From the first, the 'Executive Committee' was a fighting body designed to carry on a kind of guerrilla warfare by means of acts of terror. Foremost among these was the assassination of the Czar. In a society where all political authority ultimately derived from the monarch, the resentment of the enemies of the existing order was bound to centre on him. Since the days of the Decembrists, and even earlier, the thought of regicide had haunted many heads like some archetypal urge.
The Ishutin group had produced Karakozov, and Nechayev, too, had played with the idea of killing the Emperor. In the summer of 1878 Solomon Wittenberg, a former engineering student who was the son of a poor Jewish artisan, procured a quantity of pyroxilin. With the aid of a comrade who was a sailor, he was planning to lay a mine in the Odessa harbour where the Czar was expected to land. Arrested, he was sentenced to death. He turned down a scheme for his escape from prison because it involved danger for some of the guards. It is reported that he asked his mother if he should embrace Orthodox Christianity in the hope of having his life spared, and that she shook her head and said quietly: 'Die as the Jew that you are,' whereupon he made a deep bow to her. In his last testament he wrote: 'Of course, I do not want to die, and to say that I die willingly would be a lie on my part, but this should not cast a shadow on my faith and the strength of my convictions. Consider that the highest example of loving kindness and self-sacrifice was undoubtedly the Saviour, and yet even He prayed: "Let this cup pass from me!" . . . Nevertheless, in the same spirit I say to myself: "If it cannot be otherwise, if, in order for Socialism to triumph, it is necessary that my blood be shed, if the transition from the present order to a better one is impossible without stepping over our corpses, then let our blood be shed, in redemption, for the good of humanity. And that our blood will serve as a fertilizer of the soil upon which the seed of Socialism will sprout, that socialism will triumph, and soon -- this is my faith!" ' And he concluded with a private word to a friend begging that all thought of vengeance be laid aside.
On 11 August, Wittenberg was hanged, together with his accomplice, at a public ceremony attended, under official orders, by the entire school population above the age of twelve.
Alexander Solovyov's attempt on the Czar's life has already been dealt with. The repressions unleashed by the Government after that event did anything but discourage the thought of regicide. Plans to kill the Governors-General were abandoned in favour of the more ambitious enterprise. The Executive Committee condemned the Emperor to death on 25 August, 1879, or on the following day, which happened to be the anniversary of his coronation.
The design was to dynamite the train carrying the Czar from his summer residence at Livadia (near Yalta) back to the northern capital. The idea of employing Alfred Nobel's invention seems to have originated among southern hotheads as far back as 1873 or 1874. In those days dynamite was something of a novelty in Russia. The use of it in the Russo-Turkish War made is popular. A sample of it was brought from Switzerland, but it was found impossible to import the stuff or purchase it at home, and the Party had to have it manufactured by its own technicians. This work had been started while Land and Liberty was still in existence. Soon after the formation of the People's Will, the Executive Committee had at its disposal about a hundred kilograms of dynamite. It was prepared chiefly by Nikolay Kibalchich, a former engineering student who was the son of a priest. He had served a three-year prison term for having subversive literature in his possession, and when in 1878 he regained his liberty, he decided that he could best serve terrorism by devoting his life to the study of explosives.
At first it was believed that the Czar would proceed from the Crimea to Odessa by sea, and the decision was to blow up his train as it left the seaport on its northward journey. Having secured the position of a trackman on the Odessa railway, Frolenko, aided by several men, including Vasily Merkulov, a carpenter, began excavating a tunnel under the track. Early in November it became known, however, that the Emperor had abandoned his sea trip to Odessa. The weather was foul, and he was a poor sailor. So the preparations were discontinued.
The Czar proceeded north by rail from Simferopol via Kursk and Moscow. Such an eventuality had been foreseen, and it was decided to blow up the imperial train near Alexandrovsk (now Zaporozhye). On 1 October Zhelyabov appeared in this small town and gave himself out to be a merchant who intended to set up a tannery there. He secured a plot of ground, bought a wagon and a team of horses, and moved into a modest flat with his 'wife' (Anna Yakimova, the daughter of a village priest, who looked like a sturdy young peasant woman). With them were two 'workmen' (Tikhonov, a weaver, and Okladsky, a carpenter). Zhelyabov played the part of a small tradesman admirably.
