G.V. Plekhanov

The Development of the Monist View of History

Appendix II
A Few Words to Our Opponents
(Part 2)

We do not know what Mr. Beltov will say in reply to this. But, “for a beginning,” we shall take the liberty, without awaiting his explanation, to reply to the worthy subjectivist ourselves.

We turn to Part I of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia, and there, in the addendum to paragraph 31 (p. 57 of Mr. V. Chizhov’s Russian translation), we read:

“The thinking of this metaphysics was not free and true in the objective sense, as it did not leave it to the object to develop freely out of itself and itself find its definitions, but took it as something ready-made.... This metaphysics is dogmatism, because, in accordance with the nature of final definitions, it had to assume that, of two antithetical assertions ... one was necessarily true, and the other necessarily false” (§ 32, p.58, of the same translation). [17*]

Hegel is referring here to the old pre-Kantian metaphysics which, he observes, “has been torn out by the roots, has vanish from the ranks of science” (ist so zu sagen, mit Stumpf und Stiel ausgerottet worden, aus der Reihe der Wissenschaften verschwunden!). [7] To this metaphysics Hegel opposed his dialectical philosophy, which examines all phenomena in their development and in their interconnection, not as ready-made and separated from one another by a veritable gulf. “Only the whole is the truth,” he says, “but the whole reveals itself in all its fullness only through its development” (Das Wahre ist das Ganze. Das Ganze aber ist nur das durch seine Entwicklung sich vollendende Wesen). [8] Mr. Mikhailovsky asserts that Hegel fused metaphysics with dialectics, but the person he heard this from did not explain the thing to him properly. With Hegel, the dialectical factor is supplemented by the speculative factor, owing to which his philosophy becomes an idealist philosophy. As an idealist, Hegel did what all other idealists do: he attached particular philosophical importance to such “results” (concepts) as the old “metaphysics” also prized. But with him, thanks to the “dialectical factor,” these concepts (the Absolute in the various aspects of its development) appeared precisely as results, and not as original data. He dissolved metaphysics in logic, and for that reason he would have been very surprised to hear that he, a speculative thinker, was being called a metaphysician ohne Weiteres (without further ado – Ed.). He would have said that people who called him that “lassen sich mit Thieren vergleichen, welche alle Töne einer Musik mit durchgehort haben, an deren Sinn aber das Eine, die Harmonie dieser Töne, nicht gekommen ist” (“Might be compared to beasts who have heard all the sounds of a given piece of music, but have not grasped the whole, the harmony of these sounds.” – Ed.) (the expression he himself used to brand learned pedants).

We repeat, this speculative thinker, who despised the metaphysics of common sense (his own expression again) was an idealist, and in this sense had his own metaphysics of the reason. But did Mr. Beltov forget this or fail to mention it in his book? He neither forgot it, nor did he fail to mention it. He quoted from Die heilige Familie of Marx and Engels long passages in which Hegel’s “speculative” results are very mordantly criticized. We believe that these quoted passages bring out quite distinctly that dialectics must not be fused with what Mr. Mikhailovsky calls Hegel’s metaphysics. Hence if Mr. Beltov forgot anything, it was only that, in view of the astonishing “indifference” of our “advanced” people to the history of philosophy, he should have taken care to explain how sharp was the distinction made in Hegel’s time between metaphysics and speculative philosophy. [9] From all of which it follows that Mr. Mikhailovsky “makes bold to affirm” what cannot possibly be affirmed.

Mr. Beltov says that Hegel called metaphysical even the point of view of those materialists who were unable to examine phenomena in their interconnection. Is this true or not? Well, take the trouble to read this page of Section 27, Part I of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia:

“We find the fullest application of this point of view to philosophy in the old metaphysics, as expounded before Kant. However, the days of this metaphysics have passed only in respect to the history of philosophy; in itself, it continues to exist as always, representing the common sense view of objects.”

What is this common sense view of objects? It is the old metaphysical view of objects, as opposed to the dialectical. All the materialist philosophy of the eighteenth century was essentially “common sense” philosophy: it was able to examine phenomena solely from the standpoint of final definitions. That Hegel was very well aware of this weak side of French materialism, as of eighteenth century French philosophy generally, anyone can convince himself who takes the trouble to read the pertinent passages in Part III of his Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie (Lectures on the History of PhilosophyEd.) Hence he could not but regard the view-point of the French materialists also as the old metaphysical viewpoint. [10] Well then, is Mr. Beltov right or not? It is clear, we think, that he is absolutely right. Yet Mr. Mikhailovsky “makes bold to affirm” ... However, neither Mr. Beltov nor the writer of these lines can do anything about that. Mr. Mikhailovsky’s trouble is that, having entered into a controversy with the “Russian disciples” of Marx, he “made bold” to discuss things about which he knows absolutely nothing.

