Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

work such portion of their time as the landlord exacted, usually one half-on his estate without pay. The allowance of land to the peasant to cultivate for his own use was in effect but affording him the means to live. All the benefit of his strength, in excess of that necessarily expended for his maintenance and the support of his family, went to the landlord. The emancipation act of 1861, which applied only to the serfs of the nobility, was designed to allow them as their own the lands which had been assigned to them for their individual support theretofore, but it is said that through defects in the practical execution of it their holdings were in fact reduced, and thus, so far as land is concerned, they were rather impoverished. The act of 1866 emancipating the peasants on the crown estates was much more liberal and gave them twice as much as they had been allowed before.

In Russia the usurer is an important factor, and the wide fluctuations in crop returns render the peasants peculiarly at his mercy. To pay taxes, if not merely to sustain life, they must frequently borrow, and to borrow is to invite ruin. Security for small loans is frequently taken in the form of labor contracts to the neighboring landlord, from which the laborer finds it difficult to extricate himself. The liberation of the personal servants of the landlords at the time of the emancipation and the loss of their lands by misfortune or improvidence by peasants have produced a considerable class of landless farm laborers, which seems to be steadily increasing. The peasant proprietors hold about twenty-seven per cent of the lands of the empire, though the peasants number more than three-fourths of the whole population and pay the great bulk of the taxes. The remainder is held by the landlords and the crown, and is cultivated largely by peasants under what are termed bondage contracts, contracts of service for advances made. But twenty-one per cent of the whole area of European Russia is cultivated. Serfdom did not extend over all Russia. Siberia, the country about the White Sea and the Cossacks of the south rejected it. The Tartars of the east, the Roumanians, the German colonists and the Finns, as a rule maintained their liberties. By the emancipation the serfs were not re

lieved entirely of the burdens of their landlords. The peasants, in lieu of their former services to the landlords, were bound to pay an annual tribute, varying in amount in different places according to circumstances. By a subsequent arrangement the state undertook to aid the peasants to redeem and discharge the perpetual rents for a lump sum, loaned to them by the state, thus releasing the peasants from all obligation to the landlords and transferring the obligation to the state.

The village system since the redemption is still maintained as before, and the lands still belong to the mir as a unit. Cities in Russia are of far less importance than in any other equally great country. The people are divided into two main classes, the merchants, who have a certain amount of capital and pay license dues in return for priviliges accorded them, and the mechanics and others of the humbler sort. The merchants are divided into three guilds; the first pay five hundred roubles a year and have the privilege of trading throughout the empire and abroad; members of the second are limited to home trade, and the third are the small traders. Each guild has its board and elects its head. Prior to the emancipation merchants were prohibited from owning inhabited lands, i.e. estates with serfs. This restricted their holdings to city property. The restriction is now removed.

A peculiarity of Russian society is the scarcity of professional men. The medical profession languished mainly from want of schools. The legal profession had no standing, procedure in the courts being secret and conducted by officers of the government. The reforms of Alexander II make the courts open to all classes equally, require trials to be public and allow parties to be heard in person and by attorney. This has given life to the profession of the lawyer. At so low an ebb was legal training, that it is said that a considerable number of the judges of the courts of general jurisdiction had no previous training in the law. The leading peculiarities of Russian society are its division into two main classes, the peasants and the office-holding and land-owning nobility, and the meagre numbers and small importance of what in some

other countries make up what is termed the middle class, but which in fact is morally and intellectually the highest. Russia is also peculiar in that the number of its landless and dependent class is smaller than in any other great country.

The educational system is yet in its infancy and illiteracy is the rule all over Russia. This is not due to any disinclination to learn or want of capacity in the children. No where are more apt students to be found. At the great cities there are universities, which in many respects rank well with the best schools of Europe, but are afflicted with excessive governmental supervision. They are revolutionary hot beds, and rigid police supervision of the students is regarded as indispensable. The natural spirit of the students induces them to revolt against this interference, and riots are not infrequent. The government has the impossible task of giving a liberal education to the youths and still retaining respect for despotism. Scattered through the provinces are high schools, at which instruction in the dead languages is given along with other branches. Primary schools are yet more numerous, but hardly one-tenth of the children are as yet afforded even the rudiments of education. Only about one-ninetieth of the revenues raised from the people is applied to schools. The army, navy and public officials absorb the lion's share. To the means furnished the schools by the government must be added about as much more raised by the zemstvos, besides that paid for private instruction. The people everywhere show great interest in obtaining the benefit of schools, and the peasants especially exhibit much liberality in taxing themselves to establish them.

