Letter of the Revolutionary Committee to Alexander III (1881)

[excerpted from Readings in Modern European History, James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard, eds., vol. 2 (Boston:Ginn and Company, 1908), pp. 364-367]

Your Majesty : March 10, 1881

Although the Executive Committee understands fully the grief that you must experience at this moment, it believes that it has no right to yield to the feeling of natural delicacy which would perhaps dictate the postponement of the following explanation to another time. There is something higher than the most legitimate human feeling, and that is, duty to one's country, -- the duty for which a citizen must sacrifice himself and his own feelings, and even the feelings of others. In obedience to this all-powerful duty we have decided to address you at once, waiting for nothing, as will wait for nothing the historical process that threatens us with rivers of blood and the most terrible convulsions. . . .

You are aware, your Majesty, that the government of the late Tsar could not be reproached with a lack of energy. It hanged the innocent and the guilty, and filled prisons and remote provinces with exiles. Scores of so-called " leaders " were captured and hanged, and died with the courage and tranquillity of martyrs; but the movement did not cease, -- on the contrary it grew and strengthened. The revolutionary movement, your Majesty, is not dependent upon any particular individuals ; it is a process of the social organism ; and the scaffolds raised for its more energetic exponents are as powerless to save the outgrown order of things as the cross that was erected for the Redeemer was powerless to save the ancient world from the triumph of Christianity. The government, of course, may yet capture and hang an immense number of separate individuals, it may break up a great number of separate revolutionary groups ; but all this will not change, in the slightest degree, the condition of affairs. . . .

A dispassionate glance at the grievous decade through which we have just passed will enable us to forecast accurately the future progress of the revolutionary movement, provided the policy of the government does not change. The movement will continue to grow and extend ; deeds of a terroristic nature will increase in frequency and intensity. Meanwhile the number of the discontented in the country will grow larger and larger ; confidence in the government, on the part of the people, will decline ; and the idea of revolution -- of its possibility and inevitability -- will establish itself in Russia more and more firmly. A terrible explosion, a bloody chaos, a revolutionary earthquake throughout Russia, will complete the destruction of the old order of things. Do not mistake this for a mere phrase. We understand better than any one else can how lamentable is the waste of so much talent and energy -- the loss, in bloody skirmishes and in the work of destruction, of so much strength which, under other conditions, might have been expended in creative labor and in the development of the intelligence; the welfare, and the civil life of the Russian people. Whence proceeds this lamentable necessity for bloody conflict?

It arises, your Majesty, from the lack in Russia of a real government in the true sense of that word. A government, in the very nature of things, should only give outward form to the aspirations of the people and effect to the people's will. But with us -- excuse the expression -- the government has degenerated into a mere coterie, and deserves the name of a usurping gang " much more than does the Executive Committee.

Whatever may be the intentions of the Tsar, the actions of the government have nothing in common with the popular welfare or popular aspirations. The government has brought Russia to such a pass that, at the present time, the masses of the people are in a state of pauperism and ruin ; are subjected to the most humiliating surveillance, even at their own domestic hearths ; and are powerless even to regulate their own communal and social affairs. The protection of the law and of the government is enjoyed only by the extortionist and the exploiter, and the most exasperating robbery goes unpunished. But, on the other hand, what a terrible fate awaits the man who sincerely considers the general good 1 You know very well, your Majesty, that it is not only socialists who are exiled and prosecuted.

These are the reasons why the Russian government exerts no moral influence and has no support among the people. These are the reasons why Russia brings forth so many revolutionists. These are the reasons why even such a deed as killing a Tsar excites in the minds of a majority of the people only gladness and sympathy. Yes, your Majesty! Do not be deceived by the reports of flatterers and sycophants; Tsaricide is popular in Russia.

From such a state of affairs there can be only two modes of escape : either a revolution, -- absolutely inevitable and not to be averted by any punishments; or a voluntary turning of the supreme power to the people. In the interest of our native land, in the hope of preventing the useless waste of energy, in the hope of averting the terrible miseries that always accompany revolution, the Executive Committee approaches your Majesty with the advice to take the second course. Be assured, so soon as the supreme power ceases to rule arbitrarily, so soon as it firmly resolves to accede to the demands of the people's conscience and consciousness, you may, without fear, discharge the spies that disgrace the administration, send your guards back to their barracks, and burn the scaffolds that are demoralizing the people. The Executive Committee will voluntarily terminate its own existence, and the organizations formed about it will disperse, in order that their members may devote themselves to the work of promoting culture among the people of their native land.

We address your Majesty as those who have discarded all prejudices, and who have suppressed the distrust of you created by the actions of the government throughout a century. We forget that you are the representative of the authority that has so often deceived and that has so injured the people. We address you as a citizen and as an honest man. We hope that the feeling of personal exasperation will not extinguish in your mind your consciousness of your duties and your desire to know the truth. We also might feel exasperation. You have lost your father. We have lost not only our fathers, but our brothers, our wives, our children, and our dearest friends. We are nevertheless ready to suppress personal feeling if it be demanded by the welfare of Russia. We expect the same from you.

We set no conditions for you; do not let our proposition irritate you. The conditions that are prerequisite to a change from revolutionary activity to peaceful labor are created, not by us, but by history. These conditions are, in our opinion, two.

1. A general amnesty to cover all past political crimes ; for the reason that they were not crimes but fulfillments of civil duty.

2. The summoning of representatives of the whole Russian people to examine the existing framework of social and governmental life, and to remodel it in accordance with the people's wishes.

We regard it as necessary, however, to remind you that the legalization of the supreme power, by the representatives of the people, can be valid only in case the elections are perfectly free. We declare solemnly, before the people of our native land and before the whole world, that our party will submit unconditionally to the decisions of a National Assembly elected in the manner above indicated, and that we will not allow ourselves, in future, to offer violent resistance to any government that the National Assembly may sanction.

And now, your Majesty, decide! Before you are two courses, and you are to make your choice between them. We can only trust that your intelligence and conscience may suggest to you the only decision that is compatible with the welfare of Russia, with your own dignity, and with your duty to your native land.

THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE