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

Chapter 9


In a sense the dozen or so years after the Crimean War, that are somewhat improperly termed the "sixties," were the Russian equivalent of the Enlightenment, 'our brief eighteenth century,' as Leon Trotsky labelled the period. It was the seedbed of radical ideas. In his report on the state of his see for 1859, Metropolitan Philaret deplored the prevalence of 'censorious and blasphemous literature,' resembling the writings that had prepared the way for the French Revolution. Bakunin called Herzen 'our mighty Voltaire.' Indeed, Herzen, Chernyshevsky, Dobrolubov, Pisarev came close to being the counterpart of the Encyclopaedists. Like the latter, they attacked feudal privilege, absolutist rule, and Church authority, they professed materialism and attributed to the intellect a leading part in the dynamics of social change. But while the philosophes stopped short of questioning the right of private property, by and large the Russian ideologues were democrats committed to Socialism.

That doctrine, it has been pointed out, had secured the allegiance of a segment of the Russian educated public as far back as the 'forties. In the virtual absence of laissez-faire liberalism, it filled an ideological void for a tiny intellectual elite, alienated alike from the masses and from the emergent middle-class, cut off from political experience by a jealous government, and so doomed to spin out theories in a vacuum. From the first, the effort was to adapt socialist principles to Russian conditions, real or imaginary. The resulting incompletely integrated complex of ideas had as its core an ethically and emotionally motivated agrarian Socialism. It dominated the radical scene from the 'sixties until nearly the end of the century, when it found a formidable rival in Marxism. The name by which it went was narodnichestvo (populism). The term, which gained currency in the 'seventies, suggests the important part played in this ideology by the concept of narod (people), in the sense of demos, the broad social base, the great body of manual workers, specifically the peasantry. With concern for the material welfare of the masses went a mystique which surrounded 'the people' with a halo. Some viewed them as potentially or actually an irresistible historical force; others as the repository of all the virtues, the sole source of spiritual energy and thus the hope of the world.

The tendency to idealize the lower orders may be traced back as far as Radishchev. It was central to Slavophil thinking and cropped up among the Westernists, too. Under serfdom it was a manifestation of abolitionist sentiment and a symptom of the guilt felt by the more sensitive souls among the serf owners. The feeling was particularly widespread after the emancipation. Indeed, it was first recognized and labelled during the 'seventies. Perhaps 'the penitent noble' was a sign of the advanced decay of the gentry as a socially useful group. In any event, during the last third of the century the thinking of the intelligentzia revolved around 'the people.' 'Ideas, ideals, movements, tendencies,' writes a historian of the period, 'were accepted if deemed beneficial to the people, and rejected if considered useless or harmful to the people. A stern judgment from which there was no appeal weighed down upon Russian thought, conscience, and creative effort.' The populist motif runs through the body of major Russian fiction. In Tolstoy it was linked with a Rousseau-esque impulse to slough off the trappings of civilization; for Dostoevsky 'the people' were a vessel of grace and a haven of salvation. It may be noted that while the populists who were moved by a feeling of guilt sincerely desired to humble themselves before the people, they were not free from the pride of humility: a sense of belonging to an elite destined to lead the oppressed out of bondage.

A vision of the poor rising against their oppressors to possess the earth, narodnichestvo involved the conviction that by virtue of their temperament, their history, their folkways, the Russians were peculiarly fitted to realize the socialist ideal. The proposition had been formulated by Herzen, the begetter of Populism, which he called 'Russian Socialism.' As has been stated, it was he who had announced to the world that the muzhik, in the obshchina and artel, practised, in rudimentary form, the Socialism which was only preached in the West. He had concluded -- and Chernyshevsky agreed -- that in Russia the new society could grow from native roots, while elsewhere it could only be brought into being by a series of catastrophes.

At several points the theory was at variance with actuality. The village commune was not a manifestation of the Slavic folk genius and the survival remaining from a hoary past that Herzen believed it to be. The great age of the obshchina was under suspicion in his own lifetime, and the opinion now prevails that the institution was created by the State for fiscal purposes no earlier than the age of Catherine II. Furthermore, he disregarded the fact that hereditary land tenure existed in a large section of the Empire. Nor did he take sufficient account of the evidence -- it had been accumulating since the 1830's -- to the effect that the commune was in a precarious condition. In sum, Herzen's fantasy-laden conception of the obshchina was a social myth. As such, it possessed the effectiveness that creations of the kind often have. It helped to sustain faith in Socialism. The artel, too, was scarcely the model for a workers' co-operative that Herzen pictured. 'If you haven't worked in an artel,' wrote Turgenev, quoting a remark he had heard from a member of such an association, 'you don't know what a noose is.' It may not be irrelevant to note that the chief exponent of the doctrine of peasant collectivism was an expatriate who had never been close to the actualities of Russian rural life.

