The Terror in Russia : Part 1, Chapter 3 : Executions

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(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "The communes of the next revolution will proclaim and establish their independence by direct socialist revolutionary action, abolishing private property. When the revolutionary situation ripens, which may happen any day, and governments are swept away by the people, when the middle-class camp, which only exists by state protection, is thus thrown into disorder, the insurgent people will not wait until some new government decrees, in its marvelous wisdom, a few economic reforms." (From : "The Commune of Paris," by Peter Kropotkin, Freedo....)
• "As to parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether... It is becoming evident that it is merely stupid to elect a few men, and to entrust them with the task of making laws on all possible subjects, of which subject most of them are utterly ignorant." (From : "Process Under Socialism," by Peter Kropotkin, 188....)
• "...the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)


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Part 1, Chapter 3

 Photo by Keijo Knutas, CC BY-NC License

Photo by Keijo Knutas,
CC BY-NC License

Kropotkin, Peter. The Terror in Russia. London: Methuen & Co., 1909. 4th Ed.



It may be remembered that the Russian Prime Minister, M. Stolypin, interviewed last year by Mr. W. T. Stead, and asked about the executions, which were going on then at that time in very great numbers, said that he had no exact figures, but he thought that 15 a month would be a near approach to truth (the Times, August 3, 1908). I contested these figures in the Times of August 14, 1908, and maintained that the number of executions during the first six months of 1908 had been from 4 to 15 every day--there being, however, no executions on Sundays and other holidays--and that it reached the figure of 60 to 90 every month.

We have now the official figures of the executions for the last four years. The Law Committee of the Duma having asked the exact figures from the Ministry of Interior, the Police Department of that Ministry communicated them to the Duma on February 6, 1909. But as they are still incomplete--they apply only to civilians, as the Department of Police mentions in his communication to the Duma--I also place by their side our own figures. These figures have been obtained as follows : Several leading St. Petersburg and Moscow papers till lately gave telegrams every day from the provincial towns, stating how many persons have been condemned on that day and giving their names, what were the crimes imputed to them, and how many, and who, had been executed. The daily figures were added up, and the monthly and yearly items were published by several papers, including the well-known Law Review, Pravo, together with all other statistics of prosecutions. These were the figures communicated by the Russian refugees to the London Press, and given in the above-mentioned letter of mine to the Times. Besides, I have now before me a carefully-prepared memorial, in which, besides matter concerning the exiles, all the executions mentioned in the leading Russian newspapers since 1905 till November 1, 1908, have been carefully tabulated, according to the age, the social standing, and the supposed crime of the executed persons. The cases of ill-treatment in prisons and administrative executions, mentioned in these papers, up to the same date (November 1, 1908), are also enumerated in special chapters.1

Here are both sets of figures, of which the official figures apply only to civilians:--

Courts Martial--
   1905................    1906................    1907................    1908................ Field Courts Martial, acting from August 19, 1906, to April 20, 1907...........

Executions. Death








-- 2,118 -- 2,298***

* To this figure of 456 executions, 84 soldiers must be added, out of whom 19 were hanged and 65 shot, thus raising the yearly total to 540.

** First 10 months only.

*** Two months, November and December, 1908, missing.

+ How many military must be added to these figures remains unknown.

No official figures for the year 1909 have yet been published, but the figures compiled from the daily papers produced before the Duma in a recent discussion are:--

1909 Death Sentences.     Executions.
January................... 121     107
February.................. 132     76
March..................... 143     52
  --     --
Total (3 months)...... 396     235

The discrepancies between the two tables as regards the death sentences are easily explained. Our figures give the death sentences that were pronounced, and telegraphed the same day to the papers, while the official figures probably give the death sentences confirmed later on by the Governors-General of the respective districts.

As regards the difference between our figures of executions in 1907 and the official figures (508 and 456 respectively), it arises from the fact that the official figures do not include the executions of the military. There having been, according to an official statement, 84 executions of soldiers in the course of the year 1907, the official figure for that year becomes 540, and is consequently higher than our figure (by 32 cases). That our figures would be possibly below the real ones was foreseen, as some executions may not find their way to the Press. The same remark very probably applies to the years 1906 and 1908, for which years we have no official figures of executions among the military.

