6-12 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)

6 August

Memoir of Pierre Gilliard, tutor to the tsar's children
What reasons had the Council of Ministers for transporting the Imperial family to Tobolsk? It is difficult to say definitely. When Kerensky told the Tsar of the proposed transfer he explained the necessity by saying that the Provisional Government had resolved to take energetic measures against the Bolsheviks; this would result in a period of disturbance and armed conflict of which the Imperial family might be the first victims; it was therefore his duty to put them out of danger. It has been claimed in other quarters that it was an act of weakness in face of the Extremists, who, uneasy at seeing in the army the beginnings of a movement in favour of the Tsar, demanded his exile to Siberia. However this may be, the journey of the Imperial family from Tsarskoe Selo to Tobolsk was effected under comfortable conditions and without any noteworthy incidents.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion  , London 1996)

7 August

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
We only know a few details about the Imperial family’s journey. The departure from Tsarskoye took place in the early morning … The town of Tobolsk, where the Tsar and his family are to be interned, is a long way from the railway. Rasputin was born near there. The Grand Duchesses are supposed to have told Kerensky that the Empress’s dearest wish is to build a big church there, so that people can pray to God for the martyr … Saint Grischa Rasputin, the patron saint of the tovariches … it’s just what they need. In fact, one had to admit that there is something impressive about the fulfilment of the prophecies of this man who never ceased to foretell that, if he met with a violent death, the Empire would collapse during the month after his disappearance.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

9 August

Train 293 for Finland arrived at Udelnaya Station. The driver was Guro Jalava, railywayman, conspirator, committed Marxist. ‘I came to the edge of the platform’, he later recalled, ‘whereat a man strode from among the trees and hoisted himself up into the cab. It was, of course, Lenin, although I hardly recognised him. He was to be my stoker.’ The photograph in the fake passport with which Lenin – ‘Konstantin Petrovich Ivanov’ – travelled has become famous. With a cap perched high on a curly wig, the contours of his beardless mouth unfamiliar, wryly upturned, his deep small eyes are all that is recognisable.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Letter to the Central Executive Committee of Soviets on behalf of positional soldiers
Comrade Soldiers and Workers,
All of us positional troops ask you as our comrades to explain to us who these Bolsheviks are and what party they belong to because we don’t know them or their opinion. Our provisional government has come out very much against the Bolsheviks. But we, positional soldiers, don’t find any fault with them at all … We are little by little going over entirely to the side of the Bolsheviks. But in order for us to find out exactly about the Bolsheviks, we are turning to you, comrades, as our advisors – explain all this to us.
With respect, all the positional Soldiers, 9 August 1917, Active Army, Sirebrov, Soldier
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

10 August

Mistrust between prime minister [Kerensky] and general [Kornilov] was such that Kornilov arrived with a substantial and provocative bodyguard. This was a body of Turkmen fighters from the so-called Savage Division of volunteer soldiers from across the Caucasus … As Kerensky watched in alarm from the Winter Palace, the red-robed warriors came jogging into view down the wide streets, surrounding Kornilov’s car, brandishing scimitars and machine-guns. They took up positions around the palace door like enemies preparing for a parlay.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Resolution of the Conference of Public Figures [representatives of business and industry, the nobility, educated society and former officers, convened in Moscow between 8-10 August]
The time has come openly to admit that the country … is on the verge of ruin. The government, if it realises its duty, must acknowledge that it has led the state on the wrong road, which must be abandoned at once for the sake of saving the country and freedom … The only government is one that cuts itself free of all traces of dependence on committees, soviets and other similar organisations.
( The Russian Revolution 1917-1921 , ed. Ronald Kowalski, London 1997)

11 August

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
I got into a train at one of the stations before Yaroslavl but the train was already overflowing, and in all classes you had to stand up all night. In Yaroslavl, by using my title of Central Ex. Com. member, I penetrated into an almost empty military carriage. I was delighted at my success, but something rather disagreeable happened as a result. I was naïve enough to remove my boots, which were gone when I happened to wake up an hour or two later … In Moscow, astounding the crowd with my stockinged feet, I made my way to the station-master and spent about two hours telephoning to people at random, to see whether some friend could bring a pair of boots to the station for me. This was all quite typical of travelling at this time.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

12 August

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
There is again a certain amount of excitement in the town. Cossack patrols and machine-gun carriers are massed in the Winter Palace square, ready to intervene. During the last few days one has felt that things were going badly again. … One feels it, like one does when one knows that a storm is coming, even though one cannot yet hear the thunder.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


12 August 2017

In a series of three articles for The Atlantic in 1928, the journalist Edmund Walsh looked back on the final days of the Romanovs. One of his key questions was why Kerensky sent the family to Siberia rather than Crimea, where many royalists found safe refuge and from where many eventually escaped. The growing threat of Bolshevism was a major factor later cited by Kerensky: the fear that if he offered them sanctuary there would be further unrest which in turn could lead to calls for the royal family to be put to death: 'I will not be the Marat of the Russian Revolution!' Kerensky had said back in March. So he sent two agents called Vershinin and Makarov to Siberia to select an appropriate location, far from Moscow and the threat of mob violence. They chose Tobolsk, a town of twelve thousand inhabitants, some two thousand miles from Petrograd. The judge who later cross-examined Kerensky at a judicial enquiry into the family's murder, gave little credence to Kerensky's protestations that it was for their own good that Nicholas and Alexandra and their children were sent to Tobolsk; rather it was so that the 'dethroned Autocrat of All the Russias [should] be made to taste the bitterness and dreariness of exile in Siberia, must be made to experience the icy blasts of that House of Dead Souls to which he and his ancestors had banished so many Russians!' And not just the family; with them went forty-six court attendants who had volunteered to accompany them on this dismal journey.

