Chapter XXXVII - The Revolutionary Movement In Its Latest Phase
The development of manufacturing industry on capitalist lines, and the consequent formation of a large industrial proletariat, produced great disappointment in all the theorising sections of the educated classes. The thousands of men and women who had, since the accession of the Tsar-Emancipator in 1855, taken a keen, enthusiastic interest in the progress of their native country, all had believed firmly that in some way or other Russia would escape "the festering sores of Western civilisation." Now experience had proved that the belief was an illusion, and those who had tried to check the natural course of industrial progress were constrained to confess that their efforts had been futile. Big factories were increasing in size and numbers, while cottage industries were disappearing or falling under the power of middlemen, and the Artels had not advanced a step in their expected development. The factory workers, though all of peasant origin, were losing their connection with their native villages and abandoning their allotments of the Communal land. They were becoming, in short, a hereditary caste in the town population, and the pleasant Slavophil dream of every factory worker having a house in the country was being rudely dispelled. Nor was there any prospect of a change for the better in the future. With the increase of competition among the manufacturers, the uprooting of the muzhik from the soil must go on more and more rapidly, because employers must insist more and more on having thoroughly trained operatives ready to work steadily all the year round.
This state of things had a curious effect on the course of the revolutionary movement.
Let me recall very briefly the successive stages through which the movement had already passed. It had been inaugurated, as we have seen, by the Nihilists, the ardent young representatives of a "storm-and-stress" period, in which the venerable traditions and respected principles of the past were rejected and ridiculed, and the newest ideas of Western Europe were eagerly adopted and distorted. Like the majority of their educated countrymen, they believed that in the race of progress Russia was about to overtake and surpass the nations of the West, and that this desirable result was to be attained by making a tabula rasa of existing institutions, and reconstructing society according to the plans of Proudhon, Fourier, and the other writers of the early Socialist school.
When the Nihilists had expended their energies and exhausted the patience of the public in theorising, talking, and writing, a party of action came upon the scene. Like the Nihilists, they desired political, social, and economic reforms of the most thorough-going kind, but they believed that such things could not be effected by the educated classes alone, and they determined to call in the co- operation of the people. For this purpose they tried to convert the masses to the gospel of Socialism. Hundreds of them became missionaries and "went in among the people." But the gospel of Socialism proved unintelligible to the uneducated, and the more ardent, incautious missionaries fell into the hands of the police. Those of them who escaped, perceiving the error of their ways, but still clinging to the hope of bringing about a political, social, and economic revolution, determined to change their tactics. The emancipated serf had shown himself incapable of "prolonged revolutionary activity," but there was reason to believe that he was, like his forefathers in the time of Stenka Razin and Pugatcheff, capable of rising and murdering his oppressors. He must be used, therefore, for the destruction of the Autocratic Power and the bureaucracy, and then it would be easy to reorganise society on a basis of universal equality, and to take permanent precautions against capitalism and the creation of a proletariat.
The hopes of the agitators proved as delusive as those of the propagandists. The muzhik turned a deaf ear to their instigations, and the police soon prevented their further activity. Thus the would-be root-and-branch reforms found themselves in a dilemma. Either they must abandon their schemes for the moment or they must strike immediately at their persecutors. They chose, as we have seen, the latter alternative, and after vain attempts to frighten the Government by acts of terrorism against zealous officials, they assassinated the Tsar himself; but before they had time to think of the constructive part of their task, their organisation was destroyed by the Autocratic Power and the bureaucracy, and those of them who escaped arrest had to seek safety in emigration to Switzerland and Paris.
Then arose, all along the line of the defeated, decimated revolutionists, the cry, "What is to be done?" Some replied that the shattered organisation should be reconstructed, and a number of secret agents were sent successively from Switzerland for this purpose. But their efforts, as they themselves confessed, were fruitless, and despondency seemed to be settling down permanently on all, except a few fanatics, when a voice was heard calling on the fugitives to rally round a new banner and carry on the struggle by entirely new methods. The voice came from a revolutionologist (if I may use such a term) of remarkable talent, called M. Plekhanof, who had settled in Geneva with a little circle of friends, calling themselves the "Labour Emancipation Group." His views were expounded in a series of interesting publications, the first of which was a brochure entitled "Socialism and the Political Struggle," published in 1883.
According to M. Plekhanof and his group the revolutionary movement had been conducted up to that moment on altogether wrong lines. All previous revolutionary groups had acted on the assumption that the political revolution and the economic reorganisation of society must be effected simultaneously, and consequently they had rejected contemptuously all proposals for reforms, however radical, of a merely political kind. These had been considered, as I have mentioned in a previous chapter, not only as worthless, but as positively prejudicial to the interests of the working classes, because so-called political liberties and parliamentary government would be sure to consolidate the domination of the bourgeoisie. That such has generally been the immediate effect of parliamentary institutions is undeniable, but it did not follow that the creation of such institutions should be opposed. On the contrary, they ought to be welcomed, not merely because, as some revolutionists had already pointed out, propaganda and agitation could be more easily carried on under a constitutional regime, but because constitutionalism is certainly the most convenient, and perhaps the only, road by which the socialistic ideal can ultimately be attained. This is a dark saying, but it will become clearer when I have explained, according to the new apostles, a second error into which their predecessors had fallen.
That second error was the assumption that all true friends of the people, whether Conservatives, Liberals, or revolutionaries, ought to oppose to the utmost the development of capitalism. In the light of Karl Marx's discoveries in economic science every one must recognise this to be an egregious mistake. That great authority, it was said, had proved that the development of capitalism was irresistible, and his conclusions had been confirmed by the recent history of Russia, for all the economic progress made during the last half century had been on capitalist lines.
