Peter Lavrov

Peter Lavrov


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Peter Lavrov was born in Russia on 2nd June, 1823. He entered a military academy and graduated in 1842. After a career as a army officer Lavrov taught at St. Petersburg University.

Lavrov developed radical views and his outspoken views on the need to bring an end to serfdom and autocratic rule resulted in him being arrested and sent into internal exile to the Ural Mountains in 1868. He managed to escape and travelled to Paris.

Lavrov explained his political views in Historical Letters (1870). He also edited the newspaper, Vpered! (Forwards!). In 1870 he became a member of the International Workingmen's Association. He was also involved in the Paris Commune. Lavrov moved to Zürich in November 1872, where he engaged in a debate with Mikhail Bakunin, the co-author of Catechism of a Revolutionist. It included the famous passage: "The Revolutionist is a doomed man. He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own. His entire being is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion - the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, good manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose - to destroy it."

Lavrov disagreed with Bakunin about the way change will be achieved. In 1873 he argued: "The reconstruction of Russian society must be achieved not only for the sake of the people, but also through the people. But the masses are not yet ready for such reconstruction. Therefore the triumph of our ideas cannot be achieved at once, but requires preparation and clear understanding of what is possible at the given moment."

In To the Russian Revolutionary Youth (1874) Lavrov attempted to explain how dictatorships are formed: "History has shown us, and psychology proves, that the possession of great power corrupts the best people, and that even the ablest leaders, who meant to benefit the people by decree, failed. Every dictatorship must surround itself by compulsory means of defence which must serve as obedient tools in its hands. Every dictatorship is called upon to suppress not only its reactionary opponents but also those who disagree with its methods and actions."

In 1883 Georgi Plekhanov joined with Pavel Axelrod to form the Liberation of Labour group. This group argued that it would be impossible to overthrow Russia's authoritarian government and replace it with peasant communes. They believed that a socialist revolution would only come with the development of a revolutionary industrial workers’ party. Lavrov pointed out that almost 90% of the Russian population and that a revolutionary vanguard would create a dictatorship: "Whenever a dictatorship succeeded in establishing itself it had to spend more time and effort in retaining its power and defending it against its rivals than upon the realization of its programme, with the aid of that power. The abolition of dictatorship assumed by a party can only be dreamed about before the usurpation takes place. In the struggle of parties for power, in the class of open or concealed ambitions, every moment furnishes an added reason and necessity for maintaining the dictatorship, creates a new excuse for not relinquishing it. A dictatorship can be wrested from the dictators only by a new revolution."

Lavrov initially argued that progress came about from the deliberate action of "critically thinking individuals". The role of intellectuals was to imbue the people with the knowledge that would help them to attain "the moral ideal of socialism". Later he was converted to Marxism and allocated a greater role to economic forces in obtaining political change.

Peter Lavrov died on 25th January 1900.

The reconstruction of Russian society must be achieved not only for the sake of the people, but also through the people. Therefore the triumph of our ideas cannot be achieved at once, but requires preparation and clear understanding of what is possible at the given moment.

History has shown us, and psychology proves, that the possession of great power corrupts the best people, and that even the ablest leaders, who meant to benefit the people by decree, failed. Every dictatorship is called upon to suppress not only its reactionary opponents but also those who disagree with its methods and actions. Whenever a dictatorship succeeded in establishing itself it had to spend more time and effort in retaining its power and defending it against its rivals than upon the realization of its programme, with the aid of that power. A dictatorship can be wrested from the dictators only by a new revolution.

Falsehood can never be the means for spreading truth. Exploitation or the authoritarian rule of the individual can never be the means for the realization of justice. Triumph over idle pleasure cannot be attained by the forcible seizure of unearned wealth, or the transfer of the opportunity for enjoyment from one individual to another. People who assert that the end justifies the means should keep in mind the limitation of their rule by the rather simple truism; except those means which undermine the goal itself.


Peter Lavrovich Lavrov

Pyotr Lavrovich Lavrov (Russian: Пётр Ла́врович Лавро́в alias Mirtov ( Миртов ) (June 2 (June 14 N.S.), 1823 – January 25 (February 6 N.S.), 1900) was a prominent Russian theorist of narodism, philosopher, publicist, and sociologist.

He entered a military academy and graduated in 1842 as an army officer. He became well-versed in natural science, history, logic, philosophy, and psychology. He also became an instructor in mathematics for two decades.

Lavrov joined the revolutionary movement as a radical in 1862. His actions led to his being exiled to the Ural Mountains in 1868 from which he soon escaped and fled abroad. In France, he lived mostly in Paris, where he became a member of the Anthropological Society. Lavrov had been attracted to European socialist ideas early on, though at first he did not know how they applied to Russia. [ 1 ] While he was in Paris, Lavrov fully committed himself to the revolutionary socialist movement. He became a member of the Ternes section of the International Workingmen's Association in 1870. He was also present at the start of the Paris Commune, and soon went abroad to generate international support.

Lavrov arrived in Zürich in November 1872, and became a rival of Mikhail Bakunin's in the "Russian Colony". In Zürich he lived in the Frauenfeld house near the university. Lavrov tended more toward reform than revolution, or at least saw reform as salutary. He preached against the conspiratorial ideology of Peter Tkachev and others like him. Lavrov believed that while a coup d'état would be easy in Russia, the creation of a socialist society needed to involve the Russian masses. [ 1 ] He founded the journal Forward! in 1872, its first issue appearing in August 1873. Lavrov used this journal to publicize his analysis of Russia's peculiar historical development.

Lavrov was a prolific writer for more than 40 years. His works include The Hegelian Philosophy (1858–59) and Studies in the Problems of Practical Philosophy (1860). While living in exile, he edited his Socialist review, Forward!. A contribution to the revolutionary cause, Historical Letters (1870) was written under the pseudonym Mirtov. The letters greatly influenced the revolutionary activity in Russia. He was called "Peter Lawroff" in Die Neue Zeit (1899–1900) by K. Tarassoff.


References

1. The term “populism” is like most “isms.” It has only the broadest prescriptive meaning. Marxism, with all its varieties and factions, has a more precise meaning at least it has locus in the tangible, written work of one scholar-activist (Marx) and his collaborator (Engels). Populism is an elastic term traditionally applied to a vast range of views and movements, ranging from the 1840s into the twentieth century, from the aristocratic litterateur and journalist, Alexander Herzen, to the terrorist of peasant stock, Alexei Zheliabov, from conservatives to revolutionists. Any attempt to give the term specific meaning must be tentative and skeptical. Any pretense to precise or absolute usage must exclude more than it includes, must obscure more than it illuminates. Witness the first chapter of Walicki , Andrzej 's The Controversy Over Capitalism ( Oxford , 1969 )Google Scholar . The term was scarcely used at all in the years of most intense “populist” revolutionary activity, the 1870s. “Populism” has often been used freely and anachronistically to apply to men and movements that did not know the term.

2. See Sovetskaia istoricheskaia entsiklopediia, s.v. “Narodnichestvo,” 9: 922-23, where populism is described as “a special variety of Utopian socialism…. The main substance of the theory of Russian Utopian socialism is the faith in the possibility of a direct transition—passing over capitalism—to socialism by means of the peasant obshchina which is assigned a special role.” Returning to the source, the article quotes Lenin, who wrote that the fundamental characteristic of populism was “faith in a special configuration, in the communal [obshchinnyi] structure of Russian life.“

3. Many examples could be cited two will suffice. Janko , Lavrin , “ Populists and Slavophiles ,” Russian Review , 21 , no. 4 (October 1962 ): 307 – 17 Google Scholar , refers to populism as “secularized Slavophilism—with due reservations, of course.” But, reservations aside, both populists and Slavophiles “cherished a sincere love” for the unique “social” and “moral” significance of the peasant masses: “The populists, no less than the Slavophiles, hated the character of the capitalist Western civilization” and were as one in their “idealization of the obshchina.” Isaiah Berlin's introduction to Franco Venturi's monumental Roots of Revolution (London and New York, 1960), p. xxviii, concludes that all populists, of whatever shade, were “dominated by a single myth: that once the monster was slain, the sleeping princess—the Russian peasantry—would awaken and without further ado live happily for ever after.“

4. Leonid Shishko, who was active in the Russian movement from his youth (1873) until his death (1910), has maintained that Lavrov's influence was greater than Bakunin's. Bakunin, of course, made a strong impression on the Russian movement, but his influence was very brief, in essence only 1872-76 see Tkachenko , P. S. , Revoliutsionnaia narodnicheskaia organizatsiia “Zemlia i Volia” (1876-1879 gg.) ( Moscow , 1961 ), p. 39 Google Scholar . Tkachenko cites evidence to support Shishko's position. He emphasizes the broad and enduring influence of Lavrov's revolutionary thought. Vpered!, for example, “played a great role in the formation of the revolutionary consciousness not only of its strict adherents but even of those who stood far from the Lavristic position.” Tkachenko rightly and regretfully notes that Lavrov's influence on the Russian revolutionary movement remains almost totally neglected.

