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Messages - JStorey

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1
Their life, when they were together, was idyllic, with numerous visitors and games of croquet."

Croquet with Kerensky - if I could travel back in time what a conversation that would be.

And Constantinople - yes good points all... 

Re: the Standart (I think Shtandart is a different, earlier ship) I don't know what happened to it but a very interesting question indeed.  The Bolshevik's overly-pragmatic transformations assigned to what they perceived as symbols of decadence, opulence, tyranny, etc. are a fascinating study in psychology.  And of course - in the midst of condemnation - the revolutionaries gave in to temptation too... One of the famous criticisms of Kerensky was that he began to sleep in the Tsar's bed in the Winter Palace, rode in the Tsar's limos, had his portrait done by Repin, etc.  He who wears the crown of King Dodon will fall into slumber.

2
I believe that I can say communists as a general blanket term.  they were all indoctrinated into Marx@s political philosophies and ideiologies.  Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were all shades of the same colour - Red

Well of course you can - I merely suggest that you shouldn't if you want to examine the period with any rigor.  Take your telling point, for instance:  red...  Well, why red?  (Drum roll, I shall tell you....)  Red was the color of the February revolution (later borrowed by the 'communists' as you call them) in homage to the French Revolution (their muse a shirt soiled in blood).  The February revolution was very much perceived as a long-awaited and logical extension of the French.  Red was in fact a connecting thread between French, American, and Russian revolutions - all far more interwoven then some might have us believe (and that, in the Russian/American case, subsequent historical tensions have distorted into a baffling and utterly false dichotomy). 

Only when you begin to understand how the actors thought in the context of the time and culture can we interpret their actions with clarity.  Generally the revolutionaries did not segregate notions of democracy, bill of rights, rights of man, etc. with Marxist ideology - they were all intertwined as philosophies empowering the oppressed common man.  Read Kerensky's speeches (as well as all the others) for a myriad of examples.  How could Kerensky serve as vice-chairman of the Soviet and head of the provisional government all at once, without a common thread of uniting principles between them?  (Of course this thread quickly unraveled when the stakes were raised, but that is neither here nor there to the point I am making)...  Similarly, why would Lenin be so roundly abused - literally shouted down by his colleagues - when he first sought support for what he later simply went out and did on his own?   

The alternative, anachronistic analysis, simply doesn't work:  we take our own mental paradigm of socialism, democracy, communism, etc. and project it backwards.  (How is the Russian revolution known today?  As the 'Communist revolution' of course - wrong)  How the actors behaved and why becomes incomprehensible because we make no attempt to understand how they thought.  The best we can do is invent all sorts of our own modern-day rubbish:  'if they had only stuck with so and so [Witte, Stolypin, insert name here] then x never would have happened' - or - 'if Kerensky had only abandoned the war, then y never would have happened' etc.

Well there's a few paragraphs that should foment some kind of lively discussion. 

3
I would label Kerensky as a social democratic socialist who was coopted by the communists.

Hmmm...  I'd say Kerensky "coopted" the 'communists' rather than the other way around. 

First of all you can't say communists.  You have to specify Bolshevik, Menshevik, etc.  There was widespread disagreement about what to do and who was in charge among the 'Communists' as you call them.  Lenin was initially laughed at and booed when he proposed the forceful takeover of power.  Kerensky spontaneously initiated the formation of the Petrograd Soviet in the opposite wing of the Tauride Palace following the 'Soviets' of Father Gapon's movement in 1905.  It was a very passionate, democratic expression that quickly went awry as the Soviet quickly chomped at the bit for power and butted heads with the provisional government.  Also as prominent figures returned to the political scene from exile.

4
I haven't been here for a long time - I'm sorry for the late reply.  I agree with everything that you wrote but I am not sure what you meant by Kerensky being 'hard Left'?

Is there another book on Kerensky?  I am sorry to learn that he was bitter but it was understandable.

Sure - by the way despite it being tedious I'd still read the Abraham bio... 

In terms of 'hard left' I suppose what I mean by that is just from the perspective of American politics (I'm American) the spectrum of 'liberal' and 'conservative' - even now in an ever-polarized climate - pales in comparison to the political spectrum existing in 1917 Russia.  In the American framework, Kerensky would fall off the chart into socialist obscurity, while in the Russian context he was deemed by the left as far too conservative and restrained in his decisions.  Rodzianko, who on the eve of revolution tried in vain to warn the Tsar of the desperate  situation in Petrograd, was a wild liberal from the point of view of the monarchy.  Dissolve the Duma!  Yet from the left Rodzianko was too conservative to even enter the conversation.  Similarly, the staunch monarchists and their politics would also push the American definition of conservative into new territory (some might argue over that one, but I wouldn't.)...   In other words, in today's world we don't quite realize just how polarized a political climate can really become. 

