Red Letter
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What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats (Excerpt)
by V. I. Lenin
Estimated Reading Time: 15 min

Lenin was born in Samara in 1870. Like almost all other Russian Marxists, he had initially been attracted by Populist ideas (his elder brother was executed in 1882 for participating in a Populist attempt to assassinate the Tsar) but had become a full Marxist by the time of his three-year stay in St Petersburg during the early 1890s. There he participated in the Union, attacking the ideas of On Agitation, and emerged as one of the most important Marxist leaders. These experiences led Lenin to a close study of organisational tactics and of the developmental view of working-class consciousness from industrial struggles to political struggles. In 1895 he produced his first major work, entitled What the Friends of the People Are, the fruit of his previous arguments with the Populists. Its basic ideas were fully in line with Russian Marxist orthodoxy. Lenin argued, firstly, that it was necessary to combat the Populists (the 'Friends of the People') when they tried to speak for socialism, though to accept them as subordinate allies in so far as they struggled against the autocracy and for a radical democratic programme. Secondly, he claimed that the peasantry were more and more open to the ideas of the Russian Marxists as they were increasingly being split into a rural proletariat and a rural bourgeoisie. Thirdly, he insisted on the role of the proletariat as 'the sole and natural representative of Russia's entire working and exploited population. Natural because the exploitation of the working people in Russia is everywhere capitalist in nature - but the exploitation of the mass of producers is on a small scale, scattered and underdeveloped, while the exploitation of the factory proletariat is on a large scale, socialised and concentrated'. Lenin differed from his colleagues here only in having a slightly more optimist view of the vanguard role of the proletariat and the revolutionary nature of the peasantry than, for example, Plekhanov.

In 1896 Lenin was arrested and went into exile. Because he held that the development of working-class consciousness and of the Social Democratic Party went hand in hand with the economic development of Russia, he studied this subject in great detail in his exile and produced a much underrated work, The Development of Capitalism in Russia. This book was a clearly documented study of the emergence of capitalism out of feudalism in Russia, filling out some of the details that Marx would no doubt have put in his unfinished Volume Three of Capital. In opposition to the Populists, who argued that capitalist development was impossible in Russia, because wages were too low to allow the home market to expand, Lenin argued that Russia was already capitalist. The stage of usury capital and merchant capital outlined by Marx had already been superseded in some places by manufacturing capital - capital applied directly to the productive system - and the next stage of industrial capital was already on the horizon. From this detailed analysis Lenin concluded that the proletariat held a unique position in that they were the only class fully to appreciate and be able to articulate the exploitation of all Russian labourers, including the artisans and rural proletariat. The Development of Capitalism in Russia gave the economic evidence for the conclusion that he had already arrived at in What the Friends of the People Are: its idea of the proletariat leading the population in the revolutionary struggle governed Lenin's political thinking up to 1914.

From Marxism after Marx by David McLellan

Lenin was about 24 when he wrote this.
Footnotes slightly abridged and oddly numbered in original source

Does “freedom of acquisition” on a large scale, freedom to acquire big credits, big capital, big technical improvements, cease to be liberal, i.e., bourgeois, while the present social-economic relations remain unchanged, merely because its place is taken by freedom to acquire small credits, small capital, small technical improvements?

I repeat, it is not that they have altered their opinions under the influence of a radical change of views or a radical change in our order of things. No, they have simply forgotten.

Having lost the only feature that once made their predecessors progressive—notwithstanding the utter unsoundness of their theories and their naïve and utopian outlook on reality—the “friends of the people” have learnt absolutely nothing during all this time. And yet, quite apart from a political-economic analysis of Russian realities, the political history of Russia during the past thirty years alone should have taught them a great deal.

