G.V. Plekhanov

Our Differences

Chapter I
A Few References to History

5. The Historical Role of Capitalism

“The bourgeoisie” (and consequently capitalism, is it not so, Mr. Tikhomirov?), “historically, has played a most revolutionary part,” we read in the Communist Manifesto.

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ’natural superiors’, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ’cash payment’. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation ...

“The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which Reactionists so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind ...

“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West ...

“The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?” [24*]

That is how Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “revolutionaries by logic and by feeling”, understand capitalism. And how do intelligent and educated conservatives understand it?

Almost in the same way. “Joint-stock undertakings” (the highest phase of capitalist development, is it not, Mr. Tikhomirov?) ... “have their historic mission,” we read in one of Rodbertus’ letters to R. Meyer, “they are destined to complete the work of God’s hands, to pierce isthmuses where the Almighty forgot or did not consider it opportune to do so, to link under the sea or over the sea lands which it separates, to burrow through high mountains, etc., etc. The pyramids and the Phoenician stone constructions cannot be compared with what will yet be done by joint-stock capital”, etc. [25*]

Such is the general cultural and historical significance of capitalism. But what is its influence, particularly on the workers, their intellectual make-up, their moral habits?

What workers did capitalism have to deal with at the beginning of its development? “What the moral and intellectual character of this class was may be guessed,” we read in Engels’ work about English weavers. “Shut off from the towns ... so shut off that old people who lived quite in the neighbourhood of the town never went thither until they were robbed of their trade by the introduction of machinery and obliged to look about them in the towns for work – the weavers stood upon the moral and intellectual plane of the yeomen ... They regarded their squire ... as their natural superior; they asked advice of him, laid their small disputes before him for settlement, and gave him all honour, as this patriarchal relation involved ... In short, the English industrial workers of those days lived and thought after the fashion still to be found here and there in Germany [11], in retirement and seclusion, without mental activity and without violent fluctuations in their position in life. They could rarely read and far more rarely write; went regularly to church, never talked politics, never conspired, never thought, delighted in physical exercises, listened with inherited reverence when the Bible was read, and were, in their unquestioning humility, exceedingly well-disposed towards the ‘superior’ classes. But intellectually, they were dead” (listen, Mr. Tikhomirov); “lived only for their petty, private interest, for their looms and gardens, and knew nothing of the mighty movement which, beyond their horizon, was sweeping through mankind. They were comfortable in their silent vegetation, and but for the industrial revolution [12]” (i.e., capitalism, Mr. Tikhomirov) “they would never have emerged from this existence, which, cosily romantic as it was, was nevertheless not worthy of human beings. In truth, they were not human beings; they were merely toiling machines in the service of the few aristocrats who had guided history down to that time. The industrial revolution has simply carried this out to its logical end by making the workers machines pure and simple, taking from them the last trace of independent activity, and so forcing them to think and demand a position worthy of men ...” This industrial revolution in England tore the workers out of their “apathetic indifference to the universal interests of mankind” and “drew them into the whirl of history”. [13]

Those words are from Engels, whom bourgeois economists accuse of having painted the condition of the workers in the pre-capitalist period in too bright colours and given too gloomy a description of their condition in the period of capitalism. Such accusations abound, for instance, in Bruno Hildebrand’s Die Nationalökonomie der Gegenwart und Zukunft.

But what are the West and its pseudo-sages to us, as Mr. Aksakov would say; let us listen to Moses and the prophets, let us read Bakunin himself.

“From the Renaissance and the Reformation right up to the Revolution, the bourgeoisie” (thanks to rising capitalism, Mr. Tikhomirov, or not?) “in Italy, France, Switzerland, Britain and Holland, if not in Germany, was the hero and the representative of the revolutionary genius of history. Out of it came most of the free thinkers in the eighteenth century, the religious reformers in the preceding two centuries and the apostles of human emancipation, among these also the German figures of the last century. The bourgeoisie alone, leaning, of course, on the mighty arm of the people who had faith in it, carried out the revolution in 1789 and 1793. It proclaimed the fall of the royal power and of the Church, the fraternity of the peoples, the rights of man and of the citizen. Those are its rights; they are immortal!” [14]

In view of these immortal services of West European capitalism, Mr. Tikhomirov, the man of the East, cannot renounce his Slavophile scorn for the West, and yawning lazily, he says that this road of development was nevertheless not the best “that could have been imagined”. In all the history of the bourgeoisie he sees but the “mass of evils” and the “mechanical union of the workers”. For him this “union” contains the whole significance of “large-scale production”. Talking about slavery he still mentions the increase in the productivity of labour that it led to, but when he goes on to capitalism he does not even hint at “the gigantic means of production conjured up”, which were alone capable of preparing the victory of the proletariat! He has not the slightest idea of the influence of capitalism on the development of philosophy, public and private law, the philosophy of history, natural science and literature. And yet there can be no doubt of that influence and there was a time when Russian writers understood the influence of class relations in society (and what, if not capitalism, created the class relations in contemporary society? ) on the course of development of learning in general and of philosophical thought in particular. “Political theories, and indeed, all philosophical doctrines generally, have always been created under the extremely powerful influence of the social position of their authors, and every philosopher represented one of the political parties struggling at that time for domination over that society to which the philosopher belonged,” says Chernyshevsky [15] ... “ Philosophical systems are permeated through and through with the spirit of the political parties to which the authors of the systems belonged.” Or does Mr. Tikhomirov presume that the political and philosophical systems of the epoch of capitalism are inferior to the corresponding systems of the Middle Ages? Does he think that the theories which characterise capitalism were worse than those which he himself can “imagine”? In that case, let him “imagine” as many of them as he pleases, let him go on ignoring the history of West European culture! In this disagreement of the editor of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli with the West, the former loses very much and the latter absolutely nothing.

