Plehve, Vyacheslav Konstantinovich

views updated May 21 2018


(18461904), leader of imperial police then minister in governments of Tsar Alexander III and Tsar Nicholas II.

As a conservative statesman in late imperial Russia, Vyacheslav Plehve (von Plehwe) was a key figure in the tsarist regime's struggle against revolution. An experienced prosecutor, he was tapped in 1881 to head the imperial police following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. His success in arresting the perpetrators and destroying the People's Will terrorist organization, combined with his remarkable energy and talent, led to appointments as Assistant Minister of the Interior (18851894), Minister State-Secretary for Finland (18941902), and Minister of the Interior (19021904).

Assuming the post of minister in the wake of widespread peasant disorders and his predecessor's murder by revolutionaries, Plehve sought above all to reimpose order and control. With the help of former Moscow police chief Sergei Zubatov, he extended throughout Russia a network of "security sections" (okhrany ), which used covert agents to penetrate revolutionary and labor groups. He fired Zubatov when his police-sponsored worker organizations triggered widespread strikes in 1903. He repressed the liberal press and the zemstvo organs of local self-government, leading to bitter clashes with leading public figures. His heavy-handed tactics alienated both the Russian public and his government colleagues, especially arch-rival Sergei Witte, the talented Finance Minister whose efforts to modernize Russia were seen by Plehve as contributing to unrest. But he won the support of Tsar Nicholas II, who relieved Witte of his ministry in August 1903, and he backed aggressive ventures that helped provoke the Russo-Japanese War of 19041905. He also cracked down on subject nationalities such as Finns, Armenians and Jews; his alleged efforts to divert public anger from the government toward the Jews may have contributed to the Kishinev anti-Jewish pogrom of 1903. Ironically, this so incensed the Jewish police agent Evno Azef, who had managed to infiltrate the terrorists, that he helped them arrange Plehve's murder in July 1904. Plehve thus died a failure, disparaged by both contemporaries and later historians.

See also: nationalities policies, tsarist; nicholas ii; zubatov, sergei vasilievich


Gurko, Vladimir I. (1939). Features and Figures of the Past. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Judge, Edward H. (1983). Plehve: Repression and Reform in Imperial Russia, 19021904. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Witte, Sergei I. (1990). Memoirs of Count Witte. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

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

Edward H. Judge