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Okhrana: the story of soviet intelligence services

Thursday, January 6, 2011

With brief periods of 'thaw' usually ascribable to internal chaos, a change of regime or both, Russia has been a police state sin its creation by Ivan IV, known as 'the Terrible', the first Czar to set up an institutionalized terror apparatus, the Oprichnina, in 1563.
This large force of brutal and brutalized men emulates their master's massive, at times exquisite, sadism. They did no merely murder individuals, but whole classes and the inhabitant of whole provinces on a scale not to be outdone before the autocracies of Lenin and Stalin. After the chaos of the seventeen century, Peter the Great, in his determination to 'Westernize' empire, employed terrorist methods that foreshadowed Stalin' collectivization of the Ukrainian peasantry.
Catherine the patron of Diderot and of Enlightenment anywhere save Russia, was scarcely less brutal; although not being a Roman she was neither feeble-minded nor insane nor pathological cruel.
For a study in depth of the Russian police state before 1900~ the reader is referred to the early chapters of Ronald Hingley's The Russian Secret Police? and, for those who desire more, to his excellent, inclusive bibliography. The constant changes of nomenclature and function of the competing secret police forces that controlled Russia throughout the nineteenth century make for complicated and often confusing reading - indeed they frequently confused the policemen themselves - but by the end of that century they had in some measure coalesced; and though the term is not entirely accurate the whole secret apparatus is generally referred to, in one Latin spelling or another, as the Okhrana. For purposes of simplicity this word will be used here to describe the Czarist secret police and espionage service as a whole. 

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Why did the rulers of Czarist Russia need this vast police-cum terror apparatus? Even the briefest of answers is complex. The first is that from the time of Ivan the Terrible and certainly since the reign of Peter the Great Russia has been a steadily expanding imperial power based on the slavery, serfdom, collectivization, call it what you will, not only of the enormous conquered territories but of the Russian peasantry and proletariat themselves. Unlike the other great empires of history (with the exception of the Chinese and to a lesser extent the Turks) the Russian Empire did not extend overseas nor was it even protected by some natural land frontier such as the Alps. The Muscovite expansion was overland, and thus the revolt of a subject people such as the Ukrainians, the Poles or the Asiatic colonies posed a direct threat to Moscow itself. Since the Russians were themselves only semi-civilized, the only form of administration that they understood was that of the knout, the sword, torture, the gun - and the secret police. To this extent Russian imperialism is one more example of the apothegm that 'geography is history'.
Then the Russian leaders had, and apparently still have, what might be called in Adlerian terms a national inferiority feeling towards Europe and latterly towards the United States. Through out the eighteenth, nineteenth and well into the present century, the Russians have been heavily reliant on the West for almost every form of technology, from the architects who built St Petersburg to the spies who stole the secrets of atomic fission. Yet they were determined that the importation of Western technology should not be accompanied by Western ideas. Well aware that the basic political philosophy of the West, for which the shorthand if rather unsatisfactory word is democracy, was and is infinitely more attractive to most people than Czarist or Communist autocracy, the Russian leaders have always tried to import only those aspects of Western culture which are practically useful and to keep away from their people the very concept of free thought upon which all that culture is based. When Winston Churchill coined the term 'Iron Curtain' in 1946, he was not referring to something new. In 1815, as in 1945, Russian soldiers who had seen the West, even in the miserable circumstances of war and defeat, were highly suspect on their return to Russia. Foreigners in Russia were spied upon, as were Russians abroad. Before 1914 Russia was the only European major power to insist on passports as a method of guarding its frontiers against persons entering or leaving the country. The dissemination of ideas since ideas are international - has always been discouraged. Arid as writers are the principal purveyors of ideas, there is scarcely a Russian writer of any distinction, from Pushkin to the present day, who has not been harassed, and often hounded to death' or simply murdered, no matter how 'Russian' his interpretation of the world about him may be. Only a very small elite around the autocrat is allowed to know the West - knowledge even for such an elite can be dangerous or fatal at times - and even to a larger' number of spies and policemen - but these are expendable.

