[Marxism] Re: Clones

Ed George edgeorge at usuarios.retecal.es
Fri Nov 11 07:19:28 MST 2005

rrubinelli: 'Nothing was grafted or imposed upon the Russian workers.'


[…] in 1883, as a wave of state reaction threatened to crush the 
indigenous populist movement, an exiled group of Chernyi Peredel 
leaders, Plekhanov, Axelrod and Zasulich prominent among them, 
established themselves as the 'Emancipation of Labour' group and 
declared for Marxism.

Thus Marxism in Russia was at birth founded on the basis of a conscious 
and deliberate break with populist orthodoxies; what can be seen as its 
founding texts -- Plekhanov's Socialism and Political Struggle (1883) 
and Our Political Controversies (1885) [6] -- attempted to develop a 
scientific account of the development of Russian capitalism designed to 
refute the perceived errors of populism. Central to the conceptions 
advanced by Plekhanov was the view that Russia was a backward and 
barbarous country: before any idea of an advance to socialism could be 
even considered, a long supervening process of capitalist 
industrialisation and westernisation was necessary. The precondition for 
this was to be a bourgeois-democratic -- not socialist -- revolution: 
the working class in Russia, therefore, would be forced to play the role 
of supporting the liberal bourgeoisie in over-turning absolutism and 
establishing a constitutional, parliamentary state. Finally, the 
peasantry, communal or not, was seen not as a revolutionary asset in the 
struggle against Tsardom but as a backward and reactionary force. Thus 
the Marxism advanced by Plekhanov and his co-thinkers contradicted 
populism on practically every vital point; and the prospect of the 
necessity of capitalist development, the consequent class character of 
the revolution and the leading forces within it, and their view of the 
nature and role of the peasantry were to be the founding orthodoxies of 
Marxism in Russia.

Thus it is intriguing to note that on these questions Plekhanov was 
something more of an 'orthodox Marxist' than Marx had ever been. In a 
polemic directed at the populist theorist Mikhailovsky in 1877, Marx had 
objected to the accusation that he wanted to transpose onto Russia the 
process of 'primitive accumulation' described in Capital: 'It is 
absolutely necessary for [...] [Mikhailovsky] to metamorphose my 
historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into a 
historico-pilosophical theory of general development, imposed by fate on 
all peoples, whatever the historical circumstances in which they are 
placed [...].' [7] Even more suggestively, in his 1881 letter to Vera 
Zasulich, Marx was to argue that:

'In analysing the genesis of capitalist production [in Capital] I say:

"At the core of the capitalist system, therefore, lies the complete 
separation of the producer from the means of production ... the basis of 
this whole development is the expropriation of the agricultural 
producer. To date this has not been accomplished in a radical fashion 
anywhere except in England... But all the other countries of Western 
Europe are undergoing the same process" [...].

'Hence the historical inevitability of this process is expressly limited 
to the countries of Western Europe. [...]

'Hence the analysis provided in Capital does not adduce reasons either 
for or against the viability of the rural commune, but the special study 
I have made of it, and the material for which I drew from original 
sources, has convinced me that this commune is the fulcrum of social 
regeneration in Russia, but in order that it may function as such, it is 
necessary to eliminate deleterious influences which are assailing it 
from all sides, and then ensure for it the normal conditions of 
spontaneous development. [8]

Thus Marx expressed a far greater degree of flexibility with regard to 
the possibilities for Russian development in the light of its concrete 
and specific historical circumstances than did Plekhanov's rather more 
abstract schemas. In fact, the rather mechanical 'evolutionism' being 
advanced by Plekhanov seemed to have more in common with the brand of 
Marxism that was beginning to emerge in the Second International, and 
which was to be, at least at first, associated with the 'revisionism' of 
Bernstein: a Marxism that was to develop the structural weaknesses that 
were to result in the practical disintegration of the International in 
1914 and which the more mature Lenin was to be in the forefront of 
opposing on the international plane. Nevertheless, Plekhanov's 
conceptions predominated in the nascent Russian movement, and it was out 
of this movement that the historic split of 1903 produced both Bolshevik 
and Menshevik factions.


[6] Georgi Plekhanov, 'Socialism and the Political Struggle', Selected 
Philosophical Works, 5 volumes (Moscow, 1974-1980), vol. 1 (1974), 
49-106; 'Our Political Controversies', ibid., 107-352. [The first of 
these texts is available on the web at 

[7] 'Letter to Otechestvenniye Zapiski', MECW, vol. 24 (1989), 200.

[8] 'Marx to Vera Zasulich', MECW, vol. 46 (1992), 71. Earlier drafts of 
this letter are to be found in Karl Marx, 'Drafts of the Letter to Vera 
Zasulich', MECW, vol. 24 (1989), 346-371.

Full: <http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2002/msg05443.htm>

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