Author Topic: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?  (Read 35102 times)

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Offline EmmyLee

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Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« on: October 04, 2006, 12:23:04 PM »
I had always thought that Nicholas had not really had a choice on his abdication, that is, whether he had to do it or not. But I've been reading The Last Diary of Tsaritsa Alexandra with an introduction by Robert K. Massie, and he says this:

"At first, Nicholas, attempting to follow events in his newspapers, could not believe that Lenin and Trotsky posed any serious danger. They seemed to him to be a pair of blackguards, unsavory clowns, and--probably--traitors in the pay of Germany. When they suddenly vaulted to power, Nicholas was appalled. 'For the first time, I heard the tsar regret his abdication,' wrote Gilliard. 'It now gave him pain to see that his renunciation had been in vain and that by his departure in the interests of his country he had in reality done her an ill turn. This idea was to haunt him more and more.' "

With this quote in mind, did Nicholas actually have a choice in the matter? Could he have refused to abdicate? If so, what might have happened?

Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2006, 03:25:53 PM »
I had always thought that Nicholas had not really had a choice on his abdication, that is, whether he had to do it or not. But I've been reading The Last Diary of Tsaritsa Alexandra with an introduction by Robert K. Massie, and he says this:

"At first, Nicholas, attempting to follow events in his newspapers, could not believe that Lenin and Trotsky posed any serious danger. They seemed to him to be a pair of blackguards, unsavory clowns, and--probably--traitors in the pay of Germany. When they suddenly vaulted to power, Nicholas was appalled. 'For the first time, I heard the tsar regret his abdication,' wrote Gilliard. 'It now gave him pain to see that his renunciation had been in vain and that by his departure in the interests of his country he had in reality done her an ill turn. This idea was to haunt him more and more.' "

With this quote in mind, did Nicholas actually have a choice in the matter? Could he have refused to abdicate? If so, what might have happened?

The answers to your question are:

1. Choice About Abdication - he could have chosen not to abdicate only in the narrowest of sense. Had he refused, the war effort, which he felt was so important, would have fallen apart. His commanders were unwilling (treasonously) to continue to follow his direction. It is doubtful if he could have continued to govern, so there would have been little point in refusing to abdicate.

2. Consequences of Refusing - this is a very interesting topic all by itself. It is possible that by refusing to abdicate and being unable to govern that Russia would have erupted in Civil War.

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2006, 04:55:42 PM »
Did Nicholas have to abdicate?

The cities were running short of food and fuel, and a general strike was spreading.  The imperial forces sent in to maintain order were beginning to fraternize with the protesters.  Soldiers, short of ammunition and other supplies due to rail tie-ups, were deserting in droves, many heading home in the hope of participating in land redistribution which they thought the impending breakdown of imperial order might produce.  Military commanders, some of whom were already seeing sporadic mutiny, were no longer certain their orders would be obeyed.  Nicholas had ignored pleas to attend to the growing paralysis of his government in St. Petersburg, and his ministers had begun to meet directly with representatives of the Duma in an attempt to reach decisions on courses of action.  His train was stopped on an authority other than his own, and the direct route back to his capital was no longer secure.

Nicholas might have refused to sign a document.  But -- no matter what the legal niceties with which he could comfort himself by refusing to sign -- he had ceased to be tsar just as surely as Ivan VI and Peter III before him. 

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2006, 01:09:33 PM »
I think that even if Nicholas had refused to abdicate, and even if some of his generals had remained loyal to him, it would have made very little difference in the end. Whether he lost his crown in March 1917 or July 1917 or October 1917, he still would have lost it eventually, either through revolution or civil war or both. This was not only because of his personal unpopularity, but also and even more importantly perhaps because he supported the war effort against Germany and Austria-Hungary and this went against the will of the vast majority of the Russian people. The provisional government that replaced tsardom also supported the war effort and look what happened to it: massive desertions from the largely peasant army, chaos and anarchy in the countryside as the peasantry took matters into its own hands and began to appropriate the land, a succession of political intrigues and threatened coups on the part of both the Right and the Left (although the attempted Bolshevik coup in July did not succeed, the one in October did of course).

