NEWS of the revolution in Petrograd could hardly have been a great shock to any Russian. The Revolution of 1905 had followed the realisation on the part of the great mass of the Russian people that they had been betrayed by the manner in which the Russian-Japanese War had been waged and ended. It was only lack of cohesion and organisation, as well as lack of competent leaders, that prevented the Revolution in 1905 from developing into a much more serious affair for the Romanoff régime than it proved to be. Those who knew Russia well saw this and felt that another great betrayal had only to be followed by a national realisation of it, in order to start the fires of revolution afresh.
The day the message came to Vladivostok to the effect that the revolution had taken place, Gondatti called a council of the higher officials.
It was there decided to give the news to the public without delay. It was, perhaps, unfortunate for Gondatti that at the psychological moment he was absent from the seat of govern-ment in Habarovsk. He lost no time returning from Vladivostok, but before he could reach Habarovsk, mischief had been set afoot.
In the absence of both the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief of the forces, the extreme radical element in Habarovsk was given an opportunity to form a committee and assume authority.
Therefore, when Gondatti and General Nischenkoff reached Habarovsk they were at once arrested by the Revolutionary Committee and placed in the military prison. Gondatti’s house was searched and every document and paper therein was subjected to a minute examination. All sorts of stories were spread about Siberia as to what was found in Gondatti’s house. One report said that eleven poods of gold were secreted there. The basis for this story was that Gondatti’s visits to the various mines in the district frequently resulted in his receipt of presents of specimen nuggets. The rumour started with some casual remark about these sample bits of the products of Siberian gold mines and grew into a weird story, from which one might gather that a huge store of gold had been found in Gondatti’s house.
Another tale which was widely circulated was to the effect that a large amount of opium was found concealed on Gondatti’s premises. This started tongues a-wagging every where. Some opium had been confiscated from smugglers a short time before the revolution and Gondatti was taking charge of it until it could be for-warded for the needs of the Russian Red Cross, but this fact was unknown to the average man in the community. Hundreds of other rumours, many of them absolutely groundless, flew from lip to lip, until the animosity toward Gondatti had become universal.
Petrograd, as soon as it learned that the Governor-General had been placed in prison, immediately ordered his release. The committee treated this communication from the revolutionary government with complete defiance. In-stead of being released, Gondatti was transferred to the municipal jail and there given the treatment of a common criminal. All the time orders were coming from the new revolutionary government to Gondatti, directing him to remain at his post. The Habarovsk committee consigned such orders to the waste basket and Gondatti remained in jail. Such a condition of things existed for more than two months. At last Petrograd commenced demanding Gondatti’s presence at the Capitol. These demands became insistent and the committee ultimately decided to despatch Gondatti to Petrograd. The manner of his going was in sad contrast to the way he had been welcomed as Governor-General so few years previously. The Habarovsk committee compelled him to go on foot to the railway station, and all the way from the jail the people crowded the streets and jeered at the former Governor-General and heaped insults upon him. The very men who should have felt the greatest sympathy for and gratitude to Gondatti, engineered the storm of passion that rose against him among the worst elements of the community. They even went so far as to gather together a mob of low moral and intellectual calibre to insure ill-treatment for the departing Governor-General, who was sent from Habarovsk under an armed guard and in a third-class compartment. He escaped with his life and with little else.
Little good did Gondatti ever do in Siberia, but he left behind him a deep-rooted suspicion of the Japanese and a well-fostered spirit of antagonism and dislike toward them. He had been most strongly opposed to the Japanese during his term of office and never lost an opportunity to thwart them. He frequently spoke publicly in an apprehensive vein of the results of the constant encroachments made by the Japanese upon the trade of the country.
It is astonishing how deep-rooted a feeling like the anti-Japanese sentiment in Siberia can become. The Russian is so quiet and peaceable, so little inclined to bother his head particularly about affairs which do not immediately concern him, that one hardly expects his likes and dis-likes of a people outside his own environment to sway him. But the Japanese menace is very real to the people of the Pri-Amur. It is a country of rumour. Every day news would be spread of Japanese troops being in occupation at Harbin, or having been landed at Vladivostok. The most visionary sort of stories were always in the air. A Russian from Irkutsk told me his wife used the threat of a Japanese invasion to quiet the children.
That the revolutionary element, particularly the extreme radicals, were always suspicious of some encroachment on Siberian territory might be gathered from the fact that when Admiral Knight went to Vladivostok on the Flagship Brooklyn, a rumour was started that the American Government was going to take over the Trans-Siberian Railway. The most powerful and prominent Bolsheviki in Vladivostok told more than one of us that he not only held this opinion, but intended to promulgate it. An astute member of the English-speaking community arranged that this firebrand should go to lunch with Admiral Knight on board the Brooklyn. The Russian had the courage of his convictions and was as outspoken in the Admiral’s cabin as he had been in the head-quarters of the Soldiers’ and Workmen’s Deputies. When Admiral Knight learned that the belief was held by many of the Russians that the coming of the Brooklyn was a sure presage to American occupation of the railway, he placed before the Russian extremist, without any delay for special preparation, the exact text of the cablegram from the Naval Depart-ment in Washington which had taken Admiral Knight into Siberian waters with his ship. That telegram could not have been better or more diplomatically worded had the incident in Vladivostok been foreseen. It contained simple enough instructions and gave as a reason for the visit of the warship to Vladivostok the fact that it was desired to demonstrate to the Russians the complete friendship for and sympathy with them of the American Government.
