Sergei Kravchinskii

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kravchinskii, Sergei Mikhailovich


(pseudonym, S. Stepniak). Born July 1 (13), 1851, in the village of Novyi Starodub, in present-day Petrovo Raion, Kirovograd Oblast, Ukrainian SSR; died Dec. 11 (23), 1895, in London. Russian Narodnik (Populist) revolutionary and writer.

The son of a military doctor, Kravchinskii graduated from the Mikhail Artillery Academy in St. Petersburg in 1870. From 1871 to 1873 he studied at the Forestry Institute. He began disseminating revolutionary propaganda in 1870 among students at the Artillery Academy and among workers. In 1872 he joined the Chaikovskii circle, and in the autumn of 1873 he “went to the people,” propagandizing among the peasants of Tver’ and Tula provinces. He was soon arrested, but he escaped and lived as a fugitive until he left Russia at the end of 1874. During the summer of 1875 he took part in the Herzegovina rebellion and contributed to the Bakunin-oriented newspaper Rabotnik, published in Geneva.

Kravchinskii’s political views were not clear-cut. First embracing the anarchistic views of M. A. Bakunin, he was later sympathetic to the political views of P. L. Lavrov. In his propagandistic tales Kravchinskii popularized socialist ideas, discussed K. Marx, and summoned the reader to rebellion—for example, “The Tale of a Kopek” (1874), “The Wise Woman Naumovna” (1875), which I. S. Turgenev and G. I. Uspenskii praised highly, and “Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire” (1876). Kravchinskii was arrested for participating in an armed uprising in the Italian province of Benevento in 1877, but was pardoned in January 1878. From May 1878 he lived illegally in St. Petersburg, where he joined the Land and Freedom group, established a printing house, and edited the first number of the journal Zemlia i Volia (Land and Freedom). On Aug. 4, 1878, he killed the chief of gendarmes N. V. Mezentsov. In late 1878 he took refuge abroad, living in Switzerland, Italy, and from 1884, London, where he was killed by falling under a train.

In the early 1880’s Kravchinskii joined the People’s Will group, although he disagreed with some of its members on many important questions. In the 1890’s he renounced terrorism as a method of political struggle. In 1891 he established in London the Foundation of the Free Russian Press, which published banned works by V. G. Korolenko, V. V. Bervi-Flerovskii, and Kravchinskii himself— Propaganda Abroad (1892) and What We Need and the Beginning of the End (2nd ed., 1892), the latter cited by V. I. Lenin in Political Struggle and Political Chicanery (Iskra, no. 26, 1902). Kravchinskii organized in London the English Society of Friends of Russian Freedom (1890) and edited its organ, the journal Free Russia (vols. 1–3, 1890–92). He delivered lectures and speeches about Russia. While abroad Kravchinskii wrote and published many books on Russia and especially on Russian revolutionaries, notably the collections of literary and publicistic sketches Underground Russia (1881; author’s Russian translation, 1893), Russia Under the Tsars (vols. 1–2, 1885; Russian translation, 1964), and Tsar Blockhead and Tsar Heron (vols. 1–2, 1895; Russian translation, 1921) and the novels Andrei Kozhukov (1889; Russian translation, 1898) and Stundist Pavel Rudenko (1894). Kravchinskii’s writings are imbued with a romantic view of reality, emotionalism, and revolutionary enthusiasm. He was on close terms with F. Engels (from 1884), E. Marx-Aveling, G. V. Plekhanov, W. Morris, B. Shaw, O. Wilde, G. Brandes, G. Kennan, and E. Voynich. His extraordinary personality and charm, as well as his unique talent, are depicted in many memoirs, including those of N. A. Morozov, P. A. Kropotkin, V. I. Zasulich, B. Shaw, and G. Brandes, in E. Zola’s novel Germinal, in E. Voynich’s novel Gadfly, and in A. A. Blok’s poem Retribution.

Kravchinskii’s works influenced public opinion in Western Europe and the USA, for the first time describing the real nature of the Russian revolutionary movement. His books entered Russia illegally and helped mold several generations of Russian revolutionaries.


Sobr. soch., vols. 1–7. Petrograd, 1917–19.
Soch., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1958.


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Taratuta, E. A. E. L. Voinich, 2nd ed., Moscow, 1964.
Taratuta, E. A. Russkii drug Engel’sa: Rasskaz ob internatsional’nykh sviaziakh russkogo revoliutsionera-narodnika S. M. Stepniaka-Kravchinskogo. Moscow, 1970.
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Maevskaia, T. P. Slovo i podvig: Zhizni tvorchestvo S. M. StepniakaKravchinskogo. Kiev, 1968.


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