On the Special Features of Russia’s Historical Development
A Reply to M. N. Pokrovsky
In No.3 of Krasnaya Nov’ (May’June 1922) comrade Pokrovsky has published an article devoted to my book 1905. This article demonstrates – negatively, alas! – what a complicated business it is trying to apply the methods of historical materialism to living human history, to what clichés even extremely well-informed people like Comrade Pokrovsky are sometimes liable to reduce history.
The doubts aroused by Comrade Pokrovsky’s article start with the title: Is It True that Absolutism in Russia “Existed in Defiance of Social Development?” The words “existed in defiance of social development” appear in quotation marks, so that it looks as if I asserted that Russian absolutism “existed in defiance of social development” at all times, leaving to Comrade Pokrovsky the rewarding and not very difficult task of pointing out that such a statement is against common sense. But in reality my thought, thus misquoted, was that Tsarism, having entered into complete contradiction with the demands of Russia’s social development, continued to exist thanks to the power of its organization, the political nullity of the Russian bourgeoisie and its growing fear of the proletariat. Within the spirit and the meaning of the same historical dialectic it is quite right to say’as we have said in the Manifesto of the Communist International’that capitalism today exists, not only in defiance of the demands of historical development, but also of the elementary demands of human life.
Further, while admitting the usefulness of the publication of my book as a whole, Comrade Pokrovsky energetically objects to the re-issue of its introductory chapter Russia’s Social Development and Tsarism. What was useful and even indispensable, he says, in 1908-09 to a foreign public profoundly ignorant of Russia’s past, is of no use whatever to our young people today, who by now have learned a thing or two. Comrade Pokrovsky goes on to say that in this introductory chapter I put forward liberal, “Milyukovite” (sic) views on Tsarism as an absolutely self-contained state organization not connected with the exploiting classes. “This schema (of Trotsky’s) is in the first place incompatible with our outlook, and, in the second place, objectively incorrect.” And it is necessary to fight this incorrect and incompatible schema “just as energetically as we are fighting religious prejudice (!!!).” No more and no less.
But if it is true that in my German book I expounded such monstrous anti-Marxist views’unnoticed, one might add, by all the German Marxist reviewers of the book at the time’how could these views have been “useful” and even “indispensable” for a foreign public in 1908’09, however profound its ignorance? Unless we believe, as the popular proverb has it, that “what’s good for a Russian is death to a German,” it is quite impossible to understand why the liberal fatuities which Comrade Pokrovsky so kindly ascribes to me should have been good for the German workers twelve years ago. Yet even I, conscious as I am of the very special and peculiar nature of Russia’s historical development, cannot subscribe to the proverb; still less should Comrade Pokrovsky subscribe to it, since it is clear from his article that he denies the existence of any such special features.
Comrade Pokrovsky makes confusion more confounded when he asserts that my false theory “is already associated with another name in the past, that of Plekhanov who followed the same path (and went much further along it).” (p.146.) What are we to make of that? True, the article does not indicate precisely where it is that my path has taken me, but since “Plekhanov went much further along it” (the path of liberalism), that is quite enough to prepare the reader for the conclusion, already familiar to us, that my views of Russian history must be fought “just as energetically as we are fighting religious prejudice.” What a fearful dream! But mark well that it is a dream, for here we have entered the sphere of theoretical and even chronological fancy. The story seems to be that, first of all, Plekhanov adopted the liberal theory of special historical development (in advocating a common bloc with the Kadets); that I then developed the same liberal theory in 1908 and 1909 (for the benefit of the Germans); that this was not actually harmful but in fact even useful (serve the Germans right); but that, since I have now taken to presenting Plekhanov’s views to our voting workers, for whom Comrade Pokrovsky is personally responsible, he now practically equates me with the Patriarch Tikhon and offers to fight me “just as energetically’ as the latter.
