V. I. Lenin

Letter to I. I. Skvortsov-Stepanov

Published: First published in 1924 in the magazine Proletarskaya Revolutsia No. 5. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 16, pages 117-122.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) © 2004 Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
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December 16, 1909

Dear Colleague,

I have received your answer and take up my pen to continue our discussion.

You want to shift the question more to the theoretical (not tactical) ground. I agree. I shall only remind you that your point of departure was a tactical one: certainly you rejected the “classical presentation” of the basic tactical proposition. You indicated this tactical solution (without drawing the final tactical conclusions from it) in connection with the rejection of the “American possibility”. Therefore, I do not regard as correct the account of our differences of opinion that you give in the following words: “You [i.e., I] emphasise the existence of a movement of the peasantry. I recognise the existence of a movement of the peasantry that is becoming proletarianised." But this is not the point of difference. Of course I do not deny that the peasantry is becoming proletarianised. The point of difference is whether the bourgeois agrarian system has taken root in Russia to such an extent as to make a sharp transition from the “Prussian” development of agrarian capitalism to the “American” development of agrarian capitalism objectively impossible. If it has, the “classical” presentation of the basic question of tactics falls to the ground. If not—it is preserved.

Well, I maintain that it must be preserved. I do not deny the possibility of the “Prussian” path; I recognise that a Marxist must not “vouch” for either of these ways, nor must he bind himself down to one of them only; I recognise that Stolypin’s policy{8} is another step along the “Prussian” path and that at a certain stage along that path a dialectical   change may set in which would abolish all hopes and prospects for an “American” path. But I assert that at the present time this change has certainly not yet come and that, there fore, it is absolutely inadmissible for a Marxist, absolutely wrong theoretically, to renounce the “classical” presentation of the question. That is where we differ.

Theoretically these differences reduce themselves, if I am not mistaken, to two chief points: 1) I must destroy your “ally”, V. Ilyin,{9} in order to justify my position. In other words, this position contradicts the results of the Marxist analysis of the pre-revolutionary economics of Russia. 2) The “classical” presentation may and must be compared with the agrarian opportunism of the revisionists (David and Co.), for there is no substantial, radical difference in principle between the presentation of the question of the workers’ attitude towards the “muzhik” in Russia and in Germany.

I consider both these propositions to be radically wrong.

Ad{1} 1) (In order not to touch on “tactics” I shall set aside Martynov’s attack on Ilyin{10} and take up only your presentation of the theoretical question.)

What did Ilyin argue and prove? In the first place, that the development of agrarian relations in Russia is proceeding on capitalist lines both in landlord and in peasant economy, both outside and within the “village commune”. In the second place, that this development has already irrevocably determined that there will be no other path than the capitalist path, no other grouping of classes than the capitalist grouping.

This was the subject of the dispute with the Narodniks. This had to be proved. It was proved. It remains proved. At the present time another, further question is raised (and was raised by the movement of 1905-07), which presupposes the solution of the problem that was solved by Ilyin (and, of course, not by him alone), but which presupposes not only this, but something bigger, more complex, something new. Apart from the problem that was finally and correctly solved in 1883-85, in 1895-99, the history of Russia in the twentieth century has confronted us with a further problem,   and theoretically there is nothing more erroneous than to recede from it, dismiss it, or wave it aside by a reference to what has previously been solved. That would mean reducing problems of, so to say, a second, i.e., higher, order to problems of a lower, first order. We cannot halt at a general solution of the problem of capitalism when new events (and events that are of world-historic importance such as those of 1905-07) have raised a more concrete problem, of a more detailed nature, the problem of the struggle between the two paths or methods of capitalist agrarian development. When we were fighting against the Narodniks to prove that this path was inevitably and irrevocably a capitalist one, we were quite right and we could not but concentrate all our strength, all our attention on the question: capitalism or “people’s production”. This was natural, inevitable and legitimate. Now, however, this question has been settled both in theory and in reality (for the petty-bourgeois character of the Trudoviks en masse has been proved by recent Russian history), and another, higher question has taken its place: capitalism of type α or capitalism of type β. And, in my humble opinion, Ilyin was right when, in the preface to the second edition of his book, he pointed out that it follows from the book that two types of capitalist, agrarian development are possible, and that the historical struggle between these types has not yet come to an end.{2}

