TOPICS OF THE DAY.
GENERAL TREPOFF : THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HIS CAREER.
BY the sudden death of General Trepoff the reading public has lost a strongly marked, and even pic- turesque, personality. What is as yet less obvious is that the life of the General was the most significant running comment on the process of dissolution through which the Russian Government has been passing during the reign of Nicholas II.
The General was without ancestry : his father was a foundling. In Russia, since the days of the great Catherine, foundlings are in a peculiar sense the children of the State. The most liberal provision is made for them, and many of them pass into the State service ; there is even a special " decoration " which they alone can obtain. But as the Government has become more and more adverse to the people which it claims to represent, service to the State has become more and more unpopular. "Crown property can't spoil," says the cynical Russian when he has spilt a glass of the Government vodka. In the mass of Russian society it has become a point of honour not to seek the favours of the Government, and indeed, as the autocracy, through sheer want of will, degenerated into an oligarchy, most of these favours were only tobe obtained by cadging. "In England," says a Russian proverb, "if you can't be born clever, be born in trade ; in Russia, if you can't be born clever, be born a place-hunter." While the country in general, including even the oldest families, became more and more democratic, there was built up a whole new aristocracy of place-hunters, which represented neither the nobility nor the worth nor the intelligence of the country, and, like a little hostile camp, concentrated itself round the source of all favours, the Palace of Peterhof. This organisation was essentially self-dependent and essentially militant. It was a kind of Army Staff; its chief needs were self-defence and police. Thus the Army came to bulk out of all proportion to the nation, and the police out of all proportion to the Army. It was in this typically oligarchical service of police that the first General Trepoff passed his life. It was simply and solely by this service and by this experience that he qualified himself for the favour of his Sovereign. He was a faithful watchdog set to guard the life of the Czar ; and in this cause he stood the fire of Vera Zasulich, a typical champion of the principle that public opinion and the Law Courts should control the arbitrariness of the officials. The younger Trepoff followed in the path of his father. He became an officer in the Army, and then made the same choice of the service of police. He was endowed with a, directness of purpose and a natural honesty which of themselves were enough to give to his personality a convincing " wholeness, ' and even a certain charm, and which in ordinary circumstances would have made him peculiarly well qualified to fulfil the duties of his station. Personally he continued, even to the end, to be respected by all his enemies. "Trepoff is not a thief," they would say ; and from some lips this was very real praise. Further, his very simplicity gave him the strength which must always pertain to one strew,b will among a host of time-servers. Trepoff undoubtedly despised the people of his country, and it must be remembered that his opinion of his fellows, like that of another great pessimist, M. Pobie- donostzeff, must have been almost entirely derived from the contemplation of those by whom he was surrounded,— that is, from the spectacle of the Court. Yet in a very special sense Trepoff summed up the insufficiencies of the atmosphere which he breathed. His education was so poor that he could make five faults of expression in a single short telegram ; and this lack of education represented a real natural defect. He was by nature, as by circumstance, the foe of intelligence. He had no kind of political insight, nor any practical and positive policy. We may almost picture him as the Javert so admirably drawn by Victor Hugo,—the man who is loyal to his instincts throughout, but is confounded and nonplussed by that curious inversion of right and wrong which confronts him in all his low, struggle against society, and ultimately forces him to an untimely and unhappy end. Javert finds that he has spent his life in doing "his duty," and therefore in doing mischief.
Trepoff, like Robespierre, might have lived with profit to his fellows. He was in no sense a leader, a great man, a Strafford ; and in his success, as in his failure, he has only been the plaything of the spirit of his time. It was the same force that brought about his elevation. Two kindred causes combined to give him "his chance,"—a chance which he ought never to have had. "In the reign of Alexander said a former courtier, " at least there was a man. We were all kept in our places. Of course there were Court intrigues ; but at least the game was fairly open." But in the present reign the Court circle has become narrower and narrower, and more and more isolated from all knowledge of the nation ; and there followed an increasing demoralisation of the Court which was accom- panied by a complete disorganisation and demoralisation of the bureaucracy. "We are asked," said a notable reactionary, "to give three cheers for autocracy ; but what we are really cheering is oligarchy." The game of wirepulling, the habit of trying to catch the first puff of a Court breeze,—these are not practices that develop the backbone ; and among the degenerates a man of very moderate powers, if tolerably whole-hearted, might pass for a great man. Meanwhile, of course, the importance of the police to the Court increased daily. But there was another and a much more curious development. The old broad Slavo- phil creed of Katkoff, which claimed that Russia should work out her own salvation independently of the ideas of the "rotten West," had also degenerated into the party formula of a small band of high-placed persons. The policy of crushing Poles, Finns, and Germans was one of the chief articles in the Government programme. And when these new Slavophils found themselves in a hopeless minority in their own country, they did not scruple to use the weapons of propaganda and violence to keep them- selves in power. Such was the sinister activity of Zubatoff ; such was the origin of the pogroms. Of course, if the Government thus declared war on the majority of its subjects, the crude instruments of power, uneducated and unthinking officers and policemen, came to have an adven- titious political importance. General Trepoff, as City Prefect of Moscow under the Grand Duke Sergius, was typically one of these instruments. Like his father, he stood fire many times in the defence of what was called " autocracy "; like his father, he was one of the last out- posts of a system that was corrupt and refused reform. The student who discharged five shots at him at the Nicholas Railway Station trembled all over as he shot ; but Trepoff never moved a muscle. And to such an instrument the Court naturally resorted when the events of January, 1905, proved that it had a great national movement to deal with. Trepoff was named Dictator, at first of St. Petersburg, and then, practically, of all Russia. His instructions "not to spare the cartridges" showed what measure of policy was to be expected from him.
