Christopher Clark (2013) The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

It’s been over 100 years since the war to end all wars. An impoverished and tubercular Gavrilo Princip, who carried all his possessions in a suitcase and had nowhere to stay when he arrived in Belgrade, firing the bullets in Sarajevo that killed Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Este and  the heir to the Habsburg throne for the cause of Serbian nationalism. Shots that rang around the world. Sophie Chotek, the Czech noblewomen, a love match and marriage that the Emperor and therefore the Habsburg royal family did not approve,  also died, but is mostly forgotten, like the estimated 40 million dead in the first world war. Because this is a story of great men locked into a feudal way of thinking and acting.

If you look at the cover picture, Franz Ferdinand’s car with whitewall tyres and a flag, surrounded by men on horseback. Tens of millions of men called up, but also millions of horses and mules. Yet, it all feels strangely familiar. 100 000 Russian troops mustered near Ukraine’s border. False flag operations such as ‘Operation Himmler’, which Hitler used as a pretext for the invasion of Poland. Or the weapons of mass destruction George W Bush (junior) claimed Saddam Hussein had developed before the second Gulf War. But there was no cypher attack on critical infrastructure because we’ve moved on.

Brinkmanship.  

British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey in the last days of peace, was perplexed and unnerved by an understanding he himself had a large part in constructing and articulating—Triple Entente with France and Russia—had somehow come to this juncture:

‘that a remote quarrel in south-eastern Europe could be a trigger for a continental war, even though none of the three Entente powers were under attack or threat of attack’.

Sir Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Fleet, had already mobilised the navy. The Tory Press had quickly come on board. The more liberal press to follow. Talk of Irish Home Rule and sending the British Expeditionary Force to Ireland was shunted into a siding.

Kaiser Wilhelm II symbolised the continued role of the aristocracy in decision making at the highest government levels. His dithering about whether a partial or full mobilisation of German troops was needed made the Chief of the General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke weep and edge towards a mental breakdown. Troops were already on their way by train towards Luxemburg. But Wilhelm II was assured, he believed, by King George V that Britain would maintain its neutrality. They were both grandsons of Queen Victoria. Tsar Nicholas II’s wife, Alexandra, was Queen Victoria’s daughter. King Edward VII can be seen dressed in a colonel’s uniform of the Austrian 11th Hussars. Britain wasn’t anti-German. Neither was Germany anti-British.

Both, for different reasons, were fearful of the Russian bear. German fears were existential. The German High Command called for a defensive war that had to be fought sooner rather than later. Russia was a backward and feudal nation, with the Ukraine its breadbasket. But it was industrialising fast. Soon it would become the America of the East. Already troop numbers were projected to exceed the numbers of German soldiers. French finance also poured into Russia and doubled the number of railway tracks laid near the borders, allowing the rapid deployment of troops and supplies that had been so successful a tactic during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.  

The Anglo-French naval agreement tied Britain into controlling the North Sea. The French agreeing to limit its activites to the Mediterranean. Russia’s Far East naval fleet had been destroyed by Japan’s in the war of 1905. Britain courted Japan as an ally in containing Russia. In particular, the Russian imperial threat in Persia and, the jewel in the crown, India.

The Entente agreement appeased Russia, but also sought to contain a Germany that was modernising and overtaking Britain as the workshop of the world that exported most goods and services. The empire on which the sun never sets controlled around a quarter of the world’s population and land mass. It had more dreadnoughts than any other nation, and it continued to control the oceans and seas. But the First World War would bankrupt the country. The beneficiaries would be largely America and Japan.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea and China, the new workshop of the world, creating facts on the ground by creating islands of seabed and subsoil could be the way we sleepwalk into the next and last war, which will be Armageddon. Taiwan, where American backed, Chiang Kai-Shek and his defeated Kuomintang army fled over the Taiwan Straits to be protected by American troops remains a Chinese rallying call.

Christopher Clark shows the ways in which the pre-1914 world was divided into countries and hegemonic influences that changed. But perhaps we’re best looking sideways at W.H.Auden (1907-1973) who also captured the zeitgeist, again in familiar ways.

When statesmen gravely say ‘We must be realistic’,

The chances are they are weak and therefore, pacifistic,

But when they speak of Principles, look out: perhaps

Their generals are already poring over the maps.    

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/14/us-russia-false-flag-ukraine-attack-claim

Edvard Radzinsky (2000) Rasputin, The Last Word, translated from the Russian by Judosn Rosengrant.

At just over 650 pages this offers a comprehensive account of Grigory Efimovich Rasputin’s life and deaths. Deaths—plural. Most of us are familiar with the legend that Rasputin was poisoned, shot and finally drowned. His bound hands still clawing underneath the ice. Radzinsky takes the reader through different versions, but with the same outcome. Rasputin was murdered. The question of why he was murdered in much the same way that the tsar, tsarina and the Romanov children were murdered, he leaves to the last paragraph of his account.

Rasputin is the key to understanding both the soul and brutality of the Russia that came after him. He was a precursor of the millions of peasants who, with religious consciousness on their souls, would nevertheless tear down churches, and who, with a dream of the reign of Love and Justice, would murder, rape, and flood the country with blood, in the end destroying themselves.   

There is an Afterword, in Putin’s Russia the name St Petersburg had been restored (formerly Petrograd and Leningrad) and the coffin of the tsars (like Rasputin’s body their bodies were burned to ash, so it would be an empty coffin) was returned from Ekaterinburg and laid to rest in the great cathedral. Putin said he wouldn’t attend, but did. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra (Alix) and their children Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexi were feted as living saints by the Russian Orthodox Church.

