2-15 April 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 14 Apr, 2017
Statue of Lenin outside the Finland Station, St Petersburg

The Finland Station, on Petrograd’s Vyborg side, shortly before midnight on 3 April 1917: workers and soldiers, with red flags and banners, fill the station hall; and there is a military band. The square outside is packed with automobiles and tank-like armoured cars; and the cold night air is blue with smoke. A mounted searchlight sweeps over the faces of the crowd and across the facades of the building, momentarily lighting up the tram-lines and the outlines of the city beyond. There is a general buzz of expectation: Lenin’s train is due.
(Orlando Figes,  A People's Tragedy , London 1996)

3 April

Lenin and his party arrived in Petrograd on April 3 at 11.10 p.m. It happened to be the final day of the All-Russian Bolshevik Conference, and his followers prepared him for a welcome accorded to no other political figure in post-tsarist Russia. As the train pulled into Finland station, a band struck up the ‘Marseillaise’; outside the terminal stood an armoured car illuminated by a projector. Lenin mounted the car to deliver a short message, and then, followed by a crowd, rode to Kshesinskaia’s villa. There he delivered a speech whose militancy stupefied everyone present. Its thrust was that the transition from the ‘bourgeois’ phases of the revolution to the socialist one had to be accomplished in a matter of weeks rather than years … Later that day Lenin read to his followers a document which came to be known as ‘the April Theses’. It impressed most members of his audience as written by someone out of touch with reality, if not positively mad. Lenin proposed renunciation of the war; immediate transition to the next phase of the Revolution; denial of any support to the Provisional Government; transfer of all power to the soviets; dissolution of the army in favour of a people’s militia; confiscation of landlord property and nationalization of all land; integration of Russia’s financial institutions into a single National Bank under soviet supervision; soviet control of production and distribution; and creation of a new International.
(Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
I cannot forget that speech, like a flash of lightning, which shook and astonished not only me, a heretic accidentally thrown into delirium, but also the true believers. I aver that no one had expected anything like it. It seemed as if all the elemental forces had risen from their lairs and the spirit of universal destruction, which knew no obstacles, no doubts, neither human difficulties nor human calculations, circled in Ksheskinskaia’s hall above the heads of the enchanted disciples.
(N.N. Sukhanov,  The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

Report in The Times (from our own correspondent in the Balkan peninsula)
General Brusiloff: I greatly esteem the Council of Labour Deputies, but the order which it issued at first entailed much harm. As is known, it states that officers must be chosen by the soldiers. Such a thing has never been seen. There is no such army in the whole world. If there were it would not be an army, but a mob. This was more dangerous because of its possible results behind the front. Here there is complete solidarity between the officers and soldiers in the trenches. This order is not so pernicious at the front, where it failed to destroy discipline and comradeship, as it did in the rear. There the effect was really destructive in many places – not in our Army, be it said to its honour, but in the remote rear of Russia … Those who think that the war can now be ended or that the country can be saved without going ahead are mistaken. To beat the enemy one must go ahead, for he who advances wins. Lastly, the Germans occupy a large area of our country, and all this must be won back.
('General Brusiloff’s Warning', The Times )

4 April

Cable from German agent in Stockholm to Berlin: ‘Lenin’s entry into Russia was successful. He is working exactly as we desire.’ 
(Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

Resolution of workers of the Petrograd Pipe Factory, printed in Izvestiia
We, the workers of shop no. 3 at the Petrograd Pipe Factory, having assembled in a meeting of 2,600, are deeply indignant at the persecution on the part of the bourgeois press and various dark and ignorant persons who, while trying to sow hostility between workers and soldiers, say that the workers are not working but only demanding an increase in their wages and an eight-hour day. This, comrade soldiers, is not true. We appreciate the gravity of the present moment and, aware that our brothers and fathers are sitting there in the damp trenches, defending our Free and Great Russia, we are prepared to work not eight but twelve hours, and more if necessary and if we have the metal, material, and fuel. We ask you, comrade soldiers, not to believe the various provocative rumours but to select a delegation and send them to see us in the factories … With comradely greetings, the workers of shop no. 3.

