Brian Pearce

Marx and Engels on Russia

(Summer 1953)

From Anglo-Soviet Journal, Vol. 14 No. 2, Summer 1953.
Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
The Russian Menace to Europe
(A collection of articles, speeches, letters and news dispatches selected and edited by Paul W. Blackstock and Bert F. Hoselitz)
Allen and Unwin, 1953, pp 288, 20/–

V.N. Kotov
K. Marx i F. Engels o Rossii i russkom narode
(K. Marx and F. Engels on Russia and the Russian People)
Izdatelstvo Znanie, Moscow, 1953, 90 kopeks

A collection of the writings of Marx and Engels about Russia, in English translation, with a scholarly commentary, would be welcomed by every student of Russian history. The first thing to be said about the work of Mr. Blackstock and Mr. Hoselitz must, unfortunately, be that it is not that book. It is, instead, a highly arbitrary selection from the works of Marx and Engels, which fails to give a rounded picture of what their views on and connections with Russia were and how these views and connections developed. This selection is accompanied, moreover, by a commentary which, for all its parade of bibliographical learning, adds little to our understanding of the subject and is in places downright misleading.

The principle on which the editors have made their selection from the voluminous writings of Marx and Engels relating to Russia is nowhere stated and is far from self-evident. On the one hand there are included such widely known documents as Engels’ preface to the Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto (1882) and his essay On Social Conditions in Russia (1875), which are already available in the Selected Works of Marx and Engels in two volumes, published in English by the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, in 1949 and 1950 (not mentioned by Mr. Blackstock and Mr. Hoselitz). On the other there are some ephemeral journalistic pieces of which it may well be true, as the editors claim, that they have never before been fully rendered into English. The ideas expressed in these articles are already familiar to a wide public from Revolution and Counter-Revolution (also published by Allen and Unwin), and they add nothing of substance to our knowledge of the views of Engels concerning the affairs of the Southern and Western Slavs, with which they mainly deal. These articles were briefly mentioned, and their essential content summarised, with quotations, in Dona Torr’s Marxism, Nationality and War (London 1940) – again a work that is missing from the bibliography given by Mr. Blackstock and Mr. Hoselitz.

From the standpoint of the advancement of learning or from that of the popularisation of the ideas of Marx and Engels about Russia, there does not appear to be any clear justification for this book. If one considers it as a contribution to the ‘Cold War’, however, its point becomes obvious. As a handbook of quotations from the Marxist classics in which hard things are said about Russian Tsarism which unscrupulous politicians could ‘adapt’ for use in propaganda against the USSR, the book may certainly serve a purpose of sorts. That this is indeed the market the editors have in view is plain from the introduction and notes which they supply. ‘Marx’s analysis of the role of the Russian village community under decaying Tsarism applies with equal force to the role of the kolkhoz under Stalinism’, they write (p 23). The present regime in Russia is essentially the same as that which prevailed a hundred years ago and was denounced by Marx and Engels, we learn. ‘The argument that workers in Russia cannot be exploited because the factories “belong to the workers themselves” is merely a semantic trick’ (p. 20); and, should we have any further doubts on this point, Mr. Arthur Koestler is invoked as an authority on the ‘class structure’ of contemporary Soviet society.

It is difficult, however, to see what purpose, even in the ‘Cold War’, is served by reminding the world that Engels at one time wrote of the Slovenes and Croats as ‘ethnic trash’, peoples without a future; and most odd that the editors of The Russian Menace to Europe should reproach Soviet scholars for not doing more to bring these particular passages to the attention of the Soviet public. Were Soviet writers to dwell upon them, would this not be denounced as ‘psychological warfare’ against Tito? In any case, to publish some of these articles of Engels’ out of context (without, for example, also publishing Marx’s article of 17 June 1848 in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, showing how the Germans had driven the Slavs into the arms of Russian Tsarism by their oppressions, and without providing the reader with some account, however brief, of the actual course of events in Central Europe in 1848–49), is to make Marx and Engels appear more one-sided than they really were in their attitude to the German-Slav conflicts of their day, and to conceal the causes that gave rise to their opinions.

