Vladimir Ilyich appeared in the doorway. He looked embarrassed. I had no idea whether the Sovnarkom made a decision or not. I was sure, though, that there was still a way out. I pushed my way through the crowded lobby and approached Lenin. He was about to return to the conference hall.
“Vladimir Ilyich, please postpone the discussion of the issue for at least a week. I have something really urgent to tell you.” I said the last words in a whisper so that nobody heard. Lenin stopped in the doorway for a while and asked:
“What is the matter?”
“I am sure we haven’t considered the best alternative.”
“If the Tsar goes over to the bolsheviks, the situation will change abruptly. The world will be shocked. The civil war will end. A realistic opportunity for a World Revolution will emerge.”
“Nikolay has become a Marxist?” mockingly whispered Lenin and burst out laughing.
“I can take care of that. I will persuade Nikolay. Vladimir Ilyich, use your influence.” I was talking very quickly, excitedly, gradually raising my voice. “We can’t make a fatal mistake. Shooting is not a solution. We shouldn’t repeat the mistake of the English and French.”
We entered the conference hall; Lenin swiftly closed the door and, turning to the SNK members, said:
“We must take a different approach,” and looking at me, continued: “Comrade Arman has come up with an unexpected solution. In spite of its fantastic nature, it seems quite interesting.” Lenin took his place at the table. Everybody was looking attentively at me. After a pause, I stated confidently:
“The Tsar sympathizes with the proletarian revolution. He will make the announcement shortly.”
“What is he saying?”
“Is it true?”
Everybody was baffled for a while. They began to talk to each other and look around agitatedly. Lev Davidovich was scrutinizing me over his glasses without blinking his eyes. Stasova inquired very earnestly:
“Have you spoken to him personally?”
“Where does this information come from?” Kamensky added.
“No. I haven’t met with Nikolay. But I am confident that he will agree.” I did not know how to calm them down. I was afraid of saying the wrong word.
“Then, would you please explain what the benefit of it all will be?” It was Vladimir Ilyich. His words altered the atmosphere in the room.
Sverdlov asked, with the expression of astonishment on his face:
“Won’t this be perceived as our manipulation of class interests for our benefit?”
“On the contrary. It’s not us being disloyal to the proletariat, but Nikolay – to aristocracy. We’re in no way involved in it. Most importantly, we will be able to avoid revanchist attempts.” I resumed serenity while speaking. My suggestion seemed to be convincing. “Remember history. Today we need an autocrat acting as a role model. Overcoming fear is a great challenge for those people who have lived all their conscious lives in a class-differentiated society. They are used to looking up to their rulers and imitating them. We must be able to help them live in freedom. It’s crucial. We must make the socialist ideas acceptable for all the people of the world. I am sure that the regressive forces are the ones more interested in the killing of Nikolay II. We can’t possibly let it happen.
“Right. I agree,” Trotsky’s voice clanged amid the stony silence. I realized that I had won.
“But the Tsar is discredited. He won’t listen to anybody,” it was Sverdlov again.
“It’s hard to say. The Russian people are believers. The Tsar’s official announcement can make a huge impression on them,” Lenin spoke out his thoughts, “but we shouldn’t expect much from this shady enterprise.”
Encouraged by the reception of my suggestion, I did not let Vladimir Ilyich go on:
“The whole world will be shocked, comrades; the world will be shocked.” I repeated these words a dozen times, turning to each of the People’s Commissars.
After discussing the issue of the royal family for another half an hour, the Sovnarkom decided to send me to Yekaterinburg and get back to the issue a week later.
The time was pressing. Just the trip to and from Yekaterinburg would take a week. Two Red Army men, Ivanov and Schwartz, were to escort me to Yekaterinburg. I was not sure whether they were informed about the details of our trip. However, they did know that we were to meet with the Tsar. It was a long journey. On the first day, we traveled mostly in silence. Inwardly, I tried to imagine how to start talking. How should I describe the situation? What kind of guarantees should I give? Above all, however, I was worried about how Nikolay Alexandrovich would receive me.
The train dragged on slowly. I was losing hope. Ivanov and Schwartz had been silently sitting in front of me for two days now. They smoked incessantly. The train stopped. Schwartz went out to see what had happened. I looked at Ivanov dismally and asked him:
“Vitaly, do you think the Tsar will agree to defend communists?”
“We have to convince Nikolay to become a bolshevik,” I said with a grin.
“It’s impossible. The Tsar as a bolshevik?”
“Why d’ you think we are going to Yekaterinburg, then?”
“Comrade Trotsky has told us to accompany you and fulfill your commands, that’s all.”
“Vitaly, are you a believer…?”
“Nope,” replied Ivanov before I finished my question.
“Not so quick. We’re just talking.” I noticed that Vitaly did not understand me. “I’m not testing your loyalty to the Revolution. I trust you.”
Schwartz came back. He sat by Vitaly’s side without uttering a word. I went on:
“All people are believers, and we are, too. We believe that it is possible to live better. That peace is more important than war. That it is possible to eliminate exploitation, poverty. We believe in those things.” I asked Schwartz for a cigarette and asked him: “Where do you come from?”
“What do you think, what kind of person is ‘Bloody Nikolay’? Is he really cruel?”
“Well, sure he is, isn’t he?” replied Schwartz, surprised.
“You know, it’s not so simple. For most people Nikolay is a symbol, not an individual. I’m even afraid that he, too, perceives himself as a symbol. At this very moment, however, he’s of more interest to me as an individual, not a symbol, although we need him in this main role of his. In a word, I am confused. We need Nikolay to switch from a symbol to a human individual.”
