THE DOWNFALL OF THE OLD RÉGIME
DURING the morning of the 12th of March I was rung up by a telephone message, It has begun.
At once I realised what had happened. No, that is incorrect. At the time none of us realised what was taking place, none realised what a revolution really meant. But we all, the whole city, realised at once that it was the Revolution.
The winter of 1916-17 had passed in a state of nervous and oppressed expectancy. The front was war-weary, and the homeland still more so. Neither the political nor the economic structure of Russia was prepared for such a prolonged and strenuous military tension. The country having given its best to the army, the front held out better than the rear. Difficulties in the food-supply were beginning to make themselves felt. Compared with what the Russian towns were destined to undergo owing to the Revolution, these restrictions were, as yet, insignificant. Yet at the time all food embarrassments were still a novelty and provoked general discontent. This enhanced the evergrowing distrust and antagonism towards the Government. The Duma gradually became the authoritative centre of patriotic and therefore opposition elements. It was an opposition rallied around the motto, Defence of the Fatherland. The mere shadow of an agreement with Germany provoked the sharp protest of these circles. For the purpose of a more energetic carrying-on of the war the peoples representatives persistently demanded a Ministry of confidence, i.e. that the blind, unpopular, incapable, and unintelligent Ministers should be replaced by universally respected, honourable public men. Nicholas II. remained deaf to these demands, treating them as an insolent infringement of his prerogative as an autocrat. His tenacity augmented the opposition. Throughout Russia, both at the front and at home, rumour grew ever louder concerning the pernicious influence exercised by the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, at whose side rose the sinister figure of Gregory Rasputin. This charlatan and hypnotist had wormed himself into the Tsars palace and gradually acquired a limitless power over the hysterical Empress, and through her over the Sovereign. Rasputins proximity to the Tsars family proved fatal to the dynasty, for no political criticism can harm the prestige of Tsars so effectually as the personal weakness, vice, or debasement of the members of a royal house.
Rumours were current, up to now unrepudiated, but likewise unconfirmed, that the Germans were influencing Alexandra Feodorovna through the medium of Rasputin and Stürmer. Haughty and unapproachable, she lacked popularity, and was all the more readily suspected of almost anything, even of pro-Germanism, since the crowd is always ready to believe anything that tends to augment their suspicions. In November the Duma made an emphatic demand for a change in the Governments policy. On the 14th of November the leader of the opposition, P.N. Milyukov, made a historical speech, which is considered by many as marking the first day of the revolution. Characterising the policy of the Prime Minister, Stürmer, P.N. Milyukov pointed out that in dwelling upon the conduct of the head of the Government one could not refrain from putting the question, What is it, folly or treason ?
In those days these words were upon everybodys lips. The incapacity of the authorities became ever more apparent. Government circles were incapable of realising the necessity of granting concessions. Meanwhile only in unison with trusted statesmen could the Government bring the war with Germany to a victorious end.
The assassination of Rasputin came as a first consequence of the speeches uttered in the Duma. This was a society revolt, a protest of aristocrats and monarchists against the degradation of the Tsars dignity. The circles which planned this assassination had not the habit of political reflexion. They did not realise that Rasputin was not a casual phenomenon, but the sign of the profound dissolution of the autocratic principle, which the monarchists aspired to save. The leading part in Rasputins murder was played by the young Count Yusupov-Sumarokov-Elston, one of the wealthiest of Russian aristocrats, a relative of the Tsar by his marriage with the daughter of Nicholas IIs sister.
His chief assistant and accomplice was one of the most gifted and energetic defenders of the autocracy, a member of the Duma, Vl. Purishkevich. By exterminating the evil genius of the Tsars family these men hoped to purify the principle of autocracy itself and save the old regime. But nothing was changed with Rasputins removal, nothing improved either in affairs of the State or in the Tsars situation. Formerly the Tsars various mistakes and weaknesses were attributed to Rasputins evil influencenow the last veil had been withdrawn and the insignificant little officer, slightly educated, unintelligent, incapable of following and grasping all the complexity of contemporary social and political lifestood out, a lonely figure attracting the ever more malevolent attention of public opinion. Rasputin was no more, but the Ministers appointed by this half-illiterate rascal remained at their posts and conducted the affairs of the State as if still guided by his shadow.
Discontent grew apace, merging into exasperation. As in physical nature, there are moments in political life when it becomes difficult to breathe. Clouds gather ever lower and lower. Gusts of wind are succeeded by a deadly calm. The sultry heat awes and oppresses, and one longs for the flash of lightning, for the crash of thunder.
Such was our life from November to the beginning of March. The political disorganisation became most marked in measures relating to the food-supply. On the 8th of March the Minister of Agriculture, Rittikh, in a speech at the Duma candidly avowed the Governments incapacity to deal unaided with the food-supply. And while the Duma listened to his speech in morose and surly silence, the mob in the labour district of the Vyborgsky was already looting the markets and parading the streets with shouts of Bread ! This happened on Thursday the 8th of March. On Friday, towards evening, trams stopped running. The numbers of demonstrators increased. Cossack scouts patrolled the city. But the crowd, the vast heterogeneous crowd, which flooded the streets not only did not fear them, but seemed to absorb the Cossacks amicably into its own surging ranks.
On Saturday machine-guns were brought into action. The Minister of the Interior, Protopopov, determined to suppress the ferment by force of arms. Machine-guns distributed long beforehand among the police stations were posted throughout the city. Policemen were ordered to fire at the crowd. Whether many people did not realise the danger, or whether the popular feeling had swelled into an as yet unexpressed but universal determination to end with the old police régime once for allat all events the machine-guns excited no panic. The crowds dispersed, flocked into a neighbouring street, but would not go home. They waited. Nevertheless some were killed and wounded both on Saturday and Sunday. The police were the only ones to fire in those two days. The crowds did not retaliate, nor was there any show of fighting-spirit on their part. It was difficult to understand whether this was merely a popular agitation or a revolution ? What would be the outcome of it all ?
