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Russia by Donald Mackenzie Wallace

Part 12 out of 15

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A less expensive means is suggested by the statistics of foreign
trade. In the preceding chapter we have seen that from 1860 to
1900 the average annual export of grain rose steadily from under 1
1/2 millions to over 6 millions of tons. It is evident, therefore,
that in the food supply, so far from there being a deficiency,
there has been a large and constantly increasing surplus. If the
peasantry have been on short rations, it is not because the
quantity of food produced has fallen short of the requirements of
the population, but because it has been unequally distributed. The
truth is that the large landed proprietors produce more and the
peasants less than they consume, and it has naturally occurred to
many people that the present state of things might be improved if a
portion of the arable land passed, without any socialistic,
revolutionary measures, from the one class to the other. This
operation began spontaneously soon after the Emancipation. Well-
to-do peasants who had saved a little money bought from the
proprietors bits of land near their villages and cultivated them in
addition to their allotments. At first this extension of peasant
land was confined within very narrow limits, because the peasants
had very little capital at their disposal, but in 1882 the
Government came to their aid by creating the Peasant Land Bank, the
object of which was to advance money to purchasers of the peasant
class on the security of the land purchased, at the rate of 7 1/2
per cent., including sinking fund.* From that moment the purchases
increased rapidly. They were made by individual peasants, by rural
Communes, and, most of all, by small voluntary associations
composed of three, four, or more members. In the course of twenty
years (1883-1903) the Bank made 47,791 advances, and in this way
were purchased about eighteen million acres. This sounds a very
big acquisition, but it will not do much to relieve the pressure on
the peasantry as a whole, because it adds only about 6 per cent. to
the amount they already possessed in virtue of the Emancipation

* This arrangement extinguishes the debt in 34 1/2 years; an
additional 1 per cent, extinguishes it in 24 1/2 years. By recent
legislation other arrangements are permitted.

Nearly all of this land purchased by the peasantry comes directly
or indirectly from the Noblesse, and much more will doubtless pass
from the one class to the other if the Government continues to
encourage the operation; but already symptoms of a change of policy
are apparent. In the higher official regions it is whispered that
the existing policy is objectionable from the political point of
view, and one sometimes hears the question asked: Is it right and
desirable that the Noblesse, who have ever done their duty in
serving faithfully the Tsar and Fatherland, and who have ever been
the representatives of civilisation and culture in Russian country
life, should be gradually expropriated in favour of other and less
cultivated social classes? Not a few influential personages are of
opinion that such a change is unjust and undesirable, and they
argue that it is not advantageous to the peasants themselves,
because the price of land has risen much more than the rents. It
is not at all uncommon, for example, to find that land can be
rented at five roubles per dessyatin, whereas it cannot be bought
under 200 roubles. In that case the peasant can enjoy the use of
the land at the moderate rate of 2 1/2 per cent. of the capital
value, whereas by purchasing the land with the assistance of the
bank he would have to pay, without sinking fund, more than double
that rate. The muzhik, however, prefers to be owner of the land,
even at a considerable sacrifice. When he can be induced to give
his reasons, they are usually formulated thus: "With my own land I
can do as I like; if I hire land from the neighbouring proprietor,
who knows whether, at the end of the term, he may not raise the
rent or refuse to renew the contract at any price?"

Even if the Government should continue to encourage the purchase of
land by the peasantry, the process is too slow to meet all the
requirements of the situation. Some additional expedient must be
found, and we naturally look for it in the experience of older
countries with a denser population.

In the more densely populated countries of Western Europe a safety-
valve for the inordinate increase of the rural population has been
provided by the development of manufacturing industry. High wages
and the attractions of town life draw the rural population to the
industrial centres, and the movement has increased to such an
extent that already complaints are heard of the rural districts
becoming depopulated. In Russia a similar movement is taking place
on a smaller scale. During the last forty years, under the
fostering influence of a protective tariff, the manufacturing
industry has made gigantic strides, as we shall see in a future
chapter, and it has already absorbed about two millions of the
redundant hands in the villages; but it cannot keep pace with the
rapid increasing surplus. Two millions are less than two per cent.
of the population. The great mass of the people has always been,
and must long continue to be, purely agricultural; and it is to
their fields that they must look for the means of subsistence. If
the fields do not supply enough for their support under the
existing primitive methods of cultivation, better methods must be
adopted. To use a favourite semi-scientific phrase, Russia has now
reached the point in her economic development at which she must
abandon her traditional extensive system of agriculture and adopt a
more intensive system. So far all competent authorities are
agreed. But how is the transition, which requires technical
knowledge, a spirit of enterprise, an enormous capital, and a dozen
other things which the peasantry do not at present possess, to be
effected? Here begin the well-marked differences of opinion.

Hitherto the momentous problem has been dealt with chiefly by the
theorists and doctrinaires who delight in radical solutions by
means of panaceas, and who have little taste for detailed local
investigation and gradual improvement. I do not refer to the so-
called "Saviours of the Fatherland" (Spasiteli Otetchestva), well-
meaning cranks and visionaries who discover ingenious devices for
making their native country at once prosperous and happy. I speak
of the great majority of reasonable, educated men who devote some
attention to the problem. Their favourite method of dealing with
it is this: The intensive system of agriculture requires scientific
knowledge and a higher level of intellectual culture. What has to
be done, therefore, is to create agricultural colleges supplied
with all the newest appliances of agronomic research and to educate
the peasantry to such an extent that they may be able to use the
means which science recommends.

For many years this doctrine prevailed in the Press, among the
reading public, and even in the official world. The Government was
accordingly urged to improve and multiply the agronomic colleges
and the schools of all grades and descriptions. Learned
dissertations were published on the chemical constitution of the
various soils, the action of the atmosphere on the different
ingredients, the necessity of making careful meteorological
observations, and numerous other topics of a similar kind; and
would-be reformers who had no taste for such highly technical
researches could console themselves with the idea that they were
advancing the vital interests of the country by discussing the
relative merits of Communal and personal land-tenure--deciding
generally in favour of the former as more in accordance with the
peculiarities of Russian, as contrasted with West European,
principles of economic and social development.

While much valuable time and energy were thus being expended to
little purpose, on the assumption that the old system might be left
untouched until the preparations for a radical solution had been
completed, disagreeable facts which could not be entirely
overlooked gradually produced in influential quarters the
conviction that the question was much more urgent than was commonly
supposed. A sensitive chord in the heart of the Government was
struck by the steadily increasing arrears of taxation, and
spasmodic attempts have since been made to cure the evil.

In the local administration, too, the urgency of the question has
come to be recognised, and measures are now being taken by the
Zemstvo to help the peasantry in making gradually the transition to
that higher system of agriculture which is the only means of
permanently saving them from starvation. For this purpose, in many
districts well-trained specialists have been appointed to study the
local conditions and to recommend to the villagers such simple
improvements as are within their means. These improvements may be
classified under the following heads:

(1) Increase of the cereal crops by better seed and improved

(2) Change in the rotation of crops by the introduction of certain
grasses and roots which improve the soil and supply food for live

(3) Improvement and increase of live stock, so as to get more
labour-power, more manure, more dairy-produce, and more meat.

(4) Increased cultivation of vegetables and fruit.

With these objects in view the Zemstvo is establishing depots in
which improved implements and better seed are sold at moderate
prices, and the payments are made in installments, so that even the
poorer members of the community can take advantage of the
facilities offered. Bulls and stallions are kept at central points
for the purpose of improving the breed of cattle and horses, and
the good results are already visible. Elementary instruction in
farming and gardening is being introduced into the primary schools.
In some districts the exertions of the Zemstvo are supplemented by
small agricultural societies, mutual credit associations, and
village banks, and these are to some extent assisted by the Central
Government. But the beneficent action in this direction is not all
official. Many proprietors deserve great praise for the good
influence which they exercise on the peasants of their
neighbourhood and the assistance they give them; and it must be
admitted that their patience is often sorely tried, for the
peasants have the obstinacy of ignorance, and possess other
qualities which are not sympathetic. I know one excellent
proprietor who began his civilising efforts by giving to the Mir of
the nearest village an iron plough as a model and a fine pedigree
ram as a producer, and who found, on returning from a tour abroad,
that during his absence the plough had been sold for vodka, and the
pedigree ram had been eaten before it had time to produce any
descendants! In spite of this he continues his efforts, and not
altogether without success.

It need hardly be said that the progress of the peasantry is not so
rapid as could be wished. The muzhik is naturally conservative,
and is ever inclined to regard novelties with suspicion. Even when
he is half convinced of the utility of some change, he has still to
think about it for a long time and talk it over again and again
with his friends and neighbours, and this preparatory stage of
progress may last for years. Unless he happens to be a man of
unusual intelligence and energy, it is only when he sees with his
own eyes that some humble individual of his own condition in life
has actually gained by abandoning the old routine and taking to new
courses, that he makes up his mind to take the plunge himself.
Still, he is beginning to jog on. E pur si muove! A spirit of
progress is beginning to move on the face of the long-stagnant
waters, and progress once begun is pretty sure to continue with
increasing rapidity. With starvation hovering in the rear, even
the most conservative are not likely to stop or turn back.



Necessity of Reorganising the Provincial Administration--Zemstvo
Created in 1864--My First Acquaintance with the Institution--
District and Provincial Assemblies--The Leading Members--Great
Expectations Created by the Institution--These Expectations Not
Realised--Suspicions and Hostility of the Bureaucracy--Zemstvo
Brought More Under Control of the Centralised Administration--What
It Has Really Done--Why It Has Not Done More---Rapid Increase of
the Rates--How Far the Expenditure Is Judicious--Why the
Impoverishment of the Peasantry Was Neglected--Unpractical,
Pedantic Spirit--Evil Consequences--Chinese and Russian Formalism--
Local Self-Government of Russia Contrasted with That of England--
Zemstvo Better than Its Predecessors--Its Future.

After the emancipation of the serfs the reform most urgently
required was the improvement of the provincial administration. In
the time of serfage the Emperor Nicholas, referring to the landed
proprietors, used to say in a jocular tone that he had in his
Empire 50,000 most zealous and efficient hereditary police-masters.
By the Emancipation Law the authority of these hereditary police-
masters was for ever abolished, and it became urgently necessary to
put something else in its place. Peasant self-government was
accordingly organised on the basis of the rural Commune; but it
fell far short of meeting the requirements of the situation. Its
largest unit was the Volost, which comprises merely a few
contiguous Communes, and its action is confined exclusively to the
peasantry. Evidently it was necessary to create a larger
administrative unit, in which the interests of all classes of the
population could be attended to, and for this purpose Alexander II.
in November, 1859, more than a year before the Emancipation Edict,
instructed a special Commission to prepare a project for giving to
the inefficient, dislocated provincial administration greater unity
and independence. The project was duly prepared, and after being
discussed in the Council of State it received the Imperial sanction
in January, 1864. It was supposed to give, in the words of an
explanatory memorandum attached to it, "as far as possible a
complete and logical development to the principle of local self-
government." Thus was created the Zemstvo,* which has recently
attracted considerable attention in Western Europe, and which is
destined, perhaps, to play a great political part in the future.

