Donald Mackenzie Wallace

Part 13 out of 15

protecting his property, and if he should happen to suffer by
theft, his fortune is not likely to be seriously affected by it.
On the other hand, he has a certain sensitiveness with regard to
such crimes as assault; for though he has commonly not much more
intellectual and moral culture than the peasant, he is accustomed
to comfort and material well-being, which naturally develop
sensitiveness regarding physical pain.

Towards fraud the merchants are quite as lenient as the peasantry.
This may, perhaps, seem strange, for fraudulent practices are sure
in the long run to undermine trade. The Russian merchants,
however, have not yet arrived at this conception, and can point to
many of the richest members of their class as a proof that
fraudulent practices often create enormous fortunes. Long ago
Samuel Butler justly remarked that we damn the sins we have no mind

As the external conditions have little or no influence on the
religious conceptions of the merchants and the peasantry, the two
classes are equally severe with regard to those acts which are
regarded as crimes against the Deity. Hence acquittals in cases of
sacrilege, blasphemy, and the like never occur unless the jury is
in part composed of educated men.

In their decisions, as in their ordinary modes of thought, the
jurors drawn from the educated classes are little, if at all,
affected by theological conceptions, but they are sometimes
influenced in a not less unfortunate way by conceptions of a
different order. It may happen, for instance, that a juror who had
passed through one of the higher educational establishments has his
own peculiar theory about the value of evidence, or he is
profoundly impressed with the idea that it is better that a
thousand guilty men should escape than that one innocent man should
be punished, or he is imbued with sentimental pseudo-philanthropy,
or he is convinced that punishments are useless because they
neither cure the delinquent nor deter others from crime; in a word,
he may have in some way or other lost his mental balance in that
moral chaos through which Russia is at present passing. In
England, France, or Germany such an individual would have little
influence on his fellow-jurymen, for in these countries there are
very few people who allow new paradoxical ideas to overturn their
traditional notions and obscure their common-sense; but in Russia,
where even the elementary moral conceptions are singularly unstable
and pliable, a man of this type may succeed in leading a jury.
More than once I have heard men boast of having induced their
fellow-jurymen to acquit every prisoner brought before them, not
because they believed the prisoners to be innocent or the evidence
to be insufficient, but because all punishments are useless and

One word in conclusion regarding the independence and political
significance of the new courts. When the question of judicial
reform was first publicly raised many people hoped that the new
courts would receive complete autonomy and real independence, and
would thus form a foundation for political liberty. These hopes,
like so many illusions of that strange time, have not been
realised. A large measure of autonomy and independence was indeed
granted in theory. The law laid down the principle that no judge
could be removed unless convicted of a definite crime, and that the
courts should present candidates for all the vacant places on the
Bench; but these and similar rights have little practical
significance. If the Minister cannot depose a judge, he can
deprive him of all possibility of receiving promotion, and he can
easily force him in an indirect way to send in his resignation; and
if the courts have still the right to present candidates for vacant
places, the Minister has also this right, and can, of course,
always secure the nomination of his own candidate. By the
influence of that centripetal force which exists in all centralised
bureaucracies, the Procureurs have become more important personages
than the Presidents of the courts.

From the political point of view the question of the independence
of the Courts has not yet acquired much practical importance,
because the Government can always have political offenders tried by
a special tribunal or can send them to Siberia for an indefinite
term of years without regular trial by the "administrative
procedure" to which I have above referred.



The Reform-enthusiasm Becomes Unpractical and Culminates in
Nihilism--Nihilism, the Distorted Reflection of Academic Western
Socialism--Russia Well Prepared for Reception of Ultra-Socialist
Virus--Social Reorganisation According to Latest Results of
Science--Positivist Theory--Leniency of Press-censure--Chief
Representatives of New Movement--Government Becomes Alarmed--
Repressive Measures--Reaction in the Public--The Term Nihilist
Invented--The Nihilist and His Theory--Further Repressive Measures--
Attitude of Landed Proprietors--Foundation of a Liberal Party--
Liberalism Checked by Polish Insurrection--Practical Reform
Continued--An Attempt at Regicide Forms a Turning-point of
Government's Policy--Change in Educational System--Decline of

The rapidly increasing enthusiasm for reform did not confine itself
to practical measures such as the emancipation of the serfs, the
creation of local self-government, and the thorough reorganisation
of the law-courts and legal procedure. In the younger section of
the educated classes, and especially among the students of the
universities and technical colleges, it produced a feverish
intellectual excitement and wild aspirations which culminated in
what is commonly known as Nihilism.

In a preceding chapter I pointed out that during the last two
centuries all the important intellectual movements in Western
Europe have been reflected in Russia, and that these reflections
have generally been what may fairly be termed exaggerated and
distorted reproductions of the originals.* Roughly speaking, the
Nihilist movement in Russia may be described as the exaggerated,
distorted reflection of the earlier Socialist movements of the
West; but it has local peculiarities and local colouring which
deserve attention.

* See Chapter XXVI.

The Russian educated classes had been well prepared by their past
history for the reception and rapid development of the Socialist
virus. For a century and a half the country had been subjected to
a series of drastic changes, administrative and social, by the
energetic action of the Autocratic Power, with little spontaneous
co-operation on the part of the people. In a nation with such a
history, Socialistic ideas naturally found favour, because all
Socialist systems until quite recent times were founded on the
assumption that political and social progress must be the result
not of slow natural development, but rather of philosophic
speculation, legislative wisdom, and administrative energy.

This assumption lay at the bottom of the reform enthusiasm in St.
Petersburg at the commencement of Alexander II.'s reign. Russia
might be radically transformed, it was thought, politically and
socially, according to abstract scientific principles, in the space
of a few years, and be thereby raised to the level of West-European
civilisation, or even higher. The older nations had for centuries
groped in darkness, or stumbled along in the faint light of
practical experience, and consequently their progress had been slow
and uncertain. For Russia there was no necessity to follow such
devious, unexplored paths. She ought to profit by the experience
of her elder sisters, and avoid the errors into which they had
fallen. Nor was it difficult to ascertain what these errors were,
because they had been discovered, examined and explained by the
most eminent thinkers of France and England, and efficient remedies
had been prescribed. Russian reformers had merely to study and
apply the conclusions at which these eminent authorities had
arrived, and their task would be greatly facilitated by the fact
that they could operate on virgin soil, untrammelled by the feudal
traditions, religious superstitions, metaphysical conceptions,
romantic illusions, aristocratic prejudices, and similar obstacles
to social and political progress which existed in Western Europe.

Such was the extraordinary intellectual atmosphere in which the
Russian educated classes lived during the early years of the
sixties. On the "men with aspirations," who had longed in vain for
more light and more public activity under the obscurantist,
repressive regime of the preceding reign, it had an intoxicating
effect. The more excitable and sanguine amongst them now believed
seriously that they had discovered a convenient short-cut to
national prosperity, and that for Russia a grandiose social and
political millennium was at hand.*

* I was not myself in St. Petersburg at that period, but on
arriving a few years afterwards I became intimately acquainted with
men and women who had lived through it, and who still retained much
of their early enthusiasm.

In these circumstances it is not surprising that one of the most
prominent characteristics of the time was a boundless, child-like
faith in the so-called "latest results of science." Infallible
science was supposed to have found the solution of all political
and social problems. What a reformer had to do--and who was not a
would-be reformer in those days?--was merely to study the best
authorities. Their works had been long rigidly excluded by the
Press censure, but now that it was possible to obtain them, they
were read with avidity. Chief among the new, infallible prophets
whose works were profoundly venerated was Auguste Comte, the
inventor of Positivism. In his classification of the sciences the
crowning of the edifice was sociology, which taught how to organise
human society on scientific principles. Russia had merely to adopt
the principles laid down and expounded at great length in the Cours
de Philosophie Positive. There Comte explained that humanity had
to pass through three stages of intellectual development--the
religious, the metaphysical, and the positive--and that the most
advanced nations, after spending centuries in the two first, were
entering on the third. Russia must endeavour, therefore, to get
into the positive stage as quickly as possible, and there was
reason to believe that, in consequence of certain ethnographical
and historical peculiarities, she could make the transition more
quickly than other nations. After Comte's works, the book which
found, for a time, most favour was Buckle's "History of
Civilisation," which seemed to reduce history and progress to a
matter of statistics, and which laid down the principle that
progress is always in the inverse ratio of the influence of
theological conceptions. This principle was regarded as of great
practical importance, and the conclusion drawn from it was that
rapid national progress was certain if only the influence of
religion and theology could be destroyed. Very popular, too, was
John Stuart Mill, because he was "imbued with enthusiasm for
humanity and female emancipation"; and in his tract on
Utilitarianism he showed that morality was simply the crystallised
experience of many generations as to what was most conducive to the
greatest good of the greatest number. The minor prophets of the
time, among whom Buchner occupied a prominent place, are too
numerous to mention.

Strange to say, the newest and most advanced doctrines appeared
regularly, under a very thin and transparent veil, in the St.
Petersburg daily Press, and especially in the thick monthly
magazines, which were as big as, or bigger than, our venerable
quarterlies. The art of writing and reading "between the lines,"
not altogether unknown under the Draconian regime of Nicholas I.,
was now developed to such a marvellous extent that almost any thing
could be written clearly enough to be understood by the initiated
without calling for the thunderbolts of the Press censors, which
was now only intermittently severe. Indeed, the Press censors
themselves were sometimes carried away by the reform enthusiasm.
One of them long afterwards related to me that during "the mad
time," as he called it, in the course of a single year he had
received from his superiors no less than seventeen reprimands for
passing objectionable articles without remark.

The movement found its warmest partisans among the students and
young literary men, but not a few grey-beards were to be found
among the youthful apostles. All who read the periodical
literature became more or less imbued with the new spirit; but it
must be presumed that many of those who discoursed most eloquently
had no clear idea of what they were talking about; for even at a
later date, when the novices had had time to acquaint themselves
with the doctrines they professed, I often encountered the most
astounding ignorance. Let me give one instance by way of

A young gentleman who was in the habit of talking glibly about the
necessity of scientifically reorganising human society, declared to
me one day that not only sociology, but also biology should be
taken into consideration. Confessing my complete ignorance of the
latter science, I requested him to enlighten me by giving me an
instance of a biological principle which could be applied to social
regeneration. He looked confused, and tried to ride out of the
difficulty on vague general phrases; but I persistently kept him to
the point, and maliciously suggested that as an alternative he
might cite to me a biological principle which could NOT be used for
such a purpose. Again he failed, and it became evident to all
present that of biology, about which he talked so often, he knew
absolutely nothing but the name! After this I frequently employed
the same pseudo-Socratic method of discussion, and very often with
a similar result. Not one in fifty, perhaps, ever attempted to
reduce the current hazy conceptions to a concrete form. The
enthusiasm was not the less intense, however, on that account.

At first the partisans of the movement seemed desirous of
assisting, rather than of opposing or undermining the Government,
and so long as they merely talked academically about scientific
principles and similar vague entities, the Government felt no
necessity for energetic interference; but as early as 1861 symptoms
of a change in the character of the movement became apparent. A
secret society of officers organised a small printing-press in the
building of the Headquarters Staff and issued clandestinely three
numbers of a periodical called the Velikoruss (Great Russian),
which advocated administrative reform, the convocation of a
constituent assembly, and the emancipation of Poland from Russian
rule. A few months later (April, 1862) a seditious proclamation
appeared, professing to emanate from a central revolutionary
committee, and declaring that the Romanoffs must expiate with their
blood the misery of the people.

