Pyotr Tkachev

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Pyotr Nikitich Tkachev
Ткачёв Пётр Никитич.jpg
Pyotr Nikitich Tkachev
Born(1844-06-29)June 29, 1844
DiedJanuary 4, 1886(1886-01-04) (aged 41)
OccupationWriter, critic, revolutionary theoretician.[1]

Pyotr Nikitich Tkachev, also spelled Tkachyov (Russian: Петр Никитич Ткачев) (June 29, 1844 – January 4, 1886) was a Russian writer, critic and revolutionary theorist[1] who it is claimed formulated many of the revolutionary principles that would later be further developed and put into action by Vladimir Lenin.

Although Tkachev has sometimes been described as "the First Bolshevik",[2] he did not figure prominently in the mythology of the Soviet Union.


Early life[edit]

Tkachev was born in 1844 to a minor gentry family.[3] He was born in the village of Sivistov, which was located in the Pskov Governorate.[4] His sister, Alexandra Nikitichna Annenskaya, was a writer for young adults.[5]

He began attending St. Petersburg University in 1861, and took part in a series of violent student protests that year. Arrested by police during a riot on 11 October 1861, Tkachev likely came into contact with radical Russian political philosophy through other inmates during the months he was incarcerated at a Kronstadt prison.[6] After his arrest due to participating in the student strikes of 1861, Tkachev later spent several years in Peter and Paul Fortress.[3][7]

Political career[edit]

Tkachev praised Chernyshevsky's novel What Is To Be Done?, calling it the 'gospel of the movement'.[1]

Populists like Tkachev argued against waiting indefinitely for the social revolution, while also in the meantime condemned revolt and terrorism by the vanguard; he believed it risked allowing the tsarist government to stabilise itself by the advancement of capitalism. Only the establishment of a revolutionary dictatorship through seizure of power made it possible to ensure the correct political conditions for a transition to socialism.[8] This would become the 'guiding principle' of Lenin's theory of revolution.[8]

The populists returned to Jacobin methods of coups, conspiracy and terrorism 'in the name of the people' in the 1870s, after having exchanged it for social revolution. In this, Tkachev's writings marked the 'crucial watershed', establishing a bridge between Nechayev's Jacobinism, the Populists' 'classic tradition of Land and Liberty', and Lenin's Marxist tradition.[3]

Meeting with Nechayev and Exile[edit]

By the mid-1870s, Tkachev had become mesmerised by the works of Sergey Nechayev, which would lead to him spending another time in prison, before going in exile in Switzerland.[3] It was here in Switzerland Tkachev adopted (crudely) Marx's sociology, which resulted in him parting way with Populism.[3]

In the mid 1870s he formulated a violent critique of the 'To the People' movement, which had consisted of several students and populists travelling to peasant villages. In it he formulated his belief that propaganda could not initiate a revolution because 'the laws of social progress' made it so that the regime always would have the support of wealthier peasants. He therefore instead advocated performing a coup, a seizure of power, by the revolutionary vanguard which would then proceed with establishing a dictatorship and initiate the transition to socialism.[3] Tkachev believed that the time was perfect for the seizure of power, and that it should be done as soon as possible while there was no social force that was prepared to side with the government, something that would come with the development of the bourgeoisie and capitalism.[3] A rallying cry in one of the critique's passages — which were later to be copied by Vladimir Lenin in October 1917 — read: 'This is why we cannot wait. This is why we claim that a revolution is indispensable, and indispensable now, at this very moment, We cannot allow the postponement. It is now or — perhaps very soon — never.' He further wrote that a conspiratorial and elitist party, disciplined and centralised akin to an army, was essential for this to succeed — something also later echoed by Lenin.[3]

Later life and death[edit]

At the end of 1882 he fell seriously ill and spent the last few years in a psychiatric hospital. He died in 1886 in Paris, 41 years old.[citation needed]

Political ideas[edit]

Historian Andrzej Walicki argued that the form of economic determinism espoused by Tkachev differed significantly with the historical materialism developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: "This specific 'economic materialism' of Tkachev did not amount to Marxism; it constituted rather in a peculiar mixture of some elements of Marxism with a rather primitive utilitarianism, grossly exaggerating the role of direct economic motivation in individual behavior."[9]

Impact and following[edit]

A radical terrorist group called the People's Will (Narodnaya Volya) formed in 1879, influenced by Tkachev's teaching, would assassinate Tsar Alexander II on 1 March 1881.

Lenin and Tkachevism[edit]

Orlando Figues has claimed that Lenin owed more to Tkachev than any other Russian theorist.[3] Chief among the ideas that Tkachev espoused that were influential in the development of Lenin's political philosophy was the idea of a revolutionary vanguard. While not explicitly using this Leninist term, Tkachev argued that – in the absence of a popular, peasant-based revolution – revolutionaries should rise up and defeat a tyrannical government.[3][10] The Leninist approach to Marxism was rooted in his origins in the Russian revolutionary movement, with the writings and ideas of Chernyshevsky, Tkachev, Nechayev and the People's Will injected into the passive Marxism to give it a 'Russian dose of conspiratorial politics'. This enabled the precipitation of a revolution by political action.[11] Tkachev was a proponent of a closely organised revolutionary party,[3] following the ideas of Nechayev, and was also influenced by the French revolutionary Blanquism movement.[citation needed] In Tkachev's eyes, the principal duty of revolutionary parties was not to engage in propaganda efforts, but to overthrow the government and seize power in the name of the proletariat.

Hal Draper had argued against this view, pointing out that Tkachev is only mentioned a handful of times in Lenin's writings, and the only significant reference to him, in What Is To Be Done?, is a negative one. [12][13]

Friedrich Engels also took issue with Tkachev and his ideas about Russian development. [14]


  1. ^ a b c Figes, p. 130
  2. ^ "Lenin and the 'Radiant Future'". New York Review of Books. 2001-12-20. Retrieved 2007-12-12.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Figes, p. 137
  4. ^ Hardy, Deborah (1977). Petr Tkachev — The Critic as Jacobin. University of Washington Press. p. 17. ISBN 0-295-95547-3.
  5. ^ Marina Ledkovskai͡a-Astman; Charlotte Rosenthal; Mary Fleming Zirin (1994). Dictionary of Russian Women Writers. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 30–31. ISBN 978-0-313-26265-4.
  6. ^ Hardy, Deborah (1977). Petr Tkachev — The Critic as Jacobin. University of Washington Press. p. 24. ISBN 0-295-95547-3.
  7. ^ Figes, p. 122
  8. ^ a b Figes, p. 136
  9. ^ Walicki, Andrzej (1969). The Controversy over Capitalism. Oxford University Press. p. 141. ISBN 0-19-821474-X.
  10. ^ Riasanovsky, Nicholas (2000). A History of Russia (sixth edition). Oxford University Press. p. 383. ISBN 0-19-512179-1.
  11. ^ Figes, p. 145–6
  12. ^
  13. ^ C. What type of organisation do we require?
  14. ^ Fernbach, David (ed.) Marx: The First International and After, p. 67, Introduction


  • Figes, Orlando (2014). A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891–1924. London: The Bodley Head. ISBN 9781847922915.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hardy, Deborah. Petr Tkachev: The Critic as Jacobin. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977.
  • Pipes, Richard A. "Russian Marxism and its Populist Background." Russian Review 19:4 (1960), 316-37.
  • Riasanovsky, Nicholas. A History of Russia (sixth edition). New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Weeks, Albert L. The First Bolshevik: A Political Biography of Peter Tkachev. New York: New York University Press, 1968.