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

Anyone acquainted with philosophy will have had no difficulty in observing that when Mr. Beltov expounds the philosophical views of Hegel or Schelling he nearly always uses these thinkers’ own words. For example, his description of dialectical thinking is almost a word-for-word translation of the note and first addendum to Section 81, Part I of the Encyclopaedia; next, he quotes almost word for word certain passages from the preface to the Philosophie des Rechts and from the Philosophie der Geschichte. But this author, who so very accurately quotes men like Helvetius, Enfantin, Oskar Peschel and so on, hardly ever indicates precisely which works of Schelling or Hegel, or which passages in these works, he is referring to in his, exposition. Why, in this instance, did he depart from his general rule? It seems to us that Mr. Beltov was resorting to a military stratagem. His line of thought, we believe, was as follows: our subjectivists proclaim German idealist philosophy metaphysical, and rest content at that; they have not studied it, as the author of the Comments on Mill, for instance, had. When I refer to certain remarkable thoughts of the German idealists, the subjectivist gentlemen, seeing no references to the works of these thinkers, will imagine that I invented these thoughts myself or borrowed them from Engels, and will cry: “That is debatable,” “I make bold to affirm,” etc. That’s where I’ll bring their ignorance into the light of day; that’s where the fun will begin! If Mr. Beltov really did resort in his polemic to this little military stratagem, it must be confessed that it has eminently succeeded: there has indeed been quite a lot of fun!

But let us proceed.

“Any philosophical system which, with Mr. Beltov, declares that ‘the rights of reason are as boundless and unlimited as its powers,’ and hence that it has disclosed the absolute essence of things – be it matter or spirit – is a metaphysical system ... Whether it has, or has not, arrived at the idea that its presumed essence of things develops, and, if it has, whether it ascribes to this development the dialectical or any other way, is of course very important in defining its place in the history of philosophy, but does not alter its metaphysical character” (Russkoye Bogatstvo, January 1895, p.148).

As far as can be gathered from these words, Mr. Mikhailovsky, shunning metaphysical thinking, does not believe that the rights of reason are unlimited. It is to be hoped that this will earn him the praises of Prince Meshchersky. Nor, apparently, does Mr. Mikhailovsky believe that the powers of reason are unlimited and unbounded either. This may seem astonishing in a man who has so often assured his readers that la raison finit toujours par avoir raison: with the powers (and even the rights!) of reason limited, this assurance seems hardly appropriate. But Mr. Mikhailovsky will say that he is assured of the ultimate triumph of reason only as far as practical affairs are concerned, but doubts its powers when it comes to cognizing the absolute essence of things (“be it matter or spirit”). Excellent! But what is this absolute essence of things?

It is, is it not, what Kant called the thing in itself (Ding an sich)? If so, then we categorically declare that we do know what the “thing in itself” is, and that it is to Hegel that we owe the knowledge. (“Help!” the “soberminded philosophers” will cry, but we beg them not to get excited.)

“The thing in itself ... is the object from which knowledge, everything that can be definitely felt and thought about it, has been abstracted. It is easy to see what remains – a pure abstraction, a sheer emptiness, and that carried beyond the bounds of knowledge; the negation of all idea, feeling, definite thought, etc. But it is just as easy to judge that this caput mortuum (worthless residuum – Ed.) is itself but a product of the thought which made this pure abstraction, of the empty I which makes an object of its empty identity. The negative definition which holds this abstract identity as an object is likewise included among the Kantian categories, and is just as well known. It is therefore surprising to read so often that it is not known [what the thing in itself is], when nothing is easier to know.” [11]

We therefore repeat that we know very well what the absolute essence of things, or the thing in itself, is. It is a sheer abstraction. And Mr. Mikhailovsky wants to use this sheer abstraction to frighten people who follow Hegel in proudly saying: “Von der Grösse and Macht seines Geistes kann der Mensch nicht gross genug denken![12] [19*] The song is an old one, Mr. Mikhailovsky! Sie sind zu spät gekommen! (You have come too late! – Ed.)

We are certain that the lines we have just written will seem sheer sophistry to Mr. Mikhailovsky. “But pardon me,” he will say, “what in that case do you mean by the materialist interpretation of nature and history?” This is what we mean.

When Schelling said that magnetism is the introduction of the subjective into the objective, that was an idealist interpretation of nature; but when magnetism is explained from the viewpoint of modern physics, its phenomena are given a materialist interpretation. When Hegel, or even our Slavophiles, attributed certain historical phenomena to the properties of the national spirit, they were regarding these phenomena from an idealist viewpoint, but when Marx attributed, say, the events of 1848-50 in France to the class struggle in French society, he was giving these events a materialist interpretation. Is that clear? We should say so! So clear, that it requires a considerable dose of obstinacy not to understand them.

“But there’s something wrong here,” Mr. Mikhailovsky conceives, his thoughts darting hither and thither (c’est bien le moment!). “Lange says ...” But we shall take the liberty of interrupting Mr. Mikhailovsky. We know very well what Lange says, but we can assure Mr, Mikhailovsky that his authority is very much mistaken. In his History of Materialism, Lange forgot to cite, for example, the following characteristic remark of one of the most prominent of the French materialists: “Nous ne connaissons que l’écorce des phenomenes (we only know the skin of phenomena – Ed.). Other, and no less prominent, French materialists expressed themselves time and again in a similar vein. So you see, Mr. Mikhailovsky, the French materialists did not yet know that the thing in itself is only the caput mortuum of an abstraction, and held precisely to the viewpoint which is now called by many the viewpoint of critical philosophy.

All this, it need not be said, will seem to Mr. Mikhailovsky very novel and absolutely incredible. But we shall not tell him for the present to which French materialists and to which of their works we are referring. Let him first “make bold to affirm,” and then we shall have a word with him.

