Nikolai Rysakov

Nikolai Rysakov

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Nikolai Rysakov was born in Tikhvin in 1862. He attended a technical school in St. Petersburg. Rysakov became involved in revolutionary politics and joined the Workers' Section of the People's Will.

In 1881 it was decided to assassinate Alexander II. A directive committee was formed consisting of Andrei Zhelyabov, Timofei Mikhailov, Lev Tikhomirov, Mikhail Frolenko, Vera Figner, Sophia Perovskaya and Anna Yakimova. Zhelyabov was considered the leader of the group. However, Figner considered him to be overbearing and lacking in depth: "He had not suffered enough. For him all was hope and light." Zhelyabov had a magnetic personality and had a reputation for exerting a strong influence over women.

Zhelyabov and Perovskaya attempted to use nitroglycerine to destroy the Tsar train. However, the terrorist miscalculated and it destroyed another train instead. An attempt the blow up the Kamenny Bridge in St. Petersburg as the Tsar was passing over it was also unsuccessful. Figner blamed Zhelyabov for these failures but others in the group felt he had been unlucky rather than incompetent.

The People's Will became increasingly angry at the failure of the Russian government to announce details of the new constitution. They therefore began to make plans for another assassination attempt. Those involved in the plot included Rysakov, Sophia Perovskaya, Andrei Zhelyabov, Vera Figner, Anna Yakimova, Grigory Isaev, Gesia Gelfman, Nikolai Sablin, Ignatei Grinevitski, Nikolai Kibalchich, Mikhail Frolenko, Timofei Mikhailov, Tatiana Lebedeva and Alexander Kviatkovsky.

Kibalchich, Isaev and Yakimova were commissioned to prepare the bombs that were needed to kill the Tsar. Isaev made some technical error and a bomb went off badly damaging his right hand. Yakimova took him to hospital, where she watched over his bed to prevent him from incriminating himself in his delirium. As soon as he regained consciousness he insisted on leaving, although he was now missing three fingers of his right hand. He was unable to continue working and Yakimova now had sole responsibility for preparing the bombs.

It was discovered that every Sunday the Tsar took a drive along Malaya Sadovaya Street. It was decided that this was a suitable place to attack. Yakimova was given the task of renting a flat in the street. Gesia Gelfman had a flat on Telezhnaya Street and this became the headquarters of the assassins whereas the home of Vera Figner was used as an explosives workshop.

Nikolai Kibalchich wanted to make a nitroglycerine bomb but Andrei Zhelyabov regarded it as "unreliable". Sophia Perovskaya favoured mining. Eventually it was decided that the Tsar's carriage should be mined, with hand grenades at the ready as a second strategy. If all else failed, one of the members of the assassination team should step forward and stab the Tsar with a dagger. It was Kibalchich's job to provide the hand grenades.

The Okhrana discovered that their was a plot to kill Alexander II. One of their leaders, Andrei Zhelyabov, was arrested on 28th February, 1881, but refused to provide any information on the conspiracy. He confidently told the police that nothing they could do would save the life of the Tsar. Alexander Kviatkovsky, another member of the assassination team, was arrested soon afterwards.

The conspirators decided to make their attack on 1st March, 1881. Sophia Perovskaya was worried that the Tsar would now change his route for his Sunday drive. She therefore gave the orders for bombers to he placed along the Ekaterinsky Canal. Grigory Isaev had laid a mine on Malaya Sadovaya Street and Anna Yakimova was to watch from the window of her flat and when she saw the carriage approaching give the signal to Mikhail Frolenko.

Tsar Alexander II decided to travel along the Ekaterinsky Canal. An armed Cossack sat with the coach-driver and another six Cossacks followed on horseback. Behind them came a group of police officers in sledges. Perovskaya, who was stationed at the intersection between the two routes, gave the signal to Nikolai Rysakov and Timofei Mikhailov to throw their bombs at the Tsar's carriage. The bombs missed the carriage and instead landed amongst the Cossacks. The Tsar was unhurt but insisted on getting out of the carriage to check the condition of the injured men. While he was standing with the wounded Cossacks another terrorist, Ignatei Grinevitski, threw his bomb. Alexander was killed instantly and the explosion was so great that Grinevitski also died from the bomb blast.

Rysakov was arrested at the scene of the crime. Sophia Perovskaya told her comrades: "I know Rysakov and he will say nothing." However, Rysakov was tortured by the Okhrana and was forced to give information on the other conspirators. The following day the police raided the flat being used by the terrorists. Gesia Gelfman was arrested but Nikolai Sablin committed suicide before he could be taken alive. Soon afterwards, Timofei Mikhailov, walked into the trap and was arrested.

The trial of Zhelyabov, Perovskaya, Kibalchich, Rysakov, Helfman and Mikhailov, opened on 25th March, 1881. Prosecutor Muraviev read his immensely long speech that included the passage: "Cast out by men, accursed of their country, may they answer for their crimes before Almighty God! But peace and calm will be restored. Russia, humbling herself before the Will of that Providence which has led her through so sore a burning faith in her glorious future."

Karl Marx followed the trial with great interest. He wrote to his daughter, Jenny Longuet: "Have you been following the trial of the assassins in St. Petersburg? They are sterling people through and through.... simple, businesslike, heroic. Shouting and doing are irreconcilable opposites... they try to teach Europe that their modus operandi is a specifically Russian and historically inevitable method about which there is no more reason to moralize - for or against - then there is about the earthquake in Chios."

Rysakov, Sophia Perovskaya, Andrei Zhelyabov, Nikolai Kibalchich, Gesia Gelfman and Timofei Mikhailov were all sentenced to death. Gelfman announced she was four months pregnant and it was decided to postpone her execution. Perovskaya, as a member of the high nobility, she could appeal against her sentence, however, she refused to do this. It was claimed that Rysakov had gone insane during interrogation. Kibalchich also showed signs that he was mentally unbalanced and talked constantly about a flying machine he had invented.

On 3rd April 1881, Zhelyabov, Perovskaya, Kibalchich, Rysakov and Mikhailov were given tea and handed their black execution clothes. A placard was hung round their necks with the word "Tsaricide" on it. Cathy Porter, the author of Fathers and Daughters: Russian Women in Revolution (1976), has pointed out: "Then the party set off. It was headed by the police carriage, followed by Zhelyabov and Rysakov. Sophia sat with Kibalchich and Mikhailov in the third tumbril. A pale wintry sun shone as the party moved slowly through the streets, already crowded with onlookers, most of them waving and shouting encouragement. High government officials and those wealthy enough to afford the tickets were sitting near to the scaffold that had been erected on Semenovsky Square. The irreplaceable Frolov, Russia's one and only executioner, fiddled drunkenly with the nooses, and Sophia and Zhelyabov were able to say a few last words to one another. The square was surrounded by twelve thousand troops and muffled drum beats sounded. Sophia and Zhelyabov kissed for the last time, then Mikhailov and Kibalchich kissed Sophia. Kibalchich was led to the gallows and hanged. Then it was Mikhailov's turn. Frolov was by now barely able to see straight and the rope broke three times under Mikhailov's weight." It was now Perovskaya's turn. "It's too tight" she told him as he struggled to tie the noose. She died straight away but Zhelyabov, whose noose had not been tight enough, died in agony.

The Revolutionist is a doomed man. He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own. His entire being is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion - the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, good manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose - to destroy it.

