May 16, 2022

When You Think God Is on Your Side: The Fall of the Russian Empire

Russia has more than the past 2 weeks fought– and so far, it seems to be losing. A minimum of 2 generals have been killed, up to 4 thousand Russian soldiers have likewise died, and Ukrainians appear to be stealing their tanks with tractors. As Russia teeters on the edge of ruin, in large part due to leadership issues, it seems like a great time to speak about the two individuals who lost the Russian Empire the very first time around, in the 1917 Revolution( s): Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Romanov..
Some of this was real. Nicholas was a caring husband and father.
Filial responsibilities aside, Nicholas and Alexandra are far various– far even worse leaders– than popular culture depicts them. Their choices led to the downfall of the Russian Empire, and maybe more notably, set the phase for a revolution that would ultimately introduce not democracy however a various sort of autocratic rule. Now, with war in Ukraine, their downfall is surprisingly pertinent..
A good entry-level (though long!) intro to their history is the 10th season of the Revolutions podcast, focusing on the Russian Revolution( s). Podcaster Mike Duncan traces the history of the Russian Revolution from its origins in Marxist idea and the socialist, innovative experiments of the mid-1800s, such as the Paris Commune, through the October 1917 Revolution and beyond into Civil War..
According to Duncans podcast, the (late) Russian Empire was developed on the back of the motto Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality. Created after the failed Decemberists revolt, the slogan situated all authority in the Tsar alone, the divinely-appointed leader for the Russian people. The Tsar, and the task of Russian Empire which he embodied, had Gods stamp of approval, and no challenge was genuine.
Clearly, given its origins, the belief in the Tsar as a spiritually greasy leader of a nation blessed by God could not lead however help to injustice. The Decemberists and others perceived as insurgents were killed or eliminated to Siberia for their criminal offenses against the Tsar, frequently in dramatic ways meant to burnish the Tsars image.
Alexander II (ruled 1855-1881), the so-called “Tsar Liberator,” utilized his role to plan for and (partly) enact the emancipation of Russias lots of peasants, a relocation long overdue, thanks to the weight the Tsars provided to the nobilitys monetary claims. Even when the move stalled out, it did not mean the end of development for Russia; it was under Alexander IIs son (Alexander III, ruled 1881-1894) that the Trans-Siberian Railway was constructed. In blessing the Tsar the unchallengeable and undisputed ruler, it sowed the seeds for the Empires destruction.
These seeds concerned fulfillment in Nicholas II (ruled 1894-1917), by all accounts a genuine man who enjoyed his household and who was nevertheless totally unskilled as any type of a ruler, let alone ruler of an Empire that extended from one corner of the world to another. Nicholass commitment to the concept that he alone was ruler was outright, to the point that (as Duncan explains) he strained himself with minutiae of state, examining and signing documents that a better leader would have delegated to subordinates. To trace all of Nicholass faults, even within the structure of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality, would be far too unfocused; three examples deserve pointing out here, to parse out how the Tsars belief that God was on his side combined with other character traits in methods that led to Russias mess up..
The Russo-Japanese War.
At the end of the 19th century, the Russian Empire was aiming to broaden its area in the Far East. Already occupying Manchuria, through which the growing Trans-Siberian Railway ran, it now sought to broaden into Korea, denying Japanese claims to the peninsula and threatening war. Though, as Duncan notes, Tsar Nicholas II did not truly want war: his autocratic position and assumption that he was acting upon Gods behalf to maintain the divinely-blessed Russian Empire, pressed him– and all Russia with him– into catastrophe..
Settlements ran long, and as they did, Nicholas, like the wicked kings of ancient Israel and Judah, was plagued with poor recommendations from even worse consultants. In particular, Kaiser Wilhelm (the exact same Wilhelm ready to begin World War I in Europe) argued to Nicholas in favor of the war, convincing him of his spiritual and moral obligations to dedicate to war. As Duncan notes, the Kaiser “was writing a consistent stream of letters to [the Tsar], saying this wasnt simply about timber concessions and access to markets, its about the fate of Christendom itself” versus the non-Christian Japanese people that Europeans viewed as a danger to Western civilization. As the Kaiser framed it, Tsar Nicholas had the opportunity to be “the savior of” white, Christian Russia. This argument took hold of Tsar Nicholas in part because he had actually previously visited Japan and “fancied himself a professional on the Japanese”– though, all Nicholas was actually an expert on was anti-Asian racism. However that racism, integrated with Nicholass viewed knowledge about Eastern affairs, integrated with the Kaisers recommendations to make war, ultimately, very attractive to the Tsar. Beating the Japanese was, apparently, Gods will for the Russian Empire.
