Georgi Plekhanov

A New Champion of Autocracy


Let us now pass onto Russia.

The socialists in the West adhere to the teaching of Marx. Until recently the socialist Narodniks have been dominant among the Russian revolutionaries. The distinction between the Western socialist, i.e., the Social-Democrat, and the socialist Narodnik is that the first appeals to the working class and relies only on the working class, while the second has long ceased to appeal to anybody but the “intelligentsia,” i.e., to himself, and relies only on the intelligentsia, i.e., only on himself. What the Social-Democrat fears above all is to become isolated, and, therefore, to be in a false position in which his voice could no longer reach the masses of the proletariat and would be a voice of one crying in the wilderness. The socialist Narodnik, who has no support among the people and does not suspect the falseness of his position, voluntarily goes into the wilderness and his only concern is that his voice should strike his own ears and bring joy to his heart. In the conception of the Social-Democrat the working class is a powerful, eternally mobile and inexhaustible force which alone is able now to lead society to progress; in the conception of the socialist Narodnik the people is a clumsy giant born of the earth who can remain immobile on his famous “foundations for hundreds of years. And the socialist Narodnik sees this immobility of our Ilya Muromets [1*] not as a shortcoming but as quite a considerable merit. Far from grieving over it, he asks of history but one favour – not to move the Russian giant from the foundations which have long been worn out until the fortunate time when he, the good socialist Narodnik, having dealt with capitalism, tsarism and other harmful “influences,” appears satisfied and radiant before Ilya Muromets and respectfully announces: Monsieur est servi! Dinner is served! Then all the giant will need to do will be to drink off two and a half pailfuls of strong wine and sit down quietly to the social repast prepared for him ... The Social-Democrat studies attentively laws and the course of historical development. The Russian socialist Narodnik, who dreams willingly and often of the development which the people will begin to undergo some time in some other world, “on the day after the revolution,” will not hear of that economic evolution which is not a dream and which is proceeding every day and every hour in present-day Russia. The Social-Democrat swims with the current of history, but the socialist Narodnik, on the contrary, drifts with that current farther and farther away from his “ideals.” The Social-Democrat derives support from evolution, but the socialist Narodnik looks to all sorts of sopl-uisms for support against it.

More than that. The village community was far more enduring one or two hundred years ago than it is now. That is why the socialist Narodnik has a yearning furtively to turn the clock of history one or two hundred years back. [1]

Hence it follows that Mr. Tikhomirov’s opinion is quite correct when applied to; the Russian socialist Narodniks: they were really unable to reconcile the two concepts: evolution and revolution.

Only our author did not consider it necessary to add that he was the principal and the most prolific literary exponent of that tendency in our revolutionary party. Long and obstinately he fought in his articles against every attempt to establish reasonable connections between the Russian revolutionaries’ demands and the inevitable course of Russian social development. The village community, on the one hand; and the “intelligentsia,” on the other, were for Mr. Tikhomirov extreme concepts further which his “revolutionism” never got.

But it goes without saying that the revolutionaries hi a particular country cannot ignore its evolution with impunity; The Russian socialist Narodniks soon learned this by bitter ex perience. They did not always appeal only to themselves, they did not always place their hopes on the “intelligentsia” only. There was a time when they tried to rouse the “people,” they. naturally meant the peasants, the bearers of the village community ideals and the representatives of community solidarity. But as was to be expected, the peasants remained deaf to their revolutionary calls and they were obliged against their will to try to carry out the revolution with their own forces. Well, and what could they do with those forces? They never had the slightest possibility of entering openly into conflict with the government. The political demonstrations during the second half of the seventies quite convincingly brought home to the “intelligentsia” that their forces were not sufficient even for a victory over dvorniks and policemen. In. such a state of affairs, the socialist Narodniks having the views we have spoken of, there was no other course for them but what we call terror and what Mr. Tikhomirov calls individual rebellion. But “individual rebellion” cannot overthrow any government. “Very rarely, I presume, are the champions of political murder aware that the present force of terrorism in Russia is the powerlessness of the revolution,” our author caustically notes. That is perfectly true. Only he was wrong when he imagined that his “creative” mind was required to discover such a simple truth. This was pointed out in the time of the Lipetsk and Voronezh congresses by those of our revolutionaries who wished to maintain the old programme of Zemlya i Volya. [3*] They were perfectly right when they said that without support from at least a certain section of the popular masses no revolutionary movement was possible. But as they adhered to the old Narodist views, they could not have even a vague idea of the kind of work that would guarantee our revolutionary party beneficial influence over the masses and would therefore insure it against the exhaustion they could not avoid when carrying out tire terrorist struggle. At the same time the “terrorist struggle” had one indisputable advantage over all the old programmes: it was at any rate in real fact a struggle for political freedom, a thing which the revolutionaries of the old make-up would not hear of.

Once they had entered the political struggle, the socialist Narodniks were faced with the question of evolution. For the socialist to win political freedom cannot be the last step in revolutionary work. The rights guaranteed to citizens by the modern parliamentary system are no more in his eyes than an intermediary stage on the road to the main aim, i.e., to the reorganization of economic relationships. Between winning political rights and reorganizing these relationships a certain time must necessarily elapse. The question is: Will Russian social life undergo a change during that time, and if it does, in which direction? Will not the constitutional system lead to the destruction of the old foundations of peasant life which are so dear to the socialist Narodniks? To answer this question satisfactorily the main propositions of Narodism had to be criticized.

