By Maurice Paléologue
MARCH 23-APRIL 6, 1917.
The British Government offers the Tsar and Tsarina an asylum on British soil.---A forecast of the development of the revolution.---Rasputin's body is exhumed by night and burned in the forest of Pargolovo: a scene from Dante.---The Soviet opposes the departure of the sovereign.---Official recognition of the Provisional Government, Kerensky, Minister of Justice, comes to the front.---A reflection of the opinions prevailing in informed circles: ---"We cannot continue the war."---Indiscipline spreading in the fighting armies: Prihaz No. 1.---Agitation among the subject nationalities: symptoms of national disintegration.---The new Military Governor of Petrograd tries to regain control of the garrison.---French opinion goes astray on the subject of the Russian revolution. Vital differences between the psychology of the Latin and Slav revolutionary.---The Government of the Republic sends Albert Thomas on a mission to Petrograd.---The sovereigns in captivity at Tsarskoïe Selo.---Funeral service for the victims of the fighting; the interment on the Champ de Mars; the clergy absent. The moral of this day.---On the frontiers of Kurdistan; a last exploit of the Russian army.
Friday, March 23, 1917.
This morning Buchanan has announced that King George, with the advice and approval of his ministers, offers the Emperor and Empress the hospitality of British territory; but he refuses to guarantee their safety and confines himself to a hope that they will remain in England until the end of the war.
Miliukov is obviously greatly touched by this announcement, but he added sadly:
"But I fear it comes too late!"
It is certainly true that from day to day---I could almost say from hour to hour---the tyranny of the Soviet, the despotism of the extreme parties and the domination of Utopians and anarchists are becoming increasingly evident.
And so., as the latest press telegrams show me that people in Paris are cherishing curious illusions about the Russian revolution, I have telegraphed to Ribot in the following terms:
Notwithstanding the importance of all that has happened in the last twelve days, it is my opinion that the events we are witnessing are only a prelude. The forces which are destined to be the determining factor in the final result of the revolution (I mean the rural masses, the priests, the Jews, the subject nationalities, the bankruptcy of the State, the economic débâcle, etc.), have not even entered the field. So at the moment it is impossible to give any logical and practical forecast of the future of Russia. The best proof of this lies in the hopelessly contradictory prophecies offered me by people in whose judgment and open-mindedness I have the greatest confidence. Some regard the proclamation of a republic as a certainty. Others think the restoration of the Empire, under constitutional forms, is inevitable.
But if your Excellency will be good enough to rest content for the time being with my impressions, which are wholly dominated by the thought of the war, I see the course of events in the following light:
1. When will the forces to which I have just referred begin to make themselves felt?---Hitherto, the Russian nation has attacked the dynasty and the administrative caste, nothing else. We shall now be faced with economic, social, religious and ethnical problems. These problems are very formidable, from the point of view of the war; for the Slav imagination, far from being constructive like that of the Latin or Anglo-Saxon, is essentially anarchical and dispersive. Until these problems are solved the public mind will be wholly taken up with them. Yet we cannot want the solution to be precipitate, for it cannot be realized without severe upheavals. We must therefore expect that for a considerable time to come Russia's effort will be weakened and uncertain.
2. Is the Russian nation determined to continue the war to final victory? Russia implies so many different races, and ethnical antagonisms are so acute in certain regions, that the national idea is far from being universal. The conflict of social classes has a similar effect on patriotism. The working masses, the Jews and the inhabitants of the Baltic provinces, for instance, merely regard the war as senseless butchery. On the other hand,, the fighting armies and the genuinely Russian populations have in no way abandoned their hope of m victory and their determination to achieve it. If I wanted to express my idea somewhat extravagantly to make it more intelligible, I should be tempted to say that "In the present phase of the revolution Russia cannot make peace or war."
In yesterday's Petrograd Gazette the Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovitch has had a long interview published in which he attacks the fallen sovereigns:
I have often wondered, he says, whether the ex-Empress were not in league with William II; but each time I have forced myself to dismiss so horrible a suspicion.
Who can tell whether this treacherous insinuation will not before long provide the foundation for a terrible charge against the unfortunate Tsarina? The Grand Duke Cyril should know or be reminded that the most infamous calumnies which Marie Antoinette had to meet when she faced the Revolutionary Tribunal first took wing at the elegant suppers of the Comte d'Artois.
About five o'clock I went to call on Sazonov at the Hôtel de l'Europe where he has been suffering from a stubborn attack of bronchitis for the last three weeks. I found him in a very melancholy frame of mind, though not despairing. As I expected, he sees the hand of Providence in the present misfortunes of Russia:
"We deserved chastisement. I did not think it would be so severe . . . But God cannot mean Russia to perish . . . . A purified Russia will emerge from this trial."
