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Messages - Sergei Witte

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For a lot of people communism was far worse than imperial Russia and for a lot of people, Imperial Russia was far worse than communism.  If you can't read or write, there is not much hope of improving yourself.  If there is a class system and you are stuck at the bottom of it, there is not much good you can see in that system.  If you had a lot of wealth and it was expropriated, Then you don't see too much good in that system. Stating that one system was worse than the other depends on perspective.  Personally I prefer Imperial Russia over the overwshelming banality of communism but I never had to experience the worst aspects of either.  Both were autocratic police states and both were open to excesses.

I agree with you on this, Constantinople.

I would like to add that, while Imperial Russia was an autocratic police state, the Soviet Union was Totalitarian as well, which meant the state wanted to control the minds of its population. So in the sense of lack of freedom, the Soviet Union was worse.

Dear Fyodor Petrovich (and I always do want to address you, unconsciously, as Fyodor Mikhailovich! it's funny!), thank you for your thoughtful remarks about my previous post. I admit, I was feeling rather discouraged about it because it seemed that no one was trying to understand what I was attempting to express. But I do think it's important to understand why so many well-behaved, well-intentioned, fundamentally nice, good citizens of democratic countries like the US and Great Britain obsess on dead royalty the way they do. Lots of people -- I know lots of scholars of Russian history -- believe it is pure voyeurism, plain and simple. And while I'm sure that voyeurism exists in some small percentage of the population who dwell over details of the murder of the IF in all the gory details, I think most kids who obsess on these same murders are trying to work out personal problems in the only way they know how. It's not "voyeurism," with all its bad connotations.

If anything, it's the exact opposite of voyeurism.

I have an acquaintance with an adolescent daughter, 14 years old. This teenager draws pictures of very large-eyed, sad young girls almost obsessively. If these pictures weren't so skillfully drawn, they would be quite disturbing. As it is, you can kind of convince yourself that okay, she's a budding artist who's just into a particular theme (as opposed to, obsessed with a particular theme of overall misery). But since I know her personal history, I also know there's more to the story.

I guess all I would wish is that people would not be so condemnatory of kids with, what shall we say, unhealthy obsessions with the IF. They're doing the best they can and maybe all they need is a supportive adult shoulder to cry on. At any rate, I think any mental and emotional exercise that takes one out of one's self and into another person's shoes, especially a suffering person's shoes, is fundamentally a good thing. I agree it can be taken to unpleasant lengths and even assume all the characteristics of mass hysteria. But on the individual level, on the level of the child or young adult, there's always hope that the unhealthy obsession will grow into a healthy one, one preoccupied in a constructive way with Russian history, or social welfare, or crime prevention, or whatever. You never know, with kids. They're surprisingly resilient and resourceful people.

Very interesting thoughts!

I agree many people are far too sentimental over the Romanovs. Of course their murder is mostly to blame for that. And the fact that we have some insight in their actual thoughts through the diaries. Or, are they really their most intimate thoughts? How did Nicholas cope with the immense burden of being Tsar autocrat for instance. Nothing is mentioned in his diary he only speaks about walking, playing with the kids, dining etc. But I am sure he must have had those thoughts, maybe on a subconscious level.

Here I am making thoughts on how Nicholas must have felt. There is the problem: We tend to make the Royals our acquaintances. We make them our friends. If we were to live in Tsarist Russia we might as well be revolutionaries, with our goal to eliminate the aristocracy.  

Maybe I am a sentimentalist too.

BTW: I am a Boyar now!! I am gonna tell this to my kids tomorrow, they had fun with me for being a "newbie"

Imperial Russian History / Re: Who Betrayed Nicholas II?
« on: October 24, 2010, 06:13:26 PM »
Sorry Elisabeth,

My modification of my last post has crossed your reply.

I will think this over.

Imperial Russian History / Re: Who Betrayed Nicholas II?
« on: October 24, 2010, 05:41:53 PM »
For issues going back that far I have to rely on Wikipedia.

Mongol invasion of Rus'
A significant number of historians consider the oppression of Rus' by the Mongols to be the major cause of what is sometimes called "the East-West gap" - approximately 200 years delay in introducing major social, political and economical reforms and scientific innovations in Russia comparing to Western Europe. Specifically, the isolation from the West may have caused Russia's later non-involvement in the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and failure to develop a middle class

Imperial Russian History / Re: Who Betrayed Nicholas II?
« on: October 24, 2010, 08:17:04 AM »
Modification of post #990:

The reluctance for giving up power is of course not the result of Mongul dominance. I meant that the Russian type of autocracy and the lack of a democratic development like the West had, was a result of it.

