Alexander Herzen – political agitator
Alexander Herzen was Russian writer, novelist, philosopher, teacher and political agitator. He developed a socialist philosophy that was the ideological basis for much of the revolutionary activity in Russia. He was a founder of Russian populism.
Alexander Ivanovich Yakovlev (his real surname) was born on March 25, 1812, in Moscow. He was the illegitimate son of a wealthy Moscow aristocrat, Ivan Alexeevich Yakovlev and his German-born mistress.
When Herzen was 13, Decembrist rising took place, and he was present at the thanksgiving service in the Kremlin after the hangings. It made a lasting impression on him.
In 1829 Alexander entered the University of Moscow to study natural sciences and became the leader of a small group fighting for freedom.
Herzen was impressed by Saint-Simon’s vision of mankind totally regenerated by a new Christianity.
The French Revolution, the Polish uprising, and the teachings of Saint-Simon made him feel that the time was ripe for change.
In 1833, Herzen and his lifelong friend Nikolai Ogarev were arrested. Herzen was exiled to Perm and later to Vyatka, where he worked as a clerk in the governor’s office.
In 1847, Herzen and his family went abroad to escape the dictatorial regime of Nicholas I. He left Russia forever.
In 1852 Alexander moved from Nice to London, which became his home until the end of his life. He set up the first publishing house devoted to Russian political dissent, printing revolutionary leaflets, his journal Polyarnaya zvezda (Polar Star).
On July 1, 1857, Herzen with Ogarev’s help launched Kolokol (the Bell), which was dedicated to the ‘liberation of Russia’.
Among his many literary works the central place is occupied by My Past and Thoughts, which was written between 1852 and 1866.
Alexander Herzen died on January 21, 1870 in Paris.
In 1839, Herzen married his cousin, Natalia Zakharyina. In Paris Natalia fell in love with Georg Herwegh, Herzen’s friend. In 1852, Natalia and their newborn son died.
In 1857, Natalia Ogareva-Tuchkova, the wife of his friend Nikolai Ogarev, became his second wife. Natalia gave birth to their daughter Lisa, who committed suicide because of unrequited love. Dostoevsky wrote about the suicide in his essay Two Suicides.