At that time, in the era of the “sixties,” the power of the feudal landlords was sapped: they suffered defeat, not complete, it is true, but so decisive that they had to slink from the stage. The liberals, on the contrary, raised their heads. Streams of liberal phrase-mongering flowed about progress, science, goodness, struggle against injustice, the interests of the people, the conscience of the people, the forces of the people, etc., etc.—the very phrases which now, too, at moments of particular depression, are vomited forth by our radical snivellers in their salons, and by our liberal phrase-mongers at their anniversary dinners, and in the columns of their magazines and newspapers. The liberals proved strong enough to mould the “new order” in their own fashion—not entirely, of course, but in fair measure. Although “the clear light of the open class struggle” did not shine in Russia at that time, there was more light then than there is now, so that even those ideologists of the working people who had not the faintest notion of this class struggle, and who preferred to dream of a better future rather than explain the vile present, could not help seeing that liberalism was a cloak for plutocracy, and that the new order was a bourgeois order. It was the removal from the stage of the feudal landlords, who did not divert attention to still mere crying evils of the day, and did not prevent the new order from being observed in its pure (relatively) form, that enabled this to be seen. But although our democrats of that time knew how to denounce plutocratic liberalism, they could not understand it and explain it scientifically; they could not understand that it was inevitable under the capitalist organisation of our social economy; they could not understand the progressive character of the new system of life as compared with the old, feudal system; they could not understand the revolutionary role of the proletariat it created; and they limited themselves to “snorting” at this system of “liberty” and “humanity,” imagined that its bourgeois character was fortuitous, and expected social relations of some other kind to reveal themselves in the “people’s system.”

And then history showed them these other social relations. The feudal landlords, not completely crushed by the Reform, which was so outrageously mutilated in their interests, revived (for a time) and showed vividly what these other than bourgeois social relations of ours were, showed it in the form of such unbridled, incredibly senseless and brutal reaction that our democrats caught fright, subsided, instead of advancing and remoulding their naïve democracy—which was able to sense what was bourgeois but was unable to understand it—into Social-Democracy, went backwards, to the liberals, and are now proud of the fact that their snivelling—i.e., I want to say, their theories and programmes—is shared by “the whole serious and respectable press.” One would have thought the lesson was a very impressive one: the illusions of the old socialists about a special mode of life of the people, about the socialist instincts of the people, and about the fortuitous character of capitalism and the bourgeoisie, had become too obvious; one would have thought that the facts could now be looked straight in the face and the admission be openly made that there had not been and were not any other social economic relations than bourgeois and moribund feudal relations in Russia, and that, therefore, there could be no road to socialism except through the working-class movement. But these democrats had learned nothing, and the naïve illusions of petty-bourgeois socialism gave way to the practical sobriety of petty-bourgeois progress.

Today, the theories of these petty-bourgeois ideologists, when they come forward as the spokesmen of the interests of the working people, are positively reactionary. They obscure the antagonism of contemporary Russian social-economic relations and argue as if things could be improved by general measures, applicable to all, for “raising,” “improving,” etc., and as if it were possible to reconcile and unite. They are reactionary in depicting our state as something standing above classes and therefore fit and capable of rendering serious and honest aid to the exploited population.

They are reactionary, lastly, because they simply can not understand the necessity for a struggle, a desperate struggle of the working people themselves for their emancipation. The “friends of the people,” for example, seem to think they can manage the whole thing themselves. The workers need not worry. Why, an engineer has even visited the offices of Russkoye Bogatstvo, and there they have almost completely worked out a “scheme” for “introducing capitalism into the life of the people.” Socialists must make a DECISIVE and COMPLETE break with all petty-bourgeois ideas and theories—THAT IS THE PRINCIPAL USEFUL LESSON to be drawn from this campaign.

I ask you to note that I speak of a break with petty bourgeois ideas and not with the “friends of the people” or with their ideas—because there can be no breaking with something with which there has never been any connection. The “friends of the people” are only one of the representatives of one of the trends of this sort of petty-bourgeois socialist ideas. And if, in this case, I draw the conclusion that it is necessary to break with petty-bourgeois socialist ideas, with the ideas of the old Russian peasant socialism generally, it is because the campaign now launched against the Marxists by the representatives of the old ideas, scared by the growth of Marxism, has induced them to give particularly full and vivid expression to petty-bourgeois ideas. Comparing these ideas with contemporary socialism and with the facts of contemporary Russian reality, we see with astonishing clarity how outworn these ideas have become, how they have lost every vestige of an integral theoretical basis and have sunk to the level of a pitiful eclecticism, of a most ordinary opportunist uplift programme. It may be said that this is not the fault of the old socialist ideas in general, but of the gentlemen in question, whom no one thinks of classing as socialists; but such an argument seems to me quite unsound. I have throughout tried to show that such a degeneration of the old theories was inevitable. I have throughout tried to devote as little space as possible to criticism of these gentlemen in particular and as much as possible to the general and fundamental tenets of the old Russian socialism. And if the socialists should find that I have defined these tenets incorrectly or inaccurately, or have left something unsaid, then I can only reply with the following very humble request: please, gentlemen, define them yourselves, state them fully and properly!

