Plekhanov 1909

On the So-Called Religious Seekings in Russia

Source: From Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976), pp 306-413. Prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Moscow Editor’s Note: ‘The articles under this title were published in the journal Sovremenny Mir, nos 9, 10 and 12, 1909. Plekhanov wrote these articles because the religious seekings among the intelligentsia in Russia acquired considerable scope after the defeat of the 1905-07 Revolution.’

First Article: On Religion


The question we are about to discuss concerns what is known as the religious seekings which are now going on in Russia. If I am not mistaken this is one of the most topical subjects. Not long ago — one may say, only the other day — Mr Alexander Yablonovsky wrote in Kievskaya Mysl (no 151) that ‘in our country the attention of society is at present split into three parts, and concentrates on god-seeking, pornography and wrestling’. Unfortunately, this looks very much like the truth. I have never been interested in wrestling, and I have never had a passion for pornographic literature. But our contemporary ‘god-seeking’ does seem to me to warrant serious attention, and I should like to express the reflections which this trend has suggested and still suggests to me.

Here it will be useful to make the following reservation.

One of our better-known god-seekers, SN Bulgakov, renowned for his spiritual retreat from ‘Marxism to idealism’ (and even much further, as far as the Sarovskaya hermitage desert, in fact) writes in the magazine Vekhi, [1] the third edition of which has recently been issued, and which undoubtedly has had the ‘success of a scandal’ and perhaps not only of a scandal:

The most striking thing about Russian atheism is its dogmatism, one might say the religious flippancy with which it is accepted. Until recent times, religious problems in all their immense and exceptional importance and urgency, were simply not noticed and not understood by Russian ‘educated society’, which was generally interested in religion only in so far as it had to do with politics or the propagation of atheism. Our intelligentsia show a startling ignorance of religious matters. I say this not as an accusation because there may perhaps be sufficient historical justification for it, but to diagnose their mental condition. On the question of religion, our intelligentsia have not yet emerged from adolescence, they have not yet thought seriously about religion. [2]

It must be confessed that that is so. And for that reason I did not hesitate to make this long quotation. Our atheism is really very flippant, and our intelligentsia do, indeed, act like adolescents in regard to religion. What Mr Bulgakov says is the truth, but not the whole truth. He has forgotten to add that ignorance in religious matters is displayed in our country not only by those who profess atheism, but also by those who engage in one way or another in ‘god-seeking’ and ‘god-building’. Our ‘god-seekers’ and ‘god-builders’, too, have not as yet thought seriously of religion, and their religious preaching is not such a stranger to politics (in the broad sense of the word) as it might appear at first glance. Like Mr Bulgakov, I am not accusing anyone, but only diagnosing the mental condition of those who preach the now fashionable doctrine of ‘religious self-determination’. This mental condition might be best described by the words: an irresistible disposition to religious dogmatism. My task, incidentally, is to determine the social causes of that disposition. But whatever those causes may be, there is no doubt that the disposition is there and makes itself felt almost in the same degree in the writings of ‘god-seekers’ whose ‘divine’ findings to all appearances most strongly differ from one another. Whether we turn to Mr Minsky’s book Religion of the Future, or to Mr Lunacharsky’s Religion and Socialism'; whether we listen to the ‘anti-bourgeois’ Mr Merezhkovsky, or to the frankly bourgeois Mr Gershenson; or reflect on the ‘divine word’ of Mr PB Struve — everywhere we shall encounter the same dogmatism that is so distasteful to Mr Bulgakov, and the same ignorance in religious matters against which he so stoutly revolts. By the by, these shortcomings are not alien either to the religious arguments of Mr Bulgakov himself. He sees the mote in the other’s (the atheist’s) eye, but does not notice the beam in his own. An old, but evergreen story!

Be that as it may, the truth is still the truth. Russian ‘advanced people’ have never given serious thought to religion. At one time, this was no great loss, but now the time has come when the neglect of religious questions may lead to very grievous consequences. It is necessary now to think and speak about religion very seriously.

For our part, we do intend to think and speak about it seriously. With this aim in view, and before criticising the religious discoveries of our ‘god-seekers’, we shall try to form a correct conception of what religion is.

To understand a particular phenomenon means to ascertain how it develops. We have not the opportunity here to study the history of religion. Therefore, only one way out of the difficulty remains: to study the most general and characteristic features of the process which we cannot now study as a whole. We shall proceed along that line.


Religion may be defined as a more or less orderly system of conceptions, sentiments and actions. The conceptions form the mythological element of religion; the sentiments belong to the domain of religious feelings; the actions to the sphere of religious worship, or, as it is otherwise called, of cult. We shall have to dwell first and foremost on the mythological element of religion.

The Greek word ‘mythos’ means a story. Man is startled by some phenomenon, whether real or imaginary is all the same. He tries to explain to himself how it happened; the myth is born. An example: the ancient Greeks believed in the existence of the goddess Athena (Minerva); how did this goddess come to be? Zeus had a headache which pained him so severely that he sought the help of the surgeon. The role of surgeon fell upon Hephaestus (Vulcan) who armed himself with a poleaxe and whacked the king of the gods so vigorously on the head that the head split in two and out sprang the goddess Athena. [3] Another example: a Jew of antiquity asked himself: where did the world come from? In response to his question, he was told the story of the world having been created in six days and of man having been formed from the dust of the earth. A third example: a contemporary Australian of the Arunta tribe wants to know the origin of the moon. His curiosity is satisfied with this story: in the olden days, when there was as yet no moon in the sky, a man by the name of Opossum died and was buried. [4] Soon afterwards he rose from the dead in the form of a boy. Seeing this happen, his kinsmen took fright and started to run away from him; he followed them, shouting: ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t run, or else you'll die altogether. I shall die, but I shall rise again in the sky.’ So the boy grew to be an old man and finally died; then he appeared again in the form of the moon and ever since then he has been dying and rising again periodically. [5] Thus not only the origin of the moon is explained, but also its periodic disappearance and appearance. I am not sure if this explanation will satisfy any of our present-day ‘god-seekers'; probably not. But it satisfies the Australian native, just as the Greek of a certain period was content with the story of Athena emerging from the head of Jupiter, or the Jew of ancient times swallowed the tale of the world’s creation in six days. The myth is a story which answers the questions: Why? How? The myth is the first expression of man’s awareness of the causal connection between phenomena.

One of the most prominent German ethnologists of our day says: ‘The myth is the expression of a primitive world-outlook.’ ('Mythus ist der Ausdruck primitiver Weltanschauung.’) [6] That is quite right. One has to have a very primitive world-outlook to believe that the moon is a man called Opossum who rose from the dead and ascended to the sky. What is the main distinguishing feature of this primitive world-outlook? It is that the person adhering to it animates the phenomena of nature. All natural phenomena are interpreted by primitive man as the actions of particular beings who, like himself, are endowed with consciousness, needs, passions, desires and will. Already at a very early stage of development, these beings whose actions are supposed to cause certain natural phenomena assume the nature of spirits in the conception of primitive men. Thus is formed what Tylor called animism. This research scientist says:

Spiritual beings are held to affect or control the events of the material world, and man’s life here and hereafter; and it being considered that they hold intercourse with men, and receive pleasure or displeasure from human actions, the belief in their existence leads naturally, and it might almost be said inevitably, sooner or later to active reverence and propitiation. Thus animism, in its full development, includes the belief in souls and in a future state, in controlling deities and subordinate spirits, these doctrines practically resulting in some kind of active worship. [7]

That is also correct, but it must not be forgotten that there is a world of difference between believing in the existence of spirits and worshipping them; the myth is one thing, religion is another. Primitive man believes in the existence of numerous spirits, but worships only some of them. [8] Religion arises from the combination of the animistic ideas with certain religious acts. Of course, we cannot evade the question of how this combination is brought about, but at the same time we must not run ahead of our subject. Now we have to find out something about the origin of animism. Tylor remarks correctly that primitive animism embodies the very essence of spiritualistic as opposed to materialistic philosophy. [9] If that is true, the study of animism will have a two-fold value for us: it will not only help to clear up our ideas on primitive myths, but will also reveal to us the ‘essence of spiritualistic philosophy’. And we cannot afford to ignore this at a time when so many people are striving to resurrect philosophical spiritualism. [10]


Mr Bogdanov tried to establish the presence of a ‘special connection between animistic dualism and authoritarian social forms’. [11] Without rejecting out of hand the theory of animism now generally accepted by ethnologists, and which I set forth above, Mr Bogdanov finds, however, that it is unsatisfactory. He thinks that it ‘might correctly indicate that psychical material which served at least partly for the construction of animistic views; but the question remains, why did a form of thinking which is fundamental and universal at a certain stage of development originate from this material'? [12] Mr Bogdanov replies to this question by acknowledging a special connection between animistic dualism and authoritarian forms. In his opinion, animistic dualism is the reflection of social dualism, the dualism of the upper and the lower classes, the organisers and the organised. He says:

Let us envisage a society in which the authoritarian relations embrace the whole system of production, so that each social-labour action breaks up into active-organising elements and passive-operating elements. Thus, a whole vast field of experience — the sphere of immediate production — is of necessity cognised by the members of the society according to a definite type, a type of homogeneous duality, in which the organising and the operating elements are constantly combined. [13]

And when man becomes accustomed to comprehending his labour relations to the external world as the manifestation of an active, organising will which influences the passive will of the operatives, he begins ‘to discover the self-same process in every phenomenon’. It is then that he conceives the notion that things have souls:

He observes the movement of the sun, the flow of water, hears the rustle of leaves, feels the rain and the wind, and it is all the easier for him to perceive all this by the same means as he perceives his own social-labour life; behind the external force that is acting upon him directly, he assumes a personal will guiding it; and although this will is invisible to him, nevertheless it is immediately authentic since without it the phenomenon would be incomprehensible to him. [14]

That is very good; so good, in fact, that Mr Shulyatikov wrote a whole history of modern philosophy on the basis of this idea of Bogdanov’s. There is only one thing wrong with Mr Bogdanov’s good idea — it is contrary to the facts.

It is quite possible, even probable, that animism was not the very first step in the development of man’s conception of the world. It is likely that Mr Guyau was right in supposing that ‘the initial moment of religions metaphysics lies in a kind of vague monist view not in respect of the divine principle, not of the deity... but of soul and body which at first are a single entity’. [15] If that is correct, then animism must be regarded as the second step in the development of man’s conception of the world. Mr Guyau actually says as much:

The nearest to this conception is the conception of distinct souls, of breaths animating bodies, spirits capable of leaving their abode. This conception is known to historians of religion by the name of animism. The remarkable thing about it is its dualistic character. In embryo it is the opposition between soul and body. [16]

Be that as it may, the fact remains that animism develops among primitive peoples to whom ‘authoritarian’ organisation of society is quite foreign. Mr Bogdanov is very much mistaken in asserting, with his own brand of bravado: ‘It is known that at the very earliest stages of social development, in tribes standing at the very lowest level, animism has not yet appeared, the conception of a spiritual principle is completely absent.’ [17] No, that is not ‘known’ at all! Ethnologists are deprived of the possibility of observing those human tribes which adhered to the ‘kind of vague, monist view'; they know nothing of them. On the contrary, the very lowest of all tribes accessible to ethnological observation — the so-called lower hunting tribes — adhere to animism. Everyone knows that one such tribe is, for example, the Ceylonese Veddas. However, according to Paul Sarrazin, they believe in the existence of the soul after death. [18] Another investigator, Emile Deschamps, expresses himself even more categorically. He avers that in the opinion of the Veddas every man turns into a ‘demon’ or spirit after death, and, consequently, spirits are very numerous. The Veddas blame their misfortunes on these spirits. [19] The same traits may be observed among the Negritos of the Andaman islands, the Bushmen, the Australian aborigines, in a word, among all the ‘lower hunters’. The Hudson Bay Eskimos, who are not much further advanced than these hunters, are also convinced animists; they have water-spirits, rain-cloud spirits, wind-spirits, cloud-spirits, and so forth. [20] If we wish to know what stage of development has been reached by ‘authoritarian’ relationships among the Eskimos, we are told that they have no chiefs, that is to say, no ‘authority’. ('Among these people there is no such person as chief.’) [21] True, even these Eskimos have leaders, but their power is insignificant and in addition, they are usually dominated by those whom British investigators call the ‘medicine-men’, that is, sorcerers, or people who have contact with spirits. [22] In the Eskimos’ way of life there are strong traces of a primitive type of communism. As far as such of the lowest tribes as the Veddas are concerned, they must be recognised as real, and in their own fashion irreproachable, communists. So where are the authoritarian relations of production here? It goes without saying that there is some element of materialism in the conceptions of the primitive hunting tribes regarding spirits. The spirits of these tribes do not yet possess that immaterial nature which is characteristic, for example, of the God of our contemporary Christians, or of those ‘elements’ which play such an important part in the ‘natural-science’ philosophy of Ernst Mach. When the ‘savage’ thinks of a spirit, he often pictures it in the form of a small person. [23] There is, of course, much that is ‘material’ about such a picture. But, in the first place, it was also characteristic of the work of the fourteenth-century artist (whether Orcagna or somebody else) who painted the famous fresco ‘The Triumph of Death’ on one of the walls of the Pisa cemetery. Let Mr Bogdanov have a look at that fresco, or even a photograph of it. He will see that human souls are depicted there as small people, with all the signs of materiality, including a tonsure of the plump soul of the Catholic priest whom the angel is hauling along by the hand, intent on taking it to paradise; while the devil (also showing all the signs of materiality) grasps the priest’s soul by the leg with the obvious aim of installing it in hell. Mr Bogdanov may well tell us that real animism was also unknown in the fourteenth century. In that case, when exactly did it first appear? Surely not at the same time as the so-called ‘empiriomonist philosophy'!

Secondly, the following must be borne in mind. By simple necessity, all our concepts have a ‘material’ nature. It is all a question of the number of ‘material’ signs attached to the given concept. The fewer there are of these signs, the more abstract the concept, and the more we are inclined to impart an immaterial nature to it. Here there is a kind of distillation of the concepts forming in man in the course of his acting upon external nature. It cannot be denied that this distillation of concepts is already very much advanced among the lower hunters. If their concept of spirit is firmly entwined with their concept of breathing (and, as is known, not only theirs), this is because, on the one hand, one of the effects of breathing — the motion of the exhaled air — undoubtedly exists, and, on the other, it is almost completely beyond the reach of our senses. [24] In order to conceive the idea of spirit, the ‘savage’ tries to imagine something that does not act upon the senses. Looking into the eye of a companion, he will sometimes see on the cornea the tiny image of a man. He takes this image to be the soul of the man conversing with him. [25] He accepts the image as a soul, because he believes it is completely immaterial, that is to say, elusive and impervious to any kind of influence on his part. He forgets, of course, that he saw the image, and that, in fact, it acted on his eye. [26] The question of why the animistic form of thinking is ‘fundamental and universal at a certain stage of development’ makes real sense only when formulated quite differently. It should read: why is the belief in gods still extant even in those civilised societies where the productive forces have reached a very high level of development, and which have thus acquired considerable power over nature? The founders of scientific socialism gave the answer to this question long ago, and I presented it in one of my open letters to Mr Bogdanov. But to grasp the full meaning of this reply, we must once and for all elucidate the problem before us of the origin of animism with which we are faced.

In this respect we can get some interesting pointers from one of the founders of scientific socialism, namely Frederick Engels.

In his remarkable work, Ludwig Feuerbach, he wrote:

The great basic question of all philosophy, especially of more recent philosophy, is that concerning the relation of thinking and being. From the very early times when men, still completely ignorant of the structure of their own bodies, under the stimulus of dream apparitions came to believe that their thinking and sensation were not activities of their bodies, but of a distinct soul which inhabits the body and leaves it at death — from this time men have been driven to reflect about the relation between this soul and the outside world. If upon death it took leave of the body and lived on, there was no occasion to invent yet another distinct death for it. Thus arose the idea of its immortality, which at that stage of development appeared not at all as a consolation but as a fate against which it was no use fighting, and often enough, as among the Greeks, as a positive misfortune. Not religious desire for consolation, but the quandary arising from the common universal ignorance of what to do with this soul, once its existence had been accepted, after the death of the body, led in a general way to the tedious notion of personal immortality. [27]

Thus, when people do not know the structure of their own bodies and are at a loss to explain dreams, they form the concept of a soul. In confirmation of this, Engels, quoting Imthurn, makes the following quite true remark:

Among savages and lower barbarians the idea is still universal that the human forms which appear in dreams are souls which have temporarily left their bodies; the real man is, therefore, held responsible for acts committed by his dream apparition against the dreamer. [28]

The question is not one of authoritarian organisation of production, which is not known among savages and is to be observed only in embryonic form at the lower level of barbarism; it is a question of the technical conditions under which primitive man struggles for existence.

His productive forces are very poorly developed; his power over nature is insignificant. But in the development of human thought practice always precedes theory; the wider the scope of man’s action upon nature, the wider and more correct is his understanding of it. And conversely: the narrower that scope, the weaker his theory. And the weaker his theory, the more readily man turns to the realm of fantasy for an explanation of those phenomena which for some reason have attracted his attention. Underlying all such fantastic explanations of natural life is judgement by analogy. In observing his own actions, primitive man sees that they were preceded by definite wishes, or, to use an expression more like his own way of thinking, that they were caused by these wishes. Therefore when he is struck by some natural phenomenon, he puts it down to someone having willed it. The beings whom he assumes to be causing such striking phenomena of nature are beyond the reach of his senses. Therefore he thinks of them as similar to the human soul which, as we already know, is immaterial in the sense described above. The assumption that natural phenomena are caused by the will of beings who are inaccessible to his senses, or accessible only in the very smallest degree, develops and is reinforced under the impact of his hunting way of life. This may seem paradoxical, but it is nevertheless true: the hunt as a means of livelihood disposes man to spiritualism.

Engels says in his book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, that exclusively hunting people ‘figure’ only in books, and have never existed, for the fruits of the chase are much too precarious to make that possible. [29] That is quite correct. The so-called lower hunting tribes fed not only on the meal of animals killed in the chase, but also on the roots of plants and tubers, to say nothing of fish and shell-fish. Yet for all that, contemporary ethnology more and more convinces us that the whole mode of thought of the ‘savage’, is conditioned by the hunt. His conception of the world and even his aesthetical tastes are the world-outlook and tastes of a hunter. In my essay on art [30] (see my collection For Twenty Years), expressing the same view with regard to the world-outlook and tastes of the ‘savage’. I quoted von den Steinen who has given a first-rate account of the life and customs of the Brazilian Indians. I shall now repeat that quotation:

We can only understand these people [he says] when we regard them as the product of the hunter’s way of life. The most important part of their experience is associated with the animal world, and it was on the basis of this experience that their world-outlook was formed. Correspondingly, their art motifs, too, are borrowed with staggering uniformity from the animal world. It may be said that all their wonderfully rich art is rooted in their life as hunters. [31]

All of their mythology is rooted in the same hunting life. Continuing to describe the psychology of the Brazilian Indians, von den Steinen says:

We must erase from our minds completely all distinction between man and animal. Of course, the animal does not have a bow and arrow, or a beetle to crush the grain of the maize, but in the eyes of the Indian that is the principal difference between him and the animal. [32]

But if there is no distinction between man and animal, and if man possesses a soul, then evidently the animal must have one too. Thus, when the ‘savage’ wonders about natural phenomena, reasoning by analogy, he does so with reference not only to himself, but to the whole animal world.

Like men, animals die. Their deaths, just as with men, are explained by their souls having left their bodies. In this way, the domain of animistic notions is extended even more. Little by little — but, in spite of Mr Bogdanov, long before the authoritarian organisation of production comes into existence — the whole world turns out to be populated with spirits, and each natural phenomenon that attracts the attention of primitive man has its own ‘spiritual’ explanation. In order to understand how animism originated, there is no need at all to refer to the authoritarian organisation of production, since it was completely non-existent at the first stage of social development.

It is incontestable that the authoritarian organisation of production — and not only of production, but of the whole of social life — once it had arisen, began to wield an enormous influence on religious beliefs. This is but a particular case of that general rule according to which, in class-divided society, the development of ideologies proceeds under the most powerful influence of interclass relations. I have mentioned this rule several times in writing of art. But like all rules, it may be understood rightly, and it may also be interpreted in the form of a caricature. Unfortunately, this is how Mr Bogdanov preferred to interpret it, and consequently ascribed a decisive role to authoritarian relationships even in a society where they did not exist.

Now we may leave Mr Bogdanov and return to Tylor.


Tylor says:

The early animistic theory of vitality, regarding the functions of life as caused by the soul, offers to the savage mind an explanation of several bodily and mental conditions, as being effects of a departure of the soul or some of its constituent spirits. This theory holds a wide and strong position in savage biology. [33]

Tylor brings forward many examples to reinforce his opinion. Natives of South Australia say that a man in a state of unconsciousness is without soul. The Fiji natives hold the same view. Besides this, they believe that if a soul that has left a body is called upon to return it may do so. It happens that a Fijian stricken with illness and lying on the ground will be heard shouting loudly for his soul to return to his body. The Tatar races of Northern Asia keep strictly to the theory of the departure of the soul from the body during sickness, and in Buddhist tribes the lamas use solemn incantations for the return of the soul which has been abducted from the body of a sick person by an evil spirit. [34] Tylor and other researchers have many similar examples, and they are undoubtedly very convincing. But the instance of the Buddhist lamas who by their incantations compel the evil spirit to return the sick man’s soul which it has enticed away, does inspire such questions as: can there be a power then, which is capable of subjecting spirits to its will? And if there is such a power, does it not follow that the theory of animism, even to the minds of the savages, does not by any means explain all natural phenomena? Both these questions must get affirmative replies. Yes, primitive man recognises the existence of a power that is capable of subjecting even spirits to its will. Yes, the animistic theory does not explain everything even in the physics and biology of primitive man.

Why? Simply because animism — like spiritualism in general — in point of fact cannot explain a single natural phenomenon. Let us take one of Tylor’s examples.

The sick Fijian calls upon his soul to return. He blames his illness on its departure. But until he is well again, his illness will take its course, and since his soul has forsaken him, it is clear that the further course of his illness will be determined by some other power and not by the presence of the soul in his body: the latter is obviously only an explanation of the normal state of his health.

Further. The sick Fijian’s loud calls for the return of his soul are of no avail and he dies, his soul having spurned the invitation to re-enter his body. The dead man’s corpse starts to decompose. If the man’s death is to be explained by the soul having abandoned the body, it is again clear that the process of the decomposition of the corpse has to be explained by some other causes and not by the action of the departed soul. Facts such as these are legion. Their undoubted existence is also reflected in the consciousness of primitive man in the form of a belief that there is some kind of power (or powers) with the ability to influence even the will of spirits. Out of this belief come the incantations of the Buddhist lamas which, in his opinion, must compel the evil spirit to return the soul it abducted from the human body. These incantations are part and parcel of the extensive practice of primitive magic.

Some modern investigators regard magic as something in the nature of the natural science of primitive man. In it they see the embryonic conviction that natural phenomena are governed by laws. Frazer, for instance, writes: ‘Thus its fundamental conception is identical with that of modern science; underlying the whole system is a faith, implicit but real and firm, in the order and uniformity of nature.’ [35] Thus, Frazer considers that magic as well as science stands in fundamental antagonism to religion, which assumes that the uniform course of nature can be changed by a god or gods at man’s request. [36] There is quite a lot of truth in this. Magic is opposed to religion in the sense that the religious believer explains natural phenomena as the product of the will of the subject (spirit, god), whereas the man who turns to magic for assistance is trying to discover an objective cause behind this will. The antagonism noted by Frazer between religion on the one hand and magic and science on the other is the antagonism between the subjective and objective methods of interpreting phenomena. This contrast was undoubtedly revealed already in the conceptions of savages. But it must not be forgotten that there is a highly important distinction between science and magic. Science aims at discovering the causal connection between phenomena, whereas magic is content with a simple association of ideas, a mere symbolism, which itself may be founded only on an insufficiently clear distinction between what is going on in a man’s mind and what is being accomplished in reality. To give an example: to call for rain, the magician of the American Redskins scatters water in a certain way from the roof of his hut. [37] The sound and appearance of the water falling from the roof remind him of rain, and he is convinced that this association of ideas is sufficient to cause rain to follow. If it should happen to rain after water has been scattered on the roof, he credits this to the working of his magic. This will suffice to show the immeasurable gap that exists between science and magic.

Magic makes the same mistake as that which, to a high degree, is characteristic of modern empirio-monism. It mixes up objective and subjective phenomena. And just because of this, the ideas that are characteristic of magic exclude those that are associated with animism. Magic is supplemented by animism; animism is supplemented by magic. This is to be seen at every step in absolutely all religions.

Magical acts are a component part of every religious worship. But it is still too soon to speak of this aspect; there are some other sides of primitive man’s world-outlook which require elucidation.


We have seen that animism by its very nature is incapable of furnishing any kind of satisfactory explanation of phenomena, and that even the savage, although a firm believer in animism, does not by any means always resort to animistic explanations. Now it is time to ask ourselves: what particular forms do these explanations take, then, where people are satisfied with them?

A man is convinced that a given phenomenon is the action of some spirit. But just how does he conceive the process whereby the spirit concerned brought about the given phenomenon? It is self-evident that this process will certainly be reminiscent of the processes by which man himself brought into being something he wished to happen.

Here is a vivid example. The question ‘where did the world come from?’ is answered by some Polynesians as follows: Once upon a time, God was sitting on the seashore fishing and suddenly pulled out on his hook the world instead of a fish. The primitive fishermen conceived God’s actions in the likeness of their own, and such beliefs are shared not only by fishermen. But the actions of the ‘savage’ are confined within the very narrow limits of an extremely low level of technical development. The Bible says: ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.’ [38] And when Adam had sinned the Lord God said unto him: ‘For dust thou art, and unto dust shall thou return.’ [39] The belief that man was created by God from ‘dust’, or more exactly, from ‘earth’, or still more exactly, from ‘clay’, is very widespread among primitive peoples. But this very widely held view implies a particular level of technical development, namely, man’s knowledge of pottery. But this knowledge was not acquired by primitive man all at once; far from it. Even to this day, the Veddas of Ceylon do not know the art of pottery. [40]

Therefore, it would never occur to them to think of man as having been created by God from ‘earth’, in the same way as a potter fashions his articles from clay. The nature of primitive theory regarding the origin of the world is, in general, determined by the level of primitive technique.

It must be remarked, though — and this is exceptionally important for elucidating the causal dependence of thinking on being — that the creation of the world and man is rarely mentioned in primitive mythology. The savage ‘creates’ comparatively little; his production is limited chiefly to procuring and appropriating, with as little or as great an effort as may be needed, that which nature provides apart from his own productive efforts. While the man fishes and hunts, the woman gathers wild roots and tubers. The ‘savage’ does not create the animals that sustain him. But his sustenance does depend on his knowledge of the animals’ habits, their usual haunts, and so on. This is why the fundamental question answered in his mythology is not who created man and the animals, but where did they come from? Once the primitive hunter has thought of a reply to this fundamental question, he is satisfied, and his curiosity suggests no further questions. Before his curiosity is again aroused about this matter, he has to make fresh progress in the sphere of technical development.

As an example, here is a myth current among the Australian Dieri:

In the beginning, the earth opened in the middle of lake Peregundi and out of it came one animal after another: the Kaualka — the raven; Katatara, a species of parrot; Warukati-Emu (Australian ostrich) and so on. As they were not fully formed, being without limbs and sense organs, they lay on the dunes surrounding the lake. While they lay stretched out in the sun their strength grew; they at last rose as Kana (that is, real people) and went away in all directions. [41]

That is all. As you see, God does absolutely nothing; the earth opens of its own accord and the creatures come forth, true, not fully formed, but developing of themselves with the beneficent aid of the sun. The modern Christian would contend that this theory could have been invented only by an atheist, and, indeed, it must be numbered among the theories which claim to explain the evolution of living creatures without resorting to the ‘hypothesis of God’.

This, too, may appear to be paradoxical, but it is also indisputable — the primitive hunter is predominantly an evolutionist. All the really primitive myths known to us are concerned with the development rather than the creation of man and animals. Here are some examples: since I have just quoted Australia, I shall finish with that country by citing one more instance. It is a story told among the Narrinyeri of South Australia, a story of how some fish came into being. Once upon a time there were two hunters: Nurundere and Nepelle. One day they were fishing together in the same lake. Nepelle caught an enormous fish, which his comrade took and cut into small pieces, which he threw into the water: from each of the pieces emerged a particular breed of fish. Some other breeds of fish had a different origin, coming out of flat stones which one of the two fishermen had thrown into the water. [42] This is a very far cry from the Christian theory of creation, but not unlike the Greek myth according to which men came from stones.

If we now move from the eucalyptus groves of Australia to the sandy deserts of South Africa, we shall find there an evidently very ancient myth of the Bushmen revealing to us that man and beast came forth from a cave or a crack in the earth’s surface somewhere in the north, where, as those well-versed in the matter will tell you, traces left by the first men and animals are still visible. This myth was related by Moffat, a missionary, who thought it to be perfectly absurd. But Moffat admits that the Bushmen found his account of the world’s creation equally absurd. They pointed out that since Moffat had never been in paradise, he could not know what went on there, whereas, they said, we can find traces of the first man in the sand. [43] History is silent as to whether the worthy Christian was able to give a sufficiently convincing answer to this argument, which, after all, is not entirely lacking in wit.

