2 The Mad Chauffeur

The war found Prince Lvov at the head of the Zemstvo Union. As in the war against Japan, the needs of the Front had sparked a patriotic movement of public organization. Civic committees and clubs volunteered helpers to pack up supplies of linen, food and medicine in their hours after work, while hundreds of young women enrolled as nurses and coped as best they could with the legions of wounded and dying. The Tsarina turned part of the Winter Palace into a surgical bandage factory, and the best society ladies turned up in droves to roll up their sleeves and work. Brusilov's wife, Nadezhda, volunteered for the Russian Red Cross in the Ukraine. 'I work day and night', she wrote to him in August 1914, 'and thank God for that, since it keeps me from thinking and makes me feel I am of use.' Kerensky's wife, Olga, who worked in a Belgian hospital, looked back on this as 'one of the happiest periods of my life'.

When I bent down to wash the soldiers' dirty feet, or cleaned and dressed their nasty-smelling and decaying wounds, I experienced an almost religious ecstasy. I bowed before all these soldiers, who had given their lives for Russia. I have never felt such ecstasy.30

Here at last, for these idle bourgeois ladies, was a chance to 'serve the people' and thus to redeem their own guilt.

Lvov's Zemstvo Union, established with its sister organization the Union of Towns during the first few weeks of the war, took the lead in most of these activities. It virtually ran the military supply campaign in the absence of any effective governmental grasp of logistics. Russia's war effort, but for Lvov's efforts, would have quickly collapsed altogether. To begin with the Union was supported by the gifts of money and property that poured in from the public. One landowner donated his whole estate, a fertile expanse of 10,000 acres. Peasants delivered cartloads of cabbages, potatoes and homespun linen to its depots in the rear. But it soon became clear that the government itself would have to provide most of the finance, as the failings of its own bureaucracy became apparent and it came to rely on the Union. Increasingly its volunteers took the lead in setting up field canteens and medical units at the Front, evacuating the wounded and giving them hospital care, purchasing military supplies, combating disease, helping refugees and providing support for the poverty-stricken soldiers' families. By 1916 it had grown into a huge national infrastructure, a state within a state, with 8,000 affiliated institutions, several hundred thousand employees (the so-called zemgussars) and a budget of two billion roubles. Lvov, at the head of this unofficial government, worked tirelessly from eight in the morning to two or three at night. The queue outside his office stretched into the Moscow streets. As one minister grudgingly acknowledged in the autumn of 1915, he was 'virtually becoming the chairman of a special government. At the Front they talk only of him and say that he has saved the country. He supplies the army, feeds the hungry, cures the sick, establishes barber shops for the soldiers — in a word, he is some kind of a ubiquitous Miur and Mereliz.* One must either end all this or hand over power to him.'31

The remark was prophetic. For Lvov was to become the first Prime Minister of democratic Russia in March 1917. His experience in the Zemstvo Union, which demanded administrative boldness and an ability to improvise, equipped him for the role above all else. The civic spirit of the February Revolution had its roots in the wartime activities of the voluntary organizations. It was from these that most of the democratic revolution's leaders, including all but three of the ministers of the First Provisional Government, were to emerge. And yet Lvov had always been a reluctant revolutionary. Had the Tsar liberalized his regime and appointed a government of public confidence, Lvov would not have joined the opposition. Politics were of much less interest to him than the direct effect he could have on the lives of 'the people'. It was this desire for practical work that had drawn him into the zemstvo movement during the 1890s and, although he had joined the {Cadets, he had never been at ease with the party. In short, he was made for public wartime work.

* The largest department store in Moscow.

Lvov's leadership of the Zemstvo Union began with the same essentially practical aims (the good of 'the nation') as he had displayed in the Tula zemstvo (the good of 'the people'). At the heart of Lvov's political being was what one acquaintance described as 'a down-to-earth organic patriotism'. It was rooted in his love of the peasants and his belief in their creative powers as the basic strength of Russia. A similar patriotism lay at the heart of his commitment to the Zemstvo Union. Its duty, as he saw it in 1914, was to reconcile the people with the government by uniting the two behind the war effort. Executive meetings finished with his tenor voice breaking into the national anthem.32

By the following autumn, however, even Lvov could no longer stand apart from the growing political opposition to the government and its army command, whose gross mismanagement was being blamed by an angry public for the recent crushing defeats. His own organization had been struggling for some time against constant obstruction by the bureaucracy, and by now he was at the end of his tether. Maklakov, the reactionary Interior Minister of Beiliss trial fame, regarded the Union as little more than a Trojan horse usurping the functions of the government, and had been doing his best to limit its independent powers. He even objected to its labour brigades, some 80,000 strong, which dug trenches and graves in the rear, on the grounds that a public organization should not be allowed to have its own 'army'. Although it had been pointed out that it would be armed with nothing more dangerous than axes and spades, Maklakov stood his ground and ordered Lvov to demobilize the brigades. By September, with the Duma prorogued, the mild-mannered prince was ready to join the fray. 'We are no longer prepared to remain in the passive position of being governed,' he told the Third Zemstvo Union Congress. The Russian people, he went on, were developing into a 'state-like force', and through their service to the nation would earn the right to demand a constitutional system from the government at the end of the war. The work of the public organizations was thus no longer a means of uniting the people behind the Tsar, as he had seen it previously, but a means of transition to self-government by the people.""

The Prince's wartime progress along the path of political radicalization was common among the liberal propertied classes. The union sacree of August 1914, when the Duma dissolved itself in a symbolic gesture of patriotic solidarity with the government, had not lasted the winter. The shells crisis and the Miasoyedov scandal saw to that. In fact neither had been as bad in reality as the public perceived them to be — Miasoyedov was no more a German spy than the shortage of shells was solely to blame for the country's military setbacks — yet in a sense that was their real point. For both the shortage of shells and Miasoyedov's tainted reputation became emotive symbols of the regime's treacherous and incompetent handling of the war. 'Respectable Russia' now rallied behind the growing demand for the reconvocation of the Duma and a Ministry which enjoyed public confidence. Miliukov's Kadets were prepared to settle for a three-day Duma session at the end of January to approve the military budget. But the radicals, led by Kerensky, continued the campaign of public criticism. On 11 June Miasoyedov's patron, Sukhomlinov, was finally forced out of office. The disgraced War Minister was summarily arrested and brought before a High Commission of Enquiry, which sentenced him to imprisonment in the Peter and Paul Fortress as a traitor. The dismissal of Maklakov (Interior), Shcheglovitov (Justice) and Sabler (Holy Synod) soon followed, as Nicholas tried to pacify growing public opposition by ditching his most reactionary ministers.

