Tsarist Democracy

Boris Nemtsov mourning rally. St. Petersburg, February 2016.

Boris Nemtsov mourning rally. St. Petersburg, February 2016.

Russians who reside in England are agreeably impressed by the fact that the English political world and English society of today show cordial appreciation of the actual progress of Russia and of her culture in general. They are, moreover, deeply touched by the warm recognition of the efforts of Russia to do her duty by her allies in the present war.

The writer hears, however, that there are earnest and sincere men in this country and in the United States who think she is still the same Russia she was at the time of the Crimean War, and who consider an alliance with her as incompatible with the struggle of democracy against military despotism.

We Russians can confidently leave to our English friends the task of clearing up those misunderstandings and of bringing home to the larger public an up-to-date knowledge of Russia as she really is. This is already being done consistently in articles and books on Russia, as well as in the daily communications of British correspondents in Russia.

The Appeal of Russia

The above-mentioned objections, however, touch on a very important question on which it is well worth while to throw a clear and true light, particularly at the present moment, whether there really exists an opposition between liberty and democracy on one side and Russia on the other.

An adequate answer to this question cannot be found in one stage or in one feature of Russian development. It must be sought in the whole course of her history, in her fundamental institutions, in her national life and character.

In no other country’ of Europe is the aristocratic element so weak as in Russia. There is no peerage and no representation of aristocracy in the upper house of the Douma. There is no right of primogeniture, and upon a father’s death, his fortune is equally divided among all his sons, his daughters receiving a smaller share. (In practice it is often rendered equal to the sons’ share.)

Titles are inherited by ail sons and daughters, and are therefore so multiplied that the bearing of a title does not necessarily indicate any superiority of position. The Russian noblesse has no necessary’ connection with landed property, and since the emancipation of the serfs, especially since the agrarian troubles of ten years ago, the majority of the former gentry live in towns.

Hereditary noblesse is automatically acquired with the grade of colonel in the army and that of Conseiller de College in the Civil Service. There is besides a numerous “personal” noblesse acquired by low ex ichivs (grades or degrees). Nothing astonishes Russians more when they visit Western Europe than the important position held there by the aristocracy even in countries claiming to be democratic republics. France, for instance, possesses a more sordid aristocracy than Russia.

The most important class in Russia is the peasantry, which forms 90 percent of the whole population. The peasants who know that, through the guilt of the aristocracy, they had fallen in bondage and have been released by the Tsar, and who, moreover, have seen themselves ever since the object of special imperial solicitude, are boundlessly devoted to the Tsar, and constitute a most solid foundation of Russian monarchy. Perfect loyalty to the emperor is general in all other classes.

American Talkbackers for Putin

Public opinion certainly demands a consistent development of the Russian institutions necessary to make Russia a modern state, and criticizes the bureaucracy for not fully carrying out the liberal measures of the Sovereign. The press particularly complains of the bureaucrats’ continued partiality for the German element in Russia. However, the confidence inspired by the whole trend of the policy adopted by the emperor gives the progressive movement a steady and moderate character.

The Russian revolutionary movement has never been a popular one. It was limited to groups of intellectuals acting under the influence of German socialistic and anarchist writers and agitators. When those revolutionaries wanted to incite the masses to acts of violence against property, they employed forged proclamations in the name of the Tsar commanding the people to do so. They aimed at abolishing individual property and destroying the present organization of society; they would, with equal bitterness, have fought a non-socialistic republic. Their criminal attempts against persons in high position, which excited universal abhorrence, were greatly due to the instigation and assistance of the enemies of Russia as a nation.

It has lately been asserted that, upon the declaration of war by Germany, the revolutionary leaders refused to listen to the suggestions of the German ambassador , who was urging them to organize insurrectionary uprisings, and that these leaders broke off all relations with the enemies of their country. It is certain that on the very evening when that declaration became known, the Russian capital the workmen who were taking part in a seditious manifestation spontaneously began singing ” God save the Tsar,” and the strikers resumed work next day. Whatever be the conduct of a few individuals, it seems that an overwhelming wave of patriotism swept over most of the agitators.

The task of the present reign is still far from being completed. No substantial progress can be made in many reforms which are universally recognized as necessary until this great war is terminated.

However, the reforms already achieved or initiated constitute a wonderfully coordinated series of great acts of a manifestly great reign. Above all, they plainly show that the ideal which the Russian people have borne in their hearts for so many centuries is at last realized: the Russians have found the people’s Tsar!

No one could deny that by his latest decisions,  Emperor Nicholas II has united all parties and nationalities of the Russian empire as they have never been united before. There are in Russia at present no revolutionaries and no reactionaries. Just Russians.

Will Putin Fall?

That fact is of the highest importance, not only for Russia herself, but also for her allies, for the issue of the present war and for the future destinies of Europe. The president of the Douma rightly said, “This is the will of Russia.”

Everything we see and hear strengthens the conviction that the whole Russian nation is unshakeable in its resolve to continue the war until all the Slavs are liberated, until the question of Russia’s access to the open sea is settled, and until the legitimate interests of all our allies are satisfied.

The sharp medicine of war is rapidly and thoroughly curing Russia of the German virus which for two centuries has poisoned the organism of that empire. Russian democracy is at last coming to its own again. Its union with monarchy is indissolubly cemented and consecrated by the wise leadership of the great Slavic Tsar.

Adapted from Russia & Democracy (1901) by G. De Wesselitsky. Photograph courtesy of Farhad Sadykov. Published under a Creative Commons license.