On August 25, 1906 the first of 11 subsequent assassination attempts was made on Pyotr Stolypin, the then-prime minister of Russia and one the most controversial politicians in the country’s history.
Three terrorists from the radical Socialist Revolutionary Group, dressed as gendarmerie cavalry captains, broke into Stolypin’s summer cottage in the middle of the working day, brining along cases with a significant amount of explosives. Identified by one of Stolypin’s visitors, they tossed the bombs toward Stolypin’s office, blowing up the entire place and killing 27 people, including the bombers themselves and injuring 33, with Stolypin’s young daughter and son among them. Stolypin, however, was lucky to get away with just a few bruises.
The Socialist Revolutionary Group, headed by Mikhail Sokolov, was an extremist organization that hailed terrorism as the most effective tool to solve political differences. This group had a record of performing over 50 other terrorist attacks – more than any other of the existing groups. Sokolov had this to say about the attempted assassination: “Human lives? Who would call them human? A bunch of watchdogs, they should have been shot dead one after another. It’s not about the elimination of Stolypin per se, but about threatening them; they should know they are confronted by a real force.”
A week after the explosion, as a measure against the frequent terrorist attacks, the government issued a decree opening court martials, which allowed completing court hearings in no longer than 48 hours, with the sentence coming into effect in the following 24 hours. Stolypin was a strong advocate of this measure. In eight months of the decree’s existence, 1,100 people were hanged. Such unprecedented violence on the part of the government turned many people away from Stolypin, regardless of his progressive reforms. This violent decree gave rise to the expression “Stolypin’s tie,” which signified mass execution through hanging.
Aware of the general attitude toward him, Stolypin nevertheless was ready to stand up for his ideals at any cost, all the while knowing his death would not be from natural causes. According to his close associates, Stolypin was convinced he would never die naturally. His close associates recalled that he always spoke about his imminent assassination with perfect calmness.
The assessment of Stolypin’s activity was very controversial; moreover, both the conservatives and the radicals had enough reasons to want to do away with the proactive politician.
The leftist, socialist wing was unhappy with Stolypin’s agrarian reform, which provided support to the well-to-do peasants alongside the simultaneous abolishment of the communal land ownership -- a policy which contradicted the core socialist ideas. Besides, he considered relocating peasants to Siberia, hoping to solve the population scarcity problem through a more equal population distribution. Still, many peasants preferred to return to their homes, another reason this reform was reprimanded.
Emperor Nicolas II, weak and spiritless, was unhappy about Stolypin’s initiatives, and feared he would remain underappreciated in the shadow of Stolypin’s fame.
It is still unclear who was responsible for Stolypin’s assassination in 1911. This might have been either the emperor, who, reluctant to openly dismiss Stolypin, could suggest to his personal guard to do away with him. On the other hand, Vladimir Lenin had just as many reasons to wish for Stolypin’s death, as he himself confessed that, “by his successful policies, Stolypin was pulling the carpet away from under his feet.”
Regardless of who it was, Stolypin today remains a popular figure among both conservatives and the radicals. While some deem him an outstanding and farsighted politician, others condemn him for being a retrograde and an executioner.