Naturally, defeating the Japanese was not foreordained at all. Russia suffered a stunning defeat, its attack on Port Arthur ending with the whole Russian Navy (outside of a few boats in the Black Sea) at the bottom of the ocean. The defeat stired animosity amongst the people, whose kids had actually been sent out to pass away in the Russo-Japanese war for nothing. Just a couple of years far from worldwide war, Nicholass belief in his own authority and reliability left the great Empire of Russia without any sea power and with an anxious, upset population.
The General Strike.
Yet, convinced of his right to rule, Nicholas II did not gain from his failures in the East, even as they led towards transformation in Russia. Throughout the years( s) throughout and right away after completion of the Russo-Japanese War, the mood in St. Petersburg and Moscow progressively turned against the guideline of the Tsars and towards democracy, with individuals hungry for better working conditions, an end to war, and more political flexibility. Stress boiled over to consist of political violence, when (early in the winter season of 1906) the priest Father Gapon led a demonstration on the Winter Palace to prompt the Tsar to relieve their suffering. Instead, the Tsars military opened fire, causing likely more than a hundred deaths. Forced in the wake of “Bloody Sunday” to make concessions, Tsar Nicholas, the presumptive divinely-appointed king of the whole Russian Empire, did so grudgingly, concurring only to an advisory committee and holding off actual democratic reform. There was little hope that a male who fancied himself an imperial leader, charged by God, might permit democracy to challenge his status..
That fall the unrest devolved into a General Strike which included not just blue-collar workers but white-collars workers as well– accounting professionals, lawyers, and more, strolling off the job to articulate the urgency of more expansive reforms. As Duncan explains, the “Russian Empire was efficiently shut down. The consequences were not pleasant for the Russian people, of course, with food, medicine, electrical power, and even safety significantly difficult to guarantee as the Strike extended throughout October 1906.
Too typically Christians in the United States have actually sought, and still look for, to utilize the power of the state to accomplish their ends … Such actions are not lined up with Christ, who raised up and empowered those who are oppressed and did not seek this worlds power.Faced with this crisis, Nicholas II discovered himself backed into a corner, forced to concur to a series of reforms. This included the requirement for an elected Duma (a representative council guided by a Prime Minister) to play an active role in statecraft– a move which, as Nicholas observed, would unseat him from the throne of the Empire, minimizing him to a symbolic head.
Tsar Nicholas invested much of the rest of his reign searching for ways to unwind the reforms he had accepted and undermine the increasing increase of democracy in Russia. The Duma was chosen, yet Nicholas consistently quarreled with it and even dismissed it, seeking ways to (re) claim possible authority, bring back the glory of the old, autocratic routine and his own charge to rule. His actions would eventually cause the 1917 Revolutions and, from there, the rising Bolshevik power.
Rasputin.
Possibly Nicholass many obvious misstep, one of the last he would ever make, came in his dedication to Rasputin, a dedication enhanced both by Nicholass deep faith and his guarantee that God ordained him to rule Russia. Rasputin, typically portrayed as an enormous sorcerer with magical powers, was little bit more than a conman from a remote village in southern Russia. Just partly literate (however deeply cunning), he easily found out that he could use his spiritual habit to relaxing up with the Emperor and Empress, blinding them to his faults, and controling them for his own ends. At initially, the royal couple came to rely on Rasputin for his obvious deep piety and avowed faith, a spirit they sensed was doing not have among the rebellious people; Rasputin was evidence that the peasantry still saw them as designated by God. These ties were reinforced as Rasputin taken advantage of their worries for their boy, the Tsesarevich Alexei, who experienced hemophilia and who alone was the Romanov beneficiary to the throne. Each time Alexei would deviate for the worse, medical professionals would predict his death; Rasputin would intervene with prayers or encouraging words, and Alexei would recover. From that point on, the Empress in specific would never ever hear another word versus Rasputin..