Even if it were possible to arrest the capitalist movement, it is not desirable from the revolutionary point of view. In support of this thesis Karl Marx is again cited. He has shown that capitalism, though an evil in itself, is a necessary stage of economic and social progress. At first it is prejudicial to the interests of the working classes, but in the long run it benefits them, because the ever-growing proletariat must, whether it desires it or not, become a political party, and as a political party it must one day break the domination of the bourgeoisie. As soon as it has obtained the predominant political power, it will confiscate, for the public good, the instruments of production-- factories, foundries, machines, etc.--by expropriating the capitalist. In this way all the profits which accrue from production on a large scale, and which at present go into the pockets of the capitalists, will be distributed equally among the workmen.
Thus began a new phase of the revolutionary movement, and, like all previous phases, it remained for some years in the academic stage, during which there were endless discussions on theoretical and practical questions. Lavroff, the prophet of the old propaganda, treated the new ideas "with grandfatherly severity," and Tikhomirof, the leading representative of the moribund Narodnaya Volya, which had prepared the acts of terrorism, maintained stoutly that the West European methods recommended by Plekhanof were inapplicable to Russia. The Plekhanof group replied in a long series of publications, partly original and partly translations from Marx and Engels, explaining the doctrines and aims of the Social Democrats.
Seven years were spent in this academic literary activity--a period of comparative repose for the Russian secret police--and about 1890 the propagandists of the new school began to work cautiously in St. Petersburg. At first they confined themselves to forming little secret circles for making converts, and they found that the ground had been to some extent prepared for the seed which they had to sow. The workmen were discontented, and some of the more intelligent amongst them who had formerly been in touch with the propagandists of the older generation had learned that there was an ingenious and effective means of getting their grievances redressed. How was that possible? By combination and strikes. For the uneducated workers this was an important discovery, and they soon began to put the suggested remedy to a practical test. In the autumn of 1894 labour troubles broke out in the Nevski engineering works and the arsenal, and in the following year in the Thornton factory and the cigarette works. In all these strikes the Social Democratic agents took part behind the scenes. Avoiding the main errors of the old propagandists, who had offered the workmen merely abstract Socialist theories which no uneducated person could reasonably be expected to understand, they adopted a more rational method. Though impervious to abstract theories, the Russian workman is not at all insensible to the prospect of bettering his material condition and getting his everyday grievances redressed. Of these grievances the ones he felt most keenly were the long hours, the low wages, the fines arbitrarily imposed by the managers, and the brutual severity of the foreman. By helping him to have these grievances removed the Social Democratic agents might gain his confidence, and when they had come to be regarded by him as his real friends they might widen his sympathies and teach him to feel that his personal interests were identical with the interests of the working classes as a whole. In this way it would be possible to awaken in the industrial proletariat generally a sort of esprit de corps, which is the first condition of political organisation.
On these lines the agents set to work. Having formed themselves into a secret association called the "Union for the Emancipation of the Working Classes," they gradually abandoned the narrow limits of coterie-propaganda, and prepared the way for agitation on a larger scale. Among the discontented workmen they distributed a large number of carefully written tracts, in which the material grievances were formulated, and the whole political system, with its police, gendarmes, Cossacks, and tax-gathers, was criticised in no friendly spirit, but without violent language. In introducing into the programme this political element, great caution had to be exercised, because the workmen did not yet perceive clearly any close connection between their grievances and the existing political institutions, and those of them who belonged to the older generation regarded the Tsar as the incarnation of disinterested benevolence. Bearing this in mind, the Union circulated a pamphlet for the enlightenment of the labouring population, in which the writer refrained from all reference to the Autocratic Power, and described simply the condition of the labouring classes, the heavy burdens they had to bear, the abuses of which they were the victims, and the inconsiderate way in which they were treated by their employers. This pamphlet was eagerly read, and from that moment whenever labour troubles arose the men applied to the Social Democratic agents to assist them in formulating their grievances.
Of course, the assistance had to be given secretly, because there were always police spies in the factories, and all persons suspected of aiding the labour movement were liable to be arrested and exiled. In spite of this danger the work was carried on with great energy, and in the summer of 1896 the field of operations was extended. During the coronation ceremonies of that year the factories and workshops in St. Petersburg were closed, and the men considered that for these days they ought to receive wages as usual. When their demand was refused, 40,000 of them went out on strike. The Social Democratic Union seized the opportunity and distributed tracts in large quantities. For the first time such tracts were read aloud at workmen's meetings and applauded by the audience. The Union encouraged the workmen in their resistance, but advised them to refrain from violence, so as not to provoke the intervention of the police and the military, as they had imprudently done on some previous occasions. When the police did intervene and expelled some of the strike-leaders from St. Petersburg, the agitators had an excellent opportunity of explaining that the authorities were the protectors of the employers and the enemies of the working classes. These explanations counteracted the effect of an official proclamation to the workmen, in which M. Witte tried to convince them that the Tsar was constantly striving to improve their condition. The struggle was decided, not by arguments and exhortations, but by a more potent force; having no funds for continuing the strike, the men were compelled by starvation to resume work.
