Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Road to Revolution: A Century of Russian Radicalism, 1956.

Chapter 12

The People's Will

A separate existence was now assumed by what had been the two factions of Land and Liberty. It had been agreed that neither should use that name. Accordingly, the group of orthodox populists called itself Narodnaya Partiya (Popular or People's Party), but was better known as Chornyi Peredel (Black Repartition,) a phrase describing the periodic redistribution of land and taxes by the mir. It was also the title of the organization's journal which bore the motto, 'Land and Liberty!' on its masthead.

When it was formed, in the autumn of 1879, Black Repartition consisted of a score of men and women. Of organizing talent there was little, except for Pavel Axelrod, a former member of the Chaikovsky Circle, later a buntar, successful in propagandizing factory hands. Plekhanov, a born ideologue, was the brains of the group. It also included Yakov Stefanovich and Lev Deutsch, 'the Orestes and Pylades of the revolution.' The fact that Vera Zasulich, who had returned from abroad in 1879, was a member of the group did most to raise its prestige. In the division of the assets of Land and Liberty it had come off rather badly. The other faction got 'the Foreign Office' in the person of Zundelevich, as well as the Heavenly Chancery and the printing press. The loss of this last was particularly serious. After some weeks another press was obtained. The business of setting it up, preparing the text of the opening number of the new journal and collecting the funds necessary to cover the cost of the issue absorbed most of the group's energies during the first months of its existence.

The new year brought disaster. Plekhanov, as well as Stefanovich, Deutsch and Vera Zasulich fled to Switzerland, and this they did not merely to escape arrest. They withdrew from the battlefield in a mood of discouragement and apathy. Chornyi Peredel was left practically leaderless. And then, a typesetter on the secret press having turned informer, the police seized it, together with all the copies of the first issue of the journal, and arrested the four people who ran the press, including 'the Mother of God.' Other arrests followed, and it looked as if it was all up with the group.

It survived the crisis, chiefly owing to Axelrod's energy and devotion. He kept it alive by making a number of proselytes, mostly students and young naval officers. The first issue of Chornyi Peredel, with the original date, 15 January, 1880, but with some additions to the text, was reprinted in London and copies smuggled into Russia. The editors proclaimed their anarchist faith and in the next breath swore allegiance to 'the principles of scientific socialism.' The leading article, by Plekhanov, was a vigorous restatement of the populist thesis. A large proportion of the slim issue was given over to an account of the Chigirin affair, from the pen of Stefanovich himself. An editorial note stated that the publication of the piece implied no approval of exploiting 'the political idols' of the masses.

The second number of Chornyi Peredel carried 'the Programme' of the group. It did not differ much from that of the defunct Land and Liberty. The organization set itself the long-term task of agitating for an agrarian revolution, which was to be the first step toward a complete reconstruction of society on socialist foundations. This, however, did not mean the teachings of Marx and Engels, but the platform of the Bakuninist wing of the International, which had not survived its founder and was then largely a memory. Political action was described as 'necessary,' but given a subordinate place, as was propaganda among industrial workers. In commenting on the Programme, Plekhanov took exception to this last point. It was wisest, he wrote, to distribute available energies rather evenly between town and country, choosing the slogan: 'Worker, take the factory; peasant, take the land.' The centre of gravity in Russia was shifting toward1 industry, so that 'we cannot determine beforehand from what classes of the working population the main cadres of the social-revolutionary army will be recruited when the hour of the economic overturn strikes.'

Axelrod, who had gone to Geneva to submit the draft of the statutes to the expatriate members, failed to return. The arrest, in July, of Yelizaveta Durnoyo was another serious blow to the group: she was its chief 'angel.' The daughter of a wealthy army officer and the niece of the Governor of Moscow, she is said to have turned over to the Society the sum of sixteen thousand roubles. Against odds, the work was carried on, largely by new converts, of whom there were about thirty. In addition to the main circle in Petersburg, there was a branch in Moscow, as well as handfuls of adherents in Kazan and in several southern centres. The distaste for subordination prevalent among the people who gravitated toward Black Repartition made the provincial cells virtually independent.

The situation was fraught with irony. The groups were supposed to centre their efforts on the peasantry, and the membership waxed eloquent on the need of getting closer to the rural masses. Yet they failed to secure a foothold in a single village. Propaganda outside intellectual circles was confined to city workers. Study groups were formed for factory hands, and aid was offered to strikers. The society helped, in the spring of 1880, to revive the Union of South-Russian Workers, which had been in suspended animation since 1875. Its new phase lasted no more than a year, but in that period it had a membership of some six hundred in Kiev along. The Union adhered to orthodox Populism, but advocated terrorism, though only against economic exploiters, not against officials. To assist the propagandist, Black Repartition printed half a dozen issues of a review, Zerno (Seed), written down to the level of the simple workman and offering him popular essays in Marxist economics and stories with a message.