He despises public opinion. He hates and despises the social morality of his time, its motives and manifestations. Everything which promotes the success of the revolution is moral, everything which hinders it is immoral. The nature of the true revolutionist excludes all romanticism, all tenderness, all ecstasy, all love.

One plan involved sinking 250 pounds of dynamite within sealed rubber bags under the waters beneath the Kammeny Bridge. But when the royal carriage swept over the bridge in mid-August, no bomb went off, for the bomber had overslept. The method finally employed to kill Alexander was first essayed in Odessa where Vera Figner and her associates rented a shop and then tunnelled their way under the street with a view to laying a mine to blow up the tsar when he visited the city. A version of this was replayed in St Petersburg. A couple called Kobozev - this was not their name and they were not married - rented basement premises in Little Garden Street where they opened a cheese shop. He had a sun-burnished face and a jolly spade-shaped beard; she spoke in reassuringly provinciall accents. The shop was along the route the tsar took each Sunday from the Winter Palace to the Hippodrome where he inspected his guardsmen. There was enough cheese displayed on the counter to satisfy any customer - Vera Figner tested this by purchasing some Roquefort - but close inspection of the cheese barrels to the rear would have revealed excavated earth rather than Camembert. For, each night, a team of terrorists visited the shop to burrow a tunnel beneath the road. In the event that the mine which was to be laid under the road missed the tsar, there were two back-up teams of assassins. Four men would ambush him with dynamite bombs in kerosene cans at the end of another street, while a lone assassin would lurk with a knife should he survive the second-wave attacks. In fact, this last assassin was arrested before he could be put in position.

Vera Figner was one of those who sat up all night with Kibalchich, the benign master bomber, in an apartment where they nervously assembled the bombs, while a large mine was hastily placed in the tunnel leading from the cheese shop. In the morning the bombers collected their weapons from a safe house. These men were chosen for their representational symbolic effect, an aristocrat, a scion of the middle class, a worker and a peasant. One was virtually a moron; another was very conspicuously tall.

In the event, after lunch with his morganatic wife, whom he rapidly "took" on a table to deflect her pleas that he should stay at home, the tsar did not go to the Hippodrome via Little Garden Street. But at three that afternoon he ordered a return route that brought him very close to where his killers loitered. As his carriage and Cossack escort passed the assassin Rysakov, the latter hurled what appeared to be a chocolate box beneath the carriage. When it exploded it threw one of the Cossacks to the ground, while various passersby were injured. The tsar, who was unharmed, got out of the carriage, saying to an officer who inquired after him: "No, thank God, but" as he gestured to the injured. As appeared to be his habit, Alexander strode up to the captured bomber and said, "You're a fine one!" By now ringed by soldiers, the tsar returned to the carriage, hardly noticing a young Pole holding a newspaper-wrapped parcel. It exploded, killing the Pole and mortally wounding the tsar in his legs and lower body. His left leg was so mangled that it was impossible to staunch the bleeding by squeezing an artery. Whispering that he felt cold, the tsar said he wanted to go home to the Winter Palace. He died there about fifty minutes later. Perhaps his final thoughts were on how his day had started, when he and Loris-Melikov had agreed that elected representatives should be appointed to the State Council to advise on reforms.

Six members of the conspiracy to kill the tsar were put on trial in late March. All six were sentenced to death, although when it was discovered that Gesia Helfman was pregnant, she was reprieved. The remaining five were publicly hanged, with placards reading "Regicide" around their necks. Kibalchich, the bomb maker, tried to interest the authorities in a propellant rocket as a way of securing a reprieve, but they were not to be diverted. The fact that Helfinan was from an Orthodox Jewish background was one of the reasons for violent anti-Semitic pogroms that erupted in the rural Ukraine.

March 13, 1881 – Alexander II Survives Assassination Attempt

As his Sunday custom, the Czar traveled in his bulletproof carriage (a gift from Emperor Napoleon III of France) to the Mikhailovsky Manège to review the military roll call. He was escorted by the police as well as his own guard, including his Cossack personal bodyguard. In the crowd that gathered on the narrow pavement to watch Alexander pass were agents from the Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will") bent on assassinating the Czar to instill a new order of communistic anarchy. Nikolai Rysakov was the first to strike, throwing a bomb wrapped in a handkerchief. The explosion would kill one of the Cossack guards and injure onlookers and more guards, but Alexander would prove unhurt as he stepped from his carriage. The police hurriedly apprehended Rysakov, who shouted to someone else in the crowd. Feeling the Czar was still in danger, Police Chief Dvorzhitsky threw himself over Alexander, violating the royal space but proving to save his life as a second and third bomb exploded.

Alexander would refer to the assassination attempt as “the event of 1 March 1881” according to the Old Style calendar, mirroring his notation of the first attempt on his life in "the event of 4 April 1866." Dmitry Karakozov had shot at the Czar after handing out his pamphlet entitled “To Friends-Workers" calling for overthrow. Alexander had been saved by hatter’s-apprentice Osip Komissarov, who happened to bump Karakozov’s arm at the time he fired, sending the shot wild. Komissarov had been granted a title, and churches were built all around Russia in celebration, but there would be yet more attempts on the Czar’s life. In 1879, Alexander Soloviev shot at the Czar five times and missed, and, eight months later, the Narodnaya Volya made their first strike against him with a bombing on the railway, though the Czar’s train had been missed. The Narodnaya Volya struck again two months later with a bomb in the Winter Palace, killing eleven, but missing the Czar as he was late for dinner.

The attacks came despite, or perhaps because of, Alexander’s push toward reforms in his empire. He had grown up among the literati of St. Petersburg, becoming something of an enlightened ruler, and the Crimean War had left a foul taste in his mouth for military action. While he had been groomed to be an autocrat, Alexander finally refused and instigated legislation that would build railways, introduce commerce, and encourage corporations. He also improved local jurisdiction, reformed the legal code after the French fashion, updated the armed forces, and created municipal and rural police. Most famously, he liberated the serfs with his declaration on May 3, 1861, creating a class of communal, yet independent, freedmen.

This experiment with communism, which had always been among humanity in some form or another, encouraged further thought, making some historians credit the violent calls for revolt because Alexander was seen as someone who could be challenged, unlike the iron-fisted autocrats of before. After the attack on his palace, Alexander put Count Loris-Melikov in charge of solving the terrorist menace, and the count suggested implementing plans for a representative Duma as well as police action. Following his survival in 1881, Alexander announced his Duma, and elections were held that fall. With the institution of direct political reform, much of the support for revolt died away, and the Narodnaya Volya was brought down by sting operations by Loris-Melikov’s secret police. Radicalism settled as public outrage softened and Alexander proved iron-fisted enough to protect himself.

Alexander II would continue his reforms until his death in 1892, modernizing Russia into an effective competitor with the growing strength of Germany. When his son Alexander III came to the throne, the new czar sought to reign in some of the power lost to the royal house, but he would die in 1895 before doing more than clarifying public bureaucracy. Nicholas II would prove a weaker czar, seemingly uninterested in affairs of the state, though he was willing to perform any duty. His lackluster care for modernization of the armed forces would prove disastrous in World War I (begun after a border dispute over jurisdiction on stolen goods taken to Serbia), but advisers from the other Allies enabled Russia to achieve a trench system to stop the charging Germans from taking territory too deep into Russia. At the end of the war, Russia surged ahead economically, using its infrastructure from the legacy of Alexander II to supply masses of raw materials to Europe from increasingly developed Siberia. The development would work to Russia’s disadvantage, however, as Germany invaded in the Second World War. Nicholas III, weakened by hemophilia, died early in the war, leaving the young Alexander IV to manage the government-in-exile after German forces chased them from Moscow.