That the village land commune could become the foundation of the socialist order was the cardinal dogma of the populist creed. Herzen realized, it will be recalled, that the institution was not faultless, and in defending it Chernyshevsky stipulated, as a condition for its development, a successful revolution in the West. But the reservations suggested by the twin pillars of Populism were lost on their followers. For them the obshchina was a battle cry, a sacrosanct principle, for which one should be ready to lay down one's life.

The populist version of Socialism did not call for the nationalization of the country's economic resources and State control of production and distribution. Partly due to Bakunin's influence, the narodnik was hostile to centralized political authority. He wanted sovereignty to rest with the small, self-governing economic unit. The body politic held together by force he would replace with free productive communes spontaneously banded together in a loose confederacy. This is what was meant by social revolution, as against a change-over resulting in a representative regime. Far from Herzen's ambiguous feeling toward a political revolution was the conviction that this was unnecessary and indeed harmful, both as a distraction from the main goal and in its results. The argument ran that once economic equality was assured, the superstructure of autocracy was bound to crumble; on the other hand, political democracy by itself would favour the development of a competitive economy resting on private ownership of the means of production, and so benefit solely the propertied classes.

Eventually the populists abandoned their anarchist bias and apolitical position. Capitalism remained for them a veritable 'bugaboo,' a source of unmitigated evil. They feared that it would bring the horrors of pauperization and proletarianization, create a powerful bourgeoisie, undermine the collectivist tradition of the peasantry, and thus delay the advent of Socialism, if not make it impossible. A reassuring thought, fathered by the wish, was that Russian capitalism was an artificial growth without a future. Furthermore, there was nothing in the nature of things to prevent Russia from by-passing the capitalist phase. The country might develop in a way for which there was no precedent in the West, turning the curse of its backwardness into a blessing. This was a basic tenet of Populism, vigorously upheld alike by Herzen and Chernyshevsky. To them, as to their followers, history was a matter of genuine choices, 'dishevelled improvization,' not 'a providential charade,' as Herzen put it. Socialism, like every human aim, was to be achieved by a victory over the force of circumstance in a combat of uncertain issue. Populism combined enthusiasm for the collectivist principle with exaltation of the individual who, however dependent on his physical surroundings, was yet capable of 'changing the pattern in the carpet,' to use Herzen's phrase.


One of the ideologists of Populism did not come into prominence until the very end of the 'sixties. At that time Pyotr Lavrov was on the shady side of forty. By birth and psychological make-up he belonged to 'the repentant gentry.' For years he taught mathematics in military colleges, and to eke out his rather meagre salary he did a good deal of writing for the reviews, displaying varied learning and mildly radical leanings. He was involved with the Land and Liberty Society and in 1861-63 edited an encyclopedia, which was discontinued by official order after a reviewer in an ecclesiastical journal had likened it to the eighteenth-century Encyclopedie.

During the reaction that followed Karakozov's shot he spent some months in prison and was subsequently deported to a remote province. It was there that the middle-aged ex-professor composed a series of politico-philosophical essays entitled Historical Letters, which were serialized in a review in 1868-69. They struck a responsive chord and, somewhat to the author's surprise, at once became, in the words of a contemporary, 'a revolutionary gospel.'

The book was written primarily to combat certain trends that prevailed among the provincial intellectuals of the author's acquaintance and that he attributed to Pisarev's influence: a puerile scientism, a narrow individualism shunning social responsibilities, a breakdown of morals (which was soon to bear such evil fruit in the Nechavev incident). It appealed not to people's enlightened egoism, but to their sense of moral duty. Its main thesis was that the masses had paid with much sweat and blood for the existence of an intellectual elite, and that the time had come for the latter to liquidate the historic debt by leading the fight for social justice. Lavrov's readers took this to be a clear call to devote their lives to the cause of the people, and they responded eagerly.

