Author Topic: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?  (Read 124139 times)

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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #75 on: September 12, 2006, 02:04:29 PM »
Continuation of above post . . .


I must admit there is some prescience in Pobyedonostseff's prediction that anarchy would emerge from the brew of forces that were developing in Russia at the time he wrote this.

However, I disagree with the contention that Nicholas' heirs would continue the constitutional momentum . . . because there was no momentum after 1906.  Nicholas immediately began a subtle but determined campaign to undo as much as he could of what he had been forced to do to quell the 1905 revolution.  He recast the franchise, he unilaterally created an upper house to block legislation, he dissolved Dumas whose policies he did not like, he failed to put his weight behind land reform and to support his ministers who were willing to work with a Duma constructively.

There is an interesting anecdote I read recently of an event in a provincial city that Nicholas and Alexandra attended to celebrate the centenniel of the Battle of Borodino in 1912.  In his remarks welcoming the imperial couple, a local dignitary thanked Nicholas for his institution of constitutional government.  Nicholas responded with a sharp retort, Alexandra stiffened visibly, and they cut short their scheduled participation in a subsequent reception.  Such public displays, combined with Gilliard's recollections of Alexandra's dark mood prior to the opening of the Duma, the demeanor of the imperial family at the opening ceremonies (including Marie Feodorovna's open weeping), and Nicholas' and Alexandra's obsession that their son inherit an intact autocracy just as Nicholas received it from his father and from God does not indicate much constitutional momentum to me.

This is why I feel 1905/06 sealed the fate of Russia and -- perhaps -- elevated Pobyedonostseff's prediction of anarchy from the venting of spleen by a reactionary using very selective history to a prescient vision of the future of Russia.

Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #76 on: September 12, 2006, 02:10:54 PM »
I just wanted to say that my above remarks are perhaps a bit oversimplified and that from reading K. P. Pobyedonostseff's "Reflections of a Russian Stateman" his ideal appears to me to be, in spite of his abhorence of western democratic institutions, closer to John Taylor Gatto's (I don't know why I keep calling him Frank) vision of famliy and community and education that Gatto expressed in his piece on the building of Rheims Cathedral.      

Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #77 on: September 12, 2006, 03:19:38 PM »
First off, thank you so much Tsarfan for accepting my apology.   

I am right there with you on all your observations, especially about how difficult it was for the Young Empress to accept a limited future for her son and how haltingly Nicholas stepped forward with his constitutional government.  In spite of his embarrassment and inner struggles, as Pobyedonostseff was also one of Nicholas' strongest advisors prior to 1905, the late Emperor only dissolved the first two Dumas, 1906 and 1907.  Bev and I discussed this in another thread I can't remember where it is. 

But briefly Paul P. Gronsky, a former member of the Duma wrote in the book, "The War and the Russian Government" he co-authored with Nicholas J. Astrov, Former Mayor of Moscow and Chairman of the Committee of the All-Russian Union of Towns, that while the Emperor had the right to dissolve Dumas prior to the expiration of their term, Article 105 of the Fundamental Laws, required "that the decree of dissolution should also contain an order for new elections to the Duma and state the time of its convocation."  Gronsky goes on to state that, "As the sessions of the Duma were to be held every year, the period of time within which new elections should be ordered was by implication laid down; the elections were to be held in such a way as to enable the new Duma to assemble in the following year."

I love your point about K. P. Pobyedonostseff.  I will try to find his remarks about Socialism which is why I altered my remarks about his absolutism being something the Soviets inherited. The interesting thing about Pobyedonosteff is that he was so sincere he gained the respect of almost everyone he encountered, including the American Ambassador to Russia, Andrew D. White, who while he could not agree with anything Pobyedonosteff said, he still found him a truly fascinating man and a brilliant thinker.  I am always shocked that Podyedonosteff was a close friend of Dostoyesvsky who I was told used his friend Podyedonosteff for the role of the husband of Anna K. I can't remember how to spell Karenina and I don't want to run out of time and loose my whole post.     

I really begin to wonder if the late Emperor was fatalistic, or was just a very good student of Pobyedonostseff, after reading the man’s thoughts on death:

“The ancients, we are told, were accustomed to place a skeleton or a skull in the midst of their banquet halls that they might be reminded of the proximity of death.  This custom had decayed: we feast and make merry and strive to banish all thoughts of death, and his threatening face at any moment may appear before us…” 

…Or this choice piece of Pobyedonostseff’s, which was also prophetic as you pointed out Tzarfan about his earlier statement, on sacrifice in the fifth section of his chapter “The Malady of Our Time:

 “In ancient Rome an abyss appeared which threatened to engulf the whole city.  All efforts to remedy the disaster were in vain.  The people appealed to the oracle, which answered that the abyss would be closed when Rome gave up in sacrifice its greatest treasure.  We know the sequel.  Curtius, the first citizen of Rome, the bravest of the brave, flung himself into the gulf, which closed for ever.

Among us, also, in the modern world a terrible chasm has appeared, the chasm of pauperism, which separates the poor from the rich by an impassable gulf.  What have we not sacrificed to fill it up?  Mountains of gold, and wealth of every kind, masses of sermons and instructive works, floods of enthusiasm, a hundred social institutions organized expressly, all swallowed up, yet the gulf yawns open as before.  We too, have invoked the oracle to reveal to us a certain remedy.  The word of this oracle has long been spoken, and is well known to all.  “A new commandment I give unto you that ye also love one another: as I have loved you that yea also love one another.”  Could we find the true meaning of this precept, could we rise to its height, could we cast into the gulf all that is most precious to us—the theories, the prejudices, the practices which are bound with our respective callings, and confirmed in the hearts if each, we should sacrifice ourselves to the abyss and close it forever.”

I think that this desire to be a Christian version of the Roman Curtius, comes the closest to anything I have ever read about what may have motivated the late Emperor to abdicate his throne.   

Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #78 on: September 12, 2006, 04:11:05 PM »
Griffh, Nicholas would have agreed with P.  The only reason he agreed to a monarchy is because his back was up against the wall.  

Secondly, Gatto doesn't know what he's talking about.  His description of the building of the Notre Dame Cathedral as some sort of "community project" is about as wrong as anyone can get.  Skilled craftsmen, engineers and stone masons were paid to build it, and this idea that the community rallied around and built that cathedral is just plain wrong.    France had the same system of apprenticeship, journeyman and master as other countries and apprenticeships started at age 7 and continued to age 21.  No one worked at that site for nothing and the workmen were well trained.  If anyone reminds me of the Soviet fools, it's Gatto with his delusions and ignorance of how the real world works.

Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #79 on: September 12, 2006, 04:46:43 PM »
Bev, Gatto does rather undermine some of the cherished concepts of the American academic world.  Whether or not he got it right about Rheims or not he does offer an interesting perspective on public instruction that in some respects parallel Pobyedonostseff's concerns about an institutional approach.   

I finally found my post in which I quote Nicholas' letter to his mother about the steps he took to establish freedom for his people.  This letter from the late Emperor was written at Peterhof and addressed to his mother in Denmark.

“…You remember, no doubt, those January days…I am going to try to describe the position here as briefly as possible…Petersburg and Moscow were entirely cut off from the interior…  When at various [revolutionary] meetings…it was openly decided to proclaim an armed uprising, and I heard about it, I immediately gave the command of all troops in the Petersburg district to Trepoff…  Trepoff made it quite plain to the populace by his proclamations that any disorder would be ruthlessly put down; and, of course, everybody believed that.  So the ominous quiet days began…  Everybody was on edge and extremely nervous, and, of course, that sort of strain could not go on for long.  Through all those horrible days, I constantly met with Witte.  We very often met in the early morning to part only in the evening, when night fell.  There were only two ways open: to find an energetic soldier and crush the rebellion by sheer force.  There would be time to breathe then but, as likely as not, one would have to use force again in a few months; and that would mean rivers of blood, and in the end we should be where we had started.  I mean to say, government authority would be vindicated, but there would be no positive result and no possibility of progress achieved.  The other way out would be to give the people their civil rights, freedom of speech and the press, also to have all laws confirmed by a State Duma—that, of course, would be a constitution. …My dear Mama, you can’t imagine what I went through before that moment…My only consolation is that such is the will of God, and this grave decision will lead my dear Russia out of the intolerable chaos she has been in for nearly a year.” 

These were my comments at the time of my post:

To me these are the words of a man of deep personal integrity struggling to do the highest right for his country; a man who was in deep conflict over upholding the honor of his House and at the same time wanting to free his beloved country from the destructive chaos that threatened to consume his people. 

This valiant young man, in spite of being handicapped by his youth and inexperience (having only recently turned 37 and therefore almost ten years younger than the youngest American President) was the first Russian ruler to have the courage and foresight to complete the momentum started by his grandfather, the Czar Liberator Alexander II, but stalled by his own father, Alexander III. 

