On social relations in Russia - Friedrich Engels

arrest of a propagandist

Pamphlet by Engels responding to an "open letter" by the Russian revolutionary Pyotr Tkachev, in which Tkachev had criticized Engels' understanding of the Russian situation. Engels was writing shortly after the "Going to the People/Narod Movement" in Russia, which had largely failed in inspiring a revolution among the peasantry (and which Tkachev had also critiqued). Despite Engels' extensive criticisms of Tkachev's celebration of the Russian mir/peasantry, he still writes that there is a possibilty for Russia to avoid capitalist development on the basis of the Russian commune should Russia be assisted by a proletarian revolution in Western Europe.

Submitted by adri on March 29, 2023



6 months ago

Submitted by adri on March 29, 2023

Engels wrote: The Russian people, this instinctive revolutionist [Engels is mocking a comment by Tkachev], has, true enough, made numerous isolated peasant revolts against the nobility and against individual officials, but never against the tsar, except when a false tsar put himself at its head and claimed the throne. The last great peasant rising, under Catherine II, was only possible because Yemelyan Pugachov [the Pugachev Rebellion] claimed to be her husband, Peter III, who allegedly had not been murdered by his wife, but dethroned and clapped in prison, and had now escaped. The tsar is, on the contrary, the earthly god of the Russian peasant [...]

It's neither here nor there, but it's interesting to note that Bakunin also (correctly) critiqued Russian peasants' admiration for the tsar in the Appendix to his work Statism and Anarchy, along with other aspects of the Russian peasantry/mir. Nonetheless, Bakunin also called on Russian radicals to "go to the people" in the same work. Prior to the emancipation, serfs would often petition the tsar if their lords behaved cruelly or unfairly (not that Russian serfdom wasn't already cruel and unfair); so to a large extent, peasants directed their frustrations at their lords rather than at the tsar or political order itself. If it's of any interest, one can see some historical examples of serfs petitioning the tsar during uprisings in this text here.

Some relevant quotes from Statism and Anarchy:

Bakunin wrote: However beclouded our peasant may be by his senseless historical faith in the tsar, he is finally beginning to understand that himself. And how could he help but understand it! For ten years now, from all corners of Russia he has been sending his deputies to petition the tsar, and they have all heard but one answer from the tsar's own lips: 'You will have no other freedom!'

(One could also note that workers, many of them former peasants who had migrated to the cities, were en route to deliver a petition to the tsar before being shot down in the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1905, sparking the 1905 Revolution.)

Bakunin wrote: In such a situation, what can our intellectual proletariat do, our honest, sincere, utterly dedicated social-revolutionary Russian youth? Without question they must go to the people, because today—and this is true everywhere, but especially in Russia—outside of the people, outside of the multi-million-strong laboring masses, there is neither life, nor cause, nor future.

Red Marriott

5 months 3 weeks ago

Submitted by Red Marriott on April 4, 2023

Pdf of Marx's full comments here; https://libcom.org/article/notes-bakunins-book-statehood-and-anarchy-karl-marx