By Maurice Paléologue
MARCH 12-22, 1917.
From riot to revolution.---Barricades, looting and fires; street fighting.---The army fraternizes with the insurgents.---The Government thrown into confusion.---The ministers appeal to the Emperor.---The Winter Palace and the Fortress are occupied.---The Duma organizes an executive committee.---Further fighting in the streets. General Ivanov's mission. The last chance of saving tsarism. Rapid progress of the revolution.---The socialists form a "Council of Working-Men and Soldier Deputies," the Soviet, in opposition to the Duma. The vital part of the army in the revolutionary drama. Shameful behaviour of the Grand Duke Cyril and the Imperial Guard.---The Emperor, after a futile attempt to return to Petrograd, stops at Pskov where two envoys from the Duma beg him to abdicate in favour of his son. A provisional government formed.---Nicholas II will not consent to be separated from his son and abdicates in favour of his brother, Michael-Alexandrovitch. Rage of the Soviet, which demands and secures the renunciation of the throne by the Grand Duke Michael.----News from Tsarskoïe-Selo; the Grand Duke Paul informs the Empress of the Emperor's abdication.---The Provisional Government's weakness in dealing with the Soviet: the Petrograd garrison extorts a promise not to be sent to the front.---Miliukov is appointed Foreign Minister; our first talk: I demand that Russia's new rulers shall proclaim their determination to continue the war to the bitter end.---A general summary of recent happenings. Inaction of the clergy in the revolution. Supplementary details of the abdication of the Emperor.---Manifesto issued by the Provisional Government., it contains only a vague allusion to the prosecution of the war: I protest to Miliukov.---The Soviet compels the Provisional Government to arrest the fallen monarchs, Miliukov asks the British Government to give them a place of refuge in England. Eloquent farewell of the Emperor to the army.
Monday, March 12, 1917.
At half-past eight this morning, just as I finished dressing, I heard a strange and prolonged din which seemed to come from the Alexander Bridge. I looked out: there was no one on the bridge, which usually presents such a busy scene. But, almost immediately, a disorderly mob carrying red flags appeared at the end which is on the right bank of the Neva, and a regiment came towards it from the opposite side. It looked as if there would be a violent collision, but on the contrary the two bodies coalesced. The army was fraternizing with revolt.
Shortly afterwards, someone came to tell me that the Volhynian regiment of the Guard had mutinied during the night, killed its officers and was parading the city, calling on the people to take part in the revolution and trying to win over the troops who still remain loyal.
At ten o'clock there was a sharp burst of firing and flames could be seen rising somewhere on the Liteïny Prospekt which is quite close to the embassy. Then silence.
Accompanied by my military attaché, Lieutenant-Colonel Lavergne, I went out to see what was happening. Frightened inhabitants were scattering through the streets. There was indescribable confusion at the corner of the Liteïny. Soldiers were helping civilians to erect a barricade. Flames mounted from the Law Courts. The gates of the arsenal burst open with a crash. Suddenly the crack of machine-gun fire split the air: it was the regulars who had just taken up position near the Nevsky Prospekt. The revolutionaries replied. I had seen enough to have no doubt as to what was coming. Under a hail of bullets I returned to the embassy with Lavergne who had walked calmly and slowly to the hottest corner out of sheer bravado.
About half-past eleven I went to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, picking up Buchanan on the way.
I told Pokrovski everything I had just witnessed.
"So it's even more serious than I thought," he said.
But he preserved unruffled composure, flavoured with a touch of scepticism, when he told me of the steps on which the ministers had decided during the night:
"The sitting of the Duma has been prorogued to April and we have sent a telegram to the Emperor, begging him to return at once. With the exception of M. Protopopov, my colleagues and I all thought that a dictatorship should be established without delay; it would be conferred upon some general whose prestige with the army is pretty high, General Russky for example."
I argued that, judging by what I saw this morning, the loyalty of the army was already too heavily shaken for our hopes of salvation to be based on the use of the "strong hand," and that the immediate appointment of a ministry inspiring confidence in the Duma seemed to me more essential than ever, as there is not a moment to lose. I reminded Pokrovski that in 1789, 1830 and 1848, three French dynasties were overthrown because they were too late in realizing the significance and strength of the movement against them. I added that in such a grave crisis the representative of allied France had a right to give the Imperial Government advice on a matter of internal politics.
Buchanan endorsed my opinion.
Pokrovski replied that he personally shared our views, but that the presence of Protopopov in the Council of Ministers paralyzed action of any kind.
I asked him:
"Is there no one who can open the Emperor's eyes to the real situation?"
He heaved a despairing sigh.
"The Emperor is blind!"
Deep grief was writ large on the face of the honest man and good citizen whose uprightness, patriotism and disinterestedness I can never sufficiently extol.
He asked us to call in again at the end of the day.
When I returned to the embassy the situation had become much worse.
One piece of bad news followed another. The Law Courts had become nothing but an enormous furnace; the Arsenal on the Liteïny, the Ministry of the Interior, the Military Government building, the Minister of the Courts' offices, the headquarters of the Detective Force, the too, too famous Okhrana, and a score of police-stations were in flames; the prisons were open and all the prisoners had been liberated; the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul was undergoing a siege and the Winter Palace was occupied. Fighting was in progress in every part of the city.
At half-past six I returned with Buchanan to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Pokrovski told us that in view of the gravity of the situation the Council of Ministers had decided to remove Pokrovski from the Ministry of the Interior and appoint General Makarenko "provisional director." The Council at once reported accordingly to the Emperor and also begged him to confer extraordinary powers immediately on some general, authorizing him to take all the exceptional measures the situation requires, and particularly to appoint other ministers.
He also informed us that in spite of the ukase of prorogation, the Duma met at the Tauris Palace this afternoon. It has set up a permanent committee with the object of serving as intermediary between the Government and the mutinous troops. Rodzianko, who is president of this committee, has telegraphed to the Emperor that the dynasty is in the greatest danger and the slightest hesitation will be fatal to it.
It was pitch dark when Buchanan and I left the Ministry for Foreign Affairs; not a lamp was lit. Just as my car was emerging from the Millionaïa, opposite the Marble Palace, we were stopped by a military mob. Something was happening in the barracks of the Pavlovski Regiment. Infuriated soldiers were shouting, yelling and fighting on the square. My car was surrounded. There was a violent demonstration against us. It was in vain that my chasseur and chauffeur tried to explain that we were the ambassadors of France and England. The doors were opened and our position was on the point of becoming dangerous when a non-commissioned officer, perched on a horse, recognized us and in a voice of thunder proposed a " cheer for France and England!" We came out of this unpleasant predicament to the accompaniment of a storm of cheering.
I spent the evening trying to obtain information as to what the Duma was doing. It was a very difficult matter as shooting and burning were in progress in all quarters.
At length certain reports came in which substantially agreed.
The Duma, I was told, was doing everything in its power to organize a Provisional Government, restore order to some extent and secure the food supplies of the capital.
The swift and complete defection of the army has been a great surprise to the leaders of the liberal parties and even the working-class party. As a matter of fact, it faces the moderate deputies, who are trying to direct and control the popular movement (Rodzianko, Miliukov, Shingarev, Maklakov, etc.) with the question whether it is not too late to save the dynastic régime. It is a formidable problem, as the republican idea, which is favoured in labour circles in Petrograd and Moscow, is foreign to the spirit of the country and it is impossible to foretell how the armies at the front will receive the occurrences in the capital.
Tuesday, March 13, 1917.
The firing, which had died down by this morning, began again about ten o'clock; it seemed to be pretty vigorous in the region of the Admiralty. Armoured cars, with machine-guns and displaying red flags, were continually passing the embassy at top speed. More fires were blazing at several points in the capital.
With a view to avoiding another incident such as yesterday's, I preferred not to use my car in going to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs; I walked there, accompanied by my chasseur, the faithful Léonide, who was wearing civilian clothes.