“Are you really sure that the Tsar shares the bolsheviks’ views?” asked Vitaly.
Schwartz looked at him in genuine surprise and laughed:
“Would you be surprised, if it were so?” I asked.
“I don’t believe it. It’s impossible.”
“Well, I want to believe that the class society is to blame for the cruelty and violence, not the human being. That’s what I think.”
My companions lapsed into silence. The train was gradually gaining speed. I was gaining more optimism.
“Me, too, I believe it is like that,” Vitaly said cautiously, under his breath, as if talking to himself.
“How old are you?”
“Seventeen?” I was stunned. Ivanov looked like a man with extensive life experience. “How did you become a Red Army soldier?”
Vitaly began to tell the story of his life. He was born in Perm, in a worker’s family. His father was an unhappy and rude person, who became uncontrollable when drunk. And it happened quite often, as he drank much. On one such day, when Vitaly was hardly thirteen, his father went fishing with his pals, got drunk, had a fight and killed one of them, for which he was then exiled to Siberia. It was a tough time for the family. Vitaly had to work at a factory. There he enrolled in a revolutionary circle. When the war started, he went to the battlefield as a volunteer.
“Why would people be so mad at one another,” Vitaly asked all of a sudden.
I didn’t know what to say in reply. He went on:
“Dad wasn’t a bad guy, you know, but everybody thinks he’s a crook. He didn’t realize what he was doing. I don’t know. Just don’t know.”
“You were afraid of him?”
“Yeah. No, I don’t think so.”
“Tell me about the war.”
Vitaly began to talk. His mood changed. Then Schwartz joined the conversation. He was older than Vitaly, almost thirty.
Their stories worked the miracle of making our long trip short. We were talking of everything – starting from the existence of God to politics and daily life trifles.
The train arrived in Yekaterinburg at ten o’clock in the evening. A person, Beloborodov by name, Chairman of the Uralsk Town Council, met us at the station. The first thing he did was announce that the ‘whites’ were not far from the town. Then he said he was to escort us to the Ipatiev house. Frankly, he seemed untrustworthy, but I had no desire at all to check his papers or go on talking with him. What made me suspicious was Beloborodov approached me at once, as soon as we got off the train. The outward impression was we were familiar with each other. However, we were not. I had never seen him before.
Beloborodov showed us to the car that was waiting for us. Turning to Vitaly, I asked:
“Can you drive a car?”
“Yes!” Vitaly replied with poise, and made a step forward, seemingly to take the driver’s seat, where, by the way, there already was a driver at the wheel. Beloborodov was taken aback; he said that we could take the car, of course, but how could we find the Ipatiev house in the dark? I tried to calm him down saying that we might need a couple of other cars as well, as the royal family was to be evacuated as soon as possible.
“We must relocate them to Moscow.”
“Is that already set?” Beloborodov asked.
“At your word,” he replied readily.
“When will the train be ready to leave?”
“You will be able to leave in a couple of hours.”
Beloborodov went up to some Red Army men standing nearby and ordered them to have the train ready to leave and wait for us.
There was no light to be seen in the Ipatiev house windows. We went in. Beloborodov began to knock heavily on the door of the room where Nikolay was with his wife and son. He kept shouting: “Get ready, we’re taking you to another place.” I was silently standing in front of the door; voices could already be heard behind it. Ivanov and Schwartz were standing by my side. Beloborodov began to march along the corridor, waking up the other members of the royal family. After a few minutes, Nikolay II watchfully opened the door. He was perplexed, but tried to control himself, wearing contemptuous indifference on his face.
“We must go away from this town,” I said without introducing myself.
“Who are you?” he inquired calmly.
“Hurry up. There’s no time left. I will explain everything later on.”
Alexandra Fyodorovna looked more worried and lost.
“Nicky, who are these people, what is the matter?” she didn’t even try to hide her apprehension. She was quickly dressing Alexei. Then, addressing me, she said:
“Just like this? Should we leave now?”
I calmed her down by saying we still had time, but needed to hurry. Then I asked Schwartz to take care of the vehicle issue. He left. The other members of the family appeared in the corridor. I wanted to say something, but saw no reason in doing so. It struck me that the Tsar could take me for a white guard. I wanted to say it was not so, but said nothing.
Only about an hour later the second car was found, a truck at that. Nikolay, Alexandra and Alexei sat in our car. Vitaly was to drive it. The others got onto the truck. The commotion ended at last, and we started.
“Are they going to shoot us all?”
I turned towards him, touching his bandaged knee, and said:
“No, not at all. We will do everything so that you are safe. Vitaly and I, we will do everything so nothing happens.”
Alexei embraced his mother tightly. Heavy silence followed.
The train started only five hours later. Everybody was asleep except Nikolay and me. Sitting at the window, he was listlessly looking at the black landscape lit by the moonlight. I found it hard to start a conversation for a long time. I did not know what to say. After a while, I somehow managed to ask:
“Nikolay Alexandrovich, what are you thinking about?” My question seemed to be unexpected: only after a lengthy pause, and without looking at me, he just said:
“Nikolay Alexandrovich, you are the one who can stop this bloodshed. You can stop the civil war. All the wars. Forever.
“Who are you?”
“I am a member of the Social-Democratic Bolshevik Party.”
“A revolutionary?” I felt disappointment and contempt in his voice. Then, still looking through the window, he asked, “Where are you taking us?”