After the war, Russia’s empire would fade in a similar pattern to that of Britain and France with its many vassals of the Ukraine, Finland, Georgia, and over a dozen others becoming breakaway republics. A power vacuum would come into play later toward the 1960s, instilling a new generation appealing to conservatism while remembering the greatness that once was.

In reality, Alexander II was killed by the second bomb as he went to survey the blast site, and the third never needed to detonate. Alexander III took up a spirit of vengeance as well as his very different attitude toward autocratic rule. He canceled many of his father’s reforms, and it would not be until the Revolution of 1905 that public pressure would force Nicholas II to create a Duma. Still, it was not enough, and World War I would be the groundwork for the fall of the Russian Empire and the creation of the Soviet Union.

Just history.

Family photos of the Romanovs. The only one I could find where they look “happy” rather than their usual severe expressions.

Born on May 18th 1868, at the Tsarskoye Selo near St Petersburg, the former home of Empress Catherine I, wife of Peter the great at the beginning of the 18th Century, Nicholai Alexandrovich Romanov was the oldest child of the heir to the Russian monarchy, Alexander III and his wife Marie Feodorovna (Princess Dagmar of Denmark).

At the age of twelve in 1881, whilst staying at the Winter Palace, Nicholas’ grandfather Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by a bomb. Having already survived several assassination attempts, that day Alexander had been out in his carriage followed by two sleighs full of Cossacks and when a member of the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) Nikolai Rysakov, threw a package wrapped in a white cloth under the carriage. It exploded killing one of the Cossack guard, injuring another and several passers-by but did not cause much damage to the armoured carriage in which the Tsar travelled.

Despite warnings from his guard to leave the area, Alexander dismounted and went to survey the aftermath. Whilst there, another member of the same group, Ignacy Hrynieweicki, hearing his comrade’s shout from the fence where he had landed following the explosion moved forward and threw a second bomb at the Tsar’s feet. It blew up killing several people. Police Chief Dvorzhitsky who had been in one of the sleighs found the Tsar laying mortally wounded, his stomach ripped open, and his legs all but blown off, and loaded him into one of the sleighs. He was rushed to the Winter Palace, where his physician was called. The Tsar died a few minutes later, surrounded by his family including the young Nicholas.

Tsar Alexander II had been the driving force behind sweeping reforms across Russia during his reign, including the Emancipation of Serfs, new legislation for penal reforms, and Judiciary processes, and a restructuring of military conscription following the poor turnout for the Crimean War, which removed the 25 year enforcement for peasants and included a period of service for all, including the elite who had previously been exempted. He had also given the orders for the liquidation of the Circassian populations during the Caucasian wars, which is now recognised as ethnic cleansing and falls within the modern boundaries of genocide. His next plan was to have been the announcement of a people’s representative Duma in government which was due to take place two days after his death.

The Tsar was succeeded by his son Alexander III, who was somewhat estranged from his father, and who immediately put a stop to any further reforms, and reversed others already in place. Alexander III was by all accounts an odd man, considering his position, preferred to be at home dressed like a peasant, his children sleeping on rough cots despite being the Royal family. This was the atmosphere Nicholas spent his adolescent years in. Despite its extraordinary air of eccentricity, Nicholas later would state that he and his brothers and sisters enjoyed their childhood, and although their father was somewhat strict, his presence was intermittent and their mother was loving and nurturing, again unusual for the position.

Nicholas was given a moderate education, certainly not the usual upbringing for one expected to take his turn as leader of the nation. His father it was presumed, expected to live a long happy life, so when it came to an end suddenly at aged 49, in 1894, it was a rather bewildered and unprepared Tsar Nicholas II who succeeded him.

The tomb of The Tsar and Tsarina and the three oldest girls.

In 1884, while attending the wedding of his uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich to Princess Elizabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt, the 16 year old Nicholas had noticed her 12 year old younger sister, Alix. They wrote and a close relationship formed, which turned to love when she visited in 1889. Despite their closeness and obvious attraction, Alix was aware that marriage would mean her conversion to Russian Orthodoxy, which as a devout Lutheran was unacceptable to her. In 1893 she wrote and told him she could take their relationship no further.
In 1891, Nicholas had embarked with his brother Grand Duke George and cousin Prince George of Greece on a tour of Asia, which was cut short after a few months following Prince George’s sudden departure home following illness and an assassination attempt. In 1893 he travelled to England to be a guest at the wedding of his cousin George, later George V of England to Mary of Teck. Around this time, Nicholas was indulging in a liaison with a ballerina from St Petersburg, Mathilde Kschessinska.

In April 1894, Nicholas travelled with his Uncle Sergei and Elizabeth to the wedding of her brother Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, to Princess Victoria Melita, daughter of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In attendance were Queen Victoria, Alfred and his wife, Marie Alexandrovich (sister of Alexander III), George, Prince of Wales (later George V), Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother the Empress Frederick, (eldest daughter of Queen Victoria) and of course Alix. During the celebrations, Nicholas took the opportunity to propose to Alix. She declined citing her Lutheran beliefs.

The Kaiser later had a talk with Alix and reminded her that two years previously her sister had converted, and it was her duty to do so also. Nicholas proposed a second time and this time she accepted. Alexander III and his wife initially objected to the union, as they felt that Alix had presented herself unfavourably on previous visits, but when the Tsar’s health took a sudden turn for the worse, they relented. Queen Victoria also disapproved the match, allegedly not because of anything personal towards the couple, merely because she disliked Russia.
In the Summer of 1894, Nicholas visited Alix and Queen Victoria in England, where the couple attended the christening of the birth of the Duke and Duchess of York’s first child, at which they were presented as God-Parents, and following a stay of several weeks, Nicholas returned to Russia. His father’s health was declining rapidly and in October Nicholas sent for his bride to be. Alexander insisted on meeting her in full uniform and then passed away just ten days later. That evening, Nicholas was consecrated as Tsar Nicholas II and the following day, Alix was converted to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Problems started almost immediately. Due to his lack of training for the role, Nicholas missed out several key parts of the State Funeral organisation for his father. He is known to have confessed to a close friend that he wasn’t cut out to be Tsar and didn’t really want to rule anybody. The proposed wedding date of spring 1895 was brought forward, and took place in November 1894. Nicholas’ second duty was to produce an heir as soon as possible. In 1895 their first daughter, Olga was born followed by Tatiana in 1897, Maria in 1899 and Anastasia in 1901.

The room in which the Romanovs were executed.

At the Tsar’s coronation, in 1896 an excited crowd rushed a park, Khodynka Field in Moscow, where public celebrations were being held, and the resulting stampede caused over fourteen hundred people to be trampled to death in the crush and another 1300 injured. A rumour that there wouldn’t be enough food and drink for everybody had caused the rush 100,000 people had been in attendance. The park, commonly used for a Military training ground, was uneven as a result of trench building practice, which caused the pile up when people tripped in the melee. Sources vary as to whether Nicholas was informed of the tragedy, and at what point during the day he was made aware if at all. Nonetheless whether he knew or not, he continued with his own official celebrations, earning him serious disapproval from both population and officials, although it was claimed that he was only informed that evening prior to a Gala Ball due to be attended by the French Ambassador, which Nicholas refused to attend, wanting instead to return to his rooms to pray for the dead and injured. His advisors reminded him the French would take it as a personal affront having only recently signed the Franco-Russian alliance in 1894. Nicholas was forced to attend the ball.

