The Bolshevik sale of the Romanov jewels

PHOTO: the Russian Crown Jewels, confiscated by the Bolsheviks

There is no greater example of such a large-scale and criminal sale in history, than that of the jewels of the Russian Imperial Court – perhaps, the finest collection in the world. The Bolsheviks inherited an impressive legacy, and wasted little time in profiting from the sale of many pieces to eager buyers in the West during the 1920s.

Interesting testimonies have survived to this day about how the jewels were sorted and catalogued, and how the fate of these historically important treasures was determined. They are today preserved in the RGASPI (Russian State Archive of Social and Political History) in Moscow.

PHOTO: early 20th century view of the Gokhran building in Nastasinsky Lane in Moscow. Gokhran was created in 1920, in the first post-revolutionary years, the Gokhran collected jewels from the Romanovs, the Armoury, the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as valuables confiscated from private individuals. Many of these items were sold abroad.

Gokhran

The Bolsheviks made their first attempt to sell the Romanov jewels in May 1918. Then, in New York, customs officers detained two visitors with jewels (worth 350 thousand rubles) that belonged to Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna (1882-1960), the youngest daughter of Emperor Alexander III.

The following year, the founding congress of the Third Communist International was held in Moscow. From that time, the agents of the Communist International (Comintern) regularly exported gold jewellery and precious stones from Moscow. At first, there was practically no control over the agents, so many items were stolen rather than helping to “finance a world revolution”.

In order to stop this “lawlessness”, in February 1920, “Gokhran was created to centralize, store and account for all values ​​confiscated by the RSFSR, consisting of gold, platinum, silver bullion, diamonds, coloured precious stones and pearls”. The famine that began in the summer of 1921 forced the Bolsheviks to look for funds to buy bread. In addition, Poland had to be paid off. According to the Riga Peace Treaty of 1921, the western lands of Ukraine and Belarus were withdrawn to Poland, in addition to this, the Bolsheviks pledged to pay Poland 30 million gold rubles within a year.

Here they remembered the crown jewels that were kept in the basements of the Armoury (they were brought here from Petrograd at the beginning of the First World War, without inventories, and in 1917 jewels from the “Imperial palaces” were added). Crown values ​​were forbidden to give, change or sell by the decree of Peter I, issued in 1719. For almost 200 years, the Imperial Treasury was only replenished. Needless to say, the Bolsheviks ignored the autocrat’s Imperial decrees. The Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU outlined a program for the implementation of the so-called “Romanov Jewels”. At first, the Bolsheviks only planned to sell the treasure, but in the end they decided to sell the jewels abroad for hard currency. Before the sale, the treasures had to be sorted and evaluated. Gokhran, however, lacked the specialists to carry out such a task. Back in 1921, after thefts were discovered, three appraisers were shot, while many were imprisoned. Therefore, the Deputy People’s Commissar for Finance Krasnoshchekov in Petrograd reached an agreement with former experts and jewellers from Faberge: Franz, Kotler, Maseev, Mekhov, Utkin, and Bock. They started to work for Gokhran, and began to sort and evaluate the Romanovs jewels.

PHOTO: appraisers sort and catalogue the Romanov jewels and other items

The boxes of the “former tsarina”

On 8th March 1922, boxes marked with the “property of the “former tsarina” (the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna) were opened in the Armoury Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin. Two commissions were in charge of jewels: the first in the Armoury was responsible for sorting and creating an inventory; while the second sorted and evaluated them at Gokhran.

“In warm fur coats with raised collars, we walked through the frozen rooms of the Armoury,” later recalled a member of the commission, Academician Fersman. – “They brought boxes, there were five of them, among them a heavy iron chest, tied, with large wax seals. Everything was whole. An experienced locksmith easily, without a key, opened an unpretentious, very bad lock. Inside there were jewels of the former Russian Court, each one hastily wrapped in tissue paper. With our hands freezing from the cold, we took out one sparkling gem after another. There were no inventories found among the jewels.”

