The Russian Revolution week by week

5–11 March 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.


Alexander Kerensky, leading member of the Provisional Government

5 March
Diary entry of Georges-Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia
I went out to see some of the churches: I was curious to know how the faithful would behave at the Sunday mass now that the name of the Emperor has been deleted from public prayers … The same scene met me everywhere; a grave and silent congregation exchanging amazed and melancholy glances. Some of the moujiks looked bewildered and horrified and several had tears in their eyes. Yet even among those who seemed the most moved I could not find one who did not sport a red cockade or armband. They had all been working for the Revolution; all of them were with it, body and soul. But that did not prevent them from shedding tears for their little Father, the Tsar, Tsary batiushka! 
(Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador’s Memoirs 1914–1917, London 1973)


6 March
Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
People say that the Emperor is asking to be taken to Tsarskoye selo, to be near the Grand Duchesses, who are ill. From there he would go to England by way of Murmansk. 
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917–1918, London 1969)


Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman (Letter to Sir Arthur George)
Oh! Archie we have had a week! As you may imagine, I have been in the streets all through the revolution — constantly on my stomach in the snow with the police machine-guns firing over me. You would have laughed to see me lying in the snow in the middle of a street with a fat woman across my body and the machine-guns raking the street. I am very, very tired. I saw a great deal and also heard a great deal of first-hand news, all of which I have written down from hour to hour … The first firing by the police was in our street at 5.15p.m. on Saturday [25 February]. — Until Wednesday [1st], a complete upheaval. By Thursday the police had been beaten and the Emperor had abdicated. The new Executive Government only wanted a Constitutional regime, but things have gone so far it will probably have to be a Republic; still, Russia is a box of surprises … The fear is that the present Liberal-Radical Government may become Radical-Red. 
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915–1917, New York 1919)


8 March
Memoir of Pierre Gilliard, tutor to the Tsar’s children
At half past ten on the morning of the 8th Her Majesty summoned me and told me that General Kornilov had been sent by the Provisional Government to inform her that the Tsar and herself were under arrest and that those who did not wish to be kept in close confinement must leave the palace before four o’clock. I replied that I had decided to stay with them. ‘The Tsar is coming back tomorrow. Alexei must be told everything. Will you do it? I am going to tell the girls myself.’ … I went to Alexei and told him that the Tsar would be returning from Mogilev next morning and would never go back there again. ‘Why?’ ‘Your father does not want to be Commander-in-Chief any more.’ He was greatly moved by this, as he was very fond of going to GHQ. After a moment or two I added: ‘You know that your father does not want to be Tsar any more?’ He looked at me in astonishment, trying to read in my face what had happened. ‘What! Why?’ ‘He is very tired and has had a lot of trouble lately.’ ‘Oh yes! Mother told me they stopped his train when he wanted to come here. But won’t papa be Tsar again afterwards?’ I then told him that the Tsar had abdicated in favour of the Grand Duke Mikhail, who had also renounced the throne. ‘But who’s going to be Tsar, then?’ ‘I don’t know. Perhaps nobody now.’ Not a word about himself. Not a single allusion to his rights as the Heir. He was very red and agitated. There was a silence, and then he said: ‘But if there isn’t a Tsar, who’s going to govern Russia?’ At four o’clock the doors of the palace were closed. We were prisoners!
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion, London 1996)


9 March
Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to the Imperial Court
The Emperor — who after his abdication had returned to his former headquarters at Mohileff — was now styled ‘Colonel’ Romanoff, according to his official rank in the army. On March [9] he was brought to Tsarskoe, where he and the Empress were placed under arrest. When the news of his abdication had first reached the palace the Empress had refused to credit it… But, when the first shock was over, she behaved with wonderful dignity and courage. ‘I am now only a nursing sister,’ she said. … Though, during their stay at Tsarskoe, Their Majesties were under constant guard, and could not even walk in their private garden without being stared at by a little crowd of curious spectators who watched them through the park railings, they were spared any ill-treatment. Special measures for their protection were taken by Kerensky, as at one moment the extremists, who clamoured for their punishment, had threatened to seize them and to imprison them in the fortress.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia, London 1923)


