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

Smychka

Naziya600

When you can’t think of anyone else to blame (and especially when you wouldn’t think of blaming your collective self), blame the Russian peasants:

Leonid Vasilyev, head of the Laboratory for History Studies at the Higher School of Economics, believes that the times are very bad not only in Russia, but throughout the world.

“Poverty and ignorance have come to the fore: they are the twin pillars of the world today. Over the past half century, the population of the Earth has increased from 1.6 billion people to 7 billion, of whom 6.2 billion are poor and ignorant. We are seeing the same thing in Russia,” he said.

Vasilyev believes that the Russian peasant commune—archaic, ignorant, inert and hostile to innovation—has now come to power in Russia. The commune has acted as a powerful canopy over the history of Russia or, rather, it  has not let our country’s history come into its own.

“After all, what was the Russian commune for most of its existence? A nomadic population. The commune would use slash-and-burn agriculture to exploit a piece of land from four to eight years, and then it would pick up stakes and go cultivate a new plot. Hence the lack of horizontal ties, of solidarity, in Russia. Serfdom was a blessing for this population; it reduced the costs of encampment. Please note that the Russian commune never raised a rebellion against serfdom. Cossacks and Old Believers protested, but not the Russian commune. The folk liked living under serfdom,”  the historian argued.

At the end of nineteenth century, the commune rejected the intelligentsia’s campaign of “going to the people,”  but the Bolsheviks were able to reach out to peasants by giving them simple slogans and restoring serfdom in the form of collective farms.

“Eighty years have passed, and commune members have moved into the Russian cities. They have not changed much: there is still the same old archaism and ignorance. That is, they are the people whom the current regime represents. If you held fair elections, they would win a stunning victory,”  lamented Vasilyev. “What hopes are there that the situation will change? Hope is almost nonexistent.” *

* Quoted in Pavel Pryanikov, “The child is crying, demanding the pacifier of xenophobia,” Russkaya Planeta, November 23, 2013; photo courtesy of Russkaya Planeta and RIA Novosti.