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Russian Unrest Triggers Crackdown

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 266th installment in the series. 

February 9, 1917: Russian Unrest Triggers Crackdown 

The murder of Rasputin in mysterious circumstances in December 1916 didn’t seem to lessen his impact on Russian public affairs, as his malign influence continued to make itself felt through the followers he maneuvered into positions of power before he died. One particularly baneful legacy was the appointment of Alexander Protopopov, a spiritualist crackpot apparently suffering from mental disorders associated with late-stage syphilis, as interior minister, with power over the police and domestic security forces. 

Protopopov endeared himself to the Siberian holy man and his patroness, the Tsarina Alexandra, by virtue of reactionary attitudes including his unwavering belief in the absolute power of the Tsar, whose authority sprang directly from God’s favor, paired with profound distrust and hatred of the liberal reformers demanding a greater role for the Imperial Duma, or parliament – the closest thing Russia had to a democratic institution, founded by Nicholas II in 1905 as a concession to head off revolution following Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. 

Luckily for the old regime, for years the fractious pro-democracy groups in the Duma had remained divided between political parties and movements like the Octobrists, who supported a constitutional monarchy; the Party of People’s Freedom, or Cadets, representing left-leaning professionals and intellectuals; and the Trudoviks, a moderate pro-labor party.  There were also several Marxist groups, whose loyalty to the throne was in doubt, including the Socialist Revolutionaries, a broad-based movement led by Viktor Chernov and originally focused on agrarian reform, and the Social Democrats, devoted to the cause of the small but expanding industrial proletariat, who had previously aligned themselves with socialist parties in the rest of Europe. 

As it happened the Social Democrats were further divided into two additional splinter groups – the Mensheviks, originally led by Julius Martov, who wanted to create a large, democratic-style political party, and the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, who favored a smaller organization divided into revolutionary cells and devoted to the violent overthrow of Tsarism. Both Martov and Lenin were currently in exile in Switzerland, which only added to the general confusion about who was in charge among the many pro-reform factions. 

But despite their seemingly endless disarray the pro-reform groups were buoyed by events that lay largely outside their control, with Protopopov playing a central role.

Desertion and Dissent

As the war entered its third year, Petrograd was in ferment thanks to the combination of mounting shortages (top, a bread line) and a brutally cold winter, as well as a swelling number of deserters from the front. Across Russia, of 14.4 million men who had been called to the colors from 1914-1916, by the end of the latter year between one and 1.5 million had deserted, including at least 60,000 who left during the bloody success of the Brusilov Offensive

As elsewhere in the First World War, the reasons for desertion were obvious enough. George Lomonosov, a high-ranking Russian officer with Menshevik sympathies, recalled conditions on the southern portion of the Eastern Front, which now included Romania, in the first months of 1917: 

There was plenty of ammunition but a scarcity of food… Dead horses had to be eaten. The railroads, on account of the dreadful condition of the locomotives, began to become paralyzed… The extent of the paralysis of the railroads at the Roumanian front can be seen from the fact that they were compelled to stop the sanitary trains and instead ship the wounded in the freight cars which had been emptied of provisions sent to the front. The thermometer registered 14 degrees below zero and many of the wounded froze to death in these unheated cars. 

Yvonne Fitzroy, volunteering with a group of Scottish nurses on the Romanian portion of the Eastern Front, recorded similar conditions in late January 1917:

Some of our men were evacuated to-day. They go in the same open carts even in in this awful weather. It’s an appalling thought… It may be worth while to mention here that on one occasion during the worst of this terrible weather one of the aforementioned carts arrived, and when we went to carry the wounded in we found only two bodies frozen stiff under coverings that were just a sheet of ice. They had only about a quarter of a mile to travel to reach us. 

Another awful account comes from Lady Kennard, another volunteer nurse, who recorded the aftermath of a train wreck, and incidentally confirmed that criminal behavior was widespread among Russian soldiers at the front in January 1917: 

In our English hospital here there is a man who has had his foot amputated. He lay pinned under a burning car. A hatchet was brought by a doctor to a French officer standing near, and the doctor said: “Do it if you can; I have no instruments and feel paralysed.” The Frenchman did the thing in the whole horror of the sunlight, whilst the Russian privates who were his charge took advantage of the opportunity and pillaged passenger luggage on the train. 

