A Comment on Pisarev

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A Comment on Pisarev

Post by chlamor » Thu Mar 21, 2019 1:42 pm


http://www.thebellforum.net/Bell2/www.t ... ml?t=53357

Originally Posted by anaxarchos

Journalist, revolutionary, philospher, materialist, the prototype “nihlist”, Pisarev spent most of his life in prison (without ever being charged) and died, in mysterious circumstances, immediately after his release at the obscene age of 28.[/i]
Why'd he get jailed? Or, rather, what specific events led to his jailing? I think we all can easily deduce the 'why' of it.

Does Marx mention Pisarev as an influence in any way?

What's is this guy's major contribution, aside from the sheer volume of his short life's work?
These are two very serious questions of which the second has much more profound and timely implications. Let me get the first question out of the way. There are a couple of "begats" between Marx and Pisarev. Pisarev was a "student" and supporter of Chernyshevsky who was more than a decade his senior. The impact of Chernyshevsky's novel, What is to be Done on Russian radicalism cannot be overstated.

Neither Chernyshevsky nor Pisarev seems to have known much about Marx, as Engels explains in the long passage below. In fact, apart from the Russian emigres in Western Europe, Marx seems to have been thought of as a "theoritician" and "economist", in comparison to Bakunin, the "man of action". In fact, it wasn't until the utter defeat of the narodniks (we'll get to them) that a general re-think in the Russian movement brought it to Marxism. Chernyshevsky sat at the nexus of that transformation. On the one hand, he had a large popular following and was the "father" of narodnism; on the other, Chernyshevsky's real importance was as an "adamant materialist" (as the Catholic Church calls him) and theoritician, as was also true of Pisarev.

Marx was a huge fan of Chernyshevsky, writing at one point that he had learned Russian for the express purpose of reading him. On several occasions, Marx and Engels compared Chernyshevsky to Lessing and Diderot. This is high praise indeed as those two were hugely important to the development of the materialist doctrine which fueled the Democratic revolutions in Europe and America. The basic idea was that Chernyshevsky (and through him, Pisarev) were independently developing the materialist and therefore, revolutionary, perspective which would in turn drive the Russian revolutionary movement (yes... "theory" was not just an important thing; it was the thing without which, nothing else "happened"). Chernyshevsky (and Pisarev and others) substituted for the sticky sentimentality of the bankrupt Russian liberals, the silly religious mysticism of the Russian middle classes, and the utter depression of the great and noble , but dead-end Russian literature, a hard-nosed, hard-edged, ultra scientific and ultra critical view of the impossibility of "reform" within the Russian society... a view that was only hardened by the dungeons of the Peter and Paul Fortress. In the people, these "new" Russians saw, not just oppression and misery, but the motive force to change everything... the sea in which to swim when all else was hopeless.

Quote Originally Posted by In the Afterward of the Second German Edition of [b
Capital[/b], Karl Marx]The Continental revolution of 1848-9 also had its reaction in England. Men who still claimed some scientific standing and aspired to be something more than mere sophists and sycophants of the ruling-classes tried to harmonise the Political Economy of capital with the claims, no longer to be ignored, of the proletariat. Hence a shallow syncretism of which John Stuart Mill is the best representative. It is a declaration of bankruptcy by bourgeois economy, an event on which the great Russian scholar and critic, N. Tschernyschewsky, has thrown the light of a master mind in his “Outlines of Political Economy according to Mill.”
Quote Originally Posted by To the editor of [i
Otyecestvenniye Zapisky[/i] in 1877, Karl Marx]In the postcript to the second German edition of Capital – which the author of the article on M. Shukovsky knows, because he quotes it – I speak of “a great Russian critic and man of learning” with the high consideration he deserves. In his remarkable articles this writer has dealt with the question whether, as her liberal economists maintain, Russia must begin by destroying la commune rurale (the village commune) in order to pass to the capitalist regime, or whether, on the contrary, she can without experiencing the tortures of this regime appropriate all its fruits by developing ses propres donnees historiques [the particular historic conditions already given her]. He pronounces in favour of this latter solution. And my honourable critic would have had at least as much reason for inferring from my consideration for this “great Russian critic and man of learning” that I shared his views on the question, as for concluding from my polemic against the “literary man” and Pan-Slavist that I rejected them.
In addition, Marx hoped that some of Chernyshevsky's theories on revolution in Russia based on peasant property held in common, had a chance to bypass the conventional development of capitalism altogether... within a window that was unfortunately short and closing fast. Forgive me for quoting Engels at length:

Quote Originally Posted by In the Afterward of [b
On Social Relations In Russia[/b] (1894), Engels]Herzen’s successor Tkachov made it just as easy for himself as his master. Although he could no longer maintain in 1875 that the “social question” in Russia had already been solved, according to him the Russian peasants — as born communists — are infinitely closer to socialism than the poor, god-forsaken West European proletarians, and are infinitely better off into the bargain. When, on the strength of a hundred-year-old revolutionary tradition, French republicans consider their people to be the chosen people from a political point of view, many Russian socialists of the day declared that Russia was socially the chosen nation; the rebirth of the old economic world would, they thought, spring not from the struggles of the West European proletariat but from the innermost interior of the Russian peasant. My attack was directed at this childish view.

