Skip to content


December 20, 2016


Research for this essay comes from a very thick 848 page book by Douglas Smith called Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs.

There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the old adage goes, and there is more than one way to gain the approval of Russian royalty and dictators (though indistinguishable other than in name). This essay will lightly trace the success of a faith healer and a man with money in achieving such success, separated by some 100 years but essentially alike in important particulars. One offers healing and another offers profit in their respective quests for power and notoriety, as we shall see.

We are only days away from 2017, which will mark a century since Rasputin was assassinated in 1917. Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, known variously as the mad monk and holy man (and other names hardly fit to print), was a Siberian priest and confidante of Nicholas II and Alexandra, the last tsar and tsarina of the Romanov dynasty in Russia, a dynasty of hundreds of years standing and with such luminaries as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great (a German princess transplant to Russia) numbering among its rulers. Things didn’t work out well for Nicholas II and Alexandra a few years after Rasputin was killed, either, as they and their family were killed on direct orders of Lenin after the success of the Bolshevik Revolution during WW I, all such mayhem followed by an experiment in communism for most of the twentieth century until its collapse toward the end of that century. (I am getting ahead of my story, which follows.)

Rasputin claimed mystical powers to heal (a faith healer we would recognize in Oral Roberts and Benny Henn) and after hearing about such powers Nicholas II and Alexandra invited him into the royal court in an attempt to heal their hemophiliac son and heir, Alexei, having just discharged another spiritual huckster, a Frenchman named Philippe, whose place Rasputin took.  Within months Rasputin had become an intimate of the family and impossible to remove even though hated by the people who resented his influence over the royal couple, an influence that went far beyond faith healing.

During such final years of Romanov rule, Rasputin was at the height of his power and influence, opposing Russia’s entrance into WW I, for example, and allegedly trying sell his corrupting influence to appoint officials, engaging in sexual misconduct with prostitutes and members of the court, getting drunk etc. Both the peasants and the elite liked to hear such stories which confirmed their hatred of Rasputin, and Smith in his book takes pains to unravel what is true or false in the many stories that were circulated in the press and by word of mouth about the hated Rasputin and his ongoing misconduct.

So who was this guy who held the last of the Romanovs in such thrall? He was born in 1869 in the western Siberian village of Pokrovskoye, a son of peasants. He was the fifth of nine children, never attended school, married at age eighteen, had seven children of his own, and then joined a monastery where he became a fanatical believer and a wandering preacher who developed a reputation for spiritual healing. His wanderings took him to St. Petersburg in 1905 where, following the disastrous defeat of Russia in the war with Japan, a popular revolution, and economic turmoil brought about by rapid modernization and industrialization which was shaking the social structure as both the peasantry and the new working class were cut off from their religious and spiritual roots. The diary of Nicholas II reads that he first met with Rasputin in November of 1905, initiating a twelve year reign of Rasputin as spiritual and political confidante to these last Romanovs before his assassination in 1917 by noblemen and theirs two years later by communists.

I note in passing that communism didn’t work for Russia given the system’s structural problems and will not work (in my opinion) for any other country over the long haul. I note further that with the upcoming administration of Trump it could well be that capitalism without democracy won’t work, either, but we can’t know that just yet and I think our relative exposure to chronic recession leading to perhaps failed state status will depend upon the lasting depth and scope of damage done to our economy and democracy by what he does or doesn’t do during his time in power.

Tillerson, CEO of Exxon-Mobil, is slotted to be our Secretary of State if confirmed and who, like Rasputin, who was free to cavort around the Romanov castle but unlike Rasputin will be free to cavort both at home and abroad is thought to be a high-caliber candidate. He is said to have “blown away” those who selected him, especially the Trump children, who apparently equate international economic success in the oil business with likely success as our chief diplomat, an assessment with which I not only disagree but cite as an impediment.

The United States of America is not Exxon-Mobil and indeed its interests are frequently adverse to those of this giant company. For instance, after Putin’s annexation of the Crimea, the United States imposed a series of sanctions on Russia, including language that would end any business transactions until further notice between American oil companies (among others) with Russia. Most companies obeyed the sense if not the language of the sanctions but not Tillerson. He went to St. Petersburg and continued to do business to the tune of some half billion dollars with the state-owned Russian Oil Company, Rosneft, whose chief, Igor Sechin, is a loyal lieutenant of, guess who? Putin.

This is the same Putin who decorated Tillerson with the Russian Order of Friendship in 2013, as those of us who are watching witnessed on a TV tape, along with several other smiling handshakes and friendly gestures between the two. In my view, Tillerson is just another oil-soaked Texan who struck it rich and who (metaphorically) has oil rather than blood in his veins, one who violates his country’s sanctions in order to do business, and is unfit for the office of Secretary of State. I am acquainted with current attempts to whitewash his reputation by Trump’s PR people who point out that in his youth he was an Eagle Scout, to which I point out that that was then and this is now, and that Hitler in his youth was once an altar boy, too, and we all know how he performed as an adult.

Of course, Tillerson is not the first Texan to wear the Russian Order of Friendship. Van Cliburn, another Texan and the great pianist who won the Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1958 as a 23-year old, was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship by Putin in 2004. However, I distinguish between expertise at the piano and expertise in financing removal and distribution of fossil fuels for burning and release into the atmosphere, especially while under sanction of one’s country.

There are to be sure many dissimilarities between the stories of Rasputin and Tillerson, but there is one constant: Both worked (or are working in the case of Tillerson) their (his) way into high places with very dubious qualifications for the job, and in the case of Tillerson, disqualifications. We have highly qualified career diplomats for this critically important job of Secretary of State in a shaky world of political and economic transition who should be considered for the post.

In view of Tillerson’s conduct and whatever his business success, I for one recommend to the Senate that he not be confirmed for the post. We can do better, much better.     GERALD      E



From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: