12-18 March 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 18 Mar, 2017

Revolution meant to the small professional man in the crowd that peace with victory was not far off, that he would then be able to return to the same quiet life as he led before the war, retire to a dacha and end his days in peace, undisturbed by mobilization orders and oppressive food restrictions. But Revolution meant to the haggard workmen something very different. It meant that the war indeed would soon be over, but that he would not return to the condition he was in before … The Revolution meant to the peasant soldier … that the memories of his life between 1914 and 1917 would be as a bad dream, and that land … would be at his disposal as soon as he arrived in his village. Beneath the enthusiasm of the common rejoicing in those street meetings one could see that at least three different social types were interpreting the Revolution in three different senses. Which of these types would lead the Revolution? Would it be the well-dressed man with the money-bag, or the timid little professional man, hankering after the paradise that had disappeared? Or would something pale, ragged, hungry – yes, if you like, brutal and raw – build the new altar and make it the shrine of Holy Russia from that day forth?
(M. Philips Price, former correspondent of the Manchester Guardian in Russia,  My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution  , London 1921)

12 March

Diary of Nicholas II, Tsarskoe Selo
We spent this feast day [Annunciation] in unbelievable conditions – under arrest in our own house and without the slightest possibility of communicating either with Mama or our relatives!
(Sergei Mironenko,  A Lifelong Passion  , London 1996)

Letter from Lord Stamfordham, George V's private secretary, to the Foreign Secretary, A.J. Balfour
My dear Balfour,
Every day the King is becoming more concerned about the question of the Emperor and Empress of Russia coming to this country. His Majesty receives letters from people in all classes of life, known or unknown to him, saying how much the matter is being discussed, not only in Clubs but by working men, and that Labour Members in the House of Commons are expressing adverse opinions to the proposal. As you know from the first the King has thought the presence of the Imperial Family (especially of the Empress) in this country would raise all sorts of difficulties, and I feel sure that you appreciate how awkward it will be for our Royal Family who are closely connected both with the Emperor and Empress.

Later the same day:

My dear Balfour,
The King wishes me to write again on the subject of my letter of this morning. He must beg you to represent to the Prime Minister that from all he hears and reads in the Press, the residence in this country of the Ex-Emperor and Empress would be strongly resented by the public, and would undoubtedly compromise the position of the King and Queen from whom it is already generally supposed the invitation has emanated … Buchanan ought to be instructed to tell Milyukov that the opposition to the Emperor and Empress coming here is so strong that we must be allowed to withdraw from the consent previously given to the Russian Government’s proposal.
Yours very truly, Stamfordham
(Sergei Mironenko,  A Lifelong Passion  , London 1996)

13 March

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
Went over to Paléologue, having long ago agreed to visit the World of Art exhibition with him, but instead of that we sat for an hour and a half in his study going through the latest events. He is seriously scared. Against my insistence that universal peace must be sought as soon as possible, he set out a whole scenario of how the entire burden of the war would in this case land on Russia, because whereas the other Allies have a bargaining chip – Mesopotamia, colonies and so forth – Russia doesn’t. At the same time he outlined what he sees as the hopeless situation the country is in, its total disorganisation and effective inability to continue the war. … Suing unilaterally for peace would result in bankruptcy as we wouldn’t benefit from the commercial opportunities with Germany that would come after its final destruction … Some pages or junkers rare on duty at the Embassy. They salute you with particular zeal when you come across them. For some reason I felt very sorry for them. If something were to happen to the Embassy, they’d be the first to perish
(Alexander Benois ,   Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
Alexander Nicolaievitch Benois, the painter and historian of art and a friend of whom I see quite a good deal, has given me an unexpected call. Descended from a French family which settled in Russia somewhere about 1820, he is the most cultivated man whom I know here, and one of the most distinguished … His personal opinions, which are always judicious and far-sighted, are all the more valuable in my eyes because he is eminently representative of that active and well-informed class of professors, savants, doctors, artists, men of letters and publicists which is styled the intelligentsia. He came to see me about three o’clock, just as I was preparing to go out. He looked grave and sat down with a weary sigh: ‘Forgive me if I inconvenience you, but yesterday evening some of my friends and I were indulging in such gloomy reflections that I couldn’t help coming to tell you about them.’ Then he gave me a vivid and, alas, only too accurate picture of he effects of anarchy on the people, the prevailing apathy of the governing classes and the loss of discipline in the army. He ended with the observation: ‘However painful such an admission must be to me, I feel I’m only doing my duty in coming to tell you that the war cannot go on. Peace must be made at the earliest possible moment.’ … My answer was as follows: ‘… In the first place you should know that, whatever may happen, France and England will carry on the war to complete victory. Defection on the part of Russia would probably prolong the struggle, but would not change the result … you may be quite sure that the moment Russia betrays her allies, they will repudiate her. Germany will thus have full license to seek compensation at your expense for the sacrifices imposed on her elsewhere. I certainly do not imagine that you are founding any hopes on the magnanimity of William II … You will therefore lose – as a minimum – Courland, Lithuania, Poland, Galicia and Bessarabia, to say nothing of your prestige in the East and your designs on Constantinople.’ … He continued: ‘There’s no reply to you, alas! Yet we simply cannot continue the war! Honestly, we simply cannot!’ And with those words he left me, the tears standing in his eyes. I have met with the same pessimism on all sides during the last few days.
(Maurice Paléologue,   An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 ,  London 1973) 


14 March

Petrograd Soviet: Call to the Peoples of the World
Comrade-proletarians, and toilers of all countries:
We, Russian workers and soldiers, united in the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, send you warmest greetings and announce the great event. The Russian democracy has shattered in the dust the age-long despotism of the Tsar and enters your family of nations as an equal, and as a mighty force in the struggle for our common liberation. Our victory is a great victory for the free­dom and democracy of the world. The chief pillar of reaction in the world, the 'Gendarme of Europe', is no more. May the earth turn to heavy granite on his grave! Long live freedom! Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat, and its struggle for final victory! Our work is not yet finished: the shades of the old order have not yet been dispersed, and not a few enemies are gathering their forces against the Russian revolution. Nevertheless our achievement so far is tremendous. The people of Russia will express their will in the Constituent Assembly, which will be called as soon as possible on the basis of universal, equal, direct, and secret suffrage. And it may already be said without a doubt that a democratic republic will triumph in Russia. The Russian people now possess full political liberty. They can now assert their mighty power in the internal government of the country and in its foreign policy. And, appealing to all people who are being destroyed and ruined in the monstrous war, we announce that the time has come to start a decisive struggle against the grasping ambitions of the governments of all countries; the time has come for the people to take into their own hands the decision of the question of war and peace… We are appealing to our brother-proletarians of the Austro-German coalition, and, first of all, to the German proletariat. From the first days of the war, you were assured that by raising arms against autocratic Russia, you were defending the culture of Europe from Asiatic despotism. Many of you saw in this a justification of that support which you were giving to the war. Now even this justification is gone: democratic Russia cannot be a threat to liberty and civilization. We will firmly defend our own liberty from all reactionary attempts from within, as well as from without. The Russian revolution will not retreat before the bayonets of conquerors, and will not allow itself to be crushed by foreign military force. But we are calling to you: Throw off the yoke of your semi-autocratic rule, as the Russian people have shaken off the Tsar's autocracy; refuse to serve as an instrument of conquest and violence in the hands of kings, landowners, and bankers — and then by our united efforts we will stop the horrible butchery, which is disgracing humanity and is beclouding the great days of the birth of Russian freedom. Toilers of all countries: We hold out to you the hand of brotherhood across the mountains of our brothers' corpses, across rivers of innocent blood and tears, over the smoking ruins of cities and villages, over the wreckage of the treasuries of civilization; — we appeal to you for the reestablishment and strengthening of international unity. In it is the pledge of our future victories and the complete liberation of humanity.
Proletarians of all countries, unite!
(Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies,  Izvestiia )

