G.V. Plekhanov

The Development of the Monist View of History

Preface to the Second and Third Editions

Audiatur et altera pars

I have here corrected only slips and misprints which had crept into the first edition. I did not consider it right to make any changes in my arguments, since this is a polemical work. Making alterations in the substance of a polemical work is like appearing before your adversary with a new weapon, while compelling him to fight with his old weapon. This is impermissible in general, and still less permissible in the present case because my chief adversary, N.K. Mikhailovsky, is no longer alive.

The critics of our views asserted that these views are, first, wrong in themselves; secondly, that they are particularly wrong when applied to Russia, which is destined to follow its own original path in the economic field; thirdly, that they are bad, because they dispose their supporters to impassivity, to “quietism”. This last stricture is not likely to be reiterated by anyone nowadays. The second has also been refuted by the whole development of Russian economic life in the past decade. As to the first stricture, it is enough to acquaint oneself with recent ethnological literature, if with nothing else, to be convinced of the correctness of our explanation of history. Every serious work on “primitive civilisation” is obliged to resort to it whenever the question under discussion is the causal connection between manifestations of the social and spiritual life of “savage” peoples. Witness, for example, the classical work of K. Steinen, Unter der Naturvolkern Zentral-Brasiliens. But I cannot, of course, dilate on this subject here.

I reply to some of my critics in an article appended to this edition, A Few Words to Our Opponents, which I published under a pseudonym, and therefore refer in it to my book as if it were the work of another person whose views are also my own. But this article says nothing in opposition to Mr. Kudrin, who came out against me in Russkoye Bogatstvo after it had appeared. In reference to Mr. Kudrin, I shall say a couple of words here.

It might seem that the most serious of his arguments against historical materialism is the fact he notes that one and the same religion, Buddhism for instance, is sometimes professed by peoples at very different levels of economic development. But this argument may appear sound only at first glance. Observation has revealed that “one and the same” religion substantially differs in content depending on the level of economic development of the peoples professing it.

I should also like to reply to Mr. Kudrin on another point. He found in my book an error in the translation of a Greek text from Plutarch (see footnote, p.142), and is very scathing about it. Actually, I am “not guilty”. Being on a journey at the time the book was published, I sent the manuscript to St. Petersburg without giving the quotation from Plutarch, but only indicating the paragraphs which should be quoted. One of the persons connected with the publication of the book – who, if I am not mistaken, graduated from the same classical gymnasium as Mr. Kudrin – translated the paragraphs I had indicated and ... made the mistake Mr. Kudrin points out. That, of course, is a pity. But it should also be said that this mistake was the only blunder our opponents could convict us of. They too had to have some moral satisfaction. So that, “humanly speaking”, I am even glad of the error.

N. Beltov


Last updated on 28.12.2004