Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Defending Tsarist Russia

I'm a little disappointed in Peter Hitchens, normally one of my favourite British political commentators.  In a passage mainly about Cuba, he deflected criticism that by attacking Castro he defends Batista with the analogy, "No more do I defend the Tsarist autocracy which ruled Russia before the Bolshevik revolution," adding later (provocatively for monarchist readers) that "[i]f Russia had had only the February Revolution of 1917, and not the October putsch, it would have been saved from a long nightmare."  As I just wrote in a comment at his blog,

Well why not? I do. Tsarist Russia has been unfairly maligned by leftist propaganda for more than a century and as a staunch monarchist I am always sorry to see otherwise discerning right-wingers falling for it. Consider this observation from a 1998 letter to The Independent from Oleg Goridevsky:

Russia under Nicholas II, with all the survivals of feudalism, had opposition political parties, independent trade unions and newspapers, a rather radical parliament and a modern legal system. Its agriculture was on the level of the USA, with industry rapidly approaching the West European level.

In the USSR there was total tyranny, no political liberties and practically no human rights. Its economy was not viable; agriculture was destroyed. The terror against the population reached a scope unprecedented in history.

No wonder many Russians look back at Tsarist Russia as a paradise lost.

What is often overlooked is that after the 1905 upheavals subsided, conditions were actually improving considerably in Tsarist Russia and very well might have continued to do so had it not been for the 1914-18 War you rightly mourn as the end of traditional European civilisation. Imperial Russia had its flaws, but they were not insurmountable, and it deserves better [from conservatives]. Nicholas II was a good man who loved his country and served it to the best of his ability. As Dominic Lieven points out in his excellent biography, he was neither as weak nor as unintelligent as commonly thought. I cannot accept any abolition of any monarchy for any reason; Kerensky's republic might have been more tolerable than Communism (anything would be), but it was essentially no more legitimate than the USSR--or Putin's regime today.


I might have added that while I can't endorse every point of this defense of Nicholas II and Tsarist Russia by a Russian Orthodox priest, it is worth reading as a counterbalance to the mountain of calumnies commonly hurled at pre-1917 Russia.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, political hype has reached a fever pitch difficult even for determined non-voters to ignore.  With that in mind I conclude this entry on Russia (thanks to the Mad Monarchist) with a pertinent observation from the great Tsarist Russian conservative statesman Konstantin Pobedonostsev (1827-1907):

“In a Democracy, the real rulers are the dexterous manipulators of votes, with their placemen, the mechanics who so skillfully operate the hidden springs which move the puppets in the arena of democratic elections. Men of this kind are ever ready with loud speeches lauding equality; in reality, they rule the people as any despot or military dictator might rule it.”

1 comment:

Peter of Carolina said...

Interestingly enough, more recent comments Mr. Hitchins has made regarding tsarist Russia have been more favorable to her. He is one to consider other positions.