G.V. Plekhanov

Our Differences

Chapter V
True Tasks of the Socialists in Russia

1. Social-Democrats and Man-Handling

And so, “Russian socialism as expressed in the Narodnaya Volya party”, will be alien to the great tasks of European socialism until it abandons for ever its intermediary position between Bakunin’s anarchism and Tkachov’s Blanquism, i.e., until it acknowledges the barrenness of Mr. Tikhomirov ’s theoretical constructions.

But as these constructions are the last desperate attempt to revive our revolutionary theories of the good old times, our socialism, by raising itself to the height of such an acknowledgement, will cease to be “Russian” and will merge with world socialism “as expressed” in the works of Marx and Engels and partly in those of Lassalle.

Its supporters will then understand that:

  1. The communist revolution of the working class cannot in any way grow out of the petty-bourgeois peasant socialism professed at present by nearly all our revolutionaries.
  2. By the inherent character of its organisation the rural community tends first and foremost to give place to bourgeois, not communist, forms of social life.
  3. In the transition to the latter its role will be not active, but passive it is not in a position to advance Russia on the road to communism; it can only offer less resistance to that advance than small individual landownership.
  4. The initiative in the communist movement can be assumed only by the working class in our industrial centres, the class.
  5. Whose emancipation can be achieved only by its own conscious efforts.

Once they have understood these simple truths, the Russian socialists “from the privileged sections” will put aside all thoughts of seizing power, leaving that to our workers’ socialist party of the future. Then their efforts will be directed only towards the creation of such a party and the removal of all conditions which are unfavourable to its growth and development.

Needless to say, such activity cannot have anything in common with that uniting of the working class by means of “depriving them of land, fining and man-handling them” which Mr. Tikhomirov speaks of as the outcome – the only possible one at present – for the Russian Social-Democrats. [1*] This fiction alone would be enough to perpetuate our author’s name in literature if only it were not distinguished, like all his arguments, by its complete lack of originality. In this case our author only repeated what was said and printed long ago by our Narodniks, legal and illegal. Even fiction writers of the would-be-peasant trend have given Marxists the role of myrmidons of capitalism in their writings. Two years ago Mr. Ertel published in Vestnik Yevropy a tale called The Young Lady of Volkonsk. [2*] In this amusing story we see a liberal landowner, an enlightened bourgeois, a Narodnik who spends part of his time collecting songs and part making love to the heroine, and finally a Marxist who has dedicated his energies to improving agriculture on the liberal landlord’s estate. True, Ertel’s Marxist does not like “fining and man-handling” but he waxes enthusiastic over the mere thought of the landlord acquiring a new kind of machine, not to mention a works or factory. He has become so imbued with the interests of capitalism that he hastens to contract a close and fraternal alliance with the enlightened bourgeois already referred to as soon as the latter pays a visit to his protector. Such a “programme” has indeed nothing attractive about it, but that is the fault neither of Marxism in general nor of the above-mentioned Marxist in particular. He could only imagine the kind of programme Mr. Ertel thought fit to bestow on him. It has long been noted that the fruit does not fall far from the tree and that the heroes of fiction are no more ingenious than their authors. To corroborate that old truth we could cite the new proof that Ertel’s Narodnik himself says a lot of completely incoherent things; for instance, in a conversation with the Marxist he assures him that Marx “has been dealt the final blow” by the publication of some new articles in Russian journals (not Mr. V.V.’s articles in Otechestvenniye Zapiski? [3*]). If the reader takes this truth into consideration and exonerates the “Marxist”, he will have to be all the more condescendent towards Marxism itself, whose crime consists only in the representatives of Russian exceptionalism not being able to understand and assess it.

If any attention at all is given to this question it is obvious that the Social-Democrats, far from being ever or anywhere capable of allying with the bourgeoisie in enslaving the workers, are, on the contrary, the only ones who can organise serious resistance to capitalist exploitation. To make this palpable let us resort once more to a practical example. Let us remember the contemporary condition of the handicraft weavers and see what attitude the various socialist groups may and must adopt to them.

It is useless to say much about the anarchists. They would recommend “propaganda by action” to the handicraftsmen and would advise them to blow up some inn or to maim some manufacturer. No systematic mode of action can be indicated by a programme whose main feature is the negation of logical order and system of any kind. The most interesting for us are the Blanquists. In France, Blanqui’s native country, his followers have a systematic mode of action only insofar as their programme loses all its distinctive features and merges with that of the “workers’ party”, as we see in the electoral campaigns, the propaganda of the class struggle, etc., etc. But whenever the Blanquists preserve intact their “particular imprint” their mode of action becomes deprived of any kind of guiding thread and is reduced to the formula: “Let’s make a noise, brothers, let’s make a noise!” [4*] Today they agitate for the presentation of a revolver to Brzozowsky [5*] as a mark of honour, tomorrow they will demand the abolition of the standing army and the day after they will get excited over a “Chapel of Atonement”, and so on. Of course, such “noisy” activity is out of the question for Blanqui’s Russian followers, i.e., for open or secret supporters of Nabat. The Blanquists’ propaganda in Russia is necessarily reduced mainly to “terror” and their organisational work to setting up secret conspiratorial societies. The question is: What role in this can the handicraftsman play as such, i.e., without getting lost among the intelligentsia, but remaining in his craft and maintaining all the relations to capital which history has imposed on him? Only isolated individuals can take part in the terrorist struggle. Now it is not the time to invite the handicraftsmen to unite in a single workers’ party, for the “worker capable of class dictatorship hardly exists; hence he cannot be given political power”, etc. All the weavers can do is to place their hopes in the future and support the revolutionary party in its striving to seize power in the hope that the result of that seizure will be “the foundation of the socialist organisation of Russia”.

The master will come
And settle our quarrel.

But the “master” may be late in coming or may not come at all; he may be deported as soon as he arrives and have no time to lay the famous “foundation”. What immediate practical profit will the revolutionary movement then bring the handicraftsmen? Will it make their own condition clear to them? Will it teach them to defend their own interests by union and organisation?

No, it will not! And if it does it will only do so accidentally and incidentally, since the main efforts of the Blanquists are by no means directed at socialist propaganda among the workers. We have already seen that Tikhomirov’s revolution hopes to rally the forces of the people round “points” whose explanation “needs no special propaganda”. And yet “special propaganda” is the very thing that is needed for the handicraftsmen’s serious and successful struggle against their exploiters. From this it follows that in spite of all their desire to “take the people as they are” the Russian Blanquists are bound to ignore a whole series of the people’s practical needs and requirements.

What, then, will be the position adopted towards the handicraftsmen by the Russian Social-Democrat, who has so often and so insistently been accused of fantasy and of being unpractical? Knowing that the emancipation of the workers must be conquered by the workers themselves and that the degree of capitalist exploitation is determined, among other things, by the level of the requirements and development of the exploited, he will endeavour to rouse the workers to independent struggle against capital. As the scattered efforts of the workers in individual factories and workshops cannot guarantee the success of such a struggle, he will have to give it a class character. For that he will have to conduct with great energy and perseverance that “special propaganda” which is called the propaganda of socialism. But we already know that every class struggle is a political struggle. Therefore, our Social-Democrat’s propaganda must immediately assume a social and political character. He will say to the workers: “A rise in the standard of your material prosperity is possible only with resolute intervention by the state. It can and must help some of you, namely those who have almost become full-fledged factory workers, first and foremost by legislation to protect the interests of the working men, women and children; those among you whose independent small production is still struggling against capitalism can stabilise their position only by means of state credit to workers’ associations. But not every state will assume the role of your ally. The state will be wholly and entirely on your side only if it is wholly and entirely yours, a workers’ state. That is the aim at which you must direct all your efforts. And as long as it is not attained you must force even a state which is hostile to you to make concessions to you. And in so doing, do not forget that the more resolute you are in demands and the stronger your party, the more decisive those concessions will be. So set up such a party, unite in a single, formidable, disciplined force. When you h ave succeeded in winning the final victory you will throw off completely the yoke of capital, but until then you will at least hold it in check to some extent, you will at least safeguard yourselves and your children against physical, moral and intellectual degeneration. You have only two ways out of your present condition: either struggle or complete subjection to capital. I call to my side those who wish to struggle!

What do you think, reader? Will such activity be the most practical of all that are possible? You will say that its success will be too slow and unsure. We grant that. But other forms of activity hold out still less certainty of success. Neither anarchist “ propaganda by action” nor Blanquist conspiracies will advance the class struggle a single step in Russia, and it is on the course of that struggle that the emancipation of the workers depends.

The Social-Democrat, of course, will do only what he can, but the advantage of his position is that he can do much more for the working class than any other “socialist-revolutionary”. He will bring consciousness into the working class, and without that it is impossible to begin a serious struggle against capital. And once he brings that consciousness he will give the revolutionary movement a strength, endurance and intensity that cannot even be dreamed of if one adheres to the old “programmes”.

And note that our Social-Democrat has no need at all to “fuss about” (a typically Russian expression!) “over the creation of the class in whose name he wishes to act.” Only somebody who is completely ignorant of the economic relations in Russia today can be in the dark as to the indisputable fact that that class is partly already created and partly being created with increasing speed by the implacable course of social development. Only somebody who does not at all understand the historical role of all-levelling capital can compare the condition of our working class with the more or less exceptional position of our “gentry”. [7*] The French Anglomaniacs at the end of the last century and the beginning of this failed in transplanting into their country England’s aristocratic institutions; but the French workers’ party can, without in the least falling into utopianism, adhere to the same programme as the British Democratic Federation. Whence this difference? It is a secret which, by the way, Mr. Tikhomirov himself will discover if only he reads attentively the Manifesto of the Communist Party. Recommending to him this wonderful work, we for our part shall say a few words more about the tasks of the socialists of that “trend which considers Russian capitalism a historical inevitability” and to which we ourselves belong.

The most usual argument against that trend – an argument which comes from the heart if not “from reason” – is the reference to the impossibility of the revolutionary movement developing rapidly in Russia if its chances depend on the strength and growth of the Russian working class. This consideration gives rise, on the one hand, to the inclination towards exceptionalist programmes, and, on the other, to the fear that we have already mentioned of the revolutionaries themselves having, perhaps, to enter the service of Russian capital. This argument, of course, will not be long in being brought to bear against our reasoning.

That is why we do not think it superfluous to draw our reader’s attention to t he strange inconsistency of those from whom we hear objections similar to the one just quoted. That inconsistency is a palpable indication that many of the so-called pupils of Chernyshevsky have mastered only the results of his study and have not formed the slightest idea of his method.

When it is a question of the probable destiny of Russian capitalism or of its influence on our political relations, the Narodniks generally begin by pointing out the supposedly indisputable fact that our capitalism is in the same stage of development as was that “in Western Europe” more than a century ago. From this it is concluded that a whole century must elapse before capitalism renders our history the same “service” as it rendered the history of the “West”. That is a long time, and as our intelligentsia have long been in the habit of substituting their revolutionary will for revolutionary development, they look to the village community and refer to the possibility proved by Chernyshevsky of its immediate transition to a socialist form of communal life. Thus they invoke the probability of the complete omission of one phase in social development largely because they do not understand the possibility of that phase being shortened. It does not even occur to them that t he complete omission of a particular historical period is but a particular case of its shortening, and that by proving the possibility of the former we at the same time, and to a larger extent, affirm the probability of the latter.

We have already seen above from the example of P.N. Tkachov that this gross error in logic underlay our Blanquists’ programme. Unfortunately not only the Blanquists repeat it.

Many people think that the social revolution can take place in Russia “now, or in a very remote future, perhaps never” – in other words on the basis either of our present economic relations or of a system whose institution and consolidation are a matter of the most hazy future. But we already know – and this we learn from the history of that same Western Europe – that only the first step was difficult for capitalism and that its uninterrupted advance from “West” to East is taking place with constantly increasing acceleration. Not only the development of capitalism in Russia cannot be as slow as it was in England, for example, its very existence cannot be so lasting as it has been fated to be in the “West European countries”. Our capitalism will fade before it has time to blossom completely – a guarantee for which we find in the powerful influence of international relations. But neither is it possible to doubt that the course of affairs is advancing to its more or less complete victory. Neither unsubstantiated denials of an already existing fact nor grieved exclamations about the disintegration of the old, “traditional” forms of the people’s communal life – nothing will stop the advance of a country “which has entered the road of the natural law of its development”. But this development will be more or less slow, the birth-pangs will be more or less painful, depending on the combination of all the social and international relations of the country in question. The more or less favourable character of that combination for the working class depends, in turn, on the conduct of those who have understood the meaning of the evolution which awaits their country. Capitalism developed in Germany at a time when the working class there was more highly developed than in England or France, and that is why the rebuff given to capitalist exploitation in that country was swifter and more resolute. The German Communists did not even think of entering the service of capitalism. They knew that the more or less early victory of the working class depends, among other things, on the influence that those who understand the meaning of historical development have on that class. They actively set about the work of propaganda among the workers and success exceeded their expectations. Why should we not follow their example?

The manufacturer is just as unthinkable without the worker as the “master”, according to Aristotle’s remark, without the slave. The development of the bourgeoisie presupposes the development of the working class; the historical growth of capitalism is a two-sided process, each side being the rallying point for the corresponding class in society. On the whole, each of these classes is chained to its place “more securely than Vulcan’s chains bound Prometheus to the rock”. In capitalist society the commodity dominates the producer and prescribes his behaviour. But some individuals have the possibility to make a conscious choice between the two opposite poles. It is to these individuals that our so-called “intellectuals” belong. It will depend on their own moral and intellectual development what attitude they adopt to the cause of the working class. No kind of sophism can provide any justification for the socialist who deserts to the camp of the exploiters. And the possible sophisms in this case are so wretched and impotent that they cannot for a minute appear convincing to him who can correctly construct even a single syllogism.

Only owing to the rectilinear and angular views typical of our exceptionalists can there possibly be any talk about a logical necessity of the socialist’s personal participation in the capitalist development of a country. The exceptionalist is accustomed to substituting his own will for historical development, he is used to contenting himself with a dogmatic outlook instead of a critical one. He judges as follows: capitalism is inevitable as a transitional stage, hence there must be people who will create capitalist relations. And yet I can no longer serve the knights of primitive accumulation, I cannot “plunder the worker with a clear conscience and energy”. What if there are many people like me? What if all are imbued with my views? Then there will be no capitalism, which is necessary as a transitional stage, etc. Thus, the poor exceptionalist finds himself involved in a real vicious circle of premises followed by further concentric circles of conclusions. Is it not better to “renounce socialism for a time and apply one’s energies to the spreading and strengthening of capitalism, since capitalism is absolutely necessary”? “On what grounds,” asks Mr. Tikhomirov, “will we soak the worker himself with socialist ideas which divert the best forces of that class from striving towards the capitalist career which nobody will carry out better than people from among the workers themselves?” [8*] We shall have time to return to socialism when capitalism has fulfilled its historic mission, etc. The exceptionalist lives perpetually in a world of ready-made and sharply defined facts and concepts, but he has not the slightest idea of the process by which these facts and concepts came into existence. That is why, dealing with each of them apart from the others, he completely loses sight of their mutual connection and dependence.

He proceeds from the assumption that it is impossible successfully to spread socialist ideas without the development of capitalism. But in his desire to reduce his opponents’ views to the absurd as quickly as possible he soon forgets this assumption and begins to talk about the rapid spread of socialist ideas hindering the development of capitalism. He agrees to consider one phenomenon as a consequence and another as a cause, but he fears that the consequence may appear sooner than the cause and thus prevent it from manifesting its action, i.e., from giving rise to this very consequence. Thus, our exceptionalist falls into the very same pit of absurdity that he so carefully dug for his opponents. All these have to do then is to pull him out by means of the following very simple argument.

If the successful spread of socialist ideas among the popular masses were thinkable, they will say, without the radical revolution in relationships of life, revolution which capitalism gives rise to, there would be no need for talk about any kind of transitional phases in our social development. These phases have a meaning for us only for the very reason that they clear the ground for socialist propaganda. It would, therefore, be ridiculous to fear that our present propaganda will stop the development of capitalism in our country. But, on the other hand, it would be absurd to abandon that propaganda since its very possibility is an indication that history has already prepared a certain part of the ground for it. Hie sooner we cultivate that part, the sooner our historical development will be accomplished and the fewer sacrifices and efforts the road opening out before our people will cost them. We do not wish to go against history, but neither do we wish to lag even a single step behind. As Chernyshevsky puts it, we have no pity for anything which has outlived its time, but we refuse to delay, even for a minute, a matter which already now appears timely and possible. We undertake to spread our ideas, being able to prove mathematically that every step Russia makes on the road of social development brings closer the time when those ideas will triumph and eases our subsequent work.

We differ from you inasmuch as, while the development of the present economic relations is carrying you increasingly farther away from your community ideals, our communist ideals are coming closer and closer to us thanks to that same development. You remind one of a man who wishes to go north and gets into a south-bound train; we, on the other hand, know where we are going and board the train of history that takes us at full speed to our goal. It is true that you are confused by the direction we have taken; you think that a socialist may have no sympathy for the development of bourgeois modes of production. But the reason for that is that your logic is too exceptionalist.

You imagine that a socialist, if he remains faithful to his ideals, must everywhere and always hinder the development of capitalism. In that case you are once again arguing in the most primitive manner: to hinder the development of capitalism, you say, means to harm the interests of the employers; and as those interests are diametrically opposed to the workers’ everything which is detrimental to capital will be profitable to labour. You do not even suspect that capitalism is opposed not only to the following, but also to the preceding link in the chain of historical development; that it fights not only the revolutionary efforts of the proletariat, but the reactionary strivings of the nobility and the petty bourgeoisie too. You burn with hatred for capitalism and are prepared to attack it wherever possible. This zeal often makes you rejoice over those defeats of capitalism which can be useful only to the reactionaries. The programme of your “Russian socialism” coincides in that respect with the programme of the German “ social-conservatives” and has no trace of progressive tendencies. In order to avoid such miserable metamorphoses you must at last become imbued with the dialectical view of history. You must at the same time support capitalism in its struggle against reaction and be the implacable enemy of the same capitalism in its fight against the working-class revolution of the future. Only such a programme is worthy of a party which considers itself to be the representative of the most progressive strivings of its time. To adopt this standpoint you need again to abandon your position as a kind of intermediary between the various classes and to merge with the workers.

2. Propaganda Among the Workers

But is such a merger possible at present? Is propaganda among the workers at all possible in the present political circumstances?

Impossibility is a particular case of difficulty. But there are two forms of difficulty which occasionally become impossibility. One type of difficulty depends on the personal qualities of the agents, on the dominant character of their strivings, views and inclinations. This type of difficulty is created by social surroundings through the intermediary of individuals, and therefore its shades are as varied as the qualities of individuals. What was difficult for Goldenberg was easy for Zhelyabov; what is impossible for a man of one type of character and convictions may appear necessary and therefore possible, though perhaps difficult, for another with different habits and views. [9*] The impossible is often not what is in itself impossible, but what, in the opinion of a certain individual, brings profits which do not compensate for the efforts exerted. But the appraisal of the profits a given political matter brings depends entirely on the agent’s view of the matter. Mr. V.V., being convinced that the government itself will undertake the organisation of national production which he thinks desirable, will naturally consider superfluous the sacrifices and efforts which propaganda among the workers will cost at present. Similarly, the conspirator who relies mainly on some “committee” or other will declare without great inner struggle that propaganda is impossible among the workers, who, in his opinion, are important “for the revolution” but are far from being the only representatives of the revolution. [10*] This is by no means the way the Social-Democrat speaks; he is convinced that it is not a case of the workers being necessary for the revolution, but of the revolution being necessary for the workers. For him propaganda among the workers will b e the main aim of his efforts, and he will not give it up until he has tried all means at his disposal and exerted all the efforts he is capable of. And the more our revolutionary intelligentsia become imbued with truly socialist views, the more possible and the easier work among the workers will seem to them, for the simple reason that their desire for such work will be all the greater.

We do not wish and would not be able to deceive anybody. Everybody knows how many difficulties and persecutions await the propagandist and popular agitator in our country today. But those difficulties must not be exaggerated. Every kind of revolutionary work without exception is made very difficult in our country today by persecution from the police, but that does not mean that the white terror has achieved its aim, i.e., that it has “rooted out sedition”. Action calls for counteraction, persecution gives birth to self-sacrifice, and no matter how energetic the reactionary steps taken by the government, the revolutionary will always be able to evade them if only he devotes the necessary amount of energy to that purpose. There was a time when the blowing up of the Winter Palace and the undermining in Malaya Sadovaya would h ave seemed unpracticable and unfeasible to the revolutionaries themselves. [11*] But people were found who did the impossible, carried out the unfeasible. Can such persistence be unthinkable in other spheres of revolutionary work? Are the spies that track down the “terrorists” less skilful and numerous than those who guard our working class against the “pseudo-science of socialism and communism”? Only he can affirm that who has made up his mind to avoid any kind of work that is unpleasant for him.

As far as the qualities of the working class itself are concerned, they do not by any means justify the gloomy prophecies of our pessimists. Properly speaking, hardly anybody has ever undertaken propaganda among the workers in our country with any consistency or system. And yet experience has shown that even the scattered efforts of a few dozen men were sufficient to give a powerful impulse to the revolutionary initiative of our working class. Let the reader remember the Northern Union of Russian Workers, its Social-Democratic programme and its organisation, which was very far-flung for a secret society. This Union has disintegrated, but before accusing the workers of that our intelligentsia should recall whether they did much to support it. [12*] Yet it was quite possible and not even so very difficult to support it. In their Letter to the Editors of Zemlya i Volya representatives of the Union even defined the type of help that was desirable and indispensable for them. They requested co-operation in setting up a secret printshop for the publication of their working-class paper. The “ intellectual” society Zemlya i Volya considered it untimely to fulfil that request. The main efforts of our “intellectual” socialists were then aimed in a completely different direction. The result of those efforts was not support for the workers but intensification of the police persecutions whose victims, among others, were the workers’ organisations. Is it astonishing that, left to their own resources in a conspiracy which they were by no means accustomed to, the Workers’ Union broke up into small sections not linked by any unity of plan or of action? But those small circles and groups of socialist workers have still not ceased to exist in our industrial centres; all that is needed to unite them again in one impressive whole is a little conviction, energy and perseverance.