The plan was to mine the track at a point where the railroad ran on top of an embankment seventy-five feet high. Two metal cylinders containing dynamite and provided with electric detonators were to be placed under the sleepers some eighty yards apart. The cylinders and the explosive were brought from Kharkov, the detonators were filched from a powder plant by an employee. Kibalchich and another technician had a hand in these preparations, but the work proper was performed by Zhelyabov and his 'workmen.'
Running parallel to the railway track was a road separated from it by a ravine. To channel off the water that accumulated at the bottom there was a culvert under the embankment. Several times during the night guards with lanterns examined the culvert to make sure that it was not clogged up, and the track, too, was patrolled periodically. The conspirators had to work during the intervals between inspections. Zhelyabov was at this time suffering from night blindness and was helpless in the dark, so that he had to be led by the hand to and from work. Yet he insisted on taking part in the actual digging and in placing the mines himself. The autumn rains had come and the nights were chilly. He had to work sprawling in the mud, wet to the bone and shivering with cold. Sometimes the men lost their way and fell into pits filled with water.
When the second mine was being laid, the conspirators came near being discovered by a trackman. The nervous tension grew intolerable. The men were sure that they were being watched. And what if snow came, showing their footprints plainly? One night Zhelyabov leapt from bed in his sleep several times and crawled on the floor, shouting: 'Hide the wire! Hide the wire!'
The work was completed during the night of 17 November, since word had come the previous day that the imperial train was scheduled to pass Alexandrovsk on the 18th. That morning the three conspirators drove out to the spot on the road opposite the mines, taking with them an electric battery and an induction coil. The ends of the wires that led to the mines were connected with the apparatus, and then the men waited. When the train reached the spot over the mines Okladsky shouted: 'Go to it!' and Zhelyabov closed the circuit. There was no explosion as the cars thundered on.
Zhelyabov was sick with disappointment. The cause of the failure has remained a mystery. Immediately after the train had passed, the men examined the apparatus and the wiring and were unable to detect anything wrong. Okladsky eventually turned informer, entering the service of the police, and lived long enough to be tried by a Soviet court as a former secret service agent. The prosecutor suggested that the man had intentionally sabotaged the enterprise by cutting the wire, but no evidence has come forth to substantiate this theory.
It proved impossible to salvage the mines, and they were left undisturbed. Perhaps the Committee entertained the idea of using them a second time if the Czar passed that way the following year.
The conspirators did not rely on the Alexandrovsk mines alone. Farther along the Emperor's route another charge was to be fired under his train. Should the one fail, the other might succeed.
The locality was chosen by Alexander Mikhailov, who headed the enterprise. It was a Moscow suburb -- a place of scattered cottages and wide, unpaved, grassy streets -- of which the police took small notice. A two-storey house situated near the railway track some two miles south of the Moscow station was purchased in the name of one Sukhorukov, merchant. This was Lev Hartmarm, the son of a German immigrant. Hartmann was an activist, of scanty schooling and mature years, who had recently been admitted to the Executive Committee. On 22 September the merchant and his 'wife,' who was none other than Sofya Perovskaya, took possession. The two of them were to be assisted by half a dozen other comrades beside Mikhailov, all of them quartered in the city. The dynamite had been manufactured and brought to Moscow by Stegan Shiryayev, who was in charge of preparing, laying, and wiring the mine.
Explaining to the neighbours that they wanted to build an ice-cellar, the new owners had two hired labourers dig a deep pit in the kitchen. Then came the real work: the excavation of a tunnel to the railway embankment, a distance of some one hundred and fifty feet. It was decided to give it a triangular shape, shoring the sides with boards and leaving the floor bare. None of the conspirators had any experience in mining, and they had only the simplest tools: a large shovel, an 'English spade,' a trowel. There was room in the tunnel for just one person at a time. He could move in it only by crawling and had to work in a crouching position. As the gallery lengthened, it became necessary to instal a primitive ventilator, but the cold, damp air was still so close that the men could stay at work for a short time only. At first, the earth was shovelled out, later it was hauled out with the aid of a windlass and scattered in the yard at night, in the hope that by morning it would either be partly washed away or snowed under.
