Road to Revolution: A Century of Russian Radicalism

By Avrahm Yarmolinsky | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
FORCE AND FRAUD

T HE meetings in Tkachev's lodging had been attended by a friend of the host, Sergey Nechayev, a non-matriculated student. The youth kept in the background and spoke little, but always to the point. His tone was ironic and cutting. He advocated action: open protest, street demonstrations, resistance to force. And he had no patience with democratic procedure.

As has been seen, in January 1869 the police stepped into the picture. They obtained a relatively large number of names of the bolder youths. It happened in this wise. After the Christmas vacation an attempt had been made, at Nechayev's suggestion, to collect the signatures of students who were ready to back a written demand on the authorities, a daring step indeed. The enterprise came to nothing, but the paper with ninety-seven signatures, which had been in Nechayev's hands, found its way into the files of the secret service. It has been conjectured that it was Nechayev himself who turned the list over to the authorities in order to compromise the signers, thus swelling the ranks of potential soldiers of the revolution.

He seems to have been summoned by the police for questioning or even detained for a short while. Be that as it may, he decided to withdraw from the scene. He made his exit in a characteristic manner.

At the end of January he vanished from the capital. Shortly afterwards a girl of his acquaintance, Vera Zasulich, received a communication from a stranger to the effect that just after a police coach carrying a prisoner had passed him by, he had found on the pavement a note, which he enclosed. The note, in Nechayev's hand, informed his friends that he had been arrested and was being taken to prison. The inquiries made by his sister were futile: the police knew of no such person under arrest. Then the rumour spread that he had escaped from the Fortress of Peter and Paul -- an unprecedented feat. During the weeks that followed it was whispered that he had been seen in Odessa,

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