Close to the Summer Garden I met one of the Ethiopians who used to mount guard at the Emperor's door and had often ushered me into the imperial study. The honest negro was also wearing civilian clothes and looked very dejected. We walked together for a short distance there were tears in his eyes. I tried to comfort him a little and shook his hand. While he was walking away I watched him with amused eyes. In this collapse of a whole political and social system he stands for the monarchical splendours of other days, the picturesque and sumptuous ceremonial introduced by Elizabeth and Catherine the Great (long ago) and all that magic atmosphere which was conjured up by the words which will henceforth mean nothing: "The Court of Russia."
I met Buchanan in the vestibule of the Ministry. Pokrovski said to us:
"The Council of Ministers has been sitting continuously all night in the Marie Palace. The Emperor has no illusions about the gravity of the situation, as he has given General Ivanov extraordinary powers to restore order; he also seems determined to reconquer his capital by force and will not hear of making terms with troops who have killed their officers and raised the red flag. But I doubt whether General Ivanov, who was at Mohilev yesterday, will ever reach Petrograd: the insurgents are in control of all the railways. And even if he succeeded in getting here, what could he do? All the regiments have gone over to the revolution. Only certain isolated detachments and a few bodies of police are still offering resistance. Of my colleagues in the ministry the majority are in flight and several have been arrested. I personally had the greatest difficulty in getting away from the Marie Palace to-night. Why, I'm awaiting my fate at this moment."
He spoke very calmly, in a simple, dignified, courageous and firm tone which gave a look of nobility to his pleasant face. To realize how meritorious his serenity is, it must be remembered that, though he was Comptroller-General of the finances of the Empire for a long time, he has no capital at all and is blessed with a large family.
"As you've just crossed the city," he said, " tell me if you think the Emperor can still save his crown?"
"He has a chance, because there is appalling confusion in all quarters. But the Emperor must at once accept what has happened by appointing the provisional committee of the Duma as ministers and pardoning the rebels. I also think that if he appeared. in person to his army and people, and solemnly announced on the steps of Our Lady of Kazan that a new era is beginning for Russia, he would have a splendid reception. But if he waits a day it will be too late.--- There is a fine remark of Lucan's which can be applied to the opening stages of all revolutions: Ruit irrevocabile vulgus.. I have been saying it over to myself to-night. In the stormy circumstances through which we are passing, the irrevocable soon becomes a fact!"
"We don't even know where the Emperor is. He must have left Mohilev yesterday evening or at dawn this morning. I have no news whatever of the Empress. It's impossible to communicate with Tsarskoïe-Selo."
As we came out of the ministry, Sir George Buchanan said to me:
"Let's go by the Court Quay instead of going through the Millionaïa. We shall avoid the Guard's barracks that way."
But as we entered the quay we were recognized by a body of students who cheered us and provided an escort. Opposite the Marble Palace the crowd got much larger and noisily enthusiastic. Cries of "Long live the Internationale! Long live peace!" blended unpleasantly with shouts of Long live France! Long live England!"
At the corner of Suvorov Square, Buchanan left me after advising me to take shelter in his embassy from the mob, which was getting somewhat too excited. But as it was late and I wanted to wire to Paris before lunch, I went on my way.
Opposite the Summer Garden I was entirely surrounded by the crowd which stopped a passing motor machine-gun and insisted on my getting in and being conveyed to the Tauride Palace. A huge and boisterous student, waving a red flag, bawled in my face in excellent French:
"Pay your respects to the Russian Revolution! The red flag is Russia's flag now; do homage to it in the name of France!"
He translated his words into Russian and they were greeted with frantic cheers. I replied:
"I cannot pay a finer tribute to Russian liberty than to invite you to join me in saying: 'Long live the war!'"
He was very careful not to translate my reply. At length we reached the embassy. Not without considerable trouble and the strenuous efforts of my chasseur did I succeed in getting clear of the crowd and within my own doors.
During the whole of this afternoon the revolution has been pursuing its logical and inevitable course. Ruit irrevocabile vulgus..
I have successively learned that Prince Golitizin, (President of the Council) the Metropolitan Pitirim, Sturmer, Dobrovolsky, Protopopov, etc., have been arrested. The livid glow of fresh fires can be seen at various points. The Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul has become the headquarters of the revolt. Fierce fighting is taking place around the Admiralty, where the War Minister, the Naval Minister and several high officials have taken refuge. In all other parts of the city the insurgents are ruthlessly tracking down "traitors," police officials and gendarmes. The shooting has sometimes been so brisk in the streets round the embassy that my dvorniks have refused to take my telegrams to the General Post Office, the only one which is still working; I have had to rely on a petty officer of the French Navy who is on leave in Petrograd and is not afraid of bullets.
About five o'clock, a high official,. K-----, came to tell me that the executive committee of the Duma is trying to form a "provisional government," but that President Rodzianko, Gutchkov, Shulgin and Maklakov are utterly taken aback by the anarchical behaviour of the army.
"They never imagined a revolution like this," my informer added; "they hoped to direct it and keep it within bounds through the army. The troops recognize no leader now and are spreading terror throughout the city."
He then told me abruptly that he had been asked to see me by President Rodzianko, and asked me if I had no advice, no suggestion to send him.
"As French Ambassador," I said, "the war is my main concern of course, so I want the effects of the revolution to be kept down as much as possible and order to be restored at the earliest moment. Don't forget that the French army is making preparations for a great offensive and that the Russian army is bound in honour to do its share."
"So you think it necessary to retain the imperial system?"
"Yes, but in. a constitutional as opposed to an autocratic form."
"Nicholas II cannot be allowed to reign any more; no one has any confidence left in him and he has lost all authority. In any case, he would never consent to sacrifice the Empress."
"You may change the Tsar, but you should stick to tsarism."
And I endeavoured to explain to him how tsarism is the very framework of Russia, the essential and irreplaceable buttress of Russian society and the sole link which unites all the heterogeneous nations of the Empire:
"If tsarism collapsed, you may be certain that it would bring down the whole edifice of Russia with it."
He assured me that Rodzianko, Gutchkov and Miliukov thought exactly the same and were hard at work on that footing, but that the socialist and anarchist elements were gaining ground every hour.
"That's another reason for losing no time," I said.
At nightfall, I ventured out with my secretary Chambrun to cheer up some women friends who lived near and whom I knew to be extremely anxious. After a call on Princess. Stanislas Radziwill and the Countess de Robien, we decided to return, as in spite of the darkness there was constant firing and, as we crossed the Serguievskaïa, we heard the bullets whistling past.
During a day which has been prolific in grave events and may perhaps have determined the future of Russia for a century to come, I have made a note of one episode which seems trivial at first sight, but in reality is highly significant. The town house of Kchechinskaïa, at the end of the Kammenny-Ostrov Prospekt and opposite Alexander Park, was occupied by the insurgents to-day and sacked from top to bottom. I remember a detail which makes it easy to see why the residence of the famous dancer has been singled out by mob fury. It was last winter; the cold was intense and the thermometer had fallen to-35°. Sir George Buchanan, whose embassy is centrally heated, had been unable to procure coal, which is the essential fuel for that system. He had appealed to the Russian Admiralty, but in vain. That very morning Sazonov had definitely told him it was impossible to find coal in any public depot. In the afternoon we went for a walk together on the Islands, as the sky was clear and there was no wind. Just as we were entering Kammenny-Ostrov Prospekt, Buchanan burst out: "Well, if that isn't a bit too thick!" He pointed to four military lorries opposite the dancer's house; they were laden with sacks of coal which a squad of soldiers was engaged in removing. "Don't worry, Sir George," I said. "You haven't the same claim as Madame Kchechinskaïa to the attentions of the imperial authorities."
It is probable that for years past many thousands of Russians have made similar remarks about the favours heaped upon Kchechinskaïa. The ballerina, once the beloved of the Tsarevitch and subsequently courted by two Grand Dukes at once, has become as it were a symbol of the imperial order. It is that symbol which has been attacked by the plebs to-day. A revolution is always more or less a summary and a sanction.
Wednesday, March 14, 1917.
There has been much fighting and burning again in Petrograd this morning. The soldiers are hunting down officers and gendarmes---a ruthless and savage chase which betrays all the barbarous instincts still latent in the moujik nature.
In the general anarchy which is raging in Petrograd, three directing bodies are in process of formation:
(1) The "Executive Committee of the Duma," with Rodzianko as its president and comprising twelve members, including Miliukov, Shulgin, Konovalov, Kerensky and Cheidze. It is thus representative of all parties of the progressive group and the Extreme Left. It is trying to secure the necessary reforms immediately in order to maintain the existing political system, at the cost of proclaiming another emperor, if need be. But the Tauris Palace is occupied by the insurgents so that the committee has to confer amidst general uproar, and is exposed to the bullying of the mob; (2) The "Council of Working-Men and Soldier Deputies," the Soviet. It holds its sittings at the Finland station. Its password and battlecry is "Proclaim the social Republic and put an end to the war." Its leaders are already denouncing the members of the Duma as traitors to the revolution, and openly adopting the same attitude towards the legal representative body as the Commune of Paris adopted towards the Legislative Assembly in 1792; (3) The "Headquarters of the Troops." This body sits in the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul. It is composed of a few junior officers who have gone over to the revolution and several N.C.O.'s or soldiers who have been promoted to officer rank. It is endeavouring to introduce a little system into the business of supplying the combatants and is sending them food and ammunition. In particular it is keeping the Duma in a state of subjection. Through it the soldiery is all-powerful at the present moment. A few battalions, quartered in and around the Fortress, are the only organized force in Petrograd; they are the prætorians of the revolution and as determined, ignorant and fanatical as the famous battalions of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and the Faubourg Saint-Marcel in that same year 1792.
Since the Russian revolution, memories of the French revolution have often passed through my mind. But the spirit of the two movements is quite dissimilar. By its origins, principles and social, rather than political character, the present upheaval has a much stronger resemblance to the Revolution of 1848.
The Emperor left Mohilev this morning. His train proceeded towards Bologoïe, which is half-way between Moscow and Petrograd. It is presumed that the Emperor intends to return to Tsarskoïe-Selo but some people are wondering whether he is not thinking of going to Moscow to organize resistance to the revolution.
The fact that the army has monopolized the lead in the revolutionary drama has just been confirmed before my own eyes by the spectacle of three regiments marching past the embassy on their way to the Tauride Palace. They marched in perfect order, with their band at the head. A few officers came first, wearing a large red cockade in their caps, a knot of red ribbon on their shoulders and red stripes on their sleeves. The old regimental standard, covered with ikons, was surrounded by red flags.
The Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovitch has come out openly in favour of the revolution.
He has gone even further. Forgetting the oath of fealty, and the office of aide-de-camp which bind him to the Emperor, he went off about one o'clock this afternoon to make obeisance to popular rule. In his naval captain's uniform he was seen leading the marines of the Guard, whose commander he is, and placing their services at the disposal of the rebels!
Shortly afterwards the Potemkin Palace was the scene of another and equally melancholy spectacle. A body of officers and men, who had been sent by the garrison of Tsarskoïe-Selo, signified its adherence to the revolution.
At the head were the Cossacks of the Escort, those magnificent horsemen who are the flower of the Kasatchesvo, the proud and privileged élite of the Imperial Guard. Then came the Regiment of His Majesty, the legion sacrée which is recruited by selection from all the units of the Guard and whose special function it is to secure the personal safety of their sovereigns. Next came His Majesty's Railway Regiment which has the duty of conducting the imperial trains and watching over the safety of Their Majesties when travelling. At the end of the procession marched the Police of the Imperial Palaces, chosen satellites who have to guard the imperial residences from within and thus participate daily in the intimate, private life of their masters. All of these men, officers and privates alike, have vowed their devotion to the new authority---whose very name they do not know----as if they could not embrace the chains of a new servitude too soon.
While this shameful piece of news was being told him, my mind went back to the brave Swiss who let themselves be cut to pieces on the steps of the Tuileries on August 10, 1792, though Louis XVI was not their sovereign and when they greeted him they did not call him: Tsary batiushka, "Our Little Father the Tsar!"
In the course of the evening Count S----- called on me to ask for information about the situation. I told him incidentally of the humiliating submission of the Tsarskoïe-Selo garrison at the Tauride Palace. At first he would not believe me. After long and mournful reflection he continued:
" What a horrible, horrible thing. The Guard troops who took part in that demonstration have disgraced themselves for ever. But perhaps the fault is not entirely theirs. In their continual attendance on Their Majesties they've seen too many things they ought not to have seen they know too much about Rasputin . . ."
As I wrote yesterday when on the subject of Kchechinskaïa, a revolution is always more or less a summary and a sanction.
Just before midnight I was told that the leaders of the liberal parties held a secret conference this evening---in the absence of the socialists and without their knowledge---with a view to arriving at an agreement about the future form of government.
They were of one accord that the monarchy must be retained, but Nicholas II, who is responsible for the present disasters, must be sacrificed to the salvation of Russia. The former president of the Duma, Alexander Ivanov Gutchkov, who is now sitting in the Council of Empire then expressed the following opinion: "It is of vital importance that Nicholas II should not be overthrown by violence. The only thing which can secure the permanent establishment of a new order, without too great a shock, is his voluntary abdication. The spontaneous renunciation of Nicholas II is the only means of saving the imperial system and the dynasty of the Romanovs." This view, which seems to me very sound, was unanimously adopted.
The liberal leaders closed their conference by deciding that Gutchkov and Shulgin, the deputy from the Nationalist Right, shall go straight to the Emperor and beg him to abdicate in favour of his son.
Thursday, March 15, 1917.
Gutchkov and Shulgin left Petrograd at nine o'clock this morning. Thanks to the aid of an engineer attached to the railway service, they were able to get a special train without arousing the suspicions of the socialist committees.
Discipline is gradually being re-established among the troops. Order has been restored in the city and the shops are cautiously opening their doors again.
The Executive Committee of the Duma and the Council of Workmen's and Soldiers' Deputies have come to an agreement on the following points:
(1) Abdication of the Emperor; (2) Accession of the Tsarevitch; (3) The Grand Duke Michael (the Emperor's brother) to be regent; (4) Formation of a responsible ministry; (5) Election of a constituent assembly by universal suffrage; (6) All races to be proclaimed equal before the law.
The young deputy Kerensky, who has gained a reputation as an advocate in political trials, is coming out as one of the most active and strong-minded organizers of the new order. His influence with the Soviet is great. He is a man we must try to win over to our cause. He alone is capable of making the Soviet realize the necessity of continuing the war and maintaining the alliance. I have therefore telegraphed to Paris, suggesting to Briand that an appeal from the French socialists to the patriotism of the Russian socialists should be sent through Kerensky.
But the whole of the interest of the day has been concentrated on the little town of Pskov, half-way between Petrograd and Dvinsk. It was there that the imperial train, which failed to reach Tsarskoïe-Selo, stopped at eight o'clock yesterday evening.
The Emperor, who left Mohilev on March 13 at 4.30 a.m., decided to go to Tsarskoïe-Selo, the Empress having begged him to return there at once. The news he had received from Moscow did not alarm him unduly. Of course it may be that General Voyeïkov kept part of the truth from him. About three o'clock in the morning of March 14, as the engine of the imperial train was taking in water at the station of Malaïa-Vichera, General Zabel, commander of His Majesty's Railway Regiment, took it upon himself to awaken the Emperor to tell him that the line to Petrograd had been closed and that Tsarskoïe-Selo was in the hands of the revolutionary forces. After giving vent to his surprise and irritation at not having been better informed, the Emperor is said to have replied:
"Moscow will remain faithful to me. We will go to Moscow!"
