6 MARCH 1880, Page 6

THE HOPELESSNESS OF REPRESSION. THE attempt on General Loris Melikoff fortunately

failed. But, if we may trust the statements of the newspapers, he has already received notice that it will be soon repeated ; and there seems no reason to doubt that the Nihilist conspirators have scores of men at their disposal willing to sacrifice their own lives, simply for the chance of striking a blow at the head of the Russian Government. This is, indeed, the true peril of the situation. No measures of repression can be of any avail, where the insurrectionary feeling is so strong as to fill scores or hundreds of persons with hatred of the authors of those measures deep enough as to make the sacrifice of life welcome to them, if it can be the means of giving expression to that hatred. Unless, indeed, there were any known means of seeing into the minds and purposes of all men within a mile or two of the authorities to be preserved from attack, there could be absolutely no conceivable method of guarding these authorities against assassins perfectly willing to pay the penalty of death for their attempt. All so-called measures of repression consist either in the interposition of difficulties in the way of obtaining access to the persons to be killed, or in the proclama- tion of punishments to be inflicted on those who attempt to kill. But unless the authorities are willing to live in absolute solitude—in which case, they cannot exert much practical authority—it is quite impossible to protect them effectu- ally even from the access of strangers ; nor would that be sufficient, even if it could be achieved: The .Nihilists have shown a wonderful capacity for honeycombing the higher ranks of society with a secret enmity which may even live and be vigilant under the mask of faithful service, till the moment comes for dropping the mask. Bat in point of fact, it is hope- less for any public man, any governing man, to keep all strangers at a distance. For in order to do so, he must cease to be a public man, cease to be a figure in the world alto- gether, and become a recluse. It is barely possible that a Czar might become a recluse for a time. But no statesman or general could continue to be a statesman or general, and adopt the habits of a recluse. General Loris Melikoff, as the head of the Commission of Public Safety, will certainly not be able even to attempt that species of retirement ; and it is, we suppose, equally certain that he must run the gauntlet of a string of assassins, so long as the deep perversion of feel- ing continues which makes it so easy to find men willing to buy his death at the cost of their own.

If the Czar had but the simplest rudiments of statesmanship in him, he would, indeed, see that the sole chance of putting down this society of assassins is to drain it of men so bitter against authority that they count death nothing, as against the prospect of striking a blow at authority. And this can only be done by relaxing repression, and relaxing it with a generous hand, instead of by tightening it. We have heard it calculated by a very moderate Russian Liberal that there are at least 25,000 men of the higher ranks in Russia who are now either in Siberia, or at least exiles from Russia, and aware that to return there would cost them their liberty at once,—of whom not many hundreds are involved in the Nihilist conspiracy. If anything like that estimate be the truth, the explanation of this wholesale indifference to Nihilism amongst the higher orders of the Russians is obvious at once. Conceive the feelings of a Russian family the most promising of whom are either in Siberia, or in exile without hope of return, and this for no better reason than the suspicions of the Police Department. Of course, such a family feels, and can feel, no sympathy with the authorities, and no adequate horror at the band who strike such terror into the authorities. And this indifference to Nihilism amongst large classes who are not themselves Nihilist, of course reacts powerfully on the Nihilists, makes them feel themselves anything but outcasts, gives them even some- thing of the character of heroes in their own eyes, since without forfeiting the regard and respect of their class, they yet go beyond that class, in the sacrifices and risks they undergo to remove, as they think, the evils from which all alike suffer. It is hopeless to strike down Nihilism, with- out paralysing in the first instance the passive sympathy with the Nihilists, and this can only be done by removing the sense of disgust and wrong which penetrates the whole class liable to exile. If the Czar were wise, he would begin by almost abolish- ing the secret police ; by recalling not merely hundreds, but thousands, from exile ; by suspending at one stroke the re'gime of suspicion,—and so draining away the nourishment from this spirit of assassination. True, it is the prevalence of this shocking crime which is his only excuse for the innumerable arrests and banishments by which the higher classes are lashed into fury. But then every day shows that, instead of putting down this shocking crime by the regime of wholesale suspicion, he feeds and stimu- lates it by that very means. Repression has done its utmost, and its utmost has only fed the flame it was intended to smother. Let him try now the plan of starving the flame,— of depriving it of its natural fuel. He will find the experiment a hundred times as fruitful. Relax the repression abruptly, and in a way to strike the public imagination ; and even if these crimes are repeated, the habit of connivance at them will dis- appear. At all events, as the string has now been tightened till no human effort can increase its tension, and the only result has been evil, — common-sense suggests that the remedy has failed, and that an opposite method should be tried.