On Monday the 12th of March all doubts were dispelled. The revolution had begun. The Volynsky, Litovsky, and Kexholm regiments revolted. Several officers were killed for ordering the soldiers to come out and help the police. The soldiers poured out of their barracks into the street, but did not know what to do next. They had no one to guide them. Tumultuous, absolutely unorganised crowds of soldiers rushed hither and thither for some unknown reason, gradually rallying towards the Liteiny Prospect.
When at about eleven in the morning we walked towards the Taurida Palace where the Duma was sitting, shots were heard from all sides singly or in volleys. It was only later we learned that this was a harmless firing into the air.
All was quiet at the Taurida Palace. Deputies were wandering in the lobbies nervously discussing the situation.
On the loth of March the Tsar had decreed the dissolution of the Duma, but the President of the Duma, Michael Rodzianko, before he knew of this decree, had sent the following telegram to the Tsar at the Stavka :
The situation is serious. There is anarchy in the capital. The Government is paralysed. Transport, food, and fuel supply are completely disorganised. Universal discontent is increasing. Disorderly firing is going on in the streets. Some troops are firing at each other. It is urgently necessary to entrust a man enjoying the confidence of the country with the formation of a new Government. Delay is impossible. Any tardiness is fatal. I pray God that at this hour the responsibility may not fall upon the Sovereign.
Copies of the above telegram were also sent by Rodzianko to all the army commanders with the request that they should endeavour to persuade the Tsar of the urgency of granting concessions.
The decree of dissolution was the reply. Rodzianko then sent his second and last telegram to the Tsar.
The situation is growing worse. Measures should be taken immediately, as to-morrow it will be too late. The final decisive hour for Motherland and dynasty has struck.
This telegram also remained unanswered. It was said later that the Tsars courtiers, with the cynical rapacious Court adventurer, General Voeikov, at their head, purposely withheld Rodziankos telegrams, because being opposed to concessions they deemed themselves sufficiently strong to suppress the malcontents with machine-guns. The same General Voeikov, when it became known that the Revolution had broken out at Petrograd, proposed to Nicholas II. to open the front to the Germans and place himself under the Kaisers protection.
But the last of the Romanovs did not consent to this dishonourable proposal. Nicholas II. refused. Before the soldiers had had time to approach the Taurida Palace, the Executive Committee of the Duma had decided to disobey the order of dissolution. But what was to be done next no one knew, and the same kind of confusion reigned amid the peoples representatives as was evident in the midst of the revolted regiments, who did not at once manage to find their way to the Duma.
Only towards one oclock in the afternoon, led by intellectuals fired with revolutionary enthusiasm, did the first detachments of soldiers reach the Palace. Members of the Duma greeted them with speeches of welcome. All around in the adjacent streets one could hear the heavy tramp of soldiers feet. Crowds of people from all the barracks, from every part of the city, flowed to the Taurida Palace.
At once the Duma became the centre. In the afternoon of the 12th of March the Provisional Committee of the Duma was formed by the unanimous decision of the deputies. M. Rodzianko, a confirmed Monarchist, hesitated at first, but patriotism gaining the better of Court traditions, he consented to become the President of the Committee. In the evening the Duma issued the following proclamation :
The Provisional Committee of the State Duma has found itself compelled, under the distressing conditions of internal disintegration provoked by the policy of the Government, to take into its hands the re-establishment of political and public order. Fully conscious of the responsibility attached to this decision, the Committee expresses the certitude that both the community and the army will come to their aid at the difficult moment of creating a new Government corresponding to the desire, and capable of enjoying the confidence, of the people.
This message was signed by M. Rodzianko, but members of all parties were represented in the Committee, including two Socialists, A. Kerensky and N. Chheidze. It seemed as though a real national centre had been created here, which by absorbing various currents of political opinion would become capable of organising a Government and carrying on the war to the end. Events, however, took a different course. From the very first day two distinct political tendencies were manifested.
In the afternoon of March 12 tidings reached the Taurida Palace that a revolutionary mob was besieging the so-called Kresty prison on the Vyborg side, where the Labour group of the War Industries Committee was imprisoned. Running past me into the street, where he had to address the soldiers, Kerensky exclaimed joyously :
Now, then, the real masters will come with the Labour group !
I remember in spite of the tumult of impressions crowding upon me from all sides how strangely I was struck by these words. To me it seemed as though the master, the Duma, were already here, and that there was no need to seek for another. We were, however, mistaken, both Kerensky and myself. Neither the Labour group nor the State Duma succeeded in retaining their influence or mastering the situation.1
All day long thousands of soldiers poured towards the Taurida Palace, around which the human ocean ebbed and flowed. Yet upon that first day of the Russian Revolution the soldiers who overthrew the old regime showed no sign of triumph. I gazed into their faces, as standing by force of habit in perfectly ordered rows before the entrance they listened with fixed attention to the deputies speeches. The orators exalted the deeds of the revolutionary troops, but the soldiers countenances seemed excited and uncertain. They did not realise what had happened, did not know whether they had behaved well or ill ! Perhaps some of them considered themselves in the light not so much of heroes as of rebels.
By the middle of the day the Taurida Palace was transformed into a military camp. The halls and endless corridors filled with soldiers. Rifle cartridges and machine-gun belts were piled up in the circular hall hung with large framed war maps marking the movements of Russian and Allied troops. Machineguns were scattered about. But even these military preparations did not reassure the soldiers. I asked the stalwart, gallant Volynsky men whether they would return to their barracks for supper. The soldiers only clustered closer around me and protested excitedly :
To the barracks ? Oh, no ! What for ? The whole lot of us would be shot. We shant move from the Duma. Here well all remain, let them defend us here.
As yet there was not much self-confidence in these troops, who from being Tsarist had in a few hours become revolutionary. Whence, indeed, could self-confidence arise when no one knew exactly anything of the general situation ? Rumours were current that somewhere there were troops which had remained loyal to Nicholas II., that they might appear at any moment. Shots were being fired from everywhere. Police fired and were fired at, some one else was firing too, no one knew why or at whom. Revolution swept like a whirlwind, and it was difficult to hearken to all its voices.
