Sergei Zubatov

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Sergei Vasilyevich Zubatov
Sergey Zubatov.jpg
Sergei Vasilyevich Zubatov
Born March 2 (O.S.), 1864
Died March 15 (N.S.), 1917 (aged 53)

Sergei Vasilyevich Zubatov (Russian: Серге́й Васи́льевич Зуба́тов, IPA: [zʊˈbatəf]; March 2 (O.S.), 1864 in Moscow – March 15 (N.S.), 1917 in Moscow) was a famous Russian police administrator. Despite rumors, he was never a Colonel (Polkovnik) in the Special Corps of Gendarmes. He was a director of the Moscow security (Okhrana) Bureau between 1896 and 1902 and Director of the Special Section of the Interior Ministry's (MVD's) Department of Police in 1902-1903.


Zubatov was a member of the revolutionary movement in his teens, but soon he became dissatisfied with revolutionaries and was easily persuaded to become an informant of the Moscow security Okhrana bureau. Unmasked as an informant in 1888, he started his official service in the agency in 1889 and gradually rose to head the Moscow office in 1896. He systematized security policing in Russia, using the typical methods then prevalent in Europe of plainclothes police detectives known as filyory (филёры) whose actions he coordinated with the centerpiece of his system, undercover informants (секретные сотрудники). He was a master at interrogating radical activists and occasionally winning them over to his side, arguing that the Imperial Russian state could do more for the poor than could terrorists and agitators who would only bring down upon the people the heavy hand of reaction.

Despite his deeply held monarchist convictions, Zubatov earnestly believed that repression alone could not crush the revolutionary movement. He therefore also promoted the organization of pro-government trade unions to channel protest away from agitation between 1901 and 1903, a practice revolutionary activists named police socialism or lambasted as Zubatovshchina (Russian: зуба́товщина, IPA: [zʊˈbatəfɕːɪnə]). The first such organisation was set up under the name of The community of mutual help of the workers in mechanized industry (Общество взаимного вспомоществования рабочих в механическом производстве), gaining the support of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, Governor-General of Moscow; others were formed in Odessa, Kiev and Minsk. However, Zubatov was unable to persuade the government to enact any actual improvement in labour legislation and the entrepreneurs were not happy about the trade unions either. After a series of strikes, in August 1903 Zubatov was expelled personally from his position as director of the Special Section by Interior Minister Vyacheslav von Plehve, and the state-sponsored trade unions were disbanded. After the assassination of Plehve in July 1904, he refused to return to the service, partly in order to protect the life of his son, whom he feared revolutionary activists might threaten. He retired to private life, living off his state pension.

He committed suicide during the February Revolution after hearing the news of the Tsar's abdication.