Not far from these Bushmen live (it would be more correct now to say lived) the Ovaherero tribe, against whom the Germans recently waged such an inhuman war of extermination. The Ovahereros are much more developed than the Bushmen; they are not hunters, but typical cattle-breeders. They recount that the first man and the first woman came out of the Omumborombonga tree. From the same tree came neatcattle, and sheep and goats sprang from a flat rock. [44] Some Zulus think that men first came out of a bed of reeds, while others believe that they issued from under the ground. [45]

The tribe of Navajo Indians in New Mexico narrate that all Americans at first lived in a cave, later burrowing their way out into the open, accompanied by all the animals. [46]

It is true that these last myths are concerned not so much with the evolution of living beings as with their coming into the world fully developed. However, this in no way contradicts what I have said. The main point for me here is not whether all living creatures first appeared as the outcome of the process of evolution, or always existed in their present form. It is rather: were these beings created by some spirit or other? We have seen that not one of the myths I have related speaks of the creation of living beings. More than that. Ehrenreich, who made a basic study of the South American Indians, says that in those places where it is generally believed that men and animals came out of the earth, no one ever asks how they got there in the first place. [47] The same author remarks in another part of the same book that where the myths have it that man first emerged from under the ground, there is never any mention of his creation. He himself, though, somewhat qualifies this remark. He says that the natives of South America believe that people have always existed, only that they were very few in number at first, and so all the same the need arose subsequently to create new people. [48] This is undoubtedly a transition from the old mythology to a new one, reflecting the advance of technique and the corresponding increase in man’s creative labour in obtaining the means of life. The same Ehrenreich refers to another instance which demonstrates most lucidly how closely mythology is associated with the initial, hesitant steps in technical progress. He tells us of a myth current in the Guarayo tribe, that man was formed out of clay, but that the effort to create him in this fashion succeeded only after several vain attempts. [49]

Thus the myth regarding the creation of man did not arise all at once. It presupposes some progress in technical development, which, though not very great from our point of view, is nevertheless extremely important in reality. The more technique is perfected, the greater the growth of the productive forces, the more man increases his power over nature, the more established becomes the myth of the world having been created by God. [50] This continues until the dialectics of human progress has raised man’s power over nature to such a height that the ‘hypothesis of God’ creating the world is no longer necessary. Man then abandons this hypothesis — in the same way as the adult Australian native abandons the hypothesis of the spirit chastising the child for mischief making — and returns to the point of view of evolution that was characteristic of one of the first stages in the development of his thought. But now he substantiates this hypothesis by recourse to the vast store of knowledge he has acquired in the course of his own development. In this respect, the last phase resembles the first, except that it is immeasurably richer in content.


Primitive man thinks of himself as being very close to the animal. The seemingly strange circumstance that tribal savages consider themselves connected with animals by ties of blood relationship therefore becomes quite understandable.

Totemism is characterised by a belief in kinship between a certain blood-related group of people and a particular species of animal. Here, I have in view the so-called animal totemism. Besides it, there is vegetable totemism, a belief in mutual relation between men and plants. I shall not dilate upon the last-named here, since its nature will be sufficiently clear to anyone who can correctly grasp the meaning of animal totemism. Moreover, there is every reason to believe that vegetable totemism arose much later, and was formed on the basis of concepts connected with animal totemism. [51]

For greater clarity, let us take an example. We shall assume that the totem of a particular clan is the turtle. In this case, the clan believes that the turtle is a blood relative; consequently, it will not only do him no harm, but, on the contrary, it will take the clan members under its protection. For their part, the clan members must not harm the turtle. Killing the turtle is considered in the clan to be a heinous offence; should one of the clan happen by chance on a dead one, he is obliged by clan custom to bury it with the same rites observed at the burial of members. [52] Should he be forced by extreme necessity — say, famine — to kill a turtle, the clansman must solemnly beg its forgiveness for having shown such patent disrespect. When scarcity of food compels a Redskin with a bear totem to kill one of these animals, he does not simply ask forgiveness, but he invites the bear to eat of its own flesh at the feast which usually accompanies a happy hunt. [53] I do not know if the bear is always mollified by such unusual politeness, but the fact is that the animal totem is capable of taking terrible revenge upon its blood relatives for its killing. Thus, the natives of Samoa who have the turtle as their totem believe that if any one of them eats the flesh of the turtle he will certainly grow ill. Moreover, they add that more than once a voice has been heard coming from the inside of a sick man, saying: ‘He ate me; I am killing him.’ [54] The voice is obviously that of the spirit of the eaten turtle. But, on the other hand, where people respect their totem animal, it will be well disposed towards them. In Senegambia, for instance, the Negroes of the Scorpion clan are never bitten by these creatures, which are of a very deadly kind in that locality. [55] But that is not all. In the same Senegambia, members of the Serpent clan have the enviable capacity to heal by their touch persons who have been bitten by serpents. [56] In Australia the animal totem, for example the kangaroo, warns its blood relations of an approaching enemy. The Kurnai tribe, also of Australia, have as their totem the crow, which answers their questions by cawing. [57] In Samoa, the natives of the Owl clan watched the flight of the owl when marching to war; if it flew before them in the direction of the enemy, that was taken as a signal to go on; if it flew backwards, it was a sign to retreat, and so on. Some of these tribes kept tame owls on purpose to give omens in war. [58]

Sometimes the totem-animal renders, so to speak, meteorological service. During a fog the men of the Turtle sub-clan of the Omahas in North America draw the figure of a turtle on the ground with its head to the south, placing some tobacco on the drawing. In this way they hope to make the fog disappear. [59]

Without going into the question of totemism in greater detail, I shall add just this. When a particular clan is subdivided into two parts, the totem also takes on a split character. Among the Iroquois there thus appeared, for instance, the Grey Wolf and Yellow Wolf clans and the Great Turtle and Little Turtle clans, and so on. [60] And when two clans merge, their totem animals take the form of something in the nature of the Greek chimera: it is formed from two different animals. [61]

Primitive man does not only admit the possibility of kinship between himself and a species of animal, but also quite often takes his own ancestry from this species and attributes to it all his cultural acquirements, however poor. Here again modern ethnologists do not see anything surprising. Von den Steinen, whom I have time and again cited, says:

Indeed, the Indian is obliged to the... animals for the most important part of his culture... The teeth, bones, shells of animals are his working tools, without which he could not produce his weapons or utensils... Every child knows that the animals, the hunting of which is the essential precondition for that production, shall provide the most indispensable things. [62]

Ehrenreich makes exactly the same point: ‘Animals supply man with the instruments of his labour and with cultivated plants, and their myths relate how man received these boons from their animal brothers.’ [63] In North America, according to Aurel Krause, a reliable authority, the entire mythology of the Tlingit Indians revolves round El the raven, credited with having created the world and being the benefactor of mankind. [64] Andrew Lang tells us that in the mythology of the Bushmen, who undoubtedly belong to the lowest stage of hunting tribes, animals play an almost exclusive role, the chief figure being Cagn who is a creative grasshopper. [65] Animals also dominate the mythology of native Australian tribes; it is not without interest to note that some of them play the part of Prometheus, trying to bring fire for the use of man. [66] True, in Australian mythology there are animals which try to conceal the use of fire from man. But this, of course, makes no difference to the main point. And it all shows in the clearest possible way that in the savage’s conception of the world there is, indeed, no dividing line between himself and the animals, and all this makes explicable for us why he initially conceives his gods in the form of animals. The Greek philosopher Xenophanes was mistaken when he said that man always creates his god in his own image and likeness. No, at the beginning he creates his god in the image and likeness of an animal. Man-like gods appeared only later, as a consequence of man’s new successes in developing his productive forces. But even for a long time afterwards deep traces of zoomorphism are preserved in man’s religious ideas. It is enough to recall the worship of animals in ancient Egypt and the fact that statues portraying Egyptian gods very often had the heads of beasts.


But what exactly is a god? We know that primitive man believes in the existence of numerous spirits. But not every spirit by far is a god. For a long time people believed, and many still do, in the existence of the devil. But the devil is not a god. What are the features that distinguish this latter concept?

Payne defines a god as:

... a benevolent [to man — GP] spirit, permanently embodied in some tangible object, usually an image [an idol — GP], and to whom food, drink, and so on, are regularly offered for the purpose of securing assistance in the affairs of life’. [67]

This definition must be recognised as correct in application to a very prolonged period of cultural development. But it is not quite correct when applied to man’s first steps on the road of culture.

While man conceived of his god in the form of a beast, he regarded the god as embodied, not in some inanimate object, but in that species of particular animal. The totem animals must be regarded as the very first gods ever worshipped by man.

Besides, Payne’s definition presupposes a stage of the individualisation of gods which is reached only after a lengthy period of time. In the epoch of totemism, what serves as god is neither an individual nor a more or less numerous group of individuals, but a whole animal species or animal variety: the bear, the turtle, the wolf, the crocodile, the owl, the eagle, the lobster, the scorpion, and so forth. The human personality has not yet completely separated from its blood kinship, and the process of the individualisation of gods has accordingly not yet begun. In this first period, we encounter the remarkable phenomenon that god, or, more exactly, the divine clan, is not concerned about human morals, as are, for instance, the gods of the Christians, the Jews, the Mahommedans, etc. The primitive divine clan metes out punishment only for sins committed against it personally. We are aware that if the Samoan islander consumes his turtle totem he is punished by illness and by death. But, here too, at first it is not the individual that is subject to punishment, but his entire kindred. Blood feud is the basic rule of the primitive Themis. I should point out, by the way, that it is precisely because of this that primitive man is not at all disposed to what is nowadays called religious liberty: god punishes him for the sins of his kinsmen, sometimes, as Jehovah did, to the fourth generation, so that even the most simple prudence on the part of primitive man impelled him to note carefully how his blood relations conducted themselves in respect to their god. Consciousness is determined by being.

Psychology of this variety gives rise to facts such as the following.

Spencer and Gillen inform us that some of the natives of Central Australia bring up their children ‘in the fear of God’, as we would call it now, that is to say, inculcate them with the belief that they will be punished by certain spirits for misbehaving. When the young people reach the age of maturity and become fully-fledged members of the tribe, they are informed by the elders during the performance of rites in connection with their coming of age that such spirits do not exist and that the tribe itself will punish them for any misconduct. WS Berkeley tells us exactly the same about some natives of Tierra del Fuego. They persuade their children that they will be chastised if they get up to mischief by the forest-spirit (something in the nature of the Russian wood-goblin), or it might be the hill-spirit or the cloud-spirit, and so on. To convince the children that there really are such spiritual pedagogues, the parents dress up as make-believe spirits, decorate themselves with twigs, or smear themselves with white paint: in short, they assume a terrifying appearance to put fear into the children. But when the children (properly speaking, the boys) reach the age of fourteen and are recognised as adults, the elders, after teaching them the entire code of morals, confess that the terrifying spirits were really their fellow-tribesmen, and for greater emphasis the elders acquaint the boys with the methods used in imitating the spirits. Having been initiated into this important secret, the boys are then sworn sacredly to preserve the mystery from the women and the children. Breach of this law is punishable by death. [68]

The Australian aborigines and the natives of Tierra del Fuego belong to the very lowest of the now known savage tribes. They do not question the existence of spirits, but they think that only a child would believe that spirits are interested in human morality. At this stage of social development, morality exists quite independently of animistic notions. Later, morality and animism fuse firmly together. We shall soon see the social causes that give rise to this interesting psychological phenomenon. Now we must dwell on some instructive survivals of totemism.

Despite the widespread practice of prohibiting the slaughter of totem animals, there is a custom allowing the animal to be used for food, providing certain rituals are observed. This seeming paradox may be explained by the fact that the clan, although feeling bound by the closest ties of kinship with the animal concerned, hoped and, indeed, thought it essential to strengthen these ties by ceremonially consuming the flesh of their totem animal. When carried out for this motive, the slaughter of the sacred animal is not considered sinful, but, on the contrary, an act of piety. Primitive religion, which forbade the killing of the god, stipulated that his flesh must be eaten from time to time. At a higher level of religious development, this custom was replaced by human sacrifices to the god. Thus, the inhabitants of ancient Arcadia periodically made human sacrifices to Zeus, they themselves eating the flesh of the sacrificed victim, believing thereby that they were transformed into wolves; whence they called one another wolves (lykoi) and Zeus wolf-like (Zeus lykaios). [69] Here it is clear that the human sacrifice has taken the place of the former recurrent feasting on the flesh of the totem wolf.

The Arcadian ‘wolf'-folk, at one time ceremonially eating wolf-meat, began later to eat human flesh, that of the victim brought to Zeus as a sacrifice. Zeus then was portrayed as wolf-like (lykaios), proving that he had taken the place of the old wolf god, growing from the wolf after a prolonged period of social development. If man believed in a blood relationship between himself and the animal, it is not surprising that his god, when adopting human form, still retained memories of his old kinsmen — the animals. When the animal-like (zoomorphic) conception of god gives way to the man-like (anthropomorphic) conception, the animal which formerly was a totem becomes a so-called attribute. We know, for example, that among the ancient Greeks the eagle was an attribute of Zeus, the owl an attribute of Minerva, and so on.


Why did totemism disintegrate? As a result of changes in the material conditions of human life.

The changes in the material conditions of life are expressed above all in the growth of the productive forces of primitive man: in other words, in the increase of his power over nature. And this brings a corresponding change in his attitude to nature. Marx said that by acting on the external world and changing it man changes his own nature. [70] To this might be added that in changing his own nature, man also changes his ideas about the world around him. But when this happens, a more or less radical modification of his religious conceptions naturally takes place. We already know that at one time man did not contrast himself to animals; on the contrary, in very many cases he considered himself to be inferior to them. This was the time of the origin of totemism. Later the time gradually came when man began to realise his superiority over animals, and to draw a contrast between himself and them. Then totemism had necessarily to disappear. The most extreme point of the contrasting of man to animal was reached in the Christian religion, [71] although, of course, the process itself began very much earlier. To explain the origin of this process, I shall quote Mr Bogdanov (suum cuique!). [72] His theory of ‘authoritarian organisation’ of primitive production is a caricature. But the idea which Mr Bogdanov offered us in the form of a caricature is absolutely correct. Where there are ‘authoritarian relations’ the master looks down on his subject; therefore, he does not try to liken himself but rather to contrast himself to the subject. We have therefore only to assume the existence of ‘authoritarian’ relations between men and animals in order to grasp the psychological background of the contrast between them with which we are concerned. Such relations are, indeed, to be found where man has domesticated an animal and uses it for his own needs. It may, therefore, be said that man’s exploitation of the animal is the cause of his becoming inclined to set himself in contrast to it. However, this inclination did not come about all at once; far from it. Many pastoral tribes, such as the African Batokas on the upper reaches of the Zambezi river, exploit their bulls and cows, of course, but at the same time, to use Schweinfurth’s expression, almost idolise them, slaughtering them only in extremity, and using only their milk. [73] The man of the tribe doesn’t object to making himself resemble the cow, even to the point of extracting his top incisors. This is a far cry from man being in contrast to the animal. [74] But when the man harnesses the ox to the plough or the horse to the cart he is hardly likely to feel any great similarity with these animals. [75] The farmer treasures his cattle and is proud of their good condition. He is ready to place them under the protection of a special god. There are cases in some parts of Russia where Frol and Lavr are looked up to as the guardians of domestic animals, and where special prayers are offered up to them under the open skies and in the presence of the cattle driven in from the surrounding villages by the supplicating peasants. GI Uspensky says in one of his sketches that the word ‘Sabaoth’ is pronounced by the peasants as ‘Samoov’, [76] and is understood by them in the sense of the sheep’s god, that is, the most trustworthy guardian of the sheep. But naturally this ‘most sheepish’ god did not have the actual form of a sheep in the minds of the peasants Uspensky was writing about. Agricultural life is not particularly favourable for the zoomorphism of religious ideas. True, religion is always very conservative; it always clings tenaciously to the obsolete. But the ancient ideas that arose in the conditions of primitive hunting life scarcely conform to the nature of agricultural labour, and disappear more or less rapidly. Numerous relics of the growth of man-gods from animal-gods have been preserved for us from ancient Egypt in the form of gods with animal and bird heads.

Now I shall ask the reader to recall the famous words: ‘If bulls had a religion, their gods would be bulls.’ Xenophanes believed that the idea of man also conceiving his god in the form of a bull is unthinkable. He maintained the views that sprung up on the train of agricultural life, and which, after reaching a considerable degree of development, presuppose the existence of ‘authoritarian’ relations between man and bull. But what is the source of such relations? How is the domestication of animals generally accomplished?

Modern ethnologists find the answer in causal connection with totemism. When men undertake to care for a particular species or a particular variety of animal, it is plain that they will domesticate those which by nature are capable of being domesticated — different animals, of course, have different natures. But from the domestication of animals there is a direct though long way to their exploitation, and also to their use as a labour force. What follows from this?

When man begins to utilise animals as a labour force he thereby increases his productive forces quite significantly. And the growth in the productive forces gives an impetus to the development of socio-economic relations. It seems that we have reached a conclusion not in keeping with the basic thesis of historical materialism, viz, that consciousness is determined by being, and not being by consciousness. Now I have advanced a fact which apparently makes out that men’s being — their economic being, the development of their economic relations — is, contrary to the above thesis, determined by their religious consciousness. Totemism leads to the domestication of animals; the domestication of animals brings opportunities to exploit some of them as a labour force, and the beginning of this exploitation signalises an epoch in the development of the productive forces of society, and, consequently, in its economic structure. What can be said about this?

Ten to fifteen years ago, some German scientists averred in this connection that the advances in modern ethnology refuted Marx’s historical theory. I shall cite one book only, that of Eduard Hahn, Die Haustiere, etc, published in 1896. Hahn wrote a very valuable work, full of most precious factual material, but betraying his very meagre knowledge of historical materialism: no better knowledge, incidentally, than that of the ‘revisionists’ who appeared some years afterwards and imagined that the theory of historical materialism does not allow for man’s consciousness exerting influence on social being. The ‘revisionists’ regarded this as a sign of the ‘one-sidedness’ of the historical theory of Marx and Engels. When they were confronted with extracts from the works and letters of Marx and Engels proving the falsity of this charge, the ‘revisionists’ said that the extracts cited dated from a later period in the life of the founders of scientific socialism, a period when Marx and Engels themselves had noted and were trying to correct this one-sidedness. Elsewhere, [77] I exposed, I make bold to say, the utter absurdity of this argument. In an analysis of the Manifesto, written by Marx and Engels in the early period of their literary activity, I demonstrated that in expounding historical materialism they always recognised that human consciousness, stemming from the given social being, in turn influences this being, thereby promoting its further development, which introduces new modifications again in the field of ideology. Historical materialism does not deny the interaction of human consciousness and social being. All it says is that the fact of this interaction does not solve the problem of the origin of both these forces. In regard to the latter question, the theory of historical materialism establishes the causal dependence of the given content of consciousness on the given content of being.

The domestication of animals — if it was in fact a consequence of totemism [78] — may serve as a graphic illustration of this theory. On a particular economic basis — that of primitive hunting life — there grows up a primitive form of religious consciousness, totemism. This form of religious consciousness engenders and consolidates relations between the primitive hunters and certain species of animals which promote a quite significant increase in the productive forces of the hunting tribes. The increase in the productive forces modifies man’s attitude to Nature and, in particular, his conception of the animal world. Man begins to contrast himself to animals. This gives a very strong impetus to the development of anthropomorphic conceptions of gods; totemism has outlived its day. Being gives rise to consciousness, which, in turn, influences being and thereby prepares the way for its own further modification.

If one compares the so-called New World with the Old World, it will be seen that totemism had much greater vitality in the New than it did in the Old. Why was this? Because in the New World, apart from the llama alone, there were no animals which, when domesticated, could have had any great significance in the economic life of man. Thus one of the most important conditions of the disappearance of totemism was absent there. On the other hand, such conditions were at hand in the Old World and so totemism sooner disintegrated there, leaving the way open for new forms of religious consciousness. [79]

But in pointing out what to me is a most important fact, I have as yet discovered only one side of the dialectical process of social development. Now we must look at the other side.


Lewis H Morgan, in his well-known work Ancient Society, notes that the religious rites of the ancient Romans seem to have had their primary connection with the gens rather than the family. [80] This is incontestable, and is explained by the fact that the system of consanguinity, or blood relatives, preceded the family system and not vice versa. The Roman patriarchal family originated comparatively very late from the break-up of the gens life under the impact of agriculture and slavery. [81] But with this family there also appeared family gods (Dii manes) and family divine service in which the part of the priest was played by the head of the family. [82] Social being here, too, determined religious consciousness.

The gods of the patriarchal family were ancestral gods. And inasmuch as the members of the family had filial attachment to its head, they accorded the same sentiment to the ancestral gods. Thus the psychological groundwork was laid for the idea that man must love God as children do their father. Primitive man did not know his father as a particular individual. To him, the word ‘father’ designated every one of his blood relations who had reached a prescribed age. Therefore, primitive man knew nothing of a son’s duties as we know these. In place of such duties, he was conscious of a bond of solidarity with all his blood relations. We have seen already how his consciousness of this solidarity extended into a consciousness of solidarity with the divine animal-totem. Now we are witnessing something different. The evolution of sentiment is conditioned by the evolution of social relations.

But the disintegration of the system of consanguinity leads to more than the formation of the family. Tribal organisation is replaced by state organisation. What is meant by the state?

The state, like religion, is variously defined. The American ethnologist Powell describes it this way: ‘The state is a body politic, an organised group of men with an established government, and a body of determined laws.’ [83] I think this definition could do with some changes and additions. But at the moment I am quite satisfied to leave it as it is.

The institution of government implies certain relations between governors and governed. The governors assume the obligation to look after the welfare of the governed, and the governed recognise a duty to submit to the governors. Moreover, where there are determined laws, there naturally are also people who guard these laws professionally: legislators and judges. All these relations among people find their fantastic expression in religion. The gods become celestial governors and celestial judges. If the aborigines of Australia and Tierra del Fuego think that the belief that spirits punish for misbehaviour is only for children, this belief becomes very widespread and very deep-rooted with the formation of the state. Thus, animistic notions become firmly merged with morality.

Primitive man believes that after death his existence will be just as it was before death. If he does allow for any differences, these bear no relation at all to his morality. If he believes that his clan issued from the turtle, he will not be averse to the idea that after death he himself will become a turtle. To him, the expression ‘Rest in the Lord’ would mean: ‘Once more adopt the form of a beast, or a fish, or a bird, or an insect, and so forth.’ We have a relic of this belief in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls which is very widespread even among civilised peoples. For example, India is a classical country of this doctrine. But among civilised nations the belief in the transmigration of souls is closely united with the conviction that after death comes the judgement of man’s conduct on earth.

The rules are set forth in the book of Manu [says Tylor] how souls endowed with the quality of goodness acquire divine nature, while souls governed by passion take up the human state, and souls sunk in darkness are degraded to brutes. Thus the range of migration stretches downward from gods and saints, through holy ascetics, Brahmans, nymphs, kings, counsellors, to actors, drunkards, birds, dancers, cheats, elephants, horses, Sudras, barbarians, wild beasts, snakes, worms, insects and inert things. Obscure as the relation mostly is between the crime and its punishment in a new life, there may be discerned through the code of penal transmigration an attempt at appropriateness of penalty and an intention to punish the sinner wherein he sinned. [84]

The belief in the transmigration of souls is a survival from that extremely remote period when there was still no dividing line in man’s perception between him and the animal. This survival was not equally strong everywhere. We come across only very weak allusions to it in the beliefs of the people of ancient Egypt. But its absence did not prevent the Egyptians from being convinced that in the other world there are judges who punish or reward men according to their behaviour in life. As everywhere else, in Egypt this conviction was not elaborated all at once. In the first period of the existence of the Egyptian state, it was evidently considered that man’s conduct in life had no influence on his existence beyond the grave. Only subsequently, in the Theban epoch, did the opposite view prevail. [85]

According to the Egyptian faith, man’s soul was committed to judgement after death and the sentence passed upon it determined its further existence. But it is noteworthy that this perspective of divine justice did not eliminate the conception among the Egyptians that people of different social classes would also lead different lives beyond the grave.

Egypt is an agricultural land, depending wholly for its existence on the Nile floods. To bring order into this flooding, a whole system of canals was created already in the depths of antiquity. Work on these canals was a natural obligation upon the Egyptian peasants. But the people of the upper classes escaped this obligation by appointing proxies. This circumstance was reflected also in the ideas of the Egyptians about life after death.

The Egyptian peasant was convinced that when he died he would be called on to dig and clean canals in the other world too. He reconciled himself to this proposition, probably consoling himself with the consideration that he could ‘do nothing’ about it. The people of the upper classes did not relish this prospect at all and a very simple method was devised to reassure them. Dolls (Ushabti) were placed in their graves, whose souls were to work for them in the other world. But the most prudent people were not content with this safeguard alone; they wondered: ‘But what will happen if the souls of these dolls refuse to work for me and go over to my enemies?’ To prevent this happening, some of them — probably the more wise and inventive — ordered this edifying inscription to be put on the dolls: ‘Hearken only to the one who made you, hearken not to his enemies.’ [86]

If we turn now from the Egyptians to the ancient Greeks, we shall see how their ideas on life after death also combined only gradually with the conception of punishment in the future life for earthly sins. True, Ulysses meets ‘Minos, glorious son of Zeus’, in Hades; Minos sits in judgement on the shades of the dead:

Wielding a golden sceptre,
giving sentence from his throne to the dead,
while they sat and stood around the prince
asking his dooms through the wide-gated house of Hades.

But, in describing further his stay among the shades of the deceased, Ulysses recalls the torment only of such outstanding sinners as Tityos, Sisyphus and Tantalus culpable mainly of sinning against the gods; in their ways of life in Hades, the remaining shades are indistinguishable from one another. The ‘lady mother’ of Ulysses, Anticleia, is in exactly the same spot as the hateful wife Eriphyle:

... who took fine gold for the price of her dear lord’s life.

This is quite different from The Divine Comedy, in which Dante apportions torment or bliss in strict conformity to man’s earthly behaviour. Moreover, in the Greek heroic period, the shades of the rulers who descend into the house of Hades remain as rulers, and the shades of the subjects remain as subjects. In The Odyssey Ulysses says to Achilles:

We Argives gave thee one honour with the gods
and now thou art a great prince among the dead.
Wherefore let not thy death be any grief to thee, Achilles.

But by Plato’s time there was evidently a widely-held belief that life after death was fully determined by man’s conduct on earth. Plato taught that people must expect rewards in the other world for good deeds and punishments for sins. In the Tenth Book of his Republic he makes Er the Pamphylian, whose soul has visited the other world, depict the frightful torment of the sinners, especially patricides and tyrants.

It is interesting that the torments are inflicted by terrifying, apparently fiery monsters. In these monsters it is not difficult to recognise ancestors of the Christian devils.


I said that religion represents a more or less orderly system of ideas, sentiments and actions. After what we have learned of the religions of various tribes and peoples, we should have no difficulty in realising how the first two of the three elements, viz, ideas and sentiments, originated.

Religious ideas are animistic in character and are the outcome of man’s inability to comprehend natural phenomena. Subsequently, the ideas arising from this source are joined by those animistic conceptions by means of which people personify and explain their relations among themselves.

As far as religious sentiments are concerned, they are founded on the feelings and aspirations of men which stem from particular social relations, and they change parallel with the changes in these relations.

Both one and the other — ideas and sentiments — can be explained only with the help of the proposition which runs: it is not consciousness that determines being, but being that determines consciousness.

It now remains for me to say something about the actions that are associated with religious ideas and sentiments. We already know in part how these actions are related to such ideas and sentiments. At a certain stage of cultural development, animistic ideas and the sentiments connected with them coalesce with morality in the broadest sense of the word, that is to say, with the conceptions people have of their reciprocal obligations. Man then begins to regard these obligations as commandments of God. But although the conception of these obligations merges with animistic ideas, it does not by any means spring from them. Morality appears prior to the start of the process whereby ideas related to morality are knitted together with belief in the existence of gods. Religion does not create morality. It only sanctities its rules, which grow out of a particular social system.

There are actions of another kind. They are inspired not by the relations between men, but by the relationship between men and gods or God. The totality of these actions is known as religious worship, or cult.

There is no need for me to dwell at length in this article on religious worship. I shall remark only that if man creates his god in his own image and likeness — and we now know that, within certain limits which I have indicated, that is quite correct — it is clear that he will conceive of his relationship with the ‘higher powers’, too, in the image and likeness of the relationships prevailing in the society to which he belongs, and which are familiar to him. This is also confirmed, by the way, by the example of totemism. It is further confirmed by the fact that in the eastern despotisms the chief gods were conceived of in the form of eastern despots, while in the Greek Olympus there prevailed relationships which were very reminiscent of the structure of Greek society in the Heroic age.

In his worship of the gods (in his cult) man performs those actions which appear necessary to him for the fulfilment of his obligations to the gods or God. [87] We already know that in return man expects certain services from the gods as a reward.

At the beginning, the relations between god and man resemble relations based on a mutual covenant, or, more exactly, on blood relationship. In the measure that social power develops, these relations change in the sense of man’s ever-growing consciousness of his subordination to God. This subordination reaches its most advanced stage in despotic states. In modern civilised societies, alongside the efforts to limit the powers of kings, came the trend towards ‘natural religion’ and to deism, that is, to a system of ideas wherein the power of God is restricted on all sides by the laws of Nature. Deism is celestial parliamentarism.

However, it is unquestionable, too, that even where man imagines himself to be the slave of his god, his worship always leaves a more or less considerable scope for magic, that is, for actions aimed at compelling the god to render certain services. We already know that the objective viewpoint of magic is the opposite of the subjective viewpoint of animism. The magician appeals to necessity in order to influence the arbitrariness of gods.

These, then, are the conclusions which we have drawn from an analysis of the component parts of religion. They will help us to comprehend the real nature of the religious seekings now going on in Russia. In studying these seekings, we shall see that some of them are an attempt to revive now dying animistic ideas. Those being conducted by Messrs Bulgakov, Merezhkovsky, Struve and Minsky are of this nature. The representatives of other searches would like to eliminate the animistic conceptions in religion, while keeping its other elements intact. Such are Mr Lunacharsky, and partly also Leo Tolstoy.

We shall also try to clear up the theoretical and practical value of the diverse searches of this kind. We shall see how these attempts themselves confirm by their very existence the correctness of the fundamental proposition of historical materialism: it is not being that is determined by consciousness, but consciousness that is determined by being. But already at this stage I feel justified in asserting that any attempt to eradicate the element of animism from religion contradicts the very nature of religion and is therefore doomed to failure. To eliminate animism from religion is to leave us only with morality in the widest meaning of the term. But morality is not religion. Morality appears before religion and can get along without its sanction.

Hydrochloric acid is a combination of chlorine and hydrogen. Take away the hydrogen and you are left with chlorine, but you will no longer have hydrochloric acid. Take away chlorine, and you will have hydrogen, but again no hydrochloric acid.

True, someone may point to Buddhism, which many investigators believe to be utterly alien to animism. If they were correct, my view would not stand up to criticism. Buddhism has about 500 million followers. In this respect — the numbers of its adherents — all other religions are far behind Buddhism. If Buddhism were alien to animism, it would mean that the most widely supported religion in the world would, by its example, prove not only the possibility, but the incontestable reality of that which I consider impossible and which could, therefore, have no place in real life. But that is not the case. We shall see that Buddhism is not at all alien to animistic ideas, but that these ideas do not have in it the same form as in other religions. Buddhism does not refute my view; it confirms it.

Second Article: Once More on Religion

I: An Essential Reservation

Religious questions of the day have at the present time a social significance. It is no longer a question of religious interests as such. Only the theologian can believe it is a question of religion as religion. — Karl Marx [88]

In the first article, I said that religion is a more or less orderly system of ideas, sentiments and actions, that is to say, a system more or less free of contradictions. Besides this, I said that religious ideas are animistic in character. So far as I am aware, there is no exception to this general rule. True, many people regard Buddhism as an atheistic religion. Since an atheistic religion — a ‘religion without God’ — may be easily taken to be a religion completely free of animism, I may, perhaps, be told that Buddhism is a highly important exception to the general rule indicated above. I will readily agree that if Buddhism had indeed no trace of animism, my general rule would prove to be seriously shaken. I will express myself even more strongly and say that in such circumstances my rule would no longer hold good. Actually, Buddhism has more believers than any other religion. And if it could be shown that Buddhism was a religion without animism, it would be strange, indeed, to maintain the view that animism was an inevitable component part of religion.

But can we really consider Buddhism to be a religion which is alien to animistic ideas? Some quite authoritative writers in this field say yes. Thus, for example, Rhys Davids writes:

Now the central position of the Buddhist alternative to those previous views of life was this — that Gotama not only ignored the whole of the soul theory, but even held all discussion as to the ultimate soul problems with which the Vedanta and the other philosophies were chiefly concerned, as not only childish and useless, but as actually inimical to the only ideal worth striving after — the ideal of a perfect life, here and now, in this present world, in Arahatship. [89]

I cannot argue with Rhys Davids; perhaps Gotama did indeed approach the question of the soul in that way. It is also possible that his conception of the soul was one in which there was no room for animism. It is beyond dispute, however, that not far from this ‘central position’ the matter took quite a different turn. To substantiate this, I shall refer to the same Rhys Davids. Here is what we read on pages 48-49 of his book on Buddhism:

Of Gotama’s childhood and early youth we know next to nothing from the earlier texts. But there are not wanting even there descriptions of the wonders that attended his birth, and of the marvellous precocity of the boy. He was not born as ordinary men are; he had no earthly father; he descended of his own accord into his mother’s womb from his throne in heaven; and he gave unmistakable signs, immediately after his birth, of his high character and of his future greatness. Earth and heaven at his birth united to pay him homage; the very trees bent of their own accord over his mother, and the angels and archangels were present with their help.

What is this, if not the most obvious animism?

Rhys Davids continues by quoting a very important text entitled The Discourse on Wonders and Marvels:

In it [he writes] is laid down as true of each Buddha (and therefore also of the historical Buddha) that the universe is illumined with brilliant light at the moment of his conception; that the womb is transparent so that his mother can see the babe before it is born; that the pregnancy lasts exactly 280 days; that the mother stands during parturition; that on the birth of the babe it is received first into the hands of heavenly beings, and that supernatural showers provide first hot and then cold water in which the child is bathed; that the future Buddha walks and speaks at once, and that the whole universe is again illumined with a brilliant light. There are other details, but this is enough to show — as the collection of dialogues is certainly one of the very oldest texts we have — how very short is the time (less than a century) required for such belief in the marvellous to spring up. [90]

The details expounded by Rhys Davids are, indeed, more than enough to demonstrate the strength of the Buddhist belief in the miraculous. But where there is the miraculous there is animism too. We see how the angels and archangels performed the role of midwives at the birth of Buddha. Here is what Rhys Davids has to tell us — again on the basis of ancient texts — of how the Buddha was wont to spend part of his nights:

And in the evening he would sit awhile alone... till his brethren... began to assemble. Then some would ask him questions on things that puzzled them... Thus would the first watch of the night pass, as the Blessed One satisfied the desire of each, and then they would take their leave. [91]

Again I ask: is this not obvious animism?

Buddhism is in no way alien to animism. It recognises the existence of ‘innumerable gods’ and spirits. But the relation between men and gods and spirits is depicted in this religion quite differently from what it is, for example, in Christianity. And this explains the error of those who regard Buddhism as an atheistic religion. Why, for instance, does Chantepie de la Saussaye speak of the ‘atheism’ of the Buddhists? Because, according to Buddhist teaching, Brahma with all his greatness is powerless before the one who has achieved Arahatship. [92] But when the medicine-men of the primitive hunting tribes resort to witchcraft, they perform acts which in their opinion force the gods to do their will; in other words, they make man in some senses stronger than the gods. However, this does not give us any right to call these medicine-men atheists. I am prepared to admit that in the Buddhist religion the conception of men’s relationships to the gods took a highly original form. But to attribute to this complex conception highly original form does not mean eliminating one of its two component parts: the notion of gods and spirits in general. Even if we assumed that Gotama himself was an atheist and as such was simply an advocate of morality, we should nevertheless have to acknowledge that after his death — and perhaps even in his lifetime — his followers introduced into his teaching an abundance of animistic elements, thus furnishing his doctrine with a religious character. Rhys Davids in relating the story of the Buddha’s childhood and early youth, cited by me above, adds that similar legends are told of all the founders of great religions and that ‘in a certain stage of intellectual progress it is a necessity of the human mind that such legends should grow up’. [93] That is absolutely correct. But at which stage precisely? Precisely at the one which is characterised by the appearance and consolidation of animism. Since religions originate exactly at this very wide stage of development, it is strange to think that even one of the religions could remain free of animistic notions; it is strange to hear of the ‘atheism’ of the Buddhists.

Religion alien to animistic notions has never yet existed, and, as I said, cannot exist.

II: Our Current Attempts to Found a Religion Free of ‘Supernatural’ Elements

a: Leo Tolstoy: I do not intend to make an analysis here of Leo Tolstoy’s teaching. It would be inappropriate and, in any case, unnecessary since it has been very well analysed in Lyubov Axelrod’s Tolstoi’s Weltanschauung und ihre Entwicklung. I wish only to touch on Tolstoy’s religion and that only in so far as it concerns the question of animism which I am interested in.

Leo Tolstoy himself considers his religion to be free of all ‘supernatural’ elements. To him, the supernatural is synonymous with the senseless and irrational. He pours scorn on those who are accustomed to think of the ‘supernatural otherwise the senseless’, as the principal distinguishing mark of religion.

To assert that the supernatural and irrational constitute the basic properties of religion [he says] is just the same as though someone who knew only rotten apples asserted that the flaccid bitter taste and the harmful effect on the stomach were the basic properties of the apple. [94]

What, in Leo Tolstoy’s opinion, is religion?

Answer: ‘Religion is the definition of man’s relationship to the beginning of all and of the purpose of man flowing from this and of the rules of conduct flowing from this purpose.’ [95]

In another part of the same work, Leo Tolstoy gives the following definition of religion:

True religion is the establishment by man of a relationship based on reason and knowledge with the infinite life surrounding him, a relationship which binds his life to this infinity and guides his conduct. [96]

At first glance, these definitions of religion, which are in essence completely identical, appear rather strange. The question inevitably arises: then why is this called religion? To determine one’s relationship to ‘the beginning of all’ or (as in the second definition) to ‘the infinite life’ surrounding man, does not mean to lay the foundations of a religious world-outlook. Similarly, to be guided in one’s behaviour by a view on ‘the beginning of all’ (on ‘infinite life’) does not mean to be religious. There is the example of Diderot, who very assiduously determined ‘his relationship to the beginning of all’ and built his system of ethics on this definition; but in that period of his life when his view on ‘the beginning of all’ had become the view of a convinced materialist, he was not at all religious. What then is the point here? It seems to me that the whole point lies in the word ‘purpose’. Leo Tolstoy thinks that man, by determining his relationship to ‘the beginning of all’, thereby determines his ‘purpose’ in life. But this ‘purpose’ presupposes, firstly, the subject or being for whom it is laid down — in this case, man — and, secondly, the being or power who gives man his ‘purpose’. This being or power obviously possesses consciousness; otherwise it could not give man his ‘purpose’, place a definite task before him. How are we to conceive of this conscious being? Tolstoy provides a clear reply to this question too. He does not like the present-day teaching of religion. In his opinion, we should not inculcate children with and confirm in adults ‘the belief that God sent His own Son to atone for the sins of Adam, and established His Church to exact obedience’. [97] He believes it would be incomparably better if the children were ‘inculcated with and confirmed in the belief that God is a spirit whose manifestation is within us and whose power we can increase by our way of life’. [98] But to suggest to children that God is a spirit whose manifestation is within us is to put animistic ideas into their minds. So, as it turns out, the conscious being who furnishes man with his purpose in life is a spirit. What is a spirit? I said enough about this in my first article. Here I shall confine myself to the remark that if a spirit is, as we know, a being by whose volition natural phenomena are occasioned, it must stand above nature; in other words, it must be regarded as a supernatural being. [99] Which means that Leo Tolstoy is mistaken in thinking that his religion is free of ‘supernatural’ beliefs.

What led him to make this mistake? In his conception, the ‘supernatural’ is identical with the ‘senseless’ and irrational. But his own personal belief in the existence of God, who ‘is a spirit’, did not seem to him to be senseless and irrational; on the contrary, he regarded it as a display of sound common sense and of the highest intelligence, and therefore he decided that there was no place in his religion for the ‘supernatural’. He either forgot or did not know that belief in the ‘supernatural’ simply means the recognition of the existence of spirits or a spirit (it is all the same which). In various historical epochs, the belief in spirits (animism) acquires such highly different forms that the people of one epoch describe as senseless the belief in the ‘supernatural’ which was regarded as a manifestation of the highest intelligence during another epoch, or even during several epochs. But these misunderstandings among people holding the animistic point of view did not in the least alter the fundamental nature of the belief common to them all: the belief in the existence of one or several ‘supernatural’ powers. It is only because this belief was common to all of them that they could be said to have religion. Religion alien to animistic ideas has never yet existed, nor can it exist; the conceptions inherent in religion always have a more or less animistic nature. The example of Leo Tolstoy’s religion may serve as a further illustration of this truth. Leo Tolstoy is an animist, and his moral aspirations have a religious colouring only to the extent that they are combined with belief in a God, who is a ‘spirit’ and who has determined man’s purpose on earth.

b) A Lunacharsky: As for Mr A Lunacharsky, I shall be compelled to dwell upon his religious ‘seekings’ in greater detail. This seems to me to be necessary, firstly, because his ‘religion’ is very much less known than Leo Tolstoy’s and, secondly, the more so since he had, and may still have, a certain positive attitude to Russian Marxism.

Unfortunately, in examining Mr A Lunacharsky’s religious ‘seekings’, I shall have to speak partly about myself. The circumstances are such that lately many Russian writers engaged in refuting one or other principle of Marxism thought fit to direct their ‘critical’ weapons against my ‘humble self’ (meine Wenigkeit, as the Germans say). It does enter my head occasionally that I have some cause to be gratified with this. Still, it is very tedious.

Mr A Lunacharsky takes me on, one might say, first and foremost, by translating into Russian and criticising my reply to the questionnaire on the future of religion sponsored by Mercure de France in 1907. [100] To give him his due, he summarises the content of my reply accurately:

Thus [he says] Plekhanov maintains that religion is, above all, a definite and animistic explanation of phenomena. Subsequently, ‘spirits’ were called upon to guard the moral laws, the source of which was seen in their volition. Now phenomena have received another explanation. Spirits are no longer at hand, and ‘this hypothesis is not required any more for the pursuit of knowledge’, as Laplace said, so that morality must reject supernatural sanction and find a natural one. The supernatural is thrown out by scientific realism and there is no further room for religion. [101]

That is indeed my opinion. True, I did not use the expression ‘scientific realism’ which seems to me to be somewhat indeterminate. But that is not important here. Mr Lunacharsky has even greater regard for the truth when he adds: ‘Engels held the same point of view as Plekhanov.’ [102] Although on the following pages he forgets my solidarity with Engels, and takes me alone to task, it is all to the good that he does not deny that solidarity. Mr A Lunacharsky’s friend, Mr Bogdanov, takes another line: he is forever striving to drive a wedge between Engels and myself, and to put me down under the heading of eighteenth-century ‘bourgeois-materialism’. That is a lot worse. However, be that as it may, the fact is that Mr A Lunacharsky is not satisfied with my view on religion. He offers to it the definition of religion given by Vandervelde. [103] This definition, says Mr Lunacharsky, is ‘more profound than Plekhanov’s, less narrow, less rationalist’. [104] However later he announces that Mr Vandervelde, too, mixes truth and error; and some lines further on it turns out that in his definition of religion the celebrated Belgian socialist relies on ‘pure Kantianism’. And that is true. But it is useless for Mr Lunacharsky to remark after that: ‘In the present instance, we appear to be closer to comrade Plekhanov.’ [105] That is quite untrue. ‘Pure Kantianism’ did not hinder E Vandervelde from providing a definition of religion which, in Mr Lunacharsky’s opinion, is more profound and less narrow than ‘Plekhanov’s’. Thus, when all is said and done, Mr A Lunacharsky is closer to E Vandervelde than to Plekhanov. [106]

That too by the way. The main consideration is that Mr Lunacharsky wants a religion without God:

Yes [he exclaims], the needs of ‘practical reasons’, that is to say, of man’s longing for happiness can neither be declared non-existent or unimportant, nor answered by science as such; but to conclude from this that these needs will always be met by fables that are irrefutable only because their sources are outside the limits of sensual nature, is to present humanity with a certificate of poverty of ‘spirit’. [107]

Mr A Lunacharsky is confident that ‘modern man’ can have religion without God, and ‘to prove that this is possible is to deal the final blow at God’. [108] Since our author is very anxious ‘to deal the final blow at God’, he takes it upon himself to prove ‘that this is possible’, and with this in mind he turns to Feuerbach. He thinks that ‘there is not one materialist who has dealt such a shattering blow at religion, positive religion and any belief in God, the other world, and the supernatural as Ludwig Feuerbach did’. [109] ‘After Feuerbach, the religion of God was philosophically dead.’ [110] Later we shall verify by the example of Mr A Lunacharsky himself whether the ‘religion of God’ is really dead. In the meantime, let us see what Mr A Lunacharsky likes about Feuerbach (apart from the ‘killing of God’):

Feuerbach’s definition of religion is nowhere formulated quite satisfactorily [he says], but the reader will feel at once the vast difference between Feuerbach and the social-democratic rationalists and enlighteners when reading the lines: ‘Religion is the solemn revelation of the treasures hidden in man, the acknowledgment of his inner thoughts, the open confession of the secret of his love.’ Here Feuerbach has grasped religion by the heart and not by the clothes as comrade Plekhanov does. [111]

After citing another passage from Feuerbach, in which he voices the thought that in all religions man worships his own essence, Mr A Lunacharsky then considers it possible to oppose the philosophical profundity of Feuerbach to the ‘scientific superficiality of Tylor, from whom comrade Plekhanov borrowed his definition’. [112]

But no matter from whom ‘comrade Plekhanov’ borrowed his definition of religion, we already know that on the question now under discussion this ‘comrade’ held the same view as Engels, as Mr A Lunacharsky himself has admitted. It follows, therefore, that the contrasting of Feuerbach with his ‘philosophical profundity’ to Tylor with his ‘scientific superficiality’ is manifestly a blow — if it really is one — not only at ‘comrade Plekhanov’ but also at ‘comrade Engels’. Do not imagine, reader, that in constantly bringing this up, I am trying to shield myself from my dread critic by hiding behind one of the founders of scientific socialism. Not in the least. It is not a matter of my being afraid — if I am afraid — of Mr A Lunacharsky, but of what he has to say. Here is some of it:

I think that from a religious-philosophical point of view Marx brilliantly continued the work of elevating anthropology to the level of theology, that is, he finally helped human self-consciousness to become human religion. [113]

This thought of Mr A Lunacharsky’s was prompted by something Feuerbach said: ‘I reduce theology to anthropology and thereby elevate anthropology to the level of theology.’ Look what we have got now. Marx, brilliantly continuing the work started by Feuerbach, ‘finally helped human self-consciousness to become human religion’. But it is well known that Engels constantly shared Marx’s views and was his unfailing collaborator. Never at any time did he have any differences with Marx on the question of religion; which means that at least part of the credit which Mr A Lunacharsky gives to Marx belongs to Engels; which means that Engels also was by no means a stranger to comprehension of the profound Feuerbachian view on the ‘heart’ of religion. Yet on the other hand, ‘Engels held the same point of view as Plekhanov’. And Plekhanov in his views on religion reveals narrowness, an unnecessary rationalism, shallowness of thought and approximates to Tylor, who, if we are to believe Mr A Lunacharsky, gives a definition of religion ‘current among bourgeois and social-democratic free-thinking publicists’. [114] Where and what is the truth here?

Come, reader, let us look for the truth ourselves. We have little hopes of Mr A Lunacharsky.

Marx, who ‘finally helped human self-consciousness to become human religion’, says in the article on Proudhon written immediately after the letter’s death:

Nevertheless his attacks on religion, the church, etc, were of great merit locally at a time when the French Socialists deemed fit to be superior in religiosity to the bourgeois Voltairianism of the eighteenth century and the German godlessness of the nineteenth. If Peter the Great defeated Russian barbarism by barbarity, Proudhon did his best to vanquish French phrase-mongering by phrases. [115]

These words of Marx give grounds for thinking that he looked on all talk of transforming ‘human self-consciousness into human religion’ as phrase-mongering. And that in fact was Marx’s position, nor could it have been otherwise. Marx’s attitude to religion was completely negative, as anyone will easily realise who takes the trouble to read his well-known article ‘Zur Kritik der Hegel’schen Rechtsphilosophie’.

When he wrote this article, he still agreed with Feuerbach’s views on religion and accepted fully, in its essentials, Feuerbach’s criticism of religion. But, and in spite of Feuerbach himself, Marx drew some ‘irreligious’ conclusions from this criticism. He said:

The basis of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. In other words (und zwar), religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again (der sich selbst entweder noch nicht erworben, oder schon wieder verloren hat). But man is no abstract being encamped outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, an inverted world-consciousness, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realisation of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma... Religion is only the illusory sun which revolves round man as long as he does not revolve round himself. [116]

Judge for yourself now how splendidly Mr A Lunacharsky has understood Marx in declaring his teaching to be ‘the fifth great religion formulated by Judaism’, [117] and taking upon himself the role of modern prophet of this ‘fifth religion’. Apparently Mr Lunacharsky does not in the least suspect that he is saying the exact opposite of what Marx said. To Marx, religion is inverted world consciousness produced by inverted social relations. Therefore, concludes Mr A Lunacharsky, we must attempt to invert human world consciousness even if social relations cease to be inverted. According to Marx, religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again. So that — our eloquent and sensitive author deduces — religion must certainly exist even when man has ‘found’ himself. Marx says that religion is only the illusory sun which revolves round man because he has not yet learned to revolve round himself. So — concludes our modern prophet of the ‘fifth religion’ — the illusory sun must exist even when man has learned to revolve round himself. What staggering conclusions! What iron logic!

And Engels?

In replying to Carlyle’s attempt to perform almost the same operation on human self-consciousness as Mr A Lunacharsky would now like to perform, Engels wrote: ‘Religion by its very essence drains man and nature of substance, and transfers this substance to the phantom of an other-worldly God, who in turn then graciously permits man and nature to receive some of his superfluity.’ [118] True, Mr A Lunacharsky tells us that he wishes to create a ‘religion without God’. Perhaps Engels would have condoned such a religion? No, Engels disapproved of such a religion too. He found that now all possibility of religion had disappeared ('alle Möglichkeiten der Religion sind erschöpft’) and that to man must now be returned the content which had been transferred to God: but it must be returned not as divine, but as purely human. ‘And this whole process of giving’, he wrote, ‘is no more than simply the awakening of self-consciousness.’ [119] Here we should note that in this, his own view, Engels was much more true to the teaching on religion which constitutes Feuerbach’s real service. Indeed, according to this teaching, religion is the fantastic reflection of the human essence. Therefore, when human self-consciousness reaches that stage of development where the fog of fantasy is dispersed by the light of reason, all possibility for religion will of necessity prove to have disappeared. Feuerbach himself did not draw this conclusion, since he considered it possible and necessary to propagate the religion of the heart, love. [120] But, in spite of what Mr Lunacharsky has said, we have to see in this not Feuerbach’s merit, not his profundity, but his weakness, the concession he made to idealism. This is how Engels understood it, and here, of course, he was once more in complete agreement with Marx. He could not have expressed himself more definitely on this point than he did in his pamphlet on Feuerbach:

The real idealism of Feuerbach [we read there], becomes evident as soon as we come to his philosophy of religion and ethics. He by no means wishes to abolish religion; he wants to perfect it. Philosophy itself must be absorbed in religion... Feuerbach’s idealism consists here in this: he does not simply accept mutual relations based on reciprocal inclination between human beings, such as sex love, friendship, compassion, self-sacrifice, etc, as what they are in themselves — without associating them with any particular religion which to him, too, belongs to the past; but instead he asserts that they will attain their full value only when consecrated by the name of ‘religion’. The chief thing for him is not that these purely human relations exist, but that they shall be conceived of as the new, true religion. They are to have full value only after they have been marked with a religious stamp. [121]

Further, after pointing out that the noun ‘religion’ is derived from the word religare, so that it is thought by some that every mutual bond between people is religion, [122] Engels continues: ‘Such etymological tricks are the last resort of idealist philosophy.’ [123] It would be as well for Mr Lunacharsky not to forget these words; even though he is extremely hostile to materialist philosophy, he still claims to be a supporter of the theory of historical materialism.

In the same passage, Engels makes mocking reference to Feuerbach’s attempt to constitute a religion without God — the attempt that has so delighted Mr A Lunacharsky:

If Feuerbach wishes to establish a true religion upon the basis of an essentially materialist conception of nature, that is the same as regarding modern chemistry as true alchemy. If religion can exist without its god, alchemy can exist without its philosopher’s stone. [124]

A very just remark. However, we must remember that the religion composed by Lunacharsky does not remain long ‘without God’. On page 104 of his book we already discover that it was not in vain that Strauss recognised in allegory the existence of a power that works miracles:

Because [our exalted author proclaims] there are being accomplished before our eyes miracles of the victory of reason and will over nature, the sick are healed, mountains are moved, stormy oceans are navigated with ease, thought flies on the wings of electricity from one hemisphere to another, and gazing on the successes of Genius, should we not say: who is this to whom even the turbulent seas submit? Do we not feel how the God born between the ox and the ass grows stronger? [125]

This eloquent tirade, which would probably have aroused stormy applause at the recent congress of missionaries, heavily underlines my contention that religion is impossible without animistic notions. When a man who wanted to invent a religion without God ‘feels how the God born between the ox and the ass grows stronger’, it proves that I am right: there is no religion without a god; where there is a religion there must be a god. And not only a god, but perhaps even a goddess, since it is not good even for a god to be alone. Here is what Mr Lunacharsky writes on page 147 of his divine hook, addressing himself to nature:

Perfidious, soulless Nature, mighty, resplendent in the beauty, extravagantly rich: thou shalt be the most obedient slave; in thee man shalt plumb the depths of happiness. The very outbursts of thy rebellion and the depth of thy fatal indifference, thy perfidy of a being unreasonable, enchanting and great goddess, the perils of love alone with thee — will enrapture the male heart of man.

Religion is impossible without animistic notions. That is why Mr Lunacharsky, the preacher of a ‘religion without God’, employs a language that is appropriate only where there is at least one god and at least one goddess. That is perfectly natural. But precisely because it is natural, we should not wonder why our author is more and more at variance with the founders of scientific socialism, and more and more in agreement with... the apostle Paul. According to Mr Lunacharsky, the apostle Paul ‘brilliantly approaches the essence of religion’ when he says:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans: 8: 18-23) [126]

In another passage, to which I shall return later, Mr Lunacharsky writes: ‘We, together with the apostle Paul, can say: “We are saved by hope.''’ [127] I am very glad for Mr Lunacharsky’s sake if it really is so. But has it not occurred to him that he has produced the following, somewhat unexpected combination: Engels has the ‘same point of view as Plekhanov’, while the apostle Paul is ‘saved by hope’ together with Mr A Lunacharsky? Personally, I have nothing against such a combination, but does it suit our author, who has claimed, and still claims, to be a follower of Marx and Engels? I have strong doubts about it.

Having indicated how the apostle Paul ‘brilliantly approaches the essence of religion’, Mr Lunacharsky then presents his own definition of religion. Here it is: ‘Religion is such thinking about the world and such world-sensation as psychologically resolves the contrast between the laws of life and the laws of nature.[128] He does not regard this definition as conclusive. He says: ‘This is a general definition of religion that does not embrace all its essential aspects.’ But he hopes that the other properties of religion may be extracted from this definition. [129] Don’t his hopes beguile him?

Religion is a certain kind of ‘thinking about the world’ and a certain ‘world-sensation’. Good. And what is the distinguishing feature of this thinking which is peculiar to religion? Mr Lunacharsky tells us that this thinking changes with the progress of the intellectual development of mankind:

Mythological creation gave way to metaphysics and, finally, to exact science; the belief in magic collapsed and was replaced by belief in labour. In place of animism, there is now scientific energetics; in the place of magic, there is now modern technique. [130]

Let us assume for a moment that energetics is precisely the world-outlook which must now take the place of ‘magic’ and animism. But, I ask, how will religion affect the thinking of people who uphold the mode of thought referred to as ‘energetics'? If these people could deify energy, the question could be answered very simply: deification presupposes a religious relationship to one’s subject. But to deify is to personify, and to personify is, in the present instance, to have recourse to animism, in the place of which there now stands, according to Mr Lunacharsky, scientific energetics. But where is the way out of all this? It is not visible in the direction of ‘thinking’. Mr Lunacharsky is himself more or less vaguely aware of this. He has no sooner pointed out that animism has now been replaced by scientific energetics, and magic by modern technique, than he adds:

But has this changed anything in the religious essence of the human soul? Has man really attained happiness? Are there really no great desires still alive in his soul? Have his dreams of true happiness become dimmer and his ideals more lacklustre and closer? If this were the case, Hartmann would be right: humanity would, indeed, have become ‘positive’, that is, commercially calculating, easily satisfied, sluggish and decrepit. [131]

Mankind in the person of the advanced class in modern society has become neither easily satisfied, sluggish, nor decrepit. It has not yet attained happiness; it is still filled with many desires, its dreams of happiness are undimmed and its ideals bright. This is all true. And, if you like, it is all connected with ‘world-sensation’. But I ask again: where does religion come in? Mr Lunacharsky himself sees that it has nothing to do with the case; so he thinks further explanations are required:

Despondency is alive in man [he writes], and he who cannot conceive the world religiously is foredoomed to pessimism unless he be a common philistine ready to repeat with Chekhov’s teacher: ‘I'm happy, I'm happy.’ If despondency in primitive man was a pining for life to continue, a yearning for protection from his menacing surroundings, the modern form of despondency is a craving to dominate nature. This is the great change that has taken place in man’s religious sensations. [132]

Thus, despondency is alive in man, and religion is an escape from it, since ‘he who cannot conceive the world religiously is foredoomed to pessimism unless he be a common philistine’. It is not easy to find anything to object to this; it is all a matter of personal ‘world-sensation’. There are people whose state of despondency drives them to drink. There are others whose despondent condition (more truly, a different variety of despondency) goads them to seek consolation in one of the old religions. Finally, there are those with still another variety of despondency which impels them to dream of some new religion. I am very well aware of all that. But I shall risk being called a ‘common philistine’ and admit that I am quite unable to understand why ‘the craving to dominate nature’ must inevitably take the form of despondency, and, moreover, a despondency predisposing to religion. I believe Mr Lunacharsky is sincere and, consequently, do not doubt that in him the said ‘craving’ has turned into ‘despondency’. Besides, I assume that our prophet of the ‘fifth religion’ has a certain retinue who are also transforming ‘craving’ into ‘despondency’, and ‘despondency’ into religion. There are many despondent people — and more who spread despondency — in present-day Russia. And this has its own social cause. But here I envisage this phenomenon for the moment only from the point of view of logic, and would like to know what logical principles permit Mr A Lunacharsky, with a skill close to that of a military man, to deduce the said ‘despondency’ from the said ‘craving’. The answer is contained in the words: ‘contrast between the laws of life and the laws of nature’ contained in Mr A Lunacharsky’s definition of religion which I quoted above. What is this contrast?

