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The word raznochintsy - (lit. men of mixed ranks) appeared at a time when old class labels, used to describe Russias important social strata, could no longer grasp a complex and changing reality. Raznochintsy were educated members of Russian society drawn from the small townsfolk, the clergy, the merchants and the peasantry, as distinct from those drawn from the nobility. The emergence of this borderline social group, made up of people of various social estates, was a clear indication of the process of erosion that was beginning to affect the traditional social structure. 

A raznochintsy gathering. By V. Makovsky

Being part of the educated elite, raznochintsy did not hold high rank (chin) in the Table of Ranks and so they did not fully belong to the ruling group. Unlike the gentry or merchants, they did not have the right to own land, or to engage in trade and crafts. They had to survive on the income from their intellectual labor which was not valued very highly.  Their wages were between three and fourteen roubles a month at the time when subsistence level was ten roubles a month. For these reasons, raznochintsy, unlike the agitators of Western Europe, were often indigent and not essentially bourgeois. Nor were these city- and university-bred men and women close to the soil and the people living on it, for their education and urban life-style set them apart from the illiterate rural population.

Most members of the intelligentsia came from these raznochintsy groups which belonged neither to the propertied classes, nor to the popular masses. By the 1860s the social concept of raznochintsy had become wider and was now applied to a social movement. Anyone who chose to stand outside the traditional social structure became a member of raznochintsy. He could be a former member of the landed gentry who had severed ties with his own social class, or a son of a clergymen who decided against following in the footsteps of his father, or a shopkeeper who gave up his trade, or even a son of a general or civil servant. Having joined the ranks of raznochintsy, former landowners renounced the entire class of landowners as a matter of principle, former seminarians turned into the most virulent opponent of the church, former shopkeepers became sworn enemies of the bourgeoisie, while the sons of generals and civil servants denounced militarism and bureaucracy. From the 1860s onwards raznochintsy provided most of the leaders for the Russian revolutionary movement.  

In the conditions of political indifference and social inertness of an overwhelming majority of the peasantry, the intelligentsia, drawn from the nobility and from the mixed ranks of the raznochintsy, began to play an increasingly important role in shaping Russias future. As a group which had a virtual monopoly of European education and culture inside Russia, it was the only channel through which new ideologies could reach the illiterate masses. It is hardly possible to evaluate the course and results of the Russian revolutionary movement without an understanding of certain key characteristics which defined not just the social, but also intellectual and psychological make-up of the members of this group.

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