22-28 October 1917

  • 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)

The remarkable thing about the Bolshevik insurrection is that hardly any of the Bolshevik leaders had wanted it to happen until a few hours before it began … Trotsky, who in Lenin’s absence had effectively assumed the leadership of the party, repeatedly stressed the need for discipline and patience … ‘This is defence, comrades. This is defence.’
(Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy , London 1996)

22 October

The Minister of War has gone to the Caucasus on a fortnight’s leave, and during his absence the Assistant Minister of War, General Tumanoff, will act. In political circles it is considered that General Verkhovsky will not return to the War Office. 
(Report in The Times )

23 October

Report headed 'American Aid for Russia'
The Administration, which two days ago granted large credits to Italy, has replied to M. Kerensky’s utterances by transferring to Russia’s account over £6,000,000. Washington is willing to encourage and assist Russia by every means in its power.
(‘News in Brief’, The Times )

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
‘Yes’, said [Trotsky], ‘an insurrection is going on, and the Bolsheviks, in the form of the Congress majority, will take the power into their own hands. The steps taken by the Military Revolutionary Committee are steps for the seizure of power.’ Had everybody heard? Or was it still not clear enough?
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)


At 8pm … the soldiers finally, dramatically, voted. Everyone for the MRC moved to the left: those opposed, to the right. There was a protracted shuffling and shoving. When it was done, there rose a huge and sustained cheer. On the right were only a few officers, and some intellectuals from one of those strange bicycle regiments. The majority, by far, stood for the MRC … Most of Petrograd’s weapon stores were now in MRC hands. And the cannon of the fortress looked out over the Winter Palace itself.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

24 October

At 2.30am a strange army came through the cold night. It was cobbled from whatever forces were to hand, on which the right could count. Two or three detachments of Junkers; some cadets from officers’ training schools; a few warriors from a Women’s Death Battalion; a battery of horse artillery from Pavlovsk; various Cossacks; a bicycle unit with their thick-wheeled machines; and a rifle regiment of war-wounded veterans. They headed through the quiet city to defend the Winter Palace.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
At three o’clock this morning the printing presses of several Bolshevik papers, which the Government had decided to suppress, were seized, and Tereschenko expects that this will provoke a Bolshevik uprising. He is urging Kerensky to arrest the members of the revolutionary military committee, and will not in any case leave for London till the situation has been cleared up.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

By the morning of 24 October the Smolny was the unofficial ‘General Staff’ of the Bolsheviks … For John Reed, Smonly was the place to be, the heartbeat of revolution: it was dynamic, visceral, exciting, invigorating and ‘hummed like a gigantic hive’. Albert Rhys Williams … saw it as a haven, the bastion of a brave new world: ‘By night, glowing with a hundred lamp-lit windows, it looms up like a great temple – a temple of Revolution.’
(Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2017)

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
Orders were given [by the General Staff] to raise all the bridges, except the Palace Bridge, in order to hinder marchers … The raising of the bridges at once produced in the city the circumstances of a coup d’etat accomplished and disorders begun. The whole capital, hitherto quite tranquil, became agitated. Crowds began gathering in the streets.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)


‘I remembered the July Days’, Ilin-Zhenevsky of the Bolshevik MO later wrote. ‘The drawing of the bridges appeared to me as the first step in another attempt to destroy us. Was it possible the Provisional Government would triumph over us again?’ … Unbidden, Ilin-Zhenevsky directed garrison soldiers to secure the Grenadiers and Samsonovsky bridges. One group returned dragging heavy machinery behind them, and were followed by a shouting mechanic. ‘We have lowered the bridge,’ they told a curious Ilin-Zhenevsky, ‘and to make sure it stays down, we’ve brought part of the mechanism.’
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

By 10 p.m. Lenin could hold back no longer. He donned his wig and a worker’s cap, wrapped a bandage around his head and set off for the Smolny … Near the Tauride Palace a government patrol stopped them, but … mistook Lenin … for a harmless drunk and let them proceed. One can only wonder how different history would have been if Lenin had been arrested.
(Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy , London 1996)

Lenin addressing the Bolshevik CC
To delay the uprising would be fatal … With all my might I urge comrades to realise that everything now hangs by a thread … We must at all costs, this very evening, this very night, arrest the government … We must not wait! We may lose everything! … The government is tottering. It must be given the death blow at all costs.
(V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin, The Russian Revolution: Writings and Speeches from the February Revolution to the October Revolution, 1917 , London 1938)

25 October

The Great October Socialist Revolution, as it came to be called in Soviet mythology, was in reality such a small-scale event, being in effect no more than a military coup, that it passed unnoticed by the vast majority of the inhabitants of Petrograd.
(Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy , London 1996)

At 3.30 in the morning of the 25th, the naval cruiser, Avrora, accompanied by three destroyers, steamed in from Kronstadt and dropped anchor broadside-on to the Winter Palace. It was clear that the endgame had come for this, the last symbolic bastion of old imperial Russia.
(Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2017)

Leighton Rogers, bank employee
They’ve begun it; they’re at it now as I write. Machine-guns and rifles are snarling and barking all over the city. Sounds like a huge corn-popper.
(Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2017)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Yesterday’s quiet was deceptive. In fact, during the night the Bolsheviks pulled off the surprise attack which they have been planning for a long time … They are now in possession of the telegraph office, the stations, and the department of state: in short, they are masters of the capital. The government collapsed like a house of cards without the least resistance, and the apparent order has not been disturbed. Tereschenko has disappeared since this morning; and Kerensky has fled in a car belonging to one of the secretaries of the United States Embassy … He is said to have gone to the front to bring back some troops.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Sheldon Whitehouse was asked by an aide of Kerensky’s to allow Kerensky the use of the car of the embassy, went to see Kerensky at the staff, found him very much perturbed and admitting that the Bolsheviks control everything and that he desired the car to make a get-away to form junction with the loyal troops sent from the front. We presume that he got away  also that the rest of the ministry are hiding or arrested! The Mariinsky Palace and Winter Palace are surrounded; the majority at the garrison have gone over to the Bolsheviks, the warship Aurora is in the Neva with guns trained on the city.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

