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 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)

 

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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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