In the late 1880s German socialists thought the United States “had much better hopes” of achieving socialism than Russia as “the masses are quicker.” At that time a definite revolutionary doctrine was emerging: the belief in “the people,” socialism, materialism, technology, and the concept “of the ruthless “New Man” breaking sown the past and turning his back on it.” It was a new religion with no ceremonies or church, and pursued with “a confused belief in idealistic terrorism for its own sake.” History, traditions and culture became enemies of the state.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Conceiving the Professional Revolutionary Man
“[The] existing world must be swept away. “Nihilism was born in Russia.” Dostoevsky declares. “We are all nihilists.” Blood will flow in streams,” Alexander Herzen cries. “And the upshot? . . . It is enough that . . . there will perish the world which oppresses the new men of the new time . . . Long live chaos, therefore, long live destruction! We are the executioners of the past.”
The Russia in which Nicholas II had grown up was filled with all kinds of “believers” who swallowed the queerest creeds, ranging all the way from minor religious deviations and sects who expected salvation from the drinking of milk to less harmful people who specialized in drunken sex orgies, violence, collective torture, self-mutilation and sometimes collective suicide.
To some extent the theme of the Russian revolution was the bridging of [the] gap between the universities and the [mostly illiterate] peasants, the combination, as in some chemical formula, of the intellectuals and the masses, and this is the point where the revolution became really explosive.
In the 1850’s and 60’s nihilism [had arrived in Russia] – the word was invented by Turgenev – the cult of believing in the destruction of all constituted authority, and it was accompanied by the idea that the way ahead lay not through art but through science; science now was to be the great panacea. These were also the years of the first serious attempts by the intelligentsia to combine with the peasants.
The Narodnik movement was an intensely Russian affair, a going down to the peasants rather than an effort to raise them up. The Narodniks believed that the revolution would be based upon the workers on the land, and that their instinctive communism would legitimately form the new Russian state. Out of these beginnings one of the two great left-wing parties – the Social-Revolutionaries – grew up.
Meanwhile, a technique for the physical act of revolution, for terrorism and all the business of secret cells and underground communications was developing. A new man was conceived, the professional revolutionary, a man who regarded himself as expendable, who followed blindly the leader and the party line, and who if need be would lie, cheat and murder to gain his objective.
He was possessed of neither patriotism nor of pity; his only faith was in the revolution itself, and in this he was a fanatic. [It was envisaged that] a communist state on utopian lines . . . would be created by a small resolute group of these supermen.
The terrorists now were professional terrorists [including] university students who lived in a world of passionate idealism and passionate hate. Violence was beginning to beget violence in a vicious and never-ending circle, and it was destroying the possibility of any reasonable approach to reform.
The young men on fire with the idea of personal sacrifice, despised liberalism; socialism – the redistribution of wealth and the end of Czardom – was their direct aim, and it became for them a sacred trust.”
(The Russian Revolution, Alan Morehead, Bantam Books, 1959, excerpts, pp. 30-34)