Tolstoy’s Correspondence with N.E. Fedoseev

by Nikolai E. Fedoseev and Lev N. Tolstoy

Nikolai Evgrafovich Fedoseev (1871-1898) was a Russian Marxist revolutionary who was politically exiled to Siberia in 1897. While en route to his place of exile in Irkutsk province, he encountered the first party of 34 Doukhobor conscripts en route to exile in the Yakutsk region for their refusal to bear arms. In early 1898, he met with the second party of 46 Doukhobor exiles on their way to join their brethren. During this period, Fedoseev initiated a correspondence with Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, philosopher and social reformer. Fedoseev informed Tolstoy about the circumstances of the Doukhobors’ exile and settlement, their health, state of mind, and material well-being. This information was extremely useful for Tolstoy, who was deeply concerned about the Doukhobors’ plight, and was actively advocating on their behalf. The following are the three surviving letters between Fedoseev and Tolstoy. Reproduced from N. Pokrovskiy and K. Shokhor-Trotskiy [L. N. Tolstoi II. Moscow: Izd-vo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1939, pp. 277-289. (Series: Literaturnoe nasledstvo 37-38.)] [Vaduz: Kraus Reprint Ltd., 1963], they are made available for the first time in English translation in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive. Translation by Jack McIntosh. Afterword and additional editorial notes by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Introduction (From the Original Russian Publication)

Nikolai Evgrafovich Fedoseev (1871-1878).

Nikolai Evgrafovich Fedoseev (1871-1898) was one of the outstanding pioneers of revolutionary Marxism in Russia. In the words of Lenin [i.e. Vladimir Il’ich Lenin, communist leader of the Soviet Union from 1917-1924], “the public of that day, as they were turning toward Marxism, undoubtedly experienced in greater and greater measure the influence of this unusually talented and dedicated revolutionary.” As Vladimir Il’ich recalls, Fedoseev “enjoyed the unusual affection of all who knew him, as a model old-time revolutionary, totally devoted to his cause.”[1]

Fedoseev’s untimely death deprived Russia’s proletarian revolution of a passionate fighter, while in him Russian historical science lost a serious scholar. One of his most important works – on the fall of serfdom in Russia – based on primary sources – earned high praise from everyone who read it. The manuscript of that work perished without a trace along with almost the whole of Fedoseev’s literary heritage during a police search of “Vpered”, the Party publishing house. A monument to this remarkable man was created by the Commission on the History of the October Revolution and the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) in the form of an anthology dedicated to him.

Fedoseev spent the greater part of his politically conscious life in prisons. Exiled in 1897 to Eastern Siberia, he soon committed suicide. Stunned by the news of this “tragic story,” Lenin, then in exile in the village of Shushenskoye, wrote to his sister A. I. Yelizarova that in the final days of Fedoseev’s life, “the wild slanders of a certain scoundrel,” a political exile in Verkholensk,[2] played “a major part.” Those “slanders” had something to do with Fedoseev’s relations with the Doukhobors.

L. Lezhava, in exile in Verkholensk at the same time as Fedoseev, recalls: “… it seems that from Verkholensk Nikolai Evgrafovich was already writing letters to L. N. Tolstoy – about the Doukhobors, if I am not mistaken. Lev Nikolaevich immediately replied to him personally, and a lively correspondence between them ensued, which continued throughout Nikolai Evgrafovich’s time in Verkholensk.”[3]

How then did this correspondence come about? While travelling into exile, Fedoseev met a group of Doukhobors. The Doukhobors were natives of the Transcaucasus. For their burning of weapons and refusal of military service they had been subjected to the harshest repressions. Persecution of the Doukhobors by the Tsar’s government is described in Rabotnik, the Social Democratic organ published in Geneva, in correspondence from St. Petersburg forwarded and edited by V. I. Lenin[4]:

“The correspondence published in mid-August about the expulsion of Doukhobors from Akhalkalaki district, Tiflis province could not have escaped the attention of readers of Russkie Vedomosti. However, almost nothing is said about the reasons for this eviction. However, this disturbing story deserves serious attention. It reveals to us that terrible Asiatic despotism which is quite inconceivable in a civilized country… Thirty-five families first exiled by order of the governor were the vanguard, soon to be followed by thousands more. But where to exile such a huge number of prosperous, industrious people? They were not merely expelled, but scattered in various directions in the most barbaric manner. The Doukhobors were dispersed as separate families around various mountain hamlets of Tiflis province and the Dagestan region, without being given a plot of land, housing or even a piece of bread. The native authorities were ordered not to provide Doukhobors with employment of any kind. Obviously thousands of families were being doomed to death by starvation…. Such is the picture that serves to supplement the Armenian Question that so interests Europe.”[5]

The Doukhobor young men who had refused in 1895 and 1896 to serve in the armed forces were condemned to imprisonment in disciplinary battalions, where they were subjected to corporal punishment “according to the law.” “Those sentenced were driven with whips into a cold, dark cell; a day later they were ordered to fulfill their military duties, and for refusing they were again beaten on their wounded bodies.” These Doukhobors spent from one year to a year and a half in the disciplinary battalion. When the order came for those not showing “hope of correction” to be exiled to Yakutsk region, thirty-four Doukhobors were dispatched from the battalion on November 25, 1896.

