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In this sweeping history, Steven Marks tells the fascinating story of how Russian figures, ideas, and movements changed our world in dramatic but often unattributed ways.
On Europe's periphery, Russia was an early modernizing nation whose troubles stimulated intellectuals to develop radical and utopian alternatives to Western models of modernity. These provocative ideas gave rise to cultural and political innovations that were exported and adopted worldwide. Wherever there was discontent with modern existence or traditional societies were undergoing transformation, anti-Western sentiments arose. Many people perceived the Russian soul as the antithesis of the capitalist, imperialist West and turned to Russian ideas for inspiration and even salvation.
Steven Marks shows that in this turbulent atmosphere of the past century and a half, Russia's lines of influence were many and reached far. Russia gave the world new ways of writing novels. It launched cutting-edge trends in ballet, theater, and art that revolutionized contemporary cultural life. The Russian anarchist movement benignly shaped the rise of vegetarianism and environmentalism while also giving birth to the violent methods of modern terrorist organizations. Tolstoy's visions of nonviolent resistance inspired Gandhi and the U.S. Civil Rights movement at the same time that Russian anti-Semitic conspiracy theories intoxicated right-wing extremists the world over. And dictators from Mussolini and Hitler to Mao and Saddam Hussein learned from the experiments of the Soviet regime.
Moving gracefully from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Beijing and Berlin, London and Luanda, Mexico and Mississippi, Marks takes us on an intellectual tour of the Russian exports that shaped the twentieth century. The result is a richly textured and stunningly original account of the extent to which Russia--as an idea and a producer of ideas--has contributed to the making of the modern world. Placing Russia in its global context, the book betters our understanding of the anti-Western strivings that have been such a prominent feature of recent history.
"A valuable, accessible, and comprehensive guide. . . . A rich example of the capacity of intellectual history to carry us across borders and over centuries. . . . It is highly recommended for a broad readership."--Anne Gorsuch, History Today
"A scholarly and thought-provoking book."--Choice
"A number of books have explored the West's long and controversial influence on Russia. Few, however, have explored the reverse flow of ideas, and none better than this concise, graceful, amazingly wide-ranging book."--Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs
"An extraordinarily wide-ranging and exhaustively researched study of Russia's influence on the world from the 1880s to the present. . . . [A] fascinating, complex, and rich text that makes compelling arguments about Russia's influence upon the world. This work should be of interest not only to many Russianists, but also to a more general audience with little or no background in Russia."--Rebecca Epstein Matveyev, Slavic and East European Journal
"This is an imaginative, synthetic, and stimulating exploration of one of the major phenomena of our world, the Russian contribution to the revolt against the modern west. . . . [It] is a marvelous introduction to that antimodern revolution for the general reader, the student, and even the specialist."--Robert C. Williams, Slavic Review
ORGANIZING REVOLUTION: THE RUSSIAN TERRORISTS
ANARCHISM was the first Russian intellectual movement to have a significant international impact. Its glorious promises for society's future electrified followers around the world, and the organizational and killing methods developed by its Russian revolutionary adherents to fight the tsarist regime marked the birth of modern terrorism.
Anarchism was a branch of socialism that arose in mid-nineteenth-century France and England as a combined legacy of the Enlightenment belief in the perfectibility of humankind and the Romantic fervor for noble savages and stormy rebelliousness. It stood against the European state, whose powers had grown tremendously in recent decades, and against bourgeois industrialism, the ills of which were often, in the beginning, more apparent than the benefits.1
Given the overbearing power of the tsarist state and the sudden encroachments of capitalism, Russia's intellectuals were naturally receptive to European ideas like anarchism, and in fact Russians became the acknowledged leaders of the international anarchist movement as it developed after the 1860s. These radicals transformed anarchist thought from a philosophy dreamed up by a few eccentric western Europeans into a strategy of revolutionary action. Their anarchism was a form of underground political warfare that battled to destroy the existing political-economic system and prepare the ground for a new egalitarian era in human existence. The methods they devised were imitated and adapted around the world, making Russian revolutionary practice a global phenomenon well before the appearance of Bolshevism.
