Volume III - CHAPTER I - AUGUST 19-SEPTEMBER 18, 1916
Saturday, August 19, 1916.
During the last few days I have had many talks with persons of all shades of opinion. When I sum up all they tell me - and, even more, what they do not tell me - I arrive at the following conclusions.
Without the Emperor's approval or knowledge, the Empress's camarilla is endeavouring to influence Russian diplomacy in a new direction, i.e., preparing the ground for a reconciliation with Germany. The predominating motive is fear, the fear to which the reactionary party is inspired on seeing Russia involved in so close and prolonged an association with the democratic powers of the West; I have referred to this matter several times before.
There is also the community of industrial and commercial interests which existed before the war between Germany and Russia and which many are anxious to re-establish.
And again there is the poor result of the recent offensive of the Russian armies on the Dvina, a result which proves that the military resistance of Germany is far from being exhausted. On the other hand, the successes in Galicia and Armenia have popularized the idea that the profits of the war must be made at the expense of Austria and Turkey rather than that of Germany.
Sunday, August 20, 1916.
The Salonica army, an army of not less than four hundred thousand men under the command of General Sarrail, is to take the offensive to-day between the Vardar and the Struma, north-west of Seres. As provided by Article 3 of the Bucharest Military Convention, it is an endeavour to hold down the Bulgarians on the Macedonian front in order to cover the mobilization and concentration of the Rumanian army.
Tuesday, August 22, 1916.
The ex-Minister for Agriculture, Krivoshein, who is undoubtedly the most open-minded and intellectual of the liberal imperialists, was telling me not long ago of the stubborn and invincible resistance opposed by the Emperor to anyone who advises him to allow tsarism to develop in the direction of parliamentary monarchy. He concluded with the depressing remark:
"The Emperor will always be Pobiedonostzev's pupil!"
Who can doubt that it is to the famous procurator of the Holy Synod, the close friend and colleague of Alexander III, that Nicholas II owes the whole of his political and moral education. An eminent jurist and learned theologian, the fanatical champion of orthodox autocracy, Pobiedonostzev brought to the advocacy of his reactionary doctrines ardent conviction, exalted patriotism, a lofty and inflexible conscience, culture of an immense range, rare dialectical skill and lastly - though it seems contradictory - unaffected simplicity and great charm of manner and conversation. His whole programme could be summed up in the words "absolutism, nationalism, orthodoxy," and he pursued its fulfilment with an uncompromising ruthlessness and sovereign scorn of the realities which stood in his path. To him "the modern spirit," democratic principles and western atheism were necessarily anathema. His stubborn, daily influence left an indelible mark on the impressionable mind of Nicholas II.
In 1896, just at the time when he was completing the political education of his young sovereign, Pobiedonostzev published a volume of Thoughts. I have just been reading it, and note the following suggestive reflections:
"One of the most. erroneous political principles is that of popular sovereignty, the idea - widespread, unfortunately, since the French Revolution - that all power comes from the people and has its source in the national will. The greatest of the evils of the constitutional system is the formation of ministries on the parliamentary pattern, based on the numerical standing of parties... . The body and the spirit cannot be separated. The body and the spirit live one, inseparable life... . The atheist state is merely a Utopia, for atheism is the negation of the State. Religion is the spiritual force which creates law. That is why the worst enemies of public order never fail to proclaim that religion is a personal, private affair... . The ease with which men allow themselves to be deluded by the commonplaces of popular sovereignty and individual liberty leads to general demoralization and the decay of the political sense. France offers us to-day a striking example. Of that demoralization and decay; the contagion is already reaching England.
Thursday, August 24, 1916.
The general offensive which the Salonica army was preparing to open on August 20 was anticipated on the 18th by an audacious attack by the Bulgarians. Their main effort was made on the two extremities of our line, in the Doiran region east of the Vardar, and Western Macedonia south of Monastir. The Serbians were holding the latter sector and the blow was so violent that they have had to fall back for thirty kilometres, thus losing the towns of Florina and Koritza which the enemy at once occupied.