Mr A Lunacharsky, who is known to adhere to the ‘philosophical’ theory of Mach and Avenarius, quite suddenly refers to himself as a materialist in a certain sense of the word. He says: ‘We are not idealists; we are materialists in the sense that we find nothing in common between the laws of the physical world and our truths and ideals, our moral world.’ [133] Theoretically that is false, ‘in the sense’ that since not one serious materialist has ever posed the question as to whether there was anything in common between the laws of the physical world and our truths and ideals. [134] To pose such a question is to commensurate the incommensurable. It is a fact, though, that in the opinion of all serious materialists, a person can discover the truth by studying nature’s laws (in the broadest sense of the term) and fulfil his ideals by relying upon these laws. Mr A Lunacharsky knows nothing at all of materialist literature. This is obvious from the nonsense he has talked about the materialism of Diderot and Holbach in the article ‘Atheism’, published in the collection Essays on the Philosophy of Marxism. [135] Only as a consequence of his complete ignorance of materialism could our prophet of the ‘fifth religion’ call himself a materialist in the sense he indicated. But by this vain attempt to line up in the materialist camp he wished only to reinforce the proposition that ‘moral powers supposedly ruling the world do not exist’. [136] This proposition is correct, in spite of its childishly naive basis: the powers he talks about do not exist. It is a pity only that this proposition, correct in itself, takes on a very peculiar tang when propounded by Mr A Lunacharsky. Citing the ‘splendid’ work of Harald Höffding on religion, and trying to put us in a religious frame of mind, Mr A Lunacharsky writes:

Science brings us to the law of eternal energy, but this energy, remaining quantitatively equal to itself, may vary in the sense of its value to man. The death of a man, let us say, for example, Lassalle, or Marx, or Raphael, or Georg Büchner, changes nothing in the equations of energetics, but it is considered a misfortune, a loss in the world of feeling, in the world of values. Progress is above all the growth of the quantity and the height of cultural values. Is progress an immanent law of nature? If we answer ‘yes’, we are pure metaphysicians, since we confirm that which is not guaranteed to us by science. [137]

These observations open the door to religion, which is regarded, according to the definition given by Höffding, as concern for the destinies of values. But for religion understood in this sense to afford us some kind of consolation in misfortunes of the sort mentioned by Mr Lunacharsky, we have to recognise the existence of ‘moral powers’, which stand above nature and whose laws are expressed in the equations of energetics; otherwise our ‘concern for the destiny of values’ will, in the religious sense, lead to a dead end. But then Mr Lunacharsky does not admit the existence of ‘moral powers supposedly ruling the world’. Consequently, he can do nothing but contradict himself: and he does this with striking success.

As we have only just seen, Mr Lunacharsky declares in his book that he who answers ‘yes’ to the question: is progress an immanent law of nature?, is a pure metaphysician. But in his article ‘Atheism’ mentioned above he asserts categorically: ‘Material evolution and spiritual progress coincide. There is the great truth which the proletariat sensed and discovered in philosophy.’ [138]

The same truth, although not so ‘highly colourful’, is also repeated, incidentally, in Mr A Lunacharsky’s book — which, in general, limps badly from the standpoint of logic. Consequently, the reader would be mistaken if he thought that the contradiction I have mentioned is only between what Mr A Lunacharsky writes in his book and what he writes in his article. No, the book also contradicts itself. Here is an example.

After remarking that science never provides certainty but always only probability, though this probability is often practically equal to certainty, Mr A Lunacharsky fortifies this remark even more by the following observation: ‘That which applies to science in general applies in an incomparably greater measure to complex scientific predictions: the destiny of the world, of the earth, of humanity.’ [139] But we scarcely have time to grasp the importance of this observation and to say to ourselves: so ‘in an incomparably greater measure’ we cannot have the certainty, for instance, of the triumph of socialism, before Mr A Lunacharsky hastens to reassure us: ‘Socialism as the future’, he says, ‘thanks to the Marxian analysis of the trends of capitalist society, possesses probability bordering on certainty.’ [140] Again we take the word of our prophet for granted and say to ourselves, with a sigh of relief: ‘In that case, we have nothing to fear for the destiny of that “value” which we call socialism, and we have no need to call upon the help of religion; science will vouch for socialism.’ But if we were completely reassured on this point we would no longer need a prophet. Therefore, the prophet puts fear into us again. He says:

Science is more likely to be against us in the more general question of whether life, organic matter, reason — in their self-assertion confronting insensate matter, nature [as if organic matter were not a part of nature! — GP] which like Cronus is ready to devour her own children will be victorious. [141]

We tremble again and exclaim:

Mr Lunacharsky, give us a religion which is concern for the destinies of our ‘values'! But in supplying us with religion, do take the trouble to explain just how this concern is manifested.

It goes without saying that our prophet has a ready answer to this. He goes off into an eloquent harangue, which I feel myself bound to reproduce in almost all its completeness for the edification of non-believers:

There are no limits to knowledge and the technique founded on it. Think of the psychical life of the Mollusca — our ancestors — and then of wireless telegraphy. Yet the psychical life of our descendants, not so remote perhaps, in the run of progress will just as miraculously surpass ours as the brain-power of Faraday or Marconi excels that of the nerve-cell of the Protozoa. [There they are, the supermen predicted by Nietzsche! — GP] There are no limits to the power of thoughts, that is to say, the expedient self-organisation of the social cerebro-nervous system, and together with it, no limit to the progress of technique. We can say only that there is struggle ahead. This struggle will commence on a new, unheard-of scale precisely after the victory of the social principles of socialism. Socialism is humanity’s organised struggle with nature for its complete subjection to reason; in the hope of victory, in aspiration, in the straining of all our forces, there is a new religion. Together with the apostle Paul we may say: ‘We are saved by hope.’ The new religion cannot lead to passivity, which is the upshot of every other religion giving an absolute guarantee of the triumph of good — the new religion passes wholly into action. ‘Man was born not for contemplation’, says Aristotle, ‘but for action'; and the principle of delighted contemplation is now being ousted from religion and replaced by the principle of ceaseless activity. The new religion, the religion of mankind, the religion of labour, gives no guarantees. But I suppose that even without God and without guarantees — the mask of the self-same God — it remains a religion. [142]

So there is no limit to the progress of technique. Therefore, ‘we can say only that there is struggle ahead’. Quite true. But since we can say ‘only’ that there is struggle ahead, we must, therefore, say that there must be and will be a new religion. Logical! Further: religion is concern about the destinies of ‘values’. This concern makes sense only if it provides some form of guarantee. From this we deduce along with Mr Lunacharsky that what we need is a religion which gives no guarantee of any kind: namely, one that is bereft of all sense. That again could not be more logical!

But that is still not all. Do you really think Mr A Lunacharsky’s religion has no god? You are mistaken. I have already pointed out that this religion has the irrepressible desire to give birth to at least one god — ‘between the ox and the ass’ — and to at least one goddess. If the reader felt sceptical about this, he shall do penance by listening to the prophet himself:

But is it true that we now have no God? [Mr Lunacharsky reflects] Does not the conception of God signify something eternally beautiful? Is it not in this image (when this idea is conveyed in image) that everything human is exalted to the highest potentiality — hence its beauty? [143]

Then, after a long and not very clever wrangle with Dietzgen, the prophetic lover of beauty repeats: ‘And I am left without God, because he is neither in the world nor outside it.’ Here again it looks as though the prophet has at last decided, not without regret, to invent his promised ‘religion without God’. But yet again we are deceived by appearances. Mr Lunacharsky once more lapses into meditation. ‘But, however...’, he remarks, and in a tone giving us clearly to understand that his religion, notwithstanding his clear promise to us, will, after all, have a God. Recollecting, and in passing berating Sorel’s ‘vile doctrine’ of the general strike as a social myth, the prophet continues:

But the theory of the social myth was never more applicable than in the domain of the new religious consciousness (proletarian, and not in the aristo-Berdyaev style). God as Omniscience, Beatitude, Omnipotence, the Universal, Eternal Life, is really all mankind in the highest potentiality. Then let us say it: God is mankind in the highest potentiality. But mankind in the highest potentiality does not exist? That is sacred truth. However mankind does exist in reality, concealing its potentialities within itself. Let us then worship the potentialities of mankind, our potentialities, and conceive of them in the crown of glory in order the more strongly to love them. [144]

Having finally invented a God, the prophet, comme de raison, falls into a prayerful mood, and then and there séance tenante composes a prayer: ‘Let the Kingdom of God prevail’, he implores. Regnum gloriae, the apotheosis of man, the victory of reasonable being over sister nature, beautiful in her unreason. ‘His Will shall be.’ The Will of the Master from limit to limit, that is, without limit. ‘Holy be His Name.’ On the throne of worlds shall take his seat Someone in the image of man, and the well-organised world, through the lips of living and dead elements and by the voice of its beauty, exclaims: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy; Heaven and Earth abounds with Thy Glory.’ [145]

Mr A Lunacharsky feels fine after his prayer. ‘And the man-God will look round and smile’, he prophesies, ‘for everything is very good.’ [146] Who knows, perhaps it might be like this; if so it will be a great comfort. There is only one fly in the ointment: not everything by far in our prophet’s dissertations is ‘very good’. His recitals leave very much to be desired. The religion devised by Mr Lunacharsky has only one ‘value’, true, a quite big one: it may put the serious reader into a very cheerful mood. And the more serious-minded the reader, the more fun he will get out of reading the prophet’s book and article.

None the less, the new religion, so well-argued (hm!) in these comic works, must command attention as an index of the social mood. Marx did not speak idly when he said that religious questions now have social significance and that only theologians could think of religion as such. In composing his religion, Mr Lunacharsky was simply adapting himself to the social mood now prevailing in our country. At the present time, for many reasons of a social character, there is in Russia a great demand for ‘religion’. [147] And where there is demand there is supply. Mr Lunacharsky generally keeps a very close eye on what is in demand. When there was the demand for syndicalism, he hastened to air himself in our literature arm-in-arm with the well-known Italian syndicalist Arturo Labriola, whom on this suitable occasion he presented as a Marxist. When the demand for religion arose, he took the stage as a prophet of the ‘fifth religion’. If the reading public were to respond unfavourably to religion, he would find it opportune to remember that his religion was planned at first as a religion without God, and would make the timely conjecture that such a religion was really not a religion at all, but a play upon words. Verily, verily, I say unto you: Mr A Lunacharsky is like a coquette — he wishes to please, no matter what the cost. Unfortunately, there have always been such people around. But why does he think that he will please precisely in the role of prophet of the ‘fifth religion'? What particular social reason promises him some success in this role? To put it briefly: why is there now in Russia a demand for religion?

I shall reply by using Mr Lunacharsky’s own words: ‘Despondency is alive in man.’ By this I wish to say: in the Russian of today. ‘Alive’ and very strong. The explanation lies in the great events that have occurred in Russia in recent years. Under the impact of these events, many many ‘intellectuals’ have lost faith in the triumph of any more or less advanced social ideal in the near future. This is now all too familiar a situation. When people lose hope in the victory of a social ideal, the first ‘concern’ which then arises is for their own precious personality. And uppermost is their ‘concern’ about what is to become of that personality after its ‘earthly covering’ has passed away. Science, with what Mr Lunacharsky calls its equations of energetics, gives a fairly comfortless reply to this question: it utters a threat of personal non-existence. Therefore the good gentlemen who are concerned about their precious personality do not exactly relinquish the scientific viewpoint altogether — that is just not done these days — but adopt a system of double book-keeping. They say: ‘Knowledge is one thing and faith is another; science is one thing and religion is another. Science does not secure my personal immortality, but religion does. Long live religion!’ That is how the matter is argued, for example, by Mr Merezhkovsky, whose religious seekings will be examined in my next article. Mr Merezhkovsky’s ‘religion’ is thoroughly saturated with uncompromising individualism. To Mr Lunacharsky’s credit it should be said that he does not suffer from an excess of that individualism. True, without noticing it, he often uses that tone himself. As an example of this, I recall his (theoretically very strange) observation that ‘we find nothing in common between the laws of the physical world and our truths and ideals’. This observation, which is absurd from a theoretical standpoint, makes sense only to the degree that it expresses the state of split mind usual in a man who has lost faith in a social ideal and is now utterly absorbed in his own precious person. In speaking this way, Mr Lunacharsky is making a concession to prevailing public opinion. He could not accommodate himself to it otherwise. But having made the concession, he at once makes the reader understand that he, Mr A Lunacharsky, as a ‘true socialist’, has penetrated deeply the essence of the relationship between the individual and the species. To him, reality is the species, humanity, while the individual is but a partial expression of that essence. [148] His ‘religion’ and his preaching of love are based upon this thought:

The individual ends with death [he says], but another device elaborated in struggle furnishes the reply to this fact: reproduction, connected with love. This removes the living organism outside the boundary of narrow individual existence; it expresses itself in the presence therein at first of ultra-individual instincts, and later in specific self-consciousness, in love for the species. [149]

The same aim of struggle with the extremes of despondent individualism compels Mr Lunacharsky to expatiate on cooperation as the basis of ultra-individual life:

Society is cooperation, the whole, embracing individuals and groups and opening up horizons in the domain of knowledge and technique which are completely inaccessible to separate individuals... Socialism moves in the direction of world development which, by way of struggle and selection, creates ever more complex and mighty individualities of a higher calibre. [150]

All Mr Lunacharsky’s ‘colourful’ prophesies have the aim of doctoring the moral ulcers of the all-Russia ‘intellectual’ who has been stricken with despondency. This is the imprint on his religious seeking. Our prophet willingly talks about the proletariat, the proletarian viewpoint, the proletarian struggle, etc. But with the proletariat as such, the proletariat für sich, with the working class which has achieved self-consciousness, Mr Lunacharsky has nothing ‘in common’. He is a typical Russian ‘intellectual’, one of the most impressionable, most superficial and therefore least steadfast among them. These peculiarities of his type of intellect explain all his metamorphoses which he naively imagines to be a sign of advance. The fact that it occurred to him to invest socialism in a religious habit and even compose an amusing litany to the god-humanity, could only have happened because the low-spirited Russian ‘intelligentsia’ had taken to religion. Ivan Kireyevsky once used the expression: ‘the padded-jacket of modern despondency’. Many people thought this expression rather droll. But droll subjects should have droll titles. When I read the book Religion and Socialism, I said to myself: Mr Lunacharsky has made himself a padded-jacket of modern despondency. And I still think that my first impression was not deceptive.

Now let us turn our attention to the other side of the same question. Like the one we have just considered it is extremely instructive.

At the end of his article ‘Atheism’, Mr Lunacharsky writes:

Let us discard the tattered mantle of grey materialism. If our materialists are men of courage and action... it is in spite of their materialism and not because of it. That was the case with their true teachers, the Encyclopaedists. [151] But in a bourgeois, destructive way, materialism was an acute antithesis to the pernicious mysticism of the old regime. The proletariat needs a harmonious synthesis that will raise both opposites, convert them to itself and destroy them. We are all still searching for this synthesis to the best of our ability. We may be mistaken, but we are searching joyfully and diligently. The annoyed shouts of the honoured veteran corporals will not stop us:

‘Yes, in our time the men were men, Soldiers, not lads like you — were then heroes indeed!’ [152]
Grumble the corporals.
'But, uncle, they're dead and we need to use our own brains.’
The corporals command: ‘Now children, learn your ABC — and learn it right.'
'Uncle, why do we always have to repeat the alphabet, isn’t it time we went on to syllables?’ [153]

This is written glibly and amusingly, but, unfortunately, not very intelligently. Allegro, ma non allegro con spirito. And for the very simple reason that it reveals Mr Lunacharsky’s total lack of understanding of the part he is playing in Russian socialist literature. He is carried away by his fantasies on the excuse of moving forward and in the name of the further development of the fundamental ideas of Marxism. But as I have already demonstrated, his attitude to religion is in direct opposition to that of Marx and Engels. Now I shall add this: in cutting out a religious costume for socialism, he is moving backwards like a crayfish, returning to the very view on religion held by the vast majority of the utopian socialists. Take the example of France. There Saint-Simon and his followers preached the ‘New Christianity’. Cabet invented ‘true Christianity’. Fourier thundered against the irreligious spirit of the people of modern times ('esprit irréligieux des modernes’). [154] Louis Blanc was a staunch upholder of deism. Pierre Leroux waxed indignant at people who thought that religion was done for, and exclaimed with emotion:

I am a believer. Even though I was born in an era of scepticism, I was such a believer by nature that I collected (such, at least, is my conviction) the faith of humanity at a time when that faith was in a state of latency, when it seemed that mankind believed in nothing, and I have the ambition of restoring that faith to humanity.

The same Leroux proudly declares that he came into the world not in order to display literary talent, but ‘to find the most useful truth, religious truth’ ('mais pour trouver la vérité la plus utile — la vérité religieuse’). [155] We see therefore that our Russian prophet had many predecessors in France. Or take the case of Germany. Who is not aware how Wilhelm Weitling liked to dabble in religion? Which Marxist does not recall Marx’s polemics with the prophet of a ‘new religion’ Hermann Kriege, who has gone to live in New York? Who does not still remember Engels’ humorous characterisation of the prophet Albrecht (at the beginning of the 1840s) and the prophet George Kuhlmann from Holstein, who published a book in German in Geneva in 1845 under the title The New World or the Kingdom of the Spirit on Earth: Annunciation. See how many prophets there were! We Russians are very backward in this respect as compared to Germany, and if we are starting to pick up a little now we have to thank Mr A Lunacharsky and those who think like him. But for one like myself, who is very disposed to wear what Mr Lunacharsky describes as the tattered mantle of grey materialism, what is most interesting in this historical information is the fact that some German Utopian socialists were capable of regarding materialism with the same splendid contempt which we now hear from our Russian empiriomonist and prophet of the ‘fifth religion’, Mr Lunacharsky. He has already told us that ‘if our materialists are men of courage and action... it is in spite of their materialism and not because of it’. Now listen to what the Utopian Karl Grün prophesied to the world in the summer of the Year of our Lord 1845: ‘The materialist who becomes a socialist perpetrates an appalling inconsistency; happily, man is always worth more than his system.’ ('Ein Materialist, der Sozialist wird, begeht eine furchtbare Inkonsequenz; glücklicherweise ist der Mensch immer mehr werth, als sein System.’) [156] You are late, frightfully late, blessed Anatoly, with your disdainful condemnations, your exalted prophecies and your ‘harmonious synthesis'!

But I am nevertheless very grateful to you, holy father, that having promised us a religion without God, you could not refrain from fabricating a ‘God’ — mankind, and composing a suitable litany for his glorification. In doing so you confirmed — though of course against your will — my thought that religious conceptions always have an animistic character. Your religion is no more than a fashionable game. But it, too, is no stranger to the logic found in all religions: people who play this game willy-nilly prattle in the language of animists, despite the fact that they have none of the beliefs peculiar to animists. The logic of religion compels them!

c) M Gorky’s A Confession as the Preaching of ‘New Religion’: Maxim Gorky is a remarkable and brilliant artist. But even artists of genius are frequently utterly helpless in the domain of theory. There is no need to go far for examples: Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, these giants in the field of literary creation revealed infantile weakness every time they took up some abstract question. Belinsky often said that artists’ minds went into their talents. There are not many exceptions to this rule. In any case, M Gorky is not one of them. His mind also went into his talent. Hence the failings in those of his works where there is a high publicist element, for example, his essays on American life and his novel Mother. Those who encourage him to adopt the part of thinker and preacher are doing Gorky a very bad service; he is not cast for such parts. New proof of this may be found in his A Confession.

The book undoubtedly contains some wonderful pages dictated by a poetical sense of the unity of man and nature; pages in which one feels strongly the Goethe motif. These marvellous pages, however, cannot hide in the last analysis the weakness of A Confession. M Gorky, who in his Mother made himself an advocate of socialism, appears in A Confession as an advocate of Mr A Lunacharsky’s ‘fifth religion’. And it is this circumstance that spoils the whole book. Because of it, A Confession becomes excessively lengthy, artificial and, in places, downright dull. The hero — Matvei the novice, who tells the story, Yehudiil (Iona) the wanderer, and the factory teacher Mikhailo engage in the most nonsensical discussions. Gorky could not be blamed for this if his attitude to them had been that of an artist: but instead he approaches them as a preacher, using them to express his own personal thoughts. Therefore the reader has no alternative but to accept as Gorky’s views what comes out of the months of his heroes. And the more these heroes go on talking nonsense, the more vexing it becomes, reminding one of the moral in Krylov’s fable which tells how:

The pike with jagged teeth one thought how nice
To set up as a cat and catch some mice. [157]

But it is not my intention here to analyse the story A Confession. My purpose is not to deal with Gorky the artist, but with Gorky the religious advocate, who is preaching in the same cause as Mr Lunacharsky. But he knows less than Mr Lunacharsky (and by that I do not mean to say that Mr Lunacharsky knows much); he is more naive than Mr Lunacharsky (I do not mean by that that Mr Lunacharsky is not naive); he is less conversant with contemporary socialist theory (that does not mean that Mr Lunacharsky is so very conversant with it himself). Therefore his attempt to clothe socialism in the vestments of religiosity proves an even bigger failure. The fitter from the local factory, Pyotr Yagikh, is saying to his nephew, Mikhailo: ‘You, Mishka, have been picking up church ideas, like pilfering cucumbers from someone else’s garden, and you only confuse people.’ [158]

I need hardly say that I shall not repeat the word ‘pilfering’ here, even as a joke. That would be quite out of place. I must, however, confess that M Gorky’s religious ideas do give me the impression of being cucumbers from someone else’s garden; they certainly never grew in the soil in which the ideas of contemporary socialism grow and ripen. M Gorky tries to provide us with a philosophy of religion, but succeeds only in showing... how badly he is acquainted with that philosophy.

The most experienced of the god-seekers in this story, Mikhailo, says for the edification of Matvei:

Slaves never had a God, but made a god of human law forced on them from without, and slaves will never have a God, for He is born from the flame of the sweet consciousness of spiritual kinship of each with all! [159]

In fact that is not true. We saw in the first article that God is not formed in the flame of sweet consciousness of spiritual kinship of each with all. He comes into existence when a given group of people linked by blood relationship comes to conceive of their close tie with a given spirit. Little by little the members of this group begin to show love and respect towards the spirit, that is to say, they begin to apply to the spirit the social feelings which are engendered and consolidated in their common struggle for existence. It can now be said with confidence that these feelings arise much earlier than the appearance of gods. Hence the obvious error of all those who, like Gorky, give the name of religion to every social feeling. As far as slaves are concerned, their gods were the gods of the tribes to which they belonged, unless, of course, the slaves adopted the religion of their masters. That is my first reply to Gorky when he speaks through the mouth of Mikhailo, after cleansing his words of the holy oil with which they are so plentifully covered. But looking more closely at Mikhailo’s utterances, cleansed of the holy oil, I see, to use a well-worn expression, that they have to be ‘understood spiritually’. Mikhailo’s God is not just one of the numerous gods that were or are worshipped by savages, or barbarians, or for that matter, civilised peoples. No, this is a God of the future, that God which, Gorky is convinced, will be ‘constructed’ [160] by the proletariat on reaching self-consciousness in collaboration with the whole of the people. [161] If that is so, it can be said right away that there never has been such a god and ‘for the rest of time’ there never will be such a god, not only among slaves, but also among all those who do not take to the faith composed by the Blessed Anatoly. That is the gospel truth. No matter how thickly M Gorky smears this sacred truth with holy oil, it will still be as lean as the most lean of Pharaoh’s kine. It will add absolutely nothing new either to our conception of the world or to our understanding of the psychology of the proletariat.

Wait, though. In saying that Mikhailo’s God is not one of the numerous gods that were or are worshipped by tribes and peoples at various stages of their cultural development, I again (and again not at all by my own fault) did not exactly convey Gorky’s thought. At the end of the story it turns out that the ‘god-creating people’ are the people not of some more or less distant future, but of the present, represented by the throng of believers that follow in religious ecstasy the miraculous picture of the Blessed Virgin. This ‘people’ of the present day performs even the miracle of healing the sick, as a consequence of which Matvei the novice turns to it with this prayer: ‘Thou art my God and creator of all gods which thou hast formed from the beauties of thy spirit in the travail and torture of thy quest’, etc. [162]

Evidently Mikhailo was wrong when he said ‘with a smile’: ‘God is not yet created.’ And he was also wrong when he ‘obstinately’ insisted:

The God of whom I am speaking began to exist when men unanimously created Him out of the substance of their mind, in order to lighten the darkness of their life; but when the people were divided into slaves and lords, into bits and pieces, and tore asunder their thought and will, then God perished, then he was destroyed. [163]

To tell the truth, I do not know how on earth I should have found my way through this maze of contradictions without the Commentary. In his Commentary Mr Lunacharsky explains everything which is unclear in the story itself:

The might of the collective, the beautiful ecstasy of collective life, the wonder-working power of the collective [we read in the Commentary], that is what our author believes in, that is to what he calls us. But did he not say himself that the people are now divided and oppressed? Did he himself not say that collectivism is to be sought only in the people reborn, in the factory? — Yes, only there, only in the assembly of the class collective, in the slow building of the all-proletarian organisation, is the real work of transforming people into mankind, though it may be only preparatory work. This does not signify that there will not be impulses, moments when the collective mood will blaze up, and that sometimes and somewhere by chance the masses of humanity will not merge into a single-willed whole. And now, like a symbol of the future, like a pale image — pale compared with what is yet to come, but vivid in comparison with our present surroundings — comes Gorky’s miracle. [164]

Very good. The miracle of healing the sick is a symbol of the future. But here is the point. If those moments when ‘the collective mood blazes up’ and when the ‘masses of humanity merge into a single-willed whole’ are to be regarded as moments of the creation of God, the ‘worker of miracles’, it must be said that the God who, according to Mikhailo, has still to be born, has been born countless times at the most varied stages of cultural development. He was not only born at those times, but he is born each time a deeply believing crowd takes part in a religious procession. I have never been to Lourdes, [165] but it seems to me that if I did go there, even for a short time, it would be vouchsafed to me to witness perhaps more than one ‘symbol of the future’ perfectly resembling that described in Gorky’s story. And this means that in Gorky’s symbol there is nothing symbolic. More than that. The ‘masses of humanity’ merge into a ‘single-willed whole’ not only in the performance of religious rites. They thus merge also, for example, in war dances. Stanley gives an excellent description of one of those dances he observed in central Africa. One would indeed have to be overflowing with goodwill to discover in such manifestations of collective life the prototype of future religious creation. I do not know if that is how M Gorky feels about it. Apparently not. But Mr A Lunacharsky senses that things are not quite right here, and tries to amend them. ‘What is important here is the presence of a common sentiment, a common will’, says he in his Commentary:

The collective, true, is created here artificially, and its power is a fetish in the minds of the participants; but it is nevertheless created and the power is there. It is not a question of denying it completely, a priori, but of comprehending it and evaluating it. [166]

Just so. The question is, of course, not to deny it ‘completely’, ‘a priori’, but to evaluate and comprehend it. But does Mr Lunacharsky properly evaluate and comprehend all he has said in his Commentary? I am afraid he does so badly. That the class-conscious proletariat, in carrying out its great historic task, will on many occasions manifest its ‘common sentiment’ and ‘common will’ is so clear as to require no explanation. But it does not follow in the least that this ‘common sentiment’ and ‘common will’ will have a religious character. The only people who are likely to agree with Mr Lunacharsky about such an eventuality are those who are content with the ‘etymological trick’ by which the word ‘religion’ is identified with the word ‘bond’. But we already know how one of the founders of scientific socialism regarded this trick, and Mr Lunacharsky will not put us off the point by repeating it in the name of Marx. Further: it is true that in the case we are now discussing ‘the power of the collective is a fetish in the minds of the participants’, but the whole question is, will it remain so? A Lunacharsky and M Gorky would like it to be always so. They have noticed that old fetishes have partly outlived, and are partly outliving their time, and they have decided to make humanity itself a fetish by placing the stamp of divinity upon it. They imagine that they are being guided in this by their love for humanity. But this is a simple, and even grotesque, misunderstanding. They begin by recognising that God is a fiction and end by declaring that humanity is God. But humanity is no fiction. Then why call humanity God? Why should mankind be flattered to be identified with one of its fictions? No, whether you like it or not, I prefer Engels to the novice Matvei and the elder Yehudiil. Engels said:

We have no need to begin with the creation of an abstract God in order to... understand the greatness of man; we have no need to take this roundabout way; we have no need to place the stamp of divinity on man in order to be imbued with respect for man. [167]

Engels praises Goethe because he was reluctant to have recourse to the deity and even avoided using the word: ‘Goethe’s greatness lies in this humanity, in this emancipation of art from religion.’ [168] How good it would be if the study of Marxism could help Gorky to understand the greatness of Goethe in that respect!

However, I still have to examine the blunders made by Gorky in believing in the greatness of Mr A Lunacharsky.

Here is another blunder which does not yield in importance to the first. The wanderer Iona, alias Yehudiil, ‘talking in a loud voice as if he were arguing with someone’, shouts:

God was not created by man’s weakness, but by his superfluity of strength, and he lives not outside us, brother, but within us; but, for fear of the questions of the spirit, they have fetched him out of us and set him over us, in the desire to curb our pride, and our will, which never brooked any limitations. I tell you that you have turned strength into weakness, in holding back its growth by force. The ideals of perfection are being created in too much of a hurry. This is a cause of grief and mischief to us. Men are divided into two tribes: those of the first are eternally building god, those of the other are for ever the slaves of a dominant striving to lord it over the first and over the whole world. They have seized on this power and used it to establish the existence of God outside man — a god who is the enemy of man and the judge and ruler of the earth. They have defaced the image of Christ’s soul, rejected His commandments, because the living Christ is against, them, against the dominion of man over man. [169]

That is a truly astonishing philosophy of history. It divides people into two groups: one of them ‘eternally’ engaged in building gods, and the other ‘ever’ trying to subject the eternal god-builders to their will. The mutual relations between these ‘tribes’ are supposed to explain the origin of the concept of God existing outside man. This again is factually incorrect. The concept of God existing outside man owes its origin, not to the division of people into ‘tribes’, or classes, but to primitive animism. It is therefore also not true that ‘God was created by man’s superfluity of strength’. Finally, there is no basis whatever for the view that ‘Christ was against the dominion of man over man’. True, it is extremely difficult for us to judge what that doctrine was exactly in its original form, and just because of this we must be careful in our approach to it and not colour it with our own aspirations. It would be as well, in any case, to remember the saying: ‘My Kingdom is not of this world.’ As for the early Christians, almost the most prominent one among them wrote: ‘Servants, obey your masters!’ Why distort historical truth? In formulating these objections against M Gorky, I keep the Commentary in mind. (It is a very useful thing, this Commentary; one should always have it at hand when reading A Confession!) In it I find the following passage: ‘The hero of A Confession is not a Social-Democrat and not a worker, but a semi-peasant. That has to be kept well in mind.’ [170] The reference here is to Matvei the novice. ‘I keep this so well in mind’ that I would have no objection to applying it to the old man Iona — Yehudiil who prattles so much nonsense about God, about Christ and the two eternal ‘tribes’ of people. How are we to know? Maybe he talks nonsense only because he is not a Social-Democrat, not a worker, but a ‘semi'-something else? My doubts have been dispelled by Mr A Lunacharsky himself, who on the occasion of Matvei’s meeting with Iona says in his Commentary. (I repeat: keep this Commentary beside you when you are reading A Confession!)

