Victor Chernov was born in Novouzensk, Russia, in 1873. He studied law at Moscow University where he quickly became leader of the illegal students union.
A follower of Paul Lavrov, Chernov was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. Exiled to Tambov, Chernov began establishing independent socialist peasant brotherhoods in the area.
In 1899 Chernov went to live in Switzerland where he studied philosophy at Berne University. He returned in 1901 and joined with Catherine Breshkovskaya, Nikolai Avksentiev, Gregory Gershuni, Alexander Kerensky and Evno Azef to establish the Socialist Revolutionary Party.
Chernov edited the SR journal, Revolutionary Russia, where he argued against Marxists who claimed that the peasants were a totally reactionary social class. George Buchanan claimed: "Chernov was a man of strong character and considerable ability. He belonged to the advanced wing of the SR party, and advocated the immediate nationalization of the land and the division among the peasants awaiting the decision of the Consistent Assembly. He was generally regarded as dangerous and untrustworthy."
After living in exile Chernov returned to Russia during the 1905 Revolution. Although seen as the leader of the party, Chernov was not directly involved in the rising in support of the Potemkin Mutiny and the St Petersburg Soviet.
In the Provisional Government of 1917 Chernov was appointed as Minister of Agriculture. However, he resigned in September and was replaced by another member of the SR, S. L. Maslov. Chernov strongly opposed the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution. In the elections held for the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917, the Socialist Revolutionary Party won 20,900,000 votes (58 per cent), whereas the Bolsheviks won only 9,023,963 votes (25 per cent). As leader of the largest party, Chernov was elected Chairman.
In 1918 the Soviet government closed down the Constituent Assembly and banned the Socialist Revolutionary Party and other anti-Bolshevik parties. Chernov left Russia and lived in Czechoslovakia before moving to the USA.
Victor Chernov died in New York in 1952.
While conflict raged in Social Democratic ranks, the Revolutionary movement was not marking time in Russia. A new party had come on the scene and had stirred fresh currents in the Russian people. This was the Socialist Revolutionary Party. The leaders of the party were Catherine Breshkovsky, who had served six prison terms and spent more than twenty years in Siberia; Mikhail Gotz, son of a Moscow millionaire and a famous Siberian exile; Gregory Gershuni, whose Terrorist Brigade carried out the assassination of leading reactionary Ministers and Governors; Victor Chernov; and a number of old revolutionaries of the People's Will.
Chernov was a man of strong character and considerable ability. He belonged to the advanced wing of the SR party, and advocated the immediate nationalization of the land and the division among the peasants awaiting the decision of the Consistent Assembly. He was generally regarded as dangerous and untrustworthy.
His speech was couched in the language of internationalist and socialist ideas, with occasional undertones of demagogy. It was as though the speaker was deliberately seeking a common language with the Bolsheviks, and trying to persuade them of something instead of dissociating himself from them and standing up against them as representatives of Russian democracy.
In the creation of the SR Party Chernov had played an absolutely exceptional role. Chernov was the only substantial theoretician of any kind it had - and a universal one at that. If Chernov's writings were removed from the SR party literature almost nothing would be left.
Without Chernov the SR Party would not have existed, any more than the Bolshevik Party without Lenin - inasmuch as no serious political organization can take shape round an intellectual vacuum.
But Chernov - unlike Lenin - only performed half the work in the SR Party. During the period of pre-Revolutionary conspiracy he was not the party organizing centre, and in the broad area of the revolution, in spite of his vast authority amongst the SRs, Chernov proved bankrupt as a political leader.
Chernov never showed the slightest stability, striking power, or fighting ability - qualities vital for a political leader in a revolutionary situation. He proved inwardly feeble and outwardly unattractive, disagreeable and ridiculous.