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Lenin, Ecology, and Revolutionary Russia



One of the leading contemporary theorists of Marxist ecology, John Bellamy Foster,[1] once noted that:

“Early Soviet ecology was extraordinarily dynamic. Lenin had strongly embraced ecological values, partly under the influence of Marx and Engels, and was deeply concerned with conservation.”[2]

Vladimir Lenin the Conservationist is not a title we often hear, yet it is one worth considering.

Well-known for his world-historical, revolutionary politics, Lenin is less well-known for his contributions both to ecology and to ecological theory. Why is this? On the one hand, we might be tempted to trace the thread of blame back to the last one hundred years of anticommunist propaganda,[3] carried out in part by the appendages of the various repressive apparatuses within the U.S. and abroad, and in part by the discursive practices of ideology, scholarship, and public thought.[4] Lenin himself acknowledged this when he noted that, “The bourgeois scholars and publicists usually come out in defense of imperialism in a somewhat veiled form and obscure its complete domination and its profound roots.”[5] Yet, on the other hand, a simpler explanation might suffice: Lenin’s ecology was not overt. It was not the overarching point of his politics, and, as such, has been both overshadowed and obfuscated by history and time.

Lenin’s more obvious life's work was, patently, toward the social and economic emancipation of the exploited underclasses of Russian society.[6] However, that aside, Lenin's contributions to the field of ecology[7] through legislation, through his political support of the sciences, and through his theoretical contributions to the scientific and ecological dimensions of dialectical materialism cannot be understated.

This article will examine, in brief, several of the historical and philosophical circumstances connected to the ways in which Lenin advanced both conservation and ecology more generally. I will begin with a very brief overview of the general environmental history of pre-Soviet Russia, from the 10th Century until the modern era. Moving onto a brief overview of Lenin’s own life, I will examine one key influence on the development of Lenin's ecological leanings: the Russian philosopher-in-exile, Georgi Plekhanov. Following that, I will move into a brief examination of several scientists with whom Lenin interacted, before closing with a philosophical investigation of Lenin’s historical contributions to ecological theory. In these ways, I hope to examine Lenin in something of a fresh light. Yet this work will only open the door a little ways; much yet remains to be done where Lenin's ecology is concerned.

In this article, I will operate under the assumption that, as a dialectical thinker himself, and grounded in Marx's materialist method of thinking[8]—further developed by Herzen, Plekhanov, and others—Lenin’s own interest in social emancipation could have only coexisted alongside ideas of ecological emancipation, as both society and the land itself constitute a dialectic.

In sum, and through a lens of both history and philosophy, I will work to trace the roots of Lenin’s ecology to the material, historical conditions present in pre-Soviet Russia, to examine seminal and formative events in Lenin’s own life, to look to pertinent aspects of Soviet ecological-scientific work, and to begin to tease out the philosophical ecology of Lenin’s own thought. With a renewed interest in the real-world environmental politics of extant socialist states, such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba, the timing seems both fortuitous and appropriate to begin to tease out the ecological leanings within Lenin’s own body of work, given that the political theories Lenin himself developed still dominate the politics of these states. Not much has been written on such a teasing-out, and, as Lenin’s work moves Marxist theory (more generally) from abstraction into praxis, I feel that it is only sensible to begin to articulate what might remain otherwise abstract. As capitalism fails to provide solutions to the ecological crises which it metes out, other—oppositional—approaches must be sought. Lenin’s ecology might be one such approach.


The historian Douglas Weiner suggested that, “Without embracing yet another rigid determinism, it may be proposed that certain forms of political economy leave their own footprints on the physical landscape and bequeath identifiable environmental legacies.”[9] Here, Weiner's idea seems to follow that old Marxist crux which suggests an inextricable intertwining of the human animal with the land—a social metabolism which binds the former to the latter. To exist at all, polities, societies, and communities throughout history have needed to produce and reproduce their material existences; and, to do so, land had to be utilized in all of its abundance for shelter, protection, and sustenance. These utilizations, and the ways by which they occurred, have left marks upon the land. And, as such, an area of land may be read based solely upon the history of its inhabitants. “History is nothing but the succession of the separate generations,” Marx observed, “each of which exploits the materials, the forms of capital, the productive forces handed down to it by all the preceding ones, and thus on the one hand continues the traditional activity in completely changed circumstances.”[10] Environmental history is a field of scholarship that 1. works to read the imprints left by successive generations of human habitation upon a specific portion of land, and then 2. tells the story of those imprints. An environmental history of Russia might be seen as a history of both domination and subjugation. “At least since the Mongol-Tatar invasion of the thirteenth century,” Weiner noted:

