Vera Zasulich’s Critique of Neo-Populism

Party Organisation and Individual Terrorism in the Russian Revolutionary Movement (1878–1902)

in Historical Materialism

Vera Zasulich’s shooting of Trepov, a governor of St Petersburg who had ordered the flogging of a political prisoner, in January 1878, catapulted her to international fame as a revolutionary heroine, a reputation that she put to good use by becoming one of the five ‘founding parents’ of Russian Marxism that created the ‘Group for the Emancipation of Labour’ in 1883. But her act of self-sacrifice also triggered, to her dismay, the institutionalisation of individual-terrorist tactics in the Russian Populist movement with the creation of the ‘People’s Will’ (Narodnaya Volya) Party in 1879. The organisation went into decline after the killing of Tsar Alexander ii in 1881, and Populism itself was increasingly superseded by Marxism as the hegemonic force on the left with the rise of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (rsdlp). But individual-terrorist tactics reappeared with the creation of the Socialist Revolutionary Party in 1902, prompting Zasulich to write an article for Die neue Zeit, the theoretical organ of German Social Democracy, in which she both condemned the Neo-Populist tendency as deleterious to the rising labour movement and supported the organisational plans for the rsdlp sponsored by the Iskra group, developed at length by Lenin in his book What Is to Be Done?, published in March 1902. This article provides the background to Vera Zasulich’s article ‘The Terrorist Tendency in Russia’ (December 1902), setting it against the history of the Russian revolutionary movement from 1878 to 1902.

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  • 1

    Bergman 1983pp. 33–9.

  • 2

    Venturi 1960p. 605.

  • 3

    See the letters in Shanin (ed.) 1983pp. 97–126.

  • 4

    Venturi 1960p. 630.

  • 5

    Venturi 1960p. 661.

  • 6

    Venturi 1960p. 719.

  • 7

    Pomper 2010p. 210.

  • 9

    Plekhanov 1974a.

  • 10

    Plekhanov 1974c.

  • 11

    Plekhanov 1974f.

  • 12

    Plekhanov 1974bp. 357.

  • 13

    Plekhanov 1974dp. 360.

  • 14

    Plekhanov 1974ep. 400; emphasis in the original.

  • 15

    Axelrod 1898p. 100.

  • 16

    Keep 1963p. 6.

  • 17

    Keep 1963pp. 47–9.

  • 18

    Keep 1963pp. 50–2.

  • 19

    Mendel 1961.

  • 20

    Daniels (ed.) 1993pp. 5–6.

  • 21

    Keep 1963pp. 55–6.

  • 22

    Lenin 1964awhere the full text of the Credo is reproduced.

  • 23

    Lenin 1964ap. 174.

  • 24

    Lenin 1961pp. 363–4.

  • 25

    Plekhanov 18981899a 1899b; see also the documents in Tudor and Tudor (eds.) 1988.

  • 26

    Kautsky 1899; Bernstein 1993.

  • 27

    Lenin 1961p. 364.

  • 28

    Lih 2006pp. 240–78.

  • 29

    Quoted in Lih 2006p. 278.

  • 30

    B-v [Boris Savinkov]‘Peterburgskoe dvizhenie i prakticheskie zadachi sotsial’ demokratii [The Petersburg Movement and the Practical Tasks of Social Democracy]’Rabocheye DeloNo. 6 April 1900 pp. 28–42 quoted in Lih 2006 p. 357.

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  • 31

    Keep 1963p. 63.

  • 32

    Dan 1970p. 218.

  • 33

    Lenin 1964bp. 354.

  • 34

    Quoted in Lih 2006p. 301.

  • 35

    Quoted in Lih 2006p. 371.

  • 36

    NadezhdinVozrozhdenie revoliutsionizma v Rossiiquoted in Lih 2006 p. 375.

  • 37

    Lenin 1964bp. 511.

  • 39

    Keep 1963pp. 86–7.

  • 40

    Lenin 1961p. 369.

  • 42

    Lenin 1961p. 384.

  • 44

    Lenin 1961p. 423.

  • 45

    Sassulitsch 1902.

  • 46

    Keep 1963pp. 70–1.

  • 47

    Lenin 1972a.

  • 48

    Hildermeier 2000pp. 33–5.

  • 49

    Preface to Venturi 1960p. xiii; on Lavrov see further Chapter 17: ‘Bakunin and Lavrov’.

  • 50

    Hildermeier 2000pp. 37–48.

  • 51

    ChernovMarksizm i agrarnyi vopros. Istoriko-kriticheskii ocherkSt Petersburg1906 p. 166 quoted in Hildermeier 2000 p. 65.

  • 52

    Hildermeier 2000p. 63.

  • 53

    ChernovKrest’ianin i rabochii kak ekonomicheskie kategoriiMoscow1906 p. 44 quoted in Hildermeier 2000 p. 67.

  • 54

    G.A. Gershuni and V.M. Chernov‘Terroristicheskii element v nashei programme’Revoliutsionnaia RossiiaNo. 7 June 1902 pp. 2–5 quoted in Hildermeier 2000 p. 56.

  • 55

    Luxemburg 1972.

  • 56

    Lenin 1964cp. 173.

  • 57

    Lenin 1964dpp. 185–6.

  • 58

    Lenin 1964dp. 186.

  • 59

    Lenin 1964dp. 189.

  • 60

    Lenin 1964dpp. 192–3.

  • 61

    Lenin 1964dp. 200.

  • 62

    Lenin 1964dpp. 204–5.

  • 63

    Lenin 1964ep. 262.

  • 65

    Lenin 1964ep. 263.

  • 66

    Lenin 1964ep. 265.

  • 67

    Lenin 1964fp. 277.

  • 68

    Lenin 1964fpp. 278–9.

  • 69

    Lenin 1964gpp. 271–2.

  • 70

    Lenin 1964gp. 274. We have confined ourselves to summarising Lenin’s writings against the Socialist Revolutionaries from 1902 in order to contextualise Vera Zasulich’s article written in December of that year. For Lenin’s later articles on this subject see Lenin 1965 1972b and 1973.

  • 71

    Broué 1997pp. 267–385.

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