Author Topic: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?  (Read 203758 times)

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Offline dorlev

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Re: Was Rasputin contribute to the fall of the Romanov Dynasty?
« Reply #435 on: December 15, 2011, 06:15:45 PM »
There were many reasons for the fall of the Romanovs, but I believe that Rasputin's ability to stop Alexei's internal bleeding, coupled with Nicholas and Alexandra's state of denial about the political situation, sped the demise of the Romanovs.
What do you think?
Dora

Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #436 on: December 23, 2011, 05:51:40 PM »
My take on Nicholas II and how he might have saved his throne but first i am going to list his problems:
to begin with he ruled a COLONIAL EMPIRE not a country. There was no sense of national identity and about 50% of the population was Russian. It fell apart in 1917, it nearly fell apart in 1905 and in 1941-42, and it finally fell apart in 1991. nicholas upbringing and all the people around him convinced him that autocracy was the best way to rule Russia and he sincerely believed it. Nicholas in his early years really tried to govern well as he saw it for the good of his people. He was also convinced democracy/liberalism ect could lead to disorder ect and it got his grandfather AII murdered. However for an autocracy to work it needs a autocrat who is respected ot feared or both. Nicolas II was neither even among members of his own family. i understand there were a lot of Nicholas jokes around back then. To make things worse the autocratic policies of his father AIII that he carried on did a great job at antagonising people creating revolutionaries and making a whole of other people into either their supporters or so apathetic they didn't care. Meanwhile, the Ohkrana, the gendarmes and police ect just did not have the power ect to deal with them. Read the book "Young Stalin" on these problems.
 Then it seems throught his life he suffered from bad luck. His father AIII did not teach him the basics of ruling, so he to OJT. His coronation had the disaster at Khodynka Meadow. The Russo-Japanese War was a disaster from start to finish no one could have predicted the war would have gone that badly. Bloody Sunday, a tragedy of Errors. The 1905 Revolution, for awhile Nicolas II could not understand why people were in revolt against him. When he grants reforms like the Duma ect part of the population is mad at him for not doing enough and part of the population are in contempt of him for granting such reforms. Then there is his wife Alexandra, love of his life. A shy princess from a minor court who became a overnight empress of a great empire. She bombed with St Petersburg society from day one and never recovered. To make things worse after a miscarrige, 4 girls she finally gives him a son who has hemophilia and wrecks her health in the process. Then in 1907 the Austrians annex Bosnia a major humilation for Russia. So in 1914 Nicholas either had to go to war to save Serbia or suffer another major humilation that could have cost him his throne. Pre WW I Russia had three options: become a colony of Germany, fight Germany and Austria-Hungary alone or fight them as part of an alliance with England and France. So you can say Nicholas II is stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of options.

Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #437 on: December 23, 2011, 07:10:19 PM »
Part 2 Nicholas II and WW I:
The Russian rail system It was poorly managed with a big split between the miltary and civilians. Add to this of the 20,000 locomotives operational in 1914 over 25% were over 20 years old. Add this to the fact that a massive job during the war in supplying the army ect. So at the start of 1917 only 10.200 were still running. the extreme cold of the winter of 1916/17 didn't help matters. so by early 1917 it was falling apart. Note during WW II the Soviets had a much better rail system, and all sorts of new lend lease locomotives ect provided free. it looks like better management could have helped.
 National Unity goverment it might have helped somewhat if Nicholas II had tried to set up some sort of national unity goverment in 1914 by giving some cabinet posts to members of the Duma. Of course it should be pointed out that some of these Duma members were so radicalised at this time it may not have worked out to well
 FOOD the army's meat ration went from .4 kg a day in early 1916 to .2 kg a day by the end of the year. i understand there may have also been cuts in the army's bread ration as well. More food needed to be grown and got to the people and the army. Note under Lend Lease the Soviets recieved massive amounts of food aid from the allies.
Better minesters: Goremykin and Sturmer should have never been appointed, who would thought Protopopov would have such an idiot, should have kept Sazonov and Polivanov. The naval minister Ivan K Grigorvich was a good one but even he couldn't prevent the fleet from mutinying.
Better generals: a. N. Kuropatkin was a disaster as general during the Russo-japanese war and it seems in WW I every time the man suffered a defeat he was promoted!? Then there is N.N. Yanushkevich GD NN chief of staff 1914-15. Then there are the aristocratic and royal idiots Nicholas II put in command of the Guards army who did a real good job at getting their troops slaughtered.
Fewer Refugees and deportees: Russia had to deal with several million refugees and deportees during the war. This is because in part Yanushkevich decided to deport Jews and Germans from western Russia to the East because he considered them to be a security threat. He also ordered a scored earth policy during the 1915 retreat. This placed a major burden on the already overworked railroads and dumped a whole lot of people all over the empire who if they didn't like the goverment pre war they sure hated it by 1917. this helped the country fall apart in 1917.
Call up fewer troops: there were lots of complaints from early in the war onward about the army calling up to many men who could not be properly taken care of ect. result in early 1917 there were 160,000 men around Petrograd in barracks designed for 20,000. no wonder they mutinied.
Order a calm down: Nicholas II really needed to counter the anti-german spy hysteria by telling people to calm down and point out that Alexandra is 100% loyal ect. This hysteria undermined the goverment. Of course, Lenin and his gang got transported across germany to get to Russia and hardly anybody said anything about it. Or all that gold and other aid he recieved from the germans too.
Proabition it should have never been started or it should have been repealed within a year. it deprived the goverment of much needed revenue and helped cause the inflation that caused the 1917 revolution.
 These measures and others might have enabled Russia to hang on a little longer and possibly could have saved Nicholas II throne.

Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #438 on: December 24, 2011, 05:37:37 PM »
Then there was his decision to go to the front to command the army and leaving Alexandra behind to run the goverment. While it did boost morale of his troops somewhat and it did convince England and France that Russia was going stay in the war in the long run it was a disaster. leaving the strong willed but totally inept Alexandra to run the goverment helped cause the goverment to fall apart by the winter of 1916/17. However, it should be pointed out he did make monthly or so visits to the capital and at Stavka he was frequently working on goverment matters leaving military matters mostly to General Alexeiev. It probably would have been a better idea to fire Yanushkevich in August 1915 and replace him with Alexeiev chief of staff and leave GD NN as army commander. However, looking at Nicholas II 1800s mindset he felt he had to take over army command because he was the Tsar and his country was at war and in danger ect.
 The book "The Eastern Front 1914-1917" by Norman Stone points out the Russian army DID NOT suffer from a shortage of ammunition in the 1914-15 period. What they suffered from was a inability to manage their ammunition supply effectively and they were defeated in the 1914-15 period do to better German generalship, strategy and tactics.
 More bad luck Nicholas II goes to visit Stavka in early 1917 and the revolution breaks out. his children get the measles and can't go anywhere! He can't get back to them and is persuded to abducate. The family can't leave the country because the children are still sick and their request for asylum is rejected. plans to save them all fail and they all get murdered. With just a little more luck he probably would not have lost his throne let alone his life and the lives of the rest of his family.

Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #439 on: December 31, 2011, 06:51:22 PM »
More Nicholas II and WW I: In 1914 the Russian economy was booming and if it continued to grow at the same rate a French economist stated Russia would be the leading economic power in the world in 1950. Also in 1914 the Russian army was in the middle of a major expantion and reorganization which was to be finished in 1917. This would have left Russia a superpower so strong the germans and Austro-hungarians would have had no chance against russia in a war. For them war in 1914 was their last chance to defeat Russia and the assassination of Archduke franz Ferdinand and his wife gave them the excuse they needed.
 Sukhomlinov the war minister who is often blasted as a corrupt incompetant, who flattered the inept Nicholas II on the state of the Russian army. In reality he may have been somewhat corrupt but he was not a incompetant. sukhomlinov did a good job of preparing the russian army for a refight of the Russo-Japanese war! Also just about everyone thought WW I would be over in a year or so. Finally, in 1914 while all the crowds of people were cheering in St Petersburg and Moscow at the start of the war men throughout Russia were getting married. one million new peasnt households came into exhistance in 1914-15. A fact that has puzzled agricultural experts since. However, conscription experts are not surprized at all. Married men were exempt for the draft in czarist Russia!