* The term Zemstvo is derived from the word Zemlya, meaning land,
and might be translated, if a barbarism were permissible, by Land-
dom on the analogy of Kingdom, Dukedom, etc.

My personal acquaintance with this interesting institution dates
from 1870. Very soon after my arrival at Novgorod in that year, I
made the acquaintance of a gentleman who was described to me as
"the president of the provincial Zemstvo-bureau," and finding him
amiable and communicative, I suggested that he might give me some
information regarding the institution of which he was the chief
local representative. With the utmost readiness he proposed to be
my Mentor, introduced me to his colleagues, and invited me to come
and see him at his office as often as I felt inclined. Of this
invitation I made abundant use. At first my visits were discreetly
few and short, but when I found that my new friend and his
colleagues really wished to instruct me in all the details of
Zemstvo administration, and had arranged a special table in the
president's room for my convenience, I became a regular attendant,
and spent daily several hours in the bureau, studying the current
affairs, and noting down the interesting bits of statistical and
other information which came before the members, as if I had been
one of their number. When they went to inspect the hospital, the
lunatic asylum, the seminary for the preparation of village
schoolmasters, or any other Zemstvo institution, they invariably
invited me to accompany them, and made no attempt to conceal from
me the defects which they happened to discover.

I mention all this because it illustrates the readiness of most
Russians to afford every possible facility to a foreigner who
wishes seriously to study their country. They believe that they
have long been misunderstood and systematically calumniated by
foreigners, and they are extremely desirous that the prevalent
misconceptions regarding their country should be removed. It must
be said to their honour that they have little or none of that false
patriotism which seeks to conceal national defects; and in judging
themselves and their institutions they are inclined to be over-
severe rather than unduly lenient. In the time of Nicholas I.
those who desired to stand well with the Government proclaimed
loudly that they lived in the happiest and best-governed country of
the world, but this shallow official optimism has long since gone
out of fashion. During all the years which I spent in Russia I
found everywhere the utmost readiness to assist me in my
investigations, and very rarely noticed that habit of "throwing
dust in the eyes of foreigners," of which some writers have spoken
so much.

The Zemstvo is a kind of local administration which supplements the
action of the rural Communes, and takes cognizance of those higher
public wants which individual Communes cannot possibly satisfy.
Its principal duties are to keep the roads and bridges in proper
repair, to provide means of conveyance for the rural police and
other officials, to look after primary education and sanitary
affairs, to watch the state of the crops and take measures against
approaching famine, and, in short, to undertake, within certain
clearly defined limits, whatever seems likely to increase the
material and moral well-being of the population. In form the
institution is Parliamentary--that is to say, it consists of an
assembly of deputies which meets regularly once a year, and of a
permanent executive bureau elected by the Assembly from among its
members. If the Assembly be regarded as a local Parliament, the
bureau corresponds to the Cabinet. In accordance with this analogy
my friend the president was sometimes jocularly termed the Prime
Minister. Once every three years the deputies are elected in
certain fixed proportions by the landed proprietors, the rural
Communes, and the municipal corporations. Every province
(guberniya) and each of the districts (uyezdi) into which the
province is subdivided has such an assembly and such a bureau.

Not long after my arrival in Novgorod I had the opportunity of
being present at a District Assembly. In the ball-room of the
"Club de la Noblesse" I found thirty or forty men seated round a
long table covered with green cloth. Before each member lay sheets
of paper for the purpose of taking notes, and before the president--
the Marshal of Noblesse for the district--stood a small hand-bell,
which he rang vigorously at the commencement of the proceedings and
on all the occasions when he wished to obtain silence. To the
right and left of the president sat the members of the executive
bureau (uprava), armed with piles of written and printed documents,
from which they read long and tedious extracts, till the majority
of the audience took to yawning and one or two of the members
positively went to sleep. At the close of each of these reports
the president rang his bell--presumably for the purpose of
awakening the sleepers--and inquired whether any one had remarks to
make on what had just been read. Generally some one had remarks to
make, and not unfrequently a discussion ensued. When any decided
difference of opinion appeared a vote was taken by handing round a
sheet of paper, or by the simpler method of requesting the Ayes to
stand up and the Noes to sit still.

What surprised me most in this assembly was that it was composed
partly of nobles and partly of peasants--the latter being decidedly
in the majority--and that no trace of antagonism seemed to exist
between the two classes. Landed proprietors and their ci-devant
serfs, emancipated only ten years before, evidently met for the
moment on a footing of equality. The discussions were carried on
chiefly by the nobles, but on more than one occasion peasant
members rose to speak, and their remarks, always clear, practical,
and to the point, were invariably listened to with respectful
attention. Instead of that violent antagonism which might have
been expected, considering the constitution of the Assembly, there
was too much unanimity--a fact indicating plainly that the majority
of the members did not take a very deep interest in the matters
presented to them.

This assembly was held in the month of September. At the beginning
of December the Assembly for the Province met, and during nearly
three weeks I was daily present at its deliberations. In general
character and mode of procedure it resembled closely the District
Assembly. Its chief peculiarities were that its members were
chosen, not by the primary electors, but by the assemblies of the
ten districts which compose the province, and that it took
cognisance merely of those matters which concerned more than one
district. Besides this, the peasant deputies were very few in
number--a fact which somewhat surprised me, because I was aware
that, according to the law, the peasant members of the District
Assemblies were eligible, like those of the other classes. The
explanation is that the District Assemblies choose their most
active members to represent them in the Provincial Assemblies, and
consequently the choice generally falls on landed proprietors. To
this arrangement the peasants make no objection, for attendance at
the Provincial Assemblies demands a considerable pecuniary outlay,
and payment to the deputies is expressly prohibited by law

To give the reader an idea of the elements composing this assembly,
let me introduce him to a few of the members. A considerable
section of them may be described in a single sentence. They are
commonplace men, who have spent part of their youth in the public
service as officers in the army, or officials in the civil
administration, and have since retired to their estates, where they
gain a modest competence by farming. Some of them add to their
agricultural revenue by acting as justices of the peace.* A few
may be described more particularly.

* That is no longer possible. The institution of justices elected
and paid by the Zemstvo was abolished in 1889.

You see there, for instance, that fine-looking old general in
uniform, with the St. George's Cross at his button-hole--an order
given only for bravery in the field. That is Prince Suvorof, a
grandson of the famous general. He has filled high posts in the
Administration without ever tarnishing his name by a dishonest or
dishonourable action, and has spent a great part of his life at
Court without ceasing to be frank, generous, and truthful. Though
he has no intimate knowledge of current affairs, and sometimes
gives way a little to drowsiness, his sympathies in disputed points
are always on the right side, and when he gets to his feet he
always speaks in a clear soldierlike fashion.

The tall gaunt man, somewhat over middle age, who sits a little to
the left is Prince Vassiltchikof. He too, has an historic name,
but he cherishes above all things personal independence, and has
consequently always kept aloof from the Imperial Administration and
the Court. The leisure thus acquired he has devoted to study, and
he has produced several valuable works on political and social
science. An enthusiastic but at the same time cool-headed
abolitionist at the time of the Emancipation, he has since
constantly striven to ameliorate the condition of the peasantry by
advocating the spread of primary education, the rural credit
associations in the village, the preservation of the Communal
institutions, and numerous important reforms in the financial
system. Both of these gentlemen, it is said, generously gave to
their peasants more land than they were obliged to give by the
Emancipation Law. In the Assembly Prince Vassiltchikof speaks
frequently, and always commands attention; and in all important
committees he is leading member. Though a warm defender of the
Zemstvo institutions, he thinks that their activity ought to be
confined to a comparatively narrow field, and he thereby differs
from some of his colleagues, who are ready to embark in hazardous,
not to say fanciful, schemes for developing the natural resources
of the province. His neighbour, Mr. P----, is one of the ablest
and most energetic members of the Assembly. He is president of the
executive bureau in one of the districts, where he has founded many
primary schools and created several rural credit associations on
the model of those which bear the name of Schultze Delitsch in
Germany. Mr. S----, who sits beside him, was for some years an
arbiter between the proprietors and emancipated serfs, then a
member of the Provincial Executive Bureau, and is now director of a
bank in St. Petersburg.

To the right and left of the president--who is Marshal of Noblesse
for the province--sit the members of the bureau. The gentleman who
reads the long reports is my friend "the Prime Minister," who began
life as a cavalry officer, and after a few years of military
service retired to his estate; he is an intelligent, able
administrator, and a man of considerable literary culture. His
colleague, who assists him in reading the reports, is a merchant,
and director of the municipal bank. The next member is also a
merchant, and in some respects the most remarkable man in the room.
Though born a serf, he is already, at middle age, an important
personage in the Russian commercial world. Rumour says that he
laid the foundation of his fortune by one day purchasing a copper
cauldron in a village through which he was passing on his way to
St. Petersburg, where he hoped to gain a little money by the sale
of some calves. In the course of a few years he amassed an
enormous fortune; but cautious people think that he is too fond of
hazardous speculations, and prophesy that he will end life as poor
as he began it.

All these men belong to what may be called the party of progress,
which anxiously supports all proposals recognised as "liberal," and
especially all measures likely to improve the condition of the
peasantry. Their chief opponent is that little man with close-
cropped, bullet-shaped head and small piercing eyes, who may be
called the Leader of the opposition. He condemns many of the
proposed schemes, on the ground that the province is already
overtaxed, and that the expenditure ought to be reduced to the
smallest possible figure. In the District Assembly he preaches
this doctrine with considerable success, for there the peasantry
form the majority, and he knows how to use that terse, homely
language, interspersed with proverbs, which has far more influence
on the rustic mind than scientific principles and logical
reasoning; but here, in Provincial Assembly, his following composes
only a respectable minority, and he confines himself to a policy of

The Zemstvo of Novgorod had at that time the reputation of being
one of the most enlightened and energetic, and I must say that the
proceedings were conducted in a business-like, satisfactory way.
The reports were carefully considered, and each article of the
annual budget was submitted to minute scrutiny and criticism. In
several of the provinces which I afterwards visited I found that
affairs were conducted in a very different fashion: quorums were
formed with extreme difficulty, and the proceedings, when they at
last commenced, were treated as mere formalities and despatched as
speedily as possible. The character of the Assembly depends of
course on the amount of interest taken in local public affairs. In
some districts this interest is considerable; in others it is very
near zero.

The birth of this new institution was hailed with enthusiasm, and
produced great expectations. At that time a large section of the
Russian educated classes had a simple, convenient criterion for
institutions of all kinds. They assumed as a self-evident axiom
that the excellence of an institution must always be in proportion
to its "liberal" and democratic character. The question as to how
far it might be appropriate to the existing conditions and to the
character of the people, and as to whether it might not, though
admirable in itself, be too expensive for the work to be performed,
was little thought of. Any organisation which rested on "the
elective principle," and provided an arena for free public
discussion, was sure to be well received, and these conditions were
fulfilled by the Zemstvo.

