demokrata on the one hand and Comrade Trotsky’s Polish article on the other.


The tactics of the Bolsheviks in the Revolution of 1905-07 were based on the principle that the complete victory of this revolution was possible only as a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. What are the economic grounds for this view? Beginning with Two Tactics (1905){1} and, continuing with numerous articles in newspapers and miscellanies of 1906 and 1907 we have consistently given the following grounds: the bourgeois development of Russia is now a foregone conclusion but it is possible in two forms—the so-called “Prussian” form (the retention of the monarchy and landlordism, the creation of a strong, i. e,, bourgeois, peasantry on the given, historical basis, etc.)   and the so-called “American” form (a bourgeois republic, the abolition of landlordism, the creation of a farmer class, i. e., of a free bourgeois peasantry, by means of a marked change of the given historical situation). The proletariat must fight for the second path as offering the greatest degree of freedom and speed of development of the productive forces of capitalist Russia, and victory in this struggle is possible only with a revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry.

This is the view embodied in the resolution of the London Congress on the Narodnik or Trudovik parties and on the attitude of the Social-Democrats towards them. The Mensheviks, as we know, are hostile to this resolution, particularly as regards the special question which we are analysing here. But how shaky the economic basis of their case is can be seen from the following words of a most influential Menshevik authority on the agrarian question in Russia, Comrade Maslov. In the second volume of his Agrarian Question, published in 1908 (the preface is dated December 15, 1907), Maslov wrote: “As long as [Maslov’s italics] purely capitalistic relations have not developed in the countryside, as long as subsistence rent [Maslov wrongly uses this unfortunate expression instead of the term: feudal bondage rent] persists, a solution of the agrarian question most advantageous for democracy will still be possible. The past history of the world shows two types of capitalist development: the type prevailing in Western Europe (not counting Switzerland and some odd corners of other European states), which is the result of a compromise between the nobility and the bourgeoisie, and the type of agrarian relations which have been established in Switzerland, the United States of America, and the British and other colonies. The data which we cite on the status of the agrarian question in Russia does not give us sufficient grounds to say for certain which type of agrarian relations will become established in our country, while our ‘scientific conscience’ does not allow us to draw subjective and arbitrary conclusions...” (p. 457).

That is true. And it is a full recognition of the economic basis of Bolshevik tactics. It is not a matter of “revolutionary intoxication” (as the Vekhists and the Cherevanins   think) but of objective, economic conditions, which would allow the possibility of an “American” line of capitalist development in Russia. In his history of the peasant movement in 1905-07 Maslov had to recognise our main premises. The agrarian “programme of the Cadets”, he writes in the same place, “is the most utopian as there is no broad social class interested in the question being solved in the way they desire; either the interests of the landowners will prevail with impending political concessions [Maslov means to say: with inevitable concessions to the landowning bourgeoisie] or the interests of democracy” (p. 456).

And that too is true. Hence it follows that the tactics of proletarian support for the Cadets in the revolution was “utopian”. Hence it follows that the forces of “democracy”, i.e., of the democratic revolution, are the forces of the proletariat and peasantry. Hence it follows that there are two roads of bourgeois development: one is that of the “landowners, making concessions to the bourgeoisie”, the other is that along which the workers and peasants want to lead and can lead this development (cf. Maslov, p. 446: “If all the landed estates were ceded gratis to the peasantry for their use, even then... the process of the capitalisation of peasant farming would take place, but less painfully...”).

We see that when Maslov argues as a Marxist he argues in a Bolshevik way. But the following is an instance where, in attacking the Bolsheviks, he argues just like a liberal. This instance, needless to say, is to be found in the liquidationist book: The Social Movement in Russia at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century which is being published under the editorship of Martov, Maslov and Potresov; in the section “Summing up” (Vol. I) we find an article by Maslov: “The Development of the National Economy and Its Influence on the Class Struggle in the Nineteenth Century”. In this article, on page 661, we read:

“... some Social-Democrats have begun to regard the bourgeoisie as a hopelessly reactionary class and a negligible quantity. Not only has the strength and importance of the bourgeoisie been underestimated but the historic role of this class has been viewed out of historical perspective: the participation of the middle and petty bourgeoisie in the revolutionary movement and the sympathy towards it by the big bourgeoisie in the first stage of the movement have been ignored; while it is taken as a foregone conclusion that in the future, too, the   bourgeoisie will play a reactionary role, and so on” (that’s just as he has it: “and so on”!). “Hence was deduced the inevitability of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, which would contradict the whole trend of economic development.”

