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Lavrov, Pëtr Lavrovich (1823–1900)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E023-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 11, 2021, from

Article Summary

Pëtr Lavrov was one of the main theorists of Russian populism (narodnichestvo) – a trend of thought and a movement which crystallized after the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861.

There were many different currents within this broad trend but all of them concentrated on the possibility and desirability of securing a non-capitalist way of development for Russia. This was so because the populists, having perceived (often with the help of Marx’s Capital) the contradictions of capitalist development, lost their confidence in ‘European’ progress, recognized in capitalism only a regression and chose therefore an adamantly anti-capitalist stand, combined, as a rule, with backward-looking idealization of the peasant commune.

The dominant Western theories of social evolution – from Spencerian liberalism to Marxism – strongly emphasized the ‘objective’ character of the laws of social development and defined capitalism as a necessary phase of progress. Russian populist socialists deeply felt that in Russia’s backward condition such theories offered a convenient tool for apologists of capitalist progress, who sanctioned and justified the suffering of the masses by referring to the ’objective laws of history’ or ‘the iron laws of political economy’. This led them to a demonstrative rejection of the ’objectivist’ conception of progress. Lavrov was the first populist theorist who set against ’objectivism’ a conscious and systematic vindication of ’subjectivism’. He was supported in this by another populist thinker, Nikolai Mikhailovskii. The common features of their views have been labelled ’subjective sociology’ or the ’subjective method’.

Citing this article:
Walicki, Andrzej. Lavrov, Pëtr Lavrovich (1823–1900), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E023-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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