He certainly had at heart the material welfare of the masses. Yet he assigned the chief part in the drama of history not to them, as other populists were apt to do, but to the intellectual minority. This, he told his readers, embodied thought, the truly creative principle which gives meaning to action by rendering it conscious, and is indeed the prime mover of progress. His hero was 'the critically thinking person,' a man or woman capable at once of perceiving where the true interests of the people lay and of formulating ideal goals. These persons must inevitably associate, act together, consider themselves parts of a larger whole. This whole was not the nation, not the State, but -- and here Lavrov was announcing a theme familiar to the present generation -- the Party.

His clamour for the repayment of the debt incurred by the intelligentzia was seconded by another unsystematic, if more prolific and effective author, a younger man, who early chose journalism as a career and refrained from casting his lot with active revolutionaries: Nikolay Mikhailovsky. He, too, was a 'penitent noble.' In fact, it was he who gave the phrase currency. He was convinced that the amortization of the debt must take the form of economic, not political, democracy. Like other exponents of Populism, he failed to perceive that the first was impossible without the second. Though prizing the blessings of freedom, he was ready to repudiate civil rights and liberties at the thought that they might only increase the age-old debt to the people, as had happened in the West. Such at least was his stand in the 'seventies.

His extreme animus against capitalism fed on the belief that it separated the producer from the means of production and, worse still, that by division of labour it tended to reduce the worker to a fractional human being and limit his solidarity with his fellows. More than any other champion of Populism, Mikhailovsky stressed the importance of the individual. For him man's attainment of his full statute was indeed the be-all and end-all of progress, and he was convinced that a society made up of units like the obshchina, offered the individual the best chances for self-fulfilment. Nor did he doubt that Russia was free to choose between Capitalism and Socialism, since he held with Herzen that history is the realm of the possible. No other populist thinker was so deeply preoccupied with the ethical principle. In dealing with human affairs, he insisted, the quest of truth was inseparable from the pursuit of justice. Like many of his contemporaries, he felt that Socialism was likely to succeed for the reason that it was morally right.

It is clear from the foregoing that the populist ideology was poles removed from Marxism. Soviet opinion has branded narodnichestvo as a petty-bourgeois idealistic pseudo-socialist doctrine. Herzen seems to have been unacquainted with the writings of Marx, and the two expatriates were separated by personal enmity, for which Marx's feud with Bakunin was only partly responsible. The works of Marx and Engels were apparently unknown to Chernyshevsky before his imprisonment. In 1872 a copy of Das Kapital reached him in his Siberian exile, and he is said to have found a word of praise only for the historical passages. Lavrov came under the influence of Marx and, in fact, acknowledged himself his disciple, but the Marxist conception of Socialism as, in the words of G. D. H. Cole, 'a summons to men to understand the irresistible historic tendencies and to work with them,' remained alien to him no less than to other narodniks.

Populist sentiment fed on the verse of Nekrasov, which pictured the virtues and sorrows of the peasantry, as well as on the semi-fictional prose of a school of authors who depicted the life of the urban and rural masses. Some of these writers viewed the scene through rose-coloured spectacles, others were realistic in their approach. Gleb Uspensky, for one, told his readers many bitter truths about the brutality and servility of the peasant, his lack of group solidarity, his tendency ruthlessly to exploit his fellows. He made the discovery that the obshchina was disintegrating and throwing up a predatory bourgeoisie, the kulaks, not a foreign body, but flesh of the flesh of the people. His audience failed to grasp the devastating import of the testimony marshalled in his sketches. What was prized in his pages was his compassion for the underdog and the feeling that deep within the soul of the people their moral sense was alive.

Factual reports on the conditions under which the masses lived also found eager readers. The work of this kind that made the greatest impression in advanced circles was by V. V. Bervi, who had first attracted the attention of the authorities by his protest against the arrest of thirteen Tver arbitrators and who was now writing under the pen name of Flerovsky. His book, The Condition of the Working-Class in Russia, appeared simultaneously with The Historical Letters. It was a sprawling, loose account, personal, direct, full of concrete details, the work not of a professional economist but of a man with an immense and first-hand knowledge of folk life.

By the working-class the author meant not only the wage-earners, but, above all, the peasantry. His books disposed for good and all of the argument that the masses in Russia were more fortunately circumstanced than their fellows in the West. He showed that the Russian miners and factory hands were worse off than the English proletarians. He found large-scale industry particularly destructive of the well-being of the workers. He also drew an appalling picture of the pauperization of the villagers as a result of the Emancipation -- a development anticipated by Chernyshevsky and others. To save the situation the author urged that the redemption payments be abolished and the obshchina freed from State tutelage and protected from kulak depredations.