"and particularly with the rise and expansion of the Muscovite state, and later, the Russian Empire and the USSR, a succession of militarized, predatory tribute-taking regimes have dominated the Eurasian land mass. Whatever they called themselves, the attitudes of these regimes toward the human and nonhuman (natural) resources of Russia have been similar."[11]

In the first millennium C.E., the area presently comprising western Russia was initially home, by and large, to the autochthonous[12] groups of the Slavic peoples—a people whom, to quote Weiner, lived as “a free people of the forest.”[13] Prior to the waves of Viking invasions,[14] the Slavs tended towards semi-nomadism and practiced various methods of slash-and-burn agriculture, field rotation, hunting, and pastoralism. With the establishment, and growth, of the federated lands of the Kievan Rus (Rus'skaya zemlya) around the turn of the second millennium, the land economy of Russia began to take to a new direction, inching towards intensive resource-harvesting, profit, and trade. The wealth of the Kievan Rus’ republic of Novgorod, for example, “was based on the export of forest products”[15]—fur pelts especially, as suggested by the loss of beaver populations in the area.[16] As commerce began to take its toll on the landscape, social and political attitudes towards the land also began to change. From pagan Slav land management to the emerging Christian management of around the 10th Century, and then from Mongol and Golden Horde management to the eventual land management of the Muscovites, the landscape of Russia has stood as an object of both exploitation and profit. And if, as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once suggested, “Man is at home in [nature], and that only passes for truth in which he finds himself at home,”[17] then we should be led to examine the ways in which material and ideological forces work to alienate humanity from both its home and its truth.[18] In 1649, after the so-called Time of Troubles, as well as lengthy, punctuated periods of social upheaval and instability, the newly-appointed Tsar Alexis and the Zemsky Sobor[19] instituted the Sobornoye Ulozheniye, or the “council code,” effectively reorganizing the Russian slave and free peasant classes into a totalized serf class—a regressive legislation that ensured an inescapable and hereditary serfdom for vast majorities of the population. The so-called council code restricted travel between towns, and granted an almost-total ownership of the serfs to the nobility, who were themselves sworn to military service by the code. Under Romanov dominance, the 17th Century also saw waves of both progressive and regressive reforms; interestingly, going as far as the 1698 Beard Tax[20] of Peter I—a forced Europeanization of the previously diverse (and generally bearded) Russian men.

In an effort to join the "great game" of European imperial politics, the Russian nobility attempted to paint itself—both in culture and in its political organization—as European. When the truncated liberal-democratic revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries began to occur, Russia moved quickly to align itself against the French populist movements—allying with Austria and Prussia, and forming into a so-called “Holy Alliance” against the haute and moyenne bourgeoisie uprisings. The 1825 defeat of Napoleon cemented Romanov Russia’s status as a European superpower—one which granted, more-or-less, equal political footing with the pre-established empires of Western Europe. This status, however, soon led—wthin Russia, and amongst the serf and military classes—to the proliferation of nascent liberalism; a political philosophy which lent its support to things like the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the removal of the nobility by way of swift cranial decollation. Under Nicholas I, in the early 19th Century, Russia existed in a unique state of social tension, between, on the one hand, the emerging ideas of liberalism and, on the other, Tsar Nicholas’ reactionary conservatism. Events such as the failed Decembrist Revolt gave hints of a swirling revolutionary subtext lying just beneath the surface of Russian social consciousness. And as Russian monarchism came into increasing friction with quickly-rising European liberal values, the Russian nobility began to exercise stronger and more volatile monarchic reactions. These reactions gave fervor and rise to such philosophers as, for example, Alexander Herzen, the so-called father of Russian socialism. Herzen, in 1843, wrote that:

"This struggle seemed like an apparition come from the other world to witness the debut of the new world, to hand on its powers on behalf of its two predecessors, its father and grandfather, and to learn that there is no place for the dead in the world of the living."[21]

This world, where the living displaced the dead both in body, in spirit, and in politics, was the world into which Lenin was born.[22]


However, “Lenin was not born,” the historian Christopher Read noted, “Lenin was constructed.”[23]

Russia, in the time of Lenin, was volatile. And Lenin, as a material product of this unique period in Russian history, was immersed in, and indeed emerged from, this volatility.

Born on 22 April 1870 as Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov, the figure who would later come to be known as Lenin—a pseudonym taken after his 1901 exile in Siberia, after the Lena river—was the fourth child of Ilya Nikolaevich Ulyanov and Maria Alexandrovna Ulyanova, well-to-do civil servants of mixed Jewish and Russian ethnicity who dwelled in the Volga region—halfway between Moscow and the Caspian Sea. Lenin was born in the town of Simbirsk—later renamed Ulyanovsk in his honor—from a family grounded in the roots of the pervasive serfdom of the late Tsarist era. Lenin—affectionately known as Volodya to his parents and siblings[24]—was born to a happy family, and his childhood was calm and pleasant. Indeed, Lenin's familial ties remained strong throughout his life.[25] In 1881, when the young Lenin was 11 years of age, and against the backdrop of Russia’s increasing political tensions, several members of the Narodnaya Volya, or “People’s Will”—a revolutionary organization founded on militant agrarian populism—succeeded, after several failed attempts, in murdering Tsar Alexander II. Alexander II's assassination catalyzed a wave of monarchic, reactionary violence. The succession of the Tsar’s son, Alexander III set back the gradualism of the liberal reforms which had been taking place under Alexander II; a set-back which led to series of violent repressions, anti-Semitic pogroms, and a growing sense of anti-collectivism and anti-democratism amongst the nobility. Christopher Read noted that, “It could be argued [...], in the long term, the return to a stifling, anti-democratic police state undermined the autocracy more successfully than any revolutionary movement, but that was not apparent at the time.”[26] Amongst the growing collectivist-populist movements, discontent towards the monarchy and towards the growing police state continued to brew.

Driven by the growing popular discontent, a small group of student radicals at St. Petersburg University—among them Lenin’s older brother, Alexander Ulyanov—plotted in secret to assassinate the newly-succeeded Tsar Alexander III. “Alexander [Ulyanov] had become something of a role model for his younger brother,” Christopher Read noted; and “[t]hrough hard, academic work Alexander had succeeded in getting to university, no mean feat at a time when there were only some ten thousand university students in the whole Russian Empire.”[27] The assassination plot, however, was quickly uncovered by the Tsar’s secret police, leading to Alexander Ulyanov's arrest, trail, and subsequent execution by hanging in 1887.

Lenin was 17 years old at the time.

The death of Alexander—who had been a student of zoology and the natural sciences—was the catalyzing event for the young Lenin’s bourgeoning radicalism. “[Alexander’s] fate raised the question,” Read noted, “what had driven him to sacrifice his own life, so young and so full of promise?” Read went on to observe that:

"The impact turned the Ulyanov family inside out, pushing them further into increasing hostility to the autocracy. All the members were deeply affected, but none took the execution to heart more than Volodya [Lenin]. While, up to that point, Volodya’s life had been normal and showed no signs of revolutionary tendencies, the arrest and execution of Alexander changed all that. In 1886, Lenin began to form in the soul of Volodya."[28]

The death of Alexander would not only have an impact on the young Lenin himself, but, eventually, upon all of Russia. Lenin—after a life of tumult, education, exile, and action—would eventually lend his life's efforts to the complete restructuring of Russian society and thought. In this regard, Lenin was an astute theorist. Read observed that:

"He advocated armed uprising and fully supported the Moscow workers when they embarked on one, but his contribution to it was minimal. Ironically, for a movement which later came to pride itself on its revolutionary praxis, that is the active combination of theory and practice, Lenin eschewed direct activism. Theory was his practice."[29]


Russia during the time of Lenin was a land in rapid upheaval: an upheaval that included war, industrialization, and city-building, radical socio-political and economic restructuring, and a nation-wide philosophical and ideological restructuring as well. These upheavals led to the national building-up of a Russian Marxism that in fact emerged from a native Marxism which had already been around for quite some time. In the late 1880s, Marxism in Russia, as a distinct political theory, moved away from populist-anarchist thought—the theoretical motion behind the agrarian collectivist movements of the serfdom. In addition to distinguishing itself from collectivist anarcho-serfic thought, Russian Marxism sat in powerful contradistinction to the increasingly reactionary and fractious politics of the monarchy. As Marxism's import as a political theory grew, so too did its intelligentsia work to articulate a new Marxist science; a dialectical science. This science was neither mired in feudal crudity, nor did it repressively legitimate—and thus reproduce—the exploitative monarchic social hierarchy. This new scientific thought was grounded upon a materialist interpretation of Hegel's theory of Aufhebung[31]: that is, in the interaction and dynamic sublation of seeming opposites. Applied to scientific thought, this took shape as both the similitude and the dialectical interchange of humanity and nature. Writing on this, John BellamyFoster noted that:

"Others, such as leading Marxian theorist and close Lenin associate Nikolai Bukharin, and historian of science Y. M. Uranovsky, generalized such discoveries in terms of historical materialism. Bukharin, following Vernadsky, emphasized the human relation to the biosphere and the dialectical interchange between humanity and nature."[32]

The most important proponent, and the foundational theorist, of this new scientific thought was a man named Georgi Plekhanov; a man whose ideas were seminal in the development of such a way of thinking. Plekhanov helped to define this new, scientific notion of Marxism; the very-same Marxism which, as noted in Plekhanov's 1883 text, Socialism and the Political Struggle, “enormously influenced the whole course of [Russia's] intellectual development.”[33] Plekhanov, one of the first Russian Marxists and founder of the Russian Social Democratic Party,[30] would, unfortunately, later be at odds with Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution.

This, however, would not completely affect Lenin’s views of the man, and Plekhanov to this day is often regarded as one of the founding theorists of Bolshevism and of the Russian Revolution itself.

"At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution."[34]

The brilliance of the Soviet project, moved forward by the astute work of theoreticians like Plekhanov, Lenin, and others, was in the radical overhaul of science itself; in the development of a dialectical science—a science befitting Russia's epoch of social revolution.


“Natural science will one day incorporate the science of man, just as the science of man will incorporate natural science; there will be a single science.”[35]

Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, a Russian botanist and polyglot who spoke an astounding 22 languages, had, after the Revolution, been charged by Lenin “with the responsibility for organizing an institute for genetics and plant breeding to end the chronic problem of insufficient food production in Russia.”[36] The historian William deJong Lambert noted that, “Vavilov shared the Bolshevik belief that communism made possible the development of science on a scale capitalist countries could only dream about. To this end,” Lambert continued, “he traveled the globe collecting plant samples and a library of literature on the biological sciences.”[37] As an emissary of Soviet science, Vavilov was sent by Lenin to seek out and study with the famous American botanist Luther Burbank, famous for his early epigenetic experiments and the now-ubiquitous Burbank potato. Burbank once commented on the odd yet radical notion that:

“The secret of improved pant breeding, apart from scientific knowledge, is love. [...] While I was conducting experiments to make ‘spineless’ cacti, [...] I often talked to the plants to create a vibration of love. ‘You have nothing to fear,’ I would tell them. ‘You don’t need defensive thorns. I will protect you.’ Gradually, the useful plant of the desert emerged in a thornless variety.”[38]

Burbank’s experiments and his hefty body of work inspired Vavilov; which in turn affected the whole field of Soviet science—a field which eventually became intertwined with the idea of the heritability of acquired characteristics. The heritability of acquired characteristics dominated Soviet scientific thought, and emerged from the (dialectical) notion that an organism’s life was intertwined with its life processes; that life processes changed organisms just as organisms change life processes.[39] On Lenin’s advice, Vavilov went on to found the Institute of Applied Botany, from which he “organized a chain of agricultural experiment stations, stretching from Murmansk [...] to the southern Caucasus.”[40] Vavilov worked enthusiastically on agricultural problems with the overaching goal of ending the famines which had plagued Russia for centuries. Themes of public service and food security dominated Vavilov's work; themes which similarly motivated Burbank and, later, the plant biologist Ivan Michurin.

