Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

From February to October

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In his Annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, President Putin placed special emphasis on the anniversaries of the February Revolution and the October Revolution:

This is a good moment for looking back on the causes and nature of these revolutions in Russia. Not just historians and scholars should do this; Russian society in general needs an objective, honest, and deep-reaching analysis of these events.

Indeed, history is a great teacher giving us a variety of cases and making us draw numerous lessons. However, we need to learn from our experience and apply our knowledge to specific circumstances and particular landscape for these lessons to be more than just a tribute to the memory of the events. We must learn from our historical, political, and social errors and contribute to the state’s development. The available data shows clear evidence that the February Revolution and the October Revolution had roots in a complex mix of internal and external factors. We should particularly emphasise that problems leading to a coup or a revolution aren’t exclusively domestic ones. Still, A M Gorchakov, an outstanding diplomat and Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire, who studied the French revolutions that broke out in 1789, 1830, 1848, and 1871, quite rightly noted:

Unless the government has made an error, a revolution won’t break out; the government is to blame for every revolution.

Therefore, let’s consider the contemporary internal political situation in the Russian Empire. 1917 became a turning point in the period of Russian history that started with the 1861 Emancipation Reform abolishing serfdom. Although it was the most important of the “Great Reforms”, however, it laid a foundation for future social upheavals. In fact, the emancipation of the serfs impoverished them. The reform took 20 percent of land away from serfs, and the size of land allotment almost halved, shrinking by 43 to 50 percent (5.24 hectares per person earlier against 2.84 after the reform). Meanwhile, those people had trouble assimilating into urban life, so numerous serfs were on the edge of survival. In retrospect, one can justifiably state that the events of 1917 were the direct continuation of the events of 1905 and completed earlier processes.

Secondly, the integration of largely agrarian Russia into the world capitalist system, which started in the 1850s, adversely affected most of the population. The country experienced two opposite trends. On the one hand, foreign investment allowed introducing new technologies and constructing plants, factories, and roads, with foreigners owning 90 percent of Russian mines, 50 percent of chemical enterprises, 40 percent of metallurgical and machine-building plants, and 30 percent of textile mills. On the other hand, the rising export of resources, including capital, needed to support economic development, stood in the way of the emerging Russian bourgeoisie. To put it differently, foreign capital was both an engine and a brake on domestic savings, and the country gradually gave up its financial and resource independence. As a result, industrialisation was in its initial stages up until World War I. Industry earned 6 billion roubles, whilst agriculture remained the major source of national wealth, earning 24 billion roubles, accounting for 75-80 percent of GDP. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the population worked in agriculture, and the rural population constituted 87 percent of the total.

Thirdly, the state’s growing dependence on foreign loans provoked revolutionary upheavals. Russia accounted for 1.998 billion USD, or 31.2%, of the total external debt accumulated by all countries, and amounted to 6.317 billion USD by early 1914. However, the state remained the largest landowner, factory-owner, wholesale merchant, creditor, and so on. Naturally, capital-owners strongly opposed the situation, which fuelled tension between wealthy capitalists and the state. The big bourgeoisie mainly aimed to reduce the role of the state in the economy and limit it as much as possible; their idea was to transform capital into power. The fourth reason translating into large-scale demonstrations across the country was a logical extension of the above-mentioned causes. On the one hand, the difficult socioeconomic situation aggravated by the war provoked political disgruntlement. On the other hand, wealthy capitalists actively backing workers’ councils and establishing an extensive network of organisations fuelled popular resentment. Since 1916, prices rose four- or fivefold, and Russia saw a four-time increase in cash, with gold, in fact, withdrawn from circulation. Strike movements, unrest in villages, and rebellions on the periphery were exhausting and destabilising the state.

Weak government enjoying little popular support constituted a fifth, and perhaps most important, cause of the February Revolution, with the enrichment of the few accompanied by the impoverishment of the many. Specifically, Carl Fabergé received an unprecedentedly high number of orders in the crisis year of 1916. Thus, the paralysis of the state, mostly of the national security agencies, gripped the country. Already at war, Russia had a systemic crisis, resulting in the élite’s inability to perform its basic functions, infrastructure disruptions, and ultimately overt sabotage. As such, the revolution didn’t break out until the Tsar’s abdication, specifically until Nikolai II left his people and army to their own devices. Until then, one could see events as a plot or a rebellion, quite reversible phenomena. However, the Emperor’s abdication unleashed irreversible, and at the same time, most radical, processes, with the February Revolution followed by the October Revolution.

