Author Topic: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?  (Read 113526 times)

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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #30 on: May 02, 2005, 01:27:56 PM »
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Were they really trying to limit autocratic power or to counterweigh what they felt to be the dastardly influence of the German contingent on that power?


It was probably a mixture of both, although I'm sure historians argue about this. Certainly the Russian nobles showed they had not yet developed a cohesive "party spirit," since Anna had only to offer rewards to one group for them to go over to her side, at which point the entire plot caved in. Still, if it had succeeded Russia would have been a constitutional monarchy - whatever the original intentions of its "founders" had been.

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I don't know that a monarch's making concessions to the nobility necessarily signals a serious attempt by any party to undermine autocracy.  [...] The nobility did not want to change the way things got done.  They just wanted to stack the decision-making deck in their favor.  I don't think the situation in Russia was much different.


But again, if the end result is a limitation of autocratic power then the original intention doesn't matter. I seriously doubt the nobles who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta had any intention of doing away with authoritarian monarchical rule, but the end result was a restriction on arbitrary rule, and the beginning of institutional checks on the English monarchy.

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The palace coups do not strike me as having been about curbing autocratic power so much as about putting onto the throne those who would use that power more in alignment with the interests of those staging the coup.  I am not aware of any serious attempts to curb autocracy being embedded in Elizabeth's coup, Catherine II's coup, or Paul's murder.


In this you may be right, but I think it's important to stress that the monarchs who won and kept the throne were those who supported the vested interests of the nobility (as opposed to someone like Paul). And at least by the 1840s you certainly see the development of a very conscious "constitutional" spirit among many in the emerging noble intelligentsia... the young Alexander Herzen springs to mind, as does Ivan Turgenev with his literary portrayals of the Russian "superfluous man," emasculated because he has no voice in how the country is ruled.

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I suspect the former, but until someone gives me autocratic power and a time machine, I'll never be able to test my proposition.


At the risk of raining on everyone's parade, maybe the October Revolution was inevitable because it happened? To what extent do these "what if" games really explain history to us, since you can't change one factor without changing a host of others unintentionally? (What is that called? The "Butterfly Effect" from some science fiction story?)

Still, these games are so much fun.  ;)
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #31 on: May 02, 2005, 01:51:47 PM »
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But again, if the end result is a limitation of autocratic power then the original intention doesn't matter.


I agree that the result matters more than the intent.  However, I think autocracy and absolutism are both labels of convenience for a form of government that was neither literally autocratic nor absolute.  Even Peter the Great, whose autocracy we take for granted, was careful to create new nobles and a new bureaucracy when he felt he could not rely on the old to support his agenda.

Autocracy is without limits only in theory.  It has never existed in that pure state in Russia or anywhere else.  I think that's one of the reasons it had such historical staying power.  It was a more flexible institution than is generally recognized.

From Akhenaten to Nicholas II, autocrats who took their autocratic power too literally have always lived on borrowed time. 

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Still, these games are so much fun.


Amen, sister.  And you're such a well-armed contestant that you make them truly challenging.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Tsarfan »

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #32 on: May 02, 2005, 02:13:46 PM »
Thank you, Tsarfan. It's always a welcome challenge to match wits with you! I only wish more people would join in this discussion and keep it going, because it's so enjoyable!
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Offline RichC

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #33 on: May 02, 2005, 02:52:08 PM »
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All what Elisabeth said about others russian rulers are right - everybody has negative points - only foolish have not.
But nobody of the above mentioned Tsars, did not lead Russia to crush as Nicholas II did.
Thats it.
Vilhelm (he did not like Nicholas much but)
said : " It is impossible to rule Russia by playing lawn tennis so much and often as  Nicholas did"
Maybe Nicholas was appropriate for England (Europe),
but not for Russia.


Perhaps it would have been better if Nicholas had spent more time playing lawn tennis rather than less and left the affairs of state to his ministers who seemed to have a much better grasp on things than he did.  Ditto "Vilhelm"

Offline RichC

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #34 on: May 02, 2005, 02:59:39 PM »
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Autocracy is without limits only in theory.  It has never existed in that pure state in Russia or anywhere else.  I think that's one of the reasons it had such historical staying power.  It was a more flexible institution than is generally recognized.



