Revolutionary Ideology at the End of the 19th Century

Max and Marc

Program of Plekahnov’s Group for the Emancipation of Labor details how the tenets of socialism, at this time in the late 19th century, were necessary to the continued function of the Russian society in the view of this organization. It is clear from reading this text that this organization believed in handing the reigns of production entirely from the existing nobility to the peasants themselves. Of particular concern is the desired responsibilities of a peasant class that would be governing themselves. With this desired self-government comes with, the group argues, a breakdown of existing societal relationships in favor of a new makeup. One where the peasantry not only has the means of production, but also has many civil rights such as freedom of movement, speech, several forms of welfare, an army of the people that is for the people, criminal justice reform, and self legislation and representation in government. 

S.I. Kanatchikov Recounts his adventures as a Peasant-Worker-Activist begins with the detailing of Kanatchikov’s upbringing as a peasant in the late 19th century. He receives a very rudimentary education, still with a heavy focus on severe punishment and religious teachings. Throughout his childhood, he suffers from abuses by his father, who often goes on alcoholic binges as well as periods of abusive behavior towards Kanatchikov and his mother. His father attempts to reconcile his own behavior by being religious and attempting frugality, but the cycle of abuse and neglect ultimately continue. As Kanatchikov matures, he finds himself eager to move beyond just farming and settled in Moscow, earning a living through various industrial professions. 

It is in this setting that he begins to mingle with revolutionaries, which he refers to as “students”. He becomes close with a man named Savinov, who essentially shakes the foundations of Kanatchikov’s religious understanding. He is initially resistant to Savinov because he does not respect the organized Orthodox religion, but Kanatchikov eventually comes to understand his view based on the merits of increased rights to the working class. Kanatchikov and his fellow workers subsequently become witnesses to the disaster at Khodynka field, where hundreds are killed during the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II. This event is particularly disturbing to the workers and Kanatchikov, who attribute the catastrophe as indicative of their government’s incapability. 


  1. Based on the lifestyles of the former serfs, what tenets and ideals from Program of Plekahnov’s Group for the Emancipation of Labor would most appeal to the class of the peasantry at the end of the 19th Century?
  2. The audience of this document seems to be the lower classes, but does it suffer from flaws of the Intelligentsia of this era? Would peasants, even though benefited by some of these ideals, be interested enough in them to want to dedicate themselves to the socialist cause?
  3. In the beginning paragraphs (Pages 529 – 530) of Kanatchikov’s account, we see the rough education that he is provided with. He complains about the punishment receives, details some religious instruction, but there is little else to his education that he reveals. What does this say about what Kanatchikov experienced in school? What is important for him to talk about and what does he omit?
  4. When Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, there seems to be great confusion surrounding what exactly happened. Does this represent a failing of the Intelligentsia to illustrate their ideology to the peasantry or is this simply ignorance from the lower classes?
  5. Kanatchikov’s domestic life is immensely troubling, from his father’s abusive nature to their poverty. In what ways does he attempt to reconcile with this troubling childhood?
  6. Kanatchikov, when he reaches Moscow, is stunned by the complexity of the city. How is this setting different to the traditional farm land of the serfs that had been in previous centuries. What is different from his industrial occupation compared to the previous farming that we’ve read about in multiple other texts? 
  7. How does Kanatchikov describe the revolutionaries or “students”? What feelings does he initially associate with their appearances and behavior? What about them intrigues him and what about them does he not find acceptable? (536 – 539
  8. How does Savinov explain religion to Kanatchikov? In his view, why has the Russian Orthodox Religion been formed and how has it lasted this long? What is his view of mankind’s creation? (540 – 541)
  9. The disaster at Khodynka field is something that affects all of those that work with Kanatchikov. What are there reactions to the disaster? What do they blame and how do they see the government’s, and by extension the Tsar’s, role in this disaster? (546 – 547)
  10. In Kanatchikov’s view, what did the debacle at Khodynka field do to the image of the Tsar in the time following the catastrophe? Why does he attribute the damage to the government and not some act of God? (547 – 548)

Radicals and Revolutionaries

Dan A. and Paige K.

