3-9 September 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 09 Sep, 2017
Lotarevo estate, Tambov province (former home of the Vyazemsky family)

Across the empire, the Mensheviks were splintering. Some went to the right, as in Baku; at the other extreme, the Mensheviks in Tiflis, Georgia, took a hard-left position for a united socialist government that would include the Bolsheviks … And whether or not dissent took socialist forms, the national aspirations of Russia’s minorities were amplifying … From the 8th to the 15th, the Ukrainian Rada provocatively convened a Congress of the Nationalities, bringing together Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, Lithuanians, Tatars, Turks, Bessarabian Romanians, Latvians, Georgians, Estonians, Kazakhs, Cossacks and representatives of various radical parties … dynamics towards independence in some form were at least implicit.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

3 September

Report in The Times
Petrograd – The Government has issued the following official manifesto declaring the establishment of a Republic:- The rebellion of General Korniloff has been suppressed, but the trouble which the Army has brought upon the country is great. Once again mortal danger threatens the liberty of the Fatherland. Deeming it necessary to define the political status of the country, and taking into consideration the sympathy, unanimity, and enthusiasm for the Republican idea that were so clearly evident at the Moscow Conference, the Provisional Government hereby declares that the political regime of Russia is Republican, and proclaims Russia a Republican State.
('Government Manifesto',  The Times , 3 (16) September 1917)

4 September

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
A Prince Viazemski has been murdered by his peasants – his eyes first put out and his sufferings prolonged for several hours. His young wife was in the house and had to witness it all.
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
Trotsky had been released from prison on September 4th, just as suddenly and causelessly as he had been arrested on July 23rd. Now he became chairman of the Petersburg Soviet; there was a hurricane of applause when he appeared!
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

5 September

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Today the government proclaimed the Republic, in order to satisfy public opinion … and seized the opportunity to double the price of bread. A theoretical price, in fact, because there is none to be had.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

6 September

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Bad news from Finland. The massacres of officers continue. At Viborg half a dozen of them were thrown off the bridge into the river and finished off with gun-shots. At Helsingfors the sailors murdered several navy officers with blows from a hammer. Murders like these are said to be happening almost everywhere, but they have been kept from the public.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

7 September

Report in The Times
The committee system has been most disastrous in its effect upon industries. Workmen are too busy with politics to attend to their duties. Locomotives and rolling stock are not repaired. The complete paralysis of transport, the stoppage of all industries, owing to the shortage of fuel and raw materials, is a question of months or weeks, perhaps days. The output of munitions has declined by 80 per cent.
(‘Russia Today: The Committee System’, The Times , By our Petrograd Correspondent)

8 September

Diary of Nicholas II
We went for the first time to the church of the Annunciation, where our priest has served for a long time. But the pleasure was spoilt for me by the idiotic conditions in which we had to walk there. Sentries were posted all along the path of the town park, where there was no one, while there was a huge crowd at the church! I was deeply upset.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Alekseev has resigned - as rumored last night - on the ground that the government would not agree to his recommendations relative to the restoration of strict discipline in the army! The members of four cavalry regiments have announced that all their officers who are of noble lineage are to be deprived of their commands by order of their men ... I have determined to send Mrs Wright and Butler tomorrow night to spend a few weeks with the Summers. The situation here is not so reassuring as to incline me to leave them here.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)


9 September 2017

The murder of Prince Vyazemsky, mentioned with characteristic flourish (and artistic licence) by our Anonymous Englishman, had happened a couple of weeks earlier and provides an interesting example of differing historical interpretations. In some accounts Vyazemsky is described as a gentle and generous man who built schools, roads and bridges, kept records of seasonal changes on his Lotarevo estate, planted new species of trees and spent most of his time poring over his numerous books on botany and ornithology. The account of his death in the local Tambov paper suggests that it was almost a chance occurrence that led to his brutal murder – that prosaic business of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: ‘The mob who had arrested Prince Vyazemsky made it a condition of his release that he should be sent immediately to the front. The prince agreed to this and was sent under convoy to Gryazi station for further onward despatch to join the Army. At this moment a train with a squadron of soldiers came into the station. Hearing of the incident with Vyazemsky, they immediately started taunting him and after cruel torture the prince was killed by the enraged mob. It later became known that one of the best cultivated estates in Russia – Prince Vyazemsky’s Lotarevo estate – was completely destroyed.’ In his book  A People's Tragedy , Orlando Figes gives  a rather different  version of events: 'This violent wave of destruction seems to have started with the murder of Prince Boris Vyazemsky, the owner of several thousand hectares in the Usman region of Tambov. The local peasants had been demanding since the spring that Vyazemsky lower his rents and return the hundred hectares of prime pasture he had taken from them as a punishment for their part in the revolution of 1905. But on both counts Vyazemsky had refused. On 24 August some 5,000 peasants from the neighbouring villages occupied the estate. Fortified by vodka from the prince's cellars, and armed with pitchforks and rifles, they repulsed a Cossack detachment, arrested Vyazemsky and organised a kangaroo court which decided to despatch him to the Front, "so that he can learn to fight as the peasants have done". But there were also cries of "Let's kill the Prince! We are sick of him!", and he was murdered by the drunken mob before he even reached the nearby railway station.' So gentle botanist or sadistic landowner, murdered on his estate by his peasants or at the station by unruly soldiers - the window into the past is nothing if not opaque.

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)


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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