In the hills overlooking the western districts of Kiev there are some caves where before the revolution children used to play and, on fine Sundays in the summer, families would come with picnics. One day in the spring of 1911 some children found the corpse of a schoolboy in one of the caves. There were forty-seven stab wounds in the head, the neck and the torso, and the boy's clothing was caked dry with blood. Nearby were his school cap and some notebooks, identifying the victim as Andrei Yustshinsky, a thirteen-year-old pupil at the Sofia Ecclesiastical College.
Kiev was outraged by the murder. It filled the city's papers. Because of the large number of wounds on the victim's body some Black Hundred groups said that it had to be a ritual murder by the Jews. At the funeral they distributed leaflets to the mourners in which it was claimed that 'every year before their Passover the Jews torture to death several dozen Christian children in order to get their blood to mix with their matzos'. They called upon the 'Christians to kill all the Jews until not a single Yid is left in Russia'.36
The ritual murder theory received spurious backing from the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery by the tsarist police which had first been published in St Petersburg in 1902, and which long before its enormous success in Hitler's Europe provided a popular basis in Russia for the myth that the Jews formed a worldwide conspiracy to deprave and subjugate the Christian nations. But it was only after 1917, when many Russians blamed the calamities of the war and the revolution on the Jews, that the Protocols were widely read. A copy was found among the last effects of Nicholas II after his murder in July 1918. But they were published in several editions between 1905 and Andrei's murder, and so the charge of the Black Hundred groups that he had been killed for Jewish ritual ends would have sounded familiar and thus perhaps half convincing to many tens of thousands of citizens. There was, moreover, in these years a large 'scientific' literature on Jewish ritual murders, vampirism and white slavery, which gave the charges of the Black Hundred groups a certain cachet. In short, as Witte put it, anti-Semitism was 'considered fashionable' among the elite.37
During the weeks after Andrei's funeral rumours spread through Kiev of an organized ritual murder campaign by the Jewish population of the city. The Rightist press repeated the charge and used it to argue against the granting of civil and religious rights to the Jews. 'The Jewish people', it was claimed by Russian Banner (Russkoe znamia), had been transformed by their religion into a 'criminal species of murderers, ritual torturers, and consumers of Christian blood'. Thirty-seven right-wing Duma deputies, including eleven Orthodox priests, signed a petition demanding that the government bring to justice the 'criminal sect of Jews'. The Ministers of Justice (I. G. Shcheglovitov) and the Interior (N. A. Maklakov) were both convinced of the ritual murder theory, as were most of the government and the court, and it was with the personal blessing of the Tsar himself that they now went in search of a Jewish suspect.38
The man they finally chose was Mendel Beiliss, a middle-aged clerk in a Jewish-owned factory which happened to be near the caves where Andrei's body had been found. There was nothing unusual about this quiet family man, of average height and build with a short black beard and glasses. He wasn't even particularly religious and rarely attended the synagogue. Yet for the next two years, as he sat in prison awaiting trial, the most terrible portrait of him was built up by the police. Witnesses were paid to testify that they had seen him violently kidnap Andrei, or had heard him confess to the murder and to his participation in secret Jewish cults. The two physicians in charge of the autopsy were forced to change their report in line with the ritual murder theory. An eminent psychiatrist, Professor Sikorsky, was even wheeled on to confirm that, based on the soundest 'anthropological evidence', Andrei's murder was 'typical' of the ritual killings regularly carried out by Jews. The press had a field day with fantastic stories on 'Mendel Beiliss, the Drinker of Christian Blood' and articles by various 'experts' on the historical and scientific background to the case.39
Meanwhile, the real cause of Andrei's murder had already been discovered by two junior policemen. Andrei had been the playmate of Yevgeny Cheberiak, whose mother, Vera, was a member of a criminal gang which had recently carried out a series of robberies in Kiev. Stolen goods were stored in her house before being transported to other cities for resale. On one occasion Andrei had discovered their secret cache. In an argument with his friend he had threatened to tell the police, who were already suspicious. When Yevgeny told his mother, the gang took fright, murdered Andrei, and dumped his body in the caves. All this was covered up by the District Attorney in charge of the investigations, a fanatical anti-Semite called Chaplinsky, who was eager to get promotion by satisfying Shcheglovitov with the head of Beiliss. The two junior policemen were dismissed and others with doubts about the case were forced to keep silent. Chaplinsky even concealed the fact that Vera, who would testify at the trial that she had seen Beiliss kidnap Andrei, had poisoned her own son for fear that he might reveal her role in the affair. Yevgeny, after all, was the one witness who could spoil the prosecution case.
