THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE IN DECAY
It is now necessary to give a brief sketch of general conditions in Russia, as suddenly illumined before the world by the Russian-Japanese War, and the Russian Revolution of 1905. We have seen in Bessarabia an ignorant peasantry, an easy-going aristocracy, a feeble school system, a church remote from the spiritual needs of the masses, a timid and inefficient local government, and an autocratic, corrupt and highly bureaucratic administration. The war and the revolution made clear to an astonished world that these same conditions prevailed through the whole structure of the Russian Empire. Russia was nothing but an inarticulate, fermenting mass of human beings over nine-tenths of them farmers-exploited by a small group of land-owners, bureaucrats (civil and religious) and concessionaires. Clever agitators took advantage of the conditions after the Revolution of 1905, to increase the discontent, which was partly due to the social and economic situation of the moment, partly already fostered by the earlier revolutionaries. The rudimentary political life engendered by the Duma manifested itself in so-called parties, which could of course find little support in the illiterate peasantry who made up the overwhelming bulk of the Russian people. In general, the parties representing different shades of socialist opinion had behind them the great mass of such farmers and workmen as were at all " politically-minded" ; and their well justified invectives against the exploitation of the agricultural and industrial proletariat, found a wide sympathy, not only in the downtrodden mass but among the intellectuals. Everyone knew how corruptly and inefficiently Russia was governed; nor did even the army learn its lesson from the war with Japan. The visit of a French military mission, shortly before the World War, discovered a disquieting lack of railway lines and equipment, of made highways, of telegraph and telephone lines, of cavalry mounts, etc., which resulted in a French military loan of $100,000,000 a year, for five years. The budget balanced, to be sure, but with the help of French loans. The main source of revenue was the tax on alcoholic beverages, chiefly vodka, which brought in about $500,000,000 net revenue per annum; vodka has made the Russian people perhaps the most drink-sodden on the earth. I remember one Russian village in Bessarabia where the Roumanians are appalled at the conditions (and the Roumanian peasant also drinks more than he should). This village, of 7000 people, contains 2000 Bulgarians, who are relatively sober. It had only 2 churches, when the Roumanians took it over, and one school; but it was full of "blind pigs," selling liquor illegally; and under the transitional Roumanian system of government supervision, there were 23 authorized liquor saloons (and nearly 40% of illegitimate births). Such conditions in country villages seem to have been general in Russia, and form today a new and disquieting problem to the Roumanians in Bessarabia.
The situation was everywhere complicated, just as in Bessarabia, by the fact that in this huge empire, the Russians themselves were in a minority, and had made themselves hated by their efforts to impose their language and their ways upon the other peoples subject to them. Russians formed only about 44% of the population; Ukrainians about 17%, Poles 6%, White Russians 41/2%, Jews 4%, Kirghizes 3.2%, Tartars 3% and so on down; the Moldavians .formed about 1%. Count Witte in his Memoirs admits that to obtain a homogeneous empire, there was only one sensible measure to follow: "abandon our frontier provinces, for they will never accommodate themselves to a policy of violent Russification. But our monarch will never take such a measure into consideration. On the contrary, not contented with including within our boundaries Poles, Finns, Germans, Letts, Georgians, Armenians, Tartars, etc., we have been overwhelmed with desire to annex territories inhabited by Mongolians, Chinese, Koreans."
But the Balkans and Constantinople were a nearer goal. In 1904, war with Germany and Austria for this prize seemed imminent; Witte tells us that Grand Duke Nicholas was actually appointed to lead the armies against Germany, and Kuropatkin against Austria. When the Great War broke out, Russia's war aims were well understood in the western chancelleries. Russia was to obtain the Bucovina, all non-Russian Poland, East Prussia, part at least of Persia, and parts of Asia Minor, including a port at Alegandretta. In the spring of 1915, the Allies formally promised Russia the Bosphorus, Constantinople and the Dardanelles.
It is possible that without the war, Russia might have absorbed more foreign territory; but with the enormous social and economic dislocation of 1914-17, disintegration was inevitable, and the wonder was that it delayed so long. German successes virtually blockaded Russia early in the war; her railways proved inadequate to the combined needs of the army and the civil population; agricultural production having fallen off 10-15%, the grain supply became insufficient; the depreciation of the ruble roused huge discontent among the officials and the factory workers. By 1917, the number of operatives in St. Petersburg had risen from 200,000 in 1914 to over 400,000-largely peasants off the soil. Everyone was discontented with the disastrous progress of the war and the incompetence of the government. Late in the winter of 1916--17, matters came to a climax; huge crowds filled the streets protesting (Feb. 25) ; and when the traditional remedy was used and the troops were ordered to fire on the crowd, they refused. Insubordination and desertions had become so common that the army leaders decided to give exemplary punishment to these troops; but when the penalties were announced, they revolted (Feb. 2'7) and killed their officers. The news spread like wildfire; and without any previous preparation, so rapidly that no politician had time to utilize the movement, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was taking place. On March 2 and 3, the Czar and his brother successively abdicated, and the Russian Empire was left without an emperor, or responsible head of any kind. The Duma constituted a nucleus of government; but on Feb. 27 extremists had already formed a Soviet (council) of Workers and Soldiers, and its power grew rapidly.Next Chapter Previous Chapter
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