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Among Russian Sects and Revolutionists

The Extraordinary Life of Prince D. A. Khilkov

Graham Camfield

In his lifetime Prince Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Khilkov (1857–1914) became known in a number of seemingly contradictory roles and contexts: courageous officer, Tolstoyan, defender of the oppressed, leader of the Dukhobor exodus, revolutionary terrorist and returning Orthodox prodigal. Born into one of Russia’s ancient aristocratic families, with close links to the court, he chose an unexpected path that led him deep into the Russian countryside and brought him to the very edge of the Empire. Renouncing a brilliant military career, he gave up almost all his land to the peasants and settled on a small farm at Pavlovki, Khar’kov province. There, his support for peasants at variance with local landowners and the Church brought him into conflict with authority, both civil and ecclesiastical, and led to his exile, firstly among religious dissidents in Transcaucasia and later among political émigrés in Switzerland.
Using a wide range of often obscure published sources, this book explores Khilkov’s extraordinary life through his autobiographical notes and the accounts of many who knew him, among them Lev Tolstoi and his disciples, the Marxist Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, fellow members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the Orthodox clergy who guided him back to the Church.


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Chapter 12: Khilkov, Bonch-Bruevich and the Sectarian Question


chapter 12 Khilkov, Bonch-Bruevich and the Sectarian Question While in Canada Bonch-Bruevich had taken the opportunity to learn at first-hand about Doukhobor beliefs and traditions, collecting and record- ing them as the so called Book of Life. On his return to Europe he renewed acquaintance with Dmitrii Aleksandrovich, whom he found ‘in a com- pletely new situation’: He was pursuing an interest in photography, and was up to his eyes in books. I soon became very close to him. He was interested in my research on sectarianism and we spent whole evenings discussing these themes, reading and rereading the numerous documents, which I had brought back from Canada from the Doukhobors and with particular care reading what I had just written down in Canada, the so called Book of life of the Doukhobors. I quickly noted that all these questions now interested him not from the narrow view point of personal self-perfection, but the mass religious movement of the people was of particular interest to him from the social point of view … His library now comprised every possible theoretical book on society in all languages, in which he was equally proficient.1 While Khilkov did not share Bonch-Bruevich’s Marxist convictions, both men recognised the potential for social change in Russia inherent in the dissenting sects and the need to feed that potential with useful literature. To this end, therefore, through 1901 and 1902 they worked together on two publications, Narodnye listki and Zhizn’, but before considering these in detail we should...

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