But this was only the start of a summer of political retreat for the Tsar. Calls for reform by the Duma and public organizations were soon joined by those from the liberal business community. The shells crisis and the military defeats of the spring forced the government to set up a Special Council for the Improvement of Artillery Supplies in June. It included three Octobrists from the Duma and the owners of Petrograd's biggest arms firms, as well as officials from the War Ministry. For the liberal business leaders of Moscow this was a slap in the face. Since 1908 they had campaigned aggressively to increase their role in the nation's economy and political life ('The merchant on the move,' as Riabushinsky put it). They had financed their own national newspaper (Utro Rossii), established their own political party (the Progressists) and lavishly spent money on the arts (the Tretyakov Gallery and Shekhtel's magnificent style moderne buildings, for example, were both commissioned by these industrialists) to advance their own Muscovite version of liberal Manchesterism. The Special Council, from their point of view, was a small coterie of the Petrograd industrial barons and their patrons in government (what would one day come under the title of a 'military-industrial complex') designed to exclude the smaller businesses in the provinces from the lucrative contracts for military production. There was much in the set-up to justify the resentment of the Moscow industrialists. Far too many orders were given to big Petrograd metal firms friendly to the government, while the smaller provincial firms were not properly used. The huge Putilov plant, for example, received 113 million roubles worth of orders for shells — far more than it could deliver on time — at a price six times higher than the average market price. Putilov used the cash to subsidize the loss-making parts of his business, including his own fabulous lifestyle, so that his company eventually went bankrupt and had to be sequestered by the state in 1916.

Medium-sized producers were meanwhile going out of business because, without government orders, they could not afford to buy fuel or raw materials. The Petrograd bureaucracy was indifferent to their fate, as one businessman discovered when he wrote to the War Ministry offering the services of his family factory. A few weeks later he received his letter back with a short note saying it had not been furnished with the required government stamp.

To break down the monopoly of the big munitions producers Moscow's business leaders organized the War Industries Committees. Through their central office, established in July 1915, they succeeded in winning a modest but life-saving share of the government's military orders for their provincial firms. But the committees' real significance was less economic than political. The leaders of the Central War Industries Committees were all liberal critics of the autocracy. Half the ministers of the First Provisional Government of 1917 were to come from their ranks. They sought a greater voice for themselves in the wartime regulation of industry, and more say for their allies in the Duma and other public organizations in the structure of government. There were close connections between these different bodies. Lvov, for example, was the head of the Zemstvo Union, an ex-Duma deputy and a member of the Central War Industries Committee. Through their combined initiatives, these public bodies were able to form an effective political force. They enjoyed the support of several of the more liberal-minded ministers, who had come to realize the need for political change, as well as a number of senior generals, such as Brusilov, who knew from experience the value of their work.34 Together they embarked on a struggle for power.

Under growing pressure, the Tsar finally agreed to recall the Duma on 19 July 1915. The liberal opposition now had a platform on which to renew its demands for a ministry of national confidence. Two-thirds of the Duma deputies, from the moderate Right to the moderate Left, along with like-minded members of the State Council, formed themselves into a Progressive Bloc to consolidate this campaign. It was a 'tricoloured' union, as one of its members remarked, designed to wrap political reforms in the imperial flag. The Bloc's aim was to prevent the country slipping into revolution (which its well-to-do members feared as much as anyone else) by persuading the Tsar to appoint a new government capable of winning the people's support. Only this, they argued, could lead the country to victory. After four months of unrelieved gloom, with daily reports of defeats at the Front, industrial strikes and growing social chaos, the leaders of the Bloc saw their programme, with some justification, as the last real chance for the regime to find a political solution to its crisis of authority. They bent over backwards to make their proposals acceptable to the Tsar. The calls of the more radical elements — the left-wing Kadets, Kerensky's Trudoviks and the socialists — for a parliamentary government responsible to the Duma were flatly opposed by Miliukov, the Kadet leader and principal architect of the Bloc, despite the risk he thus ran of splitting his party in two. Lvov even pledged that during the war the Bloc would go no further 'on the path of a parliamentary struggle' once a government of confidence had been appointed.35

Within the Council of Ministers there was a growing majority in favour of a compromise with the Progressive Bloc. Krivoshein and Polivanov, Sukhomlinov's replacement, led the way. But eight others soon followed, especially after the Tsar had announced his decision to take over the military command, thus leaving the government to the mercy of the Tsarina and Rasputin. On 28 August the 'revolt of the ministers' came to a head with a direct appeal to the Tsar to appoint a new ministry enjoying the confidence of the Duma. Only 'the old man' Goremykin, the discredited Premier, refused to join the demands for reform, blindly convinced to the end of his absolute duty to obey the Tsar. The next day he hurried to Mogilev and urged Nicholas to close down the Duma and sack his disobedient ministers in order to reassert his autocratic power. The Tsarina, who had always believed in her husband's mission to rule 'like Ivan the Terrible', added her own voice, condemning the rebel ministers as 'fiends worse than the Duma' who 'needed smacking'.

It was not hard, by this stage, to convince the Tsar that he should reassert his autocratic authority. That, after all, had probably been his main objective in assuming the supreme command. As he saw it, none of his concessions to the liberal opposition had stemmed the public criticisms of his government, in fact they had only grown louder, and it was time to stop any further erosion of his authority. He deemed it intolerable that at this critical moment for the Empire, when the firm hand of autocracy was needed more than ever, his ministers should think fit to ask him to renounce his personal rule. On 2 September he ordered the dissolution of the Duma and reconfirmed his confidence in the government of his old and faithful servant, Goremykin. When the Premier returned to Petrograd and announced this decision to the Council of Ministers there was uproar. 'Il est fou, ce vieillard,' Sazonov, the Foreign Minister, was heard to say.36

There followed a two-day general strike in Petrograd against the Duma's closure. But otherwise the opposition's response was muted. Lvov was elected to lead a delegation of the public organizations to plead with the Tsar to 'place the heavy burden of power upon the shoulders of men made strong by the nation's confidence'. But Nicholas refused to receive them. They were summoned instead to the Ministry of the Interior where they were told that their 'intrusion into state politics' had been presumptuous. The Tsar had made up his mind to rule as an autocrat should, and no counsel, however wise or loyal, could make him change his mind. On 16 September the ministers were summoned to Mogilev for a final dressing down. 'Show your fist,' the Tsarina had urged her weak-willed husband. 'You are the Autocrat and they dare not forget it.' She even implored him to comb his hair with Rasputin's comb in order to strengthen his will.37 The magic must have worked. For the ministers, having come determined to argue their case for reform, lost their nerve when confronted by the Tsar. The 'revolt of the ministers' was over and the monarchy's final chance to save itself by political means had now been thrown away.

