Nikolai Platonovich Ogarev

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ogarev, Nikolai Platonovich


Born Nov. 24 (Dec. 6), 1813; died May 31 (June 12), 1877. Russian revolutionary, social critic, poet. Born in St. Petersburg. Member of the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry).

In 1830, Ogarev began his studies at Moscow University, where a student circle that was clearly political formed around him and his friend A. I. Herzen. In the summer of 1834 he and some of the other members of the circle were arrested. Ogarev was exiled to Penza Province in April 1835; in 1839 he received permission to reside in Moscow.

In 1840, Ogarev began publishing poems, which were favorably received by V. G. Belinskii. He spent most of the years from 1841 to 1846 in Germany, Italy, and France. He attended lectures on philosophy and the natural sciences at the University of Berlin and studied at a medical school in Paris. At the end of 1846, Ogarev went to live on his estate in Penza Province. He was arrested once again in 1850 but was soon released. In 1856 he emigrated to Great Britain.

Ogarev’s world view developed under the influence of the Decembrist movement. Other influences on his world view were the ideas of the French Revolution; the poetry of A. S. Pushkin, K. F. Ryleev, and F. Schiller; and the ideas of Western European Utopian socialism. Later, studying the German classical philosophy of Hegel and Feuerbach and the natural sciences, Ogarev appraised Hegelian dialectics critically, in a revolutionary and practical spirit, and arrived at a philosophical-materialist world view. In the ideological struggle of the 1840’s he led, along with Belinskii and Herzen, the revolutionary-democratic tendency that was taking shape. At the end of the 1840’s, Ogarev was led to the conclusion that a revolutionary-democratic struggle with the existing system in Russia was unavoidable. He came to this conclusion upon a deeper examination of the economic conditions of the Russian people and a reappraisal of Western European Utopian socialism in light of the defeat of the 1848 Revolution.

Moving to London, Ogarev associated himself with the revolutionary propaganda begun by Herzen and together with Herzen headed the free Russian press. He was one of the organizers of the journal Kolokol (1857–67), in which a socioeconomic program for the abolition of serfdom was advanced. The program included a plan to grant the peasants that land which they, to all intents and purposes, already possessed. It called for the liquidation of the bureaucracy and the introduction of an elective judiciary and administration; the end of censorship; the abolition of military recruitment and a reduction in the size of the army; freedom of religion; and full publicity for legal proceedings. The theory of “Russian socialism” advanced by Herzen was developed further in articles by Ogarev.

Ogarev believed that the chief factor distinguishing Russia’s sociopolitical history from the history of the Western European peoples was the preservation in the Russian Empire of the fundamentals of the common people’s way of life in the obshchina (peasant commune). The obshchina had been left untouched by a state that, in Ogarev’s opinion, had arisen only out of a need to struggle with the Mongol-Tatar yoke. Not acknowledging the existence of feudalism in Russia, Ogarev believed that the principle of private landownership by pomeshchiki (fiefholders), along with Russia’s European form of government, her science, and her culture, had been introduced into Russia by Peter I. He supported the creation, on the basis of the obshchina system, of a people’s democratic state—a federal republic of self-governing obshchiny united in volosti (small rural districts) and districts. His “Memorandum on a Secret Society” contained a detailed plan for organizing social forces for the purpose of a fundamental transformation of Russia’s social and political system. In articles and leaflets he developed the idea of a peasant revolution as an organized, conscious, directed action. He energetically supported the 1863–64 Polish uprising. At the end of the 1850’s and beginning of the 1860’s, he helped found the society Land and Liberty. For the purpose of propagandizing directly to the people, Herzen and Ogarev formed the newspaper Obshchee veche in 1862.

With the transfer of the free Russian press from London to Geneva in 1865, Ogarev moved to Switzerland. In 1869 and 1870 he participated in M. A. Bakunin’s and S. G. Nechaev’s propaganda-agitation campaign and was co-publisher with Nechaev of Kolokol. He summed up the results of his theoretical inquiries in his article “Answers to Herzen’s Article ‘Between Little Old Men’ and to Bakunin’s Pamphlet ‘The Formulation of the Revolutionary Question’” (1869). Acknowledging the inner necessity and law-like nature of the historical process, he saw the decisive force of progress to be revolution rather than the spreading of knowledge, as he had believed earlier. He underestimated, however, the importance of the economic preconditions for revolution—a reflection of growing populist tendencies in his socialist views.

Ogarev’s romantic lyric poetry from the first 15 years of his writing is imbued with a search for truth, justice, and freedom and a striving to comprehend the laws of the world. The pessimistic aspects of his poetry can be seen in the cycle Monologues (1844–47). However, the poems in this cycle contain not only “Hamlet” motifs but also a belief in the future—in the idea of negation as a progressive force. A tendency to social criticism is also characteristic of his lyric poetry. Occupying a central place in Ogarev’s poetic legacy is the narrative poem Humor (parts 1–2, 1840–41, published 1857 in London; part 3, 1867–68, published in Poliarnaia zvezda for 1869). The poem is both lyrical monologue and friendly discussion, letter and diary; it is a confession with elements of political satire. In emigration, Ogarev used his poetry to serve his revolutionary aims. In works of literary criticism he substantiated the idea of the social function of poetry. In articles on art and literature he propagandized the ideas of realism.

In 1873, Ogarev once again moved to Great Britain. In the last years of his life he became close to P. L. Lavrov. He died in Greenwich, near London, and was buried there. In March 1966 his remains were transferred to the Novodevich’e Cemetery in Moscow.


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