Monthly Archives: December 2010

Nicholas Romanov – the early years of his rule.

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Nicholas Alexandrovtich Romanov became the Tsar of all the Russias in 1894. Incidentally his name has the stress on second syllable and not the first as Anglophones often incorrectly assume it to be. Thus, one accentuates the name as ‘ro MAN ov’ and not ‘RO ma nov’.The Romanov dynasty had reigned in Russia since 1613 when the 16 year Michael Romanov from a not especially distinguished noble family had been agreed upon as a compromise candidate to be the new Tsar or Russia after the Time of Troubles.

Alexandrovitch was the patronymic of Nicholas II. This is because his father was named Alexander. Russians do not have middle names as Westerners understand then. The patronymic is taken from the person’s father. With a girl as with a boy the patronymic comes from the father and never from the mother. One simply takes the father’s personal name and appends ‘ovitch’ for a boy meaning ‘son of’ or ‘evna’ meaning daughter of for a girl.

Nicholas II was known as Tsar of all the Russias. The Russian Empire extended from what we now know as Poland all the way to the Pacific coast. It stretched from the permafrosted wastes Arctic Circle to the scorching sands of Central Asia. This sheer massiveness may seem to be a strength as the territory was so gargantuan that it could not be conquered. However, it was equally difficult to rule. Even with modern transport technology to control such a vast area is exceedingly difficult. Nicholas II acceded to the Imperial Throne when cars were but 10 years old and very slow and prone to breakdown. The most rapid means of overland transport was by train and the railways connected only major cities in the westernmost regions of the Russian Empire. 25% of the land mass was in Europe and 75% in Asia. The population was the other way around with 75% of the people dwelling in the European section of the Empire and a mere 25% of the people residing in the Asiatic part of the Russian Empire. It is of course open to questions whether Russia is part of Europe at all. People nowadays often speak as though it is not. Classically Europe’s eastern boundary was taken to be the Ural Mountains in Russia.

Nicholas II enjoyed many titles. He was ”Autocrat”. This comes from the two Ancient Greek words, ”auto” which translates as ”self” and ”cratos” meaning ”power/rule”.  Therefore Nicholas was one who had the legitimate right to rule on his own. He did not have to share power with any elected or even hereditary assembly. He had the absolute power to do whatsoever he pleased. He was called the Tsar of all the Russias because there were three places Russia could refer to. There was true Russia which is the area within about a 500 mile radius of Moscow. Then there is Belarus which translates ‘White Russia’ which lies to the west of this true Russia and to the east of Poland. Then there is the Ukraine. The Ukraine is known as Black Russia owing to its black and very fertile soil, it abuts onto the Black Sea. (Notably the Black Sea has that name ‘Black Sea’ in all the languages of the countries that have a coastline on it – in Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Turkish and Georgian it is called the Black Sea as well as in other major world languages such as French and German.) The Ukraine is also known as Little Russia despite being rather larger than Belarus in land.

Belarus and the Ukraine were ill-defined at the time. The Russian Empire was divided into scores of provinces. There was no one province called the Ukraine or Belarus. It was dubious as to which provinces and which fractions of provinces constituted the Ukraine or Belarus. As in most empires breakup was feared and discouraged.The state did label an area the Ukraine lest this facilitate secession. Non-Russian identities were discouraged. Indeed, Alexander III’s motto had been ”Autocracy, Orthodoxy, Nationality.” By this he meant absolute rule by the Tsar, the promotion of the Orthodox Church and the emphasisation of Russian national identity. People who were similar to the Russians such as Ukrainians and Belarussians were urged to think of themselves as Russian and call themselves Rusian. This largely worked with these two groups. Some felt that, say, a Ukrainian identity could fit inside being Russian. Other Ukrainians did not feel Ukrainian at all and simply called themselves Russian and only spoke the Russian language.

Back in 1800 industry in Russia had been on about the same level as that of many other European countries. That meant that Russia was far behind the UK which was the only industrialised country at the time. However, many other European countries made steady progress in industrialisation through the 19th century whereas up until about 1894 Russia made almost no headway. After about 1894 Russia started to make very rapid headway indeed.

France was Russia’s key trading partner and the French Government extended huge loans to Russia. France invested heavily in Russia with French firms owning many concerns in  Russia. Germany was also a major trading partner with Russia and a big investor in Russia. The UK and the United States were also large investors in Russia. Marxists began to see Russia as a colony of the Western advanced economies.

Russian agriculture was finally improving in the late 19th century. The grain surplus was shipped out from the Black Sea port and through to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean. From there the grain was sold on. This was Russia’s main foreign currency earner and therefore crucial to funding industrialisation.

Germany was seen as the main potential enemy in 1894. However, many in Germany wished to remain friendly with Russia. Bismarck, the former Chancellor of Germany, counselled this course of action. War against Germany was far from a foregone conclusion. The alliance with France could well have been substituted for an alliance with Germany.

Russia felt the age-old enmity towards the Ottomans. Russia eyed India eagerly. It had long been British policy to prop up the Ottoman Empire to stop Russia from breaking through into the Mediterranean and interfering with British interests in the Middle East.

It sat oddly that Russia was allied with France. When French dignitaries visited they were greeted with the French national anthem, La Marsaillaise. This was of course a song celebrating the French Revolution and was used as a rallying cry by revolutionaries the world over at the time. It was forbidden in Russia except of course when greeting French VIPs. Radicals in France sympathised with Russian revolutionaries and were deeply uncomfortable with the alliance with Russia as this could be said to bolster Tsarism. Tsarism preached religious intolerance, absolute monarchy and obscurantism. It was exactly the sort of wretched setup that France had ousted in 1789.

