7. A Gloomier Catechism
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93 7 A Gloomier Catechism In 1868, the extraordinary man according to Raskolnikov’s specifications still had not appeared, but the young radical writer Peter Tkachev had not lost hope. On the contrary, in the newspaper The Deed (Delo) Tkachev insisted on the imminent appearance of those he rebranded as “People of the Future” (in his article “Liudi budushchego i geroi meshchanstva”). These people, like Turgenev’s Don Quixotes, appear perennially to fire the engines of human progress. “Among all peoples and in all centuries there appear individuals from time to time who sacrifice their personal interests for the sake of the common good and who—in the name of the common good, in the name of a great idea— are capable of heroic deeds and able to make their fellow men happy.”1 Whether or not Tkachev’s “People of the Future” are a contingent of long-awaited “Oblomovs of the future,” they are without question a more upbeat hybrid of Rakhmetov and Raskolnikov, combining the sacrifice of personal interests with heroic deeds “for the common good, in the name of a great idea” but with the express mission to make ordinary people “happy,” rather than merely obedient or dead. As the White Terror abated in 1867–68 to allow some semblance of radical activity, the cardinal problem remained that of revolutionary actions and actors. The first production of Tkachev’s circle, which referred to itself as the “Central Committee” or “Action Committee,” was 94 Part One: Enigmas of A-synchrony appropriately enough “A Program of Revolutionary Actions.” “The Program” affirmed political revolution as the only possible means to achieve the desired goal of social revolution, expressing confidence that the methods of political revolution had already been “worked out by the history of other revolutions” and therefore enjoyed the incontrovertible status of “historical law,” albeit a law that needed to be kicked into gear.2 This, in turn, was to be done by creating revolutionary types according to the method prescribed by the Program’s authors. “To create the greatest possible number of revolutionary types,” the authors wrote, “we must distribute certain types of proclamations in a certain spirit, arrange skhodki [meetings] and personal protests as preliminary probes, as a practical method for developing revolutionary types and separating from the masses the types which are already developed.”3 Whereas in literary naturalism the evocation of types depended on the writers’ perceptiveness and prescience, in life the process was more questionable and involved “personal protests” and “preliminary probes,” euphemisms that referred to the intentional incrimination of prospective recruits in order to radicalize them through the experience of arrest and imprisonment.4 As with so many revolutionary productions, historians have not conclusively established the identity of the authors of “A Program of Revolutionary Actions,” but it has been consistently linked to Tkachev and Sergei Nechaev. Tkachev would emigrate in 1873 to Western Europe , where, as theoretician of Russian Jacobinism, his thinking would ultimately have a great influence on Vladimir Lenin. Sergei Nechaev, at the time a twenty-one-year-old auditor, was a self-made autodidact from the gritty industrial town of Ivanovo in central Russia. Nechaev made his way to Moscow for a brief sojourn in 1865–66 and then to St. Petersburg in the eventful spring of 1866. Nechaev’s arrival in the capital in April 1866 coincided with Karakozov’s “unheard of” attempt, and although there is no direct evidence, it’s possible that Nechaev read the season’s literary sensation, Crime and Punishment—or at least his idol Pisarev’s review of it—the next year.5 Nechaev is most often associated with Dostoevsky’s 1870 novel Demons, but his rightful place both literarily and historically is precisely between Raskolnikov and Peter Verkhovensky.6 This much is clear: had Nechaev been as perspicacious a reader of Dostoevsky as Dostoevsky was of Nechaev, the historical appearance of the terrorist might have occurred ten years earlier than it did. Instead, Nechaev failed to learn from Raskolnikov’s mistakes and made a notorious blunder, the commission of an act of violence that A Gloomier Catechism 95 could not be distinguished from an ordinary murder. His greater success lay in the realm of words and consisted in producing an even gloomier catechism than Raskolnikov’s. Above all else, Nechaev was an author—above all else—of himself. Nechaevshchina—the epithet later used to designate the Nechaev affair and the damage it did to the radical movement—was founded upon Nechaev’s...



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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