It is not Mr. Tikhomirov, however, who must be considered as the initiator of this discord. On this question our author only repeats what was said in various articles by Mr. V.V. who in general is inclined, as we know, to narrow down the cultural and historical significance of Western capitalism and, on the contrary, to exaggerate the corresponding influence of the present Russian “authority”, which “has no serious opponent in society” and therefore “need not fear the factors of progress against which the West European governments waged a continuous war”. [16] Examine attentively the volume The Destinies of Capitalism in Russia, which is full of endless repetitions and therefore quite bulky, and you will not find any indications of the significance of capitalism other than references to the “socialisation of labour” which is in turn identified with the “union of the workers” and the development in them of some feelings or others with which Mr. V.V. sympathises. And this narrow and one-sided appreciation is wholly adopted by Mr. Tikhomirov in his article; on it he bases what he expects “from the revolution”! Our author has forgotten, it appears, the fine piece of advice which Lassalle gave to one of his opponents: “study, study, but not from newspaper articles.”

Russian writers are not content with their absurdly narrow philosophy of the history of capitalism. They themselves analyse this form of production and, so to speak, their own intelligence shows them the contradictions inherent in it. But what contradictions! They are not solved by historical dialectics through the old social form being replaced by a new one which has grown within the former as a result, apparently, of the very logical development of the principle underlying it. They are not the contradictions whose historical meaning was thus expressed by Goethe:

Vernunft wird Unsinn, Wohlthat Plage. [29*]

They are contradictions which have no historical meaning whatever, and which are only the result of the attitude of the petty-bourgeois observer to the object of his study, an attitude which may be described by the words: “Measure ten times before cutting your cloth.” It is a kind of eclecticism which sees a good and a bad side in everything, encourages the former and condemns the latter and sins only by not seeing any organic link between the “bright” and “darkening” features of a given historical epoch. Capitalism could have said to such critics Feuerbach’s words: “You condemn my defects, but note that my good qualities are conditioned by them.” In this case the Russian writers apply to the historical categories the method of Proudhon, who saw it as the task of dialectics to point out the good and the evil sides of every economic category. “Il veut être la synthèse,” Marx wrote about him, “il est une erreur composée.” [30*]

Proudhon is said to have been once Bakunin’s pupil. Did he not get this method, which he shares with many Russian critics of capitalism, from the one common teacher?

A brilliant representative of this method of “composite error” can again be seen in the same Mr. Tikhomirov, who, having shown the good side of capitalism, the union of the workers, immediately goes on to show its shady sides. We have already seen how far his “praise” of capitalism corresponds to reality. It is not surprising that the reproach he makes turns out to be completely unfounded.

“Capitalism, together with the mechanical union of the workers, develops competition among them, which undermines their moral unity ...”

Apparently Mr. Tikhomirov wants to “imagine” a way of transition to socialism in which competition would be unknown. Leaving aside the question of the role of competition in the existence of the economic category known as the exchange value, which brings the labour of various specialists to the common denominator of simple human labour, without the understanding of which conscious communist tendencies would be unthinkable, let us give attention to the evil side of competition which our author points out. Here we will first of all note that only what exists in reality, not in Mr. Tikhomirov’s sympathies and “expectations”, can be “undermined”. Was there moral unity of the workers during the pre-capitalist period? We already know there was not. In the most flourishing period of guild production there was “moral unity” among workers of one association or, at most, of one branch of labour within quite restricted local limits; but the idea of the worker as such, the consciousness of the unity of the whole of the productive class never existed. [17] Capitalism undermined, disrupted, removed the “moral unity” of patented specialists and set up in its place the moral unity of “working men of all countries,” a unity which it achieved by means of competition. Why, then, does Mr. Tikhomirov thus attack competition? We have already seen that in his opinion history has some kind of independent, abstract “movement towards the socialist system”; given such a “movement” one can with impunity “criticise” all the motive powers and springs which first compelled progressive mankind “to face with sober senses, their real conditions of life, and their relations with their kind”.

Capitalism “tends to keep the workers at a much lower level of development than is possible according to the general condition of culture”.

This sentence seems to have been taken in full from the minutes of the Eisenach Congress of the German Katheder Sozialisten, in whose opinion the social question comes to the question of raising the workers to a higher “level of development”. But the Katheder Sozialisten know what they are demanding, although, in spite of all their efforts, they have not yet decided how to attain their demands. They understand the epoch-making and revolutionary significance of the modern proletariat and they want to undermine that significance with their palliatives and to impose on the workers Rodbertus’ motto: “monarchisch, national, sozial.” By a higher level of development they understand a somewhat higher and better guaranteed wage, far greater narrow-mindedness and incomparably less responsiveness in the working class. They know that the “iron law” of wages [31*] is the death sentence for modern society and are not against sweetening this law to repeal the sentence. They foresee that, if affairs remain in their present condition, the proletariat will soon take everything, and that is why they are doing their utmost to force the proletariat to barter its impending birthright for a mess of pottage. They want a bourgeoisie without any proletariat. But what does Mr. Tikhomirov want? In which of the historical periods previous to capitalism did the working class have a higher level of development than at present? Was it in the ancient world, the epoch of slavery, or in the Middle Ages, the epoch of serfdom? Or is Mr. Tikhomirov comparing bourgeois society with the “future”, socialist society? If so, then, of course, he is right in the sense that the social system of the “future historic epoch” will bring man’s development into greater conformity with the productive forces created by civilisation. But, not to mention that to accuse capitalism of not being socialism means not to understand the historical genesis of socialism, we will point out to Mr. Tikhomirov that by force of habit he has got mixed up in his terminology. It is obvious that socialist society is unthinkable without people who work, but it can be said in all probability that there will be no workers under socialism; for a worker presupposes capitalist employers, landowners, etc., just as the slave presupposed the slave-owner and the serf the feudal lord. What Mr. Tikhomirov says boils down in this case to the amazing proposition that the modern workers are at a lower level of development than the workers in a society in which there are no workers at all.

