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Kropotkin, Peter. The Terror in Russia. London: Methuen & Co., 1909. 4th Ed.




A painfully prominent feature of present-day Russian life is the frequency of provocaton to violence by the secret agents of the Government, which has attained an extraordinary development during the last few years, since public money is lavished upon the three or four different and rival sections of the State's secret police : as also has the participation of various police officers in all kinds of crime, of which many striking instances have been discovered of late. The consequence is, that death sentences are continually pronounced upon young and inexperienced men who have been involved in various plots by the secret agents of the Government. This has developed lately into a widely-spread system among the secret agents and the police officers for attaining promotion and receiving handsome money rewards.

Every one has been hearing lately of a certain Azeff, who was for sixteen years an agent of the Russian secret police, and at the same time the chief organiser of acts of terrorism among the Social Revolutionists, including the murder of the Minister of the Interior, Von Plehve, the Grand Duke Sergius, General Bogdanovitch at Ufa, and of several plots which he denounced at the last moment against General Trépoff, the Minister of Justice Scheglovitoff, the Grand Duke Nicholas, and the Tsar.

Azeff began as an informer in 1902. This is officially stated in the act of accusation against M. Lopukhin (formerly head of the Police Department, who had confirmed to the Russian refugee, Burtseff, in the autumn of 1908, that Azeff really was a paid agent of the police). In 1904 Azeff, already then in the service of the police and in regular relations with Ratchkovsky, the ex-head of the Russian secret police abroad, organised the murder of the then omnipotent arch-reactionary Minister of the Interior, Von Plehve, who had dismissed Ratchkovsky, and in May, 1905, the same Azeff was the organiser of the murder of the Grand Duke Segius.

Not only is this openly stated by the heads of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, but these two events were precisely what gained Azeff the absolute confidence of the party; and it thus appears that one department of the Russian secret police--the Okhrana, whose special function is the protection of the Tsar--did not hesitate to sacrifice Von Plehve a Grand Duke in order to retain their trusted agent in the centre of the Social Revolutionary Party.

All this might appear incredible, but the Russian secret police had already inaugurated such a policy in 1881.

When, in the first year of the reign of Alexander III. a special police was organised under the name of Okhrana (Protection), for the personal protection of the Tsar, the head of that special police--Colonel Sudeykin--entering into relations with one of the terrorists, Degáeff, seriously invited him to induce the terrorists of the Executive Committee to kill the then Minister of the Interior, Count Tolstoy, and the Grand Duke Vladimir, and afterwards to betray the Committee. After that Sudeykin, having thus proved the incapacity of the ordinary secret police to protect such high personages, and his own cleverness in discovering the guilty persons, would himself be nominated the head of all the police with dictatorial rights, like Count Loris Melikoff under Alexander II., and he would secure a good place for his accomplice Degáeff.

Ratchkovsky and Azeff continued the Sudeykin tradition. In order to protect the Tsar, the Okhrana allowed Azeff to import into Russia revolutionary literature printed abroad, to organise workshops for fabricating bombs, occasionally supplying some money for that; they allowed him also to organise plots against Ministers, Grand Dukes, and the Tsar himself. All this time their diabolic policy was carefully to protect the terrorists marked out by Azeff against an occasional arrest by some other section of the police, so as to have them arrested by nobody but the Okhrana, just at the moment when the plot was going to be executed. They might thus be sure of the necessary effect being produced on the Tsar, and the victims might be immediately hanged, before they had time to make compromising revelations that would given a clue to the Okhrana conspiracy.

Even escapes were skilfully organised when it was necessary for the Okhrana and its agent, Azeff, to spare some active fighting leader, only to hand him over later on to a Court Martial to be hanged in twenty-four hours. After that they paraded as the real defenders of autocracy ; they obtained considerable rewards in money, proved the necessity of the Okhrana, obtained grants for it, and maintained the "Reinforced Okhrana," with its double pay to all its officers and officials, and its "extraordinary supplementary budget," from year to year.

In order to make sure of it, they also printed a special paper, the Tsarskiy Listok (the Tsar's Leaflet), for the personal perusal of the Tsar (one of the numbers of this paper, obtained from the gendarmerie Archives, was reproduced lately by Burtseff in his review, Byloye), every report about the activity of the revolutionists and every arrest of revolutionists being recorded there for the Tsar, who read it with great interest--everything being done to confirm him in the idea of the necessity of maintaining the state of siege.

Thousands of men are thus sacrificed every year, only to provide the agents provocateurs of the Okhrana with plenty of money.

But Azeff was not an exception. The late M. Pergament communicated in March last (to the Novoye Vremya) some facts from his political experience as a lawyer, and these throw some light on the widespread system of provocation used by the Russian secret police. In one case an agent provocateur at Vilna, dressed in a soldier's uniform, complained to some young boys and girls of the bad treatment he had received from his officers. He suggested that the young people should kill the officers, and offered them explosives for the purpose. Happily, they mistrusted him, and did not follow his advice.

