Red Revolution in Russia
( Originally Published 1918 )
THE Russian Revolution was not a sudden movement of the people. Long before the war it had raised its head. The Duma itself came into existence as one of its fruits; but when the war began all parties joined in patriotic support of the Russian armies and laid aside for the time their cherished grievances. The war was immensely popular. Slavonic nationalism turned against Austria-Hungary and Germany who were bent upon crushing the Slavonic sister state, Serbia. The Liberal elements saw in Germany the stronghold of reaction and of militarism, and trusted that its downfall would be followed by that of Russian autocracy. But so glaring was the incapacity of the old régime, that a union was formed during the war by all the Liberal parties. This group united on the single aim of pushing on the war, and silently preparing for the moment when the catastrophe to Czarism was to come.
This was long before the revolution. But a conviction of the necessity of immediate change gradually came to all. The Czar him-self brought matters to an issue. His vacillation, his appointment of ministers who were not only reactionary, but were suspected of being German tools, were too much for even honest supporters of the Imperial régime. Some of these reactionaries, it is true, were easily driven from power. In 1915 Sukhomlinov and Maklakov were overthrown by the influence of the army and the Duma. But in 1916 the parasites came to life again. M. Boris Stuermer became Prime Minister, and appointed as Minister of the Interior the notorious Protopopov. On November 14, 1916, Miliukov, the leader of the Constitutional Democrats, or Cadet Party, attacked the Premier in one of the fiercest speeches ever made in the Russian Duma. Stuermer was compelled to resign, but his successor, M. Trepov, though an honest man with high ambitions, was forced to retain Protopopov at the Interior. For a moment there was calm. But it was the calm before the storm.
The Russian Revolution, now recognized as the most bloody revolution in history, began with the assassination of a single man. This man was Gregory Novikh, known throughout the world under the name of Rasputin. A Siberian peasant by birth, immoral, filthy in person, untrained in mind, he had early received the nickname of Rasputin, which means "ne'er-do-well," on account of his habits. A drunkard, and a libertine always, he posed as a sort of saint and miracle worker, let his hair grow long, and tramped about the world bare-foot.
Rasputin had left his district of Tobolsk and at Moscow had started a new cult, where mystical séances were mingled with debauchery. Through Madame Verubova he had been introduced to the Empress herself. He became the friend of Count Witte, of Stuermer, and Protopopov was his tool.
Rumor credited him with exercising an extraordinary influence upon the Czarina, and through her upon the Czar. This influence was thought to be responsible for many of the Czar's unpopular policies. In times of great public agitation the wildest rumors are easily taken for truth and the absurd legends which were easily associated with his name were greedily accepted by people of every rank. The influence of Rasputin over the Imperial family was denied again and again. It has been said from authoritative sources that the Czar did not know him by sight, and that the Czarina knew him only as a superstitious and neurotic woman might know some fortune teller or other charlatan. Nevertheless the credulous public believed him to be the evil spirit of the Imperial circle, and every false move, every unpopular act, was ascribed to his baneful influence. But such a career could not last long, and the end became a tragedy.
Several times Rasputin had been attacked, but had escaped. At last, on the 29th of December, 1916, Prince Yusapov, a young man of wealth and position, invited him to dine with him at his own home. The Prince came for him in his own car. Entering the dining-room, they found there the Grand Duke Dmitri Paylovitch. M. Purishkevitch, a member of the Duma, had acted as chauffeur, and he followed him in. The three told him that he was to die and he was handed a pistol that he might kill himself; instead of doing so, he shot at the Grand Duke, but missed, and then was shot in turn by his captors. The noise attracted the attention of the police who inquired what had happened. "I have just killed a dog," was the reply.
His body was taken in an automobile to the Neva River, a hole cut in the ice, and weighted with stones, it was dropped into the waters. On the next day his executioners notified the police of what they had done, and the news was announced at the Imperial Theatre, whose audience went wild with enthusiasm, and sang the National Hymn. No legal action was ever taken against Rasputin's executioners. His body was recovered and given honorable burial. The Czarina, according to report, following the coffin to the grave. And so disappeared from the Imperial Court one evil force.
But his tool, Alexander Protopopov, still survived. Protopopov was an extraordinary man. In 1916 he had visited England and France and made a splendid impression. His speeches, full of fire and patriotism, were regarded as the best made by any deputation that had come from Russia. But on his re-turn to Petrograd he fell completely into the hands of the Court party. He became associated with Rasputin, and his wild talk and restless conduct suggested to many that his mind had become affected.
After the death of Rasputin, the meeting of the Duma, which should have taken place on January 25, 1917, was postponed for a month. The censorship was drawn tighter, the members of the secret police were greatly increased, and a deliberate endeavor, under the direction of Protopopov was made to encourage an abortive revolution, so that its overthrow might establish the reactionaries in power. But the attempt failed.
During January and February the people were calm. No one wanted revolution then. On February 9th, the labor members of the War Industry Committee were arrested. This was regarded as plainly provocative, and M. Miliukov wrote appeals to the people for patience. These were suppressed, but no disturbance ensued. A British Commission, then on a visit to Russia, reported that there was no danger of revolution. But the people were hungry. Speakers in the Duma discussed the food problem. It became harder and harder to procure bread, and little that was practical seemed to be done to improve the situation, though in some parts of the country there were large surplus stocks. On March 8th crowds gathered around the bakery shops, and looted several of them. The next day the crowds in the streets increased. Groups of Cossacks rode here and there, fraternizing with the people. They, too, were hungry. In the after-noon two workmen were arrested for disorder by the police. A band of Cossacks freed them. Street speakers began to appear here and there, and crowds gathered to listen to their fiery denunciations of the government.
On March 11th, General Khabalov, military Governor of the city, issued a proclamation announcing that the police had orders to disperse all crowds, and that any workman who did not return to work on Monday morning would be sent to the trenches. The main streets of the city were cleared and guarded by the police and soldiery. The crowds were enormous, and disorderly, and more than two hundred of the rioters were killed. Yet it seemed as if the government had the situation in a firm grasp, though an ominous incident was that the Pavlovsk regiment on being ordered to fire upon the mob, mutinied and had to be ordered to their quarters.
Meantime Rodzianko, the President of the Duma, had telegraphed to the Czar :
Situation serious. Anarchy reigns in Capital. Government is paralyzed. Transport food and fuel supplies are utterly disorganized. General discontent is growing.
Disorderly firing is going on in streets. Various companies of soldiers are shooting at each other. It is absolutely necessary to invest someone, who enjoys the confidence of the people with powers to form a new government. No time must be lost, and delay may be fatal. I pray to God that in this hour responsibility may not fall on the wearer of the crown.
The Prime Minister, Prince Golitzin, acting under power which he had received from the Czar, prorogued the Duma. But the Duma refused to be prorogued. Its President, Rodzianko, holding in his hand the order for dissolution, announced that the Duma was now the sole constitutional authority of Russia.
During the night following, the soldiers at the Capital, and the Socialists, decided upon their course. The soldiers determined that they would not fire upon their civilian brothers. The Socialists planned an alternative scheme of government.
On March the 12th, the city was taken possession of by a mob. The Preo Crajenski Guards refused to fire upon the crowd. The Volynsky regiment, sent to coerce them, joined in the mutiny. Followed by the mob, the two regiments seized the Arsenal. A force of 25,-000 soldiers was in the revolt. At 11 A. M., the Courts of Law were set on fire and the fortress of SS. Peter and Paul was seized. The police, fighting desperately, were hunted from their quarters, their papers destroyed and the prisoners, political and criminal, released from the jails.
During the day the Durna kept in constant session, awaiting the Emperor, who did not come. Telegram after telegram was sent him, each more urgent. There is reason to believe that these telegrams never reached the Czar. When information finally did come to him it was too late. Meantime the Duma appointed an executive committee. Their names were Rodzianko, Nekrasov, Konovalov, Dmitrikov, Lvov, Rjenski, Karaulov, Miliukov, Schledlovski, Schulgin, Tcheidze and Kerensky. The workmen and soldiers also formed a committee, which undertook to influence the troops now pouring into Petrograd. But the center of the revolution was still the Duma, and crowds gathered to listen to its speeches. In the evening Protopopov surrendered to the Russian guards, but General Khabalov still occupied the Admiralty building with such forces as were faithful.
On March 13th it became evident that the army in the field was accepting the authority of the provisional government. The Duma committee was composed mainly of men of moderate political views. They moved slowly, fearing on the one hand the Reactionaries who still preserved their loyalty to the Czar, and on the other hand the Council of Labor, with its extreme views, and its influence with the troops. The siege of the Admiralty building was ended by the surrender of General Khabalov. The police, however, were still keeping up a desultory resistance, but the mob were hunting them like wild beasts. On Wednesday, the 14th of March, the revolution was over.
