25 June - 1 July 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 01 Jul, 2017
Emmeline Pankhurst and Maria Bochkareva with the Women's Death Battalion, June 1917

The lesson of the Russian Revolution is that there is no escape for the masses from the iron grip of war, famine and enslavement to the landlords and capitalists, unless they completely break with the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties, unless they clearly recognise the treacherous role of the latter, unless they renounce all compromise with the bourgeoisie and decidedly come over to the side of the revolutionary workers. Only the revolutionary workers, if supported by the poor peasants, can smash the resistance of the capitalists.
(V.I. Lenin, Lessons of the Revolution, The Russian Revolution by V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin, London 1938)

25 June

Letter to working women from Maria Kutsko, a worker at the Petrograd Munitions Work
Comrade Women workers! Not long ago we won higher wages for women at the Munitions Works, and this ought to show us how great is the strength and significance of organization. What would we have achieved if we acted alone, by ourselves? Absolutely nothing! Until 7 June we women workers got only four roubles [a day], which … was hard for many to live on, especially for working women with families whose husbands were in the war … The general meeting went very well. Only one comrade expressed an idea that it is completely impossible to agree with. He said that women will work in the factories only until the end of the war, but after the war is over, they will in all likelihood quit the factories. But we are sure, comrades, that this will not be the case. Where can those women workers go whose husbands, fathers and brothers return home as cripples, unfit for labour? Who will support their helpless families and children if not we working women? Further, this comrade said that we women workers should not do dirty work in the factories, that we ought to ‘beautify the lives of men’ … But, comrade workers, one can beautify your life not only at home by the stove but also at the factory. We women workers can beautify your life at the workbench, working hand in hand with you to improve our common working lives, to make this life more beautiful, pure and bright for ourselves, for our children, and for the whole working class. This, it seems to me, is the real beauty and meaning of life.
(Mark D. Steinberg,   Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

26 June

Diary entry of Nicholas II
Gave Alexei a geography lesson. We cut down a huge pine tree not far from the orangerie fence. The sentries even wanted to help us. In the evening I finished reading The Count of Monte-Cristo .
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

27 June

Diary entry of Nicholas II
I forgot to write that on the 26 June our troops made another breakthrough and captured: 131 officers, 7000 lower ranks and 48 cannons, including 12 heavy ones. In the morning all the girls went out to collect the mown grass. I went for my usual walk .
(Sergei Mironenko,   A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

After all his urgent and frenetic interventions, Lenin was exhausted to the point of illness. His family were concerned. His comrades persuaded him that he needed to take a rest. On the 27th, accompanied by his sister Maria, he left Petrograd. They travelled together across the border to the Finnish village of Neivola, where his comrade Bonch-Bruevich had a country cottage. There they spent the days relaxing, swimming in a lake, strolling in the sun.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Report on an American Mission to Russia
The Mission has accomplished what it came here to do, and we are greatly encouraged. We found no organic or incurable malady in the Russian Democracy … The solid admirable traits in the Russian character will pull the nation through the present crisis. Natural love of law and order and capacity for local self-government have been demonstrated every day since the Revolution.
( Russian-American Relations: March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)

Letter to ‘Comrade Patriots’ from soldiers in the trenches
Certain Bolshevik Anarchists from the Petrograd garrison … are now travelling up and down the front with the following slogans: ‘Down with the war’, ‘Down with the offensive’. And they are running to the ignorant mass of soldiers with these false words: ‘You should trust and believe only us and, generally, all the Bolsheviks and their parties – we alone will save you, we will lead you out onto the true path without bloodshed or carnage!’ and instead of leading us out onto the path of salvation, they send us into Anarchy; they want us to become Anarchists … But no, Comrades! We are not Anarchists or monarchists, not Nicholas II or Grishka Rasputin … We are position soldiers, trench rats! We do not recognise Bolshevik Anarchists or their henchmen, but we have always and only trusted the socialist minister Kerensky and the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies.
(Mark D. Steinberg,   Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

