N. G. Chernyshevski between socialism and liberalism - article ; n°4 ; vol.1, pg 569-583

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Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique - Année 1960 - Volume 1 - Numéro 4 - Pages 569-583
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Michael M. Karpovich
N. G. Chernyshevski between socialism and liberalism
In: Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 1 N°4. Juillet-décembre 1960. pp. 569-583.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Karpovich Michael M. N. G. Chernyshevski between socialism and liberalism. In: Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 1
N°4. Juillet-décembre 1960. pp. 569-583.
doi : 10.3406/cmr.1960.1444
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/cmr_0008-0160_1960_num_1_4_1444N. G. CHERNYSHEVSKI
BETWEEN SOCIALISM AND LIBERALISM
Le texte de Michel Karpovich, publié ici à titre posthume, est extrait de
son Nachlass. Karpovich fut, jusqu'à sa mort en IQ59, Reisinger Profes
sor of Slavic Languages and Literatures et Professor of Russian History
à l'Université d'Harvard. Plus que quiconque il a marqué de sa person
nalité et de son érudition le développement des études historiques russes
aux États-Unis au cours des vingt dernières années. Le texte qui paraît
ici, sous forme d'article, devait, à l'origine, constituer un chapitre d'une
histoire, malheureusement inachevée, de la pensée sociale russe depuis
Radišcev jusqu'à la Révolution de 191J. Ce chapitre fut vraisemblable
ment rédigé pendant la dernière guerre et corrigé en partie vers la fin des
années 30, bien que Karpovich n'ait pu — le lecteur le constatera — mettre
les indications bibliographiques entièrement à jour. Sa pensée n'en doit
pas moins être considérée comme l'expression d'une mûre réflexion, fondée
sur une longue connaissance de la documentation et de l'historiographie
existant dans ce domaine, à l'exception des toutes dernières monographies
sur ce sujet.
Cette publication trouve tout naturellement sa place dans une revue
française car, si Karpovich exerça surtout son métier d'historien aux
États-Unis, c'est Paris qui le forma après la Révolution de 1905.
Il n'existe, dans aucune langue occidentale, d'étude tant soit peu
complète de la vie et de l'œuvre de Černyševskij, qui compte pourtant parmi
les plus grandes personnalités intellectuelles avec Herzen, Bakunin, Lavrov
et Mikhajlovskij, du narodničestvo ou populisme russe. La meilleure
étude, et la seule vraiment digne d'intérêt, sur Černyševskij — les travaux
en langue russe mis à part — est le long chapitre que lui a consacré
Franco Venturi dans sa magistrale histoire du populisme1. L'essai de
1 Franco Venturi, I populismo russo, 2 vol., Einaudi, 1952, vol. I, chap, v ;
traduction anglaise sous le titre : Roots of Revolution, New York, i960. 57° M. M. KARPOVICH
Karpovich le complète admirablement. Dans l'ensemble, M. Venturi
souligne l'attitude révolutionnaire latente de Černyševskij, rejoignant
ainsi, mais de façon plus nuancée, les vues du meilleur et du plus savant
des spécialistes soviétiques sur ce problème, P. B. Koz'min. Karpovich,
au contraire, met l'accent sur les éléments d'ambiguïté, sinon de contra
diction, dans la pensée de Černyševskij, et sur la tension jamais enti
èrement résolue entre socialisme et libéralisme dans l'esprit de celui qui
passe pour le premier chef de file des « durs » parmi les populistes.
L'attitude de Karpovich, en somme, reflète tout le nominalisme et toute
la circonspection adoptés en face de l'expérience historique par la
tradition libérale universitaire en Russie à la fin de l'ancien régime — à laquelle Karpovich n'a jamais caché qu'il appartenait spiri
tuellement.