Diary of Nicholas II, Tsarskoe Selo
We started to fast, but this fast did not begin happily. After church, Kerensky arrived and asked us to limit our meetings to meal times and to sit separately from the children; this is apparently necessary to appease the famous Workers’ Soviet and the Soldiers’ Deputies! We had to agree, in order to avoid the use of force.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion  , London 1996)

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
At Tsarskoe Selo a closer watch is being kept over the fallen sovereigns. The Emperor still presents an extraordinary spectacle of indifference and imperturbability. He spends, in his calm and casual way, his day skimming the papers, smoking cigarettes, doing puzzles, playing with his children and sweeping up snow in the garden. He seems to find a kind of relief in being at length free of the burden of supreme power. The Empress, on the other hand, has taken to mystical exaltation; she is always saying: ‘It is God who has sent us this ordeal; I accept it thankfully for my eternal salvation.’
(Maurice Paléologue,   An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 ,  London 1973) 

15 March

From A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes
There was a new stress on the workers’ own sense of dignity. They were now aware of themselves as ‘citizens’ , and of the fact that they had ‘made the revolution’ (or had at least played a leading part in it), and they were no longer willing to be treated with any disrespect by either foremen or managers. This was often a spark for violence: offensive factory officials would be symbolically ‘carted out’, sometimes literally in a wheelbarrow, and then beaten up or thrown into the canal or cesspool. Many strikers demanded respectful treatment. Waiters and waitresses in Petrograd marched with banners bearing the demands: WE INSIST ON RESPECT FOR WAITERS AS HUMAN BEINGS! DOWN WITH TIPS: WAITERS ARE CITIZENS! … During the February Revolution a wide range of workers’ armed brigades had sprung up its own militias in the cities. So there was a dual system of police – with the city militias in the middle-class districts and the workers’ brigades in the industrial suburbs – which mirrored the dual power structure in Petrograd. Gradually the workers’ brigades were, albeit loosely, unified under the direction of the district Soviets. But from the start it was the Bolsheviks who had the dominant influence on them.
(Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy , London 1996)

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
I was called out of the Ex. Com. and told that Kamenev [Lev Kamenev, a Bolshevik and at this time one of Lenin’s closest colleagues] wanted to talk to me in the Catherine Hall … I began asking Kamenev what was being done in general and in which direction a ‘line’ was being defined in his party circles. What was Lenin thinking and writing? We strolled about the Catherine Hall for a long time, with Kamenev trying at some length to persuade me that his party was taking up or ready to take up a most ‘reasonable’ (from my point of view) position. … Lenin? Lenin thought that up to now the revolution was being accomplished quite properly and that a bourgeois Government was now historically indispensable. ‘Does that mean you are not going to overthrow the bourgeois Government yet and don’t insist on an immediate democratic regime?’ I tried to get this out of Kamenev. … ‘We here don’t insist on that, nor does Lenin over there. He writes that our immediate task now is to organize and mobilize our forces.’ ‘But what do you think about current foreign policy? What about an immediate peace?’ ‘You know that for us the question cannot be put that way. Bolshevism has always maintained that the World War can only be ended by a world proletarian revolution. And as long as that has not taken place, as long as Russia continues the war, we shall be against any disorganisation and for maintaining the front.’
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record ,  Oxford 1955)

16 March

Speech by Alexander Kerensky in Finland
I came here not only to greet you but to bring the Finnish people the news of its freedom, which the liberated Russian peasant, worker and soldier has given you. From now, comrades, all doubt is dispelled … Comrades, let me tell you today that the enemies of the old regime, all citizens of Finland who carried out political crimes, are from this moment our brothers, and I declare a full amnesty.
(A.F. Kerensky, Diary of a Politician , Moscow 2007)

17 March

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
The most dangerous germ involved in the revolution has been developing during the last few days with the most alarming rapidity. Finland, Livonia, Esthonia, Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Georgia and Siberia, are demanding their independence, or, failing that, complete autonomy. That Russia is doomed to federalism is highly probable.
(Maurice Paléologue,   An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 ,  London 1973) 


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18 March 2017

The British monarchy's ability to see which way the wind is blowing has often been cited as a reason for its longevity. Sometimes it gets it spectacularly wrong, as with the death of Princess Diana twenty years ago this September, when public opinion turned against it and the Queen was forced into a statement she seemed anything but keen to make. Eighty years before that it would seem they made an even worse decision over whether to give sanctuary to Nicholas II and his family. Certainly, knowing the fate of the Russian royal family just over a year later, it's hard to conclude otherwise. And yet it could be argued that this was another example of the British royals' chilly instinct for self-preservation, deciding to withdraw an earlier offer to their Russian cousins in the face of growing public opposition and an increasingly republican tone to public discourse. In a recent doctoral dissertation, Claire McKee tells how the British ambassador in Petrograd, George Buchanan, reported back to London the threat of 'serious consequences' issued by a visiting socialist politician, William Thorne, if Nicholas and Alexandra were allowed to come to England. A few weeks later H.G. Wells was writing 'The tsar is not an evil figure, he is not a strong figure but he is the sort that trails revolution in its wake. He has ended one dynasty already. Our royal family owes it to itself that he brings not the infection of his misfortunes thither.' 

Post-script 1. A bit late for the February anniversary (not untypically – a few years ago a friend and I arrived for a Nabokov conference in St Petersburg exactly a week late), but the city this week (hence the slightly tangential image that heads this post) has been an eye-opener. Not sure what I was expecting – not necessarily banners across Nevsky Prospekt proclaiming the end of empire, but certainly … something. Instead, there is almost universal indifference. A small exhibition here, a private ceremony marking the Provisional Government there, but nothing that comes close to matching the Royal Academy show or the level of interest in the West. Revolutionary fervour in the cradle of the revolution, it seems, is in short supply. The analysis of two Russian friends couldn’t have been more different: nobody has much appetite for celebrating something that has little direct bearing on life today, said one, and in any case is it a cause for celebration, does the Russian government really want to mark a popular uprising that toppled a tsar? You’re too early, said the other, everyone’s gearing up for October (or November new style). So I’ll just have to head out again and find out who’s right. And try not to miss it.

