restricted access Prologue: “Just You Wait! (Uzho tebe!)”
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18 Prologue “Just You Wait! (Uzho tebe!)” As in Hamlet, the Prince of the rotten state, everything begins by the apparition of a specter, more precisely, by the waiting for this apparition. The anticipation is at once impatient, anxious, and fascinated: the thing (“this thing”) will end up coming. jacques derrida, Specters of Marx Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto famously begins with an act of political prophecy that is cast as an act of ghost seeing. “A specter is haunting Europe,” intones the manifesto, but in the ironic rather than Gothic mode.1 For the inveterate materialist, Marx, there could of course be no “real” specter. Instead, “the heads of Europe . . . Pope and Tsar; Metternich and Guizot; French Radicals and German Spies”— all alike are spooked by what amounts to “nursery tales” of communism that they themselves have fabricated. Marx’s sly intention is to debunk these tales by turning on the lights and “manifesting” the real thing!2 Since the excesses of the French Revolution had unsettled European imaginations, Gothic tropes had been marshaled to frame the menace of revolution and terror in terms of all the horrors—natural, supernatural, Prologue 19 historical—known to man: demons and monsters, diabolical secret societies and the Spanish Inquisition.3 Marx’s spectral metaphor, however , was certainly better suited to the acts of proto-terrorism that punctuated the first half of the nineteenth century than to the proletarian revolution that he heralded. Throughout the first half of the century, individuals or small conspiratorial bands had materialized suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, and wreaked a terrible vengeance only to suffer an equally terrible punishment. But they continued to live on in popular memory and lore.4 These “specters,” wielding daggers and, more devastatingly, “infernal machines,” haunted the nightmares and waking hours of the heads of Europe.5 Napoleon I, the ultimate usurper, political assassin, and “enemy of the human race,” himself constituted one of the most frequent targets of assassination plots, as did the succession of restored Bourbon monarchs. The emergence of terrorism in Russia is unthinkable without this larger European context of social revolution and national liberation. Indeed, la Grande Revolution was the fountainhead of the revolutionary imaginaire, and revolutionary leaders such as Robespierre and Marat served as the models and idols for Russian radicals, as did the charismatic leaders of national liberation movements such as Garibaldi and Mazzini. Yet quite possibly the only thing that “the Russian Method” owed directly to the French Terror was its very general means— violence—and the dusty epithet “terrorist” that was used primarily to refer to the historical actors of 1793 but had no real contemporary salience until after 1881, for reasons that will become clear.6 In other words, it would be a mistake to view Russian revolutionary terrorism in a direct line of descent from the French rather than as a phenomenon arising from a Russian cultural ground that had absorbed and adapted those influences. Debates about the old or new provenance of terrorism are not, in fact, new. In Russia the People’s Will’s “Emperor Hunt” in 1880–81 generated vigorous public debate about the causes and genealogy of terrorism/kramola, with some commentators harking back to Dmitry Karakozov’s attempted tsaricide in 1866 and others to Vera Zasulich’s attack on F. F. Trepov in 1878, and still others all the way to back to antiquity, to the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton and Brutus.7 As is so often the case, this debate among contemporaries presaged the still unresolved debate among scholars about terrorism’s historical origins. This prologue stakes an intermediate position by beginning 20 Prologue before the first actual occurrence of Russian revolutionary terrorism— Karakozov’s—and illuminating the way in which presentiments and prefigurations of terrorism both in and around literature laid the ground for its moral-symbolic matrix long before the first shot was fired. Presentiments In June 1790, when a travelogue entitled A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow by an anonymous author was placed in the hands of Catherine II of Russia, a few pages sufficed for her to recognize its true nature.8 “The purpose of this book is clear on every page: its author, infected and full of the French madness, is trying in every possible way to break down respect for authority and for the authorities, to stir up in the people indignation [negodovanie] against their superiors and the government.”9 Even while the identity of the author and his intentions...


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Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- Political aspects.
  • Terrorism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Terrorism in literature.
  • Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, 1818-1881 -- Assassination.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Political and social views.
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