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

Chapter 7

'Men of the Future'

Secure from the revolutionary menace, the Government might now have let well enough alone. But Alexander went on enacting reforms. These included the abolition of corporal punishment that Herzen had urged, and a year later, in 1864, the introduction of self-government for rural districts in the form of so-called zemstvo boards. These measures were effected in an atmosphere of reaction which made it easy for the administration to emasculate them.

Early in 1865 the nobles of the Moscow province presented an address to the Czar in which they voiced their satisfaction with the newly created zemstvos and also urged him to convoke a National Assembly 'for the discussion of the needs of the entire state.' Alexander's reply was that the right to initiate reforms was part of his God-given autocratic power, and that no one was privileged to intercede before him for the whole nation. This was the last stirring of the constitutionalism of the 'sixties.

The revolutionary movement appeared to have been stillborn. Clandestine printing ceased. Sovremennik gave much space to labour and Socialism in Western Europe, but was timid in dealing with matters nearer home and spent much energy in polemics against Russkoe Slovo. It lacked the enthusiastic following it had had in Chernyshevsky's day.

After the failure of the Polish rebellion Bakunin settled in Italy and kept aloof from Russian affairs. As for Herzen, in the columns of The Bell he continued to berate the administration and to hold up to scorn the chauvinism, 'half rapacious, half rhetorical,' that prevailed at home. 'The public is worse than the Government,' he wrote to his daughter, 'and the journalists are worse than the public.' And he urged the convocation of a Zemsky Sobor. In and out of his review he also continued to preach what he called 'Russian Socialism,' stemming from the muzhik's way of life and reaching out for that 'economic justice' which is a universal goal sanctioned by science. And he harped on the antithesis of Europe, nearing the end of its vital cycle, and Russia, a country bypassed by history and knowing no cherished traditions save that of collectivism, possessing no accumulated wealth, belonging wholly to the future, resembling a woman heavy with child, a child that might prove, he hinted, the saviour of mankind. These were variations on old themes, but Herzen also sounded new notes. Perhaps the obshchina was not really the germ of the new society, he intimated, but rather a factor making the Russian soil ready to receive the Socialist seed, an article imported from the West. Might not an alliance between the muzhik and the European proletarian be the hope of the future? Possibly Russia, too, would succumb to 'the bourgeois pox.' On the other hand, meshchanstvo was conceivably just a passing phase in the development of Western societies. Herzen could not bear the thought that all the rivers of history must lose themselves in the swamp of a vulgar, property-worshipping middle-class civilization.

But The Bell had now neither readers nor influence. The editor antagonized the many who had drifted to the right, as well as the few who had moved further to the left, and he was too skittish to satisfy those who stood still. He found himself in no-man's-land. In 1865 he transferred the offices of the journal and of the Free Press to Geneva, 'the crossroads of Europe.' He hoped to find there a more congenial atmosphere than London could offer and, above all, closer contacts with home.

This step failed to improve matters. The city of Calvin harboured a number of recent arrivals from Russia, mostly young people of plebeian background. They had crossed the border chiefly in 1862-64 to avoid the police net or to escape from it. For some time Herzen had looked with favour at these radicals. They were half-baked, but there was a certain toughness about them. He had perceived that the intellectuals of gentle birth to whom he had once pinned his hopes were a weak reed to lean upon: bold in the realm of thought, they wavered and compromised when it came to action. His personal contacts with the new emigres were, however, galling. Twice had 'the Geneva puppies,' as he called them, approached him with a plan to make The Bell the official organ of a general-staff-in-exile, which would direct the revolutionary movement at home. The negotiations had come to nothing. Herzen gained the impression that these young people were merely out to get their hands on the review and also on the Bakhmetev fund for revolutionary progaganda. This had been entrusted to him in 1858 by a wealthy Russian landowner before he went off to the Marquesas to found a Communist settlement in that island paradise. 'The puppies,' for their part, looked down upon their celebrated fellow expatriate as a muddle-headed liberal and a man whose professed convictions were at variance with his lavish way of living.