It was precisely during one difficult leg of that journey that N. E. Fedoseev encountered this first party of Doukhobors exiled to Siberia. That group passed through Rostov-on-Don, Tula, and Chelyabinsk, “wintered over” for over two months in Tyumen, and at the beginning of April, 1897 were transported by rail to Krasnoyarsk. Also in Krasnoyarsk that April was Fedoseev, who was being expelled from Moscow to Verkholensk.[6] However, here he apparently did not meet the first party of Doukhobors. As far as Aleksandrovsk he went with a different group in which was a lone Doukhobor, Ivan Rybin, an exile from the Caucasus. For some portion of the route, the peasants Ol’khovik and Sereda –”Tolstoyans” dispatched from Irkutsk to the Aldan River area – were also with Fedoseev. This is clear from documents drawn up along the stage route concerning the ill-fated “affair” in which Fedoseev was accused of acts unbecoming a socialist. One of the documents compiled June 17, 1897 during the “Khorbatovsky leg” of the route mentions the names Rybin, Ol’khovik and Sereda. When they arrived June 29th, 1897 at the village of Aleksandrovsk, the first Doukhobor party found their co-religionist Rybin, who had come there with Fedoseev, in the transfer prison. It was there, we have to assume, that the Doukhobors also met up with Fedoseev.[7] They were held in the Aleksandrovsk transfer prison for twenty days, and on July 18th they were sent on further. After five days they reached the Lena River and, probably on July 23rd, set out on a river barge from the pier at Kachug to Yakutsk. That day or the next they passed the town of Verkholensk, the place designated for Fedoseev’s exile.

Rare photo of Doukhobors in Yakutian Exile, 1898.  Second from the left in the front row – P. V. Ol’khovik. Second from the left in the middle row – K. Sereda Private collection, Moscow.

Undoubtedly it was while he was in the Aleksandrovsk prison that Fedoseev, when informed of the arrival there of Doukhobors, first established contact with them, began to exchange notes, and peppered them with questions. This exchange went on between cells. Fedoseev’s notes have not survived; his personal acquaintance with the Doukhobors probably continued on the way from the village of Aleksandrovsk to Verkholensk, to which he also, as his friends recall, arrived along the Lena by river barge. His conversations with them and the direct impression the Doukhobors made on him enabled him to say in his letter to Tolstoy that he had found out about their life and fate “directly from them during our journey there together.”

As far as is known, no archival collection of Nikolai Fedoseev’s papers has been preserved; only three letters from Doukhobors to him have fortuitously escaped destruction. Those letters, hitherto unpublished, were passed on to K. S. Shokhor-Trotsky by P. I. Biryukov, the author of a book about the Doukhobors[Dukhobortsy: sbornik statei, vospominanii, pisem i drugikh documentov” (St. Petersburg: I.N. Kushnerev, 1908)], who in turn had received them from A. N. Dunaev, who in the late 1890s was a friend of Tolstoy. Hence the supposition naturally arises that in early 1898 they had been sent by Fedoseev himself to Tolstoy in Moscow, and from him found their way to Dunaev.

Early in December 1897, in his first letter to Tolstoy, Fedoseev made use of written communications from Doukhobors, and also some of their oral narratives. On January 1st, 1898, Tolstoy noted receipt of this letter in his diary: “I received a letter from Fedoseev in Verkholensk about the Doukhobors – very moving.” At the end of January Tolstoy sent a copy with a letter to V. G. Chertkov, who was living at that time in exile in England, where he had set about organizing his publishing company “Svobodnoe Slovo” [“Free Word”]. On the copy Tolstoy inscribed “I am sending you a copy of a letter from Fedoseev, who is in administrative exile, with very important and interesting details about the Doukhobors. I have answered it” (from V. G. Chertkov’s archive). The text of that first letter from Tolstoy to Fedoseev has not been preserved, nor has the second letter from Fedoseev to Tolstoy been found. Consequently, printed below are only the first and third letters from Fedoseev, and the second and third of Tolstoy’s letters.[8] Only one of these letters (Fedoseev’s first) has been published abroad, and that in a rare publication without naming its author.

Tolstoy had known nothing about Fedoseev, but thanks to his letters, he felt “close” to him, took an interest in him, and at the end of his last letter asked a number of questions about Fedoseev himself. Tolstoy never received an answer, as his letter in all likelihood arrived in Verkholensk several days after Fedoseev’s suicide.

1.    N. E. Fedoseev to L. N. Tolstoy (ca. December 10, 1897, Verkholensk)

Highly esteemed Lev Nikolaevich – Several months ago you sent a letter to the editor of a St. Petersburg newspaper concerning assistance to Doukhobors of the Caucasus,[1] victims of persecution in 1895. At the time when the ruined Akhalkalaki Doukhobors who had been dispersed about Georgian villages were perishing in their destitution, several dozen of their children were being subjected to terrible torture in the disciplinary battalions of Ekaterinograd stanitsa [“Cossack settlement”], in the Tersk region.

I have decided to inform you of certain details of this latest circumstance, and also of the subsequent fate of the Doukhobors who have rejected weapons, assuming that you are unaware of what I found out directly from them during our journey together.

For refusing weapons and military service (April 2nd, May 6th, and June 29th, 1895), the military court (in the period from June 16th, 1895 to May 3rd, 1896 sentenced to disciplinary battalions 41 Doukhobors from Akhalkalaki district (Tiflis province), Elizavetpol province and the Kars region. Of those, 11 persons were conscripted into the Ekaterinograd battalion on October 20, 1895, 8 persons on December 29th, 8 on March 8th, 1896, 1 on April 23rd, 2 on June 28th, 4 on August 9th and 7 on October 4th. The disciplinary battalion staff was assigned to force the Doukhobors into military service. For refusing training, they were first locked into a cell for 3, 5, 10 and even 15 days in a row. Then, when this measure led nowhere, they resorted to corporal punishment. The battalion commander, Colonel Maslov and company commanders Bogaevsky, Shapkin, Okinchets, Pokrovsky and Protopopov sentenced the Doukhobors to 20-30 strokes by birch rods. They beat them with tied bundles of thorny branches, during the beatings treating the butchers to vodka. In August 1896 Lieutenant Colonel Morgunov, standing in for Maslov, along with company commanders Bogaevsky, Volochkov, Protopopov and Pokrovsky stepped up the punishment from 30 to 60-80 strokes. Morgunov slashed away over the punishment bench…

Imprisoned soldiers and staff non-commissioned officers were ordered to herd the Doukhobors into the church with straps and sabres. When the Doukhobors who had been driven into the church refused to cross themselves and kneel, they were immediately beaten with straps and sabres until the blood flowed (“there was a bloodbath.”[2]) The systematic torture forced the Doukhobors to agree to go for training and take up weapons for parade drill. They agreed to this, saying that they would not use them under any circumstances.

