Nadia had nothing to live for, and that made her a perfect revolutionary leader. She had nothing to live for because, in fact, she wasn’t even a she (at least not in the legal sense) - though nobody in the anarchist revolutionary cell to which she belonged knew that startling fact. Nadia had been born in a boy’s body, though she was - obviously in her own eyes - a girl. The fact that nobody in her immediate family recognized this fact and was willing to accept it only proved how corrupt and distorted society was and how dire was the need to tear it down and rebuild it from the ground up. Nadia’s father, a fairly wealthy lawyer and a good and reasonable person (at least in the eyes of everyone except Nadia) tried at first to humor her contentions that she was a girl and then, as she grew older, insisted on sending her to various doctors and even professors at the university, not to mention various priests and “holy men” of the Orthodox Church. Not that that was of any use - none of them could see and understand what, to Nadia, was perfectly plain. They were stupid or mad. They wouldn’t even call her “Nadia”, as she repeatedly insisted, but only by the silly boy’s name of Genady - she refused to even think about it - which they had mistakenly attached to her at birth and considered inviolate.
Finally, at the age of 16, Nadia could take it no longer. She stole some money from her father’s study and some clothes from the room of one of the servant girls who was the same size as she was, and ran away from home. She would live as Nadia for good, whether they liked it or not.
Nadia was an intelligent and voracious reader, especially of political tracts. She had been trying, for some time, to find somebody else who, in his writings, saw the same corruptness and emptiness of society that she had sensed since she was a child. Finally, she found her Shining Prince in the person of a real prince: Prince Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin. Prince Kropotkin was a descendent of Tsars on his father’s side and of a famous general on his mother’s side. He too had served as an officer in the Tsar’s army. However, he was also an intellectual who became exposed to the liberal thought which had penetrated sectors of the St. Petersburg intelligentsia. The more he considered possible reforms of society the more he realized that they could not be anything but halfhearted and ineffectual. The underlying social structures had to be uprooted and destroyed, not reformed. Thus he became the father of what was later called anarchist communism, a theory which advocated the abolition of the state and of private property, and the communal ownership of the means of production.
Prince Kropotkin’s writings were not openly available, of course, but Nadia managed to obtain copies of them - initially through a friend who knew someone who knew a member of an anarchist cell composed mostly of students the university, and later directly through a member of that cell. Now that she had run away from her parent’s house, her first reaction was to seek out her anarchist contact -- who went by the code name of Ivan Ivanovich -- and ask him to hide her. Ivan had never met Nadia in person until now, and so was totally surprised at the young girl who came up to him at the prearranged meeting place near the university’s aula and told him a story - totally false, of course, but then he expected that - about how she had to run away from her family. He was surprised, moreover, by her intellectual maturity and mastery of Kropotkin’s writings, as well as her determination to turn anarchist theory into action. Indeed, after a long night of political debate he still felt that he had not plumbed the depths of her intellect. She was indeed a find.
Finally, around 4am, Nadia curled up to sleep on the floor of Ivan’s rented room in a broken-down and stinking rooming house not far from the university. Ivan had offered to share his bed, but Nadia told him that he must first prove himself to her by taking her to a meeting of his anarchist cell. Ivan hesitated for a moment, but only for that. It was very unlikely that the Okhrana (AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Okhrana -- Department for Guarding the Public Security and Order - was the arm of the tsarist Ministry of the Interior formed to combat and suppress political terrorism and left-wing political activity) would employ a 16-year-old girl as an agent; it was even more unlikely that they would employ anyone as intelligent as Nadia certainly was.