If Mr. Mikhailovsky is willing to know how we under-stand the relation between our sensations and external objects, we would refer him to the article of Mr. Sechenov, Objective Thought and Reality, in the book. Help for the Hungry. We presume that Mr. Beltov and all other disciples of Marx, Russian and non-Russian, will fully agree with our celebrated physiologist. And this is what Mr. Sechenov says:

“Whatever the external objects may be in themselves, independently of our consciousness-even if it be granted that our impressions of them are only conventional signs-the fact remains that the similarity or difference of the signs we perceive corresponds with a real similarity or difference. In other words: the similarities or differences man finds in the objects he perceives are real similarities or differences.” [13]

When Mr. Mikhailovsky refutes Mr. Sechenov, we shall agree to recognize the limitation not only of the powers, but also of the rights of human reason. [14]

Mr. Beltov said that in the second half of our century there triumphed in science-with which meanwhile philosophy had been completely fused-materialistic monism. “I am afraid he is mistaken,” Mr. Mikhailovsky observes. In justification of his fear, he appeals to Lange, in whose opinion “die gründliche Naturforschung durch ihre eignen Consequenzen über den Materialismus hinausführt.” (“Sound natural research, by its own findings, transcends materialism.” – Ed.) If Mr. BeItov is mistaken, then materialistic monism has not triumphed in science. So, then, scientists to this day explain nature by means of the introduction of the subjective into the objective and the other subtleties of idealist natural philosophy? “We are afraid he would be mistaken” who assumed this, and the more afraid for the fact that a man of very great renown in science, the English naturalist Huxley, reasons as follows.

“Surely no one who is cognizant of the facts of the case, nowadays, doubts that the roots of psychology lie in the physiology of the nervous system. What we call the operations of the mind are functions of the brain, and the materials of consciousness are products of cerebral activity.” [15]

This, note, is said by a man who is what is known in England as an agnostic. He believes that the view he expresses on the activity of the mind is fully compatible with pure idealism. But we, who are familiar with the interpretations of natural phenomena consistent idealism is capable of giving, and who understand the reasons for the shamefacedness of the worthy Englishman, repeat with Mr. Beltov that in the second half of the nineteenth century materialistic monism triumphed in science.

Mr. Mikhailovsky is probably acquainted with Sechenov’s psychological researches. This scientist’s views were at one time passionately controverted by Kavelin. [20*] We are afraid that the now deceased Liberal was very much mistaken. But perhaps Mr. Mikhailovsky agrees with Kavelin? Or perhaps he needs some further explanations on the point? Well, we withhold them for the event that he again begins to “affirm.”

Mr. Beltov says that the point of view of “human nature” that prevailed in social science before Marx led to “an abuse of biological analogies which even up to the present day makes itself strongly felt in Western sociological, and particularly in Russian quasi-sociological, literature.” This induces Mr. Mikhailovsky to accuse the author of the book on historical monism of outrageous injustice and once again to suspect the integrity of his polemical methods.

“I appeal to the reader, even though he be quite ill-disposed towards me but has some acquaintance with my writings – if not with all, at least with one article, say, The Analogical Method in Social Science or What Is Progress? It is not true that Russian literature particularly abuses biological analogies: in Europe, thanks to the good offices of Spencer, this stuff is far more extensive, to say nothing of the times of the comical analogies of Bluntschli and his fraternity. And if in our country the matter has gone no further than the analogical exercises of the late Stronin (History and Method, Politics as a Science), Mr. Lilienfeld (The Social Science of the Future), and a few journalistic articles, a little of the credit presumably belongs to me. For nobody has spent as much effort combating biological analogies as I have. And at one time I suffered no little for this at the hands of the ‘Spencerian lads.’ I shall hope that the present storm-will also pass in time...” (pp.145-46).

This peroration bears such an air of sincerity that indeed even a reader ill-disposed towards Mr. Mikhailovsky might think: “It does look as if Mr. Beltov has gone too far in his polemical ardour.” But this is not so, and Mr. Mikhailovsky himself knows that it is not: if he pathetically appeals to the reader, it is solely for the same reason that Plautus’s Tranion said to himself: “Pergam turbare porro: ita haec res postutat” (“I shall go on being riotous, for the case demands it” – Ed.).

What did Mr. Beltov really say? He said:

“If the explanation of all historical social progress is to be sought in the nature of man, and if, as Saint-Simon himself justly remarks, society consists of individuals, then the nature of the individual has to provide the key to the explanation of history. The nature of the individual is the subject of physiology in the broad sense of the word, i.e., of a science which also covers psychological phenomena. That is why physiology, in the eyes of Saint-Simon and his followers, was the basis of sociology, which they called social physics. In the Opinions philosophiques, litteraires at industrielles published during Saint-Simon’s lifetime and with his active participation, there was printed an extremely interesting but unfortunately unfinished article of an anonymous doctor of medicine, entitled: On Physiology Applied to the Improvement of Social Institutions. The author considered the science of society to be a component part of ‘general physiology,’ which, enriched by the observations and experiments of special physiology of the individual, devotes itself to considerations of a ‘higher order.’ Individuals are for it only ‘organs of the social body,’ the functions of which it studies, ‘just as special physiology studies the functions of individuals.’ General physiology studies (the author writes: ‘ex-presses’) the laws of social existence, with which the writ-ten laws should be accordingly co-ordinated. Later on the bourgeois sociologists, as for example Spencer, made use of the doctrine of the social organism to draw the most conservative conclusions. But the doctor of medicine whom we quote was first of all a reformer. He studied the social body with the object of social reconstruction, since only social physiology and the hygiene closely bound up with it provided the positive foundations on which it is possible to build the system of social organization required by the present state of the civilized world.”

