front page > Savinkov bio
"'I am a colonel in the movement who has been transferred from the field of action (for meritorious services) to staff headquarters. Yes, yes, yes - I'm a colonel.' [...] 'Why, in your words, I hear a touch of Narodnaya Volya.' 'Well, so what of it? It's the Narodnovoltsy who have the power after all, not the Marxists.'"
Boris Savinkov was born in Kharkov to a privileged family. In 1897, as a law student at Saint Petersburg State University, he acquired a reputation for being an enthusiastic political activist, a dandy, a ladies' man. Later on, he would succeed in seducing more than a few female members of the Combat Organization as well as with member's of Russia's aesthetic elite; his affair with the symbolist poet Zinaida Gippius was well known. While abroad at the University of Berlin, Savinkov grew critical of parliamentary politics and became involved in radical political circles with Russians living in Germany. After returning to Russia in 1900, Savinkov honed his skills as a revolutionary propagandist and his increasing brushes with okhrana and incarcerations strengthened his commitment to revolutionary violence. He joined the Combat Organization in 1903 and was placed in charge of Plehve's murder by Evno Azef, the head of the organization's central committee.
At first, the inexperienced Savinkov fumbled at his role of revolutionary conspirator. It was only after many botched attempts at Plehve's murder and frequent disputes with Azef over the plans that Savikov's group was successful. By 1906, after the successful assassinations of Plehve and Grand Prince Sergei, Savinkov had earned the prestigious title of "general of terror" **(38). in revolutionary circles. Over time, the rift between Azef and Savinkov grew, as the latter continued to resist his superior's orders. The two men began to compete for control over the Combat Organization.
Savinkov as a Student, 1899
Savinkov was a strikingly different leader than Azef. He was an aspiring decadent and notoriously aristocratic in his manner--factors which many of his fellow SRs found off-putting. As scholar Richard B. Spence explained, Savinkov himself was willing to kill, but not to die for the cause. Lenin once famously referred to Savinkov as "a bourgeois with a bomb in his pocket." (37)** Under his leadership, the Plehve assassination cost the Battle Organization a huge amount of funds. In his role as "Arthur McCullough," the British businessman, Savinkov bought fashionable clothing, he gave fancy gifts to Brilliant, and he adopted a generally lavish lifestyle. In fact, Azef decided to clamp down on these abuses, ordering Savinkov to adopt the more humble role of "Konstantin Chernetsky," a Polish dentist.
Savinkov's personality displeased radical terrorists and intellectuals alike. In 1906, writer Aleksei Remizov took Savinkov to a "World of Art" exhibit, where he met many famous intellectuals including Andrei Bely. Judging from Bely's portrayal of Savinkov as Alexander Dudkin in Petersburg, the revolutionary did not make a very good impression. Dudkin is an absurd, egocentric, cynical, and somewhat foolish conspirator who is hoodwinked by Lippanchenko, the character representing Azef. According the Spence, Savinkov recognized this unattractive character as himself and resented Bely for this depiction. (52)**
**Richard M. Spence, Boris Savinkov, Renegade on the Left. Series: East European Monographs, Boulder. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991, 38, 52.