On Social Relations in Russia (1875)

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written May 1874


MIA-bannière.gif
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 39;
Written: between mid-May 1874 and April 1875;
First Published: part V as a pamphlet, parts I-IV in Der Volksstaat in 1875;

Introduction (May 1875)[edit source]

Written in the latter half of May 1875

First published in the pamphlet: F. Engels, Soziales aus Rußland, Leipzig, 1875; reprinted in the book: F. Engels, Internationales aus dem "Volksstaat" (1871-75), Berlin, 1894

Published in English for the first time in MECW

The following lines were written on the occasion of a debate in which I became involved with a Mr. Peter Nikitich Tkachov. In an article about the Russian periodical Forward, published in London (Volksstaat, 1874, Nos. 117 and 118), I had cause to mention this gentleman's name quite in passing, but in such a way as to draw his esteemed hostility down upon myself. Without delay Mr. Tkachov issued an "Offener Brief an Herrn Friedrich Engels", Zurich, 1874, in which he attributes all manner of odd things to me and then, in contrast to my crass ignorance, treats his readers to his own opinion on the state of things in general and the prospects for social revolution in Russia. Both form and content of this concoction bore the usual Bakuninist stamp. As it had been published in German, I thought it worth the effort to reply in the Volksstaat (cf. Refugee Literature, Nos. IV and V, Volksstaat, 1875, No. 36, et seq.). The first part of my reply dealt mainly with the Bakuninist approach to literary debate, which is simply to accuse your opponent of telling a pack of direct lies. By virtue of being published in the Volksstaat this predominantly personal part has been given a sufficient airing. It is for that reason that I now set it aside and for this separate impression, which has been requested by the publishing house, leave only the second part intact, the part which deals mainly with the social conditions in Russia as they have taken shape since 1861, since what has become known as the emancipation of the peasants.

Developments in Russia are of the greatest importance for the German working class. The existing Russian Empire represents the last great mainstay of all West European reaction. That was demonstrated with striking clarity in 1848 and 1849. Because Germany neglected to stir up revolt in Poland in 1848 and to wage war on the Russian Tsara (as the Neue Rheinische Zeitung had demanded from the outset[1]) that same Tsar was able in 1849 to put down the Hungarian revolution, which has advanced to the gates of Vienna, to sit in judgement over Austria, Prussia and the minor German states at Warsaw in 1850, and to restore the old Federal Diet.[2] And only a few days ago at the beginning of May 1875—just the same as 25 years ago, the Russian Tsarb received the homage of his vassals in Berlin and proved that he is still today the arbiter of Europe's fate.121 No revolution can achieve ultimate success in Western Europe whilst the present Russian state exists alongside it. But Germany is its closest neighbour, and it will therefore be Germany that will feel the first impact of the Russian armies of reaction. The overthrow of Tsarist Russia, the elimination of the Russian Empire, is therefore one of the first conditions of the German proletariat's ultimate triumph.

It is by no means essential, however, for this overthrow to be brought about from outside, although a foreign war could accelerate it considerably. Within the Russian Empire itself there are elements which are working energetically to bring about its ruin.

First there are the Poles. A century of oppression has placed them in a position where they must either be revolutionary, supporting every truly revolutionary uprising in the West as a first step towards the liberation of Poland, or they must perish. And at this very moment they are in a position where they can seek West European allies only in the camp of the proletariat. For a century now they have been continually betrayed by all the bourgeois parties of the West. The bourgeoisie in Germany has only been a force to be reckoned with since 1848, and since that time it has been hostile towards Poland. As for France, Napoleon betrayed Poland in 1812, and, as a consequence of that betrayal, lost his campaign, his crown and his empire; in 1830 and 1846 the bourgeois royalty followed his example, as did the bourgeois republic in 1848, and the Second Empire during the Crimean campaign and in 1863. Each betrayed Poland as contemptuously as the other. And even today the radical bourgeois republicans of France grovel before the Tsar, seeking in reward for a renewed betrayal of Poland to bargain on a revanchist alliance against Prussia, in just the same way as the German imperial bourgeois idolise that same Tsar as the protector of peace in Europe, i.e. of German-Prussian annexations. Only amongst the revolutionary workers do the Poles find sincere and unreserved support, because the two share the same interest in the overthrow of their common enemy, and because the liberation of Poland is synonymous with that overthrow.

But the activity of the Poles is confined to a particular locality. It is limited to Poland, Lithuania, and Little Russia; the actual core of the Russian Empire, Great Russia, remains practically untouched by their efforts. The forty million inhabitants of Great Russia constitute much too large a people and have had far too unique a development to force a movement on them from outside. That is not at all necessary, however. Of course, the mass of the Russian people, the peasants, have gone on for centuries, from generation to generation, living their dull, unimaginative lives in a sort of ahistorical torpor; and the only changes that occurred to interrupt this desolate condition were isolated and fruitless uprisings and new waves of repression carried out by nobility and government. The Russian government itself put an end to this ahistorical existence (in 1861) with the abolition of serfdom which could not be delayed any longer and the redemption of the corvée—a measure which was introduced with such amazing cunning that it is leading the majority of both the peasants and the nobility towards certain ruin. The very conditions themselves, therefore, which the Russian peasant is now obliged to face, force him into the movement, a movement which, of course, is still in its very initial stages, but which is bound to advance thanks to the daily worsening economic situation of the mass of the peasants. The rumbling dissatisfaction of the peasants is already a fact which must be acknowledged by the government, by all those who are disaffected, and by the opposition parties alike.

It follows from this that, if below the discussion centres on Russia, then what is meant is not the whole of the Russian Empire but Great Russia alone, i.e. the territory whose westernmost gubernias are Pskov and Smolensk, and whose southernmost gubernias are Kursk and Voronezh.

On Social Relations un Russia[edit source]

Article V from Engels' Refugee Literature was printed by Der Volksstaat, Nos. 43, 44 and 45 on April 16, 18 and 21, 1875, and as a separate pamphlet in Leipzig in late June-early July 1875 under the title Soziales aus Rußland (On Social Relations in Russia). In the second half of May Engels wrote an introduction to the pamphlet (reproduced here), which was reproduced together with the article in the 1894 edition: F. Engels, Internationales aus dem "Volksstaat" (1871-75). This article was printed in English for the first time in: K. Marx, F. Engels, Selected Works in three volumes, Volume Two, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969, pp. 387-98.

On the subject matter, Mr. Tkachov tells the German workers that, as regards Russia, I possess not even a “little knowledge”, possess nothing but “ignorance”, and he feels himself, therefore, obliged to explain the real state of affairs to them, particularly the reasons that, just at the present time, a social revolution could be accomplished in Russia with the greatest of ease, much more easily than in Western Europe.