The dissolution of the Duma highlighted the liberals' impotence. Power lay firmly with the Romanov court and, even with ten of the highest government officials on their side, there was nothing, short of revolution, the liberals could do to prevent the Tsar from taking power into his own hands. The Kadet politician, V A. Maklakov, summed up the liberals' dilemma in a widely quoted article in September. He compared Russia to an automobile being driven down a steep and dangerous hill at uncontrollable speed by a mad chauffeur (Nicholas). Among the passengers there are one's mother (Russia) plus competent drivers, who recognize that they are being driven to inevitable doom. But no one dares grab the steering wheel for fear of causing a fatal accident. The chauffeur knows this and mocks the helplessness and anxiety of the passengers: 'You will not dare touch me,' he tells them. And, indeed, in these terrible circumstances, Maklakov concluded:

you will not dare touch him, for even if you might risk your own life, you are travelling with your mother, and you will not dare endanger your life for fear that she too might be killed. So you will leave the steering wheel in the hands of the chauffeur. Moreover, you will try not to hinder him — you will even help him with advice, warning and assistance. And you will be right, for this is what has to be done.38

The liberals' paralysis was determined, above all, by their fear of sparking violence on the streets. They were caught between the devil of autocracy and the deep red sea of a social revolution that would undoubtedly drown them too. Miliukov was afraid that if the Duma went into open conflict with the regime and encouraged a popular revolt, as some on the left of his party advocated, it would lead to an 'orgy of the mob'.39 Pushkin's nightmare of the 'Russian riot, senseless and without mercy' would finally come to pass. Rather than risk this, the liberals played a waiting game: if they could hold out until an Allied victory, new channels for reform would open up. It was not the most dignified stance (a 'revolt on their knees' is how Stalin described it) but, short of moving to the barricades, there was little more that they could do. Essentially, it marked a return to the position of 1906, when the failure of the Vyborg Manifesto to rally the masses in the defence of the Duma had left the liberals high and dry, with nothing more to cling to than the hope of persuading the regime to liberalize itself. Ten years later, with the lessons of Vyborg behind them, they were even more frightened of the masses, who now were hardly more likely — at the height of the war with all its hardships — to limit themselves to the narrow political revolution envisaged by the liberals.

Encouraged by the success of his own show of strength, Nicholas followed it up with a series of further measures to roll back the liberal challenge to his autocracy. The promised Duma session in November, granted to appease the critics of its prorogation in September, was postponed indefinitely. The status of the War Industries Committees was gradually downgraded as the government returned to its old alliance with the big business interests of Petro-grad. And, one by one, the main rebel ministers were dismissed. Samarin, the new Procurator of the Holy Synod and a prominent critic of Rasputin, was the first to be forced out, much to the fury of the Church and conservative opinion. Krivoshein, the Agriculture Minister, followed soon after. Next Shcher-batov, the Interior Minister, was replaced by Khvostov, an ally of Rasputin's, distinguished only by the huge size of his belly, who immediately pledged to silence all public criticism of the government. He stepped up police surveillance of the Duma politicians, banned meetings of public organizations, tightened censorship and lavished government funds on the Black Hundred groups, which blamed the Jews for the army's defeats and all the ills of war.

In all these personnel changes the Tsarina's hand was at work. With the Tsar at the Front, she now became the real autocrat (in so far as there was one) in Petrograd. 'Lovy,' she wrote to her husband, 'I am your wall in the rear. I am here, don't laugh at silly old wify, but she has "trousers" on unseen.' The main telephone in the Winter Palace was in her drawing-room, where she sat at her writing desk before a portrait of Marie Antoinette. She liked to boast that she was the first woman in Russia to receive government ministers since Catherine the Great, and in these delusions she was encouraged by Rasputin, who effectively used her as a mouthpiece for his own pretensions to power. Her letters to Nicholas were filled with advice from 'Our Friend', as she liked to call the 'holy' peasant. 'It's not my wisdom', she would write, 'but a certain instinct given by God beyond myself so as to be your help.' Or: 'We, who have been taught to look at all from another side see what the struggle here really is and means — you showing your mastery, proving yourself the Autocrat without which Russia cannot exist.' It seems there was almost no matter of state beyond Rasputin's expertise. She would write to the Tsar with his recommendations on food supply, transport, finance and land reform, although she herself admitted that such things made her own head spin. She even tried to persuade her husband to base his military strategy on what Rasputin had 'seen in the night', although here Nicholas put his foot down.40

Most of the Tsarina's ink was used on recommendations for appointments. She saw the world in terms of friends and enemies of the 'hidden cause' waged by Rasputin and herself. Ministers, commanders of the armed forces and members of the court all rose or fell in her favour according to where they stood in relation to the 'cause'. The patronage of Rasputin was the quickest way up the greasy pole — and criticism of him the quickest way down. In the seventeen months of the 'Tsarina's rule', from September 1915 to February 1917, Russia had four Prime Ministers, five Ministers of the Interior, three Foreign Ministers, three War Ministers, three Ministers of Transport and four Ministers of Agriculture. This 'ministerial leapfrog', as it came to be known, not only removed competent men from power, but also disorganized the work of government since no one remained long enough in office to master their responsibilities. Bureaucratic anarchy developed with competing chains of authority: some ministers would defer to the Tsarina or Rasputin, while others remained loyal to the Tsar, or at least to what they thought the Tsar was, although when it came to the crunch he never seemed to know what he stood for and in any case never really dared to oppose his wife. Boris Sturmer, the longest-lasting Prime Minister of the 'Tsarina's rule', who replaced the senile Goremykin in January 1916, was best known as a provincial governor who had been accused of venality, and as an Assistant Minister of Interior who had been charged with incompetence. In Sazonov's memorable phrase, he was 'a man who had left behind a bad memory wherever he had occupied an administrative post'. The affairs of state proved utterly beyond him. He ran to the Tsarina and Rasputin so often for advice that even the extreme monarchist V M. Purishkevich began to compare this ridiculous figure to Chichikov in Gogol's Dead Souls, who, after calling on all the dignitaries of the provincial town, sat for a long time in his carriage wondering who to visit next.41