This is the point at which the labour movement began to be conducted on a large scale and by more systematic methods. In the earlier labour troubles the strikers had not understood that the best means of bringing pressure on employers was simply to refuse to work, and they had often proceeded to show their dissatisfaction by ruthlessly destroying their employers' property. This had brought the police, and sometimes the military, on the scene, and numerous arrests had followed. Another mistake made by the inexperienced strikers was that they had neglected to create a reserve fund from which they could draw the means of subsistence when they no longer received wages and could no longer obtain credit at the factory provision store. Efforts were now made to correct these two mistakes, and with regard to the former they were fairly successful, for wanton destruction of property ceased to be a prominent feature of labour troubles; but strong reserve funds have not yet been created, so that the strikes have never been of long duration.
Though the strikes had led, so far, to no great practical, tangible results, the new ideas and aspirations were spreading rapidly in the factories and workshops, and they had already struck such deep root that some of the genuine workmen wished to have a voice in the managing committee of the Union, which was composed exclusively of educated men. When a request to that effect was rejected by the committee a lengthy discussion took place, and it soon became evident that underneath the question of organisation lay a most important question of principle. The workmen wished to concentrate their efforts on the improvement of their material condition, and to proceed on what we should call trade-unionist lines, whereas the committee wished them to aim also at the acquisition of political rights. Great determination was shown on both sides. An attempt of the workmen to maintain a secret organ of their own with the view of emancipating themselves from the "Politicals" ended in failure; but they received sympathy and support from some of the educated members of the party, and in this way a schism took place in the Social Democrat camp. After repeated ineffectual attempts to find a satisfactory compromise, the question was submitted to a Congress which was held in Switzerland in 1900; but the discussions merely accentuated the differences of opinion, and the two parties constituted themselves into separate independent groups. The one under the leadership of Plekhanof, and calling itself the Revolutionary Social Democrats, held to the Marx doctrines in all their extent and purity, and maintained the necessity of constant agitation in the political sense. The other, calling itself the Union of Foreign Social Democrats, inclined to the trade-unionism programme, and proclaimed the necessity of being guided by political expediency rather than inflexible dogmas. Between the two a wordy warfare was carried on for some time in pedantic, technical language; but though habitually brandishing their weapons and denouncing their antagonists in true Homeric style, they were really allies, struggling towards a common end--two sections of the Social Democratic party differing from each other on questions of tactics.
The two divergent tendencies have often reappeared in the subsequent history of the movement. During ordinary peaceful times the economic or trade-unionist tendency can generally hold its own, but as soon as disturbances occur and the authorities have to intervene, the political current quickly gains the upper hand. This was exemplified in the labour troubles which took place at Rostoff-on-the-Don in 1902. During the first two days of the strike the economic demands alone were put forward, and in the speeches which were delivered at the meetings of workmen no reference was made to political grievances. On the third day one orator ventured to speak disrespectfully of the Autocratic Power, but he thereby provoked signs of dissatisfaction in the audiences. On the fifth and following days, however, several political speeches were made, ending with the cry of "Down with Tsarism!" and a crowd of 30,000 workmen agreed with the speakers. Thereafter occurred similar strikes in Odessa, the Caucasus, Kief, and Central Russia, and they had all a political rather than a purely economic character.
I must now endeavour to explain clearly the point of view and plan of campaign of this new movement, which I may call the revolutionary Renaissance.
The ultimate aim of the new reformers was the same as that of all their predecessors--the thorough reorganisation of Society on Socialistic principles. According to their doctrines, Society as at present constituted consists of two great classes, called variously the exploiters and the exploited, the shearers and the shorn, the capitalists and the workers, the employers and the employed, the tyrants and the oppressed; and this unsatisfactory state of things must go on so long as the so-called bourgeois or capitalist regime continues to exist. In the new heaven and the new earth of which the Socialist dreams this unjust distinction is to disappear; all human beings are to be equally free and independent, all are to cooperate spontaneously with brains and hands to the common good, and all are to enjoy in equal shares the natural and artificial good things of this life.
So far there has never been any difference of opinion among the various groups of Russian thorough-going revolutionists. All of them, from the antiquated Nihilist down to the Social Democrat of the latest type, have held these views. What has differentiated them from each other is the greater or less degree of impatience to realise the ideal.
The most impatient were the Anarchists, who grouped themselves around Bakunin. They wished to overthrow immediately by a frontal attack all existing forms of government and social organisation, in the hope that chance, or evolution, or natural instinct, or sudden inspiration or some other mysterious force, would create something better. They themselves declined to aid this mysterious force even by suggestions, on the ground that, as one of them has said, "to construct is not the business of the generation whose duty is to destroy." Notwithstanding the strong impulsive element in the national character, the reckless, ultra-impatient doctrinaires never became numerous, and never succeeded in forming an organised group, probably because the young generation in Russia were too much occupied with the actual and future condition of their own country to embark on schemes of cosmopolitan anarchism such as Bakunin recommended.
Next in the scale of impatience came the group of believers in Socialist agitation among the masses, with a view to overturning the existing Government and putting themselves in its place as soon as the masses were sufficiently organised to play the part destined for them. Between them and the Anarchists the essential points of difference were that they admitted the necessity of some years of preparation, and they intended, when the Government was overturned, not to preserve indefinitely the state of anarchy, but to put in the place of autocracy, limited monarchy, or the republic, a strong, despotic Government thoroughly imbued with Socialistic principles. As soon as it had laid firmly the foundations of the new order of things it was to call a National Assembly, from which it was to receive, I presume, a bill of indemnity for the benevolent tyranny which it had temporarily exercised.
Impatience a few degrees less intense produced the next group, the partisans of pacific Socialist propaganda. They maintained that there was no necessity for overthrowing the old order of things till the masses had been intellectually prepared for the new, and they objected to the foundation of the new regime being laid by despots, however well-intentioned in the Socialist sense. The people must be made happy and preserved in a state of happiness by the people themselves.
