F.F. Raskolnikov

Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin



On that May evening I returned home late, just as usual. Tired out by my editorial work on Pravda, stunned by the constant ringing of the telephone, I went straight to bed and slept like a log. The night of May 21-22 1912 claimed its own.

I was awakened in the middle of the night by a loud voice asking sternly: ‘Is your name Ilyin?’ Opening my eyes, I saw an unfamiliar bearded face leaning over me. From his light-grey greatcoat with narrow silver shoulder-straps I deduced that this man must be a superintendent of police.

Around my cot, as though at a death-bed, there stood in a semicircle two policemen in black greatcoats with shoulderstraps of red braid, the caretaker of our block of flats, and a number of mysterious strangers, some wearing pea-green overcoats, others in long-skirted jackets.

‘Is your name Ilyin?’ the police official repeated, sternly.

‘Yes, I’m Ilyin,’ I replied, rubbing my eyes.

‘Is your first name Fyodor?’ he demanded, in the same unfriendly tone. And without waiting for my answer, he ordered me, crisply: ‘Get dressed: we are searching your place.’

‘But have you a warrant?’ I asked.

‘Of course,’ the superintendent replied, and, dipping into a shabby, battered black briefcase, he produced and held out to me a piece of paper, folded in four. I looked at it and saw that it contained instructions to arrest me regardless of the results of the search.

With a feeling of bitterness I took up my clothes from the chair on which they lay and set about dressing. The noise in the room awakened my brother, a high-school boy, who slept in the same room with me.[2] At the same time, my mother rushed in.

It was about two in the morning. Apparently, the policemen had come to the door of our flat accompanied by the caretaker and witnesses, and had rung the bell. My mother had gone into the hallway and, without taking the hook off the door, asked, ‘Who’s there?’ ‘It’s a telegram,’ answered the familiar voice of the caretaker, and my mother, suspecting nothing, at once opened the door. She had not even been able to warn me of the arrival of our unwelcome visitors.

When I had put on my trousers of blue diagonal and, over my black sateen blouse, my student’s jacket with the monogrammed shoulder-straps, the superintendent demanded to know where I kept my things. I indicated my half of the room: my brother lived in the other half.

The gang that burst in upon us now got down to making a zealous search which went on from two until six. They rummaged among all my things, just like burglars. They took all my correspondence from a drawer in the desk and carefully wrapped it in paper. But it was my extensive library that caused them particular concern. The policemen took out and put on one side every work that aroused their suspicions even slightly, and the superintendent, gravely assuming his pincenez, attached to a long black cord, examined each item with care. He evidently believed in the principle that it is better to overdo things than to risk missing something, and so assigned for removal a big pile of books of a perfectly legal nature, including a thick work on problems of municipal economy which I had borrowed from the library of the Academy of Sciences. However, to this ignorant superintendent what seemed especially suspicious was anything in the form of a pamphlet. Every pamphlet seemed to him to bseditious. Amongst other items he confiscated the pamphlet, written by the priest Grigory Petrov, before he was unfrocked,[3] entitled God’s Workers. It was the word ‘workers’ that had caught his attention. I could not refrain from mirth at the spectacle of this assiduity on the part of the Tsarist sleuth, and burst out laughing. Embarrassed, the superintendent left the pamphlet on my desk.

Suddenly I remembered that in a side-pocket of my jacket there was a compromising note written by a comrade of my brother’s, the ‘Witmerist’[4] and Anarchist Vladimir Prussak. In this note Volodya had warned me that intensified searches and arrests were being carried out in the city. I had received the note the previous day and, in the burly-burly and haste of my editorial work, had omitted to destroy it. I asked for permission to go to the toilet. After a moment’s hesitation, the superintendent gave me permission: though he told one of the policemen to accompany me, he did not think to search me first. I locked myself in the little toilet, while the policeman remained in the corridor. I took the unlucky note out of my pocket and tore it into small pieces, then joyfully pulled the handle and flushed it away.

When I returned to my room the search was still in progress. The superintendent, wearing his pince-nez again and seated, as though in his own home, at my little desk, was earnestly, with serious mien, making a list of the titles of the books, newspapers and, pamphlets to be removed.

‘One issue of the newspaper Za pravo’, he said aloud, dictating to himself, and, fearing to make a mistake, slowly inscribed one letter after another, like a schoolboy learning to write. Through his illiteracy, however, he did make a mistake. A had no newspaper called Zapravo (Forjustice): in fact, it was an issue of Za part!yu (For the Party) the Paris-published organ of the Bolshevik ‘conciliators’,[5] which had somehow accidentally arrived at the editorial office of Pravda and which I had taken home to read. Naturally, I did not correct the superintendent’s mistake. At that moment I happened to notice, lying on the edge of the desk, the latest issue of our central organ, Lenin’s Sotsial-Demokrat. The policemen had taken this newspaper out of the drawer in the desk and put it down where it could be seen. While the superintendent was busy recording the imaginary newspaper Za pravo, I discreetly pushed the copy of Sotsial-Demokrat aside, on to the low window-sill behind the desk. Printed on thin cigarette-paper, it slipped lightly and silently out of the window. Nobody had noticed my manoeuvre: every one of the policemen was ecstatically absorbed in his own particular task.

At last the search was over. The superintendent read out, solemnly and distinctly, the record of the search he had carried out: then, in a serious, decorous manner, as though performing a rite, he signed this record, making an extraordinarily complicated flourish under his name, after which he called upon the witnesses and me to sign it.

The witnesses—the detectives in their pea-green overcoats and the corn-chandlers in their long-skirted jackets -reverently, on tiptoe, approached the desk and affixed their signatures to the document with a grave air, as though they were taking part in a highly important and responsible affair which could not succeed without their co-operation.

The superintendent then turned to me and said: ‘Bring your bedding with you.’

My mother wrapped the pillow in the blanket and carefully tied up this awkward parcel with some string. I managed to shove a packet of books into the middle of it. Then Iltissed my mother and my brother and, escorted by the policemen, went down the stairs.