* * * Perhaps the most damaging change of personnel was the dismissal of Polivanov in March 1916. More than any other man he was responsible for the rebuilding of the Russian army after the terrible losses of the Great Retreat. Major-General Knox, the British military attache in Russia, thought him 'undoubtedly the ablest military organizer in Russia' and called his dismissal 'a disaster'. Polivanov's crime, in the eyes of the Tsarina, had been his readiness to work with the public organizations in improving army supplies. 'Oh, how I wish you could get rid of Polivanov,' she wrote to her husband in January. 'He is simply a revolutionist.' His friendship with Guchkov, head of the War Industries Committees, was seen by the court with special alarm, since in November the Octobrist leader had invited elected workers' representatives to sit with him on the committees' central governing body. 'I wish you could shut up that rotten war industries committee', the Tsarina implored her husband in March, 'as they prepare simply anti-dynastic questions for their meetings.' As for Guchkov, she asked, 'Could one not hang him?'42

The appointment of General Shuvaev, Polivanov's successor, proved beyond doubt that unthinking obedience was now deemed far more important for a Minister of War than military expertise. Shuvaev himself once told Knox that if the Tsar ordered him to jump from the window he would gladly oblige. And when his gross mismanagement of the war led to growing public charges of 'treason in high places', all he could honestly say in self-defence was 'I may be a fool, but I am no traitor.'43

With the help of the public organizations Polivanov had greatly improved the supply and morale of the army. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the South-Western Front, where Brusilov had been appointed the Front commander in March. He brought in a new style of military professionalism to the Front headquarters, promoting talented officers such as Klembovsky and Velichko (who along with Brusilov and Polivanov himself would later help inject a similar professionalism into the Red Army). Brusilov was quick to establish a good working relationship with the public organizations, and the effects of this were soon felt on his Front. 'Little by little', he recalled:

our technical equipment improved; rifles were supplied, of various types perhaps, but anyhow with a sufficiency of cartridges; while ammunition for the artillery, especially the light guns, arrived in abundance . . . We had every cause to reckon on being able to defeat the enemy and drive him across our frontier.44

Brusilov's optimism marked him out at the Council of War on 15 April, when Russia's Front commanders met with the Tsar at Stavka to plan out the summer's operations. Generals Kuropatkin and Evert, commanders of the North-Western and Western Fronts respectively, were pessimistic about the prospects for an offensive. But Brusilov promised to make things easier for them by launching an attack against the Austrians on his own South-Western Front, despite being warned that no extra men or supplies would be spared from the north. The other commanders were shocked and annoyed by his boldness. 'You have only just been appointed Front commander,' one of them told him as they sat down to dinner, 'and you are lucky enough not to be one of those picked out to take the offensive, and so aren't called upon like them to risk your military reputation. Fancy rushing into such colossal dangers!' But this complacent attitude, so typical of the Tsar's favourite generals, was a long way from Brusilov's own determination and, perhaps naive, optimism. He was sure that God was leading Russia to victory, a faith reflected throughout the war in his letters to his wife. 'I remain convinced', he wrote to her at the height of the Great Retreat, 'that somehow things will work out and we will win the war.'45

Nor did the scorn of Brusilov's colleagues take into account the sheer ingenuity of his tactics, which were set to make his offensive, in the words of Norman Stone, the main historian of the Eastern Front, 'the most brilliant victory of the war'.46 What distinguished Brusilov's military genius was his willingness to learn from the tactical lessons of 1914—15. Ever since the Fronts had become fixed and the war of mobility had given way to the war of position, Europe's generals had attempted to break through the enemy lines by concentrating men and munitions at a single point of the Front. The German breakthrough at Gorlice was a classic example of this 'phalanx' method, which Russia's generals slavishly followed thereafter. Brusilov was the one exception. He argued that the Russians, with their primitive railways, could not hope to concentrate their forces in one place without the enemy learning of it with plenty of time to bring up defensive reserves. As long as the element of surprise continued to be sacrificed on the altar of strength, Russia could not hope to gain a decisive breakthrough. He proposed instead to attack simultaneously at several points along the Front, thus making it difficult for the enemy, even with intelligence of the offensive positions, to guess where defensive reserves would be needed most.

Intensive preparations were made for the offensive. Nothing quite like it had ever been seen before. The key to Brusilov's plan was surprise, so everything was done to safeguard secrecy (even the Tsarina could not find out when or where the attack would begin). Offensive trenches were dug deeper than usual and camouflaged by a novel device of spraying the ground with paint. Assault tunnels were built under the Austrian barbed wire to within a hundred yards of their lines, so that when the assault was launched the first wave of attackers could reach their trenches in one rush. The enemy's positions were carefully studied with the benefit of aerial photography. This enabled Brusilov to build full-scale models of the Austrian trenches and train his assault troops on them. It also meant that when the offensive began the Russians knew the precise location of the Austrian batteries and, in some places, even of individual machine-guns. Despite its inferior numbers, the Russian artillery thus had the one decisive advantage of knowing its targets, and this was to ensure the offensive's initial success.47

The offensive began on 4 June, in Brusilov's words, 'with a thunderous artillery barrage all along the South-Western Front'. 'The entire zone of battle was covered by a huge, thick cloud of dust and smoke,' an Austrian officer wrote, which 'allowed the Russians to come over the ruined wire-obstacles in thick waves and into our trenches.' Within forty-eight hours the Russians had broken through the Austrian defences along a fifty-mile front, capturing more than 40,000 prisoners. By day nine the number had risen to 200,000 men, more than half the Habsburg forces on the Eastern Front, and Conrad, the Austrian Chief of Staff, was starting to talk of the need to sue for peace.48

If Evert and Kuropatkin had followed up Brusilov's advance with their own promised attacks on the Western and North-Western Fronts, the enemy might have been pushed back and the course of the war changed entirely. Hindenburg later confessed that with a second offensive, 'We [would have been] faced with the menace of a complete collapse.' According to the original war plan, Brusilov's Front was considered secondary to both Evert's and Kuroptakin's. Yet neither of them was prepared to attack. To be fair, their task would have been much harder than Brusilov's. For they would have had to fight the German troops, which were much stronger than the Austro-Hungarian forces whom Brusiloy had overcome on the South-Western Front. But their vanity was also a factor: the increased risk of defeat made them all the more afraid of losing their own precious reputations. Perhaps the real blame lay with Stavka. Alexeev had served under Kuropatkin and Evert during the Japanese War and was still too frightened of them to force them to attack. The Tsar also indulged the cowardly generals — they were the favourites of his court — and ignored Brusilov's daily requests to order an offensive. The Tsarina was partly behind this. She bombarded her indecisive husband with Rasputin's 'expert' advice against an offensive in the north 'because', in his words, 'if our successes in the south continue, then they [the Germans] will themselves retreat in the north'.49