This tirade is wholly Vekhist. This “Marxism” is all of the Brentano, Sombart or Struve variety.{3} The standpoint of its author is the standpoint of a liberal as distinct from a bourgeois democrat. For a liberal is a liberal precisely because he does not visualise, his mind does not accept, any other course of bourgeois development than the one already in process, i. e., the one led by the landowners, who make “concessions” to the bourgeoisie. A democrat is a democrat precisely because he sees another way and fights for it, the way led by the “people”, i. e., the petty bourgeoisie, the peasantry and the proletariat, but he does not see that this way too is bourgeois. In the “Summing up” of this liquidationist book Maslov forgot all about the two lines of bourgeois development, about the strength of the bourgeoisie of the American type (in its Russian equivalent: a bourgeoisie that grows out of the peasantry, on a soil swept clean of landlordism by revolutionary means), about the weakness of the bourgeoisie of the Prussian type (enslaved by “landowners”); he forgot that the Bolsheviks have never spoken of the “inevitability” of “dictatorship”, but of its necessity for the victory of the American path; he forgot that the Bolsheviks deduced “dictatorship” not from the weakness of the bourgeoisie, but from the objective, economic conditions making: possible two lines of development of the bourgeoisie. In its theoretical aspect the tirade quoted is a sheer mass of confusion (which Maslov himself repudiates in the second volume of the Agrarian Question); in its practical political aspect it is liberalism, an ideological defence of extreme liquidationism.

Now see how an unsound position on the main economic question leads to unsound political conclusions. Here is a quotation from Martov’s article “Whither Next?” (Golos Sotsial-Demokrata No. 13): “In contemporary Russia no one can say definitely just now whether in a new political crisis favourable objective conditions will be created for a radical democratic revolution; we can only indicate the specific conditions under which a revolution of this kind   will become inevitable. Until history decides this question of the future as it was decided for Germany in 1871, the Social-Democrats must not relinquish the aim of meeting the inevitable political crisis with their own revolutionary solution of the political, agrarian and national problem (a democratic republic, the confiscation of landed estates, and the full right of self-determination). But they must go forward to meet the crisis which will settle once and for all the question of the ‘German’ or ‘French’ consummation of the revolution, not stand and wait for the advent of the crisis.”

True. Splendid words paraphrasing the resolution of the Party Conference of December 1908. This formulation is in full accord with Maslov’s words in the second volume of the Agrarian Question and the tactics of the Bolsheviks. There is a decided difference between this formulation and the standpoint expressed in the famous exclamation that the “Bolsheviks at the Conference of December 1908 decided to push in where they had had one licking already.”{4} We can “go forward with our revolutionary solution of the agrarian question” only together with the revolutionary sections of the bourgeois democracy, i. e., only with the peasantry, not with the liberals, who are satisfied with “concessions from the landowners”. To go forward to confiscation together with the peasantry—there is nothing but a verbal difference between this formulation and the principle: to go forward to a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. But Martov, who came so close to the standpoint of our Party in Golos No. 13, does not hold to this position consistently but constantly deviates towards Potresov and Cherevanin, not only in the liquidationist book The Social Movement but in the same issue,. No. 13. In the same article, for instance, he defines the task of the moment as the “struggle for a legal labour movement, including one for winning the legalisation of our own existence [of the Social-Democratic Party]”. To say that means making a concession to the liquidators: we want to strengthen the Social-Democratic Party, utilising all legal possibilities and all opportunities of open action; the liquidators want to squeeze the Party into the framework of a legal and open (under Stolypin) existence. We are fighting for the revolutionary   overthrow of the Stolypin autocracy, utilising for this struggle every case of open action, widening the proletarian basis of the movement for this purpose. The liquidators are fighting for the open existence of the labour movement ... under Stolypin. Martov’s statement that it is our duty to fight for a republic and the confiscation of the land is so formulated that it precludes liquidationism; his statement about fighting for the open existence of the Party is so formulated that it does not preclude liquidationism. Here in the political field is the same inconsistency as Maslov’s in the economic field.[2]

This inconsistency soars to Himalayan heights in Martynov’s article on the agrarian question (No. 10–11). Martynov tries to carry on a biting controversy against Proletary but, owing to his inability to formulate the question, he flounders helplessly and clumsily. For Proletary, you see, the result is as Tkachov has it: “Now, a little bit later, or never!”{5} This is the “result” also for Maslov and Martov, dear Comrade Martynov; it should be the result for any Marxist, since it is a question not of a socialist, revolution (as in the case of Tkachov) but of one of the two methods of consummating the bourgeois revolution. Just think, Comrade Martynov: can Marxists undertake in general to support the confiscation of large landed estates or are they obliged to do so only “until” (whether “now, a little bit later” or for quite a long time yet is more than you or I can say) the bourgeois system is definitely “established?” Another example. The law of November 9, 1906{6} “threw the countryside into a great tumult, a state of veritable internecine war, some times running to knife-play”, says Martynov rightly. And his conclusion: “in the near future to expect any unanimous and impressive revolutionary action of the peasantry, a peas ant uprising, is quite impossible in view of this internecine war.” It is ludicrous of you, dear Comrade Martynov, to counterpose an uprising, i.e., civil war, to “internecine war”. Furthermore, the question of the near future does not enter here since it is not a question of practical directives but of the line of the whole agrarian development. Another   example. “The exodus from the village communes is proceeding at a forced pace.” True. What is your conclusion?... “It is obvious that the break-up by the landlords will be successfully completed and that in the course of a few years, precisely in those extensive areas of Russia where quite recently the agrarian movement was taking the most acute forms, the village commune will be destroyed and with it the chief cradle of Trudovik ideology will disappear. Thus one of Proletary’s two prospects, the ‘bright’ one, is eliminated.”

