The Opposition Movement in Post-Reform Russia: From "Thaw" to Regicide
On March 1, 1881, in the center of St. Petersburg, "on a public thoroughfare, in broad daylight, at the focal point of the entire government,"! Alexander II, the sole monarch of his dynasty to be awarded the title of "Liberator," died at the hands of a terrorist. Russians at the time could not help wondering why the tsar who had freed the peasants from serfdom fell victim to revolutionaries acting in the name of the people and dedicated to their welfare. The mood of Russian society in the twenty years since the emancipation had undergone a paradoxical evolution. The first steps by the authorities to introduce the peasant reform called forth "boundless optimism that for many people turned into utter intoxication,,,2 but gradually the spirit of opposition grew so strong that it culminated in an outburst of revolutionary terror. Why did the Great Reforms, intended to move society in a liberal direction, in many respects produce the opposite result? Can the reforms of the 1860s and the 1870s be considered a cause of social instability? Could Russia have followed a different path? To answer these questions, we must examine the history of the opposition movement in the second half of the nineteenth century.