Georgi Plekhanov: Wikis


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{Expert-subject|Philosophy|date=March 2009}}

Georgi Plekhanov
Георгий Валентинович Плеханов
Born Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov
November 26, 1857(1857-11-26)[1]
Tambov, Russia[1]
Died May 30, 1918 (aged 60)[1]
Terijoki, Finland
Residence Geneva, Switzerland[1]

Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov (Георгий Валентинович Плеханов) (November 26, 1857-May 30, 1918)[1] was a Russian revolutionary and a Marxist theoretician. He was a founder of the Social-Democratic movement in Russia and was the first Russian Marxist. As a prolific writer he dealt with several aspects of Marxist thought.

Plekhanov contributed many ideas to Marxism in the area of philosophy and the roles of art and religion in society. He wrote extensively on historical materialism, on the history of materialist philosophy, on the role of the masses and of the individual in history, on the relationship between the base and superstructure, on the role of ideologies, on the revolutionary democrats such as Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, Herzen and Dobrolyubov, on art and social life, on the origin of art, on developing objective criteria for making judgements about art, on art's role among the other forms of humankind's spiritual life, and so on. In his master work, The Development of the Monist View of History, Plekhanov wrote an outstanding book that remains a classic of Marxism to the present day. His efforts to popularize Marxist ideas in Russia during gloomy periods of reaction and repression earned him an honored place in the international working-class movement. He was the author of the famous expression that "without revolutionary theory ... there is no revolutionary movement in the true sense of the word".[2] (Too often this 1883 quote of Plekanov's ascribed exclusively to Lenin. This particular quote of Plekanov's was paraphrased by V. I. Lenin in 1901 in his famous book, What is To Be Done? [1901] to read "Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted on too strongly...")[3]

Plekhanov always insisted that Marxism was a Materialist doctrine rather than an Idealist one, and that Russia would have to pass through a capitalist stage of development before becoming socialist.

Plekhanov was one of the organizers of the first political demonstrations in Russia. After a fiery speech during the Kazan demonstration in 1876, indicting the tsarist autocracy and defending the ideas of Chernyshevsky, Plekhanov led an underground life. He was arrested twice, in 1877 and again in 1878, and faced with increasing persecution he emigrated in 1880. It would be 37 years before he returned to Russia.

In his political activities he adopted the nom de guerre of Volgin, after the Volga River. Some have commented that this name influenced the famous revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in adopting the name Lenin to highlight his opposition to Plekhanov's politics. This claim is however refuted due to the timing involved. The first instance of Lenin's pseudonym predates any disagreement with Plekhanov.

Plekhanov used the pseudonym of N. Beltov in his most famous work, The Development of the Monist View of History. Furthermore, in an article on A.L. Volynsky in an issue of Novoye Slovo in April, 1897, Plekhanov used the pseudonym of N. Kamensky. Plekhanov wrote an article entitled A Few Words to our Opponents for a Marxist Symposium called Material for a Characterization of Our Economic Development in 1895. In that article, which along with the rest of the contributions was promptly burned by the censorship of the Tsarist autocracy, Plekhanov used the name of Utis. Plekhanov House, a part of the National Library of Russia, has a card file of the many pen names used by G. V. Plekhanov in his effort to avoid the heavy hand of the censorship.

Plekhanov was originally a Narodnik, a leader of the organization "Land and Liberty". After emigrating from Russia in 1880, he established connections with the Social-Democratic movement of western Europe and began to study the works of Marx and Engels. This led him to renounce Narodism and become a Marxist.

In 1883 in Switzerland, he co-founded with Lev Deutsch and Vera Zasulich, the "Emancipation of Labor" group, which popularized Marxism among Russian revolutionaries. At its dissolution, he joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) and worked with Lenin.

In 1903, at the second congress of the RSDLP, Plekhanov broke with Lenin and sided with the Mensheviks. During World War I, he took a "nationalist" position (as opposed to the Bolsheviks' "proletarian internationalism"), calling for the defeat of Germany. Lenin accused Plekhanov, along with his other critics, of "social chauvinism" in the April Theses. Plekhanov was quoted as claiming that Lenin was advocating "civil war" in the socialist movement by supporting the creation of a new International after the 1915 Zimmerwald Conference and the subsequent dissolving, in 1916, of the Second International.

