Émigrés, Russian Revolutionary

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Émigrés, Russian Revolutionary


all persons who left Russia because the autocratic police state of the Russian Empire made it impossible for them to engage in legal political activity. The departure of revolutionary émigrés was closely linked with the revolutionary movement in Russia and passed through the same stages of development: the dvorianstvo (nobility) stage, from 1825 to 1861; the raznochintsy (intellectuals of no definite class) stage, also called the revolutionary democratic stage, from 1861 to 1895; and the proletarian stage, from 1895 to 1917.

There was little revolutionary emigration from Russia in the dvorianstvo period of the revolutionary movement. The first revolutionary émigré was the Decembrist N.I. Turgenev, who was followed by M. A. Bakunin, N. I. Sazonov, and A. I. Herzen in the 1840’s and V. A. Engel’son, N. P. Ogarev, P. V. Dolgorukov, and V. I. Kel’siev in the 1850’s. The Russian revolutionary emigration was internationalist from the outset: some emigres established contact with K. Marx and F. Engels and with the leaders of the Polish Uprising of 1830–31 and took part in the European revolutions of 1848 and 1849.

In 1853, Herzen founded, with the help of Polish emigres, the Free Russian Printing House in London and arranged for the systematic publication of revolutionary literature. V. I. Lenin noted Herzen’s “great service” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 21, p. 258) in creating the free Russian press, which contributed to the awakening of Russian society, the development of social thought and the liberation movement, and the unification of democratic and revolutionary forces.

At the beginning of the raznochintsy period of the revolutionary movement, the ranks of the revolutionary emigres were swelled by members of the Committee of Russian Officers in Poland, members of Land and Liberty, and participants in the student disturbances of 1861 and the Kazan Conspiracy of 1863. The Young Emigration developed between 1862 and 1864. The negotiations conducted by Herzen, Ogarev, Bakunin, and A. A. Po-tebnia with Polish revolutionaries in 1862, on the eve of the Polish Uprising of 1863–64, inaugurated the Russo-Polish revolutionary alliance. In 1865 the center of the revolutionary emigration shifted from London to Switzerland, primarily Geneva, Zurich, and Bern. A. D. Trusov, E. G. Barteneva, and V. A. Zaitsev were among those who emigrated between 1864 and 1869.

The Russian Section of the First International was created in late 1869 and early 1870. Its members organized the publication of the newspaper Narodnoe delo, disseminated the ideas of the International Working Men’s Association, and supported Marx and Engels in the struggle against the Bakuninists. Such figures as E. L. Dmitrieva (Tomanovskaia), A. V. Korvin-Krukovskaia (Jacquelard), M. P. Sazhin, and P. L. Lavrov took part in the Paris Commune of 1871.

The Slavic Circle of the Russian Jacobins, which was located in Zurich, was of particular importance in the revolutionary emigration. In the early 1870’s revolutionary emigres established contact with circles of revolutionary-minded Russian students abroad. Many took part in the “going to the people” movement when they returned to Russia; among them were members of the Fritsche circle, including L. N. Figner and O. S. Liubatovich, the Caucasian circle, notably I. S. Dzhabadari, and the Saint-Zhebunists, who included N. A. Zhebunev and S. A. Zhebunev.

The principal trends that emerged in the 1870’s among the revolutionary emigres were headed by the Narodnik (Populist) ideologists Bakunin, Lavrov, and P. N. Tkachev. In Geneva, the following publications were printed: Rabotnik and Obshchina, published by the Bakuninists; Nabat, published by the Jacobins; collections and journals published by Ukrainian emigres, notably M. P. Dragomanov, chief among which was Hromada; and the radical newspaper Obshchee delo. In London, Lavrov’s followers published, in addition to a journal, the newspaper Vpered!

