The Russian Revolution 1891-1924

A History of the Russian Revolution
Orlando Figes

Copyright© Orlando Figes, 1996
ISBN: 0670859168


Illustrations                                                                                                       x
Preface                                                                                                             xv
Glossary                                                                                                         xix
Notes on Dates                                                                                              xxi
Maps                                                                                                            xxiii
1   The Dynasty                                                                                              3
i The Tsar and His People                                                                 3
ii The Miniaturist                                                                              IS
iii The Heir                                                                                        24
2  Unstable Pillars                                                                                        35
i Bureaucrats and Dressing-Gowns                                                    35
ii The Thin Veneer of Civilization                                                    42
iii Remnants of a Feudal Army                                                           55
iv Not-So-Holy Russia                                                                       61
v Prison of Peoples                                                                            69
3   Icons and Cockroaches                                                                             84
i A World Apart                                          84
ii The Quest to Banish the Past                                                       102
4  Red Ink                                                                                                  122
i Inside the Fortress                                                                        122
ii Marx Comes to Russia                                                                 139

5   First Blood                                                                                             157
i Patriots and Liberators                                                                  157
ii ‘There is no Tsar’                                                                         173
iii A Parting of Ways                                                                        192
6   Last Hopes                                                                                             213
i Parliaments and Peasants                                                               213
ii The Statesman                                                                              221
iii The Wager on the Strong                                                            232
iv For God, Tsar and Fatherland                                                      241
7  A War on Three Fronts                                                                         253
i Metal Against Men                                                                      253
ii The Mad Chauffeur                                                                     270
iii From the Trenches to the Barricades                                            291
8   Glorious February                                                                                   307
i The Power of the Streets                                                              307
ii Reluctant Revolutionaries                                                              323
iii Nicholas the Last                                                                         339
9   The Freest Country in the World                                                          354
i A Distant Liberal State                                                                 354
ii Expectations                                                                                 361
iii Lenin’s Rage                                                                                 384
iv Gorky’s Despair                                                                            398
10 The Agony of the Provisional Government                                            406
i The Illusion of a Nation                                                              406
ii A Darker Shade of Red                                                                421
iii The Man on a White Horse                                                        438
iv Hamlets of Democratic Socialism                                                 455

11   Lenin’s Revolution                                                                                  474
i The Art of Insurrection                                                               474
ii The Smolny Autocrats                                                                  500
iii Looting the Looters                                                                     520
iv Socialism in One Country                                                            536
12   Last Dreams of the Old World                                                              555
i St Petersburg on the Steppe                                                         555
ii The Ghost of the Constituent Assembly                                      575
13   The Revolution Goes to War                                                                 589
i Arming the Revolution                                                                 589
ii ‘Kulaks’, Bagmen and Cigarette Lighters                                       603
iii The Colour of Blood                                                                   627
14  The New Regime Triumphant                                                               650
i Three Decisive Battles                                                                  650
ii Comrades and Commissars                                                           682
iii A Socialist Fatherland                                                                   696
15   Defeat in Victory                                                                                   721
i Short-Cuts to Communism                                                          721
ii Engineers of die Human Soul                                                      732
iii Bolshevism in Retreat                                                                   751
16   Deaths and Departures                                                                           773
i Orphans of the Revolution                                                           773
ii The Unconquered Country                                                          786
iii Lenin’s Last Struggle                                                                     793
Conclusion                                                                                                    808
Notes                                                                                                           825
Bibliography                                                                                                 862
Index                                                                                                            895

Images of Autocracy: between pages 98 and 99
1     St Petersburg illuminated for the Romanov tercentenary in 1913
2     The procession of the imperial family during the tercentenary
3     Nicholas II rides in publicviewduring the tercentenary
4     Nevsky Prospekt decorated for the tercentenary
5     Guards officers greet the imperial family during the tercentenary
6     Townspeople and peasants in Kostroma during the tercentenary
7     The court ball of 1903
8     The Temple of Christ s Resurrection
9     Trubetskoi s equestrian statue of Alexander III
10     Statue of Alexander III outside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
11     The imperial family
12     Rasputin with his admirers
13     The Tsarevich Alexis with Derevenko
Everyday Life Under the Tsars: between pages 194 and 195
14     The city mayors of Russia
15     A group of volost elders
16     A newspaper kiosk in St Petersburg
17     A grocery store in St Petersburg
18     Dinner at a ball given by Countess Shuvalov
19     A soup kitchen for the unemployed in St Petersburg
20     Peasants of a northern Russian village
21     Peasant women threshing wheat
22     Peasant women hauling a barge
23     Twin brothers, former serfs, from Chernigov province
24     A typical Russian peasant household
25     A meeting of village elders
26     A religious procession in Smolensk province
27     The living space of four Moscow factory workers
28     Inside a Moscow engineering works

Dramatis Personae: between pages 290 and 291
29     General Brusilov
30     Maxim Gorky
31     Prince G. E. Lvov
32     Sergei Semenov
33     Dmitry Os’kin
34     Alexander Kerensky
35     Lenin
36     Trotsky
37     Alexandra Kollontai
Between Revolutions: between pages 386 and 387
38     Soldiers fire at the demonstrating workers on ‘Bloody Sunday’, 1905
39     Demonstrators confront mounted Cossacks during 1905
40     The opening of the State Duma in April 1906
41     The Tauride Palace
42     Petr Stolypin
43     Wartime volunteers pack parcels for the Front
44     A smart dinner party sees in the New Year of 1917
45     Troops pump out a trench on the Northern Front
46     Cossacks patrol the streets of Petrograd in February 1917
47     The arrest of a policeman during the February Days
48     Moscow workers playing with the stone head of Alexander II
49     A crowd burns tsarist emblems during the February Days
50     The crowd outside the Tauride Palace during the February Days
51     Soldiers receive news of the Tsar’s abdication
Images of 1917: between pages 482 and 483
52     The First Provisional Government in the Marinsky Palace
53     The burial of victims of the February Revolution
54     A meeting of the Soviet of Soldiers’ Deputies
55     Waiters and waitresses of Petrograd on strike
56     The AU-Russian Congress of Peasant Deputies
57     Fedor Linde leads an anti-war demonstration by the Finland Regiment during the April Crisis
58     Kerensky makes a speech to soldiers at the Front
59      Metropolitan Nikon blesses the Women’s Battalion of Death
60     General Kornilov’s triumphant arrival in Moscow during the State Conference