Or is Mr. Tikhomirov comparing the condition of the workers in capitalist society with their condition under the social relationships “that can be imagined” as transitional steps to socialism? If so, let him “imagine” such relationships; we will read his imaginations with great interest. But he should not be too much infatuated with fiction, he should not forget that one must distinguish between the degree and the type of culture, and that if the degree of material culture of the present-day proletariat is not very high, it is nevertheless a culture of a much higher type than any which existed before. We are not even speaking of the intellectual and moral culture of this class, which is much higher in its development than the productive classes of all preceding periods. Mr. Tikhomirov should devote serious attention to this development, which cannot be replaced either by primitive forms of land tenure and production or by strict discipline instituted by this or that “Committee” in the revolutionary organisations of raznochintsi.

“In exactly the same way” capitalism “directly disaccustoms the workers from any control over the general course of production, etc.”

Capitalism could answer this unexpected accusation with the Russian saying: “You’re welcome to the best we have.” It cannot teach the workers control “over the general course of production” for the simple reason that it does not know any such control itself. Industrial crises are conditioned, among other things, precisely by this lack of control. But, we ask, can such control be imagined outside socialist society? Let Mr. Tikhomirov prove that it can, and then we will enter into greater details with him. Now we will only repeat that to accuse capitalism of not being socialism means to accuse history of not having started immediately by putting into practice the Manifesto of the Communist Party instead of its “movement towards the socialist system”.

This dispute about the significance of Western capitalism may appear completely unwarranted to many readers. It is Russia we are interested in, not the West, they will say; why spend so much time on an appraisal of the historical development of the West? Even if Mr. Tikhomirov has overlooked some things, and got mixed up in a thing or two over this question, what relation has that to our domestic matters?

The most direct relation. Mr. Tikhomirov “criticises” Western capitalism for the completely definite practical purpose of working out a programme for the Russian social-revolutionary party. He “expects” certain blessings “from the revolution”, on the basis, by the way, of his appraisal of West European history. If his appraisal is correct, then his expectations are grounded; if, on the contrary, this appraisal reveals complete ignorance of the history of the West and of the methods of contemporary philosophical and historical criticism, then his very “ expectations” prove to be completely unfounded. That is why I have devoted many pages to unravelling this confusion which found so comfortable room in two pages (238 and 239) of the second issue of Vestnik. When we have dealt with it, we can go on to Russian questions.

6. The Development of Capitalism in the West

“Don’t idolise private business capital,” exclaims Mr. Tikhomirov on his return from one of his philosophical-historical excursions; “the more so as there still remains the great question whether such capital will be able to do for Russia even that” (!) “which it did for Europe. Our present condition differs considerably from that of the European countries at the moment when they began to organise national production on the basis of private capital. There the private businessman was provided with extensive markets and encountered no particularly terrible competition. But we have absolutely no markets and in everything he undertook the private businessman encountered insuperable competition from European and American production.” [32*]

All these arguments of our author are again not his, they are borrowed from Mr. V.V. But, without going into their genealogy, let us examine how serious they are. Here again we are faced with a difficult and thankless task – that of unravelling the “lost unbelievable muddle of facts and concepts.

First of all, we ask Mr. Tikhomirov why he attacks “private” business capital and does not mention other forms of the same business capital. Why does he, to use Rodbertus’ expression, prefer blondes to brunettes? Does he think “that state business capital in the hands of the Iron Chancellor is better than private capital in the hands of Borsig or Krupp”?

Or is he opposing private business capital to the same capital belonging to workers’ associations? Why, in that case, did he not make the reservation that his sympathy for business capital not belonging to private individuals extends only to one variety of that capital? And indeed, can one have sympathy for this variety without new and very substantial reservations?

German [33*] Social-Democracy demands state credit for workers’ associations, but it knows by experience that these can be successful, i.e., not degenerate into exploiters of other people’s labour, only on condition that they are strictly controlled on the basis of socialist principles. Workers’ socialist parties can and must be representative of such a control. Thus, whoever speaks of state credit for workers’ associations either speaks of strengthening the influence of the workers’ party or suggests a measure capable of resulting in splitting the proletariat and strengthening the influence of the bourgeoisie or the government. Mr. V.V. is not afraid of the latter outcome, and that is why he fearlessly addresses his projects of reform to “the existing authority”. Mr. Tikhomirov is one of the irreconcilable enemies of absolutism and at the same time is very sceptical of the possibilities of a bourgeois regime and a workers’ socialist party coming to exist in our country. Hence his plans for the institution of workers’ industrial associations – plans, however, about which we can only make surmises, thanks to his confused terminology – belong to the more or less distant future when the “seizure of power by the revolutionaries” will be “the starting-point of the revolution”. As we shall have a lot to say about this seizure and its possible consequences, we will not stop here to consider the conditions under which Russian workers’ industrial associations can promote the cause of socialism. Now, however, having pointed out to Mr. Tikhomirov his lack of clarity and definition in the economic terminology, let us go on to his historical contrasts.