In Alexander Herzen’s Young Moscow he diligently describes his experiences with Vissarion Belinsky, a popular Westernizer and Russia’s greatest literary critic, and of the many intellectual circles that formed amongst the well educated men of Russia. He recounted his time as a member of one of these groups, their conflicts with others, and of times of exile. Herzen also focused on the founder of Stankevich’s circle, Nikolai Stankevich. He describes his upbringing, education, and his ability to recognize the abilities of others. He ends his work with a focus on the superiority of Russian thought, the Russian people’s conviction and enthusiasm, and their extreme devotion to the pursuit of knowledge.

Belinskii’s Letter to Gogol (1847) marks the end of a comradery. The pair parted ways in a dramatic fashion following the publishing of Gogol’s book in which he outlined the importance of sermons and tradition in Russia. Belinskii equated religion to the destruction of Russia and named instances where religion lead Russia astray. The letter tells the Russian people that the most important social issues are serfdom, corporal punishment, and observance of the laws. None of these issues, according to Belinskii, can be achieved with religion in play. Belinskii also adds that Russian people, as a whole, are atheists and should not be governed by religion. Belinskii concludes the letter by urging Gogol to atone for his sins by publishing a book that refutes his claims.

The Catechism Of the Revolutionary lists a set of guidelines for members to follow. The members are expected to fully submit to the ideals set forth by the group. Members are largely split into categories based upon their socioeconomic standings. The Catechism creates a sense of urgency in which members are expected to take immediate and severe actions in order to be revered as members. The Catechism also mentions the role of women within the group and mentions a small subset of them to be a, “precious resource.” The group reveres itself as the one, true revolution in Russia. 

  1. In Belinskii’s Letter to Gogol he argues that the Russian people are a naturally atheistic people (Pg. 256). Are there any examples of this in any of our past readings? What do you think the implications are of such a comment?
  2. Before Vissarion Belinskii wrote this devastating letter to Nikolai Gogol, he had actually admired him. Belinskii, as the leading literary critic of Russia, actually introduced Gogol to the Russian reading public as someone in touch with Russia. For what reason does Belinskii believe Gogol departed from his usual beliefs? Why is it that the reason is all the more infuriating to him?
  3. Belinskii conveys a very notable idea in his letter to Gogol. He argues that there is no need to take part in the exact rituals of the church in order to be a Christian (Pg. 259). What are the implications of these comments? Could this be a call back to the Schism in Orthodox Christianity?
  4. On page 254, Belinskii writes that Russia can no longer be defined by religion because “she has heard enough of them (prayers)” but lists the “vital national problems in Russia today are the abolition of serfdom and corporal punishment and the strictest possible observance of the laws which already exist.” How does religion work against Belinskii’s goals for Russia? Why can’t Orthodoxy and justice coexist? 
  5. In this document, we also see one of the first mentions of Hegel, specifically that his writings were in the hands of supporters of ultra-Slavism. Hegel, being a Western philosopher, would more than likely be shunned in the eyes of proponents of Slavism. What point is Herzen trying to make in arguing that even in reading authors of western origin Russians become even more dedicated in their support of Slavism?
  6. Page 325 of Young Moscow touches on the issue of hating one’s country. Herzen writes, “The separation of the states of North America from England could lead to war and hatred, but it could not make the Americans un-English…” What is Herzen alluding to with this statement? How can this statement of identity be related back to Russia?
  7. What parallels can be drawn between the Decembrist (Union of Welfare) manifesto and The Catechism Of the Revolutionary? What does the comparison between these two works reveal about the ‘current’ state of Russia? 
  8. The Catechism of a Revolutionary creates a striking visual on page 353 of high ranking individuals being exploited for their benefit. How does this flip the narrative of Russia’s social structure, that we have become accustomed to? 
  9. The Catechism wrote its’ doctrine with language that insinuates that the content is urgent. Specifically, page 354 (P. 24) outlines that the group is only focused on the present and leaves future generations to figure out the future. But, P. 13 says that members should not have offspring or families. Where is the Catechism drawing new members from? Does this lack of planning portray the Revolution in a rash light? 