Three more numbers of Chornyi Peredel came out, the last one dated December, 1881. The journal gave the organization whatever body and substance it possessed. A number of leaflets and a revised version of the Programme, dated 7 April, 1881, were also issued. Here nationalization of the land, the factories, and the other major means of production is substituted for 'redistribution of the land,' the objective that had figured in the earlier text. Further, the document recognizes the existence of a proletariat with interests and ideals different from those of the peasantry. All these publications were run off on a clandestine press in Minsk under idyllic circumstances made possible by the laxity of the local police. An emissary from the capital discovered to his horror that on a vacant lot near the house where the press was located boys flew kites with discarded sheets of Chornyi Peredel.


The other faction, which espoused political revolution and the tactics of terror, took the name of the Party (or Society) of the People's Will (Narodnaya Volya). The term volya means 'freedom' as well as 'will.' It was used here in the latter sense. A member of the Party was a narodovoletz.

Structurally the new society was closely patterned on Land and Liberty. The People's Will was organized as an association consisting of a central nucleus exercising a measure of control over local chapters, which functioned in the provinces, and over special units which confined their activities to occupational groups, such as workmen, students, army officers. The hard core of the organization was known as 'the Executive Committee.' This was the direct descendant of the cell of that name which had existed within Land and Liberty and which had formally constituted itself at the Lipetzk Conference in June, 1879. The statutes adopted by the Conference became the statutes of the People's Will.

The Executive Committee was a misnomer: it was a self-appointed and self-perpetuating body. The Committee had a monopoly on the more ambitious terroristic enterprises, but by no means limited itself to them. It formulated the policies of the Party and sought to maintain its ideological unity. Every effort was made to build it into a myth, to create the impression that it was an august, inaccessible, all-powerful body carrying on its activities behind an impregnable wall of secrecy. The fewest persons came in direct contact with the members. In dealings with the outside world these were required to pass themselves off as its 'agents.' It also had real agents: activists connected with subsidiary groups who were called upon to assist the centre. A Managing Board, elected by the Committee, acted during the intervals between its sittings. Once admitted to the Committee, one could not resign. This rule, like others, seems to have remained on paper.

In the half dozen years of the Executive Committee's existence, fewer than fifty men and women served on it. Because of arrests, the number of members who were active at any one time was considerably smaller. The total membership was authoritatively estimated at five hundred. This figure apparently does not include fellow travellers. A list of persons associated, however tenuously, with the People's Will, compiled by a group of survivors of the movement, comprises over two thousand two hundred names. The register covers the entire period of the Party's life, including the 1886-96 decade when its existence was nominal.

The strength of the People's Will lay in the fact that the membership included a few dedicated spirits, men and women animated by the faith that makes heroes and martyrs. The biographies of those who made up the revolutionary elite were apt to have certain features in common. Such a man would early be responsive to radical ideas and hospitable toward populist sentiment; while at school or in the university, he would be active in a reading club or a propagandist group; his studies would be interrupted, because he would be deported for participation in academic disturbances, or else he would abandon the lecture hall to 'go to the people.' He would suffer exile or imprisonment, which would enhance his sense of martyrdom, and nourish dreams of violent upheavals; on being released, he would join Land and Liberty, unless preferring the part of a free-lance buntar; finally he would find himself in the ranks of the People's Will. Not that the social background of the activists, men and women, was the same. Frolenko was the son of a charwoman; Shiryayev was born into the family of a serf. Trigoni's father was a Major-General, and Sofya Perovskaya was the daughter of the Governor of Petersburg. But in the main, the People's Will, like the rival faction, was an organization of intellectuals or semi-intellectuals recruited from the middle-class, the clergy, the lower gentry. Even those who were of peasant or proletarian stock had had the benefit of an education. If culturally it was a rather homogeneous group, it reflected the ethnic variety of the vast country. In addition to Great Russians, the Executive Committee included a Ukrainian, three Jews, several persons of Germanic stock, the offspring of a Russian-Norwegian marriage, another of a Russian-Georgian union, a woman of Polish descent and the son of a Greek.