The Executive Committee of the Duma and the Council of the Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates, now universally known as the Soviet, were working in harmony. Every hour proclamations were issued, some of them foolish, some of them, it is thought, inspired by German agents, and some of them wise and patriotic. One of the most unfortunate of these proclamations was one to the army directing that "the orders of the War Committee must be obeyed, saving only on those occasions when they shall contravene the orders and regulations of the labor deputies and military delegates." This same proclamation abolished saluting for private soldiers off duty. It was the beginning of the destruction of the Russian military power. The proclamation of the Duma committee itself was admirable :
The Provisional Executive Committee of the Duma, with the aid and support of the garrison of the capital and its inhabitants, has now triumphed over the baneful forces of the old régime in such a manner as to enable it to proceed to the more stable organization of the executive power. With this object, the Provisional Committee will name ministers of the first national cabinet men whose past public activity assures them the confidence of the country.
The new cabinet will adopt the following principles as the basis of its policy:
1. An immediate amnesty for all political and religious offenses, including military revolts, acts of terrorism, and agrarian crimes.
2. Freedom of speech, of the press, of associations and labor organizations, and the freedom to strike; with an extension of these liberties to officials and troops, in so far as military and technical conditions permit.
3. The abolition of social, religious, and racial restrictions and privileges.
4. Immediate preparation for the summoning of a Constituent Assembly, which, with universal suffrage as a basis, shall establish the governmental régime and the constitution of the country.
5. The substitution for the police of a national militia, with elective heads and subject to the self-governing bodies.
6. Communal elections to be carried out on the basis of universal suffrage.
7. The troops that have taken part in the revolutionary movement shall not be disarmed, but they are not to leave Petrograd.
8. 'While strict military discipline must be maintained on active service, all restrictions upon soldiers in the enjoyment of social rights granted to other citizens are to be abolished.
Meantime the Emperor, "the Little Father," at first thoroughly incredulous of the gravity of the situation, had at last become alarmed. He appointed General Ivanov Commander-in-Chief of the army, and ordered him to proceed to Petrograd at the head of a division of loyal troops. General Ivanov set out, but his train was held up at Tsarskoe Selo, and he returned to Pskov. The Czar himself then started for the city, but he, too, was held up at the little station of Bologoi, where work-men had pulled up the track, and he returned to Pskov.
He sent for Ruzsky and declared that he was ready to yield to the Duma and grant a responsible ministry. Ruzsky advised him to get in touch with Rodzianko, and as a result of a telephone communication with Rodzianko and with several of his trusted generals, it became clear that there was no other course than abdication. Guchkov and Shulgin, messengers from the Duma, arrived on the evening of March 15th, and found the Emperor alone, except for his aide-de-camp, Count Fredericks.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked.
"You must abdicate," Guchkov told him, "in favor of your son, with the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch as Regent."
The Emperor sat for a long time silent. "I cannot be separated from my boy," he said. "I will hand the throne to my brother." Taking a sheet of paper he wrote as follows:
By the Grace of God, We, Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias, to all our faithful subjects:
In the course of a great struggle against a foreign enemy, who has been endeavoring for three years to enslave our country, it has pleased God to send Russia a further hitter trial. Internal troubles have threatened to compromise the progress of the war. The destinies of Russia, the honor of her heroic army, the happiness of her people, and the whole future of our beloved country demand that at all costs victory shall be won. The enemy is making his last efforts, and the moment is near when our gallant troops, in concert with their glorious Allies, will finally overthrow him.
In these days of crisis we have considered that our nation needs the closest union of all its forces for the attainment of victory. In agreement with the Imperial Duma, we have recognized that for the good of our land we should abdicate the throne of the Russian state and lay down the supreme power.
Not wishing to separate ourselves from our beloved son, we bequeath our heritage to our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch, with our blessing upon the future of the Russian throne. We bequeath it to him with the charge to govern in full unison with the national representatives who may sit in the legislature, and to take his inviolable oath to them in the name of our well-beloved country.
We call upon all faithful sons of our land to fulfil this sacred and patriotic duty in obeying their Emperor at this painful moment of national trial, and to aid him, together with the representatives of the nation, to lead the Russian people in the way of prosperity and glory.
May God help Russia.
So ended the reign of Nicholas the Second, Czar of all the Russias. The news of the Czar's abdication spread over the world with great rapidity, and was received by the Allies with mixed feelings. The Czar had been scrupulously loyal to the alliance. He was a man of high personal character, and his sympathies on the whole, liberal; but he was a weak man in a position in which even a strong man might have failed. He was easily influenced, especially by his wife. Warned again and again of the danger before him, he constantly promised improvement, only to fail in keeping his promises. He deeply loved his wife, and yielded continually to her unwise advice.
