2-8 July 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 08 Jul, 2017
The government, under siege and virtually without armed defenders, sat as if paralyzed. It was its good fortune that the Minister of Justice took matters into his own hands and released to the press a small part of the evidence in his possession on Bolshevik dealings with the Germans. The information, which quickly reached the garrison troops, produced on them an electrifying effect. In the late afternoon, army units reached Taurida Palace ready to make short shrift of the Bolsheviks and their followers. The mutineers, along with sympathetic workers, ran for cover. By nightfall, the putsch was over.
(Richard Pipes,  A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

2 July

Report in The Sunday Times
According to a cable from Petrograd, the Russian offensive is having a favourable effect on the general political situation. The leaders of the social revolutionaries and the Minimalists – who represent the bulk of the Russian Socialists – advocate the necessity of supporting the offensive and suppressing anarchy. The hopes of many Russian Socialists, who expected the German Socialists to accept the Russian peace terms, have been disappointed in consequence of which they, too, have changed their attitude to the offensive, says the Central News. On the other hand, the Bolsheviki, who have been connected with the Anarchists, have recently lost ground owing to the compromising relations of the latter with spies and criminals.
(Report in The Sunday Times)

3 July

Report in The Times
Owing to the general satisfaction now prevailing here the efforts of extremist agitators to unite the population against the Government and against the continuance of the war seem likely to result in total failure.
('Extremists at a Discount',  The Times , from our own correspondent, Odessa)

4 July

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
I went out into the street around 11 o’clock. At the first glance it was obvious that the disorders had begun again. Clusters of people were collecting everywhere and arguing violently. Half the shops were shut. The trams had not been running since 8 o’clock that morning.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Today seemed like a repetition of revolutionary days. The ‘Bolsheviks’, or extreme and anarchistic side, are in open revolt and up to late in the afternoon were in almost complete control of the city. Kronstadt sent its quota of sailors, too, which made matters very ugly and at 3.00 PM, as dangerous a mob as I ever hope to see – composed of half-drunken sailors, mutinous soldiers and armed civilians – paraded through our street, threatening people at the windows, and drinking openly from bottles.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Liteiny Street was a heartrending sight: dead horses, their skins taut and shining from the shower that had just fallen, lay in the wet roadway between the pools of water, some of which were tinged with red … A lot of inquisitive people had already gathered to rob the horses of their harness, but we did not see any more armed men. Neither did we see any dead or wounded: we are told that there are a great number of them, which seems probable considering the number of horses killed.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

Letter from Aleksei Peshkov [Maxim Gorky] to his wife E.P. Peshkova from Petrograd
Matters are becoming more and more muddled, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that a civil conflict is inevitable here. To judge by the mood, the fighting promises to be brutal. There are meetings on the streets at night and a wild fury has flared up. Counter-revolutionary forces are actively organising themselves, while the revolutionaries just spout rhetoric. In general, things aren’t too cheerful … That fool Burtsev has announced in the newspapers that he will soon identify a provocateur and spy whose name will ‘stun the whole world’. The public has already started to speculate and has guessed that the person in question is M. Gorky. You think I’m joking? Not in the least. I’m already getting letters with salutations such as ‘to the traitor Judas, chief German spy and provocateur’ … Oh, how hard it is to live in Russia! How foolish we all are, how fantastically foolish!
( Maksim Gorky: Selected Letters , Oxford 1997)

Memoir of Princess Paley
The Bolshevist proceedings made us tremble for the life of the imprisoned Sovereigns. Everything was disorganised – the army had gone, honour had gone. The Revolutionaries had realised that if the army had remained intact, the Revolution sooner or later would come to an end. To save the Revolution they sacrificed the army. What remorse, what terrible feelings of guilt men’s consciences have to bear! But the Russian Revolutionaries have no conscience!
(Princess Paley,   Memories of Russia, 1916-1919  , London 1924)

5 July

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
No definite news as to casualties of last night. One hundred and eighty ‘Bolsheviks’ rumoured killed … Public sentiment is suddenly turning against these extremists.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The streets are deserted, and the town is a dead place. It is raining. 
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

6 July

Memoir of Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
The Government had suppressed the Bolshevik rising and seemed at last determined to act with firmness … Kerensky had returned from the front on the evening of July 19 [6], and had at once demanded, as a condition of his retaining office, that the Government should have complete executive control over the army without any interference on the part of soldiers’ committees, that an end should be put to all Bolshevik agitation, and that Lenin and his associates should be arrested. The public and the majority of the troops were on the side of the Government, as their indignation had been aroused by the publication of documents proving that the Bolshevik leaders were in German pay.
(Sir George Buchanan,  My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

