From President to Prison/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII
 

THE CRIMSON TIDE

 

THROUGHOUT my whole journey I observed everywhere a marked change in the attitude of the people. In earlier chapters I have already noted the way sentiment had changed among the Russian population of the Far East and even among the soldiers and officers of the army; but these changes had thus far amounted to nothing more than explosive outbursts of hope or of deep despondency and disaffection.

Talks with my fellow-travellers made it clear to me that our Harbin telegram, protesting against the futile and aimless bloodshed, was only a feeble reflection of the feelings of Russia as a whole, about which we really knew almost nothing in our isolation at the front, where we were deceived with false reports and surrounded by the police net that allowed no unfavourable news from the west to slip through its meshes. I recalled then the unusual flare of hope among the Russians in Manchuria when the unhappy General Kuropatkin, surrounded as he was on every side with intrigue, was finally recalled to St. Petersburg after the disastrous defeat of his three armies at Moukden, and succeeded by the elderly General Linievitch. This change awoke that hope which comes so readily, often without real foundation, to the breast of the Russian, only to disappear after the smallest mishap like a momentary flash of lightning.

My fellow-travellers from Russia said that in Russia itself the people laboured under no illusions. The war was regarded as lost; the Tsar and the Government were hated. The hypocritical politics of the Tsar, through which his "beloved nation" was criminally deceived, made him especially detested. After the destruction of the Russian fleet by the Japanese, representatives of different elements and classes of the whole people formulated and presented to Nicholas a petition, in which the Government was accused of inefficiency and a parliament demanded. This document closed with the warning words:

"Oh, Tsar, do not delay! In this terrible hour of national catastrophe your responsibility before God and Russia is unspeakably great!"

In response to the petition the Tsar promised the promulgation of a decree providing for a parliament: but, when the passions and emotions of the people had cooled somewhat, he procrastinated and only afterwards, when new explosions revealed the indignation of his subjects and the whole country had become a vast network of revolutionary societies and parties, did he yield to the demand for a parliament, attaching the almost nullifying proviso that it should have only advisory powers without any rights of legislation.

At the same time the political police were everywhere active, making arrests, banishment and the death sentence daily phenomena. When I finally learned, while still in St. Petersburg, that a general strike as a protest and as an accompaniment to a universal request for a parliament was in contemplation for the whole of Russia, during which the employees of all the railways, steamship lines, factories and offices, as well as those of the post and telegraph services, were to go out, I understood that the Revolution, whose birth I had witnessed at the beginning of the year, was already developed and I, therefore, hastened my return to Harbin.

The impending strike, however, caught me en route and caused such difficulties in transportation that I just managed to get through to Harbin. Here we learned that in some of the cities of Russia and Siberia the strike had been marked by street barricading and the fighting of workmen and University students with the police and the army. Then, throughout the whole vast Empire, suddenly a foreboding silence fell. The straining ears of the listening Government and of its spies and executioners recognized and knew it well; but the police, the gendarmes and the Tsar could do nothing against this hush, for it was a thing not to be caught and against which the machine guns and the rifles of the Tsar could not shoot.

Finally, Nicholas was obliged to yield, but only under the pressing advice of his Minister of Finance, Count Witte. On October 17, 1905, he issued a manifesto, giving to the Government parliamentary form; but, in doing so, he drafted the statute creating the Duma in such a manner that the importance, influence and authority of this much-needed institution were very greatly and discouragingly diminished.

As a matter of fact, the Imperial manifesto satisfied nobody. On the one hand, the reactionaries were furious over the fact that the Government had yielded; while, on the other, the revolutionists were displeased and disenchanted, inasmuch as the manifesto neither granted amnesty and liberation to the political prisoners nor settled the grievous agrarian question of land ownership, which was of such great importance to the peasants forming 85 per cent, of Russia's population.

This general discontent with the Tsar's ukase manifested itself almost immediately in the two distinct camps. The reactionary elements, as well as the revolutionists, began to organize, and it was inevitable that a fight should break out between them. While I was in St. Petersburg, I saw even then the first indications of the formation of these organizations, presaging in unmistakable terms their future activities.