It would not be difficult to notice in our revolutionary literature an ever-growing consciousness of the necessity to elucidate, at last, the connection between the Russian revolution and Russian evolution. Mr. Tikhomirov, who, as we have already said, was the most obstinate of all our revolutionaries of the old faith and zealously safeguarded the Narodnik dogma which he had adopted against incursion by any new thought – even Mr. Tikhomirov personally felt the influence of this transitory period. His pamphlet Why I Ceased to be a Revolutionary quite definitely indicates this. Telling the story of the transformation which he underwent, Mr. Tikhomirov mentions an article that he wrote for No.5 of Vestnik Narodnoi Voli but which was not approved by his colleagues on the editorial board and was therefore not printed. He says that in it he elaborated the proposition that “only a certain evolution in the life of the people can provide ground for revolutionary activity”; “my revolutionism, he says, “sought precisely that evolution, that historical process of change of type, in order to act in conformity with it.” [2]

Well, what did Mr. Tikhomirov’s “revolutionism” find?

“I demand the union of the party with the country, our author proclaims. “I demand the abolition of terror and forming of a great national party . .. but then, what would be the purpose of conspiracies, revolts and revolutions? A party, such as I was striving to create would obviously have been able to work out a system of improvements which would have been quite possible and clearly fruitful, and hence it would have found strength and ability to prove this to the government, which would have asked for nothing better than to head the reform itself. [3]

Apparently, while “seeking” evolution, Mr. Tikhomirov’s “revolutionism”, “in its striving,” dropped revolution, of which there is no trace in his present views. That is sad, but it has its inevitable logic. It was natural for a man who refused at any price to abandon the idealization of antediluvian economic relationships in the Russian countryside to end up with the idealization of tsarism, the natural political fruit of those relationships. Mt. Tikhomirov’s present views are not more than the logical, though very uncomely, conclusion from the theoretical premises of the socialist Narodniks which he has always considered indisputable.

But, on the other hand, there can be no doubt either that this conclusion has absolutely nothing in common with any evolution whatsoever.

Mr. Tikhomirov sought evolution where it never existed and. where, consequently, it could not possibly be found.

What is the “union of the party with the country”? In any country which has outgrown childhood there are classes or estates whose interests are partly different and partly completely opposed to one another. No party can reconcile these interests; therefore, no party can unite with the country as a whole. Any party can express only the interests of a definite class or estate. This naturally does not mean that every party is confined to represent in politics only the selfish interests of this or that class. In every particular historical epoch there is a class whose victory is linked with the interests of the country’s further development. The country’s interests can be promoted only by contributing to the victory of that class. Consequently, the “union of the party with the country” can have but one rational meaning: the union of the party with the class which at the particular time is the bearer of progress. But what Mr. Tikhomirov says means nothing of the sort. He has always denied, and all the more does he now deny, the existence of any classes whatsoever in our country.

The difference between class interests is a product of the course of social development, of historical evolution. To understand the difference between class interests means to understand the course of historical development, and vice versa, not to understand that difference means not to have the slightest conception of historical development; it means to remain as far as theory is concerned in the kind of darkness in which all cats are grey and perfectly alike. And if a writer who is in such darkness nevertheless speaks to you about evolution, you can be sure that he is mistaking for evolution something that is its direct opposite.

But even if we leave aside alt these considerations, we cannot refrain from asking Mr. Tikhomirov the following interesting question: Why does he think that once the party succeeded in “uniting” with the country, the government “would ask for nothing better than to head the reform” demanded by that party? Our author probably remembers that exactly a hundred years ago the following fact occurred: the representatives of the third estate in a certain country voiced the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population; they “worked out a system of improvements which were quite possible and clearly fruitful.” But the government of that country did not wish to “head the reform” and began to “strive” to suppress it with the help of foreign troops. Of course, they did not prevent the reform being carried out, but as far as the government was concerned, its “striving” was a lamentable failure. However, Mr. Tikhomirov probably thinks that the government of such an exceptionalist state as Russia would most certainly follow its exceptionalist road in such a ease, and that therefore the examples of other countries mean nothing for us.

Our author was seeking ways of uniting the party with the country and found himself by mistake on a road which led hint to union with absolutism. But what has the development of Russia in common with the interests, of the autocracy?

“I regard the question of autocracy as follows,” we read on page 25 of Mr. Tikhomirov’s pamphlet. “First of all, it constitutes in Russia (as she is now) a phenomenon which is perfectly useless to discuss. It is a result of Russian history which stands in no need of acknowledgement and cannot be destroyed by anybody as long as there are tens and tens of millions in the country who neither know nor wish to know anything else in politics.”

Mr. Tikhomirov was trying to understand the meaning of Russian “evolution.” In order to succeed in that he should have made clear to himself not only what Russia is now, but above all what she is becoming, in which sense she is undergoing a. “change in the type” of social relationships. Whoever ignores this side of the matter may speak only of stagnation, not of development. It was precisely this side of the matter that Mr. Tikhomirov ignored. That was why there happened to him what happens to all those of the “conservative” trend. They imagine that they are considering the “country” “as it is now,” but in reality their mind’s eye is turned towards the “country” as it was at one time and as it is no longer at the present time as. far as a large part of it is concerned. Their conservative “dreams “are founded on the idealization of old, already obsolete economic and political relationships.