Few books were as effective in arousing sympathy for the masses. Marx, after dipping into it -- he had started to learn Russian primarily to read this work -- gained the impression that 'a collapse of Russian might' was impending.

Flerovsky was the author of another book which enjoyed great popularity in radical circles: The ABC of the Social Sciences (1871). In its author's opinion a contribution to 'scientific' ethics, it is a survey of the history of civilization leading to the conclusion that solidarity, co-operation, and altruism are the sole factors of progress, and, incidentally, seeking to discredit the doctrine of natural selection as applied to man, which was also both Chernyshevsky's and Mikhailovsky's bete noire.

Although the two books were free from overt socialist and revolutionary tendencies, they attracted the attention of the police. In 1873 the author was arrested on suspicion of membership in a secret circle and deported to a distant northern town. Many years later he expatriated himself.


With the collapse of Nechayev's venture, the revolutionary cause suffered a setback. What momentarily helped to hearten the would-be insurgents was the Paris Commune. Lavrov attributed great importance to the impression it made. Acting on his own, a former member of the Smorgon Academy responded to the news by composing and printing secretly four numbers of a periodical leaflet entitled Gallows and signed 'Communist.' The first issue declared: 'The world revolution has begun! Rising over the ruins of Paris, it will make the round of the capitals of the world. The longed-for, the holy one will also visit our peasant. . . .' The last number, issued during the agony of Paris, wound up with a call to honest men everywhere to 'respond to perishing Paris, that it may know that its cause will be taken up again and advanced bravely and heroically. . . . To arms! To arms!'

The crushing of the Paris Commune was followed by a stirring event nearer home: the trial of the Nechayev group. After a delay of a year and a half it opened on 1 July, 1871, in the capital, and it lasted nearly three months. The defendants, who numbered eighty-seven, included Pyotr Tkachev. Nechayev's chief accomplices were given long terms of penal servitude. By a grim kind of poetic justice, one of them, after spending some ten years in a Siberian prison, was hanged by his fellow convicts on the mistaken suspicion that he had turned informer. Tkachev received a prison term of sixteen months.

The courtroom had been open to the public, and a full account of the proceedings, as well as the text of the Catechism of the Revolutionary, had been printed in the official gazette. The effect of all this publicity was not entirely what the authorities had expected it to be. The defendants spoke with 'the eloquence of fanatical conviction,' as a detective put it, 'that fascinated some of the students and young officers who found their way into the courtroom, in spite of the efforts of the police to fill it with respectable folk.' In the eyes of a few the Moscow Agricultural Academy, the chief theatre of Nechayev's activities, became almost holy ground.

The disclosures at the trial made a painful impression, however, on the majority of the radically-minded. To them Nechayev and his followers, far from being martyrs worthy of emulation, were a horrible example. The very idea of a centralized secret society was discredited. Alone, informal 'circles for self-education' and 'communes' persisted. Sometimes such a confraternity was a substitute for home and family, as the populist faith was a substitute for religion.

This did not satisfy the more earnest spirits. Since manual labour alone, preferably tilling the soil, was considered honest work and all exploitation was abhorrent, they concluded that the good life could be lived only in an agricultural settlement run on strictly communist principles. They knew, however, that such establishments would not be tolerated by the authorities. Thus it was that a number of young people began thinking of emigration, and to America. The remoteness and strangeness of the land made the enterprise more difficult, but also more attractive. Rumours of the astonishing liberty enjoyed in the United States and of the communist settlements existing there had reached the shores of the Neva. Like Russia half a century later, America was at this time regarded in advanced circles as a laboratory for social experiments.

By 1871 there was an American Circle in Kiev with a score of members and ambitious plans for establishing a network of communes in the United States. Some of the settlers were expected to return home armed with American passports and go on with the good work without fear of molestation by the authorities. The following year three young men sailed for the United States as scouts, but did not stay there for any length of time and failed to promote the plans of the Circle. Two other members started out for America, but got no farther than Switzerland. Returning home before long, they found that nothing remained of the group.

A much less ephemeral affair, and one that was an important link in the succession of revolutionary associations, was a group which originated in the late 'sixties as a 'commune': the Natanson Circle. It was so called after one of its founders, Mark Natanson, a Petersburg student like the rest of its members. From the first they had opposed Nechayev, and the trial only served to confirm them in their detestation of his programme and his tactics. The Circle established branches in Moscow and half a dozen other centres, and in the spring of 1871 the membership was swelled by a number of young women.