In the last place came the least impatient of all, the Social Democrats, who differ widely from all the preceding categories.
All previous revolutionary groups had systematically rejected the idea of a gradual transition from the bourgeois to the Socialist regime. They would not listen to any suggestion about a constitutional monarchy or a democratic republic even as a mere intermediate stage of social development. All such things, as part and parcel of the bourgeois system, were anathematised. There must be no half-way houses between present misery and future happiness; for many weary travellers might be tempted to settle there in the desert, and fail to reach the promised land. "Ever onward" should be the watchword, and no time should be wasted on the foolish struggles of political parties and the empty vanities of political life.
Not thus thought the Social Democrat. He was much wiser in his generation. Having seen how the attempts of the impatient groups had ended in disaster, and knowing that, if they had succeeded, the old effete despotism would probably have been replaced by a young, vigorous one more objectionable than its predecessor, he determined to try a more circuitous but surer road to the goal which the impatient people had in view. In his opinion the distance from the present Russian regime protected by autocracy to the future Socialist paradise was far too great to be traversed in a single stage, and he knew of one or two comfortable rest-houses on the way. First there was the rest-house of Constitutionalism, with parliamentary institutions. For some years the bourgeoisie would doubtless have a parliamentary majority, but gradually, by persistent effort, the Fourth Estate would gain the upper hand, and then the Socialist millennium might be proclaimed. Meanwhile, what had to be done was to gain the confidence of the masses, especially of the factory workers, who were more intelligent and less conservative than the peasantry, and to create powerful labour organisations as material for a future political party.
This programme implied, of course, a certain unity of action with the constitutionalists, from whom, as I have said, the revolutionists of the old school had stood sternly aloof. There was now no question of a formal union, and certainly no idea of a "union of hearts," because the Socialists knew that their ultimate aim would be strenuously opposed by the Liberals, and the Liberals knew that an attempt was being made to use them as a cat's-paw; but there seemed to be no reason why they of the two groups should not observe towards each other a benevolent neutrality, and march side by side as far as the half-way house, where they could consider the conditions of the further advance.
When I first became acquainted with the Russian Social Democrats I imagined that their plan of campaign was of a purely pacific character; and that they were, unlike their predecessors, an evolutionary, as distinguished from a revolutionary, party. Subsequently I discovered that this conception was not quite accurate. In ordinary quiet times they use merely pacific methods, and they feel that the Proletariat is not yet sufficiently prepared, intellectually and politically, to assume the great responsibilities which are reserved for it in the future. Moreover, when the moment comes for getting rid of the Autocratic Power, they would prefer a gradual process of liquidation to a sudden cataclysm. So far they may be said to be evolutionaries rather than revolutionaries, but their plan of campaign does not entirely exclude violence. They would not consider it their duty to oppose the use of violence on the part of the more impatient sections of the revolutionists, and they would have no scruples about utilising disturbances for the attainment of their own end. Public agitation, which is always likely in Russia to provoke violent repression by the authorities, they regard as necessary for keeping alive and strengthening the spirit of opposition; and when force is used by the police they approve of the agitators using force in return. To acts of terrorism, however, they are opposed on principle.
Who, then, are the Terrorists, who have assassinated so many great personages, including the Grand Duke Serge? In reply to this question I must introduce the reader to another group of the revolutionists who have usually been in hostile, rather than friendly, relations with the Social Democrats, and who call themselves the Socialist-Revolutionaries (Sotsialisty- Revolutsionery).
It will be remembered that the terrorist group, commonly called Narodnaya Volya, or Narodovoltsi, which succeeded in assassinating Alexander II., were very soon broken up by the police and most of the leading members were arrested. A few escaped, of whom some remained in the country and others emigrated to Switzerland or Paris, and efforts at reorganisation were made, especially in the southern and western provinces, but they proved ineffectual. At last, sobered by experience and despairing of further success, some of the prisoners and a few of the exiles--notably Tikhomirof, who was regarded as the leader--made their peace with the Government, and for some years terrorism seemed to be a thing of the past. Passing through Russia on my way home from India and Central Asia at that time, I came to the conclusion that the young generation had recovered from its prolonged attack of brain-fever, and had entered on a more normal, tranquil, and healthy period of existence.
My expectations proved too optimistic. About 1894 the Narodnaya Volya came to life again, with all its terrorist traditions intact; and shortly afterwards appeared the new group which I have just mentioned, the Socialist-Revolutionaries, with somewhat similar principles and a better organisation. For some seven or eight years the two groups existed side by side, and then the Narodnaya Volya disappeared, absorbed probably by its more powerful rival.
During the first years of their existence neither group was strong enough to cause the Government serious inconvenience, and it was not till 1897-98 that they found means of issuing manifestos and programmes. In these the Narodovoltsi declared that their immediate aims were the annihilation of Autocracy, the convocation of a National Assembly and the reorganisation of the Empire on the principles of federation and local self-government, and that for the attainment of these objects the means to be employed should include popular insurrections, military conspiracies, bombs and dynamite.
Very similar, though ostensibly a little more eclectic, was the programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. Their ultimate aim was declared to be the transfer of political authority from the Autocratic Power to the people, the abolition of private property in the means of production, and in general the reorganisation of national life on Socialist principles. On certain points they were at one with the Social Democrats. They recognised, for example, that the social reorganisation must be preceded by a political revolution, that much preparatory work was necessary, and that attention should be directed first to the industrial proletariat as the most intelligent section of the masses. On the other hand they maintained that it was a mistake to confine the revolutionary activity to the working classes of the towns, who were not strong enough to overturn the Autocratic Power. The agitation ought, therefore, to be extended to the peasantry, who were quite "developed" enough to understand at least the idea of land- nationalisation; and for the carrying out of this part of the programme a special organisation was created.