From these words alone it is apparent that, in Mr. Beltov’s opinion, biological analogies may be abused not only in the sense of Spencer’s bourgeois conservatism, but also in the sense of utopian plans of social reform. Here the likening of society to an organism is absolutely of second-rate, if not of tenth-rate, significance: the important thing is not the likening of society to an organism, but the desire to found “sociology” on biological conclusions. Mr. Mikhailovsky has passionately objected against likening society to an organism; in the struggle against this tendency “a little of the credit” does undoubtedly belong to him. But that is not of essential importance. The essentially important question is, did, or did not, Mr. Mikhailovsky, believe that sociology could be founded on biological conclusions? And on this point no doubt is possible, as anyone can see by reading, for example, the article, The Darwinian Theory and Social Science. In this article Mr. Mikhailovsky says, in part:

“Under the general heading The Darwinian Theory and Social Science, we shall speak of various questions dealt with, settled or resettled by the Darwinian theory or by one or another of its supporters, whose numbers are swelling from day to day. Our chief task, however, will consist in determining, from the standpoint of the Darwinian theory, the interrelation between physiological division of labour, i.e., division of labour between the organs of one indivisible whole, and economic division of labour, i.e., division of labour between whole indivisible species, races, peoples or societies. In our view, this task resolves itself into a search for the basic laws of co-operation, i.e., the foundation of social science.” [16]

To search for the basic laws of co-operation, i.e., the foundation of social science in biology, is to adopt the viewpoint of the French Saint-Simonists of the 20s – in other words, “to repeat old stuff and lie for two.”

Here Mr. Mikhailovsky might exclaim: “But, you know, the Darwinian theory didn’t exist in the 20s!” The reader, however, will understand that the point here is not the Darwinian theory, but the utopian tendency-common to Mr. Mikhailovsky and the Saint-Simonists – to apply physiology to the improvement of social institutions. In the article referred to Mr. Mikhailovsky entirely agrees with Haeckel (“Haeckel is absolutely right”) when he says that future statesmen, economists and historians will have to turn their attention chiefly to comparative zoology, that is, to the comparative morphology and physiology of animals, if they want to have a true conception of their special subject. Say what you like, but if Haeckel is “absolutely right,” that is, if sociologists (and even historians!) must turn their attention “chiefly” to the morphology and physiology of animals, then there is bound to be abuse of biological analogies in one direction or another. And is it not clear that Mr. Mikhailovsky’s view of sociology is the old Saint-Simonist view?

Well, that is all Mr. Beltov said, and it is in vain that Mr. Mikhailovsky tries, so to speak, to disavow responsibility for the sociological ideas of Bukhartsev-Nozhin. In his own sociological inquiries he has not retreated very far from the views of his late friend and teacher. Mr. Mikhailovsky has not grasped what Marx’s discovery consists in, and he has therefore remained an incorrigible Utopian. That is a very deplorable situation, but our author might escape from it only by another effort of thought; fearful appeals to the reader, even the quite ill-disposed reader, will not help our poor “sociologist” at all.

Mr. Beltov said a couple of words in defence of Mr. P. Struve. This induced Messrs. Mikhailovsky and N. —on to say that Beltov had taken Mr. Struve under his “protection.” We have said a great deal in defence of Mr. Beltov. What will Mr. Mikhailovsky and Mr. N. —on say about us? They will probably consider Mr. Beltov our vassal. Apologizing in advance to Mr. Beltov for anticipating his retort to Messrs. the subjectivists, we shall ask the latter: does agreeing with an author necessarily mean taking him under one’s protection? Mr. Mikhailovsky is in agreement with Mr. N. —on on certain current questions of Russian life. Must we understand their agreement to mean that Mr. Mikhailovsky has taken Mr. N. —on under his protection? Or, perhaps, that Mr. N. —on is the protector of Mr. Mikhailovsky? What would the late Dobrolyubov have said on hearing this strange language of our present-day “progressive” literature?

It seems to Mr. Mikhailovsky that Mr. Beltov has misrepresented his doctrine of heroes and the crowd. Again we think that Mr. Beltov is quite right and that, in controverting him, Mr. Mikhailovsky is playing the role of Tranion. But before supporting this opinion of ours, we think it necessary to say a few words about Mr. N. —on’s note – What Does Economic Necessity Really Mean? – in the March issue of Russkoye Bogatstvo.

In this note Mr. N. —on sets up two batteries against Mr. Beltov. We shall consider them one by one.

The target of the first battery is Mr. Beltov’s statement that

“in order to reply to the question – will Russia follow the path of capitalist development, or not? One must turn to a study of the actual position of the country, to an analysis of its present-day internal life. On the basis of such an analysis, the Russian disciples of Marx say: there are no data allowing one to hope that Russia will soon leave the path of capitalist development.”

