G.V. Plekhanov

Our Differences

Chapter I
A Few References to History

1. Russian Blanquism

It is now ten years since the most important programmes of the seventies appeared. Ten years of efforts, struggle and sometimes bitter disappointments have shown our youth that the organisation of a revolutionary movement among the peasantry is impossible under the present conditions in Russia. As revolutionary doctrines, Bakuninism and Narodism are antiquated and are now received with joy only in the conservative-democratic literary camp. Their fate will be either to lose their distinctive features altogether and merge with new and more fruitful revolutionary trends or to congeal in their old form and serve as a buttress for political and social reaction. Our propagandists of the old type have also disappeared from the stage. But that is not the case with the theories of P.N. Tkachov. Although for full ten years “every day has brought us new enemies and created new social factors hostile to us”, although the social revolution “has encountered” in that time certain considerable “obstacles”, Russian Blanquism is now raising its voice with particular force and, still confident that “the contemporary historical period is particularly favourable for the carrying out of the social revolution”, it is continuing to accuse all “dissenters” of moderation and meticulousness, repeating in a new key the old refrain: “now, or in a very remote future, perhaps never! or “we have not the right to wait”, or “let each one gather his belongings and hasten to set out”, and so on. And it is this strengthened and, if we may so express it, rejuvenated Tkachovism that everybody has to deal with who would like to write about the present “differences” in Russian revolutionary spheres. All the more must it be taken into account in the study of “the fate of Russian capitalism”.

I have already said more than once that Mr. Tikhomirov’s article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? is only a new and supplemented edition – though at the same time inferior many respects – of the social and political views of N. Tkachov. If I have not been mistaken in determining the distinctive features of Russian Blanquism, the literary activity of the “Narodnaya Volya party” boils down to a repetition of Tkachov’s teachings in different keys. The sole difference is that for Tkachov “the time we are passing through” referred to the early seventies, while for the publicists of the “Narodnaya Volya party” it coincides with the late seventies and early eighties. Completely lacking what the Germans call the “sense of history”, Russian Blanquism has very easily transferred and will transfer this concept of the particularly favourable “time” for the social revolution from one decade to another. After proving a false prophet in the eighties, it will renew its prophecies with an obstinacy worthy of a better fate ten, twenty or thirty years later and will go on doing so right up to the time when the working class finally understands the conditions for its social emancipation and greets the Blanquist doctrine with Homeric laughter. For the dissemination of Blanquism every moment of history is favourable except a time which is really favourable for the socialist revolution.

But it is time to define more exactly the expressions I use. What is Blanquism in general? What is Russian Blanquism?

P.L. Lavrov hopes, as we have seen, that “the majority of the members” of the Emancipation of Labour group “may any day now be in the ranks of Narodnaya Volya”. He affirms that “Mr. Plekhanov himself has already undergone a sufficiently great evolution in his political and social convictions for us to have reason to hope for new steps on his part in the same direction”. [1*] If the “Narodnaya Volya party” professes – as far as can be judged by its literary works – the Blanquist standpoint, it turns out that my “evolution” too is taking place “in the same direction”. The Marxism which I profess at present is consequently but a purgatory th rough which my socialist soul must pass to obtain final rest in the lap of Blanquism. Is that so? Will such an “evolution” be progressive? How does this question appear from the standpoint of modern scientific socialism?

“Blanqui is first and foremost a political revolutionary,” we read in an article by Engels [2*], “a socialist only in feeling, who sympathises with the people in their sufferings but has no special socialist theory of his own and proposes no definite measures for social reorganisation. In his political activity he was mainly a so-called ‘man of action[1] who was convinced that a small number of well-organised people who choose the right moment and carry out a revolutionary attempt can attract the popular masses with one or two successes and thus carry out a victorious revolution. During the reign of Louis Philippe he could naturally organise such a group only, of course, in the form of a secret society and what happened then was what always happens when there is a conspiracy. The people forming it, wearied by continuous restraint and vain promises that it would soon come to the final blow, ended by losing all patience and ceasing to obey, and then one of two things remained: either to allow the conspiracy to fall to pieces or to start the revolutionary attempt without any external occasion. An attempt of that kind was made (on May 12, 1839) and was suppressed at the very outset. This conspiracy of Blanqui, by the way, was the only one that was not discovered by the police ...

“From the fact that Blanqui viewed every revolution as a Handstreich by a small revolutionary minority, it naturally follows that a revolutionary dictatorship must be established after a successful upheaval; naturally not a dictatorship of the whole revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of a small number of those who have carried out the Handstreich and who themselves were previously subject to the dictatorship of one or a few of the elect.

“The reader sees,” Engels continues, “that Blanqui is a revolutionary of the old generation. Such conceptions of the course of revolutionary events have already grown too obsolete for the German working-class party, and even in France they can arouse sympathy only in the least mature or least patient workers.”

Thus we see that socialists of the latest, scientific school consider Blanquism as an already obsolete standpoint. The transition from Marxism to Blanquism is not impossible, of course – all sorts of things happen – but on no account will it be acknowledged by any Marxist as progress in the “political and social convictions” of any of their fellow-thinkers. Only from the Blanquist standpoint can such an “evolution” be considered progressive. And if the honourable editor of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli has not radically changed his views of the socialism of Marx’s school, his prophecy concerning the Emancipation of Labour group is bound to puzzle every impartial reader.

We see further from this quotation from Engels that Tkachov’s conception of the “forcible revolution” as something “imposed” on the majority by the minority is nothing but Blanquism which could be called the purest if the editor of Nabat had not taken it into his head to try to prove that in Russia there is no need even to impose socialism on the majority, who are communist “by instinct, by tradition”.

The distinctive feature of the Russian variety of Blanquism is therefore merely the idealisation of the Russian peasantry borrowed from Bakunin. Let us now pass on to Mr. Tikhomirov’s views and see whether they come under this definition or are a new variety of “Russian socialism”.