Imperial Russian History / Re: Who Betrayed Nicholas II?
« on: October 24, 2010, 04:17:08 AM »
The point that I was making about the two incidents (the Mongols and the last Tsars) was that they were similar in terms of the effects that they had on Russia.
     And Yes I am aware of both the climatic anormality and the positive effects of the Mongols in redeveloping trade routes like the Silk Road. Theonly problem was that they imposed autocratic political regimes in their colonies which hampered the development of strong, autonomic political systems in those countries. It was one of the reasons why Russia was still using a feudal agricultural system involving serfs in the 19th century when western countries had already been involved in the industrial revolution for 100 years.

I agree with you on the effect of the Mongul domination on Russia's development. The Tsars being autocratic - not only the last 2 imo - was also a result of this. In Western Europe autocracy wouldn't last as long as it did in Russia and was also different in caracter. In Russia there was never sufficient opposition to it and when it happened it was too late to make a democratic solution. The Tsars didn't give up power freely (I can't think of 1 politician giving up his powers deliberately, having power makes one dependent on it). And this was indeed one of the results of Mongul domination.

Imperial Russian History / Re: Who Betrayed Nicholas II?
« on: October 23, 2010, 03:20:53 PM »
I think that Russia suffered from two great misfortunes.  One was the invasion of the Mongols, which retarded the country's development by about 300 years.  The second was the clinging to absolute power by the last two Romanoff Tsars.  Alexander ll gave Russians a taste of liberation but this was rescinded and when Russia was weakened in 1905 and between 1914 and 1917, the hunger for regime change became too much.

I agree with you that the Mongols were a disaster for Russia (and for all of Europe). But you can't compare the weight of this disaster with the conservative politics of the last two tsars. Tsars had always been conservative, some with a slight touch of liberalism at least in their language. But always clinging on to autocracy, even Alexander II. And I believe they had a reason to cling on to autocracy. As you say: when the state was weakened the hunger for regime change became too much. This is exactly where they were afraid of. Furthermore most political advisors to the Tsars were also opposed to change. Because in their eyes, liberating rules meant weakening their power. At least this is what they thought. And I can't blame them for this. Only with hindsight we can say that they were wrong and even this is not undisputed.

The Russian Revolution / Re: Whites Vs Reds The Civil War
« on: October 22, 2010, 11:43:14 AM »
"Counterfactuals"  are completely fictional, anyway, because in any system, if you change one element, everything else changes as well, in a completely unpredictable manner.... Nothing in history ever turns out the way one expects, does it?

I totally agree with you. But it is so tempting to fantasize especially how things could have worked out better in an alternate world.

Tim: Good idea to get back in time and save Nicholas and his family. But, would they believe you if you say that you are coming from the future and that if they don't come with you, they will be executed?  :)

Constantinople: Indeed Austria Hungary was expanding into the Balkans. By doing so, it was imagined that they would fight their way out of the internal turmoil in the Empire. Didn't Russia do the same in Korea? I don't think Germany was itching for a war though. Wilhelm certainly wanted to catch up with the British power over the continents. But does this make him to blame the outbreak of the war? British hostility to German growth was an equal important factor to the increasing tensions. Britain was the most powerful nation in the world back then and so they had the most to lose. 

Elisabeth, thanks for your reaction.

It was generally believed in 1914 by the inner circles of Nicholas and the political parties on the right that participating in a war against Germany and defeating the "Teutonic barbarians" could save Nicholas the throne. And he must have been confirmed in this thought when he saw the public's enthousiasm on the day of the mobilization. Certainly, revolutionary activities had increased - again - from 1912 until 1914 so the thought may not be that strange when he saw the public united around him. Even the Duma dissolved itself! So he could rule alone again, what he always wanted.
But this public's enthousiasm may have been a facade of middle class people who were encouraged to show up and pay him their support. Certainly the peasants and workers would have nothing to do with war.