Strange to say, the civilian population of Petrograd exhibited far greater assurance and less fear than the soldiers of the Petrograd garrison.
In joyous exaltation, with fiery enthusiasm and faith in free Russia, Petrograd lived through the honeymoon of liberty. All were filled with the proud consciousness that at last the Russian people was liberated from the oppressive autocracy, and would itself create and build up its new life. The morose, unsociable Petrograd citizens were unrecognisable. Day and night the streets were thronged with people, notwithstanding that firing was still going on in the city, that motor-cars bristling on all sides with rifles went tearing along the streets. Their occupantssoldiers and civilians, mostly young menrushed they knew themselves not whither on the look-out for a non-existent enemy. These overzealous warriors only provoked good-humoured smiles. In those days good-nature and goodwill were general, and created a strong, common feeling, breathing energy and force. People looked joyfully and trustfully into each others eyes and smiled with that irrepressible happy smile which beams upon lovers faces.
We believed that Russia stood upon the threshold of a new, longed-for life, when every one would feel himself equally free, when rights and duties would be assigned, not as a series of privileges and compulsions, but as something inherent in every individual.
It was a joy to behold how the pathos of liberty was kindled in the hearts of drab, insignificant men and women, who but yesterday had felt themselves to be pariahs. On the second or third day of the Revolution a telegraph messenger brought me a telegram, and, handing it to me, said :
Thank you so much.
I looked at him in surprise. A pale, tired-out, sickly, hollow-cheeked man stood before me. But the light in his eyes relieved the drab insignificance of his countenance.
What for ? I asked him.
Why, to be sure, we know about it, he said warmly, although we are small people, and have kept to our slums afraid to move, still we knew of what others did. I have read your articles in the papers and heard your speeches at meetings. We also understand what different people stand for. Well, thank God, weve gained our liberty, you and I. It seems to me as if I were born again. What were we before now ? Nothing. Worse off than dogs. Harassed by every one, not looked upon as human beings. And now my back is straightened. I seem to tread on air, my very soul seems to singI am a man, I am no longer a slave but a free man.
His words gushed out in torrents. The joy of liberty was bubbling in him like wine. I could not take my gaze off the eyes that sparkled with pride and joy. We both laughed with that glad laugh which means so much more than words. And the telegraph messenger hastened to tell his story in order to make me realise more vividly the importance of all that was filling his soul to overflowing :
Here I have a wife and five children. As to myself, I am an invalid. I have consumption. You yourself know how hard my work is. Out in the street in all weathers. Our wages are beggarlyforty roubles a month. But I claim nothing, I want nothing, no increase, nothing. Well bear it, well weather it somehow. If only we can hold firmly together, only not return to what was before. But well hold together, wont we ?
The small grey eyes shone with hope and faith. We parted like old friends with a hearty hand-shake. And often in the gloomy days of disillusion and defeat I thought of this consumptive postman, of his enthusiasm, his touching intimacy with all whom he looked upon as friends of liberty, his heroic readiness to bear any further material misfortunes if only to safeguard his rights as a man and citizen.
His was by no means an exceptional case. Liberty had straightened out many people, had made them kinder and more sociable. All around there rose the overwhelming consciousness of proximity to and of fusion with millions of other people. Probably something of the kind is felt in moments of mass religious movements. There, too, inspired by mystic transport, the spiritual force of one suddenly becomes absorbed by the kindred forces of other individuals who were but recently strangers, and seemed hopelessly isolated each in his own individuality. And man is no longer alone. He becomes part of a whole. His soul expands and becomes enriched because it has come into touch with the emotions of its fellows, because it has absorbed their rapture and given them its own enthusiasm. In those days all the partitions raised by contemporary life between fellow-men disappeared. People ceased to look askance at each other with that feeling of distrustful half-enmity which the citizen of a contemporary state entertains towards his unknown neighbour. As if a veil had been drawn for a moment and we were allowed a vision of that kingdom, where man unto man is not wolf, but a friend, where each is certain that his neighbour wishes him good, not evil, and is therefore ready to display the best, the most magnanimous part of his own self.
This did not last long. Once more the veil was drawn, leaden and impenetrable, and the brief dazzling glimpse of a blue fairy-tale was over. But those who have actually lived it know that in spite of all human failings and vices, the crowd, even a contemporary crowd, is capable of rising to a sense of consummate, all-purifying brotherhood. Such days cannot be forgotten. Such days should not be forgotten, for such collective emotions are a kind of historic revelation reminding men of what mankind may become if purified from all low and selfish instincts.
Not in vain in those days was one word upon all lipsChrists Glorious Resurrection. Easter in Russia is always kept with a special bright solemnity, and these words not only marked the gladness of common emotions, but held the unexpressed avowal that we were all living participators in a collective miracle, a miracle of the resurrection of bright, lofty emotions among the people.
A heavy and bloody price did the Russian people pay for the depths of that joy. Some one deceived it, some one troubled its soul, thrust it along the path of crime and degradation, and watered the Russian land with blood and tears. . . . But in the days of early rapture we all believed that this early, inspiriting sense of community could be retained and deepened, that national unity would help us to defend Russia from the Germans and work out a new statehood, strong and free.
It seemed as though all Russia in a common impulse had accepted the long-awaited liberty as a gift for the bloody sacrifices offered upon the battlefields, as a result of the century-old struggle for the rights of the people.
But this unity was fictitious. The Tsarist authority had so far outlived itself that it offered almost no resistance to the Revolution, if we do not take into account the few thousand policemen who endeavoured to reinstate the fallen autocracy with the aid of machineguns. In two days they were swept away. On Monday the foremost soldiers of the revolt marched to the Taurida Palace, and already by Wednesday the last of the police machine-gunners were picked by the crowd off the roof of St. Isaacs Cathedral, while the half-insane Minister, Protopopov, who directed the policemens military operations, was under arrest in company with other Ministers. The coup détat was accomplished almost without struggle and bloodshed. The arms with which the insurgents had furnished themselves were almost unneeded. It seemed as if power would painlessly pass over to the people. Public men, soldiers, workmen, the intelligentsiaall flocked to the Taurida Palace, feeling that within these white walls were the chief mainstay and the legal succession of Russian stateship. Towards the very first evening, however, two centres were already formed in the Palacethe Committee of the Duma and the Soviet of Workmens Deputies.
