Black Repartition

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To Russian peasants, black repartition (cherny peredel ) meant the long-anticipated seizure and redistribution of all nonpeasant lands (those held by the gentry, townspeople, the Crown, etc.) by and among the peasants who lived near them. Most peasants desired such a land settlement and exercised it whenever government power weakened, giving them the opportunity. Examples of black repartitions abound in the revolutions of 19051906 and especially in 19171918. Peasants placed so much priority on seizure of land and permanent expulsion of nonpeasants from the countryside that they often destroyed valuable farm equipment, animals, and buildings in the process.

The term was also claimed by a short-lived Russian Populist revolutionary group, Land and Freedom, the first Populist group, which appeared in the wake of the 18731874 Going to the People movement. In October 1879 it foundered on doctrinal issues and broke into two groups. The larger one, called People's Will, focused on a revolutionary terror campaign to bring down the autocracy and spark a socialist revolution. The smaller group, Black Repartition, preferred a path of gradualism and propaganda to develop a revolutionary consciousness among the people. Just as hostile to the autocracy as People's Will, Black Repartition did not think that a terror campaign could succeed, because merely changing political institutions (if that were possible) would mean nothing without an accompanying social revolution.

Black Repartition's doubts were proved right when the People's Will terror campaign, culminating in the assassination of Emperor Alexander II on March 1 1881, led not to a revolution but instead to popular revulsion toward and severe police repression of all revolutionary groups. These included Black Repartition, which fell apart in Russia as most of its members were arrested and its printing press seized. By the autumn of 1881, Black Repartition had ceased to exist in Russia. Only a few leaders (Georgy Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich, and Pavel Axelrod) escaped abroad to Switzerland. There Black Repartition's leaders turned from doctrinaire populism to Marxist socialism and formed the first Russian Marxist organization, Emancipation of Labor.

Neither Black Repartition nor Emancipation of Labor had significant influence over the small revolutionary movement inside of Russia in the 1880s, though Emancipation of Labor participated as the Russian representatives to the socialist Second International. Isolated in Switzerland, Black Repartition was ill-equipped to build the revolutionary consciousness among workers that they had deemed essential to a real revolution. Their leaders were important, however, in the formation of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party at the turn of the century.

See also: land and freedom party; marxism; peasant economy; people's will, the; second economy; terrorism


Barron, Samuel H. (1963). Plekhanov: The Father of Russian Marxism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Haimson, Leopold H. (1955). The Russian Marxists and the Origins of Bolshevism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Naimark, Norman. (1983). Terrorists and Social Democrats. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Venturi, Franco. (1960). Roots of Revolution. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.

A. Delano DuGarm