Revolutionary émigrés maintained contacts with various illegal organizations in Russia, including the Chaikovskii circle, the Southern Union of Russian Workers, and Land and Liberty. By establishing contacts with revolutionary and democratic organizations in Germany, Austria-Hungary, Denmark, France, Great Britain, and the Balkan countries, they helped acquaint the progressive strata of various countries with the Russian revolutionary movement.

In the first half of the 1870’s such revolutionary émigrés as I. K. Debogorii-Mokrievich, G. A. Machtet, A. K. Malikov, and N. V. Chaikovskii tried to establish farming communes in North America. The Russian Circle of Mutual Assistance in Kansas and the Russian Circle of Mutual Aid in New York, which were created in the early 1870’s, established contact with A. Goncha-renko, who published in San Francisco the first Russian newspaper in the western hemisphere, Svoboda (1872–73, nos. 1–5). S. I. Serebrennikov provided liaison between F. Sorge and Marx from 1876, when the General Council of the First International moved to the USA, to 1878.

The Russian émigrés, who insisted that the revolutionary forces of Russia and Europe form a united front and who fought against Pan-Slavism, took part in inter-Slavic revolutionary organizations, in the struggle of the Balkan peoples against the Ottoman yoke, and in the Italian revolutionary movement; in addition, they maintained contact with the Lud Polski organization and with the Serbian organization Omladina. The Russo-Polish circle known as the Socialist Propagandists, which was founded in Paris in 1878 and included such figures as Lavrov, S. G. Shiriaev, G. A. Lopatin, and J. Uziemblo, tried to coordinate the struggle of Russian and Polish revolutionaries against the autocracy. N. K. Sudzilovskii, N. Zubcu-Codreanu, and S. Katz (C. Dobrogeanu-Gherea) helped found the first socialist circles in Rumania. In southeastern Europe various émigrés, including E. A. Serebriakov, V. V. Lutskii, and G. Balamez provided liaison between the revolutionary émigrés and revolutionary organizations in Russia.

The rise of the revolutionary movement in Russia in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s brought various trends among the revolutionary émigrés closer together. New organizations were founded, such as the Society of Aid to Political Exiles from Russia (1877, Geneva), the Society of Mutual Aid of Russian Political Emigres (1878, Paris), and the fund of the Committee of Action; the last-named organization arranged, with the support of I. S. Turgenev, for the return of revolutionaries to Russia to carry out underground work.

In the early 1880’s revolutionary émigrés successfully conducted a united campaign to prevent the French authorities from extraditing L. N. Gartman to Russia. In December 1881, V. I. Zasulich and Lavrov assumed the leadership of the foreign department of the Red Cross Society of the People’s Will. A foreign center of the People’s Will was formed in 1882 in Paris; the center, which included L. A. Tikhomirov and M. N. Oshanina, concluded an agreement with the Polish party known as the First Proletariat and organized the publication of Vestnik Narodnoi voli.

In the second half of the 1880’s the revolutionary émigrés were joined by members of the Terrorist Faction of the People’s Will, who founded the Circle of the People’s Will in Zurich. Various revolutionary publications were brought out by S. M. Kogan-Kniazhnin, K. M. Turski, V. L. Burtsev, and V. K. Debogorii-Mokrievich and by the Gruppa Starykh Narodovol’tsev (Group of Veteran Members of the People’s Will). The Foundation of the Free Russian Press was established in London in 1891. The Union of Russian Socialist Revolutionaries, founded by Kh. I. Zhitlovskii in Bern in 1894, subsequently became the nucleus of the party of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR’s).

Russian revolutionary émigrés in the USA stepped up their activities in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Many took part in the American socialist movement. The Russian Branch of the Socialist Labor Party of the USA was founded in New York in early 1889. The Russian Workers’ Self-education Society and the Social Democratic organization known as the Russian Socialist Union were founded in 1890.

