G.V. Plekhanov

The Development of the Monist View of History


Up to this point, in setting forth the ideas of Marx, we have been principally examining those objections which are put forward against him from the theoretical point of view. Now it is useful for us to become acquainted also with the “practical reason” of at any rate a certain part of his opponents. In doing so we shall use the method of comparative history. In other words we shall first see how the “practical reason” of the German Utopians met the ideas of Marx, and will thereafter turn to the reason of our dear and respected fellow countrymen.

At the end of the 40s Marx arid Engels had an interesting dispute with the well-known Karl Heinzen. [1*] The dispute at once assumed a very warm character. Karl Heinzen tried to laugh out of court, as they call it, the ideas of his opponents, and displayed a skill in this occupation which in no way was inferior to the skill of Mr. Mikhailovsky. Marx and Engels, naturally, paid back in kind. [2*] The affair did not pass off without some sharp speaking. Heinzen called Engels “a thoughtless and insolent urchin”; Marx called Heinzen a representative of “der grobianischen Literatur,” and Engels called him “the most ignorant man of the century.” [3*] But what did the argument turn about? What views did Heinzen attribute to Marx and Engels? They were these. Heinzen assured his readers that from the point of view of Marx there was nothing to be done in Germany of that day by anyone filled with any generous intentions. According to Marx, said Heinzen, “there must first arrive the supremacy of the bourgeoisie, which must manufacture the factory proletariat,” which only then will begin acting on its own. [1]

Marx and Engels “did not take into account that proletariat which has been created by the thirty-four German Vampires,” i.e., the whole German people, with the exception of the factory workers (the word “proletariat” means on the lips of Heinzen only the miserable condition of that people). This numerous proletariat had not in Marx’s opinion, he alleged, any right to demand a better future, because it bore on itself “only the brand of oppression, and not the stamp of the factory; it must patiently starve and die of hunger (hungern und verhungern) until Germany has become England. The factory is the school which the people must go through before-hand in order to have the right of setting about improving its position.” [2]

Anyone who knows even a little of the history of Germany knows nowadays how absurd were these charges by Heinzen. Everyone knows whether Marx and Engels closed their eyes to the miserable condition of the German people. Everyone understands whether it was right to at-tribute to them the idea that there was nothing for a man of generous character to do in Germany so long as it had not become England: it would seem that these men did something even without waiting for such a transformation of their country. But why did Heinzen attribute to them all this nonsense? Was it really because of his bad faith? No, we shall say again that this was not so much his fault as his misfortune. He simply did not understand the views of Marx and Engels, and therefore they seemed to him harmful; and as he passionately loved his country, he went to war against these views which were seemingly harmful to his country. But lack of comprehension is a bad adviser, and a very unreliable assistant in an argument. That was why Heinzen landed in the most absurd situation. He was a very witty person, but wit alone without understanding will not take one very far: and now the last laugh is not on his side.

The reader will agree that Heinzen must be seen in the same light as our quite similar argument, for example, with Mr. Mikhailovsky. And is it only Mr. Mikhailovsky? Do not all those who attribute to the “disciples” [3] the aspiration to enter the service of the Kolupayevs and Razuvayevs [4*] – and their name is legion – do not they all repeat the mistake of Heinzen? Not one of them has invented a single argument against the “economic” materialists which did not already figure, nearly fifty years ago, in the arguments of Heinzen. If they have anything original, it is only this-their naive ignorance of how unoriginal they really are. They are constantly trying to find “new paths” for Russia, and owing to their ignorance “poor Russian thought” only stumbles across tracks of European thought, full of ruts and long ago abandoned. It is strange, but quite comprehensible if we apply to the explanation of this seemingly strange phenomenon “the category of necessity.” At a certain stage of the economic development of a country, certain well-meaning stupidities “necessarily” arise in the heads of its intellectuals.

How comical was the position of Heinzen in his argument with Marx will be shown by the following example. He pestered his opponents with a demand for a detailed “ideal” of the future. Tell us, he said to them, how property relations ought to be organized according to your views? What should be the limits of private property, on the one hand, and social property on the other? They re-plied to him that at every given moment the property relations of society are determined by the state of its productive forces, and that therefore one can only point out the general direction of social development, but not work out beforehand any exactly formulated draft legislation. We can already say that the socialization of labour created by modern industry must lead to the nationalization of the means of production. But one cannot say to what extent this nationalization could be carried out, say, in the next ten years: this would depend on the nature of the mutual relations between small- and large-scale industry at that time, large land-owning and peasant landed property, and so forth. Well, then you have no ideal, Heinzen concluded: a fine ideal which will be manufactured only later, by machines!

Heinzen adopted the utopian standpoint. The Utopian in working out his “ideal” always starts, as we know, from some abstract notion – for example, the notion of human nature – or from some abstract principle – for example, the principle of such and such rights of personality, or the principle of “individuality,” etc., etc. Once such a principle has been adopted, it is not difficult, starting from it, to define with the most perfect exactness and to the last detail what ought to be (naturally, we do not know at what time and in what circumstances) the property relations between men, for example. And it is comprehensible that the Utopian should look with astonishment at those who tell him that there cannot be property relations which are good in themselves, without any regard for the circumstances of their time and place. It seems to him that such people have absolutely no “ideals.” If the reader has followed our exposition not without attention, he knows that in that event the Utopian is often wrong. Marx and Engels had an ideal, and a very definite ideal: the subordination of necessity to freedom, of blind economic forces to the power of human reason. Proceeding from this ideal, they directed their practical activity accordingly – and it consisted, of course, not in serving the bourgeoisie but in developing the self-consciousness of those same producers who must, in time, become masters of their products.

Marx and Engels had no reason to “worry” about transforming Germany into England or, as people say in Russia nowadays, serving the bourgeoisie: the bourgeoisie developed without their assistance, and it was impossible to arrest that development, i.e., there were no social forces capable of doing that. And it would have been needless to do so, because the old economic order was in the last analysis no better than the bourgeois order, and in the 40s had to such an extent grown out of date that it had become harmful for all. But the impossibility of arresting the development of capitalist production was not enough to deprive the thinking people of Germany of the possibility of serving the welfare of its people. The bourgeoisie has its inevitable fellow-travellers: all those who really serve its purse on account of economic necessity. The more developed the consciousness of these unwilling servants, the easier their position, the stronger their resistance to the Kolupayevs and Razuvayevs of all lands and all peoples. Marx and Engels accordingly set themselves this particular task of developing that self-consciousness: in keeping with the spirit of dialectical materialism, from the very beginning they set themselves a completely and exclusively idealistic task.

The criterion of the ideal is economic reality. That was what Marx and Engels said, and on this foundation they were suspected of some kind of economic Molchalinism [5*], readiness to tread down into the mud those who were economically weak and to serve the interests of the economically strong. The source of such suspicion was a metaphysical conception of what Marx and Engels meant by the words “economic reality.” When the metaphysician hears that one who serves society must take his stand on reality, he imagines that he is being advised to make his peace with that reality. He is unaware that in every economic reality there exist contradictory elements, and that to make his peace with reality would mean making his peace with only one of its elements, namely that which dominates for the moment. The dialectical materialists pointed, and point, to another element of reality, hostile to the first, and one in which the future is maturing. We ask: if one takes one’s stand on that element, if one takes it as the criterion of one’s “ideals,” does this mean entering the service of the Kolupayevs and Razuvayevs?

But if it is economic reality that must be the criterion of the ideal, then it is comprehensible that a moral criterion for the ideal is unsatisfactory, not because the moral feelings of men deserve indifference or contempt, but because these feelings are not enough to show us the right way of serving the interests of our neighbour. It is not enough for the doctor to sympathize with the condition of his patient: he has to reckon with the physical reality of the organism, to start from it in fighting it. If the doctor were to think of confining himself to moral indignation against the disease, he would deserve the most malicious ridicule. It was in this sense that Marx ridiculed the “moralizing criticism” and “critical morality” of his opponents. But his opponents thought that he was laughing at “morality.” “Human morality and will have no value in the eyes of men who themselves have neither morality nor will,” exclaimed Heinzen. [4]

One must, however, remark that if our Russian opponents of the “economic” materialists in general only repeat – without knowing it – the arguments of their German predecessors, nevertheless they do diversify their arguments to some extent in minor detail. Thus, for example, the German Utopians did not engage in long dissertations about the “law of economic development” of Germany. With us, however, dissertations of that kind have assumed truly terrifying dimensions. The reader will remember that Mr. V.V., even at the very beginning of the 80s, promised that he would reveal the law o later on economic to development of Russia. [6*] True, Mr. V.V. began later on to be frightened of that law, but himself showed at the same time that he was afraid of it only temporarily, only until the time that the Russian intellectuals discovered a very good and kind law. Generally speaking, Mr. V.V., willingly takes part in the endless discussions of whether Russia must or must not go through the phase of capitalism. As early as the 70s the teaching of Marx was dragged into these discussions.