All this is a great muddle, above all chronologically. My introductory chapter on the special features of Russia’s historical development was not written for the German public at all, but first appeared in Russian in my book Our Revolution published in Petersburg in 1907 (p. 224). I did the preparatory work for this chapter in 1905 and, later, in 1906 (in prison). The direct motive for writing it was a desire to provide historical and theoretical justification for the slogan of the seizure of power by the proletariat as opposed both to the slogan of a bourgeois-democratic republic and to that of democratic government by the proletariat and the peasantry. As we see, Plekhanov’s Kadetophilia does not come into it. In my preface to Marx’s The Paris Commune (1906) I formulated the view that the experience of the Commune was of direct importance for the Russian working class because, as a result of the whole preceding historical development, it was directly faced with the problem of seizing power. 
This line of thought provoked extreme theoretical indignation among many comrades, indeed among the overwhelming majority. That indignation was expressed not only by the Mensheviks but also by Comrades Kamenev and Rozhkov (then a Bolshevik). Their point of view could be summed up as follows: the political hegemony of the proletariat must be preceded by the political hegemony of the bourgeoisie; a bourgeois democratic republic must serve as a long historical school for the proletariat; any attempt to skip this phase is adventurism; if the working class in the West has not seized power, how can the Russian proletariat set itself such a task, etc., etc.
From the viewpoint of that spurious Marxism which nourishes itself on historical cliché and formal analogies and transforms historical epochs into a logical succession of inflexible social categories (feudalism, capitalism, socialism, autocracy, bourgeois republic, dictatorship of the proletariat), the slogan of the seizure of power by the Russian working class was bound to appear as a monstrous denial of Marxism. Yet any serious empirical evaluation of the social forces as manifested in the years 1903 and 1905 had to show that the Russian working class struggle for the seizure of power was very much alive.
Is that a special feature of the Russian situation or is it not? Does it presuppose profound differences between the whole of Russia’s development, and that of other European countries, or does it not? How did it come about that it was the Russian proletariat, that is to say, the proletariat of the most backward (with Comrade Pokrovsky’s permission) country in Europe, which was faced with such a task? And what does Russia’s backwardness consist in? Merely in the fact that Russia is belatedly repeating the history of the countries of Western Europe? But if that is so, are we entitled to speak of the Russian proletariat seizing state power? Yet (we venture to remind our critics) that is precisely what the Russian proletariat has done. What, then, is the real substance of the problem? Russia’s incontestably and incontrovertibly backward development, tinder the influence and pressure of the higher culture of the West, leads not to a simple repetition of the Western European historical process but to a set of fundamentally new features which require independent study. That is how the problem was posed’and, whatever Comrade Pokrovsky may say, it is entirely compatible with our outlook.
It is perfectly true that a few years later (in 1914) Plekhanov formulated a view of the peculiar features of Russia’s historical development which was very close to the one put forward in the above-mentioned chapter of the book Our Revolution. Plekhanov quite rightly dismisses the schematic theories of both the doctrinaire “Westerners” and the Slavophil Narodniks on this subject, and, instead, reduces Russia’s “special nature” to the concrete, materially determined peculiarities of her historical development. It is radically false to claim that Plekhanov drew any compromising conclusions from this (in the sense of forming a bloc with the Kadets, etc.), or that he could have done so with any semblance of logic.
The weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie and the illusory nature of Russia’s bourgeois democracy undoubtedly represent very important features of Russia’s historical development. But it is precisely from this, given all other existing conditions, that the possibility and the historical necessity of the proletariat’s seizure of power arises. True, Plekhanov never arrived at this conclusion. But then neither did he draw any conclusion from another of his unquestionably correct propositions, namely: “The Russian revolutionary movement will triumph as a working class movement or it will not triumph at all.” If we mix up everything Plekhanov said against the Narodniks and the vulgar Marxists with his Kadetophilia and his patriotism, there will be nothing left of Plekhanov. Yet in reality a good deal is left of Plekhanov, and it does no harm to learn from him now and again.
That the historical life of every society is founded on production; that production gives rise to classes and to groupings of classes; that the state is formed on the foundations of class struggle, and that the state is an organ of class oppression’these notions were not a mystery either for me or for my opponents in 1905. Within these limits the history of Russia obeys the same laws as the history of France, England, or any other country. This does not touch upon the peculiarities of Russia’s historical development. Tsarism was the ’weapon of the property-owning, exploiting classes and in this sense it did not differ from any other state organization, but this does not mean that the correlation of forces between the autocratic power (the monarchy, the bureaucracy, the army, and all the other organs of oppression) on the one hand, and the nobility and bourgeoisie on the other, was the same m Russia as in France, Germany, and England.
