Written by Vladimir Moss



     St. Anatoly of Optina said: “The destiny of the Tsar is the destiny of Russia. If the Tsar will rejoice, Russia also will rejoice. If the Tsar will weep, Russia also will weep… Just as a man with his head cut off is no longer a man, but a stinking corpse, so Russia without the Tsar will be a stinking corpse…”

     It remained only to witness the fulfilment of the prophecy…

     The abdication of Tsar Nicholas II marked the end of the Christian era of political history initiated by the coming to power of St. Constantine the Great in 306. The enormous change – and enormous loss – was felt immediately by those who lived through it. As the novelist I.A. Bunin wrote: “Our children and grandchildren will not be able even to imagine that Russia in which we once (that is, yesterday) lived, which we did not value and did not understand – all that might, complexity, wealth and happiness…”  

     The Tsar abdicated on March 2, 1917, and on the very same day the Petrograd Soviet issued “Soviet Order Number One”: “The orders of the military commission of the State Duma are to be obeyed only in such instances when they do not contradict the orders and decrees of the Soviet”. In other words, the Provisional Government that officially came into being on March 3, and which was formed from liberal Duma deputies, was to rule only by permission of the real ruler, the Soviet, which had come into being on March 1 and supposedly represented the soldiers and workers. So Soviet power was born in March, not October, 1917. Only for a few months this fact was masked by the “dual power” arrangement with the Provisional Government.

     The formation of this government was announced on March 2 at the Tauris palace in Petrograd by Pavel Milyukov; it was to oversee the administration of the country until the convening of an elected Constituent Assembly. The question was put to him: “Who elected you?” Many years later Milyukov wrote: “We were not ‘elected’ by the Duma. Nor were we elected by Lvov in accordance with the tsar’s order prepared at Headquarters, of which we could not have been informed. All these sources for the succession of power we ourselves had consciously cast out. There remained only one reply, the clearest and most convincing. I replied: ‘The Russian revolution has elected us!’ This simple reference to the historical process that brought us to power shut the mouths of the most radical opponents.”[1]

     But if it was the revolution that “elected” the leaders of the Provisional Government, what objection could they have against the further “election” of Lenin in the next stage of the revolution? They could have none. That is why they offered no real opposition to the Bolshevik revolution in October, and were so easily swept into “the dustbin of history”, in Trotsky’s phrase.

     Indeed, as P. Novgorodtsev writes: "Prince Lvov, Kerensky and Lenin were bound together by an unbroken bond. Prince Lvov was as guilty of Kerensky as Kerensky was of Lenin. If we compare these three actors of the revolution, who each in turn led the revolutionary power, in their relationship to the evil principle of civil enmity and inner dissolution, we can represent this relationship as follows. The system of guileless non-resistance to evil, which was applied by Prince Lvov as a system of ruling the state, with Kerensky was transformed into a system of pandering to evil camouflaged by phrases about 'the revolutionary leap' and the good of the state, while with Lenin it was transformed into a system of openly serving evil clothed in the form of merciless class warfare and the destruction of all those displeasing to the authorities. Each of the three mentioned persons had his utopian dreams, and history dealt with all of them in the same way: it turned their dreams into nothing and made of them playthings of the blind elements. The one who most appealed to mass instincts and passions acquired the firmest power over the masses. In conditions of general anarchy the path to power and despotism was most open to the worst demagogy. Hence it turned out that the legalized anarchy of Prince Lvov and Kerensky naturally and inevitably gave way to the demagogic depotism of Lenin."[2]

     The only possible source for the legitimate, ordered succession of power after the abdication of the Tsar was the Tsar’s own orders, given on the same day, transferring royal power to his brother, Great Prince Michael, and appointing – at the request of the Duma representatives Guchkov and Shulgin -Prince V.E. Lvov as President of the Council of Ministers and General L.G. Kornilov as Commander of the Petrograd military district. But the Duma politicians had no intention of accepting Great Prince Michael as tsar (Milyukov and Guchkov were in favour of a constitutional monarchy, but not a true autocracy), and soon compelled him, too, to abdicate. As for Lvov, he was made head of the Provisional Government, but not by virtue of any order of the Tsar, whose authority the Duma politicians rejected.