Then he is reported to have added, with his usual apathy:
"If the revolution succeeds, I shall abdicate voluntarily. I'll go and live at Livadia; I love flowers."
But at the station of Dno it was learned that the whole populace of Moscow had adhered to the revolution. Then the Emperor decided to seek a haven of refuge among his troops and selected the headquarters of the armies of the North, commanded by General Russky, at Pskov.
The imperial train arrived at Pskov at eight o'clock yesterday evening.
General Russky came to confer with the Emperor at once and had no difficulty in demonstrating that his duty was to abdicate. He also invoked the unanimous opinion of General Alexeïev and the army commanders, whom he had consulted by telegraph.
The Emperor instructed General Russky to report to Rodzianko, the President of the Duma, his intention to renounce the throne.
This morning Pokrovski resigned his office as Foreign Minister; he did so with that calm and unaffected dignity which makes him so lovable.
"My work is over," he said to me. "The President of the Council and all my colleagues have been arrested or are in flight. It is three days since the Emperor showed any sign of life and, to crown everything, General Ivanov, who was to bring us His Majesty's orders, has not arrived. In the circumstances it is impossible for me to carry out my duties; I am leaving my post and handing over its duties to my administrative deputy. In this way I avoid breaking my oath to the Emperor, as I have not entered into any sort of communication with the revolutionaries."
During the evening, the leaders of the Duma have at last succeeded in forming a Provisional Government with Prince Lvov as president; he is taking the Ministry of the Interior. The other ministers are Gutchkov (War), Miliukov (Foreign Affairs), Terestchenko (Finance), Kerensky (Justice), etc.
The first cabinet of the new régime was only formed after interminable wrangling and haggling with the Soviet. The socialists have certainly realized that the Russian proletariat is still too inorganic and ignorant to shoulder the practical responsibilities of power; but they are anxious to be the power behind the scenes, so they have insisted on the appointment of Kerensky as Minister for Justice in order to keep an eye on the Provisional Government.
Friday, March 16, 1917.
Nicholas II abdicated yesterday, shortly before mid-night.
When the emissaries of the Duma, Gutchkov and Shulgin, arrived at Pskov about nine o'clock in the evening, the Emperor gave them his usual simple and kindly reception.
In very dignified language and a voice which trembled somewhat, Gutchkov told the Emperor the object of his mission and ended with these words:
"Nothing but the abdication of Your Majesty in favour of your son can still save the Russian Fatherland and preserve the dynasty."
The Emperor replied very quickly, as if referring to some perfectly commonplace matter:
"I decided to abdicate yesterday. But I cannot be separated from my son; that is more than I could bear; his health is too delicate you must realize what I feel . . . I shall therefore abdicate in favour of my brother, Michael Alexandrovitch."
Gutchkov at once bowed to the argument of fatherly affection to which the Tsar appealed and Shulgin also acquiesced.
The Emperor then went into his study with the Minister of the Court; he came out ten minutes later with the act of abdication signed. Count Fredericks handed it to Gutchkov.
This memorable document is worded as follows:
By the grace of God, we, Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias, Tsar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, etc., etc., to all our faithful subjects make known:
In these days of terrible struggle against the foreign enemy who has been trying for three years to impose his will upon Our Fatherland, God has willed that Russia should be faced with a new and formidable trial. Troubles at home threaten to have a fatal effect on the ultimate course of this hard-fought war. The destinies of Russia, the honour of Our heroic army, the welfare of the nation and the whole future of our dear country require that the war shall be continued, cost what it may, to a victorious end.
Our cruel enemy is making his final effort and the day is at hand when our brave army, with the help of our glorious allies, will overthrow him once and for all.
At this moment, a moment so decisive for the existence of Russia, Our conscience bids Us to facilitate the closest union of Our subjects and the organization of all their forces for the speedy attainment of victory.
For that reason We think it right---and the Imperial Duma shares Our view---to abdicate the crown of the Russian State and resign the supreme power.
As We do not desire to be separated from Our beloved son, We bequeath Our inheritance to Our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch, and give him Our blessing on his accession to the throne. We ask him to govern in the closest concert with the representatives of the nation who sit in the legislative assemblies and to pledge them his inviolable oath in the name of the beloved country.
We appeal to all the loyal sons of Russia and ask them to do their patriotic and sacred duty by obeying their Tsar at this moment of painful national crisis and to help him and the representatives of the nation to guide the Russian State into the path of prosperity and glory.
May God help Russia!
On reading this declaration, which was typed on an ordinary sheet of paper, the emissaries of the Duma were deeply stirred and could hardly speak as they took their leave of Nicholas II who was as unmoved as ever as he give them a kindly handshake.
As soon as they left the carriage the imperial train started off for Dvinsk with a view to returning to Mohilev.
History can show few events so momentous, or so pregnant with possibilities and far-reaching in their effects. Yet of all those of which it has left any record, is there a single one which has taken place in such casual, commonplace and prosaic fashion, and above all with such indifference and self-effacement on the part of the principal hero?
Is it simply lack of interest in the Emperor's case? I think not. His abdication decree, over which he has pondered long if he did not actually word it himself, is inspired by the loftiest sentiments, and its general tone is nobility itself. But his moral attitude at this supreme crisis appears perfectly logical if it is admitted as I have often remarked, that for many months past the unhappy sovereign has felt himself lost and that he long ago made his sacrifice and accepted his fate.
The accession of the Grand Duke Michael to the throne has aroused the fury of the Soviet: "No more Romanovs!" is the cry in all quarters: "We want a republic!"
For one moment the harmony was shattered which was established with such difficulty between the Executive Committee of the Duma and the Soviet yesterday evening. But fear of the gaol-birds who are in command at the Finland Station and the Fortress has compelled the representatives of the Duma to give way. A delegation from the Executive Committee went to see the Grand Duke Michael who made no sort of objection and consented to accept the crown only if it should be offered to him by the constituent assembly. Perhaps he would have submitted less tamely if his wife, the clever and ambitious Countess Brassov, had been at his side and not at Gatchina.
The Soviet is now master.
Disturbances in the city are also beginning again. In the course of the afternoon I have been told of many demonstrations against the war. Certain regiments have suggested making a protest outside the French and English Embassies. At seven o'clock this evening the Executive Committee decided it was better to post soldiers in the two embassies. Thirty-two cadets of the Corps of Pages have just taken up their station in my house.
Saturday, March 17, 1917.
The weather is very dismal this morning. From dark and heavy clouds the snow is falling in dense flakes, and so slowly that I cannot even make out the granite wall which lines the icy bed of the Neva twenty paces from my windows. We might be in the very depths of winter. The gloom of the landscape and. the enmity of nature harmonize only too well with the sinister course events are taking.
One of those who were present gives me the following detailed account of the meeting at the conclusion of which the Grand Duke Michael signed his provisional abdication yesterday.
It took place at ten o'clock in the morning at Prince Paul Putiatin's house, No. 12, Millionaïa.
In addition to the Grand Duke and his secretary, Matveïev, there were present Prince Lvov, Rodzianko, Militikov, Nekrassov, Kerensky, Nabokov, Shingarev and Baron Nolde; about half-past ten they were joined by Gutchkov and Shulgin, who had come straight from Pskov.
As soon as the discussion. began, Gutchkov and Miliukov boldly asserted that Michael Alexandrovitch had no right to evade the responsibility of supreme power. Rodzianko, Nekrassov and Kerensky argued contra that the accession of a new Tsar would release a torrent of revolutionary passion and bring Russia face to face with a frightful crisis; their conclusion was that the monarchical question should be reserved until the meeting of the constituent assembly which would make its sovereign will known. The argument was pressed with such force and stubbornness, particularly by Kerensky, that all those present came round to it with the exception of Gutchkov and Miliukov. With complete disinterestedness the Grand Duke himself agreed.