5. Vpered! was published in periodical and nonperiodical editions from 1873 to 1877, from the “going to the people” until the formation of the revolutionary organization Land and Liberty. Around two thousand copies per volume of the nonperiodical edition of Vpered! were published. In response to the significant increase in demand and circulation, the periodical edition increased production from two thousand copies per semimonthly issue in 1875 to three thousand per issue in 1876. The journal experienced a sharp increase in popularity when it shifted attention from the more academic issues (“knowledge and revolution,” etc.) to the hard-core problems of social analysis and revolutionary tactics. Testimony delivered at the two major trials of revolutionary activists in the 1870s reveals that Vpere! was widely distributed throughout Russia and was read with care. The journal had a prominent place in the libraries of underground organizations in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Tula, Kharkov, Taganrog, Orenburg, Poltava, Samara, Nikolaevsk, and many other important centers of revolutionary activity. See Protsess 50-ti (London, 1877) and Protsess 193-kh (Moscow, 1906). On occasion, an especially important lead article would be hectographed for wider use (Protsess 193-kh, p. 127).

6. In addition to his major articles on this topic, listed in notes 11 and 15, Lavrov communicated his views throughout the last thirty years of his life in many places and publications. His apartment became a mecca for recently emigrated Russian radicals. There he conducted “seminars” on socialism which were attended by many future activists in the Russian movement (see my article on Plekhanov and Lavrov in 1877, to be published by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in a sbornik on populism). And he continued to write on topics related to the international revolutionary movement. He was close to the editorial board of the French Marxist journal L'Égalité, which first appeared in November 1877, edited by Jules Guesde and supported by Cesar de Paepe and Benoit Malon. Later he was close to Clemenceau's Justice in 1880. In that year Plekhanov drew close to Lavrov again, and soon Lavrov was, de facto if not de jure, a member of the “Chernyi peredel” group. He wrote the important programmatic article, “Neskol'ko slov ob organizatsii partii,” for their journal, Chernyi peredel, no. 3 (1880).

When Plekhanov's group broke off relations with the People's Will in 1883, Lavrov chose to stay with that group, which he felt was prepared to continue the actual (as opposed to the theoretical) revolutionary cause. Lavrov became coeditor, with Lev Tikhomirov, of the major journal of the Russian revolutionary movement of the 1880s, Vestnik “Narodnoi voli,” from 1883 to 1886. His published lecture, Natsional'nosf i sotsialism (Geneva, 1887), was widely read. When the socialist movement began to stir again in the late 1880s, after almost ten years of decline, Lavrov was near the center of action. He wrote important programmatic articles for the journals Samoupravlenie (“Pis'mo v redaktsiiu P. Lavrova,” no. 2, 1888) and Sotsialist (“Pis'ma k russkim liudiam,” no. 1, 1889). He was the most highly esteemed Russian at the founding congress of the Second International in 1889 see Istoriia vtorogo intematsionala, 1 (Moscow, 1965): 144. When the central journal of the German Social Democratic Party, Vorwärts, was revived in 1891, Lavrov was invited to write on the Russian movement see especially his series of articles, “Die revolutionaren Stromungen in Russland,” Vorwärts, nos. 107, 127, and 163 (May 10, June 4, and July 16, 1891). He remained a staunch supporter of the international socialist movement until his death. And he also remained in contact with Russian affairs. He was one of the organizers and leaders of the radical Committee for the Struggle with Hunger, with Plekhanov and P. B. Axelrod, in 1891-92. Lavrov helped launch one of the first journals of the future Socialist Revolutionary Party, Russkii rabochii, in 1894. And in response to a request for guidance on political issues, he wrote a long and detailed account of the current status and future needs of the Russian movement, “P. L. Lavrov o programnykh voprosakh,” Letuchii listok Narodovol'tsev, no. 4 (Dec. 9, 189S). He was the core of a Paris-based group of “Old Narodovoltsy,” and he coordinated and wrote part of their sixteen-volume Materialy dlia istorii russkago sotsial'no-revoliutsionnago dvizheniia (Geneva, 1893-96).

7. Strong and extensive evidence exists which indicates that Lavrov directly influenced almost every facet of the Russian revolutionary socialist movement from the 1870s until his death. For his influence on the movement in the 1870s, see M. G. , Sedov , “ P. L. Lavrov v revoliutsionnom dvizhenii Rossii ,” Voprosy istorii , 1969 , no. 3 , pp. 55 –72Google Scholar Itenberg , B. S. , Dvizhenie revoliutsionnogo narodnichestva ( Moscow , 1965 ), pp. 194–217 Google Scholar M. M. , Karpovich , “ P. L. Lavrov and Russian Socialism ,” California Slavic Studies , 2 ( 1963 ): 21 –38Google Scholar T. M. , Kirichenko , “ K voprosu ob obshchestvenno-politicheskikh vzgliadakh P. L. Lavrova v 70-80-kh godakh XIX v. ,” Trudy Moskovskogo gosudarstvennogo istoriko-arkhivnogo instituta , 18 ( 1963 ): 443 –63Google Scholar and Knizhnik-Vetrov , I. , P. L. Lavrov ( Moscow , 1930 ).Google Scholar

Lavrov's important role in the emergence of Russian Marxian socialism has yet to be assessed properly on Plekhanov, see note 6 and Plekhanov's letters to Lavrov in 1880-81, in Deich , L. G. , ed., G. V. Plekhanov: Materialy dlia biografii ( Moscow , 1922 ), 1 : 79 and 87Google Scholar on Lavrov's general influence on the development of Marxism, see, for example, Steklov , Iu. M. , Otkasyvaemsia li my ot nasledstva? K voprosu ob istoricheskom podgotovlenii russkoi sotsial-demokratii ( Geneva , 1902 )Google Scholar . P. B. Axelrod, who began his career as a Lavrist, credited Lavrov with introducing certain elements of Marxism and Social Democracy to Russia see his Rabochee dvizhenie i sotsial'naia demokratiia (Geneva, 1884). It can be said that Lavrov “prepared the ground” for the eventual predominance of German Social Democratic ideas in the movement see Boris , Sapir , “ Unknown Chapters in the History of ‘Vpered, ' ” International Review of Social History , 2 ( 1957 ): 53 Google Scholar . The first Marxist group inside Russia, formed by the Bulgarian Dmitrii Blagoev, received as much inspiration from Lavrov as from any other Russian source see Shnitman , A , “ K voprosu o vliianii russkogo revoliutsionnogo dvizhenie v Bolgarii ” Voprosy istorii , 1949 , no. 1 , p. 40 Google Scholar Labelle , D , “ Dmitrii Blagoev in Russia: An Autobiographical Letter ,” International Review of Social History , 9 ( 1964 ): 286 –97CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Is arkhiva P. B. Aksel'roda (Berlin, 1924), p. 108.


Historical Note

In case readers are not clear about who the players are in this drama and what they represent, the authors provide this explanation: “The term ‘the West,’ when said by Russian officials, typically refers to the United States and its sphere of influence in Europe.”

In other words, lest the readers think that Lavrov’s remarks concern the drift of history and the evolution of cultures, the authors remind us that it is all about the existential rivalry between the US and Russia, both actors being cast to play violently opposed characters in a scripted melodrama. The article even hints that the term the “West” is a relic of the “newspeak” or “langue de bois” that George Orwell attributed to communist regimes in his famous novel, “1984.”

