G.V. Plekhanov

Our Differences


5. M.A. Bakunin

That was no Bakunin’s way of reasoning. He understood that the revolutionary intelligentsia could influence the people only if certain historical conditions were to hand, only if there was among the people a more or less conscious desire for a socialist upheaval. That is why he proceeded from a comparison between the “ideals of the people” and the ideals of our intelligentsia, naturally of the anarchist trend.

In his opinion, the two elements which can be indicated as the necessary conditions for the social revolution are present on the widest scale in the Russian people. “It can boast of its extraordinary poverty and also of its exemplary” (sic) “enslavement. Its sufferings are countless and it bears them not patiently but with a profound and passionate despair which has already been expressed twice in history by two fearful outbreaks: the rebellion of Stenka Razin and the Pugachov rebellion, and which incessantly manifests itself to the present day by an uninterrupted series of peasant rebellions.” [18] It is not the “lack of a common ideal, an ideal capable of comprehending a popular revolution and providing it with a definite aim”, which prevents the people from carrying out a victorious revolution. If there were no such ideal, “if it had not developed in the consciousness of the people, at least in its main lines, one would have to renounce all hope of a Russian revolution, because such an ideal is brought forth from the very depths of the people’s life, is necessarily the result of their historical trials, strivings, sufferings, protests and struggle, and at the same time it is in a way a figurative, understandable and always simple expression of their real demands and hopes ... if the people do not develop this ideal out of themselves, nobody will be able to give it to them”. But “there is no doubt” that such an ideal exists in the imagination of the Russian peasantry, and “there is not even any necessity to delve too deep into the historical consciousness of our people to determine its main features”.

The author of Statehood and Anarchy counts six “main features” of the Russian people’s ideal: three good ones and three bad ones. Let us examine this classification more closely, for Bakunin’s outlook has left its imprint on the views of many of those among our socialists who were never his followers or were even his opponents.

“The first and main feature is the conviction of the whole people that the land, all the land, belongs to the people who water it with their sweat and fertilise it with their labour. The second, just as great, feature is that the right to make use of it belongs not to the individual, but to the whole village community, mir, which divides it temporarily among individuals; the third feature is of equal importance to the first two; it is the quasi-absolute autonomy, the self-government of the village community, and the community’s consequent resolute hostility to the state.

“Those are the three main features underlying the ideal of the Russian people. In their substance they fully correspond to the ideal which is developing in recent times in the consciousness of the proletariat in the Latin countries, which are incomparably nearer to the social revolution than the German countries. However, the ideal of the Russian people is darkened by three other features which distort its character and extremely (nota bene) hinder and retard its realisation ... These three darkening features are: 1) patriarchalism, 2) the absorption of the individual by mir, 3) faith in the tsar ... As a fourth feature we could add the Christian faith, official orthodox or sectarian, but ... here in Russia this question is of far less importance than in Western Europe.” [19]

It is against these negative features of the people’s ideal that Russian revolutionaries must fight “with all their strength”, and this fight is “all the more possible as it is already going on among the people themselves”.

The confidence that the people themselves have already taken up the fight against the negative “features” of their ideal formed a very characteristic “feature” of the entire programme of the Russian Bakuninists. It was the straw at which they clutched to save themselves from the logical conclusions from their own premises and from the conclusions of Bakunin’s analysis of the people’s ideal. “No individual, no society, no people, can be given what does not already exist in itself, not only in the embryo, but even at a certain stage of development,” we read in Note A, which we have already quoted so often. To remain consistent, the Russian Bakuninist should have “renounced all hope of a Russian revolution” if the people had not noticed the “darkening features” of their ideal and if their dissatisfaction at these features had not already attained a “certain stage of development”. It is therefore comprehensible that it was in this direction that all the dialectic power of the founder of Russian “rebellion” had to be directed.

It must be noted, besides, that on this point Bakunin was not far from a perfectly correct formulation of the question of the social-revolutionary movement’s chances in Russia or from a serious, critical attitude to the character and “ideals” of our people. It was precisely this kind of critical attitude that was lacking in Russian public figures. Herzen was amazed in his time at the absence of any at all de finite and generally accepted characteristic of the Russian people.

“Some speak only of the omnipotence of the tsar, of governmental tyranny, and of the slavish spirit of the subjects; others maintain, on the contrary, that Petersburg imperialism is not of the people, that the people, crushed under the double despotism of the government and the landlords, bear the yoke, but are not reconciled to it, that they are not annihilated, but only wretched, and at the same time they say that these same people give unity and strength to the colossal empire which oppresses them. Some add that the Russian people are a despicable mob of drunkards and knaves; others affirm that Russia is inhabited by a capable and richly gifted race.” [20]

