|Written||20 January 1913|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1975, Moscow, Volume 18, pages 524-528.
Mr. A. V. P. has contributed to Russkoye Bogatstvo No. 12 a “leading” article on a “current” subject, headed “Socialism—Popular or Proletarian?”
The article is quite shallow and pointless in itself. It is quite a long time since we encountered in the “leading” articles of a Narodnik publication that considers itself important, such a meaningless set of words, such a spate of evasive, bald phrases, or such a hotchpotch of (eclectic) views.
But the characteristic thing about the article is that it raises the highly important and topical question of the disintegration of Narodism. Narodism is the ideology of Russia’s peasant democrats. That is why every class-conscious worker should carefully watch the changes this ideology is undergoing.
Narodism is very old. It is considered to have been founded by Herzen and Chernyshevsky. Effective Narodism reached its peak when, in the seventies, revolutionaries began to “go among the people” (the peasantry). The Narodniks’ economic theory was developed in its more integral form by V. V. (Vorontsov) and Nikolai —on, in the eighties of the last century. In the early twentieth century, the views of the Left Narodniks were expressed in the most definite form by the Socialist-Revolutionaries.
The revolution of 1905, which showed all the social forces of Russia in an open, mass action of the classes, made a general test of Narodism and defined its place. The only real content and social significance of Narodism is peasant democracy.
The Russian liberal bourgeoisie is compelled, by virtue of its economic position, to strive not for the abolition, but for the division of the privileges of Purishkevich and Co. between the feudal landlords and the capitalists. On the other hand, the bourgeois democrats in Russia—the peas ants—are compelled to strive for the abolition of all these privileges.
For the Narodniks, phrases about “socialism”, “socialisation of the land”, equalised tenure, and so on, are mere words covering up the fact that the peasants are striving for complete equality in politics and for the complete abolition of feudal landownership.
The revolution of 1905 finally revealed this social essence of Narodism, this class nature of it. The movement of the masses—in the form of the peasant unions of 1905, the local peasant struggles in 1905 and 1906, and the elections to the first two Dumas (the formation of “Trudovik” groups)—all these great social facts, which showed us millions of peasants in action, swept aside Narodnik, professedly socialist, phrase mongering like so much dust and revealed the core: a peasant (bourgeois) democratic movement with an immense, still unexhausted store of energy.
Those whom the experience of the greatest epoch in new, modern, Russia has not taught to distinguish between the real content of Narodism and its verbal trappings are hope less and cannot be taken seriously, they may be writers playing with words (like A. V. P. of Russkoye Bogatstvo), but not politicians.
In our next article we shall look more closely at the disintegration of Narodism and at that writer.
The experience of 1905 is vastly important precisely because it compelled the testing of Narodnik theories by the movement of the masses. And that test at once brought about the decay of Narodism and the collapse of Narodnik theories.
At the very first congress of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, in December 1905, the Popular Socialists began to break away from them, and they had seceded completely by the autumn of 1906.
Those Popular Socialists forestalled our liquidators. They chanted in exactly the same way about an “open party”, and in the same way they abolished the slogans of consistent democracy and made renegade speeches (see, for example, Mr. Peshekhonov’s articles in Russkoye Bogatstvo No. 8, 1906). Those were peasant Cadets, and the Second Duma (which was not boycotted by the Narodniks, nor even by the Socialist-Revolutionaries) proved that the majority of the peasant deputies followed the opportunists of Russkoye Bogatstvo, with the minority following the Socialist-Revolutionaries. The Second Duma finally confirmed what was evident already from the Narodnik newspapers of the “days of freedom” (autumn 1905 and spring 1906), namely, that the Socialist-Revolutionaries could be nothing but the Left wing of Russia’s peasant democrats and that outside it they were nothing.
The disintegration of Narodism is bearing this out more and more clearly. While the counter-revolution was ram pant, this disintegration progressed rapidly: the Left Narodniks “recalled” themselves from the ranks of the Duma Trudoviks. The old party was virtually liquidated but no new one was founded. Renegacy (which went as far as Ropshin’s disgraceful writings “The Pale Horse” and “That Which Was Not”) obtained a wide path for itself even to the “Left” Narodniks. Some of them (the Pochin group) are abandoning the boycott. Others gravitate towards Marxism (N. Sukhanov, for example, although he is still exceedingly muddled). Still others gravitate towards anarchism. All in all, the break-up is far greater than among the Social-Democrats, for while there are official centres, there is no clear, consistent, principled line capable of combating decadence.
And now Mr. A. V. P. presents us with an example of this ideological decadence. Once the Narodniks had a theory of their own. What is left now is nothing but “reservations” on Marxism picked up at random. Any unprincipled feuilleton-writer for a glib bourgeois sheet could subscribe to Mr. A. V. P.’s article in defence of “popular” socialism without risking anything, without committing himself in any way, and without professing anything. For “popular” socialism is a meaningless phrase serving to evade the question of which class or social stratum is fighting for socialism throughout the world.
It suffices to quote two specimens of Mr. A. V. P.’s twaddle.
“It appears,” he wrote, “that the party which has made the doctrine of proletarian socialism its own is in reality prepared to develop its forces also at the expense of other, ‘semi-proletarian’, or even ‘bourgeois’, strata.”
An objection fit for a fourth-year schoolboy, isn’t it? Both semi-proletarians and bourgeois are to be found in the socialist parties of the Whole world, so what follows? It follows, Mr. A. V. P. concludes, that one may side-step the fact that only the proletariat all over the world (1) wages a sustained struggle against the capitalist class and (2) provides a mass support for the Social-Democratic parties.
“Take the students,” wrote the glib Mr. A. V. P. “Why, they are the most genuine bourgeoisie, and yet the socialists among them—I cannot say how it is now—until recently were almost a majority.”
Now isn’t that inimitable? Isn’t that an argument worthy of a naïve Socialist-Revolutionary schoolgirl? He does not notice, after 1905–07, how tens of millions of peasants and millions of workers took sides in the arena of all political actions, while attaching importance (as if it were an argument against “proletarian socialism”!) to the fact that the liberal and democratic student youth in Russia sympathises with the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Social-Democrats! Look here, Mr. A. V. P., have a sense of proportion!
Class-conscious workers must follow a straightforward and clear policy with regard to the Narodniks. They must ruthlessly ridicule would-be socialist phrases and not allow the only serious question, that of consistent democracy, to be hidden behind them.
“Popular” socialism, equalised tenure, socialisation of the land, co-operation, the labour principle? All that is not even worth refuting. Experience and the revolution have long since swept it altogether out of the sphere of serious political issues. You are merely hiding the serious question, that of democracy, behind that sort of twaddle. You must say clearly and plainly whether you are loyal to the slogans of consistent democracy. Are you willing and able to transform these slogans into regular work among the masses of a clearly specified social stratum? If so, the worker democrat will be your ally and friend against all enemies of democracy. If not, go away, you are just a twaddler.
- A. V. P.—pseudonym of A. V. Peshekhonov, one of the leaders of the Popular Socialist Party.
- Nikolai–on –pseudonym of N. F. Danielson, an ideologist of the liberal Narodism of the 1880s and 1890s.