DUKHOBORS: Tenets and Early History. A Russian sect, first heard of in the latter half of the eighteenth century, when they attracted attention by their rejection of the Church, the priesthood, and the sacraments. They proclaimed the equality and brotherhood of man. The Czar and all his officials, as well as the priests and metropolitans, were regarded as usurping a power to which they had no moral right. War and taxation, as well as law-courts and all police regulation, were condemned. The Bible was mystically interpreted, and not regarded as having so high an authority as the "Living Book" (which may be taken to mean either "the Voice Within" or the oral traditions taught by the leaders of the sect). Wealth and commerce were condemned. The laborious, agricultural life of a Russian peasant in his village commune was considered to be the only good life. None of these ideas was peculiar to the Dukhobors. They had all previously found expression among one or other of allied religious groups Lollards, Hussites, Moravian Brethren, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Quakers, or the Eastern Paulicians and Bogomiles.
The history of the Dukhobors, however, differentiated them from other sects because, after much persecution, in the reign of Alexander I. (1801-25) they were allowed to come together from all parts of Russia and form a clan. Their place of settlement was "Milky Waters," near the Sea of Azov. Here they had to face the problem of arranging their practical affairs as a group, under their new conditions. The need of a government to regulate both their civil and religious affairs, as well as to negotiate with the Russian authorities (whom they regarded as the Hebrews in Egypt regarded Pharaoh), was at once urgently felt; and without altering the phraseology of their old anarchist beliefs, or being conscious of inconsistency, they instinctively proceeded to establish, and submit to, one of the most absolute despotisms on record.
Kapoústin. Their first leader at "Milky Waters" was a former non-commissioned officer named Kapoústin, a man of ability and force of character. He managed the sect-clan with remarkable success; but he taught that he was a reincarnation of Christ, and that his divine authority would descend to his heirs and successors. His followers, however, were never, in conversation with officials or other "Gentiles," to acknowledge that they had any earthly leader. This curious secretiveness, the outcome of much persecution, still remains characteristic of the clan. They systematically throw dust in the eyes of all inquirers as to the nature of their internal government; and this has led to endless confusion and misunderstandings among those who, lacking the real clue to the situation, have attempted to study the sect. Kapoústin established community of property, and maintained that system for many years; but ultimately he terminated it in a manner which left him and his family in control of large communal estates. His immediate successors, his son and grandson, supported by an oligarchy of thirty elders, grossly misbehaved and appear to have terrorized their opponents by a series of secret assassinations carried on under the maxim: “Whoso denies his God shall perish by the sword.”
Peter Verígin. In 1841-44 the Russian Government, after a prolonged investigation into these crimes, banished the sect to the Caucasus. Here they lived quiet, industrious lives till the death of L. V. Kalmikóva, who had succeeded to power on the death of her husband, Peter, the great-grandson of Kapodstin. This woman had shown favor to a young man, Peter Verígin, who belonged to the ruling family, and whom she probably intended to appoint as her successor. However, after a quarrel with him she died suddenly, without having made the appointment, and strife broke out in the sect. The majority acknowledged Peter Verígin as leader, but an influential minority (including those who had managed affairs under Kalmikóva) refused to do so. The Russian authorities, in 1887, banished Verígin to Archangel for five years, and at the end of that time sent him to Siberia. In exile Verígin became acquainted with Leo Tolstoy's teaching; and, recognizing in it much that corresponded to the original Dukhobor doctrines, he "advised" (his advice amounting to a command) his followers to rename themselves "The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood"; further (1) to refuse military service; (2) to divide up their property equally, (3) to cease killing animals for food, and abstain from intoxicants and tobacco; (4) to refrain from sexual relations during their time of tribulation (i.e., during the persecution which arose in connection with his leadership). About this time Tolstoy made the acquaintance of some of Verígin's adherents; and, being misled by them as to the real state of the case, wrote a series of articles which ignored the fact of Verígin's theocratic authority, and represented the Dukhobors as an example of a sect of peaceful anarchists, who conducted their affairs without a government of any kind, except that of their own reason and conscience. Verígin's advice led to a fresh split in the sect. Nearly half his followers, finding his demands too severe, seceded, while the rest accepted them and entered on a campaign of passive resistance against conscription for army-service.
The Dukhobors in Canada. In 1898 the loyal Veríginite Dukhobors were allowed to migrate to Canada, and, having secured from the Canadian government a pledge that they should be exempt from all forms of conscription, 7,363 of them arrived there in 1899. Verígin being still in exile, and they being unwilling or unable without him to decide on what lines the new life should be arranged, great confusion arose, leading ultimately to a strange pilgrimage which set out to meet Verígin when the news of his release from Siberia was at last received. After his arrival in Canada, in 1902, the clan gave the government less difficulty; but owing to their unwillingness to own allegiance to any one but Verígin, and their consequent reluctance to become British subjects, there was still some friction. More than 1,000 Dukhobors have now broken away from Verígin's community, and the superstitious reverence for him has much decreased. It is only the more ignorant members, especially some of the women and children, who still regard him as a superman.
The Dukhobors are remarkably honest, sober, temperate, and frugal, and they are also generally industrious, well-mannered, self-respecting, and hospitable to strangers. Their differences with the Canadian government have all pivoted on the question of Verígin's leadership, and have been increased by the extraordinary duplicity and mendacity which they never scruple to practise in order to screen their leader from responsibility for the consequences of actions they take at his prompting. Allowance should, however, be made for the difficulties experienced by members of a sect-clan who had always been accustomed to a communal or sernicommunal way of life in which public affairs were managed for them, and who suddenly found themselves in a land of individual enterprise and democratic institutions, the laws and language of which they did not understand.
Bibliography: The only full account yet published is by A. Maude, A Peculiar People: the Doukhobors, New York, 1904. Further references are: Stepniak, The Russian Peasantry, London, 1894; Christian Martyrdom in Russia, ed. V. Tchertkoff, with chapter by L. Tolstoy, ib. 1897; L. Tolstoy, in London Daily Chronicle, Apr. 29, 1898; idem, Essays and Letters, in World's Classics Series, ib. 1903; J. Elkinton, The Doukhobors, their Hist. in Russia, their Migration to Canada, Philadelphia, 1903 (better on the Canadian episode than in the other part). Material is also to be found in: Life . . . of William Allen, London, 1847; Life . . . of Stephen Grellett, ed. Seebohm, ib. 1862; Canadian Magazine, xx (1903), 211 sqq. The fully authoritative work on the sect in Russia will be K. K. Grass, Die russischen Sekten, vol. iii.; Leipsic, not yet out. Consult also the literature under RUSSIA.