At a Court Martial at Vladimir, in February last, it was proved that Lieutenant-Colonel Zavarnitsky, head of the secret police of this city, had sent threatening letters, revolutionary proclamations, drawings of bombs, and even real bombs, to all the authorities, including himself.

During the trial which took place at Cracow, in consequence of an accusation brought by Burtseff against Miss Brzozowski of belonging to the secret police, one of the lawyers said that in Russian Poland he had several times seen agents provocateurs condemned to death for murders they had organised, and known them to be liberated afterwards and to appear as witnesses in other trials.1

During the last two or three years the newspapers made known several instances in South-Western Russia where the police of the towns have organised their own bands of so-called "expropriators." Under pretence of being revolutionists who want the money for revolutionary purposes, these bands extorted money from wealthy people under menace of death. In one or two of such cases the fact was established before the Courts, and the respective heads of the police were dismissed.

Quite lately a band of so-called expropriators was arrested at Tiflis, and it appeared that its headquarters were at office of the secret police of that city. In consequence the head of this office, a certain Matchansky, and three of his subordinates were arrested, while the head of the police, Tsikhotsky, ended his life by suicide. Information about this band having been given to the judicial authorities by a young man named Saparof, who had entered the secret police with the intention of finding out the centre of the band of expropriators, this young man was assailed in the street by two men on March 12th last and killed.

Finally, we have the Memoirs of the gendarme General Novitsky, part of which appeared last June in a Kieff paper, and was reprinted in the Russkiya Védomosti. M. Korolenko, the well-known author, vouches for their authenticity. General Novitsky, it appears, was perfectly well aware of all the revolutionary plans for killing Bogdanovitch, governor of Ufa. Over and over again he had reported this plot to the Minister of the Interior, Von Plehve, whose orders in reply were, "Do not hurry." This went on till Bogdanovitch was killed by men sent for that purpose by Azeff, agent of the Government.

All these facts have been related in the Russian daily Press, and widely circulated through all the leading papers of St. Petersburg and the provinces, including the semi-official paper, Novoye Vremya. None of those facts has been contradicted and in no case has the accuracy of the statements even been contested.

Many more similar facts, collected for us in the course of our inquiry, might be added to illustrate the rôle of the police agents in many affairs brought before the Courts Martial for the last two years.

Thus, three men--Jolpezin, Borisoff, and Matrosoff--accused of an armed raid on Yasinsky's factory, came before the Court Martial at Moscow. Jolpezin had already twice been sentenced to death for armed robberies, in which, as he stated at the trial, he had participated as an agent of the secret police--provocation being his object. For the raid on the factory Borisoff and Jolpezin were sentenced to death--this last for the third time.2

At Sevastopol the agents of the secret police allowed themselves full liberty of action as agents provocateurs. In October, 1906, some shots were fired at a patrol. When those who had shot were arrested, they were found to be local spies. Thereupon Admiral Skrydloff ordered four "agents" to be expelled from the fortress ; but he had not the courage to molest the principal one.3

At Kaluga4 five men were brought before a judge on a charge of having robbed a shop. It was proved by witnesses that the instigator of the outrage was one Brovtseff, a lad of 19, who was the personal agent of Captain Nikiforoff, head of the local police. The robbery was committed on March 9th, and martial law was to be discontinued on March 30th. It was shown that the revolver used by Brovtseff had been given him by Nikiforoff, who had promised him full immunity from punishment. When arrested, Brovtseff sent Nikiforoff the following telegram : "Nikolay Mitrofanovitch! You promised me full immunity, and now I am arrested." The jury refused to give a verdict, and insisted that a further inquiry should be made, and the judge made an order accordingly.

At St. Petersburg5 the police were informed that among the secret police were several persons belonging to revolutionary organisations, who had taken part in many robberies. This information was confirmed, and on January 4th an agent of the secret service of M. Ratchkovsky was arrested, together with some others.

In Kieff, by a mere chance, the celebrated case known as the "Aslaniade" was brought to light.6 A whole series of suspicious acts of the secret police in Kieff were accidentally discovered. Well-known thieves caught red-handed had been let out of prison by the director of the secret police, Aslanoff, on the mere assurance of an hotel porter that they were "all right." The persons who had caught the thieves had been threatened by Aslanoff with prosecution for defamatory accusations. Criminals had frequently escaped from prison with the help of the secret police. It was proved that secret houses of vice which the authorities had ordered to be closed had continued to flourish with the full knowledge of the police. An inquiry into the conduct of the secret police was ordered by the Governor and is now going on. So far two policemen have been discharged by way of scapegoats. The newspaper Kievlianin states that Aslanoff is resigning.

There is no need to give further instances which prove in what hands the liberty and the life of citizens are placed.



1Novoye Vremya, February 11, 1909.
2Tovarisch, No. 366, September 8, 1907.
3Put, No. 56, October 21, 1906.
4Russkoe Slovo, No. 216, October 21, 1907 ; Tovar., No. 382.
5Ibid., No. 7, January 9, 1908.
6Ryetch, No. 85, April 9, 1908.

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