In a black and white, cartoonish, world it was Rasputin that led them astray. While he lingers in infamy their goodness vindicated shines anew.

When you look for miracles, often you find them, especially if you are one of the last autocratic rulers on one of the biggest and richest, but technologically backward countries on earth. The 1905 war against Japan had ended in Russia’s humiliation. I’m no fan of Shakespeare but Richard II and the appeal for treason is perhaps a good place to start if you want to understand autocracy.

‘The unreal world of miracles and prophecies was increasingly becoming Alix’s real world. In Sarov they spent whole evenings by the spring and the rock where Serafim had lifted his voice in prayer. At night she and Nicky would bathe in the waters of the spring, putting their trust in the saint’s help and praying for an heir.’  

The tsarina Alexi resented that Alexander II who was appointed by God to rule over the Russian people could no longer do so directly but by decree. He had to pay more than lip service to the Duma. And she feared her son Alexi would inherit the wind. His powers would be curbed and he would be little more than a token head of state like her grandmother, Queen Victoria. But the blood of the Romanov’s was tainted. Alexi was born with haemophilia. There was no cure, but Rasputin. 

As a peasant he was a direct link to the Rus, the real Russian people that provided the bread that they all ate. He called the tsarina, ‘Mamma,’ and tsar, ‘Pappa,’ mother and father of all Russia. God’s anointed. And he prophesised that their paths and that of all Russia, were inextricably linked.

Radzinsky allows Rasputin to be both miraculous and diabolic. The spirit the peasant channels he suggests, however, is Alix’s. Semi-literate, he could read her easier than he could any book. Her wishes, where his wishes. ‘Pappa,’ needed to be sure that God was watching over him. Rasputin gave him evidence of this. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a useful tool.

Sex plays a big part in the legend of Rasputin. Radzinsky links it to secret sect of Christianity that didn’t come from the West of Europe and was purely Russian in origin, but were more universal in their ideas of chastising and subjugating the body for Christ’s glory. The Skoptsy (Castrators) cut off their penis.  The Kylysty (Flagellants) was another heretic sect with a belief in the second coming of a Russian redeemer to liberate the oppressed and dating back to the seventeen century to the time of the first Romanovs. A mixture of paganism and Russian Orthodoxy. It taught that every man should become Christ and the Holy Ghost would descend upon him. Self-scourging, Christ-like flagellation and ascetic practices were one part of their belief. But during radenic (rejoicing) at communal gatherings, when the Holy Ghost descended an orgy took place. Svalnyi grekh (group sinning)  promiscuous sex between men and women took place in order to conceive as many new ‘Christs’ and ‘Mothers of God’ as possible.

Rasputin when having sex with many women followers was healing them and himself of the sin of lechery by having sex. Tautological reasoning, but for Rasputin it was a living creed. He wore out many couches he kept in the houses in which he lodged and his sexual appetite was overwhelming. ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa,’ believe none of these government reports, believing him, Christ-like, to be unjustly accused and vilified.

With a direct link to the highest of the high, the tsar and tsarina, Rasputin pedalled public offices and millions of roubles passed through his hands. Much of it stolen by his ‘secretaries’.

The plot to kill Rasputin came from the aristocracy of Russian society, member of the Yacht club. The war with Germany was a debacle mirroring that of Japan. While condemning the tsar would be an act of treason, criticising his Germanic bride was not, and demonising her proxy Rasputin was aligned with a malignant hatred of a peasant interfering in matters of state. An act of righteousness would wipe out Rasputin. Peasants could be quietly flayed and beaten to death. But there was a note of caution.  Rasputin’s supernatural powers, his guards, and ‘Mamma’ and ‘Papa’ watching over him, yet the plan to kill him was quite straightforward.

‘At Midnight A Friend Will Come To See Him.’  (16th / 17th December 1916)

The Friend is Prince Felix Yusopov, a bisexual, who dressed in girl’s clothes when he was a little boy and had adult sex with men and women. Radzinsky hints he may have been treated for his homosexuality by Rasputin, in what ways is not made clear. Yusopov had millions of roubles and thousands of hectares of land, he was friends and neighbours with the Romanovs. Yusopov’s wife, Irna, a society beauty was the—missing—bait in the trap. The hypocrisy of the widespread acceptance of Yusopov’s sexuality and the condemnation of Rasputin’s was based on class. Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich who was briefly engaged to one of Tsar’s daughters, before it was called after a behind-the-scenes scandal about his love affair with Felix. He was said to have fired the final shots at Rasputin and left him for dead (although water in his lung suggested to pathologists he’d finally drowned). Felix shot him too. And tried to poison him. Radzinsky explains these failures were not supernatural, but amateurish attempts to take his life.

The police officer’s account of hearing three or four shots and having seen Prince Yusopov and his butler crossing the courtyard of his palace was significant in that he was regarded as public servant, little more than a jumped-up peasant, the other a Prince. One’s testimony could be believed, the other ignored. Class matters. And it never mattered more in the cover-ups then and after the 1916 revolution. Rasputin was said to have prophesised his own death and the Bolshevik revolution in the name of natural justice that would end with the Romanov’s deaths mirroring Rasputin’s.  He created his own hell and he paid the price of being an upstart peasant. The Romanov’s are in heaven looking down on us. Aye, right. Believe that and you’ll believe Trump won the 2020 election.  Read on.