With President Obama expelling 35 Russian diplomats linked to the computer hacking this past year, it’s kind of ironic that for the past week I’ve worked on this for the bog. Depending on what calendar you use, today is the 100th anniversary of the murder of Grigory Rasputin.
He was a rough Siberian peasant and healer who claimed to be a holy man. Introduced to the Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, in 1905, he insinuated himself into the Imperial Family because of what was at the time a state secret. Their son, the Tsarevitch Alexei, was a hemophiliac, a disease where the patient’s blood cannot clot even with the slightest injury. The gene was carried in females, but manifested in their male progeny. Alexandra blamed herself for her son’s illness, which doctors said was incurable. Her high-strung personality made matters worse. Rasputin had the gift of stopping the boy’s bleeding. One incident in 1911 at the hunting lodge in Spala, where Alexei nearly died, solidified her unquestioning support for “Our Friend”. As for the Tsar, he went along with it because he couldn’t tell his wife no.
With the empress’s increasing interference in government, especially with the outbreak of World War I, and asking his advice in even choosing government ministers, Rasputin’s influence was stoking the fires of resentment that was already there since even before the Revolution of 1905, whose lessons Nicholas chose not to learn from. Alexandra refused to believe the stories circulating about Rasputin’s womanizing, drunken orgies, and boasts that he ruled Russia; and her. When Nicholas received police reports of his bad behavior he put them away.
By the fall of 1916, repeated efforts by the tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress, and other family members, including her own sister the Grand Duchess Elizabeth (the widow of Nicholas’ Uncle Serge and by then a nun), to send him away were rebuffed. “She treated me like a dog!” Elizabeth was quoted as saying, in one book to her friend Princess Zinaida Yussopova (The Romanovs, 1613 -1918, by Simon Sebag Montifiore, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 ), or to her niece and nephew the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich; who were also in fact the Tsar’s first cousins (Elizabeth, Grand Duchess of Russia, Hugo Mager, Carroll and Graf Publishers, Inc. 1998), depending on which book you read. By this time, plans were set to get rid of him.
Princess Yussopova’s son, Felix decided he must kill Rasputin. Married to the Tsar’s niece, Irina, he told Rasputin to visit the Yussopov Palace in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) under the pretext of meeting his beautiful wife. With the assistance of a few monarchist politicians, and the Grand Duke Dmitri, they did just that on December 17th according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time; our December 30th. Every historian seems to have a different slant on it. Did Felix do this for kicks or was it an act of patriotism? Was it Dmitri who fired the fatal shot? Did Rasputin die in the palace or drown in the river where they dumped him (and apparently tried to untie the ropes around his body)? It depends on what account you read. However, in a letter to his father, Dmitri, while not discussing his own role in the act, said that the assassins couldn’t let Russia be governed by “little notes written by a lecherous, dirty, and almost illiterate scoundrel” (The Flight of the Romanovs, a family saga, John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, Basic Books, 1999).
Rasputin’s death was welcomed as a patriotic act in sections of Russian Society. This included members of Nicholas’ extended family. The ‘dark forces’, as the press called him, was gone and now things would be different. However, not all of them condoned murder. The Tsar’s sister, Olga, saw the act as what it was; premeditative murder, and that Felix and Dmitri’s role in it “proved how low we had fallen.” (The Flight of the Romanovs, a family saga, John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, Basic Books 1999). Within three months revolution would break out for the second time and her brother would abdicate. Dmitri was by then exiled to Persia, which ironically saved his life. He would later die in Switzerland of tuberculosis in 1942, having gotten married and divorced to an American in the meantime and fathering a son who later became mayor of Palm Beach. Felix and Irina wound up in Paris by 1919. As for Nicholas and Alexandra, they would be shot with their children in July 1918 in a town called Ekatrinburg in the Urals that later became, as Sverdlovsk, the place where Boris Yeltsin started his political career. Rasputin’s death in the end didn’t avert disaster, let alone Lenin and Stalin.
I remember in one book there was a paragraph of a report written by someone in the Okrana (the Imperial Secret Police) in December of 1916. In it there was the warning that ‘the dark body of the Russian Population was at its breaking point. It was possible that one incident may spark mass civil unrest which may be hard to control. In another book, I learned that the first incidents where soldiers refused to obey orders to break up local demonstrations took place, not at the beginning of March with the bread riots that triggered the Revolution, but also in the last months of 1916. The signs were all there but government officials, let alone the Imperial couple, ignored them. That’s important to understand, once the population at large unleashes its anger at what they perceive is a ‘rigged system’ those in power usually don’t know what hit them.
Is there a lesson that can be learned from all this? With all this stuff about president-elect Trump, please note that his election is a symptom of something that’s been stirring up already. Wasn’t Barak Obama a ‘change candidate’ too? As Paul Krugman wrote recently in his blog, “What Do Trump Voters Want?”, people who consider themselves Trump supporters don’t want handouts but the well-paying jobs with benefits that their dads and granddads had at GM or US Steel; when we were the “Arsenal of Democracy” as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said. Many of these towns that voted for Trump, like Warren or Conneaut here in Ohio never really recovered from the loss of manufacturing and when companies do come back they are using modern equipment that means a lot fewer workers, The Daily 202 had a very interesting piece a few weeks back showing how Trump over performed in counties with higher rates of drug-abuse and suicides, indicating that “alcoholism, overdoses and suicide are symptoms of the deeper social decay that was caused by deindustrialization.” In my opinion, this sounds eerily similar to what has happened in so many central cities in the rust-belt, and what minorities have been struggling with for a long time as wellIt’s not at all surprising that both groups voted for Obama in 2008, for pretty much the same reasons and in a far worse economic climate. The problems we have in this nation are decades, not years, in the making. It may sound partisan but in my opinion you cannot undo in eight years a situation that we had in 2008, especially with a Congress playing chicken. Of course, the Democrats ignored the Rust-Belt working class whites at their own risk.
“If he doesn’t do anything we can vote him out,” I’ve heard from many who voted for him. Okay, so four years from now he’s gone what then? The socio-economic problems that made people vote for him will still be there. Also, with the cabinet line-up he’s creating to ‘advise’ him, things may actually wind up a whole lot worse. If and when Donald Trump fails to deliver in bringing those jobs back to the places who voted for him, who will these people turn to next? Will these people just give up completely and not vote; or look for another ‘leader’ to make their dreams come true? It’s just a thought. In the end, the outcome can possibly be whole lot less democratic than the system they felt wronged them.