But now the Russian commune had also found respect and recognition among people of infinitely greater stature than the Herzens and Tkachovs. They included Nikolai Chernyshevsky, that great thinker to whom Russia owes such a boundless debt and whose slow murder through years of exile among Siberian Yakuts will remain an eternal disgrace on the memory of Alexander II the “Liberator”.

Owing to the Russian intellectual embargo Chernyshevsky never knew the works of Marx, and when Capital appeared he had long been captive in Sredne-Vilyuisk among the Yakuts. His entire intellectual development had to take place within the surrounding medium created by this intellectual embargo. What Russian censorship would not let in scarcely existed for Russia, if at all. If there are sporadic weaknesses, sporadic instances of a limited outlook, then one can only feel admiration that there are not more of them.

Chernyshevsky, too, sees in the Russian peasant commune a means of progressing from the existing form of society to a new stage of development, higher than both the Russian commune on the one hand, and West European capitalist society with its class antagonisms on the other. And he sees a mark of superiority in the fact that Russia possesses this means, whereas the West does not.

“The introduction of a better order of things is greatly hindered in Western Europe by the boundless extension of the rights of the individual ... it is not easy to renounce even a negligible portion of what one is used to enjoying, and in the West the individual is used to unlimited private rights. The usefulness and necessity of mutual concessions can he learned only by bitter experience and prolonged thought. In the West, a better system of economic relations is bound up with sacrifices, and that is why it is difficult to establish. It runs counter to the habits of the English and French peasants.” But “what seems a utopia in one country exists as a fact in another ... habits which the Englishman and the Frenchman find immensely difficult to introduce into their national life exist in fact in the national life of the Russians.... The order of things for which the West is now striving by such a difficult and long road still exists in our country in the mighty national customs of our village life ... We see what deplorable consequences resulted in the West from the loss of communal land tenure and how difficult it is to give back to the Western peoples what they have lost. The example of the West must not be lost on us” (Chernyshevsky, Works, Geneva edition, Vol. V, pp. 16-19, quoted by Plekhanov, “Nasi raznoglasija”, Geneva, 1885, [16-17])

And of the Ural Cossacks, who still retained communal tilling of the soil and subsequent distribution of the produce among individual families, he says:

“If the people of the Urals live under their present system to see machines introduced into corn-growing, they will be very glad of having retained a system which allows the use of machines that require big-scale farming embracing hundreds of dessiatines” (ibid., p. 131).

It should not be forgotten, however, that the people of the Urals with their communal tilling — saved from extinction by military considerations (we also have barrack-room communism) — stand alone in Russia, more or less like the farmstead communities on the Mosel back home with their periodic redistributions. And if they adhere to their present system until they are ready for the introduction of machinery, it will not be they who profit from it, but the Russian military exchequer whose slaves they are.

At any rate, it was a fact: at the same time as capitalist society was disintegrating and threatening to founder on the necessary contradictions of its own development, half of the entire cultivated land in Russia was still the common property of the peasant communes. Now, if in the West the resolution of the contradictions by a reorganisation of society is conditional on the conversion of all the means of production, hence of the land too, into the common property of society, how does the already, or rather still, existing common property in Russia relate to this common property in the West, which still has to be created? Can it not serve as a point of departure for a national campaign which, skipping the entire capitalist period, will convert Russian peasant communism straight into modern socialist common ownership of the means of production by enriching it with all the technical achievements of the capitalist era? Or, to use the words with which Marx sums up the views of Chernyshevsky in a letter to be quoted below: “Should Russia first destroy the rural commune, as demanded by the liberals, in order to go over to the capitalist system, or can it on the contrary acquire all the fruits of this system, without suffering its torments, by developing its own historical conditions?”

The very way in which the question is posed indicates the direction in which the answer should be sought. The Russian commune has existed for hundreds of years without ever providing the impetus for the development of a higher form of common ownership out of itself; no more so than in the case of the German Mark system, the Celtic clans, the Indian and other communes with primitive, communistic institutions. In the course of time, under the influence of commodity production surrounding them, or arising in their own midst and gradually pervading them, and of the exchange between individual families and individual persons, they all lost more and more of their communistic character and dissolved into communities of mutually independent landowners. So if the question of whether the Russian commune will enjoy a different and better fate may be raised at all, then this is not through any fault of its own, but solely due to the fact that it has survived in a European country in a relatively vigorous form into an age when not only commodity production as such, but even its highest and ultimate form, capitalist production, has come into conflict in Western Europe with the productive forces it has created itself; when it is proving incapable of continuing to direct these forces; and when it is foundering on these innate contradictions and the class conflicts that go along with them. It is quite evident from this alone that the initiative for any possible transformation of the Russian commune along these lines cannot come from the commune itself, but only from the industrial proletarians of the West. The victory of the West European proletariat over the bourgeoisie, and, linked to this, the replacement of capitalist production by socially managed production — that is the necessary precondition for raising the Russian commune to the same level.

The fact is: at no time or place has the agrarian communism that arose out of gentile society developed anything of its own accord but its own disintegration. As early as 1861 the Russian peasant commune itself was a relatively weakened form of this communism; the common tilling of the land which survived in some parts of India and in the South Slav household community (zádruga), the probable mother of the Russian commune, had been forced to give way to cultivation by individual families; common ownership only continued to manifest itself in the redistribution of land which took place at greatly varying intervals according to the different localities. This redistribution needs only to lapse or be abolished by decree, and the village of allotment peasants is a fait accompli.

But the mere fact that alongside the Russian peasant commune capitalist production in Western Europe is simultaneously approaching the point where it breaks down and where it points itself to a new form of production in which the means of production are employed in a planned manner as social property — this mere fact cannot endow the Russian commune with the power to develop this new form of society out of itself. How could it appropriate the colossal productive forces of capitalist society as social property and a social tool even before capitalist society itself has accomplished this revolution; how could the Russian commune show the world how to run large-scale industry for the common benefit, when it has already forgotten how to till its land for the common benefit?

Certainly, there are enough people in Russia who are quite familiar with Western capitalist society with all its irreconcilable antagonisms and conflicts and are also clear about the way out of this apparent dead-end. But firstly, the few thousand people who realise this do not live in the commune, and the fifty million or so in Great Russia who still live with common ownership of the land have not the faintest idea of all this. They are at least as alien and unsympathetic to these few thousand as the English proletarians from 1800 to 1840 with regard to the plans which Robert Owen devised for their salvation. And, of the workmen whom Owen employed in his factory in New Lanark, the majority likewise consisted of people who had been raised on the institutions and customs of a decaying communistic gentile society, the Celtic-Scottish clan; but nowhere does he so much as hint that they showed a greater appreciation of his ideas. And secondly, it is an historical impossibility that a lower stage of economic development should solve the enigmas and conflicts which did not arise, and could not arise, until a far higher stage. All forms of gentile community which arose before commodity production and individual exchange have one thing in common with the future socialist society: that certain things, means of production, are subject to the common ownership and the common use of certain groups. This one shared feature does not, however, enable the lower form of society to engender out of itself the future socialist society, this final and most intrinsic product of capitalism. Any given economic formation has its own problems to solve, problems arising out of itself; to seek to solve those of another, utterly alien formation would be absolutely absurd. And this applies to the Russian commune no less than to the South Slav zádruga, the Indian gentile economy or any other savage or barbaric form of society characterised by the common ownership of the means of production.

On the other hand, it is not only possible but certain that after the victory of the proletariat and the transfer of the means of production into common ownership among the West European peoples, the countries which have only just succumbed to capitalist production and have salvaged gentile institutions, or remnants thereof, have in these remnants of common ownership and in the corresponding popular customs a powerful means of appreciably shortening the process of development into a socialist society and of sparing themselves most of the suffering and struggles through which we in Western Europe must work our way. But the example and the active assistance of the hitherto capitalist West is an indispensable condition for this. Only when the capitalist economy has been relegated to the history books in its homeland and in the countries where it flourished, only when the backward countries see from this example “how it’s done”, how the productive forces of modern industry are placed in the service of all as social property — only then can they tackle this shortened process of development. But then success will be assured. And this is true of all countries in the pre-capitalist stage, not only Russia. It will be easiest — comparatively speaking — in Russia, however, because there a section of the indigenous population has already assimilated the intellectual results of capitalist development, thereby making it possible in revolutionary times to accomplish the social transformation more or less simultaneously with the West.

This was stated by Marx and me as long ago as January 21, 1882 in the preface to Plekhanov’s Russian translation of the Communist Manifesto. The passage reads:

“Alongside a rapidly developing capitalist swindle and bourgeois landed property which is only just in the process of formation, in Russia we find the greater part of the land in the common ownership of the peasants. Now the question is: can the Russian commune, this form of the original common ownership of land which is actually already in a state of severe disintegration, make the direct transition into a higher communist form of landed property — or must it first undergo the same process of dissolution that characterises the historical development of the West? The only possible answer to this question today is as follows: when the Russian revolution gives the signal for a workers’ revolution in the West, so that each complements the other, then Russian landed property might become the starting point for a communist development.”

It should not be forgotten, however, that the considerable disintegration of Russian common property mentioned above has since advanced significantly. The defeats of the Crimean War had exposed Russia’s need for rapid industrial development. Above all railways were needed, and these are not possible on a broad footing without large-scale domestic industry. The precondition for this was the so-called emancipation of the serfs; it marked the beginning of the capitalist era in Russia; but hence also the era of the rapid destruction of the common ownership of land. The redemption payments imposed on the peasants, together with increased taxes and the simultaneous reduction and deterioration of the land allotted to them, inevitably forced them into the hands of usurers, chiefly members of the peasant commune who had grown rich. The railways opened up for hitherto remote areas a market for their grain, but they also brought the cheap products of large-scale industry to them, thereby killing off the cottage industry of the peasants, who had previously manufactured similar goods partly for their own use and partly for sale. The traditional conditions of employment were thrown into confusion; there followed the breakdown which everywhere accompanies the transition from a subsistence economy to a “money economy” within the commune large differences in wealth appeared between the members — debt turned the poorer into the slaves of the rich. In short, the same process that had caused the Athenian gens to break down in the period before Solon, with the advent of the money economy, now began to break down the Russian commune. Solon was able to liberate the slaves of debt, it is true, by means of a revolutionary intervention in the then still fairly recent law of private property by simply annulling the debts. But he could not revitalise the old Athenian gens, any more than any power in the world will be able to restore the Russian commune once its breakdown has reached a certain point. And to cap it all the Russian Government has forbidden redistribution of land among the members of the commune more frequently than every twelve years, so that the peasant should grow increasingly unaccustomed to it and start to think of himself as the private owner of his share.

