Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 – 1881)
Fyodor Dostoevsky was a philosopher and novelist whose works portrayed human turmoil in the midst of a politically and socially troubled atmosphere of the 19th century Russia. His works were characterized by an intensity that led him to be labeled one of the most significant psychologists of the literary world. He was exposed to literature from an early age and had already published a novel by the time he was 25 years of age.
Russia was going through a politically turbulent period and Dostoevsky, along with his brothers was forced to join military services which he absolutely loathed. His youth was ridden with strife and he was once arrested for his involvement in revolutionary activities and sentenced to death, only to be pardoned at the last minute. He was of delicate health and suffered from epileptic seizures. However, his health problems could not keep him away from writing and he went on to produce classics like ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. In spite of his successes with his books, his life was marked by periods of financial crises and illnesses. He overcame the many obstacles life threw at him to become one of the most widely read Russian writers of all time.
Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)
A celebrated writer, a recognized moralist and a distinguished social reformer – Leo Tolstoy needs no introduction of sorts. He is regarded as the greatest Russian literary giant, who gave the world some of the most remarkable piece of writings. A master of realistic fiction, Tolstoy’s novels are even today considered amongst the finest literary works. Through his works, Tolstoy not just became one of the greatest writers ever known, but a living symbol of someone in search of life’s meaning. What is interesting to note is that Tolstoy’s panache for writing enabled him to bring out masterpieces from everyday activities of people. He possessed a gift for describing his characters and their purpose with elan. Most of Tolstoy’s stories are built around his fond and lasting memories of childhood.
While Tolstoy had an emotionally toiling early life, much of his later life was built around moralistic and ascetic views. He experienced a spiritual awakening in the last three decades of his life, post which he became a moral thinker and social reformer. It was his doctrine of non-resistance to evil which inspired Mahatma Gandhi and influenced the latter into walking on the path of non-cooperation and non-violence. Not just Gandhi, Tolstoy had a great influence on Martin Luther King Jr as well. His works, ‘War and Peace’, ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’, still rank among the world’s top literary pieces.
Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876)
Legendary Russian revolutionary, anarchist and prolific political writer, Mikhail Bakunin was one of the most powerful propagators of anarchism in the 19th century. As a proponent of the ‘Theory of Collective Anarchism’, his ideas continue to influence contemporary labour movements, left-wing movements and other present-day social movements, including anti-globalisation campaigns. He was politically active during a turbulent period in European history and laid down the foundations for the international anarchist movement through his powerful writings.
His works dealt with the social and political principles of anarchism. The founder of the semi-secret organisation ‘International Brotherhood’, Bakunin garnered immense support from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, England, France, and Spain. His ideologies have been an inspiration to many modern writers and freedom fighters including Bhagat Singh. His life is an example of ruthless struggle – he was imprisoned for many years and was exiled after he liberated the working class from the powerful talons of state oppression. Interestingly, he did not receive any recognition for his philosophies and efforts during his lifetime.
A communist philosopher, founder of the Soviet Republic and a devout follower of Marxist views, Vladimir Lenin is remembered as the leader of the Bolshevik Party, who played a pivotal role in reshaping Russia. Considered by some as a saint and others, as a dictator, Lenin proposed state capitalism reforms for Russia, which brought about a radical change in the country. Lenin, one of the most discussed leaders of the 20th century, fuelled the Bolshevik revolution and later, took over as the ‘Premier’ of the newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). His ideologies combined with those of Karl Marx, collectively came to be known as ‘Marxism-Leninism’, a doctrine that paved way for a number of radical schools of thought, such as Trotskyism, Maoism and Stalinism.
His administration oversaw the execution of many social reformative measures, mechanization and the implementation of the ‘New Economic Policy’. This leader of the Bolshevik bloc was one of the main orchestrators of the infamous October Revolution during World War I, which was basically influenced by one of his best known works, ‘The April Theses’. A controversial leader, Lenin was an extremely hard-working person, blessed with impeccable oratory skills and also had a penchant for humor.
Leon Trotsky was one of the key revolutionaries in the history of Russia, who fought, alongside the likes of Lenin, for the liberation of the working class from the dominating regime of monarchy. Appointed the Commissar of War, he helped to defeat the forces that were opposed to Bolshevik principles. He was responsible for building the Red Army and led it to victory in the battle against the White Army effectively. His forays resulted in being arrested and exiled to Siberia several times, the final one being a complete banishment from the Soviet Union. All his life, he struggled to promote the theories of Marxist society and opposed mere capitalism as a means of progress.
He supported Vladmir Lenin and his theories, though he disagreed on several principles. After Lenin’s death, the power was transferred to Joseph Stalin. Thereafter, Trotsky’s hold on the party declined steadily, resulting in a permanent exile from the entire country. Author of several books, he continued to promote Marxist and Socialist ways of governance. He was a strong critic of the Stalin-led government. He was brutally assassinated in his study in Mexico City, where he was spending his time in exile.
Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin, aka Peter Kropotkin, was a Russian philosopher and activist. He was an advocate of anarchism or what is known as a society which is free from any central rule and is based on the voluntary association of its members. He was also a scientist who was interested in geography and zoology. He came from a Russian aristocrat family and was in line to become a future military officer but renounced his prince hood in the quest for anarchism.
He considered that feudalism and capitalism created only artificial scarcity and promoted privilege for a few. Instead he proposed to have a decentralized economy where human evolution can go forward with the help of mutual support, mutual aid and voluntary cooperation. He believed that these traits already existed in different societies and had to be adopted by mankind as a whole for its survival. He was against the concept of having private property and the use of money as an exchange medium for goods and services. He thought that people should contribute to the society as per their capabilities without any payment and take from the society whatever they needed without exchanging their requirements for money. He preached that a man’s worldly possessions should be divided equally among the community after his death.
Alexander Herzen was a Russian author and political activist, popularly known as the ‘Father of Russian socialism’. He fought all his life for emancipation of serfs. He provided the ideological basis for much of the revolutionary activity in Russia. His struggle for achieving liberty began in his undergraduate years when he was deeply influenced by the liberal views of Comte de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. His pledge to devote his life to liberation of Russia and establish a good social order was even more intensified by the injustice he faced from the anarchist rule.
He was sent to exile for six years for an irrational crime and upon his return to Russia, when he raised his voice to oppose the injustice of police, he was again banished for two years from his country. When he came back to Russia after his second exile, he joined the liberation movement group and started his writing career. His literary works are considered to be influenced by his life and times in Russia during the socialist movement and therefore have a unique place in its history. Eventually, he left Russia and traveled Europe to support the emancipation of the serfs. Upon arriving in London, he opened a publication to expose the government’s corruption and encourage masses to fight against oppression. He dedicated his life towards creating an equitable society in Russia.