“We have no urban proletariat, that is undoubtedly true; but, then, we also have no bourgeoisie; ... our workers will have to fight only against the political power — the power of capital is with us still only in embryo. And you, sir, are undoubtedly aware that the fight against the former is much easier than against the latter.”

The revolution that modern socialism strives to achieve is, briefly, the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a new organisation of society by the destruction of all class distinctions. This requires not only a proletariat to carry out this revolution, but also a bourgeoisie in whose hands the social productive forces have developed so far that they permit the final destruction of class distinctions. Among savages and semi-savages there likewise often exist no class distinctions, and every people has passed through such a state. It could not occur to us to re-establish this state, for the simple reason that class distinctions necessarily emerge from it as the social productive forces develop. Only at a certain level of development of these social productive forces, even a very high level for our modern conditions, does it become possible to raise production to such an extent that the abolition of class distinctions can constitute real progress, can be lasting without bringing about stagnation or even decline in the mode of social production. But the productive forces have reached this level of development only in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie, therefore, in this respect also is just as necessary a precondition for the socialist revolution as is the proletariat itself. Hence a man who says that this revolution can be more easily carried out in a country where, although there is no proletariat, there is no bourgeoisie either, only proves that he has still to learn the ABC of socialism.

The Russian workers — and these workers are, as Mr. Tkachov himself says, “tillers of the soil and, as such, not proletarians but owners” — have, therefore, an easier task, because they do not have to fight against the power of capital, but “only against the political power”, against the Russian state. And this state

“appears only at a distance as a power... It has no roots in the economic life of the people; it does not embody the interests of any particular estate... In your country the state is no imaginary power. It stands four square on the basis of capital; it embodies in itself” (!!) “certain economic interests... In our country the situation is just the reverse — our form of society owes its existence to the state, to a state hanging in the air, so to speak, one that has nothing in common with the existing social order, and has its roots in the past, but not in the present.”

Let us waste no time over the confused notion that the economic interests need the state, which they themselves create, in order to acquire a body, or over the bold contention that the Russian form of society (which, of course, must also include the communal property of the peasants) owes its existence to the state, or over the contradiction that this same state “has nothing in common” with the existing social order, which is supposed to be its very own creation. Let us rather examine at once this “state hanging in the air”, which does not represent the interests of even a single estate.

In European Russia, the peasants possess 105 million dessiatines [1 d. = 2.7 acres], the nobility (as I shall here term the big landowners for the sake of brevity) — 100 million dessiatines of land, of which about half belong to 15,000 nobles, each of whom consequently possesses, on average, 3,300 dessiatines. The area belonging to the peasants is, therefore, only a trifle bigger than that of the nobles. So, you see, the nobles have not the slightest interest in the existence of the Russian state, which protects them in the possession of half the country. To continue: the peasants pay 195 million rubies land tax annually for their half, the nobles — 13 million! The lands of the nobles are, on average, twice as fertile as those of the peasants, because during the settlement for the redemption of the corvée, the state not only took the greater part, but also the best part of the land from the peasants and gave it to the nobles, and for this worst land the peasants had to pay the nobility the price of the best. And the Russian nobility has no interest in the existence of the Russian state!

The peasants — taken in the mass — have been put by the redemption into a most miserable and wholly untenable position. Not only has the greatest and best part of their land been taken from them, so that, in all the fertile parts of the empire, the peasant land is far too small — under Russian agricultural conditions — for them to be able to make a living from it. Not only were they charged an excessive price for it, which was advanced to them by the state and for which they now have to pay interest and instalments on the principal to the state. Not only is almost the whole burden of the land tax thrown upon them, while the nobility escapes almost scot-free — so that the land tax alone consumes the entire ground rent value of the peasant land and more, and all further payments which the peasant has to make and which we will speak of immediately are direct deductions from that part of his income which represents his wages. Then, in addition to the land tax, to the interest and depreciation payments on the money advanced by the state, since the-recent introduction of local administration there are the provincial and district imposts as. well. The most essential consequence of this “reform” was fresh tax burdens for the peasants. The state retained its revenues in their entirety, but passed on a large part of its expenditures to the provinces and districts, which imposed new taxes to meet them, and in Russia it is the rule that the higher estates are almost tax exempt and the peasants pay almost everything.

Such a situation is as if specially created for the usurer, and with the almost unequalled talent of the Russians for trading on a lower level, for taking full advantage of favourable business situations and the swindling inseparable from this — Peter I long ago said that one Russian could get the better of three Jews — the usurer makes his appearance everywhere. When taxes are about to fall due, the usurer, the kulak — frequently a rich peasant of the same village community — comes along and offers his ready cash. The peasant must have the money at all costs and is obliged to accept the conditions of the usurer without demur. But this only gets him into a tighter fix, and he needs more and more ready cash. At harvest time, the grain dealer arrives; the need for money forces the peasant to sell part of the grain he and his family require for their subsistence. The grain dealer spreads false rumours, which lower prices, pays a low price and often even part of this in all sorts of highly priced goods; for the truck system is also highly developed in Russia. It is quite obvious that the great corn exports of Russia are based directly on starvation of the peasant population. — Another method of exploiting the peasant is the following: a speculator rents domain land from the government for a long term of years, and cultivates it himself as long as it yields a good crop without manure; then he divides it up into small plots and lets out the exhausted land at high rents to neighbouring peasants, who cannot manage on the income from their allotment. Here we have precisely the Irish middlemen, just as above the English truck system. In short, there is no country in which, in spite of the pristine savagery of bourgeois society, capitalistic parasitism is so developed, so covers and entangles the whole country, the whole mass of the population with its nets, as in Russia. And all these bloodsuckers of the peasants are supposed to have no interest in the existence of the Russian state, the laws and law courts of which protect their sleek and profitable practices!

The big bourgeoisie of Petersburg, Moscow, and Odessa, which has developed with unprecedented rapidity over the last decade, chiefly owing to the railways, and which cheerfully “went smash” along with the rest during the last swindle years, the grain, hemp, flax and tallow exporters, whose whole business is built on the misery of the peasants, the entire Russian large-scale industry, which only exists thanks to the protective tariffs granted it by the state — have all these important and rapidly growing elements of the population no interest in the existence of the Russian state? To say nothing of the countless army of officials, which swarms over Russia and plunders her, and here constitutes a real social estate. And when Mr. Tkachov assures us that the Russian state has “no roots in the economic life of the people”, that “it does not embody the interests of any particular estate”, that it hangs “in the air”, methinks it is not the Russian state that hangs in the air, but rather Mr. Tkachov.

