The New Europe/Volume 2/Russia: From Theocracy to Democracy

Russia: From Theocracy to Democracy

The astounding development of the Russian crisis affords a unique example of the fact that a country’s foreign affairs are controlled by its home affairs; and this is the exact opposite of the German theory. For Russia the war has meant, not conquest, but the establishment of a democracy. During the war she has been driven from Galicia, she has lost Poland and other European territories, while her Asiatic conquests have been comparatively insignificant; it is not till the present moment that the Russian people have laid the real foundations for a war they have been waging for nearly three years! The present moment is unique also in this: that such a revolution as was realised in Western countries only by great and bloody struggles has been effected in Russia almost without bloodshed, in a way almost reminiscent of the separation of Norway from Sweden. And while France and Britain punished their sovereigns with death, the Tsar and the Tsaritsa, under much more aggravating circumstances, have been allowed to escape with no heavier penalty than resignation.

1. News was wired from Petrograd that Mr. Protopopov, the Minister of the Interior, was arrested at the moment when his whole attention was engaged by a spiritualist medium. Though the war has given rise to nervous religious excitement in other countries also (where rumours of similar religious vagaries on the part of influential persons have been rife), it is nevertheless peculiarly characteristic of Russia and her official representatives. Until now Russia has preserved the theocratic system which she established in the Middle Ages. The Western countries, it is true, have been, and still are, based upon theocratic traditions, but Russia’s theocracy has always been stronger in degree and quality, for it has never emerged from its mediæval stage of development. The introduction of Christianity and the Byzantine Church tended to confirm this state of affairs, for they, too, were conservative and rigid—qualities which were forced upon them at the time of the break-up of the Roman Empire, and of the changes consequent on the steady migration of many peoples from East to West, and from North to South. Byzantine Christianity, which was a theocracy, was the one unchanging institution, the one token of stability in that ever-changing world.

This Byzantine system was further strengthened by Russian geography and history. Various Turanian and other Asiatic races from the East overpowered the original Russian centre in Kiev. Moscow became the new centre, being more remote from the Tartars; but, even so, it was controlled by them for three centuries. At the same time Russia was attacked and invaded from the East by European and Western nations; under the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Germans and the Swedes, who absorbed the Letts, Esthonians and Finns, Russia was hard pressed for centuries. And so, under pressure of Mohammedanism from the East, of Catholicism, and later of Protestantism, from the West, Russia withdrew before her enemies into her own spiritual and political life. Moscow became a third Rome; Ivan III, by marrying the daughter of the last Palæologue (1472), carried on the traditions of Byzantium. It was only in the next century that Ivan the Terrible assumed the title of Cæsar (“Tsar”). The immense power wielded by the Tsar may be gauged by the completeness with which all classes, particularly the peasants, but also the aristocracy, were subjugated.

2. Although Tsar Peter developed and organised this system of absolutism, the fact that he had to face Western civilised enemies made him accept European culture to a much greater extent than his predecessors, and thus he became the Europeaniser of Russia. Though his Europeanisation was directed only towards practical ends, principally military and naval, he was obliged to introduce European technology and sciences. Peter’s successors had to follow his example; the Court of Petrograd and the aristocracy accepted European civilisation to such a degree that Russia (which meant the Court and the aristocracy), at the end of the eighteenth century, had become Romanised—French became the language of the highest society, while Voltaire and Diderot were the friends of Catherine II. At the same time Frederick the Great paid his tribute to Voltaire, and French became the language of his circle. In Vienna and among the Austrian aristocracy French prevailed to such a degree that German poets were translated into French in order to be accessible to “society.”

Russia became Europeanised, but, at the same time, her own political influence in Europe became more and more marked. A Russian army fought in the West for the first time in 1734, and the French Revolution and Napoleon forced the Russian armies to take up their permanent abode in Europe. But side by side with this process of Europeanisation, another phase of development was manifested in Russia. Having crushed the Tartars and occupied Siberia, she became an Asiatic and Asiaticised power. Russia, in fact, unites within herself the qualities both of Europe and of Asia.

