The Russian Revolution week by week
11–17 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.
At the front, the war crawled on. A strange infrastructure of death. Beyond fields of rye and potatoes and grazing cows, deep in thick woods, Red Cross tents loomed in forest clearings … Trench-drenched soldiers the colour of the ripped-up earth taking what hours of respite they could, drinking tea from tin mugs. Alternate rhythms of boredom and terror … The rage of machine guns, the visitations of bad spirits, twelve-inch shells nicknamed for the witch Baba Yaga, screaming in to tear the world apart.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, London 2017)
Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
It was proposed to organise an ‘official Soviet’ workers’ and peasants’ peaceful demonstration the following Sunday, June 18th, in Petersburg, and in other cities as far as possible … The idea of this demonstration revealed the triumph of a softer line within the Star Chamber with respect to the Bolsheviks. In any case the June 18th demonstration was the tribute of vice to virtue. The resolution was, of course, passed in the absence of the Bolsheviks. It goes without saying that the Bolsheviks had no ground for objection either.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record, Oxford 1955)
Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
My articles against the law banning the export of works of art have not appeared. … Stip [the artist Stepan Yaremich] is convinced that this is Faberge’s doing and that they’re planning to close the antique shop and thereby create a huge fall in the value of art. [Artist Osip] Braz thinks the same … he thinks Agafon Karlovich Faberge is just a dealer and a roguish swindler.
(Alexander Benois, Diary 1916–1918, Moscow 2006)
Report in The Times
A representative conference of seafaring men held in London yesterday decided that the embargo placed on the journey of Mr Ramsay MacDonald and Mr Jowett to Petrograd should be maintained … Before any resolution was moved, Captain Grace, one of the delegates, said that they were determined to carry on the struggle with the enemy to the last ship and the last man. In granting passports to Mr Ramsay MacDonald and Mr Jowett, the Government were not playing the game. The two men were known to be pro-German pacifists.
(‘Ban on Russian Journey to be Maintained’, The Times)
On June 16, the Russian army struck. The brunt of the assault fell on the Southern front, against Lwow and Galicia. But the offensive, in which the Eighth Army under Kornilov distinguished itself, dissipated as soon as the Germans came to the Austrians’ aid. At the sight of the German uniforms, the Russians fled in panic. The June operation was the dying gasp of the Russian army.
(Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, London 1995)
Diary entry of an anonymous Englishman
Arrived Petrograd at 11.30 a.m. No porters and no cabs; commandeered private two-horse carriage, which took me to the hotel for 5 roubles — five times ordinary price! My case of Crimean wine, too heavy for luggage van, travelled under conductor’s bed. Streets filthy.
(The Russian Diary of an Englishman, Petrograd 1915–1917, New York 1919)
17 June 2017
I’ve no idea whether Alexei Navalny, Russia’s main opposition leader, is following the course of the revolution centenary, but it is interesting that his mass anti-corruption rallies took place in the same week, a hundred years on, as the huge demonstrations convened by the Soviet against the Provisional Government. Their description as ‘provocative acts, dangerous to bystanders’ which would ‘be met with the full force of the law’ belongs to Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, but very similar words were used by government representatives in June 1917. Again, it’s easy to force the parallels, but there’s at least one blogger who describes Navalny as ‘trying to become the first Russian politician since Vladimir Lenin to seize power from outside the system’.