A difficult problem was presented by the neighbours, who had the inquisitiveness of small-town folk. But the master of the house acted his part well, and the mistress was even cleverer in keeping suspicion at bay. The couple dressed, gestured, spoke in their assumed character of tradespeople, and the rooms were appropriately provided with icons and portraits of czars and metropolitans. The conspirators who were staying in the city would arrive early in the morning and leave late at night as inconspicuously as possible. A quantity of nitr-glycerine sufficient to blow up the cottage was kept in two bottles under a bed. Perovskaya was to explode it with a shot at the appearance of police. The group had vowed not to be taken alive.
Progress was slow. There were unforeseen delays. Early in November came a heavy snowfall, followed by a thaw, and the pit in front of the gallery was turned into a puddle, while the gallery itself was flooded. Some of the water was baled out, and thereafter the men worked sitting in thin, icy mud. Then one morning the company made an appalling discovery. The tunnel crossed a rough dirt road that ran parallel to the railway track. Because of heavy autumn rains a washout had formed on the road, and through the hole the roof of the gallery was in plain sight. However, the water wagon that usually passed that way failed to appear, and the men were able to fill the hole without arousing any suspicion. Luck was with them again when a conflagration broke out in a neighbouring house: the fire was put out before it could endanger the Sukhorukov cottage.
Meanwhile it was getting more and more difficult to remove the earth, and the air in the shaft was so bad that sometimes the digger's lantern went out and he himself fainted as he crouched in the ooze. The situation became even more trying as the tunnel got closer to the railway embankment. Because of faulty construction, the mouth of the gallery was somewhat higher than its rear, and there the water tended to accumulate. To get rid of it, a low dam was made and the water baled over it. The dam turned the rear of the gallery into the semblance of a tomb. The worker was in constant danger of being buried alive, for the earth there was crumbly, and when a train passed overhead a cave-in was a definite possibility, all the more so since that part of the tunnel was not shored up. In fact, Hart-mann is said to have carried poison with him to put an end to his sufferings in case of a catastrophe. But the physical wretchedness and the anxiety were matched by a rare exaltation. Mikhailov said that as he sat in the mud digging away, his back against the dam, for the first time in his life looking into the cold eyes of death, he remained calm. Indeed, he was rather thrilled by the weight and might of the train as it thundered overhead, shaking up everything like an earthquake. The company did not lose the ability to laugh and crack jokes at their mishaps. Jollity reigned at the dinner table around which all would gather at two o'clock.
They had hoped to reach the tunnel by the beginning of November, but when November came there was still much digging to be done. Time was getting short. It was decided to get a steel drill to reach the tracks. Probably in order to buy it, they mortgaged the house -- a risky step, since it involved a preliminary inspection of the premises in the presence of a police officer. But the transaction was carried out without a hitch.
They worked feverishly now, fighting exhaustion and sickness. Sofya Perovskaya's endurance was amazing. All were buoyed up by a passion that defied physical obstacles. 'The conflict here was not between man and man,' Mikhailov testified, 'not between the weak and the strong, but between embodied idea and material force.'
Finally, with infinite pains, the brass cylinders containing some eighty pounds of dynamite were set In place and wired. Tne experts feared" that the cfiarge was not sufficiently powerful and that the mines had not been pushed far enough under the track, but that could not be helped.
Word came that the imperial train was due to reach Moscow at about tenb p.m. on 19 November. The six regular members of the group and two visittors held a celebration on the eve of the fateful day. Their emaciated faces lit by the ghastly flame of burning alcohol, they drank to the success of the enterprise and sang revolutionary songs around a table in which eight daggers 'were stuck cross-wise' above eight revolvers. Thus runs an account of the evening that Hartmann wrote for the New York Herald some two yearsjater. It may be presumed that some of these lurid details, meant to impress a gullible foreign public, were the product of his imagination.
In the morning all except Shiryayev and Perovskaya left the cottage. He was to close the circuit; she was to watch the track through a slit in the wall of a shed and give the signal at the approach of the Czar's train. She was proud and happy to be thus honored.