At the first meeting of the Soviet, held at about nine in the evening, very few workmen were present. On either side of the long table one saw the familiar faces of doctors, lawyers, engineers, of all the radical Petrograd intelligentsia, long-standing adversaries of the Tsarist regime. The day, long dreamed of by generations of Russian educated people, had dawned at last. The revolutionary people had overthrown autocracy. The role of the intelligentsia, as that of an irresponsible opposition, was over. It had now to pass to construction, and in the first place to build up a government and learn to obey it.
Few at that moment realised that the most strenuous work of all still lay ahead ; that however difficult had been the overthrow of the old order, the establishment of the new would be still harder.
The Social-Democrat, Chheidze, a Georgian member of the Duma for Transcaucasia, was elected chairman of the first meeting of the Soviet.
The proclamation issued that same night by the Soviet already bore a trace of the fatal cleavage, which subsequently split all Russia in twain. It said :
Yesterday, 12th of March, a Soviet of Workmens Deputies was formed in the capital, composed of delegates from factories and workshops, of revolted military units as well as of representatives of democratic and socialist parties and groups. The Soviet of Workmens Deputies sitting in the Duma considers its fundamental task to be the organisation of popular forces, and the struggle for the final consolidation of the peoples government in Russia. The Soviet has appointed district commissaries for establishing the peoples power in the Petrograd areas. We invite the entire population of the Capital to rally round the Soviet, to organise local Committees and take over the management of all local affairs.
In this way two centres, issuing appeals and orders, came into being simultaneously. This, of course, was not a chance event. This duality only reflected a fundamental divergency of principle. Representatives of these two groups held different conceptions of Russias political and social needs. But infinitely more dangerous proved the difference in their standards of security for the State, and on that they split up Russia. On the one side were those who rejoicing in liberty were strongly convinced that Russias independence and future were closely bound up with the efficiency of the army, that the Motherland must be defended not by declarations and meetings but by force of arms. On the other side were internationalists of various shades. The best among them believed that German and Austrian proletarians could be persuaded to throw down their rifles, to turn their swords into ploughshares. The thoughts and deeds of the worst can only be judged after the publication of the secret documents in German archives. The Duma Committee placed itself at the head of the first, the defencist, party.
It cannot be said that no one but defeatists were to be found in the Soviet or around it. Such a statement would be incorrect. Socialists of all denominations rallied around the Soviet, recognising it as their own democratic organisation, and the Socialists also included some defeatists. But the fact of Chheidzes election as President of the Soviet was in itself a bad sign.
From the first days of the war Chheidze had made speeches in the Duma demanding the liquidation of the war. From motives of prudence, for fear of persecution, he was obliged to veil his undoubted pacifism in vague allusions and innuendoes. But as a consistent Social-Democrat he could not be pro-war, because he placed class-principle above devotion to the Motherland. Zimmerwald and its mottoes were comprehensible and familiar to Chheidze. But Russia, her integrity, and her interests were alien to him.2
A Georgian by origin, speaking broken Russian, a man of little education and limited intelligence, Chheidze acquired prominence in the Social-Democratic faction not on account of his talent, but because other members were still more colourless. This schoolmaster from a small town of Transcaucasia combined the secret cunning of an Asiatic with a negligent disdain for the interests of the State whose destinies he aspired to govern. History had raised him to unmerited heights and temporarily endowed him with an amount of influence over the affairs of the Russian people to which he had no right, either by his personal qualities or by his nationality. In general the part played in the Russian Revolution by non-Russian leaders may be looked upon as a sort of reaction, as a historical Nemesis for the injustice of the Russian Government towards these un-Russian citizens of Russia. But this abstract interpretation does little to mitigate the bitterness of this foreign domination over the Russian people at the time of its most terrible historical upheavals and trials.
In contrast with the Soviet a man of totally different character appeared at the head of the Committee of the State Duma. This was Michael Vladimirovich Rodzianko, a true Russian, a wealthy landowner, who had served in the Guards in his youth, a courtier to whom proximity to the Court and the Dynasty was habitual, and loyalty to the autocracy one of the fundamental principles of his political creed. To a man of this type the Revolution could not in a sense be anything but a catastrophe. But feeling insulted in his national pride he had some time before joined the opposition. Military disappointments, fear for Russias future, patriotic indignation that, owing to the unpreparedness of the Tsarist regime, no genius in her generals, no amount of heroism in officers and men could achieve decisive victory for Russiaall this forced Rodzianko, as well as the class of society to which he belonged, to join the opposition. The same feeling manifested itself in the persistent demands of the Duma, and in that as yet unformulated ferment of military and society circles which found expression in the murder of Rasputin and was to have exercised pressure upon the Tsar himself.
The opposition of which M. Rodzianko found himself the head as President of the Duma was a patriotic opposition. These men placed as their foremost and fundamental task the organisation of the country for defence and war with Germany to a victorious end. They consider that this object may only be achieved by introducing into the Government men having the confidence of the country. And these new Ministers would undertake to see that a series of necessary reforms were carried through.
Various parties of the Duma united upon this platform and formed the so-called Progressive bloc.
The Socialists, including Chheidze and Kerensky, did not join the bloc, as they did not share the attitude of the others in regard to the war. They were in opposition to the Government in the name of international pacifism, but not in the name of Russias interests. Aims, methods, psychologyeverything differed in these two groups of the opposition.
So much personal enmity had accumulated between Chheidze and Rodzianko during the years of their association in the Duma, that this too could not but influence the relations between the Committee of the Duma and the Soviet of Workmens Deputies.
As President of the Duma Rodzianko frequently called Chheidze to order, cut short his speeches, and even expelled him for several sittings. Before the war such encounters were provoked by the too pronounced attacks against the Government or the too glowingly Socialistic speeches of Chheidze and his adherents ; in war-time-by the defeatist tendencies clearly displayed in all the speeches delivered by the entire Social-Democratic group.