Their obstinacy was reported to the emperor; an order came from St. Petersburg that each Doukhobor be asked once more individually whether he would serve as a soldier. Maslov lined up the Doukhobors and asked each of them: “Will you serve, will you slaughter your neighbour, if the Tsar so orders?” Seven men said “yes” and were left to serve out their term in the disciplinary battalion, but a month later, November 25, [18]96, the remaining 34 men were exiled a month later to the Yakutsk region.

One more detail: the senior doctor (with the disciplinary battalion), Preobrazhensky, forced ailing Doukhobors who came to him to eat meat, “spat in their faces and committed all sorts of outrages” and sent them off without treating them. When the Doukhobors who had been beaten with thorny branches could neither walk nor sit down, this doctor would not receive them in the hospital. The Doukhobor Mikhail Shcherbinin “died on his feet.” Preobrazhensky had refused to take him to the hospital.[3]

The schism in their community, the break with their nearest relatives over disagreements about taking the oath and accepting weapons, the ruination of near ones and their impoverished situation in their banishment cannot but leave terrible imprints on the souls of the exiles.

Moreover, for many of them, the beatings inflicted at the time of their prayer gathering on the steep slope, and during the following days, and the cruel tortures in the battalions all left their imprint. They all are depressed, crushed by grief and have a passive attitude toward the future.[4] [*] They have not even bid farewell to their relatives; correspondence with them, of course, is difficult in the extreme.

During their journey under escort, the Doukhobors have already lost four of their companions. Alexander Gridchin [sic. Gritchin] died in Chelyabinsk and Ivan Kukhtinov in Krasnoyarsk; in Moscow Fyodor Samorodin was taken away gravely ill, and recently Luk’yan Novokshenov died in the Yakutsk jail. The health of many of the sick ones gives cause for concern. Fyodor Fomenov and Fyodor Malov show clear signs of tuberculosis;[5] Filipp Popov has lost an eye due to trachoma. The term of the Doukhobors’ exile has been administratively set (with royal approval) as 18 years.[6]

The usual term of active and reserve military service has been offered as justification for the illegal term of administrative exile. However, among the 34 exiled Doukhobor soldiers, 4 have served two years and 6 have served one year; the same sentence has been handed out to reservists (“red-carders”) who had served out their whole term of active service. According to news received by Doukhobors from home, after them another 80 “red-carders” were sent to Yakutsk region.[7] The location selected for settlement of the Doukhobors is Ust’-Notora, 300 versts from Amga and 150 versts above the Okhotsk post road northeast of Yakutsk. This location, according to associates who know the Yakutsk region, is more suitable for agriculture that the previously designated Aldan River area. The Doukhobors arrived from Yakutsk to Ust’-Notora on the twentieth day (September 25).  They settled in their winter quarters, all together (30 persons) in one Tungus yurt [“Siberian hut”].[8] When spring arrives they intend to set about clearing land for ploughing from the forest and building houses. For the first while they have purchased up to 400 puds [An Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 36.11 lbs.] of grain (at 1 ruble 50 kopecks a pud) from the Skoptsy [A Russian religious sect that practiced self-castration.] in Ust’-Maya.

They have brought Ol’khovik[9] and Sereda[10] and a certain Egorov[11], who had been sent previously to the Aldan (also for rejection of weapons), to join them. Ol’khovik and Sereda are full of life and energy, and I am very glad for the Doukhobors that they have been assigned to them.[**] Materially they will be poverty stricken, at least until their farming gets under way. Government assistance will be insufficient even for food, and they will need to be provided with implements and livestock (Ol’khovik heard from somebody that the government will provide them with equipment, how true that is, I do not know), but first and foremost, clothing and footwear. Monetary assistance is urgently necessary. For the initial period the government provided assistance forward for three months (up to January 1st) of 386 rubles to 30 persons (from the assistance they evidently deducted their own money sent to the Doukhobors by relatives, which had been taken away from them in prison).[12] Thus, sending money directly to the Doukhobors is of no use, because their government assistance will be reduced by the same amount.

It would be a good thing for the Ust’-Notora colony to be sent books, ranging from alphabet books to general educational texts. What would of greatest importance for them would be medications along with a popular book of home remedies.

Knowing the history of the latest persecutions of the Doukhobors from their own stories, I was extremely annoyed to read distorted information about this in the one censored article in Russian in Birzhevye Vedomosti; moreover Yasinsky provided that newspaper with extremely vile commentary, concluding with a most reactionary and utterly shameless proposal for the elimination of the Doukhobor commune.[13]

It seems to me that it would be important for you to tell this story on the pages of Novoe Slovo.[14] I would be able to send you some materials based on the stories of the Doukhobors themselves (about Gubanov’s lawsuit, which had such an influence on the pogrom [“organized massacre”] of June 29th, and about that debacle itself.