When I reached the yard, which was like a deep well, I looked up and saw my mother and brother at our window on the second floor, waving their handkerchiefs in farewell to me as I set off for an unknown destination. I waved back to them and accompanied by the policemen, passed through the gate. At this early hour Simbirskaya Street was still quite deserted. It was already light. I carried my bundle under my arm. The pillow wrapped in a blanket, though not heavy, was bulky. The policemen lugged misshapen, awkward packages, wrapped in newspaper, containing the things they had taken from my place.

Our strange company thus consisted of a student, a superintendent of police and some policemen. The few passers-by shied away in alarm when they encountered this procession.

We walked to the white Tikhvinskaya church, turned left along Tikhvinskaya Street, and arrived at the dark and dirty police station. The policeman on duty, who was sitting dejectedly, in his greatcoat and cap, at a plain wooden table in a corner, jumped to his feet, straightened up, and saluted the superintendent.


I was taken into a separate room, unfurnished except for a table black with dirt and some long, dilapidated benches. A drunk was brought into the police station. He could not stand up and could only mumble indistinctly. A woman in prunella overshoes and with her multicoloured cotton skirt tucked up, came in, rattling a bucket, and applied herself to washing the painted plank floor. Soapsuds flowed over the yellow floorboards, but the charwoman caught them up adroitly with her wet cloth and squeezed the dirty water into her bucket. The superintendent went out and the policemen sat down at the table with the air of persons who had accomplished a difficult but extremely important task. They chatted cheerfully together and drank tea from thick earthenware mugs.

Although I had been arrested, and responsibility for my subsistence now lay not with me but with those who had arrested me, nobody concerned himself with my needs. While I was at the police station I was given neither water nor bread, though I felt faint from hunger and thirst.

I had to spend several hours in that place. When the working day began, the assistant chief of police arrived at the police station. This was Count Tatishchev, a former officer, with long, upward-twisted red moustaches: having lost his fortune at cards, he had been drummed out of some Guards regiment for dissipation and embezzlement. Tatishchev ordered that I be taken to the premises of the political police. In a cab, sitting beside a lean, freckled policeman who kept a firm grip on the black leather scabbard of his straight sword and was continually adjusting his revolver holster, I was taken across Sampsonievsky Bridge on to the Petersburg Side. There was by now much activity in the streets. Officials were hurrying to their offices and students and high-school boys to their classes. The curious sight of a student and a policeman amicably travelling together in the same cab attracted general attention, and evoked smiles from some, sympathetic glances from others, and from yet others a response of perplexity and incomprehension.

The thin cab-horse, its ribs sticking out, like a funeral nag deprived of its horsecloth, jogged along slowly.

While we were making our way in this leisurely fashion to the headquarters of the political police, my travelling companion kept pestering me with his complaints about the burdensomeness of service in the police. Trying to win my sympathy and push me into some openly political talk, the policeman, giving me sidelong looks from his sunken, colourless eyes, told me that he was paid very little, too little to keep his family on, and swore that he had long been in agreement with the students and the socialists. Suspecting an attempt at provocation, I stayed silent as a fish.

The political police headquarters was situated at the corner of Kronverksky and Aleksandrovsky Avenues, not far from the Birzhevoy Bridge, in a small, two-storey building with iron bars over the windows. Outwardly there was nothing to distinguish it from the adjoining houses and there seemed nothing to betray the presence within of the most important organ of the political police. There was no signboard anywhere. Through the gateway my police escort led me into the office and handed me over in exchange for a receipt, with the same cold indifference with which a postman hands over telegrams and registered letters.

In the political police premises it was just as dark, dirty and bleak as in the police station I had left. They sat me down in a little room with a bare, unpainted floor. A tall, broadshouldered worker was there already. He came from the Obukhov works and had been arrested that same night. He was very worried about his wife and four children, whom his arrest had left without anything to eat. Apart from two wooden stools and a small table there was no furniture in our cell, not even bunks.

At about mid-day they brought us lunch—soup and cutlets. I had had nothing to eat since the morning and was furiously hungry, so the lunch seemed to be remarkably tasty, and I said something in praise of it.

‘We get our lunches from a restaurant,’ was the proud reply of the policeman who was removing from the table, with his stiff, red fingers, the empty, clattering trays.


Soon after this I was summoned for interrogation.

In a small room with curtains, at a desk which was unexpectedly placed just by the door, at right angles to the wall, sat a young officer of the gendarmerie, his hair pomaded and smoothly parted and with a clipped black moustache. On the starched shirt-cuffs that stuck out from the sleeves of his gendarmerie jacket I saw some elegant cufflinks in the form of small gold revolvers. He offered me a blank sheet of paper and his cigarette-case. I accepted the paper but declined the cigarette.

With exaggerated politeness but in a sort of malicious tone he put questions to me about my membership of the students’ all-Petrograd joint committee and about my participation in the demonstration on the Nevsky Prospekt. To all his questions I replied in the negative.

‘And do you know So-and-so?’ The cavalry captain mentioned some name that meant nothing to me. ‘No, I don’t,’ I replied.

After that he asked me whether I knew various other people, among whom were indeed some comrades of mine, but in the same bored monotone I answered that I knew none of them and was hearing their names for the first time.

After asking me an unexpected question about the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, my interrogator let me go back to my cell. It became clear to me that the gendarmes were groping their way: having arrested me, they were now striving to find some evidence to justify the arrest.

I had never had anything whatsoever to do with the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. The ‘subjective’ sociological method of Lavrov and Mikhailovsky, their failure to understand the mass movement of the working class, individual terror, repudiation of Marxism—all this repelled me from the petty-bourgeois SR Party. From the moment I began to concern myself with theory I had been an orthodox Marxist.

I did not belong, either, to the students’ joint committee, which united the students of all the institutions of higher education in Petersburg, although I knew of the existence of this organisation.

I had indeed taken part in the demonstration on the Nevsky Prospekt. But my principal political activities had consisted in acting as secretary of Pravda and, along with Comrade V. M. Molotov, working in the Bolshevik group in the Polyt’echnical Institute. Yet the gendarmerie officer had not even hinted at those activities.

‘Either he is in difficulties owing to lack of material or he is deliberately trying to catch me,’ I thought, as I sat on a stool in my cell.

At this time it was the fashion among the gendarmes to ‘catch’ politicals by means of such an elementary method as this. A prisoner’s mother, for example, would call on the colonel of gendarmerie and ask to be allowed a meeting with her son.

