NIcholas II: The Last Tsar

Tsar Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas II ruled during time of great conflict and upheaval, ultimately concluding not only with the end of the Romanov dynasty, but also the end of tsarist rule over Russia. During the 1917 February revolution in Petrograd, the people protested the food shortage as a result of war, directing their anger towards the tsar and his regime. After power struggles, Nicholas lost the people’s trust and patience. After the people gained the support of the royal army, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate the throne to his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail. In Nicholas’s declaration of abdication he stated that he did not want to “separate [myself] from [my] beloved son” ((The Times, Abdication of Nicholas II, 1917)) which may be true, but Nicholas also was protecting Alexander by keeping his identity as a hemophiliac secret by refusing to abdicate the throne to him. In Nicholas’s written abdication he believes that the war must come to an end “at all costs” ((The Times, Abdication of Nicholas II, 1917)), one of which was ending the centuries long reign of his Romanov legacy.

Even as Nicholas gave up power he still managed to make a request of his citizens to “obey[ing] the tsar at the painful moment of national trial” ((The Times, Abdication of Nicholas II, 1917)). Directly after inspiring this final moment of trust, Nicholas goes on to say “May God help Russia” ((The Times, Abdication of Nicholas II, 1917)) , which appears to give up responsibility and convey that fate is taking the lead of the situation, a contradiction to his previous statement. As power is transferred to Grand Duke Michael, he soon passes it along to the Duma and the First Provisional Government in the hopes of creating a “more stable executive power” ((Izvestiia, The First Provisional Government, 1917)). The Provisional Government, consisted of Kadets and revolutionists, is led by Prince L’vov. In such a tumultuous time the Provisional Government attempted to enact many principles, some of which were too abrupt of an ideological shift to be truly successful. While the Provisional government was one step in a new political order, a lack of cohesion and realistic principles created an environment which was not se tup for success, leaving the Russian people without a strong government once again and vulnerable to the next shift of power.

Why abdication?

Nicholas II abdicated the Crown and appointed his brother, Grand Duke Michael, to be his successor (( Abdication of Nikolai II, March 15, 1917 )). However, Michael agreed to “accept the Supreme Power” only in case it was the will of the nation. ((Declaration from the Throne by Grand Duke Mikhail, March 16, 1917)) The Provisional Government had been established to serve Imperial needs before the moment people decided on the country’s new form of government. At the very beginning of its’ work new “rulers” made a few important decisions: amnesty, freedoms, abolition of restrictions based on nationality and religion, etc. ((Izvestiia, 3 March 1917.)) But why did it happen? Was that necessary?

Of course, Nicholas II made a fatal mistake by shooting into people who went to the Winter Palace. But was it necessary to leave the Throne while the country was participating in the World War? He probably knew that his brother was not going to agree being the Emperor, so why did he do that and not just gave more power to the State Duma and restricted his own? I tried to reconstruct the possible logic.

Imagine that you’re the ruler of the country, who just lost all his trust from his nation by shooting into his people, loosing the war, etc. You have a brother, whom population loves more. He says he doesn’t want to rule the country. Now you have three choices.

The first one is remain on your Throne and wait if the dissatisfaction lowers, for example, with some good news from the battlefield. But that’s going to be very dangerous if your people decide to help you understanding that it’s high time to leave.

The second one is to restrict your power and give more to some representative organ, in particular, State Duma. In this case the fundamental idea of Russian Monarchy – Ablsolutism – is lost. You and your royal family hardly will be able to return the power back ever again.

And finally, you have your brother, who speaks as if he won’t accept the Crown. But actually it could be a kind of “cheap talk” ((In game theory, cheap talk is communication between players which does not directly affect the payoffs of the game.)). Because, as he gets all the power, the future of his nation is in his hands and he probably won’t let the country to have no leader at such a hard time. If population ask him for becoming a new Emperor, he possibly accept it. And, in any case, Michael is going to face the same choice: either to rule, to restrict his power or to give the Throne to the next in line for it. Why not try?

So, summarizing all written above, I came to the conclusion that Nicholas had chosen, probably, the option which costed him and his family less among the other alternatives at that moment of time. What this decision resulted to for the country? We’ll learn soon.

Abdication of Nikolai II

By 1917, Russia’s populace faced a combination of very severe acute food shortages caused by the unorganized and uncontrolled war effort, and social disorder subsequent of several Liberal and revolutionary groups split in their ideas and desires but all dissatisfied with the minimal (or even lack of) reform afforded to them by the Dumas. Nikolai was therefore advised to abdicate, whereupon he drew up a manifesto abdicating his position and naming his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as the next Emperor. Nikolai had not genuinely tried to make any reforms to advance the lives of the general public, with the justification that he did not fathom the outlook or everyday condition of the people and consequently resorted to the Russo-Japanese War and the publication of the October Manifesto as endeavors to maintain the people’s allegiance to him and the autocracy. From Nikolai’s contracted abdication document we are able to see that even at the culmination of the Romanov dynasty, Nikolai had an idealistically optimistic vision of the future. He wrote in his abdication letter, “We call upon all faithful sons of our native land to fulfill their sacred and patriotic duty of obeying the Tsar… and to aid them, together with the representatives of the nation, to conduct the Russian State in the way of prosperity and glory.” This primary source is further evidence that Nikolai did not have a complete awareness of what the underlying problem was and what had gone wrong – the state was not only in chaos because of World War I but a massive social revolution was breaking out. The legislative institution had broken away from the government, more revolutionary tensions and activisms were arising, and the crushed army was motivated by the peasants’ aspiration to obtain land. In a time of anarchy within his State, Nikolai was speaking of an “organized” and “victorious conclusion” of the war. Nikolai’s inability to make decisions is also reflected by carefully worded explanation for not handing his “heritage” to his son (as he had in first abdication letter favored of his hemophilic son Alexei for the “Throne of the Russian State,” over his brother).