Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Revolutionary Author under the Tsar

In May 2015 the IISH received the modest but interesting papers of Nikolaj Vasilévič Šelgunov and several of his relatives. The papers consist of more than fifty documents, almost all of which relate to members of the Shelgunov family. There are birth certificates as well as documents relating to education and employment, military service, and disputes about property, pensions, and travel permits.

The most famous scion of the family was Nikolai Vasilevich Shelgunov (1824-1891). As a military man he specialized in forestry. Later, in the period 1855-1890, he became a public figure as a critical journalist. Associating with the “Narodniks”, Russian revolutionaries, in 1858 he met the Russian writer and journalist Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) twice, once in Paris and once in London. In 1859 Shelgunov published a series of articles on the working proletariat in England and France. Until 1905 these articles, which also appeared in book form, were the only legally available publications in Russia on The Condition of the Working Class in England, the classic book by Friedrich Engels, published in 1845. In 1861-1862, with the help of Herzen in London, Shelgunov published the revolutionary pamphlet “To the Younger Generation”. It had in fact been written by Shelgunov himself. In 1862 Shelgunov was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. After his conviction, from 1864 onwards he lived in exile in Novgorod, Smolensk, and various provincial cities. Though he was not entirely cut off from intellectual life, he was no longer able to travel to such turbulent cities as Moscow and St. Petersburg, nor to London or Paris. Shelgunov died in St. Petersburg in 1891, lovingly cared for in his last months by his daughter Lyudmila. His funeral turned into one of the first workers’ demonstrations in the city.

Nikolai Nikolaevich Shelgunov (1864-1909), the son, initially had a military career too. A proponent of a rapprochement with the social democrats, he was arrested in 1887. After his release, he ceased to be active in the revolutionary movement. Later, he was appointed director of the Société Metallurgique de Taganrog, a metals factory near the Black Sea, where, in 1909, he was murdered by his own workers.

Bouwe Hijma

25 August 2015