The Russian masses, illiterate in the last century, live the life illiterates in this. For them, Lenin decreed that debased form one-way, non thought, the cinema; for their betters the ballet; for all, that non-art called Socialist realism. Even an avowed foreign Communist, such as Pablo Picasso, may not be allow to show his works to the Russian people, lest they be caused t think or at least to question. And one question may lead to another.
Therefore the endemic anti   Semitism of the Russians almost always been encouraged, since the orthodox Jew is internal target for a xenophobia which should be absolute. Evean foreigner is a potential spy in Russia and, abroad, a potential 0 actual enemy to be conquered, crushed, reduced to mindless slavery. This pathological state of mind existed long before 1917, and its transference into the reality of action was an essential duty of the Czarist police.

Such an unworkable cultural isolation could only bee even more unworkable with industrialization, for this imply at least a partial transmogrification of rural peasantry into urba proletariat. The man who works in a factory and therefore lives in a city cannot remain as totally isolated from the rest of the world as the peasant who works on the land. A measure education becomes essential. But a high degree of industrialization had also become essential in the last century; and it was this" perhaps eventually insoluble, paradox of necessities that confronted the Okhrana during the last twenty years of Czarist autocracy. And the Okhrana tried with considerable ingenuity to find a solution which probably did not exist.

The police, and particularly the secret police, must approximate in some ways to their enemies. A good detective must be able to mix with leading criminals; a good spy must be acceptable to those upon who is spying. Ad It must be repeated that Russian secret intelligence was born internally and its techniques' abroad were based upon the exportation of what it was and is doing in Russia. In the age of almost total savagery Ivan the Terrible might dress a recalcitrant bishop in the skin of a bear and have him tom to pieces by hunting dogs, or Peter the Great might have his son whipped to death. By the early nineteenth century a measure of more civilized modes of behaviour had spread. to the Russian upper classes, and the threat to the autocracy came from that class, from the officers called the Decembrists who attempted its overthrow in 1825, and later from those students whom Turgenev dubbed 'nihilists' in his masterpiece of 1862, Fathers and Children.
The top echelon of the secret police, and above all such leaders as General von Benckendorff, Count.
Ignatyev and Count Dmitry Tolstoy, were ruthless but suave. The last named achieved power in 1882 and set about a drastic reform of the security services which became known as the Okhrana iIncreasingly it became the duty of the Okhrana to control and to foil the revolutionary tendencies of the new proletariat. The time for gentlemen policemen was passed, but the policy remained the same and may be summed up in the single word: infiltration.

One form that this policy took was the harnessing of the workers to the system by gaining control of the nascent trade unions. For a time this practice was remarkably successful. The unions Controlled, often almost openly, by the police were able to obtain for their members benefits not available to the other unions, and were correspondingly attractive to the workers - while, of  course, the police could identify and, when necessary, destroy subversive elements within the unions that they ran. It is possible here to see a unique development that might have benefited \Vorkers and government alike
However, the scheme, if it was a scheme, collapsed on Bloody Sunday, 1905.
One of the most prominent 'labour leaders', to use an anachronism, was a priest by the name of George Gapon, He led the assembly of Russian Working Men, some six to eight thousand strong, very large by the Russian standards of the day. And he worked for the police. His union, however, had itself been Counter-infiltrated by real revolutionaries. Yet it was he who in the period of economic and social misery foddering tile loss of the Russo-Japanese War, led some ten or more thousand workers who marched on the Winter Palace with a petition to the Czar containing demands inserted by the real revolutionaries. The army opened fire, thousands were killed and Gapon only just escaped with his life. After being hidden for a while by Maxim Gorki, Father Gapon escaped abroad, almost certainly with the connivance of the Okhrana. He lived high on the hog, a sort it celebrity, notorious for his numerous love affairs and frequently seen in the sales privies of the Monte Carlo casino. However, he made the mistake of returning to Russia, and was murdered by the very same revolutionary, Rutenberg, who had saved his life on Bloody Sunday. The police unions never recovered from Bloody Sunday. But the Czar did create a sham parliament, the Duma, in the hope that revolutionary fervor would be directed into this bogus 'democratic' institution. And since a period of economic expansion coincided with this innovation, much of the steam was taken out of the unions. Some union leaders went into the Duma, more into straight revolutionary movements. It was therefore necessary for the police to infiltrate these even more intensely, and for the revolutionaries to do the same inside the police. A dense macabre of an extremely weird nature was the result.

