H[enry] Justin Roddy.

Complete geography online

. (page 12 of 22)
Online LibraryH[enry] Justin RoddyComplete geography → online text (page 12 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

to the rest of the world. In the early part of the eighteenth
century, all the principal settlements from the Ural Mountains
to the Pacific Ocean were connected by postal routes over which
the distances were carefully measured. Where it was possible,
these routes were broad wagon-roads, twenty-one feet wide,
over which officials, travelers, and immigrants could be trans-
ported at the most rapid possible speed for horses, and at very
moderate rates. From the earliest time the charge for post-
horses in Western Siberia was only a cent and a half or two
cents a mile, while that in Scotland at the same time was five
cents a mile. Even at that early period, letters were carried
for distances of 1,500 miles for a tariff of only nine cents, and
4,000 miles, namely from Moscow to Nerchinsk, for twenty
cents, while in England at the same time the charge for short
distances on the island was twenty-eight cents, and in France,
twenty-five cents for 600 miles. Even in the United States, as
late as 1846, ten cents was charged upon letters going over 300
miles. A half a century before cheap postage was inaugurated
in England, it was in full operation throughout the Russian

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Empire, in recognition of the fact that the primary object of
the postal service is not to obtain revenue for the government,
but to facilitate conmiunication between the people, and fur-
nish means for the cementing of friendships between those
who are separated by long distances.

Nor has the Russian government been behind others in the
promptness and frequency with which its mails have been con-
veyed. As early as 1731 a fortnightly mail was established
between Tobolsk and Moscow, a distance of 1,200 miles, while
in 1702 mails between New York and Boston were carried
only once in two weeks, though the distance is but 250 miles.
In 1784 the mail carriers of England traveled at a rate of
three miles and a half an hour, while in Siberia it was, for a
considerable part of the route, from eight to ten miles an hour,
200 miles a day being no uncommon speed. At the present
time the mail service of the Asiatic provinces of Russia, taking
advantage of the railroad, is as good as any in the world,
bringing the people of the most distant cities and provinces into
close connection with one another ; while the tel^^ph is every-
where present ; so that the entire nation throbs daily with the
same emotions as those which hold sway in all the larger cen-
ters of thought and activity.

Religious Unity

Fourthly, the religious sentiments of the pec^le furnish, per-
haps, the most important basis for preserving the bond of
national unity. There is not, however, as is often supposed,
an iron-clad uniformity in religious belief throughout the

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Russian Empire. In many respects Russia is the most tolerant
of all governments. As already said, all established religious
bodies are recognized and arc permitted to exercise their rights
with great freedom. While the orthodox Greek Church is the
established religion of the empire, there are within its bounds,
and under the protection of its laws, more than 12,000,000
Roman Catholics, nearly 7,000,000 Protestants, more than
4,000,000 Jews, more than 1,000,000 Armenians, more than
12,000,000 Mohammedans, and 3,000,000 of other recognized
religious adherents.

It is true that there are probably nearly 15,000,000 of native
Russian dissenters from the established church, of whom an
imusually large percentage are in Siberia. But with few ex-
ceptions their dissent is not upon fundamental points. For the
most part, the dissenters, like the regular adherents of the
church, strenuously hold to the doctrines of Christianity as
formulated by the first seven ecumenical councils which were
held before the separation between the Eastern and Western
churches took place. And, like the Orthodox Church, the
dissenters maintain their profound respect for the Bible,, pro-
moting its circulation, and going to it directly for the settle-
ment of disputed points. In this respect the position is curi-
ously similar to that in the United States, where, with the
greatest diversity of sects, each appealing to the Bible, there
is a remarkable and substantial unity in the main elements of
Christian life, and of the central doctrines which are promoted.

