Author Topic: Exhibition by Russia's Federal Archives to challenge conventional views of 1917  (Read 2375 times)

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Offline Dominic_Albanese

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http://context.themoscowtimes.com/print.php?aid=180045

A new exhibition by Russia's Federal Archives aims to challenge conventional views on the events of 1917.

By Anna Malpas
Published: October 5, 2007

A letter written in English by Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna to her husband, Nicholas II, gives her impressions of the violent demonstrations in Petrograd. "The rows in town and strikes are more than provoking," she complains. "It's a hooligan movement [she writes the word hooligan in Russian], young girls and boys running about screaming that they have no bread ... Then the workmen preventing others from work -- if it were very cold, they would probably stay in their homes."

This letter, written on Feb. 25, 1917, in the midst of events that would soon lead to Nicholas II's abdication, is now on display at the Exhibition Hall of the Federal Archives, which is marking -- but hardly celebrating -- the 90th anniversary of the 1917 Revolution by allowing the public to view scribbled caricatures of Lenin, a heartfelt diary entry from Nicholas II and other documents that build up an unusually ambiguous and multi-layered picture of the revolutionary year.

The exhibition, titled "1917: Myths of Revolution," opened last Friday at the exhibition hall next to the enormous State Archive, housed in a gray building decorated with sculptures of revolutionary figures. The display stands are set up in a claustrophobic zigzag, with the "myths" -- often quotes from one-sided historical sources, such as the Short Course of the History of the All-Union Communist Party of 1938 -- pasted up on red banners.

The first document on display, written in elegant black cursive, is Grand Prince Mikhail Alexandrovich's statement that he would not take the throne offered by his brother Nicholas II on March 2, after he abdicated on the advice of the generals in charge of the Russian forces. This choice of a starting point is no coincidence, the director of the State Archive, Sergei Mironenko, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

"Everyone overlooks the fact that the monarchy fell because Mikhail didn't take the throne. We started with this document because it gives a very interesting impetus," Mironenko said. As surrounding documents tell the story, Nicholas II's military leaders sent telegrams from the World War I front advising the unpopular ruler to abdicate in favor of his sickly son, Alexei, with Mikhail Alexandrovich acting as regent. But when Nicholas II cut out his son on medical advice, this resulted in an abrupt end of the monarchy that they had spent their careers serving.

The myth tackled here, one that clearly did not originate in the Short Course of 1938, is a popular belief that "the monarchy fell because of the treachery of the generals," Mironenko said, and "that otherwise the monarchy would not have fallen in Russia."

"I want to say that myths have a very strong life force," Mironenko said, listing such unofficial favorites as that the 1917 revolution was bankrolled by Masons, Jews or Germans -- take your pick. "It's another matter that the Soviet ideology led to a very politicized type of mythmaking."
 
The exhibition quotes such dubious historical facts as the Short Course's statement that the Avrora battleship attacked Petrograd's Winter Palace "with the thunder of its cannons," while in fact only one shot was fired. A photograph shows the resulting damage -- a lampshade hangs askew in a room of the palace next to a hole in the wall, but a china knicknack stands intact on a nearby table.

The process of mythmaking is shown visually in the juxtaposition of two paintings by Konstantin Yuon, showing Lenin speaking at the Extraordinary Session of the Petrograd Soviet on Oct. 25, 1917, when he made his first public appearance after fleeing the city in July. One was painted in 1927 and shows a less polished-looking Lenin with Lev Kamenev, Alexei Rykov and Leon Trotsky in close attendance. A new version, from 1935, shows Lenin attended by Vyacheslav Molotov and Stalin, with the disgraced Bolsheviks erased from the scene.

In the revised version, the crowd changes as well as the political leaders, Mironenko pointed out. "In the first picture, there are Jews, Russians, soldiers, ... In the second picture, they are already a single nucleus, there is almost no difference between their faces."

Gathered for the first time in a large exhibition are drawings by Yury Artsybushev, an artist who sat in on meetings of political parties -- not only of the Bolsheviks -- and drew wicked but lifelike sketches of the prominent speakers. Lenin looks wily and disheveled, a far cry from his later canonic depiction. But the most interesting aspect of the drawings, Mironenko said, is that one figure doesn't appear in any of them -- Stalin -- indicating his minor role in the revolutionary events, which later would be grossly inflated.

Continues…

Offline Annie

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"Everyone overlooks the fact that the monarchy fell because Mikhail didn't take the throne. We started with this document because it gives a very interesting impetus," Mironenko said. As surrounding documents tell the story, Nicholas II's military leaders sent telegrams from the World War I front advising the unpopular ruler to abdicate in favor of his sickly son, Alexei, with Mikhail Alexandrovich acting as regent. But when Nicholas II cut out his son on medical advice, this resulted in an abrupt end of the monarchy that they had spent their careers serving.