61     Members of the Women’s Battalion of Death in the Winter Palace on 25 October
62     Some of Kerensky’s last defenders in the Winter Palace on 25 October
63     The Smolny Institute
64     The Red Guard of the Vulkan Factory
The Civil War: between pages 578 and 579
65     General Alexeev
66     General Denikin
67     Admiral Kolchak
68     Baron Wrangel
69     Members of the Czech Legion in Vladivostok
70     A group of White officers during a military parade in Omsk
71     A strategic meeting of Red partisans
72     An armoured train
73     The Latvian Division passing through a village
74     Two Red Army soldiers take a break
75     Red Army soldiers reading propaganda leaflets
76     A Red Army mobile library in the village
77     Nestor Makhno
78     The execution of a peasant by the Whites
79     Jewish victims of a pogrom
80     Red Army soldiers torture a Polish officer
Everyday Life Under the Bolsheviks: between pages 674 and 675
81     Muscovites dismantle a house for firewood
82     A priest helps transport timber
83     Women of the ‘former classes’ sell their last possessions
84     A soldier buys a pair of shoes from a group ofburzhoois
85     Haggling over a fur scarf at the Smolensk market in Moscow
86     Traders at the Smolensk market
87     Two ex-tsarist officers are made to clear the streets
88     Cheka soldiers close down traders’ stalls in Moscow
89     Requisitioning the peasants’ grain
90     ‘Bagmen’ on the railways
91     The I Maysubbotnikon Red Square in Moscow, 1920
92     An open-air cafeteria at the Kiev Station in Moscow
93     Delegates of the Ninth All-Russian Party Congress
94     The Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Commissariat for Supply and Distribution in the Northern Region

95     The Smolny Institute on the anniversary of the October coup
The Revolutionary Inheritance: between pages 770 and 771
96     Red Army troops assault the mutinous Kronstadt Naval Base
97     Peasant rebels attack a train of requisitioned grain
98     Bolshevik commissars inspect the harvest failure in the Volga region
99     Unburied corpses from the famine crisis
100     Cannibals with their victims
101     Street orphans in Saratov hunt for food in a rubbish tip
102     The Secretary of the Tula Komsomol
103     A juvenile unit of the Red Army in Turkestan
104     Red Army soldiers confiscate valuables from the Semenov Monastery
105     A propaganda meeting in Bukhara
106     Two Bolshevik commissars in the Far East
107     The dying Lenin in 1923
Photographic Credits
Bakhmeteff Archive, Columbia University: 58; California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside: 20. Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford, California: 82-4;Life on the Russian Country Estate. A Social and Cultural history,by Priscilla Roosevelt (Yale University Press, 1995): 26; Museum of the Revolution, Moscow: 7, 15, 36, 52, 61-2, 77-8, 90; Photo-khronika Tass, Moscow: 107; private collections: 10, 32, 97;Russian in Original Photographs 1860—1920,by Marvin Lyons (Routledge& Kegan Paul, London, 1977): 25, 47;Russie, 1904-1924: La Revolution est Id,(Baschet, Paris, 1978): 80;Russian Century, The,by Brian Moynahan (Chatto& Windus, London, 1994): 13, 28 (courtesy of Slava Katamidze Collection/Endeavour Group, London), 46 (Courtesy of the Endeavour Group, London); Russian State Archive of Film and Photographic Documents, Krasnogorsk: 18—19, 21—3, 35, 37—8, 40, 45, 48, 51, 59-60, 65-71, 73-6, 79, 81, 85-93, 98-106; Russian State Military History Archive, Moscow: 29; Saltykov-Shchedrin Library, St Petersburg: 12; State Archive of Film and Photographic Documents, St Petersburg: 1—6, 8—9, II, 14, 16-17, 24, 27, 30-1, 34, 39, 41-4, 49-50, 53-7, 63-4, 72, 94-6; Tula District Museum: 33.

These days we call so many things a ‘revolution’— a change in the government’s policies on sport, a technological innovation, or even a new trend in marketing — that it may be hard for the reader of this book to take on board the vast scale of its subject at the start. The Russian Revolution was, at least in terms of its effects, one of the biggest events in the history of the world. Within a generation of the establishment of Soviet power, one-third of humanity was living under regimes modelled upon it. The revolution of 1917 has defined the shape of the contemporary world, and we are only now emerging from its shadow. It was not so much a single revolution — the compact eruption of 1917 so often depicted in the history books — as a whole complex of differentrevolutionswhich exploded in the middle of the First World War and set off a chain reaction of more revolutions, civil, ethnic and national wars. By the time that it was over, it had blown apart— and then put back together — an empire covering one-sixth of the surface of the globe. At the risk of appearing callous, the easiest way to convey the revolution’s scope is to list the ways in which it wasted human life: tens of thousands were killed by the bombs and bullets of the revolutionaries, and at least an equal number by the repressions of the tsarist regime, before 1917; thousands died in the street fighting of that year; hundreds of thousands from the Terror of the Reds — and an equal number from the Terror of the Whites, if one counts the victims of their pogroms against Jews — during the years that followed; more than a million perished in the fighting of the civil war, including civilians in the rear; and yet more people died from hunger, cold and disease than from all these put together.
All of which, I suppose, is by way of an apology for the vast size of this book— the first attempt at a comprehensive history of the entire revolutionary period in a single volume. Its narrative begins in the 1890s, when the revolutionary crisis really started, and more specifically in 1891, when the public’s reaction to the famine crisis set it for the first time on a collision course with the tsarist autocracy. And our story ends in 1924, with the death of Lenin, by which time the revolution had come full circle and the basic institutions, if not all the practices, of the Stalinist regime were in place. This is to give to the revolution a much longer lifespan than is customary. But it seems to me that,

with one or two exceptions, previous histories of the revolution have been too narrowly focused on the events of 1917, and that this has made the range of its possible outcomes appear much more limited than they actually were. It was by no means inevitable that the revolution should have ended in the Bolshevik dictatorship, although looking only at that fateful year would lead one towards this conclusion. There were a number of decisive moments, both before and during 1917, when Russia might have followed a more democratic course. It is the aim ofA People’s Tragedy,by looking at the revolution in the longue dur?e,to explain why it did not at each of these in turn. As its title is intended to suggest, the book rests on the proposition that Russia’s democratic failure was deeply rooted in its political culture and social history. Many of the themes of the four introductory chapters in Part One— the absence of a state-based counterbalance to the despotism of the Tsar; the isolation and fragility of liberal civil society; the backwardness and violence of the Russian village that drove so many peasants to go and seek a better life in the industrial towns; and the strange fanaticism of the Russian radical intelligentsia — will reappear as constant themes in the narrative of Parts Two, Three and Four.
Although politics are never far away, this is, I suppose, a social history in the sense that its main focus is the common people. I have tried to present the major social forces— the peasantry, the working class, the soldiers and the national minorities — as the participants in their own revolutionary drama rather than as ‘victims’ of the revolution. This is not to deny that there were many victims. Nor is it to adopt the ‘bottom-up’ approach so fashionable these daysamong the ‘revisionist’ historians of Soviet Russia. It would be absurd — and in Russia’s case obscene — to imply that a people gets the rulers it deserves. But it is to argue that the sort of politicized ‘top-down’ histories of the Russian Revolution which used to be written in the Cold War era, in which the common people appeared as the passive objects of the evil machinations of the Bolsheviks, are no longer adequate. We now have a rich and growing literature, based upon research in the newly opened archives, on the social life of the Russian peasantry, the workers, the soldiers and the sailors, the provincial towns, the Cossacks and the non-Russian regions of the Empire during the revolutionary period. These monographs have given us a much more complex and convincing picture of the relationship between the party and the people than the one presented in the older ‘top-down’ version. They have shown that instead of a single abstract revolution imposed by the Bolsheviks on the whole of Russia, it was as often shaped by local passions and interests.A People’s Tragedyis an attempt to synthesize this reappraisal and to push the argument one stage further. It attempts to show, as its title indicates, that what began as a people’s revolution contained the seeds of its own degeneration into violence and dictatorship. The same social forces which brought about the triumph of the Bolshevik regime became its main victims.

Finally, the narrative ofA People’s Tragedyweaves between the private and the public spheres. Wherever possible, I have tried to emphasize the human aspect of its great events by listening to the voices of individual people whose lives became caught up in the storm. Their diaries, letters and other private writings feature prominently in this book. More substantially, the personal histories of several figures have been interwoven through the narrative. Some of these figures are well known (Maxim Gorky, General Brusilov and Prince Lvov), while others are unknown even to historians (the peasant reformer Sergei Semenov and the soldier-commissar Dmitry Os’kin). But all of them had hopes and aspirations, fears and disappointments, that were typical of the revolutionary experience as a whole. In following the fortunes of these figures, my aim has been to convey the chaos of these years, as it must have been felt by ordinary men and women. I have tried to present the revolution not as a march of abstract social forces and ideologies but as a human event of complicated individual tragedies. It was a story, by and large, of people, like the figures in this book, setting out with high ideals to achieve one thing, only to find out later that the outcome was quite different. This, again, is why I chose to call the bookA People’s Tragedy.For it is not just about the tragic turning-point in the history of a people. It is also about the ways in which the tragedy of the revolution engulfed the destinies of those who lived through it.
* * * This book has taken over six years to write and it owes a great debt to many people.
Above all, I must thank Stephanie Palmer, who has had to endure far more in the way of selfish office hours, weekends and holidays spoilt by homework and generally impossible behaviour by her husband than she had any right to expect. In return I received from her love and support in much greater measure than I deserved. Stephanie looked after me through the dark years of debilitating illness in the early stages of this book, and, in addition to her own heavy work burdens, took on more than her fair share of child-care for our daughters, Lydia and Alice, after they were born in 1993. I dedicate this book to her in gratitude.
Neil Belton at Jonathan Cape has played a huge part in the writing of this book. Neil is any writer’s dream of an editor. He read every chapter in every draft, and commented on them in long and detailed letters of the finest prose. His criticisms were always on the mark, his knowledge of the subject constantly surprising, and his enthusiasm was inspiring. If there is any one reader to whom this book is addressed, it is to him.
The second draft was also read by Boris Kolonitskii during the course of our various meetings in Cambridge and St Petersburg. I am very grateful to him for his many comments, all of which resulted in improvements to the text,

and hope that, although it has so far been one-sided, this may be the start of a lasting intellectual partnership.
I owe a great debt to two amazing women. One is my mother, Eva Figes, a past master of the art of narrative who always gave me good advice on how to practise it. The other is my agent, Deborah Rogers, who did me a great service in brokering the marriage with Cape.
At Cape two other people merit special thanks. Dan Franklin navigated the book through its final stages with sensitivity and intelligence. And Liz Cowen went through the whole text line by line suggesting improvements with meticulous care. I am deeply grateful to them both.
For their assistance in the preparation of the final text I should also like to thank Claire Farrimond, who helped to check the notes, and Laura Pieters Cordy, who worked overtime to enter the corrections to the text. Thanks are also due to Ian Agnew, who drew the splendid maps.
The past six years have been an exciting time for historical research in Russia. I should like to thank the staff of the many Russian archives and libraries in which the research for this book was completed. I owe a great debt to the knowledge and advice of far too many archivists to name individually, but the one exception is Vladimir Barakhov, Director of the Gorky Archive, who was more than generous with his time.
Many institutions have helped me in the research for this book. I am grateful to the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, and— although the Fellowship could not be taken up — to the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington for their generous support. My own Cambridge college, Trinity, which is as generous as it is rich, has also been of enormous assistance, giving me both grants and study leave. Among the Holy and Undivided Fellows of the college special thanks are due to my teaching colleagues, Boyd Hilton and John Lonsdale, for covering for me in my frequent absences; to the inimitable Anil Seal for being a supporter; and, above all, to Raj Chandavarkar, for being such a clever critic and loyal friend. Finally, inthe History Faculty, I am, as always, grateful to Quentin Skinner for his efforts on my behalf.
The best thing about Cambridge University is the quality of its students, and in the course of the past six years I have had the privilege of teaching some of the brightest in my special subject on the Russian Revolution. This book is in no small measure the result of that experience. Many were the occasions when I rushed back from the lecture hall to write down the ideas I had picked up from discussions with my students. If they cannot be acknowledged in the notes, then I only hope that those who read this book will take it as a tribute of my gratitude to them.
Cambridge                                               November 1995


