Adam Bruno Ulam
In The Name of the People
In April, after further arrests, the conspirators still at large were forced to flee St. Petersburg and relocate in Moscow, whence they would try to reconstruct their shattered organization. But who could lead now? Tikhomirov, 'our acknowledged ideological spokesman, theoretician, and best writer,' was, as Vera recalled, acting very strangely. He wore mourning for Alexander II and compulsively kept attending masses for the repose of the tsar's soul. His comrades attributed this to excessive prudence, but more likely he was beginning to experience that psychological crisis which would lead to his apostasy. Maria Olovennikova was experiencing one of her chronic mental disturbances. The leadership devolved of necessity upon Figner, but though utterly fearless herself, she was unable to impose conspiratorial discipline upon her comrades, and one by one they fell into the hands of the police. And, as events were to show, in choosing new people to replace their dwindling ranks, she and her comrades displayed very bad judgment.
It was not only the emperor and the revolutionary conspiracy that had been mortally wounded by Hrynievicki's bomb. Dead for a whole generation was the cause of reform, and gone forever were both the possibility of tsarist Russia evolving peacefully toward constitutionalism, and the reconciliation of its government with Russian society. 'Within a short time Your Excellency has been able to justify the trust placed upon you by the Sovereign and many of society's expectations. You have brought honesty and understanding into the government's attitude toward the people. You have sensed correctly what society desires and needs,' ran the address of the Tver provincial assembly to Loris-Melikov shortly before the catastrophe. But terror had won the race against reform.
The emperor's death left Loris in an unenviable situation. He had failed to protect Alexander's life, and was known to be excessively deferential to Princess Yurievskaya, which would not endear him to the new tsar who deeply resented his father's liaison and morganatic marriage. But above all—and historians seldom attribute adequate weight to this factor—any reform would now appear to many as a partial capitulation to the terrorists. Though widely known to be in the works, 'the Loris-Melikov constitution,' as this very modest proposal has extravagantly been dubbed, would undoubtedly have been interpreted by revolutionaries and conservatives alike as prompted by fear. And indeed the regime's immediate reaction to the assassination was one of panic. Trenches were dug around the Winter Palace, and the emperor, to his deep humiliation, was persuaded to remove himself temporarily from St. Petersburg and take up residence in suburban Gatchina. Under the circumstances to appease the intelligentsia—who Katkov and others of his ilk, had proclaimed were morally responsible for the murder (one day Tikhomirov would echo the charge)—would have taken a man either unusually fainthearted or unusually and intelligently courageous.