G.V. Plekhanov

Our Differences

Chapter VI

We now permit ourselves to say a few concluding words to the reader.

In all that concerns the defence of our standpoint we should like to appeal to his reason, not to his feelings. Valuing exclusively the interests of truth we shall succeed in reconciling ourselves to it, even if it disagrees with the convictions which are dearest of all to us. That is why we have only one request to the reader: let him cri ticise our arguments with the attention that the revolutionary questions we deal with deserve. Whether he approves or disapproves of the solutions we offer, in any case, Russian revolutionary thought will only gain from the new review of the results it has achieved.

But there is another aspect of the matter, and it concerns not the substance of our views but the form in which we chose to expound them. We – or I should say I – may be accused of excessive severity, a hostile attitude to groups which have rendered no small services to the cause of the revolution and, therefore, beyond doubt, deserve respect.

“Bachelors” of science with whom I am already familiar may even go further and accuse me of a hostile attitude to the Russian revolution.

In all that concerns this question, I consider it will not be superfluous to appeal to the feelings of the reader that we call justice and impartiality.

Now, in the concluding chapter as in the beginning, in the Letter to P.L. Lavrov, I can repeat in all sincerity that my wishes for Narodnaya Volya are not of failure but of further success. And if I was severe towards the literary exercises of one of its representatives, there were enough reasons for that which have nothing in common with hostility towards the revolution or any revolutionary group. [1]

One must first of all bear in mind that a revolutionary is not the revolution and that theories of revolutionaries far from always and not in all their parts deserve the name of revolutionary theories.

I by no means deny the importance and usefulness of the revolutionary actions carried out by the Narodovoltsi; but I do not interpret them in the same way as the official representatives of the “party”. I see them in a light which irritates the eyes of Narodnaya Volya publicists. My view of the significance of these actions was made sufficiently clear in the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle, where I said that “Narodnaya Volya cannot find a justification for itself – nor should it seek one – outside modern scientific socialism”.

It pleased Mr. Tikhomirov to express another view on this question, a view which he thought more correct and more revolutionary.

Grieved by the fact that in “certain sections of the socialists” ... the “political democratic idea” ... “has taken forms which distort its very substance”, he decided to improve the matter and in the article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? he endeavoured to adapt his party’s activity to the theories of Bakunin and Tkachov. Thanks to such a twist, the “Narodnaya Volya party’s” official theories ceased to be revolutionary and could be criticised just as severely as all other phenomena of the now more and more intensifying Russian literary reaction, without any harm to the revolution.

Reactionary theories in general are not attractive, but they are not dangerous as long as they come forward under their own banner. They become dangerous poison, real venom of the mind only when they begin to disguise themselves under a revolutionary banner. In such a case it is not the one who tears the revolutionary mask off them but the one who remains indifferent to the sight of intentional or unintentional literary forgery who is the opponent of the revolution.

I am incapable of such indifference, and I do not try to display it either. Hating reaction generally, I hate it all the more when it attracts people over to it in the name of the revolution. Neither can I confess to excessive severity towards Mr. Tikhomirov until the following two propositions are proved:

  1. That Mr. Tikhomirov’s theories are not a new edition of the teachings of Bakunin and Tkachov.
  2. That these teachings cannot be acknowledged as reactionary in comparison with Karl Marx’s scientific socialism.

Let my opponents try to prove these two propositions and not show any haste in accusing me of treason towards the Russian revolution. 1 myself will declare my severity out of place if their arguments are convincing.

But for that it is necessary, among other things, to base the argument on the very propositions of Mr. Tikhomirov which served as the occasion for my polemic with him. The general trend of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli is so vague and ill-defined that the Bakuninist and Tkachovian tendencies of the article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? “ cannot prevent Marxist tendencies from being manifest in articles by the other contributors, and perhapsunexpected as this may be – in new articles by Mr. Tikhomirov. There is nothing impossible in the fact that our author will remember the part of Vestnik’s programme which lies on the other side of the fatal “but” and will write a few eloquent pages on the only road leading to the achievement of the general “socialist aims”. But such a change of front will not weaken the reactionary tendency of the article we have analysed; it will only prove that our author has no definite views.

I wish to remind those readers who are more impartial than Mr. Tikhomirov’s defenders that one can sympathise from the bottom of one’s heart not only with the revolution in general, but also with the revolutionary “Narodnaya Volya party” in particular, and at the same time think that that party’s most urgent task, the first and most necessary success, must be an unconditional break with its present theories.

The supporters of Narodnaya Volya are wrong when they think that to effect such a break would be to betray the memory of the heroes of the Russian terrorist struggle. The most outstanding terrorists began with a critical attitude to the then generally recognised “programmes” of revolutionaries. Why then should people who are following in their footsteps be unable to adopt a similar critical attitude to the “programmes” of their time; why do they think that Zhelyabov’s critical thought should stop before Mr. Tikhomirov’s dogmatic outlook?

That is a question which the young members of our Narodnaya Volya would do well to think over. [2]

Author’s Footnotes

1. [Note to the 1905 edition.] Here is another thing to be noted: I was well aware that Mr. Tikhomirov was completely “disappointed” in the programme of Narodnaya Volya long before his article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? was published. That is why his defence of it was outrageously hypocritical.

2. [Note to the 1905 edition.] I have so far received no serious answer to my book. In the fifth issue of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli there was, it is true, a short bibliographical note [1*] which said that to answer me would mean first and foremost to speak of my personal character. Beyond this hint, which was obviously intended to be spiteful, the editors of Vestnik said absolutely nothing in defence of Mr. Tikhomirov’s expectations from the revolution, but some years later Mr. Tikhomirov himself stated that those expectations were unrealistic and admitted that already at the time of his arrival abroad he had considered his “party” as a corpse. That was an unexpected but very significant conclusion to the whole of our argument. All that remained for me was to sum up, which I did in the article Inevitable Change published in the symposium Sozial-Demokrat, and in the pamphlet A New Champion of Autocracy, or Mr. L. Tikhomirov’s Grief, Geneva 1889. [2*]



1*. Tikhomirov’s contribution – signed L.T. – G. Plekhanov – Our Differences, Geneva 1885.” (Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.5, Section 2, 1886, p.40, Notes on New Books.)

2*. Plekhanov wrote the article Inevitable Change in connection with Tikhomirov’s foreword to the second edition of his book La Russie politique et sociale. The article A New Champion of Autocracy, or Mr. L. Tikhomirov’s Grief was a reply to Tikhomirov’s pamphlet Why I Ceased to Be a Revolutionary, on which Plekhanov also wrote a short review.

Last updated on 15.10.2006