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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.2 (2002) 372-386

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To the Editors

Experts and Peasants:
An Exchange

To the Editors:

In response to Lars T. Lih ("Experts and Peasants," Kritika 2: 4 [Fall 2001], 803-22, as it relates to my In Search of the True West: Culture, Economics and Problems of Russian Development [Princeton, 1999]): many years ago, when I first attempted to make my mark as one of the few women since Rosa Luxemburg ever to write a book about Lenin, I occasionally encountered reviewers - usually at the pre-publication stage - who reacted to my research as if it were a collection of supposed "heroes and villains," "ridicule and scorn," a veritable panorama of unmediated feelings. In responses of this sort, I became the carrier of all the emotional baggage that women presumably bring with them into the field of scholarship. So there is a certain sense of déjà vu in Lars Lih's rather cartoonish review of my book.

Although it is tempting to respond in kind with comments on Lih's own presumed emotional tendencies and polemical excesses, readers of this journal deserve something more relevant to the advancement of knowledge. So, for those who have not read it, the book begins in the 18th century, and explores 1) the ironies and dilemmas confronted by Russians who made use of Western economic models and examples, and 2) the complexity of a "West" that included Prussia, Germany, and Scandinavia as well as England and France, and 3) an economics tradition that encompassed both historical economics and classical liberalism.

The book is not a piece of research about the Russian peasant commune (mir) or its devotees. It documents instead the peculiar fascination with private property rights that gripped serf owners and Marxists, as well as would-be capitalists between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. Those interested in following this particular story further may want to consult my "Deconstructing the Romance of the Bourgeoisie," Review of International Political Economy, forthcoming in 2002.

Ironies, Dichotomies and "Populists" - my book contains no heroes. It points to the irony that profit-seeking Slavophile serf owners were far more empirically-minded and more inclined to describe peasants as human beings than their liberal and freedom-loving "Westernizer" adversaries (81, 87). In place of the conventional dichotomies between Russia and the West, the book highlights the [End Page 372] significant role of Russian social scientists in 19th-century West European debates over the aims and methods of economics. The economists V. I. Orlov and A. I. Chuprov were cited not only by Marx, but by many other European scholars, as were Chuprov's students A. S. Posnikov and A. A. Manuilov. The social scientist Paul Vinogradov replaced Sir Henry Maine as professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford University and N. Kareev's work was appreciatively cited by the great French historian Marc Bloch. On the eve of the 20th century, these Russian scholars were at most - with the possible exception of Kareev - agnostic about the future of the peasant commune. So it is ironic that their refusal to pass final and definitive judgment on its fate should have earned them the pejorative label of "populist" in the writings of Lenin and Lars Lih.

What Marx Really Meant - Lih's lengthy discussion of Marx repeats the classic Marxist argument about peasant ambivalence in the face of Western European capitalism's forward march. As a tough-minded Marxist analytical tool, Lih recommends what he calls "the crucial doctrine of the divided soul." However, Lih ignores Marx's only direct commentary on the Russian peasant commune. According to many scholars before me - most notably Teodor Shanin - Marx began in the l880s to entertain the possibility that Russian peasant communes might survive in the modern world. At a time when admirers like Zasulich and Plekhanov were constructing a "Marxist" Orthodoxy premised on the commune's inevitable demise, the latter ignored Marx's unwelcome comments and denied that these comments existed. For a comprehensive rendering of Marx's later writings, Kritika readers may be interested to...


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