The unique nature of our political situation, which finally led to the triumph of the October Revolution before the proletarian revolution in Europe had even begun, depended upon the special correlation of forces between the various classes and the state power. When Comrades Pokrovsky or Rozhkov argued with the Narodniks or the liberals, saying that the organization and policies of Tsarism were determined by the economic development and interests of the property-owning classes, they were basically right. But when Comrade Pokrovsky tries to repeat the same argument against me, he simply misses the mark.
Comrade Pokrovsky’s thought is gripped in a vice of rigid social categories which he puts in place of live historical forces. He substitutes for the relative, that is, historically conditioned and socially limited independence of the autocracy from the ruling classes, some kind of absolute independence, thus transforming Tsarism into a mere form without content. And then, after ascribing this view of Tsarism to myself, he writes: “But how can this be brought into line with our call to the proletariat to struggle for power against the bourgeoisie? How can we seize from the bourgeoisie something that it has never had,” etc. For Comrade Pokrovsky the question is a simple one: either the bourgeoisie was in possession of all power, or it had none at all. If it had no power, then what did we mean talking of “taking power from the bourgeoisie”? And if we have taken power from the bourgeoisie, then how can we say that it did not have power? This way of posing the problem is neither historical, nor materialist, nor dialectical. It will not do even from the point of view of purely formal logic. Even if the bourgeoisie in Russia had had no power at all, the proletariat might still have fought for power, precisely so as not to allow it to fall into the bourgeoisie’s hands.
But, of course, the problem was not as formal as that. The bourgeoisie did not possess the whole of power but was only gradually becoming associated with it. That association was not complete. The course of events, that is to say, above all, military defeat and pressure from below, caused the gap between the autocracy and the bourgeoisie to widen. The monarchy fell into this gap. The bourgeoisie, in March 1917, tried to assume power wholly and immediately. But the working class, supported by the peasant army, snatched the power from its hands in October 1917. In this way our belated historical development against the background of full-blooded imperialism in Europe resulted in the fact that by the time our bourgeoisie was strong enough to push Tsarism off its pedestal, the proletariat had already become an independent revolutionary force.
But the very question which, for us, is the central topic for investigation does not exist for Comrade Pokrovsky. In his review of a book by Vipper (in the same issue of Krasnaya Nov’) he writes: “To set sixteenth century Muscovite Russia against a background of the general European relations of the time is a highly tempting task. There is no better way of refuting the prejudice, prevalent to this day even in Marxist circles, concerning the alleged ‘primitiveness’ of the economic foundation on which the Russian autocracy grew up.” And again: “To show the autocracy in its true historical context as an aspect of commercial and capitalist Europe ... the task is not only of the highest interest to the historian, it is also pedagogically very important for the reading public; there is no more radical means of putting an end to the legend of the ‘uniqueness’ of the Russian historical process.” Every word here is a dig at ourselves. We see that Comrade Pokrovsky baldly denies the primitive and backward nature of our economic development and dismisses as a “legend” the uniqueness of the Russian historical process. The trouble is that Comrade Pokrovskv is completely hypnotized by the relatively lively development of Russian trade in the sixteenth century, a fact which both lie and Rozhkov have noticed.
