During the 1860s, a new type of intellectual emerged, forming a self-conscious and distinct social group that embraced the new doctrine of narodnichestvoknown in the West as populism. According to James Billington, these new intellectuals thought of themselves as practical rather than superfluous people: students of science and servants of history. However, the lack of any parliamentary or legal opposition bodies through which to work and the enduring superstition of idea-less liberal reformers left them no anchor to prevent drifting into the whirlpool of revolution. (The Icon and the Axe, page 399) These radical populists focused their anger on the government. They assassinated several government officials and Alexander II himself in 1881.
The Populist period ended in 1881. What followed was an explosion of creativity and experimentation in a repressive political atmosphere.