How such discussions are carried on amongst us is shown by the latest and most up-to-date work of Mr. S. Krivenko. [7*] This author, replying to Mr. P. Struve [8*], advises his opponent to think harder about the question of the “necessity and good consequences of capitalism.”

“If the capitalist regime represents a fatal and inevitable stage of development, through which any human society must pass, if it only remains to bow one’s head be-fore that historical necessity, should one have recourse to measures which can only delay the coming of the capitalist order and, on the contrary, should not one try to facilitate the transition to it and use all one’s efforts to pro-mote its most rapid advent, i.e., strive to develop capitalist industry and capitalization of handcrafts, the development of kulakdom ... the destruction of the village community, the expropriation of the people from the land, generally speaking, the smoking-out of the surplus peasantry from the villages into the factories.” [5] [9*]

Mr. S. Krivenko really puts two questions here, (1) does capitalism represent a fatal and inevitable stage, (2) if so, what practical tasks follow from it? Let us begin with the first.

Mr. S. Krivenko formulates it correctly in this sense that one, and moreover the overwhelming, part of our intellectuals did precisely concern itself with the question in that form: does capitalism represent a fatal and inevitable stage through which every human society must pass? At one time they thought that Marx replied in the affirmative to this question, and were very upset thereby. When there was published the well-known letter of Marx, allegedly to Mr. Mikhailovsky [6] [10*], they saw with surprise that Marx did not recognize the “inevitability” of this stage, and then they decided with malignant joy: hasn’t he just put to shame his Russian disciples! But those who were rejoicing forgot the French proverb: il bien rira qui rira le dernier (he laughs best who laughs last – Ed.).

From beginning to end of this dispute the opponents of the “Russian disciples” of Marx were indulging in the most “unnatural idle chatter.”

The fact is that, when they were discussing whether the historical theory of Marx was applicable to Russia, they forgot one trifle: they forgot to ascertain what that theory consists of. And truly magnificent was the plight into which, thanks to this, our subjectivists fell, with Mr. Mikhailovsky at their head.

Mr. Mikhailovsky read (if he has read) the preface to the Critique of Political Economy, in which the philosophical-historical theory of Marx is set forth, and decided it was nothing more than Hegelianism. Without noticing the elephant where the elephant really was [7], Mr. Mikhailovsky began looking round, and it seemed to him that he had at last found the elephant he was looking for in the chapter about primitive capitalist accumulation – where Marx is writing about the historical progress of Western capitalism, and not at all of the whole history of humanity.

Every process is unquestionably “inevitable” where it exists. Thus, for example, the burning of a match is inevitable for it, once it has caught fire: the match “inevitably” goes out, once the process of burning has come to an end. Capital speaks of the course of capitalist development which was “inevitable” for those countries where that development has taken place. Imagining that in the chapter of Capital just mentioned he has before him an entire historical philosophy, Mr. Mikhailovsky decided that, in the opinion of Marx, capitalist production is inevitable for all countries and for all peoples. [8] Then he began to whine about the embarrassing position of those Russian people who, etc.; and – the joker! – having paid the necessary tribute to his subjective necessity to whine, he importantly declared, addressing himself to Mr. Zhukovsky: you see, we too know how to criticize Marx, we too do not blindly follow what “the master has said”! Naturally all this did not advance the question of “inevitability” one inch; but after reading the whining of Mr. Mikhailovsky, Marx had the intention of going to his assistance. He sketched out in the form of a letter to the editor of Otechestoenniye Zapiski his remarks on the article by Mr. Mikhailovsky. When, after the death of Marx, this draft appeared in our press, Russian people who, etc., had at least the opportunity of finding a correct solution to the question of “inevitability.”

What could Marx say about the article of Mr. Mikhailovsky? A man had fallen into misfortune, by taking the philosophical-historical theory of Marx to be that which it was not in the least. It was clear that Marx had first of all to rescue from misfortune a hopeful young Russian writer. In addition, the young Russian writer was complaining that, Marx was sentencing Russia to capitalism. He had to show the. Russian writer that dialectical materialism doesn’t sentence any countries to anything at all, that it doesn’t point out a way which is general and “inevitable” for all nations at all times; that the further development of every given society always depends on the relationships of social forces within it; and that therefore any serious person must, without guessing or whimpering about some fantastic “inevitability,” first of all study those relations. Only such a study can show what is “inevitable” and what is not “inevitable” for the given society.

And that’s just what Marx did. First of all he revealed the “misunderstanding” of Mr. Mikhailovsky:

“The chapter on primitive accumulation does not pretend to do more than trace the path by which, in Western Europe, the capitalist order of economy emerged from the womb of the feudal order of economy. It therefore describes the historic movement which, by divorcing the producers from their means of production, converts them into wage-workers (proletarians in the modern sense of the word) while it converts those who possess the means of production into capitalists. In that history, ‘all revolutions are epoch-making that act as levers for the advancement of the capitalist class in course of formation ... But the basis of this whole development is the expropriation of the agricultural producer’ ... At the end of the chapter the historical tendency of production is summed up thus ... that capitalist property ... cannot but transform it-self into social property. At this point I have not furnished any proof, for the good reason that this statement is itself nothing else but a general summary of long expositions previously given in the chapters on capitalist production.” [11*]

In order better to clear up the circumstance that Mr. Mikhailovsky had taken to be an historical theory what was not and could not be such a theory, Marx pointed to the example of ancient Rome. A very convincing example! For indeed, if it is “inevitable” for all peoples to go through capitalism, what is to be done with Rome, what is to be done with Sparta, what is to be done with the. State of the Incas, what is to be done with the many other peoples who disappeared from the historical scene without fulfilling this imaginary obligation? The fate of these peoples did not remain unknown to Marx: consequently he could not have spoken of the universal “inevitability” of the capitalist process.

“My critic,” says Marx, “feels he absolutely must metamorphose my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into an historico-philosophic theory of the general path every people is fated to tread, whatever the historical circumstances in which it finds itself ... But I beg his pardon. He is both honouring and shaming me too much.)” [12*]

We should think so! Such an interpretation was transforming Marx into one of those “people with a formula” whom he had already ridiculed in his polemics against Proudhon. [13*] Mr. Mikhailovsky attributed to Marx a “formula of progress,” and Marx replied: no, thank you very much, I don’t need these goods.

We have already seen how the Utopians regarded the laws of historical development (let the reader remember what we said about Saint-Simon). The conformity to law of historical movement assumed in their eyes a mystical appearance; the path along which mankind proceeds was in their imagination marked out beforehand, as it were, and no historical events could change the direction of that path. An interesting psychological aberration! “Human nature” is for the Utopians the point of departure of their investigation. But the laws of development of that nature, immediately acquiring in their eyes a mysterious character, are transferred somewhere outside man and outside the actual relationship of men, into some “superhistorical” sphere.

Dialectical materialism, here also, transfers the question to quite another ground, thereby giving it quite another appearance.

The dialectical materialists “reduce everything to economics.” We have already explained how this is to be understood. But what are economics? They are the sum-total of the actual relationships of the men who constitute the given society, in their process of production. These relationships do not represent a motionless metaphysical essence. They are eternally changing under the influence of the development of the productive forces, and under the influence of the historical environment surrounding the given society. Once the actual relations of men in the process of production are given, there fatally follow from these relations certain consequences. In this sense social movement conforms to law, and no one ascertained that conformity to law better than Marx. But as the economic movement of every society has a “peculiar” form in consequence of the “peculiarity” of the conditions in which it takes place, there can be no “formula of progress” covering the past and foretelling the future of the economic movement of all societies. The formula of progress is that abstract truth which, in the words of the author of the Sketches of the Gogol Period of Russian Literature, was so pleasing to the metaphysicians. But, as he remarks himself, there is no abstract truth: truth is always concrete: everything depends on the circumstances of time and place. And if everything depends on these circumstances, it is the latter that must be studied by people who, etc. [14*]

“In order that I might be specially qualified to estimate the economic development in Russia, I learnt Russian and then for many years studied the official publications and others bearing on this subject.” [15*]

The Russian disciples of Marx are faithful to him in this case also. Of course one of them may have greater and another less extensive economic knowledge, but what matters here is not the amount of the knowledge of individual persons, but the point of view itself. The Russian disciples of Marx are not guided by a subjective ideal or by some “formula of progress,” but turn to the economic reality of their country.