The news has produced great agitation in Bucharest.
Sunday, August 27, 1916.
The Russian army is developing its operations in Upper Armenia in the most brilliant fashion. It has just occupied Mush, west of Lake Van. The Turks are retreating through Bitlis on Mosul.
Monday, August 28, 1916.
Italy declared war on Germany yesterday, thus consummating the breach with Germanism; Rumania has also declared war on Austria-Hungary.
Tuesday, August 29, 1916.
A former president of the Council, Kokovtsov, is passing through Petrograd and I called on him this afternoon.
I found him more pessimistic than ever. The dismissal of Sazonov and General Bielaiev has made him extremely uneasy.
"The Empress is now all-powerful," he said. "Sturmer is incapable and vain but astute and shrewd enough when his personal interests are at stake, and had known only too well how to make her serve his purposes. He reports regularly to her, tells her everything, consults her on all points, treats her as the regent and trains her in the notion that as the Emperor has received his power from God he has to account for it to God alone, so that it is sacrilege for anyone to take the liberty of opposing the imperial will. You can imagine how much an argument of that kind appeals to the brain of a mystic! Thus it has come about that Klivostov, Krivoshein, General Polivanov, Samarin, Sazonov, General Bielaïev and myself are now regarded as revolutionaries, traitors and infidels!"
"Do you think there is no remedy for this state of affairs?"
"None! It's a tragical situation."
"Tragical' is rather a strong word, isn't it?"
"Not at all! take my word for it! It's a tragical situation. Speaking personally, I'm thankful I'm not a minister now, and have no share of responsibility for the catastrophe which is coming. But as a citizen I weep for my country."
Tears stood in his eyes. To recover himself he paced the full length of his room two or three times. Then he talked about the Emperor, without a trace of bitterness or recrimination, but in a tone of the deepest melancholy.
"The Emperor is judicious, moderate and hard working. As a rule his ideas are very sensible. He has a lofty idea of his functions and the strongest sense of duty. But his education is inadequate and the scale of the problems it is his mission to solve only too frequently exceeds the measure of his intelligence. He does not know men, affairs or life itself. His distrust of himself and others means that he is always suspicious of superiority,, and the result is that he can only tolerate nobodies around him. He is also very religious, in a narrow and superstitious way, and this makes him very jealous of his authority, as he receives it from God."
We returned to the subject of the Empress.
"I protest with all my might," he said, "against the infamous rumours that are spread abroad about her relations with Rasputin. She's the noblest and purest of women. But she's an invalid, neurotic and a prey to hallucinations: she'll end up in the frenzy of mysticism and melancholy. I shall never forget the extraordinary things she said to me in September, 1911, when I took the place of the unfortunate Stolypin(1) as President of the Council. I was telling her of the difficulties of my task and quoting the example of my predecessor when she cut me short: 'Don't mention that man's name again, Vladimir Nicolaievitch. He died because Providence had decreed that he should disappear that day. So he's finished with: never mention his name again.' She also refused to pray at his coffin and the Emperor did not condescend to appear at the funeral, all because Stolypin, devoted, wholly and utterly devoted, to his sovereigns though he was, had dared to tell them that some slight reforms were necessary in the social edifice
Wednesday, August 30, 1916.
The Salonica army, by vigorous attacks in the region of the Moglenitza and the Beles massif, has at last succeeded in tying the Bulgarians down on the Macedonian front. By thus depriving them of the possibilities of strategic movement towards the north, it has entirely fulfilled its mission, a very difficult mission, which was assigned to it by the military convention of August 17.
Thursday, August 31, 1916.
The Russian armies are continuing their advance from the Stokhod to the Carpathians, i.e., on a front of three hundred and fifty kilometres.
But their progress is very slow, a fact which is explained by the weariness of the men and the horses, the growing difficulties of communications, the wastage of artillery and the necessity of economizing in ammunition.
