G.V. Plekhanov

Our Differences

Letter to P.L. Lavrov
(In Lieu of Preface)

Dear Pyotr Lavrovich,

You are dissatisfied with the Emancipation of Labour group. In No.2 of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli you devoted a whole article to its publications, and although the article was not a very long one, its two and a half pages were enough to express your disagreement with the group’s programme and your dissatisfaction over its attitude to the “Narodnaya Volya party”. [1*]

Having been long accustomed to respect your opinions and knowing, moreover, how attentively our revolutionary youth of all shades and trends listen to them, I take the liberty of saying a few words in defence of the group, towards which, it seems, you are not quite fair.

I consider myself all the more entitled to do so as in your article you speak mainly of my pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle. As it was that pamphlet which caused your reproaches, it is most fitting that its author should answer them.

You find that the pamphlet can be divided into two parts, “to each of which”, in your opinion, “you must adopt a different attitude”. One part, “namely, the second chapter, deserves the same attention as any serious work on socialism”. The other, which constitutes a considerable portion of the pamphlet, you say, is devoted to a controversy on the past and present activity of the Narodnaya Volya party, whose organ abroad your journal intends to be. Not only do you disagree with the opinions which I express in that part, but the very fact of a “controversy with Narodnaya Volya” seems to you to deserve severe censure. You think “it would not be particularly difficult to prove to Mr. Plekhanov that his attacks can be countered with quite weighty objections (all the more as, perhaps due to haste, his quotations are not exact).” You are convinced that my “own programme of action contains perhaps more serious shortcomings and unpractical things than I accuse the Narodnaya Volya party of.” But to my immense regret you cannot spare the time to point out these shortcomings and unpractical things. “The organ of the Narodnaya Volya party,” you say, “is devoted to the struggle against the political and social enemies of the Russian people”; that struggle is so complicated that it takes up “all your time, all your work”. You have “neither the leisure nor the desire” to devote a part of your publication “to a controversy with groups of Russian revolutionary socialism which consider a controversy with Narodnaya Volya more timely for them than the struggle against the Russian Government and the other exploiters of the Russian people.” Hoping that time itself will settle the questions at issue in your favour, you do not consider it useful “to stress” your “not particularly serious disagreement” with the Emancipators of Labour, as you choose to call us [1], “by direct blows at a group the majority of whose members may any day now be in the ranks of Narodnaya Volya.” This transformation of “Emancipators of Labour” into members of Narodnaya Volya appears all the more probable to you as, to quote your own words, “Mr. Plekhanov himself, as he said in the preface to his pamphlet, has already undergone a sufficiently great evolution in his political and social convictions” and you “have reason to hope for new steps” on my part “in the same direction”. Reaching that point in my “evolution” – a point which apparently seems to you the apogee of possible development of Russian socialism at present – you hope I may acknowledge still another aspect of the practical task of every group in the social army fighting the common enemy, namely, “that to disrupt the organisation of that army, even if one sees or assumes certain shortcomings in it, is permissible only either to the enemies of that army’s cause (among whom you do not include me), or to a group which by its own activity, its own strength and organisation, is capable of becoming a social army at a particular historical minute”. But such a role, in your opinion, “is a matter of a remote and perhaps somewhat doubtful future” for the “Emancipators of Labour” as such, i.e., for people who have not yet completed the cycle of their transformations and are now something like Narodnaya Volya larvae or pupae.

Such, dear Pyotr Lavrovich, is the almost word-for-word content of all that you said about my pamphlet. Perhaps I have wearied you with my abundance of quotations from your own article, but, on the one hand, I was afraid I would again receive the reproach that my “quotations are not exact”, and, besides, I did not consider it superfluous to recall your words in full to the reader, so as to make it easier for him to pronounce the final verdict in our case. You know that the reading public is the chief and supreme judge in all disputes which arise in the free “republic of speech”. It is, therefore, not surprising that each of the parties must take all steps to make the true character of the question under dispute clear to the public.

After setting forth your remarks on my pamphlet and your considerations on the tactics adopted by the Emancipation of Labour group towards the “Narodnaya Volya party”, I now go on, dear Pyotr Lavrovich, to explanations without which it is impossible to understand correctly the motives which prompted my comrades and me to act precisely in this way and no other.

