Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko 1914

Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, the son of a military officer, was born in Russia in 1884. he was educated at the Voronezh Military School and the Nikolaevsk Army Engineering College. During this period Antonov-Ovseenko began to question the political system that existed in Russia and in 1901 was expelled from college for refusing to take the oath of loyalty to Nicholas II.

Antonov-Ovseenko moved to Warsaw where he joined the illegal Social Democratic Labour Party. The following year he found work as a labourer in the Alexander Docks in St. Petersburg and then as a coachman for the Society for the Protection of Animals.

At its Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party in London in 1903, there was a dispute between two of its leaders, Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov. Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters. Martov disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists. Martov won the vote 28-23 but Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks.

Antonov-Ovseenko, along with George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Leon Trotsky, Vera Zasulich, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Noi Zhordania and Fedor Dan, supported Julius Martov.

In August 1904 Antonov-Ovseenko was arrested for distributing illegal political propaganda. He was released and sent to Warsaw where he became a junior officer in the Kolyvan Infantry Regiment. He used his position to recruit junior officers to the Mensheviks.

Antonov-Ovseenko deserted from the army during the 1905 Revolution. He joined the Menshevik Military Committee and edited the underground newspaper Kazarma (Garrison). However, he was arrested in April, 1906, but escaped from Sushchevsky Prison. Captured again in June, he was sentenced to death (later commuted to twenty years hard labour).

In June, 1907, a group of Mensheviks freed Antonov-Ovseenko by blowing a hole in the prison wall. He spent some time hiding in Finland until he could be provided with a false passport that would enable him to return to Russia. Based in Moscow he organized workers' cooperatives and editing illegal newspapers.

After two further arrests Antonov-Ovseenko left Russia and went to live in France. He joined other revolutionaries in exile and as well as becoming secretary of the Parisian Labour Bureau wrote for the radical newspaper, Golos (Voice).

Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko

1. Was highly critical of Nicholas II and the autocracy.

2. Wanted Russia to have universal suffrage.

3. Wanted the Russian government to allow freedom of expression and an end to political censorship of newspapers and books.

4. Believed that democracy could only be achieved in Russia by the violent overthrow of Nicholas II and the autocracy.

5. Was strongly opposed to Russia going to war with Austria-Hungary and Germany.

6. Believed that if Russia did go to war with Austria-Hungary and Germany the Mensheviks, Bolsheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries should try to persuade the Russian soldiers to use their weapons to overthrow Nicholas II.

Primary Sources

(1) The Granat Encyclopaedia of the Russian Revolution was published by the Soviet government in 1924. The encyclopaedia included a collection of autobiographies and biographies of over two hundred people involved in the Russian Revolution. Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko was one of those invited to write his autobiography.

At the beginning of April 1906, I was arrested at a congress of the military organizations. Five days later, Emelian, myself and three other comrades escaped from the Sushchevsky jail by breaking through a wall. Within a month I was in Sebastopol under orders from the Central Committee to prepare an insurrection. It broke out suddenly in June, and I was arrested in the street as I tried to shoot my way through a cordon of police and soldiers surrounding the house where a meeting of representatives from military units was in progress.

I was imprisoned for a year without my true identity being revealed and then I was sentenced to death, which eight days later was commuted to twenty years' hard labour. Within a month, in June 1907, and on the eve of our departure from Sebastopol, I escaped with twenty others during an excercise period by blowing a hole in the wall and firing on the warders and sentry. This breakout was organized by Comrade Konstantin who had come from Moscow.