These symptoms of an underground revolutionary agitation caused
alarm in the official world, and repressive measures were at once
adopted. Sunday schools for the working classes, reading-rooms,
students' clubs, and similar institutions which might be used for
purposes of revolutionary propaganda were closed; several trials
for political offences took place; the most popular of the monthly
periodicals (Sovremennik) was suspended, and its editor,
Tchernishevski, arrested. There was nothing to show that
Tchernishevski was implicated in any treasonable designs, but he
was undoubtedly the leader of a group of youthful writers whose
aspirations went far beyond the intentions of the Government, and
it was thought desirable to counteract his influence by shutting
him up in prison. Here he wrote and published, with the permission
of the authorities and the imprimatur of the Press censure, a novel
called "Shto delat'?" (" What is to be Done?"), which was regarded
at first as a most harmless production, but which is now considered
one of the most influential and baneful works in the whole range of
Nihilist literature. As a novel it had no pretensions to artistic
merit, and in ordinary times it would have attracted little or no
attention, but it put into concrete shape many of the vague
Socialist and Communist notions that were at the moment floating
about in the intellectual atmosphere, and it came to be looked upon
by the young enthusiasts as a sort of informal manifesto of their
new-born faith. It was divided into two parts; in the first was
described a group of students living according to the new ideas in
open defiance of traditional conventionalities, and in the second
was depicted a village organised on the communistic principles
recommended by Fourier. The first was supposed to represent the
dawn of the new era; the second, the goal to be ultimately
attained. When the authorities discovered the mistake they had
committed in allowing the book to be published, it was at once
confiscated and withdrawn from circulation, whilst the author,
after being tried by the Senate, was exiled to Northeastern Siberia
and kept there for nearly twenty years.*

* Tchernishevski was a man of encyclopaedic knowledge and specially
conversant with political economy. According to the testimony of
those who knew him intimately, he was one of the ablest and most
sympathetic men of his generation. During his exile a bold attempt
was made to rescue him, and very nearly succeeded. A daring youth,
disguised as an officer of gendarmes and provided with forged
official papers, reached the place where he was confined and
procured his release, but the officer in charge had vague
suspicions, and insisted on the two travellers being escorted to
the next post-station by a couple of Cossacks. The rescuer tried
to get rid of the escort by means of his revolver, but he failed in
the attempt, and the fugitives were arrested. In 1883
Tchernishevski was transferred to the milder climate of Astrakhan,
and in 1889 he was allowed to return to his native town, Saratof,
where he died a few months afterwards.

With the arrest and exile of Tchernishevski the young would-be
reformers were constrained to recognise that they had no chance of
carrying the Government with them in their endeavours to realise
their patriotic aspirations. Police supervision over the young
generation was increased, and all kinds of association, whether for
mutual instruction, mutual aid, or any other purpose, were
discouraged or positively forbidden. And it was not merely in the
mind of the police that suspicion was aroused. In the opinion of
the great majority of moderate, respectable people the young
enthusiasts were becoming discredited. The violently seditious
proclamations with which they were supposed to sympathise, and a
series of destructive fires in St. Petersburg, erroneously
attributed to them, frightened timid Liberals and gave the
Reactionaries, who had hitherto remained silent, an opportunity of
preaching their doctrines with telling effect. The celebrated
novelist, Turgeneif, long the idol of the young generation, had
inadvertently in "Fathers and Children" invented the term Nihilist,
and it at once came to be applied as an opprobrious epithet,
notwithstanding the efforts of Pissaref, a popular writer of
remarkable talent, to prove to the public that it ought to be
regarded as a term of honour.

Pissaref's attempt at rehabilitation made no impression outside of
his own small circle. According to popular opinion the Nihilists
were a band of fanatical young men and women, mostly medical
students, who had determined to turn the world upside down and to
introduce a new kind of social order, founded on the most advanced
principles of social equality and Communism. As a first step
towards the great transformation they had reversed the traditional
order of things in the matter of coiffure: the males allowed their
hair to grow long, and the female adepts cut their hair short,
adding occasionally the additional badge of blue spectacles. Their
unkempt appearance naturally shocked the aesthetic feelings of
ordinary people, but to this they were indifferent. They had
raised themselves above the level of popular notions, took no
account of so-called public opinion, gloried in Bohemianism,
despised Philistine respectability, and rather liked to scandalise
old-fashioned people imbued with antiquated prejudices.

This was the ridiculous side of the movement, but underneath the
absurdities there was something serious. These young men and
women, who were themselves terribly in earnest, were systematically
hostile not only to accepted conventionalities in the matter of
dress, but to all manner of shams, hypocrisy, and cant in the broad
Carlylean sense of those terms. To the "beautiful souls" of the
older generation, who had habitually, in conversation and
literature, shed pathetic tears over the defects of Russian social
and political organisation without ever moving a finger to correct
them--especially the landed proprietors who talked and wrote about
civilisation, culture, and justice while living comfortably on the
revenues provided for them by their unfortunate serfs--these had
the strongest aversion; and this naturally led them to condemn in
strong language the worship of aesthetic culture. But here again
they fell into exaggeration. Professing extreme utilitarianism,
they explained that the humble shoemaker who practises his craft
diligently is, in the true sense, a greater man than a Shakespeare,
or a Goethe, because humanity has more need of shoes than of dramas
and poetry.

Such silly paradoxes provoked, of course, merely a smile of
compassion; what alarmed the sensible, respectable "Philistine" was
the method of cleansing the Augean stable recommended by these
enthusiasts. Having discovered in the course of their desultory
reading that most of the ills that flesh is heir to proceed
directly or indirectly from uncontrolled sexual passion and the
lust of gain, they proposed to seal hermetically these two great
sources of crime and misery by abolishing the old-fashioned
institutions of marriage and private property. When society, they
argued, should be so organised that all the healthy instincts of
human nature could find complete and untrammelled satisfaction,
there would be no motive or inducement for committing crimes or
misdemeanours. For thousands of years humanity had been sailing on
a wrong tack. The great law-givers of the world, religious and
civil, in their ignorance of physical science and positivist
methods, had created institutions, commonly known as law and
morality, which were utterly unfitted to human nature, and then the
magistrate and the moralist had endeavoured to compel or persuade
men and women to conform to them, but their efforts had failed most
signally. In vain the police had threatened and punished and the
priests had preached and admonished. Human nature had
systematically and obstinately rebelled, and still rebels, against
the unnatural constraint. It is time, therefore, to try a new
system. Instead of continuing, as has been done for thousands of
years, to force men and women, as it were, into badly fitting,
unelastic clothes which cause intense discomfort and prevent all
healthy muscular action, why not adapt the costume to the anatomy
and physiology of the human frame? Then the clothes will no longer
be rent, and those who wear them will be contented and happy.

Unfortunately for the progress of humanity there are serious
obstacles in the way of this radical change of system. The absurd,
antiquated and pernicious institutions and customs are supported by
abstruse metaphysical reasons and enshrined in mystical romantic
sentiment, and in this way they may still be preserved for
generations unless the axe be laid to the root of the tree. Now is
the critical moment. Russia must be made to rise at once from the
metaphysical to the positivist stage of intellectual development;
metaphysical reasoning and romantic sentiment must be rigorously
discarded; and everything must be brought to the touchstone of
naked practical utility.

One might naturally suppose that men holding such opinions must be
materialists of the grossest type--and, indeed, many of them
gloried in the name of materialist and atheist--but such an
inference would be erroneous. While denouncing metaphysics, they
were themselves metaphysicians in so far as they were constantly
juggling with abstract conceptions, and letting themselves be
guided in their walk and conversation by a priori deductions; while
ridiculing romanticism, they had romantic sentiment enough to make
them sacrifice their time, their property, and sometimes even their
life, to the attainment of an unrealisable ideal; and while
congratulating themselves on having passed from the religious to
the positivist stage of intellectual development, they frequently
showed themselves animated with the spirit of the early martyrs!
Rarely have the strange inconsistencies of human nature been so
strikingly exemplified as in these unpractical, anti-religious
fanatics. In dealing with them I might easily, without very great
exaggeration, produce a most amusing caricature, but I prefer
describing them as they really were. A few years after the period
here referred to I knew some of them intimately, and I must say
that, without at all sharing or sympathising with their opinions, I
could not help respecting them as honourable, upright, quixotic men
and women who had made great sacrifices for their convictions. One
of them whom I have specially in view at this moment suffered
patiently for years from the utter shipwreck of his generous
illusions, and when he could no longer hope to see the dawn of a
brighter day, he ended by committing suicide. Yet that man
believed himself to be a Realist, a Materialist, and a Utilitarian
of the purest water, and habitually professed a scathing contempt
for every form of romantic sentiment! In reality he was one of the
best and most sympathetic men I have ever known.

To return from this digression. So long as the subversive opinions
were veiled in abstract language they raised misgivings in only a
comparative small circle; but when school-teachers put them into a
form suited to the juvenile mind, they were apt to produce
startling effects. In a satirical novel of the time a little girl
is represented as coming to her mother and saying, "Little mamma!
Maria Ivan'na (our new school-mistress) says there is no God and no
Tsar, and that it is wrong to marry!" Whether such incidents
actually occurred in real life, as several friends assured me, I am
not prepared to say, but certainly people believed that they might
occur in their own families, and that was quite sufficient to
produce alarm even in the ranks of the Liberals, to say nothing of
the rapidly increasing army of the Reactionaries.

To illustrate the general uneasiness produced in St. Petersburg, I
may quote here a letter written in October, 1861, by a man who
occupied one of the highest positions in the Administration. As he
had the reputation of being an ultra-Liberal who sympathised
overmuch with Young Russia, we may assume that he did not take an
exceptionally alarmist view of the situation.

"You have not been long absent--merely a few months; but if you
returned now, you would be astonished by the progress which the
Opposition, one might say the Revolutionary Party, has already
made. The disorders in the university do not concern merely the
students. I see in the affair the beginning of serious dangers for
public tranquillity and the existing order of things. Young
people, without distinction of costume, uniform and origin, take
part in the street demonstrations. Besides the students of the
university, there are the students of other institutions, and a
mass of people who are students only in name. Among these last are
certain gentlemen in long beards and a number of revolutionnaires
in crinoline, who are of all the most fanatical. Blue collars--the
distinguishing mark of the students' uniform--have become the signe
de ralliement. Almost all the professors and many officers take
the part of the students. The newspaper critics openly defend
their colleagues. Mikhailof has been convicted of writing,
printing and circulating one of the most violent proclamations that
ever existed, under the heading, 'To the young generation!' Among
the students and the men of letters there is unquestionably an
organised conspiracy, which has perhaps leaders outside the
literary circle. . . . The police are powerless. They arrest any
one they can lay hands on. About eighty people have already been
sent to the fortress and examined, but all this leads to no
practical result, because the revolutionary ideas have taken
possession of all classes, all ages, all professions, and are
publicly expressed in the streets, in the barracks, and in the
Ministries. I believe the police itself is carried away by them!
What this will lead to, it is difficult to predict. I am very much
afraid of some bloody catastrophe. Even if it should not go to
such a length immediately, the position of the Government will he
extremely difficult. Its authority is shaken, and all are
convinced that it is powerless, stupid and incapable. On that
point there is the most perfect unanimity among all parties of all
colours, even the most opposite. The most desperate 'planter'*
agrees in that respect with the most desperate socialist.
Meanwhile those who have the direction of affairs do almost nothing
and have no plan or definite aim in view. At present the Emperor
is not in the Capital, and now, more than at any other time, there
is complete anarchy in the absence of the master of the house.
There is a great deal of bustle and talk, and all blame they know
not whom."**

* An epithet commonly applied, at the time of the Emancipation, to
the partisans of serfage and the defenders of the proprietors'

** I found this interesting letter (which might have been written
today) thirty years ago among the private papers of Nicholas
Milutin, who played a leading part as an official in the reforms of
the time. It was first published in an article on "Secret
Societies in Russia," which I contributed to the Fortnightly Review
of 1st August, 1877.

