In Russian and French Prisons : Chapter 5 : The Exile in Siberia

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(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "As to parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether... It is becoming evident that it is merely stupid to elect a few men, and to entrust them with the task of making laws on all possible subjects, of which subject most of them are utterly ignorant." (From : "Process Under Socialism," by Peter Kropotkin, 188....)
• "...the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "ANARCHISM, the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government - harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being." (From : "Anarchism," by Peter Kropotkin, from the Encyclop....)


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Chapter 5

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CC BY-NC-ND License

This text was taken from In Russian and French Prisons, London: Ward and Downey; 1887.

In Russian and French Prisons

by P. Kropotkin



IT is not in vain that the word katorga (hard labor) has received so horrible a meaning in the Russian language, and has become synonymous with the most awful pains and sufferings. " I cannot bear any longer this kataorjnayalife," this life of moral and physical sufferings, of infamous insults and pitiless persecutions, of pains beyond man's strength, say those who are brought to despair before attempting to put an end to their life by suicide. It is not in vain that the word katorga has received this meaning, and all those who have seriously inquired into the aspects of hard labor in Siberia have come to the conclusion that it really corresponds to the popular conception. I have described the journey which leads to the katorga. Let us see now what are the conditions of the convicts in the hard-labor colonies and prisons of Siberia.

Some fifteen years ago, nearly all those 1,500 people who were condemned every year to hard labor were sent to Eastern Siberia. One part of them was employed at the silver, lead, and gold mines of the Nertchinsk district, or at the iron-works of Petrovsk (not far from Kiakhta) and Irkutsk, or at the salt-works of Usolie and Ust-Kut; a few were employed at a drapery in the neighborhood of Irkutsk, and the remainder were sent to the gold-mines, or rather gold-washings, of Kara, where they were bound to dig out the traditional "hundred poods" (3200 lbs.) of gold for the " Cabinet of his Majesty," that is, for the personal purse of the Emperor. The horrible tales of subterranean work in the silver and lead-mines, under the most abominable conditions, under the whips of overseers who compelled each ten men to accomplish a work that would be hard even for double this number; of convicts working in the darkness, charged with heavy chains and riveted to barrows; of people dying from the poisonous emanations of the mines; of prisoners flogged to death, or dying under five and six thousand strokes of the rod, by order of traditional monsters like Rozghildeeff -- these tales, well known everywhere, are not tales due to the fancy of imaginative writers,they are true historical records of a sad reality.(1)

And they are not tales of a remote past,for such were the conditions of hard labor in the Nertchinsk mining district no farther back than twenty-five years ago. They might be told by men still in life.

More than that ; many, very many, features of this horrible past have been maintained until our own times. Every one in Eastern Siberia knows of the terrible scurvy epidemics which broke out at the Kara gold-mines in 1857, when according to official reports perused by M. Maximoff--no less than a thousand convicts died in the course of one single summer, and the cause of the epidemics is a secret to nobody; it is well known that the authorities, having perceived that they would be unable to dig out the traditional hundred poods of gold, caused the convicts to work without rest, above their strength, until many fell dead in the very mines. And later on, in 1873, have we not seen again a similar epidemic, due to similar causes, breaking out in the Yeniseisk district, and sweeping away hundreds of lives at once? The places of torture, the proceedings were slowly modified, but the very essence of hard labor has remained the same, and the word katorga has still maintained its horrible meaning.

During the last twenty years the system of hard labor has undergone some modification. The richer silver-mines of the Nertchinsk mining district have been worked out; instead of enriching every year the Cabinet of the Emperor with 220 to 280 poods of silver (7,000 to 9,000 lbs.), as it was before, they yielded but five to seven poods (150 to 210 lbs.) in 1860 to 1863, and they were abandoned. As to the gold-washings, the mining authorities succeeded about the same time in convincing the Cabinet that there were no more gold- washings worth being worked in the district ; and the Cabinet abandoned the district to private enterprise, reserving for the Crown only the mines on the Kara river, a tributary of the Shilka (of course, rich mines, well known before, were " discovered " by private persons immediately after the promulgation of the law). The Government was thus compelled to find some other kind of employment for the convicts, and to modify to a certain extent the whole system of hard labour. The central prisons in Russia, of which I have given a description in a preceding chapter, were invented ; and, before being sent to Siberia, the hard-labour convicts remain now in these prisons for about one-third of the duration of their sentence. The number of these sufferers, for whom even the horrible Tcatorga in Siberia appears as a relief, together with those who are kept in the hard-labour prisons of Siberia, is about 7000. Besides, an attempt was made to colonize the Sakhalin island with hard-labour convicts.

As to the eighteen to nineteen hundred hard- labour convicts who are transported every year to Siberia, they are submitted to different kinds of treatment. A certain number of them (2700 to 3000) are locked up in the hard-labor prisons of Western and Eastern Siberia; whilst the remainder are transported, either to the Kara gold - washings, or to the salt-works of Usolie and Ust-Kut. The few mines and works of the Crown in Siberia being, however, unable to employ the nearly 10,000 convicts condemned to hard labor who ought to be kept in Siberia, a novel expedient was invented, in renting the convicts to private owners of gold-washings. It is easy to perceive that the punishment of convicts belonging to the same hard-labor category can be thus varied to an immense degree, depending on the caprice of the authorities, and a good deal on the length of the purse of the convict. He may be killed under the pletes at Kara or Ust- Kut, as also he may comfortably live at the private gold-mine of some friend, as "overseer of works," and be aware of his removal to Siberia only by the long delay in receiving news from his Russian friends.

