30/4/1918 The former Tsar arrives in the House of Special Designation #1918Live

Before the revolution the Tsar wielded absolute power in Russia, at least in theory. His life and that of his family was one of gilded luxury. After his abdication the imperial family were held in conditions of genteel house arrest, continuing to enjoy privileges undreamt of by their former subjects. However the Tsar remained deeply unpopular with the revolutionary public and there were fears for his life if he remained in Russia. During his premiership, Kerensky tried unsuccessfully to arrange for the Tsar to go abroad into exile. However a tentative offer of asylum in Britain was withdrawn following objections by King George V, who feared that his cousin’s arrival would ignite revolutionary sentiment. Other countries declined to take the Tsar for their own reasons.

To protect them from the Petrograd workers, Kerensky moved the imperial family to Tobolsk in Siberia, where they continued to live in comfortable conditions. However, since the October Revolution the situation of the imperial family has deteriorated. They have been denied luxuries and put on more basic rations. Their guards have become more surly. There is increased talk of putting the Tsar on trial.

In truth, the Bolsheviks are not sure what to do with the Tsar. Trotsky favours a show trial in Moscow, with himself as the prosecutor; others are not so sure. In the meantime the Tsar and Tsarina are transferred to a new place of incarceration in Ekaterinburg. They arrive today and are greeted by an angry mob before being taken to the House of Special Designation, the commandeered home of a local businessman. Their son and daughters will join them later.

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Tsar Nicholas II in the early stages of his captivity (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The House of Special Designation (Wikipedia)

12/11/1917 As the Bolsheviks’ situation improves, Kerensky departs the stage #1917Live

Lenin‘s Bolsheviks seized power easily in Petrograd but Moscow has proved a tougher nut to crack, with forces loyal to the ousted Provisional Government continuing to resist there. Even in Petrograd the rule of the Bolsheviks remains shaky, with a civil servants’ strike hampering Lenin’s commissars in their takeover of public administration while activists from other left parties grumble at the Bolshevik seizure of power.

Kerensky, the former prime minister, fled the capital as the Bolsheviks replaced his Provisional Government with Sovnarkom, the Council of People’s Commissars. He has found some loyalist troops and sends them to smash the Bolsheviks in Petrograd. But if there is a tide in the affairs of men it has well and truly gone out for Kerensky. A rising by anti-Bolshevik troops within Petrograd is easily suppressed and Kerensky’s force is blocked outside the capital by a revolutionary militia. Fearing that his soldiers will now hand him over to the Bolsheviks, Kerensky disguises himself as a sailor and flees.

The situation in Moscow also begins to improve for the Bolsheviks, with more of the city centre coming under their control. Perhaps Lenin’s government is not about to collapse after all. The world may soon see what a truly revolutionary regime guided by Marxism is able to accomplish.

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Fighting in Moscow (Russia Travel Blog: Moscow destroyed by the Bolsheviks in the autumn 1917) This link features some fascinating pictures of central Moscow in late 1917.

7/11/1917 The Bolsheviks seize power in Petrograd #1917Live

In the early hours of the morning the Bolshevik central committee meets. Yesterday’s failed crackdown by Kerensky has swung the Bolshevik leaders behind Lenin‘s call for an immediate seizure of power. As the day progresses troops and militia loyal to the Bolsheviks fan out across Petrograd and seize key points. By the evening the Provisional Government remains in the Winter Palace, surrounded by revolutionary troops and defended by an ever-dwindling band of loyalists.

The All-Russian Soviet Congress is meeting in Petrograd. It appears to be in favour of formation of a Soviet government, but one representing all revolutionary parties. But a walk-out by the Mensheviks and right faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) leaves the Bolsheviks with a clear majority, thanks to the support of the left faction of the SRs. Trotsky scoffs at those who have walked out, consigning them to the “dustbin of history”.

In the Winter Palace, shelling from a Bolshevik gunboat causes the collapse of loyalist resistance. The Bolsheviks storm the building and arrest the Provisional Government, but not Kerensky who has somehow slipped out of the city. The former ministers are thrown into the cells of the Peter & Paul Fortress used previously to house the Tsar’s enemies.
While all this is happening the normal life of the city remains curiously unaffected. The trams continue to run and shops and theatres remain open. Opera performances take place that evening and upmarket restaurants continue to serve their clients, though the journalist John Reed reports being asked to move to a dining room at the back of his hotel for fear of stray bullets coming in the front.

Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks have now seized power, in Petrograd at least. They call their government the Council of People’s Commissars, abbreviated in Russian to Sovnarkom.