2. L. Tikhomirov

I maintain that there is absolutely nothing new in them except a few historical, logical and statistical mistakes.

These mistakes indeed are something new and original, typical only of the views of Mr. Tikhomirov. Neither Blanquism in general nor Russian Blanquism in particular had any part in their appearance or their peculiar “evolution”.

Their appearance was due to a purely negative cause: lack of knowledge, which generally has a fairly prominent part in the genesis of the social and political concepts of our intelligentsia and which attains inordinate proportions in Mr. Tikhomirov’s article.

It will not be difficult for the reader to check the correctness of our appraisal if he endeavours with us to disentangle the ravelled and in several places broken threads of the “ exceptionalist” considerations of our author.

Let us begin with the history of revolutionary ideas in Russia and in the West.

“Only a few years ago,” says Mr. Tikhomirov, “socialists, proceeding from the analysis of social relationships, made by their teachers in the capitalist countries of Europe, considered political activity to be harmful, if anything, to the interests of the popular masses as such, for they presumed that in our country a constitution would be an instrument for the organisation of the bourgeoisie, as it is in Europe. On the basis of these considerations, one could even find among our socialists the opinion that of two evils an autocratic tsar was at any rate better for the people than a constitutional one. Another, so-called liberal, trend was opposite in character”, etc. [2]

The Russian socialists “considered political activity to be harmful, if anything ... proceeding from the analysis ... made by their teachers in the capitalist countries of the West”. What “analysis” is Mr. Tikhomirov talking about? Which teachers does he mean? Whose “portrait’s this? Where’s such talk heard?” [3*] We know that West European socialist thought, “proceeding from the analysis ... made in the capitalist countries in Europe”, presented and still presents “two types of attitude to the question of political activity”. The followers of Proudhon profess political abstention and advise that it should be pursued right up to “the day after the revolution”. For them “political revolution is the aim, economic revolution, the means”. That is why they wish to begin with the economic upheaval, supposing that in contemporary conditions political activity is “harmful, if anything, to the interests of the popular masses as such”, and that a constitution is merely “an instrument for the organisation of the bourgeoisie ”. Another trend “was opposite in character”. Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher [4*], published in Paris in 1844, roughly outlined at that time the political task of the working class. In 1847 Marx wrote in his Misère de la philosophie: “Do not say that social movement excludes political movement. There is never a political movement which is not at the same time social. It is only in an order of things in which there are no more classes and class antagonisms that social evolutions will cease to be political revolutions.” [3] In the Manifesto of the Communist Party Marx and Engels again return to the same question and prove that “every class struggle is a political struggle” and most caustically ridicule those “true socialists” in whose opinion – as in Mr. Tikhomirov’s – the constitution “is in Europe” merely “an instrument for the organisation of the bourgeoisie”. In the opinion of the authors of the Manifesto, socialism, opposing the emancipation movement of the bourgeoisie, “lost its pedantic innocence” and became the instrument of political and social reaction. The same thought was then repeated many times in other works of the authors of the Manifesto and of their followers. It can be said that almost every issue of every Social-Democratic newspaper in every European country reproduces this thought in some form or other. Karl Marx and the Marxists have done everything to elucidate their social and political views and show the unsoundness of the Proudhon “programme”.

And after such brilliant literary activity – activity which opens a new epoch in the history of socialist thought in “Europe” – we hear that the Russian socialists denied the expediency of the political struggle for the sole reason that they “proceeded from the analysis made by their teachers in the capitalist countries of the West”! Can one speak seriously now of any other “analysis of social relationships” in Western Europe than that contained in the works of Marx and Engels? This would be appropriate only in a historical work dealing with the mistakes and one-sidedness of Marx’s predecessors. But either Mr. Tikhomirov is entirely unacquainted with Marxist literature or he has understood it in exactly the same way as Mr. Ivanyukov, whose “bankruptcy” was announced and partly proved in the first issue of Vestnik. [6*] The Russian socialists spoke of the harmfulness of political activity, not because they generally “proceeded from the analysis of social relationships” in Western Europe, but because they proceeded from an erroneous, petty-bourgeois “analysis” made by Proudhon. But were they all Proudhonists? Were they all supporters of the teaching of Bakunin, that reformer, so to speak, of Proudhonism? Who does not know that far from all of them were! P.N. Tkachov, just as absolutely all the West European Blanquists, proceeding, by the way, not from “the analysis made in the capitalist countries of Europe”, but from the traditions of French Jacobinism, savagely attacked the principle of “political abstention”. Did not P.N. Tkachov write precisely “only a few years ago”? Must his opinions not be registered in the history of Russian revolutionary thought? It would be a very risky step for Mr. Tikhomirov to decide to answer this question in the affirmative; what if his own philosophy turned out in effect to be only a new edition of Tkachov’s? It is easy for any reader to make a comparison.

But were there only Bakuninists and Blanquists in the Russian revolutionary movement “only a few years ago”? Were there no other trends? Were there no writers who knew that a constitution “is in Europe” ... “an instrument for the organisation” not only of the bourgeoisie, but of another class, too, whose interests socialists cannot ignore without betraying their own banner? It seems to me that there were, and precisely in the camp of those opposed to Tkachov, who, while revolting against the thought that political activity is “harmful, if anything, to the interests of the popular masses as such”, nevertheless demanded all or nothing – either the seizure of power by the socialists or political stagnation for Russia. When on these grounds it occurred to him to terrify the Russian socialists with the spectre of capitalism and a bourgeois constitution, here is the answer he immediately got from a well-known Russian writer in an appeal to our “social-revolutionary youth”:

“You are told that Russia must have a revolution now or she will never have one. You are shown a picture of the bourgeoisie developing in our country and are told that with its development the struggle will become more difficult, that a revolution will become impossible. The author has a very poor idea of your wits if he thinks you will yield to his arguments ...”