Mention economic relationships in Russia to Mr. Tikhomirov. He will tell you: the village community is “a result of Russian. history which stands in no need of acknowledgement as long as there are tens and tens of millions who neither know nor wish to know anything else in economics.” But the short phrase as long as contains the whole substance of the matter. A man who says high-sounding phrases about evolution must not he content with references to the present. If he wishes to convince us that the village community has a lasting future he must prove that the above “as long as” is not fated to be only a very short time, that the village community does not carry in itself and will never, or at least for a long time, carry in itself the elements of its disintegration. Similarly, if he wishes to convince us of the lasting future of the Russian autocracy, he must prove that in our social relationships there are no factors under the influence of which “tens and tens of millions” will not, perhaps very soon, want to hear anything about autocracy. “As long as” is a very vague term; it is an x which may be equal to a million, but may also be not far from nil. It was the task of our evolutionist to determine the qualities of x. But that was above his abilities. Overflowing with “exceptionalism”, he has always lived in such strained relations with science, which came to us, as we know, from the West, that it was entirely beyond his power to find a serious solution of any questions at all.

Defining the political views of the Russian people, Mr. Tikhomirov speaks of. Russia as she is now, or, more exactly, as she appears to him. But his gaze is fixed on the past when he goes on to the question whether the existence of autocracy is a hindrance to the success of Russian “culture.” It is obvious to any unprejudiced and unsophisticated person that this question can only be formulated as follows: does the contemporary autocrracy, “as it is now,” hinder or promote Russia’s development? Mr. Tikhomirov prefers another formulation of the question. He points to absolutism as it was, in his opinion, at one time. “Can one be so forgetful of one’s own history as to exclaim: ‘What cultural work there was under the tsars!’” (as many peopie do exclaim, to Mr. Tikhomirov’s great grief). “Was not Peter a tsar? Yet has there ever been in history an epoch of more rapid and broader cultural work?” asks our author vehemently. “Was not Catherine II a tsaritsa? Was it not under Nicholas that all the social ideas according to which Russian society still lives developed? And lastly, are there many republics which carried out as many improvements in the space of 26 years as the Emperor Alexander II? In answer to such facts we only find such pitiable phrases as that this was done ‘in spite of the autocracy.’ But even if that were the case, does it matter whether it was thanks to’ or ‘in spite of’ as long as. progress – and very rapid progress – was possible?” [4]

But allow us to ask you, oh wise defender of evolution: Do you really not understand the very simple fact that the present may not resemble the past, and that the example of Peter, Catherine or even Alexander II means nothing at all for Alexander III. or Nicholas II? Peter tried to make Russia become an enlightened country; Alexander III wanted to plunge her back into barbarity. Russia can raise twenty new monuments to Peter and at the same time find that Alexander III deserves nothing but the gallows. Why turn back to Peter the Great when it is a question of Alexander the Fat?

Besides, how are we to understand the reference to the reign of Nicholas? “It was under Nicholas that many of the ideas according to which Russian society still lives were developed.” That is true, but do not be angry, Mr. Tikhomirov, and allow us to ask you what role Nicholas, “the guardsman-father of all reactions,” had in this. Suppose there is a war between the cats and the mice. The mice think that the cats are a great danger to their well-being and try by all means to get r~d of them. Suddenly Reynard the Fox appears and cunningly wagging his bushy tail says to the mice: “Unreasonable and imprudent mice, I really cannot understand you being so forgetful of your history as to exclaim, ‘How can we be well-off with cats?’ Now isn’t Vaska a cat? Isn’t Mashka one too? Did not your number increase so much under Vaska that .the master of the house where you lived had to go to the trouble of buying new mousetraps? It is true that Vaska destroyed as many of you as he could, but all the same you multiplied, and isn’t it just the same to you whether you multiplied thanks to or in spite of Vaska?” What should the mice have answered to such a sycophant?

“Great progress in literature is compatible with an Autocratic Monarchy,” Mr. Tikhomirov assures us (p.26). But that is really too un ... ceremonious! Or does he think that his readers do not know the history of much-suffering Russian literature? Who does not remember Novikov and Radishchev, who felt the enlightened Catherine’s claws, Pushkin’s exiles under Alexander “the pious”; Polezhayev, tortured to death by Nicholas the “unforgettable”; Lermontov, exiled for a poem which contained nothing dangerous for the “foundations”; Shevchenko, condemned to waste his life as a common soldier; Dostoyevsky, at first sentenced to death in spite of his complete innocence and then “reprieved,” sent to forced labour, shut tip in the “Dead House” where he was twice subjected to corporal punishment; Belinsky, whom death alone saved from the gendarmes? Does Mr. Tikhomirov think his readers have forgotten the exile of Shchapov, Mikhailov who died in Siberia, Chernyshevsky, who spent more than twenty years there; Pisarev, who spent the best years of his life in a fortress; the modern Russian writers among whom one rarely finds a man of independent mind who has not been under police surveillance or banished to more or less remote districts; and finally the fury of the Russian censorship, accounts of which people who do not know our “Autocratic Monarchy” would never believe? Merciless persecution of every living thought runs through the whole history of the Russian emperors and our literature paid a price unheard of for its development “in spite of” autocracy. Everybody knows that, and we advise Mr. Tikhomirov to expatiate on anything he likes, to write solemn odes on: “guns of victory, sound louder! Sing, rejoice, courageous Russ!” but to leave Russian literature in peace. The mere thought of it is enough to inspire us with burning hatred for our autocrats!