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Red guards storm the Winter Palace (1920 re-enactment) (Wikipedia)

Red guards in the Winter Palace, by Ivan Vladimirov (Alpha History: the October Revolution)

Bolsheviks storm the Winter Palace in Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1928)

6/11/1917 Kerensky’s failed attempt to crush the Bolsheviks #1917Live

In Russia power is ebbing away from Kerensky‘s Provisional Government. The advance of the Germans in the Baltic is leading to fears that Petrograd might fall, but more disturbing are signs that the Bolsheviks are planning to seize power. The Bolshevik-controlled military committee of the Petrograd Soviet has been spreading its tentacles throughout the city, with most of Petrograd’s garrison now loyal to it rather than the Provisional Government. This includes the troops stationed in the Peter & Paul Fortress, whose guns command the Winter Palace in which the Provisional Government is based.

Kerensky seems powerless to stop the rising influence of the Bolsheviks. Verkhovsky, the war minister, has suggested that he seek an immediate peace with the Germans, undercutting the Bolsheviks whose demand for an end to the war has struck a chord with many. But Kerensky is determined to keep Russia in the war, despite the increasing inability of the army to fight the Germans.

Kerensky’s dwindling band of supporters have urged him to strike back against the Bolsheviks, decapitating them before they can seize power. Now he finally accedes to their request, ordering the suppression of the Bolshevik press and the arrest of their leaders. But Kerensky’s weakness is now all too apparent: he simply does not have the forces at his disposal for an effective crackdown. The men he sends to the Bolshevik printing presses are soon chased away by revolutionary troops. His hunters are unable to locate Lenin or the other leading Bolsheviks. And in the tumult that follows, Kerensky’s men lose control of two of the bridges into central Petrograd.

For the Bolsheviks, Kerensky’s attempted crackdown focuses minds. The party’s leadership had agreed in principle to a seizure of power at some unspecified point in the future. Now they realise that the time to strike is now.

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The Provisional Government (Wikipedia: Russian Provisional Government)

16/10/1917 Enemy at the gates: Germany threatens Petrograd #1917Live

German forces have staged an amphibious landing on the islands of Estonia, outflanking Russian forces defending the approaches to Petrograd. Now the Russians abandon the city of Revel (known to the Estonians as Tallinn), fearing that it has become untenable.

Revel was the last bastion between the Germans and Petrograd. With the Germans threatening the capital, the Provisional Government investigates evacuating itself and key industries to Moscow. But to the Petrograd Soviet and the revolutionary activists in the city, it looks suspiciously like Kerensky’s government is planning to hand them over to the Germans. Perhaps Kerensky would prefer to let the Germans deal with the unruly city.

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Kerensky wonders what to do (1917 portrait by Isaac Brodsky) (Spartacus Educational: Alexander Kerensky)

8/10/1917 Trotsky elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet’s executive

Things are just not going Kerensky‘s way. Russia’s prime minister has survived the attempted coup by Kornilov, the man he appointed to lead the army, but since then he has struggled to control events. Their role in resistance to Kornilov has rehabilitated the Bolsheviks: with the July Days unpleasantness now forgotten, Bolshevik leaders have been released from jail and there is even talk that Lenin may return to Petrograd from wherever he is hiding. Meanwhile the various armed popular committees that sprang into being to oppose Kornilov are refusing Kerensky’s orders to dissolve themselves, as is the revolutionary sailors’ committee in the Baltic Fleet.

In an attempt to revitalise his fortunes, Kerensky now reforms the Provisional Government. His latest cabinet has a majority of socialists, but the key posts are occupied by Kadets (Constitutional Democrats). Before the revolution the Kadets were considered dangerous radicals working to undermine Tsarist autocracy, but now the wheel has turned so far that to many they are sinister reactionaries, tainted by their reputed association with Kornilov’s failed coup. Kerensky’s continued fondness for including the Kadets in government further undermines his support amongst the workers’ organisations that had once enthusiastically backed him.

While Kerensky tries to reassert his authority political developments continue elsewhere. The executive of the Petrograd Soviet resigned after the council of workers and soldiers backed a Bolshevik resolution calling for a government responsible to it. Now a new executive is formed with a Bolshevik majority, headed by Leon Trotsky, the recently freed Bolshevik firebrand. The executive rejects Kerensky’s government and calls once more for a Soviet government.

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Leon Trotsky (in 1920) (Wikipedia: List of books by Leon Trotsky)

14/9/1917 The Petrograd Soviet swings behind the Bolsheviks #1917Live

Kornilov‘s coup against Kerensky‘s government has failed. Alexeev, Kerensky’s new army commander, takes over at the Mogilev headquarters. Kornilov is placed under arrest, albeit in very agreeable circumstances. Krimov, who had led his march on Petrograd, is less fortunate. After a fraught meeting with Kerensky, in which he accuses the prime minister of having betrayed Kornilov, Krimov shoots himself, believing Russia to be doomed.

Kerensky attempts to reassert his authority. In place of his recently dissolved cabinet, he forms a five man Directory headed (naturally) by himself. He declares Russia a socialist republic, formally ending he monarchy that everyone had forgotten about. He orders all militias to disarm. But the workers militias that formed in Petrograd to oppose Kornilov keep their weapons.

