Georgi Plekhanov, Apostle of Russian Marxism (exhibition)

Depiction of Land and Will demonstration outside Kazan Cathedral. Image courtesy of the State Museum of Political History of Russia
Land and Will demonstration outside Kazan Cathedral, December 6, 1876. Image courtesy of the State Museum of Political History of Russia

Georgi Plekhanov, Apostle of Russian Marxism: On the 160th Anniversary of His Birth
The State Museum of Political History of Russia, St. Petersburg

Thinker and revolutionary, founder of Russian social democracy, and major theorist of the Russian labor movement, Georgi Plekhanov (1856–1918) occupies a prominent place in Russia’s political history. Occasioned by the 160th anniversary of his birth, the exhibition focuses on the political biography of this talented propagandist and popularizer of Marxism, showing how his views evolved as the Russian revolutionary movement (1870–1917) progressed from the Populists to the Marxists. Avoiding both apologetics for an “outstanding Russian Marxist thinker” and Soviet-era accusations of Menshevism and opportunism, the exhibition shows the socio-economic and political conditions that shaped the revolutionary’s worldview.

In 1876, Plekhanov was an organizer of the clandestine organization Land and Liberty, taking part in rallies and strikes, and penning proclamations. During the first political demonstration in Russia, which took place outside Kazan Cathedral in Petersburg on December 6, 1876, Plekhanov delivered a diatribe against the autocracy. He rejected terrorism as a means of struggle, and when Land and Will split in 1879, he headed the underground Populist organization Black Repartition. Fleeing from police persecution, Plekhanov went into exile abroad, spending a total of thirty-seven years in Switzerland, Italy, France, and other European countries.

In 1883 in Geneva, Plekhanov founded Emancipation of Labor, the first Russian Marxist group, which published the works of Marx and Engels and popularized Marxism. Plekhanov became a prominent Marxist theorist and a leader of the international socialist movement, participating in the congresses of the Second International, and producing numerous works of journalism, philosophy, and literary criticism. In 1900, Plekhanov and Lenin launched the underground newspaper Iskra. Plekhanov was also involved in founding the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, but after the party split into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions in 1903, he was at odds with Lenin.

The exhibition deals at great length with Plekhanov and Lenin’s relationship, which evolved from cooperation to confrontation. Plekhanov emerged as a political antagonist of Bolshevism and a critic of Lenin and the October Revolution. (He dubbed Lenin’s “April Theses” “nonsense.”) The exhibition has also captured the fierce polemics about Marxism that Plekhanov conducted with the Populists Nikolay Mikhaylovsky and Lev Tikhomirov, the revisionist Eduard Bernstain, the Legal Marxist Pyotr Struve, and Yekaterina Kuskova, ideologist of the so-called Economists.

The exhibition features documents, photographs, and works of Georgi Plekhanov, as well as numerous exhibits on the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, including Land and Liberty’s first leaflets from the 1870s. Paintings and drawings illustrate the events to which Plekhanov responded.

Georgi Plekhanov's funeral, Petrograd, 1918. Photo courtesy of humus.livejournal.com
Georgi Plekhanov’s funeral, Petrograd, 1918. Photo courtesy of humus.livejournal.com

Plekhanov’s death mask and a documentary film about his funeral (provided by the Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive) witness the end of his life. On June 9, 1918, Plekhanov’s coffin was escorted by students, clerks, teachers, journalists, lawyers, and workers—by no fewer than ten thousand Petrograders who refused to obey the instructions of Bolshevik leaders. People of different political views and convictions marched should to shoulder in the funeral procession, including Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, Constitutional Democrats and ardent monarchists. Only the official Bolshevik authorities demonstratively refused to be involved in the funeral. One of the greatest men of his time was thus laid to rest.

The exhibition has been mounted in cooperation with Plekhanov House (Russian National Library).

Opens December 10, 2016.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Cogita.ru for the heads-up

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s