How to Philosophize with a Hammer and Sickle. Part 1

Translated by Michael Millerman. Founder of - online philosophy and politics courses on Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Dugin, Strauss, and more.

Three features of Marxism: Europeanism, universalism, revolutionism (criticism)

We turn to the topic of Soviet-Marxist philosophy.

Before correlating Marxism with its history in Russian-Soviet society, some preliminary considerations must be made.

1. Historically and geographically, Marxism is an organic part of Western European philosophy, is based on its premises and develops its fundamental foundations and methods. Marx and Engels lived and thought in 19th century Western Europe, understanding themselves as the legitimate heirs of European intellectual and socio-political history. Marx was a student of Hegel, whose philosophy fundamentally influenced his worldview and the structure of his thoughts. Marx and Engels created their political and philosophical doctrine with reference to Western Europe and considered it to be the historical arena in which their revolutionary prophecies were destined to be realized, including socialist revolutions that were supposed to spread from Western Europe to the rest of the world according to its natural social and political development.

2. Being an organic part of Western European philosophy, Marxism fully absorbed its inherent eurocentrism, which considers European history and the main stages of its economic, political and social development as a universal path that all other peoples and cultures are destined to follow. The Europeans themselves traditionally regarded the Western European cultural circle as something universal and common and considered the difference between other non-Western cultures and the West not only as a different and distinctive feature, but as a historical lag, underdevelopment, and a delay on a previous stage of historical development. Western philosophy considers European fate as the fate of humanity as such, as a universal world fate. These properties of Western European mentality are fully inherent in Marxism, and it was in the spirit of such philosophical hermeneutics that Marx and Engels identified the development scheme described by them, approximately corresponding to the stages of Western European history, with the unidirectional and universal logic of the socio-economic, political and cultural development of all humanity. Strictly in the spirit of eurocentrism, Marx considered it impossible to carry out socialist revolutions anywhere except Europe, since it was precisely in Europe that capitalism and its characteristic processes reached their peak, and socialist revolutions could only take place in highly developed capitalist countries with a powerful urban proletariat. For this reason, Marx denied the very possibility of a proletarian socialist revolution in Russia, which was an agrarian semi-capitalist country in the 19th century: at least it was impossible until the corresponding revolutions would take place in more developed European countries: Germany, England, France, etc. At the same time, Marx believed that all societies outside of Europe would sooner or later follow the European path. Consequently, Marx linked the implementation of communist projects exclusively with the European future, arising from the European past. And in all this, he, following Hegel, saw a universal character, to the extent that European humanity was the historical expression of all humanity. Just as Europe brought capitalism to the whole world (including through colonization), so it was called to bring communism in the future (through social progress and world revolution).

3. Marxism was a critical philosophical theory, subjecting the social, economic, political structure of the capitalist West European world to merciless denunciation. Recognizing the fatefulness of Western history and philosophy, Marx called for a coup, for the overturning of their basic laws and internal meanings. But this inverted picture nevertheless retained, although with the opposite sign, the structure of the Western European hermeneutic circle. Marxism opposed the West in its present state (capitalism, bourgeois relations) to the West of the future, which had to be built on the basis of alternative principles — the dictatorship of the proletariat, the socialization of the means of production and, finally, classless society, etc. If the whole history of the West, according to Marx, was a process of the growing exacerbation of class contradictions and a way to exaltation of the class struggle up to its culmination in capitalism, then the future was associated with a revolution of all proportions and the “end of history.” Moreover, the fate of the West (and, accordingly, the fate of humanity), according to Marx, consisted in the movement of society towards the final ideal of communism through strictly necessary phases of development, the “economic formations” (primitive communism, slave society, feudal and capitalist systems). In the Communist Manifesto,1 Marx and Engels emphasize that their anti-capitalism is to the left of capitalism, from the future, and not from the right, from the feudal and reactionary past. And the authors of the Manifesto carefully list the forms of socialism they reject: reactionary socialism (including its feudal, petty bourgeois and German forms), bourgeois socialism, and utopian socialism.

These features of Marxism also explain the fact that Marxism, being an organic part of Western philosophy and a product of Western European social history, can be correctly interpreted only and exclusively in the context of the corresponding hermeneutical circle. And that Marxism was very popular outside this circle is explained by the fact that it was based on criticism of this circle itself, a criticism that was fundamental and sometimes extremely deep, right down to its foundations. Marxism was a form of Western philosophy, oriented against the main tendencies of this philosophy. Marxism thought of itself as the ultimate form of Western European history and at the same time as its overcoming, as “the end of history.” Hegel’s idea of “the end of history” as its completion and overcoming was expressed differently: namely, in the ideal of the Prussian monarchy, where the proportions of the complete restoration of the Absolute Idea should be realized in the form of the subjective spirit recreated in culture and politics. The non-Marxist version of Hegelianism in the 20th century inspired the Italian fascists to build their own version of the “ideal state” (Gentile). But in any case, Marx’s “end of history” (communism) was conceived in the context of the Western European capitalist model as its overcoming, possible only where and when the capitalist system is fully implemented, established, developed, consolidated; all the contradictions in it will come to the surface and the European industrial proletariat will unite into a powerful workers’ communist party. Marx did not consider other versions of possible socialist revolutions, since, within the framework of his theory, a socialist revolution could not occur in non-capitalist and non-European societies. Such confidence was not just a secondary detail of the Marxist worldview, but flowed from the very structure of Marxist thought.

