26 February - 4 March 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 03 Mar, 2017

Революция \ Revolution!

The February Revolution came like a thief in the night. How often had its possibility been discussed in Russia during the two and a half years that followed the outbreak of the Great War! Over samovars and tea-glasses officers and students had speculated whether it would come during the war or after peace. Working men had whispered of it in traktirs [taverns] with bated breath. Soldiers had timidly broached the subject to each other in the trenches. When at last it came, nobody seemed quite to know what had happened. In the distant provinces the wildest rumours were circulating. The Petrograd workmen had made it, said one, and they did not represent the true Russia. The Revolution was made by a people, exasperated by a pro-German Tsar, to enable the war to be prosecuted with greater vigour, said a second. It was the unmistakable sign of a patriotic revival, said a third. It was the beginning of chaos, said a fourth.
(M. Philips Price, former correspondent of the Manchester Guardian in Russia, My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution , London 1921)


26 February
Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
As I was returning from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs this morning, I met one of the leaders of the Cadet Party, Basil Maklakov. ‘We’re in the presence of a great political movement now,’ he said. ‘Everyone has finished with the present system. If the Emperor does not grant the country prompt and far-reaching reforms, the agitation will develop into riots. And there is only a step between riot and revolution.’
(Maurice Paléologue,  An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 ,  London 1973)


Letter from Nicholas to Alexandra in Tsarskoe Selo
This morning during service I felt an excruciating pain in the middle of my chest, wh. lasted for a quarter of an hour. I could hardly stand & my forehead was covered with beads of sweat. I cannot understand what it was, as I had no heart beating, but it came & left me at once, when I knelt before the Virgin’s image! … I hope Khabalov  [military governor of Petrograd]  will know how to stop those street rows quickly. Protopopov ought to give him clear & categorical instructions … God bless you, my Treasure, our children & her  [Anna Vyrubova] ! I kiss you all tenderly. Ever your own Nicky.
( The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra: April 1914-March 1917 , ed. Joseph T. Fuhrmann, London 1999)


Nicholas, who continued to receive soothing reports from Protopopov, had no idea how charged the situation in the capital had become. It seemed intolerable to him that while the troops at the front braved hardships and faced the prospect of death, civilians in the rear should be rioting … On Sunday morning, February 26, troops in combat gear occupied Petrograd and all seemed back to normal. But it only seemed so. For on that day an incident occurred that completely transformed the situation.

(Richard Pipes,  A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

In the early evening the ‘most sanguinary episode in the Revolution’ ... had occurred at Znamensky Square, where a dense mass of people from the Nevsky had converged with another crowd coming up Ligovskaya, the major thoroughfare to the south of the square. ‘Local police leaders on horseback rode among the crowd ordering them home,’ recalled Dr Joseph Clare, pastor of the American Church, who witnessed the scene. ‘The people knew the soldiers were on their side and refused to move.’ Lined up in front of a hotel facing the square were men from the 1st and 2nd training detachments of the Volynsky Regiment. When their commander ordered them to disperse the crowd, the soldiers begged the crowds to move on, so they would not have to use their weapons, but the people refused to budge. Angrily the officer had one of the reluctant soldiers arrested for insubordination and again ordered his men to fire. ‘They shot in the air, and the officer got mad, making each individual fire into the mob.’ Finally he raised his own pistol and started firing into the crowd. Then ‘suddenly came the rat-tat-tat of a machine-gun. The people could hardly believe their ears, but there was no doubting the evidence of eyes as they saw people falling … [then] something extraordinary happened: the troop of Cossacks positioned in the square had turned and fired at the gunners on the house tops … the crowd scattered behind buildings and courtyards, from where some of them began firing at the military and police. Forty or so were killed and hundreds wounded.
(Helen Rappaport,   Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2016)


Sergei Kirpichnikov, young sergeant in the Volynsky Regiment
I told [my fellow conscripts] that it would be better to die with honour than to obey any further orders to shoot at the crowds: ‘Our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and brides are begging for bread’, I said. ‘Are we going to kill them? Did you see the blood on the streets today? I say we shouldn’t take up positions tomorrow. I myself refuse to go.’ And, as one, the soldiers cried out: ‘We shall stay with you!’
(Orlando Figes,  A People's Tragedy , London 1996)


Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
Everyone is extremely tense and nobody is under any illusion as to the success of the revolutionary movement. It seems more likely that the police and their bayonets will crush the mutiny. But in any case we can now speak about a mutiny as something that has already taken place.
(Alexander Benois ,   Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)


27 February

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
The unforgettable 27th of February came … The popular revolution was going ahead at full steam, making hourly changes in the entire political situation, upsetting the ‘combinations’ of the liberals, generals, and plutocrats, and dragging along in its wake the Duma as the political centre of the bourgeoisie … What the Tsarist command did in those hours, what ‘measures’ it conceived of or put into practice for the struggle against the revolution, I neither know nor remember. Who cares anyhow? No one in Petersburg could have doubted any longer that the Tsarist authorities could not influence the course of events in any way.
(The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record by N.N. Sukhanov,  Oxford 1955)

Diary entry of James L. Houghteling, Jr, attaché at the American Embassy, Petrograd
Last night when I got on the train in Moscow, I found my reservation in a compartment with two men and a woman (or lady, I may fairly say). The train left at midnight; my ticket entitled me to one of the lowers and the lady sat in the other while a peasant of shop-keeper type dropped off to sleep in the upper above her. I removed collar, coat, and shoes, wrapped myself in my overcoat and prepared for sleep. Then the lady skillfully climbed a ladder and leaped into the other upper. Thus perfectly naturally and decorously we travelled together. Next morning we all conversed and a third man who proved to be a clerk for the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce produced some chewing-gum, which was an amusing novelty to the lady and the peasant. At the Nikolaieff Station in Petrograd the porter told me there were no svoshchiks. When I reached the front of the station, I knew instinctively that the revolution had begun. Not a vehicle in sight, except a stray truck-sledge or two, not a street-car on that usually busy square; only the people standing amazed on the sidewalks and a patrol of Cossacks riding placidly around the snow-covered road-way. A workman came and explained, and then showed me by gestures, that there had been shooting.
(James L. Houghteling, Jr,  A Diary of the Russian Revolution , New York 1918)

Diary entry of Lev Tikhomirov, revolutionary and later conservative thinker
Surprising news has been received (from two different sources) from Petrograd. It seems the State Duma has been dissolved but the Duma hasn’t dispersed and a military mutiny has erupted in its defence. Three or four Guard regiments have seized the Arsenal and apparently the Peter and Paul Fortress too, and they’re guarding the Duma. Seems that Golitsyn has resigned, and Protopopov has rushed off to Tsarskoe Selo. Looks like some kind of committee has been formed under the chairmanship of Rodzianko. Terrifying news, if it is true. How will it end? I’m worried for our Kolya too. Who knows whether he’ll be dragged into putting down the mutiny or be forced to fight with the mutineers. Which is worse? One thing for sure, the situation is desperate … And how typical: on 22nd February the Tsar heads to the front, by the 24th ‘bread’ demonstrations are starting, and on the 27th we have a military pronunciamento [coup] . A clear conspiracy. But it would be good to know what it’s trying to achieve. What do they want to do?
(L.A. Tikhomirov,  Diary 1915-1917 , Moscow 2008)

Memoir of Princess Paley
On the Monday, February 27th, the total absence of all newspapers made us fear the worst. At Tsarskoe we lacked nothing, but in St Petersburg there was a shortage of bread … My daughters telephoned from the capital that the firing was growing worse and worse, and that some of the regiments were beginning to join the rioters. Towards two o’clock there arrived from Petrograd a certain Ivanoff, a notary’s clerk, a young man of great intelligence, brave and ambitious … ‘All is not lost,’ he declared. ‘If the Emperor would but mount a white horse at the Narva Gate and make a triumphant return into the town, the situation would be saved. How can you remain quietly here?’
(Princess Paley,  Memories of Russia, 1916-1919 , London 1924)

