Present Tendencies of Russian Liberalism

EVERY one knows, or thinks he knows, what Russian Nihilism is; every one has heard of the Russian revolutionary movement; but not every one understands what Russian Liberalism is. Until a few weeks ago it was generally thought, and with reason, to be something amorphous, everything and nothing, a disposition of mind rather than a political programme. But a few weeks ago the Associated Press correspondent began to mention the Russian Liberals as a political group, and Russian Liberalism as a political programme. Just what this group and this programme are is not quite clear to the correspondent in St. Petersburg. Now he mentions a group which he calls the “Conservative Liberals,” which, he says, stands with Prince Sviatopolk Mirski. Now he refers to some “ Extremists,” wicked people who put sticks in Mirski’s wheels and endanger the progress of Russian reform. Again, after the Czar’s manifesto, he seems to join with the Extremists’ criticism of Mirski’s programme. And now that M. Witte is elbowing M. Mirski out of his berth, to take it himself, it is not clear whether M. Witte is with the Extremists, or with the Conservative Liberals, or with any Liberals at all. The correspondent seems to be at sea, and we are at sea with him.

A few suggestions by one who is not entirely foreign to the Russian Liberal movement may perhaps help the American reader to find his way among the intricacies of late events in St. Petersburg.

Liberalism is not a new creation in Russia. In a sense it has always existed there, as long as there has been any public opinion, for Russian public opinion has always been liberal. But in its present meaning of a political current tending to political reform, Liberalism has existed only since 1861, the year of the emancipation of the serfs. In the forty years which have elapsed since then, Russian Liberalism has passed through three stages. In the sixties it was tinged with landlordism, and was quite unacceptable, in consequence, to the radical political group. Nor did this make it acceptable to the Government. In the eighties, Liberalism was more definite and determined in its demands, but it still was willing to side with the autocracy against the growing revolutionary movement at that time. For a moment the Government was inclined to listen to the Liberal representations, but it turned a deaf ear to Liberalism as soon as the revolutionary movement was stifled. No wonder that now, when the revolutionary movement is rife again, and stronger than ever before, Russian Liberalism is in no hurry to play the part of a mediator. It is now in a radical third stage, in the sense that it does not wish a revolution, but it is uncompromising in its demands that autocracy shall be abolished, as this seems to be the only peaceful issue possible.

One can see, therefore, that Russian Liberalism is very much changed in temper and in its political psychology, so to say. Where it was aristocratic and conservative, it is now democratic and radical.

But does this mean that the aristocratic and conservative elements have entirely disappeared from Russian Liberalism ? Not in the least, though these elements are not what they formerly were. They no longer have the lead, and therefore they are the more easily alarmed by the plans of the Extremists.

But what are the Liberals themselves planning ? Here again we must state the great, difference between the Liberal schemes of to-day and those of twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, in the eighties, the programme of Russian Liberalism was as wavering as its mood. If we re-read the political pamphlets and papers of that time, we shall find at least five different proposals for political reform, all of them “liberal,” but no one of them generally accepted. The most moderate at that time was the scheme of the Nationalistic Liberals of the elder generation, who dreamed of reviving the ancient Russian popular representation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the so-called Zemsky Sobor, which possessed only a consulting voice, and was thus quite compatible with the preservation of autocracy. Another scheme discussed in some influential circles among the higher officials was the plan to take the existing board of legislation, the Council of State, for a starting-point, and to admit into it some representation from the local self-governing bodies, the socalled Zemstvos. A third scheme was to form a separate representative body out of the representatives of the Zemstvos, but to make of this body an upper house, while a lower house should be directly elected by the people. A fourth scheme was to constitute only one chamber, directly chosen by the people, and to give the people general suffrage. The fifth scheme was to convoke a constitutional assembly freely chosen by the people, and to let this assembly decide what should be the new order of things. This last scheme met the wishes of the Revolutionists and Socialists, who at that time expected from such an assembly a more or less complete overthrow of the existing social order.