The ideological force and perfect novelty of Gorky’s story is in the grandiose picture: an exhausted people, portrayed in the person of Matvei, its spokesman, its seeker, comes face to face with the ‘new faith’, with the truth which the proletariat is bringing to the world. [171]

If this is the case, if the elder Iona is expounding to the exhausted Matvei the truth which the proletariat is bringing to the world, then we shall have to be strict: we have no right to take into account extenuating circumstances like the fact that Iona is not a worker but a ‘semi'-who-knows-what. And we must demand of Gorky who ‘created’ Iona that he tells us the new truth in all its fullness. However, as I have already said, the great artist Gorky is a very poor thinker and an ineffectual preacher of the new truth. And there’s the rub.

I shall be frank to the end; in criticising such an outstanding artist as M Gorky, one is obliged to speak out ‘straight, without evasion’. M Gorky himself has had extreme difficulty in digesting the truth which the proletariat is bringing to the world. This is the root of many of his literary errors. If he had digested this truth well, his American essays would have been written in a completely different vein: he would not have come before us like a Narodnik cursing the advent of capitalism. If he had digested this truth well, those of his heroes whom he has appointed to propagate this truth would not talk ambiguous nonsense at every conceivable opportunity. Finally — and this is the most important — if he had digested this truth, he would have seen clearly that at the present time there is neither the theoretical nor the practical need to warm up Feuerbach’s old error and put the stamp of religion on human relationships, on human feelings, moods and aspirations in which there is absolutely nothing religious. Then he would never have committed the greatest error of all, called A Confession. But... many things could happen if ifs and ans were pots and pans... ‘The pike with jagged teeth once thought how nice to set up as a cat and catch some mice.’ Gorky wanted to set up as a teacher, when in point of fact he has not completed his own education. The lad Fedyuk says to Matvei, whom he is seeing off at night:

They all say the same thing; such a life as they lead is worthless, it hampers you. Before I heard such talk as that, I lived quietly enough. Now I see that I haven’t grown any higher, yet I have to bow my head. So it’s true — it hampers you! [172]

Add a few phrases to this: that truth must prevail on the earth; that man must not rule over man; and that, consequently, the proletariat must combat the bourgeoisie — and you will have exhausted M Gorky’s entire socialist world-outlook. I must say quite categorically that M Gorky said nothing apart from this in his novel Mother, where he assumed the role of propagandist of socialism before he had as yet dressed it up in a priestly cassock. But that is not quite enough to make one a socialist, impervious to the utopias of the good old days. That is why Gorky has been unable to withstand the most incongruous of these utopias, the utopia of a new God, created by Mr A Lunacharsky for the correction, instruction and encouragement of despondent ‘intellectuals’.

However, to get back to A Confession. There is one very interesting passage in it which sheds light on the psychology of our present-day god-inventor. Matvei is describing the effect on him of his meeting with Mikhailo, who asserted that man ought to know everything:

So I buried myself in books; I read the whole day long. I was troubled in mind and angry withal. Books don’t argue with me; they just don’t want to have anything to do with me. One book caused me great torment; it spoke of the development of the world and the life of man. It was written against the Bible. It was all very simple, intelligible and necessary, yet I found no place for myself in that simplicity, for I felt surrounded by all sorts of forces, and I was like a mouse in a trap amidst them. I have read the book twice; I read it in silence, and I've tried to find a gap in it through which I might escape to freedom. But I don’t find it. [173]

We have learned already from the Commentary that the hero of Gorky’s story is neither a Social-Democrat nor a worker, but a semi-peasant, and that this should be ‘kept well in mind’. But whether Matvei is a semi-peasant or not has nothing to do with the matter. The theoretical difficulty which nonplussed the ‘semi-peasant’ Matvei has almost floored his teacher Mikhailo too, whom it seems we must regard as a Social-Democrat... with a religious lining.

I said to my teacher: ‘How is that? Where does man come in?’

‘It seems to me, too’, said he, ‘that that is incorrect; but I can’t explain where the error lies. But, as an attempt to explain the plan of the universe, it is very beautiful.’ [174]

Clearly, the book was materialist, and inspired in Matvei the same question around which much ink was spilt during the disputes between the Marxists and the subjectivists, viz: how to reconcile the conception of natural necessity with the conception of human activity. It is known that the subjectivists were unable to solve this question and, like Matvei, they struggled around like a mouse in a trap. Again like Matvei, the subjectivists used to ask the Marxists: ‘Where does man come in?’ The Marxists replied by indicating the answer already furnished by Hegel and assimilated by Marx and Engels. [175] Needless to say, this reply did not satisfy the subjectivists. The matter was further complicated by the fact that even among the Marxists only those who held the viewpoint of modern dialectical materialism could grasp this solution correctly. Those who were inclined towards Kant’s teaching — and to our shame there were then quite a few of them — or who were generally careless about philosophy, were without the theoretical means to reconcile the concept of freedom with the concept of necessity; therefore, sooner or later, in one way or another, they returned to the theoretical positions of the subjectivists. Thus the question remained obscure even for many of those who, with complete sincerity, sympathised unreservedly with the contemporary movement of the class-conscious proletariat. Among these, it now turns out, was M Gorky.

He has long interested himself in this question. Already in his story Despondency (1896) the armless Misha carries on the following very remarkable conversation with the drunken merchant Tikhon Pavlovich:

‘I once had a different opinion about life; I was very worried about myself and others, too... like, as they say, what’s the sense of it, what’s it all about, what’s it for, why?... Now, to hell with it. Life goes on in a certain way; well, let it go. That is as it should be. I have nothing to do with it. There’s the laws... You can’t go against them.... no point to it; even the man who knows everything knows nothing. Oh, believe me, I've talked to the wisest people — students and many ministers of the church... Ha, ha!’

‘So there’s nothing a man can do?’

‘Not a thing!’, said the armless, his eyes flashing, and turned himself squarely towards Tikhon Pavlovich and in a constrained voice added severely: ‘Laws! Mysterious causes and powers — understand?’ Raising his eyebrows, he shook his head importantly. ‘Nobody knows anything — we're all in the dark!’ He screwed himself up, drew in his head, and it seemed to the miller that, if his companion had had arms, he would have shaken a finger at him. ‘So it means this: live, but don’t complain, show humility! That’s all!’ [176]

When this story first appeared, one wanted to think and might have thought that its author knew the weak side of the armless Misha’s arguments. After the publication of A Confession, it is no longer possible, unfortunately, to believe this. Mikhailo, who, according to the Commentary, represents in this story the truth the proletariat is bringing to the world, admits with praiseworthy candour that he cannot answer the question, ‘Where does man come in?’, that is to say, to solve the antinomy between natural necessity and human freedom. And it would be fruitless for us to seek in these conversations — in general very verbose — of the characters in the story even the slightest hint of a solution of this problem. There is no hint of it, and there could not be any. Gorky has finally decided that if the materialist view on the universe is to be maintained, it is necessary to accept the gloomy views of Matvei and the armless Misha on the question of human freedom. The ‘fifth religion’ has become for him a means of escape from this hopeless conclusion. True, this religion by itself has apparently no direct relation to the question of how to combine the concept of freedom with the concept of necessity. But it is very closely connected with that ‘philosophy’ on which the ‘fifth religion’ is based; at least, that is what Mr Lunacharsky says, after inventing a new God and writing his Commentary to the story A Confession. In his article ‘Atheism’, [177] he assures the reader at great length that ‘grey materialism’ seemingly does not leave any room for human freedom, whereas the philosophy of ‘empiriomonism’ gives it a stable theoretical basis. In general, it may confidently be said that the ‘fifth religion’ could have been formulated and adopted only by those ‘Marxists’ who have been unable to cope with the principal theoretical tenets of the teaching of Marx and Engels. This is also something which ‘should be kept well in mind’.

In passing, I should add that Mr D Merezhkovsky paid greater attention to the verbiage of the armless Misha, and described it as coming from a ‘scientific ignoramus — we don’t know — which has sunk to the “lower depths” of the vagabond’. [178] In his evaluation of materialism (the ‘mechanical world-outlook’) and the moral conclusions flowing from it, Mr Merezhkovsky closely and touchingly agrees with Mr Lunacharsky. ‘And it will do no harm to keep this well in mind.’ Our contemporary god-invention has its several varieties, each of which portrays a particular psychological mood and particular social ‘seekings’. But all of them together have one feature in common: a complete inability to solve the antinomy between freedom and necessity.

It is not social consciousness that determines social being, but the other way round: social being determines social consciousness. Social movements and social moods are not occasioned by the theoretical errors made by the people taking part in these movements or experiencing these moods. But once a certain social movement is present, or — to express it more exactly — once a certain state of society is present and with it the social mood that corresponds to it, then theory, too, enters into its rights. Not every theoretical construction corresponds to a given social mood. Dialectical materialism is absolutely no help in god-invention. He who succumbs to the mood prevailing among our contemporary ‘intelligentsia’ and takes to god-invention, must of necessity renounce dialectical materialism and commit certain errors in theory. However, this does not happen to everyone. Certain preliminary data are also necessary, and in the present instance they are reduced chiefly to incapacity to overcome the theoretical difficulty I have indicated.

It is time to finish. I should like, though, to say a few words more about M Gorky’s unfortunate story.

In it Mikhailo preaches to Matvei:

This deplorable life, unworthy of human intelligence, began on the day when the first human personality tore itself adrift from the miraculous power of the people, from the mass its mother, and out of the dread of isolation and its own impotence it hunched itself up into a wicked bundle of petty desires — a bundle which was christened ‘ego’. This ‘ego’ is man’s worst enemy. For the sake of its self-defence and self-assertion on earth, it has fruitlessly killed all the forces of the spirit and all the great faculties for creating spiritual wealth in mankind. [179]

This reminds me forcibly once again of Marx’s polemic with Hermann Kriege. Kriege, who was preaching a new religion, wrote: ‘We have more to do than be concerned with our own wretched “ego.”’ ('Wir haben noch etwas mehr zu thun, als für unser lumpiges Selbst zu sorgen.’) Marx replied with the cutting remark that Kriege’s religion, like every religion, ends in servility to a metaphysical or even religious fiction which is humanity separated from ‘self’. Mikhailo and his creator, M Gorky, would be well advised to ponder over these words of the author of Capital. [180]

Yes, it is worth thinking about. The question of ‘ego’, when applied to the relationships between people, is frequently resolved according to the metaphysical formula: ‘either — or’: either ‘non-ego’ is sacrificed for the sake of ‘ego’ (solution in the spirit of Nietzsche), or ‘ego’ is declared to be unworthy of attention in view of the interests of ‘non-ego’ (solution in the spirit of Kriege and Mikhailo). The dialectical solution of this problem, offering a logical possibility of reconciling both sides of the antinomy, was already indicated by Hegel and, incidentally, was borrowed from him by our Herzen and Belinsky. But the pity is that many of the most valuable attainments of West European thought during its historical development, up to and including Marx and Engels, are a closed book to our god-inventors. This is something they have in common with the ‘critics of Marx’. Gorky’s Iona declares: ‘You can’t say to a man: stop there! But — from here or further!’ The ‘formula of progress’ which the ‘critics of Marx’ and our contemporary god-inventors have mastered for their own use, runs: ‘You can’t say to a man: stop there (at Marx): but — from here go backwards, to where human thought was before Marx, or even before Hegel: there a whole series of brilliant discoveries are waiting for you.’

Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gorky — all these are vast artistic talents. And all these vast talents have stumbled over religion, bringing unutterable harm to their artistic work. They are all much alike in this respect. But only in that. Each of them has created in his own way, as should follow from the possession of great talent. Even in religion each has his own particular way of stumbling. What is Gorky’s way?

It is easy to say that M Gorky made such-and-such a theoretical mistake. It still has to be explained why his thoughts turned along the theoretical path that led him into error. It is easy to say that M Gorky succumbed to the influence of some god-inventor or other, if you like, Mr A Lunacharsky. We have yet to discover his state of mind which made it possible for this god-inventor to influence him. For what is Mr A Lunacharsky in comparison with M Gorky? A haystack compared to Mont Blanc. But why did Mont Blanc submit to the influence of a haystack? Why has our poetical ‘Stormy Petrel’ begun to speak in the mystical language of a sanctimonious humbug?

The significance of M Gorky in Russian literature consists in this, that in a series of poetical sketches he introduced at the appropriate historical moment the idea he expressed through the old woman Izergil: ‘When a man yearns to do brave deeds, he will always find an opportunity. Life is full of such opportunities...’ But the lyrical singer of exploits that quicken the heart-beats of Russian readers with their power, has badly understood the historical conditions in which the advanced man of present-day Russia has to perform his feats of endeavour. Theoretically speaking, M Gorky is fearfully behind the times; rather let us say that he has not yet caught up with them. Consequently, there is still room in his mind for mysticism. His bold Malva was fascinated by the life of the man of God, Alexei. Gorky is not unlike his Malva. While admiring the beauty of heroic feats, he is not averse to glancing at them from the viewpoint of religion. That is a great and vexing weakness. And it was precisely because of this great and vexing weakness that the little haystack was able to subordinate to its influence the highest of mountains.

Third Article: The Gospel of Decadence


Religious questions of the day have at the present time a social significance. It is no longer a question of religious interests as such. Only the theologian can believe it is a question of religion as religion.’ — Karl Marx [181]

Messrs Lunacharsky and Gorky proclaim that man is God on the ground that there is not and cannot be any other God. But the majority of our religious authors are opposed to this pronunciamento. Mr D Merezhkovsky rebels against it with special passion. He says:

Conscious Christianity is the religion of God who became man; conscious vagabondage, anti-Christianity, is the religion of man who wants to become a god. The latter is, of course, deception. The whole starting point of the vagabondage — ‘only man exists’, there is no God, God is nothing; and consequently ‘man is God’ — means that man is nothing. The illusory deification of man leads to his actual destruction.

We shall see shortly why Mr Merezhkovsky has talked about ‘conscious vagabondage’. Meanwhile, I must confine myself to the remark that Mr Merezhkovsky is fully justified in objecting to ‘the religion of man who wants to become a god’. [182] In my second article, I noted the poor logic of those who first of all declare God to be fiction and then acknowledge man as God; after all, man is no fiction, no figment of the imagination, but a real being. But if Mr Merezhkovsky — and with him the majority of our god-seekers — correctly indicate the shortcomings of the ‘man-deity’ religion, this does not yet mean that he himself has found a correct viewpoint on religion. No, Mr Merezhkovsky is no less mistaken than Mr A Lunacharsky. But he is wrong in a different way, and now we have to find out exactly where lies the particular distinctive feature of his own mistake. This will enable us to understand one of the most interesting phenomena (from the standpoint of social psychology) in our contemporary god-seeking.

Mr D Merezhkovsky has a very flattering opinion of his own education. He numbers himself among those who have penetrated the innermost depths of European culture. [183] This flattering and modest opinion of himself is, of course, very very much exaggerated. He is a long way from the depths of European culture, although it must be admitted that, in his own fashion, he is a very well educated person. And this very well educated man belongs to none of the reactionary or even conservative social groups.

Certainly not! On the contrary, he considers himself to be a supporter of such a revolution as must make prosaic and philistine Western Europe grow pale with fear. Here, too, of course, there is tremendous exaggeration. We shall see for ourselves that there is not the slightest reason why Western Europe should grow pale when confronted with such revolutionaries as Mr Merezhkovsky and his fellow-religionists. Nevertheless, it is a fact that Mr Merezhkovsky is not happy about the existing order of things. It might seem that this circumstance ought to earn him the sympathy of all ideologists of the proletariat. And yet it is difficult to imagine any such ideologist of the proletariat taking any attitude to Mr Merezhkovsky other than one of ridicule. Why?

Of course, it is not because Mr Merezhkovsky has a weakness, in season and out, for mentioning the devil. That kind of weakness is very funny, but it is quite harmless. That is not the point at all. The point is that even where Mr Merezhkovsky desires to be extremely revolutionary, he reveals aspirations that could never be supported by ideologists of the proletariat. It is just these aspirations that are voiced by him in his religious ‘seeking’.

The theoretical pretensions with which Mr Merezhkovsky approaches the question of religion are astonishingly out of conformity with the theoretical resources he has at his disposal. This is most perceptible where he takes to task what he calls conscious vagabondage. See for yourself. He writes: ‘Human, only human’ reason, renouncing the only possible affirmation of absolute freedom and absolute being of human personality in God, thereby affirms the absolute slavery and absolute nonentity of this personality in the world order, makes it a blind instrument of blind necessity — ‘a piano keyboard or an organ-stop’ on which the laws of nature play in such a way as, having played, to destroy. But man cannot be reconciled to this destruction. Thus in order to affirm at any cost his absolute freedom and absolute being he is compelled to deny that which denies these, that is to say, the world order, the laws of natural necessity and, finally, the laws of his own reason. In saving his human dignity, man runs from reason to unreason, from world order to ‘destruction and chaos’. [184]

What is this ‘absolute freedom’, which man wishes to affirm, according to Mr Merezhkovsky, ‘at any cost'? And why must man, deprived of the opportunity to affirm his absolute freedom, think of himself as a blind instrument of necessity? We are not told. If, indeed, Mr Merezhkovsky had managed to penetrate the depths of European culture, he would have displayed greater care in his handling of such concepts as ‘freedom’ and ‘necessity’. For Schelling long ago said that if a given individual were absolutely free, all other people would be absolutely unfree, and freedom would be impossible. In application to history, this means — as Schelling explains in another of his works — that the free (conscious) activity of man presupposes necessity as the basis of human actions. In a word, according to Schelling, our freedom is not an empty formula only where the actions of our fellow-men are necessary. This implies that European ‘culture’ in the persons of its most profound thinkers had already solved the antinomy now raised by Mr Merezhkovsky in his criticism of ‘conscious vagabondage’. It did this, not today or yesterday, but more than one hundred years ago. This one fact is all we need to judge the enormous gap between Mr Merezhkovsky’s theoretical pretensions and his theoretical resources: our would-be man of profound culture is lagging behind the philosophical thought of cultured Europe by more than a whole century. Nothing could be funnier!


Mr Merezhkovsky states that the common metaphysical starting point of the intellectual and the tramp may be reduced to a mechanical world-outlook, that is to say, ‘to the affirmation, as of the only reality, of that world order which denies the absolute freedom and absolute being of human personality in God and which makes man “a piano keyboard or an organ-stop of blind forces of nature"’. In confirmation of this, he cites the argument which I myself quoted (in the second article) from one of Gorky’s tramps: ‘There are laws and powers. How can we oppose them if the only weapons we have are in our mind and that, too, must obey those laws and powers? Very simple. Just live and make the best of it, or power will soon make mincemeat of you.’ His companion asked: ‘So there’s nothing a man can do?’ The tramp replied with unswerving conviction: ‘Not a thing! Nobody knows anything — we're all in the dark!’ Mr Merezhkovsky imagines that this answer is as alike as two peas to that final conclusion arrived at by the ‘mechanical world-outlook’. He says:

But this is the scientific-ignoramus — we don’t know — which has sunk to the ‘lower depths’ of the vagabond. Here, ‘in the lower depths’, it will have exactly the same effects as at the intellectual surface.

However, in making this point, Mr Merezhkovsky — obviously quite unconsciously — demonstrates not that the ‘scientific ignoramus’ coincides with the arguments of the tramp, but that he himself is a tramp in questions of this type.

The men whose labours created the elements of the ‘mechanical world-outlook’, that is, the natural scientists, were very often quite indifferent as regards philosophy. Inasmuch as they were indifferent in this respect, they were utterly uninterested in matters concerning the relationship of the concept of human freedom to the concept of natural necessity. But inasmuch as they did interest themselves in philosophy and especially in the question of the interrelations of these two concepts, they came to conclusions that had nothing in common with the verbal expansiveness of Gorky’s unhappy inebriate. The celebrated ignoramus — more correctly, ignorabimus — of Du Bois-Reymond relates to the question of why the vibrations of matter organised in a certain way are accompanied by so-called psychical phenomena. The fact that science is unable to find the answers to such questions does not give Mr Merezhkovsky the least right to attribute to the thinking, that is, the philosophically developed representatives of science, the absurd contrasting of ‘man’ to the forces of nature. The natural scientists of the time found it sufficient to grasp the attainments of classical German idealism, namely, the conclusions of Schelling and Hegel, to look upon such contrasting as one of the most vivid examples of the most childish nonsense. Already since the time of Bacon and Descartes, natural scientists envisaged man as a possible master of nature: tantum possumus quantum scimus (we can do as much as we know). This yardstick of man’s power over nature by knowing its laws is a far cry from the ‘so there’s nothing a man can do’ which Mr Merezhkovsky foists on science as its final conclusion. The fact that Mr Merezhkovsky could foist this ridiculous conclusion on science is yet another indication of the wide gap between his theoretical pretensions and the theoretical means at his disposal.

Mr Merezhkovsky believes that everyone who upholds the ‘mechanical world-outlook’ must regard man as a ‘piano keyboard’ or an ‘organ-stop’ of the blind forces of nature. That is nonsense. But nonsense also has its causes. Why did our ‘deeply cultured’ author think up such nonsense? Because he cannot get away from the standpoint of animism.


From the standpoint of animism which has reached a certain stage of development, man and all the universe were created by a god or gods. Once man has learned to look upon god as his father, naturally he begins to think of the God as the fountain-head of all good. And since freedom in all its varieties is conceived of by man as a boon, he believes accordingly that his God is the source of his freedom. Therefore there is nothing surprising in the fact that to him the denial of God is the denial of freedom. This psychological aberration is quite natural at a certain level of man’s intellectual development. Nevertheless, it is no more than an aberration. To base a criticism of the mechanical world-outlook on it is simply to misapprehend its nature and to reveal a naivety quite unworthy of a ‘deeply cultured’ person.

Mr Merezhkovsky continues:

First of all — the conclusion: there is no God; or more correctly, man has no need of God, between man and God there is no unity, no bond, no religion, for religio means a bond between man and God. [185]

It goes without saying that if there is no God there cannot be any bond between man and God other than that existing between man and his invention. In this ‘conclusion’, as such, there is nothing at all to be afraid of.

Why then is Mr Merezhkovsky so frightened of it? He replies:

This dogmatic positivism (because positivism too has its dogmas, its metaphysics and even its mysticism) leads inevitably to dogmatic materialism: ‘Man’s belly is the main thing. When the belly is replete, it means the soul is alive: every human activity comes from the belly.’ Utilitarian morality is but a transitional stage at which one cannot stop somewhere between the old metaphysical morality and the extreme but unavoidable conclusion which Nietzsche draws from positivism — frank amoralism, which negates all human morality. The intellectual has not drawn this extreme conclusion because he was restrained by unconscious survivals of metaphysical idealism. There was nothing to restrain the tramp: in this respect as in many others, he was in advance of the intellectual: the tramp is a frank and almost conscious amoralist. [186]

Here, by dogmatic positivism, Mr Merezhkovsky understands materialism proper: as is known, positivism in its modern sense (the positivism of Mach, Avenarius, Petzoldt) denies the mechanical interpretation of nature. Consequently, I can confine myself to examining how far Mr Merezhkovsky’s idea, just quoted, can be applied to materialism. This question has hardly occurred to me when I recollect the following passage from Engels, known to be one of the most notable materialists of the nineteenth century:

By the word materialism the Philistine understands gluttony, drunkenness, lust of the eye, lust of the flesh, arrogance, cupidity, avarice, covetousness, profit-hunting and stock-exchange swindling — in short, all the filthy vices in which he himself indulges in private. By the word idealism he understands the belief in virtue, universal philanthropy and in a general way a ‘better world’, of which he boasts before others but in which he himself at the utmost believes only so long as he is having the blues or is going through the bankruptcy consequent upon his customary ‘materialist’ excesses. It is then that he sings his favourite song, What is man? — Half beast, half angel. [187]

In citing this passage from Engels, I have no wish to imply that Mr Merezhkovsky is only infrequently disposed to idealism, that is, that he only now and then believes in virtue, has love for humanity, etc. I fully and readily believe in his sincerity. I cannot help noticing, though, that his view on materialism was borrowed from the very philistine of whom Engels was speaking. And naturally this point of view does not become better founded by passing from a philistine to Mr Merezhkovsky. Mr Merezhkovsky thinks he has been called upon to reveal to the world a new religious word. That is just why he criticises our sinful materialist views. But the trouble is that in his criticism he confines himself to repeating very old errors.

In the present case, his errors are again closely bound up with animism. Already in my first article I explained that, at the earliest stages of social development, man’s moral ideas were quite independent of his belief in the existence of spirits. Later these ideas fused solidly with the conceptions of those spirits which play the role of gods. Then it begins to appear that morality was based on belief in the existence of gods, and that with the collapse of this belief must also come the collapse of morality. The late Dostoyevsky was firmly convinced of this, and our author obviously shares this conviction. Here too we are dealing with the kind of psychological aberration which, while being perfectly understandable, is no less only an aberration, that is to say, it does not acquire the importance of being a reason.

We can doubtlessly come across people who will repeat sincerely the famous phrase: ‘If there is no God, anything is permissible.’ [188] But the example of such people proves nothing. Though, on second thoughts, I have put the matter wrongly: this example does not at all prove the proposition in defence of which it is usually advanced. But it is fairly convincing proof of the opposite proposition. Here is how that happens.


If man’s moral concepts are so closely bound up with belief in spirits that the ending of that belief threatens to be the end of morality, this constitutes a great social danger. Society cannot be indifferent to the fate of morality being dependent on a given fiction. To avoid such a dangerous situation, society would have to see to it that its members learned to regard the requirements of morality as something completely independent of any kind of supernatural beings. Some may reasonably ask me: but what is society if it is not the aggregate of its members? Can society take a different attitude to morality from that taken by its members? I readily accept this as a correct objection: society cannot look at any single question differently from its members. But a real society is never homogeneous; one of its parts (group, estate, class) can have some views, while another part has other views. When groups are formed within it whose moral concepts do not correspond to belief in the existence of spirits, it is in vain that other groups which still cling to the old habits of mind charge them with immorality. In these groups society for the first time has grown up to moral concepts which are able to stand on their own feet, without any kind of outside support.

It is quite true that Nietzsche drew a conclusion from ‘positivism’ which was tantamount to a denial of all human morality. But the blame for this should not be placed on ‘positivism’ or materialism but only on Nietzsche himself. It is not thinking that determines being; it is being that determines thinking. In his amoralism, Nietzsche expressed a mood peculiar to bourgeois society in a period of decline, and this mood made itself felt not only in the works of the German Nietzsche. Take the works of the Frenchman Maurice Barrès. Here is how he formulates the content of one of them:

There is only one thing which we know, and which really exists among all the false religions offered to you — this sole tangible reality is my ego (c'est le moi), and the universe is only a more or less beautiful fresco painted by it. Let us attach ourselves to our ‘ego’ and protect it from strangers, from the barbarians. [189]

That is sufficiently expressive. When people get into such a mood, when the ‘sole tangible reality’ is their precious ‘ego’, they have become true amoralists. Should these sentiments not always prompt them to immoral theoretical conclusions, this is solely because immoral practice is far from always in need of an immoral theory. On the contrary, an immoral theory can frequently be a hindrance to immoral practice. That is why people who are immoral in practice often have a weakness for moral theory. Who wrote Anti-Machiavelli? That Prussian king who, perhaps more zealously than any other prince, abided in practice by the rule laid down in the book Il principe; [190] and that is why the contemporary bourgeoisie, with all their involuntary sympathy towards Nietzsche, will always consider that the disavowal of his amoralism is a sign of good breeding. Nietzsche gave voice to what goes on in bourgeois society, but which it is not the thing to admit. Therefore contemporary society cannot accord him more than half-recognition. Be that as it may, Nietzsche is a product of certain social conditions, and to ascribe his amoralism to positivism or to the mechanical world-outlook is to fail to comprehend the reciprocal connection of phenomena. The French materialists of the eighteenth century, if my memory serves me right, were also adherents of the mechanical world-outlook, and yet none of them preached amoralism. On the contrary, they spoke so often and so warmly about morality that in one of his letters Grimm jokingly referred to them as the Capuchins of virtue. Why did their mechanical world-outlook not induce them to amoralism? Solely because, in the then prevailing social conditions, the ideologists of the bourgeoisie, among whom the materialists of the day were the ‘extreme left wing’, could not but appear as defenders of morality in general and civic virtue in particular. The bourgeois were then in the ascendant, they were the advanced social class, they engaged in struggle with the immoral aristocracy and thereby learned to value and cherish morality. But now the bourgeoisie have themselves become the ruling class, now this class is moving in a downward direction, now its own ranks are being permeated more and more with corruption, and now the war of all against all more and more becomes the conditio sine qua non of its existence. It is not surprising, therefore, that the ideologists of this class are arriving at amoralism — that is to say, strictly speaking, those of them who are frank, and not prone to the hypocrisy so habitual nowadays among the bourgeois theoreticians. This is all perfectly understandable. But of necessity it can never be understood by anyone who holds the extremely childish view that the moods and actions of men are determined by whether they believe or do not believe in the existence of supernatural beings.