Gutchkov then made a final effort. Addressing the Grand Duke in person and appealing to his patriotism and courage he pointed out how necessary it was that the Russian people should be presented at once with the living embodiment of a national leader:
"If you are afraid to take up the burden of the imperial crown now, Monseigneur, you should at least agree to exercise supreme authority as 'Regent of the Empire during the vacancy of the throne,' or, to take a much finer title, 'Protector of the Nation,' as Cromwell styled himself. At the same time you would give a solemn undertaking to the nation to surrender your power to a constituent assembly as soon as the war ends."
This ingenious idea, which might have saved the whole situation, made Kerensky almost beside himself with passion and provoked him to a torrent of invective and threats which terrified everyone there.
In the general confusion the Grand Duke rose with the remark that he would like to think things over by himself for a minute or two. He was making for the next room when Kerensky leaped in front of him as if to keep him back:
"Promise us not to consult your wife, Monseigneur!"
His thoughts had at once gone to the ambitious Countess Brassov whose empire over her husband's mind was complete. With a smile the Grand Duke replied:
"Don't worry, Alexander Feodorovitch, my wife isn't here at the moment; she stayed behind at Gatchina!"
Five minutes later the Grand Duke returned. In very calm tones he declared:
"I have decided to abdicate."
The triumphant Kerensky called out:
"Monseigneur, you are the noblest of men!"
The rest of the company, however, was wrapped in a .gloomy silence; even those who had been the strongest advocates of abdication---Prince Lvov and Rodzianko, for instance---seemed overwhelmed by the irreparable occurrence that had just taken place. Gutchkov relieved his conscience by a final protest:
"Gentlemen, you are leading Russia to her ruin; I am not going to follow you in that baneful path."
A provisional and conditional abdication was then drawn up by Nekrassov, Nabokov and Baron Nolde. Michael Alexandrovitch interrupted them several times in their task to make it quite clear that his refusal of the imperial crown remained subject to the ultimate decision of the Russian nation as represented by a constituent assembly.
At the conclusion he took the pen and signed.
Throughout this long and painful discussion the Grand Duke's composure and dignity never once deserted him. Hitherto his compatriots have had but a poor opinion of him; he was considered to be of weak character and lacking in brains. But on this historic occasion his patriotism, nobility and self-sacrifice were very touching. When the final formalities had been concluded, the delegates of the Executive Committee could not help showing him that the impression he made upon them won their sympathy and respect. Kerensky tried to interpret the emotion they all felt in a lapidary phrase which fell from his lips in a theatrical outburst.
"Monseigneur! You have generously entrusted to us the sacred cup of your power. I promise you we will hand it on to the constituent assembly without spilling a single drop."
General Efimovitch, who called on me this morning, has brought me some news of Tsarskoïe-Selo.
It was through the Grand Duke Paul that the Empress learned yesterday evening of the Emperor's abdication; she had heard nothing of him for two days. She burst out:
"It's quite impossible! It isn't true! It's another newspaper lie! I believe in God and trust the army. Neither could have deserted us at so critical a moment!"
The Grand Duke read her the abdication which had just been published. Then everything came home to her and she burst into tears.
The Provisional Government has not been long in capitulating to the demands of the socialists. At the Soviet's command it has actually come to the following humiliating decision:
The troops which have taken part in the revolutionary movement will not be disarmed but will remain in Petrograd.
Thus the first act of the revolutionary army is to extract a promise that it shall not be sent to the front but shall fight no more! What a badge of shame for the Russian Revolution! How can one help thinking of the contrast afforded by the Volunteers of 1792! Besides, the soldiers in the streets seem lost to all decency and are giving a disgusting exhibition of effrontery and licence. By its infamous insistence the Soviet has created for itself a formidable militia, for the garrisons of Petrograd and the suburbs (Tsarskoïe-Selo, Peterhof, Krasnoïe-Selo and Gatchina) comprise no less than 170,000 men.
This afternoon Miliukov took over the portfolio of foreign affairs. He made a point of seeing me at once, as well as my English and Italian colleagues.
We answered his summons at once.
I found him very much changed, extremely weary and looking ten years older. The days and nights of fierce controversy through which he has just passed have worn him out.
I asked him:
"Before you take to official phraseology tell me frankly and honestly what you think of the situation."
In an outburst of sincerity he replied:
"Within the last twenty-four hours I have passed from utter despair to all but perfect confidence."
Then we talked officially:
"I'm not yet in a position," I said, "to tell you that the Government of the Republic recognizes the government you have set up; but I'm certain I'm only anticipating my instructions in promising you active and sympathetic assistance on my part."
He thanked me warmly, and continued: "We didn't want this revolution to come during hostilities; I didn't even anticipate it; but it has taken place, as the result of other agencies, and through the mistakes and crimes of the imperial regime. Our business now is to save Russia by ruthlessly prosecuting the war to victory. But the passions of the people have been so exasperated and the difficulties of the situation are so frightful that we must at once make great concessions to the national conscience."
Among these immediate concessions he mentioned the arrest of several ministers, generals, officials, and so on, the proclamation of a general amnesty---from which the servants of the old government will of course be excluded---the destruction of all the imperial emblems, the convocation of. a constituent assembly in the near future; in a word every measure calculated to rob the Russian nation of all fear of a counter-revolution.
"So the Romanov dynasty has fallen I said."
"Yes, in fact; no, in law. The constituent assembly alone will be qualified to change the political status of Russia."
"But how will you secure the election of this constituent assembly? Will the men at the front be content to forego their votes?"
With considerable confusion he admitted: "We shall be obliged to grant the men at the front the right to vote."
"What, you're going to give the men at the front a vote! Most of them are fighting thousands of versts from their villages and can't read or write!"
Miliukov as good as told me that in his heart of hearts he shared my views and confided that he is doing his utmost to give no definite promise as to the date of the general election.
"But the socialists are insisting on an election at once," he added. "They are extremely strong, and the situation is very, very critical!"
As I pressed him to explain these words, he told me that though order has been restored to some extent in Petrograd, the Baltic Fleet and Kronstadt garrison are in open revolt.
I asked Miliukov about the official nomenclature of the new government.
" The title hasn't been decided upon yet," he said. "At the moment we are calling ourselves the Provisional Government. But in that name we are getting all executive authority, including the imperial prerogative, into our hands; so we are not responsible to the Duma."
"In a word, you derive all your power from the revolution?"
'"No, we have received it., by inheritance, from the Grand Duke Michael, who transferred it to us by his abdication decree."
This legal sensitiveness showed me that the "moderates" of the new order, Rodzianko, Prince Lvov, Gutchkov and Miliukov himself, are extremely worried and uneasy in their conscience at the idea of violating monarchical rights. At bottom---and it is only, the normal course of revolutions---they feel that they are already being thrust aside, and are fearfully wondering where they will be to-morrow.
Miliukov looked so exhausted, and the loss of voice he has suffered in the last few days made talking so painful for him, that I had to cut short our interview. But before leaving him I urged very strongly that the Provisional Government should delay no longer in solemnly proclaiming its fidelity to the alliances and its determination to continue the war at any cost.
"You must realize that what is wanted is a plain and unambiguous proclamation. Of course I haven't a doubt about your own feelings. But the direction of Russian affairs is now at the mercy of new forces; they must be given a lead at once. I have another reason for insisting that the ruthless prosecution of the war and the maintenance of the alliances shall be proclaimed openly. I must tell you that in the old days I more than once caught germanophile circles at Court---the Sturmer and Protopopov gang---dropping a hint which worried me very much; it was admitted that the Emperor Nicholas would not be able to make peace with Germany so long as Russian soil had not been entirely cleared of the enemy, for he had taken an oath on the Gospel and the ikon of Our Lady of Kazan; but it was whispered that if the Emperor could be induced to abdicate in favour of the Tsarevitch under the regency of the Empress, his disastrous oath would not be binding on his heir. You can see that I should like to be sure that the new Russia considers herself bound by the oath of her former Tsar."