To what conclusion, then, did Marx come regarding Russia? “If Russia continues to pursue the path she has followed since 1861, she will lose the finest chance ever offered by history to a people and undergo all the fatal vicissitudes of the capitalist regime.” A little further on Marx adds that in recent years Russia “has been taking a lot of trouble” in the sense of proceeding along the path mentioned. Since the letter was written (i.e., since 1877), we will add for our part, Russia has been moving along that path still further and ever more quickly.

What then follows from Marx’s letter? Three conclusions:

  1. He shamed by his letter not his Russian disciples, but the subjectivist gentlemen who, not having the least conception of his scientific point of view, were attempting to refashion Marx himself after their own likeness and image, and to transform him into a metaphysician and utopian.
  2. The subjectivist gentlemen were not ashamed of the letter for the simple reason that-true to their “ideal” they didn’t understand the letter either.
  3. If the subjectivist gentlemen want to argue with us on the question of how and where Russia is moving, they must at every given moment start from an analysis of economic reality.

The study of that reality in the 70s brought Marx to the conditional conclusion:

“If Russia continues to pursue the path she has followed since the emancipation of the peasantry ... she will become a perfect capitalist nation ... and after that, once fallen in the bondage of the capitalist regime, she will experience the pitiless laws of capitalism like other profane peoples. That is all.” [16*]

That is all. But a Russian desiring to work for the welfare of his native land cannot be satisfied with such a conditional conclusion. The question will inevitably. arise in his mind, will Russia continue to proceed along this path? Do data by any chance exist which allow one to hope that she will leave this path?

In order to reply to this question, one must once again turn to a study of the actual position of the country, an analysis of its present-day internal life. The Russian disciples of Marx, on the basis of such an analysis, assert that she will continue. There are no data allowing one to hope that Russia will soon leave the path of capitalist development upon which it entered after 1861. That is all!

The subjectivist gentlemen think that the “disciples” are mistaken. They will have to prove it with the help of data supplied by the same Russian actuality. The “disciples” say: Russia will continue to proceed along the path of capitalist development, not because there exists some external force, some mysterious law pushing it along that path, but because there is no effective internal force capable of pushing it from that path. If the subjectivist gentlemen think that there is such a force, let them say what it consists of, and let them prove its presence. We shall be very glad to hear them out. Up to now we have not heard anything definite from them on this score.

“What do you mean: there is no force? And what about our ideals?” exclaim our dear opponents.

Oh gentlemen, gentlemen! Really you are touchingly simple! The very question is, how to realize, even for the sake of argument, your ideals – though they represent something fairly muddled? Put in this way, the question, naturally, sounds very prosaic, but so long as it is unanswered, your “ideals” will have only an “ideal” significance.

Imagine that a young hero has been brought into a prison of stone, put behind iron bars, surrounded by watchful guards. The young hero only smiles. He takes a bit of charcoal he has put away beforehand, draws a little boat on the wall, takes his seat in the boat and ... fare-well prison, farewell watchful guards, the young hero is once again at large in the wide world.

A beautiful story! But it is ... only a story. In reality, a little boat drawn on the wall has never carried anyone away anywhere.

Already since the time of the abolition of serfdom Russia has patently entered the path of capitalist development. The subjectivist gentlemen see this perfectly well, and themselves assert that our old economic relations are breaking up with amazing and constantly increasing speed. But that’s nothing, they say to one another: we shall embark Russia in the little boat of our ideals, and she will float away from this path beyond distant lands, into far-off realms.

The subjectivist gentlemen are good story-tellers, but ... “that is all”! That is all – and that’s terribly little, and never before have stories changed the historical movement of a people, for the same prosaic reason that not a single nightingale has ever been well fed on fables. [17*]

The subjectivist gentlemen have adopted a strange classification of “Russian people who ...” – into two categories. Those who believe in the possibility of floating away on the little boat of the subjective ideal are recognized as good people, true well-wishers of the people. But those who say that that faith is absolutely unfounded are attributed a kind of unnatural malignancy, the determination to make the Russian muzhik die of hunger. No melodrama has ever had such villains as must be, in the opinion of the subjectivist gentlemen, the consistent Russian “economic” materialists. This amazing opinion is just as well founded as was that of Heinzen, which the readers already know, when he attributed to Marx the intention of leaving the German people “hungern und verhungern.”

Mr. Mikhailovsky asks himself why is it that just now gentlemen have appeared who are capable “with a tranquil conscience to condemn millions of people to starvation and poverty?” Mr. S.N. Krivenko thinks that once a consistent person has decided that capitalism is inevitable in Russia it “remains for him only to strive to develop ... capitalization of handicrafts, the development of kulakdom ... the destruction of the village community, the expropriation of the people from the land and, generally speaking, the smoking-out of the surplus peasantry from the villages.” Mr. S.N. Krivenko thinks so only be-cause he himself is incapable of “consistentthinking.

Heinzen did at least recognize in Marx a prejudice in favour of toilers who bore the “factory stamp.” The subjectivist gentlemen evidently do not recognize even this little weakness in the “Russian disciples of Marx”: they, forsooth, consistently hate all the sons of man, without exception. They would like to starve them all to death, with the exception possibly of the representatives of the merchant estate. In reality, if Mr. Krivenko had admitted any good intentions in the “disciples,” as regards the factory workers, he would not have written the lines just quoted.

“To strive ... generally speaking, for the smoking-out of the surplus peasantry from the villages.” The saints preserve us! Why strive? Surely the influx of new labour into the factory population will lead to a lowering of wages. And even Mr. Krivenko knows that lowering of wages cannot be beneficial and pleasant for the workers. Why should the consistent “disciples,” then, try to do harm to the workman and bring him unpleasantness? Obviously these people are consistent only in their hatred of mankind, they don’t even love the factory worker! Or perhaps they do love him, but in their own peculiar way – they love him and therefore they try to do him harm: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Strange people! Remarkable consistency!

“To strive ... for the development of kulakdom, the destruction of the village commune, the expropriation of the people from the land.” What horrors! But why strive for all this? Surely the development of kulakdom and the expropriation of the people from the land may reflect themselves in the lowering of their purchasing power, and the lowering of their purchasing power will lead to a reduction of demand for factory goods, will reduce the demand for labour, i.e., will lower wages. No, the consistent “disciples” don’t love the working man; and is it only the working man? For surely the reduction in the purchasing power of the people will harmfully affect even the interests of the employers who constitute, the subjectivist gentlemen assure us, the object of the “disciples’” most tender care. No, you can say what you like, but these disciples are really queer people!

“To strive ... for the capitalization of handicrafts” .. not to “stick at either the buying-up of peasant land, or the opening of shops and public houses, or at any other shady occupation.” But why should consistent people do all this? Surely they are convinced of the inevitability of the capitalist process; consequently, if the introduction of public houses were an essential part of that process, there would inevitably appear public houses (which, one must suppose, do not exist at present). It seems to Mr. Krivenko that shady activity must accelerate the capitalist process. But, we shall say again, if capitalism is inevitable, “shadiness” will appear of its own accord. Why should the consistent disciples of Marx so “strive” for it?

“Here their theory grows silent before the demands of moral feeling: they see that shadiness is inevitable, they adore it for that inevitability, and from all sides they hasten to its assistance, or else maybe that poor inevitable shadiness will not get the upper hand soon enough, without our assistance.”

Is that so, Mr. Krivenko? If it is not, then all your arguments about the “consistent” disciples are worthless. And if it is, then your personal consistency and your own “capacity of cognition” are worthless.

Take whatever you like, even though it be the capitalization of handicrafts. It represents a two-fold process: there appear first of all people who accumulate in their hands the means of production, and secondly people who make use of these means of production for a certain payment. Let us suppose that shadiness is the distinguishing feature of persons of the first category; but surely the people who work for them for hire may, it might seem, escape that “phase” of moral development? And if so, what will there be shady in my activity if I devote it to those people, if I develop their self-consciousness and defend their material interests? Mr. Krivenko will say perhaps that such activity will delay the development of capitalism. Not in the least. The example of England, France and Germany will show him that in those countries such activity has not only not delayed the development of capitalism but, on the contrary, has accelerated it, and by the way has thereby brought nearer the practical solution of some of their “accursed” problems.

