The Russian Revolution
The controller, as he is called on the Siberian railroad, was passing
through the cars to see that every passenger had a ticket. He did not
notice the mooshik, which is what the Russian peasant is called in
his own language, hiding under one of the car seats with a large bundle
in front of him; or if he saw him, he passed on without seeming to have
The mooshik had given the brakeman a small sum o
money, about fifty
cents in our currency, to let him hide there whenever the controller
came around, and in this way ride from Petrograd, or Petersburg as the
Bolsheviki renamed it after the revolution, to Vladivostok, a distance
of about four thousand miles.
Now this mooshik did not need to go to Vladivostok; but his Russian
nature made him go, go somewhere, it made little difference where. He
had been the year before to Jerusalem, but this was for religious
reasons, and now he must go again for no reason except that from within
came the impulse to travel, an impulse too strong to be denied. The
Russian government did not attempt to discourage the people from
traveling, but actually made it easier by fixing fares for long
distances at very small amounts. This traveler did not have even that
small amount, but he found it easy with a smaller one to bribe his way
There is a society in Russia, whose members pledge themselves never to
remain more than three days in any one place; and it is said that
wealthy Russians, after their children have grown up, will often divide
their property and with staff in hand spend the remainder of their
lives in traveling from one holy place to another.
A dream, a vision, leads the wealthy man to do this, and perhaps this
is true also of the mooshik; but it is as likely that he goes because
of the reality, the real people, the real village, the real home that
he leaves behind. He is uneducated, for only seven out of every hundred
can read and write in Russia. He lives in a shed as filthy and bad
smelling as a pig-pen, or rather he starves there, starves both for
food and for comfort. Black bread, potatoes, and sometimes cabbage,
make up his "balanced diet." He cannot afford money for meat, eggs,
milk, butter, sugar, or any of the many other ordinary foods of the
American home, nor for the light of lamp or candle.
It is not strange that such mooshiki constantly move on and have no
love for their native place, and have never established an "Old Home
Day." It is not so strange that their former Tsar, Peter the Great,
said, "One can treat other European people as human beings, but I have
to do with cattle." Are they not treated like cattle?
But it is strange that a Russian writer can say of these people, and
say it with truth, "A Russian may steal and drink and cheat until it is
almost impossible to live with him; and yet, in spite of it all, you
feel a charm in him that draws you to him, and that there is something
more in him, some good or promise of good, that raises him above the
level of all other races you have ever met." It is strange that he is
so religious, so pitying of others, and so critical of himself; that he
has so many noble visions and dreams for which he is ready and willing
Uneducated, with little or no respect for truth or honesty in their own
dealings, with no experience in government, having always been robbed
by the aristocracy, and now eager and willing in turn to rob them, but
with dreams of a society of men where all crime and hardship and
unnecessary suffering are abolished, where there are no grafters, no
self-seekers, no wrong-doers, no conflict, no robbery, no war--these
Russian mooshiki, workmen, soldiers, and sailors, as a result of a
revolution, found themselves attempting to govern a nation nearly twice
as large in population as the United States. There are indeed two
problems before the world, to make the world safe for democracy, and to
make democracy safe for the world.
History tells the story of many revolutions. The story of the American
Revolution, which was an uprising of the American colonies against the
mother country, and that of the French Revolution, in which the
laborers and peasants and some others rose against the extravagant and
autocratic rulers of France, are well known to Americans.
When the real character and aims of the German autocracy were made
plain to the world, all free people hoped for and expected the World
War to end in a revolution of the German people. But the mass of the
German people are kept ignorant of what the rest of the world feels and
thinks about them, and have so long been trained to unquestioning
obedience that a German revolution can come, if ever, only after some
unexpected and appalling German defeat.
It has been said that if, at the time the Russian revolution broke out,
a few regiments of trained veteran soldiers had been in Petrograd, the
revolution would have been put down by these soldiers, to whom
obedience to commands of superiors had become second nature. Those on
guard in the city were newly-formed regiments recently trained and
taken into the service.