Très sommairement, l'interprétation soviétique actuelle tend, avec
plus ou moins de nuances suivant les auteurs, à attribuer le maximum
de cohérence et de « dureté » révolutionnaire, tant sur le plan des idées que
de l'activité pratique, au mouvement antérieur à Lénine. Cette interpré
tation a eu d'éloquents et savants défenseurs, mais il est permis de penser
qu'elle prolonge trop dans le passé l'incontestable cohérence idéologique
et politique des Bolcheviks, en en faisant bénéficier trop facilement cer
tains de leurs prédécesseurs. Cette supposition est renforcée par le fait,
généralement reconnu, que Lénine a formulé ses positions en partie par
réaction contre ce qu'il considérait être le flou et le manque de rigueur
populistes. Černyševskij, en particulier, est trop souvent présenté, dans
les manifestations les plus extrêmes de l'interprétation soviétique (c'est-
à-dire par M"1* M. V. Neckina), non seulement comme un « démocrate
révolutionnaire » absolument conséquent dans sa pensée, mais aussi
comme le chef d'un véritable parti de conspirateurs avec un programme
d'action révolutionnaire des plus précis2. Le mérite essentiel de l'essai
de Karpovich est de donner la mesure de la complexité et de la diversité
qui furent celles des révolutionnaires du siècle dernier à l'image de Čer-
nyŠevskij — mérite d'autant plus réel que les retouches qu'apporte l'auteur
ne sont pas les mêmes que celles qu'on trouve dans le portrait plus ample
et plus détaillé qu'en donne M. Venturi. C'est dans l'espoir de rajeunir
quelque peu la discussion autour de Černyševskij en la ramenant, un peu
paradoxalement, à une tradition historio graphique plus ancienne, mais
* II y a eu ces dernières années une intéressante polémique à ce sujet, entre
Mme Nečkina et P. B. Koz'min où Koz'min attaqua, à l'intérieur de la tradition
soviétique, les outrances de Mme Nečkina, à notre avis, avec un succès complet.
Voir surtout : M. V. Neckina : « N. G. Černyševskij v bor'be za spločenie sil russ-
kogo demokratičeskogo dviženija v gody revoljucionnoj situacii (1859-1861) »,
Voprosy istorii, juillet 1953. Voir В. P. Koz'min : « К voprosu o celjakh i rezulta-
takh poezdki N. G. Černý ševskogo к A. I. Gercenu v 1859 g » et M. V. Nečkina :
« O vzaimootnošenijakh peterburgskogo i londonskogo centrov russkogo osvo-
boditel'nogo dviženija v gody revoljucionnoj situacii (1859-1861) », Izvestija
Akademii Nauk S.S.S.R. Otdelenie literatury i jazika, t. XIV, vypusk 2, 1955. CHERNYSHEVSKI BETWEEN SOCIALISM AND LIBERALISM 57I
pour cela même plus proche peut-être de celle du sujet lui-même, que nous
avons choisi dans le Nachlass cet essai sur Černý Ševskij pour être publié
dans les Cahiers du Monde Russe et Soviétique.
Martin Malia.
University of California
Berkeley, Octobre i960.
In attempting to elucidate the social and political ideas of Nicholas
Gavrilovich Chernyshevski (1828-1889) we are faced with a particularly
difficult problem. Almost all the other major leaders of early Russian
socialism — such as Herzen, Bakunin and Lavrov — spent most of their
life abroad, and all could express freely their ideas on revolutionary
prospects in Western Europe and in Russia. Chernyshevski was
denied a similar opportunity, for all of his literary activity took place
in Russia under conditions of strict censorship, and it was cut short
by governmental persecution at an early stage of his career. In fact,
his public activity lasted only seven years, from 1855 when he became
the chief contributor to the progressive periodical Sovremennik (The
Contemporary) to 1862 when he was arrested, tried and exiled.
Nevertheless, he succeeded in winning for himself an exceptional
position in the ranks of Russian journalists. Like Belinski before
him, he became the uncrowned king of the radical faction of Russian
public opinion.1 He was the principal spokesman for the new genera
tion which appeared on the stage in the late 1850's, and which liked to
oppose itself to the "idealists" of the thirties and the forties. He was
the recognized leader of the "sons" in their battle with the "fathers".
Chernyshevski's literary activity was of a manifold nature.2 He
1 For a while he shared this position with his younger friend and collaborator
Dobroliubov who died in 1861, at the age of twenty five.
* works were first collected in a reasonably full edition as
Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 10 vols., St. Petersburg, 1905-1906 (hereafter cited
as Soch.). In spite of its title, however, this edition is not actually complete.