“What grounds are there for thinking that the struggle of the people against the bourgeoisie would be unthinkable in Russia if forms of social life like those abroad were indeed established there? Was it not the development of the bourgeoisie that roused the proletariat to the struggle? Are not loud calls to the imminent social revolution heard in all the countries of Europe? Does not the bourgeoisie realise the danger threatening it from the workers and continually drawing nearer? ... Our youth are by no means so cut off from the world as to be ignorant of this state of affairs, and those who would like to convince them that the domination of the bourgeoisie would be unshakable in our country are relying too much on youth’s lack of knowledge when they draw for them a fantastic picture of Europe.”

It is clear that the author of these lines by no means considered a constitution as an “instrument for the organisation of the bourgeoisie” alone as it “is in Europe”, to quote Mr. Tikhomirov. Let Mr. Tikhomirov judge the author to be right or wrong as he wishes, but reference should be made to him in speaking of the “types of attitude” of our “ intelligent thinkers” to the question of political activity. Even if the writer we have quoted – P.L. Lavrov [4], now Mr. Tikhomirov’s co-editor – did not acknowledge the expediency of political struggle in Russia, it was by no means because he “proceeded” from the Bakuninist analysis of the “social relationships in the capitalist countries of Europe”. Mr. Tikhomirov is absolutely unforgivable for his lack of attention to the writings of his honourable colleague.

Let us be impartial though, let us try to point out circumstances attenuating his guilt. What is the explanation for this lack of attention? Why does Mr. Tikhomirov include all Russian socialists of the recent past in his list of Bakuninists and pass over P.L. Lavrov’s writings in silence; why docs he forget about Tkachov already now before “the boots” of the smugglers who brought Nabat into Russia “are worn out”? For a very simple reason. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” sceptics say. And if that cannot be considered as unconditionally true, there is nevertheless no doubt that in many programmes of “Russian socialism” there is absolutely “nothing new”. And yet the supporters of those programmes have great pleasure in saying that their trend was the first “open manifestation” of such and such a “consciousness”. All one has to do in order to afford oneself such a pleasure is to forget certain things in the history of the Russian revolutionary movement and to add a thing or two of one’s own. Then it will be clear that our “intelligent thinkers” were a kind of lost sheep until the programme in question appeared, but that as soon as the authors of that programme uttered their “Let there be light”, “the majestic sunrise” began, as Hegel said of the epoch of the French Revolution. [8*] The appropriate standpoint was found, the misunderstandings were dissipated, truth was discovered. Is it surprising that people to whom pleasant self-deception is dearer than “many a bitter truth” [9*] are tempted by such prospects and, forgetting their predecessors and their contemporaries, attribute to their own “party” the discovery of methods of struggle which, often enough, far from being discovered, were not even correctly understood by that party?

Mr. Tikhomirov has become infatuated with precisely that kind of stereotyped method in historical research. He wanted to show that “the bulk of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia”, despite the famous “analysis”, “could not renounce the fight against political oppression”, but all this, nevertheless, “took place only unwittingly and spontaneously. The idea of the actual equality of the political and the economic elements in the party programme was clearly and loudly acknowledged only with the appearance of the Narodnaya Volya trend” [5] (which our author humbly honours with capitals). It was to prove his proposition that Mr. Tikhomirov attributed to all the Russian socialists views held only by the Bakuninists. As the latter considered political activity “harmful, if anything”, while the Narodovoltsi rather thought it useful, it is clear that the honour of discovering that political activity is useful belongs to Narodnaya Volya. It was awkward to mention Tkachov because that would have revealed that he professed just that kind of “equality of the political and the economic elements in the party programme” which “was clearly and loudly acknowledged”, it is alleged, “only with the appearance of the Narodnaya Volya trend”. Neither did Mr. Tikhomirov find it “timely” to mention the writings of his co-edi tor, for to criticise and appraise them he would have had to adopt a standpoint which was quite unusual for a man who still imagined that there was no other “analysis of social relationships” in Western Europe than that “made” by Proudhon and the Proudhonists, by Bakunin and the Bakuninists.

Mr. Tikhomirov “did” all that was possible and even attempted a little of the impossible for the exaltation of his party. He brought himself, for instance, to affirm that “the former founders of Chorny Peredel” were once among the “fiercest opponents of the constitution”. And yet, if he had been guided in his historical research by a striving for truth and not by the interests of “party politics” he would not have forgotten that in the very first issue of Chorny Peredel, in A Letter to Former Comrades [10*], the following view on the constitution was expressed, which was far from corresponding to his idea of “the former founders” of the paper in question: “Do not think, comrades, that I am altogether against a constitution, against political freedom,” says the author of the letter.

“I have too great a respect for the human personality to be against political freedom ... It is unreason able to say that the idea of political freedom is incomprehensible, unnecessary for the people. It” (i.e., political freedom) “is just as necessary for the people as for the intelligentsia. The difference is that among the people this need merges with other, more vital and basic needs of an economic character. These latter must be taken into consideration by any social-revolutionary party which desires political freedom to be fully ensured and guaranteed from usurpation and distortion, by hostile elements.”

These lines contain inaccuracy in expression and incorrectness in the definition of concepts. But the conclusions that “the founders of Chorny Peredel” were “opponents of the constitution”, and even the “fiercest” opponents, can be drawn from them only by a man who has either renounced logic altogether or consciously ignores facts in the interests of his “party”, or finally, has no knowledge at all of those facts, that is, does not know the very history of revolutionary ideas in Russia which he writes of with “the appearance of a learned expert”!

But perhaps the founders of Chorny Peredel changed their views on the constitution subsequently. Let us see. Under the editorship of these “founders” two issues of the paper were published. We know already what views on the political freedom were contained in the first issue; what, then, do we find in the second?

“Naturally it is not for us, who deny all subjection of man to man, to mourn the fall of absolutism in Russia; it is not for us, whom the struggle against the existing regime has cost such terrific efforts and heavy losses, to wish for its continuation,” we read in the leading article of that issue. “We know the price of political freedom and can only regret that the Russian constitution will not give it a large enough place as well. We welcome any struggle for human rights and the more energetically the struggle is waged the greater is our sympathy towards it ... But besides the advantages which political freedom indisputably brings with it, besides the tasks of winning it, there are other advantages and tasks; and they must not be forgotten precisely now that social relationships have become so acute and we must therefore be prepared for anything.” [11*]

Is that the language of the “fiercest opponents of the constitution”?

