31 JANUARY 1880, Page 9


METTERNICH tells us in his autobiography that the Czar Alexander I. once asked Lord Grey if he could advise him how best to introduce into Russia a political Opposition ; • but his namesake and successor of our day returns from a victorious war, which has covered him with no better glory than grey hairs, and finds himself encompassed at home with a whole legion of political Oppositions. The Nihilists are only one, and not the most important, of the forces that assail him. Their conspiracies and murders are but the particular form which a many-sided popular discontent assumes, in the more volatile and impressionable minds of a very volatile and impressionable race ; and they could not have gone the lengths they have gone, if they had not felt themselves assured and sustained by the less demonstrative disaffection of the other and more moderate sections of society. Much of that dis- affection has been slowly ripening for years, and it would not need a very deep breath of that spirit of political prophecy on which Sir W. Harcourt has been so merrily discoursing, to be able to foresee that it must have, before long, issued in a crisis of mortal conflict with the bureaucratic system. The bureaucracy themselves, at any rate, understood the situation so. They knew that the reforms of the present reign would inevitably develop in the people a taste for freedom, which could only be satisfied by further concessions, and they, there- fore, set themselves, for the sake of protecting their own power, to render those reforms as null and void as possible, by imposing a constant administrative brake upon their practical operations. The effect of this has only been to exasperate the people with a show of liberty, which crumbles into nothingness in their grasp, and Koscheleff declares that the condition of things in Russia is positively worse since the reforms than it was before them. Freedom is given with one hand and taken back again with the other ; if a promise is kept to the ear, it is broken to the hope. A public judicial system, with trial by jury, is granted, but it is regarded by the bureaucracy as a piece of " optional " or " permissive " legislation, such as our Tories delight in ; and if it is inconvenient to the authorities to bring any person up before an open court, the police can condemn him "administratively," without any trial at all. The Press is free to do good only ; it must be "well intentioned," and the quality of its intentions is judged of by an official censor- ship, jealous and narrow-spirited in the extreme. The (lobs, it will be remembered, was suspended at the beginning of the war for merely hinting that "society must take a direct share" in the preparations for that event. Local self-government is legally instituted in the provinces, but in practice the local councils are subjected to the dictation of the provincial gover- nors. The serfs have been emancipated from the whips of their lords, to find themselves in many respects laid under the scorpions of the functionaries. A scheme of popular educa- tion is introduced into the country one day, and supplanted by a second the next day for political reasons. The serious effect of these arbitrary changes has been to destroy in the breast of the people all respect for the supremacy of law, and writers of opposite schools, like Schao-Ferrotti and Koscheleff, agree in attributing to this circumstance much of the lawless revolutionary spirit which is so prevalent in Russia at present. If the Government breaks its own laws when it chooses, it cannot expect the people to honour them. Where there is nothing fixed and sacred in law, nobody feels quite secure for the morrow ; and if the authorities condemn Russian subjects to Siberia without law, they cannot complain, as Mirsky pointedly declared at his trial, of the wild justice by which Russian subjects would in turn assassinate the authorities without law.

This was the state of matters when the recent war was undertaken, but that event has introduced new elements of the most important kind into the situation. It has, for the first time in the modern history of Russia, awakened in the people a sense of their power as a factor in the political life of the country. It was a people's war, embarked upon by the Emperor against his own judgment and that of his ad- visers, who knew the political and military conditions of the undertaking, and in direct obedience to the vehement demand of the nation at large, under the instigation of the Slavophil and revolutionary parties. The Russian people, which had been used for generations to be led exactly as its governors listed, and had done what it was bid, without any thought that it was in the nature of things to do anything else, had acci- dentally shaken its locks in an access of holy fervour, and had discovered that it was strong enough to control, and even to coerce, its masters. The circumstance is one of undoubted moment. The people has come to a knowledge of its strength, and felt itself as it never did before, a something in the politics of the country. An experience like this is a thing that " wunna ding." It is a fact, which is done, and cannot be undone, but must carry consequences after it with which the Government must henceforth reckon. It is this that lends to the present situation in Russia its central interest and import- ance, for virtually a new force has been released upon the current of political life in the country ; and, coming as it does, at a time when a demand for change has been, after a long preparation, gathering to a head in the public mind, it will be strange if things can continue as they have been, and if the new era which has been shaping can be much longer deferred.