Later some additional material was published in Literaturnoe nasledie, 3 vols.,
Moscow-Leningrad, 1928- 1930 (hereafter cited as Nasledie), and in Shestidesiatye
gody. Materiály po istorii literatury i obshchesvennomu dvizheniiu, eds. N. K. Pik-
sanov and O. V. Shchekhnovishcher, Moscow-Leningrad, 1940. The most
complete and satisfactory biography still remains that of lu. Steklov, Л7. G. Cher
nyshevski: ego zhizn i deiatelnost, 1828-1889, 2nd. edition, Moscow-Leningrad,
1928. See also, N. Chernyshevskaia-Bystrova, Letopis zhizni i deatelnosti
N. G. С herny s hev s ko go, Moscow- Leningrad, 1933 (re-edited, 1953); V. E. Che-
shikhin-Vetrinski, N. G. Chernyshevski (1828-1889), Petrograd, 1923; V. Evgenev-
Maksimov, « Sovremennik » pri Chernyshevskom i Dobroliubove, Leningrad, 1936.
Since this article was first written a number of important items relative to
Chernyshevski have appeared. First, there is at last a definitive edition of his
works, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v piatnadtsati tomakh, eds., V. la. Kirpotin, 572 M. M. KARPOVICH
was a literary critic and an economist, he wrote on philosophy and
on history, and he contributed to his periodical regular reviews of
contemporary political life in Europe. Essentially he was a publicist,
and all the various literary forms were to him but vehicles for his
social and political propaganda. Because of censorship he had to
carry on this propaganda with the greatest caution, and he never
could express himself fully and definitely. He was forced to elaborate
a special language of his own which, while deceiving the censor, could
still be deciphered by sympathetic readers. His articles are full of
subtle hints, ironical allusions, and intentional ambiguities. To get
at their real meaning it is often necessary to read between the lines.
One can see how greatly all this complicates the task of a student of
his social and political ideas.
Chernyshevski's spiritual affinity with the contemporary Russian
revolutionaries is obvious. His arrest was interpreted both by his
friends and his enemies as a strong blow at the revolutionary move
ment. While in exile, which lasted until his death in 1889, he still
was looked upon by the revolutionaries as a potential leader. We
know of no less than five attempts or projects, emanating from
revolutionary circles, to liberate him by one means or another. This
is an eloquent testimony to his importance in the movement, yet the
data bearing on Chernyshevski's connection with the revolution are
extremely scarce. Various opinions have been expressed in historical
literature regarding his direct contact with the revolutionary groups
of the early 1860's which were responsible for the first radical leaflets
(such as К molodomu pokoleniu, 1861, and Molodaia Rossiia, 18623).
It seems to be fairly well established that Chernyshevski himself was
the author of another such proclamation, К barskim krestianam (To
the Serfs), which was planned for publication and distribution by one
of these groups.4 Finally there are good reasons to believe that he
B. P. Kozmin, P. Lebedev-Polianski and others, 16 vols., Moscow, 1939-1953.
The references to Chernyshevski's writings given here, however, are to the
earlier publications mentioned above. In addition there has appeared a number
of more or less significant studies, such as, M. Rozental, Filosofskie vzgliady
N. G. Chenyshevskogo, Moscow, 1948 ; N. Bogoslovski, Лг. G. Chernyshevski,
1828-188Ç, Moscow, 1955; B. Kiurikov, N. G. Chernyshevski, Moscow, 1953;
V. E. Evgafov, " Filosofskie i obshchestvenno-politicheskie vzgliady X. G. Cher-
nyshevskogo", Ocherki po islorii filosof skoi i obshchestvenno-politicheskoi mysli
narodov S.S.S.R., 2 vols., Moscow, 1956, vol. II. For the fullest, although not
complete, bibliography on Chernyshevski see, N. G. Chernyshevski. Rekomenda-
telny * The ukazatel complete literatury, and verified Moscow, text 1953. of the first can be found in the appendix to
N. Shelgunov, Vospominaniia, Moscow- Petrograd, 1923; of the second, in Poli-
ticheskie protsessy 60-kh godov, edit, by B. Kozmin, Moscow-Petrograd, 1923.