Finally, one should again point up that the internal factors of the February Revolution emerged full blown in the context of the world political game. The February Revolution came to be of crucial importance in the struggle for European and global primacy waged by Great Britain and its allies. Specifically, the fight aimed at erasing Russia from the geopolitical map and reducing it to a resource source, which was impossible to accomplish without the deposition of Nikolai II. At the Tsar’s abdication, Lloyd George actually said in Parliament:

[Through this], Britain achieved one of its major war aims.

Finally, yet importantly, the February events have a special meaning amid more frequent coups, more broadly known as “colour revolutions”. Current seizures of power fit into the structural pattern of the 1917 February Revolution, as they tend to capitalise on popular discontent to cause political destabilisation and breed opposition groups. Globalisation-shaped technological innovations also affect this. Whilst anti-monarchy propaganda circulated via newspapers and leaflets, today’s new mass media network takes the place of the press, revolutionary clubs, and strike committees. At the same time, the “Februarists” and contemporary “revolutionaries” share similar tasks and objectives, namely the overthrow of the state. Moreover, the February events and putsches have another important aspect in common, particularly their essential requirement to neutralise, even liquidate, the political leader. His or her deposition (or assassination) presages chaos, civil wars, and economic and political devastation, rather than the triumph of freedom and law.

8 April 2017

Yelena Ponomareva

Professor MGIMO

Rethinking Russia

http://rethinkingrussia.ru/en/2017/04/from-february-to-october/

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

19 April 2017. To Ensure the Future, We Must Respect the Past

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Some people such as Victor Potapov want to “revise” the past, to “erase” people and events that they find distasteful. This is utterly wrong, crackbrained, and ludicrous in the extreme. We must keep covenant with all our past… with the Imperial legacy… with the Soviet legacy… we must keep covenant with both, or we create a monstrous golem, a Frankenstein of our own creation. Some people like Potapov are from families that were “somebodies” in Tsarist Russia, who were better off than most. So, the Soviet history and legacy are anathema to them because their families lost their “golden teat”. One can tell the measure of their character by seeing that they didn’t scruple at aiding the enemies of the Rodina in hopes of restoring their fortunes.

The people to follow are Tsar Nikolai and President Lukashenko, who say the same thing in essence. “Keep faith with ALL of our past. Honour everything that was good… reflect on everything that was bad”. That’s more healthy than the anti-Stalin rants of Potapov (and those like him). Keep it focused… the anti-communist warriors will be out in force this year. Meet them head-on and don’t fear… after all, our Holy Patriarch offered sincere condolences to the Castro family on the occasion of Fidel Castro’s death. He showed much more humanity and Christian love than did the loudmouth “conservatives” who criticised him for doing such. Our Church isn’t rightwing…

BMD

Sunday, 19 February 2017

February Revolution of 1917: Good Intentions, Tragic Fates?

00-russsia-nikolai-ii-160217

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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/

Thursday, 12 June 2014

12 June 2014. Our Great Russian Motherland… The Moscow Kremlin Decked Out in Electric Lights… for the 1896 Coronation of Tsar St Nikolai Aleksandrovich

00 Moscow Kremlin. 1896. electric light. 12.06.14

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You hear constant mewling from the zapadniki on how “backward” we Russians are and on how we need their guidance. Well, this image is of the Moscow Kremlin decked out in electric lights… in 1896! That is, 118 years ago. Russia is just as forward-looking as everyone else, but it’s had to rebuild from the ground up after THREE major upheavals… World War I/Civil War, the VOV, and the New Smuta of the Nasty 90s. America’s never had to do that, except for the American South, devastated in the American Civil War… and it took that region a century to recover from that. That’s to say, the American Neoliberal ideology is a juvenile construct… it’s never had to face a fully adult task such as rebuilding a shattered economy and infrastructure… and in short order, at that. That’s why you must discount all neoliberal “conservative” bloviations (and all “conservative” bloviators)… it’s a philosophy only fit for selfish, ignorant, and grasping children.

Russia is one of the leading nation-states of the world… this photo proves it…

BMD

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