16-29 April 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 28 Apr, 2017

The first, rather halfhearted, Bolshevik bid for power occurred in April, less than three weeks after Lenin’s return. The pretext was a disagreement between the government and the Soviet over war aims. The Soviet wanted to pursue the war till victory, but to conclude it with a peace without ‘annexations and indemnities’. Miliukov, the Foreign Minister, had different ideas, desiring to claim for Russia the Turkish Straits and Constantinople promised her by the Allies in 1915, when they feared she might drop out of the war. Conflicting signals sent by the government on this matter led to street demonstrations by military units brought out by radical junior officers. The Bolsheviks joined these disturbances under slogans calling for the resignation of the government in favour of the Soviet. General Lavr Kornilov, the Commander of the Petrograd Military District, asked the cabinet for permission to suppress the riot by force, but this was denied, and order was restored by agreement with the Ispolkom. Disgusted with the government’s indecision, Kornilov asked to be relieved of his duties and assigned to the front. He would be heard from again. Evaluating the lessons of April, Lenin concluded that the Bolsheviks had been ‘insufficiently revolutionary’ in their tactics.
(Richard Pipes,  A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

16 April

Memoir of Pierre Gilliard, tutor to the Tsar's children
In the evening a long conversation with Their Majesties on the subject of Alexei’s lessons. We must find a way out since we have no longer any tutors. The Tsar is going to make himself responsible for History and Geography, the Tsarina will take charge of his religious instruction. The other subjects will be shared between Baroness Buxhoeveden (English), Mlle. Schneider (Arithmetic), Dr Botkin (Russian) and myself.
(Sergei Mironenko,  A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

17 April

Letter from Sofia Yudina in Petrograd to her friend Nina Agafonnikova in Vyatka
My dear Ninochka! Thank you for your letter! … In general I’m very downhearted, I’ve almost a permanent headache, which I discern now and again, and there’s so little air, it feels so enclosed and stuffy, one feels wretched … How we’ll get to [Polyana] I’ve no idea: Papa wants to go but they can’t make up their mind. It’s true that getting tickets and going is another thing altogether. To register you have to stand in line for three days near the ticket office – day and night: a queue to register to get a ticket!... Living at Polyana, far from what’s going on, will be hard, but I just want to disappear somewhere … How difficult one’s personal, internal life is at the moment.
(Viktor Berdinskikh,  Letters from Petrograd: 1916-1919 , St Petersburg 2016)

18 April

Communication by P.N. Miliukov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the Russian Diplomats in the Allied Countries
Our enemies have striven lately to sow discord among our Allies by propagating absurd reports regarding the alleged intention of Russia to conclude a separate peace with the Central Powers … Firmly convinced of the victorious issue of the present war, and in perfect agreement with our Allies, the Provisional Government is likewise confident that the problems which were created by this war will be solved by the creation on a firm basis of a lasting peace, and that, inspired by identical sentiments, the Allied Democrats will find means of establishing the guarantees and penalties necessary to prevent any recourse to sanguinary war in the future.
( Russian-American Relations March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)

Diary entry of Nicholas II
Abroad it’s the 1 May today, so our blockheads decided to celebrate with street processions, musical choirs and red flags. Apparently they came right into the park and placed wreaths on the tomb. The weather changed for the worse during these celebrations, and thick wet snow started to fall! I went out for a walk at 3.45, when everything was over and the sun had come out. Worked for an hour and a half with Tatiana. In the evening I started to read aloud to the children: A Millionaire Girl.
(Sergei Mironenko,  A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

20 April

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador 
Thursday was a very critical day. In the afternoon a number of regiments marched to the space in front of the Palais Marie, where the Council of Ministers sits, and joined the crowd that had already assembled there to demonstrate against the Government. Cries of ‘Down with the Government’, ‘Down with Miliukoff’, were raised, but eventually the troops were persuaded to return to their barracks. Later in the evening there were counter-demonstrations directed chiefly against Lenin and his adherents, and after several Ministers had addressed the crowd from the balcony of the palace the tide turned in their favour … A collision took place on the Nevski between a pro-Lenin and an anti-Lenin crowd, in which several persons were killed and wounded. Between 9 and 10.30 P.M. I had to go out three times on the balcony of the Embassy to receive ovations and to address crowds who were demonstrating for the Government and the Allies. During one of them a free fight took place between the supporters of the Government and the Leninites.
(Sir George Buchanan,  My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
An immense crowd of workers, some of them armed, was moving towards Nevsky from the Vyborg side. There were also a lot of soldiers with them … Tremendous excitement reigned generally in the working-class districts, the factories, and the barracks. Many factories were idle. Local meetings were taking place everywhere. All this on account of Miliukov’s Note, which had appeared that day in all the newspapers.
(N.N. Sukhanov,  The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