‘Well, you know, your son is accused of belonging to the Socialist-Revolutionary Party,’ the gendarme would say to her in a categorical tone.

‘Oh, come, Colonel,’ the mother would reply, in amazement: ‘my son has always been a convinced Social-Democrat.’

The gendarme would rub his hands with glee. That was all he needed. Perhaps the captain, when he asked me questions about the SRs, expected me to become indignant and, in an outburst of uncontrollable feeling, acknowledge my actual Party membership. However, I had managed to keep control of myself. I had even gloated over the fact that the gendarme’s inquiry was following a false trail.

There was nobody with whom I could share my thoughts and feelings. The thickset Obukhov worker made a favourable impression, but it was the first time I had seen him and I had no grounds for supposing I could be frank with him.

In any case, we were quickly separated. A gendarme entered the cell and ordered me to follow him. Clutching my pillow and blanket, I went out into the yard, where a covered carriage was standing with a pair of horses in the shafts. Sharing my seat in this carriage was a young, fair-haired man of extremely ‘educated’ appearance, wearing rimless pince-nez, a soft hat and a brand-new grey jacket.

The gendarme took the seat facing us, and our carriage set off, creaking and rocking. By way of the Birzhevoy Bridge, the University Embankment and the Dvortsovy Bridge, we arrived at last in Voznesensky Avenue—a long, narrow street, squeezed between tall buildings.

My companion and I began to converse, cautiously at first but then with greater confidence. The gendarme escorting us maintained an indulgent attitude. My comrade in misfortune, who had been arrested at the same time as I had, during the previous night, was Boris Nikolayevich Kriipovich, son of a professor of zoology. His aunt, Lidiya Mikhailovna Knipovich, known in our Party as ‘Dyadenka’ (Uncle), had a rich revolutionary past: a record of many years of exile and imprisonment was inevitably included in her colourful biography. Boris Nikolayevich himself was at that time a student in the law faculty of Petersburg University and a member of the Bolshevik group: he particularly studied the agrarian question and had recently produced a small book on the class stratification of Russia’s peasantry.

Knipovich, a serious person, made a very agreeable impression on me. Later on we became friends, and I used to visit his family’s cosy professorial flat in Gatchinskaya Street, where Nikolai Mikhailovich’s wife, Apollmariya Ivanovna, dispensed tea with a kind smile, and silver-haired Nikolai Mikhailovich listened attentively and sympathetically to our political discussions.,[6] Boris Nikolayevich and I always found it amusing that our friendship had begun in a political-police vehicle, when we were being transferred to Spassky policestation. We were both given, by administrative decision, one and the same sentence, exile for three years to Archangel province, but through petitioning by our relatives this was changed to banishment abroad. Having been arrested on that same ill-starred night, May 21-22 1912, we were released from custody for a brief farewell meeting with our families on the same autumn day, October 6.

In his cast of character Boris Nikolayevich was an armchair scholar rather than a practical politician. He was not an orthodox Marxist, and so could not become a Leninist. When he left prison he went to Germany and entered the University of Munich, but he was allowed to study abroad for no more than two years. In July 1914 the imperialist war began, and Knipovich, along with other Russians, was interned, and later got back to Russia.

He returned to Petrograd a furious defencist. Sometimes, over tea in the flat in Gatchinskaya Street, I would grapple with him, engaging in heated debate. But Boris Nikolayevich was inflexible, and quite unwilling to agree with my arguments, drawn from the arsenal of Lenin’s Sotsial-Demokrat. The February Revolution poured fresh blood into the veins of his defencist system.

During the early days of the February Revolution I ran into him in one of the innumerable corridors of the Taurida Palace. His outlook did not differ in the slightest from that of the Menshevik Tsereteli. He spoke warmly in favour of war to a victorious conclusion, and of wholehearted support for the Provisional Government. We could find no common language, and drew still further apart. Political differences entailed a cooling of our, personal relations. We did not meet again.

Subsequently, after the October Revolution, Knipovich changed his views, left the camp of Menshevism, and worked for the Soviet Government, in the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture.

One day, while bathing at Yalta, in the Crimea, he had a heart attack. Soon afterwards his cold, lifeless corpse was taken from the water. Boris Nikolayevich died young, and had no chance to develop all the creative gifts he possessed.


While I was talking with Boris Nikolayevich and listening to his conjectures and suggestions that the reason for his arrest was probably the publication of his little book on social-class differentiation among the peasantry, our jarring, broken-down carriage was slowly making its way over the uneven cobbled road-surface towards its destination.

When it reached Sadovaya Street, the carriage turned right and at once entered the yard of a yellow building equipped with a fireman’s watchtower.[7] This was Spassky police station, a intermediate stage in our wanderings from prison to prison.

We were taken into the office, which was on the ground floor. Just as the porter in the lobby of a hotel distributes newlyarrived guests among the vacant rooms in the hotel, so the policeman in the office behind a wooden partition, after checking the information he needed from a thick, tattered book, immediately assigned us our accommodation in this lock-up. Knipovich was put in one cell, I in another. I was not alone, though. The cell to which I was sent was already occupied by a short, stout man with close-cropped dark hair and thick, rather lengthy black moustaches. This was a young Georgian named Machabeli, a machine-feeder in a small, privately-owned printing works. He had been arrested on a denunciation by his employer for involvement in an economic strike. Wooden bunks as black as soot constituted the only furniture of the cell. There was a narrow, barred window in the thick brick wall, right up under the ceiling. The cell was on the first floor and the window looked out on to the yard. However, in order to see through the window and survey the cheerless, miserable yard, laid with cobblestones, we had to stand on our bunks, like the prisoner in Yaroshenko’s well-known painting. [N.A. Yaroshenko’s painting ‘The Prisoner’ (1878) is in the Tretyakov Gallery.]

Permanent twilight reigned in the cell. Even when sunbeams, with the motes that played in them, managed to penetrate the cell, they lit up only a small rectangle of the bunks or the floor, while all the other corners remained in twilight.