Here again I recall the splendid passage from Engels which I quoted in my second article:

In its essence, religion is the devastating of man and nature, denuding them of all content, the transferring of this content to the phantom of the other-worldly god, who then again gives to man and nature something from his abundance. [191]

Mr Merezhkovsky belongs to the most diligent of the ‘devastators’ of man and nature. [192] All that is morally exalted, everything noble, all that is truly human belongs, in his opinion, not to man but to the other-worldly phantom which man has created. Consequently, this phantom is to him an essential prerequisite for the moral regeneration of mankind and for all social progress. He preaches revolution, but we shall see presently that only in the spiritually devastated soul could there arise an inclination towards the kind of revolution which he preaches.


The question on which the fate of all the Russian intelligentsia depends [says Mr Merezhkovsky], was foretold in the fate of Herzen, that greatest of Russian intellectuals: will they understand that only in the Christianity of the future is there the power capable of overcoming philistinism and the approaching barbarianism? If they understand this, then they will be the first confessors and martyrs of the new world; if not, then, like Herzen, they will only be the last warriors of the old world, the dying gladiators. [193]

At first, these words seem incomprehensible — what has all this to do with Herzen? But here is how the matter is explained:

Positivism, or to use Herzen’s words, ‘scientific realism’, is the ultimate limit for all contemporary European culture, as a method not only of particular scientific, but also of general philosophical and even of religious thinking. Engendered in science and philosophy, positivism has grown from scientific and philosophical consciousness into an unconscious religion, which is striving to abolish and take the place of all previous religions. In this broad sense, positivism is the affirmation of the world open to sensual experience, as the only real world, and the rejection of the supersensual world; the denial of the end and the beginning of the world in God, and the affirmation of the continuance of the world without end and without beginning, in an environment of phenomena itself without beginning or end and inscrutable for man; the affirmation of the average, of mediocrity, of that absolute conglomerated mediocrity, perfectly compact like a Chinese wall, that absolute philistinism, of which Mill and Herzen spoke without themselves realising the ultimate metaphysical depth of what they were saying. [194]

Now it is clear. Herzen was very much perturbed by the ‘philistinism’ of the Western Europe of his day. Mr Merezhkovsky proves that Herzen was unable to answer the question, ‘How will the people overcome philistinism?’, [195] and that he was unable to do so because he was afraid of the ‘religious depths even more than he was of the positivist shallows’. [196] Herzen sought God unconsciously, but his consciousness rejected God, and therein lay his tragedy. ‘This is not the first prophet and martyr of the new world, but the last warrior, the dying gladiator of the old world, of the old Rome.’ [197] The Russian intelligentsia of today must learn the lesson from Herzen’s fate, and must consciously take the side of that ‘Christianity of the future’ which has been invented for them with such solicitous care by Mr Merezhkovsky.

The main link in all this chain of argument is our well-known play upon words: yearning for the good is the search for a God. Since dislike of ‘philistinism’ is undoubtedly conditioned by yearning for the good, Herzen, who hated ‘philistinism’, was an unconscious god-seeker. And since he did not want to hold religious views, he committed the sin of inconsistency, and this led him into ‘split-mindedness’. After all that has been set forth above, it is not necessary to prove that the play upon words in which our author indulges has no more theoretical value than a bad pun. But it will do no harm to examine more closely Mr Merezhkovsky’s firm conviction that ‘positivism’ leads fatally to ‘absolute philistinism’. On what is this conviction based — one that, incidentally, is not the prerogative of Mr Merezhkovsky alone, as we shall soon see? He himself explains this as follows:

In Europe, positivism is only now becoming, in China it has already become a religion. The spiritual basis of China, the teaching of Lao-Tze and Confucius, is perfected positivism, religion without God, ‘earthly religion, religion without heaven’, as Herzen described European scientific realism. No mysteries, no profundities or aspiration to ‘other worlds’. All is simple, all is flat. Invulnerable common sense, unconquerable positiveness. There is that which there is, there is nothing more, and nothing more is needed. The world here is all, and there is no other world than the one here. The earth is all; there is nothing except the earth. Heaven is not the beginning and the end, but the continuation of the earth without beginning and without end. The earth and heaven will not be one, as Christianity affirms, but are essentially one. The greatest empire of the earth is also the Celestial empire, Heaven on earth, the Middle kingdom, the kingdom of the eternal average, of eternal mediocrity, of absolute philistinism — ‘kingdom not divine, but human’, as Herzen again defined the social ideal of positivism. To the Chinese worship of ancestors, to the golden age in the past, there corresponds the European worship of descendants, the golden age in the future. If we do not, then our descendants will see the earthly paradise, Heaven on earth — asserts the religion of progress. And both in the worship of ancestors and in the worship of descendants, there is equally sacrificed the unique human person, personality — to the impersonal, the numberless species, the people, humanity, ‘the caviare, compressed out of a myriad of petty philistines’, the future universal polyp and ant-heap. Disavowing God, disavowing the absolute divine personality, man unavoidably disavows his own human personality. Renouncing his divine hunger and divine birthright for the sake of the mess of pottage, of frugal satiety, man falls inevitably into absolute philistinism. The Chinese are the completely yellow-faced positivists; the Europeans are not yet completely white-faced Chinese. In this sense, the Americans are more perfect than the Europeans. There the extreme West meets the extreme East. [198]

Our ‘deeply cultured’ author appears here in all the majesty of his amazing argumentation. He takes it for granted, obviously, that to prove a certain idea, all that is required is to repeat it, and the more often it is repeated the more convincingly it is proved. Why must ‘positivism’ lead immediately to philistinism? Because ‘in disavowing God, man unavoidably disavows his own human personality’. It is not the first time we have heard this from Mr Merezhkovsky, and not once has he taken the trouble to adduce even the slightest hint of proof. But we are already aware that people who are accustomed to devastating the human soul for the sake of an other-worldly phantom cannot conceive the matter in any other way: they cannot but think that with the disappearance of the phantom there will be a ‘desolation of all feeling’ in the human heart, as it was with Sumarokov’s Kashchei. [199] Well, where there is desolation of all feeling, there is naturally the installing of all vices. The whole question now before us is what exactly does Mr Merezhkovsky mean by ‘philistinism’, and why exactly does ‘philistinism’ come under the heading of vices?

We have been told that man will fall into absolute philistinism if for the sake of frugal satiety he renounces his divine hunger and his divine birthright. And some lines before this, our author gave us to understand that renunciation of the divine hunger and the divine birthright takes place where the human person is sacrificed ‘to the impersonal, the numberless species, the people, humanity’. Let us assume that our author is giving us a correct definition of ‘absolute philistinism’, and ask him where, all the same, he came across this; was it really in Europe of today? We know that in contemporary Europe the bourgeois system holds sway and that the basic bourgeois law of that system is the rule: each for himself and God for all. It is not hard to understand that those who follow that rule in their practical lives are in no way disposed to sacrifice themselves (and consequently, their ‘person’) to ‘the species, the people, humanity’. What is this our ‘deeply cultured’ author is telling us?

But that is not yet all.


According to his definition, ‘absolute philistinism’ consists in the human person being sacrificed ‘to the species, the people, humanity’, for the sake of the golden age in the future. It is precisely this sacrificing of the person for the sake of the golden age in the future that characterises contemporary Europe, whereas the ‘yellow-faced positivists’, the Chinese, worship the golden age in the past. Again we ask: is it not in Europe of today that the bourgeois order prevails? Where then did Mr Merezhkovsky get the idea that the bourgeoisie ruling in Western Europe aspires to the golden age in the future? Whose portrait is he painting? Where did he hear this kind of talk? Was it not from the socialists who, after all, were the first to speak of the golden age in the future?

That is just how it is. Mr Merezhkovsky says that socialism ‘involuntarily embraces the spirit of the eternal average, philistinism, the inevitable metaphysical consequence of positivism, as a religion upon which it itself, socialism, is constructed’. [200] Leaving metaphysics aside, let us look at the matter from the standpoint of social psychology.

The hungry proletarian and the sated philistine have different economic interests, but the same metaphysics and religion [Mr Merezhkovsky tells us], the metaphysics of moderate common sense, the religion of moderate philistine satiety. The war of the fourth estate against the third estate, though economically real, is just as unreal metaphysically and religiously as the war of the yellow race against the white. In both cases it is force against force and not God against God. [201]

‘That war in which there is not God against God is metaphysically and religiously unreal.’ Let it be so. But why does our author think that the hungry proletarian has no other moral interest apart from moderate satiety even when he sacrifices his personal interests to the advantage of ‘the unconditionally golden age'? That remains a secret. But it is not a difficult one to uncover. Mr Merezhkovsky took his characterisation of the hungry proletarian’s psychology from the gentlemen of whom Heine said:

Sie trinken heimlich Wein
Und predigen öffentlich Wasser. [202]

That is an old song. Every time the ‘hungry proletarian’ places certain economic demands before the sated bourgeois, he is charged by the latter with ‘crude materialism’. The bourgeois in his well-fed narrowness does not and cannot understand that to the hungry proletarian the realisation of his economic demands is tantamount to guaranteeing him the possibility of satisfying at least some of his ‘spiritual’ needs. Nor does it occur to him that the struggle for the realisation of these economic demands can inspire and inculcate in the spirit of the hungry proletarian the most noble sentiments of courage, human dignity, selflessness, devotion to the common cause, and so on and so forth. The bourgeois judges by his own standards. He himself is daily engaged in economic struggle, but never experiences in it the slightest moral inspiration. Hence his contemptuous smile when he hears of proletarian ideals: ‘Tell it to the marines, you can’t fool me!’ And, as we have seen, Mr Merezhkovsky fully shares this sceptical view, even while imagining himself the hater of the sated ‘philistine’. Is he the only one? Unfortunately, no; not by any means. Read, for instance, what N Minsky writes:

Don’t you see that the socialist-worker and the capitalist-dandy have the same aim in life? Both of them pay homage to articles of consumption and the comforts of life, both strive to increase the quantity of goods they consume. The only one is on the bottom rung of the ladder and the other on the top rung. The worker tries to raise the minimum of living standards, the capitalist the maximum. Each is within his rights and the struggle between them is simply a contest for which rung of the ladder has to be taken first — the top one or the bottom one. [203]


If the fourth estate is gaining victory after victory before our very eyes, this does not arise because this estate has more sacred principles on its side than the other, but because the workers prosaically organise their forces, collect capital, put forward demands, and support them by force. Understand that, my friend. With all my heart I sympathise with the new social force, if only for the reason that I consider myself to be a worker. I am even prepared to admit that it has justice on its side, for justice seems to me to be nothing but a balance of real forces. Therefore I believe that conservatism is a betrayal of justice. However, I cannot help noticing that by its victories the new social force is not only failing to create a new morality, but is drawing us still further into the jungle of goods-worship. I cannot fail to see that the ideal of the socialists is the same philistine ideal of prosperity in goods, continued downwards, in the direction of a universally accessible minimum. They are right for themselves, but no new truth comes from them. [204]

Finally, in a recently published book, On Social Themes, Mr Minsky says:

We, the Russian intellectuals, would be committing an act of spiritual suicide were we to forget our vocation and common human ideal, and accept in full the teaching of European Social Democracy with all its philosophical basis and psychological content. We must constantly keep in mind that European socialism was begotten in the same original sin of individualism as were the European nobility and bourgeoisie. At the root of all the claims and hopes of the European proletariat is not general love for all men but the same longing for freedom and comfort which in its day inspired the third estate, and has led to the present discord. The claims and hopes of the workers are more legitimate and human than those of the capitalists, but, since they have a class nature, they do not correspond to the interests of humanity. [205]

Mr Merezhkovsky could make nothing of the antinomy of freedom and necessity. Mr Minsky stumbled over the antinomy of general human love and freedom accompanied by comfort. The second is even funnier than the first. As an incorrigible idealist, Mr Minsky just cannot understand that the interests of a given class at a given period of historical development of a given society may coincide with the general interests of humanity. I have not the slightest desire to lead him out of this difficulty, but I do think it would be useful to point out to the reader that this description of modern socialism as an expression of the ‘philistine’ aspirations of the proletariat contains absolutely nothing new, apart maybe from a few particular figures of speech’. [206] Thus, for example, Renan wrote in the preface to his l'Avenir de la science: ‘A state which would guarantee the greatest happiness of the individual would probably end in a condition of profound decay from the point of view of the noble aspirations of mankind.’ Is this contrasting of the happiness of the individual to the high ideals of mankind not the prototype of the contrasting of the general love for mankind to freedom, accompanied by comfort, which Mr Minsky presents to us as the main outcome of his critical and, of course, original reflections on the nature of contemporary socialism? The same Renan, who partly understood the significance of the class struggle as the mainspring of mankind’s historical development, could never rise to the height of viewing this struggle as the source of the moral perfecting of its participants. He believed that the class struggle aroused in people only envy and, in general, the lowest instincts. According to him, people taking part in the class struggle, at least those on the side of the oppressed — an especially interesting point for us in the present case — are incapable of rising higher than Caliban, hating his master Prospero. [207] Renan consoled himself with the thought that flowers may spring from dung, and that the basest instincts of those taking part in the people’s emancipation movement do ultimately serve the cause of progress. Compare his conception of the class struggle with what we have read in Messrs Merezhkovsky and Minsky about the psychology of the militant proletariat, and you will be astonished by the resemblance of this old pseudo-philosophical twaddle to the new gospel of decadence. Yet Renan was not the only one to indulge in this pseudo-philosophical twaddle: he only expressed more vividly than others the sentiment already revealed by some French Romanticists, which becomes the ruling passion among the French ‘Parnassians’ (parnassiens). [208] The fanatical adherents of the theory of art for art’s sake, the ‘Parnassians’, were convinced that they had been brought into the world ‘not for worldly agitation, nor worldly greed, nor worldly strife’, [209] and with very few exceptions, were quite incapable of understanding the moral grandeur of that ‘worldly agitation’ which stems from historic class ‘strife’. Sincere, and ‘in their own fashion’ honest and noble in their aversion to ‘philistinism’, they put into the same compartment of ‘philistinism’ positively all civilised humanity of their time, and with truly comical indignation hurled the charge of ‘philistinism’ at the great historical movement which is called upon to root out philistinism in the moral field, by putting an end to the philistine (that is, the bourgeois) mode of production. From the Parnassians, this comic contempt for the imaginary philistinism of the emancipation struggle of the proletariat passed to the Decadents — first the French and then the Russian. If we take into account the circumstance that our modern evangelists, for example self-same Messrs Minsky and Merezhkovsky, studied with great diligence and excellent success in the Decadent school, we shall realise at once where their views on the psychology of the hungry West European proletariat originated, a psychology which they portray in such truly philistine colours for the spiritual edification of the Russian intellectual.


Alas, there is nothing new under the sun! All the gospels of Messrs Merezhkovsky, Minsky and their ilk prove — at least in their negative attitude to the imaginary philistinism of the West European proletariat — to be but a new copy of a much worn original. But this is only half the sorry tale. The real tragedy is that the original which our half-baked denouncers of proletarian philistinism reproduce is itself saturated through and through with the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is a kind of mockery of fate, and, one must admit, a very bitter, malicious mockery. While reproaching the ‘hungry proletarians’ engaged in bitter struggle for the right to a human existence with philistinism, the French Parnassians and Decadents themselves not only did not turn up their noses at worldly goods, but, on the contrary, were incensed with contemporary bourgeois society, by the way, for failing to assure an adequate supply of the good things of life to them, the Parnassians and Decadents, the sensitive votaries of beauty and truth. Regarding the class movement of the proletariat as the offspring of a base feeling of envy, they had no objection whatever to society being divided into classes. Flaubert wrote in one of his letters to Renan: ‘I thank you for having risen against democratic equality, which seems to me to be an element of death in the world.’ It is not surprising, therefore, that with all their hatred of philistinism, the ‘Parnassians and Decadents’ took the side of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the innovative aspirations of the proletariat. Nor is it less surprising that before locking themselves ‘in their ivory tower’ they spared no effort to improve their own material position in bourgeois society. The hero of Huysmans’ famous novel A rebours is so revolted by philistinism that he decides to build his entire life the opposite way to what it is in bourgeois society (hence the title: The Other Way Round, inside out). He begins, however, by putting his own financial affairs in order, making sure of an income, I think, of some 50 000 francs. With all his heart and soul he detests philistinism, but it does not enter his head that it is only thanks to the philistine (capitalist) mode of production that he can receive his large income without lifting a finger and indulge in his anti-philistine extravagances. He wants the cause, but hates the consequences inevitably flowing from this cause. He wants the bourgeois economic order but despises the sentiments and moods it creates. He is an enemy of philistinism; but this does not prevent him from being a philistine to the very core, since in his rebellion against philistinism he does not once raise his hand against the foundations of the philistine economic order.

Mr Merezhkovsky speaks of the tragedy which Herzen experienced under the influence of the impressions he had formed of ‘philistine’ Europe. I shall not dilate here upon this tragedy. I shall only say that Mr Merezhkovsky has understood it even less than the late Nikolai Strakhov, who wrote about it in his book The Struggle with the West in Our Literature. [210] But I should like to draw the reader’s attention to the tragic conflict which must inevitably arise in the mind of a man who sincerely despises ‘philistinism’ and at the same time is utterly incapable of abandoning a philistine view of the basis of social relations. Such a man will become a pessimist in his social views whether he likes it or not: he has really nothing to expect from social development.

But it is not easy to be a pessimist. It is not everyone who can bear the burden of pessimism. And so he who finds ‘philistinism’ repulsive averts his gaze from the earth, soaked through and through and for ever with ‘philistinism’, and turns it towards... heaven. There takes place that ‘devastating of man and nature’ of which I spoke earlier. The phantom of the other world presents itself in the form of an inexhaustible reservoir of every kind of anti-philistinism, and thus prepares the most direct route into the domain of mysticism. It was no accident that the sincere and honest Huysmans lived his own works so profoundly that he ended his days as a thorough-going mystic, almost a monk.

Taking all this into account, we shall have no trouble in determining the sociological equivalent of the religious seekings which are making themselves felt so strongly in our country, in an environment more or less — and even more than less — involved in Decadence. [211]


Those who belong to that environment, seek a way to heaven for the simple reason that they have lost their way on earth. The greatest historical movements of mankind seem to them to be deeply ‘philistine’ in nature. Hence the reason why some of them are indifferent to these movements or even hostile to them, and others, while attaining some sympathy towards them, find it essential to sprinkle them with holy water, in order to wash off the curse of their ‘material’ economic origin.

However, I shall be told that I have myself admitted that, among our Decadents who are seeking a way to heaven, there are people who sympathise with modern social movements. How can this be reconciled with my contention that all these people are themselves imbued with the spirit of the philistine?

Such an objection not only can be made, it had already been made even before I expressed my thoughts on the matter. It was made by none other than one of the prophets of the new gospel — Mr Minsky. [212]

It is known that in the autumn of 1905 Mr Minsky, who in the same year published his book The New Religion, [213] from which I made long extracts earlier on the question of the ‘philistine’ spirit of the contemporary labour movement, attached himself to one of the factions of our Social-Democratic Party. [214] This naturally aroused much derision and perplexity. Here is how Mr Minsky replied to that derision and perplexity. I shall make a very long extract, since in his explanation Mr Minsky touches upon most important problems of contemporary — Russian and West European — social life and literature:

First of all, I should remark that a good half of the bewilderment and the charges directed against me are related to that primary misunderstanding which has established itself in our liberal criticism in regard to symbolical and mystical poetry, and which consists in the belief that the poets of the new sentiments, if they are not open enemies of political freedom, are at the very least politically indifferent. The Messrs Skabichevskys and Protopopovs have not descried the most important element — that the whole symbolist movement was nothing else than a yearning for freedom and a protest against conventional trends imposed from without. But when, instead of verbal calls to freedom, there swept over Russia the living breath of freedom, something took place which, from the standpoint of liberal criticism, was incomprehensible, but was in fact necessary and simple. All — I emphasise this word — all the representatives of the new sentiments without exception: Balmont, Sollogub, Bryusov, Merezhkovsky, A Bely, Blok, V Ivanov proved to be songsters in the camp of the Russian revolution. In the camp of reaction were those poets who were hostile to symbolism and loyal to the old traditions — the Golenishchev-Kutuzovs and the Tsertelevs. The same thing happened among the Russian painters. The refined aesthetes of The World of Art [215] created a revolutionary satirical journal in alliance with the representatives of the extreme opposition, [216] while the old knights of tendentious painting, the pillars of the Mobile Exhibitions, at the first thunder of the revolution, hid themselves in the nearest corners. What a curious comparison: the healthy realist Repin, Rector of the Academy, painting a picture of the State Council, and the impressionist Serov, from the window of the same Academy, jotting down a sketch of the Cossack attack upon a crowd of workers on the morning of 9 January. There is nothing to be surprised at here, however. Events already familiar in European life were being repeated in our midst. Was not the sincerest aesthete, the friend of the Pre-Raphaelites — Morris — simultaneously the author of a social utopia and one of the leaders of the labour movement? Were not the most talented of the contemporary symbolists — Maeterlinck and Verhaeren — the apostles of freedom and justice? The union of symbolism with the revolution was an event of inner necessity. The artists with the most sensitive nerves could not help being the most responsive to the voice of truth. The innovators in the field of art could not but stand shoulder to shoulder with the transformers of practical life.

In this long extract, the most remarkable point (the one ‘emphasised’ by Mr Minsky) is that all our representatives of the new literary sentiments without exception proved to be ‘songsters in the camp of the Russian revolution’. This is indeed a very interesting fact. But in order to grasp the importance of this fact in the history of the development of Russian social thought and literature, it will be worthwhile giving a little historical information. In France, whence Decadence came to us, the ‘representatives of the new trends’ also sometimes appeared as songsters ‘in the camp of the revolution’. And it is instructive to recall some characteristic peculiarities of this phenomenon. Take Baudelaire, who in many very important respects may be regarded as the founder of the latest literary trends which attracted the said Mr Minsky.

Immediately following the February revolution of 1848, Baudelaire together with Champfleury founded the revolutionary journal Le Salut Public. It is true that the journal soon ceased: only two issues appeared, for 27 and 28 February. But this did not happen because Baudelaire had ceased to sing the praises of the revolution. No, for in 1851 we still find him among the editors of the democratic almanac La République du Peuple, and it is well worth noting that he sharply disputed ‘the infantile theory of art for art’s sake’. In 1852, in the preface to Pierre Dupont’s Chansons, he proved that ‘art is henceforth inseparable from morality and utility’ (l'art est désormais inséparable de la morale et de l'utilité). And several months before this he had written:

The excessive enthusiasm for form is being carried to monstrous extremes... the concepts of truth and justice are disappearing. The unbridled passion for art is an ulcer consuming everything around it... I understand the frenzy of the Iconoclasts and the Moslems against religious images... The crazy enthusiasm for art is tantamount to abuse of the intellect [and so on — GP].

In a word, Baudelaire spoke in almost the same language as our destroyers of aesthetics. And all in the name of the people, in the name of the revolution.

But what had the same Baudelaire been saying before the revolution? He said — no further back than 1846 — that whenever he happened to witness a republican outbreak and saw a policeman striking a republican with the butt of his rifle, he was ready to shout:

Hit him, hit harder, hit again, dear policeman... I adore you for beating him up, and regard you as akin to the supreme judge Jupiter. The man you are beating is the enemy of roses and fragrance, the fanatic of household utensils; he is the enemy of Watteau, the enemy of Raphael, the desperate foe of luxury, fine arts, and belles-lettres, an inveterate iconoclast, the executioner of Venus and Apollo... Beat that anarchist about the shoulders, and do it with religious fervour!

In short, Baudelaire used the strongest language. And all in the name of beauty, all in the name of art for art’s sake.

And what did he say after the revolution? He said — and not so long after the events of the early 1850s, to be precise, in 1855 — that the idea of progress was ridiculous and a sign of decline. According to him then, this idea is ‘a lantern, that sheds nothing but darkness on all questions of knowledge’, and ‘he who wishes to see history clearly must first of all extinguish this treacherous light’. In short, our former ‘songster in the camp of the revolution’, did not mince his words on this occasion either. And once again in the name of beauty, once again in the name of art, once again in the name of the ‘new trends’. [217]


What does Mr Minsky think? Why was it that Baudelaire, who in 1846 was imploring the dear policeman to club the republican, two years later turned up as a ‘songster in the camp of the revolution'? Was it because he had sold himself to the revolutionaries? Of course not. Baudelaire appeared ‘in the camp of the revolution’ for a reason that was a great deal less shameful: quite unexpectedly for himself he was projected into the revolutionary camp by the waves of the people’s movement. Being as impressionable as an hysterical woman, he was incapable of swimming against the stream; and when ‘in place of the verbal calls for freedom’, there swept over France ‘the living breath of freedom’, he who had not long before mocked so crudely both at the calls for freedom and the active struggle for freedom, was blown like a piece of paper in the wind into the camp of the revolutionaries. But when reaction triumphed, when the living breath of freedom had been stifled, he began to find the idea of progress ludicrous. People of this calibre are utterly untrustworthy as allies. They cannot help turning out to be ‘responsive to the voice of truth’. But they are not usually responsive for long; they do not have enough character for that. They dream of supermen; they idealise strength; but they do so not because they are strong, but because they are weak. They idealise not what they have but what they do not have. That is just why they cannot swim against the stream. They are, rather, borne along by the wind. So is it surprising that the revolutionary wind sometimes blows them into the camp of the democrats? It still however does not follow from their being sometimes blown by that wind that ‘the union of symbolism with the revolution is an event of inner necessity’, as Mr Minsky assures us. Not at all! This union is brought about — when it is brought about — by causes that have no direct relationship either to the nature of symbolism or to the nature of revolution. The examples of Morris, Maeterlinck and Verhaeren which were advanced by Mr Minsky prove at best [218] only that talented people, too, can be inconsistent. But this is one of those truths which require no proof.

I shall put it bluntly: I should have a great deal more respect for our representatives of ‘modern trends’ if during the revolutionary storm of 1905-06 they had shown some ability to swim against the stream, and had not been in such a hurry to take up their revolutionary lyre. Surely they themselves must realise now that in their unaccustomed hands that lyre gave forth not very harmonious notes. It might have been better had they just continued in the service of pure beauty. It would have been better to have composed new variations, for instance, on such an old theme:

Thirteen, figure of baleful meaning,
Portent of evil, mockery, revenge:
Treachery, knavery and degradation
Into the world with Serpent creeping. [219]

I do not wish to assume the role of a prophet, to predict that our decadent ‘songsters in the camp of the Russian revolution’ will go through all the zigzags of the road which Baudelaire followed in his time. But they themselves are quite well aware that they have left quite a few zigzags of their own behind them. Mr Minsky writes:

How long is it since Merezhkovsky was preening himself in the garb of a Greek, a superman? How long since Berdyaev wore the costume of a Marxist, a neo-Kantian? Yet here they are, surrendering themselves to the power of spontaneous, invincible, the latest sincerity, serving the undisguised absurdity of a miracle, participating with ecstasy in a rite of superstitious sectarianism, taking with them, we trust, not many.

I too hope that Messrs Berdyaev and Merezhkovsky — as well as Mr Minsky — will attract ‘not many’. But I beg Mr Minsky to tell us how, knowing so well the amazing vacillations of the Decadent representatives of ‘modern trends’, he can with an air of triumph point out that the same vacillation brought them into ‘the camp of the Russian revolution’ as well?

But even in their vacillations these people remain steadfast in one respect: they never fail to look down on the working-class liberation movement. [220] Mr Minsky himself, in relating the story of his comic editorship, confesses — of course, in his own way — that when he joined up with the Social-Democrats, he wanted to sprinkle their revolutionary aspirations with the holy water of his new religious faith. Now that he has long been convinced that his efforts in that direction were foredoomed to failure, he is ready without a tremor to accuse his former allies of the most grievous sins against ‘all the higher spiritual values’. [221]


Enough of that. In a characterisation of Mr Merezhkovsky, Mr Minsky writes:

Merezhkovsky reveals to us with great naivety the reasons why he believes in the resurrection of Christ. ‘In comparison with an undoubtedly putrefying mass, what is a questionable immortality in glory, in the memory of man?’ — he asks. ‘Surely that which is most precious, most unique in me, that which makes me what I am — Peter, Ivan or Socrates, or Goethe — will not exist in a burdock?’ In short, the reason is clear: Merezhkovsky is afraid of death, and wants immortality. [222]

A fact is a fact, and there is no getting away from it! Mr Merezhkovsky is really afraid of death and hopes for immortality. And as science does not guarantee immortality, he turns to religion, from the standpoint of which life after death appears to be incontestable. As he sees it, immortality there must certainly be, because if it were otherwise the time would surely come when that which is most precious and unique, that which makes Mr Merezhkovsky Mr Merezhkovsky, would no longer be. From the point of view of logic, this argument would not withstand even the most tolerant of criticism. One cannot prove the existence of a given being or object by the consideration that, if this being or that object did not exist, it would be most unpleasant for me. Khlestakov says that he must eat, because if he does not he will waste away. As you know, this argument of his did not convince anyone. But no matter how weak Mr Merezhkovsky’s argument is, the fact remains that consciously or unconsciously many are resorting to it. Among these is Mr Minsky, too. Here is his disdainful way of referring to what he calls those of ‘scanty intellect’ who solve too artlessly, in his opinion, the eternal questions of being:

Death? Ha, ha! We shall all be there... The beginning of life? Ha, ha! The monkey... The end of life? Ha, ha! The burdock... Desiring to cleanse Russian reality of the corruption of illusory values, these jolly fellows, all these ‘smart’ pillars of Sovremyennik, Dyelo, Otechestvenniye Zapiski — the Pisarevs, Dobrolyubovs, Shchedrins, Mikhailovskys — without noticing it themselves made life cheap, and with the best intentions created a colourless reality and a second-rate literature. Realism, denying the divinity of life, degenerated into nihilism, and nihilist hilarity has ended in boredom. The soul finds itself constricted between the monkey and the burdock, and matters are not made better either by the dissection of frogs, or by going to the people, or by political martyrdom. [223]

Mr Minsky assures us that in order to dispel the boredom caused by ‘nihilist hilarity’ we have no alternative but to assimilate his ‘religion of the future’. I do not propose to argue the point with him. But why does this ‘nihilist hilarity’ irritate him so? Obviously because jokes are unseemly where the eternal questions of existence are being decided. Does he really think those who showed an hilarity that he does not approve of solved these questions with the aid of jokes? They are known to have solved them, on the contrary, by the serious exercise of their intelligence; suffice it to recall Turgenev’s story of the absorbing interest with which Belinsky studied the question of the existence of God. But once they had resolved these serious questions thanks to the serious application of their intellects, and turned to the old solutions inherited from their fathers and grandfathers, they acquired an ‘hilarious’, that is to say, strictly speaking, a mocking attitude of mind. It is the recollection of this mocking mood that irritates our serious author. This serious author does not want to understand that, as Marx aptly remarked, when I laugh at a joke that is a sign that I take it seriously. The whole question, therefore, may be reduced to this: were the solutions of the ‘eternal questions’ arrived at by the ‘hilarious’ advanced people of the 1870s and 1880s serious solutions? Mr Minsky, in characterising these solutions with the words: ‘the monkey’, ‘we shall all be there’, ‘the burdock’, considers that they are not serious at all. But here he himself sins very much by lack of a serious attitude to the subject.

