G.V. Plekhanov

Our Differences

Chapter IV
Capitalism and Our Tasks

1. Character of the Impending Revolution

What was said at the end of the last chapter needs to be explained. The least ambiguous views are erroneously interpreted when the purpose of the interpretation is to defend somebody’s “programme”. We must dot our i’s, because if our opponents do not see the dots they may by “misunderstanding” take the i’s for some other letter. It is always better to draw the conclusions from one’s premises oneself than to rely on the good will of others. Besides, Russian programmatic questions have been adapted so exclusively to our “exceptionalism” that it cannot be considered as a waste of time to examine them from the standpoint from which exceptionalism appears as nothing else but Slavophilism, either “devoted without flattery” [1*] or rebellious and going over to the revolutionary camp. Whether that standpoint is correct or not, whether they who adhere to it argue rightly or wrongly, there can be no doubt, at any rate, that it would be unjust to reproach them with repeating “theories” with which everybody has long been acquainted and many have been bored.

What, then, must a “certain section of the socialists” do once they are convinced of the “historical inevitability of Russian capitalism”? What real profit for the cause of the Russian working class can be drawn from the circumstance that the beginning of the socialist movement in our country almost coincided with the fall of the economic system of the good old times? Those are questions which we are bound to answer.

We shall not forget that obligation. But for the time being it is not our turn to speak, but, as you will remember, Mr. Tikhomirov’s, and he must make use of it in accordance with all laws, both divine and human. We have acquainted ourselves fairly briefly and with great profit with the general principles of his philosophical-historical and socio-political theory. In order to enlighten those who do not understand and to beat “dissenters” Mr. Tikhomirov paraded before us old woman history with her “unbelievable roads”, Western Europe with its capitalism, and finally Mother Russia with her Chinese immobility and her land community. He made both the past and the present clear for us. But can we content ourselves with that? Will we refuse to look into the future?

What does that future hold out for Russia?

It seemed to us that first and foremost it held out the triumph of the bourgeoisie and the beginning of the political and economic emancipation of the working class. This outcome seemed to us to be the most probable in view of many, many facts. We investigated th e present condition of our national economy and came to the conclusion that no reforms whatsoever would save its ancient foundations. But in so reasoning we were forgetting that “at times the history of humanity proceeds by the most unbelievable roads”. Mr. Tikhomirov firmly recalls that basic proposition in his philosophical-historical theory, and, therefore, in his excursions into the realm of the future, he is not embarrassed by the incredibility of the picture he draws. Let us follow him and see whether Narodnaya Volya’s revolution will not be more effective than Narodnik reforms.

The first thing that awaits us on our road is very pleasant news. A revolution is impending in Russia, “we are going towards a catastrophe”. That is very pleasant, although, to tell the truth, one experiences a feeling of fear when Mr. Tikhomirov begins to explain the meaning of this already menacing picture in the highflown style of old Derzhavin. The government’s attempts to retard the revolutionary movement in the country are “only hastening the dawn of the terrible and solemn moment when Russia will enter at high speed” (!) “into the period of revolutionary destruction like a rushing river”, etc. Mr. Tikhomirov writes splendidly! But you canno t feed a nightingale with fables, even if they are written by grandfather Krylov. There is no arguing: “the period of revolutionary destruction” would be a happy period in the history of our country, but we should like to know all the same what the revolution can bring Russia, “what awaits us beyond that mysterious line where the waves of the historic stream seethe and foam”.

“The foundation of the socialist organisation,” Mr. Tikhomirov answers, contrary to the opinion of “some” who presume that it is the “reign of capitalism” that awaits us.

How can one fathom the whims of fortune! Yes, history is really an incredible old woman! It was she who led the “West” through the incredible experience of her “roads”, and yet she has still not freed it from capitalist production; as for us, she has left us in peace, without urging us on for whole centuries, and now she wants to move us straight up to the highest class in her school. What virtues is that a reward for? Perhaps for having sat quiet all that time and not having importuned her with those indiscreet questions at which the “free-tongued” West is such a master?

However, we are beginning to fall into impermissible “freedom of tongue” ourselves. Our scepticism is completely out of place if we consider that history loves occasionally to follow improbable roads just as Khlestakov sometimes loved to “read something amusing”. Credo, quia absurdum. [2*]

Acknowledging as entirely probable the most improbable caprices of the whimsical old woman, we nevertheless permit ourselves a question: What has history at its disposal to fulfil the promise made by Mr. Tikhomirov in its name? Through which countries does the road leading us to the “foundation of socialist organisation” lie?

How will our author answer that question? What will Vestnik, whose editor he is, say?

We ask our readers not to forget that the programme of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli “embraces elements which are to a certain extent not identical with one another”. Each of these elements defends its own existence, each aspires to live and develop, not always without damage to its antagonist. Hence the contradictions and the impossibility of forming a clear idea of this journal’s programme. One thing is obvious: Mr. Tikhomirov does not consider himself bound either by what his co-editor says, or even by what he says himself in cases when the solo gives place to a duet and the honourable P.L. Lavrov joins his voice to Mr. Tikhomirov’s. For instance, according to what Mr. Lavrov says, the Narodnaya Volya party “directs all its energies[1] (our italics) “against the chief enemy who hinders any at all rational approach to the fulfilment of the task” [3*] formulated by one of the members of our group [2] as follows: “to help our working class to develop into a conscious social force, to make up to some extent for the gaps in its historical experience and to fight with it for the emancipation of the entire working population of Russia”. If the reality corresponds to what the honourable author of Historical Letters says, the actual tas k of the Narodnaya Volya party boils down to clearing the way for Russian Social-Democracy of the future. At the same time, that party’s role seems to be entirely negative. It prepares no elements for the organisation of the Russian workers’ party, but “directs all its energies against the chief enemy” who hinders not only the solution but even an approach to the solution of such a question. Which enemy does Mr. Lavrov mean? Everybody will agree that the only such enemy at present can be absolutism, which fetters all the vital forces in Russia; all the more should Narodovoltsi admit this as they have repeatedly expressed in the press the thought that in our country it is not the political structure that is based on a definite kind of economic relations but on the contrary the latter are indebted to absolutism for their existence. But if that is the case, then the Narodnaya Volya party is fighting for no more and no less than the political emancipation of its country, and the “foundation of the socialist organisation of Russia” is naturally put off until such times as the Russian working class forms at last into a conscious social force. In other words, the Narodnaya Volya party is first of all, and mainly, if not solely, a constitutional party because it now “directs all its energies” towards the destruction of absolutism. Does it not seem so? Or perhaps the Narodnaya Volya party is not noted for any “partiality for a constitution”? But then how are we to understand activity which boils down to the struggle against absolutism for the “possible implementation” of the social-democratic tasks in the future? Some Narodnaya Volya writers are not indeed noted for a great partiality for the word constitution. they assert that their party strives for “government by the people”. But the difference between government by the people and a democratic constitution is just as great as that between galoshes and rubber shoes – it is no more than the replacement of the awkward Russian word by the current foreign one. And besides, in every civilised society, democracy, or, if you like, government by the people, presupposes a certain political education in the people, unless, of course, “government by the people” means government by a group of persons who speculate on the will of the people. It means that a democratic constitution is an aim which is not yet so near and can be attained only by rallying the class of producers in a democratic party of its own. But in Russia the “chief enemy” hinders even “any at all rational approach” to the fulfilment of the social and political tasks of the working class. So down with the “enemy”! Long live “partiality” for political freedom, and consequently for a constitution! The activity of the Narodnaya Volya party thus acquires a clear and definite meaning.

