G.V. Plekhanov

Belinski and Rational Reality

Editor’s Note

The Russian intellectuals, the only revolutionary intelligentsia in modern Western history, have left us a great heritage of theory. Their literary and artistic productions are relatively well known abroad (Pushkin, Gogol, Mussorgsky, etc.), but the Russian pioneers in the field of thought are virtually unknown, especially in our country. This is true in particular of V.G. Belinski (1811-1848) and N.G. Chernishevski (1828-1889).

These two great Russian scholars, critics and thinkers were, like François Fourier in France (1772-1837), true disciples of Hegel (1770-1831). They headed the galaxy of intellectuals who paved the way for Marxist thought in Russia.

G.V. Plekhanov, founder of Russian Marxism, a profound student of philosophy and best trained Marxist of his day, dealt systematically with Chernishevski, writing a book as well as essays about his life and work. Plekhanov held Belinski in equally great esteem, considering him “the most remarkable philosophic organism ever to appear in Russian literature.”

Belinski’s chief merit in Plekhanov’s opinion was that he was the first “by the genius flight of thought to pose before us those problems of theory whose correct solution led directly to scientific socialism.” Plekhanov intended to present Belinski to the Marxist movement in a systematic way, but never got around to writing his projected book, leaving only articles which nevertheless constitute a sizable volume.

The finest of these essays, Belinski and Rational Reality, he wrote in 1897 at the pinnacle of his brilliant Marxist career, years before he deserted the cause to which he owes his fame. Even for Plekhanov’s leisurely epoch and his leisurely way of writing, this was a lengthy article. It had to be published in two installments in the revolutionary periodical Novoye Slovo (New Word, 1897, Nos.7 & 8). Plekhanov begins his treatment of Belinski with the fourth chapter of the eight he wrote.

He thought this lengthy beginning necessary, because he decided first to expound the real meaning of Hegel, more accurately, the meaning of Hegel’s general statement of the dialectic: All that is real is rational; all that is rational is real. It was little understood in Russia at the time. The study of Belinski that follows further develops the basic ideas of Hegel’s school of thought.

This essay on Belinski and Hegel thus supplements Plekhanov’s earlier article in 1891, The Meaning of Hegel, written on the sixtieth anniversary of Hegel’s death and published in our magazine, April and May 1949.

V.I. Lenin said

“it is impossible to become a real communist without studying, really studying, everything that Plekhanov has written on philosophy, as this is the best of the whole world literature of Marxism.”

In 1922 Leon Trotsky wrote:

“The great Plekhanov, the true one, belongs wholly and exclusively to us. It is our duty to restore to the young generations his spiritual figure in all its stature.”

This translation was made from the original Russian text by John G. Wright.


Last updated on 20.2.2005