I can sum up the problems of Russia, all throughout her long national history, in one word. Autocracy. But it will take a bit longer to explain it. But you knew that, right? Of course. So let’s get to it.
The problem in explaining this word is that there are two versions of it. And each version has two faces. Just like Russia, and that crazy two-headed Byzantine eagle. This is why she is so hard to understand by outsiders, as no one seems to be meaning the same thing when they ‘talk’ about her. The problem here is rooted in us, however, as Westerners have forgotten something about the past. That part of the past that has been largely forgotten is the word ‘faith’.
Don’t believe me? Here, take a look at what the word means in dear old Angland these days. For the first time in a thousand years, the majority of the Anglish ‘have no religion’. And the much-less-than-half that still has it, hasn’t got it in the form the whole of them had for a thousand years before Henry came along. Nice work, Hank. Still feeling good about those wives? Still wearing that ‘Defender of The Faith‘ medallion? What’s the dress code like down there?
Nope, nobody believes anything of any real import on the Isle anymore. Except the Muslims, of course. But let’s be fair. I’m betting that these same people who have no ‘faith’ also have no patriotism, as it used to be known. I have no statistic to refer to here, but I’m willing to bet on it without the benefit of someone else’s research. I can sense it. Induction. In short, these Anglishmen have no real nationality. No identity whatsoever. No faith, no nation, no future. They are rootless, amorphous beings. Bland blobs of blubber and bone. They are simply consumers. Of whatever is being sold. And what is being sold is getting weirder every day.
Things aren’t as bad over here in the western half of The Empire. But the trendlines are the same. And our glorious leaders in ‘The Faith(s)’ are doing their damnedest to see that we catch up to our Enlightened brethren in the eastern half. Yes, it would be depressing, if I dwelt upon such things. So I don’t. I prefer to go on offense. Much more fun. I refuse to be paralyzed.
What has all of this got to do with Russia? Plenty, Komrade. Because, as I said before, these things we have forgotten in the West have not been lost in the East. In Russia, that is. And that is why we can’t understand them. We are two different species, in effect. Even if we spoke a common language, we still wouldn’t share a common dictionary. We have completely different meanings to core words. And one of those core words is Autocracy. And let’s admit it; the Western intellectual canon, both secular and ecclesial, has had very little use for the word for the last thousand years or so. Or has it?
I’m referring to the fact that there is another way we can express this word in the West. And our word for it, in a certain sense, is Autocephaly. That’s another Eastern thought, but only in its origin. Its use has spread abroad, as it has been one of the most successful exports of the East. For a thousand years in fact. Over here, we call it Democracy. We think for ourselves (supposedly), and then we act for ourselves. Two peas in a pod. The difference, then, between East and West? Over there, they do the opposite. But as I’ve said before, it’s the same pattern. Just a mirrored opposite.
Now I understand that you may be shaking your head, thinking that I am confused. But, no, I’m not. Remember, I don’t listen to what people say (even in the dictionary). I only watch what they do. And in Russia, there is a similar convergence between Autocracy and Autocephaly. The reason, of course, is simple. It’s rooted in the prefix: Auto. Self. And if there was a nation that was headed by an autocrat who also was the effective head of the autocephalous church, then these two ‘things’ become mutually reflective and reinforcing, to the point where they become one. One, in the person who embodies the ‘self’ that describes each sphere of action. Spheres that used to be separate. Civil and ecclesial. But not in Russia. Not for a thousand years. And not today. But beware of making the false assumption that there is only one Autocrat in Russia. This is where we make our mistake. Because we do not know her history.
Definitionally, there can only be one Autocrat at a time, correct? Unless, of course, we are talking about some Siamese Twins at the wheel of the ship of state and church. And that is exactly what I’m talking about. What? Outrageous? Well, are there such things in life, biologically speaking? Of course. Two actual separate beings who are not physically separate. They are joined together, without wedlock, for better or worse. And it’s got to be worse, for at least one of them. But is it always the same one? I contend it is not. Nor has it ever been.