One of them said, publicly, as much and more in a scurrilous pamphlet which came out in 1867. His ire had been roused by a remark made by the editor of The Bell to the effect that his message complemented Chernyshevsky's. No, the pamphleteer indignantly asserted, the two men had nothing in common: Chernyshevsky had formed 'a whole phalanx of socialists,' his ideas had struck deep roots; as for Herzen, he was a poet, an artist, a raconteur, a novelist, anything you please, but not a political thinker, and the notion that he was a leader of the youth was ludicrous. He understood nothing of what was going on around him. And what had this millionaire done for the cause? When young militants, covered with 'holy wounds,' had arrived in Switzerland fleeing from hard labour or the gallows, he had refused to work with them and had treated them with 'haughty contempt.' The younger generation had perceived that he was but a self-adoring phraseur and had turned away from him with disgust. 'You, Herzen,' the author of the pamphlet concluded graciously, 'are a dead man.'

The attack cut Herzen to the quick. These young people, he fumed, were shallow, arrogant, and ignorant; they were moved by low passions. In a letter to Bakunin of 30 May, 1867, he stigmatized his reviler and his kind as 'swindlers whose scoundrelism justified the Government's measures against them.' Bakunin took up the cudgels on behalf of these youths. Their defects, he argued with a perceptiveness of which he was rarely capable, were due to the fact that the old morality was gone, while the new had not taken shape. 'But this should not conceal from us the serious, nay, great qualities of our younger generation: it has a real passion for equality, work, justice, freedom, reason. Because of this passion, tens of them have already laid down their lives, while hundreds have gone to Siberia.' And he warned Herzen against senile hatred of youth.

By this time the two men had moved far apart in their thinking. Bakunin had now given up the idea that anything but oppression and enslavement could be expected from czarist autocracy, or indeed from any form of statehood. It was his conviction that the salvation of the Russian masses, as of the people everywhere, lay in an upheaval which would make a bonfire of both the political and the social order. To foment a total world revolution, which, he held, the combined efforts of the peasantry and the city workers were bound to bring about in the near future, he had for some time been busy organizing a secret International Brotherhood,

Herzen scarcely needed Bakunin's admonition against one of the infirmities of old age. Wholesale condemnation of the radical youth was far from his mind. Quite the contrary. When, at the end of 1868, The Bell was silenced for good, he wrote in an open letter to Ogarev, which was his parting word, that, in the main, their most precious convictions were secure. 'There are young people, so deeply, so irrevocably devoted to Socialism, so rich in logical audacity, so strong by virtue of their scientific realism and their rejection of all clerical and governmental fetishism that there is no more fear: the idea will not perish. The younger generation . . . is of age, and knows it.'

Here was an example of wishful thinking. One looks in vain for intimations of maturity in the ideas and behaviour of the radical fringe of the intelligentzia of the late 'sixties. There was something adolescent about its attempts at political action and at living the good life. Here and there co-operatives sprang up, often dress-making establishments, like the one run by the heroineof What's to Be Done? They did not last. The professional seamstresses, who worked while the others talked, were apt to take the initiative in breaking up the shop. Sometimes they would carry off the sewing machines for which the idealistic amateurs had paid. Had they not been taught, they argued, that the tools belonged to those who used them?

Occasionally young people attempted to set up communal households. Earnings were shared and even such personal belongings as boots and coats. This was by way of honouring Chernyshevsky's precept of importing the socialist future into the present. These 'communes' failed invariably and promptly, even though some of them were a useful form of mutual assistance. But they bequeathed to the revolutionary circles the habit of comradely sharing of possessions.

As the 'communes' included both men and women, rumour pictured them as dens of promiscuity. Such was not the case. True, among 'nihilists' there was a tendency to unions without the benefit of clergy. What particularly scandalized the public was the fact that to secure her independence from parental tutelage a girl would contract a fictitious marriage. One apologist for the practice pointed to the legal disabilities of the unmarried woman. On the other hand, the nominal unions involved no hazards since, as he put it, 'the relations of men and women in these circles are based on mutual confidence and respect, which exclude the very possibility that men will ever think of abusing their rights.'