"You'll receive every guarantee on that head."
The food problem is still so difficult in Petrograd that my supplies and the skill of my chef are very valuable to my friends. I had seven or eight of them to dinner to-night, the party including the Gortchakovs and Benckendorffs. Everyone was very depressed; they could see extremist proletarian doctrines already sweeping over Russia, disintegrating the national unity, spreading anarchy, famine and ruin everywhere.
My forebodings are equally gloomy, alas! None of the men in power at this moment possesses the political vision, faculty of swift decision, courage and boldness which so formidable a situation calls for. They are "Octobrists," "Cadets," advocates of constitutional monarchy, level-headed, honest, moderate and disinterested. They remind me of Molé, Odilon, Barrot, etc. in July, 1830. Yet the least that is required now is a Danton! I am told, however, that they have one man of action among them, the young Minister of Justice, Kerensky, who represents the "Labour" group in the Duma and has been forced on the Provisional Government by the Soviet.
There is no question that the men of initiative, energy and courage, must be sought for in the Soviet. The multifarious sections of the Social-Revolutionary and social-Democratic parties, "People's Party," "Labour Men," "Terrorists," "Maximalists," "Minimalists," "Defeatists," etc., are not lacking in men who have given proof of resolution and audacity in plots, penal servitude and exile; I need only mention Tcheidze, Tseretelli, Zinoviev and Axelrod. These are the true protagonists of the drama on which the curtain is now rising
Sunday, March 18, 1917.
As yet I know nothing of the effect the Russian revolution has had in France; but I am afraid of the illusions it may create there and it is only too easy for me to guess all the examples with which it is likely to present the socialist jargon-mongers. I have therefore thought it advisable to give my government a word of warning and I am cabling as follows to Briand:
When I said good-bye to M. Doumergue and General de Castelnau last month, I asked them to advise the President of the Republic and yourself of my increasing concern at the internal situation of the Empire; I added that it would be a serious mistake to think that time is working for us, at any rate in Russia; I came to the conclusion that we should expedite our military operations as much as possible.
I am more convinced of that than ever. A few days before the Revolution I advised you that the decisions of the recent conference were already a dead letter, that the confusion in the munitions production establishments and transport services was beginning again on an even more formidable scale, and so forth. The question is whether the new Government is capable of promptly carrying out the necessary reforms. It says, and quite sincerely, that it can but I don't believe a word of it. For it is not merely confusion, but wholesale disorganization and anarchy from which the military and civil departments are suffering.
Taking the most hopeful view I can, what can we expect? A terrible load would be off my mind if I could be certain that the fighting armies will not be contaminated by demagogic agitation and discipline soon restored among the garrisons behind the front. I have not yet abandoned that hope. I can still bring myself to think that the social-democrats will not translate their desire to end the war into irreparable acts. I can also admit the possibility of a revival of patriotic fervour in some parts of the country. But for all that there must be a weakening of the national effort which was only too anaemic and spasmodic already. And the process of recovery is likely to be a long one with a race whose ideas of method and forethought are so rudimentary.
After sending this cable, I went out to see some of the churches: I was curious to know how the faithful would behave at the Sunday mass now that the name of the Emperor has been deleted from public prayers. In the orthodox liturgy divine protection was continually being invoked for the Emperor, Empress, Tsarevitch, and all the imperial family, it was a kind of recurring chorus. By order of the Holy Synod, the prayer for the Sovereigns has been abolished and nothing has taken its place. The churches I visited were the Preobrajensky Cathedral, Saint Simeon and Saint Panteleimon. The same scene met me everywhere; a grave and silent congregation exchanging amazed and melancholy glances. Some of the moujiks looked bewildered and horrified and several had tears in their eyes. Yet even among those who seemed the most moved I could not find one who did not sport a red cockade or armband. They had all been working for the Revolution; all of them were with it, body and soul. But that did not prevent them from shedding tears for their little Father, the Tsar, Tsary batinshka!
Then I called at the Foreign Office.
Miliukov told me that yesterday evening he discussed with his colleagues the formula to be inserted in the coming manifesto of the Provisional Government on the subject of the prosecution of the war and the maintenance of the alliance; he added in a tone of embarrassment:
"I hope to secure the adoption of a form of words which will satisfy you."
"You mean to say you only hope? A hope's no good to me: I want a certainty."
"You may be certain I shall do everything in my power . . . . But you've no idea how difficult our socialists are to handle! And we've got to avoid a rupture with them at any cost. Otherwise, it means civil war!"
"Whatever reasons you may have for going slowly with the hotheads of the Soviet, you must realize that I cannot tolerate any doubt about your determination to continue the alliance and carry on the war."
"Please trust me!"
Miliukov struck me as less optimistic than he was yesterday. The news from Kronstadt, the Baltic Fleet and Sebastopol is bad. To crown all, disorder is spreading at the front; officers have been massacred.
This afternoon I went for a walk on the Islands, which are more deserted than ever and still snow-bound.
Thinking of my visit to the churches this morning, I mused on the strange inaction of the clergy during the revolution; it has taken no part; is never seen anywhere and has given absolutely no sign of life. This abstention and self-effacement are all the more surprising because there was not one celebration, ceremony or public occasion in which the Church did not occupy the foreground with the splendours of its rites, apparel and singing.
The matter is self-explanatory, and to put that explanation into words I have only to search the pages of this Diary. In the first place the Russian people are not as religious as they appear to be: they are primarily mystics. Their habit of continually crossing themselves, their genuflections, their taste for ritual and processions and craze for ikons and relics are simply an outlet for the demands of their lively imagination. Pierce but a little way into their minds and all one finds is a faith which is vague and hazy, sentimental and dreamy, almost destitute of intellectual and theological elements and always on the verge of sinking into sectarian anarchy. One must also bear in mind the confined and humiliating servitude tsarism has always imposed on the Church, a servitude which made the clergy a kind of spiritual police, to reinforce the military, police. Often enough, during the sumptuous services in the cathedrals of St. Alexander Nevsky or Kazan, I have called to mind Napoleon's remark that "an archbishop is simply a second Prefect of Police!" Nor must one forget the opprobrium brought on the Holy Synod and the episcopal hierarchy in the last few years by Rasputin. The Hermogenes, Varnava, Basily and Pitirim scandals, and many others, had greatly shocked all true believers. When the nation rose in revolt the clergy could do nothing but keep silence. But when the time for reaction arrives, perhaps the country priests, who have remained in touch with the rural masses, will make their voice heard again.
I was told yesterday that the form of the Emperor's abdication decree was settled by Nicholas Alexandrovitch Basily, formerly Deputy-Director of Sazonov's department and now in charge of the diplomatic section of General Headquarters; the decree is said to have been communicated by telegraph from Pskov to Mohilev on March 15, even before the delegates of the Duma, Gutchkov and Shulgin, had seen the Emperor. It is a point which would be interesting to clear up.
Curiously enough, late this afternoon I had a visit from Basily whom General Alexeïev has sent to the Provisional Government on some mission.
"Hallo!" I said: "I understand it's you who drafted the Emperor's abdication decree?"
He started,, and protested vigorously: "I absolutely deny the paternity of the document the Emperor signed. The draft I prepared on General Alexeïev's orders was very different."
What he told me was this:
"In the morning of the 14th March General Alexeïev received from President. Rodzianko, a telegram informing him that the machinery of government had ceased to function in Petrograd and the only means of averting anarchy was to secure the Emperor's abdication in favour of his son. The Chief of Staff of the Imperial Armies was thus faced with a dreadful problem. Would not the Tsar's abdication threaten the army with divisions, if not disruption? The only thing to do was to get all the military heads to agree at once on one course. General Russky, commanding the northern armies, had already pronounced strongly in favour of immediate abdication. General Alexeïev personally inclined to that view; but the matter was so serious that he thought it his duty to consult all the other Army Group commanders by telegraph, Generals Evert, Brussilov, and Sakharov and the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaïevitch. They all replied that the Emperor should abdicate at the earliest possible moment."