"The passion for destruction"
The most internationally prominent Russian revolutionary was the anarchist leader and rival of Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), who should be regarded as one of the fathers of modern terrorism, as he was known at the turn of the nineteenth century.2 As a young man, this wealthy nobleman had renounced his elevated status and devoted his life to the cause of revolution. From the 1840s to the 1870s, when not detained in the dungeons of eastern Europe, Bakunin exhorted zealously radical audiences to action in France, the Germanies, Italy, Poland, and Switzerland. He threw himself into their uprisings, often fighting on the barricades himself in Breslau (1848), Prague (1848), Dresden (1849), Chemnitz (1849), Lyons (1871), and Bologna (1874).
Or that was the image he cultivated. The reality was somewhat different. An unscrupulous egotist, Bakunin wanted to be considered the sole leader of world revolution and fantasized wildly about his revolutionary activity. This "Romantic dilettante" egged on the street fighters and was quick to preach revolutionary violence, but flitting from revolt to revolt, he fired only a few shots at best.3 He was more a radical celebrity than an active participant. And his theoretical tracts were illogical, clichéd, and semicoherent. Full of "fire and imagination, violence and poetry," their mood was more important than their philosophical content, which was far inferior to the prodigious work of his nemesis Marx.4
Bakunin and most Russian anarchists were atheists. Yet Russian revolutionary ideas were infused with spiritual yearning and secular ideological substitutes for religiosity. It is not surprising that these elements should have remained so strong, given the emphases of contemporaneous European Romanticism and the centrality of Orthodox Christianity in Russian culture. Religious messianism was transferred to the revolutionary movement, a process Bakunin embodied. Philosophy was for him a substitute for religion, and never in his career did he refrain from speaking of the Absolute or from using quasi-mystical language. His whole life was a search for inner harmony and what he supposed to be the lost unity of mankind. He was convinced that his own existence was part of a cosmic plan, that he was destined to remake the earth along the lines of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Like many of his intelligentsia contemporaries, Bakunin believed that Russia would be the salvation of the world. Russia to him was the guiding star for all mankind: "In Moscow from a sea of blood and flame the constellation of the revolution will rise, high and beautiful, and will become the guiding star for the good of all liberated mankind."5 Portraying himself as a barbarian from the savage East fighting for the liberation of humanity, he preached Russia's radical mission in Europe, where the number of proselytes grew steadily larger: in the age of Romantic-inspired exoticism and Orientalism, his appeal was enormous.
Bakunin's messianism was centered on the peasantry. Like many of his Russian intelligentsia contemporaries, Bakunin worshiped the peasant masses as the vessels of the Absolute. Having absorbed European Romantic notions of the noble savage and the rebellious spirit, he was convinced that in Russia and elsewhere they were ripe for revolt against contemporary civilization. He also saw bloodthirsty bandits as subconscious revolutionaries and assumed that urban riffraff and economically threatened craftsmen would play a large role in the coming revolution. They would all be led by the déclassé intellectuals of preindustrial nations, who were, unlike their comfortable Western counterparts, "unwashed" and full of revolutionary vigor.
Bakunin's call for violent peasant uprising was a far cry from Marxism, which by and large focused on the urban working class and expected that the revolution would come first in the advanced industrial regions of Europe. Bakunin had a prophetic understanding that the great revolutions of the modern era would come from the lower depths of what we would call underdeveloped, but proto-capitalist societies. His emphases on the revolutionary spontaneity of peasants and the urban rabble gained him a large following in the agrarian southern periphery of western Europe as well as throughout Latin America.
