Herzen, Aleksandr Ivanovich [key], 1812–70, Russian revolutionary leader and writer. A member of the aristocracy, he was appalled at the brutality of his class, the lack of freedom at all levels of Russian society, and the terrible poverty of the serfs. He joined a socialist political circle and, as a punishment, was sent (1834) to the provinces as a civil servant. In 1840 he returned to Moscow, where he met and influenced Belinsky. In 1847, Herzen left Russia, never to return. He settled first in Paris, where he supported the Revolution of 1848, and later (1852) in England, where set up the first free Russian press abroad.
From the Other Shore, a series of articles written mainly in 1848–49 (1855, tr. 1956), is Herzen's critique of the European revolutions of the period. His My Past and Thoughts (1855; tr., 4 vol., 1968; 1977) is a survey of Russia under serfdom together with a history of the revolutionary movements he had witnessed. He also published the influential radical weekly journal Kolokol (The Bell, 1857–62), which had a large European audience and although officially banned in Russia was widely read there. Herzen also wrote a popular novel, Who Is to Blame? (1847, tr. 1984), about a liberal hero who becomes disillusioned with Russian society. He was a leading Westernizer until 1848, but then he modified his views toward the Slavophile faith in Russia's communal institutions (see Slavophiles and Westernizers). Nonetheless, he continued to view its peasant communes as egalitarian forerunners of a socialist society rather than as strongholds of tradition.
See his Selected Philosophical Works (tr. 1956), and My Past Thoughts (tr. 1980); biography by A. M. Kelly (2016); studies by M. Malia (1961), E. Acton (1979), M. Partridge (2d ed., 1993), and A. M. Kelly (1999).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Political Science: Biographies