4 MARCH 1905, Page 5

O URpeople are a little too confident in the speedy coining

of revolution in Russia. They are, in fact, bemused, like the Grand Dukes, by the rapidity with which events occurred in France during the great upheaval. Even there three years elapsed between the first sitting of the National Assembly and the confinement of Louis XVI. in the Temple, which was the death-knell of the Monarchy ; and events only marched at that pee because Paris from first to last held the Government in the hollow of its hand. St. Petersburg is not Paris, nor have the Romanoffs yet lost, as the Bourbons had lost, the power of defending them- selves by irresistible military force. The educated classes may be to a man hostile to the present system ; the effect of defeat in war may destroy the prestige of the governing men; and the Czar himself may be no more far-sighted than Louis XVI. was ; but the conservative forces in Russia—the Army, the bureaucracy, and the Church— are still terribly strong, and :the revolutionary parties are hampered by most serious causes of weakness. To begin with, they either have no leaders, or their leaders are com- pelled to act as secret societies act,—that is, from hidden retreats, to make themselves formidable to individuals rather than to the State. There is no alternative dynasty as there was in the English Revolution, no "Jacobin Prince of the Blood" like the man who in France found money for every agitator, no Sovereign just outside to whom every Liberal looks as there was when the petty tyrants of Italy disappeared before the Savoyard. There is not even a Minister to whom all Russia looks with hope, and who is so strong that the Court camarilla can- not dismiss him with a. word, or exile him without an assigned reason. It is possible that such a leader may appear, if free speech is once allowed, from the ranks of the representatives, or from among those whom the Army trusts, or even from the Imperial house itself ; but at present there is no one, and his absence is as fatal to coherent movement as would be the absence of a conductor from a band. There are the instruments, and there is the potentiality of music, but the harmony wanted is not heard. Outsiders hope greatly in M. Witte, and he is credited with a ;variety of striking speeches which he may or may not have made; but can any one say clearly what his policy is, or why he cannot be overthrown ? Does the true Russia, in fact, know anything about him ? The French had always a leader, if it were only the ruling orator of a club, or a man who could guide the Assembly ; but as yet the Russians have no one with either the powers or the opportunity to rule Russia for a week. Their Ma.saniello disappeared on the first day he made a visible appearance.

Then a revolution needs a programme; and as yet there is no programme which revolutionary Russia accepts. "Down with the autocracy ! " though a most formidable expression of hatred, is only a cry ; and out of a cry nothing can be constructed. Do the people really want, as Western Europe seems to fancy, a weak Executive and a strong Parliament ? The intellectuals do, and probably some of the artisan leaders, and certainly the whole body of the commercial classes ; but do the mass of the popu- lation—that is, the peasants, who make up eighty per cent. of Russia—agree with or oppose their view ? Five years ago most observers would have said that they were opposed to it, that they really wished the ruler to be as absolute as the Deity if only he were lenient ; but of late a discontent amounting almost to despair has got among them, the war has irritated, them as a needless source of misery, and their chronic dislike of their lords may have extended itself into a distrust of the throne. Still, they remain silent, and no one even in Russia clearly knows what their demand will be, for a lenient Adminis- tration, or for a sovereign Parliament, or for a Parlia- ment empowered to bring their views plainly before the Emperor, who will, they may still think, if only he can be approached, redress all their grievances by fiat. This silence makes the active revolutionaries weak, not only because there is a certain absurdity in upsetting a great organisation on behalf of men who may not wish it upset, but because the official classes can all plead as an 'excuse for savage repression that they,, and not the revolutionaries, are the true representatives of the people. The villagers, they can say, are asking for more food, and are offered liberty instead. As yet, moreover, the evidence, though it is not conclusive, is decidedly on the official side, for the soldiers, who are peasants in uniform, fire on the people when ordered without hesitation or compunc- tion. No doubt it may be true that those fired upon have not been peasants but artisans, between whom and the peasants there is no strong bond either of connection or friendship, and also true that the Government have used the Cossacks as agents in repression ; but to assert that the men of the Line would not fire on peasants is to beg the whole question at issue. Until the would-be insurgents are sure that the peasants are at least passively on their side they must remain undecided, and at heart afraid of a universal rising.

This is the great source of weakness to all revolutionists in Russia, a greater source and a deeper one than is as yet perceived by Western Europe, for it may be accepted as certain that the Government of Russia has in the great grievance of the peasants, their extreme poverty, a weapon the force of which may prove to be irresistible. Suppose that the Czar, half distracted by the defeat of his arms, by the rising of the industrials, which he naturally regards as unpatriotic, and by a series of assassinations such as are now threatened, resolves to imitate his grandfather, and by one tremendous blow level the aristocracy, the intellectuals, the industrials, and the peasants in one smooth plain at the foot of his throne. He can do it. It is not too much to say that if he issued a decree granting the land to the peasants, and fixing a minimum wage for unskilled labour, menace to the autocracy would for this generation be practically impossible. The peasantry would believe that their rivals, however plausible, wanted to take back the land which they regard as theirs. The peasantry of France to this day vote down the Bourbons out of that very fear. Such a decree would, of course, be revolutionary to a point impossible in any fully civilised State, would be immoral, and would be denounced in the West as a vast decree of pillage ; but Alexander II. did something very like it when he emancipated the serfs without compensation, and Count Tolstoi, who in Russia is regarded as a supreme though fanatic moralist, appears to advise this' course as the necessary basis for a new, enlightened, and comparatively happy Russia. Moreover, the whole body of Russian Socialists wish this, and therefore hold partly aloof from the political revolutionists as persons who accept only half the true gospel, which to be perfect must be Socialist as well as hostile to authority. We suppose there is little danger of the dynasty defying by such a decree all the strongest ideas of the West, and so shaking every throne in Europe except our own ; but while there is even a possibility of it the revolutionaries of Russia are impeded by forces with which those of the remainder of Europe have not to cope. We are not writing, be it understood, out of any belief that the cause of liberty in Russia will be permanently lost. We do not believe it. That more than a hundred millions of white and Christian men should, when once they have become conscious, be permanently refused permission to speak, meet, and pray as they judge expedient seems to us, indeed, as impossible as unjust ; but this certainty as to the final end does not blind us to the enormous obstacles which lie at present in the way, which reduce thoughtful Russian Liberals almost to despair, and bewilder even the revolutionaries whose fanaticism prevents their appre- hending even temporary defeat. Bad as the situation is, and great as is the misery it involves, we may have to wait long before it is amended, and even then may find the amendment arrive in some wholly unexpected way. A Czar devoted to the liberty of his people—as, for example, William of Orange was devoted to religious liberty—would be the instrument who could act most rapidly and with least disturbance to the world ; but such instruments are rare, the only approach to one in the last century having been the German Emperor Frederick, who died before he could act. Nevertheless, it remains always true, as Southey sang, that "Blindly the wicked work the righteous will of Heaven," and there must be a road even for Russia.