The expected revolution did not take place, but timid people had no
difficulty in perceiving signs of its approach. The Press
continued to disseminate, under a more or less disguised form,
ideas which were considered dangerous. The Kolokol, a Russian
revolutionary paper published in London by Herzen and strictly
prohibited by the Press-censure, found its way in large quantities
into the country, and, as is recorded in an earlier chapter, was
read by thousands, including the higher officials and the Emperor
himself, who found it regularly on his writing-table, laid there by
some unknown hand. In St. Petersburg the arrest of Tchernishevski
and the suspension of his magazine, The Contemporary, made the
writers a little more cautious in their mode of expression, but the
spirit of the articles remained unchanged. These energetic
intolerant leaders of public opinion were novi homines not
personally connected with the social strata in which moderate views
and retrograde tenderness had begun to prevail. Mostly sons of
priests or of petty officials, they belonged to a recently created
literary proletariat composed of young men with boundless
aspirations and meagre national resources, who earned a precarious
subsistence by journalism or by giving lessons in private families.
Living habitually in a world of theories and unrestrained by
practical acquaintance with public life, they were ready, from the
purest and most disinterested motives to destroy ruthlessly the
existing order of things in order to realise their crude notions of
social regeneration. Their heated imagination showed them in the
near future a New Russia, composed of independent federated
Communes, without any bureaucracy or any central power--a happy
land in which everybody virtuously and automatically fulfilled his
public and private duties, and in which the policeman and all other
embodiments of material constraint were wholly superfluous.

Governments are not easily converted to Utopian schemes of that
idyllic type, and it is not surprising that even a Government with
liberal humanitarian aspirations like that of Alexander II. should
have become alarmed and should have attempted to stem the current.
What is to be regretted is that the repressive measures adopted
were a little too Oriental in their character. Scores of young
students of both sexes--for the Nihilist army included a strong
female contingent--were secretly arrested and confined for months
in unwholesome prisons, and many of them were finally exiled,
without any regular trial, to distant provinces in European Russia
or to Siberia. Their exile, it is true, was not at all so terrible
as is commonly supposed, because political exiles are not usually
confined in prisons or compelled to labour in the mines, but are
obliged merely to reside at a given place under police supervision.
Still, such punishment was severe enough for educated young men and
women, especially when their lot was cast among a population
composed exclusively of peasants and small shop-keepers or of
Siberian aborigines, and when there were no means of satisfying the
most elementary intellectual wants. For those who had no private
resources the punishment was particularly severe, because the
Government granted merely a miserable monthly pittance, hardly
sufficient to purchase food of the coarsest kind, and there was
rarely an opportunity of adding to the meagre official allowance by
intellectual or manual labour. In all cases the treatment accorded
to the exiles wounded their sense of justice and increased the
existing discontent among their friends and acquaintances. Instead
of acting as a deterrent, the system produced a feeling of profound
indignation, and ultimately transformed not a few sentimental
dreamers into active conspirators.

At first there was no conspiracy or regularly organised secret
society and nothing of which the criminal law in Western Europe
could have taken cognisance. Students met in each other's rooms to
discuss prohibited books on political and social science, and
occasionally short essays on the subjects discussed were written in
a revolutionary spirit by members of the coterie. This was called
mutual instruction. Between the various coteries or groups there
were private personal relations, not only in the capital, but also
in the provinces, so that manuscripts and printed papers could be
transmitted from one group to another. From time to time the
police captured these academic disquisitions, and made raids on the
meetings of students who had come together merely for conversation
and discussion; and the fresh arrests caused by these incidents
increased the hostility to the Government.

In the letter above quoted it is said that the revolutionary ideas
had taken possession of all classes, all ages, and all professions.
This may have been true with regard to St. Petersburg, but it could
not have been said of the provinces. There the landed proprietors
were in a very different frame of mind. They had to struggle with
a multitude of urgent practical affairs which left them little time
for idyllic dreaming about an imaginary millennium. Their serfs
had been emancipated, and what remained to them of their estates
had to be reorganised on the basis of free labour. Into the semi-
chaotic state of things created by such far-reaching changes, legal
and economic, they did not wish to see any more confusion
introduced, and they did not at all feel that they could dispense
with the Central Government and the policeman. On the contrary,
the Central Government was urgently needed in order to obtain a
little ready money wherewith to reorganise the estates in the new
conditions, and the police organisation required to be strengthened
in order to compel the emancipated serfs to fulfil their legal
obligations. These men and their families were, therefore, much
more conservative than the class commonly designated "the young
generation," and they naturally sympathised with the "Philistines"
in St. Petersburg, who had been alarmed by the exaggerations of the

Even the landed proprietors, however, were not so entirely free
from discontent and troublesome political aspirations as the
Government would have desired. They had not forgotten the
autocratic and bureaucratic way in which the Emancipation had been
prepared, and their indignation had been only partially appeased by
their being allowed to carry out the provisions of the law without
much bureaucratic interference. So much for the discontent. As
for the reform aspirations, they thought that, as a compensation
for having consented to the liberation of their serfs and for
having been expropriated from about a half of their land, they
ought to receive extensive political rights, and be admitted, like
the upper classes in Western Europe, to a fair share in the
government of the country. Unlike the fiery young Nihilists of St.
Petersburg, they did not want to abolish or paralyse the central
power; what they wanted was to co-operate with it loyally and to
give their advice on important questions by means of representative
institutions. They formed a constitutional group which exists
still at the present day, as we shall see in the sequel, but which
has never been allowed to develop into an organised political
party. Its aims were so moderate that its programme might have
been used as a convenient safety-valve for the explosive forces
which were steadily accumulating under the surface of Society, but
it never found favour in the official world. When some of its
leading members ventured to hint in the Press and in loyal
addresses to the Emperor that the Government would do well to
consult the country on important questions, their respectful
suggestions were coldly received or bluntly rejected by the
bureaucracy and the Autocratic Power.

The more the revolutionary and constitutional groups sought to
strengthen their position, the more pronounced became the
reactionary tendencies in the official world, and these received in
1863 an immense impetus from the Polish insurrection, with which
the Nihilists and even some of the Liberals sympathised.* That
ill-advised attempt on the part of the Poles to recover their
independence had a curious effect on Russian public opinion.
Alexander II., with the warm approval of the more Liberal section
of the educated classes, was in the course of creating for Poland
almost complete administrative autonomy under the viceroyalty of a
Russian Grand Duke; and the Emperor's brother Constantine was
preparing to carry out the scheme in a generous spirit. Soon it
became evident that what the Poles wanted was not administrative
autonomy, but political independence, with the frontiers which
existed before the first partition! Trusting to the expected
assistance of the Western Powers and the secret connivance of
Austria, they raised the standard of insurrection, and some
trifling successes were magnified by the pro-Polish Press into
important victories. As the news of the rising spread over Russia,
there was a moment of hesitation. Those who had been for some
years habitually extolling liberty and self-government as the
normal conditions of progress, who had been sympathising warmly
with every Liberal movement, whether at home or abroad, and who had
put forward a voluntary federation of independent Communes as the
ideal State organism, could not well frown on the political
aspirations of the Polish patriots. The Liberal sentiment of that
time was so extremely philosophical and cosmopolitan that it hardly
distinguished between Poles and Russians, and liberty was supposed
to be the birthright of every man and woman to whatever nationality
they might happen to belong. But underneath these beautiful
artificial clouds of cosmopolitan Liberal sentiment lay the volcano
of national patriotism, dormant for the moment, but by no means
extinct. Though the Russians are in some respects the most
cosmopolitan of European nations, they are at the same time capable
of indulging in violent outbursts of patriotic fanaticism; and
events in Warsaw brought into hostile contact these two
contradictory elements in the national character. The struggle was
only momentary. Ere long the patriotic feelings gained the upper
hand and crushed all cosmopolitan sympathy with political freedom.
The Moscow Gazette, the first of the papers to recover its mental
equilibrium, thundered against the pseudo-Liberal sentimentalism,
which would, if unchecked, necessarily lead to the dismemberment of
the Empire, and its editor, Katkoff, became for a time the most
influential private individual in the country. A few, indeed,
remained true to their convictions. Herzen, for instance, wrote in
the Kolokol a glowing panegyric on two Russian officers who had
refused to fire on the insurgents; and here and there a good
Orthodox Russian might be found who confessed that he was ashamed
of Muravieff's extreme severity in Lithuania. But such men were
few, and were commonly regarded as traitors, especially after the
ill-advised diplomatic intervention of the Western Powers. Even
Herzen, by his publicly expressed sympathy with the insurgents,
lost entirely his popularity and influence among his fellow-
countrymen. The great majority of the public thoroughly approved
of the severe energetic measures adopted by the Government, and
when the insurrection was suppressed, men who had a few months
previously spoken and written in magniloquent terms about
humanitarian Liberalism joined in the ovations offered to
Muravieff! At a great dinner given in his honour, that ruthless
administrator of the old Muscovite type, who had systematically
opposed the emancipation of the serfs and had never concealed his
contempt for the Liberal ideas in fashion, could ironically express
his satisfaction at seeing around him so many "new friends"!**
This revulsion of public feeling gave the Moscow Slavophils an
opportunity of again preaching their doctrine that the safety and
prosperity of Russia were to be found, not in the Liberalism and
Constitutionalism of Western Europe, but in patriarchal autocracy,
Eastern Orthodoxy, and other peculiarities of Russian nationality.
Thus the reactionary tendencies gained ground; but Alexander II.,
while causing all political agitation to be repressed, did not at
once abandon his policy of introducing radical reforms by means of
the Autocratic Power. On the contrary, he gave orders that the
preparatory work for creating local self-government and
reorganising the Law Courts should be pushed on energetically. The
important laws for the establishment of the Zemstvo and for the
great judicial reforms, which I have described in previous
chapters, both date from the year 1864.

* The students of the St. Petersburg University scandalised their
more patriotic fellow-countrymen by making a pro-Polish

** In fairness to Count Muravieff I must say that he was not quite
so black as he was painted in the Polish and West-European Press.
He left an interesting autobiographical fragment relating to the
history of this time, but it is not likely to be printed for some
years. As an historical document it is valuable, but must be used
with caution by the future historian. A copy of it was for some
time in my possession, but I was bound by a promise not to make

These and other reforms of a less important kind made no impression
on the young irreconcilables. A small group of them, under the
leadership of a certain Ishutin, formed in Moscow a small secret
society, and conceived the design of assassinating the Emperor, in
the hope that his son and successor, who was erroneously supposed
to be imbued with ultra-Liberal ideas, might continue the work
which his father had begun and had not the courage to complete. In
April, 1866, the attempt on the life of the Emperor was made by a
youth called Karakozof as his Majesty was leaving a public garden
in St. Petersburg, but the bullet happily missed its mark, and the
culprit was executed.