There were, of course, quite substantial errors in the programme of Chorny Peredel. No fewer than in the programme of the “Narodnaya Volya party”. But those errors can be criticised successfully only from the standpoint of scientific socialism, certainly not from that of the Narodnaya Volya publicists. The latter labour under the same defect as the “founders of Chorny Peredel” did once – namely, inability to adopt a critical attitude to the social and political forms of our national life. People who are reconciled to the idealisation of these forms and base their practical plans on it display greater consistency when they conclude in favour of the programme of Chorny Peredel than when they subscribe to that of “the Narodnaya Volya party”.

Let Mr. Tikhomirov try to prove the contrary.

However, he will hardly have time for that. He will first have to show how his revolutionary outlook differs from P.N. Tkachov’s, how the social and political philosophy of the article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? differs from that of the Open Letter to Frederick Engels. Until he has solved that difficult problem, his arguments about the historical significance of the Narodnaya Volya trend will have no meaning at all. The reader may admit that the actions of Narodovoltsi were heroic, but that their theories were as bad as could be, and – what is the chief thing – they were by no means new; in other words, the reader can say that the Narodovoltsi-terrorists were heroes while the Narodovoltsi-writers were ... inferior to their tasks. This conclusion will not be shaken even by references to the fact that the “socialists in the Narodnaya Volya trend for the first time reached the level of a party, and of perhaps the strongest party in the country”. Even if there were not a shade of exaggeration in those words, they would still justify the conclusion being drawn from them that there are times when, despite erroneous and immature theories, energetic parties can “reach the level” of a dominating influence in the country. But no more. Only people who are ignorant of history can conclude from the influence of this or that party that its theories are infallible. The Narodnaya Volya trend is not new even in the respect that the course of its ideas is lagging far behind the “course of things” “caused” by the trend itself. Has there been any lack of parties which did not understand the historical significance of their activity, any lack of fictions which in no way corresponded to the idea of “party” actions? From the fact that the Independents [12*] temporarily reached “the level of a party ... perhaps the strongest party in the country”, one still cannot conclude that there was more common sense and logic in their religious teachings than in the teachings of other parties. And yet the Independents even succeeded in “seizing power”, a thing which the Russian Blanquists as yet only promise to do.

While the author collects material for a more lasting exaltation of the political philosophy of the Narodnaya Volya trend we shall have time for a detailed study of the article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? and an exhaustive definition of Mr. Tikhomirov’s outlook. [13*]

We already know that he either does not know enough himself or did not want to give his readers the opportunity of getting to know the recent history of socialism in general and of “Russian socialism” in particular. Let us now go on to his arguments on history generally and especially the history of capitalism.

He engages in these edifying considerations for the following amazing reason:

“The political struggle,” he says, “has become such an irrevocable conclusion of Russian life that nobody can make up his mind to deny it. But, while not making up their minds, a certain section of the socialists are also unable to bring this conclusion into relation with the customary theoretical views, and in their attempts to find this relation they resort to artificial constructions which completely distort the meaning of the political struggle which Narodnaya Volya has undertaken.”

What is this “certain section of the socialists” and what are their “customary” views? The preceding pages of Mr. Tikhomirov’s article told us that “only a few years ago, socialists ... considered political activity to be harmful, if anything, to the interests of the popular masses as such”. We decided then that in Mr. Tikhomirov’s opinion all the Russian socialists “only a few years ago” were Bakuninists, since he did not say a word of any other trends. We also saw that Narodnaya Volya noticed the Russian socialists’ mistake and helped them “to understand the character of t he historical development of Russia”. It now appears that “a certain section” of the Russian socialists cannot rid themselves of their “customary views” and reach conclusions “which completely distort” the meaning of the activity of the Narodovoltsi. Apparently Mr. Tikhomirov means the Russian Bakuninists, who failed “to understand the character of Russia’s development”. That would be a logical opinion, but it is not our author’s.

“Proceeding from the thought that Russia must inevitably pass through the phase of capitalist development to become capable of accepting and carrying out the ideas of socialism, they” (the socialists who belong to the “certain section” mentioned above) “try to draw the Russian revolutionaries on to the road of purely political struggle, exclusively for a constitution, and abandon as an impossible fantasy all thought of attaining, simultaneously with a political upheaval, a greater or lesser degree of economic upheaval.”

“What a turn, God be praised! “ we would exclaim, quoting Shchedrin; but unfortunately such a lyrical outburst will not solve the “cursed questions” which torture us. Where did this “certain section” of the Russian socialists come from, and – what is more puzzling – where did they get their “customary views” from if “only a few years ago” all Russian socialists denied the expediency of the political struggle? How can people who ascribe no importance to that struggle “proceed from the thought that Russia must inevitably pass through the phase of capitalist development”? This thought may be correct or it may be erroneous, but in any case it is a new one and it bears no relation whatever to the “customary” theoretical views of any “section of the Russian socialists”, as is vouched for by the history of the question of capitalism in Russia in general and by the historical references supplied by Mr. Tikhomirov himself. And if this thought is new, it is probably based on some new “theoretical views” which were unknown or unpleasant to Russian socialists “only a few years ago”. And if a new trend has arisen in Russian socialist thought, it should be named, defined; its genesis should be pointed out and it should not be dismissed with vague hints about some kind of “customary theoretical views” which explain nothing at all in the present case.

We have already noted, however, that Mr. Tikhomirov does not like “direct blows” and bears no resemblance to Svyatoslav, who, when about to attack one or the other of his enemies, used to tell him beforehand: “I will attack thee.” Mr. Tikhomirov attacks his opponents without any preliminary declaration of war. That, of course, is a matter of taste, and tastes differ, as we know.