Extraordinary precautions were taken to protect the Emperor while he was travelling. He was on board one train, while another carried his retinue, servants and baggage, and he would change trains secretly at stations. The story goes that the conspirators received a telegram in code to the effect that the Czar occupied the fourth car in the .second train. A little after nine p.m. a train flashed by. Perovskaya decided that it was the imperial retinue train, which was usually sent ahead to test the safety of the way. At ten twenty-five the lights of another locomotive peered out of the darkness. Perovskaya gave the signal, and Shiryayev pressed the lever. There was a deafening report. The two locomotives and the first car broke away, a freight car loaded with Crimean fruit was overturned and smashed, many cars were derailed. No one on board the train was hurt. The Czar was not among the passengers. At the last moment the imperial train had been sent ahead of the one that carried the Czar's retinue.
Shortly after the explosion the police entered the Sukhorukov cottage. There was a fire in the stove, a candle was burning on the table, which was set for two, but there was no trace of the occupants.
A plan to mine one more spot on the road connecting the Crimea with the capital had been under consideration, but it had not been carried out.
On 22 November the People's Will issued a proclamation about the attempt on the Czar's life. It was the first such pronouncement of the Executive Committee which had become the nucleus of the newly formed secret society. Herein Alexander II is described as 'the embodiment of despotism, hypocritical, cowardly, bloodthirsty and all-corrupting . . . the main usurper of the people's sovereignty, the middle pillar of reaction, the chief perpetrator of judicial murders,' with fourteen executions on his conscience. 'He deserves the death penalty for all the blood he has shed, for all the pain he has caused. ... Only if he were to renounce his power and hand it over to a freely elected Constituent Assembly . . . would we leave him in peace and forgive his crimes. Until that time -- war, implacable war, to the last drop of our blood!'
The article on the attempt in the issue of Narodnaya volya dated 1 January, 1880, had as its epigraph the words of Edouard Vaillant, member of the Paris Commune: 'Society! has only one obligation toward monarchs: to put them to \ death.' -J
The attempts to wreck the Czar's train had failed. The conspirators could take heart from the fact that despite these efforts the Executive Committee was intact. The end must be reached by other means.
One of the two men who had headed the Northern Union of Russian Workers, mentioned earlier, was Stepan Khalturin, a cabinetmaker of peasant stock. In his teens he had belonged to a group of boys in his native Vyatka who were planning to emigrate to America. He reached Petersburg too late to embark from there with the others, fell in with the Chaikovsky Circle and became a propagandist among fellow workmen. When the Northern Union was smashed in 1879, he escaped the police net. By that time he had become a confirmed partisan of terrorism. The idea that the Czar should perish at the hand of a man of the people became an obsession with him.
250 / Road to Revolution
He decided to gain entrance to the Emperor's entourage in the capacity of a mechanic and kill him at the first opportunity. This plan he abandoned in favour of another, as daring as it was inept: blowing up the Winter Palace. He undertook to do this single-handed. All he asked of the Committee was a supply of dynamite.
He had at one time worked on the Czar's private yacht, and being a skilful craftsman -- he could give a surface so high a polish that 'a flea could not take a jump on it,' as the Russian saying goes -- he found employment on the maintenance force of the Winter Palace. This was late in September, 1879. Together with three carpenters he lodged in the basement of the building. Directly overhead were the guards' quarters and above them the so-called Yellow Hall, where the Emperor usually dined en famille. The plan was to explode a charge of dynamite in the basement when the Czar was in the dining-room, in the hope of wrecking it and killing its occupants.
While the Emperor was in the Crimea, Khalturin's position was easy. Everyone liked the handsome, tall, thin youth -- he was a consumptive -- who acted the part of a yokel. There was little supervision of the staff. While the front entrances were strictly guarded, the back doors were open day and night to the servants and any stray companions they might choose to entertain in their quarters. Under these circumstances it was not difficult for Khalturin to smuggle in small quantities of the explosive in the guise of sugar.
The situation changed after the Czar's return from the south and particularly after the arrest, late in November, of Kvyatkovsky, the member of the Executive Committee who maintained contact with Khalturin. In addition to a quantity of dynamite and apparatus for the preparation of a mine, the police found among Kvyatkovsky's papers two plans of the Winter Palace with the dining-room marked by a red cross. The building was searched and, although nothing suspicious was found, extraordinary security measures were inaugurated. The entrances to the palace were closely guarded, the maintenance force was carefully screened, a gendarme moved into the carpenters' quarters which were subjected to sudden raids.
