8-14 January 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 13 Jan, 2017
Cigarette cards, known as 'stiffeners' because they stiffened the paper cigarette packets and protected their contents, were popular throughout the war but production stopped in 1917 due to paper shortages.
An immense inter-Allied delegation, composed of high-ranking ministers and senior generals, arrived in Russia. It brought to the Russian people the hope that by some last-minute action the fallen fortunes of Russia might be repaired. The delegation visited both St Petersburg and Moscow. It suffered endless entertainment. Patiently it took reams of evidence. It listened to all, but mainly to the 'high-ups' in St Petersburg. In the end it decided that there would be no revolution.
(Robert Bruce Lockhart,  Foreign Affairs journal 1957)

At the beginning of 1917, blizzards and plummeting temperatures cut supplies and drove prices higher still, until the cost of a loaf of bread was rising at the rate of two percent a week. The price of potatoes and cabbage rose at a weekly rate of three percent, sausage at seven percent, and sugar at more than ten ... That the city's masses were angry and restless was an open secret, and the reasons were painfully obvious. 'Children are starving,' a secret police agent reported. 'A revolution, if it takes place ... will be spontaneous, quite likely a hunger riot.' 'Every day,' another added, 'the masses are becoming more and more embittered. An abyss is opening between them and the government.'
(W. Bruce Lincoln,  Sunlight at Midnight , New York 2000)

8 January
Tsar's message to his people
In complete solidarity with our faithful Allies, not entertaining any thought of a conclusion of peace until final victory has been secured, I firmly believe that the Russian people, supporting the burden of war with self-denial, will accomplish their duty to the end, not stopping at any sacrifice.
('The Tsar's rescript': a message from Nicholas II on 8 January, reported in  The Times on 9 (22) January)

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
The Emperor has told his aunt, the Grand Duchess Vladimir, that in their own interests his cousins, the Grand Dukes Cyril and Andrew, should leave Petrograd for a few weeks. 
(Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 London 1973)

Newspaper response to 'The Tsar's rescript'
The patriotic enthusiasm which the nation manifested at the beginning of the war and all the practical demonstrations of this spirit displayed in the public efforts to develop the supply of munitions and in every way to cooperate with the Army have merely been intimidated by order of the bureaucracy, which saw in them a danger to its monopoly of the Government. The estrangement between the Government and public opinion was bound to react upon the spirit of the nation. Popular enthusiasm quickly subsided and in the place of the union of all forces in the country so joyfully heralded in the earlier stages of the war, we had to note a deplorable widening of the breach between the nation and its rulers. The whole country watches this process with the bitterest feelings. We are as far as ever from the union of all for the war and from the victory that we see realized by our Allies.
( Novoe Vremya , as reported in  The Times on 8 (21) January)

9 January
On 9 January 1917, the Workers Group of the War Industries Committee chose to mark the anniversary of Bloody Sunday (a massacre that had sparked off the 1905 Revolution) with a massive strike in the capital. Forty per cent of Petrograd’s industrial workforce took part. The Minister of the Interior, Alexander Protopopov (1866-1918), ordered the arrest of the leaders and stationed Cossack troops in the city. 

Lecture by Lenin to an audience of young workers in Zurich
We the old shall perhaps not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution. But I believe I can express with some confidence the hope that the youth, which is working so splendidly in the socialist movement of Switzerland and of the whole world, will be fortunate enough not only to fight, but also to win in the coming proletarian revolution.
(James D. White, 'Lenin, the Germans and the February Revolution', Revolutionary Russia 1992)

10 January
Diary entry of Olga, eldest daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra
We 2 with Mama went to visit the grave of Father Grigori [Rasputin]. Today is his name day. Had a music lesson with T. In the evening Papa read to us, Chekhov's 'Sobytie' [The Incident] and started 'Vragi' [The Enemy].
( The Diary of Olga Romanov , Yardley 2014)

12 January
Diary entry of Lev Tikhomirov, revolutionary and later conservative thinker
What a detestable time Russia is going through! The people are generally in an extreme state of nerves and despair of any hopeful resolution. The papers still write of victory, but nobody believes that in truth. The government has lost every last bit of credibility, not to mention respect. And finally people no longer believe each other, everyone thinks they are surrounded by scoundrels.
(L.A. Tikhomirov, Diary 1915-1917 , Moscow 2008)

