Author Topic: Nicholas had a bad rep. How much of it was outside his control?  (Read 992 times)

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Offline eastallegheny

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Nicholas had a bad rep. How much of it was outside his control?
« on: January 22, 2017, 01:49:50 AM »
I guess my biggest question right now is about Nicholas II. He's generally got this bad rep for being a terrible (or at least, a very ineffectual) tsar, and most factoids point to that indeed being the case. Maybe this is naive, but I feel like... so much of it stems from WWI, and Nicholas's ill advised decision to send Russia into it.

How many other tsars had a WORLD war to contend with? Plenty had WARS, but a WORLD war? It seems to me that Nicholas was in a singularly awkward position, and given the language used in his eventual letter of abdication, I can't imagine that he sent Russia into WWI with anything less than careful consideration. He loved his country, even if he made bad choices. Right?

So my question is, had it not been for WWI, do you think the revolutions would have even happened? Would Russia still be an autocracy? Would Nikolai and his family have been murdered? Sure, if they'd lived, Alexei still might have died (hemophilia) but there was Grand Duke Michael who could have ruled, and there would have been a chance for Nicholas and Alexandra to have more children...

Right?

(Be gentle with me. I've only really been into Russian Imperial history for about six months and while I've been eagerly devouring everything I can get my hands on to read, I'm still fairly naive and ignorant about a lot of things. I'd like to learn, but I'm not keen on being ridiculed for not being as clued up as I could be  :) )

Offline NicolasG

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Re: Nicholas had a bad rep. How much of it was outside his control?
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2017, 09:51:30 AM »
First of all, wellcome (although I'm a fairly new member of the forum too).

"Bad reputation" is a vague concept. For example, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as 45th President of the United of American less than 48 hours ago and American and European media have already decided that he's the worst president ever and that he has zero support from the people of the United States (he won the last presidential election, but, according to them, that does not mean anything). Whatever the sucesses or failures of a Trump administration, I can easily imagine what kind of book an UCLA professor will be writing in 20 or 30 years time about this period of American History.

Media is biased. So are historians. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, sympathizing with the Bolshevik Revolution was the fashionable thing among "experts" in Russian History (otherwise you were labelled a Cold War Warrior, barely better than a fascist). After the fall of the Soviet Union, when archives provided enough proofs of the crimes committed by the Communist regime, the cheerleading for Lenin became somewhat outdated, but that certainly wasn't enough for most "experts" to show some level of sympathy towards someone who had been labelled during decades a tyrant and a pogrom-inciting antisemite.

If a new narrative was needed and the heroes of the past: Lenin and his Merry Men (Stalin, Trotsky, Dzherzhinsky) had to be replaced, new heroes could be found: Guchkov, Milyukov, Lvov and the rest of Russian liberals who wanted to transform Russia into a modern European country, the men of the Februrary Revolution and the Provisional Government. If does not matter much that they were not very honest men: they lied, they slandered, they refused to condemn revolutionary terrorism, they blocked in the Duma measures coming from the government which would have meant an improvement in the life of millions of subjects of the Russian Empire (because these measures came from the government, not from them) and they behaved in a clearly irresponsible way, helping to unleash forces that they weren't able to control afterwards. Those are little defects that can be easily "photoshopped".

The point is: take "bad reputation" with a grain of salt.

And now, your question.

Would there have been a revolution (or two) in Russia without a world war? The answer is "No". Lenin knew it and based his hopes on a war between Austria and Russia.

"His [Lenin's] confidence proceeded from calculations he had expressed in a letter to Maxim Gorki in 1913: "War between Austria and Russia would be a very useful thing for the revolution (in the whole of eastern Europe), but it is scarcely likely that Franz Joseph [the Hapsburg Emperor] and Nikolasha [Lenin's nickname for the Russian Emperor] would grant us this pleasure."
Robert Service, Lenin, p.228

That's Lenin, the great humanitarian.

I based my answer on the hypotesis that the Russian Empire manage to avoid war with one of the Great Powers (Germany, Austria, Britain) if not forever, at least for several decades.
 
