Thursday, 14 February 2008

Chernyshevsky - 'What Is To Be Done?'

Hi There! Sorry this has taken some time coming. I forgot for a bit, then forgot my passward, forgot again etc. Anyway, better late than never. I hope its of some help, see you all tomorrow. Richard.

Personal Background.

Born July 28th 1828 in Saratov, major city on the Volga River in SW Russia.
Harsh realities of everyday existence fostered a rejection of the phantasmagorical and contributed to his materialism (Physical matter only reality, contrast to Plato) – Turgenev’s conclusion that C. ‘Didn’t understand poetry’ but did understand ‘Needs of real contemporary life.’
Taught Latin by father and could read in 8 languages including Greek, Hebrew, French & German.
His father was a priest and C. raised religiously, renounced there beliefs when he went to University in Petersburg but important.
Wave of Revolutions in Europe in 1848 turning point in C.’s political development and a dividing line between ‘Men of 40s and 60s.
In 1853 became Chief Editor of ‘Sovremennik’ literary, social & political magazine – appeared interested in literary criticism but only way he could express his opinion without censorship.
Thawing of oppression on Alexander II’s ascension and hope with the Emancipation of Serfs (1861) – Led to split in Russian intelligentsia, C. correctly believed that it would not go far enough e.g. Redemption payments (not cancelled till 1907.)
Eventually arrested with little legal basis in 1862 & confined to St Peter & Paul fortress for 2 years as the authorities attempted to construct a case against him.
Here he wrote ‘What is to be done?’
Exiled to Siberia, where he spent around 25 years before returning home to Saratov a few weeks before he died in 1889 aged 61.

‘What is to be done?’

Economic background provided by the co-operatives of seamstresses, described in detail.
Straightforward process, find girls with ‘Good & open’ characters, demonstrate that profits should be divided evenly between them, that decisions must be made with their consent & they should help balance the books.
Opened a bank and eventually lived in the same house, education at work
Obvious influence of Fourier eg. His ideas on collective buying and selling saving time/money. P194, ‘The first Phalanx will, in consequence of its social isolation & other impediments inherent in social experimental canton, have…special obstacles to overcome, obstacles which the Phalanxes subsequently founded would not have to contend with.’ Organisation of second shop much quicker & easier (p282) because first 5 girls from old shop.
Has been defined& tainted by its association with Russian radicals and the resulting tragedy of 20th Century Totalitarianism.
E.H. Carr – ‘Almost everything about ‘WITBD?’ is disconcerting to the modern western reader,’ eludes to egoism of central characters indeed, ‘Our Hero, then, thought of interests solely; instead of cherishing lofty & poetic dreams, he was absorbed by such dreams of love as are in harmony with the gross nature of materialism.’ P114.
C claims it will become advantageous to be good ‘The time is approaching when the wicked will see that it is against their interest to be wicked and most of them will become good.’ Mercier: ‘Good is not more difficult than evil.’ p156
Carr also labels ‘WITBD?’ a, ‘Grey, austere, humourless utopia,’ suggesting that it was informed by the prison environment in which it was conceived.
Included extract of Sunday Trip (p165) to illustrate this simply isn’t true. Food, dancing and even the more austere men are torn from their discussion and induced to wrestle and race (although did not dance.) No one made to listen.

Influence on Russian Revolutionaries.

Lenin hailed C. ‘A great Russian Socialist’ and read it 5 times.
RakhmÊtov biggest influence on later revolutionaries: A professional revolutionary (eluded to in euphemistic terms), was wealthy secret scholarships, travelled around Russia, itinerant trades (legend of strongman on barges).
Ascetic existence in St P, renounces: Wine, women & personal happiness, refuses to eat any food not available to humblest peasant (apart from best meat), tests endurance by sleeping on bed of nails.
Arranges day with mathematical precision, prolific reader, but only the important texts.
Irony that Chernyshevsky’s ascetism grew from his religious upbringing and remained after his religious beliefs waned. This in turn influenced Lenin and other Bolsheviks, who were extremely atheistic.
Furthermore, the Russian Rev as a whole was characterised by a certain religiosity and the millenarianist belief in the inevitability of the creation of a new age.
Published article by same name in Iskra (Russian Social Democrat Labour Party Newspaper) in March 1902.
Titled partly for the inspiring associations it would have had on its reader. But there was also an inner appropriateness because in this pamphlet Lenin broke with the western idea of democratic working class party and stressed the need for a group of full-time, professional revolutionary conspirators to take absolute control & guide the rev struggle.

No comments: