Boris V. Savinkov, 1879-1925: Revolutionary and Anti-Bolshevik

Before the triumph of Bolshevism, and even afterwards, many revolutionary leaders struggled to take charge of Russian destinies. David Footman describes how Savinkov was one of the extraordinary personalities who tried, and failed.

In his struggle against the Tsarist autocracy Savinkov successfully organized two resounding political assassinations. His struggle against the Bolsheviks resulted only in a series of fiascos, culminating in his recognition of the Soviet regime and his subsequent alleged suicide in a Moscow prison. At the same time his later career, apart from its human interest, throws a good deal of light on the physical and psychological circumstances of anti-Bolshevik activity in the six years following the Revolution.

Boris Viktorovich Savinkov was born in 1879. His father became judge in a military court in Warsaw, and the son thus acquired a familiarity with army life and army ways that was rare in a revolutionary of his generation. Polish was his second language, and he grew up in sympathy with the Polish national movement. On leaving school in Warsaw he went on to Petersburg University from which he was expelled in 1899 for his part in student disorders. He continued his studies in Berlin and Heidelberg.

Back in Russia he became involved, in 1902, in subversive activities for which he was sentenced to banishment to Siberia. Pending commencement of this sentence he was ordered to reside in Vologda. It was here, in the early summer of 1903 and following a meeting with Breshko-Breskovskaya, that he joined the Socialist Revolutionaries. He escaped from Russia, joined the Party leaders in Switzerland and was accepted as member of the Battle Organization.

He spent the next ten years partly in emigration, partly, illegally, in Russia on the Battle Organization’s affairs. He led the group that assassinated the Minister of the Interior in 1904, and another group that killed the Governor-General of Moscow in 1905. In 1906 he organized the execution of a police informer. That same year he was arrested in Sevastopol, and made a sensational escape.

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