Free Russian Press

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Free Russian Press


uncensored publications houses of an antiautocratic, primarily revolutionary and democratic tendency, which carried on printing operations outside the Russian Empire from the mid-19th through the beginning of the 20th century.

In a broad sense, the free Russian press consisted of all the publications houses whose appearance in Russia was blocked by the censorship. It was an important component of the activity of revolutionary emigres. As was also the case with the underground press of revolutionary groups and organizations within the country, the free Russian press was basically propagandistic and agitational. Within the Russian Empire it belonged to the category of illegal literature. In addition to publicistic material, it published prose fiction and especially revolutionary poetry. Its development was inextricably tied to the Russian liberation movement of the raznochintsy(intellectuals of no definite class) and proletarian periods.

The first publication of the free Russian press was the Catechism of the Russian People (Paris, 1849), written and published by I. G. Golovin. The systematic publication of revolutionary literature was undertaken in London beginning in 1853 by the center of the free Russian press, the Free Russian Printing House of A. I. Herzen, who was “the first to raise the great banner of struggle by addressing his free Russian word to the masses” and who “founded a free Rus-sian press abroad” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 21, pp. 262, 258). The publications of Herzen and N. P. Ogarev on the eve of and during the revolutionary situation of 1859-61 in Russia—Poliarnaia zvezda, Golosa iz Rossii, Kolokol, Pod sud, Obshchee veche, and others—facilitated the revolutionary awakening of Russian society. At the end of the 1850’s and the beginning of the 1860’s a number of democratic periodicals were published in Western Europe, including A. Franck’s Russkii zagranichnyisbornik (1858-66); Golovin’s Strela (1858-59) and Blagonamerennyi (1859-62); G. I. Riumin’s and N. I. Sazonov’s Le Gazette du Word (1859-60); P. V. Dolgorukov’sBudushchnost’ (1860-61), Pravdivyi (1862), Le Véridique (1862-63), and Listok(1862-64); V. Gergardt’s Pravdoliubivyi (1862-63); L. P. Bliummer’s Vest’ (1862), Svobodnoe slovo (1862), and Evropeets (1864); L. Fontaine’s La Cloche (1862-65); and the anonymously edited Letuchie listki (1862).

“The illegal general democratic press headed by Herzen’s Kolokol,“ was, according to Lenin, “the forerunner of the workers’ (proletarian democratic or social democratic) press” (ibid., vol. 25, p. 93). The free Russian press published accusatory materials and secret documents of the Russian government; it also campaigned extensively for the liberation of the peasants and reprinted underground proclamations. It had many voluntary correspondents in Russia, through whom connections were maintained with the Rus-sian social movement. During 1863-64 the editorial board of Kolokol assumed the functions of the foreign center of Land and Liberty, the publications of which were printed at Rus-sian printing houses in London and Bern. A considerable role in the organization of the free Russian press and the transportation of its publications was played by the Russian emigre group in Heidelberg. The free Russian press, particularly Kolokol, came out in support of the Polish Uprising of 1863-64.

In addition to its periodical publications, the free Russian press issued more than 300 books, pamphlets, and leaflets during 1853-64. These were printed in five Russian printing houses abroad and more than 20 printing houses in Western Europe. Among the books published by the free Russian press official Russian documents relating to the peasant question and national policy prevailed, as well as materials on Russian history that had not been published in Russia (Notes of Catherine II and General A. P. Ermolov, materials on the murder of Pavel I, and so forth), memoirs and poems by the Decembrists, poetry by A. S. Pushkin and M. lu. Lermontov that had been censored, A. N. Radishchev’s Journey From St. Petersburg to Moscow, A. S. Griboedov’s Woe From Wit, and so forth. Agitational and propagandistic literature was represented in the free Russian press primarily by the works of Herzen, Ogarev, and M. A. Bakunin.

From 1865 to 1917 the center of the free Russian press was Switzerland (Geneva, Bern, and Zurich), where L. Chernetskii’s printing house (formerly Herzen’s Free Russian Printing House) was located. Until 1867 Kolokol was published there in Russian, and in French with Herzen’s Russian supplement (1868). Also issued were M. K. Elpidm’sPodpol’noe slovo (1866) andLetuchie listki (1868); L. I. Mechnikov’s and N. la. Nikoladze’s Sovremennost’ (1868); and M. A. Bakunin’s and N. I. Zhukovskii’s Narodnoe delo (1868-70), which was later edited by N. I. Utin and became the organ of the Russian Section of the First International in 1870. During 1869-70, Chernetskii’s printing house published editions of S. G. Nechaev’s Narodnaia rasprava (1869), Kolokol (1870), and more than 40 pamphlets and proclamations. Nechaev’s Obshchina (1870) was published in London.

