On the Narodniks


“The method of combating tsardom chosen by the Narodniks, namely, by the assassination of individuals, by individual terrorism, was wrong and detrimental to the revolution. The policy of individual terrorism was based on the erroneous Narodnik theory of active ‘heroes’ and a passive ‘mob,’ which awaited exploits from the ‘heroes.’ This false theory maintained that it is only outstanding individuals who make history, while the masses, the people, the class, the ‘mob,’ as the Narodnik writers contemptuously called them, are incapable of conscious, organized activity and can only blindly follow the ‘heroes.’ For this reason the Narodniks abandoned mass revolutionary work among the peasantry and the working class and changed to individual terrorism. They induced one of the most prominent revolutionaries of the time, Stepan Khalturin, to give up his work of organizing a revolutionary workers’ union and to devote himself entirely to terrorism.


The Narodniks maintained that Socialism in Russia would come not through the dictatorship of the proletariat, but through the peasant commune, which they regarded as the embryo and basis of Socialism. But the commune was neither the basis nor the embryo of Socialism, nor could it be, because the commune was dominated by the kulaks–the bloodsuckers who exploited the poor peasants, the agricultural labourers and the economically weaker middle peasants. The formal existence of communal land ownership and the periodical redivision of the land according to the number of mouths in each peasant household did not alter the situation in any way. Those members of the commune used the land who owned draught cattle, implements and seed, that is, the well-to-do middle peasants and kulaks. The peasants who possessed no horses, the poor peasants, the small peasants generally, had to surrender their land to the kulaks and to hire themselves out as agricultural labourers. As a matter of fact, the peasant commune was a convenient means of masking the dominance of the kulaks and an inexpensive instrument in the hands of the tsarist government for the collection of taxes from the peasants on the basis of collective responsibility. That was why tsardom left the peasant commune intact. It was absurd to regard a commune of this character as the embryo or basis of Socialism.”

 – History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks)

“By Narodism we mean a system of views, which comprises the following three features:

1) Belief that capitalism in Russia represents a deterioration, a retrogression. Hence the urge and desire to ‘retard,’ ‘halt,’ ‘stop the break-up’ of the age-old foundations by capitalism, and similar reactionary cries.

2) Belief in the exceptional character of the Russian economic system in general, and of the peasantry, with its village commune, artel, etc. in particular. It is not considered necessary to apply to Russian economic relationships the concepts elaborated by modern science concerning the different social classes and their conflicts. The village-commune peasantry is regarded as something higher and better than capitalism; there is a disposition to idealise the ‘foundations.’ The existence among the peasantry of contradictions characteristic of every commodity and capitalist economy is denied or slurred over; it is denied that any connection exists between these contradictions and their more developed form in capitalist industry and capitalist agriculture.

3) Disregard of the connection between the ‘intelligentsia’ and the country’s legal and political institutions, on the one hand, and the material interests of definite social classes, on the other. Denial of this connection, lack of a materialist explanation of these social factors, induces the belief that they represent a force capable of ‘dragging history along another line, of ‘diversion from the path,’ and so on.”

V.I. Lenin, “The Heritage We Renounce”

“The Narodnik theory stands revealed still more clearly in the notions on the peasantry. Throughout the draft [of the Socialist-Revolutionaries] the following words and phrases are used without discrimination: the toilers, the exploited, the working class, the labouring masses, the class of the exploited, the exploited classes. If the authors stopped to think over the last term (“classes”), which escaped them unguardedly, they would realise that it is the petty bourgeois as well as the proletarians who work and are exploited under capitalism. What has been said of the legal Narodniks can be said of our Socialists-Revolutionaries: to them goes the honour of discovering an unheard-of type of capitalism without a petty bourgeoisie. They speak of the labouring peasantry, but shut their eyes to a fact which has been proved, studied, weighed, described, and pondered, namely, that the peasant bourgeoisie now definitely predominates among our labouring peasantry, and that the well-to-do peasantry, although entitled to the designation labouring peasantry, cannot get along without hiring farm-hands and already controls the better half of the peasantry’s productive forces.

Very odd, indeed, from this point of view, is the goal which the Party of the Socialists-Revolutionaries has set itself in its minimum programme: ‘In the interests of socialism and of the struggle against bourgeois-proprietary principles, to make use of the views, traditions, and modes of life of the Russian peasantry, both as toilers in general and as members of the village communes, particularly its conception of the land as being the common property of all the toiling people.’ This objective seems, at first blush, to be a quite harmless, purely academic repetition of the village-commune utopias long since refuted both by theory and life. In reality, however, we are dealing with a pressing political issue which the Russian revolution promises to solve in the very near future: Who will take advantage of whom? Will the revolutionary intelligentsia, which believes itself to be socialist, utilise the toiler conceptions of the peasantry in the interests of the struggle against bourgeois-proprietary principles? Or will the bourgeois-proprietary and at the same time toiling peasantry utilise the socialist phraseology of the revolutionary-democratic intelligentsia in the interests of the struggle against socialism?

We are of the view that the second perspective will be realised (despite the will and the consciousness of our opponents). We are convinced that it will be realised because it has already nine-tenths been realised. The “bourgeois proprietary” (and at the same time labouring) peasantry has already made good use of the socialist phrases of the Narodnik, democratic intelligentsia, which harboured illusions of sustaining “the toiler traditions and modes of life” by means of its artels, co-operatives, fodder grass cultivation, ploughs, Zemstvo warehouses, and banks, but which actually promoted the development of capitalism within the village commune. Russian economic history has thus proved what Russian political history will prove tomorrow. The class-conscious proletariat has the duty to explain to the rural proletarian, without in any way withholding support of the progressive and revolutionary aspirations of the bourgeois labouring peasantry, that a struggle against that peasantry is inevitable in the future; it has the duty to explain to him the real aims of socialism, as opposed to the bourgeois-democratic fancies of equalised land tenure. With the bourgeois peasantry,against the survivals of serfdom, against the autocracy, the priests, and the landlords; with the urban proletariat against the bourgeoisie in general and against the bourgeois peasantry in particular — this is the only correct slogan for the rural proletarian, this is the only correct agrarian programme for Russian Social-Democracy at the present moment. It was this programme that our Second Congress adopted. With the peasant bourgeoisie for democracy, with the urban proletariat for socialism — this slogan will have a far stronger appeal to the rural poor than the showy but empty slogans of the Socialist-Revolutionary dabblers in Narodism.”

 – V.I. Lenin, “From Narodism to Marxism”

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