Tony Cliff

Lenin 2

Chapter 5
Crisis and Collapse of the Tsarist Regime

Rulers in Disarray

Lenin’s prediction that the imperialist war, by exacerbating the internal contradictions of capitalism, would lead to civil war was largely based on the experience of 1904-05. Then the military defeat of Tsarism by Japan had led directly to the first Russian revolution. Now the imperialist war was on a much wider scale. The revolutionary repercussions must therefore be greater.

During the war years, the ruling classes in Russia experienced increasing failures of confidence, a decline in morale, and growing splits in their ranks. Leadership crises eroded Tsarism and the leading circles of society.

Among the symptoms of a revolutionary situation, Lenin pointed to the following:

when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes,” a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is not usually sufficient for the “lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way. [1]

The deeper the general crisis, the more different sections of the ruling class came into conflict with each other. The general hostility of the mass of the people towards the regime led groups within the ruling class to quarrel with each other and with the government, increasing the general hatred felt by the state bureaucracy towards the court coterie. The more isolated the Tsar became, the more he sacrificed one minister after another in the hope of avoiding catastrophe.

One historian, Cherniavsky, described the mood among ruling circles during 1915-16 as follows:

growing awareness of catastrophe; the spread of this awareness, conscious and sometimes unconscious, throughout the government, the educated, and the social elite as a whole; and the resulting paralysis, the inability to decide and to act ... overtakes the government. [2]

Commenting on the minutes of the Council of Ministers during August-September 1915, the same historian said: “The ... minutes of the Council of Ministers illustrate the psychological pre-condition of revolution in the government, in the ruling class – in those who feared and hated revolution, who wished to prevent it in any way possible, and yet did nothing but wait for it.” [3] Another historian, V.I. Gessen, could write about the same minutes: “The government had gone on strike. Long ago, while it was officially all-powerful, it had ceased to doubt that the crash would come, sooner or later.” [4]

V.I. Gurko, the loyal monarchist deputy minister of the interior, wrote a few years after the revolution: “Every revolution begins at the top: and our government had succeeded in transforming the most loyal elements of the country into critics, if not of the regime, then at any rate of those at its head and of their administrative methods.” [5] Cliques around the Tsar became of greater and greater significance. The Council of Ministers as a whole declined continually in importance.

One example will show clearly how little the government acted as a collective, how little ministers knew about the plans, or the people, formally under their supervision: the case of the military authority’s decision to organize a mass evacuation of Kiev in July-August 1915.

One might assume that the war minister or the minister of the interior would have been involved in reaching this decision, or would at least have been consulted about the action. But not so. The minister of war, A.A. Polivanov, said about the evacuation, at a meeting of the Council of Ministers on August 19 ,1915:

The plans and intentions of headquarters are unknown to me, as it is considered unnecessary to keep the Minister of War informed of the course of events. But insofar as it is possible for me to think on military matters, I am convinced that there is no direct danger to Kiev and that ... the evacuation [is] to say the least, premature. [6]

The minister of the interior, Prince Shcherbatov, commented:

In general, what is going on with evacuation is simply unbelievable. The military authorities have completely lost their heads and all their common sense. Chaos and disorder are created everywhere, as if on purpose. All local life is being turned upside down. It is really, finally, necessary to take some measures to regularize the relations between military and civil authorities. It is impossible, in such an extraordinarily complicated matter as evacuation, which touches all our existence deeply, to concentrate all dispositions in the hands of the military. They’re utterly ignorant of the situation in the central provinces, and yet they direct waves of refugees according to their whim. [7]

The minister of foreign affairs, S.D. Sazonov, said:

This whole story outrages me profoundly. The Minister of War expresses the opinion that there is no danger threatening Kiev, while the bewildered gentlemen generals want to evacuate it, to abandon it to Austrian abuse. I can imagine the impression on our allies, when they find out about the abandonment of Kiev, the center of an enormous grain-growing region. [8]

Commenting on August 24 on the same evacuation, A.V. Krivoshein, acting minister of agriculture, said:

Historians will not believe it, that Russia conducted the war blindly and hence came to the edge of ruin – that millions of men were unconsciously sacrificed for the arrogance of some and the criminality of others. What is going on at headquarters is a universal outrage and horror. [9]

The nature of the relations prevailing between the ministers and the head of the government becomes clear from a snippet of conversation at the Council of Ministers’ meeting on September 2, 1915, about the dissolution of the Duma:

A.V. Krivoshein: All our discussion today has shown, with great clarity, Ivan Longinovich (Goremykin) [the premier], that the difference between you and the majority of the Council of Ministers, respecting our views of the situation and on the course of policy, has become greater than ever recently. You have reported on this difference to His Majesty the Emperor; but His Majesty deigns to agree with your point of view and not with ours ... Forgive me this one question: How dare you act when [even] the members of the government are convinced of the need for other methods, when the whole government apparatus which is in your hands is in opposition, when both external and internal circumstances are becoming more and more threatening every day?