This was the tenor of Marx’s comments in a letter to Russia which he wrote back in 1877. [Letter to Otechestvenniye Zapiski] A certain Mr. Zhukovsky, the same man who as head cashier of the State Bank now lends his signature to Russian credit notes, had written something about Marx in the European Herald (Vestnik Yevropy), to which another writer had replied in the National Records (Otechestvenniye Zapiski). In order to correct this article Marx wrote a letter to the editor of the Records, which, after copies of the French original had long been circulating in Russia, appeared in Russian translation in the Herald of the People’s Will (Vestnik Narodnoi Voli) in 1886 in Geneva and later in Russia itself. Like everything that emanated from Marx, this letter attracted a good deal of attention and varying interpretations in Russian circles, and I therefore present its gist here.

First, Marx repudiates the view attributed to him in the Records that he shared the opinion of the Russian liberals, according to which nothing was more urgent for Russia than to destroy the communal property of the peasants and plunge headlong into capitalism. His short note on Herzen in the appendix to the first edition of Capital proves nothing. This note reads:

“If the influence of capitalist production, which is undermining the human race ... continues to develop on the continent of Europe as hitherto, hand in hand with competition in the size of national soldiery, national debts, taxes, elegant means of warfare, etc., the rejuvenation of Europe by the knout and the obligatory infusion of Kalmuck blood so earnestly prophesied by the half-Russian and whole-Muscovite Herzen (this literary man did not, incidentally, make his discoveries in the field of “Russian communism” in Russia but in the work of the Prussian privy councillor Haxthausen) might eventually become inevitable” (Capital, I, first edition, p. 763).

Marx then continues:

This passage “can under no circumstances provide the key to my opinion of the efforts” (the following is quoted in Russian in the original) “of Russian men to find a course of development for their native country which differs from that which Western Europe has followed and is still following” etc. — In the Afterword to the second German edition of Capital, I speak of a ‘great Russian scholar and critic’” (Chernyshevsky) “with the high esteem which he deserves. In his noteworthy articles the latter dealt with the question whether Russia should start, as its liberal economists demand, by destroying the rural commune in order to go over to a capitalist system, or whether, on the contrary, it can acquire all the fruits of this system, without suffering its torments, by developing its own historical conditions. He comes out in favour of the second solution.

“Be that as it may, as I do not like to leave anything to ‘guesswork’ I will speak straight out. In order to be able to assess Russia’s economic development from the position of an expert, I learned Russian and then spent several long years studying official publications and others with a bearing on this subject. I have arrived at this result: if Russia continues along the path it has followed since 1861, it will miss the finest chance that history has ever offered a nation, only to undergo all the fatal vicissitudes of the capitalist system.”

Marx goes on to clear up a number of other misunderstandings on the part of his critic; the only passage relating to the matter in question reads:

“Now, in what way was my critic able to apply this historical sketch to Russia?” (The account of primitive accumulation in Capital) “Only this: if Russia is tending to become a capitalist nation, on the model of the countries of Western Europe,— and in recent years it has gone to great pains to move in this direction — it will not succeed without having first transformed a large proportion of its peasants into proletarians; and after that, once it has been placed in the bosom of the capitalist system, it will be subjected to its pitiless laws, like other profane peoples. That is all.”

Thus wrote Marx in 1877. At that time there were two governments in Russia: the Tsar’s and that of the secret executive committee (ispolnitel'nyj komitet) of the terrorist conspirators. The power of this secret second government grew daily. The fall of tsardom seemed imminent; a revolution in Russia was bound to deprive the entire forces of European reaction of its mainstay, its great reserve army, and thus give the political movement of the West a mighty new impulse and, what is more, infinitely more favourable conditions in which to operate. No wonder that Marx advises the Russians to be in less of a hurry to make the leap into capitalism.

The Russian revolution did not come. Tsardom got the better of terrorism, which even managed to drive all the propertied, “law-abiding” classes back into its arms for the time being. And in the seventeen years which have elapsed since that letter was written both capitalism and the dissolution of the peasant commune have made tremendous headway in Russia. So how do matters stand today, in 1894?