‘We shall all be there’, ‘the monkey’, and ‘the burdock’, point to a very definite world-outlook which may be characterised by the words: unity of the cosmos, the evolution of living beings, eternally changing forms of life. What here is lacking in seriousness? It would seem, nothing. It would seem that it was just this world-outlook for which the way was prepared by the whole course of scientific development in the nineteenth century. What is there here to annoy Mr Minsky? He is irritated by the ‘ha, ha’s’ which — the truth must be told — far too often accompanied references to ‘the burdock’ and ‘the monkey’. But we have to be just. We must understand that, from the standpoint of the world-outlook mentioned above, the solutions of the eternal questions accepted by our grandfathers cannot but strike one as funny. These solutions have an animistic character, that is to say, they are rooted in the world-outlook of the savage, as I showed earlier (see my first article ‘On Religious Seekings’). But very often and very naturally civilised people laugh at the savage’s view of the world.

It is utterly useless for Mr Minsky to think that the ‘boredom’ from which he and those like him are trying to find an escape in the gospel of Decadence stems from nihilist hilarity. I already explained that this ‘boredom’ is conditioned by the particular psychological state of the present-day ‘superman’, which has the closest possible connection with philistinism and could not possibly be further removed from nihilism. It is just as vain for him to despise ‘hilarity’. There is ‘hilarity’ and ‘hilarity’. The ‘hilarity’ of Voltaire, the celebrated ‘ha, ha’s’ with which he so severely castigated fanaticism and superstition, rendered a most serious service to humanity. In general, it is very strange that our contemporary religious seekers do not like laughter. Laughter is a great thing. Feuerbach was right when he said that laughter distinguishes man from the animal.


I fully believe that the soul of Mr Minsky finds itself constricted ‘between the monkey and the burdock’. How could it be otherwise? He holds such a world-outlook that it compels him to look down on both the ‘burdock’ and the ‘monkey’. He is a dualist. He writes: ‘In himself each individual represents not a monad as Leibniz taught, but a complex biune dyad, that is, an indissoluble unity of two separate and indivisible elements — spirit and body, or, more correctly, a whole system of such dyads, just as a large crystal is composed of small crystals of the same form.’ [224]

This is the most indubitable dualism, except that it is veiled in pseudo-monistic terminology. It is this dualism alone which opens the door for Mr Minsky to his religion of the future, although on this door is written ‘spirit’, and not ‘body’. As a religious man, Mr Minsky sees the world from the angle of animism. Indeed, only a man holding this view could repeat after Mr Minsky the following deathbed prayer:

In this grievous hour of death, in departing for all eternity from the light of the sun and from all I held dear on earth, I thank Thee, O God, that out of Thy love for me Thou didst sacrifice Thyself. As I look back on my short life, its forgotten joys and memorable sufferings, I see that there was no life, just as now there is no death. Only Thou alone didst live and die, and I, in the measure of the power Thou didst grant me, reflect Thy life, as I now reflect Thy death. I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou didst let me witness Thy unity. [225]

Mr Minsky asserts that ‘science investigates causes, and religion aims’. Having created himself a God in the way prescribed by animism, that is to say, in the final analysis, in his own image and likeness, the question quite naturally comes up of the aims God is supposed to have pursued when creating the world and man. Spinoza drew attention to this aspect of the matter a long time ago. He then elucidated in excellent fashion that many prejudices depend:

... upon this one prejudice by which men commonly suppose that all natural things act like themselves with an end in view, and... assert with assurance that God directs all things to a certain end (for they say that God made all things for man, and man that he might worship him). [226]

Once having established definite aims for the activity of the phantom he has created, man may then conveniently devise whatever he pleases. Then it is no trouble to convince oneself that there is ‘no death’ as Mr Minsky asserts, and so forth.

It is remarkable, though, that the modern religious seekings revolve predominantly around the question of personal immortality. Hegel once remarked that in the world of antiquity, the question of life beyond the grave attained exceptional importance when, with the decline of the ancient city-states, all the old social ties were dissolved and man found himself morally isolated. We are faced with something of the kind today. Bourgeois individualism, pushed to the extreme, has reached the point where man seizes upon the question of his personal immortality as the primary question of being. If Maurice Barrès is right, if ‘ego’ is the sole reality, the question as to whether this ‘ego’ is destined to have eternal existence or not truly becomes the question of all questions. [227] And since, if we are to believe the same Barrès, the universe is nothing but a fresco which, badly or well, is drawn by our ‘ego’, it is quite natural to see to it that the fresco proves to be as ‘entertaining’ as possible. In view of this, one need not be surprised either by Mr Merezhkovsky’s ‘devil’, or Mr Minsky’s ‘dyad’ or anything else. [228]

The question of immortality, like that of God [says Mr Merezhkovsky] is one of the main themes of Russian literature from Lermontov to L Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. But no matter how thoroughly the question is gone into, no matter how its solution wavers between yes and no, it still remains a question. [229]

I quite understand that Mr Merezhkovsky saw in the question of immortality one of the main themes of Russian literature. But I do not understand at all how he overlooked the fact that Russian literature has provided at least one circumstantial reply to this question. This reply came... from Zinaida Hippius; it is not very long, so I shall quote it in full.

July thunder has clattered on its ways
And frowning clouds disperse in scudding haze;
The azure, dimmed, shines out anew
On sodden woodland path as we drive through.
Pale gloom descends upon the earth,
From chinks of cloud peeps out new moon at birth.
Our steed moves on with lessening pace,
The fine reins trembling like shimmering lace.
Time is still: thunderless lightning thins
The clouds of lulling darkness.
Lightly the undulating wind does start
Urging the vagrant leaves caress my heart.
From wheels on forest path no sound is heard,
Branches heavy droop as tho’ their fate demurred.
From field and meadow rises vapour fine.
Now, as ne'er before, I sense that I am Thine,
O dear and orderly Nature!
In Thee I live and I shall die with Thee,
My soul resigned and passing free. [230]

Here there is one note that does not ring true — even very untrue. What does this mean: ‘I shall die with Thee'? That when I die, Nature dies with me? But that is wrong. Nature does not live within me, but I within Nature, or, to put it more correctly, Nature lives in me only as a consequence of my living in her, that I am one of her countless parts. So when this part dies, that is to say, decomposes, yielding place to other combinations, Nature will as before continue her eternal existence. But for all that, Mme Z Hippius notes with extreme delicacy the sense of freedom growing out of the sense of unity of Nature and man, despite the idea of the inevitability of death. This feeling is directly opposed to the feeling of slavish dependence on Nature which, in Mr Merezhkovsky’s opinion, must possess every soul that does not lean upon the crutch of religious consciousness. It is quite astonishing that this poem, ‘Evening’, could come from the pen of a writer capable of appealing to the number 13:

The first creator willed that Thou,
Thirteen, art necessary now.
By worldly law Thou dost portend
To bring the world to direst end. [231]

The sense of freedom, generated by the consciousness of the unity and kinship of man and Nature and in no way weakened by thoughts of death, is the most glorious and gratifying possible. But it has nothing in common with the ‘boredom’ which seizes upon Messrs Minsky and Merezhkovsky every time they recall their brother the ‘burdock’ and their sister ‘the monkey’. This sense is in no way afraid of the ‘burdock immortality’ which so frightens Mr Merezhkovsky. Moreover, it is based on the instinctive consciousness of that immortality, so distasteful to Mr Merezhkovsky. Whoever has this sense will not be afraid of death, while where it is absent that person will not get rid of his thoughts of death by conjuring up all sorts of ‘dyads’ or ‘religions of the future’.


The contemporary religious seekers address themselves to the phantom of the other world precisely because this sense of freedom is either absent from their devastated souls, or is an extremely rare visitor. They seek in religion the consolation which others — sometimes, by the way, they themselves — seek in wine. And the view is very widely held that religious consolation is especially necessary to man when, in one way or another, he has to pay his tribute to death.

But is everyone consoled by such a consolation? That’s just the point, they are not.

Feuerbach asks:

What is religious consolation? Simply an appearance. Am I consoled by the thought that a loving father in Heaven has deprived these children of their father? Can a father be replaced? Can this misfortune be made good? Yes, in a human way it can, but through religion, no. How? Will the notion of a loving Father help me if my poor child lies ill for years on end? No... My heart rejects religious consolation... [232]

What has Mr Merezhkovsky to say about that? It seems to me that such speeches inspire recollections of proud titans rather than pitiful drunken vagrants.

Mr Merezhkovsky speaks of ‘burdock immortality’ with supreme contempt. It is plain that he is alien to that cheering sense of kinship with nature so poetically described in Mme Hippius’s poem ‘Evening’. He thinks that only so-called crude materialists could be content with ‘burdock immortality’. However, for an adequate characterisation of the crude ‘materialists’ it has to be said that their conception of immortality is not covered by the notion of ‘burdock immortality’. They also say that a dead man may live on in the memories of other people. There is Feuerbach’s excellent phrase: ‘Das Reich der Erinnerung ist der Himmel.’ (’the kingdom of recollection is heaven.’) Only Feuerbach could reason thus, since, no matter what anyone says, he was nevertheless a materialist. But the fine gentlemen of the Decadence are not satisfied by such a thought. To refer to life in recollection produces on them the impression of wicked mockery. These fine gentlemen, generally speaking, so attached to idealism which sees the world only as our conception of it, are deeply insulted when they hear that a time will come when they themselves will live only in the conception of other people. Their one thought is to preserve their cherished ‘ego'; a world without that ‘ego’ seems to them to be a world without freedom, a world of gloomy chaos.

Feuerbach said that only people who regarded mankind with indifference or even with contempt could not be satisfied with the idea of the continued existence of man in man: ‘The doctrine of celestial, superhuman immortality is the doctrine of egoism, the doctrine of the continued... existence of man in man is the doctrine of love.’ [233] There is no doubt about the justness of this remark. Our fine and exalted Decadents see in the question of personal immortality the fundamental question of life just because they are individualists to the very marrow. The individualist, it may be said, by his very title, is bound to be an egoist.

Am I wrong? Do I exaggerate? I shall cite Mme Z Hippius again:

I think [she writes] that should a poet appear today, in our difficult and bitter times, essentially like ourselves, but a genius — he would find himself alone on his narrow summit; only the peak of his rock would seem to be higher — closer to heaven — and the litany he sang would appear even less distinct. Until we find a common God, or at least until we understand that we all aspire to Him, to the One, our prayers, our poems, alive for each of us, will be incomprehensible and unnecessary to anyone. [234]

Why should ‘our poems’, ‘alive for each of us’, be unnecessary and incomprehensible to anyone? Simply because it is the outcome of extreme individualism. When the poet finds the human world around him unnecessary and incomprehensible, he himself becomes unnecessary and incomprehensible for the surrounding human world. But consciousness of solitude lies heavily: this can be felt even in the words of Mme Hippius. And so, as it is impossible to get away from this loneliness with the aid of notions concerning the real, earthly life of our sinful humanity, the individualists, exhausted by their spiritual solitude, turn towards heaven to seek a ‘common God’. They hope that the ‘common God’ they have invented will cure them of their old sickness — individualism. Rise, o God! [235] Vain call! No heavenly potion is there against individualism. A sad fruit of man’s earthly life, it will vanish only when the mutual (earthly) relations of men are no longer expressed in the principle: ‘Man to man is wolf.’


Now we know the psychology of the decadent type of ‘god-builders’ well enough to realise, once and for all, just how inconceivable it is for these gentlemen to sympathise with the liberation movement of the working class. They see only philistinism in the psychology of the hungry proletarian. I have pointed out already that this is explained above all by their invincible, though perhaps unconscious, sympathy with that same ‘philistine’ economic order which so considerately frees them from the tiresome necessity of living by the work of their own hands. In their contempt for the ‘philistinism’ of the hungry proletarian is disclosed the philistinism — the true, genuine philistinism — of the sated bourgeois. Now we see that their philistinism comes to the surface also in another sense. It is expressed in that extreme individualism which renders impossible not only sympathy on their part with the proletariat, but even their mutual understanding among themselves. The precious ‘ego’ of each one of them realises Leibniz’s philosophical ideal: it becomes a monad ‘which has no windows on the outside’.

Imagine now that such a monad, having turned devout under the influence of the intolerable dullness of life and the unconquerable fear of death which threatens to destroy the precious ‘ego’, decides at last to abandon its ‘ivory tower’. Busied up till then with ‘the number thirteen’ and the propagation of art for art’s sake, it now turns benevolently to our vale of tears and takes up the aim of reconstructing anew the reciprocal relationships of men. In brief, imagine that a monad ‘which has no windows on the outside’ is thrown by the burst of an historical storm into the ‘camp of revolution’. What will it do there?

We already know that it will sprinkle the economic aspirations of present-day struggling humanity with the holy water of its modern piety, and fumigate it with the incense of its ‘modern’ mysticism. But not content with this, it will wish to refashion the said aspirations in conformity with its own spiritual mould.

The contemporary working-class emancipation movement is a movement directed against the exploiting minority. The strength of the participants of this movement lies in their solidarity. Their success presupposes in them the capacity to sacrifice their private interests to the interests of the whole. The pathos of this struggle is self-abnegation. But the monad ‘which has no windows on the outside’ does not know the meaning of self-abnegation. The subordination of private interests to the interests of the whole seems to it to be an act of violence against personality. It is antipathetic to the mass, which, in its view, threatens it with ‘anonymity’. Consequently, it never concludes sincere and lasting peace with the socialist ideal. It will reject that ideal, even when involuntarily yielding to it.

We see this from the example of Mr Minsky. In words he makes many concessions to contemporary socialism, but in practice all his sympathy is for so-called revolutionary syndicalists, whose theory is the bastard daughter of anarchism. Socialism of the Marx school seems to him to be too ‘fond of power’. It is true that he does not approve of the Benjamin Tucker school of anarchists — those extreme individualists. They appear to him to be too ‘fond of themselves’. So he resolves that ‘the socialists’ love of power and the anarchists’ preaching of self-love makes them akin, not only with the ideology but also with the psychology of the bourgeoisie which they hate’. [236] On this basis you may think, perhaps, that Mr Minsky is as far removed from socialism as he is from anarchism. You are wrong. Listen further:

The libertarian socialists prove to be fully radical in simultaneously denying both private property and organised power and are thus entitled to consider themselves fully cured of the poison of the philistine conception of life and way of life. [237]

Who are these ‘libertarian’ socialists who are so much to the taste of our author? They are the anarchists of the Bakunin and Kropotkin school, that is, the anarchists who call themselves communists. Taking into account the fact that there are scarcely any other anarchists in Europe — the few followers of Tucker there are will be found mostly in the United States of America — we see that Mr Minsky’s sympathy goes to the West European anarchists. These anarchists, as he says, reject both private property and organised power. Since the anarchists do not of course recognise unorganised power either, our author would have been more exact had he said that the ‘libertarian socialists’ deny all restrictions on the rights of the individual. Such a denial seems to him to be very radical, especially as the ‘libertarian socialists’ also deny private property. Quite carried away by this radicalism Mr Minsky is ready to declare that the ‘libertarian socialists’ are ‘fully cured of the poison of the philistine conception of life and way of life’. It turns out, therefore, that the only movement hostile to philistinism is today the one which carries in Western Europe the banner of anarchism. Could one speak more favourably of it? Our author, so favourably disposed towards communist anarchism, has not noticed that the ‘radicalism’ of this trend can be reduced simply to paralogism: in fact, one cannot oppose any restriction of the rights of the individual and at the same time denounce private property, namely the right of the individual to acquire for himself certain objects. But the brain is often silent when the heart speaks. An individual from the decadent camp cannot but feel the most cordial sympathy for individualists from the camp of ‘libertarian socialism’. [238] The funniest thing about it all is that Mr Minsky tries to put the blame on someone else. He hurls the reproach of individualism at contemporary socialism, or, to use his own words, social-democratism:

It is quite possible [he says] that the conception of the world process as a struggle for economic interests is normal and true for the individualist. But for those of us who have worked out in suffering a different attitude to the world, perhaps a morbid one, but still one that is near and dear to us, of universal love and self-sacrifice — for us the normal and true conception of the world process is the mystery of universal love and sacrifice. [239]

Here the first thing to be remarked is that it would never enter the head of a single sensible Marxist to regard the whole ‘world process’, that is, for example, the development of the solar system as well, as a struggle for economic interests. That is nonsense which we could expect only from some of our half-baked empiriomonists (Bogdanov and Co). But that is not the point. As has been said above, it is very characteristic of our contemporary philistine to contrast ‘universal love and self-sacrifice’ to the struggle for economic interests — note: the struggle for the economic interests of the economically exploited class. Only someone who knows nothing either of self-sacrifice or of all-embracing human love would be capable of making such a contrast. It is precisely because Mr Minsky understands neither one nor the other that he feels the irresistible need to smother them in a dark cloud of religious ‘mystery’.

And Mr Merezhkovsky?

As for him, he can understand socialism even less than Mr Minsky does; therefore he is inclined towards that ‘eternal anarchy’, which, according to him, is the hidden soul of the Russian revolution. [240] And he is not alone: the whole trinity of D Merezhkovsky, Z Hippius and D Filosofov are, as we see, inclined to eternal anarchy. In the unsigned preface to the triune work Der Zar und die Revolution it is said — obviously on behalf of the whole trinity — that the conscious empirical aim of the Russian revolution is socialism, but its mystical and unconscious aim is anarchy. [241]

Here the Russian revolution is identified with anarchy ('Die russische Revolution oder Anarchie’, p 1); and it is foretold that sooner or later ‘Europe as a whole’ will come into conflict with the anarchist Russian revolution. And in order that Europe as a whole should know with whom it will have to deal in the coming conflict, it is informed that, whereas for the European politics is a science, for us it is a religion [242] and that ‘we’, deep down at the bottom of our being and will, are mystics. Moreover, ‘our mystical essence’ is characterised, incidentally, in this: that ‘we do not walk, we run; we do not run, we fly. We do not fly, we fall.’ [243] A little further on, ‘Europe as a whole’ reads with the greatest astonishment that ‘we fly’ in the most unusual way — namely, ‘mit in die Luft gerichteten Fersen’. [244] In Russian this expression means: head downwards, or vulgo: upside down.

This admission by the triune author of the collection seems to me to be the most valuable element of all the varieties of the decadent ‘religion of the future’. These worthy mystics, in fact, neither walk nor run — one can walk or run only on the earth, but we are not concerned with the earth — they fly, and what’s more, they fly upside down. This new mode of transport has the effect of making their blood flow to their heads, with the result that their brains do not function too well. This circumstance throws an extraordinarily bright light on the origin of decadent mysticism.

The religion without God invented by Mr Lunacharsky and the gospel of Decadence do not by any means exhaust the varied types of our contemporary religious ‘seekings’. In the original plan for my series of articles on this subject, a place was also set aside for a detailed analysis of the religious revelation which comes to us from the group of writers who have published the much acclaimed collection Vekhi. But the more carefully I delved into this work, and the more I listened to the discussions it has aroused, the more surely I was convinced that the gospel of Struve, Gerschensohn, Frank and Bulgakov requires a special work to be devoted to it, examining it, as the Germans say, in another connection. I shall do this in the coming year in an article, or perhaps a series of articles, devoted to investigating how a part of our intelligentsia moved backwards from ‘Marxism to idealism'... and still further back — to Vekhi. I do not deem it necessary to hide the fact that one of the main themes of my future work will be the question of how and why a certain variety of our religious seekings serves as a spiritual weapon for the Europeanisation of our bourgeoisie. Marx was indeed right: ‘Religious questions now have social significance.’ And it is really being naive to think that when Mr P Struve, for example, attempts to refute with the aid of religion some ‘philosophical principles’ of socialism, he is acting as a theologian, and not as a publicist who holds the viewpoint of a definite class.


Notes are by Plekhanov, except those by the Moscow editors of this edition of the work, which are noted ‘Editor’.

1. Vekhi — a collection of articles by prominent Cadet publicists, representatives of the counter-revolutionary liberal bourgeoisie — SN Bulgakov, NA Berdyaev, PB Struve and others — was published in Moscow in the spring of 1909. The contributors to Vekhi tried to discredit the democratic revolutionary traditions of the liberation movement in Russia, and also the views and activities of VG Belinsky, NA Dobrolyubov and NG Chernyshevsky. They derided the revolution of 1905-07 and thanked the tsarist government for using ‘its bayonets and prisons’ to save the bourgeoisie from the ‘wrath of the people’ — Editor.

2. SN Bulgakov, ‘Heroism and Dedication’, Vekhi, p.32.

3. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] In connection with my reference to the myth telling of the origin of the goddess Athena, Mr V Rozanov in Novoye Vremya of 14 October 1909, reproached me with apparently having forgotten to describe the particular phenomenon which the Greeks explained by means of Pallas Athena and the special mode of her birth. But my wonderful critic, who himself made quite clear to his readers that he had not taken the trouble to read my article, simply did not understand what I was talking about. I related the story of the birth of Athena from the head of Jupiter as a myth explaining how the goddess Athena came to be... But why she came about that way, and not some other way is quite a different question, which is answered not by myths but by branches of science — the history of religion or sociology. As for the compliments Mr Rozanov pays me, they are not worth talking about: one does not take offence at half-wits, especially when they write in Novoye Vremya. From a psychological standpoint, one thing is interesting here: is Mr Rozanov aware of how contemporary science explains the particular features of the myth regarding the origin of Pallas Athena? I may be forgiven for expressing very strong doubts in this respect. [Novoye Vremya (New Times) — a daily newspaper published in St Petersburg from 1868 to 1917, an organ of reactionary landowner circles and bureaucratic officialdom — Editor.]

4. Opossum — a small animal found in Australia, belonging to the Marsupialia. We shall yet see how, in the eyes of savages, one may be both man and opossum or any other animal.

5. A van Gennep, Mythes et légendes d'Australie (Paris), p.38.

6. Dr P Ehrenreich, Die Mythen und Legenden der südamerikanischen Urvölker und ihre Beziehungen zu denen Nordamerikas und der Alten Welt (Berlin, 1905), p.10.

7. Edward B Tylor, Primitive Culture, Volume 2 (Russian edition, St Petersburg, 1897), p.10. [Edward B Tylor, Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom, Volume 2 (London, 1903), pp.9-10 — Editor.] See also Elisée Reclus, Les croyances populaires (Paris, 1907), pp.14-15; and Wundt, Völkerpsychologie, Volume 2, Part 2, p.142 et seq.

8. ‘Vermenschlichung und Personifizierung von Naturerscheinungen’, said Ehrenreich justifiably, ‘bedingen an sich noch kein religiöses Bewusstsein’ (Die Mythen und Legenden, p.25): ‘The humanising and personifying of natural phenomena does not by itself give rise to religious consciousness.’

9. Tylor, Primitive Culture, Volume 2, p.8.

10. It is interesting to note that animism was vividly expressed in one of YA Baratynsky’s poems. Here it is (’signs’):

Ere man put nature to the wheel
Of survey, scale or crucible;
Attending as a child to Nature’s signs,
Man met with faith all her designs.
While he loved Nature,
She answered him with love,
Pregnant, bountiful love and
Finding tongue for man.
In times when danger threatened near,
The raven croaked to still his fear;
His future left to fate forbearing,
Temperate yet e'en in his daring.
When on his path a wolf from forest strayed.
Circling, with anger rising, his victory foresaid.
Stoutly his host he'd throw
At the war-band of the foe.
While overhead in whirling flight two doves
Foretold the bliss of coming loves.
And man stood not alone in lonely land,
Life friendly breathed on every hand.

Baratynsky lamented with simple candour the fact that man’s intellectual growth deprived him of his animist illusions:

But, disdaining sense, man gave trust to brain,
Surrendering his future to researches vain;
And Nature closed her heart to faithless worth,
While prophecies vanished from the earth.
This, of course, is rather funny, as Belinsky noticed. None the less, animist notions were never more clearly portrayed than in Baratynsky’s poem.

11. A Bogdanov, From the Psychology of Society (St Petersburg, 1904), p.118.

12. Ibid, Mr Bogdanov’s italics.

13. Ibid, pp.113-14, Mr Bogdanov’s italics.

14. Ibid, p.115.

15. M Guyau, Irreligion in the Future (Russian edition, St Petersburg, 1908), p.60.

16. Ibid.

17. Bogdanov, From the Psychology of Society, p.118.

18. Paul Sarrazin, ‘Über religiöse Vorstellungen bei niedrigsten Menschenformen’, in Actes du II-ième Congrès International d'Histoire des Religions à Bâle (1904), p.135.

19. E Deschamps, Au pays des veddas (Paris, 1892), p.386.

20. Lucien Turner, The Hudson Bay Eskimo (Eleventh Report of the Bureau of Ethnology), p.194.

21. Ibid, p.193.

22. Ibid.

23. The kaffirs believe that the shades of the departed live underground, only they themselves as well as their cattle and huts, that is, the shades of their cattle and huts, are very tiny (F Ratzel, Völkerkunde, Volume 1 (Leipzig, 1888), p.268).

24. Another cause of this combination of concepts is that the cessation of breathing is the cessation of life.

25. Tylor called this image the ‘pupil image’. E Monseur (Revue de l'histoire des religions (1905), pp.1-23) speaks of the custom of closing the eyes of the deceased because of the belief that the ‘pupil image’ was a soul.

26. Mach says: ‘We naturalists look askance at the concept of “soul,” often making fun of it. But matter is an abstraction of exactly the same sort, no better and no worse than the other abstraction. We know just as much about the soul as we do about matter.’ (E Mach, Principle of the Conservation of Work (St Petersburg, 1909), p.31). Mach is very much in error; spirit is an abstraction of a quite different ‘sort’. The concept of spirit is the outcome of the effort to abstract oneself from the conception of matter. This is an abstraction of a secondary order, negating the real basis upon which the abstraction of the first order — matter — grows.

27. F Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach (St Petersburg, 1906), pp.40-41. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p.345 — Editor.]

28. Ibid, p.40, footnote. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p.345 — Editor.]

29. F Engels, Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats (eighth edition, Stuttgart, 1900), p.2. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p.206 — Editor.]

30. Plekhanov refers to his first letter about the arts in the primitive society, which was included in the collection of articles ‘Unaddressed Letters’, see Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 5 (Moscow, 1981), pp.263-359 — Editor.

31. Karl von den Steinen, Unter den Naturvölkern Zentral-Brasiliens (Berlin, 1894), p.201. Cf Frobenius, Die Weltanschauung der Naturvölker (Weimar, 1898).

32. Steinen, Unter den Naturvölkern Zentral-Brasiliens, p.351.

33. Tylor, Primitive Culture, Volume 2, p.17.

34. Ibid, pp.17-18.

35. JG Frazer, Le Rameau d'ore Volume 1 (Paris, 1903), p.64.

36. Ibid, p.66.

37. DG Brinton, Religions of Primitive Peoples (New York and London, 1899), pp.173-74.

38. Genesis 2:7.

39. Genesis 3:19.

40. ‘Töpferei ist den Weddas unbekannt.’ (Paul Sarrazin, ‘Über religiöse Vorstellungen bei niedrigsten Menschenformen’, in Actes du II-ième Congrès International d'Histoire des Religions à Bâle (1904), p.129) ['Pottery is unknown to the Veddas.’ — Editor]

41. Van Gennep, Mythes et légendes d'Australie, p.28.

42. Ibid, p.7.

43. A Lang, Mythes, cultes et religions (Paris, 1896), pp.161-62.

44. Ibid, p.162.

45. Ibid, pp.164-65.

46. Ibid, p.170.

47. Ehrenreich, Die Mythen und Legenden, p.33.

48. Ibid, p.55.

49. Ibid.

50. In a locality of Ancient Egypt, the god Khnum is portrayed as a potter shaping an egg. This was the first egg, out of which the whole world developed. This is an eclectic myth, combining in itself the primitive theory of evolution and the doctrine of the creation of the world by God. In Memphis it was said that the god Phtah built the world as a mason would erect a building. In Sais they believed that the world was woven by a goddess, and so forth (PD Chantepie de la Saussaye, Manuel d'histoire des religions (Paris, 1909), p.122).

51. See Frank Byron Jevons, An Introduction to the History of Religion (third edition, London), p.115.

52. Similarly, the Greeks considered it impermissible to eat the lobster. On one of the islands in the Aegean Sea, it was customary to weep over lobsters that were accidentally found dead, and to give them a ceremonial burial. Some scientists think that the wolf enjoyed similar privileges in Athens (Frazer, Le totémisme (Paris, 1898), p.23). Since this book was published, Frazer has modified his view on the origin of totemism, but his characterisation of it remains the most comprehensive yet. More on totemism can be read in Wundt’s work on the question (Völkerpsychologie, Volume 2, Part 2, p.238 et seq).

