Late Marx and the Russian road: Marx and the "Peripheries of Capitalism."

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Author: Marc Edelman
Date: Dec. 1984
From: Monthly Review(Vol. 36)
Publisher: Monthly Review Foundation, Inc.
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,651 words

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This varied collection of primary source materials and interpretive essays provides fresh perspective on Marx's views about the possiblities for a socialist transformation in Russia and on his relations with the Russian revolutionaries of his day, particularly the populists in the People's Will (Narodnaya volya) and Black Repartition (Chernyi peredel) organizations. Included in the anthology are previously untranslated texts by Marx and by the Russian populists who influenced his thinking on Russia, as well as analytical chapters by Teodor Shanin, Haruki Wada, and Derek Sayer and Philip Corrigan. Beyond its relevance to the question of Russia, the "case presented" in Late Marx and the Russian Road is a forceful intervention in the larger debates over Marx's conceptions of historical process and the nature of contemporary peripheral capitalism. Taken as a whole, this volume should lay to rest whatever doubts may remain regarding Marx's opposition to unilineal and teleological notions of progress.

Certainly the most important institution in the late nineteenth-century russian countryside was the village commune (mir or obshcina). With the abolition of serfdom in 1861, emancipated peasants worked lands which belonged to the commune and which were periodically redistributed according to various kinds of egalitarian principles, such as the number of adult males or total members in a household. While farming was not carried out collectively, grazing lands and woods were generally for common use. Vestigial pockets of commune-like land tenure and political organization survived in western Europe, but the mir--which in underdeveloped peasant Russia included the overwhelming majority of the population--was unlike anything that then existed in the developed world. Probably for this reason, it figured not at all in Marx's analysis of capitalism in volume I of Capital. For the Russian revolutionaries of the late nineteenth cenytury, however, a key question was whether the structure of the mir could serve as a springboard for a direct transition to socialism.

The centerpiece of Late Marx and the Russian Road is the first complete English translation of Marx's 1881 drafts of a letter to the populist Vera Zasulich concerning the nature of the Russian peasant commune. Zasulich had attained considerable notoriety as a result of her 1878 attempt to assassiante the governor of St. Petersburg and her subsequent acquittal in a major political trial. The question she posed to Marx about the ultimate fate of the peasant commune in Russia went to the very heart of issues of revolutionary strategy and historical process that are still being debated in the third...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A3537723