Rasputin, www.theromanovfamily.comYet words versus Rasputin mounted. Proof emerged recommending that he preyed sexually on young ladies and even ladies, however the Emperor and Empress closed their ears to it. Rasputin was divinely sent by God, they were Gods divinely-appointed leaders of Russia, and any possible criticism read simply as an attack on that structure. This belief would cause Russias mess up. When, lastly, Rasputin was killed at the hands of 2 conservative royalists who might see more plainly than Nicholas how his impact was lowering the monarchy, Duncan reports that people were so pleased they sent out the murderers letters of congratulation. However it was far too late. Just a few months later on, in February 1917, Revolution started, and the autocracy of the Tsar ended permanently.
Nicholas II and Putin– and United States.
Nicholas II is, in numerous ways, quite different from modern Russian totalitarians. Deeply spiritual and less nakedly corrupt, the unskilled Tsar looks like a character from an ancient Greek disaster, gave his knees by his own deadly flaws– amongst them, his racism and his presumption that he ruled the Russian Empire as its unquestioned, divinely-appointed sovereign. His mistake proved to be his undoing, and eventually Russias. Believing he might do no incorrect, believing that the Russian Empire had upon it the blessing and required of God, Nicholas increasingly alienated his advisors, drawing his circle in on himself. At the last, he showed not able to self-reflect, not able to acknowledge error, or progress in a efficient and humane method..
These defects live on as Russias rulers keep a stranglehold on the reins of state, putting their own ego and the maintenance of Empire above the real good of the nation, its next-door neighbors, and even its own people. For years now, Putin has actually ruled Russia with unchecked power, like the royal Tsars. Invading Ukraine, a territory that Russia surrendered in early 1918 to reach a cease-fire with Germany and after that consequently reclaimed in the early 1920s as part of the emerging Soviet Union, signals that Putin is attempting to recreate the old Russian Empire. Ukraine, naturally, is its own sovereign state and does not be worthy of to be either colonized by Russia or destroyed for resisting colonization. Putin fancies himself, as he has actually long fancied himself, to be a historical autocrat. Much less religious than the Romanovs (who, surprisingly, have because been sainted), he nonetheless promotes the same unquestionable authority and demands the very same dedication to the imperial Russian nation that they did..
Nicholas II and Putin, tsarnicholas.orgThough the war may be going versus Russia now, it will not rapidly be over; Russias long participation in Syria gestures towards how devastating the dispute might be. A little more than a century back, on International Womens Day, women rose up versus Nicholas II– and began the February 1917 Revolution which toppled royal Russia.
As believers, many of us most likely in the United States, this history ought to call us to think about how we too can defy autocracy, standing up instead for those who are oppressed, in prison, or in risk. Too frequently Christians in the United States have actually looked for, and still seek, to use the power of the state to achieve their ends. Too often Christians prioritize what we (typically mistakenly) view to be the reality, rather than empathy and compassion for others. Yet our faith does not call us to be leaders like Tsar Nicholas II, putting presumed authority from God over the wellness of individuals with whom we dwell, whether at church, in our communities, or in our cities. Nor ought to we as Christians let abusive and/or manipulative leaders out for their own gain, like Rasputin, dictate our actions.
Authoritarianism is pervasive in the church, particularly lately, as for instance scholar Chrissy Stroop documents in her description of how pastors– battling over what they incorrectly perceive to be the ethical high ground– bully trans individuals and women on social media. Such actions are instead lined up with Putin, with Nicholas II, and with all who declare that God is behind them and then use that claim to justify evil.

As the Kaiser framed it, Tsar Nicholas had the opportunity to be “the rescuer of” white, Christian Russia. Just a couple of years away from international war, Nicholass belief in his own authority and reliability left the excellent Empire of Russia with no sea power and with an anxious, upset populace.
Tsar Nicholas invested much of the rest of his reign looking for methods to unwind the reforms he had actually accepted and weaken the increasing increase of democracy in Russia. Possibly Nicholass many obvious mistake, one of the last he would ever make, came in his commitment to Rasputin, a commitment enhanced both by Nicholass deep faith and his guarantee that God ordained him to rule Russia. Nicholas II and Putin, tsarnicholas.orgThough the war may be going versus Russia now, it will not quickly be over; Russias long involvement in Syria gestures towards how ravaging the dispute might be.