A new upswing in the free Russian press began during the 1870’s in connection with the growth of the Narodnik (Populist) movement. From the 1870’s through the 1890’s, 17 Russian revolutionary printing houses were operating abroad, publishing 35 newspapers and journals. Most important during the 1870’s was the work of the Vpered printing house (1873-74 in Zurich; 1874-77 in London; headed by P. L. Lavrov, V. N. Smirnov, and others). It developed the traditions of Kolokol and became the organ of the Russian revolutionary movement and the tribune of the international workers’ and socialist movement. It printed the journal (1873-77) and newspaper (1875-76) Vpered! as well as various propagandistic works. During the same years other Narodnik periodicals were also published: the newspaper Rabotnik (1875-76; edited by N. I. Zhukovskii, Z. K. Ralli, A. L. El’snits, N. A. Morozov, and others); the journals Obshchina (1878; edited by D. A. Klements, P. B. Aksel’rod, and others) and Nabat (1875-81; edited by P. N. Tkachev, K. M. Turskii, and others); M. P. Dragomanov’s collection Gromada (1878-82); and Svoboda, the first Russian newspaper on the American continent (1868-73), San Francisco), published by A. O. Goncharenko, a former typesetter in the Free Russian Printing House. The Narodnik printing houses published the Communist Party Manifesto (the Chernetskii Printing House, 1869, M. A. Bakunin’s translation; 1882, G. V. Plekhanov’s translation), as well as the First Manifesto of the International Workingmen’s Association (1871) and The Civil War in France by K. Marx (1871). Among the publications of the free Russian press were N. G. Chernyshevskii’s novels What Is to Be Done? (1867 and 1876) and The Prologue (1877) and his Collected Works in five volumes (1868-79); the works of A. I. Herzen in ten volumes (1875-79); and V. G. Belmskii’s Letter to N. V. Gogol (1880). T. G. Shevchenko’s collection Kobzar’ was published by the Ukrainian printing house in Prague (1875 and 1876). A new type of agitational, propagandistic literature began to appear in the free Russian press—pamphlets written for the people.

During the 1880’s after the split of the Land and Liberty group into two revolutionary organizations in 1879, the journal Chernyi peredel (1880-81) began to be published abroad, as well as the publications of the People’s Will—Russkaia sotsial’no-revoliutsionnaia biblioteka (1880-82), Kalendar’ “NarodnoivoW na 1883, the collection Ato rodine (1882-83), and the journal Vestnik Narodnoi voli (1883-86; edited by P. L. Lavrov and L. A. Tikhomirov). The Ukrainian journal Gromada (1881), edited by M. P. Dragomanov, M. I. Pavlik, and S. A. Podolinskii, was published in Geneva, as well as A. Kh. Khristoforov’s political newspaper Obshchee delo(1877-90). Appearing at the end of the 1880’s were the People’s Will’s journals Svoboda (1888-89), edited by S. M. Kniazhnin and K. M. Turskii, and Svobodnaia Rossiia(1889), edited by V. L. Burtsev and V. K. DebogoriiaMokrievich, as well as the Zurich Literary Socialist Fund’s Sotsialisticheskaia biblioteka. Published in the United States were the workers’ newspaper Znamia (New York, 1889-91) and I. A. Gurvich’s newspaper Progress (New York, 1891-94). At the end of the 19th century the most important publications were those of the Group of Veteran Members of the People’s Will and the Free Russian Press Fund.