Chairman of the meeting, F. Golakhov, Secretary, I. Gavrilov
(Mark D. Steinberg,   Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
A disgusting scene was witnessed a few days ago in the Russian Church at Helsingfors. A funeral service was being held for Lieutenant-Commander Polivanov, who was murdered by his crew during the recent disorders. The coffin was open as the orthodox rite prescribes. Suddenly a mob of workmen and sailors burst into the church. The whole lot marched past the catafalque in single file and spat in the dead man’s face. The stricken and weeping widow wiped the sullied features with her handkerchief and implored the brutes to cease their infamous behaviour. But, thrusting her roughly aside, they seized the coffin, turned it upside down, emptied out the corpse, the candles and the wreaths, and left the church bawling the Marseillaise.
(Maurice Paléologue,  An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 London 1973)

5 April

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
This morning Milukov gleefully remarked to me: ‘Lenin was a hopeless failure with the Soviet yesterday. He argued the pacifist cause so heatedly, and with such effrontery and lack of tact, that he was compelled to stop and leave the room amidst a storm of booing. He will never survive it.’ I answered him in Russian fashion: ‘God grant it!’ But I very much fear that once again Miliukov will prove the dupe of his own optimism. Lenin’s arrival is in fact represented to me as the most dangerous ordeal the Russian revolution could have to face.
(Maurice Paléologue,  An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 , London 1973)

6 April

Report in The Times (from our own correspondent in the Balkan peninsula)
Odessa: The revolutionary movement pursues its course in Southern Russia with a tranquillity that seems almost miraculous. Here in Odessa there has not been a drop of blood shed. Meetings have been held, orderly demonstrations have taken place in the streets, but there have been no riots. Travelling hither from Jassy last Monday I was unable to discover any symptoms of popular excitement. The railway stations presented their usual aspect. All railway employees and the police have sworn fidelity to the new regime. Trains have become more punctual and supplies of provisions now reach Odessa more regularly. In all this this region a heavy snowfall has been followed by a rapid thaw, and the floods have claimed more victims than the bloodless revolution.
('The Revolution in Southern Russia: Tranquil Transformation', The Times

8 April

Memoirs of Count Bendendorf
On this day, the officer commanding the incoming Guard was a former sergeant-major who, as soon as he had arrived at the Palace, had made himself conspicuous by his violence and his revolutionary opinions. He wished to search the Palace, threatening everyone with worse treatment if he found anything suspicious. When the Emperor held out his hand, he moved a step back and said, ‘Not for anything in the world.’ Then the Emperor advanced a step and said, ‘What have you got against me?’ He remained open-mouthed, turned on his heel, and left the room.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Report in The Times  (by a ‘competent observer, who witnessed the Revolution in Russia, and has just returned to Western Europe')
The most astonishing feature of the whole Revolution was the revelation of the weakness of the Tsar’s hold upon the people, peasants and workmen alike. He was nothing to them, hardly even a name. I have visited several parts of the country since the Revolution, and have nowhere found regret at the abdication of the Tsar. The peasants are far more interested in the local landowners than in the ex-Emperor. They seem scarcely to have been affected by the propaganda for a free distribution of the land, but have in many places expressed a wish to be allowed to buy land at fair prices from the Government. It is true that one peasant woman whom I saw wept on hearing of the abdication of the Tsar. ‘How shall we now say our prayers?’ she asked tearfully. It was explained to her that she could now pray for the Duma. This substitution of the name of the Duma for that of the Tsar is now widespread in Russia: and prayers are daily offered for the welfare and health of the Duma.
('How Tsardom Fell. New Sidelights on the Revolution', The Times )

10 April
Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to the Imperial Court
Kerensky dined at the Embassy last night ... and in a long conversation I told him quite frankly why my confidence in the army, and even in the Provisional Government, was shaken. He admitted the accuracy of the facts which I cited, but said that he knew his people and that he only hoped that the Germans would not delay taking the offensive, as, when once the fighting began, the army would pull itself together. He wanted, he said, to make the war a national one, as it was in England and France. He saw no danger of the Provisional Government being overthrown, as only a small minority of the troops were on the side of the Soviet. He added that the Communistic doctrines preached by Lenin have made the Socialists lose ground.
(Sir George Buchanan,  My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
Albert Thomas asked to have a talk with me privately in my own room. There he said in a serious but friendly tone: 'Monsieur Ribot [French Minister of Foreign Affairs] has given me a letter for you; he left it to my discretion when I should hand it over to you. I have much too high a regard for you not to give it to you at once. Here it is.' It was dated the 13th April. I read it, without the slightest surprise or emotion ... 'Monsieur l'Ambassadeur ... It has seemed to the Government that your position of favour with the Emperor would make it more difficult for you to carry on your duties under the present government. You will realize that in new circumstances a new man is required, and you have told me, with a delicacy of feeling I highly appreciate, that you were ready to sacrifice yourself by laying aside all personal considerations. I take this opportunity of thanking you for this proof of your disinterestedness, which does not surprise me in a man like you, and of telling you at the same time that we will not forget the great services you have rendered our country.'
(Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 , London 1973)