Khalturin continued to be held above suspicion. In fact, the aged gendarme took a special liking to him and even planned a match between the young man and his own marriageable daughter. Khalturin moved freely about the palace. On one occasion he found himself alone with the Czar in his study, where some repair work had to be done. He had a hammer in his hand and could easily have killed the monarch from behind. He could not bring himself to do it. On another occasion this man who plotted the Czar's death and firmly believed him to be the people's worst enemy, took a trifling object from his desk and treasured it as a souvenir.
In spite of the increased risk, Khalturin went on adding to his stock of dynamite. At first he had placed it under his pillow, although this gave him severe headaches. Later he transferred it to a chest where he kept his linen and clothes. Excavating, and laying a mine in the basement, or in any way directing the force of the explosion, was out of the question. The chest placed in a corner was to act as a mine. The chances of success were so slight that the enterprise verged on the fantastic. The Executive Committee may have realized this, but snatched at desperate measures.
By the beginning of February Khalturin had stored in his chest about a hundred pounds of explosive. He kept asking for more. Zhelyabov, who had replaced Kvyatkovsky after the lat-ter's arrest, admired the man's pluck, but quoted the experts' opinion that the amount was sufficient to demolish the Czar's dining-room. He was thinking of the risk of detection that further delay would involve, and perhaps also of the innocent people who were bound to be injured by a bigger explosion. Finally the rumour spread that the carpenters were to be moved out of the palace, and it was decided to act.
Khalturin was to take advantage of the earliest moment that the carpenters would be out of the basement and the Czar in the Yellow Hall. Such an opportunity presented itself on 5 February, 1880. He knew that the imperial family dined about six-thirty. Finding himself alone in his quarters that evening, he fired a fuse connected with a detonator of fulminate of mercury placed in the chest and left the building.
At six-twenty he met Zhelyabov a short distance from the palace, and just as he greeted him there was an explosion. It shook the immense edifice, smashing over a thousand window panes and putting out all the lights. The guardroom above the basement was demolished, but the dining hall directly overhead was_only slightly damaged: the~Hobr sagged" and one wall sprang a crack. TheTofal number of casualties was ijleven killed and fifty-six wounded, many of them soldiers on guard duty". The injured merTrefused to leave their posts until properly relieved. The Czar was not among the victims. At the moment of the explosion he was on his way to the Lesser Hall of Marshals to meet the Grand Duke of Hesse and the latter's son Alexander, Prince of Bulgaria, who had come to dine with the imperial family. Even had the Czar been in the dining-room, he would not have been harmed.
Khalturin managed to make his way quietly out of the capital. He was profoundly disheartened, and many months passed before he resumed an active role in the People's Will.
In its proclamation issued hot upon the event, the Executive Committee, trying to save its face, stated that the dynamite charge had been calculated correctly, but that the Czar was half an hour late for dinner and thus escaped alive, 'to the misfortune of our country.' It expressed deep regret over the death of the soldiers of the guard and concluded by declaring that the fight would go on until Alexander II abdicated in favour of the people and placed social reconstruction in the hands of a freely elected Constituent Assembly.
The explosion at the palace greatly added to the prestige of the Executive Committee. The public could not help being awed by this mysterious, redoubtable body that had dared to pit itself against all the resources of a mighty Empire.
The acts of terror were beginning to give the Government a case of nerves. On 26 May, 1879, Count Valuyev, one of the most influential and less benighted members of the ruling hierarchy, made this entry in his private diary: 'It seems to me that everything is crumbling and collapsing piecemeal -- and that I am powerless to arrest this process.' And a few days later: 'I feel that the ground is shaking, the house threatens to crash down, but the tenants don't seem to notice it.' A year passed, and he was writing: 'Alone a supernatural power can stop the landslide. The Government is besieged, but imagines itself the besieger.'
On the day after the train had been blown up near Moscow the Czar received representatives of the various estates in the Kremlin. He promised the nobles to take energetic measures against subversion and wordless, with tears in his eyes, he passed through the halls where the members of the other estates were gathered. The organ of the People's Will noted the absence of patriotic demonstrations in the city. In the evening Alexander attended a rout given by the Governor-General. He looked old, his eyes were lustreless, his breathing laboured. 'In the hands of this flabby, cowardly, pleasure-loving, dissolute man is the fate of a nation of a hundred million,' ran an account by an eye-witness printed in Narodnaya volya. The next day he took part in the traditional procession from the Uspensky Cathedral to the Chudov Monastery in the Kremlin. The two buildings are separated by a few dozen yards. In former years the Czar had walked this distance in plain view of the populace. This time he proceeded in a carriage surrounded by an armed escort. It was whispered in the crowd of onlookers that he had been led out of the cathedral under guard, like a prisoner.
