Marx-Engels Correspondence 1893

Engels to Nikolai Danielson
In St Petersburg


Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence;
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Translated: Donna Torr;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 2000;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

February 24, 1893

We seem to be agreed upon all points except one, which you tackle in both your letters of 3rd October and 27 January, though in each from a different point of view.

In the first you ask: was the economic change which after 1854 had become unavoidable, of such a nature that it must, instead of developing the historical institutions of Russia, on the contrary attack them in their root? In other words, could not the rural commune be taken for the basis of the new economic development?

And, Jan. 27th, you express the same idea in this form: the grande industrie had become a necessity for Russia, but was it unavoidable that it was developed in a capitalistic form?

Well, in, or about, 1854 Russia started with the commune on the one hand, and the necessity of the grande industrie on the other. Now, if you take the whole state of your country into account, as it was at that date, do you see any possibility of the grande industrie being grafted on the peasants' commune in a form which would, on the one hand, make the development of that grande industrie possible, and on the other hand raise the primitive commune to the rank of a social institution superior to anything the world has yet seen? And that while the whole Occident was still living under the capitalist regime? It strikes me that such an evolution, which would have surpassed anything known in history required other economical, political and intellectual conditions than were present at that time in Russia.

No doubt the commune and to a certain extent the artel, contained germs which under certain conditions might have developed and saved Russia the necessity of passing through the torments of the capitalistic regime. I fully subscribe to our author's letter about Shukovsky. But in his, as well as in my opinion, the first condition required to bring this about was the impulse from without, the change of economic system in the Occident of Europe, the destruction of the capitalist system in the countries where it had originated. Our author said in a certain preface to a certain old manifesto, in January 1882, replying to the question whether the Russian commune might not be the starting point of a higher social development: if the change of economic system in Russia coincides with a change of economic system in the West, so that both supplement each other, then contemporary Russian landownership may become as the starting point of a new social development.

If we in the West had been quicker in our own economic development, if we had been able to upset the capitalistic regime some ten or twenty years ago, there might have been time yet for Russia to cut short the tendency of her own evolution towards capitalism. Unfortunately we are too slow, and those economic consequences of the capitalistic system which must bring it up to the critical point, are only just now developing in the various countries about us: while England is fast losing her industrial monopoly, France and Germany are approaching the industrial level of England, and America bids fair to drive them all out of the world's market both for industrial and for agricultural produce. The introduction of an, at least relative, free trade policy in America, is sure to complete the ruin of England's industrial monopoly, and to destroy, at the same time, the industrial export trade of Germany and France; then the crisis must come, tout ce qu'il a de plus fin de siècle. But in the meantime, with you, the commune fades away, and we can only hope that the change to a better system, with us, may come soon enough to save, at least in some of the remoter portions of your country, institutions which may, under those circumstances, be called upon to fulfil a great future. But facts are facts, and we must not forget that these chances are getting less and less every year.

For the rest I grant you that the circumstance of Russia being the last country seized upon by the capitalist grande industrie, and at the same time the country with by far the largest peasant population, are such as must render the bouleversement caused by this economic change more acute than it has been anywhere else. The process of replacing some 500,000 pomeshchiki (landowners) and some eighty million peasants by a new class of bourgeois landed proprietors cannot be carried out but under fearful sufferings and convulsions. But history is about the most cruel of all goddesses, and she leads her triumphal car over heaps of corpses, not only in war, but also in "peaceful" economic development. And we men and women are unfortunately so stupid that we never can pluck up courage to a real progress unless urged to it by sufferings that seem almost out of proportion.