Actually, I could say that all talk of such motives is completely unnecessary, and the reader may find it of very little interest. How so? Is not the question of the immediate tasks, the tactics and the scientific substantiation of all our revolutionaries’ activity the most important and most vital question in Russian life for us? Can it be regarded as already settled finally and without appeal? Is not every revolutionary writer obliged to promote its clarification by all means at his disposal and with all the attention he is capable of? Or can this clarification be considered useful only if it results in the conviction that although the Russian revolutionaries have not the pope’s infallibility, they have not made a single mistake in their practical work or a single error in their theoretical arguments, that “all is well” in both these respects? Or must those who do not share that pleasant confidence be condemned to silence, and may the purity of their intentions be suspected every time they take up their pen to call the revolutionaries’ attention to the way the revolutionary cause is being conducted, and how, as far as they can judge, it should be conducted? If Spinoza said as early as in the seventeenth century that in a free state everybody must be granted the right to think as he pleases and say what he thinks, may that right be placed in doubt at the end of the nineteenth century by members of a socialist party, if even of the most backward state in Europe? If the Russian socialists recognise in principle the right of free speech and include the demand for it in their programmes, they cannot restrict its enjoyment to the group or “party” which claims hegemony in a particular period of the revolutionary movement. I think that now, when our legal literature is persecuted most ruthlessly, when in our fatherland “all that is living and honest is mown down” [2*] in the field of thought as in all others – I think that at such a time a revolutionary writer should rather be asked the reason for his silence than for the fact of the publication of one or other of his works. If you agree with this – and you can hardly fail to – you will also agree that one cannot condemn to hypocrisy a revolutionary writer who, as Herzen splendidly puts it, must sacrifice very, very much to “the human dignity of free speech”. And if that also is true, can he be censured if he says in plain terms and without any reservation what he thinks of any of the programmes of revolutionary activity? I am sure, dear Pyotr Lavrovich, that you will answer that question in the negative. For that I have one guarantee, among others, in your having signed the Announcement of the Publication of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, page VIII of which tells us:

“Socialism, like every other vital historical idea, gives rise to numerous, though not particularly substantial, differences among its supporters, and many questions in it, both theoretical and practical, remain disputable. Owing to the greater intricacy, the greater difficulties and the greater recency of the development of Russian socialism, there is perhaps a still larger number of more or less considerable differences in the views of Russian socialists. But, we repeat, this just goes to show that the Russian socialist party is a living one which stimulates energetic thought and firm convictions among its supporters, a party which has not contented itself with dogmatic belief in formulae learned by rote.”

I do not understand how an editor who signed that announcement can be dissatisfied at the writings of a group whose differences with Narodnaya Volya he considers “not particularly substantial” (Vestnik Narodnoi Voli No.2, section II, page 65, line 10 from bottom); I cannot imagine that the journal which published that announcement can be hostile to people who “have not contented themselves with dogmatic belief in formulae learned by rote.” For one cannot entertain the thought that the lines I have quoted were written merely to explain to the reader why “the programme put forward by Vestnik Narodnoi Voli embraces views which are to a certain extent not identical with one another” (Announcement of the Publication of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, p.VII). Nor can one presume that after setting itself such a “definite programme” Vestnik will see a vital significance in the “more or less considerable differences between the Russian socialists” only if they “do not go beyond the limits” of that programme, which “embraces views which are to a certain extent not identical with one another.” That would mean being tolerant only to members of one’s own church, admitting with Shchedrin’s characters that opposition is harmless only if it does no harm. Such liberalism, such tolerance, would not be of great comfort to Russian “nonconformist” [3*] socialists, of whom there are apparently no few now since you speak yourself in your article of “groups which consider a controversy with Narodnaya Volya more timely”, etc. From these words it is obvious that there are at least two such groups and that Vestnik, “which intends to be the organ of unification of all the Russian socialist-revolutionaries”, is still far from having attained its aim. I think that such a failure should have widened, not narrowed the limits of the inherent tolerance of its editorial board.

You advise me not “to disrupt the organisation” of our revolutionary army. But allow me first of all to inquire what “social army” you are talking about. If by that metaphor you mean the organisation of the “Narodnaya Volya party”, I never thought my pamphlet would have such destructive influence on it, and I am convinced that the first member of Narodnaya Volya that you ask will put you at ease on that score. But if by “disrupting the organisation of the social army” you mean winning to our group people who for some reason or other are outside the “Narodnaya Volya party”, the “organisation of the social army” only stands to gain by that, for in it there will appear a new group, composed, so to speak, of new recruits. Besides, since when has discussion of the path followed by this or that army and the expression of the assurance that there is another path which will lead more surely and quickly to victory been considered as “disruption of the organisation of that army”? I think such a confusion of concepts is possible only among the barbarous hordes of the Asiatic despotic states, but certainly not among the armies of modern civilised states. For who is not aware that criticism of the tactics adopted by this or that army can harm only the military reputation of that army’s generals, who are perhaps not disinclined to “lay the finger of silence” on indiscreet mouths. But what has that to do with the “organisation of the army”, and who, indeed, are its leaders? You know that such leaders can be either elected by the rank and file or appointed from above. Let us agree for a minute that the Executive Committee plays the role of leader to our revolutionary army. The question is: are even those who did not take part in its election obliged to submit to it, or, if it was appointed from above, who had the power, and what power, to appoint it?