Tsar Nicholas II was very much determined to follow in his father’s conservative footsteps, rather than radical reform like that of his grand-father. Following his strengthening of the Franco-Russian alliance, and his policy for peace in Europe, including a call to end the arms race, Nicholas and Russian Diplomat Friedrich Martens were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 for their work on The Hague Peace Conference.

Despite his peaceful intentions towards the West in Europe, the Tsar implemented a rather more vigorous policy towards the Far East, as a result of his desire to gain a route through China to Port Arthur which culminated in an attack by Japan on the Russian fleet in the Port, in retaliation for the scuppering of their own plans for the area. The Russian-Japan war of 1904 was the result. Following the embarrassing defeat by the Japanese, and a series of widespread anti-Semitic actions, talk of rebellion increased, the beginnings of revolution took place in 1905. Strikes took place and a peaceful workers’ march was organised to take a petition to the Tsar at the Winter Palace, with their list of grievances, headed by Labour leader and Priest George Gapon, who notified the government a few days in advance of the date of the procession.

The Tsar was advised to leave the Palace and advisors decided that it wasn’t in his interests to have a deputy receive the petition. Instead a plan was formed to increase guards and to remove Gapon from the march as soon as he was identified. On Sunday January 22nd 1905, a large peaceful crowd, linked arms and marched, singing hymns and the national anthem towards the palace. The planned increase in guards, infantry, Hussars and Cossacks, served to block all access routes, then they opened fire on the marchers. 92 were killed and hundreds injured. The procession scattered, the leaders going into hiding. The Tsar was branded a murderer. The blood of the innocent on his hands. Grand-Duke Sergei was shortly afterwards assassinated by a bomb, leaving the Kremlin, quite possibly in retaliation. Mutiny by the Black Sea fleet, and a general strike grown from the back of a railway strike followed.

To appease his people, the Tsar reintroduced the Duma scheme from his grandfather’s days, but it was a paper trophy for the people, as their representation was half of the promised allotment, and the Tsar retained right to veto. I’m going to jump forward now to cut out the run-up to the Great War, and Russia’s involvement, except to say that on the home front, the Russian population were getting steadily more disillusioned with their Tsar, and felt he was out of touch with his people.

In 1904, the Tsar and his wife were overjoyed at the birth of their long awaited heir, Alexei was born. Their happiness however was short-lived when it became apparent that he had inherited the ‘Royal Disease’ Haemophilia B, which caused by an absence of a clotting agent within the blood leads to prolonged haemorrhages from the slightest injuries. When conventional treatments failed, the Tsarina turned in desperation to the exiled ‘mad monk’ Rasputin to help her out. He assured her that her prayers were answered and Alexei’s latest injury would stop bleeding forthwith. The next day it did. Rasputin was immediately hired to be his personal physician.

From that day, the Tsarina was Rasputin’s most powerful defender. Rumours remain that her payments were not restricted to those of the monetary nature. Despite his reputation as somewhat of a loose cannon, with a short vicious temper, Rasputin was surprisingly gentle with his young charge, pushing him to live as normal a life as possible, yet being on hand to carry the young boy when he was injured or tired. As the nature of Alexei’s illness was rigidly concealed from all but the closest staff and family members, Rasputin’s position within the family was often contested, perhaps this was the start of the rumours of the illicit nature of his relationship with the Tsarina.

As a result of Russia’s involvement with the Great War, the consistent failure of progressive Dumas to achieve realistic forward movement of people’s rights, coupled with an increase in poverty, high unemployment, poor economy and dire living conditions for all but a few, to which the Russian masses saw a Tsar removed from reality, out of touch with his people, living in opulence, the voice of revolution grew ever louder.

In 1917, encouraged by his advisors, Russia sued Germany for peace, and the Tsar was forced to abdicate. Placed under house arrest, the Romanov family were relieved of most of their retainers and restricted to a moderate lifestyle by their captors. Germany, with an ulterior motive of invading a torn nation paid for Russian exiles revolutionary Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov, later well known as Vladimir Lenin, to leave his exile and return to Russia, in an effort to fan the flames of rebellion. The splintered government run first by the moderate Menscheviks and then the more extreme Bolsheviks, needed a firm leadership to focus their strike for change. Lenin was to provide that momentum.

A revolutionary Communist, and staunch anti-Tsarist, Lenin had been expelled from the state following the execution in 1887 of his brother Aleksandr. Using the years of his exile to study politics and Law, Lenin was a radical Marxist. His more extreme brand of politics was to become widely known as Leninism. His idea to replace Capitalism with socialism, run by the Proletariat in the form of soviets, his dream to have a European revolution. Following the abdication and imprisonment of the Tsar and his family, by the communist army, a provisional government had been installed, but the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin soon overthrew them.

Following several months installed at the Governor’s mansion at Tobolsk, the family were in April 1918 placed on soldier’s rations, relieving them of all but ten of their servants, and reducing their food rations to basics, including a ban on butter and coffee, and the Tsar, Tsarina and their daughter Maria were moved to Ipatiev House, (The House of Special Purpose) Yekaterinburg. Alexei was forced to remain behind to be nursed by his other sisters, as he was deemed too sick to move. In May 1918, the family were reunited. Attempts were made through family members to negotiate exile with the English Royal family, which was originally agreed, but then the King underwent a change of heart when advised by his advisor Lord Stamfordham that their presence could trigger a similar revolution in Britain. Their invitation was subsequently revoked.

On July 16th, the White army, a loosely formed anti-communist militia closed in on the town where the Bolsheviks were keeping the Romanovs captive. Fearing that they were about to be captured with the Tsar and his family, the hasty decision was made to execute them, ostensibly on Lenin’s orders although debate about his knowledge remains. If the White Army had rescued the Tsar, he or any of his family would be in a position to be placed back on the Russian throne, by Europe as legitimate rulers. This would strengthen the anti-communist cause. In reality the White army, a Czechoslovakian legion, were unaware of the presence of the Romanovs, within their reach. Their target was the Trans-Siberian railway, in their control, which they wished to protect.

In the middle of the night, the family and their servants were awoken, and informed they were to be moved. Allowed to get dressed, they were led to a basement room to await their truck to the house. The Tsar requested chairs for his wife and son, three were provided. The Tsar took one, the Tsarina another, with Alexei laid between them on the third. The door opened and in walked a group of armed men. Still under the impression they were to be transported, the Tsar was taken by surprise when a mandate was read out by their guard Yakov Yurovsky, commandant of the House of Special Purpose, details the decision to have the family executed. He turned from his wife and son in surprise and exclaimed “WHAT? What?” at which point Yurovsky personally shot the Tsar, in the abdomen, followed by the young Alexei.

The rest of the guards drew their weapons and began firing on the group. The Tsarina and Olga were shot first, followed by random firing around the room. After several minutes, when every member of the group were laid on the floor, several more shots were fired and the door was opened to let out the smoke. The bodies were checked and some were found to be still alive. As further gunfire would be heard, the decision was taken to stab them to death with a bayonet.

