A Pyrrhic Victory
The more sanguine among the terrorists had hoped that the execution of the Czar would touch off a mass uprising. The soberer souls had expected that the authorities would be frightened into liberal reforms, which would facilitate the work of the Party. On the other hand, conservatives had predicted that should the plot against the Emperor succeed, the enraged populace would exterminate the revolutionaries and indeed make short shrift of the educated class from which they stemmed. The course of events belied all expectations.
Immediately after the explosions there was great excitement in the streets of the capital, but it was brief, and before midnight Nevsky Prospekt had assumed its usual look. At first the officers in charge of the troops garrisoned in the city were vaguely apprehensive of trouble in the ranks. Nothing untoward happened. The soldiers cursed the assassins, and by ten o'clock all were snoring. On 2 March Count Valuyev wrote in his diary: 'Our army is still healthy. . . .'
In the days that followed, a few students were manhandled by ruffians, perhaps not without police connivance. Two men who bought a portrait of the deceased monarch and tore it up in the street were beaten within an inch of their lives by passers-by. A group of shopkeepers, in a letter published in the newspapers, dared the terrorists to come out into the open and promised to lynch them. For a while students avoided wearing their uniforms in the street, while young women let their hair grow and put on kerchiefs. Wild reports about plots and reprisals were in circulation. But both rumours and acts of violence soon ceased. Moscow and the provincial cities remained quiet. Of course, there was a plethora of protestations of loyalty to the throne on the part of public bodies.
In the countryside on the whole the news was met with puzzlement or composure verging on indifference. A widespread notion was that the Czar had been murdered by the gentry because he had been on the side of the people. For a while a district in the province of Tver was an unhealthy place for a traveller who looked like a barin (master). The villagers were apt to stop his carriage, smash the bell on his shaftbow, and beat him up. According to a correspondence printed in Chornyi Peredel, it was rumoured that the new Czar had turned all the mileposts between Petersburg and Moscow into gallows for the murderers of his father, that he had confiscated their lands and would distribute them among the peasants on the day of his coronation.
If the response of the masses was disappointing to the People's Will, that of the intelligentzia was no more encouraging. True, at the University of Moscow the attempt of some students to collect money for a wreath to be placed on the Czar's coffin resulted in disturbances which led to the expulsion of over three hundred youths, and in Kazan, while the citizenry was taking the oath of allegiance to Alexander III, hundreds of students attended a meeting on the campus, at which the late Czar was excoriated and monarchic government condemned. Several zemstvo and municipal boards and even one or two assemblies of nobles respectfully urged the Emperor not to deviate from the path of reform followed by his august father. Two or three newspapers made bold to express themselves in a similar vein. On the other hand, it soon became apparent that the event of 1 March had frightened and alienated many of the liberal fellow travellers. In sum, nothing approaching a revolutionary situation developed as a result of the assassination.
Naturally, the few groups of intellectuals and workmen who moved within the orbit of the People's Will and Black Repartition were deeply stirred. They wanted to know what was coming next; they offered their services. Eager for action, some of the factory hands that had been proselytized by Zhelyabov turned to Sofya Perovskaya for guidance. Before she could respond, she was behind bars. The Executive Committee, which was rapidly depleted by arrests, had scanty funds, no arms, no plan and could furnish no leaders to the rank and file. All it did was to print several leaflets, one of them urging all and sundry 'to send petitions from towns and villages.' The Party had scored a brilliant victory, but it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Nikolay Sukhanov, a rather flighty naval officer who had been co-opted by the Committee from the military branch of the organization, proposed an immediate attack on the life of Alexander III. The proposal could not be seriously entertained. Instead, Tikhomirov, who had had no hand in the assassination, suggested an appeal to the new ruler. The Committee consented, though without enthusiasm.
'The Letter from the Executive Committee to Alexander III,' dated 10 March, is couched in respectful, if forthright, language. It indicates that there are two ways out of the existing situation: revolution or 'the voluntary turning of the sovereign to the people.' It is curious how tenaciously the Russian radical mind clung to the idea that the autocrat was capable of becoming the people's Czar, a 'crowned revolutionary,' as Herzen had put it a generation earlier. To avoid the fearful waste and suffering entailed by revolution, the Committee urges the Emperor to choose the second alternative. 'As soon as the Government ceases to be arbitrary and resolves to carry out the demands of the people's conscience and consciousness, you can get rid of the spies, send your bodyguard back to the barracks, and burn the gallows that deprave the people. The Executive Committee will disband of its own free will. . . . Peaceful efforts will replace violence, which is more repugnant to us than to your ministers, and which we practise from sad necessity.'