Letter from Nicholas to Alexandra in Tsarskoe Selo
My own Treasure!
Tender thanks for your dear letter. This will be my last one. How happy I am at the thought of meeting you in two days. I had much to do & therefore my letter is short. After the news of yesterday from town I saw many faces here with frightened expressions.
( The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra: April 1914-March 1917 , ed. Joseph T. Fuhrmann, London 1999)


28 February

Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
… a day which has been prolific in grave events and may perhaps have determined the future of Russia for a century to come.
(Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 ,  London 1973)


1 March

Letter from Aleksei Peshkov [Maxim Gorky] to his wife E.P. Peshkova, from Petrograd
The events taking place may appear grandiose, even moving at times, but their meaning is not so profound and sublime as everyone imagines. I am filled with skepticism, even though I am also moved to tears at the sight of soldiers marching to the State Duma to the sound of music. I don’t believe in a revolutionary army; I think that many people are mistaking an absence of organization and discipline for revolutionary activity. All the forces in Petersburg have gone over to the Duma, that’s true; so have the units coming from Oranienbaum, Pavlovsk and Tsarskoe. But the officers will, of course, side with Rodzianko and Miliukov up to a certain point, and only the wildest dreamer would expect the army to stand together with the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. The police, ensconced in attics, spray the public and soldiers with machine-gun fire. Cars packed with soldiers and bearing red flags drive around the city in the search for policemen in disguise, and these are then placed under arrest. In some cases they are killed, but for the most part they are brought to the Duma, where about 200 policemen out of 35,000 have already been rounded up. There’s a great deal of absurdity – more than there is of the grandiose. Looting has begun. What will happen next? I don’t know But I see clearly that the Kadets and the Octobrists are turning the revolution into a military coup. Will they succeed? It seems they already have. We won’t turn back, but we won’t go very far ahead either – perhaps only a sparrow’s step. And of course a lot of blood, an unprecedented amount, will be shed.
( Maksim Gorky: Selected Letters , Oxford 1997)

Diary entry of Nicholas II
At night we had to turn back from Malaia-Vichera as Liuban and Tosno turned out to be in the hands of the insurgents. Shame and dishonour! It isn’t possible to get to Tsarskoe, although all my thoughts and feelings are constantly there! How difficult it must be for poor Alix to have to go through all this alone! Help us, Lord!
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion , London 1996)


2 March

Letter from Alexandra to Nicholas
We all kiss & kiss & bless you with without end. God will help & yr glory will come. This is at the climax of the bad, the horror before our allies!! & the enemies joy!! Can advise nothing, be only yr precious self. If you have to give into things, God will help you to get out of them. Ah, my suffering saint, I am one with you, inseparably one, old Wify. [P.S.] May this image I have blessed bring you my fervent blessings, strength, help. Wear [Rasputin’s] cross the whole time even if uncomfortable for my peace’s sake.
( The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra: April 1914-March 1917 , ed. Joseph T. Fuhrmann, London 1999)

Telegram from General Brusilov to Nicholas
…At the present time only one measure can save the situation and make it possible to go on fighting the external enemy, without which Russia will perish – that is to abdicate from the throne in favour of his Majesty the Heir Tsarevich under the regency of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich. There is no other alternative. But it is essential to make haste, to quell the popular conflagration which has flared up and is gaining ever larger proportions, lest it entrain in its wake immeasurably catastrophic consequences. Such an act will save the dynasty in the person of the legitimate heir.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion ,London 1996)

Diary entry of Nicholas II
Ruzsky came in the morning and recited his long telephone conversation with Rodzianko. According to him the situation in Petrograd is such that the ministry from the Duma is now powerless to do anything because they are in conflict with the Social Democrat party in the form of the workers’ committee. My abdication is necessary. Ruzsky relayed his conversation to General Headquarters, and Alexeev communicated it to all the commanders-in-chief. By 2.30 they had all sent their answers, the essence of which is that for the sake of Russia’s salvation and in order to maintain order at the front, this step has to be taken. I agreed. We received a draft of the manifesto from Headquarters. In the evening Guchkov and Shulgin arrived from Petrograd. I spoke with them and handed them the recopied manifesto, signed. At 1 o’clock in the morning I left Pskov with a heavy heart. All around only betrayal, cowardice and deceit!
( Nicholas and Alexandra: The Last Imperial Family of Tsarist Russia , London 1998)


Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
The Executive Committee of the Duma and the Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies have come to an agreement on the following points: 1. Abdication of the Emperor; 2. Accession of the Tsarevich; 3. The Grand Duke Mikhail (the Emperor’s brother) to be regent; 4. Formation of a responsible ministry; 5. Election of a constituent assembly by universal suffrage; 6. All races to be proclaimed equal before the law. The young deputy Kerensky, who has gained a reputation as an advocate in political trials, is coming out as one of the most active and strong-minded organisers of the new order.
(Maurice Paléologue,  An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 London 1973)

Diary entry of George V (King of England and cousin of Nicholas II)
[Grand Duke] Michael came and I told him all about the revolution in Petrograd, he was much upset, I fear Alicky [Alexandra] is the cause of it all and Nicky has been weak. Heard from Buchanan that the Duma had forced Nicky to sign his abdication and Misha had been appointed Regent, and after he has been 23 years Emperor, I am in despair.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion ,London 1996)


Speech by Alexander Kerensky in the Soviet of Workers' Deputies
Comrades, in joining the Provisional Government I remained what I was before - a republican (loud applause). In all my work I rely on the will of the people. I must have the powerful support of the people. Can I trust in you as in myself (rousing ovation, cries of 'we trust in you, comrade'). I cannot live without the people, and as soon as you begin to doubt me, kill me (new wave of applause) ... Comrades! Allow me to return to the Provisional Government and announce that I am joining its ranks with your agreement, as your representative (cries of 'Long live Kerensky').
(A.F. Kerensky,  Diary of a Politician , Moscow 2007)

3 March

Report in The Times
There has been a revolution in Russia. The Emperor Nicholas II has abdicated. His brother, the Grand Duke Michael, has been appointed Regent. The Parliamentary leaders, with the people and the Army at their back, have carried out a coup d’Etat . While the bulk of the Petrograd garrison held the city for the Parliamentary cause, M. Rodzianko, the President of the Duma, demanded of the Tsar a new Government. Failing to receive satisfaction, M. Rodzianko placed himself at the head of a Provisional Government of 12 members. The new Government has dispersed the old Ministry, and has arrested many of its leading members … In Petrograd order is now being rapidly restored after considerable street fighting on Sunday and Monday. There is every indication that the revolution has completely succeeded.
( The Times , 'Revolution in Russia')


Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
Nicholas II abdicated yesterday, shortly before midnight. When the emissaries of the Duma … arrived at Pskov about nine o’clock in the evening [they said]…: ‘Nothing but the abdication of Your Majesty in favour of your son can still save the Russian Fatherland and preserve the dynasty.’ The Emperor replied very quickly, as if referring to some perfectly commonplace matter: ‘I decided to abdicate yesterday. But I cannot be separated from my son; that is more than I could bear; his health is too delicate … I shall therefore abdicate in favour of my brother, Michael Alexandrovitch’. … The Emperor then went into his study with the Minister of the Court; he came out ten minutes later with the act of abdication signed.
(Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador's Memoirs 1914-1917 , London 1973)

Diary entry of Nicholas II
It appears that Misha has abdicated. His manifesto concludes with a call for elections for a Constituent Assembly within six months. God knows who advised him to sign such a vile document! In Petrograd the disturbances have stopped - long may it remain that way.
( Nicholas and Alexandra: The Last Imperial Family of Tsarist Russia , London 1998)


