'We are the oldest government in Europe,' remarked Chicherin in 1923, during the residence of the present writer in Moscow. This droll comment of the Bolshevist Commissar for Foreign Affairs was historically correct then,—more so to-day,—if by government that astute diplomat understood a given cabinet or a sovnarkom exercising supreme power and performing the customary administrative functions. The parliamentary system which requires sporadically a vote of confidence in support of the dominant political party, failing which the cabinet is expected to resign, has indeed occasioned a bewildering succession of ministries upon the stage of European politics since November 7, 1917. The Moscow system, on the contrary, provides, antecedently, for the liquidation of any menacing opposition by the simple device of eliminating the opposers. Those who attempted serious political resistance found themselves either in the execution chamber of the Loubyanka or on their way to freezing exile in the convict camps on Solovetsky Island in the White Sea.
To be sure, during the decade just ended, there have been notable losses and substitutions in the higher ranks of the Soviet hierarchy. Sverdlov, Volodarsky, and Uritsky, all active leaders, were assassinated in the early days of the Revolution. Lenin, the flaming torch that fired the Russian masses and sought to fire the world, the creator of the Soviet state and founder of the Third International, died the thousand living deaths of a deranged paralytic before his actual demise in l924. Vorovsky, able propagandist and first Soviet representative to Italy, was murdered in Switzerland in 1923 and lies buried outside the Kremlin walls, close to the grave of John Reed. On the afternoon of Vorovsky's funeral the author of these articles wandered through Red Square and meditated on the significance of the strange fellowship that could so unite in common burial a Russian revolutionist and the brilliant but erratic Harvard graduate.
Krassin, easily distinguishable among the other commissars as brains temporizing with victorious passions, recently succumbed to a mortal illness while Soviet Ambassador to England. Dzerzhinsky, chief of the dreaded secret police, the Cheka, executioner of 1,800,000 victims, the man with the eyes of a gazelle and the soul of a Fouquier-Tinville, expired suddenly and mysteriously in 1926 after an impassioned speech of protest against certain heterodox tendencies of his colleagues. Voikov, who signed the death warrant of Tsar Nicholas II and the imperial family, was himself murdered in Warsaw on June 7, 1927, falling victim to the vengeance of an exiled Russian youth not twenty years of age.
But after each casualty the ranks closed tighter. Internal dissension is met by stern domestic discipline. Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev dispute the supremacy of Stalin, Bucharin, and Rykov. They pay the penalty of schism by relegation to obscure posts within the Party. Thus the essential dictatorship of ten men, the Political Bureau of the Communist Party, persists unchallenged over 140,000,000 Russians. With unshaken confidence, Moscow is celebrating its tenth year in continuous control of approximately one seventh of the habitable surface of the earth.
If history may be conceived as philosophy teaching by example, may it not be time, even as early as the tenth year after the event, to seek a helpful interpretation of the Russian experiment?
For Russia not only presents a story that will engage the best historians of the world for generations to come; it is an actual, insistent fact of the present. Bolshevism is an international reality which only the hopelessly intransigent can ignore. If the World War did not entirely destroy modern organized society, it assuredly did bring civilization to the crossroads. The victors of the second Russian revolution, that of November 1917, frankly and brutally took the road to the extreme left, driving a weakened, demoralized Russia before them, calling on stronger nations to follow. That way madness lies, as they have now learned and reluctantly admitted, taught by the inexorable laws of nature operating through economic pressure. But it is my deliberate judgment, based on six years' close observation of European and Russian affairs, that no lasting peace is possible in Europe or Asia until the breach between Russia and the West is securely bridged. For that difference, that breach, is not a chasm dug by national hatred, by historic feud or racial antipathy. One or other of such specific motives made Greeks the natural enemies of Turks, made France distrust Germany, and set Celt against Saxon. But the issue created by the second Russian revolution strikes at the very concept of human society as now organized and, proposes an entirely new civilization.
It was not merely a revolution in the accepted sense as historically understood,—that is, a reallocation of sovereignty,—but revolution in the domain of economics, religion, art, literature, science, education, and all other human activities. It sought to create a new archetype of humanity, the 'collective man,' and a new culture adapted to the impersonal 'mass man' who should displace forever 'the soul-encumbered individual man.' It was meant, and so proclaimed by its protagonists, to be a challenge to the modern State as constituted, not merely in Imperial Russia, but throughout the entire civilized world. It was philosophic materialism in arms, the most radical school of thought that has ever come upon the stage of human affairs.
The leaders of Bolshevism deliberately identified and confused, in the estimation of the masses, all civilization with the particular Russian form detested by the peasants because of their economic serfdom under it and hated by the liberals because of the savage repression of all their efforts for the enlargement of human liberty through constitutional reform. Interpreting all life, therefore, in terms of their own memories of Siberia, the Bolsheviki generalized savagely, and, of course, erroneously. Lenin registered his bitter oath of universal revenge on the day his brother Alexander Ulianov was executed by the Tsarist Government in 1887 for attempted regicide. Lenin was wrong. But the Tsars were equally wrong in obstinately refusing to modify an insupportable autocracy that drove men to such desperation.
