CHAPTER 1: Russia at the beginning of the 19th Century; Birth of the revolution
The enormous size of the country, a sparse population whose disunity makes it an easy prey for invaders, Mongol domination for more than two centuries, continual wars, varied catastrophes and other unfavorable factors caused the enormous political, economic, social and cultural backwardness of Russia in relation to other European countries.
Politically, Russia entered the 19th century under the rule of an absolute monarchy (the autocratic "Tsar") which was dependent on an enormous landed and military aristocracy, an omnipotent bureaucracy, an extensive and pious clergy, and a peasant mass consisting of 75,000,000 souls -- primitive, illiterate and prostrate before their "little father," the Tsar.
Economically, the country had reached the stage of a type of agrarian feudalism. Except for the two capitals (St. Petersburg and Moscow) and some cities in the South, the cities were hardly developed. Commerce and particularly industry stagnated. The economic base of the country was agriculture which supported 95% of the population. The land did not belong to the direct producers, the peasants, but was the property of the State or of large landed proprietors, the "pomeshchiks." The peasants, legally tied to the land and to the property-owner, were his serfs. The largest proprietors owned veritable fiefs, inherited from their ancestors who, in turn, had received them from the sovereign, the first proprietor, in exchange for services rendered (military, administrative or other). The "lord" determined the life and death of his serfs. He not only made them work as slaves; he could also sell them, punish them and make martyrs out of them (he could kill them without much inconvenience to himself). This serfdom, this slavery on the part of 75,000,000 people, was the economic foundation of the State.
It is hardly possible to talk of the social organization of such a "society." On top were the absolute masters: the Tsar, his numerous relatives, his slavish court, the high nobility, the military caste, the high clergy. On the bottom, the slaves: peasant-serfs in the countryside and the lower class people of the cities, who lacked all notions of civic life, all rights, all freedoms. Between the two, there were certain intermediate strata: merchants, bureaucrats, functionaries, artisans and others -colorless and insignificant.
It is clear that the cultural level of the society was not very high. Nevertheless, already for this period we have to make an important reservation: a striking contrast which we will again describe later, existed between the uneducated and poverty-stricken population of the cities and villages and the privileged strata whose education and training were quite advanced.
The serfdom of the masses was the plague of the country. A few noble-spirited individuals had already protested against this abomination toward the end of the 18th century. They had to pay dearly for their generous gesture. On the other hand, the peasants rebelled with increasing frequency against their masters. Besides local uprisings of a more or less individual nature (against one or another lord who went too far), the peasant masses gave rise to two extensive movements (the Razin uprising in the 17th and the Pugachev uprising in the 18th century) which, though they failed, created enormous problems for the Tsarist government and nearly overthrew the entire system. It should be noted, however, that these two spontaneous movements were directed mainly against the immediate enemy: the landed nobility, the urban aristocracy and the corrupt administration. No general idea of overthrowing the social system in its entirety and replacing it with another and more equitable system was formulated. By using treachery and violence, with the help of the clergy and other reactionary elements, the government succeeded in totally subjugating the peasants, even "psychologically," to such an extent that any movement of widespread revolt was rendered nearly impossible for a long period of time.
The first consciously revolutionary movement directed against the regime appeared in 1825 when, after the death of Alexander I, who left no direct heir, the crown, rejected by his brother Constantine, passed to his other brother Nicholas. Socially, the program of this movement aimed for the abolition of serfdom; politically, for the establishment of a republic or at least a constitutional regime.
This movement emerged, not from among the oppressed, but from the privileged classes. The conspirators, taking advantage of the government's preoccupation with dynastic problems, began to carry out the projects they had long been preparing. In the revolt which broke out in St. Petersburg, they were supported by some of the regiments in the capital. (At the head of the movement there were some officers of the imperial army.) The rebellion was defeated after a short battle at the Senate Square between the insurgents and the troops which remained loyal to the government. Several uprisings which had been planned in the provinces were nipped in the bud.
The revolt made a profound impression on the new Tsar, Nicholas I, and he personally supervised an extremely thorough investigation. The investigators sought and ferreted out even the most distant and platonic sympathizers of the movement. The repression, in its desire to be definitive and "exemplary," did not stop short of cruelty. The five principal instigators died on the scaffold; hundreds were imprisoned, exiled or condemned to hard labor.
Since the revolt took place in December, the participants came to be known as Decembrists. Nearly all belonged to the nobility or to other privileged classes. Nearly all had received professional training or higher education. Open-minded and sensitive, they were pained by the sight of a people weighed down by an arbitrary and unjust regime, by ignorance, poverty, and slavery. They took up the protests of their 18th century predecessors and translated them into action. What gave them the necessary impetus was largely the journey many of them had taken to France after the war of 1812, which made it possible for them to compare the relatively high level of civilization in Europe with the barbaric living conditions of the Russian population. They returned to Russia having made the firm decision to struggle against the backward political and social system which oppressed their countrymen. They rallied many educated individuals to their cause. Pestel, one of the leaders of the movement, even elaborated some vaguely socialist ideas in his program. The famous poet Pushkin (born in 1799) sympathized with the movement, although he did not join it.
As soon as the revolt was put down, the frightened new emperor, Nicholas I, pushed the despotic, bureaucratic and police rule of the Russian State to its extreme.
It should be emphasized that there was no contradiction between the peasants' revolts against their oppressors on the one hand, and their blind veneration of the "little father the Tsar" on the other. The peasant revolts, as we said earlier, were always directed against the immediate oppressors: the landowners ("pomeshchiks"), the nobles, the functionaries, the police. It did not occur to the peasants to look for the source of the oppression further, in the Tsarist regime itself, personified by the Tsar, grand protector of the nobles and the privileged, first and most highly privileged nobleman. To the peasants the Tsar was a type of idol, a superior being high above ordinary mortals, above their small interests and weaknesses, guiding the great destinies of the state. The authorities, the bureaucrats, and above all the priests (the "popes") did all they could to engrave this idea in the peasants' heads. The peasants finally accepted the legend, and later it became unshakeable. The Tsar, they told themselves, wants nothing but the well-being of his "children"; but the privileged intermediaries, interested in preserving their rights and advantages, stand between the Tsar and his people and keep him from knowing their misery. (The peasant masses were convinced that if the people and the Tsar could face each other directly, the Tsar, temporarily misled by the privileged, would see the truth, would get rid of his bad advisors and other dishonest people, and would deal with the sufferings of the tillers of the soil; he would free them from their yoke and would give to them all of the good land which by rights ought to belong to those who work it.) Thus, while sometimes revolting against their most cruel masters, the peasants waited with hope and resignation for the day when the wall separating them from the Tsar would be demolished and social justice would be re-established by the Tsar. Their religious mysticism helped them accept the period of waiting and suffering as a punishment and trial imposed by God. They resigned themselves to it with a primitive fatalism.