When Nicholas II acceded to the Imperial Crown some reform-minded gentry asked him whether he might establish some form of parliament and involve them in the running of the state. Nicolas II replied that some entertained ”senseless dreams” of obtaining a voice in government however, ”we shall preserve the principles of autocracy that we have inherited from our most illustrious ancestors utterly intact.”  Nicholas II firmly believed that he had been placed on earth by the Almighty to reign over the benighted masses and they had no right to question the imperial will. Who could judge the Lord’s anointed but the Most High himself? The Tsar was the instrument of inscrutable divine will. It was a doctrine of the divine rights of emperors derived from Byzantine thought. The powers that be are ordained of God. It is not for mere subjects to questions this divine favour. Byzantinism said much about the nature of the Russian State. Nicholas II could not permit any diminution of imperial power. To allow political parties and elections would only leave common people addled and it would cause ructions.

Censorship was strict. Anything that tended to undermine Tsarism was forbidden. However, some Marxist works were allowed to be published. Furthermore, Lenin was allowed to publish some of his books on the grounds that they were so turgid and bland that next to nobody would ever wish to read them.

Many Russians supported Tsarist absolutism. They remembered the Times of Troubles in the first years of the 17th century. The lessons that many Russian drew from this was that one either had tyranny or one had anarchy – and tyranny was better.

For the first few years of Nicholas II reign things bubbled along without any great disturbance. Russia was industrialising with increasing speed. Improved agricultural techniques had freed labour from the fields. More peasants drifted to coalfields to work as miners or into cities to works in factories and in mills. Others found other employment among the urban proletariat as waiters, bus conductors or servants.

The major project of the 1890s was the Trans Siberian Railway. This mighty feat of engineering would open up the gorgeous east and allow Russia to tap the limitless potential of resources in that isolated region, to trade with the Orient and to exert military force in the Pacific Ocean and beyond. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany sent a telegram to Nicholas II saying, ”the admiral of the Atlantic greets the admiral of the Pacific.” This message indicated not only that Wilhelm II had pretensions to wrest dominance over the Atlantic from the United Kingdom but also that he was encouraging Russia to seek hegemony in the Pacific. Germany had but a few scattered not especially valuable possessions in the Pacific. Germany saw that the UK may become her enemy. Germany did not wish Russia to be an ally of France and/or the UK. If Germany could persuade Russia to challenge the UK for paramountcy in the Pacific that would set Russia on a collision course with the UK. Russia may then seek German aid and break off the alliance with France.

Who were the UK’s traditional enemies? Russia and France. Who were Germany’s potential foes? Russia and France? Would it not make more sense for these two Germanic peoples to team up? Their ruling families were closely related – more so than the imperial houses of Russia and Germany.

The UK had the biggest and best navy and Germany had the biggest and best army. Put together would they not make a simply unbeatable combination? Their strategic interests need not clash? If the UK remained an oceanic power and Germany then they could work together.

Russia envied British dominance of the Middle East. It was often said that Russia wished her soldiers to wash their boots in the Indian Ocean. This would give Russia that elusive warm water port. British parliamentarianism and Russian autocracy seemed to be poles apart. Of course there had been times when the UK and Russia had worked together such as during much of the Napoleonic Wars. Could the United Kingdom and the Russian Empire work together once again?

Down with Lukashenko.

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Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus almost since it became independent. He was the manager of a state farm in the Soviet era. He runs Belarus in much the same manner. It is centralised and state control is stifling. The country is creaking. The economy is stagnant and innovation is viewed with suspicion. It is generally accepted that Lukashenko is a semi-dictator. Let us give him his due, opposition parties are allowed and they contest elections. This is more than can be said for the Soviet period. However, opposition politicians are subjected to severe harassment by the police. The police is a weapon in the hands of the governing party with which to beat oppositionists. The opposition have not been able to rally around a candidate and seven of them stood against Lukashenko.

There is no doubt that Lukashenko does have substantial support. Probably a plurality of the people back him. Some are blinded by state propaganda and see Communism as good and his opponents as being in the pay of the CIA.

The election took place. Lukashenko decalred himself the victor. His defeat was hard to conceive of. The seven opposition candidates were arrested and roughed up. They face years in prison. Protestors also face prison sentences. Protests I support but riots I do not. Some rioters smashed public property and that I deprecate. They deserve to be punished but not too severely. Although Lukashenko is unfair it is wrong to smash public property because of him/

The army parades with the Soviet flag as well as that of Belarus. This is ominous.

Lukashenko was rash enough to agree to an interview with euronews. He seem not to have been briefed on the questions. He gave a good account of himself. If I were him I would only speak to pet journalists throwing me softball questions.

Journalists who expose facts that are disobliging to the government in Belarus have an unfortunate habit of meeting with nasty accidents, often fatal.

I hope that Belarus becomes free one day.

Marxism, a rudimentary explanation.

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Marxism means the theories and teachings of Karl Marx. Marx was a German political philosopher and revolutionary who stalked the earth from 1818 to 1883. His writings had an extraordinarily strong and regrettable effect from about the time of his death until 1991. Fortunately, nowadays his ideas are widely disparaged.

Marx was of Jewish origin. His grandfather was a rabbi and his uncle was the chief rabbi of Trier, Trier being the city where Marx was born and lived until the age of 17. Marx’s parents had converted to Christianity of the Protestant type. It is probable that they were baptised to avail themselves of full civil rights. Jews were lawfully discriminated against in almost every German state at the time. Marx’s father was a lawyer and would have been disbarred from his profession.

The fact that Karl Marx had Hebraic ancestry was made much of by anti-Semites. They claimed that Communism was a Jewish plot. This is of course complete tosh. Judaism has nothing to do with Communism though of course quite a few prominent Communists were Jews. The Jewish faith and Jewish ancestry and culture meant nothing to Marx. He knew of his Jewish origins but thought that notions of ethnic and nationality identity were worthless. He also disbelieved in all religions. One of his works ”On the Jewish Question” is taken by some to be anti-Semitic although Marx was probably being facetious in his tendentious remarks in that particular article.