You include the Emancipation of Labour group among the “groups of Russian revolutionary socialism which consider a controversy with Narodnaya Volya more timely for them than the struggle against the Russian Government and the other exploiters of the Russian people.” Allow me to ask you whether you think that the peculiarities of the Russian people and the “present historical moment” also include the circumstance that the struggle “against its exploiters” can be waged without the dissemination of the ideas which express the meaning and the tendency of that struggle. Is it for me, a former “rebel” [4*], to prove to you, a former editor of the journal Vperyod, that the growth of the revolutionary movement is inconceivable without the dissemination of the most progressive, the soundest, in a word, the most revolutionary ideas and concepts among the appropriate section of society? Are you one whose attention must be drawn to the circumstance that socialism – “as expressed” in the works of Marx and Engels – is the most powerful spiritual weapon in the struggle against all possible exploiters of the people? The dissemination of what the writers just named taught is precisely the purpose of my comrades, as is clearly stated in the announcement of the publication of the Library of Modern Socialism. There can be no doubt that the socialism of Marx’s school differs in many respects from “Russian socialism as expressed” in our revolutionary movement as a whole and in the “Narodnaya Volya party” in particular, for “Russian socialism” still wears a long Bakuninist pigtail down its back. It is also quite natural and understandable that Russian Marxists are therefore not infrequently obliged to adopt a negative attitude towards certain “formulae learned by rote”, but it by no means follows from this that they prefer the struggle against the revolutionaries to the struggle against the government. In Vestnik Narodnoi Voli a certain Mr. Tarasov exerts himself to refute one of the fundamental propositions of Marx’s historical theory. [2] His article is given the first place, the foremost corner, so to speak, in No.2 of Vestnik. [6*] Does this mean that Mr. Tarasov regards a controversy with Marx as “more timely than the struggle against the Russian Government and the other exploiters of the Russian people”? Or does a controversy which is appropriate and “timely” coming from the pen of Dühringists, Bakuninists and Blanquists become an insult to the grandeur of the Russian revolution as soon as Marxists raise their voice? Is such an attitude on the part of an author who has so often declared his agreement with Marx’s theories fair, nay more, is it explainable?

I am well aware that it is by no means easy to settle the question of our revolutionary party’s tasks from the point of view of Marx’s theories. The fundamental principles of these theories are, in fact, only the “major term” in the syllogism, so that people who equally recognise the correctness and the great scientific significance of this first term may either agree or disagree as to the conclusion, according to the way in which they understand the “minor” term, which is this or that assessment of the present Russian situation. That is why I am not at all surprised at your disagreement with our programme, although I think that if you were still a Marxist you would not be capable of “proving” to me that “my” programme contains “more serious shortcomings and unpractical things” than I “accuse the Narodnaya Volya party of.” But no disagreements in assessing the present Russian situation will explain to me and my comrades the unfair attitude that you adopted towards us in your article.

I appeal to the reader’s impartiality. On the desk before the editor of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli lie two pamphlets published by the Emancipation of Labour group. One of them is a translation of a work by Engels which the honourable editor calls “the most remarkable work of socialist literature in recent years”.

The second, in the words of the same editor, deserves, as far as one part of it is concerned, “the same attention as any serious work on socialism”. The second part contains “a controversy on the past and present activity of Narodnaya Volya”, a controversy aimed at proving to that party that “having dealt the death-blow to all the traditions of orthodox Narodism by its practical activity and having done so much for the development of the revolutionary movement in Russia, the Narodnaya Volya party cannot find a justification for itself – nor should it seek one – outside modern scientific socialism”. [3] And that part of a part of the Emancipation of Labour group publications proves, in the opinion of our editor, that the group sets itself almost exclusively the task of “polemising with Narodnaya Volya” and is ready, for that purpose, to give up the struggle against the government! Even the least impartial reader will agree that such an inference from the part to the whole is not justified by the character of the other parts of that whole.