What's of particular interest to me is the near-total apathy with which the Russian people, both in the cities and the provinces, greeted the news of the end of the Romanov dynasty. Not one shot was fired in defense of this dynasty. No one took to the streets in armed protest against the "treasonous" generals and Duma who had overthrown it. On the contrary - so despised were the Romanovs by this stage that even during the Civil War, when the White generals were hoping to rally their troops around a national cause, there was never even a suggestion that a White victory would mean a restoration of the Romanov monarchy. Nicholas ceased to be an important or even a significant political player the very moment he abdicated; and that's a pretty sad commentary indeed on the state of the Russian monarchy in 1917. I think this is partly why the Bolsheviks had no difficulty with the decision to execute the family. They knew that, with the exception of a scattered group of crowned heads in Western Europe, no one would care.
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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2006, 01:14:01 PM »
In terms of the decision to execute Nicholas, do you think it was an act of pure revenge? Or did the local Soviet really assume that if the Tsar was rescued by the troops approaching Ekaterinburg he would be a viable leader for the Whites? And was the decision to execute the women, children and servants simply an unwillingness to deal with the complicated logistics of their survival --- moving them away from the Whites, etc. I have always wondered why they were not kept alive as potential sources of ransom money from the other crowned heads.
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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2006, 01:49:32 PM »
What great questions, Simon. I do think the execution of Nicholas and his family was an act of "revolutionary justice" (or if you want to call it, simply revenge) at least at the level of the Ural Regional Soviet. At the level of Moscow, the decision to kill the family was more a matter of logistics, IMHO. Of course whether or not Nicholas was a viable political player (I think Lenin knew very well Nicholas was a political has-been, unless you could put him on trial as an evil tsar-devil, as Trotsky had envisioned), it would have been counter-productive to let him fall into counter-revolutionary hands. (Remember the crucial symbolic importance, too, of executing the former tsar rather than letting him escape.) Moreover, why let his attractive children, especially the tsarevich, fall into counter-revolutionary hands? Everything was still very touch-and-go for the Bolsheviks in 1918, very up in the air and chaotic. They didn't know if they could hold on to power for very much longer, so why take the risk that the Whites might find a rallying point in the figure of the young tsarevich or his sisters? It wasn't a very likely prospect but anything could happen, and they would have been fools not to have considered the prospect. That said, I don't think the decision to execute the IF cost Lenin any sleepless nights or even much mental exertion. I think it was just one more blip on his cerebral radar screen... Whether the URS acted on their own or with the advance approval of Lenin, the fact was that Lenin speedily approved the action within hours of the murders. Clearly, he had no regrets.
« Last Edit: October 05, 2006, 01:57:24 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2006, 02:06:04 PM »

No one took to the streets in armed protest against the "treasonous" generals and Duma who had overthrown it. On the contrary - so despised were the Romanovs by this stage that even during the Civil War, when the White generals were hoping to rally their troops around a national cause, there was never even a suggestion that a White victory would mean a restoration of the Romanov monarchy. Nicholas ceased to be an important or even a significant political player the very moment he abdicated; and that's a pretty sad commentary indeed on the state of the Russian monarchy in 1917.


There is a telling anecdote in the biography of the love affair between Nicholas' brother Michael and Natasha Wulfert.  Natasha is at lunch with Michael and several other Romanovs.  In her outspoken way, she tells them that the Romanovs are making a complete mess of running the country.  They all agree and keep eating. 

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2006, 02:35:49 PM »

And was the decision to execute the women, children and servants simply an unwillingness to deal with the complicated logistics of their survival --- moving them away from the Whites, etc. I have always wondered why they were not kept alive as potential sources of ransom money from the other crowned heads.
 

I think logistics might be the under-recognized factor in assessing the real range of options the Ural Soviet had in dealing with the Romanovs.  One has only to look at the mess they made of the execution and the removal and disposal of the bodies to understand how limited their resources and planning skills really were.

In July of 1918, the regional soviets were not a collection of highly-disciplined organizations smoothly coordinated from a center, with ability to transfer resources to wherever needed.  The logistics of finding a safe place to which to transport the Romanovs, to assemble the manpower required, to arrange the logistics of transport, and to ensure the route was secure -- all while the White Army was bearing down on Ekaterinburg -- strike me as almost impossibly daunting.