There would be no doubt, if the formulation were at least tolerable, that “our present condition differs considerably from that of the European countries at the moment when they began to organise national production on the basis of private capital”. Any schoolboy knows that no two facts in the whole of history have been accomplished under exactly identical conditions; it is therefore not surprising that every historical period in each country “differs considerably” from the corresponding period in any other country. But as a consequence of this, we may say a priori that the stereotyped contrasting of Russia with the “West” loses all human meaning if it is not accompanied by a number of reservations, amendments and additions, since by Western Europe we mean not one single country but many greatly differing ones. Mr. Tikhomirov sees no necessity for these additions. He contrasts the “present condition of Russia” with the “moment” in the history of “the European countries when they began to organise national production on the basis of private capital”. But not to mention that one cannot “organise national production on the basis of private capital” and that complete anarchy, i.e., the absence of any organisation, is a characteristic feature of “national production” in capitalist countries; forgiving Mr. Tikhomirov these blunders in logic and terminology, we will ask him whether the foundation of capitalist production was laid at a single “moment” “in the European countries”. Were there not, on the contrary, just as many “moments” as there were “European countries” engaging on the road of capitalism? And if so, did not those historical “ moments” differ “considerably” one from another? Was the beginning of English capitalism like the beginning of capitalism in Germany? As far as we know, it was by no means alike, so unlike that at one time in Germany, too, the opinion was held that the country completely lacked the conditions for developing large-scale manufacturing industry and would have to remain for ever an agrarian country. Those who held that opinion based it on the very fact that the “present” condition of Germany “differed considerably”, etc. What has Mr. Tikhomirov to say about this question in general and about these false prophets in particular?

In the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle I spoke of those Russian writers who are supporters of the geographical school founded by the Jewish boy in Weinberg’s story. “Russian writers, propagandists of exceptionalism,” I wrote, “introduced only one new thing into that clever geographical classification of the poor schoolboy: they divided ‘abroad’ into East and West, and, not stopping long to think, began to compare the latter with Russia, which was ascribed the role of a kind of ‘Middle Empire’.” When I wrote those lines it did not even occur to me that such absurdities could be repeated in a publication edited, incidentally, by P.L. Lavrov. Now I see that Lavrov’s co-editor is among the followers of the Jewish boy and heaps together, in a “moment” of some kind “imagined” by himself, quite a number of highly complicated and “considerably” different historical plenomena. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli was apparently fated to disappoint the expectations of its readers in many, many respects!

In this case, however, there is an attenuating circumstance for Mr. Tikhomirov. He was led into his mistake by the conviction that in “the European countries” at a historical “moment” with which we are already familiar “the private businessman was provided with extensive markets and encountered no particularly terrible competition” whereas “we have practically no markets”. Were this correct, his contrast between Russia and the West would be sufficiently well founded. No matter how greatly the conditions under which capitalism arose differed in each of “the European countries”, they would have had in common one feature of the highest importance not repeated in contemporary Russia: the presence of “extensive markets” for the disposal of wares. This circumstance, which was favourable to “the European countries”, would have given a completely different colouring to the economic history of the West. The trouble is that Mr. Tikhomirov, or rather the author of the articles from which he derived his conviction, was cruelly mistaken. In the countries referred to, the private businessman was not provided with any “extensive markets” at all. The bourgeoisie created the markets, they did not find them ready made. In the feudal and handicrafts period which had preceded, not only were there no “extensive markets”, there were no markets at all in the modern sense of the word; at that time only surpluses were exchanged – what remained after the producers’ own consumption – and the handicraftsmen worked to order for a specified person in a specified locality, and not for the market. Nobody who has even the slightest understanding of the economic relations in the Middle Ages will dispute that. In the same way everybody, “even if he has not been trained in a seminary”, will understand that demand, and with it markets, could only appear side by side with production, as they were called for by the latter and in their turn called for it. “Most often, needs arise directly from production or from a state of affairs based on production. World trade turns almost entirely round the needs, not of individual consumption, but of production.” [18] But the modern, indeed “extensive”, world market is characterised precisely by the fact that not consumption calls forth production, but the other way round. “Large-scale industry, forced by the very instruments at its disposal to produce on an ever-increasing scale, can no longer wait for demand. Production precedes consumption, supply compels demand.” [19]

For brevity’s sake we may admit as indisputable that Western Europe encountered no “particularly terrible competition” during the period when capitalism arose, although the not unfrequent prohibitions of imports to “European countries” of Eastern industry’s products during that period show that indeed the manufactories in the West feared competition from Asia. But the “particularly terrible” rivals of West European producers were the West European producers themselves. This will cease to seem paradoxical if we remember that capitalism by no means began to develop at one and the same “moment” in the different “European countries”, as Mr. Tikhomirov thinks. When industrial development reached a certain level in one of those countries, when the representatives of capital attained such power and influence that they could make legislation an instrument to further their purposes, it turned out that “in everything he undertook the private businessman encountered insuperable competition” from neighbouring countries. Then agitation for state intervention began. The history of the seventeenth century with its tariffs, which were the object of diplomatic negotiations, and its trade wars, which necessitated colossal expenditures for those times, is a tangible proof of the enormous efforts that the “European countries” had to make to acquire the markets which are said to have been ready-made for them. It was a question not only of winning foreign markets, but of defending the home market too. Is there any need to illustrate by examples a history which seems to be generally known? Perhaps it will not be superfluous in view of the ignorance of our home-grown and exceptionalist economists. Let us begin with France.

Colbert “saw that France was importing from abroad far more goods than she was exporting, that in spite of the existence of the Tours and Lyons manufactories, Italy was continuing to supply silk wares, gold and silver fabrics, and gold yarn; that Venice was getting millions from her annually for mirrors and lace; that England, Holland and Spain were supplying her with woollen goods, spices, dyes, hides and soap ... he saw ... that the large companies and colonies which Richelieu had tried to set up were ruined and that all France’s sea trade was still in the hands of the English and the Dutch. In order to hinder this overrunning of French ports Fouquet had already placed a tax of fifty sous on every ton of goods brought in foreign ships and constant complaints from the Dutch proved to Colbert that his predecessor had dealt them a heavy blow. Such was the situation. Colbert set himself the aim of changing it in France’s favour, of freeing the country from all trade subjection and raising it by industrial development to the level of the more prosperous nations”, etc. [20] He set about the matter with such diligence that his direct intention was to “annihilate” Dutch trade by the 1667 tariff.