4 For the text see Politicheskie protsessy 60-kh godov, pp. 188-199. However,
as indicated by Steklov {op. cit., Il, p. 286) the original text of Chernyshevski
is unknown since the version we now possess was revised by other members of
the group. CHERNYSHEVSKI BETWEEN SOCIALISM AND LIBERALISM 573
also wrote the anonymous communication from Russia published in
the Kolokol on March ist, i860, in which the author urged Herzen to
incite the Russian people to an immediate armed uprising.5 Beyond
this we know practically nothing. At Chernyshevski's trial the
prosecution was not able to produce any substantial evidence, and he
was convicted mostly on suspicion. Even Steklov, who takes great
pains to prove Chernyshevski's radicalism, is forced to admit that
"up to this time it has not been fully possible to determine in what
specifically his revolutionary activity consisted".6 One must therefore
attempt to determine Chernyshevski's part in the development of
revolutionary socialism in Russia without being able to use either a
clear and full statement of his ideas or sufficiently complete information
as to his efforts to realize them in practice.
We are in a better position when it comes to the early evolution
of Chernyshevski towards socialism and revolution. Here we possess
precious autobiographical material in the Diary which he kept in his
youth (1848-1853).7 The opening date of the Diary is in itself signific
ant. As in the case of both Herzen and Bakunin, 1848 was a decisive
year in Chernyshevski's spiritual life. But while his older contemp
oraries were living through the events as eyewitnesses, at times even
as participants, the young student could experience them only from
afar, on the basis of available literary information. The extent to
which he managed to familiarize himself with European political life
was rather remarkable, and serves as another convincing proof of the
inefficiency of the government's attempt to raise a wall between that
life and the Russian youth of the time. It seems that Chernyshevski
had fairly free access to French periodicals, and that he could follow
them regularly, for in the Diary we find many references to the Journal
des Débats and the Revue des Deux Mondes, his chief sources of informat
ion. To these were added more radical publications, particularly
the Fourierist Phalange (1845-1849),8 and such historical works as
Louis Blanc's Histoire de dix ans and Lamartine's Histoire de la révo
lution de février. Finally, even in Russian periodicals such as the
Otechestvennye zafiiski (Annals of the Fatherland), Chernyshevski
was able to find some valuable information on Western events and
ideas, in spite of the fact that they were subject to censorship.
One of the earliest entries in the Diary contains an admission that
Chernyshevski was becoming "more and more convinced of the truth
of socialism". At first, however, he was still beset by doubts.
8 The text of this article is reproduced in M. Lemke's edition of Herzen's works,
X, pp. 224-229.
• Ibid., II, p. 241.
7 Naslodie, I.
• There are references also to Paris révolutionnaire and Almanach démocratique
et socialiste. Ail these, of course, could have only a secret circulation in Russia. м- м- 574
Proudhon's assertion that private property was about to wither away
called forth a sceptical comment from his young Russian reader.
Though undoubtedly a very bad institution, Chernyshevski felt that
it was more likely to continue in force for another two or three centuries.
He believed that eventually a time would come when "all will live
according to Louis Blanc", but such a happy state of affairs was still
in a distant future.9 In this early period Chernyshevski's political
sympathies remained rather vague and undifferentiated. In a spirit
of general admiration for Western Europe, he bestowed his praise
equally on socialists like Louis Blanc, Leroux and Proudhon, republic
ans like Ledru-Rollin and Lamartine, and, strangely enough, even
on Guizot. All of them were to him "great men".10 But gradually
the radical tendency began to prevail in his attitude. Almost with
a feeling of surprise, Chernyshevski registered his unexpected and,
as it were, involuntary turn in the direction of radicalism. " It seems
that I belong to the radical party, to the ultras.'" And again: "In
fact, am I not decidedly a revolutionary?" This new tendency grew
with the development of party strife in France, which he was following
step by step. When he read the report of the Investigating Comm
ittee to the National Assembly he sided definitely with Louis Blanc,
Ledru-Rollin and the other accused, while expressing contempt for
the moderate majority of the Assembly. Addressing himself to that
majority he summed up his attitude in a significant passage: "You
think that all that matters is to pronounce the word Republic, and to
secure power for yourselves. What really matters is to liberate the
lower classes, not in law only but in fact, as Louis Blanc has said, so
that they may be able to feed themselves, to marry, to raise children,
to support their parents, to get educated, and that their men need
not become mere corpses and their women prostitutes. All the rest
is nonsense. I do not like these gentry who keep on talking about
liberty, but who limit themselves to pronouncing this word and writing
it down in laws, and who do not realize it in life; who revoke decrees
speaking of inequality, and then do not abolish a social order under
which nine tenths [of the population] remain slaves and proletarians.
