Narodism and the Class of Wage-Workers
|Written||18 February 1914|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 105-108
The tenth anniversary of the death of the liberal-Narodnik writer Mikhailovsky has provided the Narodniks with a pretext for reviving the old dispute about the significance of the Marxists’ struggle against the Narodniks. That dispute is of no little interest:first, historically, since the rise of Marxism in Russia was the point at issue; second, theoretically, since the dispute concerned the fundamental questions of Marxist theory; and third, practically, inasmuch as the Left-Narodnik newspaper in St. Petersburg is trying to win the workers over to its side. Mr. Rakitnikov, the Narodnik, writes:
“Nobody, of course, now puts the case the way it was put in the sixties and seventies, viz., whether Russia can avoid the phase of capitalism. Russia is already in that phase.”
This interesting statement by a Left Narodnik brings us straightaway to the gist of the matter. Is it true that the question as to whether “Russia can avoid the phase of capitalism” was discussed only in the sixties and seventies? No. It is absolutely untrue. This question was discussed by the Narodniks in general, and by the contributors to Russkoye Bogatstvo (i. e., members of Mikhailovsky’s group) in particular, both in the eighties and the nineties. It is sufficient to mention Mr. Nikolai —on, for example.
Why then, did Mr. Rakitnikov conceal the eighties and the nineties from his readers? Was it merely to cover up the Narodniks’ errors, and thus help to spread them among the workers? This is a shabby trick, and things must be going bad with those who resort to such tricks.
What are the implications of the theory that “Russia can avoid the phase of capitalism”, a theory that was propounded by Mikhailovsky and his group, and survived right down to the nineties of the last century?
That was the theory of utopian, petty-bourgeois socialism, i. e., the dream of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, who sought a way of escape from capitalism not in the wage-workers’ class struggle against the bourgeoisie, but in appeals to the “entire nation”, to “society”, that is, to that very same bourgeoisie.
Prior to the rise of the working-class movement, such theories of “socialism” were prevalent in all countries and they merely reflected. in fact the hopes of petty-bourgeois theoreticians that the class struggle could be avoided, dispensed with. In all countries, as in Russia, the class-conscious working-class movement had to wage a persistent struggle against these petty-bourgeois doctrines of “socialism” which were in keeping with the status and point of view of the petty proprietors.
The working-class movement cannot exist or develop successfully until this theory of the benevolent petty proprietors regarding the possibility of “avoiding” capitalism is refuted. By covering up the fundamental mistake of the Mikhailovsky group, Mr. Rakitnikov is bringing confusion into the theory of the class struggle. Nevertheless it is this theory alone that has shown the workers the way out of their present conditions, shown how the workers themselves can and should endeavour to achieve their emancipation.
“Russia is already in the phase of capitalism,” writes Mr. Rakitnikov.
This remarkable admission is tantamount to admitting the fundamental error of Mikhailovsky and his group.
Moreover, it is tantamount to a complete renunciation of Narodism.
The Left Narodniks who are in agreement with this ad mission are now fighting the Marxists not as Narodniks, but as opportunists in the socialist movement, as supporters of petty-bourgeois deviations from socialism.
Indeed, if “Russia is already in the phase of capitalism”, it follows that Russia is a capitalist country. It follows that in Russia, as in all capitalist countries, the petty proprietors, including the peasants, are petty bourgeois. It follows that in Russia, as in all capitalist countries, the wage-workers’ class struggle against the bourgeoisie is the only way in which socialism can be achieved.
To this day the programme of the Left Narodniks (not to mention their Russkoye Bogatstvo friends) dares nut admit that Russia is a capitalist country. Mr. Rakitnikov defends Narodism by surrendering the Narodniks’ programme to the Marxists! A poor defence!
Mr. Rakitnikov argues with the Marxists not like a Narodnik but like an opportunist when he says:
“to support peasant farming does not mean battling against the stream of inexorable economic development. And an increasing number of socialists in the West is adopting this point of view.”
We have emphasised the words that completely betray our poor “Left Narodnik”! We know that in the West the class of wage-workers alone has been able as a class to form socialist parties. We know that in the West the peasantry as a class forms, not socialist hut bourgeois parties. We know that it is not the socialists, but the opportunists in the West who support petty-bourgeois farming.
“To support peasant farming!...” Look about you. Peasant proprietors are forming associations to market grain, hay, milk and meat at the highest prices, and to hire labour at the lowest. The freer the peasants are and the more land they possess, the clearer do we see this.
Mr. Rakitnikov is trying to persuade the class of wage-workers to “support petty-bourgeois farming”. A fine sort of “socialism”, indeed!
The wage-workers support only the peasants’ struggle against the feudalists and the serf-like conditions, but that is quite different from what Mr. Rakitnikov wants.
In Russia, the great years of 1905–07 definitely proved that the wage-workers were the only class to act and tally as a socialist force. The peasantry acted and rallied as a bourgeois-democratic force. With the development of capitalism the difference between the classes becomes more marked from day to day.
“Left-Narodnik” propaganda amounts, in effect, to the corruption and disruption of the wage-workers’ class movement with the aid of petty-bourgeois slogans. The Left Narodniks would be well advised to turn to democratic work among the peasants—that is something which even non-socialists can do.
- Russkoye Bogatstvo (Russian Wealth)—a monthly journal published in St. Petersburg from 1876 to 1918. In the early nineties it passed into the hands of the liberal Narodniks headed by N. K. Mikhailovsky. A group of publicists formed around the journal, who eventually became prominent members of the Socialist-Revolutionary, the “Popular Socialist” and Trudovik parties in the Duma. In 1906 it became the organ of the semi-Cadet Labour Popular Socialist Party.
- Nikolai—on—pseudonym of N. F. Danielson, an ideologist of liberal Narodism in the eighties and nineties of the last century.