Machabeli, who felt that he was the host in the cell, hospitably offered me tea, and I accepted his offer. Grasping a big nickel-plated teapot with both hands, he poured some strong tea into a tin mug, and held out to me a brown paper bag containing big, white pieces of chipped sugar. I took the first piece to hand. In its hardness and its shape this reminded me of a rock fallen from a cliff, and with an effort, straining myjaws, I ‘began crunching this rock of sugar between my firm young teeth, washing down the fragments with mouthfuls of black, well-brewed tea that smelt like hay. Machabeli started telling about himself at great length, in his pleasant accent. His printing works was somewhere near Blagoveshchenskaya Square. There were not many workers, but this made it all the easier for the boss to exploit them as much as he wanted. Eventually the workers could stand it no longer and demanded a rise in wages and a reduction in their stupefying work-day. For the first time in the history of this ‘estate’ belonging to a despotic master, an economic strike was declared. The employer had close connections with the police, including the political police. He went to the latter’s headquarters and demanded that Machabeli be arrested as the ‘ringleader’. The political police at once satisfied the capitalist’s demand.

Machabeli was now patiently waiting to be sent off into exile, under guard, and, stroking his round, close-cropped head, was pondering where to be sent, if the choice of locality for his exile should be left to him.

The cells of Spassky police station were crowded with workers and students. There were no close-stools in the cells. From time to time the whole building would echo with the shout: ‘Orderly! Orderly!’ In response to this call, prolonged and persistent, by a prisoner, the policeman on duty would, after waiting for a few minutes, walk sluggishly to the door of the cell, search long and lazily from among his huge, heavily-rattling bunch of keys for the one he needed, slowly open the door and at last conduct the prisoner, burning with impatience, to the toilet at the end of the corridor. There he would wait calmly, and then escort the prisoner back to his cell. Sometimes he would grumble that hew-as being disturbed too often. Now and then he would curse and threaten to refuse to open the cell doors again.

In the evening, before sunset, when the slanting sunbeams that came through the bars seemed to be bidding goodnight to the prisoners, I too went to the door and, applying my lips to the small round aperture, shouted loudly several timeS! ‘Orderly! Orderly! Orderly!’

When I was walking along the corridor, all of a sudden somebody addressed me by name. I turned round. The inspection-hole of the nearest cell-door had no glass in it. Thrust out through it were a pair of plump pink lips: the mouth had a tooth missing. I recognised the voice as that of the student Volodya Gorodetsky, a comrade of my brother’s. He had been an inmate of Spassky police-station for several days already, knew the local customs, and in his capacity as an old resident proved helpful to me.

Soon it was dark and time for sleep. Machabeli and I lay down on our broad bunks. But that night I spent a long time turning from side to side and could not get to sleep. The cells in Spassky police station swarmed with fleas and bedbugs.

Prisoners in these cells were not allowed visits, but they could receive food parcels. Standing on the wooden bunks we often saw our relatives, carrying bundles, waiting patiently at the station door for the hour appointed for delivery of these gifts. The library of the lock-up was extremely wretched, consisting of lives of the saints and similar works with a ‘soul-saving’ content.

It was while I was staying in the building with the watchtower that I had my first experience of a prison riot. There were a number of workers in Spassky police-station who had been languishing there for a long time without any charge being brought against them, as was required bylaw. Indignant at this treatment of our comrades, we decided to organise a demonstration of protest. One fine day we began, by concerted agreement, to kick the doors of our cells, to violently cast our tin plates on the floor, and to howl frenziedly: ‘Prosecutor! Prosecutor!’ The prison trembled.

The noise was heard in Sadovaya Street. All the police guard turned out. The prosecutor was summoned by telephone. The improvised riot stopped. Not long after, the prosecutor arrived. Our protest made the political police dispose of their prisoners more quickly. Those workers against whom no charge was brought were banished from the capital for several years by arbitrary administrative decision. The other unruly rioters were hastily transferred to a prison. One day I was ordered to report at the office with my belongings, taken into the yard, placed in a rickety old carriage, and conveyed to Shpalernaya Street, to the pre-trial detention centre, known as ‘DPZ’.


After the gloomy and bug-ridden Spassky police-station my one-man cell in the pre-trial detention centre seemed to me like a quite pleasant cheap room in a decayed hotel of the second class. The cell was on the third floor. To the right an iron table was screwed to the wall, and there was a small rectangular bench, also of iron. Beside the table there were shelves on the wall, for books and crockery. To the left stood a cot, covered with a grey blanket made of rough, prickly wool. Alongside the washbasin tap a battered tin mug and a clean towel hung on a long nail. The walls were painted with grey oilpaint.

By the window, instead of a primitive close-stool, a watercloset projected from the wall. As though proud of this achievement of technology, the warder who showed me into the cell pulled the handle and flushed the toilet.

By the door a round push-button was let into the wall. The warder pressed it, the button sank into the wall, and an abrupt metallic sound was heard. ‘That’s for when you want to call a warder,’ my Virgil explained.[8] In this case the technology was deliberately primitive. An electric bell would have allowed prisoners to remind the authorities of their presence whenever they chose, whereas the long metal rod, striking on the round bowl of a bell, rang briefly and once only, and could function again only when the warder had re-set it.

When the warder left, locking the door behind him, I jumped with both feet on to the WC and looked out of the high barred window. It gave on to the prison yard. In every direction I could see there were high, gloomy walls. Like the honeycombs in a beehive, they were holed with the tiny apertures of cell windows, all covered from outside with stout iron bars. In the middle of the spacious yard, in which some stunted grass pushed up here and there, were the small triangular sections, enclosed by gratings, which were destined for the isolated exercise of the inmates of the one-man cells.

In the centre of these secluded corners, high up under the round wooden roof, a sentry patrolled day and night with a loaded rifle in his hands.

The official prison fare was poor and monotonous. For payment, however, one was permitted to order better-quality food from the cookhouse. These ‘private’ meals fell into two categories: the 26-kopeck one and the 46-kopeck one. The quality, of course, corresponded to the price. Compared with the official meals they were quite tasty, although the cabbagesoup always had an unbearably excessive amount of pepper in it, enough to burn one’s mouth painfully.

As I had been arrested while acting as secretary to the editors of Pravda, I was entitled, under our Party rules, to one-half of my wages. Once a month my mother went to the Pravda office and collected on my behalf 16 roubles, which was 60 per cent of my wages as editorial secretary. This money was sufficient for me to supplement the official fare.