I.L. Goremykin: I will fulfill my duty to His Majesty the Emperor to the very end, no matter what opposition and lack of sympathy I encounter ...

S.D. Sazonov: Tomorrow blood will flow in the streets and Russia will sink into the abyss! Why? For what? It is all so terrible! In any event, I want to declare out loud that, under the present circumstances, I do not take on myself the responsibility for your acts ...

I.L. Goremykin: I bear the responsibility for my acts and I am not asking anyone to share it with me. [10]

No wonder the chronicler of the minutes could write in his introduction to them: “If one is to judge the state of affairs by the conversations of the Council, then, instead of writing history, one will soon be hung from a lamppost.” [11]

In desperation, Krivoshein said on August 19, 1915:

The report of the minister of internal affairs [Shcherbatov] has shaken me deeply ... We must tell His Majesty that the internal situation, as it exists ... allows of only two solutions: either a strong military dictatorship, if one can find a suitable person, or reconciliation with the public. Our Cabinet does not correspond to public hopes and demands, and it must give way to another in which the country can believe. To delay, to continue to hold on in the middle and bide our time is impossible ... I hesitated for a long time before I finally came to such a conclusion, but right now every day is like a year. The situation is changing with dizzying speed. From all sides, one is forced to listen to the grimmest prediction (of what will happen) if no decisive steps are taken. [12]

Unfortunately this is exactly what the Tsar was unable to do: to establish a “strong military dictatorship” or to liberalize the system of government. Tsarism became more and more a regime of permanent crisis.

The importance of the ministers was even further reduced by the method of their selection; the rule apparently in operation was a very simple one: the selection of the unfittest. Changes in the composition of the government were frequent and remarkably inept. When the war broke out, the prime minister of Russia was I.L. Goremykin. “Seventy-five years of age, a conservative, and a life-long bureaucrat, he was, in his own words, ‘pulled like a winter coat out of mothballs,’ in January 1914, to lead the government, and he could as easily have been put back into the trunk.” [13]

This is how Buchanan, the British ambassador, described him:

An amiable old gentleman with pleasant manners, of an indolent temperament and quite past his work, he had not moved with the time ... With the consummate skill of the born courtier he had ingratiated himself with the Empress, though, except for his ultra-monarchical views, he had nothing whatever to recommend him. [14]

Goremykin was so old that he repeatedly asked permission to resign. But the Tsar refused. “‘The Tsar can’t see that the candles have already been lit around my coffin and that the only thing required to complete the ceremony is myself,’ he said mournfully.” [15] Being an old-fashioned monarchist, he was too valuable for the Tsar to let him go.

In February 1916, however, the Tsar at last replaced Goremykin with Stürmer. This is how Buchanan described the new premier:

With but a second-rate intelligence, without any experience of affairs, a sycophant, bent solely on the advancement of his own interests and extremely ambitious, he owed his new appointment to the fact that he was a friend of Rasputin and that he was backed by the Empress’s camarilla ... I may mention, as showing the sort of man that he was, that he chose as his chef de cabinet a former agent of the okhrana (secret police), Manouiloff by name, who was a few months afterwards arrested and tried for blackmailing a bank. [16]

The French Ambassador was equally uncomplimentary:

He ... is worse than a mediocrity – third-rate intellect, mean spirit, low character, doubtful honesty, no experience, and no idea of state business. The most that can be said for him is that he has a rather pretty talent for cunning and flattery ... His appointment becomes intelligible on the supposition that he has been selected solely as a tool; in other words, actually on account of his insignificance and servility ... [He] has been ... warmly recommended to the Emperor by Rasputin. [17]