Later, however, Chheidze settled all scores. On one of the very first days of the revolution, when soldiers crowding the Catherine Hall were still eagerly listening to all the members of the Duma, Chheidze, pointing to the President of the Duma, asked in his bitter, rasping voice :
You had better ask Mr. Rodzianko whether he intends parting with his lands and also what he thinks of the form of government ?
This was sheer provocation, but Rodzianko remained unperturbed. His reply was simple and concise.
Yes, I am a landowner. But if the Constituent Assembly decrees to give my land to the peasants I will submit to the will of the people. I will submit to it, too, if the Constituent Assembly establishes a Republic. I will serve the Republic as loyally as I have served the Monarchy.
As a matter of course such strained dialogues did not tend to ameliorate the mutual relations of the two men or to smooth over their differences. Meanwhile the Committee of the Duma and the Soviet of Workmens Deputies, headed by these diametrically opposed politicians, became the two centres which attracted public forces and sympathies, and the Provisional Government was the outcome of an agreement between the two.
The first agreement between the Committee of the Duma and the Soviet was reached very rapidly. Both the composition of the Cabinet and the programme announced by Prince Lvovs Government were worked out in common. Details of these negotiations remained unknown to the public. They took place in one of the apartments of the Taurida Palace which the most prominent political leaders never left at all during those ardent early days. There they slept, hither were their meals brought to them as though they were under arrest. The palace was overrun by a heterogeneous, restless, noisy crowd. Soldiers came up in complete units and singly. Young ladies scurried about bringing tea and sandwiches. Workmen, members of the Duma, arrested Ministers and policemen. Military cadets mounted guard. Officers of Allied missions were visible here and there ; A.D.C.s and Generals came to the Duma to declare their loyalty to the new Government. All this motley crowd surged through the endless halls and corridors of the Duma. Incessant meetings were held all over the building. Speeches were uttered, excited, ardent speeches, already savouring of demagogy.
It happened now and again that soldiers occupying the centre of the hall would listen breathlessly to a Socialist orator shouting in a hoarse voice :
The Revolution continues ! All the land, all freedom is yours !
And surrounding the electrified crowd stood three rows of queues. One queue was composed of workmen with agitated faces, fully conscious of the importance of the moment. Each held a mandate in his hand. These were the delegates elected by the factories to the Soviet of Workmens Deputies, one delegate to every thousand. Alongside of these representatives of the newly born Democratic power were serried ranks of men, also clad for the most part in mufti, but surly and gloomy, looking like beasts that had been run down. Now and then amid their ranks one could catch a glimpse of the familiar police uniform. These were the arrested members of the police force. Many of them bore bloody marks and traces of blows upon their faces. A regular hunt for policemen was going on in those days. There were cases of cruel shooting and lynching. But more often than not they were merely seized and dragged to the Taurida Palace. Every one and everything were brought at the time to the palacearms, cartridges, sacks of flour, prisonerseverything, in fact, whether good or bad.
Dividing the workmendelegates from their vanquished disarmed enemiesthe policestretched the orderly lines of the cadets. These young men were charged from the very outset with the task of preserving order and mounting guard. Amidst the general confusion and excitement the cadet schools alone preserved discipline and order. These three closely contiguous but unblending groups, surrounding the tossing crowd of soldiers, remain graven in my memory as one of the symbols of Russias various tendencies and forces. But this was no time for observation or reflexion. Like leaves whirling in the wind, men and thoughts rush onwards in the turmoil of revolution.
Amidst the clamour and rumbling which filled or rather broke into the Taurida Palace as the reflexion of the general outdoor effervescence of all Petrograd and all Russia, the political leaders sitting in close consultation in the apartments of the President of the Duma were obliged to formulate their decisions.
Machine-guns stopped firing on the 14th of March, and on the 15th the composition of the new Cabinet and its programme were already decided upon.
The latter was, in its way, a sort of Magna Charta. It contained all the necessary political promises, but not a word was said of the war with Germany. Later on members of the Government explained this omission by the fact that at the time every one considered the continuation of the war as so absolutely inevitable, that there had been no argument about the matter. Nevertheless, the impression created was unfavourable.
The political clauses of the programme voiced the aspirations which had long united all Russian progressive elements.
A political amnesty, freedom of speech, of trade unions and strikes, abolition of all privileges, both class and national, a peoples militia instead of a police, and lastly, the two principal clauseselections for local self-government upon the principle of universal suffrage, and immediate preparatory measures for the calling of a Constituent Assembly elected by universal, equal, direct, and secret suffrage which would establish the form of Government and the Constitution of the country.
All these clauses had been long accepted in theory by all the principal opposition parties. Here was no cause for divergencies, and a vast majority of thinking Russians were perfectly satisfied with the political part of the programme. Two clauses, however, at once gave rise to anxious thoughts. The first concerned the permanent stay at Petrograd of the garrison, which had participated in the revolutionary movement, and the second ran, While conserving strict discipline in the ranks and in the performance of military duties, all restrictions limiting the soldiers enjoyment of all the rights granted to other citizens shall be withdrawn. The Provisional Government considers it a duty to add that it has no intention whatever of using the military situation as a plea for delaying the realisation of the above-mentioned reforms and measures. This point was doubly dangerous. It predetermined the armys participation in political life, which proved fatal to Russia, and reflected the mistrust towards the newly formed Government on the part of those Socialist circles which grouped themselves around the Soviet of Workmens Deputies under the general title of the Revolutionary Democracy. The Socialists ceded the power to more moderate elements as if recognising their greater maturity or their own incompetence. But from the very first moment they mistrusted them and endeavoured to transmit to the masses this mistrust of the new authority born of the Revolution.