A few clandestine 'circles' managed to carry on. An active one existed in Moscow and was in touch with a group in the northern capital. The members included several government clerks and school teachers, men of mature years, but for the most part they were university students. One member was a former house serf, another a scion of an impoverished princely family. A leading role was played by a merchant's son, Nikolay Ishutin, a hunchbacked youth, nicknamed 'the General.' For him, as for his comrades, Chernyshevsky was the object of a veneration that verged on a cult. Ishutin is reported to have named him, together with Jesus and St. Paul, as 'one of the world's three great men.' A wild scheme hatched by the circle was a plan to free him from captivity and smuggle him out of the country, so that he could edit a revolutionary review abroad. Herzen was looked down upon not only as a liberal but as one whose way of life belied his professed convictions, and Pisarev was dismissed as 'an empty phraseur.' These youths lacked the nihilists' respect for science, believing that a man's duty was total devotion to the people's cause. 'The masses are uneducated,' one of them observed, 'therefore we have no right to an education. You don't need much learning to explain to the people that they are being cheated and robbed.' With this anti-intellectualist bias went an ascetic streak.

At first the circle engaged in activities that kept more or less within the law. It ran a co-operative bindery and a dressmaking establishment. Further, it had plans for other producers' cooperatives, as well as a workmen's mutual loan association and -- an Owenite colony on the Amur in Siberia. It also set up a school for boys in the slums of Moscow. Here a slanted variety of elementary instruction was offered. Thus, the teacher, after pointing out that the eagle was a bird of prey, would observe that a government flaunting the eagle on its coat of arms (Russia was, of course, such a one) only proved thereby that it was as rapacious and bloodthirsty as that bird. The arithmetic teacher, having led his pupils to admit that one was less than seventy-two million, indeed, an insignificant quantity in comparison, would say: 'Well, we have one czar, but there are seventy-two million of us.' Ishutin is said to have remarked: 'We will make revolutionaries out of these boys.'

The Petersburg group inclined toward a political orientation. Its head, a young scholar who had several works on Russian folkways to his credit, addressed a memorandum to the Emperor, urging him to grant the country civil liberties. Only a revolution from above, he argued, not unlike Herzen, could prevent a revolution from below. He was willing to accept the hazards of a democratic order, believing that it was a prerequisite for Socialism. In Moscow a different view prevailed. Ishutin, for one, held that a constitutional regime would only worsen the condition of the masses: while guaranteeing personal liberty, it would hasten pauperization and the growth of a proletariat. When, in 1865, two years after the young people had first come together, a smaller group, of a distinctly revolutionary character, crystallized within the Moscow circle, the objective of this so-called 'Organization' was a purely 'economic revolution.'

On the subject of tactics there was no unanimity in the Organization, and this resulted in sharp friction. Some favoured peaceful propaganda cautiously conducted, others were eager for drastic action. Ishutin pleaded for 'bang, bang,' instead of talk. He was all for shocking the people out of their apathy by some violent deed, such as the blowing up of the Fortress of Peter and Paul. Perhaps a series of assassinations could frighten the Czar into decreeing a social revolution.

Half a dozen of the more audacious spirits discussed at length a plan for forming a terroristic band. They called it Hell. Each member of this secrecy-shrouded body was to be a dedicated and doomed man. He had to give up his friends, his family, his personal life, his very name. To disarm suspicion, the one chosen by lot to act was to abandon himself to dissipation, even play the informer. The deed done, the terrorist must destroy himself by squeezing a pellet of fulminate of mercury between his teeth, so as to make his features unrecognizable. In addition to political assassination, Hell's projected function was to liquidate traitors within the group. An all-powerful, all-controlling secret body, it was to be maintained even after the revolution had triumphed, so as to keep a watchful eye on the new government and, if necessary, use terror against it.

When the moderates got wind of this plan, they considered taking some rather stringent measures against the would-be terrorists, not excluding denunciation to the authorities. As for the extremists, when a refractory youth was reported to have spoken sharply against a certain proposal, it was suggested that he should be killed, since he knew too much and could be dangerous if he withdrew from the Organization. Apparently neither the moderates nor the extremists were inhibited by moral scruples or by a sense of comradeship. They believed that the end justified the means. Their amateur Machiavellianism did not stop at fraud, theft, murder -- at least, on the planning level. To provide the Organization with funds one member was to hire himself out as a valet to a rich merchant and rob him; another was to loot the mails; a third was to poison his father for the sake of the inheritance. To carry out his intention, this last plotter actually obtained arsenic.

