To understand how someone like Grigori Rasputin could have attained power in Russia it is helpful to understand the violent revolutionary sentiment that overthrew the last Russian tsar, and elevated Communism to the levers of control over the largest nation on earth.
When tsarist Russia partitioned Poland, millions of Polish (now Russian) Jews were herded into the “Pale of Settlement,” an immense fermenting vat for the ideologies of Communism and Zionism. Both movements, which played major roles in twentieth century history, originated primarily in Russia.
Then there was Russian anarchism. The French Freemason Proudhon is called the Father of Anarchy, but it took a Russian by the name of Michel Bakunin to apply theory to real life. Born to aristocratic parents, Bakunin became a disciple of Adam Weishaupt, the founder of the Illuminati. By 1847 Bakunin and Proudhon were discussing “the universal revolution.” The anarchists (or nihilists) sought to completely destroy all religion and all government - everywhere.
This credo was a particularly dangerous idea in Russia, where loyalty to God and the Tsar were the main checks on a national personality that, underneath a veneer of Christian culture, was mystical, superstitious, and impulsive. When impulse ruled the national temperament veered towards heavy drinking, casual brutality, and random violence.
It was Russian Anarchists who repeatedly attempted to assassinate Alexander II, even after the Tsar instituted liberal reforms. In 1881 Alexander was killed by a bomb on the day he was going to grant Russia a constitution. In the vacuum of power that followed there was a fight for control of the international revolution between Russian anarchists, led by Bakunin, and the followers of Communist founder Karl Marx. After a contest in which neither man fought fairly - they were, after all, revolutionaries - Marx won.
A disillusioned Bakunin expressed disgust at the "German-Jew company", as he referred to international socialism. While it wasn't clear whether the Germans or the Jews upset Bakunin the most, Russian novelist Feodor Dostoyevsky was specific:
"Europe is on the eve of collapse, a universal, terrible, and general collapse...Judaism and the banks now reign over all, as much over Europe as over education, the whole of civilization, and socialism, especially over socialism, for with its help Judaism will root out Christianity and destroy Christian culture."
Bakunin and Dostoyevsky were obviously anti-Semitic; back in their day anti-Jewish paranoia was common. While Dostoyevsky hated the revolution as much as he hated the Roman Catholic Church, Bakunin's hatred of religion was as universal as his love for the revolution was particular. He saw, rising phoenix-like from the smoke and ash of world-wide destruction, the rule of "Pan-Slavism", with Russia as the leader of the "lesser" Slavs. His real problem with the Germans and Jews, then, may have been that they were not Slavs. By 1875 Bakunin realized he would not live to see the world writhe under his torch of progress. He died sick and poor - poor because Michel Bakunin, self-styled champion of the working class, never worked a day in his life.
Rasputin and Lenin
Much the same could be said for Grigori Efimovich (better known as Rasputin), even after he became "employed" by Russia's last monarchs, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra. Alexandra bore Nicholas many beautiful daughters, but no sons – a source of anxiety for a monarchy, and a source of gossip for their subjects.
At last a son was born. Named Aleksey, the long awaited male heir to the throne had hemophilia: once he started bleeding he couldn’t stop. When Rasputin's prayers at Aleksey's bedside coincided with an improvement in the boy's condition, Alexandra was beside herself with gratitude. When Grigori - better known by the diminutive "Grishka" - proved himself a soothing counselor to Nicholas and Alexandra, he became part of the royal family.
The Tsar and Tsarina were perhaps the only couple in Russia to esteem Rasputin. He was openly despised by supporters of the monarchy. Their reasons were several. First, Rasputin was of mere peasant stock. He was born in Pokrovskoye, a small Siberian village in the province of Tobolsk. His father was a hard drinking horse thief; son Grigori was a semi-literate chip off the old block who was imprisoned for theft when he was a teenager.
Second, Grishka was an incorrigible wine-guzzling lecher whose clothes had a distressing tendency to fall off his body in public. His very name, Rasputin, is a play on the Russian rasputnik (or rasputstvo), which means sexually debauched. The royal family’s infatuation with Grishka caused keen national embarrassment.
Third, Rasputin’s considerable influence over the royal family and the affairs of government provoked fear, resentment, and jealousy. Such animus was the source of rumors that Rasputin was trying to keep Russia from going to war with Germany because he was a German spy. It is true Rasputin tried to persuade Nicholas to keep Russia out of the Great War, but his motives were not treasonous. Not even years of drunken orgies could expunge a certain peasant patriotism. Rasputin was too thoroughly Russian to betray his country.