21 April

Appeal by the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies
Citizens: At the moment when the fate of the country is being decided, every hasty step threatens us with danger. Demonstrations arising from the note of the Government regarding foreign policy resulted in clashes on the streets. There are wounded and killed. For the sake of the salvation of the revolution from the threatening confusion, we are making a passionate appeal to you: Preserve quiet, order and discipline.
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

23 April

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The state of anarchy is confirmed and extends further and further every day. Petrograd is no longer the only centre: it’s the same everywhere, in Moscow, in Kiev, and confusion and disorder reign. The two influences of the government and of the Committee cancel each other out, and the result of this double authority is chaos and anarchy. Everyone does as he pleases, and from now on it is useless to count on any concerted effort from Russia.
(Louis de Robien,  The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

24 April

Cable from Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, to the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies
In view of the grave crisis through which the Russian people are passing, we assure you that you can rely absolutely upon the whole-hearted support and co-operation of the American people in the great war against our common enemy, Kaiserism. In the fulfilment of that cause, the present American Government has the support of 90 per cent of the American people, including the working classes of both the cities and agricultural sections. In free America, as in free Russia, the agitators for a peace favourable to Prussian militarism have been allowed to express their opinions, so that the conscious and unconscious tools of the Kaiser appear more influential than they really are … America’s workers share the view of the Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates that the only way in which the German people can bring the war to an early end is by imitating the glorious example of the Russian people, compelling the abdication of the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs and driving the tyrannous nobility, bureaucracy, and the military caste from power.
( Russian-American Relations March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
After lunch I went to see Countess Kleinmichel. The poor woman arouses one’s pity. She has been guarded for forty days by a gang of soldiers who stole things from her house, made holes in the pictures, ruined the tapestries, and so on. There were sixty of them who behaved as complete masters in her house and penetrated even to her bedroom. They let no one into the house and they did not even allow her to see her doctor. They stole part of her silver, and the arms which were in the smoking-room, and so on. And now, the big drawing-room has been turned into a meeting-place for the area section of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Committee, with wooden trestle tables set up, beside which the little pink chairs are arranged… The floor is filthy… no carpet on the stairs, the tapestries have gone, and I felt sick at heart to find the house, which was once so well kept, in this state. The Countess received me in her bedroom. She is very brave, and views the events calmly … She told me that she has the wherewithal to kill herself, rather than be murdered if fresh troubles arise. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘I have lived for seventy years; it’s not everyone who reaches this age: one must know how to die.’
(Louis de Robien,  The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

26 April

Letter to the Petrograd Soviet from the peasants of Rakalovsk Volost, Viatka Province
We, the undersigned peasants, citizens of Viatka Prov., … having gathered on 26 April 1917 in a volost assembly, have deliberated, and have decided to send the following to the Soviet of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies, with a copy to the Provisional Government: Our 1st thought and decision is the following: for us not to have a tsar, because we have now found out that they were always enemies of the people, and the last tsar also carried on a friendship with the Germans… Our 2nd thought is the land; the land must be transferred to those who labour on it. Cabinet, appanage, monastery, church, and major estate owners’ lands must be surrendered to the people without compensation, for they were earned not by labour but by various amorous escapades, not to mention through sly and devious behaviour around the tsar. … Our 3rd thought is about liberty. We are sick and tired of living in debt and slavery. We want space and light. We need for our young people to be taught in higher schools – this is necessary but it must be at the state’s expense, because we don’t have money of our own: the tsars have collected so much from us, and they hired guards using our money, and they lashed us with whips for every word of truth, and for reading books in which the truth was written, they put us in prison. And thus we demand freedom of speech, the press, assembly, unions and strikes, and the inviolability of the person … Our 4th thought is a terrible one – about the war. We are sick and tired of it, we pity our brothers, fathers, and sons, and we regret their blood, but we need to beat the German because he wants to encroach on our freedom. We will die rather than give him our freedom…Next, we have read in the newspapers that they want to deport Nicholas II to England and set pensions for high dignitaries, the old enemies of the people, and therefore we ask that the Soviet of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies under no circumstances allow the former tsar to be deported to England…
Sincerely yours, Citizen-peasants, 130 illiterate men
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

