I'm in the middle of reading Once a Grand Duke, written by the former Grand Duke Alexander XXXXXXX of the Russian Imperial family, and I ran across what I think is a striking parallel to modern times.
intelligentsia and nobility aligned against government
press hostile to all non-revolutionary thinkers; self-censorship
high society increasingly hostile to Russian tradition
The imperial regime could have rested comfortably on its laurels were the "red peril" limited to applause-seekers like Tolstoi and Kropotkin, to theoreticians like Lenin and Plekhanoff, to insipid old women like Breshko-Breshkovskaya and Figner, and to adventurers like Savinkoflf and Azeff. As happens with every contagious disease, the real danger lay in the multitude of its unregistered transmitters: the mice, the rats, the insects. Or to employ more dignified terms, the bulk of the Russian aristocracy and intelligentsia formed the army of germ-carriers. The throne of the Romanoffs was destroyed not by the future leaders of the Soviets and not by the bomb-throwing youngsters, but by the titled persons who wore resplendent court uniforms and by the bankers, editors, lawyers, and university professors who lived off the bounty of the empire. The Czar would have satisfied the workers and the peasants; the police could have taken care of the terrorists; but there existed no way of pleasing the would-be ministers, the blue-blooded followers of the revolution, and the government-baiters bred by the Russian universities.
What was to be done with those princesses and countesses who spent their days going from door to door and spreading monstrous lies about the Czar and the Czarina? What was to be done with that scion of the ancient family of Princes Dolgorouky who solidarized with the enemies of the empire? What was to be done with the president of Moscow University, Prince Troubetzkoi, who turned that famous institution of learning into a radical campus? What was to be done with that brilliant Professor Milukoff who felt it his duty to denounce the regime in foreign lands, undermining our credit abroad and gladdening the hearts of our foes? What was to be done with Count Witte raised by the Czars from clerk to prime minister who specialized in providing reporters with scandalous tales discrediting the imperial family? What was to be done with the average professors of our universities who educated their pupils in the belief that Peter the Great lived and died a scoundrel? What was to be done with our press which met with rousing cheers every news of our defeat on the Japanese front? What was to be done with the members of our Duma who listened with radiant faces to the gossipers swearing to the existence of a wireless station connecting Czarskoie-Selo with Hindenburg's headquarters? What was to be done with the commanders of our armies, put in their high positions by the Czar, who were more interested in helping to increase the anti-regime feelings of the population of the rear than in scoring victories over the Germans on the front? What was to be done with our veterinarians who, while gathered at their annual convention in Moscow supposedly to discuss new means of fighting hoof-and-mouth disease, wound up by passing a resolution demanding the establishment of a radical cabinet?
The anti-regime activities of the Russian aristocracy and intelligentsia could easily make a thick volume of "Boners," to be dedicated to the former Russian liberals now crying over the "good old days" in the streets of Paris and New York, but the first prize for arrogant stupidity should be given to the Russian press of the period. A man's achievements counted for nothing with the Russian newspapers unless his antagonism to the existing regime had been plainly expressed by him, both verbally and in writing. Scientists and musicians, actors and writers, painters and bridge builders were judged according to the intensity of their radical sentiments. I need not go further than quote the sad experience of philosopher Rosanoff, columnist Menshifcoff and novelist Lesskoff.
All three refused to follow the dicta of the liberals for various reasons of their own. Rosanoff, because he cherished his independence of thought. Lesskoflf, because he maintained that literature had nothing in common with politics. Menshikoff, because he doubted the possibility of a Czarless Russian Empire. All three were subjected to a merciless punishment by the leadings newspapers and book publishers of the country.
Lesskoffs manuscripts were returned unread, his name was sneered at by cub reporters acting as literary critics, and a few published novels of his (printed at his own expense) were boycotted by the prejudiced readers. The Germans and the Danes, led by Georg Brandes, happened to be the first to discover Lesskoff and to speak of the superiority of his craftsmanship over that of Dostoievsky.
Menshikoff spent the life of a veritable leper, snobbed by the contemporary luminaries and avoided even by the staff of his own newspaper Novoie Vremia. The name of that greatest journalist ever produced by Russia had become a synonym for all that was low, vile and contemptible. Such was the tyranny of the self-appointed liberal censors of public opinion that on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Menshikoff's column no writer dared send him a congratulatory wire for fear this act would become known to the public. And so the old man sat alone in his deserted office, frothing at the mouth and writing still another one of his brilliant unappreciated articles.
As for Rosanoff, even the unique originality of his philosophy and his universally recognized genius did not save him from being ostracized by the newspapers, the magazines, the clubs and the literary associations. The voluminous "Rosanoffiana" by now it has grown into hundreds of volumes began to appear only after his death, when the arrival of the Bolsheviks made all feuds of the past look supremely ridiculous. During his lifetime the man who had anticipated Freud by a whole generation was reduced to the writing of small pieces for Menshikoff's paper. Shortly before the war, a prominent Russian publisher revolted at the sight of this talent being wasted in such an ignominious fashion and engaged Rosanoff to write under the pen-name of Varvarin for his well-known Moscow newspaper Russkoie Slovo. It does not take long for a pack of sheep to smell the approach of a lion. The very first article by Varvarin caused a row among the collaborators of the Russkoie Slovo. A delegation headed by Dimitry Merejkovsky (the author of Leonardo Da Vinci) called on the brave publisher and presented him with an ultimatum: he had to choose between them and Mr.
"But, gentlemen, gentlemen," begged the publisher, "surely, you cannot deny Rosanoff's genius."
"We are not interested in his genius," replied the delegation. "Rosanoflf is a reactionary and we cannot afford to work with him on the same newspaper."
Mr. Merejkovsky is to be found at present in Paris, shedding tears of regret over the golden age of the Russian reactionaries and overburdened with admiration for the memory of the philosopher he deprived of a chance to earn a living. In a delightful piece entitled "The Revolution and the Intelligentsia" and written immediately after the victory of the Soviets, Rosanoff described the predicament of Mr. Merejkovsky and all other former Russian liberals in the following manner: "Having thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous spectacle of the revolution, our intelligentsia prepared to don their fur-lined overcoats and return to their comfortable houses, but the overcoats were stolen and the houses burned."