I find that amusing.  Well perhaps amusing isn't the word; I find it alarming too, because the emerging political patterns in America bear increasing resemblance to those of Russia before the revolution, albeit minus true economic collapse (a prerequisite for discord, it seems).  Increasing social stratification, growing political polarization, dissatisfaction with government, dissatisfaction with war, mild economic pressure, corruption/greed among vital elite institutions, etc.  To me - if we are to take anything from history - this all points to some kind of systemic internal conflict/fracture within the next 50 years or so, probably earlier.  In any case I digress...

Anyhow I did find the Stanford article, truly fascinating:

http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2001/janfeb/features/kerensky.html

5
Ouch! I almost freaked out at this, but then I realised you were probably winding me up...:-) !

Yes, of course!  The gender bias has always bothered me and here I fell into it myself.  What could I do but make a joke?  :)  Anyhow all good points...

6
King and Wilson please! :-) With two authors, both should share blame or credit.....and I think the general idea is that people draw their own conclusions; perhaps that's what so many of the critics on here (and I don't mean you) couldn't stomach.

But Janet, I am giving Wilson credit by attributing the more sensational elements of the book to King!  I'd much rather throw him under the bus.  In any case, if the general idea of FOTR is that people draw their own conclusions, then criticism, analysis, etc. of its contents should be welcome.

7
I look upon Slater's book as quite a different beast to most works on Nicholas II's death, because it is more an academic examination of the narratives and portrayals than an attempt to get to the bottom of what happened - though obviously she has a view.

She makes a straightforward summary of how the secrecy and criminal nature of the Tsar's execution gave rise to Romanov pretenders, martyrdom, romanticism, myth, etc.,  But then she takes this summary and projects it backwards, as if the actors then had some notion of what might happen now (Were that so then no one would have bothered with a revolution to begin with).  For instance she claims that Lenin would never have ordered the execution because he would have known this modern outcome, and further he would have cared!  It is, in my humble opine, a preposterous idea.

I bought Helen Rappaport's book because people spoke so highly of the way she evoked the atmosphere in the Ipatiev House, and was just porrfing my own novel on Alexandra and wanted to compare. I'd certainly had no intention of buying any more Romanov murder books - but it was truly excellent; it flows very well and I read it one sitting.

I was equally skeptical, particularly by the title which seemed rather cheeky.  I really liked it. 

With that in mind I'm going to stay on topic by recommending three titles for new readers interested in the details of the execution and final days in Ekaterinburg:

1.  Last Days of the Romanovs - Wilson 1920. 
The circumstances of an execution on the eve of losing a city to the whites makes Wilson's book a fascinating - albeit heavily and sometimes alarmingly biased - account.  The reason I recommend it is because the testimony within (particularly that by my favorite fellow Iakimov) is so frequently manipulated (err, I mean cited) by contemporary writers.  So it helps to read it on your own, and then dive into the other accounts.  It gives you a leg up, so to speak, without having to investigate every primary source (though that helps too!).

2.  Fate of the Romanovs - King & Wilson
Yes, controversial.  I am not a fan; I make no attempt to disguise that.  Nevertheless it is thorough and meticulously referenced.  Cull through the more sensational conclusions (hint - where King falls into persuasion, read very critically) and draw your own.

3.  Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg - Helen Rappaport
Provides balance to #2, a mildly different perspective, and generally well written account.  No citations, but sources are essentially the same. 

From these three sources alone you will receive a well-rounded enough picture, or enough at least - for most of us on this board - to whet the appetite!

8
Helen Rappaport's book was excellent; one I'd highly recommend, particularly to balance out the perspectives surrounding the final days of the Romanovs.  And her writing approach is less "over-the-top" as they say. 

(Slater's I was far less impressed by - her conclusion an anachronistic projection related more to the present than the past).

9
I can't remember if we've discussed this point before, but I certainly don't think that there was any intention to create the idea that ERmakov was exclusively responsible and that with him gone the deed would not have taken place. Rather the reverse, in fact - the introductory section of the book, which harps a lot on Nicholas's misdeeds as Tsar, was intended specifically to attack the idea of a saintly Tsar destroyed by an aberrant evil and instead depict him as he would have seemed to contemporaries who were his subjects - as well as of course to others who saw him through the medium of the foreign press. Evil begets evil, and in that situation some very ordinary individuals found themselves able to commit a murder which otherwise revolted them, because they believed they were serving a bigger good. Ermakov emerges as the one person who took a pleasure in it, as there will always be people who enjoy bloodshed for its own sake, but he certainly did not act alone.

As to learning lessons from history - I don't know what lesson the murder of nicholas II can teach, beyond the very fact that it was part of an endless cycle of violence and not - as historians such as Pipes have argued - the beginning of it. Do people ever really learn anything from history, I wonder?