The Russian problem derives its hugeness and its complexity from the very soil that gave it birth, inheriting these characteristics as legitimately and historically as the Russian peasant does his wise simplicity and his naive mysticism. To be sure, such of the intelligentsia as escaped the Cheka during the Terror often begged us foreigners to consider Bolshevism, not as Russian in character and origin at all, but as a distinctly foreign invention, imported into Russia by the German High Staff during the war as a purely military manoeuvre to destroy the morale of the Russian people and cripple the army. Both objectives were achieved with characteristic efficiency, even though the Frankenstein monster thus created almost destroyed its sponsor when Bolshevist revolutionary propaganda nearly triumphed in Germany in 1923.
In substantiation of their protests, it was often pointed out to us by native Russians that the anti-individualistic character of Soviet institutions is as far removed from the dreamy idealism of Slav peasantry as it is from the avowed aspirations of typical revolutionary leaders like Alexander Herzen, Plekhanov, Kropotkin, Tolstoy, Chernov, Martov, Spiridonova, Milyukov, Pitirim, Sorokin, and Grandmother Breshkovskaya. This reservation must, however, be interpreted as their criticism of Bolshevism's impracticable, unworkable answer to Russia's century-long struggle for political freedom and economic independence. It does not, I think, invalidate my contention that Russia's present fate was clearly Russia's destiny, self-imposed, foreseen through decades, and inescapable, granted the policy pursued by the Russian Government for the thirty-seven years that elapsed between the assassination of Alexander II and the murder of Nicholas II.
Time, before whose impartial tribunal all men and institutions pass for judgment, is gradually furnishing the perspective indispensable for an objective and unobstructed view of that sinister record of blunder, Asiatic callousness, reaction, and Byzantine haughtiness. The unfolding panorama of Russian history from 1613—when young Michael Romanov, son of the Patriarch Philaret, mounted the throne—until the last of the Romanovs perished in the hideous massacre of Ekaterinburg reveals a destiny that swept to its finale with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. A thesis common in monarchist and émigré circles labors to prove that the Bolshevist revolution was an unnatural, un-Russian phenomenon artificially created by two foreign influences, German militarism and Jewish hatred, and then imposed by treachery on a demoralized and exhausted people. But on the strength of the record, and in view of documentary evidence now becoming increasingly available, I am obliged to reject that theory. Though the instrumental role played both by Jews and by Germany was considerable and active, and though I am familiar with the remarkable work of Mrs. Webster tracing the revolutionary movement, through Lenin and Marx, back to Bakunin, Anacharsis Clootz, Gracchus Babeuf, and the Illuminati of Weishaupt, I maintain that Bolshevism is a natural phase in the evolution of a strictly historical process originating in the soil, the culture, and the politics of Russia itself. When one disentangles the matted roots of that gnarled and knotted growth he will discover many domestic causes: one philosophic, another geographic, some political, economic, and racial, one religious, and the final, psychological and emotional. The first six can only be touched upon lightly here and will form the subject of a later and more detailed study. The last will be examined more minutely in the present paper.
1. The impetus and direction given to revolutionary thought by the morbid pessimism of. so many Russian intellectuals during the latter half of the nineteenth century only served to tighten the noose around their own flecks. Despite the prophetic warnings of true lovers of the fatherland, like Dostoievsky and Ivan Bunin, they popularized a philosophy of despair that helped Russia into the abyss.
2. The 'land hunger' of the peasants, that perennial thirst of all predominantly agricultural communities, was but poorly satisfied, nay, was aggravated, by the terms of the political emancipation of 1861, which still left them, to all intents and purposes, economic serfs.
3. The 'constitution hunger' of the moderate and truly patriotic liberals was answered by a stupid policy of savage repression and a reassertion of autocracy that drove the revolutionaries underground, thus creating a multiplicity of secret organizations dedicated to the overthrow of Tsardom through ruthless direct action and political assassination.
4. The rapid growth of industrial and factory life in Russia, notably from 1867 to 1897, without a corresponding improvement in the status of labor, gave rise to a surly class consciousness. And class consciousness is the fertile soil where professional agitators sow the bitter seeds of class hatred. Class hatred is the herald of revolution.