28 June

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Russia is definitely the land of surprise. At the moment when everybody believed the army to be completely breaking up, every day brings news of fresh victories … There is something immoral about the victory of this disorganised, louse-ridden army, led by a petty little socialist lawyer. All our ideas about discipline … are contradicted by this herd, in which each man does as he pleases, where officers are murdered, where each company has a soviet of delegates, and where even the plans of campaign are argued about … But this can hardly last, and we shall have a terrible awakening when the tovariches have to face the Germans, with their machine-guns and their heavy cannon, instead of the Austrians who have decidedly ‘had enough of it’.
(Louis de Robien,  The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

29 June

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
Went home on foot past the Stock Exchange. The whole area from the Lunapark to the fortress looked wonderful, it had a magical effect. A blueish mist outlined separately the long perspectives and created an unusual richness and variety of forms that I hadn’t seen before. We talked about the general state of chaos. [Benois’s wife] Akitsa, as a result of all kinds of domestic trials, has completely ‘moved to the right’ and talks almost like the common man, complaining about the soldiers and other ‘proletarians who’ve got too big for their boots’.
(Alexander Benois ,   Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

30 June

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
Woke up at 11 a.m. No one answered my bell. Found hotel servants on strike, except cooks. Dressed, made my own bed, cleaned my bath, swept my room. I did the same for a rheumatic old lady in my corridor who was much upset by the strike … Dinner at Felix Yusupov’s in the room where Rasputin was killed; sat next to Lady Muriel Paget. Took an izvoschik home; paid him a rouble for a 40-kopek fare. He called me a Jew!
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)


1 July 2017

Maria Kutsko’s appeal to fellow women to ‘beautify’ their lives at the workbench as well as the stove, to discover the ‘real beauty and meaning of life’, was written just days after the legendary Maria Bochkareva, commander of the Women’s Death Battalion, was honoured by Kerensky and Kornilov in front of St Isaac’s Cathedral with an officer’s belt, a gold-handled revolver and a sabre, as a token of the nation’s appreciation. Bochkareva witnessed the disintegration of the Russian army at the front and created her own ‘shock battalion’ of women. ‘We will go wherever men refuse to go, we will fight when they run. The women will lead the men back to the trenches.’ In June Emmeline Pankhurst was visiting Russia. She described Bochkareva as ‘the greatest thing in history since Joan of Arc’, but the battalion was often derided by men, and in particular by their fellow soldiers who felt their courage was being questioned. And perhaps rightly so, as Pankhurst described in a telegraph to England: ‘First Women’s Battalion number two hundred and fifty. Took place of retreating troops. In counter attack made one hundred prisoners including troops. Only five weeks training. Their leader wounded. Have earned undying fame, moral effect great. More women soldiers training, also marines. Pankhurst.’

A hundred years ago, Russia overthrew a monarchy and started off on a path that led to 70 years of communism. Follow events here week by week through eyewitness accounts.

By Mark Sutcliffe 08 Dec, 2017
German officers welcoming Soviet delegates at Brest-Litovsk for the Peace Conference. Soviet delegates left to right: Adolph Joffe, Lev Karakhan and Leon Trotsky, the Head of the Soviet Delegation © IWM (Q 70777)
By Mark Sutcliffe 02 Dec, 2017

‘The whole of Petrograd is drunk’ – Anatoly Lunacharsky, Commissar for Enlightenment
(painting by Ivan Vladimirov of the looting of a wine shop, Petrograd, 1917)

By Mark Sutcliffe 25 Nov, 2017
General Nikolai Dukhonin, last commander of the Tsarist army, killed by revolutionary sailors on 20 November
By Mark Sutcliffe 18 Nov, 2017

A peculiar atmosphere prevailed at the conferences of the highest administrative councils of Soviet Russia, presided over by Lenin. Despite all the efforts of an officious secretary to impart to each session the character of a cabinet meeting, we could not help feeling that here we were, attending another sitting of an underground revolutionary committee! … Many of the commissars remained seated in their topcoats or greatcoats; most of them wore the forbidding leather jackets. In the wintertime some wore felt boots and thick sweaters. They remained thus clothed throughout the meetings.
(Richard Pipes, quoting the Menshevik Simon Liberman,   A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