As regards spiritual sustenance, however, the situation was much better. True, we were not allowed to read newspapers at all, and only past years’ issues of magazines were permitted. On the other hand, the DPZ had a good library. The very first day I was there I obtained the catalogue, and wrote down everything I found in it that I wanted.

During my imprisonment I read a whole heap of books which had been published in old ‘thick’ journals.[9] Having acquired some note-books ‘numbered and stamped’ by the prison administration, I entered in them all the passages that interested me in the works I read. By the end of my stay in prison I had filled several such note-books, which I have preserved to this day.


Every day we were taken out for fifteen minutes’ exercise. This was supervised by an old warder with a long grey beard, rounded into the shape of a broad spade, and wearing a warder’s cap which he never took off. His heroic chest was densely covered, from shoulder to shoulder, with silver medals that looked like roubles and 60-kopeck pieces. The largest medal was flaunted at his neck. The military bearing which he had retained into old age marked him as a former sergeant-major, or at least a former NCO. Out of respect for his grey hairs, his age and his medals, the other warders always politely addressed him as ‘Aleksei Ivanovich’.[10] This callous, impassive, inscrutable old man, grown hard in military and prison service, regarded it as beneath his dignity to joke or chat with prioners. No smile ever played across his stern face, pale and immobile as a plaster death-mask. Inward mirth found expression with him in a slight tremor of his wrinkles, spreading in rays across his aged, bearded face. Silent and reserved, the old man personally let the prisoners out into the yaM and personally conducted them back to their cells. Our exercise took place in narrow, triangular kennels that were like horse-boxes, enclosed on two sides by high wooden fences and on the third by a wooden grating.

It was possible to observe, through the close-set bars of this grating, the extremely monotonous life of the prison yard. Here were two elderly criminal prisoners, dressed in baggy, dirty, once-white prison uniform, ragged from too much wear, lugging to the rubbish pit a big bucket full of potato peelings, offal and other kitchen refuse: the bucket gave off a sharp, sour smell. Over there was a warder in his black jacket, walking slowly like a well-fed duck on a farm, idly rolling from side to side as he moved at leisure round the yard, to the accompaniment of the rattling of the huge bunch of keys he carried, fixed to a massive iron ring.

Our exercise period in the prison yard always passed quickly. Hardly had we managed to sit down on the bench that stood in our wooden stall than the warder would suddenly appear, to drive us back once more under the stone vaults of the half-dark cells, which after our exercise smelt even worse of the stuffy prison fumes. Though there was no ventilation panel, there was a narrow chink in the window-sash which admitted a thin stream of air: but this was not enough to freshen and ventilate the damp mustiness that had been accumulating for decades.


We were allowed two meetings a week with our closest relatives, on Tuesdays and Fridays. They fetched us from our cells and led us down to the ground floor by an iron stairway, which rang loudly from our footsteps. Here we were put for the time being in an empty room. Sometimes the warder would close the door, but sometimes, to our great satisfaction, he would leave it ajar. Then we were summoned in turn, our surnames being called out, to go and meet our visitors. It was in this way that I heard for the first time in prison some familiar names. I learnt that along with me the DPZ held Yevgeny Peters, a tall technology student, who always went about in a long black cloak: he worked in our Bolshevik organisation and had visited me in my flat. Also present was Sergei Dianin, son of a professor at the Army Medical Academy, a slim, long-haired student with the face of an inspired ascetic, who had by chance joined the Anarchists and who was a talented musician; and an expansive university student named Neznamov who later became an Ensign and a Left SR and took part in the October Revolution.[11]

‘Ilyin,’ shouted the warder in a cap bearing the sinister letters ‘DPZ’. When I heard my name I opened the heavy door, walked along a corridor, over a strip of soft carpeting which muffled my steps, passed the rooms where my comrades were impatiently waiting for their visits to begin, and entered a gloomy, ill-lit room with thick iron bars across the dusty window-pane.

I was followed into the room by a stout, red-faced colonel of gendarmes, walking majestically with his right thumb inside the breast of his ample jacket.[12] In his left hand he pompously carried a copy of Novoye Vremya,[13] the large sheets of which trailed lightly across the stone floor. From the lofty height of his portentous dignity, which made him look like a ruffled turkey, he hardly deigned to spare me a passing, profoundly indifferent glance.

My mother hastened into the room, nervously adjusting her drooping pince-nez, which were dulled with tears.

With a disdainful gesture the colonel showed us where we were to sit—me at the end of the room, my mother on the opposite side of the table, near the door. Spreading his round knees wide, he settled himself down between us on a bentwood chair which creaked under his weight. His stomach rolled over his knees in folds, like jelly, and seemed even bigger than before.

‘The meeting lasts ten minutes,’ he pronounced in an Olympian tone, and, putting on pince-nez in a thin gold frame, he then buried himself in the unfolded pages of his newspaper.

I began talking with my mother, The colonel of gendarmes, while seeming to read the paper, or else, having put it aside, to be engaged in cleaning his long, carefully trimmed fingernails, listened attentively to our every word. As soon as our conversation approached the subject that most concerned us both, namely, my case, the gendarme, speaking in the harsh, masterful tone of a man used to giving orders, would curtly interrupt us.

‘I request you not to talk about that matter,’ he said, peremptorily. When, one day, my mother referred to the fact that a rumour was circulating in the city that there was soon to be an amnesty, the gendarme suddenly went purple, and with unexpected agility leapt from his seat, saying sharply: ‘That is confidential,’ and he threatened to terminate our meeting there and then.

As time went by, we evolved our own ‘Aesopian’ language.[14] When I said ‘Go and see Konstantin Stepanovich,’ my mother understood that I meant: ‘Go to the editorial office of Pravda.’ Sometimes our meetings were attended by a different gendarme, who was not so stiff and haughty. When, one day, he heard from my mother that I had been arrested groundlessly, he replied in a condescending way: ‘That does happen. The political police sometimes make arrests for absolutely no reason at all.’ These liberal words of his revealed the antagonism that existed between the gendarmerie and the political police.


On the grey wall of my cell, above the table, I found that somebody had written out the prison alphabet. I quickly learnt it off by heart. Communication with one’s neighbours by tapping provided a great diversion and relieved the burden of loneliness.