It is difficult to understand how Comrade Pokrovsky could have fallen into such an error. Anyone might think that trade is the foundation and the infallible criterion of economic life. A good twenty years ago the German economist Karl Bücher tried to establish trade (the path from producer to consumer) as the criterion of all economic development. Struve naturally hastened to transplant this “discovery” into Russian economic “science.” Bücher’s theory was, quite naturally, energetically refuted by Marxists at the time. We seek the criteria of economic development in production – in technology and the social organization of labor – and we regard the path traveled by the product from the producer to the consumer as a secondary phenomenon whose roots are to be found, once more, in production. Paradoxical though this may seem from the viewpoint of the Büchers and the Struves, the great (at least in the spatial sense) upsurge of Russian trade in the sixteenth century was due precisely to the extremely primitive and backward nature of the Russian economy. The West European town was dominated by artisanal corporations and trade guilds. Our towns, by contrast, were administrative and military centers, i.e., centers of consumption rather than of production. The artisanal guild life of the West was formed at a relatively high level of economic development, when all the basic processing industries had separated themselves from agriculture, transformed themselves into independent trades, created their own organizations, their centers (the towns) and their own, initially limited (local, regional), but nevertheless stable markets. Thus the medieval European town was based on a relatively advanced differentiation of the economy which engendered correct relations between the town (the center) and its agricultural periphery. Russia’s economic backwardness, on the other hand, found expression first and foremost in the fact that artisanal trade failed to separate itself from agriculture and retained the characteristics of a home industry. In this respect we are closer to India than to Europe, just as our medieval towns were closer to Asia than to Europe and our autocracy, placed between European absolutism and Asian despotism, had many features resembling the latter. Given the enormous expanse of our territory and the sparseness of the population (surely another fairly objective criterion of backwardness?), the exchange of goods presupposed the interniediary role of commercial capital at a very high level of intensity. Such intensity was possible precisely because the West was far more developed than ourselves, had a wide variety of complex needs, sent us its merchants and its goods and by so doing advanced the exchange of goods in Russia itself on the basis of Russia’s extremely primitive and in many respects barbarian economic relations. Not to understand this, the greatest peculiarity of our historical development, is to fail to see our history as such.
My Siberian employer (in whose office ledger I entered pouds and arshins for a period of two months), Yakov Andreyevich Chernykh – this happened at the beginning of the twentieth century, not in the sixteenth – was in practically unlimited control of economic life in the Kirensk district by virtue of his trade operations. He bought furs from the Tungus natives, he bought church lands from priests in remote districts, and he sold them cotton and, especially, vodka (at that time the vodka monopoly had not yet been introduced in Irkutsk province). He was illiterate, but a millionaire (in the currency of the time). His dictatorship as the representative of trade capital was questioned; he even spoke of the local indigenous population as “my little Tungus folk.” The town of Kirensk, like Verkholensk and Nizhne-Ilimsk, was a place of residence for police officers of various rank, kulaks in a state of hierarchical dependence on one another, a variety of petty government officials, and a handful of wretched artisans. I never found any organized artisanal trade there as a basis of urban economic life’no corporations, no guilds, although Yakov Andreyevich was officially listed as a “merchant of the second guild.”
Believe me, this slice of real Siberian life takes us much further towards an understanding of the historical peculiarities of Russia’s development than what Comrade Pokrovsky has to say on the subject. That is really the truth. Yakov Andrcyevich’s trade operations spread from the middle reaches of the Lena and its eastern tributaries to Nizhny Novgorod and even Moscow. Few Western European firms can mark up similar distances on their business maps. Yet this merchant dictator was the most perfect and convincing expression of our economic backwardness, our barbarity and primitiveness, our illiteracy, the sparseness of our population, the dispersion of our peasant villages and our dirt roads which form blockades of impassable bog for two months every spring and autumn in our remoter districts, etc., etc. How did Chernykh acquire so much economic power on the basis of this Siberian, middle-Lena backwardness? Because the West – “Mother Russia,” “Moscow” – was dragging Siberia towards an odd marriage: a marriage between a primitive nomadic economy and a shiny brand-new alarm clock made in Warsaw.
Craft corporations formed the foundation of medieval urban culture which spread also to the countryside. Medieval science, scholasticism, the Reformation all grew out of the artisanal trades. Nothing like this existed in Russia. Symptoms and embryonic traces of it can, of course, be found, but they appear quite insignificant when ct)mpared with the powerful economic and cultural formation which existed in the West. On this foundation the medieval European town came into being, grew, and struggled with the Church; it was from the same town that monarchy challenged the feudal lords. It was the town which, by manufacturing firearms, created the technical preconditions for the existence of permanent armies. Can it be said – but perhaps this contradicts the class theory of the state? – that the monarchy in Western Europe became increasingly independent of the first estate as the towns grew and their antagonism with the feudal lords increased?