Such are the logical conclusions we come to when we read P.L. Lavrov’s bibliographical note. Everything here is clear, although perhaps not everything attracts the sympathy of this or that reader. Unfortunately bibliographical notes are not enough to make clear the trend of a “social-political” journal, and the only reason we here refer to Mr. Lavrov’s note is that it contains a direct answer to our group. The leading articles themselves and the outright statements by the editorial board of Vestnik only confuse the question of the actual trend of the paper. Take the Announcement of its publication and read the lines on the method of achieving the general aims of socialism and you will think you are dealing with “convinced” Social-Democrats. “These aims, which are common to all socialists,” say Messrs, the Editors, “can be attained only in one way” (note, reader!):“the working class – in town and country – must gradually rally and organise into a social force united by common interests and striving for common aims; this force must, in the process of rallying, gradually undermine the existing economic and political system, consolidating its own organisation as a result of its very struggle and growing in might until it finally succeeds in overthrowing the existing system.” The authors of the Announcement even add that “socialist-revolutionaries in all countries are at one in their awareness of the necessity of this way”. One could think in view of this that “Russian socialism as expressed in the Narodnaya Volya party” is neither more nor less than Russian Social-Democracy. The Announcement obviously explains the tasks of the Narodnaya Volya party still more clearly than P.L. Lavrov’s bibliographical note did and comes even closer than the latter to the views of “thinking socialists” in all civilised countries. We know, however, that Russians often have two measures, two criterions, to appraise social phenomena – one for the “West” and another for domestic use. Never refusing to sympathise with the most progressive ideals of “Europe”, the Russian often contrives to add to his profession of human faith a “but” so full of meaning that the ideals that are so dear to him are transformed into something quite unrecognisable. Needless to say, the Announcement which now claims our attention does not dispense with such a “but”, and nothing definite can be said about Vestnik’s programme until it completes its difficult passage from West to East. Let us look at the Announcement from this dangerous side, and rather more attentively too, for its authors are Russians and probably nothing that is Russian is alien to them. “But the programme of Russian socialism,” we read on the same page V of the Announcement, “cannot limit itself to these general aspirations of socialism at present and in the given conditions. History has set before every social group in our time these same tasks in a different form, according to the economic, juridical and cultural conditions surrounding it. The Narodnaya Volya party is convinced that these tasks are now inevitably set before the subjects of the Russian Empire in the form of the necessity of changing the political structure of Russia to make possible the further healthy development of every progressive party, including” (our italics) “the socialist party” ... That is why “side by side with socialist aims, which form the essence of the Russian socialist party’s programme, this programme includes an immediate task – to prepare for and hasten a change in Russia’s political structure”.

It must be admitted that this first “but” accompanying the setting forth of the “general socialist aims of the Russian socialist party” is enough to make them particularly vague and indefinite. A real equation with many unknowns! The reader is left completely in the dark as to what the editors understand by “a change in Russia’s political structure”. Is it the “government by the people” mentioned by Messrs. Tikhomirov and K.T. [5*] or the overthrow of the “chief enemy”, etc., i.e., simply the fall of absolutism? And why does this “immediate task” stand “side by side with the general socialist aims” and not follow from them by way of logical consequence? We can only guess at all this. Many of our guesses will be probable, but not one will be indisputable. And in fact, the editors say that the “change” that is desirable to them must make “possible the further healthy development of every progressive party, including the socialist party”. Which, then, are the other “progressive parties”? Apparently the bourgeois ones. But the “healthy development” of the bourgeois parties in the field of politics is unthinkable without a corresponding “further healthy development” in the economic field. Does that mean that bour geois development will be progressive for Russia? That is what apparently follows from the editors’ works. As for us, we are prepared, with some, very substantial, it is true, reservations, to agree with that opinion. However, it is not a question of us but of one of the authors of the Announcement, Mr. Tikhomirov, who, as we know, recommends that his readers should “not idolise private business capital”. From what he says about what exactly “such capital will be able to do for Russia” it follows that the “further healthy development” of the bourgeois parties will perhaps be a net loss for Russia. And besides, the Announcement hastens to state that the socialist party (like all the other parties, we will note in passing) considers itself to be the “representative of pure and the only possible progress”. Does that mean that there are no other progressive parties? But then why speak of their “further healthy development”?

If, in the opinion of the Russian socialist party, the “change in Russia’s political structure” must take place in the interests of the progressive parties, and if, at the same time, there are no other progressive parties but the socialist party, the “change” referred to will take place exclusively in the interests of the latter. In other works, the impending revolution m ust lead at least to the victory of the “government by the people” mentioned above, i.e., to the political domination of the “working class in town and country”. But “socialist-revolutionaries in all countries are at one in their awareness” of the truth that the working class can only “gradually undermine the existing economic and political system”, and, therefore, also “gradually” bring nearer the time of its domination. In exactly the same way, “socialist-revolutionaries in all countries” agree, as the editors say,that the socialist revolution can be attained “only in one way” – by gradually rallying and organising the working class into a “social force”, etc. Perhaps Vestnik Narodnoi Voli sees such organisation as the chief task of the Russian socialists? But we already know that in present-day Russia, according to Mr. Lavrov, there is a certain “chief enemy” who hinders “any at all rational approach to the fulfilment of such a task”. And as long as this task is not fulfilled, the socialist revolution is impossible – and so is government by the people. So this is not what the editors mean when they speak of a “change in Russia’s political structure”? But what do they mean, then, by this mysterious change? Not that same constitution “partiality” for which is “somewhat incomprehensible” to Mr. Tikhomirov? For which progressive parties is the Narodnaya Volya party making “possible the further healthy development”? Not the party of “private business capital”?

How clear everything was in the “West”, and how dark everything has become in the East! And all this darkening is due to a single “but” accompanying the setting forth of the “general aims of socialism”. What a mysterious power does that small work have?

The matter is quite simple.

It is precisely from the point we are interested in that the process begins thanks to which the component elements of Vestnik’s programme prove to be “to a certain” (even rather significant) “extent not identical with one another”. The East enters into a struggle with the West as soon as the setting forth of the “general aims of socialism” and the only way leading to their fulfilment is ended. And this struggle, smouldering and hidden at the beginning, rages in full fury in the article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? In it “doubts are expressed” over the West. On the occasion of its history Mr. Tikhomirov goes into long and rather “hazardous” arguments on the “hazardous” and “unbelievable roads” of history in general, and finally the only way to the victory of socialism which the Announcement points out is transformed into a stereotyped edition of the late Nabat’s programme merely supplemented with a few illustrations of Mr. Tikhomirov’s exceptionalism. Everything is changed beyond recognition, everything is transformed into its opposite on this side of the small “but” which separates the western territory of the editorial world outlook from the eastern or, to be more exact, the views in communal ownership by Messrs, the Editors from those which arc Mr. Tikhomirov’s private property. And all this transsubstantiation is effected by means of a few more “buts” picked out of articles by P.N. Tkachov. Needless to say, an argument which is not convincing on the lips of Nabat’s editor will not become any more convincing on the pages of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli. But it is always pleasant to meet old acquaintances, and if only for that reason we could not resist the temptation to draw the reader’s attention to Mr. Tikhomirov’s arguments.

Like a true follower of Blanqui, or rather of Tkachov, when Mr. Tikhomirov sets out to discuss some revolutionary question he first of all tries to substitute his own will for historical development, to replace the initiative of the class by that of a committee and to change the cause of the whole working population of the country into the cause of a secret organisation. It is not easy to perform such tricks before the eyes of people at all acquainted with the propaganda of modern socialism or even only half convinced that “the emancipation of the workers must be conquered by the workers themselves”. That is why our author tries to prove that the cause of the Executive Committee will be the cause of the whole people, not only as interests go but also as far as will and consciousness are concerned. Forced to admit that historical development has so far but little promoted the elaboration of socialist consciousness and revolutionary (not merely rebellious) tendencies in the Russian people, he endeavours with all the more zeal to convince us of the stability and unshakability of the prehistoric forms of the Russian way of life and outlook.