It's another sad irony that Michael turned down the throne because the new gov't could not guarantee him his life and safety. He ended up being murdered anyway. What would have happened if he had given it a try?

Offline dmitri

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Maybe if things had gone wrong he might have been able to escape like Kerensky. 

Offline Annie

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That's right, anything is better than what happened.

Offline LisaDavidson

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"Everyone overlooks the fact that the monarchy fell because Mikhail didn't take the throne. We started with this document because it gives a very interesting impetus," Mironenko said. As surrounding documents tell the story, Nicholas II's military leaders sent telegrams from the World War I front advising the unpopular ruler to abdicate in favor of his sickly son, Alexei, with Mikhail Alexandrovich acting as regent. But when Nicholas II cut out his son on medical advice, this resulted in an abrupt end of the monarchy that they had spent their careers serving.

It's another sad irony that Michael turned down the throne because the new gov't could not guarantee him his life and safety. He ended up being murdered anyway. What would have happened if he had given it a try?

And this is yet another myth, that Michael "turned down the throne because the new government couldn't guarantee his life and safety". If anyone has read my biographical sketch of Michael on this site, the ridiculousness of this statement is explained in detail.

The reason Michael could not "give it a try" is that there was zero support for the Romanov dynasty when Nicholas finally abdicated. He and Alexandra stubbornly refused to grant any real reforms for many years. With that, the war, and Rasputin, the dynasty was not respected at all by the time riots started in Petrograd. It was in this context that Nicholas abdicated the throne.

There is zero evidence that he was scared, or gave up, or any of the other theories posted on this thread. His government simply imploded. He was unable to govern, unable to restore order in the capital, even by threat of violence, and unable to command the Duma. None of this is about being scared, or resigned, or indecisive. His government simply stopped working.

Now, had the monarchy not been in such bad repute, it might have been possible for Alexei to reign with Michael as regent. Michael did come to the capital after the abdication, and he met with various government officials to assess the situation. His evenbeing there in the midst of all the rioting was of and in itself brave, although no one ever mentions this. It immediately was apparent that there was little or no support for him to rule.

This is drastically different than him displaying personal cowardice as exemplified by Kerensky's statement that he was looking for a guarantee for his life and safety. Michael was a decorated war hero. He was no coward. He was also not so naive as to expect that anyone would guarantee his life or safety. However, Kerensky got away with this outrageous statement because Michael was murdered and Kerensky survived.

Offline dmitri

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Michael did leave the door open if the constituent assembly had wanted him as Tsar. That never occurred. Of course it would have been extremely difficult for Michael to do much. He had no power base. Nicholas and Alexandra had made a mess of things and there was no support for the dynasty. The provisional government faced the enormous task of trying to deal with a difficult set of circumstances. Kerensky never stood a chance as he foolishly decided to continue to war. Therefore it was not difficult for the Bolsheviks to seize power later in 1917. The unpopularity of the dynasty could be seen on the day of celebration for the tercentenary in 1913. The crowds were basically non-existent along the procession route. Nicholas and Alexandra lived away from St. Petersburg and barely visited the capital. No real reforms were taking place to prevent revolution. Revolution could have been prevented in the hands of a wiser Tsar. Sadly wisdom was something Nicholas II did not possess. He basically started an unwinnable war by agreeing to the mobilisation of the Russian forces. The Russian Empire had a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Japanese in 1905 which lead to large scale strikes and revolution. That was only put down by the reforms subsequently granted. There were insufficient arms to fight any war and no particular support for the dynasty. It was extreme folly which could only end in tragedy. Russia needed peace and reform. Sadly it got neither. All in all an enormous tragedy. Both sovereign and consort failed to provide basic needs in time of winter. How could they have been so foolish as to not provide affordable foodstuffs to the capital? I guess living in well stocked, heated and comfortable Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo away from reality is the answer. Nicholas also was very unwise to be at the Stavka and not near the capital where he might have been able to control events. He was far away and no longer had loyal regiments he could count on to put down revolution. The soldiers who could have done the job were lost in the early days of the war. Badly treated peasant soldiers were hardly going to fire on their own kind in support of a discredited dynasty.     

Offline pandora

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I certainly agree with all of what's been posted so far. At the end, there wasn't one Romanov who could have saved the empire from the revolution taking place. The rulers had simply "worn out" their welcome, so to speak, all due to the ineptness of Nicholas & Alexandra. They refused to understand that their autocratic ideals were outdated. And of course, with the war raging on the entire country was stretched beyond its means for food, supplies, and in the end the emotional support required of the public. The entire situation was a debacle from the get-go.