Nicholas letter to his mother reveals the deep spiritual ordeal he passed through in order to find the morale courage to go against everything his beloved father had stood for and to go against his own sacred coronation vows.  There is no indication in his deeply moving letter to his mother that he did not know what he was doing or that it took that momentous step in a half-hearted way, or that he did not fully understand that he was changing the character of his own position, that of his House, and that of his government for the betterment of his people.  In a sense he was taking new vows when he signed the Imperial manifesto.   

I don’t find anything in this man’s thoughts that indicate weakness or insincerity or that this man was simply yielding to pressure.  But I am taking us way off course here by discussing the merits or demerits of the late Empreror...   

 

Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #80 on: September 12, 2006, 05:10:43 PM »
Griffh, you've posted that paragraph from that letter before as proof that N II was predisposed to the granting of a constitution and was just waiting for the right time.    It seems to me that he was considering the two ways out of his dilemma and chose the path of least resistance. 

Gatto's schtick isn't anything new - it's A.P. Neil's "Summerhill" - this is Gatto's teaching philosophy - (a direct quote) "you can learn what you need even the technical stuff at the moment you need it or shortly before."  It's a philosophy as stupid and unrealistic as marxism.

Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #81 on: September 12, 2006, 06:22:18 PM »
Just to say my point is not that Nicholas was predisposed to grant a constitution, (I think  David Pritchard might point out, that techically it was revising the Fundamental Laws rather than granting a Constitution) but to me Nicholas clearly reasoned that a military dictatorship, while creating prestige for the Crown, would not be a lasting solution for his people nor would it be a step forward.  The fact that he acknowledged that the revision of the Fundamental Laws was "progress" for his people is significant to me.  If Nicholas had been forced against his will to take these steps, he would have never used the word progress.  I feel his letter, written within weeks of his decision was an intelligent assessment of the two paths laying open to him.  It is, to me, a soul-searching letter.

 But as you have pointed out before, the honor I hold for the late Emperor calls into serious question my credibility.  Hey Bev, what do you think, should we start a thread on Nicholas II/1905, so that we can continue our discussion?  I would love to argue my point of view with you, but it is just that I don't want to take Elizabeth's thread off course.




Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #82 on: September 12, 2006, 09:04:51 PM »
Griffh, it isn't the honour you hold for the emperor that calls into question your credibility - I don't question your credibility at all.  Sure, start another thread sounds like fun.

Offline RichC

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #83 on: September 12, 2006, 10:59:33 PM »



I am always shocked that Podyedonosteff was a close friend of Dostoyesvsky who I was told used his friend Podyedonosteff for the role of the husband of Anna K. I can't remember how to spell Karenina and I don't want to run out of time and loose my whole post.     




Hello,

I just wanted to point out that Anna Karenina was written by Tolstoy, not Dostoyevsky.  The character of Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin is supposedly based on Pobedenotsev himself or someone in his family.

There was no love-lost between Tolstoy and Pobedonotsev.  In fact I think that Pobedonotsev instigated Tolstoy's expulsion from the Orthodox church -- although it hardly mattered to Tolstoy by that time.

I also wish to point out the damage to Russia's culture which was wrought by the Bolsheviks.  During Nicholas' reign Russia was in the midst of a cultural explosion -- a lot of this (but not all) was suffocated by the revolution.


Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #84 on: September 12, 2006, 11:33:22 PM »
OOPS!  Big, Big  Blunder! 

I am grateful for confirmation about Pod. and Anna K., even if I got the authors mixed up.  Poor little Pod. with his horn rimmed glasses.  I think he was a great friend of Dostoyevsky.

The international press, especially the Protestant world, certainly embraced Tolstoy after his excommunication.  Cleverly enough in her Preface for, "Reflections of a Russian Statesman," Olga Novikofff enlists Tolstoy on Pobyedonostseff's side:

"Mr. Pobyedonosteff is the critic in the stalls.  To him, as to all us Russians, the parliamentary theatre of the Western world performs a long tragi-comedy, which occasionally ascends to tragedy and sometimes sinks into farce.  We can observe it dispassionately, critically, and sometimes even sympathetically.

However you may deplore the fact, we are outside of it, and have never shown less disposition that to-day to enrol ourselves in the Democratic troupe.

Even Count Leon Tolstoi, who may, perhaps, be regarded as the most extreme and privileged critic in Russia, treates Consitutionalism with the same supercilious contempt as all the other forms of government."

