It is the shallow fashion of these times to dismiss the Czarist régime as a purblind, corrupt, incompetent tyranny. But a survey of its thirty months’ war with Germany and Austria should correct these loose impressions and expose the dominant facts. We may measure the strength of the Russian Empire by the battering it had endured, by the disasters it had survived, by the inexhaustible forces it had developed, and by the recovery it had made.
In the Government of States, when great events are afoot, the leader of the nation, whoever he be, is held accountable for failure and vindicated by success. No matter who wrought the toil, who planned the struggle, to the supreme responsible authority belongs the blame or credit for the result. Why should this stern test be denied to Nicholas II? He had made many mistakes, what ruler had not? He was neither a great captain nor a great prince. He was only a true, simple man of average ability, of merciful disposition, upheld in all his daily life by his faith in God. But the brunt of supreme decisions centred upon him. At the summit where all problems are reduced to Yea or Nay, where events transcend the faculties of men and where all is inscrutable, he had to give the answers.
His was the function of the compass-needle. War or no war? Advance or retreat? Right or left? Democratize or hold firm? Quit or persevere? These were the battle-fields of Nicholas II. Why should he reap no honour from them? The devoted onset of the Russian armies which saved Paris in 1914; the mastered agony of the munition-less retreat; the slowly regathered forces; the victories of Brusilov; the Russian entry upon the campaign of 1917, unconquered, stronger than ever; has he no share in these? In spite of errors vast and terrible, the régime he personified, over which he presided, to which his personal character gave the vital spark, had at this moment won the war for Russia. He is about to be struck down. A dark hand, gloved at first in folly, now intervenes. Exit Czar. Deliver him and all he loved to wounds and death. Belittle his efforts, asperse his conduct, insult his memory; but pause then to tell us who else was found capable. Who or what could guide the Russian State? Men gifted and daring; men ambitious and fierce; spirits audacious and commanding—of these there was no lack. But none could answer the few plain questions on which the life and fame of Russia turned. With victory in her grasp she fell upon the earth, devoured alive, like Herod of old, by worms. But not in vain her valiant deeds. The giant mortally stricken had just time, with dying strength, to pass the torch eastward across the ocean to a new Titan long sunk in doubt who now arose and began ponderously to arm. The Russian Empire fell on March 16; on April 6 the United States entered the war.
A funny coincidence. I left St.Petersburg for Crimea, being sure that I would never return, and provided the “Apollo” magazine room on Razhezhey Street and my personal apartment at Ivanovskaya Street - with everything that remained in them, at full disposal (through the secretary of Lozinsky’s editorial office) to the Apollonians. As far as I know, almost the first to move into my apartment were Akhmatova with her friend - Shileiko, a scientist Assyriologist, an employee of “Apollo”, and someone, who I thought was long and hopelessly in love with her.
I have a serious concern: my favourite area of work - women’s issues - has been abandoned and put to one side. I am being thrown into all sorts of other activities and barely have any time and energy left to devote to working women and soldiers’ wives. See more
Lenin, Nadezhda Konstantinovna and I were walking together to the Tauride Palace and I told Lenin about my work with the soldiers’ wives and mothers. It’s wrong of us to see them as being in favour of the war, although it is true that the pro-war liberal women are making great efforts to organise them, to create their own union of soldiers’ wives and mothers, and win their support. Meanwhile, we are doing nothing. I am the only one bothering with them, now they themselves invite me to address them. They lament the current high prices. “Bring my husband back from the trenches,” they say. “What is this war to us?” There are many soldiers’ mothers, and still more soldiers’ wives with children, who are unable to survive on their rations, but how can they go to work when they can’t leave their babies? Lenin was interested.
