A Radical Bourgeois on the Russian Workers

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Author(s) Lenin
Written March 1914

Prosveshcheniye No. 3, March 1914. Published according to in the text Prosveshcheniye.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 166-169.
Collection(s): Prosveshcheniye

It is sometimes useful to see how people judge us, our workers’ press, our workers’ unions, our working-class movement, from outside. It is instructive to know the views of our enemies, both overt and covert, the views of indefinite people and indefinite “sympathisers”, if they are at all intelligent and have some idea of polities.

Under the latter category undoubtedly comes the “Trudovik” or “Popular Socialist”—or, if the truth were to be told, just the ordinary radical bourgeois or bourgeois democrat—Mr. S. Yelpatievsky.

This writer is a staunch supporter and associate of N. K. Mikhailovsky, now the object of fulsome praise from the “Left Narodniks”, who, in defiance of common sense, are trying to pass themselves off as socialists. Mr. S. Yelpatievsky is a close observer of the life of the Russian man in the street, to whose moods he is so “sensitive”.

He may well be called one of Russia’s leading liquidators, seeing that he and his friends, as far back as in the autumn of 1906 (see the ill-famed August issue of Russkoye Bogatstvo for 1906), proclaimed the need for an “open party”, attacked the narrow-mindedness of the “underground”, and started to touch up the most important slogans of this “underground” in the spirit of an open, that is to say, legal, party. In word, and in the minds of these “Social-Cadets” (as even the Left Narodniks were obliged to call them at the time), their repudiation of the “underground” and their liquidationist proclamation of an “open party” or “struggle for an open party”, were prompted by the desire “to go among the masses”, to organise the masses.

In deed, however, the plan of the “Popular Socialists” contained nothing but philistine, petty-bourgeois faint-heartedness (in regard to the masses) and credulity (in regard to the authorities). For their advocacy of an “open party” some of them were threatened with the lock-up and some were kept there, and as a result, they remained without any contact with the masses, open or otherwise, and without a party of any kind, open or otherwise. They remained what our liquidators now are, namely, a group of liquidator legalists, a group of “independent” writers (independent of the “under ground”, but ideologically dependent, on liberalism).

The period of despondency, collapse and disintegration has passed. New currents are stirring, and Mr. S. Yelpatievsky, who is so sensitive to man-in-the-street moods, has writ ten an article, published in this year’s January issue of Russkoye Bogatstvo, on the moods of the different classes in Russian society. The article bears the pretentious title “Life Goes On”.

Life goes on, our Narodnik exclaims, calling to mind all kinds of congresses, Salazkin’s speech[1] and the Beilis case. Things are undoubtedly stirring in the provinces, although “it is sometimes difficult now to distinguish, not only the Right Cadet from the Left Octobrist, but the Socialist-Revolutionary and the Social-Democrat [you mean liquidator Social-Democrat, don’t you, Mr. Narodnik liquidator?] from the Left Cadet, judging by local [and, of course, exclusively legal] tactics”. “Something like a unification of Rus is taking place on either side of the wall dividing, Russia. On one side have rallied the united aristocracy, the united bureaucracy, the civil servants and other folk who ‘live on the Treasury’; on the other side—just the rank and file, the, mass of provincial society”.

Our Narodnik’s outlook, as you see, is not broad, and his analysis is shallow—the same old liberal contraposing of government and society. It is rather difficult to say anything about the class struggle within society, about bourgeoisie and workers, about the growing dissension between liberalism and democracy from the standpoint of the provincial man in the street.

It is difficult to draw conclusions about the rural masses, writes Mr. S. Yelpatievsky.

“Darkness and silence hung over the countryside, where it was difficult to see anything an from where it was hard to hear anything”.... The co-operative movement “suddenly burst forth, spreading far and wide”... the struggle between the otrub[2] and the commune peasants ... “all this did not stand out clearly enough”.

“Admittedly, the wall that is being flung up between the otrub and the commune peasants as a result of the government’s efforts to divide and split the rural masses is rising higher and higher, but the countryside has evidently not yet produced the feeling and sentiment suitable to the government’s aims. The desire for and expectation of land still continue to burn brightly in the hearts of both, and the desire for freedom, for ‘rights’, which was formerly obscured by the ‘land’, is evidently becoming increasingly stronger and more compelling.”