Just imagine what Russia would have given the 20th century culturally if there had been no Bolshevik revolution.  Russia had already blown away Paris in 1909 with its modern ballet, set/ costume designs, and music, reshaping the west and splashing Leon Baskt's brilliant colors over the canvas of Europe and America. 

One of the first things one of my relatives did after Diaghilev hit Paris was to tear down her heavy velvet drapes, white-wash her dark carved furniture and paint her drawing room persimmon, not that this information proves anything.         

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #85 on: September 15, 2006, 10:12:56 AM »
A new book is just hitting the shelves.  It's called "The J Curve:  A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall" and was written by Dr. Ian Bremmer, a former Stanford professor of political science and now head of the Eurasia Group, the world's largest political risk consultancy.  My firm uses the Eurasia Group heavily, and Dr. Bremmer opened his six-week book tour with a talk to our colleagues last evening.  It immediately struck me that his thinking about how nations evolve stability and how they lose it bears on the question of why the Soviet Union became the type of state it did.

Basically, Dr. Bremmer argues that stability is a function of openness in modern societies.  Open societies have an inherent stability that allows them to weather a wide range of events, as well as many economic and political blunders by government.  As openness diminishes, force becomes more and more the necessary means of maintaining stability.  I won't get into the technicalities of why plotting the experiences of various governments throughout history on x/y axes of stability vs openness yields a j-shaped curve, but suffice it to say that when stability is maintained by force, the loss of stability can be triggered by a wider range of events -- and events of less seeming consequence -- than in an open society.  When a closed society destabilizes, the fall into instability is more precipitous.  And stability is most likely recoverable only by the re-imposition of force.

Dr. Bremmer discussed Russia more in the context of what has happened there since Kiriyenko destabilized the country in 1998 with the devaluation of the ruble and the default on foreign-held debt.  The attempt to restore stability to a nation that had not yet matured into a fully open society is most likely to result in just what Russia is experiencing today -- the consolidation of power by Putin.  Bremmer describes today's Russia as having a President, but no Presidency;  parliamentarians but no Parliament; and many laws without the rule of law.

Applying this approach to the European powers at the end of WWI, one sees England and France (the most open socieities) still on their feet politically despite massive losses of life and economic dislocations, and one sees the three eastern monarchies overthrown.  And in Russia, arguably the least open of those three societies, the political destabilization was accompanied by social anarchy on a scale not approached in Germany or Austro-Hungary.

Althrough Bremmer speaks very little of Russia in 1917, his model predicts that any nation which had maintained stability by force rather than openness will descend quickly into anarchy at the hands of events that are less destabilizing to open societies . . . and that they can only reattain stability through the massive imposition of force.  This sounds like a pretty good recipe for the brew that was the October Revolution.  An autocratic state was more destabilized by WWI than its more open neighbors.  And its attempts to restore order through the "open society" policies of the Provisional Government were insufficient.  Bolshevism, with its ideological bent toward dictatorship and indiscriminate use of force, was alone up to the task.

The tsars and their aristocrats.  The Bolsheviks and their KGB.  And now Putin and his oligarchs.

What kind of mistake was the Soviet Union?  Maybe no mistake.  Maybe just the most extreme and evil incarnation of the form of government to which Russia seems doomed.  Will she ever get off this treadmill?

Richard_Cullen

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #86 on: September 17, 2006, 02:26:52 PM »
Griff

Just catching up on this but I think I take a very different view of the last Tsar.  I do sincerely believe that he had the gift to prevent the revolution had he been anywhere near the quality of the Tsar Liberator.  I often give presentations on leadreship and when I want an example of a poor leader I use Nicholas II.

I think he was a man of limited ability (most hereditary monarches are), he was sheltered by his arents and was almost a toy soldier. He was thrust into his role as Tsar by the untimely death of his father.  But what experience did he have of life, seeing his grandfather dying from an assaaian's bomb.  The clamp down of his father and then a total lack of experience in politics and the politics of being Tsar.

He was the supreme autocrat, and I thin the evidence weighs heavily against him being a reformer.  I don't think his position was helped by the Tsarita.

I personally have no problems with anyone being a supporter of the last Tsar many of my senior Russian friends are.  I certainly don't subscribe to the criticism of you in one of threads that you are blind to anyhting that is critical of te Romanovs.  The richness of this web-site is that people (providing they are sensible) can put their views, thoughts and feelings about Russian history and long may it be so.  I don't dislike Nicholas he was a product of avery fuedal Russia, he did not, nor did his family, deserve to die in the way they did.