I do not deny that “one part” of my pamphlet is controversial, or to be more exact, critical. But the fact that a controversy with Narodnaya Volya was not the exclusive aim even of the part incriminated is obvious if only from what you, Pyotr Lavrovich, have overlooked, namely, that my criticism was not confined to the Narodnaya Volya period in the Russian revolutionary movement. I also criticised other stages in it. And if, indeed, from the fact of my printed and, moreover, motivated expression of disagreement with one revolutionary programme or another it follows that a controversy against that programme is the main aim of my writing, the accusation brought against me should, in the interest of truth, have been considerably extended. It should have been said that the principal aim of my writing was to polemise with the anarchists, the Bakuninists, the Narodniks of the old trend, the members of Narodnaya Volya and, finally, the “Marxists” who do not understand the significance of the political struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat. Moreover, it should also have been taken into account that “the other part of Mr. Plekhanov’s pamphlet is devoted to the exposition and proof of the philosophical and historical side of the teaching of Marx and Engels”. Then it would have been clear that I was guilty of spreading the revolutionary views that I share and of polemising with those which seem to me erroneous. But there is more to it than that. A careful examination of all the circumstances of the case would have revealed that my crime had been committed “with pre-considered intent”, since as far back as in the Announcement of the Publication of the Library of Modern Socialism P. Axelrod and I expressly stated that the purpose of those editions boiled down to:

  1. The spreading of the ideas of scientific socialism by translating into Russian the most important works of the school of Marx and Engels and original works intended for readers with various degrees of education.
  2. The criticism of the teachings prevalent among our revolutionaries and the elaboration of the most important questions in Russian social life from the standpoint of scientific socialism and the interests of the working population of Russia.

That is the true character of the “deed” that provoked your dissatisfaction. To make even a single reproach to the man who committed it one must first prove that there is now no need for criticism of the programmes and teachings prevalent among us revolutionaries, or that criticism must be transformed, as Belinsky once said – naturally in another connection – into “a modest servant of authority, a flattering repeater of worn-out commonplaces”. But I have already said that there is hardly a writer who would undertake to support such an unheard-of proposition, and you, dear Pyotr Lavrovich, will certainly on no account assert that it is time for our revolutionary party to “content itself with dogmatic belief in formulae learned by rote”. If that is so, then

Wozu der Laerm?

However, many people, although they cannot bring themselves to deny completely the significance of criticism in our revolutionary literature, apparently think that not every person or individual group of persons has the right to criticise the teachings and tactics of an “active party”. Since my pamphlet was published I have frequently had the occasion to hear remarks in that vein. “Party of action”, “the traditions of Narodnaya Volya”, “heroic struggle” – such have been the phrases used to disguise fear of the slightest reference to “formulae learned by rote” of our revolutionary catechism. My right to express disagreement with the “Narodnaya Volya party”, or rather with its writings, has been contested with utter disregard of who is right – the publicists of our “party of action” or I. As I listened to these attacks on my pamphlet I could not help recalling the argument of the “Bachelor of Salamanca”, Don Inigo-i-Medroso-Comodios-i-Papalamiendo [7*], in the famous controverse des mais.

Mais, monsieur, malgré toutes les belles choses que vous venez de me dire,” this dialectician said, “vous m’avouerez que votre église anglicane, si respectable, n’existait pas avant dom Luther et avant dom Eccolampade; vous êtes tout nouveaux: donc vous n’êtes pas de la maison!” And I wonder whether the arguments furnished by the great satirist to his bitterest enemies can be used seriously by Russian revolutionaries and whether the caricature of the Catholic “bachelor” is to become the perfect image of Russian revolutionary dialecticians. You will agree, dear Pyotr Lavrovich, that there is nothing sadder than such a prospect and that no anxiety for the integrity of the “ organisation” means anything at all in comparison with fear of the possibility of such terrible intellectual degeneration!

It is in the interests of Narodnaya Volya to counteract as resolutely as possible the degeneration of our revolutionary literature into revolutionary scholasticism. And yet, your article, my dear Pyotr Lavrovich, is more likely to maintain than to weaken the zeal of our revolutionary “bachelors”. The conviction expressed by you that “to disrupt the organisation” of the revolutionary army “is permissible only either to the enemies of that army’s cause ... or to a group which by its own activity, its own strength and organisation, is capable of becoming a social army at a particular historical minute”, your pointing out that, as regards our group, “this role is a matter of a remote and perhaps somewhat doubtful future” – all this can give grounds for the conclusion that, in your opinion, although our group “may have its own view at its age” [8*], it must carefully conceal it every time it contradicts the opinion of the editors of one or other of the “Narodnaya Volya party” periodicals. Of course it would be wrong to draw such a conclusion from what you wrote, but one must not forget that people do not always judge by the rules of strict logic.

