Chernov, Viktor Mikhailovich

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(18731952), pseudonyms: 'Ia. Vechev', 'Gardenin', 'V. Lenuar'; leading theorist and activist of the Socialist Revolutionary Party.

Viktor Chernov was born into a noble family in Samara province. He studied at the Saratov gymnasium, but was transferred to the Derpt gymnasium in Estonia as a result of his revolutionary activity. In 1892 Chernov joined the law faculty at Moscow University, where he was active in the radical student movement. He was first arrested in April 1894 and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress for six months. Chernov was exiled to Kamyshin in 1895, but was transferred to Saratov and then to Tambov because of poor health. He married Anastasia Nikolaevna Sletova in 1898. In the same year, he organized the influential "Brotherhood for the Defense of People's Rights" in Tambov, a revolutionary peasants' organisation.

In 1899 Chernov left Russia, and for the next six years he worked for the revolutionary cause in exile. He joined the newly formed Socialist Revolutionary Party in 1901, and from 1903 he was a central committee member. His role in the party was predominantly as a political theorist and writer. He formulated the party's philosophy around a blending of Marxist and Populist ideas, propounding that Russia's communal system offered a "third way" to the development of socialism. He reluctantly supported the use of terror as a means of advancing the revolutionary cause.

Chernov returned to St. Petersburg in October 1905, and proposed that the party follow a moderate line, suspending terrorist activity and opposing further strike action. In July 1906 he again left Russia, this time for Finland. He continued his revolutionary work abroad, not returning to Russia until April 1917. Chernov joined the first coalition Provisional Government as Minister for Agriculture in May 1917, despite misgivings about socialist participation in the Provisional Government. His three months in government raised popular expectations about an imminent land settlement, but his tenure as minister was marked by impotency. The Provisional Government refused to sanction his radical proposals for reform of land use.

Chernov struggled to hold the fractured Socialist Revolutionary Party together, and stepped down from the Central Committee in September 1917. He was made president of the Constituent Assembly, and after the Constituent Assembly's dissolution, was a key figure in leftist anti-Bolshevik organizations, including the Komuch. He believed that the Socialist Revolutionary Party needed to form a "third front" in the civil war period, fighting for democracy against both the Bolsheviks and the Whites. He left Russia in 1920, and was a passionate contributor to the emigré anti-Bolshevik movement until his death in 1952 in New York. Chernov was a gifted intellectual and theorist who ultimately lacked the ruthless single-mindedness required of a revolutionary political leader.

See also: socialist revolutionaries


Burbank, Jane. (1985). "Waiting for the People's Revolution: Martov and Chernov in Revolutionary Russia, 19171923." Cahiers du monde russe et sovietique 26(34):375394.

Chernov, Victor Mikhailovich. (1936). The Great Russian Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Melancon, Michael. (1997). "Chernov." In Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 19141921, ed. Edward Acton, Vladimir Chernaiev, and William G. Rosenberg. London: Arnold.

Sarah Badcock