Nicholas II was 46 in 1914, he might have lived another 30 years or more. Olga (and TMA) would have married and hopefully any of them would have born a healthy son (that is, not hemophilic) who might have become the next tsar on Nicholas' death (He would have been 20-something). Or Nicholas II could have changed the law to allow women to suceed to the throne (as it was before Paul I forbade it, because he hated his mother, Ekaterina II).

No WWI means no revolution in Russia, no dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and no Treaty of Versailles, and therefore no Weimar Republic. Lenin dies in Switzerland, before finishing his work nš 165 fighting some kind of deviationism from true (Lenin's) socialism. No Soviet Union, no nazi Germany. Hitler and Stalin don't have the chance of murdering millions. The world would have been a completely different place.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2017, 09:55:36 AM by NicolasG »

Offline eastallegheny

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Re: Nicholas had a bad rep. How much of it was outside his control?
« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2017, 10:51:09 AM »
When I say "bad reputation", I'm talking about things like, I saw another post on here ranking the tsars and Nicky was right up there with Peter III, widely considered (from what I've read) to be one of the worst. And again, given what I've read, I wondered how much of that was him genuinely being a bad tsar, and how much was him being presented with an unprecedented situation (WWI) that he handled badly not necessarily from incompetence or ineptitude, but from genuinely being out of his depth?

But your answer was both well written and thought provoking, so I thank you for that!

I also read that Nicky II and Georgie V of England were first cousins - and that Georgie was also cousins with Wilhelm II of Germany. That's... an interesting dynamic to have in Europe, given Nicky and George's countries would ride against Wilhelm's country! I read (somewhat tongue in cheek) that if Granny Victoria had been alive, she never would have let her grandsons go to war against each other, haha.

Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: Nicholas had a bad rep. How much of it was outside his control?
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2017, 11:48:25 AM »
Welcome to the Forum!

I agree with the poster who said that the term "bad rep" was somewhat problematic. I would also say a great many people who knew little about the Emperor both in the past or in the present have spoken from a place of ignorance so I pay little attention to their opinions.

Many of Nicholas' accomplishments have been forgotten and I intend to write about these soon. For example, he was responsible for founding the International Court of Justice in The Hague, an important international organization til this day.

Offline TheLionandTheEagle

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Re: Nicholas had a bad rep. How much of it was outside his control?
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2017, 03:20:53 PM »
A lot of it has to do with a few things -- propaganda against him, and changing values in the world.  And some of that propaganda caused the changes in values.  Many people come from a starting point that democracy is fundamentally superior in the moral sense, and that Nicholas should have allowed this as a matter of course.  I, personally, have a bit more sympathy for a monarchist position on the matter -- and of course, people had even less personal freedom in the regime that followed.

Offline Lee_Hutch

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Re: Nicholas had a bad rep. How much of it was outside his control?
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2017, 04:48:14 PM »
Media is biased. So are historians.

This is true. Each new generation of historians brings their own biases to the table, often shaped by the nature of society at the time of their study. While some freely admit their biases, others take care to pronounce they aren't biased in the least, and sometimes those who proclaim no biases are often the most biased.

The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of NII might be viewed one way now, in 2017, and in a completely different way in 2057. Of course, NII is dead. Nothing he did or didn't do will change. But the way historians interpret it will, and that interpretation will be informed by their own personal biases.

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Offline edubs31

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Re: Nicholas had a bad rep. How much of it was outside his control?
« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2017, 06:20:46 PM »
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Be gentle with me. I've only really been into Russian Imperial history for about six months and while I've been eagerly devouring everything I can get my hands on to read, I'm still fairly naive and ignorant about a lot of things. I'd like to learn, but I'm not keen on being ridiculed for not being as clued up as I could be.

We appreciate your contributions and honesty here on the AP. The website and its accompanying forum is a fabulous resource of knowledge and I'd encourage you to search and read through other discussion threads that have discussed this topic.

For the most part I agree with NicholasG's comment about successful revolution being dependent upon the war. Further evidence of this is what many historians have referred to as the "dress rehearsal" revolution from 1905 and Bloody Sunday. This of course was also triggered by a war...this time Japan and on a much smaller scale than what the First World War turned out to be.