It is clear that the condition of the Russian peasants, since the emancipation from serfdom, has become intolerable and cannot he maintained much longer, and that for this reason alone, if for no other, a revolution is in the offing in Russia. The question is only: what can be, what will be the result of this revolution? Mr. Tkachov says it will be a social one. This is pure tautology. Every real revolution is a social one, in that it brings a new class to power and allows it to remodel society in its own image. But he wants to say it will be a socialist one; it will introduce into Russia the form of society at which West European socialism aims, even before we in the West succeed in doing so — and that under the conditions of a society in which both proletariat and bourgeoisie appear only sporadically and at a low stage of development. And this is supposed to be possible because the Russians are, so to speak, the chosen people of socialism, and have artels[3] and communal ownership of the land.

The artel, which Mr. Tkachov mentions only incidentally, but with which we deal here because, since the time of Herzen, it has played a mysterious role with many Russians; the artel in Russia is a widespread form of association, the simplest form of free co-operation, such as is found for hunting among hunting tribes. Word and content are not of Slavic but of Tatar origin. Both are to be found among the Kirghiz, Yakuts, etc., on the one hand, and among the Lapps, Samoyeds and other Finnish peoples, on the other. That is why the artel developed originally in the North and East, by contact with Finns and Tatars, and not in the South-West. The severe climate necessitates industrial activity of various kinds, and so the lack of urban development and of capital is replaced, as far as possible, by this form of co-operation. — One of the most characteristic features of the artel, the collective responsibility of its members for one another to third parties, was originally based on blood relationship, like the mutual liability [Gewere] of the ancient Germans, blood vengeance, etc. — Moreover, in Russia the word artel is used for every form not only of collective activity, but also of collective institution. The Bourse is also an artel.

In workers’ artels, an elder (starosta, starshina) is always chosen who fulfils the functions of treasurer, bookkeeper, etc., and of manager, as far as necessary, and who receives a special salary. Such artels are formed:

1. for temporary enterprises, after the completion of which they dissolve;

2. for the members of one and the same trade, for instance, porters, etc.;

3. for permanent enterprises, industrial in the proper sense of the word.

They are established by a contract signed by all the members. Now, if these members cannot bring together the necessary capital, as very often happens, such as in the case of cheeseries and fisheries (for nets, boats, etc.), the artel falls prey to the usurer, who advances the amount lacking at a high interest rate, and thereafter pockets the greater part of the income from the work. Still more shamefully exploited, however, are the artels that hire themselves in a body to an employer as wage-labourers. They direct their industrial activity themselves and thus save the capitalist the cost of supervision. The latter lets to the members huts to live in and advances them the means of subsistence, which in turn gives rise to the most disgraceful truck system. Such is the case with the lumbermen and tar distillers in the Archangel gubernia, and in many trades in Siberia, etc. (Cf. Flerovsky, “The Condition of the Working Class in Russia”, St. Petersburg, 1869). Here, then, the artel serves to facilitate considerably the exploitation of the wage-worker by the capitalist. On the other hand, there are also artels which themselves employ wage-workers, who are not members of the association.

It is thus seen that the artel is a co-operative society that has arisen spontaneously and is, therefore, still very undeveloped, and as such neither exclusively Russian, nor even Slavic. Such societies are formed wherever there is a need for them. For instance, in Switzerland among the dairy farmers and in England among the fishermen, where they even assume a great variety of forms. The Silesian navvies (Germans, not Poles), who built so many German railways in the forties, were organised in fully fledged artels. True, the predominance of this form in Russia proves the existence in the Russian people of a strong impulse to associate, but is far from proving their ability to jump, with the aid of this impulse, from the artel straight into the socialist order of society. For that, it is necessary above all that the artel itself should be capable of development, that it shed its primitive form, in which, as we saw, it serves the workers less than it does capital, and rise at least to the level of the West European co-operative societies. But if we are to believe Mr. Tkachov for once (which, after all that has preceded, is certainly more than risky), this is by no means the case. On the contrary, he assures us with a pride highly indicative of his standpoint:

“As regards the co-operative and credit associations on the German” (!) “model, recently artificially transplanted to Russia, these have met with complete indifference on the part of the majority of our workers and have been a failure almost everywhere.”

The modern co-operative society has at least proved that it can run large-scale industry profitably on its own account (spinning and weaving in Lancashire). The artel is so far not only incapable of doing this; it must of necessity even be destroyed by big industry if it does not develop further.

The communal property of the Russian peasants was discovered in 1845 by the Prussian Government Councillor Haxthausen and trumpeted to the world as something absolutely wonderful, although Haxthausen could still have found survivals enough of it in his Westphalian homeland and, as a government official, it was even part of his duty to know them thoroughly. It was from Haxthausen that Herzen, himself a Russian landowner, first learned that his peasants owned the land in common, and he made use of the fact to describe the Russian peasants as the true vehicles of socialism, as born communists, in contrast to the workers of the aging, decayed European West, who would first have to go through the ordeal of acquiring socialism artificially. From Herzen this knowledge came to Bakunin, and from Bakunin to Mr. Tkachov. Let us listen to the latter:

“Our people ... in its great majority ... is permeated with the principles of common ownership; it is, if one may use the term, instinctively, traditionally communist. The idea of collective property is so closely interwoven with the whole world outlook of the Russian people” (we shall see immediately how far the world of the Russian peasant extends) “that today, when the government begins to understand that this idea is incompatible with the principles of a ‘well-ordered’ society, and in the name of these principles wishes to impress the idea of individual property on the consciousness and life of the people, it can succeed in doing so only with the help of the bayonet and the knout. It is clear from this that our people, despite its ignorance, is much nearer to socialism than the peoples of Western Europe, although the latter are more educated.”