The following day, Kotler and Franz (both “serious jewellers,” according to Trotsky), said that “if there was a buyer for these valuables, then the estimate would be 458,700,000 gold rubles”. And this, in addition to the coronation treasures, which lay in two separate boxes and were estimated “at more than 7 million gold rubles.” The jewels were examined hastily, within an hour and a half, without a detailed determination of the quality of the stones. The Bolsheviks questioned how much the gems would sell for if they were sold as a separate commodity (they feared a scandal in Europe that could arise in connection with the sale of the crown jewels), experts estimated the amount of 162 million 625 thousand gold rubles.

The members of the commission were amazed. Truly beautiful jewels that belonged to the House of the Romanovs … For example, a diamond necklace with a sapphire cost 3 million rubles, diamond pendants 5 million. The amounts are impressive. Especially when you consider how much these treasures are worth now. For instance, the Faberge “Lilies of the Valley” Easter Egg, which in 1898 Nicholas II presented to his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, cost 6,700 rubles. A little more than a century later, it sold for $10-12 million USD at Sotheby’s, acquired by Viktor Vekselberg and now on display at the Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg.

As a result of such an optimistic assessment, the treasures were quickly (note, again without making inventories) from the Armoury to the Gokhran building in Nastasinsky Lane in Moscow. In the boxes from the palace of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, in addition to the empress’s jewels, rare works of jewellery were kept. Only a few of these items later ended up in Soviet museums, while the rest were sold cheaply to foreigners …

PHOTO: the Imperial Crown of Russia can be seen on the table among 2 Faberge eggs

Poles – the best diamonds

By mid-May, the sorting and appraisal of the crown jewels of the Empresses Maria Feodorovna and Alexandra Feodorovna in Gokhran had been completed. The items of the “former House of Romanov” were divided into three categories, taking into account, first of all, the value of the stones, the artistry of the work and the historical significance of the item. The first category – the inviolable fund – included 366 items valued at 654,935,000 rubles, of which the coronation regalia decorated with selected diamonds and pearls was valued at 375 million rubles. As reported to Leon Trotsky, Deputy Special Commissioner of the Council of People’s Commissars (Council of People’s Commissars) for the registration and concentration of the values ​​Georgy Bazilevich wrote, “when selling these items abroad, the receipt of 300,000,000 rubles is guaranteed.” Products of the second category, which had historical and artistic value, were estimated at 7,382,200 rubles.

At the end of his work, Deputy Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars and the Council of Labor and Defence Alexei Rykov asked Faberge and Fersman if it was possible to realize coronation values ​​in the foreign market. They answered: it is possible, although there should be no rush. But the Bolsheviks were in a hurry to sell these pieces for the much coveted foreign currency they hoped to gain from such a sale.

In 1922, emeralds from Gokhran were sold in London and Amsterdam under the guise of those mined in the Urals. A year later, Gokhran pearls and diamonds were brought to Amsterdam. In the years following, the Bolsheviks continued to quietly sell diamonds and pearls from Gokhran in Paris.

As for the debt to the Poles, they decided to repay it with jewels. Bazilevich sent Trotsky a memo marked “Top Secret”, which provides a brief estimate of the value of the former “House of Romanov and valuables handed to Poland under the Riga Treaty”:

“In the preparation of of the Bolshevik debt to be paid to Poland the finest diamonds, pearls and coloured stones were selected. In addition to the stones, Gokhran selected gold items, including chains, rings, cigarette cases, bags, etc. in the amount of 2.728.589 rubles … “.

PHOTO: the Romanov jewels on display in Moscow, 1920s

Wholesale export

The apogee of the work of the Gokhran experts was the appearance in 1925-1926 of four issues of the illustrated catalogue “The Diamond Fund of the USSR”. The publication was translated into English, French and German in order to attract foreign buyers and was distributed in Europe.

As a result, “art connoisseur” Norman Weiss was not long in coming. He purchased items from the Diamond Fund in bulk, weighing 9.644 kilograms. The masterpieces of Russian jewellery art cost him 50 thousand pounds! In 1927, the resourceful merchant held an auction in London “Jewels of the Russian State”. The imperial wedding crown, a diamond diadem, and the jewels of Empress Catherine II “floated away” from him.

