Author Topic: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?  (Read 92028 times)

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Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #45 on: March 09, 2008, 10:23:23 PM »
If you are helping a farmer who has always used a hand sickle to harvest his crops, then sending him an International Harvester would do him no good not unless he would now have access to a mechanic and a gas station and a tire shop and a parts department.  And then would he know what to do with these things if he had them?  Would he know the difference between air cooled and antifreeze?  Would he even know what they were for and what effects one or the other would have on the equipment?

Even something as simple as a regular toilet seat was misunderstood when sent to those who had never used one.  They used the flat cover part for a cutting board and the round seat part with the nice round hole in the middle for a picture frame. (Not in Russia, but in another part of the world.)

I don't mean to be argumentative, but I don't see how the peasants' illiteracy can be used as an argument in Nicholas' favor. Yes, it is true that most peasants were illiterate. You are also correct that Nicholas simply sending "all kinds of life improving materials" would not have immediately improved their lives. Had such machinery been sent to them most peasants would not have initially known how to utilize it.  I'm convinced however, that they could have been trained to use it. They were trained to do so after the Revolution, and there is no reason to believe that, had the effort been made to train them, that they could not have learned before 1917.

Nicholas as the Tsar was ultimately responsible for domestic policy (including educational policy), and the fact remains, a serious attempt was never made by Nicholas’ government to train or educate the majority of his own people. There were individual reformers who attempted to improve Russia's educational system (or lack thereof where the peasants were concerned), but Nicholas had nothing to do with their work.

The real question is why didn’t they make such an attempt? Creating a comprehensive educational program would have been difficult, certainly, but not impossible.

Offline pandora

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #46 on: March 10, 2008, 05:40:35 PM »
Exactly what I've been thinking, Nadya - and I've enjoyed your posts very much.

Education is a powerful tool. The upper echelons of society may have felt threatened with the thought of educating the masses. What better method to attempt to control them?

Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #47 on: March 10, 2008, 08:23:44 PM »
Exactly what I've been thinking, Nadya - and I've enjoyed your posts very much.

Education is a powerful tool. The upper echelons of society may have felt threatened with the thought of educating the masses. What better method to attempt to control them?

Thank you. :)

Yes, I think many did feel threatened. The 1905 Revolution can only have increased that fear. Many estates were burned to the ground in 1905 by outraged mobs. The idea of the peasants gaining any real power would have been anathema to most aristocrats (there were exceptions like Prince Kropotkin, of course). I think their resistance and fear was probably rooted in the paternalistic and condescending way which most aristocrats, and even Nicholas himself, viewed the peasants. In their memoirs, I was struck by the way some idolized the peasants, their pastoral image of them. It was apparent that most had little or no knowledge of the peasants’ everyday existence. They seemed to consider the peasants eternal children, naturally simple-minded, and unable to truly benefit from an education. This is absurd, of course, and doesn’t take into account the example of men like Maxim Gorky. His father was a shipping agent. They weren’t peasants precisely, but not far from it. His grandfather forced him to leave school at the age of eight and apprenticed him to a tradesman (a cobbler).  By the age of ten he was an orphan. He ran away from home at twelve. He managed to educate himself and despite what they would have considered his “low birth” he was in his own way far more perceptive than most of the Russian aristocrats.  Feodor Chaliapin, the great Russian opera singer, was born into a peasant family. Like Gorky, he was largely self-taught. Who knows how many peasants had the untapped potential to become great scientists, physicians, academics, musicians, painters, etc., if only they had received an education.

Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #48 on: March 21, 2008, 09:53:21 PM »
Here is an excellent example of why some during his lifetime may have criticized Nicholas. I think it demonstrates far better than I could why at least, certain individuals criticized (and continue to criticize) him. It is an excerpt from the autobiography of Andrew D. White, who served as the US Minister (Ambassador) to Russia between 1892 and 1894. It describes a conversation he had with Nicholas about the famine in Russia. It was published in 1905 so it is copyright free.

