Part 2, Chapter 9 : Drastic Measures For The Recovery Of Arrears Of Taxes In Famine-Stricken Provinces

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Part 2, Chapter 9

Kropotkin, Peter. The Terror in Russia. London: Methuen & Co., 1909. 4th Ed.



Last summer there was a famine in several provinces European Russia; Smolensk, Minsk, Ufa, Saratov, Simbirsk, and Tambov--the last four belonging to the fertile regions of Russia. At the present time the conditions are still worse, the crop of the year 1908 having been 35,000,000 cwts. below the average crop of the four preceding years, 1902-1906. Nevertheless, the Ministry of the Interior has given orders to levy, in the most stringent way, all the arrears which have accumulated for the last few years, both in regard to the payment of the taxes and in the repayment of famine loans.

"I draw the attention of the Governors," the Prime Minister wrote in his circular of September, 1908, "to the fact that it is absolutely necessary to take the most decisive measures to recover the famine debts--not only because this recovery would give the possibility of granting further loans in case of a future failure of crops, but still more so because it would produce a moral impression on the peasants."

This order of the Ministry was understood by the Governors of the provinces as a command to take drastic measures in levying the arrears; and in some provinces (Vyatka, Tula, and Smolensk) special punitive expeditions were sent out to collect the arrears--the Governors giving to the commanders of such expeditions full powers to resort to all the measures they might find necessary.1

The result is that in these provinces a wholesale flogging of the peasants, men and women alike--although this is contrary to the existing law--has been going on in order to recover the arrears. There is no means of obtaining any redress against such treatment--those Governors being best appreciated at St. Petersburg who have taken the most drastic measures.2

For instance, a number of peasants from the Vyatka province have written to their representative in the Duma, complaining of the most abominable instances of wholesale flogging, but no attention is paid to these complaints at the Ministry of the Interior.

Acting upon commands received from superiors, the district chiefs (Zemskiy natchalniks), when they do not resort to flogging, order a sale of the peasants' property. And sold it is--grain in stock, farm buildings, &c., being disposed of on account of such ridiculously small arrears as fifteen, ten, and even five shillings. Scores of such cases, with full names and Wes, are reported in the St. Petersburg and Moscow papers. The sales are said to have become the occasion of a special traffic, the net result of which will be to ruin a great number of peasants;3 for, as there are often no ordinary buyers at the sales, the only bidders are the police authorities themelves, and they buy for five or six shillings a barn or a stock of grain, and afterwards resell the property to the peasant for three or four times the price they have paid.

The worst is that these punitive expeditions are at work even in those provinces where the last year's crop was bad, and where, indeed, relief expeditions ought to be organized. But from the Government no relief comes, and private organization of relief is strictly forbidden. At the end of the year 1908 a circular was sent out by the Minister of the Interior, ordering all the branches of the famine-relief society, known as Pirogoff's Society, to be closed, under the pretext that the central bureau of this society had not complied with all the necessary formalities.

The infliction of corporal punishment in villages and towns is in open defiance of the law. Corporal punishment was definitely abolished by law in August, 1904, yet officials of all classes freely inflict it everywhere, even on persons who were previously exemped by law from this degrading punishment. Here are a number of authenticated cases:--

Two students were twice flogged by order of Reuss, the head of police in the district of Elisabethpol. For this he was condemned to a month's imprisonment by the High Court of Tiflis.4

Corporal punishment was inflicted on some peasants who wrecked the house of M. Kaptandikoff, in the district of Bobrovsk. This was the subject of an article in the daily paper Oko by General Kousmin-Karavaeff, Military Procureur-Général, and a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party in the Duma. The Governor of the province of Voronesh was questioned about the matter, and announced that it was being inquired into. After the inquiry the head of the district police was dismissed, and a prosecution instituted.5

In the village of Demianovka, in the Melitopol district, Matnobin, the head of the district police, ordered four peasants, one of them seventy-five years old, to be brough to the manor-house, and caused the workmen of the place to flog them. After being given over one hundred strokes apiece, they went home in a cart on all fours, unable to sit or lie down, and covered with blood. Two other peasants were flogged before imprisonment.