The contrast with the privileged life of aristocratic officers, favored by money and connections as well as social status, was appalling. Ivan Stenvock-Fermor, the son of a Russian count, recalled life as a newly-inducted officer just before the revolution, when the officers still enjoyed the services of a gourmet chef as well as chamber music to suit:

The other officers came back after their leaves had expired and we decided to give a party for the many officers of other squadrons. At such parties there was a lot of food and a lot of drinking… Food was plentiful because there was a supply center for the whole division where one could buy delicacies that had been brought from the city. Otherwise eggs, butter, meat and poultry could be bought in some of the local villages. So with the delicacies from the city, the local food, and the fantastic cooking of Samsonov, I never ate better than from the moment I went to war. There was also a string band made up of soldiers and they played all kinds of music to entertain the officers. That was of course a tradition that went back to the days before the reforms in the army under Tsar Alexander II, when soldiers were serfs in uniforms and officers were gentlemen officers. 

No surprise, then, that revolutionary sentiments were already circulating among soldiers at the front. In early 1917 Kennard noted: “Something is in the air and it has affected, curiously enough, chiefly the Russian soldiers. They appear restive and talk in groups with an excitement disproportionate to the quiet of this interval. We hear the most fantastic rumours…” According to an ordinary Russian soldier, Dmitry Oskin, discontent was fueled by partisan newspapers from home. In January 1917, Oskin wrote in his diary: “… Borov gets hold of a whole pile of new editions. They accuse the Government of greed, indecision and secret negotiations with the Germans. We read all this in secret. Zemlianitsky says: ‘It’s time to finish off this war, brothers!’” 

This dark talk of revolution among frontline soldiers quickly spread back to the civil population and reserve troops via the flood of deserters. Many AWOL troops, who were often illiterate peasants, simply returned to their home villages – but a significant proportion wound up in Petrograd, Moscow, or one of the empire’s other big cities, where they typically lived by begging and petty crime if they couldn’t find informal work as manual laborers. 

Proletarians and Police 

The swelling masses of deserters in Petrograd mixed with disaffected factory workers, many of them women, angry about soaring prices for flour, sugar, meat, and other basic foodstuffs – the result of sky-high inflation as the government printed more and more money to help finance the war effort. From printing around five million roubles per day before the war, the volume of new currency issued by the state bank jumped to 30 million roubles per day in 1915 and 50 million per day by early 1917.

Inevitably this sent the rouble into a nosedive. As in other belligerent nations, official attempts to impose price controls were for the most part laughably ineffective, their only result being to drive trade in controlled goods on to the thriving black market. Meanwhile shortages worsened because of disruptions to rail networks from heavy snow and lack of maintenance for engines.  Devaluation and corresponding price inflation accelerated precipitously in the first months of 1917, according to Lomonosov, who recalled his surprise at conditions in Petrograd when he returned from the front in February 1917: 

I realized that the rouble had fallen in value more in the last two months than during the entire war. The queues that I noticed in Petrograd on the following day showed me that there was also very little food in the capital. To get bread, it was necessary to stand in line three or four hours; for milk, five or six hours; and for shoes, many days and nights. 

With hunger widespread among industrial workers and deserters, anger at the government boiled over in a series of strikes and protests, which often turned violent when the hated police attempted to break them up.  This in turn prompted the authorities to deploy the fearsome Cossacks to back up the police, creating a cycle of violence as repression triggered more protests. Indeed Rasputin’s dead hand was even now pulling the strings, as Protopopov seemed determined to undermine what little popular support the autocracy still enjoyed. 

In January and February a series of government’s escalations and missteps pushed an already volatile situation in the capital, Petrograd, towards crisis and finally revolution. On January 19, Tsar Nicholas II attempted to sweep dissent under the rug by postponing the next meeting of the Duma from January 25 until February 27, then departed for his headquarters near the front, leaving Protopopov in control of the capital. However this move to sideline the Duma triggered huge protests, and on January 20 Protopopov declared martial law in Petrograd, placing the capital under the command of the Cossack general Khabalov.