This incident formed a turning-point in the policy of the
Government. Alexander II. began to fear that he had gone too far,
or, at least, too quickly, in his policy of radical reform. An
Imperial rescript announced that law, property, and religion were
in danger, and that the Government would lean on the Noblesse and
other conservative elements of Society. The two periodicals which
advocated the most advanced views (Sovremennik and Russkoye Slovo)
were suppressed permanently, and precautions were taken to prevent
the annual assemblies of the Zemstvo from giving public expression
to the aspirations of the moderate Liberals.

A secret official inquiry showed that the revolutionary agitation
proceeded in all cases from young men who were studying, or had
recently studied, in the universities, the seminaries, or the
technical schools, such as the Medical Academy and the Agricultural
Institute. Plainly, therefore, the system of education was at
fault. The semi-military system of the time of Nicholas had been
supplanted by one in which discipline was reduced to a minimum and
the study of natural science formed a prominent element. Here it
was thought, lay the chief root of the evil. Englishmen may have
some difficulty in imagining a possible connection between natural
science and revolutionary agitation. To them the two things must
seem wide as the poles asunder. Surely mathematics, chemistry,
physiology, and similar subjects have nothing to do with politics.
When a young Englishman takes to studying any branch of natural
science he gets up his subject by means of lectures, text-books,
and museums or laboratories, and when he has mastered it he
probably puts his knowledge to some practical use. In Russia it is
otherwise. Few students confine themselves to their speciality.
The majority of them dislike the laborious work of mastering dry
details, and, with the presumption which is often found in
conjunction with youth and a smattering of knowledge, they aspire
to become social reformers and imagine themselves specially
qualified for such activity.

But what, it may he asked, has social reform to do with natural
science? I have already indicated the connection in the Russian
mind. Though very few of the students of that time had ever read
the voluminous works of Auguste Comte, they were all more or less
imbued with the spirit of the Positive Philosophy, in which all the
sciences are subsidiary to sociology, and social reorganisation is
the ultimate object of scientific research. The imaginative
Positivist can see with prophetic eye humanity reorganised on
strictly scientific principles. Cool-headed people who have had a
little experience of the world, if they ever indulge in such
delightful dreams, recognise clearly that this ultimate goal of
human intellectual activity, if it is ever to be reached, is still
a long way off in the misty distance of the future; but the would-
be social reformers among the Russian students of the sixties were
too young, too inexperienced, and too presumptuously self-confident
to recognise this plain, simple truth. They felt that too much
valuable time had been already lost, and they were madly impatient
to begin the great work without further delay. As soon as they had
acquired a smattering of chemistry, physiology, and biology they
imagined themselves capable of reorganising human society from top
to bottom, and when they had acquired this conviction they were of
course unfitted for the patient, plodding study of details.

To remedy these evils, Count Dimitri Tolstoy, who was regarded as a
pillar of Conservatism, was appointed Minister of Public
Instruction, with the mission of protecting the young generation
against pernicious ideas, and eradicating from the schools,
colleges, and universities all revolutionary tendencies. He
determined to introduce more discipline into all the educational
establishments and to supplant to a certain extent the superficial
study of natural science by the thorough study of the classics--
that is to say, Latin and Greek. This scheme, which became known
before it was actually put into execution, produced a storm of
discontent in the young generation. Discipline at that time was
regarded as an antiquated and useless remnant of patriarchal
tyranny, and young men who were impatient to take part in social
reorganisation resented being treated as naughty schoolboys. To
them it seemed that the Latin grammar was an ingenious instrument
for stultifying youthful intelligence, destroying intellectual
development, and checking political progress. Ingenious
speculations about the possible organisation of the working classes
and grandiose views of the future of humanity are so much more
interesting and agreeable than the rules of Latin syntax and the
Greek irregular verbs!

Count Tolstoy could congratulate himself on the efficacy of his
administration, for from the time of his appointment there was a
lull in the political excitement. During three or four years there
was only one political trial, and that an insignificant one;
whereas there had been twenty between 1861 and 1864, and all more
or less important. I am not at all sure, however, that the
educational reform which created much momentary irritation and
discontent had anything to do with the improvement in the
situation. In any case, there were other and more potent causes at
work. The excitement was too intense to be long-lived, and the
fashionable theories too fanciful to stand the wear and tear of
everyday life. They evaporated, therefore, with amazing rapidity
when the leaders of the movement had disappeared--Tchernishevski
and others by exile, and Dobrolubof and Pissaref by death--and when
among the less prominent representatives of the younger generation
many succumbed to the sobering influences of time and experience or
drifted into lucrative professions. Besides this, the reactionary
currents were making themselves felt, especially since the attempt
on the life of the Emperor. So long as these had been confined to
the official world they had not much affected the literature,
except externally through the Press-censure, but when they
permeated the reading public their influence was much stronger.
Whatever the cause, there is no doubt that, in the last years of
the sixties, there was a subsidence of excitement and enthusiasm
and the peculiar intellectual phenomenon which had been nicknamed
Nihilism was supposed to be a thing of the past. In reality the
movement of which Nihilism was a prominent manifestation had merely
lost something of its academic character and was entering on a new
stage of development.



Closer Relations with Western Socialism--Attempts to Influence the
Masses--Bakunin and Lavroff--"Going in among the People"--The
Missionaries of Revolutionary Socialism--Distinction between
Propaganda and Agitation--Revolutionary Pamphlets for the Common
People--Aims and Motives of the Propagandists--Failure of
Propaganda--Energetic Repression--Fruitless Attempts at Agitation--
Proposal to Combine with Liberals--Genesis of Terrorism--My
Personal Relations with the Revolutionists--Shadowers and Shadowed--
A Series of Terrorist Crimes--A Revolutionist Congress--
Unsuccessful Attempts to Assassinate the Tsar--Ineffectual Attempt
at Conciliation by Loris Melikof--Assassination of Alexander II.--
The Executive Committee Shows Itself Unpractical--Widespread
Indignation and Severe Repression--Temporary Collapse of the
Revolutionary Movement--A New Revolutionary Movement in Sight.

Count Tolstoy's educational reform had one effect which was not
anticipated: it brought the revolutionists into closer contact with
Western Socialism. Many students, finding their position in Russia
uncomfortable, determined to go abroad and continue their studies
in foreign universities, where they would be free from the
inconveniences of police supervision and Press-censure. Those of
the female sex had an additional motive to emigrate, because they
could not complete their studies in Russia, but they had more
difficulty in carrying out their intention, because parents
naturally disliked the idea of their daughters going abroad to lead
a Bohemian life, and they very often obstinately refused to give
their consent. In such cases the persistent daughter found herself
in a dilemma. Though she might run away from her family and
possibly earn her own living, she could not cross the frontier
without a passport, and without the parental sanction a passport
could not be obtained. Of course she might marry and get the
consent of her husband, but most of the young ladies objected to
the trammels of matrimony. Occasionally the problem was solved by
means of a fictitious marriage, and when a young man could not be
found to co-operate voluntarily in the arrangement, the Terrorist
methods, which the revolutionists adopted a few years later for
other purposes, might be employed. I have heard of at least one
case in which an ardent female devotee of medical science
threatened to shoot a student who was going abroad if he did not
submit to the matrimonial ceremony and allow her to accompany him
to the frontier as his official wife!

Strange as this story may seem, it contains nothing inherently
improbable. At that time the energetic young ladies of the
Nihilist school were not to be diverted from their purpose by
trifling obstacles. We shall meet some of them hereafter,
displaying great courage and tenacity in revolutionary activity.
One of them, for example, attempted to murder the Prefect of St.
Petersburg; and another, a young person of considerable refinement
and great personal charm, gave the signal for the assassination of
Alexander II. and expiated her crime on the scaffold without the
least sign of repentance.

Most of the studious emigres of both sexes went to Zurich, where
female students were admitted to the medical classes. Here they
made the acquaintance of noted Socialists from various countries
who had settled in Switzerland, and being in search of panaceas for
social regeneration, they naturally fell under their influence, at
the same time they read with avidity the works of Proudhon,
Lassalle, Buchner, Marx, Flerovski, Pfeiffer, and other writers of
"advanced opinions."

Among the apostles of socialism living at that time in Switzerland
they found a sympathetic fellow-countryman in the famous Anarchist,
Bakunin, who had succeeded in escaping from Siberia. His ideal was
the immediate overthrow of all existing Governments, the
destruction of all administrative organisation, the abolition of
all bourgeois institutions, and the establishment of an entirely
new order of things on the basis of a free federation of productive
Communes, in which all the land should be distributed among those
capable of tilling it and the instruments of production confided to
co-operative associations. Efforts to obtain mere political
reforms, even of the most radical type, were regarded by him with
contempt as miserable palliatives, which could be of no real,
permanent benefit to the masses, and might be positively injurious
by prolonging the present era of bourgeois domination.

For the dissemination of these principles a special organ called
The Cause of the People (Narodnoye Dyelo) was founded in Geneva in
1868 and was smuggled across the Russian frontier in considerable
quantities. It aimed at drawing away the young generation from
Academic Nihilism to more practical revolutionary activity, but it
evidently remained to some extent under the old influences, for it
indulged occasionally in very abstract philosophical disquisitions.
In its first number, for example, it published a programme in which
the editors thought it necessary to declare that they were
materialists and atheists, because the belief in God and a future
life, as well as every other kind of idealism, demoralises the
people, inspiring it with mutually contradictory aspirations, and
thereby depriving it of the energy necessary for the conquest of
its natural rights in this world, and the complete organisation of
a free and happy life. At the end of two years this organ for
moralising the people collapsed from want of funds, but other
periodicals and pamphlets were printed, and the clandestine
relations between the exiles in Switzerland and their friends in
St. Petersburg were maintained without difficulty, notwithstanding
the efforts of the police to cut the connection. In this way Young
Russia became more and more saturated with the extreme Socialist
theories current in Western Europe.

Thanks partly to this foreign influence and partly to their own
practical experience, the would-be reformers who remained at home
came to understand that academic talking and discussing could bring
about no serious results. Students alone, however numerous and
however devoted to the cause, could not hope to overthrow or coerce
the Government. It was childish to suppose that the walls of the
autocratic Jericho would fall by the blasts of academic trumpets.
Attempts at revolution could not be successful without the active
support of the people, and consequently the revolutionary agitation
must be extended to the masses. So far there was complete
agreement among the revolutionists, but with regard to the modus
operandi emphatic differences of opinion appeared. Those who were
carried away by the stirring accents of Bakunin imagined that if
the masses could only be made to feel themselves the victims of
administrative and economic oppression, they would rise and free
themselves by a united effort. According to this view all that was
required was that popular discontent should be excited and that
precautions should be taken to ensure that the explosions of
discontent should take place simultaneously all over the country.
The rest might safely be left, it was thought, to the operation of
natural forces and the inspiration of the moment. Against this
dangerous illusion warning voices were raised. Lavroff, for
example, while agreeing with Bakunin that mere political reforms
were of little or no value, and that any genuine improvement in the
condition of the working classes could proceed only from economic
and social reorganisation, maintained stoutly that the revolution,
to be permanent and beneficial, must be accomplished, not by
demagogues directing the ignorant masses, but by the people as a
whole, after it had been enlightened and instructed as to its true
interests. The preparatory work would necessarily require a whole
generation of educated propagandists, living among the labouring
population rural and urban.

