Assuming Lars Lih’s definition of konspiratsiia as ‘the fine art of not getting arrested’, then Vladimir obviously learnt it from his older sister, Anna. She was already an organiser and leader among the communists in Moscow before Vlad arrived in St. Petersburg a few years later. By this time, Anna had developed a network of underground meetings, methods of ‘fund-raising’ and had identified ‘clean’ addresses for literature and contacts. She also taught Vlad how to write ‘white on white’ letters, that is, milk or chemicals on paper, which you then held under a flame or put in a cup of tea to bring out. The other tricks included dots and dashes in letters of the words of a book, as well as glueing correspondence into the covers of those beautifully thick books produced then.
By the time she decided to leave Russia in 1890 for a couple of years, sensing that the police were a little too close, she had both managed to avoid arrest for a decade (unlike her brother, who was arrested in 1895) and had a sizeable police file. On her return to Russia in 1902, one police report noted:
She is a person of extremely harmful tendencies. Using her foreign contacts she gives assistance to the introduction of illegal literature to the limits of the Empire, communicates information about events in Russia to foreign revolutionary activists and underground publications, and gives support and services to revolutionary organisations … While in Berlin … she joined the local group of the revolutionary organisation of Iskra and took an active part in its activities … In view of Elizarova’s serious significance, the Department of Police … asks that she be put under police surveillance, without her knowledge (Turton, Forgotten Lives, p. 38).
In fact, the whole family was notoriously ‘dangerous’, providing a vital network for organising the RSDLP in its early years:
Mariia Il’inichna undoubtedly upholds the revolutionary tradition of her family, who are distinguished by an extremely harmful tendency. Her brother, Aleksandr, was executed in 1887 for his participation in a terrorist conspiracy, Vladimir has been sent to Siberia for treason, and Dmitrii was recently put under police surveillance for the propagation of social-democratic ideas. Sister Anna is in constant contact with foreign agents and is, like her husband Mark Timofeevich Elizarov, under police surveillance (Turton, Forgotten Lives, p. 40)