Now, it must be borne in mind that the above figures do not include those who were shot in the streets (in the Gapon manifestation, during the rejoicings after the promulgation of the Constitution of October 30,1905, or during uprisings in the Baltic provinces, in the Caucasus, and in the Russian villages), nor do they include those who have been executed during their transfers from one prison to another (attempts at escape, true or alleged), nor those who have been executed by simple administrative orders of the military commanders--these last cases being not uncommon--as it appeared from several discussions which took place in the First Department of the Senate (see Chapter V.), when the Senate recognized (by a small majority) that executions without even a trial before a Field Court Martial were not illegal under the State of Siege law, such as it was promulgated by the Emperor. For these executions, the Senate decided, the military authorities are directly responsible to the Emperor, whose orders they execute.

There being no official figures concerning the different categories of executions without any trial, all we can do is to give the figures which have been compiled for us in the above-mentioned inquiry with the same desire of arriving at the truth as the above row of figures. They run as follows : Shot without sentence--376 in 1905, 864 in 1906, 59 in 1907, and 32 in 1908 (first 10 months).

In trying to excuse the large number of executions which take place in Russia, in consequence of verdicts of Courts Martial now active in more that two-thirds of the Russian Empire, the present ministry usually point to the considerable number of murders and attempts to murder which stand in the official statistics. These figures run as follows :--

    Murdered.     Wounded.
1905 (2 1/2 months)............ 222     217
1906 ............................. 1,126     1,506
1907.............................. 3,001     1,076
1908.............................. 1,820     2,083

These are the figures which were communicated to Duma Commission on the abolition of capital punishment when it came together on June 3, 1909. And in communicating them, the Department of Police added : "In these included all crimes committed in all the localities placed under the law of siege (extraordinary and increased Okhrana").

However, in order to get any correct idea, these figures must be compared with the numbers of murders and persons wounded in ordinary times; and when this is done, it appears that in the numbers that are mentioned in the above figures there is absolutely no extraordinary increase which might in any way excuse the suspension of ordinary justice, and the surrender of Russia to the laws that Prevail in times of war and to the summary justice of the Military Courts.

Here are the figures for ordinary times:--


During these periods
the Population
gradually increased
from 65 to 70 Millions.
Average Yearly
number of
for Murder
By Ordinary Courts. By Courts Martial.
















(from 185

(from 189

6 to 1890

1 to1900)

Taking the number of acts of violence immediately before the revolution, we find that, in 1904, there were, in a population of 142,700,000, no less than 2,800 persons condemned for murder, and 3,778 for wounding (Official Report of the Ministry of justice for 1904). It thus appears that in 1907 there was indeed a sudden increase of acts of violence--provoked by the countless executions, without any form of trial, during punitive expeditions, especially in Siberia, the Caucasus, and the Baltic provinces, and the terrible brutalities of the police officers in the villages. But there was no increase whatever in the year 1908. Therefore the maintenance of the state of siege in two-thirds of the Empire cannot be defended on this ground This has been also forcibly demonstrated during the debates in the Duma on the law of siege, on February 11th to 14th (O.S.).

Under the military law which is now in action in most of the Russian territory, the smallest agrarian disorders, and even the setting fire to a landlord's barn or stack are treated as implying the death penalty. The Military Courts themselves most reluctantly pronounce the death sentence in such cases, their members loudly condemning afterwards in private the obligation under which they are to apply military law, and the orders of the Emperor who wishes them to apply that law in in all its severity.

Thus, at Ufa, the Court Martial sitting on March 3rd last, pronounced the following sentences on five local peasants who had robbed another peasant of 1 ruble 40 kopecks (3 sh.): Pavel Abramoff, death ; Petr Abramoff and Stepan Antonoff, 10 years' hard labor ; Mihail Bagunoff, 8 years' imprisonment; and Kuzma Antonoff, 2 months' imprisonment.