Post-script 2: It's been noted that the comments on this blog are disabled, which I admit was a conscious decision but perhaps a rather cowardly one. So I'm enabling them and let's see what happens (cue deafening silence...).







The 1917 Russian Revolution: week by week

By Mark Sutcliffe 05 Aug, 2017
The event that enabled the Bolsheviks to recover from their July debacle was one of the more bizarre episodes of the Russian Revolution. Known to historians as the Kornilov affair, it resulted from a struggle in Kerensky's mind between his sense that as the head of state in a situation of near-anarchy and a looming German offensive he needed the army's support, and his fear as a socialist intellectual that the army was likely to breed a counterrevolutionary Napoleon.
(Richard Pipes,  A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

30 July


Speech by Elihu Root, President Wilson’s envoy to Russia
No one can tell what the outcome will be, but this is certain, that Russia, tired of the war, worn and harried by war; Russia, which has lost 7,000,000 of her sons, every village in mourning, every family bereaved, Russia has again taken up the heavy burden; she has restored the discipline of her army; she has put away the bright vision of peace and rest, and returned yet again to the sacrifice and the suffering of war in order that she might continue free.
( Russian-American Relations: March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)


31 July

Diary entry of Nicholas II
Our last day at Tsarskoe Selo. After dinner we waited for the time of our departure, which kept being put off. Kerensky suddenly appeared and announced that Misha was coming. And sure enough, at about 10.30 dear Misha walked in accompanied by Kerensky and the captain of the guard. It was wonderful to see him, but awkward to talk in front of outsiders.
(Sergei Mironenko,  A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)


Memoir of Count Benckendorff
The interview lasted ten minutes. The brothers were so moved and embarrassed at having to talk before witnesses that they found scarcely anything to say.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

1 August

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
While Kerensky lives in the Winter Palace and sleeps in the Emperor Alexander’s bed, the Tsar is travelling to Siberia. … The Tsar in Siberia! It seems like a dream … it’s true that it is perhaps the road which will lead him back to the throne. Is it not from there that most of the men of today come into power?
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


2 August

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to the Imperial Court
I still hope that Russia will pull through, though the obstacles in her path – whether they be of a military, industrial or financial character – are appalling. How she is going to find the money to continue the war and to pay the interest on her national debt beats me altogether, and we and the Americans will soon have to face the fact that we shall have to finance her to a very considerable extent if we want to see her carry on through the winter. We cannot, however, be expected to do this till we have proof of her determination to put her house in order by restoring strict discipline in the army and repressing anarchy in the rear. General Korniloff is the only man strong enough to do this, and he has given the Government clearly to understand that unless they comply with his demands and give him the powers which he considers necessary he will resign his command.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)


3 August

On 3 August, the Sixth Russian Social Democratic Workers Party Congress – the Bolshevik Congress – unanimously passed a resolution in favour of a new slogan … No longer did the Bolsheviks call for ‘All power to the Soviets’. Instead they aspired to the ‘Complete Liquidation of the Dictatorship of the Counterrevolutionary Bourgeoisie’.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

4 August

In the cities revolting employees are driving mill­-owners out of their offices. Managers try to stop it, and are thrown into wheel-barrows and ridden out of the plant. Machinery is put out of gear, mate­rials spoiled, industry brought to a standstill. In the army soldiers are throwing down their guns and deserting the front in hundreds of thou­sands. Emissaries try to stop them with frantic appeals. They may as well appeal to a landslide. 'If no decisive steps for peace are taken by Novem­ber first,' the soldiers say, 'all the trenches will be emptied. The entire army will rush to the rear.' In the fleet is open insubordination. In the country, peasants are over-running the estates. I ask Baron Nolde, 'What is it that the peasants want on your estate?' 'My estate,' he answers. 'How are they going to get it?' 'They've got it.'
(Albert Rhys Williams,  Through the Russian Revolution , New York 1921)

5 August

Memoir of Pierre Gilliard, tutor to the tsar's children
We passed the native village of Rasputin, and the family, gathered on deck, were able to observe the house of the staretz, which stood out clearly from the among the isbas. There was nothing to surprise them in this event, for Rasputin had foretold that it would be so, and chance once more seemed to confirm his prophetic words.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Letter to the Central Executive Committee of Soviets from the soldiers’ committee of the 129th Bessarabian Infantry
Comrades!
We, the soldiers of the 129th Bessarab. Inf. Reg., ask you, the Provisional Government, to rescue Russia from the bloody Slaughter. The way it needs to be saved is by making a speedy peace, and then there will be calm and quiet … The strength is in us, the soldiers, in the poor class. If you defend the poor class, then there will be a democratic republic, but if you defend the interests of the capitalists, then Russia is lost. We’ll strangle all the capitalists and you with them. Hold on to the peasant soldier and make a speedy peace – that’s the only way to save Russia. If you continue the war, you’ll let the Germans into Russia, and for us it will be Siberia with the Japanese. So there it is for you, brief and to the point. You don’t scare us with your instructions about the death penalty and iron discipline.
Author of the letter, P. Gurianov, 6th company, For the committee chairman, E. Petrov
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917  , New Haven and London 2001)


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5 August 2017

Albert Rhys Williams was a Congregationalist minister and a correspondent for the New York Evening Post who in 1917, like his more famous compatriot John Reed ( Ten Days that Shook the World ), was fired up by the overthrow of imperial rule to experience for himself the new world order in Russia. His account of the revolution and its aftermath was published in 1921 and retains a spirit of optimism that his great hero, Lenin, was a force for good (in later years he said that he ‘remained true to the Revolution’ and still looked forward ‘to the final triumph of socialism because, like Lenin, I do believe in the essential goodness of man’). While his account may not be entirely reliable – he leant heavily on second-hand sources and interpreters – it makes for a compelling read and falls very much into the category of ‘Russia through my eyes’, which occupies several yards of shelving in the London Library. The problem with such retrospective accounts, even if based on contemporary notes, is the inevitable urge to dramatize and exaggerate. A young girl’s casual mention in a letter to a friend of the increasing truculence of the peasants on her father’s estate in the summer of 1917 can say far more than wild descriptions of mayhem written after the event.















