V. I.   Lenin

What Goes On Among the Narodniks and What Goes On in the Countryside

Published: Prosveshcheniye No. 2, February 1913. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the text in Prosveshcheniye.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 555-561.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
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

The magazine Russkoye Bogatstvo shows us the two streams of the Narodnik or Trudovik current or trend in Russian life that can also be traced by drawing on other, more direct and immediate sources of political knowledge.

Let us recall, for example, the debates in the First and Second Dumas. Unfortunately, the verbatim reports of both have been withdrawn from sale. Nevertheless, the immense political material they provide for studying the views and aspirations of the Russian peasantry and Russian Trudoviks has in part already become, and in part will in the future become, known to every educated person. The chief conclusion to be drawn from this material is that the Trudovik intellectuals (including the Socialist-Revolutionary intellectuals) and the peasant Trudoviks represent essentially distinct political trends.

The intellectual Narodniks gravitate towards conciliatory or “philanthropic” phrases. One always senses the liberal in them. The standpoint of the class struggle is wholly foreign to them. They are given to moralising. They are pulling the democratic peasantry bade from the real and direct struggle against its class enemy to vague, forced, impotent, quasi-socialist phrase-mongering.

The peasant Narodniks in both of the early Dumas were full of fire and passion. They were eager for direct and resolute action. They were ignorant, uneducated and unsophisticated, but they rose against their class enemy so straightforwardly, uncompromisingly and implacably that one sensed what an impressive social force they were.

In other words, the Narodnik intellectuals are very bad socialists and lukewarm democrats. The peasant Trudoviks are far from playing at socialism, which is quite alien to them, but they are honest, sincere, ardent and strong democrats. No one can foretell whether peasant democracy will win in Russia, for this depends on much too complicated objective conditions. But it is beyond doubt that the Trudovik peasantry could win only in spite of the tendencies which the Narodnik intelligentsia brings into the movement of the Trudovik peasantry. A vigorous, fresh and sincere democratic movement can win, given a favourable historical situation, whereas “socialist” phrase-mongering and Narodnik moralising can never win.

I consider this conclusion to be one of the most important lessons of the Russian revolution, and I cherish the hope that some day I may be able to substantiate it by a detailed analysis of Narodnik speeches in the first two Dumas and by other political evidence from the 1905–07 period. For the time being I should like to note the remarkable confirmation of this conclusion to be found in the latest issue (No. 12, 1912) of Russkoye Bogatstvo, the chief and most authoritative Narodnik organ.

Two articles in that issue produce an impression that is undoubtedly typical. Mr. A.V.P.’s article (“Socialism—Popular or Proletarian?”) is a specimen of the intellectualist arguments of the “Popular Socialists” and Socialist-Revolutionaries.

If it had been inevitable for the massive force of the Russian peasantry to be directed in the way that “results” from the arguments of Messrs. A.V.P. and Co., the cause of Russia’s bourgeois democrats would have been hopelessly lost. For phrase-mongering and moralising can never result in history-making action. The impotence of this kind of Narodism is complete.

In Mr. Kryukov’s article, “Without Fire”, the peasantry and peasant life and psychology are described by a honey-tongued little priest, who portrays the peasantry in just the way it itself has acted, and continues to act. If this portrayal is accurate, Russia’s bourgeois democrats—in the shape of the peasantry—are destined to carry out a major historical action that has every   chance of success provided the situation is at all favourable.

To make this point clear, we shall briefly describe Mr. A. V. P.’s “ideas” and quote a few passages from the portrayal of the Russian peasantry given by the little priest.

Mr. A. V. P. defends the foundations of Narodism against Sukhanov, a writer for Zavety, who surrenders a whole series of cardinal theoretical premises of Narodism to Marxism, advocating a kind of unity between Marxists and Narodniks.

Mr. A. V. P. has no objection to unity but does not pro pose to “surrender” the principles of Narodism. And it is precisely this defence of the purity of the principles and of the solidity of Narodism by such an unquestionably competent and noted Narodnik as Mr. A. V. P. that shows most clearly that his position is quite hopeless and that this kind of Narodism is absolutely lifeless.

Mr. Sukhanov went as far as to say that the proletariat was the only class which was socialist by nature. Of course, if we were to reason with any degree of consistency, this means recognising Marxism and completely giving up Narodnik socialism as a bad job.

Mr. A. V. P. is up in arms against Mr. Sukhanov, but his arguments are exceptionally lame. They are nothing but so many little reservations, rectifications, question marks, and eclectic comments to the effect that revisionism “over emphasises” life’s corrections to theory, while orthodoxy wastes its time disputing them. The hotchpotch dished up by Mr. A. V. P. exactly resembles the objections of the “humanitarian” bourgeois to the class struggle and class socialism—objections common in all European countries.

Mr. A. V. P. does not venture to deny the fundamental and well-known fact that throughout the world it is only the proletariat that wages a systematic, daily struggle against capital, and that it alone constitutes the mass bulwark of the socialist parties. And Mr. A. V. P. cannot but knew that the freer a country is politically, the less the peasantry shows even feeble socialist leanings. And he simply plays on fragments of ideas expressed by European bourgeois professors and opportunists in order to confuse the issue,   without even trying to set against Marxism anything at all like an integral, straightforward and clear social theory.

That is why nothing could be more boring than Mr. A. V. P.’s article. And nothing could be more indicative of the total ideological death of Narodnik socialism in Russia. It is dead. You can find Mr. A. V. P.’s “ideas” in full in any bourgeois social-reformist publication in the West, so there is no point in refuting them.

But while Narodnik socialism is dead in Russia, having been killed by the revolution of 1905 and buried by people like A. V. P., and while nothing is left of it but rotten phrases, Russia’s peasant democracy—a democracy that is by no means socialist but as bourgeois as was democracy in America in the 1860s, in France at the close of the eighteenth century, in Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century, etc., etc.—is alive.