Ishutin was given to mystifying his comrades so as to add to his prestige and to bolster up their morale. He spread fantastic rumours, such as that Siberia was ready to secede from the Empire and that the United States had promised to assume a protectorate over it as soon as the garrisons in the Urals had been exterminated. Again, he told the members that their society was affiliated with a secret all-powerful European Revolutionary Committee organized for the purpose of assassinating the monarchs of Europe. This was an invention of his own, which some of his less gullible comrades disbelieved. It was possibly suggested by news of the establishment of the International (in 1864). Information about it may have been conveyed to the circle by the emissary who had been dispatched abroad to establish contact with the emigres -- a step that failed to bring results.

Certainly here was an explosive mixture of irresponsible talk and adolescent thrill-seeking.


The few who were initiated into the plans for Hell included Ishutin's cousin, Dmitry Karakozov, a morose, self-centred youth, deaf in one ear, whose grey eyes were set in a lean, sickly face. At the gatherings he listened carefully, but hardly ever opened his mouth. The talk of self-immolation, of daring action, fascinated him. He was a soul possessed. The cause of the common people was his ruling passion.

Born into an impoverished family of gentlefolk, the youth was hard put to it to keep body and soul together. He had been expelled from the University of Kazan in 1861 for participation in the disturbances there, and in the summer of 1865 he was dropped from the University of Moscow for failure to pay the modest tuition fee. He was not sorry. The diploma would give him a place among the privileged, where a revolutionist scarcely belonged.

In the winter of 1865-66 he was taken ill and spent two months in the university infirmary. He was suffering from an intestinal disease, but he came to believe that his ailment was mental. He imagined that his days were numbered. And to think that he would die without having done anything for the cause! One day in February he vanished, leaving behind a note which hinted at suicide. On returning to town he said that he had visited a neighbouring monastery. Then he stunned his comrades by declaring that he had decided to make an attempt on the Czar's life. Regicide had by no means been excluded from the terrorist's plans. In fact, it seems to have been the main objective of Hell. It is possible that Ishutin nurtured the idea in his cousin's sick mind, intending to use him as a tool for the execution of his design.

Some of Karakozov's fellow members tried to dissuade him: talk of assassination was one thing, action was another. Yet the thought obsessed him. At the beginning of Lent he secretly went to Petersburg with a pistol in his pocket, apparently bent on carrying out his intention. Here he composed, or possibly had written for him by the head of the Petersburg group, a personal if unsigned statement addressed 'To Worker Friends,' which was at once a defence of his intended act and his testament.

He had long been tormented, he began, by the question as to why Russians tolerated an order that kept the toilers poor and the idlers rich. By dint of much reading and reflection he had come to the conclusion that the czars were at the bottom of the trouble, that they were indeed the people's worst enemies. 'And so,' he went on, 'I have decided to destroy the wicked Czar and die for my beloved people.' If he failed, others, inspired by his example, would succeed. Once the chief enemy has been eliminated, the lesser ones will lose their power. Then real freedom will come: the people will govern themselves without the Czar, the land and all capital will belong to associations of workers. 'Everyone will have plenty, and there will be no one to envy, for all will be equal, and the Russian people will live happily and honestly. . . . This is my last word to worker friends. . . .'

Karakozov made several copies of this leaflet and with a fine disregard for caution scattered them near factory buildings. Roaming the streets, dressed as a man of the people, he also handed the sheet to students he encountered. One copy was turned over to the police, but they paid no attention to it.