By Mark Sutcliffe 29 Jul, 2017

In the aftermath of the July events, Lvov resigned and Kerensky took over the prime ministership, with wide-ranging powers. He offered Kornilov command of the armed forces. He also ordered that units that had participated in the mutiny be disarmed and the garrison reduced. Pravda and other Bolshevik publications were barred from the front. Yet despite these energetic steps, Kerensky feared a right-wing, monarchist coup more than a repetition of a Bolshevik putsch. Appeasing the Soviet, he failed to deal the Bolsheviks the coup de grace they expected. This saved them: later on Trotsky would write that ‘fortunately our enemies had neither sufficient logical consistency nor determination’.
(Richard Pipes,   A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

23 July

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
We are still without a government although it now transpires that Kerensky, at a meeting of representatives of practically all parties, will be petitioned to form a cabinet of his own choosing … The complete change in Kerensky’s attitude is typical of these extraordinary times. He it is who was at first an idealist, an ultra-Socialist, and contributed more to the demoralization in the army than any one person by countenancing the lack of salute from men to officers and the abolition of the death penalty for desertion. He now has become a conservative, has broken with the Council of Soldiers and Workmen, has assumed the powers almost of a dictator, has restored the salute and the death penalty, and is now sleeping in the Winter Palace in the bed of Emperor Alexander II!!
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

25 July

It took several attempts, but on 25 July Kerensky at last managed to inaugurate the second Coalition Government. It was made up now of nine socialist ministers, a slight majority, but all except Chernov came from their parties’ right wings. In addition, and crucially, they entered cabinet as individuals, not as representatives of those parties, or of the Soviet. In fact the new government … did not recognise Soviet authority. Dual power was done.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Diary of Nicholas II
A new Provisional Government has been formed with Kerensky at its head. Let’s see whether he can do any better. The first task is to re-establish discipline in the army and revive its morale, as well as bringing some order to the internal situation in Russia!
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

26 July

Late on 26 July, in a private hall in Vyborg, 150 Bolsheviks from across Russia came together [for the Sixth Congress]. They assembled in a state of extreme tension and semi-illegality, rudderless, their leaders imprisoned or on the run. Two days after the start of their meeting, the government banned assemblies deemed harmful to security or the war, and the congress quietly relocated to a worker’s club in the south-west suburbs.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
By the end of July a new Bolshevik congress had met. It was already a ‘united’ conference where the party of Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev formally coalesced with the group of Trotsky, Lunacharsky and Uritsky. The leaders couldn’t attend – they could only inspire the congress from afar. But somehow things were managed even without them.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Everyone is interested in the battalions of women soldiers who exercise in the courtyard of the Paul Palace on the Fontanka … people talk of the ‘heroism of the Russian women’ and they get all excited about it … as for myself, I feel that is rather unpleasant histrionics. As far as fighting goes these women can only be thinking of the rough-and-tumble!
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

27 July

Resolution of a meeting of workers in twenty-seven small enterprises from the Peterhof district of Petrograd
On the Crisis of the Authority and the Current Moment
Recognizing the extremely critical condition of the Russian Revolution … we, workers from the small enterprises of the Peterhof district … consider it our duty to state: 1. The new coalition ‘combination’ of the Provisional Government is frankly doomed to failure and to a new downfall in the near future … 3. We demand the immediate repeal of the shameful introduction of the death penalty. If the penalty has been repealed for Nicholas the Bloody and his gang, then shame on those who would reinstate it for the revolutionary soldier.
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

28 July

Diary of Nicholas II
A wonderful day; enjoyed our walk. After lunch we learned from Benckendorff that we are not being sent to the Crimea, but to some remote provincial town three or four days’ journey to the east! Where exactly they haven’t said – even the commandant doesn’t know. And we were all counting on a long stay in Livadia!
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
Got up at 5. A wonderful morning. A blue-grey mist hovered over the lake … I’m reading Bismarck and increasingly convinced of the vanity of all political vanities. On the one hand, how do we get by without them? And on the other, how can we believe a word they say?
(Alexander Benois ,   Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

29 July

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
The Emperor and his family are still at Tsarskoe Selo; no one knows the reason of the postponement of their journey to Siberia. He was told about it and made no objection. It is true that the Empress can’t walk, but I doubt that being the cause … Want of bread brought on the Revolution, and the same may bring a counter-revolution. There is nothing to eat: I suffer most from the absence of butter.
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)


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29 July 2017

So Benois is reading Bismarck. Nicholas II seems to enjoy comic novels like Daudet’s Tartarin de Tarascon . Not sure what Kerensky is reading but probably something rather energetic and improving. Lenin, of course, will be deep into Marxist theory. ‘If you want to know the people around you,’ Stalin is said to have said, ‘find out what they read.’ Meanwhile, in Petrograd and on the front, Bolshevik newspapers such as  Soldatskaia pravda  were being suppressed, though quite a few copies got through disguised as letters. A.F. Ilin-Genevsky, who was on the editorial board of  Soldatskaia pravda , described how the paper ‘had to be made appropriate for an ill-prepared and little-educated reading public … Highfalutin words were absolutely taboo. In order to give the articles a form best suited to soldiers, we almost always changed the articles which we had written, to be simplified if need be … We took into account the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Army consisted of peasants in soldiers’ uniforms.’ Perhaps in his reading tastes, the ordinary soldier at the front was rather closer to the deposed tsar than to the leader of the Bolsheviks.






















By Mark Sutcliffe 22 Jul, 2017

We would like to know, why did [Kerensky] consider it necessary to move into the Winter Palace? Why was it necessary to eat and sleep like a tsar: to tread on elegance and luxury when the only real right to do this was the people’s; for in the future it was to be theirs, as the Museum of Alexander III, as the Hermitage and Tretyakov Gallery. Had Kerensky not been in the palace, the people’s rage wouldn’t have touched a single trinket. Did the prime minister really not know that the political struggle could, at any moment, fling him if not from Nicholas II’s couch, then at least from his chair, that he was putting artistic treasures in the most perilous danger by daring to live amongst them.
(L.M. Reisner in A.F. Kerensky: Pro et Contra , St Petersburg 2016)

16 July

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
I believe the Emperor and his family have been sent to Siberia. I heard this last night. I wonder what effect it will have on the people. I think Kerenski will make himself dictator.
( The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)


17 July

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
Now the question that naturally and inevitably arose was that of a dictatorship. Indeed, three days after Kerensky’s ‘appointment’ as Premier, the Star Chamber appeared before the Central Executive Committee with a demand for a dictatorship.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

18 July

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
I met Kerensky again today, in his khaki uniform (he still does not dare dress like a Cossack), installed like the Emperor in the Imperial Rolls-Royce, with an aide-de-camp covered in shoulder-knots on his left, and a soldier sitting next to the chauffeur … the great man of the Russian revolution is in reality nothing but an inspired fanatic, a case, and a madman: he acts through intuition and personal ambition, without reasoning and without weighing up his actions, in spite of his undoubted intelligence, his forcefulness and, above all, the eloquence with which he knows how to lead the mob – all of which shows how dangerous he is … Fortunately, the career of a personality such as this can only be precarious. Nevertheless, for the moment he is the only man on whom we can base our hope of seeing Russia continue to fight the war, so therefore we must make use of him ... but I fear that he has some terrible disappointments in store for us, in spite of his blustering and in spite of the Draconian measures he has proclaimed. And yet, in Russia you never can tell … perhaps the people will lie down like good dogs as soon as they see the stick.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

19 July

Diary of Nicholas II
It’s three years since Germany declared war on us; it’s as if we had lived a whole lifetime in those three years! Lord, help and save Russia!
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Statement by the Provisional Government to the Allied Powers
In the inflexible decision to continue the war until the complete victory of ideals proclaimed by the Russian Revolution, Russia will not retreat before any difficulties … We know that upon the result of this struggle depends our freedom and the freedom of humanity.
( Russian-American Relations: March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)


