29 October - 4 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?'

29 October

Sunday the eleventh, the Cossacks entered Tsarskoye Selo, Kerensky himself riding a white horse and all the church-bells clamouring … There was no battle. But Kerensky made a fatal blunder. At seven in the morning he sent word to the Second Tsarskoye Selo Rifles to lay down their arms. The soldiers replied that they would remain neutral, but would not disarm. Kerensky gave them ten minutes in which to obey. This angered the soldiers; for eight months they had been governing themselves by committee, and this smacked of the old regime … A few minutes later Cossack artillery opened fire on the barracks, killing eight men. From that moment there were no more ‘neutral’ soldiers in Tsarskoye.
(John Reed,  Ten Days that Shook the World  , New York 1919)

… some of the bullets were striking the house where I lived. The besiegers were apparently not strong, and presently their firing ceased altogether. In the pause I emerged from my cover and with gingerly steps crept down the side of the Fontanka Canal towards a bridge, which I crossed … Rifle bullets whistled overhead, and suddenly everyone vanished from the streets. I got into a side entrance of a house along with a number of other people and waited. Everyone was silent and depressed and trying to hide his inner feelings beneath an outward calm … Here indeed was the front, not the national but the class front, and the remarkable thing about it was that there was no sharp line of division between the opposing forces. Among the people where I was standing were persons of the middle class, and beside them a workman and two soldier deserters from the now fast-melting Tsarist army. ‘Why are you hiding?’ said a well-dressed man to one of the soldiers. ‘You have been at the war, and ought not to be afraid of bullets.’ ‘Had two years of it against the Germans and wounded twice,’ said the soldier; ‘think I have had enough.’ ‘Why don’t you go and help these Cadets against the red ruffians? Or are you one of our brave deserters who have sold Russia to these Bolsheviks and to the Germans?’ asked the well-dressed man. ‘Give me a rifle, and I will go and fight against those Cadets,’ replied the soldier. ‘And I will see to it that you don’t get a rifle,’ said the well-dressed citizen, as though he was sorry he had raised the subject.
(M. Philips Price, My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution , London 1921)

Letter from Sofia Yudina in Petrograd to her friend Nina Agafonnikova in Vyatka
Darling Ninochka!
The mood here is dreadful, such nervous strain… Yesterday Lena and I went for a walk along Nevsky: there were a lot of people on the street, crowds, meetings, and it was lucky we didn’t go later because the Bolsheviks started to open fire there… But it looks like their rule will soon be over, the government forces will seize power. Which is good, because the Bolsheviks have shown what sort of people they are: so much violence… But you know all this from the papers and conversations … But now it is so indefinably uneasy … We so want everything to settle down and become peaceful again! How will it end, and when will it end? … I wish I was cleverer, had a better memory, could make conversation so that people, good people, found me interesting – and then I wouldn’t be as lonely as I am now. It wouldn’t feel so cold on this earth … You see how much I want? And that’s by no means all…
(Viktor Berdinskikh, Letters from Petrograd: 1916-1919 , St Petersburg 2016)


30 October

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
On the 30th it was decided to finish with Kerensky at one blow. The Kronstadt and Helsingfors sailors’ detachments were moved en bloc to the front. Trotsky himself went too; from now on he was invariably present at the most critical points all over the country … And by the end of that night, Trotsky was already reporting to Petersburg from Pulkovo: ‘The night of the 30th will go down in history … KERENSKY IS IN RETREAT – we are advancing. The soldiers, sailors and workers of Petersburg have shown that arms in hand they can and will assert their will and the power of the democracy…’
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record,  Oxford 1955)

At Pulkovo Heights, twelve miles out of Petrograd, [hard-right General] Krasnov’s forces face a ragtag of workers, sailors and soldiers, untrained and undisciplined but outnumbering them ten to one. The fight is ugly and bloody. Krasnov’s forces fall back to the town of Gatchina, where Kerensky is based. Two days later, in exchange for self passage, they agree to hand him over. The erstwhile persuader has a last escapade in him. He makes a successful run for it, disguised in a sailor’s uniform and unlikely goggles. He ends his days in exile, issuing tract after self-exculpating tract.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