On hearing of these goings-on, two members of the Organization came to Petersburg to persuade him to abandon his plan. He did go back to Moscow, but abruptly returned to the capital. In the afternoon of 4 April, as the Czar, having left the Summer Garden, a public park, was walking toward his carriage, Karakozov fired a shot at him. Either because the cheap pistol was defective or because his aim was poor, the shot went wild, and no one was hurt. A bystander by the name of Komissarov, a cap-maker of peasant stock, claimed credit for saving the Czar's life by striking the assassin's arm, and the authorities went out of their way to spread this rather questionable story. Surely it was providential that the Liberator should have been saved by a liberated serf. It happened that the cap-maker was a native of the province of Kostroma, birthplace of Ivan Susanin, the peasant who, according to a firmly established, yet somewhat dubious tradition, had sacrificed his life to save the first Romanov from murder by the Poles, and this was taken as added proot fhat the Emperor had escaped the assassin's bullet by a special act of Providence. The event produced a great outburst of expressions of loyalty to the Czar. The common people generally took the attempt on his sacred person to be an act of revenge on the part of the disgruntled serf-owners. This interpretation gained currency abroad as well. In the joint resolution passed by the United States Congress, congratulating the Emperor and the Russian nation upon his escape from danger, the would-be assassin is described as 'an enemy of emancipation.'

Papers incriminating his comrades were found on Karakozov, and one member of the circle turned informer. Arrests followed, and since the prisoners confessed abjectly and volubly, they implicated others. As a result, all the members of the organization were rounded up and some innocent bystanders besides. Practically all of the former recanted and begged for mercy. Ishutin burst into tears and kept repeating that he had nothing to do with the shooting. As for Karakozov, shortly after his arrest he wrote to the Czar that in acting as he did he had been moved by a desire to bring happiness to 'the great majority of people' whose lot is ceaseless toil, suffering and degradation. He predicted that the masses would soon rise in their wrath at the injustice of the system and, further, that from time to time men would lay down their lives in order to show the people that their cause was just. 'As for me, Sire,' he declared, 'I can only say that if I had not one but a hundred lives, and if the people demanded that I should sacrifice all the hundred lives to promote their welfare, I swear that I would not hesitate a minute to make the sacrifice.'

While in prison he showed signs of mental derangement, which the authorities chose to disregard. For hours he was on his knees in prayer. He declared that he had carried out the attempt in a state bordering on insanity and also that he had been influenced by what he had learned of 'the Constantine Party.' During his stay in the capital he must have heard about the existence of an aristocratic clique that, in the event of the Czar's death, intended to turn the throne over to Grand Duke Constantine, reputedly a liberal, who was sure to grant the country a constitution.

After a lengthy preliminary investigation thirty-five people, some of them mere boys, were arraigned before a special tribunal. Ishutin and Karakozov were condemned to die, the rest receiving terms of penal servitude of varying length. On hearing the verdict, Karakozov addressed a petition to the Emperor. His offence was so monstrous, he wrote, that he dared not think of any alleviation of his lot, but he swore that he would not have committed the crime if it were not for his abnormal state of mind. He begged the monarch's forgiveness 'as Christian of Christian and man of man' and signed himself his well-wisher. The Czar's indirect response was that personally he had long since forgiven the man in his heart, but as a sovereign he did not believe he had the right to pardon such a criminal.

Princess Dagmar of Denmark, the fiancee of the Heir Apparent, was expected in the capital for the wedding, and it would have been awkward to carry out the hanging during the solemnities, which were scheduled to last for weeks. It was decided to speed up the execution. On 3 September, two days after the verdict had been pronounced, Karakozov was hanged by one of the peasants for whom he wished to lay down his life. At the last moment, when Ishutin was already in his shroud, he was told that the Czar had commuted his sentence to hard labour for life.

Karakozov's shot, while missing its target, was fatal to the circle. Just about the time when he was getting ready for the attempt in Petersburg, his comrades in Moscow had composed their differences and agreed on a programme of action. In the summer they were going to leave town and carry the revolutionary message to the peasantry, combining propaganda with a study of economic conditions. Arrests disposed of these plans and brought to an end all the activities of the circle, but did not entirely obliterate its influence. With its score or two of members, it was a tenuous link in the chain of which Land and Liberty was the beginning and which was to remain long unbroken. The thinking of these youths vaguely foreshadowed the revolutionary trends that asserted themselves in the next decade.


