The phrase that will serve as Comment‘s theme for the next couple of months—What is to be done?—derives its fame from V.I. Lenin‘s 1902 manifesto of the same title. The title is not original to Lenin. He borrowed it from the 1863 materialist utopian novel of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, a book that had a transformative effect on Russian perceptions of the peasantry.
We are not picking up this theme because we are enamored of the use to which either Chernyshevsky or Lenin put the phrase. Chernyshevsky’s propagandistic novel is marred not only by a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of reality and of the human person, but also by his almost complete lack of imagination and writerly skill. Lenin is not only misguided in the grandest possible sense by the theory of Karl Marx, but in particular argues blatantly for the use of terrorism.
Instead, we are picking up the theme because it has for the past hundred-and-a-bit years come to signify the importance of not only having a grand social vision, but also a practicable strategy. As Lenin wrote in “Where to Begin?” (the newspaper article anticipating his What is to be done?):
It is not a question of what path we must choose (as was the case in the late eighties and early nineties), but of what practical steps we must take upon the known path and how they shall be taken. It is a question of a system and plan of practical work.
Neocalvinism offers Christian cultural activists an historically insightful architectonic critique of the society in which we live, and an adequate social vision for bringing hope and substantial healing to society. But we must admit that at the moment Christian social action lacks a coherent strategy, a sense of movement. We may have some effective tactics for particular situations, we have a number of historical examples that we can study for their strategic successes and failures, but we do not share a strategy that will weave our efforts together across the boundaries of the various spheres in which we are active into a coherent movement. We do not know what is to be done.
Manifestoes and strategic documents are important, in that they focus our attention and our efforts. With varying degrees of success, for example, the communist manifesto, the futurist manifesto, and Francis Schaeffer’s Christian manifesto drew people together toward a shared vision and into a shared strategy.
What we hope to offer in Comment Online during the next couple of months can be considered drafts of a manifesto, each oriented to a particular sphere of human endeavour, encouragements toward the beginnings of a discussion of the strategic question.