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.

October 17, 1893

When I received your letter of July 18, announcing your return home, I was on the point myself of going abroad for two months and am only just returned. This is the reason of my long silence.

Many thanks for the copies of the Ocherki three of which I have forwarded to appreciative friends. The book, I am glad to see, has caused considerable stir and indeed sensation, as it well merited. Among the Russians I have met, it was the chief subject of conversation. Only yesterday one of them writes: "With us in Russia a controversy is going on about the 'fate of capitalism in Russia'."

In the Berlin Sozial-Politische Zentralblatt a Mr. B. V. Struve has a long article on your book; I must agree with him in this one point, that for me, too, the present capitalistic phase of development in Russia appears an unavoidable consequence of the historical conditions as created by the Crimean War, the way in which the change of 1861 in agrarian conditions was accomplished, and the political stagnation in Europe generally. Where he is decidedly wrong is in comparing the present state of Russia with that of the United States in order to refute what he calls your pessimistic views of the future. He says the evil consequences of modern capitalism in Russia will be as easily overcome as they are in the United States. There he quite forgets, that the U.S. are modern bourgeois from the very origin; that they were founded by petits bourgeois and peasants who ran away from European feudalism to establish a purely bourgeois society. Whereas in Russia we have a groundwork of a primitive communistic character, a precivilisation Gentilgesellschaft, crumbling to ruins, it is true, but still serving as the groundwork, the material upon which the capitalistic revolution (for it is a real social revolution) acts and operates. In America, Geldwirtschaft has been fully established for more than a century in Russia Naturalwirtschaft was all but exclusively the rule. Therefore it stands to reason that the change, in Russia, must be far more violent, far more incisive, and accompanied by immensely greater sufferings than it can be in America.

But for all that it still seems to me that you take a gloomier view of the case than the facts justify. No doubt the passage from primitive agrarian communism to capitalistic industrialism cannot take place without terrible dislocation of society, without the disappearance of whole classes and their transformation into other classes; and what enormous suffering, and waste of human lives and productive forces that necessarily implies, we have seen – on a smaller scale – in Western Europe. But from that to the complete ruin of a great and highly gifted nation there is still a long way. The rapid increase of population to which you have been accustomed may be checked; the reckless deforestation combined with the expropriation of the old landlords as well as the peasants may cause a colossal waste of productive forces; but after all, a population of more than a hundred millions will finally furnish a very considerable home market for a very respectable grande industrie, and with you as elsewhere, things will end by finding their own level – if capitalism lasts long enough in Western Europe.

You yourself admit that "the social conditions in Russia after the Crimean War were not favourable to the development of the form of production inherited by us from our past history." I would go further, and say, that no more in Russia than anywhere else would it have been possible to develop a higher social form out of primitive agrarian communism unless – that higher form was already in existence in another country, so as to serve as a model. That higher form being, wherever it is historically possible, the necessary consequence of the capitalistic form of production and of the social dualistic antagonism created by it, it could not be developed directly out of the agrarian commune, unless in imitation of an example already in existence somewhere else. Had the West of Europe been ripe, 1860-70, for such a transformation, had that transformation then been taken in hand in England, France, etc., then the Russians would have been called upon to show what could have been made out of their commune, which was then more or less intact. But the West remained stagnant, no such transformation was attempted, and capitalism was more and more rapidly developed. And as Russia had no choice but this: either to develop the commune into a form of production from which it was separated by a number of historical stages, and for which not even in the West the conditions were then ripe – evidently an impossible task – or else to develop into capitalism; what remained to her but the latter chance?

As to the commune, it is only possible so long as the differences of wealth among its members are but trifling. As soon as these differences become great, as soon as some of its members become the debt-slaves of the richer members, it can no longer live. The kulaki and miroyedy (kulaks and parasites) of Athens, before Solon, have destroyed the Athenian gens with the same implacability with which those of your country destroy the commune. I am afraid that institution is doomed. But on the other hand, capitalism opens out new views and new hopes. Look at what it has done and is doing in the West. A great nation like yours outlives every crisis. There is no great historical evil without a compensating historical progress. Only the modus operandi is changed. Que les destinees s'accomplissent! [Only the mode of operation is changed. Let fate be accomplished.]