Alexander Mikhailov was perhaps the greatest asset the organization possessed. He was its watchdog. Day in, day out, he preached and practised discipline and caution, fighting tooth and nail for centralized control. He devoted himself to building up the apparatus of the People's Will, as he had previously built up that of Land and Liberty. No detail capable of menacing the safety of the Party escaped him. He knew how to order and use men, and he obeyed the rules he laid down. A stutterer, like many earnest people, he had no private ambitions, no personal ties. His room was enlivened solely by the motto: 'Do not forget your duty.' The cause was his religion. It was inseparable from his belief in God, that is, he said, in truth, justice, love. But there was something businesslike and matter-of-fact about the way he worshipped his deity. His last testament was a set of practical injunctions to his comrades. Although he was aware that as a revolutionary he was a doomed man, he considered himself particularly fortunate. 'From my earliest youth,' he wrote at the end of his career, 'a lucky star has shone over my head.' Annihilation held no terrors for him. 'Who does not fear death,' he liked to say, 'is almost omnipotent.'

Mikhailov exemplified the sober, puritanical, ascetic type of revolutionary. Among his fellows the antipodal type of the dare-devil, exuberant romantic, acting out of an impulse to live fully and strenuously, was also represented. Such was Alexander Barannikov, born, like Mikhailov, into a family of gentlefolk. Finding military school uncongenial, he escaped from it by making the authorities believe him drowned. He was then eighteen. Leaving the capital, he fell in with a group of agitators in the Don region and worked as a field hand, a fisherman, a stevedore. Then he joined a village settlement planted by Land and Liberty, but soon grew impatient with peaceful activities. When the Serbs rose against Turkey, he went to Montenegro to learn how partisans fight and saw some action. Returning to Russia, he took part in the assassination of Mezentzev, and he naturally found himself in the ranks of the People's Will. His character was in keeping with his appearance : jet-black hair -- his mother was a Georgian -- eyes so dark that they seemed without pupils, a tense, passionate air. Living in the moment, reaching out for experience, he yet gave the impression of a tightly wound spring. An avenging angel, as he was called, he was a figure out of a Byronic romance. His testament, penned in prison in the expectation of execution -- he was actually given in 1882 a life term of hard labour, from which death delivered him a year later -- ends with this rhetorical apostrophe to his comrades: 'Live and triumph; we triumph and die.'

Another striking figure was Mikhail Grachevsky, a former divinity student turned village teacher and, later, mechanic. With his nominal wife he occupied the flat in which one of the Party's printing presses was installed. He was a fanatic, a spiritual descendant of the schismatics who burned themselves to death rather than yield an iota of their faith. Sentenced to a life term of hard labour, he was kept in a Schlüssenburg prison. As a protest against the regime there, he ended his life, in 1887, by setting himself on fire after soaking his clothes with kerosene from his lamp.

The Executive Committee was a band of conspirators and political assassins. Andrey Zhelyaboy reluctantly accepted this role, but it did not fit him. Powerfully built, full-blooded, magnetic, possessed of great drive and energy, somewhat histrionic yet capable of clear thinking, he had the makings of a tribune or a leader of men. 'There was about him,' wrote a comrade, 'a certain ruthlessness, of the kind that goes with strength moving forward irresistibly and pushing others before it.'

For an unusually long time he was content to remain an obscure soldier in the ranks. And then, overnight, he found himself among the top commanders of the small cohort of the revolution. Born a serf, he grew up in the Crimea, a frontier region where the peasantry was less cowed than in central Russia. His former owner saw him through secondary school, and a scholarship enabled him to study law at the University of Odessa. He had come under the sway of radical ideas while still at school, and as a student he held clandestine classes for seamstresses, reading to them Hood's 'Song of the Shirt.' His academic career came to an end in 1871, when he was twenty-one, because he had led a student protest against a tactless professor.

He eked out a meagre living in Odessa by teaching school and tutoring. His circumstances did not improve when he married the daughter of a well-to-do industrialist. Nor did marriage dampen his interest in the revolution. He leaned toward Lavrovism, but did not 'go to the people.' In the winter of 1874-75 he spent some months in prison. Released, he resumed his former mode of life, except that during the summer he would be farming in his native village. His wife worked with him in the fields, but sometimes she would lie down in a ditch and cry, remembering her piano. For a narodnik, he showed a curious interest in the political radicalism professed by the groups of Ukrainian nationalists that existed at this time, though he could not work up any enthusiasm for their programme of turning the Empire into a federation of states.

A defendant in the Great Trial of 1877-78, he was acquitted. He returned to farming, but soon reappeared in Odessa, where he assumed the status of an illegal. Though aware of the objections to it, he had come to the conclusion that the use of terror was unavoidable. 'History moves terribly slowly,' he told a friend, 'we must give it a push.' At the Lipetzk conference, where his appearance was something of a surprise, he leapt to the fore. Both at that gathering and at the Voronezh meetings he espoused a political orientation so warmly that he scandalized the orthodox populists. 'He is a constitutionalist!' they cried, appalled, after listening to one of his speeches. A novice among veterans, he was soon the moving spirit behind the activities of the People's Will.