This outlook was extremely characteristic of the Russian peasant masses. It became even more pronounced during the nineteenth century, in spite of growing discontent and increasingly frequent individual or local acts of revolt. The peasants were losing patience. But the more impatient they became, the more fervently they waited for their "liberator," the Tsar.
This "legend of the Tsar" was a central characteristic of popular Russian life in the nineteenth century. Failure to take it into account will make it impossible to understand the events that follow. This legend clarifies certain phenomena which would otherwise be unexplainable. It goes a long way toward explaining the Russian paradox which we have already mentioned, a paradox which shocked so many Europeans, and which did not disappear until the outbreak of the 1917 revolution: on the one side are numerous individuals who are cultured, educated, advanced, who want to see their people free and happy, who are aware of the ideas of their time, and who struggle for the emancipation of the working classes, for democracy and socialism. On the other side are people who do nothing for their liberation (aside from a few minor and unimportant revolts), people who remain obstinately prostrate before their idol and their dream, people who do not even understand the gesture of one who sacrifices himself for them. Indifferent, blind to truth, deaf to all appeals, these people wait for the liberator Tsar just as the first Christians waited for the Messiah.1
CHAPTER 2: Repression, Violence and Failure; Development Continues (1825-1855)
The reign of Nicholas I lasted from 1825 to 1855. From a revolutionary point of view nothing striking characterizes these years. This thirty year period is nevertheless notable in several important respects.
Having ascended to the throne in the shadow of the Decembrist revolt, Nicholas I undertook to hold the country in an iron vice so as to squelch in the bud any expression of liberalism. He strengthened absolute rule to the limit and succeeded in transforming Russia into a bureaucratic and repressive state.
The French revolution and the revolutionary movements which subsequently shook Europe were nightmares for him. He undertook extraordinary precautionary measures.
The entire population was closely watched. The arbitrariness of the bureaucracy, the police and the courts no longer had any limits. Any expression of independence, any attempt to elude the iron fist of the police was ruthlessly repressed.
Naturally there was not even a shadow of freedom of speech, assembly, or association.
Censorship thrived as never before.
All infractions of the "laws" were punished with the utmost severity.
The Polish uprising of 1831 (drowned in blood with a rare ferocity), as well as the international situation, led the emperor to further accentuate the militarization of the country. People's lives were regulated as in barracks and severe punishment fell on anyone who tried to avoid the imposed discipline.
This sovereign well deserved the name: Nicholas the Fierce.
In spite of all the measures -- or rather because of them and their nefarious effects, which the Tsar in his blindness did not take into account -- the country (namely certain sections of the population) expressed its discontent at every opportunity.
The landed nobles, pampered by the emperor who considered them his main support, exploited the serfs with impunity and treated them abominably. The peasants became perceptibly irritated. Acts of rebellion against the "pomeshchiks" (lords) and against the local authorities reached alarming proportions. Repressive measures began to lose their effectiveness.
The corruption, incompetence, and caprice of the functionaries grew increasingly unbearable. Since the Tsar needed the support and the violence of the functionaries to "keep the people in line," he would hear nothing and see nothing. The anger of those who suffered from this state of affairs only grew more intense.
The vital forces of the society did not stir. Only the official routine, absurd and impotent, was allowed.
This situation was unavoidably leading toward the future decomposition of the entire system. Powerful only in appearance, the "regime of the knout" was rotten inside. The immense empire was already becoming a "giant with clay feet."
Growing sections of the population were becoming aware of this state of affairs.
The spirit of opposition against this impossible system was infecting the entire society.
It was in these circumstances that the magnificent evolution -- both rapid and important -- of the young intellectual stratum began.
In a country as large and prolific as Russia, youth were numerous among all classes of the population. What was their general outlook?
Leaving aside the peasant youth, we can observe that the more or less educated younger generations professed advanced ideas. Mid-nineteenth century youth did not readily accept the slavery of the peasants. Tsarist absolutism shocked them. The study of the Western world, which no amount of censorship could prevent (on the contrary, the censorship gave rise to a taste for forbidden fruit), stimulated their imaginations. The rise of the natural sciences and of materialism made a strong impression on them. It was during this same period that Russian literature, taking its inspiration from humanist principles, flowered and exerted a powerful influence on youth, in spite of the censorship, which it successfully circumvented.
At the same time, economically, the labor of the serfs and the absence of all freedoms no longer responded to the pressing needs of the time.
For all these reasons, intellectuals, particularly the youth, were theoretically emancipated toward the end of the reign of Nicholas I. The intellectuals were resolutely opposed to serfdom and absolutism.
It was during this period that the well-known nihilist current was born, a$ well as asharp conflict between conservative "fathers" and fiercely progressive "sons," a conflict superbly depicted by Turgenev in his novel, Fathers and Sons.
Outside of Russia a widespread and deeply rooted misunderstanding accompanies the word "nihilism," which originated some 75 years ago in Russian literature and which, due to its Latin origin, passed into other languages without being translated.
In France and elsewhere, "nihilism" is generally understood as a revolutionary political and social doctrine, invented in Russia where it has or had numerous organized adherents. People still speak of a "nihilist party" and of its members, the "nihilists." None of this is exact.
The term "nihilism" was introduced into literature and subsequently into the Russian language by the celebrated novelist Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) in the middle of the nineteenth century. In one of his novels Turgenev used this word to describe a current of ideas -- and not a doctrine -- which appeared among young Russian intellectuals at the end of 1850. The term caught on and quickly became part of the language.
This current of ideas had an essentially philosophic and largely moral character. Its field of influence was always limited since it never went beyond the intellectual stratum. Its standpoint was always personal and pacifist, which did not keep it from being animated by a generous spirit of revolt and guided by the dream of happiness for all humanity.
The movement which was set off by this current (if one can speak of a movement) did not go beyond the domains of literature and customs (moeurs). Any other type of movement would have been impossible under the regime of the time. However, in these two domains it did not hesitate to draw the logical conclusions which it not only formulated but also sought to apply individually as rules of conduct.
Within these limits, the movement paved the way for I an intellectual and moral development which led Russian youth toward some very broad and progressive conceptions. One result was the emancipation of educated women, an achievement of which late nineteenth-century Russia could justly be proud.