With so many opinions in common, it seemed at one moment as if the Social Democrats and the Socialist-Revolutionaries might unite their forces for a combined attack on the Government; but apart from the mutual jealousy and hatred which so often characterise revolutionary as well as religious sects, they were prevented from coalescing, or even cordially co-operating, by profound differences both in doctrine and in method.
The Social Democrats are essentially doctrinaires. Thorough-going disciples of Karl Marx, they believed in what they consider the immutable laws of social progress, according to which the Socialistic ideal can be reached only through capitalism; and the intermediate political revolution, which is to substitute the will of the people for the Autocratic Power, must be effected by the conversion and organisation of the industrial proletariat. With the spiritual pride of men who feel themselves to be the incarnations or avatars of immutable law, they are inclined to look down with something very like contempt on mere empirics who are ignorant of scientific principles and are guided by considerations of practical expediency. The Social-Revolutionaries seem to them to be empirics of this kind because they reject the tenets, or at least deny the infallibility, of the Marx school, cling to the idea of partially resisting the overwhelming influence of capitalism in Russia, hope that the peasantry will play at least a secondary part in bringing about the political revolution, and are profoundly convinced that the advent of political liberty may be greatly accelerated by the use of terrorism. On this last point they stated their views very frankly in a pamphlet which they published in 1902 under the title of "Our Task" (Nasha Zadatcha). It is there said:
"One of the powerful means of struggle, dictated by our revolutionary past and present, is political terrorism, consisting of the annihilation of the most injurious and influential personages of Russian autocracy in given conditions. Systematic terrorism, in conjunction with other forms of open mass-struggle (industrial riots and agrarian risings, demonstrations, etc.), which receive from terrorism an enormous, decisive significance, will lead to the disorganisation of the enemy. Terrorist activity will cease only with the victory over autocracy and the complete attainment of political liberty. Besides its chief significance as a means of disorganising, terrorist activity will serve at the same time as a means of propaganda and agitation, a form of open struggle taking place before the eyes of the whole people, undermining the prestige of Government authority, and calling into life new revolutionary forces, while the oral and literary propaganda is being continued without interruption. Lastly, the terrorist activity serves for the whole secret revolutionary party as a means of self-defence and of protecting the organisation against the injurious elements of spies and treachery."
In accordance with this theory a "militant organisation" (Boevaga Organisatsia) was formed and soon set to work with revolvers and bombs. First an attempt was made on the life of Pobedonostsef; then the Minister of the Interior, Sipiagin, was assassinated; next attempts were made on the lives of the Governors of Vilna and Kharkof, and the Kharkof chief of police; and since that time the Governor of Ufa, the Vice-Governor of Elizabetpol, the Minister of the Interior, M. Plehve, and the Grand Duke Serge have fallen victims to the terrorist policy.*
* In this list I have not mentioned the assassination of M. Bogolyepof, Minister of Public Instruction, in 1901, because I do not know whether it should be attributed to the Socialist- Revolutionaries or to the Narodovoltsi, who had not yet amalgamated with them.
Though the Social Democrats have no sentimental squeamishness about bloodshed, they objected to this policy on the ground that acts of terrorism were unnecessary and were apt to prove injurious rather than beneficial to the revolutionist cause. One of the main objects of every intelligent revolutionary party should be to awaken all classes from their habitual apathy and induce them to take an active part in the political movement; but terrorism must have a contrary effect by suggesting that political freedom is to be attained, not by the steady pressure and persevering cooperation of the people, but by startling, sensational acts of individual heroism.
The efforts of these two revolutionary parties, as well as of minor groups, to get hold of the industrial proletariat did not escape the notice of the authorities; and during the labour troubles of 1896, on the suggestion of M. Witte, the Government had considered the question as to what should be done to counteract the influence of the agitators. On that question it had no difficulty in coming to a decision; the condition of the working classes must be improved. An expert official was accordingly instructed to write a report on what had already been done in that direction. In his report it was shown that the Government had long been thinking about the subject. Not to speak of a still-born law about a ten- hour day for artisans, dating from the time of Catherine II., an Imperial commission had been appointed as early as 1859, but nothing practical came of its deliberations until 1882, when legislative measures were taken for the protection of women and children in factories. A little later (1886) other grievances were dealt with and partly removed by regulating contracts of hire, providing that the money derived from deductions and fines should not be appropriated by the employers, and creating a staff of factory inspectors who should take care that the benevolent intentions of the Government were duly carried out. Having reviewed all these official efforts in 1896, the Government passed in the following year a law prohibiting night work and limiting the working day to eleven and a half hours.
This did not satisfy the workmen. Their wages were still low, and it was difficult to get them increased because strikes and all forms of association were still, as they had always been, criminal offences. On this point the Government remained firm so far as the law was concerned, but it gradually made practical concessions by allowing the workmen to combine for certain purposes. In 1898, for example, in Kharkof, the Engineers' Mutual Aid Society was sanctioned, and gradually it became customary to allow the workmen to elect delegates for the discussion of their grievances with the employers and inspectors.