There was silence again. I looked at the sleeping members of the royal family, hoping that someone could help me. All of them were peacefully swaying from the concurrent motion of the train sweeping through the night.
“You cannot remain indifferent. Nikolay Alexandrovich, that is not right. You must take a stand, and make a choice.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“You should choose between life and death. I think you should choose life – for yourself, for your family, for your people, for everybody.”
Nikolay turned his face to look at me but said nothing.
“I do not blame you for this imperialistic war. I know, many do blame you, but I do not think like that. I am trying to speak about quite a different thing. I want to say that this is not the end of everything. There is still a chance to do something about it.”
“To do what?” Nikolay continued to look into the window glass.
“For one thing, the same that many people tried to do before. The strongest and the wisest individuals, I mean. Nikolay Alexandrovich, I am sure you could do that.”
“What is your name?”
“Arman. Comrade Arman:
“Comrade Arman, what am I to do? He looked at me, then turned back to the windowpane and went on, “I cannot understand what you mean.”
“You ought to stand up for the Socialist Revolution, defend the working people. You should come up with an announcement. With a call directed to all the nations of Russia, all humans.
“You want me to defend criminals?”
“No, I do not. There is no need to defend criminals. You should support socialism.”
“What kind of socialism?”
“Nikolay Alexandrovich, you do not live for yourself. You have never lived for yourself.”
“But also, you have never lived for people, for living individuals. Are you familiar with Karl Marx’s theory?”
“No, I am not,” he replied and keeping silent for a while, added, “I read the Bible.”
“Right. Then Marx, too, must have read the Bible a lot.”
“I just want to say that you could proceed from the Testament, but support the exploited, the poor, and all the working people, sick and tired of war. It is not necessary to use the word ‘proletariat’.
We lapsed into silence again. He said he was tired and wanted to sleep.
When I woke up in the morning, the train had stopped. Vitaly told me that we were waiting for an oncoming train to pass. The royal family was up long ago. Nikolay was sitting in the same place and in the same position as during our night conversation, but he was not looking out of the window. We exchanged a half tone ‘good morning’. Very unexpectedly, Nikolay said, turning to Alexandra Fyodorovna:
“Alix, Comrade Arman wants me to make an announcement in support of the working people’s revolt.”
Everyone, surprised and conscientious, looked at me.
“What does it mean?” Alexandra Fyodorovna asked.
After a pause, I began to outline the situation in the world, doing it very calmly, as if we were old chums, used to discussing politics every now and then.
“Revolution has flooded Germany. Working people are trying to take possession of power everywhere. The World War showed that humankind is ready to acknowledge the historical developments and give up the old way of living. We are on the eve of a new societal formation. You can become part of the process. Each of us should contribute to the creation of the new society to the extent of our abilities.”
“What are you talking about?” Alexandra Fyodorovna was dubiously scrutinizing me, then her husband. Nikolay said nothing. He looked at his children attentively, as if analyzing something, then turned his head towards his wife and finally at the others present.
“I want to say,” I went on, “that today all people are ready to put aside the chains of the old world, to live and work in freedom. No longer will there be masters and servants, rich and poor in the world. The war disclosed the horrible face of the class world, and people woke up from their sleep. Our current goal is to put an end to the millennium-long nightmare, and once we succeed, we all will be able to live in freedom, you included. Please understand that in the freedomless world of the past, nobody was able to be free. You have never enjoyed being free. I would think you even do not know what freedom is.”
“I hope you don’t mean all this while talking about freedom,” said Nikolay Alexandrovich, moving his hand to indicate the current situation.
“No, what I am trying to say is different,” I said as the train moved.
“They have shot our relatives; plunder and murder are everywhere,” Alexandra Fyodorovna spoke in distress.
“We are scared,” Alexei uttered, looking into my eyes.
“I know.” Then, after a short pause, I turned to Nikolay Alexandrovich, “All of that can be stopped. At least, we should try.”
“But how?” Alexandra Fyodorovna’s distress continued to grow, “What can be done? The world is falling apart. God has turned away from us.” She hugged her son and went on, “tell us what to do, if you know.”
“Just renounce all your titles and become citizens of Soviet Russia. That’s all.” After a while I continued, “I am confident that many people will follow your example. The hatred between the common people and aristocracy will weaken. That would be enough.”
“That would be enough?” a female voice was heard, but I did not notice whose it was.
“Yes, Alexandra Fyodorovna, that would be enough. You could turn to all the royal families of Europe. Even if they regard this step as part of a scheme, or a sign that you have lost your senses, never mind, as you will have your conscience clear: this is much more important. You will be confident that your standpoint remains crucial not only for Russia, but for the whole world, too.”
“It’s weird,” Nikolay said and turned away towards the window.
My words created notable animation among the children. Olga, producing all the courage she had, turned to her father:
“Why, Dad? Maybe Comrade Arman is not mistaken.” Then, addressing her mother, she said, “maybe that’s really possible?”
Nikolay was silent. The children went on discussing the idea with Alexandra Fyodorovna. I approached Vitaly and asked for a cigarette. He asked in a low voice:
“Do you think they’ll agree?”
“We’ll see; I have no idea,” I replied and added: “Remind me to send a telegram to Moscow at the nearest station.”
“Sure, I will.”
