Revolutionary Text

The Catechism of the Revolutionary and the Demands of the Narodnaia Volia both demonstrates the extreme side of the revolutionaries in Russia in the late nineteenth century. The Catechism of the Revolutionary is the ideal guidelines which a revolutionary should live by, outlining their goals, behaviors, and even feelings to define a true ‘revolutionary’. The Demands of the Narodnaia Volia is the product of these guidelines, and shows the extent to which followers of the Catechism of the Revolutionary were willing to go to achieve their goals and how they felt they were justified in doing so.

I got a distinct feeling while reading these documents of a cult-like feeling developing. The Catechism of the Revolutionary required not just a dedication of time or beliefs to a cause, but of the revolutionary’s entire life. Most of what is done, even if it only effects one person such as that person connections to their ‘second and third rank’ revolutionaries. This kind of hive-mind behavior coupled with the extremes that Bakunin and Nechaev called for created an almost religious tone. I was also shocked at portrayal of violence that these documents seem to idealize. Not only is it mentioned and encouraged or justified often throughout the texts, but it also seems to address the revolutionary as a tool for violence rather than as a thinking person. Paragraph 13 states “The revolutionary joins the state, society, and so-called civilized world and lives in it only for the purpose of its more total and speedier destruction”, and goes on to discuss how compassion is a weakness. The document attempts to take believers in revolution and make them into blind-instruments by telling them that this is the only way to truly support a cause that they believe in.

Reading these texts left we with questions as to how both the documents themselves and this mindset overall were view by the population of Russia. How did the Catechism of the Revolutionary in particular make it into Russia past the censors? If it was written while the authors were in exile how much of the document was influence by outside ideologies that they encountered, and how much was directly from them (and probably the cause of their being exiled)? Additionally, how many followers were willing to follow such dire measures for the sake of revolution?

4 thoughts on “Revolutionary Text

  1. This reading truly reminded me of Les Miserables and the Friends of the ABC, a revolutionary group that had all the ideas of why they should revolt or join the cause, but no way to execute their plan should they succeed. I did not necessarily get the feeling that they were joining a cult. However, the one section I did have a problem with was paragraph 21, which split women up into three groups, one for “dumb, stupid, and callous women” one for “dedicated and practical women” and the women who have joined the cause wholeheartedly. This categorization process seemed beneficial to their cause as it convinces women that by joining their cause they will be treated far better than they were in the current society.

    • Paragraph 21 was very interesting to me as well. Initially after reading that paragraph, I was surprised, thinking that at least some women were treated as comrades. However, closer analysis revealed that this was a small portion of women represented. Additionally, I feel like this was not indicative of men believing that women were equal. Rather, I feel like women were accepted as comrades out of necessity. Because this group represented a small population, they basically needed all the help that they could get.

  2. Regarding your question about how many Russians were willing to follow these revolutionaries for the sake of change, I was reminded of something we talked about in the modern Russian history course. Since these documents represented an extremist group, they most likely constituted for a small portion of the population. Like in the United States, it seems most logical and likely that the majority of the population was moderate to slightly more liberal in terms of revolution. Specifically with peasants however, I remember talking last spring about how they would support anyone who could supply them with food. While certainly ideologies of freedom and a less oppressive government were appealing, peasants were primarily going to support those who could provide concrete support (aka food, shelter, basic necessities). If a group could promise and supply that, then they’d have the full support of the peasants. So basically, my guess is that few followed for the sole sake of revolution. Rather, people only followed if their support would cumulate in economic support.

  3. At the beginning of this revolutionary period, I think it was more important to note that it was not as much about who or how many people followed the revolutionaries but about the fact that they were even writing these documents. It really speaks to the changing social culture of Russia at this time when criticisms, like The Overcoat or these revolutionary manifestos were even allowed to be printed, distributed, and sent to the Tsar. This manner of dissent owes itself to the legacy of the Decembrists and the reduction of censorship of the last 100 years in Russian history.

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