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Raznochintsy were people of various ranks, a judicial category of population consisting of educated individuals from classes and estates in Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This included members of the clergy, merchants, petty towns-people, peasantry, minor officials, and impoverished nobility who had received an education and left their former estates.

From the 1840s the raznochintsy had a significant influence on the development of Russian society and culture, and became the main social stratum for the formation of the Russian intelligentsia in the 1860s.

The development of capitalism in Russia after the abolition of serfdom in 1861 demanded more educated people. After the opening of university education for the middle class, the number of educated people in the Russian empire rapidly increased. Thus increased the number of raznochintsy. Raznochintsy worshiped education and had a cult of science, believing that the main principles of life should be materialism, utilitarianism, and scientism. They thought that art should serve utilitarian purposes. The hero of the novel Fathers and Sons (1862), by Ivan Turgenev, Evgeny Bazarov was a typical raznochinets and nihilist. He believed only in the value of science and denied the worth of art and poetry.

Among the raznochintsy at that time was wide spread nihilism (from the Latin nihil meaning nothing). They denied the traditional values of the society, such as marriage and private property, and derided sentimentalism. They created their own morality and style of life. They called themselves "developed individuals," "thinking realists," "new people" and "critically thinking individuals." The women nihilists had short haircuts and smoked cigarettes. They often live in communes and participated in various groups and societies, where they discussed political and social problems. Raznochintsy usually chose independent liberal professions such as writers, journalists, teachers, scientists, and scholars rather than toiling in government service.

The Russian writers and literary critics Vissarion Belinsky, Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Nickolai Dobrolubov were raznochintsy. The "Letter to Gogol" by Belinsky became the " testament and gospel" of (the Russian) radicals.

Intolerance and unwillingness to accept compromise was very typical for nihilists, the generation of raznochintsy of the 1850s and 1860s. Denying traditional values of the hypocritical society, they were very intolerant of the contrary opinions and created their own system of restrictions and limitations. Some historians explain the radicalism of raznochintsy by their social origins: many of them were the sons of provincial priests and former seminarians, and they were idealists and dreamt about creation of an ideal and fair state. Due to their radicalism, raznochintsy played a central role at the crucial moment in the formation of the revolutionary intelligentsia. By the 1870s nihilism as a social phenomenon almost disappeared and gradually raznochintsy transformed into part of the Russian intelligentsia.

See also: intelligentsia; nihilism and nihilists


Becker, Christopher. (1959). "Raznochintsy: The Development of the Word and the Concept," American Slavic and E. European Review, 18: 6374.

Pomper, Philip. (1970). The Russian Revolutionary Intelligentsia. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Inc.

Wirtschafter, Elise K. (1994). Structures of Society: Imperial Russia's "Peoples of Various Ranks." DeKalb: Northern University Press.

Victoria Khiterer

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