In spite of its strictly philosophical and individual character, this intellectual current, due to its humanistic and liberating spirit, carried the germ of later social conceptions which gave rise to a real revolutionary movement that was both political as well as social. "Nihilism" prepared the ground for this movement, which appeared later under the stimulus of European ideas as well as internal and external events.
Outside of Russia, the "nihilist" current is generally confused with the later movement which was led by parties or organized groups with a program of action and concrete goals. But it is only to the current of ideas which was a precursor of this movement that the term "nihilist" should be applied.
As a philosophical conception, nihilism was based on materialism and individualism, understood in their broadest, even exaggerated, sense.
Force and Matter, the famous work of Buchner (German materialist philosopher, 1824-1899), was translated into Russian, clandestinely lithographed, and thousands of copies were distributed despite the risks. This book became the Bible of Russian intellectual youth of the time. The works of Mole-schott, Charles Darwin and several materialist and naturalist authors also exerted a great influence.
Materialism was accepted as an unquestionable absolute truth.
As materialists, the nihilists engaged in an unrelenting war against religion and against everything which escapes pure reason or positive proof, against everything which is beyond material reality or beyond values with no practical use -- in short, against everything which is spiritual, sentimental or idealistic.
They scorned esthetics, beauty, comfort, spiritual enjoyment, sentimental love, fashion, the desire to please. They went so far as to completely reject art as a manifestation of idealism. Their great ideologist, the brilliant publicist Pisarev, who died in an accident when he was young, formulated (in one of his articles) his famous parallel between a worker and an artist. Pisarev held that any cobbler was infinitely more admirable ttyan Raphael, since the first produces useful material objects while the paintings of the second serve no purpose. In his writings, Pisarev fervently applied materialistic and utilitarian principles to dethrone the great poet Pushkin. The nihilist Bazarov in Turgenev's novel, says, "Nature is not a temple but a laboratory, and man is there to work."
When speaking of the "unrelenting war" waged by the nihilists, one must understand a literary and verbal war, and no more. Nihilism's activity was limited to a veiled propaganda of its ideas in journals and among intellectuals. It was not easy to spread this propaganda since it was necessary to take into account the censorship as well as the Tsarist police, which suppressed "foreign heresies" and all independent thought. The "external" manifestations of nihilism consisted mainly of dressing very plainly and behaving uninhibitedly. For example, nihilist women generally had short hair, often wore glasses to make themselves ugly and emphasize their contempt for beauty and stylishness, dressed in coarse clothing to defy fashion, walked like men and smoked in order to proclaim the equality of the sexes and demonstrate their contempt for the rules of convention. These extravagances did not in any way diminish the seriousness of the movement. The impossibility of any other type of "exteriorization" explained and, in large measure, justified them. In the realm of personal morality, the nihilists practiced an absolute rigorism.
But the main principle of nihilism was a form of specific individualism.
Originally a very natural reaction against everything which the Russia of that period suppressed, this individualism ended up by denouncing, in the name of absolute individual freedom, all constraints, obligations and obstacles, and all the traditions imposed on man by society; the family, customs, morals, beliefs, established conventions.
The complete emancipation of the individual, whether man or woman, from everything which might infringe on his independence or his freedom of thought: this was the basic idea of nihilism. It defended the sacred right of the individual to total liberty and to the inviolability of his life.
The reader can understand why this current of ideas is called nihilism. This term was used to describe the partisans of an ideology which accepted nothing (in Latin, nihil) of that which was natural and sacred for others: family, society, religion, traditions. When one asked such a person, "What do you admit, what do you approve in the environment which surrounds you and which claims to have the right and even the duty to control you?" he answered: "Nothing!" (Nihil). He was a nihilist.
In spite of its essentially indivualistic and philosophical character (it defended the freedom of the individual in an abstract manner rather than against the ruling despotism), nihilism prepared the ground for the concrete struggle against the real and immediate obstacle, for concrete political, economic and social liberation.
But it did not itself undertake this struggle. It did not even ask the question: "What can be done to actually liberate the individual?" To the very end it stayed in the realm of purely ideological discussions and purely moral achievements. The other question, the question of direct action for liberation, was posed by the next generation, during the period between 1870 and 1880. It was then that the first revolutionary and socialist groups were formed in Russia. Action began. But it no longer had anything in common with the "nihilism" of former days. Even the word was discarded. It remained in the Russian language as a purely historical term, a relic and souvenir of the intellectual movement of 1860-1870.
The fact that abroad people erroneously use the term "nihilism" to refer to the entire Russian revolutionary movement before "Bolshevism" and speak of a "nihilist party," is due to lack of knowledge of the real history of the revolutionary movements in Russia.
The outrageously reactionary government of Nicholas I refused to recognize either the real situation or the intellectual ferment. Instead, it defied society by creating a secret political police (the well-known Okhrana: "Security") and special corps of police to destroy the movement.
Political persecutions became a true scourge. We might remember that during this period the young Dostoyevsky was almost executed, and was imprisoned for belonging to a completely harmless study group inspired by Petraschevsky; that the first great Russian critic and publicist, Belinsky, barely succeeded in making himself heard; that another great publicist, Herzen, was forced to become an expatriate; not to mention accomplished and active revolutionaries like Bakunin.
All of this repression did not succeed in calming the agitation, the causes of which were too deeply-rooted. It succeeded even less in improving the situation. The Tsar's remedy was to strengthen the repressive and bureaucratic apparatus still more.
Concurrently, Russia was drawn into the Crimean War (1854-1855). This was a catastrophe. The vicissitudes of the war factually demonstrated the bankruptcy of the regime and the real weakness of the Empire. The "clay feet" gave way for the first time. (Naturally the lesson served no important purpose.) The State's political and social sores were exposed.
Nicholas I, defeated, died in 1855 as soon as the war was lost. Perfectly aware of the bankruptcy but unable to face up to it, he probably died of the moral shock. Some even insisted that he committed suicide by poisoning himself. This interpretation is highly plausible but there is no proof.
We must insist on a little known fact to help the reader understand what follows.
In spite of all the weaknesses and obstacles, during this period, the country made considerable cultural and technical progress.