Under such a man the dissolution of the Government only proceeded the faster. After Tsushima the very name of bureaucrat came to be a term of abuse ; all over the country the police, who had so far enjoyed an artificial immunity, became the mark for any one to fire at.
Yet it is precisely these months that are characterised by the practically complete absence of all Govern- ment policy. Several of the Ministers were actively engaged in drafting reforms ; yet these drafts proved to be so full of limitations as to make one doubt whether the work were ever serious at all. The Ministry, as a whole, was constantly contradicting itself. Any Minister had always been free to try to oust his colleagues ; but at least the Assistant Ministers had so far been subject to their respective chiefs. But now the variances inside the Govern- ment received official sanction. General Trepoff, as Assistant Minister of the Interior, with complete control of the police, was made quite independent of the Minister of the Interior; he could and did report to the Emperor separately and in a ' sense opposed to the views of his nominal chief. There already existed a similar dualism in the police of the Empire. The ordinary police are subject to the local Governor ; but the gendarmes, or political police, receive all their instruc- tions from St. Petersburg, and at the same time can compel the ordinary police to help them to execute those instruc- tions. The Governors are under the Minister of the Interior ; and, as they have no hold over the gendarmes, clearly tho unity of the administration can only be preserved by the control which the Minister exercises over his Assistant. When this control was formally abolished in the case of Trepoff, the Governors found them- selves to be powerless ; one of them, Prince Urusoff, refusing to be the tool of Trepoff, resigned his post, "because," as was generally said, "now, a police sergeant had been put over him." The whole nation felt itself as much affronted as we should if a. man with purely police antecedents were made Dictator of England. The Emperor derives his importance simply and solely from the fact that he is taken to represent Russia ; yet he never made so frank a confession that he was quite unrepresentative of his people. As to Trepoff's policy, it was almost entirely one of prohibition. After the forbidden Congress of July 19th-21st, 1905, M. Golovin, one of the Liberal leaders, called on General Trepoff and handed to him copies of the resolutions and of the famous " Appeal to the People." The General, who does not seem to have contemplated. the chance that his orders would be disobeyed, found no answer at all. His only positive contribution was the further development of the policy of violence. It was now that Comisaroff, a gendarme, began his sinister work of circulating from the Police Department itself the monstrous "appeals" which led to the pogroms. When in October the whole Ministry, and with it General Trepoff, were dismissed in consequence of a storm of national indig- nation, pogroms were started simultaneously in Kieff, Odessa, Revel, Minsk, and Kharkoff ; and there are on record telegrams which countenance this policy, and which bear the signature of General Trepoff.
The dismissal of Trepoff only signalised a still further widening of the gap between the official Government and. the unofficial. Trepoff still had friends in the new Ministry, such as M. barmy°. But he himself, as the chief police officer for the defence of Peterhof, became more frankly than ever a " Pretorian." By him the Palace was surrounded with a triple guard of spies, soldiers, and policemen, and the last possi- bilities of communication between the Sovereign and his people were cut off. Peterhof became more than ever an island of fable. Even the successive Ministers— Witte, Goremykin, and. Stolypin—could never have the access to the Sovereign which was always open to Trepoff ; and as to the Duma, even the Speaker, M. Muromtseff, never got more of an audience than something like half-an-hour in the company of a number of guests at a State banquet. There is little doubt that Trepoff in his last months of life, in spite of the frequent attacks designed against his person, opposed the policy of dissolving the Duma. He is said to have even spoken in favour of a " Cadet " Ministry. But the very prominence assigned to him as a belated advocate of reform only shows up the darkness of the atmosphere in which such a man could be represented as one of the chief champions of "Liberalism." It was only at the Court that Trepoff could ever be taken for a Liberal.
Though it is not a great man who has disappeared, the world anxiously asks who will succeed him. The answer is simple. There are, even in the Court circles, a number of men who have as much ability. Perhaps one of these " watchdogs " may, given the opportunity, display an equal amount of will-power. At least there are many who are fully as much devoted to their Sovereign. But there can be no hope for the Russian Government until an end is put to that doctrine of fear and suspicion which was personified by Trepoff. His only lawful successor as counsellor of the Sovereign is the Russian people, speak- ing by the mouth of its chosen representatives, and acting through a responsible Ministry.