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Plekhanov, Georgiĭ Valentinovich

    Full Name: Plekhanov, Georgiĭ Valentinovich

    Other Names:

    • Georgiĭ Plekhanov

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1856

    Date Died: 1918

    Place Born: Gudalovka, Lipetsk Oblast, Russia

    Place Died: St. Petersburg, Russia

    Home Country/ies: Russia

    Subject Area(s): Marxism


    Marxist art theorist, author of a monograph on eighteenth-century French art monograph. He died in “Terioka, Russia near Petrograd, which is in present-day St. Petersburg, Russia.

    Selected Bibliography

    Art and Society. Translated by Paul S. Leitner et al. New York: Critics Group, 1936. =============================He is generally considered the founder of Russian Marxism.Plekhanov was born to minor Russian nobility of long-standing military tradition. He initially studied at the Konstantinovskoe Military School in St. Petersburg beginning in 1873,but left soon because of ambiguous allegiance to the czar. The Russian revolutionary leaders were fragmented between the peasant commune and the socialist intellectual revolutionaries. The decision to agitate by use of terror resulted in Plekhanov’s founding of the Black Redistribution and his fleeing to Europe in 1880.Plekhanov studied Marxism in Geneva founding the first Russian Marxist revolutionary organization in 1883, the Group for the Emancipation of Labor. He published Socialism and Political Struggle (1883) and Our Differences (1885) major contributions to Russian Marxism political theory. Plekhanov posited a two-stage revolution: a proletariat and bourgeoisie to fight czarist autocracy and second, the proletariat struggle against the bourgeoisie to complete the revolution.Condemned by many non-Marxist socialists in Russian, his writings re-emerged in the 1890s when severe famine and industrialization made Marxism more appealing. Plekhanov published The Development of the Monistic View of History (1894) under the pseudonym Beltov. The book conalscence Russian Marxiam. His 1896 Essays on the History of Materialism coined the term “dialectical materialism.”Vladimir Lenin used Plekhanov’s theories to establish a Marxist party of disciplined and conspiratorial leaders. At the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democrats in 1903 Plekhanov initially supported Lenin and the Bolsheviks, but feared Lenin as a dictator rather than a leader of proletariat. The Russian Revolution of 1905 weakened his authority. In 1909 Plekhanov began writing The History of Russian Social Thought, a theory to apply Marxist theory to the production of products as well as art and literature. Following the collapse of the Russian monarchy in February 1917, Plekhanov insisted that Russia was only in the bourgeois stage of revolution and that it must remain in the war against Germany. This stance alienated him form the militant revolutionaries who favored the popular demand for peace and land. After the Bolsheviks seized power in October, Plekhanov found himself isolated and ill. He died on May 30, 1918. FURTHER READINGS The only complete study of Plekhanov and his times in a Western language is Samuel Baron, Plekhanov: The Father of Russian Marxism (1963). It is both a perceptive study of Plekhanov’s life and writings and a profound analysis of the relationship of Russian Marxism to Russian populism, social democracy, and bolshevism. Another excellent guide to Plekhanov’s relationship to the Russian revolutionary movement is in Leopold H. Haimson, The Russian Marxists and the Origins of Bolshevism (1955). Baron, Samuel H., Plekhanov in Russian history and Soviet historiography, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995. ==================== the son of a poor nobleman. After graduating from a military academy in Voronezh, he studied at the Mining Institute in St. Petersburg. As a student he joined the revolutionary movement and became one of the leaders of the revolutionary organization of the Narodniki (Populists), called Zemlia i volia (Soil and freedom). After Zemlia i volia split into the terroristic Narodnaia volia (People’s freedom) and the Bakuninist-anarchist Chernyi peredel (Redistribution of soil) groups, Plekhanov became the leading theoretician of the Chernyi peredel group. In the beginning of 1880, Plekhanov emigrated to France and then settled in Switzerland. Between 1880 and 1882 he turned from Populism to Marxism, and in 1883 he founded in Geneva the first Russian Marxist group, Osvobozhdenie truda (The emancipation of labor). In the summer of 1889 he took part in the founding congress of the Second International. In the late 1890s Plekhanov was one of the first to criticize both the international revisionism of Eduard Bernstein and its Russian variant, “economism.” In 1900, Plekhanov’s group joined forces with a new group headed by V. I. Lenin. The two groups organized the second congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party in London in 1902 His grasp of Marxist dialectic made his works useful in the ideological battle with enemies both within and outside the Russian Social Democratic Party. This was perfectly understood by Lenin, who maintained a working relationship with Plekhanov from 1895 until 1903. Plekhanov’s disbelief in the victory of the proletariat compelled him to diverge from Lenin, who nevertheless continued to recommend Plekhanov’s works. Plekhanov paid considerable attention to questions of aesthetics. His view was that the scientific theory of aesthetics should develop on the basis of a “materialist understanding of history”. He suggested that art is born of people’s labour and that an aesthetic sense develops out of practical experience in the course of social development. At the same time he criticized all other theories about the origins of art. While not denying the individuality of the artist, mainly expressed in the treatment of form, he suggested that the content of art is the result of the differences in consciousness of distinct social classes. He was critical of contemporary art, considering it to be, with rare exceptions, “bourgeois”. For Plekhanov, quality was a matter of moral and social principles, which led him to divide creative work into the “artistic” and the “intellectual”. WRITINGS Literatura i estetika [Literature and aesthetics], 2 vols (Moscow, 1958)


    KRG, 130-1; KMP, 26 n. 56; Laing, Dave. The Marxist Theory of Art. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1978; Turchin, V. S. “Plekhanov, Georgy (Valentinovich).” Dictionary of Art; “Plekhanov, Georgi Valentinovich.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd ed.


    "Plekhanov, Georgiĭ Valentinovich." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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