Speaking to the Emperor as to 'a citizen and a man of honour,' the Committee sets forth the measures that would make it abdicate as a revolutionary body. They are two: political amnesty and the calling of a Constituent Assembly charged with the task of 'reviewing the existing forms of political and social life and altering them in accordance with the people's wishes.' Also, to insure freedom of elections, civil liberties must be granted, but only as 'a temporary measure.' Apparently it was held that the Constituent Assembly, might regard civil liberties as too much of a luxury. This peculiarly moderate programme is followed by a solemn declaration that 'our Party' will unconditionally submit to the decisions of the Assembly. 'And so, your Majesty, decide,' the letter concludes. There are two ways before you. The choice is yours. We, on our part, can only beg of Fate that your mind and conscience prompt you to make a decision consistent with the good of Russia, your own dignity and your duty to our country.'
Thirteen thousand copies of this communication were run off, and a few copies, intended for the Emperor and the highest official, were printed on special paper.
The hangings on Semenovsky Square were a reply to the Committee's letter. Another, and equally unequivocal answer came at the end of April.
It will be recalled that less than a fortnight before his death Alexander II had endorsed Loris-Melikov's plan for a General Commission. Half an hour before he started on his fatal trip to the Manege, he approved the text of a manifesto announcing the establishment of the Commission. The approval was tentative, for he ordered the document read, possibly for reconsideration, at a session of the Council of Ministers to be held 4 March. He seems to have had misgivings about his action. After the Minister left, he turned to his sons and said: 'I have consented to this measure, although I do not conceal from myself the fact that this is the first step toward a constitution.'
He had no sooner breathed his last, than those at the top of the bureaucratic hierarchy were ranged in two opposed camps. One was headed by Loris-Melikov; the other, by Pobedonostzev, recently appointed Procurator of the Most Holy Synod. He had been a tutor to the Heir Apparent and had maintained a hold on his former pupil. On the evening of 1 March, the thirty-six-year-old Alexander III sobbed on the Procurator's shoulder 'like a big baby.' Pobedonostzev spared no effort in trying to win over the Emperor to a programme of intransigent absolutism. Not concessions to public opinion, he argued, but a policy of 'blood and iron' would destroy the evil seed of sedition. Loris-Melikov must be dismissed, he insisted, and indeed, the whole administration purged from top to bottom, for treason lurked everywhere. A prime necessity, he repeated, was immediate and firm action, putting an end to the prattle about liberty and representative government.
At first the Emperor did not show his cards. He gave Loris-Melikov no reason to doubt the security of his position, although the Minister realized that the event of 1 March was a grave blow to his prestige. Nor was he apprehensive about the fate of the General Commission, for the Czar as heir had been a member of the committee that favoured the creation of that body. Both at home and abroad it was generally expected that the new reign would witness the beginning of representative government in the Empire. In fact, the aged Emperor Wilhelm wrote to Alexander III describing 'the underwater reefs one must steer clear of in granting a constitution.'
The General Commission came up for consideration on 8 March at a meeting of Ministers presided over by the Czar, and was quickly shelved by him, after Pobedonostzev had violently attacked the measure. In the ensuing weeks there was some uncertainty as to the course the Government would follow. And then, on 28 April, the Council of Ministers was confronted with the printed text of an Imperial manifesto, composed by the Procurator, which was promulgated the next day. The Emperor had approved it without consulting his Ministers, in flagrant violation of a decision adopted a few days previously. It proclaimed the Czar's determination to govern 'with faith in the might and justice of Autocratic Rule, which for the good of the people we are called to strengthen and defend from any encroachment.'
Loris-Melikov's first reaction on reading the manifesto was that it had been faked by the revolutionaries in order to arouse widespread indignation. He resigned, and several other administrators followed suit. They were replaced by advocates of reaction and repression. Pobedonostzev's triumph was complete. Commenting on the manifesto, the London Times wrote that it 'rudely shattered the hopes aroused by the new reign.' A statute issued in August was, as one historian put it, 'the Magna Carta Libertatum granted to the police against the citizenry.' The course that was to be followed for a generation was set. The People's Will had offered the Czar two alternatives. He made his choice.
The blast on Yekaterininsky Canal was heard round the world. The press lamented the loss of 'a far-seeing and beneficent prince,' as the New York Herald had it, and Government bodies, including the Senate of the United States, extended official condolences to Alexander III. A small segment of the public, however, felt differently. Marx and Engels hailed the assassination as an event that 'must inevitably lead, even though after prolonged and cruel struggle, to the creation of the Russian Commune.' In London, Copenhagen, Vienna, Chicago, public meetings were held to celebrate the triumph of the Russian terrorists. On 15 March (New Style) four hundred persons gathered in New York at the Steuben House on the Bowery, listened to speeches in English, German, Polish, and Russian, and 'in the name of humanity' adopted a resolution congratulating the world on 'the overthrow of the absolutism of feudal autocracy in Russia' and the people of Europe on 'the removal of the greatest obstacle to the establishment of the Western Republic or the United States of Europe.'