Yes, isn't Vatican City still an autocracy -- look how long that's been around.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #35 on: May 02, 2005, 03:01:44 PM »
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I think autocracy and absolutism are both labels of convenience for a form of government that was neither literally autocratic nor absolute.  Even Peter the Great, whose autocracy we take for granted, was careful to create new nobles and a new bureaucracy when he felt he could not rely on the old to support his agenda.


This is so true. But I suppose that on some level we employ these terms because they are useful. How else are we to distinguish the absolutism or autocracy of a Peter the Great from the totalitarianism of a Stalin or Hitler?

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Autocracy is without limits only in theory.  It has never existed in that pure state in Russia or anywhere else.  I think that's one of the reasons it had such historical staying power.  It was a more flexible institution than is generally recognized.


Interestingly enough, there are historians who say the same thing about totalitarianism;  e.g., that Hitler was a terrible administrator and consequently there were openly competing spheres of interest in the Third Reich that waxed in and out of favor. One can certainly see an example of this in the Nazi regime's ambivalent attitude towards the Russians - on the one hand, the racist ideology cast Russians (Slavs) as little better than Jews, Untermenschen worthy of eventual extermination; on the other hand, the regime formed an entire army made up of Soviet POWs under General Vlasov to fight against Stalin.

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From Akhenaten to Nicholas II, autocrats who took their autocratic power too literally have always lived on borrowed time.


Something tells me that you've read Nicholas Reeves' brilliant biography, Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet, although IMO Reeves depicts Akhenaten more as a proto-totalitarian ruler than an autocratic or authoritarian one (like Nicholas!).  
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #36 on: May 02, 2005, 03:15:04 PM »
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Something tells me that you've read Nicholas Reeves' brilliant biography, Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet, although IMO Reeves depicts Akhenaten more as a proto-totalitarian ruler than an autocratic or authoritarian one (like Nicholas!).  


Yep . . . Reeves and everything else that I can get my hands on about ancient Egypt.  I've been a Pharoahfan, too, since my early teens.  The institution of monarchy just fascinates me.  The problem is that, in reading broadly in my spare time to try to understand it in as many times and places as I can, I have sacrificed some of the depth of knowledge that you command.  (That's why I like trying to pick apart your positions so much.  You always come back at me with such interesting information.)

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #37 on: May 02, 2005, 03:22:10 PM »
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Yes, isn't Vatican City still an autocracy -- look how long that's been around.


Interesting point of comparsion.  And it's going to be fascinating to see what happens with the Catholic Church (as least in the West) as the new pope tries to fend off the forces of "relativism" and hew to the "universal truths" he feels God and his predecessors expect him to protect and pass on.  How very like Nicholas' constant refrain about the unworkability of representative pluralism and his duty to pass on autocracy intact.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #38 on: May 02, 2005, 03:24:00 PM »
Seriously, Tsarfan, you flatter me too much. Reeves' book on Akhenaten is one of my all-time favorites. I, too, have been a big Pharaohfan since childhood. I wish I'd studied archaeology in college, there are so many great advances going on in that field right now. But truth be told, I always sucked big time at science. Some things are just not meant to be. *Sigh.*
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Ortino

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #39 on: May 02, 2005, 03:33:25 PM »
This is a question with multiple answers, but I have come to the conclusion that while he is to blame, he is also not at fault to some extent.

Not his fault:

1. Alexander III's death-He was only 49 when he died, hardly old. The family, including Nicholas, had expected for him to reign for much longer.
2. The already present revolutionary atmosphere building in Russia- Revolutionary attitudes were already present in the country when Nicholas began his reign.
3. Nicholas' lack of training- Nicholas' became czar with virtually no skill or training in the art of diplomacy or running a country. No one bothered to educate him in these matters. He was trained as a soldier.

In the middle:
1. Weak character-Nicholas was always weak and dominated by other people, including his own uncles. He was obviously not ruler material.
2. He tried too hard to please both his mother and wife and too often submitted to both their wills.

