Narodniks (Russian: Наро́дники) was the name for Russian socially conscious members of the middle class in the 1860s and 1870s. Their ideas and actions were known as Narodnichestvo (Наро́дничество) which can be translated as "Peopleism", though is more commonly rendered "populism". The term itself derives from the Russian expression "Going to the people" (Хождение в народ).



The Narodik position was held by intellectuals who read the works of Alexander Herzen and Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, whose convictions were refined by N.K Mikhailovskij. Marxism and capitalism was slowly becoming the norm of Russian intellectual thought, and Mikhailovskij, realizing this shift in thought, began to tweak his original ideas of Narodism, which formed two groups of Narodiks: the Critical Narodniks, and the Doctrinaire Nardniks.

Critical Narodniks followed Mikhailovskij, and assumed a flexible stance on capitalism, whilst adhering to their basic orientation. The more well known Narodniks, the Doctrinaire Narodniks had a firm belief that capitalism had no future in Russia, or any agricultural country.

Narodnism arose in Russia after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 (under Alexander II), which signalled the end of feudalism in Russia. Arguing that freed serfs were being sold into wage slavery, in which the bourgeoisie had replaced landowners, Narodnism aimed to become a political force opposed to the phenomenon. Narodniks viewed aspects of the past with nostalgia: although they resented the former land ownership system, they opposed the uprooting of peasants from the traditional obshchina (the Russian commune).

Narodniks focused upon the growing conflict between the peasantry and the so-called kulaks (i.e. the more prosperous farmers). The groups which formed shared the common general aims of destroying the Russian monarchy and the kulaks, and distributing land among the peasantry. The Narodniks generally believed that it was possible to skip capitalism and enter straight into socialism.

The Narodniks saw the peasantry as the revolutionary class that would overthrow the monarchy, and perceived the village commune as the embryo of socialism. However, they also believed that the peasantry would not achieve revolution on their own, insisting instead that history could only be made by outstanding personalities, who would lead an otherwise passive peasantry to revolution (see Great man theory). Vasilij Voroncov called for the Russian intelligentsia to "bestir itself from the mental lethargy into which, in contrast to the sensitive and lively years of the seventies, it had fallen and formulate a scientific theory of Russian economic development".[1] Some of Narodnik intellectuals however called for immediate revolution that went beyond philosophical and political discussion.

In the spring of 1874 the Narodnik intelligentsia left the cities for the villages, "going to the people", attempting to teach the peasantry their moral imperative to revolt. They found almost no support.

Given the Narodniks social background, generally middle and upper middle class, they found difficulty relating to Russian peasants and their culture. They spent much of their time learning peasant customs, such as clothing and dancing. On arriving into some villages Narodniks were viewed with suspicion by Russian peasants who were completely removed from the more modernized culture of the urban sphere. The Imperial secret police responded to the Narodniks' attempt with repression: revolutionaries and their peasant sympathizers were beaten, imprisoned and exiled. In 1877, the Narodniks revolted with the support of thousands of peasants. The revolt however was swiftly and brutally crushed.

In response to this repression Russia's first organized revolutionary party formed: Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will"). It favoured secret society-led terrorism, justified “as a means of exerting pressure on the government for reform, as the spark that would ignite a vast peasant uprising, and as the inevitable response to the regime's use of violence against the revolutionaries”.[2]

The attempt to get the peasantry to overthrow the Emperor was unsuccessful, due to the peasantry's idolisation of the latter as someone "on their side". Narodism therefore developed the practice of terrorism: the peasantry, they believed, must be shown that the Emperor was not supernatural, and could be killed. This theory, called "direct struggle", was meant to show an "uninterrupted demonstration of the possibility of struggling against the government, in this manner lifting the revolutionary spirit of the people and its faith in the success of the cause, and organising those capable of fighting".[3] On March 1, 1881, they succeeded in assassinating Tsar Alexander II. This success led to short-term failure, because the peasantry were generally horrified by the murder, and the government had many Narodnaya Volya leaders hanged, leaving the group unorganized and ineffective.[4]

These events however did not mark the end of the movement, and the later Socialist-Revolutionaries, Popular Socialists, and Trudoviks all pursued similar ideas and tactics to the Narodniks.[5] The philosophy and actions of the Narodniks therefore helped prepare the way for the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

Influence outside Russia

Narodnichestvo had a direct influence on politics and culture in Romania, through the writings of Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea and the advocacy of the Bessarabian-born Constantin Stere (who was a member of Narodnaya Volya in his youth). The various groups the latter helped found included one formed around the literary magazine Viaţa Românească (led by Stere, Garabet Ibrăileanu, and Paul Bujor).

Stere and the Poporanist (from popor, Romanian for "people", mirroring the origins of the term Narodnik) movement eventually rejected revolution altogether. Nevertheless, he shared the Narodnik view that capitalism was not a necessary stage in the development of an agrarian country (as argued within Marxism, a perspective which was to leave a mark on Ion Mihalache's Peasants' Party (and its successor, the National Peasants' Party), as well as on the philosophy of Virgil Madgearu.

See also


  1. ^ Von Laue, Theodore H. "The Fate of Capitalism in Russia: The Narodnik Version," American Slavic and Easy European Review,13, no. 1 (1954): 11-28.
  2. ^ Pearl, Deborah. “People’s Will, The.” Encyclopedia of Russian History, Ed. James R. Millar, 1162-1163.: Tomson Gale.
  3. ^ Narodnaya Volya program of 1879
  4. ^ Pearl, Deborah. “People’s Will, The.” Encyclopedia of Russian History, Ed. James R. Millar, 1162-1163.: Tomson Gale.
  5. ^ Glossary of Terms and Organisations


Pedler, Anne. "Going to the People. The Russian Narodniki in 1874-5." The Slavonic Review 6.16 (1927): 130-141. Web. 19 Oct. 2011

von Laue, Theodore H. "The Fate of Capitalism in Russia: The Narodnik Version." American Slavic and East European Review 13.1 (1954): 11-28. Web. 19 Oct. 2011

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