It does not matter whether or not there will be a king, whether or not
there will be a constitution. The real problem lies in social relations,
[which should be organized] so that one class would not suck the blood
of the other."11
From this point of view Chernyshevski's estimate of the Republic
• 1011 Naslodie, Ibid., I, pp. I, pp. 220, 263, 218, 225, 265-266, 219-220. 235, 241, 270-271. 258, 263, Cf. 265-266. a similar criticism of the Frankfort
Parliament for its indecision and its unwillingness to side definitely with the
forces of popular revolution {ibid., I, pp. 323-333). CHERNYSHEVSKI BETWEEN SOCIALISM AND LIBERALISM 575
became somewhat different from what it had been originally. A
republic was still for him an ideal form of government but only on
condition that it be filled with a corresponding "social content".
Social aims were immeasurably more important than political prog
rams. And if for the time being a "social republic" proved to be an
impossibility — and that was the conclusion to which he was led by the
course of events in France — then a " social monarchy" was to be
preferred. The chief enemy was the " aristocracy",12 and its predomin
ance should be broken by means of an alliance between a strong,
socially-minded supreme power and the lower classes. "So I think
that [under existing conditions] the only and best possible form of
government is a dictatorship or, still better, a hereditary monarchy,
but a monarchy that would understand its mission to be above classes,
and to protect the exploited instead of the exploiters . . . Such, for
instance, was the activity of Peter the Great, as I see it."18
Chernyshevski's new faith, which was a direct result of his ponder
ing over the fate of the Second Republic, was strengthened by some
other influences. We know from the Diary that during the Revolution
of 1848 one of the members of the Petrashevski circle acquainted him
with the writings of Fourier and his followers, and that the reading
of this literature produced upon him a strong impression. Like Her-
zen, he was somewhat puzzled by Fourier's eccentricities, but he was
ready to accept the substance of the doctrine as essentially correct.
" What if we are actually living in an age similar to that of Cicero and
Caesar when saeculorum novus nascitur ordo, and when a new Messiah
appears, a new religion and a new world. My timid heart beats fast
at this thought, and my soul trembles ... If a new revelation is to
appear, let it come, all the hesitations of weak souls, such as mine
notwithstanding. "14
It was the same member of the Petrashevski circle who first
attracted Chernyshevski's attention to the problem of revolution in
Russia. Up to that time his growing radicalism had been inspired
entirely by Western European events, and according to his own
admission he had not considered a Russian revolution to be within
the realm of possibility. But now, under the influence of his new
friend, he began to perceive "elements of revolt" in contemporary
Russian life, and the more he reflected on them the more he became
11 Chernyshevski used this term to designate all the upper, dominating classes
of society, without distinguishing between the "aristocracy" and the "bourg
eoisie".
18 Naslodie, I, pp. 276-277. Cf. the ideas of Herzen and Bakunin during the
1850's on "social monarchy".
14 Ibid., I, pp. 329, 330, 333, 336, 338, 343. Concerning Fourier's influence
on Chernyshevski see Steklov, op. cit., I, pp. 61-65, and E. Liatski, "Chernys
hevski i Fourier", Sovremennyi mir, 1907, XI. M. M. KARPOVICH
convinced that in Russia too a revolutionary course was not only
desirable but inevitable.18 Chernyshevski's final transformation into
a decided revolutionary took place in the spring of 1850. By that
time he had outlived his earlier illusion of a "social monarchy", and
he no longer believed in a benevolent despot allying himself with the
lower classes against the aristocracy. On the contrary, he now saw
in an absolute monarchy only "the crowning point of an aristocratic
hierarchy to which he [the monarch] belonged body and soul". All
his hopes were connected with the prospect of a popular uprising to
which he looked with eager expectation, longing to take an active, if
not a leading, part in it. A peaceful development he deemed imposs
ible because "not a single step forward has ever been made in history
without convulsions".16
Thus we see that by the time of his graduation (1850) Chernys
hevski's conversion to the radical faith was complete. Firmly
convinced of the primacy of social problems over politics, he became
a socialist in his program and a revolutionary in his tactical views,
and he was ready to apply both to Russian society. We possess
practically no information on the further development of his political
and social ideas in the course of the next five years, but there is no
reason to believe that during that period his radical faith had weakened.
