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THE PROSPECTS OF CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT IN RUSSIA.
That there is no salvation for Russia without a democratic Parliament and a Cabinet responsible to the people's representatives, and that a governing Duma will right the nation's wrongs and inaugurate an era of material prosperity, is an axiom accepted by almost every newspaper-reader on the globe. Everybody thinks himself familiar with the ills that infect the bodypolitic of Russia; and everybody is therefore curious to see whether the infallible remedy, which is so simple and obvious, will be applied in time to ward off the catastrophe. Yet Russians themselves behave as though they had no knowledge of this panacea or lacked faith in its efficacy. Some of them are clamoring for a republic; others demand a socialist State; many are working for anarchy; while a large number yearn for the old régime and the good things that came in its train.
Last summer few Russians put any trust in M. Stolypin's promise that a second Duma would assemble on the 5th March, and that a series of Reform Bills would be laid before it. The elaborate preparations made for the meeting of the second Parliament were set down as a hollow mockery; and the present Prime Minister was dubbed a mealy-mouthed shuffler. This theory was disseminated with such perseverance and supported by means of such plausible fiction that only critical minds could shake it off. Before the elections were over, however, it became evident, even to the simpleminded, that the Tsar's Ministers were playing fair. Had they, then, been calumniated by the patriots? By no means. The righteously indignant journalists informed their readers that certain foreign States, France in par
ticular, had made it clear to the Stolypin Cabinet that, if the Duma were dissolved, Russia's financial condition would become unbearable. The Tsar's Government had been frightened into fair play. And now the Russian public, knowing its catechism by heart, is aware that the second Duma would have already fallen a victim to an infamous Government had it not been for the enlightened sympathy and timely support of republican France. That being the current theory in Russia, is it to be wondered at that the general public in Central and Western Europe still shrugs its shoulders scornfully at the mention of M. Stolypin and his colleagues, to whose tender mercies the Tsar has delivered over his people?
Every competent observer approaching the subject in a fair spirit will probably see that, however estimable the personal character and however statesmanlike the political designs of M. Stolypin were, he gave his enemies a convenient handle against the Government and a strong argument against the régime by adopting a plan of campaign with two fronts. This may have been a necessity, in which case it is his misfortune, not his fault. Against the reactionaries he was leagued with the Liberals; against the revolutionists he relied upon the army; and, like all persons who have to struggle against two opposing tendencies, he went too far now in this direction now in that. Thus, during the period which began with the dissolution of the first Duma last summer and ended with the opening session of the present Parliament in March, his line of action, as marked by repressive measures, and his line of thought, as indicated by liberal promises, far from running parallel, were
at right angles to each other. His utterances were uniformly conciliatory and his acts were nearly always provocative. The promises he made were constitutional and reassuring, and the circulars he issued were arbitrary and irritating. He undertook to let the population choose its own representatives freely, but his subsequent action justified the assumption that his definition of freedom was inadequate; for he disqualified as candidates 180 of the obnoxious deputies of the first Parliament, and he disfranchised as voters many categories of peasants and laboring men whose sympathies were revolutionary. Yet he went about the uncongenial task in a clumsy, ineffectual way. drawing a sharp line at downright illegality.
In this work of weeding out, Russian bureaucrats are inexperienced. To "fudge the ballot-box" is an electoral manœuvre the intricacies of which they have yet to learn. Hence the means taken by M. Stolypin to compass his end were petty, circuitous, unavailing. He eliminated really good men whose presence would have been helpful to the cause of law and order, such men as Prof. Kovaleffsky, who was excluded on a technical issue; and he opened wide the Duma portals to professional revolutionists. Members of secret and public organizations, who scoff at the milk-and-water methods of a legislative Chamber and believe in blood and fire as means of regenerating the nation, were elected to the Duma and welcomed by the people. Then the Premier arbitrarily divided the political parties into legal and illegal, the former being privileged because they were expected to vote with the Government, and the latter unprivileged because they were not. Civil servants were forbidden to belong to the illegal parties, although, the ballot being secret, they could not be kept from voting for them. Now it may
be that those were all measures which the Cabinet had a formal right to adopt; but they certainly did not favor the theory of free elections, and, what is more to the point, while discrediting the Government and embittering the people, they defeated the object for which they were taken.