Its feminine members rendered the organization indispensable services in various auxiliary capacities. The top leadership included at least three women. A conspirator of both temperament and conviction was Maria Oshanina (nee Olovennikova), the eldest of three sisters, all of whom were in the revolutionary movement. Among her plain, blowsy female comrades she stood out because of her looks and her manners. She had character and courage and intelligence, but, sceptic that she was, lacked the moral integrity and austere devotion to the cause that distinguished Vera Figner and Sofyja Perovskaya. The former had given up peaceful propaganda and was elected to the Executive Committee. A rather mediocre organizer, she was an effective agitator. In her bearing there was something that suggested the figure of Victory.

Perovskaya joined the People's Will after much hesitation, but once in its fighting ranks, she became irreplaceable. Like Mikhailov, she embodied duty and discipline. If she was severe with others, she was even more so toward herself. She not only planned and directed; she was the first to go under fire, and she chose the most responsible and dangerous post. The blonde, thin-lipped, big-browed, self-possessed slip of a girl, who in spite of her severe garb looked younger than her twenty-six years, concealed a heart of steel under her gentle exterior. A comrade must have had her in mind when he observed to a fellow revolutionary: 'Have you noticed that our women are more cruel than we men?'

During the Land and Liberty days she had, among other things, taken charge of correspondence with political prisoners. She would also visit them in an effort to keep up their morale. In this way she came to know Tikhomirov. The two fell in love and indeed, decided to get married. But nothing came of it. According to Tikhomirov, she could submit in love only to a man stronger than herself, which he was not. He added that when she met a strong man in the person of Zhelyabov, she became his slave. A comrade called Zhelyabov her first and only love. Presumably, it was not an unrequited passion. When Zhelyabov joined the terrorists he had abandoned his wife and infant son, while breaking the other ties that bound him to the old existence.

Although emotionally involved, Sofya Perovskaya shrank from accepting personal happiness as long as comrades were languishing behind bars or perishing on the scaffold, and while the people were suffering under the yoke of despotism. Some of her fellow activists held that love and marriage were incompatible with work for the revolution. Yet a professed Amazon, Olga Lubatovich, fell madly in love with Morozov. It was said that when they were together Fate itself could not touch them. He was arrested while she was in Geneva, where she had gone to be delivered of their child. Men and women, thrown together in this dangerous life, not unnaturally entered into intimate relations. Unions were formed, with or without benefit of clergy. Barannikov married Maria Oshanina. Children were born, sometimes in prison or in Siberian exile. A nominal marriage on occasion turned into a real one. It would seem that in personal relations the same intensity often obtained that marked the feeling for the cause.


The beginnings of the People's Will were not inauspicious. It started out with a nucleus that had been in existence for some years. There was money in the cashbox, and a sizable printing-press was at its service. It lost no time in making itself heard. Early in October, 1879, the first issue of its organ, also called Narodnaya volya, was being eagerly if stealthily read. The opening statement was a declaration of loyalty to the slogan of 'Land and Liberty.' But the keynote was sounded in an article from the pen of Tikhomirov, entitled 'Delenda est Carthago.' The Czar's autocratic regime was the Carthage that must be utterly destroyed. The cry reverberates throughout the literature put forth by the Society. It was repeated with what was practically its dying breath in the editorial dated 1 October, 1885, which appeared in the last issue of Narodnaya volya.

Here was a sharp departure from populist orthodoxy. Several considerations were advanced to justify the political orientation. The Russian State, it was argued, was the chief exploiter and oppressor and the mother of all exploitation and oppression. As long as it existed, the lot of the masses could not be bettered. In Russia reform meant revolution. A representative government was bound to benefit the people. Again, the despotic system must be annihilated before a powerful middle-class was formed under its aegis. In the West the monarchy had been overthrown by the bourgeoisie. In Russia the historic task fell to the masses and their vanguard, the Party. And let there be no fear that in attacking the State the revolutionaries would be pulling chestnuts from the fire for others: there was no organized force in the country capable of snatching the fruits of victory from the people. In fact, the Society's spokesmen asserted that in Russian circumstances a political revolution could not but be also a social revolution. The theory did much to help a narodnik overcome his taste for political action.

