Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Can Bank robbers become National heroes ? ~ 1907 Tiflis Bank Robbery


Know thy heroes !  - would you consider Bank robbers as National heroes ?

After starting a fire in a nearby warehouse as a diversion, the five robbers—Leah Dillon; her sister, Vee; their brother, Michael; Kramer, the safecracker; and Cyrus, the muscle—initiate a bank robbery. An officer inside the bank tries to call for help on his police radio. Detective Tom Iger, who had just been in the bank, hears the call and decides to check it out. While walking back to check on the bank, he hears another anonymous call on his radio about the robbery.  The robbers find only $70,000 in the vault. Leah wants to leave, but Vee and Cyrus demand more money. The assistant manager Ed Maas says he will tell them where $6 million is stored as long as they do not hurt anyone. He tells them the money is in the basement vault which is a part of the old bank and hands them the key to the access door.

By now, police are stationed outside the bank and Leah is confused as to how they knew about the heist.   -  The Vault is a 2017 American horror film directed by Dan Bush, written by Dan Bush and Conal Byrne, and starring Francesca Eastwood, Taryn Manning, Scott Haze, Q'orianka Kilcher, Clifton Collins Jr., and James Franco.

A story of love and heist – a Tamil film at that -  printed currency from the Govt Press – of a huge value, a container load – getting stolen by a foreign operative – access card gets into possession of a singer – incomes some locals too – hot chase and all stuff.  The CBI officer is the burly SP Balasubramanian – two small time burglars, on the run comes in between – the container gets hidden behind straw ..   the movie ‘Thiruda thiruda’ at that time was interesting – though Mani Ratnam’s films of those days when seen now look a bit comical and ordinary !!

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov [1870 – 1924] – most would know him better as Lenin,   a Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia and then the wider Soviet Union became a one-party communist state governed by the Russian Communist Party. Ideologically a communist, he developed a variant of Marxism known as Leninism.

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin [1878 – 1953]   was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until 1953 as the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and premier of the Soviet Union (1941–1953). Despite initially governing the Soviet Union as part of a collective leadership, he eventually consolidated power to become the country's de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin formalised these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies are known as Stalinism.


The decision to create a State Bank of the Russian Empire was made by Emperor Peter III in May 1762, which was modelled on Bank of England and would have the right to issue bank notes. However, due to the coup in  1762 and the murder of the Czar, the project was not implemented. The outbreak in 1768 of the Russian-Turkish War and deficit of the state budget forced Catherine II, in turn, refer to the idea of issuing a paper money, and in December 1768 she formed the State Assignation Bank, which existed until 1818 and was replaced by the State Commercial Bank, but the first central banking body in Russia was established in 1860 as The State Bank (GosBank) of the Russian Empire.   According to the statutes, it was a state-owned bank, intended for short-term credit of trade and industry.

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), the predecessor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was formed in 1898. The goal of the RSDLP was to carry out a Marxist proletarian revolution against the Russian Empire. As part of their revolutionary activity, the RSDLP and other revolutionary groups (such as anarchists and Socialist Revolutionaries) practised a range of militant operations, including "expropriations", a euphemism for armed robberies of government or private funds to support revolutionary activities.

From 1903 onwards, the RSDLP were divided between two major groups: the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. After the suppression of the 1905 Revolution, the RSDLP held its 5th Congress in 1907 in London with the hopes of resolving differences between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.  One issue that still separated the two groups was the divergence of their views on militant activities, and in particular, "expropriations".  The most militant Bolsheviks, led at the 5th Congress by Vladimir Lenin, supported continuation of the use of robberies, while Mensheviks advocated a more peaceful and gradual approach to revolution, and opposed militant operations. At the 5th Congress, a resolution was passed condemning participation in or assistance to all militant activity, including "expropriations" as "disorganizing and demoralizing", and called for all party militias to be disbanded.  This resolution passed with 65 per cent supporting and 6 per cent opposing (others abstained or did not vote) with all Mensheviks and some Bolsheviks supporting the resolution.