The press accounts of the trial of the regicides made the names of Zhelyabov and Sofya Perovskaya known far and wide. While to many they meant the horrors of 'nihilism,' a few pronounced them with reverence. A California newspaper carried a ballad by Joaquin Miller, entitled 'Sophie Perowskaja,' [From The Californian the poem was reprinted in the New York Herald, 31 July, 1881, and it figures, minus two initial stanzas, in The Poetical Works of Joaquin Miller under the title, 'The Dead Czar.'] the concluding stanza of which read as follows:
The Czar is dead; the woman dead,
About her neck a cord.
In God's house rests his royal head --
Hers in a place abhorred.
Yet I'd rather have her bed
Than thine, most royal lord!
Yea, rather be that woman dead,
Than this new living Czar,
To hide in dread, with both hands red,
Behind great bolt and bar --
While, like the dead, still endless tread
Sad exiles tow'rd their star.
One of the first steps taken by the Executive Committee after 1 March was to issue a statement to the Western public, which described the execution of the Czar as an episode in the struggle against a despotism that injured not only the Russian people but all mankind. The Committee's letter to Alexander III made a favourable impression abroad. Marx and Engels found it proved that there were 'people with a statesmanlike bent of mind' in the ranks of the Russian revolutionaries. Yet the Party failed to take advantage of this fund of sympathy on the part of the liberal and radical circles in the West. It received no help from abroad. And that in spite of the fact that several emigres publicly championed the terrorists and that it had its own emissary in foreign parts.
One of the aims of the People's Will was to dispose Western public opinion in its favour. Several men identified with the revolutionary struggle in Russia and articulate enough to reach a foreign audience lived abroad, but they all objected strongly to one or another feature of the Party's programme or tactics. As a result the organization turned, in May, 1880, to an expatriate settled in Geneva, who was a relative stranger to the movement. This Mikhail Dragomanov, a former professor at the University of Kiev, whom Zhelyabov had known in his Odessa days, was a Ukrainian nationalist of democratic sympathies. As he found the People's Will too centralist to suit him and as he abhorred terror, he refused to plead the Party's cause before the European public. The Executive Committee then decided to make one of its members ambassador to the West. Leo Hartmann, who had taken part in the Moscow attempt on the life of Alexander II, was selected for the purpose. The choice was anything but a happy one.
The credentials issued to him under date of 25 October, 1880, charged him with the task of informing and winning over public opinion abroad by means of meetings, lectures, and articles in the press, and empowered him to collect funds for the revolution, including contributions from workers for Russian strikers. He crossed the border safely and went to Paris. He seems to have done nothing in France to carry out the tasks entrusted to him. On 3 February, 1881, he was arrested at the request of the Russian authorities. Because of public agitation, however -- in which Victor Hugo participated -- he was not extradited, but merely expelled from the country. Thereupon he crossed over to London, where he frequented the households of Marx and Engels. He made vast plans for raising funds and for publishing an English daily entitled Nihilist, which was to come out 'at the same hour' in London, Paris, and Geneva, and become the main source of information about Russia for the West. None of his schemes materialized.
On 6 June, 1881, Marx was writing to his eldest daughter: 'Hartmann left for New York on Friday, and I am glad he is now out of danger [he had apparently been threatened with extradition]. Several days before his departure he asked Engels for the hand of Pumps [a niece of Engel's wife; a brainless, pleasure-loving young thing whom the couple were bringing up], declaring that he was sure of Pump's consent. She did indeed flirt violently with him, but that was merely to arouse Kautsky. And Tussy [Marx's youngest daughter] has just told me that the same Hartmann had proposed to her before he left for Jersey. But the worst thing is that the famous Perovskaya, who died for the Russian revolution, had lived with Hartmann in a free union. . . . From Perovskaya to Pumps -- that's too much, and Mama is now disgusted with him and the entire male sex.'
It will be recalled that Hartmann and Perovskaya were the 'married' couple that had occupied the house in the Moscow suburb from which mining operations were conducted. Either Marx misunderstood the situation or was misled by Hartmann.
He landed in New York early in July and made no secret of the nature of his mission. The papers carried long interviews with him, articles over his own signature in the form of letters to the editor, as well as the text of the appeal of the Executive Committee to the American people, which he had brought with him. 'The abolitionists,' it ran, 'were your dearest and best sons. . . . We are the Russian abolitionists. . . . Your sympathy, like that of other nations, is dear to us.' To secure it, the document went on, Leo Hartmann had been dispatched to the hospitable land of America so that its people might get acquainted with 'the condition of affairs in Russia.'