Two days later, on January 22, 1917 over 100,000 workers walked out and marched through the city to commemorate “Bloody Sunday,” an infamous event which took place during the Revolution of 1905, when the Imperial Guard fired on a large crowd of unarmed protesters, killing over 100. With a major meeting of all the Allies due to take place in late January and early February, Protopopov had to tread carefully – but he was still determined to crush the defiant workers’ movement. 

After another strike brought 100,000 workers on to the streets of Petrograd on February 7, on February 9 Protopopov struck back by ordering the arrest of the Workers’ Council of the Central War Industries Committee, which had organized the strikes and called for another protest on February 27 in support of the Duma. This was foolish, to say the least: the Central War Industries Committee had been created by industrialists with the regime’s stamp of approval to coordinate production of munitions, and the Workers’ Council played a key role in maintaining stability by ensuring that factory workers felt they had a voice in its decisions. True, the Workers’ Council was organizing strikes to voice dissatisfaction with rising prices and deteriorating living conditions, but these were legitimate complaints – and, crucially, the Council still supported the war effort.

By ordering the arrest of the Workers’ Council, whose members he accused of plotting revolution, Protopopov wasn’t stamping out dissent, as he thought, but rather hollowing out one of the last pillars of support for the monarchy. Worse still, Nicholas II doubled down on this short-sighted policy by threatening to dissolve the Duma until the next elections, scheduled in December 1917. Although this threat was never enacted, their heavy-handed actions angered the progressive elements in the Duma and the industrialists who had organized the Central War Industries Committee, who looked at the growing threat of violence in Petrograd and increasingly doubted the Tsarist regime’s ability to maintain order. 

In fact, even the regime’s closest allies were beginning to wonder whether the mild-mannered and ineffectual Tsar Nicholas II, isolated at his military headquarters in Mogilev, 500 miles south of Petrograd, had any idea what was going on. It didn’t help that Protopopov and other key ministers sent a steady stream of assurances that there was no real cause to worry via telegram, as Pierre Gilliard, the personal tutor of the tsarevitch Alexei, later wrote: “Why did he not try to recover by his acts that confidence of the Duma which he felt he was losing? The answer is that those around him had made it impossible for him to find out for himself what was really going on in the country.” By the same token, Nicholas II himself seemed to realize that he was out of touch with events, writing in his diary on February 20: “Riots began in Petrograd a few days ago; unfortunately the military started to participate in them. What an awful feeling to be so far away and receive only snippets of bad news!”

But it is incorrect to attribute the Tsar’s actions (or inaction) to simple lack of information about the situation; there is no denying that Nicholas II, as the sole heir to a 300-year-old absolute monarchy, was also profoundly reactionary in his own attitudes, and was unceasingly reinforced in these tendencies by the Tsarina Alexandra. 

One telling anecdote reveals the yawning ideological chasm between the emperor and the liberal reformers. On January 13, 1917, the French ambassador Maurice Paleologue recorded a story related to him by the British ambassador, George Buchanan, describing his meeting with Tsar Nicholas II, in which Buchanan pleaded for him to appoint ministers who had the confidence of the Russian people. According to Buchanan, 

The Emperor's manner was cold and stiff; he broke the silence only to put forward two objections in a dry tone. The first was: “You tell me, Ambassador, that I must deserve the confidence of my people. Isn’t it rather for my people to deserve my confidence?” The second was: “You seem to think that I take advice in choosing my ministers. You're quite wrong; I choose them myself, unassisted ... “ And thereupon he brought the audience to a close with the simple words: “Good-bye, Ambassador.” At bottom, the Emperor has simply given expression to the pure doctrine of autocracy, by virtue of which he is on the throne. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

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12 Fast Facts About Magnum, P.I.
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Magnum, P.I. was appointment television in a world before peak TV made that sort of thing commonplace. Starring Tom Selleck and set against a lush Hawaiian backdrop, the series was a triumph thanks to its tense action, humor, and eclectic cast of characters. Selleck’s Thomas Magnum shed the typical action hero mold for something far more relatable, and for eight seasons, the series was among the most popular on the air. To bring you back to a time when all you needed was a Hawaiian shirt and a Detroit Tigers cap to be a star, here are 12 facts about Magnum, P.I.