Russian Marxism as a Radical Westernism

The Russian Marxists of the 19th century, in particular, the Plekhanov “Union for the Liberation of Labor,” were forced from the very beginning to conform to this point of Marxist teaching. They represented the extreme Westernist flank (Figure 4) of the revolutionary democratic movement. The Narodniks, later the Socialist-Revolutionaries, tried to place Westernized socialist ideas in the Russian context, adapting socialism to the Russian people and, as a result, obtaining a rather original set of ideas, theories and intuitions, somewhat consonant with some Slavophile concepts. Such populism was generally archeomodern, but increased attention to the archaic pole A (Figure 1) and opposition to the existing Romanov “status quo” (Figure 4) often led them to attempts to rethink the entire Russian hermeneutic ellipse and to going deeper into the “people.” At the same time, the orientation toward Western models of the socialist idea deflected a sequence of actually populist undertakings — routes directed deeper into the Russian popular [narodnoy] masses, not to instil in it European civil and democratic cliches, but to study the deep foundations of popular [narodnoy] life.

In any case, compared to the Narodniks, the Russian Marxists were radical Westerners, since they deliberately denied all originality to Russian social history and considered Russia a peripheral European country, extremely remnant and archaic, but moving, like all other countries, along one path and in one direction (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Leftism in Russia and the Archeomodern Poles. *Non-leftist ideational tendencies are shown in square brackets

The only thing needed as justification for the Russian Marxists to engage in active revolutionary struggle, and not sit idly by, waiting for the socialist revolutions to sweep across the countries of Western Europe, was the possibility of Russia’s accelerated capitalist development and the earliest possible establishment in it of a bourgeois system.

The paradox of the Bolshevik victory: something happened that should not have happened

Vladimir Lenin, a second-generation Russian Marxist, was particularly enthusiastic about proving that Russia at the beginning of the 20th century was already a sufficiently developed European capitalist country and could participate on an equal footing in the pan-European revolutionary movement. So, in his work The Development of Capitalism in Russia,2 polemicizing with the Narodniks, he argues that capitalist relations also developed to a significant extent in the countryside, and that the only revolutionary class is the industrial urban proletariat, which is already large and socially active enough to be the mass basis of the revolutionary movement. This thesis of Lenin was at variance with Marx’s views on the possibility of revolution in Russia, but it could be substantiated in the spirit of general Russian Westernism. If the ruling Romanov elite considered Russia a European country and stubbornly examined Russian culture through the optics of the West European hermeneutic circle, then why could representatives of the revolutionary raznochintsy intelligentsia not do the same, borrowing from the West not the apologetic and evolutionary-reformist liberal model of modernization, but the revolutionary-democratic socialist and communist one?!

Thus, Russian Marxism was an organic complement to the whole picture of the Russian Westernism of the governmental (monarchist) and liberal-capitalist (reformist, bourgeois) trends. Monarchism and the liberal bourgeoisie were the periphery of the West European ideological and political mainstream, and Russian Marxists reproduced on the Russian soil the marginal proletarian movements and revolutionary ideas of the same European society. But unlike other Russian Westernizers, Russian Marxists set themselves a radical task: they had to solve two problems at once: not only to catch up with the West in terms of capitalist development, but also to smash the newly established and not well firmly capitalist system. At the same time, the Blanquist temperament of many Marxists - first of all, of Lenin himself, as well as of Leon Trotsky and other radicals - suggested that all this must be done “here and now,” immediately and without delay.

A paradoxical situation developed: a few and scattered Marxists in a country with a poorly developed urban proletariat and unstable capitalist relations, with the dominance of the agrarian sector, an extremely archaic, rural, psychologically “medieval” population, and a weak proletarian party torn apart by internal squabbles, proved more fanatical, organized and, ultimately, successful in the realization of the Marxist socio-political scenario than the much more structured, orthodox, consistent, influential and numerous revolutionary parties in Western Europe.

If at first Lenin argued that Russia is a European power in which pan-European processes take place and that it has a chance to participate in the approach of the European proletarian revolution on a full-fledged basis, then by 1917, adapting to the difficult circumstances of the political crisis provoked in many respects by the First World War and the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II, Lenin was now arguing (with stretched references to Marx) for the possibility of carrying out a revolution primarily in one country, Russia.3 The Bolsheviks successfully seize power in October 1917. Even more incredible is the fact that they are able to maintain this power and achieve victory in the civil war.


1. Marx K., Engels F. Communist Manifesto / Marx K., Engels F., Works. Vol. 4. Moscow: State Publishing House of Political Literature, 1955. pp. 419–459.

2. Lenin V.I. The Development of Capitalism in Russia / Lenin V.I. Complete Works in 55 Volumes. Volume 3, Moscow: Gospolitizdat, 1958.

3. Lenin V.I. State and Revolution: The Marxist Theory of the State & The Tasks of the Proletarian Revolution / Lenin V.I. Complete Writings. Vol 33. Moscow, 1974. Pp. 1-120.