In 1917, when the full extent of this conspiracy became known, it emerged that the Minister of Justice and the Tsar himself had both acknowledged Beiliss's innocence long before he came to trial, but they had carried on with the prosecution in the belief that his conviction would be justified in order to 'prove' that the Jewish cult of ritual murder was a fact. By the opening of the trial, in September 1913, the identity of the real murderers had already been disclosed in the liberal press on the basis of information supplied by the two policemen sacked by Chaplinsky. There were large public demonstrations against the trial. Dozens of attorneys, including the young Kerensky, staged a protest at the Petersburg bar, for which they were suspended. Gorky, who was now living in Capri, wrote a passionate appeal against the 'Jewish witch hunt' which was signed by Thomas Mann, Anatole France, H. G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, the heads of all the Oxbridge colleges and dozens of leading politicians throughout Europe. In the United States the Jewish lobby campaigned for the cessation of all financial credits to Russia. But the tsarist government was undaunted by the international scandal and even increased its efforts to get Beiliss convicted. On the eve of his trial a number of key defence witnesses were arrested and sent into secret exile. The judge was received by the Tsar, given a gold watch and promised promotion if there was a 'government victory'. During the trial he repeatedly interrupted the proceedings and instructed the jury, which was packed with peasants from an area notorious for anti-Jewish pogroms, to accept what the prosecution had just told them as 'established fact'. Yet even this was not enough to secure a conviction. The prosecution witnesses — tramps, convicted criminals and prostitutes — all exposed themselves as liars paid by the police. In the five weeks of the trial the name of the defendant was barely mentioned at all, as the prosecution relied entirely on denigrating his religion. 'How can we convict Beiliss', asked one of the jurors, evidently realizing that this was what was expected of them, 'if nothing is even said about him?'40
In the end, amidst widespread rejoicing at home and abroad, Beiliss was acquitted. Six months later he emigrated to Palestine and from there went to the United States, where he died in 1934. Charges were never brought against the criminal gang responsible for the murder of Andrei. Vera Cheberiak was asked by the circus to appear in a pantomime about the Beiliss affair — and a pantomime is more or less what the whole thing was. She continued to live in Kiev until 1918, when she was arrested and shot by the Bolsheviks during the Red Terror (one of its few justifiable victims, one might almost say). As for the tsarist government, it continued to act as if nothing had happened, awarding titles, promotions and valuable gifts of money to those who had taken part on 'its side' in the trial. Chaplinsky was promoted to a senior position in the Senate, while the trial judge was appointed Chief Justice of the Appeal Court. In the eyes of the Western world, however, the Beiliss Affair came to symbolize the struggle between the despotism of medieval Russia and the new European-style society of twentieth-century Russia based upon the civil liberties of the Duma era. The tsarist regime, by siding with the former, had committed moral suicide in the eyes of the civilized world.
