The tsar’s brother-in-law urges reform (1917)

Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich (1866-1933) was a brother-in-law and confidante of Nicholas II. In early 1917, Mikhailovich wrote the tsar a series of letters urging him to undertake political reform:

January 7th, 1917
Dear Nicky,

“On January 4th, you were pleased to allow me to express my opinion on a certain subject, and I had to touch, at the same time, upon nearly all the subjects that disturb us. I begged permission to speak as frankly as at the confessional, and you granted it…

You should understand that I, like all who are grieved by the whole course of events, I often ask myself what I would do in your place, and so I want to let you know what my heart suggests since I am convinced that it speaks rightly.

We are going through the most dangerous moment in the history of Russia… And at this solemn time, when we are, as it were, being tested as men, in the highest sense as Christians, certain forces within Russia are leading you, and consequently Russia, to inevitable ruin.

I say deliberately “You and Russia” because Russia cannot exist without a Tsar, but it must be remembered that the Tsar alone cannot govern a country like Russia. This should be realised once and for all, and, therefore, it is absolutely indispensable that the ministries and the legislative chambers should work together. I say legislative chambers because, although the existing organs are far from perfect and are not responsible, they ought to be responsible and should bear the whole burden of responsibility before the people. The existing situation, with the whole responsibility resting on you, and you alone, is unthinkable.

What do the people and the public want? Very little: an authority that is firm, a strong authority (for a weak authority is no authority), a wise one, meeting the popular needs and the opportunity to live freely and to let others live freely. A wise authority should be composed of persons who are, in the very first place, clean, liberal and devoted to the monarchist principle.”

January 14th

“The appointments made since then show that you have definitely resolved to pursue a domestic policy that runs absolutely against the wishes of all your faithful subjects. This policy only plays into the hands of the left elements, who look on the situation as “the worse, the better.”

The unrest grows- even the monarchist principle is beginning to totter and those who defend the idea that Russia cannot exist without a Tsar lose the ground under their feet since the facts of disorganisation and lawlessness are manifest. A situation like this cannot last long

One would think that some invisible hand was steering the whole policy on a course to make victory unattainable. That same man, Protopopov, told me that it would be possible to rely on the industrialists, upon capital. What a mistake! To begin with, he forgets that capital is in the hands of foreigners and Jews, to whom the downfall of the monarchy is desirable because there would then be no obstacles in the way of their predatory appetites…”

February 7th

“Events show, however, that your counsellors are still leading Russia and you to sure perdition. To keep silent under the circumstances is a crime against God, against you, and against Russia.

Disaffection is spreading very fast and the gulf between you and your people is growing wider… People love you and believe firmly that complete victory and domestic reorganisation are possible without any upheavals, with a Government composed of men who are clean and enjoy the confidence of the country. Without this, there is no hope of saving the throne and, with it, our native land…

One is in utter despair at seeing that you do not want to hear those who know Russia’s situation and counsel you to take the steps that would extricate us from the chaos we are in today.”