Underground Press

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Underground Press


in prerevolutionary Russia, uncen-sored publications, primarily of an antiautocratic, revolutionary democratic tendency, which were published in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In a broader sense, the underground press included all publications that were prevented by censorship from appearing openly in Russia. Like the free Russian press of the émigré revolutionary organizations and groups, the underground press was essentially propagandistic and agitational. It issued leaflets, proclamations, newspapers, and magazines, as well as books, including prose fiction and revolutionary poetry. The underground press and the free Russian press played a significant role in the struggle of the peoples of the Russian Empire against the autocracy. The underground press was an integral part of the Russian democratic and socialist movement.

The origin of the underground press is associated with the acquisition of printing and duplicating equipment by the revolutionaries (lithographic stones in the late 1840’s and hectographs in the late 1870’s) and with the development of underground printshops in the early 1860’s. Regular and systematic production of underground publications dates from the revolutionary situation in Russia in 1859–61. The first illegal printshop of that period was operated in Moscow from December 1860 to February 1861 by the students Ia. A. Sulin and I. K. Soroko and by P. S. Petrovskii-Il’enko, a former student. The most notable book printed there was December 14, 1825, and Emperor Nicholas, by A. I. Herzen and N. P. Ogarev. From 1860 to 1861 books by L. Feuerbach, L. Büchner, Herzen, and Ogarev and separate issues of Kolokol (nos. 60-74) were among the many works lithographed in Moscow by the student revolutionary circle organized by P. G. Zaichnevskii and P. E. Argiropulo and by the group known as the Library of Kazan Students.

The Velikoruss (Great Russian) leaflets, which appeared in St. Petersburg in July, September, and October 1861, were criticized by Zaichnevskii in the proclamation Young Russia (St. Petersburg, 1862). The proclamation To the Young Generation, written by M. L. Mikhailov and N. V. Shelgunov and printed in London by Herzen’s Free Russian Printing House, was distributed in Moscow and St. Petersburg in September 1861. In early 1862, three revolutionary proclamations were published— The Heroic Feat of Captain Aleksandrov of the Warsaw Telegraph Station, Zemstva Duma, and Officers! The Time Has Come…. At the same time, the first two issues of Russkaia pravda (Russian Truth) were lithographed. The “pocket press” operated by the St. Petersburg student P. D. Ballod printed an appeal to officers and the pamphlet The Russian Government Under the Protection of Shedo-Ferroti.

The members of the revolutionary secret society of the early 1860’s, Land and Liberty (Zemlia i Volia), engaged in significant publishing ventures. One of the first underground presses operated by Land and Liberty was established with the assistance of the publisher O. I. Bakst in St. Petersburg. Subsequently, it was transferred to Vitebsk Province and later, to the town of Ostrov in Pskov Province. Among the works published by the Land and Liberty presses were N. I. Utin’s proclamation To the Educated Classes (August 1862), the Svoboda (Freedom) leaflets (nos. 1-2, 1863), and the first issue of the journal Zemlia i volia. Many of the Land and Liberty publications circulated in the Russian Empire were printed by the Kolokol editorial board on Russian presses in London and Bern. (The Kolokol offices served as Land and Liberty’s organizational center abroad.)

In the early 1860’s members of the Committee of Russian Officers in Poland engaged in extensive agitational and propaganda work. They issued more than 16 revolutionary proclamations, including To the Russian Troops in Poland (May 1862), What the Russian People Want and What Those Who Love the People Should Do (May 1862), Russian Officers Appeal to Russian Soldiers in Poland (Warsaw, June 1862), and To the Officers of the Russian Troops From the Committee of Russian Officers in Poland (November 1862). In 1862-63 the revolutionary democrates crats K. Kalinovskii and W. Wróblewski directed the publication (in Grodno Province) and the distribution of Muzhitskaia pravda, the first illegal revolutionary newspaper in the Byelorussian language. With the intensification of persecution by the autocracy in early 1864, the underground virtually ceased to publish until the early 1870’s. (The only exception was P. N. Tkachev’s proclamation To Society! It was published on A. D. Dement’eva’s legal press in St. Petersburg in March 1869.)