Then he spoke in strong terms of the conduct of the Emperor:
"I needn't tell you of my love for the Emperor, and with what devotion I have served him. But as long as I live I shall never forgive him for abdicating for his son. He had no shadow of right to do so! . . . Is there a body of law in the world which allows the rights of a minor to be abandoned? And what's to be said when those rights are the most sacred and august on earth? Fancy destroying a three-hundred-year-old dynasty and the stupendous work of Peter the Great , Catherine II and Alexander I! What a tragedy! What a disaster!"
His eyes were full of tears.
I asked him if his health would allow him to leave for London in the near future as I had no doubt that he would consider it his duty to take up his ambassadorial post.
"I'm horribly perplexed," he said. "What line of policy can I follow in London? I shall certainly not refuse my help to honest men like Lvov and Miliukov. But will they stay in power? . . . In any case, my doctor doesn't think I shall be fit to travel for at least three weeks."
I was certainly struck by his deathly pallor, his haggard features and all the signs of physical and mental suffering he betrayed.
Last night Rasputin's coffin was secretly exhumed from its resting-place in the chapel at Tsarskoïe-Selo and taken away to the Forest of Pargolovo, fifteen versts north of Petrograd.
In the midst of a clearing there, a number of soldiers, commanded by an engineer officer, had piled up a large quantity of pine logs. After forcing off the coffin lid they drew the corpse out with sticks; 'they dare not touch it with their hands, owing to its putrefying condition, and they hoisted it, not without difficulty, on to the heap of logs. Then they drenched it in petrol and set it on fire. The process of cremation lasted until dawn, more than six hours.
In spite of the icy wind, the appalling length of the operation and the clouds of pungent and fetid smoke which rose from the pyre, several hundred moujiks crowded round the fire all night; silent and motionless, they gazed in horror-stricken stupor at the sacrilegious holocaust which was slowly devouring the martyred staretz, friend of the Tsar and Tsarina, the Bojy tchelloviek, "Man of God."
When the flames had done their work, the soldiers collected the ashes of the corpse and buried them under the snow.
The authors of this gruesome epilogue were anticipated by Italy in the Middle Ages; the human imagination cannot go on indefinitely renewing the forms in which its passions and visions find expression.
In the year 1266 Manfred (bastard of the Emperor Frederick II, usurper-King of the Two Sicilies) murderer, perjurer, simoniac, heretic, with every crime on his soul and excommunicated by the Church, perished while warring with Charles of Anjou on the banks of the Calore, near Beneventum.
His captains and soldiers, who worshipped him for his youth, beauty, open-heartedness and charm, buried him with touching affection on the very spot where he fell.
But a year later, Pope Clement IV decreed that the pontifical process of execration and excommunication should be continued against a monster unworthy to rest in consecrated ground. On his orders,, the Archbishop of Cosenza had the body exhumed and over the unrecognizable remains pronounced the pitiless sentences which consign the outcast to Hell: In ignem æturnum judicamus. . . . The ceremony took place at night, by the light of torches which were extinguished one by one until darkness was complete, when what was left of Manfred was cut in pieces and scattered far and wide.
This tragic and picturesque scene deeply moved contemporary Italy and in fact gave Dante the inspiration for one of the finest passages in the Divina Commedia. Ascending the steep mountain of. Purgatory, the poet sees the phantom of the young prince approaching him. It calls to him and says: "I am Manfred. My sins were horrible. But the infinite goodness of God has arms long enough to clasp all who turn towards it. If the spiritual father of Cosenza who was sent by Clement to scatter my bones had seen God's face of pity, my bones would be still at the end of the bridge near Beneventum, guarded by a heavy stone. And now the rains soak them and the winds play with them on the banks of the river where the Archbishop and his priests had them tossed after the torches were extinguished. But their denunciations make no man so lost that the divine love cannot restore him, so long as hope retains a single green branch within him."
I should like to offer that quotation to the poor captive Tsarina.
Saturday, March 24, 1917.
The Soviet has heard that the King of England is offering the Emperor and Empress the hospitality of British territory. At the bidding of the "Maximalists" the Provisional Government has had to pledge its word to keep the fallen sovereigns in Russia. The Soviet has gone further and appointed a commissary to "supervise the detention of the imperial family."
Yesterday evening, the Central Committee of the Soviet adopted the following motions:
1. Negotiations with the working-men of the enemy countries to be opened at once;
2. "Systematic fraternization" between Russian and enemy soldiers at the front;
3. Democratization of the army
4. All schemes of conquest to be abandoned.
What a fine time we are in for!
At six o'clock I went to the Marie Palace with my colleagues Buchanan and Carlotti to go through the official recognition of the Provisional Government.
The appearance of the beautiful building which was once presented by Nicholas I to his favourite daughter, the Duchess of Leuchtenburg, and subsequently became the seat of the Council of Empire, has already changed. In the vestibule, where the lackeys, resplendent in their Court livery, used to lounge, unkempt, unwashed soldiers were sprawling over the seats, smoking with an insolent leer. The great marble stair-cases have never been swept since the revolution. Here and there a broken window or the mark of a bullet on a panel showed that there had been hot work on Saint Isaac Square.
No one was there to receive us, though what we were about to do was an act of state.
Then and there I could not help thinking of a ceremony "in the august presence of His Majesty the Emperor." How perfect the arrangements! What pomp and pageantry! What a turn-out of the official hierarchy! If Baron Korff, Grand Master of the Ceremonies, or his acolytes, Tolstoy, Evreïnov and Kurakin, could have seen us at that moment, they would have fainted with shame.
Miliukov came forward; he took us to a room, then another, then a third, not knowing where to stop and groping, for the switch to turn on the light.
"Here we are at last. . . I think this will suit us all right."
He went off to find his colleagues, who came at once. They were all in working dress, carrying their portfolios under their arms.
Following Buchanan and Carlotti, who are senior to me, I made the sacramental declaration:
"I have the honour to tell you, gentlemen, that the Government of the French Republic recognizes in you the Provisional Government of Russia."
I then followed the example of my English and Italian colleagues by addressing a few heartfelt words to the new ministers; I emphasized the necessity of continuing the war to the bitter end.
Miliukov replied with a most reassuring declaration.
His speech was long enough to give me an opportunity of studying these improvised masters of Russia on whose shoulders rests such a terrible burden of responsibility. Patriotism, intelligence and honesty could be read on every face; but they seemed utterly worn out with physical fatigue and anxiety. The task they have undertaken is patently beyond their powers. Heaven grant that they do not collapse under it too soon! One alone among them appeared to be a man of action---the Minister of Justice, Kerensky. He is thirty-five, thin, of medium height, clean shaven; with his bristling hair, waxen complexion and half-closed eyes (through which he darted sharp and uneasy glances) he struck me all the more because he kept apart, standing behind all his colleagues. He is obviously the most original figure of the Provisional Government and seems bound to become its main spring.
One of the most characteristic features of the revolution which has just overthrown tsarism is the immediate and total void created around the threatened sovereigns.
The moment collisions with the mob took place, all the regiments of the Guard, including the magnificent Cossacks of the Escort, betrayed their oath of fealty. Nor has a single Grand Duke risen to defend the sacred person of the monarchs: one of them actually placed his unit at the service of the rebels even before the Emperor's abdication. In fact, with a few exceptions which are all the more creditable, there has been wholesale desertion on the part of the court crowd and all those pridvorny, high officers and dignitaries who, amidst the pomp and pageantry of ceremonies and processions, seemed to be the natural guardians of the throne and the appointed defenders of imperial majesty. Yet many of them were under not only a moral but a military obligation of the strictest sort to rally round their threatened sovereigns at once, devote their lives to their safety and at least to stand by them in their hour of adversity.
This was all brought home to me again when I was dining privately with Madame R----- this evening. By birth or employment all the guests, a dozen or so, held high positions under the vanished regime.
At table the conversations à deux very quickly petered out and a general discussion on the subject of Nicholas II began. In spite of his present misery and the terrifying prospects of his immediate future, the company passed the severest judgments upon all the acts of his reign; he was overwhelmed with a torrent of reproach, for old and recent grievances. And when I expressed regret at seeing him so speedily abandoned by his family, guard and court, Madame R----- fired up:
"But it's he who has abandoned us! He has betrayed us; he has failed in all his obligations, and he alone has made it impossible for us to defend him! Neither his family, nor his guard nor his court has failed him: it is he who has failed all his people!"
The French émigrés talked in exactly the same strain in 1791; they too considered that Louis XVI, having betrayed the royal cause, had only himself to blame for his misfortunes. His arrest, after the flight to Varennes, affected them hardly at all. To one of the exceptions, who was much upset by the occurrence, a Brussels inn keeper made the following remark:
"Don't worry, Sir; this arrest is not such a great misfortune after all. Monsieur le Comte d'Artois certainly looked rather unhappy this morning, but the other gentlemen in his carriage seemed quite pleased."
Sunday, March 25, 1917.
I had recently been thinking of giving a luncheon to the Provisional Government, with an idea of getting into more personal touch with its members and giving public proof of our approval.
But before issuing my invitations I thought it prudent to have some of the ministers discreetly sounded on the subject. How thankful I am that I did!
P-----, who was commissioned to do the reconnoitring, told me to-day that ministers were much touched by my kindly intentions but they feared they might be misinterpreted in extremist quarters and begged me to leave the matter over for the present.