The Provisional Government was organised without any compromise with the autocracy, as a result of a real all-national democratic movement. Nicholas II. was still Emperor of All the Russias, when a new list of Ministers was drawn up and the draft of the new Constitution outlined in the Duma. More than that. When the Provisional Committee of the Duma, under the chairmanship of Rodzianko, was laying the foundations of a peoples government, no one knew which side would prove the stronger. The Petrograd garrison was on the side of Revolution. But these were home units. They had a special psychology of their own. Whither would the front troops turn ? What were they thinking of ? Were there any units ready to support the Tsar by armed force ? Maybe Nicholas II. was leading them against the mutinous capital to transform the victorious Revolution into a mere revolt suppressed by gunfire ?
But few believed in such an alternative. When the abdication signed by Nicholas II. came to hand every one received it as something that was long expected and fatally inevitable, and immediately forgot that only yesterday the autocracy had seemed impregnable and the Autocrat inaccessible.
Upon the very day, March 15, when a Provisional Government was formed at Petrograd, Nicholas II. signed his abdication at Pskov.
The destiny of Russia, the honour of Our heroic army, the good of the people, the entire future of Our beloved Motherland, demand the prosecution of the war at all costs until a victorious end. . . . In these days that are supremely decisive for Russia, We have considered it as a duty laid upon Our conscience to facilitate for Our people the close union and rallying of all popular forces for the purpose of a speedy achievement of victory, and in concert with the Duma We have deemed it good to abdicate from the throne of the Russian Empire, and to divest Ourselves of the supreme power. Not wishing to part with Our beloved son, We transmit Our inheritance to Our brother the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and give him Our blessing on his ascending the throne of the Russian Empire.
Thus wrote the Tsar in his last Manifesto.
The Duma, which had but recently bent beneath the weight of the Tsars will, now delegated to him a member of the State Council, A.T. Guchkov, and a member of the Duma, V.V. Shulgin, with a prepared draft of the abdication edict. The former, although belonging to the Octobrist party, i.e. the moderate Constitutionalists, entertained an inveterate and passionate hatred towards the Romanov family. His restrained, but bold parliamentary speeches had more than once given ample evidence of this sentiment.
The latter, V.V. Shulgin, one of the most gifted and intelligent of the younger Russian politicians, began his political career not only as a monarchist but as a reactionary. The war altered many of Shulgins views and made him realise the many mistakes and crimes of autocracy. Nevertheless, even when he started for Pskov to meet the Tsar, his feelings were those of the mingled bitterness and respect of a sincere monarchist. Both messengers who felt so differently towards Nicholas II. were struck by the Tsars strange indifference to the catastrophic events that had come tumbling on Russia. Asking no questions, making no objection, the Autocrat of All the Russias signed the abdication of the throne of his forefathers, as if he had long known that sooner or later this was bound to happen. Such indifference served as an additional proof that the old regime was already dead and had no supporters. The soldiers who had mutinied at Petrograd attacked no one, struggled against no one. They simply stretched a hand and tore the pall off the face of a dead Tsarism.
Next day, the 16th of March, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich also signed an abdication, although a provisional one.
Inspired by the idea, common to all the people, that the good of our Motherland should be considered above all, I have adopted the firm resolve in no wise to assume the supreme power unless such is the will of our great people, when through their representatives in the Constituent Assembly elected by universal suffrage, they establish the form of government and the new fundamental laws of the Russian State.
Meantime the Grand Duke appealed to all citizens to submit to the Provisional Government formed by the Duma and invested with the full power of control.
With the publication of this document, signed merely with the Christian name, Michael, Russia practically became a Republic, ruled by the Provisional Government.
Individuals and organisations expressed their loyalty to the new power. The Stavka as a whole, followed by the entire commanding staff, recognised the Provisional Government. The Tsarist Ministers and some of the assistant Ministers were imprisoned,3 but all the other officials remained at their posts. Ministries, offices, banks, in fact the entire political mechanism of Russia never ceased working. In that respect the March coup detat passed off so smoothly, that even then one felt a vague presentiment that this was not the end, that such a crisis could not pass off so peacefully.
In company with officers and generals, the Grand Dukes presented themselves one after another at the Taurida Palace to declare their allegiance to the revolutionary government.
Even the former Commander-in-Chief, the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaievich, now Viceroy of the Caucasus, a monarchist not only by birth but by conviction, bowed down before the new regime, and on the 17th of March issued the following order :
I command all military chiefs, both senior and junior, to announce and explain to all ranks of the army and navy, that after the publication of both acts they must calmly await the testimony of the will of the Russian people, and that it is their sacred duty, by remaining in complete submission to their lawful chiefs, to safeguard our Motherland from her stern foe, and by their valiant deeds to support our Allies in this unprecedented struggle.
From all towns throughout the length and breadth of Russia came tidings of the peoples joyful welcome to liberty.
The personal qualities of the members of the Provisional Government helped to strengthen the confidence which it immediately inspired to the country.4
At the head of the Government stood Prince George Lvov. He was known to all Russia as a Zemstvo worker, as the President of the Zemstvo Union. This organisation, which united all the provincial Zemstvos (local government councils), came into being during the war and rendered important services in the task of caring for the sick and wounded soldiers. Prince Lvov had always held aloof from a purely political life. He belonged to no party, and as head of the Government could rise above party issues. Not till later did the four months of his premiership demonstrate the consequences of such aloofness even from that very narrow sphere of political life which in Tsarist Russia was limited to work in the Duma and party activity. Neither a clear, definite, manly programme, nor the ability for firmly and persistently realising certain political problems were to be found in Prince G. Lvov.
But these weak points of his character were generally unknown.
All rejoiced at having got rid of mercenary, dishonest nonentities, like the Ministers Sukhomlinov or Protopopov, and were glad to see an irreproachably honest patriot, such as Prince G. Lvov always was and will be, placed at last at the head of the Russian Government. Among the members of the Government Paul Milyukov was the one who possessed the most strongly marked political individuality. He was a historian, and his works on the history of Russian culture are still looked upon as leading studies in the subject. But his academic career was soon ended. The Tsars Government regarded P.N. Milyukov with great suspicion, and he was forbidden to lecture or to reside in university towns. He himself gradually abandoned scientific research and gave himself up to politics, preferring to make history rather than to study it. Milyukov took an energetic part in the Constitutional movement, when it still bore a conspirative character (before the Treaty of Portsmouth), and after the first revolution in 1905 became one of the leaders of the newly formed Constitutional-Democratic (Cadet) party.