For some time there was a conflict between these two currents of
opinion, but the views of Lavroff, which were simply a practical
development of academic Nihilism, gained far more adherents than
the violent anarchical proposals of Bakunin, and finally the
grandiose scheme of realising gradually the Socialist ideal by
indoctrinating the masses was adopted with enthusiasm. In St.
Petersburg, Moscow and other large towns the student association
for mutual instruction, to which I have referred in the foregoing
chapter, became centres of popular propaganda, and the academic
Nihilists were transformed into active missionaries. Scores of
male and female students, impatient to convert the masses to the
gospel of freedom and terrestrial felicity, sought to get into
touch with the common people by settling in the villages as school-
teachers, medical practitioners, midwives, etc., or by working as
common factory hands in the industrial centres. In order to obtain
employment in the factories and conceal their real purpose, they
procured false passports, in which they were described as belonging
to the lower classes; and even those who settled in the villages
lived generally under assumed names. Thus was formed a class of
professional revolutionists, sometimes called the Illegals, who
were liable to be arrested at any moment by the police. As
compensation for the privations and hardships which they had to
endure, they had the consolation of believing that they were
advancing the good cause. The means they usually employed were
formal conversations and pamphlets expressly written for the
purpose. The more enthusiastic and persevering of these
missionaries would continue their efforts for months and years,
remaining in communication with the headquarters in the capital or
some provincial town in order to report progress, obtain a fresh
supply of pamphlets, and get their forged passports renewed. This
extraordinary movement was called "going in among the people," and
it spread among the young generation like an epidemic. In 1873 it
was suddenly reinforced by a detachment of fresh recruits. Over a
hundred Russian students were recalled by the Government from
Switzerland, in order to save them from the baneful influence of
Bakunin, Lavroff, and other noted Socialists, and a large
proportion of them joined the ranks of the propagandists.*

* Instances of going in among the people had happened as early as
1864, but they did not become frequent till after 1870.

With regard to the aims and methods of the propagandists, a good
deal of information was obtained in the course of a judicial
inquiry instituted in 1875. A peasant, who was at the same time a
factory worker, informed the police that certain persons were
distributing revolutionary pamphlets among the factory-hands, and
as a proof of what he said he produced some pamphlets which he had
himself received. This led to an investigation, which showed that
a number of young men and women, evidently belonging to the
educated classes, were disseminating revolutionary ideas by means
of pamphlets and conversation. Arrests followed, and it was soon
discovered that these agitators belonged to a large secret
association, which had its centre in Moscow and local branches in
Ivanovo, Tula, and Kief. In Ivanovo, for instance--a manufacturing
town about a hundred miles to the northeast of Moscow--the police
found a small apartment inhabited by three young men and four young
women, all of whom, though belonging by birth to the educated
classes, had the appearance of ordinary factory workers, prepared
their own food, did with their own hands all the domestic work, and
sought to avoid everything which could distinguish them from the
labouring population. In the apartment were found 240 copies of
revolutionary pamphlets, a considerable sum of money, a large
amount of correspondence in cypher, and several forged passports.

How many persons the society contained, it is impossible to say,
because a large portion of them eluded the vigilance of the police;
but many were arrested, and ultimately forty-seven were condemned.
Of these, eleven were noble, seven were sons of parish priests, and
the remainder belong to the lower classes--that is to say, the
small officials, burghers, and peasants. The average age of the
prisoners was twenty-four, the oldest being thirty-six and the
youngest under seventeen! Only five or six were over twenty-five,
and none of these were ringleaders. The female element was
represented by no less than fifteen young persons, whose ages were
on an average under twenty-two. Two of these, to judge by their
photographs, were of refined, prepossessing appearance, and
seemingly little fitted for taking part in wholesale massacres such
as the society talked of organising.

The character and aims of the society were clearly depicted in the
documentary and oral evidence produced at the trial. According to
the fundamental principles, there should exist among the members
absolute equality, complete mutual responsibility and full
frankness and confidence with regard to the affairs of the
association. Among the conditions of admission we find that the
candidate should devote himself entirely to revolutionary activity;
that he should be ready to sever all ties, whether of friendship or
of love, for the good cause; that he should possess great powers of
self-sacrifice and the capacity for keeping secrets; and that he
should consent to become, when necessary, a common labourer in a
factory. The desire to maintain absolute equality is well
illustrated by the article of the statutes regarding the
administration: the office-bearers are not to be chosen by
election, but all members are to be office-bearers in turn, and the
term of office must not exceed one month!

The avowed aim of the society was to destroy the existing social
order, and to replace it by one in which there should be no private
property and no distinctions of class or wealth; or, as it is
expressed in one document, "to found on the ruins of the present
social organisation the Empire of the working classes." The means
to be employed were indicated in a general way, but each member was
to adapt himself to circumstances and was to devote all his energy
to forwarding the cause of the revolution. For the guidance of the
inexperienced, the following means were recommended: simple
conversations, dissemination of pamphlets, the exciting of
discontent, the formation of organised groups, the creation of
funds and libraries. These, taken together, constitute, in the
terminology of revolutionary science, "propaganda," and in addition
to it there should be "agitation." The technical distinction
between these two processes is that propaganda has a purely
preparatory character, and aims merely at enlightening the masses
regarding the true nature of the revolutionary cause, whereas
agitation aims at exciting an individual or a group to acts which
are considered, in the existing regime, as illegal. In time of
peace "pure agitation" was to be carried on by means of organised
bands which should frighten the Government and the privileged
classes, draw away the attention of the authorities from less overt
kinds of revolutionary action, raise the spirit of the people and
thereby render it more accessible to revolutionary ideas, obtain
pecuniary means for further activity, and liberate political
prisoners. In time of insurrection the members should give to all
movements every assistance in their power, and impress on them a
Socialistic character. The central administration and the local
branches should establish relations with publishers, and take steps
to secure a regular supply of prohibited books from abroad. Such
are a few characteristic extracts from a document which might
fairly be called a treatise on revolutionology.

As a specimen of the revolutionary pamphlets circulated by the
propagandists and agitators I may give here a brief account of one
which is well known to the political police. It is entitled
Khitraya Mekhanika (Cunning Machinery), and gives a graphic picture
of the ideas and methods employed. The mise en scene is extremely
simple. Two peasants, Stepan and Andrei, are represented as
meeting in a gin-shop and drinking together. Stepan is described
as good and kindly when he has to do with men of his own class, but
very sharp-tongued when speaking with a foreman or manager. Always
ready with an answer, he can on occasions silence even an official!
He has travelled all over the Empire, has associated with all sorts
and conditions of men, sees everything most clearly, and is, in
short, a very remarkable man. One of his excellent qualities is
that, being "enlightened" himself, he is always ready to enlighten
others, and he now finds an opportunity of displaying his powers.
When Andrei, who is still unenlightened, proposes that they should
drink another glass of vodka, he replies that the Tsar, together
with the nobles and traders, bars the way to the throat. As his
companion does not understand this metaphorical language, he
explains that if there were no Tsars, nobles, or traders, he could
get five glasses of vodka for the sum that he now pays for one
glass. This naturally suggests wider topics, and Stepan gives
something like a lecture. The common people, he explains, pay by
far the greater part of the taxation, and at the same time do all
the work; they plough the fields, build the houses and churches,
work in the mills and factories, and in return they are
systematically robbed and beaten. And what is done with all the
money that is taken from them? First of all, the Tsar gets nine
millions of roubles--enough to feed half a province--and with that
sum he amuses himself, has hunting-parties, and feasts, eats,
drinks, makes merry, and lives in stone houses. He gave liberty,
it is true, to the peasants; but we know what the Emancipation
really was. The best land was taken away and the taxes were
increased, lest the muzhik should get fat and lazy. The Tsar is
himself the richest landed proprietor and manufacturer in the
country. He not only robs us as much as he pleases, but he has
sold into slavery (by forming a national debt) our children and
grandchildren. He takes our sons as soldiers, shuts them up in
barracks so that they should not see their brother-peasants, and
hardens their hearts so that they become wild beasts, ready to rend
their parents. The nobles and traders likewise rob the poor
peasants. In short, all the upper classes have invented a bit of
cunning machinery by which the muzhik is made to pay for their
pleasures and luxuries. The people will one day rise and break
this machinery to pieces. When that day comes they must break
every part of it, for if one bit escapes destruction all the other
parts of it will immediately grow up again. All the force is on
the side of the peasants, if they only knew how to use it.
Knowledge will come in time. They will then destroy this machine,
and perceive that the only real remedy for all social evils is
brotherhood. People should live like brothers, having no mine and
thine, but all things in common. When we have created brotherhood,
there will be no riches and no thieves, but right and righteousness
without end. In conclusion, Stepan addresses a word to "the
torturers": "When the people rise, the Tsar will send troops
against us, and the nobles and capitalists will stake their last
rouble on the result. If they do not succeed, they must not expect
any quarter from us. They may conquer us once or twice, but we
shall at last get our own, for there is no power that can withstand
the whole people. Then we shall cleanse the country of our
persecutors, and establish a brotherhood in which there will be no
mine and thine, but all will work for the common weal. We shall
construct no cunning machinery, but shall pluck up evil by the
roots, and establish eternal justice!"

The above-mentioned distinction between Propaganda and Agitation,
which plays a considerable part in revolutionary literature, had at
that time more theoretical than practical importance. The great
majority of those who took an active part in the movement confined
their efforts to indoctrinating the masses with Socialistic and
subversive ideas, and sometimes their methods were rather childish.
As an illustration I may cite an amusing incident related by one of
the boldest and most tenacious of the revolutionists, who
subsequently acquired a certain sense of humour. He and a friend
were walking one day on a country road, when they were overtaken by
a peasant in his cart. Ever anxious to sow the good seed, they at
once entered into conversation with the rustic, telling him that he
ought not to pay his taxes, because the tchinovniks robbed the
people, and trying to convince him by quotations from Scripture
that he ought to resist the authorities. The prudent muzhik
whipped up his horse and tried to get out of hearing, but the two
zealots ran after him and continued the sermon till they were
completely out of breath. Other propagandists were more practical,
and preached a species of agrarian socialism which the rural
population could understand. At the time of the Emancipation the
peasants were convinced as I have mentioned in a previous chapter,
that the Tsar meant to give them all the land, and to compensate
the landed proprietors by salaries. Even when the law was read and
explained to them, they clung obstinately to their old convictions,
and confidently expected that the REAL Emancipation would be
proclaimed shortly. Taking advantage of this state of things, the
propagandists to whom I refer confirmed the peasants in their
error, and sought in this way to sow discontent against the
proprietors and the Government. Their watchword was "Land and
Liberty," and they formed for a good many years a distinct group,
under that title (Zemlya i Volya, or more briefly Zemlevoltsi).

In the St. Petersburg group, which aspired to direct and control
this movement, there were one or two men who held different views
as to the real object of propaganda and agitation. One of these,
Prince Krapotkin, has told the world what his object was at that
time. He hoped that the Government would be frightened and that
the Autocratic Power, as in France on the eve of the Revolution,
would seek support in the landed proprietors, and call together a
National Assembly. Thus a constitution would be granted, and
though the first Assembly might be conservative in spirit,
autocracy would be compelled in the long run to yield to
parliamentary pressure.

