Th. Rothstein 1902

Russia in Revolutionary Throes – Scenes and Pictures

Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. V No. 4, April, 1902;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The following excerpts have been taken from the documents and letters received and published in their periodical bulletins by the Foreign Committee of the General Jewish Women’s Union of Poland, Lithuania, and Russia (London) by the Union of the Russian, Social Democrats (Paris), and by the Circle of Revolutionary Socialists (Bern). – Th. Rothstein.

The following description of the disturbances in Moscow on the 9th (22nd) of February, is taken from a proclamation issued to the public by the students: –

“... After the publication by Gen. Vannovsky of the ‘temporary by-laws,’ repudiated not only by all the student’s organisations, but even by the Professors, the tension of the public mind at Moscow became extreme. We were preparing a demonstration. From the 30th of January up to the 9th of February domiciliary police visits were taking place every night, their total number exceeding one thousand. For fear of being caught at their lodgings the students, who had not yet been arrested, decided not to cancel the meetings which had been fixed for the 9th of February a month ago for the purpose of considering the demonstration. They decided to organise a street demonstration in which the masses of the people could join remembering well how last year the crowd several times broke the doors of the prisons to let out the students. The extreme sections proposed to appear armed. The meeting was appointed for mid-day: Long before that time students, male and female, began to gather from different educational institutions. The gates and doors of the university were open to all. There were no strengthened police-cordons. When about 500 persons were already in, the gates of the university court-yard were closed. The troops and the police, who were lying in wait, came out and surrounded the whole of the university site, as well as the adjoining streets. The ‘loitering public’ began to be pressed back, while the students who stood in the courtyard were being driven into the university building. The recreation-hall happened to be open, and in there the meeting at once was held. Two parties formed themselves – the academists and the politicians (i.e. those who wanted to keep the movement strictly academical, and those who desired to lend it a political character). The small group of academists wanted to leave, but was beaten by the police in the court-yard and partly driven back, partly taken to the riding school. A few succeeded in making good their escape through some back doors. The rest went to the inspector’s office, broke the desk and destroyed all the secret ‘characters’ of the students, as well as the rest of the secret documents. As the troops, who were hitherto hidden, began to fill the university building, the remaining students decided to assemble in the recreation hall, fastened all the doors by nails, made barricades of the furniture, broke the window panes and threw out red banners inscribed ‘Liberty.’ Seven students who had escaped from the police, rang at the door of Mr. Tchistyanov, and, on entering, locked the door behind them. Thus matters rested till midnight. The police, fearing an armed conflict, removed all the witnesses by clearing the streets and taking to the Butyrki (a local prison) all those arrested in the riding-school. Then, about one o’clock in the morning the doors of the recreation hall were broke open by the police and entered by soldiers with their bayonets fixed and firemen with the lighted torches. The besieged were offered to surrender and given a quarter of an hour to consider. After a hot discussion the besieged, numbering 517 men and women, surrendered, having previously thrown out of the broken windows the proclamations and thrown into one heap the arms they possessed. In the same manner – through breaking the door open – were the seven students got hold of who had escaped to Mr. Tchistyanov’s house. The arrested were brought out in the street, placed in columns, surrounded by an armed convoy, and thus taken to Butyrki under an escort of a squad of the Sumy Dragoons. The police, fearing lest the crowd might liberate the students, demanded that the Dragoons should move at a trot pace, but the commander, Prince Trubetskoy, declared, ‘There is no such a command as trot pace for foot-goers,’ and made twice a halt on the way to Butyrki....”

