Narodnaya Volya

Narodnaya Volya (Народная воля in Russian, Peoples Will in English), Russian revolutionary organization in the early 1880s. Formed in August 1879 after Land and Liberty (Zemlya i volya) had split in two: Narodnaya Volya and Cherniy Peredel (Black repartition).

Its founders were professional revolutionaries - supporters of political struggle against autocracy. They have created a centralized, well disguised, and most significant organization in times of diversified liberation movements in Russia. N.v. was led by its Executive Committee: A. Mikhailov, A.Kvyatkovsky, Andrei Zhelyabov, Sophia Perovskaya, Vera Figner, N.Morozov, M.Frolenko, L.Tikhomirov, A.Barannikov, A.Yakimova, M.Oshanina and others.

The Executive Committee was in charge of a network of local and special groups (comprised of workers, students, military). In 1879-1883, N.v. had its affiliates in almost 50 cities, especially in Ukraine and the Volga region. Though the number of its members never exceeded 500, N.v. had a few thousands of followers.

1 The Program of Narodnya Volya

2 Resort to terrorism

3 Aftermath

Table of contents

The Program of Narodnya Volya

N.v.s Program contained the following demands: convocation of the Constituent Assembly (for designing Constitution); introduction of universal suffrage; permanent peoples representation, freedom of speech, press, and assembly; communal self-government; exchange of the permanent army with peoples volunteer corps; transfer of land to the people; granting oppressed peoples their right for self-determination. N.v.'s Program was a mix of democratic and socialist reforms, however, its distinct feature was its emphasis on democratic reforms. Acknowledging the necessity of political struggle with autocracy, N.v. made a big step forward compared to Narodniki. However, they remained socialist utopians, still sharing principal ideas of Narodniki, especially the one about the possibility to achieve socialism in Russia through a peasant revolution passing the stage of capitalism. Most of the members of N.v. believed in the possibility of combining political and socialist revolutions, relying on socialist instincts of the Russian peasantry. Other members believed in a step-by-step revolution, meaning a political revolution would have to take place first and, after the autocracy will have been overthown and democratic liberties established, revolutionaries would prepare people for the socialist revolution. The Liberal faction of N.v. (which had no real influence) proposed to limit their demands to getting a Consitution from the tsarist government.

N.v. spreaded its propaganda at all strata of population. Its newspapers Narodnaya Volya and The Workers Gazette were trying to popularize the idea of a political struggle with autocracy. Their struggle to seize power in the country was crowned by the slogan Now or never!. N.v. assigned the part of preparing and leading the uprising to the revolutionary minority, that is to itself. The masses had to play the part of a second fiddle. This was exactly what the Soviet historians would later call a typical blanquism, meaning N.v. understood political struggle only in terms of conspiracy and, therefore, looked more like a sect.

Resort to terrorism

As time went by, terror was gaining more and more importance, as well. A special place in the history of N.v. belongs to its Terrorist faction, which members - including Aleksandr Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin's brother) - are also known as Pervomartovtsi. N.v. prepared 7 assassination attempts on the life of Alexander II of Russia (until they finally killed him) and later on Alexander III of Russia. Its terror frightened the government and persuaded it to make a few concessions. However, the regime soon realized that the revolutionaries had not enjoyed the support of the masses. It gave the regime all the more reason to counterattack. N.v. lost its best and the brightest in this terror and rendered it lifeless. In 1879 1883, there were more than 70 trials of N.v.s members with about 2,000 people brought to trial.


After the assassination of Alexander II, N.v. was going through a period of ideological and organizational crisis. The most significant attempts at reviving N.v. are associated with the names of G.Lopatina (1884), P.Yakubovich (1883-1884), B.Orzhikh, V.Bogoraz, L.Sternberg (1885), and S.Ginzburg (1889). Organizations similar to N.v. in the 1890s (in St.Petersburg and abroad) pretty much abandoned many of the revolutionary ideas of N.v. N.v.s activity became one of the most important elements of the revolutionary situation in the late 1879 - 1880. However, its Programs groundlessness, wrong tactics of political conspiracy, and predominance of terrorism over other means of struggle were bound to fail.

See also: Narodnaja Volya (newspaper)