Even from this extremely partial and unrepresentative selection from their writings we can glimpse the penetrating analysis by Marx and Engels of the international role of Tsarism in the 1840s and 1850s and their interest in the social changes that began in Russia following her defeat in the Crimean War. It is astonishing that so much wisdom shows through even in the hurried newspaper articles, products of sweated journalism, which Mr. Blackstock and Mr. Hoselitz have been at such pains to disinter. One wonders whether Senator MacCarthy will thank them, however much he may sympathise with their general intention, for securing wider publicity for such propositions as ‘A people which oppresses another cannot emancipate itself’ (p. 115), or that national sovereignty ‘is the basic condition of every healthy and free development’ (p. 117). Marx’s account of how greed for Polish territory contributed to the ruin of German democracy in 1848 could be held to be as relevant to present-day problems as anything else in the book. And who knows but that the idea running through the majority of these articles, of one Great Power acting as ‘gendarme of reaction’ throughout the world, and deserving to be opposed by democrats and patriots everywhere, may give rise to comparisons and parallels in readers’ minds quite different from what the editors intended?

There is one prominent feature of the commentary which calls for particular discussion and reply. The publisher’s note on the dust-cover declares:

It is hardly known now how anti-Russian and anti-Slav were Marx and Engels. In Russia their collected works have now been withdrawn and much of their writings suppressed or ‘reinterpreted’.

The editors themselves write (p. 12): ‘With one or two exceptions the essays contained in this volume are not only unavailable in Russia, but their publication and distribution could be achieved only by illegal means ...’ ‘The writings of Marx and Engels on Russia – with very few exceptions – cannot be published in Russia’, they assert (p. 17).

Nowhere do the editors specify which works of Marx and Engels they allege to be ‘suppressed’ in the USSR. The nearest they come to precision in this respect is when, after quoting a passage from Marx’s Secret Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century, they state (p. 14) that ‘the present regime in Russia has done everything in its power to ignore or obliterate these writings’. It was an unfortunate example to take; the book by Nikiforov on Anglo-Russian relations in the reign of Peter the Great, which was published in 1950 and was reviewed in the last issue of the Anglo-Soviet Journal, contains seven references to passages in the Secret Diplomatic History! On page 259 the charge of ‘withdrawal’ and ‘suppression’ is whittled down to a claim that certain volumes of Marx and Engels ‘have become quite rare’; the editors would have been wiser to stick throughout to this formulation, which can mean almost anything.

To anyone even slightly familiar with current Russian historical literature, the allegations made by Mr. Blackstock and Mr. Hoselitz that in the Soviet Union the writings of Mark and Engels are suppressed must appear singularly impudent. The bibliography to Tarle’s well-known history of the Crimean War, for example (Krymskaya voina, second edition, 1950), includes all the articles about the war which are printed in Volumes 9 and 10 of the Russian edition of the works of Marx and Engels but which Mr. Blackstock and Mr. Hoselitz present as though they were contraband. It is indeed rare nowadays for a Soviet writer on nineteenth-century history not to acknowledge and draw his readers’ attention to the writings of the founders of Marxism that relate to his subject, with precise references to volume and page of their collected works; and one had even become accustomed to this practice being made in the West a matter of reproach against Soviet historians!

In addition to the publication of the complete writings of Marx and Engels in the numerous volumes of the Sochinenia (Works) and the Arkhiv Marksa i Engelsa (Marx-Engels Archive), a number of special selections from these writings have been published in the USSR. There is, for instance, the Selected Works in two volumes, already mentioned. This contains, among other things, Engels’ article of 1884 on Marx and the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, mentioning that part of Marx’s policy in 1848-49 was the waging of a revolutionary war against Tsarist Russia; the Inaugural Address of the First International, with its reference to ‘that barbarous power whose head is at St Petersburg’; and the First Address of the International on the Franco-Prussian war, which warns against ‘the dark figure of Russia’ looming behind the contending powers. There is also a selection about which it is even more surprising that Mr. Blackstock and Mr. Hoselitz have nothing to say – Perepiska K. Marksa i F. Engelsa s russkimi politicheskimi deyatelyami (Correspondence of K. Marx and F. Engels with Russian Politicians), of which a second, enlarged edition appeared in 1951. This contains 94 letters by Marx and Engels and 110 letters to them, the correspondents including Lopatin, Vera Zasulich, Plekhanov and others, and a very wide range of aspects of Russian politics and social life being covered. The letters are printed as they were written, and the editor points out in his introduction that Engels’ views on Russia’s role in international politics in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as reflected in some of these letters, were criticised by Stalin in 1934. (A translation of Stalin’s article appeared in the London Labour Monthly of August 1952.)

