Man behind the table 1875

From The Golden Age of Russian Literature


Populism in Russia first emerged in the 1860s after the reforms of Alexander II. Influenced by European progressive thought, liberal-minded university students formed a socialist group called the Populists. The Populists believed that Russia, with its predominantly peasant population, could emerge as an agrarian communist country. In the early 1870s, a populist movement called the "khozhdenie v narod" (going to the people) developed. University intellectuals, dressed in peasant clothes, went into the countryside in an effort to enlighten the peasants and encourage them to rise up against the tsar. However, most of the illiterate peasants would have none of this, and turned the students into the police. After numerous arrests, trials, and episodes of peasant indifference, the populists decided that the enlightenment of the peasantry was not an effective avenue towards socialism. The radical revolutionary group Narodnaya Volya (the People's Will) developed from this group of frustrated populists, and they were responsible for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The populists served as predecessors to the socialist movement that emerged in Russia in the early 20th century.