G.V. Plekhanov

The Development of the Monist View of History

Appendix II
A Few Words to Our Opponents [1*]

The question is again being raised in our literature: what path will the economic development of Russia follow? It is being discussed lengthily and passionately, so passionately that people who are known in common parlance as sensible minds are even perturbed by what would seem the excessive heat of the contending parties. Why, the sensible ones say, get excited and hurl proud challenges and bitter reproaches at your opponents? Why jeer at them? Would it not be better to examine dispassionately a question which is indeed of immense importance to our country, but which, just because of its immense importance, calls for dispassionate examination?

As always, the sensible minds are right and wrong at one and the same time. Why, indeed, such excitement and passion on the part of writers belonging to two different camps each of which – whatever its opponents might say – is striving to the best of its understanding, strength and ability to uphold the most important and most essential interests of the people? Evidently, the question has only to be put to have it answered immediately and once and for all with the help of two or three platitudes which might find a place in any copybook, such as: tolerance is a good thing; respect the opinions of others even if they radically differ from your own, and so on. All this is very true, and it has been “told the world” a very long time now. But it is no less true that human beings were, are, and will be inclined to get passionate wherever the issue affected, affects, or will affect their vital interests. Such is human nature – we might have said, if we did not know how often and how greatly this expression has been abused. Nor is this the whole matter. The chief thing is that we human beings have no reason to regret that such is our “nature.” No great step in history has ever been taken without the aid of passion, which, multiplying as it does the moral strength and sharpening the intellectual faculties of people, is itself a great force of progress. Only such social questions are discussed dispassionately as are quite unimportant in themselves, or have not yet become immediate questions for the given country and the given period, and are therefore of interests only to a handful of arm-chair thinkers. But once a big social question has become an immediate question, it will infallibly arouse strong passions, no matter how earnestly the advocates of moderation may call for calmness.

The question of the economic development of our country is precisely that great social question which we cannot now discuss with moderation for the simple reason that it has become an immediate question. This of course does not mean that economics has only now acquired decisive importance in our social development. It has always and everywhere been of such importance. But in our country – as everywhere else – this importance has not always been consciously recognized by people interested in social matters, and their passion was therefore concentrated on questions that had only the most remote relation to economics. Recall, for instance, the 40s in our country. Not so now. Now the great and fundamental importance of economics is realized in our country even by those who passionately revolt against Marx’s “narrow” theory of history. Now all thinking people realize that our whole future will be shaped by the way the question of our economic development is answered. That indeed is why even thinkers who are anything but “narrow” concentrate all their passion on this question. But if we cannot now discuss this question with moderation, we can and should see to it even now that there is no licence either in the defining of our own thoughts or in our polemical methods. This is a demand to which no objection can possibly be offered. Westerners know very well that earnest passion precludes all licence. In our country, to be sure, it is still sometimes believed that passion and licence are kin sisters, but it is time we too became civilized.

As far as the literary decencies are concerned, it is apparent that we are already civilized to quite a considerable degree – so considerable that our “progressive,” Mr. Mikhailovsky, lectures the Germans (Marx, Engels, Dühring) because in their controversies one may allegedly find “things that are absolutely fruitless, or which distort things and repel by their rudeness.” Mr. Mikhailovsky recalls Börne’s remark that the Germans “have always been rude in controversy”! “And I am afraid,” he adds, “that together with other German influences, this traditional German rudeness has also penetrated into our country, aggravated moreover by our own barbarousness, so that controversy becomes the tirade against Potok-Bogatyr which Count A. Tolstoi puts into the mouth of his princess:

“‘You cadger, mumper, ignorant sot!
Plague on your entrails, may you rot!
You calf, pig, swine, you Ethiop,
You devil’s spawn, you dirty snob!
Were it not that my virginal shame
Forbids me stronger words to name,
‘Tis not such oaths, you insolent cad,
I’d shower down upon your head.
’” [1] [2*]

This is not the first time Mr. Mikhailovsky alludes to Tolstoi’s coarse-mouthed princess. He has on many a previous occasion advised Russian writers not to resemble her in their controversies. Excellent advice, there’s no denying. ’Tis only a pity that our author does not always follow it himself. We know, for example, that he called one of his opponents a louse, and another a literary acrobat. He ornamented his controversy with M. de la Cerda with the following remark: “Of all the European languages, it is only in the Spanish that the word la cerda has a definite signification, meaning in Russian pig.” Why the author had to say this, it is hard to imagine.

“Nice, is it not?” M. de la Cerda observed in this connection. Yes, very nice, and quite in the spirit of Tolstoi’s princess. But the princess was blunter, and when she felt like swearing she shouted simply: calf, pig, swine, etc., and did not do violence to foreign languages in order to say a rude word to her opponent.