In the last analysis, royal power of course remains an organization for the oppression of the working masses and especially the peasant serfs. But surely there is a difference between a state power which amalgamates with the landowning class, and a state power which dissociates itself from that class, creates its own bureaucratic apparatus, and acquires its own enormous power, i.e., a state power which, while protecting the interests of the exploiters against the exploited, becomes a relatively independent force – and the primary one – among other dominant forces.
Where were Russia’s craft-corporation towns which even remotely resembled those of Western Europe? Where was their struggle with feudal power? Did any struggle between the town and the feudal landlord provide the foundation for the development of Russian autocracy? Because of the very nature of our towns, no such struggle ever took place, any more than did a religious reformation. Is that a peculiar feature of our historical development, or is it not? Our crafts remained at the home industries stage, which is to say that they never dissociated themselves from peasant agriculture. Our reformation, receiving no leadership from the towns, remained at the stage of peasant sects. Here is primitiveness, here is backwardness crying to high heaven, yet Comrade Pokrovsky does not wish to notice them. And Tsarism, too, arose as an independent state organization (again, independent only relatively, within the limits of a conflict between actual historical economic forces), not as a result of the struggle of powerful towns against powerful feudal lords, but because of the complete industrial anemia of our towns and the anemia of our feudal landowners.
Poland, as regards its social structure, stood between Russia and the West lust as Russia stood between Europe and Asia. The Polish towns knew corporate artisanal trade to a far greater extent than did the Russian ones. But they never developed enough to help the royal power to break feudal power. State power remained directly in the hands of the nobility. The result was the total impotence and eventual collapse of the state. Where there are no “special features,” there is no history, but only a sort of pseudo-materialistic geometry. Instead of studying the living and changing matter of economic development it is enough to notice a few outward symptoms and adapt them to a few ready-made clichés. This primitive method of historical investigation is adequate for fighting liberal or Narodnik prejudices, not to mention sentimental Slavophilism, but quite inadequate for understanding the real paths of Russia’s historical development.
What I have said of Tsarism applies likewise to capitalism and the proletariat, and I find it difficult to understand why Comrade Pokrovsky’s wrath is directed only at the first chapter which speaks of Tsarism. Russian capitalism did not develop from artisanal trade via the manufacturing workshop to the factory for the reason that European capital, first in the form of trade capital and later in the form of financial and industrial capital, flooded the country at a time when most Russian artisanal trade had not yet separated itself from agriculture. Hence the appearance in Russia of modern capitalist industry in a completely primitive economic environment: for instance, a huge Belgian or Anierican industrial plant surrounded by dirt roads and villages built of straw and wood, which burn down every year, etc. The most primitive beginnings and the most modern European endings. Hence the tremendous role of Western European capital in Russia’s economy. Hence the political weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie. Hence the ease with which we were able to defeat the Russian bourgeoisie. Hence the difficulties which followed when the European bourgeoisie intervened in the affair and when the former owners of factories and plants tried talking to us, through Lloyd George and Barthou, in Genoa and at The Hague.
And our proletariat? Did it ever pass through the school of the medieval apprentice fraternities? Does it have the age-old traditions of the guilds? Nothing of the kind. It was snatched from the plow and hurled straight into the factory furnace. I remember an old friend, Korotkov, a cabinetmaker from Nikolayev, who wrote a song back in 1897. It was called The Proletarians’ March and it began with the words: “’We are the alpha and the omega, we are the beginning and the end And that’s the plain truth. The first letter is there and so is the last, but all the middle of the alphabet is missing. Hence the absence of conservative traditions, the absence of castes within the proletariat, hence its revolutionary freshness, hence, as well as for other reasons, the October Revolution and the first workers’ government in the world. But hence also the illiteracy, the absence of organizational know-how, the lack of system, of cultural and technical education. All these are shortcomings which we feel at every step of our economic and cultural efforts to build.
