THE AGONY OF THE PEOPLE'S WILL
L ATE in 1881 a conference of activists was held in Moscow. The results of its deliberations were meagre. Undismayed by the failure of previous efforts in that direction, the Party resolved to set up a special organization, the Christian Brotherhood, to be made up of Old Believers and sectarians converted to the cause of revolution. In the name of this nonexistent body, an encyclical was issued, in which the Czar's laws and regulations were declared 'contrary to God's commandments and the spirit of Christian teaching'. This was the last attempt dictated by the old notion that religious dissenters were particularly susceptible to revolutionary propaganda. Nothing further was heard of the Brotherhood.
The conference also decided to assassinate General Strelnikov, the exceptionally brutal prosecuting officer in the military courts of the South. All the preliminary preparations were made by Vera Figner, who had in fact proposed the measure, and on 18 March, 1882, in Odessa, an agent of the Executive Committee, fatally wounded the General. Khalturin, who two years previously had blown up the Winter Palace, was waiting in a carriage nearby to drive the assassin to safety. Both men were seized on the spot and hanged four days later under assumed names -- they had refused to disclose their identities.
Few other acts of violence were carried out or attempted during the lifetime of the People's Will. The work of the Party was practically confined to socialist propaganda among factory hands, conducted by a few local groups independently and without central direction.
When the Party's fortunes were at this low ebb there occurred a significant and rather paradoxical shift in its ideology. The issue of its organ dated 5 February, 1882, contained a striking statement. If the masses spontaneously effect a social revolution, at the time when the conspirators seize political power, the leading article read, then the task of the Provisional Government