The attempt on Alexander's life intensified the political reaction which had been gathering strength since the emancipation, and particularly since the Polish rebellion. For a while the two capitals were in the grip of what a contemporary pamphleteer described as 'white terror.' In vain did The Bell argue that the attack was not the result of a conspiracy, but the act of an unbalanced boy. In vain, and for the last time, did Herzen in a personal message appeal to the Emperor to reverse his illiberal policy. Men who favoured the strong arm were raised to power. A shining exception among the obscurantists and mediocrities who now surrounded the Czar was the Minister of War. Eventually he succeeded in humanizing the discipline, shortening the term of military service, and democratizing it by introducing universal conscription. This, and a limited form of municipal self-government, were the last of 'the great reforms' with which Alexander's name is associated.

Dejection and disillusionment overtook the liberals. The zemstvo and town elective boards, being at the mercy of the bureaucracy, were not an attractive field of activity. Those who belonged to the landed gentry applied themselves to planting their cabbages. Others settled down to careers in the civil service, or joined the scramble for the mad money which was being made in railway construction, banking, and the rapidly expanding industries. During the late 'sixties life in Petersburg suggested the atmosphere of Paris during the decline of the second Empire, even to the popularity of Offenbach's operettas. Here, too, though on a smaller scale, there was private extravagance; here, too, there was scandalous corruption in Government offices. Only the republican opposition was missing.

Shortly after Karakozov's attempt, an imperial ukase enjoined all agencies of the Government to help in combating the pernicious ideas directed against 'religious beliefs, the foundations of family life, the rights of property, obedience to law, and respect for the established authorities.' Even before this declaration of war against ideas, panic had seized the republic of letters. Every author, particularly every journalist whose published opinions were not quite orthodox, considered himself a marked man. And indeed many a writer saw the inside of a prison cell in those days. Nekrasov, whose character did not match his literary genius, lost his nerve and went so far to to read, at two successive dinners given by the aristocratic English Club, a patriotic poem in honour of the Czar's saviour, Komissarov, and a paean to Count Muravyov, a former Decembrist, who had been nicknamed The Hangman for the way he had treated the Polish rebels. The editor made these genuflexions in order to save Sovremennik from the axe. They were futile. On 1 June the review was suppressed and with it Russkoe Slovo. The opposition lost its two most influential organs.

As the schools were considered to be another source of infection, they too were in the first line of attack. The liberal Golovnin, who had headed the Ministry of Education, was replaced by a former Procurator of the Holy Synod, and an arrant reactionary. Under his direction mechanical drill in Greek and Latin crowded out the natural sciences and social studies in the secondary schools. He also enacted a set of special regulations applying to the schools of higher learning. They were aimed at the corporate organizations which continued to exist in the universities in defiance of the law. The student body was subjected to strict police supervision.

The new regulations were applied in a high-handed and tactless manner which was bound to bring on trouble. With the opening of the academic year 1868-69, the capital was the scene of numerous gatherings at which the problems of student life were heatedly debated. There was general acceptance of the programme that had rallied the student body in 1861. While many of the youths were reluctant to resort to any but lawful means in obtaining these rights, others favoured drastic, defiant action. Indeed, there were those who wanted to direct the movement into a revolutionary channel, turning their comrade's discontent with certain conditions in the schools into discontent with the entire system.

The extremist faction included the several underground groups that managed to lead a precarious existence. One of them grew out of a 'commune' set up by a few former members of the defunct Ishutin Organization, after they had served short prison terms. It became known as the Smorgon Academy, which was the popular name of a forest where Gypsies trained bears for performances at fairs. Presumably there was something bearlike in the appearance and manner of these youths. The Academy attracted a few radical intellectuals and semi-intellectuals. A novel feature at the gatherings was the presence of young women, who until then had not ventured into associations for political ends.

In a sense an offshoot of the Organization, the Academy followed in its footsteps. It made preparations to free Chernyshevsky from captivity and helped to pay for reprinting his works in Geneva. A plan for bankrupting the Government by flooding the country with counterfeit money was under discussion, and so was regicide. By way of actual performance, the group sent an emissary abroad to establish contact with the European Revolutionary Committee which, it will be recalled, had figured in Ishutin's talk. Of course, the man failed to discover the mythical body, but after being mistaken for an agent-provocateur, succeeded in gaining the confidence of some of his compatriots in Switzerland, and in the autumn of 1868 he returned, bringing with him copies of the first issue of a new Geneva journal Narodnoe Delo (The People's Cause), edited and largely written by Bakunin.