Indeed, no one would be more pleased than the Social-Democrats of an opportunity to enter into a polemic with the socialists.

Do you think that we like answering the “polemics” of these gentlemen, or that we would have undertaken it if they had not thrown down a direct, persistent and emphatic challenge?

Do you think that we do not have to force ourselves to read, re-read and grasp the meaning of this repulsive mixture of stereotyped liberal phrase-mongering and philistine moralising?

Surely, we are not to blame for the fact that only such gentlemen now take upon themselves the job of vindicating and expounding these ideas. I ask you also to note that I speak of the need for a break with petty-bourgeois ideas about socialism. The petty-bourgeois theories we have examined are ABSOLUTELY reactionary INASMUCH AS they claim to be socialist theories.

But if we understand that actually there is absolutely nothing socialist in them, i.e., that all these theories completely fail to explain the exploitation of the working people and therefore cannot serve as a means for their emancipation, that as a matter of fact all these theories reflect and further the interests of the petty bourgeoisie—then our attitude towards them must be different, and we must ask: what should be the attitude of the working class towards the petty bourgeoisie and its programmes? And this question cannot be answered unless the dual character of this class is taken into consideration (here in Russia this duality is particularly marked owing to the antagonism between the big bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie being less developed). It is progressive insofar as it puts forward general democratic demands, i.e., fights against all survivals of the medieval epoch and of serfdom; it is reactionary insofar as it fights to preserve its position as a petty bourgeoisie and tries to retard, to turn back the general development of the country along bourgeois lines. Reactionary demands of this kind, such, for example, as the notorious inalienability of allotments, as well as the many other projects for tutelage over the peasants, are usually covered up by plausible talk of protecting the working people but actually, of course, they only worsen their condition, while at the same time hampering them in their struggle for emancipation. A strict distinction should be drawn between these two sides of the petty-bourgeois programme and, while denying that these theories are in any way socialist in character, and while combating their reactionary aspects, we should not forget their democratic side. I shall give an example to show that, although the Marxists completely repudiate petty-bourgeois theories, this does not prevent them from including democracy in their programmes but, on the contrary, calls for still stronger insistence on it. We have mentioned above the three main theses that always formed the theoretical stock-in-trade of the representatives of petty-bourgeois socialism, viz., land poverty, high payments and the tyranny of the authorities.

20. A particularly imposing reactionary institution one to which our revolutionaries have paid relatively little attention, is our bureaucracy, which de facto rules the Russian state. The bureaucracy being made up mainly of middle-class intellectuals are profoundly bourgeois both in origin and in the purpose and character of their activities; but absolutism and the enormous political privileges of the landed nobility have lent them particularly pernicious qualities. They are regular weathercocks, who regard it as their supreme task to combine the interests of the landlord and the bourgeois. They are Judushkas (Lenin refers to Judas Golovlyov—a sanctimonious, hypocritical landlord serf owner described in M. Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovlyov Family.) who use their feudal sympathies and connections to fool the workers and peasants, and employ the pretext of “protecting the economically weak” and acting as their “guardian” against the kulak and usurer to carry through measures which reduce the working people to the status of a “base rabble,” handing them over to the feudal landlords and making them all the more defenceless against the bourgeoisie. The bureaucracy are most dangerous hypocrites, who have imbibed the experience of the West-European champion reactionaries, and skillfully conceal their Arakcheyev (Lenin uses as an epithet the name Arakcheyev—the brutal favourite of tsars Paul I and Alexander I; a period of reactionary police despotism and gross domination of the military is connected with his activities. A characteristic feature of the Arakcheyev regime was the brutal measures employed against the revolutionary movement of the oppressed masses and against any manifestation of liberty.) designs behind the fig-leaves of phrases about loving the people. —Lenin
If you ask us at Red Letter to explain the footnote ordering on this reading, we cannot.
6.One cannot help recalling here the purely Russian feudal arrogance with which Mr. Yermolov, now Minister of Agriculture, objects to migration in his book Crop Failures and the Distress of the People. Migration cannot be regarded as rational from the standpoint of the state, he says, when the landlords in European Russia still experience a shortage of labour. And, indeed, what do the peasants exist for, if not to work and feed the idle landlords and their “high-placed” servitors? —Lenin
7.This is a very important point. Plekhanov is quite right when he says that our revolutionaries have “two enemies: old prejudices that have not yet been entirely eradicated, on the one hand, and a narrow understanding of the new programme, on the other.” —Lenin
8. is the same as footnote 20. Wtf.