The reactionary forces began organizing what were called the "Black Hundreds" with the motto: "Monarchy, orthodox faith and Russian nationalism." These Black Hundreds were a strange mixture of class, social opinion and mental development, counting among their numbers some of the highest of the aristocrats, such as Princes Volkonsky, Ukhtomsky and Meschtchersky, Count Bobrinsky, Dr. Dubrovin, the lawyers, Zamyslovsky and Bulatsel, the priest, Vostorgoff, and Archbishop Makari, as well as many former criminal prisoners and a large representation from the jetsam of mankind in the big towns, that stratum of Russian humanity which has been so poetically described and idealized in the well-known writings of Maxim Gorky; while, right beside these types from the lowest layer of social life, were to be found such well-known scholars as Professors Martens and Janjoull. After the manifesto of October 17th these Black Hundreds were amalgamated into one great organization for the whole Empire, taking for their name "The Union of the Russian Nation" and having for their honorary president—the Tsar Nicholas II! Both this Ruler of All the Russias and the heir to the throne, the Tsarevitch Alexis, wore on their breasts the emblem of this Union, which was a state within the State, committing and remaining unpunished for most bloody crimes.

As this Union of the Russian Nation had for its object the suppression of the revolution and its child, the parliament, it accused the non-Russian elements in the population of the Empire—that is, the Poles, Georgians, Letts, Jews and many other subject peoples, as well as large sections of the intelligentsia—of liberal and revolutionary ideas and of spreading these throughout the country.

The revolutionary elements, composed of the most worth-while members of the intelligentsia, as well as of the workers and of all the professional unions, also organized themselves and elected two principal bodies to prosecute the Revolution: first, the League of the Unions, the more moderate of the two, and, as the second, The Council of the Deputies of the Workers, a body with the most radically revolutionary views and tendencies and presided over by the lawyer Khrustaloff-Nosar.

Synchronously the Union of the Russian Nation freely lavished funds in the formation of detachments composed of the ex-prisoners, criminals, beggars and those shifting individuals who, without any regular means of livelihood, spend their days around low cafés and their nights in the parks or in night refuges, frequently those watched over by a uniformed guard. These detachments soon began their activities in the cities and towns, so that the pogroms of 1905 swept like a bloody wave over some hundred or more of Russia's unfortunate urban populations, returning a significant report of over four thousand people killed and some ten thousand wounded.

One of these massacres in the city of Tomsk was entirely characteristic. It took place on October 20th and was described to me by a man who had been one of my former pupils in the High Polytechnic Institute and who was later a member of the Duma, Mr. A. A. Skorokhodoff. A large gathering of the inhabitants of the town, principally officials, professors, teachers and students, had assembled in the theatre to give expression to their joy over the Tsar's manifesto, granting the modern constitution. While the townspeople in the theatre were listening to speeches on the importance of this epoch-making political act, a procession, composed of labourers of the lowest type, of stevedores from the docks along the Tom, of ex-prisoners and even of the inmates of the town prison, who had been specially released for this day, was formed and was marching through the streets. Among this crowd of wild, drunken and demoralized men moved agents of the political police, fanning their hatred and urging them on to acts of vengeance against the intelligentsia. A picture of the Tsar and some ecclesiastical banners were borne at the head of the procession. When this mob, armed with cudgels, knives and blackjacks, drew up before the house of Bishop Makari, the "holy old man" appeared on the balcony and blessed the procession, making a strong appeal to their patriotism, which was the paraphrase for the fight for unrestrained power of the Tsar.

With this blessing of the man of the Church upon them, the mob marched straight to the theatre and fell to massacring the intelligentsia gathered there. The few who succeeded in escaping into the street were caught and despatched by cudgels or bullets or by being thrown into the river for the sport of the crowd. The ghastly total of those who perished on this day was twelve hundred souls, among whom was a distinguished Polish engineer, Klionowski, who at the time held the post of assistant to the Director-General of the Siberian Railway.