     Since the legitimizing power of the Tsar’s orders had been rejected, there remained only the authority of a popular election, according to liberal theory. But the Provisional Government had not, of course, been elected. Rather, its purpose was to supervise the election of a Constituent Assembly that alone, according to liberal theory, could bring a legitimate government into power.

     So Miliukov resorted to a deliberate paradox: they had been “elected” by the revolution. The paradox consists in the fact that revolutions do not “elect” in accordance with established legal procedures. For the revolution is the violent overthrow of all existing procedures and legalities…

     But if the Provisional Government came to power through the revolution – that is, through the violent overthrow of all existing procedures and legalities – it had no legal authority to suppress the continuation of the revolution (for who can tell when the revolution is complete?) through the violent overthrow of its own power. In this fact lies the clue to the extraordinarily weak and passive attitude of the Provisional Government towards all political forces to the left of itself. It could not rule because, according to its own liberal philosophy, it had no right to rule…

     No such inhibitions were felt by the radical socialists, for whom might was right and the niceties of liberal political philosophy and procedure were irrelevant. Already the previous night the Duma had begged Himmer, Nakhamkes and Alexandrovich of the Petrograd Soviet to allow them to create a government; which showed that the Soviet, and not the Provisional Government, was the real ruler. And now, on March 2, in its very first act, “Soviet Order Number One”, it rubbed the government’s nose in the dust.

     The immediate effect of Order Number One was to destroy discipline in the army, as soldiers refused to salute or obey their officers – or simply went home to join in the looting of landowners’ and church estates. And so the Tsar’s main purpose in abdicating – to preserve the army as a fighting force capable of defeating the Germans – was frustrated before the ink was dry on his manifesto. The lesson was clear: if the Russians did not want to be ruled by the God-anointed Tsar, then, by God’s permission and as punishment for their sins, they would be ruled by the Satan-appointed Soviets…

     The inequality of the “dual-power” system was evident from the beginning. Thus M.V. Rodzianko, who more than anyone was responsible for forcing the Tsar to abdicate, was excluded from the list of ministers as being unacceptable to the masses; while Guchkov and Miliukov, the Ministers of War and Foreign Affairs, who had also played major roles in the abdication, did not last beyond the April Crisis after their continued support for the war became apparent. This left the government in the hands of a group of leftist Masons: Kerensky (the link with the Petrograd Soviet), Nekrasov, Konovalov, Tereschenko and Efremov. Together with the Soviet, they immediately passed a series of laws: political prisoners and revolutionaries were amnestied, trade unions were recognized, an eight-hour day for workers was introduced, the Tsarist police was replaced by a “people’s militia”, and full civil and religious freedoms, and the removal of all restrictions on the Jews, were introduced. 


     The impact of this “freedom” was especially disastrous in the army. Florence Farmborough wrote in her diary for March 4, 1917: “Manifestoes from the new Government have begun to be distributed widely along the Russian Front. Our Letuchka [flying squad] is well supplied with them; many are addressed to me by the military staff – a courtesy which I greatly appreciate. The main trend of these proclamations directed especially to the fighting men, is FREEDOM. ‘Russia is a free country now,’ the Manifestoes announce. ‘Russia is free and you, Russian soldiers, are free men. If you, before being freed, could fight for your Mother-Country, how much more loyally will you fight now, when, as free men, you will carry on the successful conflict on behalf of your free Country.’ So the great perevorot [revolution] had come! Russia is a free country! The Russians are a free people! Tremendous excitement reigns on all sides; much vociferous enthusiasm, tinged with not a little awe. What will happen now? Newspapers are seized and treasured as though made of gold, read, and re-read. ‘The Dawn of Russian Freedom!’ ‘The Daybreak of the New Epoch!’ rhapsodise the romancer-reporters. A prekaz [order] has been sent to the Front Line soldiers describing the otkaz [dismissal] of the Emperor. We were told that in some sectors the news had been received with noisy gratification; in others, the men have sat silent and confused…”[3]

