Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Old Regime, 1974 (extract)

Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Old Regime, 1974 (extract) ...

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Unformatted text preview: -- With—the‘accessmn o ‘ exander n the government made an earnest effort to put an end to the arbitrary rule of the bureaucracy and police, and transform Russia into what the Germans called a Rechm'taat, a state grounded in law. The slogans in theair in the 18603 were due process, open court proceedings, trial by jury and irremovable judges. The judi- ciary reform, completed in 1864, is by common consent the most suc- cessful of all the Great Reforms and the only one to have survived (with the notable exception described below) to the end of the old regime 295 RUSSIA UNDER THE OLD REGIME without being subjected to crippling restrictions. After 1 864, all crim- inal offences, including those of a political nature, were to be tried in regular courts: the trials were to be public and their proceedings reported fully in the official Government Messenger (Pravitcl’rtvmnfi VéflJ nik). There is every reason to believe that the government of Alexander Ii wanted this reform to succeed; formal legality is the one feature of the liberal state that an authoritarian regime can adopt without nec- essarily subverting itself. It was not long, however, before this effort was sabotaged—this time, ‘for once, not by bureaucrats but by the radical intelligentsia and its sympathizers among the well-meaning, enlightened and liberal public. The government at first attempted to try political cases before ordinary courts served by juries. Thus, for example, the trial of Sergei Nechaev and his followers (see above, p. 277), held in 1871, was presented tb a jury, and so were a number of other proceedings inv‘olving revo- lutionaries. The results, from-the government’s point of View, were most disappointing. For one, the defendants in political trials, realizing what superb opportunity had been handed to them to broadcast na- tionwide their views from the privileged tribune of the court, rather than defend themselves often used their trials as an occasion to make inflammatory political speeches. These were then duly reported in the official Government Messenger. Sometimes, as for instance in the so-called Trial of Fifty (1877), the defendants refused to recognize the com; petence of the court; at other times (e.g. the Trial of the 193 in 1877— 8) they hurled insults at the judges. Furthermore, rnostjurors had a very poor notion of legality and allowed their sympathy or pity for the,young defendants to eclipse their duty of determining the issue of guilt. Even those who did not approve of the methods used by the radicals hesitated to render a verdict of guilty because to have done so seemed to range them on the side of the bureaucracy and gendarmes against youths who, though perhaps misguided, were at any rate idealistic and selfless. Defendants were often'vauitted; and even on those charged guilty, the judges tended to impose perfunctory sen- tences for acts which by western European criminal codes would have made them liable to severe punishment. In retrospect this politiza— tion’ of Justice by Russian radicals and their sympathizers was a great tragedy for Russia. For although the provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with political offences Were outrageously broad and imprecise, and the punishments provided for them unusually harsh, still at; at- tempt was being made—the very first in Russia’ s thousand- -ye_ar- -old history—to have the government submit its grievances against private citizens to the judgement of third parties. Out of this effort, in time, there might have emerged a genuine system of Justice even fcir political 296 , ms!— '3'! OWARDS THE POLICE STATE offenders, and perhaps much more, a government subject to law. The exploitation of the opportunities provided by the 1864 Reform for the promotion of short-term political interests played right into the hands of arch conservatives and those bureaucrats who had always regarded independent justice a misbegotten, ‘un- -Russian’ idea. The most fla- grant instance of subversion of Justice _by liberal circles occurred at the trial of Vera Zasulich, a terrorist who In January 1878 shot and gravely wounded the Governor of St Petersburg. On this occasion, the Public Prosecutor made every effort to treat the case as an ordinary rather than as a political crime. Yet, despite incontrovertibleevidence that Vera Zasulich had been guilty as charged of an attempt at pre- meditated murder, the jury acquitted her. This verdict must have made every government employee feel that he had become fair game for the terrorists: shooting an official, if done for political reasons, was no longer a crime. Such miscarriage of justice outraged also Dos- toevsky and the liberal theorist, Boris Chicherin, who seem to have realized better than most of their contemporaries the moral and po- litical implications of a double standard of morality and justice adopted by the intelligentsia. It became apparent even to officials of a more liberal persuasion that the government could not count on regular courts and Juries to mete out impartialjustice where politics were involved in any way. Steps were therefore taken to remove po- litical cases from the competence of the courts and to dispose of them by administrative procedures, usually either by military courts or by the Senate, often in camera. By 1890, the courts were given up alto— gether in anti- state crimes and from then on until the 1905 Revolution political offenders were dealt with by administrative means entrusted to the bureaucracy and gendarmerie. Thus on Russian‘ progressive’ opinion there rests a very heavy responsibility for sabotaging the first attempt made in the country’s history to have the government confront its citizenry on equal terms. _ __ "—y_—~- ...
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