1. THERE'S A STRONG HAWAII FIVE-0 CONNECTION.

Magnum, P.I. made its premiere on CBS in 1980, the same year the network’s long-running Hawaii Five-0 was taking its final bow. Magnum’s location was picked because the network didn't want to let its Hawaiian production facilities go to waste, so the Tom Selleck-led show filmed many of its indoor scenes on the old Hawaii Five-0 soundstage.

The two shows are even set in the same universe, as Thomas Magnum would make references to Detective Steve McGarrett, who was famously played by Jack Lord on Hawaii Five-0. Though Lord never did accept the offer to make a cameo, the link between the two shows was never broken.

2. PLAYING MAGNUM COST TOM SELLECK THE ROLE OF INDIANA JONES.

Can you imagine Indiana Jones with a mustache? Or Tom Selleck without one? Well one of those almost became a reality as Selleck was the top choice for the swashbuckling archaeologist when production on Raiders of the Lost Ark began. Unfortunately, the actor’s contractual commitment to Magnum, P.I. prevented him from taking the role.

In a cruel twist of fate, a writers strike subsequently delayed filming on the first season of Magnum, theoretically freeing up Selleck for the role—if he hadn’t already dropped out of consideration. Though the part will forever be linked to Harrison Ford, the ever-excitable George Lucas described Selleck’s screentest as “really, really good.”

3. THE THEME SONG MADE THE BILLBOARD CHARTS.

If you think the Magnum, P.I. theme is a miracle of network television, you’re not alone. The song, composed by Mike Post, reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1982—a rare feat for a TV theme. Post is also the man behind hit TV songs like The A-Team, The Rockford Files, Quantum Leap, The Greatest American Hero, and plenty of other ‘80s and ‘90s staples. He’s probably best known as the man behind the ubiquitous “dun, dun” sting from Law & Order. (The Who's Pete Townshend actually wrote a song about Post's theme work, title "Mike Post Theme," which was released on the band's 2006 album, Endless Wire.)

The Magnum, P.I. tune you’re bopping your head to right now wasn’t the original opening song, though. For the first handful of episodes, including the pilot, the series had a much less memorable intro song.

4. THE SHOW FEATURED SOME OF ORSON WELLES’S LAST PERFORMANCES.

Orson Welles’s final years were a blur of voiceover work and jug-o’-wine commercials, and one of his last jobs was acting as the voice of Robin Masters—the mysterious author who lends Magnum his guesthouse in exchange for security services. Masters is only heard, never fully seen, in the show, leading to plenty of conspiracy theories over his actual identity (some fans still think he was Higgins all along).

Occasionally Masters would be seen only briefly and from behind. For those rare moments, actor Bruce Atkinson would provide the necessary body parts for filming. Though his voice was only heard rarely during the series’ first five seasons, Welles was scheduled to play the role for as long as the show was on the air, but the actor’s death in 1985 brought a premature end to his tenure.

5. THERE WAS ALMOST A QUANTUM LEAP CROSSOVER.

Donald Bellisario’s TV empire is one of the industry’s most impressive feats, resulting in multiple top-rated shows and critical favorites. But getting two of his most popular series to cross over proved to be more trouble than anyone would have anticipated.

In order to secure a fifth season for Quantum Leap, Bellisario suggested that Scott Bakula’s Dr. Sam Beckett character “leap” into the body of Thomas Magnum in the final moments of season four, leading to the following year’s premiere. But there was a snag with securing Selleck; his publicist even claimed he was never formally approached about the subject, saying, "We’re hoping. It’s on hold. We don’t have an answer.” The idea was soon dropped, and a fifth season of Quantum Leap went on without any help from Magnum.

Magnum, P.I. was off the air at this point, so Selleck was already on different projects. Some test footage of Bakula as Thomas Magnum was shot and shown at a Quantum Leap fan convention, but that’s as far as viewers got.

6. CROSSOVERS WITH MURDER, SHE WROTE AND SIMON & SIMON DID HAPPEN.

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A crossover between Magnum and Murder, She Wrote? That did happen, oddly enough. The event took place in the Magnum, P.I. episode "Novel Connection" during season seven and Murder, She Wrote’s “Magnum on Ice.” In the story, Magnum is arrested for murder, and the only person who can clear his name is Jessica Fletcher, played as always by Dame Angela Lansbury.

