Narodnaya Volya (The People's Will, Russia)

The Original Russian Radicals

Boris Kustodiev, "Liberation of peasants" (1907).
Boris Kustodiev, "Liberation of peasants" (1907).

Борис Кустодиев/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Narodnaya Volya or The People's Will was a radical organization that sought to overturn the autocratic regime of the Tsars in Russia.

Founded in: 1878

Home Base: St. Petersburg, Russia (formerly Leningrad)

Historical Context

Narodnaya Volya's roots can be found in the revolutionary impulse that swept Europe in the late 18th and 19th century.

Some Russians were deeply impressed by the American and French revolutions and began seeking ways to encourage ideals of the French Enlightenment in Russia as well. The ideals of political liberation were intermixed with socialism—the idea that there should be some equitable distribution of property among society's members.

By the time that Narodnaya Volya was created, there had been revolutionary stirrings in Russia for nearly a century. These crystallized in the late 19th century into a plan of action among the Land and Liberty group, who began to take concrete steps toward encouraging a popular revolution. This was also the goal of Narodnaya Volya.

At that time, Russia was a feudal society in which peasants called serfs worked the land of wealthy notables. Serfs were not much different from enslaved people, the primary difference being that serfs were required to tend a given plot of land and enslaved people had to do whatever their enslavers forced them to do. But like enslaved people, serfs had no resources nor rights of their own and were subject to the despotic rule of their landlords for their livelihood.


Narodnaya Volya grew out of an earlier organization called Zemlya Volya (Land and Liberty). Land and Liberty was a secret revolutionary group organized to encourage revolutionary impulses among Russian peasants. This position stood in contrast to the other view of the time, in Russia, that the urban working class would be the primary force behind a revolution. Land and Liberty also used terrorist tactics to achieve its goals, from time to time.


They sought democratic and socialistic reforms of Russian political structure, including the creation of a constitution, the introduction of universal suffrage, freedom of expression and the transfer of land and factories to the peasants and laborers who worked in them. They saw terrorism as an important tactic in achieving their political objectives and identified themselves as terrorists.

Leadership and Organization

The People's Will was run by a Central Committee that was tasked with planting revolutionary seeds among peasants, students, and workers through propaganda and to bring that revolution into effect through targeted violence against government family members.

Notable Attacks

  • 1881: Tsar Alexander II is assassinated by a Narodnaya Volya bomb in St. Petersburg, following several earlier attempts to kill him.
  • 1880: A bomb is set off below the dining room of the Tsar's Winter Palace, in one of the efforts to kill Alexander. He was unharmed, reportedly because he was late for dinner, but nearly 70 others were injured.
  • Other government officials in Russia, selected for their symbolic significance.