In 1880 the Russian Police Department established a special section that dealt with internal security. This unit eventually became known as the Okhrana. Concerned by the attempts by Russian workers to form trade unions, Okhrana units were formed in the industrial centres of St. Petersburg, Moscow and Warsaw.

The Okhrana was under the control of the Minister of the Interior. Okhrana agents worked under cover and their main task was to expose political crimes before they were committed. To do this agents joined political organizations that were campaigning for social reform. Some of these undercover agents reached positions of leadership in these organization. This included Evno Azef, head of the SR Combat Organization and Roman Malinovsky, a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee.

Sometimes Okhrana agents joined revolutionary groups to spy on their members and eventually became converted to the cause. They then became double-agents who provided information to both Okhrana and the revolutionaries. Two of these double-agents were responsible for the assassinations of two Ministers of the Interior, Vyacheslav Plehve and Peter Stolypin.

In 1895 Sergei Zubatov was appointed as head of the Moscow section of Okhrana. He gradually introduced several modern methods of detection including photographic files, a systematic registration of suspects and a flying squad to deal with acts of terrorism. Zubatov also trained his in revolutionary theory and conspiratorial methods.

Zubatov also used his agents to set up the Mutual Assistance League of Workers in the Mechanical Industry. His agents became the leaders of this trade union and they attempted to persuade the workers not to make demands for higher wages and better working conditions. This proved unsuccessful and by 1903 the union had to be disbanded because its members had began to take part in strikes.

In some cases, revolutionaries were arrested and then offered the opportunity to become a double-agent. First they had to sign a detailed confession of their activities and a statement of repentance. The prisoner was then pardoned and released to spy on his comrades. The confession would be used against the agent if he ever tried to change his mind about working for the Okhrana.

The Okhrana also recruited members of illegal organization. as paid informers. In 1912 over 26,000 people in Russia were receiving money from the Okhrana. The average informer received 100 rubles a month, a sum that was well above the average industrial wage at the time. Evno Azef, Okhrana's leading undercover agent, was paid over 2000 rubles a month.

Some of the organization. that Okhrana were interested in were illegal and were based outside Russia. To deal with revolutionaries living in exile, Okhrana sections were also established in major European cities such as Paris and London.

After the October Revolution an examination of police files suggested that around 26,000 people were killed without trial by the Okhrana.

Primary Sources

(1) Victor Serge, Year One of the Revolution (1930)

Between 1872 and 1882 there were six attempted assassinations (three of these successful) against high officials, four against police chiefs, four against Alexander II, nine executions of informers, and twenty-four cases of armed resistance to the police. Thirty-one revolutionaries were hanged or shot.

On 14th April 1879, the student Soloviev fired five pistol-shots at Alexander II. On 1st December the same year an explosion derailed the Imperial train not far from Moscow. On 17th February 1880, the dining-room in the Winter Palace exploded seconds before the Imperial family was due to enter it.

On 1st March 1881, Alexander II at last met his death in St. Petersburg, mangled by bombs. His five executioners, Sophia Perovskaya, Zhelyabov, Kibalchich, Mikhailov and Russakov, were hanged. With these casualties the party lost its finest leaders, some of them the finest revolutionary personalities known to history.

At his accession, the new Tsar, Alexander III, proclaims the autocracy to be unshakable: the establishment of the Okhrana follows, a political police force armed with extensive powers and funds. A press law lays down preventive censorship for journals suspected by the authorities; they can even be suppressed.

(2) David Shub was a member of the Social Democratic Party in Russia. He later wrote about his experiences in a book published in 1948.

In August 1913 the Bolshevik leaders were summoned to a new Central Committee conference in a village near Zakopane in Galicia. There were twenty-two Bolsheviks present, including Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Troyanovsky, Shotman, Ganetsky, Malinovsky and the other Bolshevik deputies in the Duma. Five of these men later proved to be Okhrana agents.

(3) Shornikova, was one of the secret agents planted by the Okhrana in the Social Democratic Party.

I met every member of the Central Committee then in St Petersburg, and all the members of the military organization; I knew all the secret meeting places and passwords of the revolutionary army cells throughout Russia. I kept the archives of the revolutionary organization in the Army; I was present at all the district meetings, propaganda rallies, and party conferences; I was always in the know. All the information I gathered was conscientiously reported to the Okhrana.