“This year the ‘street’ has not come to the aid of the students. The police has taken good measures to prevent it. A number of factories were surrounded by police cordons. On others a new police measure was introduced for the 9th and 10th of February, namely, a double rate of wages. The public was already before terrorised by the mass-arrests and by the compulsory by-laws (such as not to gather in the streets in groups of more than three, etc.). The crowds that approached the cordons were terrorised by the most arbitrary and senseless seizures from among the crowd of individual persons and by taking them into the riding school.... Thus about three hundred persons have been arrested. The people were all the time kept in the riding school standing, without food, the police permitting themselves to shower the vilest abuse. The soldiers, however, who were posted in the riding school, behaved themselves, as the prisoners related, good-humouredly, some even sympathetically expressing their wish ‘for the success and luck of the students in their cause.’ By 11 o’clock at night they were put into cabs of the Red Cross, prepared beforehand, and were furiously driven to Butyrki, followed by cries of indignation on the part of the crowd that still succeeded in assembling. At three in the morning two battalions of the Litovsky Infantry Regiment emerged out of the torch-lit university building. On the next day the arrests of by-standers near the University continued. Trepov (the chief of the Moscow police) several times remarked:- ‘We have made a clean job of it.’ On the 11th a meeting of the medical students of the three higher grades took place, at which it was unanimously decided to declare a strike. The authorities were given official notice thereof and the work in the cliniques stopped. The University, however, is not closed.”

It may be added that the sentence on the above arrested students has already been pronounced: the “academists” – about 150 in number – will be sent to their native towns for the period of two or three years, without the right of leaving. The rest., i.e., the “politicians,” are divided into two groups: those arrested with arms or a few days previous to the meeting, are, as ringleaders, to be sent to the eastern parts of Siberia for five years, the remainder to the same places for three years.

A letter from the Butyrki Prison states: –

“.... On the 10th (23rd) February a demonstration was to have been held in which both students and working-men were to take part, and on the 9th a preliminary meeting at the University. Previously, a proclamation was issued, inviting to the demonstration, as well as an appeal to military men. On the eve of the ninth numerous arrests took place. The students came to the meeting at the University armed. They succeeded in obtaining arms in spite of the recently-published regulation by the Governor-General that shops must not sell arms (revolvers, daggers, knives, etc.) without permission of the chief of the police, and then, must enter in special book for the purpose the full name and address of the customer. The arrested were brought to us in parties – some in cabs others on foot. Altogether about 1,000 persons were brought in: over 700 male students, 84 female students, the rest all different people, even tchinovniks (officials) arrested on the streets. Also 21 officers have been arrested, but where they have been placed we do not know. The first few days the prisoners were not allowed any interviews, nor given anything, whether, linen or money or books. A group of 184 men have, therefore, declared a hunger strike. They did not have any food for 11/2 days. It is only then that things began to be given to the prisoners....”

The following hectographed fly-sheet was issued in St. Petersburg on the 8th (21st) of February:-

“Again a bloody slaughter of students by the police and the house-porters. This time not on the street, but in the Peoples’ Palace, under the eyes of but few witnesses... Everything was prepared by the police beforehand carry out the attack. In the library of the People’s Palace 200 house-porters were hidden. They were given sixpence each and promised a reward. As they themselves boasted afterwards; they were each treated to a good glass of vodka and advised to hit ‘nicely’ – preferably on the neck so that ‘no traces should be found afterwards’. In the hall, amongst the audience, another couple of hundred of house-porters were seated, some dressed in student’s uniforms. The police and mounted gendarmerie cordons were trebled. The platform on which they usually recite in the entr’actes was removed beforehand. A short play was substituted for a long one. Detectives were placed at the doors. About 300 students were counted all in all. They came with female students, evidently straight from the party which was proclaimed. The adjutant of Claygels (the St. Petersburg Governor) was frequently called up to the telephone, and asked, ‘Is there sufficient police?’ ‘Twas quite sufficient. . . Everything was quiet and orderly.’ At 10.30 the play ended. The band began the usual, ‘Glory to Thee, Glory!’ The audience left for the entrances. The police began swiftly to clear the Palace of the lingering public. At that moment the male and female students assembled in a corner of the hall and unfolded a black banner. ‘Anathema to the reformers’ (i.e., to the Vannovsky party) shouted some one. The crowd lustily cheered and cried ‘Hurrah!’ Within, a minute confusion, cries of help, blunt hits, curses, blood.... The drunken porters were carrying out Claygels’ orders. The wild melee lasted but a few minutes. The police drew their sabres and pressed the students towards the exit doors. A male and female student fell to the ground. The crowd, in panic and in terror passed over them.... Both remained on the spot. Outside the driven-out were met by the gendarmes and driven before them at a trot. The snow hills helped to save oneself from the horses. In the empty palace eighteen persons remained, seriously wounded, bleeding and unconscious. They were all carried into a separate room which was soon entered by the chief of the police, Nolde. ‘Scoundrel,’ they cried to him, ‘could you not do without bestialities, without murder?’ ‘It serves you right, you brutes, villains,’ he replied coolly. The floor, on which the battle took place was covered by pools of blood and numberless students’ caps....”