The 1907 Tiflis Bank Robbery, also known as the Erivansky Square expropriation, was an armed robbery on 26 June 1907  in the city of Tiflis in the Tiflis Governorate in the Caucasus Viceroyalty of the Russian Empire (now Georgia's capital, Tbilisi). A bank cash shipment was stolen by Bolsheviks to fund their revolutionary activities. The robbers attacked a bank stagecoach, and the surrounding police and soldiers, using bombs and guns while the stagecoach was transporting money through Erivansky Square (now Freedom Square) between the post office and the Tiflis branch of the State Bank of the Russian Empire. The attack killed forty people and injured fifty others, according to official archive documents. The robbers escaped with 341,000 rubles (equivalent to around US$3.96 million in 2018).

The robbery was organized by a number of top-level Bolsheviks, including Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Maxim Litvinov, Leonid Krasin, and Alexander Bogdanov, and executed by a party of revolutionaries led by Stalin's early associate Simon Ter-Petrosian, also known as "Kamo" and "The Caucasian Robin-Hood". Because such activities were explicitly prohibited by the 5th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), the robbery and the killings caused outrage within the party against the Bolsheviks (a faction within the RSDLP). As a result, Lenin and Stalin tried to distance themselves from the robbery.

The events surrounding the incident and similar robberies split the Bolshevik leadership, with Lenin against Bogdanov and Krasin. Despite the success of the robbery and the large sum involved, the Bolsheviks could not use most of the large bank notes obtained from the robbery because their serial numbers were known to the police. Lenin conceived of a plan to have various individuals cash the large bank notes at once at various locations throughout Europe in January 1908, but this strategy failed, resulting in a number of arrests, worldwide publicity, and negative reaction from social democrats elsewhere in Europe.

Kamo was caught in Germany shortly after the robbery but successfully avoided a criminal trial by feigning insanity for more than three years. He managed to escape from his psychiatric ward but was captured two years later while planning another robbery. Kamo was then sentenced to death for his crimes including the 1907 robbery, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment; he was released after the 1917 Revolution. None of the other major participants or organizers of the robbery were ever brought to trial.

On the day of the robbery, 26 June 1907, the 20 organizers, including Stalin, met near Erivansky Square (just 2 minutes from the seminary, bank and viceroy's palace) to finalize their plans, and after the meeting, they went to their designated places in preparation for the attack.  The gang members mostly dressed themselves as peasants and waited on street corners with revolvers and grenades. In contrast to the others, Kamo was disguised as a cavalry captain and came to the square in a horse-drawn phaeton, a type of open carriage.  The Tiflis branch of the State Bank of the Russian Empire had arranged to transport funds between the post office and the State Bank by horse-drawn stagecoach.  Inside the stagecoach was the money, two guards with rifles, a bank cashier, and a bank accountant.  The stagecoach made its way through the crowded square at about 10:30 am. Kupriashvili gave the signal, and the robbers hit the carriage with grenades, killing many of the horses and guards, and began shooting security men guarding the stagecoach and the square. Bombs were thrown from all directions. One of the injured horses harnessed to the bank stagecoach bolted, pulling the stagecoach with it, chased by Kupriashvili, Kamo, and another robber, Datiko Chibriashvili.   After securing the money, Kamo quickly rode out of the square; encountering a police carriage, he pretended to be a captain of the cavalry, shouting, "The money's safe. Run to the square.

The State Bank was not sure how much it actually lost from the robbery, but the best estimates were around 341,000 rubles, worth around 3.4 million US dollars as of 2008.  A decade later, after the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, many of those who had been involved in the robbery became high ranking Soviet officials. Lenin went on to become the first Soviet Premier, the post he held until his death in 1924, followed by Stalin as leader of the Soviet Union until his own death in 1953. Maxim Litvinov became a Soviet diplomat, serving as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs (1930–1939). Leonid Krasin initially quit politics after the split from Lenin in 1909, but rejoined the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Revolution and served as the Soviet trade representative in London and as People's Commissar for Foreign Trade until his death in 1926. After Kamo's release from prison, he worked in the Soviet customs office, by some accounts because he was too unstable to work for the secret police.  He died in 1922 when a truck hit him while he was cycling;  some have theorized that Stalin ordered his death to keep him quiet.

Sad, I never read these in my history classes and many hail  these bank robbers as revolutionaries.  What is your take ? – the facts of history are stranger than fiction !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
26.6.2020


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