In the village of Sutkovo, district of Kolomna, a policeman named Mitin so misused a peasant who been arrested for drunkenness that a few days later he died.6

In the village of Mayanovo (government of Podolia), Sedletsky, the village policeman, and a hundred Cossacks, went from hut to hut, flogging every one, including women and children, and carrying off all they could lay hands on. Four of the peasants were sent to a hospital half dead, and any number were wounded and disfigured.7

The peasants of Trahaniotovka (Kouznetsky district) began to cut down part of a forest. Saharoff, the deputy head of the district police, who came at the head of a considerable police force to stop them, had nearly every person in the village flogged with rods and nagaikas, and arrested five leaders.8 In a village named Seminastosi (Elisabetgrad district), Sedletz, an officer of the police force, went to the village vodka shop, flogged the keeper of it, and beat him with his fists. He then took him to the village police-court, where one policeman sat on his head, and another on his feet, while a third, by order of Sedletz, mercilessly beat him with a nagaika.9 At Obsharovka (Samara district) the police tried to extort a confession from some men whom they suspected of being implicated in a theft, by beating them with rods. When several of the men had confessed, they were brought face to face with the owner of the shop that had been robbed, but she identified none of them, either from fear of vengeance or because they were really innocent. At this the police fell on her, and beat her so cruelly that she confirmed all they said.10

On November 10, 1906,11 Meller Zakomelsky, Governor of the Baltic Provinces, published in all the local newspapers the repeal of the law permitting flogging, which had already been repealed by the Czar more than two years before, in August, 1904! It was the fourth repeal of this shameful law, but he wretched inhabitants of the Baltic provinces found it only a mockery. The next day, November 11th, a punitive expedition, under the command of three officers, arrived at Neu Schwanenburg. They arrested ten peasants and two clerks, who were made to give evidence in the case of Julius Ruben. It was desired that they should prove that Ruben was a revolutionary, and had taken part in some secret act of incendiarism. The witnesses had nothing to tell. Ruben had been arrested in the spring and then discharged with a certificate from the police, stating his innocence. Notwithstanding this, in August the punitive column had caused him to be arrested again, and as there was no evidence against him he had been tortured. He was then sent to prison, where he still is. When the punitive column came again on Saturday, November 11th, it was determined to use whatever force might be necessary to obtain witnesses against him. Eight men, including the secretary of the canton and his assistants, were twice cruelly beaten with nagaikas. A man was made to lie down, and two Grenadiers were told off to stand on each side of him, and flog his bare back. Thus every stroke meant four strokes. From forty to fifty strokes--that is to say, two hundred--were inflicted and the victims were then thrown on the floor and left without medical aid. This took place at the manor-house of Neu Schwanenburg.

Flogging has been revived by the rural peasant Courts, with official encouragement, and in imitation of proceedings such as have been described. In the government of Kieff, some peasants, suspected of incendiarism, were beaten till their bones were bared, and then shut up in unheated cells. That night another fire broke out, and the wretched prisoners were again beaten till they gave information of their soidisant accomplice--a girl Of 20. This girl received five hundred strokes. And so on.12



1Ryech, January and February, 1909; detailed summary in the St. Petersburg reviews, Sovremennyi Mir, March, 1909, and Russkoye Bogatstvo.
2About the flogging arrear expeditions in the governments of Tula and Vyatka, see the Constitutional Democrat paper, Ryech, February 14 and 18, 1909.
3Ryech, February 18, 1909.
4Novyi Put, No. 66, 1908.
5Ibid., No. 44, 1908.
6Ibid., No. 66.
7Tovarisch, February 27, 1907, No. 203.
8Ibid., No. 131.
9Ryech, March 7, 1908, No. 57.
10Tovarisch, No. 131.
11Ibid., No. 121
12Stolitchnaia Pochta, February 29, 1908, No., 250.

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