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Confronting Dostoevsky’s «Demons»

Anarchism and the Specter of Bakunin in Twentieth-Century Russia

Series:

James Goodwin

Although criticized at one time for its highly tendentious spirit, Dostoevsky’s Demons (1871-1872) has proven to be a novel of great polemical vitality. Originally inspired by a minor conspiratorial episode of the late 1860s, well after Dostoevsky’s death (1881) the work continued to earn both acclaim and contempt for its scathing caricature of revolutionists driven by destructive, anarchic aims. The text of Demons assumed new meaning in Russian literary culture following the Bolshevik triumph of 1917, when the reestablishment and expansion of centralized state power inevitably revived interest in the radical populist tendencies of Russia’s past, in particular the anarchist thought of Dostoevsky’s legendary contemporary, Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876).
Confronting Dostoevsky’s ‘Demons’ is the first book to explore the life of Dostoevsky’s novel in light of disputes and controversies over Bakunin’s troubling legacy in Russia. Contrary to the traditional view, which assumes the obsolescence of Demons throughout much of the Communist period (1917-1991), this book demonstrates that the potential resurgence of Bakuninist thought actually encouraged reassessments of Dostoevsky’s novel. By exploring the different ideas and critical strategies that motivated opposing interpretations of the novel in post-revolutionary Russia, Confronting Dostoevsky’s ‘Demons’ reveals how the potential resurrection of Bakunin’s anti-authoritarian ethos fostered the return of a politically reactionary novel to the canon of Russian classics.

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Acknowledgments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii A Note on Transliteration, Dates, Translation and References. . . . . . . . . . . . ix Introduction: Dostoevsky’s Demons as Polemic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 1. “The Worse, the Better…”: Dostoevsky’s Demons and the Politics of Despair. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 A Conspiracy of Non-Equals. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 The Nechaev “Type” and the New Nihilism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 From Herzen to Bakunin: Demons and the Russian Revolutionary Emigration. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 2. Demons and the “Bakuninist” Context of the Bolshevik Revolution. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 Sacred Flame of Revolt: Bakunin as Hero and Demon. . . . . . . . . . . 34 Bakunin’s Legacy in Revolution, 1905–1921. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 Bakunin Prostrate.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 3. Leonid Grossman’s Art of Scholarly Provocation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 Post-revolutionary Demons. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 Grossman on Stavrogin and Bakunin.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 Demons under Scrutiny. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81 Grossman’s Discoveries in Retrospect. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87 4. In Defense of Bakunin: Aleksei Borovoi and the Anarchist Conception of Demons. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101 Russian Anarchism and the Bakuninist Legacy after 1917. . . . . . . 102 Liberating Bakunin from Demons. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109 Anarchism’s Last Stand: The Bakunin Jubilee of 1926. . . . . . . . . 116 Confronting Dostoevsky’s Demonsvi 5. Viacheslav Polonsky and the Marxist Struggle over Bakunin’s Legacy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 Stavrogin, Dostoevsky and Political Acumen. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130 Bakunin as Revolutionary Romantic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136 At the Gates of the Bolshevik Pantheon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147 6. Suppressing Demons in Stalin’s Russia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157 Grossman Vindicated.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158 Vigilance Toward Dostoevshchina .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163 Anarchism and the Triumph of Demons in Late Soviet Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 7. Toward New Confrontations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183 Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189 Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 243

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