As the dangers of the Russian revolution came home to the British ministers at home, strenuous efforts were made to bring the Russians to their senses and to recall them sternly to the obligations of their alliance. Some genius hit on the idea of sending out a Franco-British Socialist delegation to persuade the Russian comrades to continue fighting. And in the middle of April, MM. Mouet, Cachin and Lafont, representing French Socialism, and Messrs. Jim O'Grady, Will Thorne, and W. W. Sanders, as stalwarts of British Labour, arrived in St. Petersburg to preach wisdom and patriotism to the Soviets. See more
The three Frenchmen were intellectuals. Moutet was a lawyer. Cachin and Lafont were professors of philosophy. On the British side Sanders was then secretary of the Fabian Society. To the British public O'Grady and Thorne require no introduction.
From the first the visit was a farce. The delegates fulfilled their task honourably. But, as any one might have foreseen, they were completely lost in the wilderness of Russian revolutionary phraseology. They were bewildered by the endless discussions on peace terms. They understood the jargon of the Russian Socialists far less than I did. They were handicapped by their ignorance of the language. Worst of all, they never succeeded in winning the confidence even of the moderate Socialists, who from the first regarded them as lackeys of their respective governments.
If the effect on the Russians was less than nothing, the reaction of the delegates themselves to the revolution was amusing. O'Grady and Thorne – especially Thorne – were splendid. Never shall I forget that luncheon at the Embassy, when this honest giant regaled us with stories of his adventures. He had all the Englishman's contempt for verbiage, and the babel of foreign tongues had disgusted him. He longed to use his strong arms and to knock the heads of the garrulous comrades together.
The Allied delegates came to Moscow. They visited the front. They delivered – through the aid of their interpreter – innumerable patriotic speeches, and in the end they went away, sadder and wiser men.
The hand of reconciliation extended by our Social-Democrats to German "comrades" remains to this day unacknowledged and is left hanging in the air. The extent to which the German people are bound by the bewitching notion of subservience to their Kaiser is remarkable.
The French socialist deputies are beginning to be less rapturous about the Russian revolution now that they have seen it at close quarters. The contemptuous reception given them by the Soviet has somewhat cooled their ardour. But they still cherish a colossal number of illusions: they still believe in the possibility of galvanizing the Russian people by a "boldly democratic policy in the direction of internationalism." See more
I tried to convince them of their error:
"The Russian revolution is essentially anarchic and destructive. Left to itself, it can only end in terrible mob-rule by the lowest classes and the soldiery, in the rupture of all national ties and the total collapse of Russia. In view of the propensity to excess which is innate in the Russian character, it will soon go to extremes: it is doomed to sink into mere destruction and barbarism, horror and absurdity. You have no idea of the magnitude. of the forces that have just been released. Whether this catastrophe can still be averted by means such as an immediate meeting of a constituent assembly or a military coup d'état I have grave doubts. Fortunately the movement has only begun, so it may be possible to master it, more or less, to put on the brake, to make it take the direction we desire and thus gain time. A respite of a few months would be of incalculable importance to the result of the war. The support you are giving the extremists will precipitate the catastrophe."
But I soon realized that I was speaking to deaf ears: I do not possess the grandiloquence of a Tseretelli or a Cheidze, a Skobelev or a Kerensky.
Consider the awful condition of the world before this thunder-bolt struck it. Could anyone, tracing back down the centuries and examining the record of the wickedness of man, find anything which could compare with the story of the nations during the last twenty years! Think of the condition of Russia during that time, with her brutal aristocracy and her drunken democracy, her murders on either side, her Siberian horrors, her Jew baitings and her corruption.
Sadness and silence. In the evening we read Chekhov. I think Chekhov is hugely talented, but also vulgar and lacking in values.
The weather cleared up and was fine. I took a long walk during the morning because it was nice. During the day I worked with Tatiana and Alexis. The faces of the guards have not been as free and easy as before. They usually talk with us and give us their impressions of the revolution, I read for a long time. At 10:15 I laid myself down.
Although the subscription lists to the “Liberty Loan” only opened yesterday, the public is already contributing freely, according to the official news bureau. In two hours after the lists were open 2,500,000 rubles were received.