The French Revolution caused a great reaction, not only in Russia but in the whole of Europe; at the same time, national feeling was aroused in Russia by contact with the West, against which it ranged itself in opposition. French ideas and culture were banished; Voltaireism was succeeded by the system of Metternich and the policy of the Holy Alliance. Shunning Voltaire and Rousseau, the Russians adopted Schelling and Hegel, and for them Hegel became the “A.B.C. of the Revolution.” The left wing of Hegel, Feuerbach, with his reduction of religion to sociomorphism, became the teacher of the Russians. To Feuerbach was added Marx and his socialism, which they received the more easily because they had been prepared for it by Fourier, Proudhon and the French socialists in general. Along with Hegel and Feuerbach, there arose a cult of French and English Positivism.

It was Nicholas’s Minister of Education, Count Ouvarov, who proclaimed the reactionary trinity of Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality, and he was so convinced of the absolute power of his system that he solemnly propounded the doctrine that “There is no progress!” Nicholas, from his hatred of revolution, saved Austria in 1848–9. Dostojevski was sentenced to death for spreading Fourier’s ideas: then the débacle of Sebastopol showed the impossibility of the theocratic reaction, and Alexander inaugurated a liberal régime. The whole system of administration was changed and partially improved, and the first manifestation of the change was the liberation of the peasants.

Russia became conscious of the all-pervading antagonism between Modern Europe and Old Russia, between liberalism and democracy and theocracy; with the aid of German philosophy, the two antagonistic schools of the Westerners and Easterners and the principles of the two antagonistic political systems were formulated and organised. The radicals were obliged to emigrate to France and England.

The so-called Nihilism—in its essence positivism and realism—in literature, philosophy and politics became the philosophy of the “children,” whereas the “Fathers” (Turgenev’s “Fathers and Children,” 1862) joined forces with socialism and anarchism, and opposed the system of conservatism and reaction. After the crushing of the Polish revolution and the first attempt on the Tsar’s life (1866), the Nihilists succeeded in organising that peculiar system of revolution which relies on single “deeds” of terrorism. In the year 1881 Alexander II., the Tsar-liberator, was killed, and Alexander III, inaugurated a thorough-going and reckless policy of reaction which was continued by Nicholas II.

And again, the defeat in the war with Japan demonstrated the defects of absolutism. The revival of terrorism in 1902 ended in a complete revolution—the first mass revolution which enforced the grant of a constitution and the creation of the Duma—the old Duma of the Boyars being changed into a modern parliament. The sad history of this parliament is well known—the steady curtailing of the rights granted, and the use of the “white terror” which had been learned from France. The revolution of the Duma is, in fact, the end of the reactionary revolution under Nicholas II., the reclamation and consolidation of the constitution of 1905, and the finishing epoch of the revolution which began with the French philosophy of the eighteenth century.

3. In some conservative papers in France and Britain the question is ventilated as to whether the legal representatives of the Allied Powers can continue their official relations with the new Government originated by the revolution, and it has been suggested that the nomination of Prince Lvov by the Tsar before his abdication saves the legal continuity and facilitates the transition. French and British diplomatists and formalists may aptly be reminded that France and Britain have had their own revolutions; shortly before the war German Conservatives very severely condemned the rising of the Ulster “conservative” revolution. . . .

The Duma Government anticipated these difficulties. In his abdication manifesto the Tsar lays claim to the theocratic origin of his power (“By the grace of God”), but he fully acknowledges the position of the Duma; he bequeaths his heritage to his brother, but he also wishes his successor to govern (not only to reign!) in full union (union, not only in accordance!) with the natural representatives in both legislative institutions, and to make his oath to them in the name of Russia.

The Grand Duke goes a step further and solemnly proclaims that he will assume the supreme power only if it is conferred upon him by the desire of the people, by means of a plebiscite and through their representatives in a constituent assembly.