And what you say about nuclear deterrence is true. In 1914 there was of course no such thing and so, with the coalition system and growing nationalism, there was always a chance for war. And there were a number of statesmen who held very heroic beliefs on warfare, the more because they hadn't experienced the horrors of war themselves and didn't understand that a modern full scale war would be something never experienced before.

Elisabeth and Petr, thanks for the excellent posts here on this thread.

Hey, what about me, Robert, Constantinople, and Bear?  We're contributing here too :)

I'm having a blast posting in this thread.  Debating can be fun.

I am sorry. You are absolutely right. It is just that the conversation between them two triggered my response.

Elisabeth and Petr, thanks for the excellent posts here on this thread. I couldn't have said it better. Fully agree with you both.

WWI was devastating fot Tsarist Russia. It brutalized the masses, consider how many Vietnam veterans were traumatized, and then consider that in WWI the numbers were much and much larger. It brought violence of the front right into the backland. Also consider the giga inflation, people waiting 8 hours for a loaf of bread etc. etc.

Also I agree, and am happy to read from you that you also assume that Alexander III could have made a big difference. Because an important factor which troubled relations between countries was Pan Slavism and the Russian need to bother themselves with the Balkan. Pan Slavism sentiments were growing after the Russo Japanese war, as the Balkan became important as a means of diverting attention of interal unrest. My guess with Alexander III would be that he would ignore the Pan Slavist sentiments. He was standing "with his back to Europe" while Nicholas had a European outlook and was under influence of these forces. Alexander would probably have dealt with Revolutionary activity internally, without looking for a way out, as Plehve said "to look for a short and victorious war to appease the public". In my opinion Alexander III is very underestimated even if there is a rivival of interest in Russian media. In Western countries he is still very much unknown and as best known as "the man between" (the son of a famous Tsar and the father of the most tragic Tsar) and that his politics had the effect of leading the country directly into revolution and misery. I agree that his reactionary politics were bad for the Russian people but he did not invent them himself. In the beginning of his reign he was very much under influence of the conservative opinionmakers, like Pobedonostsev. And there are indications that, in the end he freed himself of this influence.

Alexander III is also much judged on his supposedly low intelligence. While he was not an intelligent man on the rational way, he certainly was intelligent on the human side (EQ instead of IQ). Finally he didn't like adventurism and vanity.

All qualities which could have been vital in the period just before WWI, as opposed to the mental delusions which prevailed in so many state Leaders at that time.

My guess would be that the European politics of the era leading to WWI were a very delicate task, a task of balancing interests, as politics always are, and some of the polticians, unfortunately the most important ones, like Wilhelm and like Edward Grey by example, led themselves carry away with nationalist and revanchist sentiments. I personally don't think WWI was unavoidable. Usually Wilhelm is blamed for adventurous politics. But they were all to blame.

Wasn't Figes recently discredited ?
 Anyway, I agrre Elisabeth. The country was simply not ready for stability,even after the Civil War,it took some time to get the new system operating properly. For better or worse.

Robert, his works are certainly not discredited. Maybe his actions are, but not his works.

Furthermore, I am a little amazed at how members of this board are so self assured in making conclusions which to me are far from evident.
Why was the country not ready for stability? With a Tsar who would make a serious effort to make an appeasing politic statement and stick to this politic statement, no matter what difficulties he would encounter, who knows how history would have turned out?

It is just that Nicholas wasn't that kind of man.

Quote from A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes:

"...... he (Nicholas) might have saved his dynasty by moving away from autocratic rule towards a constitutional regime during the first decade of his reign, while there was still hope of appeasing the liberals and isolating the revolutionary movement."

I guess this sums it up.

Imperial Russian History / Re: Who Betrayed Nicholas II?
« on: September 12, 2010, 05:34:44 PM »
One thing not mentioned here is the fact that the early death of AlexIII might have caused psychological damage with Nicholas. He always admired his father and it is possible that he came to idealize his father (compensation for his own lack of confidence as a ruler) as a sort of holy father who was perfectly suited for the task that he was given. I always thought that it was personal that Nicholas woudn't give up his autocratic rights and therefore could not make consessions. Critisizing his politics was he felt like critisizing his person and the legacy of his much beloved father. The giant statues of AlexIII (ugly as they were) which were made for the celebrations of 1913 in Moscow were made to prove this.


Const, you are riight. It is a broad definition of propaganda and both tsarist rituals and wartime propaganda fit in it.

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