Michurin, whom Lenin called the “Russian Burbank”[41] was a Soviet plant biologist who had come from humble family origins. Working on his orchard near the city of Tambov, Lambert noted that Michurin was “determined to succeed where his father had failed, and set to attempting the creation of new varieties of fruit by grafting seedlings onto types he wished them to resemble.”[42] Michurin’s ideas stand out for their epigenetic import: his work included the grafting of seedlings onto existing plants in an attempt to coax the seedlings to adopt the characteristics of their hosts; characteristics which he then hoped would be passed onto subsequent generations. “Like Burbank,” Lambert noted, “anthropomorphism formed the basis for Michurin’s understanding of the natural world, and he believed all living things were endowed with an intelligent ability to adapt in the struggle for existence.”[43] For his work, Michurin was elevated to the status of a Soviet hero. His 70th birthday was celebrated as a national holiday, and his ideas went on to inspire the thought and work of future scientists—notably, the famous Soviet agrobiologist Trofim Denisovich Lysenko. Long after Lenin’s death, during the destructive de-Stalinization (Destalinizatsiya) efforts of Krushchev, and under the pressure of the aftereffects of these efforts, the theory of the heritability of acquired characteristics, along with much of the new Soviet science, was deemed pseudoscience, and written out of Soviet ecology altogether.[44]


"Nature is the existence of the idea in diversity. Its unity, as the ancients conceived it, was necessity, fatum, the mysterious universal power irresistible to both Earth and Olympus [...] The ancient world placed the external on a par with the internal, which is the case in nature, but not in the truth where the spirit dominates the form."[45]

Lenin’s ecological underpinnings are important. As organizations under the sway of capitalist productive relations scramble to think up solutions to counter the relentless force of capitalocentric climate change (and its resultant, destructive impacts upon biodiversity, ecosystem stability, and community equilibrium), ecological theories grounded both in anticapitalist sentiment and outside of the capitalist hegemony appear increasingly relevant. Further, such theories may hold answers yet to have taken root in present-day ecological discourse. Lenin was a man who, as John Bellamy Foster noted, had:

"read Vladimir Nikolaevich Sukachev’s Swamps: Their Formation, Development and Properties and was, Douglas Weiner has speculated, “affected by the holistic, ecological spirit of Sukachev’s pioneering text in community ecology.” Immediately after the October 1917 Revolution, Lenin supported the creation of the People’s Commissariat of Education under the leadership of Anatolii Vasil’evich Lunacharskii, which was given responsibility for conservation."[46]

How might we go about our initial reconstructions of the ecological philosophy of such a man—a communist, a revolutionary, and a conservationist? Firstly, utilizing a philosophical archeology—in the Foucauldian sense—we might link Lenin’s earliest ecological leanings with his interest, not only in the philosophical ecologies of Marx and Engels, but with the ecology of contemporary Soviet scientists and thinkers such as the geobotanist Vladimir Sukachev, the geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, the biochemist Alexander Ivanovich Oparin,[47] and others. As a progressive and forward thinker, on the avant-garde of Russian thought, Lenin’s ecology had to have been grounded in the leading philosophical and scientific thought of his day. At the time, Soviet thought was radical in the sense that it aimed to seek answers outside of the prevailing Malthusian discourse of the bourgeoisie; grounded, rather, in ideas of cooperation and in dialectical interchange. Secondly, we should seek to understand, and attempt to reconstruct, the primary ontological assertions upon which Lenin might have based his ecology. In this regard, we must turn to Lenin’s own work on the matter and begin to sift out his thoughts on both humanity and nature, as well as the interrelationship thereof. It must be recognized that Lenin’s ecology sat upon a dialectical reading of materialism—a militant materialism, in his own words.[48] The materialism of Lenin was not, contrary to temptation, a materialism of reduction; his was not the collapse of subjectivity into objectivity as was argued by Richard Avenarius, and other empiriocriticists of Lenin's day, who had sought to reduce all subjectivity, dualism, and phenomenal experience into a type of deterministic physicalism. Rather, Lenin’s materialism, militant as it was, was radically dialectical. Here, we must remember that the term dialectic is used to refer to the interchange between separate, yet interwoven, ontological categories: nature and humanity, subject and object, etc. For Lenin, thought and conscious activity were patently real, and forever identified with—yet not reduced into—matter, or nature. In Materialism and Empirio-criticism, Lenin wrote that:

"Natural science positively asserts that the earth once existed in such a state that no man or any other creature existed or could have existed on it. Organic matter is a later phenomenon, the fruit of a long evolution. It follows that there was no sentient matter, no “complexes of sensations,” no self that was supposedly “indissolubly” connected with the environment in accordance with Avenarius’ doctrine. Matter is primary, and thought, consciousness, sensation are products of a very high development. Such is the materialist theory of knowledge, to which natural science instinctively subscribes."[49]

And, in Did Nature Exist Prior to Man? Lenin quoted Feuerbach, who wrote that:

"Natural science, at least in its present state, necessarily leads us back to a point when the conditions for human existence were still absent, when nature, i.e., the earth, was not yet an object of the human eye and mind, when, consequently, nature was an absolutely non-human entity (absolut unmenschliches Wesen)."

From these, Lenin's ontology could be conceived from both dialectical realist and emergentist lenses. The basic syllogistic structure of Lenin’s matter-primary ecological philosophy might thus be posited as follows: 1. Social knowledge must reflect economic systemicity

2. Economic systemicity must reflect nature (i.e., dialectically-developing matter)

3. Social knowledge must reflect nature Here, the movements of Lenin’s ideas follow that old Marxist crux, which is, most essentially, an Hegelian assertion of the dynamic, and method, of change: out of a thing emerges a new thing, ad infinitum. Out of nature: humanity. Out of humanity: society. And so on.

However, in Lenin’s case, as for Marx, the substrate of all emergence is matter itself—nature, that great collection of inorganic matter which gave rise to organicity. Thus, Lenin’s statement, “man’s knowledge reflects nature”[50] is at once true on principle and because there is simply nothing else for man’s knowledge to reflect. And, further, the premise of reflection itself entails two ontologically distinct categories—a source of knowledge and an organism able to reflect such a source—which, by way of their interchange, can be considered as two real aspects of a singular nature. In What is Matter? What is Experience? Lenin noted, of his detractors, that:

"Their denial of matter is the old answer to epistemological problems, which consists in denying the existence of an external, objective source of our sensations, of an objective reality corresponding to our sensations. On the other hand, the recognition of the philosophical line denied by the idealists and agnostics is expressed in the definitions: matter is that which, acting upon our sense-organs, produces sensation; matter is the objective reality given to us in sensation, and so forth."[51]

Interestingly, and long these lines, Lenin’s conception of nature seems to follow along with Baruch Spinoza’s Deus sive Natura[52]—a notion in which nature is both objectively real, and has, by its own means and systematic machinations, produced humankind as an evolute of itself; differentiated, emergent, and identified.

Being objectively real, nature—in which humanity is not reduced, but dialectically produced—is thus in essence the true creator of humanity, and deserves to be conserved, protected, and respected. It was, in my opinion, upon this foundation of respect that Lenin’s ecology ultimately sat. For Lenin, and in this regard, nature had dethroned God. Lenin’s work followed closely with the directness of the work of both Marx and Engels, in whom he saw a methodological simplicity: a philosophy of common sense. On this, Lenin wrote that:

