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Th n yOoraii, ti.i n oOn.ihiiafr,
Tu n MorymH, ti.i h 6c3Cu.ihna.K,
MaiyuiKa Pycb!

[Thou art destitute, yet abounding.
Thou art powerful, thou art weak,
O beloved Mother Russia!]

Nekrasov (1821-1878)

For ever extending its base, the new Demoeracy now aspires to
universal suffrage — a fatal error, and one of the most remarkable
in the history of mankind. . . . We may well ask in what
consists the superiority of Democracy. Everj'where the strongest
man becomes master of the State.

Among the falsest of political principles is the principle of the sover-
eignty of the people ... a principle which has unhappily
become more firmly established since the time of the French

Were we to attempt a true definition of Parliament, we should say
that Parliament is an institution serving for the satisfaction of the
personal ambition, vanity, and self-interest of its members. The
institution of Parliament is indeed one of the greatest illustrations
of human delusion.

KoNSTANTix PoBiEDONOSTSEV, Reflections of a Russian States-
man (trans. R. C. Long, 1898), 26, 27, 32, 34, 35.

The great turning-point in the history of Russia in the The era of
nineteenth century had come a httle before 1870, following reform m

the disasters of the Crimean War and the death of Nicho- Alexander

las I, when, after a long period of conservatism and re- II

pression, it had seemed necessary at last to undertake

changes and reforms. The new tsar, Alexander II (1855-

1881), was a man of humane and liberal disposition.

At once he reversed the policy of his father and thus

awakened among progressive Russians the highest hopes



of what would be done. He allowed exiles to return to
Russia and pardoned other political offenders. The uni-
versities were given freedom again, and Russians allowed
to travel abroad. These actions made a most favorable
impression, and, as is always the case, ardent and enthusi-
astic people believed that all the ills of Russia were about
to be cured. Generally the sentiment was much like that
which had prevailed in France just before 1789. There
was no desire to overthrow the government, but to reform
long-standing abuse§. This it was thought the tsar him-
self could best do.
Abolition of At once Alexander turned himself to the principal

serfdom problem awaiting solution. Most of the inhabitants of

in Russia, |-^-g dominions were still partly unfree. Serfdom had al-
ready been abolished in Poland, and there were many free
peasants in the north and the Cossacks in the south, but
over most of the Russian Empire serfdom prevailed. He
began by freeing the 23,000,000 serfs on the royal domain
or crown lands. They had a much better position than
any of the others, being practically free and merely owing
to the tsar payments that were the equivalent of rent.
Whenever he wished, he could declare them free, proclaim
that they were the owners of lands they had formerly
cultivated under the crown, and abolish the dues they
had previously paid. In 1859 this was begun and the
process w^as complete seven years later. Meanwhile, he
was busy persuading the nobles not to resist the freeing
of their serfs also. The change was bound to come to
pass, he told them, and it was much better that it be
granted from above than forced by revolution from be-
low. The noblemen made no determined resistance, and
The nobles in March, 1861, an edict of emancipation was proclaimed
yield to the ^vJiich abolished all serfdom in the Empire, thus emancipat-
ing the 26,000,000 serfs of private owners. This edict
was of immense importance in the history of the freedom of
the human race. By no other legislation had so many



people ever been made free. It brought serfdom in
Europe to an end. Thereafter of serfdom and of shivery
there was very Httle left anywhere in the world, except
for the 4,000,000 negro slaves in the southern common-
wealths of the United States and the slaves still held in

The substance of this edict is very interesting. In
England and France serfdom had disappeared a long time
before — gradually, as the result of the working of economic
causes. Serfdom was not abolished in England, but in
course of time all of the serfs had become free. Such was
largely the case also in France, for when serfdom was
formally abohshed there in 1789 most of the peasants
were already free. In Russia now, as in the United
States two years later, the unfree population was made
free in a few years, almost at a stroke. In Russia this
would be very apt to bring about considerable dis-
location and confusion, as indeed it did in the United
States, for society was being altered not by gradual
development, but quickly and artificially, by law. In
the Southern States of America the enfranchised negroes,
made completely free by the Federal Government, sank
back after a while, many of them, into a condition of
economic servitude. From this condition the utmost
efforts of their Northern friends could not save them, and
from it they have only gradually and in part escaped
after many years, as they have been able to acquire the
ownership of land. In England, long before, the decline
of serfdom had made many villems free, indeed, but driven
them away from the land which they had cultivated, and
often reduced them to a worse economic position than
before. This the Russian Government now strove to
avert. Not only were the old services abolished, but to
the free peasants was given that portion of the land which
formerly they had cultivated, that is to say, a part of what
had belonged to the nobles or the crown. For the most

of the




Results of




part the ownership of this property was vested not in the
individual peasants, but, in accordance with communal
ideas which had long prevailed in Russia, in the village
communities or ?7iirs. The former owners were to be paid
by these communes, to which the government would ad-
vance the money necessary for this, the communes for
forty-nine years to pay back to the government 6 per
cent, of the amount thus advanced.

