19-25 November 1917

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

Not by compromise with the propertied classes, or with the other political leaders; not by conciliating the old Government mechanism, did the Bolsheviki conquer the power. Nor by the organized violence of a small clique. If the masses all over Russia had not been ready for insurrection it must have failed. The only reason for Bolshevik success lay in their accomplishing the vast and simple desires of the most profound strata of the people, calling them to the work of tearing down and destroying the old, and afterwards, in the smoke of falling ruins, cooperating with them to erect the framework of the new…
(John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World  , New York 1919)

19 November

In Bykhov the prisoners [generals and officers arrested after the Kornilov uprising] were kept in better conditions than in Berdichev. The prison was guarded by the Tekhinsky regiment which was loyal to Kornilov, and this prevented any unsanctioned reprisals against the arrested generals. The cells were not locked, the prisoners were allowed to socialize and receive and write personal letters … on the morning of 17 November 1917 [chair of the investigative committee] von Raupakh … received a note from Kornilov in which he said that if action was not taken the Bykhov prisoners could potentially become victims of reprisals by soldiers fleeing the front … Von Raupakh took a piece of Commission headed paper and printed an invented order for their release … On the evening of 19 November 1917 all the generals and officers at Bykhov prison left Bykhov. [The following day General Dukhonin was murdered by revolutionary sailors at Mogilev station; Generals Denikin, Markov, Lukomsky and Romanovsky made their way to the Don region where, with Kornilov and others, they helped to form the Volunteer Army – the major White force of the civil war.]
Elena Shirokova, ptiburdukov.ru/История/были­_освобождены_быховские_узники

20 November

At the station, despite the efforts of Krylenko, a crowd of red army men hoisted General Dukhonin on their bayonets. His mutilated body was crucified in the freight-car, pinned up with nails. A fag-end was stuffed in the corpse’s mouth, and the whole crowd went to look at the general’s desecrated body, spitting in his face and hurling abuse at him. It was in this state that his wife, who had heard of her husband’s murder, found him at the station.
(M. Belevskaya, Headquarters of the Supreme Command in Mogilev, 1915-18: Personal Reminiscences , Vilno 1932)

In this way the Bolsheviks seized control of Stavka, and the command of the Russian army was transferred from General Dukhonin to Ensign Krylenko. What was left of it, anyway, for the Russian Imperial Army was melting away as soldiers simply packed up and left. What muzhik wanted to be the last to man his post while the great parcelling out of the land began back home? This was especially true for minority peoples, such as Ukrainians, who saw the opportunity of attaining independence. By the end of November 1917, Ukrainian soldiers had virtually disappeared from the eastern front. It would not be long, a German spy reported from Kiev, before Ukraine would move ‘to separate itself from Russia’. On the northern front, where there were dreams of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian independence, the situation was no better.
(Sean McMeekin, The Russian Revolution: A New History , New York 1917)

21 November

‘The New Siberian State’

After the declaration of independence by the Caucasus comes the announcement of the establishment of a Tartar Republic in the Crimea. This is now followed by the secession of Siberia from European Russia. It is difficult to say where the process of disintegration will end. It appears to cause little concern to the politicians in power, who are wholly absorbed by their programme of peace, followed by a war of classes and social disruption.
(‘From our special correspondent’, The Times )

Nothing is more dangerous for peace and for the future of Germany at this moment than to suppose that Russia is finished and can be treated by the victorious Central Powers as a vanquished foe. It would be madness to mistake the momentary nervous derangement of a vast country for complete exhaustion … The Bolshevik Government might fall within a few weeks and give place to another which would tear up the agreements of its predecessor.
(Report in the German newspaper Mannheimer Volksstimme )

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
These people are not going to remain in power long – but they are in power now. It’s like Mexico.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

22 November

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The pretext which served to enrage the soldiers [who killed Dukhonin] seems to have been the disappointment of the Bolsheviks at not finding Kornilov there. He had been imprisoned at Stavka after his famous attempted coup and had escaped, with four hundred Cossacks from the Savage Division who had been ordered to guard him, on the evening before the actual day when the Soviets arrived at Headquarters. The soldiers claim that this escape took place with the connivance of General Dukhonin, and they murdered him through hatred of Kornilov, who to them symbolized the counter-revolution and the continuation of the war. And during all this time, the theatres of Petrograd are full and I found it impossible to get a seat for the ballet tonight, when they are doing Eros , La Nuit d’Egypte , and Islamet .
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

‘Bolshevist Visions’
The Petrograd Agency publishes the following: ‘The Workers’ Government has instituted a Central Economic Council to deal with the economic situation in Russia … All works and factories will elect their own controlling bodies … As the Workers’ Council have in their hands the Central State Bank, and hope in due course to place the private banks successively under the control of the state, the Government of workers at the top and the workers’ organisations lower down will not only find it possible to understand the industrial situation and the rate of profit, but they will also be able to reduce such profit progressively. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Government, in introducing democracy into the administration of the State, is at the same time making an end of the autocracy of the capitalist in the factory.
(Report in The Times )

23 November

To the Editor of The Times
Sir, - In your leading article on the treachery of the Bolsheviks appearing today, which will be fully appreciated by all Russian Loyalists for its sympathy towards the Russian people as a whole, you show fine appreciation of one of the most serious causes of the development which culminated in the present Russian crisis, especially in the last paragraph of your article, in which you say: ‘We have let the Germans flood Russia with their agents and their propaganda, and have made no organized attempt to counteract the evil work of the enemy.’ May I carry your idea a few lines further, and say that the need for British propaganda in Russia has never been greater than it is today, for … it is not too late to prevent Russia from falling under an economic domination of Germany…
Yours truly, Zinovy N. Preev, London Correspondent of the Utro Rossii, Moscow, 359, Strand, WC2
(Letter to The Times )

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The territories of the Empire are being frittered away … Finland has proclaimed its independence and has asked the foreign governments to recognise it … I cannot see why we should deny this people the right to govern themselves … It is up to us to win the Finns over to our cause by hastening to give them the recognition which they are asking for before Germany does.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

24 November

‘Trotsky’s idea of peace’
The keynote of Trotsky’s programme is the belief that the whole European proletariat will insist within the next few weeks upon the conclusion of a general peace. His statements, so emphatically repeated, that the ‘Government’ repudiates the idea of a separate peace and intends to negotiate a general peace in concert with the Allies, indicate an illusion of the near approach of a sudden and simultaneous outburst of pacifism before which all Thrones, Principalities, and Powers must yield … What will happen if the expected revolutionary cataclysm fails to take place Trotsky refrained from stating; but the Ministerial Pravda supplies an answer: ‘We will make a general peace if possible; if not, a separate peace.’
(‘From our special correspondent’, The Times )

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Whoever they may be, it is the men who end the war who will be masters of Russia for a long time…
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


25 November 2017

We look back on the Kornilovites and the generals who headed south to form the nucleus of the Volunteer, later White, Army, and see them as men ‘out of time’, their photographs fading towards an early grave or impoverished exile. They somehow don’t seem ‘real’ in the way that Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and others continue to imprint themselves on our imagination. Is this simply because they lost, and the losing side tends to remain in the shadows? Or because they somehow represent the ‘old guard’, whether they were actually monarchist or not – men of the nineteenth, rather than twentieth century? As the revolution centenary recedes and that of the Civil War comes closer, maybe some old wounds will be reopened. General Denikin, who escaped with Kornilov to the Don region and succeeded him to the command of the White forces after Kornilov’s death in April 1918, remained a divisive figure well into exile in France and the United States. In 2005, on Putin’s instruction, Denikin’s body was repatriated and buried in Moscow’s Donskoi monastery – an act seen at the time as partly an attempt to honour the Whites in order to avoid confronting the real legacy of the Civil War. A feature writer in the Spectator magazine wrote at the time: ‘by celebrating Denikin and [anti-communist philosopher Ivan] Il’in, their anti-communism, nationalism and Orthodoxy, the Russian state is making a statement about the country’s future which, for those of us who remember the Soviet years, is a statement we can only welcome.’ I wonder if he would write the same today.

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)


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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