Rewriting Russia's Revolution Evan Mawdsley discusses how scholarship both inside and outside the Soviet Union, spurred on by the political somersaults in the East, is revising our view of Lenin, the events of 1917 and after

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The discussion of the first of history is not a very profitable exercise, or even pastime. Destiny provides its own instruments. But certainly both France and Great Britain helped the Bolsheviks for many years by trying to restore the Eastern front during the war and to create a White Russian regime after it. Yet the wisest remark on the Revolution was made by a British soldier, when in December 1917, I went to see General Sir Nevil Macready, then Adjutant-General, to tell him that I was returning to Russia as Head of a Mission to the new Bolshevik Government and to ask him to give me a reliable corporal to guard our ciphers. ‘What is the object of your mission, may I ask?’

I replied that I was instructed to do my utmost to stop the Bolsheviks making a separate peace with Germany. ‘Ah, I see, restoring the Eastern front! Do you boys in the Foreign office never read history? Don't you realise that, when an army of seven million breaks and runs for its life, it needs a generation before it can ever fight again'. Few politicians and even fewer soldiers have put so much wisdom into so few words.


As a fascinating postscript to Bruce Lockhart's 1957 article, we are publishing here, for the first time, extracts from a paper found among his literary effects by his son Robin (who will be contributing a piece on other Lockhart connections with History Today in April). The paper was given to the ‘Scribblers Club' in Brisbane, Australia in 1925 by Sir Robert's mother-in-law, Ann Turner, and Robin Bruce Lockhart believes it was ‘in fact written for my grandmother by my father and the corrections are in his handwriting'.

This first section offers a pre-Revolution glimpse of Tsarist Moscow in 1913:

The day after my arrival was the Centenary of the Romanov Dynasty. The Emperor and Empress with all the Imperial family were in Moscow for the Celebrations.

From the windows of the British Club, we looked down on the tiny chapel which held Holy Moscow's most sacred condone side only of the wide street was lined with soldiers. The Emperor had said that he wished to see his people. The gorgeous cortege of the Grand Dukes of Russia passed. The air was filled with the sound of the Military Bands playing Boje Tzarya Khranya. There was a great demonstration of loyalty as hundreds fell on their knees. The pilgrims prostrated themselves in the dust. The Emperor of all the Russians rode into sight at the head of his magnificent Cossack Guards.

I remember him as a slight bearded figure, very like the King, but with beautiful, mournful eyes. Hand in hand the Emperor and Empress entered the Shrine, closely followed by the Tzarevitch, carried by a huge sailor, his inseparable attendant. The Emperor looked pleased. The Empress, a graceful distinguished figure in gleaming white, kept her still rather anxious expression. She feared Moscow. The five beautiful daughters, also dressed in white, followed, and the great pageant passed on its way to the Kremlin.

I found it difficult to take seriously the warning note that sounded when I talked of my first impressions. All seemed loyalty and well being outwardly. Later, I knew that when the Emperor looked at his people, the apparently unguarded side of the route was lined with armed secret police; that 5,000 people had been deported from Moscow a fortnight before - all in fact who had the remotest connection with the revolutionaries of 1905.

I was to see Moscow in many phases, but that May morning of 1913 is etched in my memory as a picture of the vanished Moscow of the Tzar. Safe in pre-war Moscow it was attractive and intensely interesting.

The first Russian Ballet was unforgettable. The famous Art Theatre was at its zenith, and the envy of Berlin and London. Rhinehart and Gordon Craig came to see the new revolving stage. Tchekov's widow took the chief part in his play ‘The Cherry Orchard'. We went to the ‘Bat’ now known throughout Europe as ‘Le Chauve Souris'. It was then a Literary and Artist Club opened after the Opera and theatres closed, and the entree to outsiders was limited. It was in a basement. The decorations, often changed, were violently futuristic. We drank beer as one does in a German bierhaus, at long tables.

At luncheon with Madame Katkova, a former lady in waiting to the Dowager Empress - Russia, France and England seemed to meet. Over coffee, we heard much Court gossip. A cold dislike to the Empress was apparent. The Dowager Empress was adored. The conversation soon, however, became entirely Russian. Nowhere else could one have heard men and women of the world discuss a Jewish Ritual murder trial with an expressed belief that a Jew had used a Christian child as a Ritual sacrifice. The trial was at Kieff and the Jew was eventually acquitted.