“The English and Dutch countered in like manner, the tariff dispute was the occasion for the 1672 war, and finally, the Peace of Nymwegen [36*] compelled France to restore the 1664 tariff.” [21]

We see that France was by no means “provided with” extensive markets, she had to win them by the appropriate economic policy, diplomatic negotiations and even arms. Colbert relied only on “time and great diligence”, thanks to which France would be able, he thought, to become “the teacher of the nations which had taught her lessons”. We know that France’s protection and prohibition policy did not end with the influence of Colbert any more than it had owed him its beginning. Not until after the Peace of Versailles [37*] did the French Government take the first step towards free trade in 1786. But this attempt did not favour French industry. By an agreement with England in 1786 each of the contracting countries imposed a duty of only 12 per cent of the cost price on woollen and cotton fabrics, porcelain, pottery and glass wares, of 10 per cent on metal goods – iron, steel, copper, etc.; flax and hemp fabrics were taxed according to the tariff fixed for the most favoured countries; but England, being able to produce these goods 30, 40, or 50 per cent cheaper than the French manufacturers, soon became the mistress on the French market. That was why in 1789 the electors almost unanimously demanded a more energetic protection of French industry. The governments of the Restoration and the July monarchy also adhered to a strictly protectionist tariff. To guarantee the sale of French wares the colonies were forbidden to trade with any country but the metropolitan country. Not until 1860 was there a turn in favour of free trade, but even this aroused great opposition in the country and was censured, incidentally, by Proudhon. Finally, as recently as 1877, fear of English competition moved the protectionists to form the “Association for the Protection of National Labour”. The 1882 tariff was a compromise between demands for protection and the desire for free trade displayed mainly by the representatives of commercial capital. [22]

Such is the history of the “extensive markets” that were at the disposal of the French capitalists. Has Mr. Tikhomirov heard of it?

And what about Germany, to which our author is “referred” by “a certain section of the socialists”?

Here matters stood no better. Here too, “in everything he undertook the private businessman” encountered “insuperable competition” from the more progressive countries. We know that the appearance of German capitalism was relatively recent. Not only in the last century, but even at the beginning of this, competition with France or England was out of the question for Germany. Let us take Prussia as an example. In 1800, Prussia absolutely prohibited the import of silk, semi-silk and cotton fabrics. In the preceding eighty years the government had spent more than ten million taler only on silk factories in Berlin, Potsdam, Frankfort on the Oder and Köpenick (from which Mr. Tikhomirov can clearly see that not the Russian Government alone displayed efforts to “organise” national production “ according to bourgeois principles”). But French and English wares were so much better than the Prussian that the prohibition of imports was evaded by smuggling, which no severe legislative measures could stop. Napoleon’s victory deprived Prussia of the possibility of saving her manufactories by a “wall” of prohibitive tariffs. With the invasion by the French army, French goods began to glut the markets in the conquered territories. At the beginning of December 1806, the invaders demanded the admission of French goods at low customs tariffs to all parts of the territory occupied by French troops. In vain did the Prussian Government draw their attention to the local industry’s inability to hold out against competition from French manufacturers. It tried in vain to prove that the Berlin manufacturers had held their own only thanks to protection tariffs, with the abolition of which the population would be irremediably impoverished and the factory workers would be completely ruined. Bourgeois France’s victorious generals answered that the import of French goods was the “natural result” of the conquest. Thus, side by side with the governments’ political struggle there proceeded the economic struggle of the nations, or more exactly of those sections of the nations in whose hands the means of production are still concentrated. Side by side with the struggle of the armies was the struggle of the manufacturers; alongside the warfare of the generals was the competition of commodities. The French bourgeoisie needed to gain control of a new market, and the Prussian bourgeoisie did all in their power to safeguard the market they owed to protection tariffs. Where, then, were the ready-made “extensive markets”? When, after the declaration of war in 1813, the Prussian industrialists were at last freed from their French rivals, they found themselves faced by new and still more dangerous opponents. The fall of the continental system gave English goods access to the European markets. Prussia was glutted with them. Their cheapness made it impossible for the local producers to compete with them in view of the low customs dues imposed on goods from friendly and neutral countries. Complaints from the Prussian industrialists again forced the government to limit imports of at least cotton goods. [23] From then on until this very day the Government of Prussia, and indeed of Germany as a whole, has not ventured to waive protective tariffs for fear of “insuperable competition” from more advanced countries. And if the Russian Blanquists seize power while Bismarck is still alive, the Iron Chancellor will probably not refuse to reveal to them the secret of his trade policy and will convince our journalists that “extensive markets” do not and never did grow on trees.

Let us pass on to America.

“In respect of industry the North American colonies were held in such complete dependence by the metropolitan country that they were to have no kind of industry except domestic production and the usual crafts. In 1750 a hat factory founded in Massachusetts so attracted the attention of Parliament and was the object of such jealousy on its part that factories of all kinds (in the colonies, of course) were declared common nuisances. As late as 1770 the great Chatham, perturbed by the first attempts at factory production in New England, said that not a single nail was to be made in the colonies.” [38*] During the War of Independence, thanks to the rupture with England, “factories of all kinds received a strong impulse” and this, in turn, influenced agriculture and led to an increase in the price of land.