Wondering, however, “why indeed” our author proceeds “with such secrecy”, we must, “by our own reason” [14*], reach the solution of this question of the new trend in Russian socialism – a question which is highly interesting for us. We ourselves have renounced many old “customary theoretical views” of the Russian socialists – you never know, perhaps we may agree with the innovators whom Mr. Tikhomirov is analysing. It is true they are not attractive as Mr. Tikhomirov describes them, but then, “how many times has it been affirmed to the world” [15*] that the opponent must also be given a hearing!

3. The Emancipation of Labour Group

In the opinion of “the socialists of this formation” the desire for an economic upheaval is “only harmful because it terrifies the liberals with the ’red spectre’ and deprives us of their collaboration in the struggle for a constitution”.

These words about the “red spectre” sound somewhat familiar. What article, what pamphlet do they occur in? Ah, of course! I used that expression in my pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle, where I said that the Narodovoltsi terrify our society with the red spectre.

What if all Mr. Tikhomirov says is only a parable in which “a certain section of the socialists” is to be understood as meaning the Emancipation of Labour group, and “customary theoretical views”, the views of the members of that group? But no, it would be too comical.

Indeed, has the Emancipation of Labour group ever abandoned “all thought of attaining, simultaneously with a political upheaval, a greater or lesser degree of economic upheaval”? What nonsense! We only do not believe in that peculiar theory according to which the cause of a certain class can be accomplished – “to a greater or lesser degree” – by a small group. We only say that if a lawyer can represent his client in court, no Committee, whether Executive, Administrative or whatever else it may be called, can represent the working class in history; that the emancipation of that class must be its own work and that in order to carry it out the class must acquire political education and must understand and assimilate the ideas of socialism. We think that the possibility of the economic emancipation of the working class increases in direct proportion to the speed and intensity of this process of education and assimilation. Our socialist intelligentsia, for whom it would be childish even to think of carrying out the economic upheaval by their own forces, can, however, render inestimable services to the workers by preparing them to put into effect “the general idea of the worker estate.” [16*] In the very first publication of the Emancipation of Labour group, the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle, it was said quite clearly that our intelligentsia “must become the leader of the working class in the impending emancipation movement, explain to it its political and economic interests and also the interdependence of those interests. They must ensure that even in the pre-constitutional period the factual relations of the social forces in Russia are changed in favour of the working class ... They must exert all their energy so that in the very opening period of the constitutional life of Russia our working class will be able to come forward as a separate party with a definite social and political programme. The detailed elaboration of that programme must be left to the workers themselves, but the intelligentsia must elucidate for them its principal points, for instance, a radical review of the present agrarian relations, the taxation system and factory legislation, state help for producers’ associations, and so forth”. [6] Does all this resemble abandoning “all thought of attaining, simultaneously with a political upheaval, a greater or lesser degree of economic upheaval”? I hope not. And as Mr. Tikhomirov is too intelligent a man not to understand such simple things, and too conscientious a writer purposely to distort their meaning, by “a certain section of the socialists” he apparently did not mean the Emancipation of Labour group, or by “customary theoretical views”, the views set forth in the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle.

In all probability the mention of the “red spectre” is not borrowed from my pamphlet either. If it were, I would be justified in reproaching Mr. Tikhomirov for the fact that “his quotations are not exact”. When I spoke of the “red spectre” I did not recommend that our socialists would renounce the “desire” to achieve “a greater or lesser degree of economic upheaval”. I recommended that they should renounce the “desire” to chatter about the nearness of the economic upheaval when they had done nothing or very little for the actual accomplishment of such an upheaval and when confidence in its proximity could be based only on the most childish idealisation of the people. I opposed chatter about the red spectre to effective work for the economic emancipation of the working class, as anybody can see by reading pages 71 and the following of my pamphlet, where, among other things, one can find a reminder of the example of the German Communists in 1848. [17*] Or is Mr. Tikhomirov accusing Marx himself of once renouncing “all thought of attaining, simultaneously with a political upheaval, a greater or lesser degree of economic upheaval”? Even if we presume that our author has a very poor knowledge of West European socialist literature – as everything goes to show – such crying ignorance would be completely unpardonable. No, it was evidently not my pamphlet or what I said about the “red spectre” that Mr. Tikhomirov had in mind.

But as we have started talking about this spectre, it is worth while explaining in detail what provided me with the occasion for mentioning it in my pamphlet.

At the end of the leading article of Narodnaya Volya No.6, we read the following appeal to our so-called society:

Acting in the interests of society we urge society to emerge at last from its pusillanimous apathy; we implore it to raise its voice in favour of its own interests, the interests of the people, and the life of its children and brothers, who are being systematically persecuted and killed.” [7]

I read in Kalendar Narodnoi Voli [18*] that “in respect of our liberals we must point out, without concealing our radicalism, that given the present setting of our party tasks, our interests and theirs compel us to act jointly against the government”. [8]

At the same time, Mr. Tikhomirov’s conviction that after the fall of absolutism we may anticipate “the foundation of the socialist organisation of Russia” was not the first “open” manifestation of the “Narodnaya Volya party’s” hopes. By this “foundation of the socialist organisation of Russia” were meant not those successes of the working-class minimum programme which Marx calls the first victory of economics of labour over the economics of capital, but the “social revolution” after Nabat’s fashion. In order to convince the reader of the possibility of such a revolution, a doctrine was invented alleging that the relations between the political and the economic factors in Russia were particularly favourable to it.

Finally, the agitational influence of the terrorist struggle “undertaken” by the Narodnaya Volya party extended far more to “society” than to the “people” in the narrow sense of the word.