Offline Petr

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #440 on: December 31, 2011, 07:35:59 PM »
Dear James;
I greatly appreciate your posts because they confirm what I have been saying for a while now in various posts, namely, that Imperial Russia was on the verge of making a full transition from an agrarian economy to a modern industrialized state and that, if anything, the Revolution and the disastrous policies of the communists delayed that transition. Thus, had WWI not occurred there is every reason to believe that Russia would have made a relatively peaceful transition (perhaps with a more liberal political system such as a constitutional monarchy) without the bloodshed of the Revolution and the ensuing Civil War (not to mention what followed).

Now getting back to the origins of WWI, there is a brand new book just published entitled "The Russian Origins of the First World War" by Sean McMeekin (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2011) which posits "...a major reinterpretation of the conflict, Sean McMeekin rejects the standard notions of the war's beginning as either a Germano-Austrian preemptive strike or a 'tragedy of miscalculation.  Instead, he proposes that the key to the outbreak of violence lies in St. Petersburg...." [Inside flyleaf] I haven't got to it yet as I'm plowing through "Lords of Finance", a history of the four principal central bankers during the period after WWI (quite topical under our present circumstances), but I suspect that its based on the old Russian desire to control the Dardanelles. In that regard, Orlando Figues' recent book on the Crimean War is a fascinating prelude to what came later (including NI's efforts, through various 19th Century Turko-Russian wars, to achieve that goal).

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Offline Павэл

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #441 on: January 01, 2012, 12:38:05 AM »
A few bits to pick at others mentioned:

Firstly, if Russia stayed out of the war, then France would have fallen:

It can be reasonably argued that the most critical moment in the First World War was when the Russians attacked East Prussia. This would have secured their northern flank straight against the Baltic. It failed abysmally but the Germans panicked and sent 16 divisions earmarked for France eastwards instead. They arrived too late to make a difference in East Prussia (the battle already secured) and were absent from the French front as well. The absence of these 16 divisions made all the difference - at First Marne (where the Germans were halted only a few miles short of Paris), the British Expeditionary Force was 4 divisions longer than the Germans allowing II Corps to curl round the Northern flank of the Germans and peel their line backwards - forcing the germans to shore it up and so weaken the main thrust in the centre, which then failed to break the French line. If you add 16 divisions these (the important part) were, under the original war plans to be allocated to the far end of the North flank, making the German line 12 divisions longer instead and thus forcing the tiny BEF (already badly mauled at Mons) to be peeled back!

And once France was gone - that leaves Russia alone and friendless. If Russia cannot cope when combined with France and Britain, what hope does she have alone? The entire German expansion policy since the 1850s had been about isolating potential rivals in turn.

Secondly (perhaps this should go elsewhere, but it was mentioned here.)

Olga was too headstong to be Regent. Tatiana might have managed, but Tatiana also tended to do what her mother told her to do - and the empress wasn't exactly 'today's top tip' for governmental decision making (she effectively ran the country during the war and it could be said was in charge of Nicholas II anyway.) Moreover, to alter the country's inheritance system so swiftly was unlikely. Constitutional monarchies exist because they changed slowly. So many rule changes so swiftly would have been a destabilisation itself.

And as for the children themselves, were they up to the art of statehood? Who is going to teach them? If King & Wilson are correct they had already had their education 'ruined' by a narrow syllabus. They would still have been under N&A's general governance so would still have had no friends or experiences, etc. On top of that - being 'a nice sort of lass/chap' (or a good nurse) does not automate the ability to appreciate higher level decision-making. Anyone here had a really useless boss/manager? You'll find that they are often good workers who are over-promoted. Even Tatiana (with her chairing of meetings) would have had her work cut out on international relations or how to 'guide and advise' on the pitiful state of Russian agriculture or........and on and on. Then - maybe it's just my reading of it - Tatiana herself displays the fragility of her emotions many times herself during exile.

Thirdly - men like Stolypin were themselves ruthless politicians. Would they have kicked up enemies enough. Not that that matters - Stolypin was assassinated anyway.

