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From cultural to revolutionary nihilism in the 19th century Russia

The Russian Revolution (1917) announced the beginning of a communist rule, but nihilistic philosophical justification for a violent overthrow of the old regime was recognisable in Russia already decades earlier, first in literary currents (Turgenev). Wanting to destroy the old world can be traced to Russian authors of the mid-19th century. Around 1850, Bakunin wrote that the passion for destruction is in essence a creative passion, and that destruction and creation are basically synonyms. The ideas of cultural nihilism (Tkatchev, Nechayev) were some decades later developed and radicalised by Tchernyshevsky to become a lust for violent abolishment of repressive state and gained political and philosophical Marxist foundations. His anarchic ideal was a people’s community without autocratic state. The aim of this paper is to present the development of the idea of necessary destruction of the existing word in Russia in the second half of the 19th century, from its earliest cultural formulations to political strategies and the birth of modern terrorism. The most important representatives of cultural and revolutionary Russian nihilism will be analysed, and their most common topics presented. Some of them include: idealisation of the people as a saviour from the terror of the elites; Marxist belief in class war and in imminent destruction of »worn-out« capitalism; conviction that a magnificent idea justifies violent means; formation of an uncompromising ascetic revolutionary bound to fight for the victory of revolution; glorification of »moral« terrorism; hatred of the established order; blind faith in bright future; and, most importantly, a brutal and latently of explicitly anarchic wish to negate and destroy an unjust system. The findings will help better understand the Russian Revolution and the spread of Communism worldwide.

Borut Petrović Jesenovec



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