In reality, communal ownership of the land is an institution found among all Indo-Germanic peoples at a low level of development, from India to Ireland, and even among the Malays, who are developing under Indian influence, for instance, on Java. As late as 1608, in the newly conquered North of Ireland, the legally established communal ownership of the land served the English as a pretext for declaring the land to be ownerless and, as such, escheated to the Crown. In India, a whole series of forms of communal ownership has been in existence down to the present time. In Germany it was general; the communal lands still to be found here and there are a relic of it; and often still distinct traces of it, temporary divisions of the communal lands, etc., are also to be found, especially in the mountains. More exact references and details with regard to old German communal ownership may be consulted in the various writings of Maurer, which are classic on this question. In Western Europe, including Poland and Little Russia, at a certain stage in social development, this communal ownership became a fetter, a brake on agricultural production, and was increasingly eliminated. In Great Russia (that is, Russia proper), on the other hand, it persists until today, thereby proving, in the first place, that here agricultural production and the social conditions in the countryside corresponding to it are still very undeveloped, as is actually the case. The Russian peasant lives and has his being only in his village community; the rest of the world exists for him only in so far as it interferes with his community. This is so much the case that, in Russian, the same word “mir” means, on the one hand, “world” and, on the other, “peasant community”. “Ves’ mir”, the whole world, means to the peasant the meeting of the community members. Hence, when Mr. Tkachov speaks of the “world outlook” of the Russian peasants, he has obviously translated the Russian “mir” incorrectly. Such a complete isolation of individual communities from one another, which creates throughout the country similar, but the very opposite of common, interests, is the natural basis for oriental despotism; and from India to Russia this form of society, wherever it has prevailed, has always produced it and always found its complement in it. Not only the Russian state in general, but even its specific form, tsarist despotism, instead of hanging in the air, is a necessary and logical product of Russian social conditions with which, according to Mr. Tkachov, it has “nothing in common"! — Further development of Russia in a bourgeois direction would here also destroy communal ownership little by little, without any need for the Russian government to intervene with “bayonet and knout”. And this especially since the communally owned land in Russia is not cultivated by the peasants in common, so that the product may then be divided, as is still the case in some districts in India; on the contrary, from time to time the land is divided up among the various heads of families, and each cultivates his allotment for himself. Consequently, very great differences in degree of prosperity are possible and actually exist among the members of the community. Almost everywhere there are a few rich peasants among them — here and there millionaires — who play the usurer and suck the blood of the mass of the peasants. No one knows this better than Mr. Tkachov. While he wants the German workers to believe that the “idea of collective ownership” can be driven out of the Russian peasants, these instinctive, traditional communists, only by bayonet and knout, he writes on page 15 of his Russian pamphlet:

“Among the peasants a class of usurers (kulakov) is making its way, a class of people who buy up and rent the lands of peasants and nobles — a muzhik aristocracy.”

These are the same kind of bloodsuckers as we described more fully above.

The severest blow to communal ownership was dealt again by the redemption of the corvée. The greater and better part of the land was allotted to the nobility; for the peasant there remained scarcely enough, often not enough, to live on. In addition, the forests were given to the nobles; the wood for fuel, implements and building, which the peasant formerly might fetch there for nothing, he now has to buy. Thus, the peasant has nothing now but his house and the bare land, without means to cultivate it and, on average, without enough land to support him and his family from one harvest to the next. Under such conditions and under the pressure of taxes and usurers, communal ownership of the land is no longer a blessing; it becomes a fetter. The peasants often run away from it, with or without their families, to earn their living as migratory labourers, and leave their land behind them.

It is clear that communal ownership in Russia is long past its period of florescence and, to all appearances, is moving towards its disintegration. Nevertheless, the possibility undeniably exists of raising this form of society to a higher one, if it should last until the circumstances are ripe for that, and if it shows itself capable of developing in such manner that the peasants no longer cultivate the land separately, but collectively; [In Poland, particularly in the Grodno gubernia, where the nobility for the most part was ruined by the insurrection of 1863, the peasants now frequently buy or rent estates from the nobles and cultivate them unpartitioned and on their collective account. And these peasants have not had communal ownership for centuries and are not Great Russians, but Poles, Lithuanians and Byelorussians.] of raising it to this higher form without it being necessary for the Russian peasants to go through the intermediate stage of bourgeois small holdings. This, however, can only happen if, before the complete break-up of communal ownership, a proletarian revolution is successfully carried out in Western Europe, creating for the Russian peasant the preconditions requisite for such a transition, particularly the material things he needs, if only to carry through the revolution, necessarily connected therewith, of his whole agricultural system. It is, therefore, sheer bounce for Mr. Tkachov to say that the Russian peasants, although “owners”, are “nearer to socialism” than the propertyless workers of Western Europe. Quite the opposite. If anything can still save Russian communal ownership and give it a chance of growing into a new, really viable form, it is a proletarian revolution in Western Europe.

Mr. Tkachov treats the political revolution just as lightly as he does the economic one. The Russian people, he relates, “protests incessantly” against its enslavement, now in the form of “religious sects ... refusal to pay taxes ... robber bands” (the German workers will be glad to know that, accordingly, Schinderhannes is the father of German Social-Democracy) “... incendiarism ... revolts ... and hence the Russian people may be termed an instinctive revolutionist”. Therefore, Mr. Tkachov is convinced that “it is only necessary to evoke an outburst in a number of places at the same time of all the accumulated bitterness and discontent, which ... is always seething in the breast of our people”. Then “the union of the revolutionary forces will come about of itself, and the fight ... must end favourably for the people’s cause. Practical necessity, the instinct of self-preservation”, will then achieve, quite of themselves, “a firm and indissoluble alliance among the protesting village communities”.

It is impossible to conceive of a revolution on easier and more pleasant terms. One starts shooting, at three or four places simultaneously, and the “instinctive revolutionise”, “practical necessity” and the “instinct of self-preservation” do the rest “of themselves”. Being so dead easy, it is simply incomprehensible why the revolution has not been carried out long ago, the people liberated and Russia transformed into the model socialist country.

Actually, matters are quite different. The Russian people, this instinctive revolutionise, has, true enough, made numerous isolated peasant revolts against the nobility and against individual officials, but never against the tsar, except when a false tsar put himself at its head and claimed the throne. The last great peasant rising, under Catherine II, was only possible because Yemelyan Pugachov claimed to be her husband, Peter III, who allegedly had not been murdered by his wife, but dethroned and clapped in prison, and had now escaped. The tsar is, on the contrary, the earthly god of the Russian peasant: Bog vysok Car daljok — God is on high and the tsar far away, is his cry in hour of need. There is no doubt that the mass of the peasant population, especially since the redemption of the corvée, has been reduced to a condition that increasingly forces on it a fight also against the government and the tsar; but Mr. Tkachov will have to try to sell his fairy-tale of the “instinctive revolutionise” elsewhere.

Then again, even if the mass of the Russian peasants were ever so instinctively revolutionary, even if we imagined that revolutions could be made to order, just as one makes a piece of flowered calico or a teakettle — even then I ask, is it permissible for anyone over twelve years of age to imagine the course of a revolution in such an utterly childish manner as is the case here? And remember, further, that this was written after the first revolution made on this Bakuninist model — the Spanish one of 1873 — had so brilliantly failed. There, too, they let loose at several places simultaneously. There, too, it was calculated that practical necessity and the instinct of self-preservation would, of themselves, bring about a firm and indissoluble alliance between the protesting communities. And what happened? Every village community, every town defended only itself; there was no question of mutual assistance and, with only 3,000 men, Pavia overcame one town after another in a fortnight and put an end to the entire anarchist glory (cf. my Bakuninists at Work, where this is described in detail).