“But as, after the Peace of Paris, the constitution of the states prevented elaboration of a general trade system and thus gave free access to English manufactures with which the newly built North American factories could not compete, the country’s industrial prosperity disappeared even more rapidly than it appeared. ‘On the advice of the new theoreticians,’ a speaker in Congress said later, referring to this crisis, ‘we purchased where it was cheaper for us and our markets were glutted with foreign goods ... Our manufacturers were ruined, our merchants went bankrupt and all this had such a harmful effect on agriculture that a general devaluation of land followed and as a result bankruptcy became common among landowners too’.” [39*]

Hence we see that a threat once hung also over American production, whose “insuperable competition” now threatens the Russian “private businessman”. What lightning-rods did the Americans invent? Were they convinced by this that their situation “differed considerably from that of the European countries at the moment when they began to organise national production on the basis of private capital”? Did they renounce large-scale industry? Not in the least. Taught by bitter experience, they merely repeated the old story of protecting the home market against foreign competition. “Congress was stormed by all states with petitions for protective measures favouring local industry”, and as early as 1789 a tariff was proclaimed making considerable concessions in this direction to local manufacturers. The 1804 tariff went still further along this path, and in the end, after a few vacillations in the opposite direction, the rigorous protection tariff of 1828 finally guaranteed American producers against English competition. [24]

Once more, where were the “extensive” markets that Mr. Tikhomirov speaks of? I completely agree that the course of development of West European capitalism which he indicates must be acknowledged as more “straight” and less “hazardous”; what risk does the “private businessman” run when he is “provided with extensive markets”? But Mr. Tikhomirov, on his side, must agree that he, or rather his teacher, “imagined” this course of development for the sake of a doctrine and that it has nothing in common with the true history of the West. The matter proceeds so differently there that Friedrich List even establishes a particular law according to which each country can come out in the struggle on the world market only when it has allowed its industry to strengthen by mastering the home market. In his opinion, “the transition of every nation from the wild state to that of herdsmen and from the state of herdsmen to that of tillers of land and the early beginnings in agriculture are best effected by free trade”. Then the “transition of agrarian peoples to the class of simultaneously agricultural, manufacturing and trading nations could take place under free trade only if, in all nations called upon to develop manufacturing power, one and the same vital process took place at one and the same time , if nations raised no obstacles whatsoever to each other’s economic development and if they did not impede each other’s success by ,war and customs systems. But as the nations which had attained superiority in manufactures, trade and navigation saw that success as the most effective means of acquiring and consolidating political influence over other nations, they” (i.e., the advanced nations) “strove to set up institutions which were and still are calculated to guarantee their own monopoly in manufactures and trade and to prevent backward nations from succeeding. The aggregate of these institutions (import prohibition and customs dues upon imports, restrictions on snipping, premiums for exports, and so on) is called the customs system. Under the influence of the earlier successes of other nations, the customs system of foreign countries and wars, the backward nations find themselves forced to seek at home means for the transition from the agrarian to the manufacturing condition; they are obliged to restrict trade with the advanced countries – since it hinders that transition – by their own customs system. The latter is therefore by no means an invention of speculative brains, as some maintain, but the natural consequence of the nations’ desire to guarantee themselves lasting existence and progress or even dominating influence. But this wish can be recognised as legitimate and reasonable only inasmuch as it does not hinder the economic development of the nation displaying it, but, on the contrary, promotes it and does not contradict the higher aim of humanity – the future world confederation”. [25]

These words are from Friedrich List, who understood well the interests of German capitalism in his time and whose only fault was a certain pompousness in the definition of the future “higher aims of humanity” which for the bourgeoisie boil down not to a “world federation” but to a fierce struggle on the world market. List was embarrassed neither by the accusation that his views were obsolete nor by the reference to the impossibility of Germany’s securing any favourable opportunities in the future struggle on the world market. To the first objection he replied that he was not at all an unconditional enemy of free trade, for he demanded only temporary restrictions of it, and at the same time stood for free trade within the limits of the German customs union. To the second he replied by criticising the very theory of markets, or rather the conditions of their acquisition. He pointed out that the backward countries may and must form alliances with one another to fight jointly their stronger enemies and that those backward countries must strive to acquire colonies of their own. “Every industrial nation must strive to have direct exchange with the countries in the torrid zone; if all second-rate manufacturing nations understand their own interests they must act in such a way that no nation can acquire overwhelming influence in respect of colonial possessions.” [26] He supported the possibility of acquiring new colonies by pointing out that up to then a great number of convenient places in the torrid zone had not been utilised in this way by Europeans.

At the time when List was agitating, many people doubted the possibility of a large-scale manufacturing industry being developed in Germany. Now nobody doubts this, but the programme of economic policy which he suggested has not yet been finally carried out. The question of acquiring colonies is only now being raised in Germany. Reality has surpassed his expectations. One part of his programme has sufficed to consolidate German large-scale industry.

Not only does no sceptic now ask whether a large-scale manufacturing industry is possible in List’s country, but Mr. Tikhomirov “is referred” among other things “to Germany, where capitalism united the workers” and “private businessmen” are alleged to have been provided with “extensive markets”. How much that country’s first difficult steps on the road of capitalism have been forgotten! But is it a long time since List wrote? No more than half a century, no more than five times as long as the Russian Blanquists have been making fruitless efforts to “seize power”. What if Marx and Engels and their followers, convinced that the people must be taken “as they are” and that the German Communists of the forties still needed, to use Mr. Tikhomirov’s picturesque expression, “only to set about the creation of the class in whose name they wished to act”; what if Marx and Engels, I say, had given the “West” up as lost and decided that “the starting-point” of the social revolution in Germany had to be “the seizure of power” by the forces of the then existing Communist League? [40*] What if they had directed all their work towards that aim? Would German Social-Democracy have got far by now? And yet the question of such a “seizure of power” is by no means an exclusive feature of the Russian movement. It was raised even in the Communist League and caused its splitting into two groups: Marx and Engels on one side, Willich and Schapper on the other.