Around the country, peasant revolts grew in violence and anarchy continued, especially over the hated war, the catastrophic offensive costing hundreds of thousands of lives. On 19 July, in Atarsk, a district capital in Saratov, a group of angry ensigns waiting for a train to the front smashed the station lanterns and went hunting their superiors, guns at the ready, until a popular ensign took charge, and ordered the officers’ arrest. Rioting soldiers detained, threatened and even killed their officers … By the 19th … the new commander-in-chief [Kornilov] bluntly demanded total independence of operational procedures, with reference only ‘to conscience and to the people as a whole’ … Kerensky began to fear that he had created a monster. He had.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

20 July

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
The shadow of a military dictator grows larger and larger – and I am not disinclined to believe that it is the solution of the question.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
Kislovodsk. The Grand Duchess [Vladimir] received me in her cabinet de travail, and we counted the money which I had brought her in my boots from Petrograd! It was in revolutionary thousand-rouble notes, which she had never seen before.
( The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)

21 July

Resolution from soldiers of the 2nd Caucasus Engineering Regiment
[Our regiment] has allowed its ranks to commit a series of tortures and murders of our citizens over nothing but freedom of speech. Within its ranks there are ignorant men who have trampled upon all the Great human and civil rights; they have dragged speakers off tribunes and even beaten up those who suffered under the old regime for trying to attain freedom … We propose immediately discovering the direct participants in all the crimes … and arresting them and handing them over for trial without mercy or leniency. We will not and cannot allow ignorant people who beat freedom fighters to death in free Russia to go unpunished.
(Mark D. Steinberg,  Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

22 July

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
We awoke to an extraordinary situation of no government this morning! The ministry all resigned last night – being in session until 5.00 AM this morning.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

Arthur Ransome in a letter to his family in England
You do not see the bones sticking through the skin of the horses in the street. You do not have your porter’s wife beg for a share in your bread allowance because she cannot get enough to feed her children. You do not go to a tearoom to have tea without cakes, without bread, without butter, without milk, without sugar, because there are none of these things. You do not pay seven shillings and ninepence a pound for very second-rate meat. You do not pay forty-eight shillings for a pound of tobacco. If ever I do get home, my sole interest will be gluttony.
(Helen Rappaport,  Caught in the Revolution , London 2017)

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22 July 2017

Lenin called Kerensky a ‘Bonapartist’, other contemporary commentators referred to him as a ‘little Napoleon’. The references to dictatorship in this week’s extracts are compelling. In retrospect, Kerensky's decision to move into the Winter Palace in July 1917 on becoming prime minister seems a bit strange. He occupied the former rooms of Alexander III, and was soon nicknamed ‘Alexander IV’. Rumours that he slept in the imperial bed were not true; in fact Kerensky removed the grandest pieces of furniture and portraits, and went around in his trademark semi-military jacket. In his  Interpreting the Russian Revolution , Orlando Figes describes the care Kerensky took over his personal appearance as ‘all part of his vanity – and of his awareness of the importance of public image to the revolutionary minister’. He even wore his right arm in a sling during his tours of the Front, the result, people joked, of too much hand-shaking. He was often photographed in this ‘Napoleonic pose’. Perhaps the imperial instinct was not entirely foreign to Kerensky. The wife of the ex-minister of Justice (whom Kerensky replaced) recalled him expressing a change of attitude after visiting the tsar in Tsarskoe Selo, even admitting regret that people had not really appreciated Nicholas II’s qualities. (There were later rumours of Kerensky helping to fund an unsuccessful attempt to free the imperial family a few weeks later, when they were already in Tobolsk – but these remain unsubstantiated.) A ‘little Napoleon’, assuming the trappings of office, making speeches in royal palaces – perhaps M. Macron, the new president of France, should take heed…


 














 

By Mark Sutcliffe 15 Jul, 2017

The city rose in tears and blood, in hunger and cold, in the forced labour of myriads of the starved and beaten. Their bones lie buried deep in the mud below. But their outraged spirits seem to live again in the Petrograd workingmen of today – spirits powerful and avenging. The serfs of Peter built the city; presently their descendants will be coming into their own. It does not appear thus in midsummer 1917. The black shadow of reaction hovers over them. But the Bolsheviks bide their time. History, they feel, is on their side. Their ideas are working out in the villages, in the fleet and at the front. To these places I now make my way.
(Albert Rhys Williams,  Through the Russian Revolution , New York 1921)

9 July

It seemed as if the disaster of the July days had set the Bolsheviks back years. Steklov was arrested. The authorities ransacked the house of Anna Elizarova, Lenin’s sister [Lenin was in hiding in Finland]. They took Kamenev on the 9th. By the late days of the month, Lunacharsky and Trotsky had joined many of the Bolshevik leaders, and other activists, in Kresty prison, where the guards stoked up the criminals against the ‘German spies’.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

10 July

Tutor Piotr Petrov to Grand Duchess Olga, Nicholas II’s daughter
The good Lord has allowed me to live until Your name-day, my dear unforgettable pupil, dearest Olga Nicolaevna! If the good fairies of the stories really existed on this earth, I would ask them to bestow all the good wishes , which only those fantastical creatures are able to grant! I, as You are very well aware, am not a fairy, nevertheless from the depths of my heart and affection for you, I want to wish you the one thing, which is more precious than anything else on this earth: physical health and mental balance! Everything else will follow. Goodbye until the next time! Please send my respectful greetings to Mama, Papa, Alexei Nicolaevich and your sisters. May God keep You! Your old P.V.P.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)


11 July

Diary of Nicholas II
In the morning I went for a walk with Alexei. On our return, I learnt of Kerensky’s arrival.

Memoir of Count Benckendorff
On the 11th July, at 11 o’clock in the morning, Kerensky came to the Emperor to report that the situation in the town had become alarming and he thought it would be more prudent for His Majesty and his family to leave, and to settle in the interior of the country. He said that he himself and the Emperor were in great danger. The Bolsheviks ‘are after me, and then will be after you’.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

12 July

Report in The Times of an interview given to the press by Kerensky on his return from the front
The Provisional Government has no other object but the defence of the State against disruption and anarchy, and the safety of the Army. Relying upon the confidence of the masses and the Army, the Government will save Russia and weld her unity by blood and iron if argument and reasons of honour and conscience are not sufficient … The situation at the front is very serious and demands heroic measures, but I am convinced that the organization of the State is sufficiently vigorous to be cured without partial amputation. In any case, the Provisional Government will do its duty, and by enlarging and strengthening the gains of the Revolution will resolutely put an end to the criminal activity of mad traitors.
(‘M. Kerensky Resolved on Heroic Measuress’, The Times )

13 July

Memoir of Fedor Raskolnikov, naval cadet at Kronstadt
During the night of July 13, when I was already asleep on my ship, Comrade Pokrovsky, a Left SR member of the Kronstadt Executive Committee, summoned me urgently to the Soviet. When I arrived he showed me a telegram … [that] required him immediately to arrest Roshal, Remnev and me and send us to Petrograd … True, it would not be difficult to organise a flight to Finland. But we were the object not only of political accusations – the entre press and so-called ‘public opinion’ were openly making monstrous insinuations about our having collaborated with the Germans, acting as their agents … I realised, of course, that a Party leader like Comrade Lenin had to stay out of prison by all possible means … The Party had waited too long for Lenin, and wandered long enough in the darkness for lack of his clear firm tactics, to let itself be deprived of his leadership, even for a single day.
(F.F. Raskolnikov, Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917 , New York 1982, first published 1925)