Needless to say the workers’ secret societies do not constitute a workers’ party. In this sense, those who say that our programme is meant far more for the future than for the present are quite right. But what follows from that? Docs it mean we need not set to work immediately on its implementation? The exceptionalists who argue in that way are again being caught in a vicious circle of conclusions. A widespread working-class movement presupposes at least a temporary triumph of free institutions in the country concerned, even if those institutions are only partly free. But to secure such institutions will in turn be impossible without political support from the most progressive sections of the people. Where is the way out? West European history broke this vicious circle by slow political education of the working class. But there is no limit to our revolutionaries’ fear of punctilious old woman history’s slowness. They want the revolution as soon as possible, cost what it may. In view of this one can only wonder at them not remembering the proverb: If you want to ride the sledge, pull it up the hill – a proverb whose political meaning amounts to the irrefutable proposition that anyone who wishes to win freedom quickly must try to interest the working class in the fight against absolutism. The development of the political consciousness of the working class is one of the chief forms in the struggle against the “principal enemy which prevents any at all rational approach” to the question of creating in our country a workers’ party on the West European pattern. What, indeed, is the meaning of the assurances given by historians that in such and such a historical period the bourgeoisie – or, what comes to almost the same, society – was fighting against absolutism in such and such a country? No more and no less than that the bourgeoisie was inciting and leading the working class to fight, or at least was counting on its support. Until the bourgeoisie were guaranteed that support they were cowardly, because they were powerless. What did the republican bourgeoisie – deservedly deprived of that support – do against Napoleon III? All that they could do was to choose between hopeless heroism and hypocritical approval of the accomplished fact. When did the revolutionary bourgeoisie show courage in 1830 and 1848? When the working class was already getting the upper hand at the barricades. Our “society” cannot count on such support from the workers; it does not even know who the insurgent workers will aim their blows at – the defenders of absolute monarchy or the supporters of political freedom. Hence its timidity and irresoluteness, hence the leaden, hopeless gloom that has come over it now. But if the state of affairs changes, if our “society” is guaranteed the support from at least the city suburbs, you will see that it knows what it wants and will be able to speak to the authorities in the language worthy of a citizen. Remember the Petersburg strikes in 1878–79. Reports about them were far from interesting to the socialists alone. They became the event of the day and nearly all the intelligentsia and thinking people in Petersburg showed an interest in them. [13*] Now imagine that those strikes had expressed, besides the antagonism of interests between the employers and the workers of a given factory, the political discord which was appearing between the Petersburg working class and the absolute monarchy. The way the police treated the strikers gave occasion enough for such political discord to be manifested. Imagine that the workers at the Novaya Bumagopryadilnya Mill had demanded, besides a wage rise for themselves, definite political rights for all Russian citizens. The bourgeoisie would then have seen that they had to consider the workers’ demands more seriously than before. Besides this, all the liberal sections of the bourgeoisie, whose economic interests would not have been immediately and directly threatened had the strikers been successful, would have felt that their political demands were at last being provided with some solid foundation and that support from the working class made the success of their struggle against absolutism far more probable. The workers’ political movement would have inspired new hope in the hearts of all supporters of political freedom. The Narodniks themselves might have directed their attention to the new fighters from among the workers and have ceased their barren and hopeless whimpering over the destruction of the “foundations” they cherished so much. [1]

The question is who, if not the revolutionary intelligentsia, could promote the political development of the working class? During the 1878–79 strikes even the self-reliant intelligentsia could not boast of clear political consciousness. That was why the strikers could not hear anything at all instructive from them about the connection between the economic interests of the working class and its political rights. Now, too, there is much confusion in the heads of our “revolutionary youth”. But we are’ willing to entertain the hope that confusion will at last give way to the theories of modern scientific socialism and will cease to paralyse the success of our revolutionary movement. Once that fortunate time comes, the workers’ groups, too, will not delay in adopting the correct political standpoint. Then the struggle against absolutism will enter a new phase, the last; supported by the working masses, the political demands of the progressive section of our “society” will at last receive the satisfaction they have been waiting for so long.

Had the death of Alexander II been accompanied by vigorous action of the workers in the principal cities of Russia, its results would probably have been more decisive. But widespread agitation among the workers is unthinkable without the help of secret societies previously set up in as large numbers as possible, which would prepare the workers’ minds and direct their movement. It can, therefore, be said that without serious work among the workers, and consequently without conscious support from the secret workers’ organisations, the terrorists’ most daring feats will never be anything more than brilliant sorties. The “principal enemy” will only be hit, not destroyed by them; that means that the terrorist struggle will not achieve its aim, for its only aim must be the complete and merciless destruction of absolutism.

Thus, far from the political situation in Russia today compelling us to renounce activity among the workers, it is only by means of such activity that we can free ourselves from the intolerable yoke of absolutism.

Let us now consider another aspect of the matter. The foregoing exposition has once more confirmed for us the truth that the working class is very important “for the revolution”. But the socialist must think first and foremost of making the revolution useful for the working population of the country. Leaving the peasantry aside for the time being, we shall note that the more clearly the working class sees the connection between its economic needs and its political rights, the more profit it will derive from its political struggle. In the “West European countries” the proletariat often fought absolutism under the banner and the supreme leadership of the bourgeoisie. Hence its intellectual and moral dependence on the leaders of liberalism, its faith in the exceptional holiness of liberal mottoes and its conviction in the inviolability of the bourgeois system. In Germany it took all Lassalle’s energy and eloquence to do as much as only to undermine the moral link of the workers with the progressists. Our “society” has no such influence on the working class and there is no need or use for the socialists to create it from scratch. They must show the workers their own, working-class banner, give them leaders from their own, working-class ranks; briefly, they must make sure that not bourgeois “society”, but the workers’ secret organisations gain dominating influence over the workers’ minds. This will considerably hasten the formation and growth of the Russian workers’ socialist party, which will be able to win itself a place of honour among the other parties after having, in its infancy, promoted the fall of absolutism and the triumph of political freedom.