The expectations excited were of various kinds. People who thought
more of political than economic progress saw in the Zemstvo the
basis of boundless popular liberty. Prince Yassiltchikof, for
example, though naturally of a phlegmatic temperament, became for a
moment enthusiastic, and penned the following words: "With a daring
unparalleled in the chronicles of the world, we have entered on the
career of public life." If local self-government in England had,
in spite of its aristocratic character, created and preserved
political liberty, as had been proved by several learned Germans,
what might be expected from institutions so much more liberal and
democratic? In England there had never been county parliaments,
and the local administration had always been in the hands of the
great land-owners; whilst in Russia every district would have its
elective assembly, in which the peasant would be on a level with
the richest landed proprietors. People who were accustomed to
think of social rather than political progress expected that they
would soon see the country provided with good roads, safe bridges,
numerous village schools, well-appointed hospitals, and all the
other requisites of civilisation. Agriculture would become more
scientific, trade and industry would be rapidly developed, and the
material, intellectual, and moral condition of the peasantry would
be enormously improved. The listless apathy of provincial life and
the hereditary indifference to local public affairs were now, it
was thought, about to be dispelled; and in view of this change,
patriotic mothers took their children to the annual assemblies in
order to accustom them from their early years to take an interest
in the public welfare.

It is hardly necessary to say that these inordinate expectations
were not realised. From the very beginning there had been a
misunderstanding regarding the character and functions of the new
institutions. During the short period of universal enthusiasm for
reform the great officials had used incautiously some of the vague
liberal phrases then in fashion, but they never seriously intended
to confer on the child which they were bringing into the world a
share in the general government of the country; and the rapid
evaporation of their sentimental liberalism, which began as soon as
they undertook practical reforms, made them less and less
conciliatory. When the vigorous young child, therefore, showed a
natural desire to go beyond the humble functions accorded to it,
the stern parents proceeded to snub it and put it into its proper
place. The first reprimand was administered publicly in the
capital. The St. Petersburg Provincial Assembly, having shown a
desire to play a political part, was promptly closed by the
Minister of the Interior, and some of the members were exiled for a
time to their homes in the country.

This warning produced merely a momentary effect. As the functions
of the Imperial Administration and of the Zemstvo had never been
clearly defined, and as each was inclined to extend the sphere of
its activity, friction became frequent. The Zemstvo had the right,
for example, to co-operate in the development of education, but as
soon as it organised primary schools and seminaries it came into
contact with the Ministry of Public Instruction. In other
departments similar conflicts occurred, and the tchinovniks came to
suspect that the Zemstvo had the ambition to play the part of a
parliamentary Opposition. This suspicion found formal expression
in at least one secret official document, in which the writer
declares that "the Opposition has built itself firmly a nest in the
Zemstvo." Now, if we mean to be just to both parties in this
little family quarrel, we must admit that the Zemstvo, as I shall
explain in a future chapter, had ambitions of that kind, and it
would have been better perhaps for the country at the present
moment if it had been able to realise them. But this is a West-
European idea. In Russia there is, and can be, no such thing as
"His Majesty's Opposition." To the Russian official mind the three
words seem to contain a logical contradiction. Opposition to
officials, even within the limits of the law, is equivalent to
opposition to the Autocratic Power, of which they are the incarnate
emanations; and opposition to what they consider the interests of
autocracy comes within measurable distance of high treason. It was
considered necessary, therefore, to curb and suppress the ambitious
tendencies of the wayward child, and accordingly it was placed more
and more under the tutelage of the provincial Governors. To show
how the change was effected, let me give an illustration. In the
older arrangements the Governor could suspend the action of the
Zemstvo only on the ground of its being illegal or ultra vires, and
when there was an irreconcilable difference of opinion between the
two parties the question was decided judicially by the Senate;
under the more recent arrangements his Excellency can interpose his
veto whenever he considers that a decision, though it may be
perfectly legal, is not conducive to the public good, and
differences of opinion are referred, not to the Senate, but to the
Minister of the Interior, who is always naturally disposed to
support the views of his subordinate.

In order to put an end to all this insubordination, Count Tolstoy,
the reactionary Minister of the Interior, prepared a scheme of
reorganisation in accordance with his anti-liberal views, but he
died before he could carry it out, and a much milder reorganisation
was adopted in the law of 12th (24th) June, 1890. The principal
changes introduced by that law were that the number of delegates in
the Assemblies was reduced by about a fourth, and the relative
strength of the different social classes was altered. Under the
old law the Noblesse had about 42 per cent., and the peasantry
about 38 per cent, of the seats; by the new electoral arrangements
the former have 57 per cent, and the latter about 30. It does not
necessarily follow, however, that the Assemblies are more
conservative or more subservient on that account. Liberalism and
insubordination are much more likely to be found among the nobles
than among the peasants.

In addition to all this, as there was an apprehension in the higher
official spheres of St. Petersburg that the opposition spirit of
the Zemstvo might find public expression in a printed form, the
provincial Governors received extensive rights of preventive
censure with regard to the publication of the minutes of Zemstvo
Assemblies and similar documents.

What the bureaucracy, in its zeal to defend the integrity of the
Autocratic Power, feared most of all was combination for a common
purpose on the part of the Zemstvos of different provinces. It
vetoed, therefore, all such combinations, even for statistical
purposes; and when it discovered, a few years ago, that leading
members of the Zemstvo from all parts of the country were holding
private meetings in Moscow for the ostensible purpose of discussing
economic questions, it ordered them to return to their homes.

Even within its proper sphere, as defined by law, the Zemstvo has
not accomplished what was expected of it. The country has not been
covered with a network of macadamised roads, and the bridges are by
no means as safe as could be desired. Village schools and
infirmaries are still far below the requirements of the population.
Little or nothing has been done for the development of trade or
manufactures; and the villages remain very much what they were
under the old Administration. Meanwhile the local rates have been
rising with alarming rapidity; and many people draw from all this
the conclusion that the Zemstvo is a worthless institution which
has increased the taxation without conferring any corresponding
benefit on the country.

If we take as our criterion in judging the institution the
exaggerated expectations at first entertained, we may feel inclined
to agree with this conclusion, but this is merely tantamount to
saying that the Zemstvo has performed no miracles. Russia is much
poorer and much less densely populated than the more advanced
nations which she takes as her model. To suppose that she could at
once create for herself by means of an administrative reform all
the conveniences which those more advanced nations enjoy, was as
absurd as it would be to imagine that a poor man can at once
construct a magnificent palace because he has received from a
wealthy neighbour the necessary architectural plans. Not only
years but generations must pass before Russia can assume the
appearance of Germany, France, or England. The metamorphosis may
be accelerated or retarded by good government, but it could not be
effected at once, even if the combined wisdom of all the
philosophers and statesmen in Europe were employed in legislating
for the purpose.

The Zemstvo has, however, done much more than the majority of its
critics admit. It fulfils tolerably well, without scandalous
peculation and jobbery, its commonplace, every-day duties, and it
has created a new and more equitable system of rating, by which
landed proprietors and house-owners are made to bear their share of
the public burdens. It has done a very great deal to provide
medical aid and primary education for the common people, and it has
improved wonderfully the condition of the hospitals, lunatic
asylums, and other benevolent institutions committed to its charge.
In its efforts to aid the peasantry it has helped to improve the
native breeds of horses and cattle, and it has created a system of
obligatory fire-insurance, together with means for preventing and
extinguishing fires in the villages--a most important matter in a
country where the peasants live in wooden houses and big fires are
fearfully frequent. After neglecting for a good many years the
essential question as to how the peasants' means of subsistence can
be increased, it has latterly, as I have mentioned in a foregoing
chapter, helped them to obtain improved agricultural implements and
better seed, encouraged the formation of small credit associations
and savings banks, and appointed agricultural inspectors to teach
them how they may introduce modest improvements within their
limited means.* At the same time, in many districts it has
endeavoured to assist the home industries which are threatened with
annihilation by the big factories, and whenever measures have been
proposed for the benefit of the rural population, such as the
lowering of the land-redemption payments and the creation of the
Peasant Land Bank, it has invariably given them its cordial

* The amount expended for these objects in 1897, the latest year
for which I have statistical data, was about a million and a half
of roubles, or, roughly speaking, 150,000 pounds, distributed under
the following heads:--

1. Agricultural tuition 41,100 pounds.
2. Experimental stations, museums, etc 19,800
3. Scientific agriculturists 17,400
4. Agricultural industries 26,700
5. Improving breeds of horses and cattle 45,300
150,300 pounds.

If you ask a zealous member of the Zemstvo why it has not done more
he will probably tell you that it is because its activity has been
constantly restricted and counteracted by the Government. The
Assemblies were obliged to accept as presidents the Marshals of
Noblesse, many of whom were men of antiquated ideas and retrograde
principles. At every turn the more enlightened, more active
members found themselves opposed, thwarted, and finally checkmated
by the Imperial officials. When a laudable attempt was made to tax
trade and industry more equitably the scheme was vetoed, and
consequently the mercantile class, sure of being always taxed at a
ridiculously low maximum, have lost all interest in the
proceedings. Even with regard to the rating of landed and house
property a low limit is imposed by the Government, because it is
afraid that if the rates were raised much it would not be able to
collect the heavy Imperial taxation. The uncontrolled publicity
which was at first enjoyed by the Assemblies was afterwards
curtailed by the bureaucracy. Under such restrictions all free,
vigorous action became impossible, and the institutions failed to
effect what was reasonably anticipated.

All this is true in a certain sense, but it is not the whole truth.
If we examine some of the definite charges brought against the
institution we shall understand better its real character.

The most common complaint made against it is that it has enormously
increased the rates. On that point there is no possibility of
dispute. At first its expenditure in the thirty-four provinces in
which it existed was under six millions of roubles; in two years
(1868) it had jumped up to fifteen millions; in 1875 it was nearly
twenty-eight millions, in 1885 over forty-three millions, and at
the end of the century it had attained the respectable figure of
95,800,000 roubles. As each province had the right of taxing
itself, the increase varied greatly in different provinces. In
Smolensk, for example, it was only about thirty per cent., whilst
in Samara it was 436, and in Viatka, where the peasant element
predominates, no less than 1,262 per cent.! In order to meet this
increase, the rates on land rose from under ten millions in 1868 to
over forty-seven millions in 1900. No wonder that the landowners
who find it difficult to work their estates at a profit should

Though this increase is disagreeable to the rate-payers, it does
not follow that it is excessive. In all countries rates and local
taxation are on the increase, and it is in the backward countries
that they increase most rapidly. In France, for example, the
average yearly increase has been 2.7 per cent., while in Austria it
has been 5.59. In Russia it ought to have been more than in
Austria, whereas it has been, in the provinces with Zemstvo
institutions, only about 4 per cent. In comparison with the
Imperial taxation the local does not seem excessive when compared
with other countries. In England and Prussia, for instance, the
State taxation as compared with the local is as a hundred to fifty-
four and fifty-one, whilst in Russia it is as a hundred to
sixteen.* A reduction in the taxation as a whole would certainly
contribute to the material welfare of the rural population, but it
is desirable that it should be made in the Imperial taxes rather
than in the rates, because the latter may be regarded as something
akin to productive investments, whilst the proceeds of the former
are expended largely on objects which have little or nothing to do
with the wants of the common people. In speaking thus I am
assuming that the local expenditure is made judiciously, and this
is a matter on which, I am bound to confess, there is by no means
unanimity of opinion.

