Narodniks (Template:Lang-ru) was the name for Russian revolutionaries of the 1860s and 1870s. Their movement was known as Narodnichestvo or Narodism. The term itself derives from the Russian expression "Хождение в народ" ("Going to the people").


Narodism arose in Russia after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 (under Emperor Alexander II), which signaled the coming end of the feudalist age in Russia. Arguing that freed serfs were being sold into wage slavery, in which the bourgeoisie had replaced landowners, Narodism aimed to become the political force to counter the phenomenon. Narodniks viewed certain aspects of the past with a dose of nostalgia: resenting the former land ownership system, they objected against the uprooting of peasants from the traditional obshchina (the Russian commune).

Narodniks rallied in response to the growing conflicts between the peasantry and the so-called kulaks (the more prosperous farmers). Groups created did not establish a concrete organization, but shared the common general aims of overthrowing the Russian monarchy and the kulaks, and distributing land among the peasantry. The Narodniks generally believed that capitalism was not a necessary result of industrial development, and that it was possible to skip capitalism altogether, and enter straight into a kind of socialism.

The Narodniks believed the peasantry was the revolutionary class that would overthrow the monarchy, regarding the village commune as the embryo of socialism. However, they believed that the peasantry would not achieve revolution on their own, but instead that history could only be made by heroes, outstanding personalities, who would lead an otherwise passive peasantry to revolution (see Great man theory). Also, great writers among the Narodniks, such as Vasilij Voroncov, called for the Russian intelligentsia to “bestir itself from the mental lethargy into which, in contrast to the sensitive and lively years of the seventies, it had fallen and formulate a scientific theory of Russian economic development”.[1] The upper-class Narodnik intelligentsia needed to provide a concrete system of economic ideals and goals that would uphold the paramount importance of the village commune. These writers called for immediate movement towards revolution that went beyond philosophical and political discussion.

In the spring of 1874, the conflict between the richer and poorer peasants brought turbulence to Russia's urban centers, and the Narodnik intelligentsia left the cities for the villages, going "among the people", attempting to teach the peasantry their moral imperative to revolt. They found almost no support.

Given the Narodniks social background, generally middle and upper middle class, they had noted difficulties in addressing Russian peasants and their culture. They spent much time learning peasant custom, dress and dance. In some cases, they even had to learn Russian, as wealthy Russians from the West generally spoke French or German. On arriving into some villages dressed appropriately and singing and dancing what they had studied, Narodniks were viewed with suspicion by many of those Russian peasants who were completely removed from the more modernized culture of the urban sphere, and believed to be witches; many Narodniks were hounded by vigilante groups, and often maimed with farm utensils or put through frenzied trials and burned at the stake. The Imperial secret police responded to the Narodniks' attempt with extreme repression: revolutionaries and their peasant sympathizers were beaten, imprisoned and exiled. In 1877, the Narodniks revolted with the support of thousands of revolutionaries and peasants. However, the movement was again swiftly and brutally crushed.

In response to this repression of open, spontaneous organization, Russia's first organized revolutionary party formed: Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will"), which favoured secret society-led terrorism, justified “as a means of exerting pressure on the government for reform, as the spark that would ignite a vast peasant uprising, and as the inevitable response to the regime's use of violence against the revolutionaries” [2].

After the struggle to unite the peasantry to overthrow the Emperor, unsuccessful due to the peasantry's idolisation of the latter as someone "on their side", Narodism developed the practice of terrorism: the peasantry, they believed, must be shown that the Emperor was not supernatural, and that he could be killed. This theory, called "direct struggle", was meant to show an "uninterrupted demonstration of the possibility of struggling against the government, in this manner lifting the revolutionary spirit of the people and its faith in the success of the cause, and organising those capable of fighting".[3] On March 1, 1881, they did succeed in assassinating Tsar Alexander II. However, this success led to short-term failure, as the peasantry as a whole was horrified with what had happened and the government had many of the Narodnaya Volya leaders hanged, thus leaving the group unorganized and ineffective.[4].

However, these events did not mark the end of the movement, and the later Socialist-Revolutionaries, Popular Socialists, and Trudoviks all shared similar tactics, with ideas and practices originally set down by the Narodniks.[5] Thus, the actions and philosophy of the Narodniks helped sow the seeds of the coming Russian Revolution of 1905.

Influence outside RussiaEdit

Narodism had a direct influence on politics and culture in Romania, through the comments of Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea and advocacy from the Bessarabian-born Constantin Stere (who was a member of Narodnaya Volya in his youth). The various groups the latter helped found included one formed around the literary magazine Viaţa Românească (led by Stere, Garabet Ibrăileanu, and Paul Bujor).

A self-defined Poporanist (from popor, Romanian for "people", mirroring the origins of the term Narodnik), Stere eventually rejected revolution altogether. Nevertheless, he shared the Narodnik view that capitalism was not a necessary stage in the development of an agrarian country (and the implicit rejection of Marxist tenets), a perspective which was to leave a mark on Ion Mihalache's Peasants' Party (and its successor, the National Peasants' Party), as well as on the philosophy of Virgil Madgearu.

Narodism according to LeninEdit

Vladimir Lenin defined Narodism as:

"By Narodism we mean a system of views, which comprises the following three features:

1) Belief that capitalism in Russia represents a deterioration, a retrogression. Hence the urge and desire to 'retard', 'halt', 'stop the break-up' of the age-old foundations by capitalism, and similar reactionary cries.

2) Belief in the exceptional character of the Russian economic system in general, and of the peasantry, with its village commune, artel, etc. in particular. It is not considered necessary to apply to Russian economic relationships the concepts elaborated by modern science concerning the different social classes and their conflicts. The village-commune peasantry is regarded as something higher and better than capitalism; there is a disposition to idealize the 'foundations'. The existence among the peasantry of contradictions characteristic of every commodity and capitalist economy is denied or slurred over; it is denied that any connection exists between these contradictions and their more developed form in capitalist industry and capitalist agriculture.

3) Disregard of the connection between the 'intelligentsia' and the country's legal and political institutions, on the one hand, and the material interests of definite social classes, on the other. Denial of this connection, lack of a materialist explanation of these social factors, induces the belief that they represent a force capable of 'dragging history along another line', of 'diversion from the path', and so on.[6]

See alsoEdit



External linksEdit

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