Bearing all this in mind, I wondered who it was that the “Narodnaya Volya party” was deceiving – itself or “society”? What a sophist one must be to convince the “liberals” that the “present setting of party tasks”, i.e., the social (I do not say the socialist) revolution after Tkachov’s fashion, “compels them” (the liberals) to act “jointly” with Narodovoltsi against the government. Where can one find “liberals” who are naive enough not to notice how loosely this sophism holds together? Not in Russia, at any rate. “While urging” our society “to emerge, at last, from its pusillanimous apathy”, Narodnaya Volya at the same time assures it that by doing so and by overthrowing absolutism it will work directly to promote the social revolution. Narodnaya Volya’s propaganda, I argued, cannot be successful in our society.

On the other hand, the terrorist struggle, for all its indisputable importance, has absolutely nothing in common with the “foundation of the socialist organisation of Russia”. What, in fact, has Narodnaya Volya done to prepare such an organisation? Has it founded secret revolutionary groups among the people? Then why is nothing heard of such groups? Has it conducted socialist propaganda among the people? But where is the popular literature it has created? With the exception of the very poorly edited Rabochaya Gazeta [19*] we know of none at all. This means that the “foundation of the socialist organisation” of Russia is “awaiting” the Narodnaya Volya party, so to speak, without having received any invitation from the latter. But we can hardly expect such courtesy from history. Narodnaya Volya wants to reap what it has not sown, looks for the social revolution growing wild, so to speak. It aims its gun at one hare and thinks it will shoot another. What it expects “from the revolution” does not correspond to what it has done for the revolution. This being so, is it not time to bring the conclusions into agreement with the premises and to understand that the terrorist struggle is a struggle for political freedom and nothing more? Is it not time to admit that this struggle has been waged mainly “in the interests of society”, as No.6 of Narodnaya Volya admits? Is it not time to cease terrifying society with the appearance of the “red spectre” from a direction from which the red banner of the working class can never appear? Talk of this logically impossible appearance is harmful not only because it “deprives us of the collaboration” of the liberals “in the struggle for a constitution”. It inspires us with completely unjustified confidence that the socialist revolution “is awaiting” us independently of any efforts on our part; it diverts our attention from the most important point – the organisation of the working class for its struggle against its present and future enemies. This, and only this, was the meaning of what I said about the “red spectre”.

On the eve of the war of 1870 there were people in France who shouted that the French troops would not “encounter any obstacles” on the road to Berlin and gave little thought to arms and food for the soldiers. [20*] There were others who said that without wishing to terrify anybody with the spectre of the “old soldier” the first thing to do was to organise the country’s military forces. Which of these understood the interests of their country best?

But my explanation has made me digress. I wanted to study Mr. Tikhomirov’s philosophy of history and have diverted to explanations about the “red spectre”.

“A certain section of the socialists”, by their liberal programme and their “customary theoretical views”, must bring us out on to the correct road and back to the “subject” which we are interested in.

What else does this “certain section” say, and how does Mr. Tikhomirov defeat it?

In the words of our author this “section” almost limit their arguments to the considerations quoted above about the constitution and the terrifying spectre. They have not even taken the trouble to explain their “extreme partiality for a constitution”. This pernicious partiality “is somewhat incomprehensible, as are in general all these” (all which?) “programmes, and on the whole it gives the impression of something not fully expressed, not fully defined. These programmes arise, however, from a single common standpoint, which is already fully defined”. This at least is good; but what kind of standpoint gives rise to “all these programmes”, i.e., among others, to the programme of “a certain section” of the socialists? A very bad one, because it “creates a trend” which has “a corrupting influence on the revolutionary party”.

“We are speaking of a trend which considers Russian capitalism as historically inevitable and, reconciled to this alleged inevitable fact, consoles itself with the thought that unless it goes through the school of capitalism Russia cannot become capable of putting the socialist system into practice.”

This, we take it, is not new, for on the preceding page we read that “a certain section of the socialists” proceed from the thought that “Russia must inevitably pass through the phase of capitalist development”, etc. The common point of view which “gives rise to all these programmes” proves to be nothing more than the starting-point of one of these programmes. But even if it is neither new nor quite logical, its interest cannot be doubted. Now it becomes clear why a certain section of our socialists display “extreme partiality for a constitution”. “Indeed, what do we need a constitution for?” Mr. Tikhomirov asks. “Surely not to give the bourgeoisie new means of organising and disciplining the working class by depriving them of land, fining and man-handling them. Hence, the only man who can go headlong to his destruction is one who has irrevocably bowed down before the inevitability and necessity of capitalism in Russia.” “A certain section of the socialists” have bowed down before that inevitability, and once they have thus sinned in thought they cannot stop on the slope of sin and vice. As if it were not enough to display “partiality for a constitution”, which is a disgrace to an orthodox Bakuninist, they have begun or will begin very soon to show condescendence towards “ depriving of land, fining and man-handling”, in contrast to Mr. Tikhomirov, who wants neither the bourgeois nor depriving of land, fining or man-handling. But what do “a certain section of the socialists” want all these horrors for? It is quite clear. “In the present condition of Russia, of Russian capitalism and of the Russian factory worker, the propaganda of the political struggle is bound temporarily to lead anybody who believes in the historical necessity of capitalism to a complete renunciation of socialism. The worker capable of class dictatorship hardly exists. Hence he cannot be given political power. Is it not far more advantageous to abandon socialism altogether for a while as a useless and harmful obstacle to the immediate and necessary aim? That is the way a consistent man, capable of self-sacrifice, argues.” Now we know where fines and man-handling come from, although it is not yet apparent whether they are destined to exist only in the terrified imagination of Mr. Tikhomirov or are actually to be included in the programme of “a certain section of the socialists”.

We shall try to solve this important question later; for the time being let us hasten back to Mr. Tikhomirov, who is engaging in a general battle with the socialists who are convinced of the historical inevitability of Russian capitalism.

4. L. Tikhomirov in the Battle Against the Emancipation of Labour Group

“Is not the argument of its supporters” (i.e., apparently, the supporters of capitalism) “based on a whole series of sophisms?” he asks the reader.