5. The bewildering ethnological composition of a population which was nothing more than a loose agglomeration of over two hundred unassimilated nationalities will, I think, bear me out in believing that Russia was probably the only land on the face of the earth that could have produced so swiftly and so completely the chaotic enigma she now presents to the civilized world. Walk with me through the streets of Moscow, that mart where East and West meet, but blend not. Let your gaze range from the fair-haired Slav or Aryan from Great Russia and Siberia to the sernibarbaric countenances and Asiatic types discernible among the slant-eyed soldiers, worshipers of Buddha, who thronged the streets in 1922. Kirghiz, Kalmuks, Chuvashes, Tatars, and Chinese! In a word, visualize the component human elements of the far-flung empire of the Tsars and you will begin to appreciate what Kipling meant when he wrote that Russia must be considered, not as the most eastern of western nations, but as the most westerly nation of the East. And you cannot but agree that this heterogeneous admixture of races, religions, and antagonistic interests contained within itself the fatal germs of domestic discord, the seeds of fratricidal strife and bloody revolution, to end eventually in complete economic and social disintegration.
6. The influence of sectarianism cannot be overlooked in any complete account of the progress of revolution in Russia. Apart from the twelve million Roman Catholics residing within the confines of the Empire, mainly of Polish origin and consequently treated with hostility as tolerated aliens, and the seven millions or more of Protestants, there existed a bewildering complexity of dissident sects. Tenacious of their old and new beliefs, fanatically opposed to the state religion, the sectarians were prepared to die, as they frequently did, for their religious practices. If we add to the strictly Orthodox communities of Raskolniks (Separatists) and Starovyeri (Old Believers) the rationalist and chiliastic groups, the Adventists and the New Adventists, the Nemoliakhi and Neplatel'shchiki (nonpayers of taxes), the Stranniki (pilgrims), the Medal'shchiki (medalists), the Jehovists (universal brothers), the Sviatodulkhovsti (adherents of the Holy Ghost), the Dukhobors and Molokani (Zionists), the Fire Baptists and Morel'shchiki (self-immolators), the Khlysty (scourgers), the Skoptsy (self-mutilators), and the Trudnoviki (cloistral communists), a total is reached which embraced probably a third of the population. And since orthodoxy and autocracy were inseparably linked in the Russian idea of the State, nonconformers were penalized and systematically oppressed. The victims were in moral and intellectual rebellion long before the armed revolt of 1917. They constituted a sociopolitical factor of truly elemental power, smouldering with resentment and ripe for explosion.
Russia was an ethnological museum superintended by a vigilant autocrat and policed by the Third Section of Chancery, the Political Police. With the downfall of the overseer and the murder of the policeman, bedlam broke loose. Russia was a pyramid, but an inverted pyramid with a huge, unwieldy, and inert superstructure of discontented, illiterate masses, balanced unsteadily on that slender apex furnished by the fraction of the population included in the nobility, the aristocracy, and the bureaucracy. With the crumbling of the demoralized autocracy, upon which practically the whole of organized life was balanced, human society turned turtle. As the area affected was one sixth of the surface of this planet, and as the human element then involved numbered over 170,000,000 people, the resulting chaos was proportionate to the possibilities for disorder and destruction, which were boundless, inherent in such an unstable system, never far from the surface and only outwardly controlled by the Okhrana, the secret police of the Tsars. Consequently, when the crash came, it marked the most stupendous single political event, I believe, since the break-up of the Roman Empire. Not only did the ensuing human wreckage cover the plains of Muscovy, but the flotsam and the jetsam have been washed up on every shore of the civilized world, so that the Russian émigré—that most tragic and, be it truthfully said, that most amiable personage—can claim kinship with Vergil's Aeneas when he says, 'Quae regio in terra noetri non plena laboris!—What corner of the earth has not known our sorrow!'
Russia was the last island fortress of absolutism in the rising tide of democracy, the outstanding anachronism of the twentieth century. Ringed round by the bayonets of the Preobrazhenski and Volinski regiments, its ukases executed by the knouts of Cossacks and the flashing sabres of the Hussars, it defied the elements for three hundred years--until the deluge came. Whose hand unloosed the flood gates? In my opinion, a woman, all unconsciously, had more to do with the final debacle than any other single cause.
The part played by this unhappy woman in the final catastrophe cannot be overestimated. A German princess of the House of Hesse, it would appear that she never completely won the sympathy and confidence of her adopted people, but, like her equally unfortunate prototype, Marie Antoinette, she was vaguely distrusted by the Russian people as a foreigner and a Germanophile. Of the charge, however, of treason, history probably will clear the memory of Alexandra Feodorovna, if it can never clear her memory of tendencies, practices, and imprudences that contributed notably to Russia's ruin. The domination which this imperious, proud, aloof, and resolute woman exercised over her irresolute and impressionable husband became such a menace that more than one grand duke, duchess, and general cried out in warning against it. They were usually exiled to their estates, far from Petrograd.