When the old tsarist despotism continued unchanged after the defeats of the Crimean War and the suicide of Tsar Nicholas, only one road was open: the swiftest transition possible to capitalist industry. The army had been destroyed by the gigantic dimensions of the empire, on the long marches to the theatre of war; the distances had to be nullified by a strategic railway network. But railways mean capitalist industry and the revolutionising of primitive agriculture. For one thing, the agricultural produce of even the remotest areas is brought into direct contact with the world market; for another, an extensive railway system cannot be constructed and kept working without domestic industry to supply rails, locomotives, rolling stock, etc. But it is not possible to introduce one branch of large-scale industry without accepting the entire system; the textile industry on a relatively modern footing, which had already taken root both in the region of Moscow and Vladimir and on the Baltic coasts, received fresh impetus. The railways and factories were accompanied by the expansion of existing banks and the establishment of new ones; the emancipation of the peasants from serfdom instituted freedom of movement, in anticipation of the ensuing automatic emancipation of a large proportion of these peasants from landownership too. Thus in a short while all the foundations of the capitalist mode of production were laid in Russia. But the axe had also been taken to the root of the Russian peasant commune.

Lemme catch a breath and I'll take a stab at the more important question... "Why is Pisarev important?"

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Re: A Comment on Pisarev

Post by chlamor » Thu Mar 21, 2019 1:43 pm


Think about political discussion (and politics is always a "discussion"). Think about it in either the narrow terms of the "left" websites you visit or in the larger sense of politics in America, as a whole. What is the basis... the most fundamental basis ... for debate? What is the common language of that "debate"?

You can fill in the gory details of the problem: on the one hand, anything goes; on the other hand anything is acceptable and must be accepted (in the name of tolerence). Opinions are personal, categories are arbitrary and foggy, and the only basis for commonality is a very loose and changing list of policy statements that could just as easily be their opposites. It is not just mysticism and pop-theories that are at issue. There is a century worth of slogans, assumptions, "facts" which are "well known" or "commonly known"... Even simple logic is not required.

Yes, class perspective is the key to it but the political chaos extends so far that even that is tough to put your finger on in a practical way.

Materialism, "cold" pursuit of the "truth" for practical reasons, basic class partisanship, a method for determining what is correct and accurate and what is not, agreement on these methods and the history from which these are derived - these are the most rudimentary tools of a political movement.

Otherwise, everything just spins...

like water in a toilet bowl...

just to be dumped into the sewer...

and get piped into the Idea Treatment Plant...

only to go through the same cycle once again...

It ain't "philosophy"... It's a common language and method... very rigorously adhered to... at a hundred different levels of sophistication...

but fundamentally starting with the soldiers' quote in John Reed:

"If you aren't for one class, you are for the other..."

- anaxarchos

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Re: A Comment on Pisarev

Post by chlamor » Thu Mar 21, 2019 1:45 pm

Why do intellectuals and professionals earning $50,000 a year feel more kinship with those making $50,000 a minute than they do with those making $5 an hour?

I don't know the answer to this, although I have many opinions, as I know you do. For me, part of the issue is in the discussion above about the history of immigration and small property in the U.S. Part of the issue is in black and white. Certainly, many African-Americans understand the field negro analogy, as do others. Part of it is also in the impact of Imperialism, and with it, both the wealth and the mutation of social circumstances and "thinking" in the "home" countries. Still, the issue is moot in large part because circumstances have changed and are changing further.

If I take the "one class or the other" choice seriously, one of the first questions that faces me is, "where do our ideas come from?". Though the answer is infinitely complex, at bottom it is still grounded in, "which class?". The one place where they do not come from is from "deep within us".

If I look around, I see a complete mess... middle-class thinking everywhere, though even the existence of that "class" is largely historical (and illusory) and though even its definition has changed many times. I have heard you say, "there is no left" to which I always respond, there are "many lefts". In truth we are emphasizing two aspects of the same thing, like the blind men and the elephant, and it applies equally well to "radicalism", "politics", and even to "socialism".

I am a Marxist, and not even an "exotic" one at that... a run-of-the-mill, very conventional commie. But, I've lost all patience with the silly slogans of my craft, despite knowing the very real history and understandable origins of them. If that is true, it goes without saying that I have even less tolerence for those looking for "alternatives", or "taking a critical view of social sytems", or "searching for the most humane forms of social organization"... yadayada, let alone those searching for an "ethical presence". Yeah right. As if it were up to "you".

So, I'm goin' back to "basics", even before basics in some ways, and asking every question I can think of again, in the most ordered way I can manage - starting with the most important one, "who is doing the talkin'".

I kind of get that this is daunting... sorta like starting out in Florida and deciding to walk to Nome. But, hell, Alabama doesn't seem so far away. You're one of the good guys... as you get a chance, walk with me a little.

