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The Spread of Marxism in Russia

Vladimir Lenin in 1890

In the 1890s Marxism made important inroads among Russian intellectuals, gaining adherents in academic circles and in the radical and revolutionary movement. Among them were young intellectuals Vladimir Ulianov (1870-1924), who was to adopt the underground name of Lenin, and Julius Martov (1873-1923). Both decided to dedicate their lives to revolutionary struggle and soon emerged as leaders of Russian Marxists. In the 1890s Marxism appealed to many young intellectuals, including many future liberals, like Peter Struve (1870-1944), Nicholas Berdiaev (1874-1948), Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944), who would later renounce their early Marxist  leanings.

In the 1890s the Marxists appeared to be winning the argument with the Narodniks, when they emphasized the continuing  growth of capitalism and the proletariat in Russia. The government-sponsored industrialization accelerated the growth of an industrial working class. With all due qualifications, the proletariat now constituted a significant component of the Russian population and had an essential role to play in Russian economy. It significance as a factor in Russian politics was also constantly rising. Thus, the actual development of Russia towards the end of the nineteenth century seemed to follow the Marxists’ rather than the Narodniks’ blueprints.  

In 1895 the Marxist movement reached an important new stage when diverse Marxist groups in St Petersburg united into a city-wide ‘League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working-Class’. The leader of the new organization was the twenty-five year old Vladimir Lenin. ‘The League of Struggle’ conducted revolutionary agitation among the St Petersburg proletariat. The climax of its activity was the co-ordination of a big strike of textile workers in 1896 which involved 19 factories. Unlike the early disparate Marxist groups, the ‘League of Struggle’ had larger membership, was more disciplined and had a well-defined organizational structure. It was the first Marxist organization capable of providing effective leadership of the workers’ movement.

St Petersburg ‘League of Struggle’ served as a model for the creation of  Marxist organizations in big industrial centers, like Moscow, Kiev and others across Russia. In 1898 the first attempt was made to join the forces of Russian Marxism: a congress of Marxist organizations was held in Minsk, which announced the establishment of a unified Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party. However, no program nor rules of the new party were adopted at the congress and no firm links were established between local party organizations and the leadership centre.  Besides, nearly all the participants were arrested soon after the congress and a number of local organizations were crushed. The task of creating a Marxist party still lay ahead.

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Appearance of Marxism


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