31 October

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Kerensky’s position seems rather bad: he has only got Cossacks and Cossack artillery still with him. The infantry regiments go over to the Bolsheviks as soon as he gets them up from the front.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
Kerensky has again failed us, as he did at the time of the July rising and of the Korniloff affair. His only chance of success was to make a dash for Petrograd with such troops as he could get hold of; but he wasted time in parlaying, issued orders and counter-orders which indisposed the troops, and only moved when it was too late. The Bolsheviks have reoccupied Tsarskoe and are now confident of victory … We are so entirely cut off from the outside world that we know but little of what is passing in the Provinces; but at Moscow, where a regular battle has been going on for the last few days, the Bolsheviks are regaining the upper hand. The number of killed is said to be about a couple of thousand, and the town appears to be given over to pillage at the hands of a drunken mob that had seized the spirit stores.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

1 November

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
The town duma and Mayor Schneider loom large as patriotic persons who have stood out against the Bolshevik disorder. It is, however, a victory of the Maximalists (at least up to the moment), and we are now facing a purely socialist government!! It remains to be seen what it can do. Nothing, of course, as regards recognition by any government. No telegrams at all are being received or sent from Petrograd.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

2 November

Memoir of Pierre Gilliard, former tutor to the tsar's children
About November 2, we learnt that the Provisional Government was overthrown and that the Bolsheviks had again come into power, but this event did not immediately react on our life, and it was not until some months later, as we shall see, that it occurred to them to turn their attention to us.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)

Resolution of the workers of the Baltic Shipbuilding Works, Petrograd
Although seizure of […] power by a single political party would be an incorrect step, at this time, when an overthrow has been accomplished and become fact, the departure of several political parties from the congress is a step that cannot be justified either … Seeing the full horror of civil war, we decisively and insistently demand the immediate cessation of this bloody nightmare and the creation of a unified socialist authority.
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)


To the mass of the workers, it seemed that the whole point of the revolution, as expressed at the Soviet Congress, was the formation of a government of the working people as a whole and not just of one party. Hundreds of factories, garrisons, Front and Fleet assemblies sent petitions to Smolny in support of the [railwaymen’s union] Vikzhel plan [demanding that the Bolsheviks begin talks with the other socialist parties for the formation of an all-Soviet government).
(Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy , London 1996)

3 November

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Kerensky’s supporters have laid down their arms. His General Staff have given themselves up, and he himself has fled. So now we are rid of this grotesque character, and with him the regime which issued from the revolution has collapsed too: it only succeeded in alienating everyone and in becoming an object of ridicule, defended by a few Cossacks, a battalion of women and some children.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


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4 November 2017

In Petersburg. Nobody seems to be expecting much of a show of anniversary zeal, though last night we witnessed a spectacular light show in Palace Square. In dramatic, swooping images of fire and tumbling buildings, rather brilliantly choreographed against the stuccoed walls and white columns of the Winter Palace and General Staff, the last 100 years were presented as a narrative of dramatic survival – we have come through all this turbulent history, it seemed to say, a stronger, more unified Russia, symbolised by the final red, white and blue of the national flag. The show was witnessed by huge crowds, part of Nevsky was closed to traffic, and families with young children were prominent. Which perhaps goes counter to the general feeling that the young are not interested in this anniversary. Catherine Merridale writes in the Guardian that ‘the Russian revolution was a moment when the veil of human culture tore. It was a season of euphoric hope, a terrifying experiment in utopia. It tested to destruction the 19th-century fantasy of progress. It was the work of tens of thousands of zealous enthusiasts. Yet now their great-great-grandchildren are bored. This situation suits their government. A cloud of tedium hangs over any formal gathering that ventures to discuss the thing.’ Maybe. Or maybe, just maybe, this is an overly western-centric view of things and in fact people are interested but – like the show in Palace Square – they’re more interested in where the country has ended up now, a hundred years later, than in theories that constantly hark back to rift and destruction. Let’s see what, if anything, 7 November brings.

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)


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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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