According to official accounts, Yurovsky shot Alexei twice behind the ear as the first bullet failed to kill him. Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia were shot as they crouched in terror by a wall, at the back of the room, Tatiana was the last to die, as Yurovsky shot her through the back of the head. The bodies were taken outside and buried in a makeshift grave, but the next day rumours began to circulate so they were disinterred and placed in a truck and moved to the second chosen site. The truck broke down halfway to the destination, so Yurovsky hastily had the bodies buried in a pit, after being covered in acid. The pit was sealed and covered in rubble to disguise it, upon which railway sleepers were laid.

The site was on an old abandoned cart track, Koptyaki road, about twelve miles North of the town. Their grave remained hidden until they were rediscovered in secret in 1976, but left in place until the collapse of Communism. Finally in July 1991 they were recovered by the Russian Government. Following lengthy tests, including DNA samples from members of the British Royal Family, including Prince Philip, (due to his maternal relationship through Greece) and Prince Michael of Kent, who like George V bears an uncanny resemblance to the Tsar, the identities of the Romanovs and their servants were confirmed save for two of the children, Alexei and Maria, whose bodies were still missing.

On July 17th 1998, 80 years after their murders, the Romanovs and their servants were laid to rest in an elaborate state funeral in the Cathedral at St Petersburg. Despite the conclusive tests, many still refuse to believe the bodies really are those of the Romanovs, and wording at the Funeral was deliberately generic to avoid mention of names. Around ten years later, the remaining bodies of Alexei and Maria were found a little distant from the original grave, in a smaller grave. They were quickly identified as those of the two missing Romanov children.

In a final twist of cruelty, there are increasing calls for the exhumation of the remains of Tsar Nicholas, the Tsarina, and their three daughters, Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia, from their family crypt in the St Catherine Chapel of St Peter and Paul Cathedral, as doubt still lingers as to the authenticity of the DNA identification. Further humiliation for the family rests on the refusal of the Russian Government to allow the burial of Crown Prince Alexei and his sister Maria, whose scant remains reside in cardboard boxes in a storeroom of the Russian State Archives.

13 March 1881: The Assassination of Alexander II

On this day in history, 13 March 1881, Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated by Nikolai Rysakov, a twenty-year old Russian revolutionary and member of the left-wing terrorist organisation Narodnaya Volya. The Tsar, as he was prone to do on Sundays, had travelled that day to the Mikhailovsky Manege for the military roll call by a carriage. Rysakov threw a bomb at the carriage which killed one of the Cossacks accompanying the carriage. There were two further bombers, Hryniewiecki and Emelyanov, involved. The Tsar was taken to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg where he was given Communion and last rites before dying later that day, in a horribly mutilated condition.

What drove numerous assassination attempts against the Tsar? Alexander II has traditionally been characterised by historians as successful, in comparison with both his predecessors and successors. Born on 29 April 1818 in Moscow to Nicholas I and his consort Alexandra Fyodorovna, Alexander was emperor for twenty-six years before his reign came to a grisly and bloody end in St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia at that time.

Alexander was tutored by Vasily Zhukovsky, a noted translator and liberal romantic poet. Under his tuition the Tsarevich became familiar with several European languages. Alexander is famous for being the first heir to the throne to visit Siberia, as part of a six-month tour of Russia in which he visited 20 provinces. In 1855, aged thirty-seven, Alexander succeeded the throne following the death of Nicholas I. He continued to prosecute the Crimean War then occupying Russia, before suing for peace aided by his councillor Prince Gorchakov.

Russia had been badly hit by the Crimean War, leading the new Tsar to enact a phase of reforms. Alexander is perhaps most famous for instigating the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. This deeply affected the economic, political and social future of Russia as a nation, for the emancipation involved far greater issues than merely the freedom of serfs. Led by Konstantin Romanov, Yakov Rostovtsev and Nikolay Milyutin, the serfs gained freedom that year. The Russian government also reorganised and rearmed both the army and navy as a result of the devastating effects of the war, and universal military conscription was introduced in January 1874. Security of tenure was also enacted alongside a new penal code and a simplified system of civil and criminal procedure. In all, Alexander II's judicial reforms have by and large been considered successful.

Alexander II and his wife Marie Alexandrovna.

The Tsar is also famous for encouraging Finnish nationalism, Finland traditionally being a part of the Imperial Russian Empire. At the same time, separatist movements were suppressed, leading to the January Uprising of 1863-4 in which hundreds of Poles were executed and thousands deported to Siberia. Territories of the former Poland-Lithuania were excluded from Alexander's reforms. Native languages alongside Belarusian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian were banned from printed texts, while the Polish language was banned in oral and written form in all provinces except Congress Poland.

The Tsar's reign, despite the relative success of his reforms, was however plagued by repeat assassination attempts. In 1866 Dmitry Karakozov attempted to assassinate the emperor in St. Petersburg, but failed and was executed at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Repeat attempts followed in the following years. The Tsar's reforms were met with criticism and hostility by many of his subjects some believed he had gone too far while others argued that he had not gone nearly far enough.

Following Alexander's death his son, Alexander III, acceded to the throne. The "Liberator Tsar" had reigned for 26 years and his death was a setback for the reform movement. It is possible that, had he lived, Russia might have become a constitutional monarchy instead of becoming more oppressive during the reign of Alexander III. The assassination inspired anarchists to advocate "propaganda by deed" - ie. using spectacular violence to incite revolution or rebellion. The striking Church of the Saviour on the Blood was built, construction beginning in 1883, on the site of the Tsar's assassination and was dedicated to his memory. Alexander III used the Church to commemorate both his father's death alongside symbolising a return to Russian nationalist spirit and a rejection of the reforms and traditions associated with Peter the Great.

Above: The Church of the Saviour on the Blood was built on the spot of Alexander II's assassination in 1881.

The church then and now

The building of a memorial church was initiated by the next ruler of Russia and son of the murdered tsar, Alexander III. Construction began in 1883 and was only completed in 1907, during the reign of Nicholas II. The funding for the church was provided by the imperial family, as well as many private donors. The church now boasts over 7,600 square metres (81,805 sq ft) of mosaics with designs like no other. Many famous painters took part in designing the interior, among them Viktor Vasnetsiv, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel.

The church withstood the Siege of Leningrad, despite being a prime target for German air-raids. During the Second World War, it served as a morgue and as a potato warehouse. Now the church is a museum and welcomes visitors year-round.

Part 3 1880 – 1883

In the autumn of 1880 Esper became a member of Narodnaya Volya, a revolutionary organisation that was seeking the violent overthrow of the Tsarist regime. Narodnaya Volya or “People’s Will” had split from “Zemlia i volia”, “Land and Liberty” to take a more violent revolutionary path which included terrorism.

Esper became heavily involved with the group that had formed around naval officers on the island of Kronstadt, near St Petersburg. He took part in the writing of the constitution of Narodnaya Volya. He met with leading figures in the group, Andrei Zhelyabov, Nikolai Sukhanov, Lev Tikomirov who were members of the executive committee. His job on Kronstadt was taking part in propaganda activities, moving weapons and the printing of illegal leaflets and pamphlets.

Esper writes about this period in a book published in 1894 in Geneva, “History of the socialist movement in Russia”. He was strongly against using terror his motivation was to help the ordinary people of Russia and as a young man was thinking about changes to both the navy and the country that would improve the conditions of ordinary people.

In March 1881 a small group of Narodnaya Volya members plotted to kill Tsar Alexander II. This group had led a series of failed attempts to assassinate the Tsar, the last one being in February of 1880. This time the group had backup plans if the primary plan failed.

