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The Narodnik Movement

A theoretician and a contemporary of the narodnik movement, Pyotr Lavrov (1823-1900) described the narodnik movement in his report to the first Congress of the II International in Paris in 1889. The report was called "The State of Socialism in Russia", which can be read in Russian here. So, why should we make any additions to that report? One possible answer is curiosity, but this curiosity has roots which spring from the future. The narodnik movement is a direct predecessor of the Marxist movement in Russia, and hence an important pre-revolutionary stage in the formation of a revolutionary party. If there is to be a world-wide socialist revolution, most likely it too will be preceded by some quasi "Narodnik" movement. Confirmation of this we see in such global upheavals as "Occupy" movement (of 2011). 

(i) A Brief Review of the History of the Narodnik Movement

The searching of revolutionary thought, at end of the peasant wars , a long period of poetic and literary brooding, and an unsuccessful attempt at a coup d'etat (see Decembrists ), has led to the idea of an overthrow of the Tsarist regime through rapprochement of educated people with the popular masses. This theory of revolution was formulated by Peter Kropotkin in a letter to Max Nettlau: "in order to achieve such significant results, in order for a movement to achieve the size of a revolution, as it happened in 1648-1688 in England, and in 1789-1793 in France, it is not enough for a certain ideological movement to appear among the educated classes, no matter how deep it would be; it is not enough for popular rebellions to start, no matter how numerous and widespread they would be. It is necessary for a REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT, which stems from the people, to coincide with A MOVMENT OF REVOLUTIONARY THOUGHT coming out of the educated classes. It was necessary, at least for a limited period of time. for these two movement to shake hands with each other".

The narodnik movement was primarily a movement originating from the students who went to join "the people", i.e. mainly the Russian peasants, with the goals of enlightening them, helping them in practical ways, and along the way instigating a rebellion against the tsarist regime. (Portraits of such students we see in the works of Yaroshenko ). 


Dmitry Karakozov, executed after an unsuccessful attempt at Alexander II.

Nikolai Tchaikovsky

Nikolai Tchaikovsky, a founder of a Narodnik circle.

After such students returned from the villages and their travels through Russia, they formed "circles". One of the earliest such circles was the "Petrashevtsi", in 1840's. Another such circle was formed around Nikolai Ishutin, in 1860's. This circle is famous for the first attempt at the life of the tsar Alexander II, which came from one of its members, a former student by the name of Dmitry Karakozov, in 1866. The most famous of narodnik circles was "the Tchaikovtsy" in 1870's, i.e. a circle of people around Nikolai Tchaikovsky (don't confuse with Peter Tchaikovsky, the composer).

From various narodnik circles was formed the first proto-party, "Zemlya i Volya" (The Land and the Freedom). Its goal was agitation of peasants for socialism and helping them in a practical way.


Vera Zasulich

Georgi Plekhanov

Georgi Plekhanov

Persecution of the organization, as well as internal differences on the strategy, have led to a split of the organization in 1879. The more militant fraction  formed "Narodnaya Volya" (The People's Will). Those who favored an agitation among the peasants formed "Cherny Peredel" (Radical Redistribution), which soon disintegrated due to lack of activity. Some of its members - Plekhanov, Zasulich, Deutsch - later formed the first Russian Marxist group "The Emancipation of Labor", which spread Marxist propaganda in Russia from abroad.


Vera Figner, 1852-1942

"Narodnaya Volya" has organized a wave of terrorist actions aimed against the officials of the Tsarist regime, the highest peak of which was the assassination of the tsar Alexander II on 1 March, 1881 (see "Sofia Perovskaya", a 1967 film made in USSR). Repressions have broken the executive committee of the "Narodnaya Volya". Some of the radical narodniks went to the Kadet party, some joined the Social-Revolutionary party of Russia, and some dropped out of politics altogether. Some finished their lives in a suicide (read the reminiscences of Vera Figner, a prominent member of "Narodnaya Volya"; she has spent long years in jail, and when she came out of it, found nothing to do).

Next: Narodniki, part 7

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