The following is an account by an eye-witness of the demonstration in St. Petersburg an the 3rd (o.s.) of March: –

“Long before that date thousands of leaflets had been distributed by the local League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working-classes, in which the latter were invited to prepare for a demonstration, viz., 5,000 appeals describing the events in the south (Kharkov, Odessa, Kiev), 6,000 appeals to hold themselves in readiness (for Monday the 25th of February, and for Friday the 1st of March), 8,000 invitation tickets, not reckoning the numerous invitations distributed by the students’ organisations. The place of demonstration was the square in front of the Kazan Cathedral. Between 10 and 12 one could have seen on the Nevskv Prospect an extraordinary crowd. Numerous workers were going towards the Kazan Cathedral one by one and in small groups. Towards 12-12.30 an immense crowd was assembled there. A great number of people were hiding themselves in the two churches opposite the cathedral. The steps of the churches, the broad sidewalks, all were dotted with working men, students, and outside public. The bulk of the demonstrators were working men. One could but seldom meet students’ uniforms. It is possible that students were present in civil clothes. Up till noon no special measures could be seen to have been taken by the Government. Only a few solitary policemen could be met here and there. About a dozen policemen were occupying cabs near the Kazan Cathedral. At 12.15, when shouts and cheers began to resound in the crowd, there emerged from various places of concealment a host of mounted gendarmes, mounted police, a score of constables, and behind them a number of house-porters.... The mounted gendarmes, brandishing their sabres, threw themselves on the trottoirs and began to disperse the demonstrators and the public. They soon got hold of the trophies – two red flags. . . The whole immense distance of the Nevsky Prospect from the Anichkov to the Police Bridge was swarming with demonstrators, sympathetic public, and foot and mounted troops. There were, however, no soldiers, no Cossacks. The Prefect Claygels was present and directed the battle, sitting in his sledge. The big three-storied cars were packed with people from top to bottom. . . . At 12.45 the traffic of cars and cabs was stopped. Barriers were thrown across the Nevsky at the two bridges and at all cross-streets in order not to let out the public and to facilitate the clearing of the field. The mounted police behave, comparatively speaking, orderly, but the foot police and the constables acted in some places savagely, beating with their fists and sabres the students and dragging along girls by their hair. At 1.30 the public, were let out on the Nevsky, and an immense crowd streamed there. The mounted and foot patrols filled the street the whole day. At 2.30, near the Gostikni Dvor, the police attacked a student and began hitting him with all their might. The public at the sight threw themselves at the police with wild cries of protest, but mounted gendarmes arrived on the scene, and the crowd was pressed back...”

Here is what has happened in Ekaterinoslav:-

“The local committee of the Russian Social Democratic party issued a proclamation inviting the workers to demonstrate on the 15th and 16th (o.s) of December. On Saturday, the 15th, at 4 p.m., about four hundred, working men and a few dozen students (there is no university in that town) assembled at the Prospect. The crowd had scarcely begun to move when it was surrounded by police, who endeavoured to get hold of some of the demonstrators. The superintendent and the constables who tried to stop the crowd were dragged down from their saddles and were beaten severely. Then the crowd was attacked by a detachment of Cossacks, and a savage execution followed. The police and the troops were beating everybody without distinction, they beat even the public that stood at the crossing of the tramway lines waiting for the cars. Individual demonstrators were dragged out from the crowd, beaten down senseless, thrown into vans and carried to the police stations. The workmen defended themselves by what they could – sticks, knives, stones – there was even some revolver shooting. After a melee of about fifteen or twenty minutes the crowd dispersed along the neighbouring streets, but the beating continued even there. At six p.m. the Governor himself appeared on the scene, and stopped the slaughter. One hundred and four workmen and seventeen, students have been arrested. The number of wounded is very great. Several policemen have been beaten and severely wounded. Fragments of songs were heard in the crowd, revolutionary cries resounded frequently, and the general noise was most frequently of all covered by the cry of ‘Liberty!’ This was each time lustily cheered and met with an ‘hurrah.’ After the affray the street looked like a recent battlefield – pools of blood, broken fences, pulled down trees, irregular groups of workmen with the traces of the fight. On the next day the Cossacks were every where dispersing the public on the streets, not permitting them even to congregate in twos. Towards the evening about 300 workers assembled in the square at the other end of the Prospect. They were prevented from entering the street. They then decided to go to the working-class quarter, near the Briansk metal works. There they met, raised the red flag, and several times marched up and down the street loudly singing revolutionary songs. They dispersed ere the police and numerous late workers could appear on the spot. ... The excitement in the town is extraordinary. A scientific society, which was holding one of their members’ meetings at the Governor’s house and under his chairmanship, decided by 80 votes against 15 to close the sitting, as, they said, it is impossible to remain indifferent at a time of street battles.”

The events at Kharkov are thus described by a local group of students:-

“On Saturday, the 1st of December (o.s.), obstruction was proclaimed at the University. Since then the regulation course of university life has been stopped, in spite of the energetic activity of the organised opposition which collects signatures of those willing to attend the lectures and presents them to the Rector. In a particularly sharp form this antagonism between the two parties has shown itself at a lecture of Professor Sagursky. In the lecture-room where he spoke there were present a good number of the opposition (about 50). During the lecture the obstructionists came in and began entreating the professor to stop the proceedings. A long, stormy scene followed in an atmosphere of extreme tension and mutual enmity of the two parties. Sagursky is inexorable; some of the students shout: ‘Go down!’ One of the students steps forward and, entreating the professor with tears in his eyes to stop the lecture, asks, ‘Are you really prepared to step over the corpses of those who may perhaps today be killed in the streets? Does your heart tell you nothing in view of the terrible hecatomb – the expelled 150 veterinary students?’ The speech of the student filled the cup. A deafening cry arose, ‘Down!’ The two parties threw themselves at each other, but the thing did not go so far as actual fighting. From mental agitation several have fits of hystericsand swoon. Sagursky himself swoons, and a doctor is sent for. Sagursky is now very ill. The Rector appears on the scene, and asks them, to disperse. The students, singing revolutionary songs, set out for the Sunesky Street, where again a demonstration takes place. Towards six p.m. the.street is again swarming with people. Cossacks arrive like a, wild storm, drive the people into narrow Streets and there belabour them mercilessly with their whips. Besides them there are several detachments of police, drunken, savagely yelling, swearing and hitting right and left with their fists. Every evening fresh victims, maimed and wounded, are brought to the hospitals. Yesterday a student appeared at the university the head and face all bandaged, only the eyes could be seen. The lectures cannot go on; each attempt finishes in heartrending scenes. At one lecture a student threatened to out his own throat if the professor does not desist from the attempt to lecture. At another the proceedings were simply broken up. Officially the university is not closed. At a joint meeting of the obstruction and opposition it was, therefore, agreed to ask the Rector to close the university officially in view of the stormy scandals. The Rector promised to lay a request in that sense before the Minister The meeting was attended by over 500 students. It was a sight unparalleled. The professors took part in the discussions; they all talked long, but not convincingly. They tried to show that the movement is premature. The replies were numerous, hot, and throughout political. The professors were simply annihilated. They were reproached for their hypocrisy. ‘You are torches,’ they were told, ‘but overturned.’ The professors were taken aback, confused, made concessions; many of them wept replying to the students.”