It was known that the Tsar went every Sunday to review the troops at the Mikhailovskii Riding School. The plan was to set a mine under the road and blow up the Tsar’s carriage. The group rented a cheese shop on the route the Tsar would take and spent months undermining the road while operating the cheese shop as a front.

On the 27th of February 1881, one of the leaders of the Narodnaya Volya, Andrei Zheliabov was arrested. This caused the Tsar and his people to relax, to think that the leader of the group that had caused so much trouble to the Tsar had now been detained. To the conspirators however it was a spur to action. They feared that their plot would be discovered and they would be arrested. So they brought forward their plans. The plan would be implemented on the 13th of March.

While some of the conspirators completed the arrangements at the cheese shop others gathered at the apartment of Vera Figner, preparing bombs that could be thrown to act as a backup plan, if the principle plan of the mine failed.

That Sunday 13th March 1881, the Tsar chose to travel to the riding school by the Ekaterinskii Canal and Italianskaia Street avoiding crowds on the Nevski Prospect. This route did not pass the prepared mine. The conspirator’s plans had anticipated this and 4 people lay in wait on the alternative route. There had been a lot of preparations and all the alternative routes had been noted.

After the Tsar had attended the review at the riding school, his party returned by the route they had taken. As the troops and carriage turned onto the Ekaterinskii Canal one of the conspirators gave a signal to the bombers to prepare. As the carriage approached a bomb was thrown and exploded under the horses pulling the carriage. The explosion killed one of the Cossack guards in the group of escorts, injured the driver and people on the pavement. The carriage, a bullet proof carriage given by Napoleon III, was only slightly damaged.

The bomb thrower, Nikolai Rysakov, was arrested immediately. The Tsar got out of his carriage to inspect the injured Cossacks and horses, and then another of the conspirators, Ignace Hryniewiecki, threw another bomb which landed at the tsar’s feet. That explosion fatally injured the Tsar. He was put on a sleigh and taken to the winter palace where he died later in the afternoon.

Narodnaya Volya’s plan was based on the people rising up after the Tsar’s death to seize power aided by groups of officers in the navy and army. However that did not happen. Instead the people seem to have been greatly shaken by the death of their beloved Tsar.

Vera Figner had been waiting in her apartment ready to provide assistance to plotters fleeing the police. But as time passed she became increasingly impatient for news. She left her apartment and found that everything was calm with no excitement in the streets. She assumed that the latest plot had been a failure.

In the days after the assassination she resisted all encouragements to leave her apartment. She was concerned that the apartment held printing presses and bomb making materials that belonged to the movement.

Eventually after nearly a week, a group of officers from Kronstadt, came to her apartment and moved the incriminating equipment out. They returned later to mover her away. One report has it that as the naval officers from Kronsdstat were leaving the apartment block by one door the police were entering by another.

Vera Figner was taken by the officers back to Krondstat and hidden there. Esper was one of those officers looking after her, and he is quoted as saying of her ” she brought a ray of sunshine to our gatherings”. After a few weeks she managed to escape to Odessa. She was eventually betrayed by a double agent, Sergey Degayev, who will feature again in this story. She was arrested and put on trial and sentenced to death. But that sentence was commuted to 20 years imprisonment. She died in 1942. Esper wrote about this time in a book called “Revolutionaries in the Fleet”.

Background, Narodnaya Volya

Narodnaya Volya was formed in the autumn of 1879 after a split of the members of an organisation called Zemlya i Volya (Land and Liberty). The aim of the group was to promote a mass revolt against the Tsar using acts of violence. The split had been prompted after a failed attempt on the Tsars life carried out by Alexander Konstantinovitch Soloviev. Soloviev was executed and there were many arrests. The cause of the split was a division over methods to achieve a revolution. The early Marxists favoured non terrorist methods using study circles and propaganda, building a movement from the ground up, they formed Chërnyi Peredel (Black Repartition).

The other group formed Narodnaya Volya they favoured terrorism which they hoped would achieve rapid change in society. One of their first acts in August 1879, was to pass a death sentence on the Tsar, Alexander II, for crimes against the Russian people. They started by building workers study circles in the principle Russian cities and created cells within military bases in St Petersburg and the naval base at Kronstadt.

The group was run by a self-selected executive committee. Some of the early committee members crop up in our story again, Lev Tikhomirov, Vera Figner and Sergei Kravchinskii. The organisation was always quite small though they always hinted that they were just part of a much bigger organisation.

As a foot note, in 1887 Alexander Ulyanov, a student at St Petersburg university and a member of a successive organisation from Narodnaya Volya, plotted to kill Tsar Alexander III on the anniversary of the previous Tsars assassination. However his efforts were well known to the secret police and he and his fellow conspirators were arrested. At his trial Ulyanov was sentenced to death. Alexander’s brother was Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov, better known as Lenin.

139 Years Ago Today, His Imperial Majesty Tsar Alexander II Was Assassinated by the Anarchist Terrorists Nikolai Rysakov and Ignacy Hryniewiecki. May God Rest His Soul.

Perhaps ironically, His Imperial Majesty was actually on his way to sign into law new parliamentary reforms (of his own making) which would've seen Russia become a Semi-Constitutional Monarchy.

That was a grief for Russia. I am glad at least that the members of the People's Will were hanged for that.

Shame that the authorities didn't manage to trail and annihilate the revolutionary organisations completely during Alexander III's reign.

However, I wouldn't really like a constitutional project of Loris-Melikov, which was almost accepted by Alexander II, either.

P.S. I recommend you check on the cathedral in St. Petersburg called Saviour on Spilled Blood

Stupid assassins screwed themselves and everyone over. His son became a reactionary because of this, and Nicholas II was only interested in preserving the status quo.

Perhaps ironically, His Imperial Majesty was actually on his way to sign into law new parliamentary reforms (of his own making) which would've seen Russia become a Semi-Constitutional Monarchy.

This is wild speculation that isn't really realistic for Russia of that age. It was more likely that the Consitution would have failed. Tsar Alexander's government was straining with its crumbling institutions and lagging economy. Its likely that this supposed Constitution would have failed as the economy and the fundamental root of the problems with the ailing Russian state wouldn't be solved with a Simple Constitution.

Book Review: Alex Butterworth, The World that Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents. New York: Pantheon Press, 2010.

THE TERRORIST IS NOBLE, irresistibly fascinating, for he combines in himself the two sublimates of human grandeur: the martyr and the hero” (127). The man who spoke these words was Sergei Kravchinsky, the Tsarist officer turned anarchist who went on to assassinate the chief of the Russia’s secret police and expose that country’s autocracy before the world in the best-selling book Underground Russia. Terrorism was not restricted to Russia’s early revolutionary movement. In Chicago, the Alarm told its readers in 1884 that ‘one man armed with a dynamite bomb is equal to one regiment of militia’ (203-4). German immigrant Johann Most went further with a call to “rescue mankind through blood, iron, poison and dynamite” (203). “Enough of organisation,” thundered Luigi Parmeggiani’s L’Internationale in London in 1892, “let’s busy ourselves with chemistry and manufacture: bombs, dynamite and other explosives are far more capable than rifles and ‘barricades’ of destroying the present state of things, and above all to save our precious blood” (309).

An 1893 portrait of François Koenigstein, aka Ravachol, by Charles Maurin.