Or let us take the destruction of the village community. This also is a two-fold process: the peasant holdings are being concentrated in the hands of the kulaks, and an ever-growing number of previously independent peas-ants are being transformed into proletarians. All this, naturally, is accompanied by a clash of interests, by struggle. The “Russian disciple” appears on the scene, attracted by the noise: he lifts up his voice in a brief but deeply-felt hymn to the “category of necessity” and ... opens a public house! That’s how the most “consistent” among them will act: the more moderate man will confine himself to opening a little shop. That’s it, isn’t it, Mr. Krivenko? But why shouldn’t the “disciple” take the side of the village poor?

“But if he wants to take their side, he will have to try and interfere with their expropriation from the land?” All right, let’s admit it: that’s what he must try for. “But that will delay the development of capitalism.” It won’t delay it in the least. On the contrary, it will even accelerate it. The subjectivist gentlemen are always imagining that the village community “of itself” tends to pass into some “higher form.” They are mistaken. The only real tendency of the village community is the tendency to break up, and the better the conditions of the peasantry, the sooner would the community break up. Moreover, that break-up can take place in conditions which are more or less advantageous for the people. The “disciples” must “strive” to see to it that the break-up takes place in conditions most advantageous for the people.

“But why not prevent the break-up itself?”

And why didn’t you prevent the famine of 1891? You couldn’t? We believe you, and we should consider our cause lost if all we had left were to make your morality responsible for such events which were independent of your will, instead of refuting your views with the help of logical arguments. But why then do you pay us back in a different measure? Why, in arguments with us, do you represent the poverty of the people as though we were responsible for it? Because where logic cannot help you, sometimes words can, particularly pitiful words. You could not prevent the famine of 1891? Who then will go bail that you will be able to prevent the break-up of the village community, the expropriation of the peasantry from their land? Let us take the middle path, so dear to eclectics: let’s imagine that in some cases you will succeed in preventing all this. Well, but in those cases where your efforts prove unsuccessful, where in spite of them the community nevertheless breaks up, where the peasants nevertheless prove landless – how will you act with these victims of the fateful process? Charon carried across the Styx only those souls who were able to pay him for his work. Will you begin to take into your little boat, for transporting into the realm of the subjective ideal, only genuine members of the village commune? Will you begin using your oars to beat off the village proletarians? Probably you yourselves will agree, gentlemen, that this would be very “shady.” And once you agree with this, you will have to act in their regard in just the same way as, in your opinion, any decent man will have to act, i.e., not to set up public houses to sell them dope, but to increase their strength of resistance to the public house, to the publican and to every other dope which history serves up, or will serve up, to them.

Or perhaps it is we now who are beginning to tell fairy-tales? Perhaps the village community is not breaking up? Perhaps the expropriation of the people from the land is not in fact taking place? Perhaps we invented this with the sole aim of plunging the peasant into poverty, after he had hitherto been enjoying an enviably prosperous existence? Then open any investigation by your own partisans, and it will show you how matters have stood up to now, i.e., before even a single “disciple” has opened a public house or started a little shop. When you argue with us, you represent matters as though the people are already living in the realm of your subjective ideals, while we, through our inherent hatred of mankind, are dragging them down by the feet, into the prose of capitalism. But matters stand in exactly the opposite way. It is the capitalist prose that exists, and we are asking our-selves, how can this prose be fought, how can we put the people in a situation even somewhat approaching the “ideal”? You may find that we are giving the wrong answer to the question: but why distort our intentions? [18*] Really, you know, that is “shady”: really such “criticism” is unworthy even of “Suzdal folks.” [19*]

But how then can one fight the capitalist prose which, we repeat, already exists independently of our and your efforts? You have one reply: to “consolidate the village community,” to strengthen the connection of the peasant with the land. And we reply that that is an answer worthy only of Utopians. Why? Because it is an abstract answer. According to your opinion, the village community is good always and everywhere, while in our opinion there is no abstract truth, truth is always concrete, everything depends on the circumstances of time and place. There was a time when the village community could be advantageous for the whole people; there are probably even now places where it is of advantage to the agriculturists. It is not we who will begin a revolt against such a community. But in a number of cases the village community has been transformed into a means of exploiting the peasant. Against such a commune we revolt, just as against everything that is harmful for the people. Remember the peasant whom G.I. Uspensky makes pay “for nothing.” [20*] What should one do with him, in your opinion? Trans-port him into the realm of the ideal, you reply. Very good, transport him with God’s help. But while he has not yet been transported, while he has not yet taken his seat on the little boat of the ideal, while the little boat has not yet sailed up to him and as yet we don’t know when it will do so, wouldn’t it be better for him to be free from paying “for nothing”? Wouldn’t it be better for him to stop being a member of a village community which only means that he will have absolutely unproductive expenses, and perhaps in addition only a periodical flogging at the volost office? We think it would, but you charge us for this with intending to starve the people to death. Is that just? Isn’t there something “shady” about it? Or perhaps you really are incapable of understanding us? Can that really be so? Chaadayev said once that the Russian doesn’t even know the syllogism of the West. [21*] Can that really be just your case? We will admit that Mr. S. Krivenko quite sincerely does not understand this; we admit it also in relation to Mr. Kareyev and Mr. Yuzhakov. [22*] But Mr. Mikhailovsky always seemed to us a man of a much more “acute” mind.

What have you invented, gentlemen, to improve the lot of the millions of peasants who have in fact lost their land? When it is a question of people who pay “for nothing,” you are able only to give one piece of advice: al-though he does pay “for nothing,” nevertheless he mustn’t destroy his connection with the village community be-cause, once it has been destroyed, it can never be restored. Of course, this will involve temporary inconvenience for those who pay for nothing, but ... “what the muzhik suffers is no disaster.” [23*]

And that’s just how it turns out that our subjectivist gentlemen are ready to bring the most vital interests of the people as a sacrifice to their ideals! And that is just how it turns out that their preaching in reality is becoming more and more hurtful for the people.

“To be an enthusiast had become her social vocation,” says Tolstoi about Anna Pavlovna Sherer. [24*] To hate capitalism has become the social vocation of our subjectivists. What good could the enthusiasm of an old maid do Russia? None whatsoever. What good does the “subjective” hatred of capitalism do the Russian producers? Also none whatsoever.

But the enthusiasm of Anna Pavlovna was at least harmless. The utopian hatred of capitalism is beginning to do positive harm to the Russian producer, because it makes our intellectuals extremely unsqueamish about the means of consolidating the village community. Scarcely does ‘anyone mention such consolidation when immediately a darkness falls in which all cats seem grey, and the subjectivist gentlemen are ready warmly to embrace the Moskovskiye Vedomosti. [25*] And all this “subjective” darkening of the intellect goes precisely to aid that public house which the “disciples” are alleged to be ready to cultivate. It’s shameful to say it, but sinful to hide, that the utopian enemies of capitalism prove in reality to be the accomplices of capitalism in its most coarse, shameful and harmful form.

Up to now we have been speaking of Utopians who have tried, or nowadays try, to invent some argument or other against Marx. Let us see now how those Utopians behave, or behaved, who were inclined to quote from him.

Heinzen, whom the Russian subjectivists now reproduce with such astonishing accuracy in their arguments with the “Russian disciples,” was a Utopian of a democratic-bourgeois tendency. But there were many Utopians of an opposite tendency [26*] in Germany in the 40s.

The social and economic position of Germany was then in broad outline as follows.