There is absolutely nothing socialist in the demand for the abolition of these evils, for they do not in the least explain expropriation and exploitation, and their elimination will not in the least affect the oppression of labour by capital. But their elimination will free this oppression of the medieval rubbish that aggravates it, and will facilitate the worker’s direct struggle against capital, and for that reason, as a democratic demand, will meet with the most energetic support of the workers. Generally speaking, the question of payments and taxes is one to which only the petty bourgeois can attach any particular significance; but in Russia the payments made by the peasants are, in many respects, simply survivals of serfdom. Such, for example, are the land redemption payments, which should be immediately and unconditionally abolished; such, too, are the taxes which only the peasants and the small towns-people pay, but from which the “gentry” are exempt. Social-Democrats will always support the demand for the elimination of these relics of medieval relations, which cause economic and political stagnation. The same can be said of land poverty. I have already given proof at length of the bourgeois character of the wailing on this score. There is no doubt, however, that the peasant Reform, for example, by permitting the cutting-off of lands20 positively robbed the peasants for the benefit of the landlords, rendering service to this tremendous reactionary force both directly (by snatching land from the peasants) and indirectly (by the clever way the allotments were marked out). And Social-Democrats will most strenuously insist on the immediate return to the peasants of the land taken from them and on the complete abolition of landed proprietorship—that bulwark of feudal institutions and traditions. This latter point, which coincides with the nationalisation of the land, contains nothing socialist, because the capitalist-farming relations already taking shape in our country would in that case only flourish more rapidly and abundantly; but it is extremely important from the democratic standpoint as the only measure capable of completely breaking the power of the landed nobility. Lastly, only the Yuzhakovrs and V. V.s, of course, can speak of the peasants’ lack of rights as the cause of their expropriation and exploitation. As for the oppression of the peasantry by the authorities, it is not only an unquestionable fact, but is some thing more than mere oppression; it is treating the peasants as a “base rabble,” for whom it is natural to be subject to the landed nobility; to whom general civil rights are granted only as a special favour (migration,6 for example), and whom any Jack-in-office can order about as if they were workhouse inmates. And the Social-Democrats unreservedly associate themselves with the demand for the complete restoration of the peasants’ civil rights, the complete abolition of all the privileges of the nobility, the abolition of bureaucratic tutelage over the peasants, and the peasants’ right to manage their own affairs.

In general, the Russian communists, adherents of Marxism, should more than any others call themselves SOCIAL-DEMOCRATS, and in their activities should never forget the enormous importance of DEMOCRACY.7