In order thus to contribute to the intellectual and political independence of the Russian working class, our revolutionaries need not resort to any artificial measures or place themselves in any false or ambiguous position. All they need is to become imbued with the principles of modern Social-Democracy and, not confining themselves to political propaganda, constantly to impress upon their listeners that “the economical emancipation of the working classes is ... the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means.” [14*] Once it has assimilated this thought, our working class will itself be capable of steering between Scylla and Charybdis, between the political reaction of state socialism and the economic quackery of the liberal bourgeoisie.

In promoting the formation of the workers’ party, our revolutionaries will be doing the most fruitful, the most important thing that can be pointed to a “progressive man” in present-day Russia. The workers’ party alone is capable of solving all the contradictions which now condemn our intelligentsia to theoretical and practical impotence. We have already seen that the most obvious of those contradictions is at present the necessity to overthrow absolutism and the impossibility of doing so without the support of the people. Secret workers’ organisations will solve this contradiction by drawing into the political struggle the most progressive sections of the people. But that is not enough. Growing and strengthening under the shelter of free institutions, the Russian workers’ socialist party will solve another, not less important contradiction, this time of the economic character. We all know that the village community of today must give place to communism or ultimately disintegrate. At the same time, the economic organisation of the community has no springs to start it off on the road to communist development. While easing our peasants’ transition to communism, the community cannot impart to them the initiative necessary for that transition. On the contrary, the development of commodity production is more and more undermining the traditional foundations of the community principle. And our Narodnik intelligentsia cannot remove this basic contradiction in one fell swoop. Some of the village communities are declining, disintegrating before their eyes and becoming a “scourge and a brake” for the poorest of the community members. Unfortunate as this phenomenon may seem to the intelligentsia, they can do absolutely nothing to help it at present. There is absolutely no link whatever between the “ lovers of the people” and the “people”. The disintegrating community is still alone on its side, and the grieving intelligentsia are alone on theirs, neither being able to put an end to this sad state of affairs. How can a way out of this contradiction be found? Will our intelligentsia indeed have to say Bah! to all practical work and console themselves with “utopias” of the kind Mr. G. Uspensky likes? Nothing of the sort! Our Narodniks can at least save a certain number of village communities if only they will consent to appeal to the dialectics of our social development. But such an appeal is also possible only through the intermediary of a workers’ socialist party.

The disintegration of our village community is an indisputable fact. But the speed and intensity of the process differ according to localities in Russia. To halt it completely in places where the community is freshest and most stable, our Narodniks must use the forces now being freed by the breaking up of communities in gubernias where industry is more developed. These forces are nothing else than the forces of the rising proletariat. They, and they al one, can be the link between the peasantry and the socialist intelligentsia; they, and they alone, can bridge the historical abyss between the “people” and the “educated” section of the population. Through them and with their help socialist propaganda will at last penetrate into every corner of the Russian countryside. Moreover, if they are united and organised at the right time into a single workers’ party, they can be the main bulwark of socialist agitation in favour of economic reforms which will protect the village community against general disintegration. And when the hour of the final victory of the workers’ party over the upper sections of society strikes, once more that party, and only that party, will take the initiative in the socialist organisation of national production. Under the influence of – and, if the case presents itself, under pressure from that party – the village communities still existing will in fact begin the transition to a higher, communist form. Then the advantages offered by communal land tenure will become not only possible, but actual, and the Narodnik dreams of our peasantry’s exceptional development will come true, at least as far as a certain portion of the peasantry is concerned.

Thus the forces which are being freed by the disintegration of the village community in some places in Russia can safeguard it against total disintegration in other places. All that is necessary is the ability to make correct and timely use of those forces and to direct them, i.e., to organise them as soon as possible into a Social-Democratic party.

But, the champions of exceptionalism may object, the small landowners will offer vigorous resistance to the socialist tendencies of the workers’ party. Most probably they will, but, on the other hand, there will be somebody to fight that resistance. The appearance of a class of small landowners is accompanied by the growth in numbers and strength of the revolutionary proletariat, which will at last impart life and movement to our clumsy state apparatus. Resistance need not be feared where there is a historical force capable of overcoming it; this is just as true as, on the other hand, a presumed absence of resistance i s by no means a fact to rejoice at when the people are not capable of beginning the socialist movement, when the heroic exertions of separate individuals are shattered by the inertia of the obscure and ignorant masses.

It must be borne in mind, moreover, that this workers’ party will also be for us a vehicle of influence from the West. The working man will not turn a deaf ear to the movement of the European proletariat, as could easily be the case with the peasant. And the united forces of the home and international movement will be more than enough to defeat the reactionary strivings of the small landowners.

So once more: The earliest possible formation of a workers’ party is the only means of solving all the economic and political contradictions of present-day Russia. On that road success and victory lie ahead; all other roads can lead only to defeat and impotence.

And what about terror? the Narodovoltsi will exclaim. And the peasants? the Narodniks, on the other hand, will shout. You are prepared to be reconciled with the existing reaction for the sake of your plans for a distant future, some will argue. You are sacrificing concrete interests for the victory of your doctrines like narrow-minded dogmatists, others will say horrified. But we ask our opponents to be patient for a while and we shall try to answer at least some of the reproaches showered on us.