- anaxarchos

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Re: A Comment on Pisarev

Post by chlamor » Thu Mar 21, 2019 1:59 pm

Populism: Ibsen Martinez attacks N.G. Chernishevsky
A Russian Word for a Latin American Disease

Ibsen Martinez
January 8, 2007

https://www.econlib.org/library/Columns ... ulism.html

Ibsen Martinez is of that type of the “right-wing-left-wing” journalist who has been almost unique to Latin America since the beginnings of the Latin press. Full of the most philistine pomposity, adopting pseudo-intellectual airs of superiority that amount to no more than run-of-the-mill cynicism, and writing with a pox-on-all-their-houses sneer that belies the fact that he is mainly reprinted by the worst of the ruling class press, Martinez brings to politics what Fernando Lamas brought to relations between the sexes: a singularly ignorant pigheadedness that transcends debate. For this alone, if not for his continuous sniping at his countryman, Hugo Chavez, it is no wonder that publications such as the Washington Post are eager to reprint his “commentaries”. Once protected mostly by the monopoly they held under fascist press laws, it is now this yanqui crossover appeal that gives Martinez and his predecessors teeth, and contrasts them so sharply with the raw power of the genuine Left Press in Latin America.

Why then do we care about what Martinez has to say about N.G. Chernishevsky, or anyone else for that matter? Two reasons…

First, Martinez, writes about Chernishevsky, not a century ago but earlier this year, and not on account of having stumbled across him in some obscure library of ancient forgotten Russian literary figures, but in the all too contemporary context of Latin American, and specifically Venezuelan politics, today. In fact, Martinez’s criticism is miserably undistinguished. His “criticism” is anecdotal. He mentions, foremost, the opinions of the exceedingly weird and reactionary, émigré White Russian writer, Vladimir Nabakov. In truth it is not even Nabakov himself but Nabakov biographer, Brian Boyd, talking about a 1938 Nabakov literary character, “Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev” who just happens to be a fictional biographer of Chernishevsky. And what is this “criticism”, four times removed? It is that Chernishevsky puttered around with perpetual motion machines and was imprisoned for most of his life.

Why bother then, to even bring up this forgotten name? Because, second, while Martinez may not know what to say about Chernishevsky, he does know why he matters. He quotes Franco Venturi, "Herzen created populism; Chernishevsky was its politician". In “populism”, Martinez recognizes, not just the indistinct yearnings for justice of every people, often finding its expression in confused “movements” such as the supremely anti-intellectual and blithely eclectic and opportunist musings of William Jennings Bryan, but instead, a very specific movement, born in the criticism of the ideas at hand, binding tightly to the “people”, though what that means may still remain indistinct, and itself a way-station on the road to a revolutionary consciousness which supercedes its origins. In fact, Martinez precisely recognizes why I started writing about Chernishevsky and then Pisarev, at the fortuitously named “Populist Independent”:

Populism" once was a plain Russian word for a movable, complex Russian family of themes.

"Russian Populism is the name not of a single political party, nor of a coherent body of doctrine" notes Sir Isaiah Berlin, "but of a widespread radical movement in Russia in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was born during the great social and intellectual ferment that followed the death of Tsar Nicholas I and the defeat and humiliation of the Crimean War, grew to fame and influence during the sixties and seventies, and reached its culmination with the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, after which it swiftly declined."

The word "populism" had its share of good luck and it fared well as a hint of something certainly difficult to define but quite easy to sympathize with. Russian Populists not only yearned to destroy absolutism, abolish slavery and defeat their country's economic and cultural backwardness: they also wanted to replace the tsarist state—the embodiment of authoritarianism, injustice and inequality—with a new and liberating something called "revolution".

"All these thinkers share one vast apocalyptic assumption: that once the reign of evil—autocracy, exploitation, inequality—is consumed in the fire of the revolution, there will arise naturally and spontaneously out of its ashes a natural, harmonious, just order, needing only the gentle guidance of the enlightened revolutionaries to attain to its proper perfection. This great Utopian dream, based on simple faith in regenerated human nature, was a vision which the Populists shared with Godwin and Bakunin, Marx and Lenin. Its heart is the pattern of sin and fall and resurrection, of the road to the earthly paradise the gates of which will only open if men find the one true way and follow it".

According to the Italian historian supreme, Franco Venturi, "[Alexander] Herzen ( 1812-1870) created populism; [Nikolai] Chernishevsky was its politician".

A self-taught man who thought that literature was the best mean to publicize his political ideals, Chernishevsky infused Russian populism with its distinguishing qualities and, even as he kept changing his views on what the Russian revolution should involve and mean, his writings inspired generations of Populist activists during the sixties and the seventies.

While imprisoned in Petrograd's Peter and Paul Fortress—from 1862 to 1864—he wrote "What is to be done?", a novel deemed by many of his contemporaries as a handbook of Russian radicalism. So influential was this book that it led to the creation of a strong and widespread—if ultimately failed—, populist Land and Liberty political society. V.I. Lenin named one of his pamphlets after Chernishevsky's novel and it was the hero of Chernishevsky's novel who coined the phrase 'the worse the better': the worse the social conditions became for the poor, the more willing they would be to support a revolution.

However committed to the cause of the downtrodden, the lifelong fickleness of Chernishevsky's cogitations makes it very difficult to ascertain the core of his politics. The naiveness with which he used to address social and political matters as well as his insistence in writing dull novels to convey the maze of his enthusiasm, disappointments, fierce denunciations and political programs can make the reading of his work an exacting experience.