27 April

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
Countess Adam Lamoyska, who arrived here from Kiev yesterday, tells me that she dare not return to her family place at Petchara, in Podolia, which has been her refuge since the invasion of Poland; a dangerous agitation is on foot among the peasants. ‘Hitherto’, she told me, ‘they have all been faithful and attached to my mother, who has certainly done everything she could for them. But since the revolution everything has changed. We see them standing about at the castle gate or in the park, pretending to divide up our lands in dumb show. One of them will affect to want the wood by the river; another puts in for the gardens and proposes to turn them into folds. They go on talking like that for hours and do not stop even when my mother, one of my sisters or myself go up to them.’ The same attitude is observable in all the provinces, so it is clear that Lenin’s propaganda among the peasants is beginning to bear fruit. In the eyes of the moujiks, that great reform of 1861, the emancipation of the serfs, has always been regarded as a prelude to the general expropriation they have been obstinately expecting for centuries; their idea is that the partition of all land, the ‘tcherny peredel’ or ‘black partition’, as they call it, is due to them by virtue of a natural, imprescriptible and primordial right. Lenin’s apostles have an easy task in persuading them that the hour for this last act of justice is at length about to strike.
(Maurice Paléologue,  An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 , London 1973)

28 April

Memoir of Olga Paley
I must admit that I really didn’t want to leave the country. But mainly to persuade the grand duke [her morganatic husband Grand Duke Paul, Nicholas II’s uncle] to leave, I requested a meeting with the all-powerful Kerensky. He apologised in his response – the only time he was polite – and said that he was too busy and could not come to me, but he would receive me in the Large Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. Fairly nervous, I went through to the rooms that used to be occupied by the Minister of Court Count Fredericks and his wife, where I often used to go. Some sort of aide with long greasy, slicked down hair, wearing pince-nez and a handkerchief of dubious cleanliness wrapped round an abscess, met me and conducted me to the office. I waited five minutes. Finally Kerensky appeared and in a casual, familiar tone invited me to sit down. I immediately explained the reason for my visit. ‘I’ve come to ask permission to leave Russia: the Grand Duke Paul, our children and myself.’ ‘Leave?’, Kerensky responded sharply. ‘For where?’ ‘France, where we have a house and friends, and where we can still be happy.’ ‘No’, he answered. ‘I cannot allow you to leave for France. What would the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies say if I allowed the grand duke to leave, the former grand duke’, he immediately corrected himself. ‘You can go to the Caucasus, to Crimea, to Finland, but not to France.’ ‘So, you need us, do you?’ I asked. ‘Well, as far as I’m concerned I’d let you go right away, but what will the Soviets say?’ I wanted to get up but he stopped me and launched into a scathing attack on the autocratic state, which according to him was responsible for so many crimes and unlawful acts. I had only one thought - to get away from this pitiful person as quickly as possible and never ever see him again.
(Cited in A.F. Kerensky: Pro et Contra , St Petersburg 2016)

29 April

Lenin, ‘On the present political situation’, speech at the All-Russian Conference of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks)
The Russian Revolution is only the first stage of the first of the proletarian revolutions that are inevitably being brought about by the war. In all the countries there grows a rebellious spirit among large masses of the people against the capitalist class, and there grows the consciousness of the proletariat that only the passing of power into its hands, and the abolition of private property in the means of production, will save humanity from ruin. In all countries, especially in the most advanced, England and Germany, hundreds of Socialists who have not gone over to the side of ‘their’ national bourgeoisie, have been thrown into prison by the governments of capitalism which have thus given an object lesson that they are afraid of the proletarian revolution which is growing in the depths of the masses of the people.
( The Russian Revolution by V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin: Writings and Speeches from the February Revolution to the October Revolution, 1917 , London 1938)



29 April 2017

The first-hand accounts of the period between the two revolutions of 1917 give an overriding sense of hope and fear, expectation and almost simultaneous disappointment. Kerensky gives greater freedoms to the ordinary soldier, but the ordinary soldier decides he's had enough of fighting a war against people, he now realises, are no different to himself. The streets are the forum for political argument and discourse, while those associated with the old regime are beginning to think they must leave the country altogether. The parallels are becoming a little tired, perhaps, but momentous events, like Britain's exit from the European Union, seem to be accompanied or presaged by a heightened level of background noise; there is a sense of expectation, people are talking, worrying, planning. Looking back at the inter-revolution months, Boris Pasternak described it as a golden period, when 'the air was seized from end to end with fervid inspiration': 'A multitude of excited, keenly watchful souls would stop one another, flock together, form crowds and think aloud "in council", as they would have said in the old days [...]. The infectious universality of their elation blurred the boundaries between man and nature. In that famous summer of 1917, in the interval between two revolutionary periods, it seemed that the roads, the trees and the stars were rallying and speechifying right along with the people. The air was seized from end to end with fervid inspiration that blazed for thousands of versts - it appeared to be a person with a name, to be clairvoyant and possessed of a soul' ( 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution , London 2016).

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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