I sent the telegram in the evening of the same day. We were to arrive in Moscow the next day, and I was requesting to provide an apartment for the Romanovs, fully meeting all the safety requirements. I included my promise to personally submit the Tsar’s announcement to the Central Committee. After I sent out the telegram, I regained confidence and the right frame of mind. I even cracked a joke on Vitaly:
“I say, let’s write the text of the manifesto ourselves.”
“Why not? No problem,” he laughed in reply.
“Hold on. No need to hurry, we still have a whole day in store.”
“The train is moving fast. We might reach Moscow ahead of time.”
“Do you think so? Have they shortened the distance or what?”
“No,” Vitaly replied assertively, “the time has become swifter. We’re living in a new age.”
When we were getting into the train, Schwartz joined us and informed that the Turkish troops were rapidly moving forward at the Caucasian front.
“All that will end shortly,” I assured him.
The train started.
Seeing me, Alexei came up and asked:
“Does a ‘free individual’ mean a ‘citizen’?”
“It does, but not a citizen of the United States or France. A free individual is the citizen of the future,” I said. The others, too, listened attentively. “We all should unite our efforts to build that new society of the future, which many others – Alexander the Great, Buddha, Jesus, Bonaparte, Alexander I, and many others tried to build. It’s impossible to name all of those great people.”
“Comrade Arman”, Tatiana came closer, too, “are you an anarchist?”
“No, I am not; utopian socialists are anarchists. The current leaders of the World Revolution reject anarchism.”
“Do you envision the country governed by those leaders?” Nikolay asked derisively.
“Nikolay Alexandrovich, the world you imagine no longer exists; today’s working people are able to manage the economy on their own. The old methods of management are ineffective. The employment relationships have changed. History and economy are managed by powerful forces, and progress will win for sure. Whether there will be many or few victims is not relevant for the evolution, it’s only a matter of our conscience. As Marx put it, ‘freedom is the apprehension of historic necessity.’ Don’t you agree?”
“No, I don’t. Everything is in God’s hands.”
“Well, that’s what I am saying. God is the historic necessity.”
“Is that what you really think?” Nikolay looked at the members of his family who were obviously taking my side.
“Nikolay Alexandrovich, please admit that the spiritual aspect of humankind, starting from the primeval times up to now, has but a societal nature; moreover, it’s all about the societal as opposed to the individualistic, egocentric, proprietary perception of the world. It’s clear for everybody that a human is often guided by egoistic interests. Each of the wayward tyrants perceived the spiritual in accordance with his personal interests; hence, the existence of so many interpretations of the spiritual and the diversity of religions. Who could have anticipated that the pious nations would fight against one another in such a horrible war? After all, the Muslims, Christians, and Jews belong to the same Abraham religion, which in its turn has the Egyptian Amon worship at its source.”
“You are looking for a historical explanation of God, but what’s the use of it? People need to have everlasting, eternal values rather than never-ending transformations. Such a situation causes anxiety in people’s souls and turns the world into chaos.” Nikolay was speaking more moderately.
“This imperialistic war is a typical example of the chaos you mention. I agree, but what is your vision of the role that the eternal values could play in this war? How can they possibly stop this war? Where is the promised peace and contentment of one’s soul? Can you imagine that two individuals, two religious people mean the same thing when saying ‘God’?”
“It’s not something we ought to do; it’s the realm of God,” Nikolay Alexandrovich said, seemingly losing assuredness.
“Sure it is. That’s the science that frees us from being superstitious. It gives us clues to find the way out when we are at a deadlock. That’s exactly where the role of an individual in history is accentuated. At this very moment, you are the individual.
Nikolay Alexandrovich said nothing. A few minutes later, I asked Alexei:
“What happened to your leg?”
“Oh, please don’t ask,” Alexandra Fyodorovna said and got up to embrace her son.
“Alexei, what’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t know,” Alexei answered, looking at his mother.
“We will find a very good doctor for you.”
Doctor Botkin, who had always been present during our conversations, but displayed noticeable indifference, made a timid effort to provide information on Alexei’s disease. However, Alexei interrupted him.
“If my Dad writes what you want him to, what will become of us then?”
“Then you will go to school, as all other children. Boys and girls will go to school together. After school, you will study at a university and become a famous politician. Everything will be as usual. Of course, if you wish to be involved in politics. You will be the one making a decision on your future. Your sisters will also be free to make their choice.”
“Who is Lenin?” Anastasia, Alexei’s sister, asked.
“Lenin is a revolutionary, a good organizer. By the way, Lenin, too, is a nobleman”, I said turning to Nikolay Alexandrovich, “the aristocracy should set an example for creating the image of a new individual. Many military men of gentle birth have already taken the side of the revolution. Your responsibility is enormous. Nikolay Alexandrovich, you ought to do it.
“Nicky, maybe there is something rational in all that?” Alexandra Fyodorovna was trying to believe. “We have frequently erred, declining the chances for salvation.”
Nikolay did not respond. Much later, when darkness had fallen and everyone was getting ready to sleep, he approached me and said:
“What am I supposed to write?”
By noon of the following day, we were in Moscow’s outskirts when I received the final text of the announcement. I was sure that it should be made public without any editing.
“Nikolay Alexandrovich, I think it will be necessary to organize meetings with local and international reporters. Everyone must be sure that this is your free-will decision. What do you think?”
“Wonderful. We will organize everything next week, when everybody is familiar with the announcement text.”
In Moscow we were met by a large group of Red Army men. A decision was made to place the Romanov family in an apartment in Okhotny Ryad. When we drove there, the house looked rather modest, but it was very convenient in terms of living and security. I asked Vitaly to stay in the house, take care of all the needed actions, especially related to the family’s safety, and headed to the Kremlin with Commissar Schwartz.
