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position which requires an immense amount of upholding, and no pains are spared to make it as impressive as possible.
It was Nicholas the First who instituted the rigid censorship which still prevails in Russia. He foresaw the effects which the spread of common knowledge would have upon the minds of his subjects. He had his own ideas of civilisation, and the autocracy of the Tsar of Russia was the keynote of his scheme. Therefore liberty of the subject and freedom of conviction had to be suppressed.
Alexander the Second, more enlightened than his forbears, granted a measure of emancipation to the lowest and most miserable of his subjects. He liberated the serfs, but he still retained all the forms of autocratic government; nor did he seek to educate his people to receive the just right of humanity-liberty. Since the reign of Alexander the Second neither of his successors has made any attempt worth mentioning to prepare the nation to receive the blessings of freedom. The perpetual cry is that Russia is not ready for a constitution. But what steps have the Tsars of Russia ever taken to prepare her for it? And so long as the present ideals actuate the Tsar and the bureaucratic class in Russia, no steps to educate the nation are likely to be taken; and the old cry that the country is not ready for a constitution will be repeated without end.
With the gradual spread of knowledge, which has taken place in spite of the efforts of the censor's office, dissatisfaction with this state of affairs was bound to come, and the first serious threatenings of discontent were raised in the reign of Alexander the Second, about 1860, when the Nihilist movement may be said to have taken root. In those days strange men and women in bizarre clothing, and with a total disregard for the conventional usages of society, were seen perambulating the streets or talking together in earnest groups. They preached the overthrow of all social institutions, the establishment of a freedom absolutely opposed to the social instincts of mankind, and the removal of all undesirables who stood in the path of the fulfilment of their ideals. Throughout the reign of Alexander the Second they gained in numbers and strength; and in 1881 they succeeded in assassinating the Tsar, who had always endeavoured by conciliatory means to deal with the new movement within his borders. Under Alexander the Third the Nihilists met with a very different reception. They were ruthlessly suppressed, until, in spite of an occasional outbreak, they appeared to be finally subdued. The movement flickered out, but the flame had already kindled fires in the hearts of many, and under various appellations societies were formed to carry on the work which the Nihilists had begun. Year by year these societies increased and multiplied, until they have attained to a strength and importance which will be found capable of carrying all before them.
To-day the forces of revolution in Russia are organised-not all into one body, it is true, for there are societies of moderates and societies of extremists. There are those who would proceed by • constitutional' methods, and there are those who desire to resort to anarchy. Some demand merely a curtailment of the autocratic power of the Tsar, others still cry out for the overthrow of all existing institutions and the whole fabric of society. Then, again, there is a very large body of the population belonging to the merchant guilds, which for its safety dare not belong to any revolutionary society, but which, nevertheless, ardently desires revolution, and only awaits a lead. But all these varying shades of opinion, as represented by their numerous leagues and societies, are controlled by one executive committee and brought into the great revolutionary party in Russia.
This revolutionary organisation has branches all over the world, and is international in its character. Included in its membership are men of all ranks and of every degree. The professional element and the universities are very largely represented. The majority of the Russian students at foreign universities are to be counted amongst the numbers of the Revolutionary party. In Russia itself the members are legion. They are to be found in every walk of life-officers and men of the army and navy, officials of the customs, police, or censor's office, who draw a meagre pittance from the Tsar's coffers. They are to be found in the palaces of the Tsar himself and amongst his advisers too. Men with great names in Russia will be found amongst the leaders of the Revolution-men of science, doctors and chemists, and students without number. As for the peasants, they are waiting to do what they are told, as they have always done. At present they are taking their orders from the Tsar and the popes of the Orthodox Church; but they will take them from anybody else when their minds are inflamed.
The revolutionary party has its hand upon the army, and therein lies the essence of success. There are soldiers in Manchuria at this moment who are pledged to make no Japanese widows. It is astonishing how badly the Russian naval gunner lays his gun. I have lately seen two letters, written by soldiers at the front, which go far to account for the total lack of success of the Russian arms. One speaks of men voluntarily surrendering to the Japanese, so that they may not be called upon to fight for the Tsar. The other tells a tale of a sudden retreat on the part of a company of Russian soldiers at the moment when victory was in their grasp, and of the officer in command, unable to stop the stampede of his men, blowing out his brains.
The revolutionary party in Russia is ruled by an Executive Committee of twelve men. The head of the Committee is a doctor, who, to this day, holds a prominent post at one of the universities. He is a very taciturn man of great abilities and brain power, but he seldom speaks. Other members of the Committee are professors of universities in Germany, near the Russian border. There are no appointed times or places for the meetings of the Committee, circumstances alone ruling the frequency and locality of their deliberations. In the hand of the Executive Committee rest the lives of the ministers and governors of the Empire. The removal of M. de Plehve was due to their deliberations.
Each government in Russia has its revolutionary organisation complete in detail, under the Executive Committee. Thus all the elements of revolution are to hand and organised.
