Russia – Law And Order

THE Russian revolution in its inception was the least terrorist in its methods of all modern upheavals ; in fact, it was a triumph for pacifism. This triumph was gained owing to the fact that common soldiers refused to kill common work people ; that Cossacks refused any longer to treat Russian citizens of Petro-grad or Moscow as of different flesh and blood from themselves, but instead fraternised with them and joined in overturning autocracy.

Not only was this so in regard to relationships between ordinary men in and out of uniform, but all at once, throughout the length and breadth of Russia a new thought prevailed. Officials, however highly placed, however gaudily decorated, were no longer sacrosanct—no longer to be considered as persons whose word was law. Consequently when these officials endeavoured to urge workers in uniform to fire on their own flesh and blood, they were informed that if any shooting was to be done it would be against the officers. Anarchial as this doctrine sounds in the ears of those in authority, ultimately it is the one and only law of life which will save mankind.

It is authority, man made, man supported, or rather accepted and tolerated, which holds the world in chains. There will be no more wars, no more bloody revolutions, once the workers in all countries absolutely refuse under any conditions to kill one another, I am certain that, apart from all other economic questions, apart from all questions of terrorism or anything else, the one and only thing which has rallied the Churchills, Clemenceaus and other supporters of capitalism against Soviet Russia, is this fact, that once the workers of the world can be made to understand that, by complete unity of action, and refusal to obey the order to shoot, they can emancipate themselves, the whole business of capitalist society is at an end and the social revolution will be an accomplished fact.

That day is not yet. In Russia, as everywhere else, it was and is an active virile self. confident minority which for the past two and a half years has carried on the revolution. All the time, they have been beset by hosts of internal and external foes. Lenin and his friends were no sooner settled In power than all the underground forces of espionage, corruption and conspiracy were let loose by the capitalist governments of all countries. Sad to say, either directly or indirectly, British, American and French citizens have been most guilty in this nefarious business. If ever peace is made and publication of documents is allowed, the Russian people will be in a position to indict through their agents the Governments of Europe and America, with almost every crime in the decalogue. Lying, thieving, false swearing, vice of every description, coupled with murder, of all these crimes some of these agents have been guilty, and all for one purpose—the overthrow of the Soviet System. I repeat these facts here because it is necessary to bear them in mind when trying to form a judgment as to the wisdom or rightness of the establishment of the ” Extra-ordinary Commission.”

Now, in all I have said, I must not be taken as arguing in defence of Defence of the Realm regulations in England or elsewhere, but I do maintain that conditions may justify even a Socialist revolutionary government in using means it despises to safeguard itself and the revolution entrusted to its care. Born, as it were, in the midst of a terrible crisis, the commission for tracking down crime has gained an unenviable notoriety, and its doings have been lied about in the most flagrant manner.

One small case is typical of many others : again and again the world has been told that a celebrated anarchist, ” Peter the Painter,” who was wanted in England for alleged burglary and murder, was head of this Extra-ordinary Commission. This statement was intended to prove that the lives and liberties of law-abiding citizens were controlled by a criminal. I was informed by an anti-Bolshevik woman, well known in this country, who had been arrested by order of the Commission, that this story was too ridiculous to reply to, as everybody in Russia acquainted with affairs knew that although a man named Peters was one of the chief officials on the Extraordinary Commission, he was not an anarchist and was not the man said to be wanted in England. I give this friend’s authority because it adds the weight of independent and rather hostile testimony to that of the Government itself.

The present head of the Extraordinary Commission is Djerzinsky. I visited his head-quarters in company with some other friends. He appeared to me to be as mild a mannered man as any of the Chief Police Officials in this country ; in fact the men I have met who are at the head either of the police or killing business always appear to be amongst the most urbane and courteous I meet in any walk of life. And Djerzinsky is no exception to the rule. He was very willing to answer questions and willing to produce documents. He is about middle height with rather a military appearance, and dressed in uniform. There was nothing swagger about him, and without his uniform he would have appeared as most officers appear when in mufti-just an ordinary person.