It called upon the student youth to rally to the banner of the social revolution. The latter was the only way out of the impasse created by the failure of the reforms to improve the lot of the masses. Rejecting Herzen's emphasis on the antinomy of Russia and the West, the veteran conspirator argued for a close link between Russian and world revolution, since both had the same objective: to free the people from 'the yoke of capital, hereditary property, and the State.' Bakunin had lately formulated the doctrine for which he is best known, and in the pages of the little review he lost no occasion to expound his anarchist creed. 'The business of every government,' he wrote, 'is to strangle the people in order to preserve itself; by the same token, the business of revolutionaries is to destroy the State in order to free the people.'

A segment of the student body proved unusually receptive to the bold message of Narodnoe Delo. The issue was copied and recopied and read to pieces. One article, which dealt with the role of enlightenment, received particular attention. Bakunin admitted that knowledge could set the people free, but not under the existing system. Alone the destruction of Church and State would enable the masses to come by the enlightenment. From this thesis some of the youths apparently drew the conclusion that it was incumbent on them to give up their studies and, merging with the common people, work for the revolution. That winter the matter was the subject of much excited discussion at the student gatherings in Petersburg.


Count Shuvalov, head of the Third Division, in the report for 1869, which has already been quoted, commented on the disturbances in the universities. He was willing to concede that the corporate organizations demanded by the students were in themselves innocent and could indeed be useful to the less fortunately circumstanced youths. The economic status of the student body had not improved with the years. In the early 'seventies three-quarters of the students in the provincial universities needed subvention. The house searches conducted in 1869 revealed living conditions that were officially described as 'truly shocking.' Yet the authorities were forced to forbid the reading rooms, the co-operative eating places, etc., for the reason, the official explained, that they were apt to become centres of anti-government propaganda. What with the young men dropping out of the universities for lack of means or being expelled for insubordination, the country faced the prospect, he observed, of being burdened with half-baked intellectuals who entered life with a deep-seated grudge against the established order. He deplored the presence of former divinity students in the institutions of higher learning: they were particularly apt to become 'fanatics and propagandists,' and being more mature than the graduates of secondary schools and more inured to privations by the harsh regimen of the seminaries, were an admired and influential group. However, much of the trouble in the universities, Count Shuvalov insisted, was due less to the students than to outside agitators whose only interest was to compromise as many innocents as possible, have them expelled and thus add to the ranks of potential revolutionaries.

One such outside agitator was a journalist whose student years were behind him. This Pyotr Tkachev was born into a moderately circumstanced family of gentlefolk. After a short stay behind bars, he was expelled from the University of Petersburg at the age of seventeen for his part in the disturbances of 1861. He continued to move on the periphery of radical groups, including the Smorgon Academy, and made a living by contributing reviews and miscellaneous articles to the periodicals.

From the first his thinking was tinged by a not too consistent adherence to economic determinism. He expounded this theory in a book review. It had been formulated, he wrote, by the well-known German exile, Karl Marx, and was now the common property of all decent thinking people. He was one of the earliest Russian radicals to be influenced by Marx's writings. Like Chernyshevsky, whom he acknowledged as his master, he used his censored pages as a vehicle for intellectual contraband. Like him, Tkachev harped on the failure of the programme of liberalism to meet the needs of the unpropertied masses. A revolutionary both by temperament and conviction, he missed no opportunity to point out the futility of moderation and gradualism in trying to alter social relations. Hatred of the existing order was his consuming passion. Alone, acts directed toward its destruction, he contended, might be called truly moral. Furthermore, he allowed that the revolutionaries -- he called them, euphemistically, 'men of the future,' as Chernyshevsky had dubbed them 'new men' -- were not bound by conventional ethics in their fight for the happiness of all. The doctrine was popular in the Ishutin circle and was soon to be acted upon by another underground group.

