The Russian Revolution week by week
18–24 June 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.
A clear, windy morning. Workers and soldiers assembled early. That day sister demonstrations were planned in Moscow, Kiev, Minsk, Riga, Helsingfors (Helsinki), Kharkov, and across the empire. At 9 a.m., a band struck up the Marseillaise, the French national anthem that had become an international hymn to freedom. The parade began its procession down Nevsky Prospect.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, London 2017)
Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
It was on a magnificent scale. All worker and soldier Petersburg took part in it. But what was the political character of this demonstration? ‘Bolsheviks again,’ I remarked, looking at the slogans, ‘and there behind them is another Bolshevik column.’
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record, Oxford 1955)
Resolution of the workers of the ‘Old Parviainen’ metal and machine factory, Petrograd
We, the workers of the ‘Old Parviainen’ factory, having discussed Comrade Yevdokimov’s report at the general meeting of both shifts on 15 June, consider the policy of appeasement with our country’s capitalists, and through them with capitalists worldwide as well, to be ruinous for the cause of Russian and international revolution … Long live the power of the revolutionary proletariat and peasantry! … Peace to the hovels! War against the palaces! … Down with the ten capitalist ministers! … No separate peace with Wilhelm, no secret agreements with the English and French capitalists!
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917, New Haven and London 2001)
Letter from Sofia Yudina in Polyana to her friend Nina Agafonnikova in Vyatka
Our luggage has arrived, and we are all so happy — so, so happy! And why wouldn’t we be! My music has come, my books, and everything else. And the luggage is fine, not damaged at all. Though of course it did take a month to get here…
Nothing much has changed with us. I’ve read six books by Diogenes, I practise my music — half of it diligently, but the other half I don’t have time or energy. There’s no time to draw, when I do I will draw something for you as well, but for the moment I’ve not tried to draw anything…
It’s sweltering here and dry, there’s been no rain to speak of, just one storm with rain but it didn’t wet the ground much. The strawberries are going over, the raspberries are ripening, the currents and so forth. We’ve had all sorts of vegetables for some time now. The roses are blooming. We swim every day…
I’m eating a lot, putting on weight, getting fat — Mamochka is happy…
Everyone’s well, we’re just being eaten by mosquitoes, midges and so on and so on. We go barefoot all day….
With all my kisses!
Write, my dearest: you have more time for letters, I have so little.
Say hello to everyone!
(Viktor Berdinskikh, Letters from Petrograd: 1916–1919, St Petersburg 2016)
Olga, Nicholas II’s eldest daughter, to P. Petrov, Tsarskoe Selo
We go for a walk in the afternoons from 2 o’clock until 5. We each do something in the garden. If it’s not too close, Mama also comes out, and lies on a couch under the tree by the water. Papa goes (with several others) deep into the garden where he fells and saws up dead trees. Alexei plays on the ‘children’s island’, runs around barefoot and sometimes swims … Lessons continue as normal. Maria and I are studying English together. She reads aloud to me, and if it’s not too hot, will do a dictation … Twice a week Anastasia and I study medieval history. It is much more difficult, as I have a terrible memory for all those events, though she isn’t any better.
Your pupil no. 1, Olga
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion, London 1996)
Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
A procession of soldiers went up the Nevski at noon. In the afternoon to visit the Felix Yusupovs. He showed me exactly where Rasputin was killed, the blood-stained Polar bear skin, and how it happened. We then walked to the Nevski, where Felix left me.
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915–1917, New York 1919)
This morning we were all rested and in good spirits. Camp-fires have been lit and water is plentiful. One or two of us Sisters washed and ironed our laundry. But before long our peace was disturbed by shouting and the noise of creaking vehicles … there were soldiers everywhere, hundreds of them. The ground was covered with their tents. The 45th and 46th Siberian Regiments have encamped in our wood, awaiting reinforcements.
(Florence Farmborough, Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914–18, London 1974)
Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
This evening I watched a demonstration of territorials, several thousand in number, who marched along the Nevsky Prospekt demanding ‘Bread and Peace’. It is hard to imagine anything more dishevelled and dirty than this troop of ragged men with long hair and shaggy beards, their pale, vacant eyes staring out of weatherbeaten hairy faces … They carried red notice-boards with inscriptions in watery ink, and as they marched they gnawed hunks of black bread or chewed sunflower seeds. This tatterdemalion army made a lamentable impression of poverty, savagery and fatalism. It is a crime to take men away from their homes and their work, and then leave them in a state of total want: the first thing to do is to demobilise all these poor wretches, who are quite justified in their demands for bread, and who are of no use in the war.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917–1918, London 1969)
A resolution passed by the Congress of Soldiers’ and Workmens’ Delegates condemns the anti-Jewish agitation in Russia, in which it sees a danger to the revolutionary movement.
Imperial and Foreign News Items, The Times
24 June 2017
In her recent Reith lectures, Hilary Mantel says that ‘Facts are not truth, though they are part of it — information is not knowledge. And history is not the past — it is the method we have evolved of organising our ignorance of the past … It’s what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it — a few stones, scraps of writing, scraps of cloth.’ The scraps of cloth I’ve pinned to this particular notice-board are perhaps even more misleading than most ‘versions’ of history. One thinks they tell a truth because they are often first-hand accounts, or at least written in recent memory of the events they describe. But then you read our ‘anonymous Englishman’ describing his encounter with Rasputin’s murderer, Yusupov, and it seems likely that the myth-ship surrounding the monk’s death had already launched. What hope do we have of gleaning the truth a century later when people were already composing their own, often self-regarding, accounts just a few months after an event? Perhaps what we can take from these scraps of cloth are the details, the notice-boards inscribed with ‘watery ink’ that the starved marchers are carrying, the raspberries that have ripened in the summer heat, just as they have done for many years before and continue to do so today — but somehow so appreciated in June 1917 by the girl on her country estate.