Here are the names of the Doukhobors exiled to the Yakutsk region: Vasily Sherstobitov, Grigory Zibarov, Mikhail Arishchenkov, Nikolai Ryl’kov, Nik. Vas. Ryl’kov, Petr Safonov, Nikolai Shcherbakov, Petr Salykin, Daniil Dymovsky, Nikofor Safonov, Grigory Vanin, Grigory Sukharev, Ivan Malakhov, Kirill Chevel’deev, Dimitry Astaforov, Kuz’ma Pugachev, Semen Usachev, Alistrat Baulin, Illarion Shchukin, Stepan Rybalkin, Fyodor Fomin[ov], Petr Kinyakin, Grigory Verigin, Ivan Chutskov, Filipp Popov, Fyodor Malov, Luk’yan Novokshenov – died in Yakutsk, Nikolai Sukhachev, Fyodor Plotnikov, Aleksei Makhortov, Aleksandr Gridchin – died in Chelyabinsk, Mikhail Shcherbinin – died in the battalion at the Ekaterinograd stanitsa, Ivan Kukhtinov – died in Krasnoyarsk, Fyodor Samorodin – in Moscow in the city hospital.  Sixteen of these are from the Spasskoye community, Elizavetpol’ province; eleven from the Shuragel community and one from the Zarishat community, Kars region. Most are married. Their wives and children remained at home. Along with them a reservist – Ivan Rybin[15] – was sent, and the reservists Vasily Pozdnyakov,[16] Petr Svetlishchev and Grigory Voikin have been left in Aleksandrovsk, Irkutsk province until the winter or spring dispatch to the Lena post road.

The Doukhobors’ address: Amga station, Yakutsk region and district, To the Zemsky zasedatel’ [“police chief”] of the 2nd sector, to be passed on to Vasily Fedorovich Sherstobitov,[17] who lives in Ust’-Notora.

Mail goes only as far as Amga. Their letters are under the control of the police.

2.    N. E. Fedoseev to L. N. Tolstoy (May 1, 1898, Verkholensk)

Deeply respected Lev Nikolaevich – The other day I received a letter from Ust’-Notora[18] residents P. Ol’khovik and Ryl’kov (a Doukhobor)[19], who have arrived in Yakutsk after being summoned by the administration to receive a government allowance (600 rubles) to get themselves established farming and to purchase horses and implements. They all are in good health and are enthusiastically getting to work building houses and preparing land for cultivation. Since February 2nd twenty of them have been supporting themselves with temporary work in the Skoptsy village of Petropavlovsk, 150 versts from Ust’-Notora.


By summer they expect to be well enough settled that they have decided to summon their families to join them[20]. Letters from home have been encouraging them greatly: those who are dispersed around Tiflis province have written to tell them that thanks to outside assistance and support, they are now no longer in dreadful straits[21].

I do not know how they will take the news of the permission granted to their fellows to resettle in America or England. This permission apparently does not extend to those in Ust’-Notora[22]. The reason for their exile – not appearing for conscription – renders this extremely difficult and completely superfluous for the majority of Doukhobors.

Among the several dozen sectarians exiled last year to East[ern] Siberia from various provinces of Eur[opean] Russia (including 12-13 Neplatel’shchiki [“Nonpayers”][23] from Krasnoufimsk district exiled to Yakutsk region for five years), there was a certain Egorov[24]. Probably he is from Pskov. This Egorov was exiled for refusing military service. At first he was settled in the Aldan, but later, along with Ol’khov[ik] and Sereda was transferred to Ust’-Notora. Money for him can be sent to this address: Amga Station, Yakutsk region, to the zemsky zasedatel’ of the second sector, for delivery to the Doukhobor Nikolai Ivanovich Ryl’kov (or to Petr Ol’khovik) in Ust’-Notora. They have received the books I sent, and they are also receiving letters; apparently they are not being held back. Ol’khov[ik] expressed a desire to receive books for reading to the Ust’-Notora colony, books on general subjects in large quantities, not excluding popular works. They are being permitted to travel themselves to Amga to pick up mail and go shopping. In mid-May I will be seeing the second party of Doukhobors exiled to Ust’-Notora[25].

With deep respect, N. Fedoseev

My address: Verkholensk, Irkutsk province, Nikolai Evgrafovich Fedoseev.

3.    L. N. Tolstoy to N. E. Fedoseev  (June 9, 1898, Yasnaya Polyana)

Dear Nikolai Evgrafovich – I feel very grateful and close to you because of your kind concern for our friends. Thank you for the information you sent me in your last letter of May 28th[26]. Please continue to write to me everything you find out about them. If possible, please pass on to them my love and let them know that very, very many people both in Russia and abroad know about them, love them and want to be useful to them.

We have deposited in the bank a small sum of around 3000 rubles designated for assistance to the Doukhobors. I hope that more will be collected. We intend to use this money to help with resettlement. If however it is needed more for settlement of the Yakutsk Doukhobors, part of it may be used there also. Let they themselves decide.

Khudyakov[27] has been writing to me from the Irkutsk prison. I have not replied to him, in the first place because I do not know whether a letter would reach him in Irkutsk, and in the second place because I am always afraid that my letters to Doukhobors will aggravate their situation, as the government is assiduously impeding any contact between me and them.

If you see him, tell him that I read his letter with great pleasure and that not I alone, but many people remember them, follow the news about them, and are trying to help them.

Convey to them that a few days ago Ivin[28] and his family passed through here. He is travelling to England and by mistake, instead of going by a southern route from Batum, he called by in Moscow and at Yasnaya Polyana without finding me (I was in a remote place in Chern district to assist those in need due to crop failure, and while there I fell ill)[29]. He did find my daughter[30], who directed him to St. Petersburg, from where, I hope, with the assistance of friends, he will arrive safely in England. Tell them also that for a long time, unfortunately, we have not been receiving letters from P[eter] V[erigin]. Also mention that Androsov[31] writes from Kars region that although the authorities there are taking away horses and cattle and selling them at auction[32], they are in good spirits and are living well.