Some would represent that the religion of the Russians, and
especially that of the Russian settlers in Siberia, as so forma

Digitized by VjOOQIC


that it cannot be sincere, and so overlaid with meaningless
rites and ceremonies that it can scarcely be distingui^ed
from the lowest forms of heathen superstition. This, how-
ever, is most certainly a mistaken view of the case ; for, how-
ever much inferior to the freer methods of Protestantism, these
ritual services may be for the dissemination of Christian truth
and the production of genuine Qiristian activity and emotion,
one cannot mingle much with the people without seeing that,
to a large and encouragfing degree, these means are effective
in accomplishing the true aims of Qiristian culture.* The
traveler in Siberia, from whatever Qiristian land he may come,
can but recognize that all classes of Russian people are moved,
in the main, by the high standards of Christian thought and

The churches before which the peasant pauses to cross him-
self are symbols to him of the purest and noblest human life
that ever was lived upon the earth. When once within the
doors, one finds the rich and the poor, the educated and the
ignorant, the high official and the subaltern, those who have
been successful in life and those who have been cast down in
the deepest sorrow, joining in common acts of adoration, sub-
dued by the same deep, sweet, musical harmonies in which the
noblest religious creed in the world is floated out upon the
worshippers and made to flood their senses with suitable emo-
tion. He sees the homy handed peasant with shaggy beard
and careworn countenance, and the plainly dressed woman
bowed beneath the cares of some large household whose in-
terest she has served for scores of years, together with the

Digitized by VjOOQIC


gayly uniformed officer and the youthful Cossack, each full of
tender memories of the home and village far away, from which
now for a time he is separated by the stem duties of war; all
these, and many more, one sees pressing up, at appropriate
intervals, toward the painting of Christ upon the wall, to kiss
the feet of that Master whose standard of duty was the purest,
the noblest and the highest ever presented to the world, and
yet who looked with streaming eyes of compassion upon the
guilty, and forgave to the uttermost all who came to Him.

It is idle to say that the central thoughts of the Christian
religion do not shine through these forms of expression and
penetrate the peasant mind. The sorrows and mysteries of
human life weigh too heavily upon the peasant's soul for him
to be indifferent to the significance of the eternal truths which
in a thousand ways are embodied in the ordinances and cere-
monials of his church service, and indeed of the whole Chris-
tian civilization which surrotmds him. The mysteries of a
soul's entrance into life are recognized by the church in the
birth of every infant, in the marriage of every loving pair, in
the solemn hours of every death and burial; while the maimed,
the halt, and the blind gather about the church doors, and in
silence appeal for that compassionate consideration which is
granted to such nowhere but in Christian lands ; and they are
not repulsed, but their claims are generously recognized by all.

In short, nothing is more democratic than a Russian church
service, where all classes gather, where there are no seats, but
where all stand in reverence and listen to the reading of the
Bible, to the chanting of the service and the creed, and where

Digitized by VjOOQIC


all occasionally join in the responses, and recognize by appro-
priate genuflections and gestures the most impressive and the
most important parts of the ritual. That all this fails to make
them perfect as they go out into the perplexing whirl of the
cares of daily life is no more than can be said of every other
means of making human nature perfect. But that it does make
a profound impression, and diffuse throughout the entire body
politic that indescribable element of our civilization which we
call Christian, no sympathetic traveler in Siberia can for a
moment doubt.

In the existence of this high standard of political, social, and
private morality, and in its general acceptance by the people,
the Russian Empire has a great vantage-ground in permanently
developing and controlling its Asiatic possessions. It would
be easy, from a Protestant point of view, to criticize the methods
employed by the Russian Church for the enlightenment of the
people. But such criticism would lose much of its value, in
view of the difficulty the distant observer has of tmderstanding
the conditions of the problem before him. Nothing is harder
than for a foreigner to get an adequate comprehension of the
social and religious history of the Russian people. But noth-
ing is clearer than that the nation is remarkably imbued with
the noblest Christian sentiments, and is continually in ferment
by reason of its lofty Christian aspirations. The emancipation
of the serfs is probably the most stupendous single Christian
act which the world has ever witnessed. The abolition of
capital punishment in the eighteenth century, however great a
mistake it may have been, nevertheless, without doubt, was a

Digitized by VjOOQIC


result of the strength of the universal Christian sentiment of
the nation.

