(Maxim Kovalevsky, August 27, 1851-March 23, 1916)
[A KIMBALL FILES "SAC Narrative Extension" ]
Table of Contents, two lectures relating to Russian political culture =
*1891:Modern Customs and Ancient Laws in Russia
*1902:Russian Political Institutions
Modern Customs and Ancient Laws in Russia
Lecture I: Matrimonial Customs
Lecture II: State of Modern Russian Family
* The verv [undivided household]
Lecture III: Russian Village Community
Lecture IV: Old Russian Folkmotes
Lecture V: Old Russian Parliaments
Lecture VI: Personal Servitude in Russia
[Each of these lectures is filled with knowledge and insight, but I recommend lectures II, III, and the first half of IV which provides at midpoint a hop to V to learn of Kovalevskii's central political institutional ideas.]
[SAC editor has standardized Russian terminology, highlighted certain passages in bold face font, Americanized spelling, and provided explanatory links to SAC. Points not yet fully edited are marked with "??".]
The Matrimonial Customs and Usages of the Russian People, and the Light They Throw on the Evolution of Marriage
The wide historical studies pursued by members of the University of Oxford necessarily include the study of the Slavonic race. The part which this race is beginning to play in the economic and social progress of our time, and the considerable achievements which it has already made in the fields of literature and science have attracted the attention even of those nations whose political interests are supposed not to coincide precisely with those of the Slavs. The Ilchester Lectures [ID] were, I believe, founded in order to make known to Oxford students the present and past of this undoubtedly Aryan branch of the human race. A good deal of work has already been done by my predecessors. Professor Thomson, of Copenhagen, by his careful study of the Norman origin of the Russian State, has greatly contributed to unveil even to Russians the mystery of their far-distant past, while Professor Turner, in the course of his brilliant lectures last year, made you acquainted with our best modern novelists. I do not know if my friend, the late Mr W.R.S. Ralston, ever lectured in the Taylor institute, but the accurate and lively accounts he has given of Russian epic poems and popular tales were undoubtedly written under the influence of the same feelings as those which inspired the founder of these lectures.
In England the works of Ralston were the first to deal with the vast field of Slavonic, and more especially of Russian, folk-lore. His chief endeavor was to show the great amount of information which the unwritten literature of Russia contains as to the early stages of religious development. But Russian folk-lore may interest a lawyer as well as a mythologist; its study may enrich comparative jurisprudence with new material not less than comparative mythology. It can no doubt unveil more than one mystery concerning the early state of European family law, and the various modes in which land was held by our remotest ancestors. The first stages in the history of political institutions, and more particularly the part which the common people were called upon in old days to play in the management of public affairs, can be illustrated by the history of Russian folk-motes and Russian national councils, much better than by reference to the short notices left by Caesar or Tacitus of the popular assemblies of the Germans. Russian serfdom, and the history of its abolition, may also be instructive in more than one point, even to those whose chief purpose is to study the origin, the growth, and the abolition of personal servitude in England, France, or Germany.
When I look to the great importance of the modern customs and ancient laws of Russia as regards the comparative history of institutions, I confidently hope to meet on your part with the indulgence which the lecturer needs who addresses his audience in a foreign tongue. I think that the study of Russian legal antiquities may to a certain extent be considered as a necessary appendage of those exhaustive inquiries in Indian and old Celtic institutions for which we are indebted to one of your most celebrated writers, the late Sir Henry Maine. I feel the more pleasure in mentioning his name, as it was by him that my first works in the field of comparative jurisprudence were inspired. His lectures have found readers in the remotest parts of the world, and have suggested to more than one foreign scholar the idea of re-writing the legal history of his own country.
Although recognizingin him the chief representative of the legal school to which I belong, I shall more than once put forward theories which are altogether opposed to his: such an occasion presents itself at once in the study of early Russian family law.
This study will, I have no doubt, throw a clear light on the earliest period in the evolution of marriage -- that of the matriarchate. I insist the more on this point because in England an opinion has been expressed that the customary law of Russia might be expected to give another illustration of the general prevalence of the patriarchal family even in the first stages of social development. Sir Henry Maine has more than once(1*) expressed this opinion, and has found confirmation for it in certain quotations made chiefly from the well-known works of Haxthausen and Mackenzie Wallace. Both these authors, making a large use of the rich ethnographical literature of Russia, have correctly described the prevailing system of Russian joint families, or house communities, and their account may be taken generally as a good illustration of the old patriarchal family of the Germans and Celts. But neither of them had any opportunity of studying in detail the numerous survivals which we still find of a state of things which had nothing in common with agnatism, or even with a firmly established “patria potestas”. Such was not, after all, the purpose that they had in view. Theirs was the study of contemporary life in Russian society, and the question of the primitive state of family relations in Russia cannot be settled by reference to works which do not deal with the subject.
Sir Henry Maine was also misled in his survey of Slavonic family law by the well-known Bohemian or Czech poem, “The Trial of the Princess Liuhouscha”. This poem he quotes at great length, and he states that it leaves no doubt as to the existence of a sort of undivided family or house-community in the most remote period of Bohemian history. Unfortunately, the poem on which he builds his conclusion is now unanimously declared both by Slavonic and German scholars to be a forgery by the well-known Bohemian philologist, Hanka. It is clear, therefore, that the whole of his theory, so far as it deals with Slavonic law and usage, is based either on facts which concern modern times alone, and have nothing to do with ancient times, or on documents manifestly false.
Now let us see what evidence we possess as to the character of early Slavonic family law. We shall first give our authorities, and then proceed to draw our general conclusions.
The earliest evidence which we possess as to the social relations of the Eastern Slavs, whose confederacy was the beginning of the Russian State, is contained in the so-called Chronicle of Nestor. Nestor is supposed to have been a Russian monk of the eleventh century.
Contrasting the mode of life of the most civilized Slavonic nation, the Polians, who were established on the banks of the Dnieper, with that of the more barbarous tribes of Russia, Nestor, or perhaps it is better to say, the unknown author of the Chronicle which bears this name, states as follows (I translate literally):
Each tribe had its own customs, and the laws of its forefathers and its own traditions, each its own manner of life (nrav). The Polians had the customs of their fathers, customs mild and peaceful (tikhi); they showed a kind of reserve (stidenie) towards the daughters of their sons and towards their sisters, towards their mothers and their parents, towards the mothers of their wives, and towards the brothers of their husbands; to all of the persons named they showed great reserve. Amongst them the bridegroom did not go to seek his bride; she was taken to him in the evening, and the following morning they brought what was given for her.
Another Slavonic tribe, the Drevlians, according to the same chronicler, lived like beasts; they killed one another, they fed on things unclean; no marriage took place amongst them, but they captured young girls on the banks of rivers.
The same author narrates that three other Slavonic tribes, the Radimich, the Viatich, and the Sever, had the same customs; they lived
in forests, like other wild animals, they ate everything unclean, and shameful things occurred amongst them between fathers and daughters-in-law. Marriages were unknown to them, but games were held in the outskirts of villages; they met at these games for dancing and every kind of diabolic amusement, and there they captured their wives, each man the one he had covenanted with. They had generally two or three wives.
I have tried to give you the nearest possible translation of this old Russian text, the interpretation of which, however, gives rise to certain difficulties not yet quite settled. I will now classify, to the best of my power, the various facts which we can infer from this text. First of all, it establishes the fact that marriage in the sense of a constant union between husband and wife, was not a general institution among the Eastern Slavs. With the exception of the more civilized Polians, no other tribe is stated to have any notion of it. Of course this does not mean that all alike were entirely ignorant of the meaning of family life. It only weans that their mode of constituting a family did not correspond to the idea which the author, who, as we have said, was a monk, entertained as to matrimonial relations. The Radimich, Viatich, and Sever captured their wives after having previously come to an agreement with them. This certainly is a method which cannot meet with the approval of a Christian, but nevertheless it is marriage. We have before us an example of what ethnologists have named “marriage by capture”.
The Drevlians were even less advanced as regards the intercourse between the sexes. They also had games at which women were captured; but not a word is said about any covenant entered into by the captor and his supposed victim. Neither is any mention made of these games being held on the boundaries or outskirts of villages, a fact which would point to the existence of a sort of exogamy forbidding unions between persons of the same gens. In the description which the chronicler gives of the Drevlians we have an instance of an almost unlimited license, whilst in that of the Radimich, Viatich and Sever we find a picture of an exogamous people; contracting marriage by capture, and yet retaining from the period of almost unlimited license a sort of family communism which appears in the relations between fathers and daughters-in-law.
No trace of this either limited or unlimited promiscuousness is to be found among the Polians, who according to our old Chronicler, “conducted themselves with much reserve" towards daughters-in-law, and sisters-in-law, towards mothers and fathers, towards fathers-in-law and brothers-in-law. They seem to have been an exogamous tribe like the Radimich, Viatich and Sever, their wives being brought to them from outside their own gens. Unlike the tribes just mentioned they did not, however, procure them by capture. It was not the custom for the bridegrooms to go in search of their wives; they received them from the hands of the parents of the women, and they then paid the sum of money previously agreed upon. This means that their mode of constituting marriage was by buying their wives. The words of the Chronicler concerning these payments is far from being clear, and Russian scholars have tried to interpret them in the sense of “dower" brought by the relatives of the wife. But it has been recently proved that no mention of “dower" is to be found in Russian charters before the fifteenth century, and that the word veno used in mediaeval Russian to designate the payment made on marriage, has no other meaning than that of pretium nuptiale, or payment made by the bridegroom to the family of the bride.(2*) The words of Tacitus concerning the dos paid amongst the German tribes by the future husband to his wife's father give precisely the meaning of the old Russian veno, and throw a light on the sort of payment which the chronicle of Nestor had in view, when speaking of the matrimonial customs of the Polians.
The testimony of our oldest Chronicle concerning the different forms of matrimony among the eastern Slavs deserves our closest attention, because it is, in all points, confirmed by the study of the rest of our old written literature, of our epic poems, of our wedding-songs, and of the matrimonial usages and customs still or lately in existence in certain remote districts of Russia. The Drevlians are not the only Slavonic tribe to which the mediaeval chronicles ascribe a low state of morality. The same is asserted of the old Bohemians or Czechs in the account given of their manners and customs by Cosmas of Prague, a Latin annalist of the eleventh century, who says: Connubia erant illis communia. Nam more pecudum singulas ad noctes novos probant hymenaeos, et surgente aurora.... ferrea amoris rumpunt vincula. This means: “They practiced communal marriage. For, like animals, they contracted each night a fresh marriage, and as soon as the dawn appeared they broke the iron bonds of love”.
This statement is directly confirmed by that of another medieval author, the unknown biographer of St. Adalbert. This writer ascribes the animosity of the Bohemian people towards the saint to the fact of his strong opposition to the shameful promiscuity which in his time prevailed in Bohemia. It is confirmed, also, by the monk of the Russian Abbey of Eleasar, known by the name of Pamphil [Pamfili], who lived in the sixteenth century. Both speak of the existence of certain yearly festivals at which great license prevailed. According to the last-named author, such meetings were regularly held on the borders of the State of Novgorod on the banks of rivers, resembling, in that particular, the annual festivals mentioned by Nestor. Not later than the beginning of the sixteenth century, they were complained of by the clergy of the State of Pskov. It was at that time that Pamphil [Pamfili] drew up his letter to the Governor of the State, admonishing him to put an end to these annual gatherings, since their only result was the corruption of the young women and girls. According to the author just cited [Nestor], the meetings took place, as a rule, the day before the festival of St. John the Baptist, which, in pagan times, was that of a divinity known by the name of Yarilo, corresponding to the Priapus of the Greeks. Half a century later the new ecclesiastical code, compiled by an assembly of divines convened in Moscow by the tsar Ivan the Terrible, took effectual measures for abolishing every vestige of paganism; amongst them, the yearly festivals held on Christmas Day, on the day of the baptism of our Lord, and on St. John the Baptist, commonly called Midsummer Day [EG=scene from Tarkovskii's RUBLEV]. A general feature of all these festivals, according to the code, was the prevalence of the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes. How far the clergy succeeded in suppressing these yearly meetings, which had been regularly held for centuries before on the banks of rivers, we cannot precisely say, although the fact of their occasional occurrence, even in modern times, does not tend to prove their complete abolition. More than once have I had an opportunity of being present at these nightly meetings, held at the end of June, in commemoration of a heathen divinity. They usually take place close to a river or pond; large fires are lighted, and over them young couples, bachelors and unmarried girls, jump barefoot. I have never found any trace of licentiousness; but there is no doubt that cases of license do occur, though seldom in our time. That a few centuries ago they were very frequent has been lately proved by some curious documents preserved in the archives of some of the provincial ecclesiastical councils, particularly in those existing in Kharkov Province. According to these documents, the local clergy were engaged in constant warfare with the shameful licentiousness which prevailed at the evening assembles of the peasants, and more than once the clergy succeeded in inducing the authorities of the village to dissolve the assemblies by force. The priests were often wounded, and obliged to seek refuge in the houses of the village elders from the stones with which they were pelted. These evening assemblies are known to the people of Great Russia under the name of Posidelki, and to the Little Russians [Ukrainians] by that of Vechernitsy.
The licentiousness which formed the characteristic feature of these meetings throws light on the motives which induce the peasants of certain Great Russian communes to attach but small importance to virginity. Russian ethnographers have not infrequently mentioned the fact of young men living openly with unmarried women, and, even in case of marriage, of giving preference to those who were known to have already been mothers.
However peculiar all these facts may seem, they are very often met with among people of quite a distinct race. The Allemanic populations of the Grisons, no longer ago than the sixteenth century, held regular meetings which were not less shameful than those of the Cossacks. The Kilbenen were abolished by law (3*), but another custom, in direct antagonism to morality, continued to exist all over the northern cantons of Switzerland and in the southern provinces of Wurtemberg and of Baden. I mean the custom known under the name of Kirchgang or Dorfgehen, which, according to the popular songs, consisted in nothing else than the right of a bachelor to become the lover of some young girl, and that quite openly, and with the implied consent of the parents of his sweetheart. May I also mention a similar custom amongst the Welsh, known as “bundling"? I am not well enough informed as to the character of this custom to insist on its resemblance to those already mentioned. The little I have said on the German survivals of early license may suffice to establish this general conclusion: that the comparative immorality of Russian peasants has no other cause than the survival amongst them of numerous vestiges of the early forms of marriage.
Another feature of the matriarchal family, the lack of any prohibition as to marriages between persons who are sprung from the same father or grandfather, is also mentioned more than once by early Slavonic writers. Such marriages were not prohibited by custom among the old Bohemians or Czechs. “Populus miscebatur cumcognatis“, says the biographer of St. Adalbert. They are also frequently mentioned in the epic poems of our peasants, the so-called bylini, of which the late W.R.S. Ralston ??[ID] has given to English readers an accurate and profound analysis. I will quote certain passages from these poems to give you the facts on which my theory is based.
One of the most celebrated heroes of our popular ballads, Ilia Muromets, encounters one day a freebooter named Nightingale (Solovei razboinik). “Why”, asks the hero, “do all thy children look alike?" Nightingale gives the following answer: “Because, when my son is grown up, I marry him to my daughter; and when my daughter is old enough, I give her my son for a husband, and I do so in order that my race may not die out”. Another popular ballad, representing the evil customs of former days, describes them in the following manner:
Brother made war upon brother,
Brother took sister to wife.
Endogamous marriages still occur in a few very remote parts of Russia. Such is the case in certain villages in the district of Onega, and especially in that of Liamika, where the peasants do their best to infringe the canonical prescriptions which disallow marriage between blood relations to the fourth degree inclusively. The same has also been noticed in certain parts of the Archangel [Arkhangel’sk] Province, quite on the shores of the White Sea, where the peasants are in the habit of saying that marriages between blood relations will be blessed with a more rapid increase of “cattle" -- the word “cattle" standing in this case for children. In some provinces of Siberia and in the district of Vetluga, which belongs to Nizhnii-Novgorod Province, endogamous marriages, though contrary to the prevailing custom are looked upon with a favorable eye. (4*)
Another fact, which deserves the attention of all partisans of the theory of the matriarchate, first promulgated by McLennan, is the large independence enjoyed by the Slavonic women of old days. Let me first quote the words of Cosmas of Prague, which relate to this subject, and then show you what illustration they find both in written literature, and in popular ballads and songs. Non virgines viri, sed ipsoemet viros, quos et quando voluerunt, accipiebant.
Such is the statement of Cosmas Pragensis, (ch. xxi). This means: “It is not the men who choose the maids [virgins], but the maids themselves who take the husbands they like, and when they like”.
This freedom of the Bohemian girls to dispose of their hearts according to their own wish shows the comparative independence of the Bohemian women at that period.
The oldest legal code of this people, the sniem, seems to favor this independence by recognizing the right of the women to be free from any work, except that which is connected with the maintenance of the household.(5*)
Confronted with the facts just brought forward, the popular legend, reported by Cosmas in his chronicle, of a kind of Bohemian Amazons, who took an active part in the wars of the time, appears in its true light. Free as they were from the bonds of marriage, not relying on husbands for the defense of their persons and estates, the old Bohemian Amazons were probably very similar to those warlike women who still appear in the King of Dahomey's army, and who in the time of Pompey were known to exist among certain autochthonic tribes of the Caucasus. A fact well worth notice is that the memory of these bellicose women is still preserved in the traditions of the Cherkess [??Cherkass], who call them by the name of “emcheck“. Giantesses, wandering by themselves through the country and fighting the heroes they meet on their way, are also mentioned more than once in our popular ballads, or bylini. The name under which they are known is that of polinitsy, the word pole meaning the field and in a secondary sense the battle-field.
Like the Bohemian girls described by Cosmas of Prague, these Russian Amazons chose their lovers as they liked.
"Is thy heart inclined to amuse itself with me?" such is the question addressed to Ilia Muromets by one of these Amazons, these so-called Beautiful Princess. “Be my husband and I will be thy wife”, says another of these polinitsy, Anastasia the Beautiful, to the knight, Theodor Tougariu. It is not the freebooter Nightingale who chooses his wife, nor the knight Dobrinia who is going in search of a bride; both are represented as accepting the offers of betrothal made to them by the Russian Amazons, Zaprava and Marina. (6*)
Evidence of still greater importance is that of the French writer, Beauplan, who, speaking of the manners and customs of the inhabitants of Little Russia during his time, the latter half of the seventeenth century, states as follows:
"In the Ukraine, contrary to the custom of all other nations, the husbands do not choose their wives, but are themselves chosen by their future consorts”.
I hope I have now given an amount of information sufficient to answer the purpose I have in view; which is no other, than to show that, in a low state of morality, communal marriage between near relations and endogamy went hand in hand amongst the early Slavs with a considerable degree of independence among the weaker sex.
To all these characteristic features of the matriarchate we may add this very important one, that, according to the old Russian law, the tie which unites a man to his sister and the children she has brought into the world, was considered to be closer than that which unites two brothers or the uncle and his nephew. In a society organized on the principle of agnatism, the son of a sister has no reason to interfere in the pursuit of the murderer of his uncle. The brother belongs altogether to another clan, and the duty of vengeance falls exclusively on the persons of that clan. But such is by no means the point of view of the old Russian law, recognizing, as it does, the right of the sister's son to avenge the death of his uncle.
"In case a man shall he killed by a man”, decrees the first article of the Pravda of Yaroslav ??[ID] (the lex barborum of the Russians), “vengeance may be taken by a son, in case his father has been killed; by the father, when the son falls a victim; by the brother's son and by the son of a sister”. These last words are omitted in the later versions of the Pravda, a fact which shows the increase of agnatic organization, but they are found in the version generally recognized as the most ancient.
This close tie between brother and sister, between the uncle and the sister's children, still exists among the Southern Slavs. Professor Bogisic, and after him Mr Krauss, have illustrated this fact by the epic songs of the Serbian people. They speak of the custom generally in use among the Southern Slavs of securing from a person truthfulness in his statements by the invocation of the name of the sister. They mention, too, that peculiar relation of artificial brotherhood and sisterhood, into which young men and young women belonging to different kindreds frequently enter, in order to secure to the weaker sex protection and help.
I hardly need insist on the importance which all these facts have with regard to the theory of an early matiarchate among the Slavs, the more so because this has already been done in England by Mr McLennan, in his well-known study on the Patriarchal theory, and in Germany by Bachofen in one of his Antiquarian Letters. (7*) But I shall complete the information which these scholars have given by citing certain peculiar customs still in use among Russian peasants.
Whilst the father is considered to be the proper person to dispose of the hand of the bride, the brother, according to the wedding ritual, appears as the chief protector of her virginity. In more than one province of Russia the brother plays an important part in that portion of the nuptial ceremony which may be called by the Latin name of in domus deductio. As soon as the bridegroom has made his appearance in the court-yard of the family to which his bride belongs, the brother, in accordance with an old custom, takes his seat next the bride with a naked sword, or at least a stick, in his hand. The bridegroom, or the groomsman, asking to be allowed to take his seat, receives as answer, that the brother is there to keep ward over his sister, and that he will not consent to leave his seat unless he be paid for it. “Dear brother, don't give me away for nothing. Ask a hundred roubles for me, for the veil which covers my head a thousand roubles. Ask for my beauty -- God alone knows how much. “Such is the tenor of the song composed for the occasion. “The brother, a true Tartar”, we read in the text of another nuptial song, “has sold his sister for a thaler, and her fair tresses for fifty kopeks”.
In Little Russia the drawn sword which the brother holds in his hand on the occasion is ornamented with the red berries of the guelderrose, red being the emblem of maidenhood among Slavonic peoples. Other emblems are the binding of the bride's tresses, and the veil which covers her head. The bridegroom is not allowed to remove the veil, nor to unbind the tresses of his future wife, unless he consents to pay a small sum of money to her bother.
Hitherto we have considered the different aspects of the earliest period in the evolution of the family -- that which is known by the term of the matriarchate. The various features which characterized the lowest state of the relations between the sexes did not vanish all at once. The incestuous relations between persons of the same blood seem to have been the first to disappear. No further mention of these occurs in Nestor's description of the Eastern tribes -- the Radimich, Viatich, and Sever. Though they practice communal marriage so far that fathers and sons have wives in common, nevertheless fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters, dare no longer cohabit with each other, and if license still occurs at some annual festivities, it is kept under some check.
The bylini, or poplar ballads, as also the old legends and folk tales, often represent that transient period of social evolution, when endogamy was gradually giving way to exogamy, and relations between persons of the same kin were forbidden. A popular hero, known by the name of Mikhailo Kasarinov, and belonging to a later series of Russian knights, in one of these ballads liberates a young Russian girl from the yoke of theTartars, and is on the point of becoming her lover, when she discloses to him the secret of her birth, and proves that she is his sister. The knight immediately abandons his purpose. In another popular tale, inserted by Afanas’ev in his collection of these curious monuments of our unwritten literature, a bother is represented as insisting on marrying his sister, and the latter as strongly protesting against his desire. “What do you propose to do?" she asks. “Bethink you of God and of the sin? Is it right that a brother should espouse his own sister?" The brother persists, and the couple are on the point of retiring when the earth opens, and the sister, unharmed, disappears from view. (8*) In another popular legend, a husband, having discovered that his wife is his own sister, finds no means of escape but that of undertaking a pilgrimage in order to expiate his sins.(9*)
The prohibition is gradually extended to all persons of the same kin. A song(10*) in vogue among the peasantry of Little Russia speaks of a bird wishing to marry, and finding no bride at his birthplace, all the females being his relations, there remains nothing for him to do but to cross the sea, and seek a bride of another kin than his own.
The complete discomfiture of endogamy in its long struggle with exogamous prescriptions is shown in the fact that in some parts of Russia, as for instance in Simbirsk Province, in certain villages of Olonitsk Province, and of Shadrinsk District, inhabited by the Cossacks of the Don, the bride is always taken from another village than the bridegroom's. Even in provinces in which no similar custom is known to exist, the remembrance of the time when exogamy was considered a duty, is preserved in the fact that the bridegroom is constantly spoken of as a foreigner (chuzhoi, chuzhanin), and his friends and attendants are represented as coming with him from a distant country, in order to take away the future spouse.
The origin of exogamy has been sought for in the fact of the general prevalence, at a certain period of social development, of the custom of capturing wives. The co-existence of both customs has been already noticed by the old Russian chronicler in his description of the manners and customs of the Radimich, Viatich, and Sever. His testimony is corroborated by that of the nuptial songs, and of the ceremonies still in use at country weddings. The information which is derived from these sources as to the general prevalence in past times of marriage by capture, I have summed up in a work published in Russian under the title of “The First Periods in the Evolution of Law”. I shall take the liberty of bringing forward to-day the facts there summarized. They concern the Eastern as well as the Southern Slavs.
Amongst the Southern Slavs, marriage by capture was still in existence no longer ago than the beginning of the present century. A well-known Serbian writer, Vuk Karadjic ??[sp], gives the following details about this peculiar custom, known under the name of otmitsa. “The Capture of girls in order to marry them is still practiced among the Serbians. Young men very frequently have recourse to this mode of procuring a wife. On such occasions they are equipped and armed as if they were going out to do battle. They conceal themselves, and quietly await the moment till the girl passes near them on her way to look after the cattle. Sometimes they make a direct attack on the homestead she inhabits. In either case her resistance has no other result than a direct appeal to physical force. The young men seize her by her long plaited tresses, drag and push her along, and sometimes use a whip or a stick to quicken her pace. The same custom prevailed not long ago in Montenegro. It existed also for centuries in Croatia, as may be seen from the mention made of it in the statute of Politsa, a legal code published in 1605. In Bosnia and Herzegovina abductions still occur, but, as a rule, with the previous consent of the supposed victim, and with the declared intention of avoiding the expenses of a regular betrothal”.
So much as regards marriage among the Southern Slavs.
As to the Eastern Slavs, the early development of a strong government, and of a powerful clergy, prevented the possibility of a long continuance of this wild method of constituting a family. An exception must, however, be made as regards the Cossacks of Little Russia and the Ukraine; who, according to the statement of Beauplan, continued to capture their wives no longer ago than the seventeenth century. But the existence, probably in Pagan times, of marriage by capture in Russia, as well as in Poland, is still revealed by the old ballads, the wedding ceremonies of the country people, and the songs in use on the occasion of a betrothal.
The bylini more than once mention the cases of knights like Ilia Muromets having a personal encounter with the Amazons they meet on their way. As soon as the knights have succeeded in vanquishing the Amazons, they force them to become their wives. Among the different ceremonies still in use at a country wedding, one particularly deserves our attention, on account of the symbolical representation of the means to which the family of the bride once had recourse to prevent an abduction. On the day fixed for the wedding the doors leading to the homestead of the bride are closely shut. Sometimes a temporary wooden wall is erected to preserve the family from intrusion. The wedding-songs still in use in Tula Province speak of the necessity of defending the approach to the bride's residence by oak trees, cut down to block up the road, and by shields arranged before the principal entrance of the homestead.
The bridegroom and his friends wear a warlike dress; they are mounted on horseback, and carry guns and pistols. Such, at least, is the custom in the western provinces of Russia, whilst in the southern the whip, carried by the bridegroom's best man, appears to be the only weapon in use. The wedding-songs speak of arrows, shot in the direction of the bride's home, and of stone walls broken down, in order to take possession of her. The bridegroom and his followers are regularly met like foes. In Perm Province it is the custom for the father of the bride to fire a pistol over their heads, of course a pistol charged only with powder. The same custom is also in use in certain parts of Archangel [Arkhangel’sk] Province. The wedding-song speaks of the bridegroom's train in the following terms:
They will come to the maiden's father
With war. They will rob him,
And imprison the mother.
They will take the young girl away
To a strange land.
But capture, as we have already seen, was not the only mode of contracting marriage among the Slavs, even in the earliest period. According to the chronicle of Nestor ??[ID], the Polians never had recourse to it. Instead of carrying off his bride by force, the Polian bridegroom preferred to pay to her father, or her family, a sort of pretium nuptiale, or bride-price. This custom of the Polians gradually became the general usage among all Slavonic tribes. In Serbia, according to Vuk Karadjic, the sums of money paid to the bride's father by the bridegroom's family were so exorbitant that Georgius the Black issued a proclamation declaring it to be illegal to ask from the bridegroom more than a single ducat. In our days, says Bogisic, wives, as a rule, cannot be bought by their future husbands, but a reminiscence of this old custom is still preserved in the fact that the bride's father receives from the bridegroom a gift in money, varying from one to six ducats, according to the fortune of the giver.
Wives were also bought and sold among the Slavonic tribes of Austria. According to an old usage of the Lujichan [??], a Slavonic people inhabiting certain districts of Hungary, the bridegroom, on entering the homestead of his bride, apostrophized the father thus: “Pray do tell me if you have a cow to sell? “ A Bohemian wedding-song puts into the mouth of the bridegroom's best man the following sentence: “Please deliver to me the bride. I will give you a good price for her. The only reason I have for being here is that I may pay you in heavy thalers”. No longer ago than the beginning of the last century, young men wishing to marry were in the habit of going to the fair at Krasni Brod, where unmarried women and widows, surrounded by their relations, awaited their coming. Each chose the woman he liked best, covenanted with her parents as to the amount of money to be paid for her, and proceeded to the ceremony of marriage. Polish wedding-songs also mention the custom of buying wives.
In Posnau the following ceremony is still observed on the occasion of a betrothal: The bridegroom puts a small piece of money on the shoes of his bride, another on her knee, a third on her shoulder, a fourth on her head. It is only when this ceremony has been performed that the father delivers the maiden into the hands of her future husband.
I have already mentioned the fact that the payment made in Old Russia by the bridegroom was known under the name of veno.The true meaning of this word is revealed by the use which is made of it by the translators of the Scriptures. In a Slavonic version of the words addressed by Jacob to Laban, when he asked him for the hand of his daughter Rachel, the translators write as follows: Increase the sum of the veno as much as you like and I will pay it to you, and you shall give me this maiden to wife.(11*)
In modern times the veno is mentioned only in certain wedding songs. Another term, kladka, has replaced it in most parts of Great Russia. This payment, amounting in certain parts of Russia to the sum of one hundred, and even of two or three hundred rubles, is made to the father of the bride. As a rule, the father disposes of the money in favor of his daughter, for he gives her as dowry a larger or smaller sum, according to what he has received from the bridegroom. But this fact cannot be brought forward as a proof that the kladka belongs by right to the bride. In more than one commune of Tambov, Riazan, Vladimir, Moscow, Samara and Saratov provinces, no mention is made of the dowry given by the bride's father, whilst the kladka is regularly paid to the head of the family to which the bride belongs.(12*) We must therefore consider these two payments, that made by the bridegroom, and that made by the bride's father, as quite different institutions. The one payment proves the existence, at least in certain parts of modern Russia, of a mode of marriage similar to that of the Indian Asura, the other shows the way in which the pretium emptionis, to employ a term of Roman jurisprudence, passed into the dos or dowry. The custom was the same as that followed by the Germanic tribes. In saying this I have particularly in view Tacitus's statement [??ID] about the payment made by the bridegroom at a marriage, and the more recent fact of the conversion of this payment into a dowry given by the bride's father.
That in former days in Russia wives were regularly bought from their parents is plainly recognized by the wedding-songs still in use among our peasants.
The boyars, a term by which people designate the companions or followers of the bridegroom, who on his part is called “the duke” (kniaz’, hereafter translated as "prince"). The boyars, says a wedding-song of Saratov Province, “surround the yard of the bride's house on all sides; they bargain for our Duniasha”.
"The boyars have covered the ground with gold”, sing the country people of White Russia [Belarus].
The bridegroom is very often mentioned in the songs of the peasants of Great Russia as the “merchant”, whist the bride is spoken of as “merchandise”. In Yaroslavl Province, for instance, the bride, following an ancient usage, complains of the treatment to which she will be subjected, saying that “unknown merchants will take her away from her father and her dear mother”.(13*)
Now that we have carefully passed in review the different aspects under which matrimonial relations have been viewed, or still are viewed, by the country people of Russia, we may be allowed to say, that Russian ethnography quite corroborates the theory as to the evolution of marriage which English scholars were the first to establish. The author of “Primitive Culture”, as well as the great and powerful genius who has so marvelously continued the work of Auguste Comte [??ID], and lastly the numerous followers of the man, whose studies in ancient history have unveiled for us the mysteries of the early family will, I have no doubt, be pleased to see their views confirmed by the early law and the still living custom of one of the principal branches of the Aryan race [i.e., Russia]. Nothing more, it seems to me, is wanting to the modern theory of the matriarchate than a solid base of historical facts. So long as obscure myths and the more or less superficial observations of missionaries and tourists constituted the materials for a theory whose chief purpose is to show us the social state of our most remote ancestors, objections like those of Sir Henry Maine [??ID] or Mr Starcke [??ID] found a ready ear. The fact that among the Kamilaroi and the Kuruai the right of the husband is ignored, does not necessarily imply that our ancestors had no notion of marriage and the patria potestas; and the numerous Greek myths on which Bachofen [??ID] has established his hypothesis of any early Greek gyneocracy may possibly belong to the number of those wandering legends on which it is very difficult to found an opinion as to the social state of this or that particular people.
Consult the “Sociology" of Herbert Spencer [??ID], and especially the chapters in which he treats of the early forms of marriage, and you will, I am sure, be surprised at the discovery that scarcely any mention is made of the legal antiquities of peoples belonging to the Aryan race. This is a serious defect, and the sooner it is remedied the better. Some measures have already been taken to this end by the modern school of German jurists who, under the able guidance of Professor Kohler [??ID], publish a most interesting periodical called the Zeitschrift fur die vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft. It is with an object similar to theirs that I have undertaken my researches in the vast field of Slavonic law and custom. What I have said about it in this lecture, little though it has been, may, perchance, induce some of you to undertake fresh studies in this region which is still so little explored. I can promise all who will venture, the most abundant and happy results.
1. The last time in an article on the patriarchal family published in the Quarterly Review.
2. Compare Lange, “On the Mutual Rights, according to Old Russian Law, of Husband and Wife as regards Fortune”. Petersburg, 1886.
3. “Das Landrecht von Kloster”. (XVIc.) ed. by Mohr.
4. Smirnov, “Sketches of Family Relations according to the Customary Law of the Russians" (Moscow, 1877) pp. 105, 106.
5. Ivanischev, “Dissertation on the Rights of the Individual according to the Old Laws of the Bohemians”. Complete Works, p.92.
6. Ribnikov, “The Songs of the Russian People”. vol. i, p. 64. Kirscha Danilov, “Old Russian Poems" pp. 9 and 70. Afanas’ev”, Tales of the Russian People”. vol. i, p. 484.
7. “Antiquarische Briefe”, 1880, p. 167. McLennan, “The Patriarchal Theory”, ch. vi. p. 71.
8. Afanas’ev “Folk-tales" vol. i, pp. 211, 212.
9. Schein, “Songs of the White Russians”.
10. Tereshchenko, “Social Life of the Russians,: vol. iv, p. 280.
11. Genesis, xxix.
12. Lange, p. 86.
13. Titov, “Customary Village Law”. Nicola Perevos in the District of Rostov (Yaroslavl, 1888), Appendix N. 5.
The State of the Modern Russian Family, and Particularly that of the Joint or Household Community of Great Russia
We believe that the theory of the matriarchate finds a solid basis in the past history of the Russian family. The present condition of the latter seems to prove that the next stage in its evolution was the household community, composed of persons united by descent from a common forefather and accompanied by that worship of ancestors which usually resulted from it. The complete subjection of the wife to the husband, and of the children to the father; community of goods and the common enjoyment of their produce by the relatives living under the same roof; the acknowledged superiority of old age and of direct descent from the common ancestor; the total absence of testamentary dispositions of property, and even of that mode of legal succession which supposes partition, and the exclusion of the more remote by the nearer kin; the elimination of women from participation in the family estate because marriage makes them aliens; all these features of the patriarchal family so ably illustrated in the works of Sir Henry Maine, reappear in the modern constitution of the Russian family. I mean, of course, that of the country people, the middle and higher classes having already adopted European manners and customs, and being on that account subjected to a legislation which, on more than one point, is in direct opposition to customary law.
Let us study one by one the characteristic features of this family constitution of the peasant, a constitution more like that of the early Celts and Germans than that of any of the modern nations of Europe.
The great importance still attached by the Russian peasant to agnatism, that is to relationship on the father's side, is shown by the part which ancestor worship plays even now at the celebration of a country wedding. Before becoming a member of her husband's family, the bride must sever all the ties which have hitherto bound her to the house-spirits under whose protection she has passed her youth, and must solemnly adopt the worship of those of the family into which she is about to enter. This public manifestation of a change of worship is most clearly seen in the wedding ceremonies of the Southern Slavs. It is not so distinctly preserved in those of the Eastern Slavs. Both these races being identical as to their origin and nature, I will begin by first stating the religious customs, customs of an undoubtedly pagan origin -- still in use at Bulgarian betrothals. “In Lika”, says M. Bogisic, “the bride, before leaving her father's house, goes three times round the hearth, prostrating herself each time, as if to implore forgiveness”. As you are aware of the intimate connection which has existed between the worship of the hearth and that of the family ancestors, I need not tell you that the act performed by the Bulgarian bride before leaving her parent's house has no other meaning than that of a last invocation of the house-spirits whose worship she is on the point of abandoning.
The spirits are supposed to be hurt by the decision she has taken to withdraw to her husband's homestead, and to be appeased by an act of humiliation on her part. When she is once in the bridegroom's house the maiden is obliged to perform another ceremony; she must seat herself close to the hearth, in order to keep up for a short time the fire burning thereon by pieces of wood thrown on to it with her own hands. The symbolical character of this ceremony may easily be perceived. The young wife is on the point of becoming a member of the house community of her husband, and as such, a participant in its family worship. Her acquiescence must be expressed by a symbol, and her keeping up the fire on the hearth is precisely such a symbol. The custom just described exists all over Bulgaria and has been more than once alluded to by modern ethnographers, M. Bogisic, Mr. Krauss, and others.
Let us now examine the corresponding customs of the Russian peasantry. In little Russia the bride, while her father is discussing the question of her marriage with the person sent by the bridegroom, is obliged by custom to remain near the hearth, towards which she stretches out her hand. By so doing she expresses her desire still to remain under the protection of the house-spirits of her family, the so-called “domovoi”. A century ago, according to the statement of Kalinovskii [??ID], the day on which the bride was taken to the house of her future husband, a great fire was lighted in the yard before it, and the young couple were obliged to cross it sitting in their carriage. This custom isstill observed in certain parts of Kiev Province, but only in those cases in which the bride is known to have misbehaved before marriage. Heaps of straw are kindled on such occasions in the yard before the bridegroom's house, and the bride who has passed safely over these fires is considered to be purified. But this does not prevent her, as soon as she has entered the house of her husband, from seeking refuge at the hearth, where she stands for a while singing a carol, the meaning of which is that she laments her past bad conduct and promises to be a good wife.
I beg you to observe that the fires are lighted in the yard of the bridegroom's house and that they are to be considered as being in direct relation with the house-community to which he belongs. Not every fire has the power of purification, only that which represents the family hearth. It is to this hearth that the young wife appeals for protection, should she have any reason to fear any ill-treatment from her husband's family, on account of her former conduct; it is before this hearth that she confesses and repents and promises to be a good and faithful wife.
In a society, in which the interests of the family constantly prevail over those of the individual (and such is certainly the case in all patriarchal societies, and amongst them the Russian), there is no room for marriages contracted by the mutual consent of the young people. I do not mean to say that Russian parents, whose duty it is to find suitable matches for their sons and daughters, never take into account the feelings of those they intend to unite. I wish only to impress on you the idea that they are not obliged to do so by custom. On more than one occasion Russian customary courts have plainly expressed the opinion that a marriage contract concluded by the bride's father with that of the future husband is a legal act, for the infringement of which amends ought to be made by the restitution to the party wronged of the loss he or she may have sustained.
[?? reciprocal link w/www/dozen to these 5 pgf~] The clergy very early endeavored to put an end to the arbitrary manner in which parents disposed of their children's future, but the force of custom and the feeling that supported it were so strong that the only measure which the ecclesiastical statute of Yaroslav (XIth century) [??ID] introduced for the protection of the freedom of marriageable children was the one by which a fine which went to the bishop was inflicted on the parents of a daughter who, after a marriage contracted against her will, had committed suicide [??ID].
The country people still believe that a marriage without the parent's approval will call down the wrath of Heaven on the heads of the young couple. This moral sanction, the right of parents to decide the future of their children, has received from the customary law of Russia the support of a penalty in case of disobedience; the son and daughter who conclude a marriage without consulting their parents, lose all rights to inheritance and dowry.
According to modern Russian law, marriage is a religious act; it cannot be performed without the help of the Church, and is regarded as a sacrament. But such is by no means the light in which the country people look on it, nor was it the view of the old Russian law. For many centuries the Russian clergy had to fight against the inveterate custom of our lower classes to contract unions without the sanction of the Church. The young couple saved the expense of a religious ceremony and thought their union legally established as soon as they were publicly joined to each other in the presence of the community, which was invited on the occasion to a sort of festival called the vesselich [??sp]. No later than the end of the sixteenth century an assembly of Divines convened by Ivan the Terrible [??Stoglav ID] entered a strong protest against the custom which everywhere prevailed of omitting the religious consecration of the marriage tie, and strong measures were in consequence taken against those who did not comply with the requirements of the clergy. All, however, failed, and marriage remained in the eyes of the common people nothing more than a sort of civil contract, entered into in the presence of the community as a sign of its recognition and sanction.
That such generally was, and still is, the prevailing opinion of the Russian peasant may be seen from the following facts.
Among the Cossacks of the Don, not more than a century ago, people, as a general rule, were joined in marriage in the following way: The young couple, after previous agreement, went to the popular assembly of the village, or stanitsa, this assembly being known by the name of Majdan [??sp], and declared that they had made up their minds to become husband and wife. “Be my wife”, said the bridegroom to the bride. “Be my husband”, she answered. “So be it”, chanted the assembly. “We wish you good luck and happiness”.(1*)
On the Don the absence of a religious ceremony may, to a certain extent, be explained by the scarcity of priests; but such is by no means the case in those provinces which were annexed to Muscovy in the middle of the seventeenth century, after ages of political dependence on Poland. I refer to the Governments of Kiev, Chernigov, and Poltava, which constitute what in our days is known under the name of Little Russia [Ukraine]. It is, therefore, very interesting to find that in those provinces the religious consecration of marriage is still considered by the peasants as a superfluous ceremony. Matrimonial life begins here after the nuptial festival, the “vesselic” [??], and weeks may pass before the couple find it necessary to be married at church. Facts of the same description have been noticed by Madame Efimenko [??ID] in the extreme north of Russia, in Archangel Province, occupied by colonists from Great Russia.
The customary law of Russia, like the old German jurisprudence, established a difference between betrothal and marriage. Both are considered to be legal acts, and both ought therefore to have distinct legal effects. Betrothal is legally concluded as soon as the two families have come to an agreement, first, as to the amount of the marriage expenses each party is to bear, and secondly, as to the time fixed for the wedding. The expenses are of different kinds: they comprise, first, the "kladka" of the bridegroom, a sort of pretium emptionis paid tothe bride's father, and the dowry which the bride receives from her family [repetition from above??]. Then come the presents to be made by each party to the parents of the bride and those of the bridegroom, and the amount of expense which the bridegroom has to incur on the occasion of the nuptial feast. All these are regularly discussed and settled by a sort of verbal agreement, known among the peasantry by the name of “riad”. In ancient Russia when agreements of this kind were entered into even by the higher classes, the “riad" was always put down in the form of a written contract, and this is still occasionally done in the northern Governments of Russia, especially in that of Archangel. Betrothal is considered to be legally concluded at the moment when the two parties, that of the bridegroom and that of the bride, have shaken hands. It is not without reason that I insist on the fact that it is this indefinite expression of the two parties which concludes the act of betrothal. I want to impress on your minds that the presence of the bridegroom's father is not considered necessary. An outsider, called “Svat”, may be authorized by the father to speak and act for him in a contract of this sort.
As soon as the ceremony of shaking hands is over neither of the contracting parties can break the engagement without incurring the obligation of pecuniary compensation for the wrong he does to the other party by his breach of contract. This compensation is of two different kinds: the one seems to have rather a moral, the other a purely monetary or material origin.If the bride's party breaks the contract, the bridegroom and his family consider themselves injured in their honor. If, however, the breach of promise has been made by the bridegroom, the case is more serious. Then it is not only the honor of the bride that suffers, but also the material interests of the family, since a bride rejected by the man whom she was on the point of marrying, will generally experience great difficulty in finding another suitor. Such being the case, the customary court [??ID and F/customary court/ througout] of the village usually accords to the party aggrieved the right to demand a pecuniary compensation “for the loss of honor the bride is supposed to have sustained" ("sa beschestic” [?? beschestie], say our peasants).In case security has been received for a bridegroom's performance of his promise by a pledge or by the partial payment of the money which he owes to the bride's father, the question of compensation is easily settled, as the family of the bride retain for her own use the money already received; but if no payment has been made, the court must decide the amount to be paid. It very seldom happens that the sum demanded exceeds thirty rubles, at least in the provinces of Great Russia. No extenuating circumstances are admitted on this occasion by the Court. A father leaving once declared that he was drunk when he gave his consent to the proposed marriage of his son, received no other answer but this:"You may be drunk, but you must be clever" (bud pyan da umen [sp??]).
The breach of contract may have two different results: one, that which I have just mentioned, a compensation in money for the loss of honor; as to the other, I have already stated that the contract of betrothal contains certain engagements as to the amount of the pretium emptionis, of the dowry and of the different expenses to be incurred by each party on the occasion of the marriage. If certain of these engagements have been partly fulfilled before the breach of promise, the wronged party has the right to demand the restitution of the money which had been spent; the bridegroom receives back the presents which he has made to his bride, and the bride those given to the bride groom. The Courts uniformly recognize the necessity for such mutual restitution, the only exception being when the money already paid serves to constitute the amount of compensation to either party for the wrong inflicted by the loss of honor.
The contract of marriage which follows that of betrothal, cannot at the present time be dissolved; but we should be mistaken if we inferred from this fact that this indissolubility of marriage has always been recognized by the common law of Russia. Though the peasants are now known to use the following aphorisms: “Marriage is known but not unmarriage”; “A bad priest may marry you, but even a good one cannot unmarry you”, the case was quite different in the past. Not longer ago than the end of the eighteenth century the Cossacks of the Don practiced divorce. A husband and wife who did not wish to live together any longer, appeared before the popular assembly [??ID & F//] and made the following declaration. “This woman is no longer my wife”; “this man is no longer my husband”. “Be it so”, was the answer of the assembly, and the marriage tie ceased to exist. During the sixteenth century husbands in Great Russia were still accustomed to grant their wives full liberty to contract a new engagement, or, at least, to live apart from their legal lords. An archbishop of Novgorod, Theodosius, bitterly complained of this practice. Up to the middle of the eighteenth century the Russian clergy dissolved the marriage bond very often for no other reason than that of incompatibility of temper, this incompatibility appearing in the dissolute life of either husband or wife.
The memory of those days is still preserved among the country folk, and we can explain the part taken by the customary courts, in direct contradiction to the law, only by the influence on them of tradition. They take part in the making of certain contracts in which husbands and wives who no longer wish to live under the same roof, waive questions of interest, and agree to interfere no more with each other's existence.
