Popular politics’ and the Jewish question in the Russian Empire, 1881-2

In the autumn of 1881 the Russian police placed a visiting Englishman, Philip Benn, under secret surveillance.‘ A simple reason underlay official interest in Benn’s activities: he was a correspondent for the newspaper The Standard, and he was in Russia to report on the recent outbreak of anti-Jewish pogroms across the southern regions of the Empire.

The Russian government had good reason to be concerned. Publicity-shy at any time, the tsarist régime had been overwhelmed with negative publicity abroad over the pogrom violence. At best, the regime was pillaried as medieval or bar- baric, and the authorities of this great power portrayed as helpless in the face of public disorder. At worst, the forces of law and order in Russia were depicted as derelict in their obligation to protect the Jews, and local policemen were widely accused of participation in pogroms.

Bad publicity had other, more tangible costs. The financial

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