In Russia, the relics of medieval, semi-feudal institutions are still so enormously strong (as compared with Western Europe), they are such an oppressive yoke upon the proletariat and the people generally, retarding the growth of political thought in all estates and classes, that one cannot but insist on the tremendous importance which the struggle against all feudal institutions, absolutism, the social estate system, and the bureaucracy has for the workers. The workers must be shown in the greatest detail what a terribly reactionary force these institutions are, how they intensify the oppression of labour by capital, what a degrading pressure they exert on the working people, how they keep capital in its medieval forms, which, while not falling short of the modern, industrial forms in respect of the exploitation of labour, add to this exploitation by placing terrible difficulties in the way of the fight for emancipation. The workers must know that unless these pillars of reaction8 are overthrown, it will be utterly impossible for them to wage a successful struggle against the bourgeoisie, because so long as they exist, the Russian rural proletariat, whose support is an essential condition for the victory of the working class, will never cease to be downtrodden and cowed, capable only of sullen desperation and not of intelligent and persistent protest and struggle. And that is why it is the direct duty of the working class to fight side by side with the radical democracy against absolutism and the reactionary social estates and institutions—a duty which the Social-Democrats must impress upon the workers, while not for a moment ceasing also to impress upon them that the struggle against all these institutions is necessary only as a means of facilitating the struggle against the bourgeoisie, that the worker needs the achievement of the general democratic demands only to clear the road to victory over the working people’s chief enemy, over an institution that is purely democratic by nature, capital, which here in Russia is particularly inclined to sacrifice its democracy and to enter into alliance with the reactionaries in order to suppress the workers, to still further impede the emergence of a working-class movement.

21. Lenin refers to the Narodnoye Pravo (People’s Right) party, an illegal organisation of the Russian democratic intelligentsia founded in the summer of 1893.

What has been said is, I think, sufficient to define the attitude of the Social-Democrats towards absolutism and political liberty, and also towards the trend which has been growing particularly strong of late, that aims at the “amalgamation” and “alliance” of all the revolutionary groups for the winning of political liberty.[21]

This trend is rather peculiar and characteristic.

It is peculiar because proposals for “alliance” do not come from a definite group, or definite groups, with definite programmes which coincide on one point or another. If they did, the question of an alliance would be one for each separate case, a concrete question to be settled by the representatives of the uniting groups. Then there could be no special “amalgamation” trend. But such a trend exists, and simply comes from people who have cut adrift from the old, and have not moored to anything new. The theory on which the fighters against absolutism have hitherto based themselves is evidently crumbling, and is destroying the conditions for solidarity and organisation which are essential for the struggle. Well then, these “amalgamators” and “alliance advocates” would seem to think that the easiest way to create such a theory is to reduce it to a protest against absolutism and a demand for political liberty, while evading all other questions, socialist and non-socialist. It goes without saying that the bottom will inevitably be knocked out of this naïve fallacy at the very first attempts at such unity.

But what is characteristic is that this “amalgamation” trend represents one of the last stages in the process of transformation of militant, revolutionary Narodism into politically radical democracy, a process which I have tried to outline above. A durable amalgamation of all the non-Social-Democratic revolutionary groups under the banner mentioned will be possible only when a durable programme of democratic demands has been drawn up that will put an end to the prejudices of the old Russian exceptionalism. Of course, the Social-Democrats believe that the formation of such a democratic party would be a useful step forward; and their anti-Narodnik activity should further it, should further the eradication of all prejudices and myths, the grouping of the socialists under the banner of Marxism and the formation of a democratic party by the other groups.

The Social-Democrats, who consider essential the independent organisation of the workers into a separate workers’ party, could not, of course, “amalgamate” with such a party, but the workers would most strongly support any struggle waged by the democrats against reactionary institutions.

The degeneration of Narodism into the most ordinary petty-bourgeois radical theory—of which (degeneration) the “friends of the people” furnish such striking testimony—shows what a tremendous mistake is made by those who spread among the workers the idea of fighting absolutism without at the same time explaining to them the antagonistic character of our social relations by virtue of which the ideologists of the bourgeoisie also favour political liberty—without explaining to them the historical role of the Russian worker as a fighter for the emancipation of the whole working population.

The Social-Democrats are often accused of wanting to monopolise Marx’s theory, whereas, it is argued, his economic theory is accepted by all socialists. But the question arises; what sense is there in explaining to the workers the form of value, the nature of the bourgeois system and the revolutionary role of the proletariat, if here in Russia the exploitation of the working people is generally and universally explained not by the bourgeois organisation of social economy, but by, say, land poverty, redemption payments, or the tyranny of the authorities?

What sense is there in explaining to the worker the theory of the class struggle, if that theory cannot even explain his relation to the employer (capitalism in Russia has been artificially implanted by the government), not to mention the mass of the “people,” who do not belong to the fully established class of factory workers?

