What You Need to Know First to Understand the Russian Revolution

Read this first in a series of columns chronicling what led to that 1917 cataclysm

we begin today with a series of columns that will highlight how the Russian Empire, ruled by the Romanov dynasty for more than 300 years, transformed into the Communist Soviet Union.

.. In an 1895 speech to representatives of the nobility and municipal officials, the czar declared “there have arisen the voices of people carried away by senseless dreams of taking part in the business of government. Let everyone know that I will retain the principles of autocracy as firmly and unbendingly as my unforgettable late father.” The speech shattered the hopes of elected municipal officials who hoped for a gradual transition to a system closer to a constitutional monarchy.

.. These land reforms were designed to foster a conservative, monarchist peasantry than would serve as a counterweight to urban workers, who repeatedly demonstrated for better working conditions and compensation and were more likely to be drawn to Bolshevism.

.. The outbreak of the war prompted a burst of patriotism that initially reinforced the czar’s rule. Sixteen million soldiers were mobilized on the Eastern Front over the course of the conflict including 40 percent of all men between the ages of 20 and 50. Despite the enthusiasm and rapid mobilization, the Russian war effort was beset with problems from the start. The wages for workers in the munitions factories did not keep up with the increased cost of living, exacerbating the discontent that existed prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

.. The importance of the railways for transporting military supplies to the front disrupted the transportation of food to the cities and, outside of sugar, no other goods were subject to a regimented rationing system. Alexandra and her two eldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana, trained as nurses, endowed hospital trains and established committees to address the needs of war widows and orphans, and refugees.

The philanthropy of the Imperial women, however, could not compensate for the absence of a coordinated government response to the needs of thousands of wounded soldiers, military families and displaced persons.

.. The czarina turned to faith healers, including a wandering holy man from Siberia named Grigori Rasputin, who became known as “the Mad Monk” though he never entered a holy order and was in fact married with three children. Before the war, Rasputin provided spiritual counsel for the Imperial couple and prayed for the recovery of the heir to the throne. During the war, however, Rasputin provided Nicholas and Alexandra with political advice. When Suklominov was released from prison after only six months, the Russian public blamed Rasputin’s influence.

.. little could be down to quash the rumors swirling about Rasputin, who had a disreputable reputation because of his drunkenness and womanizing.

.. In November 1916, Vladimir Purishkevich, a reactionary deputy known for his militant anti-Bolshevism gave a speech in the Duma denouncing what he described as the “ministerial leapfrog” in which Nicholas, under the influence of Alexandra who was in turn influenced by Rasputin, removed competent ministers from office and replacde them with unqualified figures endorsed by Rasputin. Purishkevich concluded his speech with the words, “While Rasputin is alive, we cannot win.” Prince Felix Yusupov, the wealthiest man in Russia and the husband of Nicholas’s niece Irina was impressed by the speech and began plotting the murder of Rasputin.

Another Age of Discovery

Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance” — about lessons we can draw from the period 1450 to 1550, known as the Age of Discovery. It was when the world made a series of great leaps forward, propelled by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus and Columbus, that produced the Renaissance and reshaped science, education, manufacturing, communications, politics and geopolitics.

.. “Gutenberg’s printing press provided the trigger,” Goldin told me by email, “by flipping knowledge production and exchange from tight scarcity to radical abundance. Before that, the Catholic Churches monopolized knowledge, with their handwritten Latin manuscripts locked up in monasteries. The Gutenberg press democratized information, and provided the incentive to be literate.

.. Savonarola was amongst the first to tap into the information revolution of the time, and while others produced long sermons and treatises, Savonarola disseminated short pamphlets, in what may be thought of as the equivalent of political tweets.”

The Post-Trump Era

Trumpism will not replace Reaganism, though. Trump is prompting what Thomas Kuhn, in his theory of scientific revolutions, called a model crisis.

.. At that point the G.O.P. will enter what Kuhn called the revolution phase. During these moments you get a proliferation of competing approaches, a willingness to try anything. People ask different questions, speak a different language, congregate around a new paradigm that is incommensurate with the last.

That’s where the G.O.P. is heading. So this is a moment of anticipation. The great question is not, Should I vote for Hillary or sit out this campaign? The great question is, How do I prepare now for the post-Trump era?

.. Valuably, Trump has exposed the rottenness of the consultant culture, and the squirrelly way politicians now talk to us.

.. It is as if he was a person who received no love and tried to compensate through competition. That is an ugly, freakish and untenable representation of the human condition. Somehow the Republican Party will have to rediscover a language of loving thy neighbor, which is a primary ideal in our culture, and a primary longing of the heart.

How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable

Before the speech, the PA announcer had told us not to “touch or harm” any protesters, but to instead just surround them and chant, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” until security can arrive (and presumably do the touching and/or harming).

.. The same way Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, Donald on the stump can see his future. The pundits don’t want to admit it, but it’s sitting there in plain view, 12 moves ahead, like a chess game already won:

President Donald Trump.

.. It’s been well-documented that Trump surged last summer when he openly embraced the ugly race politics that, according to the Beltway custom of 50-plus years, is supposed to stay at the dog-whistle level. No doubt, that’s been a huge factor in his rise.