First of all, we by no means deny the important role of the terrorist struggle in the present emancipation movement. It has grown naturally from the social and political conditions under which we are placed, and it must just as naturally promote a change for the better. But in itself so-called terror only destroys the forces of the government and does little to further the conscious organisation of its opponents. The terrorist struggle does not widen the sphere of our revolutionary movement; on the contrary, it reduces it to heroic actions by small partisan groups. After a few brilliant successes our revolutionary party has apparently weakened as a result of the great tension and cannot recover without an affluence of fresh forces from new sections of the population. We recommend it to turn to the working class as to the most revolutionary of all classes in present-day society. Does that mean that we advise it to suspend its active struggle against the government? Far from it. On the contrary, we are pointing out a way of making the struggle broader, more varied, and therefore more successful. But it goes without saying that we cannot consider the cause of the working-class movement from the standpoint of how important the workers are “for the revolution”. We wish to make the very victory of the revolution profitable to the working population of our country, and that is why we consider it necessary to further the intellectual development, the unity and organisation of the working population. By no means do we want the workers’ secret organisations to be transformed into secret nurseries rearing terrorists from among the workers. But we understand perfectly that the political emancipation of Russia coincides completely with the interests of the working class, and that is why we think that the revolutionary groups existing in that class must co-operate in the political struggle of our intelligentsia by propaganda, agitation, and occasionally open action in the street. It would be unjust to leave all the hardships of the emancipation movement to be borne by the working class, but it is perfectly just and expedient to bring the workers, as well as others, into it.

There are other sections of the population for whom it would be far more convenient to undertake the terrorist struggle against the government. But outside the workers there is no section that could at the decisive minute knock down and kill off the political monster already wounded by the terrorists. Propaganda among the workers will not remove the necessity for terrorist struggle, but it will provide it with opportunities which have so far never existed. [2]

So much for the terrorists. Let us now speak to the Narodniks.

They are grieved at all programmes in which revolutionary work among the peasants is not given the chief place. But although such work is all that their own programme contains, the result is that

The people’s gains are still but small,
Their life’s not easier yet at all!

Since the late seventies, i.e., since the splitting of the Zemlya i Volya society, revolutionary work among the peasants, far from being extended, has become increasingly narrow. At present it would not be a great error to rate it at nil. And yet all this time there has been no lack of people who assumed that the main stress of our entire revolutionary movement should be immediately transferred to the peasantry. Whence this contradiction? It would be unjust to suspect the Narodniks of inactivity, cowardice or lack or resolution. So one must think that they have set themselves a task which they cannot carry out in the present circumstances, that it is not with the peasantry that our intelligentsia must begin its merger with the people. That is in fact what we think. But that is far from meaning that we attribute no importance to revolutionary work among the peasants. We note the fact and try to understand what it really means, convinced that once they have understood the true reasons for their failure the Narodniks will manage to avoid repeating it. It seems to us that the formation of a workers’ party is what would free us from the contradiction as a result of which in Russia Narodniks have been able to exist for the last seven years only in a state of complete alienation from the people.

How the workers’ party will do this can be seen from what has been set forth above. But it will do no harm to say a few words more on this subject.

To have influence on the numerous obscure masses one must have a certain minimum of forces without which all efforts of separate individuals will never achieve any more than absolutely negligible results. Our revolutionary intelligentsia have not that minimum, and that is why their work among the peasants has left practically no trace. We point out to them the industrial workers as the intermediary force able to promote the intelligentsia’s merger with the “people”. Does that mean that we ignore the peasants? By no means. On the contrary, it means that we are looking for more effective means of influencing the peasantry.

Let us continue. Besides the definite minimum of forces necessary to influence the sections in question, there must be a certain community of character between the sections themselves and the people who appeal to them. But our revolutionary intelligentsia has no community with the peasantry either in its way of thinking or its fitness for physical labour. In this respect, too, the industrial worker is an intermediary between the peasant and the “student”. He must, therefore, be the link between them.

Finally, one must not lose sight of still another, far from negligible, circumstance. No matter what is said about the alleged exclusively agrarian character of present-day Russia, there is no doubt that the “countryside” cannot attract all the forces of our revolutionary intelligentsia. That is unthinkable if only because it is in the town, not in the countryside, that the intelligentsia is recruited, that it is in the town, not in the countryside, that the revolutionary seeks asylum when he is persecuted by the police, even if it is for propaganda among the peasants. Our principal cities are, therefore, the centres in which there is always a more or less considerable contingent of the intelligentsia’s revolutionary forces. It goes without saying that the intelligentsia cannot avoid being influenced by the town or living its life. For some time this life has assumed a political character. And we know that despite the most extreme “Narodnik” programmes our intelligentsia have not been able to hold out against the current and have found themselves forced to take up the political struggle. As long as we have no workers’ party, the revolutionaries “of the town” are compelled to appeal to “society”, and therefore they are, in fact, its revolutionary representatives. The “people” are relegated to the background and thus not only is the establishment of a link between them and the intelligentsia delayed, but even the link which formerly existed between the intellectual revolutionaries “of the town” and those “of the countryside” is severed. Hence the lack of mutual understanding, the disagreements and differences. This would not be the case if the political struggle in the towns were mainly of a working-class character. Then the only difference between the revolutionaries of the town and those of the countryside would be in the place , and not the substance of their activity; both types of revolutionaries would be representatives of the popular movement in its various forms, and the socialists would not need to sacrifice their lives in the interests of a “society” which is alien to their views.

Such harmony is not an unfeasible Utopia. It is not difficult to realise in practice. If at present it is impossible to find ten Narodniks who have settled in the countryside because of their programme, because of their duty to the revolution, on the other hand, there are quite a number of educated and sincere democrats who live in the countryside because of their duty in the service of the state, because of their profession. Many of these people do not sympathise with our political struggle in its present form and at the same time do not undertake systematic revolutionary work among the peasantry for the simple reason that they see no party with which they could join efforts, and we know that a single man on a battlefield is not a soldier. Begin a social and political movement among the workers, and you will see that these rural democrats will little by little come over to the standpoint of Social–Democracy and in their turn will serve as a link between the town and the countryside.