In comparison with this medley of programmes and schemes, our present Liberalism shows a much greater unity of opinion. No Liberal questions that representation must be real and not fictitious, that it must represent the people directly, and not the local self-governing bodies; nor is there any doubt among Liberals that the representative body must be given real political rights, that is, the right to legislate, and this means to limit autocratic power. Thus any possibility of satisfying Russian Liberalism by granting a sort of consulting assembly, or by introducing representatives into the existing legislative body chosen from the officials of the Czar, is out of the question. There has been some doubt among the Liberals as to the advisability of the extension of suffrage, but this vacillation is nearly over, and the necessity of granting the people suffrage is coming to be recognized by all who speak in the name of Liberalism.

There exists still a difference of opinion as to whether it is better to have one or two chambers, but people who defend the two-chamber system do not do it in any class interest. They use two arguments for their view: First, that side by side with representation of the whole people in the lower house there must be a representation of provinces, and of their particular interests, in an upper house elected by local assemblies. This argument is not unfamiliar to Americans, but it loses a great deal of its force when applied to Russia, as there are no historically conditioned provinces in Russia proper. All our provinces are foundations of the central power, and their configurations, if necessary, could be entirely remodeled tomorrow, without meeting with the slightest protest on the part of local patriotism. There are, of course, provinces with a past quite distinct from Russia’s, such as Poland, the Caucasus and Baltic Provinces, Little Russia;1 but their interests cannot be met by the mere organization of a second chamber. What they need is an increase of local autonomy.

The other argument used by the partisans of the two-chamber system is that the upper house will represent a better degree of intellectuality, and therefore, perhaps, more Liberalism. This argument is founded upon a disbelief in the political ripeness of the people and upon a certain fear of demagogism. It is essentially the same argument which may be used against general suffrage, and so far it tries to make up for concessions on that point. Now, if we consider that peasants even at present have the power to vote in local elections, and that they were never accused of misuse, or negligence, or ignorance in the practice of their right; if we consider, further, that in Russia there are no powerful companies or syndicates that would like to get their private bills passed through the legislature; that thus there will be infinitely less will and less power to bribe electors, the proposal of general suffrage does not seem so indefensible. If in addition to this we consider, that electoral districts in Russia will necessarily be enormous, embracing on the average some two hundred thousand persons, and that thus only well-known men will have any chance of being elected to office; that in Russia a man connected with politics is not a professional, but an idealist, a philanthropist, or a patriot, — if we take into consideration all these peculiarities of future political life in Russia, we shall necessarily come to the conclusion that there is no danger of the general vote being misused, that in all probability men of the same type will figure in both houses, and that the case for the upper house constituted by election from the self-governing districts is not a strong one. If these members of the elective lower house be disposed to stand for the interests of the lower social strata, which is generally expected by public opinion, they will only do their duty, and it will be high time for them to work in that direction, because only some efficient help to the lower classes can bring salvation to Russia in her present crisis.

The danger, indeed, is on the other side, for a crisis cannot be summarily cured by legislation, and however strenuous the lower house may be, it is not likely to satisfy the expectations of the Extremists. Now under the system of two houses this partial failure will be ascribed to the insufficiency of the organization, and struggle against the upper house will immediately begin, and the force of the representatives will be spent in further struggle and mutual friction, instead of in useful work. An upper house will always be suspected of defending class interests, and its introduction would undoubtedly be considered as a contradiction of the principle of direct and general representation.

But, as we have said, these discussions are concerned with matters of detail, while, as a matter of fact, Russian Liberals are unanimous in their demand for political representation, and a share in legislation. Of course these are not the Conservative Liberals of our Associated Press correspondent, and this brings us to the question, Who are the Liberals ? In such moments as the present, every one in Russia is a Liberal. Trimmers like M. Soovorin, the editor of the Novoye Vraimya, are Liberals because there is a probability that the Government will be Liberal tomorrow, and if such should be the case they will cheerfully make themselves the first exponents of Russian Liberalism. These people do not create the situation, they only use it; and that is why real Liberals often dislike that title. They would be glad to concede it to Nationalist Liberals of M. Soovorin’s type, and even now they assume the name of Democratic Constitutionalists. These, I guess, are the “Extremists” of our Associated Press correspondent in St. Petersburg.