The very principle you express in the lines just quoted can give rise to many unfortunate misunderstandings. Those lines can be a completely “untimely” avis for nonconformist readers, whom they can lead on to approximately the following thoughts. It is permissible for a group capable of becoming “a social army at a particular historical minute” to “disrupt the organisation” of our revolutionary army. All the more it is “permissible” for the latter, as a tried and tested force, “to disrupt the organisation” of “nonconformist” groups whose hegemony it considers a matter of a remote and “perhaps somewhat doubtful” future. But which revolutionary group do the editors of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli consider to be a “social army”? Probably the “Narodnaya Volya party”. That means – but the conclusion is clear, and it is an extremely sad conclusion for groups which have hitherto taken for granted, as we have, that the outlooks of others may be criticised but that the organisations of others must not be “disrupted” and that it is better to advance “alongside of them, supporting and supplementing one another.” [4]

Our group’s future seems doubtful to you. I am prepared to doubt of it myself as far as our group itself, not the outlooks which it represents, is concerned. [5]

The fact of the matter is as follows.

It is no secret to anybody that our revolutionary movement is now going through a critical period. Narodnaya Volya’s terrorist tactics set our party quite a number of highly important and vital problems. But unfortunately these problems are still unsolved. The stock of Bakuninist and Proudhonist theories that were in use among us proved insufficient even for the correct posing of those questions. The stick that was previously bent over in one direction has now been bent back in the other. The former completely unjustified rejection of “politics” has now given place to a no more justified confidence in the omnipotence of conspiratorial “political scheming”. The Petersburg Narodnaya Volya programme was Bakuninism turned upside-down with its Slavophile contrasting of Russia to the West, its idealisation of the primitive forms of national life and its faith in the social wonder-working of our intelligentsia’s revolutionary organisations. The theoretical principles from which the programme departs have remained unchanged, the practical conclusions alone being diametrically opposed to the former ones. Renouncing political abstention, Bakuninism has described an arc of 180 degrees and has been revived as a Russian variety of Blanquism basing its revolutionary hopes on Russia’s economic backwardness.

This Blanquism is now attempting to create its own particular theory and has recently been fairly fully expressed in Mr. Tikhomirov’s article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? [10*] In that article he makes use of the whole arsenal of the Russian Blanquists to defend his own programme. One cannot deny Mr. Tikhomirov’s ability to use the weapon: he skilfully marshals the facts in his favour, carefully avoids any contradictory phenomena and appeals, not without success, to the reader’s feelings when he has no hope of influencing his logic. His weapon has been renovated, cleaned and sharpened. But if you examine it more attentively you will see that it is nothing but the old-fashioned sword of Bakuninism and Tkachovism [11*] embellished with a new trade-mark, that of V.V. [12*], an expert in reactionary theories in Petersburg. Below I shall give a few extracts from P.N. Tkachov’s Open Letter to Frederick Engels, and you will see for yourself, dear Pyotr Lavrovich, that your comrade is only repeating what was said ten years ago by the editor of Nabat and what drew a sharp answer from Engels in a pamphlet not unknown to you, Soziales aus Russland. Have ten years of the movement taught our writers nothing better? Does the “Narodnaya Volya party” refuse to understand the historical significance of its own sacrifices, the political importance of its genuinely heroic struggle against absolutism? Not being in Russia, neither you nor I can say anything definite about the state of mind now prevalent among the members of Narodnaya Volya. But as far as can be judged from what is going on outside the Narodnaya Volya organisation, we can be certain that the revolutionary movement is not destined to be revived under the banner of Tkachovism. Our revolutionary youth is irresolute and hesitant, it has lost faith in the old forms of action, and the number of new programmes and theories which now appear among it proves that not a single one of them is able to embrace all the real interests and all the vital tasks of our movement. Scepticism is coming into its own. Narodnaya Volya is losing its former fascination. The period of more than three years that has elapsed since the event of March 1 [13*] has been characterised by a fall of revolutionary energy in Russia. This sad fact cannot be disputed. But it seems to me that a great many people offer too superficial an explanation of it. They say that our movement has weakened under the impact of persecution by the government. I have too much faith in the “timeliness” of the Russian revolution to be satisfied with such a hackneyed explanation. I think that the Russian revolution has an enormous, invincible potential energy, and that reaction is raising its head only because we are unable to transform that energy from potential into kinetic. Russia’s social tasks today cannot find a satisfactory solution in the traditional conspiratorial programme of Blanquism. Little by little that hackneyed programme will become the Procrustean bed of the Russian revolution. One by one all the methods of action, all the elements of the movement which have been its strength and the conditions of its influence, will be sacrificed to its spectral and fantastic aims. The terrorist struggle, agitation among the people and in society and the rousing and development of popular initiative are all only of secondary importance for the Blanquist. His attention is centred first and foremost on conspiracy aimed at seizing power. He does not bother about the development of the social forces or the establishment of institutions calculated to make a return to the old regime impossible. All he endeavours to do is to combine the already existing forces of society. He has no regard for history, does not try to understand its laws or to direct his revolutionary activity in accordance with them; he simply substitutes his own conspiratorial skill for history. [6] And as the growth of the revolutionary forces in Russia is far from being complete, as those forces are still in the process des Werdens, this violent arresting of their development is bound to have very harmful consequences and to make reaction more secure instead of promoting the cause of progress. In this case, one of two things may happen. Either the future of the Russian revolution will be placed at stake in a plot which has less chances of success than any other – the “social-revolutionary” plot – or a new force will emerge out of the womb of oppositional and revolutionary Russia, a force which will push the “Narodnaya Volya party” into the background and take the cause of our movement in its own hands.