Thirty years have passed since the lines that I quote were first written, and yet to this very day not only the foreigners whom Herzen had in mind but even Russian public figures support diametrically opposite views on the character and “ideals” of the Russian people. Of course there is nothing surprising in every party being prone to exaggerate people’s sympathy for its own strivings. But neither in France, Germany nor any other Western country does one find the contradiction in views about the peasantry which amazes us in Russia. This contradiction occasionally leads to most amusing misunderstandings. The difference in the political and social outlooks of people belonging to the most opposite trends is often determined only by a difference in the conception of the ”ideals of the people”. Mr. Katkov and Mr. Aksakov, for example, would agree with Mr. Tikhomirov that “a political programme ... must take the people as they are and only in that case will it be capable of influencing their life”. The editor of Rus, on the other hand, could accept that “out of 100 million inhabitants” in our country “there are 800,000 workers united by capital”, as Mr. Tikhomirov states in his article What Can We Expect from the Revolution?; but the editor of Moskovskiye Vedomosti would perhaps consider that estimate too low and point out many more inaccuracies in Mr. Tikhomirov’s statistical calculations. [21*] Nevertheless, both of them would be only too eager to subscribe to the opinion that Russia is an agricultural country and that the results of “the analysis of social relationships ... made ... in the capitalist countries of Europe” are not applicable to Russia, that talk about the political and economic significance of the Russian bourgeoisie is absurd and ridiculous, that the Russian Social-Democrats are doomed to “a truly tragic condition”, and finally, that when talking about the people “as they are”, it is our peasantry one must have in mind. However, despite the fact that the outlook of the literary representatives of our extreme (in opposite directions) parties “includes views to a certain extent” identical with one another, the conclusions they draw from their premises turn out to be diametrically opposed. When Mr. Tikhomirov speaks about the people we learn with satisfaction that “disappointed in the autocracy of the tsars”, our people can pass over “only to the autocracy of the people”, that “at a revolutionary moment our people will not be split politically when the basic principle of state power is in question. In just the same way they will prove to be completely united economically on the land question, i.e., on the basic question for contemporary Russian production” (sic). We are finally overcome by mirth when we read that “in neither moral strength, clarity of social self-consciousness nor the resulting historical stability can we place a single of our social strata on a level with the peasant and worker class”, that “the intelligentsia are not deceived by their impression and that at the moment of the final unravelling of the contemporary tangle of political relationships the people will, of course, act with greater unity than even the exalted (by whom?) bourgeoisie.” [22*]

We see that the people “wish well”, as a Russian writer [23*] once assured the French, and overjoyed, we are already preparing to burst forth, “Roll, thunder of victory, make merry, brave Russian!” [24*] when suddenly Rus catches our eye and we drop down from heaven to earth. It appears that the people “wish” evil indeed. They deify the tsar, support corporal punishment, are not thinking on any revolution at all and are prepared to shatter Messrs, the lovers of the people as soon as they receive “a stern telegramme” about them. References to the present situation and even to history abound here just as in Mr. Tikhomirov’s articles. How strange! If we turn to students of the people’s life like Mr. Uspensky who are known for their impartiality, our disappointment only becomes deeper. We learn that our people are under “the power of the land” [25*] which forces them logically enough to conclude in favour of absolutism without even a hint at transition to “autocracy of the people”. Mr. Uspensky persuades us that not only such extreme opposites as Messrs. Aksakov and Tikhomirov, but people of approximately similar outlooks, hold diametrically opposed views about the people.

What, then, is the cause of all this Babel, this tangle of concepts?

Bakunin’s classification of the various aspects of “the people’s ideal” gives us a fairly likely explanation. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Tikhomirov bases all his social and political considerations on certain positive “features” of this ideal (the same which “in their substance fully correspond to the ideal developing in the consciousness of the proletariat in the Latin countries”): “the conviction of the whole people that the land, all the land, belongs to the people and that the right to make use of it belongs not to the individual, but to the whole village community, mir, which divides it temporarily among individuals”. And although the author of the article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? would not be particularly gratified by the third feature which is “of equal importance to the first two”, i.e., “the community’s ... resolute hostility to the state”, this hostility, in Bakunin’s own classification, is only the consequence of “the quasi-absolute autonomy, the self-government of the village community” on which many of Mr. Tikhomirov’s hopes rest. [21] Our author either knows nothing or does not wish to tell his reader anything about the “darkening” features of the people’s ideal (patriarchalism, the absorption of the individual by mir, “the superstition of the people, naturally coupled with ignorance”, poverty, etc.). Mr. Aksakov proceeds the opposite way. He builds his arguments precisely on these last “features”, forgetting the contraries or passing them over in silence. Mr. Uspensky’s articles also cease to amaze us. He contrasted Ormuzd with Ahriman [26*], the bad aspects of the ideal with the good, and landed in the blind alley of “the power of the land” from which there is no way out, apparently, either for the peasant or for the whole of Russia, which rests upon the peasant as the earth does upon the “three whales”; whereas the lovers of the people, as he represents them, saw, some the bright, others the “unfortunate” features of the people’s character and ideal, and therefore they could not come to any agreement. All this is quite understandable and we cannot but thank the late Bakunin for the key which he gave us to understand the one-sidedness of both his own followers and the majority of our Narodniks in general.

