Russian Destiny at a Crossroads

A century ago, as the armies of the great powers clashed in ever-increasing numbers across the battlefields of Europe, there was a new social and political mood beginning to sweep through a number of countries. Between 1917 and 1919 the common people – the victims of failed and oppressive leader­ship – would sweep away despotism, autocracy, and the great and enduring empires of Europe and a new world order would emerge between 1919 and 1921 from the ruins of failed Imperial ambitions.

The Great War (1914— 1918) transformed the po­litical and social landscape of Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. It created a ‘new Europe’ which, from the outset, was intended to be different. At its core the new post-war world order aimed intentionally to be modern, peaceful, and to break from the self-interested, self-inflicted failings of the past. It was in this kind of context that Russia and its revolution played an important part.

In early 1917, a wave of social unrest had unsettled and then toppled the Romanov monarchy and for a time, in this remarkable juncture of its history, it was unclear to a number how Russia could go on to become King of the North and fulfil its role as the fearsome latter day Assyrian. Post-war Europe held no prospect for any power, let alone Russia, to play a role as horrific as the great military force foretold by Ezekiel.

Tsar Nicholas II

By 1917, the Great War had turned from a great adventure into a solemn quest for peace; what US President Roosevelt called “the war to end all wars”. In fact, Roosevelt had called for “more than an end to war, we want an end to the beginning of all wars – yes, an end to this brutal, inhuman, and thoroughly impractical method of settling differences between governments”. In that same year, Russia had negoti­ated a peace ‘at all costs’ with Germany to end the terrible bloodshed it had endured. In 1918 she signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and paid a substantial social and political dividend for peace. How could Russia, if its part in this wider European revolution was indeed to be a break with the traditions of its past, go on to fulfil her Divine role? How could Russia, humbled and humiliated, go on to play the part of Rosh as required by the Bible?

This question is not too dissimilar to the one Russia again faced in 1991, in the wake of the collapse of Soviet Communism and the end of the Cold War. Twice in a century, Russian autocracy – a form of government in which political power is concen­trated in the hands of one person – would collapse. Many will remember the moment in December 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolved. It left us to ponder the same question: how could Russia, again humbled and humiliated, go on to play the part of Rosh as required by the Bible?

This is where we can detect the hand of God in the affairs of the nations. Twice in one century God turned this people around and transformed them into a dominant force on the world stage. Both the Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall has allowed new leaders to emerge stronger and more powerful than before. Despite chaotic historical change, the Bible’s expectations of Russia are never far from being fulfilled. On the 100th anniversary of the February 1917 Russian Revolution, it is timely to revisit this event and some of the events of the century which followed and consider how, in the face of chaotic turbulence, this has all come to be.

February 1917 – Collapse in the Face of Modernity

In February 1917, long term war weariness mixed with the volatile spark of public demonstrations on the streets of Petrograd (St Petersburg) brought dissent to the fore. Public humiliation at losing a recent war with Japan as well as having to surrender to Germany, combined with desperate cries to alleviate grinding poverty, all brought the anger of the nation to the surface. The Tsar had to go. These were events that would be replicated only two years later in Germany on the downfall of the Kaiser.

The aim of the people of the Russian capital was simple but audacious: the overthrow of Romanov rule. The reason had taken on its greatest urgency. The realities of the modern world, including the war, were pounding on the door of Russia, but the ineptitude of the near medieval Tsarist government meant that it was unable, unwilling, and in the end incapable of responding. Far from being the mighty Russian military steamroller promised in 1914 at the war’s beginning, by 1917 Russia was incapable of waging a modern industrial war. Beyond its larger cities, Russia was neither modern nor industrial. The royal house of the Romanovs, Russia’s absolutist rulers for 300 years, held no answer to the challenges posed by modern warfare and the call for modernity by the Russian people. Spectacularly, in momentous events that were then unprecedented in the 20th century; in the face of illegitimacy and near universal loathing, the Romanov dynasty collapsed on February 28th, 1917.

