Marx and Anglo Russian Relations and other writings

Submitted by on 12 June, 2003 - 12:00

by David Riazanov, Francis Boutle publishers

This is not an easy book to understand, but the effort to do so is worthwhile. It is not a work of hagiography, but an example of how the method of Marx can be used to develop the Marxist understanding of history.

The author David Riazanov was arguably the greatest Marxist scholar of the last century. He was a revolutionary Marxist from the 1880s, a participant in the Russian revolution who was murdered on Stalin's orders in 1938. But it was as the editor of the Marx-Engels Works after 1917 that Riazanov made his reputation.

To make the most of the book, you need to have some familiarity with the Russian history, and with Marx's writings on Russia, especially volume 15 of the Collected Works. This volume contains Marx's "Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century", which Marx first published in 1856-57.

Marx was able to show the intimate connections between Russia and Britain in commerce stretching back two centuries. Russian materials had been a vital source when Britain was building up its navy - vital for extending the empire - and later Russian raw materials were an important element in the industrial revolution. However Riazanov shows that these economic connections did not mechanically lead to close political relations.

Marx published this work as part of his wider analysis of the role of Tsarist Russia in European politics. Russia had been the chief bulwark of reaction in the 1848 revolution, and both Marx and Engels advocated a revolutionary war against Russia as a means of weakening this stranglehold.

Riazanov described in great detail why they took this attitude, and was not afraid to point out errors, inconsistencies and disagreements in their arguments. However he was concerned principally to show how their attitude changed as a result of actual developments inside Russia during their lifetime - principally the first shoots of a revolutionary movement inside the country. As it developed, they increasingly looked to this movement, rather than an external attack on Tsarism, as the force for change.

These arguments were not simply of academic interest when Riazanov wrote these articles - just before the First World War. At the time right-wing German socialists were already using some of the old quotations of Marx and Engels on war with Russia as a cover for support of their own government. Ultimately they put this stance into practice in 1914, shattering the international working class along national lines. Riazanov's work made it much harder for them to use Marx as a justification.

Appended to the main work are two articles on the national question in Poland and in the Balkans. Brian Pearce, translated the work, and provides a valuable outline of Riazanov's life and other contextual detail. In short, a book well worth the time to study and learn from.

Score: 9/10
Reviewer: Paul Hampton

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