In November 1916, Stürmer was replaced by Trepov, who in turn was replaced in January by the elderly Prince N.D. Golytsin. Golytsin pleaded in vain with the Tsar that he was ill, that in forty-seven years of service he had never dealt with politics (most of his activity during the war had been with the Red Cross) and that “this cup should pass me by.” [18] He begged the Tsar to choose somebody else. “If someone else had used the language I used to describe myself, I should have been obliged to challenge him to a duel,” he said. [19]

Other ministers came and went like passing shadows. The minister of war, Sukhomlinov, was dismissed in June 1915 under very suspicious circumstances. He was accused of massive embezzlement of funds:

There were rumors of embezzlements in the ministries in charge of providing the various supplies for the army. For a long time the Ministry of the Navy had had a reputation for embezzlement, and when war broke out it was said that this ministry evinced its patriotic feelings by suspending all graft in the making of large contracts. Soon, however, it was reported that graft was again being practiced in the high places of the Ministry of the Navy. [20]

A special commission was appointed

to ascertain who was really responsible for the failure to send supplies to the army. This commission investigated Sukhomlinov’s activities and finally demanded that he be indicted before the courts. Sukhomlinov’s trial was accorded so much publicity and discredited the existing regime to such a degree that it may be fitting to pause and analyze his personality. [21]

In addition, his assistant, S.N. Miasoedov, was suspected of being a German spy. He was tried by court-martial, convicted and executed. [22] Sukhomlinov was arrested. In his place, Polivanov was appointed minister of war, but he was dismissed after a few months and replaced by Shuvaev, whom Buchanan described as “a complete nullity.” [23]

When Polivanov was sacked, the Tsarina wrote to the Tsar: “Oh, the relief! Now I shall sleep well.” [24] Others were appalled. Polivanov was “undoubtedly the ablest military organizer in Russia, and his dismissal was a disaster,” wrote Sir Alfred Knox. [25]One person was even appointed minister of interior because Rasputin, the “holy man” confidant of the Tsarina, liked his voice.

Rasputin once found a court chamberlain named A.N. Khvostov dining at the nightclub Villa Rode. When the gypsy chorus began to sing, Rasputin was not satisfied; he thought the basses much too weak. Spotting Khvostov, who was large and stout, he clapped him on the back and said, “Brother, go and help them sing. You are fat and can make a lot of noise.” Khvostov, tipsy and cheerful, leaped onto the stage and boomed out a thundering bass. Delighted, Rasputin clapped and shouted his approval. Not long afterward, Khvostov unexpectedly became minister of interior. His appointment provoked Vladimir Purishkevich, a member of the Duma, to declare in disgust that new ministers now were asked to pass examinations, not in government, but in gypsy music. [26]

Comic or Macabre?

The minister of the interior who had to face the February Revolution was Aleksander Protopopov. He was a nominee of Rasputin. “Grigory earnestly begs you to name Protopopov,” the Tsarina wrote in September. Two days later she repeated: “Please take Protopopov as minister of interior.” [27]

The Tsar gave in and telegraphed, “It shall be done.” In a letter, he added, “God grant that Protopopov may turn out to be the man of whom we are now in need.” Overjoyed, the Empress wrote back, “God bless your new choice of Protopopov. Our Friend says you have done a very wise act in naming him.” [28]

It was also Rasputin’s idea to give Protopopov responsibility for the most crucial task of organizing food supplies. The Tsarina granted him the power of control over food supplies without even bothering to get the Tsar’s approval. “Forgive me for what I have done – but I had to – our Friend said it was absolutely necessary,” she wrote.

Stürmer sends you by this messenger a new paper to sign giving the whole food supply at once to the minister of interior ... I had to take this step upon myself as Grigory says Protopopov will have all in his hands ... and by that will save Russia ... Forgive me, but I had to take this responsibility for your sweet sake. [29]

This stupid man was put in control of the police and the food supply in the crucial winter of 1916-17 because, like the Tsar and the Tsarina, he was imbued with the medieval spirit of mysticism. Beside his desk he kept an icon that he addressed as a person. “He helps me do everything, everything I do is by His advice,” Protopopov explained to Kerensky, indicating the icon. [30]

Buchanan described Protopopov thus: “Mentally deranged, he would, in his audiences with the Empress, repeat warnings and messages which he had received in his imaginary converse with Rasputin’s spirit.” [31]

In the two and a half years of the war, Russia had four different prime ministers, five ministers of the interior, four ministers of agriculture and three ministers of war.