Two examples given by Ronald Hingley ' though spectacular are still characteristic. One is the case of Yezno Azev, born in 1869 the son of a Jewish tailor. At about the age of twenty he became a police spy in Rostov-on-Don, He must have pleased his
JDa8ters, for in 1893 he was paid to go to Karlsruhe, in Germany, ostensibly to study engineering but actually to infiltrate the 6migre revolutionary organizations, in particular the Socialist Revolutionaries, then the most powerful of these with one branch dedicated to assassination and other acts of violence. • He soon obtained a leading position among the Socialist Revolutionaries abroad, while passing information to his police bosses which enabled them to carry out successful actions against the revolutionaries inside Russia. Paid by both sides, on an inseams scale, this agent was soon a rich man. And this during a period when the most savage pogroms were being carried out paints the Jews.
Azev's two most notable characteristics were a total absence of "loyalty and a very considerable administrative ability.
In 1901-2, still on foreign soil, Amv reorganized the Socialist Revolutionary Party as a single unit in all Russia, and soon enough was himself head of its Fighting Organization. As he frankly admitted to the police his own views were liberal and perhaps he despised the extremists of both the groups, police and revolutionaries, who paid him. Meanwhile, to prove his value to the revolutionaries, Azev arranged the assassination of the hated Minister of the Interior, Plehve, who was in charge of the police who paid and continued to pay him. He was also concerned with the assassination of the Grand Duke Sergei.
By 1905 he was collaborating closely with Gerasimov, head of the Okhrana in St Petersburg. This enabled him to supply Gerasimov with the names of the St Petersburg Workers' Soviet (or Council) which was planning to become the alternative city government. They were arrested at a meeting; one of them was called Leon Davidovitch Bronstein, whose revolutionary pseudonym was Trotsky.
In the same year of frustrated or premature revolution many members of the Okhrana resigned, fearing the wrath to come. A number of them joined the revolutionary movement, as did a number who did not resign. When the revolution did not materialize, some of those who had resigned rejoined the Okhrana. Thus was confusion worse confounded. Meanwhile Azev soldiered 00, under his two flags. Gerasimov encouraged him to spend as much revolutionary money as possible: he did not need much encouragement.
The wave of assassinations and reprisals continued iIn 1908 Azev was at last exposed by a revolutionary named Burtsev acting in collaboration with a former Director ~ of the Police Department. He fled abroad, with a passport supplied by the Okhrana.
The wave of assassinations died down, although on 1 September 1911 a young man shot dead the Prime Minister who was also the Minister of the Interior. The young man was an Okhrana agent who had infiltrated the revolutionary movement - Of, perhaps, vice versa no less strange, but eventually far more sinister, was the alliance between the Okhrana and Lenin's Bolsheviks.

The Bolsheviks were a wing of the Social Democratic movement and, as such, opposed to terrorism. They were therefore of comparatively little direct interest to the Okhrana. Furthermore, until rnid-1917, this small splinter group was of far less importance inside (or outside) the Social Democrat Party than were the Mensheviks. Finally Bolshevik political strategy, which has endured, was to give first priority to the destruction of all other revolutionary movements and only then to seize power for themselves. By these means, in the eyes of the Okhrana, the small group who swore utter fidelity to Lenin were acting as the allies of the Okhrana. There is considerable evidence, though no documentary proof, that before the war a certain Joseph Djugashvili, a bank robber from Georgia and a Bolshevik, was an Okhtana agent; his revolutionary pseudonym was Stalin.

Far more important than he, at the time in question, was a certain Roman Malinovsky. Though the Okhrana did not harass the Bolsheviks to anything like the same extent as it did the other, larger revolutionary movements, it kept them under strict control. Malinovsky, a former burglar, joined the Bolsheviks. He was an Okhrana agent.
So successful was he as a Bolshevik that he was elected to the Duma first as leader of the six Bolshevik delegates, then of all the Social Democrats, where he proceeded to carry out Lenin's policy of splitting the party. His brilliant speeches were edited first by Lenin and then revised by the Director of the Police Department. He became treasurer of the Bolshevik paper,
Pravda, and kept the Okhrana fully informed of its, and its contributors', activities in this he was ably assisted by that paper's editor, Chemomazov, who also worked for the Okhrana.
When Lenin from abroad sent Stalin and Sverdlov to investigate what was going on, Malinovsky arranged with the Okhrana that they be arrested. They remained in Siberia until 1917. Only in 1918, when Lenin had access to the Okhrana files, did he realize the truth, for which the Russian word is pravda, and have Malinovsky shot.
It was in this atmosphere of chaotic double-cross that Bolshev¬ism was born, grew up and came to power. It is really quite extra¬ordinary that any informed person was  taken aback by the Hitler-8talin Pact of 1939.

