Neither the Lavrovists nor the buntars had anything to show for their pains. As the year 1876 wore on, the mood of disillusionment and discontent deepened. When autumn came, the activists still at liberty gathered in the capital and other centres as if by prearrangement. People who had been in various sections of the country had an opportunity to mingle and compare notes. It was plain that, as Kravcbinsky put it, socialist propaganda was making no more impression on the masses than a beanshooter would on a stone wall. Why had they failed to win the ear of the peasant? Had their message been too remote for his needs? Was there something basically wrong with their whole outlook? Both factions, as well as Tkachev's followers, agreed that the lack of co-ordination and centralization was a source of great weakness. What could be achieved, it was asked, by scattered handfuls of people, without a general staff, without a plan of concerted action? Each group, indeed, each individual had carried on independently, but was so linked with others that the mistakes of one endangered many. The slogan of the moment became: 'Let us organize!'
Out of this searching of souls came a revision of the programme and tactics of the movement. Out of it came also an attempt to bring the dispersed forces together in a secret society conceived on a national scale. For some time Mark Natanson, founder of the Chaikovsky Circle, had been applying his uncommon organizing abilities to that end. Having served his term of forced residence in a provincial town, he came back to the capital late in 1875 and immediately set to work. To establish connexions and gain recruits he visited the radical centres at home and travelled abroad, conferring with Lavrov in London and persuading several expatriates to return to Russia. His efforts led to the formation, in 1876, of the first fairly substantial revolutionary organization on Russian soil: the Society of Land and Liberty. Sometimes this league and those that succeeded it were spoken of as the Social-Revolutionary Party. In careful usage, however, that high-sounding phrase designated merely those who sympathized with the radical ideology. The Party, in this sense of the word, formed the loose medium within which associations of fully committed militants functioned. The name, Land and Liberty, it will be recalled, has already figured in these pages as that of a secret society which had a shadowy existence in the early 'sixties.
In June, 1877, arrest put a period to Natanson's activities. His wife stepped into the breach, but she, too, soon found herself behind bars. This was not an irreparable loss, for the society included several other able and zealous organizers. One of them was a former engineering student, Alexander Mikhailov, of whom more later. Another was Aron Zundelevich, who accomplished miracles as a smuggler of men and literature, and so was known as the society's Foreign Office. The membership's ranks were swelled by the prisoners released after the Great Trial. For a while they had formed a separate circle, headed by Sofya Perovskaya. Before long, however, she herself and most of her following were within the fold of Land and Liberty. Certain individuals and groups, particularly in the South, retained their distaste for the discipline that goes with organizational ties and preferred to remain unaffiliated, but they were under the influence of the Society and occasionally worked with it. In fact, its statutes provided for 'separatist' members who joined the Society on a contractual basis for the execution of a definite task and were otherwise free from any obligation to the Party.
At the outset Land and Liberty formulated its platform. 'We narrow down our demands,' this began, 'to those that can be realized in the near future, that is, to the demands and desires of the people.' The first and foremost of these was that the entire land be turned over to the peasants and distributed equally among them. 'We are convinced,' a parenthesis followed, 'that two thirds of the land will be held communally.' Another plank in the platform had to do with centralized State authority. The statement, as revised in April, 1878, opened thus: 'Our ultimate political and economic ideal is anarchy and collectivism.' The membership, however, was far from unanimous in favour-ing the abolition of the State. There were those who were content to leave it to the people to determine the political structure of the future society. Some were even prepared to retain the monarchy, if the citizenry so desired. The people were trusted to do right, or rather, it was assumed that right resulted from the exercise of their will.
The Society's objective, it was stated, could only be secured by means of a violent overturn. Herzen's ambivalent attitude toward the use of force had been overcome. The revolution must be carried out by the masses. Nothing should be forced upon them, or done behind their backs. All the Party could do was to offer the initial impetus and some guidance. And speed was of the essence of the matter. The growth of capitalist economy, sedulously fostered by the Government, was undermining the obshchina and perverting the people's ideas about land ownership and the ordering of society.
