Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism

Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism

Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism

Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism

Excerpt

'I can understand the French bourgeois bringing about the Revolution to get rights, but how am I to comprehend the Russian nobleman making a revolution to lose them? This question--first asked by the military governor of Moscow about the ill-fated Decembrist uprising of 1825--remains the most challenging one for any student of nineteenth-century Russian radicalism. To attempt an answer one must be willing to move into fields unfamiliar to the contemporary Western mind, to project oneself into an age and a society in which ideas were as real and compelling as economic or political forces. In seeking an answer one may gain a deeper understanding both of the Russian past and of the hopes and trials of contemporary radicals in other undeveloped and semi-westernized countries.

Of all the periods of nineteenth-century Russian thought, the most intense and turbulent was that which followed the reform period of the early 1860's and lasted until the early 1880's. During this period books were read and ideas discussed with a voracious enthusiasm that knows perhaps no modern Western parallel. During these years thousands of Russia's privileged classes went voluntarily among the destitute masses, and more attempts were made on the life of the Tsar than in any comparable period of modern Russian history. This was the Indian Summer of Imperial Russia--an age of passionate intensity which gave birth to the great creative works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Musorgsky, and Repin. Yet the populist movement, which was so central to it, has been largely ignored or distorted into caricature by historians.

This is an attempt to reconstruct in the context of its own time and place the story--not of the decline of the old Russia or the rise of the new--but of the radicalism of this age, and of Nicholas Mikhailovsky, who best expressed its ideas and most fully lived through its hopes and disappointments.

Mikhailovsky, like the age he lived in, has been long neglected by Soviet historians; and Western writers have, on the whole, collaborated in constructing a hagiography of early . . .

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