Tell them that I think now that things will not get worse, but on the contrary everything will get better.

I hope that the government will soon change its way of doing things. I think that if the majority leaves, the government will also release those who have been exiled in Yakutsk, if not now, then in time[33]. Only may God grant the Yakutian exiles spiritual strength: patience, humility, and love.

He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved[34].

I shall not write directly to Ol’khovik and the other brethren because I do not wish to write care of the zasedatel‘.

Tell me about yourself. Why were you exiled? What is your situation now? And what is your state of mind? If you do not object to answering these questions, I shall be grateful to you[35].

With love, L. Tolstoy

Group of Doukhobor Exiles in Yakutsk, Siberia, circa 1904


Introduction – Original Russian Editor’s Notes

[1] Lenin, V. I., “Neskol’ko slov o N. E. Fedoseeve” [A few words about N. E. Fedoseev], in his Sochineniya [“Works”], vol. XXVII, pp. 376-377.

[2] Ibid., p. 558 (excerpt from the letter of August 16, 1898).

[3] Fedoseev, Nikolai Evgrafovich. Odin iz pionerov revolyutsionnogo marksizma v Rossii. Sbornik vospominanii [“One of the pioneers of revolutionary Marxism in Russia. Collected reminiscences”]. Moscow – Petrograd: GIZ, 1923, p. 127.

[4] See Lenin’s letter to P. B. Aksel’rod early in November, 1895, in his Sochineniya, vol. XXVIII, p. 8.

[5] “Vesti iz Rossii. Peterburg 20 oktyabrya” [“News from Russia. St. Petersburg, October 20”] (1895), Rabotnik (Geneva), No. 2, 1896.

[6]  The only personal contact between Fedoseev and Lenin took place April 24th, 1897 in Krasnoyarsk (see Zil’bershtein, I. S., “Nekotorye voprosy biografii molodogo Lenina” [“Some questions concerning Lenin’s early life”], Katorga i Ssylka, no. 1, 1930, p. 18).

[7] By the time the Doukhobors arrived, Ol’khovik and Sereda had probably already been sent on from Aleksandrovsk to the Aldan River area.

[8] The text of Fedoseev’s first letter is taken from the copy preserved in V. G. Chertkov’s archive; his second – from an autograph kept in the Tolstoy collection in the Manuscript Division of the All-Union I. Lenin Library. Tolstoy’s letters are printed from the pages of a book of copies preserved in the Tolstoy Museum.

N. E. Fedoseev to L. N. Tolstoy (December 10, 1897) – Original Russian Editor’s Notes

[1] Tolstoy’s letter to the editor of Birzhevye Vedomosti requesting that newspaper to print P. A. Bulanzhe’s article about the grave predicament of the Doukhobors who had been dispersed to villages around Tiflis province. Both the letter and this article sent by Tolstoy to the editor on May 18th, 1897 were only published in August of that year as part of a contribution by I. I. Yasinsky (see footnote 13 of this letter).

[2] The words quoted come from the letter from Doukhobors to N. E. Fedoseev of August 5th, which evidently served as one of the sources for this letter.

[3] The quotation is probably taken from an unknown letter from Doukhobors to Fedoseev.

[4] It has been impossible to ascertain how Fedoseev received word of the report in the newspaper Saratovsky Dnevnik.

[5] Both of the Doukhobors named here by Fedoseev died in Yakutian exile (see Dukhobortsy v distsiplinarnom batal’one, p. 35).

[6] The initiator of the 18-year exile of the Doukhobors, instead of the usual three-five year term of administrative exile, was Minister of War P. S. Vannovsky. The “Most humble report of the Minister of Internal Affairs,” I. L. Goremykin, signed by Vannovsky, was reprinted by V. D. Bonch-Bruevich in his Volneniya v voiskakh i voennye tyur’my [“Army disturbances and military prisons”], Petrograd, 1918, pp. 116-118. On August 5th, 1896 Nicholas II wrote his endorsement on this report: “Agreed”, and, as a result, the “proposal” of the two ministers, approved also by the Minister of Justice, acquired the force of law.

[7] The “red-carded” Doukhobors were persecuted because they had returned their military documents – their red draft cards – to the authorities. The number of Doukhobor “red-carders” supposedly exiled from the Caucasus with the second party as reported to Fedoseev turned out to be unreliable. The whole second party arriving into Yakutian exile consisted of forty persons, of whom nine were over fifty years old, nine over forty, and the rest younger (see Il’insky, A. “Dukhobory v Yakutskoi oblasti”  Golos Minuvshego, no. 1, 1917, p. 257). [In fact, most Doukhobor reservists were exiled internally within the Caucasus, while Doukhobor conscripts in active service, along with Doukhobor elders arrested for inciting their youth to refuse to bear arms, were exiled to Siberia. Only a few reservists were exiled to Siberia with them.]

[8] The Irkutsk governor-general deemed it necessary to isolate the Doukhobors not only from the Russian population, but also from the “Yakuts, who are extremely backward and unstable in their notions.” He feared that “the Yakuts could easily fall under the harmful influence of the sectarians.”

Among the whole first party of Doukhobors exiled to the Yakutsk region about whom Fedoseev wrote to Tolstoy, only one (Kuz’ma Pugachev) did not withstand the severity of the ordeals and begged for mercy. All the other Doukhobors in this party demonstrated the “granite-hard firmness and steadfastness of people who are convinced of the rightness of their cause,” people who, as V. D. Bonch-Bruevich expressed it, “broke modern Russia’s inquisition.” They endured seven and a half years in exile (see Il’insky, A., “Dukhobory v Yakutskoi oblasti”, Golos Minuvshego, no. 1, 1917, pp. 246-253 and 261; and Bonch-Bruevich, V. D., Volneniya v voiskakh i voennye tyur’my, p. 125). 

