V. I. Lenin

Tolstoy and the Proletarian Struggle

Published: Rabochaya Gazeta No. 2, December 18 (31), 1910. Published according to the text in Rabochaya Gazeta.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 16, pages 353-354.
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.  

Tolstoy’s indictment of the ruling classes was made with tremendous power and sincerity; with absolute clearness he laid bare the inner falsity of all those institutions by which modern society is maintained: the church, the law courts, militarism, “lawful” wedlock, bourgeois science. But his doctrine proved to be in complete contradiction to the life, work and struggle of the grave-digger of the modern social system, the proletariat. Whose then was the point of view reflected in the teachings of Leo Tolstoy? Through his lips there spoke that multitudinous mass of the Russian people who already detest the masters of modern life but have not yet advanced to the point of Intelligent, consistent, thoroughgoing, implacable struggle against them.

The history and the outcome of the great Russian revolution have shown that such precisely was the mass that found itself between the class-conscious, socialist proletariat and the out-and-out defenders of the old regime. This mass, consisting mainly of the peasantry, showed in the revolution how great was its hatred of the old, how keenly it felt all the inflictions of the modern regime, how great within it was the spontaneous yearning to be rid of them and to find a better life.

At the same time, however, this mass showed in the revolution that it was not politically conscious enough in its hatred, that it was not consistent in its struggle and that its quest for a better life was confined within narrow bounds.

This great human ocean, agitated to its very depths, with all its weaknesses and all its strong features found its reflection in the doctrine of Tolstoy.

By studying the literary works of Leo Tolstoy the Russian working class will learn to know its enemies better, but in   examining the doctrine of Tolstoy, the whole Russian people will have to understand where their own weakness lies, the weakness which did not allow them to carry the cause of their emancipation to its conclusion. This must be under stood in order to go forward.

This advance is impeded by all those who declare Tolstoy a “universal conscience”, a “teacher of life”. This is a lie that the liberals are deliberately spreading in their desire to utilise the anti-revolutionary aspect of Tolstoy’s doctrine. This lie about Tolstoy as a “teacher of life” is being repeated after the liberals by some former Social-Democrats.

The Russian people will secure their emancipation only when they realise that it is not from Tolstoy they must learn to win a better life but from the class the significance of which Tolstoy did not understand, and which alone is capable of destroying the old world which Tolstoy hated. That class is the proletariat.


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