Railroads and telegraphs are mainly in the hands of the government, and a system of banks is also maintained. Manufacturing industries are still in a very backward state.

In religion most of the Russians adhere to the Greek Church. The clergy, who are dependent on the Czar for their positions, have for centuries been the mainstay of his authority. Over an illiterate and devout people they exercise a most powerful influence, and the duty of submission to the Czar's authority is constantly inculcated by every priest in the land. Perhaps

no other people in the world are so thoroughly loyal to their chief ruler as they, and this is largely due to the influence of the clergy.

In its governmental system Russia seeks to administer the affairs of its vast empire from a single head. Its territory is not divided into either tributary or self-governing dependencies, but is a compact and largely homogeneous state. The central power connects itself directly with each part down to the peasant village. It allows and in fact derives great advantage from the democratic mirs, which in effect reduce the number of units with which it has to deal from that of the individuals to that of the mirs or volosts. Local self-government over limited areas aids autocracy. The force of the volost, made up of unlettered peasants, is insufficient to endanger or interfere with the central authority. The recently established zemstvos, if permitted to consult and combine with one another, might check arbitrary power, but such combinations are jealously prohibited, and the zemstvo is not sustained or invigorated by that inherited strength, which the primitive village has brought down from antiquity. Its powers are more strictly limited and its functions not generally comprehended.

The system of laws which prevails exhibits peculiarities due to the manner of its development. Although it cannot be said that all its laws are an indigenous growth, and that none have been borrowed from other nations, the system is distinctly Russian. It is in main a product of local customs, peculiar to Russia, which furnish the laws of the peasant communities, and of edicts of the Czars. There never has been an adoption of the legal system of any other state or people. From time to time the Czar has issued his ukase, covering any subject he had in mind in his own way, without regard to anything which his predecessors had done. Russian Czars have frequently been bold innovators. As a reformer the Czar has ideal conditions for action. He makes the law as he wills. The emperors have for many generations realized the necessity of governing in accordance with declared principles, but they have been unwilling to part with their judicial

power, or speaking more accurately, with the power to set aside and disregard their own rules wherever deemed expedient. The laws therefore have been only for the guidance of subordinates, and then only so far as seemed consistent with the policy of the bureaucracy. There have been various compilations of the laws of the empire, beginning with that of Iaroslav in the tenth century and ending with that of Speransky in the reign of Nicholas I. This last compilation fills forty-five quarto volumes, containing the laws of the empire arranged in chronological order. These laws have been condensed into a code, Svod, classified by subjects, and included in fifteen volumes, containing over sixty thousand articles in fifteen hundred chapters. This vast mass of legislation would seem to be sufficient to afford fixed rules for most cases, but as a matter of fact there is much contradiction and inconsistency in the ukases of the various Czars, issued at different times and acting under varying impulses. To the subject these laws have afforded no safe rule of conduct or protection of property rights, because of the system of administration. Trials in the courts of both civil and criminal causes until 1864 were secret, the evidence being taken down in writing. A system of appeals from one court to another has long prevailed, but this adds little to the suitor's security and causes much delay and expense. Lawyers were not advocates but merely intercessors with the judges. That best of all guarantees for the integrity of judges, trials in the presence of the public and of the professional lawyers, whose business it is to extract the truth from parties and witnesses and apply the law to the facts, was not given till the reforms of Alexander II. While long steps in the right direction have been made in the reformation of the judiciary, there is still much to be desired in the way of independence and fearlessness on the bench. This may be said with truth of every other land, as well as Russia. There it is the Ministers whose influence is regarded as most baneful, elsewhere it is mainly the rich and powerful. The principal complaints urged against the Russian system are for arbitrary arrests and punishments ; lack of security for the citizen against the malice of police officers; cruelty and bru

« AnteriorContinuar »