It is interesting to recall that the first Romanov was chosen by the people (which at that time meant the aristocracy); but his father, the Patriarch Philaret, reigned with his son for fourteen years (1619–33), with the object of affording the new dynasty the sanction of the Church. The theocratic tradition has been handed down by each representative of the reigning dynasty. The abdicating Romanov still claims his divine right, but his successor will derive his right from the will and by the vote of the Russian nation.

The great war will no doubt promote freedom and democracy in all countries, and the example of Russia will have a great influence, as may actually be seen by the discussion which has arisen in Germany on this point. The fact that the war has been conducted by the peoples themselves has already undermined the position of absolute monarchism in other countries besides Russia. Monarchism in the future, so far as it prevails at all, will be put on a new democratic basis.

4. The first practical result of the Russian revolution was the cheapening of bread and food; the great task of new Russia is to reform the bureaucracy, to turn it from the absolutist regnare to the democratic gubernare. In absolute Tsardom every bureaucrat is a tsar, and, in his own domain, the tsar. Russia is handicapped by her size; the war has revealed her lack of communications and its significance in the economic organisation of the country. She must be enabled to utilise her natural riches and to make her agriculture more effective by substituting an intensive for the old extensive cultivation of the soil.

Such a culture of the soil is impossible without education; Russia must have schools and compulsory instruction.

5. Reform of the whole administration and of education is impossible without great financial sacrifices; economic reforms are therefore of the greatest importance for the new Government. In this connection the question of Constantinople is of first importance. When the Russian Minister announced in the Duma that the Allies had already assigned Constantinople and the Dardanelles to Russia, he knew that such an endorsement of Russia’s paramount aim in the war would encourage the whole nation. Russia would thereby obtain what she has always desired with an almost religious intensity. In her anti-Turk policy Russia remained true to the traditions of the Crusaders of the Middle Ages, while the West became reconciled to the Turks. The religious significance of Constantinople is the inheritance of the medieval theocracy; the modern Russians demand the Dardanelles for the purpose of exporting corn, her natural products, and her growing industries. It is well known that Catherine, though the friend of Voltaire, contemplated Constantinople as the capital of a “Russo-Greek” empire; in modern times Danilevski and, above all, Dostojevski have preached the religious standpoint, whereas modern historians (Mitrofanov) and economists (Tugan-Baranovski) dwell on the economic significance of Constantinople.

The importance of the Constantinople of to-day is often exaggerated; she was of great importance in the past, when the centre of gravity of the Mediterranean was in the East. In the times of the Roman Empire, the Greeks and the people who used the Greek language were more numerous than the Romans, and Greek culture conquered even the Roman militarists. Also, at that time, it was of far greater economic and cultural importance than it is to-day; it constituted an important part of the Byzantine, and, later, of the Turkish Empire. But through the political changes that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, and by the invasion of the Eastern barbarians and, later, of the Turks, Asia was laid waste; moreover, the world situation became changed and the centre of gravity of Europe on the sea as well as on the land shifted westward. Constantinople fell gradually with the disintegration of the Turkish Empire. Under Russia Constantinople will become a provincial city both politically and economically. The Russians already have direct access to Asia Minor through Odessa, and this will be more particularly the case when they occupy the southern shores of the Black Sea (Trebizond). Nor is Constantinople necessary to connect Asia Minor with the West; on the contrary, each of the Powers that has occupied parts of Asia Minor will secure its own emporia. As soon as it ceases to be the centre of the Turkish Empire, Constantinople will share the fate that overtook Salonica.

We hear the objection that the Russians have no nationalist title to Constantinople. Half of the inhabitants are Turkish, one-fifth Greek, an equal number Armenians, with a smaller number of Bulgars, Jews, etc. It is strange that this objection should be made by the Germans and the Magyars, who themselves have no nationalist claims to Constantinople. As the Turks themselves maintain the religious point of view of theocracy, especially with regard to Russia, and Russia, to a considerable extent, maintains the same point of view as against Turkey, the contest between the two countries is carried on on equal ground. This much at least may be said, that Turkey cannot stand on the European nationalist platform, and Constantinople is manifestly not a Turkish city.

