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Soviet Union

The Rise of Revolutionary Populism and Russian Marxism, 1855- 90

The reforms of Alexander II, particularly his lifting of state censorship, fostered the development of political and social thought. The regime relied on journals and newspapers to gain support for its domestic and foreign polices. But liberal, nationalist, and radical writers also helped mold opinion opposed to tsarism, private property, and the imperial state. Because many intellectuals, professionals, peasants, and workers shared these sentiments, the publications and the organizations that the radicals joined were perceived as dangerous to the regime. From the 1860s through the 1880s, Russian radicals, collectively known as "Populists" (Narodniki), focused chiefly on the peasantry, whom they identified as "the people" (narod).

Among the leaders of the Populist movement were radical writers, idealists, and advocates of terrorism. In the 1860s, Nikolai Chernyshevskii, the most important radical writer of the period, posited that Russia could bypass capitalism and move directly to socialism. His most influential work, What Is to Be Done? (1861), describes the role of an individual of a "superior nature" who guides a new, revolutionary generation. Other radicals such as the incendiary anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and his terrorist collaborator, Sergei Nechaev, urged direct action. The calmer Petr Tkachev argued against the advocates of Marxism (see Glossary), maintaining that a centralized revolutionary band had to seize power before capitalism could fully develop. Disputing his views, the moralist and individualist Petr Lavrov made a call "to the people" that was heeded in 1873 and 1874 when hundreds of idealists left their schools for the countryside to try to generate a mass movement among the narod. The Populist campaign failed, however, when the peasants showed hostility to the urban idealists and the government more willingly began to consider nationalist opinion.

The radicals reconsidered their approach, and in 1876 they formed a propagandist organization called Land and Liberty (Zemlia i volia), which leaned toward terrorism. It became even more oriented toward terrorism three years later, renamed itself the People's Will (Narodnaia volia), and in 1881 was responsible for the assassination of Alexander II. In 1879 Georgii Plekhanov formed a propagandist faction of Land and Liberty called Black Repartition (Chernyi peredel), which advocated reassigning all land to the peasantry. This group studied Marxism, which, paradoxically, was principally concerned with urban industrial workers. The People's Will remained underground, but in 1887 a young member of the group, Aleksandr Ulianov, attempted to assassinate Alexander III, was arrested, and executed. Another Ulianov, Vladimir, was greatly affected by his brother's execution. Influenced by Chernyshevskii's writings, he also joined the People's Will and later, under the influence of Plekhanov, converted to Marxism. The younger Ulianov later changed his name to Lenin.

Data as of May 1989