While the crown jewels were being sold in London, the head of the Armoury Chamber Dmitry Ivanov (he also participated in the cataloguing of the Romanov jewels in 1922) begged the officials to return the museum items sold by Gokhran. His efforts, however, were in vain. At the beginning of 1930, Ivanov became aware of the upcoming seizures of items from Russian museums to be sold abroad. Ivanov could no longer tolerate the theft and sale of Russia’s treasures, and ended up committing suicide.

In 1932, the Romanov treasures bought by Armand Hammer could be purchased at American department stores. Later, he opened an antique shop, which sold Easter eggs that belonged to the empresses, icons in jewelled frames of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, a Fabergé cigarette case commissioned by Maria Feodorovna, her notebook embossed with her monogram and an Imperial crown, among many other items.

Of the 773 items of the Diamond Fund, 569 were sold in the 1920s – 1930s. These Romanov treasures were stolen from the Russian Imperial Family by the Bolsheviks, and bought up by greedy, materialistic buyers in the West. It is hardly possible to find in history an example of such a large-scale and criminal sale.

Further reading: I highly recommend History’s Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks by Sean McMeekin. Published by Yale University Press in 2009

© Paul Gilbert. 9 October 2020

PHOTO: the spoils of revolution and regicide – the Russian Crown Jewels

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Dear Reader: It is always a pleasure for me to present new articles based on my own research from Russian archival sources, offering first English translations of new works from Russian media sources on my Nicholas II blog and Facebook pages. Many of these articles and topics seldom (if ever) attract the attention of the Western media. Please note that I personally translate the articles, and complement them further with additional materials, photographs, videos and links.

If you found this article interesting, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMe, PayPal, credit card, personal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG

Nicholas II, Stalin and Lenin top popularity rating of Russian historical figures

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Recent poll shows Nicholas II as the most popular figure in the 20th century Russian history

NOTE: All of the articles pertaining to Nicholas II and his family which were originally published in my Royal Russia News blog, have been moved to this Nicholas II blog. This article was originally posted on 26 June 2018 in my Royal Russia News blog – PG

Public attitudes towards Nicholas II have undergone several shifts since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, with the most recent studies carried out during the last few years showing an increase in appreciation of the monarch. This is partially due to the the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church, and research by post Soviet Russian historians. Both have worked diligently by challenging the negative assessments of the life and reign of Russia’s last emperor and tsar, disproving the lies and myths which continue to be popular to this day, particularly by Western historians and biographers.

According to the most recent poll, Emperor Nicholas II, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin are the most popular figures among Russians from the 20th century.

Research conducted by the Russian state-run public opinion center VTSIOM showed that the last Russian emperor is now the most popular of all historical figures throughout the volatile 20th century – 54 percent of respondents said that they sympathize with the monarch. Joseph Stalin was second with 51 percent and the head of the Bolshevik party and the mastermind behind the 1917 revolution, Vladimir Lenin, was on the third place with 49 percent. Leader of the White Movement during the Russian Civil War, Alexander Kolchak was in fourth place with 36 percent, while general of the White Movement during the Russian Civil War Anton Denikin came in fifth place with 30 percent.

The share of respondents who told researchers that the feeling they had towards these people was strongly negative was 23 for Nicholas II, 28 for Stalin and 29 for Lenin. Most of the other prominent figures of the period, both among the revolutionaries and on the Tsarist sides, cause neither good nor bad emotions in the Russian public, research revealed.

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Results of the poll show Nicholas II more popular among Russian than both Stalin and Lenin

The least liked figures were the leader of the Ukrainian anarchists Nestor Makhno, and the founder of the Red Army Leon Trotsky. 58 and 46 percent of Russians described their attitude to them as negative and only 12 and 20 percent confessed to sympathizing with them.

In the same poll researchers asked the Russian public what sources they used to get information about the October Revolution and the Civil War. 79 percent of respondents named schools and universities, 48 percent said they got information from books and 30 percent mentioned films and television series.

A different poll conducted by VTSIOM in late 2017, in connection with the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, revealed that 92 percent of Russians wanted similar events prevented at any cost, up from 78 percent five years ago. Only 5 percent of respondents told researchers that they considered a new revolution necessary (13 percent in 2012). 3 percent of respondents said that they had no opinion on the issue.