14 April

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
First of all - there can be no doubt about it - Lenin is an extraordinary phenomenon, a man of absolutely exceptional intellectual power ... he represents an unusually happy combination of theoretician and popular leader ... The Bolshevik party was the work of his hands, and his alone. The very thought of going against Lenin was frightening and odious, and required from the Bolshevik mass what it was incapable of giving ... without Lenin, there was nothing and no one in the party.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)


15 April 2017

Quite an interesting counter-factual piece in  Vedomosti , wondering what would have happened if the war had not sapped morale to the extent that it did, and Russia had continued to a victorious conclusion:

Let’s suppose that the arctic conditions didn’t happen, the workers’ protests weren’t so widespread, the demonstrators weren’t harried and so on – and that the Russian empire continued more or less without a hitch until the spring. What would then have happened? Russia, having survived the winter with enormous difficulty, tries with all its might to hold the front. Soldiers are increasingly less keen to fight, but the front holds and Germany is forced to retain the strength of its forces. In April 1917 the USA enters the fray. Since the informal truce between Russia and Turkey doesn’t happen, the advance by English troops into Mesopotamia is far more successful. By the end of 1917 it’s clear that Germany cannot continue the war and the hope that Russia will pull out is not envisaged. Germany capitulates by the end of the year. Russia receives its cherished Bosphorus and Dardanelles, and as victor claims it share in the war indemnity. The army quickly and at times randomly reduces from 7 million men under arms at the end of the war to the pre-war figure of 1.5 million. Another 3 million are released from captivity. Most of them are peasants. They’re embittered, tired of war, they’ve learnt how to kill and handle a weapon. The victorious tsar is garlanded with laurels. The capital celebrates the victory. But who has benefited? The elite, of course … But the land question hasn’t gone away, particularly with the peasants returning from the war to find destruction, sometimes family members killed, land or property taken off them. And this is not all. The country is hit by inflation. Prices are three times higher than before the war. The main pre-war trading partners – Germany and Austro-Hungary – lie in ruins. Industry has been shifted onto a war footing and cannot meet the needs of the population. The regions are populated by refugees, displaced people, prisoners. Everyone wants to get home as quickly as possible. The roads are paralysed by a scarcity of engines and trucks. There’s little bread, but the cities in any case can’t offer the villages goods in exchange for food. Furthermore, the soldiers who have spent time in Europe, especially the Russian expeditionary force that fought in France, are now convinced that life over there is better. As a result, in the spring of 1918 the country undergoes an epidemic of peasant unrest, led by those who fought on the front. Estates are put to the torch, officials are killed, the country comes to a halt. The army doesn’t want to fight against its former comrades-in-arms. In many provinces the soldiers stand alongside the peasants. The cities are beset by uprisings from lack of bread. The Duma accuses the government and tsar of being unable to resolve the peasant issue. Political activity becomes more extreme, particularly in the case of the Socialist Revolutionary party. A huge number of soviets are created as an alternative source of authority.

The end result, the author concludes, of this ‘alternative history’ is almost certainly revolution, removal of the tsar, and a bitter civil war; in other words, what actually happened, just delayed by a year or so. The key event was therefore not the revolution as such but Russia’s involvement in the First World War, which was little short of inevitable. It was this, he suggests, which led to the ‘catastrophe of 1917’.

The 1917 Russian Revolution: week by week

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
By Mark Sutcliffe 12 Aug, 2017
Life at Tobolsk during the first few months was another idyll of domestic calm and undisturbed tranquillity. The ex-Tsar breakfasted, studied, walked, lunched, exercised, dined, taught history to Alexis, and held family reunions in the evening to an extent never possible before. Special religious services were held for the royal family in the town church and they were permitted to leave the house for that purpose. The children prepared and enacted dramatic pieces in French and English. The townspeople showed themselves courteous and sympathetic, frequently sending gifts, particularly fresh food, and saluting the members of the family respectfully or blessing them with the sign of the cross when they appeared at the windows of the Palace. It was only the unending monotony, the drab Siberian monotony, that oppressed, together with the almost complete absence of news.
(Edmund Walsh, 'The Last Days of the Romanovs',  The Atlantic , March 1928)
By Mark Sutcliffe 05 Aug, 2017
The event that enabled the Bolsheviks to recover from their July debacle was one of the more bizarre episodes of the Russian Revolution. Known to historians as the Kornilov affair, it resulted from a struggle in Kerensky's mind between his sense that as the head of state in a situation of near-anarchy and a looming German offensive he needed the army's support, and his fear as a socialist intellectual that the army was likely to breed a counterrevolutionary Napoleon.
(Richard Pipes,  A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