Nor was this all. M. Stolypin, or his coadjutor, M. Kryshanoffsky, went much further. Recognizing the fact that the electoral law was a two-edged sword, they naturally sought to clutch the handle which their enemies were holding. Some officials were for repealing the statute and drawing up another on narrower lines; for the Act had originally been framed with a view to giving the peasantry a decisive part in the elections, on the assumption that the tillers of the soil must necessarily be the staunchest supporters of the altar and the throne. In the meantime, however, that belief had been exploded. The mooshiks in the first Duma had proved as revolutionary as any other element except the workmen; and now the authorities would have been delighted to undo what it had done for them-to disfranchise several categories of voters, deprive the peasantry of a part of their influence, and invest the landed proprietors with a larger share. But, unluckily, their hands were tied; the electoral law cannot be modified without the consent of the Duma. This barrier, although raised with the sanction of the Tsar, the bureaucrats would have cleared at a bound. But their intention remained a pious desire owing mainly to the steady refusal of the Premier to break the bounds of legality, which he considered it his duty to respect; and between violating that guarantee and executing it there seemed no third course, for, conformably with the solemn promise given by the Tsar, neither that particular statute nor any of the fundamental laws may be modified without the Du
ma's express consent. In this matter, then, where to stretch a point would perhaps have been to score a brilliant victory, M. Stolypin was inexorable; and his self-abnegation merits ungrudging praise.
But he tried immediately afterwards to effect by hook what was impossible by crook; he contrived to rule out several classes of indocile voters in a roundabout way; and, while respecting the letter, he violated the spirit of the Tsar's promise. The expedient looks like one of those petty subterfuges to which politicians have recourse in everyday life, and which reveal the meannesses of the human mind. The Government drew up a list of desirable changes in the electoral law; and the Senate, which is the highest court of appeal in the Empire, effected them noiselessly. A number of senators were officially asked to clear up certain doubtful points that might arise in interpreting the law; and, as their answers were invariably restrictive in tendency and obligatory in character, they differed little from new statutes. Friends of the Government have sought to show that even here M. Stolypin had formal right on his side; and in respect of some of the questions referred to the Senate, the contention may be upheld. But it has been reluctantly admitted, even by political supporters of the Government, that in at least two cases the Senate's interpretation was opposed to the terms as well as to the spirit of the law. And this admission casts a slur on the consistency, although not the good faith, of the Premier.
proclaimed freedom of elections, and therefore of electioneering agitation, he nevertheless allowed martial law to supersede the maxims of jurisprudence and to take away the elementary rights of the citizen. A voter, a candidate, anybody in fact, was liable, in virtue of that summary code, to be arrested or sent out of the district without rhyme or reason, delay or appeal, the will of the provincial governor sufficing. And this was done in the name of order and for the purpose of putting an end to incipient rebellion and growing anarchy. The first duty of a government, it was argued, whatever its political programme, is to ensure respect for law and to maintain public peace. That is true; but the strength of the principle lies in the universality of its application. There must be no islands of anarchy in a pacific ocean of order. M. Stolypin, however, tolerated, and still tolerates, a whole archipelago.
His guiding motive is not sympathy with this party or antipathy for that; he cares only for the good of the community. It is opportunism pure and simple, that unalloyed opportunism which, in latter-day Russia, is subversive of authority. Some of his colleagues, for instance the Minister of Public Instruction and the Minister of Commerce, truckle to the students of various high schools who ostentatiously defy the Government, openly insult the monarch, and perseveringly plot against the régime. Crimes perpetrated within the walls of educational establishments are minimized, condoned, or glorified, like the offences committed by the gods and goddesses of Olympus. Quod licet Jovi non licet bovi. In those sanctuaries of "science," revolutionists may hold public meetings and secret sittings, plotting against the State in a State building and at the public expense. It is be
Against M. Stolypin's policy much worse things have been said with equal reason, even by his fellow-workers. For instance, he has been frequently accused of worshipping God, so to say. and lighting a candle to the devil, of severing a branch of an evil and pouring water on its roots. Thus, having come one of the privileges of their
caste. That is an island on the left. On the extreme right a similar kind of indulgence is practised. The reactionary League of the Russian people, whose principal aim is to put back the clock of time and recall the halcyon days of the autocracy, was allowed a degree of liberty which even a Talmudist could hardly distinguish from license.
This bowing to the right and genuflecting to the left on the part of an administrator professing to abhor all acceptation of parties is more characteristic of the hero of a comic opera than the head of an Imperial Government. An extreme case is fairly described in one of the Moscow reactionary journals as follows: "Two offenders are in their prison cells. One of them having just been elected to the Duma, the Governor of the province bastens to release him and most respectfully enquires, To what party do you belong?' 'I am a bombist.' 'Very well, here is the money for your travelling expenses. I wish you Godspeed and thorough success.'" This equilibristic policy may succeed for a while and enable M. Stolypin to steer clear of dangers to himself and his Cabinet, but the destinies of a great nation cannot fitly be made dependent upon the outcome of such petty makeshifts. It saps the throne, the altar, and the Duma, and puts nothing in their places. It is a policy which only gross flatterers or sarcastic critics of the Premier term Machiavellian.