Wasn’t there a Dostoyevskyan character like this? That woman his novel The Demons. (The Possessed, in the west; how appropriate.) Yes, that woman. She had two heads. One fully formed, fully functional. The other more like a stump, on her shoulder. Not really cognizant, but possessed of eyes. Not really aware, but not asleep/ More like in a trance. But obviously a separate head. And the first head kept begging the priest to baptize the other, her ‘sister’. Is this not Russia? And which was the Autocrat? And which was the Autocephalous one?
We’re back where we started. So, let’s start again. An autocrat acts by, and for, himself. The autocephalous one thinks by, and for, himself. So, think about it. Who acts before they have thought? Idiots do, of course. Animals too. But generally speaking, not men. Ideally speaking, that is. And actually, most men do not do both. At least not in that proper order. Most men, being only animals (by choice), will act first and think (rue) later. Others, being sloths, think always and never act. It is only when we do both, in the proper order, that we are truly men. But even that sequence guarantees nothing. Why? Because our thoughts can be, and often are, disordered. And our actions betray our thoughts. Which is why we are allowed to judge others by their fruits.
And thus, Russia. The Russia of autocephaly. The Russia of autocracy. The Russian body with two heads. Just like the Russian Eagle.
Now if you want to understand Russia, you will do no better than to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s magnum opus, The Red Wheel. This trilogy tells us the story of what Russia was like just before the Bolshevik Revolution. (Note: Vol. III has just now shipped, if you’ve been awaiting the translation). This work explains it all, for those who will read. For those who will hear.
The first volume is August 1914, and it relates the story of a Russian officer who ends up traveling the length of the Eastern Front (German perspective, of course). This officer relates astounding stories of absolute idiocy, incompetence and insanity that ruled the Russian war effort and which resulted in incredible defeats at the hands of the vastly out-manned Germans. Manpower may be awesome, but you have to be able to maneuver, Komrade. Efficiency counts. And you’d better have your ammo with you. Jah. In this volume, we also come to see the incredible resilience of the Russian soldiers, who reflect the Russian people. Both peasant, gentry and nobility. Of course, there was little nobility amongst the nobility. But the nobles were at the wheel, and that explains their woes. At least, militarily.
It is the second volume, November 1916, that gets to the heart of the matter. The Autocratic heart of Russia. Obviously, this is just before the March Revolution that would propel Alexander Kerensky and his Masonic Trudoviks to power. This is the story of how they got there. They all (except the Bolsheviks) believed there could be a ‘soft’ revolution. An un-bloody change of state. Who are ‘they’? It was the nobility and the intellectuals. The Narodniks. And of course, the Kadets. You know, the Konstitutional Democrats.
Yes, there was a little play on words there. For these men, the Kadets, were the new Decembrists. That is, they were like those military men who opposed the ascension of Tsar Nicholas I to the throne upon the death of his older brother, Alexander I in December of 1825. Yes, Alexander, who had defeated Napoleon in Moscow in 1812. And these Decembrists mutinied in favor of Nicholas’ other older brother Konstantin, who had favored a constitutional monarchy.
Now here’s a funny thing. If Konstantin had taken the throne, as was his right, he would have been the Tsar of Russia as well as the Governor of Poland (where he resided at that time). And with his Polish Catholic wife, he might have re-united the Slavic world as well as the Catholic-Orthodox world. But it was not to be. Just as the Narodnik-Trudovik-Menshevik-Kadet dream of a soft revolution against the absolutely hard autocracy of the Tsar was not to be. And once again, Russia chose to embrace anything but the West. Including a Tsesarevitch who resided in the far east of the Polish West. So, this thought that there could be a soft revolution, wherein they could depose an autocrat (the Tsar) and create a new one without undue bloodshed, was not a new thought for the Russians of 1916. These were simply the ideological descendants of the Russians who throughout the 19th century believed the Autocrat could still be an autocrat while still being limited by a dreamed-for constitution. But isn’t that a paradox? Or at least an oxymoron?