He became the leader of the opposition in the Third and Fourth Dumas, and his speeches caused far greater irritation in Government circles than did the sharper but narrowly Socialistic speeches of the extreme Left orators.
A man of rare erudition and of an enormous power for work, Milyukov had numerous adherents and friends, but also not a few enemies. He was considered by many as a doctrinaire on account of the stubbornness of his political views, while his endeavours to effect a compromise for the sake of rallying larger circles to the opposition were blamed as opportunism. As a matter of fact almost identical accusations were showered upon him both from Right and Left. This may partly be explained by the fact that it is easier for Milyukov to grasp an idea than to deal with men, as he is not a good judge of either their psychology or their character.
Not merely able but honest and courageous, he was one of the first who in the days of boundless revolutionary dreams and raptures uttered warnings against the dangers lurking on all sides, and even had the temerity to declare aloud that it would be better to settle on a constitutional monarchy, without being carried away by the idea of a republic which Russia as yet was incapable of realising.
These words, as well as his persistent and constant reminder that Russia would become free and powerful if only she, together with her Allies, succeeded in completely defeating Germany, gave Milyukovs enemies the opportunity of raising a campaign against him from the very outset. He also added strength to the enemys position by emphasising in his statement of war aims that the possession of the Dardanelles was Russias vital need. This gave the Revolutionary Democracy occasion to clamour about Milyukovs predatory aspirations and imperialism. During the Revolution all those to the right of him rather supported him. Those to the left feared or even hated him.
Within the Government Milyukov proved himself to be much weaker than might have been expected. The Cabinet was a Coalition. Out of 11 members, 4 (P.N. Milyukov, A.S. Shingarev, A.A. Manuilov, and N. Nekrasov) belonged to the Cadet party ; 3 (A. Guchkov, Godnev, and V.N. Lvov) to the Octobrist party ; A.S. Konovalov was a Progressist ; 2 (M. Tereshchenko and Prince G.E. Lvov) were non-party ; and, lastly, A. Kerensky was the only Socialist, but extremely popular at the time. His presence in the Cabinet strengthened the link between the Provisional Government and the Soviet of Workmens Deputies, where Kerensky was Assistant President of the Central Executive Committee.
A.F. Kerensky and P. Milyukov presented the two most characteristic and influential figures of the Cabinet. Unfortunately they were divided not merely by a divergence of views, but also by personal ill-will. Kerensky, as the more emotional and impulsive of the two, gave way to this sentiment of enmity and made no endeavours to conceal it even at Cabinet meetings. On his part P. Milyukov lost no opportunity of emphasising the logical unsteadiness and political immaturity of the Revolutionary Democracy, and incidentally of Kerensky himself, as its gifted representative.
A.F. Kerensky was considerably younger than P.N. Milyukov. In a revolutionary epoch this is an important privilege, as the stormy vacillations accompanying each upheaval claim great versatility and flexibility from revolutionary leaders. A lawyer by education, A. Kerensky possessed the pleaders superficial eloquence. His speeches in the Dumahe was a member of the Third and Fourth Dumaswere neither profound nor original, yet nevertheless Kerensky occupied a prominent place upon the Left benches, for in both these Dumas the Socialists were rather feebly represented and lacked prominent members. Although a member of the Social Revolutionary party Kerensky officially belonged to the party of Toil. This was a compulsory conspirative camouflage, for members of the Social Revolutionary party, which employed terroristic methods, were cruelly persecuted by the Tsarist Government. Even before the Revolution A. Kerensky was extremely popular in Socialist circles of various shades. Later, as Head of the Provisional Government, he exhibited the meagreness of his political outlook and the instability and levity of his character. But at the beginning of the Revolution it seemed as if some inner fire had been kindled within him, and he at once became enormously popular. In those early days Kerensky, protecting the honour of the Revolution at the risk of his own life, saved the Tsarist Ministers, whom he hated, from the ever-growing wrath of the mob. This was a magnanimous and daring act. He gave proof of a similar courage when at the risk of losing his rapidly increasing popularity he consented to enter the Provisional Government without asking permission of the Soviet. This was an act of temerity. The Socialists grouped around Chheidze preferred that Prince Lvovs Cabinet should remain a purely bourgeois one, so that they might assume the position of an irresponsible opposition. But Kerensky first consented to accept a portfolio and then placed before the Soviet a fait accompli, forcing their approval of his act by a short but powerful and skilfully framed speech.
In those days his speeches were full of an infectious revolutionary passion. Amid the roar and clamour of the ever-growing popular movement Kerensky rose to heights of real eloquence. And he did not become a tribune, only because he lacked what seems to be the primary and absolutely necessary qualitythe intellect of a statesman. And, it may be, also a more delicate conscience.
Kerensky was perhaps the only member of the Government who knew how to deal with the masses, since he instinctively understood the psychology of the mob. Therein lay his power and the main source of his popularity in the streets, in the Soviet, and in the Government.
Ministers who apparently stood far apart from his political views supported him. Vl. Lvov, Godnev, Tereshchenko, Konovalov, and Nekrasov frequently voted with him, although the first two were formerly far to the right even of the Cadets. Godnev was a colourless Octobrist. Vl. Lvov was a Monarchist, unintelligent and muddling, who became member of the Government through a sheer misunderstanding. The appointment to the Ministry of M. Tereshchenko was also a chance affair. A young millionaire interested in the theatre and art, he began to take part in public life owing to the war, occupying himself mainly with supplies. Like all the other Ministers of Prince G. Lvovs Cabinet, M. Tereshchenko was an honest man and a patriot. But he had received neither a political education nor even ordinary political practice. His native intelligence and ability could not protect him against a whole series of most heedless mistakes. The fact that he was made Minister of Finance, without having studied financial questions, added little depth to the ministerial activity of this agreeable young man.
