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The Spread of Marxism in Russia

"Gorbachev Factor"

The spread of Marxist ideas in Europe coincided with the rising interest of the political and cultural elites in Russia in the issue of “Russia between Europe and Asia” and stimulated the ongoing discussion between westernizers and Slavophiles. Marx’s theory seemed to fit neatly into the westernizers’ ideological framework, particularly into more radical strands of “westernism.”  


The Marxist teaching, as interpreted by its Russian followers, had certain appealing qualities. The doctrine seemed to explain clearly and logically the development of human society by the action of certain immutable laws. The knowledge of these laws allowed making “scientific” predictions of the direction, stages, and final goals of human progress. In other words, Marxism offered its followers a ready-made formula of social transformations suitable for any part of the world, including Russia.  

The growing popularity of Marxism in Russia must be seen in the wider context of the modernizing processes that were beginning to affect the country at the end of the nineteenth century. The development of capitalism, the appearance of elements of civil society, and the government-sponsored industrialization of the 1890s seemed to indicate that Russia, after all, took the road followed by the leading group of industrialized nations. The western model of development appeared to display major advantages. It accelerated cultural, economic, and technological progress and led to the establishment of parliamentary systems and the expansion of democratic freedoms. All this gave credibility to the arguments of the Russian advocates of westernism.

As a result, Russian radicals began to see the process of westernization and Europeanization of Russia through the prism of Marxist theory. It should be noted that the conversion of Russian radicals to Marxism was, to a great extent, influenced by the successes of the Western European Social-Democratic movement. European social democracy in those days adhered to the theoretical tenets of Marxism. Russian radicals were convinced that the European Social-Democratic movement was an influential force contributing to democratization of Western European society. They saw positive signs of this democratization in the appearance of labor legislation and trade unions and the recognition of social and political rights of workers. These progressive developments represented real achievements in the struggle for social equality in the West, and they seemed proof enough for Russian intellectuals of the scientific correctness of Marxism.

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