Russia is still in a chaotic state, gripped by agrarian and industrial unrest. And the Kornilov affair has weakened Kerensky. Conservatives hate him for failing to support the general. Others suspect him of intriguing with Kornilov before their rupture. With Kerensky’s support ebbing away leftwing groups like the Bolsheviks find themselves in the ascendant. Now the Petrograd Soviet for the first time has a Bolshevik majority. Today it agrees to a motion, proposed by the Bolshevik Kamenev, calling for the establishment of a Soviet government.

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A meeting of the Petrograd Soviet (Awful Avalanche: Biography of Bolshevik Leader Lev Kamenev)

11/9/1917 Kornilov’s coup comes unstuck #1917Live

General Kornilov has ordered his men to march on Petrograd after being dismissed by Kerensky. Now at last the enemies of the revolution have their Bonaparte, a man who will restore order in Russia. In response to the crisis, the Prime Minister has assumed emergency powers. Now he declares himself commander in chief of the army, with Alexeev his chief of staff. But power has ebbed away from Kerensky: with most of the generals supporting Kornilov, he has no men at his disposal to deploy against the rebel general.

But independently of Kerensky, the working people of Petrograd are rallying against Kornilov. Armed militias comprising workers and revolutionary soldiers have sprung into being, often under the direction of Bolshevik activists. The Kronstadt sailors return to Petrograd to defend the city from the general’s coup. Railway workers have sabotaged the line to prevent Kornilov’s men taking the train all the way to the capital. And agitators have gone to meet Kornilov’s men, to persuade them to abandon the general’s putsch.

Krimov leads Kornilov’s vanguard and is under orders to press on to Petrograd at once and establish martial law. But he finds himself stuck at Luga on the city’s outskirts, with revolutionary soldiers and agitators urging his men to disobey his orders. Krimov’s authority evaporates as his soldiers wander off to impromptu meetings and learn that Kornilov was using them for counter-revolution. Krimov’s men turn on their officers, either ignoring their orders to advance or arresting them. Kornilov’s attempted coup appears to be over.

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Workers militia in an electrical factory (Alpha History: The Kornilov Affair)

9/9/1917 Russia’s Bonaparte? Kornilov marches on Petrograd #1917Live

Kerensky and Kornilov, his army commander, had been planning a crackdown in Russia, to return order to a country wracked by revolutionary chaos. But the prime minister has become afraid of his ambitious general. Now he is convinced that Kornilov is about to stage a coup of his own that will establish him as the Bonaparte of the Russian Revolution.

In the early hours of the morning Kerensky meets with his cabinet in an atmosphere of crisis. Desperate times require desperate measures, so Kerensky secures the resignation of his ministers, taking on emergency powers himself. He telegrams Kornilov informing him that he has been dismissed as army commander.

When Kornilov receives Kerensky’s telegram he is astonished. Despite their tensions, Kornilov had thought that he and Kerensky were working together to save Russia. Now Kornilov decides that there is only one possible explanation for this telegram: Kerensky is now a prisoner of the Bolsheviks, who have forced him to send it.

As a man of action, Kornilov knows what is to be done. He orders his men to march on Petrograd to free Kerensky from the sinister clutches of the Bolsheviks.

News of Kornilov’s move causes a sensation in Petrograd. The Soviet executive meets. Despite the hostility of some (especially the Bolsheviks) towards Kerensky and his government, it passes a motion calling for resistance to Kornilov’s putsch.

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Lavr Kornilov (Seventeen Moments in Soviet History: Kornilov Affair Images)

8/9/1917 Kerensky falls out with his general

German gains at Riga have shaken Russia, with it now looking like Petrograd itself could fall to the next German offensive. Many feel that the country’s chaotic situation is responsible for the army’s failings, as indiscipline and insubordination have spread from the home front.

Russia is indeed in an increasingly chaotic state. The cities are seeing an increase not just in industrial unrest but in crime and general lawlessness. The countryside too is a scene of violent unrest, with angry peasants turning on the squires and nobles who for so long have dominated them. The peasants have grown tired of waiting for the politicians to organise land reform and have taken matters into their own hands, burning down manor houses and redistributing land amongst themselves, sometimes killing their former masters while they are at it. Small wonder then that insubordination has spread into the army, with soldiers deserting or refusing to obey orders and sometimes turning on their officers.

So it is that some are saying that something must be done to restore order. Kerensky appointed Kornilov to head the army, hoping that he would whip it into shape and then perhaps do the same to society at large. But Kornilov has become increasingly popular with conservative elements in Russia, the people who want an end brought to this revolutionary madness. They see the general as the strongman who will save Russia and encourage him to make himself dictator.

Kerensky is now increasingly convinced that he has created a monster. And when news arrives that Kornilov is seeking new powers for himself he fears that the general’s coup is now beginning.

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Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

(Alpha History: The Kornilov Affair)