The city of Trier lies near Luxembourg and is unusually prosperous. Marx grew up in a well-to-do family but was aware of poverty among others in his native city. He felt compassion for them.

He fell in love with his neighbour Jenny who was a baron’s daughter. They later married. Marx was a clever lad and studied at Berlin and other universities. In those days it was normal for German undergraduates to move from one university to another after a year or so. He studied hard but found time to fight duels too. He was well versed in Ancient Greek philosophy. Of course he was deft in translating Ancient Greek as well as Latin. That was the mainstay of education in the Western World in those days and indeed well into the 20th century. He was profoundly influenced by a German philosopher of a generation earlier, Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Hegel. He became a Young Hegelian, it was a formidable intellectual movement at the time.  He completed a doctorate in philosophy.

Dr Marx felt compassion for underpaid farm labourers. He wrote in the Jahrbucher about their plight. Despite his sympathy for mistreated horny handed workers he was not opposed to child labour. Children working full time was par for the course in those days.

Karl Marx later moved to Paris. He formed a friendship with Friedrich Engels. Engels was a Gentile German of radical views. Engels came from a bourgeois family. The Engels’ owned a factory in Manchester. Engels traveled there and was aghast at the horrendous conditions in which proletarians laboured and dwelt.

Marx’s most famous work was The Communist Manifesto. It is a very engaging and punchy piece of polemical writing. It was published in 1848 – the year of revolutions. It was immediately translated into several languages. It is an excellent summary of Marx’s thought. It briefly sets out his sketch of world history and his prognosis for how events were set to develop in the coming years. It states his objections to the capitalist system and religion which he saw as being twin evils. It is a call to arms. It ends with a rousing exhortation, ”workers of the world unite! You have a world to win! You have nothing to lose but your chains.”

Marx did not give the word communism to the world – it had existed since at least Thomas More wrote Utopia. It is about community, owning things in common. Monks were said to live the communist idyll. Communism is against the notion of private property. Communism purports to be about helping ordinary people especially the poor.

Marx’s view of history. _____________________________________________________________________________________________

In the beginning no one ruled anything. There were a few bands of hunter gatherers. They practised simple communism. No one in the clan owned anything personally. They owned all in common. It was a sharing, caring society.

Leaders emerged and claimed a share of the produce of each. Government was a form of primitive despotism. As people developed settled agriculture the culture of the soil replaced foraging. Ownership of land became crucial. Someone said – this bit is mine. People began to stake their claim and the strongest gained the best land. As societies grew larger and more complex feudalism grew up with the king at the top, a baronial class beneath him and a great majority of peasants at the bottom of the pile.

Religion had been around since the beginning. Religion was used to bolster the status quo. Religious language is often that of ownership to reinforce capitalist nostra. God made us so he owns us. Judeo-Christian texts speak of owning land and cattle. The laws in the Bible specifically deal with property rights and slavery. Many parables deal with masters and servants, with owning gardens.

Capitalist law upholds the rights of the rich and enfeebles the poor. Possession is nine-tenths of the law – the adage is cruelly true. Supposing a gentleman farmer pays a farm hand $1o a day for his labour and on the back of this the gentleman farmer makes $20, minus the cost of the labour this was a profit of $10. That was $10 exploitation. The person the gentleman farmer sold the food or other agriculture goods to was also exploited at buying things at above cost price. Capitalist society had misused language to try to confuse goodness and honour with position on the social scale. A gentleman came to mean a man of property as much as a well-behaved and respectable man. The very notion of nobility was inverted from meaning laudable, courageous, charitable and trustworthy to mean a powerful thug who ruthlessly exploited the ordinary folk.

Feudalism is inherently exploitative. The serfs have no rights. They have to pay rent on the land where the scratch a meagre living through backbreaking labour.

As kingdoms grew large kings could no longer fully control the noblemen under then in the pecking order. Sufficiently large rebellions compelled kings to conceded a share of political power to those major landowners both temporal and clerical. Parliaments were formed with representation confined only to the magnates. There were some scintillating glimpses of what could happen, prolapses in history. For instance the Peasants’ Revolt in England in 1381 was a huge jacquerie with forced Richard II to promise the abolition of feudalism. Of course as soon as it was safe to do so he broke his word. The church was ever the bedfellow of the state and a major feudalist itself. The upper ranks of the hierarchy were almost without exception filled by members of families of the upper orders.

The feudal lords invented a myth of the good landlord. The good landlord was meant to justify feudalism. The lord only owned land to give him enough money to equip himself as knight on a warhorse. He was then able to defend his people. He was actuated only be a wish to do the best for his peasants. When the crops failed or they were ill he let them off their rent. He was a born leader of his people. He cared about them and was kind to him. They looked up to him with reverence and a sense of mutual duty. Some poor peasants were duped into believing this nonsense. Likewise, a similar false image of monarchs was invented. Many of the lower orders fell for this. To this day many common people who have never met their monarch feel affection for them and respect the monarch. Some wish to be dominated, they want to be serfs. This is false consciousness. Many of the exploited are duped. They are too ignorant to see that they are being exploited. These people are not class conscious. Yes, they know they are lower class. In the days of yore they could scarcely forget it. Society was class-ridden. But they did not have class consciousness insofar as they could not conceive of the fact that the upper class was not their protector but their enemy.

As society grew yet more sophisticated a mercantile class emerged. Banks were founded. A bourgeoisie emerged. The petit bourgeoise meant the small-time traders, shopkeepers and craftsmen. The grande bourgeoisie consisted of the professions such as architects, dentists, engineers and accountants as well as businessmen.