If that is the case, he is on a false track. The issue would be easy to find, indeed, if it were to be sought between the Government and the Conservative Liberals ; but in that case there would be no need to search for an issue. For this group was never inclined to importune the Government with positive demands. The demands are formulated by the real Liberals, not by the Conservative Liberals, and if the Government is forced to negotiate with the reformers there is no need for it to negotiate with the Conservative Liberals, who do not represent any opinion but their own. It will negotiate with the real Liberals, who represent the opinion of the country, — at least the public opinion that now is.

We have already demonstrated that the political opinions of this group are by no means so discordant as they have seemed to our correspondent, and it is impossible to be mistaken on the subject of their political programme, particularly now that this programme has been more than once formulated and proclaimed, not in the name of single persons as their individual opinion, but in the name of a political group.

Russian Liberalism — the real, not the Conservative — is now the creed of a party, as far as a political party can exist under the present conditions of political life in Russia. This party had organized as its nucleus a body which has the official name of the Alliance for Emancipation, and it is supported by a large circle of adherents and sympathizers, whose number increases daily. The programme of the party has been more than once discussed in a Russian fortnightly paper published abroad. This magazine, though not an official party organ, is called the Osvoboshdénneya (the Emancipation). It is edited in Paris by M. Peter Struve.

These are the Extremists of our Associated Press correspondent. Are they really extremists ? We advise the correspondent to look in the Socialistic publications edited abroad. He will see that the character of the Osvoboshdénneya is violently accused of moderatism by these papers, and that it is always found guilty in advance of representing the class interests of the bourgeoisie.

Socialism in Russia has been until these last days the only active and militant political propaganda there. As such it is widely spread and largely influential. Its influence goes far beyond the circle of those sharing its doctrine. There exists no outlet for legal and free political activity in Russia. Socialism is revolutionary, and every political party is bound to be the same, because the most elementary political action, a petition, a public meeting, are in Russia revolutionary acts. Under these conditions, all parties — as political parties— are extremists; whatever be the difference in their opinions, they are bound to be allies until the conditions of political life in Russia are changed.

This change, then, in the conditions of political life is a common endeavor of all politically active groups, and nothing short of that will pacify the country. But will political reform — a constitution, even — pacify Russia ? Will not some extremists always be ready at hand to continue the struggle toward some more Utopian conditions ? To be sure, where there is life there is struggle, and absolute pacification would mean death and stagnation. The question, then, is not how to avoid all struggle, but how to introduce the necessary amount of it into channels worthy of a civilized nation. Every one will agree that a state of things under which death from murder becomes an habitual form of the responsibility of ministers toward the people cannot be called worthy of a civilized nation. The question is only whether anything short of a definite surrender by the Government of its irresponsible power is likely to have done with that state of affairs.

The Conservative Liberals have no decisive answer to this question; they tergiversate and try to pour new wine into old bottles. The answer of the real Liberals, on the other hand, is clear and decisive.

But have the real Liberals the public opinion on their side ? Are they backed by a majority ?

We shall never be able to answer this question by resorting to statistics, or by enumerating with Prince Meshchersky, the reactionary editor of Grashdanin, how many Russians know how to read and write, and how many are illiterate; or how many read the newspapers, and how many do not. Prince Meshchersky is able to read and write, and he sometimes reads newspapers, but he is not with the reformers, while the immense majority of illiterate people who might have backed him do not know the very fact of his existence. Meantime, on the other side — that of the educated minority — there are popular leaders whose every step and every public act is at once known to their adherents and applauded or resented. As a result, these leaders are the more inspired by that minority, which, in turn, grows daily more closely organized. It is the few who are conscious of their aims, not the unconscious many who vegetate, that always determine the course of political events; and if the question is put thus: on which side is the majority of men politically self-conscious ? we do not hesitate to answer that this majority is on the side of the reformers.

