Roman Malinovsky

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Roman Malinovsky. 1913.

Roman Vatslavovich Malinovsky (Russian: Рома́н Вацлавович Малино́вский, 1876–1918) was a prominent Russian Bolshevik politician before the revolution, while at the same time working as the best paid agent for the Okhrana. They codenamed him 'Portnoi' (the tailor).

He was a brilliant orator, tall, red-haired, yellow-eyed and pockmarked.[1]

Early life[edit]

In 1899, he was convicted of theft, rape and burglary, and sentenced to jail. In 1901–1905 he served as a private in the Russian army.


In 1906 Malinovsky joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) and worked for the St. Petersburg metalworkers union. In 1910, he was arrested by the Okhrana but soon released: he then became a Tsarist spy, and infiltrated the Bolshevik party. He was the best paid Tsarist agent, earning 8,000 rubles a year, 1,000 more than the Director of the Imperial Police.[2]

In January 1912, he joined the Central Committee with Vladimir Lenin's support at the Prague Party Conference. On October 25, 1912, he was elected at the Duma by the workers electoral college of Moscow Governorate. He led the six-member Bolshevik group (two of whom were Okhrana agents) and was deputy chairman of the Social Democrats in the Duma. As a secret agent, he helped send (unbeknownst to them) several important Bolsheviks (like Ordzhonikidze, Joseph Stalin, and Yakov Sverdlov) into Siberian exile. When Menshevik leader Julius Martov first denounced Malinovsky as a spy in 1913, Lenin refused to believe him, and stood by Malinovsky. The accusing article was signed Ts, short for Tsederbaum, Martov's real name. Stalin threatened Martov's sister and brother in law, Lydia and Fedor Dan, saying they'd regret it if the Mensheviks denounced Malinovsky.[3]

In November 1912 he visited Lenin in Cracow where he was urged not to unite with the Mensheviks. Malinovsky ignored this, reading a conciliatory speech in the Duma.[4] On December 28, 1912 he attended a Central Committee meeting in Vienna. He persuaded Lenin to appoint an Okhrana agent, Miron Chernomazov, as editor of Pravda as opposed to Stalin's candidate Stepan Shahumyan who was too soft on the Mensheviks. The Tsarist regime was determined to keep the RSDLP split so conciliators were targeted.

Due to Malinovsky's efforts, the Okhranka arrested Sergo Ordzhonikidze (April 14, 1912), Yakov Sverdlov (February 10, 1913) and Stalin (February 23, 1913). The latter was arrested at a Bolshevik fundraising ball which Malinovsky had persuaded him to attend by lending him a suit and silk cravat. Malinovsky was talking to Stalin when detectives took him, even shouting he would free him.[5] In July 1913 he betrayed a plan for Sverdlov and Stalin to escape, warning the police chief in Turukhansk. By now he was the only Bolshevik leader not in foreign or Siberian exile.

Resignation, exile and death[edit]

On May 8, 1914 he was forced to resign from the Duma. By now he was an alcoholic, drinking vodka from teapots. His real identity was unveiled by his ex-mistress Elena Troyanovskaya, and he went into exile in Germany. When World War I broke out, he was interned into a POW camp by the Germans. Lenin, still standing by him, sent him clothes. He said: "If he is a provocateur, the police gained less from it than our Party did." This refers to his strong anti Menshevism. Eventually, Lenin changed his mind: "What a swine: shooting's too good for him!"[6]

In 1918, he tried to join the Petrograd Soviet, but Grigory Zinoviev recognized him. In November, after a brief trial, Malinovsky was executed by firing squad.

According to British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore his successful infiltration into the Bolsheviks helped fuel the paranoia of the Soviets (and more specifically, Stalin) that eventually gave way to the Great Terror.

Some speculate that Lenin had always known about Malinovsky's connections to the Okhranka and that was the reason for him to be hopeful of being acquitted after the Revolution. However, faced with the consequences of admitting to the existence of such double agents and the possibility of exposing those of them who remained valuable to the party (one of them possibly being Stalin), Lenin had to give up on him.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Montefiore 2007, p. 205
  2. ^ Montefiore 2007, p. 224
  3. ^ Montefiore 2007, p. 229
  4. ^ Montefiore 2007, p. 221
  5. ^ Montefiore 2007, p. 231
  6. ^ Montefiore 2007, p. 242
  7. ^ Radzinsky 1997, pp. 81–86, sub ch. "The Mirror"

Further reading[edit]

  • Ralph Carter Elwood: Roman Malinovsky, a life without a cause, Oriental Research Partners, 1977
  • Simon Sebag Montefiore: Young Stalin, 2007
  • Bertram Wolfe: Three who made a revolution, 1948