30 July

Speech by Elihu Root, President Wilson’s envoy to Russia
No one can tell what the outcome will be, but this is certain, that Russia, tired of the war, worn and harried by war; Russia, which has lost 7,000,000 of her sons, every village in mourning, every family bereaved, Russia has again taken up the heavy burden; she has restored the discipline of her army; she has put away the bright vision of peace and rest, and returned yet again to the sacrifice and the suffering of war in order that she might continue free.
( Russian-American Relations: March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)

31 July

Diary entry of Nicholas II
Our last day at Tsarskoe Selo. After dinner we waited for the time of our departure, which kept being put off. Kerensky suddenly appeared and announced that Misha was coming. And sure enough, at about 10.30 dear Misha walked in accompanied by Kerensky and the captain of the guard. It was wonderful to see him, but awkward to talk in front of outsiders.
(Sergei Mironenko,  A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Memoir of Count Benckendorff
The interview lasted ten minutes. The brothers were so moved and embarrassed at having to talk before witnesses that they found scarcely anything to say.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

1 August

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
While Kerensky lives in the Winter Palace and sleeps in the Emperor Alexander’s bed, the Tsar is travelling to Siberia. … The Tsar in Siberia! It seems like a dream … it’s true that it is perhaps the road which will lead him back to the throne. Is it not from there that most of the men of today come into power?
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

2 August

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to the Imperial Court
I still hope that Russia will pull through, though the obstacles in her path – whether they be of a military, industrial or financial character – are appalling. How she is going to find the money to continue the war and to pay the interest on her national debt beats me altogether, and we and the Americans will soon have to face the fact that we shall have to finance her to a very considerable extent if we want to see her carry on through the winter. We cannot, however, be expected to do this till we have proof of her determination to put her house in order by restoring strict discipline in the army and repressing anarchy in the rear. General Korniloff is the only man strong enough to do this, and he has given the Government clearly to understand that unless they comply with his demands and give him the powers which he considers necessary he will resign his command.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

3 August

On 3 August, the Sixth Russian Social Democratic Workers Party Congress – the Bolshevik Congress – unanimously passed a resolution in favour of a new slogan … No longer did the Bolsheviks call for ‘All power to the Soviets’. Instead they aspired to the ‘Complete Liquidation of the Dictatorship of the Counterrevolutionary Bourgeoisie’.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

4 August

In the cities revolting employees are driving mill­-owners out of their offices. Managers try to stop it, and are thrown into wheel-barrows and ridden out of the plant. Machinery is put out of gear, mate­rials spoiled, industry brought to a standstill. In the army soldiers are throwing down their guns and deserting the front in hundreds of thou­sands. Emissaries try to stop them with frantic appeals. They may as well appeal to a landslide. 'If no decisive steps for peace are taken by Novem­ber first,' the soldiers say, 'all the trenches will be emptied. The entire army will rush to the rear.' In the fleet is open insubordination. In the country, peasants are over-running the estates. I ask Baron Nolde, 'What is it that the peasants want on your estate?' 'My estate,' he answers. 'How are they going to get it?' 'They've got it.'
(Albert Rhys Williams,  Through the Russian Revolution , New York 1921)

5 August

Memoir of Pierre Gilliard, tutor to the tsar's children
We passed the native village of Rasputin, and the family, gathered on deck, were able to observe the house of the staretz, which stood out clearly from the among the isbas. There was nothing to surprise them in this event, for Rasputin had foretold that it would be so, and chance once more seemed to confirm his prophetic words.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Letter to the Central Executive Committee of Soviets from the soldiers’ committee of the 129th Bessarabian Infantry
We, the soldiers of the 129th Bessarab. Inf. Reg., ask you, the Provisional Government, to rescue Russia from the bloody Slaughter. The way it needs to be saved is by making a speedy peace, and then there will be calm and quiet … The strength is in us, the soldiers, in the poor class. If you defend the poor class, then there will be a democratic republic, but if you defend the interests of the capitalists, then Russia is lost. We’ll strangle all the capitalists and you with them. Hold on to the peasant soldier and make a speedy peace – that’s the only way to save Russia. If you continue the war, you’ll let the Germans into Russia, and for us it will be Siberia with the Japanese. So there it is for you, brief and to the point. You don’t scare us with your instructions about the death penalty and iron discipline.
Author of the letter, P. Gurianov, 6th company, For the committee chairman, E. Petrov
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917  , New Haven and London 2001)


5 August 2017

Albert Rhys Williams was a Congregationalist minister and a correspondent for the New York Evening Post who in 1917, like his more famous compatriot John Reed ( Ten Days that Shook the World ), was fired up by the overthrow of imperial rule to experience for himself the new world order in Russia. His account of the revolution and its aftermath was published in 1921 and retains a spirit of optimism that his great hero, Lenin, was a force for good (in later years he said that he ‘remained true to the Revolution’ and still looked forward ‘to the final triumph of socialism because, like Lenin, I do believe in the essential goodness of man’). While his account may not be entirely reliable – he leant heavily on second-hand sources and interpreters – it makes for a compelling read and falls very much into the category of ‘Russia through my eyes’, which occupies several yards of shelving in the London Library. The problem with such retrospective accounts, even if based on contemporary notes, is the inevitable urge to dramatize and exaggerate. A young girl’s casual mention in a letter to a friend of the increasing truculence of the peasants on her father’s estate in the summer of 1917 can say far more than wild descriptions of mayhem written after the event.