In Modern era the bourgeoisie became the dominant class. Industry had become more important that agriculture. The means of production was not longer principally farmland. The means of distribution and exchange were no longer mainly town marketplaces and muddy roads with a few navigable river routes.  Producing sufficient food to sustain the populace was no longer difficult though of course many people lived in a state of malnutrition because of their starvation wages. The ownership of banks, factories, shipyards, railways and coal mines had become more important than that of agricultural property.

There is downward pressure on wages. Wage compression leads to workers being paid just enough to keep body and soul together. If businessman pays his workers more then his business will go to the wall. People want the most for the least. They pay as little as they can and demand as much as they can. They want more than they need because capitalism has taught them that greed is good. It fetishises consumer goods.

Bourgeoisie revolutions overthrew kings and in some cases allowed the kings to remain as symbols but set up a bourgeois state for instance in the United Kingdom.

Marx held that capitalism was effectual in developing the economy. It caused infrastructure to be built rapidly. It lead to scientific breakthroughs and inventions. He said that it was also utterly immoral. Capitalism was all about avarice. Capitalists worshipped mammon. They did not care a fig about the malnutrition of the masses.

Each class ran society in its own interests. Class interests were necessarily antagonistic.

The peasantry had long been the largest class in every society. Allow a peasant to own a little farm rather than rent it and he often becomes a petit bourgeois. These smallholders can be frustratingly conservative. What they have they hold. The abolition of the unjust capitalism would be in the interests of all but the rich but unfortunately many petit bourgeois are too purblind to see this.

The proletariat was a new class that emerged during the Industrial Revolution. Proletariat is a Latin word which means ‘propertyless’ in English. The proletariat is made of those peasants who left the land and drifted into towns. Many of them became factory workers, construction workers, dockers, general labourers, train drivers, waiters, coal miners and the miners of various metals, street sweepers and so on. One often calls the proletariat the working class. The important thing about the proletariat is that they do not work on farms. They are normally urban but that is not essential. The essential factor is being non-agricultural workers.

The capitalist class tried to minimise cost and maximise prices so they could get as much profit as possible. The proletarians languishing on poverty pay suffered from this vicious cycle – low wages, high prices. The capitalists also want there to be some unemployment. This is because this frightens workers. They fear starvation so they accept low wages. The exploiter likes to keep the exploited divided. Proletarians argue with each other. They fight for jobs. They are desperately competing to be exploited since this is not as horrific as starvation.

Capitalists want maximum profit and minimum risk. These two imperatives tend to go against each other. High profit business tends to be high risk and low profit tends to be low risk. How to get around this? Monopoly capitalism. The whole justification for capitalism is that competition is good for the consumer. It lowers prices and increases the quality of goods and services. But one can have cartels to fix prices. One can have captive markets – enter colonialism.

Capitalists conquered colonies to ravage them. Their natural resources were plundered and their people either reduced to frank servitude or made wages slaves. They were taxed and forced to buy good they did not need so that the metropolitan state would have a guaranteed market for its goods. The whole system was designed to line the pockets of the affluent. The colony is plundered for its natural resources. The indigenous people are seen as just another natural resource. This reservoir of labour is used for the benefit of the capitalists in the metropolitan. As well as seeing the people as a mere resource they are also a market for manufactured goods. A colony would be India for instance. A metropolitan is a country that rules that colony. That would be the United Kingdom in that case.

Cotton, for example, would be grown in India. The British would ship it back to the United Kingdom. The cotton would be turned into shirts and then re-exported to India for the Indians to purchase. This would be a double shake down.  The Indians were bilked twice. First their cotton was bought for a pittance. The workers produced surplus value in accepting less salary than they deserved. They then bought back the manufactured good based on the raw material that they had harvested. They were paying over the odds for it.

Proletarians and peasants in India are exploited. Their British counterparts are also ripped off but not as badly. Racism is disseminated to prevent the British plebeians identifying with their Indian sisters and brothers. The British lumpenproletariat are made to believe that they are winners. They are duped into thinking this to prevent them from making common cause with the sons of toil in India.

Imperialists care only for smash and grab. It is vulture capitalism at its worst.

But a new stage was coming. The proletariat was growing more numerous and more alienated from their capitalist masters. They political and class consciousness was awakening. They would soon see their bosses for what they were – the nemesis. There can be no compromise with capitalism. It cannot be redeemed, it can only be destroyed. The proletariat would rise up in revolution. Capitalism would be dethroned and socialism would take its place.

Socialism is run in the interest of society –  of everyone, except the exploiting swine of course. They shall pay for their rapacity! Socii in Latin is a member – we are all members of society. Socialism means running things for the common good and not for private gain. People will be building the workers’ paradise.

Socialism is a way station on the road to communism. Communism really is heaven on earth.

Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher who was Marx’s main collaborator. In truth Engels was his sidekick. He is more or less and afterthought poor chap when he did a lot to redact Marx’s work after the world historical tipster died. Engels wrote of communism that ‘the state will wither away.’ The state had always been the prison of the toiling classes. The world would no longer be run in the interests of the exploiting classes.

There would be no more state. The state would be unnecessary since it is an instrument of oppression. The bourgeois-capitalist state and its weapons (the police, the army, the courts and prisons) would be superfluous.

Under communism one goes to a shop to get a pair of shoes, get, not buy, mark you. The shop assistant helps one. One chooses the shoes and leaves. Does the shop assistant call the police? No. But you have not paid for the shoes. There is no price for the shoes. Can one pay? There is no money to pay with. But call the police. There are no police to call. But is it not against the law to take the shoes? There is no law. There are no courts. There are no prisons. There are no criminals. There is no crime.

Marx believed that people would co operate voluntarily. There would be no rule and no government. This is like anarchism with self governing communes that people are free to leave. Indeed in the late 19th century people thought that anarchism and communism were interchangeable terms. People even coined the word anarcho-communism. In the end the two ideologies fell out after 1917. They are now at loggerheads.