When historians and geopolitical analysts speak of the “West,” they generally include much more than the purely political dimension as defined exclusively by governments and their interests. They include the culture and zeitgeist in their account of the causes of events. All lucid observers recognize that the US plays a dominant role in the global political system and especially in the economy. But they generally avoid reducing Europe to the “sphere of influence” of the US. That is closer to an example of American newspeak than the Russian version.

There is no doubt that Lavrov has highlighted the thinking and action of political leaders when he speaks of the difficulty they have of accepting the trend toward a multi-polar world. But he correctly describes a broader cultural shift that affects how even the average person in the West understands the changes now taking place.

The world is becoming multipolar and polycentric. The biggest source of conflict in the past 20 years has its origin in the resistance of the monopolists to allowing a globalized economy at the service of a military empire to break free of the standardized vision of history they have adopted — a vision that allowed Francis Fukuyama to believe for a time that there might be an end of history and Thomas Friedman to believe that the world had become flat, due to the acceptance of a single, globalized economic and cultural model.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


Petr Lavrov short biography

Petr Lavrovich Lavrov a brief biography of a philosopher, publicist, one of the ideologists of Narodism is outlined in this article.

Short biography of Peter Lavrov

Lavrov Peter Lavrovich was born on June 14, 1823 in the small village of Melekhov, Velikolutsk district, Pskov province, in a family of nobles.

In the period 1837-1844 he studied in St. Petersburg at the Artillery School. Then he taught mathematics in local educational institutions. In 1858 he received the title of professor and official rank.

In the mid 50-ies of the XIX century became interested in the problems of philosophy. Lavrov even formed his own system, which he called anthropologism. The philosophical system is based on a free person who comes into conflict with an unjust society. Therefore, society must be transformed.

In the period from 1861 to 1863 he headed the "Encyclopedic Dictionary compiled by Russian scientists and writers", and also served as the unofficial editor of the journal called "Foreign Messenger".

The year 1866 was difficult for Lavrov: he was arrested for disseminating "harmful ideas" and exiled to the Vologda province under the constant supervision of the police.

In the winter of 1870, Lavrov fled to Paris, a little later moved to Zurich, then to London. In London, published a magazine called "Go!". After 6 years, he returned to Paris, where he lived the rest of his life.

The main work of Peter Lavrovich is “Historical Letters”, in which he substantiated the need for “going to the people”. In the 80s, he came together as a revolutionary organization called “Narodnaya Volya” and began to publish the journal “Bulletin of the Narodnaya Volya”, publishing the main ideas and views of the organization.


Pyotr Lavrov

Pyotr Lavrovich Lavrov (Russian: Пётр Ла́врович Лавро́в alias Mirtov (Миртов) (June 2 (June 14 N.S.), 1823 – January 25 (February 6 N.S.), 1900) was a prominent Russian theorist of narodism, philosopher, publicist, and sociologist.

He entered a military academy and graduated in 1842 as an army officer. He became well-versed in natural science, history, logic, philosophy, and psychology. He also became an instructor in mathematics for two decades.

Lavrov joined the revolutionary movement as a radical in 1862. His actions led to his being exiled to the Ural Mountains in 1868 from which he soon escaped and fled abroad. In France, he lived mostly in Paris, where he became a member of the Anthropological Society. Lavrov had been attracted to European socialist ideas early on, though at first he did not know how they applied to Russia. While he was in Paris, Lavrov fully committed himself to the revolutionary socialist movement. He became a member of the Ternes section of the International Workingmen's Association in 1870. He was also present at the start of the Paris Commune, and soon went abroad to generate international support.

Lavrov arrived in Zürich in November 1872, and became a rival of Mikhail Bakunin's in the "Russian Colony". In Zürich he lived in the Frauenfeld house near the university. Lavrov tended more toward reform than revolution, or at least saw reform as salutary. He preached against the conspiratorial ideology of Peter Tkachev and others like him. Lavrov believed that while a coup d'état would be easy in Russia, the creation of a socialist society needed to involve the Russian masses. He founded the journal Forward! in 1872, its first issue appearing in August 1873. Lavrov used this journal to publicize his analysis of Russia's peculiar historical development.

Lavrov was a prolific writer for more than 40 years. His works include The Hegelian Philosophy (1858–59) and Studies in the Problems of Practical Philosophy (1860). While living in exile, he edited his Socialist review, Forward!. A contribution to the revolutionary cause, Historical Letters (1870) was written under the pseudonym Mirtov. The letters greatly influenced the revolutionary activity in Russia. He was called "Peter Lawroff" in Die Neue Zeit (1899–1900) by K. Tarassoff.


Alan Saunders: This year marks the centenary of the death of the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, a man who wrote works of fiction with considerable philosophical depth. In fact, he thought that his most famous book, War and Peace was not a novel at all, but an examination of social and political ideas.

So today on The Philosopher's Zone, we thought we'd take a look at Russian philosophical thinking, mainly in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Hi, I'm Alan Saunders, and you're listening to the Overture from Mikhail Glinka's somewhat nationalistic opera, A Life for the Tsar which premiered in St Petersburg in 1836.

Now to help us with our journey to Russia, we're joined by Lesley Chamberlain. Lesley is the author of Motherland - A philosophical history of Russia and she also wrote The Philosophy Steamer, which is about the exile of a group of anti-Bolshevik Russian intellectuals in 1922.

Lesley, thanks for joining us, and let's begin with Tolstoy. He has been described as being aligned with a radical anarcho-pacificst Christian philosophy, which led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox church in 1901. How does he fit into the definition of what is philosophy in Russia?

Lesley Chamberlain: Well I think the Russians have always been absolutely dedicated to using philosophy to find the right way to live, rather than how we might see it in the West as an instrument, an intellectual instrument, in pursuit of truth. And that produces a very different kind of atmosphere, and a different vocabulary, and in the end perhaps some different questions.

The Russians have always distinguished between what they call two kinds of truth, one of them has the name Pravda, (like the old newspaper) and the other one has the name 'Istina'. And istina is basically the truth of the natural sciences, whereas pravda is an emotional or moral truth, and that's the one that Russian philosophy is after, and that's what makes it rather different from Western philosophy I think.

Alan Saunders: Does this work both ways? I mean in general can we say that Russian literature is more philosophical than the literature of other cultures?

Lesley Chamberlain: Yes, certainly more philosophical than say English literature, or even French. I think German is quite philosophical, but Russian is philosophical in this special way that it keeps repeating the quest for how to live. And I think that has a lot to do with the circumstances of Russian society under the Tsars, under the autocracy that is, there wasn't freedom of speech.

It was also a society in which the law gave people no reason to trust it, or no kind of stability or strong sense of reform of the right kind of society, and I think literature took on the role of discussing those things that couldn't be discussed directly, so it's a response to censorship. And also, it was an attempt to give the moral law where there wasn't the law in society. The philosophical tradition as a practice, as an academic practice, started really quite late at the beginning of the 19th century, and that was easy for the political authorities to put pressure on and often they closed down the departments when they didn't like what they were doing.

So literature was a way of both reaching a much wider audience and talking about ideas, in a slightly camouflaged way. And I think this encouraged a very different kind of general feeling in culture that literature was philosophically responsible. It was about this quest for the right way to live, and that's very clear from Russian literature I think.

Alan Saunders: Now you've mentioned the particular sort of truth in which philosophical thinking in Russia is interested, the emotional rather than the scientific truth. Is that what gives Russian philosophy its particular bent, its particular focus, or are there other features that would characterise it?

Lesley Chamberlain: I think it's this search for what I would call an ethical foundation for being, and that in tandem with a definition of what this Russian truth is, what this specific Russian contribution should be to the ethical life of mankind. I mean when you come to Dostoyevsky, you find that when he's pursuing these questions, he thinks that if he can answer that question for the Russian person, then he can answer it for the whole of humanity. I mean that's obviously very contestable, but it's the high point of a certain quest in Russian philosophy.