Finally - if Germany does lose the war (Russia in or out) she would still have destabilised (the country's social problems were inherent to Germany not simply an 'import' from Russia.) A Weimar-style state would probably have occurred anyway as would have the '29 stock market crash. The reparations would still have been huge (France had been invaded twice now in 40 years and been humiliated last time). Enter the Nazis.

And would a tsarist/Duma government (however reformed) had had the ruthlessness to pursue the war against the Nazis?

Paul
« Last Edit: January 01, 2012, 12:47:49 AM by Павэл »
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Offline Sergei Witte

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #442 on: January 01, 2012, 05:52:38 AM »
Same question would be: How could Wilhelm have preserved the throne or Franz Joseph. Only answer relevant: prevent WWI from happening.

Offline Petr

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #443 on: January 01, 2012, 05:27:21 PM »
Firstly, if Russia stayed out of the war, then France would have fallen:

Agreed. There is an very interesting parallell with WWII. Had there been no Eastern Front it is unlikely that D-Day would have been successful.

Quote
Secondly (perhaps this should go elsewhere, but it was mentioned here.)

Olga was too headstong to be Regent. Tatiana might have managed, but Tatiana also tended to do what her mother told her to do - and the empress wasn't exactly 'today's top tip' for governmental decision making (she effectively ran the country during the war and it could be said was in charge of Nicholas II anyway.) Moreover, to alter the country's inheritance system so swiftly was unlikely. Constitutional monarchies exist because they changed slowly. So many rule changes so swiftly would have been a destabilisation itself.

Since we are playing "what if" the argument is that absent WWI there would be no abdication but that increased prosperity would have developed the middle class who would have demanded greater political rights and participation in government so the changes wrought by the 1905 revolution would have continued to develop. 

Quote
Thirdly - men like Stolypin were themselves ruthless politicians. Would they have kicked up enemies enough. Not that that matters - Stolypin was assassinated anyway.

It was that lack of ruthlessness that is attributed to NII which some claim permitted the Revolution.

Quote
Finally - if Germany does lose the war (Russia in or out) she would still have destabilised (the country's social problems were inherent to Germany not simply an 'import' from Russia.) A Weimar-style state would probably have occurred anyway as would have the '29 stock market crash. The reparations would still have been huge (France had been invaded twice now in 40 years and been humiliated last time). Enter the Nazis.

And would a tsarist/Duma government (however reformed) had had the ruthlessness to pursue the war against the Nazis?

Of course if there was no WWI Germany would have had a much different history and WWII could arguably have been avoided.

Petr
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Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #444 on: January 08, 2012, 09:44:20 PM »
Petr thank you for liking my postings. I understand the book The Russian Origins of the First World War is getting go reviews I will try and read it one day.  As for the newbie with the Russian name the force the Germans  sent from the west to the east during the 1st battle of the Marne was not 16 divisions. It consisted of two army corps of i believe 2 or 3 divisions each and a cavalry division. This force could have made a difference at the first Marne and was too late for the Battle of Tannenberg. so you can say the Russian army saved Paris in 1914. sadly the Allies forgot about all the sacrifices of Nicholas II and his army during WW I. After he abdicated they abandoned him and left him and his family to die at the hands of the Bolosit seems they never forgot Bloody Sunday etc.. Meanwhile during WW II Stalin got Billions in lend Lease aid without which he would have lost. Nicholas II had to pay for all of the aid Russia received during the war. It also seems after 22 June 1941 the Allies forgot all the bad things Stalin ever did like being a mass murderer, the Molotov Ribontrop pact, invading Poland Finland, annexing the Baltic states and parts of Romania. then there are the useful idiots etc that couldn't say enough nice things about the man.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2012, 01:52:32 PM by Alixz »

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #445 on: June 20, 2012, 08:12:26 AM »
. . . Imperial Russia was on the verge of making a full transition from an agrarian economy to a modern industrialized state . . . .

I think it was the mishandling of that transition by ill-conceived government policies that had a lot to do with the revolutions of 1905-06 and 1917.  Remember that, other than the embarrassment of the losses to Japan and its exposure of government incompetence, the revolution of 1905-06 occurred independently of the massive economic and demographic dislocations of the WWI years.