Still, 46 percent of the public agreed with the statement that the 1917 revolution was in the interests of the majority of Russians. 13 percent hold that the revolution benefited a minority and 33 percent said that only a small group of people managed to gain anything from the events of 1917.

38 percent of Russians currently think that the 1917 Revolution was a major stimulus for the social and economic development of the country. 23 percent agreed that the revolution “had opened a new era in Russia’s history.” At the same time, 14 percent of the poll participants said that the revolution had seriously impeded the development of Russia and 13 percent called the events a total disaster. 12 percent remained undecided over the role that the revolution had played in the Russian history.

© Russia Today and Paul Gilbert. 8 December 2019

Yakov Yurovskys’ ashes remain hidden from vandals in Moscow

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Situated on the grounds of the New Donskoy Cemetery in Moscow is a small church. Above the entrance is the inscription ‘Christ is Risen’. In 1927, it was a crematorium and columbarium, the latter of which remains intact to this day.

Parishioners attending liturgies performed in the Orthodox Church, are unaware that behind the false walls are the ashes of Russia’s most notorious murderer: Yakov Mikhailovich Yurovsky (1878-1938).

Yakov Mikhailovich (real name Yangel Khaimovich) Yurovsky was born on 19th (O.S. 7th) June 1878 in Kainsk of the Tomsk province into a large Jewish working family, the eighth of ten children. He was best known as the chief executioner of Emperor Nicholas II, his family, and four retainers on the night of 16/17 July 1918.

The killer who died on 2nd August 1938, of perforation of a duodenal ulcer was cremated in the Don Crematorium in Moscow. His ashes were placed in an urn and placed behind a wall, in one of the cells of the columbarium. An urn containing the ashes of Yurovsky’s wife Maria Yakovlevna Yurovskaya was later placed next to those of her husband. Today, it is impossible to guess that the two urns contain their remains, as all the inscriptions and identification marks are draped with fabric.

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Restored church at the New Donskoy Cemetery in Moscow

The Don Crematorium was the first crematorium built in Moscow and until 1947 the only mass crematorium operating in the USSR. It was constructed in 1926 in the unfinished church of St. Seraphim of Sarov in the New Donskoy Cemetery. Opened in 1927, more than 150 old Bolsheviks were cremated here. The crematorium was closed in 1992, whereupon it was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

In 1998, Divine Liturgies resumed after the reconstruction of the building. In autumn 2011, the Russian Orthodox Church decided to regain the territory of the columbarium of the Don Crematorium and reconstruct it.

 

A baptismal font now stands in place of the crematorium oven. Everywhere there are icons, children’s drawings of the Workshop of Father Seraphim, a Christmas nativity scene. God’s grace! The church staff are ashamed of being under the same roof with the columbarium, and shudder when people come to inquire of the whereabouts of the niche containing Yurovsky’s urn.

According to local Moscow journalist Felix Grozdanov, “workers in a private conversation admitted that they are strictly forbidden to show this place. It is not for nothing that it was stored in a special columbarium – entrance there for a long time was allowed by passes only to family relatives or important persons. It is forbidden to show this place during excursions which are regularly held here.”

The shroud of secrecy intensified after a number of acts of vandalism were carried out by monarchists seeking revenge for Yurovsky’s role in the murder of Russia’s last tsar and his family. “They came and spat on the glass of Yurovsky’s cell, where his urn was placed. They even tried to smash the glass,” one cemetery worked noted.

© Paul Gilbert. 23 November 2019

95 years ago, Ekaterinburg was renamed Sverdlovsk

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Monument to Yakov Sverdlov, established on Lenin Avenue in 1925

Almost a century ago, Ekaterinburg was renamed Sverdlovsk and lived with the Bolshevik name for 67 years, until 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the city returned to its historical name. Few know that the capital of the Urals could have been called differently.

