Review: The Ochrana – The Russian Secret Police, by A.T. Vassilyev

This 1930 book is not about that Russian secret police — the one that comes to mind — but about an earlier one, the one which author A.T. Vassilyev commanded until the collapse of the Romanov regime in 1917. The first half of the book offers a decent overview of the history of the tsarist political police, with information about the notorious “internal agency” which is what the Okhrana called its network of agents provocateurs.

Vassilyev’s book is a defence of the Okhrana and its tactics, which were entirely legal and ethical, he assures us. He goes on at some length to explain that all the talk about the tsarist regime being antisemitic is absolute nonsense — and then tells us that the Okhrana was full of the most decent and honourable men and of course did not have any Poles or “Hebrews” in its employ. A further chapter goes on to explain how all of Russia’s troubles were due to the Jews.

Much of the second half of the book is devoted to Rasputin, the “mad Monk”, who according to Vassilyev seems to have gotten bad press. He was really a rather good guy, as was the Tsar and the lovely Tsarina. Pity that it all fell apart.