Thus Rumania enters the war at the moment when the Russian offensive is petering out.
Friday, September 1, 1916.
There is great humiliation at General Headquarters and the War Ministry.
The 2nd Russian brigade, which recently arrived in France and was about to embark for Salonica, has mutinied at Marseilles; the colonel has been murdered and several officers were wounded. To restore order the vigorous intervention of French troops was required. Severe measures of repression have been taken and about twenty men shot.
I cannot help remembering what Sazonov said to me last December when justifying his opposition to Doumer's request: "When the Russian soldier is off his own soil he's worthless; he goes to pieces at once."
Saturday, September 2, 1916.
Manuilov, the policeman convict whom Sturmer made the director of his secretariat, has just been arrested: he is said to be guilty of blackmailing a bank, a fact which is proved a priori, as swindling is his normal method of money-making and the most ordinary and venial of his crimes.
The incident would not have been worth mentioning if the arrest had not been decided upon by the Minister of the Interior, Alexander Khvostov, and carried out without Sturmer's knowledge. So evidently there is something behind it, something more or less scandalous, which we shall hear about before long.
Sunday, September 3, 1916.
In Galicia the Russians are advancing on Kalicz.
North of the Transylvanian Alps the Rumanians have captured Brasso. In the region of the Upper (Moldavian) Sereth they are operating side by side with the Russians and crossing the Carpathians.
On the Salonica side the army of General Sarrail is continuing to harass the Bulgarians.
On the Somme the Anglo-French offensive has been resumed with great vigour.
Monday, September 4, 1916.
At tea time at Madame S - -'s house to-day, we were talking about ennui, which is the chronic disease of Russian society.
Tall and lithe, the pretty Princess D - - , standing with her hands behind her back - her usual posture - was listening to us in silence. In the depths of her brown eyes there was a glow of scepticism and reverie: suddenly and quite casually she let fall the following remarks:
"It's a funny thing. When you men are afflicted with ennui it knocks you flat, makes you helpless. You're simply good for nothing and it's an exhausting business to get you going again. But in the case of women, ennui rouses us, whips our senses, makes us want to commit every imaginable futility and folly. And it's even more difficult to hold us back than to revive you."
The observation is perfectly accurate. Generally speaking the men get bored through exhaustion or satiety, overindulgence in pleasure, drink or high play, whereas with ,the women ennui is usually brought on by the monotony of their existence, their insatiable craving for emotional excitement. the secret yearnings of their hearts and their passions. Hence the depression of the former and the feverishness of the latter.
Tuesday, September 5, 1916.
I have been talking about America with Neratov. We both regret that so large a fraction of the American people still refuses to realize the universal significance of the conflict which is devastating Europe, and cannot see which side is in the right. It is more. than a year since a German submarine sank the Lusitania, more than a year since the great New York paper, The Nation, wrote: "The torpedoing of the Lusitania is an act which would have made Attila blush, an act of which a Turk would be ashamed and for which a Barbary corsair would have apologized. All human and divine laws have been violated by these bandits ... "
And still the conscience of America hesitates to declare itself!
I said to Neratov:
"Russia could do a lot to remove the last misgivings of the American public and bring them to our side once and for all."
"What could we do? I can't imagine."
"All that is necessary is for you to make some slight improvement in your laws dealing with the Jews; the effect in America would be considerable."
"What! Reopen the Jewish question in the middle of a war! It's impossible. We'd have the whole country against us. That would be an enormous injury to the Alliance; you may be quite sure that our parties of the extreme Right would immediately accuse France and England of having secretly supported the claims of the Jews."
We returned to current topics.
The Jewish question is a heavy cloud over relations between Russia and the United States; I have often discussed it with my American colleague, Marye, Francis's predecessor.
