Figner, Vera

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Figner, Vera Nikolaevna


(married name Filippova). Born June 25 (July 7), 1852, in the village of Khristoforovka, Tetiushi District, Kazan Province; died June 15, 1942, in Moscow. Russian revolutionary. Narodnik (Populist) and member of the Executive Committee of the People’s Will (Narodnaia volia). Writer.

Born into a gentry family, Figner studied at the Rodionov Institute for Young Noble Ladies in Kazan from 1863 to 1869 and at the faculty of medicine of the University of Zurich from 1872 to 1875. In 1873 she joined the Fritsche, a revolutionary women’s circle whose members later formed the nucleus of the All-Russian Social Revolutionary Organization. In December 1875 she returned to Russia, and in 1876 she joined the Narodnik Separatist group (including among its members Iu. N. Bogdanovich), which collaborated with Land and Liberty (Zemlia i volia). That same year she participated in the Kazan Demonstration in St. Petersburg. From 1877 to 1879, while working as a feldsher, she conducted propaganda in villages in Samara and Saratov provinces. In 1879 she took part in Land and Liberty’s Voronezh Congress.

After Land and Liberty split into two independent organizations in 1879, Figner became a member of the Executive Committee of the People’s Will. She conducted revolutionary propaganda among the intelligentsia, students, and officers in St. Petersburg, Kronstadt, and the south of Russia. She also helped found the military organization of the People’s Will and helped plan the assassination attempts on Emperor Alexander II in Odessa (1880) and St. Petersburg (1881). After the assassination of the emperor on Mar. 1, 1881, she performed revolutionary work in Odessa. In 1882, as the only member of the Executive Committee of the People’s Will remaining in Russia, she attempted to revitalize the organization, which had been suppressed by the police.

Figner was arrested in Kharkov on Feb. 10, 1883, having been betrayed by S. P. Degaev. In the Trial of the 14 (1884) she was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She spent 20 years in solitary confinement in the ShlisseFburg Fortress. While in prison, she wrote poetry (1st ed., Poems, 1906). In 1904 she was exiled—first to Arkhangel’sk Province, later to Kazan Province, and finally to Nizhny Novgorod.

In 1906, Figner went abroad, where she organized a campaign in defense of political prisoners in Russia. She lectured in various European cities, raised money, and wrote a brochure about Russian prisons that was translated into many languages. She supported the Socialist Revolutionaries from 1907 to 1909, but left the party after the treachery of E. F. Azef had been exposed. She returned to Russia in 1915.

After the October Revolution of 1917, Figner engaged in literary work and completed her book of reminiscences, begun abroad, entitled Remembered Work (1st ed., parts 1–3, 1921–22), one of the best Russian memoirs. The book brought Figner world renown and was translated into many foreign languages.

A member of the Society of Former Political Prisoners and Exiles, Figner collaborated on the journal Katorga i ssylka. She wrote biographies of members of the People’s Will and articles on the history of the revolutionary movement in Russia during the 1870’s and 1880’s. Figner’s heroic revolutionary past, unshakable principles, and honesty gave her great moral authority.


Poln. sobr. soch., 2nd ed., vols. 1–7. Moscow, 1932.
Zapechatlennyi trud, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1964.


Matveeva, I. E. V. Figner. Moscow, 1961.
Pavliuchenko, E. A. V. Figner. Moscow, 1963.


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