What Crime Did the Tsar Commit?
Strange Story of Secret Buried in Chancelleries—The Situation in Russia.
A REMARKABLE article on the Russian situation is contributed by E. J. Dillon to The Fortnightly. He brings strong evidence to show that Russia is in bad shape from the standpoint of the Allies and adduces that the other nations need expect little assistance from Russia in the prosecution of the war from now on. Another .interesting feature is a hint that he gives at a crime committed by the Tsar at some recent date, a very serious matter which came to the atattention of the British Government. He writes:
The outbreak of the Russian Revolution in March was, I think, one of the failures of Entente statesmanship. It could and should have been foreseen and directed. If, instead of waiting upon events and eulogizing everything done by our allies, our Government had hearkened to those who assured it that the Russian uprising would take place in .March or April, and had turned the revolutionary current into a safe channel, our Slav ally might now be pressing upon the Austrians and Germans in the East and our great offensive might already be in full swing.
What should, I ventured to think, be undertaken, was a step from which the present British Foreign Office would instinctively shrink as from a suicidal or treasonable act: such mild intervention in Russia’s domestic affairs as is obviously legitimate, because it would have saved her from a catastrophe and helped her allies to victory. Had it been adopted in good time, a representative of one of the Allied Government, would have demanded an,audience of the Tsar in January or February and spoken to him somewhat in this fashion: -
“Your subjects, sire, are on the eve of a revolution, and your dynasty is on the of ruin, and I have come on the part of your allies to give you warning and offer you effective help. In ordinary times it would have been for you to discern and exorcise these dangers—at most your neighbor Kaiser Wilhelm might perhaps have redeemed his promise and stepped in to suc jur you. To-day you are our ally, and we have a duty to you as well as to ourselves, which may be likened, to that of comrades on a Polar Expedition, the duty of offering, and if needs be pressing amicably upon you, our assistance. A traveller in those regions, overcome by the cold and about to close his eyes in eternal bleep, is roused by his comrades, if possible by plain language, but Bhould that prove unavailing, by more effective methods. The Allied Governments have to-day sent me hither on a liTfe errand, respectfully to express their hope that you will yourself ward off the disaster which is imminent by enlarging the powers of the Duma, appointing a Parliamentary Cabinet worthy of the confidence of the Legislature, and handing over to your responsible Ministers the conduct of the war. To be effective these measures ought to be put in force without delay.
“It is practically certain, sire, that vast changes are impending in your Empire, and it is of supreme moment that they should emanate from the throne—still the centre of all power—and that their limits should not be set bÿ anyone but yourself. You must be aware that the opposition, overt and covert, to the dynasty and the regime, is growing rapidly in numbers and in influence, that members of your august family are accused of being the cause of remiásness in the prosecution of the war, and that these charges, being believed, supply a powerful leverage to' your enemies. Happily no convincing grounds have until now been adduced in support of them; had it been otherwise, popular indignation, set ablaze, would have wrought irreparable mischief. I regret, however, to have to tell you that to-day very solid grounds for this indictment have been discovered. To reveal them to the world would be to Are the mine under the monarchical fabric. And to hinder this catastrophe is one of the objects of my mission.
“On a certain day of a certain year Your Majesty, moved no doubt by the most upright intentions, struck up a compact which, to the thinking of the average mind, Russian and foreign, admits of no justification. It exposed your Government and your people, as well as yourself, to the severest blame. It constitutes the one inexpiable sin which it was in the power of an autocratic monarch to commit. The circumstances are all known today. I can if you wish describe them. Knowledge, it has been said, is power; knowledge of this incident is destructive power which, wielded by the opposition, must have untoward results. By acting upon your allies’ suggestion, sire, you will obviate these results, disarm your enemies, save the monarchy, raise up millions of friends at home and abroad, and render inestimable services to your people, your allies, and humanity at large. Of the alternative and its sequel you best know what to think, you who spontaneously made such large concessions to your subjects in 1905, and are reputed ' among your people to be a model spouse and a tender father.”
To that message there could, I hold, have been but one answer, The Tsar would have deferred to the Allies’ wishes, realizing as he must the dire consequences which the disclosure of his stumble would have brought forth.
What manner of skeleton, the reader may ask, lay hidden away in the Imperial cupboard, still capable of making such mischief after it had ceased to be a living force? If it was a political act, was^it not known long since to the British Foreign Office, and if so, was it not a Damocles’ sword that might fall on the monarch’s head independently of the Allied Governments’ will? To these questions the answers are in the negative. Odd though Jt may seem,¿the matter alluded to had been hidden from the British and other Governments, the half-dozen men who were parties to It three had already died. As chance would have it, I was conversant with all that the initiated State dignitaries knew about it, but I was at first pledged to secrecy. One day, however, I suddenly received unsolicited permission to inform the British Government of the fact.