European communism has to overcome an infinitely more conservative medium, both external, in the state, and internal, within the proletariat itself. But when it achieves victory it will have infinitely more powerful objective and subjective resources for building a new society. Is that a peculiar feature or is it not? The very necessity for as king such a question in the summer of 1922 strikes me as a rather excessive “peculiarity,” but this too is undoubtedly a consequence of our historical development: we were the first to seize power, our tasks are colossal, our cultural forces are few, every man has to split himself into a hundred parts, there is no time to think. And that is why Comrade Pokrovsky, in talking about new and highly complex problems, prodtices old arguments which were of value in another context and at another logical level, but which become the very opposite of Marxism when endowed with the qualities of a universally applicable cliché.
I have pointed out how much our entire development has been influenced by the fact that on our western frontiers we constantly came into contact with states that were more developed, better organized and technically better armed than ourselves. Under this pressure the autocracy restructured itself, first by creating marksmen’s regiments and later a cavalry and an infantry. Comrade Pokrovsky remarks in this connection: “This would seem to be the point at which one should say that the fundamental interests were not political but economic: the Muscovite autocracy corresponded to somebody’s class interests.” It is hard to understand here what he means by opposing military and political interests to economic ones. When economic interests are defended by the state they always assume the nature of political aims and tasks; and when they have to be defended, not by diplomatic means, but by the force of arms, they become military tasks.
Comrade Pokrovsky tries to prove that the interests which dominated the autocracy’s policies in the sixteenth century were the interests of trade capital. The way he represents this question seems to me to be caricatural. But we hope to return to this narrower and more specialized issue on a later occasion. Here suffice it to say that in constructing a trade-capitalist Russia in the sixteenth century Comrade Pokrovsky falls into the error of the German professor Eduard Meyer who discovered capitalism in ancient Greece and Rome. Meyer was undoubtedly right in noticing that previous views of the economic structure of Greece and Rome (those of Rodbertus and others) as a series of self-contained natural-economic cells (oikos) was a schematic and over-simplified one. lie showed that these basic cells were connected with one another and with other countries by a fairly well developed system of commodity exchange. At the same time, in certain spheres and branches there was also mass production. Utilizing modern economic relations and concepts, Meyer retrospectively constructed a Greco-Roman capitalism. His error consisted in the fact that he failed to appreciate the quantitative, and therefore also qualitative, differences between varitypes of economies’oikos, simple commodity, and capitalist.
Comrade Pokrovsky’s error, we repeat, is basically the same. But the crux of the matter for us at this moment is elsewhere. Let us assume that the interests of trade capital were really dominant in the autocracy’s policies in the sixteenth century and that the autocracy itself was a “dictatorship of trade capital.” But the autocracy had commercial aims, which of course corresponded to economic interests, in Persia, in Turkey, in the Baltic lands, in Poland, and in the more distant countries of the West. The struggle for these aims led to military conflicts. It is quite irrelevant who was the attacker and who the defender (a question which Comrade Pokrovsky brings in for no good reason when he ascribes to me the notion that the autocracy merely “defended” Russia from foreign attacks). And it was in these military conflicts, which of course meant the accomplishment of political tasks deriving from economic interests, that the Russian state came into contact with the military organizations of the Western nations which were founded on a higher economic, political, and cultural basis.
Thus Russian capital immediately after its birth came into contact with the more developed and powerful capital of the West and fell under its dominance. Thus, too, the Russian working class, as soon as it came into being, found itself equipped with ready-made weapons created by the experience of the Western European proletariat: Marxist theory, trade unions, political parties. Anyone who explains the nature and the policy of our autocracy only by the interests of the Russian property-owning classes forgets that apart from the more backward, poorer, more ignorant Russian exploiters there existed also the richer and more powerful European exploiters. The property-owning classes of Russia came up against the hostile or partially hostile property-owning classes of Europe. These contacts took place through the mediation of the state organization. The autocracy was that state organization. The whole structure and the whole history of the Russian autocracy would have been different if there had been no European towns, European gunpowder (or if we had invented it) and the European stock exchange.
In the last period of its existence the autocracy was not only the organ of the property-owning classes in Russia but also of the European stock exchange as organized for the exploitation of Russia. This dual role in turn afforded it a considerable degree of independence. A telling example of this independence was the fact that the French stock exchange, in order to support the Russian autocracy, granted it a loan in 1905 against the will of the Russian bourgeois parties.
