It is interesting to speculate what would have happened had not the German High Command smuggled Lenin in a sealed train into Russia in 1917 with the intention of weakening and neutralizing the Russian Government and thus the Allies.
When the Bolsheviks ruthlessly and opportunistically seized power, it could not have been said that they had a popular mandate.
But with dictatorial powers, they were able to change Russia, Lenin proclaiming world-wide socialist revolution. Had they not come into power, there would have been no significant Communist Party of Australia, and consequently, no second republican movement in the country for much of the first half of the twentieth century.
Rather than Australia or her Crown, that movement gave all of its complete and unswerving allegiance to Moscow and Bolshevism. With this and with the first racist republican movement, Australian republicans are unable to look back to some glorious past, or indeed anything about which they could be proud.
Certainly the Tsars were not constitutional monarchs. But from the issue of the October Manifesto in 1905 after the disastrous Bloody Sunday massacre, Russia became a constitutional state but not yet a constitutional monarchy but heading in that direction.
And with the remarkable economic growth in this period and the emergence of a middle class, it was clear that the Tsar (or his son) would be persuaded to concede more power. Absent a general war there could be no turning back.
…not a monster…
The Tsar, who had neither the strength nor the wisdom which the times demanded, had been raised to believe in the divinely ordained power which flowed from the Thron – he was, after all, not only " Emperor" but also "Autocrat of All the Russias". He was not an evil man and certainly not a ruthless monster like Lenin, Stalin or Hitler. Take for example anti-semistism. He did not bring it to Russia, and it continued well after his death.
He and the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna were tormented and distracted by the illness of the young Crown Prince, the Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, who had been born with haemophilia. This led to the introduction to the court of the notorious monk Grigori Rasputin who claimed to be able to treat the disease but whose involvement hastened the fall of the Romanov dynasty.
The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo in on 28 June 1914 not only catapulted Europe into a general war. It also brought all constitutional development in Russia to a sudden end, just as its aftermath was to destroy all constitutional government in most of mainland Europe by 1940.
The conduct of a major war always results in governments, even democratic governments, taking extraordinary powers. It is within living memory that American born citizens lost their liberty and their property for the sole offence of being of the Japanese race.
But in Russia the template for the increased powers needed to conduct the war was there in her very recent past. That template meant a return to near Tsarist absolutism. In advanced countries such as the United Kingdom, the existing institutions were endowed constitutionally with vast new powers – there was no thought of returning to some near absolute monarchy from the distant past.
We should not be surprised by this; when Ancient Rome was threatened by invasion, the Senate could authorise the Consuls, the joint heads of state, to appoint a Dictator ( formerly the Magister Populi or Master of the People) to govern for up to six months.
The governments of the United Kingdom and the United States enjoyed extraordinary powers in the Second World War; the Australian less so which notoriously led to communist strike action on the waterfront, a treacherous act which was sometimes even directed against the loading of ships with weapons for Australian troops.
…Tsarist system compared….
So how did the Tsarist system compare with the subsequent Soviet regime? Were the soviet republics, as we were constantly told, a great improvement?
(Continued below) Oleg Gordievsky is one of the highest-ranking and most valuable KGB defectors. He was a Colonel of the KGB, and the bureau’s rezidentura in London, but became disillusioned with the Soviet system.
In a dramatic flight from the USSR, he defected to the United Kingdom in 1985.
In a letter to The Independent on July 21, 1998 he wrote:
“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 Western European level.
“[In contrast] 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 [human] history.
“No wonder many Russians look back at Tsarist Russia as a paradise lost.”