* These figures are taken from the best available authorities,
chiefly Schwanebach and Scalon, but I am not prepared to guarantee
their accuracy.

Hostile critics can point to facts which are, to say the least,
strange and anomalous. Out of the total of its revenue the Zemstvo
spends about twenty-eight per cent. under the heading of public
health and benevolent institutions; and about fifteen per cent. for
popular education, whilst it devotes only about six per cent. to
roads and bridges, and until lately it neglected, as I have said
above, the means for improving agriculture and directly increasing
the income of the peasantry.

Before passing sentence with regard to these charges we must
remember the circumstances in which the Zemstvo was founded and has
grown up. In the early times its members were well-meaning men who
had had very little experience in administration or in practical
life of any sort except the old routine in which they had
previously vegetated. Most of them had lived enough in the country
to know how much the peasants were in need of medical assistance of
the most elementary kind, and to this matter they at once turned
their attention. They tried to organise a system of doctors,
hospital assistants, and dispensaries by which the peasant would
not have to go more than fifteen or twenty miles to get a wound
dressed or to have a consultation or to obtain a simple remedy for
ordinary ailments. They felt the necessity, too, of thoroughly
reorganising the hospitals and the lunatic asylums, which were in a
very unsatisfactory condition. Plainly enough, there was here good
work to be done. Then there were the higher aims. In the absence
of practical experience there were enthusiasms and theories.
Amongst these was the enthusiasm for education, and the theory that
the want of it was the chief reason why Russia had remained so far
behind the nations of Western Europe. Give us education, it was
said, and all other good things will be added thereto. Liberate
the Russian people from the bonds of ignorance as you have
liberated it from the bonds of serfage, and its wonderful natural
capacities will then be able to create everything that is required
for its material, intellectual, and moral welfare.

If there was any one among the leaders who took a more sober,
prosaic view of things he was denounced as an ignoramus and a
reactionary. Willingly or unwillingly, everybody had to swim with
the current. Roads and bridges were not entirely neglected, but
the efforts in that direction were confined to the absolutely
indispensable. For such prosaic concerns there was no enthusiasm,
and it was universally recognised that in Russia the construction
of good roads, as the term is understood in Western Europe, was far
beyond the resources of any Administration. Of the necessity for
such roads few were conscious. All that was required was to make
it possible to get from one place to another in ordinary weather
and ordinary circumstances. If a stream was too deep to be forded,
a bridge had to be built or a ferry had to be established; and if
the approach to a bridge was so marshy or muddy that vehicles often
sank quite up to the axles and had to be dragged out by ropes, with
the assistance of the neighbouring villagers, repairs had to be
made. Beyond this the efforts of the Zemstvo rarely went. Its
road-building ambition remained within very modest bounds.

As for the impoverishment of the peasantry and the necessity of
improving their system of agriculture, that question had hardly
appeared above the horizon. It might have to be dealt with in the
future, but there was no need for hurry. Once the rural population
were educated, the question would solve itself. It was not till
about the year 1885 that it was recognised to be more urgent than
had been supposed, and some Zemstvos perceived that the people
might starve before its preparatory education was completed.
Repeated famines pushed the lesson home, and the landed proprietors
found their revenues diminished by the fall in the price of grain
on the European markets. Thus was raised the cry: "Agriculture in
Russia is on the decline! The country has entered on an acute
economic crisis! If energetic measures be not taken promptly the
people will soon find themselves confronted by starvation!"

To this cry of alarm the Zemstvo was neither deaf nor indifferent.
Recognising that the danger could be averted only by inducing the
peasantry to adopt a more intensive system of agriculture, it
directed more and more of its attention to agricultural
improvements, and tried to get them adopted.* It did, in short,
all it could, according to its lights and within the limits of its
moderate resources. Its available resources were small,
unfortunately, for it was forbidden by the Government to increase
the rates, and it could not well dismiss doctors and close
dispensaries and schools when the people were clamouring for more.
So at least the defenders of the Zemstvo maintain, and they go so
far as to contend that it did well not to grapple with the
impoverishment of the peasantry at an earlier period, when the real
conditions of the problem and the means of solving it were only
very imperfectly known: if it had begun at that time it would have
made great blunders and spent much money to little purpose.

* Vide supra, p. 489.

However this may be, it would certainly be unfair to condemn the
Zemstvo for not being greatly in advance of public opinion. If it
endeavours strenuously to supply all clearly recognised wants, that
is all that can reasonably be expected of it. What it may be more
justly reproached with is, in my opinion, that it is, to a certain
extent, imbued with that unpractical, pedantic spirit which is
commonly supposed to reside exclusively in the Imperial
Administration. But here again it simply reflects public opinion
and certain intellectual peculiarities of the educated classes.
When a Russian begins to write on a simple everyday subject, he
likes to connect it with general principles, philosophy, or
history, and begins, perhaps, by expounding his views on the
intellectual and social developments of humanity in general and of
Russia in particular. If he has sufficient space at his disposal
he may even tell you something about the early period of Russian
history previous to the Mongol invasion before he gets to the
simple matter in hand. In a previous chapter I have described the
process of "shedding on a subject the light of science" in Imperial
legislation.* In Zemstvo activity we often meet with pedantry of a
similar kind.

* Vide supra, p. 343.

If this pedantry were confined to the writing of Reports it might
not do much harm. Unfortunately, it often appears in the sphere of
action. To illustrate this I take a recent instance from the
province of Nizhni-Novgorod. The Zemstvo of that province received
from the Central Government in 1895 a certain amount of capital for
road-improvement, with instructions from the Ministry of Interior
that it should classify the roads according to their relative
importance and improve them accordingly. Any intelligent person
well acquainted with the region might have made, in the course of a
week or two, the required classification accurately enough for all
practical purposes. Instead of adopting this simple procedure,
what does the Zemstvo do? It chooses one of the eleven districts
of which the province is composed and instructs its statistical
department to describe all the villages with a view of determining
the amount of traffic which each will probably contribute to the
general movement, and then it verifies its a priori conclusions by
means of a detachment of specially selected "registrars," posted at
all the crossways during six days of each month. These registrars
doubtless inscribed every peasant cart as it passed and made a
rough estimate of the weight of its load. When this complicated
and expensive procedure was completed for one district it was
applied to another; but at the end of three years, before all the
villages of this second district had been described and the traffic
estimated, the energy of the statistical department seems to have
flagged, and, like a young author impatient to see himself in
print, it published a volume at the public expense which no one
will ever read.

The cost entailed by this procedure is not known, but we may form
some idea of the amount of time required for the whole operation.
It is a simple rule-of-three sum. If it took three years for the
preparatory investigation of a district and a half, how many years
will be required for eleven districts? More than twenty years!
During that period it would seem that the roads are to remain as
they are, and when the moment comes for improving them it will be
found that, unless the province is condemned to economic
stagnation, the "valuable statistical material" collected at such
an expenditure of time and money is in great part antiquated and
useless. The statistical department will be compelled, therefore,
like another unfortunate Sisyphus, to begin the work anew, and it
is difficult to see how the Zemstvo, unless it becomes a little
more practical, is ever to get out of the vicious circle.

In this case the evil result of pedantry was simply unnecessary
delay, and in the meantime the capital was accumulating, unless the
interest was entirely swallowed up by the statistical researches;
but there are cases in which the consequences are more serious.
Let me take an illustration from the enlightened province of
Moscow. It was observed that certain villages were particularly
unhealthy, and it was pointed out by a local doctor that the
inhabitants were in the habit of using for domestic purposes the
water of ponds which were in a filthy condition. What was
evidently wanted was good wells, and a practical man would at once
have taken measures to have them dug. Not so the District Zemstvo.
It at once transformed the simple fact into a "question" requiring
scientific investigation. A commission was appointed to study the
problem, and after much deliberation it was decided to make a
geological survey in order to ascertain the depth of good water
throughout the district as a preparatory step towards preparing a
project which will some day be discussed in the District Assembly,
and perhaps in the Assembly of the province. Whilst all this is
being done according to the strict principles of bureaucratic
procedure, the unfortunate peasants for whose benefit the
investigation was undertaken continue to drink the muddy water of
the dirty ponds.

Incidents of that kind, which I might multiply almost to any
extent, remind one of the proverbial formalism of the Chinese; but
between Chinese and Russian pedantry there is an essential
difference. In the Middle Kingdom the sacrifice of practical
considerations proceeds from an exaggerated veneration of the
wisdom of ancestors; in the Empire of the Tsars it is due to an
exaggerated adoration of the goddess Nauka (Science) and a habit of
appealing to abstract principles and scientific methods when only a
little plain common-sense is required.

On one occasion, I remember, in a District Assembly of the province
of Riazan, when the subject of primary schools was being discussed,
an influential member started up, and proposed that an obligatory
system of education should at once be introduced throughout the
whole district. Strange to say, the motion was very nearly
carried, though all the members present knew--or at least might
have known if they had taken the trouble to inquire--that the
actual number of schools would have to be multiplied twenty-fold,
and all were agreed that the local rates must not be increased. To
preserve his reputation for liberalism, the honourable member
further proposed that, though the system should be obligatory, no
fines, punishments, or other means of compulsion should be
employed. How a system could be obligatory without using some
means of compulsion, he did not condescend to explain. To get out
of the difficulty one of his supporters suggested that the peasants
who did not send their children to school should be excluded from
serving as office-bearers in the Communes; but this proposition
merely created a laugh, for many deputies knew that the peasants
would regard this supposed punishment as a valuable privilege. And
whilst this discussion about the necessity of introducing an ideal
system of obligatory education was being carried on, the street
before the windows of the room was covered with a stratum of mud
nearly two feet in depth! The other streets were in a similar
condition; and a large number of the members always arrived late,
because it was almost impossible to come on foot, and there was
only one public conveyance in the town. Many members had,
fortunately, their private conveyances, but even in these
locomotion was by no means easy. One day, in the principal
thoroughfare, a member had his tarantass overturned, and he himself
was thrown into the mud!

It is hardly fair to compare the Zemstvo with the older
institutions of a similar kind in Western Europe, and especially
with our own local self-government. Our institutions have all
grown out of real, practical wants keenly felt by a large section
of the population. Cautious and conservative in all that concerns
the public welfare, we regard change as a necessary evil, and put
off the evil day as long as possible, even when convinced that it
must inevitably come. Thus our administrative wants are always in
advance of our means of satisfying them, and we use vigorously
those means as soon as they are supplied. Our method of supplying
the means, too, is peculiar. Instead of making a tabula rasa, and
beginning from the foundations, we utilise to the utmost what we
happen to possess, and add merely what is absolutely indispensable.
Metaphorically speaking, we repair and extend our political edifice
according to the changing necessities of our mode of life, without
paying much attention to abstract principles or the contingencies
of the distant future. The building may be an aesthetic
monstrosity, belonging to no recognised style of architecture, and
built in defiance of the principles laid down by philosophical art
critics, but it is well adapted to our requirements, and every hole
and corner of it is sure to be utilised.