The special feature of Russian opportunism in Marxism, i.e., of Menshevism in our time, is that it is associated with a doctrinaire simplification, vulgarisation and distortion of the letter of Marxism, and a betrayal of its spirit (such was the case with both Rabocheye Dyelo-ism and Struve-ism). While fighting Narodism as a wrong doctrine of socialism, the Mensheviks, in a doctrinaire fashion, overlooked the historically real and progressive historical content of Narodism as a theory of the mass petty-bourgeois struggle of democratic capitalism against liberal-landlord capitalism, of “American” capitalism against “Prussian” capitalism. Hence their monstrous, idiotic, renegade idea (which has also thoroughly permeated The Social Movement) that the peasant movement is reactionary, that a Cadet is more progressive   than a Trudovik, that the “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” (=the classical presentation) contradicts “the entire course of economic development” (p. 661 of the Menshevik Social Movement). “Contradicts the entire course of economic development”—is this not reactionary?

I maintain that the struggle against this monstrous distortion of Marxism was the basis of the “classical presentation” and a correct basis, although unfortunately, owing to the natural conditions of the time, this struggle was very zealously conducted as regards tactics, and not zealously enough as regards theory. By the way, “unfortunately˜˜ is not the right word here and should be struck out!

This agrarian question is now the national question of bourgeois development in Russia, and in order not to fall into the error of a mistaken (mechanical) application of the German model, which in many respects is correct and in all respects very valuable, to our conditions, we must clearly understand that the national question of the fully established bourgeois development of Germany was unification, etc., and not the agrarian question; whereas the national question of the final consolidation of bourgeois development in Russia is precisely the agrarian (and even narrower: the peasant) question.

Such is the purely theoretical basis of the difference in application of Marxism in Germany in 1848-68 (approximately) and in Russia in 1905??

How can I prove that in our country the agrarian question, and not some other, has assumed national significance for bourgeois development? I do not even know that it requires proof. I think it is indisputable. But this is precisely the theoretical basis and all the partial questions must turn on this. If this is disputed, I shall briefly point out (briefly for the time being) that it is precisely the course of events, the facts and the history of 1905-07 that have proved the importance I have indicated of the agrarian (peasant, and of course petty-bourgeois peasant, but not village-commune peasant) question in Russia. The same thing is being proved now by the law of June 3,1907, and by the composition and activity of the Third Duma, and—a detail—by November 20, 1909,{11} and (what is especially important) by the government’s agrarian policy.

If we agree that the recent history of Russia; the history of 1905-09, has proved the fundamental, prime, national significance (national in the above sense) of the agrarian question in establishing a definite type of bourgeois evolution in Russia, then we can proceed futher; otherwise we cannot.

By 1905 the bourgeois development of Russia had already matured sufficiently to require the immediate break-up of the antiquated superstructure—the antiquated medieval system of land tenure (you understand, of course, why, of the entire superstructure, I take here land tenure alone). We are now living in the period of this break-up, which various classes of bourgeois Russia are trying to complete, to consummate in their own way: the peasants (+the workers) by means of nationalisation (I am very glad you agree with me on the absolute absurdity of municipalisation: I have already quoted passages from Theorien über den Mehrwert{3} in favour of nationalisation in one of my works printed in part in Polish){4} ; the landlords (+the old bourgeoisie, the Girondist bourgeoisie) by the method of November 9, 1906, etc. Land nationalisation the break-up of the old system of land tenure by the peasants is the economic basis of the American path. The law of November 9,1906 =the break-up of the old system of land tenure in the interests of the landlords, is the economic basis of the Prussian path. Our epoch, 1905–??, is the epoch of the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary struggle between these paths, just as 1848–71 in Germany was a period of the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary struggle between two paths of unification (=of the solution of the national problem of bourgeois development in Germany), the path through the Great-German Republic and the path through the Prussian monarchy. It was only in 1871 that the second path was finally (that is where my “completely” comes in) victorious. It was then that Liebknecht gave up the boycott of parliament. It was then that the dispute between the Lassalleans and the Eisenachers died down. It was then too that the question of a general democratic revolution in Germany died down—and Naumann, David and Co. start ed in the nineties (twenty years later!) to revive the corpse.