Cossack chieftain
Black Hundreds
extremist right-wing paramilitary groups and proto-parties (for the origin of the term see page 196)
Jewish social democratic organization
popular term for a bourgeois or other social enemy (see page 523)
Soviet secret police 1917—22 (later transformed into the OGPU, the NKVD and the KGB); the Cheka’s full title was the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Struggle against Counter-Revolution and Sabotage
socialist supporters of the war campaign (1914—18) for national defence; the Menshevik and SR parties were split between Defensists and Internationalists
measurement of land area, equivalent to 1.09 hectares or 2.7 acres
the state Duma was the elected lower house of the Russian parliament 1906—17; the municipal dumas were elected town councils
province (subdivided into uezdy and volosti)
socialists opposed to the war campaign (1914—18) who campaigned for immediate peace through international socialist collaboration; the Menshevik and SR parties were split between Defensists and Internationalists
Constitutional Democratic Party
collective farm
anti-Bolshevik government established in Samara during the summer of 1918; its full title was the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly
Cossack assembly
capitalist peasant (see page 91)
village commune
New Economic Policy (1921-9)

peasant land commune
liberal-conservative political party
measurement of weight, equivalent to 16.38 kg
Social Democrats: Marxist party (known in full as the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party); split into Menshevik and Bolshevik factions after 1903
communal or village assembly
Soviet farm
Socialist Revolutionaries: non-Marxist revolutionary party (PSR); split into Right and Left SRs during 1917
army headquarters
district (sub-division ofguberniia)
measurement of distance, equivalent to 0.66 miles
Cossack self-governing community
freedom; autonomy
rural township and basic administrative unit usually comprising several villages
elected assembly of local government dominated by the gentry at the provincial and district level (1864—1917); a volost-level zemstvo was finally established in 1917 but was soon supplanted by the Soviets.

Note on Dates
Until February 1918 Russia adhered to the Julian (Old Style) calendar, which ran thirteen days behind the Gregorian (New Style) calendar in use in Western Europe. The Soviet government switched to the New Style calendar at midnight on 31 January 1918: the next day was declared 14 February. Dates relating to domestic events are given in the Old Style up until 31 January 1918; and in the New Style after that. Dates relating to international events (e.g. diplomatic negotiations and military battles in the First World War) are given in the New Style throughout the book.
NB The term ‘the Ukraine’ has been used throughout this book, rather than the currently correct but ahistorical ‘Ukraine’.


[hand]   Gorky’s house
1    Russian Renault factory
2    New Lessner factory
3    Moscow Regiment
4    Erickson factory
5   First Machine-Gun Regiment
6    Bolshevik headquarters, Vyborg District
7    Kresty Prison
8   Cirque Moderne
9    Kshesinskaya Mansion
10   Arsenal
11    Peter and Paul Fortress
12   Stock Exchange
13    Petersburg University
14   Aurora
15    Finland Regiment
16    Central telegraph office
17   Petrograd telegraph agency
18    Post office
19   War Ministry
20   Admiralty
21    Palace Square
22   St Isaac’s Cathedral
23   General Staff headquarters
24    Petrograd telephone station
25   Winter Palace
26   Pravdaeditorial offices and printing plant
27    Pavlovsky Regiment
28    Mars Field
29    Kazan Cathedral
30    City Duma
31    State Bank
32   Marinsky Palace
33    Lithuanian Regiment
34    Preobrazhensky Regiment
35   Volynsky Regiment
36   Tauride Palace
37    Smolny Institute
38   Znamenskaya Square
39    Semenovsky Regiment
40    Petrograd electric station
41    Petrograd Regiment
42    Putilov factory

Part One

I The Dynasty
i The Tsar and His People
On a wet and windy morning in February 1913 St Petersburg celebrated three hundred years of Romanov rule over Russia. People had been talking about the great event for weeks, and everyone agreed that nothing quite so splendid would ever be seen again in their lifetimes. The majestic power of the dynasty would be displayed, as never before, in an extravaganza of pageantry. As the jubilee approached, dignitaries from far-flung parts of the Russian Empire filled the capital’s grand hotels: princes from Poland and the Baltic lands; high priests from Georgia and Armenia; mullahs and tribal chiefs from Central Asia; the Emir of Bukhara and the Khan of Khiva. The city bustled with sightseers from the provinces, and the usual well-dressed promenaders around the Winter Palace now found themselves outnumbered by the unwashed masses— peasants and workers in their tunics and caps, rag-bundled women with kerchiefs on their heads. Nevsky Prospekt experienced the worst traffic jams in its history as trams and horse-drawn carriages, cars and sleighs, converged on it. The main streets were decked out in the imperial colours of white, blue and red; statues were dressed in garlands and ribbons; and portraits of the tsars, stretching back to Mikhail, the founder of the dynasty, hung on the facades of banks and stores. Above the tram-lines were strung chains of coloured lights, which lit up at night with the words ‘God Save theTsar’ or a Romanov double-headed eagle and the dates 1613—1913. Out-of-towners, many of whom had never seen electric light, stared up and scratched their heads in wonderment. There were columns, arcs and obelisks of light. In front of the Kazan Cathedral stood a white pavilion filled with incense, bromeliads and palms, shivering in the Russian winter air.
The rituals began with a solemn thanksgiving in the Kazan Cathedral led by the Patriarch of Antioch, who had come from Greece especially for the occasion, the three Russian Metropolitans and fifty priests from St Petersburg. The imperial family drove out from the Winter Palace in open carriages accompanied by two squadrons of His Majesty’s Own Horseguards and Cossack riders in black caftans and red Caucasian caps. It was the first time the Tsar had ridden in publicviewsince the 1905 Revolution, and the police were taking no chances. The route was lined by the Imperial Guards gorgeously turned out in

