“When Was Caesar Born?” Theory and Practice of Truth in Plekhanov and Bogdanov

  • Evgeni V. Pavlov Metropolitan State University of Denver
Keywords: Dialectical materialism, theory of knowledge, objective truth, dogmatism, scientific socialism, Russian Marxism


Although political differences between various factions of the Russian Social­Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) have been studied quite extensively, theoretical debates about the nature of Marxism and the role such debates had in determining Party programs and strategic decisions remains in need of a more thorough engagement. One such theoretical discussion, the question of the nature of (absolute) truth, is the subject matter of the present essay. The primary debate was between Georgi Plekhanov, one of the most respected representatives of early Russian Marxism, and a group of theoreticians united around Alexander Bogdanov, an early collaborator of Lenin (until their break in 1909) and an author of several original theoretical works that attempted to challenge the established orthodoxy of Plekhanovite Marxism. The question of the nature of truth stood at the center of the debates between Plekhanov and Bogdanov. The ultimate challenge that Bogdanov threw to the representatives of (self­proclaimed) “orthodox Marxism” was the question of the ultimate nature of Marxist theory: Is Marxism a science or a faith? If it is a science, it must operate within a scientific theory of truth and, as is the case with any genuine science, continue to grow and adapt to the changing circumstances of research. If it is indeed a faith, a set of absolute truths revealed to one person (Marx) and passed on to his disciples in sacred texts and by appointed prophets, then it contains as much value as any other faith or superstition.


Althusser, Louis (1969). For Marx. Trans. Ben Brewster. London: Verso.

Althusser, Louis (1971). Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. London: Monthly Review Press.

Akselrod, Lubov (1906). “Novaya raznovidnost’ revizionizma” [New kind of revision­ ism]. In Filosofskie ocherki [Philosophical essays], 171–85. St Petersburg: M. M. Družinina i A. N. Maksimova.

Bryant, Levi, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman (2011). The Speculative Turn: Continen- tal Materialism and Realism. Melbourne: re.press.

Ballestrem, Karl G. (1969). “Lenin and Bogdanov.” Studies in Soviet Thought 9.4: 283– 310.

Baron, Samuel L. (1963). Plekhanov: The Father of Russian Marxism. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bazarov, Vladimir (1908). “Mistitsizm i realism nachego vremeni” [Mysticism and real­ ism of our time]. In Ocherki po filosofii marksizma [Essays on Philosophy of Marx­ ism], 3–71. St Petersburg: Tip. V. Bezobrazov i Ko.

Bazarov, Vladimir (1910). Na dva fronta [On two fronts]. St Petersburg: Prometei.

Biggart, John (1987). “Bukharin and the Origin of the Proletarian Culture Debate.” So- viet Studies XXXIX.2: 229–46.

Biggart, John (1992). “Bukharin’s Theory of Cultural Revolution.” In The Ideas of Nikolai Bukharin, ed. Anthony Kemp-Welch, 133–58. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bogdanov, Alexander (1907). “Otkrytoe pismo Plekhanovu” [Open letter to Plekhanov]. Vestnik zhizni 7: 46–47.

Bogdanov, Alexander (1908). Prikliucheniia odnoi filosofskoi shkoly [Adventures of one philosophical school]. St Petersburg: Znanie.

Bogdanov, Alexander (1917). Vseobshchaya organizatsionnaya nauka (Tektologiya) [Universal organizational science (Tektology)]. Moskva: Knigoizdatel’stvo pisatelei v Moskve.

Bogdanov, Alexander (1922). Tektologiya: Vseobshchaya organizatsionnaya nauka [Tektology: Universal organizational science], Berlin: Z. I. Grzhebina.

Bogdanov, Alexander (1995). “Desyatiletie otlucheniyz ot marksizma” [Ten-year anniversary of excommunication from Marxism]. In Neizvestnyi Bogdanov, Vol. 3 [Un­ known Bogdanov]. Moskva: AIRO-XX.

Bogdanov, Alexander (2003). Empiriomonizm [Empiriomonism], Vol. III. Moscow: Respublica.

Bogdanov, Alexander (2010). “Vera i nauka” [Faith and science]. In Padenie velikogo fetishizma [The fall of great fetishism], 142–220. Moscow: URSS.

Bukharin, Nikolai (1925). Historical Materialism: A System of Sociology. International Publishers. https://www.marxists.org/archive//bukharin/works/1921/histmat/in­ dex.htm.

Cohen, Stephen F. (1973). Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888–1938. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Deborin, Abram (1908). “Filosofia Makha i russkaia revolutsiia” [The philosophy of Mach and the Russian revolution]. Golos sotsial-demokrata 4–5: 3–12.