I had personally known Bishop Makari. A small, thin old man, with an ascetic face recalling the Byzantine pictures of the saints, he was, however, the son of a Siberian peasant, possessed of a small stock of learning and wholly steeped in the psychology of Tsarism and of the Orthodox faith. He was a sly, malignant and narrow-minded man, who persecuted all new or fresh currents of thought in the Church or in society. He made a name and a career for himself by spreading the faith among the natives of Altai, whom he first intoxicated with alcohol and then baptized while they were unconscious. After the Tomsk massacre he was rapidly advanced in the Church hierarchy, became Archbishop and after some years a member of the Synod, the council of the Orthodox Church, finally progressing to the post of Metropolitan of Moscow. While he held this highest position in the Church, he incurred the displeasure of the Tsarina during the World War through associating himself with other high ecclesiastical dignitaries in a plot to demand from the Tsar the divorcing of his consort, who had brought upon herself the disapproval and hatred of some of the influential members of the Russian aristocracy.

In this bloody manner, such as was manifested at Tomsk and was contrary to all the accepted standards of modern society, the organizations belonging to the Union of the Russian Nation prosecuted their aims in the name of Tsar, Faith and Country. In answer, the revolutionary and liberal groups acted in a manner very little different; for the Russian psychology of destruction here held the upper hand as well.

These liberals and revolutionists realized that the forces of the intelligentsia and of the workers in the towns were not sufficienty strong to compel the Government and the Tsar to make a complete change in favour of an effective parliamentary control, and soon sensed the fact that they should have to thrust into the whirlpool of political struggle that great element of strength which could not be overpowered by an army faithful to the Tsar —the Russian peasant The propaganda injected into this great mass of over a hundred million of unlettered, trampled and desperate human souls was like a burning torch flung into a mow of hay.

In a trice the whole country was aflame. The Revolution had become a peasant war and, fired to secure their rights, these half-serfs began to raid the estates of the big landowners, robbing the houses, carrying off the stores of grain and flour, driving away the stock and, in many cases, taking over the management and alleged ownership of the landlord's fields. In these acts the destroying, criminal instincts of the Russian mass had free and fatal vent.

Later I personally witnessed some of the results of this peasant uprising at "Manuilovo," the estate of Mr. S. M. Pavlovitch in the Government of St. Petersburg. Here the palatial, historic country residence, containing many mementoes of one of the greatest Russian story writers, Karamzin, who formerly lived there, was completely demolished. The furniture was hacked to pieces, irreplaceable pictures were cut in ribbons, great mirrors were smashed and the books made fuel for a bonfire in front of the great mansion. Thoroughbred horses were hamstrung, hunting dogs were hung, while blooded cattle and prize sheep were slaughtered for meat. Similar acts were perpetrated in forty-nine of the governments of European Russia and were especially violent in the Baltic provinces, where the Lettish peasants put to the sword their masters, the German barons, who were the descendants of the Teutonic Knights and had come under the domination of Russia with the conquest of these western regions.

This river of blood and destruction had its sources in the psychology of the Russians, regardless of whether they belonged to the liberal and revolutionary parties hostile to the Tsar or to the reactionary Union of the Russian Nation, forwarding his wishes and ideas. It was all quite characteristic of the Russian nature, as it has often evinced itself. I observed the same phenomenon some years later during the war with Germany and Austria, when the Russian armies perpetrated the most awful massacres and the wildest scenes of pillage in the districts of Poland, East Prussia and Galicia, in which officers from the most aristocratic and cultured families took intimate part. Later I witnessed sickening instances of this Asiatic psychology of warring nomads in the fratricidal struggle under the Soviet regime, during which the Reds and the Whites rivalled each other in blood spilling, in the destruction of the national fortune accumulated through many generations, in cruelty and in criminal ingenuity.

I do not know which of them was the worse, which the better; but I do know that they will both appear before the throne of the Almighty Judge in robes covered with the blood of their brothers and of those innocent nations and tribes which have had the misfortune, by a stern decree of Fate, to have been conquered and dominated by the Russian Empire and afterward to have been ruled by the Soviet Republic.

The blow dealt by the peasant war against the fighting power of the Tsar's Government was very sore, as it led to many protests and revolts by peasants' sons serving with the army and the fleet.

These were the waves of the great bloody tide that followed me in my eastward journey through Siberia back to Harbin.