Riot Petrograd 1917

Autocracy has for a long time been the historic form of Russian government; the buck started and stopped with the Tsar. He alone had ‘all power’, but in time of war he needed to possess superhuman skill to impress the people with victory and glory. In the preceding centuries, many of Russia’s Tsars had lived up to these expectations; yet infamously, Tsar Nicholas II found the times were beyond Tsarism to manage. In the face of failing success at the Front, Nicholas infamously took upon himself direct and personal control of the Russian war effort. Not only did the course of the war now fall into his hands, but the blame for every misfortune and deprivation from the war also fell at his feet. To be an autocrat is to stand at the head of the Russian political system and to deliver success. To fail meant that both the autocrat and autocracy itself would be quickly discredited. As the war effort against the Germans deteriorated further, Nicholas had gambled his throne on his abilities and failed. His personal inability to achieve military successes at the front was compounded by the nation’s failings at home. He couldn’t feed his people, even though he himself was living in luxury. The result was predictable and he ended up losing his life a few months later.

Immediate Effects Abroad

Lenin 1917

The powerlessness of Russia at this time is a far cry from Russia a century later. In 2016/17 Russia spectacularly intrigued in the United States Presidential election, dwarfed President Trump in his first 100 days, smashed rebel opposition in Aleppo in Syria, and introduced a new military order into Middle Eastern affairs. These events send a terrible warning to the world that Russia is now a dominant player in global affairs.

The end of Tsarist autocracy in 1917 had immediate and highly consequential effects. After the subsequent Bolshevik takeover, Russia became a weakened imperial shadow and a pariah nation, losing its prestige amongst the great powers. In this state, Russia quickly abandoned its historical territorial aspirations in Ottoman lands and Istanbul for which the Crimean war had been fought in the 1850s. Equally significant was its loss of aspirations in the wider Middle East. The Bolsheviks were more immediately interested in “Land, Peace, and Bread” at home and the futile hope of Communist revolution abroad. Russia’s absence from the global stage created a critical moment of new possibilities for the world. By being forced to withdraw from the Middle East, God set the stage for the defeat of the Ottoman power at the hands of Britain and this in turn paved the way for the restoration of a Jewish homeland under a British protectorate.

Between 1919 and 1924 Russia found itself fighting a civil war at home between the forces of the Bolshevik ‘Reds’ and anti-Bolshevik ‘Whites’. She was therefore unable to contribute to any of the critical Middle East developments during this time. Only 65 years after the Crimean War, Russia’s moment in the Middle East had come, but she was spectacularly absent from the table. The way was now left open for the creation of an independent Turkey from 1921 and the ‘positive vision’ of a future restoration of the Jewish State on the Mountains of Israel under the hand of the British.

Yet, while the collapse of the Tsarist autocracy advanced new possibilities for Russian interests abroad, at home the Revolution and Civil War quickly ended the potential for freedom for ordinary Russians and by the 1920s, the idealistic Bolshevik Russian government looked nothing like the model that seemed possible at the start of the initial Revolution.

The 1917 Revolution – Renewal, not Removal, of Autocracy

1917 removed a failed autocrat and a failed form of autocracy in the Tsar. It was soon replaced, however, by another form in the 1920s and 30s, particularly under Stalin. As general secretary of the Communist Party, Soviet leaders soon became secular Tsars themselves as power and authority once again coalesced around a central ‘strong man’ figure. The Tsarist secret police system re-emerged as the NKBD (later KGB). The Orthodox church was maintained as a branch of Government by both the Tsars and Communists and the Russian ‘threat’ to peace in the world was equally potent in 1964 as in 1914. Despite a democratic and modern Revolution, Russia in the 20th century spectacularly maintained continuity with its past. Russia transformed itself over the ensuing century, but looking back from today’s perspective, the continuity is starker than the change. Autocracy and the dominance of Russian military power remain a central trait of the land of Rosh.

100 years after the Revolution, Putin and his style of leadership demonstrate that, despite the populist Revolution of 1917 and a second Revolution in 1991, when Soviet-style Communism collapsed, autocracy is the natural state of the Russian Government under the Divine plan. It is a form of leadership that consistently re-emerges to safeguard Russia’s centralised government at home and her power abroad and one that characterises the designation, “Gog, the Prince of Rosh”, in Ezekiel 38.