The position of the Russian armed forces was, as is usual in most countries, conditioned by the state of Russia as a whole. In 1905 after the lost war against Japan there had been fairly substantial mutinies among the defeated soldiers and sailors. Military units coming back from the Far East were met by other units traveling eastwards along the Trans-Siberian Railway, and flogged into submission.
At Sevastopol and Odessa there were naval mutinies, which included the seizing of the battleship Potemkin. These were more exploited than fomented by the revolutionaries, but without any marked success in peacetime. The private soldiers were drawn, in the majority, from the moujik class and were scarcely more susceptible to the arguments of the Socialist Revolutionaries or the Social Democrats than their fathers had been when earlier revolutionaries had attempted, with total failure, to rouse the peasants. Although serfdom had been abolished in 1858, in fact the peasants were little better off, their relations to their landlords little changed. Agrarian crime, such as the burning of the landlord's mansion, was spasmodic. Such activities could not be canalized into a revolutionary movement. The peasants wanted land, not theories, neither those of Karl Marx nor even those of Leo Tolstoy. And their wishes have remained unfulfilled, their suspicions justified.
The Okhrana, of course, was active inside the Czar's peacetime army, but was withdrawn in early 1914 on the orders of General Dzhunkovsky, Deputy Minister of the Interior, on the grounds that to have soldiers reporting on the loyalty of their comrades and even of their officers was bad for morale and discipline. He was justified. Although appallingly armed and supplied - in some units many soldiers did not even have a rifle and had to await the death in action of one or more of their comrades before obtaining a weapon - the Russian soldiers fought with their usual, stolid bravery and suffered their usual, enormous casualties until total defeat at the front and revolution in the rear made them give up the struggle.
Only then, and only with the promise of land, did they accept the new leadership provided by the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils.
The Imperial Russian General Staff was an appendage of the autocratic regime, the higher commands where possible being reserved for members of the Imperial family. The enormous Russian army was often compared to a steam roller general staff acted with all the subtlety needed to drive such machine.
Its strategy was of the simplest: to hurl huge bodies of; men at the enemy regardless not only of equipment, armaments and supplies but even of terrain and communications. Its intelligence service was so poor as to be almost non-existent: a blind man therefore moved the levers of the steam roller. It is hardly surprising that it lurched from defeat to defeat until at last it broke down totally.
German intelligence was well aware of what was happening in Russia and in the Russian armies.
They not only had their own spies, and their own central evaluation agency, but could also use the information supplied by the revolutionaries. As with the Dreyfus case, it was the psychological effect upon the Russians and particularly the Russian governing class, of the insecurity bred by the perpetual double-cross practiced by their own' security services that counted. They were able to believe almost anything, to ascribe the basest of motives to the highest in the land. The Czarina herself, being a German, was said to be German spy. So, of course, and also incorrectly, was her protégé Rasputin.
German intelligence was believed to be omnipotent.' By 1917 moral disintegration was very nearly complete.  
Russian intelligence, as has been seen, was primarily designed to spy on Russian political émigrés, of whom there were some five thousand in the West in 1914. Not all of these were so alienated as to work for a Russian military defeat in order to bring' about a revolution. But there were enough, as Lenin proved in' 1917. So perhaps the Russian secret service was not altogether I mistaken in viewing Russian emigres as the primary enemy. I
Russian xenophobia was such that the Russian General Staff was reluctant to accept, even if it had had the ability to apply, intelligence supplied by its French and British allies. And this folly was to be repeated in aggravated form by the new autocracy in the years between 1939 and 1942. Ingrained national characteristics or even modes of thought are seldom, if ever, altered by a mere change of government. Inevitably it was on a Czarist basis that communist autocracy was built and Soviet intelligence upon its imperial predecessor. 


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