Marx and the Russian Commune

Luca Basso


The question of Marx’s analysis of Russia is both complex and extremely controversial, particularly in light of the events of the twentieth century. My interpretation of the relationship between Marx and Russia will distance itself from two opposed readings that, in my view, are both problematic. The first, proper to ‘traditional’ Marxism, consists of an underestimation of the role of Russia, and the insistence that it was substantially irrelevant to Marx, given that it was a peripheral country that was still not developed in a capitalist sense and was thus unable to reach communist revolution before the capitalist mode of production had fully been developed. On the contrary, in recent years other ‘post-Marxist’ approaches have integrated Marx’s position with postcolonial studies in a perspective critical with regard to any Western ‘grand narrative’, pervaded with the spirit of colonialism. This outlook attributes particular importance to the Russian situation, in that this country had still not suffered the ‘labour pains’ of the birth of the capitalist mode of production. As such, it prefigured the possibility of a transition from the rural commune to communism without first having to go through the stages of capitalism. The interpretation that I propose is different from both such readings. Indeed, the former is based on an excessive dogmatism in its delineation of the transition from capitalism to communism: it thus risks conceiving the entire political scenario on the basis of a single schema deduced from the experiences of the most advanced capitalist countries. But if the first perspective has its limitations, the second is problematic, in that it surreptitiously characterises Marx as anti-modern, a supporter of the ‘archaic’. For the purposes of examining this question, it is necessary, rather, to avoid a ‘theoreticist’ outlook based on some generalising schema: both a historicist and an anti-historicist reading would be abstract in character. Marx’s study of Russia resounds in a dual register: on the one hand, theory must be rooted in history and in politics without, however, coinciding with these elements; on the other, politics cannot be immediately deduced from theory.

Marx - Russia - Commune - Communism