The Accidental Terrorist.Okhrana Connections to the Extreme-Right and the Attempt toAssassinate Sergei Witte in 1907
Published in Revolutionary Russia, vol.14, no.2 (Dec. 2001), pp.1-32
On the cold evening of 29 January 1907 Sergei Witte, constitutional Russia’s first PrimeMinister, discovered a belated and wholly unexpected Christmas present lodged in one of his chimneys: an unexploded time-bomb.
Superficially, this case of attempted murder was a trivial enough affair. The bomb was so poorly constructed that it could hardly beconsidered dangerous: the detonator malfunctioned and the clock had stopped. SergeiWitte was, in any case, no longer a government minister, he had fallen out of favour withthe tsar and had ceased to be an influential political figure. Moreover, the culprits eludedarrest and consequently the motives for the attack remained unclear at first.Yet, all this changed as the Petersburg winter slowly gave way to summer. On 27May 1907 ‘some children found the disfigured and unrecognisable corpse of a youngman near the Irinovskii railway line, about seven kilometres outside St. Petersburg.’
Police found bomb-making materials around the body. Just over two weeks later theSocialist Revolutionary (SR) party organ
published an article which wascirculated throughout constitutional Russia’s vibrant new free press revealing that thevictim’s name was Aleksandr Kazantsev and that the bomb found on his corpse had beenintended for another attempt on Witte’s life.
The article went on to claim that Kazantsevhad been an
in the service of the Union of Russian People (URP), anextreme right-wing political group which had been formed in 1905 as a ‘patriotic’reaction against Witte’s promise of a constitution in the so-called October Manifesto.Subsequent exposés in the press filtering from SR sources revealed that Kazantsev had
The research for this article was carried out thanks to the financial support from the British Academy andits Elisabeth Barker fund, the Finnish Academy and the Centre for International Mobility (CIMO, Finland).Thanks to John Morison and Peter Waldron for advice on early drafts of this article.