In our country the struggle is still going on. Neither of the agrarian paths has won so far. In our country, in every crisis of our epoch (1905–09–??), a “general democratic” movement of the “muzhik” will arise, is bound, to arise, and to ignore it would be a fundamental mistake which, in practice, would lead to Menshevism, although in theory the dispute may be placed on a different plane. It is not I who “reduce” the dispute to “Menshevism”, it is the history of our epoch that reduces to Menshevism the ignoring by the proletariat of the national task of the bourgeois development of Russia, for this is precisely the essence of Menshevism.

Nebenbei.{5} Have you read, in Cherevanin’s The Contemporary Situation, about the opportunism of the “classical presentation” of the question by the Bolsheviks? Read it!

Ad 2) I have really said almost all there is to be said about this. In Germany the support by the workers of the desire of the “muzhik” to get for himself (i.e., for the muzhik) the land of the big landlords—the Junkers—is reactionary. Isn’t that so? Is it not true? In Russia in 1905–09–?? the denial of that support is reactionary. Hic Rhodus hic salta.{6} Here it is a question of either renouncing the entire agrarian programme and going over ... almost to Cadetism ... or of recognising the difference in principle between the presentation of the question in Germany and that in Russia, in principle—not in the sense that the epoch is non-capitalist in our country, but in the sense that these are two altogether different epochs of capitalism, differing in principle: the epoch preceding the final consolidation of the national path of capitalism, and the epoch succeeding such consolidation.

I conclude for the time being. I shall try to send you news paper cuttings on the subject of our discussion. Write when you can spare time. Warm greetings.

Yours, Starik.{7}


{1} With regard to.—Ed.

{2} See present edition, Vol. 3, pp. 31–34.—Ed.

{3} Theories of Surplus Value.—Ed.

{4} See present edition, Vol. 15, pp. 157–80.—Ed.

{5} By the way.—Ed.

{6} Here is Rhodes, leap here!—Ed.

{7} The Old Man.—Ed.

{8} This refers to Stolypin’s agrarian policy, which aimed at establishing strong kulak farms as a bulwark of tsarism in the countryside. On November 9 (22), 1906, Stolypin issued a law allowing peasants to withdraw from the village communes and settle on farmsteads; it proposed that the peasant should take his land holding into his personal possession and leave the village commune. The peasant could sell his allotment, which was previously forbidden. Stolypin’s land law benefited the kulak top section in the countryside and ’finally ruined the village poor.

{9} V. Ilyin—a pseudonym of V. I. Lenin.

{10} This refers to A. S. Martynov’s attacks in the organ of the liquidators, Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, on the book by V. I. Lenin (V. Ilyin) The Development of Capitalism in Russia.

{11} Lenin is referring to an incident at the sitting of the Third Duma on November 20 (December 3), 1909, during the discussion of the Bill on inviolability of the person. The Bill was, in the words of the Duma Left deputies, “a legitimisation of all forms of tyranny that have existed or are in existence in Russia”. The out-and-out Black-Hundred speech of Markov (the Second) on November 20 (December 3) in defence of the Bill evoked indignation even from the Cadets, who walked out of the Duma chamber as a sign of protest. The debate on the Bill in the Duma meeting of November 20 (December 3) particularly exposed the Black-Hundred character of the Third Duma.

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