But it was not to no effect that Bakunin once made a study of German philosophy. He understood that the classification of the “features of the people’s ideal” which he suggested – whether we take only the good ones or only the “unfortunate” ones or, finally, both the fortunate and the “unfortunate features” – explained only the Chinese side of the question. [27*] He understood that the people must be “taken” not “as they are” but as they are striving to be and are becoming under the influence of the given historical movement. In this respect Bakunin was much closer to Hegel than to Mr. Tikhomirov. He was not satisfied with the conviction that the people’s ideal was “as it is”; he was concerned with the study of the “features” of that ideal in their development, in their mutual interrelations. And precisely in that point, as I said above, he was not far from the correct formulation of the question. Had he applied the dialectical method in the appropriate manner to explaining the people’s life and outlook, had he better mastered “the indubitable truth proved by Marx and corroborated by all the past and present history of human society, peoples and states, that the economic fact has always preceded and always does precede ... political right”, and consequently the social and political ideals of the “peoples”, had he remembered in time that “the proof of this truth is one of Mr. Marx’s great scientific services” [22], I would probably have no need to argue with Mr. Tikhomirov, for there would be no longer any trace of “Bakuninism”.

But dialectics betrayed Bakunin, or rather he betrayed dialectics.

Instead of proceeding from “economic facts” in his analysis of the Russian people’s social and political ideal, instead of expecting that old “ideal” to be refashioned under the influence of new tendencies in the economic life of the people, the author of Statehood and Anarchy sets up a completely arbitrary hierarchy of “defects” of the people’s ideal, trying to find a combination of its ”unfortunate features” in which one is neutralised or even entirely removed by another. This changes his whole argument into a completely arbitrary playing with arbitrary definitions. The author, who seemed to be so close to the truth, suddenly strayed infinitely far from it simply because he only felt the necessity for a dialectical appraisal of the people’s world outlook but was either unable or unwilling to make it. Instead of the anticipated dialectics, sophistry appeared on the scene. “Bakuninism” was saved, but the elucidation of the tasks of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia was not advanced a single step.

The hierarchy of the various defects in the people’s ideal is established in the following way. “The absorption of the individual by mir and the worship of the tsar follow, properly speaking, as direct results ... from patriarchalism.” The village community itself proves to be “nothing but the natural extension of the family, the tribe” [23], and the tsar – “the common patriarch and ancestor, the father of the whole of Russia”. Precisely “for that reason his power is unlimited.” Hence it is understandable that patriarchalism is “the principal historical evil” which we are obliged “to fight with all our strength”. But how can an anarchist who has neither “the intention nor the slightest wish to impose on our people or another any ideal of social structure obtained from reading books or from his own imagination” fight “the historical evil”? In no other way than by basing himself on the historical development of the people’s ideal. But does the development of the Russian people’s ideal promote the elimination from it of the darkening feature of patriarchalism? Without any doubt, and in this way: “the war against patriarchalism is now being waged in nearly every village and every family, and the village community, mir, has now been so transformed into an instrument of the hated state power and despotism of officialdom that the revolt against the latter is becoming at the same time a revolt against the despotism of the village community, mir.” [24] Not embarrassed by the fact that the fight against the despotism of the village community cannot fail to shake the very principles of communal land tenure, the author considers the question finally settled and assures us that “there remains the deification of the tsar”, which ”has extremely palled on and weakened in the consciousness of the people in the last ten or twelve years”, not even because “patriarchalism” has been shaken, but “thanks to the wise policy of Alexander II the mild”, a policy prompted by love of the people. After many trials, the Russian people “have begun to understand that they have no worse enemy than the tsar”. The intelligentsia needs only to support and intensify this anti-tsar trend in the minds of the people. In conclusion the same intelligentsia is urged to fight one more “main defect”, not mentioned in the list of the features of the people’s ideal quoted above. This defect, “which has so far paralysed and rendered impossible a general rising of the people in Russia, is the exclusiveness of the peasant communities, the isolation and disjunction of the peasant mirs“ ... If we consider that “the disjunction of the peasant mirs” results from the circumstance that “every village community forms a closed whole, in consequence of which not one community has or even feels [25] the necessity to have any independent organic link with the others”, that “they are united among themselves only through the intermediary of father tsar, only in his supreme, paternal authority”, we are obliged to admit that no easy task is imposed on the intelligentsia. “To establish a link between the best peasants in all villages, volosts and, as far as possible, regions, and, where possible, to establish a similar vital link between the factory workers and the peasantry”, ... to ensure “that the best or progressive peasants in every village, volost and region know the like peasants of all the other villages, volosts and regions”, ... to convince them that “in the people there lives an invincible strength which is powerful only when it is assembled and works simultaneously ... and that thus far it has not been assembled”, ... to establish a link between and organise “the villages, volosts and regions according to a general plan and with the concerted aim of emancipating the whole people”, ... briefly, to add several new and very good “features” to the people’s character and ideal and to remove from them several radical defects – that is a truly titanic work! And this gigantic work will have to be undertaken with the conviction that “one must be an unmitigated blockhead or an incorrigible doctrinaire to imagine that one can give something to the people, present them with any material good or new intellectual or moral content, a new truth, and arbitrarily give their life a new direction or, as ... the late Chaadayev maintained, write what one wishes on them, as on a blank sheet”. [26] ... Can one imagine a more crying contradiction between the theoretical propositions of a “programme” and the practical tasks it outlines?

