20 FEBRUARY 1875, Page 10


DURING the past three weeks there has been sitting at St. Petersburg a mixed body of officials, nobles and com- moners, which may almost be called the first Representative assembly of Russia. Of course we must not be in any haste to attribute to an extremely slight and small beginning of representative institutions the ideas prevalent in countries of electoral Parliamentary systems. Simon de Montfort's Parlia- ment, six hundred and ten years ago, was many stages ahead of the Russian innovation, even though this latter should ultimately be found to possess all the importance which is ascribed to it. Simon de Montfort's representatives of the people were not only representatives, but delegates, while at St. Pertersburg the members of the quasi-representative body have been nominated from above, not elected from below. The fact remains, however, that a restricted number of persons avowedly representative of the Government, the bureaucracy, the nobility, and the commonalty has been called together by the Russian Crown for the purpose, as is still the theory of British legis- lation, of tendering their advice and assistance to the Sovereign in the construction of a body of law most closely affecting the interests of almost all classes of the Russian people. At the head of the Assembly comes the Minister for the Imperial Domains, Walujew, as President, with Privy Councillor Prince Lieven as Vice-President, and eight leading officials of Minis- terial Departments, who may be said to represent the Central Government. Eleven presidents of Governmental Territorial boards furnish the administrative and bureau- cratic category. The nobility are represented by a similar number of district " Marshals of the Nobility," a description of Earls-Marshal on a small scale, with numerous local responsi- bilities to discharge. Finally, the Commons, as we should call them, have their representatives, though not their delegates, in the persons of the two Burgomasters of Moscow and St. Peters- burg, and six leading manfacturers and merchants selected by the Minister of Finance,—a very poor total indeed, so far as numbers go, and as strictly tied down to the part of a simply consultative body as the most exacting theories of autocratic majesty could require. There it stands, however, a body of public representatives, chosen from the various orders in the State, and implying, if not as yet the duty, at any rate the propriety of taking the people themselves into council when the affairs of the people are under consideration.

The business which this representative and quasi-popular body has been called to transact is of a character which does not tend to diminish the significance of such an assembly. The most serious social and economic questions of our era formed the special subject of their deliberation,—the relations of em- ployers and employed ; the formation, the dissolution, and the breach of contracts between masters and workmen or servants; the employment of children and minors in factories and work- shops ; the duration of the hours of labour ; the provision of education for the children of work-people and operatives ; the dietary and housing of work-people,---in fine, the varied in- terests of agricultural labourers, factory hands, servants, cab- drivers, porters, carters, river boatmen,—all the fifteen or sixteen millions of Russians who depend upon manual exer- tion alone for their livelihood, and who are thus distinguished from the fifty-five or sixty millions of peasants possessing more or less divided titles to landed estates. Furthermore, it is understood that the recommendations of the Assembly will forthwith be clothed with the Imperial sanction, and in this manner the analogy with regular Parliamentary bodies may be said to be complete.

Perhaps, in the view of the House of Romanoff, as well as certainly among the vast population which takes the Czar for the direct Vicegerent of Heaven over Holy Russia, such delibe- rations of such a body no more enter into the processes of the Government than any private conversation of a dozen personal acquaintances. Were the members sum- moned in twenty times the numbers, and with twenty times the formality, the Emperor would probably hesitate no more about quashing a disagreeable resolution of theirs than our own James I. when he met the celebrated Protestation of his Parliament in 1621, " that the liberties, franchises, and juris- dictions of Parliament are the ancient and undoubted birth- right and inheritance of the subjects of England," by straight- way sending for the "Journals " of the House of Commons and tearing out the Protestation with his own most Royal hand. The conveniences, and still more, the necessities of States are, in the long-run, superior to the most tenacious traditions. So long as Russia-- was--one- -enormous slave plantation— of course, we do not mean any exaggeration by the use of this exaggerated phrase — with an intermediate group of noble overseers and a single and absolute proprietor above all, the very completeness of the despotism allowed of its being essentially uncomplicated and easy to wield. In fact, as in constitutional theory, there was only one will in the Empire, that of the Czar and his Privy Council. Even of his Princes and Barons, the Emperor Paul was able to say, with considerable veracity, " the only man \yip'. is noble in my dominions is the man to whom I speak, aricr' for the time that I am speaking to him." But times have changed. Since the Ukase of Emancipation, free wills by scores of millions have been recognised to exist, and it is no longer possible to govern those millions on the system of -a patriarchal slaveholder. The concern has become too complicated. The very business before the quasi-Parliamentary Council at St. Petersburg is evidence of the fact. What talk and what trouble could there be about•" contracts," in the days when men's obligations were determined, not by agree- ment, but by inherited condition ? Freedom is a grand premiss, the mightiest and most productive of premisses. Were the Czar all the political economists of humanity rolled into one, he must be obliged to enlarge the machinery which sufficed in a bygone epoch to ascertain and satisfy the requirements of his Empire. There must be some sort of representative, be it only consultative, arrangement by which the ever more and more involved wants and developments of an emancipated civilisation, of an emancipated barbarism even, can be adequately brought under the notice of the legislative and executive authority. The Czar, be he ten times an autocrat, must in the long-run satisfy in his administration the material wants of his people; and since he has transformed that people from a semi-mechanical mass only capable of receiving impulsion from outside into a freely combining aggregate of individual men, . he must take the ulterior consequences of the revolution he has already sanctioned. The people is never consulted by the Sovereign in the com- mencements of Parliamentary legislation, except when the dangers of legislating in the dark outweigh the dangers of taking the people into council. Those half-dozen mayors and merchants at St. Petersburg were summoned because in the full meaning of the word their advice was wanted, and the still more serious question of agrarian legislation which is already mooted, and which must go down to the very foundations of Russian society, will necessitate still more urgently the calling-in of the people to assist at moulding the destinies of the people. Such precedents inevitably repeat themselves, however gradually, however stubbornly, and whether they ripen to reform or burst into revolution. Russia is not India. It is not a subjugated country, held down by foreign power, governed by foreign intelligence and foreign abilities. The foreigners who have administered it have done so not as, foreigners, but as Russians, and in the short or the long run, the summits of authority in liberated communities must reflect the principles that have transformed the general body. The parish affairs of the Russian people are already managed on the representative basis. It is possible that we have seen a beginning of similar procedure in the growing domain of Imperial legislation.