15 July

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The funeral of the Cossacks killed in the rioting took place today in Saint Isaac’s. … Troops marched past, with the Cossacks in perfect order but with the other troops far from brilliant … The parents walked behind each hearse, accompanied by the friends of the victims, and it was touching to see these worthy peasants, who had come from the Urals or the Caucasus to follow their sons’ coffins, being comforted by other Cossacks … Then followed the dead Cossacks’ horses, in their harness; one of them had been seriously injured and was limping pitifully behind its master’s coffin. On another horse the dead man’s son, a little Cossack of about ten years old, had been put up into the saddle. At present, the Cossacks are the only element of order. It is said that they have received large rewards for keeping order, from various banks. Whatever the truth may be, one can count on them for the moment. But although this may be sufficient for Petrograd, I doubt if they will be able to stop the landslide in the country districts and at the front.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


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15 July 2017

The role of the Cossacks in the revolution is an interesting one. In an article by Gregory Tschebotarioff in 1961 the author looks back on a conference in July 1917 in Berdichev, Ukraine, attended by about 200 delegates of Cossack units from the front. He describes the support shown to the Cossacks by the (primarily Jewish) population, particularly in the context of the recent funerals in Petrograd, described above. His explanation for this reception lies in the ‘Order No. 1’ issued shortly after the tsar’s abdication, which removed the disciplinary powers of Russian army officers and led (in the author’s opinion) to the collapse of the Russian army. The infantry, which far outnumbered the Cossack troops, ‘had little or no inner discipline, which led to their rapid adherence to Bolshevik slogans for immediate separate peace’. The Cossacks, on the other hand, described by Tschebotarioff as mostly ‘well-to-do and hence conservative farmers’, were united by a mistrust of anarchy and a deep-rooted conservatism that led them to actively support Kerensky’s Provisional Government. This in itself was something of a shift in allegiance, as another witness, describing the February revolution fifty years later, describes: ‘Most remarkably, Cossacks on their big horses rode around with banter or curious-questioning looks at the people. “No, we won’t fire”, they soon assured those who asked. Finally, when a mounted police inspector attacked a demonstration leader, a Cossack charged at him with a flashing saber, severing the inspector’s hand with one swift flash. The news spread all over the capital, giving the rebels great courage. It was a thing of wonder, truly: the Cossacks, these watchdogs of the throne, these sworn foes of plain people for centuries, were coming over to the people’s side.’ October and civil war, of course, still lay ahead.








By Mark Sutcliffe 08 Jul, 2017
The government, under siege and virtually without armed defenders, sat as if paralyzed. It was its good fortune that the Minister of Justice took matters into his own hands and released to the press a small part of the evidence in his possession on Bolshevik dealings with the Germans. The information, which quickly reached the garrison troops, produced on them an electrifying effect. In the late afternoon, army units reached Taurida Palace ready to make short shrift of the Bolsheviks and their followers. The mutineers, along with sympathetic workers, ran for cover. By nightfall, the putsch was over.
(Richard Pipes,  A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

2 July


Report in The Sunday Times
According to a cable from Petrograd, the Russian offensive is having a favourable effect on the general political situation. The leaders of the social revolutionaries and the Minimalists – who represent the bulk of the Russian Socialists – advocate the necessity of supporting the offensive and suppressing anarchy. The hopes of many Russian Socialists, who expected the German Socialists to accept the Russian peace terms, have been disappointed in consequence of which they, too, have changed their attitude to the offensive, says the Central News. On the other hand, the Bolsheviki, who have been connected with the Anarchists, have recently lost ground owing to the compromising relations of the latter with spies and criminals.
(Report in The Sunday Times)

3 July

Report in The Times
Owing to the general satisfaction now prevailing here the efforts of extremist agitators to unite the population against the Government and against the continuance of the war seem likely to result in total failure.
('Extremists at a Discount',  The Times , from our own correspondent, Odessa)

4 July

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
I went out into the street around 11 o’clock. At the first glance it was obvious that the disorders had begun again. Clusters of people were collecting everywhere and arguing violently. Half the shops were shut. The trams had not been running since 8 o’clock that morning.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Today seemed like a repetition of revolutionary days. The ‘Bolsheviks’, or extreme and anarchistic side, are in open revolt and up to late in the afternoon were in almost complete control of the city. Kronstadt sent its quota of sailors, too, which made matters very ugly and at 3.00 PM, as dangerous a mob as I ever hope to see – composed of half-drunken sailors, mutinous soldiers and armed civilians – paraded through our street, threatening people at the windows, and drinking openly from bottles.
( 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
Liteiny Street was a heartrending sight: dead horses, their skins taut and shining from the shower that had just fallen, lay in the wet roadway between the pools of water, some of which were tinged with red … A lot of inquisitive people had already gathered to rob the horses of their harness, but we did not see any more armed men. Neither did we see any dead or wounded: we are told that there are a great number of them, which seems probable considering the number of horses killed.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

Letter from Aleksei Peshkov [Maxim Gorky] to his wife E.P. Peshkova from Petrograd
Matters are becoming more and more muddled, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that a civil conflict is inevitable here. To judge by the mood, the fighting promises to be brutal. There are meetings on the streets at night and a wild fury has flared up. Counter-revolutionary forces are actively organising themselves, while the revolutionaries just spout rhetoric. In general, things aren’t too cheerful … That fool Burtsev has announced in the newspapers that he will soon identify a provocateur and spy whose name will ‘stun the whole world’. The public has already started to speculate and has guessed that the person in question is M. Gorky. You think I’m joking? Not in the least. I’m already getting letters with salutations such as ‘to the traitor Judas, chief German spy and provocateur’ … Oh, how hard it is to live in Russia! How foolish we all are, how fantastically foolish!
( Maksim Gorky: Selected Letters , Oxford 1997)


Memoir of Princess Paley
The Bolshevist proceedings made us tremble for the life of the imprisoned Sovereigns. Everything was disorganised – the army had gone, honour had gone. The Revolutionaries had realised that if the army had remained intact, the Revolution sooner or later would come to an end. To save the Revolution they sacrificed the army. What remorse, what terrible feelings of guilt men’s consciences have to bear! But the Russian Revolutionaries have no conscience!
(Princess Paley,   Memories of Russia, 1916-1919  , London 1924)

5 July

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
No definite news as to casualties of last night. One hundred and eighty ‘Bolsheviks’ rumoured killed … Public sentiment is suddenly turning against these extremists.
( 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
The streets are deserted, and the town is a dead place. It is raining. 
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


