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October 2, 1847|
Ivanovo, Vladimir Governorate, Imperial Russia
November 21 or December 3, 1882|
St. Petersburg, Imperial Russia
Catechism of a Revolutionary
Nechayev was the author or main author of a famous revolutionary pamphlet, called the Catechism of a Revolutionary. The pamphlet bears the name of Mikhail Bakunin, a well-known anarchist, but it is thought all or most of it is by Nechayev. The work called for total devotion to a revolutionary lifestyle. The Catechism of a Revolutionary argued that any means (including blackmail and murder) could be used to advance the cause of revolution.
Catechism of a Revolutionary was a program for the "merciless destruction" of society and the state. The main principle was "the ends justify the means". This became Nechayev's slogan throughout his revolutionary career.
A revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own. His entire being is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion - the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, good manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose - to destroy it.
Nechayev's ideas were the basis for Dostoyevsky's The Demons (aka The Possessed). Dostoyevsky had himself been a young nihilist, and spent ten years in a Siberian labour camp as a result. He came back a determined enemy of everything Nechayev believed. The Demons is a "dark comedy, cruelly funny in its depiction of high-minded intellectuals toying with revolutionary notions without understanding anything of what revolution means in practice".
Nechayev planned to kill a student, Ivanov, who questioned his ideas. On 21 November 1869, Nechayev and several comrades beat, strangled and shot Ivanov, hiding the body in a lake through a hole in the ice. The student's body was found and Nechayev fled the country before he could be arrested.
In August 1872, Nechayev was arrested in Zurich and handed over to the Russian police. He was found guilty on 8 January 1873, and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for killing Ivanov. He died in his prison cell in 1882.
It has been said of Nechayev: "His personality and ideas portray, as if in a crooked mirror, the lust for revolution reaching even beyond political fanaticism into insanity. With Nechayev we are already beyond Lenin, [and] so criminal as to forecast the darkest incidents of Stalin".
- Russian: Серге́й Генна́диевич Неча́ев
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- Heller, Mikhail (1988). Cogs in the Wheel. New York: Knopf. pp. 12. . "The Catechism of a Revolutionary, a chilling blueprint for the ideal "New Man," was the manifesto of a secret society called The People's Revenge (Narodnaya Rasprava)..."
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