The Empress Alexandra Feodorovna is but another instance of a devoted queen who de-throned her consort. She believed in Divine Right and looked with suspicion upon popular leaders. Her one object in life was to hand on the Russian crown to her son, with no atom of its power diminished. She surrounded herself and her husband with scoundrels and charlatans.
On the whole, the feeling among the Allies was one of relief. There was a general distrust of the influences which had been surrounding the Czar. The patriotism of the Grand Duke Michael was well known, and a government conducted by him was sure to be a great improvement. But it was not to be. Before the news of the abdication reached Petrograd a new ministry had been formed by the Duma. Miliukov announced their names and explained their credentials. The Prime Minister was Prince George Lvov. Miliukov was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guchkov Minister of War and Marine, Kerensky, a new name in the government, Minister of Justice. The ministry included representatives of every party of the left and centre.
Miliukov declared that their credentials came from the Russian revolution: "We shall not fight for the sake of power. To be in power is not a reward or pleasure but a sacrifiee. As soon as we are told that the sacrifice is no longer needed, we shall give up our places with gratitude for the opportunity which has been accorded us."
He concluded by informing his hearers that the despot who had brought Russia to the brink of ruin would either abdicate of his free will, or be deposed. He added that the Grand Duke Michael would be appointed Regent.
This announcement at once produced an ex-plosion. A ministry of moderates and a continuance of the Imperial government under a regency stirred the delegates of the workmen and soldiers to revolt. For a time it seemed as if the new government would disappear in the horrors of mob rule. But Kerensky saved the situation. Making his way into the meeting of the Soviet he burst into an impassioned speech.
"Comrades!" he cried, "I have been appointed Minister of Justice. No one is a more ardent Republican than I, but we must bide our time. Nothing can come to its full growth at once. We shall have our Republic but we must first win the war. The need of the moment is organization and discipline and that need will not wait."
His eloquence carried the day. The Soviet passed a resolution supporting the provisional government with only fifteen dissenting votes. But it had been made clear that the people did not approve of the regency, and on the night of the 15th of March, Prince Lvov, Kerensky and other leaders of the Duma sought out the Grand Duke Michael and informed him of the situation. The Grand Duke yielded to the people, and on Friday, March the 16th, issued a declaration which ended the power of the Romanovs in Russia :
I am firmly resolved to accept the supreme power only if this should be the desire of our great people, who must, by means of a plebiscite through their representatives in the Constituent Assembly, establish the form of government and the new fundamental laws of the Russian state. Invoking God's blessing, I, therefore, request all citizens of Russia to obey the provisional government, set up on the initiative of the Duma, and invested with plenary powers, until within as short a time as possible the Constituent Assembly elected on a basis of equal, universal and secret suffrage, shall enforce the will of the nation regarding the future form of the constitution.
With this declaration the sacred monarchy had disappeared. In one week the people had come to their own and Russia was free. But what the form of new government was to re-place the old régime was still the question. There were two rival theories as to the principles to be followed, one that of the Moderates, the other of the Extremists. The Moderates, who controlled the provisional government, were practical men. They realized that Russia was at war and that efficient administration was the great need.
The Extremists of the Soviet were a different type of men. They were profoundly ignorant of all practical questions of government; their creed was socialism. The Socialistic party in Russia may be divided into three different groups. The first, the Social Revolutionary party, came into prominence in Russia about 1900. It was composed of followers of the Russian Lavrov who believed in the socialist state, but a state which should not be a tyrant overriding the individual. Liberty was his watchword and he made his appeal not only to the workmen in the shops but with a special force to the peasant. He did not preach class war in the ordinary sense, and believed in the value of national life. To this party belonged Kerensky, more and more becoming the leader of the revolutionary movement.
The second group of the Socialist party were the Bolsheviki. This group were followers of the German Karl Marx. The revolution which they sought was essentially a class revolution. To the Bolsheviki the fate of their country mattered not at all. They were eager for peace on any terms. The only war in which they were interested was a class war; they recognized no political boundaries. The leader of this group was Vladimir Il j etch Uljanov, who, under his pen name of Lenine, was already widely known and who had now obtained the opportunity which he had long desired.
The third group were the Mensheviki. The Mensheviki believed in the importance of the working classes, but they did not ignore other classes. They were willing to use existing forms of government to carry out the reforms they desired. They saw that the Allied cause was their own cause, the cause of the workman as well as the intellectual.
The Soviet contained representatives of these three groups. It did not represent Russia, but it was in Petrograd and could exert its influence directly upon the government.
