Revolutionaries and Liberals

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Populism and the Emergence of the Social Revolutionary movement

The assassination of March 1881 effectively ended the Populist movement, as it had been known. However, some of its supporters continued to meet in secret and the acts of terrorism with which it had become associated continued, despite the repression which characterised the reign of Alexander III. In 1886, The People's Will was reformed among students in St Petersburg and in March 1887, a group who made two bombs with the intention of assassinating Alexander III were arrested. Two months later, five of thee, including Alexander Ulyanov, Lenin's elder brother, were hanged.

The assassination of March 13th 1881 was to prove a huge disappointment to the opposition. It yielded no practical benefits and on the contrary, led to a wave of arrests, greater police surveillance, the abandonment of Loris- Melikov's proposed reforms and the accession of the Tsar, Alexander III, who was determined to enforce reactionary policies. However, it did have some symbolic significance, showing the vulnerability of the autocracy, winning some support overseas and creating martyrs which helped popularise the revolutionary cause. 

Populist ideas were preserved in the remnants of the People's Will, and in some of the developing 'self-education' circles as well as among groups which made contact with radicals in the west. However, police activity, the execution, imprisonment and exile of leaders, a lack of funds and lack of enthusiasm among the peasants, all reduced the incidences of violent revolutionary activity in the 1890s. Famine too played its part and some radicals turned their energies to relief work among the peasantry during the disastrous years of 1891-92. 

It was following debates about the competence of the government at the time of the Great Famine, which had highlighted the need to reform the rural economy, that Populis ideas enjoyed a further revival. Populist thinking resurfaced in the universities, where there were several outbreaks of disorder from 1899, culminating in the assassination, in 1901, of the minister of education, N P Bogolev, by a student named Pyotr Karpovich. 

More significant still was the coming together, in 1901, of a number of the new Populist groups, to create Socialist Revolutionary Party. This was a fairly loose organisation bringing together organisations with a wide variety of views and was never centrally controlled. Its most influential theorist was the intellectual Viktor Chernov (1873-1952), a law gradute from Moscow and editor of the party journal. Although the party never held a congress…


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