On the one hand, the bourgeoisie was rapidly developing, and insistently demanding every kind of assistance and support from the German governments. The well-known Zollverein (Customs Union – Ed.) was entirely the result of its work, and advocacy in favour of it was carried on not only with the help of “petitions,” but also by means of more or less scientific research: let us recall the name of Friedrich List. [27*] On the other hand, the destruction of the old economic “foundations” had left the German people defenceless in relation to capitalism. The peasants and handicraftsmen were already sufficiently involved in the process of capitalist advance to experience on themselves all its disadvantageous sides, which make themselves felt with particular force in transitional periods. But the working mass was at that time still little capable of resistance. It could not as yet withstand the representatives of capital to any noticeable extent. Way back in the 60s Marx said that Germany was suffering simultaneously both from the development of capitalism and from the insufficiency of its development. In the 40s her sufferings from the insufficiency of development of capitalism were even greater. Capitalism had destroyed the old foundations of peasant life; the handicraft industry, which had previously flourished in Germany, now had to withstand the competition of machine production, which was much too strong for it. The handicraftsmen grew poorer, falling every year more and more into helpless dependence on the middlemen. And at the same time the peasants had to discharge a long series of such services, in relation to the landlords and the state, as might perhaps have been bearable in previous days, but in the 40s became all the more oppressive because they less and less corresponded to the actual conditions of peasant life. The poverty of the peasantry reached astounding dimensions; the kulak became the complete master of the village; the peasant grain was frequently bought by him while it was still not yet reaped; begging had become a kind of seasonal occupation. Investigators at that time pointed out village communities in which, out of several thousand families, only a few hundred were not engaged in begging. In other places – a thing almost incredible, but placed on record at the time by the German press – the peasants fed on carrion. Leaving their villages, they could not find sufficient employment in the industrial centres, and the press pointed out the growing unemployment and the increasing emigration which it was producing.

Here is how one of the most advanced organs of the time describes the position of the working mass:

“One hundred thousand spinners in the Ravensberg district, and in other places of the German Fatherland, can no longer live by their own labour, and can no longer find an outlet for their manufacture” (it was a question chiefly of handicraftsmen). “They seek work and bread, without finding one or the other, because it is difficult if not impossible for them to find employment outside spinning. There exists a vast competition among the workers for the most miserable wage.” [9]

The morality of the people was undoubtedly declining. The destruction of old economic relations was paralleled by the shattering of old moral notions. The newspapers and journals of that time were filled with complaints of drunkenness among the workers, of sexual dissoluteness in their midst; of coxcombry and extravagance which developed among them, side by side with the decrease in their wages. There were no signs as yet in the German workman of a new morality, that morality which began rapidly to develop later, on the basis of the new movement of emancipation aroused by the very development of capitalism. The mass movement for emancipation was not even beginning at that time. The dull discontent of the mass made itself felt from time to time only in hopeless strikes and aimless revolts, in the senseless destruction of machines. But the sparks of consciousness were beginning to fall into the heads of the German workmen. Books which had represented an unnecessary luxury under the old order became an article of necessity in the new conditions. A passion for reading began to take possession of the workers.

Such was the state of affairs with which the right-thinking portion of the German intellectuals (der Gebildeten – as they said then) had to reckon. What was to be done, how could the people be helped? By eliminating capitalism, replied the intellectuals. The works of Marx and Engels which appeared at that time were joyfully accepted by part of the German intellectuals as constituting a number of new scientific arguments in favour of the necessity of eliminating capitalism.

“While the liberal politicians have with new strength begun to sound List’s trumpet of the protective tariff, trying to assure us ... that they are worrying about an expansion of industry mainly in the interests of the working class, while their opponents, the enthusiasts of free trade, have been trying to prove that England has become the flourishing and classical country of trade and industry not at all in consequence of protection, the excellent book of Engels on the condition of the working class in England has made a most timely appearance, and has destroyed the last illusions. All have recognized that this book constitutes one of the most remarkable works of modern times ... By a number of irrefutable proofs it has ‘shown into what an abyss that society hurries to fall which makes its motive principle personal greed, the free competition of private employers, for whom money is their God.” [10]

And so capitalism must be eliminated, or else Germany will fall into that abyss at the bottom of which England is already lying. This has been proved by Engels. And who will eliminate capitalism? The intellectuals, die Gebildeten. The peculiarity of Germany, in the words of one of these Gebildeten, was precisely that it was the German intellectuals who were called upon to eliminate capitalism in her, while “in the West” (in den westlichen Ländern) “it is more the workmen who are fighting it.” [11] But how will the German intellectuals eliminate capitalism? By organizing production (Organisation der Arbeit). And what must the intellectuals do to organize production? Allgemeines Volksblatt which was published at Cologne in 1845 proposed the following measures:

  1. Promotion of popular education, organization of popular lectures, concerts, etc.
  2. Organization of big workshops in which workmen, artisans and handicraftsmen could work for themselves, not for an employer or a merchant. Allgemeines Volksblatt hoped that in time these artisans and handicrafts-men would themselves, on their own initiative, be grouped in an association.
  3. Establishment of stores for the sale of the goods manufactured by the artisans and handicraftsmen, and also by national workshops.

These measures would save Germany from the evils of capitalism. And it was all the more, easy to adopt them, added the sheet we have quoted, because “here and there people have already begun to establish permanent stores, so-called industrial bazaars, in which artisans can put out their goods for sale,” and immediately receive a certain advance on account of them ... Then followed an exposition of the advantages which would follow from all this, both for the producer and for the consumer.

The elimination of capitalism seems easiest of all where it is still poorly developed. Therefore the German Utopians frequently and willingly underlined the circumstance that Germany was not yet England: Heinzen was even ready flatly to deny the existence of a factory proletariat in Germany. But since, for the Utopians, the chief thing was to prove to “society” the necessity of organizing production, they passed at times, without difficulty and without noticing it, over to the standpoint of people who asserted that German capitalism could no longer develop any further, in consequence of its inherent contradictions, that the internal market had already been saturated, that the purchasing power of the population was falling, that the conquest of external markets was improbable and that therefore the number of workers engaged in manufacturing industry must inevitably and constantly diminish. This was the point of view adopted by the journal Der Gesellschafts-Spiegel, which we have quoted several times, and which was one of the chief organs of the German Utopians of that day, after the appearance of the interesting pamphlet of L. Buhl: Andeutungen über die Noth der arbeitenden Klassen and über die Aufgabe der Vereine zum Wohl derselben (Suggestions on the needy state of the working class and on the tasks of the unions for the welfare thereofEd.), Berlin 1845. Buhl asked himself, were the unions for promoting the welfare of the working class in a position to cope with their task? In order to reply to this question, he put forward another, namely, whence arose at the present time the poverty of the working class? The poor man and the proletarian are not at all one and the same thing, says Buhl. The poor man won’t or can’t work; the proletarian seeks work, he is capable of doing it, but it does not exist, and he falls into poverty. Such a phenomenon was quite unknown in previous times, although there always were the poor and there were always the oppressed - for example, the serfs.

Where did the proletarian come from? He was created by competition. Competition, which broke the old bonds that fettered production, brought forth an unprecedented industrial prosperity. But it also forces employers to lower the price of their goods. Therefore they try to reduce wages or the number of the employed. The latter object is achieved by the perfecting of machinery, which throws many workers on to the streets. Moreover, artisans cannot stand up to the competition of machine production, and are also transformed into proletarians. Wages fall more and more. Buhl points to the example of the cotton print industry, which was flourishing in Germany as late as the 20s. Wages were then very high. A good workman could earn from 18 to 20 thalers a week. But machines appeared, and with them female and child labour – and wages fell terribly. The principle of free competition acts thus always and everywhere, wherever it achieves predominance. It leads to overproduction, and overproduction to unemployment, And the more developed becomes large-scale industry, the more unemployment grows and the smaller becomes the number of workmen engaged in industrial undertakings. That this is really so is shown by the fact that the disasters mentioned occur only in industrial countries. Agricultural countries don’t know them. But the state of affairs created by free competition is extremely dangerous for society (für die Gesellschaft), and therefore society cannot remain indifferent to it. What then must society do? Here Buhl turns to the question which holds first place, so to speak, in his work: is any union at all able to eradicate the poverty of the working class?

The local Berlin union for assisting the working class has set itself the object “not so much of eliminating existing poverty, as of preventing the appearance of poverty in the future.” It is to this union that Buhl now turns. How will you prevent the appearance of poverty in the future, he asks: what will you do for this purpose? The poverty of the modern worker arises from the lack of demand for his labour. The worker needs not charity but work. But where will the union get work from? In order that the demand for labour should increase, it is necessary that the demand for the products of labour should increase. But this demand is diminishing, thanks to the diminution of the earnings of the working mass. Or perhaps the union will discover new markets? Buhl does not think that possible either. He comes to the conclusion that the task which the Berlin union has set itself is merely a “well-intentioned illusion.”

Buhl advises the Berlin union to meditate more deeply on the causes of the poverty of the working class, before beginning the struggle against it. He considers palliatives to be of no importance. “Labour exchanges, savings banks and pension funds, and the like, can of course improve the position of a few individuals: but they will not eradicate the evil.” Nor will associations do that: “Associations also will not escape the harsh necessity (dura necessitas) of competition.”