Why was the monarchy ready to go so far in the Beiliss trial? The answer surely lies in the general political situation. By 1911 the Duma system had broken down. The two main parties willing to work with the government, the Octobrists and the Nationalists, were both deeply divided and, in the elections of 1912 to the Fourth Duma, their share of the vote collapsed. The old centre-right majority had disintegrated and the Duma was weakened as it drifted through a series of fragile alliances, unable to find a working consensus.* Kokovtsov's government (1911—14) ignored the Duma, sending it petty, 'vermicelli', bills. The Tauride Palace gradually emptied as the influence of parliament declined. Meanwhile, the workers' movement, which had been largely dormant since 1906, had revived with a vengeance in April 1912, following the massacre of 500 demonstrating miners on the Lena River in the northern wilderness of Siberia. During the next two years three million workers were involved in 9,000 strikes, and a growing proportion of these were organized under the Bolsheviks' militant slogans in preference to the more cautious leadership of their Menshevik rivals. The Bolsheviks won six of the nine labour curiae in the Duma elections of 1912 and by 1914 had gained control of all the biggest trade unions in Moscow and St Petersburg. Their newspaper, Pravda, established in 1912 with financial help from Gorky among others, had the largest circulation of all the socialist press, with about 40,000 copies bought (and many more read) by workers every day.41
* The parties of the Right (the Nationalists and the Rightists) had 154 deputies in the Fourth Duma, those of the Centre (Octobrists and Centre Group) 126, and those of the Left (Kadets, Progressists and Socialists) 152.
To the Tsar and his supporters in the court, the Church and Rightist circles, this doubtless seemed both an opportune moment (with the Duma weakened) and a pressing one (with the rise of the militant Left) to roll back the gains of the constitutional era and mobilize the urban masses behind a popular autocracy. Maklakov and Shcheglovitov, the two main government patrons of the Beiliss Affair, had long been pressing the Tsar to close down the Duma altogether, or at least to demote it to the status of a consultative body. It was only Western pressure and the fear of a popular reaction that restrained the Tsar. To these two ministers, in particular, but no doubt to the Tsar as well, who was naive and easily misled, the Beiliss Affair must have appeared as a prime chance (and perhaps the last) to exploit xenophobia for monarchical ends. They must have hoped to mobilize the loyal Russian people' behind the defence of the Tsar and the traditional social order against the evils of modernity — the depravity of urban life, the insidious influence of the intelligentsia and the militancy of the Left — which many simple-minded Russians readily associated with the Jews. As the pogroms of 1905—6 had already shown, popular anti-Semitism was a vital weapon in the armoury of the counter-revolution. The Union of the Russian People (URP), which was its leading exponent, had been among the first Black Hundred groups to proclaim the ritual murder charge; and it provided an anti-Jewish claque for the prosecution throughout the Beiliss trial. The Tsar patronized the URP (and the government secretly financed it) in the hope that it might one day become a popular monarchist party capable of taking support away from the socialists. Its manifesto expressed a plebeian mistrust of all the political parties, the intelligentsia and the bureaucracy, which it claimed were obstacles to the 'direct communion between the Tsar and his people'. This was music to Nicholas's ears: he too shared the fantasy of reestablishing the Tsar's personal rule, as it had existed in the seventeenth century. The mystical bond between the Tsar and his people was the leitmotiv of the Romanov tercentenary year. Even Rasputin's success was largely based on Nicholas's wilful self-delusion that the 'Holy Man' was 'just a simple peasant'. In short, to enter the highest ruling circles it was becoming necessary to flatter the Tsar's fantasy of a popular autocracy; and expressing support for the URP was the easiest way to achieve this. Leading members of the Church, the court and the government, including the Minister of the Interior Maklakov, all supported the URP.42