     In April she wrote: “There is no doubt that the Revolution has been acclaimed as a victory for democracy. Intellectuals declare loudly that now is the moment to reconstruct political, social, educational and industrial systems throughout the country. Now is the great opportunity to deal vigorously with land-ownership. ‘Free Russia must see to it that the people of Russia shall be free to rejoice in their freedom.’ But how can these problems be solved while the enemy is stlll hammering at the door? The patriots answer: ‘It is the primary duty of all Free Russians to oust the enemy from Russian territory. Then, and only then, can fundamental reforms be carried out.”[4]

     However, the resolve of the patriots was being undermined by the subtle propaganda of the Germans and Austrians, who now offered Russia a separate peace. Thus, as the Austrians wrote, “the Austro-Hungarian Monarch, together with his Allies, cherishes the wish to live in peaceful harmony and in friendship with the free Russian people.” But there was an irony here: if the Austrians could make peace with the Russians because they were now “free”, where did this leave the Austrian Monarchy?

     As for the Russian soldiers, the question was: which of the two powers – the Provisional Government or the Soviets – were they to obey? On March 7 a “Text of Oath for Orthodox and Catholics” and signed by Lvov had been published and distributed to the army: “I swear by the honour of an officer (soldier, citizen) and promise before God and my own conscience to be faithful and steadfastly loyal to the Russian Government, as to my Fatherland. I swear to serve it to my last blood… I pledge obedience to the Provisional Government, at present proclaimed the Russian government, until the establishment of the System of Government sanctioned by the will of the People, through instrumentality of the Constituent Assembly…”[5]

     In general, the officers were happy to make this oath. And soldiers of all faiths repeated it word for word and then shouted “Hurrah!” But what of those who did not believe in God, or who thought they were now free of all masters – not only of Batyushka Tsar, but also of Batyushka God?

     In May Kerensky began to visit the troops. On May 13 he came to Podgaytsy, and Sister Florence witnessed his speech: “He spoke for about wenty minutes, but time seemed to stand still. His main theme was freedom; that great, mystical Freedom which had come to Russia. His words were often interrupted by wild applause, and, when he pointed out that the war must, at all costs, continued to a victorious end, they acclaimed him to the echo. ‘You will fight to a victorious end!’ he adjured them. ‘We will!’ the soldiers shouted as one man. ‘You will drive the enemy off Russian soil!’ ‘We will!’ they shouted again with boundless enthusiasm. ‘You, free men of a Free Country; you will fight for Russia, your Mother-Country. You will go into battle with joy in your hearts!’ ‘We are free men,’ they roared. ‘We will follow you into battle. Let us go now! Let us go now!’ 

     “When he left, they carried him on their shoulders to his car. They kissed him, his uniform, his car, the ground on which he walked. Many of them were on their knees praying; others were weeping. Some of them cheering; others singing patriotic songs. To the accompaniment of this hysterical outburst of patriotic fervor, Kerensky drove away…”[6]

     The soldiers had been promised that the Offensive (originally planned under Tsar Nicholas) would not long be delayed. But time passed, the order did not come – and the soldiers’ enthusiasm waned. Discipline collapsed, desertions began.

     Then came the Bolshevik agitators who harangued the troops with a different message: surrender! Farmborough describes one such meeting: “It was a most extraordinary meeting! Never, in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we should listen to such an outpouring of treachery. We sat in a group among the trees, surrounded on all sides by soldiers. Some of our hospital Brothers were there and I caught sight of several of our transport drivers.