Alan Saunders: There seems to have been a certain aversion to reason here. I mean it seems odd to refer - I don't know whether people do refer, but it seems to me odd to refer, say, to a Russian Enlightenment.

Lesley Chamberlain: Yes, I think that's right. I mean I think historically it's possible to refer to Russian Enlightenment, Catherine the Great corresponding with Diderot, the editor of the French Encyclopaedie, which is the kind of cornerstone of the French Enlightenment. But all that was philosophically quite superficial and I suppose one could take the career, the life of a particular late 18th century thinker called Alexander Radishchev as a guide to the Russian Enlightenment. Now Radishchev was very interested in the American Revolution, and he was very interested in the abolition of slavery, the proposals for the abolition of slavery, a very progressive thinker. And he turned his attention to Russia and he made a famous journey from St Petersburg to Moscow, and he published a kind of novel, but it contains reflections on Russian injustice on serfdom. And for that he was put in prison, and he very narrowly escaped with his life. And Catherine the Great took a personal interest in this. But the man was destroyed by what happened to him, and so his experience was a complete opposite of whatever one thinks of the Enlightenment.

Your question however about philosophy and about its Russian aversion to reason is a slightly different one, insofar as I think the Russian tendency, with its quest for the right way to live, was always at least subliminally religious and sometimes overtly religious. And as someone, a philosopher, said at the turn of the 20th century, that really Russian philosophy, the figurehead from let's say the 17th century, was Pascal, rather than Descartes. So Descartes is for us in the West, is the father of modern philosophy and scientific revolution, whereas Pascal is really his opposite, he's talking about the relationship to God and belief. So the Russians very much are with Pascal, if you make that kind of distinction.

Alan Saunders: Well that's interesting. Descartes, he didn't exactly invent scepticism, it had been around for a couple of thousand years before him, but he more or less encapsulates a particularly modern way of being sceptical about the world and about the information that your senses can give you of the world, and his questions are recurrent questions to this day in Western philosophy. Are there similarly recurrent questions in Russian philosophy?

Lesley Chamberlain: No. I don't think Russian philosophy is inclined to turn its searchlight on the questioning subject. I mean Descartes made us as individuals seekers after truth, very self-conscious, and gave us a kind of conscience that we should always, as it were, double-check our results, doubt the premises that we're working on, doubt the truth that we think we've discovered, in order always to bring in this self-scrutiny. I mean, the last person to pass judgment on truth, as it were, is you. You have to have a refined conscience and self-scrutiny in the pursuit of truth. Now there's nothing like that in Russia. It's very I would say non-individualistic in Russia, whereas Descartes has helped to contribute to a very individualistic Western culture. I mean, you get philosophers who declare openly that the truth is a collective truth. It's something that we all are part of and contribute to. So it's a very different way.

Alan Saunders: You mentioned Pascal, but you say at one point of the book that for better, for worse, this platonic Pascalian inheritance was the face of Modern Russia. That's talking of somebody writing in the early years of the 20th century. So Plato, obviously, is potentially an important link here with the Western philosophical tradition.

Lesley Chamberlain: Yes. Not so much a direct influence, in fact hardly at all. But a very interesting analogy insofar as Plato was interested in defining the good man and the good society. Where the Russians don't follow the Western way with Plato, is they don't seem to be interested in Socrates, in the Socratic method, and that makes for two very different ways of philosophising. I have to say that the Russian way leads almost inevitably towards ideology. I mean some people feel that Plato was very ideological on the side of pursuing the good society and that's where the Russian affinity fits. So one might have sensed that all of Russian philosophy is a kind of moral philosophy with a kind of particular moral take on politics, which is included in that. I mean we haven't mentioned this yet, and surely we should, but the huge drive of Russian intellectual life in the 19th century was to reform that cruel and backward society, and philosophy had its job cut out there.

Alan Saunders: You've mentioned the idea of the good man. Do we find that a search for that character in the writings of a notable liberal and rather Westernised figure of the 19th century, Alexander Hertzen?

Lesley Chamberlain: I think we do but in a rather different form, because as you say, Hertzen was quite a Westernised figure. In Russia he was regarded as the quintessential Westerniser as opposed to a Slavophile. Now these two tendencies, they overlapped quite a lot. They were very alive in Russian cultural life from about the end of the 1820s through to the time of Dostoyevsky in the 1880s. And the Westernisers really wanted to borrow Western models to further the progress of Russian society. And the Slavophiles were much more insistent on returning to Russian roots, and in particular to the roots of the Orthodox Church.

But I think what makes Hertzen a very special and in a way exemplary character in himself, is that he was an individualist. He spoke up for the individual human person, and strange as this may seem, it's not a very conspicuous trait in Russian philosophy to dwell on the individual person. And that I think is not a good thing about Russian philosophy. Personally, I find it too communal, and not individualistic enough.

Alan Saunders: Let's take a brief look at the philosopher, Nicolai Berdyaev who lived from 1874 to 1948, and his life in some way reflects the sweep of modern Russian history he was an aristocrat by birth, interested in Marxism at university, but also an Orthodox Christian, and he was sent to Central Russia for a few years for his political activities. Because he was opposed to Bolshevism, he ended up being exiled in 1922 on what became known as the 'Philosophy Steamer'. Now you've done a lot of work on this moment in history, in which a boatload of intellectuals went into exile. I presume it's been called the Philosophy Steamer, not because all the people on board were professional or formal philosophers, but because they all in some way embodied philosophical thinking.

Lesley Chamberlain: Well I'll talk about Nicolai Berdyaev first. He was perhaps the foremost philosopher before the Revolution in what I would call the idealist tradition. That is, he believed in a transcendental authority for the right way to live. So he was somebody who took his authority from mysticism and from religion.

That said, he wrote very appealing and practical-sounding books about how to lead the good life, and he found a very willing public, I think, in the time when the Revolution was preparing to happen in Russia. So there were these extremes of political revolution, and in a way spiritual revolution, and Berdyaev stood for the spiritual revolution of Russia before 1917.

Why he was exiled is I suppose obvious. He was - Lenin regarded him as one of his principal opponents, his principal opponent on paper as it were, as a thinker. And the 69 so-called philosophers who were exiled, and their families, on two ships in fact, which are collective called The Philosophy Steamer, were all in some way ideological opponents of Lenin. Many of them actually hand-picked by Lenin himself. Lenin's definition of those whom he exiled on The Philosophy Steamer was people, mostly men, who just would never come round to the Bolshevik way of thinking. And from Lenin's side, it was a merciful gesture really, that these people simply wouldn't be able to live in Soviet Russia and they would probably perish. I mean there are some very interesting arguments on both sides for the necessity of that gesture, that exiling of the ideological opponents. And there were 69 of these specially-chosen exiles.

Of those, in fact, only 9 or 10 were philosophers. There were just as many economists, and I think that's very interesting. If I came back to the subject, if I wrote my book again, I think I might even emphasise that. They were ideological opponents from various quarters, people who didn't think that the Communist economy would work, people who didn't believe in the materialist philosophy, there were co-operatists who saw a different way of establishing a more commonly-minded economy, there were independent publishers who were also - they were anathema for the new centralised State, which would control book publishing and so on.

Alan Saunders: Talking about Lenin, you are, your book, very rude about Lenin's forays into philosophy, about which he did write. What did he do and where did he go wrong?

Lesley Chamberlain: I don't think Lenin himself believed he was a philosopher, and there's this huge book of 400 pages of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Lenin sat down in the British Museum in the Round Reading Room and worked like mad for about nine months, to put together all the points of view in philosophy that he didn't agree with, and then he tried to work up a way in which he would dismiss them. And he was terribly rude terribly rude in the way he wrote about them, and if you can't argue against something, then just hurl abuse at it, that was very much the principle that he was following in that book. But what is interesting is what he was trying to get rid of. He was trying massively to simplify philosophy and present it to this new country, the Soviet Union, which he wanted to give above all, a principle of order to Russian life, to Soviet Russian life as it would become. And I think that is in fact a way in which one can come back and see Lenin with a degree of sympathy because this was such a chaotic country, such a difficult country to kind of harness and make culturally and politically productive.

