(Apropos of N. Sukhanov's Notes)
January 16, 1923
Pravda (No. 117) May 30, 1923
Lenin’s Collected Works, Volume 33, (p. 476-80)
I have lately been glancing through Sukhanov's notes on the revolution. What strikes one most is the pedantry of all our petty-bourgeois Democrats and of all heroes of the Second International. Apart from the fact that they are all extremely fainthearted, that when it comes to the minutest deviation from the German model [of Socialism] even the best of them fortified themselves with reservations — apart from this characteristic, which is common to all petty-bourgeois Democrats and has been abundantly manifested by them throughout the revolution, what strikes one is their slavish imitation of the past.
They all call themselves Marxists, but their conception of Marxism is impossibly pedantic. They have completely failed to understand what is decisive in Marxism, namely, its revolutionary dialectics. They have even absolutely failed to understand Marx's plain statements that in times of revolution the utmost flexibility is demanded,[A] and have even failed to notice, for instance, the statements Marx made in his letters — I think it was in 1856 — expressing the hope of combining the peasant war in Germany, which might create a revolutionary situation, with the working-class movement[B] — they avoid even this plain statement and walk around and about it like a cat around a bowl of hot porridge.
Their conduct betrays them as cowardly reformists who are afraid to deviate from the bourgeoisie, let alone break with it, at the same time they disguised their cowardice with the wildest rhetoric and braggartry. But what strikes one in all of them even from the purely theoretical point of view is their utter inability to grasp the following Marxist considerations: up to now they have seen capitalism and bourgeois democracy in Western Europe follow a definite path of development, and cannot conceive that this path can be taken as a model only mutatis mutandis, only with certain amendments (quite insignificant from the standpoint of the general development of world history).
First — the revolution connected with the first imperialist world war. Such revolution was bound to reveal new features, or variations, resulting from the war itself, the world has never seen such a war in such a situation. We find that since the war the bourgeoisie of the wealthiest countries have to this day been unable to restore "normal" bourgeois relations. Yet our reformists — petty-bourgeois who make a show of being revolutionaries — believed, and still believe, that normal bourgeois relations are the limit (thus far shalt thou go and no farther). And even their conception of "normal" is extremely stereotyped and narrow.
Secondly, they are complete strangers to the idea that while the development of world history as a whole follows general laws it is by no means precluded, but, on the contrary, presumed, that certain periods of development may display peculiarities in either the form or the sequence of this development. For instance, it has not even occurred to them that because Russia stands on the borderline between civilized countries and the countries which this war has for the first time definitely brought into the orbit of civilization — all the Oriental, non-European countries — she could and was, indeed, bound to reveal certain distinguishing features; although these, of course, are in keeping with the general line of world development, they distinguish her revolution from those which took place in the West European countries and introduce certain partial innovations as the revolution moves on to the countries of the East.
Infinitely stereotyped, for instance, is the argument they learned by rote during the development of West-European Social-Democracy, namely, that we are not yet ripe for socialism, but as certain "learned" gentleman among them put it, the objective economic premises for socialism do not exist in our country. Does it not occur to any of them to ask: what about the people that found itself in a revolutionary situation such as that created during the first imperialist war? Might it not, influenced by the hopelessness of its situation, fling itself into a struggle that would offer it at least some chance of securing conditions for the further development of civilization that were somewhat unusual?
"The development of the productive forces of Russia has not yet attained the level that makes socialism possible." All the heroes of the Second International, including, of course, Sukhanov, beat the drums about this proposition. They keep harping on this incontrovertible proposition in a thousand different keys, and think that it is decisive criterion of our revolution.
But what if the situation, which drew Russia into the imperialist world war that involved every more or less influential West European country and made her a witness of the eve of the revolutions maturing or partly already begun in the East, gave rise to circumstances that put Russia and her development in a position which enabled us to achieve precisely that combination of a "peasant war" with the working-class movement suggested in 1856 by no less a Marxist than Marx himself as a possible prospect for Prussia?
What if the complete hopelessness of the situation, by stimulating the efforts of the workers and peasants tenfold, offered us the opportunity to create the fundamental requisites of civilization in a different way from that of the West European countries? Has that altered the general line of development of world history? Has that altered the basic relations between the basic classes of all the countries that are being, or have been, drawn into the general course of world history?
If a definite level of culture is required for the building of socialism (although nobody can say just what that definite "level of culture" is, for it differs in every Western European country), why cannot we began by first achieving the prerequisites for that definite level of culture in a revolutionary way, and then, with the aid of the workers' and peasants' government and Soviet system, proceed to overtake the other nations?
January 16, 1923
You say that civilization is necessary for the building of socialism. Very good. But why could we not first create such prerequisites of civilization in our country by the expulsion of the landowners and the Russian capitalists, and then start moving toward socialism? Where, in what books, have you read that such variations of the customary historical sequence of events are impermissible or impossible?
Napoleon, I think, wrote: "On s'engage et puis ... on voit." rendered freely this means: "First engage in a serious battle and then see what happens." Well, we did first engage in a serious battle in October 1917, and then saw such details of development (from the standpoint of world history they were certainly details) as the Brest peace, the New Economic Policy, and so forth. And now there can be no doubt that in the main we have been victorious.
Our Sukhanovs, not to mention Social-Democrats still farther to the right, never even dream that revolutions cannot be made any other way. Our European philistines never even dream that the subsequent revolutions in Oriental countries, which possess much vaster populations in a much vaster diversity of social conditions, will undoubtedly display even greater distinctions than the Russian Revolution.
It need hardly be said that a textbook written on Kautskian lines was a very useful thing in its day. But it is time, given that, to abandon the idea that it foresaw all the forms of development of subsequent world history. It would be timely to say that those who think so are simply fools.
January 17, 1923
[A] A reference to Marx's work The Civil War in France and his letter to Kugelmann dated April 12, 1871.
[B] See the letter of Marx and Engels of April 16, 1856.