Populism now lost much of its vagueness. The loose ideological complex had become the credo of an organized revolutionary body. In the process the centre of gravity shifted from Socialism to the demands and beliefs of the people. 'Realizing the impossibility, under present conditions, of inculcating in the masses other and, from an abstract viewpoint, perhaps nobler ideals, we have resolved to write on our banner the historic formula, "Land and Liberty!"' Thus the revised platform of the Society. It was a deviation from what Herzen, Chernyshevsky, Bakunin, and Lavrov had taught, a deviation made at the end of a road strewn with disappointments. Those who were uneasy about the compromise had a ready poultice for their consciences. Since the Russians were inherent collectivists, they said to themselves, the satisfaction of the people's aspirations must inevitably lead to Socialism. Some felt that the Society's programme was simply the Russian variant of the foreign doctrine that Socialism was. Kraychinsky, who had joined Land and Liberty in the summer of 1878, wrote shortly afterwards: 'Five years ago we cast off German [i.e. European] clothes and put on homespun kaftans in the hope that the people would admit us into their midst. Now we see that it is not enough -- the time has come to strip the German clothes off Socialism itself and dress it, too, in homespun.' Whether or not these populists felt that they were making a concession to the force of circumstance, they believed that they were being wonderfully practical, indeed, that they were playing the game of Realpolitik.
Their programme met with some criticism. In a journal issued at Geneva by a group of Bakuninists, a dissenter warned against throwing Socialism overboard and acting in the name of popular ideals. For one thing, the liberty the masses desired was vague enough to admit of worship of the Czar. As for communal land ownership, it could easily bolster a state more conservative than any in existence. Did not the reactionaries themselves prize the obshchina as an insurance against social upheaval? And even if it were possible to effect an agrarian revolution, what of the growing proletariat in the cities? The working men, who were without a collectivist tradition, might well wreck the whole enterprise.
Land and Liberty could get little aid or comfort from the Lavrovists. Numerically they had always been weak, and they were rapidly losing ground. In December, 1876, delegates from the several circles met in Paris. This was the first, and the last, Lavrovist conference. In the course of it Lavrov resigned his editorship of Vperiod! The relations between him and his flock had become strained for reasons not only ideological but personal as well. His predicament was not unlike what Herzen's had been a decade earlier. Furthermore, the financial support received by the review had become irregular, and its staff was reduced to semi-starvation.
Thus, by the end of 1876 the faction was without a leader and without an organ. The miscellany bearing the title Forward! managed to come out once more, in 1877, but the biweekly folded up. Lavrov withdrew temporarily into private life. A few of his former disciples continued to spread Socialism among factory hands and called themselves Marxists. Others argued that the work of organizing the proletariat could not begin until the liberals had obtained political freedom for the people. In the meantime they confined themselves to peaceful activities of a cultural nature. According to Lavrov himself, by 1878 the group lowered its flag and ceased to exist.
It was the Bakuninist faction that lived on in the Society of Land and Liberty. The revolutionary populists were buntars who had come to see things in a less unreal light and who, moreover, showed less resistance to organizational discipline.
According to the statutes of the Society, it consisted of regional and functional groups, with a Centre or Basic Circle, situated in the capital. This was in effect a close-knit body of professional revolutionists. Completely dedicated men and women, they could own no property and were subject to the control of the organization in personal matters, but they were not required to adopt the people's mode of living. They elected a small executive committee and were supposed to meet in plenary session from time to time. The Centre imposed a certain amount of discipline on the subsidiary groups, but left them a large measure of autonomy. Their activity was confined to a definite area or to a special type of work, and the demands made on the members were, apparently, not exacting. There was considerable opposition to tightening the organizational ties. One gets the impression that not a few of the provisions of the statutes remained on paper.
No more than a score of activists made up the Centre. The rest of the membership, including 'the separatists' mentioned above and fellow travellers, probably never exceeded two hundred. This handful comprised nearly all the most earnest and energetic spirits that the revolutionary cause could muster at the time.
Attached to the Centre was an establishment for the forging of identity papers, which was called, with an unwonted attempt at humour, the Heavenly Chancery. There was also a clandestine press. This was a precious possession, a symbol of power, at once a rallying ground and a sanctum. Kravchinsky recalled that he entered the dingy flat where it was installed 'with the sense of awe experienced by the faithful crossing the threshold of a temple.' The establishment was presided over by middle-aged, near-sighted Maria Krylova, nicknamed 'Mother of God.' She and her assistants led a life of voluntary imprisonment in the quarters which housed the shop. The fewest persons were permitted to enter the premises, in order to bring supplies and take away the printed matter. The press managed to carry on for four years under the very noses of the gendarmes. From it came an account of the Great Trial, some two score leaflets and pamphlets, as well as the Society's two organs. Some of the issues of the latter ran to three thousand copies. The Party no longer depended on the emigres for underground literature.
The revolutionaries were acquiring mastery of some of the elements of conspiratorial technique. They had learned certain tricks to throw off undercover men. For meetings they maintained special quarters, which were also used as hide-outs and communication posts. Such a kvartira was usually a modest flat rented by an actually or nominally married couple who kept a 'maid.' Hers was the most difficult part, for she had to deal with the other servants in the house, the porter and the tradespeople. Every effort was made not to arouse the suspicion of the neighbours. Care was taken to choose a lodging with windows facing the street or courtyard. A signal in one of them was a warning.
