January 01, 2006

The Trial of Yevno Azef

By early 1906, the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRs) was one of the best known parties in Russia. Founded at the turn of the 20th century by several hundred young people, SRs were obsessed with “saving” the people and carrying out an immediate revolution. They longed to build socialism and were certain they would be supported by the vast hordes of the peasantry.

To the SRs, the peasants were natural socialists: for centuries villages had been organized around a communal structure that not only decided all questions of importance to the life of the village, but was even considered the legal owner of the land. The obshchinas (village communes) divided their land among their members “as was fair,” i.e. depending on the number of mouths to feed or arms laboring in a family.

But did the peasants want a revolution? This was not a simple question. After all, a previous generation of Russian revolutionaries had tried to incite the peasantry, to little effect: the peasants were outraged at the thought of action against their tsar.

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