Russia had touched the nadir of misfortune and corrupt administration. Food supplies were insufficient: transportation, the nerves of the body economic, was paralyzed; the supply of ammunition was not only inadequate, but systematically sabotaged; shells were manufactured in Russian factories that fitted no Russian ordnance; soldiers were sent to the front barefoot. Mr.Francis, the American Ambassador to Russia during the Revolution, recounts in his correspondence that Russian troops were sent to battle with but one rifle for every two men. The unarmed trooper was instructed to seize the rifle of a comrade as the latter fell. The defeatists destroyed the morale and confidence of the people and evoked the gaunt spectre of national disaster.
Intelligent ministers, who realized the gravity of both the internal and the external situation and dared to protest, out of loyalty to Russia, were summarily dismissed at the bidding of 'dark forces' and 'invisible influences,' acting through the Empress. Twenty-one cabinet members followed each other to disgrace during the merry game of 'ministerial leapfrog.' The head and front of the offending was the unspeakable Rasputin, whose sinister influence over the Tsarina gave rise to a mass of scandalous reports that discredited the monarchy, encouraged the enemies of the throne, and drove patriotic Russians to desperation.
Unsavory as this episode must ever be, it cannot be dismissed as a legend. Gregory Rasputin was one of the contributing causes of the Russian Revolution.
This coarse and depraved adventurer was born a Siberian peasant. While posing as one inspired of God, a staretz, as the type is called in Russia, he was 'discovered' by the wife of a wealthy Moscow merchant during a pilgrimage to a Siberian shrine. Under her auspices he was introduced to the most exclusive circles of the capital. It shoud be noted at this point that Rasputin, though frequently called a monk, was not a priest of the Russian Church, nor was he even in holy orders at any time, but was one of the wandering pilgrims so frequently met in the country districts of Russia. As regards ecclesiastical jurisdiction, he was absolutely a free lance and the authorities found it impossible to control his actions. His chief title to preëminence seems to have been a certain power of healing the sick by the application of personal magnetism.
The possession of occult powers, and the mysticism of charlatans, never failed to exercise a fatal fascination for the intellectuals of Russia. Philippe, the butcher's boy of Lyons, whose vogue at the Russian court ceased as Rasputin came on the scene in 1905, is a case in point. And historians of the Russian Revolution will find a curious confirmation of the same psychic abnormality in the quacks, charlatans, spiritists and mesmerists, 'table-rappers' and 'tableturners,' who overawed French society with their dabbling in the supernatural on the very eve of the French Revolution. 'They danced to death along a flowery way.'
Isvolsky, in his Recollections of a Foreign Minister, records the influence of the Comte de Saint-Germain over the Landgrave of Hesse, of the 'unknown Philosopher' over the Duchess of Bourbon, and of Cagliostro over Cardinal de Bourbon. Similarly, the influence of Rasputin over the Tsarina was based upon his mysterious but conceded ability to heal the young Tsarevitch by means which still remain an open question.
It is a matter of history that the Tsar and the Tsarina had been long disappointed in the birth of four daughters but of no male heir to the throne. This situation continued until 1904, when a boy was born. The Tsarevitch, Alexis, was, consequently, the child of predilection on whom the affections of father and mother were unsparingly lavished. But the rejoicing at his birth soon turned into bitter grief and desperation, for it was found that the infant son suffered from the strange disease often found among royal children in Europe, known as haemophilia. Victims of this malady are known in medicine as haemophiliacs, or 'bleeders.' It shows itself in a certain weakness of the veins and of the arteries of the skin, so that the sufferer is liable, at the slightest injury or contusion, to bleed profusely. The slightest scratch, or the bumping of a hand or an ankle against a projection, will cause either bleeding or a discolored swelling on the afflicted member, accompanied with the most excruciating pain. This mysterious disease is transmitted through the mother and only to the males. The sister of the Tsarina, Princess Henry of Prussia, had transmitted it to all three of her sons. One of the Tsarina's younger brothers also suffered from it, likewise her Uncle Leopold, Queen Victoria's youngest son. The oldest son of the King of Spain, the Prince of the Asturias, is likewise a sufferer, and grave doubt is now entertained if he will live to succeed King Alfonso.
Everything known to medical science was done for the precious heir to the Russian throne, in whom were concentrated all the hopes of the Romanov dynasty. In fact, the care lavished on her only son gave rise to the criticism at court that Alexandra was more of a nurse than an empress. It is at this point that Rasputin enters on the scene.
I consulted many persons in Moscow and Petrograd, among them physicians and scholars familiar with the current reports involving the Empress and Rasputin. I likewise discussed this and allied topics in London last July with Sir Bernard Pares, whose lifelong study of Russia and residence in Russia during the Revolution make him one of the world's leading scholars in the field of Russian history. Alexander Kerensky, former Premier of Russia in the Provisional Government, who personally visited and conversed with the Tsarina in her imprisonment, likewise gave me several hours on the same subject. The consensus of opinion is that Alexandra was, in point of morality, above reproach and cannot be accused of improper relations with the greasy muzhik. The same cannot be said of other high personages in her entourage.
