The present conditions in Russia are so desperate that it is a public duty to lay before this country a statement of these conditions, with a solemn appeal to all lovers of liberty and progress for moral support in the struggle that is now going on for the conquest of political freedom.
In the struggle for freedom each country must work out its own salvation; but we should not forget that there exists a web of international solidarity between all civilized countries. It is true that the loans contracted by the heads of despotic states in foreign countries contribute to support despotism. But Russian exiles also know from their own experience how the moral support which the fighters for liberty have never failed to find in the enlightened portions of the civilized nations has been helpful to them, and how much it has aided them to maintain faith in the ultimate victory of freedom and justice.
It has been decided, therefore, to issue the present statement,in which, after a careful inquiry, a large amount of well-authenticated facts has been brought together, giving an insight into the deplorable conditions that now prevail in Russia. Attention has been chiefly directed to the conditions which are found in the Russian prisons and among the exiles--conditions so deplorable that they leave far behind all that as been published in this country about the Russian prisons and exile for the last thirty years--even during the reaction that set in after the year 1881.
In preparing this statement the utmost pains have been
taken to eliminate all facts and accusations which have not been authenticated. Either they have been officially corroborated by sentences of the Courts pronounced upon police and prison officials convicted of gross abuses of their powers; or they were the subject of interpellations in the Duma, and were not contradicted by the Ministry; or they were reported in the moderate papers of the Russian daily Press, with a full specification of names and dates, notwithstanding all the rigors of censorship, and were not contradicted either by the official "Information Bureau" or the official and semiofficial organs of the Press. Any evidence which, although substantially correct, might have been suspected of exaggeration, has been carefully excluded.
There is no question that the movement of the years 1905-1907 has produced a deep change in the whole aspect of thought and sentiment in Russia. The peasant, the workman, the clerk, the small tradesman are no longer so submissive to every rural police officer as they formerly were. New ideas, new aspirations, new hopes, and, above all, a new interest in public life have been developed in them, since it was officially declared in October, 1905, that the nation would henceforward have the right to express its wishes and to exercise legislative power through its representatives, and that the policy of the Government would be a liberal policy. But, after it had been solemnly declared that the political life of the country was to be reconstructed on new principles, and that, to use the very words of the Czar's Manifesto, "the population is to be given the inviolable foundation of civil rights, based on the actual inviolability of the person, and freedom of belief, of speech, of organization, and meeting "--after that declaration had been solemnly promulgated, those who tried to realize these principles have been treated as rebels, guilty of high treason.
Not only are the representatives of the advanced parties prosecuted for all they said and did during the years 1906-1907, but even the most moderate party, the Ocobrists, who take their standpoint on the letter of the October manifesto, are treated by the officials, high and low, of M. Stolypin's Government as preaching treasonable doctrines. The only political party which has hitherto received the Czar's personal approval, and is recognized by him as loyal, is the Union of the Russian Men; but, as it now appears from revelations which have at last reached the Law Courts, this party has not only taken a lively part in the organization of pogroms against the Jews, and the "intellectuals" in general, but its President is now indicted before a Criminal Court on the charge of instigating and paying for the murder of Herzenstein, a member of the First Duma, who was considered as the best financial authority in matters concerning the peasants. He is similarly charged with complicity in the murder of M. Yollos, another respected member of the same Duma, also an authority on matters affecting the peasantry.1
As regards the present Ministry, it has declared itself during recent debates in the Duma incapable of governing the country without maintaining the state of siege over portions of Russia. This system, however, has lately been so much extended that at this moment nearly two-thirds of the provinces of the Russian Empire have been placed under the rule of specially nominated Governors-General, who have been given almost dictatorial powers, including the right of putting people to death without trial, and without even sending them before a Court Martial. This unheard-of right was confirmed lately by a decision of the First Department of the Senate, which has recognized that in the provinces where a state of siege has been declared such a power of life and death without trial was actually conferred upon the Governors-General by the decree of the Czar ordaining the rules to be followed during a state of siege.
At the same time it is the policy of the present Government to institute prosecutions against all those who, during the years 1905-1907, taking the words of the Imperial Manifesto in their proper sense, had acted in conformity with those words, considering that the nation had been really granted political rights. The publishers of books, which were issued in those years by the hundred and which at that time were held to have satisfied the rules of censorship, are now prosecuted on the ground of having committed breaches of the law and are condemned to one and two years' imprisonment in a fortress. Organizers of meetings and speakers who were expressing ideas absolutely lawful from a constitutional point of view are now prosecuted as revolutionists. Organizers of armed resistance against pogroms (Jew-baiting) are now treated as revolutionists of the worst description, and an uninterrupted succession of trials is directed against men of peaceful life for what is now described as a breach of the law, but was quite constitutional two years ago. In fact, it may be said, as it is said in the Press of Russia itself, that these prosecutions can be described only as the revenge of bureaucracy for all that was said during those months against its misrule. These prosecutions, of which a few examples will be given in this statement, are increasing so fast in number that it is feared that all liberal-minded men in Russia, however moderate their opinions, will in turn be arraigned before military and other exceptional Courts if the present régime continues.
Another feature of the present state of things is the large number of prosecutions which are a direct result of the work of agents provocateurs like the well-known Azeff. Much prominence was lately given to the Azeff affair, and it was indeed a remarkable discovery that a man who had taken most active part in the organization of the murder of the Minister of the Interior, Von Plehve, in July, 1904, of the Grand Duke Sergius in 1905, and of General Bogdanovitch at Ufa, had organized all these plots with the knowledge and partly with the money of the Russian secret police, or at least of that part of that police which has for its special mission the Okhrana ("Protection") of the Emperor himself. But the Azeff scandals are only the most striking of many other scandals which have been lately discovered. Indeed, it has been proved by the materials brought before the First Duma by Prince Ouroussoff that quite a number of agents provocateurs were in 1905-1906 organizing pogroms of the Jews, the killing of the intellectuals in Tomsk and in Tver, the plots against the Governors of the different provinces, and so-called "expropriations"--that is, extorting money under menace of death. For these purposes the agents of the police imported from abroad large quantities of revolutionary literature (as has been proved in the case of Azeff), and also arms and explosives; or else they organized the manufacture of bombs within Russia itself, sometimes with money granted by the head of the Police Department, as was revealed in the Lopukhin case.
The policy of the Government of M. Stolypin having been for the last two years to wreak vengeance on those who took any active part in the liberation movement that followed the Manifesto of October 30, 1905, it is easy to conceive what masses of people have been arrested, brought before the Courts, transported to Siberia, or exiled to different parts of the Empire by simple administrative orders. The result is, that the prisons of Russia are so overcrowded at the present moment that they contain, according to official statements, something like 181,000 prisoners, although the utmost capacity for which they were designed is only 107,000. But as there are several provinces in which the arrests were especially numerous, we learn from the official statements made in the Duma during the discussion on the Prisons Budget, that there are lock-ups and transfer prisons in which the number of prisoners is three to four times as great as their holding capacity. The consequence of this overcrowding is that the prison administration finds it absolutely impossible to supply to their inmates even the small degree of sanitary accommodation which is ordained by law. Typhus has spread in alarming proportions in the prisons of the Empire, and its presence has already declared itself in 65 provinces out of 100.
In most of these overcrowded prisons the inmates have absolutely no beds or bedding; and in many not even the wooden platforms along the walls which were formerly used. They sleep on the bare floor without any covering or bedding but the old, worn-out clothing, literally full of vermin, which is delivered to them by the prison administration. Under such conditions it is impossible to speak of any sanitary arrangements. The sufferers from typhus and scurvy lie side by side with the other prisoners, and it is only when prisoner is in a dying condition that he is removed to some hospital. Cases are known of typhoid patients being brought on stretchers before the Court and sent back by the judges. A man was hanged while suffering from typhus, and having a temperature of 104°.