So Lenin decided that anything that was subjective in philosophy, anything that allowed people to consult their own conscience and consciousness as a definition of reality, was absolutely unsuitable for the world he was trying to create. So he dismissed all the philosophers who said that truth is a matter of self-scrutiny. He said that the objective world out there exists, objectively, and really if you can't see it, and agree with it, then there's something wrong with you. And it's really as crude as that, and I think if I was rude about it, that's why I was rude about it.

Alan Saunders: At the end of your book there is a comparative chronology of Russian and Western philosophers, and the last Russian figure you mention is Alexander Solzhenitsyn, so even here there is a pull towards the literary. But confining ourselves to more or less formal philosophers, who over the last two centuries would you say have been the most influential or the most interesting figures?

Lesley Chamberlain: I think that's a very difficult question to answer, but I think that a philosopher, a writer whose influence never goes away is Dostoyevsky. There is this constant fascination, both in Russia and in the West, and so many of the ideas in the 19th century, in the 20th century, can be seen as foundations for Dostoyevsky to build on or developments that have been made by other philosophers from Dostoyevsky. Because in Dostoyevsky you have this preoccupation with a Russian truth, you have the Russian spirituality, and you have certain xenophobic tendencies, certain excesses which seem to come with the Russian philosophical tradition, at the same time as you do have the desire for the good man and the good society.

But there is a philosopher I admire very much called Peter Lavrov, who was more or less Dostoyevsky's contemporary. And we don't hear very much about him because he was a little bit too close to 19th century philosophers whom Lenin did like. Lenin didn't like Lavrov because he was one of these, in a way, individualists, but he was very attuned to Russian circumstances and he stressed above all, that perennial theme in Russian literature and Russian thought of, we must make a better society how can we reform this society? And I think that can never be stressed too much.

And what Lavrov did in the 1860s was to write a series of philosophical letters in which he tried to show that there was an ethical imperative for the educated man to devote his life to the reform of Russia. Now I don't think - he tried to do a job rather like Kant, he tried to say that if you were born into fortunate circumstances you had no alternative if you wanted to be a good man, but to work for the reform of your country. That ethical imperative, I mean it doesn't somehow exist out there without question, but it does describe what he felt was the good life, and I think that many people even today, would think that he'd got that right. So I think he is an important figure, Peter Lavrov.

Alan Saunders: To return to Tolstoy, he came to believe in aesthetic renunciation. Where does he get the idea? Can we see here the influence of another German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, or of Christian, Buddhist, Hindu ideas?

Lesley Chamberlain: Yes I think in a general sense, although I mean on other occasions he was terribly rude about Schopenhauer. It's Schopenhauer who assembled quite a good case for suicide, I mean Schopenhauer was a Western pessimist. And Tolstoy was absolutely against that. He felt that the most natural impulse in human beings was to live, and he couldn't countenance either the morality or the impulse to suicide.

So if he was influenced by Schopenhauer in this particular way, renunciation, then that was a very sort of specific borrowing. I think that above all, Tolstoy was constantly wrestling with his own conscience and his own impulses. There is this sense that he was trying to dampen down the life force in himself, and that tied in with some reading in aescetism and Christian renunciation, which he, yes, he did very strongly approve of, and advocate.

Alan Saunders: And this aspect of his thoughts seems in turn to have influenced both Mahatma Gandhi and the development of Russian anarchist thought.

Lesley Chamberlain: Yes, although I think it influenced individuals, but from my point of view, Tolstoy was always something of an exception in the Russian tradition. And for us in the Anglo Saxon world, he was a way into Russia, because he held certain values and certain views like a kind of Christian renunciation of violence, of retaliation, an aesceticism, a turning away from the sort of wickedness of urban life into the goodness of the countryside, all this had quite a strong appeal I think, certainly in England at the end of the 19th century. And so it became very convenient to see Tolstoy as the face of Russia, of the spiritual Russia. But in fact, I mean there was always Dostoyevsky as the other face of Russia, and it's in fact Dostoyevsky who much more determines the actual philosophical tradition. Tolstoy is something of an exception. He is a very Russian figure but he doesn't represent the 19th century, at least not as I understand it.

Alan Saunders: Well for details of Lesley's work on the history of Russian philosophy, hit our website. And that's also the place to make comments about the show. Lesley Chamberlain thank you so much for joining us today.

Lesley Chamberlain: It's been a pleasure.

Alan Saunders: The Philosopher's Zone is produced each week by Kyla Slaven and Charlie McKune, and I'm Alan Saunders. Dosvedanya.


Lenin's Brother: An Interview with Philip Pomper

Aaron Leonard is a freelance journalist. His columns and interviews span the gamut from geopolitics to economics to religion. He is a regular contributor to the History New Network and other publications. His writings can be found at www.aaronleonard.net.

Alexander Ulyanov, was V.I. Lenin&rsquos older brother. Like his brother he was a revolutionary committed to the overthrow of the Russian autocracy. Unlike his brother, who went on to head the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (later the Communist Party), &ldquoSasha&rdquo became a part of the &ldquoThe Terrorist Faction of the People&rsquos Will,&rdquo a small group who conspired unsuccessfully to assassinate then Tsar Alexander the III. Named after the &ldquoPeople&rsquos Will&rdquo who had successfully assassinated the Tsar&rsquos father Alexander II on March 1, 1881. &ldquoThe Second March 1&rdquo group (as they were known) were amateurish to such a degree that police surveillance preempted their efforts, the group was rounded up as they prepared to carry out the assassination. Five of the conspirators were later hanged for the attempt. Alexander Ulyalnov, despite the imploring to the Tsar on the part of his mother, was one of those. I recently sat down with Professor Pomper in a cafe in Greenwich Village to talk about his new book.

Who was Alexander Ulyanov?

He was the second child in the Ulyanov family, born in 1866. He had an older sister named Anna who was born in 1864. The three important figures in the story, the three important children, are the three eldest children. Vladimir Ilyich comes along in 1870, four years behind the older brother. Alexander [Sasha,] as the eldest male in the family is an important figure -- it&rsquos a patriarchal culture. Anna, who was an interesting person, was sort of shoved aside. Alexander was the dominant male in a way. Very quickly he was the family&rsquos hope for the future. He followed his father&rsquos path in science.

Sasha is part of a family history that&rsquos sort of the holy family of Russian Marxism. As Lenin&rsquos brother, as the link in the chain that lead Lenin to revolution, he&rsquos a very important figure.

How did you become interested in this?

In 1990 my book on Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin came out. It was a study of the psycho-dynamics, the psychological triangle, of three really important figures in the Party. I wanted to understand their interactions and psychologies. In order to do that I needed to understand their family histories. I was pretty satisfied when I finished the book that I had figured them out to my satisfaction. But very shortly after that the Soviet Union collapsed. Now all of the archives were open, including the Ulyanov family archives and I realized that at least the Lenin part of the story probably needed to be revisited.

Among other things I found myself studying the intellectual foundation of Alexander Ulyanov&rsquos terrorism. The history of the Russian revolutionary movement requires you to study terrorism. If you start back in the 1860s one of the most profound socialist thinkers was Peter Lavrov. He was an artillery officer and he taught in a military school a middle age man a kind of a scholar of the cabinet as they used to say -- somebody who was . very myopic, suffered from night blindness -- helpless outside of his study. But he got involved with the student movement and because of the autocratic system and fear of any kind of challenge he was arrested and sent into external exile. He escaped and went abroad and he became one of the emigre theoreticians of the movement.

Studying him I got involved with the study of terrorism because he evolved with the movement and accepted terrorism as a tactic. In his work he provided Sasha with a lot of the scientific thought behind his terrorist commitment.

It was clear to me, after reading Sasha&rsquos writing, that it was Lavrov&rsquos thinking at the foundation of his own. Certainly there were others who fed into it. There was also the Russian thinking about Darwin -- a form of Darwinism that is now accepted this idea of group selection and altruism and the value of altruism for groups. So there was a Russian school of Darwinian thought that intersected with the Russian revolutionary movement.

