Trial of the 193
The Trial of the 193 was a series of criminal trials held in Russia in 1877-1878 under the rule of Tsar Alexander II. The trial consisted of 193 students and other “revolutionaries” charged with populist “unrest” and propaganda against the Russian Empire. The Trial of the 193 was the largest political trial in Tsarist Russia. The trial ended in mass acquittals, with only a small percentage being punished with sentences of hard labor or prison, and consequently led to an increase in violent militancy among formerly peaceful revolutionaries.
Arrests of the 193 began as early as the “Mad Summer of 1874”, when thousands of students and other youth called Narodnichestvo (peasant populism) took to the countryside to educate local peasants on issues of the government in hopes of making a more militant peasantry. However, the peasantry were largely unreceptive to the revolutionaries' ideas, and were thus willing to turn them over to the authorities. From this point forward, strategy turned to focus on the seat of state power. In 1876, a demonstration in St. Petersburg led to further arrests.
In reaction to these demonstrations and the general social foment, Tsar Alexander II came to the conclusion that mass arrests and trials were necessary to halt the revolutionaries and discredit their fight. The Trial of the 193 was open for public viewing and for full press coverage, as the Tsar’s reforms of the legal system allowed it to be so. The trial served as a staging ground and audience for the prisoners to perform well-rehearsed speeches and allowed them to gain the support of public opinion. Prisoners also shouted abuses at the judges, who from time to time had to postpone court due to the lack of control over the prisoners.
Punishments resulting from the trials were quite lenient and somewhere between half and 153 prisoners were acquitted. This of course meant that a great majority of the political prisoners rounded up in the mass arrests ordered by Tsar Alexander II were held in captivity for possibly years without sufficient evidence for a conviction. This further led to the turn from peaceful protest to violent terrorism. Two acquitted prisoners from the Trial of the 193, Sofia Perovskaya and Alexander Zheliabov, would be involved in the planning of the successful assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II’s life.
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- Hingley, Ronald, Nihilists: Russian Radicals and Revolutionaries in the Reign of Alexander II 1855-81 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967) p.79
- Hingley, Ronald, p.79
- Pereira, N.G.O., Tsar-Liberator: Alexander II of Russia 1818-1881, (Oriental Research Partners, Newtonville, Ma, 1983) p. 148
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- Pereira, N.G.O., p.149
- Woloch, Isser, Revolution and the Meanings of Freedom in the Nineteenth Century, (Stanford University Press, 1996) p.337
- Chapman, Tim, Imperial Russia, 1801-1905, (Routledge, 2001) p.117
- Chapman, Tim, p.117
- Hingley, Ronald, p.78
- Woloch, Isser, p.339