Russian Cultural Studies: An Introduction

By David Shepherd; Catriona Kelly | Go to book overview

2
'Revolutionary' Models for High Literature: Resisting Poetics

PETER KENEZ

DAVID SHEPHERD


Bolshevik Views of Culture: Modernization and Patronage

Leninand his comrades were great modernizers. As Marxists they took it for granted that all societies go through the same wellestablished stages of social development, and that according to this scheme Russiawas backward. They had little respect for or interest in traditional Russian culture; for them the particular customs of the Russian peasantry were simply manifestations of backwardness. For Bolshevik theorists, leading a revolution in the most backward major country in Europepresented problems. They explained the embarrassing fact (for a Marxist) that the revolution took place first in a country where capitalism had hardly developed, by means of the theory of the weakest link in the chain of imperialism. That is, as they saw it, the task of the Russian revolutionaries was merely to break the chain of imperialism; they confidently expected that once that happened the entire rotten capitalist system would unravel.

On the one hand, instinctive revolutionaries as they were, the Leninists could not miss the chance offered by the confusion that followed the collapse of the Romanov monarchy, but on the other, they were more bothered by the Menshevik criticism that Russia was not ready for a socialist revolution than they were themselves willing to admit. The solution in principle was simple. The revolutionaries, while fighting their enemies, had to accomplish what capitalism had failed to do: to raise the cultural level of the people to rival that of Western Europeans. Proletarian Russiahad to go through a cultural revolution. Lenin, who had paid little attention to popular education

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