their feathered shakos and scarlet uniforms. Military bands thumped out the national anthem and the soldiers boomed ‘Oorah!’as the cavalcade passed by. Outside the cathedral religious processions from various parts of the city had been converging from early in the morning. The vast crowd, a forest of crosses, icons and banners, knelt down as one as the carriages approached. Inside the cathedral stood Russia’s ruling class: grand dukes and princes, members of the court, senators, ministers, state councillors, Duma parliamentarians, senior Civil Servants, generals and admirals, provincial governors, city mayors, zemstvo leaders, and marshals of the nobility. Hardly a breast without a row of shining medals or a diamond star; hardly a pair of legs without a sword. Everything sparkled in the candlelight— the silver iconostasis, the priests’ bejewelled mitres, and the crystal cross. In the middle of the ceremony two doves flew down from the darkness of the dome and hovered for several moments over the heads of the Tsar and his son. Carried away by religious exaltation, Nicholas interpreted it asa symbol of God’s blessing on the House of Romanov.
Meanwhile, in the workers’ districts factories were closed for a public holiday. The poor queued outside municipal canteens, where free meals were served to mark the anniversary. Pawnshops were beset by crowds after rumours spread of a special dispensation allowing people to redeem their valuables without interest payments; when these rumours turned out to be false, the crowds became angry and several pawnshops had their windows smashed. Women gathered outside the city’s jails in the hope that their loved ones would be among the 2,000 prisoners released under the amnesty to celebrate the tercentenary.
During the afternoon huge crowds walked into the city centre for the long-awaitedson et lumi?re.Stalls along the way sold mugs of beer and pies, Romanov flags and souvenirs. There were fairs and concerts in the parks. As darkness fell, the Nevsky Prospekt became one solid mass of people. Every face turned upwards as the sky was lit up in a blaze of colour by fireworks and lights that criss-crossed the city, sweeping over roofs to land for a moment on significant monuments. The golden spire of the Admiralty burned like a torch against the black sky, and the Winter Palace was brilliantly illuminated with three huge portraits of Nicholas II, Peter the Great and Mikhail Romanov.
The imperial family remained in the capital for another week of ritual self-congratulation. There were pompous receptions at the Winter Palace where long lines of genuflecting dignitaries filed through the state rooms to present themselves to Nicholas and Alexandra in the concert hall. There was a sumptuous ball in the Noblemen’s Assembly attended by the imperial couple and their eldest daughter, Olga, in one of her first social engagements. She danced the polonaise with Prince Saltykov, who caused a stir by forgetting to take off his hat. At the Marinsky Theatre there was a gala performance of Glinka’s patriotic opera,A Life for the Tsar,which retold the legend of the peasant Susanin, who had saved

the life of the first Romanov Tsar. The tiers of boxes ‘blazed with jewels and tiaras’, according to Meriel Buchanan, the British Ambassador’s daughter, and the stalls were filled with the scarlet uniforms of the court officials, who swayed in unison like a field of poppies’ as they rose to greet the arrival of the Tsar. Mathilde Kshesinskaya, Nicholas’s former mistress, came out of retirement to dance the mazurkas in the second act. But the sensation of the evening was the silent appearance of the tenor, Leonid Sobinov, standing in for Shaliapin, who walked across the stage at the head of a religious procession dressed as Mikhail Romanov. It was the first (and the last) occasion in the history of the imperial theatre when the figure of a Romanov Tsar was represented on the stage.1
Three months later, during an usually hot May, the imperial family went on a Romanov pilgrimage around the towns of ancient Muscovy associated with the foundation of the dynasty. They followed the route taken by Mikhail Romanov, the first Romanov Tsar, from his home at Kostroma on the Volga to Moscow after his election to the Russian throne in 1613. The imperial touring party arrived at Kostroma in a flotilla of steamboats. The river bank was packed with townspeople and peasants, the men all dressed in tunics and caps, the women in the traditional light blue and white headscarfs of Kostroma. Hundreds of sightseers had waded waist deep into the river to get closer to the royal visitors. Nicholas visited the Ipatiev monastery, where Mikhail had taken refuge from the Polish invaders and from the civil wars that had raged through Muscovy on the eve of his assumption of the throne. He received a peasant delegation from the lands that had belonged to the monastery and posed for a photograph with the descendants of the boyars who had travelled from Moscow in 1613 to offer the crown to the Romanovs.
From Kostroma the touring party went on to Vladimir, Nizhnyi Novgorod and Yaroslavl’. They travelled in the beautifully furnished imperial train, complete with mahogany-panelled rooms, soft velvet armchairs, writing desk and grand piano. The bathroom even had a special device to prevent His Imperial Majesty’s bathwater from spilling when the train was moving. There was no railway between Vladimir and the small monastery town of Suzdal, so the entourage had to make the journey along dusty country roads in a fleet of thirty open-top Renaults. In the villages old peasant men and women bent down on their knees as the cars sped past. In front of their modest wooden huts, barely noticed by the travellers, they had set up little tables laid with flowers, bread and salt, the traditional Russian offerings to strangers.
The royal pilgrimage climaxed with a triumphant entry into Moscow, the old Russian capital, where the first Romanov Tsar had been crowned, followed by another round of pageantry and gastronomy. The ball in the Assembly of the Moscow Nobility was particularly lavish, far beyond the wildest dreams of Hollywood. A lift was installed specially so the royal waltzers need not tire

themselves by climbing to the ballroom on the second floor. The imperial touring party arrived in Moscow by train and was greeted by a vast delegation of dignitaries at the Alexandrovsky Station. The Tsar rode alone on a white horse, sixty feet ahead of his Cossack escort and the rest of the imperial cavalcade, through huge cheering crowds to the Kremlin. The decorations along Tverskaya Street, bathed in brilliant sunshine, were even more magnificent than in St Petersburg. Maroon velvet banners with Romanov emblems spanned the boulevard. Buildings were draped in colourful flags and pennants, and covered in lights which lit up at night to reveal even more inventive emblems than those on the Nevsky Prospekt. Garlanded statues of the Tsar stood in shop windows and on the balconies of private apartments. People showered the procession with confetti. The Tsar dismounted in Red Square, where religious processions from all parts of the city had converged to meet him, and walked through lines of chanting priests into the Uspensky Cathedral for prayers. The Empress and the Tsarevich Alexis were also to walk the last few hundred yards. But Alexis was struck down once again by his haemophilia and had to be carried by a Cossack bodyguard. As the procession paused, Count Kokovtsov, the Prime Minister, heard from the crowd ‘exclamations of sorrow at the sight of this poor helpless child, the heir to the throne of the Romanovs’.2
* * * The Romanov dynasty presented to the world a brilliant image of monarchical power and opulence during its tercentenary. This was no simple propaganda exercise. The rituals of homage to the dynasty and the glorification of its history were, to be sure, meant to inspire reverence and popular support for the principle of autocracy. But their aim was also toreinventthe past, to recount the epic of the ‘popular Tsar’, so as to invest the monarchy with a mythical historical legitimacy and an image of enduring permanence at this anxious time when its right to rule was being challenged by Russia’s emerging democracy. The Romanovs were retreating to the past, hoping it would save them from the future.
The cult of seventeenth-century Muscovy was the key to this self-reinvention, and theleitmotivof the jubilee. Three perceived principles of Muscovite tsardom appealed to the Romanovs in their final years. The first was the notion of patrimonialism whereby the Tsar was deemed literally to own the whole of Russia as his private fiefdom(yotchina)in the manner of a medieval lord. In the first national census of 1897 Nicholas described himself as a landowner’. Until the second half of the eighteenth century this idea had set Russia apart from the West, where an independent landowning class emerged as a counterbalance to the monarchy. The second principle from Muscovy was the idea of personal rule: as the embodiment of God on earth, the Tsar’s will should be unrestrained by laws or bureaucracy and he should be left to rule the country according to his own consciousness of duty and right. This too had distinguished