Replying to a book by Custine on Russia under Nicholas, Grech once affirmed that one could write with the same freedom in Petersburg as in Paris or in London. [4*] Mr. Tikhomirov’s observations on the flourishing of Russian literature under the auspices of autocracy are nothing more than the further development of Grech’s audacious thought. On the appearance of the pamphlet Why I Ceased to be a Revolutionary, many people thought that Mr. Tikhomirov wanted to become a new Katkov, endowed with a more “creative intelligence” than the late editor of Moskovskiye Vedomosti [5*] But that was a mistake. To one who considers the matter carefully it is clear that Mr. Tikhomirov was disturbed by Grech’s fame. And it must be admitted that Mr. Tikhomirov’s entire manner of writing is reminiscent of Grech. Mr. Tikhornirov is not destined to be a new Katkov, but he has all that it takes to be a new Grech, in miniature, of course.

What difference does it make, says Mr. Tikhomirov, whether it is “thanks to” or “in spite of” the tsar that our social development proceeds! A great deal of difference, Mr. Tikhomirov! It is not a matter of indifference to us whether our educational establishments are under the authority of Tolstois, Delyanovs, Runiches or Magnitskys. It is not a matter of indifference to us that admission to them is restricted, that they may be closed at any time on the whim of the tsar and the youths taught in them are handed over to “sergeant-majors” in lieu of Voltaires. it is not the same to us that the northern and eastern exile regions are populated with our students and that, at the present, parents who let their sons enter a higher educational establishment consider them already almost lost. It is not a matter of indifference to us that in our autocratic, police state at least one-fifth of the inhabitants (peasants) every year an subjected to corporal punishment when the taxes an. collected. It is not a matter of indifference to us that the workers are persecuted in violation of the laws by the administration for the slightest protest against the hellish conditions in the factories and, if it occurs to our autocrat, can even be handed over to a military tribunal, as was not unfrequently the case under Nicholas. All that is far from being a matter of indifference to us. The stupid self-willedness of the autocrats costs us too great a price. There was a time too when all this was far from being a matter of indifference to you, Mr. Tikhomirov. And do you know what? If you still have the slightest drop of humanity you will, in spite of yourself and your ““ often recall that time as the noblest in your life.

In Mr. Tikhomirov’s opinion, if our student youth is surrounded with danger those to be blamed are the “incitors” who draw them into politics. “Student interference in politics is attended by the most harmful consequences in the form of various demonstrations, when, for some paltry protest against a wretched inspector, hundreds of young people, irreplaceable forces, are lost for the country in hardly 24 hours”. Let us note first that “student interference in politics” is one thing and what are called student affairs are quite another. For students there are other ways of “interfering in politics,” besides the fight against the inspectors. Secondly, we humbly ask Mr. Tikhomirov to tell us who is to blame for ruin of these really valuable and truly irtreplaceable forces? Is it not the government, which is capable of destroying hundreds of young people “for a paltry protest against some wretched inspector”? It is amazing that even in Mr. Tikhomirov’s imagination our absolutism is a kind of dragon, the wisest policy towards which is merely not to fall into its claws.

Of course, it would be millions of times better “for the country” if our youth could study and develop in peace! Who will dispute that? But unfortunately they will not be able to do so until the political system which is now ruining their young energies is filially abolished. The government will never forgive the youth their “interference in politics” and the youth will never refrain from such interference. The student youth everywhere have taken a most active part in the fight for political freedom. George Sand long ago gave the right answer to the philistines who condemn them for this: if everything that is good and noble in youth is directed against the existing system, that is the best proof that the system is worthless.

But it is not only the student youth that Mr. Tikhornirov would like to keep away from the political struggle. He -advises everybody, even the very oldest of his readers to ignore it and suggests as an alternative “cultural work” ... approved by the government. According to him no impediments or obstacles can hinder such work. “Whatever the kind of government,” he says, “it can take away from the people anything but the possibility to carry on cultural work, assuming that the people is capable of such work.” How gladdening! The only trouble is that we just cannot imagine what wonderful kind of “work” it is that, so to say, moths do not eat and rust does not consume, and that we can peacefully engage in it even if the government takes away from us “anything.” The spreading of enlightenment, for example, is the most cultural of all cultural works. But the government can always “take away” from us this kind of work and Mr. Tikhomirov himself knows many examples of it having done so. Literary activity must also be recognized as cultural work. But Mr. Tikhomirov also knows full well that the government can easily forbid any of us to indulge in such work at any time. What kind of “work” does our author mean then? The building of railways, the promotion of the success of our “national industry”? But even here everything depends on bureaucratic tyranny. The government may at any time refuse permission for your undertaking or crush it with heavy taxes, ridiculous tariffs, etc. Will we have much left, once the government “takes away” everything you like to imagine ? (To tell the truth, it is not far from doing that already.)