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 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)
By Mark Sutcliffe 30 Sep, 2017
Florence Farmborough at the Russian Front, 1915 (painted from a photograph)
By Mark Sutcliffe 23 Sep, 2017
The man with whom the moderates urged caution, Kerensky, remained pitifully weak, and growing weaker. He struggled, lashed out to shore up his authority. On 18 September he pronounced the dissolution of the Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet. The sailors responded simply that his order was 'considered inoperative'. The Democratic Conference, too, strained for relevance ... The proceedings were outdoing their own absurdity.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

17 September

All power to the Soviets – such is the slogan of the new movement… All power to the imperialist bourgeoisie – such is the slogan of the Kerensky Government. There is no room for doubt. We have two powers before us: the power of Kerensky and his government, and the power of the Soviets and the Committees. The fight between these two powers is the characteristic feature of the present moment. Either the power of the Kerensky Government – and then the rule of the landlords and capitalists, war and chaos. Or the power of the Soviets – and then the rule of the workers and peasants, peace and the liquidation of chaos.
(J. Stalin, ‘All Power to the Soviets’,  The Russian Revolution , London 1938)

18 September

Letter from Sofia Yudina in Petrograd to her friend Nina Agafonnikova in Vyatka
I don’t know much about art, I’d love to know more. If you were here and there was no war, we’d go to the Hermitage, everywhere, and we’d learn. Arkasha would go with us the first few times and teach us how to look, how to see and find the beauty in paintings … But unfortunately, sadly, we can’t do any of this. The Hermitage is closed: it’s being evacuated and only, probably, in about four or five years will it be possible to see pictures in the Hermitage again…
(Viktor Berdinskikh,  Letters from Petrograd: 1916-1919 , St Petersburg 2016)

19 September

Report in the Times headed ‘Good work of Democratic conference’
The conference has lost much of its nervousness and seems to be finding itself. There was a good deal of wandering from the main point, which is to decide the form of government which will be in control until the meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Nor is this to be wondered at when it is considered how little experience the Russian masses have had in conducting politics. There is no doubt that the Conference is realizing the terrible situation in which the country finds itself, and is trying to the utmost to bend its energies in the direction of a solution.
(‘Coalition Probable in Russia’, The Times (from our correspondent))

20 September

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Yesterday’s conference was typical of the political chaos now reigning in this distracted country. First vote was for coalition, second to eliminate those implicated with Kornilov, third to eliminate Kadets, and fourth (submitted for no perceivable reason) overwhelmingly against coalition! Whereupon the somewhat dazed ‘presidium’ decided to enlarge itself and to adjourn conference until 6.00 PM today. The two outstanding facts were the extreme unpopularity of the Kadets and the quiet power of the Maximalist [Bolshevik] faction. I forgot to say yesterday that a charming piece of German propaganda is to have a cartoon and the Russian words ‘Why fight for capitalistic England’ on every sheet of toilet paper in the Russian latrines at the front.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

21 September

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
The Bolsheviks, who form a compact minority, have alone a definite political programme. They are more active and better organized than any other group, and until they and the ideas which they represent are finally squashed, the country will remain a prey to anarchy and disorder ... If the Government are not strong enough to put down the Bolsheviks by force, at the risk of breaking altogether with the Soviet, the only alternative will be a Bolshevik Government.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

22 September

Report in The Times
Russia is a woman labouring in childbirth, and this is the moment chosen by Germany to strike her down. Whatever may be the strict rights of the case, the spirit of history will never forgive her. The liberty which has been painfully born in Russia will rise to vindicate her in the coming generation, and will become the most implacable foe of a future Germany.
(‘Reprisals’, The Times)

23 September

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
In the provinces, the hostility of the peasants towards the workers is increasing and the moujiks are refusing to sell their products to feed the workers, whom they accuse of having caused the economic crisis through their idleness. The workers are doing less and less work because it does not provide them with a living, and because on their part they do not want to do anything for the peasants who refuse to supply them. It is a vicious circle which makes the economic situation more serious every day. The result is armed conflict, pogroms, and disorders of every kind.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)



23 September 2017

Party conference season is upon us and excitement is rising to an almost noticeable level. Actually, that's not entirely fair. There is a good deal of anticipation this year, thanks to Corbyn fever and Maybot uncertainty, with Brexit looming large over everything. The stakes are higher than normal, just as they were for the All-Russian Democratic Conference in Petrograd a hundred years earlier. (Corbyn is no Stalin, but a small amendment to the 17 September quotation has a certain resonance: Either the power of the May Government – and then the rule of the landlords and capitalists, war and chaos. Or the power of the Labour left – and then the rule of the workers and peasants, peace and the liquidation of chaos. ) Nobody really suspected that a month after this conference the country would be in greater turmoil than ever before (though the British ambassador, Buchanan, seems to make a good stab at such a prediction, in a book published six years later). Descriptions of the conference reveal all factions to be in various degrees of confusion and internal strife. Perhaps if its representatives had talked about transitional arrangements that avoided a cliff-edge scenario, leading to a new promised land of fairness and prosperity for all, things might have been different... Soft, not hard, revolution then.

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
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