Leaving aside, however, these exceptional favors and a variety of subdivisions of less importance, the hard-labor convicts in Siberia can be classified under three great categories: those who are kept in prison; those who are employed at the gold-mines of the Imperial Cabinet or of private persons: and those who are employed at the salt-works.

The fate of the first is very much like the fate of those who are locked up in central prisons in Russia. The Siberian jailer may smoke a pipe, instead of a cigar, when flogging his inmates; he may make use of lashes, instead of birch rods, and flog the convicts when his soup is spoiled, whilst the Russian jailer's bad temper depends upon an unsuccessful hunting: the results for the convicts are the same. In Siberia, as in Russia, a jailer "who pitilessly flogs" is substituted by a jailer "who gives free play to his own fists and steals the last coppers of the prisoners;" and an honest man, if he is occasionally nominated as the head of a hard-labor prison, will soon be dismissed, or expelled from an administration where honest men are a nuisance.

The fate of those 2000 convicts who are employed at the Kara gold-mines is not better. Twenty years ago the official reports represented the prison at Upper Kara as an old, weather-worn log-wood building, erected on a swampy ground, and impregnated with the filthiness accumulated by long generations of overcrowded convicts. They concluded that it ought to be pulled down at once; but the same foul and rotten building continues to shelter the convicts until now; and, even during M. Kononovitch's reasonable rule, it was said to be whitewashed only four times each year. It is always filled up to double its cubical capacity, and the inmates sleep on two stories of platforms, as also on the floor that is covered with a thick sheet of sticky filth, their wet and nasty clothes being mattresses and coverings at once. So it was twenty years ago; so it is now. The chief prison of the Kara gold-washings, the Lower Kara, was described by M. Maximoff in 1863, and by the official documents I perused, as a rotten nasty building where wind and snow freely penetrate. So it is described again by my friends. The Middle Kara prison was restored a few years ago, but it soon became as filthy as the two others. For six to eight months, out of twelve, the convicts remain in these prisons without any occupation; and it is quite sufficient, I imagine, to the private mines, and many of them are loaded with chains; at Kara, they have moreover to walk five miles from the prison to the excavation, adding thus a nearly three hours' march to the day's task. Sometimes, when the auriferous gravel and clay are poorer than was expected, and the quantity of gold calculated on could not be extracted, the convicts are literally exhausted by overwork; they are compelled to work until very late in the nights, and then the mortality, which is always high, becomes really horrible. In short, it is considered as a rule, by all those who have seriously studied the Siberian hard-labor institutions, that the convict who has remained for several years at Kara, or at the salt-works, comes away quite broken in health, and unfit for ulterior work, and that he remains thenceforth a burden on the country.

The food-however less substantial than at the private gold-washings might be considered as nearly sufficient when the convicts receive the rations allowed to the men when at work; the daily allowance being in such cases 3 6/10 English pounds of rye bread, and the amount of meat, cabbage, buckwheat, &c., that can be supplied for one ruble per month. A good manager could give for that price nearly half a pound of meat everyday. But, owing to the want of any real control, the convicts mostly are pitilessly robbed of their poor allowance. If, at the St. Petersburg House of Detention, under the eyes of scores of inspectors, robbery was carried on for years on a colossal scale, how could it be otherwise in the wildernesses of the T'ransbaikalian mountains? Honest managers, who supply the convicts with all due to them, are rare exceptions. Besides, the above allowance is given only during the short period of gold-washing, which lasts for less than four months in the year. During the winter, when the frozen ground is as hard as steel, there is no work at all. And as soon as the washing of gold-the year's crop of the mines-is finished, the food is reduced to an amount hardly sufficient to keep muscles and bones together. As to the payment for work, it is quite ludicrous, being something like three to four shillings per month, out of which the convict mostly purchases some cloth to supply the quite insufficient dress given by the Crown. No wonder that scurvy-that terror of all Siberian gold-washings is always mowing down the lives of the convicts, and that the mortality at Kara is from 90 to 287, out of less than 2000, every year; that is, one out of eleven to one out of seven, a very high figure indeed for a population of adults. These official figures, however, are still below the truth, as the desperately sick are usually sent away, to die in some bogadelnya or invalid house.

