Student Movement in Russia

Student Movement in Russia


a part of the Russian liberation movement.

The student movement in Russia arose in the first quarter of the 19th century and played an important role in the country’s sociopolitical life in the second half of the 19th century and in the early 20th century. It evolved from an academic concern with the aims and means of struggle, which characterized it in the 19th century, into a movement that from the beginning of the 20th century was oriented toward the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy. The student movement significantly aided the Russian proletariat in resolving democratic issues in the struggle for liberation.

As a socially heterogeneous mass, the students reflected the attitudes of the different strata and classes with which they were associated. In the 1880’s and 1890’s, the movement fed on the struggle against the reactionary policies of the tsarist government in regard to higher education, such as the university statute of 1884 and various directives of the Ministry of Education and the crude, arbitrary treatment of students by the police and administration. The student movement aimed at winning institutional academic rights and freedoms.

Between 1861 and 1895—a period in which the liberation struggle was dominated by the raznochintsy (intellectuals of no definite class)—the student movement took such specific forms as collective boycotting of the lectures of reactionary professors, nonobservance of orders issued by school authorities, participation in forbidden gatherings, brief strikes, joint petitions, and demonstrations. Leadership of the radical student movement was assumed by the zemliachestva—quasi-legal student organizations formed in the 1850’s and 1860’s. In the autumn of 1861, there were student disorders at all higher educational institutions in protest against adoption of Putiatin’s regulations for the universities. In the spring of 1869, the students of St. Petersburg demanded institutional freedoms.

A radical youth movement began in the autumn of 1878, in response to the Narodnik (Populist) “going to the people” movement. The autumn of 1879 was marked by student disturbances in protest against the transfer of functions from professors’ elected disciplinary tribunals to tribunals appointed by university boards of directors. In 1880 a public insult was dealt to academic authorities of the universities of Moscow, Warsaw, and Kazan in protest against brutal treatment of students by the police. In the spring of 1887, a group of members of People’s Will (Narodnaia Volia) headed by A. I. Ul’ianov was arrested for its activities, leading to student ferment in the principal cities and to the closing of almost all higher educational institutions in the autumn of that year. On Dec. 4,1887, V. I. Lenin took an active part in a students’ meeting at the University of Kazan.

In the spring of 1890, student demonstrations were held in protest against the “reform” of the Petrovskoe Agricultural Academy along the lines of the university statute of 1884. In the period dominated by the raznochintsy, students also took part in general democratic demonstrations—for example, students of the University of St. Petersburg at the funeral of T. G. Shevchenko (Feb. 28, 1861), students of the University of Kazan and of the Kazan Ecclesiastical Academy at the requiem held for peasants killed during the suppression of the Bezdna Uprising of 1861, and the student movement’s mass participation in the struggle against the famine of 1892–93. Such demonstrations served to awaken and develop political consciousness not only among the majority of students but among the masses as well. Participants of the student movement filled the ranks of revolutionary organizations—first of the Populists and later of the Marxists and Social Democrats.

The second half of the 1890’s saw the mass refusal of radical students to swear allegiance to Nicholas II, the first Russian nationwide student strike (in the winter of 1899), and other student demonstrations. The proletarian phase of the liberation struggle had begun in 1895, and under its direct influence the student movement in the early 20th century assumed a distinctly anti-governmental character, with protest taking the form of strikes and street demonstrations. Stronger reciprocal links were forged by the illegal student organizations of different educational institutions and different cities.

Within the organizational committees that led the strikes and within the zemliachestva and other student organizations, there was growing conflict among the various political groupings. In 1903 six political groups were active among students, corresponding to the political groupings in Russian society (see V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 7, p. 343). This was reflected in the work and the decisions of the second and third All-Russian Student Congresses, held in November 1903 and September 1905. The role of instigating and leading student youth demonstrations at the turn of the 20th century was taken over by the revolutionary-bourgeois democrats; in most instances that role was passed on to the Social Democrats during the first Russian revolution (1905–07).

In the years of ripening revolutionary crisis, the most important events of the student movement were as follows: the second and third general student strikes, in the winters of 1901 and 1902, each with more than 30,000 participants; the joint student-worker demonstrations in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, and Kazan against the drafting of 183 students into the army and against the government’s “temporary regulations” of July 29, 1899, and Dec. 22, 1901; and the demonstrations by workers and students in St. Petersburg and Moscow, in November and December 1904, in support of the main political demands of the RSDLP. The students’ protest, supported by progressive workers and by the intelligentsia, took on a national political character.

During this period, the political views of the students involved in the struggle were influenced by three social forces: the petit bourgeois democrats (Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks), the bourgeois democrats, or “liberationists,” and the revolutionary Social Democrats, whose influence grew year by year. In 1903 the second congress of the RSDLP asked all local party organizations to help youth acquire a socialist world view and create its own independent organizations. The democratic student body, founded on its long experience in struggle and influenced by the revolutionary propaganda of Lenin’s Iskra and by the political and organizational activity of the Bolsheviks, became one of the reserve forces of the proletarian movement.

During the Revolution of 1905–07, revolutionary-democratic students, in the autumn of 1905, offered the facilities of higher educational institutions for the use of political assemblies and workers’ meetings. They announced their support of the main Bolshevik tactical slogans and formed their own fighting detachments, which battled on the barricades of Moscow, Kharkov, and Odessa. In the reactionary years that followed, many students abandoned the revolutionary struggle. Still, the numerous Bolshevik student organizations were able to lead the student disturbances of 1908 and 1910–12. During the February Revolution of 1917, the student movement merged with the general revolutionary stream.

For a discussion of students in the USSR, see the relevant section under .


Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See Index vol., part 1, p. 667.)
Gusiatnikov, P. S. Revoliutsionnoe studencheskoe dvizhenie v Rossii 1899–1907. Moscow, 1971.
Peshnikov, V. V. V. I. Lenin i studencheskoe dvizhenie v Rossii. Moscow, 1973.


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