THE ISSUES IN RUSSIA.
LTO TIM EDITOR Or TIM 'SPECTATOR."]
Sra.,—Repression is now far stronger and far more systematic throughout Russia than it was in 1904, before the first famous Zemsky Congress. Thus the old atmosphere of mystification has returned in greater force than ever, and it is exceedingly difficult for Englishmen to obtain any true account of what is going on.
The bottom of the whole question is the unwillingness of the mass of soldiers to disobey orders when called upon to act as•policemen, or even to fire on a crowd. It would be wrong to deny that there is still a spirit of military loyalty in the Russian Army, and that, when reaction is triumphant, the disinclination to take the popular side is, with nine men out of ten, increased. But it would be far more wrong to suggest that the orders which came from their chiefs are in any kind of harmony with the spirit of the men. It is a very simple
matter. It takes a great deal to make a soldier break his military oath ; and one soldier who does so is simply throwing away his life to no purpose unless many of his comrades do exactly the same thing at the same time. Now that result can only be obtained by organisation, and organisation is, in times of repression, exceedingly difficult, and nowhere more so than in the Army. Further, the Liberals never attempted any direct propaganda amongst the Army, so this work was left to the revolutionaries ; but in the Socialist creeds there is very much to offend some of the most fundamental instincts, not only of the soldier, but even of the peasant. An attempt to rush the question by urging the soldier to rebel in the name of Socialism has so far been entirely unsuccessful. If we are going to be forced to this issue, we may indeed find that any soldier who is ready to move will later call himself a Socialist ; but that will only be the mischievous result of all-round repression, which has made it impossible for a man to assert moderate opinions without being punished as a rebel against all authority, and still more of that ruinous policy which has made the soldier the executioner of those who have championed the interests of the class from which he himself has sprung. I know of old peasants who have cursed their sons for becoming policemen, or for helping as soldiers to put down peasant movements of protest. Still, taking it in general, the solution was not likely to come through the propagandism of revolutionaries in the Army. It has been assumed that because the majority of the soldiers are not Socialists, they will always be ready to fire on unarmed crowds, and that because the soldiers have not yet rebelled on a large scale, they never will. That is a great mistake. The reactionaries themselves, though they will not see it, are doing all that is possible to abridge the period of their own power and exultation. The quick movement of protest has failed ; the slow movement is succeeding all along the line. For its ultimate triumph the preponderance of protesting soldiers must be overwhelming. Armed with grape-shot, a few men who stand firm for the old regime can account for a very great many hesitating protesters, doubtful of themselves and of the future. But even here the many local mutinies of the last few years, and in particular the illuminating story of the ' Prince Potemkin,' show that the revolutionaries can some- times command a partial success. As it is, in more than one case the soldiers placed in the second rank have' had to be ready to fire on the front rank if the front rank would not fire on the people. The question is : When will the unwilling- ness to shoot penetrate to the last rank P Then the game is over.