It seems to us that Mr. Tikhomirov should be more sincere with his readers and tell them, without any reservation, the consoling words that the stoics used to tell the slaves: your masters can take away from you everything you like to imagine, but it is above their power to take away from you the inner freedom of your “ego”; and only that inner freedom is of any value to the man of reason. Many people would probably understand all the correctness of that philosophical thought.

If the Russian, “intellectual” is fated to a stormy youth from the political point of view, and if in a riper age he wishes to rest, to live and enjoy it, he will yearn for “cultural work.” He does not even know very well himself what that work must consist of. From his confused explanations you can generally understand only one thing: a very considerable portion of his future “work” will be needed to guard and maintain his “cultured person.” But excuse me, every educated man is of value to us, the future Kulturträger will protest, avoiding that his eyes should meet yours. In other words, he is so good and respectable in his “intellectualness” that when the Russian people look at him they will be cured of many diseases without more ado, just as the Hebrews in the desert were cured by looking at the brazen serpent. And it is this “work” of figuring as a Russian brazen serpent that Mr. Tikhomirov recommends to his readers. He who once waxed enthusiastic over the fame of Robespierre or Saint-Just now pretends to be infatuated with the splendid examples of Kostanjoglo, the model landlord, or Murazov, the angelically kind taxfarmer. [6*]

But in speaking of such work he should not have made any reference to history. Our author was very imprudent when he recalled Peter, Catherine and Alexander II. Delving down to the meaning of such examples, the reader may say to himself: however much or little “cultural work” there really was in the country during the reign of one or the other of those sovereigns, it consisted in reorganizing social relationships in accordance with the most crying needs of the time. The question is: is tsarism “as it is” now, capable of undertaking a reorganization of Russian social relationships which would be useful and conform to the needs of our time? It is said that the most necessary reorganization of those relationships consists in limiting the power of the tsar. Will the tsar undertake such “cultural work”? That is a dangerous thought, Mr. Tikhomirov! The reader, asking himself such a question, is not far from what today is called seditious intent. But that is not all: some readers can even go farther and indulge, for example, in the following “destructive” thinking: the reforms of Alexander II were brought about by the Crimean pogrom, which forced us to adopt a programme of transformations which were unquestionably necessary for the self-preservation of Russia as a European country. The basis of all other reforms at that time was the abolition of serfdom. The reason for it, besides general economic considerations, was that the number of peasant revolts, increasing every year, gave rise to fear of a popular rising. It apparently follows from this that when we wish to force the tsar to undertake “cultural work” we will have to intimidate him by an uprising, and intimidate him seriously, of course, i.e., not limit ourselves to words, but prepare an uprising in actual fact. This means that revolutionary activity is that same cultural work, but considered from a different aspect. And this last type of “cultural work” is in substance profitable to the autocrats themselves. Roused by the danger of a revolt, they will very easily transform themselves into “emancipators.” For Alexander II to think of reforms Russia had to be in such a desperate condition that the only thing left for Nicholas was to commit suicide. The revolutionaries will reconcile the tsars with the inevitable perspective of “ cultural work”; then the suicide of tsars may also prove superfluous.

Do you see, Mr. Grech, what a temptation you lead your readers into? How comes it that you behave so inconsiderately? And still you boast of the “imprint of positiveness” which you were always “noted” for! Why did you delve into history? Would it not have been better for you to limit yourself to exalting that “cultural work” which is so dear to you and which does not in the least concern social relationships and will repay us a hundredfold for all mishaps, even if absolutism takes away from the brave, Russians everything “you like to imagine”?

Our modern Grech himself knows how little assiduity the Russian monarchs display in the domain of historical “cultural work.” That is why he wishes to play on our patriotism by pointing out the Russian “national problems” which, in his mind, can be solved only by a “stable government.” In a certain sense our tsarism seems never to have been lacking in stability, but did that help much in solving our cultural problems? Let us recall at any rate the history of the Eastern question, which is near enough to us.

We were told that our “national problems” demanded the liberation of Moldavia and Walachia. We fought for that liberatiori, but when it was effected absolutism managed to make the Rumanians our enemies. Was arousing them against Russia’ promoting the solution of the Russian “national problems”?

We were told that the liberation of Serbia was necessary in view of our “national problems.” We contributed to it, and the tsar’s policy drove the Serbs into the arms of Austria-Hungary. Did that promote the solution of our national problems?

We were told the interests of Russia require that Bulgaria should be liberated. Enough Russian blood was shed in that cause, but now, thanks to the policy of our “firm” and “stable” government, the Bulgars hate us as their bitterest persecutors. Is that advantageous to Russia? [7*]

The solution of the national problems of any country requires first of all one condition: “stable” conformity of the government’s policy with the country’s national interests. But in our country that condition does not and cannot exist, because our policy is fully dependent on His August Majesty’s fantasy. If Elizabeth fights Frederick of Prussia, Russia is obliged to think that the war is being waged in her national interests. Then Peter HI becomes tsar-Peter, who when he was only heir to the throne, behaved treacherously towards Russia-and the Russian soldiers who until then have been fighting against Frederick immediately go over to his side and the inhabitants of Russia are obliged to think that the change of sides is required by their national problems. Or else let Mr. Tikhomirov recall the autocratic pranks played by Paul or Nicholas, who thought that Russia’s principal national problem was to play implicitly the role of gendarme of Europe. What did Russia gain from her campaign against Hungary? A few years after it the Unforgettable, in a conversation with a Pole, asked him who was the most stupid king in Poland after Jan Sobieski. And as the Pole did not know what to answer, the tsar said: “I was, because I also saved Vienna when I should not have done it.” But the stupidity of His Majesty the King of Poland and Emperor of Russia was bound to have the most harmful effects on the national interests of Russia.

