A LOOK THROUGH THE JUDAS
Significance of the topic.
The Imperial Russian prison-and-exile system exerted a profound influence on
the empire's development, culture, politics, social and natural sciences.
Russia's history cannot be properly understood without taking prison and
exile into consideration.
1) Geography and demography. If one
were to exhibit Imperial-Russian or Soviet-era Siberia, for example, such an
undertaking could not ignore one simple fact: Siberia was for many years the
tsars' preferred dumping ground for criminals and those whose politics were
perceived by the authorities as a threat, potential or real. Much as Britain
used convicts to settle Australia, and France - New Caledonia, so too did
Russia use criminal and political exiles in an attempt to populate the Far
North, Siberia and Sakhalin. By 1662 more than one in every ten people in
Siberia were exiles, and by 1900, when criminal exile to Siberia was
finally and drastically curtailed, that percentage had reached considerably
higher. The country's demography underwent a radical change in the short
span of a century, in large part due to her prisons and places of exile. It
was the political exiles that brought Russian culture and civilization to
that area, and to a considerable extent, it was prison labor that built the
roads and railroads and opened up its expanses.
2) Political history. Any exhibit of
Soviet material that touches upon the Soviet Gulag, say, or presents a
thematic study of the Communist Party or this or that Soviet leader, must of
necessity take the tsarist prison and exile system into account. Many of
those who did the imprisoning during the Soviet regime had themselves been
incarcerated and exiled under Alexander III and Nicholas II, and they
learned their lessons all too well. For instance, the 140 members who
attended the 1905 Congress of the Socialist-Democratic Party in Stockholm
had between them already spent a total of 138+ years in prison and another
148+ years in exile. "If we take into account the fact that the 140 members
had spent a total of 942 years in the social-democratic movement, we shall
see that the periods spent in prison and exile represented about one-third
of the time spent actively in the party." Here is just a short list of
only the top few tiers of the Soviet pantheon, those who lived to see
October 1917 and serve in the new government:
- V.I. Lenin - prison (St.
Petersburg Preliminary Detention Facility - SPB PDF) and internal exile;
- L. Trotsky - prison (SPB PDF) and
internal exile (Ust' Kut, Obdorsk);
- I.V. Stalin (Dzhugashvili) - prison (Bailov
Prison in Baku, SPB PDF), internal exile (Solvychegodsk and Vologda);
- F.E. Dzerz'hinsky, the father of the
Soviet security police - prison (Aleksandrovskiy Central, Orel Central)
and internal exile (Nolinsk and Kay in Vyatka Province, Verkholensk and
Kansk in Siberia);
- M.V. Frunze - prison (Vladimir) and
internal exile (Irkutsk Province);
- M.I. Kalinin - prison (SPB PDF) and
internal exile (Povenets, Olonets Province);
- L. B. Kamenev - prison (SPB PDF),
internal exile (Tiflis, Eastern Siberia);
- S.V. Kosior - prison (Moscow),
internal exile (Irkutsk and Yekaterinoslav Provinces);
- V.V. Kuybyshev - prison (Omsk and
Tomsk), internal exile (Kainsk, Kolpashevo, Tomsk Province);
- M.I. Latsis (Sudrabs) - prison, exile
- V.M. Molotov - prison and internal
- G.K. Ordzhonikidze - prison (Shlissel'burg)
and internal exile (Yenisey Province, Olekminsk (Yakutsk Oblast'));
- G.L. Pyatakov - internal exile;
- Ya.E. Rudzutak - prison (Riga, Moscow
- A.I. Rykov - prison (Moscow),
internal exile (Arkhangel'sk, Samara, Saratov, Narymsk Territory);
- Ya.M. Sverdlov - prison, internal
exile (Narymsk, Kolpashevo, Tomsk Province, among others);
- Tomskiy, M.P. - prison (Revel',
Moscow (Butyrka)), internal exile (Narymsk Territory);
- M.A. Trilisser - prison (Shlissel'burg),
- M.S. Uritsky - internal exile (Olekminsk
(Yakutsk Oblast'), Vologda and Arkhangel'sk);
- K.Ye. Voroshilov - prison ("Kresty, "Arkhangel'sk),
internal exile (Arkhangel'sk Province, Perm' Province);
- V.V. Vorovskiy - internal exile (Vyatka
- G.G. Yagoda - internal exile (Simbirsk).
Nor was it just the coup leaders whose
experiences in prison influenced their outlook. As Vladimir
Vilenskiy-Sibiryakov pointed out in 1925,
"The role played by the prison, hard-labor
and exile system after 1905 was exceptionally important for the subsequent
development of the Russian revolutionary movement. In the past, tsarist
prisons were places where revolutionaries were entombed, places of the
strictest isolation, but after the first Russian revolution those tsarist
prisons turned into a huge cauldron of revolution, where great numbers of
professional revolutionary cadres were readied. The Revolution of 1905 drew
in the broad masses of workers and peasants; tens of thousands of them
poured into tsardom�s jails as its prisoners after the collapse of the first
Russian revolution." 