And so, two days later, Ivan Ivanovich brought Nadia to a meeting of the anarchist cell. There were only four members present, all male students at the university: Ivan Ivanovich, Alexei Alexeievich, Nicholai Nicholaievich, and Dimitri Dimitrovich. (Dimitri Dimitrovich was also an Okhrana informant, but of course nobody was aware of that.) True to their anarchist tradition, they had no leader or, rather, each member fancied himself as the leader. True to their Russian male tradition, none of them was willing at first to believe that Nadia had the intellectual capacity to understand them, let alone join them. It was only after long bouts of mental arm-wrestling that they were convinced that she was “the real thing” and offered to allow her to attend their meetings. The first thing she must do, they explained, is to pick a revolutionary code name. Nadia was ready for it. “A true anarchist must remove all ego and all thought of self; a true anarchist must count for nothing in light of the goals of the revolution. Therefore I will be Nikto. (AUTHOR’S NOTE: “nikto” means “nobody” in Russian.) If you are arrested by the Okhrana and asked who else is in your cell, you can truly answer that nobody is.”
And so Nadia, who was born and still officially Genady, became Nikto the revolutionary anarchist. Ivan still had dreams of getting her into his bed, but she constantly refused. The revolution should not be compromised by emotions. She slept on the floor of his room for several more days until she found a room of her own. She also managed to find a part-time job as a waitress, which gave her a meager but steady income. But most of all she lived for the revolution. Little by little, Nadia came to dominate the cell. Until her arrival, it was more of a study group, with various members offering interpretations of the writings of Kropotkin and his disciples or trying (very tentatively) to suggest ideas of his own. Nadia swept all of that aside. “One cannot philosophize a revolution,” she would shout at them, “one makes a revolution with bombs and blood.” She would taunt the others mercilessly - “Am I the only one with balls in this room? Are there no men here?”
Her life away from the cell was not easy. Male puberty was setting in, and had to be combated. Nadia removed her facial and body hair as best she could, using various creams and potions - often dangerous - which she obtained from old women in the marketplace. She learned to modulate her voice, which was not very deep in any case, into an acceptable female register. She became an adept shoplifter and was able by this means to supplement her wardrobe and, though she felt no obligation to look particularly stylish, did wear corsets which forced her body fat into a semblance of a bust. She despised society all the more for forcing her to partake of such charades. “Come the revolution,” she would say to herself, “people like me would not need to pretend any more. We will be able to be what we feel we are and have others treat us with respect.”
She continued to bully the cell into action. They were terrified, of course, but she constantly hammered home her theme - the structures of society are rotten and must be uprooted before the seeds of a new society can be planted. “We must destroy the weeds that choke the vital seedlings of life,” she would sway. “We must uproot them by force.”
Finally, she put forth to the group a concrete plan. A “holy man” of the Russian Orthodox Church, one Grigori Efimovich Rasputin, who was said to be very close to the Tsarina, was scheduled to visit their city in a few weeks. He would be staying at the local monastery and would give a sermon, open to the general public, in its church. Nadia decided that he must be assassinated. “Rasputin is a fraud and a madman,” she declared. “He represents the worst in the Russian Orthodox Church and in the regime of the Tsar. Eliminating him will be a body blow to the social order. We must do it.”
Dimitry Dimitrovich, of course, reported this to his controller the Okhrana, who passed it on to his superiors, who in turn passed it up to the very top of the administrative ladder. But the aristocrats who ran the Ministry of the Interior hated Rasputin and his growing influence over the Tsar at their expense, even more than Nadia did. The report was quietly filed away, and Dimitry was removed from contact with the cell and transferred to another city far away.
How does one go about killing Rasputin? Several ideas were suggested - poison, a deadly serpent or scorpion introduced into his cell, etc. but Nadia derided them all. “The point in killing Rasputin is not just to have him dead; the point is to exhibit for all to see that he was executed, by anarchists. He must be killed in a very public manner and in the most brutal manner possible. We will make a bomb and I will personally toss it at his face while he is preaching his sermon. While I am doing this, you will hang a banner outside the monastery gate saying that the fraud Rasputin was assassinated by anarchists. There will be total confusion and we will be able to escape.”