     “The man who had come to speak to the soldiers had an ordinary face and was dressed in ordinary Russian clothes; dark trousers and a dark shirt, buttoned on the left and worn outside his trousers, with a black belt around the waist. His face was serious and pale, but he smiled and nodded once or twice to one or another of the audience, as though he recognized friends. He spoke for a time about Russia, her vast territory, her wealth and the many overlords who, possessing enormous estates and resources, were revered on account of their riches throughout the western world. Then he described the impoverished peasantry who, unschooled, uncared for and half-starved, were eking out a miserable existence by tilling and cultivating the land belonging to those same overlords. War had burst upon Russia and enemies had invaded her territory, and who were the men who had sacrificed themselves to fight the ruthless invaders and drive them off Russian soil! Not the wealthy overlords, not the despotic land-owners; no! – they were safely installed in their fortress-homes. It was those downtrodden countrymen who had been roped in in their thousands, in their millions, to stem the tide of invasion; when they had been killed, others had been quickly collected and sent to replace them. There had been no end to the slaughter and sacrifice of the Russian peasant. Enemy guns had devoured them daily, hourly; every minute of the day and night, the heavy guns had feasted on them and every minute new recruits were being seized and thrust like fodder into the voracious jaws of the enemy’s cannon. But now a tremendous even had taken place! The Tsar – that arch-potentate, that arch-tyrant – had been dethroned and dismissed. Russia had been pronounced a free country! – the Russian citizens a free people! Freedom had come at last to the downtrodden people of Russia.

     “Our doctors were moving restlessly. They were, as always, in officers’ uniform. I wondered if they were thinking it was high time to leave, but they stayed. Undoubtedly, it was the wisest thing to do. I glanced around. Most of the soldiers were young and raw, inexperienced and impressionable; all of them drawn from far-off corners of what, until recently, had been known as the Russian Empire. What easy prey they would be for seditious guile! New ideas could so readily take hold of their gullible minds and a cunning speaker would soon be aware that he could sway them this way and that with his oratory.


     “The speaker was harping on the theme of freedom. Freedom, he declared, was a possession so great, so precious, one dared not treat it lightly. But war was an enemy of freedom, because it destroyed peace, and without peace there could be no freedom. It was up to the Russian soldier to do all in his power to procure peace. And the best and quickest way to bring about a guaranteed peace was to refuse to fight. War could not be fought if there were no soldiers to fight! War was never a one-sided operation! Then, when peace had at last come to Russia, freedom could be enjoyed. The free men of Free Russia would own their own land. The great tracts of privately-owned territory would be split up and divided fairly among the peasantry. There would be common ownership of all properties and possessions. Once the Russian soldier had established peace in his homeland, he would reap benefits undreamt of. Peace above all else! Down with war!

     “The soldiers were all astir; they were whispering, coughing, muttering. But there all in full accord with the orator; he held them in his hand! Their stolid faces were animated and jubilant. ‘Tovarishchi! You free men of Free Russia! You will demand peace!’ ‘We will!’ they shouted in reply. ‘You will assert your rights as free Russian citizens!’ ‘We will assert our rights,’ they echoed with one voice. ‘You will never allow yourselves to be pushed into the trenches to sacrifice your lives in vain!’ ‘Never!’ they roared in unison…”[7]

     The success of the Bolsheviks’ propaganda against the war deprived the army of the minimum discipline required for any successful offensive. In the event, while General Alexeyev calculated that the losses would be about 6000, they turned out to be 400,000.[8] “The key to Russia’s military defeat,” writes Niall Ferguson, “was the huge number of surrenders in that year [1917]. Overall, more than half of total Russian casualties were accounted for by men who were taken prisoner.”[9] An offensive that had been designed by Kerensky and the liberals to bolster the state by bringing all classes together on a patriotic wave ended by opening the path to the final destruction of the state.