Comparing Mr. Mikhailovsky with Tolstoi’s princess, we find that he scorns such words as “Ethiop,” “devil’s spawn” and so on, and concentrates, if we may say so, on pachydermic epithets. We find him using -”swine” and “pig,” and pigs moreover of the most different kinds: Hamletized, green, etc. Very forcible this, if rather monotonous. Generally speaking, if we turn from the vituperative vocabulary of Tolstoi’s princess to that of our subjective sociologist, we see that the living charms bloom in different pattern, but in power and expressiveness they are in no way inferior to the polemical charms of the lively princess. “Est modus in rebus (There is a measure in all things. – Ed.) or, as the Russian has it, you must know where to stop,” says Mr. Mikhailovsky. Nothing could be truer, and we heartily regret that our worthy sociologist often forgets it. He might tragically exclaim:

Video meliora, proboque,
Deteriora sequor!

However, it is to be hoped that in time Mr. Mikhailovsky too will become civilized, that in the end his good intentions will prevail over “our own barbarousness,” and he will cease hurling “swine” and “pig” at his opponents. Mr. Mikhailovsky himself rightly thinks that la raison finit toujours par avoir raison. (“Reason always triumphs in the end.” – Ed.)

Our reading public no longer approves of virulent controversy. But, in its disapproval, it confuses virulence with rudeness, when- they are very far from being the same. The vast difference between virulence and rudeness was explained by Pushkin:

Abuse at times, of course, is quite unseemly.
You must not write, say: “This old dodderer’s
A goat in spectacles, a wretched slanderer,
Vicious and vile.” – These are personalities.
But you may write and print, if so you will,
That “this Parnassian Old Believer is
(In his articles) a senseless jabberer,
For ever languorous, for ever tedious,
Ponderous, and even quite a dullard.”
For here there is no person, only an author
. [4*]

If, like Tolstoi’s princess or Mr. Mikhailovsky, – you should think of calling your opponent a “swine” or a “louse,” these “are personalities”; but if you should argue that such-and-such a sociological or historical-sophistical or economic Old Believer is, in his articles, “works” or “essays,” “for ever languorous, for ever tedious, ponderous and even” ... dull-witted, well “here there is no person, only an author,” and it will be virulence, not rudeness. Your verdict, of course, may be mistaken, and your opponents will be doing well if they disclose your mistake. But they will have the right to accuse you only of a mistake, not of virulence, for without such virulence literature cannot develop. If literature should attempt to get along without virulence, it would at once become, as Belinsky expressed it, a flattering reiterator of stale platitudes, which only its enemies can wish it. Mr. Mikhailovsky’s observation regarding the traditional German rudeness and our own barbarousness was provoked by Mr. N. Beltov’s “interesting book,” The Development of the Monist View of History. Many have accused Mr. Beltov of unnecessary virulence. For instance, a Russkaya Mysl reviewer has written in reference to his book:

“Without sharing the, in our opinion one-sided, theory of economic materialism, we would be prepared in the interest of science and our social life to welcome the exponents of this theory, if some of them (Messrs. Struve and Beltov) did not introduce far too much virulence into their polemics, if they did not jeer at writers whose works are worthy of respect!” [5*]

This was written in the selfsame Russkaya Mysl which only a little while ago was calling the advocates of “economic” materialism “numskulls” and asserting that Mr. P. Struve’s book was a product of undigested erudition and a total incapacity for logical thinking. Russkaya Mysl does not like excessive virulence and therefore, as the reader sees, spoke of the advocates of economic materialism. in the mildest terms. Now it is prepared, in the interest of science and our social life, to welcome the exponents of this theory. But why? Can much be done for our. social life by numskulls? Can science gain much from undigested erudition and a total incapacity for logical thinking? It seems to us that fear of excessive virulence is leading Russkaya Mysl too far and compelling it to say things that might induce the reader to suspect that it itself is incapable of digesting something, and of a certain incapacity for logical thinking.