Today – 14th November – marks the 95th anniversary of the renaming of Ekaterinburg to Sverdlovsk. Ekaterinburg was founded on 18 November 1723 and named after the second wife of Peter the Great, who after his death became the Empress Catherine (Yekaterina)  I (1684-1727).  In 1924, however, Soviet newspapers condemned the Empress, and proposed alternative names for the city. So began the first renaming of Ekaterinburg.

A campaign was launched in early 1924, whereby a local newspaper came out with the headline “Rename the city of Ekaterinburg!”. Following this, propaganda was published explaining why Ekaterinburg was a bad name. The newspapers wrote derogatory comments about Empress Catherine I, referring to her as “a soldier’s wife under the Russian army”, “Menshikov’s laundress”, and an “illiterate, poor, depraved woman”.

At the same time, journalists offered alternative names. The very first option was Sverdlovsk, in honour of the revolutionary Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov (1885-1919), a Bolshevik party administrator and chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, and mastermind behind the murders of the Imperial Family.

The 1922 book by White Army general, Mikhail Diterikhs, ‘The Murder of the Tsar’s Family and members of the House of Romanov in the Urals’, sought to portray the murder of the Imperial Family as a Jewish plot against Russia. It referred to Sverdlov by his Jewish nickname “Yankel”. This book was based on an account by Nikolai Sokolov, special investigator for the Omsk regional court, whom Diterikhs assigned with the task of investigating the disappearance and murders of the Imperial Family while serving as regional governor under the White regime during the Russian Civil War.

Other names suggested included Red Urals, Leninburg, Uralgrad, or even Revanchburg – in honour of the execution of the last tsar, while, the newspapers also suggested Uralosverdlovsk, Andreigrad, and Krasnouralsk. But journalists in subsequent publications explained to residents why Sverdlovsk was the best name. Public discussions went on for nine months, and in October 1924 the Ekaterinburg City Council adopted a resolution on renaming the city Sverdlovsk. In mid-November, the document was signed at the CEC of the USSR, and the following year, in 1925, a monument to Yakov Sverdlov was established on Lenin Avenue.

Yakov Sverdlov was known in Ekaterinburg among the revolutionaries under the names “Comrade Mikhailovich” and “Comrade Andrei.” He spoke at lot at rallies, led the Bolsheviks, and even served a year in the Ekaterinburg Central on Repin Street. He was a member of the Central Committee of the party, chairman of the commission on the development of the first Constitution of the RSFSR. According to Yevgeny Burdenkov, a researcher at the Museum of the History of Ekaterinburg, Sverdlov transferred many of his people from the Urals to work in Moscow, and it was they who promoted the idea of ​​renaming Ekaterinburg to Sverdlovsk as a sign of gratitude.

Sverdlov is commonly believed to have died of either typhus or most likely influenza, during the 1918 flu pandemic, after a political visit to Oryol. He is buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, in Moscow.

It is interesting to note that Sverdlovsk Oblast, the federal subject (an oblast) of Russia located in the Ural Federal District, in which the city of Ekaterinburg, serves as its administrative center still retains its Bolshevik name. In January 2019, Russian state deputies again raised the issue of renaming Sverdlovsk Oblast, however, the issue remains unresolved.

© Paul Gilbert. 14 November 2019

When Holy Russia’s Bells Were Silenced

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A young boy inspects one of the bells felled by the Bolsheviks

Prior to the 1917 Revolution, more than 1 million bronze bells rang in churches, cathedrals and monasteries throughout the Russian Empire.

After the October Revolution of 1917, church bells were especially despised by the new Bolshevik order. Bell ringing went against the party’s anti-religious campaign, and by the beginning of the 1930s all church bells had been silenced. Under Soviet law, all church buildings, as well as bells, were placed at the disposal of the Local Councils, which “based on state and public needs, used them at their own discretion.” In 1933, at a secret meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, a plan for the procurement of bell bronze was initiated. Each republic and region received a quarterly quota for their respective procurement of bell bronze. Within a few years, in a well organized campaign, nearly everything which represented Orthodox Russia was destroyed.

The closure of more than 20 specialized bell factories led to the loss of skills in this ancient craft, and the professional knowledge, handed down by many generations of Russian foundry workers, was lost. The bell manufacturers in the city of Valdai, worked longer than others, but by 1930, they ceased to exist.

