Going to the People

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Going to the People


(khozhdenie v narod), a mass movement of the democratic youth into Russia’s rural areas during the 1870’s.

The slogan “To the people!” was set forth for the first time by A. I. Herzen in connection with the student unrest of 1861 (see Kolokol, issue 110). During the 1860’s and early 1870’s attempts to draw close to the people and spread revolutionary propaganda in the countryside were undertaken by the Dolgushintsy and by members of Land and Liberty, the Ishutin Circle, and the Ruble Society. A leading role in the development of the ideological climate that fostered the “going to the people” movement was played by P. L. Lavrov’s Historical Letters (1870), which called upon the intelligentsia to “pay its debt to the people”; The Position of the Working Class in Russia by V. V. Bervi (N. Flerovskii) was also important.

Preparations for the movement “to the people” began in the autumn of 1873. New circles were organized, with the Chaikovtsy becoming the principal group. Propagandistic literature was published by the printing shop of I. N. Myshkin in Moscow and that of the Chaikovtsy in Switzerland. Peasant clothes were procured, and the young people learned crafts in workshops specially set up for the purpose.

The movement, which began in the spring of 1874, was a spontaneous phenomenon having no coordinated plan, program, or organization. The participants included followers of Lavrov and of M. A. Bakunin; Lavrov’s followers advocated gradual preparation for a peasant revolution by means of socialist propaganda, but Bakunin’s called for an immediate revolt. Also taking part in the movement was the democratic intelligentsia, which was attempting to draw close to the people and serve them with its knowledge and skills. The distinctions among the various groups became blurred in the work “among the people”; virtually all the participants carried on “flying propaganda” for socialism as they wandered from village to village. The sole attempt to raise a peasant revolt was the Chigrin affair in 1877.

The “going to the people” movement first developed in the central Russian provinces of Moscow, Tver’, Kaluga, and Tula and soon spread to the Volga Region, including the provinces of Yaroslavl, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, and Saratov; it also spread to the Ukrainian provinces of Kiev, Kharkov, Kherson, and Chernigov. According to official data, propaganda was disseminated throughout 37 provinces of European Russia. In addition to the Potapov estate in Yaroslavl Province (important figures, A. I. Ivanchin-Pisarev and N. A. Morozov), the principal centers included Penza (D. M. Rogachev), Saratov (P. I. Voinaral’skii), Odessa (F. V. Volkhovskii and the Zhebunev brothers), and the Kiev Commune (V. K. Debogorii-Mokrievich and E. K. Breshko-Breshkovskaia). Other prominent figures in the movement included O. V. Aptekman, M. D. Muravskii, D. A. Klements, S. F. Kovalik, M. F. Frolenko, and S. M. Kravchinskii.

By the end of 1874 most of the propagandists had been arrested, but the movement continued into 1875. During the second half of the 1870’s, “settled propaganda” replaced “flying propaganda,” as the participants stopped moving about the countryside and took up residence in settlements organized by Land and Liberty. From 1873 through March 1879, 2,564 persons were questioned in an investigation of revolutionary propaganda. The chief participants in the movement were convicted in the Trial of the 193.

The “going to the people” movement suffered defeat primarily because it clung to the Utopian belief of the Narodniki (Populists) that a peasant revolution could triumph in Russia. The movement had no guiding center. Moreover, most of the propagandists had not mastered the habits of clandestine security and so the government was able to suppress the movement relatively quickly. Nevertheless, the “going to the people” movement marked a turning point in the history of revolutionary Populism. It paved the way for the abandonment of Bakuninism and contributed to an awareness that a political struggle had to be waged against the autocracy and that a centralized, clandestine organization of revolutionaries was needed.


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Lavrov, P. L. Narodniki-propagandisty 1873–1878 gg., 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1925.


Bogucharskii, V. Ia. Aktivnoe narodnichestvo semidesiatykh godov. Moscow, 1912.
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Zakharina, V. F. Golos revoliutsionnoi Rossii. Moscow, 1971.
Kraineva, N. Ia., and P. V. Pronina. Narodnichestvo v rabotakh sovetskikh issledovatelei za 1953–1970 gg. Moscow, 1971.


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