Everywhere, though, the non-Marxist left was attracted to Bakunin's attacks on government in defense of freedom. In his apocalyptic anarchist vision, once the destruction of the modern state took place, paradise would appear on the ruins, "a new heaven and a new earth, a young and magnificent world in which all our present discords will resolve themselves... Let us... trust the eternal Spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternally creative source of all life. The passion for destruction is a creative passion, too."6 With these expectations he declared war against all centralized governments, whether democracies or monarchies. And he vilified Marx's concept of a dictatorship of the proletariat "because it concentrates the strength of society in the state,... whereas my principle is the abolition of the state, which has perpetually enslaved, exploited, and depraved mankind under the pretext of making it moral and civilized."7
Curiously, Bakunin, whose fame as an anarchist rests on his struggle to shield the freedom of the individual from the depredations of big government, was a closet authoritarian. Bakunin talked extensively about "absolute liberty" and the rejection of all authority, but this meant all authority except the one he wanted to create. At the same time that he wrote Statism and Anarchy, an unfinished work on the philosophy of liberty, he was writing private letters arguing for the necessity of a dictatorship to organize the future anarchist communal society.
How do we reconcile the apparent contradictions in Bakunin, the defense of individualism and liberty on the one hand and the belief in the necessity of dictatorship on the other? By "freedom" Bakunin meant not what Western liberals understood it to be-the condition resulting from legal limits that curtailed the intrusiveness of government-but rather something akin to spiritual freedom and universal wholeness. This was a mystical notion derived from both Russian Orthodox metaphysics and the Romanticera assumption that all men partook of the Absolute. It required not the preservation of individualism but rather its total dissolution in a collective form of unity that would free humankind from the suffering brought on by the selfish competitiveness of the capitalist bourgeoisie. In his vision, human liberation would come about only after a revolutionary elite seized power through its secret organization and established a dictatorship to force people to accept a new egalitarian social order.
He developed these conspiratorial notions in the second phase of his career. For his participation in the 1848 revolutions, he spent more than ten years in captivity in Saxony, Austria, and, finally, Russia. But in 1861 he escaped from Siberian exile, crossed the United States, and returned to Europe. Living as a fugitive in Switzerland, he came into contact with young Russian radicals, among them Sergei Nechaev, with whom between 1869 and 1871 he developed behavioral guidelines for the professional revolutionary cell. These had a major impact on modern politics, by providing rudimentary principles for the world's first organized terrorist movements.
Nechaev was born in 1847, the son of a house-painter.8 He cultivated a resentment of cultured society in his provincial town and was inspired by Bakunin's writings to enter the growing Russian radical movement. He became a fanatical ascetic, living on bread and milk and sleeping on the bare floor. He developed conspiratorial ideas drawing on Russian and French revolutionary sources, including the theories of the Russian Jacobin, Pyotr Tkachëv. On a visit to Switzerland, Nechaev conned Bakunin into believing that he was the head of a revolutionary organization with hundreds of members. To impress Nechaev, Bakunin boasted of leading the World Revolutionary Alliance, which despite Bakunin's intimations had at the time exactly two members-Bakunin and Nechaev.
Nechaev returned to Russia as an agent of this "organization" with instructions to form a Moscow branch. There he encountered a student named Ivanov who expressed doubts about Nechaev's credentials. To exact the total obedience he expected of the other members he had recruited, Nechaev induced them to collaborate in Ivanov's murder, falsely claiming he was a police spy. The deed was done in November 1869, and the body was dumped into an ice-covered pond, the whole episode forming the basis for Dostoevsky's antirevolutionary novel, Devils. All of the perpetrators were caught but Nechaev, who escaped back to Switzerland. In 1872, he was arrested there and deported back to Russia, where ten years later he died of scurvy in prison.