Mr. N. —on slyly repeats: “There is no such analysis.” Really not, Mr. N. —on? First of all, let us agree on terminology. What do you call an analysis? Does an analysis provide new data for forming a judgement on a subject, or does it operate with already existing data, obtained in other ways? At the risk of incurring the charge of being “metaphysical,” we adhere to the old definition which holds that an analysis does not provide new data for forming a judgement on a subject, but operates with ready-made data. From this definition it follows that the Russian disciples of Marx, in their analysis of Russian internal life, might not offer any independent observations of that life, but content themselves with material collected, say, in Narodist literature. If from this material they drew a new conclusion, that in itself implies that they subjected these data to a new analysis. Hence the question arises: what data on the development of capitalism is to be found in Narodist literature, and did the Russian disciples of Marx really draw a new conclusion from these data? In order to answer this question we shall take, if only for one, Mr. Dementyev’s book [21*], The Factory, What It Gives to, and What It Takes from, the Population. In this book (pp.241 et seq.) we read:

“Our industry, before it assumed the form of capitalist factory production in which we find it now, passed through all the same stages of development as in the West ... One of the strongest reasons why we are now lagging behind the West was serfdom. Because of it, our industry passed through a far longer period of handicraft and home production. It was only in 1861 that capital acquired the possibility of instituting that form of production to which, in the West, it had passed nearly a century and a half earlier, and only from that year on did there begin a more rapid decline of handicraft and home production and their conversion into factory production ... But in the thirty years (since the abolition of serfdom) everything has changed. Having embarked on the same path of economic development as Western Europe, our industry had inevitably, fatally to assume – and did assume – the form into which it had evolved in the West. The possession of land by the popular masses, to which there is such a fondness to refer in proof of the impossibility in our country of a special class of workers who are free from everything – a class that is an inevitable concomitant of the modern form of industry – undoubtedly has been, and still is, a strong retarding factor, but by no means so strong as is usually thought. The very frequent inadequacy of the land allotment and the complete decline of agriculture, on the one hand, and the deep concern of the government to develop the manufacturing industries as an essential element in maintaining the economic equilibrium of the country, on the other, are conditions that eminently tended, and still tend, to detract from the importance of land possession. We have seen the result of this state of things: the formation of a special class of factory workers, a class which continues to bear the name of ‘peasant,’ but which has practically nothing in common with the peasant tillers, has retained to only an in-significant degree its association with the land, and half of which, already in the third generation, never quits the factory and has no property whatever in the countryside, save a legal and practically almost unrealizable right to land.”

The objective data given by Mr. Dementyev show very eloquently that capitalism, with all its consequences, is developing fast in Russia, These data Mr. Dementyev supplements with reflections which would imply that the further !advance of capitalist production can be halted, and that to do so, all that is necessary is to recall the maxim: gouverner – c’est prévoir (to govern is to foresee – Ed.) (p.246). The Russian disciples of Marx subject this conclusion of Mr. Dementyev’s to their own analysis, and find that in this matter nothing can be halted, that Mr. Dementyev is mistaken, like the whole crowd of Narodniks who, in their researches, communicate a whole mass of objective data quite similar to those he, Mr. Dementyev, communicates. [17] Mr. N. —on asks where this analysis is to be found. What he apparently wants to say is, when, and where, did ,such an analysis appear in the Russian press. To this question we can give him at least two answers.

First, in the book of Mr. Struve, which he finds so disagreeable, there is a competent discussion of the limits to which government interference in the economic life of Russia is possible at this time. This discussion is already, in part, the analysis which Mr. N. —on demands, and against this analysis Mr. N. —on has nothing competent to offer.

Second, does Mr. N. —on remember the dispute which took place in the 40s between the Slavophiles and the Westernists? In this dispute, too, an “analysis of internal Russian life” played a very important part, but in the press this analysis was applied almost exclusively to purely literary themes. For this there were historical reasons, which Mr. N. —on must certainly take into account if he does not want to be reputed a ridiculous pedant. Will Mr. N. —on say that these reasons have no bearing today on the analysis of the “Russian disciples”? [22*]

So far the “disciples” have not published any independent investigations of Russian economic life. The explanation is that the trend to which they belong is extremely new in Russia. It is the Narodist trend that has until now predominated in Russian literature, thanks to which investigators, when communicating objective data testifying to the crumbling of the ancient “foundations,” have al-ways drowned them in the waters of their “subjective” hopes. But it is precisely the abundance of the data communicated by the Narodniks that has impelled the appearance of a new view of Russian life. This new view will unquestionably become the basis of new, independent observations. Even now we can draw Mr. N. —on’s attention, for example, to the writings of Mr. Kharizomenov, which strongly contradict the Narodist catechism, as was duly sensed by Mr. V.V., who tried often and vainly to refute the worthy investigator. The author of The South-Russian Peasant Economy is anything but a Marxist, but Mr. N. —on will scarcely say that Mr. Postnikov’s views on the present state of the village community, and peasant land tenure generally, in Novorossia agree with the customary views of our Narodniks.

Then there is Mr. Borodin [23*], the author of a remarkable investigation of the Urals Cossack organization, who already stands foursquare on the point of view which we uphold and which has the misfortune of not being agreeable to Mr. N. —on. Our Narodist publicists paid no attention to this investigation, not because it is devoid of intrinsic value, but solely because these publicists are imbued with a specific “subjective” spirit. [24*] And there will be more of them, Mr. N. —on, as time goes on: the era of Marxist research is only beginning in Russia. [18]

Mr. N. —on also considers himself a Marxist. He is mistaken. He is nothing but an illicit offspring of the great thinker. His world outlook is the fruit of an illegitimate cohabitation of the Marxian theory with Mr. V.V. From “Mütterchen” Mr. N. —on derived his terminology and several economic theorems which, incidentally, he understands very abstractly, and therefore incorrectly. From “Väterchen” he inherited a utopian attitude to social reform, and it is with its help that he set up his second battery against Mr. Beltov.