the Byzantine tradition of despotism from the Western absolutist state. Conservatives, such as Konstantin Pobedonostsev, tutor and leading ideologist to both Nicholas and Alexander, the last two Tsars, argued that this religious autocracy was uniquely suited to the Russian national spirit, that a god-like autocrat was needed to restrain the anarchic instincts of the Russian people.* Lastly, there was the idea of a mystical union between the Tsar and the Orthodox people, who loved and obeyed him as a father and a god. It was a fantasy of paternal rule, of a golden age of popular autocracy, free from the complications of a modern state.
The last two tsars had obvious motives for holding on so firmly to this archaic vision. Indeed, in so far as they believed that their power and prestige were being undermined by ‘modernity’ in all its forms— secular beliefs, Western constitutional ideologies and the new urban classes — it was only logical for them to seek to put the clock back to some distant golden age. It was in the eighteenth century and the reign of Peter the Great — ‘Your Peter’ as Nicholas called him speaking with officials — that the rot, in their view, had begun to set in. There were two opposing models of autocracy in Russia: the Petrine and the Muscovite. Emulating Western absolutism, the Petrine model sought to systematize the power of the crown through legal norms and bureaucratic institutions. This was deemed a limitation on the Tsar’s powers in that even he would henceforth be obliged to obey his own laws. The Tsar who did not was a despot. The Petrine tradition also implied a shift in the focus of power from the divine person of the Tsar to the abstract concept of the autocratic state. Nicholas disliked this, above all. Like his father, Alexander III, he had been taught to uphold the principles of personal rule, keeping power at the court, and to distrust the bureaucracy as a sort of ‘wall’ that broke the natural bond between the Tsar and his people. This distrust may be explained by the fact that during the nineteenth century the imperial bureaucracy had begun to emerge as a force for modernization and reform. It became increasingly independent of the court and closer to public opinion, which, in the view of conservatives, was bound to lead to revolutionary demands for a constitution. Alexander ITs assassination in 1881 (after two decades of cautious reform) seemed to confirm theirviewthat the time had come to stop the rot. Alexander III (who once claimed that he ‘despised the bureaucracy and drank champagne to its obliteration’)3 instituted a return to personal forms of autocratic rule, both in
* Bertrand Russell used a similar idea when, in an attempt to explain the Russian Revolution to Lady Ottoline Morrell, he remarked that, terrible though Bolshevik despotism was, it seemed the right sort of government for Russia: ‘If you ask yourself how Dostoevsky’s characters should be governed, you will understand.’

central and local government. And where the father led the son was bound to follow.
Nicholas’s model of the autocracy was almost entirely Muscovite. His favourite Tsar was Alexei Mikhailovich (1645—76), after whom he named his son the Tsarevich. He emulated his tranquil piety, which it was said had given him the conviction to rule Russia through his own religious conscience. Nicholas often liked to justify his policies on the grounds that the idea had ‘come to him’ from God. According to Count Witte, one of his most enlightened ministers, Nicholas believed that ‘people do not influence events, that God directs everything, and that the Tsar, as God’s anointed, should not take advice from anyone but follow only his divine inspiration. Such was Nicholas’s admiration for the semi-Asiaticcustoms of the Middle Ages that he tried to introduce them at his court. He ordered the retention of the old Slavonic forms of spelling in official documents and publications long after they had been phased out in literary Russian. He talked ofRus’,the old Muscovite term for the core lands of Russia, instead ofRossiia,a term for the Empire which had been adopted since Peter the Great. He disliked the titleGosudar Imperator(Sovereign Emperor), also introduced by Peter, since it implied that the autocrat was no more than the first servant of the abstract state (thegosudarstvo),and much preferred the older titleTsar(derived from the Greek termkaisar),which went back to the Byzantine era and carried religious connotations of paternal rule. He even toyed with the idea of making all his courtiers wear long caftans, like those of the ancient Muscovite boyars (it was only the cost that discouraged him). The Minister of the Interior, D. S. Sipiagin, who had given him the idea, had his own offices decorated in the Muscovite style. On one occasion he received the Tsar, who came dressed as Alexei, with all the rituals of the seventeenth-century court, complete with a traditional Russian feast and a gypsy orchestra. Nicholas encouraged the Russian courtly fashion— which had begun in his father’s reign — for seventeenth-century costume balls. In 1903 he himself gave one of the most lavish. The guests appeared in replicas of court dress from Alexei’s reign and danced medieval Russian dances. Photographs of all the guests, each identified by their respective court ranks from the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries, were published in two richly produced albums. Nicholas appeared in a replica of the processional robe worn by Alexei, and Alexandra in the gown and headdress worn by his Tsarina Natalia.4
Nicholas made no secret of the fact that he much preferred Moscow to St Petersburg. The old ‘holy city’, with its thousand onion domes, stood for the Eastern and Byzantine traditions which lay at the heart of his Muscovite world-view. Untouched by the West, Moscow retained the ‘national style’ so favoured by the last two Tsars. Both considered Petersburg, with its classical architectural style, its Western shops and bourgeoisie, alien to Russia. They tried