Mr. P. Struve never resorts to virulence (to say nothing of excessive virulence), and if Mr. Beltov does, it is only to the kind of which Pushkin would probably have said that it refers only to writers and is therefore quite permissible. The Russkaya Mysl reviewer maintains that the works of the writers Mr. Beltov derides are worthy of respect. If Mr. Beltov shared this opinion, it would of course be wrong of him to deride them. But what if he is convinced of the contrary? What if the “works” of these gentlemen seem to him tedious and ponderous and quite vacuous, and even pernicious in our day, when social life has become so complicated and demands a new mental effort on the part of those who are not in the habit, to use Gogol’s expression, of “picking their noses” as they look on the world. To the Russkaya Mysl reviewer these writers may probably seem regular torches of light, beacons of salvation. But what if Mr. Beltov considers them extinguishers and mind-druggers? The reviewer will say that Mr. Beltov is mistaken. That is his right; but he has to prove his opinion, and not content himself with simply condemning “excessive virulence.” What is the reviewer’s opinion of Grech and Bulgarin? [6*] We are confident that if he were to express it, a certain section of our press would consider it excessively virulent. Would that mean that the Russkaya Mysl reviewer is not entitled to say frankly what he thinks of the literary activities of Grech and Bulgarin? We do not of course bracket the people with whom Messrs. P. Struve and N. Beltov are disputing in the same category as Grech and Bulgarin. But we would ask the Russkaya Mysl reviewer why literary decency permits one to speak virulently of Grech and Bulgarin, but forbids one to do so of Messrs. Mikhailovsky and Kareyev? The reviewer evidently thinks that there is no beast stronger than the cat [7*], and that the cat, therefore, in distinction to other beasts, deserves particularly respectful treatment. But, after all, one has the right to doubt that. We, for instance, think that the subjective cat is not only a beast that is not very strong, but even one that has quite considerably degenerated, and is therefore not deserving of any particular respect. We are prepared to argue with the reviewer if he does not agree with us, but before entering into argument we would request him to ponder well on the difference which undoubtedly exists between virulence of judgement and rudeness of literary expression. Messrs. Struve and Beltov have expressed judgements which to very many may seem virulent. But has either of them ever resorted, in defence of his opinions, to such coarse abuse as that which has been resorted to time and again in his literary skirmishes by Mr. Mikhailovsky, that veritable Miles Gloriosus (Glorious Warrior – Ed.) of our “progressive” literature? Neither of them has done so, and the Russkaya Mysl reviewer would himself give them credit for this if he were to reflect on the difference we have indicated between virulence of judgement and coarseness of expression.

Incidentally, this Russkaya Mysl reviewer says:

“Mr. Beltov unceremoniously, to say the least, scatters accusations to the effect that such-and-such a writer talks of Marx without having read his works, condemns the Hegelian philosophy, without having acquainted himself, with it personally, etc. It would be well, of course, if he did not at the same time commit blunders himself, especially on most essential points. Yet precisely about Hegel Mr. Beltov talks the wildest nonsense: ‘If modern natural science,’ we read on p. 86 of the book in question ‘confirms at every step the idea expressed with such genius by Hegel, that quantity passes into quality, can we say that it has nothing in common with Hegelianism?’ But the misfortune is, Mr. Beltov, that Hegel did not affirm this and argued the very opposite: with him, ‘quality passes into quantity’.”

If we were to say what we thought of the reviewer’s notion of Hegel’s philosophy, our judgement would probably seem to him “excessively virulent”. But the blame would not be ours. We can assure the reviewer that very virulent judgements of his philosophical knowledge were passed by all who read his review and have any acquaintance at all with the history of philosophy.

One cannot, of course, insist that every reviewer must have a thorough philosophical education, but one can insist that he does not take the liberty of arguing about matters of which he has no knowledge. Otherwise, very “virulent” things will be said of him by people who are acquainted with the subject.

In Part I of his Encyclopaedia, in an addendum to Section 108, on Measure, Hegel says:

“To the extent that quality and quantity are still differentiated and are not altogether identical, these two definitions are to some degree independent of each other, so that, on the one land, the quantity may change without the quality of the object changing, but, on the other, its increase or decrease, to which the object is at first indifferent, has a limit beyond which the quality changes. Thus, for example, alterations in the temperature of water at first do not affect its liquid state, but if the temperature is further if increased or decreased, there comes a point when this state of cohesion undergoes a qualitative change and the water is transformed into steam or into ice. It seems at first that the quantitative change has no effect whatever on the essential nature of the object, but there is something else behind it, and this apparently simple change of quantity has the effect of changing the quality.” [8*]

“The misfortune is, Mr. Beltov, that Hegel did not affirm this and argued the very opposite!” Do you still think that this is the misfortune, Mr. Reviewer? [2] Or perhaps you have now changed your opinion on this matter? And if you have, what is really the misfortune? We could tell you if we were not afraid that you would accuse us of excessive virulence.

We repeat that one cannot insist that every reviewer must be acquainted with the history of philosophy. The misfortune of the Russkaya Mysl reviewer is therefore not as great as might appear at the first glance. But “the misfortune is” that this misfortune is not the reviewer’s last. There is a second which is the main and worse than the first: he did not take the trouble to read the book he was reviewing.

On pp. 75-76 of his book Mr. Beltov gives a rather long excerpt from Hegel’s Greater Logic – Wissenschaft der Logik (The Science of Logic – Ed.). Here is the beginning of the excerpt:

“Changes in being consist not only in the fact that one quantity passes into another quantity, but also that quality passes into quantity, and vice versa, etc.” (p.75).

If the reviewer had at least read this excerpt he would not have fallen into misfortune, because then he would not have “affirmed” that “Hegel did not affirm this and argued the very opposite.”