It would be very disadvantageous for the socialists if the leadership in the struggle were to pass into the hands of our liberals. This would at once deprive them of their former influence and postpone for many years the formation of a socialist party among the progressive strata of the people. That is why we refer our revolutionary youth to Marxism, that algebra of the revolution, as I called it in my pamphlet, that “programme” which teaches its supporters to make use of every step in social development for the revolutionary education of the working class. And I am sure that sooner or later our youth and our workers’ groups will adopt this, the only revolutionary programme. In this sense, the “future” of our group is by no means “doubtful”, and I do not understand where you get your scepticism from in this case – you, a writer who, as recently as in the same No.2 of Vestnik, called Marx “the great teacher who ushered socialism into its scientific phase, proved its historical legitimacy and at the same time initiated the organisational unity of the workers’ revolutionary party”. [15*] For one cannot profess the theoretical principles of the “great teacher” and deduce Bakuninism or Blanquism from them in practice.

I repeat that the most consistent Marxists may disagree in the appraisal of the present Russian situation. That is why we in no case wish to cover our programme with the authority of a great name. [7] And moreover, we are ready to admit in advance that our programme contains many “shortcomings and unpractical things”, like any first attempt at applying a particular scientific theory to the analysis of very complicated and entangled social relations. But the fact is that so far neither my comrades nor I have a finally elaborated programme, complete from the first paragraph to the last. [16*] We only show our comrades the direction in which the answer to the revolutionary problems interesting them is to be sought; we only defend the reliable and unmistaken criterion with the help of which they will finally be able to strip off themselves the rags of the revolutionary metaphysics which has so far held undivided sway over our minds; we only prove that “our revolutionary movement, far from losing anything, will gain a lot if the Russian Narodniks and the Russian Narodnaya Volya at last become Russian Marxists and a new, higher standpoint reconciles all the groups existing among us”. [8] Our programme has still to be completed and completed there, on the spot, by those same groups of workers and revolutionary youth who will fight for its fulfilment. Corrections, additions and improvements to this programme are quite natural, inevitable and indispensable. We are not afraid of criticism, we wait for it impatiently and will naturally not stop our ears to it like Famusov. [17*] In presenting this first attempt at a programme for the Russian Marxists to the comrades working in Russia, we are far from wishing to compete with Narodnaya Volya; on the contrary, there is nothing we desire more than full and final agreement with that party. We think that the Narodnaya Volya party must become a Marxist party if it at all wishes to remain faithful to its revolutionary traditions and to get the Russian movement out of its present stagnation.

When I speak of the revolutionary traditions of Narodnaya Volya I have in mind not only the terrorist struggle, not only the political murders and attempted murders; I mean the broadening of the channel of the Russian movement which was the necessary consequence of that struggle and which showed us how narrow, abstract, and one-sided were the theories we professed at that time. Dynamite killed those theories along with Alexander II. But both Russian absolutism and Bakuninism in all its varieties are only dead, not buried. They are no longer living, they are not developing, but they are still rotting and contaminating with their corruption the whole of Russia, from her most conservative to her most revolutionary sections. Only the wholesome atmosphere of Marxism can help Narodnaya Volya to finish the work it began so brilliantly, because, as Lassalle said, “the glow of dawn is seen earlier from the high peaks of science than from the bustle of everyday life”. Marxism will show our Narodovoltsi how, while bringing into the movement new strata as yet almost untapped by them, they can at the same time avoid the reefs of fatal one-sidedness; how, while utilising the progressive aspects of the maturing liberal revolution, they can nevertheless remain perfectly loyal to the cause of the working class and of socialism. Being completely free from any narrow sectarianism, we wish Narodnaya Volya, not failure, but further success, and if we stretch out only one hand to it for reconciliation, the reason is that with the other we show it the theory of modern scientific socialism with the words, “In this thou shalt conquer!”