After the first Russian Social Democratic organization, the Liberation of Labor group, was founded in Geneva in 1883, the Social Democratic trend became dominant among the revolutionary émigrés. The group published the Library of Modern Socialism and the collection The Social Democrat, established contact with Social Democratic organizations in Russia, and organized shipments of illegal literature. G. V. Plekhanov’s works of the 1880’s and 1890’s played a major role in converting Russian revolutionary youth from Populism to Marxism. The Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad was founded in 1894 on the group’s initiative. Evaluating the importance of the revolutionary émigrés in the development of the revolutionary movement in Russia, Lenin wrote, “Thanks to the political emigration caused by tsarism, revolutionary Russia, in the second half of the nineteenth century, acquired a wealth of international links and excellent information on the forms and theories of the world revolutionary movement, such as no other country possessed” (ibid., vol. 41, p. 8).

In the proletarian stage of the revolutionary emigration, the growth of the mass revolutionary movement in Russia was accompanied by a strengthening of the Marxist trend among the revolutionary émigrés. In May 1895, Lenin went to Switzerland, where he established contact with the Liberation of Labor group and reached an agreement with Plekhanov on the publication of the collection Rabotnik, to be started in 1896 in Geneva. In 1900, after emigrating to Switzerland, Lenin assumed the leadership of a group of Russian Social Democrats who founded publications of the Russian revolutionary proletariat that were printed abroad: the newspaper Iskra, which became the collective organizer of the proletarian struggle for all Russia, and the journal Zaria. Lenin established contact with proletarian centers in Russia and arranged for illegal literature and party cadres trained abroad to be sent to Russia.

The unification of the revolutionary Marxist organizations was accomplished at the Second Congress of the RSDLP (1903, Brussels and London) with the founding of a proletarian party of a new type, the party of the Bolsheviks (seeBOLSHEVISM and COMMUNIST PARTY OF THE SOVIET UNION). A petit bourgeois trend, Menshevism, arose in the Social Democratic movement at the same time. Bolshevism immediately became the leading trend in the revolutionary emigration. Given the specific conditions in which revolutionary Social Democracy developed in Russia, the Russian Marxists found it necessary to set up an organization of the RSDLP abroad. The Bolshevik emigration included the foreign part of the Central Committee, the Central Organ, and the Foreign Organizations Committee (FOC). Bolshevik émigrés founded party publishing houses, presses, depositories for party literature, a party fund, a library and archives, and organizations to aid political exiles and prisoners in hard labor colonies and tsarist prisons.

Revolutionary Marxists and opportunists fought each other bitterly in the emigration. The Convocation of Twenty-two Bolsheviks, held in Switzerland in August 1904, adopted the appeal “To the Party,” which was written by Lenin. In Geneva in 1904, Lenin helped organize the Library and Archives of the RSDLP and the Bolshevik’s Publishing House of Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich (subsequently Publishing House of Social Democratic Party Literature of V. Bonch-Bruevich and V. Lenin), which published many works by Lenin and other Bolsheviks. The newspaper Vpered, published in Geneva from 1904, was the organ of the Bureau of the Committees of the Majority, a Bolshevik center that played a considerable role in the convocation of the Third Congress of the RSDLP (London, 1905).

The foreign organization of the RSDLP, which was directed by the Foreign Organization Committee of the RSDLP, was established in March 1905. From May to November 1905 the central organ of the party was Lenin’s newspaper Proletarii, published in Geneva. The revolutionary emigration included the directive bodies of several parties in the all-Russian revolutionary camp, such as the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania and the Latvian Social Democratic League.

In the early 20th century, petit bourgeois democratic parties and groups, such as the SR’s and anarchists, were organized abroad. The Bolsheviks, headed by Lenin, fought relentlessly in Russia and abroad against parties and trends that cloaked themselves in socialist phraseology, “against petty-bourgeois revolutionism, which smacks of anarchism, or borrows a few things from the latter” (ibid., p. 14).