This change involved less alteration than might have
been expected. To the world at large the edict seemed
a great triumph of liberty, and it did, in conferring on the
peasants the status of free men and women, abolish a
condition that discredited Russia in the eyes of the
world. But emancipation did not make much change
in the condition of most of the peasants, and doubtless
nothing could have produced much difference in any short
time. The peasants who had formerly cultivated land,
for which they made payments and rendered service, now
cultivated the same land, or in many cases a smaller ex-
tent, of which they collectively were owners, but for
which they had to make yearly payments nevertheless.
AMiere before they had been bound to the lord's estate,
now they were bound to the mir. Before they had been
serfs to great noblemen; now, it was said, they were vir-
tually serfs of the State. Indeed they were bitterly dis-
appointed. They had long hoped that some day the
lands on which they lived would be given to them free
of any encumbrance. Furthermore, with the rapidly in-
creasing population of Russia, it became more and more
evident in the years which followed that not enough land
had been given to support the peasants. Most of them
continued to live in very abject poverty, and in ignorance
and filth, even though they were now free men. The
peasants began to hope for a day when more of the lands
that remained to the nobles and the crown might be
given them. Only so, it was believed, would such benefits



result as gradually came to the peasantry of France in
consequence of the French Revolution.

Other reforms followed. In 1HC4 the Russian judicial
system was radically changed, in accordance with prin-
ciples long before gradually developed in western Europe.
Judges were made independent, jury trial was introduced,
judicial and administrative powers were separated, and
a system of courts established, with appeal from the lower
to the higher. The vast mass of petty cases, which in all
countries always make up the bulk of judicial business,
and which for a long time in England had been dealt with
by justices of the peace, w^as now to be handled in Russia
by similar officials, elected by the people of the locality.

In the same year also a decree of the tsar established
a greater measure of local self-government. In their
pettiest concerns the peasants had some self-government
in the village communities, or viirs, but this was all. Rus-
sia was already divided into thirty-four "governments"
which were composed of provinces and districts. Self-
government was now given in these larger administrative
divisions, the provinces and districts. Each of these
jurisdictions was now to have an assembly, zeinstvo,
made up of the large landed proprietors of the locality
and of delegates indirectly elected by the peasants and
people of the towns. Substantially, the nobles, the
peasants, and the bourgeoisie were represented in the
zemstvos. The district council or zemstvo was to be
elected by the people of the locality, the district councils
themselves were to choose the members of the provincial
'zemstvos. These councils w^ere to impose the local taxes
and make the local regulations, which were to be carried
out by standing committees. In 1870 dumas, or councils,
were established in the Russian cities, the members being
elected according to the Prussian three-class system, by
the citizens in proportion to their wealth.

Other changes were made, and it seemed that much



Local gov-



ment in




improvement must result, but disappointment and reac-
tion soon clouded the prospect. The Russian liberals,
who had so long been repressed by Nicholas, were at first
filled with all sorts of pent-up hopes, believing that exten-
sive reforms would regenerate their country at once.
These idealists and enthusiasts had no real conception
of the difficulties besetting any programme of reform in the
country, weighed down as it must be by the dead
hand of the centuries of ignorance and oppression gone
before. Only very gradually could the Russian people
be changed by any reforms, and no improvement could be
very marked until a new generation had grown up in the
midst of the new age. Hence the boundless hopes were
soon disappointed. The peasants saw little difference
between their former condition and that in which eman-
cipation now placed them. The liberals and the radicals
who had no practical experience, but some knowledge of
what prevailed elsewhere, were grieved that conditions
in Russia were not speedily made like what they knew of
in England and France. Furthermore, the reforms that
had been made could not be well administered at first,
since they were opposed by all the conservatives, and no
band of capable administrators could at once be produced
to make them work well. liOcal government could not be
very efficient until there had been a time of training and ex-
perience, and the new courts could not give fair and cheap
justice until upright and capable judges were procured.