Russia undoubtedly is on the eve of a revolution. Her financial affairs are in extreme disorder. Taxes cannot be screwed any higher, the interest on old state loans is paid by means of new loans, and every new loan meets with greater difficulties; money can now be raised only on the pretext of building railways! The administration, corrupt from top to bottom as of old, the officials living more from theft, bribery and extortion than on their salaries. The entire agricultural production — by far the most essential for Russia — completely dislocated by the redemption settlement of 1861; the big landowners, without sufficient labour power; the peasants without sufficient land, oppressed by taxation and sucked dry by usurers; agricultural production declining by the year. The whole held together with great difficulty and only outwardly by an oriental despotism the arbitrariness of which we in the West simply cannot imagine; a despotism that, from day to day, not only comes into more glaring contradiction with the views of the enlightened classes and, in particular, with those of the rapidly developing bourgeoisie of the capital, but, in the person of its present bearer, has lost its head, one day making concessions to liberalism and the next, frightened, cancelling them again and thus bringing itself more and more into disrepute. With all that, a growing recognition among the enlightened strata of the nation concentrated in the capital that this position is untenable, that a revolution is impending, and the illusion that it will be possible to guide this revolution along a smooth, constitutional channel. Here all the conditions of a revolution are combined, of a revolution that, started by the upper classes of the capital, perhaps even by the government itself, must be rapidly carried further, beyond the first constitutional phase, by the peasants; of a revolution that will be of the greatest importance for the whole of Europe, if only because it will destroy at one blow the last, so far intact, reserve of the entire European reaction. This revolution is surely approaching. Only two events could still delay it: a successful war against Turkey or Austria, for which money and firm alliances are necessary, or — a premature attempt at insurrection, which would drive the possessing classes back into the arms of the government.

Afterword (1894)[edit source]

Source: MECW, Volume 27, p. 421;

Written: during first half of January 1894;

First published: in F. Engels, Internationales aus dem “Volksstaat” (1871-75), Berlin, 1894

First I must report that Mr. P. Tkachov was strictly speaking not a Bakuninist, i.e. an anarchist, but made himself out to be a “Blanquist”. The error was an understandable one, since the said gentleman, in accordance with the Russian refugee custom of the time, expressed his solidarity with all Russian émigrés against the West, and indeed defended Bakunin and comrades against my attacks in his pamphlet as if they had been directed at himself. The views on the Russian communistic peasant commune which he championed vis-à-vis myself were essentially those of Herzen. This Pan-Slavist literary man, who was puffed up into a revolutionary, had discovered from Haxthaugen’s Studien über Russland that the serfs on his estates know of no private property, but redistribute the fields and meadows amongst themselves from time to time. As a literary man, he did not need to learn what soon after became common knowledge, that the common ownership of land is a form of ownership which was, in fact, common to all peoples at a certain stage of development. It prevailed among the Germans, Celts, Indians — in short, all the Indo-European peoples in primeval times; it still exists in India, was only recently suppressed by force in Ireland and Scotland, and, though it is dying out, still occurs here and there in Germany today. But as a Pan-Slavist who was at most a socialist in his rhetoric, he found in this a fresh pretext to depict his “holy” Russia and its mission to rejuvenate and regenerate the rotten and decrepit West — if necessary by force of arms — in an even more brilliant light in contrast to the same indolent West. What the worn-out French and English are unable to achieve for all their pains, the Russians have at home, ready-made.

“Maintaining the peasant commune and establishing the freedom of the individual, extending the self-management of the village to the towns and the entire state while preserving national unity — this sums up the entire question of the future of Russia, i.e. the question of the same social antinomy whose solution occupies and moves the minds of the West” (Herzen, Letters to Linton).

So there may be a political question for Russia; but the “social question” is already solved as far as Russia is concerned.

Herzen’s successor Tkachov made it just as easy for himself as his master. Although he could no longer maintain in 1875 that the “social question” in Russia had already been solved, according to him the Russian peasants — as born communists — are infinitely closer to socialism than the poor, god-forsaken West European proletarians, and are infinitely better off into the bargain. When, on the strength of a hundred-year-old revolutionary tradition, French republicans consider their people to be the chosen people from a political point of view, many Russian socialists of the day declared that Russia was socially the chosen nation; the rebirth of the old economic world would, they thought, spring not from the struggles of the West European proletariat but from the innermost interior of the Russian peasant. My attack was directed at this childish view.

But now the Russian commune had also found respect and recognition among people of infinitely greater stature than the Herzens and Tkachovs. They included Nikolai Chernyshevsky, that great thinker to whom Russia owes such a boundless debt and whose slow murder through years of exile among Siberian Yakuts will remain an eternal disgrace on the memory of Alexander II the “Liberator”.

Owing to the Russian intellectual embargo Chernyshevsky never knew the works of Marx, and when Capital appeared he had long been captive in Sredne-Vilyuisk among the Yakuts. His entire intellectual development had to take place within the surrounding medium created by this intellectual embargo. What Russian censorship would not let in scarcely existed for Russia, if at all. If there are sporadic weaknesses, sporadic instances of a limited outlook, then one can only feel admiration that there are not more of them.

Chernyshevsky, too, sees in the Russian peasant commune a means of progressing from the existing form of society to a new stage of development, higher than both the Russian commune on the one hand, and West European capitalist society with its class antagonisms on the other. And he sees a mark of superiority in the fact that Russia possesses this means, whereas the West does not.

“The introduction of a better order of things is greatly hindered in Western Europe by the boundless extension of the rights of the individual ... it is not easy to renounce even a negligible portion of what one is used to enjoying, and in the West the individual is used to unlimited private rights. The usefulness and necessity of mutual concessions can he learned only by bitter experience and prolonged thought. In the West, a better system of economic relations is bound up with sacrifices, and that is why it is difficult to establish. It runs counter to the habits of the English and French peasants.” But “what seems a utopia in one country exists as a fact in another ... habits which the Englishman and the Frenchman find immensely difficult to introduce into their national life exist in fact in the national life of the Russians.... The order of things for which the West is now striving by such a difficult and long road still exists in our country in the mighty national customs of our village life ... We see what deplorable consequences resulted in the West from the loss of communal land tenure and how difficult it is to give back to the Western peoples what they have lost. The example of the West must not be lost on us” (Chernyshevsky, Works, Geneva edition, Vol. V, pp. 16-19, quoted by Plekhanov, “Nasi raznoglasija”, Geneva, 1885, [16-17])

And of the Ural Cossacks, who still retained communal tilling of the soil and subsequent distribution of the produce among individual families, he says:

“If the people of the Urals live under their present system to see machines introduced into corn-growing, they will be very glad of having retained a system which allows the use of machines that require big-scale farming embracing hundreds of dessiatines” (ibid., p. 131).