There was no Japanese Admiral with a wisely worded cablegram from his Government to allay Russian suspicions in Siberia. For the matter of that, however the cablegram from Tokyo might have been worded, it would have had little effect in the way of soothing any suspicions that might have been aroused as to Japan’s intentions.
The fear of Japan had a good effect on the extremists who had such predominant voice in the newly formed governmental committees in Habarovsk and Vladivostok. The more conservative elements in the community used that fear and played upon it. In Harbin particularly, wild action on the part of the Committee of Soldiers’ and Workmen’s Delegates was held in check more than once by a reminder that any serious breaches of the peace would result in the coming of Japanese troops from Manchuria within a few hours. Matters were quite bad enough in Harbin, but they would have been infinitely worse but for the proximity of avail-able Japanese troops.
This fear of Japan was very much in evidence during the first months of the Russian Revolution. In Vladivostok, for instance, the imminence of a Japanese landing was in every mouth.
It was a blessing, for it instilled fear into the unruly elements. It gave confidence to the provisional authorities, who soon recognised its value, and played on it. It was, in fact, the subject of the pious gratitude of the more timid among the people, who saw in it a safeguard against the worst elements in Siberia.
For months the Japanese fleet was universally believed to be cruising just off the Siberian Coast and details of its composition were passed from lip to lip in awed whispers. When a small Japanese training ship happened to call at Vladivostok there was almost a panic. No one could be prevailed upon to doubt that she was in wireless communication with the Japanese naval force outside and prepared to call it into the port on the slightest excuse, such as an out-break or riot, with a view to the immediate military occupation of Vladivostok by the Japanese.
I talked with a number of Russians of several classes about the possibility that Japan might have to guard the accumulated stores in Vladivostok. Nowhere in Siberia did I find a Rus-sian in favour of this. It was to discuss this question that I walked one day over the wharves of Vladivostok and along the paths that lead around the shores of the bay, with two Russians who were among the most astute and powerful of the new element that had the reins of Government in Vladivostok in its hands. They were against Japanese intervention in any form. To see over 600,000 tons of cargo piled promiscuously here and there is an experience. An inevitable amount of loss and damage had resulted from the lack of protection which had been accorded to the goods. The limited amount of warehouse space in Vladivostok had been supplemented by some 82,000 square feet of go-downs, but the greater part of the material gathered had been piled in the open.
To walk through those piles on piles of indispensable materials, most of which had come from Japan and America, made one feel that some one ought to guard them if there was any immediate danger of their falling into the hands of the Germans.
To return to the story of how the Russian Revolution. came to Siberia, General Nischenkoff, the Commander-in-Chief, was taken, after a few weeks’ confinement in the military prison at Habarovsk, to the borders of the Pri-Amur, where he was released. In his place the committee, which contained a number of soldier members, elected a Colonel Vissotsky. Vissotsky was a colonel in the reserves and not in the regular army. He had once been a banker in Vladivostok and was held in little esteem-in fact, the greater part of the business element in Vladivostok considered him an out-and-out scoundrel. He held the position of Commanderin-Chief, however, until the Revolutionary Government in Petrograd sent General Hagondokoff to take the position. Hagondokoff was once Governor of the Amur province, and both he and his Chief of Staff, Domanyeffsky, are capable officers. Vissotsky was deposed from the position of Commander-in-Chief upon Hagondokoff’s arrival, without any difficulty, as the former never enjoyed the confidence of either committee or army and had no, real authority. When he issued an order the army would consider it and if they agreed with it, obey it ; if not, they would forget it.
While Habarovsk was the capital of the Pri-Amur, the committee which had been formed there and which had thrown the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief into jail and had subsequently turned them out of Siberia, was never recognised in Far Eastern Russia as being in supreme control. A better group than the committee in Habarovsk was the committee in Vladivostok, and the fact that Vladivostok was at the end of the trans-Siberian railway and was the great seaport of the Far Northeast made the Vladivostok committee of more real importance than the Habarovsk committee.
The Russian is an easily governed person. Ile is docile. He will go a long way to escape trouble. Any committee that represents itself as being the government of the moment finds less difficulty in usurping the direction of affairs than it would find in most other countries.
The great difficulty which was immediately felt in Siberia after the revolution in Russia was the labour problem. This was all the more natural in view of the fact that the labour problem in the Far Northeast has ever been in an unsettled, unsatisfactory state. Gondatti’s efforts to do away with Chinese and Korean labour and the scarcity of Russian labour, together with the fact that the Russian is not a particularly efficient laboring man in the abstract, each had a bearing on the troubles that were to ensue. There was no real industry, as such, in the Pri-Amur when the revolution came. The flour milling industry was the only one which had been long established. Gold mining was confined to the Zeya and Amgun valleys and had never proved particularly remunerative. Gondatti’s schemes for the development of the other mineral resources of the Pri-Amur had never reached anything like conclusion. One might almost say that, except for the gold mining and the mining of zinc at Tiutiukhe, there is no mining industry in Siberia as yet. Consequently, except for the conduct or the railway line and such ordinary local industries as may be found in every community where good-sized towns and cities exist, no sufficient industrial life was to be found in the country from which to create or support a good-sized and intelligent body of working men.
