Review: Comrade Valentine, by Richard E. Rubenstein

Sixty years after Boris Nicolaevsky wrote his account of the notorious Ievno Azef — the most infamous police agent to ever infiltrate a revolutionary organisation — Richard E. Rubenstein took a crack at the same subject. His book, published 30 years ago, is very readable and well-researched. It’s probably a better introduction to the Azef case than Nicolaevsky’s. Interestingly, Rubenstein says he learned more about what might have motivated Azef to betray his comrades from John LeCarre’s fiction than from other sources. To me, the Azef case — like those of Roman Malinovsky and Josef Stalin — is endlessly intriguing, and teaches us much about how underground revolutionary parties functioned in tsarist times, and how they were manipulated by the Okhrana, the tsarist police.