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)


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 31 Dec, 2017
Russian Christmas postcard, 1917
By Mark Sutcliffe 16 Dec, 2017
Child's drawing of a Bolshevik, November 1917. The flag reads 'Down with the war and the bourgeois'; the child's inscription reads 'The Bolshevik. A Bolshevik is someone who is against the war'. (State Historical Museum, Moscow) 
By Mark Sutcliffe 09 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)
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