The only doubt can be whether it is with the “ Democratic Constitutionalists,” or with the Socialists. This doubt is partly removed by the fact of a formal agreement between the two groups, opposition and revolution party, as to the chief point in dispute, political representation on the basis of a direct universal suffrage. The agreement recently signed in Paris by representatives of the different parties does not include all of them, and it is not free from mental reservations on the part of each party. It does not change any of the methods or programmes of single parties, but as it now stands it points out the fact, which would exist even if there were no agreement , that a political reform is considered necessary by every one, — that all parties must make common front against the Government on that ground.

The Government is isolated. This is the most characteristic feature of the situation. How long it will continue, and what will be its final issue, is difficult to foretell. “We must let history have her whims,” as one of our most brilliant writers, M. Herzen, used to say. The one inference possible can be drawn from the general trend of events. The information previously given may, perhaps, throw some light upon these events, of which I shall now venture to recall some of the most important and recent to the memory of my readers.

Few people in this country know what was the beginning of the present conflict between the Government and Russian Liberalism. I mean, of course, the conflict in its present acute stage, because in its latent stage the conflict is as old as the liberation of the peasants, and even goes back to the reign of Catherine II. It has now become endemic in Russia, and in our narrow meaning of the word, we can trace the open conflict between the Government and public opinion to 1902. At that time, M. Witte was still the Minister of Finance, and Russia was already thrown into a state of crisis as the consequence of M. Witte’s administration. M. Witte is a clever man, who saw the difficulties under which the country was laboring, and he saw the state of public opinion also. So he realized that the only outlet for the crisis was to let public opinion express itself more or less freely upon the subject of the crisis. He proposed for that end a particular sort of assembly, not elected, as the Zemstvos were, because that would have been too liberal, and not nominated by the Government, because that would have been too conservative, but nominated by the elective presidents of the Board of Zemstvos. These elective presidents are considered by the Government as officials of the Civil Service under the Minister of the Interior. Nevertheless, many of them are liberal, and they proved it by summoning to the Assemblies planned by M. Witte such members as were even more liberal than the average of the Zemstvos members themselves. Thus in more than three hundred local district committees about eleven thousand people were permitted to deliberate on the subject of the agrarian crisis in Russia. A programme proposed for their discussions by the Government suggested that they should find the cause of the crisis in the insufficiency of technical methods in agriculture. Instead of this, many of the assemblies concluded that the agrarian crisis was only a part of the general crisis in Russian affairs, and that it could be helped only by liberal reforms. Some few even hinted at popular representation as a remedy. M. Plehve was then Minister of the Interior. For him this was too much. He accused M. Witte of a demagogic propaganda, and, forcing him to tender his resignation, sent, into exile the most daring of the members of the District Committees, and made himself president of the Central Committee, which had to summarize the work of the local ones, and to prepare a draft of a law for the peasantry as a result of the discussion. And yet M. Plehve himself understood that something must be done to conciliate public opinion. He told the present writer that in his opinion a country like Russia could not be ruled by a ring (he used the Russian word shaïka), and that the more active elements were to be gradually admitted to the Government. He sought these active elements among the Conservative Liberals, and very soon he was disappointed. He must have seen that these elements were powerless, and that an alliance with them was not likely to strengthen the Government. Now M. Plehve was the man who had stifled the revolutionary movement of twenty years ago, and he is quoted as saying that the only difference between the movement of that time and the present was in the number of leaders, — that “there were a dozen then, now there were fifty.” He must have seen that here again he was mistaken. He grew pessimistic, his friends say, as he must have been perfectly aware that he who “ believed in no catastrophes ” was preparing one for himself. As a reward, immediately after his murder he was disavowed by the very people whom he had served, and his name became an object of aversion and a symbol for tyranny.

Abroad, newspapers so moderate as the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna, the London Times, Le Temps in Paris, were unanimous in recognizing that there was nothing accidental in that death. It was a sort of historical necessity, easily to be foreseen, a necessary conclusion drawn from historical premises by the logic of events. All this was no encouragement for M. Plehve’s successor, and thus neither the man nor the programme to succeed Plehve was readily to be found.

