Double-dealings of Azev, Head of Russian Terrorists
Most Notorious Spy of the Age
Double-dealings of Azev, Head of Russian Terrorists
THE amazing story of a Russian spy, Evno Azev, is told in The Twentieth Century by C. E. Bechhofer; and never before, perhaps, has a recital of such colossal duplicity been laid bare. Azev was at one time the acknowledged leader of the Terrorists in Russia. He had planned and carried out two of the most successful assassinations of the period and was recognized as the most dangerous man in anarchistic circles. And all the time he was a police spy.
The story of Azev is told as follows :
If the official world was startled, what is to be said of the Terrorists themselves, and their fellow revolutionaries? If Sir Douglas Haig had suddenly in the middle of the war been discovered to be in the pay of the Kaiser, this could not have created more incredulity at first and horror and confusion afterwards, than did the unmasking of Azev among the Russian revolutionaries. The tried and trusted leader of the SocialistRevolutionary Party, the slayer of Plehve and the Grand Duke Serge, the initiator of a hundred other acts of terrorism and revolutionary propaganda, proved to be an agent provocateur ! This, then, explained the party’s baffling unsuccess, the arrest and execution of its leaders and bravest members, and the persistent failure of all their plans. And this was the explanation of Azev’s admired fearlessness; the intrepid and elusive revolutionary had preserved himself from the clutches of the police by the continued betrayal to them of his comrades. For no less than sixteen years had Azev carried on his career of duplicity—an unprecedented period in the history of agents provocateurs— and during half this time he had been the chief initiator of all the most daring actions of the Party. No wonder that the revolutionary movement in Russia felt that by his unmasking its whole fabric had been torn across . No wonder too that the outside world saw with amazement that the Czar’s own paid agent had been immediately responsible for the death of the Czar’s Home Minister and of the Czar’s uncle. Azev was the Rasputin of the revolutionary movement; through him was to be seen the full degradation of Russian political life under the old regime. But if Rasputin hastened the coming of the Revolution, Azev’s treachery certainly postponed the natural course of events; the revolutionary movement was delayed until, as we have seen, it at last came upon a Russia almost exhausted by two and a half years of war and blockade. Not a little of the misfortune that has overtaken Free Russia must be set down to the activity of Azev.
Evno Azev was born in 1869 at Rostovon-the-Don, the son of a poor Jewish tailor. In about his twentieth year, he became a reporter on the staff of a local paper and at the same time entered a business firm, which shortly afterwards he left under suspicion of theft. He now had sufficient money to go abroad, and in 1892 he went to Karlsruhe to study at its Polytechnical Institute, whence he later moved to Darmstadt in order to qualify as an electrical engineer. He passed his examinations brilliantly at the latter place in 1897, and was in consequence able to obtain a post in an electrical company at Berlin and afterwards at Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is significant that, after having lived in poverty the first four or five years abroad, he suddenly became richer; he put down this change in his circumstances to the kindness of a distant and, as later appeared, mythical benefactor; it is to be noted that in 1895 he had joined the revolutionary group which was later on to be the nucleus of the Socialist-Re volutionary Party, and thus his value to the police had increased. At first, as a new comer, he could net take an important part in the revolutionary work, and the reputation he had brought from Darmstadt was not of the most savoury; however, we learn that he was energetic in arranging revolutionary circles, collecting money and distributing ‘illegal’ literature among the Russian students’ colonies in Germany and Switzerland. * By the end of the ’nineties he had already made himself widely known among the revolutionaries abroad as a capable person who was sympathetic with their aims, and on his return to Russia he carried recommendations to the active revolutionaries there. This was a crucial moment for the Russian revolutionary movement; the dawn of the new century was marked by the fusion of separate groups and the creation of a new and important organization, the Socialistic Revolutionary Party, which, in opposition to the ultrascientific Marxians of the Social-Democratic Party, was to include those revolutionaries who relied rather on their own efforts than on the fatalistic march of economic events to change the face of Russian society. The outlook of the Socialistic-Revolutionary Party was summed up in its motto, ‘In battle thou shalt obtain thy rights.’ The chief weapon of the Party, at least in the eyes of its leaders, was the Terror, which, bad and terrible as it must seem to us, was nevertheless the only argument which had any effect upon the Russian aristocracy. If bullies are also cowards, the old regime was no exception to the rule. The new party was founded early in 1902, by which time Azev had at last succeeded in getting into close touch with some of the revolutionary leaders. Gershuni, the great Jewish leader of the Terrorists, became his intimate friend, and this friendship was one of the chief causes of Azev’s rise to importance in the Party; a man who had Gershuni’s confidence could not but be a revolutionary of the highest worth and ability. When the Party was formed, Gershuni gathered round himself a Fighting Organization of a dozen or so members, whose task was the actual carrying out of the Terror. In 1903 Gershuni, so much was he impressed by Azev’s spirit and ability, appointed the latter, who was already a member of the Central Committee of the Party, to be his successor as head of the Fighting Organization, should death or arrest cut short his own career. And sure enough in the same year Gershuni was arrested— though apparently not Azev, but a less prominent informer was responsible for this—and Azev, the police spy, took h/s place. The new leader of the Terrorists promptly went abroad to reconstitute the Fighting Organization and to prepare the assassination of Plehve, the brutal and reactionary Home Minister.