The situation of the convicts would be still worse if the overcrowding of the prisons and the interests of the owners of the gold-mines had not compelled the Government to shorten the time of imprisonment. As a rule, the hard-labor convict must be kept in prison, at the mines, only for about one-third of the time to which he has been condemned. Beyond this time, he must be settled in the village close by the mine, in a separate house, with his family, if his wife has followed him; he is bound to go to work like other convicts, but without chains, and he has his own house and hearth. It is obvious that this law might be an immense benefit for the convicts, but its provisions are marred by the manner in which it is applied. The liberation of the convict depends entirely upon the caprice of the superintendent of the mine. Moreover, with the absurd payment for his labor, which hardly reaches a few shillings per month in addition to the ration of flour, the liberated convict falls, with but few exceptions, into the most dreadful misery. All investigators of the subject are agreed in representing under the darkest aspects the misery of this class of convicts, and in saying that the immense number of runaways from this category of exile is chiefly due to their wretchedness. The punishments depend also entirely upon the fancy of the superintendent of the works, and mostly they are atrocious. The privation of food and the blackhole--and I have told on the preceding pages what blackhole means in Siberia are considered as merely childish punishments. Only the plete, the cat-o'-nine-tails, distributed at will, for the slightest delinquency, and to the amount dictated by the good or bad temper of the manager, is considered as a punishment. It is so usual a thing in the minds of the overseers, that "hundred pletes," a hundred lashes with the cat-o'-nine-tails, are ordered with the same easiness as one week's incarceration would be ordered in European prisons; but there are other heavier punishments in store: for instance, the chaining for several years to the wall of an underground blackhole, especially at the Akatui prison; the riveting for five or six years to the barrow, which is, per-haps, the worst imaginable moral torture; and finally, the leessa (the fox) -that is, a beam of wood, or a piece of iron, weighing forty-eight pounds, attached to the chain for several years. The horrible punishment by the leessa is becoming rare, but the chaining for several years to a barrow is quite usual. Quite recently, the political convicts, Popko, Fomicheff, and Bereznuk were condemned, for an attempt at escape from the Irkutsk prison, to be riveted to barrows for two years.

I hardly need to add that the superintendent of the mines is a king in his dominions, and that to complain about him is quite useless. He may rob his inmates of their last coppers, he may submit them to the most horrible punishments, he may torture the children of convicts-no complaints will reach the autho-rities; and the convict who would be bold enough to dare a complaint would be simply starved in blackholes, or killed under the pletes. All those who write about exile in Siberia ought to bear constantly in mind that there is no serious control over the managers of the penal colonies, and that an honest man will never remain for long at the head of a penal colony in Siberia. If he is merely humane with the convicts, he will be dismissed for what will be described at St. Petersburg as dangerous sentimentalism. If not, he will be expelled by the association of robbers who gather around so lucrative a business as the management of a gold-mine of the Crown. The Russian proverb says : "Let him nourish a Crown's sparrow, he will nourish all his family;" but a gold-mine is something much more attractive than a Crown's sparrow. There are thousands of convicts to supply with food and tools; there are the machines to repair; and there is the most lucrative clandestine trade in stolen gold. There is at these mines a whole tradition and a solid organization of robbery, established and grown up long ago, an organization which even the despotic and almighty Mouravieff could not break down. An honest man cast amid these organized gangs of robbers is considered by his comrades as a troublesome individual, and, if not recalled by the Government, he will be compelled to leave himself, weary of warfare. Therefore, the Kara gold-mines have seldom seen at their head honest men like Barbot de Marny or Kononovitch, but nearly always such people as Rozghildeeff.

And so it goes on until our own times. Not only the abominable cruelty of the managers of Kara has become proverbial, but we need not go further back than 1871 to discover the medieval torture flourishing there in full. Even so cautious a writer as M. Yadrintseff relates a case of torture applied by the manager of the mines, Demidoff, to a free woman and to her daughter, eleven years old. "In 1871," he says, "the chief of the Kara gold-mines, Demidoff, was informed of a murder committed by a convict. The better to discover the details of the crime, Demidoff submitted to torture, through the executioner, the wife of the murderer - a free woman, who went to Siberia to follow her husband and her daughter, eleven years old. The girl was suspended in the air, and the executioner flogged her from the head to the soles of her feet. She had already received several lashes with the cat-o'-nine-tails when she asked to drink. A salted herring was presented to her. The torture would have been prosecuted if the executioner had not refused to continue." (2)

Man does not become so ferocious at once, and every intelligent thinker will discover behind this single case a whole training in cruelty of the Demidoffs; a whole horrible story of barbarities carried on with the convic-tion of impunity. As the woman in this case was not a convict, her complaints reached the authorities; but, for one case brought to Pub-licity, how many hundreds of like cases never come, and never will come, to the knowledge of public opinion!

I have but little to say about those hard-labor convicts who are rented of the Crown by private owners of gold-washings. This innovation was not yet introduced when I was sojourning in Siberia, and little has transpired about it since it has been practiced. I know that the experiment has been recognized a failure. The best proprietors did not care to employ convicts, as they soon learned how expensive every contact with the authorities is in Siberia; and only the worst owners continued to take them to their mines. At such mines the convicts had perhaps less to suffer from their managers, but still more from want of food, from overwork, and bad lodgings, not to speak of the hardness of long journeys to and from the gold-mines, on footpaths crossing the wild Siberian forests. As to the salt-works, where a number of convicts are still employed, they imply the worst kind of hard labor, and I shall never forget the Polish exiles I saw at the Ust-Kut salt works. The water of the salt springs is usually pumped by means of the most primitive machines; and the work, which is pursued even during the winter, is unanimously con-sidered as one of the most exhausting. But the condition of those men who are employed at the large pans, where the salt solution is concentrated by an immense fire blazing under the pans, is still worse. They stay for hours quite naked, stirring up the salt in the pan; the perspiration is literally streaming on their bodies, whilst they are exposed to a strong current of cold air blowing through the building in order to accelerate the evaporation. With the exception of the few who are employed at some privileged work at the mine, I have seen but livid phantoms, among whom consumption and scurvy find an abundant harvest.

I shall not touch in this chapter the recent innovation--the hard labor and settlement of convicts in a new and remoter Siberia -- the island of Sakhalin. The fate of the convicts on this island, where nobody would settle freely, and their struggles against an inhospitable soil and climate, deserve a separate study. Nor shall I touch on these pages the condition of the Polish exiles of 1864. This subject deserves more than a short notice; and I have not yet spoken of the immense class of exiles transported to Siberia to be settled there as agricultural and industrial laborers.

