Thirteen Years at the Russian Court Thirteen Years at the Russian Court Thirteen Years at the Russian Court

Revolution - Abdication - Pierre Gilliard - Thirteen Years at the Russian Court

MARCH, 1917

Rasputin was no more and the nation was avenged. A few brave men had taken upon themselves to secure the disappearance of the man who was execrated by one and all. It might be hoped that after this explosion of wrath faction would die down. Unfortunately it was not so. On the contrary, the struggle between the Tsar and the Duma became more bitter than ever.


Above; Aleksey at the head of the luncheon table at Headquarters, Gilliard is on the right.

GILLIARD NOTE: I am referring, of course, to the articulate portion of the nation. The untutored masses cared nothing about him, and among those who knew of his existence a large number were favorable to him. Many considered his death an act of vengeance on the part of the courtiers who were jealous of their privileges. "The first time that one of ourselves gets to the Tsar, he is killed by the courtiers," they said.

To the moujik the great criminals were those who came between the sovereign and his people, and prevented him from extending his favours to them. There was a popular saying that "the Tsar gives, but his servants withhold," in which the peasant expressed his faith in the goodness of his Tsar and his hatred of these around him.

The Tsar was convinced that in existing circumstances all concessions on his part would be regarded as a sign of weakness which, without removing the causes of the discontent which resulted from the miseries and privations of the war, could only diminish his authority and possibly accelerate a revolution, The opposition of the Duma revealed the incapacity and impotence of the Government and in no way improved the situation. Faction became more intense, intrigue multiplied at a time when nothing but the presentation of a united front by all the intelligent classes of the nation could have paralysed the evil influence of Protopopov. A universal effort Would have been required to avert the catastrophe which was rapidly approaching. It was true that this meant asking the upper classes to prove that they could show as much self denial as enlightened patriotism, but in the tragic circumstances through which the country was passing such action might have been expected of them.

How is it that in Russia no one realize what everyone in Germany knew-that a revolution would inevitably deliver up the country to its enemies? I had often dreamed," writes Ludendorff in his War Memories, "of the realization of that Russian revolution which was to lighten our military burden. A perpetual illusion! We had the revolution to-day quite unexpectedly. I felt as if a great weight had fallen from my shoulders." (Ludendorff, My War Memories, vol. ii. (Hutchinson and Co., London) What Ludendorff did not mention, and for good reason, was the untiring efforts Germany had made to produce this revolution which had broken out so unexpectedly.)

The Germans were the only people in Europe who knew Russia. Their knowledge of it was fuller and more exact than that of the Russians themselves. They had known for a long time that the Tsarist regime, with all its faults, was the only one capable of prolonging the Russian resistance, They knew that with the fall of the Tsar Russia would be at their mercy. They stopped at nothing to procure his fall. That is why the preservation of the existing system should have been secured at any cost. The revolution was inevitable at that moment, it was said. It could only be averted by the immediate grant of a constitution. And so on! The fact is that the perverse fate which had blinded the sovereigns was to blind the nation in turn.

Yet the Tsar was inspired by two dominant sentiments - his political enemies themselves knew it - to which all Russia could rally. One of them was his love for his country and the other his absolute determination to continue the war to the bitter end. In the universal blindness which was the result of party passion men did not realise that, in spite of all, a Tsar pledged to the cause of victory was an immense moral asset for the Russian people. They did not see that a Tsar who was what he was popularly supposed to be could alone lead the country to victory and save it from bondage to Germany.

The position of the Tsar was extraordinarily difficult. To the Extremists of the Right, who regarded a compromise with Germany as their only road to salvation, he was the insurmountable obstacle, who had to make way for another sovereign. To the Extremists of the Left who desired victory, but a victory without a Tsar, he was the obstacle which the revolution would remove. And while the latter were endeavouring to undermine the foundations of the monarchy by intensive propaganda at and behind the front-thus playing Germany's game - the moderate parties adopted that most dangerous and yet characteristically Russian course of doing nothing. They were victims of that Slav fatalism which means waiting on events and hoping that some providential force will come and guide them for the public good. They confined themselves to passive resistance because they failed to realise that in so acting they were paralysing the nation.

The general public had unconsciously become the docile tool of German intrigue. The most alarming rumours, accepted and given the widest currency, created an anti-Monarchist and defeatist atmosphere behind the front-an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion which was bound to have a speedy effect upon the men in the firing-line themselves. Everyone hacked at the central pillar of the tottering political edifice, and no one thought of attempting to shore it up while still there was time. Everything was done to accelerate the revolution; nothing to avert its consequences.

