- The Bolshevik Rejection of the “Revolutionary Christ” and Dem′ian Bednyi’s The Flawless New Testament of the Evangelist Dem′ian
University of California at Davis
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Avram Brown is Lecturer in Russian at the University of California at Davis. He received his Ph.D. in 1998 from the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California at Berkeley with a dissertation on “Modernist Apocrypha: Contexts of the Gospel Plot in Russian Modernism.” One of his primary research interests is the theme of “theology by other means” in cultural history. He is currently working on a study of Viktor Pelevin.
1. Wilhelm Dilthey, Hermeneutics and the Study of History, ed. Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 252.
2. Nikolai Nikolaevich Fatov, “Evangelie ot Dem′iana,” Molodaia gvardiia, no. 1 (1926), 247.
3. “O sovetskoi obshchestvennosti,” editorial in Pravda, 2 July 1924, 1.
4. The phrase is from Andrei Platonovich Platonov, Chevengur (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1988), 216.
5. Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Leningrad: Nauka, 1972), 14: 64.
6. See the survey by John C. Cort, Christian Socialism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988).
7. James H. Billington, Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 120. See also Franco Venturi, Roots of Revolution: A History of the Populist and Socialist Movements in Nineteenth Century Russia, trans. Francis Haskell (New York: Knopf, 1960); Boris Samuilovich Itenberg, “Revoliutsionnye narodniki i voprosy religii,” Voprosy istorii religii i ateizma 11 (Moscow: Izdatel′stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1963), 293–305. A “Christian” belief system of populism – especially as a Feuerbachian, allegorical construct – is foregrounded by Billington and (with regard to certain figures) Venturi, while Itenberg favors a model of atheists propagandizing “under a religious shell” as a mere tactic. Adam B. Ulam presents interesting considerations of religious and psychological motivations of populist revolutionaries in his In the Name of the People: Prophets and Conspirators in Pre-Revolutionary Russia (New York: Viking Press, 1977).
8. The underground publisher Aleksandr Vasil′evich Dolgushin (1848–85), for example, organized his proclamation “Russkomu narodu” (1873) as a virtual sermon, anathematizing the tax system as a violation of Matthew 17: 24–26 and threatening “woe to the scribes and Pharisees” (the land-owners). Al′fred Al′fredovich Kunkl′, Dolgushintsy (Moscow: Vsesoiuznoe obshchestvo politkatorzhan, 1932), 217–19.
9. During his four-year incarceration in the Peter and Paul Fortress, the future Narodnaia volia executive committee member Lev Aleksandrovich Tikhomirov (1852–1923), echoing Paul imprisoned at Rome, penned a free translation of 2 Timothy 4 (“Iz apostola Pavla”). Similarly, in her prison lyric “My byli tam. Ego raspiali,” the labor organizer Sofiia Illarionovna Bardina (1853–83) held out the example of the disciples’ retreat from danger as something that must not be repeated by herself or her comrades. These lyrics are available in Solomon Abramovich Reiser, ed., Vol′naia russkaia poeziia vtoroi poloviny deviatnadtsatogo veka (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel′, 1959), 333, 299.
10. Vera Nikolaevna Figner, “Studencheskie gody,” Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow: Glavlit, 1929), 5: 98.
11. Anon., Mogila russkikh bortsov: Shliussel′burgskaia krepost′ (Carouge-Geneve: M. Elpidine, 1900), 17.
12. Vera Nikolaevna Figner, Zap echatlen nyi trud: vospominaniia (Moscow: Mysl′, 1964), 2: 37.
13. Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin, Oeuvres, ed. James Guillaume (Paris: P.-V. Stock, 1895), 3: 43, 114–15. Bakunin’s Jesus seems inspired by his mentor, the French anarchist/socialist Pierre J. Proudhon (1809–65). In his What Is Property? (1840), Proudhon hailed the “Word of God,” who confronted Rome, “went about proclaiming everywhere that the end of the existing society was at hand,” and “open[ed] the abyss of revolutions,” but whose revolutionary “truth … did not survive the age of the apostles.” Proudhon, What is Property? trans. Benjamin R. Tucker (New York: Dover, 1970), 28–30.
14. Friedrich Engels, “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” (1880) in Karl F. H. Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, trans. Richard Dixon, et al. (New York: International Publishers, 1975–), 24: 297, 306, 305. I hasten to add that I am aware of the voluntarist reading of Marxism, and that Marx and Engels themselves can be read...