The part which the community is called on to play in the contract and dissolution of marriage is strikingly manifested in certain peculiar ceremonies still in use at a Little Russian wedding. The tokens of the damsel's virginity are exhibited in much the same way as they were exhibited unto the elders of a Jewish city, as is described in the twenty-second chapter of Deuteronomy. The whole company then begins to shout loudly, congratulating the mother of the bride, and eulogizing the maiden's virtue. In case the newly married wife is no longer a virgin, and her husband makes no statement as to his previous cohabitation with her, instead of praises and cheers, the most violent abuse is poured on the parents of the bride, and the most shameful songs are sung. They often go on to insulting acts, such as the following: spirits are offered in derision to the bride's mother in a glass with a hole in the bottom; the outside walls of the house are blackened with tar; a hole is made in the stove in order to show the stain which the hearth has suffered. Sometimes, also, one of the guests climbs up to the top of the house and begins to throw water down on all sides -- a symbol of the liberality with which the new wife has distributed her favors to all those who asked for them. Very frequently, also, the parents of the bride are insulted by having yokes made of straw, previously besmeared with tar and dirt, placed by force on their necks.
The reciprocal rights and duties of husband and wife according to Russian customary law, and the position of children as regards their parents, are the next topics I intend to discuss in the present lecture.
The husband is acknowledged to be the master of the woman he has married. “The wife is in the power of her husband”, so runs the common saying, and the fact of her complete subjection to his will is illustrated by certain symbolical acts performed at the time of the wedding. The bridegroom, while he is leading his bride to her future home, gives her from time to time light blows from a whip, saying at each stroke: “Forget the manners of thine own family, and learn those of mine”. As soon as they have entered their bedroom, the husband says to his wife, “Take off my boots”. The wife immediately obeys her husband's orders, and, taking them off, finds in one of them a whip, symbol of his authority over her person. This authority implies the right of the husband to control the behavior of his wife, and to correct her every time he thinks fit, not only by words, but also by blows. The opinion which a Russian writer of the sixteenth century, the pope or priest Silvester (the author of The Domostroi [ID??]), expressed as to the propriety of personal chastisement, and even as to its beneficial effects on the health, is still shared by the country people. In more than one popular song the wife is represented as bitterly complaining of the indifference of a husband who never on any occasion gives her a good beating. “I thrash those I love best”, says a well-known Russian proverb. The customary Court seems to admit the use of such disciplinary proceedings by not interfering in the personal relations of husband and wife. “Never judge the quarrel of husband and wife”, is a common saying, scrupulously observed by the village tribunals [??customary courts], which refuse to hear any complaint on the part of the aggrieved woman, at least so long as the punishment has not been of such a nature as to endanger life or limb. Where that is the case, the offender may be condemned to imprisonment, and the outraged victim allowed to retire for a time to the home of her parents. The customary law has, however, taken effectual measures for the protection of the wife's fortune. That husband and wife should each have entirely distinct property, with sole control over it, is still the leading principle at least in Great Russia. In the provinces which, like those of Little Russia, have been for centuries subject to the statute of Lithuania and the municipal law of Magdeburg, the system of a partial community of goods has prevailed. According to the customary law of Kiev, Poltava, and Chernigov, a widow has a right to the third part of the fortune left by her husband. In former times this third part was a sort of pledge for the security of the dowry of the wife.
A few words will suffice to give a general idea of the dependence in which the children are placed as regards their parents, and more especially their father. The patriarchal character of the Russian family plainly appears in the fact that no amount of bad treatment on the part of the parents justifies an appeal to the village tribunal, unless it involves danger to life or limb. In such cases, the nature of which makes it difficult to establish the facts before a Court of Law, the further maintenance of the child is generally committed to some near relative.
The complete dependence of the children upon their parents in respect to fortune is proved by the fact that neither son nor daughter can claim any portion of the family estate. The father can, as he pleases, give or refuse a dowry to his daughter. Should she marry against his wish no dowry is given, and she enters penniless into her husband's family. It equally depends upon the father's pleasure whether he shall transfer a portion of his property to a grown-up son, or maintain it intact in spite of his son's manifest wishes. An act of insubordination on the part of the son, as for instance, his marrying without permission, may become the occasion for his complete disinheritance by the father, at least so far as the father's fortune is concerned. I make this exception, inasmuch as, besides his share in the father's fortune, the son may be enabled to inherit from his mother's estate, or may possess property the gift of some relative or friend. Such property must be scrupulously guarded by the father whose rights over it are only those of the natural guardian of his son's fortune.
Hitherto we have spoken of the Russian family as of a kind of natural society, created by marriage and continued by the birth of children; but side by side with this form of family organization, differing only in detail from that of western Europe, there exists in Russia a peculiar mode of family communism. In various parts of the country numerous persons, sometimes amounting to fifty and rarely to less than ten, are to be found united in a common household, living under the same roof and taking their meals at the same table. A family constituted after this fashion is known to English scholars under the name of "The Joint Family" or “House Community”. Sir Henry Maine has made the notion of it generally familiar through his marvelous investigations in the early law of Ireland and the modern customs of Northern India. He has also correctly settled the question of its origin by appealing to natural increase and non-division as the real sources of its growth. He has even made an attempt to show that it was not limited to distinct peoples or races, but that, notwithstanding the immense distance which separates the Eastern or Hindu branch of the Aryan race from the European branches, notwithstanding, also, the difference in the historical development which may be traced between its Celtic and Slavonic ramifications, joint households are as likely to be met with in the defiles of the Himalayas as in the plains of old Erin or of modern Serbia. Taking advantage of the recent investigations made by Professor Bogisic in the customary law of the Southern Slavs, Sir Henry Maine has presented a lively picture of the interior organization of the famous Serbian “Zadruga”, which, as he shows, has more than one feature in common with the House Community of the Rajpoots [??sp]. The barrier of language, of which he so often complains, prevented this master in the field of comparative jurisprudence from completing his studies of the patriarchal system of House Communities by investigating the Undivided Household [??ID = verv] of Great Russia. This Undivided Household has been recently the subject of numerous and serious inquiries on the part of Russian ethnographers; and the results of their investigations I desire now to lay before you.
First of all let me tell you that the undivided household of the Eastern Slavs is a very ancient institution. In the so-called Chronicle of Nestor, mention is made of the “gens" organization of the Polians, a Slavonic tribe, dwelling as I have already said, on the banks of the Dnieper. The Polians are stated to live (I translate literally) “each ruling his own kindred or gens (rodovoi [??]) and occupying distinct localities”. This rather obscure text authorises the supposition that the Polians were divided into independent house-communities, each of which possessed its own piece of land. Another reference is made to these Undivided Households in one of the paragraphs of the Pravda of Yaroslav,(2*) a sort of Mirror of Justice [??ID] compiled in the middle of the eleventh century, by order of the Grand Prince Yaroslav, son of that Vladimir who introduced Christianity into Russia. The frequent occurrence of South Slavonic terms in this the oldest Russian code, such, for instance, as that of “bratuchada" (the son of the brother, the nephew) confirms the hypothesis first put forth, so far as I know, by the well-known professor of Russian history at Moscow, Mr Kliuchevskii [ID in BYD??], that the work of codification had been entrusted to some southern Slav. This is the more likely as owing to the recent introduction of Christianity and learning into Russia, there was a lack of well-educated natives, so that the Byzantine Church had frequently to have recourse to priests of South Slavonic origin, in order to propagate the Gospel and the elements of learning among their eastern and northern brethren. Old Russian being much more like the language into which the Holy Scriptures had been translated, and the Slavonic dialect of the translation being that of the Southern Slavs, priests of Bulgarian or Serbian origin were the fittest persons in Russia to be employed in this work. The translation of Greek texts, the transcription and composition of Slavonic and Russian MSS., as also the first attempts at a written exposition of Russian customary law would equally fall into their hands. The share of a Southern Slav in the work of codification would explain the presence in the Pravda of Yaroslav of a term which has led to much comment. The word in question is verv. Various guesses had been made as to its meaning, when at last Professor Leontovich had the good fortune to find it used in an old South Slavonic customary, the statute of Politsa, and that in the sense of Undivided Household or House Community. The sense agrees with the context of the two paragraphs in which the word is used in the Pravda. In one of them mention is made of a case where the body of a man belonging to the “following" of the prince has been found within the limits of a verv; and the other says that in such a case the whole verv must pay in common a fine similar to that which was inflicted in England in such cases during the reigns of William the Conqueror and the early Plantagenets.
A “verv”, paying in common a sort of pecuniary composition for a crime supposed to have been committed by one of its members; a “verv" possessing its own proper limits, and therefore its own territorial possession, exactly corresponds to a house-community, in which several persons, living under the same roof and owning land in common, are jointly answerable for the crimes and misdemeanors committed within the limits of their possessions.
If from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, during which the different versions of the Pravda were drawn up, we pass to the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, we find the same village community mentioned, as well in the northwestern principalities of Russia -- that of Pskov, for example, as in those of the southwest which were ruled by the Statute of Lithuania. The name under which the members of these communities are known to the Russian law is that of "siabri” [??ID]. This term is employed both by the judicial charter of Pskov (1397-1467) and by the before-mentioned Statute of Lithuania (1529). This word siabri is also to be found among the Southern Slavs. The code of Serbian laws, published by King Stefan Dushan [sp??] in the year 1349, makes frequent use of it when speaking of the peasants.(3*) The peasants of Serbia, having always lived, and still living, in undivided households, the term meaning co-partners in the enjoyment of an undivided property, was very naturally applied to them and it is this meaning that the word still keeps in the judicial charter of Pskov, and also in the Statute of Lithuania. The latter was the chief source of the customary law of Little Russia, and the term “siabri" and the institution it calls to mind, are often mentioned in the Little Russian documents of the last three centuries. A recent survey of these sources, made by Professor Luchitskii, has quite settled the question of the existence of House Communities even in those provinces of Little Russia where in our time division of property most prevails. Here as elsewhere individualism seems to have been preceded by a sort of family communism like that of India, Ireland and the South Slavonian principalities.
The term siabri is not the only one used by Old Russian writers to designate the members of such a household. They are often spoken of in the financial surveys of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under the characteristic name of hearth, pechishche. The so-called pistsoviia knigi, a kind of survey very like the poll-tax rolls still preserved in the Record Office, speak of the hearth as the unit of taxation. The pechishche of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries corresponds to the feu of Burgundy and is even known by that name in some of the northern provinces of Russia. The private charters, which are still preserved by more than one family in Archangel Province, some of which were drawn up in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when speaking of the house community always make use of the term ognische, a word which means the hearthfire, thus showing that what constituted the tie between members of the same household was their cooking food at the same hearth.
Thus far we have shown the high antiquity of the institution which we are engaged in examining. Let us now proceed to the study of its characteristic features.
All over Russia, but particularly within the boundaries of the old Muscovite empire, communities of persons belonging to the same kindred and living under the same roof are still in existence. The number of persons belonging to these communities varies from ten, or even less, to fifty and upwards. In Kursk Province, a community composed of about sixty persons has recently been noticed by Professor Samokvasov. But such cases are rare, and the number of persons living in common does not, as a rule, exceed twenty or thirty. Among them we find the grandfather and grandmother, the father and mother, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, with such other persons as may be united to them by ties of marriage, as daughters-in-law in right of their husbands, and sons-in-law in right of their wives. Persons incorporated into the family, working for the common good, and having shares in the family profits are often mentioned by writers on Russian folk-lore. Besides these others may perchance have become members, as for instance persons adopted into it, or the children of a widow contracting a new marriage with a member of the community, who, on account of her unwillingness to be separated from them, come to live with her under the roof of her new husband.
From this we see how various may have been the origin of those who were members of the Undivided Family. Blood-relationship, in the proper sense of the word, is not always required, it suffices that the members be considered as relatives; adoption takes the place of actual descent, and the fact of sharing the daily work very often gives a stranger the rights of a relative.
Undivided households are, as a rule, governed by the oldest members of the community, but in case of prolonged illness or want of mental power the oldest member may be superseded by another, sometimes elected by the whole community. The name given to the house-elder is bolshak, which means the greatest in power. His authority and functions perfectly correspond to those belonging, in a Serbian zadruga, to the so-called “domashin”[??sp]. Like the domashin, he is assisted in the difficult task of governing the female part of the house community by some aged woman, known by the name of “bolshukha" [??sp] (the greatest woman), who is not always his wife.
It would be a gross error to look upon the house-elder of a Russian undivided family as holding the same position as the Roman paterfamilias. The house-elder has neither the authority nor the amount of independence enjoyed by the paterfamilias in the administration of the family fortune. The Russian house-elder, like the Serbian domashin, is but primus inter pares. All the grown-up members of the community constitute a sort of family council, whose advice must be regularly asked in matters of importance. The domashin has no right to dispose of the family possessions without the unanimous consent of all the persons for whom he acts. When I say all, I mean of course only the grown-up members, women as well as men. The women's opinion, though of less importance than the men's, is not to be disregarded, the more so on account of the influence which they exercise on their husbands.
The functions of the house-elder are of very various kinds. We must mention first of all his exclusive right to represent the community before the executive and judicial authorities of the village and district (selo i volost). It is he who regularly appears in the courts, either to answer the complaints against the community, or to insist on the recognition of rights which have been violated. It is to him also that the Government officials address their demand for the speedy payment of the taxes. It is his duty to attend to the execution of the law concerning military service, and to the carrying out of the different orders issued by the local and provincial authorities.
As to the duties which the domashin has to perform in connection with the interior administration of the household, they are of two different kinds: they concern either the persons who compose the house community, or the undivided property owned by them. All disputes arising between co-partners are settled by the house-elder, who is regularly assisted in such cases by the family council. His interference in the relations between husband and wife, between parents and children, sometimes exerts a highly beneficial influence, in so far as it prevents cases of gross abuse in the exercise of marital and paternal power; but it often happens on the other hand that disputes between married couples are embittered by the partiality of the house-elder for one or other party. On more than one occasion husbands have been known to inflict severe punishment on their wives because they were ordered to do so by the head of the community; instances, too, are very frequent in which the wife, encouraged by the support of the house-elder, disregards the rights of her husband, and lives in almost open adultery with the person whose chief duty ought to consist in the maintenance of a high moral standard amongst the persons over whom he exercises authority.
The house-elder has also, if not a casting vote, at least a consultative voice in such matters as the choice of a wife, or the giving of a daughter in marriage. As the amount of the dowry is always fixed by the family council, presided over by its chief, his decision very often settles the question as to the acceptance or refusal of the offer of marriage. It is also the duty of the house-elder to find occupation for the unemployed members of the household. If the community is too large to allow of all its members being employed in agricultural labor, the family finds it advantageous to permit a certain number of its members to seek their fortunes abroad, either in private service or as small traders or peddlers, travelling about the country with packs on their backs. Such petty hawkers, verv numerous in our Eastern provinces, are known in Russia under the various names of [??sp] "ofeny”, “khodebshchiki”, “korobniki”, and “prosoly”. They render a real service to the country population, which, at least in places far distant from railways and markets, would without them have no means of procuring the most simple necessaries of life.
Young orphans find in the person of the house-elder their legal guardian; their moral and mental education depends solely on him; it is be who sends them to school, finds employment for them in the fields, or apprentices them to the different village artisans to learn a trade by which to earn a future livelihood.
As the administration of the family fortune, as I have already said, falls on the house-elder, he makes all arrangements that are needful to secure that every kind of agricultural labor shall be properly done, assigning to each his daily share in the ploughing, harrowing, and sowing of the fields, thrashing of the corn, and such like occupations. If the number of hands of which the family can dispose is not sufficient to answer all its requirements, he hires others to help them. When the time comes for the exchange of harvest produce for such articles as the peasants may need, it is again the business of the house-elder to sign contracts of sale or exchange. Those under his charge have in such cases the right to control actions and to demand a full account of all the moneys received or paid by him. This control is particularly useful on those somewhat rare occasions when, inconsequence of a series of bad harvests, the family is obliged to dispose of a part of its estate. On such occasions the whole family has a voice in the selection of the purchases. Their unanimous consent, plainly expressed in the act of sale, is necessary in order to render it legal.
The resources by which the family provides for all its requirements are of different kinds: some are derived from the lands it owns, others from the private earnings of its members. Widely separated though some of its members may be from the family, the travelling peddler, the laborer who has hired himself out on some distant farm, the soldier and sailor fighting in some foreign country or sailing to some distant land, nevertheless they all look upon it a duty to allow their family to share in their earnings. On its part the House Community does not object to maintain the wife and children of an absent member, or to pay the amount of his yearly taxes. The communistic character of the great Russian family is shown by the ease with which the household gets its members who are temporarily separated from it to pay over to it the gains which they make. These, as a rule, make no claim to keep their earnings for themselves. The peculium castrense and quasi castrense, formerly known to the ancient Romans, appear still to exist among the members of the Russian house communities of the present day. if a movement in favor of the establishment of private property can be detected it is only in the private earnings made by the women and girls in their leisure hours. These earnings accumulated hour by hour and day by day form, as a rule, the principal part of the future dowry, the father and mother making but a small addition to the sum got together by the industry and thrift of a maiden who for many years has been preparing for her marriage. The Undivided Household of Great Russia may in this respect be compared to the house community of India, for it also secures to an unmarried woman the right of providing a peculium apart, a sort of independent fortune, the so-called [??sp] “stridhana”, by the accumulation of the small savings she regularly makes by needlework.
Now that I have traced, though only in its general outlines, that peculiar institution known in Russia under the rather vague term of “The Great Family”, let me call your attention to the advantages and disadvantages which this institution presents. Its great merit certainly consists in the fact that it develops to a far larger extent than the small families of our days the feeling of mutual dependence and joint relationship without which no system of social reform can have any chance of success. Possessing as they do no other but common property and having an equal share in all the material enjoyments of fortune, the members of these communistic bodies escape from the disheartening influence of economic competition.
The conditions of this existence necessarily develop in the mall the consciousness of mutual responsibility, and the conviction that without reliance on one another they cannot overcome the dangers and difficulties of life. It would be a study of high psychological interest to analyze the character of a people which had grown up under such conditions, and to show how far the inborn selfish instincts of man have been moderated by the softening influence of a state of society which, to a certain extent, does away with the necessity for an uninterrupted struggle for life. The Russian novelists, conscious of what might properly be expected of them, have more than once tried to give a picture of the Russian “muzhik" who is so unlike the French "paysan”, that petty owner of a small piece of land jealously watched and guarded from the encroachments of his neighbor and from those of the State.
The life-like characters drawn by our great author, Turgenev ??[ID], in his vivid “Sketches of a Sportsman" are, I believe, the best illustrations that have ever been given of the thoughts and feelings of our people -- a people who, though rough and rude, yet enjoy the great blessing of being unconscious of the need of securing their individual happiness by a constant struggle and by the pursuit of egotistic ends. The reliance shown by the Russian peasant on the community, his conviction that the mir is always just and reasonable, and that truth is nowhere to be found but in the unanimous opinion of the people have certainly developed estimable qualities and have helped to make the Russian muzhik a communist. That this is really the case, and that his character has been modified by the system of the Great Family, is proved by the fact that wherever a division of the common property had taken place, wherever the peasant has been reduced by his own will to depend entirely on his personal industry for his success in life, he has become the pushing, unscrupulous man whom the American novelist ??[ID] has rendered so familiar to us. Two great Russian writers, Mr Uspenskii and Mr Zlatovratskii ??[ID], both equally unknown to the English public although their popularity amongst my countrymen almost equals that of Turgenev or Tolstoy, have recently published two widely different accounts of the social and psychological condition of our peasants. Mr Uspenskii has spoken of the peasant as a creature whose ethics almost entirely depend upon the regular performance of agricultural labor. As long as he remains a proprietor his morals are sound, but let him once lose the piece of land which he has made fruitful by the sweat of his brow he is sure to fall into debauchery and vice. [??Does this not contradict boldface sentence above? See next paragraph.] Mr Zlatovratskii has depicted him as a kind of unselfish philosopher, who thinks that the products of the earth are the common inheritance of all men, and that the chief duty of a Christian is to help his neighbor, sometimes even at his own expense.
Now, what may seem hardly credible is that both authors have been applauded by the same public -- applauded, moreover, because both were equally correct in their statements. The key to the mystery is to be found in the fact that it is a different life which is pictured by each -- the first having chosen his hero from among the members of a broken-up house community; the second among those still living in common. Our thoughts and feelings being directly influenced by our social conditions, Mr Uspenskii's hero presents to us all the features of a hard worker, pursuing no other object than his own interests and welfare, whilst Mr Zlatovratskii's hero appears to be “a person living not after the word of man but after the word of God”, caring for his fellow-creatures almost as much as for himself.(4*)
There is exaggeration in the way in which both authors represent the modern Russian muzhik; for the sense of proportion which was so highly valued by the ancients is not always possessed by my countrymen; but even taking into account this partiality for certain social forms and institutions, I believe they have rendered us a real service by pointing out the intimate correspondence that exists between the moral character of our peasantry and their ancient mode of life.
I must, nevertheless, confess that morality, that at least which is concerned with the relations between the sexes, has not much to gain from the close packing under the same roof of persons differing in sex and age. I leave to Mr. Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu ??[ID] the task of instructing you on this subject: “Chez un peuple pauvre et chez des hommes grossiers”, says this acute French observer,
tout n'est point profit et vertu sous le regime patriarcal. On sait combien de maux de toutes sortes derivent dans les grandes villes d'occident, de l'etroitesse des logements et de l'entassement des individus. Les [??] incony enients ne sont pas moindres en Russie. Quand une etroite izba (chaumiere) reunit plusieurs generations et plusieurs menages, que durant les longues nuits d'un long hiver les peres et les enfants, les freres et leurs femmes couchent pele-mele autour du large poele, il en resulte une sorte de promiscuite aussi malsaine pour l'ame que pour le corps. Chez le moujik, alors meme que les enfants maries habitaient plusieurs izbas disposees autour de la meme cour, l'autocratie domestique etait un danger pour l'integrite et la chastete de la famille. De meme que le proprietaire noble sur les serves de ses domaines, le chef de maison s'arrogeait parfois une sorte de droit du seigneur sur les femmes soumises a son autorite. Le chef, designe du surnom le Vieux, qui, grace a la precocite des marriages, avait souvent a peine quarante ans, prelevait sur ses belles filles un tribut que la jeunesse ou la dependance de ses fils leur defendait de lui contester. Il n'etait point rare de voir ainsi le foyer domestique souillie par l'autorite qui en devait maintenir la purete.(5*)
It may also certainly be questioned how far the loss of a spirit of personal enterprise, and the removal of a strong feeling of self-reliance ought to be considered beneficial. I have no doubt that if modern Russia produces on the minds of foreign observers an impression as of a land of paupers, the reason of it, or at least one of the reasons, is to be found in the prevalence of these old communistic institutions. We must not forget that it is the principle of self-help that has created the material growth of England and of the United States of America. But in entering on these discussions I trench on very uncertain ground. The relative advantages and disadvantages of individualism and of communism have furnished matter for warm controversy from the time of Plato down to the time of Ruskin and of Spencer, and we need not discuss them here. I think it better to state that the Russian peasant, at least in our time, is not insensible to the advantages of individualism, as is well shown by the fact that between two and three million divisions of House Communities have been effected since the day when the liberated serf obtained the right to make them. If divisions of family property were rare before 1861, the year of the abolition of serfdom, the reason lies in the fact that the manorial lords and the State were alike interested in the preservation of the system of Undivided Households. The natural responsibility of the members for the payment of taxes and for the execution of those various kinds of agricultural labor which serfs were bound to perform on the lands of the manor, were advantages far too precious to be easily abandoned. It was, and it still is, for the interests of the national treasury that these divisions should not take place. It is for this reason that the Government, concealing its real designs under a show of good-will towards an old and venerable institution, has recently taken measures to prevent further divisions [??ID]. It is no longer with the majority that the decision is to rest in questions of this kind, but with the chief of the household, a person who is, of course, as a rule, interested in the maintenance of non-division.
The reasons which are brought forward by the peasants to justify their breaking up of Undivided Households are generally the following: Non-division, they say, causes the able and laborious to work for the idle and incapable. It is unjust to force an unmarried person to divide his savings with a relative enjoying the pleasures of married life and a numerous progeny, who, on account of their youth, are not yet able to earn anything by the work of their hands. They also affirm that, as the dwelling-place is too small to accommodate a large family, they are forced to divide in order to live with decency.
It is also often said that disputes among the women are the direct cause of separation, while, again, some peasants frankly avow that they insist on leaving their communistic mode of life in order to have their own homes and to be their own masters.(6*) If the objections just mentioned are not those of individualism, I do not know what individualism is.
It is in the most fertile regions of Russia -- in Little Russia and New Russia -- that divisions have been most numerous in these parts small families are already the general rule, as the black soil of those districts is rich enough to pay the taxes that are levied, and the peasant is not alarmed by the prospect of being deprived of the aid of his relatives. The spirit of independence of the Cossacks, which all those who are acquainted with them readily acknowledge, explains to a great extent the reason why the undivided household is dying out in the southern and south-western parts of Russia.
The northern provinces will certainly sooner or later follow the same path, and the patriarchal house community will disappear in Russia, just as it has disappeared in France, Italy, and Spain, and as it is disappearing in our days in Serbia and Croatia. For we must not think that this system was altogether unknown to the people of Western Europe. Not only in Ireland, where its previous existence had been recognized by Sir Henry Maine, but also among the German and Latin races, the undivided household was, a few centuries ago, a still living institution. Guy Coquille, a legal writer of the sixteenth century, speaks of them in the province of Nivernais, and they have recently been discovered in the old charters of Berry. The “consorteria" of medieval Tuscany, the “genealogie" of the old Alemannic law, and the still existing “Companias" of Spanish Galicia, are but different names to designate the Undivided household. If these have disappeared, or are likely to disappear, in the near future, it is because they have been forced to yield to the requirements of individualism. I see no reason why the same thing should not happen in Russia.
1. Charushin [??sp], “The Cossack Communities of the Don" (Moscow,1883), p. 74.
2. “The Pravda of Yaroslav", published by Kalachev, ss. 88, 89.
3. This word appears, for instance, in the following sentences; "No political assembly of the 'siabry' ought to exist”. “If anyone convenes it, let him lose his ears”.
4. The two novels to which I allude are, “The Power of the Land”, by Uspenskii, and “The Solid Base" (Ustoi), by Zlatovratskii. Both novels were published in Moscow.
5. “L'Empire des Tzars [??sp] et les Russes”, p. 488.
6. Compare what M. Dobrotvorskii says about the family in Vladimir Province (Juridical Journal, Moscow, 1889, vol. ii.p. 283).
The Past and Present of the Russian Village Community
Few questions of history are debated in our days as that of the origin of village communities. French, English, and German scholars, to say nothing of Russians and Americans, have published whole volumes in order to prove either the existence or non-existence of village communities in that period of evolution which is generally known as patriarchal.
The acute German observer, Baron Haxthausen [ID??], who was the first to describe to European readers the social and economic character of the Russian mir [village community], was probably quite unconscious of the literary movement to which he was to give rise by his two or three sentences about the antiquity of the Russian agrarian community, and its likeness to the social and economic institutions of the Southern and Western Slavs. A few years after the publication of Baron Haxthausen's work, a Muscovite professor, Mr Chicherin [ID??], in two articles which at once produced a great sensation, strongly protested against the opinion that Russian village communities were the direct descendants of those undivided households which so commonly form part of the historical past of most Aryan nations. The Slavophils and their leader Khomiakov [ID??] maintained that they were the spontaneous growth of Russia. Chicherin believed they had a twofold origin -- that they were partly the creation of a Government anxious to secure an easy method of collecting one of the taxes which was very like the old French capitation tax, and partly due to the landed aristocracy, which could find no better means than an equal and periodical redistribution of the land, for attaching to the soil those classes of the people who were reduced to the condition of serfdom. This extraordinary assertion immediately met with a systematic denial on the part of Mr Beliaev [ID??], the well-known Professor of Legal History, who was one of the colleagues of Mr Chicherin, and whose extensive researches in the legal history of Russia gave his opinion great weight. This did not, however, prevent M. Fustel de Coulanges [ID??] from reproducing the theory justas if it had not already been refuted. But the inventors of theories, of whom Fustel de Coulanges was certainly one of the greatest, too often follow the method described in the well-known French saying: “Je prends mon bien ou je le trouve”. Seeing that a denial of the antiquity of the Russian village communities supported his theory of the general prevalence of private property even in the earliest times, he thought himself at liberty to disregard all later investigations, and to endorse an opinion which had already been refuted.
The study of the origin and growth of Russian village communities has never been discontinued in my country wince the time when the work of Haxthausen first drew the attention of our economists and historians to this peculiar institution. A crowd of young students have rendered familiar, even to the general public, the notion that they were the spontaneous result of our social development; that the Government, by interfering in their internal constitution, has only succeeded in obscuring their national character; that mutual responsibility in matters of taxation was foreign to their original organization; and that there is ample foundation for the statement that their members, from being, as they were at first, free possessors of the soil, became the serfs of the tsar, the nobles, or the clergy.
The extraordinary increase of historical research in Russia, and especially of investigations into the social and economical development of the country, which took place during the reign of Alexander II, certainly contributed largely to induce German scholars, with the illustrious Maurer at their head, to review the current opinions concerning the social condition of the Germans in the Middle Ages. It led Maurer to elaborate his magnificent theory of the Mark, Manor, and Village Constitution(Mark, Hof und Dorf Verfassung).
Sir Henry Maine made the system of village communities familiar to English students, and had, moreover, the great merit of showing that, far from being a peculiar feature of the social organization of the Germans and Slavs, they were to be found amongst the majority of Aryan nations, in the plains of the Punjab and the interior of the North-West Provinces of India, and among the green pastures of Erin. The almost universal admiration which his essay on Village Communities in the East and West has elicited, rests on no other ground than that of its having first brought to light the truth which is now all but established, that village communities represent a distinct period in the social development of mankind, a period which ought to be placed between the patriarchal and the feudal periods, and that, therefore, all endeavors to explain their existence among this or that people by the peculiarities of national character ought to be henceforth declared useless and worthless.
This idea, confirmed, as it is, by a general survey of the survivals left by the system of village communities among the Celtic, German, and Latin nations, a survey with which M. de Laveleye has inseparably connected his name, has literally revolutionized the historical researches of more than one country of Europe, and especially those of my own. The impression produced by the two writers just mentioned is still so strong that Russian scholars, instead of subscribing to the recent ingenious hypothesis of Mr Seebohm as to the servile origin of village communities in England, have themselves set to work to examine the rich materials which the Bodleian Library and the Record Office present as to the history of land-ownership in England. In saying this I have particularly in view the deep and accurate studies of my former colleague Professor Vinogradov on the agrarian constitution of medieval England, of which a few years ago I gave a short account in the Law Quarterly Review. Others have made similar inquiries into the economic history of medieval Germany, and their studies have induced some French authors, and among them M. Dareste, warmly to oppose the original but one-sided theory of Fustel de Coulanges.
Before passing to the direct study of the development of the Russian village community, I must recognize the fact that the long and sometimes violent struggle of the early Slavophils on behalf of the spontaneous origin of the mir, has been productive of the best results to the study of agrarian communism in Russia.
A comparison between the modern constitution of the mir and that described in old charters proves the widely different character of the two, while the differences between them support the theory of a natural evolution of the community, an evolution not yet completed in more than one part of the Empire. The difference which we trace between the past and the present of the Russian commune are the same which we see existing between the various modern forms of it in our own day. The study, therefore, of these forms and of their natural transformation may be of great help towards understanding the true origin and growth of the system. The opportunity -- I may even say the necessity -- of such a study is the more apparent on account of the lack of mediaeval documents concerning the early constitution of the mir. Our sources of information are limited indeed; for several centuries, down to the end of the fifteenth, they are almost entirely wanting, and they only begin to be at all abundant during the last three hundred years. It is only, therefore, by a survey of the modern evolution of village ownership in some remote parts of Russia that we can get an idea of the various transformations which the commune has had to undergo before it reached its present condition.
The vastness of the area and the fact that certain parts of Russia remained for centuries unpeopled, partly on account of their physical condition, partly owing to their insecurity, due, as it was, to the periodical invasions of the Tartars, explain, to a great extent, why the character of the commune varies so much throughout the land. Its growth has been stopped in one place at an early stage, in another place at a later stage, of its development. We can trace these stages in some cases by charters and by legal and judicial documents, in others by the transformation of the commune into higher and more elaborate forms. It is only by the study of these documents and these forms that the Russian historian can hope to be able to describe the gradual development of the agrarian communism of his country. We will now consider the chief results which the application of this method has produced.
In the last lecture it was shown that the earliest mode of land tenure in Russia was the holding it in an undivided state by the members of a house community. This kind of a family communism is mentioned in the Pravda of Yaroslav at the end of the eleventh century, and continued to exist in the north and south of the country down to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The chief characteristic of this holding consisted in the fact that, though the land remained undivided and lay open as it had done for centuries before, every member of the household, nevertheless, was the possessor of a share in the various fields belonging to the family. These shares were not equal, but varied according to rights of inheritance appertaining to each of the holders. Should the brothers and nephews decide on living separately, they would abandon the old system of using in common the produce of the early harvest, and divide the area of the arable land in unequa1 shares, proportioned to the rights of inheritance possessed by each member of the household. The extent of the shares was not fixed. The soil varied in fertility, and all the shareholders alike appreciated the advantages of vicinity; each partner, therefore, received the right to enjoy a certain portion in each of the fields possessed by the village. These portions were not strictly defined, but, as a rule, represented the half, third, fourth, eighth, and so on, of the field according to the heritage which was acknowledged to belong to each partner.
Let us suppose the case of one commune, the family consistingof three brothers living and two nephews, the sons of a fourthbrother deceased. The share of each of the brothers would beone-fourth part of each of the different fields in the village,whilst that of the nephews would not exceed an eighth. Eachpartner having a right to sell his ideal portion, or a part ofit, to a stranger, as well as to a relative, the village wouldsoon become occupied by neighbours owning the most unequalportions in field. These neighbours would maintain theobligations which common possession is apt to establish; themeadows for the greater part of the time would be kept undivided,subject here and there to a yearly distribution according to thewants of each homestead; but these wants being as a rule thesame, the custom would prevail of dividing them into equal partsfor the purpose of mowing.
The pasture and forest land would also remain subject to acommunity of ownership, and would sometimes belong to severalneighbouring villages, which in that case would constitute alarger area, similar to the German “mark”, and known under thename of “volost”. Each of the inhabitants of the “volost" wouldbe allowed an unlimited use of the undivided area, it being tooextensive to be easily exhausted. It would, however, be an errorto suppose that this general and unlimited enjoyment of theundivided mark was but the result of that freedom which allpossessed as to unoccupied ground (the res nullius), for a personwho was not an inhabitant of the village or villages constitutingthe mark or “volost”, would have no right to enjoy its pasturesand forest lands. That this was the case is proved by the factthat no one might dig a piece of ground belonging to the forestunless the digging were authorized by the whole community ofshareholders. Such a right of prohibition could not have beenenjoyed unless the community was the owner of the “mark”.
The natural evolution of agrarian communism did not gofurther than this in the northern parts of Russia. It wentfurther, however, in the south -- in those vast and fertilesteppes which lie on the eastern and western banks of Dnieper,and which for centuries constituted a part of Poland. The recentresearches of Professor Louchizky have brought to light thefollowing facts, which were quite unknown and some of which weredirectly contradicted by former historians. Undivided householdsand their immediate successors, villages, composed of sharers inthe same ground, were in the beginning well known on the easternbank of the Dnieper. The undivided “mark”, on which everyhomestead had the right to take fuel and to pasture its cattle,is known in this region under the name of lands belonging to the"gromada”, or commune. They are sometimes called also common orvillage lands. The colonists who, during the sixteenth andseventeenth centuries, crossed the river in order to occupy the free steppes in modern Chernigov Province, migrated incompanies, organized on the model of undivided or partly dividedhouseholds. These companies were called “skladchina”, from theverb “skladivat”, which means to put something in common. Thearea on which the colonisation took place was so boundless thateach homestead was allowed to sow yearly as much ground as it wasable to till. When the harvest was once reaped the land wasabandoned, and a new piece occupied for agricultural purposes.You can easily see that this was a proceeding similar to that ofthe ancient Germans, of which Tacitus says: -- “Arva per annosmutant et superest ager”.
I need not tell you that as long as the population was smallenough to allow of a yearly change of soil for cultivation,redistribution was never thought of; no mention is ever made ofthe run-rig system which characterises the modern villagecommunity. But as it is impossible that shares should be equalwithout recourse to some such method, we must not look forequality under the conditions just stated. Even in the eighteenthcentury, when the growth of population had diminished the area ofarable land, periodical redistribution remained unknown. If someamount of equality was, nevertheless, secured, it was due to thecontrol which the commune began to exert over its members.Private appropriation of soil was no longer allowed, except onthe condition of its being made at certain fixed periods, andunder the supervision of the authorities. Twice a year, in autumnand in spring, the whole commune, with its cattle and itsagricultural implements, went out into the open field. At thecommand of the village-elder, the head of each homesteadproceeded to trace with his own plough the limits of the groundhe intended to sow, and no one was allowed to extend hiscultivation beyond the limits thus settled. By-and-by the rightof retaining these private parcels of ground was extended to aperiod of three years, at the end of which they returned to thecommune, and a new appropriation of the arable area was orderedto be made.
Hitherto I have spoken of the mode in which land was enjoyedso far as it applied to arable land alone. Let us now say a wordabout the meadows, forest land, and pastures. The first wereowned on conditions similar to those first mentioned. At the endof May a day was fixed when all the villagers were assembled forthe hay harvest. Each householder marked with a scythe the limitsof the meadow he intended to mow. It was the duty of thevillage-elders to see that these limits were strictly observed.Forests and pastures were so abundant that no measuring wasneeded to regulate their use. Non-division and common enjoymentremained the general rule, several villages very often possessingequal rights to take fuel and to pasture cattle in the sameforests and wastes.
Whilst this was the state of things on the banks of the Dnieper, a similar evolution took place on those of the Don. An area, even larger than that of the south-western steppes in the middle of the sixteenth century, awaited the arrival of those Great Russian colonists, who founded the so-called Territory of the Don-Cossacks. For a while the ground was declared to be the common property of the whole community, and each family was allowed to sow and mow wherever it liked, but by-and-by large villages called “stanitsa" were formed, and the first division of the ground took place. Each village received its own area of arable and meadow ground; pasture and waste land remained the common property of the whole people, or, as it was said, of thewhole “army”.
The unlimited right of private homesteads to appropriate asmuch soil as each required was scrupulously maintained by these stanitsas, a fact which in the end produced great inequality inthe distribution of the land. This inequality was established infavor of a minority of families out of which the elders of thepeople were regularly chosen; but as those who were possessed ofbut small parcels of land formed the majority, various economicarrangements were regularly made at the village folkmotes wherethis majority was all powerful; redistributions of land in orderto equalise the shares were very often prescribed and the systemof run-rig tenure made its first appearance. This took placealmost in our own time, some few stanitsas continuing even now tomaintain their ancient privilege of private appropriation.
I might continue my survey of the beginnings of the modernsystem of village communities by a description of the economicarrangements still in use among the Cossacks of the Terek or ofthe Oural, but if I did so, I should only have to repeat the samefacts, and that in order to deduce the following conclusions.That the modern system of periodical redistribution of land inequal shares was quite unknown when colonisation first began, butthat this did not prevent a peculiar kind of agrarian communism,the foundations of which are to be traced in the internalconstitution of the undivided household; and that this form ofsocial existence was known to Russia at the beginning of herhistory, and was diffused all over her empire, as may be seenfrom the frequent occurrence in medieval documents of terms like"the hearth”, “the fire" (pechische, ognische).
All the districts we have passed in review had one thing incommon; serfdom was almost unknown to them. The peasants ofArchangel for instance were always named “svoiezemzi”, whichmeans independent possessors of the soil. Social distinctionsremained almost unknown to the Little Russians down to the end ofthe eighteenth century when Catherine the Second introducedamongst them the notions of a feudal nobility and serfdom. TheCossacks of the Don remained free up to the time of Nicholas. Iam, therefore, right in saying that agrarian communism is not thedirect result of serfdom, since it has been shown to exist inregions where serfdom was unknown.
A careful study of old Russian documents does not add much tothe strength of this argument. The illiterate peasants could notconsign to writing the economic arrangements they entered into,and in this fact lies the true reason why, out of the variouscategories into which the Russian peasantry was divided duringthe middle ages, none is less familiar to us than the freevillager, the occupier of the so-called “black hundreds" (cherniasotni). The commune was completely independent in matters ofinternal concern, there was no need for the government or forjudicial charters to meddle in its system of land tenure. Whatinformation we can gather from them of the external organizationof the volost or commune proves however the prevalence of acommunistic and democratic mode of existence. The assembly of thepeople, the folkmote, called in the South Western provinces ofRussia the “veche”, more often “the copa”, was formed of all thehouse-elders of a volost. It possessed the right of making localbye-laws; of choosing the elders of the commune or “starostas";of distributing among its members the direct taxes which thegovernment imposed on agriculture and on the different industriesof the nation (sochi i promisli). Persons were also chosen by thecommune to assist the judges in the exercise of their duties,playing n this occasion the part reserved in medieval Germany tothe so-called Schoffen and in old Sweden to the “nemd”.*
As to the relation in which the volost stood to the groundthat it occupied, this subject is partly illustrated by thefollowing facts.
We possess a small number of private charters and judicialrecords, belonging to the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries,from which we may see, that the true owner of the soil was partlythe village and partly the “volost”, or association of villagers.To give you an instance of what I am saying, I will cite theprecise text of some of these charters.
In 1555 a lawsuit began between a squire (votchinnik) calledNefediev and the peasants of eighteen villages all belonging tothe volost of Almesch. The question which the judges had todecide, was whether some pastures belonged to the volost or tothe squire. Witnesses named by each party from among the oldestinhabitants of the locality declared that the peasants were thereal possessors of the ground in dispute, and that theirownership went back to a period beyond the memory of man, and thejudge decided that the claims of the squire were null and void.
In the case just mentioned we find ourselves in presence of asort of undivided mark, composed, like that of Germany, of acertain number of villages possessing lands in common. Theselands are pastures. Other charters of the same period show uscases in which the undivided area of the mark or volost wascomposed of forest ground. Expressions like the following arefrequent in the documents just mentioned: “The forest belongs tothe commune (selo) and the villages in common (vopsche), or"this" piece of forest ground has been given to me by the volost(the mark), the elder, and the peasants”.
No one had the right to clear the forest or reclaim the wasteland lying within the limits of a volost, unless authorized to doso by the elders and the assembly of peasants. This fact appearsclearly in the following instance: in 1524, three persons foundsome salt wells on the shores of Dvina in the midst of a darkforest. They addressed a petition to the Government asking to berecognized as the legal possessors of the place, and theysupported their demand by the following argument: “Not one of thesurrounding marks or volosts has any appurtenances in the place”.Had it been otherwise, had the wells been situated on theappurtenances of a volost, no private person could have made thedemand just mentioned. The marks or volosts jealously watchedover the integrity of their boundaries, and that from theearliest times. In the “Lives of the Saints”, those earlymonuments of our written literature, complaint is sometimes madeof peasants doing their best to get rid of a hermit, establishedin a neighbouring forest, “because”, says the hagiographer, “theyfeared he would assign to some monastery a part of the groundthey owned”.*
The charters give, as I have already said, very littleinformation about the internal arrangements of the volost andvillage; all we know is that the settlements were very far fromresembling those large assemblages of people which are known inour days under the name of “slobodi”. As a rule the “derevnia" orvillage contained few hearths, and the villages were scatteredover the whole area of the volost. The wastes and forests wereused in common, while the meadows and arable fields became theobject of private appropriation. No equality of shares seem tohave existed, the charters constantly mentioning the “best men”,"the men of wealth”, (jitii liudi) side by side with the “smallermen" (molodschii). Some few seem to have had even no part at allin the possessions of the soil, being known under the name ofpodsousedi or podsousedki, which means living under the authorityof a neighbour or villager (sosed). These persons were regularlyemployed as agricultural labourers. Some few, the so-called"bobili”, were possessed of small parcels of land, resembling inthat the cottarii of Domesday Book. The agricultural area ownedby each homestead was known by the name of “jrebii”, which meansa lot, and the sense which men of the thirteenth and fourteenthcenturies attached to this term is revealed to us by an oldRussian translation of some parts of the Byzantine codes, theProchiron and the Eclogue. This translation in certain pointsappears to be a kind of adaptation of Greek legislation to theconditions of the Russian people. One of the paragraphs of theseso-called “Books of the Law" (Zakonnii Knigi, chap. xii) containsthe following sentence: “If a division of land shall take placeby which some person shall injure the interest of others in theirplots (jrebii) the division must not be maintained”.*
The jrebii being a plot of land enjoyed by a single householdout of the agricultural area of the mark, a plot which need notnecessarily be equal to those of the neighbours, we are right insaying that the village community of the free peasants of Muscovywas like that of the Cossacks of the Dnieper. This likeness is toa certain extent obscured by the financial arrangements which theMuscovite volost entered into in order to secure the yearlypayment of the land tax, these arrangements, as well as the taxitself, being quite unknown to Little Russian communes.
The Muscovite administration formerly empowered the voloststo distribute the taxes imposed on the villages, according to thequantity of cultivated land together with the commons theretoannexed, possessed by them. The sum to be paid by the inhabitantsof each subdivision of the mark was then divided among thevarious households according to the extent of their possessions.The unit of taxation was the land of a plough. I mean the amountof land which one plough. working the whole day, could turn up.This unit was known by the name of “socha”. Some homesteads ownedtwo, three, or more of these, but there were others who held onlya portion of this unit, just as in mediaeval England there werehouseholds owning entire virgates, or the half or third part of avirgate, and in Germany there were holders of “mansi pleni etmansi dimidii”, “ganze und halbe Hufen”. As serfdom was unknownand no mutual responsibility in matters of taxation bound thepeasant to the soil he occupied, undivided households very oftenquitted their dwellings in order to settle in some neighbouringcountry, on lands still free of occupation, or on those liberallyaccorded to new-comers by their private owners, on condition of asmall payment.
The abandoned ground returned each time to the volost, whichalways took measures to find some new occupier who might relievethe mark from the increase of taxation produced by the departureof the previous occupier. Instances of such new occupation areregularly reported in the following terms: “All the peasants ofthe volost have allowed such and such persons to settle on thelots (jrebii) left free by the departure of such and suchpersons. The mir (this word means the whole community ofshareholders) has conceded this lot to --" (here follows thename). The shares of each particular household having no distinctlimits, we are induced to think that the possession of a lot, orjrebii, conceded no other right than that of having a distinctshare in the open fields of the village. Each household possessedlarger or smaller strips of ground in the different fieldscontained in the village area, and also had the right to mow adistinct portion of the village meadow, while the enjoyment ofthe waste and of the forest land was free to all the inhabitantsof the volost, and no rules determined precisely the use whicheach householder was allowed to make of it.
You may see from what I have said that the runrig system andequality of shares were as little known to the villagecommunities of Old Russia, and specially of Muscovy, as to thoseof medieval Germany or England. No better known was thecorrespondence which, according to Mr Seebohm, existed inmedieval England between the quantity of ground owned by eachhousehold and the part it took in the ordinary labour ofagriculture. Tillage performed by families possessing in common a"carruca”, or sort of plough worked with three or four pairs ofoxen, was quite unknown to my forefathers, who were in the habitof cultivating the ground with small ploughs, drawn very often bya single horse, a fact noticed in the epic poems, andparticularly in the ballad, the chief hero of which is a simplepeasant, Micoula Selianinovich. The same mode of tillage, I mayadd, is still in use among the peasants of Great Russia, wherethe ground is not nearly so heavy as is the black soil of ourSouthern provinces. The only thing that depended upon tenure ofland was taxation, the householder paying a larger or smallerproportion of the land tax, according to the number of ploughlands sown by his seed.
This is almost all we know of the free Muscovite villagecommunity. Our information is fuller as to the economicarrangements of those dependent communes, which were establishedon the possessions of the higher clergy and the monasteries.According to Professor Gorchacov, to whom we are indebted for avery circumstantial description of the inner life of thesebodies, each manor regularly contained, next to the demesne land,a large area occupied by the dependent households. Each of thesehouseholds was obliged to perform agricultural labour on the areabelonging to the landlord, and in return possessed the right to ashare in the autumn and spring fields, owned in common by thecustomary tenants of the manor. The existence of these two fieldsmay be traced, at least in the central Governments of Russia, asfar back as the beginning of the sixteenth century, as they arementioned in a charter issued in the year 1511. The peasants had,before the end of that century, the right of free removal, theland quitted by a peasant household returning to the community ofthe villagers.* Besides the feudal lord, the state also had aclaim on the community in the shape of a land tax, which thevillage assembly was itself authorized to collect. The area heldby the village was accordingly divided into ploughs (sochi), andsmaller divisions called viti, which corresponded to a distinctpart of the work of a plough. To make these financialarrangements clearer to an English public, I will say that thecustomary land of the village was divided into hides andvirgates. The quantity of land contained in each virgate variedfrom one village to another, but the virgates of the same villagewere equal; in that respect the manor of mediaeval Englandpresents the greatest similitude to that of mediaeval Russia.Both have this also in common, that each household was taxedaccording to the amount of arable land it owned. One householdpaid for one “vit”, or virgate, another for two, a third for halfa virgate, and so on. The vit or virgate, just as in England, wasnot a number of fields surrounded by distinct boundaries, but aunion of ideal shares in the different fields of the village. Inthe lands of the monastery of Constantine, for instance, the vitwas, at least during the first part of the sixteenth century,equal to the right of occupying five desiatines in each of thethree fields of the manor, a desiatine being equal to two acres.First introduced in order to secure an equal distribution ofstate taxation, the system of hides and virgates became later onthe basis of the levy and distribution of feudal dues. Instancesfrequently occur in sixteenth century charters of the labourperformed by each of the households being in direct ratio to thenumber of virgates, or viti, in its possession. Under suchconditions, no equality could exist as to the amount of groundpossessed by each villager. This equality was not demanded byanybody on account of the abundance of land and the facility ofremoval. The peasant who thought himself aggrieved could seekbetter terms on some neighbouring manor; removals were frequent,and the commune was always busy seeking for persons who mightwish to become occupiers of the vacant ground of an abandonedvirgate.
I shall proceed no further in the study of the socialarrangements of the Russian manor because they appear to be, sofar as the ownership of land is concerned, very like those of afree village. This is not surprising to one who knows the smalldifference which exists between the arrangements of a Germanmanor, or Hof, and those of a free commune, or Dorf-gemeinde. Theproprietor was too well pleased to see his yearly revenueguaranteed by the unpaid service of the villeins, to meddle withtheir internal arrangements. The villeins were accordinglyallowed to choose their own executive officers, to have theirelders, their “good men”, or judicial assistants, and toapportion taxes and arrange the land ownership at their regularmeetings, or folkmotes. Such being the case, I see no reason whythe agrarian communism practiced by the Russian peasantry shouldbe much affected by their loose dependence upon the landlord, atleast, before the time when serfdom was completely establishedand the peasant was prevented from removing from the manor.
The general characteristic of the old Russian community maybe given in few words: it was a kind of ownership, based on theidea that the true proprietor of the land was none other than thecommune. The rights of the commune to the soil occupied by theindividual households appears in the indivisibility of the wasteand forest lands, and in the fact that vacant shares areregularly disposed of by the commune, and that nobody is allowedto occupy a piece of ground lying within the limits of thevillage common, unless he is authorized by the local authorities.Arable land and meadows are, as a rule, in the hands of privatehouseholds, which pay taxes and perform manorial labour in directproportion to the amount of land they own. This ownership doesnot suppose the existence of certain limits which nobody isallowed to infringe. It implies only the right to have a definiteshare in the three fields, which constitute the agricultural areaof the village. The shares are not equal, but differ in directproportion to the payments which the household is called upon tomake, partly to the State, and partly to the lord of the manor.Periodical redistributions are unknown, and no mention is made ofthe run-rig system of some modern English and Irish manors.
Thus constituted, the old Russian village community appearsto be very like that of medieval England with its system of openfields, its hides and virgates. It may be also compared to theGerman mark, so far as the mark is composed of a set of villagessubdivided into units partly financial, partly territorial,called Hufen, and securing to their private holders, like theEnglish virgates, the right to have a distinct share in thearable fields and in the meadows of the village.
Now that we are aware of the peculiar features of themedieval village community, let us ascertain the reasons whichhave produced a complete revolution in its interior organizationby the introduction of the principle of equal division of thesoil among its individual members, and the system of periodicalallotments of ground in order to secure this equality.
Two facts seem to have contributed to this result; the firstwas the increase of population, which, as we have already shownin the instance of Little Russian communes, sooner or laterinduces the majority of persons holding small shares to force therest to proceed to a redistribution of the soil. The other factis the replacing of the land-tax by a sort of capitation tax, andthe introduction of the principle of mutual responsibility, inmatters of taxation. The first of these causes, increase ofpopulation, remained inoperative as long as the peasant retainedthe liberty of removing freely from one place to another. Muchground was lying waste. Landowners had no other thought than howto induce new colonists to settle on it; with this end in viewthey regularly freed them from all taxes for a period of threeyears. Those of the villagers, who thought themselves sacrificedto the interests of their neighbours could, therefore, easilyfind the land they wanted and that under very favorableconditions. They had only to leave the village they inhabited andseek for new homes, either on the still unoccupied steppes or onthe manors possessed by the crown, the church, or the landedaristocracy.
Such was no longer the case when serfdom became a generalrule, and the right of free migration was refused to the peasant.This happened during the period which extends from the end of thesixteenth to that of the seventeenth century. Two decades laterfollowed the great change in matters of taxation when Peter theGreat abolished the land-tax, and introduced the capitation-tax.This happened in the year 1719. Mutual responsibility of personsbelonging to the same village was introduced, and both landlordsand peasants were allowed to take preventive measures againstthose who might seek to escape the obligation of paying thepersonal tax by withdrawing from their habitations.
When this revolution was accomplished and each householdbegan to be taxed, not according to the quantity of land itowned, but according to the number of persons attributed to it inthe taxation returns, the grossest injustice would necessarilyarise if the soil remained in the hands of its then holders.Complaints were therefore made, and petitions addressed, in whichthe old division of the village area was declared to beobnoxious, and an equality of shares was demanded as a necessarycondition for the regular fulfilment by each village of itsfinancial obligations towards the State. An instance of such arequest is that presented by the peasants of the village ofPetrovsk in the year 1725, in which they ask to have an equalshare of land allotted to each member of the commune, all otherkinds of allotment being contrary to justice. Similar demandsmust have been made repeatedly before the members of thelegislative commission, convened by Catherine the Second,received orders to protest against the requirements of those whowanted all the land of a village to be distributed in equalshares according to the number of souls, notwithstanding thatthese lands had been fertilized by the work and private industryof the first settlers.*
For the reasons just mentioned, a redistribution of the landwas made at least every time the Government revised its taxationreturns; such revision occurring every nineteenth year. It wasfelt necessary to establish a direct relation between the numberof persons living in a household, and the amount of landpossessed by the household, and the fact, that the actual numberof such persons did not correspond to those enumerated in thetaxation returns, even after the lapse of a few years, led somecommunes to have recourse to more frequent divisions. It is inthis way that we may explain how it was brought about, thatredistributions came to be made every sixth or even every thirdyear. We hear of no yearly distribution because the three fieldsystem, still prevailing in Russia, required at least a threeyears' rotation of the crops. It was not always the countrypeople who took the initiative in an equal re-allotment of thesoil according to the number of persons taxed. Mr Zabelin hasbrought forward instances, in which such allotments were made onthe initiative of the lord of the manor, and Mr Schimanov hasproduced a curious case, in which such re-allotment was made bythe direct order of a provincial Governor, who thought thatjustice required that the number of shares, owned by eachhousehold, should correspond to the number of souls composing it.This happened not longer ago than the second half of theseventeenth century in Kharkov Province, whereinequality of shares had been up to that time the general rule.It is only by a general agreement between the people and theauthorities that we can explain the rapid expansion of thepresent system. We do not find any trace of such redistributionsbefore the end of the seventeenth century, when the borough ofSchouia began to make new allotments of ground every ten years.*
Having now finished with the past history of the Russianvillage commune, we shall proceed to the study of its modernarrangements. These have formed the subject of very curiousinvestigations, which have been carried on during the last fewyears by a number of young Russian economists, employed by theelective councils or “zemstva" of our provinces. Their work willprobably be as valuable to coming generations, as that performedin England a century ago by Messrs Sinclair and Marshall, or asthat, which in our own day is still going on in India under theenlightened supervision of the Indian Settlement Commissioners. Ishall make free use of the rich material, which these skilful anduntiring workers have accumulated, in order to present to you apicture of the prevailing system, the mir or village community ofto-day.
According to the law of emancipation promulgated the 19th February 1861, the peasantry continue to possess an organization quite distinct from that of the other classes of society. Theancient “volost" (or mark) is preserved or rather revived, andthe villages are, as they were centuries ago, the administrativeunits of which it is formed. The volost and the village havealike their elected authorities, the right of election beingbased on a kind of universal suffrage, exercised by all thegrown-up men of the community. But, differing in this from the French “commune”, and the sections composing it, the Russianvolost and village accord no right of suffrage to personsbelonging to any other social position than that of peasant(krestianine, a word, the first meaning of which was Christian).A merchant or a nobleman may reside for years in a village; hewill not thereby acquire any right to meddle with its internaladministration. To explain the reason of such an anomaly, we mustkeep in view the circumstances under which the law of 1861 waspromulgated. its chief purpose was to liberate the serfs fromtheir dependence on the landed aristocracy. The squire, the"pomeschick”, was the enemy against whom they had to fight, andit was feared that he could easily regain the influence, whichhad lasted for centuries, if he and the persons in his servicewere allowed to have a vote in communal concerns. It wastherefore to prevent a practical restoration of feudal power,that the upper classes were debarred from all interference invillage matters. But the legislators forgot the dangers, whicharise from the artificial isolation of an ill-educated class,both for itself and for the other orders of society. I know nocountry, in which the enlightened classes have so littleopportunity of exercising that moral influence, without which nosocial progress can be really achieved. Not only the squire, behe a nobleman or a merchant, but also the parish priest (thepope), are excluded by law from the right to vote in the villageassembly. Questions concerning public instruction and publichealth are daily discussed and settled by illiterate men, veryoften to the injury of the community, without any reference tothe wishes and intentions of the more enlightened inhabitants,whose interference in such cases would be considered a directinfringement of the law. This is certainly a great wrong; a wrongwhich is clearly seen, both by society and by Government. The absenteeism of the higher classes and their dislike of thatcountry life which is so familiar in England, certainly finds itschief root in what I may call the “privilegium odiosum" which isattached to the status. On the other hand, the ordinary peasant,left without that natural control and guidance which theenlightened classes are called upon to exercise towards the moreignorant, is naturally led to look for protection and help tothose of his own rank who have succeeded in securing forthemselves a certain amount of material wealth. This class ofrich peasants, known under the name of “koulaks”, which means aman knowing how to keep money in his own hands, is as a rule no better educated and far more selfish and immoral than the rest ofthe country people. The disintegrating influence, which such aclass exercises, has been rightly recognized in the nickname withwhich the peasantry have dubbed its members, I mean that of "miroied”, or “eaters of the mir" it is to such speculators andmonopolists that the people are abandoned; it may be in thesecret hope of rendering impossible any good understandingbetween them and the higher classes of the nation. For no doubt,such an understanding might become a serious obstacle in the wayof the all-powerful bureaucracy, which rules over the masses withthat insolence and harshness which are usually only met with inthe relations of conquerors to a conquered nation. Instead ofgiving the higher classes their share in the affairs of the village, the Government has lately increased the number ofadministrative oppressors, by instituting a new office, that of"Commander of the district”. This office is to be exclusivelyfilled by members of the hereditary nobility. With no othercontrol over them, than that of the Governor of the province,these newly-created officers are called upon to exercise aboundless authority, both executive and judicial, over thevillages in their district. There is no judicial appeal againsttheir doings, for they are at once police officers making theirown by-laws, and magistrates authorized to decide questions ofthe infringement of these same by-laws; they are even the executioners of their own sentences, for the right of flogging onthe spot, where the misdemeanour has been committed, is openly recognized as belonging to them.
It is not difficult to foresee the effect which theintroduction of these new officers will have on the life of thepeople. Having been hitherto taught to look on the neighbouringsquire as a stranger, they will now come to consider him as theirnatural enemy.
But let us go back to the study of the administrativeorganization of the Russian mir.
Every village is authorized to have its popular assembly.This folkmote is the regular heir of the “vechas" and “koupas"still preserved, as we have seen, in the sixteenth andseventeenth centuries, among the South-Western communes ofRussia, and, what is not less curious, also by the manorialsystem during the same centuries. When I say that all the adultmembers of the village are called upon to vote at these popularassemblies, I mean that this is the case in the majority ofRussian villages, in which the inhabitants are likewise partnersin the common lands of the village. It is not the case in theyearly increasing number of villages, in which the new-comers areonly permitted to reside in the commune, but are prevented fromsharing in the benefit which the commune derives from itsproperty in land. In Germany and Switzerland, where centuries agonew-comers, known under the name of “Beisaszen" or"Hintersaszen”, “domicilies”, “manants”, etc., were allowed tosettle side by side with the proprietors of the common land (thegemeingut or allmend), two kinds of popular assemblies are known.The one is composed of all the adult inhabitants withoutdistinction; the other of those who have a share in the commonland. The first assembly makes by-laws, chooses officers, andpasses measures which concern the common good. The secondadministers the lands of the village, appoints those entrustedwith the care of them, and distributes to the several partnerstheir shares in the commons. The laws of some Swiss cantons,therefore, establish a difference between the “politischeGemeinde”, or commune, composed of all the male inhabitants, andthe “burgerliche Gemeinde”, to which all the sharers in thecommon land, male and female alike, belong. Now this differenceis unknown in Russia, where political rights are exclusivelyexercized by those inhabitants who are at the same time sharersin the common land.
The officer to whom the assembly entrusts the administrationof the village is called the village elder. We find the sameofficer in the old Russian communes, both in the so-called “blackhundreds" in other words, in the villages inhabited byfree-commoners -- and also on the lands of manorial lords.Monastic charters, among other documents, very frequently mentionthe election of these officers, who are sometimes called,especially in the South-Western communes, “bourgmistr" -- a nameevidently derived from the German burgermeister, and showing, toa certain extent, the influence exercized by German municipal lawon the local organization of Lithuania and Little Russia.
It is the village elder, the starosta, who represents thecommune in its relations with the district and provincialauthorities. It is he who collects the taxes, exercises somesupervision over the way in which the commune keeps in repair theroads and pubic buildings; sees that the law concerningobligatory fire insurance is obeyed, and carries into effect thevarious administrative enactments which the police authoritiesand the local assemblies of the zemstvo are very liberal increating. But the most important functions of the commune, thatof apportioning personal taxation and making periodicalassessments of common land, are performed by the popular assemblyor mir. Two-thirds of the whole number of voters are empowered todecide whether the proper time has come or not for a new generalallotment. The same majority is also required whenever thedivision of the common land into private property has to bedecided on.
Neither the assembly nor the village elder has any judicialauthority; but the village elder exercises, to a certain extent,the functions of a public notary, for he gives legal validity toprivate documents and deeds by affixing to them the village seal.
A regular tribunal, a kind of court leet, is formed by theelective judges of the volost. This institution is an innovationintroduced by the emancipation law, at least so far as itassigns, not to the village, but to the larger territorialdistrict, the volost, the sole right of giving judicial decisionsin civil suits and in misdemeanours among persons belonging tothe peasant class. The peculiar feature of this tribunal is, thatit is not bound to follow the prescriptions of law, but those ofcustom.
Russia, so far as I know, is the only European country, inwhich a sort of “personalitas legum" is still acknowledged, thepeasants submitting to one complex code of legal rules, and thehigher classes to another. What is no less characteristic is thefact that the customary law of the Russian peasant is alone thegenuine Russian law -- the law that is found in our ancient codes(such as the Pravda of Yaroslav, in the judicial charters ofNovgorod and Pskov, in the statute of Lithuania, and in the codesof Ivan the Third and of Ivan the Terrible); whist the volumes Xand XV (so-called) of the general collection of laws (so thecivil and criminal codes are designated in Russia) are a compoundpartly of Russian, partly of French, partly of canon, Byzantineor even so-called natural law.
The only way to get rid of this dualism in matters oflegislation would be to codify the customary law of Russia,introducing into it the changes required by the socialdevelopment that has been already achieved by the higher classes.But such does not seem to be the opinion of the bureaucrats, towhom has been intrusted the difficult task of preparing the textof a new civil and criminal code. The books and pamphletspublished by these modern Solons express an opposite view andwould seem to justify the supposition that the double law will bescrupulously preserved, probably with the object of perpetuatingthe misunderstanding which already exists between the lower andhigher classes of Russian society.
The volost has no assembly of its own, but it has its chiefin the person of an elected elder “starschina”, to whom thevillage elders are subject in all matters concerning thecollection of taxes and the carrying into effect of laws andby-laws.
The little I have here said about the organization of thevillage community will answer the end I have in view of placingclearly before you the economic arrangements made by the villagein reference to the common lands. The relation in which thevillage stands to them is not that of proprietor. They belongaccording to law to the State alone. In those villages which areoccupied by the so-called “State-peasants”, that is the heirs ofthe serfs lately belonging to the “public domains”, no means havebeen adopted to allow of the peasant becoming even in future theproprietor of the soil. Such, however, is not the case in thosecommunes, which have been established on lands lately belongingto the nobility. As soon as the peasants on each estate have paidback the money advanced by the State to facilitate theacquisition of the land which the proprietor was forced to giveup to them, they become the legal proprietors of the soil theynow occupy. This payment may be made by the whole commune or bythe separate households which belong to it. Five millions ofroubles had been already devoted to this purpose up to the year1881; later statistics are still wanting. Each time that thepayment is made by a separate household, common property is ofcourse superseded by private property and this enactment isrightly considered by Russian publicists as prejudicial to thefurther maintenance of agrarian communism. *
The commune exercises its proprietary rights in differentways. It keeps the waste-land and forests undivided, and makesperiodical allotments of arable and meadow land. it was mostprejudicial to the welfare of the peasants that the obligatoryexpropriation of 1861 did not extend to a part at least of thewaste-land of the manor, held previously to that date in commonby the manorial lord and his serfs. We must acknowledge that inthis respect the government of the old French monarchy, that ofLouis XIII and of Louis XIV, showed a far greater knowledge ofthe economic wants of the agricultural classes. The so-called"triages" secured to the peasants the right of exclusiveenjoyment to at least a third of the manorial wastes and woods.Nothing which corresponds to those triages has been establishedin Russia. The result of this can be seen in the need which thepeasant is under of diminishing year by year the number of hiscattle, a condition of things which has already re-acted on thestate of agriculture. In those cases where the village has had no access to the waste land, it has been obliged to carve out of its arable ground a special field to serve as a common pasture. Butthis can only be done where the allotments made out of themanorial land are of large extent. In the greater number ofvillages they have not amounted to more than three dessiatines ahead, and the commoners have been forced to content themselveseither with sending their cattle on to the “Lammas" lands, thatis, the arable land after harvest, or with renting some pastureground from a neighbouring squire.
As for the forests, allotments out of. them were rarely made,at least in our Southern provinces where woods are scarce, andthe peasant is quite dependent for his fuel on the squire, whotakes advantage of this fact, and secures the regular performanceof agricultural labour on his own domains in return forpermission to use the dead wood which would otherwise lie unused.In the northern provinces allotments were frequently made offorests, and were sometimes treated as “assart lands”. I make useof a term which is probably quite familiar to you, as it isfrequently to be met with in English documents even of the firstpart of the present century. But for those who are not aware ofits meaning I will add the following explanation. When populationbecame dense, the village allowed new homesteads to beestablished in the middle of the forest the trees were burneddown, the roots seldom being removed, and the plough began towork in a region which had hitherto been accessible only to theaxe. The area thus cleared for a time paid nothing to the State;but after a few years, three as a rule, it was annexed to thenumber of common lands which were burdened by personal taxes. Theowners of these cleared lands received no allotments out of thecommon fields, but they regularly paid to the Government as muchas the commoners of the same village.
We must now turn our attention to the way in which the arableland and the meadows are used. Equality being the chief aim ofthe members of the village community, its arable fields are as arule very numerous. The commoners take into account both thedifferences in the fertility of the soil and the comparativeadvantages of its situation. Land which is either mountainous ordistant from the village is not likely to produce the samerevenue, or to be so easily cultivated as an equal area to it;the black soil is far more fruitful than the sandy or the clayeysoil. The community, therefore, has a great number of “shots" or"furlongs”, * and in each of these shots every householderreceives a number of strips equal to the number of the taxedpersons in his household. You can easily imagine how scatteredand intermixed are the possessions of each homestead. In caseswhere there is no great difference in the fertility of the soil,and the shots are consequently not very numerous, the communitysometimes adopts a different method. The whole number ofcommoners is divided into “tythings”, or decenas, and the fieldsare divided into as many parts as there are tythings. Eachtything, or decena, then makes the division for itself. Lots aredrawn to decide the order in which the strips must be distributedamong the tythings and subdivided among the persons composingthem.* Owing to the almost universal preva1ence of thethree-field system, the number of shots never falls below three.
The re-allotment of shares is of two kinds, partial andgeneral. The first supposes the increase or diminution of thenumber of strips assigned to a household, consequent on anaugmentation or decrease of the number of persons composing it.The second is equivalent to a complete change in the distributionof. arable land among the commoners. It takes place at fixedperiods, the shortest of which is three years, that being thetime needed for a complete rotation of crops under the existingthree fields' system; and the longest nineteen or more years --the number of years that separate the old census of a populationfrom a new one. The number of shares allotted to each householdeither corresponds to the number of male persons for whom thehousehold pays the personal tax, or to that of the souls actuallyliving. Instances occur in which the villagers assign half sharesto the women, or reserve certain shares unoccupied for thegeneration to come. As for the meadows, they are frequently mownin common, the hay being divided in equal parts among all themembers of the commune. Very often, too, a yearly division takesplace before harvest; account is taken of the greater or smallerdistance of each meadow from the village, and of the quality ofits grass, and then each commoner receives a strip in all andevery one of the meadows. But I need not insist on the variousaspects under which the system of re-allotments may presentitself. It is not my purpose to give you a complete descriptionof the various forms which the village community may take, but ageneral picture of all its characteristic features.
Amongst these I must place the control exercised by thevillage authorities over the performance at the proper time ofeach part of agricultural labour. The strips of the severalhouseholds being scattered over the whole village area, andintermixed with those of their neighbours, the same system ofagriculture must of necessity be followed by all. The system inuse, as I have already told you, is that of the three fields, thewinter, the summer, and the fallow; the fields becoming commonpasture after the gathering in of the harvest. All agriculturallabour must therefore begin and end at fixed periods, and thedifferent households which constitute the village must do theirploughing, sowing, harrowing, mowing and reaping, precisely atthe same time. The authorities of the village are empowered toinsist upon this; the “Flurzwang”, to use a well known Germanexpression, is a necessary condition of this kind of agrariancommunism, which is embodied in the system of the mir.
The performance at its proper time of each part ofagricultural labour could not be attained if the commoners didnot help one another in its accomplishment. This is the realorigin of the obligation which compels every peasant to help hisneighbours in mowing and reaping. This sort of communal help,regularly performed at harvest time, is known in Russia under thename of “village assistance”. It was under like conditions thatthe medieval lovebones, or love boons (angariae autumni), tooktheir rise in England.
The feeling of mutual dependence, which has its origin in thecommon ownership and use of land, is the source from whichsprings another curious institution. Certain agricultural landsremain undivided and are cultivated by the combined work of thewhole village; their yearly produce being regularly brought tothe common store and equally distributed among all in case ofdearth.
In Russian villages there are no special “poor" or “schoollands" (Armen-und Schulguter), similar to those of Switzerland orGermany, although the question has been recently raised as to thedesirability of assigning certain shares of the common lands tothe schoolmaster, he being authorized to cultivate them with thehelp of his pupils. This plan for turning the schoolmaster intoan agricultural labourer belongs to the number of those measures,by which the reactionary party hope to prevent the badly paidvillage schoolmasters from becoming what they call “revolutionarydreamers”. I am happy to say that it has not yet met with thesupport of the Government.
I now come to the capital question of the advantages anddisadvantages, which the system of village communities presents,and which will of course exercise a decisive influence as to itsfuture. There is no question so much discussed, and I may say, sooften misunderstood by my countrymen, as that of the superiorityor inferiority of the existing system in comparison with that ofsmall holdings.
Both socialists and reactionaries have taken hold of thequestion, and both parties try to work it out in favor of theirown systems. The value which they attach to the system of the mirdiffers considerably. What the socialists admire in it are thefruitful germs which they suppose it to contain of a futurereorganization of society on their own model. As to theSlavophils, they think it perfect in its present form, and nevertire of repeating a saying which, with doubtful authenticity, isattributed to the great Cavour: “Russia will revolutionise theworld with her system of the mir”.
To an impartial observer the village communal system appearsto be a compound of small advantages and great disadvantages; theadvantages are rather of a moral, and the disadvantages of aneconomic character. It encourages, no doubt, to a much greaterdegree than the system of private holdings, the feeling of mutualinterdependence and the inclination to mutual help, without whichno society can exist. But it is a manifest error to speak of thissystem as a serious barrier to pauperism. For, although thecommoner is prevented by law from alienating his share, he may,and often does, dispose of it in favor of some rich neighbour,who in time of want has offered to pay the amount of thecommoner's taxes on condition of having the use of his land. Ifthe Slavophils were right in their opinion, that, thanks to thesystem of the mir, pauperism was impossible in Russia, we shouldcertainly not hear daily of the so-called “Koulaks" eating up themir, or, what comes to the same thing, sacrificing the interestsof the community to their own.
The economic disadvantages which the system presents are soevident that I need scarcely insist upon them. Instead of givingmy own opinion on this subject, I prefer to quote the words of aRussian economist, who is far from belonging to the much decriedManchester School. “Agrarian communism, as it is applied inRussia”, says Professor Ivanukov, “is a hindrance to theinvestment of capital in agriculture, and to the introduction ofa more thorough, a better and more remunerative system ofcultivation; for the strips belonging to this or that homesteadwill in case of each new division pass into strange hands, sothat the peasant does not find it to his interest to lay outmoney which could only be recovered during a long term ofpossession”. It is true that local inquirers have been able toproduce several instances in which peasant commoners haveintroduced a somewhat thorough system of grass sowing;* but wemust not forget that this has been done during a period when thereadjustment of lots was rare.
We must not forget, too, one great disadvantage of the mirsystem, which consists in the fact that wherever it exists, thepieces of land belonging to the same holder are “scattered abouton all sides of the township, one in this furlong and another inthat, intermixed, and it might almost be said”, writes MrSeebohm, “entangled together as though some one blindfold hadthrown them about on all sides of him”. *
Several Russian economists have shown that this defect is notpeculiar to the mir, but is to be found in the system of smallholdings,* as if these small holdings had not inherited it fromtheir direct predecessor, the village community. What is,however, of far more importance than the opinion of this or thatstudent of the mir is the fact that it is gradually andspontaneously breaking to pieces. There is no doubt that ageneral redistribution of shares has not taken place, at least inthe more fertile area of the black soil, since the year of thepeasants' emancipation. It is difficult to explain this solely bythe dislike of the provincial and district administrators to thesystem; the unwillingness of the powerful minority of richpeasants to proceed to a new division is recognized on all sides,and quite suffices to explain the difficulties encountered in theway of a fresh readjustment. For we must remember that the lawrequires that two-thirds of the voters shall agree on anydecision on this subject, and the Koulaks, although in aminority, are sure to have influence enough among the poorerpeasants, who are their debtors, to obtain their own way in afolkmote.
The fact that a movement in favor of a re-division of thecommon lands has arisen in the northern and central provinces,where the soil is poor, and the in come which the peasantreceives from his share does not cover the amount of the taxes hehas to pay, can certainly not be adduced in favor of the idea ofa further spontaneous development of Russian agrarian communism.
The majority of the peasants insist on such a readjustment,so that they may have fewer taxes to pay, and not because theylong to see the great principle of equality become the rulingpower of the world. If we wish to point to a really spontaneousmovement in the sphere of land-tenure, it must certainly be tothat which has induced thousands of peasants to pay back themoney which was advanced to them by the Government in the year oftheir emancipation to enable them to become the free proprietorsof the soil. I have already mentioned the fact that five millionroubles have been repaid to the Crown; it is interesting to notethe rate at which this repayment has been made. From 1861 to1868, according to Mr Keuszler, the amount of money paid bypersons wishing to exchange their common rights for privateproperty, hardly formed the seven-hundredth part of the wholesum. From 1868 to 1872 it had amounted to 10 per cent; from 1873to 1877 to 33 1/2 per cent; the rest of the sum, or 55 per cent,having been paid back during the years 1877 to 1881.*
If this steady increase is not considered a conclusive proof,I must decline to bring forward any other, not even thedisappearance of village communities in the neighbourhood of thelarger towns, such as St. Petersburg, Moscow, and even Voroneg,owing to the fact that in their neighbourhood high farming paysbest, and that this high farming is impossible without a changein the system of land property.
How long village communities will exist is not a questioneasy to answer. The Government may certainly prevent for a timetheir dissolution by some artificial measures, like those takenin relation to the undivided household. A proposal has even beenmade to declare that the common-land shall not become privateproperty even after the repayment of the whole sum which itsholder owes to the Government. Such a measure might, indeed, longarrest the spontaneous movement which produces the dissolution ofthis archaic form of agrarian communism.
If left to itself, it will certainly be maintained in thoseremote parts of Russia where the population is still so small asto retard agricultural progress; but it is likely soon todisappear in the manufacturing districts, where the peasantpasses more time in the factory than in the fields and where,when he leaves his old home, he has to find, and that ofttimesunder very unsatisfactory conditions, some partner to perform hisshare of field labour. It is also more than probable that theSouth of Russia, the true granary of the Empire, will soon becomea country of private ownership in land. The system of the mir, asI have already said, is in more than one part of this district acomparatively modern innovation. The Little Russian is too fondof independence and self-control to acquiesce in a system whichconfines his industry in every direction.
The village community, that venerable survival of an epochclosely akin to the patriarchal, will disappear in Russia, as italready has disappeared in other countries in Europe -- inEngland, Germany, and Switzerland. It will give way to privateland, unless, and this is not very likely property in underpresent conditions, it be completely transformed by the extensionof communistic principles to capital. Those who, like myself, donot believe in the possibility of leaps and bounds in matters ofsocial progress, will probably consider that such a state ofthings belongs to the number of those dreams, the practicalrealisation of which is to be looked for only in a remote future.
Old Russian Folkmotes
[Folkmote or Folkmoot = In medieval England, a local general assembly of the people (e.g., in a shire)]
It is a common saying among the Russian Conservatives, who have lately been dignified in France by the name of "Nationalists”, that the political aspirations of the Liberals are in manifest contradiction with the genius and with the historical past of the Russian people.
Sharing these ideas, Russian Education Minister Count Delianov [ID], a few years ago ordered the Professors of Public Law and of Legal History to make their teaching conform to a program in which Tsarism, the unlimited power of the Russian emperors, was declared to be a truly national institution.
Some of the professors who refused to comply with this order were called upon to resign, others were simply dismissed from their chairs. The question I am about to discuss in this and the following lecture is, whether this theory bears the test of history. Is it true that Russian autocracy is a thoroughly national institution, the roots of which are found in the remotest period of Russian history? Is it the fact that no folkmotes and no representative institutions ever existed in the eastern part of Europe, and that the Byzantine principle of an unlimited monarchical power, having no other source but its divine right derived from God himself and being responsible to no one but Heaven, has been always recognized by my countrymen?
I shall begin by saving that, had such been the case, the historical development of Russia would form a monstrous anomaly to the general evolution of political institutions, at least among people of Aryan blood.
It is not before an Oxford audience that I need recall this well-established fact, that in earlier times the assembly of the people, the Folkmote, shared in the exercise of sovereign power side by side with the elected head of the nation, whatever may have been his title. Professor Freeman and Sir Henry Maine have left no possibility of doubt on this point; the first, when treating of the Greeks, Romans, and Germans; the second, in relation to the ancient Celtic population of Ireland. The barrier of language, of which Sir Henry Maine so often complained to me, prevented these two eminent scholars from completing their comparative study of early political organization by a minute investigation of that of the medieval Slavs; but recent researches, carried on both in Russia and in Poland, Bohemia and Serbia, permit us to extend to Slavonic nations the general conclusions which have been arrived at by those English scholars, who have taken as their basis a careful study of Hellenic, German, and Celtic law.
Byzantine chronicles, which contain the earliest information on the social and political condition of the Slavonic people, are unanimous in the assertion that the Slavs knew nothing of a strongly centralized autocratic power. “From the remotest period”, says Procopius, a writer of the sixth century, “the Slavs were known to live in democracies; they discussed their wants in popular assemblies or folkmotes" (chapter xiv of his "Gothica seu Bellum Gothicum"). Another authority, the Byzantine Emperor Mauriquius, when speaking of the Slavs, writes as follows: “The Slavs like liberty; they cannot bear unlimited rulers, and are not easily brought to submission" ("Strategicum”,chap. xi). The same language is used also by the Emperor Leo. “The Slavs”, says he, “are a free people, strongly opposed to any subjection" ("Tactica seu de re militari”, ch. xviii. 99).
Passing from these general statements to those which directly concern some definite Slavonic people, we will first of all quote the Latin Chronicles of Helmold and Dithmar of Merseburg, both of the eleventh century, in order to give an idea of the political organization of the Northern Slavs dwelling on the south-eastern shore of the Baltic. Speaking of one of their earliest chiefs named Mistiwoi, Helmold says that he, the chief, once complained to the whole assembly of the Slavs of an injury he had received (Convocatis omnibus Slavis qui ad orientem habitant, intimaviteis illatam sibi contumeliam).
The Russian scholars who have made a special study of the history of those Slavonic tribes who were so early Germanized, give us a description of the proceedings and functions of their popular assemblies. The folkmote was convened in an open place. In Stettin the market-place was furnished for this purpose with a kind of stand from which the speakers addressed the multitude. The folkmotes were not periodical assemblies, but were convened as often as there was some question of State which needed public discussion.
It is well known that the privilege enjoyed in our days by the majority was quite unknown to the primitive folkmotes. In early times the decisions of the people were unanimous. This does not mean that it was always easy to arrive at a general agreement. Opinions were certainly as divided then as they are now. What is meant is only this -- that, in case of difference of opinion, the minority was forced to acquiesce in that of the majority, unless it could succeed in persuading the majority that they were in the wrong. In the Chronicle of Dithmar of Merseburg the “unanimous vote" is distinctly stated to be a peculiarity of the primitive Slavonic folkmotes:
"Unanimi consilio”, says this author, “ad placitum suimet necessaria discutientes in rebus efficiendis omnes concordant”. In case some one refused to acquiesce in the common decision, he was beaten with rods. If any opposition to the vote of the majority arose after the assembly had been held, the dissentient lost all his property, which was either taken from him or destroyed by fire, unless he was ready to pay a certain amount of money, varying according to his rank. The unanimous vote is very often mentioned by contemporary chroniclers, who for this purpose employ the following expressions: “Remota controversia”, or "quasi unus homo”.(1*) The matters discussed at these early Slavonic folkmotes were of a great variety: the election or the dethroning of a prince, decisions about going to war or making peace, are more than once mentioned by contemporary authors as the direct work of these assemblies.
If we turn our attention to the study of the earliest period in the history of Bohemian [??Czech] political institutions, we shall see the development of facts similar or quasi-similar to those just mentioned. The Bohemian folkmote, the “snem” [sněm, sometimes zemsky sněm, a term which parallels the German Landtag], as it was called, is known to Latin chroniclers under the names of conventus, generale colloquium, or generalis curia. Persons of different estates [medieval social categories, "classes"] or orders constituted the assembly. The chronicles mention, as a rule, the presence of the majores natu, of the proceres and comites, as also that of the higher clergy, in cleromeliores [??sp]; but in addition we find at these meetings, at least as far back as the end of the eleventh century, the common people, the populus, Bohemorum onmes [??sp], Bohemicae gentis magni et parvi, nobiles et ignobiles. In the year 1055 the people are especially mentioned as taking part in the election of a prince, and in 1068 and 1069 as engaged in the nomination of a bishop. In 1130 Prince Sobeslav convened an assembly of 3000 persons, nobiles et ignobiles, to judge those who had conspired against him. At a later period, after the beginning of the twelfth century, the common people disappear from these assemblies, and the proceres and majores natu remained alone with the high clergy to discuss the affairs of the State. But in the early days with which we are at present concerned the constitution of the Bohemian snem was not very unlike that of an ordinary folkmote, to which all classes of society were equally summoned. Like the folkmotes of the Baltic Slavs, the Bohemian generalis conventus was not a periodical assembly. Like them also, its decisions were the result of a unanimous consent, a fact which is shown by the contemporary documents, when they state that this and that matter have been settled at the assembly “communio consilio et voluntate pari" (Cosmus of Prague, ii. 87), or even more explicitly, “deconsensu omnium”, “unanimiter”.
The election first of the prince and later on of the king, the nomination of the bishop, the confirmation or rejection of the laws proposed by the king and his council, the judicial decision of certain exceptionally important cases, such were the regular functions of the Bohemian folkmote. You will have no difficulty in seeing that these functions are the same as those of the popular assemblies of the Baltic Slavs.
In Poland, the folkmotes, known under the name of congregationes generales, sometimes also under that of conciones, coloquia, or consilia, were in early days composed not only of the higher orders [clergy and aristocracy] of society, but also of the common people. The Latin Chronicle of Gallus mentions an occasion on which king Boleslaus “imprimis majores et seniores civitatis, deinde totum populum in concionem advocavit”. The meaning of this quotation leaves no doubt as to the popular character of these early Polish political assemblies. In no Slavonic state was this popular character so early lost as in Poland. As early as the beginning of the thirteenth century the higher nobility and clergy, the "milites" and the knights, begin to be the only constitutive parts of the Polish “general council”.
The other feature of the primitive folkmote, the unanimous vote, was much better preserved by the Polish parliament. From the earliest times down to the fall of their political independence [ID], the Poles remained faithful to this very incongruous system. The “liberum veto”, the right of each member to make null and void by his single opposition the decisions of the entire assembly, became through the interference of foreign States one of the best means of keeping in check the political activity of the nation. By this veto, Russian, Austrian, and Prussian intrigues more than once prevented the passing of laws and measures, which might have preserved the independence of the country. That the liberum veto had its roots in the most remote period of Polish history may be shown by quotations like the following. According to the chronicle of Cromer, the Polish throne had been offered to the half mythical Cracus, “unasententia”, i.e., by the unanimous decision of the people, who had, as we know, no other means of manifesting their feeling than the folkmote. The same unanimous consent is mentioned by another chronicle on the occasion of an election which took place in 1194.
The legal power of the Polish general council was identical with that of the Bohemian snem. It elected the chief ruler of the land and entered into written covenants with him; it discussed questions of international policy, expressed its opinion on matters of taxation, gave its sanction to the legal enactments of the king, the so-called statuta and constitutiones, and from time to time it exercised judicial authority in certain exceptionally important civil cases. In a word, it possessed the same multiplicity of powers which we have noticed when studying the powers of the Bohemian folkmote.
Hitherto we have consulted only the history of the Northern and Western Slavs. Let us now turn to that of the Southern Slavs. The democratic element is less prominent in the constitution of the ancient Serbian and Croatian folkmotes. At a very early period the high nobility and clergy took possession of the various powers of the popular assembly. But this does not mean that no documentary evidence has reached us concerning the part which the lower classes of society at least in Croatia, were anciently called upon to play in the political organization of the country. The old Croatian chronicle explicitly states that in the time of Svonomir, the first elected Croatian chief, the "Ban”, the national assembly known in later times under the name of “Sobor”, was composed not only of the higher orders (viteze, barune, vlasnike), but also of the common people (puk zemlie).The same common people is mentioned by the Latin chronicle as having had its share in the election of this first Ban, who was chosen “concordi totius cleri et populi electione”. This happened in the second half of the eleventh century (1076). During the following centuries the nobility, and among them the higher class of nobles represented by seven Bans, alone had a direct influence on the nomination of the Croatian king. But the memory of old, days, when the people chose their rulers, was still preserved down to the end of the fifteenth century, as may be seen from the following words of a charter issued in 1490 by King Vladislas the second: “Domini, prelati et barones, caeterique pri mores et universi incoloe regni, ad quos scilicet jus eligendi novum regemex vetustis sima regni ipsius liberate et consuetudine devolutumex stiterat... oculos mentis ipsorum in nos conjecerunt”.
The texts already quoted establish the fact that like other Slavonic assemblies, the Sobors of Croatia were ignorant of the rights of the majority and insisted on the necessity of a unanimous decision. Expressions like “concordi electione”, "omnibus collaudantibus”, and the complete absence of any information concerning decisions taken by a majority of voters, leave no doubt on this point. The same texts mention several of the functions which the Sobor was called upon to exercise. and first among these was the election of the political heads of the nation, who might be simple bans or kings. Questions of peace and war were also settled by this assembly.
But the chief occupation of the Sobor was of a legislative character. From time to time the Chronicles state that “many good laws have been made" by this or that assembly, and Professor Bogisic has succeeded in tracing a whole list of the different statutes resulting from their deliberations.
The existence of these national councils did not prevent the people of different localities from meeting in some kind of provincial assemblies, and from exercising in them even legislative functions. An instance of this fact is presented by the island of Vinodol, the inhabitants of which in 1288 met in a kind of local folkmote -- at which certain men were chosen to make a general codification of old laws, the memory of which was still preserved. In this way was formed the celebrated statute of Vinodol, one of the chief sources of information as to the early law of the Southern Slavs.
The Serbian States-General, although much less democratic than the Croatian, merit our attention on account of the great influence which they exercised on the management of public affairs. It is true that the Serbian Sobor is rather a council of the higher orders, a sort of Anglo-Saxon Witenagemote, than a folkmote or popular assembly. The third estate was not admitted to its meetings either as a body or by representation, and one of the paragraphs of the celebrated code of Stefan Dušan [Stephen Dushan] (fourteenth century) even strictly forbids the peasants to meet in political assemblies. But the lower nobility, who afterwards played such a prominent part in the destinies of the Polish nation, regularly sat in those meetings side by side with the king, his council, the superior officers of State, the patriarch, the ecclesiastical synod, and the members of the higher nobility. These orders taken together exercised pretty neatly all the functions of sovereignty. They made legal enactments, such as the code just mentioned, and they were the authors of the different amendments introduced into it in the course of time. They very often elected the king, and sometimes dethroned him. The archbishop and the provincial governors were also chosen by the Sobor, which likewise disposed of the public lands, and discussed the most important matters of civil and ecclesiastical government.
This rapid and rather superficial sketch of the early political institutions of the Slavs, may at least serve to show how considerable was the influence which the higher orders of society, and very often the common people, exercised in the management of the Slavonic State. My necessarily dry exposition of ancient chronicles and charters, cannot fail to recall the well-known passage in the “Germania" of Tacitus: “De minoribus principes consultant, de majoribus omnes”. Like the old Germanic folkmote the Slavonic was a sort of supreme council, convened on certain exceptionally important occasions. During an interregnum all authority passed into its hands, and it was accordingly empowered to choose the future ruler of the land, and to declare under what conditions he was to be admitted to the exercise of the sovereign power. In the ordinary course of public affairs, the folkmote discussed important matters of civil, and in some countries even of ecclesiastical government. It pronounced on questions of war and peace, controlled the exercise of the legislative authority, and was sometimes even directly engaged in the making of new, and the codifying of ancient laws. Although its authority was less prominent in executive and judicial matters, yet it very often exercised the supreme right of dethroning a king, and of judging persons accused of high treason.
When we call to mind these facts, the idea of an early Russian autocracy, admitting of no control on the part of the governed, will certainly appear to us to be in direct contradiction not only of the general evolution of political institutions, but also of its usual form among Slavonic nations. We must refuse to accept an anomaly unless it is established on the authority of well-authenticated historical facts. But no such facts can be produced. The Russian chronicles, in which, from the want of other sources of information, we are obliged to seek for the chief elements of a general theory of ancient Russian political institutions, show us a state of things, which has nothing in common with absolute monarchy. On the first pages of the chronicle attributed to the monk Nestor, the Eastern Slavs are spoken of as possessing a sort of “gens" organization; “each one living with his kindred, and these kindreds occupying distinct territorial districts”. (Kozhdo s svoim rodom i na svoikh mestekh, kozhdo vladeiushche rodom svoim.) In the sentence just quoted, the chronicler describes the social organization of the most enlightened tribe of the Eastern Slavs, the Polians, and immediately afterwards he speaks of three brothers and their sister, who exercised in common some sort of political authority over the tribe. According to this chronicler, the direct descendants of these brothers ruled over the Polians. It is also recorded of the Drevlians, another Slavonic tribe, that it had its own prince, Mal, but the Polians and the Drevlians seem to have been the only tribes living under monarchical rule. The rest of the Slavonic tribes established in Russia are represented to us as having no princes, but as living divided into clans or "gentes”, which were often at war one with another (vsia rod na rod), a state of things which at length induced them “to seek a foreign prince (kniaz) to command and judge them according to justice”. The establishment of monarchical power thus appears to have been the direct result of a free decision on the part of the people. The chronicle speaks of the tribes, which sent for a foreign prince, as having previously assembled together (snidoshchasia v kupe, sobravshchiesia). This means that the decision to call in a foreign prince was the work of a folkmote. Such is the first mention we possess of a Russian popular assembly. The facts I have recorded happened in the second half of the ninth century, in the year 862 [ID]. Alluding to them, the chronicle of Suzdal, under the year 1176, makes the following general statement. “The inhabitants of Novgorod, of Smolensk, of Kiev, and of Polotsk, and of all the principalities (volosti) of Russia, were from the beginning, and are still, in the habit of meeting at folkmotes as at a sort of council”. The term employed to designate the folkmote is that of veche from the verb veshchat, to announce, to declare. [Hereafter, the Russian "folkmote" will be named more precisely "veche".] According to the sentence just quoted, the veche may be traced from the oldest period of our national existence. This is directly confirmed, in relation to the Polians, by the following statement: “In the years next following”, says Nestor, speaking of the end of the ninth century, “they thought in common (sdumavshche) and decided to pay to the Khazars a certain tax, the amount of which was one sword from every hearth”. The Drevlians are also spoken of by the chronicle as having on one occasion “thought in common with their prince Mal”, and decided to slaughter the son of Rurik, Igor. Now, this “thinking in common" of a whole tribe with its political head, can only mean that the prince consulted the veche, and with its help arrived at a definite decision.
A peculiar feature of the oldest Russian vechi, a feature which totally disappears by the end of the tenth century, is that they are the assembly of a whole tribe, sometimes even of several tribes, and not of the inhabitants of one single urban district. The Chronicle of Nestor speaks of the Polians, the Drevlians, the Krivichs, the Sever, and such like people, as of persons coming together, consulting one another and "accomplishing certain acts in common”. I have already said that these were separate tribes, each one subdivided into kindreds or"gentes" (rody). Such being the case, the veche of the early days of Russian historical development, was a kind of tribal assembly very like those which Caesar and Tacitus found among the ancient Germans.
With the beginning of the eleventh century, the Russian folkmote or veche acquired a new character, when the chief cities of Russia, the political centers of more or less independent states, obtained their separate assemblies. The chronicles mention on different occasions the veches of Belgorod, of Vladimir in Volhynia, of Berestie [??], of Riazan, Murom, and Pronsk, of Smolensk, Polotsk and Kursk, of Rostov, Suzdal, Pereiaslavl and Vladimir on the Kliazma, besides those of Kiev, Novgorod, Pskov, and Viatka.
If we inquire into the internal constitution and functions of the veche, we shall have no difficulty in ascertaining that in both these points the Russian vechi did not essentially differ from the folkmotes of other Slavonic nations.
The chronicles, when they speak of those summoned to these assemblies, briefly note the presence of all the citizens of a definite urban division. Expressions such as the following are also more than once met with in the course of the narrative: “the men of our land”, “the whole land of Galich”, and so on. Hence, it is evident that we have to deal with a thoroughly democratic assembly. But it does not follow that all the inhabitants of the city were summoned. The veche was not so much an assembly of the whole people as that of the heads of families, or rather of the natural chiefs of Slavonic house communities known to the earliest code of Russia, the Pravda of Yaroslav, under the name of “verv”.
On several occasions the unknown authors of Russian chronicles seem to imply that the men assembled at the veche made certain engagements, not only on their own behalf but also on that of their children. For instance, “the men of Kiev, in veche assembled”, declare in 1147, that they will fight against the House of Oleg, one of the branches of the dynasty of Rurik, not by themselves alone, but also by their children. This declaration clearly shows that children did not appear at a Russian veche, but that their absence was solely caused by their personal dependence on the head of the undivided family. We may, therefore, infer that all those who were not free to dispose of themselves were excluded from the veche; and such was the case as regarded certain members of undivided households and those who had forfeited their liberty through war or debt. In a society based, like the old Russian, on the principle of blood relationship, undivided households must have been numerous, and the fact that the heads of these households were alone summoned naturally diminished the number of persons composing the veche. It may, therefore, be easily understood how a large square such as those on which the princely palaces of Novgorod or of Kiev were built, was quite able to contain an entire assembly, notwithstanding the fact that the citizens were not the only persons admitted to the meetings of the veche, for the suburbs and even the neighboring townships had the right to have an equal share with them on the management of public affairs. The chronicles very often mention the fact of the “black people”, "the smerds”, and the so-called “bad peasants" (terms designating the agricultural population of the country) being present at the veche. The urban district was as a rule very large, the lands owned by the citizens in some cases extending to hundreds and even thousands of miles outside the city wall. In order to preserve these widely scattered possessions, the city often built fortresses, which in case of war offered a refuge to the inhabitants of the surrounding country. In time of peace these fortified places answered another purpose; markets were regularly held in them and hence in course of time artisans and merchants were induced to choose them for their settled abode. The population increased day by day, the fortress became surrounded by suburbs, and a new city appeared where originally there had been nothing but a wooden fence with a moat or ditch around it. The inhabitants of this new city had generally the right to appear at the veches of the metropolis, but they usually preferred meeting at assemblies of their own. The roads being bad and not always safe, they did not see what was to be gained by a long journey, but chose rather to stay at home and hold their own vechi from time to time.
The chronicles of Suzdal seem to imply that the decisions of the local vechi did not, as a rule, differ from those of the metropolis. “What has been established by the oldest city, is maintained by its boroughs”. Such are the words in which the chronicle expresses the mutual relations of the metropolis and the daughter towns. The real meaning of the sentence is not at all that of dutiful subjection on the part of the new town towards the mother city. The writer merely wishes to suggest the idea of a good understanding between the metropolis and the boroughs it has built. This good understanding was not always maintained, and on more than one occasion the borough came to a decision the reverse of that of the chief city. A similar disagreement occurred more than once between different quarters (kontsy) of the same city. Such was often the case at Novgorod, divided as it was into five different administrative districts or wards, which more than once held their own separate vechi and opposed the decisions of the general assembly. Such a misunderstanding sometimes ended in open war, the minority refusing to submit to the decision of the majority.
This fact alone shows that the Russian veches admitted no other mode of settling public affairs than that of unanimous decision. It has been already shown that this mode was general amongst Slavonic peoples. A few quotations will prove its existence among the Eastern Slavs. Whenever the chronicler has occasion to speak of one of their decisions he employs such expressions as the following: “It was established by all the oldest and all the youngest men of the assembly that”, &c.; “all were unanimous in the desire"; “all thought and spoke as one man”, &c.
If unanimity could not be arrived at, the minority was forced to acquiesce in the decision of the greater number, unless it could persuade the members of the majority that they were wrong in their opinion. In both cases the veches passed whole days in debating the same subjects, the only interruptions being free fights in the street. At Novgorod, these fights took place on the bridge across the Volkhov, and the stronger party sometimes threw their adversaries into the river beneath. A considerable minority very often succeeded in suspending the measure already voted by the veche, but if the minority was small, its will had soon to yield to open force.
The competence of the Russian veche was as wide as that of similar political assemblies among the Western and Southern Slavs. More than once it assumed the right of choosing the chief ruler of the land; but it was not an unrestricted right which they enjoyed, the choice being confined to members of the family of Rurik; for the Russians considered that outside Rurik's dynasty, no one had a right to exercise sovereign power. The veche was merely empowered to give its preference to some district line of the house of Rurik, for instance to that directly descending from Vladimir Monomakh, from which the veche of Kiev elected its rulers. It was also free to pronounce in favor of a younger member of Rurik's family, notwithstanding the candidature of an older one. The choice made was often in open contradiction of the legal order of succession maintained by the dynasty of Rurik. This order was very similar to the Irish law of tanistry, according to which the Irish crown devolved upon the oldest representative of the reigning family. In practice it generally meant the succession of the deceased's next brother, not that of his eldest son. The strict application of this law of tanistry would have necessitated a constant change in the person of the ruler, not only in Kiev, which was for a long time considered the most important principality of Russia, and which was, therefore, the appanage of the chief representative of the dynasty, but also in the other Russian principalities, which were subdivided into a great number of secondary principalities. Open force had very often to decide which of the two systems, that of free election or that of legal succession, was to prevail.
Whatever was the issue of such a struggle the new ruler was only admitted to the exercise of sovereign power after having subscribed a sort of contract by which he took upon himself the obligation of preserving the rights of those over whom he was called to rule. These very curious documents, known under the name of “riad”, have unfortunately been preserved in only one of the Russian principalities, that of Novgorod, -- a fact which has induced many scholars to believe that this right of covenanting with the prince was limited to this Northern principality. Professor Sergeevich, the well-known Professor of Legal history in the University of St. Petersburg, was the first to prove by a considerable number of quotations from Russian chronicles, that covenants like that of Novgorod were known all over Russia. More than once, mention is made of a prince securing the throne by a compromise with the men of Kiev (s liudmi Kieva utverdisia).These compacts or covenants between prince and people, so far as they are known to us by the few examples among the archives of Novgorod, were a kind of constitutional charter securing to the people the free exercise of their political rights, such as the right of the veche to discuss public affairs and to elect the ruler of the State. This latter right had been already guaranteed to Novgorod by a general assembly of Russian princes held in 1196.We read in the text of the decisions come to by this princely congress; “All the princes recognize the liberty of Novgorod to choose her ruler wherever she likes”. Other constitutional restraints on princely power are -- no declaration of war without "Novgorod's word"; no foreigner to be nominated to the post of provincial governor (volostel); no public official to be dismissed without legal cause, acknowledged to be such by the decision of a Court of law. Thus the principle according to which most English officials hold office “during good behavior" was already recognized in Russian principalities in the middle of the thirteenth century. This efficient mode of securing the independence and dignity of public officials has been completely abolished in later days under the tsars and Emperors, although once more in 1863 its necessity was admitted by the legal enactments of Alexander II [ID]. Unfortunately no attention is any longer paid to the promises given to this effect by the codes of civil and criminal procedure, and many a judge has been removed in recent times by a simple order of the Minister of Public Justice.
Returning to the constitutional guarantees secured. by the new ruler to his future subjects, I must point out that those already mentioned seem to have been common to all the different principalities of Russia. The same cannot be said of the following two: first, the obligation to judge nobody without the assistance of a special officer, called the posadnik, and secondly, the right of the veche to choose this official, a right which first appeared in the beginning of the twelfth century. These exceptions once made, we have the right to say that the compacts entered into by the people of Novgorod with their future ruler, give us a fair idea of the relative strength of the prince and of the popular assembly all over Russia.
Our review of the agreement signed by the prince on his accession to the throne has already revealed to us some of the functions of the veche. Questions of war and peace were regularly decided by it. No war could be begun but with the consent of the people, because, in the absence of a regular army, the prince could levy no other force but that of the militia. Treaties of peace and alliance were also signed in the name of the prince and people, as may be seen from the following words used in the treaty of Igor with the Byzantine empire in 945 [ID]; “This treaty has been concluded by the Grand Prince of Russia, by all the princes whatsoever and by all the people of the Russian lands”. Sometimes, it is true, the prince decided on going to war against the wish of his people, but in such a case he had to rely exclusively on his own military followers, his so-called "druzhina”, an institution very like the old German “comitatus" (Geleit). As long as the system of land donations remained unknown, and the prince had no other property to distribute among his followers but that taken in time of war, the druzhina or comitatus was far from being numerous. Hence the prince was forced to ask the veche for assistance whenever he thought himself obliged to go to war. The veche either agreed to his demand and ordered the levy of military forces, or refused all help; in the latter case the prince had no other alternative but to abandon his project entirely, or to resign his throne. The control in matters of peace and war was maintained by the people so long as the prince had no other troops than the militia. But a kind of regular army had been created by the end of the thirteenth century, owing to the custom of rewarding military service by grants of land. The so-called “pomestnaia" system, which was similar to the Carlovingian system of “benefices”, produced in Russia effects similar to those produced in France. The popular militia was superseded by a sort of feudal army, paid not in money but inland. In case of war the prince was not so much interested in having the acquiescence of the people as that of the “men of service”, sluzhilii liudi, who constituted his military force, and corresponded somewhat to the knights in Feudal England. This change, as we shall hereafter see, had a great influence on the future destiny of the Russian veche [ID].
Another function of the veche, which appears to be peculiar to the Northern principalities, and especially to those of Novgorod and Pskov, is that of legislation. That the legislative functions of the veche were unknown in the Southern principalities of Russia may be seen from the fact, that no mention is made of them in the most ancient code of the country. The Pravda of Yaroslav in its different versions shows no trace of the interference of the people in matters of legislation; it is the exclusive work of the prince and his councilors. The few amendments introduced into this legal code during the first part of the twelfth century have also no other source but the express desire of the princes and the decisions of their Dumas or Councils.
The exercise of legislative power by the veche of Novgorod and of Pskov, at least during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is illustrated by two judicial charters, those of 1397 and of 1471, which, as is evident from their contents, were drawn up by the popular assembly. The charter of Pskov plainly states in one of its later versions (that of 1467 whenever the posadnik, the supreme judge by the people, has to decide a case to which no existing law applies, he must consult the assembly of the people. The same veche had the right to annul every article of the judicial charter which no longer met with its approval. Mention of this right is made in the charter itself.
As to judicial powers, they remained unknown to the veche, at least in the Western and Southern principalities of Russia, which knew no other judges than the prince and the officers whom he appointed. I do not allude to those arbitrators to whom private persons frequently had recourse to settle their differences.
But in Novgorod, the fact of the election of the chief judge, the posadnik, by a popular vote, shows that the people were not indifferent to the exercise of judicial power. Appointed as he was by the veche, the posadnik could be judged by no other tribunal than the veche itself. Cases of high treason were also referred to the popular assembly just as they were in Poland and Bohemia.
What has been stated establishes beyond a doubt the great extent of the rights and privileges belonging to the veche in the Northern principalities of Russia. The same cannot be said of some Western principalities, such as those of Volhynia and Galicia. The example of Poland, where the aristocracy was very powerful, induced the boyars of those two countries to make more than one attempt to concentrate in their own hands the chief rights of sovereignty. The large estates which they possessed and the considerable revenues, which the rich black soil of the country yearly secured to them, greatly favored their oligarchical aspirations. In 1210, they seem to have attained their ends. The dynasty of Rurik had ceased to rule over the country, and a boyar, a member of the local aristocracy, had been raised to the throne. But his rule did not last long. His contemporaries, the other rulers, looked upon his elevation as illegal, and the King of Poland was the first to declare that a boyar had no right to occupy a throne. To oppose the oligarchy of the boyars, Prince Daniel, in 1230, convened the popular assembly, the veche, and with the help afforded him by people, fought the army of the boyars and reduced them to obedience. This is, however, the only case in which the veche seems to have played any part in the political history of the country. The power of the nobles prevented any further development in that direction, and when the principality passed into the hands of the King of Poland, it was already under the yoke of the aristocracy.
Nevertheless, even under Polish rule, the memory of the old folkmotes was preserved by the country. Documents of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries sometimes mention the existence of the veche as of a local assembly with very considerable executive and judicial rights.
Of all the principalities of Russia those of the North-East seem from the most remote times to have been unfavorable to the growth of popular assemblies. In those of Suzdal and of Riazan, the princes early freed themselves from the necessity of election by the people by establishing primogeniture as the law of succession to the crown. The way in which the eldest son was admitted to succeed to the throne was by associating him, during his father's lifetime, in the exercise of sovereign powers. Vsevolod III was the first prince who benefited by such a course. He secured the throne to his descendants and thus annulled one of the most important rights of the veche, that of choosing the ruler of the land. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that from the middle of the thirteenth century no mention is made of the popular assemblies of Suzdal.
Up to this point we have tried to show that during the Middle Ages Russia was a loose federation of principalities, in which the people were wont to exercise, on a larger or smaller scale, legislative, executive, judicial, and even political power. By political power I mean the right of electing and dismissing the ruler, of declaring war and making peace. The people exercised their right side by side with the prince, the “kniaz”, who gradually increased his own power to the prejudice of the power of the folkmote or veche. At the end of the fifteenth century Novgorod and Pskov alone maintained the primitive relations between the prince and the popular assembly, for they still kept the power of electing and dismissing the chief magistrate of the state, as well as the highest officials, the posadnik, and the "head of thousands”. In the south-western part of Russia the popular assembly became, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a local administrative, financial, and judicial body, but it lost all political power. In the northern principalities, and especially in Vladimir and Moscow, the veche totally ceased to exist. The growth first of Vladimir and then of Moscow was followed by the complete annihilation of the political rights of the people, and this seems to have been recognized by the writers of the day. Describing the proceedings by which the republic of Novgorod was humbled by Tsar Ivan III, the chronicle, known under the name of the Patriarch Nikon, says, "In the year 1478 the Tsar declared to the republic that he wanted Novgorod to be in the exercise of the same power as that which he possessed at Moscow”. The inhabitants agreed to comply with his wishes on certain terms, whereby his autocracy would be limited. The Tsar immediately sent the following reply, “I told you that I wanted in Novgorod a state similar to that of Moscow; and instead of that I hear you teaching me how I ought to organize my state in a way different from what it is at present”. On hearing this, the citizens sent another embassy to ask what the Tsar meant by saying that he wanted in Novgorod a government like that of Moscow. He answered: “No popular assembly, veche; no elected magistrate [posadnik]; and the whole state in the power of the Tsar”.(2*) This answer left no doubt as to his autocratic intentions and their accomplishment in the Muscovite state.
[The chapter wraps up with a brief historical account of the rise of Muscovite Grand Princely power and the creation of the Russian "tsar". If you wish, skip to the account of the rise and fall of a Russian "parliament", the Zemskii sobor]
Let us now inquire into the causes which produced this increase of monarchical power. The first seems to have been the great change which the subjection of the prince to the power of the Khan had brought about in the relations between the prince and the popular assembly. It is well known that the Tartars, after having established the center of their European empire on the shores of the Volga, not far from where it joins the Caspian Sea, in the neighborhood of the modern city of Astrakhan, reduced the different principalities of Russia to the condition of vassal states. Leaving the government in the hands of the dynasty of Rurik they forced the Russian princes to receive investiture at the hands of their khans. In such a state of things the prince had no longer any need to trouble himself about his acceptation by the popular assembly of the principality that he intended to govern In order to secure the throne to himself and his heirs, all that he had to do was to undertake a journey to the southern parts of the Volga and make his appearance at the court of his suzerain -- the Khan. Here he had to lay out large sums of money in presents and bribes, until at last the Khan was induced to grant a charter (yarlik), acknowledging the right of the claimant to occupy the throne of his ancestors. From the beginning of the fourteenth century Muscovite princes had no longer to undertake the journey in person, as the khans had consented to forward the charter of confirmation directly to Moscow on condition that they first received large sums of money from the prince who claimed the throne. The succession was settled at each vacancy by an agreement between the suzerain and the vassal, and the popular assembly had no opportunity of interfering.
Foreign events, especially the rise of the Florentine Union and the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, also largely contributed to the expansion of the Muscovite autocracy.
During the period which began with the acceptance of the tenets of the Greek Church by Russian Prince Vladimir, at the end of the eleventh century, and which ended with the decision of the Byzantine Emperor to subscribe the act of union with the Roman Church, the Russian State as well as the Russian Church remained to a certain extent dependent on the Greek Patriarch and Emperor at Constantinople. In ecclesiastical matters this dependence was manifested in the direct nomination of the Russian Metropolitan by the Byzantine Patriarch, very often not without interference on the part of the Emperor. In secular matters it was rather theoretical than practical. The Russian clergy more than once advised the Grand Prince of Muscovy to recognize the "Tsar of the Greeks" as his lord paramount, and each time they repeated the popular theory that the Byzantine Emperor was the chief of the whole Christian world and therefore the sovereign lord of all Christian kings and potentates. This theory had been first brought forward by Byzantine writers, who actually declared that Constantine the Great had conferred the title of Tabularius on the ruler of Russia as a recompense for his allegiance to the Greek Empire. Up to the end of the fourteenth century the title “Tsar" was exclusively applied in Russia to the Emperor of Constantinople, and no Russian prince was allowed to dignify himself with it. The Russian clergy, in offering public prayer for the health of the Emperor at Constantinople, spoke of him as of “the Emperor of the Romans and Ruler of the Universe”.(3*)
The attitude of Muscovite Grand Prince Vasilii III during the time of the Florentine Union, his bold opposition to the Patriarch Photius and to any compromise with the Romish Church, led the Russian clergy to look upon him and his heirs as the champions of orthodoxy in religion. While the Muscovite Prince was considered the sole protector of the Greek Church, the Emperor at Constantinople had become, in the eyes of the Russians, a schismatic. It was in order to free Muscovy from all dependence on a schismatic Emperor that the account of the conversion of the Eastern Slavs to Christianity was altered. The apostle St. Andrew, who, according to Armenian and Georgian traditions had been the first to preach the Gospel in the Caucasus, was officially declared to have been the St. John the Baptist of the Russians; Constantinople, being thus deprived of the honor of being the birthplace of Russian Christianity, was accordingly dispossessed of any right to exercise ecclesiastical supremacy over the Russian Church.
The fall of Constantinople, which closely followed the Florentine Union, settled the question of the ecclesiastical autonomy of Russia, and contributed at the same time to strengthen the power of the Muscovite Prince. The Greek Church had lost her secular head in the person of the last Emperor of Constantinople, and the Slavonic principalities of the Balkan Peninsula, as well as the subjugated Greeks, naturally turned their eyes towards the most powerful of the Orthodox rulers. This was the Muscovite Grand Prince, whose firm allegiance to the ancient creed, and uncompromising attitude towards the Florentine Union, contrasted favorably with the attitude of the last Emperors towards the Popes of Rome. People were led to acknowledge that the fall of Constantinople was a well-deserved punishment on a schismatic ruler, and they were also induced to believe that the conquest of that city by the Turks ought to be the occasion for the transfer of civil supremacy over the Greek Church from Constantinople to Muscovy, from the Emperor to the Grand Prince.
These ideas grew in strength when the last Emperor's sister, Sophia Palaeologus, became by marriage the wife and mother of Muscovite Princes. A report was spread that the imperial title had been transferred to Grand Prince Ivan by no less a person than his wife's brother, the legal heir of the Byzantine Empire. The Grand Prince was anointed with great solemnity, and receivedthe title of “Tsar”, a title which, as we have seen, had hithertobeen exclusively given to the Greek Emperors. An offer which theGerman Emperor made through his special envoy, Herbertstein, to grant the title of “king" to the Muscovite Grand Prince on condition of his recognizing his dependence upon the Holy Roman Empire, was solemnly rejected; and in order to confirm the newtheory of the complete autonomy of the Russian tsardom, agenealogy was invented, showing the direct descent of the houseof Rurik from Augustus and his supposed brother Pruss, themythical founder of Prussia. One fact, however, stood in the wayof a universal recognition of these new pretensions to completeautonomy; that was the continued dependence of the Muscoviterulers on the khans of the Tartars. But this was put an end to byIvan III, who was consequently the first to adorn himself withthe title of “Autocrat" (Samoderjez), which to this day continuesto be the title of the Russian Tsars.
As Greek monks, and among them the well-known Maxime, beganto settle in Russia, Byzantine ideas about the derivation ofmonarchical power from God, which were already entertained bysome of our monkish writers, were rapidly spread among thepeople. It is not without good reason that the celebratedantagonist of Ivan the Terrible, Prince Kourbsky, accuses themonks of having been the chief source of the servile theory,according to which “the Tsar, in order to preserve hisindependence, ought to have no counsellors more intelligent thanhimself”. This theory was accepted with avidity by such tyrantsas Ivan the Cruel, who refers to it more than once in hiscorrespondence with the Polish king, Stephen Bathory. The factthat this prince was surrounded by a sort of parliament, thePolish Seim, was declared by the Russian Tsar to be a manifestproof of his political inferiority. “Autocracy (samoderjavsto)”,according to Ivan's idea, “was impossible with an electivecouncil; the autocrat must do everything by himself; he has togive orders to his subjects, and these, last must obey likeserfs, and that according to the command of God”.
These ideas, which had been expressed centuries before by monkish writers, who had found them set forth in Byzantine treatises, were far from being those of the generality of Russian statesmen and thinkers. When Prince Kurbskii advised the tyrant Ivan to seek good and useful counsel, not only among the members of his duma -- a sort of curia regis -- but also among the representatives of the people -- vse narodnikh chelovek -- he gave utterance to an old political desire. Another contemporary writer, the unknown author of The Sermon of the Saints of Valaam, gives way to the same feeling in the following terms: “The clergyought to advise the Tsar to keep a constant general council,composed of persons coming from all the cities and districts ofhis dominions. Such a council must be kept, and their advicetaken day by day on every question which may occur”. Twodifferent institutions were meant by those who advised the tsarto rule by the advice of his councillors. One was as old as themonarchy itself, and belonged to those old customs, which,according to contemporary writers, had been scrupulouslymaintained by former potentates. I refer to the council of theBoyars -- the Duma. The other institution. the history of whichwill form the principal subject of our next lecture, was, on thecontrary, quite recent -- the States-General of Moscovy, theZemskii Sobor.
I will conclude what I have to say on the politicalorganization of Russia during that intermediate period whichlasted from the fall of the ancient folkmotes to the convocationof the States-General by a description of the first-namedcouncil, the Duma.(4*) The study of the internal constitution ofthe Duma is indispensable for the comprehension of the Partwhich the higher nobility were called upon to play in themanagement of the Muscovite State. It will show that the power ofthe Muscovite princes, absolute as it was, was yet to a certainextent limited by the power of the nobility. Up to the middle ofthe sixteenth century the Boyars were the only persons admittedto the exercise of executive, military, and judicial authority.Under the name of voevods we find them at the head of provinces,commanding their military forces and managing theiradministrative interests. As members of the Duma, they had toadvise the Tsar on all kinds of political, executive, military,and financial questions. No law was promulgated until afterprevious deliberation on it by the Duma. The same Dumafurnished the chief rulers of the State during the minority ofthe Tsar, and it was in this way that the power of the Boyarsmade itself felt among the lower classes of the population, whosoon came to look upon them as the chief cause of their misery.
The composition of the Muscovite council was at the beginningvery like that which we find in France under the early Capetiankings. The curia regis was chiefly formed from among the highcourt officials, such as the majordome, the marshal, theconstable, the chancellor or cancellarius, the camerer orcamerarius, etc. The same may be said of the Muscovite Duma ofthe fourteenth century, as well as of the privy council of eachand every of the principalities into which medieval Russia wasdivided anterior to the centralizinggrowth of the Muscovitepower. The business transacted at the court of a Russian princebeing distributed among different departments, the heads of thesedepartments were summoned to sit in the council and received thename of boyars. Money being scarce, the boyars were paid fortheir services by the donation of crown lands, and this mode ofpayment being known under the name of “pont”, the surname of theboyars was “poutevii boyari”. Most of the boyars summoned to sitin the Duma were exempted from military service, and especiallyfrom the duty of opposing the enemy at the head of their ownretainers, not so much in the open country as in their owncastles. Hence the origin of another surname “wedennii boiari"which distinguished the most powerful members of the Russianmedieval nobility. If we inquire into the origin of thoseadmitted to the princely council, we shall see that they belongedto the same class as that which furnished officers to the armyand the chiefs of the central and provincial administration. Thisclass is precisely that known to the Anglo-Saxons as Thanes, andto the Merovingian kings under the title of Antrustions. Thepeculiarity of medieval Russia consisted in this, that, beingdivided into a great number of principalities, it left to theknightly class the liberty of freely choosing the prince whomthey would like to follow. The Russian knightly class,corresponding to the “ministeriels" of feudal Germany, theso-called “slougili liudi" or “men of service”, were authorizedby custom to remain in the service of any prince as long as theypleased, and to change from one prince to another according totheir own pleasure. Before attaching himself to any prince the"man of service" signed a sort of contract with the politicalhead of the country in which he intended to settle. On takingservice, a charter was delivered to the knight in which hisduties and rights were precisely stated, and the prince had noright to infringe these conditions. In case of bad treatment, theknight found no difficulty in leaving the prince whom he wasserving and in entering into similar relations with some other ofthe numerous petty potentates, who ruled over medieval Russia.This right of freely passing from the service of one prince tothat of another was clearly recognized by the following sentence in a treaty signed by the prince of Tver with Lithuanian Grand Prince Kasimir, as late as the middle of the fifteenth century, 1449; “Our boyars and men of service may freely withdrawfrom one of us to the other”. This document is probably the lastrecognition of the liberty of removal once enjoyed by theknightly class.
The increasing power of the Muscovite Grand Prince could not tolerate this survival of federal autonomy. This prince did notobject to the liberty of removal as long as it served his ownpurposes by increasing the number of persons seeking service inthe Muscovite army and Muscovite civil service, but as soon as the tyranny of some of the Grand Princes caused their own knightsto withdraw to Poland and Lithuania, severe measures were takento put a stop to this movement of emigration. The Grand Prince began to confiscate the grants of land ("po mestie") of thedeparting knights, and every time he could lay hands on one ofthese seceders he was sure to throw him into prison, very oftentogether with his wife and children. The clergy, always on theside of the secular power, more than once likened the behaviourof a seceding knight to the conduct of Judas, and declared it tobe not only treason against the State but also a sin in the eyesof God.
Keeping in mind the facts just mentioned, we shall have nodifficulty in explaining the Concourse of knights and men of thesword in the grand duchy of Moscovy. The territorial extension ofthe duchy had necessitated the abolition of a great number ofsmall principalities, and persons formerly belonging to theruling dynasties and united by ties of blood to the Tsar, wereanxious to enter his service. In this manner the knightly classbegan to number in its ranks a whole group of princely familieswho were the descendants of those potentates whose dominions hadbeen conquered and annexed by Moscow. Before long the number of persons desirous of taking service under the Grand Prince totally excluded the possibility of personal and separate conventions,such as those which settled the mutual rights and duties ofprince and knight in the other principalities of Russia. Thesepersonal agreements were superseded by a general enactment, whichdeclared that the man of service occupied a higher or lower rankin the political hierarchy according, first, to the dignity ofthe family to which he belonged, and, secondly, to the number ofyears his family had been engaged in the Muscovite service.
It was generally acknowledged that a princely family -- thatis, a family that had once belonged to the number of rulingdynasties, ought to have precedence over all others amonguntitled nobles. Whoever could show among his ancestors personsin a high official post had the right to refuse any inferiorsituation, especially in those cases in which a person of acomparatively new family was to be set over him as his superior. This order of precedence was more than once set aside inconsequence of the low condition to which this or that wealthyfamily had been reduced by the loss of its estates. A Russian noble in a miserable state of poverty was as little entitled to occupy a high official position, as was a penniless English duke, or earl, to take his seat in the House of Lords in the fifteenth century, in the reign of Edward IV.
The rules of precedence, constituting what our ancestors ofthe fifteenth and sixteenth centuries called “mestnichestro”,were scrupulously observed both in the army and in the civilservice. They also found expression in the constitution of theCouncil or Duma. The titled nobility, the princely families, asa rule, occupied the highest rank in the hierarchy of thecouncillors, the rank of “doumn iboyars”, or boyars of theCouncil.
A certain number of the old Muscovite nobility were allowedto retain their original rank, but the rest of the nobles were bydegrees lowered to that of persons whose only distinction was tobe “the children of ancient boyars”. The documents of the timespeak of them in precisely these terms, calling them “boiarskidieti”, children of the boyars.
The second rank among the members of the Duma was occupied by those known under the name of “okolnichii”, or persons living immediately around the Prince. This rank in the Duma belonged, as arule, to members of the old Muscovite nobility, as well as to some of the smaller princely families. The Prince had the right to confer on his “okolnichy" the higher title of boyar as arecompense for his services. The rest of the knightly class wereeither entirely unconnected with the Council or were simplysummoned to be present at some of its sittings. They were knownunder the general name of “noblemen belonging to the Duma”,"dumnii dvoriani”, and formed the third rank of Councillors.
The fourth or lowest rank in the Council was composed ofthose members of the knightly class who condescended to holdsecond-rate posts in the different executive bodies of the duchy,such as the Foreign Office ("Posolsky prikaz"), or the boardpresiding over temporary or life grants of land (Pomesiniprikaz). These second-rate bureaucrats, known under the name ofsecretaries, diaki, were regularly admitted to the sittings ofthe Council, where they formed the lowest but by no means theleast influential order.
From what has been said it will be seen that autocratic powerin Russia had to deal with certain counterpoises and moderatinginfluences in the political constitution of the country evenafter the fall of the ancient vechi. These checks and restraints had their roots in the old political rights exercised by the chiefs of the almost independent principalities which constituted the unorganized federacy of Russian states. Whilst submitting to the power of the Muscovite prince, these once independent chiefs insisted on the recognition of their privilege to be next after the Tsar, the principal ruler of the country. The so-called mestnichestvo was, therefore, a sort of unwritten constitution, recognizing in each of the members of the higher nobility his distinct right to a place in the machinery of the State. The lower classes alone had no part in the conduct of public affairs. An end was put to this anomalous situation by the convocation of the States-General. The origin of these States-General, or Sobors, and their further development, will form the subject of our next lecture.
1. Herbord, ii. 15-30.
2. “Complete Collection of Russian Chronicles”, vi. 213.
3. Compare Diakonov, “The Supreme Power of the Muscovite tsars”,Petersburg, 1889.
4. This subject has been very ably discussed by Professor Kliuchevskii ??[ID].
Old Russian Parliaments.
In our last lecture we showed what causes produced the rise of monarchical power in Russia, and tried to prove that, powerful as was the autocracy of the tsars of Muscovy, it was limited by the political rights of the higher nobility. The exercise of these rights was entrusted to the Duma or Council, and similar powers in matters ecclesiastical were vested in a High Commission, often mentioned by the authors of the time under the name of the consecrated Sobor [osviashchenyi sobor]. This body was composed of the Metropolitan, Archbishops, Bishops, Archimandrites or vicars of the bishops, and the heads of the black clergy, the abbots or chiefs of monastic congregations.
In the year 1550 these two assemblies of which the one was an almost complete representation of the higher nobility and bureaucracy, and the second of the higher clergy, were changed into a more democratic parliament by the addition of representatives of the lower nobility, the regular military force, and the inhabitants of cities and rural districts [ID]. We have very little information as to the reason which induced the Government to appeal to these “men of the people”, as the members of this assembly were called by contemporary writers. We are totally ignorant of its composition, and of the nature of the business it was called upon to perform. The speech which Ivan the Terrible delivered in its first session is, however, well known. In it he accuses the boyars of the misgovernment which characterized the first years of his reign and throws on them the whole responsibility for the miseries of the people. He acknowledged at the same time the impossibility of redressing old wrongs by judicial means and entreated all classes of the people to compound for them by means of compromises. The meaning of this was that all the judges who were accused of illegal decisions, and officials responsible for administrative wrongs, were authorized to treat within a fixed time directly with those who had complained to the tsar of their misrule. So far as appears from later documents the wish of the tsar was complied with by all classes of the people. Vast reforms followed this first essay of representative assemblies; the principle of election, which had formerly prevailed in the organization of the commune and the lower courts of justice, was reintroduced in the form of elected judges and aldermen (gubnie starosti and tseloval’niki). It is very probable that those men were convened to the first Russian parliament who had acknowledged the necessity for such reforms, although we have no contemporary documents to establish this fact.
The amount of information we possess about the second Russian parliament, which was summoned in the year 1566 is much greater. We know the number of persons convened to it, the different classes of the people to which they belonged, and the kind of business they had to perform. We may even guess with a certain degree of probability the way in which they exercised their consultative and deliberative functions. In the year 1558 the Russian military forces were engaged in a war with Poland. Thiswar had its rise in the disputes of the Teutonic Knights settledin Livonia, with the growing power of Russia. Losing one afteranother their chief fortresses, the Order, through their GrandMaster Gotthard Kettler, entered into correspondence with thePolish king, Sigismund, and proposed to accept his suzerainty oncondition that he should with his army oppose the furtherencroachments of Russia. This offer was accepted, and Russia hadto decide whether she should withdraw from the Livonianstrongholds which were already in her power or go to war withPoland. Under these circumstances Ivan the Terrible, beforecoming to a decision, wished to take the advice not only of thehigher clergy, the members of his Duma, and the high officers ofState, with the treasurers and secretaries at their head. butalso of the lower nobility, the class directly engaged inmilitary service, and those of the third estate, whose businessit was to collect the taxes from the urban population.
If we scrutinise the composition of this second RussianParliament, we are startled by the fact that with the exceptionof three gentlemen from Toropeczk, six from Louczk, andtwenty-two citizens from the city of Smolensk, all its memberswere persons residing in Moscow Russian historians have generallyexplained this anomaly by saying that the Government, having notime to await the arrival of deputies from the provinces,contented itself with consulting such military men as were thenpresent at Moscow, exception being made only as to theinhabitants of some western cities and districts whose interestswere directly engaged in the impending war. Such was the casewith Smolensk, Louczk, and Toropeczk. If this was so, theAssembly of 1566 would have no right to figure in the list ofRussian Parliaments, being nothing but a local Assembly,something like those “etats generaux fractionnes”, which wereknown in France during a great part of the fourteenth andfifteenth centuries. But such is not really the case.(1*) The wayin which the military class was represented at the Parliament of1566 finds its explanation in the organization of the army atthat time. It was then composed of five regiments, quartered indifferent provinces, each regiment containing a greater orsmaller number of “district hundreds”. The hundred was not anumerical, but a local division. As a rule, the headship of everyhundred was entrusted, not to a local military man, but to someMuscovite nobleman, residing in the metropolis, but possessingestates in the district to which the hundred belonged. Under thecircumstances I have described, the tsar, before going into thenew war, was naturally desirous of consulting the men who had thelocal command of his army, those Muscovite noblemen who wereplaced at the head of the local hundreds. Their usual place ofabode being the metropolis, it is easy to understand whyinhabitants of Moscow were almost the only men summoned to attendthe Parliament. When the Sobor was convened the army had justreturned from its last expedition against Lithuania and all themilitary chiefs would then be in Moscow. These chiefs, as hasbeen already mentioned, were paid for their services not by afixed salary, but by donations of land granted for the term ofservice, which practically amounted to a life tenure, and wereknown by the name of pomestie.(2*) The quantity of landcorresponded to the position held in the ranks of the army. Somereceived only one hundred and fifty desiatin,(3*) some twohundred and twenty-five, some even three hundred, and thesedifferences led to the division of the military classes intothree groups called statii. The Sobor of 1566 containedninety-seven members from the first class and ninety-nine of thesecond; among the lower group we find only thirty-five fromToropeczk and six from Louzck.
As to the third estate, it was represented by seventy-fivemen, all belonging to the Muscovite trading class. The reason ofthis must be sought in the contemporary organization of theRussian bourgeoisie. During the second part of the sixteenthcentury we find in Moscow two different classes of tradesmen: oneknown under the name of “hosts" (gosti), the other under that of"merchants" (koupzi). Both classes contained in their ranks notonly Muscovite tradesmen, but also tradesmen from other cities.The wealthy and influential merchants of the whole empire wereinscribed in the list of the “hosts”, the rest composed that ofthe “merchants”. This latter class was sub-divided into Muscoviteand Smolensk merchants, the latter being those, whose commercewas chiefly confined to the western provinces of Russia and itsnatural head Smolensk. In the sixteenth century these samesub-divisions re-appear under somewhat different names, the onebeing called the hundred of “hosts" (gostinnaia sotnia) and theother the hundred of “drapers" (soukonnaia sotnia). The divisionsI have mentioned were the work of the central government, whichregarded the wealthier merchants as its direct helpers in thedifficult task of collecting customs and excise duties.
No person belonging to the Guild of “hosts" could refuse toperform these heavy and responsible duties. The man, on whom thechoice of his companions fell, was obliged to remove to the citywhose taxes he had to collect. So that the exercise of suchfunctions might be entrusted to persons of great local influence,the election fell, as a rule, on a merchant possessing estates orlarge stocks of merchandise in the city which he was called toadminister. Like the guild of hosts, the guilds of Muscovite andSmolensk merchants were called upon to assist the Government inthe exercise of its financial authority and accordingly electedamong themselves the officers of the excise and customsadministration of the smaller urban districts.
It is easy to understand that before engaging in a new war,which would necessarily cause new and heavy expenses, the tsarwould desire to obtain information as to the pecuniary resourcesof the country from those persons whose duty it would be tocollect the taxes. He, therefore, summoned to the Sobor thetradesmen of the Guild of hosts and also the Muscovite andSmolensk merchants, or, in other words, all those who had thecharge of collecting the revenues of indirect taxation, not onlyin the metropolis, but throughout the empire. Composed as it wasof the high officials, the members of the council, thearchbishops, bishops, archimandrites, abbots, and the local headsof the military and financial administration, the Sobor of 1566was not so much the representative of the people as of thegoverning class. It is, therefore, difficult to speak of itsanalogy with the representative assemblies of Western Europe,though some of the elements of which it was composed, are to befound both in the Swedish and the German parliaments. In Swedenthe army was called upon to send its generals, colonels, and evenits majors to the sittings, at least from 1598 to 1778.(4*) Inthe German Landestande, as well as in the Swedish States-General,the cities were regularly represented by their officers, theRathmanner, members of the city council, or Ratta borgare, asthey were called in Sweden, just as the French cities andboroughs were usually represented in the Etats Generaux, not byelected deputies, but by their maires, echevins and consuls.(5*)
Now that we are acquainted with the manner in which the firstSobor, this real assembly of notables, was composed, let us takea look at its proceedings. The question on which the tsar wantedadvice was whether he should engage in a new war with Poland, orwhether it would be better for him to restore to Kasimir thecities which he had conquered in Lithuania. Each estate had togive a separate answer. The clergy declared itself in favor ofwar. They maintained that Livonia had always belonged to Russia,a preposterous claim which was plainly contradicted by history.Whilst insisting on the impossibility of concluding peace on theterms proposed by Kasimir, they declared themselves incapable ofjudging what means the Government ought to take for the safety ofits new conquests. “The tsar alone must decide the matter. It isnot our business to advise him on such questions, but to pray Godfor the success of his undertakings”. This plainly meant thatthey feared a new imposition of subsidies, and had no desire totake on themselves the initiative of this taxation.
The boyars gave a similar answer. “It is impossible”, saidthey, “to leave in the hands of the Polish king the newlyconquered German cities, for in that case the important Russianfortress of Polozk situated on the Dvina, would remain surroundedby the lands of the enemy”. They also declared themselves readyto serve the tsar whatever might be his decision. “God alone andthe tsar”, such was their conclusion, “ought to have the lastword in this matter”. Some dissentient members of the Dumapresented their own opinion in writing. The noblemen of the firstand second class or statii, also expressed their opinions in twodifferent papers and were unanimous in their desire to retain theLivonian cities. Those of Toropeczk and Louczk, who were moredirectly concerned in the matter, declared that they wouldsacrifice their lives for a single “dessiatine" of the citiessurrounding Polozk which were claimed by the Polish king. Thehosts and merchants of Moscow and Smolensk were not lesspatriotic in their sentiments, the latter particularly insistingon the impossibility of leaving Polozk without a territorialdistrict attached to it. “A village cannot exist without its owndistrict and still less a fortress”, said they. “If the king ofPoland gets the territory of Polozk that city will be of no useto the Russians, and nothing will prevent the king building a newfortress just opposite the Russian fortress”.
The general result of the conference was that the tsardecided on war.
We find no other General Assembly in the reign of Ivan theTerrible, but we must not infer from that fact that the tsaraltogether forbore to apply to the people. On two differentoccasions we find him addressing the mob of Moscow, once in 1564,in order to get their approval of the prosecution of the boyarsfor their supposed treason against the State and open plunderingof the people; and a second time to ascertain their feelings onthe occasion of a fresh discomfiture of the Russian troops by thePoles and the loss, not only of Livonia, but of Polozk andSmolensk. This last convention was in the year 1597 and was theoccasion of a long and patriotic speech delivered, in the name ofthe tsar, by his secretary Schelkalov. This speech, whichannounced the loss of thousands of Russian soldiers, produced agreat impression, chiefly on the women, who, fearing theirhusbands were dead, went crying through the streets and askingfor new ones. Whereupon the secretary made a second speech inwhich he threatened to have them flogged if they did not ceasetheir lamentations. We thus find the experiment of admitting thepeople to the discussion of public affairs degenerating, eitherinto appeals to the Moscow mob to sanction, by its consent, actsof cruelty towards the members of the higher nobility, or intothreats of flogging made to poor weeping women in theirbereavement.
It is difficult to discover in the facts which I have justrelated any resemblance to a regular consultation of the peoplein Parliament assembled. The meetings are more like a parody ofthe ancient folkmotes, the veche.
The representative system remained unknown to Russiathroughout the sixteenth century. The Assembly which in 1584confirmed the right of the eldest son of Ivan, Theodor, to occupythe Russian throne, although called “a parliament" by the EnglishResident Hoarsav was, according to the same author, composed ofnothing but the chief clergy and members of the higher and lowernobility. Another assembly, that of 1585, called to deliberate onthe question of clerical immunities and the necessity forsubjecting the lands of monasteries to general taxation,contained in its ranks only the higher clergy, the chief officersof the State, and the members of the Council or Duma.
The Rurik family became extinct on the death of the tsarTheodor, and a new dynasty had to be chosen. The higher nobilityseized this opportunity to impose certain limitations on theexercise of the Sovereign power. But the nearest candidate to thethrone, Boris Godounov, not being willing to consent to suchlimitations, refused to accept the throne offered him by theboyars and insisted on the necessity of summoning the cities todecide who should occupy the throne of the Rurik family. He didthis in the expectation that the people would oppose any measurelimiting the principle of autocracy. The Sobor, which was calledtogether according to his wish, was widely different from theideal of a truly National Assembly. Of the 457 members who werepresent at its sittings, 83 belonged to the higher clergy, and338 to the bureaucracy and the higher and lower nobility. As tothe third estate, it was composed of only 21 hosts, of the headof the Guild of hosts and of 13 deputies from the ruraldistricts. This assembly was presided over by the Patriarch, theChief of the Russian clergy,and unanimously expressed itselffavorable to Boris Godounov, to whom the Russian throne wasoffered unconditionally.
Representatives of the lower classes of the city of Moscowappeared in 1605 at the Sobor to which the false Demetriusentrusted the right of judging the boyar and future tsar,Basilius Schouisky, on account of a rebellion which he hadinstigated. The Sobor condemned Schouisky to death, but the tsarDemetrius commuted this punishment to perpetual banishment to theCity of Viatka, whence he soon returned at the gracious order ofthe monarch.
The Assembly which in 1606, after the death of the falseDemetrius, elected Schouisky as the tsar of Russia, was not aSobor in the true sense of the word, for it was chiefly composedof the boyars. The Moscow mob nevertheless sanctioned theelection, and the new tsar was eagerly proclaimed at theso-called “read place”, in front of the palace.
This election of Schouisky has some claim to our attention,as it was the first at which constitutional limits were imposedon Russian autocracy. The newly elected tsar had no immediaterelation with the dynasty of Rurik, and was but the equal of theother boyars. He was known to be vindictive and to have a greatnumber of relations and friends who would be ready enough to makeuse of his power for their own advantage. All this induced theboyars to protect their own interests by the creation of ruleswhich their nominee was obliged to accept. According toStrahlenberg, the well-known author of the “historical andGeographical Description of the Northern and Eastern parts ofEurope and Asia" (a book written in German and published atStockholm in the year 1703), the constitutional limitationsimposed were as follows: “No new law was to be made and noinnovations were to be introduced in the old legislation withoutthe consent of the Duma. (Strahlenberg calls it senatus.) No newcontributions were to be levied unless previously discussed andaccepted by the same Council”.(6*) These constitutionallimitations as you may easily perceive, were exactly the same asthose established in England by the Magna Charta and the statuteof Edward the First, de tallagio non concedendo, but whilst theEnglish people entrusted the care of their liberty to the lords,gentlemen, and citizens in Parliament assembled, the Russianboyars wanted to keep to themselves the exclusive control of thesovereign power. This caused the failure of their constitution,and was the chief reason why, on the occasion of a new election,the control of the Constitutional compromise entered into by thepeople and the tsar, was no longer entrusted to the Duma of theboyars, but to the representative Assembly of the whole nation --that is to the Sobor.
Schouisky reigned only a few years. In 1610 he lost the crownby the decision of a new Assembly which assumed the title ofZemski Sobor, although it was chiefly composed of the boyars andthe Moscow mob. This took place in the middle of July. A monthlater a treaty was signed by the boyars and the chief of thePolish army, by which Vladislas, son of Sigismund, king ofPoland, was called to the throne of Russia. Like his predecessor,the new tsar accepted certain constitutional limitations, amongstothers that of administering justice according to the existingcustoms and the rules by law established. No alterations in thelatter could be made, except with the consent of the Council(Duma) of “the whole land”. These last words meant the ZemskiSobor, the States-General or Parliament of Russia.
I shall not attempt to narrate the events which prevented the accession of a Polish and Catholic prince to the throne of Russia. It will be enough for my purpose to state that the people and the clergy were unanimous in their dislike to this foreign and “heretical" ruler. The folkmotes, or veches, not only in Novgorod, but also in those parts where they had hitherto been quite unknown, as in Kazan, or Nizhnii Novgorod, entered into correspondence with each other, local militia united, and an army, called into existence by the patriotic sentiments of simple burgesses like Minin, marched from Nizhnii Novgorod to Moscow, under the command of Pozharskii. At the same time a correspondence was begun with the object of forming a new Sobor, which was to be a really representative body, composed of delegates sent by all the estates [chiny (ranks), here indicated medieval social formations or sosloviia (ID??)]. The writs of summons sent out by the head of the army, Pozharskii, have fortunately been preserved, so that we can get a clear notion of what was meant at that time by the term "General Council of the land”, a term employed more than once in the documents of the time. Addressing the people of Putivl or of Wichegodsk [??], the commander-in-chief insists on the necessity of sending to Yaroslav, the place selected for the meeting of the new Assembly, two or three men from each of the estates (chinov) of the nation. From Yaroslav the Sobor, following the army, removed to Moscow, where it sat in common with the boyars of the council, the high commission of the clergy (osviashchennyi Sobor), and the representatives of the regular and irregular military forces, that is, the Streltsy and the Cossacks. It was this Assembly which elected Michael Fedorovich Romanov to be tsar of Russia.
Before proceeding to the election of the tsar, the Soborcalled on all the inhabitants of the country to fast for threeconsecutive days. It then passed a law, due mainly to theinfluence of the popular section of the Assembly, prohibiting theelection of any foreign prince. The nobility would have had noobjection to the placing of a Swedish or Polish pretender on thevacant throne. The higher and lower orders differed widely as tothe man they wished to choose from among the Russian boyars; thenames of Golitzin, Vorotinsky, Troubezkoy, and even that of thedethroned Basilius Schouisky, were, for a time, to be found onthe list of candidates supported by the nobility. The first todeclare himself in favor of the young Romanov was one of hisrelations named Scheremetiev, and his proposal was favorablylistened to by the lower nobility, the Cossacks and theburgesses. His election, however, was so unexpected an event thathis own father, a bishop then closely imprisoned by the Poles,was the first to suggest, in a letter written to Scheremetiev,that certain constitutional limits should be imposed On the powerof the future tsar. Strahlenberg(7*) is quite correct in hisstatement that the idea of these limitations was borrowed fromPoland where already in the middle of the sixteenth century,under Stephen Bathory, the States-General, or Seim, and theCouncil possessed considerable rights. The reasons which operatedin favor of the young Michael Romanov were, first of all, hisrelationship with the extinct dynasty of Rurik through his greataunt, Anastasia Romanov, who was one of the wives of Ivan theTerrible; secondly, the small number of relations which waslooked upon as a safeguard against further depredations on thedemesne lands in the form of beneficiary donations; and thirdly, the popularity of his family, which had been persecuted by the boyars from the time of Boris Godunov. His father, Filaret, who had been forced to become a monk, was especially endeared to the nation by his virtues; he had attained a high position among the clergy, having been made Bishop of Yaroslavl.
The late Patriarch Germogen, who had been much beloved by the people, had also been favorably disposed towards the election of young Romanov, and this fact contributed greatly to secure him the sympathy of the clergy. At the time of his election Michael was but a boy of fifteen, and his father being a prisoner in Magdeburgh, Sheremetev and the members of his party looked upon it as highly probable that the real government would pass into their hands.
The Sovereign power which was offered to young Romanov was far from being the same as that enjoyed by Ivan the Terrible. Autocratic power had had to yield before the new theories of constitutional limitations directly imported from Poland. That Michael had to sign a compromise is a fact briefly mentioned by Russian eye-witnesses, such as Kotoshikhin, as well as by foreigners then residing in Russia. The chronicles of the city of Pskov speak of it in contemptuous terms. It was not enough, say they, for the boyars to have reduced the country to the miserable state to which they had brought it. They wanted to go on in the same way of pillage and oppression; they had no regard for the tsar, did not fear him on account of his youth, and all the more so since they had induced him, at the time of his accession to the throne, to take an oath, by which he renounced the right of inflicting capital punishment on persons belonging to the higher nobility. Capital punishment was to be superseded by close imprisonment. No mention is made in the chronicles of any further limitation of the Sovereign power of the tsar.
The well-known Kotoshikhin, who was alive at the time, speaking of the accession of the tsar Alexis, son of Michael Romanov, notices the fact that, “contrary to the custom established by his predecessor, the new tsar signed no charter by which he undertook to inflict capital punishment only in accordance with law and justice, and to consult the boyars and men of the Duma on each and every question concerning the government of the land, so that no decision might be come to without their assent”. Although Kotoshikhin speaks more positively as to the constitutional character of the limitations imposed on Russian autocracy in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, we must notice the fact that he says nothing of the part which the Sobor or Parliament was called upon to play in this experiment in limited monarchy. He mentions only the boyars and the men of the Duma, not “those of the land”, a phrase used at that time when speaking of the members of the Zemskii Sobor.
The Swedish writer, Fokkerodt, is more explicit when he affirms that in the compromise signed by Michael, the young tsar promised to give free course to the judicial proceedings of the courts, so as to inflict no punishment on his own authority, to introduce no new law without the consent of the Sobor, to abstain from levying any tax without the consent of this representative Assembly, and to begin no war without its counsel and approbation.
As to Strahlenberg, his statement is as follows: Before the coronation Michael was forced to accept the following conditions: He promised to (1) uphold and protect the existing creed of Russia; (2) to keep no memory of injuries inflicted on his family, to forget and to forgive all past animosities; (3) He took also the obligation to make no new laws or alter old ones, and to take no important measure which might contradict the existing laws, or suspend the legal proceedings of the court of justice. (4) He promised as well to begin no wars and to make no peace by his own will.(8*)
This view of the power of the Sobor is confirmed by the fact of its quasi-permanent presence at Moscow during the whole reign of the first Romanov. The laws and proclamations issued at that time generally contain the following characteristic expression:"According to our order (ukaz) and the decision of the whole land (po vsei zemli prigovoru). The whole land cannot mean anything else than the representatives in Parliament assembled.
Many important questions were discussed and settled by the Sobor. In the first years of the reign want of money obliged the tsar more than once to have recourse to forced loans and benevolences. These were levied side by side with the regular taxes on the goods of merchants and peasants (torgovyi i soshnyi liudi); the taxes received the consent of the Sobor, the benevolences were endorsed by it. The nomination of a new Patriarch in 1619 was also their work. The annals of the time tell us that the boyars, the dignitaries of the Court, and all the people of the “Muscovite State" called on Michael and asked him to induce his father Filaret to accept the primacy of the Russian church. Two years later, in 1621, a new Sobor was consulted on the question as to whether Russia should go to war with Poland. The Estates gave an answer in the affirmative, but the want of money and soldiers forced the Government to postpone the execution of this decision.
From 1622 the Sobors lose their character of quasi-constant assemblies, each remaining in session for several years and begin to be called only on special occasions, whenever their services were required for the settlement of important questions of State.
In 1632 war with Poland necessitated the levying of new subsidies. The Sobor Was accordingly assembled and gave its consent to the imposition of a general tax on all the estates [sosloviia] of the empire, on the tradesmen as on the “men of service”. The amount of money to be demanded from the latter was not fixed; each person could pay what he liked. The sums produced by the tax were intended for the payment of the army. During the next two years we find the Sobor consulting the tsar on matters of war and taxation, on the relations of the land with Poland and the Tartars of the Crimea. The tsar complained of the ill-treatment to which his envoy was subjected by the [Crimean] Khan. The superior clergy, whose answer alone has been preserved, insisted on the necessity of building fortresses on the Southern boundaries of the Muscovite empire, in those cities of the Ukraine, which like Belgorod or Voronezh, remained for centuries the pioneers of Christianity and culture in the southern steppes of Russia, and which were periodically plundered by the Tartars.
Two years later the military occupation of Azov by the Don Cossacks and the impending necessity of a war with the Crimean Tartars for the preservation of the conquest, caused a new Sobor to be convened. This Assembly was in favor of war and accordingly ordered the levy of military forces, “even from the villages belonging to the crown land and the lands of the clergy”. In 1642 matters concerning the fortress of Azov again became the immediate cause of a new assembling of the Russian Estates. As the Turks had no intention of leaving Azov in the hands of the Cossacks, who were not able to hold it themselves, the question of annexing it to the Russian state suggested itself to the Government, though it involved the risk of incurring the responsibility of a new and almost imminent war. The tsar finding it necessary to know the feeling of the nation, summoned one hundred and ninety-five persons elected by the Estates, besides the Duma or Privy Council and the superior clergy, to Moscow. Nearly all classes of society sent representatives, each class gave its opinion or advice separately on papers bearing the signatures of all the members of the same Estate, while the dissentients sent in their opinions on separate and private papers.
The superior clergy, faithful to their old habits, assured the tsar that they were quite unable to advise him on the question; it was not, they said, their custom to do So, for it was the Business of the tsar and his Duma; their sole duty was to invoke God's blessing on the tsar's undertakings. Should the tsar, however, want military aid, they declared themselves ready to make the necessary sacrifices in order to pay the soldiers, and that according to their means. The majority of the Muscovite nobility expressed themselves in favor of annexation. The tsar ought to hold the newly acquired fortress, but he should merely order the Cossacks to continue their occupation of it. Volunteers alone ought to be necessary to give help and assistance. Some advised that soldiers should be sent to Azov, not only from the cities of the Ukraine, but even from Moscow. All sorts of men, with the exception of serfs and such as had lost their liberty through not having paid their debts, ought to be selected for that purpose. If money were wanted, each Estate ought to nominate two or three persons whom the tsar might authorize to levy subsidies from all persons and goods, from officers (prikaznie) and the tsar's suite, from widows and orphans, from “hosts" [tradesmen] and merchants, and from each and every person not engaged in military service.
Some of the nobility, amongst others those of Vladimir, simply promised to obey the tsar's orders, pointing at the same time to the miserable state of their cities and country, which they said was well known to the tsar and to the boyars of his Duma. Much more peremptory was the advice given by the local nobility of certain larger cities, such as Suzdal, Yurev (the modern Dorpat), Novgorod, and Rostov. They were of opinion that the surrender of Azov would bring down the wrath of God: “The tsar cannot leave in the hands of the infidels”, said they, “the holy images of John the Baptist and of St. Nicholas”. If the army wanted victuals they might be taken out of the magazines belonging to the cities of the Ukraine. Military aid could be given from Moscow and the expenses for the victualling of the army ought to be laid upon the whole land, without exception. Complaining of the great quantity of land given in benefices to the boyars and of the large amount of money got by bribes and extortions by the officers of the State (prikaznie), who afterwards invested it in vast buildings and palaces, the burgesses insisted on the necessity of laying part of the burden of the future war on the shoulders of that class [boyars and high state servitors], and of obliging them to arm the soldiers; they maintained, moreover, that their fortunes should be taxed like those of all other classes of the State. The same measures ought also to be taken with the clergy, the bishops and abbots being equally called on to equip warriors, according to the number of serfs they possessed. The tsar ought to issue an ukaz, stating the number of serfs a soldier [gentry in military service; pomeshchik] ought to possess, or rather the proportion existing between the number of his serfs and the service required of him. This proportion should be strictly maintained in future, and those who had not serfs enough ought to receive new gifts of serfs from the government. Money for purposes of war, they also insisted, might be taken out of the treasuries of the Patriarch and the monasteries.
The lower nobility [pomeshchiki], or what is the same thing, the men-of-war of the cities of Tula, Kolomna, Serpukhov, Riazan, Kaluga, etc., were even more precise in their demands that the proportion of military service should tally with the number of serfs which each man-of-war or knight possessed. Those who had over fifty serfs ought to serve without pay, and also contribute to the expenses of the war by supplying food to the army, whist those who had not more than fifty ought to be free from the latter obligation.
If we turn our attention to the “written opinions" given in by the members of the third estate, we find them complaining of the miserable state into which they had recently fallen, partly because all the commerce of Moscow was in the hands of foreigners, and partly because of the oppression of the voevodas, or Governors of provinces, who had superseded the freely elected heads of districts (the gubnye starosti of the sixteenthcentury). The delegates of the hosts and merchants of Moscownevertheless insist on the necessity of holding Azov, pointingout at the same time that they receive no lands from the Crown,and have more trouble than profit in the levying of taxes andexcise duties, and generally suggesting to the tsar theimpossibility of increasing their payments.
The “memorial" of the hundred men and headmen of the black hundreds and townships, under which name must be understood the representatives of the rural population, contains more or less the same complaints and similar desires. The people are exhausted by taxes, forced labor, military service, etc.; they have also suffered much from fire; the voevodas have ruined them by their exactions; so miserable is their condition that many of them have run away, leaving their houses and lands. The conclusion of this very interesting document has unfortunately not come down to us.
Our general impression on reading the memorials or petitions of this Sobor is that, although all Estates were unanimous in their patriotic desire to keep their hold on the newly conqueredfortress, they still felt themselves scarcely in a position tobear the expense of a new war with the Turks; and sharing inthese apprehensions the tsar did not dare to incur theresponsibility, and sent orders to the Cossacks to withdraw fromAzov.
The Sobor of 1642 was the last general Assembly convened bythe first of the Romanovs.
Although the direct successor of Michael, AlexisMichaelovich, ascended the throne without entering into anycovenant with his people, nevertheless the Sobor was called toconfirm the act of his coronation. This happened in 1645. Fouryears later the Sobor was called upon to aid in the importantbusiness of codification. Modern inquirers have brought to lightthe fact that the petitions presented at this Assembly more thanonce furnished important materials for the reformation of theRussian law, and that their influence may be traced through thewhole code of Alexis (known under the title of Oulogenie). Duringthe following year the Sobor was again convened at Moscow inorder to advise the Government as to the suppression ofinsurrectionary movements in different parts of the empire, andespecially at Pskov. The Assembly advised lenient treatment ofthe insurgents, and the Government acted accordingly.
In 1651 and 1653 the Sobor on two different occasionsdeclared itself in favor of the annexation of Little Russia.This country had been liberated from the Poles by the “Hetman" ofthe Cossacks, Bogdan Chmelnizky, who soon afterwards offered itto the tsar of Russia. It was feared that the acceptance of thisoffer might involve Russia in a new war with Poland; thereforethe advice of the Sobor of 1651 was only conditional. If Polandacquiesced in the demands of the tsar, Russia was to abstain fromannexation; if not, the risk of a new war ought not to beavoided, and Christian brethren were to be taken under theprotection of the orthodox tsar. Three years later, when thePolish king Jan Kasimir entered into direct alliance with theancient enemies of Russia -- the Swedes and the Crimean Tartars-- and when therefore no doubt could be entertained as to thenecessity for war, the Sobor openly invited the tsar to take theHetman and the Cossacks of the Dnieper “under his high hand,together with their cities and lands, and that in order topreserve the true Orthodox Church”. The delegates spoke of theirreadiness to fight the Polish king and to lose their lives forthe honour of the tsar.
The Sobor of 1653 was the last general Assembly called in thetime of Alexis. Following the example of bis predecessors, thetsar on several occasions also convened representatives of onesingle estate to consult with them on matters directly concerningtheir order. Such an assembly of notables sat in Moscow in theyear 1617. It consisted chiefly of Muscovite merchants. It wasconvened to hear the opinion of Russian tradesmen as to thedesirability of granting to English merchants trading in Moscow,and to their chief agent, John Merrick, the right of makingexplorations in search of a new road to China and India “by wayof the river Ob”. The majority of the delegates were opposed tothe project.
The same feeling of animosity towards foreigners found itsexpression in 1626, when on the demand of English merchants to beallowed to trade with Persia, the members of the guild of guestsand the Moscow merchants insisted on the necessity of upholdingthe monopoly which the Muscovite tradesmen enjoyed in going toAstrachan to buy Persian goods. The majority of the merchantsdeclared themselves unable to compete with foreign merchants, andeven the minority were of opinion that if free trade werepermitted to English traders in return for large payments made bythem to the crown, this liberty ought not to be extended to thetraffic in Russian commodities. Half a century later, in 1667,the same Muscovite merchants, consulted by Alexis, stoutlyopposed the demand of Armenian merchants for free trade inPersian commodities, and begged the Government not to endangertheir own trade by foreign competition. Ten years later theMoscow tradesmen, together with the delegates of the blackhundreds and villages, were called together to give their opinionas to the causes which tended to raise the price of corn. Theycomplained of engrossers and asked that their practices might beforbidden in future. They also spoke of the great damageagriculture had sustained through recent wars. The increase inthe number of distilleries was also mentioned as one of theprincipal reasons for the dearness of corn.
In 1681-2 the “men of service" were convened together withthe Duma to reform the military administration. it was thismemorable Assembly which abolished the old custom of appointingmen to the chief posts in the army, not according to theirpersonal merit, but to the rank of their family, and the lengthof time it had served the State; and which also ordered theheraldic books to be burnt.
The last instances we have of the convening of the RussianSobors belong to the period of Eternal trouble which followed thedeath of the tsar Theodore. In 1682 a Sobor to which theinhabitants of Moscow alone were summoned, pronounced itself infavor of the occupation of the vacant throne by the youngest sonof Alexis, the future emperor, Peter the Great. A new Assembly,which in its composition answered even less than its predecessorto the idea of a general representative council, was convoked afew months later by the party that favored the political designsof the Princess Sophia, sister to Peter the Great. It insisted onthe division of the sovereign power between the two brothers ofTheodore, Peter and John. Princess Sophia became from that timethe real ruler of the empire. Again Moscow alone was representedthough the Acts speak of the presence of delegates from all theprovinces and cities of the empire.
It was in 1698 that the Sobor was convoked for the last time.It was called together to pronounce judgment on the PrincessSophia who, during the absence of Peter the Great in the WesternStates of Europe, had tried by the help of the strelzi (a kind ofLife-Guards) to seat herself on the Russian throne. The onlycontemporary writer who mentions this Assembly is a German of thename of Korb, who was secretary of the German Legation. Accordingto him the young monarch insisted on this occasion on thepresence of two delegates from each of the Estates, beginningwith the highest and ending with the lowest. Unfortunately noinformation has come down to us as to the decision arrived at bythis quasi-general representative body of the Russian people.
One fact especially merits our attention: The Sobors werenever abolished by law. They simply ceased to exist just as didthe States-General of France from the beginning of theseventeenth (1613) to the end of the eighteenth century. No legalact, therefore, lies in the way of a new convocation of therepresentatives of the empire. Should the present Emperor convokethem, in so doing he would be in perfect accord with the firstfounders of his dynasty, and also with the promises contained inthe Magna Charta of the first Romanov.
Turning from the political history of the old RussianParliaments, we will now consider their internal constitution. Aswe have seen, the seventeenth century introduced a completechange in their composition. During the reign of Ivan theTerrible the administrative and military classes had alone beenrepresented; from the time of the interregnum they becamemeetings of delegates from all the different Estates. Thefollowing were the classes of the people who were represented:the superior clergy, the higher nobility, the lower clergy, andthe lower nobility, or what is the same thing the ministerial orknightly class as they were called at that time, the three Guildsof Muscovite merchants, the citizens of the different urbandistricts and, on two different occasions, in 1614 and 1682, theblack hundreds and villages, which meant in the technicallanguage of the time, the peasants established on the lands ofthe State. Serfs, and persons who had lost their personal libertyon account of debts or any other reason, were never admitted tothe right of representation. The army was very often representedby delegates from the regular regiments, such as the strelzi, andsome irregular troops, the Cossacks for instance. The largeextent of the Russian dominions and the consequent remoteness ofcertain places from the metropolis, was a natural barrier to theappearance of certain delegates at the Sobor. It was for thisreason that the cities of Siberia remained withoutrepresentation. Other places less remote got exemption from theduty of choosing delegates on account of the bad state of theroads and the difficulty and even danger connected withtravelling. Some few considered it a great burden, on account ofthe expense of the journey and the maintenance of the delegates.In this they acted like those mediaeval English cities andboroughs, which under the Plantagenets did their best to shirkthe duty of representation. The number of persons sent by eachelectoral circuit was not strictly fixed. Generally the writs ofsummons speak of two or three delegates.
The electoral district was, as a rule, the city and itsoutlying parts. Larger cities, as Novgorod, constituted bythemselves several districts; in Novgorod there were no less thanfive such districts. The Metropolis (Moscow) was largelyrepresented by delegates from the lower nobility, by those of thethree classes of Muscovite traders and the representatives of theblack hundreds and villages.
The writs of summons were addressed to the voivodes, orGovernors of provinces, and to the goubnii starosti, or electivedistrict heads.
To give you a clear notion of the mode in which the electionswere managed, I will translate one of these writs. The writ inquestion was issued on the 9th of September, 7128, counting fromthe beginning of the world (that is the year 1619): “In the nameof the tsar Michael, the voivode of Oustujna, named Boutourlin,is ordered to elect among the clergy, one man or two, and fromthe nobility (the sons of boyars) two persons, and two more fromthe inhabitants of the urban district (posadskii liudi). Thepersons must be well-to-do and intelligent, capable of narratingthe wrongs they have sustained, and the oppression anddestruction which they have suffered. The election rolls must besent by the voivode to Moscow, and should be received not laterthan on St. Nicholas's day”.
The voivode, or goubuoi starosta, as soon, as the writ was inhis hands, summoned the electors and ordered them to proceed tothe nomination of their delegates. Each estate or order actedseparately. In answer to the writs they had received, thevoivodes sent in a detailed account of the election proceedings.Several of these very interesting documents have been found inthe archives of the Ministry of Justice in Moscow. ProfessorLatkin has published a great many of them in his valuable"Materials for a history of the Sobors”, and, in reading them,the conclusion is arrived at, that the election as a rule wasmade by the Estates themselves, without the intervention of thevoivode or oubnoi storasta. “The nobility of voroneg”, states thevoivode of this place, Prince Alexis Krapotkin, in the year 1651”,have elected from among themselves two persons, the one calledTrofim Michnev, and the other Theodor Philoppof. The citizensonly one person named Sacharof, and I, your Majesty's slave(cholop), have sent you these three men to Moscow”. The action ofthose voivodes, who, instead of consulting the electors,proceeded to a direct nomination of the delegates, was sometimesdisavowed. Such was, for instance, the case of the voivode ofKropivna, a certain Astafiev. In the letters sent to him in thename of the Government, he was greatly blamed for havingmisunderstood the orders given to him, “the nobility were askedto elect a good nobleman from among themselves, and you had nojustification for making the nomination of the delegateyourself”.
The delegate belonged, as a rule, to the same estate as hiselector, but it sometimes happened that on account of the smallnumber of persons capable of supporting the burden ofrepresentation, a person of another order was intrusted with theduty of delegate. The voivodes and starostas mention more thanonce such facts as the following. In 1651 the starosta ofZvenigorod, Elizar Marcov, declares in a letter addressed to thetsar, that it was impossible for him to nominate a delegate fromamong the inhabitants of the city district (posadskii liudi), forthe best of them were engaged in masonry work at the Storojevoymonastery, accomplishing their “hedge duty”, which they owed tothe crown (ograduaia povinnost). Another starosta from Kropivnawrote at the same time, that in his district the number of cityresidents was not more than three. They were all very poor andgained their livelihood by going from one household to another towork at cleaning the court-yards. Therefore, he found it moresuitable to name a gentleman to represent them at the Sobor.
The delegates, as a rule, received instructions calledNakasi, in which the electors stated their opinions on the chiefsubjects to be discussed at the General Assembly. Unfortunatelyno documents of this kind have been preserved, and we know oftheir existence only through their being by chance mentioned insome contemporary documents. Speaking of the delegates summonedto the Sobor of 1613, the charters of the time directly state,that they brought with them from Moscow “complete instructions"(dogovori) concerning the election of the tsar. The delegatesreceived from their electors the supply of victuals (zapassi),which they would need during their stay in Moscow. Neverthelessthey very often made an application to the Government for moneyto cover their expenses. This fact is mentioned more than once inthe documents of the time. The writs of summons establish no ruleas to the amount of fortune which a delegate was required topossess; they only recommend the election of “good sensible, andwealthy persons, accustomed to treat of matters of State”. Thisdid not imply that the delegates were required to know the rulesof grammar or to be able to sign their names on the rolls of theSobor correctly. The number of illiterate persons was ratherlarge even at so late an Assembly as that of 1649, and they wereto be found, not only among the lower nobility and therepresentatives of cities, but also in the ranks of the boyars;not, however, in those of the higher clergy.
The ordinary place of meeting was the palace in the Hallcalled the granovitaia Palata. Sometimes the Sobor sat in thepalace of the Patriarch, or in the Cathedral (Ouspenski Sobor).The session was opened either by the tsar in person, or, as wasmore often the case, by one of his secretaries, who, in a writtenpaper or in a speech, declared the reason for which the Assemblywas called together, and the questions it had to discuss. Thereading of this address was listened to by all the delegates andall the members of the Duma, and of the clerical synod. Thedivision by Estates took place immediately after, and each orderdeliberated separately on the questions which the Government hadproposed. The result of the discussions was presented to the tsarin writing separately by each Estate. The documents were drawn upby secretaries, specially attached for this purpose to theAssemblies of the different Estates. On two occasions only, in1649 and 1682, were the members of the Sobor assembled in twodifferent chambers, a higher and lower. The Upper House wasformed by the Duma and the higher clergy, and the lower by thedelegates of the lower orders But the custom according to whicheach Estate deliberated separately, prevailed even on these twooccasions, the higher and lower chambers being subdivided into asmany sections as there were Estates.
In answering the demands of the Government, the delegatesvery often expressed their own sentiments as to the course ofRussian politics. They complained bitterly of the wrongs done tothe people by the officers of the State and judges; they pointedto the necessity of amending the whole executive and militaryadministration; and by written petitions (chelobitnia), theyinsisted on the necessity of introducing certain amendments intothe existing laws. The large part which these petitions played inthe work of codifying the laws of Russia, a work which renderedillustrious the reign of Alexis Michaelovitch, has been amplyrecognised by recent inquirers, and especially by Ditiatin,Zagoskin, and Latkin.
The decisions to which the different Estates arrived were atthe end of the session condensed into one single document, knownunder the name of Zemskii prigovor, which means the generalverdict of the land. Several documents of this kind have beenpreserved. They are sealed, as a rule, with the seals of thetsar, of the Patriarch, and of the higher orders. As to the lowerorders, their members kissed the cross in sign of approval.
Having thus considered the political history and internalconstitution of the Sobors we will now examine the functionswhich they discharged. Foreign residents, and among them thewell-known Fletcher, have noticed certain weak points in theirorganization which prevented our representative Assemblies fromrising to the level of English Parliaments. Fletcher makes theingenious observation that the members of the Sobor had no rightto present bills. This does not imply that the initiative of allreforms could proceed only from the Government; more than oncethe Estates complained of wrongs which were not mentioned in theaddress from the crown and asked for reforms which had not beenthought of by the Government. But their right to petition thecrown did not go further than that of the French Estates-General.Like them the Sobors were unable to provide for the fulfilment oftheir demands, and for the same reason which prevented theEstates-General of France from getting into their own hands thelegal power. The right of initiating reforms, which the EnglishParliament began to exercise under the Lancastrian kings remainedtotally unknown in France as well as in Russia. At the time whenthe English Parliament were replacing petitions by bills, theFrench Estates continued to present their cahiers de doleances,leaving to the Government the right of taking in its ordonnancesno notice whatever of their demands. The same was also the casein Russia, where new laws were directly decreed by the tsar andhis Duma and the “general verdict of the land" remained foryears and years inoperative.
If the Sobors only played a secondary part in matters oflegislation, the control that they exercised over the executivemachinery of the State was even less efficacious. I cannotmention a single case, in which royal councillors were removedand new persons appointed in their stead at the express desire ofthe Sobor. The Muscovite Government was, it is true, in no way aParliamentary Government. Nevertheless the fact does not provethat the Sobors had nothing in common with English Parliaments orFrench States-General. We must not forget that medieval Europewas, as a rule, ignorant of Parliamentary Government, and thatAssemblies, like the Mad Parliament of Oxford or therevolutionary French Estates of 1355, both of which tried toestablish a kind of cabinet, were but exceptions. Although theSobor had no right to impose on the tsar the obligation ofcalling certain persons to his counsels, the part it took in thegeneral politics of the country was a large one. We have hadoccasion to show that questions of war and peace were settled byits advice. Both the surrender of Azov and the annexation ofLittle Russia took place in compliance with its desires. Andthough the Sobor was denied the right of choosing the Ministry,it had a much higher right, that of choosing the tsars. On thispoint it had no grounds to envy either the English Parliaments,or the States-General of France.
So long as the new dynasty of the Romanovs remained faithfulto the engagements entered into by the tsar Michael, that is tosay during the first part of the seventeenth century, the votingsubsidies was as much the function of the Russian representativeAssembly as it was of the representative Assemblies of England,France, Germany, or Spain. During the greater part of the reignof the first Romanov no subsidy was levied, no benevolenceextorted without the consent of the Sobor. This scrupulousobservance of its financial authority required its periodicalconvocation just as much as the meeting of the Englishrepresentatives was needed many years before the introduction oftriennial and septennial parliaments. Excepting during the periodjust mentioned, the Sobors were summoned at irregular periods andonly when the needs of the Government required their help. Likeother representative Assemblies they were convened and dissolvedby the sovereign, and had no right to assemble according to theirown will.
If we would know what good they have done to Russia we muststudy the part they have played in the removal of publicgrievances and the reform of justice. We must remember that morethan once they opposed the oligarchical Government of the boyars,the local despotism of provincial Governors or voivodes, and thebribery and exactions of the bureaucracy of Moscow. We mustremember how often they were the champions of justice andequality in opposing the system of judicial immunities, theextravagant donations of crown lands, and the exemption fromtaxation of the nobility and clergy. We shall then have nodifficulty in acknowledging that their influence was trulybeneficial. On several occasions they had the honour ofparticipating in large administrative and judicial reforms, suchas the codification of the law and the abolition of the abnormalcustom by which offices in the army were held, not by men ofability and talent, but by those of aristocratic birth. Foreignpolitics were more than once treated by the Sobors withdiscernment and practical good sense. Their patriotic andreligious feelings did not keep them from recognizingthe dangerof a new war and the necessity of relinquishing a conquest whichhad been easily made. On the other hand their natural dislike ofnew taxes did not prevent them from stretching out a helping handto their orthodox brethren in their endeavors to emancipatethemselves from the religious persecution of Catholic Poland.Though they opposed on one occasion the annexation of Azov,nevertheless on another occasion these representatives of thepeople of Great Russia openly manifested their desire for unionwith Little Russia, notwithstanding the possibility of a new warthat would necessarily be followed by an increase in taxation, Inthe so-called period of troubles they stood forth as thechampions of the national idea by the opposition which they madeto every political combination which might have resulted in thesubmission of Russia to a foreign prince. In those unhappy dayswhen so many provinces were occupied by Polish and Swedishsoldiers, and the boyars were half gained over to the interestsof Vladislas, the son of the Polish king, when Novgorod made aseparate peace with the Swedes, and was on the point ofrecognizingthe doubtful rights of a Swedish pretender, thepolitical unity of Russia found champions only in the ranks ofthe lower orders represented at the Sobor.
The history of these old Russian Parliaments presentscertainly a less dramatic interest than the history of EnglishParliaments or French States-General. Cases of conflict betweenthe different orders convened to the National Councils occur veryseldom. We read of no vehement invectives, like those which thedeputies of the nobility thundered forth against the third estateat the etats generaux of 1613. We hear also of no compacts orassociations between estates, like those, which more than onceallowed the English barons and burgesses to achieve a manifestvictory over the king. The language employed by Russianrepresentatives in speaking to their sovereign is moderate, andsometimes even servile. They like to call themselves the “slavesof his Majesty”, but, in so doing, they never forget theirobligations towards their electors, to open the eyes of theGovernment to “all the wrongs, depredations, and oppressions,committed by its officers”. They are subjects, conscious of theirduty towards sovereign and country, ready to sacrifice their lifeand estates for the defence of its essential interest; they arenot slaves, afraid of opening their mouths or of offending theear of the monarch by a truthful description of their wrongs.Their loyalty towards the tsar finds a parallel in that whichthey entertain towards the Greek Church. They are orthodox, and,therefore, ready to shed. their blood in the defence of theircreed, simply represented, as it sometimes is, by the images ofthe saints; but they have no inclination towards clericalism, andno objection to imposing taxes on the clergy and even tosecularising their estates for the good of the country and theadvantage of the military class. Illiterate as were theirmembers, it is not surprising that the Sobors took no measure toincrease the number of schools and educational establishments.They are probably the sole representative Assemblies which neveruttered a word about science or scholarship. It was chiefly dueto their ignorance that their opinions about commercialintercourse with foreign countries were so little rational. it isnot surprising if the whole policy of trade reduced itself,according to their understanding, to the elimination of thecompetition of the Eastern and Western merchants.
With such helpers as these no general reform, like that ofPeter the Great, was likely to be accomplished. It may be easilyunderstood, therefore, why this greatest of Russianrevolutionists never tried to associate the Sobors in his work.The reforms at which he aimed: the subversion of the civil andmilitary organization, the introduction of a totally newprovincial administration, copied from Swedish originals; of astanding army, like those of the French and German autocrats; theopening of Russian markets to the competition of foreignmerchants; the establishment of technical schools and such likeinnovations, were not to be carried out by “the decision of thewhole land”, to employ the consecrated term for Russian legalenactments during the period directly preceding that of Peter theGreat. “Enlightened despostism" found in Russia the samedifficulty in going hand in hand with the old Assemblies ofestates, as it did in Austria at the time of Joseph the Second.
Fully to understand the reasons which prevented the Witherdevelopment of the Russian national councils, we must also bearin mind that the period in which Russia, by the genius of Peter,was thrown into active intercourse with European powers, was farfrom being the golden age of representative Government. When theSobors began to take root in the Russian soil, Parliaments andStates-General were rapidly advancing to a state of completeannihilation or temporary suppression. What importance can weattach to the deliberations of the English Parliaments under theTudors, or even under the Stuarts, up to the year 1640? WhatNational Assembly can we mention in France after the year 1613?The fall of representative institutions, which we notice both inEngland and in France, was a common fact of European history. TheGerman Reichstag and the Landstande of the different States whichcomposed the Holy Roman Empire had fallen into the same state ofpolitical insignificance during the period following the treatyof Munster. The same fate had overtaken the Cortes of Castilleand Aragon, and the provincial estates of Hungary and Bohemia.All over Europe monarchical power was steadily increasing, andautocracy becoming the ruling principle of the day. Was itlikely, therefore, that Peter, who declared that he wouldwillingly have given to Richelieu a good moiety of his dominionson condition of being taught by him how to rule the remainder,was it likely, I ask, that that same Peter should bring home fromhis long voyages in the West any particular respect forrepresentative institutions? It is, therefore, easily understoodwhy, from the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Sobors,without being abolished, should have ceased to be convened.
It was not until there was a general revival ofrepresentative institutions throughout Europe that Russianstatesmen were found once more occupied with the question of theSobors.
Alexander I, to judge by the liberality with which he endowedthe Poles with a representative assembly, was, at least in thefirst part of his reign, not directly opposed to the idea ofre-calling to life those venerable institutions of the past.Among the papers of his most intimate Councillor, Speransky,there has been found the project of a constitution, according towhich the Council of State, this natural heir of the old RussianDuma, was to be strengthened by the introduction ofrepresentatives and notables, chosen from the different Estatesof the Empire. In much more recent days a similar project waspresented by Loris Melikoff to Alexander II, and an imperialukase summoning this new Assembly of notables was already signed,when the premature death of the Emperor put an end to theexpectations of the Liberal party. In the first weeks of hisreign Alexander III himself was not opposed to the idea ofreviving the old national institution of the Sobors, and hisfirst two ministers for Home Affairs, Loris Melikoff andIgnatiev, were both in favor of such a reform. It was only fromthe day when Count Dimitri Tolstoi took upon his shoulders theburthen of the home politics of Russia, that all thoughts weregiven up of convoking a representative assembly. The Governmentthen entered on the fatal task of the subversion of all recentreforms. Nobody can tell how long will be the duration of theperiod of reaction upon which we have entered; but on the otherhand nobody can doubt that the convocation of a national councilis the most natural way of satisfying the wishes of theconstantly increasing party of malcontents -- a body of men whichhas been nick-named by its opponents “the Intelligent Party"(intelligentsia) -- a nick-name, which certainly cannot offendthose on whom it is conferred.
The convocation of a national representative assembly wouldno doubt close the era of misunderstanding between the Russianpeople and the imperial power of the tsars; it would unite theRussian past with the present and future; and would once moreopen a large field to the co-operation of society for the redressof old wrongs and the establishment of personal liberty andsocial justice.
1. Compare Kliuchevskii's recent article, “On the RepresentativeSystem of the Sobors”, in Russian Thought, a monthly periodical,published at Moscow, January, 1890.
2. The were much the same as the Carlovingian benefices.
3. A desiatin is approximately three English acres.
4. Nordenflicht, “Die Schwedische Staatsverfassung in ihrergeschichlichen Entwickelung”, p. 23.
5. Bavelier, “Essai Historique sur le Droit d'Election et sur lesAnciennes Assemblees Representatives en France”, p. 92.
6. “Historisch-Geographische Beschreibung der Nordl und Oestl.Theile von Europa und Asien”, p. 202.
7. p. 284.
8. “Vor dem Cronungs Act hat Michael folgende Puncte undconditiones acceptirt und unterschrieben, nahmlich: (1) DieReligion zu erhalten und zu schutzen: (2) alles was semem Vaterwiderfahren zu vergessen und zu vergeben, und keine particulareFeindschaft, sie moge Nahmen haben wie sie wowlle zu gedenken;(3) keine neue Gesetze zu machen, oder alte zu undern, hohe undwichtige Sachen nach dem Gesetze und nicht allein vor sichselbst, sondern durch ordentlichen Procez urtheilen zu lassen;(4) weder Krieg noch Frieden allein und vor sich selbst mit demNachbar vorzunehmen und; (5) seine Guter zur Bezeugung derGerechtigkeit und Vermeidung aller Procesz mit particularenLeuten, entweder an seine Familie abzutreten oder solche denenKron-Guthern einzuverleiben”. (p. 209).
The Origin, Growth, and Abolition of Personal Servitude in Russia
An account of the origin, growth, and abolition of serfdom inRussia might easily be made to fill volumes, so vast and sovarious are the materials on which the study of it is based. Butfor the purpose now in view, that of bringing before your noticethe general conclusion to which Russian historians and legistshave come as to the social development of their country, perhapsa single lecture will suffice. In it I cannot pretend to do morethan present to you those aspects of the subject on which theminds of Russian scholars have been specially fixed of lateyears.
Among the first to be considered is the origin of that systemof personal servitude and bondage to the land in which theRussian peasant lived for centuries. An opinion long prevailedthat this system was due solely to the action of the State,which, at the end of the sixteenth century, abolished the freedomof migration previously enjoyed by the Russian peasant and boundhim for ever to the soil. This opinion, which would have madeRussian serfdom an institution quite apart from that of theserfdom of the Western States of Europe, has been happilyabandoned, and consequently its development becomes the moreinteresting, in so far as it discloses the action of thoseeconomic and social forces which produced the personal and realservitude of the so-called villein all over Europe.
Whilst stating the most important facts in the history ofRussian serfdom, I shall constantly keep in view their analogywith those presented by the history of English or Frenchvillenage. By so doing I hope to render the natural evolution ofRussian serfdom the more easily understood.
The first point to which I desire to call your attention isthe social freedom enjoyed by the Russian peasant in the earlierportion of medieval history. The peasant, then known by the nameof smerd -- from the verb smerdet, to have a bad smell -- was asfree to dispose of his person and property, as was theAnglo-Saxon ceorl, or the old German markgenosse. He had theright to appear as a witness in Courts of Justice, both in civiland in criminal actions; he enjoyed the right of inheriting -- aright, however, which was somewhat limited by the prevalence offamily communism -- and no one could prevent him from engaginghis services to any landlord for as many years as he liked, andon terms settled by contract. Lack of means to buy a plough andthe cattle which he needed for tilling the ground very often ledthe free peasant to get them from his landlord on condition thatevery year he ploughed and harrowed the fields of his creditor.It is in this way that an economic dependence was firstestablished between two persons equally free, equally inpossession of the soil, but disposing the one of a larger, theother of a smaller capital. The name under which the voluntaryserf is known to the Pravda, the first legal code of Russia, isthat of roleini zakoup; this term signifies a person who hasborrowed money on condition of performing the work of ploughing(ralo means the plough) so long as his debt remains unpaid.
The frequent want of the simplest agricultural implements,which Magna Charta designates as con tenementum, was alsoprobably the chief cause, which induced more than one Russianpeasant to prefer the condition of a sort of French metayer orpetty farmer, whose rent, paid in kind, amounts to a fixedproportion of the yearly produce, to that of a free shareholderin the open fields and village common. The almost universalexistence of metayage, or farming on the system of half-profits,is now generally recognised. Thorold Rogers has proved itsexistence in medieval England, and in France and Italy thissystem is still found. In saying this, I have particularly inview the French champart and the mezzeria of Tuscany.
The prevalence in ancient Russia of the same rude andelementary mode of farming is established by numerous chartersand contracts, some of which are as late as the end of theseventeenth century, whilst others go back to the beginning ofthe sixteenth. It would appear that previous to that date suchcontracts were not put into writing, apparently on account of thesmall diffusion of knowledge. We are therefore reduced to thenecessity of presuming the existence of these contracts solelybecause the intrinsic causes which brought them into existence inthe sixteenth century had been in operation for hundreds of yearsbefore. The peasant, on entering into such a contract, took uponhimself the obligation of paying back in the course of time themoney which had been lent to him -- the “serebro”, silver,according to the expression used in contemporary documents. Fromthe name of the capital intrusted to them (the serebro) arose thesurname of serebrenik, which may be translated silver-men, underwhich peasants settled on a manor were generally known; theirother being polovnik, or men paying half of their yearly produceto the lord, although as a rule their payments did not amount tomore than a quarter. So long as his debt remained unpaid themetayer was obliged to remunerate the landlord by villein serviceperformed on the demesne lands of the manor. According to theGerman writer Herberstein, who visited Russia in the seventeenthcentury, the agricultural labour which the serebrenik performedfor the lord very often amounted each week to a sixdays' service,at any rate in summer. Contracts still preserved also speak ofother obligations of the serebrenik, very like those of themedieval English socman. Such, for instance, were the obligationsof cutting wood and of forwarding it on their own carts to themanor-house, and of paying certain dues on the occasion of themarriage of the peasant's daughter. I need not insist on thesimilarity which this last custom presents to the medievalEnglish and French maritagium, or formariage, so evident is thelikeness between them. Custom also required the peasant to makecertain presents to his lord at Christmas and Easter, or at someother yearly festival, such for instance as that of theAssumption of the Blessed Virgin.
The peasant who chose to settle on the land of a manoriallord got the grant of a homestead in addition to that of land,and this was the origin of a sort of house-rent called theprojivnoe, which as a rule amounted yearly to the fourth part ofthe value of the homestead.
As to the land ceded by the landlord to the settler whowished to live on his manor, its use became the origin of anotherspecial payment, the obrok, which represented a definite amountof agricultural produce. The obrok was often replied by theobligation of doing certain fixed agricultural labour on thedemesne land of the manor.
As soon as the peasant had repaid the money borrowed from themanorial lord, and had discharged all the payments required fromhim for the use of his land and homestead, he was authorised bycustom to remove wherever he liked, of course giving up to thesquire his house and his share in the open fields of the manor.At first this right of removal could be exercised at any periodof the year, but this being found prejudicial to the agriculturalinterests of the country certain fixed periods were soonestablished, at which alone such a removal was allowed. Usuallythe end of harvest was fixed as the time when new arrangementscould be entered into with regard to future agricultural labourwithout causing any loss to the interests of the landlord. Notonly in autumn, however, but also in spring, soon after Easter,manorial lords were in the habit of permitting the establishmentof new settlers on their estates, and the withdrawal of thosepeasants who expressed a desire to leave.
The first Soudebnik, the legal code published by Ivan III in1497, speaks of the festival of Saint George, which according tothe Russian calendar falls on the 26th of November, as a periodat which all removals ought to take place. Those peasants who hadnot been fortunate enough to free themselves from all obligationsto the manor by this period were obliged to remain another yearon its lands. He who, was unable to repay the lord the sumborrowed was reduced to the same condition as that of theinsolvent farmers of the Roman ager publicus, who, according toFustel de Coulanges, saw their arrears of debt changed into aperpetual rent called the canon, and their liberty of migrationsuperseded by a state of continual bondage to the land theycultivated. No Russian historian has shown the analogy existingbetween the origin of the Roman colonatus and that of Russianserfdom so clearly as Mr Kluchevsky, the eminent professor ofRussian history in the University of Moscow. It is to him that weare indebted for the discovery of the fact that centuries beforethe legal and general abolition of the right of free migration aconsiderable number of peasants had thus ceased to enjoy thatliberty. Such was the case of those so-called “silver-men fromthe oldest times”, viz., starinnii serebrenniki, who during thesixteenth century were already deprived of the right of freeremoval from no other cause but the want of money, so that theonly condition on which they could withdraw from the manor onwhich they were was that of finding some other landlord willingto pay the money they owed, and thereby acquiring the right toremove them to his own manor.
So long as the Russian power was geographically limited tothe possession of the central provinces in the immediateneighbourhood of Moscow, and so long as the shores of the Volgaand Dnieper suffered from almost periodical invasions of theTartars, the Russian peasant who might wish to leave a manorcould not easily have procured the land he required; but when theconquests of Ivan III and Ivan the Terrible had reduced to naughtthe power of the Tartars, and had extended the Russianpossessions both to the East and to the South, the peasants wereseized with a spirit of migration, and legislation was requiredto put a stop to the economic insecurity created by theircontinual withdrawal from the manors of Inner Russia to theSouthern and Eastern steppes. It is, therefore, easy tounderstand why laws to prevent the possibility of a return ofpeasant migration were first passed, at least on a general scale,at this period. It is no doubt true that, even at the end of thefifteenth century, to certain monasteries were granted, amongother privileges, that of being free from the liability of havingtheir peasants removed to the estates of other landlords. Acharter of the year 1478 recognises such a privilege as belongingto the monks of the monastery of Troitzko-Sergievsk, which is,according to popular belief, one of the most sacred places inRussia. The financial interests of the State also contributedgreatly to the change. The fact that the taxpayer was tied to thesoil rendered the collection of taxes both speedier and moreexact. These two causes sufficiently explain why, by the end ofthe sixteenth century, the removal of peasants from manor tomanor had become very rare.
The system of land endowments in favor of the higher clergyand monasteries, and also of persons belonging to the knightlyclass, had increased to such an extent that, according to moderncalculation, two-thirds of the cultivated area was already theproperty either of ecclesiastics or of secular grandees. It istherefore easy to understand why, during the sixteenth century,the migratory state of the Russian agricultural population cameto be considered as a real danger to the State by the higherclasses of Russian society. The most powerful of the nobles andgentry did their best to retain the peasants on their lands. Somewent even farther, and, by alleviating the burdens ofvillein-service, and securing a more efficient protection forthem from administrative oppression, induced the peasants whoinhabited the lands of smaller squires to leave their old homesand settle on their manors. It was in order to protect the smalllandowners from this sort of oppression that Boris Goudonov, theall-powerful ruler of Russia in the reign of Theodor Ivanovitch,promulgated a law, according to which every one was authorised toinsist on the return of a peasant who left his abode, and thatduring the five years next following his departure. This law waspromulgated in 1597. As no mention is made in it of the rightpreviously enjoyed by the peasants of removing from one manor toanother on St. George's Day, this law of 1597 has been consideredby historians as the direct cause of the introduction of theso-called “bondage to the soil" (krepostnoie pravo). Such wascertainly not its object. The right of migration on the Day ofSt. George was openly acknowledged by the laws of 1601 and 1602.The bondage of the peasant to the soil became an established factonly in the year 1648, when the new code of law, the so-calledOulogienie (chap. xi), refused to any one the right to receive onhis lands the peasant who should run away from a manor, andabolished that limit of time beyond which the landlord lost theright to reclaim the peasant who had removed from his ancientdwelling.
The number of serfs rapidly increased during the second halfof the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, owing to theprodigality with which the tsars and Emperors endowed the membersof the official class with lands, in disregard often of theirprevious occupation by free village communities, the members ofwhich were forced to become the serfs of the persons who receivedthe grant. It is in this way that Catherine II, for instance,during the thirty-four years of her reign, increased the numberof serfs by 800,000 new ones, and that Paul I, in a period offour years, added 600,000 to the number, which was alreadyenormous.