The story of this division is so instructive that it is worth relating to the readers. [41*]

“Since the defeat of the 1848-49 Revolution, the party of the proletariat on the continent was deprived of all that it had during that, short period-freedom of the press, of expression and of association, i.e., the legal means of organising a party. After 1849, as before 1848, there was only one road open to the proletariat – the road of secret societies ... The immediate aim of one section of those societies was to overthrow the existing state power. That was timely in France, where the proletariat had been defeated by the bourgeoisie and where attacks on the existing government were equivalent to attacks on the bourgeoisie.”

Another section of these secret societies was working in countries such as Germany “where the bourgeoisie and the proletariat were both subjected by their semi-feudal governments, and where, therefore, a successful attack on the existing governments, instead of breaking the power of the bourgeoisie or of the so-called middle classes, had first to help them to power” – in such countries the progressive representatives of the proletariat, while not refusing to take part in the impending revolution, saw as their immediate aim not to seize power, but to prepare the working-class party of the future. Such, by the way, was the aim of the Communist League, in which Marx and Engels played the leading role. “The Communist League was not therefore a society of conspirators but a society which aimed at the secret organisation of the proletariat, because the German proletariat was under an interdict, was deprived of the fire and water, of press, expression and association.” It goes without saying that activity “which had in view the establishment not of a governmental but of an oppositional party of the future”, had exerted little attraction on people intellectually backward and impatient, and accordingly “a group broke off from the Communist League , demanding, if not actual conspiracies, at least a conspiratorial appearance and a direct alliance with the democratic heroes of the day”. The motives of this split, which many people ascribed to personal quarrels between the leaders of the two groups, were explained as follows by the very actors in these events.

According to Marx, “the minority” (the Willich and Schapper group) “replace the critical outlook by a dogmatic one, the materialist by the idealist. They take their own will instead of the existing relations for the principal revolutionary motive force. Whereas we say to the workers: you must still pass through 15, 20, or 50 years of civil war and popular movements, and this not only to change existing relations but to re-educate yourselves and become capable of being the dominant party, the minority, on the contrary, say: we must win supremacy at this very moment or we shall be unable to do anything other than sit back and relax. Whereas we point out to the German workers the undeveloped condition of the German proletariat, you flatter the national feeling and estate prejudices of the German craftsman [27] in the vilest way, this, of course, being a far more popular method ... Like the democrats, you replace revolutionary development by revolutionary phrases”, etc., etc.

Schapper, for his part, formulated his outlook as follows:

“I did in fact express the outlook attacked here, because generally I support it with enthusiasm. The question is: will we start to chop off heads, or will ours be chopped off? First the workers in France will rise, then we in Germany. Otherwise I would, in fact, sit back and relax. But if our plans are fulfilled, we shall be able to take steps to guarantee the supremacy of the proletariat” (as Mr. Tikhomirov promises steps to guarantee “government by the people” for Russia, we will remark). “I am a fanatical supporter of this view, but the Central Committee” (Marx’s group) “wishes the opposite”, etc.

This dispute took place on September 15, 1850, when the final break between the two groups occurred. Each of them set about its work. Willich and Schapper began to prepare to seize power, Marx and Engels continued to prepare the “oppositional party of the future”. Fifteen years went by and that “party of the future” became a threat to the bourgeoisie in all nations and countries; the views of the authors of the Manifesto of the Communist Party were assimilated by tens of thousands of workers. And what did Willich and Schapper do? Did they succeed in immediately “seizing power”? We all know they did not, but not all know that the same “fanatic” Schapper was soon convinced of the impossibility of carrying out his plans and even “many years later, a day before his death, when he was already on his death-bed” he could not speak of his unsuccessful ventures without “bitter irony”. [28]

Groups of the Willich-Schapper type are the natural result of undeveloped social relationships. They appear and may have a certain success as long as the proletariat is undeveloped and during its first attempts to achieve its emancipation. “The revolutionary literature that accompanied these first movements of the proletariat had necessarily a reactionary character,” as the Manifesto of the Communist Party says. When, under the influence of more highly developed relationships, a serious socialist literature is at last evolved in the more advanced countries, it is in part the object of more or less peculiar counterfeits in countries which consider their backwardness as a sign of “exceptionalism”; and in part provides the occasion for incorrect interpretations and reactionary practical programmes. Not only in Russia, but in Poland too, and in the East of Europe generally, we now meet or may meet “social–revolutionaries” of the Willich and Schapper fashion. [29] It goes without saying that the further development of the European East is discrediting their “expectations from the revolution” just as it discredited the expectations of Willich and Schapper in Germany.

Author’s Footnotes

11. Written in the early 1840s.

12. [Italics by Plekhanov.]

13. Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England, S.13-14. [26*]

14. Dieu et l’Etat, Geneva 1882, pp.92-93.

15. «Антропологический принцип в философии», стр.2-3. [The Anthropological Principle in Philosophy, pp.2-3.] [27*]

16. «Судьбы капитализма в России», предисловие, стр.6. [The Destinies of Capitalism in Russia, Preface, p.6] [28*]

17. “Although all workers, whatever profession they belonged to, had essentially the same interests,” Simon said of the medieval workers’ associations, “and should therefore have formed a single general association... instead of that, their spirit of antagonism prevailed over the spirit of association, and division did not cease to reign among them. The struggle that took place between the journeymen of the different associations must have dated to their very foundation ... Considering these deadly combats, which were provoked without cause and waged without reason, who would not be temped to believe that the sad words of the gloomy philosopher, ‘Man is wolf to man’, were not said of one of these associations.” Etude historique et morale sur le compagnonage, by J. Simon, Paris 1853, pp.43-44. It must be admitted that it was very difficult for capitalism to “undermine” such a moral unity of the workers” in the preceding period!