If the state now feels bound to support the church, it has
good excuse to do so in recognition of the fact, that, over and
over again, it is the church which has saved the state, by empha-
sizing the national unity and opposing the encroachments of
alien faiths. If there has been, and still is, too great rigidity
on the part of the church in limiting the freedom of thought
and speculation among its members, this is a matter which can
well be left for gradual amelioration through that interchange
of thought among the enlightened Christian leaders which is
going on now more rapidly than ever.

Political and Judicial Factors

So far as its future is affected by governmental conditions,
Asiatic Russia must share in the general fortunes of the em-
pire, which are exceedingly difficult to forecast. The Russian
government has the reputation of being the most autocratic in
the world. But this statement is to be taken with various Im-
portant reservations; for even t3ie most autocratic govern-
ment necessarily has some sort of an unwritten constitution,
and is compelled to give attention to the prevailing public senti-
ment of the nation. On the other hand, the most democratic
form of government finds itself helpless without some central-
ization of power, which amounts in substance to autocracy.

In estimating the advantages and disadvantages of any form
of government it is a great mistake to assume that a bad form
will be as bad in its results as it can be, or a good form as good

Digitized by VjOOQIC


as it is possible to be. There are innumerable deep-seated ele-
ments in human nature which interfere with the success of
theoretically the best governments, and others which restrain
the evils supposed to be inevitable in a bad system. Thus it
may well be that an upholder of the republican system in Amer-
ica may look with much complacency and hope upon the future
of an autocratic government such as exists in Russia.

Popular Elements Retained

For, as previously noted, the Russian peo{de still retain much
of the democratic freedom which early characterized their his-
tory, and which, in its unlimited form, long checked the devel-
opment of the nation, and by reason of its divisions nearly
caused the ruin of the empire. Forming at first merely an in-
coherent agglomeration of petty republics, the people were slow
to combine into a unity sufficiently compact to resist the aggres-
sion of outside powers, especially those pressing upon them
from Asia. The centralization of Russia was forced upon her
by the encroachments of her Tartar foes.

But, in securing the present unity, a large amount of au-
tonomy has still been left to the local communes, to the G)ssack
" Stanitzas," to the church, and to all established religious or-
ganizations. There is in Russia properly no aristocracy. High-
sounding titles abound, but there is no law of primogeniture to
keep estates together. A prince may be a very conmion person
and very poor. The authority of the Tsar rests directly upon
the people. The government at St. Petersburg recognizes the

Digitized by VjOOQIC


village commtine as the political unit, and deals with it without
the intervention of aristocratic agencies. This, of course, neces-
sitates an immense bureaucracy, with all the incidental evils
connected with it. The chief of these arise from the excessive
multiplication of details of administration, under which the sys-
tem becomes so cumbrous that it is rendered ineffective.

Organs of the Central Goyemment

The Tsar has no prime minister. He is, indeed, advised by
a G>uncil of State, whc^e constitution is somewhat like that of
the Lords of England, and he has ten Ministries, or " Port-
folios," somewhat resembling the departments represented by
the Cabinet at Washington. These are: ist, the Emperor's
Household (the Court properly so called) ; 2d, Foreign Af-
fairs; 3d, the Interior; 4th, Finances; 5th, Justice; 6th,
Public Instruction; 7th, Communication; 8th, Crown De-
mesnes; 9th, War; loth. Navy.

But these ministries, usually composed of the ablest men of
the empire, have no way of bringing their concerted influence
to bear upon questions of public policy. In his isolation each
is naturally intent upon his own affairs, and each brings his
plan independently before the supreme authority. In this in-
dependence of the departments there lies an important protec-
tion to the interests of the people. Throughout the entire em-
pire are scattered dficials who, through their relations to, the
several ministries, are independent of each other. The mili-
tary agent in Shang-hai or Tientsin, for example, reports di-

Digitized by VjOOQIC


rectly to the Minister of War, in St. Petersburg, being entirely
independent of the Ambassador in China, who represents
another department.

