1-7 October 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 06 Oct, 2017
Masses of Russian prisoners captured in the fighting near Riga, September 1917 © IWM (Q 86680)

Appeal to the Provisional Government from soldiers at the front, early October
We soldiers at the front have been in the trenches for more than three years now. There is severe hunger here at the front. We get 1 lb of bread and 1 oz. of meat. We walk around in tatters, like beggars. At night we sit by the barbed wire for six hours at a stretch. We have lost the last shreds of our health, while at home our families are going hungry on their two sotkas of land. We soldiers at the front ask you comrades of the Provisional Government to put a speedy end to the war. It would be good for you comrades of the Provisional Government to do the fighting … Once more we demand a speedy peace from you the Provisional Government, and if you don’t try to do this, Comrade Kerensky, then in the near future we are going to throw down our rifles and leave the front for the rear and destroy you, the Bourgeoisie.
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

1 October

Article in the newspaper Russkoe slovo
In Provisional Government circles the following interesting story is doing the rounds, one that seems to characterize the current game of ministerial musical chairs. Since the revolution there have been so many ministers that even the leaders of the Provisional Government fail to recognize some of them - as was witnessed by the following curious incident that took place a few days ago. In the middle of a meeting of the Provisional Government the doors to the Malachite Hall opened and in walked an unknown gentleman who took his place at the table. The appearance of this stranger created a bit of a stir amongst the members of the Provisional Government. A. I. Konovalov, who was chairing the meeting, beckoned to A. Ya. Galperin, head of the government’s internal affairs, and asked him to find out what the unknown gentleman was doing. To Galperin’s question, the stranger announced that he was Comrade Orlov, minister of provisions, and he was at the meeting in that capacity. The only minister who knew Orlov, S. N. Prokopovich, was not present.
('Almost an anecdote',  Russkoe slovo )

3 October

On 3 October, the Russian General Staff evacuated Revel, the last bastion between the front and the capital. The next day, accordingly, the government sought advice on the evacuation of the executive and key industries – but not of the Soviet – to Moscow. News of the discussions leaked out. There was a storm: the bourgeoisie were indeed planning to abandon the city built for them two centuries before. The city of bones. The Ispolkom forbade any such move without its approval, and the unstable government shelved the idea. In this ambience of perfidy, weakness and violence, Lenin took his campaign for insurrection to the wider party.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
The shameful attempt at evacuating the Government to Moscow was taken up with special fury. The plotters were betraying the revolutionary capital! Incapable of defending it, they did not even want to do so…
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

4 October

Announcement in the newspaper Vpered!
In October and November Ufa’s town slaughterhouse will carry out the slaughter of 150-250 cattle every day, to meet the needs of the army, and for a certain time the slaughter of sheep at an average of 600-800 a day; the whole carcass of the cattle is to be sold: head and tongue, neck (entrails), legs with skin and offal; and also the sheep carcass: head with skin and neck. To this end on Wednesday 4 October there will an open market in the Office of the region’s food production department (Surovskaya 32) at 2 o’clock.
(Vpered! (Ufa regional newspaper))

5 October

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The great families are obliged to part with their most precious mementoes, in order to live. I went … to see Mme Narichkyn, who has a bust of Marie-Antoinette which she wants the Louvre to buy. The chief lady-in-waiting of the Court, having been unable to follow her Sovereigns to Siberia, has taken refuge in a small apartment in Sergevska Street, where she received us very graciously … With her Bourbon profile, she still looks like a daughter of Louis XV and seems remarkably young … even though she saw the 1848 revolution in Paris and remembers that month of June quite well. The biscuit de Sèvres bust which she showed us is quite exquisite. It was given by Marie-Antoinette herself to Mme Narichkyn’s grandfather … It is a unique example, all the others having been destroyed during the French Revolution, and it would be highly desirable if the Versailles Museum or the Sèvres factory could buy it, rather than it should one day grace the parlour of a Transatlantic pork merchant.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

Article in The Manchester Guardian 
The Rev J. Clare, of Petrograd, preached yesterday at the Central Hall, Manchester. Mr. Clare said that today one of the commonest expressions was ‘Russia has let us down’. But that he held to be a great mistake. We were being ‘let down’ before the Revolution more seriously than many of them could imagine. If the Revolution had not taken place, a false and treacherous peace would have been arranged between Russia and Germany, which would have been far more disastrous than the revolutionary outbreak. The Russian soldier had not let the Allies down. On the contrary he had done the Allies a very real service by putting an end to the treachery and corruption which existed in high places. No doubt the Russian soldier was ignorant, foolish, and stupid in what he was doing. The trouble was that the people were not quite ready for liberty.
(‘Russian Revolution: A Petrograd Observer’s Views’, The Manchester Guardian)


6 October

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
There is slowly developing a most interesting story of the Kornilov-Kerensky affair which – notwithstanding apparent pressure and censorship – is also creeping into the daily papers here and especially in Moscow. It is freely rumoured that when the truth is known the story will rival the expose in the Dreyfus case in France and that Kerensky is purposely postponing Kornilov’s trial as long as possible. I have yet to find one sensible patriotic Russian either here or in Moscow who looks upon Kornilov as at all a traitor, rather as a man who was willing to sacrifice everything, even his reputation and perhaps his life to saving his country from a humiliating and intolerable situation.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

7 October

Letter to the Central Committee, Moscow Committee, Petrograd Committee and the Bolshevik members of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets
Dear Comrades,
Events indicate our task so clearly to us that hesitation actually becomes a crime. The agrarian movement is growing. The government is increasing its savage repressions; sympathy with us is growing in the army … To hesitate is a crime … If it is impossible to take power without an uprising, it is necessary immediately to orientate upon an uprising … Even if Kerensky has in the vicinity of Petrograd one or two cavalry corps, he will have to surrender. The Petrograd Soviet may bide its time, while carrying on propaganda in favour of the Moscow Soviet government. The slogan is: power to the Soviets, land to the peasants, peace to the peoples, bread to the hungry. Victory is assured, and there are nine chances out of ten that it will be bloodless. To wait is a crime against the revolution.
Greetings, Lenin
(V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin, The Russian Revolution: Writings and Speeches from the February Revolution to the October Revolution, 1917 , London 1938)


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7 October 2017

As the anniversary of the October revolution approaches, Russia is preoccupied with more contemporary concerns: today’s 65th birthday of President Putin, marked country-wide by demonstrations in support of his most prominent rival, Alexei Navalny. Although reports suggest that numbers are down on previous protests, Navalny’s twitter feed shows large crowds with the comment ‘Again, nobody has turned up!’ Radio Free Europe reports that spoiler rallies are being held in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg by groups of students brandishing flags in support of Catalonian independence. Navalny himself is behind bars having been sentenced to 20 days for organising unsanctioned rallies. There will be some, many even, who hope for their own Great October this year, but in the absence of widespread hunger or a deeply unpopular war, it’s a vain hope.

Meanwhile, the BBC is getting into the revolutionary spirit with a series of programmes on TV and radio. On Radio 4 on Monday (9 October) Start the Week is focusing on the forces that led to revolution, in a discussion that includes Mikhail Zygar, one of Fontanka’s potential authors. On Tuesday 10 October BBC2 has Russia 1917: Countdown to Revolution at 9pm which includes several authors quoted here. Details of all the broadcasts can be found at this link .

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 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)
By Mark Sutcliffe 09 Sep, 2017
Lotarevo estate, Tambov province (former home of the Vyazemsky family)
By Mark Sutcliffe 02 Sep, 2017
There was a breath of autumn already in the sky. The unforgettable summer was ending, and the sun set early in the sea. We could not sufficiently admire our marvellous Petersburg.
By Mark Sutcliffe 26 Aug, 2017
Column of Russian prisoners captured in the fighting near Riga, August 1917 (© IWM Q 86647)
By Mark Sutcliffe 19 Aug, 2017
A wiry little little man with strong Tartar features. He wore a general's full-dress uniform with a sword and red-striped trousers. His speech was begun in a blunt soldierly manner by a declaration that he had nothing to do with politics. He had come there, he said, to tell the truth about the condition of the Russian army. Discipline had simply ceased to exist. The army was becoming nothing more than a rabble. Soldiers stole the property, not only of the State, but also of private citizens, and scoured the country plundering and terrorizing. The Russian army was becoming a greater danger to the peaceful population of the western provinces than any invading German army could be.
British journalist Morgan Philips Price, reporting on Kornilov in August 1917
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