Driven by inescapable economic necessities, "national" industry was born, simultaneously giving birth to a working class, a "proletariat." Large factories were established in several cities. Harbors were opened. Coal, iron and gold mines began to operate. Transportation networks were enlarged and improved. The first express railway was constructed, connecting St. Petersburg (Leningrad) and Moscow, the two capitals of this immense country. This railway is an engineering marvel, since the region between these two cities is unsuited for this type of construction; the land is not firm and frequently consists of swamps and marshes. The distance between St. Petersburg and Moscow is about 600 versts (400 miles). From the standpoint of an economically rational construction, there could be no question of a straight route. It is said that Nicholas I, who took a personal interest in the project (the state was doing the construction), ordered various engineers to draw up and present blueprints with estimates. These engineers, taking advantage of the situation, presented the Emperor with projected routes which were extremely complicated, entailing numerous switchbacks, etc. Nicholas understood. Glancing briefly at the blueprints, he pushed them aside, took a pencil and piece of paper, drew two points, connected them with a straight line and said, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line." It was a formal order, without appeal. The engineers had only to carry it out, which they did, thus accomplishing a genuine feat. It was a gargantuan task, accomplished at an unbelievable cost, causing devastating hardship for thousands of workers.
From its completion, the "Nicholayevskaya" (Nicholas's) railway has been one of the world's most remarkable railways: there are exactly 609 versts (405 miles) of track in an almost perfect straight line.
We should note that the emergent working class continued to retain close ties with the countryside from which it came and to which it returned as soon as the "outside" work was finished. Furthermore, as we have seen, the peasants, attached to the land of their lords, could not leave it permanently. Before they could be employed in industrial projects,, special arrangements had to be made with their landowners. The real workers of the cities -- at this time itinerant craftsmen -- were a very small contingent. Thus we are not yet dealing with a "proletariat" in the proper sense of the term. But the impetus for the creation of such a proletariat was already there. The need for reliable and regular laborers was one of the pressing economic reasons which demanded the abolition of serfdom. Two or three generations hence the class of wage laborers, the real industrial proletariat, no longer tied to the land, was going to appear in Russia, as it had elsewhere.
There were also great advances in the cultural realm. Well-to-do parents wanted their children to be educated and cultured. The rapidly growing number of high school and college students forced the government to continually increase the number of secondary schools and institutions of higher education. Economic and technical needs, as well as the general development of the country, also demanded educational establishments. At the end of Nicholas's reign, Russia had six universities: in Moscow, Dorpat, Kharkov, Kazan, St. Petersburg and Kiev (listed in the order of the dates of their founding) as well as several schools for advanced technical or special studies.
Thus the widespread legend that all of Russia at this time was uneducated, barbarian, almost "savage," is false. The peasant population under serfdom was indeed uneducated and "savage." But the inhabitants of the cities had no reason to envy the cultural achievements of their western counterparts, except in some purely technical realms. As for the intellectual youth, they were, in some respects, even more advanced than the youth of other European countries.
This enormous, paradoxical gap between the mentality of the enslaved population and the cultural level of the privileged strata has already been mentioned earlier.
CHAPTER 3: Reforms; Resumption of the Revolution "The Failure of Tsarism" and the Failure of Revolution; Reaction (1855-1881)
It was the son and successor of Nicholas I, Emperor Alexander II, who had to face the difficult situation of the country and the regime. General discontent, pressure from the progressive intellectual strata, fear of an uprising by the peasant masses, and finally the economic necessities of the period, forced the Tsar to give in and embark resolutely on a path of reform, despite the bitter resistance of reactionary circles. He decided to put an end to the purely bureaucratic system and to the absolute arbitrariness of administrative officers, and instituted far-reaching changes in the judicial system. Above all, he confronted the problem of serfdom.
From 1860 on, reforms followed each other in rapid and uninterrupted succession. The most important were: the abolition of serfdom (1861); the establishment of assize courts with elected juries (1864) which replaced the earlier State courts composed of functionaries; the creation (in 1864) of units of local self-administration in the cities and in the countryside (the gorodskoe samoupralenie and the zemstvo: forms of urban and rural municipalities), with the right of self-government in certain domains of public life (some branches of education, health, transportation, etc.).
All the vital forces of the population, particularly the intellectuals, turned toward the projects which were now possible. The municipalities devoted themselves enthusiastically to the creation of a vast network of primary schools with secular leanings. These "municipal" and "urban" schools were obviously under the surveillance and control of the government. Religious instruction was obligatory and the "pope" played an important role. The schools nevertheless enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy, the teaching staff being recruited by the "zemstvos" and the urban councils from among progressive intellectuals.
A great deal of attention was also devoted to sanitary conditions in the cities and to the improvement of transportation.
The country breathed more freely.
However, in spite of their importance in relation to the earlier situation, the reforms of Alexander II were very timid and incomplete in relation to the aspirations of the advanced strata and to the material and moral needs of the country. To be effective, to give the people a real impetus, the reforms would have to be accompanied by the granting of certain freedoms and civic rights: the freedom of speech and of the press, the right of assembly and association, etc. In this area, however, nothing changed. Censorship was scarcely less ridiculous. Speech and the press remained muzzled; no freedoms were granted. The emerging working class had no rights. The nobility, the landowners and the bourgeoisie were the dominant classes. Above all, the absolutist regime remained intact. (It was precisely the fear of changing the regime that led Alexander to throw the bone of "reform" to the people, while preventing him from carrying these reforms through to the end. Thus the reforms failed to satisfy the population.)
The conditions in which serfdom was abolished provide the best illustration of what we are saying. This constitutes the weakest point of the reforms.
The landowners, after struggling in vain against any change in the status quo, had to bend before the supreme decision of the Tsar (who reached this decision after long and dramatic vacillations under the energetic pressure of progressive elements). But the landlords did everything they could to make this reform minimal. It was all the easier for them to do this since Alexander II himself naturally did not want to infringe upon the sacred interests of his "beloved nobles." It was primarily the fear of revolution which finally dictated his gesture. He knew that the peasants had heard of his intentions and of the disagreements which surrounded this subject at court. He knew that this time their patience was really at an end, that they expected their liberation, and that if they learned of the postponement of the reform, the agitation which would follow could provoke a vast and terrible revolt. In his last discussions with the opponents of the reform, the Tsar expressed this well-known sentence which says a great deal about his real feelings: "It is better to give freedom from above than to wait until it is taken from below." Therefore he did everything he could to make this "freedom," namely the abolition of serfdom, as harmless as possible to the interests of the landed nobles. "The iron chain has broken at last," wrote the poet Nekrasov in a resounding poem. "Yes, it broke; one end hit the lord, but the other, the peasant."
To be sure, the peasants finally obtained individual freedom. But they had tp pay for it dearly. They received miniscule plots of land. (It was obviously impossible to "free" them without granting them plots of land which were at least large enough to keep them from dying of hunger.) Furthermore, in addition to having to pay taxes to the State over a long period, they were required to pay a large fee for the lands taken from the former landowners. It should be noted that 75 million peasants received little more than a third of the land. Another third was retained by the State. And almost a third remained in the hands of the landowners. This proportion condemned the peasant masses to a life of famine. They remained at the mercy of the "pomeshchiks" and, later, of the "kulaks," peasants who had, in one way or another, become rich.
