Who was Rasputin?

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Matthew Raphael Johnson - Who was Rasputin?
A Review of Rasputin: Neither Devil nor Saint, by Dr. Elizabeth Judas



Of all the topics in Russian history that have interested me over the years, few were as mysterious as the relations between the Royal family and Gregory Rasputin. I knew a few things: first, that the tsarevich was sick with hemophilia, and Rasputin had some sort of ability to heal him. Second, I knew that Rasputin had some influence over policy. And third, I knew that Rasputin had little control over his libido. With this information, I began to dig deeper into the life of this mysterious man. Unfortunately, I began to realize just a quickly, that what I thought I knew about Rasputin was false.

Up until recently, revisionist material on Rasputin was very scarce. Among the patriotic elements in Russian society prior to the revolution, only the royal family itself seemed to have any use for him. Outside of a few rather sectarian circles presently in Russia, Orthodox people either dismissed him, or condemned him as a fraud.

Recently, Liberty and Life publishing in California released a small book on the life of Rasputin from one who actually knew the man, a certain Dr. Elizabeth Judas, who was the wife of Alexander Ivanovich, an officer in the tsar’s secret service. Furthermore, the author’s uncle was a major figure in the imperial government. For years, this manuscript has lain rather undisturbed, out of print for decades and completely ignored by mainstream Russia scholarship. Alas, I myself, though immersing myself in Russian history and literature until it poured from my ears, had never heard of this manuscript, nor had any other revisionist writer in this field writing in English.

I was able to read this volume in two sittings. Now merely because it is short (216 pages in large fonts), but also because it is a gripping story. Nothing anyone has told you about Rasputin has even a shred of truth to it. Rasputin was a victim of revolutionary politics from without, and anti-tsarist palace intrigue from within. In the final analysis, this is the conclusion of this book.

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Through a series of very interesting events, events that themselves tell much of local politics in the early part of the 20th century, the author, as a young child, met the acquaintance of Rasputin while living in Siberia, where she had many relatives. She knew Rasputin long before the tsar did. It was the author’s uncle, Dr. Lebikov, who first suggested to the royal family that this rather charismatic wanderer (Rasputin was not a priest, nor a monk, nor did he ever have a desire to be ordained or tonsured) from Siberia be brought to the palace to pray for the ailing tsarevich, Alexei. Now, the tsarevich was sick, he suffered from acute pains in his stomach, he never had hemophilia, nor is there any evidence of this serious disease among his medical records, or even within the correspondence between Nicholas and Alexandra, which, by the way, was conducted in English.

The distracted royal couple had no difficulty in permitting this Siberian religious man entrance into the palace. Though his appearance, with long hair and beard, wearing traditional Russian peasant dress, did cause a stir among the nobility at court, many of which were incensed to find such a commoner at the palace.

A few things need to be said about this. The great flaw in Nicholas’s reign was his inability to control the powerful and obnoxious nobility (including other more distant members of the Romanov clan). This was no easy task. Not only did Nicholas have certain familial responsibilities towards them, they also were possessed of political power in their own right, as well as access to substantial fortunes. Nicholas illustrious father, Alexander III succeeded in controlling this element, which is in part explanatory of why terror activity and revolutionary politics substantially subsided during his reign. Of course, Alexander was very different from his son, being much larger and more intimidating, Alexander personally often used physical coercion to control the more restless members of the clan. Nicholas was not of this temperament, being more refined than his father, but he eventually paid for his lack of a hard line in this matter.

Furthermore, Nicholas was a Slavophile: this means, in a nutshell, that Nicholas believed that Russia’s strength was in her peasantry, her agriculture, the commune and the church, all of which Nicholas was attached to not merely as a political figure, but also as a Russian man. To Nicholas, Rasputin represented the best in the Russian peasant: hardy, simple, pious. Rasputin made a powerful impression on the royal couple.

Rasputin was religiously opposed to the use of hypnosis or any sort of “mesmerism” in religious life; he made this clear to the author on many occasions. There is no evidence that he was a part of any sect that used these techniques, nor is there any proof he was even aware of their techniques apart from reputation. Rasputin was able to calm Alexei during his times of physical pain, and it was in this that his services were important. Rasputin did not cure Alexei of anything, but though prayer, was able to soothe the nerves of the young heir. He never took any credit for his services, saying only that God is responsible for the alleviation of Alexei’s pain. Nor did rasputin seek any reward for his services, and was very quick to leave the palace when he was no longer needed. In fact, it is worth nothing htat Rasputin routinely left the company of the royal family with intentions to go back to Siberia. It was only through the pleading of the royal couple that he returned. A rather curious form of behavior for someone who was “power mad.” In fact, twice, Rasputin packed up to leave for his native land, but was enticed back by Alexandra who clearly needed Rasputin to soothe the tsarevich.

