19 AUGUST 1905, Page 4


ENGLISHMEN habitually make one mistake in their judgment on foreign politics, and especially on the politics of Russia. They do not allow sufficiently for the possible stupidity of great people. They assume that the groat must be well-informed, and therefore often attribute to insincerity, guile, or overweening pride that which is the result of ignorance or want of imagination. We believe it quite possible to explain the attitude of Russia in the negotiations now proceeding without attributing to her any quality worse than density of mind. Before the war broke out the group which governs her had never realised that Japan was, in the European sense, a Power at all. They did not believe that she would fight, and thought that if she did fight, she would be beaten in a very short time and with a very moderate expenditure of effort. This was the conviction of all Russian agents in the Far East except, perhaps, Baron von Rosen, of all her diplomatists, and of all the Ministers entitled to "set the tune" in the Press of the great cities. It seems incredible that the Asiatic Department of the Russian Foreign Office; with its century of experience and its perfect organisation for espionage, should have made such a blunder ; but it should not be forgotten that our own rulers made at first precisely the same mistake about the fighting strength of the Dutch Republics in South Africa. The Russian Court, in fact, was ill-informed, and possessed none of that imagination which sometimes in politics supplies the place of accurate knowledge. The half-dozen men who control it were, in fact, a little stupid, and could not believe, even when Port Arthur had been invested and the Yalu crossed, that the people of a few " little " islands in the North Pacific, though supposed to be very clever in some departments of art, had made of their country by assiduous preparation a formidable military and naval Power. They could not be persuaded of danger, and regarded the battles of Liao-yang and Mukden as unfortunate "Colonial incidents" rather than serious cataclysms. It is quite possible that precisely the same defect of knowledge is influencing them now. We all think them very silly for talking so much about "humiliation," but they really feel humiliated, regard- ing Japan as they do as indefinitely the inferior of Russia. The Island Empire is, of course, quite a little place compared with their own • colossal do- minions, and its people are very few when contrasted with their own endless multitudes ; yet it is a little extra- ordinary that they should be so dense, for they quite recognise that the United Kingdom, which is no bigger than Japan, and had in the Napoleonic wars less than half its people, is a Power of the first class,—able to try con- clusions with any Power in the world. But it is pretty evident that the density exists. Rulers of Russia cannot bear to give up Saghalien or to pay an indemnity, and they are not convinced that there is any irresistible necessity for doing either. Japan, they think, is either "bluffing," or intoxicated with accidental victories, and if she is defied, must in the end retreat. Her finances must be becoming exhausted, her warrior class has to a great extent expended itself in the field, and her statesmen, such as they are, must dread in their hearts a continuance of the war. Consequently the Russian diplomatists will resist the concessions on which Japan has decided just five minutes too long, and will only wake from their dream when Oyama announces, in a brief dispatch, that, "through the virtue of the Mikado and his ancestors," the army of General Linevitch has been forced to sur- render. It is said on good authority that each defeat, including the cataclysm of Tsushima, has been to the Czar a terrible surprise ; and though the Czar is wanting in firmness, he has probably quite as much intelligence as the majority of those around him.

We are the more inclined to press this explanation of much that is now occurring at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, because we see so much evidence of the same kind of fatuity in dealing with internal affairs. We imagine—differing in this from many competent observers—that the Russian Court honestly believes it possible to change this war of the bureaucracy into a national war,—one, that is, for which the people will make any kind of sacrifice if only they may thereby win. That is, as we conceive, a pure illusion. The Russian people care nothing about the war, know nothing of the teiritory in which it is waged, and see no more reason for fighting for Saghalien than for fighting for Alaska, which the Russian Government seld: The majority of them have no wild' to conquer Asia if the conquest of Asia involves the killing of their own children, and the small minority who have the wish see no objection to waiting thirty years until Russia is once more prepared for a policy of big adventure. The war will no more be national because the Japanese have asked for Saghalien than because the mighty province of Manchuria is ad- mitted by M. Witte to have been lost. Even the indemnity will not make the impression expected. The people will regard that as a loss to the Treasury rather than to them- selves, and will see in it no more humiliation than in any other bargain. They want peace, with its consequence, a cessation of the demand for Reservists, and will no more revolt because peace has been made than the English revolted because George III. and his Ministers were compelled to give up their magnificent possessions in the Western world. it is doubtful if the real people of Russia know anything about the locality of the war. Their own leaders, though shrewd men, are no more geographers than themselves. They have no Press to instruct them, and though they value Siberia as a place where their children can get land, they have no idea of the wealth of Manchuria, or of the relief which the huge plains of that country might afford to their own over-populated villages. They would fight for Constantinople till they were all dead, for their fathers have died for that object for a thousand years ; but they no more care to conquer Japan than our forefathers, when they spent themselves for a century in the effort to conquer _France, would have made the same effort and. incurred the same sacrifices to conquer Germany or Poland.

Precisely the same ignorance and fatuity are displayed in internal and civil affairs. The Court no more perceives what the body of the people are thirsting for than our own high Tories in 1831. They dread anarchy, as the Tories did, but cannot realise to themselves what the people are really wanting. They are willing, therefore, to concede what they regard as reforms, and do not even perceive that those reforms will seem to the masses almost purely illusory. The masses or their leaders are asking for exemption from police tyranny, for the end of the practice of punishing strikes and riots by raassa,cre,.and for a division among them of the lands which, as they conceive, are kept from their natural use by the State, by the landlords, and—this is ,somewhat of a surprise to us-7- by the Church. Instead of these things, the Court is offer- ing them an Advisory Council, of which, unable as they are to read, they will seldom even hear, and which, if it is packed as it is expected to be, will not even wish to concede personal freedom, the right of free speech, or, what is to the peasants ‘,‘ the Bill and the whole Bill," more land. We find it impossible to believe that this is only a trick. The men who advise the Czar and his Majesty himself must believe in some degree that their offers will be accepted. They all admit that the condition of Russia is extremely dangerous. They cannot have the same interest as the bureaucracy in liberty to oppress, and they all in some vague way would rather that the autocracy and the people were finally reconciled. Yet they put forward these futile little proposals as panaceas. They are just like the Indian officials who often, out of the very goodness of their hearts, offer millet to a rice-eating population, and stare with amazement because famine-stricken villagers refuse the unaccustomed and indigestible food, or, if they eat it to quell the pangs of hunger, reward their benefactors only by renewed complaints. We do not say, as regards the limitations of power, that the great men in Russia are altogether without a hope of cheating the people ; but we do believe that they are as much deceived by their own ignorance as actuated by malignity. The crowds of French émigrés who in 1790 swarmed over the frontier all believed that the King had made great concessions, and that the people when they recovered their senses would recall the aristocracy, who were so ornamental to France. The people did recover their senses, but when the aris- tocracy returned they found that the ancien regime had passed away into the limbo of forgotten things.