In all his "reforms," Alexander II was careful to grant as little as possible: only the minimum necessary to avoid an imminent catastrophe. Thus the defects and the shortcomings of these "reforms" could already be felt by 1870.
The working population of the cities was defenseless against the growing exploitation.
The absence of any freedom of speech and of the press, as well as the absolute prohibition of all meetings with political or social content, rendered impossible all criticism, all propaganda, all social activity, the circulation of all ideas, in short, all progress.
The "people" were no more than "subjects" under the arbitrary power of absolutism which, while less ferocious than under Nicholas I, nevertheless remained intact.
As for the peasant masses, they remained beasts of burden reduced to the hard labor of feeding the State and the privileged classes.
The best representatives of the young intellectuals quickly became aware of this deplorable situation. They were all the more distressed because in this period countries in the West already had relatively advanced political and social systems. Around 1870, Western Europe was in the midst of social struggles; socialism had started its intense propaganda and Marxism had begun the task of organizing the working class into a powerful political party.
As before, the best publicists of the period continued to defy and circumvent the censors, who were neither well enough educated nor intelligent enough to understand the finesse and variety of the procedures (although Chernyshevski ultimately paid for his audacity by forced labor). The publicists succeeded in communicating socialist ideas to intellectual circles through magazine articles written in conventional styles. In this way they educated the youth, keeping them regularly informed of the movement of ideas as well as the political and social events abroad. At the same time they skillfully exposed the underside of the so-called reforms of Alexander II, their real motives, their hypocrisy, and their shortcomings.
Thus it is altogether natural that clandestine groups formed in Russia during this period, in order to struggle actively against this contemptible regime, and above all to communicate the idea of political and social liberation of the working classes.
These groups were composed of youth of both sexes who consecrated themselves, with a sublime spirit of sacrifice, to the task of "bringing the light to the working masses."
Thus was formed a vast movement of Russian intellectual youth who, in large numbers, left families, comforts and careers and threw themselves "toward the people" in order to enlighten them.
At the same time, terrorist activities against the main servants of the regime began. Between 1860 and 1870 there were several assassination attempts on the lives of several high government officials. There were also some unsuccessful attempts against the Tsar.
The movement ended in failure. Almost all the propagandists were arrested by the police (frequently on the basis of denunciations by the peasants themselves); they were imprisoned, exiled or sent to hard labor.2 The practical results of the movement were nil.
It became increasingly evident that Tsarism represented an insurmountable obstacle to the education of the people. It was necessary to go only one step further to reach the logical conclusion that, since Tsarism represents such an obstacle, it must be destroyed.
And this step was in fact taken by tattered and desperate youth whose primary goal was the assassination of the Tsar. Other factors also led to this decision. The man who had deceived the people with his so-called "reforms" had to be publicly punished. The deception had to be exposed before the vast masses; their attention had to be attracted by a dramatic and terrible act. In short, the elimination of the Tsar was to show the people the fragility, the vulnerability and the fortuitous and temporary character of the regime.
The "legend of the Tsar" was thus to be killed once and for all. Some members of the group went further: they held that the assassination of the Tsar could serve as a point of departure which, in the context of the general development, would end in revolution and the immediate fall of Tsarism.
The group, which called itself Narodnaya Volya (People's Will), after detailed preparations, executed the project: Tsar Alexander II was killed while traveling in St. Petersburg on March 1, 1881. Two bombs were thrown by terrorists at the imperial carriage. The first destroyed the carriage, the second mortally wounded the Emperor, removing both of his legs. He died almost immediately.
The act was not understood by the masses. The peasants did not read the journals. (They could not read at all.) Completely ignored, outsiders to all propaganda, fascinated for over a century by the idea that the Tsar wished them well but that his good intentions were thwarted by the nobility, the peasants accused the nobility of assassinating the Tsar to revenge itself for the abolition of serfdom and with the hope of restoring it. (The peasants found further proof for this in the nobility's resistance to their liberation and also in the compulsory payment of large fees for their plots of land, for which they blamed the intrigues of the nobility.)
The Tsar was killed. But not the legend. (The reader will see that twenty-four years later history itself destroyed the legend.)
The people did not understand and did not move. The servile press screamed about the "low criminals," the "horrible villains," the "imbeciles."
There was not much disorder at the court. The young heir Alexander, oldest son of the assassinated Emperor, immediately took power.
The leaders of the Narodnaya Volya party, those who organized and carried out the assassination, were rapidly found, arrested, tried and killed. One of them, the young Grinevetski -the very one who had thrown the bomb that killed the Tsar -- had himself been mortally wounded by the explosion and died on the spot. Sofya Perovskaya, Zheliabov, Kibal-chich (the famous technician of the party, who made the bombs), Mikhailov and Ryssakov were hanged.
Exceptionally extensive and severe measures of persecution and repression quickly reduced the party to complete impotence.
Everything "returned to order."
The new Emperor, Alexander III, greatly affected by the assassination, found nothing better to do than to return to the recently abandoned path of complete reaction. The totally inadequate "reforms" of his father seemed to him excessive, unfortunate and dangerous. He considered them a, deplorable mistake. Instead of understanding that the assassination was a consequence of their inadequacy and that they had to be broadened, he, on the contrary, saw in them the cause of the evil. And he took advantage of the murder of his father to oppose the "reforms" in every possible way.
He set out to distort their spirit, to counteract their effects, and to create obstacles for them through a long series of reactionary laws. The bureaucratic and repressive State regained its rights. Every movement, every expression of liberal thought, was stifled.
The Tsar obviously could not re-establish serfdom. But the working masses were condemned to remain more than ever in their condition as an indistinct herd, good for exploiting, and deprived of all human rights.
The slightest contact between the cultivated strata and the people again became suspect and impossible. The "Russian paradox," the unbridgeable gap between the cultural level and the aspirations of the higher strata and the somber and unthinking life of the people, remained intact.
Social activity of any type was once again prohibited. What survived of the timid reforms of Alexander II was reduced to a caricature.
Under these conditions, the rebirth of revolutionary activity was inevitable.
This was in fact what took place. But the form, as well as the very essence, of this activity was totally transformed by new economic, social and psychological factors.
CHAPTER 4: The End of the Century; Marxism; Rapid Evolution; Reaction (1881-1900)
After the failure of the Narodnaya Volya party's violent campaign against Tsarism, other events contributed to the fundamental transformation of the Russian revolutionary movement. The most important was the appearance of Marxism.