"On which day did all these replies come into General Alexeïev?"
"During the morning of March 15th. It was then that General Alexeïev instructed me to report to him on the circumstances in which the fundamental status of the Empire authorized the Tsar to lay down his sceptre. I was not long in furnishing him with a memorandum explaining and proving that if the Emperor abdicated he was obliged to hand over his powers to his legitimate heir, the Tsarevitch Alexis. 'That's exactly what I thought,' the General said to me. 'Will you draft me a proclamation on those lines at once?' I soon produced a draft in which I expounded the theory of my memorandum to the best of my ability while endeavouring to keep the necessity of prosecuting the war to victory persistently in the foreground. The Chief of Staff had with him his principal colleague and loyal Quartermaster, General Lukomsky. I handed him my document. He read it aloud and agreed with every word. Lukomsky also approved of it. The document was immediately telegraphed to Pskov to be laid before the Emperor. A little before midnight on the same day, General Danilov, Quartermaster-General of the northern armies called his colleague at G.H.Q. to the tapemachine to tell him of His Majesty's decision. I happened at that moment to be in Lukorusky's room, with the Grand Duke Sergei Michailovitch. We all rushed to the telegraph office and the machine began to work before our eyes. I immediately recognized my draft on the tape as it came out.
. . . To all Our faithful subjects We make known. . . in these days of fierce conflict with the foreign foe, etc. But you can just imagine the amazement of all three of us when we observed that the name of the Grand Duke Michael had been substituted for that of the Tsarevitch Alexis! We looked at each other in blank consternation for the same idea entered all our heads. The immediate accession of the Tsarevitch was the only means of stopping the revolution in its career, or at any rate keeping it within the limits of a great constitutional reform. In the first place, the young Alexis Nicholaïevitch would have had the law on his side. He would also have benefited by the sympathetic feeling of the nation and army towards him. Lastly---and this was the vital point---the imperial office would not have been vacant even for a moment. If the Tsarevitch had been proclaimed, no one would have had the authority to make him abdicate. What has happened to the Grand Duke Michael would not have been possible in the case of this boy. There might have been some wrangling over the appointment of the regent, but that's all. Russia would have a national head . . . But where are we now?"
"I'm sorry to say that I fear events will prove you right before very long . . . When the Emperor deleted his son's name from the proclamation you drafted for him he launched Russia on a terrible adventure."
After discussing this topic for some considerable time, I asked Basily:
"Have you seen the Emperor since his abdication?"
"Yes. On the 16th March, when the Emperor was returning from Pskov to Mohilev, General Alexeïev sent me to tell him how the situation was developing. I met his train at Orcha and went straight to his coach. He was absolutely calm, but it shocked me to see him. with a haggard look and hollow eyes. After telling him of the latest happenings in Petrograd, I took the liberty of saying that we at the Stavka were greatly distressed because he had not transferred his crown to the Tsarevitch. He answered quietly: 'I cannot be separated from my son.' I learned afterwards from his escort that before the Emperor came to his decision he had consulted his physician Professor Feodorov: 'I order you to give me a frank answer,' he had said. 'Do you think it possible that Alexis can ever get better?' 'No, Your Majesty, his disease is incurable.' 'That's what the Empress thought long ago, though I myself still had hopes. As God has willed it thus I shall not separate myself from my poor boy!' A few minutes later dinner was served. It was a melancholy meal. All of us felt our hearts bursting; we couldn't cat or drink. Yet the Emperor retained wonderful self-control and asked me several questions about the men who form the Provisional Government; but as he was wearing a rather low collar I could see that he was continually choking down his emotion. I left him yesterday morning at Mohilev."
This evening I dined quietly with Madame P-----, the other guests being Count Nicholas Muraviev, a former Governor of Moscow, and Count Kutusov.
Madame P------ said:
"As long as Russia is governed from Petrograd things will go from bad to worse . . . Petrograd can only destroy; Moscow alone is capable of reconstruction."
"Don't build on Moscow too much! The civil population is almost as rotten as that of Petrograd."
"We have very much further to fall yet; in fact we shall touch the bottom of the abyss . . . But within three months the Empire will be restored. Never forget that Russia has 178,000,000 inhabitants, of which 160,000,000 are peasants, 12,1000,000 Cossacks, 3,000,000 commercial folk and civil servants, 1,800,000 aristocrats and 1,200,000---at most---working-men. Those 1,200,000 rabotchiks will not be our masters for ever!"
"So -you think that Dubrovin and Purishkevitch's famous 'Black Bands' have still their part to play?" I said.
"Certainly . . . . and before very long!"
Monday, March 19, 1917.
Nicholas Romanov, as the Emperor is now styled in official documents and the papers, has asked the Provisional Government for---
(1) A free pass from Mohilev to Tsarskoïe-Selo; (2) Permission to reside at the Alexander Palace until his children have recovered from the measles; (3) a free pass from Tsarskoïe-Selo to Port Romanov on the Murman coast.
The government has granted his requests.
Miliukov, who is my authority for this information, presumes that the Emperor intends to ask the King of England for a place of refuge.
"He should lose no time in getting away," I said. "Otherwise, the Soviet extremists might quote some awkward precedents against him."
Miliukov, who is rather of the Rousseau school and, being the soul of kindness himself only too prone to believe in the innate goodness of the human race, does not think that the lives of the sovereigns are in danger. If he wants to see them go it is mainly in order to spare them the sorrows of imprisonment and trial, which would greatly increase the difficulties of the Government. He lays great emphasis on the extraordinary restraint and forbearance displayed by the people during this revolution, the small number of victims, the way in which violence has been quickly followed by moderation, and so forth.
"That's all right," I said; " the mob has soon returned to its natural kindness of heart, because it is not in any great distress and is overwhelmed with the pleasant sensation of freedom. But if there is a famine violence will rage at once."
I quoted Roederer's highly expressive remark in 1792:
"Orators have only to appeal to hunger to conjure up cruelty."
Tuesday, March 20, 1917.
The Provisional Government's manifesto was published this morning. It is a long, verbose and strongly-worded document which fiercely castigates the ancien regime and promises the nation all the benefits of equality and liberty. The war is barely mentioned: The Provisional Government will loyally maintain all its alliances and do everything in its power to provide the army with all its needs with a view to carrying on the war to a victorious conclusion. Nothing more!
I went straight to Miliukov this is exactly what I said:
"After my recent talks with you I was not surprised at the language adopted by the manifesto published this morning on the subject of the war; but it doesn't make me any less angry. A determination to prosecute the war at any cost and until full and final victory isn't even mentioned! The name of Germany does not occur! There isn't the slightest allusion to Prussian militarism: No reference whatever to our war aims! France too has had her revolutions with the enemy at the gates; but Danton in 1792 and Gambetta in 1870 used very different language . . . And yet in those days France had no ally who was in deadly peril on her behalf."
Miliukov looked very pale and abashed as he heard me out. Choosing his words carefully, he argued that the manifesto was intended specifically for the Russian nation and, anyhow, political eloquence to-day employs a more temperate vocabulary than in 1792 and 1870.
I then read him the appeal which our socialists, Guesde, Sembat and Albert Thomas, have just made---at my suggestion---to the socialists of Russia, and I had no difficulty in bringing home to him the warmth of tone, fierce resolution and determination to conquer which inspires every line of this appeal.(1)
Miliukov, who seemed painfully moved to the very depths, did his best in urging extenuating circumstances, the difficulties of the internal situation, and so forth. He, wound up with:
"Give me time!"