The honey-tongued priest’s story of the countryside, re corded by Mr. Kryukov, fully confirms this. And let us note in passing that what Kryukov reports perhaps stands out even more vividly and precisely from the observations which the Vekhi-minded Bulgakov, an admitted enemy of democracy, published in Russkaya Mysl (No. 11, 1912—“At the Elections”).

Servility and cowardice have always been there!” says Kryukov’s little priest, speaking of the Russian clergy. “But the difference now is that there has never been so appallingly calm and tacit a falling-away from the church as today. It is as if the spirit of life were dead in the church. I repeat that it isn’t the intellectuals alone who have left—so have the people.... I must admit it—after all, I’ve been a country priest for two years.”

The honey-tongued priest recalled the year 1905. At that time he was busy explaining the manifesto to the peasants.

I had looked forward,” he wailed, “to understanding, close unity, love, sobriety, a sound mind, an awakening, vigour.... But while understanding did seem to come, we had hatred and internecine strife instead of solidarity and unity. And I was the very first man to be hit by the countryside, and pretty roughly, too. Why, didn’t I stand for it heart and soul? I told them all about those liberties and all that sort of thing. And you should have seen how they listened! I imagined you just couldn’t make things any clearer than I did, but no—there were other ideas that found their way into the   countryside. Besides, the new explainers made a much spicier stew—they talked about the land and equality and the landlords. Of course, the muzhiks saw it and swallowed it at once. First of all they came to tell me that they would pay me for tithes not two hundred rubles but one hundred....

However, what vexed me particularly wasn’t that fact—about that hundred rubles—but the totality of the things which so unexpectedly reshaped the countryside. Didn’t they all try to open its eyes for it, to rid it of its ignorance, to lighten its darkness! And to tell the truth, they succeeded too. A bit of light did dawn on the blind, and they have no longer been blind since then, even though they haven’t really recovered their eyesight. But with that half-vision came only the most sorrowful knowledge and the most choking hatred.... Some day they may sigh regretfully thinking of their past ignorance. There’s so much hatred in the countryside that you’d say the very air is saturated with it nowadays.... They are quick with the knife and the cudgel and the fire-brand. There’s a feeling of helplessness, the sting of unavenged grievances, internecine quarrels, indiscriminate hatred, envy of all who are better off, who live more comfortably and own more. To be sure, there was envy and hatred and sorrow and vile sin in the past as well, but people had faith in the divine will and realised the futility of worldly benefits. They had faith and were therefore able to bear it, hoping to be rewarded in the hereafter. That faith is no more. What people there believe in today is that we are oppressors and they are the oppressed. Weeds and thornapples have sprouted in the countryside from all that talk about freedom.... And now this new law about the land—brother has risen up against brother, son against father and neighbour against neighbour! The hatred and discord now are such that the country side will choke with it. it certainly will.”

We have underlined certain particularly characteristic words in this characteristic description of the countryside by the mealy-mouthed little priest (a genuine Narodnik intellectual!).

The priest is a partisan of “love” and an enemy of “hatred”. In this respect he fully shares the Tolstoyan (we may also say Christian), thoroughly reactionary point of view which our Cadets and Cadet-like people are constantly promoting. Such a priest would hardly mind dreaming of some sort of “socialisation of the land” or prattling about the “socialist” significance of co-operation and about “standards of landownership”. But when it came to hatred instead of “love”, he at once recoiled, went limp and whimpered.

There is any amount of verbal, loud-mouthed “socialism” (“popular and not proletarian”), and in Europe too any   literate philistine approves of it. But when it comes to “hatred” instead of “Jove”, that is the end. Socialism as humane phrase-mongering—yes, we are for it; revolutionary democracy—no, we are against it.

What the honey-tongued little priest says on the hackneyed subject of “hooliganism” in the countryside is absolutely nothing new from the factual point of view. But it is evident from his own story that “hooliganism” is a concept introduced by the feudal landlords. “Burning, unavenged grievances” is what the sugary priest notes. And this, of course, is a very far cry from “hooliganism”.

In the struggle against Narodism, Marxists have long regarded it as their task to smash Manilovism, cloying phrases, a sentimental supra-class point of view, and vulgar “popular” socialism worthy of a French “Radical Socialist” skilled in shady business deals. But, at the same time, Marxists have long considered it just as much their indispensable task to extract the democratic core of Narodnik views. Narodnik socialism is a putrid and evil-smelling corpse. Peasant democracy in Russia is a living force, if Kryukov’s honey-tongued priest has depicted it accurately. Indeed, it cannot help being a living force so long as the Purishkeviches are in the saddle, and so long as there are some thirty million who are starving.

Indiscriminate hatred”, we are told. First of all, this is not the whole truth. It is the Purishkeviches and government officials and amiable intellectuals who see no “discrimination”. Secondly, even at the beginning of the working-class movement in Russia there was a certain element of “indiscriminate hatred”; such as that, for instance, which took the form of destroying machinery during the strikes of the sixties, seventies and eighties of the last century. That did not last. Nor was that the point. It would be banal to demand that people in this situation who were losing their patience should use “kid gloves”.

The important thing is the far-reaching break with the old, hopelessly reactionary world outlook, the thorough assimilation of just that doctrine about the “enslaved” that is an earnest of real life and not of the sleep of death.

Narodnik socialism is rotten even in its most Left-wing section. What is alive and vital is the task of purifying, enlightening, arousing and unifying the democratic movement through a deliberate break with doctrines of “love”, “patience”, and so on. The honey-tongued little priest is sad We, however, have every reason to rejoice in the ample opportunities for vigorous work.


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