A new monarch and a new century have altered little the essential features of the situation, so far as relations between government and governed are concerned. Every day we have examples of the time-honoured policy, in the dragooning of Russia proper; the attempted Russification of Finland; and the deliberate fostering by the Government of anti-Semitism, with the covert design of counteracting the revolutionary activity of Jewish Socialists, discrediting their labour movement in the eyes of the Russian proletariat, and also distracting the latter from organisation on their own account.
ixBut a significant change is at work to-day among the people. The peasants and working-classes in town and country, formerly the despair of those who strove to arouse in them political consciousness, are being awakened by the inevitable development of industry to a sense of their duties and their rights. A genuine labour movement has arisen, which, in face of the intolerance of the authorities, has naturally taken on a political character, and affiliated itself to the successors of the older revolutionary societies.
The words “anarchist” and “nihilist,” so commonly associated with the Russian revolutionists, are complete misnomers to-day (as, indeed, they always have been, except in the case of a few isolated individuals). The movement is now carried on chiefly by two organisations: the “Revolutionary Socialists,” and the party to which our author belongs, and helped to found, the “Social Democratic” Labour Party; associated with the latter being the powerfully organised social-democratic “General Jewish Labour union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia,” usually known as the “Bund.” Of these the Revolutionary Socialists alone still adhere to the practice of terrorism in a modified form, and even they have always proclaimed their intention of abandoning it directly “constitutional” methods are allowed to them. The aim of the revolutionists is to replace the present autocratic government by a social republic, under which the various races now grouped within the empire shall each have scope to develop its national individuality. Groups are actively at work in widely distant localities, even Siberia furnishing her contingent, while Poland and Finland have various revolutionary organisations of their own.
The Government’s policy at present is to exile to Siberia without trial, or intern in some place distant from home, xall persons known or even suspected to be interesting themselves in the movement. This is effected principally through the instrumentality of the gendarmerie, which was instituted by Nicholas I. as a sort of spy system, primarily intended to unearth official abuses and report upon them directly to the Tsar. It soon, however, became imbued with the prevailing spirit of the bureaucracy; its members shut their eyes to the official corruption everywhere prevalent, and they have since confined their attention to unearthing “political” delinquencies. The force has at least one representative in every town of any size, and it has a vaguely defined roving commission to watch and arrest all persons who appear to be suspicious characters; these may be kept in imprisonment for an indefinite time, or may be exiled “by administrative methods.” It has become an adjunct to the ordinary police, although quite independent of them, and is generally employed in all matters of secrecy. Travellers from Western Europe who observe too closely the life and conditions of the country are liable to arrest in this way. Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace and Mr. Kennan, among others, had this experience.