53. Frazer, Le totémisme.

54. Ibid, p.26.

55. Ibid, p.30.

56. Ibid, p.33.

57. Ibid, p.34. Incidentally, in Australia they do not use the American word totem; they use the word kobong.

58. Ibid, p.35.

59. Ibid, p.36.

60. Ibid, p.89.

61. Ibid, p.92.

62. Von den Steinen, Unter den Naturvölkern Zentral-Brasiliens, p.354.

63. Ehrenreich, Die Mythen und Legenden, p.28.

64. Dr Aurel Krause, Die Tlinkit-Indianer (Jena, 1885), pp.253, 266-67.

65. Lang, Mythes, cultes et religions, pp.331-32.

66. There is the example of the part played by the falcon in the mythology of one of the tribes of Victoria (Arnold van Gannep, Mythes et légendes d'Australie (Paris, year of publication not indicated, preface written in 1881), p.83.

67. Quoted by Andrew Lang in his book The Making of Religion (London, 1900), p.161.

68. JG Frazer, ‘The Beginnings of Religion and Totemism among the Australian Aborigines’, The Fortnightly Review, July 1905, pp.166-67.

69. S Reinach, Cultes, Mythes et religions, Volume 1 (Paris, 1905), p.16.

70. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1974), p.173 — Editor.

71. Elsewhere — see my article ‘On Art’ published in the collection For Twenty Years — I said that this contrast was reflected also in aesthetic tastes. I quoted Lotze’s opinion, which it will not be out of place to repeat in part here: ‘In dieser Idealisierung der Natur liess sich die Sculptur von Fingerzeigen der Natur selbst leiten; sie überschätzte hauptsächlich Merkmale, die den Menschen vom Thiere unterscheiden.’ ['In its idealisation of Nature, sculpture was guided by the finger of Nature itself; it chiefly overvalued features which distinguish man from the animal.'] (Lotze, Geschichte der Aesthetik in Deutschland (München, 1868), p.568)

72. ‘To each his own.’ — MIA.

73. Schweinfurth, Au Coeur de I'Afrique, Volume 1 (Paris, 1875), p.148.

74. The primitive religion of the Persians, that is, their religion in the epoch before Zoroaster, was the religion of a pastoral people. Both the cow and the dog were treated as sacred and even divine. They played a big part in ancient Persian mythology and cosmogony, and left their imprint even on the language. The expression ‘I gave the cow plenty to eat’ meant in general: ‘I have fulfilled my duties completely.’ The expression ‘I have bought a cow’ meant: ‘By my good deeds I have earned myself glory in heaven’, and so on. It is scarcely possible to find a more vivid example of how man’s consciousness is determined by his being (cf Chantepie de la Saussaye, Manuel d'histoire des religions, p.445).

75. The domestication of animals is still far removed from their being used for work. It is not so easy to see, either, how man, even if a ‘savage’, decided to put his own blood relative — god — to work. But first of all, the idea of utilising the domesticated god for labour could have arisen in other tribes, which did not regard the animal as a sacred relative. Secondly, in primitive religion there are also ‘arrangements avec le bon Dieu’. Thus some tribes of New South Wales will not themselves kill the animals that serve them as totems, but entrust this to strangers and then do not consider it a sin to eat their flesh. The Narrinyeri hold a different view in their religious casuistry, abstaining from the use of their totem as food only if it is an emaciated specimen, while they eat plump specimens without a twinge of conscience (Frazer, ‘The Beginnings of Religion and Totemism among the Australian Aborigines’, The Fortnightly Review, July 1905, p.29).

76. Samo-ov — ‘Sheep himself’ — Editor.

77. In the preface to the second edition of my translation of the Manifesto of the Communist Party. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1976), pp.459-61 — Editor.]

78. I say ‘if’ because we are concerned here with an hypothesis — a very clever one, but as yet still an hypothesis. In any case, it is very difficult to believe that totemism was the only source of the domestication of animals.

79. Cf Jevons, An Introduction to the History of Religion, pp.182-88.

80. See page 245 of the German translation of his book, Die Urgesellschaft (Stuttgart, 1891). [Lewis H Morgan, Ancient Society (Charles H Kerr, Chicago), p.297 — Editor.]

81. Ibid, pp.396-97. [Kerr edition, pp.477-78 — Editor.]

82. Jevons writes: ‘It is still a much disputed question what was the original form of human marriage, but in any case the family seems to be a later institution than the clan or community, whatever its structure, and family gods consequently are later than the gods of the community.’ (Jevons, An Introduction to the History of Religion, p.180). [Quoted in English by Plekhanov — Editor.]

83. Quoted in English by Plekhanov — Editor. [No reference is given by either Plekhanov or the Editors — MIA.]

84. Tylor, Primitive Culture, Volume 2, p.82. Cf also L de Milloué, Le brahmanisme (Paris, 1905), p.138.

85. Chantepie de la Saussaye, Manuel d'histoire des religions, pp.106-07.

86. A Erman, La religion égyptienne (translated into French by Ch Vidal, Paris, 1907), pp.201-02, 266. [Adolf Erman, Die ägyptische Religion — Editor.]

87. Gods are stronger than men. Daniel Brinton says: ‘The god is one who can do more than man.’ [Quoted in English by Plekhanov — Editor] (Religions of Primitive Peoples, p.81) But it is very difficult, and perhaps impossible, for them to do without the help of men. The gods are, first of all, in need of nourishment. The Caraibes build special huts in which they lock up the sacrifices they bring for the gods. And they even hear the champing of the gods’ jaws as they devour the food (A Bros, La religion des peuples non civilisés, p.135). Many gods are very fond of feasting on human flesh. Human sacrifices are known to be quite common among primitive tribes. When the Iroquois made a human sacrifice to their god, they used to say the following prayer: ‘We bring Thee this sacrifice so that Thou mayest feed on human flesh and so that Thou wilt help us to win happiness and victory over our enemies.’ (Ibid, p.136) Nothing could be more explicit: do ut des, I give to Thee, so that Thou wilt give to me. But gods do not live by food alone; they also like to be entertained by dancing, which explains the origin of the sacred dances. When the gods become settled in their way of life — together with the people who worship thorn — they feel the need for a permanent abode; then comes the building of temples, etc, etc. In brief, gods have the same requirements as men, and these requirements change as the faithful advance along the road of cultural development. The greater the heights reached by man’s moral development, the more disinterested their gods become. The prophet Hosea (6:6) has Jehovah saying: ‘For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’ Kant thought it was possible to reduce religion to a view of moral duties as divine commandments.

88. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,The Holy Family’, Collected Works, Volume 4 (Moscow, 1975), p.108 — Editor.

89. Rhys Davids, Buddhism (St Petersburg, 1899), p.21. [Plekhanov is quoting from the Russian translation of TW Rhys Davids, Buddhism: Its History and Literature — Editor.] It is interesting to compare this with the following opinion of P Oltramare, author of one of the most recent works on Buddhism: ‘Par sa conception du monde et de la vie le bouddhisme s'est placé aux antipodes du vieil animisme populaire. Celui-ci voit partout des êtres autonomes, et son univers se compose d'une infinité de volontés plus ou moins puissantes; le bouddhisme a poussé jusqu'aux dernières limites son explication phénoméniste et déterministe des choses.’ ['In its conception of the world and its view of life, Buddhism is the antipode of ancient popular animism. The latter sees autonomous beings everywhere, and its universe is composed of an infinite number of more or less powerful wills; Buddhism pushes its phenomenist and determinist explanation of things to the extreme limit.'] (P Oltramare, La formule bouddhique des douze causes, Genève, 1909)

90. Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p.50. Chantepie de la Saussaye also confirms that in its fundamental views, Buddhism is ‘absolutely atheistic’. Yet the same author simultaneously admits that this religion populates heaven with innumerable gods (Chantepie de la Saussaye, Manuel d'histoire des religions, pp.382-83).

91. Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p.58.

92. Chantepie de la Saussaye, Manuel d'histoire des religions, p.383.

93. Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p.49.

94. Leo Tolstoy, What Is Religion, What Is Its Essence (Free Word Publishers, 1902), p.48.

95. Ibid, pp.48-49.

96. Ibid, p.11, Tolstoy’s italics.

97. Ibid, p.50.

98. Ibid.

99. ‘Der Glaube, dass ein Gott ist, oder, was dasselbe, ein Gott die Welt macht und regiert, ist nichts anderes als der Glaube, das heißt, hier die Überzeugung oder Vorstellung, dass die Welt, die Natur nicht von Naturkräften oder Naturgesetzen, sondern von denselben Kräften und Beweggründen beherrscht und bewegt wird, als der Mensch.’ [’the belief that there is a God, or what is the same thing, that God created the world and governs it, is nothing more than a belief, that is to say, a conviction or conception, according to which the world, nature is directed not by natural forces or natural laws, but by the same forces and motive powers as man.'] (L Feuerbach, Works, Volume 9, p.334)

100. Plekhanov’s reply to Mercure de France questionnaire. See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1976), pp.98-99 — Editor.

101. A Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, Part 1 (St Petersburg, 1908), p.24.

102. Ibid.

103. Lunacharsky gives a number of quotations from Vandervelde’s book Le Socialisme et la religion (Socialism and Religion). According to Vandervelde, science was powerless to explain the essence of things, and only if this was not understood was it possible to ‘cherish the illusion that the progress of scientific knowledge will put an end to philosophical ignorance’. Lunacharsky adds: ‘Vandervelde calls invasion of this field of ignorance religion.’ — Editor.

104. Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, Part 1, p.28. We are already aware that to be ‘more profound’ (and so on — GP) ‘than Plekhanov’ is also to be more profound than Engels. But we must understand also that, ‘these days’, it is more expedient to criticise Plekhanov while rebelling against Marx and Engels. Who wants the reputation of being among ‘Marx’s critics'?

105. Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, part 1, p.29.

106. It is not inappropriate to remind the reader again that in this case ‘to Plekhanov’ means also ‘to Engels’, and also that it is not convenient for our author to speak of Engels, because he does not want to be included among the theoretical ‘revisionists’.

107. Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, part 1, pp.28-29.

108. Ibid, p.29.

109. It is obvious from this that Mr Lunacharsky, no doubt following the example of FA Lange, does not look upon Feuerbach as a materialist. I have proved more than once that this is a great error. (See, among others, the first page of my pamphlet Fundamental Problems of Marxism.) [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1976), pp.117-18 — Editor.]

110. Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, part 1, p.31.

111. Ibid, p.32.

112. Ibid.

113. Ibid, p.31.

114. Ibid, p.32.

115. This article was published as a supplement to Poverty of Philosophy, translated by VI Zasulich and edited by myself. [The reference is to Karl Marx’s article ‘On Proudhon (A letter to IB Schweitzer)’, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1973), p.29 — Editor.]

116. Gesammelte Schriften von Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels, 1841 bis 1850, Volume 1 (Stuttgart, 1902), pp.384-85. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), pp.175-76 — Editor.]

117. Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, Part 1, p.145.

118. Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 1, p.483. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), p.461 — Editor.]

119. Ibid, pp.484-85. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), p.463 — Editor.]

120. Although it is he that uttered the magnificent expression: ‘Religion is the sleep of the human spirit.’

121. F Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach (St Petersburg, 1900), pp.51-52. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), pp.353-54 — Editor.]

122. Mr Lunacharsky actually says: ‘Religion is a bond’ (Religion and Socialism, Part 1, p.39).

123. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p.354 — Editor.

124. F Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach, p.52. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p.355 — Editor.]

125. Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, Part 1, p.104.

126. Ibid, p.40.

127. Ibid, p.49.

128. Ibid, p.40, Lunacharsky’s italics.

129. Ibid.

130. Ibid pp.40-41.

131. Ibid, p.41.

132. Ibid. ['I'm happy, I'm happy’ — these words are often uttered by the narrow-minded and self-conceited teacher Kulygin, a character from Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters — Editor.]

133. Ibid, p.46.

134. And in general, very few have ever concerned themselves with this problem. What is there in common between the law of nature which runs: the intensity of light is in inverse proportion to the square of the distance, and Mr A Lunacharsky’s socio-political ideal? It is hardly likely that there are many thinkers who would undertake to solve this question. There was one who could have solved it with the greatest ease, but he is now dead. I am talking of the late Dr AM Korobov, one of the ‘seekers’ after religion at the end of the 1870s and the beginning of the 1880s. Dr Korobov published a collection of his writings under the title of The Allalphabet or the Tetragrammaton. He solved there, incidentally, the profound problem of the number of atoms embodied in divine justice. If my memory serves me right, he found by calculations and geometrical constructions that divine justice consisted of some 280 000 atoms. I think Mr A Lunacharsky would have easily come to an understanding with Dr Korobov, though it might seem that they were looking at the subject from opposite points of view.

135. Judging by the content of this collection there seems to be an important misprint in the title. Evidently it should read: Essays on the Philosophy of Machism. But it is not my business to correct misprints in books I am quoting. I am not a proof-reader. [Essays on the Philosophy of Marxism — a collection of philosophical works published in St Petersburg in 1908 containing contributions by Machists, empirio-monists and other ‘critics’ of Marxism: Bazarov, Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and others — Editor.]

136. Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, part 1, p.46.

137. Ibid, pp.46-47.

138. Essays on the Philosophy of Marxism (St Petersburg, 1908), p.148. The italics are Mr Lunacharsky’s.

139. Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, part 1, p.47.

140. Ibid, p.48.

141. Ibid.

142. Ibid, pp.48-49.

143. Essays on the Philosophy of Marxism, p.157.

144. Ibid, p.159.

145. Ibid.

146. Ibid.

147. [Note from From Defence to Attack] — There is being repeated now, but with much greater emphasis, what we went through in the period of reaction in the 1880s. [The 1880s were the years of political reaction in Russia following the assassination of Alexander II (1881). These years, like the period of reaction after the 1905-07 revolution, were characterised by a mood of decadence among the intelligentsia, extreme individualism, infatuation with ‘pure art’, mysticism and religion — Editor.]

148. Lunacharsky, Religion and Socialism, part 1, p.45.

149. Essays on the Philosophy of Marxism, p.151.

150. Ibid, pp.151-52.

151. Encyclopaedists — a group of French Enlighteners of the eighteenth century — philosophers, naturalists, publicists, who published the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonne des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-80) (An Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Sciences, Arts and Crafts). They included Diderot, D'Alembert, Holbach, Helvétius, Voltaire and others — Editor.

152. From Mikhail Lermontov’s poem ‘Borodino’ — Editor.

153. Essays on the Philosophy of Marxism, pp.160-61.

154. In one of the manuscripts published after Fourier’s death, we read: ‘Tous les travers de l'esprit humain se rattachent à une cause primordiale: c'est l'irréligion, le défaut de concordance avec Dieu, d'étude de ses attributions et révélations.’ ['All the failings of the human intellect are connected with one primordial cause: irreligion, the absence of concord with God, of study of his attributes and revelations.'] Quoted by H Bourgin in Fourier (Paris, 1905), p.272.

155. See Oeuvres de Pierre Leroux (1825-1850), Volume 1 (Paris, 1850), Avertissement, p.xi. See also pp.4, 15, 41 and 44 of the text.

156. Karl Grün, Die soziale Bewegung in Frankreich und Belgien (Darmstadt, 1845), p.392. This is the same Karl Grün who is mentioned in the following passage from Marx: ‘In the course of lengthy debates, often lasting all night, I infected him to his great injury with Hegelianism... After my expulsion from Paris Herr Karl Grün continued what I had begun. As a teacher of German philosophy he had, besides, the advantage over me that he understood nothing about it himself.’ (See ‘Karl Marx on Proudhon’ in Supplement to The Poverty of Philosophy translated by VI Zasulich and edited by myself.) [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1973), p.26 — Editor.] He was, as you see, a worthy predecessor of Lunacharsky.

157. From Ivan Krylov’s ‘The Pike and the Cat’ — Editor.

158. M Gorky, A Confession, page 163 of the Berlin edition to which all my references relate.

159. Ibid, p.164.

160. This expression is very characteristic of our god-seekers today, they aim consciously to ‘construct’ god from previously prepared plans, just as an architect would build a house, an outhouse or a railway station.

161. ‘It is the people that create gods’, says Gorky through his character Iona (alias Yehudiil), ‘the world multitude which no man can number — holy martyrs greater than those whom the Church extols. That is the God that works miracles. I believe in the spirit of the people — the immortal people, whose might I acknowledge. It is the only origin of life that does not admit of doubt — the only parent of gods that have been and are yet to come!’ (A Confession, p.140) Mr A Lunacharsky, who has written a commentary to A Confession (see his article on the twenty-third collection of the Znaniye in the second book of Literary Decadence [Literaturny Raspad] was afraid that the reader might suspect Gorky of being ‘Socialist-Revolutionary’, and hastened to allay this suspicion. ‘While in no way adopting the turbid muddle of Socialist-Revolutionism’, he says, ‘we can and must take the view that the influence of the proletariat on the popular masses is no empty phrase but a matter of the first importance. And Gorky portrays this in A Confession. Light starts to penetrate the darkness; it spreads throughout the villages where the ‘power of darkness is still strong, around every town and every factory’ (Literary Decadence, p.92). Now we understand. This is something in the nature of the notorious ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ in application to religious creation. Mr Lunacharsky says so outright: ‘That political hegemony, that revolutionary collaboration, the programme of which was indicated in outline, and the possibility of which was proved by ever such a “narrow orthodox” writer (as some see him) as Kautsky, will undoubtedly have as its parallel the influence of proletarian ideology on the petty bourgeoisie.’ (Ibid, p.91) Isn’t that splendid! Now it should be clear to everyone that in speaking of the ‘people’, the old man, the elder Yehudiil does not in the least spurn the tactics of Mr A Lunacharsky and his like-minded associates. It will probably be realised by everyone that the story A Confession was not written without the influence of these tactics. [SRs (Socialist-Revolutionaries) — a petty-bourgeois party founded in Russia at the end of 1901. They did considerable harm to the revolutionary movement by their tactics of individual terror — Editor.]

162. Gorky, A Confession, p.194.

163. Ibid, p.162.

164. Literary Decadence, Book 2, pp.96-97.

165. Lourdes — town in the south-west of France, a centre of Catholic pilgrimage, described by Emile Zola in his novel Lourdes — Editor.

166. Literary Decadence, Book 2, p.97.

167. Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 1, p.487. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), p.464 — Editor.]

168. Ibid. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), p.465 — Editor.]

169. Gorky, A Confession, p.139.

170. Literary Decadence, Book 2, p.90.

171. Ibid, p.91.

172. Gorky, A Confession, p.183.

173. Ibid, p.161.

174. Ibid, pp.161-62.

175. See Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, published by Yakovenko, the chapter ‘Freedom and Necessity’. [Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow, 1975), pp.126-37 — Editor.] Also the relevant pages of my book The Development of the Monist View of History. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1974), pp.563-68 — Editor.]

176. M Gorky, Stories, Volume 1 (St Petersburg, 1898), pp.310-11.

177. In the contents of the collection decorated by it this article is entitled ‘Atheists’.

178. DS Merezhkovsky, Barbarian at the Gate (St Petersburg, 1906), p.61.

179. Gorky, A Confession, p.154.

180. Gesammelte Schriften von K Marx und F Engels, Volume 2, p.425. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ‘Circular Against Kriege’, Collected Works, Volume 6 (Moscow, 1976), pp.35-51 — Editor.]

181. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,The Holy Family’, Collected Works, Volume 4 (Moscow, 1975), p.108 — Editor.

182. See Merezhkovsky, Barbarian at the Gate, p.66.

183. See his article ‘Religion und Revolution’ in the collection Der Zar und Revolution (München and Leipzig, 1908), p.161.

184. Merezhkovsky, Barbarian at the Gate, p.59, italics in the original.

185. Ibid, p.61.

186. Ibid, pp.61-62.

187. Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach (St Petersburg, 1906), p.50. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p.353 — Editor.]

188. The words of Ivan Karamazov in Dostoyevsky’s novel The Karamazov Brothers — Editor.

189. Maurice Barrès, Le culte du moi. Examen de trois idéologies (Paris, 1892), p.45.

190. Il Principe — the famous book by Machiavelli justifying any means of ruling a state in order to establish a strong government. Anti-Machiavel, ou essai critique sur ‘Le prince’ de Machiavel (Anti-Machiavelli, or a Critical Essay on ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli) was written by Frederick II — Editor.

191. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), p.461 — Editor.

192. Mr N Minsky says: ‘Men worship God not only because without God there is no truth, but also because without God there is no happiness.’ (Religion of the Future (St Petersburg, 1905), p.85) His words demonstrate that Mr Minsky too will do yeoman service in the role of a devastator. It is no accident that he occupies one of the leading places among the founders of decadent religion.

193. Merezhkovsky, Barbarian at the Gate, p.20.

194. Ibid, p.6.

195. Ibid, p.10.

196. Ibid, p.15.

197. Ibid, p.19.

198. Ibid, pp.6-7.

199. Kashchei — a principal character of A Sumarokov’s comedy The Usurer — Editor.

200. Merezhkovsky, Barbarian at the Gate, p.11. Z Hippius, who is of the same mind as Mr Merezhkovsky, expresses herself much more decisively. She assures West European readers that socialist teachings are based ‘auf einem krassen Materialismus’ (see her article ‘Die wahre Macht des Zarismus’ in the collection Der Zar und die Revolution, p.193).

201. Merezhkovsky, Barbarian at the Gate, p.10.

202. ‘They drink wine in secret and in public preach the virtues of water.’ From Heinrich Heine’s poem Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen (Germany: A Winter’s Tale) — Editor.

203. Minsky, Religion of the Future, p.287. [Some words seem to be missing from the third sentence; to make sense it should read: ‘The only difference is that one is on...’ — MIA]

204. Ibid, p.288.

205. N Minsky, On Social Themes (St Petersburg, 1909), p.63.

206. Incidentally, on page 10 of his book Barbarian at the Gate, Mr Merezhkovsky portrays matters as though his view on the psychology of the ‘hungry proletarian’ was merely a development of Herzen’s view. That is quite wrong. True, Herzen assumed that the Western proletariat ‘will all pass through Philistinism’. But this seemed inevitable to him only if there were not a social revolution in the West. Whereas Mr Merezhkovsky says that it is the social, that is, at least the socialist, revolution which must lead to philistinism. For Herzen’s views on philistinism and how these are distorted by our present-day supermen, see my article, ‘The Ideology of Present-Day Philistinism’ (Sovremenny Mir, May and June 1908). [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 5 (Moscow, 1981), pp.484-558 — Editor.]

207. Caliban and Prosperocharacters from Shakespeare’s The Tempest — Editor.

208. Parnassians — a group of French poets of the second half of the nineteenth century (Théophile Gautier, Charles Leconte de Lisle, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and others) who published their verses in the almanac Contemporary Parnass (issues of 1866, 1871, 1876); they were advocates of the theory of ‘art for art’s sake’ — Editor.

209. From Pushkin’s poem The Poet and the Crowd — Editor.

210. My view on this tragedy is presented in my article ‘Herzen the Emigrant’ in Book 13 of The History of Russian Literature in the Nineteenth Century, published by the Mir Cooperative and edited by DN Ovsyaniko-Kulikovsky.

211. Mr Merezhkovsky understands quite well that his religious seekings are connected with decadent ‘culture’ (see the collection Der Zar und die Revolution, p.151 et seq). As one of the representatives of Russian Decadence, Mr Merezhkovsky seriously overestimates its social significance. He says: ‘Die russischen Dekadenten sind eigentlich die ersten russischen Europäer; sie haben die höchsten Gipfel der Weltkultur erreicht, von denen sich neue Horizonte der noch unbekannten Zukunft überblicken lassen’, etc. [’the Russian Decadents are essentially the first Russian Europeans; they have reached the highest peaks of world culture, from which new horizons of the as yet unknown future open up’, etc.] This is really funny in the full meaning of the word, but quite understandable, when one considers that Mr Merezhkovsky, with all his modern gospel, is bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of Russian Decadence.

212. I should put it more exactly: one of the prophets of one of the modern gospels. Mr Minsky thinks that his new gospel bears no resemblance to Mr Merezhkovsky’s new gospel (see his article ‘Absolute Reaction’ in the collection On Social Themes). That is his right. But I too insist on my right, just as incontestable as his, to notice the features of an astonishing family resemblance in the two gospels.

213. The title of the book by Minsky was Religion of the Future — Editor.

214. For a short period in 1905 Minsky was formally editor of the Bolshevik newspaper Novaya Zhizn — Editor.

215. The World of Art (Mir iskusstva) — an association of artists which published a magazine of the same name. It was founded in Russia in the 1890s and lasted till 1924. Its programme was mainly one of refined aesthetic art directed to the past. The association included various artists, aesthetes and stylists as well as prominent realists (N Rerich, V Serov, B Kustodiyev, A Benois and others) — Editor.

216. The reference is to the satirical magazines Zhupel (Bugbear) and Adskaya Pochta (Devil’s Post) — Editor.

217. See Albert Cassagne, La théorie de l'art pour l'art en France chez les derniers romantiques et les premiers réalistes (Paris, 1906), pp.81ff, 113ff.

218. I say ‘at best’ because quite frankly I must confess that I do not know in what Maeterlinck showed himself as ‘an apostle of freedom and justice’. Let Mr Minsky enlighten me on this point, and I shall be very grateful to him.

219. This stanza is taken from Zinaida Hippius’ poem ‘Thirteen’ — Editor.

220. Incidentally, Mr Minsky, who is so well versed in foreign literature, should have known that its modern trends came into being as a reaction against the liberation efforts of the working class. This truth is now universally accepted in the history of literature. For instance, here is what Léon Pineau says about the evolution of the novel in Germany: ‘Socialism had had as its result Nietzsche, that is to say, the protest of personality refusing to be dissolved in anonymity, against the levelling and all-conquering masses; the revolt of genius refusing to submit to the stupidity of the crowd and — in opposition to all the great words of solidarity, equality and social justice — the ‘bold and paradoxical proclamation that only the strong have the right to live, and that humanity exists only to produce from time to time some supermen, to whom all others must serve as slaves’. This anti-socialist tendency was reflected, according to Pineau, in the modern German novel. Assert after this that modern literary trends do not conflict sharply with the interests of the proletariat! But it appears as if Mr Minsky has never heard of this aspect of the modern trends. ‘Oh, deafness, thou art a vice!’ [From Alexander Griboyedov’s Wit Works Woe — Editor.] (See L'Evolution du roman en Allemagne au XIXe siècle (Paris, 1908), p.300 et seq.)

221. N Minsky, On Social Themes, pp.193-99.

222. Ibid, p.230.

223. Ibid, p.251. Sovremennik (The Contemporary) — a scientific, political and literary monthly published in St Petersburg from 1836 to 1866. Among its contributors were NG Chernyshevsky, VG Belinsky and MY Saltykov-Shchedrin. It was the best journal of the time expressing the aspirations of the revolutionary democrats and exerting a considerable influence on progressive elements in Russia. Dyelo (Cause) — science-literary monthly of democratic orientation published in St Petersburg from 1866 to 1888. Otechestvenniye Zapiski (Fatherland Notes) — literary and political journal published in St Petersburg from 1820 to 1884. In the period between 1839 and 1846 it became one of the best progressive magazines of its time. Vissarion Belinsky and Alexander Herzen were among its editors. From 1863 Nikolai Nekrasov and Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin were its editors, and it became a revolutionary-democratic journal — Editor.

224. Minsky, Religion of the Future, p.177.

225. Ibid, p.301.

226. Benedict Spinoza, Ethics, translated into Russian by Modestov (St Petersburg, 1904), p.44.

227. Mme Z Hippius says: ‘Are we to blame that every “ego” has now become separate, lonely and isolated from every other “ego,” and therefore incomprehensible and unnecessary to it? We all of us passionately need, understand and prize our prayer, we need our verse — the reflection of an instantaneous fullness of our heart. But to another, whose cherished “ego” is different, my prayer is incomprehensible and alien. The consciousness of loneliness isolates people from one another still more. We are ashamed of our prayers, and knowing that all the same we shall not merge in them with anyone, we say them, we compose them already in a whisper, to ourselves, in hints that are clear only to ourselves.’ (Z Hippius, Collected Verse (Scorpion Book Publishers, Moscow, 1904), p.iii) So that’s how it is! Starting with that, you will discover ‘philistinism’ willy-nilly in the greatest movements of humanity, and can’t help plunging into one of the religions of the future!

228. Mr Merezhkovsky’s ‘devil’ is known to have a tail, long and smooth, like a Great Dane’s. I venture to propose this hypothesis: that as the necessary antithesis of this godless tail there exist devout wings, invisibly adorning Mr Merezhkovsky’s shoulders. I imagine these wings to be short and covered with down, like those of an innocent chick.

229. Merezhkovsky, Barbarian at the Gate, p.86.

230. Hippius, Collected Verse, pp.49-50.

231. Ibid, p.142. This poem demonstrates, in line with the ‘Revelation’ of Zinaida, that the world will end on one of the thirteenths, while on the next day, the fourteenth, nothing more will exist. What wisdom!

232. See Ludwig Feuerbach in seinem Briefwechsel und Nachlass, presented by Karl Grün, Volume 1, p.418.

233. Ibid, p.420.

234. Hippius, Collected Verse, p.6.

235. An old Russian saying meaning: come out of the water, rise, stand up. According to the legend, when being baptised in the Dnieper (988) people shouted these words to the idol Perun thrown into the water, asking it to rise to the surface — Editor.

236. N Minsky, On Social Themes, p.90.

237. Ibid.

238. By the way, why does Mr Minsky think that we Marxists speak of the bourgeois nature of anarchist doctrine only under the influence of ‘polemical fervour'? Fervour has nothing to do with it; we simply state a fact, viz, that the ideologists of anarchism are even more extreme individualists than the ideologists of the bourgeoisie. One can dispute this fact only if one is indeed influenced by polemical fervour.

239. N Minsky, On Social Themes, p.70.

240. Der Zar und die Revolution, p.153.

241. Ibid, p.5. As is obvious, the trinity finds that socialism ‘prescribes’ the complete subordination of personality to society (this last ‘prescription’ is particularly good!).

242. Ibid, p.2.

243. Ibid.

244. Ibid, p.4.