Mr. Beltov says that social relations, by the very logic of their development, bring man to a realization of the causes of his enslavement by economic necessity.

“Having realized that the cause of his enslavement lies in the anarchy of production, the producer (‘social man’) organizes that production and thereby subjects it to his will. Then terminates the kingdom of necessity, and there be-gins the reign of freedom, which itself proves a necessity.”

It the opinion of Mr. N. —on, all this is quite true. But to Mr. Beltov’s true words he adds the following remark:

“Consequently, the task is that society, instead of passively observing the manifestation of the given law which retards the development of its productive forces, should, with the help of the existing material economic conditions, find a means of bringing this law under its power, by surrounding its manifestation with such conditions as would not only not retard, but facilitate the development of the productive forces of the labour [forces of labour!] of all society taken as a whole.” [25*]

Without himself noticing it, Mr. N. —on has drawn from the “quite true” words of Mr. Beltov an extremely confused conclusion.

Mr. Beltov is talking of social man, of the sum-total of producers, before whom there really does lie the task of vanquishing economic necessity. But for the producers Mr. N. —on substitutes society, which “as a producing whole, cannot look on indifferently, ‘objectively,’ at the development of such ;social and economic relations as condemn the majority of its members to progressive impoverishment.”

“Society as a producing whole” ... Marx’s “analysis,” to which Mr. N. —on allegedly adheres, did not stop at the idea of society being a producing whole. It divided society, in accordance with its true nature, into separate classes, each of which has its own economic interest and its own special task. Why does not Mr. N. —on’s “analysis” do likewise? Why, instead of speaking of the task of the Russian producers, does Mr. N. —on speak of the task of society as a whole? This society, taken as a whole, is usually, and not without reason, contrasted to the people, and it then turns out to be, despite its “wholeness,” only a small part, only an insignificant minority of the Russian population. When Mr. N. —on assures us that this tiny minority will organize production, we can only shrug our shoulders and say: it is not from Marx Mr. N. —on has taken this; he has inherited it from his “Väterchen,” from Mr. V.V.

According to Marx, organization of production presumes a conscious attitude to it on the part of the producers, whose economic emancipation must therefore be the work of their own hands. With Mr. N. —on, organization of production presumes a conscious attitude to it on the part of society. If this is Marxism, then surely Marx was never a Marxist.

But let us assume that society does really act as the organizer of production. In what relation does it then stand to the producers? It organizes them. Society is the hero; the producers are the crowd.

We ask Mr. Mikhailovsky, who “affirms” that Mr. Beltov has misrepresented his doctrine of heroes and the crowd, does he, like Mr. N. —on, think that society can organize production? If he does, then he in fact holds to the view that society, the “intelligentsia,” is the hero, the demiurge of our future historical development, while the millions of producers are the crowd, out of which the hero will mould whatever he considers necessary in accordance with his ideals. Now let the impartial reader say: was Mr. Beltov right when he said that the “subjective” view regarded the people as a crowd?

Mr. Mikhailovsky declares that he, too, and those who think like him are not opposed to the development of the self-consciousness of the producers. “It only seems to me,” he says, “that for so simple and clear a programme there was no need to rise above the clouds of the Hegelian philosophy and sink down to a hotch-potch of the subjective and objective.” But the fact of the matter is, Mr. Mikhailovsky, that in the eyes of people of your type of thought the self-consciousness of the producers cannot have the same meaning as it has in the eyes of your opponents. From your point of view production can be organized by “society”; from the point of view of your opponents it can be organized only by the producers themselves. From your point of view society acts, and the producer assists. From the point of view of your opponents the producers do not assist, they just act. It stands to reason that assistants need a smaller degree of consciousness than actors, for it has been said long ago and very justly: “there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.” Your attitude to the producers is that of the French and German Utopians of the 30s and 40s. Your opponents condemn any and every utopian attitude to the producers. If you were better acquainted with the history of economic literature, Mr. Mikhailovsky, you would have known that in order to get rid of the utopian attitude to the producers, it was indeed necessary to rise to the clouds of the Hegelian philosophy and then sink down to the prose of political economy.

Mr. Mikhailovsky does not like the word “producer”: it smacks, don’t you see, of the stable. [19] Well, all we can say is that he is welcome to the best we have. The word “producer,” as far as we know, was first used by Saint-Simon and the Saint-Simonists. Since the existence of the journal, Le Producteur, that is, since 1825, it has been used in Western Europe countless numbers of times, and has never reminded anyone of the stables. Then the Russian repentant nobleman began to speak of producers, and the stables came to his mind at once. To what are we to attribute this strange phenomenon? Evidently, to the memories and traditions of the repentant nobleman.