No such elaborate projects were entertained, I believe, by the
majority of the propagandists. Their reasoning was much simpler:
"The Government, having become reactionary, tries to prevent us
from enlightening the people; we will do it in spite of the
Government!" The dangers to which they exposed themselves only
confirmed them in their resolution. Though they honestly believed
themselves to be Realists and Materialists, they were at heart
romantic Idealists, panting to do something heroic. They had been
taught by the apostles whom they venerated, from Belinski
downwards, that the man who simply talks about the good of the
people, and does nothing to promote it, is among the most
contemptible of human beings. No such reproach must be addressed
to them. If the Government opposed and threatened, that was no
excuse for inactivity. They must be up and doing. "Forward!
forward! Let us plunge into the people, identify ourselves with
them, and work for their benefit! Suffering is in store for us,
but we must endure it with fortitude!" The type which
Tchernishevski had depicted in his famous novel, under the name of
Rakhmetof--the youth who led an ascetic life and subjected himself
to privation and suffering as a preparation for future
revolutionary activity--now appeared in the flesh. If we may
credit Bakunin, these Rakhmetofs had not even the consolation of
believing in the possibility of a revolution, but as they could not
and would not remain passive spectators of the misfortunes of the
people, they resolved to go in among the masses in order to share
with them fraternally their sufferings, and at the same time to
teach and prepare, not theoretically, but practically by their
living example.* This is, I believe, an exaggeration. The
propagandists were, for the most part of incredibly sanguine

* Bakunin: "Gosudarstvennost' i Anarkhiya" ("State Organisation and
Anarchy"), Zurich, 1873.

The success of the propaganda and agitation was not at all in
proportion to the numbers and enthusiasm of those who took part in
it. Most of these displayed more zeal than mother-wit and
discretion. Their Socialism was too abstract and scientific to be
understood by rustics, and when they succeeded in making themselves
intelligible they awakened in their hearers more suspicion than
sympathy. The muzhik is a very matter-of-fact practical person,
totally incapable of understanding what Americans call "hifalutin"
tendencies in speech and conduct, and as he listened to the
preaching of the new Gospel doubts and questionings spontaneously
rose in his mind: "What do those young people, who betray their
gentlefolk origin by their delicate white hands, their foreign
phrases, their ignorance of the common things of everyday peasant
life, really want? Why are they bearing hardships and taking so
much trouble? They tell us it is for our good, but we are not such
fools and simpletons as they take us for. They are not doing it
all for nothing. What do they expect from us in return? Whatever
it is, they are evidently evil-doers, and perhaps moshenniki
(swindlers). Devil take them!" and thereupon the cautious muzhik
turns his back upon his disinterested self-sacrificing teachers, or
goes quietly and denounces them to the police! It is not only in
Spain that we encounter Don Quixotes and Sancho Panzas!

Occasionally a worse fate befell the missionaries. If they allowed
themselves, as they sometimes did, to "blaspheme" against religion
or the Tsar, they ran the risk of being maltreated on the spot. I
have heard of one case in which the punishment for blasphemy was
applied by sturdy peasant matrons. Even when they escaped such
mishaps they had not much reason to congratulate themselves on
their success. After three years of arduous labour the hundreds of
apostles could not boast of more than a score or two of converts
among the genuine working classes, and even these few did not all
remain faithful unto death. Some of them, however, it must be
admitted, laboured and suffered to the end with the courage and
endurance of true martyrs.

It was not merely the indifference or hostility of the masses that
the propagandists had to complain of. The police soon got on their
track, and did not confine themselves to persuasion and logical
arguments. Towards the end of 1873 they arrested some members of
the central directory group in St. Petersburg, and in the following
May they discovered in the province of Saratof an affiliated
organisation with which nearly 800 persons were connected, about
one-fifth of them belonging to the female sex. A few came of well-
to-do families--sons and daughters of minor officials or small
landed proprietors--but the great majority were poor students of
humbler origin, a large contingent being supplied by the sons of
the poor parish clergy. In other provinces the authorities made
similar discoveries. Before the end of the year a large proportion
of the propagandists were in prison, and the centralised
organisation, so far as such a thing existed, was destroyed.
Gradually it dawned on the minds even of the Don Quixotes that
pacific propaganda was no longer possible, and that attempts to
continue it could lead only to useless sacrifices.

For a time there was universal discouragement in the revolutionary
ranks; and among those who had escaped arrest there were mutual
recriminations and endless discussions about the causes of failure
and the changes to be made in modes of action. The practical
results of these recriminations and discussions was that the
partisans of a slow, pacific propaganda retired to the background,
and the more impatient revolutionary agitators took possession of
the movement. These maintained stoutly that as pacific propaganda
had become impossible, stronger methods must be adopted. The
masses must be organised so as to offer successful resistance to
the Government. Conspiracies must therefore be formed, local
disorders provoked, and blood made to flow. The part of the
country which seemed best adapted for experiments of this kind was
the southern and southeastern region, inhabited by the descendants
of the turbulent Cossack population which had raised formidable
insurrections under Stenka Razin and Pugatcheff in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. Here, then, the more impatient agitators
began their work. A Kief group called the Buntari (rioters),
composed of about twenty-five individuals, settled in various
localities as small shopkeepers or horse dealers, or went about as
workmen or peddlers. One member of the group has given us in his
reminiscences an amusing account of the experiment. Everywhere the
agitators found the peasants suspicious and inhospitable, and
consequently they had to suffer a great deal of discomfort. Some
of them at once gave up the task as hopeless. The others settled
in a village and began operations. Having made a topographic
survey of the locality, they worked out an ingenious plan of
campaign; but they had no recruits for the future army of
insurrection, and if they had been able to get recruits, they had
no arms for them, and no money wherewith to purchase arms or
anything else. In these circumstances they gravely appointed a
committee to collect funds, knowing very well that no money would
be forthcoming. It was as if a shipwrecked crew in an open boat,
having reached the brink of starvation, appointed a committee to
obtain a supply of fresh water and provisions! In the hope of
obtaining assistance from headquarters, a delegate was sent to St.
Petersburg and Moscow to explain that for the arming of the
population about a quarter of a million of roubles was required.
The delegate brought back thirty second-hand revolvers! The
revolutionist who confesses all this* recognises that the whole
scheme was childishly unpractical: "We chose the path of popular
insurrection because we had faith in the revolutionary spirit of
the masses, in its power and its invincibility. That was the weak
side of our position; and the most curious part of it was that we
drew proofs in support of our theory from history--from the
abortive insurrections of Pazin and Pugatcheff, which took place in
an age when the Government had only a small regular army and no
railways or telegraphs! We did not even think of attempting a
propaganda among the military!" In the district of Tchigirin the
agitators had a little momentary success, but the result was the
same. There a student called Stefanovitch pretended that the Tsar
was struggling with the officials to benefit the peasantry, and he
showed the simple rustics a forged imperial manifesto in which they
were ordered to form a society for the purpose of raising an
insurrection against the officials, the nobles, and the priests.
At one moment (April, 1877), the society had about 600 members, but
a few months later it was discovered by the police, and the leaders
and peasants were arrested.

* Debogorio-Mokrievitch. "Vospominaniya" ("Reminiscences").
Paris, 1894-99.

When it had thus become evident that propaganda and agitation were
alike useless, and when numerous arrests were being made daily, it
became necessary for the revolutionists to reconsider their
position, and some of the more moderate proposed to rally to the
Liberals, as a temporary measure. Hitherto there had been very
little sympathy and a good deal of openly avowed hostility between
Liberals and revolutionists. The latter, convinced that they could
overthrow the Autocratic Power by their own unaided efforts, had
looked askance at Liberalism because they believed that
parliamentary discussions and party struggles would impede rather
than facilitate the advent of the Socialist Millennium, and
strengthen the domination of the bourgeoisie without really
improving the condition of the masses. Now, however, when the need
of allies was felt, it seemed that constitutional government might
be used as a stepping-stone for reaching the Socialist ideal,
because it must grant a certain liberty of the Press and of
association, and it would necessarily abolish the existing
autocratic system of arresting, imprisoning and exiling, on mere
suspicion, without any regular form of legal procedure. As usual,
an appeal was made to history, and arguments were easily found in
favour of this course of action. The past of other nations had
shown that in the march of progress there are no sudden leaps and
bounds, and it was therefore absurd to imagine, as the
revolutionists had hitherto done, that Russian Autocracy could be
swallowed by Socialism at a gulp. There must always be periods of
transition, and it seemed that such a transition period might now
be initiated. Liberalism might be allowed to destroy, or at least
weaken, Autocracy, and then it might be destroyed in its turn by
Socialism of the most advanced type.

Having adopted this theory of gradual historic development, some of
the more practical revolutionists approached the more advanced
Liberals and urged them to more energetic action; but before
anything could be arranged the more impatient revolutionists--
notably the group called the Narodovoltsi (National-will-ists)--
intervened, denounced what they considered an unholy alliance, and
proposed a policy of terrorism by which the Government would be
frightened into a more conciliatory attitude. Their idea was that
the officials who displayed most zeal against the revolutionary
movement should be assassinated, and that every act of severity on
the part of the Administration should be answered by an act of
"revolutionary justice."

As it was evident that the choice between these two courses of
action must determine in great measure the future character and
ultimate fate of the movement, there was much discussion between
the two groups; but the question did not long remain in suspense.
Soon the extreme party gained the upper hand, and the Terrorist
policy was adopted. I shall let the revolutionists themselves
explain this momentous decision. In a long proclamation published
some years later it is explained thus:

"The revolutionary movement in Russia began with the so-called
'going in among the people.' The first Russian revolutionists
thought that the freedom of the people could be obtained only by
the people itself, and they imagined that the only thing necessary
was that the people should absorb Socialistic ideas. To this it
was supposed that the peasantry were naturally inclined, because
they already possess, in the rural Commune, institutions which
contain the seeds of Socialism, and which might serve as a basis
for the reconstruction of society according to Socialist
principles. The propagandists hoped, therefore, that in the
teachings of West European Socialism the people would recognise its
own instinctive creations in riper and more clearly defined forms
and that it would joyfully accept the new teaching.

"But the people did not understand its friends, and showed itself
hostile to them. It turned out that institutions born in slavery
could not serve as a foundation for the new construction, and that
the man who was yesterday a serf, though capable of taking part in
disturbances, is not fitted for conscious revolutionary work. With
pain in their heart the revolutionists had to confess that they
were deceived in their hopes of the people. Around them were no
social revolutionary forces on which they could lean for support,
and yet they could not reconcile themselves with the existing state
of violence and slavery. Thereupon awakened a last hope--the hope
of a drowning man who clutches at a straw: a little group of heroic
and self-sacrificing individuals might accomplish with their own
strength the difficult task of freeing Russia from the yoke of
autocracy. They had to do it themselves, because there was no
other means. But would they be able to accomplish it? For them
that question did not exist. The struggle of that little group
against autocracy was like the heroic means on which a doctor
decides when there is no longer any hope of the patient's recovery.
Terrorism was the only means that remained, and it had the
advantage of giving a natural vent to pent-up feelings, and of
seeming a reaction against the cruel persecutions of the
Government. The party called the Narodnaya Volya (National Will)
was accordingly formed, and during several years the world
witnessed a spectacle that had never been seen before in history.
The Narodnaya Volya, insignificant in numbers but strong in spirit,
engaged in single combat with the powerful Russian Government.
Neither executions, nor imprisonment with hard labour, nor ordinary
imprisonment and exile, destroyed the energy of the revolutionists.
Under their shots fell, one after the other, the most zealous and
typical representatives of arbitrary action and violence. . . ."

