Narodnichestvo: Russian Populism
Dostoevsky's surprising desire to offer his next novel to the leading Populist journal, Notes of the Fatherland—edited by the poet Nekrasov and the deadly satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin, who had mercilessly pilloried him in the 1860s—is a direct outcome of the young intelligentsia's shift to an ideology known as nar- odnichestvo, or Russian Populism. This new tendency in radical ideology peaked during the Nechaev trial, whose effect was to destroy the Utilitarian morality (or lack of anything that could be called morality) of the 1860s. There is ample evidence that the stirring speeches made not only by the defense attorneys but also by some of the defendants in the name of liberty and justice produced a rousing effect on the student youth who flocked to the courtroom and jammed the benches. For many, as one contemporary wrote, “those being tried appeared as fighters struggling to free the people from the oppression of the government. The youth surrendered to the fascination of the battle for the ideas of truth and justice and tried to find a better path for bringing them into being' 1 than had been offered by Nechaevism.
The nationwide newspaper coverage revealed the tactics of Nechaev in all their sinister details, which led to a horrified revulsion even among those who sympathized with his aims. The considerable memoir literature left by the survivors of the Populist movement returns again and again to their sense of outrage when they learned the truth. Vera Figner, for example, wrote that Nechaev's “theory—that the end justifies the means—repelled us, and the murder of Ivanov filled us with disgust.” 2 (Nonetheless, she was later to become a member of the executive committee of the terrorist organization People's Will, which planned the assassination of Alexander II.)
The circles of radical youth that began to form now took the lessons of Nechaevism to heart and avoided any temptation to disregard morality in the higher interest of the revolutionary cause. Prince Peter Kropotkin—the scion of an ancient noble family destined for a distinguished career at the imperial court, who became instead both a noted scientist and an anarchist and
1 Cited in B. S. Itenberg, Dvizhenie revolyutsionnogo narodnichestvo (Moscow, 1965), 136.
2 Ibid., 136–137.
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Publication information: Book title: Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time. Contributors: Joseph Frank - Author, Mary Petrusewicz - Editor. Publisher: Princeton University Press. Place of publication: Princeton, NJ. Publication year: 2010. Page number: 682.
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