The Shadow of the Gloomy East/Chapter 1

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The Masks

THE civilised world knew Russia by those of her representatives who were deservedly admired and respected in Western Europe.

The spiritual, refined culture of the highly educated Russian class and aristocracy, the genuine idealistic impulse of Russian arts, the piety and asceticism of the higher clerical hierarchy, the general very high level of education and intelligence of the middle classes, the profound learning of the most prominent scientists, the true heroism and high courage of military officers in the most aristocratic of Russian units, the æsthetic life and thought of the nobility—all these were eloquent witnesses soliciting the sympathies of the world for the Russian nation.

Why, the favourite subjects of the lofty and rapturous orations of the Russian intelligentsia which captured the ears of Europe were freedom and self-government for the oppressed peoples of Russia, emancipation of women, the education of the masses of the common people, and called forth the enthusiasm of even the most critical political thinkers and philosophers acquainted with Western culture.

But these superficial declamations were but a passing fashion of good breeding, scenery, masks, underneath which lay a mean reality.

Unaware of the liberating forces which gathered strength within the masses, unconscious of the importance and power of the protesting classes, the aristocracy and the higher plutocracy, and alas! the higher middle classes were thronging the Imperial Court as of old, hunting for favours, honours, positions, basking in the sunshine of the Imperial presence.

This lustre, like the radiance of the sun, blinded the vision of those who should have been the strength and stay of Russian society to the seething movement, to the threatening murmur of the human ant-heap down there, in the dark hovels of the "common brute."

And at the time when the whole of Europe knew that a very decisive and dangerous moment in the history of Russia was approaching, the aristocrats and their set were forming the "black hundreds," dragging in the university youth, throwing them together with the scum of the large towns, filling them with reactionary political views, which led to every crime. The picked regiments of the Guards were murdering the helpless populations of Warsaw, Petersburg, and Moscow; and delicately manicured hands of aristocrats: the Golitsins, the Krapotkins, the Wyrubovas, the Ortov-Davidovs, the Shirinski-Shihmotovs, were counting out gold into the unwashen hands of a motley gang of ruffians—for the provocation of pogroms, for the commissions of the murders of a Yottos, a Herzenstein, a Goldstein, Stolypin, and others.

At the time when Europe was listening in rapture to the anthems on freedom, equality, and brotherhood, or to the enthralling mystical preachings of the Russians abroad, the very visitors and preachers had taken or were taking a hand in the greedy, tyrannous and iniquitous measures of their Government

The war with Japan, the aggressive policy towards Finland, the harsh and overbearing attitude towards Poland, the policy in the Caucasus and the Ukraine, the persecution of Catholicism, the wrecking of popular education, opposition to all efforts of the more clearsighted politicians, who counselled certain conciliatory offers to the Socialist groups as well as to the protests of educated men—such was the policy of what is now the ancient regime. At the same time the aristocracy, servile towards the Tsar, and cultivating truly byzantine forms of adulation, was debased and descending into ever lower depths and separated itself from the other classes of Russian society.

Descendants of the Ruriks kissed—for the Tsaritsa’s gracious smile sake—the hands of the horse-thief, Gfishka Rasputin, "the court saint" of the Palace of Tsarskoye Selo.

The crawling servility of the great nobles before the face of the Siberian peasant availed them little; they, the "salt of the Russian earth," were treated as so much chaff and trash!

A Prince Putiatin acted as the "court prospector" of candidates to canonisation, of miracles and sacred relics. Why, after the canonisation of Serafira Sadovski, he proposed to the Tsar and to the Tsaritsa six more newly discovered saints! It was only the great costs which drew from the Tsar the impatient exclamation: "It is our pleasure that there shall be no more saints after Serafim!"