'The liberation of the people' was the ultimate objective. But conscious of their inability to reach the masses and believing that these were not ripe for revolutionary action, they were content, for the time being, to labour among people of their own kind, relying on the long-range method of indoctrination. They concentrated on supplying study groups with an appropriate selection of literature. The Circle purchased books in quantity from publishers at a discount and sold them at cost. Already in the summer of 1871 the works it disseminated could be found as far south as the Crimea and as far north as Vyatka (now Kirov). It also engaged in a little publishing on its own account, issuing a reprint of The Historical Letters, a revised edition of The Condition of the Working-Class in Russia, and a book on the Paris Commune. Being full-sized volumes accessible to the learned only, these publications were exempt from preliminary censorship, but the police confiscated all the copies they could lay their hands on. Natanson was arrested in November, 1871, and deported to a distant province.

The group then became known as the Chaikovsky Circle, after a member who represented it in business dealings. Not that this young man, a senior at the University, had any special prerogatives, 'Generalship,' hierarchy, blind obedience in the name of secrecy were anathema. There were no rules, no written statutes. Decisions were made by unanimous consent. From first to last the Circle was an informal association of men and women united by friendship, mutual confidence, the belief that their work must be done with clean hands. An atmosphere of ethical rigour and dedication to the populist idea dominated the group. The members were expected to maintain exacting standards in their personal conduct. Even moderate drinking was frowned upon. Chaikovsky later called the organization 'a knightly order.'

The flock was not, however, without a black sheep. The group owned a small printing press in Zurich. It was run by V. Alexandrov, a one-time medical student and a founder of the Circle, with money supplied by Pisarev's sister, a young woman who worked as a typesetter at the press. When the five thousand roubles, which was all she owned, gave out, Alexandrov suggested that she obtain more funds for the establishment by selling herself to an old man. This she did, and then committed suicide (in 1875).

Throughout the existence of the Chaikovsky Circle thirty men and women belonged to the Petersburg centre and forty or fifty to the branches. Not a few of the members were outstanding personalities. Among those whose names will be met with again were Sergey Kravchinsky and Leonid Shisko, both officers who had early retired from the army, Dmitri Klemenz, a science student, Prince Peter Kropotkin, scion of one of the first families of the land and graduate of the Corps of Pages, the most exclusive military school in the country, which had ties with the imperial household. At the age of thirty he had given up a brilliant scientific career as a geographer to devote himself to the revolutionary cause. The Moscow cell included Nikolay Morozov, son of a rich landowner, and Lev Tikhomirov, a law student, both still in their teens, as well as Mikhail Frolenko, a student of the Agricultural Academy. The most prominent of the women was Sofya Perovskaya. In 1870, at the age of seventeen, she had run away from an aristocratic home -- General Perovsky was at one time Governor of the capital -- to join a 'commune' of women, some of whom were nominally married, and all of whom attended the pedagogical courses recently thrown open to women.

This handful of intellectuals developed an activity which made it the centre of populist propaganda in the early 'seventies.


The Chaikovsky Circle was not content to confine its activities to the student youth. The populist faith demanded an effort to reach the masses, that is, above all, the peasantry. But how was this to be done? As a clerk in a zemstvo board, a teacher, a rural nurse, one could get opportunities for propaganda among the village folk. Yet revolutionaries were temperamentally unfit for the patient, humdrum routine which this method demanded. Proselytizing among the men employed in the mills and factories of the capital was a more rewarding, if also a more hazardous, task. From the summer of 1872 onward, several members, Sofya Perovskaya among them, took time off from other duties to devote themselves to it. Meeting secretly with small groups of workmen, they taught them their letters and indoctrinated them with Socialism. The branches of the Circle, too, turned their attention to wage-earners.

In spite of the paucity of propagandists and the unsystematic character of their truly pioneering effort, it continued to bear ample fruit until the end of 1873, when both the proselytizers and many of their converts found themselves in prison. The embryo of a labour organization, which was beginning to form under the guidance of the Circle, was destroyed. This helped to centre attention on the village. The agitators could not but notice that they were most successful in dealing with unskilled workers, recent arrivals from the countryside, who had a peasant mentality and had not lost touch with their rural background, returning to their native hamlets for holidays or during the slack season. These raw semi-proletarians were indeed sought out, since it was hoped that they would act as intermediaries between the intellectuals and the peasants.