Alexander III, for all his reactionary bent, had been smart enough to follow Bismarck's example in instituting worker welfare legislation to keep industrial working conditions from becoming a powder keg of revolutionary sentiment.  However, Nicholas' government reversed course in an attempt to make Russia more attractive to the foreign capital it needed to fund its industrialization.  In effect, Nicholas was trying to make Russia a cheap industrial labor center in much the same way that India a century later became a cheap labor source of technical and engineering work for western companies.

Coupled with this deliberate government-sponsored degradation of working conditions, Nicholas' government failed (despite Stolypin's efforts that Nicholas never really supported) to move toward long-term resolution of the land questions that Alexander II's emancipation of the serfs opened up and that occupied the vast majority of Russia's population in the countryside.  Consequently, as more peasants needed to migrate to the industrializing cities to support themselves, a seasonal migration was set up that had at least two deleterious effects on social stability.  The first was that hordes of peasants descended on the industrial cities to work in factories in the non-farming seasons and then returned to the countryside for planting and harvest.  Urban landlords did not see this population as stable enough (or well-paid enough, especially with some of their earnings sent back to support their rural families) to warrant investment in worker housing, and consequently these workers were funneled into vastly over-crowded living conditions for months at a time.

The second effect of this migration had to do with the spread of education and information.  Some of the factory work, especially tool-making and machining, required reading and math skills that necessitated the education of peasants to levels they would not have seen in their villages.  With this exposure to education came an exposure to the reading clubs, the emerging worker-oriented press, and self-improvement societies that were burgeoning in the cities.  (Father Gapon of Bloody Sunday fame was one of the many priests who were active in worker self-improvement circles -- with the support of Church and government authorities who, seeing these developments as worrisome but inevitable, wanted to keep them under the direction and influence of the authorities.)  But these peasants with their new-found learning and broadening awareness of their world returned each year to their formerly-isolated villages, bringing new ideas with them.  More perhaps than any other phenomenon, the creation of this conduit of information from the classroom to the urban workers to the rural peasantry set up the channels that anti-government parties were later to exploit.

And, finally, there was a third aspect of government policy that fostered revolutionary conditions.  That was allowing a huge buildup of industrial workers in brutal working and living conditions in the suburbs of large cities, especially near the government centers of St. Petersburg.  Russia had a storied history of tsars telling people and enterprises where they must locate or where they could not locate.  In order to defuse resistance to his rule in lands he expropriated as he was assembling the Russian people into a nation, Ivan III forced mass relocations at all levels of society, including his nobility.  Peter the Great forced mass relocations of workers first to build his naval shipyards and later to build his new capital on the Neva and then ordered his nobility to move there.  Catherine the Great established the Pales of Settlement.  And the tradition continued unabated under Lenin and especially Stalin, with his relocation of WWII industry beyond the Urals and the establishment of the "secret cities" where post-war technologies could be developed away from prying eyes.

Not only had Nicholas' government allowed powder kegs of revolutionary sentiment to be filled by misguided policies, they allowed those powder kegs to be stored almost under their palace windows.  
« Last Edit: June 20, 2012, 08:15:54 AM by Tsarfan »

Alixz

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #446 on: June 20, 2012, 10:15:22 AM »
Of course if there was no WWI Germany would have had a much different history and WWII could arguably have been avoided.

Petr

It is very interesting that I had been saying this for about 40 years and only lately have I seen it written into books by "authorities" on the subject.  
But is was more the conditions set by the Treaty of Versailles not World War I itself that set the Germans on their course during the twenty years between the two wars.

I just finished reading about the Marshall Plan that helped to rebuild Europe after WWII and even then, there were officials who wanted to redo the strong invectives against Germany. Thankfully Truman and Marshall had the good sense to know that, if that was done again, conditions would be set in motion that would have lead to yet another war and this time the Soviet Union would not be on the side of anyone but themselves.