Counter-espionage was carried on for the Society by a member who was a Government clerk. At Mikhailov's suggestion, this Nikolay Kletochnikov entered the service of the Third Division and, having access to the secret files, kept the organization informed of the activities of the police.
Contributions from sympathizers formed a considerable part of the Society's income. Another source was the sale of publications. Twelve hundred copies of the first issue of Land and Liberty were sold on the day of its appearance. Of course, the Party had at its disposal the property of the members of the Centre. Among them was 'the millionaire,' also known as 'the saint of the revolution,' Dmjtry Lizogub [Under a transparent pseudonym he figures in Tolstoy's story, 'Human and Divine,' as a revolutionary whose heart is open to the message of Christ.], who had inherited a fortune worth 150,000 to 180,000 roubles and who wished nothing better than to devote all he had to the cause. But before his possessions could be turned into ready cash he was arrested, and in the end the Society got only a sum estimated between a few hundred and a few thousand roubles. The recently published expense account of Land and Liberty shows that during the last ten months of its existence the total outlay amounted to 5,964 roubles and 95 kopecks.
The act by which Land and Liberty first drew public attention to itself was a meeting on 6 December, 1876, in front of the Kazan Cathedral in Petersburg. This was the first open reyolutionary demonstration to take place in Russia. 'Three or four hundred participants, mainly students, gathered in the cathedral, where they ordered a prayer for the health of 'God's slave' Nikolay, meaning Chernyshevsky, and others, all martyrs to the people's cause. When the crowd emerged from the cathedral, an impromptu speech was made by a fiery young student, one Georgy Plekhanov, whose name was to become inextricably linked with the history of Russian Socialism. He excoriated the Government for rotting the country's best sons in prison. Thereupon a peasant lad, waving a red banner on which the words 'Land and Liberty' were embroidered in white silk, was hoisted on the shoulders of the crowd. A girl with flowing hair cried 'Forward!' and the demonstrators, swelled by the curious, moved down the Nevsky shouting: "Long live Land and Liberty! Long live the people! Death to the czars!' A few minutes later the procession was broken up by policemen, plain-clothes men and hoodlums. Some of the marchers were severely beaten. Over thirty men and women were seized, a few of them innocent bystanders and none of them members of the Society. They were given a speedy trial and received heavy penalties.
It appears that the demonstration had originally been planned by a group of workmen as a protest against the hardships of their lot, but that the students had taken it over, much to the disgust of the factory hands. The 'seventies were a period of rapid industrial expansion, and, what with the shameless exploitation that prevailed, there was considerable labour unrest. The decade was marked by sixty-six strikes in Petersburg alone. The Society did not fail to take advantage of the situation. It had a hand in several of the strikes that occurred in the capital. A leaflet that it printed was composed by the strikers themselves and entitled: The Voice of the People Housed By and Working For the Rascal Maxel (Maxwell, a manufacturer of British extraction). The populists no longer sought to convert factory workers in order to provide agitators for the villages. It was beginning to be realized that the wage-earners, though a product of the evil bourgeois order, had great revolutionary potentialities and could become a valuable ally of their rural fellow workers.
Already at this time there existed in the capital the nucleus of a revolutionary organization of a purely proletarian complexion: The Northern Union of Russian Workers. An offshoot of a workmen's circle, it came into being late in 1878 and was headed by two men of the people. The metal workers, who made up most of the membership -- this amounted to some two hundred men -- were a refractory lot. They were rather antagonistic to their mentors, the students, resenting particularly the factional strife to which these intellectuals were addicted. The Union lasted only a year. Two secret service agents, a married couple, found their way into it, and as a result the police were able to crush it. A remnant of the organization managed to start the first Russian underground paper written for and by city workers. The proof sheets of the initial, and last, issue of Rabochaya zarya (Workers' Dawn) were seized, together with the Union's press, in March, 1880.
Work among various sections of the population was conducted by special groups. A futile attempt was made to win over religious sectarians. The notion that they were particularly accessible to revolutionary propaganda had a strong hold on the radicals. Apparently nothing was done to enlist highway robbers, described in the statutes as a promising social category. Much attention was given to the student body. This was in a constant state of unrest. The Society had a hand in the disturbances which occurred in the universities in 1878. A member composed the petition requesting the right to form corporate organizations, which the students of the Medico-Surgical Institute in the capital handed to the Heir Apparent. The disorders resulted only in arrests and deportations.
