10-16 September 1917

  • 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)

A large section of the propertied classes preferred the Germans to the Revolution – even to the Provisional Government – and didn’t hesitate to say so. In the Russian household where I lived, the subject of conversation at the dinner-table was almost invariably the coming of the Germans, bringing ‘law and order’ … One evening I spent at the house of a Moscow merchant; during tea we asked the eleven people at the table whether they preferred ‘Wilhelm or the Bolsheviki’. The vote was ten to one for Wilhelm.
(John Reed,  Ten Days that Shook the World , New York 1919)

11 September

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Of the German offensive against this capital I have at the moment no fear. Of the results of the ineptitude of the Provisional Government, the possible outbreak of disorder, the probable riots that might then ensue, I have some fear – or if not fear at least I feel that we should be prepared for such eventualities.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)


Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
At dinner last night with Prince Gorchakov everybody was very pessimistic. M. Narichkin, who came in during the evening, said that peace must be made at all costs by giving the Germans everything they want. The whole of Russia basically thinks the same as he does: but there are still people who dare not say so.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

12 September

Letter from Lenin to the Central Committee and and the Petrograd and Moscow Committees of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
 Why must the Bolsheviks assume power now? Because the impending surrender of Petrograd will render our chances a hundred times less favourable. And while the army is headed by Kerensky and Co. it is not in our power to prevent the surrender of Petrograd … A separate peace between the British and German imperialists must be prevented, and can be prevented, but only by quick action … It would be naïve to wait for a ‘formal’ majority for the Bolsheviks; no revolution ever waits for that. Kerensky and Co. are not waiting either; they are preparing to surrender Petrograd … Power must be assumed in Moscow and Petrograd at once (it does not matter which begins; even Moscow may begin); we shall win absolutely and unquestionably.
V.I. Lenin, ‘The Bolsheviks Must Assume Power’, in The Russian Revolution: Writings and Speeches from the February Revolution to the October Revolution , London 1938)


As for Kamenev’s and Zinoviev’s suggestion that the party await a popular mandate from the Second Congress of Soviets, [Lenin] dismissed it as ‘naïve’: ‘no revolution waits for that’. The Central Committee was far from convinced: according to Trotsky, none of its members favoured an immediate insurrection.
(Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

13 September

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
Yesterday to Tsarskoye Selo to wish the Grand Duke Boris ‘Good-bye and Good Luck.’ He was very sad, and said, ‘You are my last link with civilisation.’ On my return, went to the Embassy to thank His Excellency and Lady Georgina for their infinite kindness to me during my sojourn in Russia. This morning left Petrograd at 7.30 for England.
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)

14 September

Interview given by Kerensky to Le Figaro , reported in the Times
I maintain hope and confidence that the country will revive. The time has come when we are going to reclimb the slope, and we shall get to the top … we have attracted to our front rather more than half the total forces of the Central Empires. We had to bear a tremendous effort on the part of the enemy, but we have pulled ourselves together, and we shall do everything to face the formidable necessities of the situation in order to attain the success of our Armies ... The enemy has made skilful use of the circumstances in order to throw suspicion on our faithfulness and loyalty as an ally. Only the German Press could have spoken of a separate peace. Russia will never make a separate peace. No man would ever consent to put his signature to such a treaty. Such an idea must be excluded alike from the hopes of our enemies and the fears of our Allies.

(‘Russia will never make a separate peace’, The Times )

15 September

Report in the Times
The military section of the Soviet has voted a motion demanding the dissolution of the so-called ‘shock’ battalions for the following reasons:- (1) From the point of view of principle it is inadmissible that there should be in the Army groups of privileged solders who arrogate to themselves the right to die for the liberty of the country, when the right belongs to all soldiers. (2) The ‘shock’ battalions place the Russian Army in the position of an Army which refuses to defend liberty. (3) The ‘shock’ battalions diminish the capacity of the Army by creating, on the one side, a category of heroes, and, on the other, a mass of conscienceless soldiers.

(‘Soviet’s Objections to “Shock” Battalions’,  The Times )

16 September

A Prekaz [Order] has been circulated; it directs that, in the event of withdrawal from Roumanian territory, Russian soldiers are strictly forbidden to ill-treat the peasantry, or to steal from them. Another Prekaz, this time from the Roumanian High Command, forbids all sale of foodstuffs to the Russians. I must admit that my sympathies lie with the Roumanians; the Russians are really bad allies, they have lived so long in Galicia, where they considered everything theirs by right … The newspapers hint that Kerensky may resign, as so many people – including some of his own supporters – are advocating a military dictatorship.
(Florence Farmborough, Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914-18 , London 1974)



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16 September 2017

For most of the year the Russian press has been fairly underwhelmed, it appears, by the centenary of the Revolution. But a new film, Matilda , about Nicholas II’s relationship with the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, has unleashed a media storm this week. A young Duma member, Natalya Poklonskaya, is leading the attack, saying that anyone who watches this ‘blasphemy’ is complicit in its offence against the Orthodox faith (Nicholas having been canonised in 2000). Even Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky has weighed in, though since the film isn’t on general release until October, it seems unlikely that many have seen it. It’s interesting that a few seamy scenes of the last Emperor and his mistress are portrayed as an attack on the church and somehow, by association, the government. In 1917, postcards depicting the deposed Emperor engaged in all kinds of unmentionable acts were part of governmental strategy to vilify his regime. Hard to get one’s head round, but sometimes it seems that contemporary Russia is far more in thrall to tsarist nostalgia than the democratic ideals that were still fighting for life exactly a century ago.

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 31 Dec, 2017
Russian Christmas postcard, 1917
By Mark Sutcliffe 16 Dec, 2017
Child's drawing of a Bolshevik, November 1917. The flag reads 'Down with the war and the bourgeois'; the child's inscription reads 'The Bolshevik. A Bolshevik is someone who is against the war'. (State Historical Museum, Moscow) 
By Mark Sutcliffe 09 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)
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