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Narodnaya Volya [People's Will]

The adherents of the ranks of the "party of the Narodnaya Volya" ("The Will of the People") did not share an enthusiasm for the blessing of autocracy bestowed by history upon the chosen Russian nation. This party was resolved, at all hazards and by every means in its power, to bring about the death of their ruler. It numbered some of the most violent and daring men in all the country, and it also included several women, who rendered the cause great service. Narodnaya Volya was an influential populist movement in Russia before thatcombined populism, Marxism, and Blanquism before Marx and Engel’s CommunistManifesto was introduced to Russia in 1882.

At the end of the 1860s and in the 1870s, some Russians believed that a courageous, well-organized body of revolutionists, devoted to the cause, could not only fight for, but also win, the battle of liberty. And if this were really possible without any support of the masses, the Narodnaya Volya, or People’s Will, was the party to do it. It represented a more perfect type of organization in comparison with previous illegal societies in terms of centralization, conspiracy and discipline. The first among the revolutionary organizations in the Russian Empire, it had the scale, developed ideological, platform (several program documents) and means, the organization structure needed for effective action.

The People's Will was a revolutionary Narodnik organization, formed in August 1879 as a result of the split of "Earth and Will". The program contained requirements for democratic reforms, the convocation of a Constituent Assembly, the introduction of universal suffrage, permanent popular representation, freedom of the soil, print, conscience, the replacement of the army by the militia, and the transfer of land to the peasants.

"Walking to the People" was a mass movement of Democratic Youth in Russia in the 1870s. For the first time the slogan "To the people!" was put forward by Hertzen in communication with the student unrest in 1861. In the 1860s and beginning of the 1870, attempts were made for the rapprochement with the people and the revolutionary propaganda. In districts this took took the form of "settlements", organized by "Earth and Will".

Among the participants were both supporters of P.H.Lavrov, who advocated the gradual preparation of the peasant revolution by socialist propaganda, and supporters of M.A.Bakunin, aspiring to an immediate revolt. The democratic intelligentsia also participated in the movement, trying to get closer to the people and serve it with their knowledge. Practical activities "among the people" were to erase the distinction between peasants and intelligentsia. The only attempt to raise the peasant uprising is the Chigirinsky conspiracy (1877). Overall, the movement suffered a defeat because it was based on the utopian ideas of populism about the possibility of the victory of the peasant revolution in Russia.

At the head of the "People's Will" was the Executive Committee, which included: A.D. Mikhailov, N.A. Morozov, A.I. Zhelyabov, AA Kvyatkovskii, SL Perovskaya, VN Figner, MF Frolenko, LA Tikhomirov, MN Oshanina (Polonskaya, Olovennikova), AV Yakimova and others He was subordinated to a lot of circles and groups located in fifty cities. Narodovoltsy distinguished the "organization" - a disciplined community of revolutionaries, subordinated to the program and the charter, it included about 500 people - and the party - a circle of like-minded people, not associated with "organization" obligations, there were up to 2,000 people. The organization had its own printed organ - the newspaper Narodnaya Volya, which was published from October 1, 1879 to October 1885.

For several years the whole world watched with subdued breath the duel between a mere handful of men and women, mostly very young, on the one side, and the Government of one of the mightiest empires, with enormous resources, on the other. It is no exaggeration to say that the heroism, the self-sacrifice, the devotion to the loftiest ideals, the purity of life, the unswerving skill and firmness displayed by these most gentle and noble young men and girls while engaged in a bloody struggle, have never been surpassed in history. "Narodnaya Volya" prepared a number of terrorist acts, including 5 attempts on Alexander II.

The assassination of Czar Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, on March 1, 1881 was the work of the Russian revolutionary terrorist organization Narodnaya Volya (People's Will), which utilized acts of terroristic violence to promote its aims. But that was a Pyrrhic victory. In early 1881 the police, using the betrayal of I. Okladsky, who was sentenced to eternal hard labor and entered the path of cooperation with the secret police, carried out the arrests of Zhelyabov, Kletochnikov and others, which severely affected the organization. The party was exhausted, and there was no one to support it. The masses at that time did not understand it; and a large portion of the intelligent class, though sympathizing with it, was not yet ripe for action.

The government went along the path of escalating repression. March 18, 1882 revolutionaries carried out the murder of the Kiev military prosecutor V. Strelnikov, known in the revolutionary environment for his cruelty. Since June 1882 after the departure of Tikhomirov and seriously ill Oshanina abroad, at the head of "People's Will" stood Figner, trying to restore the organization.

The Narodnaya Volya, or Narodovoltsi, were very soon broken up by the police and most of the leading members were arrested. A few escaped, of whom some remained in the country and others emigrated to Switzerland or Paris, and efforts at reorganisation were made, especially in the southern and western provinces, but they proved ineffectual. A negative role was played by her isolation from the soldiers 'and sailors' masses and the general crisis of the revolution. populism, characteristic of the 80's. By the summer of 1883, up to 200 members of the organization were arrested. Some were executed, others sent to penal servitude, to prisons.

At last, sobered by experience and despairing of further success, some of the prisoners and a few of the exiles — notably Tikhomirof, who was regarded as the leader — made their peace with the Government, and for some years terrorism seemed to be a thing of the past.

Attempts by GA Lopatin (1884), PF Yakubovich (1883-1884), BD Orzhikh (1885), AI Ulyanov (1886-1887), etc. to revive the organization failed, the Narodovolst movement in the late 1880s began to decline.