(Page 9)

"At a later period I was presented to the heir to the throne, now the Emperor Nicholas II. He seemed a kindly young man; but one of his remarks amazed and disappointed me. During the previous year the famine, which had become chronic in large parts of Russia, had taken an acute form, and in its trains had come typhus and cholera...

From the United States had come large contributions of money and grain; and as, during the years after my arrival, there had been a recurrence of the famine, about forty thousand rubles more had been sent me from Philadelphia for distribution. I therefore spoke on the general subject to him, referring to the fact that he was president of the Imperial Relief Commission. He answered that since the crops of the last year there was no longer any suffering; that there was no famine worthy of mention; and that he was no longer giving any attention to the subject. This was said in an off-hand, easy-going way which appalled me.

The simple fact was that the famine, though not so widespread, was more trying than the year before...(The peasants) had during the previous winter, very generally eaten their draught animals and burned everything not absolutely necessary for their own shelter; from Finland specimens of bread made largely from ferns had been brought to me which it would be a shame to give to horses or cattle; and yet His Imperial Highness, the heir to the throne, evidently knew nothing of all this..."


Offline Belochka

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #49 on: March 21, 2008, 10:17:14 PM »
Here is an excellent example of why some during his lifetime may have criticized Nicholas. I think it demonstrates far better than I could why at least, certain individuals criticized (and continue to criticize) him. It is an excerpt from the autobiography of Andrew D. White, who served as the US Minister (Ambassador) to Russia between 1892 and 1894. It describes a conversation he had with Nicholas about the famine in Russia. It was published in 1905 so it is copyright free.

"... and yet His Imperial Highness, the heir to the throne, evidently knew nothing of all this..."

Perhaps the Ambassador should have considered the possibility that not all of Nikolai II's advisors and ministers were up to the task to keep their sovereign fully informed?

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Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #50 on: March 22, 2008, 05:08:22 AM »
Yes, but the accusation that Nicholas seemed to face most often (in the books that I have read at least), was that he was oblivious to his people’s suffering, being too far removed from them to understand their lives. I believe that this serves as one example of how that accusation is, to an extent, very true. After all, how far removed must Nicholas have been from his own people to be totally unaware of a famine that was still ravaging Russia and Finland?

The descriptions aide workers gave were heart-wrenching. These poor people were living not just off fern-bread, but eating bread made of pitch and tree bark. The Famine didn’t just last from 1891-1892; there were famines of varying severity off and on until at least 1897. The conditions were truly horrific. Meanwhile Nicholas, the president of the Imperial Famine Relief Commission, felt the subject wasn’t “worthy of mention.”

I’m sure the Ambassador did consider that Nicholas’ advisors hadn't informed him of his subject's (or rather his father's subjects) true condition. Mr. Smith was probably astonished that Nicholas did not take the initiative and make some effort to learn of his people’s condition on his own. For instance, he could have toured the famine regions to see for him self how the peasants were faring. Maybe Nicholas could not have alleviated their suffering, but it would have been an indication that he cared and was aware of it. He never bothered.

You must admit it is rather sad that a foreign ambassador was more fully aware of a famine in Nicholas' own country than Nicholas was. I don't believe he was a bad man, but I have no trouble understanding why other's found fault with Nicholas as a ruler.

Alexander III did not handle the famine well and the fault for that rests with him, not Nicholas. However, I find Nicholas' attitude, his obliviousness, telling. It simply reminds me of how he would behave later on - frequently failing to grasp the true nature and immediciacy of future crisis during his own reign.

Offline pandora

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #51 on: March 22, 2008, 09:55:26 AM »
Nadya - bingo, exactly what I've been thinking. Many of the same things you quoted, I've also read and wondered how he could be so blinded to the true situation going on in his country. My only answer to myself has been that he was so far removed from the common people that he really didn't know what was going on in Russia. While I don't blame him for being wealthy, I do think he lacked the initiative to think for himself.