Sverdlov, Kamensky, Stalin and Zinoviev were sitting in Lenin’s study. Lenin was out. After I entered, Lev Davidovich also came in. I had the announcement text in my hand, but did not dare to show it to those present. In a few minutes, Vladimir Ilyich walked in.
“Well, Comrade Arman?” he said, making a sign to take a seat.
I handed over to him Nikolay II’s handwritten announcement.
“Not bad,” Lenin said, looking through the text, and handed the paper to Zinoviev and asked him: “Will you read this aloud for everybody?”
“To all former subjects of the Russian Empire. To all people of good will all over the world. To those who cherish freedom, peace and justice. I call on all sovereigns, noblemen, high-rank military servicemen, leaders of all religious confessions and all those on whom the fate of millions of people and the future of the world directly depend. If you comprehend the value of life, stop the fratricidal war…” Indeed, that’s not bad to begin with,” noted Zinoviev and resumed reading the text that ended as follows: “The members of my family and I wish to demonstrate through our example the willingness and submission in accepting the coming of a new social system as predestined by our Lord God. By our free will we renounce all the privileges we formerly had and express our wish to live in the Soviet Russia as ordinary citizens.”
Upon finishing, Zinoviev, stunned, asked:
“Are you sure this has been written by Nikolay Romanov?”
“It’s so unlike him,” Stalin said, then, turning to Lenin, added: “Vladimir Ilyich, we will only create confusion and introduce docility in our compact ranks. The people insist that the Tsar be condemned for all the numerous crimes he committed.”
“I don’t think so,” Lenin interrupted, “Lev Davidovich, what do you think of this manifesto?”
“Let Nikolay read it in person in the presence of journalists.”
I chose to intervene at that point:
“Comrades, I have already made an arrangement with Nikolay; he is ready to make such an announcement before reporters, but prior to that we should familiarize the entire world with the manifesto text. It would also be good to have the other members of the family, and especially Alexei, participate in that meeting.
“When do you plan to hold that meeting?” Trotsky, turning towards Lenin, asked him in a low voice: “Vladimir Ilyich, wouldn’t it be right to meet with Nikolay Alexandrovich separately?”
“No, absolutely not. Now he is an ordinary Soviet citizen, and at this point, that’s enough.”
“Vladimir Ilyich is quite right,” echoed Stalin, “let’s see what the outcome of this announcement is.”
Sverdlov inquired about how the dissemination of the announcement text should be organized. A decision was made that the manifesto would be published in all printed press, also spread by means of fliers, especially in the territories under control of the ‘whites’, as well as distributed among the foreign embassies and news agencies.
Upon leaving the Kremlin, I decided to walk a little. I had hardly crossed the Red Square when I suddenly recalled Vera Schmidt. Vera was a psychoanalyst who specialized in children’s psychology. This was a good cause for visiting her again, and I hoped to persuade her to visit Romanovs for Alexei’s health purposes. In all cases, it was a good chance to get more closely acquainted with that charming woman. I knew where she lived – we were introduced to each other by Schpielrain, and we walked her home, but I would never have the courage of visiting her without a cause.
Vera opened the door. She seemed not to remember me.
“Good day, Comrade Vera. Don’t you remember me? Professor Schpielrain introduced me to you. I’m Arman, remember?”
“Yes, I think I do. Come in.”
I went in and immediately began to tell why I came.
“Take a seat, please. I’ll make some tea. We’ll talk at tea,” Vera said, going to the kitchen.
I readily agreed, but didn’t want to stay in the room and followed her.
“You know, Vera, I think that Alexei hasn’t been receiving the right treatment. As much as I gathered from the press publications and tittle-tattles, this so-called “aristocratic disease” is nothing but a result of an incorrect diagnosis and misinformation about psychology.”
“You might be right. I am not familiar with the child’s history of illness. It’s quite possible that psychological reasons exist.”
In sheer admiration, I was looking at Vera’s profile and her hands that she moved self-confidently, I thought, like a woman with a very modern outlook. Vera seemed to be absolutely freed from the depressive, drifting movements so characteristic of the old world’s women. By saying ‘modern outlook’ I mean the vigor and buoyancy observed in 14-15-year-old young girls that haven’t yet become dawdling, idle dreamers under the pressure of traditional standards. Vera presented in herself the absolute antipode of such sentimental, romantic women. And it strongly attracted me. Her golden hair was cut so short that it hardly covered her ears. Her neck, proudly naked and white, witnessed to her interest in sports. Entering the room, I had noticed an old piano and forgetting what we were talking about, I asked:
“Vera, do you play the piano?”
“Yes, I do. How about you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Why did you mention the piano? How does it relate to what I was saying?”
“I thought maybe… I though I’d like to see you sitting by the piano.”
“Comrade Arman, are you trying to court me?”
“Well, maybe,” I replied half-jokingly and continued, “that’s only natural. You’re so beautiful, I can’t help admiring you.”
“Don’t butter me up; have some tea instead.”
We came back into the room and continued to talk about children’s psychology. Vera firmly believed that forcing a 6-month-old or a 1-year-old baby to sit on a chamber pot was a great mistake. Generally, excessive attention to a child’s urination and defecation acts brings about egoistic, imperious features. Also, too much love and cajoling, which is the need of grown-ups rather than their child, make it inflexible in a social setting. I was listening to Vera attentively and agreeing with all she said. Then, very suddenly, Vera asked:
“Is it really true? I mean, Nikolay II’s decision to become an ordinary citizen like us?”