Despite his differences, Plekhanov was recognized, even in his own lifetime, as having made an outstanding contribution to Marxist philosophy and literature by Lenin. "The services he rendered in the past," Lenin wrote of Plekhanov, "were immense. During the twenty years between 1883 and 1903 he wrote a large number of splendid essays, especially those against the opportunists, Machists, and Narodniks." Even after the October Revolution Lenin insisted on republishing Plekhanov's philosophical works and including these works as compulsory texts for prospective communists.

Plekhanov returned to Russia after the February Revolution and formed Yedinstvo. However, he left Russia again after the October Revolution because he was hostile toward the Bolsheviks. He died of tuberculosis in Terijoki, Finland (now Zelenogorsk, Saint Petersburg, Russia). He was buried in the Volkovo Cemetery near the graves of Belinsky and Dobrolyubov. Despite his disagreements with Lenin, the Soviet Communists cherished his memory and gave his name to the Soviet Academy of Economics and the G.V. Plekhanov Saint Petersburg State Mining Institute.

In addition, a library established after the October Revolution, Plekhanov House, part of the National Library of Russia, the pride of Russian culture, was named after the famous Russian Marxist. As noted in the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science:

It was organized and headed by Rosalia Plekhanov-Bograd, the widow of the founder of Russian Marxism, and immediately became the most important centre of scholarly analysis of the theoretical legacy left by that prominent thinker.

As noted on the website of Plekhanov House, soon after Plekhanov's death the Soviet Government, at the initiative of V. I. Lenin, went to Rosalie M. Plekhanova with a proposal to start publishing the works of her late husband and set up an Archive. In 1925, Rosalie Plekhanova presented the Archive and Library to the Soviet Union "having refused various individuals and research institutions, like Musee Social and Institut des Etudes Slaves, which suggested outright acquisition or temporary housing in Prague or in some West European archive institution." According to Plekhanov House:

The Public Library as the place was not an accidental choice. According to Rosalie M. Plekhanova, who took an active part in her husband's social and literary work, Plekhanov had always considered the Petersburg Public Library as his "Alma Mater", a spiritual source of theoretical and practical knowledge he resorted to during the early stages of his scholarly and revolutionary activities. Plekhanov's heirs presented his archives and private library together with the furniture of his study in Geneva to the Soviet Union on the condition of integral hold in the Public Library in Leningrad as an organizational unit in a separate area with specialized research staff.


  • Socialism and the Political Struggle (1883)
  • Our Differences (1885)
  • Gl. I. Uspensky (1888)
  • A New Champion of Autocracy 1889
  • S. Karonin (1890)
  • Anarchism & Socialism (1895)2
  • The Development of the Monist View of History (1895)
  • Essays on the History of Materialism (1896)
  • N. I. Naumov (1897)
  • A. L. Volynsky: Russian Critics. Literary Essays (1897)
  • N. G. Chernyshevsky's Aesthetic Theory (1897)
  • The Materialist Conception of History (1891)
  • For The Sixtieth Anniversary of Hegel's Death (1891)
  • Belinski and Rational Reality (1897)
  • On the Question of the Individual's Role in History (1898)
  • Scientific Socialism and Religion (1904)
  • French Drama and French Painting of the Eighteenth Century from the Sociological Viewpoint (1905)
  • The Proletarian Movement and Bourgeois Art (1905)
  • Henrik Ibsen (1906)
  • On the Psychology of the Workers' Movement (1907)
  • Fundamental Problems of Marxism (1908)
  • The Ideology of Our Present-Day Philistine (1908)
  • Tolstoy and Nature (1908)
  • On the So-Called Religious Seekings in Russia (1909)
  • N. G. Chernyshevsky (1909)
  • Karl Marx and Lev Tolstoy (1911)
  • A. I. Herzen and Serfdom (1911)
  • Dobrolyubov and Ostrovsky (1911)
  • Art and Social Life (1912–1913)


  1. ^ a b c d e Davis, Caleb W. (1976). "Plekhanov, Georgy Valentinovich". in William D. Halsey. Collier's Encyclopedia. 19. New York: Macmillan Educational Corporation. p. 150.  
  2. ^ See "Socialism and the Political Struggle" (1883) written by Georgi Plekanov in Georgi Plekanov, Selected Philosophical Works Vol. 1 (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1974) p. 90.
  3. ^ See Vladimir I. Lenin, "What is To Be Done?" (1901) in Lenin:Collected Works, Vol. 5 (Progess Publishers: Moscow, 1975) p. 369.
  • Georgi Plekhanov: Selected Philosophical Works in Five Volumes (1974)

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