People who did not want to break with logic for ever could do nothing but renounce the practical part of the programme while supporting its basic propositions, or follow its practical directions and try to find a reliable theoretical basis for them. That is what happened subsequently.

6. P.N. Tkachov

But side by side with Bakuninism, which carried within itself the elements of its own disintegration, there was another trend in the Russian revolutionary party. Extremely hostile to Bakunin’s anarchist philosophy, it agreed with him, as I have already mentioned in the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle, in his appraisal of the contemporary situation in Russia. At the same time, this trend was insured against many of the blunders the author of Statehood and Anarchy made by, so to speak, its lesser pretentiousness and the lower logical type of its line of argument.

Bakunin sought the justification of the action he suggested in the very process of development of the people’s outlook, but as he used an unsuitable criterion he was forced to substitute the logical leaps of his own thought for the historical development of Russian social life. Tkachov, the father of the trend which we are now going on to, gave no thought to a dialectical analysis of our social relationships. His programme was the immediate conclusion he drew from the statics of those relationships. The contemporary structure of Russian life seemed to him purposely invented, as it were, for the social (which in his terminology meant socialist) revolution. For him, to talk about progress and development was to betray the cause of the people. “Now, or in a very remote future, perhaps never!” was the motto of his journal Nabat. He expressed the same thought in his pamphlet Tasks of Revolutionary Propaganda in Russia, and it pervades every line of his Open Letter to Engels. Not venturing on to the difficult road of dialectics, he did not make the false steps in logic typical of Bakunin, which he so bitingly ridiculed in his Anarchy of Thought. He was more consistent than Bakunin in the sense that he kept firmly to his premises and drew more logical conclusions from them. The whole trouble was that not only those premises, but also the standpoint he adopted in their elaboration, were interior to those of Bakunin for the simple reason that they were nothing but Bakuninism simplified, a Bakuninism which renounced all efforts to create its own philosophy of Russian history and anathematised such at tempts. A few extracts from Tkachov’s works will suffice to prove this.

Let us begin with his Open Letter to Mr. Frederick Engels.

The purpose of this letter was “to help the ignorance” of Engels, to prove to him that “the accomplishment of the social revolution is encountering no serious obstacles in Russia” and that “at every particular moment it is possible to arouse the Russian people for a unanimous revolutionary protest”. [27] The method he uses to prove this thesis is so original, so typical of the history of “poor Russian thought”, so important for understanding and correctly appraising the “Narodnaya Volya party’s” programme and it anticipates to such a degree Mr. Tikhomirov’s whole line of argument that it deserves the reader’s most serious attention.

In Tkachov’s opinion it would be childish to dream of transposing the International Working Men’s Association to Russian soil. This is hindered by the social and political conditions in Russia. “May it be known to you,” he says to Engels [28*], “that we in Russia have not at our command a single one of the means of revolutionary struggle which you have at your disposal in the West in general and in Germany in particular. We have no urban proletariat, no freedom of the press, no representative assembly, nothing that could allow us to hope to unite (in the present economic situation) the downtrodden, ignorant masses of working people into a single, well-organised, disciplined workers’ association ...” “A working-class literature is unthinkable here, and if it could be created it would prove useless, because the majority of our people cannot read.” Personal influence upon the people is also impossible owing to the police regulations which take measures against any approach by the intelligentsia to the common people. But all these unfavourable conditions, the author of the letter assures Engels, “must not lead you to think that the victory of the social revolution is more problematic, less guaranteed in Russia than in the West. By no means! If we have not certain of the chances that you have, we can point out many which you have not got”.

What are these chances? Why can we expect a revolution, and what may we expect from it?

“We have no urban proletariat, that is true, of course; but, on the other hand, we have no bourgeoisie at all. Between the suffering people and the despotism of the state which oppresses them we have no intermediate estate; our workers will only have to fight political power – the power of capital in our country is still in the embryo ...

“Our people are ignorant, that is a fact too. 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 ...

“Hence it is clear that despite their ignorance our people are far nearer to socialism than the peoples of the West, although the latter are better educated.

“Our people are accustomed to slavery and subjection – that is also indisputable. But you must not conclude from that that they are satisfied with their condition. They protest, and protest continually against it. No matter what form these protests take, whether that of religious sects – called dissidence – that of refusing to pay taxes, of revolt, or open resistance to the authorities, in any case they protest, occasionally with great energy ... “True, these protests are narrow and scattered. Nevertheless, they prove sufficiently that the people cannot bear their condition and that they profit by every opportunity to give vent to the bitterness and hatred heaped up in their breasts. And that is why the Russian people may be called instinctively revolutionary in spite of their apparent torpor, in spite of their not being clearly aware of their rights ...

