Olga Liubatovich in 1914

Olga Liubatovich, the daughter of a political refugee from Montenegro, was born in 1854. Liubatovich wanted to train as a doctor but this was impossible in Russia so in 1871 she went to Zurich to study medicine.

In Zurich she met Vera Figner and was recruited into the revolutionary socialist movement. Liubatovich joined Pan-Russian Social Revolutionary group and in 1875 returned to Russia where she attempted to spread socialist propaganda among industrial workers.

Liubatovich was arrested in Tula and was kept in prison for two years before appearing in court. Found guilty of distributing illegal publications, Liubatovich was sentenced to nine years hard labour. This was subsequently reduced to banishment to Siberia. In Tobolsk she was able to employ her medical knowledge to help the local people and became known as the "miracle worker".

In 1876 Liubatovich managed to escape from Siberia and she went into hiding in St. Petersburg. She joined a unit of the Land and Liberty group led by Sergei Kravchinskii and Nikolai Morozov.

Liubatovich also spent six months in Geneva where she lived with a group of political émigrés who had escaped from the Russian authorities. This included Vera Zasulich, whose attempt to murder General Trepov, the police chief of St. Petersburg, had made her a national figure in the revolutionary movement.

In October, 1879, the Land and Liberty group split into two. One faction, Black Repartition, rejected terrorism and supported a socialist propaganda campaign among workers and peasants. However, Liubatovich became a member of People's Will, the faction who favoured a policy of terrorism.

At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the People's Will on 26th August, 1879, it was decided to assassinate Alexander II. Liubatovich took part in three unsuccessful attempts to kill the Tsar.

In 1880 there was strong disagreement in People's Will about the purposes of terrorism. One group that included Liubatovich argued that the main objective was to force the government to grant democratic rights to the people of Russia. However, another faction, led by Lev Tikhomirov, who had been deeply influenced by the ideas of Sergi Nechayev, believed that it was possible for a small group of revolutionaries to capture power and then hand over its powers to the people.

Liubatovich and Nikolai Morozov strongly disagreed with the ideas of Lev Tikhomirov. They argued that this was an example of Jacobinism and would result in the kind of dictatorship that had taken place after the French Revolution.

In 1880 Liubatovich and Nikolai Morozov left the People's Will and went to live in Geneva. While in exile Morozov wrote The Terrorist Struggle, a pamphlet that explained his views on how to achieve a democratic society in Russia. Based on ideas developed with Liubatovich, Morozov advocated the creation of a large number of small, independent terrorist groups. He argued that this approach would make it more difficult for the police to apprehend the terrorists. It would also help to prevent a small group of leaders gaining dictatorial powers after the overthrow of the Tsar.

Nikolai Morozov returned to Russia in order to distribute The T errorist Struggle. He was soon arrested and imprisoned in Suvalki. Liubatovich, who had recently given birth to their child, decided to try and rescue him. Her attempts ended in failure and she was herself arrested and sent to Siberia in November, 1882.

Liubatovich was released in the political amnesty that followed the 1905 Revolution.

Olga Liubatovich

1. Was highly critical of Nicholas II and the autocracy.

2. Wanted Russia to have universal suffrage.

3. Wanted the Russian government to allow freedom of expression and an end to political censorship of newspapers and books.

4. Believed that democracy could only be achieved in Russia by the violent overthrow of Nicholas II and the autocracy.

5. Was strongly opposed to Russia going to war with Austria-Hungary and Germany.

6. Believed that if Russia did go to war with Austria-Hungary and Germany the Mensheviks, Bolsheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries should try to persuade the Russian soldiers to use their weapons to overthrow Nicholas II.

Primary Sources

(1) Olga Liubatovich first met Sergei Kravchinskii in 1876.

There were a number of people in the room by the time Kravchinskii walked in, but I felt my attention shift involuntarily to his strong, manly figure and distinctive face. He carried a top hat and was dressed like a gentleman; his Napoleonic goatee made him look like a foreigner. Although several other women were present, he walked directly toward me and extended his hand in a free, comradely gesture.

He was older than me and had more experience among the people; I regarded him as a senior comrade. Although I was extremely shy with people in my youth, we somehow struck up a sincere, unconstrained conversation; and as we talked, I glanced freely at his open, bold face, a face in which ugly, irregular features and broken lines became beautiful. We became friends immediately.

(2) In the book, Knowledge and Revolution: the Russian Colony in Zurich, Francisca Tiburtius described meeting Olga Liubatovich for the first time.