Before the reign of Catherine, serfdom was almost unknown inLittle Russia, where it had been abolished by Bogdan Chmelnitzky,soon after the separation of Little Russia from Poland, and in the Ukraine (the modern Kharkov Province), where it hadnever before existed. In 1788 she revoked the right hithertoenjoyed by the peasants of these two provinces to remove from onemanor to another. The same right of free removal was abolished afew years later in the “Land of the Don Kossacks" and among thepeasants of the Southern Governments, called New Russia(Novorossia).
But if the second part of the eighteenth century saw theterritorial extension of serfdom over almost all the Empire, itwas also the period in which first began the movement which ledto emancipation. From France came the first appeals for theliberation of the serfs. In 1766 the Society of PoliticalEconomists founded in Petersburg on the model of the agriculturalsocieties of France was asked by the impress to answer thequestion: “Whether the State would be benefited by the serfbecoming the free owner of his land?" Marmontel and Voltaireconsidered it to be their duty to express opinions in favor of apartial abolition of serfdom. Marmontel thought that the time wascome to supersede villein-service by a sort of hereditarycopyhold. Voltaire went a step farther, inviting the impress toliberate immediately the serfs on the Church lands. As to therest, free contract alone ought to settle the question of theiremancipation. Another Frenchman much less known, the legistBearde de l'Abaye, gave it as his opinion that the Governmentshould maintain a strict neutrality towards the question ofserfdom. It ought to be abolished only by free contract betweenlandlords and serfs, the former endowing the latter with smallparcels of land. In this way the serf would become a privateowner, so that in case he should rent any land from the squire,the squire would be able to seize the peasant's plot in case ofnon-payment of his rent. Diderot was the only Frenchman whoacknowledged the necessity of an immediate abolition of personalservitude; but in his letters to the Empress he does not say asingle word about the necessity for securing to the liberatedserf at least a small portion of the manorial land.
Although Catherine II was willing to be advised by theEncyclopedists as to the way in which serfdom might be abolished,she took effectual means to prevent the expression of Russianpublic opinion on the same subject. A memorial presented to thePetersburg Society of Political Economists by a young Russianauthor called Pelenev was not allowed to appear in print, for noother reason than that it contained a criticism on the existingsystem of serfdom.(1*) The author of the memorial did not demandthe immediate abolition of this old wrong; he only wanted to seeit replaced by a sort of perpetual copyhold. The Government wasmore severe towards another Russian writer, Radischev, who wasthe first to advocate not only the personal liberty of the serf,but also his endowment with land. The work of Radischev (2*)appeared in 1789, several years after the suppression of theinsurrectionary movement of Pougachev, but it was regarded as asort of commentary on the demand for “liberty and land”, whichthe Russian peasant had addressed to that leader, who hadanswered it by a solemn promise that he would make the serf freeand prosperous. Catherine not only ordered the immediatesuppression of the work of Radischev, but brought the authorbefore the Courts of Justice, accusing him of being a traitor tohis country. Radischev was condemned to death; but this penaltywas commuted to perpetual banishment to Siberia.
It was not till the reign of Alexander the First that theRussian Government began to take effectual measures to amelioratethe social condition of the serf. According to the account givenby those immediately around him, and especially by AdamTsartorysky, Alexander was an avowed friend of peasantemancipation. He gave his firm support to the proposed law givingthe landlords the right to liberate their serfs, and even toendow them with shares in the open fields if they paid for them.In 1803 this law was passed, and 47,000 serfs were soon afterenfranchised, and became a separate class under the name of the"free agriculturists”. Sixteen years later (in 1819) theenfranchisement of the serf became an accomplished fact in thethree Baltic provinces, the peasant obtaining the free disposalof his person on condition of abandoning to his landlord theparcels of ground previously in his possession. This reform wasaccomplished in the same manner as that carried out in 1812 byNapoleon in the Kingdom of Poland. In the thoroughly Russianprovinces no direct measures were at this time taken to abolishthe legal servitude of the peasant, but the question was morethan once debated in private circles and by learned bodies. Inthe year 1812, for instance, the Petersburg Society of PoliticalEconomists declared that it would give 2000 roubles to the authorof the best treatise on the question of the relative advantagesof free and servile labour in agriculture. This question byitself shows the influence which Adam Smith's “Wealth ofNations”, which had been translated into Russian in 1803, wasbeginning to exercise on Russian thought. Nine treatises wereforwarded to the Society, of which three only were in favor ofthe further maintenance of servile labour. But the greater numberexpressed the opinion that the enfranchisement of the serf,provided that he was allowed to keep the land he occupied, wouldbe of great advantage to the landlord himself. This idea, inconformity to which serfdom had been abolished in the Balticprovinces, was the expression of a fact quite familiar to thestudent of economic history. The work of an enslaved labourer isnever so productive as that of a free labourer. So long as rentis low, as certainly was the case in Russia in past centuries,the work of the serf is by no means fairly recompensed by theland he owns. But in the first quarter of the nineteenth century,when Russia began to be considered as the granary of Europe, onaccount of the vast exports of wheat from her ports, rent rapidlyrose, and this rise produced a complete change in the relativevalue of servile work and the land which was in the possession ofthe peasant.
The question put by the Society of Political Economists couldnot, therefore, possibly have received any other answer than thatgiven to it by the majority of the authors who sent in papers tothe Society. Serfdom was rapidly becoming a burden on themanorial lords themselves, as many of them began to be conscious.The barons of the Baltic shore were the first to understand theadvantage which the liberation of the serf, followed by aresumption of the ground he owned, would have on their classinterests. The nobility of Toula and Riasan, as well as that ofDinabourg, Petersburg, and Tsarskoie Selo, seemed also to becomeconscious of this fact, for they petitioned the Emperor Nicholasto establish local committees who might prepare the outlines of anew emancipation act. Among the nobles immediately surroundingthe tsar, Prince Mentchikov expressed his opinion of thedesirability and advantage of freeing the peasant and at the sametime of enriching the landlord by leaving in his hands all thoseshares in the common ground which had been held by the peasants.The interests of the nobility certainly required theestablishment of a class similar to that of the Englishlabourers, but the peasants were naturally averse to any changewhich would lessen their hold on the soil. In 1812 a peasantrising took place in Penza Province, the revolted serfs expressing their wants by the old motto “liberty and Land”. In1826 again the same motto was the watchword of another rising,this time provoked by a rumour that land and liberty wouldshortly be secured to the serfs.
Under the influence of this clear expression of the people'swants, the Government of Nicholas abandoned all idea ofemancipation which was not to be followed by the endowment of thepeasant with land. Not daring, as he openly acknowledged to layhands on the sacred rights of private property by liberating theserfs and making them free owners of the soil, Nicholas proposedto alter the existing condition of the serf by making him a sortof copyholder or perpetual tenant of small parcels of manorialground, on condition of the payment of perpetual rent. In thePolish provinces, such copyhold tenures, very like the Frenchcensives, were already in existence. The Government, therefore,only extended a system which already existed when, in 1842, theyordered the preparation in each manor of a sort of registry,called “inventory”, in which the amount of payments in kind andmoney, made by the serfs to the landlord, were to be inscribed,in order that in future no other levies might be made.
Neither of these two schemes for amending the untenableposition of the serf was good enough to obtain the approbation ofthose to whom, at this time, actually belonged the guidance ofpubic opinion. It will be to the eternal honour of the Russianpress that it constantly preached in favor of a reform whichwould at once liberate the serf and make him legal owner of theshares of manorial ground which were already in his possession.Among the persons directly implicated in the insurrectionarymovement of the 24th of December 1825, two, Pestel andJakoushkine, had already declared themselves to be supporters ofsuch a scheme.
The diffusion of socialist ideas greatly contributed tostrengthen among the literary class the persuasion that it wouldbe impossible to liberate the serf otherwise than by endowing himwith land. The well-known plot which was organized byPetroschevsky, among its other aims, had that of allottingparcels of ground to the liberated serf. The great exile Herzen,in a Russian newspaper then published in London, openly expressedhis opinion that the common ownership of the land should beretained in the hands of the enfranchised peasant; and among themany schemes of emancipation, which circulated in the form ofmanuscript during the latter part of Nicholas's reign, more thanone advocated the necessity of retaining the ancient ties whichbound the peasant to the soil by making him the legal owner ofhis share in the open fields.
The “providential mission" of the tsar Alexander the Secondwas therefore disclosed in a state of society which was alreadyprepared to accept the general outlines of a social reform, theend of which would be not only to liberate, but also to enrich,the peasant. As soon as Alexander ascended the throne rumoursbegan to be circulated as to the approaching abolition ofserfdom. The unexpected death of his father placed him on thethrone at a moment of great and general depression, occasioned bythe defeat of the Russian military forces under the walls ofSebastopol. The young Emperor made an eloquent appeal to thepatriotism of his subjects, inviting them to increase the meansof defence by a voluntary levy of a kind of militia, known underthe name of Opolchenie. This measure strengthened the belief inthe nearness of social and political reforms. The peasants,enrolled in the self-raised regiments of the militia, began tothink that their more or less voluntary sacrifice of life andfortune would he rewarded by a complete liberation from theignominious bonds of personal servitude. Crowds of serfs asked tobe admitted into the militia, expecting to attain freedom in thisway.
When the Peace of Paris was signed, and the peasants of themilitia were ordered to return to their daily tasks, they openlyexpressed their belief that the charters by which the Emperor hadliberated them from bondage were concealed by their landlords.These rumours produced great excitement. The years 1854 and 1855are notorious for a series of local rebellions. Theseinsurrections took place partly on the shores of the Volga, whichhad already felt, in the time of Catherine the Second, thehorrors of a jacquerie, partly in some Central and South-westernGovernments, such as Vladimir, Riasan, Tambov, Pensa, Voronej,and Kiev. These revolutionary movements, directed exclusivelyagainst the feudal aristocracy, produced a great impression onthe tsar Alexander. Addressing the chiefs of the Muscovitenobility (the so-called marshals), the tsar showed hisappreciation of the wants of the time by the following words:"Gentlemen, you surely understand yourselves the impossibility ofretaining, without alteration and change, the existing mode ofowning souls [a usual expression, the meaning of which is theright to the unpaid work of the serfs]. It is better to abolishpersonal servitude by legislative measures than to see itabolished by a movement from below. I ask you to consider suchmeasures as might forward this end”. These promising words,although followed by a direct declaration that serfdom was not tobe abolished at once, strengthened the expectations of those whothought that the new reign would inaugurate an era of wide socialand political reform. Although the Governor-General of Moscow,Zakrevsky, did his best to persuade the nobility that allprojects concerning the abolition of serfdom were laid aside, itvery soon appeared that such was by no means the intention ofthe tsar; for during the coronation the Home Secretary, Lanskoy,by the direct command of Alexander, entered into communicationwith those noblemen who were present in Moscow, in order toascertain what were their opinions as to the best means ofbringing about an amelioration in the actual condition of theserfs. These negotiations left no doubt as to the animosity withwhich the nobility of Great Russia considered every plan tendingto the emancipation of the peasant. This induced the Minister toturn his eyes to those provinces in which the idea of liberatingthe serfs had taken root at the time when personal servitude hadbeen abolished by Napoleon I in the neighbouring districts ofPoland, particularly the Governments of Vilna, Kovno, and Grodno.The Lithuanian nobles were already favorable to the idea, andwere easily induced by the Governor General Nasimov to present tothe tsar an address asking for the abolition of bondage, but atthe same time demanding exclusive possession of the land for thenobility. You therefore see that the conditions on which theLithuanian nobles wanted to see the enfranchisement carried outwere the same as those on which it had been already carried outin Poland and the Baltic provinces. Seeing the difficulty ofpreserving for their own profit the unpaid services of thepeasant, they were anxious to secure to themselves the monopolyof the soil. The serf was to be allowed to become a free persononly on condition of remaining a proletarian, living exclusivelyon the wages he earned. Carried out on such conditions, theemancipation would hardly have met with the approval of those whowere most directly concerned. As far back as the reign of theEmpress Catherine the peasant had plainly declared that he wantednot only liberty, but land. He was mindful of his ancient state,previous to that of bondage, which, as we have already shown, wasthe state of an owner in common of the ground he made fruitful byhis work. No power on earth would have been strong enough tobreak the ties, centuries old, which united him to the soil. Itwas no doubt in the interests of the nobility to see these tiesbroken, for who could be the gainers in a scheme which promisedenhancement of the mercantile value of the soil and cheap labour,if not those who had secured to themselves the monopoly of theproperty in land? What, on the other hand, was the liberatedproletarian to become if not a labourer, given up to eternal toilon the estates of a land-monopolizingnobility, and bound toreceive from their hands those bare wages which would cover theexpense of his existence? The Emperor and some persons in hisconfidence, were conscious of the social evils which theexecution of such a plan would produce. It will be to the eternalglory of Alexander to have answered the request of the Lithuaniannobility by a decree by which, whilst allowing the establishmentof local committees for the elaboration of measures which mightachieve the emancipation in view, he plainly declared that theliberated serfs ought to be secured at least in the possession oftheir homesteads and of the land belonging to these homesteads(the so-called homestead-land -- ousadebnaiia zemlia). Thisexpression was obscure and ambiguous, for it was not easy toestablish the limits of the so-called homestead-land. Was it tobe considered as a compound of all the various communalprivileges of which the peasant was possessed, or to mean onlythe ground directly surrounding his habitation? This questionremained unsettled.
In the winter of 1851 the nobility of Petersburg, not wishingto remain behind that of Lithuania, presented to the Emperor anaddress very like the one just mentioned. This address and thedecree it provoked deserve to be mentioned, for they show, on onehand, the desire of the aristocracy to preserve not only all theadvantages of a land-owning class, but also to a certain extentthe social dependence under which the peasant had lived towardsthem during the preceding centuries; and, on the other hand, thefirm decision of the Government to secure to the peasant at leasthis property in the homestead he occupied, and in the land whichsurrounded it. The decree is curious too as a precise statementof the conditions on which the Government intended at first toaccomplish the difficult task of emancipation. They are, as youwill soon perceive, very different from those on which theemancipation was actually performed. No question is made of thedirect interference of the State in order to buy back from thenobleman the plots of ground occupied by the serfs. This end isto be alone attained by way of free agreement between theparties. As long as this agreement has not taken place the serfis to continue to perform the agricultural labour and make themoney payments fixed by law. The nobleman, on the other hand,exercises, as in the past, a kind of feudal justice and police.The ground of the whole manor is declared to be his property; thepeasant is to receive no other endowment but that of hishomestead.
The nobility of Nijni-Novgorod, that of Moscow, and ofseveral other provinces, soon after this presented demands notvery unlike those already mentioned. They were answered in thesame way, and local committees, imposed of noblemen, wereaccordingly formed, in order to elaborate the outlines of theintended reform in accordance with the views of the Government asalready stated. These outlines were to be sent for furtherexamination to a central board, which was first appointed onJanuary 8, 1858, and was known under the name of the “PrincipalCommittee on the Peasant Question”. They were also to be thesubject of careful study on the part of a newly opened section ofthe Board of Statistics. Men of radical ideas, such as NicolasMiliutine and Soloviev, were included among its members. Thereactionary party, on the other hand, counted more than onemember in the “Principal Committee on the Peasant Question", afact which induced the Government to detach from this Committeetwo especial sections, the so-called “Committee for theDrawing-up of the Reform Project”, and that of “The Elaborationof Financial Measures, needed to secure the Execution of the Planin View”. The guidance of both Committees and the election oftheir members were entrusted to General Rostovzov, an avowedfriend of the intended reform. An important change was introducedinto the working of the bureaucratic machinery by the fact thatsome elected members of the provincial committees were allowed tohave a seat at the meetings of the central bodies, and toexercise there the functions of experts. Among the persons soappointed we find several well-known Slavophiles, such as Samarinand Tcherkasky.
The work the central committees had to perform was, first ofall, the drawing-up of a concise statement of the resultsattained by the deliberations of the local committees; next, thediscussion of the different opinions which these latter hadexpressed; and, finally, the drawing-up of the conclusions towhich the members of the central committees themselves hadarrived. The members of the committees enjoyed the hithertounknown freedom of expressing their opinion, and of consultingall sorts of papers and books, not excluding even those publishedby Russian emigrants. One of the members protesting against theidea of drawing information from the Kolokol, a Russian newspaperpublished in London by the political refugee Herzen, thePresident said that, according to his opinion, truth was to betaken into account, whoever might have expressed it. Theformalism and official subordination so much observed by ourbureaucracy were for the first time laid aside, and each memberfrankly expressed his views, however much they might be opposedto those of the President. The committee even went so far as toaccept on certain points decisions which were not in accordancewith the Imperial decrees. The local committee appointed by thenobility of Tver was the first to express the opinion that thepeasants ought to be endowed with land beyond that whichsurrounded their homesteads. This opinion was endorsed by thecentral committee, which maintained that, although it wascontradictory to the letter of the Imperial decrees, it was inperfect correspondence with their spirit.
On another occasion the “Committee for the Drawing-up of theScheme of Reform" showed the same independence by adopting theview first put forward by members of the press, that it wasnecessary that the Government should come forward to buy up theland which the nobleman was called upon to surrender to thepeasants of his manor. Now this view was quite the reverse ofthat expressed by the Imperial decrees we have previously cited.
In the whole of the movement the large and important partplayed by the public press is most striking. No doubt can beentertained that at its beginning the officials to whom wasentrusted the elaboration of the plan were profoundly ignorant ofthe bearings of the question. The President of the Committee,General Rostovzov, frankly acknowledged this ignorance, and inhis private correspondence with the tsar betrayed his fears of anational bankruptcy as the certain result of the Governmenttaking on itself the redemption of the lands which were to beceded to the peasants -- fears which seem almost ludicrous nowthat this redemption has been effected, and the financialinterests of the State have not suffered even for a moment.
A well-known Russian economist, Professor Ivanukoff,(3*) hastried to show to what extent the press shared with the Governmentthe difficult task of elaborating the scheme, according to whichthe serfs were to obtain “freedom and land”. He is quite correctwhen he says that, with the exception of a single paper calledthe Journal of Landed Proprietors, the whole Russian Pressunanimously declared itself in favor, not only of the abolitionof personal servitude, but also of the endowment of the peasantswith land. Such writers as Katkof, the well-known editor of theMoscow Gazette, a man who has lately played so prominent a partin the reactionary movement, were then the open friends ofLiberalism, and rivalled the most advanced reformers in theirdefence of civil freedom. The opinions of Katkof were so greatlyat variance with those of the Government at the beginning of themovement, that he was obliged to bring to a close a series ofarticles on the social condition of the serfs which he had begunin his periodical, the Russian Courier. Another eminentpublicist, Koschelev, who was the author of one of the numerousprivate schemes of emancipation (their number amounted tosixty-one), was obliged at the same time to abandon the furtherpublication of a journal called the Welfare of the Country, onaccount of the strong language in which he advocated theendowment of the liberated serf with those portions of the landalready in his possession. A Russian magazine of great renown,the Contemporary, was at the same time on the point of beingsuppressed on account of an article written by Professor Kavelin,expressing his views as to the opportuneness of redeeming thelands actually possessed by the peasants, and that, too, with thedirect help of the State. The Minister of Public instruction,Evgraf Kovalevsky, was even asked to issue a circular, by whichthe censorship was entrusted with the power of suppressing anyarticle, pamphlet, or book, dealing with the question ofenfranchisement, that had not previously been approved by thecentral committee. This untimely warfare against public opinionand the liberty of the press, fortunately enough, did not lastlong. The circular was printed in April, 1858, and seven monthslater the Government relaxed the restrictions imposed; and thatbecause of the complete change in its own views as to theoutlines of the reform. The opinions recently suppressed becamethose of the Government, and the prosecuted writers wereconsidered, for a while at least, its surest allies. I insist onthese facts, because I know of no instance which bettercharacterises the ordinary proceedings of the Russianbureaucracy. It begins, as a rule, by suppressing all that liesin its way, and then, finding no other issue, it adopts the lineof conduct which it has recently condemned. A foreigner who hasno notion of this mode of procedure must find great difficulty inunderstanding how it happens that in a country where no freedomof the press is recognised, in which generals and high officialsseem alone to have the right of professing opinions on publicmatters, the press, nevertheless, has more than once exercised adecisive influence on the course of politics. The all-powerfulbureaucracy is very often but an empty-headed fool, anxious toaccept the ideas of the despised and prosecuted journalist. InRussia, as well as everywhere else, the true and lasting power isthat of public opinion, and of those who know how to influenceit. Periods in which the Government acts contrary to publicopinion occur from time to time. They are very harmful to thosewho dare to remain faithful to their opinions. For a whilenothing is heard of but the need of suppression both of opinionsand of those who publicly profess them. But time passes and theGovernment begins to reap the fruits of its own sowing. At everystep it takes, it finds on the part of those it governs nothingbut ill-will, a hidden but profound mistrust. As soon as it feelsthat it is losing all hold on the minds and hearts of the people,it is the first to condemn what it has recently praised. Somefine morning everybody is stalled by learning that the very menwho had done their best to render impossible the publicexpression of certain ideas are now drawing their inspirationfrom these same ideas.
But I feel that I have made perhaps a necessary, but at allevents a too long, digression from the direct line of myinquiries. I will therefore return to them at once, and begin bypointing out those points on which the committee appointed toelaborate the law of enfranchisement carried out in their scheme-- the opinions of the press.
It was the press which first advocated the notion that theliberated peasant ought to become the owner of the land actuallyin his possession. Schemes for realizingthis idea had beenalready worked out in the reign of Nicholas by some patrioticscholars and publicists. Among them was Professor Kavelin, whoseproject was published by the Russian contemporary, at the head ofother articles, on the impending reform. It was on Kavelin thatfirst fell the responsibility of expressing ideas in oppositionto the views of the Government. His opinion as to the necessityof endowing the peasant with land soon found an echo in thedebates of the nobility of Tver, who petitioned the tsar toextend his promise concerning grants of land to the enfranchisedserf, not only to his homestead and the ground surrounding it,but also to the shares the peasant possessed in the open fieldsof the village. In giving an account of the different opinionsexpressed by the provincial nobility, the central committeereferred to this scheme proposed by the nobility of Tver, andrecommended it to the Government. Thus we see how prominent apart the press played on this occasion.
Its influence was no less powerful in the question on whatprinciple should be based the future ownership exercised by thepeasants. Two schemes, widely differing from each other, were atthe same time proposed by the press. The one (chiefly supportedby economists such as Vernadsky, and publicists like Katkof)recommended the immediate acceptance of measures favorable tothe development of private property; the other (supported by themajority of the Slavophile and Radical press) was in favor ofthe strict maintenance of the village community system, with itsperiodical redistribution of land. On this question, Slavophilessuch as Samarin and Koschelev went hand in hand with theSocialist Tchernishevsky, the author of the very remarkable essayon the “Prejudices of Political Economists against the CommonOwnership in Land”, an essay which forms the base of the socialcreed of the so-called Nihilists.
The project of emancipation elaborated by Governmentofficials is a sort of compromise between these contradictoryopinions. It starts with the idea of a temporary maintenance ofthe common ownership in land, but advocates certain measuresfavorable to the development of private property. A newredistribution of the shares is allowed only when it is demandedby two-thirds of the persons voting at the village Assembly.Every person paying back to the Government the money advanced tohim, in order to remunerate the landlord for the ground he hasbeen obliged to yield, is immediately acknowledged to be theprivate proprietor of his share. The scheme of the Slavophilesand the Radicals required a simple majority to make legal thevillage decision concerning a new re-distribution of the land;they were, and are still, opposed to the recognition of privateproperty on the part of the peasant who has bought back his sharein the common land.
Very important, too, was the service rendered by the press onthe important question of the amount of land which the feudallord should be required to leave in the hands of his liberatedserfs. Most writers were in favor of leaving to the peasants thequantity of land they actually occupied; “for”, said they, andnot without reason, “this amount must, no doubt, correspond tothe necessities of their existence, as the amount has beenaccorded to them by the landlord for no other purpose but that ofmerely supporting life”. Few advocated the desirability ofestablishing in each province a certain maximum and minimum ofland donation. The members of the central committee werefavorable to the first scheme; and if the last prevailed, andfound its expression in the law, the explanation is to be foundin the opposition which the first plan met with on the part ofthe nobility and their chief supporters in the higher officialcircles.
One important question arose, whether the landlord shouldstill keep a certain executive authority within the limits of thetownship; or whether the inner life of the village wasthenceforth to be subject to no other rules than those issued bythe village Assembly and put in force by its elected chiefs, theelders or starostas. The press almost unanimously expressed itsdesire to see the realisation of the latter plan. The countrypeople, said the press, required complete liberty, or, to use thepopular expression, “pure liberty”. Now this liberty wasinconsistent with the maintenance of rights such as thoseexercised by the German noblemen in the Baltic provinces or thejunkers of Eastern Prussia. The only way to render any revival ofpersonal servitude impossible was to establish the system ofpeasant self-government. Opinions differed on the question as towhether the landlord ought to be a member of the township or not.The Radicals were against it, and the Slavophiles did not attachgreat importance to it, thinking that the landlord would feelhimself quite isolated amid the crowd of his former subjects. TheLiberals alone were favorable to the idea of increasing thenumber of township members by admitting all residents, withoutdistinction of class, to vote in the village Assembly. Theiradvice did not prevail, and the commune became a classinstitution, to the great disadvantage both of the peasants andof the whole State.
One of the most difficult points was undoubtedly that offixing the amount of remuneration which the landlord ought toreceive, not for the loss of his right over the person of hisformer serf, but for that of the land he was obliged to cede inhis favor. The question was the more difficult because the land,in more than one part of Russia, had really no market price atall, the nobility and gentry being alone allowed to bid for it.The press, reasonably enough, insisted on the necessity ofestablishing a correspondence between the revenue the peasant gotfrom his share and the amount of remuneration paid for it to thelandlord. But such was not the opinion, either of the central orlocal committees; and we must lay on their shoulders theresponsibility of the fact, that it was the amount of payments inkind and the quantity of villein-service performed by thepeasant, which were selected as the base of valuation. Thiscertainly was against the interests of the peasant, highlyovercharged as he was by the manorial lord, who obliged him topay rents much surpassing the revenue of the land he cultivated.By not adopting on this point the views entertained by the press,the reformers, as you easily see, did a great social injustice.
It was the press also which first agitated the question ofthe desirability of the direct interference of the Government, inorder to facilitate the expropriation of the nobleman in favorof the peasants. The head of the central committee, Rostovzov, aswe have already seen, thought the financial difficulties of sucha measure insurmountable. Such was not the opinion of the press,which predicted that the issue of “rentes”, or Government bonds,securing to the landlord a certain percentage on the capitalwhich he should cede to the peasant in the form of land, wouldnot lower the value of the paper money already in circulation. Itwas fortunate that in the end this method was adopted, for theprophecy was not only realised, but the interests of agriculture,and consequently of the country generally, were considerablyadvanced by the capital paid in the form of these bonds to theexpropriated landlords. More than one great landowner was deeplyin debt at the time emancipation took place; very few had thecapital needed for the economic arrangements required for thesubstitution of the paid work of the free peasant for the unpaidwork of the serf. They obtained it by selling or mortgaging the"rentes" or bonds paid to them by the Government.
We therefore find that on all points the press was the guide,the authoritative adviser, the sure ally of the Government. Thislast character plainly appeared in the struggle which the centralcommittee had to maintain with the delegates of the provincialCommittees. These bodies were composed exclusively of members ofthe local nobility, and were empowered to present their opinionson the impending reform. Unconscious of the alteration which hadtaken place in the intentions of the Government, they expressedideas in complete accord with those at first entertained by theEmperor. The majority in each committee, seeing that it wasimpossible under present circumstances to maintain their oldrights over the person of the serf, consented to recognise hisfreedom, and that without pay. They were anxious about one thingalone -- to retain as far as possible in their own hands the landactually possessed by the peasant. This feeling was the strongerwhere the soil was rich, as was the case in the Central andSouthern Governments, where the black soil prevails. It was lessso in the west and north, where the ground yielded but a smallrent. We find a complete unanimity between the utterances of thecentral and southern nobles, both insisting on the necessity oflimiting the expropriation of the land in favor of the peasantsto that occupied by their homesteads, whilst in the north morethan one committee consented to extend this to the arable landand the undivided common.
The provincial committees were almost unanimous (I speak ofcourse only of the majority of their members) in their requestthat the individual shares of each peasant household should bereadjusted according to a certain maximum and minimum fixed foreach province. Many a committee insisted on the maintenance offeudal police, if not of feudal justice, and all showed an equalinterest in the suppression of the uncontrolled power of thebureaucracy in matters of provincial administration.
The minorities of almost every committee, who were more orless influenced by the press, approached much more nearly intheir request to the views entertained by the majority in thecentral committee. They gave their consent to the plan ofexpropriating in favor of the peasants a part of the noblemen'slands; they insisted on the participation of the Government inthe act of redeeming the area formerly allotted by the landlordsto the serfs of their respective manors; they strongly opposedthe scheme of a transitory state in which the peasant, unable tobuy back the land he owned, was condemned to continue his villeinservice and his feudal dues or payments in kind. At the same timethey put forward certain general demands which went much beyondthe promises already given by the Government. They made requestsfor a general change in the existing system of provincialadministration. According to these bureaucracy should give placeto a system of local self-government. They insisted on thenecessity of amending the deficient judicial organization. Theydemanded trial by jury and liberty of the press. Some of themembers went even so far as to draw up a resolution in favor ofthe general representation of the people and the revival of theancient system of National Councils, the Sobors.
We must not lose sight of these political requirements if wewish to understand why it was that the Government, as soon as thedeputies both of the majority and the minority of provincialcommittees were assembled in Petersburg, hindered their generalmeetings. It was but separately that each of the delegates wasadmitted to put forward his requests, and to give oral advice tothe members of the general committee. This mistrust on the partof the Government embittered more than one of the delegatesagainst the members of the central committee, and threw them intothe arms of that minority which, in the central committee itself,defended the interests of the nobility. It was chiefly composedof the “Marshal" of the Petersburg nobility, Count PeterSchouvalov, Mr Aprakasin, who occupied the same post in Orel Province, and Mr Posen, the delegate of Pultawa. Thesethree gentlemen insisted on the desirability of keeping the landin the hands of the nobility, and of granting to the peasantryonly a sort of soccage-tenure, or “censive”, on the land theyoccupied. Whilst the majority of the committee insisted on thedirect interference of the Government in the redemption of thenoblemen's land, and the propriety of putting an end tovillein-service, at any rate after a period of twelve years,these gentlemen were in favor of leaving to a free contract,entered into by the manorial lord and his former serfs, thedifficult task of settling their future relations. It was in thehouse of Schouvalov that the discontented delegates regularlyassembled; it was there that they drew up this protest againstthe action of the central committee and the so-called"encroachments of the bureaucracy”. Their appeal, made in theform of a pamphlet, published in Leipsig, and addressed to thenew delegates summoned to Petersburg from the provinces nothitherto represented, found a ready hearing, and the Governmentencountered in these new helpers even a larger amount of mistrustand ill-will than that already shown by their predecessors.
This time the opposition of the nobility was of much greaterconsequence. General Rostovzov, whose influence over the tsar wasvery great, died suddenly, before the completion of the workentrusted to his care, and Count Panin, an avowed foe to theaction of the committee, became its President. He did his best toinduce the members to abandon their former decision; and it isonly to the firmness of character shown by men like NicholasMilutine, that we are indebted for the strict maintenance of thegeneral outlines of the form already elaborated. Finding himselfpowerless to change the decisions of the committee, Panin triedto arouse some opposition to the scheme published by it, amongthe ranks of that general committee of which the committee forthe elaboration of the law of emancipation was but a section. Hetried to achieve the same ends in the Council of State, where thescheme of the new law had finally to be discussed. Happily thetime allowed for the debates was very limited, as the Governmentinsisted on the immediate realisation of the long-promised"liberty”. They lasted in the general committee but a few months,while in the Council of State they were limited to a fortnight.It is due to this fact that neither of the two boards introducedvery extensive amendments in the emancipation law. Those they didmake were all in favor of the nobility. The most mischievousconsisted in the considerable diminution of the maximum andminimum shares accorded to the peasant, and in the resolutionthat no rights would be recognised as belonging to the villagersin the common pastures of the manor. The interests of thepeasants were also sacrificed in the permission which was givento the landlords to diminish the shares of the peasants, on thecondition of renouncing all remuneration for the ground whichthey ceded. In all these measures the demands of the nobles werecomplied with.
But the great ends at which the reformers aimed, theliberation, that is to say, of the peasant from all personaldependence on the manorial lord, and the securing to him theright of possessing land in common, were nevertheless attained.The law of February 19, 1861, was the beginning of a new era --an era of democratic development, as well as of economic andsocial growth, for the immense Empire of the tsars. For there isno doubt about the vast influence which the law of 1861 hasexercised in all directions. It is that which made more thantwenty millions of people at once the free disposers of their owndestinies and the communistic owners of the land. Villeinservices, rents in kind and in money, feudal monopolies, andmanorial jurisdiction, ceased to exist, and the peasant becamethe member of a self-governing body, or the Mir. The ideas ofsocial justice and of equality before the law -- ideas hithertocherished but by a few dreamers such as Radischev and Herzen, orrevolutionists like those so-called “Decembrists”, who organizedthe rebellion of December 24, 1825 -- made their triumphant entryinto the Russian world, working a complete change in theorganization of public schools, admitting the son of the peasantto sit side by side with the son of the nobleman and the merchantin the same grammar school and the same university,revolutionizingboth official circles and the drawing-room,admitting to both persons of low. birth but high education.
The emancipation of the serf certainly was not carried outwithout some loss to the land-owning gentry, but the squire soonrecovered from the state into which he was brought by hisinexperience in the management of his estate without the help ofunpaid servants. Capital was invested in land; agriculturalmachines were introduced; the yearly income began to riserapidly, and with it the value of the land was augmented. It waspartly enhanced by the fact that it was thrown open to the freepurchase of all classes of society, while previous to the reformthe higher class alone was entitled to own it. Instead ofabandoning the tillage of the fields, according to theexpectation of some pessimists, the liberated serf soon becamethe regular farmer of the lands possessed by the gentry, andentire village communities have been seen during these last fewyears renting, under conditions of mutual responsibility, theland of a neighbouring estate.
If we investigate the indirect results of the great reformaccomplished by the Emperor Alexander, we are first struck by thefact that it involved the necessity of a complete change inprovincial administration. Justice and police had hitherto beenin the hands of persons elected by the nobility. This could nolonger be tolerated the moment the serf was liberated from hisprevious subjection to the noble and squire. A system ofprovincial self-government, based on the principle ofrepresentation of the whole land-owning class, both privateproprietors and those possessing land in common, was introducedin its stead. The organization of justice was completely changed,learned jurists occupying the place of the ignorant magistratesof old who had been appointed by the provincial gentry. Thepeople, as members of juries, were admitted to a share in theexercise of criminal justice. The transformation of the medievalState into one that answered to the requirements of moderncivilisation would have been completed if the Liberator ofmillions had not been slaughtered on the very day on which he hadundertaken to give a constitution to his people.
Years of violent reaction have followed. The feudal party,whose secret designs had been defeated by the mode in whichemancipation had been effected, again got the upper hand; andmodern Russia now looks back to the period of 1861 as the goldenage of Russian Liberalism. It is in the work of the men who weredirectly engaged in carrying out the great reform that RussianLiberals seek consolation and help; and the Nineteenth ofFebruary has become for them a day of general and of gratefulcommemoration.
1. Compare V. Somevsky, “The Peasant Question in Russia duringthe Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century", Petersburg, 1888.
2. “The Village from Petersburg to Novgorod”.
3. See his work, entitled “The Fall of Bondage in Russia”,Petersburg, 1883.
Excerpts from =
RUSSIAN POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS
THE GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF THESE
INSTITUTIONS FROM THE BEGINNINGS
OF RUSSIAN HISTORY TO THE
professor of public law at the university of moscow;
corresponding member of the imperial academy of science at st. petersburg
lecturer at the university of brussels, and
member of the international sociological institute of paris
author of origin of modern democracies;
coutume contemporaine et loi ancienne: droit coutumier ossétien éclaire par l'histoire comparée;
le régime économique de la russie; and,
die ökonomische entwicklung europas bis zum beginn der kapitalistischen wirtschaftsform
The University of Chicago Press
[SAC editor has amended this text to bring it into line with contemporary practices of spelling and transliteration. Also, formal institutions are now presented in a standard and uniform manner, better to illustrate the importance of institutions to Kovalevsky. For example, Main Committee here replaces “main committee” and “chief committee”. SAC editor has also put certain passages in boldface and has introduced explanatory hypertext links. Points not yet fully edited are marked with "??".]
THE REFORMS OF ALEXANDER II.—
THE EMANCIPATION OF THE SERFS—
The reign of Alexander II. occupies, in the history of Russian local institutions, the same place which that of Alexander I. does, as far as central political organization is concerned. Between these reigns we find that of Nicholas I., a man with the exterior and character of a Prussian colonel. Nicholas acquired, however, the reputation of a thoroughly Russian monarch. His reign began by a violent reaction against those liberal principles in which were rooted the reforms of Alexander I. The chief purpose of Nicholas became, accordingly, to prevent the return of revolutionary movements like those of the 14th of December, 1825. By a scrupulous maintenance of the conservative scheme elaborated at the different congresses brought about by the Holy Alliance, Nicholas I. became the champion of a policy whose chief instigator had been no less a person than Metternich. The three pillars of this policy have always been, in Russia—autocracy, Orthodoxy, and that national unity which the rule of the dominant race of grand Russians over the empire means.
Nicholas understood the first of these principles, autocracy, in a quite military way. His power was upheld by a numerous army, excessively disciplined. With the help of provincial general governors [Governor-Generals], endowed with an authority little less than his own, he ruled over millions of enslaved people. These slaves were distributed among private owners, who, in a body, constituted the nobility, or first order [soslovie] of the empire. Each of them within the limits of his own
estate or manor exercised the rights of a superior police, judicial, and financial officer, the latter in the sense that he was responsible to the crown for the taxes levied on his serfs, although he had no personal imposts to pay on account of his privileges. The nobility of each province constituted a self-governing unit, contributing to the general administration by electing certain police and judicial officers. All-powerful in respect to inferiors, the nobility was deprived of any political rights, and even of that limited amount of independence without which personal freedom and liberty of conscience and opinions cannot exist. An English lady who visited Russia in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Miss Catherine Wilmot, noticed the fact of the complete annihilation of every nobleman before the supreme power and its recognized agents, by saying that in Moscow there was not a gentleman to be found: every one considered himself greater or lower, according to imperial favor. She very acutely discovered the intimate relation which existed between this voluntary slavery and the system of serfdom. Each of the Russian planters seemed to her a link of the vast chain by which the state was bound. Masters over their own serfs, they were, in her eyes, themselves the serfs of a despot.
An institution called to bring to reason every free thinker, every pupil of the so-called dissolving theories of the West, was the Third Section of His Majesty’s Own Chancery [national political secret police], with its numberless agents in the different provinces of the empire. After a night's search among the private papers of the supposed conspirator, the latter disappeared in some cell of the state prison of SS. Peter and Paul. After a mock trial, before his persecutors, he was condemned to live for many years in some remote quarter of the empire, under the scrutinizing eye of the police; or in case of future offense, to be deprived of all his rights and
sentenced to death or to transportation to Siberia . Exile had been, for a while, the lot of Russia's greatest poet, Pushkin, whose crime consisted in having written liberal verses. As to capital punishment, it was pronounced against a well-known Russian novelist, the author of "Crime and Punishment," Dostoevsky. He was accused of having visited more than once an army officer named Petrashevskii, who dreamed of the system of Fourier and thought of putting it into practice. The author himself has heard the personal account of a Russian poet, Aleksei Pleshcheev, who was compromised in the same imaginary plot. He told how the offenders were dressed in winding sheets, and then drawn up before a file of soldiers. The rifles were aimed at their breasts, only waiting the word to fire, when a special envoy from the tsar stopped the execution. The shock received on this occasion by the great Dostoevsky was so strong that he fell on the spot in a violent attack of epilepsy. This illness tortured him the rest of his life, both in Siberia, where he passed many years in exile, and in Petersburg, where he returned after the accession of Alexander II., to become the editor of an important magazine, and the author of world-renowned novels. These extraordinary methods of maintaining order, however, instead of decreasing in strength, became more and more stringent, especially from the year 1848, when national risings, social and political revolutions, seemed to get the upper hand of all the governments of Europe. Increased taxes were now exacted in Russia from those wishing to go abroad; and many a person was prevented from getting his pass. The most stupid censorship was exercised over, not only political writers, but novelists and poets. The greatest difficulties were at the same time created for the expression of independent ideas from the university chair. Notwithstanding all this, "the superior commandership," to use an expression of Nicholas, address-
ing from his death-bed his son and heir, "was far from being as successful as it ought to be." Russian forces in Sebastopol had to yield, not to the number, but to the better equipment and better management of the English and French. Corruption was at this time general in Russia, both in military and civil service. The possibility of making a fortune by the extortion of bribes appeared as a kind of compensation for the vile submissiveness to the tsar's will. The serfs, unable to bear any longer the exactions and the ill-treatment of some of the landlords, were either rebelling or on the way to rebel; and this to such an extent that the dying emperor, who years ago had nominated a commission to study the means of improving their condition, thought necessary to recommend to his heir the entire emancipation of bondmen.
Alexander II. was mindful of these words, and as soon as the Peace of Paris put an end to the Crimean war, he gave himself up entirely to the difficult task of loosening the bonds of serfdom. Already, in the year 1856, whilst receiving the representatives of the Muscovite nobility, during a short stay in the old capital, he pronounced these much-promising words: "The existing mode of owning souls (men) cannot remain unaltered; it is better to abolish serfdom from above than wait for the time when it shall be disturbed from below. I ask you to think on the ways by which this may be brought about.
Penetrated with this idea, the emperor thought of profiting by the festivals given at his coronation to suggest to the upper classes of the nobility assembled the idea of taking an initiative in the reform he had in view; but nobody moved, pretending to be ignorant of the principles on which the reform could be accomplished. In order that they might be elaborated, a Secret Committee was therefore appointed, composed of the President of the State Council, Prince Orlov, the Interior Minister, Lanskoi,
and some other ministers and high officials. Among them we must mention more specially the Adjutant-General, Rostovzev, who will have to play a considerable part in the performance of the great act. The emperor himself presided at the first meeting of this commission [Secret Committee], on the 3d of January, 1857, and defined the object of its creation by saying that it was to investigate the question of emancipation from all points of view, and to make proposals as to the way of its settlement. The chief difficulty in the question was, from the very first, well expressed in the report of the secretary, Levshin. It consisted in determining what was to become of the land occupied by the serf. Was it to be restored to the manorial lord or to remain in the hands of the peasant? And on what terms, in fee simple or as a leasehold? In the first case, how and by whom was the proprietor to be remunerated for the loss of what he considered to be his own?
Before entering into any details as to the proceedings which ended in the elaboration of the celebrated act of the 19th of February, 1861, let us examine the various solutions which the question above mentioned might have received and, indeed, has received in different countries of the world.
The easiest and simplest mode of putting an end to the bonds which kept the peasant in hereditary dependence on the soil he was cultivating, consisted in declaring him free to go where he liked, to "show him the three roads," according to a symbolical expression used in the early part of the Middle Ages. All the enfranchisements granted by such a formula—and they were very numerous in France, in England, and in Germany as late as the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries— were necessarily followed by the return to the landlord of the ground previously possessed by the serf. It is in this way that the so-called décaveux, or voluntary renouncements on the part of the persons concerned, were, for
the serfs, the first and necessary condition of becoming freemen.
Of course anything increasing the value of the ground, and, in the first place, the growth of population, favored the policy of enfranchisement, since the land proprietors became in this way the gainers in case of exchange of liberty for land. No wonder, therefore, that during the thirteenth century, when Europe, according to recent researches, attained a density of population not surpassed during the three next centuries, personal freedom in exchange for ground, and with a money equivalent for the loss sustained by the serf-owner, became very frequent. The liberated bondman had no choice but to become a sort of customary tenant or copy-holder; he received either the same plot of land or some other from the master who had enfranchised him, and that on condition of an annual rent, either in kind or in money, to be paid during his whole life and perhaps that of his heirs. Such a practice, very common in the second part of the Middle Ages, pointed to another mode of solving the question of emancipation in Russia.
Instead of making the liberated serfs into paupers, the state could impose upon the landlords the obligation of keeping them on the soil, not as free proprietors, but as hereditary tenants. The general prevalence of the system of censives, plots of land held on condition of paying a fixed rent from generation to generation, both in France and in Poland, where they are still known under the altered name of chinsh, was for the Russian government an inducement to try the same system.
But even before the French Revolution, a small country of Europe, the duchy of Savoy, induced by the propaganda of the French economists of the eighteenth century in favor of the system of peasant proprietorship, interfered successfully in the settlement of liberated serfs on the parcels of ground they had occupied before. The Savoy
government regulated the price of these plots which, paid for during a certain number of years entirely by the liberated serfs, were then owned outright by them. And in order to obtain the necessary means for such a redeeming of the land, the peasants were authorized to borrow money, or to sell a part of their commons or undivided lands. The interference of the government went no further. Personal agreement had to fix the amount of the sum to be paid to the land-owner, as well as the rate of percentage he was to exact. The Savoyard reform was introduced in the year 1771, and resulted so happily that French writers of the last quarter of the eighteenth century recommended the application of a like system to France. It is, of course, well known that the French Revolution accepted to a certain extent the same principles, although declaring at the same time that only the so-called real rights, in opposition to personal ones, or rights on the body of the serf, were to be redeemed by the persons concerned—the emancipated peasants. But if such was the theory, the practice was totally different. The confiscation of the estates of noblemen who sided with royalty and the unsworn clergy [clergy who would not swear allegiance to the French Revolutionary government], and the mass emigration of the landlords and serf-holders, allowed in France the interruption of any payment on the part of the liberated peasants, and that to an extent which permitted the direct transformation of the hereditary holding of the serf into the private property of the small landowner.
It will not be necessary to go further in this general review of the modes of dealing with serfdom, because Donial [?] has perfectly established the fact that all over the continent of Europe the French model has been more or less slavishly followed in all acts of emancipation. What strikes a student casting a general look over the slow evolution of this question, is the total lack of any general scheme on the part of the state for redeeming the lands of the villeins.
Of course one might notice certain exceptions to this rule, such for instance, as that of Bologna or Florence, which redeemed, in the thirteenth century, out of their own treasury, the so-called fumanti and fideles, slaves, serfs, and hereditary tenants, established on the lands of the manorial lords. But the extent of territory and the number of persons redeemed was in both cases so limited that they could not serve as models for the extraordinarily vast scheme that had to be worked out in Russia. One may, therefore, be justified in saying that the experience of the past was not generally in favor of the state's advancing the amount of money necessary to buy out both the rights of the landlord and the land occupied by his serf.
Years before the reform of 1861, however, some men had already prepared public opinion for the idea that in Russia no scheme of emancipation could be successful unless the peasant should retain the land he occupied. They had done this to such good purpose that the Emperor Nicholas himself considered—and this time quite rightly—that unless the people continued their hold on the land, the reform was not likely to be successful. And in reality how could it be when, during whole centuries, the people had worked out in perfect simplicity the idea expressed in the well-known saying, "We are yours," i e., we belong to the noblemen, "but the land is ours." The bad results obtained by the emancipation in the Baltic provinces, where, thanks to a total lack of any plan for redeeming the plots of land owned by former serfs, an agricultural proletariat had been created, were not likely to encourage the views of those who declared themselves favorable only to a personal enfranchisement. Under such conditions no wonder that the task appeared exceedingly difficult, and met opposition on all sides.