The most important of all our national tasks is to win freedom of political institutions, thanks to which the forces of our country would at last cease to be a toy in the hands of some crowned Kit Kitych. [8*] Speaking of Russia’s national tasks, the apologists of the autocracy remind her first of all, against their will, of this task.

Our author writes that only “the desperate romanticism of our revolutionaries allows them to “treat the hereditary autocrats of Russia in a way permissible in respect of a usurper. The Russian tsar did not usurp his power but got it from his solemnly elected ancestors and to this very day the overwhelming majority of the people have not uttered a single word showing a desire to deprive the Romanovs of their powers. To set off still more the greatness of the tsars’ authority, Mr. Tikhomirov stresses that the Russian Church, which is acknowledged by the immense majority of the population, “consecrates the tsar, giving him the “title of its temporal head”! [5]

Let us first make a tiny remark: it was not the Church that decided to “consecrate the Russian tsar and give him the title of its temporal head; it was the Russian tsar himself who, on his own inspiration and in the interests of his own authority, decided to confer upon himself that title of honour. That is not a great crime, but why does Mr. Tikhomirov distort history?

To continue, which Romanovs is he talking about? There was a time when in fact Romanovs sat on the Russian throne. It cannot be said that this dynasty was elected by any particularly “solemn” considerations. Some historians affirm that the boyars were in favour of “Misha Romanov” because he was “weak in the head” and they hoped to keep him under their thumb. It is said also that when the tsar was elected, he in turn made a “solemn” promise to respect the rights of the “country.” But nothing definite is known on this point and as far as the election of the Romanovs is concerned we must say with Count A. Tolstoi:

It happened in summer,
but whether there was agreement
(between the parties concerned)
history does not say
. [9*]

Whatever the ease may be, the Romanovs were in fact elected, and the Russian tsars could claim election by the people if they really belonged to that dynasty. But that dynasty has been extinct for a long time. On the death of Elizabeth Peter Holstein-Gottorp succeeded her on the throne and no Romanovs could have issued from his union with the Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, even if we acknowledge the legitimacy of Paul’s birth, which Catherine herself expressly denies in her Memoirs. The “country” had absolutely no share in the election of Peter Holstein. It is true that in the female line he was related to the extinct dynasty, but if that is a reason for granting him and his descendants the title of Romanov, the children of the Prince of Edinburgh, for example, should also be given that name, and this does not appear to have occurred to anybody. For the Russian revolutionaries, of course, it is all the same whom they overthrow, the Romanovs or the Holstein-Gottorps, but once more, why distort history?

The Russian tsars must not be treated as usurpers! That’s novelty! We always thought they should not be treated otherwise than as usurpers. And our reason was that the Russian tsars themselves not infrequently treated their predecessors as usurpers. Does Mr. Tikhomirov remember the history of the eighteenth century? Does he remember the accession to the throne of Elizabeth and Catherine II? Either ces dames usurped the power of tsar, or, if their accession was legitimate, their predecessors were usurpers. Paul always called Catherine’s action usurpation and they say that Nicholas shared his opinion on this point. Does Mr. Tikhomirov remember the murder of Paul? Does he remember that in this matter Alexander “the pious” can be accused of at least “knowing and not revealing”? What name should we give a man who acceded to the throne by means of a plot against his father and emperor? Of course, it is all the same to the Russian revolutionaries whether they have to deal with tsars “by the grace of God” or with tsars by the grace of the “leibkampantsi” [10*] and other praetorians. But, once again, why distort history? Why speak of the legitimate inheritance of power “from ancestors”? Why indulge in “fantasy” about the holiness of the throne when it is fouled with all sorts of crimes?

Either Mr. Tikhcimirov thinks that his readers do not know the history of Russia, and is therefore speculating on their ignorance, or else he does not know it himself and leaps before looking.

O, man of much experience, thy boldness is thy undoing!

And such a brave champion was not understood or appreciated by Russky Vestnik! The paper maintains that Mr. Tikhottrov has said nothing new. But where can we get anything new from if you, gentlemen, have absolutely exhausted all there is to say in favour of absolutism? And besides, Russky Vestnik’s assurance is not quite fair. Mr. Tikhomirov’s pamphlet contains an absolutely new way of intimidating people to deter them from revolutionary work. Here it is the precious fruit of Tikhomirov’s originality. “The influence of the way of life itself,” we see on page 18 of his pamphlet, “is extraordinarily unfavourable to the terrorist and conspirator ... His consciousness is dominated by the awareness that not only today or tomorrow, but at every second, he must be ready to die. The only way to living with such an awareness is not to think of many things which one must, however, think of if one wishes to remain a man of culture. Any at all serious attachment is real misfortune in this situation. The study of any question whatsoever, of any social phenomenon, etc., is unthinkable. It cannot occur to one to have any at all complicated, or extensive programme. All day long, the terrorist or conspirator must deceive every single individual (with the exception of 5-10 fellow- thinkers); he must hide from everybody and see everyone as an enemy.” In short, the conspirator and terrorist leads the “life of a hounded wolf” and his fight against the government is a fight which “humiliates” the fighter himself.