“Our revolutionary party of the intelligentsia is numerically small, that is true too. But then, it pursues none but socialist ideals and its enemies are almost more impotent than it, and their impotence is to the party’s advantage. Our upper estates constitute no force whatsoever – neither economic (they are too poor), nor political (they are too obtuse and too much accustomed to rely in everything on the wisdom of the police). Our clergy are of no importance whatever ... Our state seems a power only when considered from a distance. In reality its strength is only apparent and fictitious. It has no roots in the economic life of the people. It does not embody the interests of any estate. It oppresses indifferently all classes of society and is equally hated by all. They tolerate the state, they suffer its barbaric despotism with complete equanimity. But this tolerance, this equanimity ... are the result of a mistake: society has created for itself the illusion that the Russian state is mighty and is under the magic influence of that illusion.”

But not much is needed to dispel this illusion.

“Two or three military defeats, a simultaneous rising of the peasants in many gubernias, an open revolt in the capital in peacetime, and its influence will be destroyed in an instant and the government will find itself alone and abandoned by all.

“Thus, in this respect too, we have more chances than you (i.e., the West in general and Germany in particular). In your countries the state is by no means a fictitious force, it stands firmly based on capital; it embodies definite economic interests. It is not only supported by the army and police (as in our country), but is strengthened by the whole system of bourgeois relations ... In our country ... on the contrary, our social form owes its existence to the state, to a state hanging, so to speak, in the air, a state which has nothing in common with the existing social order, whose roots are in the past, not the present.” [28]

Such is Tkachov’s social and political philosophy.

If by some mistake of the type-setter the above quotations were followed by a reference to the article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? Mr. Tikhomirov himself would hardly notice the mistake, such is the resemblance the copy published in April 1884 hears to the original which appeared ten years ago. But alas, what does the glory of the first discovery matter?! Mr. Tikhomirov does not say a word about his teacher. For his part, the author of Open Letter to Mr. Frederick Engels did not consider it necessary to refer to Statehood and Anarchy, which had already been published in 1873 and contains the same account of Russian social relations and the same assurances that the Russian peasant is “communist by instinct, by tradition”. Frederick Engels was perfectly right when he said in his answer to Tkachov that the hitter’s argument was based on “Bakunin’s usual phrases”.

But what does Bakuninism lead to when it has lost faith in the possibility of removing the “unfortunate features” of people’s ideal by direct influence and has concentrated its attention on the fortunate circumstance that our state is “hanging in the air” and “has nothing in common with the existing social order”, that the “accomplishment of the social revolution presents no difficulties”? It is easy to understand what it leads to. If “capital in our country is still in the embryo” and “our workers have to fight only the political power” of tsarism; if the people, for their part, “are always ready” to rebel just as Pushkin’s Onegin is to fight a duel, the revolutionary struggle acquires an exclusively “political” character. But as, moreover, we are unable “to unite the downtrodden, ignorant masses of working people into a single, well-organised, disciplined association”, or to create a working-class literature and as it would even be useless to do so, it appears that it is not the workers at all who have to wage that political struggle. This must be the concern of the same “numerically small revolutionary party of the intelligentsia” whose strength lies in its socialist ideals and the impotence of its enemies. But, owing to contemporary Russian conditions and also the very substance of its relations to the other social forces, that minority, which is strong because of others’ weakness, has no alternative but to set up a secret organisation and prepare a coup d’état in anticipation of favourable circumstances for a decisive blow – “military defeats” of Russia, “simultaneous risings in several gubernias”, or ”revolt in the capital”. In other words, Bakuninism, having lost faith in “progress”, leads us direct to conspiracy for the overthrow of the existing government, the seizure of power and the organisation of a socialist society with the help of that power and the Russian peasantry’s “inborn and traditional” inclination towards communism. We saw all this in Tkachov’s works long before we beheld it in Mr. Tikhomirov’s article.

But to acquaint ourselves fully with Tkachov’s programme or, as he said, the programme of the “group to which all that is courageous, clever and energetic in our revolutionary intellectual youth belongs”, we must turn to other works of the editor of Nabat, since the Open Letter contains only the assurance that “the contemporary period of (Russian) history is the most convenient for carrying out the social revolution”, and references to such “general features” of the programme as “a direct appeal to the people”, the creation of a vigorous revolutionary organisation and strict discipline. From the pamphlet Tasks of Revolutionary Propaganda in Russia [29*] we shall get the original thought that “a forcible revolution can take place only when the minority refuses to wait for the majority to become conscious of their requirements and decides, so to speak, to impose this consciousness on the majority”. Finally, in the collection of “critical essays by P.N. Tkachov” published under the general title Anarchy of Thought [30*] we actually find in the chapter directed against the programme of the journal Vperyod and the pamphlet Russian Social-Revolutionary Youth [31*] the following alternative: “One of the two: either the intelligentsia must take power in its hands after the revolution, or it must resist, retard the revolution until the blissful moment when the ‘popular outbreak’ no longer presents any danger, i.e., when the people have assimilated the results of world thought and acquired knowledge which is beyond them.” The mere circumstance that this knowledge is admitted to be “beyond the people” makes it clear where P.N. Tkachov’s sympathies lie.