Olga Liubatovich had a roundish, boyish face, short-hair, parted askew, enormous blue glasses, a quite youthful, tender-coloured face, a course jacket, a burning cigarette in her mouth - everything about it was boylike, and yet there was something which belied this desired impression. She took no notice at all of my presence and remained absorbed in a large book, every now and then rolling a cigarette which was finished in a few droughts.

(3) In 1875 Olga Liubatovich joined the Pan-Russian Social Revolutionary group.

Our program reflected in embryo the course of the revolutionary movement in the seventies: from peaceful propaganda to armed resistance and disorganization of the government by means of terror. Many people subsequently told me that the solidarity we had achieved served as a model for the revolutionary organizations that came after us, particularly Land and Liberty. Our group did not produce a single traitor, thanks to the principle on which I was based: the complete freedom and equality of all its members.

(4) When the Land and Liberty movement split in October, 1879, Olga Liubatovich joined the People's Will group.

Stefanovich became the head of the Black Repartition, and his friends Vera Zasulich and Lev Deich joined him. But even ardent populists like Vera Figner, who had been working in one of the countryfolk settlements in the provinces, and Sophia Perovskaia joined the People's Will, the group that had taken up arms to defend the people and their apostles.

Black Repartition was stillborn; it left no visible traces of its work among the people at the end of 1879 and the beginning of 1880, because no such activity was possible on a broad scale. After a series of failures, Stefanovich, Deich, Plekhanov, and Zasulich returned abroad.

As for me, naturally I joined the People's Will. The Executive Committee of the People's Will soon began to chart its own course. Its initial plan had been to carry out a number of actions against the governor-generals, but this decision was called into question at one open-air meeting in Lesnoi: shouldn't we concentrate all our forces against the Tsar instead, it was asked. We resolved that this should indeed be the goal of the Executive Committee. The implementation of that decision engaged the People's Will right up to March 1, 1881.

(5) Olga Liubatovich left the People's Will over the issue of Jacobinism in 1880.

During the debates, the question of Jacobinism - seizing power and ruling from above, by decree - was raised. As I saw it, the Jacobin tinge that Tikhomirov gave to his program for the Executive Committee gave to his program for the Executive Committee threatened the party and the entire revolutionary movement with moral death; it was a kind of rebirth of Nechaevism, which had long since lost moral credit in the revolutionary world. It was my belief that the revolutionary idea could be a life-giving force only when it was the antithesis of all coercion - social, state, and even personal coercion, tsarist and Jacobin alike. Of course, it was possible for a narrow group of ambitious men to replace one form of coercion or authority by another. But neither the people nor educated society would follow them consciously, and only a conscious movement can impart new principles to public life.

At this point, Morozov announced that he considered himself free of any obligation to defend a program like Tikhomirov's in public. I too, declared that it was against my nature to act on the basis of compulsion; that once the Executive Committee had taken on a task - the seizure of state power - that violated my basic principles, and once it had recourse in its organizational practice to autocratic methods fraught with mutual distrust, then I, too, reclaimed my freedom of action.

(6) Olga Liubatovich was living in St. Petersburg when she heard of the assassination of Alexander II.

One morning I awoke to an unusual commotion in the streets. On every corner, small groups of people were standing around talking about something, shaking their heads. Obviously something important had happened - but what? I went outside. Couriers were tearing madly through the streets. I thought back to the previous evening, March 1, when carriages had been hurrying to the governor's house, which was lit up as for a ball, although there was no sign of a large gathering. Judging from the rumours that were now circulating among the crowd - the sovereign had been killed. Toward noon, the notice of Alexander II's death and Alexander III's accession to the throne appeared, and people started gathering in synagogues and churches to take the oath of allegiance.

(7) After the arrest of Nikolai Morozov in 1881, Olga Liubatovich returned to Russia to try and help him escape from prison. This meant that she had to leave her young baby behind with friends. The baby died of meningitis when it was six months old.

By early morning, I was at Kravchinskii's. Sergei was remarkably thoughtful: he had already obtained a crib for my little girl and set it up in a clean, light room. He left me alone with the child. For a long time I stood like a statue in the middle of the room, the tired baby sleeping in my arms. Her face, pink from sleep, was peaceful and filled with the beauty of childhood. When I finally decided to lower her into the bed, she opened her eyes - large, serious, peaceful, still enveloped in sleep. I couldn't bear her gaze. Not daring to kiss her lest I wake her up. I quietly walked out of the room. I thought I'd be back; I didn't know, didn't want to believe that I was seeing my little girl for the last time. My heart was numb with grief.