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The Nihilist movement was a Russianmarker anarchist movement in the 1860s which rejected all authorities. It is derived from the Latin word "nihil", which means "nothing". After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the Nihilists were known throughout Europe as proponents of the use of violence in order to bring about political change.


The Nihilists were angered by the relative backwardness of life in Russia in comparison with Western countries such as Britain and France. Although the term Nihilist was first used by the German theologian Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, its widespread usage began with the 1862 novel Fathers and Sons by the Russian author Ivan Turgenev. The main character of the novel, Bazarov, who describes himself as a Nihilist, wants to educate the people. This "go to the people be the people" campaign reached its height in the 1870s, during which underground groups such as Circle of Tchaikovsky, People's Reprisal and Land and Liberty were formed. This became known as the Narodnik movement. The Russian State attempted to suppress them. In actions described by the Nihilists as propaganda of the deed many government officials were assassinated. In 1881 Alexander II was killed on the very day he had approved a proposal to call a representative assembly to consider new reforms.

Historical context

Beginning with the reign of Peter the Great (1682–1725), many in the Russian elite were fascinated by the technological, artistic, and intellectual achievements of Western Europe:

"During the 1820s and 1830s Russian thought was influenced powerfully by several waves of German Romantic idealism and then the philosophy of Hegel, both of which raised...the concept of distinct national identity and of “inevitable” historical progress…" (Wasiolek, 3)

After the Crimean War (1853–56) however the Nihilists rejected the German-influenced liberals of the 1830–40s generation, decrying previous reforms as ineffective. Both sets of reformers were opposed by the conservative Slavophiles, who sought to defend established traditions and values.

Political philosophy

Nihilist political philosophy perceives all existing religions, political institutions, and morality as opposed to freedom.

See also


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