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The Degaev Affair

The Degaev Affair: Terror and Treason in Tsarist Russia

Richard Pipes
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    The Degaev Affair
    Book Description:

    Sergei Degaev (1857-1921), a political terrorist in tsarist Russia, disappeared after participating in the assassination of the chief of Russia's security organization in 1883. Those who later knew and admired the quietly brilliant Professor Alexander Pell at the University of South Dakota never guessed this was actually Degaev, who had triple-crossed friends and associates while entangled in the revolutionary movement of his homeland. This book is the first in any language to tell in detail the extraordinary story of one of the world's most intriguing revolutionaries, his role in building and betraying the earliest political terrorist network, and his subsequent conventional academic career in America.The well-known historian Richard Pipes uses previously unexplored Russian archives to draw a brilliant psychological, political, and sociological portrait of Degaev. Pipes pursues his protagonist on a twisting journey of changing loyalties and fateful collaborations within the network that provided the model for all modern terrorist organizations. A cunning conspirator, Degaev went on to reinvent himself in the United States as a beloved mathematics professor. Either of his lives would be considered remarkable; that Degaev lived both is nothing short of amazing.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15939-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Richard Pipes
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Alexander Pell
    (pp. 1-7)

    The Dakota Territory came into being in 1861. It extended over a vast region of 350,000 square miles—an area equal to that of France and Germany combined—but at the time of its formation it had barely three thousand white settlers, the majority of them concentrated in the southeastern corner, near the Missouri River. The following year, the legislature voted to found in Vermillion, a small town in this enclave, the University of South Dakota, but it failed to appropriate any money for this purpose. In the years that followed, however, the population of the Territory exploded, as hundreds...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Sergei Degaev
    (pp. 8-31)

    Sergei Degaev was born in Moscow in 1857, the son of Peter Degaev, a military physician, who held the title of State Councillor, which placed him on the fifth level on the Table of Ranks, one level below that which bestowed hereditary nobility. Sergei’s mother, Natalie, was the daughter of the well-known writer and historian Nicholas Polevoi. His father seems to have died sometime in the late 1860s, for he played no role in Sergei’s mature years. The family consisted of the widowed mother and five children. The eldest daughter, Maria, married an army officer who committed suicide at a...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Lieutenant Colonel Sudeikin
    (pp. 32-67)

    Degaev might have ended up as a short footnote in the history of the Russian revolutionary movement had not there appeared at this point in his life the mysterious and sinister figure of Georgii Porfirevich Sudeikin, the head of Russia’s security services. By devising new and sophisticated methods of police investigation, Sudeikin influenced decisively the procedures of Russian security organs not only during the remaining decades of tsarism but also those of the Soviet Union. As did most members of the imperial political police, Sudeikin threw a veil of secrecy over his personal life. He succeeded so well in concealing...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Police Run the Revolution
    (pp. 68-93)

    When he received Degaev’s letter, Sudeikin, too, was in the midst of a personal crisis.

    He had been for a long time irritated that his work was hindered by interference from other government agencies, which aborted his carefully laid plans by arresting revolutionaries whom he had placed under surveillance. This was largely the result of a division of labor between the police and the gendarmerie established in 1871 by virtue of which the former tracked and arrested political criminals, while the latter interrogated them and prepared formal depositions eliciting admissions of guilt. Sudeikin wanted complete control over the struggle against...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Sudeikin’s Murder
    (pp. 94-118)

    The steps leading to the assassination of Sudeikin were set in motion in mid-October 1883, although not much was accomplished until Lopatin’s arrival. On October 17–19 Degaev convened a meeting of the spurious People’s Will Executive Committee, a gathering of eight Russians and three Poles, to discuss the projected assassination and a number of other issues.¹ The group adopted no formal resolutions, but the drift of its thinking was clear: tactically, it wanted a “review” of terror, and organizationally it called for the dissolution of the Executive Committee in order to strengthen the authority of local revolutionary cells.² Sudeikin...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 119-126)

    All that remains now to complete the story of Degaev is to trace his final years, as well as the fate of those Russians who had been involved in his extraordinary life. For the most part, it is a melancholy tale.

    Degaev’s beloved wife, Liubov, rechristened Emma, died in December 1904. Three years later, at the age of fifty, Pell married one of his students, Anna Johnson, a gifted young mathematician half his age. The marriage took place in Göttingen, where his future wife was studying. It was presumably to be near her—she enrolled as a graduate student at...

  12. APPENDIX From the Executive Committee of the People’s Will
    (pp. 127-134)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 135-146)
  14. Index
    (pp. 147-153)