The attitude of the provisional government toward the Imperial family was at first not unkindly. The Czar and the Czarina were escorted to the Alexandrovsky Palace in Tsarskoe-Selo. The Czar for a time lived quietly as plain Nicholas Romanov. The Czarina and her children were very ill with measles, the case of the little Prince being complicated by the breaking out of an old wound in his foot. The Grand Duchess Tatiana was in a serious condition and oxygen had been administered. As his family improved in health the Czar amused himself by strolls in the palace yard, and even by shoveling snow. Later on Nicholas was transferred to Tobolsk, Siberia, and then, in May, 1918, to Yekaterinberg. His wife and his daughter Marie accompanied him to the latter place, while Alexis and his other, three daughters remained in Tobolsk. On July 20th a Russian government dispatch announced his assassination. It read as follows:
At the first session of the Central Executive Committee, elected by the Fifth Congress of the Councils, a message was made public that had been received by direct wire from the Ural Regional Council, concerning the shooting of the ex-Czar, Nicholas Romanov. Recently Yekaterinberg, the Capital of the Red Urals, was seriously threatened by the approach of Czecho-Slovak bands, and a counter-revolutionary conspiracy was discovered, which had as its object the wresting of the ex-Czar from the hands of the Council's authority. In view of this fact the President of the Ural Regional Council decided to shoot the ex-Czar, and the decision was carried out on July 16th.
The wife and the son of Nicholas Romanov had been sent to a place of security. In a de-tailed account of the execution, published in Berlin, it appeared that the Czar had been awakened at five o'clock in the morning, and informed that he was to be executed in two hours. He spent some time with a priest in his bedroom and wrote several letters. Ac-cording to this account, when the patrol came to take him out for execution he was found in a state of collapse. His last words, uttered just before the executioners fired, are reported to have been "Spare my wife and my innocent and unhappy children. May my blood preserve Russia from ruin."
The Russian press, including the Socialist papers, condemned the execution as a cruel and unnecessary act. The charges of conspiracy were utterly unproven, and were merely an excuse. The Central Executive Committee, however, accepted the decision of the Ural Regional Soviet as being regular, and a decree by the Bolshevist Government declared all the property of the former Emperor, his wife, his mother and all the members of the Imperial house, forfeit to the Soviet Republic.
Meantime the provisional government, which had taken power on the 16th of March, seemed as if it might succeed. Miliukov, whose announcement of the Regency had made him unpopular, declared for a Republic. The great army commanders for the most part accepted the revolution. The Grand Duke Nicholas was removed from his command and the other Grand Dukes were ordered not to leave Petrograd. Alexiev became commander-in-chief ; Ruzsky had the northern group of armies, Brusilov the southern ; Kornilov was in command of Petrograd, and the central group was put under the command of Lechitsky.
Reports came that discipline was improving everywhere on the front.
The plans of the government, too, met with general approval. Their policy was announced by Prince Lvov. "The new government considers it its duty to make known to the world that the object of free Russia is not to dominate other nations and forcibly to take away their territory. The object of independent Russia is a permanent peace and the right of all nations to determine their own destiny."
Kerensky, in inspiring speeches, encouraged the country to war, and declared against a separate peace. The new government announced that Poland was to receive complete independence, with a right to determine its own form of government, and its relation, if any, to Russia. In Finland the Governor, 'Sein, was removed. A Liberal was appointed Governor and the Finnish Diet was convened. A manifesto was issued on March 21st, completely restoring the Finnish constitution. To the Armenians Kerensky expressed himself as in favor of an autonomous government for them, under Russia's protection, and on March 25th, absolute equality of the Jews was proclaimed by the new government. A number of Jews were made officers in the army, and two Jewish advocates were appointed members of the Russian Senate and of the Supreme Court. On April 4th full religious liberty was proclaimed, and on the same date the Prime Minister promised a delegation of women that women would be given the right to vote.
These acts caused a general subsidence of unrest, and public good feeling was increased by the return of the political exiles and prisoners from Siberia. A full hundred thousand of such prisoners were released, and their progress across Siberia to Russia was one grand triumphal march.
The most celebrated of these political prisoners were two women, Catherine Breshkovskaya and Marie Spiridonova. Catherine Breshkovskaya was known as the grandmother of the revolution. Forty-four years of her life were spent in exile. When she reached Petrograd she was met at the railroad depot by a military band, and carried in procession through the streets. Equally popular was Marie Spiridonova, who, though still young, had suffered martyrdom. She had been tortured with cruelty that is unprintable. Her face had been disfigured for life. The agents who had inflicted the torture were assassinated by the revolutionists.
It was a great day for Russia, and the out-look seemed full of promise.