In the later years of the nineteenth century there was a rise in terrorist outrages like the explosion at the Greenwich Observatory fictionalized by Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent, or the famous succession of bombings in Paris undertaken by François Koenigstein (“Ravachol”) in 1892. The geographer and anarchist Élisée Reclus saw in Ravachol “a hero with a rare grandeur of spirit,” while the symbolist poet Paul Adam praised him as a “violent Christ” (304-5). The list of establishment figures the anarchists shot and bombed is remarkable: Nikolai Rysakov of the People’s Will killed Tsar Alexander II on 13 March 1881 the Pennsylvania industrialist Henry Clay Frick was shot by Alexander Berkman in 1892, but survived the Chief of the Tsarist secret police Georgii Sudeikin was killed by Sergei Degaev for the People’s Will in 1883 Gaetano Bresci killed King Umberto I of Italy in 1900 inspired by Emma Goldman, Leon Czolgosz killed President McKinley on 6 September 1901 in Buffalo Kropotkin fan Gavrilo Princip killed the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914, precipitating the First World War.

One could easily account for the rise in terrorism in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by pointing to the violence of the state, and in the broadest sense this is correct. Repression in Russia, Germany and France, and the use of private militias against strikers in America, all raised the political temperature. Still, a closer look at the terrorists, such as that Alex Butterworth’s The World That Never Was provides, shows that terrorism was taken up by people who were losing the argument with the mass of ordinary people. Violence, it was hoped, would be the shortcut to social change that was slipping from their grasp. The isolation of these small bands of would-be revolutionaries tempted them to see chemistry and dynamite as easier routes to social transformation than organization.

The political debate that foreshadowed the growth of terrorism took place amongst the radicals of the International Working Men’s Association, or First International, which had affiliated parties in most European countries. The event that sharpened the differences was the war Napoleon III launched, but quickly lost, against Prussia in 1870, leaving Paris under siege from Bismarck’s army. When Adolphe Thiers’s government offered to surrender a disarmed capital to the Prussians, the Parisians rose up, making their own Commune to resist Bismarck and the French government alike. The International supported the Commune, and Karl Marx wrote a pamphlet announcing the first workers’ government.

Marx’s rivals in the International, the anarchist followers of Mikhail Bakunin, also supported the Parisians’ revolution, but balked at Marx’s conclusion that the Commune showed the need for workers to seize state power and use it to put down the propertied classes. Bakunin even showed up with a decree to abolish the state at the Town Hall in Lyons, where there was support for the Commune. But, having refused on principle to gather any armed back-up, Bakunin had to beat a hasty retreat from the gendarmes.[1] In Paris, by contrast, the Commune fought to the last against Thiers’s army. The repression that followed was terrible, with thousands killed and thousands more deported to the Pacific colonies, while others fled to live as refugees in Britain, Switzerland, and America.

After the defeat of the Commune, the argument between Marx’s supporters and the anarchists took a definite turn. Bakunin, and his young acolyte Kropotkin, denounced Marx as a centralizing dictator, wedded to violence. Engels remonstrated that “a revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part.”[2] By contrast, Kropotkin put his faith in a spontaneous and instinctual revolution of the peasant masses, and here Butterworth speculates that Kropotkin’s fierce anti-intellectualism might have stemmed from a guilty conscience over his own education (125). But the irony was that it was the anarchists that turned to violence, and with it the dictatorial methods of conspiracy, as the masses drifted away from the Communards’ ideal.

In 1877, Bakunin’s disciple Errico Malatesta, with Carlo Cafiero tried to launch an insurrection among the peasants of Matese, in the Southern Italian highlands, ransacking government offices. “If you want to, do something,” shouted Cafiero, ”if not, then go fuck yourselves” (118) but the Matese peasants could not understand his dialect, let alone his point. In 1879, Russian populists met at Voronezh to debate a new path. Lev Tikhomirov demanded violence and the “formation of an organisational elite to coordinate the new strategy” (141), to which Georgi Plekhanov, who would go on to be Lenin’s mentor, responded, “you can count me out.” At the same meeting, the anarchist Andrei Zhelyabov argued that he should be made ‘Revolutionary Dictator’ once they had killed the Tsar (149). Two years later, at the anarchist international meeting in London in July 1881, Élisée Reclus convinced Kropotkin of the need for small conspiratorial groups (167).

The anarchists became more ardent the less support they had. They loathed the masses for letting down the revolution: as if the world ought to bend to their will. Octave Garnier, a leader of the anarchist “Bonnot Gang”—the first stick-up crew to use a getaway car—wrote in 1911, “Why kill workers?—they are vile slaves without whom there would not be the bourgeoisie and the rich.”[3] The difference between the anarchists and the Marxists was not that one side preferred violence: the use of violence in and of itself is not necessarily a matter of principle. The difference was that the anarchists could not accept that the revolutionary tide had ebbed, thinking that it was a failure of will alone. Their answer to the retreat was more and more aggressive actions. This left them waging war against the masses as much as the elite. “Long live anarchy and death to society!” cried Luigi Lucheni, the assassin of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth in September 1898 (369). Terror was a substitute for the harder work of winning over mass support.

As they got older, leading anarchists were dismayed to find that the path they had cleared led to the cult of the bomber Ravachol. Kropotkin rued that “a structure built on centuries of history cannot be destroyed with a few kilos of explosive” (303). This time Malatesta agreed, writing of Ravachol’s followers, “It is no longer a love for the human race that guides them, but the feeling of a vendetta joined to the cult of an abstract idea, of a philosophic phantasm” (313).

Louise Michel, “the Red Virgin,” whose bravery on the barricades and at trial made her into a heroine for many, expressed the frustration that many exiled Communards felt at the time. Returning from exile in the Pacific, Michel drew massive crowds and threatened retaliation against the oppressors. Michel was accompanied on her speaking tours by an equally remarkable figure of Victor Henri Rochefort, the Marquis de Rochefort-Luçay, who had become a member of the Commune government despite his aristocratic background. Like Michel, Rochefort had been exiled to the Pacific, though unlike her he had the finances to influence French public life, even founding his own newspaper, L’Intransigeant. Rochefort organised meetings for Michel to condemn the corruption of the Republic, though increasingly these took on a scripted or theatrical air. At the time, Louise’s mother warned her, “you’ve become their pet exotic animal on the end of the leash, and they’re making you dance to amuse the crowds.”[4]

Having lost touch with the masses in the post-Commune years, the anarchists were shocked, when the Left began to recover and the Socialist International met in London in 1896, to find that they were not welcome. “What we advocate is free association and union, the absence of authority, minds free from fetters, independence,” anarchist Gustav Landauer pleaded to the delegates: “it is we who preach tolerance for all—whether we think their opinions right or wrong—we do not wish to crush them by force or otherwise” (354-5). Landauer had changed records, and put Bakunin’s old tune back on the turntable, asking that the issue not be put to the vote for fear of losing. Even Michel promised that “the bombs are past history.” But the socialists had been too often derided as cowards for failing to start the revolution, had struggled too often to pick up the pieces after anarchist bombings, and had had to cope too often with the resultant police repression and popular disgust while the bombers themselves melted into the background. They voted to exclude the anarchists. Louise Michel protested that the Marx’s followers had founded “a new Papacy.”[5]

Reforms that extended the franchise and the growth of the socialist vote left the anarchists even more isolated than had the preceding decline in working class militancy, such that they more confused than ever about what to do. Louise Michel dismissed democracy, saying, “it does not matter who emerges from that false-bottomed trunk known as the ballot-box.” Whoever wins, “he’ll always be one of the bourgeoisie, one of your exploiters.”[6] Rochefort’s paper rallied to the cause of military government under General Georges Boulanger, and to anti-Semitic campaigns: first against the Jewish financiers of the Panama Canal Company, and then later joining in the denunciations of Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Dreyfus, falsely accused of passing military secrets to the Germans. For her part, Louise Michel refused to condemn Rochefort’s proto-Fascist Boulangism, insisting that the fight between democracy and military government “is not the moment for me to choose one side over another in a factionalist struggle.”[7] She similarly refused to take sides in the Dreyfus Affair, declining to attend pro-Dreyfus meetings. But then the anarchists had been long accustomed to playing the anti-Semitic card: Years before, Bakunin denounced the London Congress of the International as “a dire conspiracy of German and Russian Jews” who were “fanatically devoted to their dictator-Messiah Marx” (64).