Well, how about the metaphor? Not a bad turn of phrase? we ask with Nekrasov. Delve down to the meaning of those ar’güments and you will see that Mr. Tikhomirov is by no means as simple as he often appears to be. in Russia there is a stern and implacable force which oppresses us and takes away from us “everything you like to imagine.” We protest against that force, each singly, and it grounds us to powder. We organize to fight it systematically, and the result of this struggle which, we thought, was to free us, is our own “humiliation.” The moral is obvious: if you do not want to “be humiliated,” do not protest, submit to the authority ordained by God, “bow thy head, proud man!”

Apparently this conclusion applies directly only to the terrorists but if there is any basis for its premise, any kind o,f revolutionary struggle in Russia must be acknowledged to be “humiliating because every revolutionary without exception has to “fight police spies and to be reconciled with the thought of his possible death “not only today or tomorrow, but at every second. But is our author right? Fortunately not, far from it; what he says is even just the opposite of the truth and it needs only a little attention on the part of the reader to blow away Tikhomirov’s sophism like smoke.

Let us begin with a small but necessary correction. The revolutionaries fight not police spies, but the Russian Government which persecutes them with the help of its “eyes of the Tsar,” spies and provocators. Such a method of fighting against the revolutionaries is most “humiliating” for the government itself. Mr. Tikhomirov says nothing about this, but it is selfevident. [6] As for the revolutionaries, how can persecution by police spies affect them? First of all, this persecution must maintain in each of them the consciousness “that not only today or tomorrow, but at every second, he must be ready to die” for his convictions. Not everybody is able to bear such a thought at every minute. We can find in the history of secret societies in any country examples of weakness, fear, “humiliation” and even complete degradation. But unfortunately for despotism, not all revolutionaries are like that. Constant persecution has quite the opposite effect on people of stronger character; it develops in them not fear of persecution but complete and constant readiness to die in the fight for a just cause. And this readiness maintains in them a state of mind that pacific philistines who never aroused a single suspicion in any spy cannot come anywhere near to tinder- standing. Everything personal, everything selfish is relegated to the background, or rather is forgotten entirely, and all that remains is the political interest common to all, “the power of one thought alone, a single but burning passion.” [12*] Man attains the height of heroism. And there have been enough people of this kind in our revolutionary movement. See what Kennan writes when he makes the acquaintance of our exiles in Siberia. “What I saw and learned in Siberia stirred me to the very depths of my soul – opened to me a new world of human experiences, and raised, in some respects, all my moral standards,” he says in a letter quoted by Mrs. Dawes in the August 1888 issue of the American magazine The Century. “I made the acquaintance of characters as truly heroic in mould – characters of as high a type as any outlined in history, and saw them showing courage, fortitude, self-sacrifice and devotion to an ideal beyond anything of which I could believe myself capable ... I went to Siberia, regarding the political exiles as a lot of mentally unbalanced fanatics, bomb-throwers and assassins ... When I came away from Siberia I kissed those same men good-bye with my arms round them and my eyes full of tears ...” [13*] What will Mr. Tikhomirov say of such people? The “humiliating” struggle against police spies apparently did not have any humiliating influence on them. Ah, Mr. Grech, Mr. Grech, what an elephant you have not noticed!

Of course, it would be far better if the revolutionaries did not need to expose themselves to persecution by police spies. But that depends on the government. Tikhomirov would be rendering us a great service if he impressed on our rulers that not all means are good in fighting the revolutionaries and that “eyes of the Tsar” are not very attractive.

As for the deception which revolutionaries are allegedly obliged to engage in “all day long,” we can answer Mr. Tikhomirov with the following arguments. We do not know whether he deceived many people when he considered himself a revolutionary. Possibly he did. His own admissions show that as long as the Vestnik Narodnot Voli was published, his literary work was deception of his readers, for even at that time he no longer believed in the cause he was defending. But from this it by no means follows, that all revolutionaries are obliged by the very force of things to deceive. Mr. Tikhomirov’s sad example means nothing for them. Revolutionary work only obliges to secrecy, but there is an enormous difference between secrecy and deception. Even the most truthful man who has never told a lie in his whole life can have secrets, and he has absolute moral right to reveal those secrets only to his “fellow-thinkers.” Does not Mr. Grech understand that?

But here, reader, is a most amazing thing: Russian absolutism is so monstrous that even when Mr. Tikhomirov himself has engaged on the path of truth he could not remain steadfast in his role of loyal writer. After all sorts of far-stretched suppositions and sophisms that he has imagined in support of the power of the tsar, he suddenly begins to be ironical; involuntarily adopting Shchedrin’s tone. “The source of legislative and executive power according to Russian law is the sovereign of the country, “he writes. “In republican countries it is the electors. Both of these forms have their advantages, but in both of them political action, whatever be its source, is manifested only through the intermediary of definite institutions” (sometimes such “institutions” as barricades, for example, Mr. Tikhomirov). “These institutions are no less means of activity in Russia than in other countries. We have the State Council, the Senate, the ministries with various supplementary bodies such as the department of trade and manufacture and a fair number of permanent commissions” (p.31). For this caustic sarcasm we can forgive our author many transgressions against logic and common sense, but not, of course, against political decency.