During its third season, Magnum also crossed over with his fellow CBS private investigators on the show Simon & Simon. Both series ran simultaneously on CBS for almost the entirety of the ‘80s, and in this episode the trio banded together to secure a Hawaiian artifact that supposedly had a death curse attached to it.

7. THE SMITHSONIAN PRESERVED MAGNUM’S SIGNATURE HAWAIIAN SHIRT.

If you’re not old enough to appreciate what a phenomenon Magnum, P.I. was, consider this: Selleck’s iconic Hawaiian shirt, Detroit Tigers hat, and insignia ring from the show were all donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

The objects joined other culturally significant TV relics from over the years, including Archie Bunker’s chair from All in the Family, the Lone Ranger’s mask, and a Kermit the Frog puppet. Perhaps just as big of an honor, Selleck found himself in the Mustache Hall of Fame for the memorable lip fuzz he sported throughout the series. His digital plaque reads:

“Throughout his acting career, Selleck’s charismatic grin, unflinching masculinity and robust, stocky lipholstery have made him the stuff of legend.”

8. IT PRODUCED A FAILED BACKDOOR PILOT.

The first season of Magnum, P.I. was about more than just establishing Tom Selleck as a household name; CBS executives also wanted an episode to act as a backdoor pilot for an action series starring Erin Gray. In the episode “J. ‘Digger’ Doyle,” viewers meet Gray as the titular Doyle, a security expert that Magnum calls on to help thwart a potential assassination attempt against Robin Masters.

Though the episode went off without a hitch, the spinoff never materialized. In fact, Gray never reappeared on the series after that.

9. MAGNUM DIES IN THE PREMATURE SERIES FINALE “LIMBO.”

By the time season seven rolled around, it seemed that Magnum, P.I. had run its course—so much so that the network had planned for that to be the show’s sendoff.

In the season’s final episode, “Limbo,” Magnum winds up in critical condition after taking a bullet during a warehouse shootout. The episode gets Dickensian as Magnum, caught between life and death, drops in on all his closest friends (and supporting cast) as a specter no one can see or hear. He makes peace with everyone around him before he apparently walks off into heaven, punctuated by the John Denver song “Looking For Space.”

To the surprise of the cast, crew, and fans, the series was renewed for a shortened eighth season, meaning Magnum had to come back from the beyond and continue his adventures for another 13 episodes.

10. THE REAL SERIES FINALE IS ONE OF THE MOST-WATCHED OF ALL TIME.

When Magnum, P.I. actually ended, it ended with one of the most-watched finales of all time. It currently sits as the fifth most-watched series finale, not far behind the likes of Cheers, M*A*S*H, Friends, and Seinfeld. The grand total of viewers? 50.7 million.

11. SELLECK AND TOM CLANCY FAILED TO GET A MAGNUM MOVIE OFF THE GROUND IN THE ‘90s.

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Rumors of a Magnum, P.I. movie have been rumbling since shortly after the credits rolled on the series' final episode (and likely well before that). It got close in the ‘90s when Selleck teamed with famed novelist Tom Clancy to pitch a Magnum movie to Universal.

Clancy was a big fan of the show and was ready to crack the story with Selleck, but nothing ever came of it. Selleck later recounted:

"We got together, and I went to Universal, and I said ‘It's time we could do a series of feature films.’ They were very interested, and I had Tom, who wanted to do the story, and I had this package put together, but Universal's the only studio that could make it, and they went through three ownership changes in the '90s, and I think that was the real window for Magnum."

12. WE MIGHT SEE A SEQUEL SERIES FOCUSING ON MAGNUM’S DAUGHTER.

The time for a Selleck-led Magnum, P.I. movie may have passed, but there’s still hope for the franchise. In 2016, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that ABC had a pilot in the works for a Magnum sequel, which would put an end to the constant reports of a full-fledged reboot or movie adaptation of the show.

According to the site, the show would follow Magnum's daughter, Lily, "who returns to Hawaii to take up the mantle of her father's PI firm.” It remains to be seen whether or not the project will ever come to fruition.

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5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
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At its best, Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’ Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY

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Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of this year and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In June, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE

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In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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