Alexander Herzen was a Russian author and political activist who was dubbed the ‘Father of Russian Socialism’. He campaigned for the emancipation of serfs his entire life. He provided the ideological foundation for much of Russia’s revolutionary action. In his student years, when he was profoundly influenced by the liberal beliefs of Comte de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, he began to fight for liberty. His commitment to devote his life to liberating Russia and establishing a right social order was heightened by the anarchist regime’s oppression. He was exiled for six years for committing an unreasonable crime, and upon his return to Russia, when he spoke out against the police’s unfairness, he was again exiled for two years. After his second exile, upon his return to Russia, he joined the liberation struggle and began his writing career. Seen as having been affected by his life and times in Russia during the communist movement, his literary works occupy a special place in its history. Eventually, he left Russia and traveled around Europe to advocate for the serfs’ emancipation. As soon as he arrived in London, he launched a journal to expose government corruption and urge the populace to fight against oppression. He devoted his life to establishing a just society in Russia.
Youth and Early Life
Alexander Herzen was born on April 6, 1812, in Moscow, Russia, to wealthy Russian landowner Ivan Alekseyevich Yakovlev and German Protestant Henriette Wilhelmina Luise Haag.
Born just before Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, his early education was provided by French, German, and Russian tutors.
During his university years, he was profoundly influenced by the works of Comte de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. Saint-ideas, Simon’s which condemned the flaws of the current system and promised to eliminate the exploitation of man by man, attracted his attention. In 1833, he completed his education.
Together with his beloved friend Nikolay Ogaryov, he made a solemn oath to continue the Decembrists’ fight for liberation from Nicholas I’s authority in Russia.
Alexander Herzen’s Career
In 1834, he was jailed for attending a festival when critical lyrics of Nicholas’s predecessors by Mikhail Sokolovsky were sung. He had been found guilty and was facing expulsion from his nation. He was assigned to serve in the Vyatka provincial administration.
After a few years, Herzen was permitted to go to Vladimir, where he was named editor of the city’s official gazette. In 1840, he returned to Russia and secured a position in the Saint Petersburg Ministry of the Interior.
For expressing the truth regarding a fatality caused by a police officer, he was again exiled, this time to Novgorod, due to his integrity. Until 1842, he worked as a state councilor in Novgorod.
Upon his return from his second exile, he joined the Westernizers, a group of intellectuals who highlighted Russia’s shared historical destiny with Western Europe, as opposed to the Slavophiles, who felt Russia should develop and modernize along a path dictated by its own character and history.
Under the pseudonym, Iskander, his first literary work, an article on Dilettantism in Science, was published in 1842. He wrote ‘Letters on the Study of Nature’ (1845-46), ‘Who is to Blame?’ (1847), and a few other works.
His father died in 1846, leaving him significant wealth, and he fled Russia with his family to escape Nicholas I’s a tyrannical government. He never returned to Russia.
During his trip to France, he observed that the society was ruled by members of the wealthiest social class, who had amassed all the capital and resources without any regard for the less fortunate. He came to the conclusion that Slavophiles were correct about the growth of Russia and began to work in this direction.
In 1852, he arrived in London and used his fortune to establish the ‘Free Russian Press,’ the first uncensored printing company in Russian history. In his earliest published works, he discussed the eventual emancipation of the serfs if the upper class of society did not support the serfs’ release.
Through his journal, he championed socialism and individualism in London for many years, saying that the full blossoming of the person could be achieved most effectively in a socialist society.
In 1857, he published the censorship-free Russian journal Kolokol, which spoke out against persecution and extremism. It was devoted to the country’s liberation and lectured about Russian socialism. In 1868, it was suppressed because it posed a threat to high government officials revealing administrative corruption. Upon its conclusion, he proceeded to Paris.
His Major Opera
He established a socialist ideology, which served as the ideological foundation for most of Russia’s revolutionary action.
His autobiography “My Past and Thoughts,” which is a source of information and insight into Russian culture during the reign of Nicholas I, is one of his best literary works.
Personal History and Legacy
In 1837, he married his cousin Natalya Zakharina in secret and then emigrated with her. They had four children, but she succumbed to TB in 1852.
After the death of his wife, he had an affair with Natalia Tuchkova, the wife of his best friend, and she bore him three children.
On January 21, 1870, at the age of 57, he died of TB in Paris, France.
Estimated Net Worth