"One expression of the genius of Marx and Engels was that they despised pedantic playing with new words, erudite terms, and subtle 'isms,' and said simply and plainly: there is a materialist line and an idealist line in philosophy, and between them there are various shades of agnosticism. The painful quest for a 'new' point of view in philosophy betrays the same poverty of mind that is revealed in the painful effort to create a 'new' theory of value, or a 'new' theory of rent, and so forth."53

Following this philosophy of common sense, a philosophy contra pedantry, the ecology of Lenin must have emerged as nothing but a natural reflection of nature by humanity itself: a reflection devoid of any idealism or superstition, and in line with nature-in-itself. His ecology, thus demystified, rested upon a foundation of geochemistry, biology, and philosophy decidedly outside of the capitalist superstructure. Lenin’s ecology was rooted in a reflection of nature itself outside of the logic of profit; in a reflection of that Spinozan concept of Deus sive Natura; a conception which could only lead one towards custodianship and conservationism. The philosophical ecology of Lenin was thus an ecological materialism in which “the fundamental premise of [such a] materialism is the recognition of the external world, of the existence of things outside and independent of our mind.”[54] And, as such, it was an ecology which sought not to transpose a priori one’s ideas onto nature, but an ecology which sought to adequately reflect nature as-it-is, as a thing-in-itself responsible for existence itself, for life, and for the sustenance of living beings.



[1] Lenin, V.I. “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism,” in Lenin’s Collected Works: Volume 19, (Moscow, 1977): 21-28.

[2] “On the other hand,” Foster (2015) continued, “the Soviet Union developed some of the world’s most dialectical contributions to ecology, revolutionizing science in fields such as climatology, while also introducing pioneering forms of conservation. Aside from its famous zapovedniki, or nature reserves for scientific research, it sought to preserve and even to expand its forests. As environmental historian Stephen Brain observes, it established ‘levels of [forest] protection unparalleled anywhere in the world.’” Foster, John B. “Late Soviet Ecology,” Monthly Review 67, no. 2 (2015). Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

[3] Wall, Wendy. “Anti-Communism in the 1950s,” The Gilder Lehman Institute of American History,, Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

[4] “Under no circumstances,” Louis Althusser wrote, “should we forget that the themes of democratic freedoms and national independence are, first and foremost, integral parts of the bourgeois State Ideology, especially in periods when the communist party can rightfully invoke them against bourgeois politics” (2014, p. 113). Althusser, Louis. On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. (London: Verso 2014), 113.

[5] Lenin, V.I. “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, ” in Essential Works of Lenin: ‘What is to be Done?’ and Other Writings, (New York: Dover, 1966): 254.

[6] Lenin noted that, “The exploiting classes need political rule in order to maintain exploitation, I.e., in the selfish interests of an insignificant minority and against the interests of the vast majority of the people. The exploited classes need political rule in order completely to abolish all exploitation, i.e., in the interests of the vast majority of the people, and against the interests of the insignificant minority consisting of the modern slave owners—the landlords and the capitalists.” Ibid., 287.

[7] A term newly coined (Ökologie) by Ernst Haeckel in 1866.

[8] Lukács cited Marx when he noted that, “The premise of dialectical materialism is, we recall: ‘It is not men’s consciousness that determines their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.” Lukács, Georg. History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. (Cambridge: MIT Press): 18.

[9] Weiner, Douglas R. “The Predatory Tribute-Taking State: A Framework for Understanding Russian Environmental History,” in Global Environmental History, ed. J.R. McNeill (London: Routledge, 2013): 283.

[10] Marx continues with the idea that, “The further the separate spheres, which interact on one another, extend in the course of this development, the more the original isolation of the separate nationalities is destroyed by the developed mode of production and intercourse and the division of labor is naturally brought forth by these, the more history becomes world-history.” Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The German Ideology. (Connecticut: Mansfield Publishing): 38.

[11] Weiner went on to note that, “Unbounded by the rule of law (although constrained somewhat by custom), these regimes saw the population and the land over which they ruled as a trove of resources to be mind for the rulers’ purposes” (Ibid., 283).

[12] Mielnik-Sikorska M, Daca P, Malyarchuk B, Derenko M, Skonieczna K, Perkova M, Dobosz T, and Grzybowski T. "The History of Slavs Inferred from Complete Mitochondrial Genome Sequences." Plos One 8, no. 1 (2013): 54360. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054360.