The peasants continued to be the main object of concern. As few propagandists were available, it was decided to confine activities to the section of the Volga region extending from Nizhny-Novgorod (now Gorky) to Astrakhan, as a land where the tradition of rebellion was believed to be still alive. Flying propaganda tours were now no longer in order. The agitators were to live among the peasants and become 'citizens' of the locality where they were settled. It was not essential that they should disguise themselves as men or women of the people. They might choose an occupation that befitted an educated person. Once they had gained the confidence of the people, they were to take advantage of their position to stimulate in the villagers a sense of dignity and solidarity, to bolster up the prestige of the mir, to teach them how to protect their interests in the day-to-day struggle against landowners and officials. This was called 'propaganda by facts.' The settlers were also to seek out malcontents and born leaders, and form fighting units in preparation for local risings which were to be a prelude to a general overturn. The idea of using fraudulently the people's faith in the Czar for purposes of agitation was broached but resolutely rejected. The Chigirin affair was generally frowned upon. It had been carried out by men outside the ranks of Land and Liberty.
Ambitious plans were made: the agitators in each province were to be directed by a 'centre' in the provincial capital, and all the threads were to converge in the Basic Circle. Actually no more than a score of men and women established themselves in several villages. They did not stay there very long. Some found their humdrum tasks uncongenial; others had to leave their posts because they were compromised by the arrest of a comrade or because the hostility of the local powers proved too much for them. Vera Figner's was a case in point. It will be recalled that she had remained in Switzerland, when the rest of 'the Frietsch girls' left, to complete her medical course. But in response to Natanson's call she had returned home a few months before graduation. Now a member of Land and Liberty, she settled as a nurse in a Samara (now Kuibyshev) village. Overwhelmed by the poverty and squalor in which the villagers lived, she was too busy with her hordes of patients to think of anything but the immediate task. 'As far as propaganda was concerned,' she wrote in her memoirs, 'I didn't even open my mouth.' In the midst of her absorbing work she had to disappear because a letter involving her was found on an arrested comrade.
By the end of 1879 there wasn't a single clandestine rural cell in existence. Populism had suffered another defeat.
Aside from propaganda, which fell under the head of 'organization,' the Society's statutes called for disorganizing activities. These included the liberation of prisoners. On 11 August, 1876, even before Land and Liberty had come into being, several of Kropotkin's comrades contrived his escape from a prison hospital located on the outskirts of the capital. Smuggled out of Russia, he remained an emigre until in his old age the Revolution enabled him to repatriate^ himself. He died in 1921, a staunch opponent of the Soviet regime. After the conclusion of the Great Trial a futile attempt was made to free Myshkin. The escape of Stefanovich and two of his comrades from a Kiev jail was engineered, in May 1878, by Frolenko, who had hired himself out as a prison guard and came to be entrusted with the keys to the cells.
Doing away with informers was another 'disorganizing' practice. An unsuccessful attempt to kill one was made in June, 1876. The same year a spy was killed. The following year a renegade turned informer was dispatched. The youthful idealists were developing a cold cruelty. By its high-handed and often brutal treatment of propagandists, the Government was 'turning flies into hornets,' as one of them phrased it. They took to carrying concealed firearms, and sometimes these went off. In 1878 and 1879 there were several cases of armed resistance to arrest.
Under the heading of 'disorganization' the statutes prescribed 'systematic destruction of the most harmful or prominent members of the Government, and in general of people who are the mainstay of the political and social order we hate.' There was nothing systematic about this terrorism. It began as spontaneous acts of self-defence and revenge.
The first official thus attacked was General Trepov, Chief of Police in the capital. On 25 July, 1877, he visited the House of Preliminary Detention, where political prisoners were held pending trial or transfer to another jail. Annoyed by the behaviour of a certain Bogolubov. who had just been condemned to fifteen years of hard labour for demonstrating before the Kazan Cathedral, he ordered him flogged. Although Trepov's order was illegal, it was carried out with the approval of the Minister of Justice. Bogolubov's comrades in prison were roused to a frenzy of protest. When the news leaked out, indignation in radical circles knew no bounds. Several men came from the South, bent on vengeance. They were forestalled by Vera Zasulich, the young woman first mentioned in connexion with Nechayev's exploits.
Because of a letter received from him, she had been imprisoned for two years, then deported, and afterwards, while she was in Kharkov studying to be a midwife, kept under police surveillance. Eventually she fell in with a group of buntars. Since the spring of 1877 she had been in the capital, working as a typesetter on the press of Land and Liberty. When she heard of the outrage committed against Bogolubov, who was a complete stranger to her, she inquired if the Society was planning any action against Trepov, and received an evasive answer. Time was passing, and nothing was being done. She decided to take matters into her own hands.
