Author Topic: The Russian Revolutions  (Read 21915 times)

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Offline TimM

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Re: The Russian Revolutions
« Reply #15 on: June 16, 2012, 05:55:25 PM »
Sounds like a fascinating read.
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Russian Revolutions
« Reply #16 on: June 16, 2012, 08:28:42 PM »
One can study the monarchy of the Petrine and Catherine eras and cover a large part of the politically relevant activity that was afoot in the nation.  But by the end of the 19th century, trying to study Russia primarily through the lens of its monarchy is hopelessly inadequate as a means of grasping the essence of Russian conditions.  When one focuses too much on what was going on in the palaces, things such as the upheavals of 1905-06, the resurgence of labor unrest after 1912, the proliferation of anti-monarchical parties (not all of which were on the left), and the chaos that prevailed throughout 1917 come as big and baffling surprises, just as they were to the inhabitants of those palaces.

Figes' book is well worth the effort of reading by those who want to come to terms with the complexity of Russian culture, the vast layers of social and economic life and activity that ebbed and flowed beneath the court circles, and what went wrong and why.

Even a piece of "light" history such as Julia Gelardi's From Splendor to Revolution can be very revealing of the trouble that was afoot from mid-century in her sobering chapter "Hounded to Death", in which the staggering breadth and depth of sustained physical assault on tsarist officials is effectively captured.

It is really hard to catalog the list of blunders made by Nicholas II throughout his reign without running out of ink.  But there are moments that bring particular clarity to his inability to grasp the essentials.  Perhaps the greatest of them was the opening of the Duma in the Winter Palace in 1906.

Nicholas had a vision of his rule as one of mystical union with the masses of the Russian people, a personal union that was ordained by God and beyond the encroachments even of his own bureaucracy and certainly beyond constitutional definition.

But this vision of rule in any practical sense had died as far back as Ivan III in the 15th century.  At the outset of Ivan's reign, the Grand Prince of Moscow was essentially the first among the equals of his male siblings.  The Grand Prince on occasion would walk the streets of his cities and towns, where citizens could address him by name and bring up issues of concern.  By the end of his reign -- with the turning point signaled by his marriage to Sophia Paleologue and his adoption of her uncle's Byzantine pretensions of divine rule and separation from the masses of the ruled -- Ivan III had created the new ideology of autocracy in Russia which was anything but a personal communion with the people.

Granted, there were later tsars who, secure in their true power, hobnobbed with the people in rather unexpected ways.  Hence Peter the Great worked in shipyards and caroused in his own cities incognito (or at least as incognito as a 6'7" man could be in the 17th century), and Catherine the Great could be mistaken for just another well-dressed old lady sitting with her maid on a park bench at Tsarskoye Selo as the public wandered the grounds.  And there were intensely personal elements to their rule.  Hence Peter could personally participate in the torture of the Streltsy, and Catherine could tackle the Moscow plague by sending Potemkin as her personal emissary to bring the crisis to heel.

But by the time of Nicholas II -- in part due to the deluge of assassinations of the last half of the 19th century and in part due to the sheer explosion of Russia in size and population -- the tsar was as removed from his people, both physically and by autocratic ideology -- as he could be.  He moved behind a thick screen of security, he isolated himself even from his own nobility, he treated his ministers more as attendants than as advisors, and he brooked no questioning on any topic without express invitation . . . which seldom came.  Yet this same man had managed to convince himself (with ample encouragement from a clueless wife) that his rule was somehow based on a personal bond between himself and his people.

So, we're back to that day in 1906 in the throne room of the Winter Palace.  What is the spectacle laid out before us?

On one side of the hall is arrayed the senior officialdom of tsarism.  On the other is a glowering assemblage (at points quite rough in appearance) of the elected representatives of the very people with whom Nicholas pretends to have this intensely personal bond of mutual fealty.  At the head of the room is a throne, draped with the ermine cape and against which leans the scepter symbolizing imperial autocratic power.  Flanking that throne are the Romanov women, decked out in every jewel for which they could find a place to hang, and led by a quietly weeping Marie Feodorovna who is shaken to the core at the sight of these elected ruffians who have made their way into her family's sanctum.  Then arrives a visibly uncomfortable Nicholas to deliver a brief, stilted speech, deigning to convene a Duma conferred on the people by his grace as an all-powerful sovereign.

And this sad spectacle is what Nicholas staged as the demonstration of the deep personal bond between himself and his people.

And they wonder why there was a revolution.

 




Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Russian Revolutions
« Reply #17 on: June 16, 2012, 08:43:09 PM »
I simply cannot resist adding this anecdote, just to illustrate how utterly inept Romanov rule had become by 1917.

