The Catechism of the Revolutionary

The Cathechism of the Revolutionary seems to be contradictory. The prevalent theme is that the primary and single motivator behind all decisions is the consideration of how said decision will benefit or harm the revolution. Any action that will benefit the revolution must be undertaken immediately, regardless of any personal conflicts or entanglements and, likewise, any action or person who could harm the revolution must be destroyed. While the idea that the revolution stands above all else remains constant throughout, there are discrepancies in the teaching that the entire modern world must be hated in order to appropriately embrace a new world embodied by happiness and peace. How could love spawn from hatred, and how could humanity be embraced if all members of the revolutionary organization are considered as nothing more than parts of a machine, as means to an end? If the organization has no other aim that “complete freedom and happiness of the people”, then wouldn’t the happiness and dignity of the people need to be considered throughout the process of the revolution and not just at the end, when the goal has been accomplished? A revolution cannot fulfill its ultimate goal, which is to preserve the dignity of the people, if there is no consideration of the individual struggle throughout the process. If the entire movement revolves around doing whatever possible, no matter the destruction involved, to achieve a goal, there leaves little likelihood for the consideration of the people’s complete happiness to be a top priority in the future. Human beings cannot change their thinking processes at the drop of a hat. The means to this revolution do not match up to the ends, but only add to an already prevalent cycle of destruction and attempted rebuilding which results in a society very different, and far less palatable, from the original aim of revolution.

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?

Leaving Moderates Out in the Cold

Reading The Catechism of the Revolutionary and Demands of the Narodnaia Volia reminded me of Pussy Riot. Both groups want roughly the same thing (considering the time periods in which they are from). In a documentary I watched about Pussy Riot and the trial proceeding their ‘performance’ at Christ the Savior Cathedral, a prosecutor approached the women and told them their actions essentially alienated liberals and prevented moderates from joining a more liberal camp. The Catechism and Demands essentially do just that. Any moderate person of the time reading the documents would most likely be put off by such a radical, far left.

The Catechism of the Revolutionary makes extraordinary demands of revolutionaries, essentially detailing out a revolutionary’s entire life. Revolutionaries may not have friends or family, and cannot do anything unless it benefits the organization. The document makes revolutionaries out to be terrorist operatives, essentially devoid of humanity and feeling (unless it forwards the goals of the organization). On the other hand, Demands of the Narodnaia Volia confirms any suspicions that these revolutionaries might be operatives.

Part D of the Demands of the Narodnaia Volia lays out the various operations of the terrorist organization. Item number two specifically discusses “destructive and terrorist activity”, essentially condoning any actions or deaths, if they are in the best interests of the organization’s goals. The entire document makes the Narodnaia Volia out to be a cold, extremely focused organization.

These documents were both intriguing to me. Have either of these been applied to and used for modern terrorist organizations? How many people could truly call themselves ‘revolutionaries’ and how seriously were the rules in the Catechism taken?