Unfortunately Spencer is quite right when he notes that every organisation is conservative in direct proportion to its perfection. The stern practice of struggle against absolutism evolved the strong and powerful organisation of Narodnaya Volya. This absolutely necessary and highly useful organisation is no exception to the general rule; it is an obstacle to theoretical successes for the Narodnaya Volya party, as it now strives to raise into dogmas and to perpetuate the programme and the teachings which could have but a temporary and transitory significance. At the end of my pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle, I expressed the hope that Vestnik Narodnoi Voli would be able to adopt a critical attitude towards the theoretical errors in the programme and the mistakes in the practical work of Narodnaya Volya. “We wish to hope,” I said, “that the new publication will take a sober view of our revolutionary party’s tasks, on whose fulfilment the party’s future depends.” I expected the Geneva Vestnik to go further than the Petersburg Narodnaya Volya. But if you, dear Pyotr Lavrovich, read Mr. Tikhomirov’s article attentively, you will see yourself that the views it expresses are a huge step backwards even compared with Narodnaya Volya. And this is quite natural. The theoretical premises of Narodnaya Volya’s old programme are so precarious and contradictory that to go on relying on them means to go downwards. It is to be expected that other, progressive elements of the “Narodnaya Volya party” will at last raise their voices and that the revolutionary movement within that party will proceed as it has always done everywhere, i.e., from below.

But until that happens we shall not cease to rouse public opinion among our revolutionaries, no matter how many attacks, reproaches and accusations our literary activity provokes, no matter how much we are pained by the fact that even you, dear Pyotr Lavrovich, show dissatisfaction at that activity, you whose approval and sympathy we still so recently seemed able to rely upon. We engage i n controversy with the Narodnaya Volya supporters in the interests of their own cause, and we hope that they will agree with us sooner or later. But if our sincerity is suspected, if they see us as enemies, and not as friends, we shall console ourselves with the consciousness that our cause is a just one. Being convinced Marxists, we will remain true to the motto of our teacher and go our way, letting people say what they think fit. [18*]

July 22, 1884

With friendly greetings,
Yours respectfully,

Author’s Footnotes

1. Concerning this name which you have invented, I take the liberty, incidentally, of noting the following: “Emancipation of Labour” is our group’s motto and name. But to call the Emancipation of Labour group “Emanicipators of Labour” is a fault against etymology. I shall explain this by means of an example. Your collaborators talk a lo t about “government of the people”; with a little consistency they should agree that the very name of their “party” – Narodnaya Volya – is but the motto, the expression of the striving for a political system the idea of which is linked with the term “government of the people”. But does that mean that they can claim the title of governors of the people?

2. I still hope to have a special talk with Mr. Tarasov when he has finished his article. But let me now note that he does not at all understand either Marx or his “epigoni” and in his inviolable simplicity it is the petty-bourgeois George Molinari, and not the great socialist Karl Marx, he polemises with. Mr. Tarasov’s “method” greatly embarrasses me in exactly the same way. The honourable author probably borrowed it from the same bourgeois science whose “bankruptcy” he so irrefutably proved in the first issue of Vestnik. [5*] Just as bourgeois writers were in the habit, when they wished to prove their “natural laws”, of inventing “savages” who naturally never dreamed of anything as much as “saving and accumulating capital”, so Mr. Tarasov now quite consciously ignores the modern findings of ethnology and invents “savages” who are obvious Blanquists and desire only to “seize power” over their neighbours. This originally inductive method threatens to reduce to complete “bankruptcy” Mr. Tarasov’s Dühringian socialist “science”.

3. See the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle, p.20.

4. See the Announcement of the Publication of the Library of Modern Socialism, note to p.3. [9*]

5. [Note to the 1905 edition] It is now strange even to read these controversies on the future of Social-Democracy in Russia. It now predominates among revolutionaries and would have been naturally still stronger were it not for the disagreements within it.

6. An obvious example: one of the paragraphs of the Statute of the so-called Nechayevists says expressly that “the general principle of the organisation is not to convince, i.e., not to produce forces, but to unite those already existing.” [14*]

7. [Note to the 1905 edition] Quite recently, just a few days ago, this same statement of mine was understood by the Social-Democratic newspaper Proletary as expressing uncertainty as to the correctness of my opinion. But it has a different explanation. I never wished to jurare in verba magistri.

8. Socialism and the Political Struggle, p.56.


1*. This article by Lavrov was published in the bibliography section of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.2, Section 2, pp.64-67, April 1884. It contains an analysis of two new pamphlets published by the Library of Modern Socialism: Socialism and the Political Struggle by Plekhanov. and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific by Engels. The article is signed P.L.

2*. From Nekrasov’s poem The honest, bravely fallen are silenced. (N.A. Nekrasov, Selected Works, Goslitizdat Publishing House, 1945, p.328.)