Some idea of the influence of the revolutionary party may be obtained from the fact that on the day of the assassination of M. de Plehve the Tsar found on the table of his private room a sealed letter addressed to him by the Executive Committee, which he handed to the Minister of Justice for investigation. How was the letter delivered? Whose hand placed it on the Tsar's table? The secret police can avail nothing against the dreaded Committee.
Thus throughout all Russia the Revolutionists are awaiting the signal from the Executive Committee to strike. The opportunity is not far to seek. The pressure on an already overstrained nation caused by a devastating war; the misery entailed; the shame of defeat; the restlessness of despair ; the exhaustion of the treasury; the discredit of the bureaucracy-surely all these things are working for the forces of discontent. And that discontent is showing itself in Russia is abundantly proved by recent events.
Restlessness is manifesting itself in many centres; premature riots, organised by irresponsible, hot-headed students, break out and are suppressed by the Cossacks. But the great revolutionary party in Russia is waiting the word from the Executive Committee.
The existence of the revolutionary movement in Russia is, of course, known to the Tsar. To him must also be known the causes that have set on foot this vast movement of protest against the existing state of things in his empire. He must know something of the characters of the men whom he appoints as his ministers and governors. So long as men of the stamp of Bobrikoff, De Plehve, Obolenski are given posts as ministers or governors in the Empire, so long will the forces of revolution continue to be increased in numbers and in strength and in the justice of their cause. Be it remembered that these men are appointed by the Tsar himself, without the necessity of consultation with any advisers.
There was no one for the Tsar to consult when he appointed Prince Obolenski Governor of Finland. Prince Obolenski, as Governor of Kherson, in the year of the great famine, 1891, ordered the suppression of publications dealing with the distress in the district and soliciting subscriptions for the starving peasants, and stopped the work of the relief committees. It was Prince Obolenski who, as Governor-General of Kharkoff, ordered the flogging of peasants, which was carried out in his presence, and the execution of others, and exasperated the people to such an extent that an attempt was made on his life. I myself met him in Kharkoff a few years ago. I was with him in his office when an officer entered and hurriedly communicated with him in an undertone. But it was in no undertone that Obolenski answered him that the women should receive fifty lashes apiece on the bare back.
There was no one for the Tsar to consult when entrusting the office of Minister of the Interior to M. de Plehve, whose character was too well known to need comment here.
There was no one for the Tsar to consult when he confirmed M. Pobiedonostseff in his appointment as Procurator of the Holy Synod. Yet he must have known the record of persecution and bloodshed which the Procurator had compiled during the reigns of his father and grandfather.
By the choice of his ministers the Tsar is strengthening the hands of the revolutionary party.
Much has been written lately concerning Nicholas Alexandrovitch. He is represented as amiable and well-intentioned in one quarter; as weak and fickle in another; as obstinate and hysterical in a third. There is a certain amount of truth in each and all of these descriptions. A good deal depends on his humour and the time of day. In the morning he will arise, full of good intentions and amiability. An interview with his chief adviser, the Procurator, will entirely alter his outlook, and his good intentions will be consigned to the usual destination. An audience given to another minister will bring out a fresh trait in his versatile nature. And so on throughout the day.
I have been blamed for denouncing the Tsar in Russia as it really is ’ without regard for historical circumstances. It has been pointed out to me that the evils which exist in Russia are the creation of centuries. In that case, I reply, surely the time has arrived for steps to be taken to eradicate some of the more glaring evils. The state of a nation may be the inheritance of centuries; but the same cannot be said of the state of mind of
one individual in the nation, especially if that individual has had all the advantages that education, travel, and a world-wide field of vision can give. For Russia we can only feel extreme pity. But for the man who is in the possession of absolute power, and who, by a stroke of the pen, could, but does not, make a beginning, at least, of a new and happier era for his country, we must feel still more.
Confident in the divine right of his high calling, Nicholas Alexandrovitch goes on his way, unheeding prudent counsels and the voice of common sense, and grasping at shadows while the party of revolution works steadily on. Would he but bring to an end the war in which he has plunged his unhappy nation he might yet postpone the day of retribution. And Heaven seems at the present moment to open for him a golden gateway to return to his best self, in company with its latest messenger, his long-prayed-for son.
But if not? When the revolution is all over, and the nation has emerged from the horrors of civil strife, strengthened, and purged of the curse of absolute monarchy and bureaucratic tyranny-what then ? I do not pretend to say what form of government will recommend itself to the Executive Committee; but there can be no doubt that it will be constitutional, that the power of the Church will be broken, that the bureaucracy will be abolished, that education will be extended to the whole nation.
And what a future lies before Russia! There is no country in the world with greater resources than she possesses, hidden in the earth or behind the strong, broad brows of her people, for nowhere are there men of greater brain capacity and physical powers than in the huge, inert masses of humanity which constitute the population of the Empire of the Tsar. In no country has there been such profligate waste of splendid material, allowed to run to seed uncultivated. In no land are more treasures concealed which can be had for the working. A vast future lies before her in the development of her resources, mental and material. Who can say to what heights Russia may attain when liberty has entered into the life of the nation ?