1. By socialist Narodniks we mean all those socialists who held the village community to be the main economic basis of the socialist revolution. in Russia. In this sense the Narodovoltsi must also be considered as Narodniks. They themselves admit that they are. In the Programme of the Executive Committee they indeed call themselves socialist Narodniks. [2*]

2. Pp.13-14 of his pamphlet.

3. Pp.12-13 of his pamphlet.

4. P.25.

5. P.16.

6. We need only remember the burial of Sudelkin and we will see how humiliatingly near to spies our tsars are brought by their method of fighting revolutionaries. During the famous Gatchina “isolation” [11*] of Alexander III we read – we cannot remember in which paper – that the august family had arranged a Christmas tree ... for the court police officials. Her Majesty graciously deigned to distribute presents to those officials with her own hands. After such kindness to the recognized police nobody would be surprised if during Easter Week there was an announcement in the papers to the effect that Their Majesties had given the kiss of peace to the representatives of the secret police, or simply to spies; their “closest fellow-thinkers.”



1*. Ilya Muromets – a hero of Russian legends in the 12-16th centuries, one of the principal defenders of Ancient Rus. Tradition has it that before his famous exploits he was deprived of the use of his legs.

2*. The Programme of the Executive Committee of Narodnaya Volya was published in the paper Narodnaya Volya, No.3, January 1, 1880, pp.5-7.

3*. In connection with the sharpening of the contradictions inside the Zemlya i Volya organization on the methods of struggle, a congress of the members was convened in Voronezh in June 1879. Preparing for it, the supporters of the terrorist struggle assembled at a separate congress in Lipetsk. The Voronezh Congress adopted a half-hearted decision demanding “special development” of the terrorist struggle against the Government, as well as continuation of the work. among the people.

Plekhanov here refers to his own position at the Voronezh Congress, when he came forward as a determined opponent of terror. Getting no support he left the Congress, but set forth in writing his reasons for leaving the Zemlya i Volya organization. In this connection, see his article Unsuccessful History of the Narodnaya Volya party.

4*. Plekhanov’s reference is to a book by De Custine published in Paris in 1843 under the title La Russie en 1839. De Custine gave his impressions of a journey through Russia and severely condemned the autocracy. The reactionary journalist N.I. Grech, with the approval of the tsar and the 3rd Department, published a pamphlet in French and German, attempting to refute what De Custine wrote. (On this see Herzen’s Diary, Collected Works, in 30 volumes, Russ. ed., Vol.II, 1954, pp.311-12 and 340.)

5*. Moskovskiye Vedomosti (Moscow Recorder) – a daily which began to appear in 1756. From the sixties of the 19th century it was taken over by Katkov and expressed the views of the most reactionary and monarchist elements.

6*. Kostanjoglo and Murazov – characters in the second volume of Gogol’s Dead Souls.

7*. Plekhanov here alludes to the following historical events: As a result of the Russo-Turkish War of1877-1878, the Treaty of San Stefano recognized the independence of Rumania, which was formed in 1859 by the union of the principalities of Moldova and Walakhia. Soon, in 1883, Rumania allied with Austria-Hungary against Russia. By the Treaty of San Stefano Bulgaria and Serbia also received their independence. But the policy of the tsarist government, which was subordinate to the interests of reaction in Europe, led to a considerable drop in the prestige of Russian tsarism in those countries. At the same time, the peoples of Rumania, Serbia and Bulgaria were full of sympathy for the Russian people, who had helped them to free themselves from Turkish domination.

8*. Kit Kitych – distorted name of Tit Titych Bruskov, a merchant in A.N. Ostrovsky’s comedy Shouldering Another’s Troubles. He came to symbolize the petty tyrant.

9*. A.K. Tolstoi, History of the Russian State from Gostomysl to Timashev. (Cf. Collection of Poetry, published by Sovietsky Pisatel Publishing House, 1937, p.364.)

10*. Leibkampantsi – grenadiers of the Guards Company of the Preobrazhensky Regiment, with whose help a palace revolution was effected in 1741 and the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna was placed on the throne.

11*. Alexander III, intimidated by the increasing terror activities of Narodnaya Volya, and fearing a revolutionary outbreak, remained in his palace at Gatchina for two years in the early eighties after the assassination of Alexander II, voluntarily confining himself and his family to isolation. His contemporaries called him the Gatchina prisoner. In the Preface to the Russian edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1882). Marx and Engels called him a “prisoner of war of the revolution.”

12*. From the poem Mtsyri by Lermontov.

13*. George Kennan, an American traveller, went to Siberia in 1884-1886 by arrangement with Century Magazine in which he undertook to publish his observations. Since Kennan had publicly condemned the terrorists in 1882, the Russian authorities willingly allowed him to enter Russia and visit prisons and forced labour camps, in the hope that owing to his negative attitude to the Russian revolutionaries he would help to attract world opinion to the side of the Russian Government. But Kennan disappointed them. On his return from Siberia he published a number of books describing Russian prisons and the living conditions of the Russian revolutionary exiles. His books produced a powerful impression and caused his readers to censure the tsarist regime. His books were prohibited id Russia until 1905-1906.


Last updated on 21.8.2003