After observing that “it is the Right-wing circles that are now persistently repeating the word revolution”, that these circles “are really scared, really expect a conflict, and are convinced that a catastrophe is unavoidable”, our chronicler of Russian life ends up by saying this about the workers:

I need not say anything here about the organised workers. There is no need to grope there for one’s conclusions—everything there is clear and visible to all. Opinions there are fairly definitely established, there ate not only desires and expectations there, but also demands, reinforced by volitional impulses—not sporadic outbreaks, but systematised and fairly well developed methods.... [The dots are Mr. Yelpatievsky’s.] And, undoubtedly, opinions, desires and expectations percolate from this organised environment into the rural environment from which it sprang.”

This was written by a man who has never been a Marxist and has always stood aloof from the “organised workers”. And this appraisal of things from outside is all the more valuable to the class-conscious workers.

Mr. Yelpatievsky, one of the “foremost” leaders of liquidationism, would do well to ponder over the implications of the admission he has been obliged to make.

For one thing, among which workers does he find “fairly definitely established opinions” and “fairly well developed and systematised methods”? Only among the opponents of liquidationism (because, among the liquidators themselves, there is complete chaos in opinions and methods); only among those who have not hurried faint-heartedly to turn their backs on the “underground”. Only among these, indeed, “everything is clear and visible to all”. Paradoxically enough, it is a fact that chaos reigns among those who yearn for an “open party”, that “everything is clear and visible to all”, that “opinions are fairly definitely established and methods fairly well developed” only among the adherents of the “underground”, among those who are faithful to the precepts of this allegedly bigoted and hidebound “underground” (cf. Nasha Zarya, Luch, Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta and Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta).

The first to give birth to liquidationism (Mr. Yelpatievsky, leader of Russkoye Bogatstvo) was the first to sign its death warrant and read the burial service at its grave.

Although Mr. Yelpatievsky himself may not be aware of it, the question he raises is far beyond the understanding of certain politicians.

Secondly—and this is most important of all—why is it that in one of the most turbulent and difficult periods of Russian history, in the five years 1908-13, the proletariat was the only class of all the classes in the Russian nation that did not “grope” its way about? Why was it only among the proletariat that “everything is clear and visible to all”? Why is the proletariat emerging from the state of utter ideological disintegration and collapse and vacillation in matters concerning programme, tactics and organisation—such as now reign among the liberals, the Narodniks and intellectualist “would-be Marxists”—with “opinions fairly definitely established” and with “methods systematised and fairly well developed”? It is not only because these opinions were established and these methods developed by the “underground”, but because there are profound social causes, economic conditions and factors which are operating more and more effectively with every new mile of railway that is built, and with every advance that is made in trade, industry and capitalism in town and countryside, factors which increase, strengthen, steel and unite the proletariat and keep it from following the lead of the man in the street, keep it from wavering like philistines, from faint-heartedly renouncing the “underground”.

Those who ponder on this will realise the enormous harm that is caused by attempts to “fuse” into a single party the advanced members of the wage-worker class and the inevitably wavering and unstable petty-bourgeois peasantry.

  1. Lenin is referring to the speech made by the millionaire merchant A. S. Salazkin, President of the Nizhni-Novgorod Fair and Exchange Committee, at a special meeting of the Committee held on August 16(29), 1913 in connection with the visit to the Fair of Prime Minister Kokovtsov. On behalf of all Russia’s merchants Salazkin urged upon Kokovtsov the “vital necessity” of radical political reforms on the basis of the tsar’s Manifesto of October 17, 1905, and expressed the desire of the commercial and industrial world “to take a direct part in the affairs of public self-government and state organisation”.
    Lenin repeatedly referred to this speech in his articles. (See “The Russian Bourgeoisie and Russian Reformism”, “The Merchant Salazkin and the Writer F. D.” and “Questions of Principle in Politics”, present edition, Vol. 19.)
  2. Otrub peasants—those who received an otrub (a homestead). Under Stolypin’s Law of November 9, 1906, the village communes were obliged to endow the peasants leaving the commune with an allotment in one place.