to Muscovitize it by building churches in the Byzantine style— a fashion started under Nicholas I — and adding archaic architectural features to its cityscape. Alexander III, for example, commissioned a Temple of Christ’s Resurrection, which was built in the old Moscow style, to consecrate the site on the Catherine Canal where his father had been assassinated in 1881. With its onion domes, colourful mosaics and ornate decorations, it presented a bizarre contrast with the other great cathedrals of the city, the Kazan Cathedral and St Isaac s, which were both built in the classical style. Nicholas refashioned buildings in the neo-Byzantine manner. The School Council of the Holy Synod was remodelled as the Alexander Nevsky Temple-Monument by embellishing its classical facade with Muscovite motifs and adding to its flat roof five onion domes and a triangular steeple. More buildings were built in the old Russian style to mark the Romanov jubilee. The Tercentenary Cathedral, near the Moscow Station, for example, was built in explicit imitation of the seventeenth-century Rostov church style. The Fedorov Village, built by Nicholas at Tsarskoe Selo, just outside the capital, elaborately recreated a seventeenth-century Kremlin and Cathedral.5 It was a sort of Muscovite theme park.
Nicholas and his father Alexander visited Moscow often and used it increasingly for ritualistic displays of homage to the dynasty. The coronation of the Tsar, which traditionally took place in Moscow, became an important symbolic event— much more so than it had been in the past. Nicholas made a habit of visiting Moscow at Easter — something no Tsar had done for more than fifty years. He convinced himself that only in Moscow and the provinces would he find his spiritual communion with the ordinary Russian people. ‘United in prayer with my people’, he wrote to Moscow’s Governor-General in 1900, shortly after his first Easter visit to the old capital, ‘I draw new strength for serving Russia, for her well-being and glory’.6 After 1906, when St Petersburg became the seat of the Duma, Nicholas looked even more towards Moscow and the provinces as a base on which to build his ‘popular autocracy’ as a rival to the parliament. With the support of the simple Russian people— represented increasingly by Grigorii Rasputin — he would reassert the power of the throne, which for too long had been forced to retreat before the bureaucracy and society.
The tercentenary jubilee marked the culmination of this Muscovite heritage industry. It was a dynastic celebration, centred on the symbols of the Tsar, with those of the state pushed firmly into the background. The squabble between Rasputin, the scandalous peasant ‘holy man’ whose influence had come to dominate the court, and Mikhail Rodzianko, President of the Duma, during the service in the Kazan Cathedral was symbolic in this respect. Rodzianko had taken offence because the members of the Duma were to be seated at the back, far behind the places reserved for the state councillors and senators. This, he complained to the master of ceremonies, was ‘not in accordance with the dignity’

of the parliament. ‘If the jubilee was intended to be a truly national rejoicing, it should not be overlooked that in 1613 it was an assembly of the people and not a group of officials that elected Mikhail Romanov Tsar of Russia.’ Rodzi-anko’s point was taken and the Duma places were duly exchanged for those of the senators. But when he arrived to take his own place he found it occupied by a dark bearded man in peasant dress, whom he immediately recognized as Rasputin. The two men confronted each other in a heated exchange, the one insisting on the sanctity of his position as President of the country’s elected parliament, the other claiming the support of the Tsar himself, until a sergeant-at-arms was called to restore the peace. With a heavy groan, Rasputin slunk away towards the exit, where he was helped on with his sable coat and shown to a waiting carriage.7
The Prime Minister was equally outraged by the court’s contemptuous attitude towards the government during the jubilee rituals. Ministers were expected to provide their own transport and accommodation whilst they accompanied the royal party on its tour of the provinces. ‘The current attitude’, recalled Count Kokovtsov:
seemed to suggest that the government was a barrier between the people and their Tsar, whom they regarded with blind devotion because he was anointed by God . . . The Tsar’s closest friends at court became persuaded that the Sovereign could do anything by relying upon the unbounded love and utter loyalty of the people. The ministers of the government, on the other hand, did not hold to this sort of autocracy; nor did the Duma, which steadily sought control of the executive power. Both were of the opinion that the Sovereign should recognize that conditions had changed since the day the Romanovs became Tsars of Moscow and lords of the Russian domain.
The Prime Minister tried in vain to tell the Tsar that he could not save his throne by trying to adopt ‘the halo of the «Muscovite Tsar» ruling Russia as his own patrimony’.8
The communion between the Tsar and his people was the central theme of the jubilee. The cult of the peasant Ivan Susanin was supposed to reinforce the message that the simple people loved the Tsar. Susanin had lived on the Romanov estate in Kostroma. Legend had it that, at the cost of his own life, he saved Mikhail Romanov’s by misleading the Poles who had come to kill him on the eve of his assumption of the throne. From the nineteenth century he was officially promoted as a national hero and celebrated in patriotic poems and operas such as Glinka’sA Life for the Tsar.During the tercentenary celebrationsA Lifewas performed throughout the country by amateur companies, schools

and regiments. The penny press and popular pamphlets retold the Susanin mythad nauseam.It was said to symbolize the people’s devotion and their duty to the Tsar. One army newspaper told its readers that Susanin had shown every soldier how to fulfil his oath to the Tsar. The image of the seventeenth-century peasant hero was reproduced everywhere during the jubilee, most notably at the base of the Romanov Monument in Kostroma, where a female figure representing Russia blessed a kneeling Susanin. During his tour of Kostroma Nicholas was even presented with a delegation of Potemkin-peasants purporting to be descendants of Susanin.9
According to the jubilee propaganda, the election of the Romanovs in 1613 was a crucial moment of national awakening, the first real act of the Russian nation state. The ‘entire land’ was said to have participated in the election, thus providing a popular mandate for the dynasty, although it had been widely accepted by historians in the nineteenth century that the election owed more to the machinations of a few powerful boyars than to the ordinary people. Through their election, it was claimed, the Romanovs had come to personify the will of the nation. ‘The spirit of Russia is incarnate in her Tsar,’ wrote one propagandist. ‘The Tsar stands to the people as their highest conception of the destiny and ideals of the nation.’ Russia, in short, was the Romanovs. ‘In every soul there is something Romanov,’ declared the newspaperNovoe vremia.’Something from the soul and spirit of the House that has reigned for 300 years.’10
Nicholas Romanov, Russia incarnate: that was the cult promoted by the jubilee. It sought to build on the Tsar’s religious status in the popular consciousness. Russia had a long tradition of saintly princes— rulers who were canonized for laying down their livespro patria et flies— stretching back to the tenth century. In the mind of the ordinary peasant the Tsar was not just a kingly ruler but a god on earth. He thought of him as a father-figure (theTsar Batiushka,or Father-Tsar, of folk tales) who knew all the peasants personally by name, understood their problems in all their minute details, and, if it were not for the evil boyars, the noble officials, who surrounded him, would satisfy their demands in a Golden Manifesto giving them the land. Hence the peasant tradition of sending direct appeals to the Tsar— a tradition that (like the monarchic psyche it reflected in the common people) continued well into the Soviet era when similar petitions were sent to Lenin and Stalin. This ‘naive’ peasant myth of the Good Tsar could sometimes be used to legitimize peasant rebellions, especially when a long-awaited government reform failed to satisfy the people’s expectations. Pugachev, the Cossack rebel leader of the 1770s, proclaimed himself Tsar Peter III; while the peasant rebels after 1861 also rose up in the name of the True Tsar when the serf emancipation of that year failed to satisfy the grievances of the peasantry. But in general the myth of the Good Tsar worked to the benefit

