Manifestos on the assassination of Alexander II (1881)

In March 1881, immediately after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by members of the People’s Will, the perpetrators composed two manifestos. One was directed to the Russian people, the other called on the new tsar, Alexander III, to submit to political reform:

“Workers of Russia!

Today, March 1st, Alexander the Tyrant has been killed by us, Socialists.

He was killed because he did not care for his people. He burdened them with taxes. He deprived the peasant of his land. He handed over the workers to plunderers and exploiters. He did not give the people freedom. He did not heed the people’s tears. He cared only for the rich. He himself lived in luxury.

The police maltreated the people and he rewarded them instead of punishing them. He hanged or exiled any who stood out on behalf of the people or on behalf of justice. That is why he was killed. A Tsar should be a good shepherd, ready to devote his life to his sheep. Alexander II was a ravening wolf and a terrible death overtook him.”

Their open letter to the incoming tsar, Alexander III:

Your Majesty,

“While fully comprehending your deep sorrow, the Executive Committee would not be justified in postponing this explanation through reasons of natural delicacy. There is something higher than the most legitimate of personal feelings. It is the duty to our country, to which all individual sentiments must be sacrificed.

The tragedy of the Ekaterinski Canal was neither fortuitous nor unexpected. The events of the last ten years made it inevitable. And that must clearly be understood by him whom fate was now placed at the head of the administrative machine.

The Administration may well be able to arrest and hang a number of individuals and to suppress a number of revolutionary groups. But the issue remains unchanged. It is the circumstances of the age that create revolutionaries, the whole nation’s discontent, the urge of all Russia towards a new social order.

There are but two ways. Revolution – inevitable, inavertible by any executions. Or the voluntary transfer of supreme power to the hands of the People.

We turn to you, disregarding that suspicion which the misdeeds of the Administration have aroused. We turn to you as a citizen and a man of honour.

We trust that no personal bitterness will cause you to forget your duty or to cease to wish to know the truth. We too have cause for bitterness. You have lost a father. We have lost fathers, brothers, wives, children, and our dearest friends. We are prepared to suppress our personal feelings if the good of Russia demands it, and we expect the same of you.

We do not impose conditions, as these have been imposed by history. We merely state them. They are:

1. A general amnesty for all political crimes, as those have not been crimes, but rather the fulfilment of social duty.

2. The summoning of representatives of the whole nation to consider the existing social and economic order and its modification in accordance with the nation’s desire.

And so, Your Majesty, decide. There are two ways before you. On you depends the choice. We can only beg of fate that your judgment and your conscience lead you to choose the only path consistent with the good of Russia, with your honour, and with your duty towards your country.”