There are hundreds of thousands of Russian. Jews in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston.(2) With their energy and intelligence, wealth and influence, they keep hatred of tsarism alive in the United States. The system of persecution which was introduced by Catherine II in 1791, and confirmed and intensified in 1882 by the famous "Ignatiev Laws," is regarded by the Americans as one of the most revolting iniquities which the history of human societies records. I can easily imagine what a free "Yankee." brought up on the superstition of the democratic ideal and the craze and reverence for individual initiative, must think of the idea of five million human beings being confined, on the sole ground of their religious beliefs, to a small area where their very numbers doom them to misery. What must he think of the facts that they cannot own or cultivate land, are deprived of all public rights, their slightest acts exposed to the arbitrary control of the police and are always living in fear of periodical massacre?
My American colleague, Marye, said to me one day:
"What shocks us most about the position of the Jews in Russia is that they are persecuted solely on the ground of their faith. The reproaches of race and economic grievances are only pretexts. This must be so because a Jew has only to abjure Judaism and become converted to orthodoxy to be immediately treated like any other Russian."
In 1904 the pogroms at Kishinev aroused such indignation in the United States that President Roosevelt thought it his duty to make a solemn protest, an act which Russian society hotly resents even now: "Crimes are sometimes committed," he declared, "so monstrous that we wonder if it is not our bounden duty to express our detestation of the oppressors and our pity for the victims. Of course we cannot intervene save in very grave cases. But in extreme cases our intervention is legitimate. The American nation owes it to itself to confess its horror when it hears of massacres as terrible as those of Kishinev."
Thursday, September 7, 1916.
Bratiano's mistake in repudiating the Rudeanu agreement, a mistake shared by his allies when they accepted that repudiation, is beginning to bear fruit.
While the Rumanian troops are advancing beyond the Carpathians and occupying Brasso, Hermannstadt and Orsova, the Austro-Bulgarians are invading the Dobrudja and approaching Silistria. A Rumanian division which was in an exposed position on the right bank of the Danube in the neighbourhood of Turtukai, has just suffered a serious reverse. Surrounded by four Germano-Bulgarian divisions, it has lost twelve thousand men and two hundred guns.
The shock of this news has filled Bucharest with consternation and the agitation is all the greater because the city has been assiduously bombed by hostile aviators for the last three days.
General Joffre, who is very naturally uneasy about the peril to Rumania, is asking that two hundred thousand Russians shall be sent to the Dobrudja at once.
In conversation with Sturmer I have vigorously seconded his request, pointing out that the whole policy of the Alliance and the very issue of the war are at stake. He replied:
"During my recent visit to Mohilev I considered with General Alexeiev whether it would not be possible to intensify our operations against Bulgaria. The General certainly does not fail to realize what an enormous advantage it would be to us to restore communication with Salonica at the earliest possible moment. But he says that he is without the necessary resources. Of course the, problem is not merely how to send two hundred thousand men to the Dobrudja; it's a question of forming those two hundred thousand men into army corps, with officers, horses, artillery and all the accessory services; we have no such reserves so they have to be taken from the front. No doubt you know that at the present moment there is no part of our line where fighting is not in progress. General Alexeiev is continuing his operations with the greatest intensity, particularly as the bad weather is coming. So I doubt whether he will agree to suggest to His Majesty the despatch of an army south of the Danube. And don't forget the time it would take to organize and transport that army. Six weeks at least! Wouldn't it be a grave error to neutralize two hundred thousand men in that way for so long?"
"What about the Emperor? Have you mentioned it to him?"
"The Emperor quite agrees with General Alexeiev."
"The matter is serious enough to deserve further consideration. So please be good enough to refer to His Majesty again and acquaint him with my arguments."
"I'll report our conversation to His Majesty to-day."
Saturday, September 9, 1916.