     The orgy of liberal freedoms – accompanied by an orgy of violence throughout the country - earned the government the plaudits, not only of deadly enemies of Tsarism such as the Jewish banker Jacob Schiff in New York, but also of the western governments, whose democratic prejudices blinded them to the fact that the revolution was turning Russia from their most faithful ally into their deadliest enemy... But as time passed and the chaos spread throughout the country, it became clear that neither the Provisional Government, nor even the Soviets, nor even a coalition between the two on a pro-war platform, would be able to control the revolutionary masses, who wanted peace at any price with the Germans abroad and the most radical social revolution at home. Of all the parties represented in the Soviets, it was only the Bolsheviks (for the soldiers and workers) and the Left Social Revolutionaries (for the peasants) who understood this, who had their fingers on the nation’s revolutionary pulse…

     Anarchy was the order of the day, and the only “justice” was imposed by lynchings. Thus Gorky claimed to have seen 10,000 cases of summary justice in 1917 alone.[10] The Church suffered particularly in this period; many priests were killed…

     In an article written in 1923 G. Mglinsky explained why the government proved so weak: “Understanding the absence of firm ground under their feet because of the absence of those layers of the population on which it was possible to rely, the new government fell immediately into dependence on the ‘Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies’ which had been formed even before the abdication of his Majesty the Emperor, and behind which there stood the capital’s working masses who had been propagandized by the same Russian intelligentsia. Although it did not really sympathize with the content of Order Number 1, which destroyed the army, and understood all its danger, the Provisional Government nevertheless allowed the carrying out of this order at the hands of its Minister of War Guchkov.

     “Fearing a reaction in the Russian people, which, as it well understood, would hardly be likely to be reconciled with the seizure of power by a bunch of intriguers, the Provisional Government from the very beginning of its activity tried hard to destroy the state-administrative apparatus. With a stroke of the pen all administrative power in Russia was destroyed. The governors were replaced by zemstvo activists, the city commanders – by city-dwellers, the police – by militia.

     “But, as is well known, it is always easy to destroy, but very difficult to create. And so it was here: having destroyed the old state apparatus, the Provisional Government did not think of, or, more likely, was simply not able to create anything in its place. Russia was immediately handed over to itself and nepotism was introduced as a slogan for the whole of the state administration, and this at precisely the moment when a strong power was required as never before.

     “When representatives of the old and new administrations came to the head of the Provisional Government, Prince [G.E.] Lvov, and demanded directions, they unfailingly received the same refusal which Prince Lvov gave to the representatives of the press in his interview of 7 March, that is, five days after the coup. ‘This is a question of the old psychology. The Provisional Government has removed the old governors and is not going to appoint anybody. They will be elected on the spot. Such questions must be resolved not from the centre, but by the population itself… We are all boundlessly happy that we have succeeded in living to this great moment when we can create a new life of the people – not for the people, but together with the people… The future belongs to the people which has manifested its genius in this historical days. What great happiness it is to live in these great days!... 

     “These words, which sound now like pure irony, were not invented, they are found in the text of the 67th page of the first volume of A History of the Second Russian Revolution written, not by any die-hard or black-hundredist, but by Paul Milyukov ‘himself’, who later on the pages of his history gives the following evaluation of the activity of the head of the government which he himself joined as Minister of Foreign Affairs:

     “’This world-view of the leader of our inner politics,’ says Milyukov, ‘led in fact to the systematic cessation of activity of his department and to the self-limitation of the central authority to a single task – the sanctioning of the fruits of what in the language of revolutionary democracy is called the revolutionary creation of rights. The population, left to itself and completely deprived of protection from the representatives of the central power, necessarily had to submit to the rule of party organizations, which acquired, in new local committees, a powerful means of influence and propagandizing certain ideas that flattered the interests and instincts of the masses, and for that reason were more acceptable for them.’ ”[11]

    Prince N.D. Zhevakov, who was assistant over-procurator during the February Revolution, comments on these words: “If Milyukov, who took the closest participation in the overthrow of Tsarist Power in Russia, could talk like this, then what was it like in reality! ‘Things were no better in other departments. Everywhere complete chaos reigned, for none of the departmental bosses, nor the government as a whole, had any definite, systematically realizable plan. They broke down everything that was old, they broke it down out of a spectral fear of a return to the old. Without thinking of tomorrow, with a kind of mad haste, they broke down everything that the whole Russian people is now beginning to sorrow over…’” [12]