The dilemma which presented itself to those who sincerely wished a speedy solving of the question, was that of
creating in an artificial way either a class of men having no land in proper, such as the English laborers, or of overburdening the state with an enormous debt represented by the amount of money advanced for redeeming the land of the serfs. The first perspective was the more alarming because, as we shall see hereafter, the peasants in the time of servitude already owned their land in common. It was, therefore, the opposition of entire villages that the government had to expect in case the soil should return to the nobleman. The second plan appeared rather fantastic, in consideration of the bad state of Russian finances, occasioned by the Crimean war, and the want of any certainty as to the speedy return to the crown of the money advanced for redeeming the peasant's shares. No wonder, therefore, that between these two extremes the government at first thought of choosing the intermediate way of redeeming only the dwelling of the serf with the surrounding orchard and of leaving all further settlement of the land question to private agreement. It was thus that the Secret Committee received from the minister of the interior, Lanskoi, on the 25th of July, 1857, the offer of granting personal liberty to the serfs without any money equivalent, and of redeeming only their dwellings. This operation was to take place without any interference on the part of the crown; it was to be made by way of yearly payments during a period of ten or fifteen years, the serf becoming free only at the end of that time.
The provincial nobility did not offer to go even as far as Lanskoi in the way of voluntary concessions. The different addresses received in the years 1857 and 1858 by the Emperor Alexander voiced chiefly the desire of proceeding to a personal enfranchisement of the serfs. The first of these addresses was that sent by the nobility of some western provinces of Polish origin, namely, those of Vilna, Covna, and Grodno . The address demanded the
maintenance of all the rights which the landlords possessed over the soil. It was in vain that the government did its best to obtain larger concessions in later addresses forwarded from Nizhnii-Novgorod, as well as from Petersburg and Moscow. The landlords continued to speak of the inalienable rights of the nobility in regard to manorial estates. These facts are insisted on in order to show that the new direction which the question of emancipation received during the next years proceeded neither from the government nor from assemblies of the nobles. Its origin is to be found in the writings of some thinkers whose private memoirs circulated for a long time in manuscript before being allowed to appear in print. Among them, a professor of legal history at the University of Moscow, Kavelin, was the first to advise the granting to the peasant of the parcels already in his possession. Called by the Grand Princess Elena to elaborate the plan of emancipation of her serfs, he introduced into his scheme the principle of a two-fold enfranchisement, that of the body and that of the land. His views were shared by a set of young men who by and by became known for their Slavophilic sentiments. Yurii Samarin and the Prince Cherkasskii were foremost among them. They found, in the ranks of the Main Committee, a man entirely sharing their opinions, and possessing, at the same time, the strength of will, the depth of thought and the talent of persuasion, necessary to win over his colleagues and superiors.
This man was Nikolai Miliutin, brother of the future War Minister, one among that small number of Russian officials who really deserve to be called statesmen. Miliutin first tried to persuade the Interior Minister, Lanskoi, of the necessity of leaving the land in possession of the serfs. It is to his influence chiefly that Russia must attribute the uncompromising attitude which the Interior Minister took in this question, and which, on several occasions,
drew on him some unpleasant remarks from the tsar. The second person who needed to be persuaded was the president of the Main Committee appointed on the 8th of January, 1858, to examine the different projects concerning emancipation. His name was Rostovtsev, and his past was not one to lead to the supposition that he might become a reformer; indeed it was to his denunciation that the revolutionary party known as the "Decembrists" attributed the failure of their enterprise. Modern historians pretend that by his behavior as president of the newly appointed commission [Main Committee] he wanted to excuse the attitude he had taken in the disclosure of the liberal plot. But however that may be, it is undoubtedly true that Rostovtsev did his best to enlarge the field of debate, to make it as free as possible, and to profit as much as he could from the discreet or indiscreet criticisms which the Russian press, both in and out of the empire, addressed to those busy in preparing the reform. In a sort of daily journal which one of the members of the Committee kept of its debates, the fact that the president, instead of protesting, was pleased to accept the ideas expressed by the publisher of a well-known revolutionary paper, the Bell, which appeared at the same time in London, and had for its chief director the celebrated Herzen, is several times mentioned. It is certainly because of the friendly attitude which the members of the Main Committee showed toward the press that papers and magazines, which at first had been prevented from publishing any article concerning emancipation, began to treat it at great length. In the decision of the Censorship Committee of the 22d of April, 1858, it had been declared that no article demanding the disappearance of any personal dependence of the serf on the nobleman, so far as this dependence manifested itself by the recognition of his administrative power, was to be included in any periodical. The same rule had to be applied also to papers
demanding that the soil should be left to the peasant on condition of being redeemed.
Notwithstanding all these prescriptions, the majority of the liberal press continued to insist on the necessity of introducing into the proposed reform both principles so energetically condemned. We cannot explain, except by the tacit acquiescence of the Main Committee, the freedom with which such opinions were constantly expressed by writers like Chernyshevskii in the popular magazine, the Contemporary. The press became in this way the guide and the support of the more advanced members of the Committee, and enabled them to contend successfully with the representatives of the reactionary party, who did not wish to grant the peasant anything more than personal liberty. It was an unexpected calamity that at a moment; when the work of the Committee was almost brought to an end, death carried away the chief man able to defend its principles in the eyes of the tsar, as well as in those of a new assembly of local delegates, sent by the nobles of the provinces and charged chiefly with the work of determining the amount of land to be granted to the peasants in the different parts of the empire. When Rostovtsev died, and was succeeded by Count Panin, a man of notorious ill-feeling to the reform in preparation, Miliutin had to enter, into an almost daily conflict with the president, in order to maintain the basis of the elaborated project. The main-question was to know what standard should be chosen to determine the extent of land left in possession of the serf.
The Committee, under the presidency of Rostovtsev, had, however, made up its mind to accord, as a rule, the: same lots which had already been cultivated for his own sake by the peasant. But taking into consideration the; fact that certain manorial lords gave up to their serfs, for a fixed rent, all the land on their estate, it was thought advisable to establish two standards, a larger and a smaller one.
From the moment when Panin took the president's chair, the claims presented by the provincial deputies against such a decision obtained a favorable hearing. The reactionary party succeeded in passing a proposal accord-ing to which a nobleman ready to renounce any remuneration for his ground could insist on the serf's accepting only the fourth part of the land he had occupied. New concessions were to be made to the reactionary party on the question of waste and forest lands in which no part was given to the peasants, notwithstanding that in the time of servitude these lands constituted a part of his commons. Another grave blunder consisted in raising the amount of payments exacted from the serf by the crown for the redeeming of the ground. In a recent open letter to the tsar, Count Leo Tolstoy rightly insists on the fact that the money equivalent advanced has been already entirely paid out by the peasant, so that simple equity requires that an end be put to any further demands of this sort.
But whilst recognizing these defects in the scheme worked out by the Committee, and accepted, almost without opposition, by the State Council, under the presidency of the Grand Prince Konstantin, one must set forth as well the successful features of the reform. Among them, the first in order is that of having maintained, in full conformity with the past, the system of common ownership in land, once known to England under the name of "village community system." The author applauds this really conservative measure the more since he is, on principle, against any sudden and uniform change in the modes of land tenure. Recent experience has proved that in Russia a genuine development is going on in this sphere, whilst in certain provinces the system of periodical redistributions becomes from day to day more obsolete; new territories begin to accept it, and put in this way an end to the older method of occupying virgin soil by direct and unlimited
appropriation, which is not to be maintained side by side with a rapidly increasing number of inhabitants. The law of the 19th of February, 1861, has also adopted a measure which permits a natural dissolution of the village community through peasants' redeeming their shares at once by anticipated payments. They acquire in this manner an unlimited property right in them. Another issue of the same kind has also been kept in view, that of the village assembly's [mirskoi skhod’s or sel’skii skhod’s] deciding, by a majority of two-thirds, the definite passage from collective to private ownership. Only recently, under the reign of Alexander III., measures were taken interfering with this growing tendency to individualism, to maintain the principle by which the state remains the chief owner of the soil. According to the new laws, passed under the direct influence of M. Pobedonostsev, and an indirect result of the theories of Leplay, shared by him, even a redeemed soil can be the object of hereditary tenure only on the part of the peasant.
It is not certain that among the successful arrangements of the law of the 19th of February, one can place the mode in which the self-government of the commune has been established. The fact that the manorial lord has been excluded from the village meetings [mirskie or sel’skie skhody] may be easily accounted for, if we consider the difficulty, or rather, the impossibility of uniting in the same institution two elements which are necessarily hostile, for at least the next generation, and which certainly could not meet at any time on equal terms. But the fact in itself had, nevertheless, the bad result of turning the commune into a sort of class institution. It is not to be compared, therefore, either with the French one or with the Anglo-American parish, the more so as the parish-priest himself is not considered in Russia to be a member of the village assembly [skhod]. The bulk of the persons taking part in the local self-government are sharers in the common lands. To use a German expression, the Russian
village community [sel’skoe obshchestvo] corresponds to the bürger-gemeinde, and not to the politische gemeinde, that one in which sharers and non-sharers in periodical redistributions possess an equal right to vote. The village community as such, is composed of all the grown-up members of families who not only reside within the commune, but who own parcels of common land. New settlers and persons corresponding to the class of people known in Switzerland as beisaszen, or domicilies and manants, are in this way excluded from the right of voting. Of course, as long as they remain in minority, the village commune may maintain its democratic character, but we can already foresee the time when, just as it happened in Germany and Switzerland, the families of old settlers will become a kind of oligarchy, unless the legislature takes measures to divide the functions of communal self-government by creating, side by side with the commune of shareholders, another one open to all the inhabitants [??prebyvateli] of the village, beginning with the private owners and leaseholders and ending with simple laborers or agricultural proletarians.
It must be said, however, that the necessity of such a reform has been already recognized by the members of the collective provincial assemblies, of which we shall hear later on. More than one of them has expressed the desire to have, besides the existing commune, which is a sort of economical unit, a larger body with the character of an administrative unit. Such was the case of the executive assemblies nominated by the provincial councils of the governments of Moscow, Vologda , and Smolensk, in the beginning of the reign of Alexander III. And it is more or less in the same sense that the provincial council of Novgorod expresses the desire to see the lower grade of local self-government based on the principle of a general representation of all the classes of society [sosloviia], and not of shareholders in common lands alone.
In the existing system, the commune being a class [soslovie] institution, the village alderman, the executive officer of the meetings of share-holders, or mir, is to be chosen only from among them. His power, nevertheless, as far as the collecting of dues and the executing of police orders are concerned, is to be recognized by all the inhabitants with the single exception of the landed squires. It would, of course, be more congenial to equity and political justice to have this officer nominated by all those interested in the management of local affairs.
The village meeting [mirskoi skhod, sel’skii skhod], with the elected aldermen, constitutes only the lower grade of peasant self-government. Above the mir we find a superior administrative unit, called the volost. It is generally composed of a union of several villages, unless one village is large enough to constitute by itself such a unit. In this case the several parishes appear as its subdivisions, equal in rights and duties. The volost, like the mir, is a class [soslovie] institution; neither noblemen nor ecclesiastics, artificers nor merchants, can look to it for any measure concerning their local interests. For, contrary to the village community or mir, which had its separate existence even in the ages of serfdom, the volost, as far as the thing itself and not the name alone is concerned, is of recent origin. We find it existing on the lands occupied by the serfs of the crown in the time of Nicholas; and it is in imitation of what was going on in the imperial domains that the present system has been established. The volost, although a class institution, is, however, called to play an important part in the exercise of administrative and judicial duties—a reason which explains the desire expressed by more than one provincial assembly to have it reformed in order to make of it the representative of the most different classes of Russian society. A great difficulty lying in the way of such a reform seems to be this: the volost, in the person of elected judges, forms a sort of class [soslovie] tribunal in
civil matters exclusively concerning the peasants. Their trials are to be decided, not in conformity with the law, but according to local custom, of which the elected judges are the interpreters.
It is probable that of all the European states Russia is the only one which still preserves the dualistic system of trying civil suits according to law or according to custom, in case the suitors belong either to the middle and higher classes of society, or to the peasantry. This dualism becomes the stranger because both legal systems have in fact the same origin. Contrary to other nations of Europe, Russia has experienced only to a very small degree the influence of Roman or any foreign law. Under such conditions its written, as well as its unwritten, legislation, has grown out of its old custom, which at different periods found an incomplete expression in those legal codes which, beginning with the pravda of Yaroslav, a sort of lex barbarorum, published as early as the eleventh century, and the statutes of Lithuania, of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, have prepared the materials for modern codification. Several precepts of these old and more or less genuine codes are still retained by custom, partly in Great Russia, and to a larger extent in Little Russia and the Ukraine, which almost to the second half of the eighteenth century were ruled by custom. Now it is a difficult matter to determine how far the judgments of the peasant arbitrators are dictated by the remembrance of these old legal precepts, or by their own sense of justice and their incomplete knowledge of existing laws, or lastly, by the immoral rather than moral influences of friendship, affinity, fear of superiors, direct bribery, etc. Persons well acquainted with the daily life of Russian peasantry are inclined to think that the greater part of the suits have been settled according to the wish of the court clerk, oftentimes the only person able to give them a written form.
The most natural thing, in order to find a way out of this chaos of contradictory decisions, would seem to be a preparation, if not for each province, at least for each region, such as Great or Little or White Russia, of a sort of legal compilation like those codes ruraux [rural legal codes] so much spoken of in France under the second empire; but nothing of this sort is known to exist, and those most interested in the study of legal customs seem to believe that from the contradictory, and very often quite arbitrary, judgments of the volost courts may be deducted the legal principles of peasant law. The author, however, is far from sharing such an optimism. But he does believe that no order can be introduced in the deciding of peasant suits except by way of a general codification of laws, as well as of customs, so far as the last find their expression in old legal documents and old judicial decisions still preserved in our archives and not yet sufficiently studied. Many years ago a commission, in which there were more high officials than scholars, was nominated in order to prepare the text of a new civil code to be applied in all courts, with the exception of the peasant ones. All existing codes had been translated to help the members of the commission in writing the new one. No one had the idea of calling their attention to the necessity of seeking their inspiration in the study of customary law. Nobody took the trouble to compose a sort of private compilation of customs still in use, province by province, and region by region, as had already been done for certain parts of France. It is only after long years of such preparatory work that a general code for use in all courts of the empire is likely to be elaborated. The author would wish that such a code might be preceded by the publication of special codes, destined for such and such a region. For, in matters of real property and succession, the difference between provinces where common ownership in land still prevails, and those in which it
becomes more and more abnormal, is too great to allow of a general legislation, although such general legislation is easier to be arrived at in matters of contract. In all matters, however, the principle according to which in case of conflict the preference ought to be given to a general custom over a general law and to a local custom over a general custom, should be one which allows the preservation of the genuine features of the legal system proper to such and such a village or union of villages.
Russia, however, in regard to her present methods of village tribunals [mirskie sudy], is still far removed from a system that spells order. And the author stands in no fear of exaggeration when he says that one of the two great defects in the reform of the 19th of February, 1861, is the arbitrary power granted to the elective peasant judges. This power permitted the invention and the application of legal rules by judges often illiterate, sometimes unscrupulous, and ready, according to a common accusation, to sell justice for a bottle of spirits. The other defect of village self-government is the system of mutual responsibility [krugovaia poruka] in matters of taxation. Of course such responsibility is likely to be of great help to the government, as far as the levy of imposts is concerned, but it introduces at the same time a quite arbitrary method of collecting the dues. The chief sufferers seem to be neither the richer class of peasants nor the poorer ones. The first may very often diminish their responsibility by bribing the collectors; the second have nothing to give, but as they possess the right to vote, they deserve some attention on the part of chosen officers, such as the collectors. No wonder, then, that, according to an inquiry recently made by the government, moderate fortunes are the first to answer for the non-payers. One can judge for one's self how far such a system is prejudicial to the growth of peasant welfare. More than once economists and, as a rule, all those well informed as to the
material conditions of our people, have indicated the necessity of abolishing this system made for other ages. Quite recently Count Tolstoy, in his petition to the tsar, spoke of it as of one of the grossest abuses, and one to be done away with as soon as possible. But so long as the timely collection of taxes is the chief preoccupation of those who administer Russian finances, it appears useless to think that the government will take the necessary measures to accomplish such a demand.
The general conclusion at which we arrive by an analysis of the system of peasant self-government created by the law of the 19th of February, is of a composite character; good and evil are so intrinsically interwoven in the self-government of the commune that it deserves as much praise as criticism. It will not seem unfair to say that the intentions of those who created it were better than the results obtained; but the evil is not of such a kind that new reforms might not have the best of it. Let us look forward to them in the hope that they will better serve the ideals of social justice and personal liberty.
THE REFORMS OF ALEXANDER II.—
LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT: PROVINCIAL, DISTRICT, MUNICIPAL
The emancipation of the serfs introduced into the social structure of Russia such a profound change that it became impossible to maintain the existing system of provincial administration, according to which a single order [soslovie], the nobility, had to co-operate with the government in the management of local affairs and the decision of civil and criminal suits. From the moment when all classes were admitted equally to the acquisition of the soil, all difference between the so-called inhabited and uninhabited estates—those occupied by serfs and those free of them—disappeared, and a new social division was formed, the landowners. Composed of the most heterogeneous elements— former lords of manors, liberated serfs, holding land either in private or in common, the capitalist, merchant, or artisan, who had bought the whole or a part of some manorial estate—this class of people, according to ideas which became familiar in Europe as early as the time of the physiocrats, was thought, by implication, to be interested in the good management of provincial affairs, and therefore, were called to an almost exclusive part in matters of economical self-government. It is not necessary to criticize here the recently prevailing theory that the classes deprived of the ownership of land were indifferent to the well-being of the province. It has been fortunately more or less abandoned in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, though it still holds its ground, so far as the composition of provincial assemblies is concerned, in the diverse coun-
tries of Europe. No wonder that this theory was held to be a truism in Russia in the years following the emancipation, and opinions were divided only on the question how it was to be put into practice in order to give to the peasants, as well as to the nobles, a distinct and unequal share in local self-government.
This purpose was necessarily in contradiction with the idea of provincial representation based on the principle of landed property. No wonder that certain persons, considering themselves liberals, were opposed to the idea of according special delegates to each of the historically constituted orders [sosloviia]. But practical considerations made it doubtful whether in a general assembly of land-owners one of the two classes, the previous masters and the former serfs, would not be sacrificed to the feeling of material dependence, or to the rancor arising from unforgotten wrongs. It is not at all certain that the creators of the law of 1864, to which Russia is indebted for both district and provincial assemblies, were badly inspired in creating, side by side with elective bodies, composed of private owners of land, those of members of village communities [sel’skie obshchestva], and those of house or land proprietors in town districts. The majority of the State Council declared itself in favor of such a division. Its utility could be admitted as long as the work of emancipation had not been happily brought to an end. The fact alone that some of the peasants, taking advantage of the law of the 19th of February, continued to cultivate the lands of their former lords, gaining by such a practice, if prolonged during a certain number of years, the right of property in their parcels, suffices to show the difficulty of uniting both parties in the same elective assembly. But now that the transitory stage from serfdom to liberty is already past, and that the nobleman has been, at least partly, superseded by some foreign intruder who has bought up the lands of his estate, and
that in the ranks of the communistic peasants the process of social differentiation has produced the establishment, side by side, of private owners with proletarians, are we not authorized to think that the time is come to remodel the system of local representation on the basis of social equality?
Of course such a reform cannot be brought about before the creation of the political commune, or volost, in which all inhabitants, without distinction of classes, would share. This commune alone can constitute the territorial unit for elections to the district and provincial assemblies. As long as on the lower step of the ladder [volost level] we have a class [i.e., a soslovie-based] self-government only, that of the peasants, our landed squires will always be put to the necessity of assembling separately, in order to nominate their representatives to the district and provincial councils.
Although public opinion, so far as it is expressed by the press and the petitions addressed by our provincial representative bodies, pronounces itself more and more in favor of such a double reform, the government, beginning with the reign of Alexander III., tends to return to former class divisions [formal designations according to soslovie]. Thus, according to the law of 1890, the nobles, hereditary or personal, form a separate assembly and nominate their own delegates. The same is to be said of the city electors. As to the peasants, they choose their deputies at the meetings of the volost. According to the new law, which on more than one point has contradicted the measures taken by that of 1864, the elective franchise has been granted to noblemen possessing a certain amount of land which may differ as to extent in different regions, and in proportion to the density of their population, but which must be valued at not less than fifteen thousand rubles. The real estate may consist of land or of an industrial establishment estimated to be worth no less than fifteen thousand rubles. Those landed proprietors who have only a tenth part of the real property required
by law, possess only the right of nominating a number of electors ten times inferior to their own [i.e., proportional representation one-tenth that of the propertied noblemen]. The list of the candidates nominated by the peasants, in a number twice superior to that of the delegates, is presented to the [provincial] Governor, who, out of two candidates chosen by the same volost, nominates one [i.e., the Governor pares the peasant list to one-half and selects these to be representatives in volost zemstvo assemblies].
As to the citizens, those owning land or industrial establishments in the country to the extent and value required by the law constitute a separate elective assembly, different from that of the nobles, and also from that of the peasants. Contrary to the law of 1864, however, each assembly can nominate delegates only from among members of its order [soslovie]. Mention should be made of two other facts which might attract attention for quite unlike reasons. The first is, that the clergy is permitted, on the gratuitous supposition that it has no economical interest, no nominees in the district assemblies. The second is, that women who possess land or industrial establishments to the amount required by law are admitted to exercise the franchise through the agency of a male relation. And this same interference of a third person is required in case some one enjoying the franchise has not attained his twenty-fifth year. The elective assemblies cannot last more than two days. The name of each of the members present is to be balloted. The nominations, however, are made for a period of three years.
Let us pass now to the constitution, both of the district and provincial assemblies. Besides the delegates, already named, the district assembly includes representatives of "two ministries, that of the domains and that of the appanages, at least in case both kinds of estates are known to exist in the district. The Episcopal See may, if it thinks fit, have its own nominee in the ranks of the assembly. The mayor of the principal district town is empowered to consider himself a member and to enjoy a vote at the
deliberations. The same may be said of the members of the executive commission, nominated, as we shall see hereafter, by the district assembly, and having its own president.
As to the provincial council, it is composed of persons chosen by the district assemblies from the number of delegates taking part in their meetings. Then, too, all the district marshals of the nobility, the directors of the boards of domains and appanages, a nominee of the Episcopal See, and the members of the executive commission have a share in this meeting. At the time when the whole system of local self-government was created, the question as to who should preside at the district and provincial meetings was warmly debated in the State Council. The most advanced opinion was that to the assemblies themselves should be given the right of electing their presidents. This opinion, however, found no hearing among the members of the majority. Grand princes and high officials thought it dangerous for the principle of autocracy, and declared themselves in favor of a direct nomination. The plan that prevailed was to intrust these difficult and responsible posts to the marshals of the nobility, district and provincial. In this way the nobility, which had already the right of nominating a third part of the delegates, saw its position strengthened, thanks to the casting vote of the president. The members of both assemblies, district and provincial, receive no remuneration, and nevertheless are obliged to attend the meetings under penalty of paying a fine of thirty-eight dollars—a fine to be imposed each time by the decision of two-thirds of the members present. One can see from what has been said that the law favors the richer class, and more especially the nobility, in regard to the composition of assemblies. No wonder, therefore, that statistics show the presence among the nominees of four-fifths of the higher order [noble soslovie]. The data quoted belong to the
years 1885 and 1886, and there are none more recent. The district and provincial assemblies meet regularly once a year, but besides that, extraordinary sessions may be convoked by the home secretary or Interior Minister, to discuss certain definite questions. The meetings last twenty days if provincial, and only half that time if district. The Governor of the province opens and closes the provincial sittings, but in the district ones, the place of the Governor is taken by the local marshal of the nobility. The quorum is regularly composed of half of all the members. The decisions are taken by a mere majority of votes, and the president has a casting vote.
The law of 1864 created a sort of executive commission, both in the district and in the province. This commission is very like the directoire exécutif des départements, brought into existence by the revolutionary laws of France, beginning with that of 1791. The third republic, after an interruption of three-quarters of a century, revived the institution under another name, and it has been said that, among other models, the modern French legislator had also in view the provincial and district boards of Russia. These boards, known each under the name of zemskaia uprava, are chosen at the district and provincial meetings, and unlike the delegates to these meetings, receive a regular pay. The persons to be nominated must possess elective franchise. The Governor of the province confirms or rejects the nomination, both of the president and of the other members of the uprava.
Now that we have seen the organization of the district and provincial self-government, let us ask what purpose it serves. It must be remembered that Anglo-American ideas as to the real nature of elective officers and bodies in the management of state affairs have penetrated the public opinion of the European continent slowly and imperfectly. The idea of intrusting the people's nominees with the
accomplishment of official duties, such as police and judicial functions—an idea that plainly appears in the election of coroners, constables, justices of peace, and police magistrates in America and in England—remained more or less foreign to the juridical minds of those who, in France as well as in Germany, tried to oppose to the system of administrative centralization that of local self-government. Their theory was that only the care of economical interests proper to the commune, to the district, and the province, was to be confided to elective councils and nominees of the people.
In this way a sort of dualism has been introduced into the machinery of local administration. To give an instance of what is meant it will suffice to recall the fact that in France, under the different regimes of the nineteenth century, the province and the district were ruled at the same time by two different kinds of officials and bodies: public ones, the prefect and the council of prefecture, and elective, the conseil général du département and its executive commission. The first had to perform the various functions of public authority, the second to occupy themselves with the economical interests of the département [i.e., one governmental and the other purely economic-administrative]. And in the district we find the same elements in the person of the ministerial nominee—the sous-préfet and the elective conseil d'arrondissement. Although the Russian word used to express the idea of self-government is the strict translation of the English term, the persons who first introduced it into the empire apparently identified its ends with those attributed to it on the continent, and more especially in France; therefore they limited the functions of the district and provincial assemblies and their commissions to the care of economical interests. It is only lately that the real nature of Anglo-American self-government has been disclosed to the eyes of continental publicists, by the classical work of Gneist [ID]. His ideas, penetrating into Russia, have
served to criticize the existing system of its provincial institutions. So far, however, this new tendency has been unable to alter the mind of the legislator. For, instead of enlarging the sphere of functions entrusted to our local assemblies, instead of calling them to the performance of public offices, it has only decreased their autonomy and strengthened the official control to which these assemblies are subject. This is not likely to astonish any one who, like the author, finds a difficulty in conciliating autocracy with self-government. It is the author's opinion, however, that the thirty years' experience of the local representative institutions may serve to confirm the truth that provincial self-government is not likely to progress much unless it be crowned by the creation of a central self-governing body, and that autocratic bureaucracy will long endure the paralyzing influence of local representation, wishing to maintain its independence, and to pursue other ends than those of the central government.
To illustrate what is meant, let us look at that much discussed question of the limits to be put to the right of local taxation exercised by the provincial and district assemblies. As the greater part of the dues imposed by them are spent in the quartering of the army, or in some other expenses incurred in the service of the state, very little is left for the making of new roads or the keeping up of those already existing, for the opening of new schools or new hospitals, and the like. To obtain the necessary means for the development of all these institutions, the provincial and district councils have always insisted, and do insist, on their right to increase local taxation, to levy it, not only on the income derived from landed property, but also on capital, industry, and trade. The government, having the right to prevent the execution of decisions taken by the elective assemblies, either through the agency of the Governor of the province, or of that of the home secre-
tary [Interior Minister], has always profited by it to oppose any plan of increasing the expenditure of self-governing bodies. Now, however, the government wants to take another step in the same direction by limiting the right of self-imposition to a certain percentage of the amount of general taxes paid by the province. The Finance Minister has already met with difficulties in the collecting of imposts, and so does his best to attain this end. To render it possible, he would like to discharge the assemblies from the expenses they incur in opening public schools. But this cannot be achieved unless the difficult task of enlightening the peasantry is given over to the clergy. No wonder that Mr. Witte is the direct supporter of Mr. Pobedonostsev, the procurator of the Holy Synod, who wishes to endow Russia with clerical schools, the harm of which Russians experienced in the days of serfdom. They would be the more hurtful in Russia, because the parish priests, too busy to become schoolmasters themselves, would probably intrust the whole work of teaching to the inexperienced zeal of some subordinate acolyte.
But to return to the functions of the local assemblies. These assemblies possess the right of making by-laws—a right which, as the reader is well aware, has been always enjoyed by self-governing bodies, both in England and in America. In the year 1864, when the basis of the now-existing system was first laid, the right of issuing administrative orders, although insisted upon by some members of the committee which elaborated the law, was rejected by the Interior Minister, under the pretense that neither theory nor practice gives any distinct rules with regard to this regulating power. It is only in later years, therefore, that the right of making by-laws has been granted to the Russian self-governing bodies, and first of all to municipal assemblies. In the year 1873 the provincial assemblies were endowed with the right of taking
measures to prevent fires. From this time their right of making by-laws has been extended; they can, nowadays, make regulations concerning public health, the nourishment of the people, the preserving of order at markets and fairs, the keeping up of roads, harbors, and so forth. All these rules may be adopted, either by the executive commission or by the general assembly; but they can have no force of law unless confirmed by the Governor of the province. The Governor gives his approbation after taking the advice of a new board, created by the law of 1890, and composed chiefly of government officials. Later we shall consider the way in which it is composed. The approval of the Governor is also required, although in another form, in case of any economic measure adopted by the provincial or district assemblies. The less important measures could not be considered as having any force before the end of fifteen days from the moment of their issue. During this time the Governor was empowered to revoke them.
The period beginning with the first attempts against the life of the Tsar Alexander II. cannot be considered as favorable to the further development of Russian local liberties. The government began to look more and more suspiciously on any endeavor of the elective bodies to increase their activity or to combine their efforts. It will suffice to mention the number of rejected petitions issuing from the elective provincial assemblies to form an idea in the reader's mind of the distrust with which these assemblies were regarded in high spheres. From 1865 to 1884, 2,623 documents of this description were presented to the government. Of these, 1,354, or 52 per cent, were rejected or left without reply, and as time passed, the number of negative answers, instead of diminishing, was constantly on an increase, at least until the year 1880. The government systematically opposed itself to the diminution
of the amount of taxation required for the enjoyment of the franchise, to the permission to be granted to the representatives of several provincial assemblies to work out at a meeting general measures against epidemics, or in order to combine their endeavors in questions of economical policy. The demands of the assemblies for greater liberty in publishing their debates had the same negative result. Nor were these bodies allowed to introduce the principle of general obligatory instruction, on which more than one provincial assembly had insisted in the years 1866 to 1872. From 1873 the government preferred to give no answer to any petition of this sort, a fact which did not prevent the increase of petitions in the years preceding the death of the Emperor Alexander II. The demand, also, to allow the schoolmasters of different provinces to unite in a congress in order to work out some general schemes of teaching, met with the same refusal, this time under the pretense that, on account of the low level of instruction among these schoolmasters, their meeting could have only bad results, both pedagogic and political. More successful, however, were the numerous demands for the abolishing of the impost on salt. Whilst taking a measure in this direction, the government, in the last years of Alexander II., was no doubt influenced by the expression of such desires.
Any impartial observer of the activity of the local assemblies will certainly recognize that nothing in their behavior can authorize the suspicion that they desired to disobey the prohibition against addressing political demands to the government. It would be ridiculous to speak of their unconciliating and even revolutionary attitude. Nevertheless, the government of Alexander III., treated them as if they were more or less directly implicated in a supposed conspiracy against the existing political order. According to the law of 1864, the Governor of the province and the Interior Minister were authorized, as we have seen,
to oppose the execution of any measure voted by the assembly during a certain period, not exceeding seven days for the Governor, and an interval of two sessions for the minister. In making their veto, both officials were obliged to give their reasons. An appeal could, however, be made by the assembly to the Administrative Department of the Senate, considered to be the proper judge of such differences. These measures of control seemed to be insufficient to the reactionary party, which got the upper hand in the reign of Alexander III. It thought of no less a measure than the submission to a newly created body of government officials, and in the last instance, to the Interior Minister, of the settlement of all disputes arising between the Governor of a province and its elective assembly. This measure meant nothing less than the suppression of all judicial guarantees and the reduction of the self-governing bodies to the rank of subordinate agents.
Fortunately, however, the State Council, in which a few statesmen of the time of Alexander II. were still present, did not wish to go so far. The judicial control of the Senate was maintained in all those cases in which the decision of the Governor was held by the assembly to be illegal. As to the resl, the final settlement of the question at issue was intrusted, not to a single minister—the home secretary [Interior Minister]—but to the Committee of Ministers. At the same time, however, a special commission was created, composed of the vice-Governor and two other government officials, who were to sit side by side with the provincial marshal of the nobility and two members belonging to the elective provincial bodies. This new institution was called to advise the Governor whenever he did not wish to use, on his own responsibility, his power of veto. In case the Governor should not accept the decision of the majority of the above-mentioned persons, he could apply to the Interior Minister, who, after consulting other ministers, would defi-
nitely settle the question. Only when the opposition of the Governor is founded on the supposed illegality of the measure taken by the assembly, however, is the Senate authorized to say the last word.
One can easily see from what has been said that the activity of Russian local self-governing bodies has been reduced to a great extent. And there can be little wonder if, in our days, we hear but little enthusiasm in the acceptance by the most enlightened party of the local gentry of the unpaid, modest service in the ranks of district or provincial delegates. The frequent complaints as to the absenteeism of the wealthier class of Russian landed squires are certainly well founded, but we cannot wonder at it when we think that not in communal nor in district nor provincial affairs is this class of people permitted to exercise any real influence. We have already seen that the self-government of the village and of the volost is limited only to one class of people [soslovie]—the peasantry—and we have just shown that in district and provincial administration the part of elective bodies is becoming more and more a secondary one. Under the reign of Alexander II., landed squires were pleased to perform the duties of justices of the peace, but this institution from the time of Alexander's immediate successor has been maintained only in cities. It is true that, instead of these justices, a new kind of magistrate has been created—the so-called zemskii nachalnik [land captain] —combining executive and judicial duties; this gentleman, as a rule a member of the nobility, enjoys discretionary power within the limits of a volost. He is authorized not only to attend, but also to confirm or to veto the decisions of its general assembly, and likewise to inflict corporal punishment on peasants who fail in making regular payments of their state dues. That the greater number of the local squires show no desire to fill such an office, although it is well paid and considered to
open to those who have accepted it a brilliant career in the ranks of the home service, is, therefore, not surprising.
Notwithstanding all the causes that prevent a happy development of Russian local self-government, the service already rendered by it toward the bettering of social conditions is not to be despised. With very limited means the elective bodies have done much in creating and enlarging the system of public schools, and if in certain provinces, such as Moscow, three-quarters or even four-fifths of the young generation are no longer illiterate, it is to the zemstvo (the name by which these self-governing bodies are known) that the service is owed. The same institutions have also rendered a real service to the central government by a careful study of local statistics. One may say that in this respect Russia is not behind any other European power, although the necessity of creating and maintaining a body of persons sufficiently prepared for such a work has required a great many sacrifices. If the zemstvos have not rendered the same services, so far as the development of the system of highways or the creation of village hospitals is concerned, the reason is to be found in the immensity of the area covered by the provinces and the exiguity of their budget. Another service rendered by the elective bodies was the creation by them of the system of obligatory insurance for damages caused by fire, a matter of great importance in a country where the houses of the peasants are built of wood and thatched with straw. What has been said on the subject of local self-government may be closed with the remark that it well deserves the confidence of the people, and may, in future days, under a more liberal policy, become an important factor in the material and moral improvement of Russia.
Public opinion has been, during these last years, so much excited by the different rumors circulating as to the desire of the government to limit the sphere of action of
the provincial and district councils, that the law of the I2th of June, 1900, which gave an incomplete consistency to these reports, has not provoked all the discontent it was likely to produce. The State Council, whilst accepting the demands of the Finance Minister as to the putting of legal restrictions to the right of self-imposition accorded to our local assemblies, at the same time protested strongly against any idea of annihilating them. The chief prescription of the new law is, that provincial and district councils are deprived of the right of taxing real property anew more than three per cent a year. At the same time these assemblies have been deprived of the right of taking measures in order to insure the nourishment of the people in time of famine. The last regulation has a temporary character, a new law having to provide for the whole of this branch of interior administration. Side by side with these restrictions, the law of the I2th of June contains, in most solemn declaration, the statement that the State Council has not the slightest desire to create a greater centralization in the management of the economical interests of Russian provinces and districts. Let us take this for granted, and express the belief that by authorizing the local assemblies to tax movable goods and capital, according to their long-expressed desire, the government will lessen in the future the harm which the new law has done to the annual budget of the Russian zemstvos, and therefore indirectly to their financial ability to improve the different branches of administration.
In concluding the short sketch of the Russian local self-government which is given in these pages, the author wishes to call attention to the way in which the economical interests of Russian cities and boroughs are managed by elective deliberating assemblies and boards. The relative autonomy of the Russian municipalities has had not more than thirty years' existence. Although, as has been seen.
Catherine II. granted a special charter to the Russian cities and boroughs, as early as 1785, an act by which two sorts of councils were created, the general duma and the six voters' duma, a kind of executive commission, the fear of a French revolution, and more especially of terrible deeds similar to those which characterized the Parisian commune of 1793, induced Paul I. to put an end to the existence of the newly created municipalities. Although re-established by Alexander I., they were soon placed under such a strict supervision of the governors of provinces and of the different boards, beginning with the provincial council and the board of domains, and ending with the board of buildings, that in reality the general municipal council [gorodskaia duma] almost ceased its meetings. The administrative work connected with the management of the economical interests of the city was regularly performed by the executive commission only—the so-called six voters' duma.
The need of greater independence in matters of municipal economy was felt most intensely by the larger cities, and above all, by the capital. Therefore, as early as 1846, a new law was enacted, according to which all classes of inhabitants possessing landed property or paying taxes to the state were equally empowered to elect delegates to the general duma. In this way not only tax-payers, such as merchants and artisans, but privileged persons owning land in the city, such as noblemen, public officials, and members of the clergy, were empowered to take part in municipal self-government. In order to make sure of the nobles' attendance in the electoral assemblies, the new law recognized their right to hold a special meeting at which their delegates could be nominated. The general duma of the capital included six hundred members; its executive commission, composed of its own nominees, received the name of the disposing council, or duma. The reform was strictly limited to Petersburg, but nevertheless it deserves our
attention, because its principles, as well as the criticisms which it incurred, have been of great use in the elaborating of the general system of municipal self-government still in force.
This system was created by the law of 1870. Like other reforms which characterized the reign of Alexander II,, the municipal law of 1870 was the work of a special commission, composed of statesmen and lawyers, and presided over by a very able man, Schumacher, the director of the Department of Public Economy in the home ministry [Interior Ministry]. The circles most directly interested in the passing of the new law were not summoned to send delegates, as had been the case at the passing of the law emancipating the serfs; but the existing city boards were authorized to forward their criticisms of the new project. It is to be regretted by Russians that due attention has not always been paid to these criticisms. A point of the greatest importance was to know which classes should be entitled to carry on the self-government of the city. Catherine II., imbued as she was with the ideas of a so-called enlightened philosophy, declared herself against the disqualifying of persons who, not answering the requirements of the franchise, could nevertheless, because of their accomplishments, be of great use in the management of city affairs. We find, therefore, in the charter of 1785, a clause in favor of the liberal professions: persons holding university degrees, architects, painters, sculptors, and musical composers were as such entitled to a vote. In later years, when the municipal statute for Petersburg had been worked out by the future author of the general scheme of the law of emancipation, Nikolai Miliutin, artists and graduates were put aside, for the sensible reason, as it appears, that the management of economical interests is better understood by tax-payers and freeholders.
But a more important question arose before the eyes of
the legislators in 1870. It was to know whether householders, as well as tenants, were to enjoy the franchise. For in small towns, which sometimes have a population less than that of a neighboring village, the possession of some small and distant house, the rent of which is not one hundred rubles a year, gives the right of voting, whilst in the same town the payment of a tenant, although exceeding five times that sum, does not entitle him to a like advantage. More than one municipal administration was conscious of the gross injustice and the great harm which such a state of things would necessarily work in the Russian cities and boroughs. Their criticisms of the new law were directed to this reform: that all persons, whatever might be their capacity, should enjoy the privilege of the franchise. Many legislators would have liked even to see graduates liberated from any restrictions. And some insisted on the necessity of granting to the municipal bodies themselves the right to confer the franchise on whom they pleased; but the main question of the admission of tenants and rent-payers was left in oblivion, not, however, without a hidden thought of retaining the chief authority in city affairs in the hands of the commercial class. A person whose activity during long years had been employed in the service of the municipality of Moscow told the author that his endeavors to introduce at a later period a city taxation on tenancies, in order to recognize the right of voting for all those who had to pay it, met with a refusal on the part of the majority of the Moscow city council [duma]. No wonder, therefore, that the idea of enlarging the conditions of franchise by granting it to householders came, not so much from municipal administrations, as from certain officers of the home ministry [Interior Ministry] who had to debate the scheme of the new law. The well-known Russian statistical authority, Mr. P. Semenov, vainly insisted at great length on the advantages of granting to house tenants the franchise
enjoyed by tax-payers and land proprietors in the city; and he showed clearly that in this way the educated class of the population would share in municipal self-government. But his endeavors had no effect; and the law of 1870 gave the franchise to proprietors and tax-payers alone. In each city this class was to constitute three different assemblies: first, those who had'to pay the largest amount of taxes, and last, those who had to pay the least. The executive commission of the city council [gorodskaia duma] fixed the limits for each class. These three assemblies were to nominate an equal number of deputies. This system, however, being found obnoxious, a new law, that of 1892, introduced territorial divisions, and created in each of them a separate electoral assembly. A strange clause of the new law, which is said to be not always applied, insists on the nomination by each assembly of persons who live only within the limits of the territorial division. Professor Korkounov, whilst criticising such a rule, judiciously observes that the territorial divisions of the same city do not constitute, for election purposes, separate spheres, each with distinct interests. There is nothing to prevent a man's being nominated in such or such a division merely because he pays his taxes in the neighboring one. According to the law of 1895, the franchise is granted no longer to tax-payers, but only to those who possess real property, or a life interest in real property. The amount of property a man must have to be able to vote in either of the two capitals must not be inferior to three thousand rubles, on which a city tax is regularly levied. In boroughs with a population of more than one hundred thousand persons the amount of property required is only fifteen hundred rubles, also taxed; and in the very small boroughs the voter's property must not be less than three hundred rubles. The franchise is granted, also, to persons possessing a mercantile or industrial establishment, and obliged, therefore, to pay
annually to the crown an amount of money sufficient to entitle one to be considered a merchant of the first class, or as we say, abusing a well-known mediaeval term, "merchants of the first guild." Such, at least, is the rule so far as the two capitals are concerned; as to the rest, the merchants of the second class, or guild, are also admitted to enjoy a vote. Certain persons, namely those who have not paid city taxes for longer than six months, and those employed in public houses to sell spirits, are excluded from the franchise.
The number of delegates composing the municipal council [gorodskaia duma] depends on the importance of the city concerned. In Petersburg and Moscow the number is one hundred and sixty; in the smallest boroughs, not less than twenty. Each city council [gorodskaia duma] has its executive committee, called uprava. According to the law, the number of members in this committee depends on the number in the municipal council. As a rule, there are not more than three, but in cities having a population not less than one hundred thousand, there are four and five; in both capitals the uprava counts six members, besides the president. A question of great importance was to know who should be president of the executive commission—the same person who presides at the meetings of the municipal council, or some one else. It would seem more rational to separate the two presidencies, since the executive commission is answerable to the municipal council and its president, and since no real responsibility can exist where any person appears, at one and the same time, both as the judge and as the one judged. But the legislator has thought it - advisable to unite the two functions in one person, that of the mayor or golova. Those who declared themselves in favor of such a scheme expressed the opinion that an officer directly placed at the head of the executive commission is likely to acquire a degree of independence with regard to the cen-
tral government which is not to be expected on the part of an officer who, like the mayor, represents both the interests of the city and of the government. This may be so, but on the other hand, there is no doubt that the mayor becomes, in consequence of the union of two presidencies in his person, all-powerful and irresponsible. Another question of no less importance is the manner of the mayor's appointment. If people so advanced in the way of political liberty as the French do not dare to place at the head of the municipal council of the capital an elective officer, no wonder that the law of 1892 has excepted both capitals from the general right enjoyed by Russian cities as to the election of the mayor by the municipal council. In both Petersburg and Moscow, the council is called to present two candidates, and from these two the government chooses one to occupy the post.
The members of the uprava do not leave their offices at the same time; a newly elected municipal council proceeds to the nomination of only half the members, the others retaining office until the election of new city delegates. The reason alleged for such a practice is, that it gives more consistency to the policy pursued by the city administration. Like the district and provincial councils [zemstvos], the municipal one [gorodskaia duma] is placed under the supervision of the Governor. The State Council thought it necessary to limit the right of interference on the part of the Governor by submitting the disputed question to the decision of a mixed commission of government officers and nominees of the city and province, constituting a special board very like that which decides the questions at issue on which the Governor disagrees with the zemstvo.
The different functions performed by the municipal self-governing bodies will not be here treated. They are more or less like those exercised by similar bodies in other states of Europe. But a point which must be insisted
on is the great extension given to the power of the Governor of the province to oppose the execution of any measure adopted by the duma or uprava, not only in case of its illegality, but also in case he finds them not in conformity with the general welfare. Some of our chief authorities in matters of public law, and among them Professor Korkunov, express the desire that the questions at issue on which no compromise can be attained between the self-governing bodies of the city and the local agent of the government, that is, the Governor, should be settled, not by the Interior Minister alone, but by the Committee of Ministers.
It would seem that the idea expressed by one of the members of the municipal council of Petersburg, Likhachev, deserves more sympathy; he was of opinion that questions as to the illegality of such and such measures taken by the duma or uprava are not of those that can be settled by administrative authority. The Senate being the only body to give a decision as to the legality or illegality of any acts, it was for this body to become the chief arbitrator.
The thirty years' existence of municipal self-government is not a sufficiently long period to authorize any one to give a definite judgment as to its utility. The chief criticism directed against it [gorodskaia duma] is that it has placed the cities in the power of the richer class of the so-called plutocracy. Such a result was easily to be expected on account of the character of the law concerning the franchise. As householders and landed proprietors only are admitted to have a vote, and the tenants excluded, no wonder that the big merchants have taken the upper hand in the management of city affairs. The Russian press very often insists on the necessity of introducing into the city councils persons of superior education and of liberal profession. They are generally spoken of in Russia as forming by themselves a separate class, ridiculously denominated the "class of intel-
ligence" [intelligentsia]. Now if we do not want to stick to words and try to define what really underlies the use of them, we shall meet with this alternative: putting the administration of the city into the hands of barristers, journalists, and men of no fixed profession, although of better education, or into those of practical men accustomed to business and having in their own charge the management of very important concerns. One is not quite sure that this last class of persons is not more fitted to administer economically the material interests of a city; one cannot say that on the whole they are deprived of any superior education. Our universities are crowded with young men belonging to the upper strata of the third estate [commoners]. Meddling with city government has, for the families composing the third estate, the great advantage of attaching them to the well-being of the cities where they live. It is not by pure chance that during these last thirty years large and splendid hospitals, museums, musical conservatories, picture galleries, night asylums, establishments intended to procure for students the possibility of living cheaply in common, and to a smaller extent, public libraries and technical schools, have been founded with the capital granted by rich merchants. This fact by itself proves that the commercial and industrial class [merchant soslovie] begin to take interest in the well-being of municipalities and are proud to contribute to it by their gifts.