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #52 on: March 22, 2008, 03:54:28 PM »
Nadya
        that was a most astute analysis backed up with supporting evidence.  I don't think anyone blames Nicholas for being wealthy.  Barabara Tuchman referred to Nicholas as the worst possible type of ruler, a weak autocrat, meaning that he jealously guarded his absolute power but was too weak to make consistent and wise decisions.  Comparing inherited wealth which was accrued due to autocratic rule of a country to high incomes that are earned in a democracy is not useful.  Whole groups such as the jews were denied the right to live where they liked in Russia and freedom of mobility either geographic or social was severely curbed.  Approximately 90% of the population was illiterate and it was the huge disparity in living standards between the Imperial family and the average Russian that was the basis of any animosity rather than mere wealth.  If you are going to skim off the cream of a country's wealth then you had better be a benevolent ruler, similar to those in Dubai. 
   I think that it is one thing to reflect on what a lovely family Nicholas had and to try to erase any culpability for any problems but the fact remains that if you refuse to share power with even a duma and if you appoint ministers and advisers then you are responsible for what they come up with in terms of governance and policy.  You simply cannot have it both ways. hagiography is rather nice and it is nice to fantasize about the lifestyle of the Tsar and his family but that lifestyle was financed at the cost of the standards of living of the vast majority of his subjects.

Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #53 on: March 23, 2008, 06:35:21 PM »
Thank you. You summed up the point I was trying to make so much better than I did. Nicholas had the opportunity to share both power and the resulting responsibility. He chose not to. He knew on some level that he was incapable of ruling well. For heaven sake! He wept when his father died because he knew it wouldn’t go well. Yet he fought tooth and nail every attempt to limit his power. As he was the Tsar, the only real power in the state, he bears the brunt of the responsibility for what occurred during his reign.

Anyone who doubts that horrible things occurred under his leadership can read a bit about the May Laws. They were instituted during his father’s reign, but remained in effect until at least 1912. Nicholas doesn’t appear to have been opposed to them in any way. The 1911-1913 Bellis Trial also serves as an example of what constituted justice during Nicholas’ reign. That Bellis was acquitted was nothing short of miraculous. This is a posting for a book being sold on the subject; the description of the book below gives a short, but decent description of the Bellis case. http://bookshop.blackwell.com/jsp/id/Bellis_Transcripts/9780876681794

Nicholas’ wealth in and of itself was not the reason he was criticized by most. His actions (and lack of action) caused the criticism. I think his great wealth merely served as a barb in the side of some critics. After all, when you have peasants starving, living off tree bark and your leader is oblivious to your suffering, and spends his time gallivanting from palace to palace, I can understand why they might have been a bit peeved.

"If you are going to skim off the cream of a country's wealth then you had better be a benevolent ruler, similar to those in Dubai." This is very well put. I'm not sure benevolence is the root cause of their generosity. A population that is well cared is far less likely to rebel or resent the extreme wealth of the ruling family. The rulers of Dubai, I'm sure, understand that. Sadly, Nicholas did not.

He did have a lovely family and they did not deserve to die the way that they did. That doesn’t change the fact that his reign was in nearly every sense a failure. 

Constantinople

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #54 on: March 24, 2008, 12:52:54 AM »
There is one other point which I haven't seen discussed too often and it is Nicholas' complete lack of foresight.  By this I mean the ability to anticipate consequences.  In 1905, Nicholas had the opportunity to convert his absolute monarchy into a constitutional one with and elected Duma.  I think that the refusal to do this was seen as an act of greed and the majority of the Russian people never forgave him for that.  I think that if Nicholas had done that then his legaqcy would have been judged entirely differently. He would not have been blamed for the war, or for the governance of the country.  If he had done that I feel sure that Russia would have been more like any of the Scandinav'an countries but much richer.  To sum up, none hates anyone for being rich.  what is hated are the consequence of character flaws that have a seriously negative impact on society.  When these character flaws are embodied in a dictatorship (even an inherited one)  the hate becomes more intense.