It was forgotten that Russia did not consist merely of fifteen to twenty million human beings ripe for parliamentary government, but that it had one hundred and twenty to one hundred and thirty million peasants, most of them rude and uneducated, to whom the Tsar was still the Lord's Anointed, he whom God had chosen to direct the destinies of Great Russia. Accustomed from his earliest youth to hear the priest invoke the name of the Tsar in the offertory, one of the most solemn moments in the Orthodox liturgy, the moujik in his mystical exaltation was bound to attribute to him a character semidivine.(Is not this idea illustrated in the popular saying which betrays the simple faith of the Russian peasant and his feeling of impotence: "God is a very long way up; the Tsar a very long way off.")

The Tsar was not the head of the Russian Church. He was its protector and defender. But after Peter the Great abolished the patriarchate the people were inclined to regard him as the incarnation of both spiritual and temporal authority. It was an error, of course, but it survived. It was this double aspect of the person of the sovereign which made Tsarism mean so much to the masses, and as the Russian people are essentially mystic, the second factor was not a whit less important than the first. For in the mind of the moujik, autocracy could not be separated from Orthodoxy.

The Russian revolution could not be exclusively a political revolution. It must necessarily have a religious character. When the old system f ell it was bound to create such a void in the political and religious conscience of the Russian people that unless care were taken it would involve the whole of the social organism in its fall. To the humble peasant the Tsar was both the incarnation of his mystic aspirations and in a sense a tangible reality, impossible to replace by a political formula, which would be an incomprehensible abstraction to him. Into the vacuum created by the collapse of the Tsaristic regime the Russian revolution-in view of the passion of the absolute and the proneness to extremes which are characteristic of the Slav nature-was certain to hurl itself with a violence that no government could control. There was a fatal risk that it would all end in political and religious chaos or sheer anarchy.

As the revolution was desired, preparations should have, been made to avert this eventuality. Even in times of peace it would have been a formidable risk: to venture upon such a step in war was simply criminal. We westerners are apt to judge Russian affairs by the governing classes with which we have come in contact - classes which have attained a degree of culture and civilization equal to our own. We too often forget the millions of semi-barbarous and ignorant beings who understand the simplest and most primitive sentiments alone. Of these the Tsarist fetish was one of the most striking examples.

The British Ambassador, getting his information from Russian politicians whose patriotism was above suspicion, but who saw their country as they wanted it to be and not as it really was, allowed himself to be led astray. Insufficient account was taken of the special conditions which made Russia a religious, political, and social anachronism to which none of the formulae or panaceas of Western Europe would apply. They forgot that in any country at war the early stages of a revolu. tion almost always produce a weakening of the national effort and adversely affect the fighting power of the army. In a country like Russia this would be true to a far greater extent. The Entente made a mistake in thinking that the movement which the beginning of February, 1917, revealed was of popular origin. It was nothing of the kind, and only the governing classes participated in it. The great masses stood aloof. It is not true that it was a fundamental upheaval which overturned the monarchy. It was the fall of the monarchy itself which raised that formidable wave which engulfed Russia and nearly submerged the neighboring states.

GILLIARD NOTE: Ludendorff exaggerates the role of the Entente in the Russian Revolution when he writes: "In March, 1917, a Revolution, the work of the Entente, overthrew the Tsar." The movement was supported by the Entente, but it was not their work. Ludendorff shows well enough what were its immediate results for Germany. "The Revolution meant a fatal loss of military power to Russia, weakened the Entente and gave us considerable relief in our heavy task. The General Staff could at once effect important economies of troops and ammunition, and could also exchange divisions on a much greater scale." And further on: "In April and May, 1917, it was the Russian Revolution which saved us in spite of our victory on the Aisne and in Champagne-" (Ludendorff, My War Memories, vol. ii.).

Thus, by the admission of the Germans themselves, if there had been no Russian Revolution the war would have ended in the autumn of 1917 and millions of human lives would have been spared. Do we realise what would have been the force of a treaty of Versailles signed by the Entente, including Russia I Germany, seized in a vice, would not have been able to escape the fate of the vanquished. The consequences of the Russian Revolution (Bolshevism) have thrown Russia into the arms of Germany. She is still there. Germany alone is in a position to organize and exploit her immense resources It is in Russia that Germany is preparing her revenge against the Entente.