She was staying with another girl, and the two made up their minds that on the same day they would attempt to assassinate both Trepov and the prosecutor in the Great Trial, which was then drawing to a close. They postponed action until the verdict was handed down, so as not to influence it adversely. Vera Zasulich described her state as neither life nor death, but she was completely self-possessed. The trial came to an end on 23 January, 1878, and the following morning she called on the Chief of Police while he was receiving petitioners and fired a shot at him point-blank, inflicting a grave, though not fatal, wound. To avoid injuring anyone else, she promptly dropped the revolver and gave herself up. Her comrade failed to get her man: he happened not to receive visitors when she called at his office.
Curiously enough, the would-be assassin was held to be not a political, but a common criminal. And so the case was tried publicly by a jury. There was no doubt in anyone's mind as to the verdict. It happened that the counsel for the defence, unlike the prosecutor, was a brilliant lawyer and the presiding judge a man of liberal sympathies. During the proceedings there were moments when it seemed that Trepov, not the assailant, was on trial. Nevertheless, the verdict of not guilty brought in by the jury on 31 March came as a complete surprise to the prisoner, while delighting a large segment of the public, including some highly stationed functionaries.
Vera Zasulich became the heroine of the hour, admired even in the salons, though there was some disappointment at her being a dowdy girl with somewhat Mongoloid features, past her first youth, who had the unpleasant habit of shouting like one deaf when she forgot herself. 'Glory to the Russian nation that has produced a woman capable of such a deed!' wrote Plekhanov in a special leaflet issued by Land and Liberty. Another underground sheet declared her acquittal to be the beginning of a new era. According to the Revue des Deux Mondes, for forty-eight hours Europe forgot everything to talk only of the new Judith, the Muscovite CharlotteCorday. There were sanguine spirits who saw the jury's amazing verdict as the fall of the Russian Bastille.
The Bastille stood firm. An hour or two after the court was emptied, the Czar issued an order for the girl's rearrest. The word was late in reaching the prison, to which she had returned to fetch her belongings, and she emerged from the gates unmolested, to be greeted by an enthusiastic crowd and borne down the street. Police and gendarmes soon appeared on the scene. They placed her in a carriage and attempted to disperse the assemblage. A scuffle ensued, in the course of which several shots rang out, and when it was over, there remained on the spot the body of a nineteen-year-old boy. Land and Liberty blamed the gendarmes for his death. Vera Zasulich believed that he had committed suicide. If so, he acted either in a state of hysterical exaltation or in an effort to distract the attention of the police from their quarry. As a matter of fact, in the confusion the girl was whisked off, and a few days later escaped abroad, settling in Geneva, where Henri Rochefort, the Communard, found a room for her.
In one sense her shot did open a new era: it initiated a series of acts of violence on the part of the revolutionaries. In February a spy was killed and an attempt was made on the life of the assistant public prosecutor in Kiev. In May the Chief of the Gendarmerie in the same city was assassinated. The Government was not intimidated. Political prisoners continued to be mistreated, and on 2 August there was an execution in Odessa of a revolutionary who in resisting arrest wounded some of his captors. Two days later Kravchinsky, who had returned from abroad to edit the organ of Land and Liberty, stabbed to death General Mezentzev, the head of the Third Division, in broad daylight in the very heart of the capital. He had attacked his victim as he did on the chivalrous theory that only a hired murderer struck from behind, and he escaped in a carriage drawn by the very racehorse that had carried Kropotkin to liberty. The effect of this terrorist act was stunning. It was as if the city woke up that morning, the~assassin wrote, to find 'that the ground under it was mined.' Years afterwards a comrade of Kravchinsky remarked that in view of the utter inefficiency of the police under Mezentzev, every effort should have been made to protect the man.
The Government's reply to this assassination was a ukase handing over all political offences involving the use of force to military courts. This proved no deterrent. In February, 1879, Prince Dmitry Kropotkin, cousin of the anarchist and himself Governor-General of Kharkov, who was held responsible for the brutal treatment of politicals in the Kharkov Central Prison, was fatally wounded, and in March there was an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Mezentzev's successor. This was General Drenteln, who had erected deportation to the dreaded Yakutsk tundras into a system. [The attack was carried out by Leon Mirski, a twenty-year-old student. He is said to have been motivated, in part, by the desire to impress his fiancee, who had been thrilled by Kravchinsky's exploit. Arrested several months later and incarcerated in the Fortress of Peter and Paul, it was he who is believed to have informed against his fellow prisoner, Nechayev.] Also two spies were done away with. Then, on the morning of 2 April, Alexander Solovyov, an 'illegal' who had returned to Petersburg from a village settlement, discharged a revolver at the Emperor as the latter, in taking his constitutional, was crossing the Palace Square, but did not injure him. The assailant was seized, court-martialled, and, on 28 May, hanged. 'He combined the courage of a hero,' Vera Figner wrote of him, 'with the self-abnegation of an ascetic and the kindness of a child.' Earlier in the month Valerian Osinsky, a fragile youth who was the leading Southern terrorist, was executed after watching the capital punishment of two comrades. Before the end of the year eleven men, including Lizogub, were put to death.