The fact that Marx and Engels were hostile to Tsarist Russia is mentioned in the text-books used in Soviet schools where this is necessary for the understanding of historical events. For example, A.M. Pankratova, in her Istoria SSSR (History of the USSR) for secondary schools (1952 edition), notes in her chapter on the Crimean War that, besides Britain, France, etc., ‘finally, the Russian Tsar had yet another foe – European democracy, which saw in Russian Tsarism an international gendarme and the main obstacle in the path of European progress’.

The complete absence of any survey, however cursory, of the Russian editions of Marx and Engels, in a book containing bald statements about the ‘withdrawal’ and ‘suppression’ of these works in the USSR, is, indeed, one of the most striking features of The Russian Menace to Europe. The reader is not even told of the guide to these editions published in 1948 in Moscow by Goskultprosvetizdat, the publishing house which produces handbooks of all kinds for librarians and other organisers of cultural activities – Bibliografia proizvedenii K. Marksa i F. Engelsa (Bibliography of the Works of K. Marx and F. Engels), by A.A. Levin. One can only speculate as to the reasons for this failure to follow normal scientific practice. Space which could have been allotted to the giving of such references as would help the reader to check the validity of the editors’ allegations is occupied by the editors’ opinions on problems of world history. For example, they state that ‘... in the battle between Napoleonic France and Czarist Russia the former represented a revolutionary progressive ideology and the latter a tyrannical authoritarianism ...’ What a pity that their concern to popularise the historical views of Engels did not run to quoting his opinion on the matter: ‘Napoleon, alleged to be the representative of the bourgeois revolution, was in reality a despot in his own country and a conqueror in relation to neighbouring peoples.’

As is usual in books of this kind, the Russian word for ‘objectivism’ is mistranslated (p. 265) as ‘objectivity’. Among errors that have no obvious political significance, one may note that the words ‘too much’ on page 217 are the editors’ rendering of ‘trop peu’ in the French original, and that Engels’ article On Social Conditions in Russia was written in 1875 and not in 1873 as stated in the book. The Cambridge mentioned in the footnote on page 20 is of course Cambridge, Mass, not Cambridge, England.

It is pleasant to turn from the foregoing to the pamphlet by the Soviet historian V.N. Kotov. This is the text of two lectures given under the auspices of the adult education organisation called the All-Union Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge. Kotov mentions (giving references to the Sochinenia) the judgement of Marx and Engels that from the time of the French Revolution onwards Russian Tsarism functioned as the ‘stronghold of European reaction’, and that even though, after the Crimean War, its weight in international affairs declined, its foreign policy remained a reactionary force. But he also points out that ‘Marx and Engels knew and studied two Russias – the reactionary Russia of the gentry and bourgeoisie, and the revolutionary Russia of the peasants and workers’; and he devotes most of his space to showing the interest that the founders of Marxism took in Russian history, Russian literature and the Russian language, and their close connection with a number of Russian democrats and socialists. Of particular interest is their estimate of Chernyshevsky and their influence on Lopatin’s plan to rescue him from Siberian exile.

Kotov draws extensively upon the notebooks and other MSS of Marx and Engels which have been published by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, as well as upon their private correspondence. It becomes obvious how unbalanced a picture of the views of Marx and Engels on Russia is obtained if one ignores these sources and confines one’s attention to their public writings, which were necessarily much influenced by tactical and polemical considerations. (See, for example, the important observation by Engels in his letter to Marx dated 23 May 1851: ‘Russia ... is really progressive in relation to the East ... Russian domination is a civilising element on the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and in Central Asia and among the Bashkirs and Tatars ...’)

A specially interesting feature of Kotov’s pamphlet is his account of the publication of the works of Marx and Engels in Russia and the dissemination of their ideas by Russian socialists both inside their own country and also in the Balkan lands (acknowledged by Engels in his Letter to Bulgarian Social-Democrats, which Kotov quotes).

Last updated on 6 June 2015