The Tsar is sometimes represented to be the head of the
Russian Church, because he nominates the members of the Holy
Synod, but he does this under certain well-known restrictions.
An unwritten but imperative law compels him to select these
members from a certain order of the clergy, while he himself
is not permitted to change his religion, but recognizes every-
where that he is under the Church, and not over it. He cannot
be the Tsar, except he confesses the " Orthodox faith," nor does
the Tsar have any choice as to his successor, who can no longer
be a woman, but must be in the male line as fixed by a regular
order. But alien religions are, on the other hand, recognized
and in general given perfect liberty so long as they remain lo3ral
to the existing political organization and do not engage in

Labor Organizations

Side by side with the village commune there is the equally
peculiar Russian institution known as the artel This is a co-
operative organization of laborers which undertakes the accom-
plishment of any piece of work or industrial enterprise, and
divides the profits among the members. It rarely consists of
more than fifteen members, but more usually of five or six, and
is not permanently bound together, but is organized for the spe-
cific work in hand. One of their own number is elected as their
representative, and makes contracts for them, but has no more

Digitized by VjOOQIC


interest than the other members in the profits* So universally
are these artels distributed over the empire, that contracts for
labor are rarely ever made with individual workmen.

The working of this unique institution is strikingly illustrated
in the fishing industries upon the Ural River, which are carried
on by a combination of artds sustaining somewhat the same
relation to the fishing rights and privileges that the village com-
munes do to the landed interests. Altogether upon the lower
course of the Ural and the adjoining portions of the Caspian
Sea about twenty thousand men are associated in local artels
united into a vast " fishing army," which acts together for the
mutual Interests of its members. To protect the rights of all,
it is necessary that the fishing along the whole line should begin
at the same time. Precise regulations are therefore laid down
for the conduct of all the artels, or small companies, of fisher-
men, and all begin at the firing of a signal gun.

But the division of profits is limited to the members of each
company of from ten to fifteen. This, however, is as far as the
communism goes. When each individual receives his share of
profit, it is his own to spend or to save. The saving ones may
accumulate property, and in joining future artels make profit-
able bargains for themselves by furnishing nets and equipment
and getting a proportionate amount of the profits; while in
other cases the skill or knowledge of an expert fisherman may
become a valuable asset from which he may obtain a larger
proportionate amount of the profits.

All these, and various other, national characteristics and insti-
tutions have to be taken into account by the autocratic govern^

Digitized by VjOOQIC


ment, and, like the Gulf Stream in the ocean, they guide the
ship of state more than they are guided by it. Peter the Great
was not much of a Christian, but he could not effect any radical
changes in the organization of the Church, and he nearly split
the empire in his effort to compel the people to shave off their
beards. The millions of " Raskolniks '* of the present day who
refuse to shave their beards are witnesses to the persistency of
democratic and religious national characteristics. A fine of a
hundred rubles had little effect in compelling these dissenters
to shave off their beards contrary to what they believed to be
the command of Scripture.

Representatiye Institutions

In addition to this universal recogniti<Mi of various laws of
church and state, both written and unwritten, and of the village
commune and the workman's artel, much progress has been
made in the last half-century toward giving the advantages of
representative government to the smaller divisions of the em-
pire. In accordance with plans which originated with Alex-
ander II., the village communes have been combined into larger
organizations called volosts, which elect elders and small tribu-
nals for the settlement of a certain class of civil and criminal
cases; while a number of volosts are combined into a larger
district which elects a provincial assembly known as the

The volosts also elect justices of a higher order, whidi fcttin
a court to hear appeals from the decisions of individual justices.

