In 1883 Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov, son of a prosperous country gentleman, founded the first Russian Marxist movement and dominated it for over twenty years. Coming from the country where many revolutionary leaders originated rather than cities, he was turned to radical politics as a student. He formed a “Liberation of Labor” group whose principal object was to systematically apply Marxism to the Russian scene.
Plekhanov believed that Russia would have to become industrialized in order to produce a proletariat, a working class, before Czarism could be overthrown. Only the workers could produce a revolution. The Narodniks had a different view, opposed the capitalistic and industrial path of eventual revolution, holding that “serfdom to socialism” was more direct.
Karl Marx was a contributor to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune before the war, promoted Lincoln’s cause in Europe and penned supportive letters to both Lincoln and his successor, Andrew Johnson. Marx saw the industrialized North as fertile ground for a socialist proletariat, and black people as workers to be organized against capitalism.
Social Democrats and Revolution
“One starts to see here the beginnings of a future rivalry; the Marxists with their emphasis on the industrial worker and the Narodniks with their emphasis on the peasants. It was Plekhanov, presiding over his revolutionary court in Geneva, who most rapidly began to gain ground. In his writings he urged that terrorism was a secondary weapon; the main object was to set up a socialist organization among the working class in Russia, to train agitators, to stimulate strikes and demonstrations, and to spread Marxist ideas through the illegal printing press.
Soon small groups of his followers began to form in the principal cities in Russia. They called themselves Social Democrats.
Neither Marx nor Engels, moreover, had thought very highly of the Russians. Marx was particularly trenchant about them. “I do not trust any Russian,” he once wrote Engels. Russia, in any case, Marx thought, still had a long way to go before it achieved socialism; he had much better hopes of the United States where “the masses are quicker.”
(The Russian Revolution, Alan Morehead, Bantam Books, 1959, excerpts pp. 35-36)