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)


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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’.

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)


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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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