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?