The Winter Palace explosion threw the capital into a turmoil. People began to leave the city in panic. It was expected that grave disturbances would occur on 19 February, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Alexander's reign. The London Times reported the rumour that on that day the three principal avenues would be blown up. Nothing untoward happened, and the city soon quieted down. To mark the anniversary a reception was held at the palace. The Czar looked like a 'ghost,' Viscount Vogue thought. 'Never,' wrote the French diplomat in his diary, 'have I seen him so pitiful, aged, played out, choked by a fit of asthmatic coughing at every word. . . . Behind him another ruin, the old Chancellor [Gorchakov], who has been trotted out for this supreme occasion, like a mummy taken out for an airing. He leans against one of the columns of the Hall of Peter the Great so as not to fall, like the Empire that he directs; he understands nothing, recognizes no one, and keeps repeating: "I'm done for. I'm done for." It looks as if he would have to be carried out by the spoonful. We are disturbed by the spectacle of these human ruins ... in this palace that trembles.' In the evening there was a gala performance of Glinka's A Life for the Czar, and the diarist noted the empty boxes, from which 'no doubt fear had chased the tenants.'
A few days after the explosion the Emperor appointed a Supreme Commission for the Maintenance of State Order and Public Peace. At the head of this body, which was vested with practically unlimited authority, he placed Count Mikhail Loris-Melikov, a hero of the Turkish war and a brilliant administrator who, in spite of his lowly origin -- he was the son of an Armenian merchant -- was rapidly making his way to the top of the bureaucratic ladder.
Almost at once the Government had an opportunity to demonstrate its decision to deal ruthlessly with terrorists. Loris-Melikov had been in office hardly more than a week when there was an attempt on his life, which, however, left him without a scratch. His assailant was a former Yeshiva student by the name of Mlodecki who had embraced Christianity to make it easier foFTum to carry the message of revolution to the peasantry. In firing at the Count he had acted without the help and indeed the knowledge of the Executive Committee. The young man was seized in flagrante delicto, court-martialled and hanged two days later (22 February, 1880). Years afterwards Loris-Melikov asserted that the execution had been carried out against his will, at the Czar's instance. In March, two men were sent_to_the_gallows in Kiev for distributing underground leaflets. Their execution figures in the uncensored text of Tolstoy's novel, Resurrection, as the shattering experience transforming an unpolitical, scholarly youth into a revolutionary.
Loris-Melikov's programme of combating sedition was not, however, confined to punitive measures and to increasing the efficiency of the police. He decided that to cut the ground from under the revolutionaries' feet it was necessary for the monarch to complete the reforms that had marked the beginning of his reign. The younger generation, he argued, should be treated with leniency, in the hope that it would make its peace with the State and with society, Above all, the population should be given a chance to participate, through representatives, in legislative work having to do with local matters. The bureaucracy was becoming aware of the danger of functioning in complete isolation from the people.
One of the first acts of the head of the Supreme Commission was to issue an appeal to the public, stating that he relied chiefly on its support in restoring law and order. Two years earlier, after the assassination of Mezentzev, a similar appeal had been made, but while that had remained an empty gesture, Loris-Melikov struck the keynote of a brief era of official liberalism which at the time was dubbed 'the dictatorship of the heart.' Certain security measures that inconvenienced the population without hampering the revolutionaries were repealed; some political deportees were set free; the censor's hand was stayed; Count Tolstoy, the reactionary Minister of Education, whom the GeneraTheld chiefly responsible for the spread of radicalism, was dismissed.
At this time the Executive Committee hatched two more plots against the Czar's life, of which later. They miscarried, and the police remained unaware of them. The policy of toughness with revolutionaries and concessions to loyal subjects seemed to work: acts of terrorism appeared to have ceased. By the end of the summer the authorities were sufficiently reassured to do away with the Supreme Commission. In reporting this measure, the correspondent of the London Times wrote that Loris-Melikov 'had broken the spirit, if not the backbone, of the revolutionary monster.'