This detail will suffice to show how timid the Provisional Government is in dealing with the Soviet and how reluctant to commit itself in favour of the Alliance and the war!
I must add that to the glowing and patriotic appeal which the French socialists addressed to their Russian comrades on the 18th March, Kerensky has just replied with a telegram which I hope will cure the "French democracy " of any illusion whatever as to the "Russian democracy's" ideas on the subject of the Alliance and the war.(1)
The Provisional Government have informed the Soviet that, with the approval of Buchanan, they have not given the Emperor the telegram in which King George offers the imperial family the hospitality of British territory.
But the executive committee of the Soviet still has its doubts and has posted "revolutionary" guards at Tsarskoïe-Selo and on the roads leading from it, to prevent any surreptitious abduction of the sovereigns.
Monday, March 26, 1917.
Alexander Nicolaïevitch Benois, the painter and historian of art and a friend of whom I see quite a good deal, has given me an unexpected call.
Descended from a French family which settled in Russia somewhere about 1820, he is the most cultivated man whom I know here. and one of the most distinguished.
I have spent many a delightful hour in his. Vassili-Ostrov studio, talking with him de omni re scibili et quibusdam aliis. Even from a political point of view, his conversation has often been valuable to me, as he is on terms of close friendship not only with the élite of the artists, men of letters and university professors but also with the chief leaders of the liberal opposition and the "Cadet" party. Many a time have I obtained from him interesting information about those circles the entrée to which was formerly very difficult,. and in fact almost closed to me. His personal opinions, which are always judicious and far-sighted, are all the more valuable in my eyes because he is eminently representative of that active and well-informed class of professors, savants, doctors, artists, men of letters and publicists which is styled the intelligentzia.
He came to see me about three o'clock, just as I was preparing to go out.
He looked grave and sat down with a weary sigh:
"Forgive me if I inconvenience you, but yesterday evening some of my friends and I were indulging in such gloomy reflections that I couldn't help coming to tell you about them."
Then he gave me a vivid and, alas, only too accurate picture of the effects of anarchy on the people, the prevailing apathy of the governing classes and the loss of discipline in the army. He ended with the observation:
"However painful such an admission must be to me, I feel I'm only doing my duty in coming to tell you that the war cannot go on. Peace must be made at the earliest possible moment. Of course, I realize that the honour of Russia is involved in her alliances, and you know me well enough to allow that I appreciate the full meaning of that aspect. But necessity is the law of history. No one is compelled to do the impossible!"
My answer was as follows:
"This is a very serious statement you are making. In disproving it I will adopt a strictly practical point of view---as any impartial and disinterested third party might do---and leave out of account the moral judgment France would have the right to pass on Russia. In the first place, you should know that, whatever. may happen, France and England will carry on the war to complete victory. Defection on the part of Russia would probably prolong the struggle, but would not change the result. However rapid the dissolution of your army might be, Germany would not dare to strip your front at once; she would also require a substantial force to secure further pledges on your territory. The twenty or thirty divisions she might be in a position to withdraw from the eastern front to reinforce her western front would not be sufficient to save her from defeat. Secondly, you may be quite sure that the moment Russia betrays her allies, they will repudiate her. Germany will thus have full license to seek compensation at your expense for the sacrifices imposed on her elsewhere. I certainly do not imagine that you are founding any hopes on the magnanimity of William II. . . . You will therefore lose-as a minimum---Courland, Lithuania, Poland, Galicia and Bessarabia, to say nothing of your prestige in the East and your designs on Constantinople. And don't forget that France and England have in hand some tremendous "pledges" for bargaining purposes with Germany: the mastery of the seas, the German colonies, Mesopotamia and Salonica. Your allies also have the power of the purse which is about to be doubled, if not tripled by the help of the United States. We shall thus be in a position to continue the war for as long as is necessary. So, whatever the difficulties that face you at the moment, summon up all your energy and think of nothing but the war. What is at stake is not only the honour of Russia but her prosperity, her greatness and possibly her national existence itself."
"There's no reply to you, alas! Yet we simply cannot continue the war! Honestly, we simply cannot!"
And with those words he left me, the tears standing in his eyes. I have met with the same pessimism on all sides during the last few days.
Tuesday, March 27, 1917.
As early as the 14th March, i.e., even before the abdication of the Emperor and the formation of the Provisional Government, the Soviet issued under the form of a prikaz an Order of the Day to the army, inviting the troops to proceed at once to the election of representatives to the Council of Deputies and Soldiers. This prikaz further decreed that in each regiment a committee should be elected to seize and supervise the use of all arms, rifles, guns, machine guns, armoured cars, etc. . . .; in any case, the use of these arms was no longer to depend upon the will of the officers. The prikaz wound up by abolishing all outward signs of rank and prescribing that "any difference of opinion between officers and men" should henceforth be settled by the company committees. This fine document, which bore the signatures of Sokolov, Nachamkitz and Skobelev, was telegraphed the same evening to all the armies at the front. As a matter of fact, it would not have been possible to send it had not the mutineers seized the military telegraph offices at the very outset.