6 July

Memoir of Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
The Government had suppressed the Bolshevik rising and seemed at last determined to act with firmness … Kerensky had returned from the front on the evening of July 19 [6], and had at once demanded, as a condition of his retaining office, that the Government should have complete executive control over the army without any interference on the part of soldiers’ committees, that an end should be put to all Bolshevik agitation, and that Lenin and his associates should be arrested. The public and the majority of the troops were on the side of the Government, as their indignation had been aroused by the publication of documents proving that the Bolshevik leaders were in German pay.
(Sir George Buchanan,  My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

Diary of Nicholas II
Luckily, the overwhelming majority of the troops in Petrograd remained faithful to their duty, and order has again been re-established on the streets. The weather was wonderful. Went for a good walk with Tatiana and Valia. In the afternoon we worked successfully in the woods – we cut down and sawed up four pine trees. In the evening I started Tartarin de Tarascon.
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)


Memoir of Count Benckendorff
Prince Lvov, having resigned, for several days we were without Government, and Kerensky had taken refuge with his family in the Grand Palais at Tsarskoe, giving dinners at the expense of the Court, driving about Pavlovsk in the Emperor’s carriage.
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

7 July

Memoir of Manchester Guardian correspondent M. Philips Price
As usually happens, when the political atmosphere is charged, a spark from any quarter sets the magazine alight. There was in Petrograd at this moment a number of forty-year-old soldiers, who had been released for field work in the northern provinces. They had been ordered to return to take part in the offensive. Imagine the effect that this order of the Coalition Government had on these men. After three years of suffering and misery in fighting for hated Tsarism, they had been told that peace was at hand. A few days in their home, working at the harvest, in their domestic haunts with their families, had but whetted their appetite for peace. Now suddenly they were ordered to return without any hope being offered them that the end of the war was within  measurable distance. It is necessary to understand the psychology of these men in order to grasp the true significance of what happened afterwards in Petrograd and in other parts of the country. Out on the streets these forty-year-old soldiers, together with the machine gun division, went, spurred on by a blind feeling that they must have it out with their rulers, who had betrayed them.
(M. Philips Price,  My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution , London 1921)


Letter to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets from the peasant Ivan Pastukhov, Vologda Province
Citizens of our Great Russia, workers’ and soldiers’ deputies,
We, the peasants of Vologda Province, beg you to help our families in their time of Need since we, their fathers, were drafted into military service and got sick in the service: some have rheumatism, some typhus, any and every kind of sickness; we can’t work at all, the hayfield goes uncultivated, there is no life-sustaining food at all, and all because of the war. Comrades, we beg of you, end this bloody drama as soon as possible. It isn’t a war – it’s the extermination of the people.
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

Kerensky was furious that the government had not been able to take control of the situation during his absence at the front. He was determined that its replacement, formed on 7 July, under his premiership and supplanting a demoralised Prince Lvov, would be allowed 'dictatorial powers in order to bring the army back to discipline'. ... Retaining his role as Minister of War, Kerensky appointed as commander-in-chief of the army General Kornilov, whose immediate response was to call for the restoration of courts martial and capital punishment for desertion at the front.
(Helen Rappaport,  ´╗┐Caught in the Revolution ´╗┐, London 2017)


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8 July 2017

I’ve probably been studying Russian history since about 14 (further confirmation, in my children’s eyes, of a truly ‘sad’ childhood), but I had failed to clock that the October revolution could so easily have been the July revolution. China Miéville paints a vivid picture in his book October of the events in early July, as reflected in this week’s extracts. There seem to be so many disparate elements struggling for control: the First Machine Gunners regiment, different factions within the Bolsheviks, the Kronstadt sailors, the increasingly precarious Coalition Government, still being propped up by the Soviet in the Tauride Palace as it pursued its own line.  Everyone jostling to control events that seemed to change direction by the minute.

At 7.45pm on 3 July a truck ‘bristling with weapons’ drove up to the Baltic Station in Petrograd to intercept and arrest Kerensky – but missed him by minutes. Lenin was still in Finland but returned early the following morning. His address to the demonstrators was ‘uncharacteristically brimstone free’: he felt it was too soon for the decisive moment. In the afternoon of 4 July, the mood turned increasingly violent. As the demonstrators converged on the Tauride Palace and one of the Soviet leaders, Chernov, came out to address them, a worker shook his fist in his face and bellowed, ‘Take power, you son of a bitch, when it’s given to you!’ According to Miéville the heat was taken out of the revolutionary fervour by a rumour initiated by the government that they had evidence of Lenin’s links with Germany – that the Bolshevik leader was essentially a German spy. The rumours were never corroborated, and eventually suppressed, but it’s interesting how political upheaval breeds such accusations, and how ‘the enemy within’, whether from Germany then or Russia now, remains a powerful image.








By Mark Sutcliffe 01 Jul, 2017
Emmeline Pankhurst and Maria Bochkareva with the Women's Death Battalion, June 1917
By Mark Sutcliffe 24 Jun, 2017
Soldiers at the political demonstration in Petrograd on 18 June 1917
By Mark Sutcliffe 17 Jun, 2017

12 June

At the front, the war crawled on. A strange infrastructure of death. Beyond fields of rye and potatoes and grazing cows, deep in thick woods, Red Cross tents loomed in forest clearings … Trench-drenched soldiers the colour of the ripped-up earth taking what hours of respite they could, drinking tea from tin mugs. Alternate rhythms of boredom and terror … The rage of machine guns, the visitations of bad spirits, twelve-inch shells nicknamed for the witch Baba Yaga, screaming in to tear the world apart.
(China Miéville,  October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
It was proposed to organise an ‘official Soviet’ workers’ and peasants’ peaceful demonstration the following Sunday, June 18th, in Petersburg, and in other cities as far as possible … The idea of this demonstration revealed the triumph of a softer line within the Star Chamber with respect to the Bolsheviks. In any case the June 18th demonstration was the tribute of vice to virtue. The resolution was, of course, passed in the absence of the Bolsheviks. It goes without saying that the Bolsheviks had no ground for objection either.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

13 June

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
My articles against the law banning the export of works of art have not appeared. … Stip [the artist Stepan Yaremich] is convinced that this is Faberge’s doing and that they’re planning to close the antique shop and thereby create a huge fall in the value of art. [Artist Osip] Braz thinks the same … he thinks Agafon Karlovich Faberge is just a dealer and a roguish swindler.
(Alexander Benois ,   Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)


15 June

Report in  The Times
A representative conference of seafaring men held in London yesterday decided that the embargo placed on the journey of Mr Ramsay MacDonald and Mr Jowett to Petrograd should be maintained … Before any resolution was moved, Captain Grace, one of the delegates, said that they were determined to carry on the struggle with the enemy to the last ship and the last man. In granting passports to Mr Ramsay MacDonald and Mr Jowett, the Government were not playing the game. The two men were known to be pro-German pacifists.
('Ban on Russian Journey to be Maintained',  The Times)


16 June

On June 16, the Russian army struck. The brunt of the assault fell on the Southern front, against Lwow and Galicia. But the offensive, in which the Eighth Army under Kornilov distinguished itself, dissipated as soon as the Germans came to the Austrians’ aid. At the sight of the German uniforms, the Russians fled in panic. The June operation was the dying gasp of the Russian army.
(Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

17 June

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
Arrived Petrograd at 11.30 a.m. No porters and no cabs; commandeered private two-horse carriage, which took me to the hotel for 5 roubles – five times ordinary price! My case of Crimean wine, too heavy for luggage van, travelled under conductor’s bed. Streets filthy.
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)

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17 June 2017

I’ve no idea whether Alexei Navalny, Russia’s main opposition leader, is following the course of the revolution centenary, but it is interesting that his mass anti-corruption rallies took place in the same week, a hundred years on, as the huge demonstrations convened by the Soviet against the Provisional Government. Their description as ‘provocative acts, dangerous to bystanders’ which would ‘be met with the full force of the law’ belongs to Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, but very similar words were used by government representatives in June 1917. Again, it’s easy to force the parallels, but there’s at least one blogger who describes Navalny as ‘trying to become the first Russian politician since Vladimir Lenin to seize power from outside the system’.










By Mark Sutcliffe 10 Jun, 2017

All over the country disorders, anarchy, seizures, violence and ‘republics’ still continued; people took the law into their own hands, soldiers mutinied, and regiments disbanded … The Bolshevik Central Committee controlled most of the Workers’ Section in the Soviet, as well as the majority of the Petersburg proletariat.
(N.N. Sukhanov,   The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record  , Oxford 1955)

4 June

Memoir of Princess Paley
Thus passed the months of May and June, 1917. One would have liked to find something to relate but nothing happened apart from the incoherence of the regime of Kerensky, who inspired everyone with a feeling of profound contempt … Kerensky, blinded by his imaginary glory, saw and heard nothing else. Denying himself no fantastic notion, he went so far as to install himself in the Winter Palace and to sleep in the bed of the Emperor Alexander III. This offensive proceeding created more enemies for him than he had already.
(Princess Paley,  Memories of Russia, 1916-1919 , London 1924)

5 June

Memoir of Albert Rhys Williams
Chiedze, the President of the Soviet Congress, asked my why I came to Russia. ‘Ostensibly as a journalist’, I told him. ‘But the real reason is the Revolution. It was irresistible. It drew me here like a magnet. I am here because I could not stay way.’
(Albert Rhys Williams, Through the Russian Revolution , New York 1921)

6 June

Note from Secretary Lansing, explaining the Aims of the American Extraordinary Mission to Russia
The High Commission now on its way from this country to Russia is sent primarily to manifest to the Russian Government and people the deep sympathetic feeling which exists among all classes in America for the adherence of Russia to the principle of democracy … To stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder against autocracy, will unite the American and Russian peoples in a friendship for the ages.
( Russian-American Relations: March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)


7 June

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Had a touch of the Russian Foreign Office secret service yesterday in an attempt to run down accusations against an American woman correspondent here, against whom the cumulative evidence is not reassuring. Very warm - and a perfect plague of flies.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

8 June

Enemy aeroplanes had been over about 4 a.m. and awakened us; discontented murmurings came from most beds. We took turns in washing, with as little water as possible. Once or twice we had tried to persuade Rupertsov, our tent-boy, to scrounge another bucketful for us. He would screw his face up and shake his head. Smirnov’s tent was next door to the water-cart and woe betide the person who tried to steal more than his share, for Smirnov knew each one’s quota to a spoonful. Our water-cart had to go to Bojikov to be filled, so we had been warned not to be extravagant.
(Florence Farmborough,  Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914-18 , London 1974)

9 June

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
On June 9th proclamations signed by the Bolshevik Central Committee and the Central Bureau of the Factory Committees were pasted up in the working-class districts. These proclamations summoned the Petersburg proletariat to a peaceful demonstration against the counter-revolution at 2 o’clock on June 10th.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)


Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Lubersac, who has just returned from the front, is more pessimistic than ever; anarchy is gaining ground and the artillery, which up till now had resisted the infection better than anyone, is beginning to be contaminated … He mentioned the names of several officers who have been murdered by their men. One of them was buried with great pomp by the very men who had killed him. They had invited the Germans, and it is said that a German band marched at the head of the funeral procession. There are many cases of Russians fraternizing with Germans. Sometimes it ends badly: in one village the Russian troops had invited the Germans to a big banquet, but the German officers who came refused to sit down at the same table as their men and the Russian soldiers. The tovariches were offended, and it ended in a battle … I do not know whether it is one which is mentioned in despatches.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

Diary of Nicholas II
It’s exactly three months since I came from Mogilev, and that we are here like prisoners. It’s terribly hard to be without news of dear Mama, but as to the rest, I’m indifferent.
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)


Memoir of Pierre Gilliard, tutor to the Tsar’s children
As the Grand Duchesses were losing all their hair as the result of their illness, their heads have been shaved. When they go out in the park they wear scarves arranged so as to conceal the fact. Just as I was going to take their photographs, at a sign from Olga Nicolaevna they all suddenly removed their headdress. I protested, but they insisted, much amused at the idea of seeing themselves photographed like this, and looking forward to seeing the indignant surprise of their parents. Their good spirits reappear from time to time in spite of everything. It is their exuberant youth.
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

10 June

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
The ‘Bolsheviks’, or ultra-socialists who have been trying to make trouble for the government for some weeks, announced yesterday that they intended a peaceful demonstration against the government for today. The Provisional Government promptly announced, by placards in the streets, that all gatherings were prohibited for the next three days and that any such that might be held would be dispersed by force! Whereupon the Pravda, the labor publication that has given us all so much cause for anxiety lately, in its edition of this morning said that such meetings should not be held. It is to be considered as another proof of the government’s returning strength and of the opinion in general that the extremists have been too radical.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

The Bolsheviks sought to exploit the war-weariness by staging a second mass demonstration on June 10 – this time, with the participants fully armed – in order to embarrass the government and, should the opportunity present itself, overthrow it. The event, which had aroused considerable opposition in the Bolshevik Central Committee as premature, was cancelled at the last moment on the insistence of the Soviet. But even as they yielded, the Bolsheviks put the Soviet on notice that in the future they would not be bound by its wishes.
(Richard Pipes,   A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)


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10 June 2017


It’s often the details that speak loudest. The tentative steps towards a new reality. Mieville describes how when Brusilov became Commander-in-Chief his willingness to work with soldiers’ committees was seen as treachery by the army old-guard, but his dealings with ordinary soldiers had a certain Theresa May gaucheness to it: he would try to show his democratic credentials by greeting ordinary soldiers with a handshake, thereby creating a considerable commotion and fumbling of weapons. The worsening situation with food by June was starkly embodied by the skeletal horses on the streets of Petrograd. Meanwhile, the political momentum was definitely turning more radically left. On 4 June, at the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, Tsereteli, a Menshevik minister in the Coalition government, declared that ‘there is no political party in Russia which at the present time would say “Give us power”’. To which a voice rang out from the back of the hall, ‘There is such a party’. Corbyn. I mean, Lenin.























By Mark Sutcliffe 03 Jun, 2017
Kerensky visiting the front, summer 1917
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