16-22 July 1917

  • 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)

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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…

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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