One takes what one needs and then helps people to the best of one’s ability. As Marx wrote, ”from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” That is to say that people do their best for society – they work at what they are best at to contribute to the community. An individual receives goods and services not according to the wealth that that person has generated but according to what that person needs. There are no arguments about status and property. A sickly man with many children who cannot work would still receive a lot of goods and services because he needs them. A healthy man who does a lot of valuable work might receive very little because he needs little. People would not be jealous or resentful over this.

People have ceased to be selfish. Capitalism is both a symptom and a cause of selfishness. This take, take, take mentality is sick. Conspicuous consumption is what capitalism is about – showing off. Making people feel inadequate until they buy whatever it is. Buy this and you will be popular and successful – that is how capitalism cons people.

If we all pitch in we can all live well. That was the Marxist belief. He said that the aristocrats and some of the bourgeoisie were idle rich. This leisured class lorded it over the toiling masses. If the upper orders had to share their wealth and had to work then the workload would be much reduced. Moreover, people who make money for others are not highly motivated. If people know that by working they are bettering themselves and society then they will find work very gratifying.

Marx did not explain how we would get to communism exactly. He was certain that it would happen. It was called scientific socialism. He believed he had scientifically proven it. There were world historical events and they all pointed this way.

Marx believed that nationality was nonsense. It was a capitalist construct. The aim was to distract peasants and proletarians from the class war. But the coming class war was inevitable.

The proletariat were divided by nation, race, language and religion. They were busy fighting among themselves allowing the locusts and drones of the bourgeoisie to rob them blind. Divide and rule  – the oldest trick in the book! Imperialism grew out of capitalism and the imperialist motto was ‘‘divide et impera.”

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MARX’S LEGACY

Marx is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London. The original grave is a few metres from the current site. His resting place is marked by a plinth topped by a bust of K Marx. On the pedestal of his bust his words are etched ”Workers of all countries unite!” Commies from the world over are interred there including Iraqis. This graveyard has become a place of pilgrimage for leftists from all over the world.

Marx’s writings were extrapolated on by subsequent generations of Marxism. Marxist-Leninism was the governing political philosophy of the Soviet Union.

Marx’s works were used to make the most extraordinarily ridiculous value judgements. A Marxist take on science emerged, a Marxist view on the arts emerged. These perversions of Marx’s thought owed little or nothing to the scribblings of the good Dr Marx.

For many Marxism became a quasi religion. Marxists point scored off each other in their debates concerning Marxist orthodoxy. Born again Christians found Jesus and many Marxists found Marx and he changed their lives. Communism became an all-consuming passion. The canon of Marxist tomes held all the answers to all areas of life.\

Pastimes and possessions that were condemned as bourgeois were regarded as wicked. Hobbies and habits that were labeled as being proletarian were lauded highly. Bourgeois decadence was decried with an espeical vehemence.

Nicholas II – the final Tsar.

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Nicholas II was 12 years of age when he was walking down the stairs of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg when he saw the door open. A large soldier carried in an old man who was moaning horribly and bleeding profusely from two limp stumps that were legs severed at the knee. The old man was Nicholas’ grandfather – Alexander II. Alexander II had been known as the Tsar Liberator because he had emancipated the serfs in 1861. He had been, in general, a reforming Tsar. Revolutionary sects wanted further change. One of them was called ‘Volya Narodnaya’ – meaning ‘People’s Will.’ They had no means of gauging whether what they were doing was enacting the people’s will. They were drawn chiefly from the chattering classes. There was limited freedom of expression in Russia at the time.

People’s Will had sent a letter to Alexander II demanding a Zemsky Sobor be called – an Assembly of the Land. If he did not do so he would be killed. It does not seem that Alexander acted out of fear as he was genuinely reform minded. In fact many noblemen had viewed him with scepticism as he was, in their opinion, dangerously liberal. When he was mortally wounded by a revolutionary bomb he had in his pocket a document authorising the summoning of just such and Assembly of the Land.

The lesson that Nicholas II took from the assassination of his grandfather was that revolutionaries are absolutely evil and with them there must be no parley. Reform is weakness and only encourages revolutionaries. One must not make crime pay.

Alexander III was the son of Alexander II and the father of Nicholas II. Alexander III saw that the reforms of Alexander II had been a huge mistake. As for setting the serfs free this had been a grievous error but one could not put the genie back into the bottle.

In the present day many would think that to education and the psyche of a ruler are not terribly relevant to understanding the history of a country. A leader is pushed by external decisions into forces and it not the absolute ruler anymore. However, going back to Russia in 1894 one finds that the Tsar was the absolute ruler. His persona is very pertinent to understanding Russia at the time. He liked to be called the autocrat. This word is derived from the ancient Greek ‘auto’ meaning self and ‘cratos’ meaning power/rule. So an autocrat is one who has all the power to himself. Russia was a despotic state. All sovereignty resided in the Tsar alone and power and rights flowed from his person alone. This was almost unique in the Christendom at the time. Russia was in some regards the last medieval monarchy in Europe. Lo, Russia had not even advanced as far as feudalism with the monarch ceding some power to the major landowners. Russia functioned or perhaps malfunctioned as a primitive despotic state.

Nicholas II was tutored privately as were all of the Russian Imperial family. He was introduced to modern learning. He conversed fluently in French which was then the world language. It was the language of diplomacy and most 19th century treaties in the Western World were drawn up exclusively in French even if no French-speaking country was concerned. Certainly in the Western world and educated gentleman spoke French – whether in the Argentine or in Sweden, an educated person could speak French or else had little claim to be an educated person. Nicholas II spoke and wrote very good English too.

Since Peter the Great’s reign around 1700 the Russian upper classes had been francophile on a cultural level. The Russian aristocracy and upper class wore Western clothes and affected Western manners. However, politically they had little time for notions of representative government.