“We are referred to France, to Germany” (not to England? “A certain section of the socialists” apparently did not notice that mountain), “where capitalism has united the workers. So capitalism is necessary to unite ours too. That is exactly how the supporters of slavery argue. They also refer to the role of slavery in primitive history, where it taught the savage to work, disciplined the emotions of man and raised the productivity of labour. All that is quite true. But does it follow that the missionary in Central Africa” (where slavery already exists as it is, I would remind Mr. Tikhomirov) “must see that the Negroes are turned into slaves or that the teacher must use slavish compulsion for the education of children?”

The reader will readily agree, of course, that it does not “follow”, and Mr. Tikhomirov, certain in advance of the answer, continues his argument.

“At times the history of humanity proceeds by the most unbelievable roads. We no longer believe in the hand of God directing every step of mankind and pointing out the swiftest and surest road to progress. On the contrary, in history these roads were sometimes too crooked and the most hazardous that could be imagined. It naturally happened that a historical fact which was harmful and delayed the development of man by some of its aspects served the cause of progress, on the contrary, by others. Such was the significance of slavery. But that school is not the best nor the only one. Modern pedagogy has shown that slavish compulsion is the worst of all methods of teaching labour ... The same thing applies to the development of large-scale production; it is permitted to doubt whether the roads of history were the best and the only possible ones for all times and all peoples in that respect ... It is quite true that in the history of certain European peoples, capitalism, although it gave rise to a mass of evils and misfortunes, nevertheless had something good as one of its consequences, namely, the creation of large-scale production, by means of which it prepared the ground, to a certain extent” (?!), “for socialism. But it does not follow from this that other countries, for instance Russia, could not have other ways of developing large-scale production ... All this compels us to think that the mode of socialisation of labour which capitalism was capable of is one of the worst, because, although in many respects it actually prepares the possibility of the socialist system, at the same time, by other aspects it postpones in many respects the moment of its advent. Thus, capitalism, together with the mechanical union of the workers, develops competition among them, which undermines their moral unity; in exactly the same way it tends to keep the workers at a much lower level of development than is possible according to the general condition of culture; in the same way too, it directly disaccustoms the workers from any control over the general course of production, etc. All these harmful aspects of capitalist socialisation of labour do not irremediably undermine the significance of its positive aspects, but at any rate they put into the wheel of history a lot of thick spokes which doubtlessly delay its movement towards the socialist system.”

It is not without a purpose that I have made this long excerpt from Mr. Tikhomirov’s article. These very pages show us the original side of the philosophical and historical theory of our author. In a controversy with Engels, P.N. Tkachov betrayed the “West”, so to speak, to his West European opponent. “Your theories are based on Western relations, mine on our Russian relations; you are right as far as Western Europe is concerned, I, as far as Russia is concerned,” said every line of his Open Letter. Mr. Tikhomirov goes further. From the standpoint of his “pure” Russian reason he criticises the course of West European development and carries on an inquiry about the “lot of thick spokes” which have been put “into the wheel of history” and “doubtlessly delay its movement towards the socialist system”. He is apparently convinced that a characteristic of history is independent movement “towards the socialist system”, completely irrespective of the relationships created by this or that period, in the present case, the period of capitalism. The latter’s role in this “movement of history” is secondary and even rather doubtful. “Although in many respects it actually prepares the possibility of the socialist system, at the same time” capitalism “by other aspects postpones the moment of its advent”. But what communicates this “movement” to history? For Mr. Tikhomirov “no longer believes in the hand of God” which could have successfully solved the question fatal for his philosophy of history – of the “first impulse”. What a pity that this original theory “gives, the impression of something not fully expressed, not fully defined”.

Ah, this Mr. Tikhomirov! As we see, he likes to talk about important matters! Indeed, it is not a laughing matter, this conviction that “at times history proceeds by the most unbelievable roads”, this assurance that these “roads were sometimes too crooked and the most hazardous that could be imagined.” He will probably soon “imagine”, if he has not already done so, another road to socialism for the “West” too – one not so crooked or so hazardous as the road followed by the countries which gave the world Newton, Hegel, Darwin, and Marx, but unfortunately showed too much light-headedness in straying far from Holy Russia and her exceptionalist theories. Apparently it is not without a purpose that Mr. Tikhomirov states that “it is permitted to doubt whether the roads of history were the best, etc., in that respect” (i.e., in respect of the transition to socialism). Do not be embarrassed at the modesty of this doubt! Here Mr. Tikhomirov is dealing with the famous question whether our world is the best “that could be imagined” or whether it suffers from some “hazardousness”. One cannot but regret that our author confines his study de optimo mundo to the single field of history. He would probably bring his readers to the pious doubt whether the course of our planet’s development is the best “that could be imagined”. It would be interesting to know whether maître Pangloss, the former teacher of metaphysico-theologo-cosmologo-nihology of the Westphalian castle of Tunder-ten-Tronk [21*], “is still alive. The honourable doctor, we know, was an optimist and proved, not without success, that “the roads of history” were the best “that could be imagined”. If asked the famous question whether the history of Roman culture could dispense with the violence suffered by the virgin Lucretia [22*] he would naturally have answered in the negative. Mr. Tikhomirov is a sceptic and considers it “permitted to doubt” the correctness of Pangloss’ answer to that question. Sextus’ feat will probably seem “hazardous” to him and the worst “that could be imagined”. Such disagreement could be the occasion for great and very edifying philosophical debates for posterity.