The anarchy prevailing at the top of the Russian political establishment enabled a corrupt clique to form around the Tsar, at the head of which was none other than Grigory Rasputin, a symbol of the general decadence of society.

Towards November 1905 – that is, at the most critical moment of the first revolution – the Tsar writes in his diary: “We got acquainted with a man of God, Grigory, from the Tobolsk province.” That was Rasputin – a Siberian peasant with a bald scar on his head, the result of a beating for horse-stealing. Put forward at an appropriate moment, this “Man of God” soon found official helpers – or rather they found him – and thus was formed a new ruling circle which got a firm hold of the Tsarina, and through her of the Tsar.

From the winter of 1913-14 it was openly said in Petersburg society that all high appointments, posts, and contracts depended upon the Rasputin clique ... In epic language the police spies registered from day to day the revels of the Friend. “He returned today 5 o’clock in the morning completely drunk.” “On the night of the 25th-26th the actress V. spent the night with Rasputin.” “He arrived with Princess D. (the wife of a gentleman of the bedchamber of the Tsar’s court) at the Hotel Astoria.” ... And right beside this: “Came home from Tsarskoe Selo about 11 o’clock in the evening.” “Rasputin came home with Princess Sh. – very drunk and together they went out immediately.” In the morning or evening of the following day a trip to Tsarskoe Selo. To a sympathetic question from the spy as to why the Elder was thoughtful, the answer came: “Can’t decide whether to convoke the Duma or not.” And then again: “He came home at 5 in the morning pretty drunk.” Thus for months and years the melody was played on three keys: “Pretty drunk,” “Very drunk,” and “Completely drunk.” [32]

In their helplessness before the rising storm, the Tsar and the Tsarina craved the mystical power of the “Man of God.” “Hearken unto Our Friend,” the Tsarina wrote in June 1915.

Believe him. He has your interest and Russia’s at heart. It is not for nothing God sent him to us, only we must pay more attention to what He says. His words are not lightly spoken and the importance of having not only his prayers but his advice is great ... I am haunted by Our Friend’s wish and know it will be fatal for us and for the country if not fulfilled. He means what he says when he speaks so seriously. [33]

In September 1916: “I fully trust in Our Friend’s wisdom, endowed by God to counsel what is right for you and our country. He sees far ahead and therefore his judgment can be relied upon.” [34]

After the Tsar’s departure to army headquarters in his fictitious capacity as commander in chief, the Tsarina openly took charge of the internal affairs of the state, aided and abetted by Rasputin. This suited the fatalistic and weak-willed Nikolai very well.

Rasputin also intervened in military matters. Although her informal mandate from the Tsar was to oversee only internal affairs, the Tsarina also began to trespass in this field.

Rasputin’s inspiration, he told the Empress, had come to him in dreams while he slept: “Now before I forget, I must give you a message from Our Friend prompted by what he saw in the night,” she wrote in November 1915.

He begs you to order that one should advance near Riga, says it is necessary, otherwise the Germans will settle down so firmly through all the winter that it will cost endless bloodshed and trouble to make them move ... he says this is just now the most essential thing and begs you seriously to order ours to advance, he says we can and we must, and I was to write to you at once. [35]

Rasputin’s intervention in military affairs reached its height during the great Russian offensive of 1916. As early as July 25, the Tsarina wrote: “Our Friend ... finds better one should not advance too obstinately as the losses will be too great.” [36] On August 8: “Our Friend hopes we won’t climb over the Carpathians and try to take them, as he repeats the losses will be too great again.” [37]

On September 21, the Tsar wrote: “I told Alekseev to order Brusilov to stop our hopeless attacks.” The Tsarina replied happily, “Our Friend says about the new orders you gave to Brusilov: ‘Very satisfied with Father’s [the Tsar’s] orders, all will be well.’” [38]

Whom the Gods Wish to Destroy ...

