V. I.   Lenin

The Narodniks on N. K. Mikhailovsky

Published: Put Pravdy No. 19, February 22, 1914. Signed: V. Ilyin. Published according to the text in Put Pravdy.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 117-120.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Joe Fineberg
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 tenth anniversary of the death of N.K. Mikhailovsky (who died on January 28, 1904) was marked by a spate of laudatory articles in the liberal-bourgeois and Narodnik (i. e., bourgeois-democratic) press. It is not surprising that the liberals and bourgeois democrats laud N. K. Mikhailovsky, but one cannot help protesting against the flagrant distortion of the truth and the corruption of proletarian class-consciousness when attempts are made to pass Mikhailovsky off as a socialist and to prove that his bourgeois philosophy and sociology are compatible with Marxism.

Mikhailovsky was one of the finest spokesmen of Russian bourgeois democracy in the latter third of the last century. The masses of the peasantry, who (not counting the urban petty bourgeoisie) are the only important and mass vehicles of bourgeois-democratic ideas in Russia, were then still dormant. The best people from their midst, and those who deeply sympathised with their hard lot, the raznochintsi (mostly students, teachers and other intellectuals), tried to enlighten and rouse the dormant peasant masses.

The historic service that Mikhailovsky rendered the bourgeois-democratic movement for the liberation of Russia was that he warmly sympathised with the hard lot of the peasants, strenuously combated all manifestations of feudal tyranny, advocated in the legal, open press—if only by hints—sympathy and respect for the “underground”, where the most consistent and determined raznochintsi democrats operated, and even gave direct personal help to the “underground”. Today, when not only liberals but also liquidators, both Narodnik (Russkoye Bogatstvo) and Marxist, betray a shameless and often renegade attitude towards the   “underground”, one cannot help putting in a good word in memory of the service rendered by Mikhailovsky.

Though he was an ardent champion of freedom and of the oppressed masses of the peasantry, Mikhailovsky shared, all the weaknesses of the bourgeois-democratic movement. He thought there was something “socialistic” in the idea of transferring all the land to the peasants, especially without redemption, and therefore considered himself a “socialist”. Of course, this was a profound error, which was fully revealed by Marx and by the experience of all civilised countries, where, until the complete collapse of serf-ownership and absolutism, the bourgeois democrats constantly imagined themselves to be “socialists”. The transfer of all the land to the peasants, particularly on the terms indicated, is a very useful measure under the rule of the feudal-minded landlords, but it is a bourgeois-democratic measure. Today every sensible socialist is aware of that. The experience of all the world goes to show that the more land (and the cheaper) the peas ants have received from the feudalists, the more “land and liberty” there has been, the more rapidly capitalism has developed and the more speedily the bourgeois nature of the peasants has been revealed. If Mr. N. Rakitnikov (in issue No. 3 of Vernaya Mysl[1]) has not yet realised that the proletariat’s support of the bourgeois-democratic peasants against the feudal landlords is not socialism at all, one can only smile at his simplicity. it is a dull business refuting errors that have long been refuted by all class-conscious workers.

Not only in the field of economics, but also in those of philosophy and sociology, Mikhailovsky’s views were bourgeois-democratic views veiled by quasi-socialist phrases. Such were his “progress formula”, his “struggle for individuality” theory and so on. In philosophy Mikhailovsky was a step backward from Chernyshevsky, the greatest exponent of utopian socialism in Russia. Chernyshevsky was a materialist, and to the end of his days (i. e., until the eighties of the nineteenth century) he ridiculed the petty concessions to idealism and mysticism that were made by the then fashionable “positivists” (Kantians, Machists, and so forth). And Mikhailovsky trailed in the wake of these very positivists. To this very day, these reactionary philosophical   views prevail among Mikhailovsky’s disciples, even among the extreme “Left” Narodniks (such as Mr. Chernov).

That the “socialism” of Mikhailovsky and the Narodniks is mere bourgeois-democratic phrase-mongering was conclusively proved by the actions of all classes and their mass struggle in 1905–07. Most of the peasant deputies in the First and Second Dumas sided, not with the Left Narodniks, but with the “Trudoviks”[2] and the “Popular Socialists”.[3] This is a fact that must not be forgotten or distorted. And, following the Marxists, even the Left Narodniks, in the per sons for example of Vikhlayev, Chernov, and others, have been compelled to admit the bourgeois nature of the Trudovik Popular Socialists!

Let individual workers who sympathise with the Left Narodniks ask their teachers to produce everything the Left Narodniks wrote against the Trudovik Popular Socialists in 1906–07.