But I think that Tsarfan has something in his points about Nicholas II and the loss of his throne. The romantics here seem to think that just putting one of the Grand Duchesses in charge would have changed everything, but I doubt that it would. They were not trained to rule and the people who wanted the autocracy gone wouldn't have cared who sat on the throne just how to get rid of the royal family. As example, I give you Michael II and his non-rule and his decision to only take the throne by a vote of the constituent assembly.  Even he knew that it didn't matter who sat on the throne only that the throne was gone.
« Last Edit: June 20, 2012, 10:18:14 AM by Alixz »

Vanya Ivanova

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #447 on: June 20, 2012, 10:24:01 AM »
Fascinating post Tsarfan, it really highlights the social instability in Russia brought about by the speed of industrialisation. I have always felt the roots of the revolution went back as far as the Crimean War. It was this humiliating defeat for Russia that precipitated Alexander II's sweeping reforms that culminated in the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861. It was only a 56 year period between this and the 1917 revolution. The Emancipation act as I understand it was primarily to facilitate Russia's development as an industrial nation.

I personally feel people make too much of Alexander III and Nicholas II's reaction to the murder of Alexander II. It undoubtedly did effect them and their style of goverment but did not in any way effect their continuation of Alexander II's policies of industrial and economic reform. For me it was this or rather the speed at which it occurred that did not allow Russian society to make the myriad of complex socio-economic adjustments necessary for a stable transition from an agrarian/feudal to an urban/industrial society.

As Petr and James pointed out in their posts economically and militarily Russia was actually in some ways in pretty good shape in 1914, however all the social structures had been turned on their head and momentous changes had occurred at break neck speed so this success had no foundations. Its true of course mistakes were made with regards to workers conditions etc but the same mistakes were made in other european industrialised nations, Britain for instance and did not result in revolution as the process came about much more slowly. I find it laughable that people blame Empress Alexandra for the revolution, before 1916 when the war really started to turn against Russia there is no real evidence that she was even unpopular with the general populace. She was not a success with her husband's family that is certainly true and the family's self imposed isolation in order to keep the Tsarevich's illness a secret also didn't help.

However in my opinion this had little or no effect on bringing about the revolution, they are details not reasons. The very fabric of Russian society had been torn apart with the Emancipation act and then rapid industrialisation. What it meant was that the country changed from the bottom upwards too fast and too late. The whole social landscape of Russia had changed overnight and the elite being the most removed from the 'means of production' were the last to realise it. Nicholas II was the product of a background and education that was part of a Russia that by the time he became Tsar no longer existed, all his beliefs and education and experience were completely out of touch with what was happening in his country. Therefore in my opinion there was realistically virtually nothing he as an individual could have done to preserve the throne.

The aristocracy and Imperial family simply could not keep pace with the changes they (in the form of Alexander II) had initiated, Nicholas II was simply not equipped by his education and background to deal with the problems he was forced to face and as James pointed out was also dogged by bad luck and impossible choices. I truly believe it would not have made any difference if he had been severe like his father or a modernising reformer like his grandfather, by 1917 Russia was in meltdown and only an absolute monster like Stalin was able to hold it together by brute force and even that has not lasted.

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #448 on: June 20, 2012, 01:16:53 PM »
Therefore in my opinion there was realistically virtually nothing he as an individual could have done to preserve the throne.

This is to me one of the great conundrums of Russian history.

On the one hand, there were certainly huge stresses building in Russia in the last half of the 19th century as Alexander II's emancipation of the serfs without effective land reform and the acceleration of industrialization produced huge economic and social dislocations.  And autocracy, especially in the hands of his successors, was proving too brittle to deal with the conditions, especially beginning with the famine of the early 1890's.

On the other hand, the long-standing desire of the peasants for land redistribution (manifested, for example, in the wave of peasant uprisings of the 18th century) and the fanning of that desire with emancipation -- coupled with the disruption of the commune-oriented culture in the villages as a few enterprising peasants tried to break free from the traditions of the mir  to seize what opportunities half-hearted land reforms did offer them -- still  did not produce a revolution in the countryside until 1905, which the government quelled until well into 1917, despite the huge stresses WWI introduced.