Mr. N. —on, with an air of deep slyness, cites the following words of Mr. Beltov: “Of course one of them” [the Russian disciples of Marx] “may have greater and another less extensive economic knowledge, but what matters here is not the amount of knowledge of individual persons, but the point of view itself.” Mr. N. —on asks: “What has become of all the demands to adhere to the ground of reality, of the necessity for a detailed study of the course of economic development?” (“Demands of the necessity for a detailed study” – that doesn’t sound very lucid, Mr. N. —on.) Now it appears that all this is something secondary, that “what matters is not the amount of knowledge but the point of view.”

Mr. N. —on, as we see, likes to say something funny every now and again. But we would advise him, when he wants to make people laugh, not to forget common sense. Otherwise the laugh will not be on his side.

Mr. N. —on has not understood Mr. Beltov. Let us try to rescue him from his difficulty. In the same issue of Russkoye Bogatstvo in which Mr.N. —on’s note appeared, we find in an article by Mr. Mokievsky called What Is an Educated Man? (p.33, note) some lines that might be very instructive to Mr. N. —on:

“An Arab savant once said to his disciples: ‘If anyone should tell you that the laws of mathematics are erroneous and, in proof, should transform a stick into a snake, do not regard such a proof as convincing.’ This is a typical example. An educated man will reject such proof, even if (unlike the savant) he is not acquainted with the laws of mathematics. He will say that the transformation of a stick into a snake is an extraordinary miracle, but it does not follow from it that the laws of mathematics are erroneous. On the other hand, it is not to be doubted that uneducated people would at once lay all their convictions and beliefs at the feet of the miracle-worker.”

One of the disciples of the wise Arab may have had greater and another less extensive mathematical knowledge, but neither of them, probably, would have fallen at the feet of the miracle-worker. Why? Because both had had a good schooling; because what matters here is not the amount of knowledge, but that point of view from which the transformation of a stick into a snake cannot serve as a refutation of mathematical truths. Is that clear to you, Mr. N. —on? We hope so, for it is so very simple, quite elementary in fact. Well, then, if it is clear, you should now see yourself that what Mr. Beltov says about the point of view, etc., does not do away with what he also says about the necessity of adhering to the ground of reality,

But we are afraid you are not clear on the matter, after all. Let us give another example. God knows, you haven’t much economic knowledge, but you do have more than Mr. V.V. That, however, does not prevent you from holding to the same point of view. You are both Utopians. And when anyone undertakes to describe your common views, he will leave aside the amount of your respective knowledge, and will say: What matters is these people’s point of view, which they have borrowed from the Utopians of the days of Old King Cole.

Now it should be quite clear to you, Mr. N. -—on, that you were quite off the mark when you implied that Mr. Beltov had resorted to the subjective method, that you blundered egregiously.

At all events, let us put the same thing in different words. However much the Russian followers of Marx may differ in the extent of their knowledge, not one of them, if he remains true to himself, will believe you, or Mr. V.V., when you assert that “society”-whatever that is-will organize our production. Their point of view will prevent them from laying their convictions at the feet of social miracle-workers. [20]

Enough of this. But once we have touched upon the subjective method, let us remark how contemptuously Mr. N. —on treats it. It follows from what he says that this method did not have the slightest grain of science in it, but was only furnished with a sort of cloak that “lent it the mere tinge of a ‘scientific’ exterior.” Excellent, Mr. N. —on! But what will your “protector,” Mr. Mikhailovsky, say of you?

Generally speaking, Mr. N. —on deals very discourteously with his subjectivist “protectors.” His article, Apologia of the Power of Money as the Sign of the Times [26*], bears the epigraph: L’ignorance est moins éloignée de la vérité que la préjugé. (Ignorance is less far from the truth than prejudice. – Ed.) The Truth is undoubtedly Mr. N. —on himself. He says as much: “If anybody should really follow the subjective method of investigation unswervingly, one may be quite certain that he would arrive at conclusions akin to, if not identical with, those we have arrived at.” (Russkoye Bogatstvo, March, p.54.) Prejudice is of course Mr. Struve, against whom Truth directs the sting of its “analysis.” And who is Ignorance, which is nearer to Truth (i.e., Mr. N.—on) than Prejudice, i.e., Mr. Struve? Ignorance, evidently, is Mr. N. —on’s present subjectivist allies. Excellent, Mr. N. —on! You have hit the weak spot of your allies to a nicety. But again, what will Mr. Mikhailovsky say of you? He will surely recall the moral of the well-known fable:

Though help in time of need we highly prize,
Not everyone knows how to give it

But enough of argument! We think we have left none of our opponents’ objections unanswered. And if we have by chance lost sight of any of them, we shall certainly have plenty of occasion to return to the dispute. So we may lay down the pen. But before parting with it, we should like to say another word or two to our opponents.

Now you, sirs, are always “exerting yourselves” to do away with capitalism. But just see what comes of it: capitalism goes sweetly on and does not even notice your “exertions,” while you, with your “ideals” and your splendid intentions, keep marking time in one spot. And to what purpose? Neither you benefit, nor anyone else! What can be the reason? The reason is that you are Utopians, you nourish utopian plans of social reform and fail to see those direct and urgent tasks which, excuse the expression, lie under your very noses. Ponder well on it. Then, perhaps, you will say yourselves that we are right. However, on this subject we shall talk to you on another occasion. Meanwhile – Dominus vobiscum.




