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Narodnaya Volya (Народная воля in Russian, known as People’s Will in English) was a Russian revolutionary organization in the early 1880s. It was formed in August 1879, after Land and Liberty (Zemlya i volya) had split in two: Narodnaya Volya and Cherniy Peredel (Black repartition). (The word 'volya' means both 'will' and 'liberty' in Russian.)
Its founders were professional revolutionaries — supporters of political struggle against autocracy. They created a centralized, well disguised, and most significant organization in a time of diverse liberation movements in Russia. Narodnaya Volya was led by its Executive Committee: A. Mikhailov , Aleksandr Kvyatkovsky, Andrei Zhelyabov, Sophia Perovskaya, Vera Figner, N.Morozov , M.Frolenko , L.Tikhomirov , A.Barannikov , A.Yakimova , M.Oshanina and others.
The Executive Committee was in charge of a network of local and special groups (comprised of workers, students, and members of the military). In 1879–1883, Narodnaya Volya had affiliates in almost 50 cities, especially in Ukraine and the Volga region. Though the number of its members never exceeded 500, Narodnaya Volya had a few thousand followers.
The Program of Narodnaya Volya
Narodnaya Volya’s Program contained the following demands: convocation of the Constituent Assembly (for designing a Constitution); introduction of universal suffrage; permanent people’s representation, freedom of speech, press, and assembly; communal self-government; exchange of the permanent army with a people’s volunteer corps; transfer of land to the people; and granting oppressed peoples the right to self-determination.
Narodnaya Volya's Program was a mix of democratic and socialist reforms, with the emphasis on democratic reforms. Acknowledging the necessity of political struggle with autocracy, Narodnaya Volya made a big step forward compared to Narodniki. However, they remained socialist utopians, still sharing principal ideas of Narodniki, especially the one about the possibility to achieve socialism in Russia through a peasant revolution, bypassing the stage of capitalism.
Most of the members of Narodnaya Volya believed in the possibility of combining political and socialist revolutions, relying on socialist instincts of the Russian peasantry. Other members believed in a step-by-step revolution, meaning a political revolution would have to take place first and, after the autocracy had been overthown and democratic liberties established, revolutionaries would prepare people for the socialist revolution. The Liberal faction of Narodnaya Volya (which had no real influence) proposed to limit their demands to getting a Constitution from the tsarist government.
Narodnaya Volya spread its propaganda through all strata of the population. Its newspapers, Narodnaya Volya and “The Worker’s Gazette”, were trying to popularize the idea of a political struggle with the autocracy. Their struggle to seize power in the country was crowned by the slogan “Now or never!”. Narodnaya Volya assigned the part of preparing and leading the uprising to the revolutionary minority; that is, to itself. The masses had to play the part of a “second fiddle”. This was exactly what the Soviet historians would later call a typical blanquism (see Louis Auguste Blanqui), meaning Narodnaya Volya understood political struggle only in terms of conspiracy and, therefore, looked more like a sect.
Resort to terrorism
As time went by, terror was gaining more and more importance, as well. A special place in the history of Narodnaya Volya belongs to its “Terrorist faction”, whose members — including Aleksandr Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin's brother) — are also known as Pervomartovtsi. Narodnaya Volya prepared 7 assassination attempts on the life of Alexander II of Russia (until they finally killed him), and later on Alexander III of Russia. Its terror frightened the government and persuaded it to make a few concessions . However, the regime soon realized that the revolutionaries had not enjoyed the support of the masses, which gave the regime all the more reason to counterattack. Narodnaya Volya lost its best and the brightest in this retaliation, and was rendered lifeless. In 1879–1883, there were more than 70 trials of N.v.’s members with about 2,000 people brought to trial (see Trial of the Fourteen).
After the assassination of Alexander II, Narodnaya Volya was going through a period of ideological and organizational crisis. The most significant attempts at reviving Narodnaya Volya are associated with the names of G.Lopatina (1884), P.Yakubovich (1883–1884), B.Orzhikh , V.Bogoraz , L.Sternberg (1885), and S.Ginzburg (1889). Organizations similar to Narodnaya Volya in the 1890s (in St.Petersburg and abroad) pretty much abandoned many of the revolutionary ideas of Narodnaya Volya.
Narodnaya Volya’s activity became one of the most important elements of the revolutionary situation in the late 1879–1880. However, its program’s groundlessness, ineffective tactics of political conspiracy, and preference of terrorism over other means of struggle failed.
See also: Narodnaja Volya (newspaper)
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