Nicholas II was a man of decidedly small stature. He was physically tough and was demanding on himself. He did military training and performed exacting route marches. At home he slept on a soldier’s camp cot. He wore a new military uniform to test it and did a long march in it one day.

He went on a visit to Japan on one occasion and was attacked by a deranged soldier. This may have coloured his view of the Japanese towards whom he felt a pronounced antipathy. He alluded to the Japanese race as ‘makaki’ – ‘monkeys.’

Nicholas II was a reactionary. He liked to use archaisms. He used the most antiquated term for Russia ‘Rus’- one which most accurately referred to a circle with Moscow on one edge and Kiev on the other. Inside this circle is what we may call true Russia. These lands had been considered Russian for centuries – for as long as one can speak of a Russia having existed. Within true Russia virtually everyone spoke Russian as their mother tongue, was ethnically Russian and was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nicholas II did not want Russia to be a rechtstaat. He did not like the notion of the rule of law as this presumed to set some limit to the imperial fiat. He favoured the most antiquated word for emperor. In fact he likes to use anachronisms generally reflecting his backward looking attitudes. He longed for simpler times and saw the world in stark terms. He did not do nuance. Reform=revolution and is bad. Tsarism is good. Sovereigns and subjects are utterly different creatures. Orthodox Christianity is the supreme good and anything that served the Tsar advanced this sacred cause. Muslims and above all Jews were not to be trusted. He saw the civil service as a kind of barrier separating him from the common people. Alexander II had lamented, ‘Russia is not ruled by me but by 40 000 clerks.’ He liked to think of the peasantry as simple-minded, deeply religious, cheerfully ignorant and utterly devoted to the Tsar whom they called ‘Little Father.’ An opera by Glinka came out in the early years of Nicholas II reign entitled ”A life for the Tsar” about a peasant who gladly threw himself on an assassin’s knife to save his sovereign from the mortal blow. This peasant was held up as an example of the selfless service that was the archetype of the honest muzhik. Nicholas II’s quaint notion of the attitudes of the peasants masses was not entirely without foundation. Some peasants did conform to the Tsar’s image of them. In other’s his notion was half right and for some it was downright wrong. It was increasingly wrong over time as more grew exposed to revolutionary ideas.

Russia in 1881, at the time of the murder of Alexander II, was in many ways a medieval country notwithstanding the termination of serfdom. Over 80% of people were peasants and illiteracy was about as high.  Most people were therefore very ignorant. Imagine how ignorant one would be if one had never read a book or a newspaper in one’s life. There were of course no media of mass communication to inform people about the rest of the world. Most peasants had never ventured more than a few miles from their village. Agriculture was inefficient and output was little about subsistence level. Many peasants lived in a ‘mir’ or commune. Mir can also translate as peace which tells us part of the purpose of the mir – to keep the peace. They shared things and made decisions in common. They practised their own form of rough justice on thieves and sexual deviants.

There was much hostility and suspicion towards the Jews who composed around 2% of the population. Some indigenous Russians saw Jews as shapeshifters with horns barely concealed. These demons in human form were accused of kidnapping Christian virgins before the Passover and ritualistically sacrificing her to mix her pure blood with the unleavened passover bread. Mobs of drunken Orthodox Christians, often led by priests, sometimes attacked Jewish districts and burnt, looted and murdered. Some Tsarist officials saw this as a laudable way to distract people from their discontents and potential for revolution. The Jews were scapegoated for much. Sometimes the so-called missing virgin had actually run away from home and came back some days after there had been a rampage through the Jews’ town. Black Hundreds were the racist crowds who liked to attack those of the Hebraic race. Whenever it was reported to Nicholas II that Jews had been slain he remarked that they had brought it upon themselves. Nicholas II’s Prime Minister Count Sergei Witte recalled that Nicholas II would never use the typical Russian word ‘Evrei’ translating as  ‘Jew’ but insisted upon using the scurrilous expression ‘Zhidy’ meaning ‘Yids.’ Nicholas II remarked that revolutionaries were not real Russians, nine out of ten of them were Jews. Nicholas II overstated his case considerably but nevertheless the basic point is valid, that were was an inordinately high proportion of those of the Hebrew race amongst the revolutionaries. Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Were many Jews anti-Tsarist because the Tsarist government mistreated them or was the government anti-Jewish because many Jews were revolutionaries? The answer is the former. Prior to the French Revolution there was next to nobody calling for a transformation of Russian society. Even then Tsarist government was anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism was widespread throughout Christendom at the time. However, the degree of anti-Semitism was keener in Russia than in almost any other Christian land at the time.

The Jewish community was restricted to the Pale of settlement in the western part of the Russian Empire. The Pale of settlement included what we now call eastern Poland, Belarus, Lativa, Lithuania and the northern Ukraine. Poland had been conquered by Russia once again in 1812. In the Middle Ages Poland had been one of the only countries in Europe to welcome Jews and to allow them equality. That was why so many of them chose to settle there. They were only permitted to reside in great cities such as St Petersburg and Moscow if they were deemed to be useful such as money lenders. There was compulsory military service but only for a few who were unfortunate enough to be selected by lot. The Jews were required to provide a very disproportionately high share of the conscripts. The conscripts were required to serve before the colours for 25 years and were taken as young as 12. Life expectancy was not much about 40. Therefore serving till the age of 37 meant a man would serve almost his whole adult life in the army. No kosher food was provided for the Jewish draftees and they often found themselves de-racinated – separated from their faith for lack of kosher comestibles. A wish to avoid having their sons taken for military service was a major push factor in causing tens of thousands of Russian Jews to emigrate every year from the late 19th century until the revolution. Their destination of choice was the United States.  The US was appealing it had religious equality and no conscription. Some made it only half way and stopped in the United Kingdom. Some went to nearby lands such as Germany and France. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was also a welcoming destination. Some emigrated far indeed to South Africa and even Australia.