We know how the majority of reviews are written in Russia – and not only Russia, unfortunately. The reviewer runs through the book, rapidly scanning, say, every tenth or twentieth page and marking the passages which seem to him most characteristic. He then writes out these passages and accompanies them with expressions of censure or approval: he “is perplexed,” he “very much regrets,” or he “heartily welcomes” – and, hey presto! the review is ready. One can imagine how much nonsense is printed as a result, especially if (as not infrequently happens) the reviewer has no knowledge whatever of the subject discussed in the book he is examining!

It would not enter our heads to recommend reviewers to rid themselves of this bad habit completely: only the grave can cure the hunchback. All the same, they ought at least to take their business a little more seriously when – as in the dispute on Russia’s economic development, for example – the vital interests of our country are concerned. Do they really propose to go on misleading the reading public on this subject, too, with their frivolous reviews? After all – as Mr. Mikhailovsky rightly says – one must know when to stop.

Mr. Mikhailovsky is likewise displeased with Mr. Beltov’s polemical methods. “Mr. Beltov,” he says, “is a man of talent and is not devoid of wit, but with him unfortunately it often passes into unpleasant buffoonery.” [9*] Why buffoonery? And to whom, indeed, is Mr. Beltov’s alleged buffoonery unpleasant?

When, in the 60s, Sovremennik scoffed at Pogodin, say, it probably seemed to Pogodin that the journal was guilty of unpleasant buffoonery. And it seemed so not only to Pogodin alone, but to all who were accustomed to respect the Moscow historian. Was there any lack of attacks in those days on “the knights of the whistle”? [10*] Was there any lack of people who were outraged by the “schoolboyish pranks of the whistlers”? Well, in our opinion, the brilliant wit of the “whistlers” never passed into unpleasant buffoonery; and if the people they scoffed at thought otherwise, it was only because of that human weakness which led Ammos Fyodorovich Lyapkin-Tyapkin [11*] to consider “far too long” the letter in which he was described as “very much of a boor.”

“So that’s it! You mean to suggest that Mr. Beltov possesses the wit of Dobrolyubov [12*] and his fellow-contributors to The Whistle? Well, that’s the limit!” – will exclaim those who find Mr. Beltov’s polemical methods “not nice.”

But wait a moment, sirs! We are not comparing Mr. Beltov with the “whistlers” of the 60s; we are only saying that it is not for Mr. Mikhailovsky to judge whether, and where exactly, Mr. Beltov’s wit passes into unpleasant buffoonery. Who can be a judge in his own case?

But Mr. Mikhailovsky not only accuses Mr. Beltov of “unpleasant buffoonery.” He levels a very serious charge against him. To make it easier for the reader to understand what it is all about, we shall allow Mr. Mikhailovsky to formulate his charge in his. own words:

“In one of my articles in Russkaya Mysl I recalled my acquaintance with the late N.I. Sieber and incidentally said that when discussing the future of capitalism that worthy savant ‘used all possible arguments, but at the least danger hid behind the authority of the immutable and unquestionable tripartite dialectical development.’ Citing these words of mine, Mr. Beltov writes: ‘We had more than once to converse with the deceased, and never did we hear from him references to dialectical development; he himself said more than once that he was quite ignorant of the significance of Hegel in the development, of modern economics. Of course, everything can be blamed on the dead, and therefore Mr. Mikhailovsky’s evidence is irrefutable!’ I would put it differently: everything cannot always be blamed on the dead, and Mr. Beltov’s evidence is fully refutable ...

“In 1879 an article of Sieber’s was printed in the magazine Slovo entitled: The Application of Dialectics to Science. [13*] This (unfinished) article was a paraphrase, even almost entirely a translation, of Engels’s Herrn Dühring’s Umwälzung der Wissenschaft. [14*] Well, to remain, after having translated this book, ‘quite ignorant of the significance of Hegel in the development of modern economies’ would have been fairly difficult not only for Sieber but even for Potok-Bogatyr in the princess’s polemical description quoted above. This, I think, must be clear to Mr. Beltov himself. In any case, I shall quote a few words from Sieber’s brief foreword: ‘Engels’s book deserves particular attention both because of the consistency and aptness of the philosophical and socio-economic concepts it expounds, and because, in order to explain the practical application of the method of dialectical contradictions, it gives several new illustrations and factual examples which in no little degree facilitate a close acquaintance with this so strongly praised and at the same time so strongly deprecated method of investigating the truth. One might probably say that this is the first time in the existence of what is called dialectics that it is presented to the eyes of the reader in so realistic a light.’

“Hence Sieber was acquainted with the significance of Hegel in the development of modern economics; he was greatly interested in the method of dialectical contradictions. Such is the truth, documentarily certified, and it fully decides the piquant question of who is lying for two.” [3]

The truth, especially when documentarily certified, is an excellent thing! Also in the interest of truth we shall carry on just a little further the quotation given by Mr. Mikhailovsky from Sieber’s article, The Application of Dialectics to Science.