Very different has been the political history of Russia during the
last two centuries. It may be briefly described as a series of
revolutions effected peaceably by the Autocratic Power. Each young
energetic sovereign has attempted to inaugurate a new epoch by
thoroughly remodelling the Administration according to the most
approved foreign political philosophy of the time. Institutions
have not been allowed to grow spontaneously out of popular wants,
but have been invented by bureaucratic theorists to satisfy wants
of which the people were still unconscious. The administrative
machine has therefore derived little or no motive force from the
people, and has always been kept in motion by the unaided energy of
the Central Government. Under these circumstances it is not
surprising that the repeated attempts of the Government to lighten
the burdens of centralised administration by creating organs of
local self-government should not have been very successful.

The Zemstvo, it is true, offered better chances of success than any
of its predecessors. A large portion of the nobles had become
alive to the necessity of improving the administration, and the
popular interest in public affairs was much greater than at any
former period. Hence there was at first a period of enthusiasm,
during which great preparations were made for future activity, and
not a little was actually effected. The institution had all the
charm of novelty, and the members felt that the eyes of the public
were upon them. For a time all went well, and the Zemstvo was so
well pleased with its own activity that the satirical journals
compared it to Narcissus admiring his image reflected in the pool.
But when the charm of novelty had passed and the public turned its
attention to other matters, the spasmodic energy evaporated, and
many of the most active members looked about for more lucrative
employment. Such employment was easily found, for at that time
there was an unusual demand for able, energetic, educated men.
Several branches of the civil service were being reorganised, and
railways, banks, and joint-stock companies were being rapidly
multiplied. With these the Zemstvo had great difficulty in
competing. It could not, like the Imperial service, offer
pensions, decorations, and prospects of promotion, nor could it pay
such large salaries as the commercial and industrial enterprises.
In consequence of all this, the quality of the executive bureaux
deteriorated at the same time as the public interest in the
institution diminished.

To be just to the Zemstvo, I must add that, with all its defects
and errors, it is infinitely better than the institutions which it
replaced. If we compare it with previous attempts to create local
self-government, we must admit that the Russians have made great
progress in their political education. What its future may be I do
not venture to predict. From its infancy it has had, as we have
seen, the ambition to play a great political part, and at the
beginning of the recent stirring times in St. Petersburg its
leading representatives in conclave assembled took upon themselves
to express what they considered the national demand for liberal
representative institutions. The desire, which had previously from
time to time been expressed timidly and vaguely in loyal addresses
to the Tsar, that a central Zemstvo Assembly, bearing the ancient
title of Zemski Sobor, should be convoked in the capital and
endowed with political functions, was now put forward by the
representatives in plain unvarnished form. Whether this desire is
destined to be realised time will show.



Judicial Procedure in the Olden Times--Defects and Abuses--Radical
Reform--The New System--Justices of the Peace and Monthly Sessions--
The Regular Tribunals--Court of Revision--Modification of the
Original Plan--How Does the System Work?--Rapid Acclimatisation--
The Bench--The Jury--Acquittal of Criminals Who Confess Their
Crimes--Peasants, Merchants, and Nobles as Jurymen--Independence
and Political Significance of the New Courts.

After serf-emancipation and local self-government, the subject
which demanded most urgently the attention of reformers was the
judicial organisation, which had sunk to a depth of inefficiency
and corruption difficult to describe.

In early times the dispensation of justice in Russia, as in other
States of a primitive type, had a thoroughly popular character.
The State was still in its infancy, and the duty of defending the
person, the property, and the rights of individuals lay, of
necessity, chiefly on the individuals themselves. Self-help formed
the basis of the judicial procedure, and the State merely assisted
the individual to protect his rights and to avenge himself on those
who voluntarily infringed them.

By the rapid development of the Autocratic Power all this was
changed. Autocracy endeavoured to drive and regulate the social
machine by its own unaided force, and regarded with suspicion and
jealousy all spontaneous action in the people. The dispensation of
justice was accordingly appropriated by the central authority,
absorbed into the Administration, and withdrawn from public
control. Themis retired from the market-place, shut herself up in
a dark room from which the contending parties and the public gaze
were rigorously excluded, surrounded herself with secretaries and
scribes who put the rights and claims of the litigants into
whatever form they thought proper, weighed according to her own
judgment the arguments presented to her by her own servants, and
came forth from her seclusion merely to present a ready-made
decision or to punish the accused whom she considered guilty.

This change, though perhaps to some extent necessary, was attended
with very bad consequences. Freed from the control of the
contending parties and of the public, the courts acted as
uncontrolled human nature generally does. Injustice, extortion,
bribery, and corruption assumed gigantic proportions, and against
these evils the Government found no better remedy than a system of
complicated formalities and ingenious checks. The judicial
functionaries were hedged in by a multitude of regulations, so
numerous and complicated that it seemed impossible for even the
most unjust judge to swerve from the path of uprightness.
Explicit, minute rules were laid down for investigating facts and
weighing evidence; every scrap of evidence and every legal ground
on which the decision was based were committed to writing; every
act in the complicated process of coming to a decision was made the
subject of a formal document, and duly entered in various
registers; every document and register had to be signed and
countersigned by various officials who were supposed to control
each other; every decision might be carried to a higher court and
made to pass a second time through the bureaucratic machine. In a
word, the legislature introduced a system of formal written
procedure of the most complicated kind, in the belief that by this
means mistakes and dishonesty would be rendered impossible.

It may be reasonably doubted whether this system of judicial
administration can anywhere give satisfactory results. It is
everywhere found by experience that in tribunals from which the
healthy atmosphere of publicity is excluded justice languishes, and
a great many ugly plants shoot up with wonderful vitality. Languid
indifference, an indiscriminating spirit of routine, and unblushing
dishonesty invariably creep in through the little chinks and
crevices of the barrier raised against them, and no method of
hermetically sealing these chinks and crevices has yet been
invented. The attempt to close them up by increasing the
formalities and multiplying the courts of appeal and revision
merely adds to the tediousness of the procedure, and withdraws the
whole process still more completely from public control. At the
same time the absence of free discussion between the contending
parties renders the task of the judge enormously difficult. If the
system is to succeed at all, it must provide a body of able,
intelligent, thoroughly-trained jurists, and must place them beyond
the reach of bribery and other forms of corruption.

In Russia neither of these conditions was fulfilled. Instead of
endeavouring to create a body of well-trained jurists, the
Government went further and further in the direction of letting the
judges be chosen for a short period by popular election from among
men who had never received a juridical education, or a fair
education of any kind; whilst the place of judge was so poorly
paid, and stood so low in public estimation, that the temptations
to dishonesty were difficult to resist.

The practice of choosing the judges by popular election was an
attempt to restore to the courts something of their old popular
character; but it did not succeed, for very obvious reasons.
Popular election in a judicial organisation is useful only when the
courts are public and the procedure simple; on the contrary, it is
positively prejudicial when the procedure is in writing and
extremely complicated. And so it proved in Russia. The elected
judges, unprepared for their work, and liable to be changed at
short intervals, rarely acquired a knowledge of law or procedure.
They were for the most part poor, indolent landed proprietors, who
did little more than sign the decisions prepared for them by the
permanent officials. Even when a judge happened to have some legal
knowledge he found small scope for its application, for he rarely,
if ever, examined personally the materials out of which a decision
was to be elaborated. The whole of the preliminary work, which was
in reality the most important, was performed by minor officials
under the direction of the secretary of the court. In criminal
cases, for instance, the secretary examined the written evidence--
all evidence was taken down in writing--extracted what he
considered the essential points, arranged them as he thought
proper, quoted the laws which ought in his opinion to be applied,
put all this into a report, and read the report to the judges. Of
course the judges, if they had no personal interest in the
decision, accepted the secretary's view of the case. If they did
not, all the preliminary work had to be done anew by themselves--a
task that few judges were able, and still fewer willing, to
perform. Thus the decision lay virtually in the hands of the
secretary and the minor officials, and in general neither the
secretary nor the minor officials were fit persons to have such
power. There is no need to detail here the ingenious expedients by
which they increased their meagre salaries, and how they generally
contrived to extract money from both parties.* Suffice it to say
that in general the chancelleries of the courts were dens of
pettifogging rascality, and the habitual, unblushing bribery had a
negative as well as a positive effect. If a person accused of some
crime had no money wherewith to grease the palm of the secretary he
might remain in prison for years without being brought to trial. A
well-known Russian writer still living relates that when visiting a
prison in the province of Nizhni-Novgorod he found among the
inmates undergoing preliminary arrest two peasant women, who were
accused of setting fire to a hayrick to revenge themselves on a
landed proprietor, a crime for which the legal punishment was from
four to eight months' imprisonment. One of them had a son of seven
years of age, and the other a son of twelve, both of whom had been
born in the prison, and had lived there ever since among the
criminals. Such a long preliminary arrest caused no surprise or
indignation among those who heard of it, because it was quite a
common occurrence. Every one knew that bribes were taken not only
by the secretary and his scribes, but also by the judges, who were
elected by the local Noblesse from its own ranks.

* Old book-catalogues sometimes mention a play bearing the
significant title, "The Unheard-of Wonder; or, The Honest
Secretary" (Neslykhannoe Dyelo ili Tchestny Sekretar). I have
never seen this curious production, but I have no doubt that it
referred to the peculiarities of the old judicial procedure.

With regard to the scale of punishments, notwithstanding some
humanitarian principles in the legislation, they were very severe,
and corporal punishment played amongst them a disagreeably
prominent part. Capital sentences were abolished as early as 1753-
54, but castigation with the knout, which often ended fatally,
continued until 1845, when it was replaced by flogging in the civil
administration, though retained for the military and for
insubordinate convicts. For the non-privileged classes the knout
or the lash supplemented nearly all punishments of a criminal kind.
When a man was condemned, for example, to penal servitude, he
received publicly from thirty to one hundred lashes, and was then
branded on the forehead and cheeks with the letters K. A. T.--the
first three letters of katorzhnik (convict). If he appealed he
received his lashes all the same, and if his appeal was rejected by
the Senate he received some more castigation for having troubled
unnecessarily the higher judicial authorities. For the military
and insubordinate convicts there was a barbarous punishment called
Spitsruten, to the extent of 5,000 or 6,000 blows, which often
ended in the death of the unfortunate.

The use of torture in criminal investigations was formally
abolished in 1801, but if we may believe the testimony of a public
prosecutor, it was occasionally used in Moscow as late as 1850.