As is known, Marxism expressed a new conception of social struggle: a conception which led to a concrete program of revolutionary action and, in western Europe, to a working class political party called the Social Democratic Party.
In spite of all the obstacles, the socialist ideas of Lassalle and the concepts and achievements of Marxism were known, studied, preached, and clandestinely practiced in Russia; even the legal literature excelled in the art of dealing with socialism by using a veiled language. The well-known "large journals" reappeared with great enthusiasm; among their contributors were the best journalists and publicists of the time, who regularly analyzed social problems, socialist doctrines, and the means to realize them. The importance of these publications for the cultural life of the country cannot be exaggerated. No intellectual family could be without them. In the libraries, it was necessary to place one's name on a waiting list to obtain the latest issue. More than one generation of Russians received its social education from these journals, completing this education by reading all types of clandestine publications.
Thus Marxist ideology, basing itself solely on the organized action of the proletariat, came to replace the disappointed hopes of earlier conspiratorial circles.
The other important event was the increasingly rapid development of industry and technology, with all their far- reaching consequences.
Railway networks, other means of transportation, mining, oil drilling, metallurgy, textile and machine tool industries -- all of these productive activities developed with great strides, making up for lost time. Industrial regions sprang up throughout the country. The environment of numerous cities changed rapidly due to the new factories and the growing population of workers.
This industrial upsurge was supported by a labor force consisting of large masses of miserable peasants who were forced either to abandon their inadequate plots of land permanently, or to look for additional work during winter. As elsewhere, industrial development meant development of the proletarian class. And as elsewhere, this class began to furnish contingents to the revolutionary movement.
Thus, diffusion of Marxist ideas and growth of the industrial proletariat on which the Marxists depended, were the basic elements which determined the new situation.
Industrial development and the rising standard of living in general required in all fields educated people, professionals, technicians and skilled workers. The number of schools of all types -- official, municipal and private-increased continually j in the cities and the countryside; universities, special techni-j cal schools and other higher institutions, primary schools, professional courses, sprang up everywhere. (In 1875, 79% of the drafted soldiers were illiterate; by 1898 this figure had fallen to 55%.)
This entire development took place outside the framework of the absolutist political regime and even in opposition to it. The regime stubbornly held on -- an increasingly rigid, absurd and obtrusive carcass on top of the living body of the country.
Consequently, in spite of the cruel repression, the anti-monarchist movement as well as revolutionary and socialist propaganda became increasingly widespread.
Even the peasant population -- the most backward and the most oppressed-began to budge, prodded as much by the poverty and the inhuman exploitation as by the echoes of widespread agitation. These echoes were carried to the pea-i sants by the numerous intellectuals who worked in the "Zemstvos" (at the time these people were known as "zemstkii rabotniki": "zemstvo workers," by workers who had family ties with the countryside, by seasonal workers and by the agricultural proletariat. The government was powerless against this propaganda.
Toward the end of the century, two clear-cut forces confronted each other irreconcilably. One was the ancient force of reaction which consisted of the highly privileged classes who gathered around the throne: the nobility, the bureaucracy, the landowners, the military caste, the upper clergy and the nascent bourgeoisie. The other was the young revolutionary force which in 1890-1900 consisted mainly of the mass of students but which had already begun to recruit from among young workers in cities and industrial regions.
In 1898, the revolutionary current with a Marxist tendency created the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party (the first social-democratic group, called "Emancipation of Labor," had been founded in 1883).
Between these two clearly opposed forces stood a third, which consisted mainly of representatives of the middle class and a certain number of "distinguished" intellectuals: university professors, lawyers, writers, doctors. It was a timidly liberal movement. Even though they secretly and very prudently gave support to revolutionary activity, these people had greater faith in reforms, hoping that under the threat of imminent revolution (as during the reign of Alexander II) the absolutist regime would grant large concessions, eventually leading to the establishment of a constitutional regime.
Only the peasant masses continued to remain outside of this ferment.
Emperor Alexander III died in 1894. His place was taken by his son Nicholas, the last of the Romanovs.
A vague legend claimed that the new Tsar professed liberal ideas. It was even said that he was disposed to grant "his people" a constitution which would seriously limit the absolutist powers of the Tsars.
Taking their desires for realities, certain liberal "zemst-vos" (municipal councils) presented the young Tsar with petitions in which they very timidly asked for some rights of representation.
In January, 1895, on the occasion of the marriage of Nicholas II, various delegations of the nobility, the military and the "Zemstvos" were ceremoniously received by the Tsar in St. Petersburg. To the great amazement of the municipal delegates, the new master, while accepting the congratulations, suddenly grew angry and, stamping his foot and shouting hysterically, called on the "zemstvos" to renounce their "crazy dreams" forever. This demand was immediately emphasized by repressive measures against certain "instigators" of the "subversive" attitude of the "zemstvos." Thus absolutism and reaction reaffirmed themselves once again, contemptuous of the general development of the country.
CHAPTER 5: The 20th Century; Hasty Development; Revolutionary Advance; Results (1900-1905)
The events and characteristics which we have just mentioned became even more pronounced at the beginning of the twentieth century.
On the one hand, instead of recognizing the aspirations of society, the absolutist regime decided to maintain itself by all possible means and to suppress not only all revolutionary movements, but also any expression of opposition. It was during this period that the government of Nicholas II diverted the growing discontent of the population by means of large-scale anti-Semitic propaganda followed by the instigation -- and even the organization -- of Jewish pogroms.
On the other hand, the economic development of the country continued at an accelerated pace. In a period of five years, from 1900 to 1905, industry and technology made an enormous leap. Petroleum production (at Baku), coal (at Donetz), and the production of metals, were rapidly reaching the level of other industrial countries. Roads and means of transportation (railroads, motor transport, river and ocean transport) were enlarged and modernized. Large construction plants employing thousands and even tens of thousands of workers rose or expanded on the outskirts of the large cities. Entire industrial regions sprang up or were expanded. For example, we can list the large Putilov factories, the extensive Nevsky shipyards, the large Baltic Factory, as well as others in St. Petersburg; industrial suburbs of the capital with tens of thousands of workers such as Kolpino, Chu-khovo, Sestrorech; the industrial region of Ivanovo-Voz-nessensk near Moscow; and several important factories in southern Russia: Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav and elsewhere. This rapid development was not well known abroad outside of interested groups. (There are many who, even today, believe that before the rise of Bolshevism, there was almost no industry in Russia; that industry was created entirely by the Bolshevik government.) Nevertheless, the development was considerable, not only from a purely industrial standpoint, but also socially. Industrialization brought about the rapid growth of proletarian elements. According to the statistics of the period, there were about three million workers in Russia in 1905.
