Grigorii Andreevich Gershuni in prisoner’s clothing, during his period of exile in Siberia, ca. 1905. (YIVO)

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Gershuni, Grigorii Andreevich

(1870–1908), a founding member of the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party and one of the leaders of its Combat Organization. Grigorii Gershuni was born near Kaunas, Lithuania. Some sources describe him as a chemist, while others call him a pharmacist. He joined the revolutionary movement, and by the late 1890s had become an important promoter of socialist and anarchist ideas.

Gershuni helped to found illegal revolutionary groups in Belorussia, including the Workers Party for the Liberation of Russia. In 1901, these groups merged with similar organizations in Saratov and the so-called Northern Union in Moscow. Together with other activists—such as the infamous Evno Azev, who was later unmasked as a police spy—they founded the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR) at a congress in Finland from 29 December 1905 to 4 January 1906.

Although Gershuni never was a leading theoretician within the party, and preferred to remain an organizer, he was highly appreciated by leading members. He believed in the goodness and wisdom of the Russian people, and did not find it necessary to defend Jewish rights within a specific Jewish organization. To him the Romanovs and high-ranking Russian bureaucrats were to be blamed for the miserable living conditions in Russia; accordingly, these rulers had to be removed through a revolution. A democratically elected representative assembly would then be instructed to establish a new political system. These ideas seem to have been close to those of the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets). After Gershuni delivered a speech at the Extraordinary Congress of the party in 1907, suggesting a conciliatory policy toward the Kadets, Lenin castigated him as a “Kadet Lover.”

Gershuni was a practical-minded revolutionary who believed that there were many different paths to achieve a more just political system in Russia; for this reason, he did not categorically reject the Kadets as allies of the SR. At the same time, he became involved as a head of the SR’s Combat Organization, which many considered the terrorist branch of the SR Party. Although he did not believe that assassinations would ultimately topple the tsarist government, the Combat Organization under his command murdered Interior Minister Dmitrii S. Sipiagin in April 1902, attempted to assassinate Prince Obolenskii, the governor of Khar’kiv, and killed N. M. Bogdanovich, the governor of Ufa, in May 1903. The Combat Organization’s next victim was to have been Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the overprocurator of the Holy Synod, whose life was spared when the police arrested Gershuni and terminated the Combat Organization unit.

In 1904, Gershuni was sentenced to death, but the verdict was commuted to life imprisonment. After various stays in prisons in Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and Akatui (in eastern Siberia), he escaped in 1906 and left Russia by way of China, moved to the United States, and ended up among fellow Russian revolutionaries-in-exile in Zurich, where he died of tuberculosis. Gershuni was buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris. His memoirs, published under the title Iz nedavni’ag’ proshlago (From the Recent Past), were first published in Saint Petersburg in 1907.

Suggested Reading

Viktor Mikhailovich Chernov, Grigori Gershuni: Zayn lebn un tetikayt (New York, 1934); Grigorii Andreevich Gershuni, Zikhronot Gershuni, trans. Alexander Siskind Rabinovitz (Jaffa, 1918/19).