Sunday, September 06, 2009



The forces on the far right dedicated to neutering the Obama Administration have a new rallying cry: czars. If you've been to any of the recent teabagger events, you've run into that strain of garden variety Republican Party (and fellow traveler) nihilism. I want to take this opportunity when czars are on the tongues of so many 'tards and, predictably, obstructionists-- and when Glenn Beck has just gotten his first scalp-- to come at the question of czars from a somewhat different perspective.

The House of Romanov took over Russia in 1613-- and held on for a smidge over three centuries, widely considered the most authoritarian, despotic and authoritarian of all the European ruling families. When the last czar, Nicholas II, inherited the throne in 1894 at age 26, he was ill-prepared to rule and Russia tumbled from Great Power status to economic and military basketcase. Having lead his country from disaster to disaster, he abdicated in 1917 and was executed the following year. All my life I've been fascinated with an historical incident that took place in January, 1905, midway through his reign and Obama's selection-- the first one he made-- of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, brought it clearly back into my mind. Bear with me.

Russia is my ancestral homeland and I've paid some attention to its history. There has always been this tradition-- more a myth, actually-- that if Russia's downtrodden could only get a petition past the czar's evil ministers-- "if only our little father czar knew of our troubles, then he could help us"-- their grievances could be addressed. By 1905 the myth of the benevolent father had worn thin but among enough peasants and workers it seems to have persisted-- with no evidence to have ever bolstered it-- so that it led to what is commonly known as Bloody Sunday.

A month-long strike of as many as 100,000 workers in St Petersburg culminated in a peaceful march to the Winter Palace by workers and their families to present their "little father" with a petition. No one thought of their little father as a vampiric butcher, although they had every reason to. When he first ascended to the throne there were some hopes that he might move Russia in a more Democratic direction. Those hopes were as silly as the ones anyone is harboring today that the Obama Administration will be any less in thrall to the corporate state than Bush was. "[I]t has come to my knowledge," hissed the little father, "that during the last months there have been heard in some assemblies of the zemstvos the voices of those who have indulged in a senseless dream that the zemstvos be called upon to participate in the government of the country. I want everyone to know that I will devote all my strength to maintain, for the good of the whole nation, the principle of absolute autocracy, as firmly and as strongly as did my late lamented father." He then embarked upon, among other disastrous and barbaric policies, a series of pogroms that led to millions of Jews leaving Russia.

When the workers-- some carrying crosses, icons and portraits of the czar and singing "God Save the Czar"-- marched to the Winter Palace, the little father was neither there nor even in town. Prince Sviatopolk-Mirsky, the Minister of the Interior, with the czar's knowledge, brought in extra troops from outside of St Petersburg. They opened fire on marchers all over the city. Over a thousand were killed. It was the beginning of the end of the autocracy; peasants and workers around Russia finally came to the conclusion-- and voiced it-- that "The Czar will nit help us."

I imagine that the feeling in the White House this weekend-- in anticipation of Obama's speech declaring that he's sticking with the corporate powers and abandoning the American people-- is something like what Nicholas' sister, the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, expressed at the convocation of the Duma (as an advisory body) half a year after the slaughter.
"There was such gloom at Tsarskoe Selo. I did not understand anything about politics. I just felt everything was going wrong with the country and all of us. The October Constitution did not seem to satisfy anyone. I went with my mother to the first Duma. I remember the large group of deputies from among peasants and factory people. The peasants looked sullen. But the workmen were worse: they looked as though they hated us. I remember the distress in Alicky's eyes."

Nicholas' Minister of the Court (Chamberlain), Count Fredericks is remembered by historyfor only one pronouncement: "The Deputies, they give one the impression of a gang of criminals who are only waiting for the signal to throw themselves upon the ministers and cut their throats. I will never again set foot among those people."

Rahm Emanuel may be remembered for worse, throwing Van Jones under the bus, being only one small part of a pattern that is proving disastrous for American working families who had pinned their hopes for real change on someone as ill-equipped to rule as Nicholas II was.

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At 2:45 PM, Anonymous OM said...

I lived in England when Blair came to power after a dark long Tory rule, and proceeded to take the country through a Third Way into the Iraq war. I don't believe we're better off with the Devil We Know, but we could do much better than another Clinton/Blair Third Way.

At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Greytdog said...

You've voiced some of the uneasy thoughts that have been filtering through my brain. Not sure if Obama is ruthless enough to stand up to Blue Dogs, Rahmn, and the Rethugs.

At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I labeled Obama Bush Lite during the Campaign when he said he would invade Pakistan, and gave not word about how he would end the two bankrupting wars already ongoing.

Unfortunately, I may have been more right than wrong.

At 2:08 AM, Blogger . said...



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