The emissary of the People's Will told the readers of the New York Herald (29 July) through his interviewer that the success of the 'nihilist' movement was assured, since it had the support of all classes of the population. 'Has not one of your noblest and best citizens,' he exclaimed, 'has not Wendell Phillips publicly expressed his respect and sympathy for the nihilists? Has he not spoken the noble words: "If liberty cannot be gained by any other means but the dagger, then welcome the dagger!"?' The following day in the columns of the same paper Hartmann offered a highly coloured account of his career and a defence of terrorism. A fortnight later he again wrote at great length to the editor of the Herald. Among other things, he asserted that the late Czar had twice tried to expatriate himself, but was prevented from doing so by the Executive Committee, which was in fact the real government of Russia.
At the time when this letter was printed, its author was in Canada. When he had first arrived in the United States he had been assured by a lawyer that his extradition to Russia was out of the question. He had disregarded the demands voiced in certain Republican newspapers for his surrender to Russia, but became alarmed when Assistant Secretary of State Hitt was quoted in the press to the effect that the extradition of a would-be regicide was not ruled out. Secretary of State Blaine disavowed his subordinate's opinion, but was rather evasive about the matter. Thereupon Hartmann became something of a storm centre. The newspapers collected opinions of jurists on his extradition. A large meeting of protest against it was held in Brooklyn. Wendell Phillips accused the Secretary of State of being ready to act as 'sheriff to the Czar.' The World contended that 'in the sight of George III George Washington was as atrocious a criminal as Hartmann.' On the other hand, the Tribune wrote of him (on 10 August): 'He deserves no more pity or protection than the snake whose head it is the right and duty of humanity to crush.'
Hartmann did not long remain under the protection of the British flag. The issue of the Herald of 17 August carried a letter from him to the effect that he had returned to New York ready to contest his extradition. A week later he was writing to Engels that Russia had demanded his surrender, but that he was hopeful, since he had the support of Wendell Phillips, John Swinton (an editor of the Sun, described by Engels as 'an American Communist') and other 'big people.' As a matter of fact the Russian authorities did not apply for his extradition. Instead, they spread a report that the person who claimed to be Hartmann was an impostor and that the real Hartmann was in Russia and had offered his services to the police as an informer.
When Hartmann had first been interviewed he told the Herald reporter that he would soon return home 'to continue to the end the struggle against despotism.' He mentioned this on several other occasions. Yet on 19 August, to everyone's amazement, he declared his intention of becoming a United States citizen. Nothing is known about his further efforts, if any, to carry out his mission. The following year he showed up in London, but he returned to the States and spent the rest of his days there. It is said that he worked in a machine shop and then went into business for himself as a manufacturer of electric appliances, inventing a tie pin with a tiny bulb that could be turned on. He died in New York or Florida at a ripe age.
In the weeks that followed the event of 1 March the situation of the People's Will deteriorated rapidly. The rounding uo of activists proceeded apace. The police made good use of the information supplied by Goldenberg and Rysakov. In March alone nearly fifty men and women were put behind bars. In ferreting out and identifying revolutionists, the secret service was assisted not only by Okladsky, the carpenter who had participated in the Alexandrovsk attempt and who, as has been said, had turned informer on being arrested, but also by another one of the workmen whom Zhelyabov had proselytized. Accompanied by a detective, this Merkulov walked the streets of the capital and pointed out men and women to be seized. One of his first victims was Yemelyanov, the only member of the bombing squad to have survived. On 1 April, Isayev, the Party's sole remaining technician, was arrested. Before the end of the month Lieutenant Sukhanov and Anna Yakimova -- the latter had run the cheese store on Malaya Sadovaya -- were caught in the dragnet. In May the secret press was discovered.
Meanwhile the Emperor had retired for safety to the town of Gatchina, where he kept himself practically incommunicado in the gloomy palace erected by his great-grandfather Paul. It was not until April that he felt sufficiently secure to make his first public appearance by reviewing a military parade.
The membership of the Executive Committee had by now dwindled to five men and three women, of whom one, Maria Oshanina, was seriously ill. The auxiliary forces at the disposal of this handful of not particularly effective people had also shrunk. The situation had been anticipated by Zhelyabov. At one of the meetings of the committee shortly before his arrest he had observed that whether or not the attempt on the Czar's life succeeded, after it was over most of the participants in the attack would be casualties. The gathering was attended by two organizers who had come from Moscow, where they had succeeded in forming a fairly strong group with cells in factories and schools. Zhelyabov had shown great interest in their report. He wanted to have all the details. What was the quality of the human material in Moscow? Would it be able to carry on, once the Petersburg centre was smashed? 'Remember,' he had told the pair, 'if your Moscow doesn't come to our rescue, it will go badly with us.'
Moscow did attempt to come to the rescue, but failed. In the summer the headquarters of the People's Will were transferred to that city. The removal was an admission of defeat. Vera Figner called it 'exile.' Opposition to the existing order centred in the northern capital, which, besides being the seat of the Government, was the brain of the country. No other city possessed its material and spiritual resources. None other had a revolutionary tradition going back to the Decembrists. But the police in Moscow were less vigilant than in Petersburg, and for some months the tiny contingent of revolutionaries carried on in relative safety. Their financial situation improved, and a new secret press was set up, so that the printing of leaflets and of the Party organ was resumed. The gaps in the membership of the Executive Committee, however, remained unfilled. The immediate result of the shift of headquarters to Moscow was the weakening of the local organization, some of whose active members were dispatched to other centres.