It is not a question of the village commune, dear Comrade Martynov, for the Peasant Union in 1905 and the Trudoviks in 1906–07 demanded that the land be transferred not to the village communes but to individuals or free associations. The village commune is being destroyed both by the landlords’ breaking up of the old system of land tenure under the supervision of Stolypin and its breaking up by the peasants, i.e., confiscation for the creation of a new order on the land. Proletary’s “bright” prospect is not connected with the village commune or with Trudovism as such, but with the possibility of an “American” development, the creation of free farmers. So by saying that the bright prospect is eliminated, and at the same time declaring that “the slogan of expropriating the big landowners will not go by the board” Comrade Martynov is making an unholy muddle. If the “Prussian” type is established this slogan will go by the board and the Marxists will say: we have done every thing in our power to bring about, a more painless development of capitalism, now we must fight for the destruction of capitalism itself. If, on the other hand, this slogan does not go by the board it will mean that the objective conditions are at hand for switching the “train” on to the American “line”. In that case the Marxists, if they do not wish to become Struve-ists, will know how to see, behind the reactionary “socialist” phraseology of the petty bourgeois, expressing the latter’s subjective views, the objectively real struggle of the masses for better conditions of capitalist development.

Let us sum up. Disputes over tactics are vain if they are not based on a clear analysis of economic possibilities. The question of Russia’s agrarian evolution taking a Prussian or American form has been raised by the struggle of   1905–07, which proved its reality. Stolypin is taking another step further along the Prussian path—it would be a ludicrous fear of the bitter truth not to recognise this. We must go through a peculiar historical stage in the conditions created by this new step. But it would be criminal as well as ludicrous not to recognise the fact that Stolypin has so far only complicated and aggravated the old state of affairs without creating anything new. Stolypin is “putting his stake on the powerful” and asks for “20 years of peace and tranquillity” for the “reformation” (read: spoliation) of Russia by the landlords. The proletariat must put its stake on democracy, without exaggerating the latter’s strength and without limiting itself to merely “pinning hopes” on it, but steadily developing the work of propaganda, agitation and organisation, mobilising all the democratic forces—the peasants above all and before all—calling upon them to ally themselves with the leading class, to achieve the “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” for the purpose of a full democratic victory and the creation of the best conditions for the quickest and freest development of capitalism. Failure to fulfil this democratic duty on the part of the proletariat will inevitably lead to vacillations and objectively play into the hands of the counter-revolutionary liberals outside the labour movement and the liquidators within it.


{1} See present edition, Vol. 9, pp. 15–14O.—Ed.

[2] We took as an example only one instance of the political inconsistency of Martov, who in the same article, No. 13, speaks of the coming crisis as a “constitutional” crisis, and so on. —Lenin

{3} The “Marxismof the Brentano, Sombart and Struve variety—a bourgeois-reformist “theory” that “recognises the ’school of capitalism’ but rejects the school of revolutionary class struggle” (Lenin). The representatives of this variety of bourgeois distortion of Marxism were:

Lujo Brentano—a German bourgeois economist, an adherent of so-called “state socialism”; he tried to prove the possibility of achieving social equality within the framework of capitalism by means of reforms and reconciling the interests of capitalists and workers.

Werner Sombart—a German bourgeois economist, a falsifier of Marxism. He tried to justify capitalism, depicting it as a harmonious planned system.

Under cover of Marxist phraseology , Brentano, Sombart and their successors in fact defended capitalism and tried to subordinate the working-class movement to the interests of the bourgeoisie. The “theories” of Brentano and Sombart were, and still are, extensively used by enemies of Marxism.

P. B. Struve—a Russian bourgeois liberal, a legal Marxist in the nineties and later one of the leaders of the Cadet Party. After the Great October Revolution he was a whiteguard émigré, a bitter enemy of Soviet power.

{4} Lenin quotes the words of the Menshevik liquidator Dan, who at the Fifth (All-Russian 1908) Conference of the R.S.D.L.P., during the discussion of the question “The present moment and the tasks of the Party”, declared that the Bolsheviks “decided to push in where they had had one licking already”.

{5} The quotation is from the pamphlet by the Russian Narodnik P. N. Tkachov, Tasks of Revolutionary Propaganda in Russia, April 1874, p. 16.

{6} The law of November 9, 1906—Stolypin’s agrarian law allowing the peasants to withdraw from the village communes and settle on farmsteads. For a description and appraisal of Stolypin ’s land reform see Lenin’s work “The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905–07” (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 217–431).

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