Report in the Manchester Guardian 
M. Kerensky, one of the Russian Socialist leaders and the new Minister of Justice, in an interview with the ‘Daily Chronicle’s’ Petrograd correspondent, said: — ‘I must tell you frankly that we Russian Democrats have been latterly rather worried about England, because of the close relations between your Government and the corrupt Government we had. But now, thank God, that is over, and our deep, strong feeling for England as the champion of liberty will come into its own again.’
(The Manchester Guardian, ‘Russian Democrats and Britain’, 22 [9] March 1917)


Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to the Imperial Court
The United States Ambassador was the first to recognise the Provisional Government officially on March [9], an achievement of which he was always very proud. I had, unfortunately, been laid up for a few days with a bad chill, and it was only on the afternoon of the [11th] that I was allowed to get up and go with my French and Italian colleagues to the Ministry, where Prince Lvoff and all the members of his Government were waiting to receive us. 
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia, London 1923)


Memoir of Princess Paley
The Embassy of England, on the orders of Lloyd George, had become a centre of propaganda. The Liberals, Prince Lvoff, Miliukoff, Rodzianko, Maklakoff, Guchkoff etc, were constantly there. It was at the English Embassy that it was decided to abandon legal avenues and follow the path of Revolution. It should be added that in all of this Sir George Buchanan, the English Ambassador to Petrograd, was satisfying a personal grudge. The Emperor didn’t like him and he was increasingly cool towards him. 
(Princess Paley, ‘Souvenirs de Russie’, Revue de Paris 1922)


Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to the Imperial Court
Princess Paley, unlike my other critics, has rendered me one service for which I am grateful. I have often wondered what was the motive that prompted me to start the Russian revolution, and she is good enough to tell me. The Emperor did not like me — he has received me at my last audience standing — he had never offered me a chair. What more natural than that after such treatment I should … try to bring about a palace revolution?
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia, London 1923)


10 March 
Letter from Aleksei Peshkov [Maxim Gorky] to his son M.A. Peshkov from Petrograd
My dear friend, my son, You should bear in mind that the revolution has only just begun; it will last for years, a counter-revolution is possible, and the emergence of reactionary ideas and attitudes is inevitable … The events taking place here threaten us with grave danger. We have accomplished the political revolution and now we must consolidate our conquests … And we must remember that Wilhelm Hohenzollern could still play the same role in the rebirth of reaction as was once played by our own Alexander Romanov I. The Petersburg bourgeois is capable of greeting Wilhelm with the same applause with which he once greeted Alexander! … Russia is now a free country and the German invasion is threatening that freedom. If Wilhelm were to win, the Romanovs would be restored to power. 
(Maksim Gorky: Selected Letters, Oxford 1997)


11 March 2017
Alexander Kerensky (1881–1970), the son of a school superintendent from Simbirsk, graduated in law in 1904 and specialised in legal aid. In December 1905 he was arrested and imprisoned for four months for possession of illegal literature. For the next six years he devoted himself to the defence of political offenders all over Russia. In 1913 he came to public attention for highlighting the government’s antisemitic policies in the trial of Menahem Beilis. For this Kerensky was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment and denied the right to run for public office (though he was already a member of the Duma).

Kerensky was a highly informed opponent of the Tsarist regime, but surely he could never have anticipated his sudden elevation to the forefront of Russia’s revolutionary events. In the words of one historian, ‘Kerensky’s emergence as a popular leader in the first days of the February Revolution was phenomenal. He was everywhere, in the halls of the Duma, on the streets, in the barracks, voicing with impassioned eloquence the hopes and aspirations of the people. When the decision was taken to form a new government, it was clear to all he would have to be in it.’

Kerensky’s role in the Provisional Government will form part of the narrative of the coming months; how he saw it all ten years later is clear from the title of his 1927 memoir: ‘The Catastrophe’. In the book he makes an interesting, though perhaps rather self-justifying, assertion about the importance of the Revolution in the eventual defeat of Germany: ‘The Revolution succeeded in abolishing the autocracy, but it could not remove the exhaustion of the country, for one of its main duties was to carry on the War. It had decided to put the utmost strain upon the country’s resources. Herein lay the tragedy of the Revolution and of the Russian people. Some day the world will learn to understand in its proper light the via crucis Russia walked in 1916–17 and is, indeed, still walking. I am quite convinced that the Revolution alone kept the Russian army at the front until the autumn of 1917, that it alone made it possible for the United States to come into the War, that the Revolution alone made the defeat of Hohenzollern Germany possible.’