Previous: narodniki, part 1

Growth of knowledge in Russia

A revolution in society, "a social revolution" which overturns the basic relationships of people in a society, takes place simultaneously with revolution in development of knowledge. Both of these revolutions - the social one and the knowledge one - are really only two parts of a single whole. The same class of people who leads the revolution in the sphere of knowledge leads the social revolution. In some cases, a revolutionary in society and a revolutionary in knowledge is one and the same person.


Nikolai Kibal'chich

Kibalchich space

Kibal'chich sketch

We don't have a better example of this coincidence than Nikolai Kibal'chich. On the one hand, he prepared the explosives for the terrorist organization "Narodnaya Volya". On the other hand, in 1881 he created a rough draft for a flying machine operating on a rocket principle.

A coincidence of revolution in knowledge and in society is an interesting principle, as it gives us an idea of who are the modern revolutionaries. In order to understand who leads the social revolution today, we need to look at who leads the revolution in knowledge. 

An idea about growth of knowledge in the times of "narodniki" we get from "A Course of Lectures on the History of Russia in XIX century" by a professor from Saratov (Russia) by the name of Nikolai Troitsky. 

On development of knowledge in Russia, Troitsky writes:



"If at the beginning of XIX century Russia has had only one institution of higher learning (namely, the Moscow University, founded in 1755), then
467px-Porträt des Komponisten Pjotr I. Tschaikowski (1840-1893)

Composer P. Il. Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893

in 1860's there were 14, and in 1896 there were 63. In 1862 in St. Petersburg and in 1866 in Moscow the first Russian conservatories were opened".

In our sketch on Repin  we have already seen a portrait of a founder of the first Russian conservatory Anton Rubinstein. We should notice at in this period the Russian music has achieved a world level. The ballet of Tchaikovsky "The Nutckracker " is still widely performed during Christmas time, and it is a favorite music of my son. 

(There is a Soviet 1969 "Tchaikovsky", in 2 parts, with English subtitles. In addition, there is an American film on Tchaikovsky, "The Music Lovers", where the main topic is the homosexuality of the composer. )

Troitsky continues:

"In 1803 there were 143 books published in the country, in 1855 - 1020, in 1895 - 8699. The number of printing houses has grown in the period 1855-1895 from 96 to 1315. In 1890 Russia has occupied the third place in the world (after France and Germany) according to the number of publications.

The general level of literacy of population has grown in the second half of the century by more than 3 times; by 1897 it was 21.1% (the largest number of literate people were in the St. Petersburg region - 55%, but in the Fergana valley it was less than 3%).

While the Tsarist regime allowed the growth of education, this was mainly the opportunity for the ruling classes, while the common people were kept in the dark. According to the census of 1897, there were 3 thousand scientists and writers in Russia, 17 thousand doctors (580 of them were women, and that's in the entire country!); there were 18 thousand artists and painters, but there were 250 thousand priests, i.e. more than 7 times than the combined total of scientists, writers, doctors, artists and painters".

Thus: religion for the masses, and ballet for the "creme da la creme". 

Troitsky continues:

"In 1826 Nikolai Lobachevsky has created a new, non-Euclidian geometry".

The geometry of Lobachevsky (1792-1856) allows for the possibility of parallel lines crossing each other, as for example the meridians of the Earth meet. On the life of Lobachevsky, there is a film (in Russian) and a poem by Evgeny Evtushenko.

It is curious that simultaneously with Lobachevsky, two other scientists - a German mathematician Gauss and a Hungarian one Bolyai - worked on the same type of geometry. All three mathematicians worked independently of one another. Approximately 100 years later this type of geometry was used in the general theory of relativity of Einstein. This suggests that if several investigators work in parallel, this is not an accident, but a necessity for some bigger theory, which signifies the next big stage in development of mankind.

Troitsky continues:


Sechenov, 1829-1905, a painting by Repin

The father of Russian physiology, Ivan Sechenov, created a teaching on the reflexes of the brain, thus creating a revolution in the biological science. He was the first one to prove the unity and mutual conditioning of psychological and bodily phenomena, stressing the idea that "spiritual life" is nothing but a reflection of the functioning of the brain.

Sechenov was a friend of Chernishevsky, and served as a prototype for Kirsanov in the novel "What Is To Be Done?"; his wife Maria Alexandrovna was a prototype for Vera Pavlovna, the main heroine of the novel.


A baloon used by Mendeleev in 1887 for observation of solar eclipse.

"One of the greatest Russian chemists, Dmitry Mendeleev, has discovered the periodic table of chemical elements in 1869; this is one of the most important laws of natural science, a foundation of the modern theory of matter. The periodic system of elements of Mendeleev shows that chemical properties of elements, i.e. their quality, is conditioned by their atomic weight. This is an instance of one the main laws of dialectic, namely the law of transition of quantity into quality".

Leo Tolstoy & Ilya Mechnikov

Leo Tolstoy and Ilya Mechnikov

Il'ya Mechnikov (1845-1916) was an author of "Etudes of Optimism" which treats the question of prolongation of life and the possibility of immortality, from a physiological point of view. Mechnikov also developed the theory of phagocytosis, i.e. the idea that cells struggle with foreign bodies in order to protect an organism. For this work, he received a Nobel prize in physiology and medicine in 1908.

Troitsky writes:

Ivan Pavlov


"A similar world fame at the end of XIX century was achieved by Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), a creator of the theory of the higher nervous activity, a recognized leader of physiologists of the world, a Nobel laureate in 1904".


Mikluha Maklai

In the same period we have Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888), a great traveler who lived together with aborigines for a number of years and who wrote "Travels to the New Guinea".

Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945) has created a theory of noosphere and contributed to the



theory of Russian cosmism. Noosphere is defined by Wikipedia as a sphere of mutual interaction of society and nature, in which the human activity, guided by reason, becomes a dominant factor. Cosmism, among its many postulates, has one which says that eternity exists simultaneously with the present moment, as though in another dimension. An instance of this philosophy we see in the novel "Master and Margarita" by M. Bulgakov, where the epoch of Christ and ancient Rome takes place simultaneously with contemporary events in Moscow. Another instance of this philosophy we see in the movie "The Hours", 2002.

Sofja Wassiljewna Kowalewskaja 1
Troitsky continues:

"Together with these men we have Sophia Kovalevskaya - the first woman who became a member of the Stockholm University and a member-correspondent of the St. Petersburg Academy, an author of classical works on the spinning of solid bodies". She is also an author of a novel "A Nihilist".

Now, let's turn to development of technology.

next: narodniki, part 3

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