Previous: Narodniki, part 12

(viii) Communes

KORNILOVA-MOROZ Aleksandra Ivanovna

Alexandra Kornilova-Moroz, 1853-1938

A special section should be devoted to the communes of the narodniks. A. Kornilova-Moroz, a woman who was a member of the Tchaikovsky circle since 1871, and later sentenced to years of hard labor in 1878, writes:

"In 1870's communes were separate apartments where male and female students lived, near their schools. For example, the medics lived mostly in the Petersburg and Vyborg districts, the students of the university - on the Vasilievsky island, the technologists - in the Izmailovsky barracks, and the women medical doctors - in Peski, etc. The material conditions of those living in the communes was not equal, but all the incoming means became a common property; we shared all and everything; thus, for example, a dress, a coat, or a pair of boots were transferred from one person to another, depending on the need of going to a lesson or a lecture. The main principle of such life was mutual help, as was demanded by the ethics of our generation. In general, life was made much cheaper in such communes, they served as centers for youth getting acquainted with each other, they increased the influence of the more developed and mature on the newcomers, they promoted the successful propaganda of socialist ideas. At the same time, they allowed for the opportunity, given a person who was passionate about socialism, to apply its principles in the practice of personal life, to forswear the goods of the 'old world', while living in the conditions not better, but worse than those of the factory workers, making no distinction between 'mine and 'yours', relinquishing personal fortunes for social deeds and goals".

In essence, these were the cells of the future communist society.

Communal property was practiced in "Narodnaya Volya" organization, following its constitution. Vera Figner writes that "the requirements of constitution consisted in: 1) the promise of giving one's all spiritual strength for the needs of revolution, forgetting all ties of relations and personal sympathies, love and friendship; 2) if it becomes necessary, then one should be ready to give up one's life, in spite of everyone and not showing mercy to oneself or others; 3) private property was forbidden, one was allowed to possess only those things which at the same time were the property of the organization; 4) while one was a member of the secret society, one had to abnegate individual will, subordinating it to the will of the majority, expressed in the resolutions of that society; 5) one had to keep a complete secret about all acts, resolutions, plans and conjectures of the organization; 6) neither in personal correspondence, not at social gatherings to call oneself a member of the Executive committee, but only agents of it; 7) in case one decides to exit the society, to keep complete silence about everything that constituted its activity and that one has observed with one's eyes and in which one has taken part".

The community of property was that which the social-democrats and the social-revolutionaries, who replaced the narodniks, have lost. But a communist society can and should start with the most conscientious members of the society, i.e. members of the communist party. Hence, let us state that a communist is s/he who in action shares one's property with other members of the communist organization.

Vera Figner continues:

"When comparing the past with the present, Savinkov (a leader of the military organization of the Socialist-Revolutionary party), asked me: what is the difference between a contemporary revolutionary from the revolutionary of my time? I was confused at first, as there were many differences, but he was in a hurry to answer himself. In his opinion, this was mysticism, and as an example he pointed to himself and Kalyaev. But it seemed to me that the main difference was that in the process of widening the sphere and the scale of activity, requirements made on the agent increased, but requirements made on the character, due to the increase in the numbers in the party, decreased. Ascetic lifestyle, so typical for the former generations, has disappeared; one could clearly see a a great indulgence to various weaknesses of the members of the party and their greater requirements in regard to material conditions of life (such as apartment, clothing, food, entertainment); one was amazed at the inequality of wealth present among the members of the party; some could afford everything, while others were in great need. Of course, this was due to the changes in the rules and the numbers of participants in the movement. It was easy to constitute equality and common property when the organization was small, but when the party started counting thousands of members, the same thing happened as in Europe: brotherly relations of equality among its members disappeared".

The narodniks were ascetics. One of them, Lukashevich, writes in 1907: "Our extreme rigor in respect of food was almost comical; we had questions such as 'are we allowed to eat herring, once we've taken the road of going to the people?'... For sleeping, I have bought an old, used-up mat and put it on wooden boards. The dilapidated mat soon wore out to tatters, and so I had to sleep on bare boards".

A communist must strive to approach the ideals of the society s/he is trying to create. S/he should repress his own negative habits and characteristics, and develop the characteristics of the person of the future society. A communist subordinates his/her life to the success of revolution and development of communist society.


Nikolai Sukhanov, 1852-1882

An advanced party attracts people with high moral character. Vera Figner writes that a party should be happy if it attracts such people as a Russian Navy officer Nikolai Sukhanov (a member of "Narodnaya Volya", executed for his involvement of the terrorist act against Alexander II). Look at the people in each party, at their faces, at their manners, at the average age, and you'll have an idea about the party. People with high moral qualities usually have fascinating faces, as though an internal light is shining through them. A reflection of revolution can be felt in their eyes. Most of them are usually young. For example, most of the people participating in the "RevLeft" forum are between ages 13 and 30. 

Members of a communist organization may become husbands and wives

S Perovskaya

Sophia Perovskaya, 1853-1881

to each other. For example, an aristocrat in origin, Sophia Perovskaya, a granddaughter of the last hetman of Ukraine and a daughter of the mayor of St. Petersburg, was a common law wife

Andrey Zhelyabov, 1851-1881

of Andrey Zhelyabov, a peasant in origin, a leader of "Narodnaya Volya". Both were hanged because of their roles in the plot to kill the tsar. Nikolai Morozov writes: "Here was a circle of dedicated co-thinkers, tied to each other not only through their common goals, but also through mutual love".

Let's notice that of the six sentenced to death for the terrorist act of 1 March

G Gelfman

Gesya Gel'fman, 1855-1882, one of the terrorists sentenced to death. She practiced "free love" and so was not hanged, as she was 4 months pregnant during the trial. She died in prison from birth complications.

(1881), there was a young Jewish woman who was not executed with others immediately because she was pregnant. She was a common law wife of several members of the organization.

N A Sablin

Nikolai Sablin, 1849-1881, a revolutionary terrorist, a common law husband of Gesya Gel'fman, shot himself before arrest.

A member of a revolutionary organization should be a professional revolutionary. Sophia Perovskaya explained what that means: "It is necessary for the revolutionary work not to be something auxiliary to private, personal life of a person, but it should occupy the central location, around which all interests and thoughts are concentrated". This may serve as a definition of a "professional revolutionary". 

Next: Narodniki, part 14

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