His fault:

1. Bad character judgment- Nicholas had terrible character judgment in terms of those working in his government. He removed people that should have remained there and replaced them with inept people.
2. Alexandra's influence- Nicholas placed too much faith in Alexandra and her ability to make correct decisions. He virtually let her run the monarchy.
3. WWI & the Russo-Japanese War- Nicholas' refused to admit and acknowledge in both these war that Russia could not win and therefore allowed them to carry on with disasterous consequences. He attempts to lead the army also were a horrible move on his part.
4. Rasputin- Nicholas made very few attempts to remove Rasputin's influence on the Czarina or the monarchy even though he had some understanding of the damage he was doing to the monarchy and the constant advisement from his family and advisors to have him removed. And even when he was sent away, he always came back.
5. The Closing of the Duma- The lack of authority the Duma possessed and its closing by Nicholas caused much resentment towards him.


« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Ortino »

Offline RichC

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #40 on: May 02, 2005, 06:52:58 PM »
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4. Rasputin- Nicholas made very few attempts to remove Rasputin's influence on the Czarina or the monarchy even though he had some understanding of the damage he was doing to the monarchy and the constant advisement from his family and advisors to have him removed. And even when he was sent away, he always came back.


I always thought this was one of Nicholas' biggest mistakes because he himself was intelligent enough to have realized the damage the Rasputin scandal was doing.  You can't excuse it due to a lack of education, the mistakes of his ancestors, the fabled Russian bureaucracy, Lenin and the revolutionaries, the peasants, the Kaiser, the geo-political climate or anything else.  Of all Nicholas' errors, this one bothers me the most.  


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5. The Closing of the Duma- The lack of authority the Duma possessed and its closing by Nicholas caused much resentment towards him.




But Pipes (along with Witte, Izvolsky, etc.) say that giving the Duma too much authority right off the bat would have been a mistake because its members were too inexperienced to have had much of a positive impact on governing Russia.  The best thing would have been to have given the Duma more authority gradually as it developed and matured.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by RichC »

Offline Ortino

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #41 on: May 04, 2005, 04:08:52 PM »
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But Pipes (along with Witte, Izvolsky, etc.) say that giving the Duma too much authority right off the bat would have been a mistake because its members were too inexperienced to have had much of a positive impact on governing Russia.  The best thing would have been to have given the Duma more authority gradually as it developed and matured.


  While that may be true, the entire point of the Duma was to give the people some authority and say  in the government. Nicholas intensely disliked the idea of the Duma because it competed with his power and therefore gave it a very limited role.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Ortino »

Offline etonexile

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #42 on: May 04, 2005, 05:37:56 PM »
I think a problem is that one is dealing with a man who in his honest,straight-forward way felt that he had recieved "GOD-GIVEN" autocratic powers...It would have taken some shrewd,political manuvering by those around the Czar to help him to see that such ideas did not belong or work well in the 20th Century...
Alix should have been a perfect conduit for such information...with her British connections....but she seems to have gone rather bonkers...
the strain of her position....the health of her son...who knows?

Offline Ming

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #43 on: May 05, 2005, 12:46:26 PM »
Great discussion!

It's fairly easy to place fault or blame...N2 SHOULD have been better prepared for his future role (I wonder why it is that the present rulers of countries are always reluctant to train and educate their heirs in matters of State...even Queen Victoria was reluctant to let her heir, Albert, in on the "business" side of things.  Same seems true for the current queen...she, too, seems to show a bit of reluctance to give her son any real, meaningful work, etc.  I wonder why that is.  Is it a sense of denial, that old "I'll never die" feeling, or that there will always be time, etc., or, could there be a true sense of jealousy towards one's own heir?

I don't know. It's true that Alix pounded the idea of autocracy into her husband's head...you know how mothers can be when they're dealing with their children's futures!!  But he was responsible, too, in that he seemed to hear only what he wanted to hear and refused to listen to--or to believe--any kind of critism or "bad" news.  Although it is difficult to change the whole form of a government (witness current Iraq), I think it was pretty obvious that Nicholas was not ready to give ground on almost any level...largely because of his listening to his wife's plea for the legacy of their son.

Yes, this is an interesting discussion, and we probably won't come to any real solutions.  But I do think it's good for us to try to understand what happened and why it happened.  Reasons, versus blame.  After all, you know what they say about history...if we don't learn from it we're bound to repeat it.

A question I've always thought about is: were the revolution, the abdication and the assassinations of the imperial family inevitable?

Could any one thing or person REALLY have stopped what had already been in motion for years?