Such military stupidity was largely to blame for the slow-down of Brusilov's advance. Instead of starting a second offensive Stavka transferred troops from the north to Brusilov's Front. They were not enough to maintain the momentum of his offensive, however, since the Germans, with their position eased by the inactivity of Evert and Kuropatkin, were also able to transfer reinforcements to the south. Conscious of his declining advantage, Brusilov now reverted to orthodox tactics, advancing towards Kovel but fighting, in his own words, 'at a lower pressure ... to spare my men as far as possible'. Slowly but surely, the Russian advance was grinding to a halt. In eight weeks of fighting Brusilov's armies had captured 425,000 men and a large part of Galicia; the enemy had been forced to withdraw troops from the Western Front, thus relieving pressure on Italy and the French at Verdun; while Romania, for what it was worth, was at last persuaded to join the war on the side of the Russians. Ludendorff called it 'the crisis in the East'. In 1918 he would pay the ultimate compliment to Brusilov's tactics by using them himself on the Western Front.50

Coming as it did after a long year of defeat in the east, and of bloody stalemate in the west, Brusilov's offensive turned him overnight into a hero not just in Russia but throughout the Allied countries. Giliarovsky wrote a collection of panegyric poems 'To Brusilov' which sold in their tens of thousands in leaflet form. French and Italian composers dedicated cantatas, marches and songs to the war hero. And throughout Europe people flocked to see the film called Brusilov. The General himself later wrote:

I received hundreds of telegrams congratulating and blessing me from every class of Russian society. Everyone would have his say; peasants, mechanics, aristocrats, the clergy, the intelligentsia, and the children in the schools, all wanted to let me know that the great heart of the country was beating in sympathy with the well-loved soldiers of my victorious armies.

Brusilov had shown that under competent commanders the imperial army was still capable of military success. Had it not been undermined by Stavka, his offensive might have served as the springboard for the restoration of the army's morale — perhaps even one day leading towards its eventual victory. But it is doubtful whether even this would have been enough to save the tsarist regime, such was the extent of the political crisis in the country at large. In any case, with the failure of the offensive it now became clearer than ever, even to a monarchist like Brusilov, that, in his own words, 'Russia could not win the war with its present system of government.'51 Victory would not stop the revolution; but only a revolution could help bring about victory.

For Brusilov the final damning proof of the old regime's incompetence had come at the start of July, when Alexeev transferred the elite Imperial Guards to his Front in a last desperate bid to save the offensive. These young blue-bloods were described by Knox as 'physically the finest human animals in Europe'. In their dark-green parade uniforms, trimmed with golden braid, each guard stood over six feet tall. But they came with a gormless commander, General Bezobrazov, another favourite of the court, who disobeyed Brusilov's orders and sent them into attack through an exposed swamp. As the warriors waded chest-high through the mud, the German planes flew overhead, raking them with their machine-guns. Knox watched in horror as the planes swooped down to hit their targets and 'the wounded sank slowly into the marsh'.52 In one stupid action the core of the country's finest fighting force had been lost, and with it the final chance of victory under the old regime.

* * * Brusilov's impatience with the government was increasingly shared by the rest of society as 1916, the third long year of the war, dragged on. Patriotic nobles like Brusilov and Lvov had hoped that a successful war campaign would bring the government and society together and thus forestall the need for radical reforms. They now realized that the opposite was true: radical reforms were a necessary precondition for military success. The growing shortages of food, fuel and basic household goods, the rapid inflation of prices, the breakdown of transport, the widespread corruption of the government and its military suppliers, and the steep increase in crime and social disorder — all these combined with the endless slaughter of the war to create a growing sense of public panic and hysteria. 'More and more', Gorky wrote to a friend in November 1915, 'people are behaving like animals and madmen. They spread stupid rumours and this creates an atmosphere of universal fear which poisons even the intelligent.' Among the propertied classes there was a general feeling that Russia was on the brink of a terrible catastrophe, a violent social explosion, against which the government was totally unprepared to defend them. People spoke of the Tsar and his government with open contempt. The word 'revolution' was on everybody's lips. A deluge is approaching,' Guchkov wrote to Alexeev in August 1916, 'and a pitiful, wretched and flabby Government is preparing to face that cataclysm by taking measures only good enough to protect oneself from a shower. It puts on galoshes and opens an umbrella!'53

Sensing the coming disaster, the rich and the high-born lost themselves in a last desperate binge of personal pleasure. They drank their stocks of champagne, spent huge sums of money on black-market caviar, sturgeon and other peacetime delicacies, threw lavish parties, deceived their wives and husbands and gambled away fortunes in casinos. Foreigners were shocked by their luxurious lifestyles and, even more so, by the indiscretion with which they flaunted their enjoyment. 'Their wealth and the lavish use they made of it dazzled me after the austere conditions of wartime life in England,' wrote Sir Samuel Hoare, the British intelligence officer in Petrograd. This hysterical hedonism was best expressed in some anonymous satirical verses of early 1916:

We do not take defeat amiss, And victory gives us no delight The source of all our cares is this: Can we get vodka for tonight.

The victories we can do without. No! Peace and quiet is our line, Intrigues and scandal, evenings out Trimmed up with women and with wine.

We only want to know, next day What Ministers will be on view, Or who takes who to see the play, Or who at Cuba's sat next who:...

And does Rasputin still prevail Or do we need another saint, And is Kshesinskaya quite well, And how the feast at Shubin's went:

If the Grand Duke took Dina home, What kind of luck MacDiddie had — Oh, if a Zeppelin would come. And smash the whole or Petrograd.54

Much of the public hysteria was focused on the court, where a pro-German clique around the Tsarina was widely believed to be conspiring to bring about Russia's defeat. The idea of treason in high places, which started with the Miasoyedov affair and the Great Retreat, gained momentum in 1916 as rumours spread of the existence of a 'Black Bloc' at court, which was said to be seeking a separate peace with Berlin. The growing domination of the Tsarina (the 'German woman'), the anti-war sentiments of Rasputin, the large number of German names at the court, and the Tsar's promotion of Sturmer to the status of a virtual 'dictator' (by June he had assumed the powers of Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior, Foreign Minister and Supreme Minister for State Defence) all helped to fuel speculation. It was widely claimed that the Tsarina and Rasputin were working for the Germans; that they had a direct line to Berlin; and that Nicholas regularly warned his uncle, the Kaiser Wilhelm, of the movements of his troops. Such rumours became even more distorted by the time they reached the Front. Judging from their letters home, demoralized soldiers were prepared to believe that Sturmer had been paid by the Germans to starve the peasants to death; and that Count Fredericks, the Minister of the Imperial Court, had agreed to sell the western half of Russia to the enemy.

