Theo Rothstein August 1904

The Assassination of Plehve

Source: Social Democrat,Vol. VIII, No. 8, August, 1904, pp.;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Plehve assassinated, and not a word of regret even from the Liberal Press of this country. For once the Nonconformist conscience forgot its thrill of horror and, in the teeth of the traditional de mortuis nil nisi bonum, declared drily and uncharitably: It serves him right. It is, indeed, a monster "dripping blood from every pore" that has been removed from the stage of modern history. He it was who acted as the "examining magistrate" in the case of Zhelyabov, Perovskaya and the others who had taken part in the assassination of Alexander; he it was, who as the Assistant Minister of the Interior diabolically conceived and carried out the anti-Jewish outrages in Southern Russia in 1881 and 1882; he it was who, as the Secretary of State for Finland, by a single stroke of the pen suppressed in 1899 the constitutional liberties of that country, solemnly guaranteed, as they were, by treaty and by the oath of the Czar; he it was who, on being appointed, in 1902, Minister of Interior in the place of the Sipiaguine, shot by Balmashov, at once introduced a regime which resulted in the ruthless suppression of the peasant disturbances of the Kharkov and Poltava provinces, in the flogging of May demonstrators at Wilna, in the wholesale murder at Zlatoust, and in the barbarous treatment of strikers at Tiflis, Baku, and Ekaterinoslaff; lastly, he it was, who was directly responsible for the horrors of Kishineff and Gomel - horrors that remind one of the darkest period of the Middle Ages. If to this be added the number­less other outrages and acts of terrorism com­mitted against various public bodies as well as single individuals who in any way dared to assert their independence of speech or thought, we may well say that there is in modern times but one name that is worthy to rank along with his, and that is the Duke of Alva. Blood at the beginning, blood at the end, blood throughout his career - that is the mark Plehve left behind him in history. He was a living outrage on the moral consciousness of mankind, a sort of a yahoo who incorporated in him all that is bestial and fiendish in human nature; and no wonder the world breathed freely when at last he has been removed.

Still it is not merely from the moral side that Plehve is to be judged. Plehve was both the product and the representative of a political system, and it is in that light that his career and personality acquire their historical significance. What must be that system which produces and places in its centre, as its main driving force, a monster such as Plehve was? The civilised world whose vision has been cleared by the events in the Far East, passed a judgment on that system at the same time that it passed it on Plehve: the system is rotten if its only strength lies in the executioner's arm. It is, indeed, the consciousness of this fact more than anything else that has guided the attitude of the capitalist press towards the assassination of Plehve; and this in itself constitutes a sinister mene mene to the absolutist régime in Russia.

Of course, it is not by political assassinations that freedom will be established in that great and unhappy country. You cannot exterminate vermin unless you change the conditions which favour its existence and reproduction. By exterminating individual specimens of it you merely substitute two living ones for one killed, whilst at the same time running the risk of neglecting and delaying the more important work. Political assassinations are mainly valuable from a moral point of view, as showing that there is still life and sense of human dignity in the down-trodden nation. They are thus a sort of vindication of national honour - precious tokens of a great future. But free­dom itself will have to be won by other means - by the people at large fighting the system itself. Our Social-Democratic comrades in Russia are precisely engaged in this kind of work, and it is to them mainly that we look for the final onslaught on the moribund autocracy. In the meantime, we may well be thankful for having got rid of the most brutal instrument of that system; another such will not be easily found.