The Court pronounced that ferocious verdict because such is the law in time of war; but it immediately had the courage to ask the Governor-General not to confirm their sentence, but to mitigate it. Most Courts, however, have not that courage, and men are hanged for what, under ordinary conditions, would imply a few months, or even a few weeks of imprisonment.

Many similar cases could be quoted: At Moscow, a Court Martial sentenced a peasant from one of the districts of the government of Moscow to death, for having set fire to a stack of hay on the property of a member of the State's Council, Herr Schlippe.

At Novocherkask, the Court Martial condemned within a few days twenty men to the death penalty--one of them for having spoken to another prisoner about making an attempt to kill a policeman.2 In the government of Tambov, eighteen persons were condemned last March to be hanged, and out of them three prostitutes for having given shelter to some robber, and one peasant for having set fire to an empty barn.3

The executions in Novockerkask were carried on by volunteer convicts in such a terrible way that the agony of some of the executed lasted from a quarter of an hour to half an hour, the executioner strangling the men with his own hands. As the executions took place in a remote suburb of that city, in the midst of winter, the condemned men were brought to the place of execution half frozen.4

Owing to the haste with which all the affairs are conducted before the Courts Martial, judicial errors are much frequent than is usually the case. Thus it appeared that out of the prisoners who were hanged at Odessa on February 1st last, the men Orenbach, Greyerman, and two brothers Truger were condemned by mistake. They not only took no part in the defense of a house in which some anarchists had locked themselves, receiving the police and military with shots, they ran away from this house, together with other people, and had absolutely no knowledge of the men who had locked themselves in the house.

After the death sentence has been pronounced it continually happens that the condemned men wait for the execution for whole months, and the scenes which take place at the executions are such as might be expected only in Persia or Turkey.5

Men executed without any form of trial.--The worst is that the question about the right of the Governors-General to execute people even without sending them before a Court Martial, by simple administrative orders, having been contested by several members of the Senate, this High Court of Russia has again decided a few weeks ago that such right of summary execution results from the Imperial Decree by which the rules of the state of siege were determined, and that therefore the Governors-General, in inflicting the death penalty by simple administrative order, are responsible exclusively to the Emperor in person.6

If all this be taken into account, one can easily see how it happens that, the action of the regular laws being suspended, military justice, designed exclusively for time of war, has taken the place of the civil administration and is covering Russia with gallows.

The demoralizing effect of such a substitution upon the habits and life of the country needs no commentary.

It is also needless to say that this large number of executions is provoking general discontent among the educated classes. Thus, in December last, at a general meeting of the lawyers of the St. Petersburg judicial district it was unanimously resolved to express sympathy with the interpellation in the Duma against the steadily increasing number of condemnations to death and executions which have been taking place lately.

Besides, a society was formed lately among influential persons, to work for the abolition of capital punishment in Russia. But the authorities have refused the registration of this society under the pretext that capital punishment being recognized by law, any agitation against it would be unlawful.

As to the degrading influence of these wholesale executions upon the population, it is simply terrible, and many facts, simply awful, relating what is happening at night, during the executions, in what is now called by the cabmen "The Slaughter Yard" at Moscow, could be added in support of the ideas so forcibly developed by Leo Tolstoy in his pamphlet, "I Cannot be Silent."



1 According to a decision of the Ministry, the papers were forbidden a few months ago to publish in full the crimes for which the death sentences were pronounced, and a short time ago the Moscow Courts Martial stopped communicating even the numbers of the executions which took place. The executions are carried out in great secrecy at night, and in May last it was learned that fifteen executions had taken place at Moscow, of which no information had been supplied to the papers.
2Ryech, April, 1909.
3Russkiya Védomosti, March 22, 1909.
4Ryech, April, 1909.
5See with reference to this subject the interpellation made in the Duma on April 8 and 21, 1909.
6See page 50.

From : Anarchy Archives


November 30, 1908 :
Part 1, Chapter 3 -- Publication.

January 22, 2017 19:16:50 :
Part 1, Chapter 3 -- Added to

June 23, 2019 16:48:11 :
Part 1, Chapter 3 -- Last Updated on


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