Consulting eyewitnesses, there is no evidence that Rasputin had any political agenda whatsoever. There is substantial reason to doubt he was even a monarchist, though he respected the reigning royal family. The author claims that rasputin told her that praying for ht tsar was wrong, and only the poor and needy should be prayed for. However odd this statement might be, it hardly reflects any belief in royalism.

It did not take long for Rasputin to make enemies. The first sin he committed was to foil an assassination attempt on the heir to the throne. Apparently, several members of the palace nobility were ordering one of Alexei’s nurses to rub a certain powder on his rectum. The nurse was told that this was a medication brought back from the Middle East to treat Alexei’s condition. Rasputin, suspicious, asked that it be analyzed, only to discover that it was poison. As soon as this concoction was no longer applied, the tsarevich’s illness disappeared. There is no question, in Rasputin’s mind after this, that there was a cabal in the palace against the young heir. Rasputin’s days were numbered, and he knew it. But it was this incident that sealed the bond of trust between the royal family and Rasputin.

It didn’t help matters when a certain Prince Felix Yusapov approached Rasputin, asking him to intercede with the royal family for the oldest Romanov daughter’s hand. Rasputin, after being offered a bribe, refused. Eventually the story began to circulate, and Prince Yusapov moved to England to avoid further embarrassment. From there, Yusapov began to circulate stories about Rasputin at the English press. Among his accusations was that Rasputin was a Jew, that he had an out of control libido, and that he was an alcoholic. From this time on (about 1909), the stories about Rasputin began to get their start.

The murder of Rasputin is also treated in this book, but one with substantial revisionist material. It is normally told that Rasputin was killed after nearly every conceivable form of killing had failed: from poison to bullets to drowning to beatings. Rasputin was murdered by a group known as the “Mad Gang,” a group of extremely high ranking but also very liberal nobles and politicians who sought the eventual overthrow of Nicholas (and the monarchy in general) and their own installation in power. Among whom was Duma president Rodzianko, Vladimir Purishkevich, and Prince Yusipov. Apparently, according to later police reports, Rasputin was aware of the reason the liberal Prince Yusipov wanted him at his house, though the cover story was to pray for his ailing wife. In several confessions from Yusipov, he said that he first wanted to poison Rasputin, but he refused to eat the cakes especially prepared for him, nor the wine; all of which was poisoned. Eventually, he simply shot Rasputin, and eventually dumped his body into the river Neva, where, according to the autopsy, he died of drowning. It was a rather quick affair, bereft of the drawn out will to live so popular among cinematographers.

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Much of the upper nobility in St. Petersburg was frankly being converted to liberalism as the 20th century got started. Many of them resented the traditionalism of the Emperor (though a traditionalism strongly tinged with practical good sense), and certainly, the presence of an “uneducated hick” at court. It might be mentioned that Rasputin was not uneducated, though he certainly had strong peasant roots.

Many of the nobility through their weight behind the liberal reformers, and, slowly but surely, the upper reaches of the nobility were turning against Nicholas. The Emperor was surrounded by turncoats and traitors, each viewing himself as the future president of a republican Russia, or even as the next Emperor. It reached a point where, except for a few trusted intimates, Nicholas was unsure who he could trust. Ultimately, it was Rasputin and Alexandra. As proof of this, here is the official exoneration of Rasputin made by the revolutionary Provisional Government (i.e. the anti-tsarist government under Kerensky, prior to the Bolshevik takeover) in July of 1917:

    19 July 1917

    This testimonial delivered to Mikhail Mihailovich Leibikov certifies that not a single indication of Gregory Rasputin’s political activity was disclosed by the High Commission of Inquiry. The inquiry into the influence of Rasputin on the Imperial Family was intensive but it was definitely established that that influence had its source only in the profound religious sentiment of their Majesties. The only favor Rasputin accepted was the rental of his lodging, paid by the personal Chancellor of his Majesty. He also accepted presents made by the hands of the Imperial Family, such as shirts, waist-bands, etc. That Rasputin had no connections with any foreign authorities. That all pamphlets and newspaper articles on the subject of Rasputin influence and other rumors and gossip were fabricated by the powerful enemies of the emperor. This statement is given under the signature and seal of the Attorney General of the High Commission.

    V.M. Rudnev (signature)

The fact is that the Provisional Government, set up after the formal abdication of the Tsar in 1917, had full access to all the private and public papers of the Tsar, the Duma and all government ministries. Never has such an exhaustive commission into the form, behavior, structure and functioning of the royal government ever been attempted, and certainly, can never be again, given the full access to all records the Commission had (much of which was destroyed by the Bolsheviks for obvious reasons). They found, not only no moral problems with Rasputin, but also that the Imperial government maintained the highest standards in personal dignity while holding office. And all this from the sworn enemies of the Imperial government.

Significantly, the author reports many of the spiritual teachings of Rasputin. He never sought disciple, but he certainly attracted them, and one of his most ardent was the author. Now, here is where things get sticky. Though there is no direct evidence that rasputin was ever a member of one of the small sects that dotted the Russian landscape, some of his teachings are eccentric in the context of Russian Orthodoxy, a view the royal family was certain he espoused. Here, for example, are a few of the spiritual maxims Rasputin made central to his teaching (as reported by the author):

1. Be master of your own Will

2. Don’t worry

3. When in doubt, wait for light

4. Never show temper

5. Keep unpleasant opinions to yourself

6. Take all advice offered to you, but act on your own judgement

7. Be genuine and sincere

8. Understand your own powers

9. Understand your own weakness

10. Have faith in men and yourself

11. Love truth and justice supremely

12. Hold the eye of energy upon life’s ultimate goal

13. Seek light and life up to al light possessed.

According to the author, these were the central maxims of Rasputin’s life. Now, as nice as some of them are, there is a rather odd absence of any reference to God, the Trinity, the church or Jesus. The continued, undefined and deliberately vague use of such terms as “Will” or “the light” are certainly representative of sectarian and semi-gnostic views. He makes reference to faith (#10), but no reference to faith in God. #11 tells us who to love, and it’s not God, Christ, or anyone else. It is the vague and abstract words “truth” and “justice.” Of course, there are 13 maxims that made up his “commandments,” a number loved by Masons and other occultists. This is hardly the language of Russian monasticism, and therefore I remain highly suspicious of the author’s conviction that Rasputin was just a good, simple Christian. There is no mention of Rasputin ever receiving communion, going to confession or other practices normal to Orthodox life. This would explain the nearly universal suspicion of Rasputin exhibited by the upper clergy in the church, which the author fails to explain any other way.

In short, this book is a well done revisionist understanding of Rasputin from one of his ardent supporters and disciples. There is every reason to believe her most important points about the man, and his enemies, largely because they derives solely from eyewitnesses and police reports. For this reason alone, it is an extremely important book. It will not be taken seriously by scholars in “Russia studies,” for it proves one of the major points made by monarchists, then and now: that the nobility in St. Petersburg was anti-tsarist and viewed “parliamentary democracy” as merely a means to gain power under the ubiquitous slogan of “human rights.” Dr. Judas clearly, and though first hand accounts solely, bears this age-old contention out. The peasants were right after all: the tsar was good, his bureaucrats and nobles, bad. This refrain is to be found in peasant folk songs and dances from the 15th century onward, and Dr. Judas shows they were not too far off.

Rasputin was clearly not a bad man, but neither was he an Orthodox one. He spoke of Christ, but did not believe he founded a church. He told men to put their faith in one another rather than God. Nevertheless, had he been listened to, world history would be radically different. He was a quick-witted, educated and very practical man who strongly respected the royal family and wanted their protection, and nothing more. Rasputin correctly predicted that Russia’s entering into World War I would be the end of her, and this prediction, among other things, earned him the hatred of the Petersburg salon crowd. “Neither Devil nor Saint,” a very appropriate title.

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Reply from Majorie Rich

Dear Matthew:

It was a real pleasure to read you again. I enjoyed your review of Dr. Judas's book, but I do disagree with a lot of her claims, and will tell you why. All my quotes and remarks are from The Fall of the Russian Monarchy by Benard Pares who was Professor of Russian History, Language and Literature, University of Liverpool 1908-18 University of London 1919-36. In his Introduction he says: "I know of no period of history which is so rich in first-hand materials. That is, of course, due to the Revolution. It is true that a good many materials that I was following up have been lost for ever; for instance, being allowed to live with my regiment that I liked at the Russian front during the War, I found it easy to obtain a lien on the regimental records; but these, for the most part seem to have disappeared. On the other hand the Revolution opened access to a vast number of materials of infinitely greater value, many of which, without it, could hardly ever have been known to the public–private letters of the most personal kind passing between the chief actors in the period, diaries and other personal records. Here, as a student of history, I must pay the warmest tribute to Professor Michael Pokrovsky, the communist historian, to whom fell the priceless opportinity of making the greater part of this rich material accesible. Pokrovsky carried his extreme views into his historical studies, and they have now been discarded in the Soviet Union; but he had those instincts of scholarship which has always been so precious to the academic world of Russia, and in organizing the the work of research and publication under his leadership, he did not forget he was a historian."