Their medieval obscurantism made it impossible for the Tsarina and her cabal to grasp the overall significance of the rising waves of revolution. Her arrogance knew no bounds. The people simply needed the whip. Thus on December 14, 1916, less than ten weeks before the monarchy fell, she called on the Tsar to arrest all the leading members of the Duma: “Be Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Emperor Paul; smash them all!” In another letter written just five days before the February Revolution, she went even further:

You have never lost an opportunity to show your love and kindness; now let them feel your fist. They themselves ask for this – so many have recently said to me: “We need the whip.” This is strange, but such is the Slavonic nature – the greatest firmness, even cruelty and – warm love. They must learn to fear you; love alone is not enough. [39]

The extent of the Tsarina’s political perspicacity, and of her understanding of the people, is clear from a letter she wrote to the Tsar on February 26, when the capital was in the grip of a general strike:

This is a hooligan movement, young people run about and shout that there is no bread, simply to create excitement, along with workers who prevent others from working. If the weather were very cold they would all probably stay at home. But all this will pass and become calm, if only the Duma will behave itself. [40]

With the Tsarina and her clique conspiring against the Duma, against the ministers, and against the staff generals, it is not surprising that each member of the Tsarist administration felt helpless, isolated from everyone, and in conflict with everyone.

Thus at the August 21, 1915, session of the Council of Ministers, Shcherbatov, minister of internal affairs, said:

One must submit a written report to His Majesty, and explain that a government which has the confidence neither of the bearer of supreme power, nor of the army, nor of the towns, nor of the Zemstvos, nor of the gentry, nor of the merchants, nor of the workers – not only cannot work, it cannot even exist! It is an evident absurdity! We, sitting here, are like Don Quixotes! [41]

At the session of August 28,1915, Krivoshein, the acting minister of agriculture, said:

Everyone talks about unity and about accord with the nation, and meanwhile the civil and the military authorities cannot agree and have not been able to work together for a whole year. The Council of Ministers discusses, requests, expresses desires, submits wishes, submits demands – and the gentlemen generals spit on all of us and don’t wish to do anything. [42]

On August 9, 1915, Sazonov, minister of foreign affairs, announced: “The government hangs in mid-air, having support neither from above nor from below.” [43]

The extreme right-wing deputy A.I. Savenko could declare at the session of the Duma on February 29,1916:

What a terrible thing it is for the country that, during the time of the greatest trials experienced by our fatherland, the country does not trust the government; no one trusts the government, even the right does not trust the government – in fact the government does not trust itself and is not sure about tomorrow. [44]

The Palace Revolution That Did Not Take Place

As the crisis in the Tsarist regime deepened, more and more circles of the ruling class indulged in speculation about the need for a revolution from above ... to preempt a revolution from below.

In August 1916, the right-wing Octobrist leader Alexander Guchkov sent a letter to General Alekseev at General Headquarters, copies of which were widely circulated, which read:

[T]he home front is in a state of complete disintegration ... the rot has set in at the roots of state power ... the rot on the home front is once more threatening, as it did last year, to drag your gallant armies at the front, your gallant strategy, and the whole country into the hopeless quagmire ... one cannot expect communications to function properly under Mr. Trepov; nor good work of our industry when it is entrusted to Prince Shakhovskoy; nor prosperity for our agriculture and a proper management of supplies at the hands of Count Bobrinsky. And ... this government is headed by Mr Stürmer, who has established (both in the army and among the people at large) a solid reputation of one who – if not an actual traitor is ready to commit treason ... you will understand what deadly anxiety for the fate of our motherland has gripped public opinion and popular feeling.

We in the rear are powerless, or almost powerless, to fight this evil. Our methods of struggle are double-edged and can – owing to the excitable state of the popular masses and in particular of the working class – become the first spark of a conflagration, the dimensions of which no one can foresee or localize ...

Is there anything you can do? I don’t know. [45]

This was practically a call for the general to stage a coup. Guchkov and other members of the ruling class were praying silently that the military would summon up courage to seize power. Alas, General Alekseev refused to take the step.

Three months later, according to Kerensky, the future head of the provisional government, another plot was afoot, for a coup scheduled to take place at the Tsar’s headquarters on November 15-16. This was a private arrangement between Prince Lvov and General Alekseev. They had made up their minds that the Tsarina’s hold on the Tsar must be broken in order to end the pressure being exerted on him, through her, by the Rasputin clique. At the appointed hour, Alekseev and Lvov hoped to persuade the Tsar to send the Empress away to the Crimea or to England. [46]

In January 1917, General Krymov arrived from the front and complained before members of the Duma that the existing state of affairs could not continue any longer.

The feeling in the army is such that all will greet with joy the news of a coup d’état. It has to come; it is felt at the front. Should you decide to do this, we will support you. Seemingly, there is no other way out. You, as well as others, have tried everything, but the evil influence of the wife is mightier than the honest words spoken to the Tsar. We cannot afford to lose time.