In Lenin&rsquos work, &ldquoWhat Is To Be Done?,&rdquo he says, &ldquoThe spontaneous striving of the workers to defend the students who are being assaulted by the police and the Cossacks surpasses the conscious activity of the Social-Democratic organization!&rdquo I thought of this when I read your description of the Tsar&rsquos police containing a demonstration that Sasha was part of. How much of an influence was Sasha experience on his younger brother?

I think it was really very important.

I think the remark in &ldquoWhat Is To Be Done?&rdquo had something to do with Lenin&rsquos experiences. He was in exile already when the news of the student demonstrations of 1901 when the workers joined them. There was a lot of violence at that moment, 1901. I don&rsquot think he was going back to November 1886 and the demonstration in which Sasha (and Anna as well) participated. At that moment there was a fair amount of restraint. The only incident of the Cossacks being anybody that I encountered in the memoirs was the Raisa Shmidova story [a friend of Sasha&rsquos] where a Cossack had hit her in the shoulder with his rifle butt. There wasn&rsquot widespread violence in 1886.

I&rsquom trying to remember the scene of the demonstration at the graveyard to commemorate Nicholas Dobrolyubov&rsquos [the Russian nihilist] death. It seemed it was a bit more contentious.

It was contentious because the students were humiliated. They didn&rsquot have to be beaten to be humiliated. Being beaten by the police, being flogged was such an extreme humiliation that it might lead to suicide. It actually did in some Siberian exiles -- there were suicide protests. These were kids from gentry families, for them to be beaten was a major humiliation. They responded to it in a way that you can only understand by understanding their culture.

There were other ways to humiliate them, making them stand in the rain for hours, surrounding them with Cossacks, making them feel penned in, denying them their freedom to move, that was enough to cause a lot of rage. So the demonstration at the graveyard was a psychological turning point for Sasha. There&rsquos no question about it.

One of the more striking actions during the Bolshevik revolution was the decision to execute the Tsar and his family. On one level this was in the midst of the Civil War and the justification was to deny the Whites a &lsquoflag to rally around.&rdquo That said, do you think that what happened to Alexander Ulyanov 31 years earlier -- and Tsar Alexander III&rsquos refusal to commute his sentence despite the imploring of Sasha&rsquos mother -- impacted that decision?

It could have fed into it very easily. I think when psychology is involved, when revenge is involved it is a very deep and complicated thing. A lot of rivulets feed this great torrent of revenge that people feel in 1917-18.

Lenin&rsquos writing during the summer of 1917 hold many references to the Jacobins. That meant summary executions. He was of a mind to do that. He and Yakov Sverdelov, his close associate at that time, were the people who decided [to execute the Tsar]. They were the ones who had the main control over it. Some people think it was the local Soviet, which was very radical in the Urals, but nobody would decide anything without Lenin. So it was Lenin and Sverdlov who decided it. And I think that the motivation goes all the way back to what the Tsarist regime had done to his family, but also is fed by these other rivulets that I think reinforced his convictions about that. Or his feelings were reinforced with convictions is a better way to put it.

Lenin had also spoken approvingly of [Sergei] Nechaev&rsquos approach to the problem of what to do with the Tsar.

Who was Nechaev?

He was a revolutionary who headed an organization called the People&rsquos Revenge. Nechaev, along with Bakunin, co-authored the Catechism of a Revolutionary, which is a famous document. For example, it is cited by Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice. It&rsquos a document that has carried on well into the 20th century.

Nechaev was a revolutionary of the late 1860s. He was the one who executed one of his own followers, in 1869. That was a terrible scandal in the revolutionary movement and it inspired Dostoevsky to write &ldquoThe Possessed,&rdquo which in English should really be translated &ldquoThe Demons.&rdquo The point is that Nechaev had become a negative lesson of the &lsquo70s but they still ended up terrorists.

Who were some of the characters in the plot to assassinate the Tsar who made the biggest impression on you?

The story of Peter Shevyrev is interesting. He was the head of the conspiracy and had a kind of Nechaevist mentality bloody-minded, kill as many as possible. The nature of the bomb [they planned to use against Alexander III] suggests how bloody minded a couple of the leaders were. That is the bombs with strychnine and shrapnel -- that would have been a lot of collateral damage.

In Nechaev&rsquos case, I could see [how he became who he was]. He was a gifted kid, growing up in a tough situation. In a city that was bit like Manchester, England -- Ivanovo-Voznesensk was called a Russian Manchester -- his father was a bartender and caterer. He had taken his knocks as a kid. You could see him changing and getting angry. I could understand that. Even though what he turned into was an ugly character.

I don&rsquot know how Shevyrev got that way, but he was an ugly character too, bent on murder and if necessary mass murder. He was willing to kill members of his own organization, just like Nechaev. So Shevyrev was one of the important fascinating characters. He was the one who got the thing off the ground and got it past the point of no return. In organizations like that you need people like that. They all knew he was nasty, but they all more or less recognized his value.

Joesef Luchashevich is another fascinating character. Even though he was one of the central organizers of the conspiracy and the real master bomb maker. He managed to get out of a death sentence. How he did it was fascinating. How they all conspired to get him off.

The three throwers, some were a little opaque to me. All you could be sure about was that they wanted to die for the cause. Vasilli Osipanov [one of the throwers who was hanged]. He was nicknamed &ldquothe Cat&rdquo [because of his solitary ways] who started it all, was probably the inspiration behind the poison lead cubes. The other two, Vasillii Generalov and Pakhomii Andreyushkin, seemed to have had blighted adolescence. I don&rsquot know enough about them to know why they were quite the way they were.

You quote a Russian friend toward the end of your book, &ldquoIn Soviet times Sasha was a revolutionary martyr now he&rsquos just a fanatic and suicidal terrorist.&rdquo On one level it points to the great shifts in Russia in the past 20 years -- on another it captures something about the flow of history -- things are not linear, they&rsquore also not tidy. I think of the current world order of capitalism, it took many hundreds of years to consolidate, with unlikely heroes who are constantly being reevaluated -- think of John Brown in this country. In that respect to what degree is the legacy of Lenin and Alexander still vital? Were there things they saw or attempted to see, in spite of the wrong turns, that remain relevant?

There are something that are perennial, it&rsquos not just Russia, it&rsquos a universal sense that justice should be done. It is striking to me in studying revolutionary history over decades and world history, ideas come around in different shapes.

One notices the resemblance of the revolutionary ideas of the twentieth century with religious formulations the last shall be first, a rich man will not enter the kingdom of heaven. That&rsquos not a new idea. The question always is, is this a kind of cultural background to Marxism? Or was it just a parallel phenomenon at a different time? An idea that was evoked by similar circumstances. A response to social injustice and exploitation in a given historical context. This is a formulation that arises now and again in which it&rsquos recognized you are exploiting the many, and causing the misery of they many and there should be a way out. There should be justice. There should be a repair of the situation.

You find again and again in texts about justice, social justice, you find the victimizer/victim narrative. Marx put it in dialectical terms. He made it a story of history working its way through. The thing about Marxism that was very appealing -- and Narodism -- an earlier form of Russian socialism that was supplanted by Marxism. The thing that makes it all work in a way, and appealing, is we all can identify with victims. It&rsquos there in all of us. So the victims may change over time but that narrative has universal appeal and perennial appeal. So sure it&rsquos still relevant because its there imbedded in all of us. Most of us I think respond to it. Those that don&rsquot are. sort of mean.

You may not agree with any of the remedies that are put forward. You may not agree with the master narrative that is designed to explain who when where and why -- you don&rsquot have to agree with all that to appreciate the enduring quality of those narratives.

One of the things I took away from this book, or at least something I started thinking about more is that once you set aside this whole master narrative, for example early Marxism had this whole tendency toward determinism -- things go through exact phases, etc. Once you set that aside, it&rsquos actually possible to appreciate some of the farsightedness of some of these characters, though even though they were so contradictory. That some even held ideas that were atrocious, or whatever adjective you want, doesn&rsquot negate that other ideas had a positive effect -- the effect of putting something into the historical realm of possibility that wasn&rsquot there before. That&rsquos not to endorse every element of what they were about -- which is where I think a lot of people fall down, they feel they have to justify the whole package.