3) Culture: the arts and literature.
Russia's arts and literature have been greatly affected by the Russian
prison system. There is a vast corpus of prison and exile memoirs, but
whether the authors wrote from personal experience on the wrong side of the
bars - Dostoevsky's Notes from the House of the Dead, Crime and Punishment,
Maksim Gorky and D.I. Pisarev (imprisoned in the Trubetskoy Bastion of the
Peter-and-Paul Fortress), M.Ye. Saltykov-Shchedrin and V.G. Korolenko
(both in Vyatka exile) - or from tours on the better side of the cell
doors - Anton Chekhov, V. Doroshevich (Sakhalin), S. Maksimov (Katorga
Imperii), A. Svirskiy (Kazennyy dom) - the effect they had on contemporary
public opinion was considerable. They also exposed corruption in provincial
administration and mocked the red tape that afflicted everyone. Some of
their works are still required reading at colleges and universities.
From the authors to the painters, then. The
so-called "Society of Wandering Exhibitions," the members of which were
referred to as "The Wanderers" - I.Ye. Repin, N.A. Kasatkin, V.G. Perov,
V.Ye. Makovskiy, V.I. Yakobi, and N.A. Yaroshenko, to name just some of them
- produced works on the prison and court themes. Lesser lights did as well:
Zarin, V. Shereshevsky, K. Lebedev, Ye.M. Svarog, and many others. After the
Soviets came to power, drawing and painting the theme of tsarist oppression
became a cottage industry hitched to the propaganda cart.
There is also a considerable body of
prison-related Russian music, most of it surviving in songs. In 1935, for
instance, the State Musical Publishing House and the Folklore Section of the
Soviet Academy of Sciences issued the "Collection of Revolutionary Songs in
Russia," a part of which was devoted to the prisons. "Arestant," "Uznik,"
"Po pyl'noy doroge telega nesetsya," "Aleksandrovskiy tsentral," and on, and
on. These lyrics survived into the Gulag period and were "recycled" by
the zeks in modified form; some survived in the original version.
4) The natural and social sciences:
anthropology, biology, botany, geology, sociology, etc. Even when the
authors weren't writing about their own situation, they were describing,
often for the first time anywhere, the inhabitants, history and culture of
the remote areas in which they had been imprisoned or exiled. The
statistical and natural sciences were considerably advanced in these remote
areas when the exiles arrived and began keeping records on everything from
temperature to the price of cattle.
Censorship. And we have not even
touched upon the field of court, police and prison censorship itself yet.
Here, we can watch the politicals attempting to communicate through the
mail, and the authorities looking for anything suspicious in hopes of using
it against one or both of the correspondents. This was a battle of chemistry
(secret inks and reagents), euphemisms, dots above letters, restrictions on
writing, handwriting analysis, cell searches and arbitrary mail delays, all
waged under the rubric of "mail censorship." Since political prisoners were
almost by definition literate, it is their mail we see the most of in our
collections (the overwhelming majority of criminals were illiterate or
semi-literate), and precisely because the great majority of people sending
and receiving mail in this field were politicals, prison mail mirrors the
great ideological struggles of the 1870s to 1917 like no other. Much of the
correspondence in this exhibit was written by politicals and censored by the
authorities: the police, prosecutors, investigators, wardens, and military
Rarity of the material. Insofar as
prison, court and police censor marks are concerned, there are a few that
are relatively common, including most Shlissel'burg Hard-Labor Prison and
St. Petersburg Preliminary Detention Facility handstamps, and some St.
Petersburg and Moscow court markings. Everything else ranges from rare to
only one example recorded. For usages, mail between prisoners is extremely
rare, as is package mail, correspondence by telegram, registered mail from
prisoners, mail between convicts and foreign addressees, mail to and from
criminals, and forwarded mail.
Production and layout of the exhibit.
This exhibit was produced with a PowerPoint program and Microsoft Windows
Outline of the Exhibit
I. The authorities - the police and
the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice:
- Third Section;
- Ministry of Internal Affairs;
- Department of State Police;
- Department of Police (the "Okhranka");
- Independent Corps of Gendarmes:
- Major directorates;
- Provincial directorates;
- Special directorates;
- Railroad directorates;
- Provincial governors;
- Regular police and adjuncts:
- City police administrations;
- City precinct police;
- City precinct police inspectors;
- Rural district police chiefs;
- Rural precinct police chiefs;
- Zemstvo chiefs;
- Volost' foremen;
- Main Prison Directorate:
- Prison Inspectorate;
- Jurisprudential establishments:
- Governing Senate;
- Ministry of Justice:
- Superior courts;
- Circuit courts, "Hauptman"
- Justices of the peace;
- Rural district courts;
- Volost' and "gmina" courts;
- Zemstvo courts;
- Ministry of War military courts.