At the same time the country made rapid advances inj cultural matters.
The education of adults was also progressing rapidly.
In 1905 there were about thirty universities and schools of higher learning in Russia, for men and women. Almost all these institutions depended on the State (except for a few that were supported by private municipal funds). Following an old tradition, but mainly as a result of the reforms of Alexander II, the statutes of the universities were quite liberal and allowed a great deal of internal independence (autonomy)! Alexander III and Nicholas II tried to diminish these. But every attempt of this type provoked major disorders. The government finally gave up such projects.
The professors of the universities and higher schools were chosen from among university graduates according to a specij fie procedure.
Almost all cities, even unimportant ones, had high schools ] and preparatory schools for boys and girls. The secondary schools were founded by the State, by individuals or by the "zemstvos." In all three cases the teaching programs were established by the State, and the teaching was perceptibly similar. The teaching of religion was obligatory.
The teaching staff of the secondary schools was recruited from the university community with minor exceptions. The program of studies leading to the diploma, which gave acces to the university, lasted eight years. Students who were uif prepared could spend a year in a preparatory class, in addition to the eight obligatory years.
The number of primary schools in the cities and in the countryside increased rapidly. Some were founded by th State; others by municipalities and "zemstvos." All of the were under the surveillance and control of the State. Primary education was free. It was not compulsory. The State naturally imposed the catechism in the primary schools. The men and women who taught in the primary schools had to have at least a diploma for four years of secondary school.
Evening courses for adults and some well organized "popular universities," which were well attended, functioned in all the large cities. Municipalities and particularly individuals devoted themselves to these institutions with great zeal.
The children of workers and peasants were obviously rare in the high schools and universities. The cost of this education was too high.
Nevertheless, contrary to a widespread legend, access to these schools was not forbidden either for the children of workers or the children of peasants. The majority of the students came from families of intellectuals from the liberal professions, functionaries, clerical workers, and from bourgeois families.
The fact that intellectual circles professed a credo which was at least liberal made it possible for a propaganda of fairly progressive ideas to take place outside of the school curriculum in numerous municipal and popular schools and institutions, in spite of police surveillance.
The lecturers of the "popular universities" and the teachers of the primary schools often came from revolutionary circles. Some directors, usually with liberal leanings, tolerated them. They knew how to "arrange things." In these circumstances the authorities were hardly able to oppose this propaganda.
In addition to schooling and conversation, education took place through writings.
An immense quantity of popular pamphlets, in general written by scholars or consisting of excerpts from the great writers, appeared on the market. These pamphlets dealt with all the sciences and analyzed political and social problems in a very progressive spirit. The official censorship was powerless against this mounting flood. The authors and publishers discovered numerous ways to deceive the vigilance of the authorities.
If we add the wide diffusion of clandestine revolutionary and socialist literature in intellectual and working class circles we will have a good idea of the vast movement of education] and preparation which characterizes the period between 1900 and 1905.
We have permitted ourselves to present certain details which are necessary for an understanding of the extent ana the progressive character of the revolutionary movements which followed. We should emphasize that this movement oil political and social aspirations was completed by a remarkable moral development.
Young people liberated themselves from all prejudices: religious, national, sexual. In some respects Russian avant garde circles had for a long time been more advanced than those in western countries. The equality of races and nations the equality of the sexes, free marriage (union libre), the negation of religion, were inherited truths in these circles; ini deed, they had been practiced since the time of the "Nihilists." In all these fields, Russian writers (Belinski, Herzen Chernyshevsky, Dobrolubov, Pissarev, Mikhailovsky) accorfl plished an enormous task. They taught several generation of intellectuals the meaning of total liberation, and they dil this in spite of the compulsory education with an opposite) content imposed by the Tsarist system of secondary educaj tion.
This spirit of liberation ultimately became an inalienable sacred tradition for Russian youth. While they submitted to the officially imposed education, young people got out frorfl under its rod as soon as they received the diploma.
"Do not go to the University!" shouted the bishop to our diocese when the diplomas were ceremoniously distributed among us, students graduating from high school. "Do not go to the University. Because the University is a den of rioters . . ." .(Where did he want us to go?) He knew what was happening, this honorable bishop. It was in fact the case that, with few exceptions, all young men and women who went to the universities became potential revolutionaries Among the people, "student" meant "rebel."
Afterwards, when they grew older, these one-time rebels broken by the problems and misfortunes of life, forgot anc often denied their first impulses. But something generally regained: a liberal credo, a spirit of opposition, and sometimes a living spark which was ready to burn on the first serious occasion.
Nevertheless, the political, economic and social situation of the working population remained unchanged.
Exposed to the growing exploitation of the State and the bourgeoisie, without any means of defense, lacking all rights to congregate, to be heard, to impose their demands, to organize, to struggle, to strike, the workers were materially and morally dissatisfied.
In the countryside, the poverty and dissatisfaction of the peasant masses continued to grow. The peasants -- 175 million men, women and children -- were abandoned and were considered a sort of "human herd" (corporal punishment was a reality for them until 1904, even though it had been abolished legally in 1863). A lack of general culture and elementary education; primitive and insufficient tools; the absence of credit or any other form of protection or aid; very high taxes; arbitrary, contemptuous and cruel treatment by the authorities and "superior" classes; continual parcelling of their plots as a consequence of the division of the land among new members of families; competition between the "kulaks" (wealthy peasants) and the landed gentry -- such were the varied causes of their misery. Even the "peasant community" -- the famous Russian mir -- was no longer able to support its members. Furthermore, the government of Alexander III and that of his successor Nicholas II did everything they could to reduce the mir to a simple administrative body, closely observed and policed by the State, a body whose primary purpose was to force the peasants to pay taxes and fees.
It was thus inevitable that socialist and revolutionary propaganda and activity should meet with a certain success. Marxism, spread clandestinely but energetically, found numerous followers, mainly among students, but also among workers. The influence of the Social-Democratic Party, founded ln 1898, could be felt in many cities and in certain regions, despite the fact that this party was illegal (as were all others).
The government's severity against militants became increasingly brutal. There were countless political trials. Measures of administrative and police repression savagely struck! thousands of "subjects." Prisons, places of exile and hard labor camps filled up. However, although the authorities! were able to reduce the activity and influence of the party! to a minimum, they did not succeed in stifling it, as they had succeeded earlier in stifling the first political groups.