All good points.  Besides I think I've criticized FOTR enough anyhow...  It was certainly important to dispel what I call the "Massie monarchist" mythology, and this book was one of the first to portray a more well-rounded view of the Imperial Family, which personally I find makes them all the more human. 

Janet your posts are always quite balanced and judicial - well-reasoned and thoughtful too; thank you!

10
Thanks, I appreciate it and I will!!!  Haven't been on the forum for a while but back in the swing.

11
As I have (probably!) pointed out here before, the murder chapter of FOTR was one of the chapters most extensively reworked after submission - at publisher request - for the sake of providing a dramatic narrative structure deemed for a mainstream audience. The manuscript original was quite different in its treatment of the varied evidence. I don't know what "dubious theories" you suppose are being promoted in this narrative, but I can tell you that Greg was somewhat concerned that the flow of it would detract from its plausibility. Every point in it, though, is supported by the evidence, whether or not one considers these embellished and boastful accounts of the murderers themselves to be plausible.

But, again, thank you for your balance in recommending the book.

Hi Janet - Yes, well his concern was prescient.  As we've discussed before I make no mystery of my ambivalence for their book, but do so knowing that whenever I bring it up here it hopefully helps sell a few copies for them.  And indeed they very much deserve balance because FOTR is a well-researched and meticulously referenced work.  Invaluable.

I might describe the approach of "providing a dramatic narrative structure deemed for a mainstream audience" - one that "shatters the mythology surrounding the murder" etc. - as the book's (sensational) fatal flaw, but I won't get into that in this thread.

Regarding dubious theories, I'll stick for the purposes of this conversation to those specific to the execution (but I could list quite a few).  Aside from the potpourri of assembled testimony, I specifically dislike the manner in which Ermakov is portrayed - as a sort of drunken, bloodthirsty beast doing all the dirty work - in contrast to Yurovsky who does noble things like check pulses and intervenes when Ermakov goes mad.  Yurovsky takes the higher road while Ermakov is the guilty man, all while the "loyal soldiers" outside vomit in abhorrence (along with the reader).

Now why does this bother me (aside from the fact that it simply isn't accurate)?

It is not to say Ermakov that wasn't a drunken beast; his name did not emerge from the ether.  But the effect of such a dramatized and distorted portrayal is ultimately to dehumanize an act that was filled with very culpable human characters, not animals.  When we create a demonic caricature of evil, we ultimately pardon ourselves from the crime and thus can learn nothing from it.  Solzhenitsyn's famous quote comes to mind: 

"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

In short, "shattering a mythology" by creating a new (and dramatic!) mythology most certainly warrants criticism.

12
No offense, but this sort of tangential meandering is precisely why I rarely post.  Omit the expression Occam's Razor if it so troubles you

13
Is there an interesting bio of Kerensky?  I'm not keen on reading a tedious one!

historylover, I know only one book published in English about him
"Kerensky: First Love of the Revolution"(1987), by R. Abraham. Excellent book. Totall autobiography.

Um, having read the book in its entirety, it is the very definition of tedious.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, though there is much gained in terms of dispelling some of the silly myths surrounding Kerensky.

He is a fascinating character.  From the very same town as the Lenin brother's; Kerensky's father actually wrote a letter of recommendation for Lenin.  My memory is rusty but I think Kerensky watched the carriage of Lenin's brother Alexander when it passed through town for his execution.  Very ironic.  Another interesting childhood event regarding Kerensky is that he constructed a wreath and actually wept upon the death of Alexander III.  He had very much internalized the Tsar/Father ideal; it quite shaped his decision making once he was in power. 

From the point of view of politics, Kerensky spent far too much time at the Alexander Palace.  After determining that most of the vile rumors circulating throughout the Tauride Palace (and in Petrograd generally) were untrue - many of which he himself had helped perpetuate - he became the Romanov's protectorate.  He truly shielded them from harm.  Sending them to Tobolsk was probably the safest place they could go.  He certainly did his best to send them to England...

The analogy that I most often used for Kerensky is this:  he alone had the audacity to try and reign in the various and disparate political interests in Russia, pointing them in a singular direction.  In this regard he failed miserably (reconciling a Provisional Government with a Soviet wasn't going to happen, to say nothing of reconciling the emerging Reds and Whites)... In short he was destined - the moment he took hold of the reigns - to be drawn and quartered.  Each horse was off running in a radically different direction.  Kornilov on one side, Lenin on the other...  The conservatives already riled by their loss of power, ready to reclaim it; the soviet (which Kerensky himself served on) chomping at the bit for more power...  Hardly the time for a conciliatory voice.

Kerensky was much more a disciple of the French revolution than a true socialist (although his true leanings were to the hard left).  He wanted a bill of rights, democracy, constituent assembly, etc.  Kerensky is certainly the character that connects the French, American, and Russian revolutions together.  They were, in some respects, not terribly different from one another in spirit.  Remember I am speaking of the February revolution here (so don't hit 'post' with a scathing diatribe too quickly)...

