The Russian Revolution week by week
1–7 January 1917
A hundred years ago this year, Russia overthrew a monarchy and started off on a path that eventually led to 70 years of communism.
As publishers of books on Russian culture (www.fontanka.co.uk) we wanted to trace the events of this momentous year week by week, in personal testimony and memoir.
Hold on to your hats, here we go…
Nicholas II’s diary entry for the final New Year of his reign
At six o’clock we went to church. In the evening I worked. At ten to midnight we went to the service. I prayed fervently to the Lord to have mercy on Russia.
(Sergei Mironenko (ed.), Nicholas and Alexandra: The Last Imperial Family of Tsarist Russia, London 1998)
Pyotr Gnedich, art historian, critic and dramatist, writes in a Petrograd newspaper
New Year. And the cruel, bloody war still goes on. For the third year in a row we greet the New Year surrounded by the ghosts of its nightmares … There can be no return to the past. Our boats are burned. We have to accept that the old order is collapsing like a decrepit piece of junk that’s no good for anything. A new structure will emerge … The New Year is a milestone, a turning post at which we measure the path we’ve trod … There are many sorrows and horrors ahead, but we must bear them and emerge from the quagmire to a brighter way.
(Pyotr Gnedich, ‘At New Year!’, Petrogradskaya gazeta, 1 January 1917)
Diary entry of Captain I.I. Rengarten of the Baltic Fleet
They say that the empress has a strong will and that the sovereign does as she says; that all the ministers, if they don’t want to be sacked, have to report not just to the sovereign but to the empress as well. So that in effect she is ruling. There’s also talk of her distinctly German sympathies… The scoundrels! What are they doing to my country!? Just thinking about it makes your head spin.
(Diary of I.I. Rengarten, The February Revolution in the Baltic Fleet)
Report in The Times headed ‘Rasputin Dead’
The body of the notorious monk Rasputin was found on the bank of one of the branches of the Neva this morning. An enquiry has been opened. Gregory Rasputin, the peasant ‘fakir’, whose death has been previously reported on more than one occasion, exercised for several years a sinister influence in Russia. He was a favourite at Court, and enjoyed the patronage of the Empress, who is believed to have attributed the birth of the Tsarevitch to his intercession. […] Handsome, with long reddish hair and beard, broad shouldered, vigorous and erect, Rasputin had an extraordinary personality, and his so-called religious salons at Petrograd were frequented by all sorts and conditions of people, from generals to beggars.
Report in The Times headed ‘End of a Nightmare’
It is stated that there were three bullet wounds in Rasputin’s body, in the head, chest, and side. He was killed at the Petrograd house of one of the most aristocratic families in Russia, and his body was then conveyed to the mouth of the Neva in a motor-car and dropped through the ice. The names of those who took part in the deed are generally know. It is no exaggeration to say that the whole of Russia breathes more freely for the removal of a most baleful influence, recognised as one of the pivots of the Germanophil forces. This hideous medieval nightmare is now dissipating, and no purpose would be served by recapitulating its immoral horrors.
Extract from a history of the revolution
On January 7, 1917, [Nicholas] received a visit from Mikhail Rodzianko, the Chairman of the Duma. He listened impassively to the familiar warnings, but when Rodzianko urged him not to put the people in a position of having ‘to choose between you and the good of the country,’ Nicholas ‘pressed his head between his hands’ and said, ‘Is it possible that for twenty-two years it was all a mistake?’
(Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, London 1995)
7 January 2017
That was then, this is now. Just a few extra lines every week, with links to relevant sites about the revolution centenary or events taking place over the year. As publishers of books on Russian culture and committed Russophiles (www.fontanka.co.uk), we thought it would be interesting to trace the course of events in personal testimonies, diaries, newspaper reports and so on. There’s no attempt at historical analysis or balance — like magpies we’re just gathering together bits and pieces that catch our eye, some of which come from books long forgotten or sources originally in Russian.
A quick note on dates. Soviet Russia changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in the spring of 1918, which means that in 1917 the country was still running two weeks behind Western Europe. This can make for some confusion, particularly as some sources use one system and others the other. We’ll aim for consistency by sticking to the Julian calendar (the February and October revolutions thereby stay true to their names, rather than slipping over into March and November), but discrepancies may remain.
Over the next few weeks we’ll mention some of the events marking the Revolution in the UK and beyond, as well as in Russia. The big one to look out for in London is the exhibition at the Royal Academy, Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932, which opens on 11 February.
Have just come across a Russian site marking the anniversary in the form of a fascinating, social-media-based project. For Russian speakers, see project 1917 which provides day by day extracts and photographs that chronicle the year’s events.