Zubatov, Sergei Vasilievich

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(18641917), senior security police official.

Born and raised in Moscow, the son of a military officer, Sergei Zubatov was a staunch defender of the Russian monarchy who reorganized the Russian security police and created progovernment labor organizations. These activities earned him fear and anger from the revolutionary activists with whom he matched wits, as well as from more conservative government officials.

Zubatov had exceptional rhetorical talents and a magnetic personality. He was the best-read student in his high school and the leader of a discussion circle. Although he associated with radical intellectuals, he advocated reform and opposed revolution. A self-proclaimed follower of Dmitry Pisarev, he believed that education and cultural development offered the best path to social improvement. He left high school before graduation, in 1882 or 1883, worked in the Moscow post office, and married the proprietress of a private self-education library that stocked forbidden books. Yet he developed monarchist views and became a police informant in 1885. He openly joined the security police in 1889 after radical activists discovered his dual role.

As director of the Moscow security bureau from 1896, Zubatov led the antirevolutionary fight. Activists who fell into his snares found a well-read official who argued passionately that only revolutionary violence was preventing the absolutist monarchy from implementing reforms. Using charm and eloquence, he recruited talented, and sometimes dedicated, secret informants who laid bare the revolutionary underground. He systematized the use of plainclothes detectives, created a mobile surveillance brigade staffed with two dozen such detectives, and trained gendarme officers from around the empire. The major revolutionary organizations found it hard to withstand Zubatov's sophisticated assault.

Zubatov himself was not a gendarme officer, but a civil servant who attained only the seventh rank (nadvornyi sovetnik ), or lieutenant colonel in military terms. Had he risen through the hierarchical, regimented military, he probably would not have conceived of "police socialism." This policy advocated not the redistribution of wealth but the backing of workers in economic disputes with employers. In 1901, with the patronage of senior Moscow officials, he organized societies that provided cultural, legal, and material services to factory workers. Within a year, analogous societies sprang up in other cities, including Minsk, Kiev, and Odessa.

In the fall of 1902 Zubatov was invited to reorganize the nerve center of the Russian security police. As chief of the Special Section of the Police Department in St. Petersburg, he created a network of security bureaus in twenty cities from Vilnius to Irkutsk. He staffed many of them with his proteges trained in the new methods of security policing and encouraged to deploy secret informants within the revolutionary milieu.

Meanwhile, however, his worker societies slipped out of control. In July 1903 a general strike broke out in Odessa and labor unrest swept across the south. Zubatov advocated restraint, but the Minister of Interior, Vyacheslav Plehve, used troops to restore order. Disillusioned with Zubatov's labor policies and suspecting him of personal disloyalty, Plehve banished him from the major cities of the empire. Zubatov refused invitations to return to police service after Plehve's assassination in 1904. A monarchist to the last, he fatally shot himself following the emperor's abdication in 1917.

See also: plehve, vyacheslov konstantinovich


Daly, Jonathan W. (1998). Autocracy under Siege: Security Police and Opposition in Russia, 18661905. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Ruud, Charles A., and Stepanov, Sergei. (1999). Fontanka 16: The Tsar's Secret Police. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Schneiderman, Jeremiah. (1976). Sergei Zubatov and Revolutionary Marxism: The Struggle for the Working Class in Tsarist Russia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Zuckerman, Frederick S. (1996). The Tsarist Secret Police in Russian Society, 18801917. New York: New York University Press.

Jonathan W. Daly

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