[9] Ol’khovik, Petr Vasil’evich (born in 1874), peasant of the village of Rechki, Sumy district, Kharkov province, non-Doukhobor. In October 1895 P. V. Ol’khovik, at the time of his call-up, refused the oath and rejected military service. Nevertheless he was enlisted and dispatched by sea to an artillery brigade stationed in Vladivostok. There Ol’khovik continued to refuse to serve in the military and was found guilty by the brigade court “of deliberate insubordination.” On July 1st, 1896 he was sentenced to three years confinement in a disciplinary battalion.

[10] Sereda, Kirill (born in 1874), peasant of the village of Maksimovshchina, Sumy district, Kharkov province. After being called up for military service in 1895, he was assigned to the same artillery brigade.  As he completed the long ocean voyage to Vladivostok together with Ol’khovik, Sereda became good friends with him and while still en route attracted the attention of the authorities. Then in the brigade he refused to continue his military service, and also was found guilty by the court and sentenced to imprisonment for three years in the disciplinary battalion.

In the charge brought against N. E. Fedoseev by the Yukhotskys and their associates he was accused, among other things, of “uncomradely relations” with Ol’khovik and Sereda. A combined meeting of political exiles held January 5th, 1898, after rejecting all the insinuations directed against Fedoseev as to the point concerning his relations with Ol’khovik and Sereda, concluded that the available letters from the latter to Fedoseev “do not permit even a shadow of suspicion of the existence between them and Fedoseev of other than purely friendly relations”  (see Vinogradov, F., “Iz zhizni verkholenskoi ssylki” [“From life in Verkholensk exile”], Katorga i Ssylka, XI (48), 1928, pp. 129-137).

[11] Egorov, Egor Egorovich (born in 1874), peasant of the village of Murashkino, Ostrovsky district, Pskov province. In 1895 he refused to serve, both at his call-up and in the regiment. He was sentenced by the regimental court to three years imprisonment in the disciplinary battalion and dispatched to the Bobruisk Battalion. Later, on October 1st, 1896 he was dispatched for 18 years to Yakutsk region, where he arrived on June 9th, 1897. In September 1901 he escaped from exile and in 1902 went abroad.

[12] Fedoseev’s supposition is mistaken. According to archival data, the money of their own that had been evidently taken away from everyone in the Doukhobor party upon their arrival in prison in Yakutsk came to 945 rubles. After receiving this money and also money for forage, they spent the entire sum on provisions and in fact found themselves at their place of settlement without a kopeck (see Il’insky, A., Dukhobory v Yakutskoi oblasti, pp. 247-250).

[13] Yasinsky, Ieronim Ieronimovich (1850-1931), fiction writer and publicist, notable for erratic opinions and lack of principle.

In 1897 in the newspaper Birzhevye Vedomosti (no. 213, August 6), Yasinsky published his article “Sekta, o kotoroi govoryat” [“The sect people are talking about”]. After outlining the history of the Doukhobor movement, Yasinsky ended his article with the proposal that the poor Doukhobors be given aid so as to “return the lost sheep to the bosom of the church.” In his article Yasinsky included an article by P. A. Bulanzhe along with a letter from Tolstoy to the editor of Birzhevye Vedomosti (see footnote 1).

Referring to Yasinsky’s contribution, Tolstoy wrote to P. I. Biryukov on August 13th(?), 1897: “Not one newspaper wanted to publish Bulanzhe’s article about the Doukhobors, and then Birzhevye Vedomosti did print it, but prefaced it with Yasinsky’s article, which slanders them. I think that is worse than nothing. Let us try not to forget, but to feel their suffering and then strive to help them. How, I do not yet know, but I hope that life will show us” (emphasis mine).

[14] “Novoe Slovo” – a monthly journal that began publication in October 1895. Since March 1897 Plekhanov (under the pseudonym Kamensky), Potresov, and others contributed to the journal. The journal was shut down in December 1897, which Fedoseev could not yet have known.

The version of Fedoseev’s letter that appeared in Listki Svobodnogo Slova substituted the words “some journal” for the name of the above-mentioned Marxist publication.

[15] Rybin, Ivan Semenovich, Doukhobor, was exiled from the Transcaucasus to Yakutsk region, probably in November 1896. As evident from the slanderous accusation lodged against Fedoseev, the latter was acquainted with Rybin (see introduction).  In the copy of Fedoseev’s letter to Tolstoy, the name appears as “Rybakov” rather than Rybin. This is clearly an error.

[16] Pozdnyakov, Vasily Nikolaevich, Doukhobor from Tiflis province. For rejecting military service he was subjected to corporal punishment.

In the spring of 1897 he was exiled for eighteen years to the Yakutsk region. Pozdnyakov arrived at Ust’-Notora with the second party of Doukhobors in June 1898. Soon he was sent by his co-religionists to the Caucasus with an instruction for the wives of the exiles. He successfully completed this risky illegal journey, on the way visiting Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana. According to Tolstoy, Pozdnyakov “showed his lashed body, and it was awful: he was covered with scars, although several months had already passed since his punishment.” At Tolstoy’s request, while at Yasnaya Polyana he wrote down his reminiscences of the violent reprisal against the Doukhobors over the burning of weapons (see Rasskaz dukhobortsa Vasi Pozdnyakova, edited by Vlad. Bonch-Bruevich, Christchurch, “Svobodnoe Slovo” Publication, 1901.)

[17] Sherstobitov, Vasily Fedorovich (1871-1901), Doukhobor from Tiflis province. Conscripted in the autumn of 1892. On June 29th, 1895 (the day of the burning of weapons by the Doukhobors) he refused further military service. For this he was sentenced to imprisonment in the disciplinary battalion, and then sent into exile in Yakutia.