The upsurge in the revolutionary movement in the 1870’s led to a significant development of the underground press. The first uncensored publication of the early 1870’s was N. P. Gon-charov’s leaflet Gallows (nos. 1-4, April-May 1871), which appeared in St. Petersburg. The first Narodnik (Populist) press was operated from July to August 1873 by the Dolgushintsy (a circle of revolutionaries headed by A. V. Dolgushin), initially in Zvenigorod district and later in Moscow at L. A. Dmokhovskii’s apartment. This press published V. V. Bervi-Flerovskii’s proclamation One Should Live According to the Laws of Nature and Truth, as well as two proclamations by Dolgushin— Address to the Russian People and Address to Educated People.

During the first half of the 1870’s— the period of the Narod-niki’s mass “going to the people” movement— a number of underground publications were produced in legal printing shops, which were founded by revolutionaries between 1859 and the mid-1890’s specifically for the purpose of lithographing illegal literature. Thus, in Moscow in 1874, I. N. Myshkin published works by F. Lassalle, excerpts from the journal Vpered! (Forward), and the proclamation What Is This, Brothers? E. O. Zas-lavskii published the charter of the Southern Union of Russian Workers and the Appeal to the Workers of the Iron Foundry in Odessa in 1875. The falsified Secret Imperial Charter and the Statutes of the Peasant Association of Secret Militia were printed in a secret shop organized in Kiev in 1876 by Ia. V. Stefanovich.

The second Land and Liberty organization, which was founded in St. Petersburg in 1876, published a great deal of revolutionary literature, considering the underground conditions under which it operated. Among its publications were the newspaper Zemlia i volia (1878–79); the Leaflet of Land and Liberty (March-June 1879); and many appeals, proclamations, and pamphlets, including S. M. Kravchinskii’s A Death for a Death!, Dolgushin’s Buried Alive, and A Speech by the Worker Petr Alekseev. The newspaper Nachalo (The Beginning) and the first issue of Letuchii listok (Leaflet; written by N. K. Mikhailov-skii) were printed on illegal presses in St. Petersburg in 1878.

Among the outstanding organizers of the underground press in the 1870’s were I. M. Koval’skii, G. V. Plekhanov, Kravchin-skii, N. A. Morozov, D. A. Klements, L. K. Bukh, N. K. Bukh, and A. I. Ventskovskii. From 1870 to 1879 there were approximately 20 underground printing shops in operation in Moscow, Kiev, St. Petersburg, Odessa, and other cities. They published more than 60 proclamations and appeals, as well as countless agitational and propaganda pamphlets.

During the revolutionary situation in Russia in 1878–80, particularly after the August 1879 split of Land and Liberty into two groups— the People’s Will (Narodnaia Volia) and the Black Partition (Chernyi Peredel)— illegal publications expressing the views of the People’s Will organization began to prevail in the underground press and maintained their dominant position until the mid-1880’s. Among those who organized the underground press of the People’s Will were A. A. Kviatkovskii, A. I. Zhelia-bov, A. D. Mikhailov, A. D. Oboleshev, A. I. Zundelevich, N. I. Kibal’chich, L. A. Tikhomirov, S. A. Andrzheikovich, M. P. Shebalin, P. F. Iakubovich, G. A. Lopatin, V. S. Lebedev, V. G. Bogoraz, L. Ia. Shternberg, N. M. Flerov, P. M. Manui-lov, V. S. Pankratov, N. M. Bogoraz, B. D. Orzhikh, A. N. Bakh, S. A. Ivanov, and M. R. Gots.

The underground press publications of the People’s Will included the newspaper Narodnaia volia (1879–85, on presses in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Derpt [now Tartu], Rostov-on-Don, and Taganrog), Listok “Narodnoi voli” (Leaflet of the People’s Will, 1880–86), and Rabochaia gazeta (Workers’ Newspaper, 1880–81). In addition, more than 160 leaflets, proclamations, and appeals were published, including To the French People From the Executive Committee of the Russian Revolutionary Party (Feb. 11, 1880), From the Executive Committee to European Society (March 8, 1881), and To the Russian Working People (Aug. 24, 1881). A number of programmatic documents and propaganda pamphlets were also published by the underground press of the People’s Will organization. In the 1880’s about 25 of the organization’s presses were in operation in St. Petersburg and in various provincial centers. There were also about 35 presses operated by revolutionary circles and groups that supported the People’s Will organization.

In the 1880’s the proportion of student publications issued by the underground press increased, as student interests began to prevail over more general political concerns. Tolstoyan literature also accounted for a significant proportion of the publications issued by the underground press.