To me the Russian thinkers of the 1870s were the most admirable in that sense. These were the thinkers that Sasha admired. They created something called subjective sociology. I wrote a book about Peter Lavrov, who was one of the founders along with Nicholas Mikhailovsky. Subjective sociology was frankly elitist. So was Sasha by the way -- his Darwinism said the elite have an obligation to sacrifice itself for its own position. Some people called it the mentality of the repentant gentry, that they had gotten to their position and looked back and said, &ldquohow did we get here, look at all the generations of serfs that have been exploited!,&rdquo and so it&rsquos our job to repent and even sacrifice themselves. That was lurking behind their Darwinism.

Lavrov had said in effect in every generation there are the lucky people who have the opportunity for higher education and deep reflection about the human condition. Those privileged people are the ones who are obliged to come up with the formulations of progress. How do we get to the next step? How do we remedy social injustice? We are the ones who carry that burden. And not just to formulate the master narrative, because that&rsquos what he wanted -- he wanted them to be the formulators of theories of progress that are consonant with their historical context. He believed that they had to adapt to every new historical context. So he called them the critically thinking minority. They had the burden of theorizing. They had the burden of carrying their theorizing forward into the future as their context changed.

Instead of the objective sociology of the sort Marx created, he had an ever-changing subjective sociology. When Marx came along Lavrov said, &ldquoHere&rsquos something new.&rdquo So we have to accept a lot of his ideas. But they didn&rsquot accept it altogether. What Lavrov said in a letter to one of his woman admirers in St. Petersburg -- he was already in exile -- he wrote her a letter in which he said, &ldquosomeday, our socialism may be to thinkers of the 20th Century, what Aristotle&rsquos physics is to contemporary physics.&rdquo And he said, someday the women question may be more important than the workers question. That&rsquos a farsighted thinker. And he was right.

I suspect were Marx and Engels alive today they would be interesting as well, as opposed to the ossified thinkers they are made out to be .

They were animated by an instinct to rebel against injustice. They just had that, and they were going to find the ideas. I think it takes a certain kind of emotional core -- which is why I&rsquom interested in psychology -- were not just thinking machines.

About Philip Pomper

Philip Pomper is the William F. Armstrong Professor of History at Wesleyan University. He has written and edited nine books, including The Russian Intelligentsia. He lives in Middletown, Connecticut.


Lenin's Brother: An Interview with Philip Pomper

Aaron Leonard is a freelance journalist. His columns and interviews span the gamut from geopolitics to economics to religion. He is a regular contributor to the History New Network and other publications. His writings can be found at www.aaronleonard.net.

Alexander Ulyanov, was V.I. Lenin&rsquos older brother. Like his brother he was a revolutionary committed to the overthrow of the Russian autocracy. Unlike his brother, who went on to head the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (later the Communist Party), &ldquoSasha&rdquo became a part of the &ldquoThe Terrorist Faction of the People&rsquos Will,&rdquo a small group who conspired unsuccessfully to assassinate then Tsar Alexander the III. Named after the &ldquoPeople&rsquos Will&rdquo who had successfully assassinated the Tsar&rsquos father Alexander II on March 1, 1881. &ldquoThe Second March 1&rdquo group (as they were known) were amateurish to such a degree that police surveillance preempted their efforts, the group was rounded up as they prepared to carry out the assassination. Five of the conspirators were later hanged for the attempt. Alexander Ulyalnov, despite the imploring to the Tsar on the part of his mother, was one of those. I recently sat down with Professor Pomper in a cafe in Greenwich Village to talk about his new book.

Who was Alexander Ulyanov?

He was the second child in the Ulyanov family, born in 1866. He had an older sister named Anna who was born in 1864. The three important figures in the story, the three important children, are the three eldest children. Vladimir Ilyich comes along in 1870, four years behind the older brother. Alexander [Sasha,] as the eldest male in the family is an important figure -- it&rsquos a patriarchal culture. Anna, who was an interesting person, was sort of shoved aside. Alexander was the dominant male in a way. Very quickly he was the family&rsquos hope for the future. He followed his father&rsquos path in science.

Sasha is part of a family history that&rsquos sort of the holy family of Russian Marxism. As Lenin&rsquos brother, as the link in the chain that lead Lenin to revolution, he&rsquos a very important figure.

How did you become interested in this?

In 1990 my book on Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin came out. It was a study of the psycho-dynamics, the psychological triangle, of three really important figures in the Party. I wanted to understand their interactions and psychologies. In order to do that I needed to understand their family histories. I was pretty satisfied when I finished the book that I had figured them out to my satisfaction. But very shortly after that the Soviet Union collapsed. Now all of the archives were open, including the Ulyanov family archives and I realized that at least the Lenin part of the story probably needed to be revisited.

Among other things I found myself studying the intellectual foundation of Alexander Ulyanov&rsquos terrorism. The history of the Russian revolutionary movement requires you to study terrorism. If you start back in the 1860s one of the most profound socialist thinkers was Peter Lavrov. He was an artillery officer and he taught in a military school a middle age man a kind of a scholar of the cabinet as they used to say -- somebody who was . very myopic, suffered from night blindness -- helpless outside of his study. But he got involved with the student movement and because of the autocratic system and fear of any kind of challenge he was arrested and sent into external exile. He escaped and went abroad and he became one of the emigre theoreticians of the movement.

Studying him I got involved with the study of terrorism because he evolved with the movement and accepted terrorism as a tactic. In his work he provided Sasha with a lot of the scientific thought behind his terrorist commitment.

It was clear to me, after reading Sasha&rsquos writing, that it was Lavrov&rsquos thinking at the foundation of his own. Certainly there were others who fed into it. There was also the Russian thinking about Darwin -- a form of Darwinism that is now accepted this idea of group selection and altruism and the value of altruism for groups. So there was a Russian school of Darwinian thought that intersected with the Russian revolutionary movement.

In Lenin&rsquos work, &ldquoWhat Is To Be Done?,&rdquo he says, &ldquoThe spontaneous striving of the workers to defend the students who are being assaulted by the police and the Cossacks surpasses the conscious activity of the Social-Democratic organization!&rdquo I thought of this when I read your description of the Tsar&rsquos police containing a demonstration that Sasha was part of. How much of an influence was Sasha experience on his younger brother?

I think it was really very important.

I think the remark in &ldquoWhat Is To Be Done?&rdquo had something to do with Lenin&rsquos experiences. He was in exile already when the news of the student demonstrations of 1901 when the workers joined them. There was a lot of violence at that moment, 1901. I don&rsquot think he was going back to November 1886 and the demonstration in which Sasha (and Anna as well) participated. At that moment there was a fair amount of restraint. The only incident of the Cossacks being anybody that I encountered in the memoirs was the Raisa Shmidova story [a friend of Sasha&rsquos] where a Cossack had hit her in the shoulder with his rifle butt. There wasn&rsquot widespread violence in 1886.

I&rsquom trying to remember the scene of the demonstration at the graveyard to commemorate Nicholas Dobrolyubov&rsquos [the Russian nihilist] death. It seemed it was a bit more contentious.

It was contentious because the students were humiliated. They didn&rsquot have to be beaten to be humiliated. Being beaten by the police, being flogged was such an extreme humiliation that it might lead to suicide. It actually did in some Siberian exiles -- there were suicide protests. These were kids from gentry families, for them to be beaten was a major humiliation. They responded to it in a way that you can only understand by understanding their culture.

There were other ways to humiliate them, making them stand in the rain for hours, surrounding them with Cossacks, making them feel penned in, denying them their freedom to move, that was enough to cause a lot of rage. So the demonstration at the graveyard was a psychological turning point for Sasha. There&rsquos no question about it.

One of the more striking actions during the Bolshevik revolution was the decision to execute the Tsar and his family. On one level this was in the midst of the Civil War and the justification was to deny the Whites a &lsquoflag to rally around.&rdquo That said, do you think that what happened to Alexander Ulyanov 31 years earlier -- and Tsar Alexander III&rsquos refusal to commute his sentence despite the imploring of Sasha&rsquos mother -- impacted that decision?

It could have fed into it very easily. I think when psychology is involved, when revenge is involved it is a very deep and complicated thing. A lot of rivulets feed this great torrent of revenge that people feel in 1917-18.