One more question:  As sad as we feel about what happened to the Romaov family, shouldn't we also feel sad about the way everyone else was living in Russia at that time?  I don't mean the aristrocrats...I mean the majority of the population.  Overworked, undereducated, starving, with no hope that things would ever get any better.

Yes, I feel terribly, terribly sorry for the violent and brutal end of the Romanov family.

But I also realize that, while they were alive, they lived very, very, very well.  Far better than most of us can even imagine. And I'm happy for them about that.  I'm sorry they had to suffer so later, but in the meantime they lived in beautiful palaces, were waited on constantly, wore beautiful clothing and jewelry, etc.  So, speaking from a purely materialistic point of view, they had pretty good lives, although much too short.  And NO ONE deserved the kind of treatment they received in the end!

However, the majority of the Russian population never even came close to that kind of lifestyle...and in fact led very, very difficult lives, with no hope of finding ways to better themselves.

Now, I know there are always exceptions to what I've said...but I'm just speaking in generalities.

Actually, I'm sad for all of Russia.  I feel the people have had a long, difficult struggle, and I commend them greatly for all they have accomplished under difficult leadership.  I would love to someday visit Russia and drink in the beauty of the architecture and art and music, etc.

But what I would love most dearly is to get to know Russia's people.  I have so much to learn from them.  This forum is as close as I'll ever get, I think.  But I'm so grateful for the opportunity given here to learn more and think more about this fascinating country and its colorful history.  Many thanks!

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Nicholas II was Unprepared to Rule. Why?
« Reply #44 on: May 07, 2005, 02:38:30 PM »
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A question I've always thought about is: were the revolution, the abdication and the assassinations of the imperial family inevitable?

Could any one thing or person REALLY have stopped what had already been in motion for years?


This is one reason why I started this thread. I, too, wonder about this question. When I was in graduate school I got very tired of listening to people run down Nicholas II, as if he alone were responsible for Russia's fate, as if a different ruler could have prevented the revolution in the long run (once Russia entered WWI - and to what extent was that preventable? - the revolution was inevitable, IMO).

I could understand some of the bitterness, at least on the part of Russian intellectuals, many of whom had lost family members during the Bolshevik and Stalinist terrors. But at the same time it's difficult to see how any revolution, no matter how or when it came, could have worked out in a way we would recognize as democratically productive here in the West, given Russia's vast peasant population and tiny middle class. Once things started coming apart in March 1917, they unravelled very quickly, and the revolution in the cities became a revolution on the land. So I suppose I have to wonder, to what extent did the Russians themselves bear a responsibility for the form the revolution eventually took? (I don't mean Russians today. I don't believe in generational guilt.) I am referring to the Russians living in 1917 who made a conscious choice whether or not to contribute to the growing anarchy by taking the law (and the land) into their own hands. How can we ascribe all the responsibility for Russia's fate to the tsars, when other elements of society played crucial roles: the intelligentsia, the peasantry, the working class.

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One more question:  As sad as we feel about what happened to the Romaov family, shouldn't we also feel sad about the way everyone else was living in Russia at that time?  I don't mean the aristrocrats...I mean the majority of the population.  Overworked, undereducated, starving, with no hope that things would ever get any better.


I think that most people in most countries, even in the West, did not lead comfortable lives by any measure in the early decades of the 1900s. (Remember there was no such thing as social security or medicare even in the United States at this time.) Yes, the situation was worse in Russia, but it was better in Russia than it was in say, India or China. It's important to keep these things in perspective. Russia at the turn of the twentieth century showed a great deal of promise. There was increasing literacy and social mobility, a middle class that was growing slowly but surely. One of the most bitter things about the Revolution was that it did very little in the end to improve the average Russian person's life. True, there are arguments among historians on this issue, but my impression from memoirs of the 1930s in particular is that working and living conditions for factory workers, for example, did not get better but in many cases actually worsened. Combine this with a totalitarian government that did not prevent any form of protest and you get a misery more profound, IMO, than that suffered by most people under the tsars. I think that is another reason why people sometimes express nostalgia for imperial Russia. It is not insensitivity to the suffering of the peasantry and working class but the knowledge that what was to come was to be in many ways unimaginably worse.  
... I love my poor earth
because I have seen no other

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