4 March

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
An outstanding day in my personal life. I've left my 'safe little haven' and 'launched myself into the maelstrom'! I've been dragged into it by Grzhebin, Dobuzhinsky, Petrov-Vodkin and most of all by Gorky. I'd have preferred to remain an onlooker, on the side - everything that's going on makes me feel a little ill, it's all alien to me and I've started to see very clearly the earthly nature of things. But now I have no hope of coming to my senses, and it's too late to go back. On the other hand, the possibilities in front of me are not without a certain grandiosity! A sense of duty is also stirring in me. For it seems that much that can be done now in the specifically cultural sphere can only be done with my close participation and even leadership. I've put my shoulder to the wheel, even though I foresee that all the activity ahead will only lead to total disappointment! Ah, if only Diaghilev were here now! ... A gathering of us returned from Gorky's  on this wonderfully keen frosty night .... There were quite a few pickets around burning fires. No cries or swearing anywhere. And absolutely no drunks (over the last few days there have been a lot, despite the prohibition on strong liquor). Generally there's a sense of unreality, as if it's a dream. And the question again arises: can the Russian people really be this wise and responsible? Or is this order just the expression of a general apathy and exhaustion? My own personal unease for some reason won't stop growing, without any real cause. Or am I only now beginning to make the transition from subconscious to conscious perception? Maybe this disquietude is that of the onlooker who has only seen the first act of a tragedy, the introduction, and is tormented by the thought: what will happen next? 
(Alexander Benois ,   Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

On Saturday, together with the other Allied Consular representative, I was present at an impressive review on the Red Square where General Gruzinov, President of the Moscow Zemstvo, took the march past of over 30,000 troops. The police had wisely made themselves scarce. The people themselves kept order. Strangers embraced in the streets and shouted ‘Long Live Liberty!’ Many educated Russians who saw these scenes hoped and believed that something spiritual and almost saintly, something inspiringly great, had happened in those days of March 1917. From the defeat of despotism a better and stronger Russia would arise. Apart from the unhappy reactionaries who had been imprisoned, there were in this early period few Russians who realized that the peaceful revolution marked the collapse of all discipline and that defeat – and something worse than defeat – now stared a sorely tried people in the face. In the first 24 hours two things had happened which were soon to destroy the initial unanimity of the revolutionaries. First, the revolution had been made on the streets, for the people had forestalled the cautious Duma composed of landowners, intellectuals and professional men. The revolution had therefore two heads: the Duma and the Soviets. The people had been led mainly by the Socialists. Yet in the new Provisional Government there was only one Socialist, Alexander Kerensky, who was then Minister of Justice. Secondly, in a country of which 80 percent of the people were totally illiterate and which had been ruled autocratically for centuries, all the freedoms were released at once. Among those freed from the jails were not only political prisoners but also the worst criminals.

(Robert Bruce Lockhart,   Foreign Affairs  journal 1957)

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4 March 2017

In much that's been written about the centenary over the past few weeks, the first revolution - the February revolution that within the seven days of this week's post led to the overthrow of the monarchy - has been described as the 'forgotten revolution'. This was perhaps inevitable, given that the 'Great October Revolution' a few months later brought the communists to power and it was they who essentially wrote the script for the next eighty or so years. For Lenin and co, this was only the beginning, but by any measure it was an astonishing event. Britain's Brexit vote and America's election of its first citizen-president that fill today's column inches are painted in vivid colours, but a coup that ended several centuries of autocratic government by monarchy and replaced it initially with rule by parliament was more significant by far. And yet, reading the diary of Nicholas or his letters to his 'wify' over these transition days, one would think that he was being asked to relinquish a rather tiresome desk job, one that he had clung to more out of habit than aptitude (which is perhaps not far from the truth). David Reynolds, writing in the New Statesman about a new book by Robert Service, The Last of the Tsars , talks of 'the tsar's limp surrender of the throne' and gives these possible explanations: 'Emotional exhaustion; pressure from the army command; concern for his haemophiliac son; the impossibility of squaring a constitutional monarchy with his coronation oath.' From some of the first-hand testimony quoted above, it's hard to disagree with his conclusion, that 'it still seems astonishing that this proud scion of the Romanov dynasty, rulers of Russia for three centuries, signed away his throne on a provincial railway station with blank calm - as if, to quote one aide, "he were turning over command of a cavalry squadron".'

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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