Marx-Zasulich Correspondence February/March 1881

Karl Marx: The reply to Zasulich

8 March 1881
41, Maitland Park Road, London N.W.

Dear Citizen,

A nervous complaint which has periodically affected me for the last ten years has prevented me from answering sooner your letter of 16 February. I regret that I am unable to give you a concise account for publication of the question which you did me the honour of raising. Some months ago, I already promised a text on the same subject to the St. Petersburg Committee. Still, I hope that a few lines will suffice to leave you in no doubt about the way in which my so-called theory has been misunderstood.

In analysing the genesis of capitalist production, I said:

At the heart of the capitalist system is a complete separation of ... the producer from the means of production ... the expropriation of the agricultural producer is the basis of the whole process. Only in England has it been accomplished in a radical manner. ... But all the other countries of Western Europe are following the same course. (Capital, French edition, p. 315.)

The ‘historical inevitability’ of this course is therefore expressly restricted to the countries of Western Europe. The reason for this restriction is indicated in Ch. XXXII: ‘Private property, founded upon personal labour ... is supplanted by capitalist private property, which rests on exploitation of the labour of others, on wage­labour.’ (loc. cit., p. 340).

In the Western case, then, one form of private property is transformed into another form of private property. In the case of the Russian peasants, however, their communal property would have to be transformed into private property.

The analysis in Capital therefore provides no reasons either for or against the vitality of the Russian commune. But the special study I have made of it, including a search for original source­ material, has convinced me that the commune is the fulcrum for social regeneration in Russia. But in order that it might function as such, the harmful influences assailing it on all sides must first be eliminated, and it must then be assured the normal conditions for spontaneous development.

I have the honour, dear Citizen, to remain
Yours sincerely,
Karl Marx