The organisation of a conspiracy to seize power becomes the main practical task of propaganda in the newspaper and then in the journal Nabat. Parallel with this goes propaganda of terror and the extolling of “the so-called Nechayev plot” at the expense of the propagandist circles. “For us revolutionaries, who no longer wish to tolerate the sufferings of the people and can no longer bear their shameful slave-like condition, for us, whose view is not dimmed by metaphysical ravings and who are profoundly convinced that the Russian revolution, like every other one, cannot take place without the hanging and shooting of gendarmes, public prosecutors, ministers, merchants and priests, briefly, cannot take place without ‘a forcible upheaval’, for us materialist revolutionaries the whole question boils down to acquiring the power of the authority which is now directed against us.’ These lines, printed in 1878 [29], when nobody even thought of forming the “Narodnaya Volya party”, show clearly enough where we must seek the source of the practical ideas whose dissemination this party took upon itself. We therefore think that the editors of Nabat were right in their way when, noting in 1879 “the complete fiasco” of going among the people, they added proudly: “We were the first to point out the inevitability of this fiasco; we were the first ... to implore youth to abandon that fatal anti-revolutionary path and to return once more to the traditions of direct revolutionary work and a fighting, centralised revolutionary organisation (i.e., to the traditions of the Nechayev trend). And ours was not a voice crying in the wilderness ...” “The fighting organisation of the revolutionary forces, the disorganisation and terrorisation of the government authorities, these have been from the very beginning the basic demands of our programme. And at present these demands have at last begun to be put into practice.” Carried away by terrorist activity, the editors even state that “at present our only task is to terrorise and disorganise the government authorities”. [30] [33*]

7. Results

We shall later see the significance of the extracts I have quoted on the question of “our differences”. Let us now consider the programmes which we have set forth from the purely historical standpoint and ask ourselves how satisfactory were our formulation and solution of the problem of the condition of the Russian village community and of the Russian people’s ability to wage a conscious struggle for their economic emancipation.

We have seen that both M.A. Bakunin and P.N. Tkachov spoke a lot about the communist instincts of the Russian peasantry. References to these instincts form the starting-point of their social and political arguments and the main basis of their faith in the possibility of a socialist revolution in Russia. But neither the author of Statehood and Anarchy nor the editor of Nabat apparently gave the slightest thought to the question whether the village community exists because our people “are imbued with the principles of communal land tenure” or whether they are “imbued” with these “principles”, i.e., arc accustomed to the community, because they live under conditions of collective ownership of the land. Had they devoted more attention to this question – about the answer to which there cannot be any doubt – they would have had to transfer the main emphasis of their argument from the discussion of the people’s “instincts” and ideals to the study of the national economy. Then they would have had to pay attention to the history of land tenure and in general of the right of property among the primitive peoples, to the rise and gradual growth of individualism in the communities of hunting, nomadic and agricultural tribes, to the social and political influence of this new “ principle”, which gradually became dominant. Applying the results of such studies to Russia, they would have had to appraise the conditions which cause the disintegration of the village community and whose significance has particularly grown since the abolition of serfdom. This appraisal would logically have brought them to attempt to determine the strength and significance of individualism in the economy of the modern village community in Russia. Then, since the significance of this principle is continually rising – under the influence of conditions adverse to collectivism – they would have had to determine the magnitude of the acceleration individualism is gaining in the course of its assault on the rights and the economy of the community members. Having determined with all possible accuracy in such conditions the magnitude of this acceleration, they would have had to go on to study the qualities and development of the force by means of which they hoped not only to stave off the triumph of individualism, not only to restore to the village community its primitive form, but to give it a new and higher form. Then there would have arisen the question – a very important one, as we have seen – whether this force would be the product of the inner life of the community or a result of the historical development of external conditions. In the latter case, this force would be a purely external one in relation to the community, and they would then have needed first of all to ask themselves whether external influences alone were sufficient for the reorganisation of the economic, social and political life of the class concerned. Having dealt with this question, they would have had to consider another, namely, where the point of application of this force was to be sought – in the sphere of the conditions of life or in the domain of the thinking habits of our peasantry. To conclude, they would have had to prove that the strength of the supporters of socialism grows with greater speed than individualism is growing in Russian economic life. Only when they had made this circumstance at least probable could they have proved the probability of the social revolution which they held could not encounter “any” difficulties in Russia.

In each of the cases listed above they would have had to deal not with the statics but with the dynamics of our social relationships, to “take” the people not “as they are”, but as they are becoming, to consider not the motionless picture but the process of Russian life taking place according to definite laws. They would have had to apply in practice the very instrument of dialectics which Chernyshevsky used to study the question of the village community in its abstract form.