After 1900, despite all the efforts of the authorities, the revolutionary movement grew considerably. Disorders among students and among workers became daily events. In facta universities were frequently closed for several months precisely because of political troubles. The response of students, supported by workers, was to organize resounding demonstrations at public places. At St. Petersburg, the square of the Kazan Cathedral became the classical spot for these popular demonstrations where students and workers gathered, singing revolutionary songs and at times carrying red flags. The government sent detachments of police and Cossacks on horses back to "clean up" the square and the neighboring street with swords and whips (nagaikas).
The Revolution began to conquer the streets.
Nevertheless, in order to give the reader an accurate idea of the general situation, we should make another reservation!
The picture we have just painted is accurate. But by referring only to this picture, without making major corrections, without referring constantly to the large totality of the country and the people, we will run the risk of exaggerate ing, and will end up making erroneous general evaluations which will not lead to an understanding of later events.
We should not forget that, out of the immense mass of more than 180 million people, the groups influenced by the intellectual movement we have described consisted of a very small stratum: In fact, it consisted of a few thousand intellectuals, mainly students, and the elite of the working claa of the large cities. The rest of the population: the innumeable peasant masses, the majority of the city inhabitants an even the majority of the working population, were still outside the revolutionary ferment, indifferent and even hostile to it. The members of advanced circles did increase rapidly from 1900 on the number of workers won to the cause grev continually; the revolutionary outburst also reached the increasingly miserable peasant masses. But at the same time, the vast mass of the people -- the mass whose activity alone determines major social changes -- retained its primitive outlook. The "Russian paradox" remained nearly intact, and the "legend of the Tsar" continued to dazzle millions of human beings. In relation to this mass, the movement in question was no more than a small and superficial ferment (only four workers took part in the Social-Democratic Congress in London, 1903).
In these conditions, all contact between those in front, who were way ahead, and the mass of the population, who remained way behind, was impossible.
The reader should constantly keep this in mind in order to understand the events that followed.
In 1901 revolutionary activity was enriched by a new element: alongside the Social-Democratic Par.ty rose the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. The propaganda of this party quickly met with considerable success.
The two parties differed from each other on three essential points:
1. Philosophically and sociologically, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party disagreed with Marxist doctrine;
2. Due to its anti-Marxism, this party elaborated a different solution for the peasant problem (the most important in Russia). While the Social-Democratic Party, basing itself solely on the working class, did not count on the peasant masses (it waited for their rapid proletarianization), and consequently neglected rural propaganda, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party hoped to win the Russian peasant masses to the revolutionary and socialist cause. The latter considered it impossible to wait for the peasants' proletarianization. Consequently it carried out large-scale propaganda in the countryside. The Social-Democratic Party's agrarian program anticipated nothing more than the enlargement of the peasants' Plots and other minor reforms, whereas the minimum program of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party included the complete and immediate socialization of the land.
3. Perfectly consistent with its doctrine, the Social-Democratic Party, counting on the action of the masses, rejected all terrorist activity and all political assassinations as socially useless. The Socialist-Revolutionary Party, on the other hand, attached a certain public utility to assassination attempts against high Tsarist officials who were excessively zealous or cruel. It even created a special body called the "combat organism," which was charged with preparing and carrying out political assassinations under the direction of the Central Committee.
Except for these differences, the short-term political and social programs ("minimum programs") of the two parties were almost the same: a bourgeois democratic republic which would pave the way for an evolution toward socialism.
From 1901 to 1905 the Socialist-Revolutionary Party carried out several assassination attempts, some of which had major repercussions. In 1902 the student Balmachev, a young militant of the party, assassinated Sipiagin, Minister of the Interior; in 1904 another Socialist-Revolutionary student, Sazonov, killed von Plehve, the well known and cruel successor to Sipiagin; in 1905, the Socialist-Revolutionary Kalayev killed the Grand Duke Serge, governor ("the hideous satrap") of Moscow.
In addition to the two political parties, there was also a small anarchist movement. Extremely weak and totally unknown by the population, it consisted of some groups of intellectuals and workers (peasants in the South) without permanent contact. There may have been two anarchist groups in St. Petersburg and about that many in Moscow (the latter were the stronger and more active), as well as groups in the South and West. Their activity was limited to a weak (though nevertheless extremely difficult) propaganda, some assassination attempts against overly zealous servants of the regime, and some acts of "individual revenge." Libertarian literature Was smuggled from abroad; this consisted largely of pamphlets by Kropotkin, who had himself been forced to emigrate after the collapse of the Narodnaya Volya, and had settled in England.
The rapid increase of revolutionary activity after 1900 alarmed the government. What bothered the authorities most was the fact that the propaganda was favorably received by the working population. In spite of their illegal and therefore difficult existence, both socialist parties had committees, propaganda circles, clandestine print shops and fairly numerous groups in the major cities. The Socialist-Revolutionary Party successfully committed assassinations the repercussions of which attracted a great deal of attention and even admiration. The government decided that its methods of defense and repression-surveillance, espionage, provocation, prison, pogroms-were inadequate. In order to draw the working masses away from the influence of the socialist parties and all other] revolutionary activity, it conceived a Machiavellian plan which was logically to lead to the government's mastery over the workers' movement. It decided to launch a legal, authorized workers' organization which the government itself commanded. It was thus going to kill two birds with one stone: on one side it would attract toward itself the sympathy, gratitude and devotion of the working class, pulling it away from the revolutionary parties; on the other side, it would be able to lead this workers' movement wherever it wanted, while keeping close watch on it.
There was no doubt that the task was delicate. It was necessary to attract workers into State organisms, calm their suspicions, interest them, flatter them, seduce them, and dupe them, without their being aware of it; it was necessary to pretend to satisfy their aspirations, eclipse the parties, neutralize their propaganda, and go beyond them -- especially with concrete acts. To succeed, the government would be obliged to go to the point of agreeing to make certain concessions of an economic or social order, while constantly keeping th workers at its mercy, manipulating them at will.
Such a "program" had to be executed by men in whom the government had absolute confidence, men who were cunning, skillful and experienced, who were familiar with the psychology of workers, who knew how to impose themselves on workers and win their confidence.
The government finally chose two agents of the politic; secret police (Okhrana), who were charged with the mission of carrying out this project. One was Zubatov, for Moscow; the other was a priest, chaplain in a St. Petersburg prison, Father Gapon.
The government of the Tsar wanted to play with fire. Before long it burned itself cruelly.
- 1There are analogies between this situation in 19th century Russia before the revolution of 1917, and that of France in the eighteenth century before the revolution of 1789. But naturally certain peculiarities are specifically Russian.
- 2The famous and monstrous trial of "the 193" was the climax of this repression.