The few groups that marched, or rather marked time, under the populist banner of Black Repartition, were also hit by arrests. The organization had hailed the assassination of the Czar jubilantly. Paradoxically enough, the leaflets it issued on the occasion were less moderate in tone than the proclamations of the Executive Committee. The burden of their message to the people was: 'If you want land and liberty, take them by force.' The Union of Southern Workers, which gravitated toward Black Repartition, announced in a proclamation dated 14 March that it had sent to the Emperor a demand for the enactment of a number of reforms, including an eight-hour workday. 'We shall wait a month for an answer,' the leaflet concluded. 'Should we convince ourselves that we can get no help from the new Czar either, then we will act on our own, and let the blood shed by us be upon the heads of those who could have brought about reconciliation, but did not.' The Union was boasting when it spoke of shedding blood. It was moribund and soon vanished from the scene.
Not many months had elapsed after the assassination of the Czar when the thin ranks of Black Repartition were ready to pursue political objectives, though assigning them a secondary role. The issue of Chornyi Peredel, dated September, 1881, while making it clear that political democracy was not the aim of the People's Party, conceded that such a regime had its points. The time seemed ripe for the two factions to reunite, on a platform combining political and economic demands. But the merger did not take place, perhaps because Black Repartition was in an advanced, stage of disintegration. In fact, it did not survive the year. The issue of Chornyi Peredel, dated December, 1881, was the last. Thereafter only a few scattered groups, clinging to the tenets of orthodox Populism, carried on socialist propaganda in the provinces.
Axelrod, like Plekhanov, and other leaders of Black Repartition, had remained abroad. Vera Zasulich had been with them since the previous year. Yakov Stefanovich, who had long felt that they should all return to Russia and compose their differences with the People's Will, was the exception. By September he was in Moscow and a member of the Executive Committee. A few other adherents of the populist faction joined the People's Will, without, however, strengthening that organization to any marked degree.
Vera Figner, arriving in Moscow from the South in the late autumn, found a distressing state of affairs. The Executive Committee was no longer a fighting body. It could only carry on propaganda and organizational work. Morale was so low that precaution was thrown to the winds -- with disastrous results. Alone, Tikhomirov ostentatiously wore mourning for Alexander II and further to avert suspicion went on a pilgrimage to a venerated shrine. 'Both brain and brawn were lacking,' wrote Vera Figner retrospectively, 'there were neither leaders capable of initiative nor skilful executants.'
As yet the authorities were unaware of the extent to which their adversary had been weakened. They did not question the ability of the Executive Committee to carry out the threat of renewed terrorism implied in its public pronouncement. This may be inferred from the fact that the Government aided and abetted, if it did not actually initiate, a quasi-secret society of militant monarchists. This so-called Holy League (Svyashchenaya Druzhina) was a voluntary association of men banded together to furnish a bodyguard for the Emperor, as well as to spy on the terrorists, infiltrate their ranks, sow discord among them, demoralize them, assassinate their leaders -- in a word, to combat the underground with its own weapons.
It came into being shortly after 1 March in an atmosphere of general distrust of the ability of the police to safeguard the Czar and cope with the menace of revolution. A minor railway official who years later as Count Witte, Prime Minister, negotiated the Russo-Japanese peace treaty, laid claim to having originated the idea of the League. Its statutes, dated 1 June 1881, provided for a centralized hierarchical organization of bewildering complexity, headed by a five-man Council of First Elders. The Czar's brother, Vladimir, may have been a First Elder.
The League affected the secrecy of a conspiratorial society and the ritualism of a Masonic lodge. Each member ('brother') through a ceremony of initiation, in the course of which he took an oath in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost to dedicate himself wholly to 'the protection of the Sovereign and the eradication of sedition, which disgraces the Russian name.' The brethren were recruited from among the higher officialdom, the aristocracy, the world of finance. The exclusive Yacht Club in the capital served as headquarters, and there were branches in Moscow and in several provincial centres. In October, 1881, the League broadened its base by forming the Voluntary Guard (Dobrovolnaya Okhrana), a semi-autonomous auxiliary society. If the League was an elite body, the Guard approximated a mass organization. Acting openly, though unofficially, the latter looked out for the safety of the Emperor and his family at home and on their travels. Such protection was also provided by the League. For this purpose both societies hired strong-arm men and detectives. Late in 1881 the League counted 729 brethren and the Guard no less than 14,672 members.