Right after the words that conclude the passage Mr. Mikhailovsky quoted, Sieber makes the following remark:

“However, we for our part shall refrain from passing judgement as to the worth of this method in application to the various branches of science, and also as to whether it represents or does not represent – to the extent that actual significance may be attached to it – a mere variation or even prototype of the method of the theory of evolution or universal development. It is precisely in this latter sense that the author regards it; or, at least, he endeavours to indicate a confirmation of it with the help of the truths obtained by the theory of evolution – and it must be confessed that in a certain respect quite a considerable resemblance is here revealed.”

We thus see that the late Russian economist, even after having translated Engels’s Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science, still remained in ignorance of the significance of Hegel in the development of modern economics, and even, generally, whether dialectics could be suitably applied to the various branches of science. At all events, he was unwilling to pass judgement on it. And so we ask: is it likely that this selfsame Sieber, who did not venture to judge of the suitability of dialectics generally, yet in his disputes with Mr. Mikhailovsky “at the least danger hid behind the authority of the immutable and unquestionable dialectical development”? Why was it only in these cases that Sieber changed his usually irresolute opinion of dialectics? Was it because he stood in too great a “danger” of being demolished by his terrible opponent? Scarcely! Sieber, with his very weighty fund of knowledge, was the last person to whom such an opponent could have been “dangerous.”

Yes, indeed, an excellent thing is truth documentarily certified! Mr. Mikhailovsky is absolutely right when he says that it fully decides the piquant question of who is lying for two!

But if the “Russian soul,” having incarnated itself in the person of a certain individual, undoubtedly resorts to distorting the truth, it is not content with distorting it for two only once; for the late Sieber alone it distorts it twice: once when it asserts that Sieber hid behind the authority of the triad, and again when, with astonishing presumption, it cites the very statement that proves up to the hilt that Mr. Beltov is right.

Fie, fie, Mr. Mikhailovsky!

“It would be difficult to remain in ignorance of the significance of Hegel in the development of modern economics after having translated Engels’s Dühring’s Revolution,” Mr. Mikhailovsky exclaims. Is it really so difficult? Not at all, in our opinion. It would really have been difficult for Sieber, having translated the said book, to remain in ignorance of Engels’s (and, of course, Marx’s) opinion of the significance of Hegel in the development of the said science. Of that opinion, Sieber was not ignorant, as is self-evident and as follows from his foreword. But Sieber might not be content with the opinion of others. As a serious scientist who does not rely on the opinion of others but is accustomed to studying a subject first-hand, he, though he knew Engels’s opinion of Hegel, did not consider himself for all that entitled to say: “I am acquainted with Hegel and his role in the history of development of scientific concepts.” This modesty of a scientist may perhaps be incomprehensible to Mr. Mikhailovsky; he himself tells us that he “does not claim” to be acquainted with Hegel’s philosophy, yet he has the presumption to discuss it very freely. But quod licet bovi, non licet Jovi. Having all his life been nothing but a smart journalist, Mr. Mikhailovsky possesses the presumption natural to members of this calling. But he has forgotten the difference between him and men of science. Thanks to this forgetfulness, he ventured to say things that make it quite clear that the “soul” is certainly “lying for two.”

Fie, fie, Mr. Mikhailovsky)

But is it only for two that the worthy “soul” is distorting the truth? The reader will perhaps remember the incident of Mr. Mikhailovsky’s “omission” of the “moment of flowering.” The omission of this “flowering” is of “vast significance”; it shows that he has distorted the truth also for Engels. Why has not Mr. Mikhailovsky said a single word about this instructive episode?

Fie, fie, Mr. Mikhailovsky!

But do you know what? Perhaps the “Russian soul” is not distorting the truth; perhaps, poor thing, it is telling the sheerest truth. Its veracity will be above all suspicion if we only assume that Sieber was just playing a joke on the young writer, was trying to frighten him with the “triad.” Indeed, that looks like the truth: Mr. Mikhailovsky assures us that Sieber was familiar with the dialectical method; being familiar with this method, Sieber must have known very well that the celebrated triad never did play the role of an argument with Hegel. On the other hand, Mr. Mikhailovsky, not being familiar with Hegel, might in conversation with Sieber have expressed the thought – which later he expressed time and again – that the whole argumentation of Hegel and the Hegelians consisted in invoking the triad. This must have been amusing to Sieber, so he began calling in the triad to tease the excitable but ill-informed young man. Of course, if Sieber had foreseen into what a deplorable position his interlocutor would in time land as a result of his joke, he certainly would have refrained from it. But this he could not foresee, and so he allowed himself to joke at Mr. Mikhailovsky’s expense. The tatter’s veracity is beyond all doubt if our assumption is correct. Let Mr. Mikhailovsky dig down into his memory: perhaps he will recall some circumstance which shows that our assumption is not altogether unfounded. We, for our part, would be heartily glad to hear of some such circumstance that would save the honour of the “Russian soul.” Mr. Beltov would be glad too, of course.