Similar credence was given to rumours of various sexual scandals surrounding the Tsarina. Alexandra's 'sexual corruption' became a kind of metaphor for the diseased condition of the tsarist regime. She was said to be a slut, the mistress of Rasputin and the lesbian lover of Anna Vyrubova, her lady-in-waiting, who was said to share her bed with Rasputin and the Tsar. None of these rumours had any basis in fact. Vyrubova was a naive and dim-witted spinster, infatuated with the mystical powers of Rasputin and the cosy domestic lifestyle of the imperial family. In 1917 she was medically certified to be a virgin by a special commission appointed by the Provisional Government to examine the charges against her. As for the Tsarina, she was much too strait-laced to indulge in any sexual act that was not strictly necessary for the reproduction of the dynasty. Nor was there any foundation to the charges of treason against her, although it is possible that German agents picked up information from Rasputin's loud and boastful talk. He regularly dined at the house of a Petrograd banker whom the French Ambassador believed to be the leading German agent in Russia.

The point of these rumours was not their truth or untruth, but their power to mobilize an angry public against the dynasty. In a revolutionary crisis it is perceptions and beliefs that count rather than realities. The demonization of the Romanov court enabled its opponents to point the finger of blame at conspicuous culprits for the people's wartime hardships. Condemning the court as 'German' was a way of defining and legitimizing this revolutionary anger as the patriotic mood of 'the nation', as if all the country's problems were due to the evil influence of a few highly placed foreigners and could be solved by getting rid of them. The February Revolution of 1917 was identified as a patriotic revolution. Anti-German and anti-monarchist attitudes were closely interwoven in the new democratic consciousness which February's leaders sought to cultivate as the basis for Russia's national renewal. In this sense the anti-German riots of June 1915, at the height of the Great Retreat, were the first sign of an upswing in the popular revolutionary mood. Angry Moscow mobs burned and looted German shops and offices. Piano stores were attacked and Bechsteins and Bluthners hurled from the windows. Anyone suspected of being German (which often meant no more than being well dressed) was attacked and robbed. In Red Square crowds shouted insults at the 'German woman' and called for her to be shut up in a convent. There were also calls for the Tsar to abdicate in favour of the Grand Duke Nikolai. The hysterical public was determined to see German sabotage in everything, from the shortage of shells to the corruption of minor officials, and by raising the battle-cry of 'treason in high places' the new pretenders to power became popular national heroes.55

It was difficult for the liberals, despite their fear of the masses, to resist this opportunity for political gain. By speaking for 'the nation' against the dynasty they might place themselves once again at the head of the opposition movement. This seemed increasingly important now that the protests against the war and its economic hardships were taking a more radical form, with mass strikes and demonstrations, many of them led by the socialists. 'I am afraid', one Kadet leader told his colleagues in the autumn of 1916, 'that the policy of the government will lead to a situation in which the Duma will be powerless to do anything for the pacification of the masses.' The reports of the secret police made it clear that 'the broad mass of the people' were becoming increasingly hostile to the Duma and were accusing it 'of deliberately refusing to come to the aid of the masses; the most bitter accusations in this respect are levelled not only at the Octobrists, but at the Kadets too'. If the Duma was to avoid becoming obsolete and ineffective, it would have to move closer to the mood of the streets and add its own voice to the revolutionary movement. That was the view of the left Kadets, of Kerensky's Trudoviks, and of a growing number of public figures, including Prince Lvov, who told a meeting of the Progressive Bloc that Russia's only hope of salvation lay in a revolution. 'Abandon all further attempts at constructive collaboration with the present government,' he wrote in December; 'they are all doomed to failure and are only an impediment to our aim. Do not indulge in illusion; turn away from ghosts. There is no longer a government we can recognize.'56

Such arguments were strengthened by the continued intransigence of the regime. The appointment in September of A.D. Protopopov as acting Minister of the Interior had raised the hopes of the moderate liberals, men like Miliukov, who still sought to win reforms from the government through conciliation. Protopopov was an Octobrist landowner and textile manufacturer, a member of the Progressive Bloc, and Deputy Chairman of the Duma. His appointment was widely seen as government capitulation to the liberal opposition — one soon to be followed by the appointment of a Duma ministry. But in fact it was no more than a clever political manoeuvre by the court. The Duma was due to convene on I November and Protopopov, as a 'Duma man', was seen as the best man to control it. 'Please take Protopopov as Minister of the Interior,' the Tsarina had urged her husband. 'As he is one of the Duma it will make a great effect and shut their mouths.' Protopopov was a fanatical mystic (he once told Kerensky that he ruled with the help of Jesus Christ) and, unknown to the liberals, a protege of Rasputin (who, as he once told Brusilov, was 'saving Russia from a revolution'). He was ambitious and ridiculously vain — he was clearly overwhelmed by the honour bestowed on him by the Tsar — and was thus unlikely to endanger his own position by making common cause with the opposition. When the real nature of his role became clear — he soon donned the uniform of the Imperial Gendarmerie, an archetypal symbol of tsarist oppression — an old Duma colleague begged him to resign. Protopopov replied: 'How can you ask me to resign? All my life it was my dream to be a Vice-Governor, and here I am a Minister.'57

Disillusionment with the new minister set in very quickly. Hope gave way to hatred in Duma circles. Protopopov's obsequiousness to the imperial couple was nauseating. Instead of providing a bridge between the liberal opposition and the government he turned himself into a lackey of the court and was roundly condemned as a traitor to the parliamentary cause. On Rasputin's request, he ordered Sukhomlinov's release from prison — most of the country would have had him hanged for treason — and banned public organizations from meeting without the police in attendance.

By the time the Duma reassembled, on I November, even the moderate Miliukov was finally forced to acknowledge that the time for co-operation with the government was rapidly passing. With the radicals in his own Kadet party calling for open revolt, he now decided to seize the initiative by condemning the government in his opening speech to the Duma. He listed its abuses of power, denouncing each in turn and ending each time with the question: Is this folly or treason?' The effect of his speech, as Miliukov later recalled, was 'as if a blister filled with pus had burst and the basic evil, which was known to everyone but had awaited public exposure, had now been pinpointed'. He succeeded in turning the Tauride Palace into the Tribune of the Revolution once again. There were other more fiery speeches in the Duma that day — from Kerensky, for example — but the fact that a statesman as cautious as Miliukov, and one, moreover, with such close connections to Allied diplomats, had openly used the word 'treason' was enough for the public to conclude that treason there had been. This had not been Miliukov's aim. To his own rhetorical question he himself would have answered 'folly'. Yet the public was so charged up with emotion that by the time it read his speech it was almost bound to answer 'treason'. The fact that the speech was banned from the press and had to be read in well-thumbed typescripts passed from hand to hand only further inclined people to read it as being more radical than it was. In some versions of the typescript a particular social grievance would appear inserted into the middle of the speech (for example, claiming that in addition to its other abuses the government treated teachers very badly). 'My speech acquired the reputation of a storm-signal for the revolution,' Miliukov recalled. 'Such was not my intention. But the prevailing mood in the country served as a megaphone for my words.'58 It was to be a salutary lesson for any future liberals — especially those of 1917 — trying to halt a social revolution by the power of words. Having stoked up his rhetoric in order to help his Duma colleagues let off steam, Miliukov had succeeded in firing the engines of radical protest in the country at large.

What Miliukov had failed to appreciate was the extent to which a revolution had now come to be seen as unstoppable, and even desirable, not just by the radicals but by conservatives too. His own strategy of conciliation and parliamentary struggle, with the aim of reaching a compromise with the government, was rapidly losing ground. As one general at Stavka remarked, there was a 'widespread conviction that something had to be broken and annihilated, a conviction that tormented people and gave them no peace'.59 Even the Tsar's immediate family were now lining up behind the liberal opposition. On 7 November the Grand Duke Nikolai urged him to let the Duma appoint a government. The Moscow and Petrograd branches of the United Nobility, since 1905 the firmest pillar of the autocracy, gave him similar advice. In short, there was practically no one outside the narrow ruling clique at the court who did not see the need for a fundamental change in the structure of the government.

Yet again Nicholas tried to manoeuvre himself out of a corner by making half-hearted concessions. On 8 November Sturmer was dismissed, to the Duma's rejoicing, and A. F. Trepov became the new Prime Minister. Here was a final chance for the liberals to make their peace with the government. For Trepov, who saw himself as a latter-day Stolypin, was determined to win the support of the moderate elements in the Duma by making concessions. Miliukov was ready to accept his olive branch (and no doubt a seat in his cabinet). But the radical and socialist deputies, spurred on by the inflammatory speeches of the Trudovik Kerensky and the Menshevik Nikolai Chkheidze, were determined to bring down the government and called for an alliance with 'the masses' in preparation for a popular revolt.

This was essentially how the Duma remained divided through the following weeks of complex political manoeuvring between November and the February Revolution. Miliukov's Kadets, in the words of the secret police, looked on the prospect of a revolution 'with feelings of horror and panic', and 'if the government offered the slightest concession would run to meet it with joy'. Yet the hope of concessions was fading fast. For the Tsarina was flatly opposed to Trepov (she wanted him hanged like Guchkov), while the threat of the radical left was growing all the time. This increasingly gave the initiative to Kerensky and the other Duma radicals, who would open the doors of the Tauride Palace, if not directly to the crowds on the streets, then at least to their more polite representatives. The language of their speeches became increasingly violent, as they sought to express — and thus capture — the mood on the streets. They openlv called on the people to overthrow the regime and ridiculed the moderates' calls for calm as a pretext, in the words of Kerensky, to stay in their 'warm armchairs'. Yet they also had cause to worry that the popular mood was passing over their heads too, that the crowds on the streets were becoming contemptuous of the Duma and looking elsewhere for their leaders. For as Vasilii Shulgin, the Nationalist leader, put it, 'no one believes in words any longer'.60

From now on it was a question of whether the revolution would start from below or above. The idea of a 'palace coup' had been circulating for some time. Guchkov was at the centre of one such conspiracy. It aimed to seize the imperial train en route from Stavka to Tsarskoe Selo and to force the Tsar to abdicate in favour of his son, with the Grand Duke Mikhail, Nicholas's brother, serving as Regent. In this way the conspirators hoped to forestall the social revolution by appointing a new government of confidence. However, with only limited support from the military, the liberals and the imperial family, they put off the plans for their coup until March 1917 — by which time it was too late. A second conspiracy was meanwhile being hatched by Prince Lvov with the help of the Chief of Staff, General Alexeev. They planned to arrest the Tsarina and compel Nicholas to hand over authority to the Grand Duke Nikolai. Lvov would then be appointed as the Premier of a new government of confidence. Several liberal politicians and generals supported the plan, including Brusilov, who told the Grand Duke: 'If I must choose between the Emperor and Russia, then I march for Russia.' But this plot was also scotched — by the Grand Duke's reluctance to become involved. There were various other conspiracies, some of them originating with the Tsar's distant relatives, to force an abdication in favour of some other Romanov capable of appeasing the Duma. Historians differ widely on these plots, some seeing them as the opening acts of the February Revolution, others as nothing but idle chit-chat. Neither is probably true. For even if the conspirators had been serious in their intentions, and had succeeded in carrying them out, they could hardly have expected to hold on to power for long before they too were swept aside by the revolution on the streets.61

The only plot to succeed was the murder of Rasputin. Several efforts had been made to remove him before. Khvostov had tried to have his former patron murdered after being dismissed as Minister of the Interior in January 1916. Trepov had offered him 200,000 roubles in cash to return to Siberia and keep out of politics. But the Tsarina had foiled both plans and, as a result, Rasputin's prestige at court had only risen further. It was this that had finally persuaded a powerful group of conspirators on the fringes of the court to murder Rasputin. The central figure in this plot was Prince Felix Yusupov, a 29-year-old graduate of Oxford, son of the richest woman in Russia, and, although a homosexual, recently married to the Grand Duchess Irina Alexandrovna, daughter of the Tsar's favourite sister. Two other homosexuals in the Romanov court — the Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich, a favourite nephew of the Tsar, and the Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich — were also involved. Rasputin had become increasingly involved with the homosexual circles of the high aristocracy. He liked to 'lie with' men as much as with women. Yusupov had approached him after his wedding in the hope that he might 'cure' him from his sexual 'illness'. But Rasputin had tried to seduce him instead. Yusupov turned violently against him and, together with the Grand Dukes Dmitry and Nikolai, plotted his downfall. Along with their own homosexual vendetta (and perhaps in order to conceal it) they had grave political concerns which they voiced to the right-wing Duma leader and outspoken critic of Rasputin, V M. Purishkevich, who joined them in their plot. They were outraged by Rasputin's influence on the Tsar and by the rumours that because of this Russia would sign a separate peace with Germany. They pledged to 'eliminate' Rasputin and to confine the Tsarina to a mental institution, naively believing that once the Tsar had been freed of their influence, he would see sense and turn himself into a good constitutional king.

