Road to Revolution: A Century of Russian Radicalism

By Avrahm Yarmolinsky | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XIII
MAN HUNT

FROM the first, the ' Executive Committee' was a fighting body designed to carry on a kind of guerrilla warfare by means of acts of terror. Foremost among these was the assassination of the Czar. In a society where all political authority ultimately derived from the monarch, the resentment of the the enemies of the existing order was bound to centre on him. Since the days of the Decembrists, and even earlier, the thought of regicide had haunted many heads like some archetypal urge.

The Ishutin group had produced Karakozov, and Nechayev, too, had played with the idea of killing the Emperor. In the summer of 1878 Solomon Wittenberg, a former engineering student who was the son of a poor Jewish artisan, procured a quantity of pyroxilin. With the aid of a comrade who was a sailor, he was planning to lay a mine in the Odessa harbour where the Czar was expected to land. Arrested, he was sentenced to death. He turned down a scheme for his escape from prison because it involved danger for one of the guards, and he refused to consider embracing Christianity as a means of having his sentence commuted, though his mother implored him to do so. In his last testament he wrote: 'Of course, I do not want to die, and to say that I die willingly would be a he on my part, but this should not cast a shadow on my faith and the strength of my convictions. Consider that the highest example of loving kindness and self-sacrifice was undoubtedly the Saviour, and yet even He prayed: "Let this cup pass from me!"...Nevertheless, in the same spirit I say to myself: "if it cannot be otherwise, if, in order for Socialism to triumph, it is necessary that my blood be shed, if the transition from the present order to a better one is impossible without stepping over our corpses, then let our blood be shed, in redemption, for the good of humanity. And that our blood will serve as a fertilizer of the soil upon which the seed of Socialism win sprout, that Socialism will triumph, and soon-this is my faith!"' And he concluded with a private word to a friend begging that all thought of vengeance be laid aside.

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