The Russian Revolution week by week
26 March — 1 April 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.
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 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.