Chigirin Conspiracy of 1877

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Chigirin Conspiracy of 1877


(also Chigirin affair), an unsuccessful attempt by a group of revolutionary Narodniki (Populists) to raise a peasant rebellion in Chigirin District of Kiev Province.

In 1875 disturbances broke out among the state peasants in Chigirin District; ten volosts (small rural districts), with a total population of more than 50,000, were affected. Members of the Southern Rebels circle sought to use the disturbances as the basis for a local rebellion that would spread to neighboring districts. The organizers of the Chigirin conspiracy were Ia. V. Stefanovich, L. G. Deutsch, I. V. Bokhanovskii, and S. F. Chubarov.

In the winter of 1876, Stefanovich made contact with the peasants of Chigirin District by posing as Dmitrii Naida, a messenger sent by peasants of Kherson Province to the tsar. At the end of that year Stefanovich presented the Chigirin peasants with what he claimed were a secret gramota (document) from the tsar, a charter for a peasant organization called the Secret Druzhina, and the text of a solemn oath. The peasants were told that all the documents had the tsar’s approval; in actuality the documents had been written by Stefanovich and his comrades and printed by Bokhanovskii.

In the forged gramota, the tsar acknowledged his inability to help the peasants in their struggle against the pomeshchiki (landowners) and directed them to form secret organizations with the purpose of rebelling against the dvoriane (nobles) and government officials and seizing the land.

In February 1877 at secret meetings in the village of Shabel’-niki, the solemn oath was taken by peasants joining the Secret Druzhina; they agreed to not pay taxes and to fight for the redistribution of land on a per capita basis. By mid-1877 approximately 2,000 peasants had joined the Secret Druzhina. E. A. Oleinik, a retired noncommissioned officer, served as the organization’s ataman; he was subordinate to Naida (Stefanovich), who claimed to have been appointed “commissar” by the tsar. The uprising was planned for Oct. 1, 1877. The authorities learned of the conspiracy, however, before the rebellion could take place.

The ensuing investigation involved approximately 1,000 peasants. The Kiev Sudebnaia Palata (high court tribunal) tried 44 of the peasants in June 1879. In 1880 the Senate reviewed the case and lengthened the term of confinement for most of the convicted peasants. Stefanovich, Deutsch, and Bokhanovskii faced death sentences, but in May 1878, before their trial, they escaped from Kiev Prison with the help of M. F. Frolenko and V. A. Osinskii.

The Secret Druzhina was the only mass peasant organization to arise from the Populist movement, but the unscrupulous nature of the means employed to organize the Secret Druzhina greatly diminished its significance. The abuse of the peasantry’s illusions about the tsar was condemned in revolutionary circles as alien to the Populist program. By having to invoke the tsar’s authority to induce the peasants to rebel, the Southern Rebels proved the falsity of their theories about the revolutionary character of the peasantry.


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