What Makes a Revolutionary?

For Friday’s class, we’re reading “The Catechism of the Revolutionary (1868)” and the “Demands of the Narodnaia Volia.” The “Catechism,” written by Bakunin and Nechaev, describes a Russian Revolutionary: how he should act; what he should value; how she should treat others, etc. This document defines a “Comrade” as someone who is irrevocably committed to the cause. He has no external connections or motives other than causing a complete destruction of the current social political order, and he full-on recognizes that he will probably die in this process. The “Demands of the Narodnaia Volia,” written by the organization who assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881, explains the group’s reasons for the assassination. The “Demands” delineate the current social order as oppressive and seek to radically reform it. Their biggest demand is an “Organizing Assembly.” The Assembly will be instituted through a general election by the people, will take the place of the existing government, and then will use their power to construct a new, fairer government that the Russian people need.

Paragraph 13 of the “Catechism” states, “He is not a revolutionary if he feels compassion for something in this world.” I found this rhetoric (and others like it) to be interesting because it implies that a true comrade should have no family: no wife, no children, etc. On one hand, this lack of connection correlates with the Catechism’s message that comrades will be killed. But on the other hand, it leaves how the whole idea of who the comrades are fighting for. Not only is not allowing comrades to have families harsh and unrealistic, it also seems counterproductive. Wouldn’t it be a stronger case to enforce to the comrades that they were bringing about total destruction so that their children can have a better world?

These documents also made me wonder why the Narodnaia Volia put a tsar back on the throne after they had killed his father. If they were so intent on total reform, than why place another hereditary monarch back in power? Why not try to institute a whole new government? (I know that this is coming in the next 40 years, but why didn’t it happen in 1881?)

3 thoughts on “What Makes a Revolutionary?

  1. You ask why a “comrade” should cast aside all of his or her connections to the world if that would weaken the community that they are trying to grow and aid. It is probably because the group considers “comrades” or freedom fighters a group separate from the people who are destined to fight for the people rather then be a part of the people. If you are part of the people if would be harder to fight against a government that may contain some of the people inside it. And family can be a distraction. The text does say that they will exploit to the fullest any and all things that they can. I do not know how well that would work if everyone was part of the community they were robing.

  2. I completely agree with all of this and as a result I find myself questioning Paragraph 21 in this document. If these men were encouraged to not have any great passions or distractions, how were women meant to behave in this group? Were they to stay with the social norms of the time and marry and have children? Would they be considered in the category of “dumb, stupid and callous” because their passions were for their family? And by extension, if women joined were they encouraged to fight and die as well?

  3. The problem of having a family is a precursor to the problems they had in the Soviet era based on this same principle that encouraged complete devotion to the revolution as well as complete devotion to raising revolutionary families. How can revolutionaries fight for the people if they don’t understand the people’s values personally? The Catechism is an interesting document because its underlying sentiment is of emotion, since that is the best way to ensure commitment to the revolution, but it claims to be based on rationality and the practical welfare of the people.

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