The moment Gutchkov was installed at the War Ministry, he tried to persuade the Soviet to withdraw the extraordinary prikaz which involved nothing less than the destruction of all discipline in the army.
After prolonged negotiations, the Soviet has consented to declare that for the time being the prikaz shall not apply to the fighting armies. But the moral effect of its publication still remains, and judging by the latest telegrams from General Alexeïev indiscipline is spreading to an alarming degree among the troops at the front.
How grievous to think that the Germans are only eighty kilometres from Paris
Wednesday, March 28, 1917.
There is a fresh manifesto from the Soviet, addressed this time "to the peoples of the universe." It is a long rigmarole of emphatic statements, one long messianic dithyramb:
We, the workmen and soldiers of Russia, announce to you the great event of the Russian revolution, and we send you greetings of fire. . . Our victory is a great victory of universal freedom and democracy. . . . And we address ourselves first to you, proletarian brothers of the Germanic coalition. Follow our example and shake off the yoke of your semi-autocratic power; refuse to be any longer an instrument of conquest in the hands of your kings, landlords, bankers, etc.
I await the reply of the Teutonic proletariat.
Thursday, March 29, 1917.
Since the wreck of tsarism. all the metropolitans, archbishops, archimandrites, abbots, archpriests. and hieromonachs of whom Rasputin had formed his ecclesiastical clientèle have been having a very uncomfortable time. They have everywhere seen not only the revolutionary gang but their own flocks, and often enough even their subordinates, rise up against them. Most of them have resigned their offices, more or less spontaneously: many are in flight or in prison.
After being under arrest for a short time, the Metropolitan of Petrograd, Monsignor Pitirim, has obtained leave to go and expiate his offences in a Siberian monastery.
The same fate has befallen the Metropolitan of Moscow, Monsignor Macarius; the Archbishop of Kharkov, Monsignor Antoine; the Archbishop of Tobolsk, Monsignor Varnava; the Bishop of Tchernigov, Monsignor Basil, and others.
Friday, March 30, 1917.
The most dangerous germ involved in the revolution has been developing during the last few days with the most alarming rapidity.
Finland. Livonia, Esthonia, Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Georgia and Siberia, are demanding their independence, or, failing that, complete autonomy.
That Russia is doomed to federalism is highly probable.
She is predestined to that development by the enormous size of her territories, the diversity of her races and the increasing complexity of her interests. But the present movement is separatist much more than particularist; secessionist rather than federalist; it tends to nothing less than national disintegration. So the Soviet gives it its full blessing. As if the visionaries and lunatics of the Tauride Palace would not be tempted to destroy in a few weeks the historic work of ten centuries 1
The French Revolution began by proclaiming the Republic one and indivisible. To that principle it sacrificed thousands of heads, and French unity was saved. The Russian revolution has taken for its motto Russia dissolved and dismembered.
Saturday, March 31, 1917.
Anarchist propaganda has already contaminated the larger part of the front.
From all quarters I am receiving re ports of scenes of mutiny, the murder of officers and wholesale desertion. Even in the front line bands of private soldiers are leaving their units to go and see what is happening in Petrograd or at home in their villages.
Sunday, April 1, 1917.
General Kornilov, the new Military Governor of Petrograd, is endeavouring gradually to resume control of the troops of the garrison. The task is all the more arduous because most of the officers have been killed, degraded or forced to fly. He has ordered a review on the Winter Palace Square for this morning and, very judiciously, has selected only the best elements, those units in which discipline has suffered least. Since the fall of the imperial regime, it is the first time that a substantial force has been assembled in regular formation.
From the windows of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs I saw the review with Buchanan and Neratov.
The troops---ten thousand men or so---had a tolerable soldierly bearing and marched past in good order. There were very few officers. All the bands played the Marseillaise, but at a slow pace which made it sound sinister. In each company and squadron I noticed several red banners bearing inscriptions Land and Liberty! . . The Land for the People! . Long live the Social Republic! . . . On a very small number I read: The War until Victory! Above the Winter Palace floated an enormous red flag.
The spectacle was singularly instructive. From the military point of view, I could condense my ideas thus: a force in which the spirit of. discipline has not wholly disappeared but which is thinking less of its military duties than of its hopes of political and social reform.