In tandem with Bakunin, Nechaev has left a mark on history through the fruit of their collaboration, the "Catechism of a Revolutionary." The Catechism was written by the two of them in Geneva in the summer of 1869. It consists of twenty-six commands on revolutionary organization, behavior, and commitment. According to its commands, members of the conspiracy are grouped in cells and are to carry out assigned tasks obediently. An adherent must sacrifice traditional morality, family ties, and, if need be, his own life for the revolution. "He is not a revolutionary if he feels compassion for something in this world." He assumes a normal existence to conceal his true identity, but he must be dedicated to the total destruction of corrupt, civilized society. "Day and night he should have only a single thought, a single aim: pitiless destruction."9
Although some of these elements were evident in earlier nineteenth-century Russian, French, and Italian revolutionary thought, the Catechism marked a step toward the systematization of revolutionary conspiracy. Together, Bakunin and Nechaev established the terrorists' creed and suggested the organizational means to kill in the name of a cause. Partly stimulated by Bakunin and Nechaev, terrorism was given its specific modern forms as a portion of the next generation of Russian radicals became converts to revolutionary conspiracy.
If Bakunin and Nechaev provided the ultra-radicals with the Catechism, Nikolai Chernyshevsky's novel, What Is to Be Done?, written in 1863, served as their Bible.10 Chernyshevsky (1828-1889) was the son of a parish priest in Saratov on the Volga River and a graduate of a theological seminary. Attracted to socialism, he ended his theological studies and moved to St. Petersburg, where by the late 1850s he had become a prominent literary critic and revolutionary publicist. He was arrested in 1862 for his connection to radical organizations and spent seven years at hard labor and thirteen additional years in exile in Siberia, all of which lent him the aura of a martyr. In the words of the terrorist Nikolai Ishutin, "there have been three great men in the world: Jesus Christ, Paul the Apostle, and Chernyshevsky."11
While he saw himself primarily as a social and literary critic, he also earned his reputation from What Is to Be Done?, written while he was incarcerated. The novel featured heroes Vera Pavlovna and Rakhmetov, who came to be seen as prototypes of the new man and new woman. Although recent scholarship shows that Rakhmetov was intended as a minor, negative character, through him the book unintentionally provided a model of a disciplined, fanatical revolutionary. Rakhmetov sleeps on a bed of nails and renounces relations with women. He disdains good manners and male dominance as products of an artificial civilization. Many readers thought Rakhmetov peculiar, as the author meant him to appear, but some extremists admired him as the ideal revolutionary, who lives in a commune, is morally perfect, and offers devotion not to God but to science, equality, and socialism. More central to the novel was the female protagonist, Vera Pavlovna, who escapes her oppressive life by means of a fictitious marriage, then establishes a sewing co-op and becomes a political activist. She is a Nihilist who stands for wiping the slate of culture and politics clean and is dedicated to working for social improvement, but she also has room for personal fulfillment through love.
The effect was the opposite of what Chernyshevsky expected from a book that ridiculed utopianism. What Is to Be Done? had a dramatic impact on the Russian intelligentsia. Whether they called themselves Nihilists, Populists (Narodniki-from narod, Russian for "the people"), anarchists, or Marxists, succeeding generations of radical youth attempted to conform with their perceptions of Chernyshevsky's characters. A newspaper in 1864 described female Nihilists: "Most [of them]... dress in impossibly filthy fashion, rarely wash their hands,... always cut their hair, and sometimes even shave it off... They read [materialist philosophers] exclusively,...
Excerpted from How Russia Shaped the Modern World by Steven G. Marks Excerpted by permission.
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|List of Illustrations|
|Ch. 1||Organizing Revolution: The Russian Terrorists||7|
|Ch. 2||Kropotkin's Anti-Darwinian Anarchism||38|
|Ch. 3||Dostoevsky's Messianic Irrationalism||58|
|Ch. 4||Tolstoy and the Nonviolent Imperative||102|
|Ch. 5||Destroying the Agents of Modernity: Russian Anti-Semitism||140|
|Ch. 6||Conveying Higher Truth Onstage: Ballet and Theater||176|
|Ch. 7||Abstract Art and the Regeneration of Mankind||228|
|Ch. 8||The Dream of Communism||275|
|Ch. 9||Communism and the New Forms of Dictatorship||299|