II. The prisoners - how they went
from citizen to prisoner or exile:
- Physical surveillance;
- Clandestine mail surveillance;
- Surveillance abroad - Paris Agentura;
- Police search;
- Trial preparation;
- Conviction and sentencing;
- Disposal - the transports;
- Prisoner arrival;
- Prisoners as labor force;
- Types of prisoners:
- People's Will terrorists;
- Right Socialist-Revolutionaries;
- Latvian communists;
- Duma deputies;
- Finnish judges;
- Administrative exiles;
- Exile Settlers.
III. Types of prisons:
- Hard-labor prisons;
- Temporary hard-labor prisons;
- Corrective-labor sections;
- Temporary corrective-labor sections;
- Transit prisons;
- Provincial prisons;
- District prisons;
- Women's prison sections;
- Special prisons;
- St. Petersburg Debtors' Prison;
- St. Petersburg Preliminary Detention
- Investigation prisons;
- Alekseyevskiy Ravelin (Peter-and-Paul
- Prison hospitals;
- Camps for juvenile criminals;
- Naval floating prisons;
- Army disciplinary battalions;
- Army disciplinary units.
IV. The prison censorship regime -
who was authorized to censor the inmates' correspondence, and under what
- Superior court prosecutors;
- Superior deputy court prosecutors;
- District court prosecutors;
- District court deputy prosecutors
"supervising inquiries into State crimes;"
- District court deputy prosecutors;
- Court investigators;
- Assistant court investigators;
- Bankruptcy boards;
- Prison wardens;
- Acting and deputy wardens;
- Building wardens;
- Deputy warden office chiefs;
- Duty wardens;
- Chain-gang supervisors.
V. The "paper battle."
- Inmate and outsider efforts to
- Writing inside the envelope;
- Denial of information about the
- Location - riding the rails to
- Omitting the return address on
- Typing to avoid identification by
- Efforts by the authorities to thwart
- Chemical washes;
- Stamp removal or destruction;
- Tracking envelope contents;
- The power to issue or confiscate;
- Intentional mail delays;
- Cell searches;
- Cell and building changes.
VI. Types of mail allowed to
convicts, and postal usages:
- Stamp sales at prison commissaries;
- Correspondence abroad;
- Limits on frequency of
- Writing in the third person;
- Receiving mail - no restrictions;
- Money restrictions;
- Forwarded money mail;
- Money orders from abroad;
- Money orders between prisoners;
- Money-receipt notification forms;
- Domestic registered letters;
- Registered mail abroad;
- Reply-paid postcards;
- Address inquiry;
- Wrongly-addressed mail;
- Forwarded mail;
- Postage-due mail;
- Package mail;
- Correspondence between prisoners;
- Correspondence between prisoners and
VII. The aftermath - prisons, camps
and courts in the early Soviet period:
- Fontanka, 16;
- Russian Civil War;
- Wardens into commissars;
in the Soviet era;
- Children of Imperial-period
- The Soviet GULAG.
- Adams, Bruce F., The Politics of
Punishment. Prison Reform in Russia 1863-1917, Northern Illinois
University Press, DeKalb, 1996.
- Braginskiy, M.A. (ed.),
Nerchinskaya katorga (Hard Labor in the Nerchinsk Region). Sbornik
Nerchinskogo zemlyachestva. Izd-vo Vsesoyuznogo obshchestva politkatorzhan
i ssyl'no-poselentsev, Moscow, 1933.
- Dobrinskaya, L.B. (comp.), Uzniki
Shlissel'burgskoy kreposti (Prisoners of Shlissel'burg Fortress), Lenizdat,
- Galvazin, Sergey, Okhrannyye
struktury Rossiyskoy Imperii. Formirovaniye apparata, analiz operativnoy
praktiki (The Security Structures of the Russian Empire. The Formation of
Its Staff and an Analysis of Its Operational Procedures). Kollektsiya "Sovershenno
Sekretno," Moscow, 2001.
- Gavrilov, S., Russkiya tyur'my po
otchetam Glavnago Tyuremnago Upravleniya za 1903-1909 gody (Russian
Prisons from the Reports of the Main Prison Administration for 1903-1909),
Yuridicheskiy Vyestnik 2, 1913, pp. -255.
- Gernet, M.N., Istoriya tsarskoy
tyur'my (History of the Tsarist Prison System), 5 vols, Moscow, 1963.
- Kennan, George, Siberia and the
Exile System, (2 vols.), The Century Company, New York, 1891.