The social-democratic tendency in the free Russian press began in 1883, when the Liberation of Labor group in Switzerland began to publish The Library of Contemporary Socialism (1883-1902), and later The Workers’ Library(1884-1903), as well as the collection Sotsial-demokrat(1888-92). Works by members of the group (G. V. Plekhanov, V. I. Zasulich, and others) “were the first systematically to expound and draw all the practical conclusions from the ideas of Marxism” (Lenin, ibid., p. 95). In connection with the growth of the mass workers’ movement in Russia the Marxist trend in the free Russian press broadened, replacing its Narodnik tendency. During 1896-99 the Union of Russian Social Democrats and the Liberation of Labor group issued the collections Rabotnik and Listok “Rabotnika” on Lenin’s initiative. In 1900 the newspaper Iskra began to be published, and in 1901 the journal Zaria. They struggled for the creation of a social democratic workers’ party in Russia, and they opposed opportunism, whose sup-porters at that time were the “economist” organs—Rabochaia mysV (1897-1902) and Rabochee delo (1899-1902). From 1901 the Foreign League of Russian Revolutionary Social Democrats continued to publish Marxist “libraries,” which had been begun by the Liberation of Labor group. During 1902-05 the Social Democratic organization Zhizn’ (Life) and G. A. Kuklin’s publishing house issued the Library of Zhizn’ (20 titles) and the The Library of the Russian Proletariat (55 parts). With the emergence of Bolshevism (1903) began the history of the Bolshevik press, which occupied the foremost place in the free Russian press.

From 1900 to 1917 the works of the free Russian press were published in 11 foreign revolutionary printing houses. In addition to the Bolsheviks, other Russian political parties and groups engaged in publishing activity. In order to propagandize Tolstoyism, V. A. Chertkov founded the Svobodnoe slovo publishing house in London and a journal of the same name (1901-05). In Stuttgart and later in Paris, P. Struve’s liberal bourgeois journal Osvobozhdenie was published (1902-05). Anarchist publications included the collections Khleb i volia (Geneva, 1903-05), Burevestnik (Paris, 1906-10), and Anarkhist (Geneva, 1907-09). Among the Socialist Revolutionary publications were Revoliutsionnaia Rossiia (1900-05), Vestnik russkoi revoliutsii (1901-05), and Znamia truda (1907-14; in Paris from 1908). The Mensheviks issued Golos sotsial-demokrata (1908-11), Za partiiu (Paris, 1912-14), and other publications.

The free Russian press is an important source for the study of the Russian liberation movement. Abroad, its publications included Materials for the History of the Russian Social Revolutionary Movement (1893-96), Groups of Veteran Members of the People’s Will, and For One Hundred Years, by V. L. Burtsev (London, \891)’, Sources of the Revolutionary Movement in Russia for the Past Forty Years (1903) and Materials for the Study of the Revolutionary Movement in Russia (1905) by G. A. Kuklin; The RussianHistorical Library, by V. la. Bogucharskii (vols. 1-6, Stuttgart-Paris, 1903-05); and the collection Byloe (London-Paris, 1900-04, 1908-13). During the Revolution of 1905-07 many works of the free Russian press were republished in Russia legally; however, with the onset of the reaction they were confiscated by the agencies of the censorship. Systematic publication and study of the free Russian press began only after the Great October Socialist Revolution.


Lenin, V. I. “Pamiati Gertsena.“/W«. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 21. Lenin, V. I. “Iz proshlogo rabochei pechati.” Ibid., vol. 25.
Vol’naia russkaia pec hat’ v Rossiiskoi Publichnoi biblioteke.Paris, 1920.
Sotsial-demokraticheskie izdaniia, issue 1. Ukazatel’ sotsialdemokraticheskoi literatury na russkom iazyke (1883-1905). Moscow, 1922.
Mez’er, A. V. Slovarnyi ukazatel’ po knigovedeniiu, vols. 1-3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931-34.
Klevenskii, M. M., E. N. Kusheva, and O. P. Markova. Russkaia podpol’naia i zarubezhnaia pechat’: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’ vol. 1. Moscow, 1935.
Rudnitskaia, E. L. “Iz istorii revoliutsionnykh russkikh izdanii kontsa 1850-kh gg. za granitsei.” In the collection Revoliutsionnaia situatsiia v Rossii v 1859-1861 gg. Moscow, 1963.
Agitatsionnaia literatura russkikh revoliutsionnykh narodnikov. Leningrad, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Chicherin's essay "Contemporary Tasks of Russian Life" was part of a "liberal manuscript literature" (including three other essays by Chicherin), which Kavelin privately circulated in 1855-56, and which he then arranged to have published in London by Herzen's Free Russian Press. Chicherin's essays formed the most intellectually substantive part of the resulting collection, Voices from Russia.
This did not, however, distract him from the cause of Russian liberation: he set up the first uncensored Cyrillic press in Britain at his own expense (the Free Russian Press) and published large numbers of books and journals, often on bible paper for transport to Russia in the false bottoms of specially made suitcases.