The defects and abuses of the old system were so flagrant that they
became known even to the Emperor Nicholas I., and caused him
momentary indignation, but he never attempted seriously to root
them out. In 1844, for example, he heard of some gross abuses in a
tribunal not far from the Winter Palace, and ordered an
investigation. Baron Korff, to whom the investigation was
entrusted, brought to light what he called "a yawning abyss of all
possible horrors, which have been accumulating for years," and his
Majesty, after reading the report, wrote upon it with his own hand:
"Unheard-of disgrace! The carelessness of the authority
immediately concerned is incredible and unpardonable. I feel
ashamed and sad that such disorder could exist almost under my eyes
and remain unknown to me." Unfortunately the outburst of Imperial
indignation did not last long enough to produce any desirable
consequences. The only result was that one member of the tribunal
was dismissed from the service, and the Governor-General of St.
Petersburg had to resign, but the latter subsequently received an
honorary reward, and the Emperor remarked that he was himself to
blame for having kept the Governor-General so long at his post.

When his Majesty's habitual optimism happened to be troubled by
incidents of this sort he probably consoled himself with
remembering that he had ordered some preparatory work, by which the
administration of justice might be improved, and this work was
being diligently carried out in the legislative section of his own
chancery by Count Bludof, one of the ablest Russian lawyers of his
time. Unfortunately the existing state of things was not thereby
improved, because the preparatory work was not of the kind that was
wanted. On the assumption that any evil which might exist could be
removed by improving the laws, Count Bludof devoted his efforts
almost entirely to codification. In reality what was required was
to change radically the organisation of the courts and the
procedure, and above all to let in on their proceedings the
cleansing atmosphere of publicity. This the Emperor Nicholas could
not understand, and if he had understood it he could not have
brought himself to adopt the appropriate remedies, because radical
reform and control of officials by public opinion were his two pet

Very different was his son and successor, Alexander II., in the
first years of his reign. In his accession manifesto a prominent
place was given to his desire that justice and mercy should reign
in the courts of law. Referring to these words in a later
manifesto, he explained his wishes more fully as "the desire to
establish in Russia expeditious, just, merciful, impartial courts
of justice for all our subjects; to raise the judicial authority;
to give it the proper independence, and in general to implant in
the people that respect for the law which ought to be the constant
guide of all and every one from the highest to the lowest." These
were not mere vain words. Peremptory orders had been given that
the great work should be undertaken without delay, and when the
Emancipation question was being discussed in the Provincial
Committees, the Council of State examined the question of judicial
reform "from the historical, the theoretical, and the practical
point of view," and came to the conclusion that the existing
organisation must be completely transformed.

The commission appointed to consider this important matter filed a
lengthy indictment against the existing system, and pointed out no
less than twenty-five radical defects. To remove these it proposed
that the judicial organisation should be completely separated from
all other branches of the Administration; that the most ample
publicity, with trial by jury in criminal cases, should be
introduced into the tribunals; that Justice of Peace Courts should
be created for petty affairs; and that the procedure in the
ordinary courts should be greatly simplified.

These fundamental principles were published by Imperial command on
September 29th, 1862--a year and a half after the publication of
the Emancipation Manifesto--and on November 20th, 1864, the new
legislation founded on these principles received the Imperial

Like most institutions erected on a tabula rasa, the new system is
at once simple and symmetrical. As a whole, the architecture of
the edifice is decidedly French, but here and there we may detect
unmistakable symptoms of English influence. It is not, however, a
servile copy of any older edifice; and it may be fairly said that,
though every individual part has been fashioned according to a
foreign model, the whole has a certain originality.

The lower part of the building in its original form was composed of
two great sections, distinct from, and independent of, each other--
on the one hand the Justice of Peace Courts, and on the other the
Regular Tribunals. Both sections contained an Ordinary Court and a
Court of Appeal. The upper part of the building, covering equally
both sections, was the Senate as Supreme Court of Revision (Cour de

The distinctive character of the two independent sections may be
detected at a glance. The function of the Justice of Peace Courts
is to decide petty cases that involve no abstruse legal principles,
and to settle, if possible by conciliation, those petty conflicts
and disputes which arise naturally in the relations of everyday
life; the function of the Regular Tribunals is to take cognisance
of those graver affairs in which the fortune or honour of
individuals or families is more or less implicated, or in which the
public tranquillity is seriously endangered. The two kinds of
courts were organised in accordance with these intended functions.
In the former the procedure is simple and conciliatory, the
jurisdiction is confined to cases of little importance, and the
judges were at first chosen by popular election, generally from
among the local inhabitants. In the latter there is more of "the
pomp and majesty of the law." The procedure is more strict and
formal, the jurisdiction is unlimited with regard to the importance
of the cases, and the judges are trained jurists nominated by the

The Justice of Peace Courts received jurisdiction over all
obligations and civil injuries in which the sum at stake was not
more than 500 roubles--about 50 pounds--and all criminal affairs in
which the legal punishment did not exceed 300 roubles--about 30
pounds--or one year of punishment. When any one had a complaint to
make, he might go to the Justice of the Peace (Mirovoi Sudya) and
explain the affair orally, or in writing, without observing any
formalities; and if the complaint seemed well founded, the Justice
at once fixed a day for hearing the case, and gave the other party
notice to appear at the appointed time. When the time appointed
arrived, the affair was discussed publicly and orally, either by
the parties themselves, or by any representatives whom they might
appoint. If it was a civil suit, the Justice began by proposing to
the parties to terminate it at once by a compromise, and indicated
what he considered a fair arrangement. Many affairs were
terminated in this simple way. If, however, either of the parties
refused to consent to a compromise, the matter was fully discussed,
and the Justice gave a formal written decision, containing the
grounds on which it was based. In criminal cases the amount of
punishment was always determined by reference to a special Criminal

If the sum at issue exceeded thirty roubles--about 3 pounds--or if
the punishment exceeded a fine of fifteen roubles--about 30s.--or
three days of arrest, an appeal might be made to the Assembly of
Justices (Mirovoi Syezd). This is a point in which English rather
than French institutions were taken as a model. According to the
French system, all appeals from a Juge de Paix are made to the
"Tribunal d'Arrondissement," and the Justice of Peace Courts are
thereby subordinated to the Regular Tribunals. According to the
English system, certain cases may be carried on appeal from the
Justice of the Peace to the Quarter Sessions. This latter
principle was adopted and greatly developed by the Russian
legislation. The Monthly Sessions, composed of all the Justices of
the District (uyezd), considered appeals against the decisions of
the individual Justices. The procedure was simple and informal, as
in the lower court, but an assistant of the Procureur was always
present. This functionary gave his opinion in some civil and in
all criminal cases immediately after the debate, and the Court took
his opinion into consideration in framing its judgment.

In the other great section of the judicial organisation--the
Regular Tribunals--there are likewise Ordinary Courts and Courts of
Appeal, called respectively "Tribunaux d'Arrondissement"
(Okruzhniye Sudy) and "Palais de Justice" (Sudebniya Palaty). Each
Ordinary Court has jurisdiction over several Districts (uyezdy),
and the jurisdiction of each Court of Appeals comprehends several
Provinces. All civil cases are subject to appeal, however small
the sum at stake may be, but criminal cases are decided FINALLY by
the lower court with the aid of a jury. Thus in criminal affairs
the "Palais de Justice" is not at all a court of appeal, but as no
regular criminal prosecution can be raised without its formal
consent, it controls in some measure the action of the lower

As the general reader cannot be supposed to take an interest in the
details of civil procedure, I shall merely say on this subject that
in both sections of the Regular Tribunals the cases are always
tried by at least three judges, the sittings are public, and oral
debates by officially recognised advocates form an important part
of the proceedings. I venture, however, to speak a little more at
length regarding the change which has been made in the criminal
procedure--a subject that is less technical and more interesting
for the uninitiated.

Down to the time of the recent judicial reforms the procedure in
criminal cases was secret and inquisitorial. The accused had
little opportunity of defending himself, but, on the other hand,
the State took endless formal precautions against condemning the
innocent. The practical consequence of this system was that an
innocent man might remain for years in prison until the authorities
convinced themselves of his innocence, whilst a clever criminal
might indefinitely postpone his condemnation.

In studying the history of criminal procedure in foreign countries,
those who were entrusted with the task of preparing projects of
reform found that nearly every country of Europe had experienced
the evils from which Russia was suffering, and that one country
after another had come to the conviction that the most efficient
means of removing these evils was to replace the inquisitorial by
litigious procedure, to give a fair field and no favour to the
prosecutor and the accused, and allow them to fight out their
battle with whatever legal weapons they might think fit. Further,
it was discovered that, according to the most competent foreign
authorities, it was well in this modern form of judicial combat to
leave the decision to a jury of respectable citizens. The steps
which Russia had to take were thus clearly marked out by the
experience of other nations, and it was decided that they should be
taken at once. The organs for the prosecution of supposed
criminals were carefully separated from the judges on the one hand,
and from the police on the other; oral discussions between the
Public Prosecutor and the prisoner's counsel, together with oral
examination and cross-questioning of witnesses, were introduced
into the procedure; and the jury was made an essential factor in
criminal trials.

When a case, whether civil or criminal, has been decided in the
Regular Tribunals, there is no possibility of appeal in the strict
sense of the term, but an application may be made for a revision of
the case on the ground of technical informality. To use the French
terms, there cannot be appel, but there may be cassation. If there
has been any omission or transgression of essential legal
formalities, or if the Court has overstepped the bounds of its
legal authority, the injured party may make an application to have
the case revised and tried again.* This is not, according to
French juridical conceptions, an appeal. The Court of Revision**
(Cour de Cassation) does not enter into the material facts of the
case, but merely decides the question as to whether the essential
formalities have been duly observed, and as to whether the law has
been properly interpreted and applied; and if it be found on
examination that there is some ground for invalidating the
decision, it does not decide the case. According to the new
Russian system, the sole Court of Revision is the Senate.

* This is the procedure referred to by Karl Karl'itch, vide supra,
p 37.

** I am quite aware that the term "Court of Revision" is equivocal,
but I have no better term to propose, and I hope the above
explanations will prevent confusion.

The Senate thus forms the regulator of the whole judicial system,
but its action is merely regulative. It takes cognisance only of
what is presented to it, and supplies to the machine no motive
power. If any of the lower courts should work slowly or cease to
work altogether, the Senate might remain ignorant of the fact, and
certainly could take no official notice of it. It was considered
necessary, therefore, to supplement the spontaneous vitality of the
lower courts, and for this purpose was created a special
centralised judicial administration, at the head of which was
placed the Minister of Justice. The Minister is "Procureur-
General," and has subordinates in all the courts. The primary
function of this administration is to preserve the force of the
law, to detect and repair all infractions of judicial order, to
defend the interests of the State and of those persons who are
officially recognised as incapable of taking charge of their own
affairs, and to act in criminal matters as Public Prosecutor.