A Russian financier, of Danish origin, who is in constant business touch with Sweden and, through that channel, always well informed about public opinion in Germany, said to me to-day:
"In the last few weeks Germany has been suffering generally from an attack of war-weariness and apprehension. No one now believes in the sudden overwhelming victory which will bring a victorious peace. Only the uncompromising Pan-Germans still affect to believe in it. The invincible resistance of the French at Verdun and the Russian advance in Galicia have produced a deep sense of disappointment which is not diminishing. People are also beginning to say that the submarine war is a stupid mistake, that it in no way prevents France and England from obtaining supplies, that the Teutonic Powers are faced with the danger of seeing the United States declare war on them before long, etc. Lastly economic discomforts are on the increase and there are frequent strikes, particularly in northern Germany, due to food restrictions. With a view to combating this wave of pessimism the Kaiser has just made Marshal von Hindenburg Chief of the General Staff in General von Falkenhayn's place. The appointment has restored the spirits of the public somewhat. All the hopes of the German people are now centred in the saviour of East Prussia, the victor of Tannenberg. The official press is lavish with dithyrambs exalting the nobility of his character, the grandeur of his ideas and the genius of his strategy; it does not fear to call him the equal of Moltke, and to compare him to the great Frederick. It is assumed that he will want to justify this enthusiastic confidence at the earliest possible moment. As, for the time being, no victory is possible on the Russian or western fronts, it is presumed that he will seek his triumph in Rumania.
Tuesday, September 17, 1916.
Princess Paley invited me to dinner this evening with the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna.
It was a very private party, and I was particularly glad to have a talk with the Grand Duchess as I had not seen her since Sazonov's dismissal.
We continued our conversation from the point at which we left off and took stock of all the changes. Our information was identical: the Empress is taking an ever growing part in politics and the Emperor is offering an ever diminishing resistance to her.
"For example," said the Grand Duchess, "the Emperor loathes Sturmer; he knows he's incapable and dishonest; he sees through all his advances to the Empress and is uneasy about it, as he's as jealous of his authority with the Empress as with anyone else. But he had not the courage to uphold Sazonov and he let Sturmer be thrust upon him."
"Isn't there anyone in his household who can open his eyes?"
"No one. You know the crowd around him. Old Fredericks is still the only person who can talk really frankly to him. But he hasn't any influence. In any case, you must not think that the Emperor's eyes need opening all that much. He knows quite well what he's doing; he fully realizes his mistakes and faults. His judgment is almost always sound. I'm sure that at the present moment he's extremely sorry he ever got rid of Sazonov."
"Then why does he go on making all these mistakes? After all, the consequences fall directly on his own head."
"Because he's weak. He hasn't the energy to face the Empress's brow-beating, much less the scenes she makes! And there's another reason which is far more serious: he's a fatalist. When things are going badly he tells himself it is God's will and he must bow to it! I've seen him in this state of mind before, after the disasters in Manchuria and during the 1905 troubles."
"But is he in that frame of mind at the present moment?"
"I'm afraid he's not far from it; I know he's dejected, and worried to find the war going on so long without any result."
"Do you think he's capable of abandoning the struggle and making peace?"
"No, never; at any rate, not so long as there's an enemy soldier on Russian soil. He took that oath in the sight of God and he knows that if he broke it his eternal salvation would be jeopardized. And then he has a lofty conception of honour and will not betray his allies; he will be unshakable on that point. I believe I told you before that he would go to his death rather than sign a shameful or treacherous peace."
Wednesday, September 13, 1916.
General Janin has reported to me a conversation he had with the Emperor yesterday at Mohilev, a conversation which unfortunately confirms what Sturmer said to me five days ago.
The Emperor has told him that he is not in a position to send two hundred thousand men to the Dobrudja, on the ground that the armies in Galicia and Asia have suffered very heavy losses during the last few weeks and he is obliged to send them all the available reinforcements. As he ended he asked General Janin to telegraph to General Joffre and say that he urgently begs him to order General Sarrail to act with greater energy. The Emperor repeated:
"It's a personal request from me to General Joffre."
Thursday, September 14, 1916.
