Feeling the Revolution: The Emotional Regime of Russian Empire’s Penitentiaries in the Development of Protest Communication





hard labour prison, F. Dzerzhinsky, 20th-century Russia, revolutionary movement, communication, ego-documents, emotiveness


This article examines the problem of the special emotional regime of hard labour prisons in the Russian Empire in the early twentieth century in the context of the social construction of emotions characteristic of a revolutionary community. The paper aims to identify the determinants of the success of the revolutionary movement in the events of 1917. The author focuses on the mechanisms of communication of political prisoners and the role of the emotional component in the formation of a stable system of social interaction in a revolutionary environment. Employing the methodology of the history of emotions and comparative analysis, the author studies both previously known historical sources (letters of F. E. Dzerzhinsky) and archival materials (perlustration of letters from prisoners of the Smolensk convict prison) which have not been studied before. The article demonstrates how the special conditions of imprisonment shaped the emotional regime of hard labour prisons and contributed to the formation of a revolutionary community. With classical communication mechanisms limited, prisoners developed alternative means of communication. Also, the author pays special attention to the peculiarities of the written language of political prisoners and its evolution in conditions of hard labour and interaction with the criminal environment. The main results of the study are related to the term “emotional code” as a characteristic communication mechanism (“friend or foe” system) within a revolutionary community. In the context of the social processes of the beginning of the century, the opposition to the growing social melancholy on the part of the revolutionary community stands out. It was not only able to build communication mechanisms that were reliable and closed to external analysis based on similar emotional patterns but also used emotional constructions for agitation and propaganda in the public environment. Specific images of the future and the positive emotions associated with it have become a constructive alternative to the negative phenomena that prevail in the public consciousness during the last years of the empire’s existence. The main “weapon” of the revolutionary community in 1917, along with propaganda, was empathy, highly developed emotional intelligence, and the ability to accurately capture the emotions of one’s surroundings. The article concludes that labour prisons were “laboratories of emotions” which played a significant role in the crystallisation of the revolutionary community and the formation of its mobilisation potential.

Author Biography

Anton Laptev

PhD (History), Research Fellow, HSE University.

20, Myasnitskaya Str., 101000, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-2270-870X



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How to Cite

Laptev, A. (2023). Feeling the Revolution: The Emotional Regime of Russian Empire’s Penitentiaries in the Development of Protest Communication. Quaestio Rossica, 11(1), 73–87. https://doi.org/10.15826/qr.2023.1.776



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