I really think that, to the Ural Soviet, the choice appeared to be execution or letting the Romanovs fall into White hands. 

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2006, 02:50:56 PM »
But Tsarfan, there's no evidence that the URS ever tried to come up with an evacuation plan for the Romanov family, even at the end of June and beginning of July 1918, when the Whites were rapidly approaching Ekaterinburg and Goloshchekin was shuttling back and forth to negotiate with Moscow about the fate of the IF. For that matter, Moscow doesn't seem to have demanded any such evacuation plan from the URS. So what does that tell you?

Yurovsky and Co. obviously made a plan for evacuating the Romanovs' jewelry and other valuables to Perm. They also managed to get themselves out of the danger zone in good time. Couldn't they also have gotten the Romanov family out of Ekaterinburg with time to spare - if they had really wanted to?
« Last Edit: October 05, 2006, 03:01:04 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2006, 03:51:03 PM »

But Tsarfan, there's no evidence that the URS ever tried to come up with an evacuation plan for the Romanov family, even at the end of June and beginning of July 1918, when the Whites were rapidly approaching Ekaterinburg and Goloshchekin was shuttling back and forth to negotiate with Moscow about the fate of the IF. For that matter, Moscow doesn't seem to have demanded any such evacuation plan from the URS. So what does that tell you?


Nor do they seem to have made any plans for executing the family and disposing of the bodies until a few days before the event.  It is the absence of thoughtful planning for any course of action that strikes me.

The only sense I have ever been able to make of the whole Ekaterinburg episode is that of a group of clumsy revolutionaries who, in the fervor of their new-found power, grabbed opportunity as it presented itself and tried to figure out later what to do next.  For instance, they seized the Romanovs enroute from Tobolsk, apparently without authority from Moscow.  They then went through a prolonged period of waiting for something -- either waiting to get approval from Moscow to execute the prisoners, or waiting for an opening to execute them when Moscow was in no position to censure them, or waiting to reach some local consensus on how to proceed, or waiting to see which faction in Moscow would prevail, or waiting to see if the Romanovs could be bargaining chips for something, or waiting simply because they had no plan at all . . . other than to wait.

Layered over this fundamental confusion about why they were waiting, which remains a subject of debate even today, were the inconsistencies between their treatment of the Romanovs and their assumed determination to exact murderous revenge on them:  the family kept together in a mansion instead of a jail; the presence of old retainers; the provision of books and writing materials; access, at least initially, to clergy and the sacraments; the quelling of crowds demanding retribution against the Romanovs; sufficient privacy for Alexandra and the girls to be always arranging their "medicines".  Then the final massacre and bungled attempt at a burial and cover-up under the approaching guns of the Whites.

None of this smacks of any long-range plans or clear motives.  It smacks of a colossal quandary about what to do next.

I could make sense of their murdering the prisoners immediately upon their capture.  I could make sense of their murdering the prisoners after a period of putting them through deliberate humiliations and torment.  I cannot make sense of a relatively restrained and expensive internment and a sudden surprise execution delayed almost until the last possible moment . . . unless I attribute it to a precipitous reaction to a situation that was unexpectedly cascading out of their control.

Offline Belochka

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2006, 06:48:45 PM »
There is a telling anecdote in the biography of the love affair between Nicholas' brother Michael and Natasha Wulfert.  Natasha is at lunch with Michael and several other Romanovs.  In her outspoken way, she tells them that the Romanovs are making a complete mess of running the country.  They all agree and keep eating. 

And when the opportunity presented itself to Mikhail, what did he do? Instead of showing strength of character, he was persuaded to walk away, renounce his Imperial prerogatives, and in so doing compounded the mess. That final Imperial act was unpalatable.

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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2006, 09:52:52 PM »
It would have been astounding if the Grand Duke had behaved with strength of character, and broken the habits of a lifetime. Not that it would have done any good had he chosen to do so; by 1917 the mistakes made by the Tsar and Tsaritsa had left the throne irrelevant. The abdication simply put a seal on the situation. I have always felt that by December 1916 and the murder of Rasputin by members of the Imperial Family, the Romanovs had lost control of the situation. Wilhelm II "abdicated" after he had fled across the border, but he was completely irrelevant long before that happened (at least the Germans did not exact bloody venegeance upon his wife, whom he thoughtfully left behind when he cut and run) and I don't know that Karl I ever gave up the idea that he was the rightful monarch of Austria-Hungary. In all three imperial cases, the country left the monarch long before the monarch left the country.
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Offline Belochka

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2006, 10:05:13 PM »
... The provisional government that replaced tsardom also supported the war effort and look what happened to it: massive desertions from the largely peasant army, chaos and anarchy in the countryside as the peasantry took matters into its own hands and began to appropriate the land, a succession of political intrigues and threatened coups on the part of both the Right and the Left (although the attempted Bolshevik coup in July did not succeed, the one in October did of course).

Those desertions, chaos and anarchy was initially caused by Soviet Order # 1, which the Provisional Government permitted to be published, on the day they came to power.

What's of particular interest to me is the near-total apathy with which the Russian people, both in the cities and the provinces, greeted the news of the end of the Romanov dynasty. Not one shot was fired in defense of this dynasty. No one took to the streets in armed protest against the "treasonous" generals and Duma who had overthrown it. On the contrary - so despised were the Romanovs by this stage that even during the Civil War, when the White generals were hoping to rally their troops around a national cause, there was never even a suggestion that a White victory would mean a restoration of the Romanov monarchy.

The Provisional Government was too weak to stand against the creeping tentacles of the soviets. The immediate arrest of the Imperial Family, and key Imperial Government personnel, hardly offered positivity to the people regarding their future. The people were tired of the war, the soldiers on the field gave up fighting towards an expected victory. If the Emperor was perceived to step aside, then it was not too difficult for the ordinary Russians to look elsewhere. I do not accept that the entire Russian nation despised the Romanovs. On the contrary many just gave up believing in the merits of a monarchic system.

Nicholas ceased to be an important or even a significant political player the very moment he abdicated; and that's a pretty sad commentary indeed on the state of the Russian monarchy in 1917. I think this is partly why the Bolsheviks had no difficulty with the decision to execute the family. They knew that, with the exception of a scattered group of crowned heads in Western Europe, no one would care.

Respectfully, I disagree on one point. Nikolai remained a political figure upto the moment he point blank refused to be involved as a signatory to the Brest Litovsk Treaty. Although, I contend, the legitimacy of that signature would have been questionable.
 
I do agree with you that the bolsheviks had no moral conscience or political compulsion to maintain the  Family within their territorial jurisdiction but that was precipitated after Nikolai's firm refusal. They quickly became surplus to requirement throughout Europe, including those crowned heads, whose tiaras became tarnished by their overwhelming inaction.
 
Margarita

« Last Edit: October 05, 2006, 10:07:30 PM by Belochka »


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Offline Belochka

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2006, 10:17:53 PM »
... the country left the monarch long before the monarch left the country.

Well stated Louis_Charles!

Without the support of His nation, Nikolai, unknowingly, took the fatal step in destroying His beloved country.

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Offline Belochka

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Re: Did Nicholas have to abdicate?
« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2006, 10:39:20 PM »
1. Choice About Abdication - he could have chosen not to abdicate only in the narrowest of sense. Had he refused, the war effort, which he felt was so important, would have fallen apart. His commanders were unwilling (treasonously) to continue to follow his direction. It is doubtful if he could have continued to govern, so there would have been little point in refusing to abdicate.

In must not be forgotten that the "decision" can never be considered to be given of His own free will. The coercion by those treasonous generals was illegally applied, under deliberate confined isolation far away from those who could have offered Him the emotional strength he would have needed to make an objective decision.

2. Consequences of Refusing -  It is possible that by refusing to abdicate and being unable to govern that Russia would have erupted in Civil War.

Had he refused to perform under duress, I doubt that He would have walked another day. Those generals had gone too far, and because of what was transpiring that day, there was no turning back. The generals would not have been sympathetic and re-affirm their "loyalty" to their Emperor, as if nothing had happened.

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« Last Edit: October 05, 2006, 10:46:14 PM by Belochka »


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