Where Buhl himself discerned the means of eradicating the evil, it is difficult to ascertain exactly from his pamphlet. It seems as though he hints that the interference of the state is necessary to remedy the evil, adding however that the result of such interference would be doubtful. At any rate, his pamphlet made a deep impression on the German intellectuals at that time; and not at all in the sense of disillusioning them. On the contrary, they saw in it a new proof of the necessity of organizing labour.

Here is what the journal Der Gesellschafts-Spiegel wrote of Buhl’s pamphlet:

“The well-known Berlin writer L. Buhl has published a work entitled Andeutungen, etc. He thinks – and we share his opinion – that the miseries of the working class follow from the excess of productive forces; that that excess is the consequence of free competition and of the latest discoveries and inventions in physics and mechanics; that a return to guilds and corporations would be just as harmful as impeding discoveries and inventions; that therefore in existing social conditions” (the italics are those of the writer of the review) “there are no effective means of helping the workmen. Assuming that present-day egotistical private-enterprise relations remain unchanged, one must agree with Buhl that no union will be in a position to abolish the existing poverty. But such an assumption is not at all necessary; on the contrary, there could arise and already do arise unions the aim of which is to eliminate by peaceful means the above-mentioned egotistical basis of our society. All that is necessary is that the government should not handicap the activity of such unions.”

It is clear that the reviewer had not understood, or had not wished to understand, Buhl’s idea: but this is not important for us. We turned to Germany only in order, with the help of the lessons provided by her history, better to understand certain intellectual tendencies in present-day Russia. And in this sense the movement of the German intellectuals of the 40s comprises much that is instructive for us.

In the first place, the line of argument of Buhl reminds us of that of Mr. N. —on. Both one and the other begin by pointing to the development of the productive forces as the reason for the decline in the demand for labour, and consequently for the relative reduction of the number of workers. Both one and the other speak of the saturation of the internal market, and of the necessity arising therefrom of a further diminution in the demand for labour. Buhl did not admit, apparently, the possibility that the Germans might conquer foreign markets; Mr. N. —n resolutely refuses to recognize this possibility as regards the Russian manufacturers. Finally, both one and the other leave this question of foreign markets entirely without investigation: neither brings forward a single serious argument in favour of his opinion. [28*]

Buhl makes no obvious conclusion from his investigation, except that one must meditate more deeply on the position of the working class before helping it. Mr. N. —on comes to the conclusion that our society is faced with, true, a difficult but not an insoluble task-that of organizing our national production. But if we supplement the views of Buhl by the considerations set forth in connection with them by the reviewer of Der Gesellschafts-Spiegel whom we have quoted, the result is precisely the conclusion of Mr. N. —on. Mr. N. —on = Buhl + the reviewer. And this “formula” leads us to the following reflections.

Mr. N. —on in our country is called a Marxist, and even the only “true” Marxist. But can it be said that the sum of the views of Buhl and his reviewer on the position of Germany in the 40s was equivalent to the views of Marx on the same position? In other words, was Buhl supplemented by his reviewer, a Marxist – and withal the only true Marxist, the Marxist par excellence? Of course not. From the fact that Buhl pointed out the contradiction into which capitalist society fails, thanks to the development of the productive forces, it does not yet follow that he adopted the point of view of Marx. He examined these contradictions from a very. abstract point of view, and already thanks to this alone his investigation had not, in its spirit, anything in common with the views of Marx. After hearing Buhl one might have thought that German capitalism, today or tomorrow, would be suffocated under the weight of its own development, that it had nowhere any longer to go, that handicrafts had been finally capitalized, and that the number of German workers would rapidly decline. Such views Marx . never expressed. On the contrary, when he had occasion to speak of the immediate future of German capitalism, at the end of the 40s and particularly at the beginning of the 50s, he said something quite different. Only people who did not in the least understand his views could have considered the German N. —ons to be true Marxists. [12]

The German N. —ons argued just as abstractly as our present Buhls and Vollgrafs. To argue abstractly means to make mistakes, even in those cases when you start from an absolutely correct principle. Do you know, reader, what were the antiphysics of D’Alembert? D’Alembert said that, on the basis of the most unquestionable physical laws, he would prove the inevitability of phenomena which were quite impossible in reality. One must only, in following the operation of every given law, forget for the time being that there exist other laws altering its operation. The result would certainly be quite nonsensical. To prove this D’Alembert gave several really brilliant examples, and even intended to write a complete antiphysics in his leisure moments. The Messrs. Vollgrafs and N. —ons are already writing an anti-economics, not as a joke but quite seriously. Their method is as follows. They take a certain indisputable economic law, and correctly indicate its tendency; then they forget that the realization of this law is in life an entire historical process, and represent matters as though the tendency of the law in question had already been completely put into effect by the time they began writing their work. If at the same time the Vollgraf, Buhl or N. —on in question accumulates a pile of ill-digested statistical material, and sets about relevantly and irrelevantly quoting Marx, his “sketch” acquires the appearance of a scientific and convincing piece of research, in the spirit of the author of Capital. But this is an optical illusion, no more.

That, for example, Vollgraf left out a great deal in analyzing the economic life of the Germany of his day is shown by an indubitable fact: his prophecy about “the decomposition of the social organism” of that country completely failed to materialize. And that Mr. N. —on quite in vain makes use of the name of Marx, just as Mr. Y. Zhukovsky in vain used to have recourse to the integral calculus, even the most worthy S.N. Krivenko will understand without difficulty.

In spite of the opinion of those gentlemen who reproach Marx with one-sidedness, that writer never examined the economic progress of a particular country apart from its connection with those social forces which, growing up on its basis, themselves influenced its further development. (This is not yet quite clear to you, Mr. S.N. Krivenko: but patience!) Once a certain economic condition is known, certain social forces become known, and their action will necessarily affect the further development of that condition (is patience deserting you, Mr. Krivenko? Here is a practical example for you). We know the economy of England in the epoch of primitive capitalist accumulation. Thereby we know the social forces which, by the way, sat in the English parliament of that day. The action of those social forces was the necessary condition for the further development of the known economic situation, while the direction of their action was conditioned by the characteristics of that situation.

Once we know the economic situation of modern England, we know thereby her modern social forces, the action of which will tell in her future economic development. When Marx was engaged in what some please to call his guesswork, he took into account these social forces, and did not imagine that their action could be stopped at will by this or that group of persons, strong only in their excellent intentions (“Mit der Gründlichkeit der geschichtlichen Action wird der Umfang der Masse zunehmen, deren Action sie ist”) (“Together with the thoroughness of the historical action will also grow the volume of the mass whose action it is.” – Ed.).

The German Utopians of the 40s argued otherwise. When they set themselves certain tasks, they had in mind only the adverse sides of the economic situation of their country, forgetting to investigate the social forces which had grown up from that situation. The economic situation of our people is distressful, argued the above-mentioned reviewer: consequently we are faced with the difficult but not insoluble problem of organizing production. But will not that organization be prevented by those same social forces which have grown up on the basis of the distressful economic situation? The well-meaning reviewer did not ask himself this question. The Utopian never reckons sufficiently with the social forces of his age, for the simple reason that, to use the expression of Marx, he always places himself above society. And for the same reason, again to use the expression of Marx, all the calculations of the Utopian prove to be made “ohne Wirth gemacht” (“without reckoning with his host” – Ed.), and all his “criticism” is no more than complete absence of criticism, incapacity critically to look at the reality around him.

The organization of production in a particular country could arise only as a result of the operation of those social forces which existed in that country. What is necessary for the organization of production? The conscious attitude of the producers to the process of production, taken in all its complexity and totality. Where there is no such conscious attitude as yet, only those people can put forward the idea of organizing production as the immediate task of society, who remain incorrigible Utopians all their lives, even though they should repeat the name of Marx five milliard times with the greatest respect. What does Mr. N. —on say about the consciousness of the producers in his notorious book? Absolutely nothing: he pins his hope on the consciousness of “society.” If after this he can and must be recognized as a true Marxist, we see no reason why one should not recognize Mr. Krivenko as being the only true Hegelian of our age, the Hegelian par excellence.