Soon I was moved from the third floor to the second, into cell No. 111, the three drumsticks, as I jokingly called it. One of the adjoining cells was empty. My neighbour on the other side was a criminal. A family man, he suffered extremely from his imprisonment. ‘How they torment us’ was what he kept tapping out on the wall. Like most of the criminal prisoners, he did not like to recall his past. In the cell above me was a political, the Social-Democrat Alexander Konstantinovich Paykes, with whom I communicated by way of the pipe.

He had been arrested somewhere in the south and brought to the Petersburg DPZ. He told me how the election campaign for the fourth State Duma was going. Although he was not a ‘liquidator’ but a ‘Party man’, nevertheless, as a ‘conciliator’, he was distressed by the fact that the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were putting forward separate lists of candidates.

Being a Bolshevik, a splitter,[15] opposed to conciliation, I did not share Comrade Paykes’s feelings, but regarded the split with the Mensheviks as inevitable and a good thing. After pronouncing the illegal Party dead, the Mensheviks had spat on it as they passed by. In their day-to-day work, they pursued not a revolutionary but a liberal policy in the labour movement, and by their tactics of understanding and accommodation with the Tsarist regime, their trimmed and truncated slogans, they were betraying the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.

One day while I was carrying on a factional discussion with Comrade Paykes via the heating-pipe I was interrupted by the warder on duty, Likharev, a short, bow-legged man, who proceeded to read out to me a long list of ponalties that could be incurred for communication by tapping: deprivation of visits, parcels and exercise periods, no more access to the library, and, finally, confinement in a dark cell.

Books were issued from the prison library every day except Sunday and other holidays. The library was run by a well-built, unusually lively, fair-haired man, whom, though, I hardly ever managed to meet. Only on one occasion did he come to see me in my cell, to rebuke me when, through a moment’s carelessness, I had spilled ink over a library book. Exchange of books was always carried out through the warders.

I became good at reading a book a day. In the morning I would hand over the book I had finished, placing in it a slip of paper listing the books and issues ofjournals I wanted to read, copied out from the big catalogue, and after lunch I would receive a fresh book.

Besides back numbers of ‘thick’ journals I read the classics and also earnestly applied myself to learned works on social questions. Amongst others, I perused with interest V.1. Semyovsky’s The Peasant Question in the Reign of Catherine IL [Semyovsky’s book had been published in 1881 and 1901.] This large, two-volume work was, of course, one that I did not read in a single day.

Once I noticed in a book I was reading some lines that were spotted with underscorings and dots. I began to put together the letters that were indicated by means of these mysterious marks. They formed words, and these words formed a message. In its time, this had been a warning, brief but grim, that Ivanov was a provocateur and Sidorov a cowardly traitor.

On another occasion I deciphered with delight a long message composed in this way by a member of the Social Democratic group in the Second State Duma,[16] Sergei Nikolayevich Saltykov, describing what had happened during the trial of the Social-Democrat members of that Duma. In this way a link was forged between generations.


One fine day they sent for me, to be interrogated. At noon, soon after lunch had been brought, the staid Alexei Ivanovich came into my cell and, stroking his long grey beard, said in his emotionless voice: ‘Please come to the city.’

At first I failed to understand this technical expression. ‘Are they going to release me?’ was the thought that flashed through my mind. I rushed to the shelf and, with hands trembling from joy, began to assemble my books, soap and toothbrush.

‘Without your things,’ said the warder, drily, giving me a disapproving look from his unfriendly eyes, a silent rebuke for my slow-wittedness.

I put my things down, walked out of the cell, and began dejectedly descending the iron stairs. The warder followed close behind me.

Two strapping gendarmes were waiting for me in the prison office. They wrote something in a big, solidly-bound book that lay there, and then, drawing their swords, escorted me into the yard.

The sun was shining brightly, festively. One gendarme walked ahead of me and the other behind. The sharp blades of their long, straight swords gleamed blindingly in the sunlight.

In the yard, which was paved with large, uneven cobblestones, they put me into an old carriage, half falling to pieces, to which a pair of bony, underfed horses were harnessed. One of the gendarmes clambered in awkwardly and plumped down beside me, while the other took the front seat, facing us. The horses set off and, rumbling noisily over the uneven stones, threatening at every moment to overturn, the carriage slowly began its journey. The horses’ hooves resounded from the cobbled roadway.

It was a bright, sunny day, and as hot as midsummer. The blue blind, though lowered, did not completely cover the window of the carriage, and when it shook I was able to observe a little corner of the outside world. Never before had it seemed to me so attractive and lovable. After the damp cell even the warm stuffiness of the carriage was pleasant to me. I gazed with delight, through the gap left by the blind, at the street we were traversing. The gendarme who was sitting opposite me noticed this and, giving me a hostile look, quickly drew the curtain. I shifted my gaze to my companions. They sat in silence, their legs wide apart. Those legs were tightly encased in blue riding-breeches and polished top-boots. They rested their hands, which were abnormally large, upon the black leather scabbards of their swords. Their stupid faces, moist and flushed with the heat, betrayed not the slightest glimmer of thought. Their strong, healthy bodies gave off an unbearable smell of sweat, sharp and sour.

Profiting by a moment when my companions were talking together, I furtively moved the blind aside and looked out of the window. We were passing the Taurida Garden. The dense green vegetation threw a patterned chiaroscuro on to its broad avenues, crackling with gravel, which were filled with a cheerful, noisy crowd. I wanted terribly to be out there mingling with these strollers. ‘What happiness it is to be free,’ I thought. Only when in prison, deprived of freedom, does one learn to value freedom properly. When I was free I failed completely to appreciate my good fortune—I did not even notice it.

My thoughts were interrupted by a suddenjolt. The carriage had stopped. Some gates were opened, with a piercing squeal, and our old wagon, which was on the point of disintegrating, creaked into the yard of a white, two-storey building in Tverskaya Street. This was the headquarters of the gendarmerie.

Along narrow, dirty corridors I was conducted to the room which served as a waiting-room. Its only furniture was a plain wooden stool, absurdly set down in the middle of the floor. Diagonally across the painted flooboards a worn strip of carpet was laid, and, feeling tense at the prospect of interrogation, I began walking to and fro along it. The window of the room looked out on a green garden, where thick grass grew and there were young apple-trees with spreading branches.