Kropotkin, too, disappointed his supporters in later years, rallying to the Allied cause in the First World War and returning to Russia to join the fight against “Bismarckism.”[8] Malatesta returned to be detained under house arrest in Italy, where Il Duce graciously spared the life of the man who had once been his mentor when he was a young anarchist (409-11).

Butterworth’s book is fascinating in its treatment of the many undercover agents and agents provocateurs in the anarchist movement. But he is generous to a fault, repeating many anarchist slanders against the Marxists. Nevertheless, he does not fail to make the critical point: that the anarchists’ rage was impotent, their terrorism a sign of weakness, not strength. The story of the anarchists shows how destructive it is to make revolution into a moral imperative outside of its historical grounding. Years ago, the philosopher Hegel characterised the beautiful soul that “lives in dread of besmirching the splendor of its inner being by action…[T]o preserve the purity of its heart, it flees from contact with the actual world and…is reduced to the extreme of ultimate abstraction.”[9] That was the psychology of the anarchists’ love of “the two sublimates of human grandeur: the martyr and the hero” or the “violent Christ.” Their insurrection turned from being a war to free the masses from repression into a war against the masses, dissolving in the end into the worst kind of opportunism. |P

[1]. “Marx to Beesley, 10/19/1870,” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Correspondence, 1846-1895, ed. and trans. Dona Torr (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1941), 306.

[2]. Frederick Engels, “On Authority,” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works, vol. 2 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), 379.

[3]. Quoted in Richard Parry, The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists (London: Rebel Press, 1987), 125.

[4]. Edith Thomas, Louise Michel, trans. Penelope Williams (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1980), 187.

[8]. Leon Trotsky, The Russian Revolution, trans. Max Eastman (London: Pluto Press, 1977), 687. For Kropotkin on Bismarckism, see Butterworth, 135.

[9]. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 400.

WI : Alexander II of Russia avoids his assassination?

As his Sunday custom, the Czar traveled in his bulletproof carriage (a gift from Emperor Napoleon III of France) to the Mikhailovsky Manège to review the military roll call. He was escorted by the police as well as his own guard, including his Cossack personal bodyguard. In the crowd that gathered on the narrow pavement to watch Alexander pass were agents from the Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will") bent on assassinating the Czar to instill a new order of communistic anarchy. Nikolai Rysakov was the first to strike, throwing a bomb wrapped in a handkerchief. The explosion would kill one of the Cossack guards and injure onlookers and more guards, but Alexander would prove unhurt as he stepped from his carriage. The police hurriedly apprehended Rysakov, who shouted to someone else in the crowd. The surrounding guards and the Cossacks urged the emperor to leave the area at once rather than being shown the site of the explosion.

But the Tsar insisted on seeing the wounded first. The 6 remaining Cossacks assigned to protect the Czar were distracted by the crowd who were excitedly gathering at the scene. Colonel Dvorzhitsky, district chief of police, rushed up and urged the Tsar to get into his carriage. Alexander agreed, but began to wander over to look at the site of the explosion. Feeling the Czar was still in danger, Dvorzhitsky threw himself into Alexander and violently pushed him into the carriage, violating the royal space but proving to save his life as a second bomb exploded. A surviving guard was later to write :

"I was deafened by the new explosion, burned, wounded and thrown to the ground. Suddenly, amid the smoke and snowy fog, I heard His Majesty's voice cry, 'Help!' Gathering what strength I had, I jumped up and rushed to the emperor. Colonel Dvorzhitsky was half-lying, half-sitting, leaning on his right arm. Thinking he was merely wounded heavily, I tried to lift him but his legs were shattered, and the blood poured out of them. Twenty people, with wounds of varying degree, lay on the sidewalk and on the street. Some managed to stand, others to crawl, still others tried to get out from beneath bodies that had fallen on them. Through the snow, debris, and blood you could see fragments of clothing, epaulets, sabres, and bloody chunks of human flesh. Thanks to God, the Czar was still alive".

The carriage was immediately ordered to flee away. Just in time a third bomb was thrown, but it fortunatelly it didn't explode. Alexander was urgently carried to the Winter Palace to his study where, twenty years before almost to the day, he had signed the Emancipation Edict freeing the serfs. Alexander II planned to release a plan for the duma to the Russian people. He was now hesitating. His grandson, Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, was able to convince to sign this decree. In a matter of 48 hours, Russia was set to follow a path to constitutional monarchy instead of the long road of oppression that defined the reigns of his predecessors.

With construction starting in 1883, the Church of the Savior on Blood was built on the site of Dvorzhitsky's sacrifice and dedicated in his memory.


Alexander was born in Moscow, Russian Empire on 29 April 1818, the son of Czar Nicholas I of Russia and Charlotte of Prussia. Alexander became the new Czar of Russia in 1855 on the death of his father, and he managed to extricate Russia from the Crimean War against the United Kingdom and France in 1856. Alexander turned his attention to Russia's domestic issues, primarily serfdom.


In 1861, Czar Alexander passed the Emancipation Reform of 1861, abolishing serfdom and giving land to the emancipated serfs. He also established the rural zemstvo system in 1864, and he gave representation to the townspeople and private landowners. In 1864, he reformed the legal and judicial system (introducing trial by jury and public trials), created municipal dumas in 1870, and reformed the Imperial Russian Army in 1874. Alexander would crush the Polish nationalist uprising of 1863 and introduced a Russification campaign in Poland, and he promoted expansionism in Siberia and Central Asia. Russia acquired maritime provinces northeast of Manchuria, establishing the port of Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan. Alexander's reforms and actions served only to increase demands for further reform, and middle-class radicals launched the narodnik movement in the 1870s. Alexander considered the possibility of further reforms due to a rise in opposition in the 1870s, and interior minister Mikhail Loris-Melikov proposed establishing a representative council to advise the czar on reforms. On 13 March 1881, Alexander agreed to its formation. 


The death of Alexander II

Later on 13 March, Alexander and some cossacks headed to the Mikhailovsky Manege for the military roll call, a hobby that Alexander had taken up. As the carriage moved along the narrow streets, Nikolai Rysakov threw a package bomb under the carriage, but the bomb failed to dent the vehicle. Rysakov was arrested almost immediately, but he shouted out for Ignacy Hryniewiecki, who threw a bomb at the emperor's feet. Alexander was mortally wounded, with his legs being torn away, his stomach ripped open, and his face mutilated. He was given communion and last rites before he died later that day of his wounds.

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