The URP was nothing if not a Great Russian nationalist movement. Its first declared aim was a 'Great Russia, United and Indivisible'. But the nationalist card was a hazardous one for the tsarist regime to play. Its consequences were so difficult to predict. The concept of 'the nation' played a key role in the politics of 1905—17. Both the monarchists and the Duma parties used it increasingly in their rhetoric, as they competed with each other for popular support. The idea of 'Russia' served as a vital reference point during this era of transition when the old political certainties seemed to be being undermined and yet the new ones had still to be formed. It served as north on the compass Russians used to steer their way through the new politics — much as it does in post-Communist Russia. Every strand of political thought had its own different nationalism. In the case of the URP it was based on racism and xenophobia. The supremacy of the Great Russians was to be defended in the Empire. For the Rightist leaders of the Church it was similarly based on the supremacy of Orthodoxy. But such Great Russian chauvinism was not limited to the Right. All the centre-right parties of the Duma shared the conviction after 1907 that Russia's best interests, as an Empire in increasing rivalry with the Great Powers of the West, depended on the encouragement of popular nationalist sentiment (for how else were they to raise a strong army?) and on the maintenance of Russia's domination over the non-Russian borderlands. Stolypin's government was forced to tailor its programme to meet the demands of this nationalism, especially after 1909 when the support of the Octobrists declined and the government was forced to turn to the Nationalist Party for a majority in the Duma. The detachment of Kholm from Poland (1909), the re-imposition of Russian rule over Finland in most matters (1910), and the measures to guarantee the domination of the Russian minority over the Polish majority in the Western Zemstvo Bill (1911) were all signs of this new official line in Great Russian nationalism. Many of the concessions won by the non-Russians as a result of the 1905 Revolution were taken away again in these years. Stolypin justified his policies on the grounds of imperial defence. After all, he explained to Bernard Pares, the Finnish border was only twenty miles from St Petersburg: and England would hardly tolerate an autonomous state as near as Gravesend.43
* * * The threat of a war in Europe was increasing. The two great Balkan empires, the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian, were both breaking apart under pressure from nationalist movements. Germany and Russia were lining up for conflict over the spoils, as each sought to advance its interests in the region. The occupation of Constantinople and the control of the Dardanelles, through which half her foreign trade passed, had been Russia's main imperial ambition since the time of Peter the Great. But she also harboured broader hopes of her own Slavic Empire in the Balkans, hopes raised by the nationalist movements in Serbia, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzogovina.
For a long time such pan-Slavist dreams were seen as the stuff of poetry, not practical politics. The country's military and economic weakness demanded a cautious foreign policy. As Polovtsov had put it in 1885, 'Russia needs roads and schools, not victories or honour, otherwise we'll become another Lapland.'44 It was left to the diplomats to defend Russia's interests in Europe; and this, for the most part, meant conciliating her two powerful neighbours in Berlin and Vienna. The Romanov court had long been in favour of this pro-German policy, partly because of the strong dynastic ties between the ruling families and partly because of their mutual opposition to European liberalism. There was even talk of reviving the old Three Emperors' League.
After 1905, however, foreign policy could no longer be carried out regardless of public opinion. The Duma and the press both took an active interest in imperial matters and increasingly called for a more aggressive policy in defence of Russia's Balkan interests. The Octobrists led the way, seeking to stop the decline of their own political fortunes by sponsoring a nationalist crusade. Guchkov, their leader, condemned the diplomats' decision not to go to war in 1908, when Austria annexed Bosnia-Herzogovina, as a betrayal of Russia's historic mission to defend the Balkan Slavs. The Russian people, he declared, in contrast with the 'flabby indolence of official Russia', was ready for the 'inevitable war with the German races', and it was their patriotic sentiments that 'foreign and indeed our own diplomats must reckon with'. Not to be outdone by such bluster, the right-wing Kadets fashioned their own liberal version of Slavic imperialism. Struve denounced the Bosnian affair as 'a national disgrace'. Russia's destiny, he argued in a celebrated essay of that year, was to extend its civilization 'to the whole of the Black Sea basin'. This was to be achieved (contradictory though it may seem) by a combination of imperial might and the free association of all the Slavic nations — which in his view would look upon Russia as a constitutional haven from Teutonic oppression. Equally anxious to wave the patriotic flag was the liberal business elite of Moscow, led by Alexander Konovalov and the Riabushinskys, who in 1912 established their own Progressist Party on the grounds that the time had come for the bourgeoisie to assume the leadership of the nation. Russia's control of the Black Sea and the shipping routes through the straits was a principal target of their trading ambitions.45