I did not have long to wait. After a few minutes the door opened with a squeak, and an NCO led me into the office of Colonel of Gendarmerie Pokroshinsky. Tall, stoutly-built and puffy-faced, with cheeks that drooped like a bulldog’s, with big blue bags under his sharp black eyes, and with dashingly upward-twisted and well-dyed moustaches, he slowly rose from his chair behind a desk, his silver spurs jingling, squared his broad shoulders, and with a dignified air offered me his hand, saying, with exaggerated politeness: ‘Please be so good as to sit down, Mr Ilyin.’ Without replying, I sat down on the chair assigned to me.

‘Do you smoke? Would you like a cigarette?’ And, with a sweeping, histrionic gesture, Pokroshinsky proffered me his massive silver cigarette case. I thanked him and declined.

‘You are charged under Article 102, with belonging to the Russian Democratic [sic] Workers’ Party,’ said Pokroshinsky, in an icy tone and immediately assuming a serious, businesslike manner. ‘Do you plead guilty?’

‘No,’ I replied, without batting an eyelid.

‘Write it down,’ said the gendarme, handing me a sheet of paper.

Then he opened a locked drawer in his desk and pulled out a paper.

Tsarist police searching for revolutionary literature

big packet of letters, papers and manuscripts. I realised that this was the correspondence that had been removed from my flat when it was searched.

Certain lines in the letters had been underscored and there were marks in the margins, made with blue pencil.

‘What can you tell me about this communication? Who wrote it?’ the gendarme demanded sternly, and fixed his disagreeable goggle-eyes upon me.

Before me lay a postcard signed ‘Leonid.’ I remained silent.

‘From whom did you receive it?’ Pokroshinsky insistently repeated his question.

‘I don’t remember,’ I said, after a short pause.

‘Well, you know,’ protested the gendarmerie officer, putting his hands in his pockets and leaning back in his chair, ‘you’re not a child. Who is going to believe that you don’t remember the name of the writer of that postcard, though he addressed you in the familiar manner and is on friendly terms with you? Keep in mind, Mr Ilyin, the fact that every denial on your part will only worsen your fate.’

He fell silent and stared straight at me with his evil, gleaming black eyes.

‘So, then, perhaps you do remember, after all?’ he added, giving ironical emphasis to each word.

‘No, I don’t remember,’ I repeated, with blunt stubbornness. I realised that my answer was unconvincing, but what I was doing was fully justified by my unwillingness to betray a comrade.

‘Very well, then. It will be the worse for you,’ said the gendarme, spitefully. He was angry at the failure of his attempt to discover the writer of that postcard.

I shrugged my shoulders silently.

With a worried air, Pokroshinsky rummaged in the deskdrawer, in which papers lay in disorder, and at last extracted arid triumphantly laid before me on the desk a letter written on a quarter-sheet of semi-transparent foreign paper, in a neat, rcund hand. This was a letter from Maxim Gorky, sent to me from Capri, which I had preserved in my archives like a preious relic.

In my capacity as librarian of the Petersburgers’ Society at the Polytechnical Institute I had written to Gorky to ask him to let us have some of the publications of the ‘Znanie’ press for our library. Gorky readily responded to my request and at once wrote back to me courteously agreeing to our receiving the books we wanted. He gave his letter, which was sent at a time when student strikes and demonstrations were in full swing, this political conclusion: ‘With all my heart I wish you courage in the difficult days you are now living through. Russia will not rise again until we Russians learn to stand up for our human dignity and fight for the right to live as we want.’ The letter was signed: A. Peshkov.[17]

The concluding lines of the letter had been underscored by the gendarme’s blue pencil.

‘A letter from the well-known émigré writer Maxim Gorky was found among your papers. Do you know him personally?’ asked Pokroshinsky, now resuming a more polite tone.

I replied in the negative.

‘And what is the meaning of this expression: "fight for the right to live as we want"?’

I again pleaded ignorance, and said that this question should be addressed to Gorky.

The gendarme fidgeted irritatedly in his chair, and was on the point of uttering something harsh, but restrained himself. He pulled out of the drawer my own writings and the editorial papers which had been removed when my flat was searched.

‘Who is this Raskolnikov?’ he demanded venomously, drawling the words with an air of triumph.

‘I really don’t know,’ I repeated, giving the same considered reply, in a dreary monotone.

‘Isn’t that your own pseudonym as a writer?’ he asked, mistakenly stressing the second syllable in ‘pseudonym’. Seeing that he would get nothing out of me, he asked me to sign my name and terminated the interrogation.

I looked out of the window. Tverskaya Street was deserted, and looked like a street in a provincial town. Unimpressive white buildings gleamed in the sunlight. They led me out into the yard, and in the same old-fashioned carriage returned me to the pre-trial detention centre.


A few weeks later I was summoned for a second interrogation. This concluded the investigation by the gendarmerie. From the jurisdiction of the gendarmerie’s authority of the province I was transferred to that of the Special Board attached to the office of the Governor of Petersburg. By decision of this organ I was condemned to three years’ exile in Archangel province. At my mother’s request my exile to the North was commuted to banishment abroad. On October 6, a dark, rainy day, at a time when the street-lamps had already been lit, I was released from custody. At the door of the pre-trial detention centre I again bumped into Knipovich, who had been released that same day. Seated in a cab and clutching with both hands the big bundle containing my things and my books, I feasted my eyes on the Neva as we crossed the Liteiny Bridge, and joyfully inhaled the fresh, cool, air, which was already touched a little by the dank humidity of autumn. I was soon back in my room on the Vyborg Side. They had allowed me three days for saying goodbye to my family. This time passed quickly, imperceptibly, like the flying clouds in the sky on a clear, windy day.

During this period I was, of course, very earnestly shadowed. Detectives hastened both before me and behind me. The ones in front kept twisting their heads to one side so as, without actually turning round, to keep me in view out of the corners of their eyes. At nearly every turning in the Nevsky Prospekt they were changed, and responsibility for me was handed over to another pair of sleuths. This surveillance was so thorough that, one day, when I left home intending to take a packet of papers to onebf my comrades, but found the detectives dogging my heels, I felt obliged to go back indoors for no obvious reason, lest I compromise my comrade.

