Alexander Herzen was a Russian author and political activist, popularly known as the ‘Father of Russian socialism’. He fought all his life for emancipation of serfs. He provided the ideological basis for much of the revolutionary activity in Russia. His struggle for achieving liberty began in his undergraduate years when he was deeply influenced by the liberal views of Comte de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. His pledge to devote his life to liberation of Russia and establish a good social order was even more intensified by the injustice he faced from the anarchist rule. He was sent to exile for six years for an irrational crime and upon his return to Russia, when he raised his voice to oppose the injustice of police, he was again banished for two years from his country. When he came back to Russia after his second exile, he joined the liberation movement group and started his writing career. His literary works are considered to be influenced by his life and times in Russia during the socialist movement and therefore have a unique place in its history. Eventually, he left Russia and traveled Europe to support the emancipation of the serfs. Upon arriving in London, he opened a publication to expose the government’s corruption and encourage masses to fight against oppression. He dedicated his life towards creating an equitable society in Russia.
- Alexander Herzen was born out of a wedlock on April 6, 1812 in Moscow, Russia, to Ivan Alekseyevich Yakovlev, a rich Russian landowner and Henriette Wilhelmina Luisa Haag, a German Protestant woman.He was born shortly before the Napolean’s invasion of Russia and received his early education from French, German and Russian tutors.He got enrolled at the University of Moscow and during his university years, the writings of Comte de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier had a profound impact on him. He was drawn towards Saint-Simon's doctrines that criticized the shortcomings of the existing order and promised to end the exploitation of man by man. He completed his graduation in 1833.He, along with his dear friend, Nikolay Ogaryov, took a strong pledge to devote their lives to continue the Decembrists’ struggle for freedom from Nicholas 1’s rule in Russia.Career
- In 1834, he was arrested for attending a festival where verses of Mikhail Sokolovsky that were critical of Nicholas's predecessors were sung. He was proven guilty and faced an exile from his country. He was sent to work in the provincial bureaucracy in Vyatka.After few years, Herezen was allowed to leave Vytaka for Vladimir, where he was appointed as the editor of the city's official gazette. In 1840, he returned to Russia and obtained a post in the ministry of the interior at Saint Petersburg.But his honesty sent him back in exile, this time to Novgorod, for speaking truthfully about a death caused by a police officer. He served as a state councilor in Novgorod until 1842.Upon his return from the second exile, he joined the camp of Westernizers, one of the group of intellectuals who emphasized Russia’s common historic destiny with the Western Europe, as opposed to Slavophiles, who believed Russia should follow a course determined by its own character and history, for its development and modernization.In 1842, his first literary work, an essay on Dilettantism in Science, was published under the pseudonym of Iskander. He continued his writing through ‘Letters on the Study of Nature’ (1845-46), ‘Who is to Blame?’ (1847) and few more.In 1846, his father died leaving him a considerable fortune and he left Russia with his family to escape the despotic rule of Nicholas I. He never came back to Russia.He was quite disappointed from his visit to France, where he experienced that the society was dominated by the members of the wealthiest social class who have acquired all the capital and resources with no virtues at all for the weaker section. He concluded that Slavophiles were right about the development of Russia and he started his movement towards this direction.In 1852, he came to London and used his inheritance to start the ‘Free Russian Press’, first uncensored printing enterprise in Russian history. In the early published articles, he discussed about the emancipation of the serfs being the eventual result, if the upper class of the society does not give support in liberation of the serfs.He promoted socialism and individualism for many years in London through his publication, arguing that the full flowering of the individual could best be realized in a socialist order.In 1857, he launched Kolokol, censorship free newspaper of Russia, which spoke against oppression and fanaticism. It was dedicated towards the liberation of the country and preached about Russian socialism. It became a threat for high government officials exposing administrative corruption and was, therefore, silenced in 1868. After it was closed, he traveled to Paris.Major Works
- He developed a socialist philosophy, which provided ideological basis for much of the revolutionary activity in Russia.One of his greatest literary masterpieces is his autobiography ‘My Past and Thoughts’ which is a source of information and insight into the Russian society under the reign of Nicholas I.Personal Life & Legacy
- In 1837, he secretly married his cousin, Natalya Zakharina, and emigrated abroad with her. They were blessed with four children but she died of tuberculosis in 1852.After his wife’s death, he started an affair with his best friend’s wife, Natalia Tuchkova, and she bore him three children.On January 21, 1870, he died of tuberculosis in Paris, France at the age of 57.
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