The exhibition “Georgy Plekhanov: the apostle of Russian Marxism” at the State Museum of Political History of Russia is dedicated to the 160th anniversary of Plekhanov’s birth and represents his life and evolution of his political views
On Sunday June, 9, 1918 the streets of Petrograd were filled with crowds. No less than ten thousand people took part in the funeral ceremony on that day. Students, clerks, teachers, journalists, lawyers, workers from some of the faсtories and plants, which did not obey the Bolshevik instructions, followed the coffin. The mourning procession brought together people of different political positions: Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, cadets and ardent autocracy supporters. Not only their will to pay the last tribute to the deceased united them, but also the disregard towards Bolshevism and the Soviets. On that day the citizens of Petrograd followed one of the greatest men of his time to his grave… Only the Bolshevik officials of Petrograd, led by Grigory Zinoviev demonstratively refused to participate in the funeral ceremony. Calling for the workers to follow the officials, Zinoviev wrote in “Petrograd Pravda”: “We will not attend the funeral of our former teacher, who in his later life took the side of our worst enemies”.
The most influential Russian labour movement theorist, thinker and revolutionary activist, the founder of Social-Democracy in Russia, Georgy Plekhanov was born on December, 11 (November, 29) 1856 in the village of Gudalovka, Tambov province, to the family of the retired staff captain Valentin Plekhanov.
In 1873 Plekhanov graduated from Voronezh military gymnasium and entered into the Konstantinov Junker school in St. Petersburg. However, he only stayed within the school for a few months and then gave up his military career forever, as he realised that the principles of autocracy were incompatible to those of service to the Motherland’s good. In the same year, Georgy Plekhanov got enrolled into St. Petersburg Mineral Resources institute, although, he soon left it too and got involved into the revolutionary activities. In 1876 he became one of the founders of the “Land and Liberty” clandestine revolutionary group. He organised demonstrations and strikes, he wrote proclamations. During the first Russian political demonstration at the Kazan cathedral on December 6, 1876, Georgy Plekhanov spoke openly against the tsarist autocracy for the first time. When the “Land and Liberty” group split up in 1879, Plekhanov refused to follow the terrorist path and became the head of the “Black Repartition” splinter group. Fleeing from the police persecution, Plekhanov left Russia and spent in total 37 years living in exile in Switzerland, Italy, France and other European countries.
In 1883 in Geneva Plekhanov set up the first Russian Marxist “Emancipation of Labour” group, which main idea was to propagate Marxism and to publish works by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. He translated the “Manifesto of the Communist Party” into Russian. Soon Plekhanov became a prominent Marxism theorist.
In the exile Georgy Plekhanov, as a respected leader of the international socialist movement, took part in the congresses of the Second International. He wrote multiple theoretical, journalistic, philosophical and literary works dedicated to aesthetics.
In 1900 Plekhanov along with Lenin started “The Spark” clandestine newspaper. He also took part in the foundation of the Russian Social-Democratic labour party (RSDLP). In 1903 on its II congress the RSDLP party split up into the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks; Plekhanov and Lenin took different paths. During the Russian revolution in 1905-1907, Plekhanov first called for an armed uprising against the autocracy, but after the December revolt in Moscow in 1905 was suppressed, he stated that “taking up arms was not necessary”. He spoke in favour of the socialist-democrats’ participation in the elections to the State Duma and also for the cooperation with the liberals.
During the Russian-Japanese war in 1904-1905, Plekhanov campaigned for the fall of tsarism; to prove that on the Sixth congress of the Second International in Amsterdam he demonstratively shook hands with the Japanese socialist S. Katayama. However, after the outbreak of the World War I he changed his position completely and stood for the Russian triumph over Germany in opposition to the Bolshevik strategy of promoting the defeat of their own country. On March 31, 1917, after the abdication of the monarchy, Plekhanov returned to Russia after almost 4 decades of living in exile. Despite the red carpet reception at the Finlandsky railway station, his defencist position did not allow him to gain public’s support. As the head of the “Unity” social-democratic group, which he had established back in 1914, Plekhanov expressed support to the Provisional Government and its “war till the last dog dies” policy. With his “class harmony” philosophy, Plekhanov turned out to be too right-wing even for the social-revolutionary Menshevik leaders of the Petrograd Soviet. In spite of a sudden healt breakdown, caused by the relapse of tuberculosis, he kept on his journalistic activities and published more than 120 articles and essays in less than a year.
Back in his Motherland, Plekhanov went through a deep crisis of a man, who could not stop his country from falling into the deeps of civil war. He spoke against Lenin’s “April Theses”, calling them “nonsense”. Plekhanov also described Lenin’s appeal for the continuation of the revolution as an “insane and extremely bad attempt to spread the anarchistic chaos around Russian land”. His reaction on the October revolution was very negative, he stated that taking the power “by one class, or what’s even worse, by one party” could lead to deplorable consequences.
Grigory Plekhanov died on May 30, 1918 in the Pitkajarvi Sanatorium in Finland after a long illness. On June, 9 he was buried in Petrograd in the Volkovo Cemetery in Petrograd.
Ticket cost — 200 roubles