In saying that all the Ministers of the first Cabinet were honest men, I must admit a reserve in the case of N. Nekrasov. From the very outset he played a double game, manœuvring between the Cadet party, which had brought him out, and those of the Socialist groups which were acquiring an ever greater influence. His intrigues, bordering on treachery, increased dissension within the Government and weakened it. N. Nekrasov had a great influence of a negative character over both Kerensky and Tereshchenko. They formed a triumvirate, which at a certain period controlled the whole policy of the Government.
At first Nekrasov had some influence over A. Konovalov, who was also on friendly terms with Kerensky. One of the largest manufacturers in Russia, enthusiastic for democratic ideas, A. Konovalov presented that type of a Radical millionaire (so very characteristic of Russian life) who was ever ready to subsidise a revolution, and not only a political but even a Socialistic movement, although he himself was not a Socialist, but belonged to the small Progressive party. Konovalov was a sincere and intelligent man, and the Revolution quickly sobered him. As Minister of Commerce and Industry he was one of the first to warn the democracy of the dangerous game of reckless industrial democratisation.
Such were the five Ministers who supported Kerensky. As a matter of fact only three took sides with Milyukov : A.A. Manuilov, a professor of political economy, a distinguished specialist, but ill-prepared to weather revolutionary storms ; A. Shingarev, who had for years shared with P. Milyukov all the difficulties of parliamentary struggle and all the tension of party life. A doctor by profession, he became a politician because the autocracy had developed into a disease of which Russia had to be cured at any cost. A. Shingarev possessed the same keen sense of mass psychology as A. Kerensky, although in a lesser degree. Honest, almost to rigidity, he held aloof from all demagogy, yet his popularity grew day by day. He possessed the rare gift of attracting people, of gaining their goodwill, of imbuing them with his own ideas and frame of mind. He lacked P. Milyukovs obstinate persistency. And because of that A. Shingarev was better loved and less obeyed.
The third Minister, who generally shared the views of Milyukov and Shingarev, was A.T. Guchkov. He and Milyukov had been political enemies for many years. Once they very nearly fought a duel, thereby disregarding all the traditions of the Russian intelligentsia. But war and revolution compelled them to work together. Both shared the same anxiety to safeguard Russia as a State, and therefore both saw the first task of the Government in securing victory over Germany. Guchkov, able and well-educated, had long been considered as one of the highest non-professional authorities on military affairs in Russia. As Chairman of the Military Commission of the Duma he had succeeded in drawing up a series of army reforms, a small part of which had been carried out in spite of Sukhomlinovs resistance.
Great hopes were centred in Prince G. Lvovs Cabinet upon Guchkov as Minister of War, for he enjoyed the reputation of being an energetic man. Guchkov was unable, however, to realise these hopes. He could hardly be blamed for this, for the Revolutionary Democracy, which the Government dealt with very tenderly, directed the main current of its irresponsible revolutionism towards the disintegration of the army.
Neither did the Head of the Provisional Government, Prince G. Lvov, fulfil all the high expectations centred in him. Whether he succumbed to the then fashionable infatuation with A. Kerensky, or whether Milyukovs sober directness was personally disagreeable to him, at all events Prince G. Lvovs vote and influence strengthened A. Kerenskys group, i.e. the Left wing. This involved less struggle and tension, as the common torrent rushed in that direction. Prince G. Lvov was not a fighter. He liked vagueness and slatternly incompleteness, and for this many had blamed him in the Zemstvo Union. These qualities, carried to the summit of State power, which demanded a clear vision and iron firmness of will, proved to be far more prejudicial than in Zemstvo affairs, where separate individuals and institutions could be granted great independence without any special detriment to the whole, and where one might confidently expect something to turn up.
Such were the men who formed the first free Russian Government, and such were their inner mutual relations. What forces did they lean upon, who aided them in their tremendous task of creating a new Government, strong and free, and in the not less difficult task of prosecuting the war with Germany to the end ? And by whom were they hindered ?
In Chap. I. p. 24, a mistake has been made in saying that Nicholas II. signed the abdication edict brought him by the members of the DumaA. Guchkov and V. Shulgin.
It is true they did bring from Petrograd to Pskov a draft of the abdication, but the Tsar did not sign that, but another manifesto apparently prepared beforehand by some of the officials at the Stavka. This shows that Nicholas II. himself had come to the conclusion that his abdication was inevitable. I base this correction on the words of A. Guchkov, who came to London when the book was already set up in type.
1 The Labour group had been attached to the War Industries Committees, formed after the summer retreat of 1915, which had revealed the fact that the Russian Army was fighting almost without arms and munitions. The aim of these Committees was the organisation of munition factories. The members of the Labour group were moderate Social-Democrats.
2 Chheidze definitely proved this later, when with German assistance and in company with other Georgian Social-Democrats he proclaimed the independence of Georgia. And when the Germans were defeated, he started for Paris with another Russian revolutionary, Tsereteli, to obtain the Allies sanction for an independence originally received from the Germans.
3 There had been no order for their arrest. Any one, if so inclined, arrested this or the other Minister and brought him to the Taurida Palace. The prisoners felt in greater safety there than at home, because the revolutionary mob might have easily given way to excesses. But owing to the energy of prominent political leaders the first revolutionary days at Petrograd were but slightly stained with blood, unless separate instances of cruel lynching of policemen are taken into account. Great merit is due to A. Kerensky that owing to his bold and decided action not one of the Ministers, not even the execrated Minister of War, Sukhomlinov, was killed by the soldiers and sailors.
4 The Provisional Government consisted of the following : Prime Minister, Prince G.E. Lvov ; Minister of War, A.S. Guchkov ; Minister for Foreign Affairs, P.N. Milyukov ; Minister of Finance, M.S. Tereshchenko ; Minister of Agriculture, A.S. Shingarev ; Minister of Justice, A.F. Kerensky ; Minister of Ways and Communications, N.V. Nekrasov ; Minister of Education, A.A. Manuilov ; Minister of Commerce and Industry, A.I. Konovalov ; State Controller, I. Godnev ; Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, V.N. Lvov.