Force and The People’s Will

On page 337, Saunders uses a citation to summarize The Peoples Will’s philosophy on force and violence:

Their prime concern was the acquisition of force. ‘Is terror necessary? Are newspapers necessary? Is a change of programme necessary? Is activity among young people, workers, soldiers, the peasantry, in zemstva, in the intelligentsia and so on necessary? To all these and all similar questions we reply: how much force will this or that tactic deliver?’

Saunders seems to use this as evidence of the revolutionary group’s ultimately statist aims. His claim is that force is an essentially statist tool and therefore The People’s Will represented a kind of “populism” concerned more with taking control of state structures than with replacing those structures with something like the peasant commune.

Saunders’ analysis thus raises an important question. If the state maintains its legitimacy by preserving a monopoly on force, and revolutionary groups such as The People’s Will sought to undermine this legitimacy, how could they possibly do so without force?

Despite noting the morally corrupting influence of violence on society, Vera Figner seems to view violence of the kind The People’s Will participated in as necessary and even inevitable given the political climate of Russia in 1877. According to Figner: “The assignation of the Emperor took place at a time when there was a general conviction that the attempt was going to be made” (116). Perhaps then the problem Saunders poses is relevant to our discussion of Figner’s text: Does the picture Figner paints of The People’s Will suggest that they were essentially statist in nature?

We have already conducted a similar discussion about terror and revolution in Lenin’s “What is to be done?” In that pamphlet, Lenin expressed a far more reluctant view on terror which he viewed as a source of disorganization in revolutionary movements. How might this view factor into our discussion?

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1 Response to Force and The People’s Will

  1. dahler says:

    I’d like to suggest that the People’s Will assumed a statist nature as a necessary means of combating the government, but did not see themselves as attempting to take control over existing state structures. So, while they employed the statist tool of violence, their aims were not essentially statist in nature.

    As we discussed today, the application of force was overseen and directed by the Executive Committee. This committee was put together for the very purpose of effectively applying force against the government. Figner remarks that “rigid centralization” was the “only condition to insure success in the warfare against a centralized enemy.” (1991, 73). In answer to your question, Brandon, I suggest that violence against the state was the main aim and purpose of the People’s Will, not statism per se. Statists want a monopoly on violence. The People’s Will wanted to destroy the government, monopoly or not.

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