By Mark Sutcliffe 29 Jul, 2017

In the aftermath of the July events, Lvov resigned and Kerensky took over the prime ministership, with wide-ranging powers. He offered Kornilov command of the armed forces. He also ordered that units that had participated in the mutiny be disarmed and the garrison reduced. Pravda and other Bolshevik publications were barred from the front. Yet despite these energetic steps, Kerensky feared a right-wing, monarchist coup more than a repetition of a Bolshevik putsch. Appeasing the Soviet, he failed to deal the Bolsheviks the coup de grace they expected. This saved them: later on Trotsky would write that ‘fortunately our enemies had neither sufficient logical consistency nor determination’.
(Richard Pipes,   A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

23 July

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
We are still without a government although it now transpires that Kerensky, at a meeting of representatives of practically all parties, will be petitioned to form a cabinet of his own choosing … The complete change in Kerensky’s attitude is typical of these extraordinary times. He it is who was at first an idealist, an ultra-Socialist, and contributed more to the demoralization in the army than any one person by countenancing the lack of salute from men to officers and the abolition of the death penalty for desertion. He now has become a conservative, has broken with the Council of Soldiers and Workmen, has assumed the powers almost of a dictator, has restored the salute and the death penalty, and is now sleeping in the Winter Palace in the bed of Emperor Alexander II!!
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

25 July

It took several attempts, but on 25 July Kerensky at last managed to inaugurate the second Coalition Government. It was made up now of nine socialist ministers, a slight majority, but all except Chernov came from their parties’ right wings. In addition, and crucially, they entered cabinet as individuals, not as representatives of those parties, or of the Soviet. In fact the new government … did not recognise Soviet authority. Dual power was done.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Diary of Nicholas II
A new Provisional Government has been formed with Kerensky at its head. Let’s see whether he can do any better. The first task is to re-establish discipline in the army and revive its morale, as well as bringing some order to the internal situation in Russia!
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

26 July

Late on 26 July, in a private hall in Vyborg, 150 Bolsheviks from across Russia came together [for the Sixth Congress]. They assembled in a state of extreme tension and semi-illegality, rudderless, their leaders imprisoned or on the run. Two days after the start of their meeting, the government banned assemblies deemed harmful to security or the war, and the congress quietly relocated to a worker’s club in the south-west suburbs.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
By the end of July a new Bolshevik congress had met. It was already a ‘united’ conference where the party of Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev formally coalesced with the group of Trotsky, Lunacharsky and Uritsky. The leaders couldn’t attend – they could only inspire the congress from afar. But somehow things were managed even without them.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Everyone is interested in the battalions of women soldiers who exercise in the courtyard of the Paul Palace on the Fontanka … people talk of the ‘heroism of the Russian women’ and they get all excited about it … as for myself, I feel that is rather unpleasant histrionics. As far as fighting goes these women can only be thinking of the rough-and-tumble!
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

27 July

Resolution of a meeting of workers in twenty-seven small enterprises from the Peterhof district of Petrograd
On the Crisis of the Authority and the Current Moment
Recognizing the extremely critical condition of the Russian Revolution … we, workers from the small enterprises of the Peterhof district … consider it our duty to state: 1. The new coalition ‘combination’ of the Provisional Government is frankly doomed to failure and to a new downfall in the near future … 3. We demand the immediate repeal of the shameful introduction of the death penalty. If the penalty has been repealed for Nicholas the Bloody and his gang, then shame on those who would reinstate it for the revolutionary soldier.
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

28 July

Diary of Nicholas II
A wonderful day; enjoyed our walk. After lunch we learned from Benckendorff that we are not being sent to the Crimea, but to some remote provincial town three or four days’ journey to the east! Where exactly they haven’t said – even the commandant doesn’t know. And we were all counting on a long stay in Livadia!
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
Got up at 5. A wonderful morning. A blue-grey mist hovered over the lake … I’m reading Bismarck and increasingly convinced of the vanity of all political vanities. On the one hand, how do we get by without them? And on the other, how can we believe a word they say?
(Alexander Benois ,   Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