Gregory Rasputin was simply a clever adventurer, a habitual drunkard, and a licentious roué who utilized for his purposes some hypnotic or mesmeric power not definitely catalogued. Whatever the explanation may be, the outstanding fact upon which all agree is that Rasputin could stop the paroxysms of pain into which the young Tsarevitch was so often thrown by his dread affliction. The maternal love of the Tsarina for her boy and her terror when she realized the danger to his health, complicated by an emotional religious fervor, furnished the foundation for Rasputin's influence at court. On one occasion Rasputin was actually sent away from Petrograd by order of the Emperor. The Tsarevitch fell ill. The doctors tried every known remedy, but the hemorrhage grew steadily worse and death was expected at any moment The distracted Tsarina had Rasputin recalled to his bedside. Over the blood-soaked bandages Rasputin made the sign of the cross, mumbled some incantations, laid his hand upon the still, white face, and the bleeding stopped. He was never again to leave the court, as he himself had prophesied on receiving the order of expulsion.
The manner and secret of his success are still debated. Out of the welter of hypotheses advanced by his contemporaries I select two as the most probable. The first group attributes his influence to a species of mesmerism or personal magnetism, the application of which soothed and hypnotized the sufferer until nature itself was enabled to exercise its recuperative power. The second group advances a more complicated and more subtle explanation. They suspect that Madame Viroubova, one of Rasputin's admitted devotees and lady in waiting to the Tsarina, administered an irritating physic or drug to the Tsarevitch at stated intervals. This drug is supposed to have teen supplied by a mysterious Badmaiev, a doctor of Oriental origin who flits in and out of the scene. The potion was administered so as to coincide with the appearance of Rasputin, who timed his visits shrewdly. As the effects wore off, the impostor made it appear that the cure was due to the hocus-pocus which he pronounced over the suffering child.
The hypnotic explanation receives added force from the testimony of several Russian statesmen not likely to be influenced by romantic tales. Rodzianko, Speaker of the Duma,—a huge man, physically robust, and of demonstrated will power,—confesses that Rasputin, on one occasion, gave him a disconcerting exhibition of occult power. It was at the Tercentenary Celebration of the Romanov dynasty. Rasputin, uninvited, had wormed his way into the place for honor guests at a service in the Kazan Cathedral in Petrograd. Rodzianko ordered him out:-
'I drew quite close to him and said in an impressive whisper, " What are you doing here?" He shot an insolent look at me and replied, " What's that to do with you?"
'" If you address me as 'thou', I will drag you from the Cathedral by the beard. Don't you know I am the President of the Duma?"
'Rasputin faced me and seemed to run me over with his eyes; first my face, then in the region of the heart, then again he stared me in the eyes. This lasted for several moments.
'Personally I had never yielded to hypnotic suggestion, of which I had had frequent experience. Yet here I felt myself confronted by an unknown power of tremendous force. I suddenly became possessed of an almost animal fury, the blood rushed to my heart, and I realized I was working myself into a state of absolute frenzy. I, too, stared straight into Rasputin's eyes and, speaking literally, felt my own starting out of my head. Probably I must have looked rather formidable, for Rasputin suddenly began to squirm...'
On another occasion; as far back as 1911, Stolypin, whom no one ever accused of being a weakling, had a similar encounter with Rasputin. Summoned to the Premier's study to answer to charges of notorious public immorality, the staretz attempted to hypnotize the statesman.
'He ran his pale eyes over me,' said Stolypin, 'mumbled mysterious and inarticulate words from the Scriptures, made strange movements with his hands, and I began to feel an indescribable loathing for this vermin sitting opposite me. Still I did realize that the man possessed great hypnotic power which was beginning to produce a fairly strong moral impression on me, though certainly one of repulsion. I pulled myself together and, addressing him roughly, told him ...'
The Empress and her intimate coterie regarded Rasputin as a saint, a prophet, and a healer sent by God. The step from personal favor to political power was not difficult in a syste of absolutism where all power emanated from the autocrat. Rasputin, it is claimed, made and unmade ministers of State, generals, and bishops. His lodgings were besieged by petitioners seeking favors at the court. But by the Russian people at large he was considered the evil genius of the hour, a licentious impostor, whose drunkenness and eroticism were masked under the fair mantle of religion. His hold became so powerful that any man who offended or ignored him ran the risk of being dismissed from office, whether he was a cabinet minister or a doorkeeper. No public official was safe at his hands nor any woman's honor. Among countless others, Sazonov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, was replaced by Sturme the pro-German, on the recommendation of the Rasputin clique. This is believed to have been the fate even of the Grand Duke Nicholas, whose removal from the rank of Commander in Chief of all the Russian armies followed an incident that has become classic in the writing of that period.