How can one accept Marx’s economic theory and its corollary—the revolutionary role of the proletariat as the organiser of communism by way of capitalism—if people in our country try to find ways to communism other than through the medium of capitalism and the proletariat it creates?

9. There are two ways of arriving at the conclusion that the worker must be roused to right absolutism: either by regarding the worker as the sole fighter for the socialist system, and therefore seeing political liberty as one of the conditions facilitating his struggle; that is the view of the Social-Democrats or by appealing to him simply as the one who suffers most from the present system, who has noting more to lose and who can display the greatest determination in fighting absolutism. But that would mean compelling the worker to drag in the wake of the bourgeois radicals, who refuse to see the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat behind the solidarity of the whole “people” against absolutism.

Obviously, under such conditions to call upon the worker to fight for political liberty would be equivalent to calling upon him to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the progressive bourgeoisie, for it cannot be denied (typically enough, even the Narodniks and the Narodovoltsi did not deny it) that political liberty will primarily serve the interests of the bourgeoisie and will not ease the position of the workers, but . . . will ease only the conditions for their struggle . . . against this very bourgeoisie. I say this as against those socialists who, while they do not accept the theory of the Social-Democrats, carry on their agitation among the workers, having become convinced empirically that only among the latter are revolutionary elements to be found. The theory of these socialists contradicts their practice, and they make a very serious mistake by distracting the workers from their direct task of ORGANISING A SOCIALIST WORKERS’ PARTY.9

It was a mistake that arose naturally at a time when the class antagonisms of bourgeois society were still quite undeveloped and were held down by serfdom, when the latter was evoking the unanimous protest and struggle of the entire intelligentsia, thus creating the illusion that there was something peculiarly democratic about our intelligentsia, and that there was no profound gulf between the ideas of the liberals and of the socialists. Now that economic development has advanced so far that even those who formerly denied a basis for capitalism in Russia admit our having entered the capitalist path of development—illusions on this score are no longer possible. The composition of the “intelligentsia” is assuming just as clear an outline as that of society engaged in the production of material values: while the latter is ruled and governed by the capitalist, among the former the fashion is set by the rapidly growing horde of careerists and bourgeois hirelings, an “intelligentsia” contented and satisfied, a stranger to all wild fantasy and very well aware of what they want. Far from denying this fact, our radicals and liberals strongly emphasise it and go out of their way to prove its immorality, to condemn it, strive to confound it, shame it ... and destroy it. These naïve efforts to make the bourgeois intelligentsia ashamed of being bourgeois are as ridiculous as the efforts of our petty-bourgeois economists to frighten our bourgeoisie (pleading the experience of “elder brothers”) with the story that it is moving towards the ruin of the people, towards the poverty, unemployment and starvation of the masses; this trial of the bourgeoisie and its ideologists is reminiscent of the trial of the pike, which was sentenced to be thrown into the river. Beyond these bounds begin the liberal and radical “intelligentsia,” who pour out innumerable phrases about progress, science, truth, the people, etc., and who love to lament the passing of the sixties, when there was no discord, depression, despondency and apathy, and when all hearts were aflame with democracy.

With their characteristic simplicity, these gentlemen refuse to understand that the cause of the unanimity that then prevailed was the then existing material conditions, gone never to return: serfdom pressed down everybody equally— the serf steward who had saved a little money and wanted to live in comfort; the enterprising muzhik, who hated the lord for exacting tribute, for interfering in and tearing him from his business; the proletarianised manor-serf and the impoverished muzhik who was sold into bondage to the merchant; it brought suffering to the merchant manufacturer and the worker, the handicraftsman and the subcontractor. The only tie that linked all these people together was their hostility to serfdom; beyond that unanimity, the sharpest economic antagonism began. How completely one must be lulled by sweet illusions not to perceive this antagonism even today when it has become so enormously developed; to weep for the return of the days of unanimity at a time when the situation demands struggle, demands that everyone who does not want to be a WILLING or UNWILLING myrmidon of the bourgeoisie shall take his stand on the side of the proletariat.

