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)


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 31 Dec, 2017
Russian Christmas postcard, 1917
By Mark Sutcliffe 16 Dec, 2017
Child's drawing of a Bolshevik, November 1917. The flag reads 'Down with the war and the bourgeois'; the child's inscription reads 'The Bolshevik. A Bolshevik is someone who is against the war'. (State Historical Museum, Moscow) 
By Mark Sutcliffe 09 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)


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)
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