Populism and Orthodox Marxism in the 1890s

  • M. C. Howard
  • J. E. King
Part of the Radical Economics book series (RAE)


Plekhanov developed his Marxism primarily in opposition to populist intellectuals. The underdeveloped nature of the Russian labour movement in the 1880s meant that his immediate aim became that of converting revolutionaries of the intelligentsia to his position, rather than seeking to influence the proletariat directly.1 Plekhanov’s attack on populism, however, was part of a broader Marxist critique. The first round had been fired by Engels in 1873,2 and debates with populism in Russia were to end only with Stalin’s collectivisation in the late 1920s. The high point of the controversy came between 1894 and 1899, when there was a significant increase in the number of critical publications. This was also the period which saw the intellectual breakthrough of Marxist social democracy. In particular, the economic theory on which populist philosophy rested was undermined by a battery of sophisticated counter-arguments. While populism survived — principally in the socialist revolutionary party — it did so only by transforming its stand in ways which made major concessions to the Marxian critics.3


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Copyright information

© M. C. Howard and J. E. King 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. C. Howard
    • 1
  • J. E. King
    • 2
  1. 1.University of WaterlooUK
  2. 2.La Trobe UniversityAustralia

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