Previous: the cossack-peasant rebellions continued

After the defeat of Cossack-peasant rebellions in XVII-XVIII centuries, there is an epoch of theoretical searching. In general, after every defeat in the practical sphere, naturally comes a stage of theoretical searching. Notice: the bandits in the early history of formation of the Russian state are followed by the hermits. Then come the runaway peasants - the Cossacks and their rebellions. After the defeat of these, again there is a period of development of theory, adequate for its time - an epoch of mostly aristocratic revolutionaries. Then again there is a gradual transition to men of action, through the stage of anarchism, towards the terrorist methods of narodniks.

The stage we're living now is naturally a theoretical one, as it comes after a period of a momentous defeat of the world revolution, represented by the break-up of the Soviet Union, and other related transitional states, such as Yugoslavia. 

A. Mikhail Lomonosov, 1711-1765


Mikhail Lomonosov

"Serve the highest, and the height will make you happy"

M. V. Lomonosov

We start our investigation of revolutionaries of XVIII-XIX centuries in Russia with Lomonosov, as knowledge is the most important revolutionary force in modernity, and Lomonosov was knowledge personified.


The type of the fishing vessel used by Lomonosov and his father

In his social origin, Lomonosov was from a fisherman's family. Throughout his life, he defended the right of the lower classes for education, for example: to have an access to the Moscow University, which he founded in 1755.

Rodin Mislityel

The Thinker by Rodin

Lomonosov was not a scholastic type of scientist, typical for the XVIII century, nor was he a "specialist", typical for modernity. Wikipedia calls him a "polymath". Lomonosov says about himself: "Not a catcher of words, but an inquirer after the mind".

Lomonosov was a person who came close to the ideal shown in the statue of Rodin "The Thinker", as he was a philosopher with a body of an athlete. For example, in the story of his life we hear that he beat up 3 sailors who attacked him in Petersburg with a goal of robbing him.

There is an interesting and lengthy film made about him, "Mikhailo Lomonosov" , Mosfilm, 1986. The film tells about the history and life of Russia in XVIII century through the prism of life of Lomonosov. 

B. Alexander Radishchev, 1749-1802


Alexander Radischev

Lenin called Radishchev "the first Russian revolutionary". Why so?

Radishchev was from an aristocratic family. His grandfather was a "chauffeur" to Peter the Great. His main teacher was F. Ushakov. When Ushakov was bidding his friends farewell before his death, he told Radishchev: "Remember, that one must have rules in life, in order to be happy".

Radishchev made his living by heading the Petersburg customs. At his post, he was know for his honesty. At home, he set up a printing press.


"The Travelling from Petersburg to Moscow"

His main essay is "The Travelling From Petersburg to Moscow". This was published in 1790, when a revolution has began in France, and echoes of the revolution could be felt in Russia. In the course of his book, Radishchev reflects on the social environment in Russia at the end of XVIII century. Each stop on his way shows some detail of the tsarist system. For example, economic situation is reflected in the following conversation Radishchev had by the roadside with a peasant:

Radischev: "Don't you have time enough to work during the week? Why don't you let up on Sunday, and especially during such heat?"

The peasant: "In a week, my lord, there are six days, and six days a week we work for our landlord, and even in the evening we have to bring straw from the wood, when the weather is good".

Radischev: "Do you work for your landlord just as hard as you do now?"

The peasant: "No, my lord, it would be a sin to work as hard. He has a hundred hands working for his one mouth, while I have seven mouths and only two hands. Even if we kill ourselves, our masters won't say thanks".

Hence, a peasant in Russia "was like being a prisoner in stinky prison, it is the fate of a farm animal".

The main poetical work of Radishchev is the poem "Liberty". He starts by characterizing liberty as the highest value:

"О дар небес благословенный,

Источник всех великих дел,

О вольность, вольность, дар бесценный!

Позволь, чтоб раб тебя воспел"


"Oh, blessed gift given from above,

The source of all great deeds

Oh, liberty, liberty, a priceless gift!