Viewed as a whole, and from a little distance, this grand judicial
edifice seems perfectly symmetrical, but a closer and more minute
inspection brings to light unmistakable indications of a change of
plan during the process of construction. Though the work lasted
only about half-a-dozen years, the style of the upper differs from
the style of the lower parts, precisely as in those Gothic
cathedrals which grew up slowly during the course of centuries.
And there is nothing here that need surprise us, for a considerable
change took place in the opinions of the official world during that
short period. The reform was conceived at a time of uncritical
enthusiasm for advanced liberal ideas, of boundless faith in the
dictates of science, of unquestioning reliance on public spirit,
public control, and public honesty--a time in which it was believed
that the public would spontaneously do everything necessary for the
common weal, if it were only freed from the administrative
swaddling-clothes in which it had been hitherto bound. Still
smarting from the severe regime of Nicholas, men thought more about
protecting the rights of the individual than about preserving
public order, and under the influence of the socialistic ideas in
vogue malefactors were regarded as the unfortunate, involuntary
victims of social inequality and injustice.

Towards the end of the period in question all this had begun to
change. Many were beginning to perceive that liberty might easily
turn to license, that the spontaneous public energy was largely
expended in empty words, and that a certain amount of hierarchical
discipline was necessary in order to keep the public administration
in motion. It was found, therefore, in 1864, that it was
impossible to carry out to their ultimate consequences the general
principles laid down and published in 1862. Even in those parts of
the legislation which were actually put in force, it was found
necessary to make modifications in an indirect, covert way. Of
these, one may be cited by way of illustration. In 1860 criminal
inquiries were taken out of the hands of the police and transferred
to Juges d'instruction (Sudebniye Sledovateli), who were almost
entirely independent of the Public Prosecutor, and could not be
removed unless condemned for some legal transgression by a Regular
Tribunal. This reform created at first much rejoicing and great
expectations, because it raised a barrier against the tyranny of
the police and against the arbitrary power of the higher officials.
But very soon the defects of the system became apparent. Many
Juges d'instruction, feeling themselves independent, and knowing
that they would not be prosecuted except for some flagrantly
illegal act, gave way to indolence, and spent their time in
inactivity.* In such cases it was always difficult, and sometimes
impossible, to procure a condemnation--for indolence must assume
gigantic proportions in order to become a crime--and the minister
had to adopt the practice of appointing, without Imperial
confirmation, temporary Juges d'instruction whom he could remove at

* A flagrant case of this kind came under my own observation.

It is unnecessary, however, to enter into these theoretical
defects. The important question for the general public is: How do
the institutions work in the local conditions in which they are

This is a question which has an interest not only for Russians, but
for all students of social science, for it tends to throw light on
the difficult subject as to how far institutions may be
successfully transplanted to a foreign soil. Many thinkers hold,
and not without reason, that no institution can work well unless it
is the natural product of previous historical development. Now we
have here an opportunity of testing this theory by experience; we
have even what Bacon terms an experimentum crucis. This new
judicial system is an artificial creation constructed in accordance
with principles laid down by foreign jurists. All that the
elaborators of the project said about developing old institutions
was mere talk. In reality they made a tabula rasa of the existing
organisation. If the introduction of public oral procedure and
trial by jury was a return to ancient customs, it was a return to
what had been long since forgotten by all except antiquarian
specialists, and no serious attempt was made to develop what
actually existed. One form, indeed, of oral procedure had been
preserved in the Code, but it had fallen completely into disuse,
and seems to have been overlooked by the elaborators of the new

* I refer to the so-called Sud po forme established by an ukaz of
Peter the Great, in 1723. I was much astonished when I
accidentally stumbled upon it in the Code.

Having in general little confidence in institutions which spring
ready-made from the brains of autocratic legislators, I expected to
find that this new judicial organisation, which looks so well on
paper, was well-nigh worthless in reality. Observation, however,
has not confirmed my pessimistic expectations. On the contrary, I
have found that these new institutions, though they have not yet
had time to strike deep root, and are very far from being perfect
even in the human sense of the term, work on the whole remarkably
well, and have already conferred immense benefit on the country.

In the course of a few years the Justice of Peace Courts, which may
perhaps be called the newest part of the new institutions, became
thoroughly acclimatised, as if they had existed for generations.
As soon as they were opened they became extremely popular. In
Moscow the authorities had calculated that under the new system the
number of cases would be more than doubled, and that on an average
each justice would have nearly a thousand cases brought before him
in the course of the year. The reality far exceeded their
expectations: each justice had on an average 2,800 cases. In St.
Petersburg and the other large towns the amount of work which the
justices had to get through was equally great.

To understand the popularity of the Justice of Peace Courts, we
must know something of the old police courts which they supplanted.
The nobles, the military, and the small officials had always looked
on the police with contempt, because their position secured them
against interference, and the merchants acquired a similar immunity
by submitting to blackmail, which often took the form of a fixed
subsidy; but the lower classes in town and country stood, in fear
of the humblest policeman, and did not dare to complain of him to
his superiors. If two workmen brought their differences before a
police court, instead of getting their case decided on grounds of
equity, they were pretty sure to get scolded in language unfit for
ears polite, or to receive still worse treatment. Even among the
higher officers of the force many became famous for their
brutality. A Gorodnitchi of the town of Tcherkassy, for example,
made for himself in this respect a considerable reputation. If any
humble individual ventured to offer an objection to him, he had at
once recourse to his fists, and any reference to the law put him
into a state of frenzy. "The town," he was wont to say on such
occasions, "has been entrusted to me by his Majesty, and you dare
to talk to me of the law? There is the law for you!"--the remark
being accompanied with a blow. Another officer of the same type,
long resident in Kief, had a somewhat different method of
maintaining order. He habitually drove about the town with a
Cossack escort, and when any one of the lower classes had the
misfortune to displease him, he ordered one of his Cossacks to
apply a little corporal punishment on the spot without any legal

In the Justice of Peace Courts things were conducted in a very
different style. The justice, always scrupulously polite without
distinction of persons, listened patiently to the complaint, tried
to arrange the affairs amicably, and when his efforts failed, gave
his decision at once according to law and common-sense. No
attention was paid to rank or social position. A general who would
not attend to the police regulations was fined like an ordinary
workingman, and in a dispute between a great dignitary and a man of
the people the two were treated in precisely the same way. No
wonder such courts became popular among the masses; and their
popularity was increased when it became known that the affairs were
disposed of expeditiously, without unnecessary formalities and
without any bribes or blackmail. Many peasants regarded the
justice as they had been wont to regard kindly proprietors of the
old patriarchal type, and brought their griefs and sorrows to him
in the hope that he would somehow alleviate them. Often they
submitted most intimate domestic and matrimonial concerns of which
no court could possibly take cognisance, and sometimes they
demanded the fulfilment of contracts which were in flagrant
contradiction not only with the written law, but also with ordinary

* Many curious instances of this have come to my knowledge, but
they are of such a kind that they cannot be quoted in a work
intended for the general public.

Of course, the courts were not entirely without blemishes. In the
matter, for example, of making no distinction of persons some of
the early justices, in seeking to avoid Scylla, came dangerously
near to Charybdis. Imagining that their mission was to eradicate
the conceptions and habits which had been created and fostered by
serfage, they sometimes used their authority for giving lessons in
philanthropic liberalism, and took a malicious delight in wounding
the susceptibilities, and occasionally even the material interests,
of those whom they regarded as enemies to the good cause. In
disputes between master and servant, or between employer and
workmen, the justice of this type considered it his duty to resist
the tyranny of capital, and was apt to forget his official
character of judge in his assumed character of social reformer.
Happily these aberrations on the part of the justices are already
things of the past, but they helped to bring about a reaction, as
we shall see presently.

The extreme popularity of the Justice of Peace Courts did not last
very long. Their history resembled that of the Zemstvo and many
other new institutions in Russia--at first, enthusiasm and
inordinate expectations; then consciousness of defects and
practical inconveniences; and, lastly, in an influential section of
the public, the pessimism of shattered illusions, accompanied by
the adoption of a reactionary policy on the part of the Government.
The discontent appeared first among the so-called privileged
classes. To people who had all their lives enjoyed great social
consideration it seemed monstrous that they should be treated
exactly in the same way as the muzhik; and when a general who was
accustomed to be addressed as "Your Excellency," was accused of
using abusive language to his cook, and found himself seated on the
same bench with the menial, he naturally supposed that the end of
all things was at hand; or perhaps a great civil official, who was
accustomed to regard the police as created merely for the lower
classes, suddenly found himself, to his inexpressible astonishment,
fined for a contravention of police regulations! Naturally the
justices were accused of dangerous revolutionary tendencies, and
when they happened to bring to light some injustice on the part of
the tchinovnik they were severely condemned for undermining the
prestige of the Imperial authority.

For a time the accusations provoked merely a smile or a caustic
remark among the Liberals, but about the middle of the eighties
criticisms began to appear even in the Liberal Press. No very
grave allegations were made, but defects in the system and
miscarriages of justice were put forward and severely commented
upon. Occasionally it happened that a justice was indolent, or
that at the Sessions in a small country town it was impossible to
form a quorum on the appointed day. Overlooking the good features
of the institution and the good services rendered by it, the
critics began to propose partial reorganisation in the sense of
greater control by central authorities. It was suggested, for
example, that the President of Sessions should be appointed by the
Government, that the justices should be subordinated to the Regular
Tribunals, and that the principle of election by the Zemstvo should
be abolished.

These complaints were not at all unwelcome to the Government,
because it had embarked on a reactionary policy, and in 1889 it
suddenly granted to the critics a great deal more than they
desired. In the rural districts of Central Russia the justices
were replaced by the rural supervisors, of whom I have spoken in a
previous chapter, and the part of their functions which could not
well be entrusted to those new officials was transferred to judges
of the Regular Courts. In some of the larger towns and in the
rural districts of outlying provinces the justices were preserved,
but instead of being elected by the Zemstvo they were nominated by
the Government.

The regular Tribunals likewise became acclimatised in an incredibly
short space of time. The first judges were not by any means
profound jurists, and were too often deficient in that
dispassionate calmness which we are accustomed to associate with
the Bench; but they were at least honest, educated men, and
generally possessed a fair knowledge of the law. Their defects
were due to the fact that the demand for trained jurists far
exceeded the supply, and the Government was forced to nominate men
who under ordinary circumstances would never have thought of
presenting themselves as candidates. At the beginning of 1870, in
the 32 "Tribunaux d'Arrondissement" which then existed, there were
227 judges, of whom 44 had never received a juridical education.
Even the presidents had not all passed through a school of law. Of
course the courts could not become thoroughly effective until all
the judges were men who had received a good special education and
had a practical acquaintance with judicial matters. This has now
been effected, and the present generation of judges are better
prepared and more capable than their predecessors. On the score of
probity I have never heard any complaints.

Of all the judicial innovations, perhaps the most interesting is
the jury.

