Tkachev, Petr Nikitich

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(18441886), revolutionary Russian writer.

The voluminous writings of the revolutionist Petr Nikitich Tkachev were considered by Vladimir Lenin to be required reading for his Bolshevik followers. Lenin said that Tkachev, a Jacobin-Blanquist revolutionary in Russia of the 1870s, was, "one of us."

Indeed, Soviet publicists in the 1920s (before Lenin's death) treated Tkachev, once a collaborator of the terrorist Sergei Nechayev, as a prototypical Bolshevik. As one writer put it, he was "the forerunner of Lenin." This apposition was dropped, however, after 1924, when Stalin introduced the Lenin Cult. This Stalinist line did not acknowledge any pre1917 revolutionary as a match for Lenin's vaunted status as mankind's unique, genius thinker.

The proto-Bolshevik concepts developed by Tkachev in such publications as the illegal newspaper Nabat (Tocsin ) and in publications in France, where he resided as an exile, consisted of the following points: 1) a revolutionary seizure of power under Russian conditions must be the work of an elitist group of enlightened, vanguard thinkers; to wait for the "snail-like routine-ridden" people themselves spontaneously to adopt true revolutionary ideas was a case of futile majoritarianism;2) the revolutionary socialist elite would establish a dictatorship of the workers and a workers' state;3) new generations of socialists could thus be reeducated and purged of old, private-property mentality; 4) rejecting Hegel and his protracted dialectic, Tkachev called for a proletarian revolution tomorrow, claiming that to wait for private property-mindedness to sink deeper within the Russian population was unacceptable; instead, a revolutionary jump (skachok ) must be made over all intermediate socioeconomic stages (Tkachev parted with the Marxists on this point, describing Hegelianism as metaphysical rubbish); 4) to ensure the purging of old ways, the new workers' state must set up a KOB (Komitet Obshchestvennoi Bezopasnosti ), or Committee for Public Security, modeled on Maximilien Robespierre's similar committee in striking anticipation of the Soviet Cheka, later OGPU and KGB.

In a famous letter written to Tkachev by Friedrich Engels, the latter disputed Tkachev on the Tkachevist notion that Russia could become a global pacesetter by independently making the social revolution in Russia, a backward country, in Marxist terms, building socialism directly on the basis of the old Russian commune (obshchina ). In his letter to Engels in 1874, Tkachev had lectured Marx's number one collaborator to the effect that Karl Marx simply did not understand the Russian situation, that Marxist strategies were "totally unsuitable for our country." Ironically, this allegation became the mirror image of Georgy Plekhanov's point d'appui in his dispute with Russian Jacobins in the mid-1880s, since Plekhanov, basing himself on Hegelian historical teaching of orthodox Marxism, regarded Jacobinism and Blanquism as a distortion of true Marxian revolutionism. For his part, years later Lenin, echoing Tkachev, retorted by describing Plekhanov as a feeble, wait-and-see gradualist.

When Tkachev died in a psychiatric hospital in Paris in 1886 (he was said to have suffered paralysis of the brain), the well-known Russian revolutionist Petr Lavrov delivered the eulogy together with others such as the French Blanquist Eduard Vaillant. Years later, Tkachev's body was disinterred since the cemetery plot in the Cimètiere Parisien d'Ivry was not adequately financed. His remains were cremated.

See also: bolshevism; engels, friedrich; lenin, vladimir ilich


Volkogonov, Dmitri. (1994). Lenin: A New Biography. New York: Free Press.

Weeks, Albert L. (1968). The First Bolshevik: A Political Biography of Peter Tkachev. New York: New York University Press.

Albert L. Weeks