Team Westernizer’s Closing Statement

The Slavophiles did not not truly understand Russia. They spoke false histories, favored subjugation, and defended their arguments with a corrupted Christianity. It was not western influence that brought Russia to a point where intolerant autocrats flourished. Rather, it was its established institutions that halted western progress, such as Orthodoxy. This distortion of Christianity, altered by man to better suit himself, allowed the Slavophiles to defend the oppression of the Russian people by an all powerful tsar in the name of “moral freedom”, This contorted view of the rights of man is the very thing responsible for Russia’s status at the time, further strengthened by the false histories the Slavophiles would spew. The popular view among them, that in the beginning of Russia’s history they favored foreign rule rather than their own, is a myth. And their argument than an absolutist government is the only form able to rule over Russia is contradicted by their aggravation with what was their current ruler: An absolutist behaving as an absolutist.

Letters on the Philosophy of History by Petr Iakovlevich Chaadaev

The Letter from Petr Iakovlevich Chaadaev is a dense philosophical letter about why Russia is and should continue to strive towards becoming a Westernized country. The letter begins with a response to a previous letter from a female friend of his. He focuses on reprimanding her regarding her recent moral or intellectual qualms and reinforcing the strength of religion in her life. By page 164, the argument shifts to a more westernized position and the argument for why Russia should want to be considered Western begins. The piece continues to define what Russia is and how that makes it a western society. The argument centers around religion, morality and historical ties and how all three of these need to be used to push Russia ever more towards the Western ideals and standards. He remarks on how Russia does not possess all that it should in regard to its historical memory as a country and chastises his society for latching onto any new thought that comes across. Leading to the belief that Chaadaev did not want people to keep changing their thoughts but instead focusing on what the Western philosophers were preaching. This gave the author a very enlightenment sort of vibe, Catherine the Great would have been proud. Continuing on, Chaadaev displays his connection between religion and westernization. He claims that Russia is a western country purely because they are Christian like the rest of Europe. On page 165, he readily states; “all Europe called itself Christendom and the term was used in public law” (Chaadaev 165). He further justifies this by saying if all of Europe is Christendom then Russia, a Christian nation, is a part of Christendom and therefore European. He also argues that Russia may be as moral if not more moral than Europe, further qualifying it as a western nation. He argues that the Russian society developed its moral compass from the European powers during the exploits of Peter the Great and has sense held fast to them and continued to live by those examples. An interesting argument given the Decembrist revolt was only a few years previous and that by this point the Russians were almost ten years into the Caucasian war. This long-winded letter ends with Chaadaev’s acknowledgement that though he could not make this brief, history in and of itself cannot be brief. His arguments stand as a good example of the Westernizers view in the intellectual argument over what kind of region does Russia belong to: The West, The East or is it its own Slavic Region?


  1. Looking at page 164, Chaadaev argues that Russia has no roots or history of its own. How does this help his overall argument that Russia should strive to be more Western?
  2. Chaadaev mentions the “Atmosphere of the West” (pg 165) and talks about how all of Europe was shaped by religion and ideologies that in return made Europeans more intellectual and modernize. Based on Russia’s past history, could the same be said?
  3. Around page 165, We see Chaadaev argue about the morality of Europe and how superior it is given it history, psychology and familial ties. If as argued previously, Russia has none of these things, how can Russia grow to be more like them? What does Chaadaev hope to see changed in the Russian Society to make it truly westernized? 
  4. Throughout the letter, Chaadaev uses many different points to convey his philosophical argument that Russia should’ve became more modernized because the rest of Europe was able to. Do his central themes of historical identity, religion and morality provide a through argument that Russia is Westernized?
  5. On page 170 at the start of the second paragraph, there is an argument about opinions and their role in society. Given the philosophical nature of this text, how can modern society take place in the realm of opinions when history is based on factual analysis and tangible evidence?
  6. Religion plays a huge role throughout this whole piece. On the bottom of page 171, Chaadaev attempts to claim that Russia is western because Christainity means westernization. How do we see this argument develop? Is it effective in proving his point?
  7. Pretend to be of the point of view of a slavophile. Are there holes in Chaadaev’s argument that Russia is a Western country and is continuing to westernize? Where do we see in the historical timeline, proof that Russia may still be more focused on the Slavic or eastern regions? 
  8. Towards the end of the letter, Chaadaev discusses what Christianity means to society. (Halfway down page 172) If Christianity is everything and unites everyone, is there any way to argue that all Christians are not inherently western? Are there other aspects of what makes a country Western that Chaadaev ignores? (Think also to page 165 where he refers to all of Europe as Christendom.)