But it is time to conclude. What results have we achieved by our use of the comparative historical method? If we are not mistaken, they are the following:

  1. The Conviction of Heinzen and his adherents that Marx was condemned by his own views to inaction in Germany proved to be nonsense. Equally nonsense will also prove the conviction of Mr. Mikhailovsky that the persons who nowadays, in Russia, hold the views of Marx cannot bring any benefit to the Russian people, but on the contrary must injure it.
  2. The views of the Buhls and Vollgrafs on the economic situation of Germany at that time proved to be narrow, one-sided and mistaken because of their abstract character. There is ground for fear that the further economic history of Russia will disclose the same defects in the views of Mr. N. -on.
  3. The people who in Germany of the 40s made their immediate task the organization of production were Utopians. Similar Utopians are the people who talk about organizing production in present-day Russia.
  4. History has swept away the illusions of the German Utopians of the 40s. There is every justification for thinking that the same fate will overtake the illusions of our Russian Utopians. Capitalism laughed at the first; with pain in our heart, we foresee that it will laugh at the second as well.

But did these illusions really bring no benefit to the German people? In the economic sense, absolutely none -or, if you require a more exact expression, almost none. All these bazaars for selling handicraft goods, and all these attempts to create producers’ associations, scarcely eased the position of even a hundred German producers. But they promoted the awakening of the self-consciousness of those producers, and thereby did them a great deal of good. The same benefit, but this time directly and not in a roundabout way, was rendered by the educational activity of the German intellectuals: their schools, people’s reading rooms, etc. The consequences of capitalist development which were harmful for the German people could be, at every particular moment, weakened or eliminated only to the extent to which the self-consciousness of the German producers developed. Marx understood this better than the Utopians, and therefore his activity proved more beneficial to the German people.

The same, undoubtedly, will be the case in Russia too. No later than in the October issue of Russkoye Bogatstvo for 1894, Mr. S.N. Krivenko “worries” – as we say – about the organization of Russian production. [30*] Mr. Krivenko will eliminate nothing and make no one happy by these “worries.” His “worries” are clumsy, awkward, barren: but if they, in spite of all these negative qualities, awaken the self-consciousness of even one producer, they will prove beneficial - and then it will turn out that Mr. Krivenko has lived on this earth not only in order to make mistakes in logic, or to give wrong translations of extracts from foreign articles which he found “disagreeable.” It will be possible in our country, too, to fight against the harmful consequences of our capitalism only to the extent that there develops the self-consciousness of the producer. And from these words of ours the subjectivist gentlemen can see that we are not at all “crude materialists.” If we are “narrow,” it is only in one sense: that we set before ourselves, first and foremost, a perfectly idealistic aim.

And now until we meet again, gentlemen opponents! We taste beforehand all that greatest of pleasures which your objections will bring us. Only, gentlemen, do keep an eye on Mr. Krivenko. Even though he doesn’t write badly, and at any rate does so with feeling, yet “to put two and two together” – that has not been vouchsafed him!


1. Die Helden des deutschen Kommunismus, Bern 1848, p.12,

2. Ibid., p.22.

3. “Disciples” was the “Aesopian” word for Marxists. – Ed.

4. Die Helden des deutschen Kommunismus, Bern 1848, S.22.

5. Russkoye Bogatstvo, December 1893, Part II, p. 189.

6. In this draft unfinished sketch of a letter, Marx writes not to Mr. Mikhailovsky, but to the Editor of Otechestvenniye Zapiski. Marx speaks of Mr. Mikhailovsky in the third person.

7. There is a well-known Russian story of the man who went to the zoo and “didn’t notice” the elephant. – Tr.

8. See the article, Karl Marx before the Judgement of Mr. Y. Zhukovsky, in Otechestvenniye Zapiski for October 1877. “In the sixth chapter of Capital there is a paragraph headed: The so-called primitive accumulation. Here Marx had in view a historical sketch of the first steps in the capitalist process of production, but he provided something which is much more-an entire philosophical-historical theory.” We repeat that all this is absolute nonsense: the historical philosophy of Marx is set forth in the preface to the Critique of Political Economy, so incomprehensible for Mr. Mikhailovsky, in the shape of “a few generalizing ideas, most intimately interconnected.” But this in passing. Mr. Mikhailovsky has managed not to understand Marx even in what referred to the “inevitability” of the capitalist process for the West. He has seen in factory legislation a “correction” to the fatal inflexibility of the historical process. Imagining that according to Marx “the economic” acts on its own, without any part played by men, he was consistent in seeing a correction in every intervention by men in the course of their process of production. The only thing he did not know was that according to Marx that very intervention, in every given form, is the inevitable product of the given economic relations, Just try and argue about Marx with men who don’t understand him with such notable consistency!

9. Der Gesellschafts-Spiegel, Vol.I, p.78. A letter from Westphalia.

10. Ibid., p.86. Notizen and Nachrichten, (Notes and NewsEd.)

11. See the article by Hess in the same volume of the same review; p.1 et seq. See also Neue Anekdoten, herausgegeben von Karl Grün, Darmstadt 1845, p. 220. In Germany, as opposed to Prance, it is the educated minority which engages in the struggle with capitalism and “ensures victory over it.”

12. There were many N. —ons in Germany at that time, and of the most varying tendencies. The most remarkable, perhaps, were the conservatives. Thus for example, Dr. Karl Vollgraf, ordentlicher Professor der Rechte, in a pamphlet bearing an extremely long title (Von der über und unter ihr naturnothwendiges Mass erweiterten und herabgedruckten Concurrenz in allen Nahrungs- und Erwerbszweigen des bürgerlichen Lebens, als der nächsten Ursache des allgemeinen, alle Klassen mehr oder weniger drückenden Nothstandes in Deutschland, insonderheit des Getreidewuchers, sowie von den Mitteln zu ihrer Abstellung, Darmstadt 1848) (On the Competition Extended Over and Depressed Below Its Natural Level in All Branches of Trade and Industry in Civil Life, as the Immediate Cause of the Depression Affecting More or Less All Classes in Germany, Particularly of the Usurious Trade in Corn; and on the Measures for Ending the SameEd.) represented the economic situation of the “German Fatherland” amazingly like the way the Russian economic situation is represented in the book Sketches of Our Social Economy since the Reform. [29*] Vollgraf also presented matters as though the development of productive forces had already led, “under the influence of free competition,” to the relative diminution of the number of workers engaged in industry. He described in greater detail than Buhl the influence of unemployment on the state of the internal market. Producers in one branch of industry are at the same time consumers for products of other branches, but an unemployment deprives the producers of purchasing power, demand diminishes, in consequence of it unemployment becomes general and there arises complete pauperism (völliger Pauperismus). “And as the peasantry is also ruined owing to excessive competition, a complete stagnation of business arises. The social organism decomposes, its physiological processes lead to the appearance of a savage mass, and hunger produces in this mass a ferment against which public penalties and even arms are impotent.” Free competition leads in the villages to reduction of peasant holdings to tiny dimensions. In no peasant household do the working hands find sufficient employment all the year round. “Thus in thousands of villages, particularly those in areas of poor fertility, almost exactly as in Ireland, the poor peasants stand without work or employment before the doors of their houses. None of them can help one another, for they all have too little, all need wages, all seek work and do not find it.” Vollgraf for his part invented a number of “measures” for combating the destructive operation of “free competition,” though not in the spirit of the socialist journal Der Gesellschafts-Spiegel.



Editorial Notes

1*. Engels characterizes Karl Heinzen as follows: “Herr Heinzen is a former liberal small official who as early as 1844 dreamed of progress within the framework of the law and of a paltry German constitution.” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Section 1, Vol.6, pp.282-98.)

2*. Here Plekhanov has in mind articles by Marx and Engels against Heinzen published in 1847 in the Deutsche-Brüsseler Zeitung. The paper carried two articles by Engels: The Communists and Karl Heinzen, and one by Marx: Moralizing Critique and Critical Morals.

3*. The words of Engels quoted are in the following text: “Herr Heinzen imagines, of course, that one can arbitrarily change and adapt the property relations, the law of inheritance, and so on. Herr Heinzen, one of the most ignorant people of this century, may, of course, not know that the property relations of each epoch are the necessary results of the mode of production and exchange of that epoch.” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Section 1, Vol.6, pp.298-328.)

4*. The liberal Narodniks accused the Marxists of being glad of the capitalization of the countryside, of welcoming the painful separation of the peasants from their lands and of being ready to promote this process by all means at their disposal, hand in hand with the country kulaks and plunderers, the heroes of “primitive accumulation,” the Kolupayevs and Razuvayevs depicted in Saltykov-Shchedrin’s satirical work The Refuge of Mon Repos.