Much of this bourgeois patriotism was informed by the idea that Europe was heading unavoidably towards a titanic clash between the Teutons and the Slavs. Pan-Slavism and pan-Germanism were two mutually self-justifying credos: the one could not exist without the other. The fear of Russia united all German patriots, while the fear of Germany did the same in Russia. Germano-phobia ran extremely deep in Russian society. The revolution was partly based on it — both as a reaction against the war and as a rejection of the German-dominated Romanov court. This fear of Germany stemmed in part from the Russians' cultural insecurity — the feeling that they were living on the edge of a backward, semi-Asian society and that everything modern and progressive came to it from the West. There was, as Dominic Lieven has put it, 'an instinctive sense that Germanic arrogance towards the Slavs entailed an implicit denial of the Russian people's own dignity and of their equality with the other leading races of Europe'. The wealth of the Germans in Russia, their prominence in the Civil Service, and the growing domination of German exports in Russia's traditional markets only served to underline this sense of a racial threat. 'In the past twenty years', declared a 1914 editorial in Novoe vremia, 'our Western neighbour has held firmly in its teeth the vital sources of our well-being and like a vampire has sucked the blood of the Russian peasant.' Many people feared that the Drang nach Osten was part of a broader German plan to annihilate Slavic civilization and concluded that, unless she now made a firm stand on behalf of her Balkan allies, Russia would suffer a long period of imperial decline and subjugation to Germany. This pan-Slavist sentiment grew as the public became frustrated with the government's conciliatory approach towards the 'German aggressors'. Novoe vremia led the way, denouncing the government's decision, brought about by pressure from Berlin, to recognize the Bosnian annexation as a 'diplomatic Tsushima'.* The newspaper called on the government to counteract the growing influence of Germany in the Balkans with a Slavic campaign of its own. Numerous Slavic societies were established after 1908. A Slavic Congress was even convened in Prague, where the Russians attempted to persuade their sceptical 'brothers' from the Czech lands that they would be better off under the Tsar. By the Balkan Wars of 1912—13 this pro-Slav sentiment had brought together many elements of Russian society. Hundreds of public organizations declared their support for the Slavs, the capital cities witnessed huge demonstrations, and at a series of political banquets public figures called for a firmer assertion of Russia's imperial power. 'The straits must become ours,' Mikhail Rodzianko, President of the Duma, told the Tsar in March 1913. A war will be joyfully welcomed and it will raise the government's prestige.'46
There is no doubt that the pressure of public opinion played an important part in the complex series of events leading towards Russia's involvement in the First World War. By the beginning of 1914 the mood of pro-Slav belligerence had spread to the court, the officer corps and much of the state itself. Prince G. N. Trubetskoi, placed in charge of the Balkan and Ottoman sections of the Foreign Ministry in the summer of 1912, was a well-known pan-Slavist determined to gain control of Constantinople and its Balkan hinterland. Similar views were held by the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, a military man with a powerful influence over the Tsar who in August 1914 was appointed Commander-in-Chief. His father had fought in the Balkan campaigns of 1877—8 and his wife, an ardent Slav patriot, was the daughter of the King of Montenegro. Many generals shared the Grand Duke's Slavic sympathies. Brusilov was a case in point. Concerned by Russia's lack of moral preparation for the coming war, he looked to pan-Slav nationalism as a means of uniting the people behind the army. 'If the Tsar had appealed to all his subjects', he later wrote, 'to combine to save their country from its present peril and deliver all their brother Slavs from the German yoke, public enthusiasm would have been boundless, and his personal popularity would have become unassailable.'47
* Tsushima was the site of Russia's biggest defeat in the war against Japan.
The Tsar himself was slowly coming round to the pan-Slavist camp. By the beginning of 1914 he was of the view that the time had come for a firm stand against Austria, if not against her more powerful ally in Berlin. 'We will not let ourselves be trampled upon,' he told Delcasse in January. Foreign ambassadors explained this new resolve by the pressure of public opinion. But for the moment Nicholas supported the cautious approach of his Foreign Minister, S. D. Sazonov. Recognizing that a war with the Central Powers was almost certainly unavoidable, they sought to delay it by diplomatic means. Russia's army, according to the military experts, would not be ready for war until 1917. Nor was the diplomatic groundwork complete: for while the support of France was assured, that of Britain was not. But by far the most pressing concern was the threat of a revolution if Russia got bogged down in a long and exhausting campaign. The memory of 1904—5 was still fresh, and there was nothing the revolutionary leaders would now welcome more than a war. A war between Russia and Austria would be a very useful thing for the revolution,' Lenin told Gorky in 1913, but the chances are small that Franz Joseph and Nicky will give us such a treat.'48
All this strengthened the arguments of the pro-German faction at court against the headlong drift towards war. In a prophetic memorandum of February 1914 Durnovo warned the Tsar that Russia was too weak to withstand the long war of attrition which the Anglo-German rivalry was likely to produce. A violent social revolution was bound to be the result in Russia, for the liberal intelligentsia lacked the trust of the masses and was thus incapable of holding power for long in a purely political revolution. Durnovo outlined the course of this revolution in remarkably prescient terms:
The trouble will start with the blaming of the Government for all disasters. In the legislative institutions a bitter campaign against the Government will begin, followed by revolutionary agitations throughout the country, with Socialist slogans, capable of arousing and rallying the masses, beginning with the division of the land and succeeded by a division of all valuables and property. The defeated army, having lost its most dependable men, and carried away by the tide of the primitive peasant desire for land, will find itself too demoralized to serve as a bulwark of law and order. The legislative institutions and the intellectual opposition parties, lacking real authority in the eyes of the people, will be powerless to stem the popular tide, aroused by themselves, and Russia will be flung into hopeless anarchy, the issue of which cannot be foreseen.49
Caution was the key-word of the pro-German faction at court. But from Germany's point of view, if there was to be a war with Russia, then it was better fought sooner than later. 'Russia grows and grows, and weighs upon us like a nightmare,' the German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg declared. When the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated by Serbian nationalists it was not in Germany's interests to restrain its Austrian ally from threatening war against Russia's last real Balkan ally. This threw the delicate balance of Russia's foreign policy into disarray. The Russian press clamoured for war in defence of Serbia and there were large public demonstrations outside the Austrian Embassy in St Petersburg. On 24 July 1914 the Council of Ministers recommended military preparations. Otherwise, argued A. V Krivoshein, the influential Minister of Agriculture, 'public opinion would fail to understand why, at the critical moment involving Russia's interests, the Imperial Government was reluctant to act boldly'. It was more important 'to believe in the Russian people and its age-old love for the fatherland than any chance preparedness or unpreparedness for war'.50
This placed Nicholas in an impossible situation. If he went to war, he ran the risk of defeat and a social revolution; but if he didn't, there might equally be a sudden uprising of patriotic feeling against him which could also result in a complete loss of political control. There was little time to reach a decision, for if Russia was to mobilize its forces it would need a head start on its enemies, who could mobilize theirs very much more quickly. On 28 July Austria finally declared war on Serbia. Nicholas ordered the partial mobilization of his troops and made one last appeal to the Kaiser to forestall the Austrian attack on Belgrade. 'I foresee', he warned, 'that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure brought upon me and forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war.' Two days later the Kaiser replied, renouncing Germany's neutrality in the Serbian question. Sazonov recommended a general mobilization, realizing that a German declaration of war against Russia was now imminent (it came on I August). He warned the Tsar that 'unless he yielded to the popular demand for war and unsheathed the sword in Serbia's behalf, he would run the risk of a revolution and perhaps the loss of his throne'. Nicholas went pale. 'Just think of the responsibility you're advising me to assume!' he said to Sazonov. But the force of his Ministers argument was incontrovertible and, reluctantly, the Tsar called for the general mobilization on 31 July.51