Officially, the "Narodnaya Volya" ceased to exist in 1887. Historian Fritsche then wrote in the article "The Collapse of the People's Will": The defeat of the "Narodnaya Volya" was, first of all, tantamount to a collapse of faith in the omnipotence of the intelligentsia, in its historical mission, in its creative forces." "Narodnaya Volya" did not die without a trace, but gave birth to new political, social and even scientific movements in Russia. Active Narodnaya Volya generates Marxist movements, the Jewish organization BUND, "civilized monarchism" and Russian nationalism. In fact, almost all of the Russian political forces of that time grew out of the Narodnaya Volya.

The history of modern revolutions shows a great diversity of main and side-currents, of heated discussions, wasted energies, forgotten sacrifices. This applies especially to the first decade of this century, the epochs immediately preceding and following the First Revolution, that of 1905. The revolutionary movement had then just begun to emerge from the stagnation into which it had been plunged after the destruction of the “Narodnaya Volya”, the bold terrorist organization whose chief accomplishment — the execution of the Tsar Alexander II in 1881—was also the beginning of its decline. Practically all of its members were arrested before the middle of the eighties. What followed then was not so much a struggle against the ruling power, as theoretical discussions within the ranks of those who had either escaped abroad or completely withdrawn from any illegal activity.

Out of the remnants and admirers of the “Narodnaya Volya”, based on the ideology of Lavrov and Mikhailovsky, developed in the beginning of the twentieth century the Party of the Socialist-Revolutionists ((Sotsialisty-Revolutsionery, usually called after their initials, the SR or “Eser’s”). Although “in principle” they recognized the class-struggle, they considered as the main forces of the revolution the intellectuals and the peasants. Their favorite means of combat was terrorism, and they have to their credit some of the most admirable types of heroes and idealistic martyrs, such as Balmashov, Yegor Sazonov, Kalayev, Gershuni.

About 1894 the Narodnaya Volya came to life again, with all its terrorist traditions intact; and shortly afterwards appeared the new group, the Socialist-Revolutionaries, with somewhat similar principles and a better organisation. For some seven or eight years the two groups existed side by side, and then the Narodnaya Volya disappeared, absorbed probably by its more powerful rival. During the first years of their existence neither group was strong enough to cause the Government serious inconvenience, and it was not till 1897-98 that they found means of issuing manifestos and programs.

In these the Narodovoltsi declared that their immediate aims were the annihilation of Autocracy, the convocation of a National Assembly and the reorganisation of the Empire on the principles of federation and local self-government, and that for the attainment of these objects the means to be employed should include popular insurrections, military conspiracies, bombs and dynamite. Very similar, though ostensibly a little more eclectic, was the program of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. Their ultimate aim was declared to be the transfer of political authority from the Autocratic Power to the people, the abolition of private property in the means of production, and in general the reorganisation of national life on Socialist principles.

The SRs were profoundly convinced that the advent of political liberty may be greatly accelerated by the use of terrorism. On this last point they stated their views very frankly in a pamphlet which they published in 1902 under the title of "Our Task" (Nasha Zadatcha). It is there said:

"One of the powerful means of struggle, dictated by our revolutionary past and present, is political terrorism, consisting of the annihilation of the most injurious and influential personages of Russian autocracy in given conditions. Systematic terrorism, in conjunction with other forms of open mass-struggle (industrial riots and agrarian risings, demonstrations, etc.), which receive from terrorism an enormous, decisive significance, will lead to the disorganisation of the enemy. Terrorist activity will cease only with the victory over autocracy and the complete attainment of political liberty. Besides its chief significance as a means of disorganising, terrorist activity will serve at the same time as a means of propaganda and agitation, a form of open struggle taking place before the eyes of the whole people, undermining the prestige of Government authority, and calling into life new revolutionary forces, while the oral and literary propaganda is being continued without interruption. Lastly, the terrorist activity serves for the whole secret revolutionary party as a means of self-defence and of protecting the organisation against the injurious elements of spies and treachery."

In accordance with this theory a "militant organisation" (Boevaga Organisatsia) was formed and soon set to work with revolvers and bombs. First an attempt was made on the life of Pobmonostsef; then the Minister of the Interior, Sipiagin, was assassinated; next attempts were made on the lives of the Governors of Vilna and Kharkof, and the Kharkof chief of police; and since that time the Governor of Ufa, the Vice-Governor of Elizabetpol, the Minister of the Interior, M. Plehve, and the Grand Duke Serge have fallen victims to the terrorist policy.

One of the main objects of every intelligent revolutionary party should be to awaken all classes from their habitual apathy and induce them to take an active part in the political movement; but terrorism must have a contrary effect by suggesting that political freedom is to be attained, not by the steady pressure and persevering cooperation of the people, but by startling, sensational acts of individual heroism. The efforts of these two revolutionary parties, as well as of minor groups, to get hold of the industrial proletariat did not escape the notice of the authorities; and during the labor troubles of 1896, on the suggestion of M. Witte, the Government had considered the question as to what should be done to counteract the influence of the agitators. On that question it had no difficulty in coming to a decision; the condition of the working classes must be improved.

The Narodnaya Volya party tried their best to spread their ideas among the officers of the navy and the cadets of the Naval Academy. An association was formed to this end, under the name of Whalers' Society, which tried to attract young men ostensibly for the purpose of forwarding Russia's sea fisheries. Of the revolutionary officers of the navy the greatest notoriety was acquired by Lieutenant Sukhanov, who was subsequently sentenced to death.

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Page last modified: 19-10-2017 15:20:23 ZULU