Large funds were at the disposal of the League. It had no other assets. Miserable bunglers were at the helm, and the ranks were infested with patrioteers, promotion seekers, and shady characters interested in easy pickings. In co-operation or competition with the regular secret service, the organization carried on extensive espionage at home, and since it believed, quite mistakenly, that the terrorist activities were directed from abroad, it maintained a network of sleuths in Paris and Geneva. Huge sums of money were spent, reams of paper covered with reports, every trick of the trade was used, even to the employment of a Mata Hari -- all to no purpose. Arrangements for the assassination of Hartmann and Kropotkin also came to nothing. There was something of opera bouffe about the League's enterprises. Needless to say, its existence was an open secret, although no mention of it was permitted in the press. In commenting on its activities Narodnaya volya observed: The Government is openly taking the form of a secret conspiracy against the people's freedom.' The League was also out to combat the revolutionary movement 'ideologically.' To this end it maintained three periodicals. Two of them were printed in Geneva. Volnoe Slovo (Free Word), which began to appear in August, 1881, was intended to wage war on the People's Will from the point of view of moderate political radicalism. By disguising their identity, its backers were able to engage as editor Dragomanov, to whom Zhelyabov had appealed for help. Under the guidance of this sincere democrat it advocated a parliamentary and federalist regime for Russia. A year later another journal was launched under a title which the Bolsheviks were to make notorious: Pravda (Truth). It was a publication 'of the most fiery kind,' in the words of its editor, a former rural police officer first employed by the League as a detective. The wretched sheet passed itself off as the mouthpiece of a newly formed secret society with a programme which called for an orgy of destruction in the manner of Bakunin at his most ferocious. Pravda's favourite occupatior was baiting the League's other organ, in an effort to win the confidence of the extremist elements. The issues were filled with bloodthirsty abuse and invective directed against the secret police, the administration, and particularly the Czar and all his kin. The editor went out of his mind, he wrote to his superiors, as he reread what was printed in his journal about 'those dearer to him than life itself,' but was consoled with the reflection that this was done 'for a holy purpose and out of loyalty to the Sovereign.'
Furthermore, the League, acting through a dummy, resuscitated a progressive Moscow daily that the authorities had driven out of existence. In its columns liberalism was to be expounded, and then a blow was to be delivered to it by disclosing the identity of the paper's backers. This measure was not carried out, and the liberal cause suffered no damage. It was also planned to issue openly a journal of monarchist opinion, but this, strangely enough, never materialized.
By means of these publications the League hoped to discredit the doctrine of revolutionary Populism and demoralize the membership of the Party. There was also the hope of infiltrating the Executive Committee and the ranks of the liberals, who were suspected of having an organized core affiliated with the underground. None of these assorted objectives was achieved. The editor of Pravda had a vision not only of gaining entree to the inner sanctum of the People's Will, but indeed of heading the Party, with a view to delivering it into the hands of his employers. As a matter of fact, he didn't come near a single activist. In a joint statement the more prominent political emigres publicly repudiated both the programme and the tactics of Pravda. All that the League's inept Machiavellianism succeeded in doing was to poison with mutual suspicion the atmosphere breathed by the handful of Geneva expatriates.
The constituted authorities supported the League, but at the same time held it in suspicion, in spite of its credo. For was it not, after all, a manifestation of public initiative? A close watch was kept on its activities. The regular secret service eyed the organization's members and agents with mingled hostility and contempt as competitors and meddlesome amateurs who helped rather than hindered sedition. Its venture into underground journalism was a farce. Most of the copies of the Geneva publications that were smuggled into Russia were destroyed by its own agents in obedience to an unfathomable logic. Some of the literature did get through to the public, not without unlooked-for effects.
As the months went by, the enemies of the League grew in number. Apparently the suspicion arose that some of its leaders intended not to destroy the revolutionary movement, but to use it, together with the League's machinery, in order to advance their political ambitions, that they had, indeed, entered into a secret alliance with the revolutionaries. The possibility is not excluded that some highly-stationed 'brethren' were not averse to seeing their monarch's authority limited by an aristocratic constitution. Others may have gone even further. Prince Meshchersky, who dabbled in literature, published a satirical tale, the hero of which, a transparent caricature of one of the pillars of the League, dreams of becoming Prime Minister, perhaps president of the Russian Republic. The book is said to have been called to the Czar's attention by Pobedonostzev. Allegedly one of the most exalted leaders of the organization, the Procurator of the Holy Synod now sharply turned against it.
On 23 November, 1882, he addressed a forceful message to the Emperor, warning him that the League in its arrogance was about to make the position of the legitimate Government impossible. 'As I look around me,' he concluded, 'the conviction grows upon me that great as is the danger to you from the conspirators, the danger from the Holy League is even more serious.'
Yielding to pressure from this and other foes of the League, the Czar acted without delay, and by the end of the year the organization was liquidated. A little later its organs folded up. The Voluntary Guard lasted until the coronation which took place on 15 May, 1883. Thus ended the grand effort of the Russian aristocracy to defend the principle of monarchy.