7. Wissenschaft der Logik, Vorrede, p.1.

8. Die Phänomenologie des Geistes, Vorrede, p.XXIII.

9. Incidentally, if after all this Mr. Mikhailovsky should want to have at least a partial understanding of the historical significance of Hegel’s “metaphysics,” we would recommend him to read a very popular book that was quite well known in its time: Die Posaune des jüngsten Gerichts über Hegel, den Atheisten und Antichristen (The Last Judgement Over Hegel, the Atheist and Antichrist. – Ed.) A jolly little book. [18*.]

10. [Footnote in the 1905 edition] However, he said of materialism: “Dennoch muss man in dem Materialismus das begeisterungsvolle Streben anerkennen, über den zweierlei Welten als gleich substantiell und wahr annehmenden Dualismus hinauszugehen, diese Zerreissung des ursprünglich Einen aufzuheben.” (Enzyklopädie, Theil III, p.54). [“We must nevertheless acknowledge the inspired desire of materialism to transcend the dualism which accepts the two worlds as equally substantial and true, and to eliminate this division of the original unity.” (Encyclopaedia, Part III, p.54.) – Ed.]

11. Hegel, Encyclopaedia, Part I, pp.79-80, § 44.

12. Geschichte der Philosophie, Part I, p.6.

13. Help for the Hungry, p.207.

14. [Footnote in the 1905 edition] Here is a very good opportunity for our opponents to convict us of contradicting ourselves: on the one hand we declare that the Kantian “thing in itself” is a sheer abstraction, on the other we cite with praise Mr. Sechenov who speaks of objects as they exist in themselves, independently of our consciousness. Of course, people who understand will see no contradiction, but are there many people of understanding among our opponents?

15. Th. Huxley, Hume. Sa vie, sa philosophie, p.108.

16. Mikhailovsky, Works, Vol.V, p.2.

17. “Among the several hundred statistical and other inquiries made in the last twenty years or thereabouts,” says Mr. N. —on, “we have not met any works whose conclusions agreed in any respect with the economic conclusions of the Beltovs, Struves and Skvortsovs.” The authors of the inquiries to which you, Mr. N. —on, refer usually draw two kinds of conclusion: one which accords with objective truth and says that capitalism is developing and the ancient “foundations” are crumbling; the other, a “subjectiveconclusion, which holds that the development of capitalism might be halted, if etc., etc. But no data are ever adduced in confirmation of this latter conclusion, so that it remains literally unsupported, notwithstanding the more or less abundant statistical material contained in the inquiries which it adorns. Mr. N. —on’s Outlines suffer from a similar weakness-what might be called the anaemia ofsubjectiveconclusion. What “analysis,” indeed, confirms Mr. N. —on’s idea that our society can organize production already at this stage? There is no such analysis.

18. We say nothing of Mr. P. Struve’s book, because Mr. N. —on finds it disagreeable. But it is in vain that Mr. N. —on so decidedly stamps this book as worthless. In controversy with Mr. N. —on, Mr. P. Struve is quite capable of taking care of himself. And as to Mr. N. —on’s own “analysis,” when somebody undertakes to “analyze” it from the Marxian standpoint, nothing will remain of it but general platitudes. And it is to be hoped that this analysis will not be long in forthcoming.

19. Russian proizvoditel (producer) also means “stallion.” – Tr.

20. [Footnote in the 1905 edition] “Let me refer again to the above-mentioned statement of Feuerbach that it is the point of view which distinguishes man from the ape.”



Editorial Notes

17*. Quoted from Hegel. In unpublished additions to the present article we find the following lines: “To page 22, reverse, appendix I. Give a more exact quotation from the first part of Hegel’s Enzyklopädie.” In all probability these words apply to the passage in question. The “more exact quotation” from Hegel is apparently § 80 and in particular the “addition” to it in which the dialectical and metaphysical methods of thought are characterized.

18*. The author of this book, published anonymously in 1841, was Bruno Bauer.

19*. Man cannot think highly enough of the greatness and power of his mind.

20*. Kavelin, Konstantin Dmitriyevich (1818-85) – Russian historian and jurist, liberal publicist, opponent of revolutionary-democratic movement; advocate of subjective idealism.

21*. Dementyev, Evstafy Mickhailovich (1850-1918) – Russian physician, progressive public figure, author of The Factory. What It Gives to, and What It Takes from, the Population.

22*. There is the following addition to this passage: “Refer to our illegal literature, which N. —on cannot have been ignorant of. It was not honest to act as if it did not exist, knowing that the censorship will not allow illegal books to be quoted.” (The Literary Legacy of G.V. Plekhanov, Coll.IV, p.234.)

23*. Borodin, Nikolai Andreyevich (1861-?) – Russian ichthyologist, statistician and public figure.

24*. Plekhanov here has in mind the works of Russian economists and statisticians The Pokrovsk and Alexandroysk Uyezds by S. Kharizomenov (in the book Industries in the Vladimir Gubernia, Issue 3, Moscow 1882), South-Russian Peasant Economy by V.Y. Postnikov (Moscow 1891) and The Urals Cossack Troops. Statistical Description in Two Volumes by N.A. Borodin (Uralsk 1891).

25*. All the quotations made by Plekhanov here are from N. —on’s article What is the Meaning of ‘Economic Necessity’? which was published in No.3 of Russkoye Bogatstvo, 1895.

26*. The article by Nikolai —on Apologia of the Power of Money as the Sign of the Times was published in Nos.1 and 2 of Russkoye Bogatstvo, 1895.


Last updated on 12.2.2005