Mr. Mikhailovsky is a very amusing fellow. He is much annoyed with Mr. Beltov for having said that in the “discoveries” of our subjective sociologist the “Russian mind and Russian soul repeats old stuff and lies for two.” Mr. Mikhailovsky believes that, while Mr. Beltov is not responsible for the substance of the quotation, he may nevertheless be held responsible for choosing it. Only the rudeness of our polemical manners compels our worthy sociologist to admit that to level this rebuke at Mr. Beltov would be too much of a subtlety. But where did Mr. Beltov borrow this “quotation”? He borrowed it from Pushkin. Eugene Onegin was of the opinion that in all our journalism the Russian mind and Russian soul repeats old stuff and lies for two. Can Pushkin be held responsible for his hero’s virulent opinion? Till now, as we know, nobody has ever thought – although it is very likely – that Onegin was expressing the opinion of the great poet himself. But now Mr. Mikhailovsky would like to hold Mr. Beltov responsible for not finding anything in his, Mr. Mikhailovsky’s, writings save a repetition of old stuff and “lying for two.” Why so? Why must this “quotation” not be applied to the “works” of our sociologist? Probably because these works, in the eyes of this sociologist, deserve far more respectful treatment. But, in Mr. Mikhailovsky’s own words, “this is debatable.”

“The fact is,” says Mr. Mikhailovsky, “that in this passage Mr. Beltov has not convicted me of any lies; he just blethered, to make it sound hotter, and used the quotation as a fig leaf” (p.140). Why “blethered,” and not “expressed his firm conviction”? What is the meaning of the sentence: Mr. Mikhailovsky in his articles repeats old stuff and lies for two? It means that Mr. Mikhailovsky is only pronouncing old opinions that have long been refuted in the West, and in doing so, adds to the errors of Westerners his own, homegrown errors. Is it really absolutely necessary to use “a fig leaf” when expressing such an opinion of Mr. Mikhailovsky’s literary activities? Mr. Mikhailovsky is convinced that such an opinion can only be “blether,” and not the fruit of a serious and thoughtful evaluation. But – again to use his own words – this is debatable.

The writer of these lines declares quite calmly and deliberately, and without feeling the need for any fig leaf, that in his conviction a not very high opinion of Mr. Mikhailovsky’sworksis the beginning of all wisdom.

But if, when speaking of the “Russian soul,” Mr. Beltov did not convict Mr. Mikhailovsky of any lie, why did our “sociologist” pick precisely on this “quotation” to start the luckless conflict over Sieber? Probably in order to make it sound “hotter.” In reality, there is nothing hot at all about methods like these, but there are people to whom they seem very hot indeed. In one of G.I. Uspensky’s sketches an official’s wife is quarrelling with a janitor. The janitor happens to use the word podlye [near]. “What,” cries the official’s wife, “I’m podlaya [vile], am I? I’ll show you! I have a son serving in Poland,” etc., etc. Like the official’s wife, Mr. Mikhailovsky pounces upon an individual word, and heatedly cries: “I’m lying for two, am I? You dare to doubt my veracity? Well, now I’ll convict you of lying for many. Just look what you said about Sieber!” We look at what Mr. Beltov said about Sieber, and find that he spoke the honest truth. Die Moral von der Geschichte (The moral of the story – Ed.) is that excessive heat can lead to no good either for officials’ wives or for Mr. Mikhailovsky.

“Mr. Beltov undertook to prove that the final triumph of materialist monism was established by the so-called theory of economic materialism in history, which theory is held to stand in the closest connection with ‘general philosophical materialism.’ With this end in view, Mr. Beltov made an excursion into the history of philosophy. How desultory and incomplete this excursion is may he judged even from the titles of the chapters devoted to it: French Materialism of the Eighteenth Century, French Historians of the Restoration, Utopians, Idealist German Philosophy, Modern Materialism” (p.146).

Again Mr. Mikhailovsky gets heated without any need, and again his heatedness leads him to no good. If Mr. Beltov had been writing even a brief sketch of the history of philosophy, an excursion in which he passed from French materialism of the eighteenth century to the French historians of the Restoration, from these historians to the Utopians, from the Utopians to the German idealists, etc., would indeed be desultory and incomprehensible. But the whole point is that it was not a history of philosophy that Mr. Beltov. was writing. On the very first page of his book he said that he intended to give a brief sketch of the theory that is wrongly called economic materialism. He found some faint rudiments of this theory among the French materialists and showed that these rudiments were considerably developed by the French historical specialists of the Restoration; then he turned to men who were not historians by speciality, but who nevertheless had to give much thought to cardinal problems of man’s historical development, that is, the Utopians and the German philosophers. He did not by a long way enumerate all the eighteenth-century materialists, Restoration historians, Utopians, or dialectical idealists. But he mentioned the chief of them, those who had contributed more than others to the question that interested him. He showed that all these richly endowed and highly informed men got themselves entangled in contradictions from which the only logical way out was Marx’s theory of history. In a word, il prenait son bien où il le trouvait (he took his goods wherever he found them – Ed.). What objection can be raised to this method? And why doesn’t Mr. Mikhailovsky like it?