“Yes, it is. Amazing, isn’t it?”
“Yeah… But I think I understand him.” Then, after a while, she asked, “When can we visit them?”
“Even tomorrow; can you make it?”
“Yes, I can.”
We talked for another half an hour, then we made an appointment for the next day, and saying ‘good-bye’, I left.
Calling and making an appointment with the Romanovs in advance, I visited Vera at noon of the next day. On my way I bought a fresh copy of the ‘Pravda’ daily where Nikolay’s announcement was already published, as well as the Decree ‘On Divorce’ bearing Lenin’s signature, on the following page. I was glad that Vera and I would have a very good topic to discuss. I was not concerned at all that probably Nikolay Alexandrovich would feel bad about the side-by-side publication of these two documents. Lenin’s Decree was not published separately, of course: it seemed to conclude Alexandra Kalanta’s lengthy article entitled ‘New Morality’. Frankly speaking, I was not sufficiently familiar with Kalanta’s views and hoped that Vera would be of help in this issue.
Sad as it was, Vera was not in yet as I came to her house too early. Besides her university work, thrice a week she was on duty at a psychiatric hospital. I began to wonder whether I mixed up the day of our appointment, when Vera appeared in the entrance, walking with her usual poise and determination. I threw my cigarette and kissed her ‘hello’. Vera laughed and said she preferred greeting people by shaking their hands, then asked:
“Have you been waiting for a long time?”
“No. Just about half a cigarette.”
We went in. I showed her the ‘Pravda’. Reading the manifesto, she said it was very impressive, capable of producing a real impact on the confrontation. As for Kalanta, she was well aware of her standpoints, but considered her superficial and incompetent in many aspects. Vera considered all the politicians superficial and incompetent.
“Well, you know, Cultural Revolution doesn’t occur overnight. We’ve got lots of work to do.” I was trying to justify Kalanta.
“I can understand all of that, but the work you mention won’t be fulfilled solely through bare slogans. Many of those people fighting for the new society are still guided by the old principles of morality themselves. This can lead to overall disturbance; an ordinary person will no longer be able to discern a revolutionary from the enemy of revolution.”
“Not at all. Why shouldn’t you believe that the new economic relationships will also change the old values of morality?” I asked.
“Well, let me tell you, I don’t believe it at all.” Vera was changing her dress while talking.
I thought what a free person she was, absolutely unbound by any complexes, and loved her even more for that.
“Arman, are you so naïve to think that people lacking integrity and independence would be able to build a world where self-governing labor collectives may exist? It just won’t work. In any such group, schizophrenic individuals with authoritarian temper and conservative viewpoints will immediately appear, and everything will come to an end very quickly.
“But the working masses won’t allow appropriation of power by such people.”
“What? They won’t allow? These masses, as you call them, themselves will implore that the person who promised to realize their infantile dreams should become a dictator. As long as children are grown and brought up within their families, we will continue to have tyrants, a world of masters and servants. Children should be brought up by society, not families.”
“Vera… Where are you going in such a hurry? Only a year has passed since the revolution. We’re unable to open an adequate number of kindergartens, schools and hostels. In the course of time, we will have all those things in place.”
“You know, either this or next year I am going to open a kindergarten in Moscow; currently I am working on a new pedagogical program. That’s why I am speaking with too much emotion. On the whole, I agree with what you’re saying.” Vera was ready, and we left the house to go to the Romanovs.
In Okhotny Ryad we came across Vitaly Ivanov who was also going to the Romanovs. I introduced them to each other, and asked:
“Vera, guess how old Vitaly is.”
“He is very young. Vitaly looks like a genuine Velicorus. How old are you?”
“How come you grew up to eighteen in two days? Weren’t you seventeen?” I asked.
“Well, I will become eighteen in a couple of months,” Vitaly replied, ashamed, then added that he had something to discuss with me separately. We slowed down a little, letting Vera go forward, and Vitaly said, “Comrade Arman, may I work with you, as a bodyguard or driver? No difference for me.”
“Yes, of course, why not? We’ll talk about it later. Don’t worry.” We had reached the house where the Romanovs lived. “And who is the commander of guards in this house?”
“Someone Markov by name, don’t know him. He’s been appointed today.”
“OK. What are you doing today?” I asked, “You’ll come with us, won’t you?”
We went up to the second floor of the building. The Romanovs were given the entire second floor of this two-storey house.
Alexandra Fyodorovna received Vera very warmly, introduced her to Doctor Botkin and Doctor Derevenko. The latter was Alexei’s physician in charge and he was busy changing the bandage on the child’s leg at that very moment. Vitaly and I moved aside with Nikolay Alexandrovich, letting the doctors work unconstrained. Nikolay Alexandrovich had already seen today’s issue of the ‘Pravda’. We began to discuss the political situation formed in the country and the world in general. Then we conferred about the published announcement and the press conference scheduled for the next week. I advised Nikolay Alexandrovich to give up wearing his military outfit, in which, by the way, he looked rather scrawny. Civil clothes would make him look more robust. He agreed with a laugh and noted that, surprisingly, he had worn a military outfit all his life. When we came back to the guest room, the doctors and Alexandra Fyodorovna were already involved in general theoretical discussions of the latest achievements in the sphere of science. Seeing her husband, Alexandra Fyodorovna cheerfully informed him that Doctor Schmidt was more than sure in the psychological nature of Alexei’s illness and that there was no need in taking all those numerous pills.