12 November

The Bolsheviki are forming councils, committees, sub-committees, courts, leagues, parties, societies; they are talented talkers and gifted orators. The masses of the people flock to their call. Already they have established the nucleus of the Proletarian Republic and drawn up their political programme; and, what is more surprising, they have successfully organised the Red Army – in great part drawn from the disloyal soldiers of the Imperial Army. One and all wage war against the ‘intelligentsia’ and the ‘bourgeoisie’ – nicknames given to the educated people and to the middle-class or ‘idle rich’. There is no doubt that Lenin and Trotsky are intent on exterminating the Russian intellectual classes.
(Florence Farmborough, Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914-18 , London 1974)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Alexandre Benois, who is president of the Fine Arts Commission, told me that the damage done to the Winter Palace is not as bad as people thought. It is confined to the theft of a few objects in the rooms of Alexander II and Nicholas I.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

13 November

Report in The Times headed ‘Bolshevism repudiated at Washington’
M. Bakhmetieff, the Russian Ambassador, has officially repudiated the Bolshevist regime in Petrograd. He has addressed to Mr. Lansing a long letter which explains that he will continue to carry out the duties entrusted to him at the Embassy regardless of the Bolshevists or any other temporary rule of violence in Russia … M. Bakhmetieff declares in his letter his confidence that the sound, constructive element in Russia will soon arise and sweep aside the Bolshevists or any others who, in opposition to the true spirit of the nation, seek to betray the Allies and withdraw from the war.
(From our correspondent, New York, The Times )

In a highly sensational speech, delivered before the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, Trotsky expressed the hope that General Dukhonin would act in conformity with the policy of the Government … The peace ‘decree’, Trotsky continued, marked the beginning of a new era in history. It came as a surprise to the routine-loving governing classes of Europe, who first regarded it as a mere party manifesto, not as an act of the Russian Government … The greatest hostility was exhibited on the part of England, ‘who plays a leading part at the present juncture and who has suffered least from the war, while she stands to gain most. France, who had suffered most, responded to the Russian revolution with the bourgeoisie Ministry of M. Clemenceau, which was the last effort of French Imperialism. Italy, disillusioned by her losses, welcomed it with enthusiasm. America had joined in the war, not for the sake of ideals, as President Wilson declared, but with a view to financial and industrial advantages.
(Report in The Times )

14 November

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
In my opinion, the only safe course left to us is to give Russia back her word and to tell her people that, realizing how worn out they are by the war and the disorganization inseparable from a great revolution, we leave it to them to decide whether they will purchase peace on Germany’s terms or fight on with the Allies … It has always been my one aim and object to keep Russia in the war, but one cannot force an exhausted nation to fight against its will.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

Report in The Times headed ‘Escape of Ex-Tsar’s Daughter’
American audiences are shortly to have the privilege of listening to appeals on behalf of the Russian people from a young woman who will be presented to them under the simple name of Miss Tatiana Nicolaievna Romanoff. She is understood to be the 20-year-old daughter of the deposed Tsar. On the authority of M. Ivan Narodny, of the News Bureau of the Russian Post Office in New York, the American newspapers today publish romantic accounts of the escape of the former Grand Duchess from Tobolsk. Miss Romanoff, according to these accounts, underwent a fictitious ceremony of marriage with a son of her father’s former Court Chamberlain, Count Fredericks, and thereby gained a certain measure of freedom from observation, which she utilized in order to make her escape to Kharbin for Sand Francisco. M. Narodny, who prefaces his narrative with the observation ‘these are strange times in Russia,’ says that the Tsar’s daughter when she arrives here will work for the Russian Civilian Relief Society. She will write short fairy stories, give dance performances, and desires to lecture to American women on conditions in Russia.
(From our correspondent, New York, The Times )