29 July

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
The Emperor and his family are still at Tsarskoe Selo; no one knows the reason of the postponement of their journey to Siberia. He was told about it and made no objection. It is true that the Empress can’t walk, but I doubt that being the cause … Want of bread brought on the Revolution, and the same may bring a counter-revolution. There is nothing to eat: I suffer most from the absence of butter.
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)


29 July 2017

So Benois is reading Bismarck. Nicholas II seems to enjoy comic novels like Daudet’s Tartarin de Tarascon . Not sure what Kerensky is reading but probably something rather energetic and improving. Lenin, of course, will be deep into Marxist theory. ‘If you want to know the people around you,’ Stalin is said to have said, ‘find out what they read.’ Meanwhile, in Petrograd and on the front, Bolshevik newspapers such as  Soldatskaia pravda  were being suppressed, though quite a few copies got through disguised as letters. A.F. Ilin-Genevsky, who was on the editorial board of  Soldatskaia pravda , described how the paper ‘had to be made appropriate for an ill-prepared and little-educated reading public … Highfalutin words were absolutely taboo. In order to give the articles a form best suited to soldiers, we almost always changed the articles which we had written, to be simplified if need be … We took into account the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Army consisted of peasants in soldiers’ uniforms.’ Perhaps in his reading tastes, the ordinary soldier at the front was rather closer to the deposed tsar than to the leader of the Bolsheviks.

By Mark Sutcliffe 22 Jul, 2017

We would like to know, why did [Kerensky] consider it necessary to move into the Winter Palace? Why was it necessary to eat and sleep like a tsar: to tread on elegance and luxury when the only real right to do this was the people’s; for in the future it was to be theirs, as the Museum of Alexander III, as the Hermitage and Tretyakov Gallery. Had Kerensky not been in the palace, the people’s rage wouldn’t have touched a single trinket. Did the prime minister really not know that the political struggle could, at any moment, fling him if not from Nicholas II’s couch, then at least from his chair, that he was putting artistic treasures in the most perilous danger by daring to live amongst them.
(L.M. Reisner in A.F. Kerensky: Pro et Contra , St Petersburg 2016)

16 July

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
I believe the Emperor and his family have been sent to Siberia. I heard this last night. I wonder what effect it will have on the people. I think Kerenski will make himself dictator.
( The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)

17 July

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
Now the question that naturally and inevitably arose was that of a dictatorship. Indeed, three days after Kerensky’s ‘appointment’ as Premier, the Star Chamber appeared before the Central Executive Committee with a demand for a dictatorship.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

18 July

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
I met Kerensky again today, in his khaki uniform (he still does not dare dress like a Cossack), installed like the Emperor in the Imperial Rolls-Royce, with an aide-de-camp covered in shoulder-knots on his left, and a soldier sitting next to the chauffeur … the great man of the Russian revolution is in reality nothing but an inspired fanatic, a case, and a madman: he acts through intuition and personal ambition, without reasoning and without weighing up his actions, in spite of his undoubted intelligence, his forcefulness and, above all, the eloquence with which he knows how to lead the mob – all of which shows how dangerous he is … Fortunately, the career of a personality such as this can only be precarious. Nevertheless, for the moment he is the only man on whom we can base our hope of seeing Russia continue to fight the war, so therefore we must make use of him ... but I fear that he has some terrible disappointments in store for us, in spite of his blustering and in spite of the Draconian measures he has proclaimed. And yet, in Russia you never can tell … perhaps the people will lie down like good dogs as soon as they see the stick.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

19 July

Diary of Nicholas II
It’s three years since Germany declared war on us; it’s as if we had lived a whole lifetime in those three years! Lord, help and save Russia!
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Statement by the Provisional Government to the Allied Powers
In the inflexible decision to continue the war until the complete victory of ideals proclaimed by the Russian Revolution, Russia will not retreat before any difficulties … We know that upon the result of this struggle depends our freedom and the freedom of humanity.
( Russian-American Relations: March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)

Around the country, peasant revolts grew in violence and anarchy continued, especially over the hated war, the catastrophic offensive costing hundreds of thousands of lives. On 19 July, in Atarsk, a district capital in Saratov, a group of angry ensigns waiting for a train to the front smashed the station lanterns and went hunting their superiors, guns at the ready, until a popular ensign took charge, and ordered the officers’ arrest. Rioting soldiers detained, threatened and even killed their officers … By the 19th … the new commander-in-chief [Kornilov] bluntly demanded total independence of operational procedures, with reference only ‘to conscience and to the people as a whole’ … Kerensky began to fear that he had created a monster. He had.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