Allow a slave to sing to you"

Radishchev characterizes himself as a master of himself:

"Стопы несу, где мне приятно;

Тому внемлю, что мне понятно;

Вещаю то, что мыслю я.

Любить могу и быть любимым;

Творя добро, могу быть чтимым;

Закон мой - воля есть моя."


"I take the paths which please me  I listen to that which I understand

I speak that which I think about

I can love and be loved

Creating good, I can be respected

My law is my will to myself"

However, for his book "The Travelling from Petersburg to Moscow", Radishchev was arrested in 1790, and the judges of Ekaterina sentenced him to death. That, however, was changed to a 10 year jail sentence. In 1796 Radishchev was released from prison by an edict of a new tsar, Alexander I.

Radishchev committed suicide in 1802 when he was strictly reprimanded by count Zavadsky for making a proposal of a liberal law in which there were provisions for equality of all classes before law, a freedom of press, etc. Thus, though Radishchev thought himself as being free, the minute he put thoughts on paper, he was repressed. 

C. Alexander Griboyedov, 1795-1829


Alexander Griboyedov

Griboyedov , like Radishchev, was a member of the ruling class of the tsarist Russia. He was titled "Your Excellency" and occupied the post of a state councilor. 

Griboyedov, as a child, was a "wunderkind". He knew several languages and graduated from the Moscow University at 15.

His one and only work is "Горе от ума", "A Woe from Wit". It was conceived in 1816, i.e. when the author was 21 years old.


A garrulous Frenchman in a Russian "high society", XIX century

Wikipedia writes that a push for creating the comedy was an impression of servility of the Russian "high society" before all things foreign, made on Griboyedov when he came back from traveling abroad. Specifically, one evening people in a salon listened attentively to some garrulous Frenchman. Griboyedov couldn't control himself and spoke vehemently against such servility. For this, he became known as "crazy". 

This is the essence of the comedy "A Woe from Wit". Its main hero - Chatsky - is a straightforward young man who loves to study different sciences. However, in the "high society" of the capital, he appears as a crazy man. 

Griboyedov makes fun of such aspects of the Russian society as servility and lack of self-dignity. For example, Famusov is a father of a young woman whom Chatsky wants to marry. Famusov brings up the following incident as an illustration of a good behavior:

"А дядя! что твой князь? что граф?

Сурьезный взгляд, надменный нрав.

Когда же надо подслужиться,

И он сгибался вперегиб:

На куртаге ему случилось обступиться;

Упал, да так, что чуть затылка не пришиб;

Старик заохал, голос хрипкой;

Был высочайшею пожалован улыбкой;

Изволили смеяться; как же он?

Привстал, оправился, хотел отдать поклон,

Упал вдругорядь - уж нарочно,

А хохот пуще, он и в третий так же точно.

А? как по вашему? по нашему - смышлен.

Упал он больно, встал здорово."  


"Your uncle! Is he a Count? Or a prince?

A serious look, a haughty manner

However, when there was a need to curry favor

He would bend in half.

Once, at a royal party, he slipped

And fell, and in this fashion almost broke his head;

The old man groaned, his voice was coarse

But he was given a smile from the emperor

who allowed himself to be amused. And so, what did the uncle do?

He stood up, smoothed his ruffled feathers, wanted to bow

and fell for the second time! This was on purpose.

There was a laughter around him, so he fell for the third time!

So what do you make of him? To us, he was a very smart man.

He fell painfully, but got up gainfully."

The main question before Chatsky - where should he run away? Hence, we hear:

"Вон из Москвы! сюда я больше не ездок.
   Бегу, не оглянусь, пойду искать по свету,
   Где оскорбленному есть чувству уголок!..
   Карету мне, карету!"

"Away from Moscow! Here, I won't come no more.

I run away. Won't look back. Let me search the world

where this insulted feeling can find safe haven!

A carriage for me! A carriage!"

This running away we have already met - in hermits and in Cossacks. In other lands and other times, we have seen emigration as a solution to social problems, for example, the current refugee crisis in Western Europe (see photos here, a cartoon explaining the crisis here , and graphics here ).

Next: the theoretical fore-runners of Narodniks continued

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