The zemstvos largely regulate taxation and expenditures for

Digitized by VjOOQIC


education, roads, etc., though first of all they must provide for the
tax levied by the state. The assemblies, however, are subject to
supervision by the state authorities somewhat as in the United
States an the acts of city councils and state legislatures or de-
cisions of state courts can be taken by appeal to the United
States courts, the meni)ers of whidi are not elected by the
people, but are appointed for life by the President and Senate.

But it must be said that in Russia the general government is
represented in all the provinces by a governor appointed by the
central authorities, and by a council whose members are also
appointed, and so not directly responsible to the people. There
is also a widely scattered body of secret police called into special
prominence to ferret out the anarchistic plots which have been
so numerous in all parts of Europe and the United States.
Technically the secret police is justified under the plea that the
anarchists have made it necessary to place the whole empire in
" a state of siege.'' It is this class of police which has secured
the arrest and banishment of the so-called political exiles, whose
fate has aroused so much sympathy throughout the Western
world. But, except in special epochs, the number of political
arrests has not been large, and the secret service does not diflfer
essentially in its character from agencies which are resorted
to in emergencies by every form of government. The secret
police find analogies in the United States in the agents who
execute the martial law whidi is occasionally proclaimed by the
President, and in the secret emissaries of tlie post-ofiice depart-
ment who are continually on the watch to intercept the trans-
mission of prohibited literature.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


The judicial system of Russia is now largely based upon the
" Code Napoleon," though the jury system has been appended,
and many supposed improvements adopted. Under this sys-
tem, all minor cases are referred to justices of the peace, who
are elected by the peofrfe, but all serious criminal cases are tried
by juries, fnxn whose verdicts an appeal can be made to the
higher courts, which are also elective. Political offenses, how-
ever, are tried by special tribunals. With this possible excep-
tion the judicial system and both the civil and criminal codes of
Russia are among the most enlightened in Europe, and every
reasonable effort is made to detect their weaknesses and remedy
their faults.

Unification of the Empire

The extension of the entire governmental system of European
Russia over Siberia is merely a question of time. Already
Trans-Caucasia, Tobolsk, and Tomsk have independent gov-
ernors, and are put on an equality with the European provinces,
while Yeniseisk, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, and Transbaikalia are under
the control of the governor-general of East Siberia, residing at
Irkutsk; and Amur and the Maritime Province are under a
governor-general residing at Khabarovsk. The region of the
Steppes, including Uralsk, Turgai, Akmolinsk, Semirechensk,
and Semipalatinsk, have a governor-general staticmed at Omsk;
while Turkestan with all its provinces has one at Tashkent.

Independent of these governor-generals, there are military
governors (individually responsible to the Minister of War)
over Uralsk, the Trans-Caspian region, Turgai, Samarkand,

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Syr Daria, Ferghana, Semipalatinsk, Semirechensk, Akmo-
linsk, Transbaikalia, Amur, the Maritime Province, and Sak-
halin, with local civil governors over Yeniseisk, Irkutsk, and
Yakutsk. All these hold their offices by appointment from the
central government, and are aided by a council composed of
the chiefs of departments of their own appointment and inde-
pendent officials stationed at the various centers by the mmis-
tries at St. Petersburg and responsible directly to them.

The condition of things is slightly analogous to that in the
United States in w'hose territories the governors and some other
officials are appointed at Washington. It is true that in the
regularly organized territories of the United States there is an
elective assembly having limited power, but in Alaska and in
the more recent territorial acquisition there are no elective as-
semblies, but the entire machinery of government is conducted
by officials who receive their appointment from Washington.
In Asiatic Russia the great predominance of Russian popula-
tion will render it comparatively easy to extend the provisions
of European Russia over the entire region, and with present
means of communication there would seem to be no reason why
the unity of the empire could not be preserved with any amount
of increase in the population.

Digitized by VjOOQIC



IF, in addition to this summary of facts relating to Russia's
expansion in Asia, one takes a brief glance at the map,
he will easily see the baselessness of the fears that are
felt in Europe, especially in England, lest Russia is to absorb

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryH[enry] Justin RoddyComplete geography → online text (page 12 of 22)