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(iv) The Theoreticians of the Narodnik Movement

From all that has been written by the theoreticians of the narodnik movement, perhaps the "New Song" of Peter Lavrov is the freshest and most vibrant.

Renounce the old world!

Shake off its dust from ourselves!

(Listen, with English subtitles, here )


Peter Lavrov

Nikolay Konstantinovich Mikhaylovskiy

Nikolai Mikhalovsky, a painting by Yaroshenko

The theoreticians of the narodnik movement - Peter Lavrov, Nikolai Mikhailovsky - were a kind of eclectics, as they represented in theory liberal capitalism, which occupied an intermediate position between the Tsar's regime and Marxism. A right-wing social-democrat David Shub writes: "In 1873, when Peter Lavrov was publishing from abroad his revolutionary magazine 'Vpered' (Forward), he called on Mikhailovsky to go abroad. In response Mikhailovsky wrote to him: 'In a moment of bitterness, which lasted, I must say, more than one moment, I have almost decided to emigrate and to join you finally and without turning back. But I have dropped this thought for a number of reasons... I am not a revolutionary - each one must know his place. A struggle with the old gods does not occupy me, as they have finished their song and their fall is just a question of time. The new gods are much more dangerous and worse in this sense".

Soviet "Encyclopedia of Literature", 1934, writes that "before the appearance of Russian Marxist works, Mikhailovsky wrote very lively and fresh. In that early period he didn't yet renounce the 'inheritance' (of Decembrists, Herzen, etc.) The process of political delimitation, which has deepened at the end of 1880's and in the early 1890's, has led Mikhailovsky, who didn't understand the class character of a modern state, 'from political radicalism' to 'political opportunism'. Lenin wrote: 'From a political program, aiming to raise the peasantry to a socialist revolution against the foundations of modern society, appeared a program aiming to mend, 'improve' the lot of the peasantry while preserving the foundations of modern society".

And so, there are two stages to the narodnik movement. Up to 1880', the narodnik movement was the most revolutionary theory and practice in Russia. Afterward, the narodnik movement has come to represent the reaction, as it has started to struggle actively with a new revolutionary current at the time, which was Marxism.

The wavering of the theoreticians of narodnik movement vis-a-vis liberalism was reflected in the lives of such prominent narodniks as Vera Figner and Nikolai Chaikovsky. Here are several episodes from their political lives after 1881:

1) N. Chaikovsky "in the course of World War I has called on all the classes of society to unite for victory in the war".

2) In May 1917 at the All-Russia Congress of Representatives of the Constitutional Democratic Party, Vera Figner was elected as its honorary member; she was also elected to the Executive committee of the party.  

3) On 18 June, 1917 Vera Figner signed a Call of the old revolutionaries to all citizens of Russia to continue World War I until "victorious end".

For the sake of justice we should note that many prominent social-democrats, "Marxists", occupied the same position as the former narodniks. David Shub writes:

"In his report in 1914 in Paris, for the Russian emigrants, Plekhanov tried to prove that the duty of all socialists of the world is to help the Allies (France, England, Russia) in defense of their countries from the German aggression. Plekhanov said that Germany started the war, that it was the aggressor. Germany was a semi-despotic country, while Belgium, France and England were democratic countries. Hence, our duty is to protect them. If Germany should win, it would take away from Russia all territories near the sea, which are the gates of Russia into Europe. Russia will become a German colony, a market for German commodities".

As a generalization, we can say that up to a certain moment, a movement can be progressive and even revolutonary. However, after the moment has passed, and another movement has started to appear, better suited to represent the progressive march of humanity, the old movement must be destroyed and discarded

This was true for the narodnik theory at the end of XIX century; this is true for Marxism today.

Next: Narodniki, part 10

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