The economic revolution which the West is approaching after a long and difficult movement proves to be very close to us because of our centuries of stagnation. But as a certain knowledge of history can arouse doubts about that closeness, the reader is reminded that the ways of history “have sometimes been too crooked and the most hazardous that could be imagined”. The peculiarity of our Bakuninists’ favourite scheme of Russian social development thus becomes a manner of guarantee for its probability. And in a similar way, the necessity of giving a class character to the struggle for the economic emancipation of the workers is also avoided.

Here too, all difficulties are successfully overcome by contrasting Russia to the West. In the West, there are classes which are sharply divided economically, and powerful and united politically. There the state itself is the result of the class struggle and its weapon in the hands of the victors. That is why the only way in which it is possible to win state power there is to oppose one class to another and to vanquish the victors. In our country it is different. Here the attitude of society to the state is the direct opposite of what it is in Western Europe. Here it is not the class struggle that gives rise to the given state structure, but, on the contrary, that structure itself brings into existence the different classes with their struggle and antagonism. If the state decided to change its policy, the upper classes, deprived of its support, would be condemned to perish, and the popular foundations of primitive collectivism would be given the possibility of “further healthy development”. But the government of the Romanovs is neither willing nor able to renounce its landlord-bourgeois traditions, whereas we are both willing and able to do so, being inspired by the ideals of economic equality and “government by the people”. So down with the Romanovs and long live our Committees is the invariable line of argument of the Russian Jacobins, whether in the original, i.e., in the Letter to Frederick Engels, or in the “copy”, i.e., in the article What Can We Expect from the Revolution?

We have already said that the basic premises of Tkachov’s programme are borrowed from the same source that the Russian anarchists derived their political wisdom from. Bakuninist theories lay at the basis of both groups’ teachings. But we know that Bakunin’s influence did not end there. He had pupils in the “West” too, i.e., in the very countries which he so readily contrasted with Russia. And it is remarkable that the Western followers of the author of Statehood and Anarchy attribute to the state the same overwhelming role in the history of the relations of their “West European” classes as Messrs. Tkachov and Tikhomirov ascribe to it in Russia alone, “as distinct”, so to speak, from other countries. “Suppress government dictatorship”, says Arthur Arnoult to the French workers, “and there will be facing one another only men of the same kind, only economic forces whose balance would be immediately established by a simple law of statics ... It is, therefore, the state, and the state alone, that is the cause of your weakness and your misery, just as it is the cause of the strength and the impertinent presumption of the others.” [3] In this case the Western anarchists reason with greater courage and logic than the Russian Bakuninists and Tkachovists. In the history of every country without exception they reduce to nil the significance of the economic factor which their Russian “partners” hold to be condemned to inactivity only in Russia. The distinctive feature of Russian exceptionalism is thus turned into a cosmopolitan spectre of anarchist ignorance. The objective condition for the development of one country proves to be a subjective defect, a logical blunder of “a certain section of the socialists” in all civilised peoples.

Losing, as a result of this, a considerable portion of their exceptionalism, the arguments of the Russian Jacobins are not, however, lacking in a certain instructiveness. Not saying anything new about how we must consider our reality, they show perfectly well by their own example how we must not consider it, how we must not interpret its characteristic aspects.

In the Russian Jacobins’ usual way Mr. Tikhomirov tries to prove to his rea ders that, as Tkachov once put it, “the time we are passing through is particularly favourable for the social revolution”. He analyses the present-day balance of all the social forces under conditions prevailing in Russia and comes to the conclusion that nothing can come of the impending revolution but “the foundation of the socialist organisation of Russia”. He did not need to go far for proofs. The Letter to Frederick Engels is a concentrate of Russian Jacobin arguments which has preserved for a whole decade all the charm of freshness and novelty for many, many readers. This concentrate has only to be dissolved in hot water of eloquence and it gives forth all the “expectations from the revolution” typical of Mr. Tikhomirov. Let us take a closer look at this simplified way of preparing a “new” programme. We shall start with the political “factor”.

What do we find in the Tkachov preserves on this point?

The reader will naturally remember the extensive excerpts made above from the Open Letter to Frederick Engels. He will not have forgotten Tkachov’s conviction that although “we have no urban proletariat, but, on the other hand, we have no bourgeoisie at all. Between the s uffering people and the state which oppresses them we have no intermediate estate.” And it is this absence of a bourgeoisie that Mr. Tikhomirov takes as the foundation of all his political arguments.

According to him our bourgeoisie is negligible economically and powerless politically. As for the people, they have “certain points on which they cannot be divided into groups but, on the contrary, always appear unanimous” (p.251). The first of these points turns out to be their “idea of the supreme power”. The fact is that the “supreme power in the view of the people is the representative of the whole people, certainly not of classes. Only the unshatterable firmness of this conviction provided support for the power of the tsars themselves.” And it is this conviction that our supreme power represents the whole people that strengthens Mr. Tikhomirov’s faith in the not distant triumph of government by the people. The transition to the latter from the autocracy of the tsars “is nothing original [?]. The French people went in exactly the same way without any difficulty [?!] from the idea of the autocracy of a king who could say ‘l’etat c’est moi’ to the idea of the peuple souverain. The domination of the self-governing people could not be set up in fact there because of the power of the bourgeoisie”; but we have no bourgeoisie and therefore nothing prevents the triumph of government by the people in our country “provided the autocracy does not maintain itself long enough to give the bourgeoisie time to acquire the strength necessary to organise our entire production on capitalist principles”. But “in its present chaotic condition Russia can hardly wait until the bourgeoisie becomes so constituted that it can put any order, even bourgeois, in that chaos” ... Therefore, “if we live to see the destruction of the present system before this, the bourgeoisie has none of the requisites for seizing political power”.

Hence we see that the “time we are passing through” is indeed very favourable for the social revolution; on the one hand, “Russia can hardly wait”, and, on the other, there is absolutely nobody but the people, and perhaps the revolutionary party, who can seize power. P.N. Tkachov was perfectly right when he said that the social revolution would be “now, or in a very remote fu ture, perhaps never”. But in that case P.L. Lavrov was wrong when he qualified this assurance as speculation on the ignorance of Russian readers.

We also see that on the question of the “political factor” it did not cost Mr. Tikhomirov much trouble to warm up Tkachov’s arguments. He only had to complete P.N. Tkachov’s general arguments on the power of the Western and the powerlessness of the Russian bourgeoisie with a particular example. This example was provided for him by the great revolution thanks to which, in all probability, the French people would have become self–governing had they not been prevented by the power of the bourgeoisie.

“Happy are those who have an absolute principle,” said N.G. Chernyshevsky. “They need neither to observe facts nor to think, they have a ready-made medicine for every disease, and the same medicine for every one, like the famous doctor who said to every patient: purgare et clystirizare ... Many people have such talisman For the ‘man of importance’ to whom Akaky Akakiyevich [6*] applied about the theft of his overcoat, the talisman was a ‘good scolding’. For the economists of the backward school that talisman is the charming motto: ’non-intervention of the state’.” Finally, we shall add on our part, for the “Russian socialists” of a no less backward school the talisman is the “ bourgeoisie”. References to the weakness or complete absence of the bourgeoisie give the answer to all the most difficult questions of the past, present and future. Mr. Tikhomirov is not the last among the happy possessors of this philosophic stone. Why was not “ government by the people” set up in France? Because it was prevented by the “power of the bourgeoisie”. Why will it be set up in our country when the people “become disappointed in the autocracy of the tsars”? Because our bourgeoisie is weak. Why is it that in the West the only way of putting into effect the “aims common to all socialists” is the slow and gradual road of organising the working class in town and country into a “conscious social force”, whereas in our country “it is sometimes said” that the “seizure of power by the revolutionaries” may provide the “starting-point of the revolution”, which, in turn, will be the starting-point of the “socialist organisation of Russia”? Once again because in our country the bourgeoisie is very weak and in the West it is very strong. Purgare et clystirizare – how the theory of medicine is simplified, how easy practice is made by this talisman! Unfortunately social questions are a little more complicated than those of medicine, and, therefore, publicists who resemble Molière’s physician should have provided themselves with more ingenious talismans. You can bet that the key which the “Russian socialists” have will not open for them the door of many historical questions. Why did not the Spanish people, when they became disappointed in the “autocracy of the emperors” pass “without difficulty” to the idea of self-government of the people? It is true that Spain is one of the most “Western” countries in Europe; but even Mr. Tikhomirov would not dare to attribute great strength to the Spanish bourgeoisie, particularly at the beginning of the present century. And what is more, even the “principles of communal land tenure” were, and still are, far more widespread in Spain than in any other heretical land, as is proved by the recent investigations of Mr. Luchitsky. [7*] Try as you like, but you will not open this door with Mr. Tikhomirov’s key!

