Warning the Tsar

In 1914, Petr Durnovo, police chief and interior minister of Russia, wrote a letter to Tsar Nicholas II. He foresaw the disaster that World War I would be for Russia, and he urged the Tsar to change course. It was not meant to be.

In the early 1900’s, in America and in Europe and Russia, material progress was improving quality of life.  People were living better, and populations were growing. But productivity was not increasing as fast.  And so nations needed land, and access to colonies for food and resources.  And they went after them. And this led to war.

Durnovo foresaw that the continental empire of Germany would seek to extend its power into the seas, where it would clash with England.  As each would not have the power to overcome the other, both will build alliances with others, a world war would follow. Russia was allied with France, and had normally been friendly with Germany.  Since the Russ0-Japanese War, however, Russia renounced its “traditional policy of distrust of England” and created the Triple Entente with France and England against Germany. This was the looming disaster for Russia, for Russia would bear the brunt of any continental assault on Germany. Petr Durnovo knew the state of modern armaments and “military technique“.  He could foresee the ghastly results.

Durnovo was sure Russia would lose.  She was not adequately prepared, weakened as he saw it, by the Tsar’s naive political liberalization. “The fault lies, in a considerable measure, in our young legislative institutions, which have taken a dilettante interest in our defenses, but are far from grasping the seriousness of the political situation arising from the new orientation which, with the sympathy of the public, has been followed in recent years by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs“.  “Every previous war has invariably been followed by something new in the realm of military technique, but the technical backwardness of our industries does not create favorable conditions for our adoption of the new inventions.

He  reasoned that Russia didn’t need land, didn’t need colonies, and so didn’t need to go to war. He knew that Russia was on the precipice of social upheaval as the masses awakened. “An especially favorable soil for social upheavals is found in Russia, where the masses undoubtedly profess, unconsciously, the principals of Socialism. . . The Russian masses, whether workmen or peasants, are not looking for political rights, which they neither want nor comprehend. . . The peasant dreams of obtaining a gratuitous share of somebody else’s land; the workman, of getting hold of the entire capital and profits of the manufacturer. . .Beyond this they have no aspirations.”  He knew a great war would break the nation’s finances, and its frail political cohesion.

A defeated Germany, too, would degenerate. “The effect of a disastrous war upon the population will be too severe not to bring to the surface destructive tendencies, now deeply hidden.”  The widespread suffering “will offer fertile soil for anti-agrarian and later anti-social propaganda by the Socialist parties.”

And so after World War I came the Nazi’s and the Bolsheviks.

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