Soviet Hegelians


One of the least explored areas of “Hegelian Studies” (and such certainly exist, philosophically if not organizationally) is the realm of Soviet Hegelian preoccupations. That Hegel was extremely important for folks like Plekhanov and Lenin is indubitable. But what exactly the role of Hegelian philosophy was, beyond the cliches of official affirmation of Hegel as the most important source of Marxism, is still rather unclear.

A research agenda in this area would benefit from proceeding with a number of question such as the following:

1) Did Plekhanov really understand what Hegel (and thus Marx) was really about? Being the (often self-proclaimed) “first Russian Marxist,” Plekhanov was largely responsible for introducing Marxist ideas to the East, but his philosophical views were often criticized as rather confused and shallow. Is it possible that Plekhanov (following the lead of Engels to a certain extent, and perhaps even Marx himself, but to a lesser degree) vulgarized Hegel’s philosophy by claiming that it only had the “dialectical method” as its valuable part, the rest was idealist mystification?

2) Why was Lenin really studying Hegel’s Logic in 1914-15? Official Soviet line (repeated, by the way, by none other than Zizek) was that he was looking for dialectical ways of moving forward, for his “theory of socialist revolution” and so on. But, having read enough biographical data, it’s hard to believe that Lenin would shut himself in the library to read Hegel to look for some alleged theoretical breakthrough. Last time Lenin studied philosophical texts so intently was in 1908 when he was writing Materialism and Empiriocriticism – he spend eight or so month, produced a rather poor (philosophically speaking) book that was aimed at crushing his political opponents (which it failed to do anyway).

3) Was the famous Soviet philosophical debate of the 1920s – between the “mechanists” and the “dialecticians” – really about how to interpret Marx in the new circumstances or was it already a debate about whether Marxism should “develop” (i.e. go forward and thus abandon some old doctrines and take on new doctrines) and adopt to the new historical and political circumstances? Oddly enough, it is “Hegelians” in this debate who turned out to be the most conservative participants, insisting that Marxism was about dialectics (and therefore about Hegel read materialistically). Is it possible to see the fight against philosophy in the 1920s (philosophy in general was to be “thrown overboard” and replaced with science) as the fight against taking Marxism to be a “philosophy” and thus to be in debt to German Idealism (Hegel)?

4) How un-Hegelian was Stalin’s fourth chapter of The Short Course? Are there detailed studies that demonstrate how almost each point made in that famous section (“Historical and Dialectical Materialism”) is against all philosophical intuitions of both Hegel and Marx?

5) And, finally, Soviet Marxism in the 1960s (“Thaw”) was perhaps the best and most sophisticated engagement with Marx and Hegel in the Soviet Union – why is there still no comprehensive history of the period? Or did I once again miss the book?

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