Chernyshevsky lodged some of his more daring ideas in notes to his rendering of John Stuart Mill's Political Economy. On his part, Tkachev concealed ideological dynamite in the introduction and notes he appended to his translation, published in 1869, of an obscure German book on the labour problem. The author advocated the establishment of workers' co-operatives by the existing States. Engaging in polemics against him, the translator argued that the State would not act in the interest of labour until it became the workers' State, virtually a dictatorship of the proletariat. Only then could the communist dream become a reality: a society free from competition and strife, guaranteeing the worker the full product of his labour, assuring economic and every other kind of complete equality to all. And though he had to resort to Aesopian language, he managed to make it clear to his readers that the workers' State could come into existence solely as a result of a break in the historical process, 'a jump,' as he put it, i.e., social revolution. 'The way of peaceful reform, peaceful progress,' he wrote, 'is one of the most unrealizable Utopias that mankind has devised to ease its conscience and lull its mind.' The book was, naturally, confiscated and eventually earned the translator a prison term.

It was in Tkachev's lodging that the hot-heads held their meetings. An informal committee seems to have been set up for the purpose of organizing, enlarging, and radicalizing the student movement. The group elaborated an ambitious 'Programme of Revolutionary Action.' Calling for a political upheaval as a preliminary to the social revolution, it envisaged a swift and vigorous propaganda campaign winning over the intellectual elite, the urban poor and the peasant masses -- all within the space of a year. The climatic event was scheduled for the spring of 1870. Until 19 February of that year, that is, the ninth anniversary of the Emancipation, the ex-serfs were legally bound to hold the parcels allotted to them by agreement with the landlords. After that date they had the option of either continuing in the state of temporary obligation to their former masters, or terminating all connexion with them by restoring their allotments to the owners. Thus, in the spring of that year, millions of peasants would have to face the problems of their relations with the manor-lords, and it was thought that, what with the anticipated worsening of the peasants' lot, the result would be many local clashes which might lead to a general uprising.

When the institutions of higher learning reopened in January, 1869, after the Christmas vacation, the police broke up some of the student meetings and took down the names of the participants. Some arrests were made. The academic air became dangerously charged. A spark could set off an explosion. It occurred in March, when a student of the Military Medical Academy was expelled for a breach of discipline. In defiance of regulations, stormy meetings were held, at which his fellows demanded his reinstatement. It was refused. On the 14th of the month a number of students were arrested, and the Academy was closed until further notice. Then the disturbances spread to the Technological Institute and the University. The students broke up lectures and held meetings in the lecture-halls. On the 21st, five students were expelled from the University. On that very day there appeared a printed leaflet setting forth the students' demands and urging the public to come to their support. 'Our protest,' the appeal concluded, 'is firm and unanimous, and we are ready to perish in exile and dungeon rather than suffocate and cripple ourselves morally in our academies and universities.' While the leaflet failed to elicit any response from the public, it did arouse the police, for here, after a lapse of five or six years, underground literature of domestic origin was making its reappearance.

The author of the sheet was Tkachev. It was run off secretly on a press owned by the young woman with whom he was living and who eventually became his wife. She was the illegitimate daughter of an army captain, and had some modest means. One of the first women to embrace the revolutionary faith, she conceived the idea of opening a printing shop that could turn out clandestine literature. As a minor, she could not dispose of her capital unless she became a married woman. Tkachev either could not or would not marry her at this time. She decided to contract a fictitious union, and Tkachev took her to Moscow to find her a nominal husband. An accommodating party was discovered in the person of a radical-minded guard in a detention house, but he was too young, and the priest refused to perform the ceremony. The girl then abandoned her matrimonial project and bought a small printing establishment with borrowed money. Here was a case to illustrate Count Shuvalov's contention that nihilists of the female sex were 'as harmful politically as they were socially.'

The appearance of the leaflet led to Tkachev's incarceration. After serving a prison term, he was deported to a provincial town, from which he escaped abroad at the end of 1873. The arrests of the early months of 1869 wiped out the group that centred around Tkachev, as well as the Smorgon Academy. The student movement spread to Moscow. More expulsions, arrests, and deportations followed. Hundreds of young people, many of them quite innocent, found themselves in the dragnet of the police.