As a matter of fact, when the arrests began some of the proselytized workmen returned to their village homes, and at least one of them for months busied himself spreading the gospel of revolt among the peasants. Similar attempts were made by more than one member of the Circle. In the autumn of 1873, two woodcutters appeared in a Tver village. One of them was Kravchinsky, the other was Dmitry Rogachev, also a member of the Chaikovsky Circle. He had undergone a kind of religious conversion to the people's cause after hearing a workman in a tea-house tell the grim story of his life. The two men let no opportunity for propaganda slip. One day as they were walking down the road, they were overtaken by a peasant, driving. At once they started urging him to refuse to pay taxes and quoted Scripture to prove that it was right to rebel. The muzhik whipped up his horse, which broke into a trot. The propagandists trotted after. He set his horse to galloping, but the pair could gallop as fast as his bony nag. They did not stop haranguing until they were out of breath.

They were not long allowed to carry on in this uninhibited fashion. At the end of November they were arrested, but managed to escape the rural police. When, in the small hours, they reached a forest, they embraced, not to celebrate their temporary safety, but their permanent outlawry: henceforth, they said to each other, their lives belonged to the people.

For propaganda among peasants appropriate literature was required: pamphlets couched in simple language and sparing the religious sentiments of the folk. Half a dozen of them were run off the Circle's Swiss press, mentioned earlier, and smuggled into the country. In addition, several leaflets were printed secretly in a village near Moscow on the initiative of another populist group.

The idea of carrying the revolutionary message to the masses was not a new one. The slogan 'To the people!' was launched by Herzen in The Bell back in 1861, when, with the closing of the University of Petersburg, many youths had been left without an occupation. It was echoed with a strong conviction by Bakunin and Nechayev. They had urged the students to leave their books and 'go to the people,' live among them, merge with them and fight for their interests. Excursions into the countryside for propaganda purposes were either planned or attempted by individuals and groups throughout the 'sixties. It has been seen that in the winter of 1868-69 the issue was under discussion among the undergraduates in the capital. In the years immediately following, the debate grew in volume and liveliness. There was near unanimity on the necessity for the agitators to identify themselves with the people, but no agreement as to just what the immediate objective of the propaganda should be. Two trends asserted themselves, producing a factional schism, which first took shape among the Russians who had gone to Switzerland as political refugees or as students.

A large number of them were concentrated in Zurich. The University and the Polytechnic there attracted young men expelled from schools of higher learning at home and young women who were still disbarred from them. One hundredand forty Russian girls registered at the University for the year 1872-73. Not arew of those who arrived abroad without any radical convictions quickly acquired them there. A case in point is that of Vera Figner, a young married woman who was studying medicine in order to alleviate the sufferings of the poor. Before long she made her own 'the ideal of the prophets and martyrs of the socialist evangel,' as she phrased it in her memoirs.

The revolution haunted the thoughts of many of these young Russians. Small wonder then that when Bakunin came to Zurich for a short stay in the summer of 1872 he made a great impression there. He was about to be expelled from the International because of his opposition to the policy of the General Council led by Marx. Two years previously that organization had included a tiny Russian section which supported Marx and was indeed represented by him in the General Council, so that he jestingly signed a letter to Engels, 'Secretary for Russia.' But by now the handful of Russian Marxists had faded away, while Bakunin's followers, enrolled in a secret Brotherhood, formed a small, but influential group in Zurich.

Not long after Bakunin had left the city Lavrov had arrived there. He had escaped abroad two years earlier, in order to join a woman whom he loved and to devote himself, without being molested by the police, to an ambitious History of Thought. In Paris he enrolled in the local section of the International, and he visited London in a vain effort to obtain help from that body for the Commune. On that occasion he made the acquaintance of Marx and Engels.

He seems to have intended to hold aloof from the struggle in Russia. Yet in March, 1872, at the request of the Chaikovsky Circle he undertook to edit a revolutionary organ for home consumption. It was to be called Vperiod! (Forward!) and printed in Zurich. As a radical leader Lavrov left much to be desired. Essentially a theorist and a pedant, he was at home in the study, not at a gathering of plotters. Furthermore, his faith in revolution was of recent date: in The Historical Letters he had assigned to 'critical thought' the task of preventing, not calling forth, a social upheaval.