The relations between the Greeks and Bulgarians have for a long time precluded any possibility of agreement which might bring them to terms about Constantinople; besides, the support and maintenance of such a great city demands such financial means as would be impossible for either of these two smaller States, even if they should combine to provide them. Greece would certainly have historical, ecclesiastical and nationalist claims to Constantinople, but Russia has folder and better-founded claims than the Germans.

A kind of international régime in some form or other has often been proposed; but that would be only a procrastination of the real solution of the question, and would even be dangerous to the relations of the States in whose joint administration the city would be placed. From some quarters there comes a demand that Constantinople, when Russian, should become a free port on the analogy of the proposed Trieste and Fiume.

The fate of Constantinople is bound up with that of the Turkish Empire. The Russians and the Slavs are directly interested in Turkey, much more so than the Germans, because it was Turkey who, for hundreds of years, was an enemy to the Slavs in the Balkans and in Russia, and because some of the Serbs and Bulgars have accepted Mohammedanism.

With their original centre at Kiev, the Russians were first driven by Asiatic invaders to Moscow, and then by European enemies to Petrograd; but the South has always remained the real heart of Russia. It is the South which to-day provides the economic centre; the black southern soil provides Russia and Europe with wheat. South of Moscow is to be found the industrial centre of modern Russia; hence it is that more than 70 % of the grain of Russia has, in recent years, been exported from the southern as opposed to the Baltic ports. The Black Sea and the Dardanelles are of vital interest to Russia.

6. The Germans and Magyars exaggerate the nationalist questions and difficulties of Russia. In a new German publication (“La Russie et les peoples allogenes, par Inorodetz,” 1917) it is claimed that Russia contains 111 different nationalities, which constitute for her a grave and threatening problem. But this is only an attempt on the part of the Germans and Magyars to render their own anti-national policy less conspicuous.

There is, indeed, a fundamental difference between the case of Russia and that of Austria-Hungary. In the latter the ruling Germans and Magyars are the minority; in the former the Russians are the majority. In Austria-Hungary the Germans and Magyars are opposed by civilised nations such as the Czechs, Slavs, Italians; whereas in Russia, with a few exceptions, the many small nations and fragments of nations are uncivilised. Moreover, the latter have no co-nationals in the neighbouring countries, while the Poles, Ruthenians, Italians, Roumanians, and Southern Slavs really belong, nationally, to neighbouring States.

Russia has, in fact, only one acute national problem—the Polish. The Finns are not concerned with the language problem; it is only the Lithuanians, partly as a result of German agitation during the war, who claim their independence. The other small nations and fragments of nations, most of them without any literary or historical tradition behind them and devoid of national consciousness, are no danger to Russia.

7. The Germans and Magyars hold over Europe the bogey of Panslavism. As a matter of fact, Russia has annexed only one Slav nation, the Poles, while historians know that the plan of dividing Poland was conceived and fostered by Prussia. It is Prussian Germany and Austria-Hungary that threaten the Slavs.

The German theory that Russia initiated this war, under the impulse of her Panslav policy, is without foundation. It is true, there is a Panslav movement in Russia and among the smaller Slav peoples; but in Russia this movement has always been much weaker and less general than the vital struggle between theocratic autocracy and the democracy. So decisive has been this struggle that it has broken out in spite of the war. Administrative regeneration is a vital necessity for Russia; it is the cardinal problem raised by her whole history, and, in comparison, questions of nationality and of foreign policy are of secondary importance. Official Russia has conceived nationality as identical with orthodoxy, and has been interested only in the orthodox Southern Slavs; the spokesmen of this view have not desired to add the non-orthodox Slavs to Russia. Leontyev, for instance, hailed Austria and her policy as the “quarantine against the Czechs and the rest of the too Europeanized Slavs.” It was German and Magyar Pangermanism as evinced during this war, with its catchword of Berlin-Bagdad, that induced Russia more directly to express nationalist views.

