Vol. XLIII No. 12 March 24, 2019

Marx and the Russian Revolution-31

There are those, opponents of Marxism, who say: Marx had come to the conclusion that the revolution can be carried out only in the most highly developed countries whereas revolutions have actually occurred only in countries economically less developed than the most advanced Western countries. Consequently, Marx’s theory of proletarian revolution, they say, is wrong.

Marx did believe that the revolution was most likely to begin in the economically more developed countries. But he did not exclude all other peoples taking the road to Socialism. Apart from the fact that among the Socialist countries, there are two that clearly rank among the economically developed countries—the German Democratic Republic and the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic—these opponents of Marxism do not  know, or deliberately want to ignore, one chapter in Marx’s life. That was when Marx, as well as Engels, reposed great hopes in the revolutionary movement in Russia, considering it a tangible force capable of  advancing to Socialism in its own way.

In the last decade of his life Marx gave particular attention to the study of the revolutionary movement in Russia, its economic and political development, history and culture.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Marx had been primarily interested in the foreign policy of tsarist Russia as the “European gendarme”. In the late 1860s, and especially the 1870s, the situation in Russia had changed. In that time tsarism gradually came to play a lesser role as the bastion of European reaction, for a democratic revolutionary movement had emerged in Russia itself, directly threatening to overthrow the autocracy. The study of Russia, which was now becoming a potential centre of the European revolution, became an important aspect of Marx’s theoretical research in the field of political economy and history.

Marx made a study of the peasant reform of 1861 which abolished serfdom in Russia, and summed up his observations in the manuscript, “Remarks on the 1861 Reform and Russia’s Post Reform Development”. He saw clearly that Russia’s economic development was hampered by a tangle of remaining feudal and emergent capitalist relations.

In March 1870 Marx received reports that Russian emigrants living in Geneva had formed a section of the First International. The members of the section, who were still very much under the influence of the ideas of the revolutionary democratic writers, N.G. Chernyshevsky and N.A. Dobroliubov, asked Marx to be their representative on the General Council. Marx agreed to the request and now worked as Corresponding Secretary for both Germany and Russia.

From then on Marx regularly informed the Russian section about the work of the General Council and drew them into the general work of the International. He helped the Russian revolutionaries to recognize the historical mission of the working class ever more clearly and to make the principles of scientific Communism the guiding line of their activity.

Marx’s and Engels’ letters to the Russian revolutionaries were imbued with a deep hatred for tsarism and hopes for the success of the revolutionary movement. Appraising the vast potentialities of the Russian revolutionary movement, Marx saw the future of a free Russia as a country with highly productive collective labour in agriculture based on the latest achievements of science and technology. Marx noted that the Russian peasantry needed “cooperative labour organized on a large scale.” He stressed that the “physical configuration of Russian lands favours tilling with the help of machines, organized on a large scale and carried out by cooperative labour.”

The economic and socio-political situation in Russia in the late 1860s and early 1870s, which he studied with the help of Russian sources, led Marx of the conclusion that Russia was closer to a revolutionary explosion than any other European country. He believed that the revolution in Russia would be bourgeois-democratic in its objectives, but that at the same time, it would be a people’s primarily peasant revolution. It would destroy the autocracy, landed estates and semi-feudal relations, and lead to the establishment of broad democratic rights and freedoms.

In their foreward to the  1882 Russian edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels pointed to the broad prospects of the revolutionary struggle for the Russian people when they wrote:

“What a limited field the proletarian movement still occupied at that time (December 1847) is most clearly shown by the last section of the Manifesto: the position of the Communists in relation to the various opposition parties in the various countries. Precisely Russia and the United States are missing here. It was the time when Russia constituted the last great reserve of all European reaction…

And now Russia! During the Revolution of 1848-49 not only the European princes, but the European bourgeoisie as well, found their only salvation from the proletariat, just beginning to awaken, in Russian intervention. The tsar was proclaimed the chief of European reaction. Today he is a prisoner of war of the revolution, in Gatchina, and Russia forms the vanguard of revolutionary action in Europe.”