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HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND - S.M. Dubnow




jewish genealogy in Argentina

HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND

FROM THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER I UNTIL THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER III

by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook

CHAPTER XXI



THE ACCESSION OF ALEXANDER III. AND THE INAUGURATION OF POGROMS

1. THE TRIUMPH OF AUTOCRACY

On March 1, 1881, Alexander II. met his death on one of the principal thoroughfares of St. Petersburg, smitten by dynamite bombs hurled at him by a group of terrorists. The Tzar, who had freed the Russian peasantry from personal slavery, paid with his life for refusing to free the Russian people from political slavery and police tyranny. The red terrorism of the revolutionaries was the counterpart of the white terrorism of the Russian authorities, who for many years had suppressed the faintest striving for liberty, and had sent to gaol and prison, or deported to Siberia, the champions of a constitutional form of government and the spokesmen of social reforms. Forced by the persecutions of the police to hide beneath the surface, the revolutionary societies of underground Russia found themselves compelled to resort to methods of terrorism. This terrorism found its expression during the last years of Alexander II. in various attempts on the life of that ruler, and culminated in the catastrophe of March 1.

Among the members of these revolutionary societies were also some representatives from among the young Jewish _intelligenzia._ They were in large part college students, who had been carried away by the ideals of their Russian comrades. But few of them were counted among the active terrorists. The group which prepared the murder of the Tzar comprised but one Jewish member, a woman by the name of Hesia Helfman, who, moreover, played but a secondary role in the conspiracy, by keeping a secret residence for toe revolutionaries. Nevertheless, in the official circles, which were anxious to justify their oppression of the Jews, it became customary to refer to the "important role" played by the Jews in the Russian revolution.

It was with preconceived notions of this kind that Alexander III. ascended the throne of Russia, a sovereign with unlimited power but with a very limited political horizon. Being a Russian of the old-fashioned type and a zealous champion of the Greek-Orthodox Church, he shared the anti-Jewish prejudices of his environment. Already as crown prince he ordered that a monetary reward be given to the notorious Lutostanski, who had presented him with his libellous pamphlet "Concerning the Use of Christian Blood by the Jews." [1] During the Russo-Turkish war of 1877, when as heir-apparent he was in command of one of the Balkan armies, he allowed himself to be persuaded that the abuses in the Russian commissariat were due to the "Jewish" purveyors who supplied the army. [2] This was all that was known about Judaism in the circles from which the ruler of five million Jews derived his information.

[Footnote 1: See p. 203.]

[Footnote 2: The business firm in question was that of Greger, Horvitz, and Kohan, of whom the first was a Greek, and the second a converted Jew. See above, p. 202, n. 1.]

In March and April, 1881, the destinies of Russia were being decided at secret conferences, which were held between the Tzar and the highest dignitaries of state in the palace of the quiet little town of Gatchina, whither Alexander III. had withdrawn after the death of his father. Two parties and two programs were struggling for mastery at these conferences. The party of the liberal Minister Loris-Melikov, championing a program of moderate reforms, pleaded primarily for the establishment of an advisory commission to be composed of the deputies deputies of the rural and urban administrations for the purpose of considering all legal projects prior to their submission to the Council of State. This plan of a paltry popular representation, which had obtained the approval of Alexander II. during the last days of his life, assumed in the eyes of the reactionary party the proportions of a dangerous "constitution," and was execrated by it as an encroachment upon the sacred prerogatives of autocracy. The head of this party was the procurator-general of the Holy Synod, Constantine Petrovich Pobyedonostzev, a former professor at the University of Moscow, who had been Alexander III.'s tutor in the political sciences when the latter was crown prince. As the exponent of an ecclesiastical police state, Pobyedonostzev contended that enlightenment and political freedom were harmful to Russia, that the people must be held in a state of patriarchal submission to the authority of the Church and of the temporal powers, and that the Greek-Orthodox masses must be shielded against the influence of alien religions and races, which should accordingly occupy in the Russian monarchy a position subordinate to that of the dominant nation. The ideas of this fanatic reactionary, who was dubbed "The Grand Inquisitor" and whose name was popularly changed into _Byedonostzev_ [1] carried the day at the Gatchina conferences. The deliberations culminated in the decision to refrain from making any concessions to the revolutionary element by granting reforms, however however modest in character, and to maintain at all cost the regime of a police state as a counterbalance to the idea of a legal state prevalent in the "rotten West."

[Footnote 1: _Byedonostzev_ means in Russian "Misfortune-bearer," a play on the name _Pobyedonostzev_ which signifies "Victory-bearer."]

Accordingly, the imperial manifesto [1] promulgated on April 29, 1881, proclaimed to the people that "the Voice of God hath commanded us to take up vigorously the reins of government, inspiring us with the belief in the strength and truth of autocratic power, which we are called upon to establish and safeguard." The manifesto "calls upon all faithful subjects to eradicate the hideous sedition and to establish faith and morality." The methods whereby faith and morality were to be established were soon made known, in the "Police Constitution" which was bestowed upon Russia in August, 1881, under the name of "The Statute concerning Enforced Public Safety."

[Footnote 1: A manifesto is a pronouncement issued by the Tzar on solemn occasions, such as accession to the throne, events in the imperial family, declaration of war, conclusion of peace, etc., accompanied, as a rule, by acts of grace, such as conferring privileges, granting pardons, and so on. Compare also above, p. 115.]

This statute confers upon the Russian satraps of the capitals (St. Petersburg and Moscow) and of many provincial centers--the governors-general and the governors--the power of issuing special enactments and thereby setting aside the normal laws as well as of placing under arrest and deporting to Siberia, without the due process of law, all citizens suspected of "political unsafety." This travesty of a _habeas corpus_ Act, insuring the inviolability of police and gendarmerie, and practically involving the suspension of the current legislation in a large part of the monarchy, has ever since been annually renewed by special imperial enactments, and has remained in force until our own days. The genuine "Police Constitution" of 1881 has survived the civil sham Constitution of 1905, figuring as a symbol of legalized lawlessness.



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