It is, then, a simple question of numbers. Now, as to opinions, there is no longer any question that the irresponsible persons who so often pull the strings of power cannot at present count on any considerable support in the country. Out of a total of about five hundred, the first elections, on a scheme made by the Government itself, produced in the first Duma seven reactionary Members, of whom the most distinguished was a very ignorant priest, and in the second Duma eleven, of whom several, to my knowledge, passed only in consequence of grave election abuses. I knew several of these eleven, and asked which were their strongest districts in the country. I received enthusiastic answers, and visited two such places, where I expected to find things, from the reactionary point of view, in a most flourishing state. But my talks with the local authorities on this side made it quite clear that the organi- sation existed chiefly on paper, that it was eschewed even by the most conservative of country gentry, and that it did not enjoy the co-operation of any man with any kind of social distinction. When I went further—to the villages— I would find that there were some five reactionaries out of a village of two thousand, that they were in nearly every case the village usurers, or " gombeen-men," and that their opponents were in some cases even burning them out. Now we can quite understand that the courtiers should wish still to sit on the money-chest as before; but if they have no following, the question is likely in the course of time to settle itself. The peasants of to-day are very, very different people from those of five years ago ; the " conscious ones "- that is, the Radicals—are counted by thousands, where five years ago they were counted by tens. I could give many individual instances from my own experience, but I need not do so. I need only say that the local police testify to the fact by carrying out in the villages themselves
a system of wholesale expulsions such as was hitherto unknown in Russia, and that the GOvernment, in its last Electoral Law, has shown its distrust of the peasants by excluding them from any important share in the elections to the third Duma; earlier—for instance, in the first Electoral Law—it used to depend on the peasantry as a great mass of inertia which would resist reforms. In a word, the young peasants of to-day, when they become old, are likely to be utterly different from the present older generation, which will .practically die out without successors. When I saw peasants coming in from twenty miles away during the war to fetch .the latest newspapers, I had an inkling of what was to happen. Now it has happened. It is the new generation from which the Army is being recruited ; what is likely to be the attitude of the new conscripts? But they now know the weakness of the frankly revolutionary organisations. They will very possibly wait till the same spirit has so permeated every rank that the final judgment will simply go by default. It is thus that it has often been in Russian history. The brave Demetrius of the Don beat the Tartars, but could not drive them out. His cowardly successor, John IV., went out to meet the Tartars and ran away ; but then the Tartars had run first. This dependence on elemental changes of the last few years was very marked indeed in the great instinctive strike of October, 1905. Meanwhile there need not be any hurry. " We have waited so long," said a peasant to me, " that we can well wait ten or fifteen years more." " Five years ago," said another, "there was belief and fear; now the belief has gone and only the fear is left." " We quite understand," said a third, " that the Government is against us and that it now rests only on bayonets ; this with time will change, and then all will be quite easy." Already the Government is picking between the possible recruits; with a national Army on the basis of con- scription, and with the growing disproportion of numbers between the contented and the discontented, such picking is likely to become a more and more difficult task. No ; if a great convulsion is to be prevented, other and saner measures . are required.
Having thus dealt with those fundamental factors, which the triumphant party so constantly disregards, we can see what is the character of the issue now at stake. Of course, it goes without saying that the third Duma can only be important if it is representative, and can only be representative if it at the least opposes the irresponsible .advisers of the Crown. Those persons must lose their monopoly of access to the Sovereign; nothing in the way of reform can come till that is done. But what are the chances of anything of the kind ? We can now narrow down the dis- cussion to the immediate future, and the view which suggests itself is a very definite one.
No one in his senses wants a social convulsion or the pre- dominance of class interests, whether of the peasant or of any one else. But is there no one trying to stop this ? Yes, there is,—Mr. Stolypin, the Prime Minister of Russia. We may, disagree with him if we like; we may think that when be calls himself "a Constitutionalist, and not a Parliamentarist," when he refuses the idea of Ministerial responsibility to the Duma, he is really rejecting the only principle which could enable him to carry out the superhuman task that be has undertaken. But he is unquestionably an honest and capable Minister, and unquestionably a reformer. I have heard what his most vigorous opponents have to say of his drastic administration of the province of Saratoff, and I know of his field Courts-Martial, and of the systematic manipulation of the elections which was carried out by his subordinates ; but he stands as a patriot amongst a host of self-seekers, as a man amidst a crowd of neurotics. And the alternative to him is no Duma at all,—which, after the nation has thrice been called to elect, means a fatal breach in the credit of the Sovereign. Yet such has been the policy of the reactionaries from the time when Mr. Stolypin had the pluck to dissolve the first Duma for them, and showed them that their fear of an armed rising was for the present imaginary. For the last twelve months they have been working to this end; in the second Dissolution they secured a partial victory; and now Mr. Purishkevich and his friends openly say that "they are going to the third Duma in order to destroy it."
Attempts have been made in the English Press to prepare public opinion for this end to all reform in Russia. Let us not be deceived; the advocates of this policy are the ablest artificers of revolution. Whatever appearance may be created by the thoroughgoing repression of the present moment, the ultimate question is not whether the reactionaries will triumph over the Octobrists, but whether the prestige of the Monarchy is to be saved at all.—I am, Sir, &c.,