Rasputin telegraphed the Grand Duke Nicholas for permission to come to the front in order to bless the troops. The Grand Duke replied: 'Do come, so that I may hang you.' Mortally offended by this affront to her favorite, the Empress pursued Nicholas with implacable resentment and finally succeeded in having him transferred from Commander in Chief of the Russian armies to innocuous desuetude in the Caucasus, on the Turkish front.
Why did not the Tsar have the courage to cut this Gordian knot that was slowly strangling Russia? In answer to the protests and the warnings of one old general, Nicholas is reported to have said, 'I prefer five Rasputins to one hysterical woman.'
Nicholas II is also reported to have said that there were two black-letter days in his life. The first was May 28, 1905, the date of the defeat of the Russian fleet in the Straits of Tsushima, between Japan and Korea. The second was October 17, 1906, marking the establishing of a Duma and the proclamation of a Bill of Rights. Shall not history add a third—August 23, 1915, the day on which he left Petrograd for the front, leaving the Tsarina to rule in his stead?
The extent and character of the Tsarina's unhealthy influence over the last of the Romanovs may be judged from the tone of the letters to her husband while he was at the front. No serious historian of the Russian Revolution can afford to neglect the revelations contained in these astounding documents. For that matter, put your discerning investigator in possession of the intimate correspondence, memoirs, confidential confessions, and diaries of the chief actors in any great movement, and he will not need the state archives. Revolutions are made by men and women determining events. Men are swayed by powerful human emotions. Women create them. And the master passion, particularly in neurotic females, can be as elegantly indifferent to the realities of life and war as ever Montesquieu was to the existence of God.
The letters of the Tsarina, four hundred in number, preserved with pathetic fidelity in a small black casket of wood marked with the Tsar's initials, were carried about by him in his exile from place to place. Discovered by the Bolsheviki at Ekaterinburg after the official murder of the imperial family, they have been published, with an introduction by Sir Bernard Pares. All Were written in English.
Perhaps never in recorded literature did a human soul strip itself so bare to posterity as did this ecstatic queen of forty-six years and mother of five children. 'My well beloved'; 'My only treasure'; 'My sun'; 'My soul.' 'The most tender kisses and caresses from your loving little wife.' 'I bless you, I embrace your dear face, your pretty neck, and your dear little hands.' 'Good-bye, dear Nicky—I embrace you again and again. I have slept poorly. All the time I embraced your cushion [pillow].'
'Good-bye, my angel, spouse of my heart. I envy my flowers that you took away with you. I embrace every dear little place of your body with tender love.' And so on, through four hundred epistles. One was sent each day, supplemented by frequent telegrams. Reverence for the inviolability of such personal communications and a decent respect for the sacredness of connubial relations would ordinarily safeguard such a correspondence. If it be permissible to lift the veil at all, it is not to dishonor the dead, but to indicate the subtle approach to political questions which the Tsarina made through the gateway of the Tsar's affections. Hers is a cry of frenzied love for her husband and fear for her child. But the moving finger that was writing Russia's destiny on the wall was that of Rasputin and the defeatists.
Note the finesse of the progressive attack on the Tsar's vacillating will:-
I cannot find words [declares the Empress] to express all I want to: my heart is far too full. I only long to hold you tight in my arms and to whisper words of immense love, courage, strength, and endless blessings. More than hard to let you go alone, so completely alone! But God is very near to you, more near than ever. You have fought this great fight for your country and throne alone and with bravery and decision. Never have they seen such firmness in you before, and it cannot remain without good fruit...Lovey. I am here. Don't augh at silly old wifey; but she has the 'trousers' on unseen....Your faith has been tried and you remained firm as a rock. For that you will be blessed. God anointed you at your coronation. He placed you where you stand and you have done your duty....Our Friend's prayers arise night and day for you to Heaven, and God will hear them....This is the beginning of the glory of your reign. He [Rasputin] said so and I absolutely believe it. ...All is for the good. As our Friend says, the worst is over....When you leave [I] shall wire to Friend to-night through Ania [the Tsaritsa's lady in waiting, one of Rasputin's devotees] and he will particularly think of you. Only get Nikolasha's nomination [his transference to the Caucasus] quicker done. No dawdling! It is bad for the cause and for Alexeyev [the Head of the General Staff] too....I know what you feel; the meeting with N. [Nikolasha] won't be agreeable. You did trust him, and now you know what months ago our Friend said, that he was acting wrongly toward you and your country and wife. It's not the people who would do harm to your people, but Nikolasha and his set, Gutchkov [a popular member of the Duma], Rodzianko [the Speaker of the Duma], Samarin [the Procurator of the Holy Synod who was responsible for the second dismissal of Rasputin]....You see they are afraid of me....They know I have a will of my own when I feel I am in the right....You make them tremble before your courage and will. God is with you and our Friend for you. All is well; and later all will thank you for having saved the country. Don't doubt! Believe and all will be well; and the Army is everything. A few strikes are nothing in comparison; as they can and shall be suppressed....