After long hesitation, a man has been found who represents, not the programme, but the momentary disposition of the Government. The man is Prince Mirski, and the disposition he represents is that of a benevolent autocracy. By postponing the formulation of a programme, that nomination seemed to present this particular convenience, that the issue remained open for further solution. Thus M. Mirski was at once the man of M. Witte and the man of his opponents in the reactionary camp. But the trouble was that events did not wait, and the programme was to be decided upon immediately. A programme being lacking, one was dictated to the Government by public opinion.

This programme is known as a petition of the Zemstvos. Whatever may be done, this document will always remain the Russian Petition of Right. The preliminaries to that petition are interesting. The Zemstvos as a rule are not permitted to meet together, even for discussing such matters as are within the jurisdiction of a single Zemstvo, to say nothing of state affairs. Even simple correspondence between the Zemstvos is forbidden. But the necessity of unifying the opinion of the Zemstvos was keenly felt by the members, particularly after the debates of the District Assemblies of 1902 on the agricultural crisis. The presidents of the Board of Zemstvos have had since that time regular private meetings in Moscow, and though these meetings were illegal, the personalities of the men were so much beyond suspicion (we have noted that the presidents of the Board of Zemstvos are considered as officials of the Civil Service) that the Government tolerated these assemblies, and M. Plehve even tried to negotiate with the President, M. Shipow, who is President of the Board of Moscow.

This last autumn, the members of the Moscow assembly were surprised to receive a formal intimation by the Government that they could meet and discuss their subjects freely, if only they would consent to meet at St. Petersburg instead of at Moscow. This proposal was gladly accepted, because in this way the meeting of the Zemstvos received an official character, and its decisions at that particular moment were of very great importance. The members of the future assembly met at an early date in St. Petersburg, and they unanimously resolved to take up at their assembly the subject of political freedom and the fundamental rights of a man and a citizen. M. Mirski knew of this, and he decided not to forbid the assembly which he had himself invited to gather at St. Petersburg, but rather to postpone it until January, 1905. But now the spirits of those concerned in the movement were so aroused, and the state of public opinion so excited, that the members of the assembly took courage, and made up their minds to stand by their guns. They declared to the Minister that the assembly should be held none the less, precisely as if no suggestion of its meeting at St. Petersburg had been received. M. Mirski took the middle way. The assembly was to be held at St. Petersburg, but “privately.” It is known, however, that the resolutions of the assembly were communicated officially to the Minister, and that a deputation of four prominent members of the assembly (one of them, M. Petrunkevich, a leading man in the Constitutionalist movement of twenty years ago, who had just been permitted to come back to the capital after twenty years of exile) was received by the Czar, and had a long conference with him. This stirred up the general expectation.

The petition presented to the Czar through the intermediacy of his Minister was as follows: —

“The Private Assembly of the members of the Zemstvos, in their meetings of November 19, 20, and 21, to discuss the question of the general conditions necessary for a regular course of our public life and state functions, has come to the following conclusions: —

“1. The abnormality of the existing system of the Government, particularly as manifested during the last twenty years, consists in the fact of its entire isolation from society, and in the lack of that mutual confidence which is a necessary agent in political life.

“ 2. The Government in its relation to society was guided by the feeling of anxiety lest society develop some initiative of its own, and by a constant tendency to withhold society from any participation in the internal administration of the Empire. For this reason the Government wished administrative centralization to be carried through in all departments of local self-government, and it extended its tutelage over all sides of public life. The only form of coöperation in public affairs left to society was to conform their activity to the views of the Government.

“ 3. The bureaucratic régime, by alienating society from the supreme power, leaves ample scope for administrative arbitrariness and personal whim. Under such rule society is deprived of any guarantee that the legal rights of each and all shall be protected, and no confidence in the Government is possible.

“ 4. The regular course and advance of public and social life is possible only upon the condition of continuous intercourse and solidarity between the Government and the people.

“5. To make administrative arbitrariness impossible, it is necessary to recognize and to carry into life consistently the principle of the inviolability of the person and of the private home. No one should be subject to impeachment or be curtailed in his rights without trial in an independent court of justice. To secure the principle of legality in administration, it is necessary to establish the rule that any official can be indicted in civil and criminal courts for transgression of Law.