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No WWI means no revolution in Russia, no dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and no Treaty of Versailles, and therefore no Weimar Republic. Lenin dies in Switzerland, before finishing his work nš 165 fighting some kind of deviationism from true (Lenin's) socialism. No Soviet Union, no nazi Germany. Hitler and Stalin don't have the chance of murdering millions. The world would have been a completely different place.

A lot of assumptions there. Isn't it entirely plausible that other socialist radicals could have stepped up and taken Lenin's place - after his death in 1924 - and help launch a revolution ten or fifteen years later? And certainly evil minded people have appeared throughout history launching successful reigns even with only a sliver of opportunity. Hitler himself might have vanished into obscurity but I don't think it impossible that a leader similar to Hitler might have appeared anyway (in Germany or elsewhere) in time. That the Nazi's like the Bolsheviks (or Trump for that matter :-)) weren't elected/supported by popular majorities within their countries but still managed to seize power ought to tell you something.

But if what you say is true...connecting all of the dots...then couldn't Leopold Loyka be recognized as the most important person of the 20th century? Chaos effect working its magic!

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When I say "bad reputation", I'm talking about things like, I saw another post on here ranking the tsars and Nicky was right up there with Peter III, widely considered (from what I've read) to be one of the worst. And again, given what I've read, I wondered how much of that was him genuinely being a bad tsar, and how much was him being presented with an unprecedented situation (WWI) that he handled badly not necessarily from incompetence or ineptitude, but from genuinely being out of his depth?

All you can do is try to weigh several variables and draw your own conclusions. In my opinion Nicholas II was a virtuous or noble failure. I think I rated him at around 3.5 on a ten-point scale which puts him at "well below average" to "poor" when compared to other Romanov Tsars.

I think you need to look at individual categories. How would you rate Nicholas as a leader, on social issues, on domestic & economic policy, on foreign policy, in terms of his character, with crisis management, etc. I'd say he probably deserves low marks in most of these (and other) categories, but he should also gain points for having been faced extremely difficult terrain that likely would have been unnavigable for most Tsars.

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The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of NII might be viewed one way now, in 2017, and in a completely different way in 2057. Of course, NII is dead. Nothing he did or didn't do will change. But the way historians interpret it will, and that interpretation will be informed by their own personal biases.

I see your point but I think there is a limit on how much Nicholas's reputation will continue to recover in the coming decades. Whatever your political views might be or how much you respect him as a kind person or sympathize with his horrible demise one thing that cannot be avoided is that the Russian Monarchy ended on his watch. Over 300-years of Romanov rule disintegrated after less than three years of War. And to think that Nicholas didn't learn from the events of 1905 and Russia's shocking defeat at the hands of the Japanese further suggests a failure of epic proportions on his behalf.
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline Lee_Hutch

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Re: Nicholas had a bad rep. How much of it was outside his control?
« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2017, 06:35:33 PM »
You are correct. Ultimately, regardless of how much a person likes him, the Romanov reign ended with him. If a historian sets out in 30 years to write a new biography and that historian is sympathetic to NII though, he/she might seek to lay the blame for the collapse on anyone but NII. In reverse, if the historian has a grudge against monarchy on principal, then he/she might try to argue that everything was entirely NII's fault.

This is where the bias comes into play. Now let me jump out on a huge limb: Imagine Russia decides to restore the monarchy (which I don't think they ever will). In that case, historians writing in Russia in 2057 under the monarchy might be more inclined to be sympathetic and gloss over faults and failures. That's all I meant by society shaping biases.

And I agree with your assessment of Nicholas' rule. Far from being the best of the Romanovs in that regard.

Funny story about the Russo-Japanese War. I was born in Louisiana but I grew up in Port Arthur, TX. I remember seeing a picture in a history book when I was 7 years old about the fall of Port Arthur to the Japanese. I ran and asked my dad why in the heck the Russians and the Japanese were fighting over Port Arthur! It was hardly worth fighting a war over. My dad explained that it was a different one than where we lived. But it kind of freaked me out for a minute.
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