Of course one would have liked to see the workingmen take a due share in the management of local affairs, but every one is aware of the fact that the elective restrictions are, at least in Europe, nowhere so tenacious as in the sphere of local self-government. Political franchise as to general elections is more easily granted than the right of voting for a county or municipal council. All demands of this sort meet with systematic refusal under the old and fallacious pretext that proprietors alone are interested in the well-being of the province, district, or town. But if
such is the case, if we cannot introduce at once, and nowhere less than in Russia, the working class into the citadel of local interests, is this a sufficient reason for throwing its doors open to the invasion of barristers and journalists? Are they really to be considered as the faithful interpreters of the wants of the lower classes?
Such as it is, the municipal self-government of Russia, notwithstanding a small but constantly increasing budget, has rendered considerable service by the establishment of grammar schools, and this to such an extent that at least in the two capitals the question of obligatory education could be seriously brought to the front. It is the want of means and the enormous expense required, on account of the climate, to maintain and restore the city streets, that prevents, not so much the capitals as smaller municipalities, from paying due attention to the lighting, cleansing, and adorning of their property. It is useless to blame them for the expenses they have incurred for the building of spacious and elegant town-halls. It was to a certain extent a question of pride to have side by side with the palaces where the nobility meets regularly to administer its class interests no less splendid buildings for the management of city affairs. No bourgeoisie has ever escaped from such a temptation, and the magnificent hotels de ville scattered all over France, Germany, and Belgium are not likely to prove the contrary.
THE REFORMS OF ALEXANDER II. —
PUBLIC LIBERTIES OF A RUSSIAN SUBJECT.
The reform of the whole judicial organization of Russia is generally spoken of as the third of the great measures taken in the reign of Alexander II. Of course it deserves less attention on the part of a foreign audience, on account of its being less original than the enfranchisement of millions of peasants retaining their land and their communal system of ownership. No doubt in its general lines the reform of 1864 has followed foreign models, and more especially those of England and France. So it is in England that Russian legislators have found the system of justices of the peace deciding petty suits, personally in first instance, and collectively in matters of appeal; it is to England as well that we must look whilst inquiring into the origin of trial by jury, which has been introduced into Russian criminal courts by the law of 1864. On the other hand, the principle of a more or less strict separation of the judicial from the executive power, the introduction of a court of cassation—unique for the whole empire—and the limitation of the right of appeal to special courts seem to be in strict conformity with the practice already established in France in the time of the great revolution, years before the publication of the celebrated codes of Napoleon I. The system of controlling the first examination of the accused, made before a magistrate specially entrusted with the charge, by a cross-examination before the judges and the jury; and the part which the public accuser and the advocate or barrister take in this cross-examination, as
well as in the pronouncing of contradictory speeches in accusation and defense of the prisoner at the bar; the way in which, to conclude the debates, the president of the court session addresses the jury—all these and many other features seem to be directly copied from the existing practice in France.
But unless we limit our analysis to external features, we recognize that it is not so much the institutions and judicial usages of any country in particular as the general principles which guide the matter among all the civilized people of Europe that have been taken into consideration by the lawyers intrusted with the difficult task of remodeling the system of Russian courts, as well as Russian judicial procedure. To illustrate: All certainly are aware of the fact that, in imitating England and its trial by jury, the continental states of Europe, beginning with France, refused to introduce this institution as far as civil suits were concerned; the reason was the greater technicality of questions dealing with the law of real or personal property and the law of contract. In like manner was rejected the institution of the grand jury—the jury of indictment—and the mode of asking the opinion of the twelve persons called to give the verdict, both as to matters of fact and as to matters of law. In this way were created, on the continent, a legal theory and a judicial practice having in English institutions but their first roots and breaking with them, not only in details, but also in general principles. It was this scheme, as far as it had been expressed, mostly by German authorities, and more especially by Mittermaier, that the authors of the law of 1864 followed in determining the character of the relations between judge and jury.
Let us take another instance, that of the organization of the corporations of barristers; they, of course, have been modeled on institutions of a like kind already existing in France, but with differences not immaterial and not always
to Russian advantage. Thus Russia has done away with the institution of solicitors, or avoués, and so put face to face the plaintiff and the counsel. It is a question whether the sparing of the expense necessary to remunerate this interference of a third person has been to the advantage of the pleader. The author is inclined to think that it renders him defenseless as to his counsel, and permits the latter to extort from him the amount of money he pleases. Another instance—and this time quite in favor of the Russian system: public opinion did not allow procurators to ape the attitude which the French accuser is, unfortunately, too disposed to assume toward the prisoner at the bar. Instead of supporting the procurator, as is generally the case in France, the presiding judge in Russia has to express a personal opinion and to show to the jury the facts that support the accusation as well as those which stand in favor of the accused. Some of the best judges have understood their duties in this matter in such a scrupulous way as to explain to the jury the state of mind of a person who, like Vera Zasonlitch [Zasulich], was revenging on an official abusing his discretionary power the offense committed against an individual entirely unknown to her.
It may be seen from the foregoing that Russian judicial system and procedure are not a slavish imitation of the examples set by England and France, but rather a kind of adaptation to Russian conditions of those general principles that have been slowly developed both by practice and theory among the most enlightened people of Europe. It is not quite in this light that the law of 1864 is looked at by the reactionary party. They generally speak of it as the most unsuccessful of all the reforms of the reign of Alexander II., and that on account of its having made a tabula rasa of the whole pre-existing system. Now the fact is, that the leaders of the reform were very far from desiring such an end; if they came to it, if they upset all the judicial system
in use, it was on account of the impossibility of keeping any part of it in existence, because it was in flagrant opposition to the new model of a public and contradictory procedure. It would be a great mistake to consider the abolished system as having been thoroughly genuine; it, as well as the new one, came from Europe, where the origin of the inquisitorial procedure, which formed its predominating feature, had been in use during centuries. But whilst abolishing the principle according to which judicial truth could be established only by formal proofs, the reformers necessarily came to the conclusion that they could not do without the introduction into Russia of the trial by jury—the only trial that enables one to regard the verdict as the expression of interior persuasion, dictated by conscience, and not by formal evidence.
One of those who took the greatest part in the introduction of the jury, Rovinskii, very well explains the way in which, notwithstanding all the difficulty of intrusting to newly liberated serfs such ample authority as that of judging sometimes their former masters, the members of the committee which worked out the new law, pronounced themselves in favor of the trial by jury. In a special memorial Rovinskii very cleverly criticizes the different objections which might be made to such a reform—the supposed indulgence with which the Russian people is thought to look on a criminal, the want of any distinct notion of right, duty, and law, which is attributed to the peasants, and the small number of those in their ranks who possess the necessary instruction. He shows that these notions are partly contradicted by facts, such, for instance, as the immediate justice which the peasants take on an arrested thief, whom, for this reason, the authorities are sometimes obliged to protect. He insists, likewise, on this truth: that illiteracy is not always a proof of a total want of good judgment, and that institutions contribute to
form the legal opinions of a people and to implant in them the notions of right and wrong.
One cannot say that the accusations generally brought forward against the verdicts of the peasants are likely to contradict the expectations of those to whom we owe the introduction of the trial by jury. Among these accusations, the most important seems to be the one that the peasants acquit persons whose crime has been evidently established by facts. But cases of this kind have occurred in England and on the continent, every time when the punishment was considered to be exaggerated, and the jury found no other means to protest against its severity and even cruelty. This observation was made more than eighty years ago by Benjamin Constant, whilst speaking of French juries, and it may be just as well applied to those of Russia. How could it be otherwise in a country where the fact of inducing some one to change the Orthodox creed for some other is considered to be a crime punishable by a condemnation to years of exile in Siberia? Or to give another instance, where the mere attempt to start a strike is considered as a punishable offense?
It would be very interesting in the study of Russian psychology to make a sort of statistical table showing the way in which different crimes and misdemeanors have been dealt with by juries. We unfortunately possess no direct information of this kind, and it is more in an empirical way that the question may be treated by showing, for instance, the great severity which characterizes both popular justice and the verdicts of jurymen every time they have to deal with cases of robbery the object of which is a horse, an ox, or anything of importance in the economy of village life. On the other hand, the peasant is regularly indulgent in cases of offenses committed under the influence of passion, such as killing an unfaithful wife, and more especially beating her even to death. Of course offenses
occasioned by abusive words or writings have not much consequence in his eyes, unless they are directed against religion and sacred objects, such as icons, or holy images, crosses, and so forth.
No doubt now that primary education is becoming more or less general, Russian ways of judging may be altered to a great extent. Some change has already manifested itself in this way: that anecdotes which recently were circulating about peasant jurymen considering the speech of a barrister in favor of an evident culprit as a gross abuse, or throwing themselves out of the window in order to avoid the necessity of returning a verdict, have become obsolete. One hopes that it will be also more and more the case as far as popular prejudices in favor of charms are concerned. Some twenty years ago we heard of the acquittal of a murderer on account of his victim's being generally considered a witch; the case happened in 1879, in the city of Tichvin.
The way in which the jurymen are nominated in Russia prevents the possibility of any direct influence of party feelings or of local interest. It is the assembly of the zemstvo, or rather special commissions appointed by them, that draw up the general lists of jurymen. Not every person is admitted to become a member of the jury; to enjoy this privilege a man must be a land proprietor, possessing not less than one hundred desiatiny (two hundred acres [closer to 270 acres]), or real property of the value of five thousand rubles. Such are the requirements of the law, at least in the most populated provinces of Russia; as to the rest, there are districts where the possession of a property of the value of five hundred rubles is considered sufficient. As to movables, the enjoyment of a revenue of five hundred rubles, or two hundred and fifty dollars, is required in both capitals, instead of any real property, and in other parts of the empire, of only two hundred rubles. No wonder that our jurymen show, as has been said, a great severity
in judging all offenses against property. The requirements of the law have been even increased during the reign of Alexander III., and the growing class of proletarians has been in this way more and more deprived of any participation in the performance of this civil duty. The government has kept at the same time in its own hands the power of eliminating from the lists any class of people it considers not trustworthy. Whilst in the time of Alexander II., and according to the law of 1864, this delicate work had been confided to committees nominated by the zemstvos, it is now performed by the procurator at the district court, the direct agent of the Interior Minister. This change was introduced in 1884 and still remains in practice.
Soon after the creation of the jury system, the government became anxious to limit the sphere of the jury's action. From its beginning the jury was not authorized to deal with cases of political offense, such as high treason, or murder committed on the person of the tsar. But later on, when terroristic deeds were perpetrated on high officials, and the culprits brought to the bar took advantage of their arraignment to express their political and social theories, the government tried for a while to escape the necessity of excluding such cases from the competence of the jury, by the indirect means of prohibiting the publication in newspapers of all the proceedings, and limiting to the utmost the number of persons admitted to the audience; at last, after the great sensation caused by the acquittal of Vera Zasonlitch [Zasulich], all trials in which the victim was a state officer and the offense had the appearance of a political act, were declared to be out of the competence of the ordinary jury, and were tried either by military courts or by the courts of appeal, attended on the occasion by some class [soslovie] representatives, such as the mayor, the marshal of the nobility, and so forth.
Besides these exceptions to the general rule, according to which a Russian subject is considered to be accountable, like an English one, only to his peers, the system of administrative exile, which in the last period of the reign of Alexander II., and during that of Alexander III., had already taken the proportions it still keeps, renders the above-mentioned formula an empty one. As long as — at any hour of the day or night — a man's house may be invaded by a band of armed political spies, called gendarmes, and authorized, not only to search among his papers, but even to make him disappear utterly for a number of months, or even years, without any trial, there can be no question either of legal status, or of personal safety, or of the dominion of law. It is not necessary to say that this summary way of dealing with persons accused of ill feeling toward the government does the greatest harm to the government itself, giving rise as it does to the strangest stories as to the lot of persons so arrested, creating the greatest excitement among their friends and the desire of immediate revenge. Long stories might be told about the way in which young men whose only fault consisted in having read some clandestinely published pamphlet were turned into serious political offenders by the persecutions of the gendarmes.
One such story comes to mind just now: it is the sad tale of a man who afterward became notorious in the annals of the nihilistic movement, but whom the author knew as a boy freshly arrived from some remote government on the Volga and trying to find employment in London. The boy had escaped arrest, and during whole months was obliged to lead the life of a peasant lacking a passport. It is difficult to imagine how unpleasant becomes the existence of a man who at any moment may be sent back to his first abode in order there to be arrested and driven into administrative exile. The offense that the young man was
accused of consisted in reading and communicating to his friends a kind of didactic romance in which the author pitied the present state of English workmen, and promised them a better future when the theories of Karl Marx should be adopted. The author has read this story, entitled "The History of Three Brothers," all three workingmen, and can assure those who have not done so, that it is just as dangerous as the well-known socialistic romance of Bellamy, and far less so than the "Utopia" of Thomas More or the "Citta del Sole" of Campanella; and yet this sufficed to render the life of the young boy unhappy to such an extent that he preferred to undergo crossing the frontier at the risk of his life. In London, and later on in Paris, where he found some work in electric lighting, he produced rather a depressing impression on political emigrants, on account of what they considered a certain timidity of mind, and also for bitter criticisms directed against the terrorists. Some persons belonging to the Russian colony in Paris even supposed him to be a sort of political spy. The author soon lost sight of this ill-famed person, and found his name again only several years later among those who took a prominent part in the blowing up of the Winter Palace in Petersburg. When he died, as a convict in the fortress of SS. Peter and Paul, some other stories were told about him. It seems that his steps may be traced in almost every political plot that preceded the murder of Alexander II. It may well be asked who, if not the political police of Russia, are responsible for the creation of such a dangerous foe to the existing order of things?
There can be no doubt that among the reasons which in large spheres create a general ill feeling toward the government the system of gendarmes and political spies ranks the first. They render private life in Russia insupportable, in this sense, that one is never sure of not meeting in society some person too ready to bring to the knowledge of the
political police one's way of thinking. The younger generations are exposed to this danger even to a greater extent. Years ago, when the recently murdered Education Minister, Bogolepov, had been the author's colleague at the University of Moscow, and the elected rector of that high school of learning, he one day told his fellow-professors, with great excitement, the following fact: A student who had not been able to pass with him the examination in Roman law, failing for the second time, was, according to the statutes, obliged to leave the university. He protested bitterly against his ill luck, saying, in the presence of the examiner, that he should in this way lose the annuity paid to him by the gendarmes. Bogolepov, who at this time at least remained an honest man, paid no attention to these entreaties, and the students were rid at least of one of their spies. No wonder if, under such conditions, our lectures in the form given to them by uncontrolled students passed into the hands of the political police, and if the latter surrounded us by its male and female agents to a degree which rendered our existence a sort of daily martyrdom. The worst is, that the gendarmes cannot live without political plots; if they have none to deal with in reality, they must invent some; otherwise they run the risk of seeing their budget diminished for the next year. This is the reason why, as certain persons have noticed, alarming reports as to future political attempts circulate as a rule a few weeks and even months before the renewal of the special budget serving to pay this sort of people. One cannot call them gentlemen, because, the office being ill viewed, only ill-famed persons venture to adorn themselves with the uniform of a gendarme. I do not speak of the indescribable sort of men and women recruited from among all classes of society, who escape prosecution for private offenses by undertaking to render the well-remunerated service of introducing themselves
under different pretexts into the private life of persons who have attracted the attention of the political police. Of course the superiors who accept such services cannot be very particular in the choice of their agents. Cheats, scoundrels, and prostitutes make up the number, and it is on such pillars that, for want of public sympathy, Russian single-headed bureaucracy is reduced to maintain itself. The situation seems more and more like that of the Venetian oligarchy, which, on the eve of its fall, sought its salvation in inquisitors of state, sbirs and confidenti, and which did not blush even to use the services of such a scoundrel as Cagliostro, who, in his private dispatches, promised to look after religion and public morality, though he had neither himself, and guaranteed the good feeling of the subjects toward the aristocratic government, and their hatred of French democratic principles almost on the breaking out of the Venetian revolution. If history taught its lessons not only to sociologists, but also to practical statesmen, those who rule Russia would be less confident of their future and put little trust in the compromising support they have called to maintain their power.
Besides the three great reforms accomplished in the reign of Alexander II., several others of no smaller importance deserve attention. They will be here mentioned for the sake of completing the general review of the ways and means by which, out of a former aristocracy, ruling over crowds of enslaved people, Russia has become more and more a democratic community, still in the bonds of a single-headed bureaucracy, but already tired of this dependence. The first in order, if not in time, is the reform of the army and navy, brought about, in 1874, by the introduction of general and obligatory service after the Prussian model, probably too well-known to need further description.
According to the principal dispositions of the law every Russian has to serve in the army or navy as soon as he is
twenty years old; exceptions are made chiefly for families having no other support than the person to be enrolled. No one is authorized to send, instead of himself, some other recruit, nor to pay any money equivalent. The number of years one is required to remain under arms is eighteen in the army and ten in the navy. From this number only five constitute active service—five in the army and seven in the navy; the rest of the period a soldier or sailor is considered to belong to the reserve. The advantages conferred by professional education appear first of all in the fact that medical men, veterinary surgeons, pensioners of the Academy of Fine Arts, persons sent by a university to finish their education abroad, as well as professors, from the beginning of the term are considered to belong to the reserve. The same may be said of the skippers, store-men, the engineers, machinists, the helmsmen, and their apprentices. The other advantages of learning consist in the right of postponing entrance upon active service by students not having finished their education at the moment when they have reached their twenty-eighth year. The third advantage enjoyed by the same persons is that of having the period of active service considerably reduced. Those who have finished primary education serve no more than four years, and those who have gone through the four or six classes of a lyceum, or secondary school, have to serve, the first three years, and the second two years only. Such are the outlines of the law which introduced general military service in Russia.
Attention is now called to the social and political results of such a change. They manifest themselves in the mingling of all classes of society, in bringing, if not the former master, at least his descendants, into close connection with the family of the liberated serf, in introducing into the most different strata of Russian society the sense of discipline, which may render the most important services, not
only to military enterprises, but also to the struggle for civil independence which may be looked for in no distant future; last, but not least, in infusing into the ignorant masses those European ideals of liberty, equality before the law, and social solidarity, of which the graduates and undergraduates of higher and secondary schools are both unconscious and conscious agents. It is not by pure chance that during the recent odious repression of peaceful manifestations organized by students and workingmen the police sought help, not from regular regiments, but from the half-Asiatic irregular troops, known under the name of Cossacks. The more public instruction becomes general — and the favor which is shown to those who have passed their primary examinations does not serve to discourage it — the more the Russian army will become the stronghold, not so much of the bureaucracy, as of the people at large.
The second reform to be mentioned is that of the universities. This reform, although made not farther back than in 1863, has already become a thing of the past. The law of 1863 introduced into the higher schools the system of autonomy and self-election. The author, having had occasion to pass almost eight years as a freely appointed professor and a member of the university council of Moscow, may be able to give some genuine information on the working of the system. But at first a few words on its formation. Russian universities are composed of several faculties, much the same as those to be met with in Germany or France, with the exception of the theological ones; these last constitute separate academies, existing in Petersburg, Troitsk, near Moscow, and Kiev. Theology is, nevertheless, taught in its general outlines to the students of all the faculties, who do not seem to derive great advantage from this superficial and more or less rhetorical way of bringing forward the complaints of Orthodoxy against for-
eign creeds, the laws of science, and the discoveries of the comparative history of religions.
The professors, as in German universities, belong to three different categories, the ordinary, the extraordinary, and the private docentes. To become an ordinary professor, a person is required to take three degrees, those of candidate, of magister, and of doctor. The first is obtained by a study of four years, and the presentation to one of the professors of a written composition. The examination for a degree of magister in a special branch of learning requires from the candidate a study of not less than two years. After having passed a new examination, this time before the whole faculty, the candidate is required to sustain publicly his printed dissertation treating of some subject freely chosen by himself. At the distance of another two years, and sometimes more, follows the presentation of a newly published work. Without any further examination, the candidate is called upon to sustain it publicly, and if approved by the majority of the faculty, he receives the highest degree, that of doctor. This does not mean that he is to become at once a professor. He must first undergo two kinds of election—that of the faculty to which he is to belong, and that of the university council, composed of the ordinary and extraordinary professors of all the faculties. Twice chosen by these elective bodies, the candidate wants only the nomination on the part of the Education Minister to enjoy all the privileges of his office. In the same way as ordinary professors, the extraordinary are chosen from among those possessing the degree of magister. The number of ordinary professors in a faculty being as a rule limited, one often sees doctors consenting to be extraordinary professors. As to the private docentes, they need no special degree except that of a candidate, together with a testimonial of special knowledge of the subject they have chosen, which they receive either by passing the examina-
tion of a magister or by sustaining publicly a short dissertation, after which they have to deliver two lectures by way of essay; the subject of one of them is given by the faculty, that of the other is freely chosen by the person in question. Each faculty has the right to elect its president or dean, and all together, at a meeting of the university council and by ballot, a rector and sometimes a vice-rector from among them. Subordinate university officers, such as, for instance, the secretary, or the inspector of the students, are equally at the nomination of the council. Besides these officers, a disciplinary tribunal, to which the students are summoned for any infraction of their statutes, is composed of professors appointed by the council.
It will be seen that in their elections the professors, according to the statute of 1863, were almost independent of any interference on the part of ministerial officials, and among them of the curator, or the officer placed at the head of all the secondary and primary schools of the several provinces which form the sphere of his inspection. So long as the statute of 1863 remained in force, the author had no opportunity of seeing the curator, either as student or as professor; only once this official came to attend his lecture, at a time when the lecturer was only a private docens. The reason of this special favor, afterward learned, was a denunciation; he came to control the character of the teaching, and having probably found nothing particular in it, troubled the docens no longer by his presence. Now, this perfect independence of any body or persons, besides self-elected presidents and councils, was a thing quite unknown in Russia before the reform of 1863. Previous to this period the curator, whose office in certain parts of Russia, for instance at Kharkov, was united with that of the Governor-General, meddled with all questions concerning the nomination of professors and the way in which they performed their duties. To show the results of such an
interference, it may suffice to say that in the same University of Kharkov, to which Fichte had been called — although without success — the teaching of philosophy was entrusted, in the years from 1830 to 1833, to a police officer, by the special request of the Governor-General. No wonder if among the immediate reforms recommended by the professors was the breaking of the chain which fettered the progress of teaching and learning to the prejudices and gross ignorance of this sort of Russian pachas.
Another harm, no less hurtful to the intellectual development of the country, was the limitation of the number of students by official decree. Accordingly, the University of Moscow, the oldest of all Russian universities, founded in the reign of Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, was allowed to admit no more than three hundred students; and the same limit had been already imposed on other universities. The mischief done by such an order of things was too notorious, and attracted, therefore, the attention of the government even before the passing of the law of 1863. When the latter was put in force, the restrictions as to the number of students became a thing of the past. The law of 1863, very liberal, as we have seen, as far as the rights of professors were concerned, did nothing in favor of creating among the students the corporations, which, almost from the Middle Ages, have existed in the countries of Europe and more especially in Germany. The student was no longer allowed to wear any uniform, and had to attend the lectures in a civil dress. Accountable to university authorities for acts committed within the walls of the school, he was required to submit to the general police for any infringement of the law committed outside those walls.
These are the outlines of the system proper to the universities in the reign of Alexander II. Attention should now be called to its advantages and its drawbacks. The universities at this time were not only schools of learning,
but also of moral education; intimate relations existed between professors and students, who, as a rule, had the opportunity of visiting their teachers, to inquire not only for special information, but for that sort of general guidance without which it is so difficult for a young man coming from some remote corner to acquire the preliminary encyclopaedical knowledge necessary to special investigations. The reason for the great superiority of a university over any technical school consists chiefly in the fact that it opens to a specialist the possibility of not losing sight of the philosophical aspect of science in general. No wonder, therefore, that lectures on biology, psychology, economics, and politics were listened to by crowds of students whose specialty was either mathematics, medicine, philology, or jurisprudence. History, in its various forms, as the best preparation for sociology, also attracted the attention of the students of all faculties, and contributed in a great degree to open their minds to questions of a social and political order. The possibility of dealing directly with the professors had also the advantage of calling the attention of the latter to the material and moral wants of their audience. Public lectures delivered generally on some question of the day, and to the profit of the poorer class of students, permitted the peaceful solution of some moral or political problem, and the collection of means necessary to pay the term of poor students. On occasion of some temporary excitement, created by a supposed or existing wrong, a popular professor often played the part of an arbitrator and adviser, forgiving personal invectives as coming from young men not sufficiently informed or not able to control themselves, and taking the chance of losing the confidence of the government by protecting his audience against any insinuation of an imaginary plot.
If the university autonomy had the advantage of con-
stituting a sort of family tie between the older and younger generations, the graduates and the undergraduates, the professors and the students, it had equally the power of raising the moral standard of those called to be not only the teachers, but the educators of future citizens. Getting a fixed salary and no fees from the students, the professor was not materially interested in increasing his own audience to the detriment of some colleague, as is unfortunately too often the case now that the students are obliged by law to attend a certain minimum of lectures, paying for each of them a fixed amount. Considered the moral leader of the young men under his charge, the professor was naturally the man to whom the families whose sons received education in the university recurred for counsel and good advice. In a city like Moscow, where high officials and courtiers are few, on account of the Emperors and the Grand Princes generally residing in Petersburg, an autonomous body of scholars and literary men, elected by way of co-operation, became necessarily a sort of intellectual center, from which the daily press, the monthly magazines, the clubs, and the saloons were pleased to borrow their leading opinions. No wonder that all classes of society vied in the wish to be represented in that body by some one of their members. You may find still among Russian professors, counts and princes who, having chosen a literary career, considered it a great honor to occupy a chair or even to deliver lectures as private docentes. For instance, there are two brothers of the marshal of the nobility of Moscow, belonging to one of Russia's greatest families, the Princes Trubetskoi — the one is professor of philosophy at Moscow, the other professor of legal cyclopaedia at Kiev. Side by side with them one may find, in the same faculty, sons of peasants, of priests, and of tradesmen.
It was the advantage of belonging to an autonomous family of scientists [scholars] that gave to the younger generation
of our wealthy classes the desire to compete with materially less independent scholars in the task of educating their countrymen. If some of them still remain among the professors, we must not forget that their careers began at the time of university self-government. Now, this mingling of all ranks of society in the direction of public instruction has the great merit of eliminating the one-sidedness, the class feeling, in the treatment of moral, social, and political problems. Of course many of the persons devoting themselves to the work of education were unable to get rid of all the inherited prejudices of their family and connections, but the university as a whole, where these prejudices met with serious criticism on the part of colleagues, assumed more and more the character of a body soaring above all these petty interests, and expressing only the views of impartial science [scholarship] and enlightened patriotism. From the years passed in the University of Moscow, the writer keeps the remembrance of a society of well-educated and polite gentlemen, who, although objecting to a great many of his ideas, never showed any disobliging bitterness in their criticisms.
Of course one of the matters of disagreement was the choice of young graduates as candidates for professorships. According to the university statutes and usage, each professor had the right to recommend to the faculty one or more persons among those having passed their examinations, and, the faculty acquiescing in the election, the young man obtained a scholarship for two years at least, during which he could prepare for his examination. It was not so much the choice of these young men as the further introducing of them into the corporation as professors that very often produced a real dissension among the members of the same faculty. The opinion prevailed that, once chosen for a scholarship, the graduates were to be piloted by the professor who had recommended them, and preferred in all nomi-
nations to any student coming from another university. Now, the present writer considers this a great error, the effect of which is to fill the chairs, not with the ablest men, but with those whose only merit is to swear by the master who gave them the post. Of course people who were in favor of such a practice could object that a real school may be created only by a generation of men working out the same leading ideas. But the university being, meo judicio, a sort of mirror in which the different schools are reflected, there would seem to be, therefore, a great advantage in bringing into it new forces coming from abroad. It will be evident that in university debates local patriotism and scientific cosmopolitism were brought regularly together, and very often had occasion to fight. All this is spoken of in order to show the real importance of controlling to a certain extent the nominations of the faculty, not only by those of the general university council, as in past times was the rule, but also by the more effective plan of creating a practical competition among all those entitled to occupy a chair when the latter becomes vacant. As arbitrators there should be all the professors and scientists who work in the same fields. They might give their opinion on the merits of the candidates, if not in person, at least in writing. Such a proceeding was not at all contrary to the scheme adopted by the law of 1863; it was only not put into practice; and it is hard to see why, in the case of a return to the old regime, the attempt might not be made.
The autonomy of the universities meant the freedom of public thought from any other guidance than that of knowledge and scientific philosophy. Here lies the reason why a triumphant reaction could not bear the further existence of self-governing university bodies. At a moment when the leading ideas of the period of reforms became suspected in Russia, professors continued, as in the past, to express them openly in their lectures. The antithesis was too
flagrant not to be treated as scandalous. In order to persuade the new Emperor Alexander III. of the necessity of doing away with university autonomy, the pretended saviors of Russia denounced individual professors as plotting against autocracy. Dismissals began; most of those who had to resign are not yet certain as to the nature of their fault. Scrutinizing their past, they could find nothing but the free expression of ideas in direct conformity with those which produced the emancipation of the serfs, the successful trials of local self-government, the liberation of science and of the press from administrative control, the introduction of the principle of equality before the law and in public service, and so forth. This ostracism, of course, had no other end than that of showing the necessity of establishing a more strict control over the teaching of professors and the interior administration of the university. Little marvel that the law of 1884 did away with the elective system, and passed the nomination of the professors, of the Rector, and Presidents of faculties into the hands of the Education Minister, and that of the private docentes into those of the Curator. The professors received at the same time a considerable increase in their salaries, the students being obliged to pay double what they had paid before, and to remunerate the professors according to the number of lectures they attended weekly. The authority of the nominated Rector and Presidents was increased to the detriment of that of the University Council and the Councils of Faculties. The students had to submit to a nominated Inspector; his assistants, not excluding common servants, were required to denounce those not assiduous in attending the lectures. At the same time professors received a kind of written injunction to teach public law, for instance, in a sense favorable to autocracy and opposed to representative government. Those who criticized such injunctions were requested to resign, and in case of refusal,
were at once dismissed. The worst of all was the terrorizing effect which such a method of dealing with recently independent scientists [scholars] produced on their colleagues. Thinking that all theories were only good to bring them into trouble, many of them carefully eliminated from their lectures anything but the statement of facts; and to calm the suspicions of the government, they printed some innocent text-books, the reading of which from the chair became thenceforth their chief occupation. Inevitably their audience was soon reduced from hundreds to tens and less.
But as the students generally required from their teachers something besides facts, they began to search for theories by themselves, reading, or rather devouring, German socialistic pamphlets translated into Russian and freely circulating in the vast empire of the tsar, on account of not attacking directly its interior policy. In this way, by prosecuting any free expression of personal opinion, if not in conformity with that of the ruling bureaucracy, the government discredited the professors in the eyes of the audience, and induced the latter to nourish their minds with theories whose practical application in the existing conditions could only create a more or less serious agitation among the working class and unite their endeavors with those of the students. Notice that the latter are prevented by law from organizing any corporations. Being in this way hindered from occupying themselves with their own interests, they had no other choice but to apply the theories they had borrowed from abroad to the yet shapeless mass of workingmen, recent emigrants from their villages. There seems to be no great harm in that organization of the forces for a future social struggle by persons of course better informed than the majority of the ordinary demagogues, but it does not appear that such a result is desirable for the government, or that the abandonment of scientific [scholarly] pursuits for the work of propaganda may be profit-
able in the making of future citizens and leaders of public opinion. In any case, recent events have well proved, first of all, the total failure of the government to prevent the spread of liberal ideas, by means of annihilating any moral influence on the part of the professors; second, the necessary installment, instead of their direction, of an anonymous authority, which is no other than that of a reduced and one-sided European public opinion; third, and not least, the good understanding already existing between the lower strata of Russian society and the students, who are becoming more and more the leaders of a movement in which Russian bureaucracy is not likely to be the gainer.
Recent experience makes it evident to all except those who prefer to remain blind, that no happier end is to be expected from the campaign against a liberal press — a campaign which marks the reign of Alexander III., and so vitally contradicts the happy beginning of that of his predecessor. The law of 1865, although a copy of the bitterly attacked French imperial statute concerning the publication of books and periodicals, was in considerable advance of those which preceded it, and becomes nowadays a prium desideratum for the immediate future. Its chief purpose was to reduce, if not to eliminate, administrative control in favor of the judicial. Daily papers, which previous to the law were submitted to censure, got the license to appear freely, but on condition that their editors and writers be answerable to the courts, both for private and public offenses committed in print. Not wishing to lose any influence on the direction of the daily papers, the government took refuge in the system of warnings. After three of them the paper was not suppressed, but could no longer appear without passing under the eyes of the censor. As to books, original ones were liberated from any censure if containing not less than ten sheets, and translations if containing double that number.
In the time of Alexander III., the law of 1865, although maintained in theory, was abolished in practice, in this sense: that a commission consisting of the Interior, Education and Justice ministers, as also the Procurator of the Holy Synod, was authorized to pronounce itself in favor of an immediate suppression or suspension of periodicals, on account of their so-called "bad tendencies" — a vague phrase, by which the ministers in question generally understand a free criticism of their own administration. The person answerable for the introduction — of course in the way, not of a law discussed and voted by the State Council, but of so - called temporary measures directly presented for the confirmation of the Emperor—was the Home Secretary [Interior Minister], Count Dmitrii Tolstoi. He intended to use it almost exclusively for the repressing of constitutional demands. The author received very recently the confidence of a man who, not having succeeded in making himself a name in literature or erudition, did not disdain the post of a censor in Petersburg. Whilst protesting energetically against the abuse which has recently been made of the right of controlling public opinion by police regulations, he spoke highly of the patriotic feelings which, according to him, inspired Count Tolstoy. In addressing his inferiors he was careful to advise them not to abuse the almost unlimited right accorded to them as far as Russian thought was concerned. "Nowadays," continued my penitent censor, "the grossest abuses are daily committed in the controlling of the press; not only are the temporary rules applied indiscriminately to suppress periodicals which, like The New World [Novyi mir], have not published an article against autocracy, whilst criticizing the whole administrative machinery, but the Interior Minister, Goremykin, and the executioner of his arbitrary sentences against the press, the Head of Censorship, Soloviev, introduced a new method of binding the editors
by a direct attack on their material interests. In accordance with this they suspended a newspaper for a number of months, just at the moment when new subscriptions were to come in, or they prohibited the persecuted paper from accepting advertisements. The head of the censorship declared openly that he wished to compel all the existing newspapers, with, of course, the exception of those official or semi-official, to appear after having been censured by his subordinates. He went even farther, by taking it on himself to recommend to the shareholders of a journal the change of the editor and to impose on them his own candidate. It must be added that, fortunately for the maintenance of any feeling of legality, the minister and the Chief Censor have both been obliged to resign; and although the management of the press remains as rigorous as in the past, at least it has no more that false paternal aspect which was familiar to it a year ago.
There exist different kinds of censure in Russia — a special one for all accounts concerning the dealings and sayings of the Emperor; an Ecclesiastical Censure for all books and articles concerning the interpretation of Holy Scripture, the dogmas of religion, and even ecclesiastical history. This censorship is exercised by the Holy Synod. Besides, we must mention the Theatrical Censure, and a special censure for foreign books, magazines, and newspapers. As soon as you cross the Russian frontier you are deprived of your books and papers under the vigilant eye of a gendarme; you get them back in some weeks' time, after they have been examined by a censor; they return to you not always intact, but partly covered with black ink, a kind of operation which some French publicists identify with putting caviar on your bread. If now we ask ourselves what services the government receives from such a careful embankment, as it were, of Russian thought, we find ourselves at a loss to answer. It has not prevented
the diffusion of the most advanced theories either in religion or politics. On the other hand, it is directly responsible for the circulation among the public of the strangest and most compromising reports as to the dealings and intentions of the court and the high governmental spheres. The Interior Minister may prohibit, by a circular, for instance, mention of any kind of university troubles, but the only result of it is, that nobody believes the official communication, and the popular imagination increases to thousands the necessarily limited number of the victims of the abuses committed by the police or the Cossacks. Again, foreign powers, as well as the foreign press, render the government responsible for any statement made by Russian newspapers. How can they do otherwise, no liberty of the press being known to exist in Russia? To illustrate, the following fact, quite recent, may be cited: The Paris correspondent of a well-known Russian paper, the Novoe vremia [New times], expressed months ago his want of confidence in the French War Minister, General André. Immediately French papers published articles, saying that the good ally of the Republic had no right to interfere in the interior administration of the country. Diplomatic correspondence ensued, the Russian government had to take measures against the journal in question, and nevertheless, into the depths of the French popular belief penetrated the ridiculous suspicion that imperial Russia is not adverse to a military coup d'état in favor of some Bonaparte serving in the ranks of her own army.
One is inclined to think that the Russian government might dispense with the help of the censorship, as it has always in its hands the power of prosecuting the writers and editors who have infringed the law by attacks on the institutions of the country, on religion, public morality, and personal reputation. Such seems to have been also the idea entertained by the framers of the
law of 1865. Whilst declaring that the government could intercept any book or paper already published, they put a limit to its power by saying that such an interception could happen only in case the incriminated writer and publisher were at the same time cited before the courts. It was only in the year 1872 that the authorities dispensed with prosecuting the author of incriminated writings. This untied their hands and permitted them to do away with any book or monthly magazine they thought dangerous, even at the lapse of months and years from the moment of its publication.
Besides preventive and judicial measures against the press, the law also permits administrative ones. The proprietors of printing-offices cannot perform their work without a previous permission from general governors [Governor-Generals] and such administrative officials, who may refuse the authorization without explaining the reason of their conduct. A father cannot transmit to his son the inheritance of a printing-office unless the son receives a like authorization. Special agents are to control printing and lithographic offices and factories where the type is prepared; and this in order that no book or paper may appear without the knowledge of the government. The acquisition not only of type but even of a writing-machine is not allowed without previous permission. All this does not prevent the existence of a clandestine press and the appearance of political manifestos in cases of public excitement. The moral and religious treatises of Leo Tolstoy, the recently excommunicated great old man, not allowed to appear in print, are circulating in the country in numerous hectographic copies. So illusive are the hopes of preventing the spread of ideas by police regulations.
One doubts, likewise, the efficacy of those prescriptions by which circulating libraries and reading-rooms are forbidden to communicate to the public books and periodicals which, although published with the consent of the
censors, are still considered to be dangerous. A new index librorum prohibitorum is issued from time to time; and this task of purging the Russian mind of bad ideas is sometimes performed in such a stupid way as to involve the great work of Adam Smith on the "Wealth of Nations" among the proscribed books.
It is regrettable that among the great reforms which were carried out in the reign of Alexander II., and which have largely come to naught under that of his successors, one finds almost nothing in the way of extending the freedom of religious thought. It may be said that the wide lines of the system of toleration by which not only Christian churches, but also Hebraism, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, and even rude forms of pagan idolatry, benefit in Russia had already been drawn by Catherine II. It was in the days of that Empress, philosopher, and good politician that promises of equal recognition were given to Catholics, Lutherans, and Protestants, very often in the same acts by which Russia proclaimed the annexation of some parts of the former republic of Poland. We might go even a step farther back and declare that the respect for foreign creed had been a part of the dealings of all Russian conquerors with the subjugated pagan and Mohammedan populations, from the banks of the Volga to those of the Amur. But this respect did not go farther than the toleration of their creeds, sometimes accompanied by the strict obligation of the conquered to live within a certain area, either their old abode or a new territorial concession from the government.
This last rule is also applied to the Jews, with the exception of those who lived under the rule of the Crimean Tatars, and who are known by the name of Karaims, and distinguished themselves from other Hebrews by not recognizing the rule of the rabbis. Secular prejudices have prevented the mass establishment of the Jews within the limits
of old Muscovy, whilst they constituted by themselves almost the whole third estate of Poland. This is the historical origin of that limitation of their territorial extension mostly to provinces which had formed a part of Poland. And that such a measure is taken against them on account of their creed results from the fact that by altering it, by accepting Orthodoxy, for instance, they are liberated from such restrictions. Within the limits of the area they are allowed to inhabit, permanent settlement may be taken by them only in towns and boroughs — on no account in villages. This opens to the authorities the way to a constant abuse, which takes either the form of prolonged permissions of occasional residence, granted to Jews ready to bribe the police, or to a more indirect extension of their sphere of action by the raising of a more or less considerable number of villages to the rank of boroughs. Even within the area forming their dwelling districts, the Jews, faithful to their creed, are deprived of certain natural rights — such, for instance, as that of keeping Christian servants, or that of taking on a lease land estates and factories. The last measure turns very often to the detriment of the Christian owners. All over Russia the Jews are regularly placed at the head of distilleries; some, whilst renting them de facto, are considered by the law as simple managers; they take advantage of their dubious position to make the proprietor answerable before the court for the acts done by them as tenants, such as buying corn and not paying for it. The landlord is equally responsible for the infringement of the rules regulating distillation. So the law turns against those it would have wished to protect.
Of course there are numerous exceptions made to the measure preventing Jews from settling in the two capitals and the greater part of the genuine Russian provinces. Those who have taken their degrees in the universities, those accepted as students of the latter, and those holding
an office or having acquired a chin or rank in the administrative hierarchy, and lastly those who practice some liberal profession, such as that of a barrister or of a physician, may live anywhere. But on the other hand, the law has done, and still tries to do, everything in its power to limit the number of those who may obtain exemptions by getting university degrees. Thus in all the higher schools the number of Jews admitted as students must not exceed three per cent of the whole number. The impudence of the government went so far as to ask donations from rich Jews for institutions of public instruction in which their coreligionists were considered as pariahs and intruders. The most astonishing thing is, that these demands have been complied with, so great is the subserviency of our third estate to those who are pleased to maintain a high tariff on foreign goods, in order to make the wealthy more wealthy. One is not so much surprised at the persecution of the Jews in Russian higher schools, when one hears that the percentage system is equally applied to the Poles outside of Poland; they cannot exceed more than ten per cent of the number of students in Russian universities. The government has fallen in love with this percentage system to such a degree that it intends also to apply it in order to diminish the number of Jews among barristers. And observe, that this tendency, which indorses all the popular prejudices against the Jews, is quite against the good feeling entertained toward Jewish professional men by the elite among our scientific [scholarly] and literary men — very often even against the desires of the merchant class of the old capital, who entreated the government not to expel the Jews, as they were rendering considerable services to their trade as secondary agents.
The toleration granted to the Jews within much restricted limits is extended to all creeds which contain no direct attack on public morality. This last qualification is made,
for instance, against such sects as the Skoptsi, who mutilate themselves, or of that extraordinary sect, so much spoken of last year , and who, expecting the approaching end of the world, bury one another alive. Of course no recognition can be given to the creed of such fanatics, but it is to be feared that, under the pretense of upholding a high moral standard, the government will persecute advanced sects of Protestantism, such as the Stundists. Whilst writing this chapter the author had before him the last number of a Russian gazette containing the following statement: "One of the judicial sections of the Senate, our court of cassation, had to pronounce itself last May on the application of a recent order of the Committee of Ministers. According to this order the right of having places of worship, a right granted to all dissenters, was not to be recognized to the Stundists. The Senate is of opinion that, before applying this general rule, the courts ought to investigate whether the persons prosecuted are really guilty of not recognizing sacraments, civil powers, and the obligation to serve in the army and to take an oath of allegiance, and do generally profess opinions contrary to the Orthodox Church and the political organization of Russia."
It is difficult to determine what puzzles one most in this decision: the mixing together of non-belief in holy sacraments with the refusal to perform military service, or the fact that the Senate does not wish to accept as granted the fact that it suffices to be reputed a Stundist to become an outlaw as far as liberty of practicing religious worship is concerned. The writer, for his part, attaches more importance to the latter, and finds in it confirmation of the fear expressed above. Those who rule Russia want to recognize as immoral anything endangering the maintenance of the existing order, and the refusal to kill in battle or to swear passes in their eyes for something identical with the negation of the Gospel.
Tolerating a creed does not mean allowing its free propaganda, and in this matter Russian law is very exclusive. The Orthodox clergy, not the laity, is alone permitted to convert the followers of other creeds to their own by way of preaching. To abandon Orthodoxy is not directly considered as a crime, but has its bad effects on the social and civil condition of the person concerned. The Russian criminal code declares that from the moment a man has been recognized as not abiding by the precepts of Orthodoxy, he is to be sent to the clergy, who advise him to return to his former belief. Until then he does not enjoy the rights of the social order [soslovie] to which he belongs, and measures are taken to prevent him from influencing his children and causing their breach with Orthodoxy. A worse lot falls to those who have perverted him; they may be sent to reside in Siberia, and even condemned to hard labor in that country in case they have induced some one to abandon Christianity (articles 184 and 187 of the penal code). A recent application of these rules to the case of Count Leo Tolstoy explains the reason why the clergy thought it necessary to address him a warning, and why in his answer he insisted so much on the fact that he had not tried to convert any one to his own religious opinions. In France many were puzzled at the leniency of the government toward him. Besides his great fame, which serves him as a weapon against all administrative prosecutions, the law just quoted explains by itself the want of any regular penalty. The last threatens those who convert, and not those who are converted.
The same privilege which Orthodoxy enjoys as far as religious propaganda is concerned, appears equally in this rule: that children of mixed marriages, in which one of the parents is Orthodox, must of necessity be Orthodox. No exception is made for any creed but that of the Lutherans, and that as far as Finland alone is concerned.
From what has been said it will be seen that Russia possesses neither a habeas corpus act in the Anglo-American sense, nor the right of free meeting or collective petitions; the last, with an exception in favor of the assemblies of the nobles, who enjoy the right of addressing written demands to the emperor, provided, of course, that these demands contain nothing against the fundamental laws of the empire. Recent events have clearly established the fact that Russian gentlemen and even ladies are not exempted from the most brutal attack on the part of the police and Cossacks, in case they should wish to demonstrate their good feelings toward prosecuted students, even in a quiet, peaceful way. It is also evident to any one who has read the humble petition to the tsar, attributed to Professor Miliukov, and heard that for this act alone the professor has been imprisoned, that no right of petitioning exists in Russia. If you add to the want of personal liberty the intolerable position created for the press, the practice of opening private correspondence and interfering with the choice of books and newspapers one wishes to read, and lastly, the difficulties created in the way of natural propaganda by every sincere believer of his creed, you will see that the one-headed bureaucracy has deprived the people not only of their political rights, but also of the enjoyment of that amount of freedom which was accorded Englishmen by even the Magna Carta, and which Americans enjoyed years before the establishment of their great federation. Now, in the writer's opinion, a government is judged not only by the material welfare of the people over which it rules, but also by its moral well-being. Those who did the author the honor of reading his French treatise on the economical regime of Russia have been able to come to the conclusion that the condition of the majority of the peasantry and of the workingmen is far from being satisfactory, that the landed nobility is half ruined, and that the only flourishing
class is a small number of proprietors of factories and big merchants, enriched by high protective tariff. It cannot be expected, on the other hand, that those who have had the patience to read these chapters have been very much impressed with the large participation of the people in the management of public affairs, or with the unchecked exercise of the "rights of man" on the part of Russian subjects. The natural conclusion is, that Russians live in a period which Shakespeare defined by saying, "The time is out of joint." One would not be astonished to hear in a few years that many of the institutions and laws treated of in these chapters have become obsolete, and that Russia has made her return to the policy of prudent but integral reforms, which so well succeeded with her at the time both of Alexander I. and Alexander II.
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<>Gneist,Rudolf von (1816-1895) German
jurist and politician. 1844:+; Berlin University Professor of Jurisprudence|
Elected a representative in the Reichstag
(1864-1884). Became Judge of Prussian Supreme Court and member of Prussian privy council
*1886:Boston| English Parliament in its Transformations Through a Thousand Years [TXT]
*--Try this Wikipedia entry [W] for a surprising refutation of those who are Wikipedia detractors
*--Erich Hahn, "Rudolf Gneist and the Prussian Rechtsstaat" [W]