Then our revolutionary forces will be distributed in the following very simple manner: those who are obliged by professional duties to be in the countryside will go there. It goes without saying that there will be a fair number of them. At the same time, those who have the possibility of settling in towns or industrial centres will direct their efforts at work among the working class and endeavour to make it the vanguard of the Russian Social-Democratic army.

Such is our programme. It does not sacrifice the countryside to the interests of the town, does not ignore the peasants for the sake of the industrial workers. It sets itself the task of organising the social-revolutionary forces of the town to draw the countryside into the channel of the world-wide historic movement.

Author’s Footnotes

1. [Note to the 1905 edition.] The events of last year brilliantly confirm what is said here: the proletariat aroused the political consciousness of Russian “society”.

2. [Note to the 1905 edition.] On the basis of this passage it was subsequently said that the Emancipation of Labour group sympathised with “terrorism”. But as long as it has existed that group has held that terrorism is inconvenient for the workers; it was certainly useless at that time to pronounce against the terrorist activity of the intelligentsia who believed in it as in a god.



1*. In his article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? Tikhomirov opposes the views of the members of Narodnaya Volya to those of the Emancipation of Labour group, which, he maintains, had no other way out than to promote the development of Russian capitalism and to fight for a liberal constitution. According to his assertion, Narodnaya Volya fought for a constitution to hand over power to the people, not “to give the bourgeoisie a new instrument for organising and disciplining the working class by depriving them of land, by fines and manhandling.” (Cf. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.2, 1884, p.237.)

2*. A tale by A. Ertel, a liberal writer who in his writings represented merchants and businessmen as the organisers of the economy and vehicles of progress, was published in Vestnik Yevropy, Nos.6-8, 1883.

3*. Otechestvenniye Zapiski (Fatherland Notes) – a. literary political magazine published in Petersburg from 1820. In 1839 it became the best progressive publication of its day. Among its contributors were V.G. Belinsky, A.I. Herzen, T.N. Granovsky, and N.P. Ogaryov. In 1868 the magazine came under the direction of M.Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin, N.A. Nekrasov and G.Z. Yeliseyev. This marked the onset of a period in which the magazine flourished anew, gathering around itself the revolutionarydemocratic intellectuals of Russia. The Otechestvenniye Zapiski was continually harassed by the censors, and in April 1884 was closed down by the tsarist government.

4*. Words of Repetilov in Griboyedov’s Wit Works Woe.

5*. A reference to the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Alexander II made by A.I. Brzozowski, a Polish revolutionary, in Paris on June 6, 1867.

6*. From Nekrasov’s poem The Forsaken Village.

7*. Here Plekhanov probably refers to the passage in Tikhomirov’s article where he draws a parallel between the conservative, who sees the salvation of Russia in a strong gentry, and the Social-Democrat, who sees it in the working class.

8*. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.2, 1884, p.236.

9*. Plekhanov’s comparison bears on the conduct of the Narodnaya Volya member Goldenberg after his arrest. He broke the rules of conspiracy and was caught by the secret police. Realising that he had involuntarily betrayed the cause, he committed suicide in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Zhelyabov is contrasted with Goldenberg as the type of strong-willed underground conspirator.

10*. Plekhanov here quotes the programmatic article in Kalendar Narodnoi Voli for 1883Preparatory Work of the Party. The section of this article on the urban workers begins with the words: “The working population of the towns, which is of particularly great significance for the revolution both by its position and its great development, must be the object of the Party’s serious attention.” (p.130.)

11*. The explosion in the Winter Palace, carried out by Stepan Khalturin, and the sapping of the Malaya Sadovaya were stages in the plans for the assassination of Alexander II, worked out by the Executive Committee of Narodnaya Volya and ending in the terrorist act of March 1, 1881 – the assassination of Alexander II.

12*. The Northern Union of Russian Workers was formed out of workers’ study groups in Petersburg at the end of 1878. It had more than 200 members and existed until 1880. The Union’s programme said that in its tasks it was close to the Social-Democratic parties in the West and that its final aim was to carry out the socialist revolution and its immediate task – the political emancipation of the people and their winning of political rights.

This programme gave rise to no little alarm among the Russian Narodniks. (Cf. G.V. Plekhanov, The Russian Worker in the Revolutionary Movement, Works, Russ. ed., Vol.III, p.184).

The members of the Northern Union of Russian Workers wrote a Letter to the Editors which was published in No.5, April 8, 1879, of Zemlya i Volya, in reply to the Zemlya i Volya organisation, proving that their “demands would remain nothing more than demands” until they fought the autocracy. “We also know,” the Letter said, “that political freedom can guarantee us and our organisation against the tyranny of the authorities and give us the possibility to develop our outlook more correctly and achieve greater success in our propaganda.”

13*. The end of the seventies was marked by a wave of strikes embracing a number of branches of industry, chiefly the textile industry, in which the exploitation of the workers was most intense. During the three years from 1878 to 1880 there were over a hundred strikes. These were of a purely economic character, the workers still believed in the tsar and even addressed a “petition” to Alexander III, who succeeded to the throne. Some Narodnaya Volya members, in particular Plekhanov, took an active part in the organisation of these strikes. (See Plekhanov’s correspondence and the article The Russian Workers in the Revolutionary Movement.)

14*. K. Marx, General Rules of the International Working Men’s Association. Cf. K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol.1, Moscow 1958, p.386.

Last updated on 15.10.2006