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Zhelyabov, Andrei Ivanovich


(18511881), Russian revolutionary narodnik (populist) and one of the leaders of the People's Will party.

Andrei Zhelyabov was born in the village of Sultanovka in the Crimea to the family of a serf. He graduated from a gymnasium in Kerch with a silver medal (1869) and attended the Law Department of the Novorossiysk University in Odessa. He was expelled in November of 1871 for being involved in student-led agitation, and was sent home for one year. Upon returning to Odessa, in 1873 and 1874 he was a member of the Chaikovsky circle and spread revolutionary propaganda among workers and the intelligentsia. In November 1874, he was arrested but bailed out before the trial. Zhelyabov faced charges of revolutionary propaganda as part of the Trial of 193 (18771878) in St. Petersburg. He was declared innocent on the basis of insufficient evidence. After his release, he lived in Ukraine, where he spread revolutionary propaganda among the peasants.

Disappointed with the ineffectiveness of his propaganda, Zhelyabov concluded that it was necessary to lead a political struggle. In June 1879 he took part in the Lipetsk assembly of terrorist politicians and was one of the authors of the formulation of the necessity of violent revolt through conspiracy. He joined the populist organization Zemlya i Volya (Land and Freedom) and became one of the leaders of the Politicians' Faction. After the split of Zemlya i Volya in August 1879, Zhelyabov joined the People's Will and became a member of its executive committee. On August 26, 1879, he took part in the session of the executive committee where emperor Alexander II was sentenced to death. He supervised the preparation of the assaults on Alexander II near Alexandrovsk in the Yekaterinoslav province in November 1879, where an attempt was made to blow up the tsar's train. Zhelyabov also supervised the assault on the tsar in the Winter Palace on February 17, 1880, and an unsuccessful attempt to blow up Kamenny Most (Stone Bridge) in St. Petersburg while the tsar was passing there in August 1880.

Zhelyabov took part in the devising of all program documents of the party. He is also credited with the creation of the worker, student, and military organizations of the People's Will. He was one of the main organizers of the tsar's murder on March 13, 1881, but on the eve of the assault he was arrested. On March 14, he submitted a plea to associate him with the tsar's murder. During the trial, Zhelyabov, who refused to have a lawyer, made a programmatic speech to prove that the government itself, with its inappropriately repressive means of dealing with peaceful propagandists of socialist ideas, forced them to take the path of terrorism. Zhelyabov was sentenced to death and hanged on April 15, 1881, at the Semenovsky parade ground in St. Petersburg.

See also: alexander ii; land and freedom party; people's will, the


Figner, Vera. (1927). Memoirs of a Revolutionist. New York: International Publishers.

Footman, David. (1968). Red Prelude: A Life of A. I. Zhelyabov. London: Barrie & Rockliff; The Cresset Press.

Venturi, Franco. (1983). Roots of Revolution: A History of the Populist and Socialist Movements in Nineteenth Century Russia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Oleg Budnitskii

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