David Ryazanov

David Ryazanov was the greatest Marxist scholar of his time, a Bolshevik, and a revolutionary activist. In the last issue of Workers' Liberty we published his study of Engels' Anti-Duhring and its reception in the German socialist movement. This article by Boris Souvarine, from La Critique Sociale, July 1931, describes how Ryazanov fell victim to Stalinist repression just a few years later.

 

D B Ryazanov was arrested and imprisoned in Moscow last February [1931], deported to a camp in Suzdal, and then to Saratov for an unspecified term, without trial. [He would die, in a prison camp, in 1938.]

Ryazanov began his political life at the age of seventeen by organising a socialist circle in Odessa. Arrested in 1891, he suffered five years of prison and forced labour, and then a long deportation.

He went abroad in 1900 and collaborated with the Iskra and Zarya [papers] of Plekhanov, Lenin and Martov and with the German social democratic press, creating the Borba group which kept itself apart from the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, devoting itself mainly to Marxist publishing. The revolution of 190-5 brought him back to Russia, where he took an active part in the struggle against Czarism and in the newborn trade union movement. He is noteworthy for being one of the founders of the railway clerks' union. Arrested and sentenced to deportation once again in 1907, he succeeded in getting abroad.

There he carried on an intense activity as a writer, historian, lecturer and teacher in the 'party schools' (notably Lenin's at Longjumeau), and as a militant of every sort. His works on Marx and Engels' ideas as regards Russia mark an epoch in the study of the question. He published Anglo-Russian Relations in the View of Karl Marx, then Karl Marx and the Russians in the 1840s, began a history of the First International, and was entrusted by the German Social Democracy with editing part of the literary legacy of Marx and Engels by publishing two volumes with Dietz (a publication that was interrupted by the war). In the meantime he contributed to Lenin's papers and magazines.

Ryazanov took part in the Zimmerwald conference during the war, came back to Russia after the March [1917] revolution, joined the Bolshevik party at the time of its defeat (the July Days), and took part in the October revolution by working mainly on the military side of things.

Successively People's Commissar for Communications in Odessa, Odessa's representative in the Constituent Assembly, and a member of the Executive of the Railwaymen's union, he created the Archive Centre in 1918, became a professor at the Sverdlov university, took part in founding the Socialist Academy (later renamed Communist Academy), and in 1921 organised the Marx-Engels Institute.

Endowed with an exceptional memory and capacity for work, and easily mastering the four main European languages, he acquired an encyclopaedic erudition that was highly regarded outside the confines of his own party. He alone could at the same time arrange and bring to fruition the Complete Works of Marx and Engels [in fact abandoned in the 1930s after Ryazanov was purged, and completed only much later], Plekhanov, Kautsky and Lafargue, decipher the mass of unedited materials left behind by Marx and Engels, uncover the bulk of their correspondence, and edit the Marxist Library, then the Library of Materialism (Gassendi, Hobbes, La Mettrie, Helvetius, d'Holbach, Diderot, J Toland, Priestley and Feuerbach) and Hegel's philosophical works, etc., whilst directing the Institute, filling up libraries, and organising exhibitions.

[From the early 1920s] he devoted himself entirely to historical work and Marxist culture, outside of the factions and groupings, maintaining his critical spirit and his faculties of judgment intact. When the Socialist Academy, with his approval, took the name of Communist in 1924, Ryazanov said, 'I am not a Bolshevik, I am not a Menshevik, I am not a Leninist; I am only a Marxist, and as a Marxist, I am a communist'.

* Thanks to Al Richardson and the Socialist Platform library for supplying Souvarine's article. Ryazanov's classic Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is available online in the Marxists Internet Archive.