Diary entry of James L. Houghteling, Jr, attaché at the American Embassy, Petrograd
I have found a solution for the perplexing problem of talking to the servants in this hotel. The chambermaid is an amusing old dame from the Baltic provinces, as quick as a steel trap, and talks German fluently. By much gesticulation and pointing I can make her understand me in that tongue and she tells me the Russian words which I immediately hunt up in my dictionary, to make sure of their spelling ... After dinner tonight, old Mr P - of Boston dropped in to borrow some books. We chatted and our talk soon turned to Rasputin, a never-failing topic these days. He remarked with true New England disgust that Rasputin was the most immoral man in Russia; and a man of tremendous magnetic and physical powers. He has heard that the reason for the murder was not politics but involved an intimacy between the self-styled monk and the wife of one of the high persons implicated. At any rate, Rasputin was invited to 94 Moika, Prince Yussupoff's house, was met there by his host, with the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, Purishkevich, and others, and after some preliminaries was ordered to commit suicide. When he refused, one of them, reputedly Purishkevich, took the pistol and shot him. His body was taken across the Islands and dropped off one of the far bridges through a hole in the ice. The rope and weight slipped off, so that the corpse floated and was found. Armour tells me that a few days afterwards he drove across the same bridge and that his driver pointed out the hole, crossed himself and said, 'It has not frozen; he was a saint!'
(James L. Houghteling, Jr, A Diary of the Russian Revolution , New York 1918)

13 January
The writer Stepan Skitalets writes in a Moscow paper
About a verst 
(one kilometre)  from the Senate and museums the twentieth century immediately turns into the seventeenth, and for the moment they don't notice this but at some point they will reap the fruits of this blindness and neglect. Possibly far sooner than they think.
(Skitalets [S.G. Petrov], Rannee utro , 13 January 1917)

New York at that moment lived like no other place on earth. Certainly not Europe. Europe in January 1917 remained trapped in a slow motion agonizing hell. The world war had entered its third year, having already killed more than ten million soldiers and civilians. France and England, Russia and Germany, Austria and Turkey; each would lose a million young men or more ... Amid all the noise that Saturday night, January 13, 1917, a few people knew that Leon Trotsky was coming. Trotsky was a celebrity in some circles. One small Russian-language newspaper called Novy mir (New World), published in Greenwich Village, proudly touted its connection to a small international band of Russian leftists calling themselves Bolsheviks or Mensheviks, depending on who controlled the editorial desk that week. It claimed Trotsky as one of its own and had announced his travel plans on its front page. 

(Kenneth D. Ackerman,  Trotsky in New York, 1917   (Berkeley, CA 2016)

[Trotsky] rented a three-room apartment in the Bronx which, though cheap by American standards, gave him the unaccustomed luxuries of electric light, a chute for garbage and a telephone. Later there were legends that Trotsky had worked in New York as a dish-washer, as a tailor, and even as an actor. But in fact he scraped a living from  émigré journalism and lecturing to half-empty halls on the need for world revolution. He ate in Jewish delicatessens and made himself unpopular with the waiters by refusing to tip them on the grounds that it was injurious to their dignity. He bought some furniture on an instalment plan, $200 of which remained unpaid when the family left for Russia in the spring. By the time the credit company caught up with him, Trotsky had become Foreign Minister of the largest country in the world.
(Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy , London 1996) 

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14 January 2017
Some other events to mark the anniversary:
The Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre (CCRAC) is organising a conference linked to the  Art born in the revolution exhibition at the RA on 24-25 February.
From 4 February to 17 September The Hermitage Amsterdam will host an exhibition of items relating to the reign and demise of Nicholas II, and his family. The exhibits are from the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, and the State Archive of the Russian Federation, Moscow.
Tate Modern is exhibiting its collection of posters, photographs and other graphic works from the David King Collection in an exhibition called  Red Star over Russia , opening in November.



A hundred years ago, Russia overthrew a monarchy and started off on a path that led to 70 years of communism. Follow events here week by week through eyewitness accounts.

By Mark Sutcliffe 18 Nov, 2017

A peculiar atmosphere prevailed at the conferences of the highest administrative councils of Soviet Russia, presided over by Lenin. Despite all the efforts of an officious secretary to impart to each session the character of a cabinet meeting, we could not help feeling that here we were, attending another sitting of an underground revolutionary committee! … Many of the commissars remained seated in their topcoats or greatcoats; most of them wore the forbidding leather jackets. In the wintertime some wore felt boots and thick sweaters. They remained thus clothed throughout the meetings.
(Richard Pipes, quoting the Menshevik Simon Liberman,   A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

12 November

The Bolsheviki are forming councils, committees, sub-committees, courts, leagues, parties, societies; they are talented talkers and gifted orators. The masses of the people flock to their call. Already they have established the nucleus of the Proletarian Republic and drawn up their political programme; and, what is more surprising, they have successfully organised the Red Army – in great part drawn from the disloyal soldiers of the Imperial Army. One and all wage war against the ‘intelligentsia’ and the ‘bourgeoisie’ – nicknames given to the educated people and to the middle-class or ‘idle rich’. There is no doubt that Lenin and Trotsky are intent on exterminating the Russian intellectual classes.
(Florence Farmborough, Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914-18 , London 1974)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Alexandre Benois, who is president of the Fine Arts Commission, told me that the damage done to the Winter Palace is not as bad as people thought. It is confined to the theft of a few objects in the rooms of Alexander II and Nicholas I.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

13 November

Report in The Times headed ‘Bolshevism repudiated at Washington’
M. Bakhmetieff, the Russian Ambassador, has officially repudiated the Bolshevist regime in Petrograd. He has addressed to Mr. Lansing a long letter which explains that he will continue to carry out the duties entrusted to him at the Embassy regardless of the Bolshevists or any other temporary rule of violence in Russia … M. Bakhmetieff declares in his letter his confidence that the sound, constructive element in Russia will soon arise and sweep aside the Bolshevists or any others who, in opposition to the true spirit of the nation, seek to betray the Allies and withdraw from the war.
(From our correspondent, New York, The Times )


In a highly sensational speech, delivered before the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, Trotsky expressed the hope that General Dukhonin would act in conformity with the policy of the Government … The peace ‘decree’, Trotsky continued, marked the beginning of a new era in history. It came as a surprise to the routine-loving governing classes of Europe, who first regarded it as a mere party manifesto, not as an act of the Russian Government … The greatest hostility was exhibited on the part of England, ‘who plays a leading part at the present juncture and who has suffered least from the war, while she stands to gain most. France, who had suffered most, responded to the Russian revolution with the bourgeoisie Ministry of M. Clemenceau, which was the last effort of French Imperialism. Italy, disillusioned by her losses, welcomed it with enthusiasm. America had joined in the war, not for the sake of ideals, as President Wilson declared, but with a view to financial and industrial advantages.
(Report in The Times )

14 November

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
In my opinion, the only safe course left to us is to give Russia back her word and to tell her people that, realizing how worn out they are by the war and the disorganization inseparable from a great revolution, we leave it to them to decide whether they will purchase peace on Germany’s terms or fight on with the Allies … It has always been my one aim and object to keep Russia in the war, but one cannot force an exhausted nation to fight against its will.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

Report in The Times headed ‘Escape of Ex-Tsar’s Daughter’
American audiences are shortly to have the privilege of listening to appeals on behalf of the Russian people from a young woman who will be presented to them under the simple name of Miss Tatiana Nicolaievna Romanoff. She is understood to be the 20-year-old daughter of the deposed Tsar. On the authority of M. Ivan Narodny, of the News Bureau of the Russian Post Office in New York, the American newspapers today publish romantic accounts of the escape of the former Grand Duchess from Tobolsk. Miss Romanoff, according to these accounts, underwent a fictitious ceremony of marriage with a son of her father’s former Court Chamberlain, Count Fredericks, and thereby gained a certain measure of freedom from observation, which she utilized in order to make her escape to Kharbin for Sand Francisco. M. Narodny, who prefaces his narrative with the observation ‘these are strange times in Russia,’ says that the Tsar’s daughter when she arrives here will work for the Russian Civilian Relief Society. She will write short fairy stories, give dance performances, and desires to lecture to American women on conditions in Russia.
(From our correspondent, New York, The Times )

15 November

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
In my heart of hearts I am convinced that in his soul and in his being the Russian is freer than anyone. Even under the tsarist regime there was nowhere in the world with such freedom (even to the level of libertinism) of way of life, conversation, thought, as in Russia. Even our proverbial ‘right to disgrace’ is only an expression of the freedom that is within and inherent to everyone, based on racial characteristics but nurtured in the Christian idea of ‘the kingdom of God being within us’.
(Alexander Benois, Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

16 November

Pauline Crosby, wife of American naval attaché, in a letter home
In general the news is: Petrograd is still here; a part of Moscow is no longer there; many handsome estates are no longer anywhere; the Bolsheviki are everywhere.
(Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2017)

From somewhere torches appeared, blazing orange in the night, a thousand times reflected in the facets of the ice, streaming smokily over the throng as it moved down the bank of the Fontanka singing, between crowds that stood in astonished silence. ‘Long live the Revolutionary Army! Long live the Red Guard! Long live the Peasants!’ So the great procession wound through the city, growing and unfurling ever new red banners lettered in gold. Two old peasants, bowed with toil, were walking hand in hand, their faces illumined with child-like bliss. ‘Well,’ said one, ‘I’d like to see them take away our land again, now!’
(John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World , New York 1919)

17 November

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Things are happening fast, and yesterday Trotsky was able to make a triumphant announcement to the Assembly of Soviets (which has been joined by the Council of Peasants, which up to now had remained with the opposition and had rejected all contact with the Bolsheviks). The announcement is to the effect that armistice negotiations have begun.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

18 November

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The Allies here continue to give an impression of complete confusion … Meanwhile Trotsky keeps the score and no longer misses a single false move on the part of his adversaries. He has become very self-assured and has not hesitated to send a very firm note to Sir George [Buchanan] asking for two Russian anarchists who are being held in England to be released immediately … People say that the Commissars even contemplated shutting up Sir George himself as a hostage in Peter-and-Paul.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


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18 November 2017

The report by the New York correspondent of The Times of the escape of Tatiana, one of Nicholas II’s daughters, must have been one of the first accounts of the Romanov children avoiding their terrible fate at the hands of the Bolsheviks; a fate that was proved decisively through DNA tests only in the 1990s. Such romantic stories – or as we now call them, ‘fake news’ – subsequently became legion, focusing on Anastasia and Alexei in particular. This report is interesting precisely because it is so early, when the family was still alive and reasonably well in Tobolsk and yet to be moved to Ekaterinburg, where they were all murdered in July 1918. It’s also, frankly, bizarre, with mention of the Grand Duchess preparing to give dance performances to the American public. It makes one wonder what would have become of the former imperial family had they been offered asylum by George V or indeed been spirited away from the Crimean coast like many of their circle. In exile the children would no doubt have married, had children of their own – their grandchildren would be easily alive today, perhaps even back in favour with the current regime. Stranger things have happened (are happening).

By Mark Sutcliffe 11 Nov, 2017
The Winter Palace during a spectacular light show to mark the anniversary of the revolution,
as per the Gregorian calendar. 5 November 2017
By Mark Sutcliffe 05 Nov, 2017
Red peasant, soldier and working man to the cossack: 'Cossack, who are you with? Them or us?'
By Mark Sutcliffe 28 Oct, 2017
Students and soldiers firing across the Moika River at police who are resisting the revolutionaries,  24 October 1917
© IWM (Q 69411)
By Mark Sutcliffe 21 Oct, 2017
Revolutionaries remove the remaining relics of the Imperial Regime from the facade of official buildings, Petrograd
© IWM (Q 69406)
By Mark Sutcliffe 14 Oct, 2017
There entered a clean-shaven, bespectacled, grey-haired man, ‘every bit like a Lutheran minister’,
Alexandra Kollontai remembered.
By Mark Sutcliffe 06 Oct, 2017
Masses of Russian prisoners captured in the fighting near Riga, September 1917 © IWM (Q 86680)
By Mark Sutcliffe 30 Sep, 2017
Florence Farmborough at the Russian Front, 1915 (painted from a photograph)
By Mark Sutcliffe 23 Sep, 2017
The man with whom the moderates urged caution, Kerensky, remained pitifully weak, and growing weaker. He struggled, lashed out to shore up his authority. On 18 September he pronounced the dissolution of the Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet. The sailors responded simply that his order was 'considered inoperative'. The Democratic Conference, too, strained for relevance ... The proceedings were outdoing their own absurdity.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

17 September


All power to the Soviets – such is the slogan of the new movement… All power to the imperialist bourgeoisie – such is the slogan of the Kerensky Government. There is no room for doubt. We have two powers before us: the power of Kerensky and his government, and the power of the Soviets and the Committees. The fight between these two powers is the characteristic feature of the present moment. Either the power of the Kerensky Government – and then the rule of the landlords and capitalists, war and chaos. Or the power of the Soviets – and then the rule of the workers and peasants, peace and the liquidation of chaos.
(J. Stalin, ‘All Power to the Soviets’,  The Russian Revolution , London 1938)


18 September

Letter from Sofia Yudina in Petrograd to her friend Nina Agafonnikova in Vyatka
I don’t know much about art, I’d love to know more. If you were here and there was no war, we’d go to the Hermitage, everywhere, and we’d learn. Arkasha would go with us the first few times and teach us how to look, how to see and find the beauty in paintings … But unfortunately, sadly, we can’t do any of this. The Hermitage is closed: it’s being evacuated and only, probably, in about four or five years will it be possible to see pictures in the Hermitage again…
(Viktor Berdinskikh,  Letters from Petrograd: 1916-1919 , St Petersburg 2016)


19 September

Report in the Times headed ‘Good work of Democratic conference’
The conference has lost much of its nervousness and seems to be finding itself. There was a good deal of wandering from the main point, which is to decide the form of government which will be in control until the meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Nor is this to be wondered at when it is considered how little experience the Russian masses have had in conducting politics. There is no doubt that the Conference is realizing the terrible situation in which the country finds itself, and is trying to the utmost to bend its energies in the direction of a solution.
(‘Coalition Probable in Russia’, The Times (from our correspondent))

20 September

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Yesterday’s conference was typical of the political chaos now reigning in this distracted country. First vote was for coalition, second to eliminate those implicated with Kornilov, third to eliminate Kadets, and fourth (submitted for no perceivable reason) overwhelmingly against coalition! Whereupon the somewhat dazed ‘presidium’ decided to enlarge itself and to adjourn conference until 6.00 PM today. The two outstanding facts were the extreme unpopularity of the Kadets and the quiet power of the Maximalist [Bolshevik] faction. I forgot to say yesterday that a charming piece of German propaganda is to have a cartoon and the Russian words ‘Why fight for capitalistic England’ on every sheet of toilet paper in the Russian latrines at the front.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)


21 September

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
The Bolsheviks, who form a compact minority, have alone a definite political programme. They are more active and better organized than any other group, and until they and the ideas which they represent are finally squashed, the country will remain a prey to anarchy and disorder ... If the Government are not strong enough to put down the Bolsheviks by force, at the risk of breaking altogether with the Soviet, the only alternative will be a Bolshevik Government.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

22 September

Report in The Times
Russia is a woman labouring in childbirth, and this is the moment chosen by Germany to strike her down. Whatever may be the strict rights of the case, the spirit of history will never forgive her. The liberty which has been painfully born in Russia will rise to vindicate her in the coming generation, and will become the most implacable foe of a future Germany.
(‘Reprisals’, The Times)


23 September

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
In the provinces, the hostility of the peasants towards the workers is increasing and the moujiks are refusing to sell their products to feed the workers, whom they accuse of having caused the economic crisis through their idleness. The workers are doing less and less work because it does not provide them with a living, and because on their part they do not want to do anything for the peasants who refuse to supply them. It is a vicious circle which makes the economic situation more serious every day. The result is armed conflict, pogroms, and disorders of every kind.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

 

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23 September 2017

Party conference season is upon us and excitement is rising to an almost noticeable level. Actually, that's not entirely fair. There is a good deal of anticipation this year, thanks to Corbyn fever and Maybot uncertainty, with Brexit looming large over everything. The stakes are higher than normal, just as they were for the All-Russian Democratic Conference in Petrograd a hundred years earlier. (Corbyn is no Stalin, but a small amendment to the 17 September quotation has a certain resonance: Either the power of the May Government – and then the rule of the landlords and capitalists, war and chaos. Or the power of the Labour left – and then the rule of the workers and peasants, peace and the liquidation of chaos. ) Nobody really suspected that a month after this conference the country would be in greater turmoil than ever before (though the British ambassador, Buchanan, seems to make a good stab at such a prediction, in a book published six years later). Descriptions of the conference reveal all factions to be in various degrees of confusion and internal strife. Perhaps if its representatives had talked about transitional arrangements that avoided a cliff-edge scenario, leading to a new promised land of fairness and prosperity for all, things might have been different... Soft, not hard, revolution then.

By Mark Sutcliffe 16 Sep, 2017
A half-length portrait of a young female Russian soldier serving with the Russian Women's 'Battalion of Death', 1917. The Battalion was formed by the Provisional Government in Petrograd after the February Revolution. The soldier is carrying a shortened Mosin-Nagant rifle, with bayonet fixed. Her head has been completely shaved (© IWM (Q 106251)
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