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 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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