The People's Will did not share the anarchist animus against all centralized political authority. On the other hand, the idea of the Party seizing power and dictatorially effecting an economic revolution was generally repudiated as 'a despotic Utopia.' Narodnaya volya did not consider its break with the apolitical stand as a betrayal of Populism. Its 'Programme,' printed in the third issue of its organ, dated 1 January, 1880, opened with the statement: 'According to our fundamental convictions, we are socialists and populists.' To the framers of this document Populim was, above all, a democratic faith in the will of the people as the only source and sanction of social institutions, while Socialism was a vague ideal of justice and equality ensuring the material welfare of the community and the spiritual self-realization of the individual. Belief in the collectivist instincts of the Russian masses was unshaken. Socialism and Populism acting as guarantors of each other -- such was, indeed, the philosophy of the People's Will. 'The people's welfare and the people's will are our two most sacred and inseparable principles.'

'It is important for the masses to achieve a better social order,' reads an article in the fourth issue of Narodnaya volya, 'but it is even more important for them to achieve it by their own efforts. . . .' A popular revolution replacing the monarchy with a regime permitting the masses to express their will through elected representatives was a consummation ardently desired. But the Programme, mentioned above, called upon the Party to take the initiative in effecting the overturn without waiting for a popular uprising and, indeed, without counting on it. The People's Will obligated itself, however, to see to it that the Provisional Government created by the triumphant revolution should promptly hand over its power to a Constituent Assembly. The Programme declared that the Party would submit to the people's will, as expressed through this democratically elected body, but would support a platform of its own in the electoral campaign and in the Assembly. A postscript to the document had it that in fighting the government, all means were permissible, that the forces of the opposition, whether affiliated with the Society or not, would be aided and abetted, and finally that 'individuals and groups standing outside our struggle with the government were considered neutral: their persons and property were inviolate.'

The aims, structure, and activities of the organization were also outlined in another official statement entitled 'The Preparatory Work of the Party.' Here the overthrow of the autocracy through a popular rising preceded by a series of terroristic acts was designated as the immediate task. 'The Party must have the strength to create for itself a moment favourable to action, to start the enterprise and bring it to a successful conclusion.' The ultimate goal was a political and social order under which the people's will is the sole source of law. It was, however, explicitly stated that the Party did not presume to be the bearer of that will.

It would be misleading to give the impression that there was anything monolithic about Narodnaya volya. Both ideologically and organizationally it was a loose body. As in the case of its rival, Chornyi Peredel, there were divergent trends in it. A prospective member of the Executive Committee was not asked about the exact tenor of his views, but whether he was ready to lay down his life for what was vaguely referred to as the cause of freedom. Some accepted the theory that the political and social revolution would occur simultaneously, others envisaged a long interval between the two. The most that Zhelyabov, for one, expected from the Party's efforts was a regime that would hamper its activities less severely. There were those who would wrest concessions from the government rather than overthrow it, and for whom the ultimate goal of Socialism was eclipsed by the nearer objective of political democracy. On the other hand, several people were receptive to the idea that the Party should seize power and decree Socialism into existence. In an article contributed to the Party organ, Mikhailovsky observed that the vicissitudes of the coming struggle were unforeseeable, adding prophetically: "The Russian popular uprising may produce an ambitious man of genius, a Caesar, a demigod, before whom our unhappy country will bow its head."

Nor was there complete unanimity on tactics. Terror had its enthusiasts like Morozov, who attempted to erect it into a philosophy, if not into a mystique. He exalted systematic political assassination as the most equitable and suitable form of revolutionary struggle. For the most part, however, the membership regarded it, not without misgivings, as a matter of policy dictated by Russian conditions, as a measure which enabled strength to come forth out of weakness. At the news of President Garfield's death the Executive Committee prepared a statement protesting in the name of the Russian revolutionaries against political assassination in a country like the United States where 'the free popular will determines not only the law, but also the person of its administrators.'


'The Preparatory Work of the Party' assigned great importance to city workers as a potential revolutionary force. The efforts to secure a foothold among them were not without success. Workers' circles sprang up in the two capitals and in several provincial cities. By the time the People's Will was constituted, the Northern Union of Russian Workers had been broken up, yet the seeds it had planted had not all been lost. The beginning of the 'eighties was marked by an industrial depression which resulted in lay-offs, and there was much unrest among factory hands. Several hundreds of them lent an ear to the propagandists. Along with lessons in the 'three R's,' proselytes were offered indoctrination in economics according to Marx and Lassalle, as well as talks on such subjects as the struggles of the Irish peasantry, the French Revolution, the Paris Commune. The cells had statutes of their own, drafted in the autumn of 1880, but they did not differ much from the Party's Programme. At the end of the year the first issue of Rabochaya gazeta (The Workers' Gazette) made its appearance, thanks chiefly to Zhelyabov's initiative and energy. One of the policies of this publication during its brief existence -- it lasted a little over a year -- was opposition to the building of railways and factories, on the ground that they undermined peasant trucking and village crafts!