For us who have but little interest in the possible history of the possible West of a possible Europe and are completely indifferent to the historical “roads” that “can be imagined” by this or that idle metaphysician, it is an important circumstance that Mr. Tikhomirov has not understood the meaning and significance of one of the most important periods of the real history of the real West of real Europe. His appraisal of capitalism would not satisfy even the most extreme Slavophiles, who long ago cast their Eastern anathema on the whole of Western history. That appraisal abounds in the most blatant logical contradictions. (3n one page of What Can We Expect from the Revolution? we read about the “mighty culture of Europe”, a culture which “gives thousands of means to rouse the curiosity of the savage, develop his requirements, electrify him morally”, etc., and on the next page we, Russian savages, who have been “electrified morally” by these lines, are immediately plunged into the cold water of the scepticism mentioned above. It appears that “capitalism, although it gave rise to a mass of evils and misfortunes, nevertheless had something good as one of its consequences, namely, the creation of large-scale production, by means of which it prepared the ground, to a certain extent, for socialism”. [9] Everything “compels” Mr. Tikhomirov to think that the method of socialisation of labour which capitalism was capable of is one of the worst, and so on. [Briefly, Mr. Tikhomirov, when faced with the question of the historic role of capitalism, is just as bewildered as the famous general faced with the question: whether the Earth is a sphere:

The Earth is round, they say –
That I’m ready to admit,
Although it’s bad form, anyway,
That on a ball I have to live.
] [10]

Under the influence of this sceptical philosophy a mass of “unsolved questions” have appeared in our country. We ask whether the “mighty culture of Europe” existed in the pre– capitalist period, and if not, whether it does not owe its rise to capitalism; or in the opposite event, why does Mr. Tikhomirov only mention large-scale production incidentally, attributing to it only the “mechanical union of the workers”. If the Egyptian Pharaoh Cheops “mechanically united” hundreds of thousands of workers to build his pyramid, is his role in the history of Egypt similar to that of capitalism in the history of the West? The difference seems to us to be only one of quantity; let us assume that Cheops succeeded in “mechanically uniting” far fewer workers, but, on the other hand, he probably “gave rise” to a lesser “mass of evils and misfortunes”. What is Mr. Tikhomirov’s opinion on that? In just the same way the Roman latifundia, by their “mechanical union” of the workers chained in gangs, “gave rise to a mass of evils and misfortunes” but probably “prepared the ground, to a certain extent”, for the transition of ancient society to socialism? What will the same Mr. Tikhomirov say? In his article we find no answer to that question, and

Die Brust voll Wehmuth,
Das Haupt voll Zweifel
... [23*]

we are forced to turn to the writers of the West. Will they dispel our doubts?

Author’s Footnotes

1. [Italics by Plekhanov]

2. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli No.2, p.231.

3. Misère de la philosophie, pp.177-78. [5*]

4. See his pamphlet, Russian Social-Revolutionary Youth [7*], pp.22-24.

5. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli No.2, p.232.

6. Socialism and the Political Struggle, pp.84-85.

7. I quote from the first edition published abroad.

8. Kalendar, p.129.

9. [Italics by Plekhanov]

10. [Note to the 1905 edition] I omitted the lines included in brackets in the first edition on the advice of V.I. Zasulich, who thought them too harsh. It is to be hoped now that their harshness will do no harm and I have restored them. – G.P.


1*. Quotation from P. Lavrov’s review of Socialism and the Political Struggle. (Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.2, Section 2, 1884, p.65.)

2*. Quotation from Engels’ Emigrant Literature, Section 2, “The Programme of the Blanquist Emigrés of the Commune”. The article was printed in Volksstaat in 1874.

3*. Plekhanov’s quotation from Lermontov’s poem Journalist, Reader and Writer is not quite accurate.

4*. The journal Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher was edited by Marx and Arnold Ruge in Paris in 1844. Only one issue, a double one, appeared. Plekhanov here refers to Marx’s article Criticism of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, published in that issue.

5*. K. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow, p.197.

6*. Plekhanov here refers to Tarasov’s article Bankruptcy of Bourgeois Science, devoted to the analysis of Ivanyukov’s book Basic Propositions of the Theory of Political Economy from Adam Smith to the Present Day, in which the author tried to prove among other things that Marx was opposed to a revolution in Russia.

7*. P.L. Lavrov. (See Introduction, Note 31*.)

8*. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte, Berlin 1848, S.536.

9*. Words of the poet in Pushkin’s poem The Hero. The original says: “Self-glorifying lies are dearer to us than many a bitter truth.”

10*. The author of A Letter to Former Comrades was O.V. Aptekman. The letter gave a historical and theoretical substantiation of the programme and work of the Chorny Peredel group.

11*. This leading article was written by Plekhanov.

12*. Independents – a political party during the English Revolution of the 17th century, expressing the interests of the middle bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisified nobles. By their demands of religious freedom and independence they drew the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry in their wake for a time.

13*. All quotations from Tikhomirov in this and the following chapters are taken from his article What Can We Expect from the Revolution?

14*. Words from Griboyedov’s comedy Wit Works Woe.

15*. From Krylov’s fable The Crow and the Fox.

16*. This formulation is the one given by Lassalle in his famous pamphlet Programme of Workers.

17* See Socialism and Political Struggle, Part III.

18*. In the article Preparatory Work of the Party. (Kalendar Narodnoi Voli for 1883, pp.122-34.)

19*. Rabochaya Gazeta (The Workers’ Gazette) – an illegal newspaper published from December 1880 to December 1881 by a group of workers who were members of Narodnaya Volya in Petersburg, under the editorship of A.I. Zhelyabov. In all three issues were published. Its publication ceased after the crash of the Narodnaya Volya organisation.

20*. In one of his unpublished notes kept in Plekhanov House, Leningrad, Plekhanov quotes significant pronouncements of French public figures on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.

“Marshal Leboeuf: ‘We are ready, more than ready; if the war lasts even as much as a year we shall not be short of anything, not even buttons for the soldiers’ gaiters!’

“The President of the Senate: ‘Sire, thanks to your solicitude, France is prepared.’

“The War Minister: ‘There is no Prussian army; I deny it’.”

21*. Pangloss – Candide’s tutor in Voltaire’s tale Candide. Pangloss followed Leibniz’s proposition “All is for the best in this, the best of worlds”.

22*. According to tradition the Roman patrician Lucretia (6th cent. B.C.), raped by the Emperor’s son Sextus, committed suicide, and this, it is said, provided a pretext for the revolt which ended in the banning of the Roman emperors and the establishment of an aristocratic republic.

23*. Quotation from Heine’s poem Fragen.

Last updated on 17.10.2006