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) 


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...).

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 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)
By Mark Sutcliffe 30 Sep, 2017
Florence Farmborough at the Russian Front, 1915 (painted from a photograph)
By Mark Sutcliffe 23 Sep, 2017
The man with whom the moderates urged caution, Kerensky, remained pitifully weak, and growing weaker. He struggled, lashed out to shore up his authority. On 18 September he pronounced the dissolution of the Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet. The sailors responded simply that his order was 'considered inoperative'. The Democratic Conference, too, strained for relevance ... The proceedings were outdoing their own absurdity.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

17 September

All power to the Soviets – such is the slogan of the new movement… All power to the imperialist bourgeoisie – such is the slogan of the Kerensky Government. There is no room for doubt. We have two powers before us: the power of Kerensky and his government, and the power of the Soviets and the Committees. The fight between these two powers is the characteristic feature of the present moment. Either the power of the Kerensky Government – and then the rule of the landlords and capitalists, war and chaos. Or the power of the Soviets – and then the rule of the workers and peasants, peace and the liquidation of chaos.
(J. Stalin, ‘All Power to the Soviets’,  The Russian Revolution , London 1938)

18 September

Letter from Sofia Yudina in Petrograd to her friend Nina Agafonnikova in Vyatka
I don’t know much about art, I’d love to know more. If you were here and there was no war, we’d go to the Hermitage, everywhere, and we’d learn. Arkasha would go with us the first few times and teach us how to look, how to see and find the beauty in paintings … But unfortunately, sadly, we can’t do any of this. The Hermitage is closed: it’s being evacuated and only, probably, in about four or five years will it be possible to see pictures in the Hermitage again…
(Viktor Berdinskikh,  Letters from Petrograd: 1916-1919 , St Petersburg 2016)

19 September

Report in the Times headed ‘Good work of Democratic conference’
The conference has lost much of its nervousness and seems to be finding itself. There was a good deal of wandering from the main point, which is to decide the form of government which will be in control until the meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Nor is this to be wondered at when it is considered how little experience the Russian masses have had in conducting politics. There is no doubt that the Conference is realizing the terrible situation in which the country finds itself, and is trying to the utmost to bend its energies in the direction of a solution.
(‘Coalition Probable in Russia’, The Times (from our correspondent))

20 September

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Yesterday’s conference was typical of the political chaos now reigning in this distracted country. First vote was for coalition, second to eliminate those implicated with Kornilov, third to eliminate Kadets, and fourth (submitted for no perceivable reason) overwhelmingly against coalition! Whereupon the somewhat dazed ‘presidium’ decided to enlarge itself and to adjourn conference until 6.00 PM today. The two outstanding facts were the extreme unpopularity of the Kadets and the quiet power of the Maximalist [Bolshevik] faction. I forgot to say yesterday that a charming piece of German propaganda is to have a cartoon and the Russian words ‘Why fight for capitalistic England’ on every sheet of toilet paper in the Russian latrines at the front.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

21 September

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
The Bolsheviks, who form a compact minority, have alone a definite political programme. They are more active and better organized than any other group, and until they and the ideas which they represent are finally squashed, the country will remain a prey to anarchy and disorder ... If the Government are not strong enough to put down the Bolsheviks by force, at the risk of breaking altogether with the Soviet, the only alternative will be a Bolshevik Government.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

22 September

Report in The Times
Russia is a woman labouring in childbirth, and this is the moment chosen by Germany to strike her down. Whatever may be the strict rights of the case, the spirit of history will never forgive her. The liberty which has been painfully born in Russia will rise to vindicate her in the coming generation, and will become the most implacable foe of a future Germany.
(‘Reprisals’, The Times)

23 September

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
In the provinces, the hostility of the peasants towards the workers is increasing and the moujiks are refusing to sell their products to feed the workers, whom they accuse of having caused the economic crisis through their idleness. The workers are doing less and less work because it does not provide them with a living, and because on their part they do not want to do anything for the peasants who refuse to supply them. It is a vicious circle which makes the economic situation more serious every day. The result is armed conflict, pogroms, and disorders of every kind.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)



23 September 2017

Party conference season is upon us and excitement is rising to an almost noticeable level. Actually, that's not entirely fair. There is a good deal of anticipation this year, thanks to Corbyn fever and Maybot uncertainty, with Brexit looming large over everything. The stakes are higher than normal, just as they were for the All-Russian Democratic Conference in Petrograd a hundred years earlier. (Corbyn is no Stalin, but a small amendment to the 17 September quotation has a certain resonance: Either the power of the May Government – and then the rule of the landlords and capitalists, war and chaos. Or the power of the Labour left – and then the rule of the workers and peasants, peace and the liquidation of chaos. ) Nobody really suspected that a month after this conference the country would be in greater turmoil than ever before (though the British ambassador, Buchanan, seems to make a good stab at such a prediction, in a book published six years later). Descriptions of the conference reveal all factions to be in various degrees of confusion and internal strife. Perhaps if its representatives had talked about transitional arrangements that avoided a cliff-edge scenario, leading to a new promised land of fairness and prosperity for all, things might have been different... Soft, not hard, revolution then.

By Mark Sutcliffe 16 Sep, 2017
A half-length portrait of a young female Russian soldier serving with the Russian Women's 'Battalion of Death', 1917. The Battalion was formed by the Provisional Government in Petrograd after the February Revolution. The soldier is carrying a shortened Mosin-Nagant rifle, with bayonet fixed. Her head has been completely shaved (© IWM (Q 106251)
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