If Mr, Mikhailovsky has not only read Engels’s Ludwig Feurbach and Dühring’s Revolution in Science, but also-which is more important – understood them, he knows for himself what importance the views of the French materialists of the last century, the French historians of the Restoration, the Utopians and the dialectical idealists had in the development of the ideas of Marx and Engels. Mr. Beltov underscored this importance by giving a brief description of what in this respect was most essential in the views of the first, the second, the third, and the fourth. Mr. Mikhailovsky contemptuously shrugs his shoulders at this description; he does not like Mr. Beltov’s plan. To which we rejoin that every plan is a good plan if it helps its author to attain his end. And that Mr. Beltov’s end was attained, is not, as far as we know, denied even by his opponents.

Mr. Mikhailovsky continues:

“Mr. Beltov speaks both of the French historians and the French ‘Utopians,’ and measures both by the extent of their understanding or non-understanding of economics as the foundation of the social edifice. But strangely enough, he makes no mention whatever of Louis Blanc, although the introduction to the Histoire de dix ans (History of Ten YearsEd.) [15*] is in itself enough to give him a place of honour in the ranks of the first teachers of so-called economic materialism. In it, of course, there is much with which Mr. Beltov cannot agree, but in it there is the struggle of classes, and a description of their economic earmarks, and’ economics as the hidden main-spring of politics, and much, generally, that was later incorporated into the doctrine which Mr. Beltov defends so ardently. I mention this omission because, firstly, it is astonishing in itself and hints at certain parallel aims which have nothing in common with impartiality” (p.150).

Mr. Beltov spoke of Marx’s predecessors, Louis Blanc was rather his contemporary. To be sure, the Histoire de dix ans appeared at a time when Marx’s historical views had not yet finally evolved. But the book could not have had any decisive influence upon them, if only for the reason that Louis Blanc’s views regarding the inner springs of social development contained absolutely nothing new compared, say, with the views of Augustin Thierry or Guizot. It is quite true that “in it there is the struggle of classes, and a description of their economic earmarks, and economics,” etc. But all this was already in Thierry and Guizot and Mignet, as Mr. Beltov irrefutably showed. Guizot, who viewed things from the angle of the struggle of classes, sympathized with the struggle of the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy, but was very hostile to the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie, which had just begun in his time. Louis Blanc did sympathize with this struggle. [4] [In this he differed from Guizot. But the difference was not of an essential nature. It contributed nothing new to Louis Blanc’s view of “economics as the hidden mainspring of politics.”] [5]

Louis Blanc, like Guizot, would have said that political constitutions are rooted in the social being of a nation, and that social being is determined in the final analysis by property relations; but where, these property relations spring from was as little known to Louis Blanc as to Guizot. That is why, despite his “economics,” Louis Blanc, like Guizot, was compelled to revert to idealism. That he was an idealist in his views of ‘philosophy and history is known to everyone, even if he has not attended a seminary. [6]

At the time the Histoire de dix ans appeared, the immediate problem of social science was the problem, solved “later” by Marx, where property relations spring from. On this question Louis Blanc had nothing new to say. It is natural to assume that it is precisely for this reason that Mr. Beltov said nothing about Louis Blanc. But Mr. Mikhailovsky prefers to make insinuations about parallel aims. Chacun à son goût! (Each has his own taste! – Ed.)

In the opinion of Mr. Mikhailovsky, Mr. Beltov’s excursion into the history of philosophy “is even weaker than might have been thought from these (above-enumerated) chapter heads.” Why so? Why, because Mr. Beltov said that

“Hegel called metaphysical the point of view of those thinkers – irrespective of whether they were idealists or materialists – who, not being able to understand the process of development of phenomena, willy-nilly represent them to themselves and others as petrified, disconnected, incapable of passing one into another. To this point of view he opposed dialectics, which studies phenomena precisely in their development and consequently, in their mutual connection.”

To this, Mr. Mikhailovsky slyly observes:

“Mr. Beltov considers himself an expert in the philosophy of Hegel. I should be glad to learn from him, as from any well-informed person, and for a beginning I would request Mr. Beltov to name the place in Hegel’s works from which he took this supposedly Hegelian definition of the ‘metaphysical point of view.’ I make bold to affirm that he will not be able to name it. To Hegel, metaphysics was the doctrine of the absolute essence of things, lying beyond the limits of experience and observation, of the innermost substratum of phenomena ... Mr. Beltov borrowed his supposedly Hegelian definition not from Hegel but from Engels (all in the same polemical work against Dühring), who quite arbitrarily divided metaphysics from dialectics by the earmark of immobility or fluidity” (p. 147).



