How does a minister read a socialist? Political protest of the 1870s as viewed b...

How does a minister read a socialist? Political protest of the 1870s as viewed by participants in interdepartmental meetings

Yuliya A. Safronova
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The article is devoted to the governmental policy in relation to political protest during the reign of Alexander II of Russia. Based on the materials of interdepartmental meetings of the first half of the 1870s, it shows that the decisions that played a key role in the escalation of revolutionary violence and the emergence of political terrorism did not result from “fear” of revolutionary threat. On the contrary, they arose as a result of misunderstanding the nature of the new phase of youth protest, partly associated with the inertia of the perception of the incipient “going to the people” (khozhdenie v narod) by analogy with the European revolutionary movement, on the one hand, and earlier organizations, primarily the People’s Retribution (Narodnaya rasprava), on the other.
At the same time, participants in interdepartmental meetings had to make decisions in conditions of knowingly incomplete information about the ideology of political protest and its specific manifestations. Under those circumstances they had to trust experts from the Third Section and the Ministry of Justice who prepared analytical notes on illegal communities, focusing on the interests of their own departments. Analysis of the materials provided for discussion, primarily texts attributed by the police as the writings of Kropotkin brothers, allows us to conclude that the Russian bureaucratic elite, who perceived socialism as “wild theories,” refused to consider youth protest as a serious threat and gave complete control over the solution to the problem to the relevant departments. This attitude was determined by contradictions within the government, where the struggle to form a further political course prevented the development of a coordinated policy regarding revolutionary movement.
Yuliya A. Safronova
Candidate of Historical Sciences, Associate Professor
European University at St Petersburg, St Petersburg, Russia
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political protest, Alexander II, revolutionary populism, Narodnik movement, bureaucracy, reading practices
For citation:
Yu.A. Safronova, “How does a minister read a socialist? Political protest of the 1870s as viewed by participants in interdepartmental meetings,” Historia Provinciae – the Journal of Regional History, vol. 6, no. 1 (2022): 126–63,

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