Those who are condemned to hard labor, not only lose all their civil and personal rights, they are separated for ever from their motherland. After their release from hard labor they are embodied in the great category of the ssylno-poselentsy, and they remain in Siberia for life. No possible return, under any circumstances, to Russia. The category of settled exiles is the most numerous in Siberia. It comprises not only the released hard-labor convicts, but also the nearly 3000 men and women (28,382 in the space of ten years, 1867 to 1876) transported every year under the head of ssylno-poselentsy-that is, to be settled in Siberia, also for life, and with a total or partial loss of their civil and personal rights. To these ssylno-poselentsy-or, simply poselentsy in the current language-must be added the 23,383 exiled during the same ten years na vodvorenief that is, to be settled with a partial loss of their civil rights; 2551 exiled na jitie ("to live in Siberia") without loss of their personal rights;' and the 76,686 exiled during the same time by simple orders of the Administrative, making thus a total of nearly 130,000 exiles for ten years. During the last five years this figure has still increased, reaching from 16,000 to 17,000 exiles every year. I have already said what are the "crimes" of this mass of human beings cast out from Russia. As to their situation in the land of exile, it proved so bad that a whole literature on this subject, full of the most terrible revelations, has grown up during the last ten years. Official inquiries have been made, and scores of papers have been published on the consequences of the transportation to Siberia, all being agreed as to the following conclusion:--Leaving aside some isolated cases, such as the excellent influence of the Polish and Russian political exiles on the development of skilled labor in Siberia, as well as that of the Nonconformists and Little Russians (who have been transported by whole leaving communes at once) on agriculture-- leaving aside these few exceptions, the great mass of exiles, far from supplying Siberia with useful colonists and skilled working-men, supplies it with a floating population, mostly starving and quite unable to do any useful work (see the works and papers by MM. Maximoff, Lvoff, Zavalislhin, Rovinsky, Yadrintseff, Peysen, Dr. Sperch, and many others, and the extracts from official inquiries they have published).

It appears from these investigations that, whilst more than half a million of people have been transported to Siberia during the last sixty years, only 200,000 are now on the lists of the local Administration ; the remainder have died without leaving any posterity, or have disappeared. Even of these 200,000 who figure on the official lists, no less than one-third, that is, 70,000 (or even much more, according to other valuations), have disappeared during the last few years without anybody knowing what has become of them. They have vanished like a cloud in the sky on a hot summer day. Part of them have run away and have joined the human current, 20,000 men strong, that silently flows through the forest-lands of Siberia, from east to west, towards the Urals. Others-- and these are the great number--already have dotted with their bones the " runaway paths " of the forests and marshes, as also the paths that lead to and from the gold-mines. And the remainder constitute the floating population of the larger towns, trying to escape an obnoxious super-vision by assuming false names.

As to the 130,000 (or much less, according to other statisticians) who have remained under the control of the Administration, the unani-mous testimony of all inquiries, official or private, is that they are in such a wretched state of misery as to be a real burden on the country. Even in the most fertile provinces of Siberia-Tomsk and the southern part of Tobolsk-only one-quarter of them have their own houses, and only one out of nine have become agriculturists. In the eastern provinces the proportion is still less favorable. Those who are not agriculturists--and they are some hundred thousand men and women throughout Siberia--are wandering from town to town without any permanent occupation, or going to and from the gold-washings, or living in villages from hand to mouth, in the worst imaginable misery, with all the vises that never fail to follow misery. (3)

Several causes contribute to the achievement of this result. The chief one--all agree in that--is the demoralization the convicts undergo in the prisons, and during their peregrinations on the etapes. Long before having reached their destination in Siberia, they are demoralized. The laziness enforced for years on the inmates of tile lock-ups; the development of the passion for games of hazard; the systematic suppression of the will of the prisoner, and the development of passive qualities, quite opposite to the moral strength required for colonizing a young country; the prostration of the strength of character and the development of low passions, of shallow and futile desires, and of anti-social conceptions generated by the prison-all this ought to be kept in mind to realize the depth of moral corruption that is spread by our jails, and to understand how an inmate of these institutions never can be the man to endure the hard struggle for life in the sub-arctic Russian colony.

But not only is the moral force of the convict broken by the prison; his physical force, too, is mostly broken for ever by the journey and the sojourn at the hard-labor colonies. Many contract, incurable diseases; all are weak. As to those who have spent some twenty years in hard-labor (an attempt at escape easily brings the seclusion to this length), they are for the most part absolutely unable to perform any work. Even put in the best circumstances, they would still be a burden on the community. But the conditions imposed on the poselentsy are very hard. He is sent to some remote village commune, where he receives several acres of kind-the least fertile in the commune, and he must become a farmer. In reality he knows nothing of the practice of agriculture in Siberia, and, after three or four years' detention, he has lost the taste for it, even if he formerly was an agriculturist. The village commune receives him with hostility and scorn. He is "a Russian"--a term of contempt with the Siberyak--and, moreover, a convict! He is also one of those whose transport and accommodation cost the Siberian peasant so heavily. For the most part he is not married and cannot marry, the proportion of exiled women being as one to six men, and the Siberyak will not allow him to marry his daughter, notwithstanding the fifty rubles allowed in this case by the State, but usually melted away on their long journey through the hands of numerous officials. There was no lack in Siberia of official scheme-inventors who ordered the peasants to build houses for the exiles, and who settled the poselentsy, five or six together, dreaming of pastoral exile-communities. The practical result was invariably the same. The five poselentsy thus associated in their miseries invariably ran away after a useless struggle against starvation, and went under false names to the towns, or to the gold-mines, in search of Iabour. Whole villagcs with empty houses on the Siberian high-way still remind the traveler of the sterility of official Utopias introduced with the help of birch rods.

Those who find some employment on the farms of the Siberian peasants are not happier. The whole system of engaging workmen in Siberia is based on giving them large sums of hand-money in advance, in order to put them permanently in debt, and to reduce them to a kind of perpetual serfdom; and the Siberian peasants largely use this custom. As to those exiles-and they are the great proportion-who earn their livelihood by work on the gold-washings, they are deprived of all their savings as soon as they have reached the first village and public-house, after the four or five months of labor-of hard labor, in fact, with all its privations--at the mines. The villages on the Lena, the Yenissei, the Kan, &c., where the parties of gold-miners arrive in the autumn, are widely famed for this peculiarity. And who does not know in Siberia the two wretched, miserable hamlets on the Lena, which have received the names of Paris and London, from the admirable skill of their inhabitants in depriving the miners of their very last copper? When the miner has left in the public-house his last hat and shirt, he is immediately reengaged by the agents of the gold-mining company for the next summer, and receives in exchange for his "passport, some hand-money for returning home. He comes to his village with empty hands, and the long winter months he will spend--perhaps, in the next lock-up! In short, the final conclusion of all official inquiries which have been made up to this time is, that the few housekeepers among the exiles are in a wretched state of misery; and that the paupers are either serfs to the farmers and mine-proprietors or, -to use the words of an official report-" are
dying from hunger and cold."

The taiga-the forest-land which covers thousands of square miles in Siberia-is thickly peopled with runaways, who slowly advance, like a continuous human stream, towards the west, moved by the hope of finally reaching their native villages on the other slope of the Urals. As soon as the cuckoo cries, announcing to the prisoners that the woods are free from their snow covering, that they can shelter a man without the risk of his becoming during the night a motionless block of ice, and that they will soon provide the wanderer with mushrooms and berries, thousands of convicts make their escape from the gold-mines and salt-works, from the villages where they starved, and from the towns where they concealed them-selves. Guided by the polar star, or by the mosses on the trees, or by old runaways who have acquired in the prisons the precious know-ledge of the "runaway paths" and "runaway stations," they undertake the long and perilous backward journey. They pass around Lake Baikal, climbing the high and wild mountains on its shores, or they cross it on a raft, or even— as the popular song says—in a fish-cask. They avoid the highways, the towns, and the settlements of the Buryates, but freely camp in the woods around the towns; and each spring you see at Tchita the fires of the chaldons (runaways) lighted all around the little capital of Trans- baikalia, on the woody slopes of the surround- ing mountains. They freely enter also the Kussian villages, where they find, up to the present day, bread and milk exposed on the windows of the peasants' houses " for the poor runaways.'*

As long as nothing is stolen by the ramblers, they may be sure of not being disturbed in their journey by the peasants. But as soon as any of them breaks this tacit mutual engagement, the Siberyaks become pitiless. The hunters — and each Siberian village has its trappers — spread through the forests, and pitilessly exterminate the runaways, sometimes with an abominable refinement of cruelty. Some thirty years ago, ** to hunt the chaldons " was a trade, and the human chase has still remained a trade with a few individuals, especially with the haryms or half-breeds. " The antelope gives but one skin," these hunters say, " whilst the <:haldon>

I have now to examine the situation of political exiles in Siberia. Of course I shall not venture to tell here the story of political exile since the year 1607, when one of the forefathers of the now reigning dynasty, Vassiliy Nikitich Romanoff opened the long list of proscriptions, and terminated his life in an underground cell at Nyrdob, loaded with sixty-four pounds' weight of heavy chains. I shall not try to revive the horrible story of the Bar confederates arriving in Siberia with their noses and ears torn away, and—so says, at least, the tradition—rolled down the hill of the Kreml at Tobolsk tied to big trees; I shall not tell the infamies of the madman Treskin and his ispravnik Loskutoff ; nor dwell upon the execution of March 7th, 1837, when the Poles Szokaski, Sieroczynski, and four others were killed under the strokes of the rods; nor will I describe the sufferings of the "Decembrists" and of the exiles of the first days of Alexander II.'s reign ; neither give here the list of our poets and publicists exiled to Siberia since the times of Radischeff until those of Odoevsky, and later on, of Tchernyshevsky and Mikhailoff. I shall speak only of those political exiles who are now in Siberia.

Kara is the place where those condemned to hard labor were imprisoned, to the number of 150 men and women, during the autumn of 1882. After having been kept from two to four years in preliminary detention at the St. Petersburg fortress, at the famous Litovskiy Zamok, at the St. Petersburg House of Deten-tion, and in provincial prisons, they were sent, after their condemnation to the Kharkoff Central Prison. There they remained for three to five years, again in solitary confinement, without any occupation. Then they were transferred, for a few months to the Mtsensk depot —where they were treated much better—and thence they were sent to Transbaikalia. Most of them performed the journey to Kara in the manner I have already described—on foot beyond Tomsk, and chained. A few were favored with the use of cars, for slowly moving from one etape to another. Even these last describe this journey as a real torture, and say: —"People become mad from the moral and physical tortures endured during such a journey. The wife of Dr. Bielyi, who accom-panied her husband, and two or three others, have had this fate."