It should not be forgotten, however, that the people of the Urals with their communal tilling — saved from extinction by military considerations (we also have barrack-room communism) — stand alone in Russia, more or less like the farmstead communities on the Mosel back home with their periodic redistributions. And if they adhere to their present system until they are ready for the introduction of machinery, it will not be they who profit from it, but the Russian military exchequer whose slaves they are.

At any rate, it was a fact: at the same time as capitalist society was disintegrating and threatening to founder on the necessary contradictions of its own development, half of the entire cultivated land in Russia was still the common property of the peasant communes. Now, if in the West the resolution of the contradictions by a reorganisation of society is conditional on the conversion of all the means of production, hence of the land too, into the common property of society, how does the already, or rather still, existing common property in Russia relate to this common property in the West, which still has to be created? Can it not serve as a point of departure for a national campaign which, skipping the entire capitalist period, will convert Russian peasant communism straight into modern socialist common ownership of the means of production by enriching it with all the technical achievements of the capitalist era? Or, to use the words with which Marx sums up the views of Chernyshevsky in a letter to be quoted below: “Should Russia first destroy the rural commune, as demanded by the liberals, in order to go over to the capitalist system, or can it on the contrary acquire all the fruits of this system, without suffering its torments, by developing its own historical conditions?”

The very way in which the question is posed indicates the direction in which the answer should be sought. The Russian commune has existed for hundreds of years without ever providing the impetus for the development of a higher form of common ownership out of itself; no more so than in the case of the German Mark system, the Celtic clans, the Indian and other communes with primitive, communistic institutions. In the course of time, under the influence of commodity production surrounding them, or arising in their own midst and gradually pervading them, and of the exchange between individual families and individual persons, they all lost more and more of their communistic character and dissolved into communities of mutually independent landowners. So if the question of whether the Russian commune will enjoy a different and better fate may be raised at all, then this is not through any fault of its own, but solely due to the fact that it has survived in a European country in a relatively vigorous form into an age when not only commodity production as such, but even its highest and ultimate form, capitalist production, has come into conflict in Western Europe with the productive forces it has created itself; when it is proving incapable of continuing to direct these forces; and when it is foundering on these innate contradictions and the class conflicts that go along with them. It is quite evident from this alone that the initiative for any possible transformation of the Russian commune along these lines cannot come from the commune itself, but only from the industrial proletarians of the West. The victory of the West European proletariat over the bourgeoisie, and, linked to this, the replacement of capitalist production by socially managed production — that is the necessary precondition for raising the Russian commune to the same level.

The fact is: at no time or place has the agrarian communism that arose out of gentile society developed anything of its own accord but its own disintegration. As early as 1861 the Russian peasant commune itself was a relatively weakened form of this communism; the common tilling of the land which survived in some parts of India and in the South Slav household community (zádruga), the probable mother of the Russian commune, had been forced to give way to cultivation by individual families; common ownership only continued to manifest itself in the redistribution of land which took place at greatly varying intervals according to the different localities. This redistribution needs only to lapse or be abolished by decree, and the village of allotment peasants is a fait accompli.

But the mere fact that alongside the Russian peasant commune capitalist production in Western Europe is simultaneously approaching the point where it breaks down and where it points itself to a new form of production in which the means of production are employed in a planned manner as social property — this mere fact cannot endow the Russian commune with the power to develop this new form of society out of itself. How could it appropriate the colossal productive forces of capitalist society as social property and a social tool even before capitalist society itself has accomplished this revolution; how could the Russian commune show the world how to run large-scale industry for the common benefit, when it has already forgotten how to till its land for the common benefit?

Certainly, there are enough people in Russia who are quite familiar with Western capitalist society with all its irreconcilable antagonisms and conflicts and are also clear about the way out of this apparent dead-end. But firstly, the few thousand people who realise this do not live in the commune, and the fifty million or so in Great Russia who still live with common ownership of the land have not the faintest idea of all this. They are at least as alien and unsympathetic to these few thousand as the English proletarians from 1800 to 1840 with regard to the plans which Robert Owen devised for their salvation. And, of the workmen whom Owen employed in his factory in New Lanark, the majority likewise consisted of people who had been raised on the institutions and customs of a decaying communistic gentile society, the Celtic-Scottish clan; but nowhere does he so much as hint that they showed a greater appreciation of his ideas. And secondly, it is an historical impossibility that a lower stage of economic development should solve the enigmas and conflicts which did not arise, and could not arise, until a far higher stage. All forms of gentile community which arose before commodity production and individual exchange have one thing in common with the future socialist society: that certain things, means of production, are subject to the common ownership and the common use of certain groups. This one shared feature does not, however, enable the lower form of society to engender out of itself the future socialist society, this final and most intrinsic product of capitalism. Any given economic formation has its own problems to solve, problems arising out of itself; to seek to solve those of another, utterly alien formation would be absolutely absurd. And this applies to the Russian commune no less than to the South Slav zádruga, the Indian gentile economy or any other savage or barbaric form of society characterised by the common ownership of the means of production.

On the other hand, it is not only possible but certain that after the victory of the proletariat and the transfer of the means of production into common ownership among the West European peoples, the countries which have only just succumbed to capitalist production and have salvaged gentile institutions, or remnants thereof, have in these remnants of common ownership and in the corresponding popular customs a powerful means of appreciably shortening the process of development into a socialist society and of sparing themselves most of the suffering and struggles through which we in Western Europe must work our way. But the example and the active assistance of the hitherto capitalist West is an indispensable condition for this. Only when the capitalist economy has been relegated to the history books in its homeland and in the countries where it flourished, only when the backward countries see from this example “how it’s done”, how the productive forces of modern industry are placed in the service of all as social property — only then can they tackle this shortened process of development. But then success will be assured. And this is true of all countries in the pre-capitalist stage, not only Russia. It will be easiest — comparatively speaking — in Russia, however, because there a section of the indigenous population has already assimilated the intellectual results of capitalist development, thereby making it possible in revolutionary times to accomplish the social transformation more or less simultaneously with the West.