Conditions in the military were horrendous even by the standards of armies and navies of the day. Pay was abominable, food scarcely edible and discipline was beyond tough – it was absolutely brutal. Floggings and being beaten to a pulp were commonplace. Soldiers so brutalised not surprisingly often exerted savagery on those whom they saw as their enemies such as protestors. Officers were drawn from the upper class. The Russian military had reasonable equipment and plenty of horses. However, as wars were to prove it was disorganised and its commissariat was very inefficient. Russian industry could not supply the needs of the armed forces in time of war.

Education was totally controlled by the churches and university education was the preserve of the Russian Orthodox Church. Liberal nostra were not entertained. Learning to recite the Bible was the mainstay of school. Evolution was held to be heretical.

Railways had been in existence in Russia for some 40 years by that stage but only connected the western cities. A plan was made to extend the railway across Siberia to the Far Eastern port of Vladivostock. Vladivostock translating, ruler of the east. The country was exceedingly religious, more so than was typical than for a country even in the nineteenth century.

Okhrana, the secret police, was tasked to stopping dissidents stirring up revolution. They were allowed to torture suspects and did so on a broad basis. They subjected prisoners to mock executions and of course actual executions too.

The Ottoman Empire existed from roughly 1400-to 1922. It was dominated by the Turks and is often called Turkey even if this is something of a misnomer. The Ottoman Empire had conquered Constantinople marking the final downfall of the Greek incarnation of the Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire had been the state of the Orthodox Church. Constantinople had been the centre of the Christian Orthodox world. Constantinople had been the new Rome. Russian declared that Moscow was the third Rome and there would be no fourth. Moscow was the capital of the Russian state for centuries until in 1704 Peter the Great shifted the seat of government to the new, purpose-built city of St Petersburg. It was named for the Tsar’s patron saint. St Petersburg was supposed to be the window on the west given it was a port on the Baltic Sea. It was a long-term goal of Russia to obtain an ice-free port –  St Petersburg and the Arctic ports were icebound in midwinter. Moreover, from St Petersburg one could only sail to the ocean through the Skagerak. This choke point between Sweden and Denmark. The strait is only two miles wide. The Black Sea ports met the bottleneck of the Bosphorous in Istanbul. The Bosphorous is only 800 metres across at the narrowest point. Istanbul was in the hands of the Ottoman Empire – the archenemy of Russia. Russian also longed to take back Constantinople for the Orthodox faith. This would also have the neat twin effect of giving Russia that long wished for all-weather port and access to the Mediterranean. So the expansionist goal would also be a crusade. Russia would be able to trade freely with the world. God and Mammon were eager bedfellows. Russia would then be an undoubted world power – dining on the top table with France and the United Kingdom.

The Turks started out in central Asia and about 1000 years ago started to trek westwards. They are related to other Turkic peoples such as the people of Turkmenistan, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. There are also Turkic people in Afghanistan, Persia, Iraq and China. All the Turkic peoples speak a mutually comprehensible set of languages. They are, almost to a man, Muslims and Sunni Muslims at that. Much of the Russian Empire was peopled by Turkic peoples. The Turkic peoples had been conquered by Russia through the 19th century. Many Russians were possessed of a hearty loathing for the Turkic race. Many Europeans deprecated them as ”the unspeakable Turk.” The Turkic peoples and the Russian had nothing in common but a taste for tea. They had differences of language, of race, of religion and of sympathy. These Turkic peoples were part of the Russian Empire for no other reason than they had been conquered. How could they feel any identification with Russia when being an Orthodox Christian was a pre-requisite for full membership within the state? Russia went to war against the Ottoman Empire seven times in 200 years. The Turkic peoples of the Russian Empire felt a natural affinity for the Ottoman Empire. They were rightly suspected of disloyalty to the Tsar. They were mistrusted and badly treated. The Tsar was reluctant to have them in the armed forces or police lest they mutiny.

The Tsar claimed to be the protector of all Orthodox Christians. Through much of the 19th century many Orthodox Christians had been in the Ottoman Empire. The millet system was the system the Ottomans used to control their empire. Millet means nation. Each religious community had its leader and the Ottoman Empire ruled each community via its own leader. The customary law of that religion was used for family matters in that community. The Tsar wished to be considered the leader of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. He had gone to war to  liberate the Orthodox Christians from the Ottoman Empire. Over the century the Ottoman Empire had lost territory and many Orthodox Christian countries became independent such as Serbia, Romania, Montenegro and Bulgaria. Bosnia-Herzegovina had become a province of Austria-Hungary – the Orthodox Christians were only a minority there. The Ottoman Empire was dubbed ”the sick man of Europe.” She only staggered on as the British Empire shielded her in order to have a power to balance Russia and prevent Russian breakthrough into the Middle East.

The British Empire had long been an enemy of the Russian Empire. They had been at war against each other briefly during the Napoleonic period and then allies against Napoleon. They had been enemies in the Crimean War. After Russia defeated the Ottomans in 1878 the British Empire had intervened to prevent Russia from imposing a Carthaginian peace on the Ottoman Empire. Russia eyed British dominance of the Near East jealously. The Mediterranean was little more than a British lake. Russia longed to break through into India. In Central Asia Russia and the United Kingdom sent secret agents into this lawless zone to try to enlist the support of various khans. The British called this the Great Game. The Russians had an even more colourful name for this intrigue, The Tournament of Shadows. It was not just for strategic reasons that the two appeared to be at loggerheads. The British prided themselves, perhaps falsely, as being the freest people of all who still had a respectable government. Russia was a frank autocracy and saw parliamentary government as alien and even decadent. The Russians thought the British hypocritical for speaking of freedom yet backing up an autocracy in Constantinople. They saw the British as being complicit in the massacres of Christians due to their support for the Ottomans. The United Kingdom had many Mohammedan subjects in India and Africa and so it made sense to pose as a friend of Islam. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire was the Khalifa, the successor of the Prophet and a descendant of his. Sunni Muslims are 90% of Muslims and they looked to the Caliph as their leader. His friendship with the British went down well with British subjects of the Islamic faith.