The aristocrats were amusing themselves while serving at Court, unconscious of the tragic events that were about to be enacted and of the accounts to be settled. Outside the Court the representatives of the highest families lived their picturesque, sparkling, profligate life. True, there was no need to cringe before an evil-smelling peasant or other fortune-tellers, prophetesses and charmers, who were permanent guests at the Court of the Romanovs. They kept their "odd Thursdays," "secret Mondays," in dainty palaces, garçonières, or in the recesses of Villa Rodé, whose owner, M. Alfred Rodé, made the most exquisite preparations and watched over the proceedings of his guests with the mysterious smile of the Sphinx.

He is the man to write the secret history of the last year of the Romanov dynasty and of the fall of the Russian aristocracy. He exercised a strange, silent influence on the set of the Court of Tsarskoye, for he knew how to make use of Rasputin, who was a standing client of the Villa, and Rode himself was seated in the cabinet of his restaurant at the side of the Grand Duke Dimitri, Count F. Suniarokov-Elston and M. Purishkevich, when the assassination of the spiritual director of the Court was planned.

Now that is all gone! It would require the exuberant imagination of a French novelist to describe what the mirrored walls have seen at Cuba's, Medved's, Constant's, Donon's, Pivato's! To relate the scenes enacted in the luxurious apartments of the high-class dressmakers, milliners or corsetières, and count up the names of the titles and honours of the grandees. It would be instructive to learn how much the Imperial police was glad to restrain the Press and the Courts from interfering with those pastimes and frolics.

A whole series of marriages contracted by great nobles shows to what this society had come to, and into the oldest families descended from the Romanovs, the Ruriks, and Shuyskis, there entered gipsy-girls, variety stars, ballet dancers, and common prostitutes.

And all the while the "striving brute," who had been for years straining at his chains and waiting for the hour to strike, saw all and weighed the forces of his opponent and master against his own.

They that were above him heeded not the warning voices; In the midst of their orgies they gave no thought to the morrow, to the necessity of pulling themselves together and taking measures of protection against the coming storm.

For the coroneted ladies and gentlemen with their friends of the plutocracy and higher bureaucracy were engaged in shadowy drawing-rooms and perfumed boudoirs, "searching" the secrets of spiritism, occultism, buddhism, or mysticism. A multitude of doubtful personalities flitted phantomlike through these cushioned recesses as media, occult practitioners, brahmins, yogas, epileptics, hysteromaniacs, hallucinating visionaries, prophets; some were on the list of the German secret service, or agents of the police, the "Okhrana" or had "letters of introduction" to Rasputin.

Thus Spake Zarathustra was their favourite book. Nietzsche's bombastic, cynically immoral and frenzied phrases were always on their lips, and it seemed as though this Slav renegade had written to the order of the Prussian King a book full of moral poison, which could have its full effect only on a Muscovite. This seemed a moral poison gas invented especially for the benefit of the Russians, considerably in advance of the material products discovered by Dr. Luther and other Teutonic chemists.

The "ivory-white bones" of Russian aristocracy, kept alive by the "blue blood," insensitive to the change in the political atmosphere, were dancing their last waltz upon the edge of the gaping grave.

And the dance was mad and gay, nor could piles of glossy carpets deaden the stamping of whirling feet. The lawsuit of Wonlarlarski, the "noblest Roman of them all," closely allied with the best blood of Russia, startled public opinion. The Seigneur, but yesterday intimately received at Tsarskoye Selo, was proved to have forged Prince Oglnski's will. The owner of immense concessions in Kamtchatka seemed to have been occupied in defrauding the savage inhabitants and in stifling their complaints. "A scandal!" people whispered. But when the Press learned that the civilising activities of the great landowners in Kamtchatka had caused the deaths of hundreds of native families and wild hounds were devouring their corpses in the desolate "chumas," people exclaimed "It's a crime!" But their only fear was lest the scandal should not be hushed up.

The Commissioner of Police, von Waal, the Minister of Justice, Shcheglovitov, and the Governor of Kamtchatka were acquainted with the facts; indeed, the last-named official was suspended.