When, later on, I met others of the Commission and saw them more or less in a group, I wondered how the sort, of legend which has grown up around them was possible ; and then I tried to think of lord French in Ireland, General Dyer at Amritzar, and our own Sir Basil Thomson here in London. Quite as horrible things can be said of these three from the point of view of violence in putting down civil trouble, and the work of espionage and spying generally.

I first of all tried to discover how the Commis on got appointed. It is appointed by the Supreme Council and consists of fifteen members. A presiding board of four sits in Moscow an Committees sit in other towns. A Committee may decide matters if there

full agreement amongst them, but in the event of disagreement the whole Commission of fifteen must be called together to decide the matter under dispute. its work is manifold. At first its exclusive business was to deal with counter revolutionaries, and without a doubt many thousands of people were imprisoned merely on suspicion, amongst them Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries, Cadets, Czarists and foreigners. The duty of the Commission was to track down persons likely to be centres of disaffection or to be thrown into the net of the disaffected. It was a difficult business, because many people, especially some of those belonging to other Socialist and Anarchist groups, at times professed loyally to join the Bolsheviks, only later on to be dis-covered plotting for the overthrow of the Government. Supporters of the old regime, clerics connected with the Church, and people with no fixed opinions, and many aliens, also joined in as loyal to the new order, to be found later on as agents provocateurs for conspiracies.

There was also a great deal of work to do in the army, where the Czarist officers, joining up very often as privates, made themselves the centres for promoting desertion and betrayal in the face of the enemy. Sometimes batches of ” Red ” troops have surrendered to Denikin, or in the North to our own officers, being led to do so by Czarists who had professed to be-come Bolsheviks.

In these circumstances, in the early days of the revolution, there was the ” Terror,” which resulted, according to statistics, in the execution of about 3,000 persons. It claimed for the Commission, and thus for the Soviet Government, that not one of these were executed without some form of trial ; that it is untrue to say that at any time there had been indiscriminate killing or torture. On this latter point, the authorities are very emphatic, and here I am only giving their statement. I had hoped to bring back a complete set of figures, but these were not available when I left. The materials for getting them together are in the office of the Commission and will be published later on.

But it is a mistake to think that these fifteen men were brought into existence merely to hunt down counter revolutionaries. They had a great work to do in dealing with illegal trading, bribery and corruption generally. No one will deny that under the Czarist regime bribery and corruption amongst the official classes was not merely prevalent but was accepted as the ordinary every day condition of life. All at once to break with this condition of things would seem to be impossible, and the Soviet Government has had the very greatest difficulty in putting it down. They believe, however, that through the work o the Commission this is being done.

As to illegal trading, I have dealt with it elsewhere. Neither the Government nor the Commission hopes to succeed in thoroughly putting an end to this until food is more plentiful and the general conditions of life more tolerable.

But there was another method of bribery by which opponents hoped to break the spirit and power of the Government, and that was by undermining the morale of the soldiers by means of money bribes, and it is here where Allied gold came in and where it was spent so very plentifully. Of course this sort of thing is very difficult to track down and takes a very large number of men and women in order to do it thoroughly.

Then there was the industrial side of life. Until peace is signed and there is a general amnesty and the story is written as a matter of history, no one will be able to tell completely of the ramifications of the Allied conspiracy which time after time almost brought the munition works at Tula and Putiloff to a standstill. Long ago, many of the leading agents of the Allies recognised that the Soviet Government would not be pulled down by fighting, and so they set to work in the indus- trial centres to create unrest and dissatisfaction owing to the shortage of food. These agents were able to corrupt other agents, who in turn went into the factories and spread their poison, declaring that with peace there would come plenty, and that the responsibility for war and shortage lay with the Soviet Government.

