27 August - 2 September 1917

  • 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.
27 August

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
Sunday, August 27th, marked the end of six months of revolution. It was a rather wretched jubilee … I went to the Petersburg Side to the Cirque Moderne, where Lunacharsky was giving a lecture on Greek art. A huge working-class audience was listening with great interest to the popular speaker and his unfamiliar stories. … The two of us … wandered about the streets and quays for a long time, talking about aesthetics and ‘culture’ … 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 … The phone rang. Someone from Smolny: …’Kornilov is moving on Petersburg with troops from the front. He’s got an army corps. Things are being organized here…’ I dropped the receiver. In two minutes Lunacharsky and I had already left for Smolny.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

At a hasty cabinet meeting, [Kerensky] read out the transcript ‘proving’ Kornilov’s ‘treachery’. He demanded the astonished ministers grant him unlimited authority against the coming danger. The Kadets, deeply imbricated with the Kornilovite milieu, objected, but the majority gave Kerensky a free hand. They resigned as he requested, remaining only in caretaker capacities. Thus, at 4am on 27 August, the Second Coalition ended.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

28 August

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Last night I was called to the Embassy by telephone, with the news that General Kornilov had announced the fall of the provisional government and was marching on Petrograd … the facts of the situation [are these]: Kornilov had informed Kerensky through the intermediary of M. Lvov, that in view of the danger which threatened the country, he had decided to take over as dictator, and that he was offering him the office of Minister of Justice in the new government. Naturally, the vain and sensual petty lawyer, who believes himself to be the master of Russia because he sleeps in the Emperor’s bed, could not resign himself to taking his hand out of the till: he answered by having M. Lvov arrested and declaring Kornilov ‘a traitor to the fatherland’.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918  , London 1969)

29 August

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Rumour has it that many regiments are going over to Kornilov and that he is not far beyond Tsarskoye. It is undoubtedly the fact that the ‘counter-revolutionists’, or monarchists, are on his side too. Heavy detachments of troops in Champs de Mars.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

Report during a journey along the Volga river by Manchester Guardian correspondent
‘I say there is no hope for Russia till we have a dictator who can discipline these dogs, and stop all this anarchy,’ said a man in a general’s uniform to his neighbour, a well-dressed civilian. Both were sitting at a mahogany table, taking coffee and rolls. ‘Oh, yes, that’s quite true,’ said the civilian. ‘Before the Revolution the peasants on our estate used to work well, but then, of course, you always had to be there with the threat of force to drive them; I suppose it is just the same with the soldiers.’
(M. Philips Price, My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution , London 1921)


Report in The Times
It is clear that such power as exists in Russia resides not in the Provisional Government, but in the self-constituted and irresponsible committees which have obtained control over the simple soldiery … The news of the internal strife in Russia will be received with profound sorrow in this country. The saddest feature of the situation is that M. Kerensky and General Korniloff are both patriots, and both have the welfare of Russia deeply at heart … In six months the Russian Army has been stripped of its generals as one strips an artichoke, although many of them … were as ardent in support of the Revolution as M. Kerensky himself.
( The Times , 29 August (11 September) 1917)


30 August

Report in The Times
Russia is at the point of civil war. Troops supporting General Korniloff have moved on Petrograd, and, in order to delay them, supporters of M. Kerensky and the Provisional Government are destroying the railway lines converging on the capital. The ‘Savage Division’, once commanded by Korniloff, are reported 30 miles from Petrograd.
( The Times , 30 August (12 September) 1917)

Here to meet them … were scores of emissaries. They came from the Committee for Struggle, from district soviets, from factories, garrisons, Tsentroflot, from the Naval Committee, the Second Baltic Crew. And locals had come too. All stamping across the scrub and through the trees towards that wheezing train. They came with agitation in mind. They came to beg the Savage Division to resist being used for counterrevolution.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Letter to the Editor
Sir, As a personal friend of General Korniloff … may I thank you for your leading article of this morning’s date? Those who label General Korniloff as a traitor to his country are traitors themselves … As an individual, he has a strong personality – the personality of a Cossack … I said at that moment [Revolution], and I say again today, that Russia will be saved by a strong, clean, straightforward individual, unswerved by all petty, passing passions which temporarily influence the emotional mind. Such a man is General Korniloff.
Yours very truly, Marjorie Colt Lethbridge, 15 Cambridge Terrace, Hyde Park
( The Times , 30 August (12 September) 1917)

31 August

Letter to the Editor
Sir, A letter in your yesterday’s issue from Mrs Lethbridge appears to suggest that General Korniloff is the sole patriot in Russia at the present moment. The fact is that so far as genuine patriotism … is concerned, there is absolutely no choice to be made between Korniloff and Kerensky … The truth is that Kerensky and Korniloff are equally necessary for the salvation of Russia. Each is incomplete without the other. They are two utterly unselfish men both striving for the same goal, but along different paths.
Yours, Paul Dukes, 2 Bethune Avenue, Friern Barnet
( The Times , 31 August (13 September) 1917)

Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
It is all over! Kornilov has failed. How it happened we don’t know yet, but today he is to be brought to Petrograd under arrest. If he had succeeded – as he ought to have done, once he had embarked on so important an undertaking – we should have had order restored … The failure of Kornilov has completely knocked me over, and yesterday I could not walk. I still foresee an ocean of blood before order comes.
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915-1917 , New York 1919)

1 September

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
Anarchy seems to stalk in the streets, for not only has the government given the workmen arms in the recent trouble (about 40,000) but the Soviet of Workmen and Soldiers’ Deputies informed the ministry last night that they wished no Kadets in the ministry. Sober sense cannot but see complete demoralization in the army and serious trouble in this city.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

2 September

Memoir of Fedor Raskolnikov, naval cadet at Kronstadt
The ‘Kornilov days’ constituted a Rubicon after which our Party grew so strong that it was soon able to put on the agenda the decisive proletarian attack. The Party’s standing among the workers increased with fantastic speed. The very word ‘Bolshevik’, which after the July days had been a swear-word, was now transformed into a synonym for an honest revolutionary, the only dependable friend of the workers and peasants.
(F.F. Raskolnikov, Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917 , New York 1982, first published 1925)


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2 September 2017

In his memoir, Kerensky describes the defeat of Kornilov in pyrrhic terms: ‘The first news of the approach of general Kornilov’s troops had much the same effect on the people of Petrograd as a lighted match on a powder keg. Soldiers, sailors, and workers were all seized with a sudden fit of paranoid suspicion. They fancied they saw counterrevolution everywhere. Panic-stricken that they might lose the rights they had only just gained, they vented their rage against all the generals, landed proprietors, bankers and other “bourgeois” groups.’ The resistance to Kornilov was led by the Bolsheviks with a momentum that carried them through to October. Lenin had demanded renewed radicalism: ‘Now is the time for action; the war against Kornilov must be conducted in a revolutionary way, by drawing the masses in, by arousing them, by inflaming them (Kerensky is afraid of the masses, afraid of the people).’ As for Kornilov, with his fellow conspirators he escaped from prison in November 1917 and became military commander of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army. He was killed by a Soviet shell in April 1918.

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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