Source:Georgi Plekhanov: Selected Philosopohical Works, Vol I.
Publisher: Progress Publishers, 1974.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2000.
The Russian Social-Democrats, like the Social-Democrats in other countries, aim at the complete emancipation of labour from the yoke of capital. This emancipation can be achieved by the transfer to social ownership of all the means and objects of production, a transfer which will entail:
a) the abolition of the present commodity production (i.e., the purchase and sale of products on the market) and
b) its replacement by a new system of social production according to a previously drawn-up plan with a view to satisfying the requirements both of society as a whole and of each one of its members within the limits permitted by the condition of the productive forces at the given time.
This communist revolution will give rise to the most radical changes in the whole constitution of social and international relationships.
Replacing the present mastery of the product over the producer by that of the producer over the product, it will introduce consciousness where there now reigns blind economic necessity; by simplifying and giving purpose to all social relationships it will at the same time provide each citizen with the real economic possibility of participating directly in the discussion and decision of all social matters.
This direct participation of citizens in the management of social affairs presupposes the abolition of the present system of political representation and its replacement by direct popular legislation.
Moreover, the international character of the impending economic revolution may now already be foreseen. Given the present development of international exchange, it is possible to consolidate this revolution only by all or at least several of the civilised societies taking part in it. Hence follows the solidarity of interests between producers of all countries, already recognised and proclaimed by the International Working Men's Association.
But as the emancipation of the workers must be the matter of the workers themselves, as the interests of labour in general are diametrically opposed to the interests of the exploiters, and as, therefore, the higher classes will always hinder the above described reorganisatlon of the social relationships, the necessary preliminary condition for this reorganisation is the seizure of political power by the working class in each of the countries concerned. Only this temporary domination of the working class can paralyse the efforts of counter-revolution and put an end to the existence of classes and their struggle.
This political task introduces an element of variety into the programmes of the Social-Democrats in the different states, according to the social conditions in each of them individually.
The practical tasks, and consequently the programmes of the Social-Democrats, are bound to be, naturally, more complicated in countries where modern capitalist production is as yet only striving to become dominant and where the working masses are oppressed by a double yoke-that of rising capitalism and that of obsolescent patriarchal economy. In such countries the Social-Democrats must strive for such forms of social structure, as transitional stages, as are already in existence in the advanced countries and are necessary for the further development of the working-class party. Russia is in precisely such a position. Capitalism has achieved enormous success there since the abolition of serfdom. The old system of natural economy is giving place to commodity production and thereby opening up an enormous home market for large-scale industry. The patriarchal, communal forms of peasant land tenure are rapidly disintegrating, the village commune is being transformed into a mere means of enslaving the peasant population to the state and in many localities it is also an instrument for the exploitation of the poor by the rich. At the same time, binding to the land the interests of an enormous section of the producers, it hinders their intellectual and political development by limiting their outlook to the narrow bounds of village traditions. The Russian revolutionary movement, whose victory would be first and foremost profitable to the peasants, finds among them hardly any support, sympathy or understanding. The main bulwark of absolutism is precisely the political indifference and intellectual backwardness of the peasantry. An inevitable consequence of this is the powerlessness and timidity of those educated sections of the higher classes whose material, intellectual and moral interests are in contradiction with the present political system. Raising their voice in the name of the people, they are surprised to see the people indifferent to their calls. Hence the instability of our intelligentsia's political outlooks and occasionally their discouragement and complete disappointment.
Such a state of affairs would be absolutely hopeless if the movement of Russian economic relationships referred to had not created new opportunities of success for those defending the interests of the working people. The disintegration of the village commune is creating in our country a new class of industrial proletariat. Being more receptive, mobile and developed, this class responds to the call of the revolutionaries more easily than the backward rural population. Whereas the ideal of the village commune member lies in the past, under conditions of patriarchal economy, the political complement of which was tsarist autocracy, the lot of the industrial worker can be improved only thanks to the development of the more modern and free forms of communal life. In this class our people find themselves for the first time under economic conditions which are common to all civilised peoples and it is therefore only through the intermediary of this class that the people can take part in the progressive strivings of civilised humanity. On these grounds the Russian Social-Democrats consider as their first and principal obligation the formation of a revolutionary workers' party. The growth and development of such a party, however, will find a very powerful obstacle in modern Russian absolutism.
That is why the struggle against absolutism is obligatory even for those working-class groups which are now the embryo of the future Russian Workers' party. The overthrow of absolutism must be the first of their political tasks.
The principal means for the political struggle of the workers' groups against absolutism, in the opinion of the Russian Social Democrats, is agitation among the working class and the further spread of socialist ideas and revolutionary organisations among that class. Closely bound together in a single harmonic whole, these organisations, not content with isolated clashes with the government, will not delay in passing, at the convenient time, to general and resolute attacks upon it and in this they will not stop even at so-called acts of terrorism if that proves to be necessary in the interests of the struggle.
The aim of the struggle of the workers' party against absolutism is to win a democratic constitution which shall guarantee:
1) The right to vote and be elected to the Legislative Assembly as well as to the provincial and communal self-government bodies, for every citizen who has not been sentenced by court to deprivation of his political rights for certain shameful activities strictly specified by law.
2) A money payment fixed by law for the representatives of the people, which will allow them to be elected from the poorest classes of the population.
3)Universal, civil, free and compulsory education, the state being obliged to provide poor children with food, clothing and school requisites.
4) Inviolability of the person and home of citizens.
5) Unlimited freedom of conscience, speech, the press, assembly and association.
6) Freedom of movement and of employment.
7) Complete equality of all citizens irrespective of religion and racial origin.
8) The replacement of the standing army by general arming of the people.
9) A revision of all our civil and criminal legislation, the abolition of division according to estates and of punishments incompatible with human dignity.
Basing itself on these fundamental political demands, the workers' party puts forward a number of immediate economic demands, such as:
1) Radical revision of our agrarian relations, i.e., the conditions for the redemption of land and its allotment to peasant communes. The right to renounce allotments and leave the village communes for those peasants who find this convenient for themselves, etc.
2) The abolition of the present system of dues and the institution of a progressive taxation system.
3) Legislative regulation of relations between workers (in town and country) and employers, and the organisation of the appropriate inspection with representation of the workers.
4) State assistance for production associations organised in all possible branches of agriculture, the mining and manufacturing industries (by peasants, miners, factory and plant workers, craftsmen, etc.).
These demands are as favourable to the interests of the peasants as to those of the industrial workers; hence, aiming at their implementation, the workers' party will open for itself a broad road for an approach to the agrarian population. The proletarian ejected from the countryside as an impoverished member of the village commune will return there as a Social-Democratic agitator. His appearance in that role will change the present hopeless fate of the village commune. The disintegration of the latter is unavoidable only as long as this very disintegration has not created a new popular force capable of putting an end to the reign of capitalism. That force is the working class and the poorest peasantry drawn in its wake.
Note. As is seen from above, the Russian Social-Democrats presume that the work of the intelligentsia, particularly under present-day conditions of social and political struggle, must be aimed first at the most advanced part of the working population, which consists of the industrial workers. Having secured the powerful support of this section, the Social-Democrats may have far greater hope of success in extending their action to the peasantry, especially when they have won freedom of agitation and propaganda. Incidentally, it goes without saying that even at present, people who are in direct touch with the peasantry could, by their work among them, render an important service to the socialist movement in Russia. The Social-Democrats, far from rejecting such people, will exert all their efforts to agree with them on the basic principles and methods of their work.
Last updated on 21.8.2003