Lavrov shared Bakunin's fear and hatred of Leviathan, but on one important point he failed to see eye to eye with the anarchist: he did not believe that Russia was ripe for an immediate overturn and envisaged a lengthy period of peaceful propaganda. As a result, in Zurich he became the eponymous head of the anti-Bakuninist faction. In the superheated, unhealthy air breathed by the expatriates there the division between the Lavrovists and Bakuninists became a violent feud. For a time feeling ran so high that Bakunin's followers dared not venture into the street unarmed. Then a split occurred in the ranks of his own Brotherhood. In the summer of 1873, shortly before that group had fallen apart, it printed a collection of Bakunin's essays under the title, Statehood and Anarchy. The book was to become the chief vehicle of anarchist propaganda in Russia.

Almost simultaneously with this work the first issue of Forward! came off the press. Some zealous Bakuninists consigned copies of it to the flames and even accused Lavrov of being in the pay of the Russian police. Only one other volume of the miscellany appeared in Zurich, in March 1874. The previous May the Petersburg Government gazette carried a notice to the effect that if women students continued to attend courses at the University of Zurich after the first of the following year, on returning home they would be debarred from all occupations the exercise of which required official sanction. The reason given was that these young women had fallen under the pernicious influence of revolutionary agitators, and, further, that they were scandalizing the local population by practising 'the communist theories of free love.' As a result, some women students transferred to other foreign universities, some went home to attend courses recently opened to the sex in Moscow. The Russian contingent in Zurich rapidly dwindled, Lavrov removing himself and his review to London in the spring of 1874.

Bakunin had stayed on in Switzerland. While he kept aloof from Russian affairs, his ideas were achieving a considerable vogue in the country of his birth. In September 1873 he announced publicly that he was withdrawing from the political arena and would no longer disturb anyone's peace. This did not prevent him from taking a hand a year later in a futile attempt to start a social revolution in Italy. The short time that was left him was a period of dejection and disillusionment. He lost his faith in the revolutionary passion of the masses and in human decency. 'If there were only three people in the world,' he is reported to have observed, 'two of them would unite to oppress the third.' And Nechayev's former ally wrote to a would-be Russian activist that nothing solid can be built on fraud and that without a high humane ideal no revolution can triumph. Abandoned by most of his comrades-in-arms, the father of international anarchism died at Berne in 1876.

In the early years of the Soviet era there was a tendency to exalt Bakunin as a towering revolutionary figure. In a monumental biography he was described as a forefather of the Russian Communist Party, a man who had foreseen the course of the October Revolution and had 'laid the foundation for the concept of Soviet power,' in fact, a forerunner of Lenin. But the part of an ancestor of Bolshevism scarcely fitted the arch-foe of the authoritarian State for whom freedom was the highest good. Since the 'thirties he has been under official anathema as an enemy of the working-class and a betrayer of the revolution.


Copies of Forward! and Statehood and Anarchy reached Petersburg in the autumn of 1873, and presently the feud between Lavrovists and Bakuninists was being carried on at home. The former were the smaller faction. There were probably no more than thirty active Lavrovists in the capital and a few in Moscow. They dressed better, their hair and speech alike were smoother than their opponents'. Using less vehement language, they were apt to come off badly in debate. Altogether they were too tame for the times. Bakuninism had a much greater appeal. Indeed, it won the sympathy of the impetuous Kravchinsky and several other members of the Chaikovsky Circle, which had originally sponsored Lavrov and his review.

That group was drifting to the left. There was talk of replacing the loose coterie with a formal association. The task of formulating a plan for it fell to Kropotkin. The two documents he drafted postulated the complete and irrevocable identification of the activist with the people, and reflected a strong Bakuninist bias natural to a man who was convinced that to place the means of production in the hands of the State was suicide for society, since this was likely to result in 'economic despotism, far more dangerous than merely political despotism,' as he put it in his memoirs. The reorganization failed to materialize because by March, 1874, arrests had deprived the Circle of its most active members, including Perovskaya and Kropotkin. He was seized the day after he had delivered a brilliant paper on the glacial period before a session of the Imperial Geographic Society, of which he was a member.

This did not act as a deterrent. Since the prison gates might close upon them at any moment, the activists felt that they must bestir themselves. This meant 'going to the people,' or at least preparing for it. Enthusiasm for this course was infecting hundreds.

