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Sergei Nechaev

A special place within the conspiratorial trend belongs to Sergei Nechaev (1847-82), a revolutionary fanatic who developed the idea of an utterly immoral, ruthless and dedicated revolutionary conspiracy to its extreme logical conclusion.  He formulated his principles in what is probably the most famous and certainly the most astonishing document in the history of the nineteenth-century Russian revolutionary movement, The Catechism of a Revolutionary (1868).  It was meant to be a code of rules by which the revolutionary should be guided. It depicts the revolutionary as a man who has severed all ties with society and whose single purpose in life is revolution. Here are some of the rules from the Catechism:



The revolutionary is a lost man.  He has no interests of his own, no affairs of his own, no feelings, no attachments, no belongings, not even a name of his own. Everything in him is absorbed by a single, exclusive interest, a single thought, a single passion - the revolution.

In every depths of his being , not just in words but in deeds, he has broken every tie with the civil order and the whole educated world, with all laws, conventions, generally accepted conditions and morals of this world.  He will be an implacable enemy of this world, and if he continues to live in it, that will only be so as to destroy it the more effectively...

He despises public opinion; he despises and hates existing social morality in all its demands and expressions.  For him moral means everything that facilitates the triumph of the revolution; everything that hinders it is immoral and criminal...


Nechaevs rejection of the all-human moral norms, his negation of all moral inhibitions led him to embrace totally the principle of the ends justify the means. He actually tried to enforce his extraordinary rules in his underground revolutionary group. Nechaev demanded from his associates unquestioning obedience, treating them as cogs in the machine of destruction. His extreme amoralism led him to murder the student I.I. Ivanov, a member of his circle, who had allowed himself to disagree with the groups dictator and criticize him. Having committed the crime, Nechaev fled abroad but was caught in Switzerland and extradited to Russia as a common criminal. He died in prison.   

As an ideological tendency within the revolutionary movement Nechaevism came to signify a combination of boundless devotion to the revolution with the utter ruthlessness in the choice of means of achieving it. Its pathological traits gave an early warning of the possibility of a criminal degeneration of lofty ideas. Despite his notoriety, Nechaev would be later acknowledged by Lenin and his Bolsheviks as a precursor of Bolshevism. Indeed, some of his ideas, such as the indispensability of a conspiratorial organization, strict subordination, elements of planning of an uprising and his formulation of the morals of the revolution make it possible to consider him as a precursor of the Bolsheviks.

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