It was at this time, in 1877, when propaganda and agitation among
the masses were being abandoned for the system of terrorism, but
before any assassinations had taken place, that I accidentally came
into personal relations with some prominent adherents of the
revolutionary movement. One day a young man of sympathetic
appearance, whom I did not know and who brought no credentials,
called on me in St. Petersburg and suggested to me that I might
make public through the English Press what he described as a
revolting act of tyranny and cruelty committed by General Trepof,
the Prefect of the city. That official, he said, in visiting
recently one of the prisons, had noticed that a young political
prisoner called Bogolubof did not salute him as he passed, and he
had ordered him to be flogged in consequence. To this I replied
that I had no reason to disbelieve the story, but that I had
equally no reason to accept it as accurate, as it rested solely on
the evidence of a person with whom I was totally unacquainted. My
informant took the objection in good part, and offered me the names
and addresses of a number of persons who could supply me with any
proofs that I might desire.

At his next visit I told him I had seen several of the persons he
had named, and that I could not help perceiving that they were
closely connected with the revolutionary movement. I then went on
to suggest that as the sympathisers with that movement constantly
complained that they were systematically misrepresented,
calumniated and caricatured, the leaders ought to give the world an
accurate account of their real doctrines, and in this respect I
should be glad to assist them. Already I knew something of the
subject, because I had many friends and acquaintances among the
sympathisers, and had often had with them interminable discussions.
With their ideas, so far as I knew them, I felt bound to confess
that I had no manner of sympathy, but I flattered myself, and he
himself had admitted, that I was capable of describing accurately
and criticising impartially doctrines with which I did not agree.
My new acquaintance, whom I may call Dimitry Ivan'itch, was pleased
with the proposal, and after he had consulted with some of his
friends, we came to an agreement by which I should receive all the
materials necessary for writing an accurate account of the
doctrinal side of the movement. With regard to any conspiracies
that might be in progress, I warned him that he must be strictly
reticent, because if I came accidentally to know of any terrorist
designs, I should consider it my duty to warn the authorities. For
this reason I declined to attend any secret conclaves, and it was
agreed that I should be instructed without being initiated.

The first step in my instruction was not very satisfactory or
encouraging. One day Dimitri Ivan'itch brought me a large
manuscript, which contained, he said, the real doctrines of the
revolutionists and the explanation of their methods. I was
surprised to find that it was written in English, and I perceived
at a glance that it was not at all what I wanted. As soon as I had
read the first sentence I turned to my friend and said:

"I am very sorry to find, Dimitri Ivan'itch, that you have not kept
your part of the bargain. We agreed, you may remember, that we
were to act towards each other in absolutely good faith, and here I
find a flagrant bit of bad faith in the very first sentence of the
manuscript which you have brought me. The document opens with the
statement that a large number of students have been arrested and
imprisoned for distributing books among the people. That statement
may be true according to the letter, but it is evidently intended
to mislead. These youths have been arrested, as you must know, not
for distributing ordinary books, as the memorandum suggests, but
for distributing books of a certain kind. I have read some of
them, and I cannot feel at all surprised that the Government should
object to their being put into the hands of the ignorant masses.
Take, for example, the one entitled Khitraya Mekhanika, and others
of the same type. The practical teaching they contain is that the
peasants should be ready to rise and cut the throats of the landed
proprietors and officials. Now, a wholesale massacre of the kind
may or may not be desirable in the interests of Society, and
justifiable according to some new code of higher morality. That is
a question into which I do not enter. All I maintain is that the
writer of this memorandum, in speaking of 'books,' meant to mislead

Dimitri Ivan'itch looked puzzled and ashamed. "Forgive me," he
said; "I am to blame--not for having attempted to deceive you, but
for not having taken precautions. I have not read the manuscript,
and I could not if I wished, for it is written in English, and I
know no language but my mother tongue. My friends ought not to
have done this. Give me back the paper, and I shall take care that
nothing of the sort occurs in future."

This promise was faithfully kept, and I had no further reason to
complain. Dimitri Ivan'itch gave me a considerable amount of
information, and lent me a valuable collection of revolutionary
pamphlets. Unfortunately the course of tuition was suddenly
interrupted by unforeseen circumstances, which I may mention as
characteristic of life in St. Petersburg at the time. My servant,
an excellent young Russian, more honest than intelligent, came to
me one morning with a mysterious air, and warned me to be on my
guard, because there were "bad people" going about. On being
pressed a little, he explained to me what he meant. Two strangers
had come to him and, after offering him a few roubles, had asked
him a number of questions about my habits--at what hour I went out
and came home, what persons called on me, and much more of the same
sort. "They even tried, sir, to get into your sitting-room; but of
course I did not allow them. I believe they want to rob you!"

It was not difficult to guess who these "bad people" were who took
such a keen interest in my doings, and who wanted to examine my
apartment in my absence. Any doubts I had on the subject were soon
removed. On the morrow and following days I noticed that whenever
I went out, and wherever I might walk or drive, I was closely
followed by two unsympathetic-looking individuals--so closely that
when I turned round sharp they ran into me. The first and second
times this little accident occurred they received a strong volley
of unceremonious vernacular; but when we became better acquainted
we simply smiled at each other knowingly, as the old Roman Augurs
are supposed to have done when they met in public unobserved.
There was no longer any attempt at concealment or mystification. I
knew I was being shadowed, and the shadowers could not help
perceiving that I knew it. Yet, strange to say, they were never

The reader probably assumes that the secret police had somehow got
wind of my relations with the revolutionists. Such an assumption
presupposes on the part of the police an amount of intelligence and
perspicacity which they do not usually possess. On this occasion
they were on an entirely wrong scent, and the very day when I first
noticed my shadowers, a high official, who seemed to regard the
whole thing as a good joke, told me confidentially what the wrong
scent was. At the instigation of an ex-ambassador, from whom I had
the misfortune to differ in matters of foreign policy, the Moscow
Gazette had denounced me publicly by name as a person who was in
the habit of visiting daily the Ministry of Foreign Affairs--
doubtless with the nefarious purpose of obtaining by illegal means
secret political information--and the police had concluded that I
was a fit and proper person to be closely watched. In reality, my
relations with the Russian Foreign Office, though inconvenient to
the ex-ambassador, were perfectly regular and above-board--
sanctioned, in fact, by Prince Gortchakoff--but the indelicate
attentions of the secret police were none the less extremely
unwelcome, because some intelligent police-agent might get onto the
real scent, and cause me serious inconvenience. I determined,
therefore, to break off all relations with Dimitri Ivan'itch and
his friends, and postpone my studies to a more convenient season;
but that decision did not entirely extricate me from my
difficulties. The collection of revolutionary pamphlets was still
in my possession, and I had promised to return it. For some little
time I did not see how I could keep my promise without compromising
myself or others, but at last--after having had my shadowers
carefully shadowed in order to learn accurately their habits, and
having taken certain elaborate precautions, with which I need not
trouble the reader, as he is not likely ever to require them--I
paid a visit secretly to Dimitri Ivan'itch in his small room,
almost destitute of furniture, handed him the big parcel of
pamphlets, warned him not to visit me again, and bade him farewell.
Thereupon we went our separate ways and I saw him no more. Whether
he subsequently played a leading part in the movement I never could
ascertain, because I did not know his real name; but if the
conception which I formed of his character was at all accurate, he
probably ended his career in Siberia, for he was not a man to look
back after having put his hand to the plough. That is a peculiar
trait of the Russian revolutionists of the period in question.
Their passion for realising an impossible ideal was incurable.
Many of them were again and again arrested; and as soon as they
escaped or were liberated they almost invariably went back to their
revolutionary activity and worked energetically until they again
fell into the clutches of the police.

From this digression into the sphere of personal reminiscences I
return now and take up again the thread of the narrative.

We have seen how the propaganda and the agitation had failed,
partly because the masses showed themselves indifferent or hostile,
and partly because the Government adopted vigorous repressive
measures. We have seen, too, how the leaders found themselves in
face of a formidable dilemma; either they must abandon their
schemes or they must attack their persecutors. The more energetic
among them, as I have already stated, chose the latter alternative,
and they proceeded at once to carry out their policy. In the
course of a single year (February, 1878, to February, 1879) a whole
series of terrorist crimes was committed; in Kief an attempt was
made on the life of the Public Prosecutor, and an officer of
gendarmerie was stabbed; in St. Petersburg the Chief of the
Political Police of the Empire (General Mezentsef) was assassinated
in broad daylight in one of the central streets, and a similar
attempt was made on his successor (General Drenteln); at Kharkof
the Governor (Prince Krapotkin) was shot dead when entering his
residence. During the same period two members of the revolutionary
organisation, accused of treachery, were "executed" by order of
local Committees. In most cases the perpetrators of the crimes
contrived to escape. One of them became well known in Western
Europe as an author under the pseudonym of Stepniak.

Terrorism had not the desired effect. On the contrary, it
stimulated the zeal and activity of the authorities, and in the
course of the winter of 1878-79 hundreds of arrests--some say as
many as 2,000--were made in St. Petersburg alone. Driven to
desperation, the revolutionists still at large decided that it was
useless to assassinate mere officials; the fons et origo mali must
be reached; a blow must be struck at the Tsar himself! The first
attempt was made by a young man called Solovyoff, who fired several
shots at Alexander II. as he was walking near the Winter Palace,
but none of them took effect.

This policy of aggressive terrorism did not meet with universal
approval among the revolutionists, and it was determined to discuss
the matter at a Congress of delegates from various local circles.
The meetings were held in June, 1879, two months after Solovyoff's
unsuccessful attempt, at two provincial towns, Lipetsk and
Voronezh. It was there agreed in principle to confirm the decision
of the Terrorist Narodovoltsi. As the Liberals were not in a
position to create liberal institutions or to give guarantees for
political rights, which are the essential conditions of any
Socialist agitation, there remained for the revolutionary party no
other course than to destroy the despotic autocracy. Thereupon a
programme of action was prepared, and an Executive Committee
elected. From that moment, though there were still many who
preferred milder methods, the Terrorists had the upper hand, and
they at once proceeded to centralise the organisation and to
introduce stricter discipline, with greater precautions to ensure

The Executive Committee imagined that by assassinating the Tsar
autocracy might be destroyed, and several carefully planned
attempts were made. The first plan was to wreck the train when the
Imperial family were returning to St. Petersburg from the Crimea.
Mines were accordingly laid at three separate points, but they all
failed. At the last of the three points (near Moscow) a train was
blown up, but it was not the one in which the Imperial family was

Not at all discouraged by this failure, nor by the discovery of its
secret printing-press by the police, the Executive Committee next
tried to attain its object by an explosion of dynamite in the
Winter Palace when the Imperial family were assembled at dinner.
The execution was entrusted to a certain Halturin, one of the few
revolutionists of peasant origin. As an exceptionally clever
carpenter and polisher, he easily found regular employment in the
palace, and he contrived to make a rough plan of the building.
This plan, on which the dining-hall was marked with an ominous red
cross, fell into the hands of the police, and they made what they
considered a careful investigation; but they failed to unravel the
plot and did not discover the dynamite concealed in the carpenters'
sleeping quarters. Halturin showed wonderful coolness while the
search was going on, and continued to sleep every night on the
explosive, though it caused him excruciating headaches. When he
was assured by the chemist of the Executive Committee that the
quantity collected was sufficient, he exploded the mine at the
usual dinner hour, and contrived to escape uninjured.* In the
guardroom immediately above the spot where the dynamite was
exploded ten soldiers were killed and 53 wounded, and in the
dining-hall the floor was wrecked, but the Imperial family escaped
in consequence of not sitting down to dinner at the usual hour.