Theoretically, the rural masses bulked large in the plans of the organization. Only they could insure the victory of the revolution, it was argued, even if the initiative was to come from another quarter. The Party had no doubts that its programme would be welcomed by the villagers. It was conceded, however, that only outstanding. individuals from among the peasantry could be won over in the immediate future. Narodnaya volya gave up all thought of 'going to the people' and no longer clung to the belief that Cossacks and sectarians were apt to be particularly hospitable to the message of revolution, though Alexander Mikhailov for one, long cherished the plan of incorporating the clandestine organization of the schismatics into the Party.

The People's Will managed to devote some of its energies to proselytizing among the intelligentzia and the student youth. These exertions were not very fruitful. Not many individuals from among the educated public were induced to join the ranks of the activists, though a number contributed money and on occasion carried out minor assignments. The student body provided the Executive Committee with several agents. Zhelyabov was instrumental in forming a student group with cells in more than one school of higher learning in the capital. On 8 February, 1881, during the annual convocation at the University of Petersburg, the group got up a protest demonstration against the Minister of Education who had been appointed the previous spring. A leaflet was distributed among the audience, one student made an incendiary speech, and another walked up to the Minister and slapped his face. The unfortunate affair was condemned by the majority of the students. As a matter of fact, the policy followed by the new Minister, compared with that of his predecessor, was rather liberal.

Infiltrating the armed forces was held to be a vital and urgent task. Propaganda among common soldiers and sailors devolved upon the workers' circles, and apparently no headway at all was made in that direction. But a number of cells with a membership confined to commissioned officers were established in scattered army and navy units. In the autumn of 1880 Zhelyabov, with the aid of three Midshipmen, succeeded in welding these groups into an autonomous body, the Military-Revolutionary Organization of the People's Will, with a central board located in the capital and represented on the Executive Committee. Time was when army men had been urged to resign their commissions and 'go to the people.' They were now exhorted to stay in the service and seek to gain the confidence of the men under their command, without trying to win them over to the cause. The officers were to wait for the call from their Board, meanwhile carrying out certain orders issued by the Executive Committee. They obligated themselves to take up arms in support of a popular rising or of a military insurrection aiming to seize supreme power in order to set up a representative government. 'Popularization of socialist teaching' was included in the propaganda conducted by the Military-Revolutionary Organization.

The People's Will was not averse to a united front with the liberals. The statutes recommended seeking to persuade them that for the time being their interests were identical with those of the revolutionaries, both being forced 'to act together against the Government.' There was no actual attempt, however, to make common cause with the moderate opposition. As a matter of fact, it was held that the monarchy was in a moribund state and that its overthrow would prove an easy task.

In its proselytizing efforts the Party depended to a considerable extent on the printed word. As has been seen, shortly after it was constituted, it began issuing a journal. On 18 January, 1880, in the small hours, the secret press was raided. The half a dozen people who ran it offered armed resistance to arrest. One man shot himself dead to avoid being taken, and the rest were seized, together with the equipment and all but two hundred copies of the third issue of Narodnaya volya. While the police was being held off, most of the compromising papers were destroyed, so that the arrests did not spread, and by the time spring came, another press was functioning. It produced several issues of Listok (The Bulletin), and in the autumn the printing of Narodnaya volya was resumed, while toward the end of the year Rabochaya gazeta was launched. Extraordinary precautions were taken to safeguard the printing establishment from the gendarmes.

Like previous groups, the People's Will maintained several secret flats in the capital and elsewhere. Security demanded that such quarters should be used for one purpose only and by the fewest people, that as far as possible they should be isolated, so that the loss of one flat should not lead to the loss of others. Lack of funds often made this impossible. Meetings might take place in a kvartira where explosives and excavating tools were stored and where sheets of publications were stitched together and passports forged. One of the flats in the capital was reserved for the headquarters of the Executive Committee, but sometimes it was forced to meet under conditions that violated the safety rules worked out by Alexander Mikhailov.