Accordingly I approached an eminent personage. then the authorized spokesman, with whom I was personally acquainted. Hearing that I had a momentous State secret to confide to him which would throw a surpising light on familiar faces and things, he thanked £ me and said that my communication'would have his most careful attention. But hardly had I begun my narrative when he looked dismayed, stopped me. and exclaimed: “I am afraid I didn’t understand you. It’s about some of the Tsar’s doings that you want to tell me, is it? Hm! Something which if true would discredit his Majesty in our eyes and
-and-. No, no, you really must not ask
me to listen to anything that reflects on the Emperor’s loyalty, on his good faith. We put absolute trust in his word. Absolute trust. You must dispense me. therefore, from listening to your story, and you, if you knew him better, would refrain from telling or believing it, whatever it may be. ’
Accordingly I have kept it to myself until now. I may add that that eminent representative of the British Government has since learned that he was mistaken in his judgment and wrong in depriving not merely himself, but also the State, of a powerful lever in transacting the business of the nation. For even to-day neither he nor the Ministers of the Crown, past or present, are acquainted with the particulars of that astonishing episode. None the less, the generous trust in the Tsar’s loyalty which prevented the responsible representative of the British Government from listening to a set of important facts which it concerned them to know deserves to be recorded witn a feeling akin to admiration.
Neither the British nor the French Government gauged the trend of the Russian political currents which swept away the old regime last March, nor did they seriously attempt to canalize them. They were assured by the colleagues whom they had sent out to study the situation there that the Revolution, which would be primarily political, would not break out 'until the war was over. And when at last the disruptive forces which average statecraft would have made subservient to the Allies’ vital interests were suddenly let loose, the chief of the British Government supplied the Allied peoples with the official clue by which to thread the revolutionary maze in the way best suited to their sanguine temperament. The uprising against the Tsardom constituted, he told them, the greatest service which the Russian people could possibly render to their admiring Allies. And the Pres^ re-echoed the assurance. These appreciative interpreters, fancying that the upheaval at that conjuncture was essentially a war movement, a protest against the lukewarmness with which, the campaign was being prosecuted, foretold miraculous military achievements during Russia’s next offensive. In truth, the mainspring of the movement was not military, ner even political, but social and economic, and the p'eople who directed it were enterprising Social Democrats.
Western peoples and statesmen would seem to be constitutionally incapable of so far understanding the mechanism of the Russian mind as to be able to reckon with it as an international factor. Nor is it a facile task. For years on end the play of motives upon • will may seem to differ little in the Russian from that of other peoples; then all of a sudden the wholly unexpected occurs, and the Slav appears in a new and unrehearsed part, disconcerting his friends and acquaintances. But the recent upheaval was neither sudden in point of time nor surprising in character. It could and should have been foreseen.And what is more, the events of the years 1905-6 ought to have made clear to the dullest apprehension what the sudden overthrow of the Tsardom would necessarily involve. Nothing was foreseen by the Government and those who had the knowledge and experience were not questioned.
The Russian peasant is not a warrior by nature.. Op the contrary. he loathes bloodshed, hates organized violaiice, and would fain abolish war and interest himself in rural affairs. None of the campaigns of recent date appealed to his sense of patriotism; he merely accepted the inevitable at thr bands of Fate’s lieutenantthe Tsar. Now that he himself wields tho power he would fain embody his will in law. Hence capital punish* ment has been abolished, war solemn!\ denounced. and an armistice tacitly accept'd on the Lastern front. It is not exactly ; separate peace that new Russia yearns for. but a general cessation of hostilities, failing which a separate peace is contemplated as an alternative. The informal armistice at ¡.resent existing has enabled the Germans to hurl a large number of men against our W.-stern line anil regulate the distance betwe, n our striving and achievements there. And this is on e of the first-fruits of the Revolution. True, the idealsTthat hover above it are nowise wanting hi grandeur ór nobility, but they are nebuloAs and obviously unapproachable. while the gospel of a certain number of its champions may aptly he described as Tolstoyan anarchism harnessed to individual selfishness.
It is to be deplored that the British public is not adequately informed about the condition of things in Russia, at any rate in so far as it affects the military and political outlook of the Allies. Now and again the daily papers announce “more hopeful tidings from Petrograd.” and lead the public to expect adequate military co-operation. For example: “From all sides come indications that Russia is awakening to the necessity for an offensive campaign without delay." one influential organ assures us. “Delegates from the soldiers of General Brussiloff’s Army have passed a unanimous resolution to this effect. The congress of officer delegates in Petrograd has decided by a huge majority in favor of an immediate advance. All the cavalry regiments have sworn to march, against the foe.” This is pleasant reading, because it conveys the impression that Russia is again about to gird her loins, sally forth, and pulverize the forces of the enemy. But that impression lacks depth and durability, and those optimists among us who continue to look for the reappearance of the huge steam-roller may have to make the most of the graceful Russian ballet. True, the Provisional Government has widened its base by admitting into the Cabinet representatives of various political parties who may decide to carry on the war “with unwonted vigour and without delay.” Our present criterion, however, is not words but results. The aH-important point is not what the Cabinet or the officer delegates may resolve. but whether the soldiers intend to obey them. I should be delighted to come across evidences of such intention among the main armies, but the statements I have received on the subject, oral from Russia’s .military delegates in France, and written from other delegates in Petrograd, keen me from sharing the honeful anticipations of so many well-informed British publicists at home; but I fervently hope that they are right.
