May 01, 1998

The Barin of Russian Marxism

Georgy Plekhanov – revolutionary, Marxist philosopher, Populist and later Menshevik – went from being Vladimir Lenin’s mentor and ally to one of his chief rivals. Born on December 11, 1856 in the village of Gudalovka (Voronezh region) into an aristocratic family, Plekhanov died 80 years ago this month.

At the age of 18, in the fall of 1874, Plekhanov enrolled in St. Petersburg’s Gorny Institute, but he was forced to leave in 1876 for participating in the revolutionary movement. At that time, he was attracted by the idea of Populism – which advocated “going to” the oppressed and illiterate Russian people. The young Plekhanov actively disseminated revolutionary propaganda in St. Petersburg and was arrested several times. He also spent nearly a year “among the people” with the Don Cossacks.

In 1876, the Populists created their own organization “Land and Freedom,” and Georgy Plekhanov was among its leaders. The main aims of “Land and Freedom” were the organization of a peasant revolution, the nationalization of land and the replacement of the government by a federation of commons. But after only three years, the organization split into opposing camps – those who advocated the use of terror and those who opposed it. Plekhanov and his allies Pavel Axelrod and Lev Deich actively opposed terrorist tactics, maintaining that they led nowhere: one tsar would replace another.

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