Unfortunately neither Bakunin nor Tkachov were able, as we have seen, to approach the question of the chances of a social revolution in Russia from this most important standpoint. They contented themselves with the conviction that our people are “communist by instinct, by tradition”; and although Bakunin paid due attention to the weak sides of the people’s “traditions” and instincts, although Tkachov saw that such weak sides could be eliminated only by institutions and not by logical arguments, neither of them carried their analysis to the end. In appealing to our intelligentsia they expected social miracles from its activity and presumed that its devotion would be a substitute for the people’s initiative and that its revolutionary energy would replace the inner striving of Russian social life towards a socialist revolution. They regarded the national economy, the way of life and the thinking habits of the peasantry exactly as a still life, a complete whole requiring only slight changes, right up to the social revolution itself. In the imagination of those same writers who, naturally, would not have refused to admit the forms of the people’s life in their time to be the result of historical development, history seemed “to stand still”. From the publication of Statehood and Anarchy or Open Letter to Frederick Engels right up to the first or “second day after the revolution” the village community, they held, was to remain in its present form, which they affirmed was not far from the transition to socialism. The thing was to set about the matter as soon as possible and to follow the appropriate road. “We brook no postponements, no delays ... We cannot and will not wait ... Let each one gather his belongings as quickly as he can and hasten to set out!” wrote the editor of Nabat. And although there were fundamental differences between Bakunin and Tkachov as to the direction of that road, each was sure at any rate that if youth followed the road he indicated they would still manage to find the village community in a state of desirable stability. Although “every day brings us new enemies, creates new social forms hostile to us”, those new forms do not change the mutual relations between the factors of Russian social life. There continues to be no bourgeoisie, the state continues to be “hanging in the air”. If we ring the tocsin louder, if we set about revolutionary activity more energetically, we shall ye t succeed in saving the “communist instincts” of the Russian people and, relying on their attachment to the “principles of communal land tenure”, we shall succeed in accomplishing the socialist revolution. That was the way P.N. Tkachov argued and also the way, or nearly the way, the author of Statehood and Anarchy argued.

Our youth read the works of both authors and, splitting into groups, did indeed hasten to set to work. It may seem strange at first sight that Tkachov’s or Bakunin’s programme could find supporters among the very intelligentsia that had been reared on the works of Chernyshevsky and if only for that reason should have developed the habit of more rigorous thinking. But in substance the matter was simple and was partly explained by Chernyshevsky’s own influence.

It was not for nothing that Hegel gave such an important place in his philosophy to the question of method or that those West European socialists who are proud to “trace their descent”, incidentally, “to Hegel and Kant”, attach far more importance to the method of studying social phenomena than to the data resulting from that study. [31] A mistake in the results will inevitably be noticed and corrected by further application of the correct method, whereas an erroneous method can only in rare and individual cases give results not contrary to this or that individual truth. But there can be a serious attitude to questions of method only in a society which has had a serious philosophical education, a thing which Russian society could never boast of. The inadequate philosophical education made itself felt with particular force in our country in the sixties, when our “thinking realists” [35*], having established the cult of natural science, began cruelly to persecute philosophical “metaphysics”. Influenced by this anti-philosophical propaganda, Chernyshevsky’s followers were unable to master the methods of his dialectical thinking and concentrated their attention merely on the results of his studies. As a result of these very studies, as we know, there appeared faith in the possibility for our village community of a direct transition to a higher, communist form of communal life. This conviction suffered from one-sidedness by virtue of its abstractness, and had the pupils remained faithful to the spirit and not to the letter of Chernyshevsky’s works, they would not have been slow to pass, according to an expression I used above, from algebra to arithmetic, from general abstract arguments about possible transitions of certain social forms into others, to the detailed study of the contemporary conditions and probable future of the Russian village community in particular. So-called “Russian” socialism would thus have been placed on a perfectly firm basis. Unfortunately, our revolutionary youth did not even suspect that their teacher had any special method of thinking. Contenting themselves with the results of his investigations, they regarded as his fellow-thinkers all writers who defended the principle of communal land tenure, and whereas the author of Criticism of Philosophical Prejudices could himself never agree, for example, with Shchapov [32], our youth saw in the latter’s historical works only a new illustration and new arguments in favour of their teacher’s opinion. Still less could they make a severe criticism of the new revolutionary doctrines. P.N. Tkachov and M.A. Bakunin seemed to them to belong to exactly the same trend as Chernyshevsky. Hegel’s pupils, while strictly following the very same method which that great thinker handed down to them, smashed his system to bits. They kept to the spirit, not the letter of his system. Chernyshevsky’s followers could not bring themselves even to think of a critical attitude towards his opinions. They kept strictly to every letter of his writings and lost all idea of their spirit. The result was that they could not preserve in their purity even the results of Chernyshevsky’s investigations, and, mixing them with Slavophile tendencies, they formed the curious theoretical amalgam from which our Narodism subsequently arose.