“ 6. To make possible the full development of the spiritual forces of the nation, the many-sided discussion of their wants, and the free expression of public opinion, it is necessary to secure liberty of conscience and belief, liberty of speech and of the press, and also liberty for meetings and associations.

“ 7. The personal (civil and political) rights of all citizens of the Russian Empire must be equal.

“ 8. Self-help is the chief condition for a regular and progressive development of political and economic life in a country. Since a considerable majority of the population in Russia belong to the peasant class, this class must be particularly favored so far as private initiative and personal energy are concerned; and this can be attained only by means of a radical change in the present state of the peasants — disfranchised and downtrodden as they are. To this effect, it is necessary (a) to equalize the personal rights of the peasants with those of the other classes; (b) to make the peasants free from administrative tutelage in all manifestations of their private and public life ; and (c) to protect them by a regular form of legal procedure.

“9. The Zemstvos and the municipal institutions in which the local public life is preëminently concentrated must be given more competence and larger share in local self-government, to wit: (a) The Zemstvos representation must be organized on other than class principles; all the local population must so far as possible be admitted to participation in local and municipal self-government. (b) A smaller unit of the Zemstvos representation must be created on the principle of active participation of the local population, in order to bring the Zemstvos institutions in closer touch with the people. (c) The sphere of action of these institutions must be extended over the whole field of local needs. (d) They must be invested with proper stability and independence, which alone can secure their regular work and lay a foundation for the normal interaction between the governmental and the elective bodies. Local self-government must be extended to all parts of the Russian Empire.

“ 10. Majority report. [71 votes.]

“ But, for the coöperation and solidarity between the Government and society to be always alive and present, and for the regular progression of public life to be secured, it is unconditionally necessary that a popular representation should be created, which must participate in legislation, in settling the budget and in controlling the legality of the administrative action, as a separate elective body.

“ Minority report. [27 votes.]

“ But, for the coöperation and solidarity between the Government and society to be always alive and present, and for the regular progression of public life to be secured, it is unconditionally necessary that a popular representation should be created, which must participate in legislation as a separate elective body.

“11. Considering the gravity and intricacy of the internal and external situation in Russia, the Private Assembly expresses its hope that the supreme power will summon freely elected representatives of the nation, in order, with their coöperation, to lead our country out upon a new path of political progress in the spirit of Right and of Coöperation of the people with the Government. ”

It is perhaps difficult for an American to realize the enthusiasm which was produced in Russian society by these traditional axioms of state wisdom. To help his imagination, he must bring back to his memory the times of Hampden and Pym. Writers, lawyers, students, workingmen, in banquets, meetings, and street demonstrations, urged their consent and approval to the petition of the Zemstvos. Newspapers spoke things they had never spoken before, with perhaps the exception of the years 1861 and 1881. Threats and repressive measures of the Government seemed to have entirely lost their power.

Meantime, in the Czar’s Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, a meeting of ministers took place December 15; and this meeting will remain on the pages of history, together with the Russian Petition of Right. M. Muravieff, the Minister of Justice, tried to prove that the Czar has no right to curtail his power ; and M. Pobiedonostsev came to the same conclusion in the name of religion. M. Mirski made an attempt to prove that M. Muravieff was wrong, and M. Witte grimly remarked, that “ if it shall be known that the Czar cannot achieve the fundamental reform, on the ground of Religion and Law, — then a part of the population will be brought to think that these reforms must be reached by force. It would be an actual appeal to revolution.” M. Witte was the prophet.