Few people know that, even after the February revolution of 1917, the workers in most factories, despite occasional strikes and demonstrations, formed committees to keep their factories running (and their paychecks coming) to produce armaments for the armies and supplies for the cities.  Lenin had spent 17 years in exile prior to April 1917, despairing that revolution would come to Russia during his lifetime.  The liberal and centrist parties, and even the socialist leaders by and large, wanted to participate in monarchical government, not to supplant it.  (One of the most bizarre aspects of the first months following the February revolution was the scramble of the various parties not  to be held accountable for running things.) 

This suggests to me that Russian society, as most societies, had huge entropy in its body politic which would require enormous forces to turn into the overthrow of the government and its entire social order.  People did not look to the government to give them hope.  They just wanted the government not to deprive them of hope.

One of the points historians have made is that where Russia differed most fundamentally from western Europe was in its attitude toward its people and their rights.  In western Europe, the assumption was that individuals had the right to do what they wanted unless the activity was proscribed by government.  In Russia, the assumption was that individuals had no right to act unless the government authorized their actions.  (This has been amply demonstrated by study of the kinds of applications that flowed through Russian bureaucracy year in and year out.)  Ironically, much of the reason autocracy survived as long as it did was that the reach of government, due largely to lack of its presence in the countryside, was so shallow.  So, whereas western Europeans were left alone by their governments as a matter of ciivil rights, in Russia people were left alone -- and therefore found the central government tolerable -- largely by being ignored.  (Oddly enough, up until Nicholas gave the game away with Bloody Sunday in 1905, this was the reason that peasant myth held the tsar as their protector from the predations of the gentry if only he could be made aware of their issues.  In real, practical terms most peasants in Russia viewed their landlord as the only government that touched them, and therefore the only government that mattered to them . . . not the semi-mystical tsar in the Oz they knew only by the name of St. Petersburg.)

And it suggests further that Nicholas and his regime could have survived without having to solve  all the problems confronting Russia as it adjusted to emancipation and industrialization.  All he really had to do was avoid  making colossal blunders that deprived people of hope of any coming improvement of opportunity.

To me, Nicholas' reign was made catastrophic not by what he failed to do but by the building crescendo of blunders he committed as his reign progressed:  the "senseless dreams" speech; the reversal of his father's workers welfare legislation; the mishandling of the St. Petersburg demonstrations in January 1905; the gross insensitivity to the situation at the opening of the Duma and his systematic attempts to undo the embryonic constitutionalism forced on him in 1906; the use of the land captains and the notorious Black Hand to end-run his own bureaucracy in the countryside to supplant regularized government with arbitrary and often sadistically brutal government; his ignoring his ministers' advice not to assume supreme military command in 1915; his putting his ministers in the untenable position of having their reports and advice to him filtered through Alexandra (and thereby somewhat through Rasputin); the series of bizarre ministerial appointments in 1915-16; and, finally, his ill-informed and ill-advised order to reprise the infamous Bloody Sunday blunder of using state violence against peaceful demonstrations in St. Petersburg on February 26, 1917.


Offline edubs31

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Re: What Could Nicholas II Have Done to Preserve the Imperial Throne?
« Reply #449 on: June 20, 2012, 02:58:14 PM »
Great conversation everyone!

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This is to me one of the great conundrums of Russian history.

How about world history? The number of things that have been pointed out just in the past few days of this discussion are rather mind boggling. I believe certain aspects of the decline and fall of the empire have been overstated just as others that are often disregarded ought to be given more weight.

Take a second to compare the fall of the Romanovs and Russian Empire with the Decline of Ancient Rome. Wikipedia devotes an entire webpage to the latter topic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decline_of_the_Roman_Empire). It also points out how nearly three decades ago a German professor published a collection of 210 theories (that has since been added to) on why Rome fell. TWO HUNDRED & TEN?!

I wonder how much the nature of human psychology and our ability to process events within our normal thought pattern comes into play. For instance, you can look back on an unfortunate event...say a person killed by a drunk driver, and give any number of reasons why their life was cut short that evening. Some are poignant, others offsetting, still more are irrelevant. If I were to draw up a list of a dozen reasons why that innocent person was killed the truth may be that the specific fate of the tragedy lie in just one decision. Take out any one of those twelve fateful steps (no pun intended) and the tragedy never takes place. Then again it could be argued that such tragedy was inevitable and that the driver who committed this vehicular manslaughter would eventually have injured themselves or someone else due to their often drunken and irresponsible behavior.