The Russian revolution of March 9-13, 1917, overthrew Tsar Nicholas and
the Romanoff dynasty. The Tsar has since been shot, and his son and
heir has died--from exposure, it was reported. When Tsar Nicholas
succeeded his father on the throne of Russia, the Russian people
rejoiced and felt certain better days were at hand, and that they
should love and loyally support the new Tsar. He had his opportunity
and he threw it aside. Instead of granting larger liberty and a greater
part in the government to the common people when they petitioned for
it, he replied, "Let it be known that I shall guard the autocracy as
firmly as did my father." His father was as autocratic as the German
Tsar Nicholas was weak and fickle. He made promises when in trouble and
refused to keep his promises when trouble seemed avoided. The Russian
people were much disappointed in him, and every year their
disappointment grew. Some dreadful massacres of workers at Jaroslav, of
peasants in Kharkov, and of miners on the Lena changed their
disappointment to hatred.
As the Tsar grew older he drew away from touch with the people, and
lived in his palaces, leaving affairs of state to his ministers who
were chosen from a small and selfish clique. They brought on the war
with Japan, and its failure was due to them. When Russia was defeated,
the people were on the brink of a revolution; but the Tsar promised
them a constitution, and trouble was put off for a while. When the
people were quiet again, he broke his word and did not give them a
constitution. Instead, in every way possible, he lessened the power
and freedom of the people, and took revenge upon those who had caused
the trouble by having them arrested and exiled, or executed.
He was very much under the influence of his wife. She was even weaker
in many ways than he was and seemed to be in the power of an ignorant
and wicked peasant who claimed to be a monk and was called Rasputin,
the Black Monk. His influence over the weak Tsar and the weaker Tsarina
so angered and disgusted some of the young Russian leaders that finally
they had him secretly put to death--but not until he had helped to set
every one against Tsar Nicholas and his wife.
For a while after the World War broke out, matters seemed to be going
better. The people wanted the influence of Germany destroyed, and they
expected the Russian army would soon be in Berlin. But when defeat and
disaster overwhelmed the armies through the treachery of government
officials, the people began to turn and to condemn Rasputin, the
Tsarina, and the Tsar. It is said that Rasputin had one of his friends
serving as physician to the Tsar and that he kept Nicholas drugged. It
hardly seems possible that this can be true, but at any rate, the Tsar
seemed to show no sense in his dealing with the situation. Instead of
appointing better ministers, he appointed worse ones, suggested by
Rasputin. Every one became disgusted and felt that only a revolution
would save Russia. If it had not come from the people, it would have
come from the nobles. It was looked forward to by all, but not until
after the war.
There was suffering everywhere in the capital, Petrograd. Living was
very high. It was difficult to get enough to eat or to get carried from
place to place. Steam trains and trolleys were few and irregular.
Though there was plenty of food in Russia, the railroads were in such
bad shape that it did not reach the capital. But the Russians were
fighting Germany, and no one expected or seemed to desire a revolution
until after the war. When it did come, it was not planned, but seemed
to come as if by accident.
Trouble began in the factory districts, in connection with bread riots.
Stones were thrown, and some damage was done to property. Then crowds
gathered and marched up and down the streets crying for bread, singing
revolutionary songs, and carrying red flags.
The police were not able to handle the situation alone, and the
soldiers were called upon. These were Cossacks and recently trained.
There was bad feeling between the police and the Cossacks, and so the
Cossacks were inclined to listen to the people and to become friendly
On Sunday, March 11, the factory hands planned to make a great
demonstration. The Tsar, learning of it, ordered notices to be posted
warning the people that if they gathered, the soldiers were ordered to
fire upon them. A few people did gather, and they were fired upon by
machine guns and several were killed. The next morning, the officers
who had ordered the soldiers to fire upon the people were killed by
their own men. Then notices were posted by the government saying that
unless the rioters went to work, they would immediately be sent to the
Other regiments revolted, and there was a battle between these and the
few who remained loyal to the government. It was not a serious battle;
but some were killed and the loyal regiments were defeated. Then
soldiers and people ran through the streets crying, "Down with the
The Tsar was at the front. Had he been in Petrograd, he might have
saved the government by making some new promises; but, as it was, it
As soon as the government was overthrown and the Tsar taken prisoner,
those who had long sought for a revolution and had been forced to flee
from Russia, came rushing back from Switzerland, Greece, France, and
the United States. They were the real leaders after they arrived.
An American who was in Petrograd at the time gives the following
account of the revolution:
Their first demand was that all prison doors should be opened
and that the oppressed the world over should be freed.