The prison where they are kept at Middle Kara is one of those rotten buildings I have already mentioned. It was overcrowded when ninety-one men were confined in it, and it is still more overcrowded since the arrival of sixty more prisoners; wind and snow freely enter the interstices between the rotten pieces of logwood of the walls, and from beneath the rotten planks of the floor. The chief food of the prisoners is rye-bread and some buckwheat ; meat is distributed only when they are at work in the gold-mine, that is, during three months out of twelve, and only to fifty men out of 150. Contrary to the law and custom, all were chained in 1881, and went to work loaded with chains.

There is no hospital for 'c the political," and the sick, who are numerous, remain on the platforms, side by side with all others, in the same cold rooms, in the same suffocating atmosphere. Even the insane Madame Kovalevskaya is still kept in prison. Happily enough, there are surgeons among them. As to the surgeon of the prison, it is sufficient to say of him that the insane Madame Kovalevskaya was kicked down and beaten under his eyes during an attack of madness. The wives of the prisoners were allowed to stay at Lower Kara, and to visit their husbands twice a week, as also to bring them books. The greater number are slowly dying from consumption, and the list of deaths rapidly increases.

But the most horrible curse of hard labor at Kara is the absolute arbitrariness of the jailers; the prisoners are completely at the mercy of the caprices of men who were nominated by the Government with the special purpose of "keeping them in urchin-gloves." The chief of the garrison openly says he would be happy if some "political" offended him, as the offender would be hanged ; the surgeon doctors by means of his fists ; and the adjutant of the Governor-General, a Captain Zagarm, loudly said, "I am your Governor, your Minister, your Czar," when the prisoners threatened him with making a complaint to the Ministry of Justice. One must read the story of the "insurrection" at the Krasnoyarsk prison, provoked by this Captain Zagarin to be convinced that the right place for such an individual would be a lunatic asylum. Even ladies did not escape his mad brutality, and were submitted by him to a treatment which revolted the simplest feelings of decency; and, when the prisoner Schedrin, in defense of his bride, gave him a blow on his face, the military Court condemned Schedrin to death. General Pedashenko acted in accordance with the loudly expressed public feeling at Irkutsk, when he commuted the sentence of death into a sentence of incarceration for a fortnight, but few officials have the courage of the then provisional Governor-General of Eastern Siberia. The blackholes, the chains, the riveting to barrows, are usual punishments, and they are accompanied sometimes with the regulation "hundred pletes." I shall kill you under the rods, you will rot in the blackholes," such is the language that continually sounds in the ears of' the prisoners. But, happily enough, corporal punishment has not been used with political prisoners. A fifty years' experience has taught the officials that the day it was applied "would be a day of great bloodshed," as the publishers of the Will of the people said when describing the life of their friends in Siberia.

As to the prescriptions of the law with regard to exiles, they are openly trampled upon by the higher and lower authorities. Thus, Uspenskiy, Tcharoushin, Semenovskiy, Shishko were liberated from the prison and settled in the Kara village after having reached the term of "probation" established by the law. But in 1881, a ministerial decision, taken at St. Petersburg without any reasonable cause, ordered them to be again locked up. The law being thus trampled under foot, and the last hopes of amelioration of the fate of the prisoners having thus vanished, two of them committed suicide. Uspenskiy, who endured horrible sufferings in hard labor since 1867, and whose character could not be broken by these pains, was unable to live more of this hopeless life, and followed the example of his two comrades. If the political convicts at Kara were common murderers, they would still have the hope that, after having performed their seven, ten, or twelve years of hard labor for having spread Socialist pamphlets among work-men, they would finally be set at liberty and transferred to some province of Southern Siberia, thus becoming settlers, according to the prescriptions of our penal system. But there is no law for political exiles. Tcherny-shevsky, the translator of J. S. Mill's "Political Economy," terminated in 1871 his seven years of hard labor. If he had murdered his father and mother, and burned a house with a dozen children, he would be settled at once in some village of the government of Irkutsk. But he had written economical papers; he had published them with the authorization of the Censorship ; the Government considered him as a possible leader of the Constitutional Party in Russia,—and he was buried in the hamlet of Viluisk, amid marshes and forests, 500 miles beyond Yakutsk. There, isolated from all the outside world, closely watched by two gendarmes who lodged in his house, he was kept for ten years, and neither the entreaties of the Russian press nor the resolutions of an Inter-national Literary Congress could save him from the hands of a suspicious Government. Such will be, too, without doubt, the fate of those who are now kept at Kara. The day they become poselentsy will not be for them a day of libe-ration : it will be a day of transportation from the milder regions of Transbaikalia to the tundras within the Arctic Circle.

However bitter the condition of the hard-Iabour convicts in Siberia, the Government has succeeded in punishing as hardly, and perhaps even more so, those of its political foes whom it could not condemn to hard labor or exile, even by means of packed courts, nominated ad hoc. This result has been achieved by means of the "Administrative exile," or transportation to "more or less remote provinces of the Empire" without judgment, without any kind or even phantom of trial, on a single order of the omnipotent Chief of the Third Section.

