Northern Illinois University Press


Underground Petersburg

Radical Populism, Urban Space, and the Tactics of Subversion in Reform-Era Russia

Christopher Ely

“Christopher Ely has written a timely, cogent, and ­compelling analysis of political terrorism as it emerged and took shape in Russia at the end of the 1870s. This study is full of valuable insights into the nature of ­urban life in the two decades after the serf ­emancipation of 1861 and forces the reader to ­reconsider the reasons for the embrace of terror tactics by one wing of the Russian revolutionary movement.” —Robert Weinberg, Swarthmore College

"This work contributes much to the history of Russia, Russian radicalism, and terrorism with a fresh perspective that presents the physical space in St. Petersburg, Russia, in a new light." —CHOICE

"A scintillating, well-written examination of the early Populist experience." —The Russian Review

Although the radical populist movement that arose in Russia during the reign of Tsar Alexander II has been well ­documented, this important study opens with questions that haven't yet been addressed: How did Russian radical populists ­manage to carry out a three-year campaign of revolutionary violence, killing or wounding scores of people, including top government officials, and ­eventually taking the life of the tsar himself? And how did this all occur under the noses of the tsar’s political police, who deployed vast resources and huge numbers of officials in an exhaustive effort to stop the killing?

In Underground Petersburg, Christopher Ely argues that the most powerful weapon of populist terrorism was the revolutionary underground it created. Attempts to convey populist ideals in the public sphere met with resistance at every turn. When methods such as propaganda campaigns and street demonstrations failed, populists created a sophisti­cated urban underground. Linked to the newly discovered weapon of terrorist violence, this base of operations allowed them to live undetected in the midst of the city, produce their own weaponry, and attempt to ignite an insurrection through violent attacks—putting terrorism on the map as a technique of political rebellion.

Accessible to non-specialists, this insightful study reinterprets radical populism, clarifying its crucial place in Russian history and elucidating its contribution to the history of terrorism. Underground Petersburg will appeal to scholars and students of Russia, as well as those interested in terrorism and insurrectionary movements, urban studies, and the sociology of subcultures.

October 2016, 324 pp., 4 illus., 6x9
ISBN 978-0-87580-744-7
$39.00x Paper

Christopher Ely is associate professor of history at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of This Meager Nature: Landscape and National Identity in Imperial Russia and coeditor of Space, Place, and Power in Modern Russia, both published by NIU Press.

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-744-7
paper $39.00