Like the People’s Will organization, other political groups participating in the Russian revolutionary movement established underground presses. Separate issues of Chernyi peredel and the newspaper Zerno (Grain) were published in 1880–81 on an underground press in St. Petersburg and later in Minsk. In Kazan and other cities, local groups of supporters of the Black Partition organization developed publishing activities. The first illegal workers’ newspaper in Russia, Rabochaia zaria (Workers’ Dawn), which was founded as the organ of the Northern Union of Russian Workers by V. P. Obnorskii and S. N. Khalturin, was published in February 1880 in St. Petersburg. In Kiev in 1880–81 more than ten proclamations were printed on the press operated by the Southern Union of Russian Workers and founded by E. N. Koval’skaia and N. P. Shchedrin. The journal Rabochii (Worker) was printed by hectograph in Rostov-on-Don in 1883. The Blagoev group issued the first Social Democratic newspaper in Russia— Rabochii (nos. 1-2, St. Petersburg, 1885).

In Warsaw, Polish socialists organized the publication of the newspaper Proletariat (nos. 1-5, 1883–84). The Union of Polish Workers (founded in 1889 by J. Marchlewski and J. Leder) published many works, including S. Dickstein’s pamphlet What Man Lives By. Printed for the first time in Warsaw in 1881, Dickstein’s pamphlet was translated into Russian several times and widely distributed among the workers in Russia.

In Moscow in 1883–84 the Society of Translators and Publishers, which had been founded in 1882 by a group of students led by P. A. Argunov, P. V. Sokolov, and V. T. Raspopin, used N. Iankovskii’s legally operated lithographic equipment to publish the anthology Socialist Knowledge, as well as several of the works of K. Marx and F. Engels (Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, On the Housing Question, Wage Labor and Capital, “The Civil War in France, and the Communist Manifesto, translated by Plekhanov). Between 1882 and 1884 the Communist Manifesto was published twice by the People’s Will organization at the University of St. Petersburg and by People’s Will circles in Moscow and Kharkov. In 1802 the Brusnev group printed two issues of the hectographed paper Proletarii.

In the 1880’s there were about 15 workers’ and Social Democratic presses in operation in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Łódż, and Kazan. In the 1880’s and 1890’s mimeograph machines were widely used by the underground press, especially the Social Democratic press. With the rise of a mass working-class movement in Russia, the People’s Will tendency in the underground press gave way to the Marxist trend.

In the first half of the 1890’s a number of underground presses were in operation in Russia, including those established by the People’s Right Party (Narodnoe Pravo; Smolensk, 1894), the Workers’ Union in Moscow (1894–95), and the Gruppa Narodo-vol’tsev (Group of Supporters of the People’s Will; St. Petersburg, 1892-93, and Lakhti, 1894–96). Hectographs were also used by many local revolutionary circles, including Social Democratic circles in St. Petersburg, Moscow, the village of Gorky in Vladimir Province, and Borzna district of Chernigov Province. In 1894 these local Social Democratic circles printed V. I. Lenin’s What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social Democrats.

The proletarian stage of the history of the underground press began with the founding of the St. Petersburg Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class by Lenin in 1895. The Union of Struggle, which published more than 70 leaflets, as well as Lenin’s pamphlet Explanation of the Law on FinesImposed on Factory Workers, made a major contribution to the organization of the underground presses of the RSDLP and to the establishment of the Bolshevik press, which took the leading position in the underground press.

In addition to Bolshevik publications, between 1900 and 1917 the SR’s (Socialist Revolutionaries), Mensheviks, anarchists, and other political tendencies and parties opposed to the autocracy operated at least 35 underground presses in such cities as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Bialystok, Kiev, Kostroma, Tomsk, Saratov, and Irkutsk.

In the early 20th century a number of documents related to the underground press were reprinted in Literature of the People’s Will Party (Paris, 1905) and Revolutionary Journalism of the 1870’s (Paris, 1905). The systematic study of the underground press, a valuable source for the history of the Russian liberation movement, began after the October Revolution of 1917. Reprints include Cherny peredel, Organ of the Socialist Federalists, 1880-81 (vol. 1 of Pamiatniki agitatsionnoi literatury [Masterpieces of Agitational Literature], Moscow-Petrograd, 1923) and Literature of the People’s Will Party (Moscow, 1930).


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