Every year some five or six hundred young men and women are arrested under suspicion of revolutionary agitation. The inquiry lasts for six months, two years, or more, according to the number of persons arrested in connection of, "the affair."with, and the importance One-tenth of them are committed for trial. As to the remainder, all those against whom there is no specific charge, but who were repre-sented as "dangerous" by the spies; all those who, on account of their intelligence, energy and "radical opinions," are supposed to be able to become dangerous; and especially those who have shown during the imprisonment a ''spirit of irreverence"—are exiled to some more or less remote spot, between the peninsula of Kola and that of Kamchatka. The open and frank despotism of Nicholas I. could not accommodate itself to such hypocritical means of prosecution ; and during the reign of the 'iron despot' the Administrative exile was rare. But throughout the reign of Alexander II., since 1862, it has been used on so immense a scale, that you hardly will find now a hamlet, or borough, beyond the fifty-fifth degree of latitude, from the boundary of Norway to the coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk, not containing five, ten, twenty Administrative exiles. In January, 1881, there were 29 at Pinegra, a hamlet which has but 750 inhabitants, 55 at Mezen (1800 inhabitants), 11 at Kola (740 inhabitants), 47 at Kholmogory--a village having but 90 houses, 160 at Zaraisk (5000 inhabi-tants), 19 at Yeniseisk, and so on.

The causes of exile were always the same; students and girls suspected of subversive ideas; writers whom it was impossible to prosecute for their writings, but who were known to be imbued with " a dangorous spirit ;" workmen who have spoken "against the authorities ;" persons who have been "irreverent" to some governor of province, or ispvavnik, and so on, were transported by hundreds every year to people the hamlets of the "more or less re-mote provinces of the Empire." As to Radical people suspected of "dangerous tendencies," the barest denunciation and the most futile suspicions were sufficient for serving as a motive to exile. When girls (like Miss Bardine,Soubbotine, Lubatovich, and so many others) were condemned to six or eight years of hard labor for having given one Socialistic pamphlet to one workman ; when others (like Miss Goukovskaya, fourteen years old) were condemned to exile as poselentsy for having shouted in the crowd that it is a shame to condemn people to death for nothing; when hard labor and exile were so easily distributed by the courts, it is obvious that only those were exiled by the Administrative, against whom no palpable charge at all could be produced. (4) In short, the Administrative exile became so scandalously extended during the reign of Alexander II. that, as soon as the Provincial Assemblies received some liberty of speech during the dictatorship of Loris-Melikoff, a long series of representations were addressed by the Assemblies to the Emperor, asking for the immediate abolition of this kind of exile, and stigmatizing in vigorous expressions this monstrous practice. (5)

It is known that nothing has been done, and after having loudly announced its intention of pardoning the exiles, the Government has merely nominated a commission which examined the cases, pardoned a few—very few—and appointed for the greater number a term of five to six years, when each case was to be reexamined. (6) They have been reexamined indeed, and for very many the detention was prolonged for three years, after which term their cases will be reexamined again. A great many did not wait for the new reexamination, and last year there was a real epidemic of suicides in Siberia.

One will easily realize the conditions of these exiles if he imagines a student, or a girl from a well-to-do family, or a skilled workman, taken by two gendarmes to a borough numbering a hundred houses and inhabited by a few Lapo-nians or Russian hunters, by one or two fur-traders, by the priest, and by the police official. Bread is at famine prices; each manufactured article costs its weight in silver, and, of course, there is absolutely no means of earning even a shilling. The Government gives to such exiles only four to eight rubles (eight to ten shillings) per month, and immediately refuses this poor pittance if the exile receives from his parents or friends the smallest sum of money, be it even ten rubles (1L.) during twelve months.To give lessons is strictly forbidden, even if there were lessons to give, for instance to the sianovoy's children. Most of the exiles do not know manual trades. As to finding employment in some private office—in those boroughs where there are offices—it is quite impossible:-
"We are afraid of giving them employment" (wrote the Yeniseisk correspondent of the Russkiy Kurier), "as we are afraid of being ourselves submitted to the supervision of the police. . . . It is sufficient to meet with an Administrative exile, or to exchange a few words with him, to be inscribed under the head of suspects. . . . The chief of a commercial undertaking has recently compelled his clerks to sign an engagement stating that they will not be acquainted with 'political,' nor greet them in the streets. "

More than that, we read in 1880 in our papers that. the Ministry of Finance brought forward a scheme for a law "to allow the common-law and political Administrative exiles to carry on all kinds of trades, with the per-mission of the Governor-General, which permission is to be asked in each special case." I do not know if this scheme has become law, but I know that formerly nearly all kinds of trade werc prohibited to exiles, not to speak of the circumstance that to carry on many trades was quite impossible, the exiles being severely prohibited from leaving the towm even for a few hours. Shall I describe, after this, the horrible, unimagitable misery of the exiles?— "Without dress, without shoes, living in the nastiest huts, without any occupation, they are mostly dying from consumption," was written to the Golos of February 2nd, 1881. "Our Aministrative exiles are absolutely starving. Several of them, having no lodgings, were discovered living in an excavation under the bell tower," wrote another correspondent. "Administrative exile simply means killing people by starvation "--such was the cry of our press when it was permitted to discuss this subject. "It is a slow, but sure execution," wrote the Golos.

And yet, misery is not the worst of the condition of the exiles. They are as a rule submitted to the most disgraceful treatment by the local authorities. For the smallest complaint
addressed to newspapers, they are transferred to the remotest parts of Eastern Siberia. Young girls, confined at Kargopol, are com-pelled to receive during the night the visits of drunken officials, who enter their rooms by violence, under the pretext of having the right of visiting the exiles at any time. At another place, the police-officer compels the exiles to come every week to the police-station, and "submits them to a visitation, together with street-girls." (7) And so on, and so on!

Such being the situation of the exiles in the less remote parts of Russia and Siberia, it is easy to conceive what it is in such places as Olekminsk, Verkhoyansk, or Nijne-kolymsk, in a hamlet situated at the mouth of the Kolyma, beyond the 68th degree of latitude, and having but 190 inhabitants. For, all these hamlets consisting of a few houses each, have their exiles, their sufferers, buried there for ever for the simple reason that there was no charge brought against them sufficient to procure a condemnation, even from a packed court. After having walked for months and months across snow. covered mountains, on the ice of the rivers, and in the toundras, they are now con-fined in these hamlets where but a few hunters arc vegatating, always under the apprehension of dying from starvation. And not only in the hamlets--it will be hardly believed, but it is so—a number of them have been confined to the ulusses, or encampments of the Yakuts, and they are living there under felt tents, with the Yakuts, side by side with people covered with the most disgusting skin diseases. "We live in the darkness," wrote one of them to his friends, taking advantage of some hunter going to Verkhoyansk, whence his letter took ten months to reach Olekminsk; "we live in the darkmess, and burn candles only for one hour and a half every day; they cost too dear. We have no bread, and eat only fish. Meat can be had at no price." Another says : "I write to you in a violent pain, due to periostosis. . . . I have asked to be transferred to a hospital, but without success. I do not know how long this torture will last; my only wish is to be freed from this pain. We are not allowed to see one another, although we are separated only by the distance of three miles. The Crown allows us four rubles and fifty kopecks—nine shillings—per month." A third exile wrote about the same time: " Thank you, dear friends, for the papers; but I cannot read them : I have no candles, and there are none to buy. My scurvy is rapidly progressing, and having no hope of being transferred, I hope to die in the course of this winter."

" I hope to die in the course of this winter! " That is the only hope that an exile confined to a Yakut encampment under the 68th degree of latitude can cherish !

When reading these lines we are transported back at once to the seventeenth century, and seem to hear again the words of the protopope Avvakum :—" And I remained there, in thecold block-house, and afterwards with the dirty Tunguses, as a good dog lying on the straw; sometimes they nourished me, sometimes they forgot." And, like the wife of Avvakum, we ask now again : "Ah, dear, how long, then, will these sufferings go on ?" Centuries have elapsed since, and a whole hundred years of pathetic declamations about progress and humanitarian principles, all to bring us back to the same point where we were when the Czars of Moscow sent their adversaries to die in the toundras on the simple denunciation of a favorite.

And to the question of Avvakum's wife, repeated now again throughout Siberia, we have but one possible reply: No partial reform, no change of men can ameliorate this horrible state of things; nothing short of a complete transformation of the fundamental conditions of Russian life.

(1) The Kutomara and Alexanilrovsk silver-mines have always been renowned for their insalulbrity, on account of " the arsenical emanations from the ore; not only men, but also cattle, suffered from them, and it is well known that the inhabitants of these villages were compelled, for this reason,to raise their young cattle in neighboring villages. AS to the quicksilver emanations, every one who has consulted any serious work on the Nertchinsk mining district knows that the silver-ore of these mines is usually accompanied with cinnabar-especially in the mines of Shakhtama and Kul-tuma, both worked out by convicts who were poisoned by mercurial emanations-and that attempts to get mercury from these mines have been made several times by the Government. The Akatui silver-mines of the same district have always had the most dreadful reputation for their , unhealthiness.
(2) "Siberia as a Colony," p. 207, St. Petersburg, l882.
(3) See Appendix.
(4) One of the most characteristic cases out of those which became known by scores in 1881, is the following :—in 1872, the Kursk nobility treated the Governor of the pro-vince to a dinner. A big proprietor, M. Annenkoff, was entrusted with proposing a toast for the Governor. He proposed it, but added in conclusion :—"Your Excellence, I drink your health, but I heartily wish that you would devote some more time to the affairs of your province." Next week a postcar with two gendarmes stopped at the door of his house; and without allowing him to see his friends, or even to bid a farewell to his wife, he was transported to Vyatka. It took six months of the most active applications to powerful persons at St. Petersburg, on behalf of his wife and the marshals of the Fatesh and Kursk nobility, to liberate him from this exile ( Gotos, Poryadok, &c. for February 20th and 21st, 1881).
(5) Extracts from the speech of M. Shakeeff at the sittings of the representatives of the St. Petersburg nobility are given in the Appendix C.
(6) In the course of 1881, 2837 cases of "politicals," exiled by order of Administration, were examined; out of them 1950 were in Siberia (Poryadok, September 17th, 1881)
(7) Golos, February 12th,' 1881. Since April, 1881, the editors of newspapers were severely prohibited from publishing anything about the Administrative exiles; and all newspapers having the slightest pretension to be independent were suppressed.

From : Anarchy Archives


November 30, 1886 :
Chapter 5 -- Publication.

January 20, 2017 19:48:01 :
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