In another letter she repeats this counsel:-
Our Friend [Rasputin] entreats you to be firm, to be master, and not always give in to Trepov. You know much better than that man; and still you let him lead you. Why not our Friend, who leads through God? Only believe more in our Friend instead of Trepov. He lives for you and Russia.
Would I write thus [she says in a letter dated December 13] did I not know you so very easily waver and change your mind, and what it costs me to keep you to stick to your opinions?
[To make him firm she strikes the note of duty toward his son.] We must give a strong country to baby; we dare not be weak for his sake. Else he will have a yet harder reign, setting our faults right, and drawing the reins in tightly which you let loose. You have to suffer for faults in the reigns of your predecessors. And God knows what hardships are yours. Let our legacy be a lighter one for Alexei! He has a strong will and mind of his own. Don't let things slip through your fingers and make him have to build up all again. Be firm. I, your wall, am behind you and won't give way. I know He [Rasputin] leads us right; and you listen to a false man like Trepov.
Only not a responsible Cabinet, which all are mad about. It's all getting calmer and better; only one wants to feel your hand. How long years people have told me the same: 'Russia loves to feel the whip.' It's their nature--tender love and then the iron hand to punish and guide. How I wish I could pour my will into your veins. The Virgin above you, with you. Remember the miracle, our Friend's vision.
Darling, remember that it does not, lie in the man Protopopov or X. Y. Z.; but it's the question of monarchy and your prestige now, which must not be shattered in the time of the Duma. Don't think they will stop at him. But they will make all others leave who are devoted to you, one by one. And then ourselves! Remember last year your leaving for the Army, when also you were alone, with us two against everybody, who promised Revolution if you went. You stood up against all and God blessed your decision....The Tsar rules and not the Duma....Show to all that you are the master and that your will must be obeyed. The time of great indulgence and gentleness is over; now comes your reign of will and power. And they shall be made to bow down before you, to listen to your orders.
Two letters are particularly significant. Pobyedonostsev could not have counseled the Emperor worse.
Play the Emperor! Remember you are the Autocrat. Speak to your Ministers as their Master. Do not be too good. Do not tell all the world that you bring disaster. Your angelic goodness, your forbearance, your patience, are well known, and everyone takes advantage of you. Make haste, my own darling; your little wife must always be behind you to spur you on.
Be like Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible, the Emperor Paul. Crush them all. No, do not laugh, you naughty child. I so long to see you treat in this way those who try to govern you, when it is you who should govern them.
Could human folly have proposed a more destructive trio of tyrants as models to guide the feet of a monarch already stumbling in his ruin? Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible, and the Emperor Paul!
Peter the Great—who first started the Russian State on the wrong path, the typical despot who forced men to wear their clothes and shave their beards in a certain style because he so preferred it; the scorner of religion and the Church; regarded as Antichrist by his own people; the murderer who slew his own son Alexis because that unfortunate prince dared to defend the rights of his oppressed countrymen! Dimitri Merejkovski, in his remarkable psychological novel, Peter and Alexis, has left a vivid picture of this incident.
Lenin regarded Peter the Great as the first Bolshevik and declared that he was his political ancestor. Constantine Aksakov, brilliant Russian idealist, ardent lover of his people, and dreamer of a golden age for Russia, has left a characteristic indictment of the Compulsory enlirhtenment inaugurated by Peter:-
A man of genius and of bloodstained fame, you stand far off in the halo of terrible glory and armed with your axe. In the name of usefulness and science you have often dyed your hand in the blood of your people, and your swift thought told you that the seed of knowledge would swiftly grow when watered with blood. But wait! The spirit of the people has drawn back in the time of trouble, but it keeps its eternal right. It is waiting for the hour when a national voice will again call forth the waves of the people. You have despised all Russian life and in return a curse lies on your great work. You have discarded Moscow and, far from the people, you have built a solitary city which bears your name in a foreign tongue. But your feat is a wrong and the nation will rise again some day for ancient Moscow.
Prophetic words! To-day, two generations after Aksakov's death, Petrograd is a decaying, halfdeserted city. Its very name has been changed to Leningrad, and the sceptre has returned to Moscow.