From the historical and picturesque aspect, I was obsessed by a vivid contrast. I reminded Buchanan and Neratov of the afternoon of the 2nd August, 1914, and that majestic scene when the Emperor appeared on the balcony of this same palace after swearing on the gospel and the holy ikons that he would not sign peace so long as a single enemy soldier stood on Russian soil. In that solemn hour I was at his side: he was grave but smiling. The great square was packed with people---even more so than this morning---soldiers, bourgeois, workmen, moujiks, women, children: and the whole crowd on its knees to receive the blessing of its father the Tsar, sang the hymn, Bojé tsaria kranié.
O temps évanouis, ô splendeurs éclipsées,
O soleils descendus derrière l'horizon!
A consignment of newspapers, the latest of which is eleven days old, has reached me from Paris and strengthens me in a view I took on reading the daily résumés transmitted by telegraph. The French public is enthusiastic for the Russian revolution! Once again our press will have been found wanting in moderation and judgment. I admit of course that as the disappearance of Tsarism is an accomplished fact, we were unquestionably obliged to adapt ourselves to the new state of affairs and to "put a good face on a bad business." It was therefore right and proper that French opinion should appear to receive the Russian revolution with confidence and sympathy. But for Heaven's sake no hosannahs! The Soviet is quite puffed up enough already. These pæons of praise and admiration will turn its head completely. The main fault is evidently that of the censorship which ought to have moderated the zeal of the sycophants.
From a personal letter which the same messenger has brought me I also learn that in the corridors of the Chamber and newspaper offices---and among polite society ---the honour of having brought about the revolution is attributed to Sir George Buchanan his purpose being to put an end to German intrigues. The suggestion is false. Criticisms of myself are appended, as might be expected; men recall that in the old days French diplomacy did not hesitate to resort to great methods on great occasions and did not allow itself to be checked by any vain respect for the principle of legitimacy. My behaviour is being contrasted with the example of my famous predecessor the Marquis de la Chétardie, who in 1741 had no hesitation in associating himself boldly with the national party in destroying German influence and placing Elizabeth Petrovna on the imperial throne.
Before long it will be realized that the revolution is the most damaging blow that could have been inflicted on Russian nationalism.
This evening, one of my guests at dinner was Prince Scipio Borghese, formerly a radical deputy at the Monte-Citorio, who has just arrived in Petrograd with his daughter, pretty Princess Santa; both are very open-minded and of many-sided intellect and they are anxious to see a revolution---and what a revolution!---at close quarters. My other guests were M. and Madame Polovtsov, Princess Sophie Dolgorouki, Count Sergei Kutusov, Count Nani Mocenigo, Poklevski, etc. . . .
I spoke of the favourable impression made upon me by this morning's review. On the other side of the scale, Polovtsov and Poklevski told me of the deplorable news they have received from the front.
Prince Borghese, with whom I had a long talk after dinner, asked me what characteristics had struck me most in the Russian revolutions, meaning the characteristics which in my opinion distinguish it most forcibly from Western revolutions. I replied:
"First of all you must realize that the Russian revolution has barely begun and that certain forces which are destined to play a tremendous part in it, forces such as land hunger, ethnical antagonisms, social disintegration, the economic débâcle and anti-Jewish passion, are so far at work only in theory. With that reservation, what strikes me most is this":
And I illustrated the following points with various examples:
(1) The fundamental psychological difference between the Latin or Anglo-Saxon revolution and the Slav revolution. The imagination of either of the former is logical and constructive; he destroys to build a new edifice, every part of which he has contemplated and thought out. The imagination of the latter is simply destructive and dispersive; his visions are the very essence of the indefinite.
(2) Eight-tenths of the Russian population cannot read or write, a fact which makes the audiences at public meetings and gatherings particularly responsive to the power of eloquence and the action of the leaders.
(3) Weakness of will is endemic in Russia; all Russian literature goes to prove it. Russians are incapable of persevering in any one course. The war of 1812 was comparatively short. The present war, with its length and its horrors, is too much for the staying power of the national temperament.
(4) Anarchy, with all that it implies in the way of extravagance, sloth and vacillation, is an inebriating passion to a Russian. It also gives him an excuse for endless public demonstrations, in which he satisfies his craving for spectacular and emotional display and his keen instinct for poetry and beauty.
(5) Lastly, the enormous area of the country makes each province a centre of separatism and each town a nucleus of anarchy; the slight authority still possessed by the Provisional Government is thereby totally paralysed.
"But What is the remedy?" Borghese asked.
"The socialists of the allied countries must show their comrades of the Soviet that the political and social conquests of the revolution are lost unless Russia is first saved."
Monday. April 2, 1917.
A telegram from Paris informs me that Albert Thomas, the Minister of Munitions, is about to be sent to Petrograd on a special mission. His patriotism, brains, application, sense of practical reality and instinct of orderliness, combined with his socialist convictions, seem to me to make him better fitted than anyone else to impress certain home truths on the Provisional Government and the Soviet. He will also see the Russian revolution at close quarters and will damp down the strange chorus of flattery and praise it has called forth in France.
