30 April - 6 May 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 06 May, 2017

The Bolsheviks influenced minds mainly by means of the printed word. By June, Pravda had a run of 85,000 copies. They also put out provincial papers, papers addressed to special groups (e.g. female workers and ethnic minorities), and a multitude of pamphlets. They paid particular attention to the men in uniform … In the spring of 1917 they distributed to the troops about 100,000 papers a day, which, given that Russia had 12 million men under arms, was enough to supply one Bolshevik daily per company … These publications spread Lenin’s message, but in a veiled form … Such organisational and publishing activities required a great deal of money. Much, if not most, of it came from Germany.
(Richard Pipes,  A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

30 April

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
To summarise my acquaintance [with French ambassador Paléologue] I will say that I judge him less than others … On a purely personal basis I regret that I’m losing a pleasant, lively and amusing companion … Moreover, he has a very low opinion of our government’s mindset, including Kerensky. He has the impression that the Provisional Government is just a continuation of hapless Nicholas II. And therefore it’s the undoubted downfall of the first act of the Russian Revolution.
(Alexander Benois , Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

1 May

Article in The Times
Discussion of developments in Russia is still confined rigidly in Germany to the Socialist Press. For weeks past the non-Socialist organs, although they cannot conceal their excitement about the prospects of the Stockholm plot, have published no serious comment on the Russian situation. But they were moved to paroxysms of joy by the false report of the departure of the British Ambassador from Petrograd. The Cologne Gazette learned from Copenhagen that Sir George Buchanan left the British Embassy secretly, ‘by a back-door’. The Munchner Neuste Nachrichten reported from Berlin that the Ambassador had ‘made himself impossible’ in Petrograd, and would not return. The Berliner Tageblatt, after expressing some slight doubt as to the accuracy of the news, said: ‘The sudden departure of the Ambassador is very natural. It is explained by his recognition that his part is finished, and that there remains nothing for him to do on Russian soil, since the policy pursued by him and, under his influence, by the Provisional Government, has been shattered ... The English statesmen, unless they want to experience fresh disasters, will have to send to the Neva a different Ambassador with quite different instructions.’
('The Plot against Russia',  The Times )

Article in The Times
A great impression has been produced here by General Brusiloff’s latest speech, which points out certain serious shortcomings in the Army and deplores the agitation for the conclusion of a premature peace, the relaxation of discipline, the number of deserters, and the tendency to fraternize with the enemy that has manifested itself since Easter. He stated that the enemy tempted the troops by offers of vodka, and endeavoured to deceive them by proclamations. He mentioned an instance in which the Russian artillery had prepared to fire on Germans advancing with vodka and white flags. He also dwelt on the numbers of deserters, who exercised a baneful influence in the rear, along the railways, and in the villages. He declared that lack of discipline must entail the ruin of Russia.
('Vodka and White Flags', The Times , from our own correspondent in the Balkan peninsula)

4 May

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Russia has slipped further down the dangerous slope. Kerensky becomes Minister for War in the place of Guchkov. Milyukov is expected to be replaced by Tereschenko. Nobody knows yet whether the other Kadets will remain. The situation is serious: and the fact that Sazonov did not leave for London clearly shows the change in Russian policy as it concerns the conduct of the war. The worst is to be feared from Russia, who staged the revolution in order to have peace, and who wants peace at any price … Several people coming from Moscow and Kiev tell me that these two towns are as contaminated as Petrograd. And yet, up to now there have been no serious disturbances in the big centres. It is, rather, a slow disintegration. It is not the same in the country districts. The soldiers charged with keeping order in the surroundings of Orel have joined forces with the peasants. They have pillaged the stocks of alcohol and have set fire to all the estates. The newspapers say that the horizon is a red circle every night in this district.
(Louis de Robien,  The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

5 May

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
By 2 o’clock in the morning of May 5th everything was ready. The portfolios have been quickly assigned, and all the doubtful points settled in this way: Kerensky got the War Ministry and the Admiralty, Pereverzev the Ministry of Justice; Peshekhonov Supply, Skobelev Labour, Tsereteli Posts and Telegraphs. The Coalition had been created. The formal union of the Soviet petty-bourgeois majority with the big bourgeoisie had been ratified in a written constitution … Now only the last act remained, the final chord, the apotheosis.
(N.N. Sukhanov,  The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

Letter to the independent socialist newspaper Novaia zhizn
To All Russian Women and Mothers

We, a group of Russian women and mothers, are joining the protest of the working people against the war. We are also extending our hand to women and mothers the world over. We are deeply convinced that our extended hand will meet the extended hands of mothers the world over. No annexations or indemnities can compensate a mother for a murdered son. Enough blood. Enough of this horrible bloodshed, which is utterly pointless for working people. Enough of sacrificing our sons to the capitalists’ inflamed greed. We don’t need any annexations or indemnities. Instead, let us safeguard our sons for the good of all the working people the world over. Let them apply all their efforts not to a fratricidal war but to the cause of peace and the brotherhood of all peoples. And let us, Russian women and mothers, be proud knowing that we were the first to extend our brotherly hand to all the mothers the world over.
Smolensk Initiative Group of Women and Mothers
(Mark D. Steinberg,  Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

6 May

Declaration by the Second Provisional Government, published in Izvestiia
Reorganised and strengthened by the entrance of new representatives of the Revolutionary Democracy, the Provisional Government declares that it will resolutely and whole-heartedly put into practice the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity - under whose banner the great Russian Revolution has come into being.
( Russian-American Relations March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)


6 May 2017

This week's posting draws on several newspapers - German, Russian and British. In today's Guardian the novelist China Miéville muses on the relevance of the revolution for the world today. In fact he asks a very similar question to the one I put to Russian friends in St Petersburg a few weeks ago: how the government will mark the anniversary in October. 'Would it remember the centenary with celebration or anathema? "They will say there was a struggle," I was told, "and that eventually, Russia won."' He quotes the dissident Bolshevik Victor Serge, writing in 1937: 'It is often said that "the germ of all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning. Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs, a mass of other germs, and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the first victorious socialist revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in the corpse - and which he may have carried in him since birth - is that very sensible?' Miéville makes an interesting point about the revolution turning in on itself: 'Without hope there's no drive to overturn an ugly world. Without pessimism, a frank evaluation of the difficulties, necessities can all too easily be recast as virtues. Thus after Lenin's death the party's adoption of Stalin's 1924 theory of "socialism in one country". This overturned a long commitment to internationalism, the certainty that the Russian revolution could not survive in isolation. The failure of the European revolutions provoked this - it was a shift born of despair. But announcing, ultimately celebrating, an autarchic socialism was a catastrophe. A hard-headed pessimism would have been less damaging than this bad hope.'

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 08 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)
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)
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