Russian revolutionary politician, cultural theorist and social philosopher. Born 1857, died 1918.
An early proponent of Marxism in Russia, Plekhanov is sometimes called the "Father of Russian Marxism".
In his younger days, he was a narodnik, a member of the populist Land and Freedom movement that promoted a revolution of the masses. When the Land and Freedom movement became further radicalised with the formation of the terrorist People's Will group, in 1879, Plekhanov broke with the movement and went into political exile the following year (1880).
During most of his exile, he lived in Geneva, Switzerland, where he became more involved with Socialism. In 1883, he helped found the League for the Emancipation of Labour, which was to become the nucleus of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.
In 1900, he began to publish, with Vladimir Ilich Lenin, the socialist newspaper Iskra ("Spark"). Plekhanov's theoretical views on Marxism, however, moved away from those of Lenin, and when the party split, in 1903, into rival factions of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Plekhanov's theories became the basis of the Menshevik line, and Lenin's of the Bolshevik line. Plekhanov continued to head Iskra, which became Menshevik in editorial policy, and Lenin left to form his own Bolshevik newspaper.
Until the outbreak of World War I, Plekhanov continually worked to reunite the rival factions, without success. When war broke out, Plekhanov supported Russian participation in it. After the February Revolution in 1917, he returned to Russia, and worked to support the war effort and oppose the Bolsheviks. After the October Revolution later the same year (which he condemned as a coup d'état), he admitted defeat to Lenin and retired from politics.
Quite apart from his political philosophy, Plekhanov's cultural philosophy, as expressed in, among other works, Letters without address (1899-1900), was all-important in the formation of a Marxist style of literary criticism. However, the doctrinal socialist realism, which was developed in the 1930s, directly contradicted his view of the importance of artistic freedom.