At first the 'disorganizing' activities were warmly acclaimed by the membership of Land and Liberty. Soon, however, 'terror,' as these acts came to be called, began to be frowned upon. Some held that it was using up too large a share of the Society's severely limited resources, both human and financial. Moreover, along with the emphasis on terror went an ideological shift that was heresy and, indeed, apostasy in the eyes of simon-pure populists. These believed that 'disorganizing' should play a subordinate part and be employed only as a weapon of self-defence. It was not the business of Land and Liberty, they argued, to kill high Government officials, but to arouse the masses to active protest in the name of their economic interests. The propertied classes -- they were the enemy. 'Let the Government take a neutral stand in the duel between the revolutionists and the exploiters,' Kravchinsky, for one, was naive enough to say, 'and it will not be molested.' In any event, political regimes were a matter of indifference to the people. When the forest was cleared away, the wolves perished of themselves: once the iniquitous social order was destroyed, the monarchy would collapse of its own weight.
This strict apolitical stand, an aberration characteristic of Populism, was, however, beginning to be seriously challenged. The idea of an offensive against the monarchy in the name of political democracy was coming to the fore. The attempt to rouse the masses had obviously failed. And that in spite of the fact that the agitators were no longer callow youths and that they had adopted what they considered a practical programme. In an effort to find a way out of the impasse, the populists were beginning to question some of the dogmata of their faith. Might not a constitutional regime guaranteeing civil liberties prove a blessing, after all? The propertied classes could not be expected to battle for such a regime. The monarchy gave them all they wanted: cheap labour and freedom to plunder. It was therefore incumbent on the revolutionists to fight the autocracy, taking care not to sacrifice the distant goal to the nearer one. If the greater revolution could not yet be carried out, perhaps a less ambitious programme could be effected by conspirators striking a blow at the central Government. Terroristic acts were being committed in self-defence and in vengeance; could not terrorism be used as a weapon of offence, designed to wrest from the Czar liberal concessions? Would not heroic deeds shatter the apathy of the masses and destroy the prestige of the Government?
As the year 1878 opened this prestige was at a low ebb. The Russo-Turkish conflict had laid bare the incompetence and corruption of the bureaucracy, and the Treaty of Berlin, signed in July, was a humiliating conclusion to an inglorious and costly war. It seemed an easy matter to overthrow a regime so deficient in leadership. The first issue of Land and Liberty, dated October, 1878, had it that the revolution was a question of days, perhaps of hours. Even the patient liberals were stirring. Shortly after the assassination of Mezentzev the Emperor appealed to the population for assistance in combating the revolutionary movement. In response one zemstvo board hinted, in an address to the Czar, that the sovereign who had liberated the Bulgarians from the Turkish yoke and granted them a representative regime could do no less for the Russian people who had borne the burden of the war. There were liberals who went so far as to negotiate for a common front with the revolutionists. It is possible that the lull in terrorist acts during the winter of 1878-9 was the result of these discussions. A few arrests and deportations, and the flare-up of the constitutional movement was over, but it had encouraged the political orientation within Land and Liberty.
This orientation was strongest in the South. Radicals of Jewish birth, belonging as they did to a group that was denied elementary human rights, were apt to welcome a liberal regime more warmly than others. Aron Zundelevich, for one, said that he loved America. Civil liberties figure in the platform of the Northern Union of Russian Workers, printed early in 1879. In Plekhanov's words, it made the orthodox populists feel like a hen that had hatched a duckling. When in the pages of Land and Liberty the Union was gently but firmly upbraided for tainting Populism with political demands, it had the good sense to retort that there was nothing inconsistent about fighting for social revolution and fighting for 'political liberty,' since the one would be served by the other.
