24-30 September 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 30 Sep, 2017
Florence Farmborough at the Russian Front, 1915 (painted from a photograph)

24 September

A newspaper printed a report that the English and French armies, on account of the disorder in Russia, wished to sever the alliance. I refused to believe such a thing. In another newspaper I read that the report had been denied. I read also that the British Army had gained much territory in Mesopotamia.
(Florence Farmborough,  Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914-18 , London 1974)

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
The Kremlin is one of the few things in the world that have not proved disappointing to me in the realization! We spent almost all day there today … The icons are extraordinary and on the whole rather pleasing. The almost idolatrous worship of these people makes us sometimes wonder as to their real capacity for self-government. The kissing of relics offends all laws of sanitation.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

25 September

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
The new government will go down in the history of the revolution as the Government of the civil war. The Soviet declares: ‘We, the workers and the garrison of Petersburg, refuse to support the Government of bourgeois autocracy and counter-revolutionary violence. We express the unshakeable conviction that the new Government will meet with a single response from the entire revolutionary democracy: “Resign!”’
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record,  Oxford 1955)

Report in The Manchester Guardian
The reports of the Democratic Conference transmitted to this country could not have been more unsatisfactory if they had been deliberately designed to confound, prejudice and dishearten the English people with regard to Russia. Whatever be the circumstances responsible, such a state of affairs is gravely injurious to this country. It poisons Anglo-Russian sympathies, and therefore Anglo-Russian relations, and, by denying us the materials for judging, eliminates all calculation from our estimates of the future course of events in Russia.
(‘The Democratic Conference’, The Manchester Guardian )


26 September

Arthur Ransome headed home by sea on 26 September with a very clear sense of approaching danger; what he had seen at the congress had convinced him that the Bolsheviks were preparing the ground to seize power.
(Helen Rappaport,  Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2017)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
On orders from their governments the Allied ambassadors today took steps to issue a solemn warning to Kerensky and to convey their anxiety to him. The American Ambassador alone found an excuse to abstain. Kerensky received them in the Winter Palace ... Sir George Buchanan, the doyen, read them the joint declaration. Although this was expressed in the most moderate terms - too moderate, in my opinion - it violently irritated the despot's vanity, and he walked out exclaiming: 'You forget that Russia is a great power!' The Tsar also refused to listen to Sir George in similar circumstances: a few weeks later, he lost the crown!
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

27 September

A railway strike has dislocated rail-transport throughout Russia. Finland has proclaimed herself a republic. Strikes and riots are still rampant, while famine is augmenting the general hardship … Alas! For poor, suffering Russia. We heard of a party of Social Democrats in Petrograd, who had coined for themselves the name of Bolshevik – meaning one who forms the majority. Being such a small party, the name Menshevik [minority] would have been more appropriate! The members professed to be ‘apostles’ of the doctrine of Communism and declared that their objectives were to bring peace to Russia by negotiation; to abolish capitalism; to establish a proletariat dictatorship and to equalise all classes … It was not difficult for us now to guess the origins and aims of those suspicious men who for some weeks past had been inspecting Russian Front Lines and delivering speeches to the troops. It was now quite clear that the Bolsheviki had started an extensive subversive movement.
(Florence Farmborough, Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914-18 , London 1974)

Report in The Manchester Guardian
Reuter’s Agency states that Commander Locker-Lampson, M.P., who has been in command of the British armoured-car unit in Russia, arrived in England yesterday … ‘No one,’ said the Commander, ‘has any right to suppose for a moment that Russia will not remain loyal to the Allied cause. The Coalition Government now formed is a fine achievement, and many difficulties will disappear within the next few months.’
(‘The Russian Outlook’, The Manchester Guardian )


29 September

Diary of Nicholas II
A few days ago Dr Botkin received a note from Kerensky, from which we learnt that we are allowed to take walks beyond the town. In answer to Botkin’s question about when these could begin, Pankratov – the wretch – replied that there could be no question of it now because of some unexplained fear for our safety. Everyone was very upset by this answer.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion  , London 1996)