This was stated by Marx and me as long ago as January 21, 1882 in the preface to Plekhanov’s Russian translation of the Communist Manifesto. The passage reads:

“Alongside a rapidly developing capitalist swindle and bourgeois landed property which is only just in the process of formation, in Russia we find the greater part of the land in the common ownership of the peasants. Now the question is: can the Russian commune, this form of the original common ownership of land which is actually already in a state of severe disintegration, make the direct transition into a higher communist form of landed property — or must it first undergo the same process of dissolution that characterises the historical development of the West? The only possible answer to this question today is as follows: when the Russian revolution gives the signal for a workers’ revolution in the West, so that each complements the other, then Russian landed property might become the starting point for a communist development.”

It should not be forgotten, however, that the considerable disintegration of Russian common property mentioned above has since advanced significantly. The defeats of the Crimean War had exposed Russia’s need for rapid industrial development. Above all railways were needed, and these are not possible on a broad footing without large-scale domestic industry. The precondition for this was the so-called emancipation of the serfs; it marked the beginning of the capitalist era in Russia; but hence also the era of the rapid destruction of the common ownership of land. The redemption payments imposed on the peasants, together with increased taxes and the simultaneous reduction and deterioration of the land allotted to them, inevitably forced them into the hands of usurers, chiefly members of the peasant commune who had grown rich. The railways opened up for hitherto remote areas a market for their grain, but they also brought the cheap products of large-scale industry to them, thereby killing off the cottage industry of the peasants, who had previously manufactured similar goods partly for their own use and partly for sale. The traditional conditions of employment were thrown into confusion; there followed the breakdown which everywhere accompanies the transition from a subsistence economy to a “money economy” within the commune large differences in wealth appeared between the members — debt turned the poorer into the slaves of the rich. In short, the same process that had caused the Athenian gens to break down in the period before Solon, with the advent of the money economy, now began to break down the Russian commune. Solon was able to liberate the slaves of debt, it is true, by means of a revolutionary intervention in the then still fairly recent law of private property by simply annulling the debts. But he could not revitalise the old Athenian gens, any more than any power in the world will be able to restore the Russian commune once its breakdown has reached a certain point. And to cap it all the Russian Government has forbidden redistribution of land among the members of the commune more frequently than every twelve years, so that the peasant should grow increasingly unaccustomed to it and start to think of himself as the private owner of his share.

This was the tenor of Marx’s comments in a letter to Russia which he wrote back in 1877. [Letter to Otechestvenniye Zapiski] A certain Mr. Zhukovsky, the same man who as head cashier of the State Bank now lends his signature to Russian credit notes, had written something about Marx in the European Herald (Vestnik Yevropy), to which another writer had replied in the National Records (Otechestvenniye Zapiski). In order to correct this article Marx wrote a letter to the editor of the Records, which, after copies of the French original had long been circulating in Russia, appeared in Russian translation in the Herald of the People’s Will (Vestnik Narodnoi Voli) in 1886 in Geneva and later in Russia itself. Like everything that emanated from Marx, this letter attracted a good deal of attention and varying interpretations in Russian circles, and I therefore present its gist here.

First, Marx repudiates the view attributed to him in the Records that he shared the opinion of the Russian liberals, according to which nothing was more urgent for Russia than to destroy the communal property of the peasants and plunge headlong into capitalism. His short note on Herzen in the appendix to the first edition of Capital proves nothing. This note reads:

“If the influence of capitalist production, which is undermining the human race ... continues to develop on the continent of Europe as hitherto, hand in hand with competition in the size of national soldiery, national debts, taxes, elegant means of warfare, etc., the rejuvenation of Europe by the knout and the obligatory infusion of Kalmuck blood so earnestly prophesied by the half-Russian and whole-Muscovite Herzen (this literary man did not, incidentally, make his discoveries in the field of “Russian communism” in Russia but in the work of the Prussian privy councillor Haxthausen) might eventually become inevitable” (Capital, I, first edition, p. 763).

Marx then continues:

This passage “can under no circumstances provide the key to my opinion of the efforts” (the following is quoted in Russian in the original) “of Russian men to find a course of development for their native country which differs from that which Western Europe has followed and is still following” etc. — In the Afterword to the second German edition of Capital, I speak of a ‘great Russian scholar and critic’” (Chernyshevsky) “with the high esteem which he deserves. In his noteworthy articles the latter dealt with the question whether Russia should start, as its liberal economists demand, by destroying the rural commune in order to go over to a capitalist system, or whether, on the contrary, it can acquire all the fruits of this system, without suffering its torments, by developing its own historical conditions. He comes out in favour of the second solution.

“Be that as it may, as I do not like to leave anything to ‘guesswork’ I will speak straight out. In order to be able to assess Russia’s economic development from the position of an expert, I learned Russian and then spent several long years studying official publications and others with a bearing on this subject. I have arrived at this result: if Russia continues along the path it has followed since 1861, it will miss the finest chance that history has ever offered a nation, only to undergo all the fatal vicissitudes of the capitalist system.

Marx goes on to clear up a number of other misunderstandings on the part of his critic; the only passage relating to the matter in question reads:

“Now, in what way was my critic able to apply this historical sketch to Russia?” (The account of primitive accumulation in Capital) “Only this: if Russia is tending to become a capitalist nation, on the model of the countries of Western Europe,— and in recent years it has gone to great pains to move in this direction — it will not succeed without having first transformed a large proportion of its peasants into proletarians; and after that, once it has been placed in the bosom of the capitalist system, it will be subjected to its pitiless laws, like other profane peoples. That is all.”

Thus wrote Marx in 1877. At that time there were two governments in Russia: the Tsar’s and that of the secret executive committee (ispolnitel'nyj komitet) of the terrorist conspirators. The power of this secret second government grew daily. The fall of tsardom seemed imminent; a revolution in Russia was bound to deprive the entire forces of European reaction of its mainstay, its great reserve army, and thus give the political movement of the West a mighty new impulse and, what is more, infinitely more favourable conditions in which to operate. No wonder that Marx advises the Russians to be in less of a hurry to make the leap into capitalism.

The Russian revolution did not come. Tsardom got the better of terrorism, which even managed to drive all the propertied, “law-abiding” classes back into its arms for the time being. And in the seventeen years which have elapsed since that letter was written both capitalism and the dissolution of the peasant commune have made tremendous headway in Russia. So how do matters stand today, in 1894?