Relations between church and state were very close in Russia. In a sense Russian inverted Lord Eldon’s dictum. The established church existed not to make the state religious but the church political. The church was used to sanctify despotism. The pulpit was always tuned into the Tsar’s wavelength. The Orthodox preached that subjects had an unconditional duty to submit to the imperial will. The church looked to the afterlife and things of the spirit. The church taught that this life was transient and trivial. It taught people to be stoic in face of suffering. The Tsar even called his people ‘the Orthodox’ though a quarter of his subjects were not Orthodox Christians and quite a few were not Christians of any stripe. The non-Christians subjects of the Tsar were little considered by him. They were only seen as possible or actual traitors.

The Tsar was known as the white Tsar. Internationally white was seen as the colour of conservatism. The Tsars tended to be conservative even by the mores of their own eras but Nicholas II was an exceptionally backward-looking man. He was also a man of very modest stature and was advised to make his public appearance on horseback wherever possible.

He kept a diary. On the day his father died he wrote, ”oh my god, oh my god, father is dead. Now I am the Tsar. I never wanted this.” Here surely was one who had greatness thrust upon him. He was a retiring and diffident man, tongue-tied would be too strong. He surely was one who had greatness thrust upon him.

Nicholas II met his cousin Princess Alix of Hesse. Hesse is in Germany. Germany was then ruled by an emperor of the Hohenzollern dynasty. Beneath the emperor there were several kingdoms and grand duchies. Princess Alix was the daughter of the Grand Duke of Hesse. When people hear that she was a German princess they often wrongly imagine that she was the daughter of the German Emperor.

Nicholas II fell deeply in love with his leggy cousin. Nicholas had many shortcomings and disagreeable traits. However, he did have a very happy marriage. Mathilde Ksheniskaya was a ballerina who claimed to have been Nicholas II’s mistress but many people discount this claim as the bogus boasting of someone seeking publicity after Nicholas II was dead and therefore unable to disprove it.

Nicholas II and his beloved wed weeks after the death of his father Alexander III. Some saw this as being unseemly as the court was still in mourning.

Nicholas II preferred Moscow to St Petersburg even though St Petersburg was the capital. St Petersburg was too modern. Moscow was in the heart of true Russia and it was the ancient seat of government. It had a more earthy, traditional feel to it – it was steeped in Slavonic mystique. Nicholas II preferred to appear in Muscovite robes rather than modern military uniform. He wore a beard  as had been the norm for Tsars centuries before unlike some other recent Tsars.

The coronation was delayed until 1896 out of respect for the late tsar but also as this allowed ample time to organise a suitably lavish coronation ceremony. Guests were invited from the governments of many countries. Nicholas II predictably plumped to hold this storied event in the former capital and not in the contemporary capital.

On the day of the coronation huge festivities were held on Khodynka Field which was then on the edge of Moscow. It takes its name from a minor river, the Khodynka, in Moscow. Khodynka Field was supposedly the sacred centre of the Empire. The army had used this field for drills and had dug trenches there which no one had thought to have filled in. People were given free beer, snacks and gifts. There was a crowd of tens of thousands and only a few dozen police controlling it. It is very difficult to control such crowd situations today even with video cameras, loud hailers, helicopters and much training. To control such crowds back then was well nigh impossible. Rumours went around that the refreshments and presents were running short. People began to jostle and squabble, seeking food, beer and mementoes while there were some left to be had. People were pushed over and others fell into trenches. People fell on people and a most almighty panic ensued. There were far too few police to maintain order. It is hard even know with all the technology we have to manage crowd control situations. A stampeded broke out and dozens of people were trampled to death. The death toll eventually reached at least 1,300.

Nicholas II was informed of the tragic news. He was saddened but was not able to convey this to the common people. The French legation in Moscow was hosting a coronation ball at which Nicholas II was guest of honour. Nicholas II was intensely conscious of the fact that France was Russia’s most vital ally. If he chose not to attend the ball in an expression of sympathy with the bereaved this may go down well with the ordinary people but it might put out the French who had gone to an awful lot of trouble and expense to put ion the ball. In the end he chose to go ahead and accept the invitation. It was a very poor public relations decision. It came across as being deeply insensitive to enjoy himself when hundreds of people had been killed at the Khodynka Field incident. Many grieving relatives were grossly offended by his apparent lack of sympathy for them. He did visit the injured in hospital. He carried on with his week of engagements and festivities. His decision to attend the French legation ball has been seen as setting the tone for his reign. He struck a bum note. Again and again he was to go against public opinion. About the only time he did something popular was when he made the one decision that more or less sealed his fate – when he chose not to accede to the German ultimatum in 1914.

Kate Middleton – I like!

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She is a leggy beauty with her brunette locks cascading over her shoulders. She is every inch the lady. Oh yes I would poke her Highness. How long is Her Majesty’s Pleasure? She dresses so stylishly. I could not quite call it a glamorous dress sense as that would imply a hint of sexiness. Her style is not frumpy but it is not daring either. It should not be. Everything about her is pleasant to behold.

A classless society indeed. Prince Edward 15 years ago told us we had one. Yes, he is the same class as his cleaner. Kate Middleton’ mum was an air hostess. That is not quite a blue blooded occupation.

Kate Middleton is a lady of leisure – doing her part-time job buying toys for some big company.

She complained about being followed by the press. It goes with the territory. She will have fame and riches beyond the wildest reveries of many. SHE got her lawyers onto the media but there was no privacy law in  England when this happened. The lawyers were bluffing and the press knew it.

Kate Middleton – a good choice. She comes across as an amiable person.