Press release issued by Lenin at 10.00 a.m.
To the Citizens of Russia! The Provisional Government has been overthrown. The power of state has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Revolutionary Military Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison. The cause for which the people have fought – the immediate proposal of a democratic peace, the abolition of landed proprietorship, workers’ control over production and the creation of a Soviet government – is assured.
(V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin, The Russian Revolution: Writings and Speeches from the February Revolution to the October Revolution, 1917 , London 1938)

Lenin to a meeting of the Petrograd Soviet
One of our next tasks is to put an immediate end to the war. But in order to end this war, which is closely bound up with the present capitalist system, it is clear to everybody that capital itself must be overcome. We shall be helped in this by the world working class movement, which is already beginning to develop in Italy, England and Germany.
(V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin, The Russian Revolution: Writings and Speeches from the February Revolution to the October Revolution, 1917 , London 1938)

… at 9.40 p.m. the signal was finally given and one blank round was fired by the Aurora. The huge sound of the blast, much louder than a live shot, caused the frightened ministers to drop at once to the floor. The women from the Battalion of Death became hysterical and had to be taken away to a room at the back of the palace, while most of the remaining cadets abandoned their posts. After a short break to allow those who wished to do so to leave the palace, [the order was given] for the real firing to begin from the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Aurora and the Palace Square. Most of the shells from the fortress landed harmlessly in the Neva.
(Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy , London 1996)

26 October

Meanwhile, the final assault on the Winter Palace was nearing completion. The loyalist forces had virtually all abandoned the defence of the palace and Bolshevik troops could enter it at will. The minsters, who were now stretched out on sofas, or slouched on chairs, awaiting the end, could hear the sound of running soldiers, shouts and gun shots from the floor below. Finally, some time after 2 a.m., these sounds grew louder: the Bolshevik attackers were climbing the stairs and approaching the door. It was clear that the moment for surrender had arrived.
(Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy , London 1996)

Who shall gainsay them the right to this Palace and its contents? All of it came out of their sweat and the sweat of their fathers. It is theirs by right of creation. It is theirs, too, by right of conquest. By the smoking guns in their hands and the courage in their hearts they have taken it. But how long can they keep it? For a century it was the Czar's. Yesterday it was Kerensky's. Today it is theirs. Tomorrow it shall be - whose? No one can tell. This day the Revolution gives. Next day the Counter-Revolution may snatch away.
(Albert Rhys Williams,  ´╗┐Through the Russian Revolution ´╗┐, New York 1921)

The night was yet heavy and chill. There was only a faint unearthly pallor stealing over the silent streets, dimming the watchfires, the shadow of a terrible dawn rising over Russia.
(John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World , New York 1919)

Resolution published in Izvestia
The Soviet is convinced that the proletariat of the West European countries will help us to achieve a complete and lasting victory for the cause of socialism.
(V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin, The Russian Revolution: Writings and Speeches from the February Revolution to the October Revolution, 1917 , London 1938)


27 October

Report in The Times
For the moment the Allies of Russia can do little but look on at this agony, getting what comfort they can from the reflection that the voice which struggles up from it is assuredly not the authentic voice of Russia. They may remember, too, that revolution works in the blood of nations like a fever, which must come to its crisis, but, if historical analogy is worth anything, is apt to leave the patient stronger than before. Whether this is the crisis of the Russian Revolution or not, certain it is that the tragic events of the last few months have trampled in the mud the banner of revolutionary idealism. Russia, free for an instant, has found herself bound afresh.
(‘Russia’s Critical Hour’, The Times )


The Moscow Bolsheviks were reluctant fighters – they were much more inclined to resolve the power question through negotiation … Nor were they very good at fighting: the Kremlin was soon lost in the opening battle on the 27th … Without victory in Moscow, even Lenin recognized that the Bolsheviks could not retain power on their own.
(Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy , London 1996)

Report in The Times
Sir George Buchanan is remaining at Petrograd. The latest telegrams from the British Ambassador, dated Thursday evening, throw no fresh light on the situation.
(‘Sir George Buchanan’, The Times )

28 October

For a couple of days there had been no news of Kerensky. ‘No one had the remotest idea’ what was going to happen next, recalled Bessie Beatty. ‘Where is Korniloff? … Where are the Cossacks?’ Last and worst of all, ‘Where are the Germans? Rumour was riding a mad steed.’
(Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2017)


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30 October 2017

Steve Rosenberg, BBC Moscow correspondent, is doing a week of reports on the revolution, talking to people about their attitude to the centenary and the consequences of 1917. Already, in the first one, it's thrown up some interesting comments. 'Communism painted the October revolution as an uprising of the oppressed but in reality it was a coup'; 'the development of the welfare state in the West was a reaction to the revolution in Russia, i.e. let's make the life of the workers better [to prevent the same thing happening here]'; 'we do social experiments, we show how things shouldn't be done' (Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky); 'the authorities' response to the centenary is radio silence, after all, the idea of taking up arms against an oppressive ruling class and abolishing private property is anathema to the current regime'; 'now, in the 21st century, you don't have to kill anyone to make significant changes'. As Rosenberg points out, food prices are rising and incomes falling, but there seems little appetite for a major political upheaval in the near future. Or will this be one of those hubristic predictions so enjoyed by readers of history: horizon clear, no icebergs in sight..?

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)


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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)
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)
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