Tolstoy and the Proletarian Struggle

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V. I. Lenin


Rabochaya Gazeta No. 2,
December 18 (31), 1910

Published according to
the text in Rabochaya Gazeta

From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1967

First published 1963
Second printing 1967

Vol. 16, pp. 353-54.

Translated from the Russian
Edited by Clemens Dutt

Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, (June 1998)

page 353



    Tolstoy's indictment of the ruling classes was made with tremendous power and sincerity; with absolute clearness he laid bare the inner falsity of all those institutions by which modern society is maintained: the church, the law courts, militarism, "lawful" wedlock, bourgeois science. But his doctrine proved to be in complete contradiction to the life, work and struggle of the grave-digger of the modern social system, the proletariat. Whose then was the point of view reriected in the teachings of Leo Tolstoy? Through his lips there spoke that multitudinous mass of the Russian people who already detest the masters of modern life but have not yet advanced to the point of intelligent, consistent, thoroughgoing, implacable struggle against them.

    The history and the outcome of the great Russian revolution have shown that such precisely was the mass that found itself between the class-conscious, socialist proletariat and the out-and-out defenders of the old regime. This mass, consisting mainly of the peasantry, showed in the revolution how great was its hatred of the old, how keenly it felt all the inflictions of the modern regime, how great within it was the spontaneous yearning to be rid of them and to find a better life.

    At the same time, however, this mass showed in the revolution that it was not politically conscious enough in its hatred, that it was not consistent in its struggle and that its quest for a better life was confined within narrow bounds.

    This great human ocean, agitated to its very depths, with all its weaknesses and all its strong fqatures found its reflection in the doctrine of Tolstoy.

    By studying the literary works of Leo Tolstoy the Russian working class will learn to know its enemies better, but in

page 354

examining the doctrine of Tolstoy, the whole Russian people will have to understand where their own weakness lies, the weakness which did not allow them to carry the cause of their emancipation to its conclusion. This must be understood in order to go forward.

    This advance is impeded by all those who declare Tolstoy a "universal conscience", a "teacher of life". This is a lie that the liberals are deliberately spreading in their desire to utilise the anti-revolutionary aspect of Tolstoy's doctrine. This lie about Tolstoy as a "teacher of life" is being repeated after the liberals by some former Social-Democrats.

    The Russian people will secure their emancipation only when they realise that it is not from Tolstoy they must learn to win a better life but from the class the significance of which Tolstoy did not understand, and which alone is capable of destroying the old world which Tolstoy hated. That class is the proletariat.