Finding that these concessions did not check the growing influence of the Social Democratic agitators among the operatives, the Government resolved to go a step further; it would organise the workers on purely trade-unionist lines, and would thereby combat the Social Democrats, who always advised the strikers to mix up political demands with their material grievances. The project seemed to have a good prospect of success, because there were many workmen, especially of the older generation, who did not at all like the mixing up of politics, which so often led to arrest, imprisonment and exile, with the practical concerns of every day life.
The first attempt of the kind was made in Moscow under the direction of a certain Zubatof, chief of the secret police, who had been himself a revolutionary in his youth, and afterwards an agent provocateur. Aided by Tikhomirof, the repentant terrorist whom I have already mentioned, Zubatof organised a large workmen's association, with reading-rooms, lectures, discussions and other attractions, and sought to convince the members that they should turn a deaf ear to the Social Democratic agents, and look only to the Government for the improvement of their condition. In order to gain their sympathy and confidence, he instructed his subordinates to take the side of the workmen in all labour disputes, while he himself brought official pressure to bear on the employers. By this means he made a considerable number of converts, and for a time the association seemed to prosper, but he did not possess the extraordinary ability and tact required to play the complicated game successfully, and he committed the fatal mistake of using the office-bearers of the association as detectives for the discovery of the "evil-intentioned." This tactical error had its natural consequences. As soon as the workmen perceived that their professed benefactors were police spies, who did not obtain for them any real improvement of their condition, the popularity of the association rapidly declined. At the same time, the factory owners complained to the Minister of Finance that the police, who ought to be guardians of public order, and who had accused the factory inspectors of stirring up discontent in the labouring population, were themselves creating troubles by inciting the workmen to make inordinate demands. The Minister of Finance at the moment was M. Witte, and the Minister of Interior, responsible for the acts of the police, was M. Plehve, and between these two official dignitaries, who were already in very strained relations, Zubatof's activity formed a new base of contention. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the very risky experiment came to an untimely end.
In St. Petersburg a similar experiment was made, and it ended much more tragically. There the chief rôle was played by a mysterious personage called Father Gapon, who acquired great momentary notoriety. Though a genuine priest, he did not belong by birth, as most Russian priests do, to the ecclesiastical caste. The son of a peasant in Little Russia, where the ranks of the clergy are not hermetically sealed against the other social classes, he aspired to take orders, and after being rusticated from a seminary for supposed sympathy with revolutionary ideas, he contrived to finish his studies and obtain ordination. During a residence in Moscow he took part in the Zubatof experiment, and when that badly conducted scheme collapsed he was transferred to St. Petersburg and appointed chaplain to a large convict prison. His new professional duties did not prevent him from continuing to take a keen interest in the welfare of the working classes, and in the summer of 1904 he became, with the approval of the police authorities, president of a large labour union called the Society of Russian Workmen, which had eleven sections in the various industrial suburbs of the capital. Under his guidance the experiment proceeded for some months very successfully. He gained the sympathy and confidence of the workmen, and so long as no serious questions arose he kept his hold on them; but a storm was brewing and he proved unequal to the occasion.
In the first days of 1905, when the economic consequences of the war had come to be keenly felt, a spirit of discontent appeared among the labouring population of St. Petersburg, and on Sunday, January 15th--exactly a week before the famous Sunday when the troops were called into play--a strike began in the Putilof ironworks and spread like wildfire to the other big works in the neighbourhood. The immediate cause of the disturbance was the dismissal of some workmen and a demand on the part of the labour union that they should be reinstated. A deputation, composed partly of genuine workmen and partly of Social Democratic agitators, and led by Gapon, negotiated with the managers of the Putilof works, and failed to effect an arrangement. At this moment Gapon tried hard to confine the negotiations to the points in dispute, whereas the agitators put forward demands of a wider kind, such as the eight-hour working day, and they gradually obtained his concurrence on condition that no political demands should be introduced into the programme. In defending this condition he was supported by the workmen, so that when agitators tried to make political speeches at the meetings they were unceremoniously expelled.
A similar struggle between the "Economists" and the "Politicals" was going on in the other industrial suburbs, notably in the Nevski quarter, where 45,000 operatives had struck work, and the Social Democrats were particularly active. In this section of the Labour Union the most influential member was a young workman called Petroff, who was a staunch Gaponist in the sense that he wished the workers to confine themselves to their own grievances and to resist the introduction of political demands. At first he succeeded in preventing the agitators from speaking at the meetings, but they soon proved too much for him. At one of the meetings on Tuesday, when he happened to be absent, a Social Democrat contrived to get himself elected chairman, and from that moment the political agitators had a free hand. They had a regular organisation composed of an organiser, three "oratorical agitators," and several assistant-organisers who attended the small meetings in the operatives' sleeping-quarters. Besides these there were a certain number of workmen already converted to Social Democratic principles who had learned the art of making political speeches.
The reports of the agitators to the central organisation, written hurriedly during this eventful week, are extremely graphic and interesting. They declared that there is a frightful amount of work to be done and very few to do it. Their stock of Social Democratic pamphlets is exhausted and they are hoarse from speech- making. In spite of their superhuman efforts the masses remain frightfully "undeveloped." The men willingly collect to hear the orators, listen to them attentively, express approval or dissent, and even put questions; but with all this they remain obstinately on the ground of their own immediate wants, such as the increase of wages and protection against brutal foremen, and they only hint vaguely at more serious demands. The agitators, however, are equally obstinate, and they make a few converts. To illustrate how conversions are made, the following incident is related. At one meeting the cry of "Stop the war!" is raised by an orator without sufficient preparation, and at once a voice is heard in the audience saying. "No, no! The little Japs (Yaposhki) must be beaten!" Thereupon a more experienced orator comes forward and a characteristic conversation takes place:
"Have we much land of our own, my friends?" asks the orator.
