Struve, Peter

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STRUVE, PETER (1870–1944), Russian political economist and political figure.

A remarkable political thinker, scholar, and activist, Peter Struve long remained shadowy in the narrative of late tsarism and the Russian Revolution, largely because of his refusal to fit into the ideological frameworks erected around those events. The admiring and definitive two-volume study by Richard Pipes revived and contextualized a complex life. Struve's political values from youth to age forty-four described an arc from early conservatism to Marxism into conservative liberalism and strident nationalism.

The Struves were of German origin. Peter Struve's grandfather was a noted astronomer, and his father a governor of Perm Province. Peter attended school and university in St. Petersburg. While still a schoolboy, he lost faith in the autocracy following the censoring of his idol, the Slavophile nationalist Ivan Aksakov, in the mid-1880s. At university in the 1890s Struve became a Marxist. Along with other intellectuals—the so-called Legal Marxists—Struve argued in uncensored publications against the contentions of the "Legal Populists" that industrial capitalism and the consequent rise of a proletariat offered the only solution to Russia's backwardness and that the proletariat could serve as the sole instrument of a struggle for democracy. Struve's wide connections in Russia, which included Vladimir Lenin, and in Europe and his brilliant editorial gifts led to his invitation to write the famous manifesto announcing the formation in 1898 of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party—ancestor of both Bolshevism and Menshevism. The manifesto linked the immediate demands of democracy and freedom of speech, press, and assembly for the working class with "the struggle for its final liberation, against private property and capitalism—for socialism" (Pipes, 1970, vol. 1, p. 194). Struve later admitted that this document only partially reflected his own views at the time.

The party's first congress, in Minsk, was broken up by the police, and the delegates went on to other congresses. Struve, meanwhile, had become enamored of neo-Kantianism, a species of idealistic philosophy that could not square with historical materialism or economic determinism. Under its influence and that of the German Marxist Eduard Bernstein, Struve became a revisionist—rejecting revolution as the means of achieving worker's democracy. Arrested for his role in a demonstration, Struve spent most of 1901 in administrative exile in the provinces. His writings there caused a break with the Social Democratic leaders, though he remained vaguely a socialist until 1907. In 1902 Struve went abroad and began to edit Osvobozhdenie (Liberation), a journal of constitutional liberalism that was smuggled into Russia. Around the journal, the Union of Liberation was founded in 1903, in Switzerland. Relatively capacious, the union contained currents of liberalism, the new religious consciousness, and neo-idealism, along with echoes of populism. Initially Struve placed his hopes in the zemstvo movement—local self-government forces that were an early cradle of moderate constitutionalism. In time, he came around to Pavel Milyukov's program of a liberal party independent of the zemstvo with the goal of universal suffrage and social reforms. When such a party took shape as the Constitutional Democratic Party (known as the Kadets) late in 1905, Struve, now back in St. Petersburg, joined. By this time, he opposed popular violence, professional revolutionaries, land seizures, and class struggle in favor of order, social peace, and respect for the state.

Struve alternated political engagement with serious scholarship. A man of immense erudition and wide cultural tastes, he studied in Germany and Russia and received degrees from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev universities and taught at the St. Petersburg Polytechnical Institute, specializing in economic history and theory. While a deputy to the Second Duma in 1907, Struve made secret overtures to the tsarist minister Peter Stolypin on ways to collaborate. But Stolypin dissolved the Duma and Struve incurred the anger of his Kadet colleagues for, in effect, parlaying with the enemy. Moving steadily to the right, Struve not only broke completely with socialism but also criticized his own liberal party and the intelligentsia as a whole, and spoke up for nationalism and empire. His participation in the 1909 anthology Vekhi (Landmarks) won him more enemies. Its authors challenged what they took to be infirmities of the Russian intelligentsia: leftist materialism, religious skepticism, and ignorance of law, philosophy, and culture. Struve's Patriotica (1911), a collection of articles from the previous five years, took him a step further into conservative nationalism, containing as it did an extreme reverence for the "external power" of the Russian state and a consequent demeaning of other nationalities, especially Ukrainian. The war of 1914 only magnified Struve's glorification of Russia and the state. Shocked by the Bolshevik takeover in 1917, he joined the anti-Bolshevik forces and served as foreign minister in the White government of General Peter Wrangel in 1920. Upon its disappearance, Struve lived abroad, was arrested briefly by the Gestapo in Belgrade, and died in 1944 in Paris, then occupied by the Nazi regime, which he detested.

See alsoBolsheviks; Kadets; Mensheviks; Milyukov, Pavel.


Kindersley, Richard. The First Russian Revisionists: A Study of "Legal Marxism" in Russia. Oxford, U.K., 1962.

Leontovitsch, Victor. Geschichte des Liberalismus in Russland. Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1957.

Pipes, Richard. Struve: Liberal on the Left, 1870–1905. Cambridge, Mass., 1970.

——. Struve: Liberal on the Right, 1905–1944. Cambridge, Mass., 1980.

Struve, Peter B. Collected Works. Edited by Richard Pipes. 15 vols. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1970.

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