But Russian politics are even more bewilderingly entangled than might be inferred from the foregoing outline. The wheels within wheels are countless. Even the Prime Minister has to choose his words and shape his acts in accordance with a set of considerations among which awe of certain extremists, zeal for the public good, and indulgence for the parties on whose support he relies for parliamentary re
It is on record that several times in the course of his half-year's tenure of office M. Stolypin made urgent proposals to the Crown in favor of a line of action which he honestly believed indispensable to the weal of the community. When his suggestions were categorically rejected, though on grounds which the Premier deemed inadequate, he withdrew them with a good grace. It is clear then that, whatever general policy, whatever particular projects, M. Stolypin may wish to carry out, he never feels at liberty to consider them solely on their merits. Like certain poets of the Renaissance, who undertook to compose verses without employing certain letters of the alphabet, he has to govern the Empire with a limited use of a limited number of means, any of which is liable to be set aside on grounds that are admittedly irrelevant. Under such conditions it would be unfair to expect a firm, rounded policy which, restoring law and order, will engraft constitutional institutions on the Russian nation. Fitfulness must still characterize the acts of the Government; uncertainty will remain the keynote of the situation; unforeseen incidents will continue to shape the policy.
What the Russian press emphasized and the people grasped in all this was the conflicting character of M. Stolypin's policy; and, as it was open to
two explanations, they naturally refused the Minister the benefit of the doubt. Quite naturally; for in Russia the representative of the Government is, to the bulk of the nation, what the devil was to medieval Christians. Every stick is good enough to beat him with: all means, however criminal, are permissible if they help to upset his power. Consequently the belief took root that the Cabinet was resolved to destroy with its right hand what it was fashioning with its left. Behind the scaffolding where political builders were at work the Government was really erecting a vast barracks in lieu of a permanent parliament house. Such being the gloomy foreboding, surprise was naturally great when a series of significant facts belied it. The unexpected was again happening; and this time it was a pleasant surprise. The autocracy then had really disappeared, and the millennium was at hand. From one extreme people rushed into the other, in both cases irrationally. A little encouragement, a slight pretext, was all that they needed. Before the deputies arrived in St. Petersburg the outlook had been black and dismal. Once they had come together, spoken, voted, and behaved themselves in European fashion, the world's verdict was not merely quashed, it was reversed, and what had been black became white in a twinkling. And yet the premisses from which the public drew these conclusions were but episodes too slight to serve as the basis for such weighty inferences.
Take for instance the opening of the Duma. It was characterized by an utter absence of pageantry, a minimum of ceremony, and a noteworthy fallingoff of public interest. The monarch kept away from the Tavrida Palace; and the people refrained from gathering in the streets. In one thoroughfare only, hard by the Parliament House,
there was a throng of socialists, revolutionists, unemployed working-men, and hooligans; and from their midst came shouts of "hangmen, murderers, scoundrels, blood-suckers, cannibals," as Ministers or Conservatives went by. It was a detachment of the proletarian army, containing a sprinkling of individuals with blotched faces, bloodshot eyes, heads which Lombroso would have photographed for his album of degenerates, mostly unkempt, unwashed, embittered creatures, who had emerged from the depths to watch the beginning of a social upheaval. On the return of the revolutionary deputies, splutters of enthusiasm broke out in various places. The dwarfed figure of a socialist member, for instance, was lifted high above the level of the crowd, his pale pinched features now rising now falling on the crest of the human wave-an idol of the moment, a symbol of the new order of things. "And after a fiery speech he was solemnly borne away," says an eye-witness, "as a miracle-working image is borne aloft in religious processions." Other human symbols-mostly socialists-were also devoutly carried away, under the shadow of red flags and kerchiefs, to the accompaniment of revolutionary songs chanted by mutinous schoolboys and nominal students. Speeches too were delivered in many tones and strange accents, the gist of them all being that the Duma had come to usher in a new order of things. and that its deputies rely upon the people, who must therefore unite, discuss. arm, and be ready to defend them. In one part of the street an officer was being roughly maltreated by students and working-men. Freeing his hand he drew his sabre and brandished it high above the heads of his assailants. The mounted gendarmes, catching sight of this military man who appeared to be in danger, cantered forward, whereupon the surging throng dashed against