The beginnings of Soviet Russia

The February Revolution (1917)

/ en.wikipedia.org

/ en.wikipedia.org

It is easy enough to say that the origin of the Revolution in Russia was mainly due to the unpopularity of the Tsar; but that would preclude other, deeper origins. The Great War had demoralized, decentralized and depopulated this huge country, a state always prepared to send more young men to be killed in battle even when mass slaughter was not required for reasons of strategy. Russian losses (dead, wounded or captured) during the great conflict had been more than half of those conscripted, perhaps fifteen million men. The war had to be paid for and the Russian government did this by the unintelligent method of printing more money, which in turn produced massive inflation. Prices of staple food supplies had quadrupled between 1914 and 1916. The serfs would not sell their grain, because there was nothing in the shops to buy with whatever cash they could obtain. Peasants therefore gave the grain to their animals, so animals got more grain than townspeople or the army. There were more strikes, because the average worker had noted his purchasing power in decline. Continue reading

François P. G. Guizot

/ es.wikipedia.org

/ es.wikipedia.org

This French Protestant intellectual and statesman was born in 1787; he was an infant when the revolutionaries guillotined his father during The Great Terror (q.v.). When the Revolution was over and the Bourbon dynasty restored, François served Louis XVII in 1814, thinking that the Allied powers would deal effectively with Bonaparte. When the ex-Emperor of the French left house arrest on the island of Elba and returned to France to start the Napoleonic Wars over again, the French King ran away, and Guizot had to wait for Wellington and Blucher to finish Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) before resuming normal service. Continue reading

Louis Philippe, King of the French

/ en.wikipedia.org

/ en.wikipedia.org

He was a descendant of Louis XIII (the king in The Three Musketeers), and the eldest son of the Duke of Orléans. Both father and son openly supported the French Revolution, and actually voted for the death of Louis XVI. Both liked to be called Philippe Égalité, inspired one assumes by the revolutionary chant ‘Liberté, Fraternité, Égalité. At the age of nineteen he fought in the French Revolutionary Wars (q.v.) at Valmy and Jemappes, but with his commander Dumouriez plotted to restore a French monarchy, albeit a constitutional one. Unfortunately his father was blamed for this and despite his nickname of Égalité he was arrested and guillotined in 1793. Young Philippe was just twenty years old.

Exiling himself to the safety of Austria, he stayed, gaining a reputation as an homme du monde, until he returned to France in 1814, where he found himself extremely rich, mainly due to the Milliard of King Charles X. This was compensation paid officially by the government to those emigrants who had left France before or during the Revolution and had had their lands sequestered. Philippe was very much the man about town, elegantly dressed if a bit of a fop; he had ten children whom he is said to have cherished, and an easy way with the ordinary people of Paris. Continue reading

Who was the dreaded Mosley?

The Mosleys in retirement / en.wikipedia.org

The Mosleys in retirement / en.wikipedia.org

I doubt if more than a handful of today’s teenagers have ever heard of Sir Oswald Mosley, or if they have, he is but a shadowy figure haunting the nineteen thirties. And yet he was brilliantly guyed in the television series Jeeves and Wooster in the 1990s; with another name of course, P.G. Wodehouse invented a comic horror who has several brushups with Bertie, Jeeves and Gussie Fink-Nottle (newts and all). Wodehouse calls him Sir Roderick Spode. He is played to perfection by John Turner. Continue reading

Helmuth von Moltke

/ en.wikipedia.org

/ en.wikipedia.org

Born in Prussia in 1800, Moltke lived to the astonishing age of ninety-one, almost spanning the nineteenth century. He was born to be a soldier, being Prussian, and became Chief of the General Staff at only fifty-seven. Working with his War Minister Von Roon, he was nevertheless responsible for augmenting the efficiency and size of the Prussian Army. Continue reading

The French Radical Republic (1899 – 1940)

Aristide Briand ( en. wikipedia.org

Aristide Briand ( en. wikipedia.org)

The essential difference between a (strictly) democratic republic and a monarchy is that the first is a government elected by people who have the correct age and the right to do so, accepting that the politicians chosen then elect among themselves a President who will preside over the people and them. Almost all, though not quite all monarchies embrace a hereditary Head of State – a descendent within a royal family which may or may not be a dynasty. Both presidents and monarchs hope to be popular with the population they rule. If they prove unpopular with the politicians they will be removed by them under one pretext or other – often by violent means. This seems to be a rule of History.