1. Russkoye Bogatstvo, Vol. I, 1895, article: Literature and Life.

2. The reviewer continues to adhere to his opinion in the third issue of Russkaya Mysl, and advises those who do not agree with him to consult “at least” the Russian translation of Überweg-Heintze’s History of Modern Philosophy. But why should not the reviewer consult “at least” Hegel himself?

3. Russkoye Bogatstvo, January 1895, Part II, pp.140-41.

4. But in his own peculiar manner, which accounted for the wretched role he played in 1848. A veritable gulf lies between the class struggle as it was “later” understood by Marx and the class struggle as Louis Blanc conceived it. Anyone who does not notice this gulf is like the sage who failed to notice the elephant in the menagerie. [16*]

5. [Footnote to the 1905 edition]

6. As an idealist of the lowest grade (i.e., non-dialectical), Louis Blanc naturally had his “formula of progress,” which, for all its “theoretical insignificance,” was at least no worse than Mr. Mikhailovsky’s “formula of progress.”



Editorial Notes

1*. This appendix is a reply to Mikhailovsky’s article Literature and Life (The Development of the Monist View of History by N. Beltov) printed in No.1 of Russkoye Bogatstvo, 1895. (Cf. N. K. Mikhailovsky, Collected Works, Vol.VIII, St. Petersburg 1914, pp.17-36.)

The article A Few Words to Our Opponents was first published in 1895 under the signature of Utis in the Marxist symposium Material for a Characterization of Our Economic Development (pp.225-59) which was burned by the censorship. The hundred copies which were preserved became bibliographical rarities and the article was made accessible to the public only ten years later, when it was included as an appendix in the second edition of the book The Development of the Monist View of History.

The article is here printed according to the text of the seventh volume of Plekhanov’s Works (1923-1927). The text has been checked with the manuscript which is preserved complete in the Plekhanov archives, with the first publication of the symposium Material for a Characterization of Our Economic Development and with the second edition of The Development of the Monist View of History in which it was included as the second appendix.

2*. Tolstoi, Alexei Konstantinovich (1817-75) – Russian poet and playwright. The poem in question is entitled Potok-Bogatyr. (Cf. Collected Poems, published by Sovietsky Pisatel Publishing House, 1937, p.288.)

3*. “I see the. best and – approve, but follow the worst.” From Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

4*. Excerpt from Pushkin’s epigram Cruelly Offended by Journals ... about M.T. Kachenovsky, critic and historian (A.S. Pushkin, Collected Works in 10 volumes, Vol.III, published by the Academy of Science of the U.S.S.R., 1949, p.108.)

5*. The reviewer of Russkaya Mysl – the liberal V. Goltsev. His short review, quoted here by Plekhanov, was published in No.1. of Russkaya Mysl, 1895, pp.8-9.

6*. Grech Nikolai Ivanovich (1787-1867) and Bulgarin, F.V. (1789-1859) – reactionary Russian journalists and writers, secret police agents. Their names symbolized political corruption and dishonesty.

7*. From A.I. Krylov’s fable The Mouse and the Rat.

8*. See Hegel, Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse.

9*. Quotation from the same article by Mikhailovsky Literature and Life. (see Note 1*.)

10*. The reference is to the satirical section of the magazine Sovremennik, Svistok (Whistle) (1859-1863). – Pogodin, Mikhail Petrovich (1800-1875), reactionary Russian historian and publicist, apologist for monarchy and nobility.

11*. Lyapkin-Tyapkin – a personage in Gogol’s comedy Inspector-General.

12*. Dabrolyubov, N. A. (1836-61) – revolutionary democrat, prominent critic and publicist, close associate of Chernyshevsky. In 1859-61 Dobrolyubov, who wrote under the pen-name Konrad Lilienschwager, supplied the copy and edited the satirical supplement to Sovremennik entitled The Whistle. The Whistle scathingly ridiculed the Liberals’ complacency and inactiveness. It was extremely popular with the democratically-minded intellectuals and aroused hatred and fury among the conservative people who called its editorial workers “Whistlers.”

13*. N. Sieber’s article The Application of Dialectics to Science was signed N.S. and published in Slovo, 1879, No.11, pp.117-69.

14*. Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (Anti-Dühring).

15*. Histoire de dix ans – a work in five volumes written by Louis Blanc in 1841-1844. In it the author severely criticizes the policy of the Orleanist Government in France and depicts the economic and social relations in the ten years from 1830 to 1840. Engels assessed this book very highly.

16*. The intended addition to the second edition was slightly altered in form: “On how Louis Blanc called for the reconciliation of the classes. In this respect he cannot be compared with Guizot: the latter was irreconcilable. Obviously, Mikhailovsky only read Histoire de dix ans.” (The Literary Legacy of G.V. Plekhanov, Coll.IV, p.233.)


Last updated on 12.2.2005