We take the liberty o f coming to the help of the “Russian socialists” in these difficult circumstances. If two heads are better than one, we are just as much entitled to say that two talismans are also better than one, even if it is a good one. Why, then, not add to the “bourgeoisie” another no less magic word, for instance Catholicism, protestantism or non-orthodox confession generally. It is true this talisman is not new and has been rather worn out by the conservative Slavophiles, all the same, it is hardly less universal than the “bourgeoisie”. For it is still very doubtful, whether it is true that there is no bourgeoisie in our country, and if there is, whether it is “weaker” than the bourgeoisie in all the Western countries and in all the times of “disappointment of the people in the autocracy of the tsars”; but orthodoxy is beyond doubt a “truly and strongly Russian” feature, quite alien to the European West. It should be easy to decide by means of orthodoxy what hindered the “setting up in fact of the domination of the self-governing people” in Spain in the twenties, although there was no strong bourgeoisie there. It would be sufficient to point to catholicism. Really, you should try, gentlemen!

However, far be it from us to think of belittling the importance of Mr. Tikhomirov’s talisman; not only do we know its worth, we even wan t to try and apply it ourselves. Why do “thinking” socialists in the West know what they are talking about and not carry Mr. Tikhomirov’s confusion into the questions they analyse? Is it not because the bourgeoisie in the West is stronger than ours? It seems very much so! Where the bourgeoisie is strong the economic development of the country is great and all social relations are clear and well defined. And where social relations are clear there is no room for fantastic solutions of political questions; that is why in the “West” only people who are hopeless from the intellectual point of view are characterised by the “anarchy of thinking” which is often a feature even of the “convinced and thinking socialists” in Russia. So if Mr. Tikhomirov writes bad publicistic articles it is not he but the weakness of our bourgeoisie that is to blame. The reader will see that our author’s favourite little key occasionally opens very complicated little caskets.

Although Mr. Tikhomirov’s arguments have no “originality” about them, they are amazing none the less for their “hazardous” character. Where did he get the conclusion that supreme power, in the idea of the people, is “representation”. So far we have had the impression that the present “idea of the people of the supreme power” is explained by the fact that the people have no idea at all about representation. The subjects of the Shah of Persia, the Khedive of Egypt or the Emperor of China have absurd prejudices about supreme power in their countries similar to those of the Russian peasants. Does it follow from this that the Persians, Egyptians and Chinese will pass with the same ease to the “idea of the peuple souverain”? If so, the farther eastward we go the closer we get to the triumph of government by the people. Further, why does Mr. Tikhomirov think that “having become disappointed in the autocracy of the tsars” our people cannot be anything but supporters of their own autocracy? Did an erroneous conception of the substance of absolutism ever guarantee any individual or whole people against erroneous conceptions of the substance of a limited monarchy or a bourgeois republic? “The millions of the people,” Mr. Tikhomirov says, “will rise like one man against the class state if only that character becomes at all noticeable.” But the fact of the matter is precisely that the people’s awareness of the shortcomings of the present is not enough to supply the correct conception of the future. Was not the absolute monarchy a “class state” in our country just as everywhere else? Even Mr. Tikhomirov admits in our history “the existence of the nobility as the real ruling estate “ at least since the Ukase o Volnosti. [8*] And did not the people give precisely the influence and even a direct conspiracy of the nobles and officials as an explanation of all our legislation’s decrees which were unfavourable to the people and all the measures of tyranny and oppression taken by the administration? That being the case, the class character of our monarchy was very noticeable. We think that the protest against the class state is conspicuous in the whole of our history. It is true that “millions rose” against it, although, unfortunately, far from “like one man” as Mr. Tikhomirov prophesies in regard to the future. But what came of those protests? Did they abolish the “class state” or lead the people to the conviction that the existing “supreme power” did not correspond to their political ideals? If not, what guarantee have we against the continuation of such a sad history under constitutional monarchy too? The people’s disappointment in the “autocracy of the tsars”? But what will that save the people from? What will it prevent? For the weak side of the people’s political outlook consists, Mr. Tikhomirov says, in the conclusions, not the premises. If we are to believe our author, the Russian people know quite well what the supreme power should be; they demand that it be “representative of the whole people” and get confused only in cases when they have to determine whether a given form of state conforms to their ideals. After noticing one error they can fall into another no less unfortunate or gross. They may not know under what conditions their own supreme rights will cease to be vain and hypocritical works, a mask hiding the political domination of the upper classes. Does Mr. Tikhomirov admit that the Russian people can really not know those conditions? For our part, we shall have no hesitation in answering that question in the affirmative: not only is it possible, it is even probable that they do not know. And if they do not know, they will make mistakes; and if they make mistakes – and inasmuch as they make mistakes – the ideals Mr. Tikhomirov attributes to them will not be put into effect, i.e., the people will not become self-governing. Mr. Tikhomirov thinks that such political failures by the people are possible only in the “West”, but are unthinkable in his beloved East, in countries which the care of history has saved from the ulcer of capitalism. It would be reasonable and consoling if the people’s political notions were not so closely connected with their economic development. Unfortunately, there is not the slightest doubt about that connection and the people are disappointed in the “autocracy of the tsars” only when the economic relations lose their primitive character and become more or less bourgeois; but simultaneously with this the bourgeoisie begins to gain strength, i.e., the immediate transition to self-government of the people becomes impossible. It is true that Mr. Tikhomirov consoles us with considerations about Russia’s exceptional development. But firstly, no historical peculiarities of our country will free it from the action of universal social laws, and secondly, we already know that the economic reality in present-day Russia by no means corroborates the political paradoxes of the editor of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli. The people’s disappointment in the autocracy of the tsars is only beginning to appear probable, while the growing disintegration of the village community and the penetration of bourgeois principles into the people’s life is already an indubitable and indisputable fact. What if such a parallel is maintained in the future? By the time the people break completely with tsarism the bourgeoisie may have become almighty. Where shall we then get “government by the people” from?