* After living some time in Roumania he returned to Russia under
the name of Stepanof, and in 1882 he was tried and executed for
complicity in the assassination of General Strebnekof.

For this barbarous act the Executive Committee publicly accepted
full responsibility. In a proclamation placarded in the streets of
St. Petersburg it declared that, while regretting the death of the
soldiers, it was resolved to carry on the struggle with the
Autocratic Power until the social reforms should be entrusted to a
Constituent Assembly, composed of members freely elected and
furnished with instructions from their constituents.

Finding police-repression so ineffectual, Alexander II. determined
to try the effect of conciliation, and for this purpose he placed
Loris Melikof at the head of the Government, with semi-dictatorial
powers (February, 1880). The experiment did not succeed. By the
Terrorists it was regarded as "a hypocritical Liberalism outwardly
and a veiled brutality within," while in the official world it was
condemned as an act of culpable weakness on the part of the
autocracy. One consequence of it was that the Executive Committee
was encouraged to continue its efforts, and, as the police became
much less active, it was enabled to improve the revolutionary
organisation. In a circular sent to the affiliated provincial
associations it explained that the only source of legislation must
be the national will,* and as the Government would never accept
such a principle, its hand must be forced by a great popular
insurrection, for which all available forces should be organised.
The peasantry, as experience had shown, could not yet be relied on,
but efforts should be made to enrol the workmen of the towns.
Great importance was attached to propaganda in the army; but as few
conversions had been made among the rank and file, attention was to
be directed chiefly to the officers, who would be able to carry
their subordinates with them at the critical moment.

* Hence the designation Narodovoltsi (which, as we have seen, means
literally National-will-ists) adopted by this section.

While thus recommending the scheme of destroying autocracy by means
of a popular insurrection in the distant future, the Committee had
not abandoned more expeditious methods, and it was at that moment
hatching a plot for the assassination of the Tsar. During the
winter months his Majesty was in the habit of holding on Sundays a
small parade in the riding-school near the Michael Square in St.
Petersburg. On Sunday, March 3d, 1881, the streets by which he
usually returned to the Palace had been undermined at two places,
and on an alternative route several conspirators were posted with
hand-grenades concealed under their great coats. The Emperor chose
the alternative route. Here, at a signal given by Sophia Perovski,
the first grenade was thrown by a student called Ryssakoff, but it
merely wounded some members of the escort. The Emperor stopped and
got out of his sledge, and as he was making inquiries about the
wounded soldiers a second grenade was thrown by a youth called
Grinevitski, with fatal effect. Alexander II. was conveyed
hurriedly to the Winter Palace, and died almost immediately.

By this act the members of the Executive Committee proved their
energy and their talent as conspirators, but they at the same time
showed their shortsightedness and their political incapacity; for
they had made no preparations for immediately seizing the power
which they so ardently coveted--with the intention of using it, of
course, entirely for the public good. If the facts were not so
well authenticated, we might dismiss the whole story as incredible.
A group of young people, certainly not more than thirty or forty in
number, without any organised material force behind them, without
any influential accomplices in the army or the official world,
without any prospect of support from the masses, and with no plan
for immediate action after the assassination, deliberately provoked
the crisis for which they were so hopelessly unprepared. It has
been suggested that they expected the Liberals to seize the Supreme
Power, but this explanation is evidently an afterthought, because
they knew that the Liberals were as unprepared as themselves and
they regarded them at that time as dangerous rivals. Besides this,
the explanation is quite irreconcilable with the proclamation
issued by the Executive Committee immediately afterwards. The most
charitable way of explaining the conduct of the conspirators is to
suppose that they were actuated more by blind hatred of the
autocracy and its agents than by political calculations of a
practical kind--that they acted simply like a wounded bull in the
arena, which shuts its eyes and recklessly charges its tormentors.

The murder of the Emperor had not at all the effect which the
Narodovoltsi anticipated. On the contrary, it destroyed their
hopes of success. Many people of liberal convictions who
sympathised vaguely with the revolutionary movement without taking
part in it, and who did not condemn very severely the attacks on
police officials, were horrified when they found that the would-be
reformers did not spare even the sacred person of the Tsar. At the
same time, the police officials, who had become lax and inefficient
under the conciliatory regime of Loris Melikof, recovered their old
zeal, and displayed such inordinate activity that the revolutionary
organisation was paralysed and in great measure destroyed. Six of
the regicides were condemned to death, and five of them publicly
executed, amongst the latter Sophia Perovski, one of the most
active and personally sympathetic personages among the
revolutionists. Scores of those who had taken an active part in
the movement were in prison or in exile. For a short time the
propaganda was continued among military and naval officers, and
various attempts at reorganisation, especially in the southern
provinces, were made, but they all failed. A certain Degaief, who
had taken part in the formation of military circles, turned
informer, and aided the police. By his treachery not only a
considerable number of officers, but also Vera Filipof, a young
lady of remarkable ability and courage, who was the leading spirit
in the attempts at reorganisation, were arrested. There were still
a number of leaders living abroad, and from time to time they sent
emissaries to revive the propaganda, but these efforts were all
fruitless. One of the active members of the revolutionary party,
Leo Deutsch, who has since published his Memoirs, relates how the
tide of revolution ebbed rapidly at this time. "Both in Russia and
abroad," he says, "I had seen how the earlier enthusiasm had given
way to scepticism; men had lost faith, though many of them would
not allow that it was so. It was clear to me that a reaction had
set in for many years." Of the attempts to resuscitate the
movement he says: "The untried and unskilfully managed societies
were run to death before they could undertake anything definite,
and the unity and interdependence which characterised the original
band of members had disappeared." With regard to the want of
unity, another prominent revolutionist (Maslof) wrote to a friend
(Dragomanof) at Geneva in 1882 in terms of bitter complaint. He
accused the Executive Committee of trying to play the part of chief
of the whole revolutionary party, and declared that its
centralising tendencies were more despotic than those of the
Government. Distributing orders among its adherents without
initiating them into its plans, it insisted on unquestioning
obedience. The Socialist youth, ardent adherents of Federalism,
were indignant at this treatment, and began to understand that the
Committee used them simply as chair a canon. The writer described
in vivid colours the mutual hostility which reigned among various
fractions of the party, and which manifested itself in accusations
and even in denunciations; and he predicted that the Narodnaya
Volya, which had organised the various acts of terrorism
culminating in the assassination of the Emperor, would never
develop into a powerful revolutionary party. It had sunk into the
slough of untruth, and it could only continue to deceive the
Government and the public.

In the mutual recriminations several interesting admissions were
made. It was recognised that neither the educated classes nor the
common people were capable of bringing about a revolution: the
former were not numerous enough, and the latter were devoted to the
Tsar and did not sympathise with the revolutionary movement, though
they might perhaps be induced to rise at a moment of crisis. It
was considered doubtful whether such a rising was desirable,
because the masses, being insufficiently prepared, might turn
against the educated minority. In no case could a popular
insurrection attain the object which the Socialists had in view,
because the power would either remain in the hands of the Tsar--
thanks to the devotion of the common people--or it would fall into
the hands of the Liberals, who would oppress the masses worse than
the autocratic Government had done. Further, it was recognised
that acts of terrorism were worse than useless, because they were
misunderstood by the ignorant, and tended to inflame the masses
against the leaders. It seemed necessary, therefore, to return to
a pacific propaganda. Tikhomirof, who was nominally directing the
movement from abroad, became utterly discouraged, and wrote in 1884
to one of his emissaries in Russia (Lopatin): "You now see Russia,
and can convince yourself that it does not possess the material for
a vast work of reorganisation. . . . I advise you seriously not to
make superhuman efforts and not to make a scandal in attempting the
impossible. . . . If you do not want to satisfy yourself with
trifles, come away and await better times."

In examining the material relating to this period one sees clearly
that the revolutionary movement had got into a vicious circle. As
pacific propaganda had become impossible, in consequence of the
opposition of the authorities and the vigilance of the police, the
Government could be overturned only by a general insurrection; but
the general insurrection could not be prepared without pacific
propaganda. As for terrorism, it had become discredited.
Tikhomirof himself came to the conclusion that the terrorist idea
was altogether a mistake, not only morally, but also from the point
of view of political expediency. A party, he explained, has either
the force to overthrow the Government, or it has not; in the former
case it has no need of political assassination, and in the latter
the assassinations have no effect, because Governments are not so
stupid as to let themselves be frightened by those who cannot
overthrow them. Plainly there was nothing to be done but to wait
for better times, as he had suggested, and the better times did not
seem to be within measurable distance. He himself, after
publishing a brochure entitled "Why I Ceased to Be a
Revolutionist," made his peace with the Government, and others
followed his example.* In one prison nine made formal
recantations, among them Emilianof, who held a reserve bomb ready
when Alexander II. was assassinated. Occasional acts of terrorism
showed that there was still fire under the smouldering embers, but
they were few and far between. The last serious incident of the
kind during this period was the regicide conspiracy of Sheviryoff
in March, 1887. The conspirators, carrying the bombs, were
arrested in the principal street of St. Petersburg, and five of
them were hanged. The railway accident of Borki, which happened in
the following year, and in which the Imperial family had a very
narrow escape, ought perhaps to be added to the list, because there
is reason to believe that it was the work of revolutionists.

* Tikhomirof subsequently worked against the Social Democrats in
Moscow in the interests of the Government.

By this time all the cooler heads among the revolutionists,
especially those who were living abroad in personal safety, had
come to understand that the Socialist ideal could not be attained
by popular insurrection, terrorism, or conspiracies, and
consequently that further activity on the old lines was absurd.
Those of them who did not abandon the enterprise in despair
reverted to the idea that Autocratic Power, impregnable against
frontal attacks, might be destroyed by prolonged siege operations.
This change of tactics is reflected in the revolutionary
literature. In 1889, for example, the editor of the Svobodnaya
Rossia declared that the aim of the movement now was political
freedom--not only as a stepping-stone to social reorganisation, but
as a good in itself. This is, he explains, the only possible
revolution at present in Russia. "For the moment there can be no
other immediate practical aim. Ulterior aims are not abandoned,
but they are not at present within reach. . . The revolutionists
of the seventies and the eighties did not succeed in creating among
the peasantry or the town workmen anything which had even the
appearance of a force capable of struggling with the Government;
and the revolutionists of the future will have no greater success
until they have obtained such political rights as personal
inviolability. Our immediate aim, therefore, is a National
Assembly controlled by local self-government, and this can be
brought about only by a union of all the revolutionary forces."

There were still indications, it is true, that the old spirit of
terrorism was not yet quite extinct: Captain Zolotykhin, for
example, an officer of the Moscow secret police, was assassinated
by a female revolutionist in 1890. But such incidents were merely
the last fitful sputterings of a lamp that was going out for want
of oil. In 1892 Stepniak declared it evident to all that the
professional revolutionists could not alone overthrow autocracy,
however great their energy and heroism; and he arrived at the same
conclusion as the writer just quoted. Of course, immediate success
was not to be expected. "It is only from the evolutionist's point


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