Here;s how Solzhenitsyn explains it. Or, rather, his alter-ego, 2nd Lt. Alexander Lazhenitsyn. He’s the first character we meet in November 1916. An artillery officer, just like Solzhenitsyn. Decorated for bravery, just like Solzhenitsyn. A southern steppe Russian too, of course. And like his literary namesake, Solzhenitsyn he too would be trapped at the front (of the succeeding war) without sufficient ammo and precious little food. At the front, where he made the mistake of joking about Stalin in a letter to a friend. And that joke would land him in the Gulag for eight years. Yes, Lazhenitsyn is Solzhenitsyn. Both had the true faith, in a simplistic way. Simplicity is good, by the way. God is simple, you know.
Lt. Lazhenitsyn is sitting in his bunker one rainy night in November 1916, when he hears someone approaching. It was Father Severyan, the brigade chaplain. He had come back from the adjacent artillery battery where he had gone to minister to a dying trench mate of Lazhenitsyn. Lazhenitsyn, worried that the priest will be shot in the darkness by nervous sentries, persuades him to spend the remainder of the night in his dugout. Here is where the real action begins. The spirituality of Russia unfolds.
Lazhenitsyn is (dis)cussing the madness of the war. The priest reminds him that the natural state of fallen man is exactly that. War. And that just because there might be, for any period of time, a lack of overt hostilities between nations, mankind was still killing, robbing and hating each other in ernest. But they were doing it locally, amongst themselves. And that, over time, the same numbers were sinned against by the same number of sinners. It was only a perceived difference of time that distinguished open warfare between nations from the mundane internecine warfare of national life. The priest tells him that the purpose of the State is to restrain evil, but that it will spawn its own evil in return. Nevertheless, the state is a necessary thing, for the evil it restrains exceeds the evil it produces. Generally speaking, that is.
Eventually, after having dealt with Lazhenitsyn’s original question (the seemingly different madness of war), the topic of the Tsar arose. After all, had not the Tsar been responsible, in a large measure, for this war? At the very least, for the absolutely insane way that it was conducted? Did he, Nicholas II, not understand what was going on at the front under the ‘leadership’ of his incompetent cronies? Did he not bear much if not most of the responsibility for this slaughter? Why was he so paralyzed? Why did he listen to his damned wife, who was in thrall to Rasputin? Why could he not act on his own, apart from her, to remove men like Gen Samsonov, before they sent another division to the senseless slaughter (and Samsonov’s eventual suicide, in disgrace)? Was the Tsar not the Autocrat? Did he not possess the power to act? Was he not responsible for this senseless carnage that was robbing all of Russia of the flower of their youth? Whether peasant or gentry or nobility, they were all Russians, all equally needed by their nation. Why did the Tsar fail to act on behalf of Russia, and not her faithless allies? (Which makes me wonder. Why the cry for action? Where was the cry for thought first?)
At this point (p. 58) Solzhenitsyn’s story does a flashback to 1905, and the abortive revolution that followed the debacle of the Russo-Japanese war. This humiliation of Russian might (and her military hierarchy of the ignoble nobility) had loosed the terrorist spirit of those embittered Decembrists and their descendants who believed that revolution could be orderly, even peaceful. In this atmosphere of hatred for the Autocracy described in this section, Solzhenitsyn makes the seminal observation of Russia and her rulers; “Autocracy meant independence from other rulers, and certainly not arbitrary rule.” He was referring to the victory of Ivan III in 1480 over the last of the Golden Horde, to whom the Grand Dukes of Moscow had been paying tribute for 240 years, since the time of Alexander Nevsky, the Mongol puppet.
In other words, this additional title of Autocrat of All Russia claimed by Ivan III was a declaration to the world that all of Russia was independent of other nations. Forget Nevsky. But the Tsar was not to be independent of his people. Solzhenitsyn makes it clear that there was no conception of internal autocracy in the minds of the rulers and people of Russia, stating that “The Tsars of ancient Russia…made no division between themselves and the people, (they) were of the same mind.”
Further, Solzhenitsyn states that “Shipov affirms that when the Assembly of the Land (zemstvo) used to meet, there was never strife between it and the Tsar, and that there is no known instance of the Tsar acting contrary to the consensus; if he had parted company with the Assembly the Tsar would have only weakened his authority.”
The point, of course, is that an Autocrat acts on behalf of the nation. But the Autocephalous One does the thinking that precedes the action. So, next time we look at who that would be.