If the existing crisis contains the first germs of a new order of things, and if Hegel's axiom is correct, that blame is the beginning of wisdom, then Russian society must be acknow- ledged to be making at present an excellent start. It ails all over, and the extensive range of its complaints against the Ad- ministration is only equalled by their cumulative intensity. In these complaints it is energetically led by the Slavophils, who have risen of recent years into great influence, and who have been bitterly disappointed with the poor results of the war, and now cause the fiercest light of criticism to beat about the throne and the whole system of government. The Slavo- phils are a party who arose forty years ago, as a justifiable re- action against the superficial Europeanising tendencies of Russian society during what is called the "St. Peters- burg period." At that time, Russian society, as the author of "Russia Before and After the War" reminds us, was still essentially barbaric in its whole tone and real being, and the upper classes indulged in an unpatriotic con- tempt for native habits and ideas, abjured the Russian dress and tongue, and decked themselves in rags of Western culture, very much as the African negroes may strut in all the glory of black hat, tail-coat, and breeches. The Slavophils rose against this tendency, which they held to be producing a dangerous division of the community into two classes, who had nothing in common, and could not possibly continue to work together; and they strove, as far as in them lay, to resuscitate a love for' native institutions and ways, and to awaken a more real historical and national consciousness. In their recoil from one extreme, they went, as was not unnatural, to the other, and extended to everything really Russian an excessive idolatry, which was no whit more rational than the disparage- merit of the earlier period. At the very time when Sir Archibald Alison was writing his history, and could think of no other function Russia had to serve in the world but, like the mediteval Goths, to be "a scourge of vicious civilisa- tion," this small coterie in Moscow were cherishing the most ambitious ideas of Russia's place and mission among the nations. The civilisation of Europe, they held, was now effete, and nigh unto death, and the civilisation of Russia had been providentially preserved to heal it. The religious life of Western Europe had been dissolved into the anarchy of sects, and its economical life into the anarchy of individual compe- tition, and under the joint influence of infidelity and a war of classes the whole fabric of European society was tottering towards its grave. But fortunately, precisely at this juncture, the Slavophils of Moscow had discovered in Russia the two very principles which not Russia alone, but all Europe urgently required. The first was a theological principle, and it would build society once more on faith. It was the undivided Eastern orthodoxy. The second was an economical principle, and would build society on love and mutual humility. It was to be found in the Russian rural communes. We in the West know that the unity of the Orthodox Church, so far as it is united, is only the silent unity of intellectual stagnation, and that the Russian agricultural commune was nothing but a necessary concomitant of serfage ; but the Slavophils pro- claimed that the spirit of these institutions contained a "new formula of civilisation." Under all these extravagant ideas, however, there was one which it is their lasting merit to have placed before their countrymen. It is the idea of the people as a people of its unity, which Western culture had severed ; of its continuity, which Peter's reforms had broken ; of its worth, which serfage and bureaucracy had trodden down. The Slavophils are simply a national party, and their policy consists mainly of three points,—the Russification of the institutions of the German and Polish provinces, the unifica- tion of the Slavonic race and of the Orthodox world, and as far as they may venture to suggest it, the organisation of a Universal National Assembly.

Now, it was with a view to the accomplishment of the last two of these courses of policy, that the Slavophils became such strenuous advocates of the late war. They hoped that Slavonic unity would be its result, as Italian and German unity had been the consequence of the wars those countries had engaged in shortly before ; and they hoped that, as in the case of Italy, unity would be the gateway to freedom, and would necessitate the introduction of considerable constitutional reforms. They never for a moment had a doubt as to the success of the Russian arms, for they entertained the most extravagant ideas of the military omnipotence of their country; but there were others who joined the clamour for war, in the belief that if the Czar failed it would create a revolu- tion, and that accordingly success and defeat alike made them sure of political changes at home. The author of "Russia Before and After the War" makes it abundantly plain that one of the strongest motives which led to the war was the hope o' obtaining from it a measure of constitutional reform. Now, Vie issue of the war has not only thwarted, but mocked this hope. The Czar has neither failed nor succeeded. His arms were indeed victorious, but he has won none of the fruits of victory, for when his two-headed eagle was almost at the very walls of the city it came from at first, and is supposed to have been yearning to return to ever since, it turned back again, at the command of Germany or England, or both. This, and the acceptance of the Berlin Treaty, are what the Slavophils cannot forgive. They characterise it as a pusillanimous submission to European diplomacy, and even ascribe it to a malevolent distrust of his people on the part of the Czar and his counsellors. For they remember how the Court and Clerical party were opposed to the war from the first, and believe that they would dislike such results to flow from the war as the Slavophils had set their hearts on. In their disappointment, they find an excellent handle for their complaints in the part Russia

has taken in procuring constitutional government in Bulgaria, and they ask with considerable force whether con- stitutions are only articles of export, or whether Russians are always to be expected to spend their blood and trea- sure to win for their neighbours blessings that are denied to themselves. Whether the Czar will yield to this request, it is hard to say. He has certainly strong personal reasons for doing so. Go where he may, he lives under a constant sense of danger and insecurity ; and while striding the world like a Colossus, must make a simple royal progress from one city to another with as much precaution as if it were a retreat. He must have penetration enough to perceive that, in such cir- cumstances, free institutions have advantages for monarchs as well as for peoples ; that it would be good to follow up his predecessor's idea, and if he is to have an Opposition, to have a constitutional one ; and that it is well to exchange a despot- ism tempered by assassination, as Russia has been described to be, for a monarchy tempered by ordinary constitutional restraints. But he is now an old man, with a spirit much worn down, and the question of a constitution for a nation only half civilised, and comprising so many different races, is a perplexing one ; and he may possibly prefer to take refuge in some ?nodes vivendi for a time, and leave the matter to be settled by his successor.