Page images


WHEN the historian of the future shall come to write the chronicle of the first decade of the twentieth century; when the gracious hand of time shall have softened the crudities of events, so near that their very strength is their weakness and their size looms up so disproportionately that they obscure the true perspective; when, in short, the world can give to cause and effect their real relation, and under the searching light of science see why certain things happened, why they had to happen at a precise moment, and the results that followed when this time shall have come, history will give the most momentous place to the demand that has finally culminated in the movement of the Russian people to secure for themselves a representative form of government. That movement is one of the great landmarks in the path of the world's history.

History, Spencer remarked in one of his less thoughtful moments, "is largely the Newgate Calendar of nations"; and even the lightest remark of genius has at least a grain of truth. History has dealt largely with the crimes of nations, the crimes that among individuals make the Newgate Calendar, but it is also something more. History is largely the chronicle of the aspiration for freedom—often an unconscious aspiration, often a longing confined solely to the elect; but, once implanted in a man or a race, it cannot be extirpated. Russia has been crushed under the grinding heel of despotism, under an oligarchy that has endeavored to stifle all that was best in man, that passionate longing that is man's supreme hope, that one gift that always remains in the Pandora's box of human nature the longing for individual liberty, for the right to do and think as he pleases, to lift himself up and share, even in a small measure, the gifts of the immortal gods.

Foolish, narrow, unimaginative the oligarchy of Russia has always been. It has been so far removed from the people that its ear has been deaf to the heart throb of humanity. The voice of the children crying in the wilderness and begging to be led out of the darkness has never trickled through the stone walls of the palaces of the oligarchs. The human soul, like the soul of the boiler, must find its escape somewhere.

Confine the steam to the boiler, feed it with the passion of fire, give it no opportunity for expansion, and behold, instead of a servant responsive to the lightest touch of its master, a revengeful demon working destruction. The souls of the Russian people have fed on their starved bodies. Freedom, and only freedom, is the thing they have passionately asked for; and that boon, the inalienable right of the Anglo-Saxon, the heritage of his birthright which he may claim as his by the very accident of birth, and which is not to be granted or withheld at the caprice of a ruler, has been ruthlessly denied. In the furnace of desire the soul revolted. Against machinery so all-powerful, against machinery that ground so exceeding fine, the ignorant Russian peasant was impotent; but even the weakest animal will show his teeth when death fronts him. Nihilism, revolution, assassination have been the protest of the Russian people against an order of things intolerable symptoms wise rulers would have recognized as the signs of a disease deep-seated and chronic. But the rulers of Russia have been without this wisdom. Nihilism must be met by measures still more repressive; revolution must be strangled by the halter of the hangman. To use the knife to cut out the sore was the only method known to the physicians who ministered to the Russian body politic; to make the body wholesome from within so that there should be no outward manifestations of corruption was beyond their skill.

It is this survival of barbarism in an age of enlightened progress and religious and civil liberty that has alienated from Russia the sympathy and support of the United States and Great Britain; it is the spirit of Western progress that has won for Japan the sympathy of the two nations whose watchword has always been liberty, freedom of conscience, the right to think and to act without the consent of one's governors. Every man to whom the much-misused word "patriotism" connotes something more than mere geographical metes and bounds, every man who looks upon the world in the truest sense as a "cosmopolis," has no more ardent wish than to see Russia break from the stifling traditions of the past and take her real place in the family of nations. For Russia may have a future so great and so glorious that it may influence the destinies of all the world. Of immense area, with potential resources so vast that their mere thought staggers the imagination, with a people virile, docile, easily led, patient, hardworking, a people not without intelligence and capable under proper conditions of having that intelligence developed to at least the general level of that of Europe - such a country has in it all the elements of greatness, if its rulers are only wise enough

to use the material lying ready to their hands, and if they can only be made to understand that to-day the foundation of all progress is liberty.

It was said in this review some months ago that the well-wishers of Russia cherished the hope that the war with Japan, a war bound to result in Russia's discomfiture, would lead to a change in the domestic institutions of Russia. It was hoped that the hierarchy of Russia would be forced to see that their own safety, the perpetuation of the dynasty, the very existence of Russia as it has existed since the genius of Peter the Great made it an empire and a power of the first magnitude, would be determined by the events of the next few years. Give the Russian

people their rights, grant to them the same rights that the people of all other civilized countries possess, permit them to have a voice in the making of the laws that govern them, and no sane man with eyes unblinded by prejudice could doubt the magnificent future of Russia.

Has that time at last come? Knowing the past history of Russia, knowing the power wielded by the few and the powerlessness of the many, it would be rash for any one to say that a happier and a juster day is dawning for Russia; and yet such a tremendous impulse has been given to the movement for liberty that, while the hand of imbecility may stay it for the time, it cannot be destroyed. We should have read history to little account if we did not know that the world has never retrograded. At times it has seemed as if it stood still, even as if it reverted to the ignorance of the past; but that is an illusion merely and not a reality.