"Time has never been more precious! Swift action has never been so necessary! Please don't think it isn't very painful for me to talk to you like this. But the moment is far too serious for us to treat each other to diplomatic euphemisms. The question with which we are faced---or perhaps I should say the question that forces itself upon us is this: yes or no, will Russia go on fighting at the side of her Allies until full and final victory, without faltering and without ulterior motives? Your ability and your patriotic and honourable past are my guarantee that you will soon give me the answer I expect."
Miliukov promised to take an early opportunity to set our minds entirely at rest.
This afternoon I went for a walk round the centre of the city and Vassili-Ostrov. Order has been almost restored. There are fewer drunken soldiers, yelling mobs and armoured cars laden with evil-looking maniacs. But I found "meetings" in progress everywhere, held in the open air, or perhaps I should say open gale. The groups were small: twenty or thirty people at the outside, and comprising soldiers, peasants, working-men and students. One of the company mounts a stone, or a bench, or a heap of snow and talks his head off, gesticulating wildly. The audience gazes fixedly at the orator and listens in a kind of rapt absorption. As soon as he stops another takes his place and immediately gets the same fervent, silent and concentrated attention.
What an artless and affecting sight it is when one remembers that the Russian nation has been waiting centuries for the right of speech!
On my way home I dropped in on Princess R----- on the Serguievskaïa for tea.
The beautiful Madame D-----, the "Houdon Diana " or Tauride Diana," was there in a tailor-made and skunk toque, smoking cigarettes with the lady of the house. Prince B-----, General S----- and a number of familiars came in one after the other. The stories told and impressions exchanged revealed the darkest pessimism.
But there was one anxiety greater than all the others, a haunting fear in every mind---the partition of the land.
"We shall not get out of it this time! What will become of us without our rent-rolls?"
To the Russian nobility, the rent-roll is of course the main, and often the only, source of income.
The company's forebodings comprised not only legal partition of the land, i.e. formal expropriation, but confiscation by the high hand, wholesale looting and jacquerie. I am certain that the same sort of conversation can be heard in every corner of Russia at the present time.
A fresh caller, a lieutenant in the Chevaliers-Gardes, entered the room, wearing the red favour on his tunic. He soothed the company's anxieties a little by telling them (supporting his argument with figures) that the agrarian question is not as terrifying as it seems at first sight.
"There's no need to have immediate recourse to our estates to take the edge off the peasants' hunger," he said. " With the crown lands, perhaps ninety-four million desiatins, (2) the church and monastic lands, let's say three million desiatins, there's enough to keep the moujiks from gnawing-pains for quite a long time to come."
His entire audience agreed with this argument; everyone consoled himself or herself with the thought that obviously the Russian nobility will not suffer too severely if the Emperor, Empress, Grand Dukes, Grand Duchesses, the Church and the monasteries are ruthlessly robbed and plundered. As Rochefoucauld said, "We can always find strength to bear the misfortunes of others."
I may remark in passing that one person present possesses an estate of 300,000 hectares in Volhynia!
When I returned to the embassy, I heard that there had been a ministerial crisis in France and Briand's place is being taken by Ribot.
Tuesday, March 21, 1917.
During the last few days a rumour has spread among the mob that "Citizen Romanov" and his wife, "Alexandra the German," are working secretly for a restoration of autocracy, with the connivance of the "moderate" ministers, Lvov, Miliukov, Gutchkov, etc. The Soviet accordingly demanded the immediate arrest of the sovereigns yesterday evening. The Provisional Government yielded to its desires. The same evening four deputies of the Duma, Bublikov, Gribunin, Kalinin and Verschinin, left for G.H.Q. at Mohilev, with instructions to bring the Emperor back with them.
As regards the Empress, General Kornilov went to Tsarskoïe-Selo this morning with an escort. On his arrival at the Alexander Palace he was immediately received by the Tsarina who heard the decision of the Provisional Government without remark; all she asked was that she should be left all the servants who are looking after her invalid children---a request which has been granted. The Alexander Palace is now cut off from all communication with outside.
Miliukov is very much upset over the arrest of the Emperor and Empress; he wants the King of England to offer them the hospitality of British territory and even to guarantee their safety; he has therefore begged. Buchanan to wire to London at once and insist on having an answer without a moment's delay.
"It's the last chance of securing these poor unfortunates freedom, and perhaps of saving their lives!" he told us.
Buchanan returned at once to the Embassy to convey Miliukov's suggestion to his Government.
As I was walking along the Millionaïa this afternoon, I saw the Grand Duke Nicholas Michaïlovitch. In civilian dress---the get-up of an old tchinoonik---he was prowling round his palace. He has openly sided with the revolution and is full of optimistic talk. I know him well enough to have no doubt that he is sincere when he says that the collapse of autocracy will now mean the salvation and greatness of Russia; but I do not know whether he will keep his illusions for long and hope he will not lose them as Philippe-Egalité lost his. In any case he has honestly done his best to open the Emperor's eyes to the approaching catastrophe, he actually had the courage some time back to send him the following letter, which was shown to me this morning:
You have often mentioned your determination to continue the war to victory! But do you really think victory is possible in the present state of affairs?
Do you know the situation within the Empire? Are you told the truth? Has anyone pointed out where the root of the evil lies?
You have frequently told me that men were always deceiving you and that the only thing you believed in was the views of your wife. I tell you that the words she utters are the result of clever intrigues and not in accordance with the truth. If you are impotent to rid her of those influences, the least you can do is to be always on your guard against the schemers who use her as their tool. Clear these dark forces out, and you will immediately recover the confidence of your people which you have already half lost.
I have hesitated long before telling you the truth, but I have made up my mind to do so, with encouragement from your mother and two sisters. You are about to witness fresh disturbances, nay, an attempt on your life.
I speak as I do in the interests of your own safety and that of your throne and country.
Thursday, March 22, 1917.
The Emperor reached Tsarskoïe-Selo this morning.
His arrest at Mohilev produced no incident; his farewell to the officers about him (many of whom shed tears) was disconcertingly banal in its simplicity. But the Order of the Day in which he takes leave of the army has a certain ring of nobility about it:
I address you for the last time, you soldiers who are so dear to my heart. Since I renounced the throne of Russia for myself and my son, power has been transferred to the Provisional Government which has been set up on the initiative of the Imperial Duma.
May God help that Government to lead Russia to glory and prosperity! And may God also help you, my brave soldiers, to defend your country against a cruel foe! For more than two years and a half you have continuously borne the hardships of an arduous service; much blood has been spilt, enormous efforts have been made and already the hour is at hand in which Russia and her glorious allies will break down the enemy's last desperate resistance in one mighty common effort.
This unprecedented war must be carried through to final victory. He who thinks of peace at the present moment is a traitor to Russia.
I am firmly convinced that the boundless love you bear our beautiful Fatherland is not dead in your hearts. May God bless you and Saint George, the great martyr, lead you to victory!
Returning from a visit to the Admiralty Canal I came through Glinka Street where the Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovitch lives. I saw something waving over his palace---a red flag!
1. Text of the telegram from Mm. Jules Guesde, Sembat and Thomas to M. Kerensky, Minister of justice in the Provisional Government.
March 18, 1917.
We send the Socialist Minister of a Russia reborn our congratulations and fraternal greetings.
We hail the acquisition of a free Government for their country by the working classes and Russian socialism with the deepest emotion.
Once again, like our ancestors of the great Revolution, you have to put forth the same effort to secure the independence of the nation and the defence of the country.
By a war waged to the last extremity, and by the heroic discipline of citizen soldiers who would lay down their lives for liberty, we must work together in destroying the last and most formidable citadel of absolutism, Prussian militarism.
Everyone here looks with serene confidence for a fresh effort on the part of a Russian nation all of whose energies shall be bent upon the war. It is the victory we are about to win by our fervour which, by bringing the world peace, will secure its welfare and liberty for ever.
JULES GUESDE, MARCEL SEMBAT. ALBERT THOMAS.
2. A desiatin is approximately one hectare.
Volume III, Chapter Ten
Table of Contents