This evening I dined quite quietly with Princess Gortchakov.
Low spirits prevailed. The conversation halted. We were all absorbed in our own thoughts which were depressing enough. B----- alone was talkative, and as usual he translated his pessimism into sarcasm.
"What joy and pride is mine when I go for a stroll in town in these times," he burst out. "I'm always murmuring: henceforth all these dvorniks, izvochtchiks and rabotchiks are my brothers! This morning I passed a gang of drunken soldiers: I wanted to clasp them to my bosom!"
Turning to Prince Gortchakov, he continued:
"Don't lose any time in renouncing your wealth, Michael Constantinovitch! Enter honestly and wholeheartedly into the holy state of poverty! Give your estates to the nation and give them quickly, before it takes them from you! Look to poverty and liberty for your happiness henceforth!"
This caustic irony was little to the taste of his audience. Talking more soberly, B----- discussed with me the general situation in Russia, the broad currents which can gradually be distinguished and the formidable prospects opening on all sides. We passed in review the political, social,, economic, religious and ethnical problems with which the Russian nation is now faced, including of course the terrifying problem of the war which involves the very existence of Russia:
"I foresee a long period of anarchy," I said. "And after that a dictatorship."
"Yes ," replied B-----. "A new era has just begun in the history of Russia, the Spanish-American . . . . Sorfirio Diaz, when may we expect you?"
I told him incidentally that since Sunday, the 25th March, the Domine, salvum fac imperatorem nostrum Nicolaum had ceased to be sung in Notre Dame de France. We ended with the Domine, salvam fac Rempublicam and were waiting for the new form of prayer for the Government sprung from the revolution.
"The form is easy enough to draft," B----- replied:
"Domine, salvam fac crapulam nostra ruthenam!"
Tuesday, April 3, 1917.
Miliukov is greatly concerned at what is happening at Cronstadt, the great naval fortress which commands the approach to Petrograd from the Gulf of Finland.
The town (its population is about 55,000) refuses to recognize the authority either of the Provisional Government or the Soviet. The troops of the garrison, which consists of not less than 20,000 men, are in open revolt.
After massacring half their officers, they are keeping two hundred of them as hostages and forcing them to do the most degrading tasks, such as sweeping the streets and heavy navvy work.
Anarchy also reigns at Helsingfors.
At Schlusselburg the town is in the hands of a commune in full revolt, whose first act has been to make friends with a gang of German prisoners of war. At the request of this gang, sixty Alsace-Lorraine prisoners, for whom I had secured special treatment, have been kept in close confinement.
At five o'clock I went to see the Grand Duke Nicholas Michaïlovitch in his palace, which is full of Napoleonic relics. It is the first time I have had the chance of a talk with him since the revolution.
He affected an optimism to which silence was my only reply. But he certainly carried it no further than the occasion warranted and, to prevent me thinking that he was entirely hoodwinked by the course of events, he concluded with this cautious reservation
"As long as sensible and patriotic men like Prince Lvov, Miliukov and Gutchkov are at the head of the government, I shall be hopeful enough. If they fall, we are in for a leap into the unknown."
"In the first chapter of Genesis that 'unknown' is given a specific name."
"The Johu-bohu, which means 'chaos.'"
Wednesday, April 4, 1917.
The Minister of justice, Kerensky, yesterday paid a visit to Tsarkoïe-Selo to see for himself the arrangements made for guarding the ex-sovereigns. He found everything in order.
Count Benckendorff, Grand Marshal of the Court; Prince Dolgorukov, Marshal of the Court; Madame Naryschkin, Mistress of the Robes; Mlles. de Buxhoevden and Hendrikov, Maids of Honour, and the Tsarevitch's tutor, Gilliard, are sharing their monarchs' captivity. Madame Virubova. who was also residing in the Alexander Palace, has been forcibly removed and confined in the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul---in the famous Trubetzkoï bastion.
Kerensky had a talk with the Emperor. In particular he asked him whether it were true, as the German papers have reported, that William II had frequently advised him to adopt a more liberal policy.
"Quite the reverse!" the Emperor protested. The conversation continued for some time and was marked by greatest courtesy. In fact, Kerensky ultimately succumbed to the affability which is Nicholas II's natural charm and several times caught himself addressing him as Cosoudar (Sire)!
But the Empress was as frigid as she could be.
Madame Virubova's departure has not affected her, at any rate in the way that might have been expected. After all her passionate and jealous attachment to her, she has suddenly made her responsible for all the evils which have overtaken the Russian imperial family:
La détestable none a conduit tout le reste!
Thursday, April 5, 1917.