He was the Party's bursar. The rental of the secret quarters, the printing, the maintenance of professional revolutionaries who lacked means of subsistence, travelling, and particularly terrorist activities demanded the outlay of rather substantial sums of money. Kravchinsky estimated that three of the attempts on the life of Alexander II involved the expenditure of thirty to forty thousand roubles. While information about the income of the organization is fragmentary, there can be no doubt that it was not seldom in financial straits. In June, 1879, while the Executive Committee was still nominally part of Land and Liberty, its cashbox held two thousand five hundred roubles. Vera Figner recalled that the People's Will received a portion of Lizogub's fortune amounting to eight thousand roubles. An equal amount was contributed by the Subbotina sisters. The possessions of the members of the Executive Committee were at its disposal, but there were no moneyed people among them. In fact, many of them were apparently supported by the Party. The subsidiary groups were under obligation to turn over to the Committee a portion of what they took in, but this was a meagre and uncertain source of revenue. The sale of publications and photographs of revolutionary martyrs was a more reliable way of getting cash. Probably the largest source of income was the purses of sympathizers. A memoirist mentions a donation of ten thousand roubles from a zemstvo leader. The contributions from 'sympathizers with the struggle for the people's liberation' -- they were listed thus in the Party's organs -- included substantial sums. Between 1 March and 15 July, 1881, they amounted to over twenty-seven thousand roubles. Tikhomirov estimated the Party's annual budget at eighty thousand roubles.

Land and Liberty had rejected the method of obtaining funds by robbing -- 'expropriating' was the term used -- State banks. The People's Will adopted this procedure, on the ground that since it was at war with the government, the latter's property was a belligerent's legitimate booty. In December, 1880, preparations were started to expropriate the Treasury in Kishinev, but the enterprise was abandoned. In 1882 an attempt at expropriation was made at Gori, Georgia, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, but proved a fiasco. Hopes of securing some funds from abroad were entertained, but it is uncertain if these materialized.


There was little factional strife between the People's Will and Black Repartition. The members visited each other's secret quarters, borrowed money from one another, shared information, and helped each other in various ways. The assassination of an informer, carried out in February, 1880, was decided upon jointly by both organizations. The hope persisted that the two groups would sooner or later compose their differences and reunite.

The schism was hardly six months old when an attempt was made to effect such a merger. Axelrod, who represented Black Repartition in the negotiations, argued that fighting the government was not fighting for Socialism and that not to make this clear was to create confusion. Accordingly, he demanded that the organ of the People's Will should declare itself candidly to be a journal of political revolution. The Executive Committee offered instead to add Axelrod to the editorial staff of Narodnaya Volya and give him a free hand in preaching Socialism. Nor did Axelrod's other condition, namely, that the group for which he spoke should retain freedom of action after the merger, prove acceptable. The parley came to nothing, and the two organizations continued to carry on independently. From time to time orthodox populists joined the People's Will, but only as individual converts.

The members of the two factions were separated by differences of temperament, not unlike those that kept apart the buntars and the Lavrovists. The ideological causes of the rift have already been indicated, except the attitude toward the nationality problem. Like its parent body, Black Repartition advocated the political self-determination of the ethnic groups which the Empire had absorbed in the course of its expansion. In Russian radical circles the idea became current in the 'sixties and gained further authority in the next decade. A journal published in 1878 in Geneva by 'Populists-Bakuninists' pleaded for the break-up of the Empire, pointing out, among other separatist tendencies, that Eastern Siberia, because of its economic interests, might in time gravitate toward the United States rather than toward Petersburg or Odessa. The revised programme of Black Repartition included the demand for 'the independence of the nationalities mechanically bound together in the united all-Russian Empire.'

The orthodox populists accused their adversaries of standing for a centralized State dominated by the Great Russian nationality. The People's Will rejected the impeachment, insisting that it favoured the widest application of the principle of local autonomy and indeed did not deny the subject nationalities the right to secede from the Empire, but admitted that the disintegration of Russia was not its ideal. It preferred to keep out of its platform a demand that, on the one hand, had bitter enemies and, on the other, was, as the Executive Committee put it, 'an invention.' 'Where,' asked Zhelyabov, 'are our Fenians, our Parnell?'

Indeed, at this time the non-Russian population of the Empire evinced but little interest in local autonomy along ethnic lines, let alone secession. Poland alone harboured a powerful separatist movement. Yet the few socialist groups that existed in Warsaw in the late 'seventies were not interested in the restoration of Poland's independence. They held this to be a deviation from the class struggle, to which their efforts were confined. The so-called Ukrainian movgment, which had lingered on among the intellectuals of Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa since the 'forties, aimed only at cultural autonomy and held aloof from both Socialism and revolution. Men and women of Little Russian (Ukrainian) stock were prominent among the narodniks, but they were apt to think of themselves as Russians first and foremost. Hardly any propaganda literature in the Ukrainian vernacular was produced by the revolutionaries. The appearance of such literature would have been a double challenge to the authorities, for on 18 May, 1876, a ukase made the printing and importation of Little Russian publications a criminal offence.

Among the revolutionaries there was a scattering of men and women belonging to the other national minorities, but they were for the most part alienated from their own people. This was especially true of the Jews.