We would draw Mr. Tikhomirov’s attention to the fact that we oppose self-government of the people to the supremacy of the bourgeoisie only because he himself found it convenient to do so. In substance, however, we think that such opposition can have a meaning only in exceptional cases. Political self-government of the people does not in any way guarantee them against economic enslavement and does not preclude the possibility of capitalism developing in the country. The canton of Zurich is one of the most democratic and at the same time one of the most bourgeois in Switzerland. A democratic constitution becomes an instrument for the social emancipation of the people only when the natural course of the development of economic relationships makes it impossible for the upper classes to continue to dominate. Thus, in the advanced countries production is becoming more and more collectivised, whereas the private appropriation of its products by employers gives rise to a whole series of morbid convulsions in the entire social and economic organism. Th e people are beginning to understand the cause of these convulsions and therefore will in all probability sooner or later make use of political power for their economic emancipation. But let us imagine another phase in social development; let us picture to ourselves a country in which large-scale industry is as yet only aspiring to supremacy while commodity production has already become the basis of the economy; in other words, let us transport ourselves into a petty-bourgeois country. What economic tasks will face the “self-governing people in that case”? Primarily, and exclusively, the task of guaranteeing the interests of the small individual producers, since that is the class which forms the majority of the people. But following that path you cannot avoid either capitalism or the domination of the big bourgeoisie, for the objective logic of commodity production itself will take care to transform the small individual producers into wage-labourers on the one side and bourgeois employers on the other. When that transformation has taken place, the working class will of course use all political means in a deadly fight against the bourgeoisie. But then the mutual relations of the classes in society will become sharply defined, the working class will take the place of “the people” and self-government of the people will change into the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Hence it follows that the degree to which a particular people is prepared for true and genuine democracy is determined by the degree of its economic development. Sharply defined economic relations determine no less sharply defined political groupings, the antagonism between labour and capital gives rise to the struggle between the workers’ and the bourgeois parties. And the development of the productive forces brings this struggle closer to its end and guarantees the victory of the proletariat. So it has been and still is in all the “Western” countries.

But Messrs, the Slavophile revolutionaries are not pleased that it should be exactly so with Russia. Just as the Russian peasant does not like written laws and strives to do everything as he wishes, “according to his taste”, so the Russian intellectual is afraid of historical laws and appeals to exceptionalism, to the “subjective method in sociology” and the like, i.e., in substance to the same “taste”. Considered from the standpoint of “taste” history receives a very peculiar colouring. It appears as nothing but a series of intrigues of the wicked against the good, the advent of the “kingdom of God” upon earth being hindered only by the strength of the wicked and the weakness of the good. Needless to say, as a result of their corruption the wicked cannot establish a firm and lasting alliance among themselves. They fight not only against the good, but among themselves too, forming groups and factions and wrenching the “helm of government” from one another. This internecine war in the camp of the wicked is, of course, all to the profit of the good, for whom the “time” when one group of the wicked is no longer strong enough to retain power, while the others are not yet strong enough to seize it, is especially favourable. Then happiness becomes possible and close, and only slight efforts on the part of the good are needed to establish at least “government by the people”. Kind and sensitive in substance, “Russian socialism as expressed” in the articles of P.N. Tkachov and Mr. Tikhomirov likes to flatter itself with the hope that at the “time we are passing through” Russia is precisely in this period of interregnum of the wicked and the vicious, of the exhaustion of absolutism and the powerlessness of the bourgeoisie.

We went to no small pains in the foregoing pages to destroy this naively optimistic aspect of the Russian revolutionary outlook. But as Mr. Tikhomirov will all the same be inclined to agree with his teacher P.N. Tkachov more than with us, his political opponents, we oppose to the authority of the editor of Nabat that of a colleague of our author on the editorial board of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli. Mr. Lavrov will probably not refuse to stand by the thoughts expressed in the leading article of Vperyod No.27. The author of this splendid article maintains that “in Russia the capitalist system is growing luxuriantly and rapidly with all its consequences”; that “this is not denied by the champions of the present system any more than by its opponents”, and finally that the socialists see in these phenomena but a “fatal process for which there is only one cure: the development of the capitalist system itself must give rise to and prepare for the upheaval that will sweep that system away”. Mr. Lavrov is completely justified in asking Mr. Tikhomirov where Russian capitalism and the Russian bourgeoisie, which certainly existed during the time of the London Fortnightly Review, have disappeared. And if he manages to convince his colleague that capitalism is not a needle and that it could not have got lost in the bustle of Russian life, Mr. Tikhomirov himself will see from which side danger threatens Russian “government by the people”, which was supposed to succeed directly tsarist autocracy. Where “the capitalist system develops luxuriantly and rapidly with all its consequences” the bourgeoisie can always be strong enough to prevent – as was the case in France, according to Mr. Tikhomirov – the actual establishment of the “domination of the self-governing people”.

If the author of the article we quoted from No.27 of Vperyod was right when he spoke of the rapid development of capitalism in Russia, Mr. Tikhomirov is wrong when he supposes that precisely the present-day economic relations are highly favourable for laying the “foundation of the socialist organisation in our country”. In this case, too, his arguments are nothing but slight variations on themes of Tkachov and Bakunin.

P.N. Tkachov, we know, wrote to Engels: “Our people are ignorant – that is a fact ... But on the other hand, the immense majority of them are imbued with the principles of communal land tenure; they are, if we may put it that way, communist by instinct, by tradition!”

Faithfully echoing Tkachov, Mr. Tikhomirov assures us that “there are enough factors in the people’s concepts and usages for the successful organisation of their forces. The peasant is capable of arranging his self-government, he is capable of taking communal possession of the land and disposing of it in a social manner.” [4] From the fact that communal land tenure exists in Russia the editor of Nabat concludes that despite their ignorance our people are far nearer to socialism than the peoples of the West. The editor of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli could not bring himself to follow his teacher to such extreme conclusions, but he naturally did not fail to remind his readers that “our peasants are just as clearly conscious of the people’s right to the land and of the social character of this instrument of labour as the European proletarian is conscious of his right to the factory of the proprietor”. With his poor knowledge of the historical philosophy of modern socialism Mr. Tikhomirov cannot for the life of him understand the simple truth that the “European proletarian’s consciousness of his right to the factory of the proprietor” is not the only important thing for the socialist revolution. There was a time when the Roman proletarians also had a fairly clear consciousness of “their right” to the latifundia of the rich, the origin of which was the seizure of state lands and the expropriation of the small landowners; but even had they been able to put their right into effect, it would by no means have resulted in socialism. The socialist revolution is prepared and made easier not by this or that mode of ownership, but by the development of the productive forces and the organisation of production. It is precisely in giving this organisation social character that the historical preparatory significance of capitalism consists, a significance which Mr. Tikhomirov reduces, in the words of Mr. V.V., to the “mechanical union of the workers”. Neither P.N. Tkachov, nor Mr. V.V. nor Mr. Tikhomirov, and finally none of the Narodniks or Bakuninists have put themselves out to prove to us that the Russian people just as “clearly understands” the necessity for the social organisation of production as the “European proletarian”. And yet that is the whole point. Mr. Tikhomirov should remember once and for all that it is not the organisation of production that is determined by juridical standards but juridical standards by the organisation of production. This is vouched for by the whole social history of all peoples, not excluding the least civilised and most exceptionalist. If that is so, and if there is no room for capitalism in Russia, then, when we compare Russia with the West, we must proceed not from the effect, but from the cause, not from the dominant type of land tenure, but from the dominant character of land cultivation, its organisation and the impending changes in it, for it is on these changes that the fate of the forms of land tenure themselves depends. Let Mr. Tikhomirov try and prove to us that the same tendency now predominates in our agriculture as in the modern mechanised industry of the capitalist countries, i.e., the tendency to planned organisation within the limits of the state at least. If he succeeds in doing so, the economic aspect of what he expects from the revolution will acquire quite considerable importance. In the opposite event all his economic and political considerations and contrasts boil down to the worn-out method of solving all our social problems, so to speak, by excluding the bourgeoisie; as for the foundation of the “socialist organisation of Russia”, it loses all connection with the “not very distant time” of the “catastrophe” awaiting us and is again postponed to a more or less hazy future.

