DOOMSDAY 1917: The Destruction of Russia's Ruling Class by Douglas Brown

DOOMSDAY 1917: The Destruction of Russia's Ruling Class

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The somnambulism of the Russian nobility during the 1917 deluge was jeeringly evoked by Trotsky, by John Reed and perhaps most unforgettably by Maurice Paleologue, the French Ambassador to the court of Nicholas II. Brown mines them all for this funereal pastiche of the Russian aristocracy in dissolution. From the unseemly scramble of courtiers and parasites away from the just-abdicated Tsar and his family (""All around me I see treason, cowardice and deceit,"" wrote Nicholas--an accurate perception) to the hysteria of refugees in Odessa and Baku when the phantom regimes of the Whites collapsed, the last act of the bejeweled, uniformed upper crust was one of abject retreat. The St. Vitus dance of St. Petersburg society continued even as the Red Guard marched on the Winter Palace; Theosophists, religious charlatans and ballerinas were the darlings of the day. The Grand Duke Paul fretted about the security of his wine cellar more than security of the state. Though Brown doesn't try to tell the political story in any detail, he gives a good sense of the vaporous ad hoc organizations such as the Committees of Salvation which quickly formed and as quickly disappeared during these chaotic months. His diagnosis of the Russian liberals is the standard one: they were too politically immature and too pusillanimous to inherit the power of the state once the Autocracy fell. Beyond that Brown eschews class analysis, preferring to divide Russian society into the glittering ""haves"" and the submerged ""have-nots."" Rarely has a ruling class died so ignominiously ""without political or social posterity."" The acting out of their death wish still has a kind of ghoulish fascination, and, fortunately Brown avoids sentimental effusions of pity for those consigned to the rubbish heap of history.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1975
Publisher: Putnam