The political trend found its most extreme expression in a splinter group, the Society of the People's Liberation, which originated late in 1877. It consisted of Tkachev and the handful of his fellow 'Jacobins' at home and abroad. Nabat, the little review which he ran, was its organ. According to its statutes, the organization aimed to overthrow the monarchy and, having seized power, decree an order based on political and economic equality. 'That the Society may flourish and achieve its great aims,' Section 12 runs, 'all means are considered good.' Land and Liberty professed the same belief, but adhered to the standards of ordinary morality, while the Society of the People's Liberation reverted to Nechayev's ways. Its allegedly all-powerful Central Committee urged the members to spy on one another and to infiltrate other revolutionary organizations, so as to bore from within.
The few leaflets bearing the Society's imprint stress the conquest of political power and play down the social revolution. A pamphlet brought out soon after Vera Zasulich's shot is the earliest attempt to justify the tactics of systematic terror. It scorns 'anarchist chimeras and Utopias' as well as 'bourgeois theories of individual freedom,' hails a return to the path followed by Karakozov and Nechayev, urges that type be melted down for bullets and shots be substituted for sermons.
It is uncertain if the Society of the People's Liberation attempted to put its theories into practice. Its following was very small, but not negligible, at a time when all the radical trends were represented by lilliputian groups. It claimed credit for the acts of terror which marked the year 1878. This the populists, including Vera Zasulich, Kravchinsky, and Stefanovich, flatly denied, declaring publicly that Russian social-revolutionaries could have nothing in common with the editors of Nabat or the theories they promote. It is not impossible that the group had a hand in some terrorist acts. The expropriation of the Kherson branch of the Imperial Treasury in the summer of 1879 was the work of a member of the Society. A million and a half roubles were taken, but the police recovered most of the money.
Late in 1878, at a conference of the editors of Land and Liberty, Morozov remarked that he intended to contribute an article to Nabat. A fellow editor recoiled in horror. 'There isn't a single revolutionary in Russia,' he cried, 'who would approve the seizure of the government by a group of conspirators.' Morozov ventured to doubt this, and justly. 'If there are such,' was the response, 'they are our enemies!'
The question of the place of terrorism in the activities of Land and Liberty had become a storm centre. The advocates of the dagger and the pistol looked down upon the derevenshchiks ('villagists,' i.e., partisans of work among the peasantry) as ne'er-do-wells, as peaceful triflers, while the latter regarded the terrorists as renegades. The unity of the organization was in jeopardy.
The lack of harmony was particularly glaring in the management of the review, Land and Liberty. The editorial board was a house divided against itself. It consisted of Kravchinsky, Klemenz, and Morozov. Kravchinsky, although he had himself carried out a spectacular political murder, held no brief for terror and was, indeed, like Klemenz, an orthodox narodnik. On the other hand, Morozov was an enthusiastic adherent of a terrorist conspiracy against the Government. A frail, gentle youth, he cast himself in the role of a William Tell and walked around armed to the teeth.
When Kravchinsky escaped abroad, he was replaced by Plekhanov and Tikhomirov, a new member of the group. Tikhomirov kept to the middle of the road, but Plekhanov was an uncompromising enemy of the political orientation and of terror. As a result, Morozov found himself blocked. Yet the paper failed to maintain a consistent policy on the acute question of terrorism and presented a spectacle of ideological confusion. This by no means disconcerted those who, like Mikhailov, cared little for theory. What was important, he said, was not the contents of the journal, but the fact that it was printed and distributed in defiance of the law.
In March, 1879, the Society started another periodical, Listok (Bulletin), which came out at shorter intervals. Here Morozov had things rather his own way, except that he had to cope with the head printer, Maria Krylova, a fanatical 'villagist,' who went into hysterics whenever she was handed copy with the tenor of which she disagreed. Listok was, in fact, the organ of the terrorist faction of the Society. Its second issue carried a paean to 'political assassination' as the most effective weapon in the revolutionary arsenal. The article brought home to all the conviction that the Society was headed for a split.
The terrorists were mostly active in the South. In a sense they were an organization -- a very loose one -- within an organization. Their link with the Petersburg Centre was weak. Never numbering more than fifteen, they styled themselves 'The Executive Committee of the Social-Revolutionary Party.' Its seal, showing an axe, a dagger, and a revolver crossed, was first used in a leaflet issued by the Committee on the occasion of the murder of a spy in Rostov on 1 February, 1878. Such leaflets, listing the charges against the victim, were usually issued after each terrorist act. The Committee also sent warnings and threats to officials.
Solovyov's attempted regicide caused a great stir in the Society. On arriving in the capital, he had applied to Land and Liberty for assistance in carrying out his plan. The meeting at which the matter was discussed witnessed a violent clash of the two factions. The orthodox populists argued that the people's veneration for the Czar should be respected, that an attack on him might result in a popular outburst against the propagandists settled in the villages and lead to reprisals threatening the existence of the Society. Some wanted the would-be regicide seized and tied up as a madman.