Very few historians have a balanced view and if an individual is fortunate enough to have a number of biographies written about them you rarely find them saying the same thing.  Historians sometimes have hidden agendas - although they would deny it, I am sure.  The application of precise hindsight to historical events is not to be recommended.  An example is that I am currently researching the three battles of Ypres in World War I and in particular the leadership of the three generals.  So many books so many different views and a real minefield of information (excuse the pun).

As an aside which First World War I General was present during the defeat of part of Lord Chelmsford's column in the First Zulu War and died mysteriously many years later in a car crash?

Regards

Richard

Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #87 on: September 17, 2006, 05:33:35 PM »
To a man I certainly respect you as much as I do the late Emperor....Richard....I so respect your point of view.  But Richard listen to the man’s words to his own mother.  This is a man in crisis, a man that only has God as his guide. 

I suppose I can say this from my perspective, here above the Easter feast that I seem to be nailed to, and yes, once again I must yield to your view.   But my-well-respected-Richard; there are other perspectives that are equally important in our assessment of Nicholas II. 

I hope to be able to engage you in a thread on Nicholas, however, I yield to your assessment as I do not want to interrupt the flow of your very valuable perspective. 

And then there is the upcoming trial of Rasputin.     

Oh how I wish that I did not have British blood flowing in my German/Russian veins.  What a terrible admission!!!!   Was it not?   Still, have I not, by my admission, been made into a half-sovereign? 

Richard, my British Granny told me, when I was but a wee child, that trying to win an argument with a British peer was an impossibility.  And like a true Slav, I yield, but I do not give up.  Passive resistance is perhaps as powerful a political tool of the true Slav as intellect is to the West. 

Regardless, my point is that you possess a depth of perspective on historic issues that I simply do not possess and I hope to learn from your wonderful point of view.  I am humbled by your kindness to me. 

After all I am but a remnant of a court that once was and my claim to entrée is even questionable.  Americans, even ex-patriot Americans, have no right to claim Imperial immunity.  Alas, I will never possess that smart apartment in St. Petersburg.   

Well this is all just to say, putting aside our differing point of view, Richard; please do get on with that wonderful trial of yours.  My British nephew was connected with Radcliffe’s in London, but I believe he is only involved in corporate law; otherwise I would try to involve him in your venture. 

Richard, I believe you have it right and I am most anxious to hear the truth; and forgive me Elizabeth for diverting this thread to Richard’s impeding trial

Elizabeth you should be apart of this trial as should you Tsarfan…and so many more hearts…..we need to fill the jury….plus perhaps Elizabeth has a legal background?
« Last Edit: September 17, 2006, 05:50:56 PM by griffh »

Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #88 on: September 17, 2006, 06:20:30 PM »
My other point, while trying to rally individuals to the trial of Rasputin, is that we must make exceptions for the the late Emperor, Nicholas II.  It is important to remember that he was the only member of his House to actually engage in constitutional government.  Alexander II, who I totally respect, in spite of his domestic tragedy, never engaged in the actual activity of a constitutional monarch.  Who on earth can judge Nicholas II?  He was alone without a mentor.  Look at the man in 1905.  His country was in revolt.  Choas threatened to envelope the nation.  His beautiful young wife, who had just produced his heir, and closeted with her boon companion, Stansa of Montenegro, and both woment wre fighting the reform.  His Prime Minister, Witte, towered over him and overwhelmed him.  His diva Romanoff Uncles threatened and shouted at him.  And yet Nicholas pursued a course of his own and he was able to define his ideal to his mother in a letter written just days after his ordeal. 

By his own will, Nicholas established a Duma that he could not be paralyze by his wil, and he established civil liberites for his people that he could not recall.  Even though he promulgated the first two Duma's, the third Duma lasted it's five year majority, and the Fourth Duma was dissolved by the Provisional Government just as it concluded it’s five year rule in October, 1917. 

It is also important to remember that Konstantin Pobedonotsev (1827-1907), educator to both Nicholas II and his father, Alexander III (and the man who Alexander III had appointed in 1880 as procurator of the Holy Synod) was retired in 1905. 

From then on Nicholas II was on his own.  He is not credited for his courage or his fortitude.  Who of us, on having decided to talk a new and hazzardous step forward, has not taken three steps backward?  But as I have said, let us take up this topic in another thread. 

Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #89 on: September 17, 2006, 09:13:26 PM »
I certainly hope that remark about being "blinded to anything critical of the Romanovs" was not for my benefit, Richard Cullen.  I didn't say it, and for you to imply that I said it is wrong.