The Count remained at the helm as Minister of the Interior. Without delay he obtained the abolition of the dreaded Third Division which, as he said in a private communication, 'for over half a century had stood outside and above the law.' This amounted to little more than a change of name, however, for the political police was not abolished. Its functions were merely turned over to a department of the Ministry of the Interior. This pattern was to be followed in a later generation, when the Cheka. a descendant of the Third Division, would be abolished, only to reappear under a succession of names.
The new Minister was largely responsible for another measure: teams of senators were dispatched to certain provinces to gather information about the needs of the population. The data were to be used in formulating reforms. He then suggested a further step, which he believed to be the most effective way to fight sedition. He proposed that a General Commission should participate in the legislative work entailed by the prospective reforms. In addition to civil servants and specially appointed experts, the Commission was to include -- and this was a great innovation -- delegates elected by the zemstvo boards and municipal councils of the larger cities. It was to function in a strictly consultative capacity. Nothing was further from the Minister's mind than the intention to set up an agency that would encroach on the monarch's absolute authority. Nevertheless, the plan was held to be a timid step toward a parliamentary regime. Alexander himself is variously reported to have likened the Commission to the Etats Generaux or the Assemblee des Notables convoked by Louis XVI, and to have added: 'We must not forget what followed.'
In previous years similar and even bolder proposals had been made by several statesmen, including the Czar's brother, Constantine, but they were all stillborn. The 'Loris-Melikov constitution,' as the project of the Commission came to be called, was favourably reported on by a special committee of high dignitaries including the Heir Apparent and, on 17 February, 1881, it received the seal of approval from the Emperor.
Aside from the cessation of acts of violence, the authorities had yet another reason to feel reassured: by the spring of 1880 the cloak of mystery had fallen from the terrorist group. On 14 November, 1879, a young man was arrested at the Yelizavetgrad (now Kirovo) railway station, and his suitcase proved to contain a quantity of dynamite. This was Grigory Goldenberg, known to his comrades as 'Beaconsfield,' apparently in allusion to his Jewish origin, the only trait he shared with Dizzy. His experiences resembled those of most of the men who joined the small band of terrorists that was to be the core of the People's Will. In his early twenties, already an illegal with prison and exile in his past, he read in an underground pamphlet entitled Burned Alive about the treatment of politicals in the Kharkov prisons, and he decided to kill Prince Kropotkin, Governor-General of Kharkov. When, after shadowing his man for days, he fired the fatal shots (on 9 March ,1879), he was in a state of intolerable tension. In fact, he had made up his mind to take his own life if there were further delay. He had intended to give himself up on the spot, so as to enhance the effect of the prince's death with that of his own. But the Executive Committee succeeded in making him abandon his idea, and he managed to evade arrest. Shortly thereafter he volunteered to assassinate the Czar, but his offer was rejected, and the attempt was carried out by Solovyov. He had knowledge of the Alexandrovsk enterprise and he participated in the mining of the track near Moscow. To that end he undertook to bring home dynamite from Odessa. It was this trip that landed him in jail.
Goldenberg was not unintelligent, but he was inordinately gullible and given to day-dreaming, in which self-exaltation played a large part. Furthermore, he alternated between spurts of rapturous elation and periods of abysmal depression. Just before he died he recognized that he had been 'mentally ill,' a fact apparently not realized by the rest of the inner circle of conspirators.
At first, in spite of threats, the prisoner refused to make a deposition. He did, however, talk -- and at great length -- to a fellow political with whom he shared a cell. He did not suspect that his comrade was an informer planted by the police. In this way the authorities learned that the man they were holding was Prince Kropotkin's assassin. He admitted nothing. It was only in February (1880) that he prepared a statement, in which he confessed his crime. His main purpose in committing it, he wrote, was to lay bare in court Kropotkin's brutality. He did not regret his act: 'Let my blood, too, be the seed of Socialism, just as the blood of the early martyrs was the seed of the Christian Church.' He blamed the Government's white terror for the red terror. And he ended with an impassioned appeal to the Czar to stop 'the fratricidal war,' warning him that blood would continue to be shed until the country had a regime guaranteeing the people freedom under law.