Is there one specific decision in the laundry list of events that contributed to the tragedy of Tsar Nicholas, specifically, and his empire in general that could have drastically altered history? And even if we were able to pinpoint that one decision does it guarantee the Tsar, knowing full well his tendency for poor decision making, wouldn't have simply replaced one bad choice with another? Are there really 210 reasons for anything? Is there ever just one?

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On the other hand, the long-standing desire of the peasants for land redistribution (manifested, for example, in the wave of peasant uprisings of the 18th century) and the fanning of that desire with emancipation -- coupled with the disruption of the commune-oriented culture in the villages as a few enterprising peasants tried to break free from the traditions of the mir  to seize what opportunities half-hearted land reforms did offer them -- still  did not produce a revolution in the countryside until 1905, which the government quelled until well into 1917, despite the huge stresses WWI introduced.

Indeed, and much like the American Civil War not beginning with the Kansas-Nebraska Act in early 1854 but officially some seven years later. The main difference of course being that no elected official with half a brain could have been oblivious to the growing turmoil during the 1840s & 50s that led to the breakout of war, finally, in 1861. Yet those members of the Russian government in the first seventeen years of the 20th century were largely cut off from their countrymen...the product of an autocracy (then but a semi-autocracy) instead of a representational democracy. The American Civil War like the Russian Revolution was certainly a battle of ideologies but the added fuel to the fire of the latter comes from it also being a classicist struggle in the way the former was not (if you don't include the slaves themselves of course).

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This suggests to me that Russian society, as most societies, had huge entropy in its body politic which would require enormous forces to turn into the overthrow of the government and its entire social order.  People did not look to the government to give them hope.  They just wanted the government not to deprive them of hope.

Well said! Go figure...those lefty radicals of a century ago would fit in nicely with the American Republican Party of today. "Just get out of our way", "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem" :-)

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One of the points historians have made is that where Russia differed most fundamentally from western Europe was in its attitude toward its people and their rights.  In western Europe, the assumption was that individuals had the right to do what they wanted unless the activity was proscribed by government.  In Russia, the assumption was that individuals had no right to act unless the government authorized their actions.

Interesting that we needed a bloody revolution, heinous murder, and countless deaths for this to essentially change NOT AT ALL during the subsequent Soviet regime! It would almost be funny if it weren't so damn sad...

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In real, practical terms most peasants in Russia viewed their landlord as the only government that touched them, and therefore the only government that mattered to them . . . not the semi-mystical tsar in the Oz they knew only by the name of St. Petersburg.

They could teach a few of us modern Americans a thing or two about politics and the system in which we live (even having lived themselves in a different system). Everyone thinks the federal government has so much control over their day to day lives and most of our praise and scorn is hoisted upon the President and congress. In reality most of the decisions that matter the most to the most citizens are decided by people who we often don't even know the names of.

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To me, Nicholas' reign was made catastrophic not by what he failed to do but by the building crescendo of blunders he committed as his reign progressed:  the "senseless dreams" speech; the reversal of his father's workers welfare legislation; the mishandling of the St. Petersburg demonstrations in January 1905; the gross insensitivity to the situation at the opening of the Duma and his systematic attempts to undo the embryonic constitutionalism forced on him in 1906; the use of the land captains and the notorious Black Hand to end-run his own bureaucracy in the countryside to supplant regularized government with arbitrary and often sadistically brutal government; his ignoring his ministers' advice not to assume supreme military command in 1915; his putting his ministers in the untenable position of having their reports and advice to him filtered through Alexandra (and thereby somewhat through Rasputin); the series of bizarre ministerial appointments in 1915-16; and, finally, his ill-informed and ill-advised order to reprise the infamous Bloody Sunday blunder of using state violence against peaceful demonstrations in St. Petersburg on February 26, 1917.

Care to add about 200 more reasons to that list for me Tsarfan? :-) Just kidding...great insight and thanks for sharing!
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...