A. V. Iartsev, Proclamation of a Populist Activist, 1874

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Proclamation by A. V. Iartsev (October 1873)

Iartsev produced this text early in 1874 while under interrogation for his involvement in the "movement to the people;" he represented it as a faithful transcript of a talk he had given to some construction workers.

Brothers! You can't deny that you are deceived at every step, that your labor benefits only the rich and the contractors. That's what you are thinking about--how to escape from this. The government doesn't think of improving your situation, it just wants to collect a bit more money to pay its functionaries and gather armies, so it can strut before other states. In Samara Province, in what you call the low country, such grain used to grow there that they still talk about it to this day, but now the common people is dying from hunger there, now they are eating all kinds of garbage. That's because the peasants there have little land, and with taxes, everything they might save for a hungry year is squeezed out. Now there is a drought, and death is among them. I have heard there is talk among you of equalizing the land. Well, you have nothing to expect from the government in that, for it is well fed and the well-fed don't understand the hungry. But here is how you can do it yourselves, and abolish obrok(1) at the same time. You should learn to read and learn everything you should know. Of course, at first not many of you can manage that, but when some do learn, they will teach others, and so on. When the greater part of the common people is learned enough to know how things should be, then all this can be done. Most important, you will get some sense only when you yourselves are good, when you stop envying one another but look on one another as brothers, and help one another in trouble. When you have achieved all of this, elect from among yourselves your chosen men--good and honest and intelligent people--who will govern you. You yourselves can keep an eye on them, so that they do everything according to the law, since everyone will know the laws and all the rules. Even now there is the zemstvo assembly, but none of you can make any sense out of what goes on there. The peasants don't elect as delegates those that can be counted on but those who offer the most vodka. That's who gets elected when the common people is in darkness and is bad itself, the elections don't do any good. Stenka Razin and Pugachev "(2)" were concerned about improving the way people live, but they did not do any good, because the common people was very backward, did not understand what was good for it, but listened to any scoundrel; much blood flowed, but no good was done. And all this was because everyone worried only about himself, and didn't think of others. And so, brothers, stand one for all and all for one, and only then can you get rid of taxes and the draft and equalize the land


1. Under serfdom, the term obrok referred to cash payments serfs were obliged to make to their masters to replace or supplement labor dues. In this case, however, the term refers to payments to the state.
2. Stepan Razin (1630-1671) and Emelian Pugachev (1740-1775) were leaders of major cossack and peasant rebellions.

Translated by Daniel Field 3/26/02