20 July

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
The shadow of a military dictator grows larger and larger – and I am not disinclined to believe that it is the solution of the question.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
Kislovodsk. The Grand Duchess [Vladimir] received me in her cabinet de travail, and we counted the money which I had brought her in my boots from Petrograd! It was in revolutionary thousand-rouble notes, which she had never seen before.
( The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)

21 July

Resolution from soldiers of the 2nd Caucasus Engineering Regiment
[Our regiment] has allowed its ranks to commit a series of tortures and murders of our citizens over nothing but freedom of speech. Within its ranks there are ignorant men who have trampled upon all the Great human and civil rights; they have dragged speakers off tribunes and even beaten up those who suffered under the old regime for trying to attain freedom … We propose immediately discovering the direct participants in all the crimes … and arresting them and handing them over for trial without mercy or leniency. We will not and cannot allow ignorant people who beat freedom fighters to death in free Russia to go unpunished.
(Mark D. Steinberg,  Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

22 July

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
We awoke to an extraordinary situation of no government this morning! The ministry all resigned last night – being in session until 5.00 AM this morning.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

Arthur Ransome in a letter to his family in England
You do not see the bones sticking through the skin of the horses in the street. You do not have your porter’s wife beg for a share in your bread allowance because she cannot get enough to feed her children. You do not go to a tearoom to have tea without cakes, without bread, without butter, without milk, without sugar, because there are none of these things. You do not pay seven shillings and ninepence a pound for very second-rate meat. You do not pay forty-eight shillings for a pound of tobacco. If ever I do get home, my sole interest will be gluttony.
(Helen Rappaport,  Caught in the Revolution , London 2017)


22 July 2017

Lenin called Kerensky a ‘Bonapartist’, other contemporary commentators referred to him as a ‘little Napoleon’. The references to dictatorship in this week’s extracts are compelling. In retrospect, Kerensky's decision to move into the Winter Palace in July 1917 on becoming prime minister seems a bit strange. He occupied the former rooms of Alexander III, and was soon nicknamed ‘Alexander IV’. Rumours that he slept in the imperial bed were not true; in fact Kerensky removed the grandest pieces of furniture and portraits, and went around in his trademark semi-military jacket. In his  Interpreting the Russian Revolution , Orlando Figes describes the care Kerensky took over his personal appearance as ‘all part of his vanity – and of his awareness of the importance of public image to the revolutionary minister’. He even wore his right arm in a sling during his tours of the Front, the result, people joked, of too much hand-shaking. He was often photographed in this ‘Napoleonic pose’. Perhaps the imperial instinct was not entirely foreign to Kerensky. The wife of the ex-minister of Justice (whom Kerensky replaced) recalled him expressing a change of attitude after visiting the tsar in Tsarskoe Selo, even admitting regret that people had not really appreciated Nicholas II’s qualities. (There were later rumours of Kerensky helping to fund an unsuccessful attempt to free the imperial family a few weeks later, when they were already in Tobolsk – but these remain unsubstantiated.) A ‘little Napoleon’, assuming the trappings of office, making speeches in royal palaces – perhaps M. Macron, the new president of France, should take heed…



By Mark Sutcliffe 15 Jul, 2017

The city rose in tears and blood, in hunger and cold, in the forced labour of myriads of the starved and beaten. Their bones lie buried deep in the mud below. But their outraged spirits seem to live again in the Petrograd workingmen of today – spirits powerful and avenging. The serfs of Peter built the city; presently their descendants will be coming into their own. It does not appear thus in midsummer 1917. The black shadow of reaction hovers over them. But the Bolsheviks bide their time. History, they feel, is on their side. Their ideas are working out in the villages, in the fleet and at the front. To these places I now make my way.
(Albert Rhys Williams,  Through the Russian Revolution , New York 1921)

9 July

It seemed as if the disaster of the July days had set the Bolsheviks back years. Steklov was arrested. The authorities ransacked the house of Anna Elizarova, Lenin’s sister [Lenin was in hiding in Finland]. They took Kamenev on the 9th. By the late days of the month, Lunacharsky and Trotsky had joined many of the Bolshevik leaders, and other activists, in Kresty prison, where the guards stoked up the criminals against the ‘German spies’.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

10 July

Tutor Piotr Petrov to Grand Duchess Olga, Nicholas II’s daughter
The good Lord has allowed me to live until Your name-day, my dear unforgettable pupil, dearest Olga Nicolaevna! If the good fairies of the stories really existed on this earth, I would ask them to bestow all the good wishes , which only those fantastical creatures are able to grant! I, as You are very well aware, am not a fairy, nevertheless from the depths of my heart and affection for you, I want to wish you the one thing, which is more precious than anything else on this earth: physical health and mental balance! Everything else will follow. Goodbye until the next time! Please send my respectful greetings to Mama, Papa, Alexei Nicolaevich and your sisters. May God keep You! Your old P.V.P.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

11 July

Diary of Nicholas II
In the morning I went for a walk with Alexei. On our return, I learnt of Kerensky’s arrival.