.. That put him in position to understand that the presidential election campaign is really just a badly acted, billion-dollar TV show whose production costs ludicrously include the political disenfranchisement of its audience.

.. Trump’s basic argument is the same one every successful authoritarian movement in recent Western history has made: that the regular guy has been screwed by a conspiracy of incestuous elites.

.. What Trump understands better than his opponents is that NASCAR America, WWE America, always loves seeing the preening self-proclaimed good guy get whacked with a chair.

.. rump had said things that were true and that no other Republican would dare to say. And yet the press congratulated the candidate stuffed with more than $100 million in donor cash who really did take five whole days last year to figure out his position on his own brother’s invasion of Iraq.

.. Why do the media hate Trump? Progressive reporters will say it’s because of things like his being crazy and the next Hitler, while the Fox types insist it’s because he’s “not conservative.” But reporters mostly loathe Trump because he regularly craps on other reporters.

.. Reporters have focused quite a lot on the crazy/race-baiting/nativist themes in Trump’s campaign, but these comprise a very small part of his usual presentation. His speeches increasingly are strikingly populist in their content.

.. His pitch is: He’s rich, he won’t owe anyone anything upon election, and therefore he won’t do what both Democratic and Republican politicians unfailingly do upon taking office, i.e., approve rotten/regressive policies that screw ordinary people.

.. He talks, for instance, about the anti-trust exemption enjoyed by insurance companies, an atrocity dating back more than half a century, to the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945. This law, sponsored by one of the most notorious legislators in our history (Nevada Sen. Pat McCarran was thought to be the inspiration for the corrupt Sen. Pat Geary in The Godfather II), allows insurance companies to share information and collude to divvy up markets.

.. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats made a serious effort to overturn this indefensible loophole during the debate over the Affordable Care Act.
.. Trump isn’t lying about any of this. Nor is he lying when he mentions that the big-pharma companies have such a stranglehold on both parties that they’ve managed to get the federal government to bar itself from negotiating Medicare prescription-drug prices in bulk.

.. He claims (and with Trump we always have to use words like “claims”) how it was these very big-pharma donors, “fat cats,” sitting in the front row of the debate the night before. He steams ahead even more with this tidbit: Woody Johnson, one of the heirs of drug giant Johnson & Johnson ..  .. is the finance chief for the campaign of whipping boy Jeb Bush.

.. Trump, incidentally, will someday be in the Twitter Hall of Fame

.. But that wasn’t because of the principle itself, but because it was always coupled with the more effective politics of resentment: Big-government liberals are to blame for your problems.

.. Elections, like criminal trials, are ultimately always about assigning blame. For a generation, conservative intellectuals have successfully pointed the finger at big-government-loving, whale-hugging liberals as the culprits behind American decline.

.. No one should be surprised that he’s tearing through the Republican primaries, because everything he’s saying about his GOP opponents is true. They really are all stooges on the take, unable to stand up to Trump because they’re not even people, but are, like Jeb and Rubio, just robo-babbling representatives of unseen donors.

.. Patinkin believed Cruz didn’t do that line because Cruz is himself in the revenge business, promising to “carpet-bomb [ISIS] into oblivion” and wondering if “sand can glow.”



When Donald Trump Met Edmund Burke

But from that simple conservative premise—that the law is paramount—comes the most radical policy offered by any Presidential candidate in either party this year: the involuntary removal of some three per cent of the American population. (One estimate is that it would cost about thirteen thousand dollars per immigrant to implement a Trump-like mass-deportation plan.)


.. Which of these responses is “conservative”? The father of modern conservatism is Edmund Burke, the eighteenth-century British political philosopher who was deeply suspicious of radicals of any stripe. Burke generally viewed prudence and stability as the guiding lights of conservatism. “A statesman, never losing sight of principles, is to be guided by circumstances,” he wrote, in an oft-quoted passage, “and judging contrary to the exigencies of the moment he may ruin his country for ever.”

.. Trump, who would have the federal government spend billions on mass deportation and fundamentally transform America, is a revolutionary conservative on immigration. Bush, with his emphasis on “practical plans,” and Kasich, who insisted Trump’s proposal “will not work,” spoke as Burkean conservatives.

.. The Burkeans have been losing ground in the Republican Party for a while now. Too often their old conception of conservatism strikes others in the G.O.P. as a form of surrender or, at the very least, an acceptance of the liberal status quo. When a successful Democrat has been in power for two terms, the Burkeans can appear too ready to accept the other party’s legislative victories. It is the political equivalent of stare decisis, the principle by which judges generally respect precedents, or things already decided, to maintain stability and social order.

.. Two of the big stories of the Republican primaries so far are how the Party’s grass roots have rejected Kasich and Bush’s Burkean approach to immigration and how the Party’s foreign-policy establishment has rejected Trump and Paul’s Burkean approach to the Middle East. The two candidates on the rise, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, seem to have a better chance at navigating this terrain.


On foreign policy, Rubio is in the revolutionary camp, often arguing, along with Bush, that America can and should enthusiastically intervene around the world to shape outcomes in our favor, though he is also careful to downplay the cost of such proposals in terms of troops sent aboard or dollars spent. Meanwhile, Cruz, though at times quite hawkish, has emphasized the limits of American power in the world.