His patriotism was coupled with a mystical sixth-sense about his homeland. Rasputin foresaw tragic consequences if Russia went to war. He told Nicholas that war with Germany would bring "disaster, grief, murky darkness and no light. A whole ocean of tears...and so much blood...We all drown in blood. The disaster is great, the misery infinite."
One could say that about most wars, of course, but to give him his due, Grishka's prophecy was spot on. The Russian army was known as velikaya molchal'nitsa, "the great silent one", a curiously appropriate name for an army that ran out of ammunition fifteen months into the war. Russian soldiers died so often and in such great numbers it was nearly impossible to keep track of the deaths.
Four million Russian men died in the first ten months of the Great War. Perhaps eight million perished in less than three years. A German commander was heard to remark on the great mounds of Russian corpses his entrenched army had to move in order to sight the enemy. As there were very few victories to report, Russian newspapers carried feature articles that began "How they die when they have to!..."
Morale in the great nation was low. Alcohol consumption, already high, increased. Venereal diseases were as rampant as pagan superstitions. A prominent Russian lamented "the degeneration of the official Orthodox Church", declaring:
"Without religion the masses turn into herds of beasts, but beasts of a particularly evil type, for these beasts possess a greater intelligence than animals. Our church has unfortunately long since become a dead, bureaucratic institution; our priests serve not the high God, but earthly gods; Orthodoxy has become Orthodox paganism..."
Despite it all it is likely Russia would have survived, monarchical and decadently Christian, but for a sealed train of German agents secretly injected into Russia to torpedo the monarchy and knock Russia out of the war. The train entered the Finland Station at Petrograd on Easter Sunday, 1916. The lead German agent was the Russian son of a schoolteacher, the expatriate Vladimir Ulyanov, code name Lenin. He was accompanied by an international group of non Russian revolutionaries. On arriving in Russia Lenin declared: "The world-wide Socialist revolution has already dawned...Long live the world-wide Socialist revolution!"
Nicknamed "Starik" (“the old man”), Lenin was calm and unflappable in public. Privately he could be maniacal, and as prophetic as Rasputin, as evidenced by a conversation with an old school friend, in which Lenin declared:
“I spit on Russia! That’s only one stage we have to pass through on our way to world revolution!…We are going to tear the whole thing down! We shall destroy and smash everything, ha-ha-ha, with the result that nothing will remain standing! We shall destroy the entire bourgeoisie, and grind them to powder, ha-ha-ha, to powder. Remember that!..."
These are surprising sentiments, given that Lenin's upbringing was bourgeoisie. He idolized his brother Alexander, who was hung for the conspiratorial role he played in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. It is often said this family tragedy made Lenin a revolutionary. Even if this is true it fails to explain the depth and intensity of Lenin's private fury, which verged on the demonic.
Rasputin didn't have Lenin's rage. His ambition was gratification of his senses. Even his spirituality was sensual. Yet Rasputin, lurid tales to the contrary, was not nearly the devil incarnate that "the old man" was. But both were prophets. Grishka's final prophecy was penned in 1916: “My hour will soon come." Not a particularly modest man, he also predicted Russia would die when he did, and that:
"People without number will be destroyed. Many martyrs will die. Brother will die at the hand of brother. There will be a great misfortune. The earth will tremble. Hunger, famine, and drought will come, and there will be signs seen all over the world..."
Rasputin never met Lenin, but he was not the only one to prophesy the horrors of the coming revolution. While Rasputin linked Russia's doom with his own, most of his countrymen either blamed Grishka for the storm, or viewed him as part of the problem. A pervasive sense of doom hung over the vast land. As one Russian put it: "There's going to be a revolution and we are all going to hang. Who cares which lamppost we dangle from?"
Grishka never made it to the lamppost. He had become a national obsession, and the patience of a long line of would-be assassins finally expired. Shortly after foretelling his own end Rasputin suffered his now legendary demise. The standard version has Rasputin being poisoned with enough cyanide to kill several men. Refusing to die, he was shot repeatedly and left for dead. He revived to attack his assassins. He was knifed, beaten, and repeatedly kicked in the head. When he still refused to die, his exasperated assassins bound Rasputin’s body and heaved him into the icy Neva River.
Rasputin's lurid life and bizarre death led to dark legends about Rasputin the evil genius. He is often either demonized or dismissed as a charlatan, but at some point in his life he may have had genuine healing powers. Rasputin cast no evil spell on Nicholas and Alexandra. He was able to help their son, and had a gift for soothing their anxieties as well. This appealed to the Tsar and Tsarina, who were lonely and isolated people. How spiritually starved they must have felt to entrust their religious welfare to a layman of dubious character like Rasputin, when they had priests and bishops at their beck and call.