“Doctor Schmidt has a new method of treatment: it turns out that people can be cured through speech,” Alexandra Fyodorovna said, obviously surprised.
“So then, it is not a genetic disease?” Nikolay Alexandrovich inquired.
“No, it isn’t. I think blood is not a factor here.” Vera was a little excited, and I thought that this excitement was connected with her seeing the former autocrat so closely for the first time, and the great responsibility taken by her. Nikolay Alexandrovich was prepared to listen very attentively, and seriously consider any medical approaches that could be useful for his son in any way. I had a new perception of Vera: very emotional, full of empathy for someone else’s sorrow. I asked her to tell about the new method of treatment introduced by Sigmund Freud. It would also help Alexandra Fyodorovna to change her outlook soaked with the feeling of guilt and to gain some peace of mind. She would be able to get rid of the haunting idea of her being guilty in Alexei’s illness.
Everybody was listening to Vera with much interest and involvement.
“Is Freud also a revolutionary?” Nikolay inquired, either to show that he did not trust much what Vera was saying, or, on the contrary, to get reassured that he was right to have supported the revolution.
“It’s difficult for me to say that I think he is not,” Vera replied. “His findings are more likely to be characterized as revolutionary, but only in this specific professional area.”
“I don’t agree,” I said. “I am sure that Freud’s theory is very important to the revolution issues. It is not only for physicians, but for people in general.”
Vera looked at me doubtfully. Then we went on talking for a while and left the house. Vitaly and I saw Vera off and went to the Kremlin to plan our future steps with Lenin.
A week later all the world was discussing Nikolay’s manifesto. The outcome exceeded all our expectations. Vrangel, Denikin and many others came up with counter announcements, stating their loyalty to Soviet Russia. However, the majority’s response contained doubts related to the trustworthiness of the announcement. Kerensky was explicitly questioning the authenticity of the text. All Europe was filled with revolutionary exhilaration. Only in the Middle Asian and Caucasian regions did the chaos persist. Everybody everywhere was looking forward to the meeting of the former royal family with the reporters. Within that week, I had another series of consultations with Lenin. Everything seemed to go smoothly. It was only Comrade Stalin who behaved somewhat strangely. He was obviously living through deep depression. They said that he would sit for hours in a dark room, avoided meeting with people, and was extremely downcast and embarrassed.
Together with Vera who had become Alexei’s personal shrink, we thoroughly and solemnly prepared the Romanov family for the upcoming press conference. All the members of the family were provided with modern clothing and hairstyles. Most of all Anastasia, Olga and Tatiana were inspired by their new images. They were trying to speak and move more freely, even learned the ‘International’ and some other revolutionary songs.
The press conference was held at the ‘Metropol’ Hotel in Moscow. The hall was overcrowded. When the royal family arrived, everyone stood up and burst into applause. The ovation would not stop for several minutes. Nikolay Alexandrovich repeated the exact text of his announcement. He concluded his speech by expressing his readiness to contribute his knowledge and political experience, as well as his connections established in the course of many years for the benefit of peace and creation of a global economic system, which would ensure a safer and happier life for all people. The impression was shocking. All the questions, even the most provoking ones, were answered by Nikolay with the excellence and diplomatic subtlety of a proficient political leader. However, the most impressive was the moment when a question was addressed to Alexei sitting in between Nikolay and Alexandra Fyodorovna. The question itself was not so significant, but in response to it Alexei stood firmly on his feet and raising his right fist exclaimed: “Long Live the Revolution!” A storm of applause followed. Vera, Vitaly and I were standing on the right side of the stage. There were also Red Army soldiers there who were watching for any possible provocations. They were mainly standing near the entrance and behind the stage. All of us were so carried away by the questions and answers, that no one noticed how a man looking like a reporter, with a camera in his hand, unexpectedly went up onto the stage and aimed a revolver at Alexei, who was standing there with his fist above his head and infinite joy in his eyes. Vitaly was the first to notice the man; in a wink of an eye he threw himself towards Alexei, covered him with his body and they fell down together. The sound of a shot was heard at that very moment. One of the Red Army soldiers standing behind the stage shot the assailant down. In this total mayhem, we somehow managed to take the Romanovs out. Alexei was in good shape, but Vitaly was seriously wounded. The bullet had penetrated his left shoulder blade and come out through the top of his shoulder. Vera and I helped Vitaly to get up and took him out into the street. For about ten minutes, we were trying to find a car. When we reached the nearest hospital, Vitaly had lost his conscience. The doctors immediately started the surgery. I called Nikolay; they were safely back home, nobody was hurt. All of them were worried about Vitaly’s health, especially Alexandra Fyodorovna and Alexei. He took the receiver from his mother’s hands and repeated several times that he would be asking God Almighty to save Vitaly.
An hour later, the surgeon came up to us and assured that there was no need to worry, everything was ok and we could go home.
However, Vera and I made up our minds to visit the Romanovs.
“Thank God, thank God! This boy is so dear to us,” exclaimed Alexandra Fyodorovna on hearing the good news. “Thank God, all is well. We owe this boy; he saved our Alexei’s life.”
“Alexandra Fyodorovna, please don’t worry. Vitaly is a soldier who has gone through all the hardships of war and revolution. He will be ok.”