Until now, no one can say even approximately how many bells have been destroyed over the past century. Some of them were lost when churches were demolished, some were destroyed intentionally, while others destroyed “for the needs of industrialization.” Even the bells cast by glorified masters for some of Russia’s oldest and most famous Orthodox places of worship did not escape this fate. They included the Ivan the Great Bell Tower (Moscow), Christ the Saviour (Moscow), and St. Isaac’s Cathedrals (Leningrad); the Solovetsky, Valaam, Simonov, Savvino-Storozhevsky monasteries; along with thousands of chapels, churches, cathedrals, and monasteries throughout the former Russian Empire. In 1929, a 1,200-pound bell was removed from the Kostroma Assumption Cathedral. In 1931, many bells of the Savior-Euthymius, Rizopolozhensky, Pokrovsky monasteries of Suzdal were sent for remelting. There were no bells left in Moscow.

The story of the destruction of the famous bells (19 bells with a total weight of 8,165 pounds) of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra was particularly tragic – they were handed over to the Rudmetalltorg (the Metal Scrap Trust in Moscow). In his diary about the events in the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, the writer M. Prishvin wrote: “I witnessed the death … the majestic bells of the Godunov era were felled – it was like a spectacle of public execution.”

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The spoils of revolution and Soviet dogma

Most church bells were destroyed. A small number of bells, which were of artistic value, were registered with the People’s Commissariat of Education, which disposed of them based on “state needs.” Other bells seized were sent to large construction sites of Volkhovstroy and Dneprostroy for technical needs, such as the manufacture of boilers for dining rooms! The Moscow authorities found one peculiar use of some of the Moscow bells in 1932. Bronze high reliefs cast from 100 tons of church bells were used for the construction of the Lenin Library.

To eliminate the most valuable bells, it was decided to sell them abroad. “The most appropriate way to eliminate our unique bells is to export them abroad and sell them there on a par with other luxury goods …”, wrote the ideological atheist Gidulyanov.

The bells of the Danilov Monastery were sold to Harvard University in the United States, while the unique bells of the Sretensky Monastery were sold to England. A large number of bells went to private collections.

The gateway 30-meter bell tower of the Church of Simeon Stolpnik in Moscow, was demolished on the eve of World War II, fearing it as a possible landmark for enemy air raids. Holy Russia was silenced, depriving it of a single ringing bell.

© Paul Gilbert. 30 October 2019

New Revelations on Lenin’s Order to Murder the Tsar

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Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin; Russia’s last Emperor and Tsar Nicholas II

In an interview with the media outlet Рамблер (Rambler), Russian historian Vladimir Khrustalev stated that researchers still lack access to many archival files related to the maintenance and fate of the Imperial family during their final days in Ekaterinburg.

He argues that all the documents of 1918-1919, which mentioned the name of the Romanovs, were carefully removed from all open archival funds. In his opinion, they could not be destroyed, but transferred to special stores, where they remain to this day.

Khrustalev sees no reason to doubt the ultimate tragic fate of Nicholas II and his family which befell them in the Urals on the night of 16/17 July 1918. According to Khrustalev, the purging of archival documents was undertaken by the leadership of the Communist Party in order to cover their tracks and defer any accusations that the top leadership of the Communists , represented primarily by Lenin and Sverdlov, purposefully undertook an act of regicide. After all, the Soviet official point of view for a long time was that the liquidation of the family of the last emperor was carried out on the initiative of the local Ural Soviet leaders, who issued the central power of the Bolsheviks with a fait accompli.

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Russian historian Vladimir Khrustalev

Until now, no order issued by Lenin, Trotsky, Sverdlov, or any other Bolshevik party member concerning the massacre of the last Russian tsar and his family has been found in the archives. According to some Russian historians, this is not because no such order was given in writing, but precisely because the order was issued verbally. This was done, so as not to leave any evidence of their heinous crimes.

First, the Bolsheviks gathered almost all the arrested Romanovs (not only Nicholas II and his family, but many of their relatives) in the Urals in order to make it easier to eliminate them. And at some time gave the appropriate order. All evidence of such an order remains in sealed archives.