The radical Republic that governed France between the end of the 19th century until 1940 was both stable and conservative, though plagued by sometimes bewildering changes of administration. No party could rule without the support of the Radicals, suitably armed with doctrines composed by the appropriately named Léon Bourjeois in his book La Solidarité published in 1896. This volume, not much discussed today, tried to find a middle way between socialism and capitalism, in an attempt to replace the outmoded idea of laissez-faire, roughly translated as ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ – the classic conservative view. Continue reading

Second thoughts on General Pinochet

/ the guardian.com

/ the guardian.com

He was another military dictator who was and is still hated by almost everybody, even after his death, except a substantial portion of the Latin American population. He ran foul of the tremendously powerful Soviet propaganda machine, and paid the price. As a result of poisonous journalistic pens, he became one of the most misjudged figures of the twentieth century. Continue reading

Second thoughts on General Franco

Franco & Doñe Carmen enjoying some Spanish football / insidespanishfootball.com

Franco & Doña Carmen enjoying some Spanish football / insidespanishfootball.com

I am not a revisionist. My views on the character and actions of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell have not changed in fifty years. Any reader of this website will know my views on Richard III, Henry VIII and Stalin. I do not have a good opinion of that Prince of Wales who became Edward VIII. I have never been fond of press barons, except perhaps Kay Graham of The Washington Post. Along with almost everybody, I do not like dictators, because they dictate how you must think and make short work of you if you are disobedient. There are plenty still around, despite two horrible world wars to discourage them. Continue reading

What was the British ‘Raj’?

Last splendours of the 'Raj'; Mountbatten after his swearing-in a Viceroy /en wikipedia.org

Last splendours of the ‘Raj'; Mountbatten after his swearing-in as Viceroy / en wikipedia.org

Raj is Hindi for ‘rule’. The East India Company (always known as The Company) had opened up this vast Asian territory since the latter part of the 18th century. Largely because of corrupt practices, the British government took control in 1858. India was to be governed by a Viceroy in situ and a Secretary of State in London. The country would be controlled and administered by the Indian civil service, created in 1853 with entrance permitted only by the passing of competitive examinations, where there was supposed to be no racial discrimination. The exams were, however, held in London so Indians taking them were few and far between. They did manage however to secure the less important posts.

It became obvious that a few thousand British officials could not control tens of millions of Indians (305 million in 1921, 400 million in 1941) without the cooperation of the natural (and hereditary) leaders in the princely states, which meant 30% of the continent with around a quarter of the population. The British therefore awarded honours and restricted powers to the princes, while at the same time impressing them with British strength at the mightily staged Durbars. Continue reading

The Paris Peace Conference 1919/1920

/ black discountcenter.com

/ black discountcenter.com

On 20 June, 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed – a dictated treaty which left most parties dissatisfied but brought the Great War to an end as far as actual fighting is concerned. Statesmen, diplomats and politicians with the best of intentions continued into 1920 with the Paris Peace Conference in which each of the defeated Central Powers was dealt with. Versailles had occupied itself with Germany, but then Austria came under the victor’s scrutiny at St. Germain, then Bulgaria at Neuilly, Hungary at Trianon (June 1920) and Turkey at Sevres (August 1920).

A good deal of what was discussed at the Conference had already been thrashed out at Versailles, or earlier – the Treaty of London signed by Italy had taken place in the second year of the War, 1915. In that case the promise of added territory if any belligerent joined the Allies might have been the cause of Italy’s decision. Countries breaking away from the Hapsburg Empire had formed themselves into entirely new states, such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia; both were doomed to failure and division. Continue reading