Then the manifesto of December 26 was published. Near the beginning is a declaration that “ when the need of this or that change is proved ripe, then it shall be considered necessary to meet it, even though the transformation to which this may lead should involve the introduction of essentially novel innovations in the legislation.” But some few lines before that is a declaration that “ the undeviating maintenance of the immutability of the fundamental laws must be considered as an established principle of government.” Thus the essential innovations are not to go so far as to interfere with the immutability of the fundamental laws. Such innovations as would interfere with it are classified by the manifesto as “tendencies not seldom mistaken and often influenced by transitory circumstances.” With this limitation, no promises made by the manifesto could be considered as serious, and this the more because they were stated in ambiguous terms,and accompanied by restrictions which made them illusory. The only positive result of the manifesto was to show that concessions had been withheld by the Government at former times, not in consequence of a premeditated system of wise statesmanship, but simply because there was no urgency in the demand for reform by public opinion. Evidently the onus probandi was now upon public opinion to show that the need for this or that change was ripe, in order that the Government should “ consider it necessary to meet it.”

Public opinion has done its duty. The fault is not this time with public opinion. Its propositions are not found to be right. But pending that diversity of opinion, the conflict remains open. A new step is made necessary by this state of things, — a step backward or a step forward, — and this is recognized by the Government itself, which looked forward to such a change of administration. Facing that coming change, whatever it may be, Russian Liberalism must prove that it can stand by its convictions, that it does not consider its “tendencies mistaken,” and that its readiness to define its standpoint, as well as the unity of its opinion and its solidarity with other groups of Russian opposition, are not to be numbered among such “transitory circumstances” as are mentioned by the manifesto.

After these pages had been written and set in type, one of those “whims of history ” of which I spoke above, which everybody foresees, and which always come unexpectedly, came to pass in Russia. A powerful wave of the people’s wrath has risen from unfathomable depths of the people’s soul, and rolled over all Russia. St. Petersburg found itself before the horrible alternative of slaughter or anarchy. My St. Petersburg friends,—the “Extremists” of the Associated Press correspondent, — after having vainly tried to avert the slaughter, did their best to avert the anarchy. The Government arrested and put into prison some of them. If I can believe the American press, after having perpetrated that act of courage, the men of the Government cynically boasted that they had suppressed the powerless “humanitarian scholars,” while the powerful, the “real” popular leaders are left at liberty, and the Government is ready to transact with them the cause of the people. I by no means grudge the privilege of the latter, if they are “real” popular leaders, but I must point out the new mistake which the Government is seemingly ready to commit. Instead of transacting with the Liberals, — M. Witte thinks that he can deal at a cheaper price with the “real” popular leaders. This is a grave mistake, and M. Witte will pay dearly for it. The “ real ” popular leaders know too well and have known too long that the way to the attainment of their aims goes through the same elementary concessions which are claimed by the Liberals. In other words, the Liberal programme is only the minimum of what is desired by other active parties. The attempt to prove that the Liberals go too far, in comparison with the “real” popular leaders, is simply ludicrous. Moreover, this attempt implies a deliberate misconstruction, and its obvious aim is to fool the people. Evidently, the Government has learned nothing, in spite of all its previous failures in bargaining with public opinion. The attempt will never succeed, and the Government will soon repent of having arrested the representative men of the only political group which still clings to the idea of a peaceful issue. I permit myself to finish these remarks with a quotation from Prince Kropotkin on the occasion. The noble words of Prince Kropotkin are doubly precious to me, because they come from a personal friend, and from a theoretical antagonist. “ What a monstrous thing,” he says, “what a piece of official shame and selfconviction ! Where will one find any defense for a government which must imprison the flower of its people ? The men committed to the dungeons of the fortress of SS. Peter and Paul are absolutely guiltless. They never performed an illegal act in their lives, and never wrote nor spoke a word of incitement to disorder. They simply saw that reforms must come, or Russia must break into revolution, and tried to make the bureaucrats understand that fact. That is the length and breadth of their offense. They comprehend the terrible nature of anarchy and know that the government fabric is difficult and slow to weave; they desire to preserve the existing machinery in order, but to inform it with ideas of right and justice before the infuriated masses have hurled against it their unreasoning wrath. The autocracy could not understand. There was no wisdom in it. It was blind, deaf, insane. Hence Russia must rise, cities must be wrecked, and unarmed people must fling their naked strength against lead and steel.”

CHICAGO, January 26, 1905.

  1. I do not mention Finland, because that country possesses a separate political organization.