At the pitch of the February Days of 1917, as chaos was spreading from the Vyborg factory district into the governmental center of Petrograd and detachment after detachment of police and troops were abandoning the tsarist cause, the Winter Palace was still held by loyal troops.  Another loyal detachment fought their way through the city to augment the palace security detail.  So what happened?

The commandant of the palace guard decided they should be turned away, as the floors had recently been polished and their boots were covered in mud and snow.  Grand Duke Michael, who was in the palace and within days was to be named tsar, was consulted.  Out of concern for the safety of the rare china that was displayed throughout the state rooms he supported the commandant's decision.

By the next day, Petrograd had gone irretrievably over to the side of revolution.

And they wonder why there was a revolution.

« Last Edit: June 16, 2012, 08:57:47 PM by Tsarfan »

Offline edubs31

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Re: The Russian Revolutions
« Reply #18 on: June 17, 2012, 01:10:14 PM »
Tsarfan,

I don't know whether laugh or cry at that last little anecdote that I thank you for sharing (mind if i ask where you read/heard that?). Guess I'll have to add "clean floors/carpets" to reasons why the empire fell, lol.

My guess is that the troop detachment you speak of was, at best, tenuously loyal to throne. But still this is a great example of the disconnect at the time...and also one more way the broader Romanov family betrayed the IF, be it intentionally or through stupidity.
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Russian Revolutions
« Reply #19 on: June 17, 2012, 03:30:12 PM »
The anecdote comes from Figes, pp. 340-41 of A People's Tragedy.

For at least the first three days of what slowly turned into a revolution during a 9-day warming break in an unusually cold St. Petersburg winter, the police and military forces held their ground firmly.  All the major intersections and strategic buildings were in their hands.  But the tide began to turn on Sunday, February 26.  The streets were late to fill that morning as people were sleeping in late.  (This speaks volumes as to the real nature of the early stages of this revolution, whose first few days were a mix of people trying to find bakeries selling bread and bourgeois strollers out to enjoy the weather and see what was going on.)

But by noontime, workers were marching in to the city center from the industrial suburbs to stage demonstrations.  And, as happened on another winter Sunday twelve years earlier, the tsarist authorities fired on the unarmed crowd, killing dozens.  With that, the die of revolution was cast.

On that same day the socialists were meeting in Kerensky's apartment where Alexander Shliapnikov, the Bolshevik leader in St. Petersburg, told the gathering there would be no revolution and that the left-wing parties had to prepare for a sustained period of government reaction.

Once it became clear that a full-blown revolution was underway, the leftist parties in the Duma -- including the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks -- became alarmed at how quickly events were moving ahead of them and actually began moving to the right -- and also frantically avoided trying to become responsible for taking over government of the country.

So . . . was this revolution inevitable?

On the evening of February 25, Nicholas' Council of Ministers had met and concluded that it was critical to hold back from an open confrontation with the crowds which, though growing daily, were still peaceable and unarmed.  They knew that the situation was tense but still felt it was containable as long as no fuel was poured on the situation.  And the socialist leaders agreed with them.  Shliapnikov was of the opinion that "give the workers a pound of bread and the movement will peter out."  Nikolai Sikhanov, another prominent socialist, concurred in the assessment.

But then came a telegram from Nicholas, who had departed Tsarskoye Selo for Mogilev on February 22.  To the dismay of his ministers he ordered the chief of the Petrograd military district to use force to put down the situation "by tomorrow".

Why did Nicholas order the very action his Council of Ministers most feared?  Well, it came as the culmination of a series of bad decisions Nicholas had made.  He had ignored his ministers' advice (and that of most of the Romanovs) in 1915 and absented himself for long periods from his capital in favor of his military headquarters, with encouragement of his obtuse and perhaps unstable wife and her starets Rasputin.  And that February he was getting his information on the situation in the capital from A. D. Protopopov, his Minister of the Interior and one of the least competent of the ludicrously incompetent series of appointments foisted on him by Alexandra and Rasputin.  (Protopopov, a mystic in the hysterical vein of Alexandra, once told Kerensky that he ruled "with the help of Jesus Christ".)  Protopopov had no intention of letting Nicholas know the true situation and how wrong he had been in the assessment he had given the tsar just a few days earlier.  And, lastly, Nicholas was almost pathologically blind to any advice, no matter how reasoned and well-informed, that went against his inclinations.  Nicholas was quiet and polite, but he was not intellectually subtle.  The situation in Petrograd that Sunday was not beyond government control, but it required subtlety and an ability to thread the needle.  Nicholas had neither.

Grand Duke Michael was certainly not the brightest bulb in the Romanov box, which was not a very high wattage selection for starters.  But Michael did not dump a revolution into his brother's lap.  Nicholas reached out and grabbed it.



« Last Edit: June 17, 2012, 03:31:58 PM by Tsarfan »