© Paul Gilbert. 2 July 2019

It Was Not the Revolution That Destroyed Emperor Nicholas II

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Nicholas II and Vladimir Lenin

NOTE: I would like to point out to readers that Pravda (Truth in English) is a Russian political newspaper associated with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The newspaper began publication in 1912 and emerged as a leading newspaper of the Soviet Union after the October Revolution. The newspaper was an organ of the Central Committee of the CPSU between 1912 and 1991. Given the Communist Party’s track record on “the truth” gives cause for speculation on anything published in Pravda – PG.

The great Russian Empire found itself in the vortex of the revolutionary abyss in only eight months. Pravda.Ru editor-in-chief Inna Novikova discussed the topic of the fall of the Russian Empire with Associate Professor at History Department of Moscow State University Fyodor Gaida.

IN – Today, there are many people who believe that the tsarist regime fell only because German Emperor Wilhelm II sent Lenin to Russia with a suitcase full of money in a sealed train car. What led Russia to Emperor’s abdication, and subsequently to the October Revolution?

FG – There is no documentary evidence to prove that Lenin was working to perform someone’s assignment. Having a picture of Vladimir Lenin in mind, one may say that he was acting solely on the basis of his own plans. As for the money, he would take it from anyone. Lenin was an unprincipled man who professed the principle “money does not smell.” Another thing is that at that moment in history the interests of Germany and Lenin coincided.

The German authorities thought that such a left radical as Lenin would help break imperial Russia, but would not be able to create anything himself. Germany was playing to weaken Russia to the maximum. Germany needed Lenin and all his slogans to weaken Russia, rather than to overthrow autocracy. Germany was always afraid of Russia. The Germans knew that Russian industry was capable of making a very serious breakthrough. Germany was very nervous.

Actually, Germany went to war in 1914 after it had finished the rearmament program. France was supposed to finish it in 1915, and Russia – in 1917. Time was not working for the Germans. Lenin was the person whose interests coincided with interests of Germany. Afterwards, Lenin continued to adhere to “pro-German” foreign policy. When the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, the Second Reich got a second wind. Until 1918, German troops attempted to advance on the Western Front, but in August 1918, the Germans gave up. Interestingly, Lenin’s attempted assassination was organized in August 1918 too.

The events that happened in Russia in 1917 were two phases of one and the same process.

With the beginning of the February Revolution, Russia started to fall apart. There was no real government in the country at that time. The government that the country had was nothing but a circus.

IN – So the Germans were attracted to Lenin’s call about the right of nations to self-determination. What attracted them to that slogan?”

FG – For Europe, with its multinational imperial organization, the practical version of this slogan would mean a new political map of the world and a severe crisis. Suddenly, a man appears on the horizon of political power, who raises its banner of the right of nations to self-determination, land and peace decrees, proclaiming a radical program in essence. The Germans realized that they had to support most radical forces in Russia.

IN – Historians talk a lot about the mistakes that Nicholas II made, about his weaknesses and shortsightedness. Did he have an opportunity to influence the situation?

FG – Let’s face it – Nicholas II was neither an outstanding statesman nor a military leader. He was not the wisest of the wise. He was a typical man of his time. He, unlike modern politicians, never gave unrealistic promises. After the defeat in the Russian-Japanese war, Nicholas II became a cautious figure in politics. Russia’s foreign policy after 1905 was relatively peaceful. Russia was fighting for zones of influence, realizing that one should not go too far. Just look at the Russian policies in Asia from 1905 to 1912. Russia had seriously expanded its area of influence, without quarrelling with anyone.

After 1905, other prominent figures in Russian politics began to consider themselves wiser than Nicholas II. By February 1917, the political class and generals saw the emperor as the main obstacle on the way of the development of the country.

As a result of this confrontation, the emperor abdicated from power.

The next moment everyone realized that the whole country was based on the emperor. It was the emperor who was the symbol of Russia’s unity. As soon as Nicholas II abdicated, all of his opponents vanished. They were removed from the political scene.

© Inna Novikova / Pravda and Paul Gilbert. 10 January 2019