Of the Kiev demonstration on the 2nd of February (o.s.) an eye-witness writes:-

“It began at 12.30 at the Kreschatik (the chief street). The whole distance from the Alexander Square and up to Bessarabka, was filled with people, also the balconies. Exactly at 12.30 there appeared before the Hotel Bellevue two red flags, and the song started, ‘Courage, friends!’ The crowd moved, the sabres of the foot and mounted policemen flashed in the air, the whips whizzed, and the affray began. The first attack of the Tsar’s henchmen was parried. In about twenty-five minutes a group of students was seen bringing out from the crowd the polytechnical student Volsky. I saw myself the pale, ghastly face, evidently cut by the sabre. I saw suddenly a host of Cossacks rushing on the students and literally tearing out of their hands the half-dead comrade. A crowd of a few hundred pressed back by the Cossacks to the Fundukley Street, continued the procession and singing, but carrying no flags. The mounted police again brought into action their whips, and dispersed the public. At the same time at the Kreschatik, before the university, before the Opera House, at Luteran Street, before the Vladimir Cathedral, everywhere thousand headed crowds. By order of the authorities a regiment of soldiers was sent out to seize all the exits of the streets. The Cossacks, wild with rage, galloped straight at the people, hitting, trampling under hoof and driving from one place to another. Whips were in full play at the corner of the University and the Karavan Street, at the corner of the University and the Boulevard, beating was going on near the Opera House, at Luteran Street – in a word, they were beating everywhere and everybody – more especially the students and the working men. The indignation is universal. Near the Theatre the Cossacks trampled under hoof a child. Under my own eyes an elderly lady had a nervous fit at the sight of the bestialities and screamed: ‘Beating, beating, what for!’ They say also that a student of the university has been killed. Of Volsky some say that he has died at the police-station, others that he is still alive. I and a friend of mine also scarcely escaped. As we were passing from the Proresky Street to the Vladimir Street, we were suddenly attacked by some soldiers and literally dragged forward in spite of our protests. I was seized by the sleeve by a soldier and thrown, I don’t know how, to a distance of about 30 feet from the cordon. My friend was attacked by five soldiers, and the sergeant, seizing him by the arm, hissed: ‘Move on, scoundrel, student.’ Then, on seeing how a student near the Hotel Metropole was wriggling under the whips of five Cossacks, I could not hold out any longer, and, tormented by a feeling of impotence and rage towards the miscreants, I dragged myself home... There is any number of arrested students, working men, women... I even saw a little boy of a secondary school conducted under an escort of military. The number of maimed and wounded is still greater. What will happen in the evening it is impossible to foretell, since, in spite of the efforts of the police, the streets are crowded with people. The soldiers have become brutalised, and so have the Cossacks. One particularly zealous superintendent of police has his face mutilated and one eye knocked out. I saw myself how a mounted policeman, coming in full gallop, knocked down and trampled under hoof the superintendent. Another policeman, raising his sabre, hit a student with its flat side, cutting off at the same time the thumb of a constable who chanced to stand near. There were in all four flags – one of the revolutionary socialists, another of the Social Democrats, a third of the workmen’s banner, and a fourth of the students. The last held out longer than any of the former. This is all that I am able to write down. For fatigue and nervous excitement my hand does not move any longer.” (Written at 5 p.m.)