The beginning of Chernyshevski's active career as a publicist (1855)
coincided with the accession to the throne of Alexander II, which
ushered in a new and more dynamic era in the internal history of
Russia. In particular the problem of peasant emancipation was for
the first time publicly posed, and it was only natural that this should
at first attract most of Chernyshevski's attention. For a while the
socialist and the revolutionary was prepared to greet the initiative
of the Emperor, and in an article which stands somewhat apart from
his other writings one can see something like a momentary revival of
the once-abandoned idea of a social revolution from above.17 But
this hope proved short-lived, and soon gave way to bitter disappoint
ment, and to a conviction that the Russian government was not able
to solve the social problem to the satisfaction of the popular masses.18
Within the narrow limits allowed him by censorship, Chernyshevski
became one of the outstanding critics of the terms of the Emancipation
settlement, and a defender of the peasants' interests as he understood
them.
It was in connection with that defense that he undertook the
" 17 О Naslodie, Ibid., novykh I, pp. I, usloviakh pp. 496-498, 345-346, selskogo 511-512. 385, 441. byta (Soch., IV). See pp. 50 and 53-54 for
dithyrambs to Alexander II.
18 Kritika filosofskikh produbezhdenii protiv obshchinnogovladeni a (Soch., IV,
PP- ЗО4-337)- CHERNYSHEVSKI BETWEEN SOCIALISM AND LIBERALISM 577
championship of the Russian village commune. As in the case of
Herzen, this side of Chernyshevski's teachings was destined to exercise
a very great influence upon the social and economic theories current
among the Russian Populists of the following decades, but it must be
noted that his attitude toward the commune was a more realistic one
than that either of the Slavophils or of Herzen. In general, Cherny-
shevski rejected their semi-mystical theory of Russian Messianism,
and he did not accept the idea of the fundamental distinctness of
Russia's historical development. In an article on the causes of the
fall of Rome19, apparently directed against Herzen, he attacked the
whole Hegelian conception of the "world mission" of a nation as
incompatible with scientific history, and he derided the unfounded
pretensions of those Russian writers who claimed for their people the
privilege of bringing a "new word" into the life of civilized humanity.
He rejected also the idea of Western European senility, and argued
that in the principal European countries not only the popular masses,
but to some extent even the middle classes, still had to come into their
own.20 More particularly, he refused to see in the village commune
a unique Russian institution, and one that could serve as an example
and inspiration to the West. It was, on the contrary, an institution
common to all peoples at a primitive stage of their development, and
its survival in Russia until modern times was due to the country's
general backwardness. It did not follow that in the Western world
with its immeasurably more advanced economic life the village
commune could perform any useful function, or that it could influence
the progress of social ideas among the Western nations. There was
no lesson in it from which Western Europe could benefit.
When it came to Russia, however — and here Chernyshevski
approached Herzen's point of view — the survival of this relic of the
past could play a decisively beneficial role. On the one hand the
existence of the village commune could save the Russian popular
masses from some of the sufferings which were inevitable under capital
ism. It was an antidote to the evils of excessive proletarization.21
On the other hand, under certain conditions which, because of censor
ship, Chernyshevski was not able to specify, the commune could
11 О prichinakh padeniia Rima [Soch., VIII, pp. 156-177).
10 It must be pointed out, however, that Chernyshevski left without refutation
Herzen's specific references to the strength of tradition in Western Europe,
the inherent conservatism of the Western peoples, the prevalence among them
of the bourgeois spirit, etc. Chernyshevski himself admitted that the introduc
tion of socialism in Western Europe was made very difficult by the highly
developed "sense of property" among the Western nations (Soch., Ill, pp. 183-
184).
11 Ibid., Ill, pp. 184-185, 303 ; VIII, p. 662. Chernyshevski praised the
Slavophils for their defense of the commune (ibid.. Ill, pp. 148-153, 180-181,
198-199)-