18. Misère de la philosophie, p.16. [34*]

19. Ibid., p.48. [35*]

20. Levasseur, Histoire des classes ouvrières en France, Vol.2, pp.174-75.

21. See Henry W. Farnam, Die innere französische Gewerbepolitik von Colbert bis Turgot, S.17.

22. See Histoire du commerce français, par Ch. Perigot, Paris 1884.

23. Die neuere Nationalökonomie, von Dr. Moritz Meyer.

24. See Das nationale System der politischen Ökonomie, von Friedrich List, zweite Auflage, 1842, B.I, Kap.9. Cf. also Geschichte der Nationalökonomie, von Eisenhart, III.Buch, 2.Kapitel.

25. Das nationale System, etc., S.18-19.

26. List, ibid., S.560-61.

27. However, it is hardly possible that even the Schapper group has ever published a proclamation like the famous one in Ukrainian on the occasion of the anti-Jewish disorders, a proclamation with which the editors of Narodnaya Volya declared their complete solidarity and which was the vilest flattery of national prejudices of the Russian people. [42*]

28. See Enthüllungen über den Kommunisten-Prozess zu Köln von Karl Marx, second edition, which we take all the above-cited details from.

29. [Note to the 1905 edition.] These lines were written when we could not become clear about the trend of the “organ of the international social-revolutionary party” (?) Walka Klass. [43*] Now, after the publication of three issues of this paper, it can be said with assurance that it has made the dissemination of “theories” after the Willich and Schapper fashion its main aim. However, one must be very careful when talking about the theories characterising such a trend, for, as Marx noted, “die Partei Schapper-Willich hat nie auf die Ehre Anspruch gemacht, eigne Ideen zu besitzen. Was ihr gehört, ist das eigentümliche Missverständnis fremder Ideen, die sich als Glaubensartikel fixiert und als Phrase sich angeeignet zu haben meint.” [44*]


24*. K. Marx and F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party. Cf. Selected Works, Vol.1, Moscow 1958, pp.36-39.

25*. Cf. Letter of January 6, 1873, in Briefe und sozial-politische Aufsatze von Dr. Rodbertus-Jagetzow, edited by Rud. Meyer, Berlin 1882, Bd.I, S.291.

26*. K. Marx and F. Engels, On Britain, Moscow 1953, p.38.

27*. N.G. Chernyshevsky, Collected Works, Vol.VII, Goslitizdat Publishing House, 1950, p.223.

28*. V.V. (Vorontsov)’s book The Destinies of Capitalism in Russia was published in 1882.

29*. Quotation from Goethe’s Faust.

30*. Quotation from K. Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow, p.197.

31*.The iron law of wages” – a dogma of bourgeois political economy based on Malthus’ reactionary population theory. It was Lassalle who described it as “iron”. Marx expounded this law as follows:

“According to them, wages rise in consequence of accumulation of capital. The higher wages stimulate the working population to more rapid multiplication, and this goes on until the labour-market becomes too full, and therefore capital, relatively to the supply of labour, becomes insufficient. Wages fall, and now we have the reverse of the medal.” (K. Marx, Capital, Vol.I, Moscow, 1958, p.637.)

Proceeding from the doctrine that wages find in the growth of the population “natural”, “inherent” limits, bourgeois economists maintained that the poverty and unemployment of the working classes were the fault not of the capitalist mode of production, but of nature. Both in Capital and his Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx proved that “the iron law”, as opposed to the Lassallean theory of wages, is completely unfounded.

32*. Quotation from Tikhomirov’s article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? (Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.2, 1884, p.240.)

33*. The first edition has “Western”.

34*. K. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow, p. 45.

35*. Ibid., pp.75-76.

36*. The Peace of Nymwegen was concluded between France and the Netherlands in 1678.

37*. The Peace of Versailles was signed on September 3, 1783, between the USA and its allies, France, Spain and Holland, on the one side, and England on the other.

38*. Quotation from Friedrich List, Das nationale System der politischen Oekonomie, 2-te Aufl., Stuttgart und Tübingen 1842, Bd.1, Kap.9, S.154.

39*. Ibid., S.155.

40*. Communist League – the first organisation of the revolutionary proletariat, founded by Marx and Engels in the summer of 1847 in London. Marx and Engels were charged by this organisation to write the Manifesto of the Communist Party which was published in February 1848. The defeat of the revolution in Germany 1848-1849 led in 1850 to a split between Marx and Engels’ supporters and the Willich-Schapper group within the Communist League. At the end of 1852, on Marx’s initiative, the League was officially dissolved. The Communist League was one of the predecessors of German Social-Democracy and the First International.

41*. This and the following quotations are from Marx’s article Revelations about the Cologne Communist Trial.

42*. Plekhanov here refers to the proclamation of the Executive Committee of Narodnaya Volya To the Ukrainian People, dated August 30, 1881, in connection with the anti-Jewish pogroms. The editorial board of the paper Narodnaya Volya expressed its solidarity with that proclamation in Home Review. (Narodnaya Volya, No.6, October 23, 1881.) p.209

43*. Walka Klas (The Class Struggle) – organ of the International Social-Revolutionary Party published in Geneva in the Polish language.

44*. K. Marx, Enthüllungen uber den Kommunisten-Prozeß zu Köln (Marx/ Engels, Werke, Bd.8, Berlin, 1969, S.413).

Last updated on 16.10.2006