The other members of the cell wondered a bit at the tremendous hatred which Nadia exhibited towards Rasputin. They could not have guessed the truth, of course. Several years before, when Nakia’s father was still trying to “cure” his son Genady of his “delusions”, he had contacted a holy man named Makarii and asked him to treat the child. Against her will, Nadia was sent to Makarii’s hut, not far from the famous Verkhoturye monstary. The holy man had a short talk with Nadia, and then turned her over to one of his followers, Grigori (who was in fact the same Grigori Rasputin). Surprisingly, this Grigori did not rail against Nadia’s claim that she was really a girl. On the contrary, he brought Nadia some girl’s clothes (Grigori was married and had three children) and told her to wear them when she was with him. He also always referred to her in the feminine (AUTHOR’S NOTE: Russian has separate masculine and feminine forms of address) and behaved most courteously to her - in fact, perhaps a bit TOO courteously. Then, one day, he put his arm around her and kissed her.
Nadia knew immediately what was going to happen. Before Grigori could do anything more, she jumped back, picked up the stool she had been sitting on, and hurled it at him. She then ran out the door and into the study of the holy man Makarii, where she demanded to be sent back to her father immediately. She raised such a commotion that he finally agreed, and sent her back home, along with a sealed letter saying that she was incorrigible and that he could do nothing more.
Nadia had thought a lot about Rasputin. On one hand, she hated him for what he obviously intended to do to her. On the other hand, can a teenage girl really hate the man who was the first to kiss her? He was a lecher and impure - or maybe he was just overwhelmed by her emerging beauty. He was a monster - but he was so handsome and manly. He stood for all that is wrong in Russian society - but maybe he loved her.
And now Nadia was going to kill him. Alexei Alexeievich, who studied chemistry, prepared the bomb. It was crude - as one would expect - but was sure to be effective. He had in fact prepared four of them. One day, he and Nadia went out into the forest and tried two of them. They exploded with tremendous bangs. The other two bombs were well concealed in the church where Rasputin was to give his talk. Nadia would take one out of its hiding place and throw it. If, for some unforeseen reason, it did not explode, she would then get and throw the backup. The cell members prepared banners to be hung outside while the bomb went off, and printed broadsheets containing a special manifesto which they had written for the occasion, to be scattered around the area of the church.
On the day of the talk, Nadia - dressed as a respectful and pious young lady, arrived early in the church and found a seat in the front row. She carefully removed one of the bombs from its hiding place and hid it under her skirt. She plotted her motions - in one swoop she would take up the bomb, light the fuse from a candle less than a yard away from her right hand, and then throw it directly at Rasputin. In her mind, she rehashed all her hatred for society in general and Rasputin in particular. She recalled his look as he talked to her, leaning ever closer. He had looked deeply into her eyes, his hand had, at first, touched her leg and then her arm … and he had bent forward. And then he … . Nadia’s reverie was interrupted by a stir in the crowd. Rasputin, accompanied by several senior monks, had entered the church. He seemed taller than she had remembered him, and his beard was longer. But he was still strikingly handsome, and his eyes were almost hypnotic in their power. She could not remove her gaze from his sensual lips and he strode to the podium and began to address the audience. An expectant hush had descended on the crowd, as they drank in his words.
But Nadia knew that she must act and act now; her very identity, her very existence as a woman depended on this man. She jumped forward, totally surprising him, flung out her arms, and kissed him with fervor.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story is fiction but, as usual, I have included various real people in walk-on roles. The most notable of these are Prince Peter Kropotkin, whose literate and persuasive anarchist writings influenced many a disaffected Russian youth, such as Nadia, and played a crucial role in bringing about the intellectual ferment that led to the Russian revolution. His autobiography, “Memoirs of a Revolutionist,” is still worth reading. The “mad monk” Grigori Rasputin, through his hypnotic presence, gained immense influence over the Tsar and his family at the beginning of the 20th century, and his bad advice helped lead to the eventual downfall of the monarchy. Ironically, had Nadia’s assassination attempt been successful, the Tsar would have been in a better position to survive.
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