FIVE SISTERS: Women Against the Tsar by Barbara Alpern & Clifford N. Rosenthal--Ed. & Trans. Engel

FIVE SISTERS: Women Against the Tsar

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Vera Figner, Elizaveta Kovalskaia, Vera Zasulich, Olga Liubatovich, Praskovia Ivanovskaia--five women whose names will be unfamiliar, whose selfless struggle against Tsarist absolutism made but little impact on history. For a decade they were the ""Moscow Amazons,"" soul of the populist Social Revolutionaries, young women who abandoned the comfort and privilege of the upper class to ""go to the people."" Their lives were dedicated to a single purpose: the redemption of the Russian peasantry through the collectivization of land. Through the 1870's and 1880's they lived a clandestine underground existence, renouncing family life, hunted by the Okhrana, jailed in Russia's fortress-prisons, exiled to Siberia. In the early stages of the campaign they flocked into the farms and factories of Russia to work alongside the peasants, sometimes fourteen hours a day; later, as Land and Labor gave birth to The People's Will, terrorism became a full-time activity. The paramount goal was the assassination of the Tsar: to this end dynamite was stashed, tunnels excavated under the streets of St. Petersburg, an illegal press churned out propaganda day and night. Vera Figner was among those who helped make the bombs that finally killed Alexander II. The journals of these young women--four of them published in English for the first time--are as passionate and ascetic as their lives. Feminists before they were revolutionaries, they lived only for their comrades and for the cause. An absolute dedication and seriousness of purpose is the hallmark of their writing; and yet, for all their unquenchable idealism and inexhaustible stamina, they realized from time to time that their impact was pitifully small. Olga Liubatovich writes, ""We had hoped to find a people conscious of the 'rights of man' . . . instead, we found an amorphous mass, a slave-people who occasionally produced some powerful individuals, but on the whole were immersed in a deep, lethargic sleep."" A remarkable document, which has, at moments, an uncomfortably contemporary ring.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1975
Publisher: Knopf