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #55 on: April 17, 2008, 02:15:51 AM »
I believe that the criticism of Nicholas being rich and wearing boots that cost more than a peasant family made in a lifetime and the criticism of his inability to give up on autocracy are to very different things.

Nicholas could not give up and become a constitutional monarch because he had a son to whom he wished to pass on the autocracy intact and a wife who would have sooner died than see Alexei get one shred less as an inheritance than his father or grandfather did.

On the other hand, Nicholas is constantly criticized for living a life style that very few could afford and spending his money in any way he saw fit.  (Those expensive boots again).

Nicholas could have spent, (not necessarily his own money) but the country's money more wisely.  He did try to get the other high ranking members of the IF to join him in selling personal and crown lands to the peasantry, but the other members of the IF would not hear of it.
But he would also have had to listen to his ministers and to let them do their jobs and in an autocracy that is not the way things are done.

So my argument is not that he was wrong for being rich, that was an accident of birth, but that he was wrong for not listening to the good advisers that he did have and finding more good advisers and then to lean on them for information and insight. (As in Stolypin)

However, with Alexei's inheritance and Alexandra's insistence that "Baby's" future should be protected intact, Nicholas ( that old wishy washy man) could do very little.

Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #56 on: April 17, 2008, 06:20:24 AM »
Nicholas could not give up and become a constitutional monarch because he had a son to whom he wished to pass on the autocracy intact and a wife who would have sooner died than see Alexei get one shred less as an inheritance than his father or grandfather did.

It wasn't that he couldn't do it, but rather that he wouldn't do it. He wasn't unable he was unwilling. There's a difference. I will agree, however, that Alexandra was completely against the idea of him giving an inch policy wise and would have protested any such decision VERY loudly. Her attitude is expressed well in these letters, I think.

Alexandra to Nicholas 17 June 1915
Never forget that you are and must remain autocratic Emperor – we are not ready for a constitutional government…

Alexandra to Nicholas – 25 June 1915
Russia, thank God, is not a constitutional country, tho’ those creatures try to play a part and meddle in affairs they dare not. Do not allow them to press upon you – it’s fright if one gives in and their heads will go up.

Alexandra to Nicholas – 14 December 1916
Be Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Emperor Paul – crush them all under you – now don’t laugh, naughty one. I really cannot understand. I am but a woman, but my soul and brain tell me it would be the saving of Russia…
Remember even M. Philippe said one dare not give (a) constitution, as it would be your and Russia’s ruin, and all true Russians say the same…
Sweetheart, Sunshine of my life, if in battle you had to meet the enemy, you would never waver and go forth like a lion – be it now in the battle against the small handful of brutes and republicans. Be the Master, and all will bow down to you. Do you think I fear, ah no…we have been placed by God on a throne and we must keep it firm and give it over to our son untouched – if you keep that in mind you will remember to be Sovereign – and how much easier for an autocratic sovereign than one who has sworn (to) the constitution…


I seem to remember another letter in which she implored him to let Russians feel “the whip” because they needed and were used to that, or some such nonsense.

I have never understood how the granddaughter of a constitutional monarch, who had witnessed a successful parliament in action, became so obsessed by autocracy and maintaining it. Her position strikes me as odd given her upbringing.

Constantinople

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #57 on: April 18, 2008, 10:46:09 AM »
Perhaps she wanted to be more Russian than the Russians.  The concept of not wanting to share is not usually seen as a positive virtue and none of the quotations posted above can shed a positive light on Alexandra's character.  To deprive the vast majority of Russians of a decent education, a decent standard of living and hope for improvement because her husband inherited an undemocratic institution does not warrant sympathy.  It is pathetic.  And to use the lie that Russia was not ready for it was also incorrect.  Every adviser that suggested that Russia wanted democratic reform was sacked by Nicholas on the advice of his wife.  And to suggest that the average family was living on far less than the cost of one pair of Nicholas' boots is an appropriate gauge of how unequal the distribution of Russia's wealth was.  This was not Nicholas' wealth but the wealth of all Russians.  It is too bad that the suffering had to be denied a normal evolutionary economic development like the neighbouring Scandinav'an countries due to this woman's obsession with absolute power.

Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #58 on: April 18, 2008, 03:30:22 PM »
Alexandra was an unusual and in many ways a very sad woman, despite her admirable devotion to her children. Many of her eccentricities and problems were undoubtedly the result of the strain Alexei’s illness caused, but even prior to his birth she was considered a difficult, intractable person. However, while her advice and stubborn nature were certainly harmful, she was not the only person to blame for what happened to Russia.

Nor was she the only Romanov who clung to autocracy. Many of the Romanovs, including Nicholas II, were equally opposed to democracy in any form, believing firmly in divine right. Nicholas would have resisted the creation of a Duma even if he had never laid eyes on Alexandra. I think the difference between them and Alexandra was that other members of the Romanov family (with notable exceptions) were not desperate and deceived by charlatans like M. Philippe and Rasputin. Also several of them began to see the writing on the wall (impending Revolution) as time passed. They were willing to make concessions if only to save their own skin, Alexandra was not.

During WWI Nicholas did occasionally write to Alexandra telling her, basically, not to meddle. It is unfortunate that he didn't have the courage to stand up to her firmly and listen to wiser souls.

To give you an idea of how other Romanovs felt about the Duma here are a few quotes:

GD Konstantin Konstantinovich "KR's" diary - 8 Oct 1905
Yesterday's Imperial manifesto arrived by telegraph: it guarantees freedom of speech, conscience and association; the right of election to the State Duma is extended to those not included under the manifesto of 6th August…This important news produced a painful impression. It's the end of Russian autocracy. These new freedoms are not an expression of the free will of the sovereign power, but rather concessions wrenched from this power.

KR's diary - 26 Oct 1905 - Tashkent
...My companions and I support the autocratic principle, and entertain the hope that, if a large number of peasant representatives are returned to the State Duma, then it may still be possible to return to the autocratic model, which undoubtedly has the support of our peasant masses. This would be quite unheard of in the history of counter-revolution, but one very much wants to believe it could happen.


GD Xenia's diary - 27 Apr 1906 - St. Petersburg
(Describing the opening of the Duma)
...Directly opposite us were the members of the Council of State and high officials, to the left the members of the Duma, who included several men with repulsive faces and insolent disdainful expressions! They neither crossed themselves nor bowed, but stood with their hands behind their backs or in their pockets, looking somberly at everyone and everything...Nicky was delighted that he would at last be able to sleep properly - last night he couldn't sleep - he kept lying there, waking every few minutes with feelings of sadness and melancholy in his heart!

KR’s diary - 5 May 1906
The Duma's answer to the throne is - filth. The Duma is a hearth of Revolution.


Offline DanlScott

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Re: Why do some see Nicholas as guilty for being rich?
« Reply #59 on: April 19, 2008, 12:04:30 AM »
I was reading through the thread and formulating my reply, when Nadya took the words right out off my mouth.  For anyone interested in more in-depth reading, In Wars Dark Shadow by W. Bruce Lincoln gives an excellent potrayal of life in Russia before WWI.  After reading it, one can understand how the common people grew resentful. 

I also want to add that i don't believe the claim that the tsar found himself broke before the end of each year due to all his expenditures.  If he did, there was always the state to pick up the slack.  He had the finest yacht in the world in the Standart, not to mention the yachts Polar Star and Alexandria.  He had two trains for his personal use.  There was no shortage of jewel encrusted Faberge picture frames, letter openers, miniatures, and cigarette cases to give away as presents and souvenirs.  Every year his wife and mother received their own Faberge egg.  The empress did not want for clothes or jewels.  Nicholas was able to build a new marble palace at Livadia.  He already had numerous, vast palaces and estates across his empire, along with smaller residences such as Spala.  This does not sound like the lifestyle of someone having trouble making ends meet.  I think this notion of money problems was first introduced by post-revolution apologists, whne their immense wealth became widely known and social awareness was more prevalent.