Very few Jews worked for the radical cause in the 'sixties. In the following decade the number increased. Among the politicals arrested between the middle of 1873 and 1 January, 1877, Jews constituted seven per cent of those placed under police surveillance, fifteen per cent of those deported and four and a half per cent of the serious offenders who were tried in court -- sixty-six persons in all. Of the members of the People's Will who were given a court trial over fourteen per cent were Jews. They constituted fifteen per cent of all the politicals arrested in 1884-90 (579 out of 4,307 persons). Jews were outstanding among the radical leadership. Mark Natanson founded the Chaikovsky Circle and rallied the scattered forces of revolution under the banner of Land and Liberty; Lev Ginzberg headed the Lavrovist faction; Pavel Axelrod saved the frail barque of Black Repartition from foundering; Savely Zlatopolsky was prominent in the 'Executive Committee'; his brother Lev invented the code used by the People's Will.

Like their Gentile comrades, most of the Jewish radicals were of the intellectual type. They had received an education in the government schools thrown open to their people by Alexander II. The nihilist philosophy of the liberation of the individual from the bonds of authority and tradition held a strong appeal for youths eager to escape from the ghetto. Indeed, the trend represented by Pisarev had a repercussion in the neo-Hebrew literature of the period. Of the several hundred Jews who attended the Russian universities in the 'seventies, many embraced with a newcomer's zeal the world of advanced ideas into which Russian books carried them.

Only a few of the proselytes attempted to carry the socialist message to Jewish artisans and wage-earners in their own language. Aaron Liberman argued in the pages of Vperiod! (in 1875) that his people offered grateful soil for the socialist seed: 'Revolution is our tradition; the community is the basis of our legislation. Anarchy was our oldest social order. . . .'

In 1876 a group of 'Jewish socialist-revolutionaries' issued an appeal to Jewish intellectuals, in Russian and Hebrew, urging them to turn their attention to their own people. The call fell on deaf ears. By and large, the intellectuals subscribed to the then current notion that their own people were a parasitic body of shopkeepers and money-lenders who could not be expected to play any part in building the socialist future. They overlooked the fact that a considerable proportion of the group belonged to the working class. It was true, however, that the poverty-stricken Jewish masses, living their traditional life in ghetto seclusion, were even less accessible to ideas of political and social insurgency than were their Gentile neighbours, while the moneyed people -- a small group of nouveau-riche merchants, bankers and railroad magnates -- were completely loyal to the existing order.

Years were to pass before it was borne in on the Jewish radicals that there was work for them in their own vineyard. In the meantime they were eager to 'go to the people' -- to the Russian people. Osip Aptekman, for one, was so determined to remove all barriers between himself and the Russian peasants that before he made his pilgrimage to the people he joined the Orthodox Church. 'And let me tell you,' he recalled, 'I felt as though I had been regenerated. "I am going to the people," I thought, "indeed not as a Jew but as a Christian; I am at one with the people." Others submitted to baptism in order to conclude a marriage, real or fictitious, with a person of Christian faith -- mixed marriages occurring frequently in radical circles and the law forbidding marital union between Jew and Gentile. They severed the ties that bound them to their own people apparently without compunction. Jewishness was not a vexing problem to them, and if it did trouble them, they said to themselves that the social revolution would liquidate the Jewish question for good and all.

Baptism may have given an Aptekman spiritual satisfaction. It is doubtful if it added to his effectiveness as a propagandist. The barrier between the common people and the intellectual was, of course, even greater when the latter was of alien stock and tradition. Where Jews could be of most service was in the printing and distribution of literature and in organizational work. They found themselves in the faction that embraced the political orientation. A democratic regime assuring equality before the law to all citizens could not but attract members of a group deprived of elementary civil rights. Populism, with its Slavophil roots, its cult of the peasantry, its sense of indebtedness to the masses, could have only a superficial hold on the Jew.

The People's Will generally was not overmuch concerned with the country's ethnic heterogeneity. It held that the united efforts of all the sections of the population should be directed against the common enemy, the autocracy. The alleged nationalist aspirations of the minorities seemed a threat to the cause. It was only after the achievements of the revolution had been securely established by the Constituent Assembly that the component nationalities should be allowed freely to determine their status. Thus the People's Will differed from Black Repartition only in that it relegated the self-determination of national minorities to the post-revolutionary period. There were members of both factions, however, who held nationalism to be a divisive force, harmful to the cause of social emancipation. Fundamentally, Russian radicalism had no room in its scale of values for cultural pluralism. It was believed that the imminent social upheaval would wipe out all national differences, turning them, as Lavrov put it, into 'a pale tradition of history.'