Once inside the royal circle, Rasputin's personal ambition overshadowed his natural gifts. His religious instincts were muted by drunkenness and adulteries (yes, he was married) until his "religion" was little more than personal magnetism and opportunistic sensuality. He taught his disciples that "without sin there can be no repentance; repentance is pleasing unto God; in order to repent you must sin in the first place."
Rasputin called his followers "fools" even as he encouraged their adulation. His primary ambition was satisfying his own lusts, not espionage. Too busy fouling his own nest to plan or participate in intrigues against the monarchy, the last thing Grishka would have wanted was a change in the status quo.
Author and historian E.J. Dillon knew Rasputin, disliked him, but acknowledged Grishka’s uncanny knack for prophecy. Writing in 1918 Dillon noted that Rasputin
“had told the Tsar and Tsaritsa, and repeated to many others as well as to me, that his destiny was entwined with the destinies of the Romanoffs and the Tsardom, and that his death would bring doom and disaster to them all.
“And hardly was his lifeless body thrust under the ice when the Empress was taken ill. Soon afterwards her son and two of her daughters were seized with illness and confined to bed. Then the sovereign was deposed, insulted, imprisoned, the army dissolved, the Empire abolished, and mighty Russia broken up…What ancient oracle or prophet can point to so many fateful predictions accomplished?”
Dillon concludes that had Rasputin been the sorcerer or cunning politician of his enemies’ accusations, he would have exploited his relationships with the royal family far more than he actually did. “He (Rasputin) had no great purpose, good or evil, nothing but insatiable thirst for coarsest pleasures of sense. He reminded me of the Ukrainian of whom the story ran that he exclaimed, ‘How I should love to be Tsar. I know what I then would do. I would steal a hundred roubles and from early morning until late at night I would gorge myself on bacon. Ah! If only I were Tsar!’"
After the Communists took over, Rasputin’s daughter, Maria, made her way to the United States via France. After a career as a dancer and a tiger trainer at circuses, Maria wrote her memoirs. She was definite that Rasputin was a victim of slander by jealous rivals. She described her father as a very holy man. IContemporary Russian public opinion is much more favorable of Rasputin than when he was living.
Another recent development is the theory that Rasputin was not killed by jealous Russian monarchists, but by rogue British Secret Services officers. This is based on new autopsy evidence that reportedly proves that the bullet hole in Rasputin’s head was from a special bullet that can only be fired by a particular kind of British pistol. The BBC broadcast a Timewatch documentary entitled “Who Killed Rasputin?”
The documentary noted that the lead conspirator, Russian Prince Felix Yusupov, ccontradicted himself on many points during the investigation into Rasputin’s murder. In his memoirs, however, Yusupov mentioned a British secret service agent named Oswald Rayner in connection with Rasputin's murder. Modern investigation proves Rayner was present at the time of the murder. Further investigation shows British intelligence had an off the books mission called “Dark Forces” to kill Rasputin. Why? British intelligence was worried Rasputin would influence the tsar to pull Russia out of the war, thus relieving the Germans from fighting the war on two fronts.
Finally, Warner Brohters is financing a new movie about Rasputin starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The script reportedly contains information about the legendary Russian hitherto unknown. So even today Rasputin refuses to die. Well, no, he probably really is dead. But his legend lives on.
Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error (Autobiography), Harper & Brothers, 1949, First Edition, Chapter One
Nesta Webster, World Revolution, Veritas Publishing Company, 1994, reprinted by Omni Publications, p. 175.
The Journals of Feodor Dostoyevsky, 1873-1876.
The general information about Bakunin is from Max Nomad, Apostles of Revolution, Little, Brown, and Company, 1939. The pseudonymous Nomad was favorably disposed to the revolution, and had an insider’s knowledge of it.
E.J. Dillon, The Eclipse of Russia, George H. Doran Company, 1918, p. 197.
Alex De Jonge, The Life and Times of Grigorii Rasputin, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1989, p. 229.
Harrison E. Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia’s Revolutions, 1905-1917, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1977, p. 424. Like Rasputin, Lenin was against Russian involvement in the war. Unlike Rasputin, however, Lenin was a German agent.
Robert Payne, The Life And Death Of Lenin, Simon And Schuster, 1964, pp. 418-419. There are tales of Rasputin’s supposedly demonic powers, and some fairly reputable historians have claimed he was possessed. For what its worth, I think Lenin had the larger demon.