I think in the end he simply became overwhelmed.  He was a great orator, a passionate fellow, but not a true leader.  I hate to say it but in times of trouble true leaders seek power ruthlessly.  They are not interested in compromise or debate or ideals.  With Kerensky at the helm, power was for the taking.  If not Lenin, Kornilov would have surely grabbed it... 

He ended up a somewhat bitter professor at Stanford, from what I understand.  I read that he was a tough prof...  Very ironic that he was driven away in an American car - a Peirce Arrow!  It is said that his aid - in a desperate search for an escape vehicle - knocked upon the door of the Nabokov residence.  Their son would of course later become well known in circles of both lepidoptery and literature.  And they wisely declined to loan a car...   

The one thing Abraham's book does convey well is that Kerensky was indeed the singular divining rod of revolutionary passion in the spontaneous moment of the February revolution.  The choices he made were those of life and death.  He had to deal with with the prospect of his actions judged as either treason or justice, depending upon the outcome of the revolution, which was far from certain.  He took a great risk and owned the moment, and for that (despite where you stand regarding the Romanovs) he really should be recognized and - in some sense - celebrated. 

14
Back to the original question, I have always been struck by the dramatic change in demeanor that overcame the family in their final week of captivity, punctuated by the observations of the priest who performed the last service for them.  I believe that the interruption in the Tsar's diaries, Dr. Botkin's final letter, as well as the sharp shift in the families' overall affect, indicates they - in the last week of captivity - had a very strong impression they were not going to make it. 

Remember that the window was allowed to be left open at night in their final days.  I have suspected they overheard the guards talking, or that they overheard conversation drifting from the Commandant's room (merely a window over).  Or perhaps they were simply overcome by the demonstrations across the street.  Maybe the story of young Sedniv being taken away just didn't quite add up...  In any case, there was a distinct change in their disposition that leads me to believe they had some idea of their doomed fate.

However, despite this dramatic change in spirit, I don't believe they had any idea they were going to be shot in the cellar.  In their wildest dreams they did not imagine their captors could shoot them all in cold blood.  Therefore it is reasonable to assume that while in the final week they were very despondent over their general fate (possibly triggered by overhearing something), they were certainly taken by surprise in the final, gruesome act.

15
I've been reading many of the accounts and it's very frustrating that many of them differ so. In any case, one almost has to pick and choose what and who to believe.

Even Yurovsky contradicts himself between his two accounts! Is there any one account by any witness that is thought to be the most reliable? If so, can someone post it in it's entirety? Or, can anyone summarize the event in detail for me here, in a way that combines many accounts to become the most accurate/accepted one?

The most thorough account is provided in King and Wilson's Fate of the Romanovs.  What you must do (if you want to gain as comprehensive an understanding of the event as one can from the testimony) is read the source material of each reference, then draw your own conclusions.  The advantage of the source material is that it is relatively thin - there really isn't much of it - and it is also relatively (in terms of history) recent.

Unfortunately the account by King and Wilson simply takes all the varying testimony, throws it in a blender, and spits out what I consider a wildly embellished fable. 

To illustrate what I mean, King and Wilson infer that after hearing the order Nicholas II said "Lord, oh my God!  Oh, my God, what is this?  Oh, my God, no!"  Then turned back to Yurovsky and said, "I can't understand you.  Read it again, please."  Yurovsky somehow finds the time to read it again, to which Nicholas responds, "What? What?"  and Yurovsky says, "This!" and starts shooting. 

That seems utterly absurd to me - a very drawn out dramatization of what was surely less orchestrated.  And of course when we look at the original material, each quote comes from a different source; therefore we can conclude that these are different accounts of what was likely the same pithy utterance.   Nicholas probably had a moment to say "What?  What?" (if that) and the shooting started.  It does not seem plausible to me that Yurovsky read the order twice, nor that Nicholas launched into soliloquy.  In any case, King and Wilson take each account and add it like sliding a bead of an abacus until they have a rather hefty sum suitable for both drama and their [dubious] theories.

In fairness, however, I do recommend the King and Wilson account because they very meticulously list each source and allow the curious independent sleuth to discover the history on their own.  It is also, as I mentioned, the most thorough and comprehensive (if you can ignore the embellishment to the point of travesty) account.

In some respects it really doesn't matter.  They were brutally murdered.  Period. 

But for those of us who are fascinated with this family and those that remained loyal to them to the very end, precisely how the events unfolded really does matter.  My suggestion is to read the source material and use common sense; Occam's razor most certainly applies here.  Do not allow yourself to become enthralled by bizarre scenarios, but remain rigorous in your analysis of the details which, more often than not, hold the most salient clues.

Good luck!

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