The revolution was picturesque and full of color. Nearly every
morning one could see regiment after regiment, soldiers,
Cossacks, and sailors, with their regimental colors, and bands,
and revolutionary flags, marching to the Duma to take the new
oath of allegiance. They were cheered; they were blessed;
handkerchiefs were waved; hats were raised, as marks of
appreciation and gratitude to these men, without whose help
there would have been no revolution. The enthusiasm became so
contagious that men and women, young and old, high and low, fell
in alongside, or behind, joined in the singing of the
Marseillaise, and walked to the Duma to take the oath of
allegiance, and having taken it, they felt as purified as if
they had partaken of the communion.
Another picturesque sight was the army trucks filled with armed
soldiers, red handkerchiefs tied to their bayonets, dashing up
and down the streets, ostensibly for the purpose of protecting
the citizens, but really for the mere joy of riding about and
being cheered. One of these trucks stands out vividly in my
mind: it contained about twenty soldiers, having in their midst
a beautiful young woman with a red banner, and a young hoodlum
astride the engine.
No one knows, at the end of the fourth year of the World War, what the
result of the Russian revolution will be. It has so far left Russia a
prey to Germany, but Germany is showing such criminal greed and
unfairness that she may find her easily gained plunder will be her
destruction, like the drowning robber with his pockets filled with
The Russian mooshik has a motto, or rather a philosophy, which is
expressed by the word "nitchevo." This word has several meanings, one
of which is "nothing." Just what the mooshik has in mind when he
says "nitchevo" is illustrated by the following story.
When Bismarck was Prussian ambassador at the court of Tsar Alexander
II, he was invited by the Tsar to take part in a great hunt, a dozen or
more miles out of the capital.
Bismarck started with his own horses and sledge but soon met with a
serious accident, and was obliged to call upon the Russian peasants, or
mooshiki, to help him by providing a horse, sledge, and driver. Soon
a peasant appeared with a very small and raw-boned horse attached to a
sledge that seemed about ready to fall to pieces.
"That looks more like a rat than a horse," growled Bismarck, but he got
into the sledge.
The peasant answered but one word, "Nitchevo."
Soon the horse was flying over the snow at a great rate of speed. There
was no road to be seen and the peasant was heading for the woods. "Look
out!" yelled Bismarck. "You will throw me out!" But the peasant
In a moment they were among the trees and were turning, now this way,
now that, to avoid hitting them. The raw-boned horse had not lessened
his speed in the least. Suddenly there was a crash. The sledge had
skidded and struck a tree. The peasant and his passenger were thrown
Bismarck was a man of fiery temper. When he had picked himself up, he
rushed up to the peasant, who was trying to stop his bleeding nose, and
yelled, "I will kill you." The mooshik did not seem at all frightened
or troubled, and answered simply, "Nitchevo." He drew a piece of rope
from the sledge and began to tie the broken parts together.
"I shall be late at the hunt," yelled the angry Bismarck.
"Nitchevo," replied the peasant.
While the sledge was being repaired, Bismarck noticed a small piece of
iron broken from the runner and lying on the snow. He picked it up and
put it in his pocket.
The mooshik soon had the sledge ready for them, and this time he
reached the hunting lodge with his distinguished passenger without
further accident or delay.
The Tsar and his companions laughed heartily at the story, as related
by Bismarck, and then explained to the Prussian that by nitchevo the
mooshik meant that nothing mattered, that they would get where they
had started for, if they did not let accidents or circumstances turn
them from it.
When Bismarck returned to the capital he had a ring made from the piece
of iron, and on the inside of it he had inscribed the word nitchevo.
The Russian mooshik of to-day is the same in character and belief as
the mooshik that replied "Nitchevo" to Bismarck. To Germany, to the
Kaiser, to the world, the Russians, amid all their sorrows and
troubles, are saying "Nitchevo." They will reach their goal at
length, for they look upon the dangers and delays as nothing.
* * * * *
The Russian word Bolsheviki, used to designate the revolutionary
party which was in power in Russia in 1918, is composed of two words:
bolsh, meaning many; and vik, meaning most. Bolsheviki means the
greatest number, or the common people, as compared with the few, or the
aristocracy. Bolshevik, with the accent on the first syllable, is the
singular and means one of the greatest number. Bolsheviki, with
accents on the second and on the last syllables, is the plural.
Similarly mooshik means a peasant, and mooshiki means peasants.