I don't believe her claim that the young Alexis did not have hemophilia, and as you mentioned, there are many contradictions. It was through the boy's illness that Rasputin was brought into the palace. He may not have "cured" the illness, but there is no question that he brought relief from his pain. As his last nurse, Teglova, put it to Sokolov, "Call it what you will, he could really promise her (Empress) her boy's life while he lived." So it is easy to see why the Empress turned a deaf ear when Rasputin's many escapades were reported to the Tsar. And some. like the monk, Illidor, and the Bishop Hermogen, were dismissed and sent to different monasteries outside St. Petersburg. Lucas claims that Rasputin, as a Christian, was opposed to hypnosis. Pares wrotes; "Rasputin had already become a great preoccupation to-the principle Ministers. When Stolypin's children were injured by the attempt on his life in 1906, the Emperor had offered him the services of Rasputin as a healer. Later there was an interview between the two at which, according to the account that Stolypin gave to Rodzyanko, Rasputin tried to hypnotize this fine, sturdy and sensible man; Stolypin described how repulsive it was to him. He made a plain report on Rasputin to the Emperor. At the beginning of 1911 he ordered Rasputin out of St. Petersburg and the order was obeyed Stolypin's Minisater of Religion, Lukanov, on the reports of the police, ordered an investigation, and abundant material was forthcoming. From this time ,onwards, the Empress hated Stolypin." For Judas to claim that Rasputin had no political agenda, is ludicrous. All through Pares'book Rasputin brags about not only his sexual conquests, but his polital importance to the Tsar. He was no monarchist, and despised the nobility and declared them members of another race. Surprisingly, he and Count Witte, who held the same views, became friends, One thing I agree with then on, and that was, they both opposed the war and "English diplomacy." Pares says; "On Witte's side, with his rather obvious cunning and predilection for intrigue, it is almost certain that he would be one of the first to gauge Raspotin's political importance and to make use of it." I doubt that Prince Yussupov moved to England to "avoid embarrassment", but he moved there to attend Oxford. I remember that well, as he took an entourage of servants with him, quite unlike most college boys. I do not believe that any "Mad Gang" members killed Rasputin, but I do believe Prince Yussupov's account, plus and Rodzyanko's account in his "The Reign of Rasputin." However, I would not at all be surprised if the "perfidious Albion" didn't have a hand in it.

I was going to list some of the scandalous things that Rasputin did, and was investigated for, but I would run out of time and patience. Nowhere does Pares mention V.M. Rudnev, who gave the Duma findings, but Radzinky does in his "The Last Tsar." He says: "One of the most valuable materials for illuminating the personality of Rasputin was the observations journal kept by the surveillance established for Rasputin by agents of the secret police. The surveillance was both external and internal, and his apartment was under constant watch....Since the periodic press paid inordinate attention to Rasputin's unruliness, which became synonymous with his name, the investigation has given this issue proper attention. The richest material for illuminating this aspect of his personality came from that permanent secret surveillance of his apartment, which made it clear that Rasputin's amorous exploits did not go beyond nighttime orgies and young women of frivolous conduct and chanteuses, as well as with several of his suppliants....As far as his proximity to ladies of high society, in this respect the surveillance and investigation obtained no materials whatsoever." A far cry from Judas's claim. It did proves Rasputin a braggart." In pointing out the Tsar's weakness as a strong leader, does she think that historians blame Rasputin for the Revolution, so she wants to put the blame elsewhere.? That Revolution would have been carried out whether Rasputin had been born, or not. Not being a hard autocratic leader, the Tsar gained Sainthood. Pares saw the Tsar's diary, and his last entry. "Avdeyev was replaced by a Siberian Jew, Yurovsky, a man with a most sinister face and record. Nicholas notes in the last published entry in his diary," This specimen we like least of all."

You aptly called the spiritual maxims of Rasputin what they were. Thirteen, the number beloved of the Freemasons and other occultists. Dr. Judas could have known Rasputin all her life, but that s doesn't make her appraisal of him accurate. I have friends that have known George Bush all his life, and in spite of the damning evidence of his failure as a leader, still support him, and some even think he is intelligent I hope that this lengthy epistle hasn't bored you, as you know more about Russia than anyone I have ever read.

My best wishes to you and yours, Marjorie

Dear Majorie: You are very correct. However, I do think that Judas needs to be read, as she was an eyewitness after all. There can be no doubt that other eyewitnesses have contradicted her testimony. I am certain that Rasputin was not a Christian in any recognizable sense and this is the most significnat aspect of Judas’ book of all: even his greatest admirers, when sizing up his religious credentials, saw no room for Christ or even the Trinity in Rasputin’s words. MRJ