Before proceeding with the account of the waning fortunes of the People's Will, something should be said about an episode that chroniclers of the Russian revolutionary movement have tended to slur over.
In the spring of 1881 a wave of anti-Jewish riots swept over Southern Russia. Before the end of the summer pogroms had occurred in over a hundred localities. Later there were more disorders, and only in 1884 did mob violence cease. The pogroms were not spontaneous outbreaks. That they should have followed closely upon the death of Alexander II was no accident. The smoke had scarcely lifted over the scene of the assassination when a certain portion of the press began to point an accusing finger at the Jews. There is reason to believe that a campaign of incitement and provocation was conducted by forces intent on diverting the attention of the masses from the real causes of their misery, though exactly who the instigators were is not known. It may have been the work of the Holy League. Certainly the guardians of law and order were guilty of inaction and, in some cases, of connivance with the rioters.
At the outset, officialdom promoted the idea that the pogroms had been fomented by the revolutionaries to give the masses an object lesson in rebellion, or as a convenient way of starting a general upheaval. The view had a brief but considerable vogue. It figured in a report from the United States Minister in Petersburg to the Secretary of State. Writing on the subject of the anti-Jewish riots on 24 May, 1881, John W. Foster observed: 'It is asserted that the nihilist societies have profited by the situation to incite and encourage the peasants and lower classes of the towns and cities in order to increase the embarrassment of the Government. . . .' He went on to say, however, that the charge was 'not based on very tangible facts.' Count Kutaisov, the official investigator of the riots, denied that the social-revolutionary party had instigated the anti-Jewish movement. Another theory then won approval in high places: the Jews themselves were to blame; they had brought down on their heads the wrath of the masses whom they had been plundering.
A former student who was under police surveillance reportedly attempted single-handed to launch a pogrom in Yekaterinoslav in order 'to arouse the masses to protest against exploitation.' Such incidents must have been exceedingly rare. Unquestionably neither Black Repartition nor the People's Will had a hand in starting the riots. It is equally certain that not a few radically-minded individuals condemned the pogroms on both humanitarian and political grounds. Yet it is a fact that at least initially the prevalent attitude in revolutionary circles was one of sympathy with the perpetrators, not with the victims of the looting and the butchery, and indignation was likely to be directed chiefly at the police for manhandling and arresting the rioters. The wish being father to the thought, the pogroms appeared to be a prelude to a broader movement, indeed a harbinger of the revolution. For here was an authentic mass protest, violent, unbridled, sweeping aside the barriers of law. The Jews were attacked not so much on racial or religious as on economic grounds, people argued, for were not these money-lenders and venders of vodka a set of exploiters battening on the body of the people? It was held that the movement was bound to grow in scope and reveal its revolutionary nature. 'The Party,' wrote a commentator on the subject in Narodnaya volya, 'cannot take an indifferent, let alone negative, attitude towards a genuinely popular movement. The French Revolution,' he added, 'had its excesses, but its leaders did not therefore repudiate it.'
A leaflet issued by the South Russian Workers' Union mildly upbraided the rioters for attacking the Jews 'indiscriminately,' pointing out that not all of them were exploiters. Zerno, the journal sponsored by the Black Repartition, sounded a similar note and reminded its readers that the workers, irrespective of nationality and religion, must unite against their common enemy. In the same breath, however, it described the outbreaks as just retribution and made the point that only the rich with their minions had interceded for the Jews. 'The anti-Jewish movement,' runs a passage in the Bulletin (Listok) of the People's Will, 'which was not originated or shaped by us, is nevertheless, an echo of our activity.' The tenor of the discussion indicates that this statement is a claim to credit. Its anti-Jewish animus finds further expression in the charge that to win over the wealthy and the powerful, the Jews were deliberately spreading the idea that the mobs were bound to turn against the Gentile propertied classes. Leo Hartmann, soon after his arrival in New York, contributed to the local German Socialist paper an article in which he wrote: 'It is a fact that in South-Western Russia the Jew is not only the pothouse-keeper and money-lender, but also for the most part a secret service agent.'
Clearly, the attitude toward the pogroms reflected a readiness to welcome the revolution, no matter what ugly guise it took. But the anti-Jewish prejudice also counted for a great deal. During the second half of the nineteenth century, in Russia as elsewhere, extreme Radicalism was sometimes tinged with anti-Semitism. Bakunin, for one, was not free from it. In 1876 a narodnik of Jewish birth complained of its presence among his comrades. 'They make no distinction between Jews and gentry,' he wrote, 'preaching the extermination of both.'