The fact that the soldiers and working men, such as they are, with all their limitations, took over the government at Vladivostok and did as well with it for a time as they did do, is a lesson in itself as to the possibilities of rule by the people. The effect on the whole Pri-Amur district of the attitude and actions of the Vladivostok committee was more far-reaching than that of the Habarovsk committee.
Those first days of the Russian revolution, with the continual contradictory orders that came to Vladivostok from Petrograd, and with that excess of zeal with which a new group in power feels its first strength, might have produced more sinister results.
The power in Vladivostok was in the hands, when the revolution came, of men who were known to be henchmen of Gondatti’s. The Governor-General at Vladivostok was named Tolmatchoff. When the government was taken over by a Committee of Public Safetyimmediately formed on receipt of the news that the old regime had been superseded in Russia Tolmatchoff was deprived of his official residence, with the exception of one bedroom. He was given to understand that his authority had been taken over by the committee, although the fact that he was a popular man and that the Committee of Public Safety itself was formed from quite rational elements, protected the Governor-General from any personal ill-treatment. Tolmatchoff wisely applied at once for leave of absence and until it was granted and he left for Petro-grad, he kept quietly in the background and took no part in the conduct of public affairs.
The Vice-Governor of Vladivostok, Ternovsky, might have come into prominence at this point, except for the fact that he was a great favourite of Gondatti’s. That alone proved his downfall. As in the instance of the Governor-General, there was no bitterness of feeling against him and he was not only allowed to re-main in Vladivostok but was given an official position subsequently under the new regime.
Vladivostok’s Mayor was General Yushtchenkoff. Ile, too, was known as one of Gondatti’s men, although he cut little figure one way or the other, as he was a man of no marked individuality or ability. In spite of this fact, he had been in touch so long with various municipal elements in Vladivostok, that he was able to gain a hearing with the Committee of Public Safety and to induce them to include among their numbers some of the more moderate citizens. Yushtchenkoff hung on long enough to effect some real good in this connection. One of the results of the Mayor’s influence was that the Committee of Public Safety which first grouped itself around the old Municipal Government gradually became disassociated from the municipality and allowed distinctly civic interests to be handled by a purely municipal body.
The situation in Vladivostok immediately after the outbreak of the revolution was, then, that the Committee of Public Safety took over the powers of the Governor-General, in spite of the fact that Petrograd gave him orders to continue in authority. Most of the officials in the Government service’ carried on their work in the same way that they had done, except that they took orders from the Committee instead of the Governor-General. That moderate elements were in the Committee was evident from the fact that no disturbance occurred in Vladivostok and that law and order were very well maintained. The very first few hours and days of the revolution seemed to hold some menace of unruly conditions to come, but abetter condition of things continued and no little common sense in administration was shown by the Committee.
Only one incident occurred which showed the animus of the new governing power for some of the old bureaucratie group. The chief of the commercial port of Vladivostok was a Baron Toube. A deep feeling against Germany existed in the community and considerable popular indignation was directed against Toube, on account of his German name. Toube was undoubtedly a man of exceptional capability. He cared nothing for the opinions of other people, however, and was accustomed to running the port to suit himself. His methods and manners were high-handed.
When the revolution came the feeling against Toube took the form of frequent threats against his safety and accusations of all sorts of pro-German actions on his part. Threats came to him by telephone and by anonymous letters. Feeling that his safety would be more assured, he moved his residence to one of the tugs in the Bay. That gave his enemies the chance for which they had been waiting. An outcry at once arose to the effect that Toube was planning to escape. His arrest followed the popular clamour. The Committee of Public Safety had made no other move of this kind and that it felt that possible injustice had been done to Baron Toube, might be gauged from the fact that the Committee explained its action to be due to a desire to protect Toube from the people. Dame Rumour immediately became busy. Stories to the effect that Toube had manipulated the unloading of cargoes in the port in such manner that combustible materials had been so stored as to invite fire, soon developed into statements that goods had actually been destroyed by Toube in his effort to assist the Germans. While his first incarceration had been in the fortress, it soon became necessary to transfer him to the common jail. A couple of months afterwards, despite the fact that many charges had been formed against him and there was a strong feeling on the part of the Vladivostok people that he should be brought to trial for dereliction of duty, better counsels prevailed. He was released on bail eventually and allowed to leave Siberia for Russia.
Thus the revolutionary element took control of affairs of government in Siberia, and the individuals in whose hands the conduct of affairs had previously rested drifted out, one after another, and left the new element in entire control.
A bad administration had left the country in anything but a sound industrial condition and the work of a Russian settlement of the Far Northeast had been but begun. The resources of the country were hardly as yet tapped. The day of the Russian Far East could not as yet have been said to have reached its dawn.