5*. Molchalinism—from Molchalin (see Note 252), synonymous of servility and adaptability.

6*. Plekhanov here refers to the preface of V.V. (V.P. Vorontsov) to the collection of his articles Destinies of Capitalism in Russia, published in 1882. In that preface Vorontsov gives as the reason for reprinting his articles the fact that he wishes “to stir our learned and sworn publicists of capitalism and Narodism to study the laws of Russia’s economic development, the basis of all other phenomena in the life of the country. Without knowledge of this law, systematic and successful social activity is impossible.” (p.1.)

7*. Krivenko, Sergei Nikolayevich (1847-1907) – liberal Narodnik, publicist. He was one of the first Narodniks to come out against Marxism in the legal press.

8*. Struve, Pyotr Bernhardovich (1870-1944), prominent exponent of “Legal Marxism” – a liberal-bourgeois trend that appeared in the 90s and was, in fact, a distortion of Marxism. Struve finished up as a monarchist and white-guard emigré.
Legal Marxists” – they were called “Legal Marxists” because they published their articles in legal periodicals, i.e., periodicals licensed by the tsarist government-had their own methods of fighting against the Narodniks, seeking to subjugate the working-class movement to the interest of the bourgeoisie. At one time Marxists entered into an alliance with “Legal Marxists” in combating the Narodniks.

9*. Quotation from S.N. Krivenko’s article In Connection with Cultural Recluses (Russkoye Bogatstvo, December 1893, Section II, p.189).

10*. In 1884 Engels sent V.I. Zasulich a copy of Marx’s letter. (The latter had not been dispatched by Marx.) “I enclose Marx’s manuscript (copy),” he wrote to her on March 6, “which you may make use of as you judge necessary. I don’t know whether it was in Slovo or in Otechestvenniye Zapiski that he found the article Karl Marx before the Judgement of Mr. Y. Zhukovsky. He wrote this answer, apparently intended for publication in Russia, but he did not send it to St. Petersburg for fear of his name alone imperilling the existence of the paper in which his answer would be published.”
(Correspondence of K. Marx and F. Engels with Russian Political Figures, Russ. ed., 1951, p.306.)

11*. This and a number of the following quotations are from Marx’s letter to the editorial board of Otechestvenniye Zapiski.

12*. On the substance of the question Marx’s thought comes to this: the village community “may be the starting point of the communist development” if “the Russian revolution serves as a signal for the proletarian revolution in the West.” Marx and Engels also expressed this thought in 1882 in the Preface to the first Russian edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party. Still earlier Engels expressed the same thought in his article Soziales aus Russland printed in 1875 in Volksstaat in reply to P.N. Tkachov’s Open Letter. (Cf. F. Engels, On Social Relations in Russia, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol.II, Moscow, 1958, pp.51-58.) By the nineties, however, it was already clear to Engels that the village community in Russia was rapidly disintegrating under the pressure of developing capitalism. He mentioned this in a number of his works of that time: The Foreign Policy of Russian Tsarism (1890), Socialism in Germany (1891), Can Europe Disarm? (1893), and others. Finally, in 1894, in his Afterword to Reply to P.N. Tkachov, he wrote: “Has this village community still survived to such an extent that at the required moment, as Marx and I still hoped in 1882, it could, combined with a revolution in Western Europe, become the starting point of communist development—of this I will not undertake to judge. But of one thing there is no doubt; for anything at all of this community to survive, first of all tsarist despotism must be overthrown, there must be a revolution in Russia.” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Correspondence with Russian Political Figures, Russ. ed., 1951, p.297.)

13*. K. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy.

14*. Chernyshevsky developed his view on the concreteness of truth in Sketches of the Gogol Period in Russian Literature. (N.G. Chernyshevsky, Collected Works, Vol.III, Goslitizdat Publishing House, 1947.)

15*. Marx says this in his letter to the editorial board of Otechestvenniye Zapiski. (Cf. K. Marx and F. Engels, Correspondence with Russian Political Figures, Russ. ed., 1951, p.221.)

16*. Plekhanov does not quote the exact words of K. Marx. Below we give the French original and the exact translation of this passage:

“Si la Russie tend à devenir une nation capitaliste, à l’instar des nations de l’Europe occidentale – et pendant les dernières années elle s’est donnée beaucoup de mal dans ce sens – elle n’y réussira pas sans avoir préalablement transformé une bonne partie de ses paysans en prolétaires; et après cela, une fois amenée au giron du régime capitaliste, elle en subira les lois impitoyables, comme d’autres peuples profanes. Voilà tout.” Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Ausgewählte Briefe, Berlin 1953.
(“If Russia is tending to become a capitalist nation after the example of West European countries—and during the last few years she has been taking a lot of trouble in this direction—she will not succeed without having first transformed a good part of her peasants into proletarians; and after that, once taken to the bosom of the capitalist regime, she will experience its pitiless laws like other profane peoples. That is all.” K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow 1955, p. 379.)

17*. One of the most popular Russian proverbs: “The nightingale is not fed on fables” – “fine words butter no parsnips.”

18*. Plekhanov wanted to make the following addition to this passage: “Here I have in mind the activity of the Social-Democrats. It has promoted the development of capitalism by removing antiquated modes of production, for instance home industry. The attitude of Social-Democracy in the West to capitalism is briefly defined by the following words of Bebel at the Breslau Congress of the Party (1895): ‘I always ask myself whether a given step will not harm the development of capitalism. If it will, I am against it ...’” (The Literary Legacy of G.V. Plekhanov, Coll. IV, p. 229.)

19*. Suzdal – from Suzdal locality in Russia where icon painting was widespread. Icon prints produced in suzdal in great quantities were cheap and unartistic. Hence the adjective Suzdal has come to denote something that is cheap and unartistic.

20*. In G. Uspensky’s tale Nothing, from his series Living Figures, a peasant who pays “for nothing,” i.e., pays tax on land he does not cultivate, is quite convinced that to pay “for nothing” is far better than to cultivate his allotment.

21*. P.Y. Chaadayev said this in his first Philosophical Letter. (P.Y. Chaadayev, Philosophical Letters, Russ. ed., Moscow 1906, p.11.) – Chaadayev, Pyotr Yakovlevich (1794-1856) – Russian idealist philosopher. He became known in 1836 when he published his Philosophical Letter a sharp criticism of the backward and stagnant system of serfdom in Russia. He hoped that the West, in particular Catholicism, would help to destroy serfdom and ensure progress.

22*. Yuzhakov, Sergei Nikolayevich (1849-1910) – publicist, ideologist of Liberal Narodism.

23*. From Nekrasov’s poem Meditations at the Main Entrance.

24*. In Tolstoi’s War and Peace.

25*. Moskovskiye Vedomosti – a reactionary and monarchist newspaper published in Moscow from 1756 to 1918 (except the years from 1779 to 1789 when it was produced by N.I. Novikov, a progressive publisher).

26*. Plekhanov intended to give the following explanation of these words: “i.e., I mean socialist.” (The Literary Legacy of G.V. Plekhanov, Coll.IV, p.230.)

27*. Friedrich List, a German economist, and ideologist of the German industrial bourgeoisie when capitalism was still weak in Germany, put special emphasis on the development of the productive forces of the separate national economies. For this he considered it necessary to have the co-operation of the state (e.g. protective tariffs on industrial goods).

28*. Plekhanov has the following remarks on this passage: “Concerning N. —on. What was his principal mistake? He had a poor understanding of ‘the law of value.’ He considered it statically, not dynamically ... What Engels said on the possibility of error in Struve and N. —on.” (The Literary Legacy of G.V. Plekhanov, Coll.IV, pp.230-31.)
On February 26, 1895, Engels wrote to Plekhanov: “As for Danielson (N. —on), I’m afraid nothing can be done with him ... It is absolutely impossible to argue with the generation of Russians which he belongs to and which still believe in the elemental communist mission which is alleged to distinguish Russia, the truly holy Russia, from other, non-believing peoples.” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Correspondence with Russian Political Figures, Russ. ed., 1951, p.341.)

29*. Danielson’s book Sketches of Our Social Economy Since the Reform appeared in 1893. It expounded the economic views of the Narodniks.

30*. Plekhanov here refers to S.N. Krivenko’s article On the Needs of People’s Industry, the end of which was printed in No.10 of Russkoye Bogatstvo, 1894.


Last updated on 30.12.2004