But a few cheques drawn, a few dull echoes in the press which died away, and silence reigned supreme—the lull before the storm.

The Japanese War, which ended in Russia's defeat, in the awakening of Asia and in the dishonour of the Imperial throne, was really but an episode in the "dancing high-life" of the Courtmaster of the chase, M. Bezobrazov, who, in connection with German diplomatists and bankers, had been arranging for timber concessions in the valley of the Yalu, on the Korean-Chinese border.

Japan and China took offence, and the results were the fall of Port Arthur, the defeats of Wafangou, Mukden, Laoyan, and ultimately the sinister tragedy of Tsushima.

Bezobrazov's enterprise had enjoyed the gracious financial and moral support of the Romanov family!

Count Witte could say: "I have built a railway round Asia, I have conquered China by peaceful means and opposed Japan; whilst they have lost China and are defeated in the eyes of the Asiatics for ever, even before cutting down a single tree."

Such was the deep-rooted corruption and depravity of the higher Russian classes. And the bureaucracy followed in their footsteps.

It was as if a malignant and venomous parasite had chosen for its nest the huge body of the people of 140 millions, sinking ever lower its deadly roots.

Its influence made itself felt in the political thought of the nation. This power was not connected with the nation at large by any common link. Neither comprehending the purport and the gloomy soul of Russia, nor on the other hand being understood itself, it descended like an octopus to the darkest depths in order to form and fashion the lowest instincts. Upon such a background of political aspirations was it possible for such sinister figures to appear as the priest Gapon, the provocator Azev, the Member of Parliament and police-spy Malinovsky, Rasputin, the Bishop Pimen, the monk Heliodor, and a whole gang of native and foreign adventurers and pirates of words and thoughts. It was with their help that bureaucracy, in a presentiment of the approaching Day of Judgment, tried to reach the core of national life, to gauge the dimensions of the threatening danger, to capture the foes and to compel the mind of the nation to enter the old kennel of dog-like servility towards the official, the priest, the lord, and the Tsar. None thought of the necessity of directing the awaking popular sense towards the firm ground of nationhood. And if even such men arose, like the authors of the October 17 1905 manifesto, Count Sergius Witte, or the Prime Minister, P. A. Stolypin, they had to meet conspiracies and engage in a life and death struggle for their very existence.

The war, then, had to be fought upon two fronts: against the awakening masses of the nation which were drifting ever nearer towards the revolutionary camp and against those of their own kind, who in their sagacious efforts at the progress of civilisation, desired the State to seize upon the thoughts and energies of the rising nation and to turn them to good account.

On both the fronts the self-same weapon was used, the most dastardly of all-provocation—the practice of conjuring up disturbances during which leaders and participants could be seized. Of those arrested the most depraved were seduced into the service of the political police; they became the willing tools to spread demoralisation and disorder in the revolutionary ranks, and they served thus the purpose o the parasites.

The revolution of 1905, that uprising of the Russian intelligentsia, was choked in blood in the Court Square in Petrograd, and in the so-called "express courts" in the provinces, through the paid agents of the Minister Durnovo, Generals Kurlov and Trepov, who had been drawn from the ranks of the revolutionaries.

The priest Gapon, worshipped by the workmen, led to death in front of the Imperial Palace masses of his comrades, and then hid behind the walls of the political police till he received the money for a journey abroad.

The agent-provocator Ivanov first incited the Siberian social-democrats to armed risings of protest against General Rennenkampf, then denounced the more prominent leaders and took a leading part in hunting them down and dragging them to execution.

Through the revelations of the publicist Burtsev, and the ex-director of the III Department of the Ministry of the Interior, Lopuchin, the responsible leaders of the social-democratic and revolutionary parties were one after the other proved to be paid agents of the Government and at the same time in touch with the most secret revolutionary councils.

These are but a few instances which illustrate the very peculiar methods of aristocratic and official Russia.