Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Daniel Thwaites | Pre-revolutionary times

Published:Sunday | April 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Imagine an administration championing 'preventative detention' and looking to an obeah man for help while people a dead like wow! Suppose I told you they're also dropping massive tax packages to finance troops to clear bush. Suppose all of this is going on while the leader is more interested in PR than getting the business done?

It's pre-revolutionary Russia in 1917. Mind you, Rasputin didn't tie up his head, keep a pencil in his ears, and work with cream soda in St Mary.

Last month marked 100 years since the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty in the 'February Revolution', and the rise of the provisional government and the Petrograd Soviets. The more famous October 1917 Revolution would follow when the Bolsheviks successfully capitalised on the weakness and chaos, and silenced and destroyed the now mostly forgotten non-Bolshevik Left.

A word on dating: Russians used the Julian calendar, which lagged almost two weeks behind the Gregorian calendar used in more civilised places. Russia was quite literally behind the times, so the February Revolution mostly took place in early March.




It's worth asking if anyone should really care about these things nowadays. Communism has been defeated and discredited, and although the few last stragglers try to find moral equivalence with the undoubted crimes of the capitalists, the latter genuinely pale in comparison to the staggering charnel-houses of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.

Communists resolutely replaced the aristocratic and bourgeois elite with another elite of party apparatchiks, who promptly set about enshrining their own privilege. For example, although he mercilessly toppled the symbols of Russian high culture while silencing and liquidating its proponents, Stalin's daughter received exquisitely upper-class ballet training.

So why recall the events that birthed such monsters?

Just a few years ago, the Cold War division it eventually created was a settled feature of our world, and everyone believed it would remain that way. We in Jamaica took it up enthusiastically, and it has marked our politics, particularly the political institution that tended to absorb the intellectuals: the PNP.

Then there's fascination with the macabre: these events led to extraordinary amounts of blood. And nostalgia: It harkens back to a time when ideas mattered. But most important, I think, is an instruction in pessimism: The citizens of these utopias generally took every chance to leave.

Allied with healthy pessimism, is a robust distrust of academics. Those who championed communism as the philosophy of the future were very often safely ensconced in that grand medieval institution, the university. Nowadays, of course, as a class, they have largely forgiven themselves for the spectacular lapse in judgement and just moved on to other sexier contemporary causes.

So how did this tragedy arise?

February 1917 is generally understood as the last clear shot the Russians had to establish a decent government before the October 1917 triumph of the maniac Bolsheviks. An earlier opportunity was in 1905 when serious unrest had led to the establishment of a representative assembly and the basic architecture of a constitutional monarchy. That went belly up because Tsar Nicholas II really was a total and complete asshat.

World War I is the great self-inflicted wound from which Western civilisation has never recovered, as it unleashed the twin evils of fascism and Bolshevism. And 100 years ago, this spectacularly stupid tsar was off pretending to be the chief commander of the Russian army. He assumed this role after a string of humiliating defeats had been handed to his troops. The net effect, however, was another string of defeats, now blamed on his inexpert leadership.

While soldiering, he had left the Government in care of his wife the tsarina, a German, whose erstwhile countrymen were destroying the soldiers under her husband's command. On top of that, she had fallen under the spiritual direction of Monty's Uncle, the self-styled obeah man, Rasputin.




Enduring food shortages and a miserable winter, workers spilled out into the streets. As more and more people spilled on to the streets of Petrograd, Tsar Nicholas's orders to shoot them were disobeyed. Instead, the army was joining with the protesters and workers.

With military mutiny, it was clear that time had come. Nicholas abdicated. Russia was spent and exhausted.

A provisional government headed by a socialist named Kerensky was created. He took some fatal decisions, the worst of which was to remain in the war. Years later, he was to be found in New York wondering exactly how the government had slipped from his hands into Lenin's ruthless and determined paws. Isn't that another worthwhile reflection: That when the best lack conviction or focus, the passionate intensity of the worst will triumph?

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to