Russia being the greatest Slav nation has the same right as every other nation to claim national rights for herself and the Slavs generally on the principle of nationality; but all the Slav nations claim their independence on the same principle. Russia’s real interest in the Slav nations is to protect them, to have their sphere of political influence extended to the West; the Slavs make Russia a more European empire. The degree to which Panslavism, which has arisen as a counterpoise to Pangermanism, will actually be realised, will depend upon the extent to which the Allies, especially Great Britain. France and Italy, will support the claims of the smaller Slav nations.

8. The war was not provoked by Russian Panslavism, but by German and Magyar Pangermanism. The Germano-Austrian “Berlin–Vienna–Bagdad” and “Berlin–Vienna–Cairo“” met with the Russian “Moscow–Odessa–Constantinople” and with the British “London–Gibraltar–Suez–Bombay.” The war is an attempt to solve the secular Oriental question; the three great European Powers—Britain, Russia, France—which have great interests in Asia, have been stirred up by the attempt of Germany and Austria-Hungary to reach Asia through the Adriatic, the Balkans, and the Ægean Sea. This explains why Italy broke off the Triple Alliance, which had been devised by Bismarck in order to exploit Austria-Hungary and to check Italy’s national aspirations.

This world-situation explains why Great Britain abandoned her antagonism to Russia and joined in the war in spite of strong pro-German tendencies. Her future policy will be of decisive importance in the world.

Prussianised Germany united with Russia could divide the world to her heart’s content. Prussia and Russia were, for more than a century, on friendly terms, so that Bismarck could think that his policy was the natural continuation of Prussian and Russian traditions; Bismarck’s policy and the policy of the reactionaries in Russia suffered shipwreck because Austria-Hungary and her anti-Slav Balkan policy became the policy of the new German generation aiming at world-power. Prussian Germany aimed at the Far and the Farther East; the dreams of Frederick the Great bore fruit under William II., but Pangermanism welded Great Britain, Russia, France and Italy together. It is curious, however, to note that even to-day there are politicians in Germany who cling to Bismarck’s view of Russia.

To-day the great political problem which centres round Great Britain, Russia and Germany overshadows all others: will Great Britain join forces with Russia, or does she consider Germany to be less dangerous to her world-empire than Russia? This is the question Great Britain has to decide, and on her decision will depend the future of the Old and the New World.

9. Great Britain can decide this question much more easily now that Russia has been regenerated and become a truly democratic country. Her decision now depends not only on considerations of foreign policy, but on the valuation of the inner development of the world. Theocracy versus democracy—this is a new watchword side by side with Berlin–Bagdad and Moscow–Constantinople.

Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey formed their union not only from political motives, but because their States rested upon essentially similar foundations. All three are mediæval theocratic, dynastic States; William proclaimed his grandfather to be the direct messenger of God, and he himself claims to be the instrument of God. Such is the sense also of the Habsburg conception and of the Ottoman. These three Central Powers are essentially anti-national, antidemocratic, anti-modern.

The position of Old Russia in the anti-German Alliance was essentially a false one. Yet the democratic forces in Russia were so strong that the rigid absolutist Alexander III. had to enter into alliance with the French Republic. But New Russia is no longer an obstacle to true democracy; and we hope that the Russian democracy, whatever may be its legitimate development, will not frighten the democracies of the West, which, as a result of their particular situation and development, have become somewhat conservative and free. Democratic Russia will be enthusiastically greeted by America. The Oriental question, which is the real issue of this war, is gradually being merged in a world-question. China is following the example of Japan in joining the side of the Allies, and on the same side appear the United States of America, which have also been compelled to resist German insolence. This insolence, the Hybris of Pangermanism, will be finally crushed by democracy; that is the reason why the Russian revolution is so much feared by Germany and Austria-Hungary. These enemies of democracy know that the Russian revolution is the surest pledge of the Allies’ victory.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.


The author died in 1937, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.