When the old tsarist despotism continued unchanged after the defeats of the Crimean War and the suicide of Tsar Nicholas, only one road was open: the swiftest transition possible to capitalist industry. The army had been destroyed by the gigantic dimensions of the empire, on the long marches to the theatre of war; the distances had to be nullified by a strategic railway network. But railways mean capitalist industry and the revolutionising of primitive agriculture. For one thing, the agricultural produce of even the remotest areas is brought into direct contact with the world market; for another, an extensive railway system cannot be constructed and kept working without domestic industry to supply rails, locomotives, rolling stock, etc. But it is not possible to introduce one branch of large-scale industry without accepting the entire system; the textile industry on a relatively modern footing, which had already taken root both in the region of Moscow and Vladimir and on the Baltic coasts, received fresh impetus. The railways and factories were accompanied by the expansion of existing banks and the establishment of new ones; the emancipation of the peasants from serfdom instituted freedom of movement, in anticipation of the ensuing automatic emancipation of a large proportion of these peasants from landownership too. Thus in a short while all the foundations of the capitalist mode of production were laid in Russia. But the axe had also been taken to the root of the Russian peasant commune.

To lament this fact now is futile. Had the despotism of the tsars been replaced after the Crimean War by the direct parliamentary rule of nobles and bureaucrats, the process might have been slowed down somewhat; if the burgeoning bourgeoisie had taken the helm, it would certainly have been accelerated even more. As things were, there was no alternative. Alongside the Second Empire in France and the most brilliant rise of capitalist industry in England, it could really not be demanded of Russia that it plunge headlong into state-socialist experiments on account of the peasant commune. Something had to happen. What was possible under the circumstances did happen, as everywhere and always in countries engaged in commodity production, in most cases only semiconsciously or quite mechanically, and without knowing what was being done.

Now came the new age of revolution from above initiated by Germany, and hence the age of the rapid growth of socialism in all European countries. Russia took part in the general movement. There it took the form — as if it went without saying — of an assault aimed to bring about the fall of tsarist despotism, to attain intellectual and political freedom of action for the nation. A faith in the miraculous power of the peasant commune to bring about a social renaissance — a faith for which Chernyshevsky, as we have seen, was not entirely blameless — this faith played its part in heightening the enthusiasm and energy of the heroic Russian pioneers. We do not blame the people, scarcely more than a few hundred in number, who through their selfless devotion and heroism brought tsarist absolutism to the point where it was forced to consider the possibility and the conditions of surrender — we do not blame them for regarding their Russian compatriots as the chosen people of the social revolution. But this does not mean we need to share their illusion. The age of chosen peoples is gone for ever.

But during this struggle capitalism went from strength to strength in Russia and increasingly achieved what terrorism was unable to do: to force tsardom to surrender.

Tsardom needed money. Not merely for the luxury of its court, its bureaucracy, above all for its army and its foreign policy based on bribery, but notably also for its miserable finance system and the idiotic railway policy that went hand in hand with it. Foreign countries would not and could not any longer find the money for all the Tsar’s deficits; help had to come from home. A proportion of the railways shares had to be disposed of at home, as had a proportion of the loans. The Russian bourgeoisie’s first victory lay in the railway concessions, which guaranteed the share-holders all future profits while loading all future losses on the state. Then came the subsidies and premiums for industrial enterprises, and the protective tariffs favouring domestic industry which eventually made it virtually impossible to import many articles. With its colossal indebtedness and its credit in almost total ruins abroad, the Russian state has a direct fiscal interest in forcing the development of domestic industry. It constantly needs gold to pay off the interest on its foreign debts. But there is no gold in Russia; all that circulates there is paper. Part of it is provided by the prescribed payment of tariffs in gold, which also incidentally raises these tariffs by fifty per cent. But the greater part of it is supposed to come from the surplus in the export of Russian raw materials over the import of foreign industrial products; the bills of exchange drawn on foreign banks for this surplus are bought by the government at home for paper money and in return it receives gold. So if the government wishes to meet the payment of interest to foreign countries by some other method than new foreign loans, it must ensure that Russian industry rapidly expands to the point where it is able to meet domestic demand in full. Hence the requirement that Russia must become an industrial nation that is self-sufficient and independent of other countries; hence the frantic efforts of the government to bring the capitalist development of Russia to a peak in the space of a few years. For if this does not take place, there will be no options but to draw on the metallic war funds accumulated in the State Bank and the State Exchequer, or else state bankruptcy. In either case Russian foreign policy would be finished.

One thing is clear: in these circumstances the fledgling Russian bourgeoisie has the state completely in its power. In all economic matters of importance the state must do its bidding. If for the time being the bourgeoisie continues to put up with the despotic autocracy of the Tsar and his officials, it is only because this autocracy, mitigated as it is by the venality of the bureaucracy offers it more guarantees than would changes even of a bourgeois-liberal nature, whose consequences no one could foresee, given the present internal situation in Russia. And so the transformation of the country into a capitalist industrial nation, the proletarianisation of a large proportion of the peasantry and the decay of the old communistic commune proceeds at an ever quickening pace.

Whether enough of this commune has been saved so that, if the occasion arises, as Marx and I still hoped in 1882, it could become the point of departure for communist development in harmony with a sudden change of direction in Western Europe, I do not presume to say. But this much is certain: if a remnant of this commune is to be preserved, the first condition is the fall of tsarist despotism — revolution in Russia. This will not only tear the great mass of the nation, the peasants, away from the isolation of their villages, which comprise their “mir”, their “world”, and lead them out onto the great stage, where they will get to know the outside world and thus themselves, their own situation and the means of salvation from their present distress; it will also give the labour movement of the West fresh impetus and create new, better conditions in which to carry on the struggle, thus hastening the victory of the modern industrial proletariat, without which present-day Russia can never achieve a socialist transformation, whether proceeding from the commune or from capitalism.

  1. Engels is referring to his own and Marx's articles in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Organ der Demokratie, which was edited by Marx in 1848-49 and published in Cologne, and, above all, to his "The Frankfurt Assembly Debates the Polish Question" and their joint work "German Foreign Policy and the Latest Events in Prague" (MECW, Vol. 7, pp. 337-81 and 212-15).
  2. Engels is referring to the talks that took place in Warsaw in October 1850 between Francis Joseph I of Austria and the Prussian Minister-President Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg, with the Russian Tsar Nicholas I as the mediator.
  3. Cooperative and semi-formal associations for fishing, mining, commerce, of loaders, loggers, thieves, beggars, etc. Often artels worked far from home and lived as a commune. Payment for job done was distributed according to verbal agreements, quite often in equal shares. Often artels were seasonal. Over time, formalized types of artel emerged, with internal hierarchy and legal agreements.