But in addition to all this work, for the first two years the Commission had an even more difficult task on its hands, and that was the business of restoring law and order throughout the country. I sometimes read what people have to say about Russia, and listen to speeches on the same subject. What always strikes me is how few people realise that with the Baltic Provinces cut off Russia is still a country of thousands of miles in extent of territory and with a population of over 100 millions. When the Czarist regime, with all its police and military and its centuries old domination, was broken up, lawlessness broke out everywhere. Some bands of men roamed the country, pillaged when they could, lodged where they chose, executed vengeance, and by means of terrorism extracted the means of life from those unwilling to give it. To stop the doings of these brigands and bring the country back to some sort of order was also the work of the Extraordinary Commission, and life through-out Russia is more safe because of its work.

Today a greater task has been entrusted to it, and that is to assist in restoring health, clearing away disease, and to teach the people that it is a duty they owe each other to take the necessary means for preserving health.

Finally, no one imagines for a moment that the Extraordinary Commission was the final word the Bolsheviks have to say on the methods by which they desire to maintain proper relationships between the various members of the community. In the future it is proposed that the new People’s Courts of Justice shall be the dominant factor in the preservation of law and order. When peace is restored, the Secret Police will be abolished —although the Secret Police in Russia are probably the most numerous and well organised any country of Europe. At the same time it is necessary to say that this latter will depend on the attitude of Foreign Govern ment towards the Soviet. If Russia is left alone to work out her own life, then the Secret Police will not be needed, but if, as seems probable, the Allies intend to continue their work of stirring up hatred and strife, the Secret Police will have to remain.

For internal disputes, the People’s Courts of Justice will have the biggest voice. Before the revolution to go to a Law Court on any sort of business was a very expensive matter. Now there is one uniform public Law Court, for civil and criminal cases. Each district is provided with its own district Law Court. All matters relating to crime, offences, disputes, personal rights, are subject to the jurisdiction of the district court. The only cases that are not allowed before these courts are cases connected with counter revolution, sabotage, etc.

It is worthy of notice that most of the eases now are criminal cases. Formerly, of course, the civil courts were kept going for the pur-pose of settling questions connected with property. In spite of the loosening of all social ties, there are less people brought before the courts to-day than ever before on account of offences of this character.

The person set to act as magistrate or judge over his fellows is elected. The permanent judges are elected by the Soviets and are elected from persons who have theoretical and practical knowledge of the law. But they must also have some experience of working class organisation. Permanent judges are elected for indefinite periods and are always liable to be recalled by the Soviet by which they are elected. Judges are also assisted by assessors and these are chosen from .persons who possess elective rights. The lists of these are made up by workers’ organisations, such as village and rural Soviets, and are subject to the Revision of the Executive Committee of the Soviets. Lists are made for a period of six months, and each assessor takes part in six sessions without the right to resign his responsibility. While acting as an assessor, he is paid the local rate of wages, or such remuneration that may be equal to the maximum rate of living expenses for the locality in which he acts.

It may be taken as a rule that prisoners have a better chance before these Courts than they formerly had before the courts under the Czar. It is worthy of notice that for crimes against property compulsory labour is nearly always imposed ; for all other offences fines predominate, except in the ease of mur-der, where of course a fine is never imposed. There have been, I am told, a few cases where persons found guilty of murder have only been doomed to loss of freedom and to compulsory labour.

For those who have been found guilty of manufacturing and selling intoxicating drinks, eighty per cent, are fined and eighteen per cent, imprisoned. The death penalty for any person either in the army or in civil life has been abolished, and this I understand is being rigidly adhered to.

As to general maintenance of order, what struck me was the absence of any paraded authority anywhere. I am well aware that authority was present, probably in every big road, but it did not obtrude itself. One had to look to discover the man or the woman who was exercising the duty of policeman. In Petrograd I saw the women police paraded, and very smart indeed they looked in their uniform. In Moscow the work is mainly done by what appear to he ex-soldiers, but Y should think it was the easiest thing possible to pre-serve order in either of the big cities.