This study analyzes why Mikhailovsky - a leading Russian socialist philosopher and literary critic of the mid-19th century - expressed the most insightful, proto-Bakhtinian views on Dostoevsky's writings. It examines the social and cultural context, specifically in the political climate of Mikhailovsky's journal Otechestvennye Zapiski, the most popular magazine of its time. Russian socialist and populist literary criticism remains terra incognita outside Russia, and stereotypical perceptions of it as obtuse, boring, and appropriated by socialist realism has prevented scholars from focusing on the literary and ideological values of it. However, the roots of modern Russian thought and self-identity took their shape under the direct influence of such social thinkers as Mikhailovsky. Examining the proto-Bakhtinian traits of Mikhailovsky's criticism of Dostoevsky shows the cultural and historical pretext of Bakhtin's discoveries.