5-11 November 1917

  • 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
5 November

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Cold with first real ice and snow of the year. About 35 men, women and children will leave on Tuesday together with the majority of the Red Cross mission who, notwithstanding what seems to me to be a wonderful opportunity to save the cause for which they have enlisted, are going to quit.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

6 November

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
The government is now in the hands of a small clique of extremists, who are bent on imposing their will on the country by terroristic methods … Some of the [factory delegations] held very outspoken language, saying that all Lenin and Trotzky wanted was to sleep, as Kerensky had done, in Nicholas’s bed.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The government of Peoples' Commissars has still not been constituted, and well-informed people say every night that it cannot last 'another day' ... And yet in spite of these assurances the Bolsheviks are still masters, and I cannot imagine who there could be to even compete with them for power ... Each day one hears of some new split and some sensational new patching-up; there are announcements that a new army is marching on Petrograd, that the Cossacks are arriving in Moscow, that railway-lines have been cut, that the Germans are landing on every coast ... and each day passes in peace and quiet. All these reports are untrue and even if they were true they do not interest anyone, and people in the street and even in the drawing-rooms can only talk of the best way to get hold of a sack of flour or a few eggs.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

7 November

On 7 November the new Commissar of Finance, V.R. Menzhinsky, appeared at the State Bank with a detachment of sailors and demanded the money; but the bankers stood firm and, despite further armed threats, dismissals and ultimatums, continued their strike.

(Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy , London 1996)

Lenin and Trotsky do not have the slightest idea of the meaning of freedom or the Rights of Man. They have already become poisoned with the filthy venom of power, and this is shown by their shameful attitude towards freedom of speech, the individual, and all those other civil liberties for which the democracy struggled.
(Maxim Gorky in his column for Novaya zhizn , cited in Figes,  A People's Tragedy )

8 November

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
Nemanov [colleague of Benois at Rech’ newspaper] considers Kerensky a pathetic liar and hypocrite … Kornilov, in his opinion, simply an idiot and Kaledin [head of the Don Cossack forces] a jackass. Overall Nemanov shares Paleologue’s opinion that in Russia we just don’t have any statesmanlike people. There was one who had real determination and personal courage – Stolypin, and that was why the revolutionaries immediately did away with him.
(Alexander Benois,  Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)


9 November

Empress Maria in Ai-Todor to her son, former emperor Nicholas II, in Tobolsk
My dear darling Nicky!
You know that my thoughts and prayers never leave you – day and night I think of you all, sometimes it is so painful, that I can almost bear it no longer … l live only by remembering the past and try, if possible, to forget the present nightmare.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

10 November

[In Red Square] a young soldier spoke to us in German … ‘You foreigners look down on us Russians because so long we tolerated a medieval monarchy … But we saw that the Tsar was not the only tyrant in the world; capitalism was worse, and in all the countries of the world capitalism was Emperor … Russian revolutionary tactics are best.’
(John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World , New York 1919)

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
This morning, as I was deep in two different curtain designs for Petrushka, [Benois’s wife] Akitsa runs in with the paper and starts begging me to be more careful with ‘them’ and not getting involved in any kind of dealings – clearly thinking of yesterday’s visit by [Commissar for Enlightenment] Lunacharsky and not believing my oft-repeated decision to stand apart from politics and political activity. My involvement with them is exclusively with the aim of protecting artistic heritage. From her alarm I realised that something significant and unpleasant had happened, and I must admit that I am also disturbed by many of the recent acts of the Bolsheviks … Fortunately, just before Lunacharsky came we were visited by Count [de] Robien, and his cheerful gossip, anecdotes and humour lifted my spirits a little. He is singularly delighted that the war is juddering to an end. He is clearly enjoying much of what is happening, although at the same time he recognizes that he himself is also in some danger – as is the whole diplomatic community. To get petrol for his car he went to Smolny – and enjoyed the scene of this ‘fairground of triumphant proletariat’! He told how Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich was arrested and asked by the soldiers guarding him to read them the newspaper. They got hold of a copy of Pravda and the Grand Duke, sitting there in a fug of tobacco smoke, read them Pravda from cover to cover. There’s something quite symbolic in this.
(Alexander Benois,  Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

11 November

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
I went to see the Grand Duke Paul and Princess Paley in Countess Kreutz's apartment, where they have taken refuge while waiting to be allowed to go back to Tsarskoye Selo. I found the Grand Duke wonderfully courageous, relating the details of his arrest and of his detention at Smolny with great good humour. But they went through some terrible hours as after the fall of Kerensky they were at the mercy of the red hordes ... The Grand Duke has no complaints about his guards: some of them even addressed him as 'Comrade Highness'! They found an armchair for him and settled him into it; one of them then begged him to read the newspaper to them and explain it, and they asked his permission to smoke while listening. The Grand Duke naturally agreed, and it must have been strange to see this Romanov in general's uniform and wearing the order of Saint George, with his majestic look and superb presence, reading Pravda to a group of four dishevelled sailors. 
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

Reply of the Spanish Ambassador to the 'Soviet Note' of the previous day
To the People’s Commissary of Foreign Affairs:
I had the honour to receive your note, No. 83 … in which you inform me regarding the proposal of the People’s Commissaries to the representatives of Allied powers to conclude an immediate armistice and to start negotiations for peace … I hasten to inform you, Mr Commissary, that … I will not fail this very day to transmit to my government by telegraph the contents of the above-mentioned note in order that my government may be able to make it known to the Spanish people, and also to use all necessary efforts in order to assist in the conclusion of peace which is so desired by all humanity.
( Russian-American Relations: March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)


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11 November 2017

Just returned from Russia with a turbulent stomach requiring several emergency stops en route to the airport (not all of it vodka-related either). Apart from that, an interesting few days. There wasn’t, by any means, a universal show of indifference to the anniversary – several small exhibitions, a major one at the Hermitage, the odd gathering (by the Aurora ), some TV documentaries and a new series focusing on Trotsky all added up to something . But there was a slight sense of going through the motions, of dutifully observing an anniversary that would be good to get out of the way. And maybe the banal truth is, reading de Robien and others in this week’s posting, that people are no different to how they were a hundred years ago: they have a life to live, food to buy, family to look after. If you can do all that with governments crumbling around you and bodies lying on the street, it’s not surprising that 7 November 2017 merits little more than a flicker of interest from the general public.

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 08 Dec, 2017
German officers welcoming Soviet delegates at Brest-Litovsk for the Peace Conference. Soviet delegates left to right: Adolph Joffe, Lev Karakhan and Leon Trotsky, the Head of the Soviet Delegation © IWM (Q 70777)
By Mark Sutcliffe 02 Dec, 2017

‘The whole of Petrograd is drunk’ – Anatoly Lunacharsky, Commissar for Enlightenment
(painting by Ivan Vladimirov of the looting of a wine shop, Petrograd, 1917)

By Mark Sutcliffe 25 Nov, 2017
General Nikolai Dukhonin, last commander of the Tsarist army, killed by revolutionary sailors on 20 November
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)
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