I have sent Ribot the following telegram:
Some of the Petrograd papers have reproduced an article in the Radical pointing out the necessity of changing the representative of the Republic in Russia. It is not for me to take the initiative in expressing my desires in this matter. Your Excellency knows me well enough to be sure that in circumstances such as these personal considerations do not count with me at all. But the article in the Radical makes it incumbent upon me to tell you that, having had the signal honour of representing Petrograd in France for more than three years and being conscious that I have spared no effort in that service, I should feel it no hardship to be relieved of my heavy task, and should the Government of the Republic think it desirable to appoint a successor, I should do everything in my power to make the change a simple matter.
The telegram has been inspired by several considerations.
In the first place, there may be an official advantage in my being relieved of my post: I enjoyed the confidence of the old regime and I simply do not believe in the new one. And then, even from here I can guess what a campaign the advanced parties in the Chamber must be carrying on against me. If I am to be recalled, I should at least prefer to take the initiative: I have always seen the force of Sainte-Beuve's aphorism that "You want to leave things just a little before they leave you."
To-day there has been a great ceremony on the Champ-de-Mars, where the victims of the revolutionary rising, the "nation's heroes " and "martyrs to liberty," have been given a state burial.
A long grave has been dug in the transverse axis of the parade-ground. In the centre a platform, draped in red, was raised to serve as vantage-point for the members of the Government.
Since early morning, huge and interminable processions, headed by military bands and carrying black banners, threaded their way through the streets of the city to collect from the hospitals the two hundred and ten coffins destined for revolutionary apotheosis.
On the most modest estimate, the number of demonstrators exceeded nine hundred thousand. Yet there was neither confusion nor delay at any point on the route. In their formation, marching, stops and singing all the processions kept perfect order. In spite of the icy wind, I was curious to see them manuvre across the Champ-de-Mars. Under a snow-laden and wind-lashed sky, these endless crowds, which filed slowly past with their red coffins, presented an amazingly impressive spectacle, and to heighten the tragic effect the guns of the Fortress boomed at one-minute intervals. The art of mise en scene is native to the Russians.
But what struck me most was the absence of one element from the ceremony---the clergy. No priests, no ikons, no prayers, no crosses. The only anthem was The Workmen's Marseillaise.
Since the archaic age of Saint Olga and Saint Vladimir, and indeed since the Russian people first appeared in the light of history, it is the first time that a great national act has been performed without the help of the Church. It is but a short while since religion was still guiding and controlling all public and private life; it intervened incessantly with its pomp and pageantry, its dazzling ascendancy, its unchallenged domination of imagination and heart, if not of reason and soul. Only a few days ago, all the thousands of soldiers and workmen whom I saw marching past me could not see the smallest ikon in the street without stopping, lifting their caps and crossing themselves fervently. What a contrast was presented to-day! But why should one be surprised? In the field of ideas, the Russian always rushes to the extreme and the absolute.
Slowly the Champ-de-Mars emptied itself. The light waned; a dismal and icy mist rose from the Neva. The square, deserted once more, became desolate and sinister. As I returned to the Embassy by the solitary paths of the Summer Garden, I reflected that I had perhaps witnessed one of the most considerable events in modern history. For what has been buried in the red coffins is the Byzantine and Muscovite tradition of the Russian people, nay the whole past of orthodox Holy Russia.
Friday, April 6, 1917.
While: the troops at the front are melting away at an increasing rate, as the result of socialist propaganda, the little army which is fighting under the orders of General Baratov on the borders of Kurdistan is valiantly persevering in its stiff task.
After occupying Kirmanshal and Kizilraba, it has just entered Mesopotamia and effected its junction with the English to the north-east of Bagdad.
In the general schemes of the war, this brilliant operation is obviously but an episode; but quite possibly it is the last exploit which historians will have to record in the military annals of Russia.
1. Telegram from the Russian Minister of justice, sent to Jules Guesde, member of the French Chamber of Deputies, Paris:
I am deeply moved by the fraternal greetings which you, and comrades Marcel Sembat and Albert Thomas, have just sent me.
We have never doubted that in our struggle we should have the whole-hearted sympathy and moral support of French socialism.
The Russian people is free. Thanks to the sacrifices made by the working classes and the revolutionary army, an end has been made of that Russian tsarism which throughout the ages was the bulwark of universal reaction. Thenceforth the nation itself will shape its own destinies.
The Russian socialists. who warmly greet the heroic efforts of republican and democratic France to defend her native soil, and being as one man in their determination to continue the war to a conclusion worthy of democracy, have faith in the power of the international solidarity of the working classes to triumph over violent and reactionary imperialism and to bring in its train that peace which is so necessary to the development of human personality.
Minister of Justice, Vice-President of the Council of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.
Volume III, Chapter Eleven
Table of Contents