Marx and the Russian Question
important to note that Marx himself in the later years of his
life devoted much attention to the Russian question, in
particular to the peasant commune. In the Preface to the Russian
edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party of 1882 he and
Engels noted the big strides that Russia had made in her advance
to capitalism observing at the same time that the continued
prevalence of the communal ownership of the land held the
prospect of a direct transition to the communist form of
The Communist Manifesto had as its object the
proclamation of the inevitably impending dissolution of modern
bourgeois property. But in Russia we find, face to face with the
rapidly developing capitalist swindle and bourgeois landed
property, just beginning to develop, more than half the land
owned in common by the peasants. Now the question is: can the
Russian obshchina, though greatly undermined, yet a form
of the primeval common ownership of land, pass directly to the
higher form of communist common ownership? Or on the contrary,
must it first pass through the same process of dissolution as
constitutes the historical evolution of the West?
The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian
Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that
both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may
serve as the starting point for a communist development.
the views of Russian Narodniks with intense interest, making up
hundreds of pages of notes. Their ideas about the road to socialism
through the obshchina allowed him and Engels to take a fresh
look at developments outside Western Europe, in countries of
‘non-classical’ capitalism, and led them to pose the question of the
possibility of a non-capitalist road to communism.
scholarly reputation was highly regarded by the leading Narodniks.
The program of the ‘Peoples’ Will’, for example, contained
references to the revolutionary activism of the proletariat and the
possibility of enlisting workers’ help in the matter of the
agitation and propaganda among the peasantry. Nevertheless, many
intellectuals still felt that, since Marx’s revolutionary philosophy
was based on a study of the industrial history and political economy
of the advanced capitalist societies of Western Europe, his
class-based ideas of ‘bourgeois-democratic’ and
‘proletarian-socialist’ revolution were inapplicable to backward,
agrarian, autocratic Russia. At the turn of the century
Narodnichestvo was reinvigorated and received a new purpose and
direction which reflected the general mood of the Russian peasantry.
The demands for the transfer of all land to those who farmed it and
the idea of co-operative socialism formed the core of the programs
of neo-Narodnichestvo: both of its revolutionary wing,
represented by the Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries and its
moderate-reformist wing represented by the Party of Peoples’
socialism, with its belief in the need for a non-capitalist road of
development, was thus to remain a powerful force in the Russian
political scene until, and beyond, 1917. In addition, it exerted a
major influence on the evolution of the emerging Marxist movement.
Yet despite all this, the Russian Socialist Revolution was to be
accomplished not in the name of Herzen, but in the name of Marx.