"Much!" replies the crowd.
"Do we require Manchuria?"
"Who pays for the war?"
"Are our brothers dying, and do your wives and children remain without a bit of bread?"
"So it is!" say many, with a significant shake of the head.
Having succeeded so far, the orator tries to turn the popular indignation against the Tsar by explaining that he is to blame for all this misery and suffering, but Petroff suddenly appears on the scene and maintains that for the misery and suffering the Tsar is not at all to blame, for he knows nothing about it. It is all the fault of his servants, the tchinovniks.
By this device Petroff suppresses the seditious cry of "Down with autocracy!" which the Social Democrats were anxious to make the watchword of the movement, but he has thereby been drawn from his strong position of "No politics," and he is standing, as we shall see presently, on a slippery incline.
On Thursday and Friday the activity of the leaders and the excitement of the masses increase. While the Gaponists speak merely of local grievances and material wants, the Social Democrats incite their hearers to a political struggle, advising them to demand a Constituent Assembly, and explaining the necessity for all workmen to draw together and form a powerful political party. The haranguing goes on from morning to night, and agitators drive about from one factory to another to keep the excitement at fever-heat. The police, usually so active on such occasions, do not put in an appearance. Prince Sviatopolk Mirski, the honest, well- intentioned, liberal Minister of the Interior, cannot make up his mind to act with energy, and lets things drift. The agitators themselves are astonished at this extraordinary inactivity. One of them, writing a few days afterwards, says: "The police was paralysed. It would have been easy to arrest Gapon, and discover the orators. On Friday the clubs might have been surrounded and the orators arrested. . . . In a word, decided measures might have been taken, but they were not."
It is not only Petroff that has abandoned his strong position of "No politics"; Gapon is doing likewise. The movement has spread far beyond what he expected, and he is being carried away by the prevailing excitement. With all his benevolent intentions, he is of a nervous, excitable nature, and his besetting sin is vanity. He perceives that by resisting the Social Democrats he is losing his hold on the masses. Early in the week, as we have seen, he began to widen his programme in the Social Democratic sense, and every day he makes new concessions. Before the week is finished a Social Democratic orator can write triumphantly: "In three days we have transformed the Gaponist assemblies into political meetings!" Like Petroff, Gapon seeks to defend the Tsar, and he falls into Petroff's strategical mistake of pretending that the Tsar knows nothing of the sufferings of his people. From that admission to the resolution that the Tsar must somehow be informed personally and directly, by some means outside of the regular official channel, there is but one step, and that step is quickly taken. On Friday morning Gapon has determined to present with his own hands a petition to his Majesty, and the petition is already drafted, containing demands which go far beyond workmen's grievances. After resisting the Social Democratic agitators so stoutly, he is now going over, bag and baggage, to the Social Democratic camp.
This wonderful change was consummated on Friday evening at a conference which he held with some delegates of the Social Democrats. From an account written by one of these delegates immediately after the meeting we get an insight into the worthy priest's character and motives. In the morning he had written to them: "I have 100,000 workmen, and I am going with them to the Palace to present a petition. If it is not granted, we shall make a revolution. Do you agree?" They did not like the idea, because the Social Democratic policy is to extort concessions, not to ask favours, and to refrain from anything that might increase the prestige of the Autocratic Power. In their reply, therefore, they consented simply to discuss the matter. I proceed now to quote from the delegate's account of what took place at the conference:
"The company consisted of Gapon, with two adherents, and five Social Democrats. All sat round a table, and the conversation began. Gapon is a good-looking man, with dark complexion and thoughtful, sympathetic face. He is evidently very tired, and, like the other orators, he is hoarse. To the questions addressed to him, he replies: 'The masses are at present so electrified that you may lead them wherever you like. We shall go on Sunday to the Palace, and present a petition. If we are allowed to pass without hindrance, we shall march to the Palace Square, and summon the Tsar from Tsarskoe Selo. We shall wait for him till the evening. When he arrives, I shall go to him with a deputation, and in presenting to him the petition, I shall say: "Your Majesty! Things cannot go on like this; it is time to give the people liberty." (Tak nelzya! Para dat' narodu svobodu.) If he consents, we shall insist that he take an oath before the people. Only then we shall come away, and when we begin to work, it will only be for eight hours a day. If, on the other hand, we are prevented from entering the city, we shall request and beg, and if they do not let us pass, we shall force our way. In the Palace Square we shall find troops, and we shall entreat them to come over to our side. If they beat us, we shall strike back. There will be sacrifices, but part of the troops will come over to us, and then, being ourselves strong in numbers, we shall make a revolution. We shall construct barricades, pillage the armourers' shops, break open the prisons, and seize the telephones and telegraphs. The Socialist- Revolutionaries have promised us bombs, and the Democrats money: and we shall be victorious!*
* This confirms the information which comes to me from other quarters that Gapon was already in friendly relations with other revolutionary groups.
"Such, in a few words, were the ideas which Gapon expounded. The impression he made on us was that he did not clearly realise where he was going. Acting with sincerity, he was ready to die, but he was convinced that the troops would not fire, and that the deputation would be received by the Emperor. He did not distinguish between different methods. Though not at all a partisan of violent means, he had become infuriated against autocracy and the Tsar, as was shown by his language when he said: 'If that blockhead of a Tsar comes out' (Yesli etot durak Tsar vuidet) . . . Burning with the desire to attain his object, he looked on revolution like a child, as if it could be accomplished in a day with empty hands!"