Shidlovski exclaimed in anger, “We cannot waste pity on him [the Tsar], if he ruins Russia.” In the noisy argument, the real or imaginary words of General Brusilov were also reported: “If it comes to a choice between the Tsar and Russia, I will take Russia.”

Shingarev, a Cadet, said: “The general is right – a coup d’état is necessary. But who will dare to initiate it?”

That was just the point. Nobody dared to act. There was endless talk about a coup, but plans did not move an inch forward.

Even close members of the Tsar’s family were indulging in talk about the urgent need for a coup. Thus M.V. Rodzianko, president of the Duma, recorded:

The idea that it was necessary to force the Tsar to abdicate seemed to have taken hold of Petrograd at the end of 1916, and the beginning of 1917. A number of people from the higher circles declared that the Duma and its president should undertake this task and save the army and Russia.

Rodzianko goes on to relate some astonishing stories. He describes how one day in January 1917 he was urgently invited to lunch at the Vladimir Palace. After lunch, the Grand Duchess, Maria Pavlovna, spoke of the situation in the interior, of the worthless government, of Protopopov, and of the Empress ... that it was necessary to change, remove, destroy. I tried to find out what she was driving at and asked what she meant by remove. “Well, I don’t know. It is necessary to undertake something. You understand. The Duma should do something ... She should be done away with.” “Who?” “The Empress.” “Your Highness,” said I, “let us forget this conversation.”

On January 8, 1917, the Tsar’s brother, Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich, came to see Rodzianko. He said:

I should like to talk to you about what is going on and to consult you as to what should be done. We understand the situation ... Do you think there is going to be a revolution?

Rodzianko: There is still time to save Russia, and even now the reign of your brother could attain unheard of greatness and glory, if the policies of the government were altered. It is necessary to appoint ministers whom the country trusts, who would not hurt the people’s feelings. I am sorry to say, however, that this could be done only if the Empress were removed [from political affairs] ... She and the Emperor are surrounded by sinister and worthless characters. The Empress is hated and there is a general cry that she should be removed. As long as she is in power we shall drift toward ruin.

Aleksandrovich: Imagine – Buchanan said the same thing to my brother. Our family realizes how harmful the Empress is. She and my brother are surrounded by traitors – all decent people have left them. But what to do? [47]

Exactly. What was to be done? The Duma waited for the generals to act. The generals waited for the Duma. The Tsar’s own family prayed silently for a coup.

Some foreign diplomats, particularly the British and French ambassadors, were involved in a conspiracy. On December 28, 1916, the French ambassador wrote in his diary:

Yesterday evening ... Prince Gabriel Constantinovich gave a supper for his mistress, formerly an actress. The guests included the Grand Duke Boris ... a few officers and a squad of elegant courtesans. During the evening the only topic was the conspiracy – the regiments of the guard which can be relied on, the most favorable moment for the outbreak, etc. And all this with the servants moving about, harlots looking on and listening, gypsies singing and the whole company bathed in the aroma of Moët and Chandon brut imperial which flowed in streams. [48]

The British ambassador remembered:

Revolution was in the air, and the only moot point was whether it would come from above or from below. A Palace revolution was openly spoken of, and at a dinner at the Embassy a Russian friend of mine, who had occupied a high position in the government, declared that it was a mere question whether both the Emperor and Empress or only the latter would be killed. On the other hand, a popular outbreak, provoked by the prevailing food shortage, might occur at any moment. [49]

But all the talk of revolution from above, all the conspiracies, led to nothing. On May 5, 1917, a Cadet, V.A. Maklakov, exclaimed at a private conference of members of the Duma:

[T]here was a moment when it became clear to everybody that under the old regime it was impossible to conclude war, to achieve victory; and for those who believed that a revolution would be ruinous, it was their duty and their task to save Russia from a revolution from below by means of a palace revolution from above. Such was the task which stood before us, but which we did not fulfill. If posterity curses this revolution, then it will also curse those who did not understand the methods which could have forestalled it. [50]

On August 2, 1917, Guchkov sadly echoed Maklakov’s sentiments:

The course of action required was a coup d’état. The fault, if one can speak of the historical fault of Russian society, lies in the fact that this society, represented by its leading circles, was not sufficiently aware of the need for the coup and did not undertake it, thereby leaving it to blind, spontaneous forces to carry out this painful operation. [51]

Even the very perceptive Lenin was led by the general talk of a coup to believe that leaders of the Russian establishment and the British ambassador were actually organizing one, and that their action contributed to the February Revolution.

