Les Beaux Esprits Se Rencontrent

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(Which May Be Interpreted Roughly as: Birds of a Feather Flock Together)[edit source]

In June 1902 the much-vaunted minimum agrarian programme of our Socialist-Revolutionaries (co-operatives and socialisation) enriched Russian socialist thought and the Russian revolutionary movement. The German book, Socialism and Agriculture, by Eduard David, the well-known opportunist (and Bernsteinite), appeared in February 1903. There can evidently be no question of the consequent product of opportunist thought including the original of the earlier “Socialist-Revolutionary” mental gymnastics. If that is so, how is one to explain the amazing, the striking similarity and even the identity of principles in the programme of the Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries and that of the German opportunists? Is it not perhaps a case of Revolutsionnaya Rossiya being the “original,” while David’s “fundamental” (according to a review in Russkiye Vedomosti) work is the copy? Two basic ideas, and, correspondingly, two main points in the programme, run through the pattern of David’s “work.” He glorifies agricultural co-operatives, expecting all possible blessings from them, demanding that the Social-Democrats help develop them, and (just like our Socialist-Revolutionaries) failing to see the bourgeois nature of these alliances between petty proprietors and agrarian capitalists, big and small. David demands the conversion of large farms into small ones, and waxes enthusiastic over the profitableness and efficiency, the thrifty management and productivity of the farms “des Arbeitsbauern”—literally, “of the working peasant”—emphasising the society’s supreme right to landed property and the right of these same small “working peasants” to the use of the land. Without any doubt, this German opportunist has plagiarised from the Russian “Socialist-Revolutionaries”! Of course neither the German petty-bourgeois opportunist nor the Russian petty-bourgeois, the “Socialist-Revolutionaries,” see anything at all of the petty-bourgeois nature of the “working peasant” in present-day society, his intermediate, transitional position between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, his ambition to “make his way in the world” (i.e., become a full-fledged bourgeois) through frugality, diligence, semi-starvation, and excessive labour, and his striving to exploit the labour of rural “workers.”

Yes, indeed, les beaux esprits se rencontrent, and herein lies the key to a puzzle which at first glance seems so difficult: to determine which is the copy and which the original. Ideas expressing the needs, interests, strivings, and aspirations of a certain class are in the very air, and their identity cannot be concealed by any differences of garb, by any variations of opportunist or “Socialist-Revolutionary” phraseology. Murder will out.

In all the countries of Europe, Russia included, the petty bourgeoisie is steadily being “thrust to the wall” and falling into decline, a process which does not always express itself in the outright and direct elimination of the petty bourgeoisie, but in most cases leads to a reduction of its role in economic life, to deterioration of its living conditions, and greater insecurity. Everything militates against it: technical progress in big industrial and agricultural enterprises, the development of the big shops, the growth of manufacturers’ associations, cartels and trusts, and even the growth of consumers’ societies and municipal enterprises. And, while the petty bourgeoisie is being “thrust to the wall” in the sphere of agriculture and industry, a “new middle social-estate,” as the Germans say, is emerging and developing, a new stratum of the petty bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, who are also finding life in capitalist society harder and harder and for the most part regard this society from the viewpoint of the small producer. It is quite natural that this must inevitably lead to widespread dissemination and constant revival of petty-bourgeois ideas and doctrines in the most varied forms. It is quite natural that the Russian “Socialist- Revolutionaries,” who are wholly in thrall to the ideas of petty-bourgeois Narodism, inevitably turn out to be “birds of a feather” with the European reformists and opportunists, who, when they would be consistent, inevitably arrive at Proudhonism. And this was the very term that Kautsky quite justly used to describe David’s programme and stand point.

We have said, “when they would be consistent,” and this brings us to an essential feature—one that distinguishes the present-day Socialist-Revolutionaries from both the old Russian Narodniks and at least some of the European opportunists—which can only be called adventurism. Adventurism is not concerned with consistency, but endeavours to grasp at the fleeting opportunity and make use of the battle of ideas in order to justify and preserve its ideological poverty. The old Russian Narodniks wanted to be consistent and they upheld, preached, and professed their own, distinct programme. David wants to be consistent and rises up resolutely against the whole “Marxist agrarian theory,” emphatically preaches and professes the conversion of large farms into small farms, and, at least, has the courage of his convictions, and is not afraid to come out openly as the champion of small-scale farming. Our Socialist-Revolutionaries are, to put it as mildly as possible, far more “prudent.” They never rise up resolutely against Marx—God forbid! On the contrary, they come forward with quotations plucked at random from Marx and Engels, assuring us with tears in their eyes that they agree with the latter almost in every thing. They do not come out against Liebknecht and Kautsky—on the contrary, they are profoundly and sincerely convinced that Liebknecht was a Socialist-Revolutionary—in very truth, a Socialist-Revolutionary. They do not come forward as the champions of small-scale farming on principle—on the contrary, they are heart and soul for the “socialisation of the land,” and it is only by accident that they sometimes blurt out that this all-embracing Russo-Dutch socialisation can mean anything and everything: either the transference of the land to society, to be used by the working people (exactly as David puts it!), or simply the transference of the land to the peasants, or, finally, quite “simply” the addition of plots of land gratis....

Our Socialist-Revolutionaries’ “prudent” methods are so well known to us that we shall take the liberty, in conclusion, of giving them a piece of good advice.

You have obviously landed in a rather awkward situation, gentlemen. All along you have been assuring us that you have nothing in common either with the opportunism and reformism in the West, or with the petty-bourgeois sympathies for the “profitable” small-scale farming—and suddenly a book by an avowed opportunist and champion of small-scale farming appears, in which your “Socialist-Revolutionary” programme is “copied” with touching scrupulosity! An awkward situation indeed. But don’t let it distress you: there is an easy way out. All you have to do is ... to quote Kautsky.

Nor should the reader think that this is a slip on our part. Nothing of the sort. Kautsky comes out against the Proudhonist David—for this very reason the Socialist-Revolutionaries, who are in agreement with David, have to quote Kautsky just as they once quoted Engels. Take No. 14 of Revolutsionnaya Rossiya and there you will read on page seven that the Social-Democrats’ “change of tactics” with regard to the peasantry “was legitimised” (H) by one of the fathers of scientific socialism, by Engels—Engels, who took up arms against the French comrades that had changed their tactics! How can one prove this pettifogging statement? Quite simply. First, one must “quote” Engels’ words that he is absolutely on the side of the small peasant (and say nothing about the fact that this very thought is expressed in the programme of the Russian Social-Democrats, which calls on all the working people to come over to the side of the proletariat!). Secondly, one must say with regard to the “concessions to Bernsteinism” made by the French comrades who changed their tactics: “See Engels’ superb criticism of these concessions.” It is this selfsame tried method that we advise the Socialist-Revolutionary gentlemen to use now too. David’s book has legitimised the change in tactics on the agrarian question. One cannot but admit now that, with a programme of “co-operatives and socialisation,” it is possible to remain in the ranks of the Social-Democratic Party; only dogmatists and the orthodox can fail to see this. But, on the other hand, it must be admitted that David, unlike the noble Socialist-Revolutionaries, makes some concessions to Bernsteinism. “See Kautsky’s superb criticism of these concessions.”

Indeed, gentlemen, try it. Perhaps something will come of it once more.