- Revolutionaries in Deed
The Russian revolutionary movement is coming out from behind the shadows of October 1917. The 20th century produced a long list of well-wrought, archivally based histories that described the varied ideologies, objectives, and activities of populists, anarchists, and Marxists, their internal conflicts and debates. Some aimed to explain October itself, some to draw attention to historical paths not taken. 1To the new generation of historians that has emerged over [End Page 627]the last decade, 1917 ceased to be convincing as a teleological endpoint, even as the profession geared up for the revolutionary centenary. Bolsheviks are no longer the standard against which other revolutionary groups are measured. 2More recent events have overtaken 1917, most particularly the reemergence of terrorism as a global phenomenon. 3
Participants in the Russian revolutionary movement from the 1860s on held highly diverse beliefs and priorities. As members of a society unable to achieve consensus on the resolution of basic political and economic problems, they were often at odds, even with close allies. The authors of the four books under review here—Budnitskii, Dietze, Ely, Eklof, and Saburova—do not attempt to tabulate an average "median" among revolutionaries but rather take heterogeneity as a given. With the partial exception of Budnitskii, they self-consciously assign ideology a secondary place, instead foregrounding [End Page 628]practices, techniques, technologies, personal dispositions, and moral norms. 4What participants in the revolutionary movement believed in and what they were willing to die for now seems less important than how they sought to convey their messages to society and alter its structure, as well as the techniques that allowed revolutionaries to survive.
Of the four books under review, Saburova and Eklof's Druzhba, semi'a, revoliutsiia, subsequently published in English as Nikolai Charushin and Russian Populism, takes the greatest pains to peel away the interpretive layers that 1917 cast over the revolutionary movement. 5Charushin, erstwhile populist and chaikovets, is the main protagonist, accompanied by his wife, Anna Kuvshinskaia, and they are treated as representatives of their generation. The book tracks their lives from childhood through their student years, radicalization, and involvement in spreading revolutionary ideas among workers in St. Petersburg in the early 1870s. Arrested and held in solitary confinement from 1874 to 1878, Charushin developed grave doubts about his erstwhile political and social beliefs but was nonetheless sentenced to hard labor in Kara for three years together with other well-known populists. Kuvshinskaia accompanied him and settled with him into civilian exile. Both took advantage of previous revolutionary contacts, family relations, and new acquaintances to find employment, working as teachers, journalists, editors, and, in Charushin's case, as a photographer and insurance salesman. Increasingly, personal qualities came to seem more important than political convictions, at least to Charushin (177, 182). From the 1890s on, he attached himself primarily to liberal groups, most notably the zemstvo movement. Charushin did not welcome the revolution of October 1917: he viewed the Bolsheviks as demagogues who sowed discord instead of building workable solutions. Ever an optimist, he was too ready to believe in the possibility of consensus. Forced to reinvent himself once again in the 1920s, Charushin became a librarian [End Page 629]and...