Staunton, March 15 — Ninety-eight years ago today, Nicholas II abdicated the throne for himself and his son, ushering in the Provisional Government and great hopes for Russian democracy at home and abroad, hopes that were soon dashed by destructive orders of the new government itself and by the Bolshevik revolution less than nine months later.
Because of the power of Soviet propaganda, most people think of October 1917 as the only revolution Russia underwent in that year, but in fact, as many historians, memoirists, and writers like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have pointed out, what happened in October was possible only because of what happened in late February and early March.
And as some commentators are pointing out now, referring to the conclusions of earlier writers, the February-March events, “the forgotten revolution” of 1917 at the time of “the forgotten war,” World War I, may be instructive not only about how Russia got to where it is but about where it may be going as well.
One Russian émigré writer, often cited by Russian nationalists, Ivan Solonevich, even published an essay entitled “The Great February Falsification” to dispel what many think about those events. “In February 1917, there was no revolution; there was a palace conspiracy.”
That conspiracy, he wrote, “was organized by members of the landed elite with the participation and agreement of certain members of the dynasty…by the financial elite…and by the military elite. Each of these groups had its own distinct interests,” but these “contradicted the interests of the country, the interests of the army and victory.”
“Left-wing forces had no involvement, and only after the abdication of the Emperor did they step by step-by-step begin to act,” Solonevich continued, with the rise first of Milyukov and Kerensky, then the soviets, and “finally Lenin.” Lenin himself, V.A. Abrosimov points out in his assembly of commentaries on February 1917, confirmed that in his “Letters from Afar.”
Another memoirist the Cossack writer cites is Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhaylovich who wrote in 1933 that “the Imperial order could have continued to exist if ‘the red danger’ had been exhausted by such people as Tolstoy and Kropotkin, by terrorists like Lenin and Plekhanov, by old psychopaths like Breshko-Breshkovskaya or Figner or by adventurers like Savinkov and Azef.”
The Romanov throne fell, the grand duke continued, “not because” of their work but because of that of “bearers of aristocratic names and court titles.” Had it not been for their efforts, “the Tsar would have been able to satisfy the needs of Russian workers and peasants; and the police would have been able to deal with the terrorists.”
But perhaps the most persuasive case for this point of view was offered by Pavel Milyukov, the leader of the Kadet Party and the first foreign minister of the Provisional government. In a letter to one of his associates, he wrote “You know, that a firm decision to use the war for carrying out a coup was taken by us soon after the beginning of this war.”
“Note too,” Milyukov wrote long ago, “we couldn’t wait any longer because we knew that at the end of April or the beginning of May , our army would go over to the attack,” and that would damp down the anger and discontent of the population in a new “explosion of patriotism.”
For many in the West, this may seem like ancient history. But for a historically saturated country like Russia, it is anything but. And in case anyone doubts that, the website on which this assemblage of quotations was posted features a picture of Russian volunteers ready for fighting in Ukraine, something that should allow everyone to connect the dots.