In the end it was decided that the Society could not offer the man any aid, but that neither could it forbid individual members to help him. He was refused the use of the racehorse that had whisked Kropotkin and Kravchinsky to liberty and that was kept in a livery stable for just such occasions. But several members enabled him to obtain the revolver he fired at the Czar and the dose of poison with which he unsuccessfully tried to kill himself.
As was anticipated, Solovyov's shot led to severe repressive measures, which hampered the Society's activities. Under these circumstances, was the attempt on the Czar's life to be repeated? And how was the factional struggle to be dealt with? Something had to be done. It was finally agreed to call a conference in Voronezh to decide the future policy of the organization. The city boasted a venerable shrine visited by throngs, and it was thought that the simultaneous arrival of a dozen or two men and women would not attract attention.
The partisans of political action overestimated the strength of their opponents. They believed that, being in the minority, they would simply be expelled from the Society. They resolved to organize beforehand, so as to be able to act as a group immediately upon expulsion. Accordingly, on 15 June, they gathered, secretly from the rest, at Lipetzk, not far from Voronezh. The meetings -- they lasted three days -- were held in a grove which was the town's picnicking grounds. In all a dozen persons participated in the deliberations. They included several activists who were not members of the Society, as well as Stepan Shiryayev, the moving spirit of a newly formed terrorist circle, which went by the name of 'Liberty or Death' and seems to have been loosely affiliated with Land and Liberty. The conferrers acted as though the schism had already taken place. On the other hand, they were willing to continue under the banner of the Society, provided they were free to carry on the fight in their own way. The gathering deviated sufficiently from populist orthodoxy to pronounce itself for a political revolution, with terror as part of its tactics. It also adopted the elaborate statutes of a conspiratorial society, centralized, hierarchical, close-knit. Mikhailov made a fiery speech, which was an indictment of the Czar and pointed to a continuation of the attempts at regicide.
From Lipetzk the conferrers made their way to Voronezh to take part in the conventicle there. Opening on 18 June, this went on for three or four days and was attended by a score of men and women. It happened that the 'politicals' were in the majority, so that their expulsion was out of the question. The spirit of compromise ruled the conference. Alone Plekhanov took an intransigeant stand, arguing that terror was incompatible with propaganda among the masses and indeed meant the death of revolutionary Populism. He stomped out of the conference in a huff and sent in his resignation, pointing out, among other things, that the 'disorganizing' activities were disorganizing not the Government but the Society.
The programme of Land and Liberty was left practically intact. Propaganda was placed on an equal footing with 'disorganizing' activities, which were to include a kind of agrarian terrorism, resembling Irish 'Ribbonism,' and a majority voted for regicide. The Executive Committee, as the terrorist group continued to be known, was allotted one third of the funds and given full autonomy. Moreover, the 'politicals' managed to secure control of the Society's journal and to get two of their men, Mikhailov and Frolenko, on to a newly elected three-man Board.
After Solovyov's shot it became impossible to continue the propaganda among the Petersburg workmen, so Plekhanov, who had quit the Society, went to Kiev. Mikhailov, too, happened to be there. The former friends were now profoundly at variance. '1 love the work among the people.' Mikhailov told Plekhanov's wife, 'I was ready to carry it on at any cost, but ... we are powerless to accomplish anything under the autocracy, all our people will perish without results. We have only one alternative: either to give up revolutionary activity or engage the government in single combat. We have enough strength, heroism, capacity tor self-sacrifice to follow the latter course.'
For a while it looked as though Land and Liberty had weathered the storm. It was a storm in a tea-cup: at the time of the Voronezh conference the regular membership of the Society consisted of thirty-three men and women. But the peace that had been patched up was a bad peace. Friction between the two factions, far from ceasing, had increased. Reinforced by new arrivals from abroad, including Stefanovich and Vera Zasulich, who, curiously enough, abhorred the emphasis on terror and the trend toward political revolution, the 'vil-lagists' started planning to resume work among the peasants, but no serious effort was possible: energy was used chiefly to remove misunderstandings and stop wrangles. Not a single issue of either Land and Liberty or The Bulletin appeared after the conference. There was no mending the breach. So distressing was the schism that it is said to have driven one youth to attempt suicide. The situation was all the graver as arrests had nearly wiped out the cells in the South and had weakened the Northern Centre.
There was no alternative but to sever the ties that connected the 'Executive Committee" with the Society. A commission was appointed to liquidate the organization and divide the assets between the two factions. On 15 August, 1879, Land and Liberty ceased to exist.