Voices from Russia

Sunday, 19 February 2017

February Revolution of 1917: Good Intentions, Tragic Fates?

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Editor:

A good friend of mine wrote of this:

It shows how some in the emigration are still justifying their and their forefathers’ treason.

I need add no more…

I urge all readers to use the Russian Wikipedia links provided… they differ from the English ones (they’re better)… run a machine translation if you must, it’ll reward you.

BMD

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Nicholas Daniloff, 82, the founder of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston MA and former Moscow correspondent for US News & World Report, is one of a very few Americans who has a personal connection to the February Revolution in Russia. In 1917, this revolution, which combined a popular uprising with a élitist anti-monarchist plot, toppled Tsar Nikolai II Aleksandrovich and paved the way for almost a century of “troubled times” in Russia.

When Nicholas Daniloff was born in a Russian émigré home in Paris in 1934, his grandfather Yu N Danilov, a former tsarist general and head of Russian Army Headquarters during World War I, was still alive and had two more years to live. Isolated both from his now Bolshevik Russian motherland and from the majority of his fellow émigré officers, General Danilov didn’t lead a happy life in France. The reason for their isolation from the mostly monarchist Russian émigré community in Paris was Danilov’s participation in Nikolai II’s abdication on 2 March 1917. The tsar abdicated due to the insistence of the army’s top generals, including Danilov, after a series of rebellions in Petrograd and Moscow on 23 February to 1 March. The generals later said that by forcing Tsar Nikolai to resign they wanted to prevent even bigger troubles, ensuring a smooth transition of state power to the tsar’s relatives or to the Gosduma, which was then dominated by anti-monarchist liberals. However, the situation quickly slipped out of the liberals’ control, the Bolshevik faction of the Social-Democrat Party toppled the liberal Provisional Government in October 1917, and a bloody civil war followed in 1918-21, followed by 70 years of communist rule. Nicholas Daniloff remembered:

My father Serge, a general’s son, lived a life of a refugee in the USA. In early 1917, the Provisional Government sent Serge on a diplomatic mission to Europe, but after the Bolshevik coup, he didn’t want to serve this “new Russia”. The members of the mission divided its funds amongst themselves and went different ways. Therefore, thanks to the February revolution I became an American and later worked as a foreign correspondent in Moscow in the early 1960s and in 1979-86… against the will of my father, who said that even my American passport might not protect me.

Speaking Russian like a native, Daniloff retains a somewhat distanced and critical approach to his historic motherland. In a curious way, this attitude reflects the divisions that to this day plague Russians whenever one mentions the February revolution. He told me during our first meeting in 1991:

I agree with [19th-century French critic of Russian monarchy Astolphe-Louis-Léonor, Marquis] de Custine when he said back in 1840 that Russia was doomed to following the West, but never quite catching up with it. Will this new attempt by Russia to make it [Daniloff meant Gorbachyov‘s perestroika] be successful? Russia already had the Great Reform of 1861, the February revolution of 1917. These attempts were well-intentioned, but never quite successful.

In Russia, the pro-Western Yabloko faction shares Daniloff’s largely positive view of the February revolution’s intentions. Its leader G А Yavlinsky supports the return of the Crimea to the Ukraine and views the EU’s expansion to Russia’s borders as a positive phenomenon. Yavlinsky wrote in an article dedicated to the anniversary of the revolution:

The people who suddenly found themselves having power in February 1917 were educated and honest men, they didn’t deceive their country, and didn’t rob it of its riches. They just lacked the needed experience of running state affairs; the authoritarian tsarist regime denied them this experience.

V А Nikonov, Dean of the History Department at Moscow State University, gave a more negative view both of the February revolution and its leaders at a conference in Moscow dedicated to the February revolution:

The people who held power between February and October 1917 were irresponsible and unpatriotic. The first thing they did after coming to power was to liquidate the Police Department in the Interior Ministry, a step that led to a quick rise in violent crime and extremism. They dismissed or even arrested all the old tsarist governors, without giving clear guidelines to citizens as to how they should elect new governors. All of these actions paved the way for the Bolshevik party, which ultimately seized the power that was lying on the street in October 1917. There can be no feeling of pride associated with the February events and the subsequent abdication of Tsar Nikolai II. Rather, we should remember these events with a feeling of regret or even shame. The tsar was a victim of an elitist conspiracy, which he failed to prevent.

The Bolsheviks executed Nikolai and all of his family in 1918, a little more than a year after the February revolution. The “revolutionary masses” killed most of the military participants of the anti-Nikolai plot (including General N V Ruzsky, who had a direct influence on Nikolai during the latter’s abdication) in 1917-18. The politicians involved in the anti-monarchist conspiracy at least since 1915 (Gosduma leaders P N Milyukov and Prince G Ye Lvov, industrialist A I Konovalov) later lived more or less comfortable lives in emigration, as Russia was treading a bloody path from the Civil War to Stalin’s collectivisation. Some participants of the February events (like the more moderate Gosduma member V V Shulgin) outlived even the 1941-45 Great Patriotic War with Germany… a dramatic “remake” of World War I, which the February revolution is widely believed to have prevented Russia from winning. Shulgin later returned to the USSR, where he spent many years in jail and exile until 1976 (he died at the age of 98), bitterly condemning his Gosduma colleagues’ actions in February 1917.

Was the February revolution inevitable? During Soviet times, it was officially prohibited to even doubt the “historically predetermined character” of the events of 1917. Interestingly, the liberal press and academia in Russia still cling to this “fatalist” view. Amongst those who disagree is B N Mironov, history professor at St Petersburg State University and an author of several books on the Russian revolution of 1917 (the latest trend is to view both the February and the October coups as parts of the same process). He said in a phone interview:

There was no inevitability behind the events of February 1917. Russia wasn’t in military or economic crisis, the food situation in St Petersburg wasn’t good, but it wasn’t worse than in Paris, which had no revolution after all. Russia’s Achilles Heel was public opinion, carefully shaped for years by irresponsible radical intellectuals. The tsar’s main mistake was a lack of attention to public opinion inside the country, where an “anti-monarchist consensus” formed by January 1917. It came about due to rumours about “treason” on the part of [Tsaritsa Aleksandra Fyodorovna], her “spiritual father” G Ye Rasputin, and other members of the so-called “camarilla”.

Investigations by both the Provisional Government and the Soviet Cheka later never found any traces of this “treason”. Mironov noted:

I hope that modern Russian authorities would learn the lessons from 1917, to pay adequate attention to public opinion, and develop healthy pluralism in the political system, making it more flexible and better prepared to sustain all kinds of pressures.

10 February 2017

Dmitri Babich

Sputnik International

https://sputniknews.com/columnists/201702101050558449-february-revolution-1917-good-intentions-tragic-fates/

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