Where, one may ask, are Russia’s mighty armies of last year, where the military commanders whose strategy we admired, whose exploits we gratefully recorded, and whose future achievements we liberally discounted in all our forecasts?
To-day there are several authorities, one Cabinet, various councils, one Duma, many Ministers, and no Government in the land. Socialist rule is felt by the population as an irksome burden which gives little or nothing in return to those who endure it. Private property is no longer protected by the State. The peasants who covet the soil are impatient to enter into possession of it, and in several provinces are riotously proceeding with the work of expropriation which they carry with a high hand in utter contempt of the law.
The Provisional Government has forbidden the peasantry thus to take matters into their own hands, but it lacks power to enforce its decrees. The evidences of this are overwhelming. We learn that in the Lukoyanoff district of the Province of Nishny Novgorod the peasants are seizing the land and dismissing those who had charge of it. In the Gorbatoffsky District violent troubles have broken out in connection with the eviction of land-owners. In the Stavropol District of the Province of Samara the peasants seized and put to death the village elder and the secretary, and were also about to make away with all the well-todo inhabitants when some militiamen providentially arrived and put a temporary end to the disorders.
The newspaper columns are filled with telegrams from desperate landlords vainly calling on the authorities to protect them. Thus Count Keller telegraphed: “The village is subjected to a pogrom. I am arrested. My house has been gutted.” In Kakhetia magnificent forests are being cut down by the peasantry. In the Knighinin district the crowd attacked the Zvantsovo estate, took the people on it prisoners, and drove away the cattle.
These are but a few typical instances, and by no means the most striking. Everywhere the peasants have recognized the principle of confiscation. In the Province of Penza the Peasants’ Council passed a resolution in favor of socializing all land, and is showing its determination to have that decree executed. The representatives of the Provisional Government have been driver! away and the marshall of the nobility arrested. In Bielozerye. .Province of Simbirsk, the peasants’ convention decided to seize without compensation all lands belonging to private owners, with the exception of 100 dessiatines, which each one may keep for himself and till, or. if he prefer it, let, but not for more than six roubles a dessiatine.
The respectable Moscow journal. Rueekiya Vedomosti, writes: "The country in parts is a prey to wild propaganda, which is provoking pogroms. Private people are being arrested and deprived of liberty. Personal spite is gratified against local public men, working men, and other inhabitants. Absurd rumors are launched, such as that orders have been given to smash all crosses on churches, etc.” In Bessarabia, Podolia, Mohiliff, and Kieff pogroms are imminent, may indeed have already taken place. In the Province of Saratov the Peasants’ Congress passed this resolution: “Private property in land within the boundaries of the Russian Republic is abolished for all time. Land in all its forms shall belong to the entire nation. All citizens, male and female, possess an equal right to the usufruct of the soil provided that they till it with their own hands within the normal labor limits. The land shall be withdrawn from its present owners without compensation.”
But whatever course internal affairs may take, it is probable that the throes of revolutionary change will numb Russia’s military arm for long years to come. Among the dangers which this temporary paralysis will render imminent there are two which merit special attention. The territory of the Great Russians situated in the North-east is separated from the Baltic Sea by Finland and the Baltic Provinces, and from the Black Sea by the territory of the Little Russians or I’kraninians. Now as the Finns and the Balts are resolved to set up under-republics for themselves, and as they are friendly to Germany and look askance upon Russia, the Baltic Sea runs the risk of becoming a German lake. The Little Russians, too. who already possess the nucleus of a national army, and have long been backed in prosecuting their .patriotic designs by the Austrians and the Germans, might with their underrepublic play into the Teutons’ hands and bar Russia’s way to the Black Sea. which would fall under the sway of the Mid-European Federation. In this way Germany would become the mistress of all Eastern Europe, treat Russia as a hinterland, and turn the Slav market into a Teuton monopoly.
To prevent this consummation a united and powerful Polish State is, I take it, the only efficacious means—a State which by incorporating Dantzig would reduce by nearly fifty per cent., the German seaboard on the Baltic. This measure would also emancipate Sweden from the Germans and raise a barrier between these and the Black Sea.
In other words, the social burst-up of Russia obviously forbids the curtailment and necessitates the extension of the Allies’ war aims. For without this the essential object of all their efforts will remain beyond their reach. At the head of a Central European League Germany will become the mistress of Continental Europe, and whatever we may compel her to do in France or Belgium will not hinder her from acquiring hegemony on the entire Continent. The creation of i strong Polish State might have this desirable effect. But are the Allies willing and are they also able to carry it through? That is the crucial point. If they are, as it is the one thing to do, we can make a rough guess at the duration of this war, a guess that will not be more than srx or eight months’ out. If they are not, then it is needtess to dwell upon the practical conclusions that flow from their impotence. In either case Russia’s defection
has made a vast change in the outlook. On those who argue that with America’s help, which is fast assuming concrete shape, we may contrive to achieve the feat, reata the burden of proving that President Wilson, his Government, and his people can be induced to fight for the readjustment of the balance of power, and also that, they are able to throw the requisite fighting forces into the field in time to ensure victory.