After his return from G.H.Q. the Tsar had remained at Tsarskoe-Selo for the months of January and February. He felt that the political situation was more and more strained, but he had not yet lost all hope. The country was suffering: it was tired of the war and anxiously longing for peace. The opposition was growing from day to day, and the storm was threatening, but in spite of everything Nicholas II hoped that patriotic feeling would carry the day against the pessimism which the trials and worries of the moment made general, and that no one would risk compromising the results of a war which had cost the nation so much by rash and imprudent action.

His faith in his army was also unshaken. He knew that the material sent from France and England was arriving satisfactorily and would improve the conditions under which it had to fight. He had the greatest hopes of the new formations which had been created in the course of the winter." He was certain that his army would be ready in the spring to join in that great offensive of the Allies which would deal Germany her death-blow and thus save Russia: a few weeks more and victory would be his.

Yet the Tsar hesitated to leave Tsarskoe-Selo, such was his anxiety about the political situation. On the other hand, he considered that his departure could not be deferred much longer, and that it was his duty to return to G.H.Q. He ultimately left for Mohilev on Thursday, March 8th, arriving there next morning.

He had hardly left the capital before the first symptoms of insurrection began to be observable in the working-class quarters. The factories went on strike, and the movement spread rapidly during the days following. The population of Petrograd had suffered great privations during the winter (Russia had been engaged in a reorganization of the army which increased number of her divisions and greatly augmented her striking force), for owing to the shortage of rolling-stock the transport of food and fuel had become very difficult, and there was no sign of improvement in this respect. The Government could think of nothing likely to calm the excitement, and Protopopov merely exasperated everyone by the measures of repression - as stupid as criminal - taken by the police. Troops also had been employed. All the regiments being at the front, the only troops at Petrograd were units under instruction, whose loyalty had been thoroughly undermined by organized propaganda in the barracks in spite of counter-measures. There were cases of defection, and after three days of half-hearted resistance unit after unit went over to the insurgents. By the 13th the city was almost entirely in the hands of the revolutionaries, and the Duma proceeded to form a provisional government.

At first we at Mohilev had no idea of the scale of the events which had occurred at Petrograd. Yet after Saturday, March 10th, General Alexeiev and some officers of the Tsar's suite had tried to open his eyes and persuade him to grant the liberties the nation demanded immediately. But once more Nicholas II was deceived by the intentionally incomplete and inaccurate statements of a few ignorant individuals in his suite and would not take their advice.

GILLIARD NOTE: Professor Feodorov, realising that every hour's delay meant less chance of averting imminent disaster, went to find General V-, who was one of the most prominent members of the Tsar's staff. He found him perched on a ladder engaged in fixing a nail in the wall on which to hang a picture. Feodorov told him his fears and begged him to see the Tsar at once. But the General called him a "revolution maniac," and, picking up his hammer, continued the operation which had been interrupted by his tiresome visitor.

By the 12th it was impossible to conceal the truth from the Tsar any longer; he understood that extraordinary measures were required, and decided to return to Tsarskoe-Selo at once.

The Imperial train left Mohilev on the night of the 12th, but on arriving at the station of Malaya-Vichera twenty-four hours later it was ascertained that the station of Tosno, thirty miles south of Petrograd, was in the hands of the insurgents, and that it was impossible to get to Tsarskoe-Selo. There was nothing for it but to turn back.

The Tsar decided to go to Pskov to General Russky, the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Front. He arrived there on the evening of the 14th. When the General had told him the latest developments in Petrograd the Tsar instructed him to inform M. Rodzianko by telephone that he was ready to make every concession if the Duma thought that it would tranquillize the nation. The reply came: "It is too late."

Was it really so? The revolutionary movement was confined to Petrograd and its suburbs; in spite of propaganda, the Tsar still enjoyed considerable prestige in the army, and his authority with the peasants was intact. Would not the grant of a Constitution and the help of the Duma have been enough to restore to Nicholas II the popularity he had enjoyed at the beginning of the war?

The reply of the Duma left the Tsar with the alternatives of abdicating or marching on Petrograd with the troops which remained faithful to him: the latter would mean civil war in the presence of the enemy. Nicholas II did not hesitate, and on the morning of the 15th he handed General Russky a telegram informing the President of the Duma that he intended to abdicate in favour of his son.

A few hours later he summoned Professor Feodorov to his carriage and said:

"Tell me frankly, Sergey Petrovich. Is Aleksey's malady incurable?

Professor Feodorov, fully realising the importance of what he was going to say, answered:

"Science teaches us, sire, that it is an incurable disease. Yet those who are afflicted with it sometimes reach an advanced old age. Still, Aleksey Nicolaievich is at the mercy of an accident.