Lenin&rsquos writing during the summer of 1917 hold many references to the Jacobins. That meant summary executions. He was of a mind to do that. He and Yakov Sverdelov, his close associate at that time, were the people who decided [to execute the Tsar]. They were the ones who had the main control over it. Some people think it was the local Soviet, which was very radical in the Urals, but nobody would decide anything without Lenin. So it was Lenin and Sverdlov who decided it. And I think that the motivation goes all the way back to what the Tsarist regime had done to his family, but also is fed by these other rivulets that I think reinforced his convictions about that. Or his feelings were reinforced with convictions is a better way to put it.

Lenin had also spoken approvingly of [Sergei] Nechaev&rsquos approach to the problem of what to do with the Tsar.

Who was Nechaev?

He was a revolutionary who headed an organization called the People&rsquos Revenge. Nechaev, along with Bakunin, co-authored the Catechism of a Revolutionary, which is a famous document. For example, it is cited by Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice. It&rsquos a document that has carried on well into the 20th century.

Nechaev was a revolutionary of the late 1860s. He was the one who executed one of his own followers, in 1869. That was a terrible scandal in the revolutionary movement and it inspired Dostoevsky to write &ldquoThe Possessed,&rdquo which in English should really be translated &ldquoThe Demons.&rdquo The point is that Nechaev had become a negative lesson of the &lsquo70s but they still ended up terrorists.

Who were some of the characters in the plot to assassinate the Tsar who made the biggest impression on you?

The story of Peter Shevyrev is interesting. He was the head of the conspiracy and had a kind of Nechaevist mentality bloody-minded, kill as many as possible. The nature of the bomb [they planned to use against Alexander III] suggests how bloody minded a couple of the leaders were. That is the bombs with strychnine and shrapnel -- that would have been a lot of collateral damage.

In Nechaev&rsquos case, I could see [how he became who he was]. He was a gifted kid, growing up in a tough situation. In a city that was bit like Manchester, England -- Ivanovo-Voznesensk was called a Russian Manchester -- his father was a bartender and caterer. He had taken his knocks as a kid. You could see him changing and getting angry. I could understand that. Even though what he turned into was an ugly character.

I don&rsquot know how Shevyrev got that way, but he was an ugly character too, bent on murder and if necessary mass murder. He was willing to kill members of his own organization, just like Nechaev. So Shevyrev was one of the important fascinating characters. He was the one who got the thing off the ground and got it past the point of no return. In organizations like that you need people like that. They all knew he was nasty, but they all more or less recognized his value.

Joesef Luchashevich is another fascinating character. Even though he was one of the central organizers of the conspiracy and the real master bomb maker. He managed to get out of a death sentence. How he did it was fascinating. How they all conspired to get him off.

The three throwers, some were a little opaque to me. All you could be sure about was that they wanted to die for the cause. Vasilli Osipanov [one of the throwers who was hanged]. He was nicknamed &ldquothe Cat&rdquo [because of his solitary ways] who started it all, was probably the inspiration behind the poison lead cubes. The other two, Vasillii Generalov and Pakhomii Andreyushkin, seemed to have had blighted adolescence. I don&rsquot know enough about them to know why they were quite the way they were.

You quote a Russian friend toward the end of your book, &ldquoIn Soviet times Sasha was a revolutionary martyr now he&rsquos just a fanatic and suicidal terrorist.&rdquo On one level it points to the great shifts in Russia in the past 20 years -- on another it captures something about the flow of history -- things are not linear, they&rsquore also not tidy. I think of the current world order of capitalism, it took many hundreds of years to consolidate, with unlikely heroes who are constantly being reevaluated -- think of John Brown in this country. In that respect to what degree is the legacy of Lenin and Alexander still vital? Were there things they saw or attempted to see, in spite of the wrong turns, that remain relevant?

There are something that are perennial, it&rsquos not just Russia, it&rsquos a universal sense that justice should be done. It is striking to me in studying revolutionary history over decades and world history, ideas come around in different shapes.

One notices the resemblance of the revolutionary ideas of the twentieth century with religious formulations the last shall be first, a rich man will not enter the kingdom of heaven. That&rsquos not a new idea. The question always is, is this a kind of cultural background to Marxism? Or was it just a parallel phenomenon at a different time? An idea that was evoked by similar circumstances. A response to social injustice and exploitation in a given historical context. This is a formulation that arises now and again in which it&rsquos recognized you are exploiting the many, and causing the misery of they many and there should be a way out. There should be justice. There should be a repair of the situation.

You find again and again in texts about justice, social justice, you find the victimizer/victim narrative. Marx put it in dialectical terms. He made it a story of history working its way through. The thing about Marxism that was very appealing -- and Narodism -- an earlier form of Russian socialism that was supplanted by Marxism. The thing that makes it all work in a way, and appealing, is we all can identify with victims. It&rsquos there in all of us. So the victims may change over time but that narrative has universal appeal and perennial appeal. So sure it&rsquos still relevant because its there imbedded in all of us. Most of us I think respond to it. Those that don&rsquot are. sort of mean.

You may not agree with any of the remedies that are put forward. You may not agree with the master narrative that is designed to explain who when where and why -- you don&rsquot have to agree with all that to appreciate the enduring quality of those narratives.

One of the things I took away from this book, or at least something I started thinking about more is that once you set aside this whole master narrative, for example early Marxism had this whole tendency toward determinism -- things go through exact phases, etc. Once you set that aside, it&rsquos actually possible to appreciate some of the farsightedness of some of these characters, though even though they were so contradictory. That some even held ideas that were atrocious, or whatever adjective you want, doesn&rsquot negate that other ideas had a positive effect -- the effect of putting something into the historical realm of possibility that wasn&rsquot there before. That&rsquos not to endorse every element of what they were about -- which is where I think a lot of people fall down, they feel they have to justify the whole package.

To me the Russian thinkers of the 1870s were the most admirable in that sense. These were the thinkers that Sasha admired. They created something called subjective sociology. I wrote a book about Peter Lavrov, who was one of the founders along with Nicholas Mikhailovsky. Subjective sociology was frankly elitist. So was Sasha by the way -- his Darwinism said the elite have an obligation to sacrifice itself for its own position. Some people called it the mentality of the repentant gentry, that they had gotten to their position and looked back and said, &ldquohow did we get here, look at all the generations of serfs that have been exploited!,&rdquo and so it&rsquos our job to repent and even sacrifice themselves. That was lurking behind their Darwinism.

Lavrov had said in effect in every generation there are the lucky people who have the opportunity for higher education and deep reflection about the human condition. Those privileged people are the ones who are obliged to come up with the formulations of progress. How do we get to the next step? How do we remedy social injustice? We are the ones who carry that burden. And not just to formulate the master narrative, because that&rsquos what he wanted -- he wanted them to be the formulators of theories of progress that are consonant with their historical context. He believed that they had to adapt to every new historical context. So he called them the critically thinking minority. They had the burden of theorizing. They had the burden of carrying their theorizing forward into the future as their context changed.

Instead of the objective sociology of the sort Marx created, he had an ever-changing subjective sociology. When Marx came along Lavrov said, &ldquoHere&rsquos something new.&rdquo So we have to accept a lot of his ideas. But they didn&rsquot accept it altogether. What Lavrov said in a letter to one of his woman admirers in St. Petersburg -- he was already in exile -- he wrote her a letter in which he said, &ldquosomeday, our socialism may be to thinkers of the 20th Century, what Aristotle&rsquos physics is to contemporary physics.&rdquo And he said, someday the women question may be more important than the workers question. That&rsquos a farsighted thinker. And he was right.

I suspect were Marx and Engels alive today they would be interesting as well, as opposed to the ossified thinkers they are made out to be .

They were animated by an instinct to rebel against injustice. They just had that, and they were going to find the ideas. I think it takes a certain kind of emotional core -- which is why I&rsquom interested in psychology -- were not just thinking machines.

About Philip Pomper

Philip Pomper is the William F. Armstrong Professor of History at Wesleyan University. He has written and edited nine books, including The Russian Intelligentsia. He lives in Middletown, Connecticut.


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