The meeting of the zemstvo presidents held in St. Petersburg on November 19 is an event of world-wide importance; an event destined to exercise as great an influence upon all the rest of the world as was the action of the barons in resisting the power of the crown and wringing from the sovereign the Great Charter; an event no less pregnant than that of a handful of colonists in defying the king and refusing to be taxed without representation. The men who secured the palladium of English liberty and the men who refused to be taxed without being given a voice in their own affairs, unlike the men who brought a French king and his consort to the block, were not of the proletariat, but were the blood and brains of the land, which made the movement not only temporarily successful-a mob at times has been known to gain a temporary advantage—but made it endure. This, then, is the significance to be attached to the declaration adopted by the zemstvo presidents.

The Russian zemstvo, it may not be out of place to explain, is a local elective provincial assembly, nominally entrusted with certain juris

diction over local taxation, public roads, the schools, sanitation, and other local affairs, but possessing no real power, because it is always subject to the control of the provincial governor, the governor again being subject to the control of the Petersburg hierarchy. It follows, therefore, that liberal governor may grant the zemstvos real power, while an autocrat of the character of the Grand Duke Sergius, the governor-general of Moscow, reduces the zemstvo to a cipher. A liberal minister of the interior, like Prince Mirsky, encourages the zemstvo to be of real benefit to the empire, while a reactionary minister, such as Plehve, deprives it of all power for good.

The members of the zemstvo are men of character and usually men of property. The zemstvo presidents are generally territorial magnates or large landowners, frequently men of old family and great titles. In England, France, Germany-in any country where the party system prevails they would be known as "conservatives"; in the United States the appellation would correctly apply to them. For they are men who have a great stake in the country, who are supporters of law and government and established order as opposed to revolution and anarchy. Between them and the anarchist and the preacher of the doctrine of physical force is a gulf as wide as that separating the devout churchman and the infidel; and yet it is these men, the presidents of the zemstvos, meeting in conference in St. Petersburg from November 19 to 22, who adopted resolutions memorializing the throne to grant to the people of Russia the right to exercise a voice in their own affairs.

I regret that the space at my command will not permit me to publish in full the Russian bill of rights, and that I must content myself with merely a summary of its provisions. The language used is moderate in the extreme. It is language such as one might expect would be used by men ardently longing for a better state of things, but who would endure present evils rather than resort to force. The word "constitution" is not mentioned; the Czar is not asked to abrogate a single one of his immense powers; but if the concessions demanded are granted, a constitution logically follows, and constitutional government is the only salvation of Russia.

No more damning indictment has ever before been brought against Russia by even its most violently prejudiced hater than this temperate and restrained appeal for justice, and nothing written by any foreigner shows more clearly the frightful conditions existing in Russia than the reasons, set forth with such extreme moderation by some of the best blood of the country, why there must be a change in the system of govern

ment. "The abnormal system of government prevailing among us,” the memorialists say, "is due to the complete estrangement of government and people and the absence of the mutual confidence so necessary to national life." They point out that these relations are due to the apprehension of the "development of the popular initiative and persistent efforts to exclude the people from participation in internal government.”

In order to destroy the "administrative arbitrariness and personal caprice" of the bureaucratic system and to guarantee personal rights, the conference declares that "it is essential to guarantee freedom of conscience and speech and of the press, and also freedom of meeting and association." Let the American reader pause here for a moment and think what this means. Russia, so these presidents of the provincial assemblies say, is a nation governed by "administrative arbitrariness and personal caprice"; a nation where freedom of conscience, of speech, of the press is denied, where no men can meet unless they have obtained the permission of the authorities, who are arbitrary and capricious. Knowing these things, is it any wonder that the lover of freedom is sick at heart when he thinks of the conditions prevailing in Russia, and longs for the day when the Russian peasant shall be given the same rights in the eyes of the law and the same equality of treatment that is given to the meanest in America or England? The last and most important of the remedies advanced by these real patriots of Russia as the great cure for the evil that threatens the foundations of Russian institutions is the necessity "for national representation in the form of a specially elective body to participate in legislation," in other words, a parliament, a congress, an assembly whose members are elected by the people, who can legislate for the good of the country, responsible to no one except themselves, their constituents, and their consciences.

Has Nicholas II the courage, the wisdom, the imagination to perceive that he stands to-day at the parting of the ways, and that a false step leads to destruction? It is to be doubted. Nicholas has given no evidence that he is the possessor of all or any of the qualities that spell greatness; on the contrary, he has given ample proof that he is weak and the victim of the reactionaries who exercise over him such a malign influence. A man of prescient powers-one is tempted to say that not even prescience is demanded, but merely common sense vivified in the healthy atmosphere of freedom-could not fail to see that, while he may oppose his puny power to the avalanche, in the end the avalanche must crush him. It may be true, as we have been told, that the Czar opposes any change, that the grand dukes, the procurator of the holy

« PreviousContinue »