V.I. Lenin, however, considered that Chernishevsky was "the one true great writer who managed to remain on a level of unbroken philosophical materialism from the fifties right up to 1888"…

The basic approach of Russian Populists towards economics was, generally speaking, moral and even religious. Russian Populists "shrank from the prospect of industrialism in Russia because its brutal cost, and they disliked the West because it had paid this price too heartlessly".5 They believed in socialism not because it was feasible but because, to their eyes, it was just. But the most pervasive belief among Russian Populists was that the salvation could not lie in Western-styled liberal politics.
The defeat of the European revolutions in 1848-49 confirmed them in their mistrust of Western liberal democratic ideals. "As for political rights, votes, parliaments, republican forms, these were meaningless and useless to ignorant and barbarous, half-naked and starving men; such programs merely mocked their misery."…

Meeting this kind of argumentation against liberal democracy, republican forms and capitalism, as well as the advocacy of indigenous culture and "alternative roads" towards development and social justice can be an unsettling experience in 21 century Latin America. They all ring as too familiar for intellectual comfort…

To be sure, Latin American populism is not indebted to Chernishevsky's musings on "illustrated despotism" and perpetual motion machines. But it certainly shares the same disdain for individual liberties and capitalism held by those late 19th century Russian narodniki militants. Latin American populism has, of course, a history of its own, heroes of its own, intellectual superstitions and popular myths of its own.

Having said so, one question still lingers on. How a word—"populist"—that once meant heroism, disinterestedness and personal nobility in Russia has come to name corruption, lawlessness, contempt for individual liberties and poverty in our continent? I think it is a story worth telling.

In forthcoming articles I will try to delve, intently and to the best of my wits, into that history.
The ghost of the titan, N. G. Chernishevsky, walks upright in Venezuela today, and it is the midget with the titanic cigar, Ibsen Martinez’s, sole redeeming feature that he knows enough to call the apparition by name…

- anaxarchos

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Re: A Comment on Pisarev

Post by chlamor » Thu Mar 21, 2019 2:01 pm

In American history, populism often straddles the politics of reaction and the politics of the people.

Why is that, I wonder? The Republican party formed from a coalition of abolitionists and know-nothings, for example. My theory - anti-authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism have an affinity; populism and volkism have an affinity. When we look at politics as two dimensional on a conservative-liberal scale we miss a third dimension, and those affinities seem absurd.

I think that the narrative of Russian "populism" is that Russian democratic ideals, held full-square by the Russian liberals, run head first into the wall of the autocracy. Because that liberalism has such a weak base, the result is a suicidal endeavor that not only crushes the Liberals, but reduces them to absolute bankruptcy, whereupon they depart the historical stage, arguably to this very day. In their place arises the harshest criticism of the social circumstances (the so-called "Nihilists"), who, though they initially target the liberals and hide as "literary criticism", nevertheless, they are themselves quickly swept up by the same autocracy. In response, there is no choice but to "go to the people", as Herzen invites them to do. But, that act itself is transformative. Neither those who "go", or the ideas they "go" with, nor those who are "gone to", are homogeneous. Ideas, tactics, program, loyalties, ideology and the "people" themselves, are all changed by the struggle. The most left wing "peoples'" party at the beginning of movement, ends up being the most right-wing party by the time of the revolution. All of this happens in a more or less linear way ("inevitable", in retrospect) and it is for that reason alone that this history is worth revisiting.

American populism is more complicated, with little that is "linear". Certainly the "populism" of Debs or of "Fightin' Bob" has much in common with the above, even as that of Bryan or Coughlin, at the extreme, has almost nothing to do with it. Part of the problem is "race" (the landmine in front of every American movement), part of the issue is that American populism historically faced even a more heterogeneous class makeup, within which, not "all of the people" were "goin' down"... in fact, some of them were "goin' up". Some of the problem is in this "middle-class", whether it is an actual class or not, and we have touched on it before. Once again, this is a very important question, well worth talking about.

I have never had much fear of volkism. I don't think fascism has ever had much of an independent popular base but, instead, always derives its power from its relationship to the ruling class. I see no evidence that the reactionary yearning to "return" to some mythical past has ever really taken over truely broad movements in American history, although the ability of those screwy ideas to derail such movements are undeniable.

The "anti-intellectualism", is a more serious problem. Part of the importance of the "Nihilists", and what makes them similar to the Jacobins who come before and the socialists who come after, is that "populism' is also a movement of (evolving) ideas. There is nothing in what already exists that can be taken whole (as was argued for the Russian mir) as the basis for the new society. This realization is the oldest one of all, confounding even the Diggers that both of us admire.

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Re: A Comment on Pisarev

Post by chlamor » Thu Mar 21, 2019 2:04 pm

Originally Posted by Mike

Quote Originally Posted by anaxarchos

I have never had much fear of volkism. I don't think fascism has ever had much of an independent popular base but, instead, always derives its power from its relationship to the ruling class.

Very astute and accurate.

I see no evidence that the reactionary yearning to "return" to some mythical past has ever really taken over truely broad movements in American history, although the ability of those screwy ideas to derail such movements are undeniable.