3*. Nonconformists – a Protestant sect in England which did not conform to the dominant Church of England and was therefore subject to persecution,

4*. In the seventies, Plekhanov belonged to one of the groups of revolutionary Narodism, the Bakuninist “rebels”.

Bakuninists – followers of the anarchist Narodnik M.A. Bakunin. They regarded the peasants as born rebels and professed the adventurous tactics of immediate revolts, for which they were dubbed “the rebels”.

Bakunin was the leader of a secret anarchist organisation inside the First International (1864–1872). He waged a fierce struggle against Marx and was expelled from the International at the Hague Congress in 1872.

5*. The reference is to the article Bankruptcy of Bourgeois Science by Tarasov (N. Rusanov) in Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.1, pp.59-97.

6*. Plekhanov is referring to Tarasov’s article Political and Economic Factors in the Life of Peoples, the beginning of which was published in Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.2, Section 1, 1884, pp.1-36. In this article Tarasov bases himself on Dühring to affirm that the political factor plays the primary role in historical evolution.

7*. Character in Voltaire’s tale Histoire de Genni ou l’athée et le sage, Oeuvres complètes, Vol.XXI, Paris 1879, p.529.

8*. Words from Griboyedov’s Wit Works Woe.

9*. The Announcement of the Publication of the Library of Modern Socialism by the Emancipation of Labour group was published in Geneva, signed by editors P. Axelrod and G. Plekhanov, and dated September 2-5, 1883. It was printed in October of the same year as a supplement to the first edition of the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle and in 1905 it was included in the first volume of the Geneva edition of Plekhanov’s Works, pp.139-40. In this last edition the footnote written by Deutsch was omitted. It was given under the title For the Reader’s Information on an unnumbered page (the third). In the Works, Vol.II (postrevolutionary edition) the announcement is on pp.21-23.

10*. L. Tikhomirov’s article What Can We Expect from the Revolution? was printed in Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.2, Section 1, 1884, pp.227–62.

11*. On the substance of “Tkachovism” see Introduction, Section 6 “P.N. Tkachov”.

The polemic between Engels and P.N. Tkachov, one of the Narodnik ideologists, took place in 1874-1875. In 1874 Tkachov published in German his Offener Brief an Herrn Fr. Engels (Open Letter to Mr. Fr. Engels), Zurich 1874. (Cf. P.N. Tkachov, Selected Works, Russ. ed., Vol.3, 1933, pp.88-98.) In reply to this letter Engels wrote his article Soziales aus Russland in the newspaper Volksstaat, 1875, No.36 and following. Republishing his reply in 1894, Engels provided it with a note in which he said that Tkachov’s letter carried, in its form and content, the “usual Bakuninist imprint”. (Der Volksstaat, Nos.44, 45, 1875.) Engels ridiculed Tkachov’s conspiratorial illusions. “One cannot imagine an easier or more pleasant revolution,” he wrote. “A revolt has only to be started simultaneously in three or four places and the ‘revolutionary by instinct’, ‘practical necessity’ and the ‘instinct of selfpreservation’ will do the rest ‘of themselves’. One simply cannot understand how, if it is so easy, the revolution has not already been carried out, the people emancipated and Russia transformed into a model socialist country.”

12*. V.V. – V.P. Vorontsov.

13*. On March 1, 1881, by decision of Narodnaya Volya, Alexander II was assassinated in Petersburg by I.I. Grinevitsky. The organisers of this act of terror, A.I. Zhelyabov, N.I. Kibalchich, S.L. Perovskaya, T.M. Mikhailov and N.I. Rysakov, were executed. Many members of Narodnaya Volya were imprisoned and exiled. A period of fierce reaction set in.

14*. Nechayev’s organisation Narodnaya Rasprava (The People’s Vengeance) (1869) was based on the principles of Jesuitism, intimidation, and terrorism professed by Nechayev and his inspirer Bakunin. To quote Bakunin, Nechayev’s task was “not to teach the people, but to revolt”. Marx and Engels resolutely opposed the ideas and activity of the Nechayev organisation and described their plans for reorganising society as “barracks communism”.

15*. Quotation from P. Lavrov’s review Outside Russia. (Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, No.2, Section 2, 1884, p.3.)

16*. The reference here is to the first programme of the Emancipation of Labour group, put out in 1884. It was accompanied by notes pointing out that it was not final but admitted of corrections and additions, provided they did not contradict the basic ideas of scientific socialism. (See Programme of the Social-Democratic Emancipation of Labour Group.)

17*. Famusov – a character in Griboyedov’s comedy Wit Works Woe, a domineering obscurantist and hypocrite.

18*. Paraphrase of Dante’s words, “Go your way and let people say what they will”, with which Marx ends the Preface to the first edition of the first volume of Capital.

Last updated on 17.10.2006