Nikolai Chernyshevsky
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Nikolai Chernyshevsky

Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky was a Russian revolutionary democrat, materialist philosopher, critic, and socialist (seen by some as a utopian socialist). He was the leader of the revolutionary democratic movement of the 1860s, and an influence on Vladimir Lenin, Emma Goldman, and Serbian political writer and socialist Svetozar Marković. The son of a priest, Chernyshevsky was born in Saratov in 1828, and stayed there till 1846. After graduating from Saint Petersburg University in 1850, he taught literature at a gymnasium in Saratov. From 1853 to 1862, he lived in Saint Petersburg, and became the chief editor of Sovremennik ("Contemporary"), in which he published his main literary reviews and his essays on philosophy. In 1862, he was arrested and confined in the Fortress of St. Peter and Paul, where he wrote his famous novel What Is to Be Done? The novel was an inspiration to many later Russian revolutionaries, who sought to emulate the novel's hero, who was wholly dedicated to the revolution, ascetic in his habits and ruthlessly disciplined, to the point of sleeping on a bed of nails and eating only meat in order to build strength for the Revolution. Among those who took inspiration from the character was Lenin, who wrote a work of political theory of the same name, and who was ascetic in his personal life (lifting weights, having little time for love, and so on). In 1862, Chernyshevsky was sentenced to civil execution (mock execution), followed by penal servitude (1864-72), and by exile to Vilyuisk, Siberia (1872-83). He died at the age of 61.
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