In those years mass action by the peasants proved conclusively that the peasantry takes a bourgeois-democratic stand. The Left Narodniks are at best only a small wing of peasant (i. e., bourgeois) democracy in Russia. The workers have supported the peasants (against the feudal landlords), and will continue to do so, but to confuse these classes, to confuse bourgeois democracy with the socialist proletariat, is reactionary adventurism. All class-conscious workers will strenuously combat this, particularly at the present time when the class cleavage has been made quite clear by the great experience of the mass struggle of 1905–07, and is be coming clearer day by day in our rural districts.

For a very long time, over ten years in fact, Mikhailovsky was the head and guiding spirit of the Russkoye Bogatstvo publicist group. What did this group produce in the great days of 1905–07?

It produced the first liquidators among the democrats! Let individual workers who sympathise with the Left Narodniks ask their teachers to show them Russkoye Bogatstvo for August 1906, and all that was written by the Left Narodniks when they called this group “Social-Cadets”, and so forth!

The Mikhailovsky group brought forth the first liquidators who, in the autumn of 1906, proclaimed an “open party”,   and renounced the “underground” and its slogans two or three years before our Marxist liquidators did so. What came of the “open party” proclaimed by the Myakotins, Peshekhonovs, and other associates of Mikhailovsky? Nothing—the complete absence of any party whatsoever, and the complete isolation of the “open” group of opportunist Narodniks from the masses.

Mikhailovsky, who never renounced the “underground” (or rather, died shortly before his group went over to liquidationism), should not be held fully responsible for the paltry and contemptible opportunism of Messrs. Peshekhonov, Myakotin and Co. But is it not characteristic that in issue No. 3 of Vernaya Mysl, which is dedicated to Mikhailovsky, we again find the corrupt bloc between the “Left” Narodniks and the “Social-Cadets” of Russkoye Bogatstvo? And if we recall what Mikhailovsky wrote to Lavrov about his attitude towards revolutionaries shall we not have to admit that, on the whole, the “Social-Cadets” are his faithful successors?

We pay tribute to Mikhailovsky for the sincere and skilful struggle he waged against the serf-owning system, the “bureaucracy” (we beg to be excused for this loose term), and so forth, for his respect for the “underground” and the assistance he rendered it, but not for his bourgeois-democratic views, or his vacillating tendencies towards liberalism, or his “Social-Cadet” group of Russkoye Bogatstvo.

It is no accident that the bourgeois democrats in Russia, i. e., in the first place the peasantry, vacillate between the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat; that is due to their class position. It is the workers’ job to liberate the peasantry from the influence of the liberals and relentlessly to combat “Narodnik” doctrines.


[1] See Note 39.

[2] Trudoviks (the Trudovik group)—a group of petty-bourgeois democrats in the Russian Duma consisting of peasants and intellectuals of a Narodnik trend. The Trudovik group was formed in April 1906 of peasant deputies to the First Duma.

The Trudoviks demanded abolition of all social-estate and national restrictions, democratisation of rural and urban self-government, and universal franchise in Duma elections. Their   agrarian programme was based on the Narodnik principles of “equalised” land tenure, all the state, crown, and church lands being united in a national land fund, inclusive of all privately owned lands whose size exceeded the established labour norm; the owners of lands thus alienated were to receive compensation. Lenin pointed out in 1906 that the typical Trudovik was a peasant who “is not averse to a compromise with the monarchy, to settling down quietly on his own plot of land under the bourgeois system; but at the present time his main efforts are concentrated on the fight against the landlords for land, on the fight against the feudal state and for democracy.” (See present edition, Vol. 11, p. 229.)

In the Duma the Trudoviks vacillated between the Cadets and the Social-Democrats. This vacillation was conditioned by the very class nature of the petty proprietors—the peasants. Since the Trudoviks to a certain extent represented the peasant masses, the Bolsheviks in the Duma pursued the tactic of agreement with them on various issues for joint struggle against tsarism and the Cadets. In 1917 the Trudovik group merged with the “Popular Socialist” Party and actively supported the bourgeois Provisional Government. After the October Socialist Revolution the Trudoviks sided with the bourgeois counter-revolution.

[3] Popular Socialists—a petty-bourgeois party formed in 1906 from the breakaway Right wing of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. Their political views were close to those of the Cadets. After the February Revolution of 1917 the P. S.s supported the bourgeois Provisional Government, and after the October Socialist Revolution they joined forces with the counter-revolution to fight the Soviets.

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