It is interesting to consider by what means Azev gained his influence ovei such men as Gershuni. First, his success may be ascribed to his remarkable energy; where the vast majority of the members of the Party were highly strung, emotional men and women, Azev was a strong-willed and imperturbable man of action. ‘Formerly,’ sail one famous Revolutionary, Michael Gotz, ‘we had a romantic at our head—that was Gershuni; now we have a realist— Azev. He does not care to talk, he scarcely opens his lips, but he cannes out his intention with ii'on energy and no one can prevent him.’
His very appearance proved how little doubt or remorse would be able to deflect him from his task. Two descriptions out of many may serve to show the first impression his appearance made upon people.
It was in the Autumn of 1906 (writes one). The door was thrown open befolge me and through it plunged ‘Ivan Nikclævich’ (Azev), an obese man, with pendent lips like a negro’s, and a dull inexpressive face; he stood sideways to' me and, without looking me in the face, he held out a puffy hand like a merchant’s; he spoke with a kind of broken, uneven voice.
*A full account of Azev’s early career, as indeed of his whole activity, is given in the Zakliucheniye sudebno-sliedatvennoi komiaaiy po die hi Azevti, the report of the revolutionary commission of inquiry into the Azev affair, published by the SocialistRevolutionary Party in 1911. And Dr. David Soskice, in what was by far the best account of Azev’s past that appeared at the time of his unmasking, gave an account of his first meeting with the Terrorist leader;
I could find in Tvan Nicolævich’ not the slightest trace of the man who stakes his life for his ideals. His stout, wellnourished, well-clad figure, short neck, and broad, round face, with its very thick and sensual lips, flat nose and carefully cropped hair, was of that international type of professional financier you can meet upon every Stock Exchange in Europe.
Duxi and brutish in appearance, but a dissimulator and intriguer of the first water; silent in words, but virile in plots; imperturbable as a rule, but at times distraught and hysterical; at home a tender husband and father, but in secret a shameless debauchee; one day successfully arranging the assassination of a Minister, the next betraying a poor tool of his own to the gendarmerie; the ruler of the Terrorists, and the slave of the Okhrana—Azev was a sinister and monstrous dual personality.
There is no mystery about Azev’s attitude throughout his career. He was neither a révolu! onist who had sought to help the cause by entering the hostile camp of the police, nor an adherent of the old regime, who had allied himself with the revolutionaries in order to bring their plots to naught; he was a selfcentred intriguer whose only conscious aims were money and debauchery.
After his flight from Paris Azev succeeded in shaking the Party, dazed by the revelation of his treachery, off his track. Rumors passed current about him, sometimes to the effect that he had been caught by the revolutionaries and had committed suicide, sometimes that he was occupying a safe and well-paid post in the Okhrana. In 1910, according to M. Bourtseff, the Russian Embassy at Brussels sought to betray Azev to the party, but he escaped. In August, 1912, he wrote to M. Bourtseff and had an interview with him at Frankfort; he told him that his one aim as a Terrorist had been Tsaricide and (as was indeed true) that he had almost succeeded in this. At the outbreak of the War, he is said to have been thrown into prison in Berlin by the German Government as a suspicious character. What has since happened to this sinister personality is known to few, but it is supposed that he has for some time past been editing the Bolshevik newspaper which the German Government, past and present, has produced for the edification of the Russian prisoners in Germany.
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