Student meetings, milling with noisy crowds, followed one another in the capital. Other centres, too, were agitated. Discussions were endless. The Lavrovists' stand was that the would-be propagandist must undergo a long, arduous intellectual training to fit himself for his task. Moreover, since the people did not understand their own interests nor know their friends from their enemies, a lengthy period of peaceful indoctrination was necessary.

The Bakuninists dismissed all that as an attempt, dictated by cowardice and sluggishness, to relegate the revolution to an indefinite future. The idea of placing so much emphasis on book learning! Did the prospective agitator have to master all the sciences listed in Comte's classification, from astronomy on down? Why, the 'three R's' were sufficient baggage for him. One man gave the opinion that the accumulation of knowledge was as immoral as the accumulation of material goods. And surely the peasants needed no enlightenment. They lived by a traditional philosophy grounded on belief in equality, and hostility toward private property and centralized political authority alike. Undoubtedly they would be the first to get rid of the State. Hadn't the master written: 'The Russian people are socialists by instinct and revolutionaries by nature'? All the agitator had to do was to organize their revolt.

Bunt (revolt, mutiny) was the Bakuninists' open sesame. Hence they liked to speak of themselves as buntars. They believed that even localized and abortive uprisings were desirable because of their educational influence and cumulative effect. But if they used the language of violence, it was without realizing what the words meant. 'Our "blood,"' as a contemporary put it, 'was not accompanied by pain. Our "rebellion" was more of a moral rebirth than a bloody reshuffling.' By the same token, the militant slogans represented not so much a programme of action as a dream of freedom and equality on earth which was a substitute for a lost faith in Heaven.

The two factions were not without common ground. Both emphasized the economic aspect of the coming upheaval. To the first issue of Forward! Lavrov contributed an essay in whicn the American Revolution was contrasted with the Pugachov jacquerie -- the two events occurred at about the same time -- and dismissed as belonging to a dead past, since it had left the social and economic status of the colonies intact. Again, the Lavrovists and the buntars shared the conviction that to be at all effective the propaganist, if he belonged to the privileged classes, as was nearly always the case, must completely identify himself with the common people. He must give up his own way of life and adopt the occupation, dress, food, habits, even Kropotkin for one believed, to church-going and keeping the fasts.

Agreement on this point left not a few debatable details. Should an agitator settle in a given community or travel from place to place? Should women be encouraged 'to go to the people'? By and large, the consensus was that a manual skill would be useful to the intellectuals in their new life and might come in handy in exile, too. Besides, working with their hands would help them 'rub off civilization,' as the phrase went. Late in the 'sixties a circle was planning to open a shop where its members could learn a trade. Now such establishments had become a reality. Headed by Shishko, a group of students allied with the Chaikovsky Circle set up a locksmiths' shop in the capital. Two separate carpentry shops and a cobblers' shop were functioning in Moscow. In the provinces, too, there were places where one could learn how to handle an axe, a saw, an awl. Sometimes a workshop would serve as a secret meeting-place. Attached to it there might be a 'commune,' i.e., a dormitory, with Spartan beds and a few other pieces of furniture.

Even the matter of proper diet for the propagandist was a subject of argument. Should he indulge in meat, which seldom figured in the people's regimen? Many, no doubt, recalled that Rakhmetov, in What's To Be Done? by Chernyshevsky, ate oranges in town, but not in the country, since they were not part of the customary fare of the peasantry. And what of personal relations? At least one narodnik, of gentle birth, reached the conclusion that it was his duty to marry a peasant woman.

Preparing to 'go to the people,' some youths left the university before they received their diplomas. Others tore them up. Kropotkin, in bidding farewell to his scientific career, explained that to have continued his geological studies would have been to take the bread out of the mouths of the people. Those who clung to their books or were sceptical about what a handful of transmogrified students could achieve in the villages were apt to be branded as reprobates. What may be called the populist fixation was at its height. Mikhailovsky cited the case of a revolutionary who reproached a comrade with having spent three years in prison, since he stayed there at the expense of the people. The same author imagined a narodnik asking himself, on the eve of being hanged, if he wasn't thereby robbing the people of the birchwood and the labour that had gone to make the gallows.

Narod, the people, their grandeur and their misery, were the object of adulation, the focus of attention. The major famine of 1873-74, which gripped the Volga region, could not but sharpen the sense of compassion and the urge to action. Oh, the joy of becoming one with the masses, of drowning in that great sea! The sentiment was mixed with the urge to set the sea on fire. History itself, as Chaikovsky had put it, had placed upon that generation the responsibility of announcing to the people the truth that would make them free.