All the same, I did manage to get to the editorial office of Pravda. The little rooms were smoke-filled and stuffy. Acting as secretary in place of me was my comrade in the Bolshevik group in the Polytechnical Institute, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov (Skryabin).[18]

‘So, then, you are now going to become one of our "comrades abroad",’ he said with a smile, rubbing his close-cropped dark head as he gave me a firm handshake.

I intended to go to Paris, having chosen that city because Comrade Lenin lived there and it was where our Bolshevik Central Committee was located. However at the editorial office of Pravda, Konstantin Stepanovich Yeremeyev, smacking his lips with satisfaction and without removing from his mouth the pipe he was smoking, informed me that Vladimir Ilyich had already moved from Paris to Galicia.[19]

‘Why not send him to where he’ll be under the high authority of Ilyich?’ suggested Stepan Stepanovich Danilov, looking up from a manuscript and tugging nervously at his pointed beard, which made his face look longer and so emphasised still more sharply the leanness of his cheeks, hollowed by illness.

‘No, that’s not worth while,’ phlegmatically objected Nikolai Guryevich Poletayev, looking round at everyone from under his brows. ‘It would be hard for him to find work in Galicia. Better send him to Paris.’

Konstantin Stepanovich picked up a pencil, drew me a plan of the Latin Quarter, which was where the poorer émigrés

huddled, and gave me a number of addresses of Bolsheviks resident in Paris. This plan was found on me when I was arrested at Insterburg,[Now Chernyakhovsk.] and provided the gendarmes of East Prussia with an excuse for suspecting that I was a spy. Fortunately, Konstantin Stepanovich had written the names of the streets on his plan, and this saved me.

That same day at the Pravda office I made the acquaintance of Comrade Sergeyev, a small, hunchbacked man.[20] ‘Aren’t you Sergeyev-Tsensky?’ I asked. ‘No, not Sergeyev-Tsensky,’ he replied, with a smile on his full, protruding lips. He was a former émigré and also supplied me with some addresses. He warned me that without knowing the French language it was difficult to find work, and told how he had walked all over France and Italy in search of casual, temporary employment.

After warm farewells to all the ‘Pravdists’, in the evening of October 9, in a green third-class carriage, which shook disagreeably on its crude springs and lurched when there were abrupt jerks, I hastened towards the Russo-German frontier, to the steady and unwelcome accompaniment of autumn rain, monotonously and despondently beating down on the iron roof of my carriage.


[1] The initials of the Russian words for ‘pre-trial detention centre’.

[2] At the time of these events Raskolnikov was 20 years old. His brother, known later as A.F. Ilyin-Zhenevsky, was 18.

[3] G.S. Petrov, a Petersburg priest who was a friend of Tolstoy’s, criticised Tsardom from a liberal standpoint in some of his numerous writings. In 1908 he was unfrocked after sending a letter to Metropolitan Anton denouncing the degeneration of the Orthodox Church into a tool of the autocracy.

[4] A secret conference of secondary-school students held at Witmer’s High School for Girls, in Petersburg, was raided by the police, who made 46 arrests.

[5] The ‘conciliators’ opposed the final split in the Social-Democratic Party, between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, which was accomplished in 1912.

[6] N. M. Knipovich had himself been in trouble with the police in his youth, when he was expelled from Petersburg University for ‘political unreliability’.

[7] In Russian towns where thre were many wooden bouildings and danger from fire was serious, watchtowers were set up and kept manned so that immediate warning could be given of the outbreak of a fire.

[8] Raskolnikov ironically compares the warder to the poet Virgil who guides Dante through Hell in the latter’s Divine Comedy. .

[9] Serious journals which contained weighty articles on non-fiction subjects as well as fiction were known as thick’ journals.

[10] It is polite form to address someone by his first name and patronymic. Raskolnikov rec:aJls this warder in Kronstadt and Peirograd, when comparing his prison experience in 19 17 with that in 1912 (p.2l6).

[11] Neznamov accompanied Raskolnikov in his eventful journey from Petrograd to Moscow, shortly after the October Revolution, described in Kronstadt and Petrograd (p.324).

[12] In Kronstadt and Petrograd (p. 11), the author mentions spotting in the street, soon after the February Revolution, this gendarmerie officer: he had attained the rank of General and was wearing on his chest ‘a red bow of colossal size’.

[13] Novoye Vremya was a newspaper of the extreme Right. Impetuously, she threw herself on my neck and covered my face with kisses. Small and slight, she made a striking contrast with the corpulent gendarme, who was breathing heavily like someone suffering from asthma.

[14] By ‘Aesopian’ language is signified language in which what is really meant is only hinted at, by analogy with Aesop’s fables, in which stories that have a lesson for human beings are told about animals. Here, Raskolnikov alludes to Pravda by using the first name and patronymic (themselves quite common) of Yeremeyev, the paper’s managing editor.

[15] F.F. Ilyin’s ‘Party name’ Raskolnikov is derived from raskolnik, a schismatic or Splitter’. The name goes back to the ‘Old-Believer’ breakaway from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century.

[16] The Second State Duma was dissolved by the Tsar on June 3, 1907, after the entire Social-Democratic fraction had been arrested on a trumped-up charge of conspiracy.

[17] Raskolnikov recalls this letter in connection with his personal encounter with Gorky in 1917, in Kronstadt and Petrograd (p67).

[18] Skryabin was Molotov’s real name: he was a nephew of the well-known composer whose name is usually spelt, in the West, in the French form, as ‘Scriabine’.

[19] Lenin moved to Galicia (Austrian Poland) at the end of June 1912, and stayed there until the outbreak of war in 1914. He lived in Cracow during the winter and in the village of Poronino in the summer.

[20] It is not clear who this Sergeyev was. F.A. Sergeyev (Artyom), 1883-1921, had been an émigré in Paris in 1902, but in 1912 he was in Australia. There was also A.V. Sergeyev (Petrov), 1893-1933, who joined the Party in 1911. S.N. Sergeyev-Tsensky, 1876-1968, was a well-known novelist: one of his works, Brusuov’s Breakthrough, came out in English translation in 1945.