Thus, the preceding socialist literature bequeathed to us several (unimitated) attempts at applying the dialectical method to the solution of important problems in Russian social life and several socialist programmes; one of these recommended socialist propaganda, considering the Russian peasantry just as receptive to it as the West European proletariat; another insisted on the organisation of a nation-wide rebellion, and a third, not considering propaganda or organisation possible, pointed to the seizure of power by a revolutionary party as the starting-point of the Russian socialist revolution.

The theoretical posing of the question of the revolution, far from progressing since Chernyshevsky’s time, regressed in many respects towards Herzen’s semi-Slavophile views. The Russian revolutionary intelligentsia of the early seventies did not add a single serious argument in support of the negative solution of the question posed by Herzen: “Must Russia pass through all the phases of European development?”

Author’s Footnotes

18. «Государство и анархия», примечание А, стр.7. [Statehood and Anarchy, Note A, p.7.]

19. Ibid., Note A, p.10

20. The Russian People and Socialism [20*], London 1858, pp.7-8.

21. “The peasantry knows how to arrange its self-government, to take the land into the jurisdiction of the mir and to dispose of it in common.” Vestnik Narodnoi Voli No.2, p.225.

22. Statehood and Anarchy, pp.223-24.

23. Apparently M.A. Bakunin did not even suspect that the commune existed in history before the patriarchy and exists among peoples who show no trace of “patriarchalism”. By the way, he shared this error with many of his contemporaries, for instance Rodbertus and perhaps Lassalle, who in his scheme of the history of property, System der erworbenen Rechte, T.1, S.217-23, makes no mention of the primitive commune.

[Note to the 1905 edition.] I repeat that the Russian village community has nothing in common with the primitive commune. But in the early eighties this was not yet established. – G.P.

24. Statehood and Anarchy, Note A, p.19.

25. My italics.

26. Statehood and Anarchy, Note A, p.9.

27. Offener Brief, S.10.

28. Offener Brief, S.4, 5, 6.

29. See Nabat, 1878 (month and number not given), Revolutionary Propaganda, p.L. [32*]

30. Nabat, 1879, Nos.3, 4, 5, pp.2, 3.

31. “We are far from needing bare results so much as study,” Engels says, “we have known since Hegel’s time that without the development leading to them, results have no significance whatsoever; they are worse than useless if research stops at them, if they are not made the premises for further development.” [34*]

32. See Аристов, «А.П. Щапов, Жизнь и сочинения», С.-Петербург, стр.89-92. [Aristov, A.P. Shchapov, Life and Works, St. Petersburg pp.89-92.]


20*. The article The Russian People and Socialism was a letter from Herzen to the French historian J. Michelet, written in 1851. (Cf. A.I. Herzen, Selected Philosophical Works, Moscow 1956, p.470.)

21*. The editor of Rus was the Slavophile I.S. Aksakov, and the editor of Moskovskiye Vedomosti was the reactionary M.N. Katkov.

22*. Quotation from L. Tikhomirov’s article What Can We Expect from the Revolution?

23*. Herzen in his letter to J. Michelet mentioned in Note 20*.

24*. Quotation from G. R. Derzhavin’s (1743–1816) words to a patriotic polonaise.

25*. This is the title of a series of tales written by G.I. Uspensky.

26*. In the ancient Persian religion Ormuzd was the supreme god, the principle of good, and Ahriman was the principle of evil and calamities.

27*. The Chinese side of the question is to be understood as hardened, invariable, secluded life, as though fenced off published by the the Chinese wall.

28*. P.N. Tkachov, Tasks of Revolutionary Propaganda in Russia, Letter to the editor of Vperyod!, 1874. (Cf. P.N. Tkachov, Selected Works, Russ. ed., Vol.3, pp.55-87.)

29*. P.N. Tkachov, Open Letter to Mr. Fr. Engels, author of the articles Emigrant Literature in Nos.117 and 118 of Volksstaat, 1874. (Cf. P.N. Tkachov, Selected Works, Russ. ed., Vol.3, 1933, pp.88-98.)

30*. Anarchy of Thought – a collection of critical essays by P.N. Tkachov published by the journal Nabat, London, 1879. (Cf. P.N. Tkachov, Selected Works, Russ. ed., Vol.3, pp.303-37.)

31*. Russian Social-Revolutionary Youth – a polemical pamphlet written by P.L. Lavrov against Tkachov’s Tasks of Revolutionary Propaganda in Russia. It was published in London in 1874 and signed: Editor of the journal Vperyod! (Cf. P.L. Lavrov, Selected Works on Social and Political Subjects, in 8 volumes, Russ. ed., 1934, Vol.3, pp.335-72.)

32*. Editorial articles under the general title Revolutionary Propaganda were printed in a number of issues of Nabat, 1877-1878.

33*. Quotations from P.N. Tkachov’s What Is To Be Done Now? (Selected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. 3, pp. 442, 446.)

34*. Quotation from Engels’ article Position of England. (A review of Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present. Marx/Engels, Werke, Bd.I, S.525-50.)

35*. Thinking realists – an expression used in the works of D.I. Pisarev. The revolutionary Narodniks sometimes gave themselves this name.

Last updated on 17.10.2006