Together the three conspirators planned to lure Rasputin to Yusupov's riverside palace on the pretext of meeting his beautiful wife, the Grand Duchess Irina. There they would kill him with poison and sink his body to the bottom of the Neva so that he would be counted as missing rather than dead. The plotters were anything but discreet: half the journalists of Petrograd seem to have known all the details of the murder days before it took place. It is frankly a miracle that, despite the plotters' immunity from police investigation, nothing was done to prevent them.

On the fatal day, 16 December, Rasputin was explicitly warned not to go to the Yusupov palace. He seems to have sensed his fate, for he spent most of the day destroying correspondence, depositing money in his daughter's account and praying. But the worldly attractions of the Grand Duchess Irina were too much for him to resist. Shortly after midnight he arrived in Yusupov's car smelling of cheap soap, his hair greased down and dressed in his most seductive clothes: black velvet trousers, squeaky leather boots and a white silk shirt with a satin-gold waistband given to him by the Tsarina. Yusupov showed his guest to a basement salon, claiming his wife was still entertaining guests in the main part of the palace and would join them later. Rasputin drank several poisoned glasses of his favourite sweet Madeira and helped himself to one or two cyanide-filled gateaux. But over an hour later neither had taken effect and Yusupov, his patience exhausted, turned to desperate measures. Taking a Browning pistol from his writing desk upstairs, he rejoined the basement party, invited Rasputin to inspect a crystal crucifix standing on a commode, and, as the 'holy man' bent down to do so, shot him in the side. With a wild scream Rasputin fell to the floor. The conspirators presumed he was dead and went off to dispose of his overcoat. But meanwhile he regained consciousness and made his way to a side door that led into a courtyard and out on to the embankment. Purishkevich found him in the courtyard, staggering through the snow towards the outside gate, shouting, 'Felix, Felix, I will tell the Tsarina everything!' Purishkevich fired and missed him twice. But two more shots brought his victim down in a heap and, just to make sure that he was dead, Purishkevich kicked him in the temple. Weighed down with iron chains, Rasputin's corpse was driven to a remote spot of the city and dumped into the Neva, where it was finally washed up on 18 December. For several days thereafter, crowds of women gathered at the spot to collect the 'holy water' from the river sanctified by Rasputin's flesh.62

The news of Rasputin's murder was greeted with joy among aristocratic circles. The Grand Duke Dmitry was given a standing ovation when he appeared in the Mikhailovsky Theatre on the evening of 17 December. The Tsarina's sister, the Grand Duchess Elisaveta, wrote to Yusupov's mother offering prayers of thanks for her 'dear son's patriotic act'. She and fifteen other members of the imperial family pleaded with the Tsar not to punish Dmitry. But Nicholas rejected their appeal, replying that 'No one has the right to engage in murder.'63 Dmitry was exiled to Persia. On special orders from the Tsar, no one was allowed to bid him farewell at the station, and the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna was put under house arrest for trying to.


29 General Brusilov in 1917, shortly after his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army. One of his subordinates described him as 'a man of average height with gentle features and a natural easy-going manner but with such an air of commanding dignity that, when one looks at him, one feels duty-bound to love him and at the same time to fear him'.

30 Maxim Gorky in 1917. 'It was impossible to argue with Gorky. You couldn't convince him of anything, because he had an astonishing ability: not to listen to what he didn't like, not to respond when a question was asked which he had no answer to' (Nina Berberova). It was no doubt this ability which enabled Gorky to live in Lenin's Russia.

31 Prince G. E. Lvov, democratic Russia's first Prime Minister, in March 1917. During his four months in office Lvov's hair turned white.

32 Sergei Semenov in 1917. The peasant activist was sufficiently well known in his native district of Volokolamsk to warrant this portrait.

33 Dmitry Os'kin (seated centre) with the Tula Military Commissariat in 1919. The story of his rise from the peasantry to the senior ranks of the Red Army was later told by Os'kin in two autobiographical volumes of 1926 and 1931. Like Kanatchikov's autobiography, they were part of the Soviet genre of memoirs by the masses.

34 Alexander Kerensky in 1917. This was just one of many portraits of Kerensky circulated to the masses in postcard form as part of the cult of his personality.

35 Lenin harangues the crowd, 1918. The photographer was Petr Otsup, one of the pioneers of the Soviet school of photo-journalism.

36 Trotsky in the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1906. Trotsky was a dapper dresser, even when in jail. Here, in the words of Isaac Deutscher, he looks more like 'a prosperous western European fin-de-siecle intellectual just about to attend a somewhat formal reception [than] a revolutionary awaiting trial in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Only the austerity of the bare wall and the peephole in the door offer a hint of the real background.'

37 Alexandra Kollontai in 1921, when she threw her lot in with the Workers' Opposition. Kollontai's break with Lenin was especially significant because she had been the only senior Bolshevik to support his April Theses from the start.

Contrary to the intentions of the conspirators, Rasputin's death drew Nicholas closer to his grief-stricken wife. He was now more determined than ever to resist all advocates of reform. He even banished four dissident grand dukes from Petrograd. As the revolution drew nearer, he retreated more and more into the quiet life of his family at Tsarskoe Selo, cutting off all ties with the outside world and even the rest of the court. There was no customary exchange of gifts between the imperial couple and the Romanovs at the dynasty's final Christmas of 1916.

Rasputin's embalmed body was finally buried outside the palace at Tsarskoe Selo on a freezing January day in 1917. After the February Revolution a group of soldiers exhumed the grave, packed up the corpse in a piano case and took it off to a clearing in the Pargolovo Forest, where they drenched it with kerosene and burned it on top of a pyre. His ashes were scattered in the wind.

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