SECTION FIVE: Opposition: ideas and ideologies; individuals; liberals and radical groups and the Tsarist reaction

SIberia, 19th Century

In mid to late late 19th Century, new political ideas were developing in Russia and some were entering Russia from Europe. The volatility of Russia after the emancipation of the serfs partly explains why new political movements emerged. The other major factor was that Russia was experiencing industrialisation and its economy was becoming integrated with more advanced Europe and everyday life from the countryside to the cities was in transition.


Russian populism was a political and social movement that emerged in the 19th century in response to the challenges faced by the Russian Empire. It was characterized by a focus on the needs and concerns of the common people, and a belief in the power of the masses to bring about change.

The Russian populist movement emerged in the 1860s and 1870s, and was influenced by a number of factors, including the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 and the growing industrialization of the country. Populists believed that the government was not doing enough to address the needs of the people, and called for a number of reforms, including greater political freedom and equality, land reform, and improved living and working conditions.

Russian populists were diverse in their views and approaches, but they shared a belief in the power of the people to bring about change. Some populists called for the use of violent means to achieve their goals, while others advocated for peaceful, democratic change. Many populists were also influenced by socialist ideas, and called for the creation of a more equal and just society.

The populist movement in Russia faced significant challenges, and was often suppressed by the government. Many populists were arrested, exiled, or executed for their activities.

For a one page study overview of the period click here

Going To The People

In the mid 1870s, the first large scale attempts to introduce revolutionary ideas to the Russian peasants were attempted.

This movement was led by a group of radical intellectuals and students who sought to bring about political and social change through the education and mobilization of the peasantry.

The “going to the people” movement was inspired by the idea that the peasants, who made up the majority of the population in Russia, had the potential to be a powerful force for change. The intellectuals and students who participated in the movement believed that by living among the peasants and teaching them about revolutionary ideas, they could inspire them to rise up and demand reform.

However, the “going to the people” movement was not successful in achieving its goals. The peasants were largely uninterested in the revolutionary ideas being promoted by the intellectuals, and the movement was unable to gain significant support among the peasantry. In addition, the government took a number of steps to suppress the movement, and many of the intellectuals and students who participated in it were arrested or exiled.

The failure of the movement showed other revolutionary groups that the peasants were not a suitable social group for advancing the cause of the revolution. They realised that most peasants were interested on acquiring land, they had little time for, or understanding of revolutionary ideas and mass illiteracy was a significant obstacle in bringing about revolutionary change.

Narodnaya Volya

The Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) party was a political party in Russia that emerged in the late 1870s. It was a revolutionary party that sought to bring about political and social change through the use of violent means.

The Narodnaya Volya party was founded in 1879 by a group of radical intellectuals who were dissatisfied with the slow pace of reform in Russia. They believed that the government was not responsive to the needs of the people, and that it was necessary to use violent means to bring about change.

The Narodnaya Volya party was a small and secretive organization, and its members were dedicated to the revolutionary cause. They carried out a number of high-profile assassinations, including the successful assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881.

Despite its small size, the Narodnaya Volya party had a significant impact on the political landscape of Russia. Its members were instrumental in bringing about political change, and their efforts helped to pave the way for the Russian Revolution of 1917. However, the party was also controversial, and its use of violence was widely condemned. It was eventually suppressed by the government, and many of its members were arrested or executed.


Marxist ideas came relatively late to Russia. The revolutionary credited with introducing Marxism to Russia was Georgi Plekhanov.

Plekhanov was a Russian Marxist theorist and activist who played a key role in introducing Marxist ideas to Russia. He is credited with translating the works of Karl Marx into Russian, and with helping to establish the foundations of the Russian Marxist movement.

Plekhanov was born in 1856 in the Russian Empire, and became involved in political activism at a young age. He was a member of the populist movement in Russia, and was deeply influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx. In the 1880s, Plekhanov began translating the works of Marx into Russian, and used these translations to spread Marxist ideas among the Russian intelligentsia.

Plekhanov was a key figure in the Russian Marxist movement, and was instrumental in establishing the first Marxist political party in Russia, the Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.

The Russian Social Democratic Party

The Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was replaced by the Russian Social Democratic Party as the dominant underground Marxist party in Russia. It was founded in 1898, and was initially a broad and diverse party, and it included a range of different factions and ideological tendencies. It was divided into two main wings: the Bolshevik wing, which was led by Vladimir Lenin, and the Menshevik wing, which was led by Julius Martov. The party split in 1903 into two new groups, the progressive Mensheviks (minority) and the revolutionary Bolsheviks (majority) – we will examine both groups in more depth in later sections.

Tsarist Reaction

The Tsarist state was generally successful in spying on revolutionary groups in the late 19th century. The government had a number of different methods and tactics that it used to gather information on revolutionary activities, and it was generally able to maintain a high level of surveillance over the activities of these groups.

One of the main ways in which the Tsarist state gathered information on revolutionary groups was through the use of secret police and informers. The government had a number of different agencies and organizations that were dedicated to gathering intelligence on revolutionary activities, and these agencies employed a wide range of tactics to gather information. This included the use of undercover agents and informers, who infiltrated revolutionary groups and reported back to the authorities.

In addition to using secret police and informers, the Tsarist state also used a range of other tactics to gather intelligence on revolutionary groups. This included the use of censorship and propaganda to control the flow of information, and the interception of correspondence and other communications.

Internal exile was a common tactic used by the Tsarist state to deal with revolutionaries in the late 19th century. Under this policy, individuals who were suspected of engaging in revolutionary activities or who were deemed to be a threat to national security were exiled to remote regions of the Russian Empire.

Internal exile was often used as an alternative to imprisonment, and was seen as a way to isolate and punish individuals who were considered to be a threat to the government. Those who were exiled were often sent to remote areas of the empire, such as Siberia, where they were forced to live and work under difficult conditions.

Internal exile was a widely used tactic in the Tsarist state, and many thousands of people were exiled in this way over the course of the 19th century. It was often used in conjunction with other tactics, such as censorship and propaganda, as part of a broader effort to suppress revolutionary activities and prevent the spread of revolutionary ideas.

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