Have we said enough? If not we shall again resort to the assistance of our dear P.L. Lavrov. “For the overwhelming majority of the Russian people,” says that excellent article in No.27 of Vperyod, “the inherited feeling of solidarity of the village community or the artel in its different forms is confined to the narrowest limits, beyond which begins the field of rivalry and struggle for existence between starving groups hemmed in on all sides. In this majority the ancient tradition that the land belongs to him who cultivates it, the ancient hatred for immediate exploiters of the people’s labour ... could not grow into awareness of the necessity for economic communism; this majority cannot be clear as to the enormous difference there would be in future society if in a successful popular outbreak the economic upheaval were limited to a redistribution of property” (he should have said of the means of production), “and not the unconditional recognition of its social character.” The author of these words correctly supposes that “a redistribution of property, instead of its social character, would inevitably lead to the elaboration of a new division of the classes, to a new system of exploitation, and consequently to the restoration of bourgeois society in a new form”. Indeed, “the right of all the people to the land” is by no means a condition for the social character of the movable means of production, and, therefore, admits of inequality in their distribution and of the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Precisely the disintegrating influence of movable private property led to the decay of the primitive forms of collectivism.

What will the former editor of Vperyod say to that? Will he continue to admit the correctness of the argument just advanced, or has he “accomplished” such a “considerable evolution in his socio-political convictions” that he now shares the views of P.N. Tkachov and Mr. Tikhomirov, which are incompatible with that argument?

A straightforward and categorical answer to this question would be of very considerable importance. Indeed, if the people’s awareness of their “right to the land” cannot be a sufficiently firm basis on which to lay the “foundation of the socialist organisation of Russia”, all Mr. Tikhomirov’s practical conclusions lose their entire meaning and significance. If the people are not clearly aware of the most essential conditions for their economic emancipation, that emancipation itself is unthinkable and consequently the seizure of power by the revolutionaries cannot “provide the starting-point” for the anti-bourgeois revolution which Mr. Tikhomirov expects. Which means that we must speak not of “what we can expect from the revolution” but of what we must do for it, how we must make the people clearly understand the tasks of the revolution; how we must prevent the victory of the bourgeoisie or turn it to the advantage of the people, how we must make sure that the “development of the capitalist system itself will give rise to and prepare for the upheaval that will sweep away that system”.

“A certain section of the socialists” advised our “revolutionary youth” to engage in propaganda among the industrial workers. Mr. Tikhomirov availed himself of all the mistakes and all the ignorance of our police statisticians to prove that this advice was not practicable. In his opinion the numbers of the working class in our industrial centres are too small for any social-revolutionary hopes to be founded on that section of our working population. From what he says about this it could be concluded that our author holds the old Narodnik view which ignores the town and exalts the country. But such a guess would be only partly correct. Mr. Tikhomirov does indeed exalt the country but any attentive reader will immediately understand that the country cannot “be better off for such praise”. Indeed, there are various kinds of idealisation and they entail different practical conclusions. The Narodniks of the recent past idealised the people partly in order to incite themselves and all our intelligentsia to revolutionary work among them. Intensify this idealisation one degree more and you will come to the conviction that thanks to their communal tendencies our people need not be influenced by the socialist intelligentsia. In that case the role of the latter becomes purely destructive. It is reduced t o the removal of the exterior obstacles which hinder the realisation of the people’s ideals. That is the kind of idealisation of the people we find in Mr. Tikhomirov’s article. “At a revolutionary moment our people will not be split when the basic principle of state power is in question,” our author decides. “In just the same way they will prove to be completely united economically on the land question ... In order to gather the masses as a great force around these two points no special propaganda is needed : all that is needed is that the people know what the matter is about.” Reduced to its extreme expression, the idealisation of the people deprives the Narodniks’ work of all meaning and import. But, on the other hand, the significance of the conspiracy becomes all the greater. The social revolution, the conspirator argues, is delayed because of the influence of the present-day government. Do away with its influence and the necessary result of your destructive work must be “the foundation of the socialist organisation of Russia”. In the political struggle “the power belongs to him who is able at any moment to deploy the greatest quantity of human forces in defence of his own cause”. There is no need to inquire which class those forces proceed from. They “can be obtained at one’s disposal by various means”. One can eve n “buy one’s fighters or drive them out to defend one by means of economic pressure”. [5] All the more can they be recruited from any classes of society. Success depends only upon skill in directing the forces “obtained” in accordance with the aims of the conspirators. That is why Mr. Tikhomirov “sometimes speaks” of the seizure of power by the revolutionaries as the “starting-point of the revolution”. This conclusion follows logically from all of our author’s premises.

The whole trouble is that Mr. Tikhomirov’s premises cannot stand criticism, that not all is well with the people even as far as the “two main points” are concerned, and that there are also other points ignorance of which can bring the revolutionaries nothing but grave disappointment. And with the premises, the conclusions so dear to Mr. Tikhomirov but so unfavourable for the success of the socialist movement in Russia, naturally fall away. The sentimental haze of false and affected idealisation of the people disappears and reality looms before us with it s urgent demands. We see that there is no hope of a successful outcome of the Russian revolutionary movement without “special propaganda” among the people. We come to the conclusion that our revolutionaries cannot be content with Tkachov’s programme and that they would do well to remember Vperyod’s programme. But we have still not come to any decision as to the extent to which their break with the traditions of our Blanquism is desirable. In this very difficult case it would be interesting to know for certain the authoritative opinion of Mr. Lavrov.

2. “Seizure of Power”

Incidentally, we can partly guess what his opinion will be. The honourable editor probably does not approve of the circumstance that Mr. Tikhomirov “sometimes speaks of the seizure of power by the revolutionaries as the starting-point of the revolution”. P.N. Tkachov was also accustomed to “speak sometimes” of such a seizure of power and thus courted severe censure from Mr. Lavrov. The editor of Vperyod even thought it necessary to warn our revolutionary youth against an alliance with false friends. “There are revolutionary groups,” he wrote, “who say that they wish the good of the people, that they intend to achieve that good by a revolution, but not a popular one.” For such groups all the philosophy of the revolution is naturally limited to seizing power. “Others wish the dictatorship to be only temporary, merely in order to disband the army, to remove the uppermost section of their opponents and disappear from the stage, leaving the people to decide their own future. Others again dream of handing over this dictatorship, when they have accomplished their business, to a Zemsky Sobor consisting of representatives of the people or to local assemblies, and so on and so forth. What is common to all revolutionaries of this kind is a revolution carried out by a minority, with a more or less lasting dictatorship of that minority.” In his capacity as editor Mr. Lavrov stated that his journal “would never consider it possible to allow the theory of the revolutionary dictatorship of a minority – the so-called Jacobin dictatorship – being voiced in it without objecting.” The theory mentioned was ostracised for the following fairly valid reasons.

“History has shown, and psychology convinces us, that any unlimited power, any dictatorship, spoils even the best people and that even men of genius who wished to confer blessings on the people by means of decrees could not do so. Every dictatorship must surround itself with coercive force, blindly obedient tools; ev ery dictatorship has had to suppress by force not only reactionaries, but also people who simply did not agree with its methods; every dictatorship seized by force has had to spend more time, efforts and energy fighting its rivals for power than carrying out its programme by means of that power. But dreams of the termination of a dictatorship seized violently by any party” (i.e., a dictatorship serving only as “the starting-point of the revolution”, you mean, do you not, dear Editor?) “can be entertained only before the seizure; in the parties’ struggle for power, in the agitation of overt and covert intrigues, every minute brings new necessity for maintaining power and reveals new impossibility of abandoning it. The dictatorship can be wrenched from the hands of the dictators only by a new revolution ...” “Does our revolutionary youth indeed agree to be the base of the throne of a few dictators who, even with most selfless intentions, can be only new sources of social calamities, and who, most probably, will not even be selfless fanatics, but men of passionate ambition thirsting for power for power’s sake, craving for power for themselves? ...”

“If, indeed, a section of our youth favour a dictatorship, the seizure of power by a minority,” the honourable editor continues, “Vperyod will never be the organ of that section ... let the Russian Jacobins fight the government, we will not hinder them, but the party of the popular social revolution will always become their enemy, directly one of them reaches out for power, which belongs to the people and nobody else.” [6]

P.L. Lavrov’s prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. The journal Vperyod “was never” the organ of the Russian Jacobins. It is true that P.L. Lavrov himself became editor of the organ of “that section of youth”. But that is a different matter with which we are not concerned here.