For some time there has been a rumour that Rasputin and Sturmer have fallen out: they are never met together, they never call on each other. And yet they see and consult each other daily. Their meetings take place in the evening in the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul, the most secret place in Petrograd.
The Governor of the Romanov Bastille is General Nitikin, whose daughter is one of the most fervent adorers of the staretz. It is through her that messages pass between Sturmer and Grishka; she it is who goes to find Rasputin in the town and brings him in her carriage to the fortress; it is in the Governor's house, in fact Mlle. Nitikin's own room, that the two accomplices hold conclave.
Why do they wrap themselves up in so much mystery? Why have they selected this secret hiding-place? Why do they only meet at night? May it be that they know that everyone loathes them and they wish to conceal the closeness of their association from the public? Perhaps, too, they fear that the bomb of some anarchist may disturb their meetings.
Of all the tragic spectacles which have left memories in this fearsome state prison, are there any more sinister than the nocturnal gatherings of these two criminals who are ruining Russia?
Friday, September 15, 1916.
In this diary I have frequently had occasion to remark that the Russians have no precise ideas of space and usually content themselves with vague estimates and approximate figures. Their notion of time is just as vague. I was struck by this fact once more to-day at an administrative conference in Sturmer's house in which methods of assisting Rumania were under examination. In the transport programme presented to us most of the dates were uncertain, the intervals too short or too long, the timings problematical. Of course this inability to realize the temporal relations of facts is still more obvious in the case of the illiterate, who are the mass. The whole economic life of the Russian nation is kept back by it.
The phenomenon is explained easily enough if it be admitted that the accurate visualization of time is simply an order of succession introduced into our memories and plans, an organization of our mental ideas with reference to a focussing-point which is our present state. With the Russians that focussing-point is usually shifting or misty, because their perception of reality is never very distinct, they do not clearly define their sensations and notions, their power of attention is low and their reasoning and calculations are almost always blended with the imaginary.
Saturday, September 16, 1916.
Under the increasing pressure of the Bulgarians the Rumanians are progressively evacuating the Dobrudja, and every day and night Austrian airmen bomb Bucharest from their base at Rustchuk.
From the moment the Rudeanu agreement was thrown over these misfortunes were easy to foresee. The Rumanian Government is paying dearly for the mistake it made in directing its whole military effort towards Transylvania, allowing itself to be taken in by vague rumours from Sofia and particularly in imagining that the Bulgarians had abandoned the idea of a military revenge for the disaster and humiliation of 1913.
Sunday, September 17, 1916.
Sylvia and The Water-Lily were given at the Marie Theatre this evening. In both works the lead is in the hands of Karsavina.
The sumptuous hall, with its blue and gold hangings, was quite full; the evening marked the opening of the winter season and the resumption of those ballets in which the Russian imagination loves to follow the interplay of flying forms and rhythmic movements through the music. From the stalls to the back row of the highest circle I could see nothing but a sea of cheery, smiling faces. In the intervals the boxes came to life with the irresponsible chatter which made the bright eyes of the women sparkle with merriment. Irksome thoughts of the present, sinister visions of war and the melancholy prospects of the future vanished as if by magic the moment the orchestra struck up. An air of pleasant unreality was in every face.
Thomas de Quincy, the author of the Confessions of an Opium Eater, tells us that the drug often gave him the illusions of music. Conversely, the Russians go to music for the effects of opium.
Monday, September 18, 1916.
The Salonica army has resumed the offensive on the whole of the Macedonian front. The Bulgarians have been driven back in the neighbourhood of Florina and are now withdrawing towards Monastir.
2. The total number of Jews scattered over the globe is computed to be 12,500,000; 5,300,000 in Russia and 2,200,000 in the United States. Outside these two countries the largest Jewish populations are to be found in Austria-Hungary (2,250,000), Germany (615,000), Turkey (485,000). England (445,000), France (345,000), Rumania (260,000), and Holland (115,000).