Yet when he was making this deposition, he was no longer sure that he and his comrades were on the right road. Now kept in solitary confinement, he had ample opportunity to subject his beliefs to a thorough scrutiny. Presently his uncertainty crystallized into the conviction that political terror was a tragic failure. It interfered with the work of enlightenment and organization, and if it demanded heroism, it also sowed the seeds of treason. Besides, the revolutionaries did not have the shadow of a chance to come out on top in the unequal struggle against the Government. They must lay down their arms, and before long the Czar would be sure to grant the country a democratic regime, and under the sun of freedom the way would be speedily prepared for the advent of Socialism.
Goldenberg did not reach this delightful conclusion unaided. The prompting of his questioners helped him to it. The secret service men were beginning to use rather sophisticated methods of handling prisoners. They played on the young man's credulity, flightiness, and self-regard. They succeeded in convincing him that they, too, had the interests of the people at heart. A reconciliation between the two warring camps was possible, they suggested, and he, Goldenberg, might personally bring it about. One officer hinted that a constitution was to be promulgated that very year. What gave a semblance of reality to the hint was that rumours of the great reforms associated with Loris-Melikov's name penetrated even the prison walls. The Count himself twice visited the prisoner in his cell and made a favourable impression. The repentant terrorist decided that Loris-Melikov was to be the saviour of Russia.
He was now possessed by one idea: it was his duty to stop the futile murders and the hangings that followed them. But how? Finally, he hit upon what seemed to him a stroke of genius -- again not without the prompting of his astute examiners. He would tell the authorities all about his own revolutionary activities and all he knew about the activities of his fellow conspirators. This would disarm the Government, it would have no excuse for going on with the policy of repression, the hopeless fight would cease, and many precious young lives would be saved. True, his revelations would lead to a number of arrests, but at worst they would result in sentences of hard labour. Then a year or two later there would be a general amnesty, and the prisons would disgorge their inmates; before long, Russia would have a constitutional regime and a glorious era of freedom would commence. And he, Goldenberg, would have played no small part in bringing all this about.
In March he signed a formal confession. He spared neither himself nor his comrades. He gave names, real and assumed, addresses, identifying marks; he outlined the history of the People's Will as well as its organization and methods of propaganda; he told all he knew of the various attempts on the Czar's life. In April he was transferred from the Odessa prison to the Fortress of Peter and Paul. While he travelled north, he was put in irons. When he reached his destination, they were removed, much to his regret. 'In irons,' he wrote to his sister, 'it is somehow pleasanter, better, morally more satisfying.' Alone the fear of being declared insane prevented him from asking to keep his fetters. In his new prison he continued his revelations.
When he first resolved to turn informer, he had been ecstatically happy. He had given ample proof that he was ready to lay down his life for the cause. Now he was going to stake his honour, risk the reputation of a Judas. But events would vindicate him, and in good time it would be recognized that he had been prompted by the highest motives. He told his mother on one of her visits to him that she would have reason to be proud of her son. When in May two death sentences meted out to political offenders were commuted to hard labour, he attributed this to his disclosures. So firm was his conviction of having done the right thing that he believed that he might win over some of his comrades. He was permitted to talk without witnesses to Zundelevich, who was now a fellow prisoner. But far from being converted, Zundelevich apparently succeeded in raising terrible doubts in Goldenberg's mind.
The time of his trial drew near. He wrote to Loris-Melikov requesting that he be shown no clemency. The thought of being rewarded for his services to the authorities was intolerable to him. He also penned a lengthy confession addressed to 'Friends, comrades, honest people of the whole world, known and unknown to me,' a confused and anguished apologia. Then, too, he wrote frantic little notes assuring his comrades that he had sought their happiness, not their ruin, and that he continued to be faithful to the cause.
He was already half aware that he had been tricked by the cunning of his examiners and his own naivete and folly into becoming an ordinary informer. Perhaps a conversation he was permitted to have with Zundelevich on 10 July finally opened his eyes to the dreadful reality. On one occasion he had hinted to his questioners that if he ever came to repent his frankness even for a moment, he would commit suicide. On 15 July he managed to strangle himself with a towel attached to the faucet of his washstand.
Kletochnikov, the Party's counter-spy, was able to keep the Executive Committee informed about Goldenberg's disclosures and thus somewhat neutralize them. Nevertheless they had a disastrous effect on the fortunes of the People's Will.