[13] Ibid., 284.

[14] Marx lamented that, “Nothing is more common that the notion that in history up till now it has only been a question of ‘taking.’ The barbarians ‘take’ the Roman Empire, and this fact of ‘taking’ is made to explain the transition from the old world to the feudal system” (Ibid., 62).

[15] Ibid., 285.

[16] Ibid., 285.

[17] Hegel, G.W.F. The Philosophy of History. (Mineola: Dover Publishing): 440.

[18] Lukács cited Hegel, when he noted that: “In contrast to nature in which, as Hegel emphasizes, ‘change goes in a circle, repeating the same thing,’ change in history takes place ‘in the concept as well as on the surface. It is the concept itself which is corrected’” (Ibid., 18).

[19] The “Assembly of the Land,” an early form of Russian parliament made up of the Boyar nobility, the clergy, and the early town-dwelling bourgeoisies.

[20] An interesting aside: “beard coins” were a carried by bearded men to show municipal authorities that they had paid their taxes, and thus were allowed to wear a beard.

[21] Herzen, Aleksandr. Selected Philosophical Works. (Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2003): 32.

[22] “To smash the machine,” Lenin wrote, “to break it up—this is what is truly in the interest of the people, of the majority of the workers and most of the peasants […].” Ibid., 299.

[23] Ibid., 4.

[24] Read, Christopher. Lenin : A Revolutionary Life. (London: Routledge, 2008): 7

[25] “The first point to make,” Christopher Read noted, “is that in the life of the young Vladimir, known as Volodya within the family, there was no sign of the developing Lenin. Volodya’s childhood seems to have been entirely conventional for the circles in which he lived. The family seems to have been a happy one. Indeed, Lenin remained close to his surviving family members through- out his life.” Ibid., 7.

[26] Ibid., 10.

[27] Ibid., 10.

[28] Ibid., 10.

[29] Ibid., 83.

[30] Ibid., 11.

[31] The term literally means “to pick up,” but when used by Hegel often has a double, or often triple meaning.

[32] Ibid., 2015.

[33] Plekhanov, G.V. Socialism and the Political Struggle. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017,

[34] Plekhanov, G.V. Socialism and the Political Struggle. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017,

[35] Marx, Karl. “Private Property and Communism,” in Early Writings, trans. & ed. T.B. Bottomore. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963): 164.

[36] DeJong-Lambert, William. The Cold War Politics of Genetic Research: An Introduction to the Lysenko Affair. (Dordrecht: Springer, 2012): 6.

[37] Ibid., 6.

[38] Yogananda, Paramhansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946): 344

[39] “The animal is one with its life activity. It does not distinguish the activity from itself. It is its activity.” Marx, Karl. “Alienated Labour,” in Early Writings, trans. & ed. T.B. Bottomore. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963): 127.

[40] Ibid., 7.

[41] Ibid., 7.

[42] Ibid., 8.

[43] Ibid., 8.

[44] Here, we must point out the similarity between modern day epigenetic research and the work of both Michurin and Lysenko. These connections will be discussed at length in a forthcoming paper.

[45] Ibid., 37-38.

[46] Foster went on to note that, “In 1924 the All-Russian Conservation Society (VOOP) was created with an initial membership of around one thousand. The Education Commissariat with Lenin’s backing set up the celebrated ecological reserves, known as zapovedniki, of relatively pristine nature, set apart for scientific research. By 1933 there were thirty-three zapovedniki encompassing altogether some 2.7 million hectares.” Ibid., 2015.

[47] Ibid., 2015.

[48] Lenin, V.I. “On the Significance of Militant Materialism,” in Lenin’s Collected Works: Volume 33, (Moscow: Progressive Publishers, 1972): Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

[49], Lenin, V.I. "Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy.” . Accessed 26 Nov. 2017, Chapter 1.4.

[50] Ibid., 1977.

[51] Ibid., 1.3

[52] “God or Nature.”

[53] Ibid., 1.3

[54] Ibid., 1.4


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