15 November

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
In my heart of hearts I am convinced that in his soul and in his being the Russian is freer than anyone. Even under the tsarist regime there was nowhere in the world with such freedom (even to the level of libertinism) of way of life, conversation, thought, as in Russia. Even our proverbial ‘right to disgrace’ is only an expression of the freedom that is within and inherent to everyone, based on racial characteristics but nurtured in the Christian idea of ‘the kingdom of God being within us’.
(Alexander Benois, Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

16 November

Pauline Crosby, wife of American naval attaché, in a letter home
In general the news is: Petrograd is still here; a part of Moscow is no longer there; many handsome estates are no longer anywhere; the Bolsheviki are everywhere.
(Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2017)

From somewhere torches appeared, blazing orange in the night, a thousand times reflected in the facets of the ice, streaming smokily over the throng as it moved down the bank of the Fontanka singing, between crowds that stood in astonished silence. ‘Long live the Revolutionary Army! Long live the Red Guard! Long live the Peasants!’ So the great procession wound through the city, growing and unfurling ever new red banners lettered in gold. Two old peasants, bowed with toil, were walking hand in hand, their faces illumined with child-like bliss. ‘Well,’ said one, ‘I’d like to see them take away our land again, now!’
(John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World , New York 1919)

17 November

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Things are happening fast, and yesterday Trotsky was able to make a triumphant announcement to the Assembly of Soviets (which has been joined by the Council of Peasants, which up to now had remained with the opposition and had rejected all contact with the Bolsheviks). The announcement is to the effect that armistice negotiations have begun.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

18 November

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The Allies here continue to give an impression of complete confusion … Meanwhile Trotsky keeps the score and no longer misses a single false move on the part of his adversaries. He has become very self-assured and has not hesitated to send a very firm note to Sir George [Buchanan] asking for two Russian anarchists who are being held in England to be released immediately … People say that the Commissars even contemplated shutting up Sir George himself as a hostage in Peter-and-Paul.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


18 November 2017

The report by the New York correspondent of The Times of the escape of Tatiana, one of Nicholas II’s daughters, must have been one of the first accounts of the Romanov children avoiding their terrible fate at the hands of the Bolsheviks; a fate that was proved decisively through DNA tests only in the 1990s. Such romantic stories – or as we now call them, ‘fake news’ – subsequently became legion, focusing on Anastasia and Alexei in particular. This report is interesting precisely because it is so early, when the family was still alive and reasonably well in Tobolsk and yet to be moved to Ekaterinburg, where they were all murdered in July 1918. It’s also, frankly, bizarre, with mention of the Grand Duchess preparing to give dance performances to the American public. It makes one wonder what would have become of the former imperial family had they been offered asylum by George V or indeed been spirited away from the Crimean coast like many of their circle. In exile the children would no doubt have married, had children of their own – their grandchildren would be easily alive today, perhaps even back in favour with the current regime. Stranger things have happened (are happening).

By Mark Sutcliffe 11 Nov, 2017
The Winter Palace during a spectacular light show to mark the anniversary of the revolution,
as per the Gregorian calendar. 5 November 2017
By Mark Sutcliffe 05 Nov, 2017
Red peasant, soldier and working man to the cossack: 'Cossack, who are you with? Them or us?'
By Mark Sutcliffe 28 Oct, 2017
Students and soldiers firing across the Moika River at police who are resisting the revolutionaries,  24 October 1917
© IWM (Q 69411)
By Mark Sutcliffe 21 Oct, 2017
Revolutionaries remove the remaining relics of the Imperial Regime from the facade of official buildings, Petrograd
© IWM (Q 69406)
By Mark Sutcliffe 14 Oct, 2017
There entered a clean-shaven, bespectacled, grey-haired man, ‘every bit like a Lutheran minister’,
Alexandra Kollontai remembered.
By Mark Sutcliffe 06 Oct, 2017
Masses of Russian prisoners captured in the fighting near Riga, September 1917 © IWM (Q 86680)
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