The Reaction of the Brotherhood

In the Christadelphian magazines of 1917—1919 there was great interest in the remarkable events in Russia. Most early reports contained brief descriptions of the chaos, the disintegration of the Empire after Russia’s surrender to Germany and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. One writer drew a brief parallel with the French Revolution – abolition of the aristocracy and church followed by a reign of terror, while another mentioned the Russian pogroms against Jews and the desire of Russian Jews to escape. Despite mostly recording the historical facts without really knowing where it was all going, there was a consensus that the democracy established by the Revolution would in the end give way to an autocrat and out of the chaos would arise a stronger Russia: an analysis that was unerringly correct. Although we once again saw the collapse of Russian autocracy in 1991, the events of the last quarter of a century have borne out the accuracy and absolute reliability of the prophetic Word.

What then was the Purpose of the Soviet Era?

As prophetic Watchmen over the last century we have perhaps puzzled over the fall, rise, fall and rise again of Russia and been slow to understand the role of Soviet Communism in the Divine Plan. If Communism restored autocracy and took Russia to the brink of Superpower supremacy, why did this version of Russia so spectacularly and ruinously collapse ‘overnight’ in the Revolution of 1991? The world and Brotherhood pondered yet another ‘new world order’ and, for the second time in a century, a ‘new’ Russia.

In the end, Communism, like Tsarism, proved to be merely the vehicle of the moment for Russia. Soviet power may be considered too brutal and too confronting to be able to achieve an alliance with a democratic Europe. The iron fist in the velvet glove approach by Putin has been more effective in accomplishing its goals. It is doubtful whether the West would have welcomed the Soviet advance into Syria, but Putin’s skillful tactics have achieved just that.

But Communism served a great purpose in addressing the issues that had brought down Tsarist Russia in 1917. Romanov Russia was essentially a medieval state with a near medieval economy, upon which was a thin veneer of modernity that allowed Russia to look the part of a capable modern state with a modern army. The Great War revealed how impotent Russian military might really was. Communism allowed a nation that had only just left serfdom and subsistence farming to modernise itself with incomprehensible speed over the 20th century. In social services, sciences and technology, in military and manufacturing, Russia made the ‘great leap forward’ out of the twilight of medieval feudalism to full modernity in a remarkably short time.

On coming to power, Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, was obsessed with the modernisation and electrification of Russia and in 1920 the party introduced the GOELRO plan; not only Russia’s, but the world’s first long term economic blueprint. The plan, intended to form the base of the technological modernisation of Russia envisaged, “Large scale industry based on the latest achievements of technology and capable of revolutionising agriculture” [Lenin]. The first steps of this plan were famously illustrated on a vast map of Russia in which electric light bulbs showed the future electrification of towns and cities. As the plan was announced, such was the state of Moscow’s power generation at the time, that illuminating the whole board required almost all of the city’s power to be cut off and diverted so as not to over strain the local power station. In less than 40 years after struggling to illuminate a light board, the USSR would go on to launch Sputnik, the world’s first satellite. Soviet Communism allowed Russia to enter the modern world by setting an unbelievable and ultimately unsustainable pace.

By the early 1990s this form of government too had run its course. The 1990s were another period of chaos and backwardness in Russia after the fall of Communism and represented another moment for a new strong man to emerge.

1991 offered the world and Russia a moment equal to February 1917 – an opportunity for peace and ‘a new world order’ driven by an end to the failed policies of the former Russian system. With the benefit of hindsight today, it was simply the exhaustion of yet another form of Russian autoc­racy that would await, over the Yeltsin years, the rise of another form of autocracy – ‘Putanism’. Today, Russia extends her power at home and abroad without flinching. If Putin is not the Gog of Ezekiel 38 and Putanism in time also fails – it matters not; Russia inherently produces autocracy. This is the climate ready for God to use to fulfil the words of Ezekiel 38.

Conclusion

On the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution we see a number of significant changes that have emerged from Russia’s turbulent history. Weakness has given way to strength and communist ideology has retreated before Orthodox fervour. Absolute power has been transferred from the Tsar to Vladimir Putin and the people still clamour for international recognition. Socialistic quotas have been overturned in favour of a market economy and, more significantly, defence spending is at an all-time high. Putin is now riding high on patriotic support for his military adventures and he now has the economic clout stemming from vast natural resources to enforce his will on those countries dependent on Russian oil and gas. The stage is set; Rosh is preparing itself for international domina­tion. The revolution that took place a century ago was just one of the Divine building blocks put into place to ensure that Russia’s steady growth in influ­ence would one day culminate in Armageddon. We now await the final stage of this drama when God will use the political and religious ambitions of Gog to bring about His great purpose on the earth.