If you refuse to believe the flowery talk about the “interests of the people” and try to delve deeper, you will find that you are dealing with the out-and-out ideologists of the petty bourgeoisie, who dream of improving, supporting and restoring their (“people’s” in their jargon) economy by various innocent progressive measures, and who are totally incapable of understanding that under prevailing production relations the only effect such progressive measures can have is to proletarianise the masses still further. We cannot but be grateful to the “friends of the people” for having done much to reveal the class character of our intelligentsia and for having thereby fortified the Marxist theory that our small producers are petty bourgeois. They must inevitably hasten the dissipation of the old illusions and myths that have so long confused the minds of Russian socialists. The “friends of the people” have so mauled, overworked and soiled these theories that Russian socialists who held them are confronted with the inexorable dilemma of either revising them, or abandoning them altogether and leaving them to the exclusive use of the gentlemen who announce with smug solemnity, To the city (Rome) and the world : to everyone. urbi et orbi, that the rich peasants are buying improved implements, and who with serious mien assure us that we must welcome people who have grown weary of sitting at the card tables. And in this strain they talk about a “people’s system” and the “intelligentsia”—talk, not only with a serious air, but in pretentious, stupendous phrases about broad ideals, about an ideal treatment of the problems of life! . . .

The socialist intelligentsia can expect to perform fruitful work only when they abandon their illusions and begin to seek support in the actual, and not the desired development of Russia, in actual, and not possible social-economic relations. Moreover, their THEORETICAL work must be directed towards the concrete study of all forms of economic antagonism in Russia, the study of their connections and successive development; they must reveal this antagonism wherever it has been concealed by political history, by the peculiarities of legal systems or by established theoretical prejudice. They must present an integral picture of our realities as a definite system of production relations, show that the exploitation and expropriation of the working people are essential under this system, and show the way out of this system that is indicated by economic development.

This theory, based on a detailed study of Russian history and realities, must furnish an answer to the demands of the proletariat—and if it satisfies the requirements of science. then every awakening of the protesting thought of the proletariat will inevitably guide this thought into the channels of Social-Democracy. The greater the progress made in elaborating this theory, the more rapidly will Social-Democracy grow; for even the most artful guardians of the present system cannot prevent the awakening of proletarian thought, because this system itself necessarily and inevitably entails the most intense expropriation of the producers, the continuous growth of the proletariat and of its reserve army—and this parallel to the progress of social wealth, the enormous growth of the productive forces, and the socialisation of labour by capitalism. However much has still to be done to elaborate this theory, the socialists will do it; this is guaranteed by the spread among them of materialism, the only scientific method, one requiring that every programme shall be a precise formulation of the actual process; it is guaranteed by the success of Social-Democracy, which has adopted these ideas—a success which has so stirred up our liberals and democrats that, as a certain Marxist has put it, their monthly magazines have ceased to be dull.

10. On the contrary, the practical work of propaganda and agitation must always take precedence, because, firstly, theoretical work only supplies answers to the problems raised by practical work, and, secondly the Social-Democrats, for reasons over which they have no control, are so often compelled to confine themselves to theoretical work that they value highly every moment when practical work is possible. —Lenin

In thus emphasising the necessity, importance and immensity of the theoretical work of the Social-Democrats, I by no means want to say that this work should take precedence over PRACTICAL work,10 —still less that the latter should be postponed until the former is completed. Only the admirers of the “subjective method in sociology,” or the followers of utopian socialism, could arrive at such a conclusion. Of course, if it is presumed that the task of the socialists is to seek “different” (from actual) “paths of development” for the country, then, naturally, practical work becomes possible only when philosophical geniuses discover and indicate these “different paths”; and conversely, once these paths are discovered and indicated theoretical work ends, and the work of those who are to direct the “fatherland” along the “newly-discovered” “different paths” begins. The position is altogether different when the task of the socialists is to be the ideological leaders of the proletariat in its actual struggle against actual and real enemies who stand in the actual path of social and economic development. Under these circumstances, theoretical and practical work merge into one aptly described by the veteran German Social-Democrat, Liebknecht, as:

11. Today, you probably know of this as Educate, agitate, organise, but Lenin here writes "Study, propaganda, organisation."

