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Narodniks ( ) was the name for Russianmarker socially conscious members of the middle class in the 1860s and 1870s. Their ideas and actions were known as "Narodnichestvo" (Народничество) which can be translated as "Peopleism", though is more commonly rendered "populism". The term itself derives from the Russian expression "Going to the people" (Хождение в народ).


Narodnism arose in Russia after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 (under Tsar Alexander II), which signalled the end of feudalism in Russia. Arguing that freed serfs were being sold into wage slavery, in which the bourgeoisie had replaced landowners, Narodism aimed to become a political force opposed to the phenomenon. Narodniks viewed aspects of the past with nostalgia: although they resented the former land ownership system, they opposed the uprooting of peasants from the traditional obshchina (the Russian commune).

Narodniks focused upon the growing conflict between the peasantry and the so-called kulaks (i.e. the more prosperous farmers). The groups which formed shared the common general aims of destroying the Russian monarchymarker and the kulaks, and distributing land among the peasantry. The Narodniks generally believed that it was possible to skip capitalism and enter straight into socialism.

The Narodniks saw the peasantry as the revolutionary class that would overthrow the monarchy, and perceived the village commune as the embryo of socialism. However, they also believed that the peasantry would not achieve revolution on their own, insisting instead that history could only be made by outstanding personalities, who would lead an otherwise passive peasantry to revolution (see Great man theory). Vasilij Voroncov called for the Russian intelligentsia to “bestir itself from the mental lethargy into which, in contrast to the sensitive and lively years of the seventies, it had fallen and formulate a scientific theory of Russian economic development”. Some of Narodnik intellectuals however called for immediate revolution that went beyond philosophical and political discussion.

In the spring of 1874 the Narodnik intelligentsia left the cities for the villages, "going to the people", attempting to teach the peasantry their moral imperative to revolt. They found almost no support.

Given the Narodniks social background, generally middle and upper middle class, they found difficulty relating to Russian peasants and their culture. They spent much of their time learning peasant customs, such as clothing and dancing. In some cases, they even had to learn Russian, as wealthy Russians generally spoke French or German. On arriving into some villages Narodniks were viewed with suspicion by Russian peasants who were completely removed from the more modernized culture of the urban sphere, and some were believed to be witches; many Narodniks were hounded by vigilante groups, maimed with farm utensils or put through trials and burned at the stake. The Imperial secret police responded to the Narodniks' attempt with repression: revolutionaries and their peasant sympathizers were beaten, imprisoned and exiled. In 1877, the Narodniks revolted with the support of thousands of peasants. The revolt however was swiftly and brutally crushed.

In response to this repression Russia's first organized revolutionary party formed: Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will"). It favoured secret society-led terrorism, justified “as a means of exerting pressure on the government for reform, as the spark that would ignite a vast peasant uprising, and as the inevitable response to the regime's use of violence against the revolutionaries” .

The attempt to get the peasantry to overthrow the Emperor was unsuccessful, due to the peasantry's idolisation of the latter as someone "on their side". Narodism therefore developed the practice of terrorism: the peasantry, they believed, must be shown that the Emperor was not supernatural, and could be killed. This theory, called "direct struggle", was meant to show an "uninterrupted demonstration of the possibility of struggling against the government, in this manner lifting the revolutionary spirit of the people and its faith in the success of the cause, and organising those capable of fighting". On March 1, 1881, they succeeded in assassinating Tsar Alexander II. This success led to short-term failure, because the peasantry were generally horrified by the murder, and the government had many Narodnaya Volya leaders hanged, leaving the group unorganized and ineffective..

These events however did not mark the end of the movement, and the later Socialist-Revolutionaries, Popular Socialists, and Trudoviks all pursued similar ideas and tactics to the Narodniks. The philosophy and actions of the Narodniks therefore helped prepare the way for the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

Influence outside Russia

Narodnichestvo had a direct influence on politics and culture in Romaniamarker, through the writings of Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea and the advocacy of the Bessarabianmarker-born Constantin Stere (who was a member of Narodnaya Volya in his youth). The various groups the latter helped found included one formed around the literary magazine Viaţa Românească (led by Stere, Garabet Ibrăileanu, and Paul Bujor).

Stere and the Poporanist (from popor, Romanian for "people", mirroring the origins of the term Narodnik) movement eventually rejected revolution altogether. Nevertheless, he shared the Narodnik view that capitalism was not a necessary stage in the development of an agrarian country (as argued within Marxist, a perspective which was to leave a mark on Ion Mihalache's Peasants' Party (and its successor, the National Peasants' Party), as well as on the philosophy of Virgil Madgearu.

Narodnichestvo according to Lenin

Vladimir Lenin defined Narodnichestvo as:

"By Narodnichestvo we mean a system of views, which comprises the following three features:

1) Belief that capitalism in Russia represents a deterioration, a retrogression.
Hence the urge and desire to 'retard', 'halt', 'stop the break-up' of the age-old foundations by capitalism, and similar reactionary cries.

2) Belief in the exceptional character of the Russian economic system in general, and of the peasantry, with its village commune, artel, etc. in particular.
It is not considered necessary to apply to Russian economic relationships the concepts elaborated by modern science concerning the different social classes and their conflicts.
The village-commune peasantry is regarded as something higher and better than capitalism; there is a disposition to idealize the 'foundations'.
The existence among the peasantry of contradictions characteristic of every commodity and capitalist economy is denied or slurred over; it is denied that any connection exists between these contradictions and their more developed form in capitalist industry and capitalist agriculture.

3) Disregard of the connection between the 'intelligentsia' and the country's legal and political institutions, on the one hand, and the material interests of definite social classes, on the other.
Denial of this connection, lack of a materialist explanation of these social factors, induces the belief that they represent a force capable of 'dragging history along another line', of 'diversion from the path', and so on.

See also


  1. Von Laue, Theodore H. “The Fate of Capitalism in Russia: The Narodnik Version,” American Slavic and Easy European Review,13, no. 1 (1954): 11-28.
  2. Pearl, Deborah. “People’s Will, The.” Encyclopedia of Russian History, Ed. James R. Millar, 1162-1163.: Tomson Gale.
  3. Narodnaya Volya program of 1879
  4. Pearl, Deborah. “People’s Will, The.” Encyclopedia of Russian History, Ed. James R. Millar, 1162-1163.: Tomson Gale.
  5. Glossary of Terms and Organisations
  6. Lenin, The Heritage We Renounce

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