26 March - 1 April 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 04 Apr, 2017
Photograph published in  The Illustrated London News in April 1917, showing the Duma
with an empty frame that had contained the portrait of Nicholas II

Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov, Russian army officer
During these months I could only partly grasp the political situation in the country. Of course we wanted the Provisional Government to take hold and carry out the necessary reforms, and most importantly bring a speedy end to the war. I came across a piece in a newspaper, Kopeika I think, that described how Germany was conducting the war with the aim, in the event of victory, of concluding a profitable trade agreement with Russia, and in this way the Russian people was dying on behalf of the capitalists. It was stunningly simple, and true. Nobody, of course, wanted Germany to win, but nor did anyone want to continue fighting. Kerensky’s calls for further military offensive seemed pitiful. He himself had no authority with us soldiers. It was all just a complete muddle.
(From the memoirs of G.A. Rimsky-Korsakov,  Russia in 1917 in first-person testimony , Moscow 2015)

26 March

Sunday Times article
The question which interests everybody more than anything else is Russia’s future attitude towards the war. There have been misgivings about the possibility of a separate peace. But to suppose that Russia would now seek to conclude a peace without the consent of the Allies is to misunderstand the whole course of the Revolution. The Revolution bound people and Army together in an indissoluble union, resulting in a firm resolve to win a decisive victory. It is true that that a section of Socialists, now on the Committee of Workmen Soldiers’ Delegates, express the wish for immediate peace. But they have no majority on the committee, and still less influence in the country.
(‘Russian War Aims: What the Socialists Demand’, from our own correspondent, Petrograd)

Letter to Minister of Justice Kerensky from worker and deserter A. Zemskov, Kuban region, 26 March 1917
Kind sir, Mr Minister,
Allow me, a poor worker living in Russia’s hinterlands, to express myself, if only in a letter, on the subject of past and present events in the current historical moment. In addressing you, an individual who professes proletarian worldviews and is a defender of the interests of the working classes, I must nonetheless ask you to forgive me, an insignificant worker, for being so bold as to address to you, a great political figure whose name is covered in glory, a letter in which I set forth only my own personal opinions and worldviews and, regrettably, for taking up a minute of your very valuable time, the minute you take to read my letter … Ever since the last Russian autocrat fell from his high throne, you have been hearing on all sides laudatory hymns to the new state order and freedom … Aren’t you singing the praises of new chains that are only going by the name of freedom? … You (I am addressing the Provisional Government) have the audacity to say that freedom has come. But isn’t your current power over the people a power that the bourgeoisie delivered to you, based on coercion? … In professing a lie to the world, you, gentlemen, the new rulers, think that the working masses are so intoxicated by your lie that everyone is accepting it as truth without exception. No, gentlemen, in this you are mistaken … The details of my person are these: I am a former Moscow worker of peasant origin from Vladimir Province, Suzdal Uezd, surname Zemskov. As a deserter I’ve been hiding in the Kuban steppes for more than two years … With deep apologies, 
Worker A. Zemskov
(Mark D. Steinberg,   Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

27 March

At 3:20 p.m. on March 27, thirty-two Russian emigres left the Zurich railway station for the German frontier. Among the passengers were Lenin, Krupskaia, Grigorii Zinoviev with his wife and child, and Inessa Armand. On its journey across Germany, their train received the highest priority. Contrary to legend it was not sealed, but in conformance with the agreement, no Germans entered the car.
(Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

Statement by the Provisional Government regarding the War
Leaving to the will of the people, in close union with our Allies, the final decision of all questions connected with the world war and its ending, the Provisional Government considers it its right and duty to declare that the purpose of free Russia is not domination over other peoples, nor spoliation of their national possessions, nor the violent occupation of foreign territories, but the establishment of a permanent peace on the basis of self-determination of all peoples … These principles will be made the basis of the foreign policy of the Provisional Government, which will firmly carry out the will of the people and will protect the rights of our fatherland at the same time fully observing all obligations made in regard to our allies.
Signed by Minister-Chairman, Prince G.E. Lvov
( Russian-American Relations March 1917-March 1920 , New York 1920)

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
The Soviet demands that the Government shall immediately join with its allies in opening peace negotiations on the following basis: ‘No annexations, no indemnities, and the free development of the nations.’ I fortified Miliukov to the best of my ability by pointing out that the Soviet’s demands amount to the defection of Russia, and if that came to pass it would be an eternal disgrace to the Russian people … ‘I’m so entirely in sympathy with your view,’ Miliukov protested, ‘that if the Soviet got its way I should resign my office at once!’ A proclamation which the Provisional Government addresses to the Russian people and has published this morning tries to evade the difficulty be veiling its intention to continue the war in nebulous phrases. When I pointed out the inconsistency and timorousness of these phrases to Miliukov, he replied: ‘I think I achieved a great triumph in getting them inserted in the proclamation. We are obliged to tread very warily in dealing with the Soviet; we cannot yet rely on the garrison to defend us.’ Can it be that the Soviet is the master of Petrograd!
(Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 London 1973)

