Chaikovskii Circle

Chaikovskii Circle


(also Chaikovtsy, the Great Organization of Propaganda), a revolutionary Populist organization in Russia in the early 1870’s.

The Chaikovskii circle was formed in St. Petersburg during the student disturbances of 1868 and 1869 by opponents of S. G. Nechaev. The name traditionally applied to the group is derived from one of its members, N. V. Chaikovskii. The nucleus of the organization was a student study group at the Medical and Surgical Academy that comprised M. A. Natanson, V. M. Aleksandrov, and A. I. Serdiukov; they were joined by Chaikovskii and F. N. Lermontov.

The major purpose of the group, besides self-education, was to unite progressive students of St. Petersburg and other cities and then to disseminate propaganda among workers and peasants in order to prepare the way for a social revolution. The Chaikovskii circle, opposed to the unscrupulous methods of Nechaev, placed high moral demands on its members; the group disapproved of struggle for political freedoms, which it believed to be advantageous only to the emerging bourgeoisie. These positions were formulated in A Program for Study Groups and Practical Activity, which was put together by the group in late 1870 and early 1871.

The first stage in the circle’s activities was devoted to publishing. Assisted by N. P. Poliakov and K. T. Soldatenkov, it published and distributed scientific and revolutionary literature among the intelligentsia, including the first volume of K. Marx’ Das Kapital and works by such writers as N. G. Chernyshevskii, N. A. Dobroliubov, A. I. Herzen, P. L. Lavrov, V. V. Bervi (N. Flerovskii), F. Lassalle, C. Darwin, and J. S. Mill.

In the summer of 1871, Natanson’s circle joined with the women’s study group of A. I. Kornilova and S. L. Perovskaia. The new organization was soon joined by such figures as S. M. Kravchinskii, S. S. Sinegub, D. A. Klements, N. A. Charushin, and L. E. Shishko. The central St. Petersburg circle, which comprised some 60 persons, formed a federation with circles in other cities, including Moscow (L. A. Tikhomirov, N. A. Morozov, and M. F. Frolenko), Odessa (F. V. Volkhovskii and A. I. Zheliabov), and Kiev (la. V. Stefanovich and P. B. Aksel’rod). The total membership of these organizations was about 100.

In 1872, the Chaikovskii circle began organizing workers’ groups in order to train propagandists for activity in the villages. This organizational work was most successful in St. Petersburg and Odessa, where circles attracted some 400 workers. The workers trained in this manner, notably V. P. Obnorskii and F. I. Kravchenko, subsequently organized the first proletarian organizations: the Southern Union of Russian Workers and the Northern Union of Russian Workers. P. A. Kropotkin reported on the propaganda work in a programmatic note, which was discussed in the St. Petersburg circle in late 1873.

The final stage in the activity of the organization was the “going to the people” movement, which was initiated by members of the Chaikovskii circle. Mass arrests in 1873 and 1874 brought the circle to an end. Most of its members were convicted at the Trial of the 193 and later took part in all revolutionary Populist organizations.


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Troitskii, N. A. Bol’shoe obshchestvo propagandy 1871–1874 gg. (t. n. “chaikovtsy”). Saratov, 1963.
Filippov, R. V. Ideologiia Bol’shogo obshchestva propagandy (1869–1874). Petrozavodsk, 1963.
Levin, Sh. M. “K kharakteristike ideologii ’chaikovtsev.’” In N. A. Charushin, O dalekom proshlom, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1973.
Narodnichestvo v rabotakh sovetskikh issledovatelei za 1953–1970 gg.: Ukazatel’ literatury. Moscow, 1971. Pages 63–64.