Today, I chose to blog about two notable men of Russia – Rasputin and Lenin. The reason is that the former was born on this day, 21.01.1869, while the latter died on that date, in 1924. There is also a connection between them, besides the fact that they are both Russians. While Rasputin was close to the Tsar’s family and part of the court, for better or worse, Lenin was the leader of the Revolution that finished off the remains of the Tsarist rule in the country and its echoes. Some even say that Rasputin’s influence over the Tsarina and the royal family, in general, was detrimental to their reputation and popularity.
Rasputin was a mystic, he had spent years pilgriming to various holy places and living in monasteries. Lots of people in the Russian court believed he was just a charlatan who had managed to ensnare the Tsar and, especially, the Tsarina by healing their haemophiliac son.
Grigori Rasputin was a Siberian peasant who was illiterate until his adulthood, which was normal for that time. He married his wife who would be loyal to him until his death, the two had seven children, 3 of whom survived to reach adulthood. Most of his married life, however, Rasputin spent away from home, either on pilgrimage or at the Russian court. Although his family was formally introduced to the Royals, they didn’t move to the capital and remained in their village.
On several occasions, Rasputin ‘helped’ the Tsarevich, although it is hard to say how. The Tsarina was convinced that Grigori is a holy man who could bring recovery to her son. That contributed greatly to his power and rise of status. His stay at the top of his reputation was marked by a huge change in him. Formerly, he had sworn off alcohol, but now he would drink and accept bribes freely. He had numerous affairs with his female followers and indulging in his sins, yielding to temptation, was seen as the path to defying sin and getting forgiveness. That doctrine, like the one that was mostly preached and practised by Rasputin at his hey-day in the Russian royal court, made him look more cynical than holy.
History shows us that it is natural for such a path of life to end forcefully, and so Rasputin was assassinated by a ring of people close to the royal family who believed he was putting a black mark on the reputation of the Tsar.
While the country’s economy quickly declined, as a result of WWI and bad political decisions (made not without Rasputin’s influence), a senior Marxist ideologist rose to prominence, determined to overturn the Tsarist regime and take Russia to a new road to liberty and equality.
Lenin was a competitive and bossy child, doing excellent at school, born in a middle-class family. After his father’s death, the boy, then a teenager grew erratic and renounced his belief in God. His elder brother was arrested and hanged for capital treason, as part of the group to put a bomb in the Tsar’s palace. We don’t know if that played a role, but during his late adolescence and university life, Lenin read more and more anti-capitalist and pro-socialist literature, forming his hard and fast opinions about how society must change and develop. He successfully, though not without obstacles, graduated law at St. Petersburg and sought a career in the profession.
While we were at school, Lenin was presented to us as a soft-hearted humanist who rejected his own convenient life for the sake of society’s improvement. We read about Red Terror, and Cheka, of course, but those were simply examples of the necessary measures to be taken against the enemies of the people. When I was reading my history lessons, I never imagined what a historical event means for the average person and who those enemies could be. In our minds, they were always greedy, fat and cruel owners of factories and land who harassed workers and peasants and treated them like trash. So, when one day my father, irritated by my neverending praise of Comrade Lenin, told me he was a ‘cut-throat’ and it didn’t matter that he never killed anyone personally, I was in shock.
I suppose that without the Red Terror he wouldn’t have managed to throw the cloak of Marxist-Leninist ideology over all of Eastern Europe. Plus, history is full of violence, that is the normal way revolutions happen. His frugal lifestyle and his self-discipline turn him into a charming and inspiring character even now, I suppose. The relentless determination with which he worked towards his goal, socialism, also speaks tones about him. Perhaps it’s sad, but history, like nature, doesn’t do things in vain. Even though the division of the world by ideology devastated lands, lives and people, it is part of history – along with its effects and lessons.