- Kokovtsov, V.N. & S.V. Rukhlov
(comp.), Sistematicheskiy sbornik uzakoneniy i rasporyazheniy po
tyuremnoy chasti (Systematic Handbook of Laws and Instructions Concerning
the Prison Department), 2-e izd., Tipografiya I.N. Skorokhodova, St.
- Leonidova, K.S. (comp.), Na
katorzhnom ostrove (On the Hard-Labor Island), Lenizdat, Leningrad, 1966.
- Margolis, A.D., Tyur'ma i ssylka v
imperatorskoy Rossii. Issledovaniya i arkhivnyye nakhodki (Prison and
Exile in Imperial Russia. Research and Archival Discoveries), Izd-va
Lanterna i Vita, Moscow, 1995.
- Reent, Yu.A., Obshchaya i
politicheskaya politsiya Rossii (1900-1917 gg.) (The Regular and Political
Police of Russia), "Uzoroch'ye," Ryazan', 2001.
- Skipton, David M. and P.A. Michalove,
Postal Censorship in Imperial Russia, 2 vols., John Otten, Champaign,
- Timofeyev, V.G.,
Ugolovno-ispolnitel'naya sistema Rossii: tsifry, fakty i sobytiya,
(Russia's Criminal and Executive System: Facts, Figures and Events),
Ministerstvo obrazovaniya Rossiyskoy Federatsii, Chuvashskiy
gosudarstvennyy universitet im. I.N. Ul'yanova, Cheboksary, 1999.
* This is a selective listing of the books
consulted during research for this exhibit. The full bibliography runs to 10
pages, and can be supplied upon request.
(Picture from Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 2, p. 269.)
 The "Judas Hole" refers to the peephole in the doors of the cells. It
enabled the warders to check on a prisoner to see if he or she was
conforming to prison regulations on behavior. A look through the hole at the
"wrong" time would betray the inmate, hence the name.
 Margolis, A.D., Tyur'ma i ssylka v imperatorskoi Rossii, p. 7.
 Trotsky, The Year 1905, accessed at http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1905/ch28.htm
on 8 October 2003.
 Luppov, Politicheskaya ssylka v Vyatskiy kray, pp. 83, 125.
 Skobennikov, M.V. Frunze (Arseniy) na katorge i v ssylke, p. 253.
 Lur'ye, O nekotorykh netochnostyakh, p. 139.
 Rumyantsev, Kamenev Lev Borisovich, accessed at http://hronos.km.ru/biograf/tomski.html
on 29 April 2005.
 Rumyantsev, Kosior Stanislav Vikent'evich, accessed at http://hronos.km.ru/biograf/tomski.html
on 29 April 2005.
 Vinogradov-Yagodin, Iz zhizni V.V. Kuybysheva, in Katorga i
ssylka No. 1, 1935, pp. 25, 33, 35.
 Diyenko, Razvedka i kontrrazvedka v litsakh, p. 279.
 Rumyantsev, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, accessed at http://hronos.km.ru/biograf/tomski.html
on 29 April 2005.
 Rumyantsev, Rudzutak Yan Ernestovich, accessed at http://hronos.km.ru/biograf/tomski.html
on 29 April 2005.
 Rumyantsev, Rykov Aleksey Ivanovich, accessed at http://hronos.km.ru/biograf/tomski.html
on 29 April 2005.
 Vinogradov-Yagodin, Iz zhizni V.V. Kuybysheva, p. 35.
 Rumyantsev, Tomskiy Mikhail Pavlovich, accessed at http://hronos.km.ru/biograf/tomski.html
on 29 April 2005.
 Diyenko, Razvedka i kontrrazvedka v litsakh, p. 489.
 Diyenko, Razvedka i kontrrazvedka v litsakh, p. 102.
 These reflect the sentences they received. It should be noted that all
of those who were sentenced to internal exile usually sat first in a prison
somewhere awaiting trial. Unless otherwise specified, these data were
extracted from Ivkin (comp.), Gosudarstvennaya vlast' SSSR: Vysshiye
organy vlasti i ikh rukovoditeli, 1923-1991. (Istoriko-biograficheskiy
spravochnik). For Yagoda, see also Diyenko, Razvedka i kontrrazvedka
v litsakh, p. 573.
 Vilenskiy-Sibiryakov, Dva yubileya. Dekabristy - Revolyutsiya 1905
 Koz'min, Po povodu novogo izdaniya sochineniy D.I. Pisareva, in
Katorga i ssylka No. 1, 1935, 136.
 Luppov, Politicheskaya ssylka v Vyatskiy kray, p. 155.
 Druskin, Pis'mo v redaktsiyu, ko vsem uchastnikam revolyutsionnogo
dvizheniya, pp. 158-159.