Our interest at present is in the following considerations. The author of Historical Letters has nowhere stated that he has changed his views on the seizure of power; hence we can say with assurance that one of the editors of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli has an extremely negative attitude to such a seizure. We are glad of that assurance, it is pleasant to agree in opinion with a well-known and respected writer and we can say that we completely share his opinion on the seizure of power, although we arrived at our conviction by a somewhat different path. We have always tried to direct our main attention not to the subjective, but the objective side of the matter, not to the thoughts and feelings of individual personalities – even if they had the title of dictator – but to the social conditions which they have to take account of, to the inner meaning of the social problems which they undertake to solve. We speak against the seizure of power not because “any dictatorship spoils even the best people”, for that question has hardly been finally settled by “history and psychology”. But we think that if “the emancipation of the workers must be conquered by the workers themselves”, there is nothing any dictatorship can do when the working class “in town and country” has not been prepared for the socialist revolution. And that preparation generally proceeds parallel to the development of the productive forces and of the organisation of production corresponding to them. That is why we posed the question to what extent contemporary economic relations in Russia justify the programme of those who aim at seizing power and who promise to work, by means of that power, a whole series of social and political miracles. Have these people any greater physical possibility to fulfil their promises than a tomtit has to set the sea on fire? [9*] The answer we arrived at was negative. In the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle we explained in detail why we considered such an answer the only possible one at present. Without directly analysing our arguments, Mr. Tikhomirov also touched on this question in the article we are analysing, and in doing so he flung at “a certain section of the socialists” a number of expressions used by us. But, as usual, our author’s line of argument is not very convincing; he does not even always aim at being convincing. Sometimes he almost stops proving altogether and simply states, decrees, so to speak, some propositions or others, as though he had already “seized power” over the minds of his readers. Thus, shouting to those who consider the seizure of power by the present revolutionary party as physically impossible and accusing them of “confusing concepts” he opposes their arguments with the following ... statement: “It cannot be doubted that the question of the seizure of power by any revolutionary force is determined first and foremost by whether the existing government is sufficiently disorganised, shaken and unpopular; and if all these conditions are to hand a state upheaval is by no means impossible or even particularly difficult.” [7] Without dwelling any more on this interesting question, he immediately goes on to discuss our revolutionaries’ chances of “holding power”. Willy-nilly, all “dissenters” will have to be reconciled to the author’s not quite customary laconicism. Let us be reconciled to it too, all the more as the truth of some of his propositions really “cannot be doubted” this time. But even so it will be quite opposite to ask: Who is “confusing concepts” – Mr. Tikhomirov or his opponents? Firstly, a “state upheaval” is far from being the same thing as “the seizure of power by any revolutionary force”. Where “the existing government is disorganised, shaken and unpopular” a state upheaval is not only “by no means impossible”, it is simply almost inevitable and consequently it is naturally not “ particularly” difficult. But that still does not mean that “any revolutionary force” can take the place of the overthrown government and seize the power lost by that government. A state upheaval can be effected by the aggregate actions of many “forces” which, though hostile to one another, are nevertheless revolutionary in their attitude to the existing system. Then “power”, too, will go not to one of those forces, but to the resultant of them all, which will be embodied in a new provisional or permanent government. But for each of them singly “the question of the seizure of power” far from being solved will be still more complicated by such an outcome; they will have to fight for power not against a weak and unpopular adversary, but against fresh, hale and hearty rivals who have not yet been exhausted by struggle and have the support of a certain section of the nation. All that is as clear as daylight. And if that is the case, can we mike the question of the seizure of power by the “ Narodnaya Volya party” in which we are interested depend exclusively on the instability of the existing government and on the probability of a state upheaval? Can one thus confuse concepts which differ entirely in meaning and content?

But, we may be told, you impute to the “state upheaval” quite a different meaning from the one in which Mr. Tikhomirov uses it. By it he understands not only the fall of the existing government and the organisation of a new one; he presumes that the whole of this revolution will take place by a successful conspiracy within a certain definite revolutionary party which has his sympathy. A conspiracy is a secret undertaking which begins without the knowledge of any of those who could enter into rivalry with the conspirators after the state upheaval. When Little Napoleon thought out his “coup d’etat”, it did not occur to him to reveal his intentions to the Orleanists or the Legitimists; still less would he have brought himself to ask for their help and collaboration. The success which the Bonapartists achieved by their own efforts alone remained wholly and entirely theirs; all that was left for their rivals was to bear malice and to be sorry that they had not thought of or undertaken that daring action. What the infamous nephew did sincere revolutionaries can do too. Or is success a privilege of evil? Will an instrument which has proved its worth in the hands of political adventurers refuse to serve people sincerely devoted to the good of their country?

If Mr. Tikhomirov does understand a “state upheaval” in this last sense, he is resorting to a still grosser “confusion of concepts” than we formerly thought. What right has he so unexpectedly and unscrupulously to replace a general, abstract possibility by a particular, concrete actuality? Does not that which is possible in a general sense prove in many and many an instance to be impossible as regards some particular case? And, therefore, is it permissible, when recommending to the Russian revolutionary party the path of conspiracy, to confine oneself to general phrases about it not being “particularly difficult” to organise a successful conspiracy where the government is disorganised and unpopular? Are the Russian revolutionaries conspirators in the abstract, without flesh or bones, not coming within the pale of all the conditions which make what is possible for some fantastic and impossible for others? Are not the chances of success for a conspiracy determined by the qualities of that section of society to which its members belong, and do not the qualities of that section influence the desires and aims of the conspirators? One has only to cast a glance at our revolutionary section from this point of view for general phrases about a successful conspiracy not being “ particularly difficult” to lose all meaning.

To what class, to what strata of society have the overwhelming majority of our revolutionaries belonged so far and do they still belong? To what is called the thinking proletariat. We already spoke in detail of the political qualities of this strata in Socialism and the Political Struggle and we greatly regret that Mr. Tikhomirov did not consider it necessary to refute our ideas.

“Our thinking proletariat,” we wrote, “has already done much for the emancipation of its motherland. It has shaken absolutism, aroused political interest among society, sown the seed of socialist propaganda among our working class. It is intermediary between the higher classes of society and the lower, having the education of the former and the democratic instincts of the latter. This position has eased for it the diversified work of propaganda and agitation. But this same position gives it very little hope of success in a conspiracy to seize power. For such a conspiracy talent, energy and education are not enough: the conspirators need connections, wealth and an influential position in society. And that is what our revolutionary intelligentsia lacks. It can make good these deficiencies only by allying itself with other dissatisfied elements of Russian society. Let us suppose that its plans actually meet with the sympathy of those elements, that rich landowners, officials, staff and senior officers join in the conspiracy. There will then be more probability of the conspiracy being a success, although that probability will still be very small – just remember the outcome of most of the famous conspiracies in history. But the main danger to the socialist conspiracy will come not from the existing government, but from the members of the conspiracy itself. The influential and high-placed personages who have joined it may be sincere socialists only by a ’fortunate coincidence’. But as regards the majority of them, there can be no guarantee that they will not wish to use the power they have seized for purposes having nothing in common with the interests of the working class ... Thus, the more sympathy a conspiracy of the socialist intelligentsia to seize power in the immediate future meets among influential spheres, i.e., the greater the probability of its outward success, the more open to doubt its results will be; contrariwise, the more such a conspiracy is confined to our socialist intelligentsia, i.e., the less the probability of its success, the less doubt there will be about its results, as far as the conspirators’ intentions are concerned.” [10*]