Alexander himself changed also. It is said that he was
not really a liberal, but one who believed that alterations
were inevitable, and so preferred to make them in time
rather than wait for violent upheaval. Furthermore, he
was surrounded by reactionary officials, who had grown
up in the reign preceding. In course of time their in-
fluence was felt. And finally in 1863 came another re-
bellion of the Poles, after which the tsar soon ceased mak-
ing reforms.

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The Polish

The masses
in Poland in-

It was another despairing effort of the Poles to win their
freedom. At the end of the eighteenth century their
country had been partitioned between Prussia, Austria,
and Russia. Now the country in which most of them
hved was merely a part of the Russian Empire. But
the spirit of nationality, which was rising again strongly
in Europe, aroused certain classes of this people. The
Italians had just achieved their unity, and the Germans
were about to make a united nation. Polish patriots be-
gan to dream of a day when Poland would be free again,
reviving the ancient glories of the time when she held
Lithuania and other districts subject. Moreover, the
tsar had made some concessions to them, enough to
raise their expectations, but less than they desired. Sud-
denly an insurrection broke out. The Poles appealed
to the free nations of Europe for assistance, and much
sympathy was aroused in England and France and else-
where. Actually, however, the movement was not
formidable. The Prussian Government offered help to the
tsar, but it was never needed. Generally the Polish
population remained passive. Through long previous
centuries this peasantry had been bowed under the most
degrading serfdom, in hopeless poverty, without attach-
ment to the masters who oppressed them, and without
any feeling of patriotism for a state which did nothing for
them. Therefore, when now in the hour of need Polish
leaders and nobles called upon them to rise for the sake
of their nation, they looked on with indifference, having
not yet learned to care enough for Poland, and caring
little who were their masters. The rebellion was crushed,
and when this was done the Russian Government took
measures to crush permanently the power of those who
had made it. The monasteries of the religious orders
were suppressed and their lands taken away from them.
About half of the lands of the nobility was taken and
given to the peasants, with a view to reducing the nobles*

CISEI Esthonians

Mm Cheremiss

t'.V;y>';l Armenians
^^ Kalmaks






changes in

increases in

power and making the peasants friendly to the Russian Gov-
ernment. These lands were to be paid for, but by a tax
not only upon the possessions of the peasants but on those
of the nobles as well, so that the former owners were com-
pensated only in part. The results of this were important.
The influence of the upper classes, among whom the
spirit of Polish nationality was strongest, was crippled.
Furthermore, the condition of the Polish lower classes
was improved, and contrary to what was sometimes be-
lieved in other parts of the world, the economic condition
of most of the Polish people under Russia was better even
than in Galicia, where the Austrian Government had done
little to interfere with the pri\aleges of the Polish nobles,
but where the peasants continued in low degradation.
On the other hand, the Russian Government, resolving to
make a Russian province out of Poland, now forbade the
use of the Polish language in any government business, in
university lectures, in newspapers, in theaters, in schools,
and in churches. Against this the Polish people made
\'igorous resistance, and in the struggle that ensued the
spirit of nationality was at last strongly awakened in the
mass of the people, who began to hope for a free Polisli
nation in the future.

Some of Alexander's reforms were put into effect after
this time, but he now became conservative and suspicious.
In 1865 the nobles of Moscow petitioned the tsar to
establish representative government, but neither then
nor afterward would he grant either parliament or con-
stitution. He had begun to feel that autocracy might be
weakened by further concessions, and he resolved firmly
to uphold his power. Discontent increased. Some thought
not enough had been done, and expectation was aroused
by what had been done. Moreover, the mere passage of
time and the changes going on elsewhere created greater
demands. So, in the despair which now came to the
liberals, violence and extreme radicalism took the place



of a progressive liberal movement. Nihilists, extreme
socialists, and terrorists supplanted the liberal reformers.

The term nihilist (nihil, nothing) is said to have been
first used by tlie Russian novelist Turgeniev in his novel.
Fathers and Sons, published in 18G2, to signify one wlio
accepted nothing without critical examination, nothing
on authority merely. It was soon applied in Russia to
intellectuals who accepted nothing in Russia as good,
contrasting what they saw there with conditions in other
countries. They accepted neither the autocratic govern-
ment of Russia nor the Greek Catholic faith which had so
long ruled men's minds there. Turgeniev described his
character as one who believed that there was no institu-
tion which ought not to be destroyed completely and at
once. What was, ought to be overthrown, in order that
society might be constructed anew. At first all this was
merely held by intellectuals, who talked about it but
were not prepared to go further. After a few years,
however, it was translated into action. About 1871
there was a great stirring in the minds of economic radi-
cals in Europe. The Commune of Paris had just at-
tempted to institute a new social and political order, and
even its failure had attracted much attention. Further-
more, the socialism of western Europe was beginning to
have its effect upon Russian thinkers, and, more im-
portant still, the doctrines of violence which the anar-
chists taught.