After the amnesty of 1905, nearly all the prominent revolutionary émigrés returned to Russia; Plekhanov was among the few who remained abroad. The revolutionary emigration resumed a few months later, however, after the Manifesto of Oct. 17, 1905, was issued. A group of “semiémigrés” took up temporary residence in the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1906 and 1907. Beginning in late 1907, the majority of the émigrés were to be found in Switzerland (Geneva, Zurich, Lausanne, and Bern), France (Paris), Great Britain (London), Belgium (Brussels and Liege), and the USA (New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia). Smaller numbers of émigrés resided in Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Canada, South America (Brazil and Argentina), and Australia. The émigrés, whose social composition had changed, now included workers, peasants, soldiers, and sailors; 700 men came from the battleship Potemkin alone. Between the Revolution of 1905–07 and the February Revolution of 1917, the ranks of the émigrés swelled by the tens of thousands.

In 1908, independent Bolshevik organizations were reestablished in the centers of the revolutionary emigration in Western Europe and the USA. Between 1907 and 1917 they worked to preserve the illegal party and to create “a firm base of operations ’beyond the reach’ of the autocracy— i.e., abroad’” (ibid., vol. 16, p. 105) and fought against Liquidators, otzovisty (recallers), ul’timatisty (ultimatumists), and the 20th century religious trend of bogostroitel’stvo. The press of the Bolsheviks, whose central organs were the newspapers Proletarii (1906–09) and Sotsial-demokrat (1908–17), played a major role in this struggle.

In 1911 the Bolsheviks established, under Lenin’s direction, the party school in Longjumeau to train cadres of party workers. The FOC was revived in December 1911 and now included N. A. Semashko, M. F. Vladimirskii, I. F. Armand, V. N. Mantsev, and N. V. Kuznetsov. In 1912 the committee maintained contact with Bolshevik organizations in 37 cities in Europe and the USA. The Sixth (Prague) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP, held in 1912, expelled the Menshevik-Liquidator faction from the party and adopted Lenin’s resolution On the Party Organization Abroad. From 1912 to 1914, Lenin lived near the Russian frontier, in Kraków and Poronin; his proximity to Russia made it possible for him to aid more effectively party organizations in the motherland and to hold several conferences with party workers.

From 1905 to 1912, Lenin was the representative of the RSDLP at the International Socialist Bureau of the Second International. As head of the Bolshevik delegation, he attended the international socialist congresses at Stuttgart in 1907 and Copenhagen in 1910 and fought to unite the left-wing Social Democrats against opportunism, thereby laying the basis for the Communist International.

During World War I the Bolsheviks, headed by Lenin, denounced the social chauvinism of the leaders of the Second International and insisted that the imperialist war be turned into a civil war. From 1914 to 1917 the Bolshevik revolutionary émigrés published and shipped to Russia more than 600 different antiwar leaflets; the total number of copies sent was 2 million. Despite wartime difficulties, contact was maintained with the party organizations in Russia. The Bolsheviks conducted antiwar propaganda in Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, and Rumania, in camps where Russian prisoners of war were held, and among Russian troops abroad. They took part in the Zimmer-wald Conference of 1915 and the Kienthal Conference of 1916 and united the left-wing Social Democratic internationalists.

From 1907 to 1917 the Bolshevik émigrés were opposed by SR’s, anarchists, Mensheviks, Bundists, and other bourgeois and petit bourgeois antitsarist organizations (seeBUND). During World War I most of the SR’s (except for the left wing, the nucleus of the future party of the Left SR’s) and Mensheviks and many anarchists became social chauvinists.

After the February Revolution of 1917, committees for the return of émigrés were created in Switzerland, France, Great Britain, and the USA. The Entente countries, however, with the approval of the bourgeois Provisional Government, thwarted the return of revolutionary internationalists to Russia. A group of Zimmerwald émigrés was forced to open negotiations, using F. Platten as a mediator, on passage through Germany to Russia. On April 3, 1917, Lenin and several other Bolshevik émigrés arrived in Petrograd. Nearly all émigrés returned to Russia in 1917, thereby bringing the Russian revolutionary emigration to an end.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.