Judging from unpublished letters from Doukhobors to N. E. Fedoseev, it can be stated with confidence that having written these letters on behalf of the whole party of Doukhobors, Sherstobitov was not only in correspondence with Fedoseev, but also personally conversed with him “during [our] journey there together.” A significant number of his letters to Fedoseev apparently have not come down to us.

N. E. Fedoseev to L. N. Tolstoy (December 10, 1897) – Fedoseev’s Notes

[*] The report in Saratovsky Dnevnik that the exiled Doukhobors are in good spirits is false. It is not true that they were allowed to accompany their dead comrade who had died in Krasnoyarsk prison to his burial place.

[**] As a result of having lived together with the vegetarian Doukhobors, Olkhovik and Sereda refused to engage in hunting or fishing.

N. E. Fedoseev to L. N. Tolstoy (May 1, 1898) – Original Russian Editor’s Notes

[18] This letter is unknown to the editors.

[19] Ryl’kov, Nikolai Ivanovich (born in 1871).

[20] Before transporting their families, the Yakutsk settlers decided to familiarize them with living conditions in Siberia; to that end they sent Vasily Pozdnyakov to the Caucasus (regarding him and his journey, see footnote 16 to letter no. 1). Only three childless women arrived with Pozdnyakov to join their husbands. Only in the summer of 1899 did the rest of the Doukhobor families resettle in Siberia [with the assistance of the Tolstoyan Prokopy Nestorovich Sokolnikov].

[21] Outside assistance and support were organized with the closest involvement of L. N. Tolstoy and his friends.

[22] In the summer of 1897 the Doukhobors who had been scattered around villages of Tiflis province petitioned Empress Mariia Fedorovna either to exempt them from military service and permit them to live once again all together, or not to prevent them from emigrating abroad. The latter part of their petition was granted, with the stipulation, however, that those Doukhobors who were subject to call-up could not emigrate. Thus the Ust’-Notora Doukhobors, because they had already been conscripted, were also deprived of that right. Only in 1905 did they finally emigrate (see Babiakin, I., “Dukhobory v iakutskoi ssylke,” Russkoe bogatstvo, no. 2, 1909, pp. 76-98, and no. 3, pp. 34-53).

[23] Neplatel’shchiki – a sect with a clearly anarchistic inclination that emerged in Krasnoufimsk district, Perm province in the mid-1860s. For their refusal to carry out obligations to the state (military service in particular), and for their passive resistance in prisons, they were subjected by the Tsarist authorities to severe measures of coercion. From 1896 on, they were exiled to settle in Yakutsk province. See Prugavin, A. S., Nepriemliushchie mira [“Those who reject the world”], Moscow: izd. “Zadruga”, 1918; and Medyntsev, K. N., Neplatel’shchiki. – Dukhobory [“Nonpayers. – Doukhobors”], Moscow, b.o.g. [1919].  [Note: Besides the Neplatel’shchiki,  another sect from Perm province – the Egovisti (“Jehovists”) or Il’intsy (“Ilyinites”) – were also exiled amongst the Doukhobors in Yakutsk province in the late 1890s.]

[24] As to Egorov, see footnote 4 to letter no. 2.

[25] Peter Verigin’s brothers, who travelled with this second party of Doukhobors into Yakutian exile, in a letter to relatives dated May 22, 1898 from the town of Kirensk reported: “… We had just set out from Kachuga when that same day we arrived in the small town of Verkholensk, where a little below the town we came ashore and spent the night” (Listki Svobodnogo Slova, no. 1, November 1898, pp. 11-12). Undoubtedly Fedoseev was one of the political exiles who met the second party of Doukhobors in Verkholensk. The encounter probably took place on May 13, 1898, as it was on that very day that the Doukhobors set out on barges from the pier at Kachuga.

L. N. Tolstoy to N. E. Fedoseev (June 9, 1898) – Editor’s Notes

[26] Tolstoy doubtless had in mind Fedoseev’s letter of May 1, received at Yasnaya Polyana at the end of May. See letter no. 3.

[27] Khudyakov, Nikolai Fedorovich, Doukhobor from the village of Pokrovskoye, Kars region. In the Tolstoy Archive three of his letters are preserved: those of February 28, April 8 (about which Tolstoy wrote to Fedoseev) and November 15, 1898. In the second of these Khudyakov declared to “dear grandfather” that he knows him “from books of his compositions”, that he has read “What Is To Be Done?,” that he is “living in prison”, that he was “exiled to Siberia for the words ‘thou shalt not kill'” and that his “wife and daughter are voluntarily following” after him. Tolstoy answered June 26, 1898 by letter to Khudyakov, but his reply was intercepted by the Okhrana [“secret police”] and comparatively recently was discovered in the archives of the Department of Police. It was published in the newspaper Krasnaya Gazeta, no. 51, evening edition, February 28, 1925.

[28] Ivin, Ivan Vasil’evich, Doukhobor. Carried out community assignments on more than one occasion. Repeatedly suffered persecution. Was one of the envoys (along with P. V. Makhortov) to England to inspect land and negotiate with V. G. Chertkov and Quakers regarding migration. In May 1898 the families of Makhortov and Ivin obtained foreign passports after signing a written undertaking to return.

[29] On April 25, 1898, after receiving information about famine in the southern part of Tula province, Tolstoy left Moscow for Chern district. After getting settled in Grinevka, the estate of his son Ilya L’vovich, he began to organize a network of canteens for the starving. At the end of May, on the way from Grinevka to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy called in to see a very longstanding acquaintance, the well-known agriculturalist P. I. Levitskii (1842-1920) at the village of Alekseevskoye, where Tolstoy fell ill and remained for ten days.