The Tsar hung his head and sadly murmured:

"That's just what the Tsarina told me. Well, if that is the case and Aleksey can never serve his country as I should like him to, we have the right to keep him ourselves."

His mind was made up, and when the representatives of the Provisional Government and the Duma arrived from Petrograd that evening he handed them the Act of Abdication he had drawn up beforehand and in which he renounced for himself and his son the throne of Russia in favour of his brother, the Grand-Duke Michael Alexandrovich.

I give a translation of this document which, by its nobility and the burning patriotism in every line, compelled the admiration of even the Tsar's enemies:

THE ACT OF ABDICATION OF THE TSAR NICHOLAS II

By the grace of God, We, Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias, Tsar of Poland, Grand-Duke of Finland, etc., etc... to all Our faithful subjects make known:

In these days of terrible struggle against the external enemy who has been trying for three years to impose his will upon Our Fatherland, God has willed that Russia should be faced with a new and formidable trial. Troubles at home threaten to have a fatal effect on the ultimate course of this hard-fought war. The destinies of Russia, the honour of Our heroic army, the welfare of the people and the whole future of Our dear country demand that the war should be carried to a victorious conclusion at any price.

Our cruel foe is making his supreme effort, and the moment is at hand in which Our valiant army, in concert with Our glorious allies, will overthrow him once and for all.

In these days, which are decisive for the existence of Russia, We think We should follow the voice of Our conscience by facilitating the closest co-operation of Our people and the organization of all its resources for the speedy realization of victory.

For these reasons, in accord with the Duma of the Empire, We think it Our duty to abdicate the Crown and lay down the supreme power.

Not desiring to be separated from Our beloved son, We bequeath Our heritage to Our brother, the Grand-Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and give him Our blessing. We abjure him to govern in perfect accord with the representatives of the nation sitting in the legislative institutions, and to take a sacred oath in the name of the beloved Fatherland.

We appeal to all the loyal sons of the country, imploring them to fulfil their patriotic and holy duty of obeying their Tsar in this sad time of national trial. We ask them to help him and the representatives of the nation to guide the Russian state into the path of prosperity and glory.

God help Russia.

The Tsar had fallen. Germany was on the point of winning her greatest victory, but the fruits might still escape her. They would have escaped her if the intelligent section of the nation had recovered itself in time and had gathered round the Grand-Duke Michael, who, by his brother's desire - the Act of Abdication said so in terms - was to be a constitutional sovereign in the full sense of the word. Nothing prevented so desirable a consummation for Russia was not yet in the presence of one of those great popular movements which defy all logic and hurl nations into the gulf of the unknown. The revolution had been exclusively the work of the Petrograd population, the majority of which would not have hesitated to rally round the new ruler if the Provisional Government and the Duma had set the example. The army, which was still a well disciplined body, represented a serious force. As for the great bulk of the nation, it had not the slightest idea that anything had passed.

This last chance of averting the catastrophe was lost through thirst for power and fear of the Extremists. The day after the Tsar's abdication the Grand-Duke Michael, acting on the advice of all save two of the members of the Provisional Government, renounced the throne in turn and resigned to a constituent assembly the task of deciding what the future form, of government should be.

The irreparable step had been taken. The removal of the Tsar had left in the minds of the masses a gaping void it was impossible for them to fill. They were left to their own devices a rudderless ship at the mercy of the waves - and searching for an ideal, some article of faith which might replace what they had lost, they found nothing but chaos around them.

To finish her work of destruction, Germany had only to give Lenin and his disciples a plentiful supply of money and let them loose on Russia. Lenin and his friends never dreamed of talking to the peasants about a democratic republic or a constituent assembly. They knew it would have been waste of breath. As up-to-date prophets, they came to preach the holy war and to try and draw these untutored millions by the attraction of a creed in which the finest teaching of Christ goes hand in hand with the worst sophisms - a creed which, thanks to the Jews, the adventurers of Bolshevism, was to be translated into the subjection of the moujik and the ruin of the country.

BOB ATCHISON NOTE: In the previous paragraph Pierre Gilliard suggests that the Jews were responsible for the revolution. Here he presents anti-semetic opinions that were widely held at the time. While many Jews, who as a group had been disenfrancised from the Russian Empire, were active supporters of the Revolution, those who became Bolsheviks were agnostics or non-believers who most often found themselves oppressors of their own people, religion and culture.

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