At the time of the reforms the introduction of the jury into the
judicial organisation awakened among the educated classes a great
amount of sentimental enthusiasm. The institution had the
reputation of being "liberal," and was known to be approved of by
the latest authorities in criminal jurisprudence. This was
sufficient to insure it a favourable reception, and to excite most
exaggerated expectations as to its beneficent influence. Ten years
of experience somewhat cooled this enthusiasm, and voices might be
heard declaring that the introduction of the jury was a mistake.
The Russian people, it was held, was not yet ripe for such an
institution, and numerous anecdotes were related in support of this
opinion. One jury, for instance, was said to have returned a
verdict of "NOT guilty with extenuating circumstances"; and
another, being unable to come to a decision, was reported to have
cast lots before an Icon, and to have given a verdict in accordance
with the result! Besides this, juries often gave a verdict of "not
guilty" when the accused made a full and formal confession to the

How far the comic anecdotes are true I do not undertake to decide,
but I venture to assert that such incidents, if they really occur,
are too few to form the basis of a serious indictment. The fact,
however, that juries often acquit prisoners who openly confess
their crime is beyond all possibility of doubt.

To most Englishmen this fact will probably seem sufficient to prove
that the introduction of the institution was at least premature,
but before adopting this sweeping conclusion it will be well to
examine the phenomenon a little more closely in connection with
Russian criminal procedure as a whole.

In England the Bench is allowed very great latitude in fixing the
amount of punishment. The jury can therefore confine themselves to
the question of fact and leave to the judge the appreciation of
extenuating circumstances. In Russia the position of the jury is
different. The Russian criminal law fixes minutely the punishment
for each category of crimes, and leaves almost no latitude to the
judge. The jury know that if they give a verdict of guilty, the
prisoner will inevitably be punished according to the Code. Now
the Code, borrowed in great part from foreign legislation, is
founded on conceptions very different from those of the Russian
people, and in many cases it attaches heavy penalties to acts which
the ordinary Russian is wont to regard as mere peccadilloes, or
positively justifiable. Even in those matters in which the Code is
in harmony with the popular morality, there are many exceptional
cases in which summum jus is really summa injuria. Suppose, for
instance--as actually happened in a case which came under my
notice--that a fire breaks out in a village, and that the Village
Elder, driven out of patience by the apathy and laziness of some of
his young fellow-villagers, oversteps the limits of his authority
as defined by law, and accompanies his reproaches and exhortations
with a few lusty blows. Surely such a man is not guilty of a very
heinous crime--certainly he is not in the opinion of the peasantry--
and yet if he be prosecuted and convicted he inevitably falls into
the jaws of an article of the Code which condemns to transportation
for a long term of years.

In such cases what is the jury to do? In England they might safely
give a verdict of guilty, and leave the judge to take into
consideration all the extenuating circumstances; but in Russia they
cannot act in this way, for they know that the judge must condemn
the prisoner according to the Criminal Code. There remains,
therefore, but one issue out of the difficulty--a verdict of
acquittal; and Russian juries--to their honour be it said--
generally adopt this alternative. Thus the jury, in those cases in
which it is most severely condemned, provides a corrective for the
injustice of the criminal legislation. Occasionally, it is true,
they go a little too far in this direction and arrogate to
themselves a right of pardon, but cases of that kind are, I
believe, very rare. I know of only one well-authenticated
instance. The prisoner had been proved guilty of a serious crime,
but it happened to be the eve of a great religious festival, and
the jury thought that in pardoning the prisoner and giving a
verdict of acquittal they would be acting as good Christians!

The legislation regards, of course, this practice as an abuse, and
has tried to prevent it by concealing as far as possible from the
jury the punishment that awaits the accused if he be condemned.
For this purpose it forbids the counsel for the prisoner to inform
the jury what punishment is prescribed by the Code for the crime in
question. This ingenious device not only fails in its object, but
has sometimes a directly opposite effect. Not knowing what the
punishment will be, and fearing that it may be out of all
proportion to the crime, the jury sometimes acquit a criminal whom
they would condemn if they knew what punishment would be inflicted.
And when a jury is, as it were, entrapped, and finds that the
punishment is more severe than it supposed, it can take its revenge
in the succeeding cases. I know at least of one instance of this
kind. A jury convicted a prisoner of an offence which it regarded
as very trivial, but which in reality entailed, according to the
Code, seven years of penal servitude! So surprised and frightened
were the jurymen by this unexpected consequence of their verdict,
that they obstinately acquitted, in the face of the most convincing
evidence, all the other prisoners brought before them.

The most famous case of acquital when there was no conceivable
doubt as to the guilt of the accused was that of Vera Zasulitch,
who shot General Trepof, Prefect of St. Petersburg; but the
circumstances were so peculiar that they will hardly support any
general conclusion. I happened to be present, and watched the
proceedings closely. Vera Zasulitch, a young woman who had for
some time taken part in the revolutionary movement, heard that a
young revolutionist called Bogoliubof, imprisoned in St.
Petersburg, had been flogged by orders of General Trepof,* and
though she did not know the victim personally she determined to
avenge the indignity to which he had been subjected. With this
intention she appeared at the Prefecture, ostensibly for the
purpose of presenting a petition, and when she found herself in the
presence of the Prefect she fired a revolver at him, wounding him
seriously, but not mortally. At the trial the main facts were not
disputed, and yet the jury brought in a verdict of not guilty.
This unexpected result was due, I believe, partly to a desire to
make a little political demonstration, and partly to a strong
suspicion that the prison authorities, in carrying out the
Prefect's orders, had acted in summary fashion without observing
the tedious formalities prescribed by the law. Certainly one of
the prison officials, when under cross-examination, made on me, and
on the public generally, the impression that he was prevaricating
in order to shield his superiors.

* The reason alleged by General Trepof for giving these orders was
that, during a visit of inspection, Bogoliubof had behaved
disrespectfully towards him, and had thereby committed an
infraction of prison discipline, for which the law prescribes the
use of corporal punishment.

At the close of the proceedings, which were dexterously conducted
by Counsel in such a way that, as the Emperor is reported to have
said, it was not Vera Zasulitch but General Trepof who was being
tried, an eminent Russian journalist rushed up to me in a state of
intense excitement and said: "Is not this a great day for the cause
of political freedom in Russia?" I could not agree with him and I
ventured to predict that neither of us would ever again see a
political case tried publicly by jury in an ordinary court. The
prediction has proved true. Since that time political offenders
have been tried by special tribunals without a jury or dealt with
"by administrative procedure," that is to say, inquisitorially,
without any regular trial.

The defects, real and supposed, of the present system are commonly
attributed to the predominance of the peasant element in the
juries; and this opinion, founded on a priori reasoning, seems to
many too evident to require verification. The peasantry are in
many respects the most ignorant class, and therefore, it is
assumed, they are least capable of weighing conflicting evidence.
Plain and conclusive as this reasoning seems, it is in my opinion
erroneous. The peasants have, indeed, little education, but they
have a large fund of plain common-sense; and experience proves--so
at least I have been informed by many judges and Public
Prosecutors--that, as a general rule, a peasant jury is more to be
relied on than a jury drawn from the educated classes. It must be
admitted, however, that a peasant jury has certain peculiarities,
and it is not a little interesting to observe what those
peculiarities are.

In the first place, a jury composed of peasants generally acts in a
somewhat patriarchal fashion, and does not always confine its
attention to the evidence and the arguments adduced at the trial.
The members form their judgment as men do in the affairs of
ordinary life, and are sure to be greatly influenced by any jurors
who happen to be personally acquainted with the prisoner. If
several of the jurors know him to be a bad character, he has little
chance of being acquitted, even though the chain of evidence
against him should not be quite perfect. Peasants cannot
understand why a notorious scoundrel should be allowed to escape
because a little link in the evidence is wanting, or because some
little judicial formality has not been duly observed. Indeed,
their ideas of criminal procedure in general are extremely
primitive. The Communal method of dealing with malefactors is best
in accordance with their conceptions of well-regulated society.
The Mir may, by a Communal decree and without a formal trial, have
any of its unruly members transported to Siberia! This summary,
informal mode of procedure seems to the peasants very satisfactory.
They are at a loss to understand how a notorious culprit is allowed
to "buy" an advocate to defend him, and are very insensible to the
bought advocate's eloquence. To many of them, if I may trust to
conversations which I have casually overheard in and around the
courts, "buying an advocate" seems to be very much the same kind of
operation as bribing a judge.

In the second place, the peasants, when acting as jurors, are very
severe with regard to crimes against property. In this they are
instigated by the simple instinct of self-defence. They are, in
fact, continually at the mercy of thieves and malefactors. They
live in wooden houses easily set on fire; their stables might be
broken into by a child; at night the village is guarded merely by
an old man, who cannot be in more than one place at a time, and in
the one place he is apt to go to sleep; a police officer is rarely
seen, except when a crime has actually been committed. A few
clever horse-stealers may ruin many families, and a fire-raiser, in
his desire to avenge himself on an enemy, may reduce a whole
village to destitution. These and similar considerations tend to
make the peasants very severe against theft, robbery, and arson;
and a Public Prosecutor who desires to obtain a conviction against
a man charged with one of these crimes endeavours to have a jury in
which the peasant class is largely represented.

With regard to fraud in its various forms, the peasants are much
more lenient, probably because the line of demarcation between
honest and dishonest dealing in commercial affairs is not very
clearly drawn in their minds. Many, for instance, are convinced
that trade cannot be successfully carried on without a little
clever cheating; and hence cheating is regarded as a venial
offence. If the money fraudulently acquired be restored to the
owner, the crime is supposed to be completely condoned. Thus when
a Volost Elder appropriates the public money, and succeeds in
repaying it before the case comes on for trial, he is invariably
acquitted--and sometimes even re-elected!

An equal leniency is generally shown by peasants towards crimes
against the person, such as assaults, cruelty, and the like. This
fact is easily explained. Refined sensitiveness and a keen
sympathy with physical suffering are the result of a certain amount
of material well-being, together with a certain degree of
intellectual and moral culture, and neither of these is yet
possessed by the Russian peasantry. Any one who has had
opportunities of frequently observing the peasants must have been
often astonished by their indifference to suffering, both in their
own persons and in the person of others. In a drunken brawl heads
may be broken and wounds inflicted without any interference on the
part of the spectators. If no fatal consequences ensue, the
peasant does not think it necessary that official notice should be
taken of the incident, and certainly does not consider that any of
the combatants should be transported to Siberia. Slight wounds
heal of their own accord without any serious loss to the sufferer,
and therefore the man who inflicts them is not to be put on the
same level as the criminal who reduces a family to beggary. This
reasoning may, perhaps, shock people of sensitive nerves, but it
undeniably contains a certain amount of plain, homely wisdom.

Of all kinds of cruelty, that which is perhaps most revolting to
civilised mankind is the cruelty of the husband towards his wife;
but to this crime the Russian peasant shows especial leniency. He
is still influenced by the old conceptions of the husband's rights,
and by that low estimate of the weaker sex which finds expression
in many popular proverbs.

The peculiar moral conceptions reflected in these facts are
evidently the result of external conditions, and not of any
recondite ethnographical peculiarities, for they are not found
among the merchants, who are nearly all of peasant origin. On the
contrary, the merchants are more severe with regard to crimes
against the person than with regard to crimes against property.
The explanation of this is simple. The merchant has means of

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