Ivan the Terrible—the Russian Nero, who instituted a reign of terror against his own subjects that has passed into a proverb! 'He abandoned the palace in the Kremlin, and built himself and his satellites a whole new quarter in Moscow, summarily evicting the actual tenants; but he did not live much in the capital, preferring to direct his reign of terror from the forest of Alexandrov, which village he made his residence. Here he led the life of a lunatic, and forced his two sons, Ivan and Theodore, to do the same. The mornings were spent in bell-ringing and prostration; during dinner he read aloud the lives of the saints, in the afternoon he watched his victims being tortured, and in the evening he listened to soothsayers or got drunk. Everybody whom he suspected he had murdered, tortured, or imprisoned; these included his cousin and all his family, and many of the boyars and their families. The Metropolitan of Moscow was outraged, imprisoned, and finally put to death for remonstrating with him. Not content with this, Ivan toured his unfortunate country, dealing death and destruction wherever he went. He literally devastated the prosperous city of Novgorod, and decimated its inhabitants, because it had dared to oppose his grandfather, and had rendered itself suspect of treachery. Finally, his suspicions fell on his own followers, and some of the chief oprichniki were executed. He made the people of Russia realize what it meant to invite a sovereign to come and rule upon his own terms. He did infinitely more material and moral harm to his country and to his subjects in twenty years than the Tatars had done in two hundred, and the irony of it was that he completely failed in his object.'
Among his victims was his own son, Ivan, whom he killed in a fit of rage in the presence of the victim's young wife, crushing his head with the heavy iron staff studded with iron points which the father was in the habit of carrying.
'Be like the Emperor Paul'! Now the Emperor Paul was known throughout Europe as the 'crowned madman,' whose despotism knew no bounds. So savage was his persecution, even of his own family, that a band of noblemen penetrated to his sleeping room on March 28, 1801, and murdered him. The Emperor had leaped from his bed at the sound of the approaching officers and hid behind some friendly curtain, but the leader of the band, touching the bedclothes, said, 'The nest is warm the bird cannot be far away.' The members of the avenging group held the terrified despot while one of them calmly strangled him with the sash of his uniform. Among the murderers was the great-great-grandfather of Isvolsky, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs under Nicholas II, a descendant of the murdered emperor.
In early December, 1916, the Grand Duke Alexander, a favorite of the royal couple, was delegated by a group of near relations of the Tsar to present to the Autocrat a petition begging him to grant a constitution—or at least a cabinet responsible to the people—before it should be too late. The Grand Duke, on his return from the interview, reported the conversation:-
'There is a superb chance now at hand. In three days we shall celebrate the sixth of December, Saint Nicholas's Day. Announce a constitution for that day; dismiss Sturmer and Protopopov, and you will see with what enthusiasm and love your people will acclaim you.' The Emperor sat in pensive silence. He flicked the ashes from his cigarette with a bored gesture. The Empress shook her head, negatively. Nicholas answered: 'What you ask is impossible. On the day of my coronation I swore to preserve the autocracy. I must keep that oath intact for my son.'
Driven finally to desperation by the futility of their efforts to curb the invisible influences and the dark forces surrounding the Empress, a small band of men of high birth, some related to the royal family, resolved to take the law of life and death into their own hands. The first victim marked for death was Rasputin. An intercepted letter revealed the fact that the Empress herself would have been the next to be removed.
The versions of Rasputin's death differ somewhat in details, but substantially they all agree that the 'prophet,' on the night of December 30, 1916, was enticed to the house of Prince Felix Yousoupov on the Moika, in Petrograd, and there assassinated in cold blood. Besides the Prince, the conspirators included the Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich and Pourishkevich, leader of the right wing of the Duma. The body was bundled into a blanket; a dog was killed to explain the pistol shot and account for the blood; the body finally was conveyed to the Neva in the automobile of a very high personage, and pushed under the ice.
When the news spread through Russia that Rasputin was no more, men breathed freely, and hope mounted in their breasts. But the hope was shortlived. The domineering will of the Empress was unbroken, and a period of depression ensued. The Prince and the other nobles implicated in the taking off of Rasputin were banished, some to their estates in Russia and one tb distant Persia. Practically all the members, near and distant, of the royal family united in beseeching the Emperor and the Empress to profit by the manifestations of popular unrest. Seventeen members of the royal family signed this protest. But the Tsarina was unmoved and the Tsar was obliged to request his own mother, the Dowager Empress, to leave the city and retire her estates in the Crimea. The Romanovs, like the Bourbons, learned nothing and forgot nothing. The Tsarina became more resentful, more bitter, more autocratic than ever.
Three weeks before the final debacle, in February 1917, a faint ray of hope flickered through the thickening gloom. But once more the invisible forces—or was it the Tsarina?—intervened. Rodzianko narrates the incident:-
The Duma was in session for nearly a week. I learned casually that the Emperor had summoned several of the ministers, including Golitsyn, and expressed his desire to discuss the question of a responsible ministry. The conference ended in the Emperor's decision to go to the Duma next day and proclaim his will to grant a responsible ministry. Prince Golitsyn was overjoyed and came home in high spirits. That same evening he was again summoned to the Palace, where the Emperor announced to him his intention to leave for the Stavka.
'How is that, Your Majesty?' asked Golitsyn, amazed. 'What about a responsible ministry? You intended to go to the Duma to-morrow.' 'I have changed my mind....I am leaving for the Stavka to-night.'
Russia was doomed.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.