Engels, Frederick (1972). Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. Moscow: International Pub­ lishers.

Engels, Friedrich (2010). “Anti-Dühring.” In Marx & Engels Collected Works, Vol. 25, 5–309. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Epstein, Mikhail, Alexander Genis, and Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover (1999). Russian Post-modernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture. Trans. and ed. Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover. New York: Berghahn Books.

Hegel, G. W. F. (1977). Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A. V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford Uni­ versity Press.

Ilyenkov, Evald (1980). Leninskaya dialektika i metafizika pozitivizma [Leninist dialectics and metaphysics of positivism]. Moscow: Politizdat.

Kedrov, B. M. (1959). Kniga V. I. Lenina “Materializm i empiriokrititsizm” i sovremennoe estestvoznanie [Lenin’s “Materialism and Empirio­criticism” and contemporary natural science]. Moscow: Znanie.

Kedrov, B. M. (1983). Kak izuchat” knigu V. I. Lenina Materializm i empiriokrititsizm” [How to study Lenin’s “Materialism and empirio­criticism”]. Fourth edition. Moscow: Politizdat.

Kopnin, P. V. (1969). Filosofskie idei V. I. Lenina i logika [Lenin’s philosophical ideas and logic]. Moscow: Nauka.

Lenin, V. I. (1935). Leninskii Sbornik [Lenin miscellany], Vol. III. Ed. Lev Kamenev. Mos­ cow: Institut Lenina.

Lenin, V. I. (1977a). “Materialism and Empirio-criticism.” In Collected Works, Vol. 14.

Trans. Abraham Fineberg, 17–362. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Lenin, V. I. (1977b). Collected Works, Vol. 15. Trans. Abraham Fineberg. Moscow: Prog­ ress Publishers.

Levant, Alex, and Vesa Oittinen, eds. (2014). Dialectics of the Ideal: Evald Ilyenkov and Creative Soviet Marxism. Leiden: Brill.

Lifschitz, Mikhail (2003). Dialog s Evaldom Ilyenkovym [The dialogue with Evald Ilyen­ kov]. Moscow: Progress.

Lobastov, G. V., ed. (2004). Ideal’noe: Ilyenkov i Lifschitz [The ideal: Ilyenkov and Lif­ schitz]. Moscow: Mikron­Print.

Meillassoux, Quentin (2008). After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Trans. Ray Brassier. London: Continuum.

Menand, Louis (2016). “He’s Back.” The New Yorker (October 10): 90–97.

Minin, Sergei (1922a). “Filosofiiu za bort!” [Philosophy overboard!]. Pod znamenem marksizma [Under the banner of Marxism] 5–6:122–27.

Minin, Sergei (1922b). “Kommunizm i filosofiia” [Communism and philosophy]. Pod znamenem marksizma [Under the banner of Marxism] 11–12: 184–98.

Plekhanov, Georgi (1910). Ot oborony k napadeniyu [From defense to attack]. Moskva: Tovarishchestvo.

Plekhanov, Georgi (2004a). Selected Philosophical Works, Vol. II. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.

Plekhanov, Georgi (2004b). “Materialismus militans.” In Selected Philosophical Works, Vol. III, 188–283. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.

Steila, Daniela (1991). Genesis and Development of Plekhanov’s Theory of Knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer Science + Business Media.

Tyutyukin, S. V. (1997). G. V. Plekhanov: Sud”ba russkogo marksista [G. V. Plekhanov: The fate of a Russian Marxist]. Moscow: ROSSPEN.

Volodin, A. I. (1982). “Boi absolyunto neizbezhen” [“The battle is absolutely inevitable”]. Moscow: Izdatelstvo politicheskoi literatury.

Wark, McKenzie (2015). Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. London: Verso.

Wolfendale, Peter (2014). Object-Oriented Philosophy: The Noumenon’s New Clothes. Fal­ mouth: Urbanomic.

Yakhot, Yehoshua (2012). The Suppression of Philosophy in the USSR (The 1920s and 1930s). Trans. Frederick S. Choate. Oak Park, MI: Merhing Books.

Yassour, Avraham (1983). “The Empiriomonist Critique of Dialectical Materialism: Bog­ danov, Plekhanov, Lenin.” Studies in Soviet Thought 26: 21–38.

Yushkevich, Pavel (1909) “Na temu dnia” [On today’s topic]. In Vershiny [Heights], Book 1: 365–97.

Žižek, Slavoj (2012). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London: Verso.
How to Cite
Pavlov, E. V. (2017). “When Was Caesar Born?” Theory and Practice of Truth in Plekhanov and Bogdanov. Stasis, 5(2). Retrieved from http://stasisjournal.net/index.php/journal/article/view/15