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By ruthlessly suppressing all opposition, by unleashing a Russian national, and even Russian Orthodox sentiment, and by refusing to kowtow to his Western allies, Stalin preserved the state which emerged after the war vastly stronger than it was before the war. Of course, despite the subjective taste for things Russian Solzhenitsyn ascribes to Stalin, the state in question was still the Soviet state, not Russia, a state which was in Solzhenitsyn's eyes as much a prison for Russians as for all the other nationalities. Nonetheless in these respects Stalin was doing what Solzhenitsyn believes the government should have done in 1917, when the necessary repression of revolt could have been much less brutal. The Reflections are largely a polemic against Nicholas II. And what does he reproach in Nicholas II? In the famous essay in From Underneath the Rubble Solzhenitsyn called for national repentance, and elsewhere he defends Ivan the Terrible because, unlike his non-Orthodox successors (Solzhenitsyn has it that the Russian Orthodox tradition, certainly as far as the government was concerned, was largely destroyed by the schism in the seventeenth century), Ivan was capable of repentance. But here he argues that Nicholas was fatally weakened by his own remorse for the massacre of January 1905. And he reproaches Nicholas for his excessive Christianity:

'The government had lost the February Revolution even before it started. We have to see there the results of the trauma of 1905, of that lamentable 9th January. Never could the sovereign forgive himself that fatal bloodletting. Now above all else he feared using the armed forces against his own people too soon and more than would be necessary ...

'All the preliminary orders given to those in charge of the capital, all the decisions taken during those days, derived, in the case of the Tsar, from his love of peace, eminent characteristic of a Christian, fatal for the man in charge of a great Empire. Hence the extreme ease with which the bloodless revolution of February triumphed ... but alas, what it cost us, that ease and that love of peace (even today we haven't finished paying the price!).'

One of the most moving passages in The Red Wheel has Nicholas withdrawing after he had signed the abdication to pray. We might compare it with Solzhenitsyn's picture of Stalin praying in the immediate aftermath of the German invasion. Stalin's prayer, however, seems to have been more effective ...


In The Red Wheel, the fictional character Vorotyntsev, central figure in August 1914, is part of a group of 'young Turks' - military men anxious to reform the army. The group also includes as a particular friend of Vorotyntsev's, the non-fictional character, Alexander Svechin. In August 1914 and November 1916, Svechin appears as a régime loyalist, deeply unhappy about the incompetence of the military leadership and the Tsar but nonetheless arguing against Vorotyntsev's less than loyal thoughts - without wholly revealing his mind to Svechin, Vorotyntsev is tempted by the idea of obliging the Tsar to abdicate, and this facilitating a separate peace with Germany.

In March 1917 (vol 3, p.183), Svechin has been seconded to the Stavka - the army HQ - and arrives at the time of the the abdication, which had followed an orchestrated campaign of letters addressed to the Tsar byt the leading military chiefs. Svechin finds the situation even worse than he had imagined:

'The main feeling Svechin experienced in those days was bitterness, a shame such as he had never felt, even at the time of the worst operation of this war. the whole Supreme Command of the Russian army - the Tsar, a bevy ('brelan' in the French. It actually means a 'hand' in a game of cards) of important generals, then anyone to do with leadership - they were nothing but a collection of weaklings. Instead of, as military men should, taking the situation in hand and showing their strength, they had all sought as best they could the means of slipping into the background and giving way. From a military point of view, what was insurgent Petrograd? A disorganised, unarmed, hungry, trapped mass, what's more locked up in the worst possible geographical situation. The rebel battalions were a collection of untrained half-soldiers with less than half a rifle between any four of them and ignorant which end was used to load it. One couldn't even speak of a superiority of the army at the front over Petrograd: any sort of comparison was impossible. The profound quiet on the front would enable anything up to half a million men to be removed straightaway, but thirty thousand would have been more than enough.'

He blames the Tsar:

It couldn't be a matter on the Sovereign's part of simple errors in the choice of men. No, even acting totally at random he should, following the theory of probabilities, make some mistakes but nonetheless appoint some men of value ... It was, rather, an error of doctrine, of the theory and the spirit in which the command had been raised, a sort of Schlieffen in reverse [Alfred von Schlieffen, leading German strategist in the period leading up to the 1914 war - PB]: the art of ensuring that one would be encircled, beaten and forced into a quick surrender. And the unfortunate instruments of this anti-Schlieffen doctrine were first of all the Sovereign and Alexeyev [Mikhail Vasiliyevich Alexeyev, the Chief of Staff - PB].'

Nonetheless when Nicholas arrives, after his abdication, to say goodbye to the Stavka, Svechin finds himself moved to pity.

It is surprising after all that to read in brief biographies at the back of the book:

'Svechin Alexander (1878-1935). General in the Stavka. Joins up with the Bolsheviks, historian and military theorist, professor in the Frunze Academy [the Soviet military academy, formerly the Academy of the Chief of Staff - PB]; arrested for the first time in the early thirties, then definitively: shot.' Wikipedia has it that his second arrest was in 1937, he was executed in 1938 and rehabilitated in 1956. 'His work Strategy became required reading at Soviet military schools.'