Knowing that no previous preparations had been made for a revolution such as Gapon talked of, the Social Democratic agents tried to dissuade him from carrying out his idea on Sunday, but he stood firm. He had already committed himself publicly to the project. At a workmen's meeting in another quarter (Vassiliostrof) earlier in the day he had explained the petition, and said: "Let us go to the Winter Palace and summon the Emperor, and let us tell him our wants; if he does not listen to us we do not require him any longer." To a Social Democrat who shook him warmly by the hand and expressed his astonishment that there should be such a man among the clergy, he replied: "I am no longer a priest; I am a fighter for liberty! They want to exile me, and for some nights I have not slept at home." When offered assistance to escape arrest, he answered laconically: "Thanks; I have already a place of refuge." After his departure from the meeting one of his friends, to whom he had confided a copy of the petition, rose and said: "Now has arrived the great historical moment! Now we can and must demand rights and liberty!" After hearing the petition read the meeting decided that if the Tsar did not come out at the demand of the people strong measures should be taken, and one orator indicated pretty plainly what they should be: "We don't require a Tsar who is deaf to the woes of the people; we shall perish ourselves, but we shall kill him. Swear that you will all come to the Palace on Sunday at twelve o'clock!" The audience raised their hands in token of assent.
Finding it impossible to dissuade Gapon from his purpose, the Social Democrats told him that they would take advantage of the circumstances independently, and that if he was allowed to enter the city with his deputation they would organise monster meetings in the Palace Square.
The imperious tone used by Gapon at the public meetings and private consultations was adopted by him also in his letters to the Minister of the Interior and to the Emperor. To the former he wrote:
"The workmen and inhabitants of St. Petersburg of various classes desire to see the Tsar at two o'clock on Sunday in the Winter Palace Square, in order to lay before him personally their needs and those of the whole Russian people. . . . Tell the Tsar that I and the workmen, many thousands in number, have peacefully, with confidence in him, but irrevocably, resolved to proceed to the Winter Palace. Let him show his confidence by deeds, and not by manifestos."
To the Tsar himself his language was not more respectful:
"Sovereign,--I fear the Ministers have not told you the truth about the situation. The whole people, trusting in you, has resolved to appear at the Winter Palace at two o'clock in the afternoon, in order to inform you of its needs. If you hesitate, and do not appear before the people, then you tear the moral bonds between you and them. Trust in you will disappear, because innocent blood will flow. Appear to-morrow before your people and receive our address of devotion in a courageous spirit! I and the labour representatives, my brave comrades, guarantee the inviolability of your person."
Gapon was no longer merely the president of the Workmen's Union: inebriated with the excitement he had done so much to create, he now imagined himself the representative of the oppressed Russian people, and the heroic leader of a great political revolution. In the petition which he had prepared he said little about the grievances of the St. Petersburg workmen whose interests he had a right to advocate, and preferred to soar into much higher regions:
"The bureaucracy has brought the country to the verge of ruin, and, by a shameful war, is bringing it to its downfall. We have no voice in the heavy burdens imposed on us; we do not even know for whom or why this money is wrung from the impoverished people, and we do not know how it is expended. This state of things is contrary to the Divine laws, and renders life unbearable. Assembled before your palace, we plead for our salvation. Refuse not your aid; raise your people from the tomb, and give them the means of working out their own destiny. Rescue them from the intolerable yoke of officialdom; throw down the wall that separates you from them, in order that they may rule with you the country that was created for their happiness--a happiness which is being wrenched from us, leaving nothing but sorrow and humiliation."
With an innate sentiment of autocratic dignity the Emperor declined to obey the imperious summons, and he thereby avoided an unseemly altercation with the excited priest, as well as the boisterous public meetings which the Social Democrats were preparing to hold in the Palace Square. Orders were given to the police and the troops to prevent the crowds of workmen from penetrating into the centre of the city from the industrial suburbs. The rest need not be described in detail. On Sunday the crowds tried to force their way, the troops fired, and many of the demonstrators were killed or wounded. How many it is impossible to say; between the various estimates there is an enormous discrepancy. At one of the first volleys Father Gapon fell, but he turned out to be quite unhurt, and was spirited away to his place of refuge, whence he escaped across the frontier.
As soon as he had an opportunity of giving public expression to his feelings, he indulged in very strong language. In his letters and proclamations the Tsar is called a miscreant and an assassin, and is described as traitorous, bloodthirsty, and bestial. To the ministers he is equally uncomplimentary. They appear to him an accursed band of brigands, Mamelukes, jackals, monsters. Against the Tsar, "with his reptilian brood," and the ministers alike, he vows vengeance--"death to them all!" As for the means for realising his sacred mission, he recommends bombs, dynamite, individual and wholesale terrorism, popular insurrection, and paralysing the life of the cities by destroying the water-mains, the gas-pipes, the telegraph and telephone wires, the railways and tram-ways, the Government buildings and the prisons. At some moments he seems to imagine himself invested with papal powers, for he anathematises the soldiers who did their duty on the eventful day, whilst he blesses and absolves from their oath of allegiance those who help the nation to win liberty.
So far I have spoken merely of the main currents in the revolutionary movement. Of the minor currents--particularly those in the outlying provinces, where the Socialist tendencies were mingled with nationalist feeling--I shall have occasion to speak when I come to deal with the present political situation as a whole. Meanwhile, I wish to sketch in outline the foreign policy which has powerfully contributed to bring about the present crisis.