There was but a step from the hopeful view of the riots to an attempt to exploit them for the benefit of the cause. This step the revolutionaries did actually take. While the reactionaries would use Jewish blood to put out the fire of rebellion, an interested contemporary observed, their adversaries were not averse to using it to feed the flames. A proclamation of the Executive Committee, dated 30 August, 1881, told the Ukrainian masses in their own vernacular that the Jew was their worst enemy. They were everywhere, 'the vile Judases' that had grabbed everything both in town and country; they had bought the officials; the Czar was the landowners' Czar, but also the Jews' Czar. When the people attacked their exploiters, he brought in soldiers, and Christian blood flowed. 'You have already begun to rise against the Jews,' the leaflet concluded. 'That is fine. For soon a revolt will start all over Russia against the Czar, the landowners and the Jews.'
The leaflet was the work of a member of the Executive Committee who eventually deserted the revolutionary camp for that of black reaction. It is reported that the Committee's imprimatur for this proclamation was obtained by 'trickery' and that its circulation was soon stopped. Yet Narodnaya volya, No. 6, dated October, 1881, carried a discussion of the anti-Jewish movement by the same writer and of the same tenor. What is more, the Ukrainian leaflet was reprinted the following year by a local group of the People's Will. Though ever formally repudiated, it was implicitly disavowed in the leading article of Narodnaya volya, No. 8/9, dated February, 1882. Nevertheless another leaflet in the vernacular, bearing the imprint of the People's Party and dated 18 March, 1883, urged the people to recall their glorious ancestors who had driven the Jews and the gentry out of the Ukraine with fire and sword.
In the summer the Executive Committee issued a proclamation which was so distasteful to the couple who operated the pess -- the wife was a Jewish woman who had embraced Christianity in order to contract a fictitious marriage -- that they ran it off under protest and without the Party imprint. The sheet blamed the Jews for the pogroms and condemned the authorities for putting them down by force. In discussing the disorders in another Party publication, a contributor noted indignantly that in one town the troops had fired on the rioters, and expressed the hope that the news would reach other towns and start riots there, too. 'We do not think that the disorders will achieve their end,' he admitted, 'but we rejoice in the educational effects of such occurrences.' Disregarding the experience of the preceding three years, he persisted in conjuring up a vision of the mobs turning on their other enemies, once the Jews had been disposed of. 'Let us remind our readers,' he wound up, 'that the French Revolution, too, began with massacres of Jews (Taine). It is a sad fate, which is apparently unavoidable.' On an earlier occasion a similar reflection had been offered the pogrom victims as solace in the organ of Black Repartition.
The following year the People's Will once more reversed itself, branding the anti-Jewish outbreaks as 'an erroneous formula,' that could not benefit the people and admitting that in this matter the judgment of the revolutionaries had been hopelessly clouded. They had at last freed themselves from the aberration which had led them to condone what August Bebel called 'the socialism of fools.'
The emigres showed themselves to be less opportunist and politically immature regarding the Jewish question. Alone, Tkachev's Nabat perceived in the pogroms all the symptoms of an approacning social revolution. The 1881 leaflet caused dismay and indignation among them. Under the fresh impact of the pogroms, Plekhanov had started an essay on Socialism and Anti-Semitism, but gave it up, becoming 'unbearably ashamed,' as he put it later, 'of demonstrating elementary truths.' Axelrod proposed that the Executive Committee publish a pamphlet addressed to the Jews to reassure them morally and to show them that not everyone was against them. As such a publication did not materialize, he began an article on the Jewish question in which he advocated, among other measures, a systematic campaign against anti-Semitism by the revolutionary factions. His comrades objected. Lavrov wrote to him guardedly that it was difficult for Russian socialists to take a stand in the matter because they had to have the masses on their side. Lev Deutsch, in a postscript to Lavrov's letter, dotted the 'i.' The revolutionaries, he conceded, must fight for racial equality, but to take such an idea to the masses would be impolitic: the peasants would say that the socialists had not only killed the Czar, but also sided with the Jews. He admitted that the situation chagrined him, but he personally felt no obligation toward his fellow Jews: he was above all a member of the Russian revolutionary party, and its interests were paramount.
His position was by no means typical. True, the revolutionaries of Jewish extraction at first apparently shared the attitude toward the outbreaks which prevailed in radical circles. But the fact that the riots had failed to assume a revolutionary character and that in the West, too, anti-Semitism was on the increase gave them pause. In some cases the result was a change of heart and mind. They discovered a new solidarity with their own people. 'Deep down in the soul of each one of us, revolutionaries of Jewish birth,' Plekhanov's wife was to recall, 'there was a sense of hurt pride and infinite pity for our own, and many of us were strongly tempted to devote ourselves to serving our injured, humiliated and persecuted people.' Jewish university students, long alienated from the ghetto, took a leading part in organizing self-defence units in Odessa, and demonstratively appeared in the synagogues on the fast-day proclaimed by the Rabbinate in protest against the pogroms. The assimilationist trend suffered a serious setback, and there were those who lost their enthusiasm for the revolution together with their belief in Socialism as a solution of the Jewish question.