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Plekhanov, Georgii Valentinovich (1857–1918)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E031-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Known as ’the Father of Russian Marxism’, Plekhanov was the chief popularizer and interpreter of Marxism in Russia in the 1880s. His interest in the philosophical aspects of Marxism made him influential outside as well as inside Russia. He was a prolific writer, and dealt with several aspects of Marxist thought.

Plekhanov was an important figure in the Russian revolutionary movement. He was a founder member of the Russian Social Democratic Party, and a leading figure in its Menshevik wing after it split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1903. As a politician, Plekhanov was constantly involved in polemics with political and ideological opponents. Most of his theoretical works are to some degree polemical, and it was the conflicts among Russian revolutionary groups that shaped Plekhanov’s interpretation of Marx’s thought.

A basic feature of this interpretation was that Russia’s historical development was like that of Western European countries, and would pass through a capitalist phase before progressing to socialism. Accordingly, Plekhanov gave prominence to those of Marx’s writings which could be presented in a deterministic way. Plekhanov insisted that Marxism was a materialist doctrine (as opposed to an idealist one) and as such recognized the primacy of matter in all spheres of existence.

Plekhanov was in many ways an innovator, being the writer who first coined the term ’dialectical materialism’, and who drew attention to the Hegelian origins of Marx’s system. His writings were quickly translated into several European languages. His interpretation of Marxism was much admired by Lenin, and was to form the basis of the official ideology of the Soviet Union. The conception of Marxism that Plekhanov propounded continues to exercise a profound influence on conceptions of Marxism throughout the world.

Citing this article:
White, James D.. Plekhanov, Georgii Valentinovich (1857–1918), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E031-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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