Memoir of Count Benckendorff
On the 11th July, at 11 o’clock in the morning, Kerensky came to the Emperor to report that the situation in the town had become alarming and he thought it would be more prudent for His Majesty and his family to leave, and to settle in the interior of the country. He said that he himself and the Emperor were in great danger. The Bolsheviks ‘are after me, and then will be after you’.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

12 July

Report in The Times of an interview given to the press by Kerensky on his return from the front
The Provisional Government has no other object but the defence of the State against disruption and anarchy, and the safety of the Army. Relying upon the confidence of the masses and the Army, the Government will save Russia and weld her unity by blood and iron if argument and reasons of honour and conscience are not sufficient … The situation at the front is very serious and demands heroic measures, but I am convinced that the organization of the State is sufficiently vigorous to be cured without partial amputation. In any case, the Provisional Government will do its duty, and by enlarging and strengthening the gains of the Revolution will resolutely put an end to the criminal activity of mad traitors.
(‘M. Kerensky Resolved on Heroic Measuress’, The Times )

13 July

Memoir of Fedor Raskolnikov, naval cadet at Kronstadt
During the night of July 13, when I was already asleep on my ship, Comrade Pokrovsky, a Left SR member of the Kronstadt Executive Committee, summoned me urgently to the Soviet. When I arrived he showed me a telegram … [that] required him immediately to arrest Roshal, Remnev and me and send us to Petrograd … True, it would not be difficult to organise a flight to Finland. But we were the object not only of political accusations – the entre press and so-called ‘public opinion’ were openly making monstrous insinuations about our having collaborated with the Germans, acting as their agents … I realised, of course, that a Party leader like Comrade Lenin had to stay out of prison by all possible means … The Party had waited too long for Lenin, and wandered long enough in the darkness for lack of his clear firm tactics, to let itself be deprived of his leadership, even for a single day.
(F.F. Raskolnikov, Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917 , New York 1982, first published 1925)

15 July

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The funeral of the Cossacks killed in the rioting took place today in Saint Isaac’s. … Troops marched past, with the Cossacks in perfect order but with the other troops far from brilliant … The parents walked behind each hearse, accompanied by the friends of the victims, and it was touching to see these worthy peasants, who had come from the Urals or the Caucasus to follow their sons’ coffins, being comforted by other Cossacks … Then followed the dead Cossacks’ horses, in their harness; one of them had been seriously injured and was limping pitifully behind its master’s coffin. On another horse the dead man’s son, a little Cossack of about ten years old, had been put up into the saddle. At present, the Cossacks are the only element of order. It is said that they have received large rewards for keeping order, from various banks. Whatever the truth may be, one can count on them for the moment. But although this may be sufficient for Petrograd, I doubt if they will be able to stop the landslide in the country districts and at the front.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


15 July 2017

The role of the Cossacks in the revolution is an interesting one. In an article by Gregory Tschebotarioff in 1961 the author looks back on a conference in July 1917 in Berdichev, Ukraine, attended by about 200 delegates of Cossack units from the front. He describes the support shown to the Cossacks by the (primarily Jewish) population, particularly in the context of the recent funerals in Petrograd, described above. His explanation for this reception lies in the ‘Order No. 1’ issued shortly after the tsar’s abdication, which removed the disciplinary powers of Russian army officers and led (in the author’s opinion) to the collapse of the Russian army. The infantry, which far outnumbered the Cossack troops, ‘had little or no inner discipline, which led to their rapid adherence to Bolshevik slogans for immediate separate peace’. The Cossacks, on the other hand, described by Tschebotarioff as mostly ‘well-to-do and hence conservative farmers’, were united by a mistrust of anarchy and a deep-rooted conservatism that led them to actively support Kerensky’s Provisional Government. This in itself was something of a shift in allegiance, as another witness, describing the February revolution fifty years later, describes: ‘Most remarkably, Cossacks on their big horses rode around with banter or curious-questioning looks at the people. “No, we won’t fire”, they soon assured those who asked. Finally, when a mounted police inspector attacked a demonstration leader, a Cossack charged at him with a flashing saber, severing the inspector’s hand with one swift flash. The news spread all over the capital, giving the rebels great courage. It was a thing of wonder, truly: the Cossacks, these watchdogs of the throne, these sworn foes of plain people for centuries, were coming over to the people’s side.’ October and civil war, of course, still lay ahead.

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