Karl Marx

Conspectus of Kostomarov’s Revolt of Stenka Razin


Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

At that time Cossacks lived on the banks of the Volga in a separate community. They made their presence felt during the troubled period at the beginning of the 17th century and were involved in the war of the Poles with the Turks. Wladislaw let them go and gave them presents. This points to the mutual bonds that existed among the Cossacks. As soon as the Ukrainian Cossacks came to the assistance of the Poles, so, too, did Cossacks from the Volga plains (20,000 came to the assistance of the Poles against the Turks). Apart from those settled along the Volga, Cossacks set off from the Don, the Yaik and all the regions of the Russian land for plunder. The Volga, the main trading route, offered a challenge to their daring. In 1621 they looted a convoy of ships, and this led to the founding of the town of Chorny Yar. In 1654, the Cossacks attacked the Nizhny Yaik Uchug (an uchug is a fish weir, a barrier across the river forming a pen for catching fish), which belonged to a certain Guryev, destroyed it and won over his workers to their ranks. Among the common people there was much sympathy for them. The Volga over its whole immense expanse was the run of the “thieving Cossacks,” whose deeds were sung and who were not regarded among the people as common robbers in the ordinary sense, for they operated on a grand scale. In their own songs they say of themselves: “We are not thieves, not bandits — we are good brave fellows.” In the imagination of the people and in their songs (those of the Great Russians included) they are something like the heroes of the Greeks, the Western knights, the yunaks of Serbia.