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30 September 2017

Florence Farmborough (1887-1978) went to Moscow in 1908 to be governess to the children of a Russian heart surgeon. When war broke out, she trained as a Red Cross nurse (her parents had presciently named her after Florence Nightingale) and was assigned to a surgical field unit of the 3rd Russian Army Corps. The diary she kept of her four years on the Russian front were published only in 1974, when she was 87. An article in The Times, marking the book’s publication, described it as an ‘astonishing record [that] survived through the advances and retreats of trench warfare, through the Bolshevik rampages, a journey across Siberia and her eventual escape from Russia through Vladivostok’. Florence clearly felt a strong bond with the Russian army – and was grateful to be taken on by the Red Cross (‘I would never have been allowed to work in the British Red Cross’) – but described the changes that occurred in the summer of 1917 like this: ‘It was an inexplicable transformation. We were prepared for any hardship and danger at the front. But when our own men wanted to kill us because we were educated or religious it was much more frightening.’ After returning from Russia she went to Spain and lectured in English at the University of Luis Vives in Valencia. During the Spanish Civil War she worked for General Franco, reading daily bulletins broadcast in English by Spanish National Radio, and in the Battle of Britain she was back in London with the Women’s Voluntary Service. Quite some life. Her obituary in The Times described her as ‘a faithful observer and recorder of the bravery and misery, the day-by-day comments, and the increasing acts of desertion and treachery of the officers and men of the Tsarist Army during the period of its increasing breakdown, which played a part in the triumph of the revolutionaries’.

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

By Mark Sutcliffe 21 Oct, 2017
Revolutionaries remove the remaining relics of the Imperial Regime from the facade of official buildings, Petrograd
© IWM (Q 69406)
By Mark Sutcliffe 14 Oct, 2017
There entered a clean-shaven, bespectacled, grey-haired man, ‘every bit like a Lutheran minister’,
Alexandra Kollontai remembered.
By Mark Sutcliffe 06 Oct, 2017
Masses of Russian prisoners captured in the fighting near Riga, September 1917 © IWM (Q 86680)
By Mark Sutcliffe 30 Sep, 2017
Florence Farmborough at the Russian Front, 1915 (painted from a photograph)
By Mark Sutcliffe 23 Sep, 2017
The man with whom the moderates urged caution, Kerensky, remained pitifully weak, and growing weaker. He struggled, lashed out to shore up his authority. On 18 September he pronounced the dissolution of the Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet. The sailors responded simply that his order was 'considered inoperative'. The Democratic Conference, too, strained for relevance ... The proceedings were outdoing their own absurdity.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

17 September


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


18 September

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


19 September

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

20 September

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


21 September

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

22 September

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


23 September

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

 

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23 September 2017

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

By Mark Sutcliffe 16 Sep, 2017
A half-length portrait of a young female Russian soldier serving with the Russian Women's 'Battalion of Death', 1917. The Battalion was formed by the Provisional Government in Petrograd after the February Revolution. The soldier is carrying a shortened Mosin-Nagant rifle, with bayonet fixed. Her head has been completely shaved (© IWM (Q 106251)
By Mark Sutcliffe 09 Sep, 2017
Lotarevo estate, Tambov province (former home of the Vyazemsky family)
By Mark Sutcliffe 02 Sep, 2017
There was a breath of autumn already in the sky. The unforgettable summer was ending, and the sun set early in the sea. We could not sufficiently admire our marvellous Petersburg.
By Mark Sutcliffe 26 Aug, 2017
Column of Russian prisoners captured in the fighting near Riga, August 1917 (© IWM Q 86647)
By Mark Sutcliffe 19 Aug, 2017
A wiry little little man with strong Tartar features. He wore a general's full-dress uniform with a sword and red-striped trousers. His speech was begun in a blunt soldierly manner by a declaration that he had nothing to do with politics. He had come there, he said, to tell the truth about the condition of the Russian army. Discipline had simply ceased to exist. The army was becoming nothing more than a rabble. Soldiers stole the property, not only of the State, but also of private citizens, and scoured the country plundering and terrorizing. The Russian army was becoming a greater danger to the peaceful population of the western provinces than any invading German army could be.
British journalist Morgan Philips Price, reporting on Kornilov in August 1917
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