“Oh, don’t say so, dear Arman.” Alexandra Fyodorovna was going to express a superstitious idea, but only waived her hand and made a sign not to speak about that.
We were invited to have tea. A discussion of the day’s event, the press conference, began. On the whole, Nikolay Alexandrovich was satisfied with it. I asked whether he really thought that his peace making mission could be fulfilled on the international level. He was sure that, if an international congress could be convened, then long-lasting and stable peace might be established in the world. It would perhaps lead to the establishment of a structure, which would be higher than the national states by its status. An international executive agency could be formed, holding military power and authority to apply that power in the cases of extreme necessity. A kind of global military power that would serve to the safeguarding of peace.
“Yes, perhaps, but… Nikolay Alexandrovich, don’t you think that this structure will become a weapon in the hands of the international capital exploiting working people, to be used for suppressing the revolutionary, liberation movements?”
“Dear Arman, honestly speaking, I don’t see much difference between the imperialistic wars and your national liberation wars. Or, as you prefer to say – revolutions. If we want to ensure peace, if we really care about human lives and eradication of violence, if we are really concerned as we were today about that boy’s, Vitaly’s life, then we ought to condemn any kind of violence and murder.”
“It is important, Nikolay Alexandrovich is right,” intervened Vera. “Today it has become urgent to struggle against any form of violence. Karl Marx should be re-interpreted as his revolutionary theory has become outdated…”
“So quickly?” I said, astonished.
“Yes, it has. Don’t tease me, it is outdated. Marx himself would denounce his class struggle if he could witness the events of our days.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine that, but you don’t have to persuade me in the necessity of fighting violence. I know very well what displacement and massacre of a whole nation means.”
“Consequently, classifying wars into sacred and economic ones is nothing more than shameless deception.” Nikolay Alexandrovich’s disposition was clear-cut and unambiguous. His words were filled with such confidence that it was able to inspire even the toughest skeptic. “Does it matter what elevated goals are found to justify hatred, enmity, cruelty? If you wish to revolutionize something, first change people’s vexed souls, or the ideas they have in their heads, since you do not believe in the existence of souls.”
“Not in the existence of souls in the religious sense, but we do believe in souls from the scientific point of view. How can I not believe in psychology?” I said.
“Whatever it may be. If we have the courage to tell the truth, if we believe in the power of words, then we ought to make it clear that we are against any form of violence and struggle to eradicate it in the entire world.”
“Do you believe in the possibility of uniting all the progressive forces of the world? Will diplomacy be capable of doing it? In class societies, the struggle between the rich and the poor is more about death than life. We would be naïve to expect that people will so easily change their mentality. It has an element of a miracle in it.”
“If we make our judgments based on the concepts of the old world, then it’s really like a miracle,” Vera intervened again. “Most importantly, we should start acting, working on all the levels. I consider it very important to form the new outlook in people starting from their earliest age. If the educational system is duly changed, after a few generations violence will arouse the same disgust in most people as cannibalism.”
“There has never been a society where life in its entirety, that is, not only human life, but also fauna and flora and all the other forms of life, you know, were the objects of protection by that society. Of course education is very important,” Nikolay seemed to be conversing with himself, “but that is an issue of time; today it is more important to ensure the unity of all people of good will, who represent all the religious, spiritual, philosophical directions. Unity, which would be based on the recognition of the absolute value of life. Such a process does exist, but it is still not accessible to the wide masses of people.”
“Nikolay Alexandrovich, I’m all for not looking back, it is necessary to look forward. You were quite right when you said that all the existing governments of the world should be summoned, say, on the level of prime ministers. After all, what we’re after is a political issue rather than spiritual or cultural. Unless we have achieved political agreement, stable peace cannot be ensured.”
“So, let’s not look back, ok?” Nikolay Alexandrovich seemed to be overwhelmed by some overarching goal or project, but wouldn’t tell us the details, “I wish to assure you that whatever we seek to have in the future must have existed in one or other form in the past. Let me formulate my question like this: what is the basis on which the haunting idea about harmony, peace of mind, heaven, and now – communism propagated by you — rests and remains in the brains of humans for ages?”
“Oh, that question can be very aptly answered by Comrade Schmidt.” Smiling happily, I embraced Vera.
“Yes, I can, as the scientific explanation of that feeling already exists.”
“Do you really think that science can explain it?”
“Is the existence of God already proven scientifically?” Alexandra Fyodorovna asked.
“Our ideas about God’s existence can also be explained from the scientific point of view.” Vera was trying to be persuasive, without hurting the others’ religious feelings.
translated by Anahit Bobikyan, English copyeditor Nancy Agabian
 Sovnarkom, or SNK – Acronym for Sovet Narodnykh Komissarov (Council of People’s Commissars), the government of the early Soviet state (transl.)
 Tsar Nikolay, or Nicholas II of Russia, born Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov (1868-1918, ruled from 1894 until his abdication in 1917) was the last Tsar of Russia, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Finland. He was murdered with all the members of his family by bolsheviks in 1918 (transl.)
 Revanchist – advocating or supporting a political policy of revanche, especially in order to seek vengeance for a previous military or political defeat.
 Okhotny Ryad (Hunting Row) today is a Moscow Metro station, formerly – a central street close to the Kremlin (transl.)
 Velicorus, or Velikorosses (pl.), literally meaning Great Russian(s) – a common name given to Russians (as opposed to Ukrainians and Belorussians sometimes referred to as Malorus, or Malorosses) that was widely spread in literature starting from mid-XIX century (transl.)