In reality there is just one small fact which totally demolishes Comrade Pokrovsky’s historical concept. That fact is the last imperialist war and the role played in it by Tsarism. From Comrade Pokrovsky’s point of view everything is very simple. Tsarism was the state form of the ruling bourgeoisie which had entered the imperialist phase of development. In that sense Tsarisrn did not differ from the republican-parliamentary regime in France, the imperialist-parliamentary monarchy in England, etc. And that is quite true. But it is true within the limits of the most general approach to the question’within the limits of a struggle with social-patriotic and pacifist prejudices, with the criteria of defense and attack, etc. It is absolutely inadequate (and therefore untrue) when it comes to assessing the respective roles of Russia, England, Germany, and each individual country in the war; of the internal changes which each of them underwent in the war; of the revolutionary perspectives which opened up before each one, and of the tactics which we should consequently adopt in them.
Although Tsarism revealed that it was not viable as far back as 1904-05, in the Russo-Japanese war, the bourgeoisie struck a bargain with it because it feared the proletariat.
The independence of Tsarism at its most insolent, as during the Rasputin era, by no means contradicts the class theory of the state but can be explained by it. The theory, however, must not be applied mechanically; it must be applied dialectically. But that is not the end of it; Tsarism was actually smashed in the imperialist war. Why? Because its productive basis was too low (Russian primitiveness). In matters of military technology Tsarism tried to live up to the most advanced models, and in this it was helped in every way by its wealthier and more enlightened allies. Thanks to them, Tsarism had the most highly perfected instruments of war at its disposal. But it had not and could not have the means of reproducing these instruments, nor did it have the means of transporting them (as well as troops) with sufficient speed by rail or waterway. In other words, Tsarism, in defending the interests of Russia’s property-owning classes in the international struggle, was operating from a more primitive base than its enemies or allies.
During the war Tsarism ruthlessly exploited that base, that is, it absorbed a much higher percentage of the national product than its powerful enemies and allies. This fact was confirmed, firstly by the system of war debts, and secondly by Russia’s complete economic ruin. Or does Comrade Pokrovsky doubt either of these facts? All these circumstances, which directly predetermined the October Revolution, the triumph of the proletariat and its subsequent difficulties, cannot be explained away by Comrade Pokrovsky’s commonplaces to the effect that no such thing as a supra-class state exists and that the exploiting classes express their will through the state power, and have always done so. That is hardly Marxism; it is only the first letter of Marxism. And that is where Comrade Pokrovsky would have us stop.
What followed the peculiarities of our historical development, which Comrade Pokrovsky refuses to admit, was not the denial (in retrospect?) of the class war, but the seizure of state power by the proletariat and its struggle to keep it in its own hands. The same peculiarities have also given rise to enormous international and internal economic difficulties after the seizure of state power. An understanding of these peculiarities is the best insurance for the young generation of workers against passivity in the face of difficulties, against pessimism and skepticism. Meanwhile clichés about historical development can teach nothing to anybody.
28 June 1922.
1. “Social democracy,” the Preface stares, “must be, and wishes to be, the conscious expression of an objective development. But since, at a certain moment of the revolution, the objective development of the class struggle confronts the (Russian) proletariat with the alternative between assuming the rights and obligations of state power and surrendering its class position, the social-democratic party regards the seizure of state power as its next immediate task. In doing so it by no means ignores the objective processes of development of a deeper nature, processes of growth and concentration of production; but it says that, since the logic of the class struggle, which in the last analysis is based on the progress of economic development, is pressing for the dictatorship of the proletariat before the bourgeoisie has ’completed’ its economic mission (it has hardly begun on its historical mission), this means only that history is placing colossally difficult tasks on the proletariat’s shoulders. It may even be that the proletariat will be worn out by the struggle and will fall under the weight of its tasks; this may happen. But it cannot refuse those tasks for fear of class disintegration or of the whole country falling into barbarism.” (Marx: The Paris Commune, 1906 Edition, Preface, pp.X-XI)
Such were the conclusions we drew n6 years ago from the “special features” of Russia’s historical development. And here comes Comrade Pokrovsky, after a delay of a decade and a half, worrying that our views mean ... a denial of the class struggle. No more and no less!
Last updated on: 23.11.2006