Active anarchism had been largely developed by the
Russian Bakunin, who had elaborated his ideas from the
teachings of the Frenchman Proudhon. Before Marx
had begun his great career in the founding of modern
socialism Proudhon published in 1840 a work in which
he asserted that property was theft, and declared that the
existing social system was wrong. But he did not pro-
pose, as did Marx somewhat later, to substitute public
ownership for private. He believed that each individual





Teachings of

unrest, and

slioiild use what he produced with his labor. This led
him to leave ever3i:hing to the individual and to attack
all government. He believed that the best system would
be that in which there was no government, arzarc^?/ (dvapx(a).
He himself did not believe in using violence to bring this
about, but his doctrines were taken up by Bakunin, who
declared that capitalism and autocratic government
ought to be destroj'ed through violence, and, where this
was not possible, through secret assassination and terror.
Now in Russia, when the efforts of the peaceful radicals
were cjiecked bj^ the government, and many were pun-
ished or sent into exile, the movement of reform and
opposition, after changing into nihilism, a doctrine held
by philosophers and students, and then into socialist
propaganda, got into the hands of the anarchists, who
attempted to create a reign of terror, and paralyze the
government, or at least take vengeance on their op-

An attempt had been made to assassinate the tsar in
1866. Thereafter he hearkened more than ever to the
reactionaries, and in the ten years after the Polish revolt
a great number of people were sent to Siberia. Then the
agitators rose in petty insurrections. As the revolution-
aries became more \aolent, the governing classes were
more repressive. The old censorship was partly revived,
and the harshest punishments were imposed. In 1878
a secret committee was established at St. Petersburg to
carry on war against the government. Literature was
printed for secret distribution, and bombs were manu-
factured for the assassination of public oflScials. In a
short time prominent officials were done to death by
members of the society, and attempts were made to kill
the tsar himself. Martial law was proclaimed, and a
minister was appointed with the fullest powers of a dic-
tator. In 1881 the tsar, yielding somewhat, gave his con-
sent that a general commission, partly representative,



should be summoned to consult about reforms. But on
the day tliat this decree was si^nied a f(jurtli attempt was
made to assassinate him, and he was Ijlown to pieces by
a bomb hurled as he was passing throu^'h the streets.
Thus perished the Tsar Liberator, author of the most
important reform made in Russia for generations, victim
very largely of the conditions which older times had be-
queathed to him. The terrorists at once |)ublished a
manifesto in which they promised to cease their activities,
if freedom of speech, of the press, and of meeting, were
allowed in Russia, and if a national assembly were elected
by manhood suffrage. But their deed was about to usher
in a period of sterner and more terrible reaction, and when
at last changes were made in Russia, they were to come —
as in France long before — not through constitutional
amendment, but through destruction of the old system
by revolution.

Alexander III (1881-1894), son of the murdered tsar,
was determined to avenge the death of his father, and
crush all elements of disorder. The voice of God, he said,
bade him strengthen and preserve his autocratic power.
In temperament he was a reactionary like his grandfather
Nicholas I. And in the efforts which he now made he was
constantly abetted by Pobiedonostsev, Procurator of the
Holy Synod, a minister who at the end of the century
stood for the conservatism and the reactionary ideas
which ]\Ietternich had upheld at its beginning. Alexan-
der III believed that the good of the Russian state would
be obtained if autocracy were strengthened and new li})eral
ideas kept out. He set himself to the task of undoing
what the reactionaries thought were his father's mistakes.
Pobiedonostsev, who encouraged him in all that he did,
developed with sincerity a philosophical basis for the ideas
which he strove to apply, and, like Metternich, he after-
ward explained them in his Reflections. He believed that
autocratic government was not only best for the Russians,

tion of
II, 1881

III and



but best in itself, and that democracy was a cumbersome
thing which had arisen in the errors of the western peoples.
In the parliamentary system he not only saw the defects
which others have seen, but believed it to be useless. So
Alexander and Pobiedonostsev undertook to keep Russia
un defiled by contamination with western ideas, to with-
draw such concessions as had recently been granted, and
by stern and rigid rule, keep Russia what they thought
she should be.
Reaction In a short time the great reforms of Alexander II were

largely undone. The peasants who had received freedom,
though little economic betterment, by the edict of emanci-

Online LibraryEdward Raymond TurnerEurope since 1870 → online text (page 23 of 49)