Studieren, Propagandieren, Organisieren.11

You cannot be an ideological leader without the above mentioned theoretical work, just as you cannot be one without directing this work to meet the needs of the cause, and without spreading the results of this theory among the workers and helping them to organise.

Such a presentation of the task guards Social-Democracy against the defects from which socialist groups so often suffer, namely, dogmatism and sectarianism.

There can be no dogmatism where the supreme and sole criterion of a doctrine is its conformity to the actual process of social and economic development; there can be no sectarianism when the task is that of promoting the organisation of the proletariat, and when, therefore, the role of the “intelligentsia” is to make special leaders from among the intelligentsia unnecessary.

Hence, despite the existence of differences among Marxists on various theoretical questions, the methods of their political activity have remained unchanged ever since the group arose.

The political activity of the Social-Democrats lies in promoting the development and organisation of the working-class movement in Russia, in transforming this movement from its present state of sporadic attempts at protest, “riots” and strikes devoid of a guiding idea, into an organised struggle of the WHOLE Russian working CLASS directed against the bourgeois regime and working for the expropriation of the expropriators and the abolition of the social system based on the oppression of the working people. Underlying these activities is the common conviction of Marxists that the Russian worker is the sole and natural representative of Russia’s entire working and exploited population.

Natural because the exploitation of the working people in Russia is everywhere capitalist in nature, if we leave out of account the moribund remnants of serf economy; but the exploitation of the mass of producers is on a small scale, scattered and undeveloped, while the exploitation of the factory proletariat is on a large scale, socialised and concentrated. In the former case, exploitation is still enmeshed in medieval forms, various political, legal and conventional trappings, tricks and devices, which hinder the working people and their ideologists from seeing the essence of the system which oppresses the working people, from seeing where and how a way can be found out of this system. In the latter case, on the contrary, exploitation is fully developed and emerges in its pure form, without any confusing details. The worker cannot fail to see that he is oppressed by capital, that his struggle has to be waged against the bourgeois class. And this struggle, aimed at satisfying his immediate economic needs, at improving his material conditions, inevitably demands that the workers organise, and inevitably becomes a war not against individuals, but against a class, the class which oppresses and crushes the working people not only in the factories, but everywhere. That is why the factory worker is none other than the foremost representative of the entire exploited population. And in order that he may fulfil his function of representative in an organised, sustained struggle it is by no means necessary to enthuse him with “perspectives”; all that is needed is simply to make him understand his position, to make him understand the political and economic structure of the system that oppresses him, and the necessity and inevitability of class antagonisms under this system. This position of the factory worker in the general system of capitalist relations makes him the sole fighter for the emancipation of the working class, for only the higher stage of development of capitalism, large scale machine industry, creates the material condition and the social forces necessary for this struggle. Everywhere else, where the forms of capitalist development are low, these material conditions are absent; production is scattered among thousands of tiny enterprises (and they do not cease to be scattered enterprises even under the most equalitarian forms of communal landownership ), for the most part the exploited still possess tiny enterprises and are thus tied to the very bourgeois system they should be fighting: this retards and hinders the development of the social forces capable of overthrowing capitalism. Scattered, individual, petty exploitation ties the working people to one locality, divides them, prevents them from becoming conscious of class solidarity, prevents them from uniting once they have understood that oppression is not caused by some particular individual, but by the whole economic system. Large-scale capitalism, on the contrary, inevitably severs all the workers’ ties with the old society, with a particular locality and a particular exploiter; it unites them, compels them to think and places them in conditions which enable them to commence an organised struggle. Accordingly, it is on the working class that the Social-Democrats concentrate all their attention and all their activities. When its advanced representatives have mastered the ideas of scientific socialism, the idea of the historical role of the Russian worker, when these ideas become widespread, and when stable organisations are formed among the worker to transform the workers’ present sporadic economic war into conscious class struggle—then the Russian WORKER rising at the head of all the democratic elements, will overthrow absolutism and lead the RUSSIAN PROLETARIAT (side by side with the proletariat of ALL COUNTRIES along the straight road of open political struggle to THE VICTORIOUS COMMUNIST REVOLUTION.

Communism Is How We Forcibly Break Apart the Organized Power of the Capitalist Class
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