For many people, it is the present they want to protect. City folk assume that it is all in some mythical past and that people want to return to it. Here there are many people still living the way their ancestors did, and they see themselves as desperately hanging on against all odds. You need to see that to understand the appeal of "you'll have to pry it out of my cold dead hands" and "traditional values." It aslo explains the intense patriotism - it isn't the current government that is being defended in the minds of the average enlistee here, it is "us" - the plain people. Smarter people somewhere figure out the where and when ( a good thing really - the concept of a military that is under civilian control) - service, duty and honor are constants. They are well aware that it is always a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight."

When liberals say "the country" they mean the ruling class, and the government. When Republican-voting Jacksonians say "the country" they mean family, friends, and neighbors. Anyone can join that country, regardless of race or other things that are barriers in the city, once they demonstrate commitment the ideals of freedom, self-reliance, dedication to community, sacrifice and willingness to pitch in. No one is considered to be part of the country who does not pass that test, and that is why liberals can be seen as un-American - liberals mock the people and the values. They "talk a good game" - all people are equal - but what they really do is promote groups of people as though they were pets, or something. In fact, pets get as much or more "compassion" as brown people and GLBT people, and "rights" are demanded for animals with the same, or more, passion as people. Round up and detain brown people, and there is little interest from the liberals. Do the same thing to cats or horses, and the hue and cry reaches fever pitch. This because liberals "care" for their helpless inferiors - and that is how they see AA people and indigenous people - cute pets that we "care" about.

In this way, liberals are more racist, and more in league with the ruling class than the NASCAR rednecks are or ever will be. They conflate "country" with ruling class without even being aware that they do, and all of their "caring" about the poor and minority people is founded on an assumption that people in those groups are inferior and therefore need their compassion.

When I describe the way things actually are today in rural areas, city liberals sneer and accuse me of "romanticizing" rural life and people. That is because it is only in books and movies that they come into contact with these ideas and characters, so they assume that is the only place that they exist. Any defense of blue collar people is seen by liberals as romanticization - as opposed to realism, which is supposed to inform us that they are all uneducated, ignorant, violent, racist, criminal numbskulls. But don't call liberals aristocratic or elitist!
OMG, Mike I triple-dog dare you to register a fake-account and go post that on DU. Or, be even more direct: liberals deep down see minorities, the handicapped, and homosexuals as inferior. That is the root cause of their "activism" for these groups.

I know you've said this all before Mike, and it must be frustrating to have to keep pounding the same drum to people who aren't getting it, but I think this is one of your best forumlations of your point yet.

I remember Chlamor bringing up another point that I think bears on this too - alot of these "liberals" are the most helpless people in the world. I used to see posts about auto repair on DU that were absolutely absurd - one guy was asking about his "racking pinion". Without all the services provided by their "inferiors" they would last a week, tops. Maybe their is some sort of complex behind that - deep down they have to be aware of their own limitations especially when it comes to technical skills..


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Re: A Comment on Pisarev

Post by kidoftheblackhole » Thu Mar 21, 2019 2:05 pm

I am a Marxist, and not even an "exotic" one at that... a run-of-the-mill, very conventional commie. But, I've lost all patience with the silly slogans of my craft, despite knowing the very real history and understandable origins of them.
]A comment I did not appreciate at the time and one that I don't think we ever fully discussed. This was the subtext running through a couple notable controversies we had over the years. I think we can be afford to be a little generous and defer that conversations are had "at a thousand levels of different sophistication" but..

..there is something important here. We emotionalize (and thereby trivialize) matters to our own detriment. As the chorus rises, many are bullied into a forced (if not feigned) fealty.

It has its place but, as noted, even then it is exceedingly trying

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Re: A Comment on Pisarev

Post by blindpig » Thu Mar 21, 2019 2:55 pm

kidoftheblackhole wrote:
Thu Mar 21, 2019 2:05 pm
I am a Marxist, and not even an "exotic" one at that... a run-of-the-mill, very conventional commie. But, I've lost all patience with the silly slogans of my craft, despite knowing the very real history and understandable origins of them.
A comment I did not appreciate at the time and one that I don't think we ever fully discussed. This was the subtext running through a couple notable controversies we had over the years. I think we can be afford to be a little generous and defer that conversations are had "at a thousand levels of different sophistication" but..

..there is something important here. We emotionalize (and thereby trivialize) matters to our own detriment. As the chorus rises, many are bullied into a forced (if not feigned) fealty.

It has its place but, as noted, even then it is exceedingly trying
I had missed that. Is Mike talking about standard Marxist terminology? I assume as much & have been dealing with such irl. 'Nineteenth century','inaccessible', yadda yadda. Pointing out that millions of workers got no problem with this, 'American Exceptionalism' raises it's head. Just as it always has, mebbe the biggest fault of CPUSA. Anyways, demolish that argument and another will be brought to bear, ad infinitum. Anything but communism.

Hey Chlams, you following me around or something? I just brought up 'Dead Russians' today on twitter.
"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

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Re: A Comment on Pisarev

Post by blindpig » Sun Mar 24, 2019 5:16 pm

More 'Dead Russians' here:

"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

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