Ann Turner remained with her son-in-law, Robert Bruce Lockhart, in Russia until March 1917 - the extracts below describe the Impact of the February Revolution on her and Moscow:

We were in Moscow when news came of trouble in Petrograd. A Bread Riot, one of hundreds that had taken place, became in a night a Revolution. The revolution had come - not as the Germans expected. It came, not as a pre-concerted organised thing but as the spontaneous uprising of a whole people. It was entirely natural and organization was improvised as the need arose for it from day to day, and from hour to hour.

We were curious but certainly not alarmed. The gates of the Kremlin were guarded by soldiers with fixed bayonets. There were dense crowds in the streets - all wearing red rosettes or ribbands. Many were singing the Marseillaise. The Revolutionary Hymn is heavy and menacing - it did not express the popular feeling of joyous deliverance. The crowds were good humoured and orderly. My friend and I walked on, thinking it safer than talking a droshki. We had to cross a market square where already Red Cross supplies from the Kremlin were being unloaded. On a raised platform a big peasant woman stood and warranted a small crowd. ‘Ah! the German woman, the Traitress. Those are the things that our husbands and our sons had to do without while she sent them to the Germans'. . .

My friend, could not endure this. She stopped and stepped forward. I felt nervous - one never knows when a Russian crowd would change its mood. ‘You say what is not true, you have been fed on lies. We have worked and packed for months to send these to our beloved men at the front. Here is my friend, and Englishwoman and the mother-in-law of the British Consul. She will tell you my words are true'.

However, I did not need to speak, for before I could get out Da Da Du the big woman's eyes filled with tears ‘There, what did I tell you, I know the Empress was a good kind woman' - and turning savagely to a big man near her 'It is you, you scoundrel, who told me these lies'. The crowd had increased and we slipped away quietly.

By evening the Revolution at Petrograd was social news. The troops called out to quell a bread riot had gone over to the Revolutionaries also the famous Guards and garrison at TsarkoeSelo and, most astonishing of all, the Cossacks. It seemed incredible. These were terribly anxious hours. Moscow was so made more revolutionary than Petrograd and the H.Q. of the Social Democrats. The telephone went constantly. No one slept much. We played patience to rest our exhausted nerves. At last word was brought from Rodzianki telling of the new Provisional Government in Petrograd and appointing the Lord Mayor of Moscow as his Commissioner there.

Already the Social Democrats had begun to take a hand. The Kremlin had been taken, the arsenal opened and the students, men and women, were armed. The troops had all joined the Revolutionaries. There being no one to fight, there was no fighting.

Instead of Boje Tzarya Khranya we heard the Marseillaise and also the Revolutionary Hymn, so long forbidden. At each few yards near the Duma were posted, Revolutionary proclamations, surrounded by groups of the illiterate, which were being read aloud by some student. ‘Long Live Internationalism.’ The People is again the People. Strangers shook hands and even embraced. Russia felt free. The Revolution had come.

I shall never forget my last night in Russia. My son-in-law was with the Ambassador. We dined with a party of British Officers and Princess Sasha Kropotken came to say Goodbye, and to insist that we should see her father, the famous old Prince who, after a lifetime of exile, had returned to his beloved Russia, hoping to find his dreams fulfilled.

We went out to the Islands the famous islands, of Petrograd. He told us that Kerensky had been to see him that morning and had implored him to lead and govern Russia. The tall old man with his snow white beautiful and bright blue eyes, strode up and down the large room, 'Govern Russia! I would black boots for Russia but alas I am too old to govern Russia'. 'God Help Us!' Kerensky had replied. ‘There are so many who would black boots for Russia but who is there to govern Russia?’ Prince Kropotken had spent a long life working for his country's freedom. He found her choked by that sudden freedom.

History Review issue 23:

History Review September 2006 | Issue: 55 | Page 32-37 | Words: 6271 | Author: Tarr, Russell version
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