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 However a tentative offer of asylum in Britain was withdrawn following objections by King George V, who feared that his cousin’s arrival would ignite revolutionary sentiment.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)

14/2/1918 Russia adopts the Gregorian calendar #1918Live

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII promulgated a new calendar, updating that of Julius Caesar. The reform changed how leap years are calculated. In the Julian calendar, every fourth year has an extra date. Pope Gregory’s calendar refines this by making years divisible by 100 no longer leap years, unless they are divisible by 400. The adjustment reflects the fact the true solar year is shorter than the 365.25 days envisaged by the Julian calendar. Adoption of the Gregorian calendar saw countries jump a number of days to correct the previous slide from the “true” date.

Over time western Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar. However, countries where the Eastern Orthodox Church was strong clung to the Julian. As a result, Russia is by now 13 days behind western Europe, which explains such oddities as the February and October revolutions taking place in March and November respectively.

But now, as part of its transformation of Russia, Sovnarkom orders the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. The change takes effect today. Whereas yesterday in Russia was the 31st of January, today is the 14th of February, as it is throughout almost all of Europe.

In 100 years time this change will be greeted with great relief by persons live-blogging and tweeting the First World War and Russian Revolution.

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The decree announcing the switch to the Gregorian calendar (Wikipedia: Soviet calendar)

31/12/1917 Chaos in Trebizond as the Russian army disintegrates #1917Live

The war against Turkey had gone well for Russia, but now the Bolsheviks have signed an armistice with the Turks, agreeing to return their gains since the war’s start. Russian forces are now withdrawing from the former frontline. The situation is becoming chaotic as the Russian army disintegrates, leaving a power vacuum in the countryside.

In the Black Sea port of Trebizond (also known as Trabzon), Russian troops are out of control, defying their officers to either commandeer ships to bring themselves home or engaging in riotous bacchanalia. The Russian army commanders in Trebizond declare martial law in an attempt to bring the disorders to an end, but the effort is futile; they no longer have any means with which to enforce their authority.

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Trebizond in more peaceful times (Karalahana – Turkey’s Black Sea Region: Old Trabzon photos)

25/12/1917 Creeping authoritarianism in Russia #1917Live

The Bolsheviks are becoming more entrenched in power in Russia. Sovnarkom, their government, is meant to ruling on behalf of the Soviet Executive (which in turn represents the All-Russian Soviet Congress). However Sovnarkom has declared itself empowered to rule by decree and is presenting legislation to the Soviet Executive for approval only after the fact. Today the Soviet Executive meets for the first time in two weeks, now completely marginalised from real decision making.

Perhaps in an effort to hide the Bolsheviks’ authoritarian tendencies, the left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries is now brought into Sovnarkom. The Left SRs were the only significant other party to back the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power, for all that their instincts incline them towards a more decentralised and non-hierarchical vision of socialism. They hope that by joining Sovnarkom they will be able to moderate the Bolsheviks. To Lenin though they are simply useful idiots, thrown a few unimportant ministries to lend Sovnarkom a less dictatorial air. Real power remains with the Bolsheviks.

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Sovnarkom, at some point after the Left SRs joined the Bolshevik government (Wikipedia: Council of People’s Commissars)
Picture captioned by Wikipedia, left to right: Isaac Steinberg (Left SR), Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov (Bolshevik), Boris Kamkov (Left SR), Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich (Bolshevik), V. E. Trotsky (unknown), Alexander Shlyapnikov (Bolshevik), P. P. Proshyan (unknown), Lenin (Bolshevik), Stalin (Bolshevik), Alexandra Kollontai (Bolshevik), Pavel Dybenko (Bolshevik), E. K. Kosharova (unknown), Nikolai Podvoisky (Bolshevik), Nikolai Gorbunov (Bolshevik), V. I. Nevsky (unknown), Alexander Shotman (unknown), Georgy Chicherin (Bolshevik). I am unsure as to whether V. E. Trotsky is meant to be Leon Trotsky or if it is another person with the same surname; it does not look obviously like the more famous Trotsky. I am also curious about Ms Kosharova, about whom I can find no information, unlike the more famous Ms Kollontai, one of the first women in the modern world to head a government ministry.

20/12/1917 The Cheka: Soviet Russia’s political police force

The recent elections to the Constituent Assembly have shown that reactionary opinion remains strong in Russia. To Lenin this means that the Bolsheviks need to be forever vigilant lest their enemies come together to organise their overthrow. To prevent this, Sovnarkom, the Soviet government, today orders the establishment of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Struggle against Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. Known as the Cheka, the Russian abbreviation of its name, this new body is to be led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Polish Bolshevik. The Cheka will wage an uncompromising war on the enemies of the revolution, its hands untied by bourgeois notions of due process or legal norms.

For now the Cheka’s particular enemies are members of the Kadets, the Constitutional Democrats. Last year members of this liberal party were in the vanguard of opposition to Tsarist autocracy. Their leader Milyukov‘s “folly or treason” speech did much to undermine the credibility of the Tsar‘s government. Now though, with Russia’s political scene completely transformed by the revolution, the Kadets are seen by many as the party of counter-revolutionary reaction. Although they received less than 5% of the vote, Lenin fears that the Kadets will work in concert with generals like Kornilov to overthrow his government. The Cheka now begins to round up leading Kadet members of the Constituent Assembly.

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Felix Dzerzhinsky (Wikipedia)

19/12/1917 Russia’s voters reject the Bolsheviks #1917live

Free elections are dangerous. The people do not always understand where their objective interests lie and can be seduced into voting against them. So it has proved in Russia, where voting has taken place for a Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks hoped that this would legitimise their takeover of power but they have won only 24% of the vote. The largest party is the Socialist Revolutionaries, on 38% of the vote. Even with the support of the small left faction of the SRs the Bolsheviks remain well short of a majority in the parliament. Most of the Bolshevik votes have come from the industrialised urban centres, while the bedrock of SR support remains the rural peasantry.

The defeat in the elections presents Lenin with a conundrum. The Bolsheviks are not yet secure enough in power to simply annul the elections, so instead they draw attention to any voting irregularities that favour other parties and postpone the Constituent Assembly’s first session to the new year.

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Bolshevik poster seeking to discredit the Constituent Assembly (Alpha History: The Constituent Assembly)

15/12/1917 Russia and Germany agree an armistice #1917Live

The Bolsheviks came to power in Russia promising to end the war. Now they manage to agree an armistice with the Germans, which will last for one month during which time representatives of the two countries will seek to negotiate a permanent end to their conflict.

For the Germans, this is a great coup. With Russia on its way out of the war they are now free to start transferring troops to the Western Front in preparation for their spring offensive next year. They also hope to extract concessions from the Russians that will improve the German food situation.

Lenin meanwhile knows that he cannot continue the war with the Germans; attempting to do so would rapidly make him as unpopular as Kerensky. In any case, the Russian army is disintegrating and unable to mount serious resistance to the Germans. By now around 370,000 men have deserted the ranks, either heading for home to benefit from the recently announced land reforms or milling around in lawless bands to terrify the countryside. The disintegration of the army is not something that upsets Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades: it prevents a reactionary general like Kornilov using it against the Soviet government.

Lenin has predicted that socialist revolution would start in Russia but then spread to the world’s more advanced nations. He sees the peace negotiations with Germany as part of this process. He hopes to play for time, time in which the soldiers and workers of the other belligerent states will also demand an end to the war, turning on their masters to usher in the new age of socialism.

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Signing of the armistice (Wikipedia) note Kamenev at front on the right