The whole course of events in the February-March Revolution clearly shows that the British and French embassies, with their agents and “connections,” who had long been making the most desperate efforts to prevent “separate” agreements and a separate peace between Nicholas II (and last, we hope, and we will endeavor to make him that) and Wilhelm II, directly organized a plot in conjunction with the Octobrists and Cadets, in conjunction with a section of the generals and army and St. Petersburg garrison officers, with the express object of deposing Nicholas Romanov. [52]

However, the social crisis that led rich industrialists, generals, and dukes to talk about a coup also paralyzed them. In 1908 Rodzianko had declared his admiration for the Young Turks (the group of army officers who had seized power). But he and his Russian friends could not imitate them. There was no revolutionary proletariat behind them, pushing forward.

The lack of determination to carry out a palace revolution led to its replacement by a caricature – the assassination of Rasputin, on December 16-17, 1916, by Prince Felix Usupov, heir to the largest fortune in Russia, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, and the extreme right-wing monarchist Duma deputy, Purishkevich. They saw in this murder the last available means of saving the monarchy.

The impact of Rasputin’s death was just the opposite of what its perpetrators hoped for. It did not blunt the crisis, but sharpened it. People in every walk of life talked about the murder and could see that even the Grand Dukes had no recourse against the Tsarist clique except by poison and the revolver. Violence against the monarchy was inevitable, Tsarism survived the murder of Rasputin by only ten weeks.




1. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.21, pp.213-14.

2. Cherniavsky, p.2.

3. Cherniavsky, p.3.

4. I.V. Gessen, V dvukh vekakh; Arkhiv Russkoi Revoliutsii, vol.22, Berlin 1937, p.355.

5. V.I. Gurko, Features and Figures of the Past, Stanford 1939, p.546.

6. Cherniavsky, p.147.

7. Cherniavsky, pp.147-48.

8. Cherniavsky, p.148.

9. Cherniavsky, p.169.

10. Cherniavsky, p.241.

11. Cherniavsky, p.128.

12. Cherniavsky, pp.141-42.

13. Cherniavsky, p.7.

14. J. Buchanan, My Mission to Russia, London 1923, vol.1, p.165.

15. M. Paléologue, An Ambassador’s Memoirs, London 1923-25, vol.2., p.14.

16. Buchanan, vol.2, p.3.

17. Paléologue, vol.2, p.166.

18. Cherniavsky, p.245.

19. R.K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra, London 1968, p.367.

20. Gurko, p.545.

21. Gurko, p.551.

22. Gurko, pp.552-53.

23. Buchanan, vol.2, p.6.

24. B. Pares, ed., Letters of the Tsaritsa to the Tsar, 1914-1916, London 1923, p.297.

25. A. Knox, With the Russian Army, 1914-1917, New York 1921, p.412.

26. Massie, p.325.

27. Pares, pp.394-95.

28. Pares, p.398.

29. Pares, p.428.

30. A. Kerensky, The Crucifixion of Liberty, New York 1934, p.218.

31. Buchanan, vol.2, p.51.

32. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.82.

33. Pares, pp.86-87.

34. Pares, p.390.

35. Pares, p.221.

36. Pares, p.377.

37. Pares, p.382.

38. Pares, p.411.

39. W.H. Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution, New York 1935, vol.1, p.68.

40. Chamberlin, p.73.

41. Cherniavsky, p.154.

42. Cherniavsky, p.225.

43. Cherniavsky, p.88.

44. Cherniavsky, p.18.

45. G. Katkov, Russia 1917: The February Revolution, London 1969, p.257.

46. A. Kerensky, Russia and History’s Turning Point, New York 1965, p.150.

47. Rodzianko’s memoirs, Arkhiv Russkoi Revoliutsii, vol.17, pp.82ff. in F. Colder, ed., Documents of Russian History, New York 1927, pp.82-121.

48. Paléologue, vol.3, p.157.

49. Buchanan, vol.2, p.141.

50. R.P. Browder and A.F. Kerensky, The Russian Provisional Government 1917 – Documents, Stanford 1961, vol.3, p.1276.

51. Kerensky, Russia – History’s Turning Point, p.152.

52. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.23, p.301.


Last updated on 25.10.2007