28 March

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
At this time Stalin appeared in the Ex[ecutive] Com[mittee] for the Bolsheviks, in addition to Kamenev. This man was one of the central figures of the Bolshevik Party and perhaps one of the few individuals who held the fate of the revolution and of the State in their hands. Why this is so I shall not undertake to say: ‘influence’ in these exalted and irresponsible spheres, remote from the people and alien to publicity, is so capricious. But at any rate Stalin’s role is bound to be perplexing. The Bolshevik Party, in spite of the low level of its ‘officers’ corps’, had a whole series of most massive figures and able leaders among its ‘generals’. Stalin, however, during his modest activity in the Ex. Com. produced – and not only on me – the impression of a grey blur, looming up now and then dimly and not leaving any trace. There is really nothing more to be said about him.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

30 March

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
The news from the front seems reluctantly to improve; from the socialist workers in Petrograd remains disquieting; and from the navy at Kronstadt to cause worry generally. Our military attaché is watching the first; we are preparing a sort of propaganda … to meet the second; and our naval attaché took a quiet little trip of observation to Helsingfors to verify the third. Many people … are refusing to be reassured and bombard the embassy for news. The Germans certainly can’t get up the Neva until the ice goes out; they can’t dig trenches in this weather; they would not push a slender column on Petrograd alone; and the enormous British drive in Flanders is gaining steadily.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

31 March

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
Akitsa just harps on about peace and is sent into raptures by the socialist papers which she believes like the Gospels ... Meanwhile the world, and in particular the Russian, tragedy is approaching its fatal moment of crisis. Decrees based on common sense and the most noble humanity, which were entirely pertinent when Russia was establishing its new order (how strange! It already feels that the revolution took place not a month ago, but five years ago), are now silenced in the face of the total mess that's been made ... Any question of patriotism is corrupted by the unlimited cruelty of the British, its systematic and cunning avarice, its stupidity; they're not only terrifying, they're outrageous. I remember how loathsome I thought that war poster in London was, showing Kitchener's face blown up and the words at the top: 'This is your hope!' He's now at the bottom of the ocean but it turns out that he and his accomplices have so managed to defile, enslave and plunder 'the land of freedoms' that it's now a more sinister, more enslaving place than Prussia itself!
(Alexander Benois , Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

Resolution of the workers of the Putilov metal and machine factory, Petrograd, 31 March 1917
Considering the fact that the rumours being spread by the bourgeois press to the effect that workers are striking and leaving the army without shells are a foul lie and are being spread to weaken the revolution and sow strife between the working class and the army, the workers of the Putilov factory resolve:
1. To address a request through their representatives to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies demanding that the Provisional Government make statements in the press saying that these kinds of rumours are a foul lie and take measures to put a stop to these rumours.
2. Because the bourgeois newspapers … are a mighty weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie, to boycott these bourgeois newspapers, while trying in every possible way to support and disseminate our workers’ press.
3. To have our comrade workers from all the other plants, factories and workshops of Petrograd join us in our resolution to support the boycott.
(Mark D. Steinberg,  Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

1 April

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The famous Allied socialist deputies arrived yesterday at Finland Station. Representing France: Cachin, Lafont, and Moutet – two professors of philosophy and a lawyer. Representing England: O’Grady and Thorne, a cabinet-maker and a plumber … I decidedly prefer the English socialists!
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
…French socialism is thus represented by intellectuals with a classical education, English socialism by manual workers, ‘matter-of-fact men’. Theory on one side, practice on the other … When [the French socialists] left me, they went to the Champ-de-Mars to lay a wreath on the grave of the victims of the revolution, just as in the old days the envoys of the French Republic used to go to the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul to place a wreath on the tomb of Alexander III. As Sainte-Beuve wrote: ‘Life is nothing but seeing everything and the reverse of everything.’
(Maurice Paléologue,  An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 London 1973)

Diary entry of Nicholas II
Forgot to mention that yesterday we said goodbye to 46 of our servants who were finally released from the Alexander Palace to [go to] their families in Petrograd. The weather was nice with a strong southern wind. Walked until breakfast. During the day started to break the ice as usual by the bridge over a stream; [with us] worked Tatiana, Valya and Nagorny. Took a nap until dinner. Gave each other gifts of [Easter] eggs and photos. At 11 ½ went to the beginning of the midnight service.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)


4 April 2017

Posting later every week. Terrible day yesterday for St Petersburg - a suicide bomber, or so it seems, on the metro, ten people dead, possibly more. The messages were immediate and from all over the world. Through the Likhachev alumni came an outpouring of horror and compassion for a city that is close to so many. 

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)


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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