Brusilov later claimed that the Tsar had been forced to go to war by the strength of his own people's patriotic fervour: 'Had he not done so, public resentment would have turned on him with such ferocity that he would have been tumbled from his throne, and the Revolution, with the support of the whole intelligentsia, would have taken place in 1914 instead of 1917.' This is undoubtedly an overstatement of the case. The middle-class patriots who assembled in front of the Winter Palace to greet the Tsar's declaration of war on Sunday 2 August — clerks, officials, high-school students and housewives — were hardly the people to start a revolution. Many of them, according to foreign observers, had been ordered to turn out by their employers or masters. But on that sunny afternoon, as Nicholas stood on the balcony of his Winter Palace and surveyed in the square below him the vast flag-waving and cheering crowds, who then, as one, knelt down before him and sang the national anthem, the thought must have crossed his mind that the war had at last united his subjects with him and that perhaps, after all, there was some reason for hope. 'You see,' he told his children's tutor shortly after in a state of great emotion, 'there will now be a national movement in Russia like that which took place in the great war of 1812.'52
And indeed in those first heady weeks of August there was every outward sign of a national ralliement. The workers' strikes came to a halt. Socialists united behind the defence of the Fatherland, while pacifists, defeatists and internationalists were forced into exile. Patriotic demonstrators attacked German shops and offices. They ransacked the German Embassy in Marinskaya Square, smashing the windows and throwing out the furniture, the fine paintings and even the Ambassador's own personal collection of Renaissance sculptures on to a bonfire in the street below. Then, to the cheers of the crowd, they sent two huge bronze horses crashing down from the Embassy roof. In this wave of anti-German feeling people even changed their names to make them sound more Russian: thus, for example, the orientalist Wilhelm Wilhelmovich Struve became Vasilii Vasilievich Struve. Bowing to the strength of this xenophobia, the government also changed the German-sounding name of St Petersburg to the more Slavonic Petrograd. Nicholas welcomed the change. He had never liked St Petersburg, or its Western traditions, and had long been trying to Russify its appearance by adding Muscovite motifs to its classical buildings.
'Everyone has gone out of their minds,' lamented Zinaida Gippius, the poet, philosopher and salon hostess of St Petersburg. 'Why is it that, in general, war is evil yet this war alone is somehow good?' Most of the country's leading writers supported the war, and more than a few even volunteered for the army. There was a common assumption among the intelligentsia, searching as ever for a sense of belonging, that the war would bring about Russia's spiritual renewal by forcing the individual to sacrifice himself for the good of the nation. The meaning of the war, lectured one Moscow Professor of Philosophy, lay 'in the renovation of life through the acceptance of death for one's country'. War should be seen as a kind of 'Final Judgement'. Few intellectuals would have shared the gloomy verdict of Gorky, recently returned from exile abroad: 'One thing is clear: we are entering the first act of a worldwide tragedy.'53
The press waxed lyrical on this new-found unity of the Russian people. Utro Rossii, the Progressist paper, pronounced that 'there are now neither Rights nor Lefts, neither government nor society, but only one United Russian Nation'. Finally, as if to consummate this union sacrée, the Duma dissolved itself in a single session of patriotic pomp on 8 August in order, as its resolution declared, not to burden the government with 'unnecessary politics' during its war effort. 'We shall only get in your way,' Rodzianko, the Duma President, informed the ministers in the Tauride Palace. 'It is therefore better to dismiss us altogether until the end of hostilities.'54
But such declarations of loyalty were deceptive. The mass of the people had yet to be touched by the war; and the millions of peasants and workers who departed for the Front felt little of the middle-class patriotism that had done so much to raise the Tsar's hopes. There were no flags or military bands to see them off at the stations and, according to foreign observers, the expression on most of the soldiers' faces was sombre and resigned. It was their terrible experience of war that would ignite the revolution. The Tsar's desperate gamble was destined to bring the destruction of his regime.