Diary of Nicholas II
Luckily, the overwhelming majority of the troops in Petrograd remained faithful to their duty, and order has again been re-established on the streets. The weather was wonderful. Went for a good walk with Tatiana and Valia. In the afternoon we worked successfully in the woods – we cut down and sawed up four pine trees. In the evening I started Tartarin de Tarascon.
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Memoir of Count Benckendorff
Prince Lvov, having resigned, for several days we were without Government, and Kerensky had taken refuge with his family in the Grand Palais at Tsarskoe, giving dinners at the expense of the Court, driving about Pavlovsk in the Emperor’s carriage.
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

7 July

Memoir of Manchester Guardian correspondent M. Philips Price
As usually happens, when the political atmosphere is charged, a spark from any quarter sets the magazine alight. There was in Petrograd at this moment a number of forty-year-old soldiers, who had been released for field work in the northern provinces. They had been ordered to return to take part in the offensive. Imagine the effect that this order of the Coalition Government had on these men. After three years of suffering and misery in fighting for hated Tsarism, they had been told that peace was at hand. A few days in their home, working at the harvest, in their domestic haunts with their families, had but whetted their appetite for peace. Now suddenly they were ordered to return without any hope being offered them that the end of the war was within  measurable distance. It is necessary to understand the psychology of these men in order to grasp the true significance of what happened afterwards in Petrograd and in other parts of the country. Out on the streets these forty-year-old soldiers, together with the machine gun division, went, spurred on by a blind feeling that they must have it out with their rulers, who had betrayed them.
(M. Philips Price,  My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution , London 1921)

Letter to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets from the peasant Ivan Pastukhov, Vologda Province
Citizens of our Great Russia, workers’ and soldiers’ deputies,
We, the peasants of Vologda Province, beg you to help our families in their time of Need since we, their fathers, were drafted into military service and got sick in the service: some have rheumatism, some typhus, any and every kind of sickness; we can’t work at all, the hayfield goes uncultivated, there is no life-sustaining food at all, and all because of the war. Comrades, we beg of you, end this bloody drama as soon as possible. It isn’t a war – it’s the extermination of the people.
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

Kerensky was furious that the government had not been able to take control of the situation during his absence at the front. He was determined that its replacement, formed on 7 July, under his premiership and supplanting a demoralised Prince Lvov, would be allowed 'dictatorial powers in order to bring the army back to discipline'. ... Retaining his role as Minister of War, Kerensky appointed as commander-in-chief of the army General Kornilov, whose immediate response was to call for the restoration of courts martial and capital punishment for desertion at the front.
(Helen Rappaport,  Caught in the Revolution , London 2017)


8 July 2017

I’ve probably been studying Russian history since about 14 (further confirmation, in my children’s eyes, of a truly ‘sad’ childhood), but I had failed to clock that the October revolution could so easily have been the July revolution. China Miéville paints a vivid picture in his book October of the events in early July, as reflected in this week’s extracts. There seem to be so many disparate elements struggling for control: the First Machine Gunners regiment, different factions within the Bolsheviks, the Kronstadt sailors, the increasingly precarious Coalition Government, still being propped up by the Soviet in the Tauride Palace as it pursued its own line.  Everyone jostling to control events that seemed to change direction by the minute.

At 7.45pm on 3 July a truck ‘bristling with weapons’ drove up to the Baltic Station in Petrograd to intercept and arrest Kerensky – but missed him by minutes. Lenin was still in Finland but returned early the following morning. His address to the demonstrators was ‘uncharacteristically brimstone free’: he felt it was too soon for the decisive moment. In the afternoon of 4 July, the mood turned increasingly violent. As the demonstrators converged on the Tauride Palace and one of the Soviet leaders, Chernov, came out to address them, a worker shook his fist in his face and bellowed, ‘Take power, you son of a bitch, when it’s given to you!’ According to Miéville the heat was taken out of the revolutionary fervour by a rumour initiated by the government that they had evidence of Lenin’s links with Germany – that the Bolshevik leader was essentially a German spy. The rumours were never corroborated, and eventually suppressed, but it’s interesting how political upheaval breeds such accusations, and how ‘the enemy within’, whether from Germany then or Russia now, remains a powerful image.

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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