Is that comprehensible? Were we right when we said that our nihilist renegade, though very useful as a revolutionary ferment in the social sphere, will not seize power because he will be prevented from doing so by his social position? Bonaparte was not a nihilist, but for his coup d’etat he, too, needed at first to become no more and no less than the head of the executive authority in the republic. Further. Is it probable that if the nihilist does draw over to his side a sufficient number of persons having influence and a high position, and if he is followed by all sorts of “white generals”, he will not profit by their social position but they will avail themselves of his self-abnegation and transform the conspiracy into an instrument for their personal aims? Perhaps we will be told that a high situation in society does not always irremediably spoil man and that a heart full of devotion to its people can beat even under a general’s uniform. We perfectly concede that, but still continue to fear the Greeks. [11*] What guarantees will the revolutionaries have of the loyalty and sincerity of high-placed members of the conspiracy? The central committee’s personal knowledge of those gentlemen? But how will the committee assure us of the infallibility of its choice? Can one be satisfied with such guarantees in a matter as important as the fate of the working class of a whole country? It is here that the difference between the standpoints of the Social-Democrats on one side and of the Blanquists on the other is revealed. The former demand objective guarantees of success for their cause, guarantees which they see in the development of consciousness, initiative and organisation in the working class; the latter are satisfied with guarantees of a purely subjective nature; they abandon the cause of the working class to individuals and committees, they make the triumph of the ideas they hold dear depend on faith in the personal qualities of some or other members of the conspiracy. If the conspirators are honest, brave and experienced, socialism will triumph; if they are not resolute or capable enough, the victory of socialism will be postponed, perhaps for a short time if new and more capable conspirators are found, but for an infinitely long time if there are no such conspirators. All is here reduced to hazard, to the intelligence, ability and will of individuals. [8]

Let it not be said that the Russian Blanquists of today do not deny the importance of preparatory work among the working class. No doubt whatsoever is possible on this score after Kalendar Narodnoi Voli has declared that the working population in the towns is of “particularly great importance for the revolution” (p.130). But is there even a single party in the world which does not acknowledge that the working class can greatly help it to achieve its aims? The present-day policy of the Iron Chancellor clearly shows that even the Prussian junkers do not lack such awareness. Now all appeal to the workers, but they do not all speak to them in the same tone; they do not all allot them the same role in their political programmes. This difference is noticeable even among the socialists. For the democrat Jacobi the foundation of one workers’ union was of more importance socially and historically than the Battle of Sadowa. [12*] The Blanquist will of course perfectly agree with that opinion. But he will agree only because it is not battles but revolutionary conspiracies that he sees as the main motive forces of progress. If you were to suggest that he choose between a workers’ union and a “repentant nobleman” [13*] in the person of some divisional general, he would prefer the latter to the former almost without thinking. And that is understandable. No matter how important the workers are “for the revolution”, high-placed conspirators are still more important, for not a step can be made without them and the whole outcome of the conspiracy can often depend on the conduct of some “Excellency”. [9] From the standpoint of the Social-Democrat a true revolutionary movement at the present time is possible only among the working class; from the standpoint of the Blanquist the revolution relies only partly upon the workers, who have an “important” but not the main significance in it. The former assumes that the revolution is of “particular importance” for the workers, while in the opinion of the latter the workers, as we know, are of particular importance for the revolution. The Social-Democrat wants the worker himself to make his revolution; the Blanquist demands that the worker should support the revolution which has been begun and led for him and in his name by others, for instance by officers if we imagine something in the nature of the Decembrists’ conspiracy. Accordingly the character of the activity and the distribution of forces also vary. Some appeal mainly to the workers, others deal with them only incidentally and when they are not prevented from doing so by numerous complicated and unpredictable ever-growing needs of the conspiracy which has begun without the workers. This difference is of immense practical importance and it is precisely what explains the hostile attitude of the Social-Democrats to the conspiratorial fantasies of the Blanquists.

Author’s Footnotes

1. See Vestnik Narodnoi Voli No.2, Section II, p.67.

2. V.Z. [4*] in the Foreword to the translation of Engels’ Development of Scientific Socialism, p.IX.

3. L’État et la revolution, p.65.

4. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli No.2, p.255.

5. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli No.2, What Can We Expect from the Revolution?, p.250.

6. Russian Social-Revolutionary Youth, by the editor of Vperyod, London 1874, pp.40-43.

7. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli No.2, p.255.

8. Incidentally, this is not quite the case. Objective conditions of success appear sometimes to the conspirators as some kind of physical or meteorological happening. For instance, one of the issues of Nabat contains an article on the conspiracy of General Malet. From this article we see that in 1812 the revolution did not take place in France merely because of sudden, inopportune, heavy rains on the night of October 22–23. You find that hard to believe, reader? Read the following excerpt and judge for yourself. “When everything was finished, Malet intended to hurry to the nearest barracks, but rain poured down and the conspirators took it into their heads to wait till it was over. They had to wait till 3 a.m. and that was a fatal mistake. During the night the conspiracy had all chances of succeeding, for the civil and military authorities would not have had time to confer. The conspirators let the favourable time slip” and as a result of this and this alone, the conspiracy itself was a failure.

Whatever be the attitude to such explanations of the historical destiny of peoples, it is obvious at any rate that they do not avail us of making any sound forecast of social phenomena; in other words, they preclude any attempt to discuss programme questions seriously.

Tikhomirov’s “foundation of the socialist organisation of Russia”, with which we are already familiar, will also apparently be cancelled in case of bad weather. In general heavy rain is all the more dangerous for the victory of socialism the more the cause of the latter is made to depend on the success of this or that committee in disregard of the degree of social and political development of the working class in the country in question.

9. The report of General Malet’s conspiracy in Nabat explains in detail the “importance for the revolution” of the commanders of “units” or even of mere officers. “In order to carry out the plan he had thought out, Malet needed to enlist the assistance of at least two officers who were capable, clever, and inspired, like him, with hatred of the emperor”, etc.


1*.Devoted without flattery” – motto on the crest of Arakcheyev, bestowed on him by Paul I. Thanks to Pushkin’s epigram it became a symbol of servility towards influential personages.

2*. Credo, quia absurdum – a saying attributed to the Christian writer Tertullian (3rd cent. A.D.).

3*. Quotation from P.L. Lavrov’s review of Plekhanov’s Socialism and the Political Struggle, published in Vestnik Norodnoi Voli, No.2, Section 2, 1884, pp.64–67.

4*. Plekhanov here means Vera Ivanovna Zasulich.

5*. K.T. – K. Tarasov. Plekhanov refers to his review of E. Laverdays’ book, Les assemblées parlantes. Critique du gouvernement représentatif, Paris 1883. Cf. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.2, Section 2, 1884, pp.67-85.

6*. Akaky Akakiyevich – a minor official in Gogol’s tale The Coat.

7*. Reference to an article by I. Luchitsky, The Land Commune in the Pyrenees, Otechestvenniye Zapiski, No.9, 1883, pp.57-78.

8*. The edict,which was issued by the Emperor Peter III on February 18, 1762, freed the gentry from compulsory military or state service.

9*. From Krylov’s fable The Tomtit. The tomtit attained fame but did not set the sea on fire.

10*. The words italicised here are not so in the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle.

11*. The expression “fear the Greeks” – “timeo danaos et dona ferentes” (“I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts”) – is connected with the legend of the Trojan Laocoön who tried to convince his fellow citizens not to bring into the city the wooden horse left by the Greeks. His fears came true – the soldiers hidden in the horse helped to capture Troy.

12*. The Battle of Sadowa, in July 1866, ended the Austro-Prussian War and determined Prussia’s leading role in the unification of Germany.

13*. The “repentant nobleman” is an expression introduced into literature by N.K. Mikhailovsky and characterising the type of man who regards himself as owing a debt he cannot pay to his people for the sins of his fathers and the horrors of serfdom.

Last updated on 16.10.2006