     There was no real opposition to this wanton destruction of old Russia because the forces on the right were in a state of shock and ideological uncertainty that left them incapable of undertaking any effective counter-measures. We search in vain for a leader, in Church or State, who called for the restoration of the Romanov dynasty at this time. Perhaps the deputy over-procurator, Raev, who called on the Synod to support the monarchy, was an exception to this rule, or the only Orthodox general who remained faithful to his oath, Theodore Keller. Or perhaps Archimandrite Vitaly (Maximenko) of Pochaev monastery, the future Archbishop of Eastern America, who, “having found out about the emperor’s abdication… travelled to the Tsar’s military headquarters in Mogilev in order to plead with the sovereign to rescind his abdication. He was not allowed a meeting…”[13 

     Orthodox monarchism, it seemed, was dead… The abdication of the Tsar was greeted with joy by people of all classes – even the peasantry. As Oliver Figes writes, “the news from the capital was joyously greeted by huge assemblies in the village fields. ‘Our village,’ recalls one peasant, ‘burst into life with celebrations. Everyone felt enormous relief, as if a heavy rock had suddenly been lifted from our shoulders.’ Another peasant recalled the celebrations in his village on the day it learned of the Tsar’s abdication: ‘People kissed each other from joy and said that life from now on would be good. Everyone dressed in their best costumes, as they do on a big holiday. The festivities went on for three days.’ Many villages held religious processions to thank the Lord for their newly won freedoms, and offered up prayers for the new government. For many peasants, the revolution appeared as a sacred thing, while those who had laid down their lives for the people’s freedom were seen by the peasants as modern-day saints. Thus the villagers of Bol’she-Dvorskaya volost in the Tikhvinsk district of Petrograd province held a ‘service of thanksgiving for the divine gift of the people’s victory and the eternal memory of those holy men who fell in the struggle for freedom’. The villagers of Osvyshi village in Tver province offered, as they put it, ‘fervent prayers to thank the Lord for the divine gift of the people’s victory… and since this great victory was achieved by sacrifice, we held a requiem for all our fallen brothers’. It was often with the express purpose of reciprocating this sacrifice that many villages sent donations, often amounting to several hundred roubles, to the authorities in Petrograd for the benefit of those who had suffered losses in the February Days.”[14 

     This confusion of the values of Christianity with those of the anti-Christian revolution was also evident in contemporary literature – in, for example, Blok’s poem The Twelve, in which Christ is portrayed at the head of the Red Guards! The prevalence of this confusion among all classes of society showed how deeply the democratic-revolutionary ideology had penetrated the masses in the pre-revolutionary period. For those with eyes to see it showed that there could be no quick return to normality, but only a very long, tortuous and tormented path of repentance through suffering…


January 26 / February 8, 2017.

[1] G. Katkov, Fevral’skaia Revoliutsia (The February Revolution), Paris: YMCA Press, 1974, p. 370.

[2] Novgorodtsev, “Vostanovlenie svyatyn" (“The Restoration of the Holy Things”), Put' (The Way), N 4, June-July, 1926, p. 4. 

[3] Farmboroush, Nurse at the Russian Front. A Diary 1914-1918, London: Blue Club Associates, 1974, p. 260

[4] Farmborough, op. cit., p. 265.

[5] Farmborough, op. cit., p. 261. 

[6] Farmborough, op. cit., pp. 269-270.

[7] Farmborough, op. cit., pp. 309-311.

[8] Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy, London: Pimlico, 1997, p. 408.

[9] Ferguson, The Pity of War, 1914-1918, London: Penguin Books, 1999, p. 368. Prisoners of war as a percentage of total casualties in the war were 51.8% for Russia, as opposed to 9.0% for Germany and 6.7% for Britain (op. cit., p. 369).

[10] Figes, op. cit., p. 400.

[11] Mglinsky, “Grekhi russkoj intelligentsii” (The Sins of the Russian Intelligentsia), Staroe Vremia (Old Times), December 18/31,1923.

[12] Zhevakov, Vospominania (Reminiscences),Moscow, 1993.

[13] “Archbishop Vitaly Maximenko”, Orthodox Life, March-April, 2010, p. 15.

[14] Figes, op. cit., pp. 347-348.

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