[30] Tolstaya, Tat’iana L’vovna, from 1899 – Sukhotina.

[31] Androsov, Mikhail Semenovich, Doukhobor from the village of Gorelovka, Kars region. In 1895, he was deputized by the community to travel to Obdorsk to visit P. V. Verigin. He described his journey in an article: “My Journey: a narrative by Mikhail Androsov, member of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”, which was published in the book Pis’ma dukhoborcheskogo rukovoditelia Petra Vasil’evicha Verigina [“Letters of the Doukhobor leader Peter Vasil’evich Verigin”], edited by V. D. Bonch-Bruevich. Christchurch, England: “Svobodnoe Slovo” Publication no. 47, 1901.  Three letters from Androsov to Tolstoy are preserved: from June and October 13, 1897, and the one of May 17, 1898 mentioned by Lev Nikolaevich.

[32] Money obtained from the sale of cattle went to pay the wages of men placed by the government to keep an eye on the Doukhobors.

[33] The Yakutsk Doukhobors received permission to emigrate in 1905.

[34] Tolstoy often repeated this New Testament saying.

[35] N. E. Fedoseev died June 21, 1898. This letter of Tolstoy did not find him among the living.


Nikolai Evgrafovich Fedoseev was born on May 9, 1871 in the town of Nolinsk in Vyatka province. The son of a court investigator, he became one of the first advocates of Marxism in Russia.  In 1887, he was expelled from his studies at the Kazan Gymnasium for spreading revolutionary propaganda. In 1888, he began to organize Marxist study groups, including one that included Vladimir Il’ich Lenin among its members. Arrested in 1889 for operating an illegal printing press, Fedoseev in 1890 was confined in the Kresty prison of St. Petersburg. Upon his release in 1892, Fedoseev’s revolutionary work took him to Vladimir, where he established ties with Marxists in other cities, and in September of the same year he was a leader of the strike at the Morozov factory in Nikol’skoye. Again arrested, in the course of his imprisonment in Vladimir he corresponded with Lenin, then living in Samara, on questions of Marxism. Fedoseev was then politically exiled, first to Sol’vychegodsk in Arkhangel’sk province in 1893, and then to Verkholensk in Irkutsk province in 1897.

It was while en route to Verkholensk that Fedoseev first encountered the Doukhobors. At the beginning of April 1897, he accompanied a party of exiles from Krasnoyarsk in Yenisei province to Alexandrovsk in Irkutsk province. Among this group was Ivan Rybin, a lone Doukhobor from the Caucasus exiled to the Yakutsk region for refusing military service. For some portion of the route, they were accompanied by Petr Ol’khovik and Kiril Sereda, two Tolstoyans from Kharkov province also banished for refusing to bear arms. Upon arriving in Alexandrovsk on June 29, 1897, Fedoseev met the first party of 34 Doukhobors exiled for their refusal of military service.  They spent almost a month together in the Alexandrovsk transfer prison, before setting out by barge on the River Lena on July 18, 1897. Five days later, on July 23, 1897, the party reached Verkholensk, where Fedoseev disembarked, while the Doukhobors continued on to Yakutsk. During the journey, Fedoseev made the personal acquaintance of a number of Doukhobors, whom he continued to correspond with by mail. The following year, on May 13, 1898, Fedoseev briefly met the second party of 46 Doukhobor exiles when they stopped at Verkholensk on their way to Yakutsk.

Fedoseev’s personal acquaintance with the Doukhobors enabled him to find out directly about the circumstances of their exile and settlement, their health, state of mind, and material well being. He decided to write Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, philosopher and social reformer, and inform him about their fate, along with that of Ol’khovik and Sereda, who had joined the Doukhobors in Yakutsk.  Tolstoy was grateful to receive this information, as he was deeply concerned about the Doukhobors’ plight, and was actively advocating with Tsarist authorities on their behalf.  The two struck up a lively correspondence, and between December 10, 1897 and June 9, 1898, exchanged five letters – only three of which survive. These letters provide us with a rare, fascinating glimpse into the life of the Doukhobor exiles during this period.

Regrettably, Tolstoy and Fedoseev’s correspondence was cut short by the latter’s suicide on July 4, 1898 at 27 years.  Undoubtedly, the terrible conditions of life in exile, the isolation and loneliness, and the unrelenting police harassment, played a role in Fedoseev’s decision to take his own life. However, the main cause appears to have been the “wild slanders” of a certain Yukhotsky, another political exile in Verkholensk, who accused Fedoseev of having “uncomradely relations” with the Doukhobors; accusations which proved to be unfounded. He was posthumously regarded as one of the first propagandists of Marxism in Russia.

For graphic first-hand accounts of the Doukhobor refusal to perform military service, atrocities committed at the disciplinary battalion, and the exile to Yakutsk see: My Renunciation of Military Service by Gregory I. Sukharev; Refusal of Military Service by Gregory Vanin; Story of a Spiritual Upheaval by Vasily N. Pozdnyakov; My Beautiful Sons…Why Did You Have to Die? by Akim A. Fominov; Confession of a Doukhobor Elder by Vasily V. Zybin; The Vereschagins’ Exile to Siberia by Ann J. Vereschagin; and My Rejection of Military Service – Petr V. Olkhovik. For a comprehensive listing of Doukhobor exiles in Yakutsk see: Index of Doukhobor Military Conscripts Exiled to Siberia, 1895-1905 and Index of Doukhobor Elders Imprisoned in the Caucasus and Exiled to Siberia, 1895-1905. For an account of the journey by Doukhobor women and children to Yakutsk to join their husbands and fathers in exile see: Wives and Children of the Doukhobors by Prokopy N. Sokolnikov.