All this leads necessarily to acts of rebellion among the prisoners, which in their turn lead to repression in the most abominable form, and to wholesale shootings. Brutality of the worst kind has become quite habitual in all the lock-ups, and appalling facts will be found in the documents which I produce further on. Even men who are condemned to be executed are horribly beaten before they are taken to the scaffold, so that in one of the Moscow Courts Martial a man, condemned to be hanged, had to apply to President of the Court for his promise that he should not be beaten to death before execution. The promise in this case was kept, but as a rule the tortures to which men condemned to death are submitted before the execution takes place are so horrible that in a considerable and steadily growing number of cases of suicide the men who were ready to face death calmly could not face the tortures that preceded it. As to the number of death sentences pronounced by the Military Courts and the executions, they are not on the decrease, as M. Stolypin informed Mr. W. T. Stead in July, 1908. They remain stationary, although there is a decided diminution in the number of acts of violence committed by the revolutionists, and in crime altogether (see Chapter III.).
Last summer a discussion took place in the Times with regard to the number of exiles transported to different parts of the Empire by Administrative Order, and it was stated by one of the refugees in London that, contrary to M. Stolypin's affirmation that their number did not exceed 12,000, there were no less than 78,000 prisoners under those conditions. The Duma lately called on the Department of Police to supply exact figures, and the figures given by the Department were 74,000. The state of these exiles is even more dreadful than has been described in the English Press. It is exaggeration to say that in certain parts of North-Eastern Siberia the position of the exiles is simply desperate, and it is not to be wondered at that acts of rebellion, such as were lately heard of in Turukhansk, should take place.
In short, if the present conditions had to be described in a few words, it might be said that while the agricultural population and the workmen in the towns have been raised to a certain conception of individual self-respect, and while aspirations towards a more human treatment and increased liberty have spread far and wide over the country, we find, on the other hand, among the bureaucracy, high and low, and among its inferior agents in the villages, a real spirit of hatred and cruel revenge against the slightest manifestation of love for freedom, the result being that the relations between the population and the ruling classes have become extremely strained all over Russia. At the same time large numbers are being driven to despair by the arbitrary acts of the lower agents of the Government in the villages and in the small provincial towns. There is at the present time a scarcity of grain in many provinces of European Russia and Siberia, and even famine prevails; but the Government has ordered all the arrears in the payment of taxes and in repayment of previous famine loans to be levied at once, and this is done now, notwithstanding the famine, with a severity which has long been unknown. For the smallest arrears of a few shillings the property of peasant families is sold at auctions, at which the police authorities are the only bidders; cattle, horses, and even the stores of grain and the coming crops are thus sold for a few shillings to some village police official, who afterwards sells them back to the ruined peasant for three or four times the price he has paid.
Moreover, it is estimated that there are now at least something like 700,000 peasants and working men in European Russia alone who have been thrown out of their regular mode of life during the last two years, in consequence of repression after strikes and the like, and who at the present time are mere outlaws wandering from one city to another, compelled to conceal themselves under false names, and without any possibility of returning to their native places and to their previous occupations. There are nearly three-quarters of a million persons whom only a general amnesty would permit to return to regular life and regular earnings.
Such is the condition of Russia, as every one may ascertain for himself from the numerous documents out of which abstracts are given in the following pages.
Earnest appeal is therefore made to all those to whom human progress is dear to use all the weight of their influence to put an end to this reign of White Terror under which that country now lies. It is well known from history that the White Terror such as was seen in the twenties the last century in France after the return of the Bourbons, in Italy before 1859, and later on in Turkey, has never restored tranquility in a country. It only paves the way for new disturbances, it spreads in the country a feeling of utter contempt for human life, it induces habits of violence, and beyond question it would be to the interest of humanity as a whole, and of progress in general, that the state of affairs which now prevails in Russia should be brought to an end.
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