of the crown, and as the revolutionary crisis deepened Nicholas’s propagandists relied increasingly upon it.
The propaganda of the tercentenary was the final flourish of this legend. It depicted Nicholas as a godfather to his subjects, intimately acquainted with each of them and caring for their every need. He was praised for his modest lifestyle and his simple tastes, his accessibility to the common people, his kindness and his wisdom. A popular biography of Nicholas was commissioned especially for the jubilee, the first ever published of a living Tsar. It portrayed him as the ‘father of his people, over whose needs he keeps an earnest and compassionate watch’. He was said to devote ‘special care and attention to the welfare and moral development’ of the peasants, whose huts he frequently entered ‘to see how they live and to partake of their milk and black bread’. At official functions he ‘talked genially’ with the peasants, who then ‘crossed themselves and felt happier for the rest of their lives’. He shared the people’s simple habits and pursuits, wore a peasant blouse and ate humble peasant dishes such as borscht and blinies. During the jubilee the Tsar was photographed in symbolic acts of homage to the people, such as inspecting a new type of plough or tasting the rations of his soldiers. Such images were calculated to reinforce the popular myth that nothing, however trivial, in the people’s daily lives escaped the attention of the Tsar and that his influence was everywhere. ‘Thousands of invisible threads centre in the Tsar’s heart,’ wrote the royal biographer; ‘and these threads stretch to the huts of the poor and the palaces of the rich. And that is the reason why the Russian people always acclaims its Tsar with such fervent enthusiasm, whether in St Petersburg in the Marinsky Theatre … or on his way through the towns and villages.’11
* * * ‘Now you can see for yourself what cowards those state ministers are,’ the Empress Alexandra told a lady-in-waiting shortly after the jubilee. ‘They are constantly frightening the Emperor with threats of revolution and here— you see it for yourself — we need merely to show ourselves and at once their hearts are ours.’ If the rituals of the jubilee were intended to create the illusion of a mighty and stable dynasty, then they had convinced few people except the court itself. The Romanovs became victims of their own propaganda. Nicholas, in particular, returned from his tour of the provinces confirmed in the self-delusion that ‘My people love me.’ It aroused a fresh desire to travel in the Russian interior. He talked of a boat trip down the Volga, a visit to the Caucasus and Siberia. Emboldened by the belief in his own popularity, he began to look for ways of moving one step closer towards the system of personal rule which he so admired in ancient Muscovy. Encouraged by his more reactionary ministers, he even considered dissolving the Duma altogether or turning it into a purely

consultative body such as the Land Assembly (Zemskii Sobor) of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Foreign observers friendly to the monarchy were just as easily swept along by the rosy rhetoric. ‘No hope seems too confident or too bright,’ the LondonTimespronounced on the Romanovs’ future in a special edition on the jubilee. Convinced of the people’s devotion to the Tsar, it reported that a series of postage stamps with portraits of the Romanov rulers had been issued to mark the tercentenary but had been withdrawn when some royalist post-office clerks refused to impress the obliterating postmark on these hallowed visages. ‘These loyal and eminently respectable scruples’, concludedThe Times,’are typical of the mind of the vast masses of the Russian people.’ Such sentiments were echoed by the British Foreign Office. ‘Nothing could exceed the affection and devotion to the person of the Emperor displayed by the population wherever His Majesty appeared. There is no doubt that in this strong attachment of the masses … to the person of the Emperor lies the great strength of the Russian autocracy.’12
In fact, the jubilee took place in the midst of a profound social and political crisis— some would even say a revolutionary one. Its celebrations were set against a backdrop of several decades of growing violence, human suffering and repression, which had set the Tsar’s people against his regime. None of the wounds of the 1905 Revolution had yet healed; and some of them had festered and become worse. The great peasant problem remained unresolved, despite belated efforts at land reform; and in fact, if anything, the landed gentry had become even more opposed to the idea of concessions to the peasants since the 1905 Revolution, when crowds had attacked their estates. There hadalso been a resurgence of industrial strikes, much more militant than their predecessors in the early 1900s, with the Bolsheviks steadily gaining ground at the expense of their more moderate rivals, the Mensheviks, among the labour organizations. And as for the aspirations of the liberals, which had seemed so near in 1905, they were now becoming a more distant prospect as the court and its supporters blocked all the Duma’s liberal reforms and (with the Beiliss trial of 1913, which even after the Dreyfus Affair shocked the whole of Europe with its medieval persecution of an innocent Jew on trumped-up charges of the ritual murder of a Christian boy) trampled on their fragile ideal of civil rights. There was, in short, a widening gulf of mistrust not just between the court and society — a gulf epitomized by the Rasputin scandal — but also between the court and many of its own traditional supporters in the Civil Service, the Church and the army, as the Tsar resisted their own demands for reform. Just as the Romanovs were honouring themselves and flattering themselves with the fantastic belief that they might rule for another three centuries, outside their own narrow court circles there was a growing sense of impending crisis and catastrophe. This sense

of despair was best voiced by the poets of this so-called ‘Silver Age’ of Russian literature— Blok and Belyi above all — who depicted Russia as living on a volcano. In the words of Blok:
And over Russia I see a quiet Far-spreading fire consume all.
How are we to explain the dynasty’s collapse? Collapse is certainly the right word to use. For the Romanov regime fell under the weight of its own internal contradictions. It was not overthrown. As in all modern revolutions, the first cracks appeared at the top. The revolution did not start with the labour movement— so long the preoccupation of left-wing historians in the West. Nor did it start with the breakaway of the nationalist movements on the periphery: as with the collapse of the Soviet Empire that was built on the ruins of the Romanovs’, nationalist revolt was a consequence of the crisis in the centre rather than its cause. A more convincing case could be made for saying that it was all started by the peasant revolution on the land, which in some places began as early as 1902, three years before the 1905 Revolution, and indeed that it was bound to be in so far as Russia was overwhelmingly a peasant society. But while the peasant problem, like that of the workers and nationalities, introduced fundamental structural weaknesses into the social system of the old regime, it did not determine its politics; and it was with politics that the problem lay. There is no reason to suppose that the tsarist regime was doomed to collapse in the way that Marxist determinists once claimed from their narrow focus on its ‘social contradictions’. It could have been saved by reform. But there is the rub. For Russia’s last two tsars lacked the will for real reform. True, in 1905, when the Tsar was nearly toppled from his throne, he was forced reluctantly to concede reforms; but once that threat had passed he realigned himself with the supporters of reaction. This is the fatal weakness in the argument of those historians on the Right who paint a rosy image of the Tsarist Empire on the eve of the First World War. They claim that the tsarist system was being reformed, or ‘modernized’, along Western liberal lines. But the last two tsars and their more reactionary supporters — in the gentry, the Church and Rightist political circles — were at best ambiguous towards the idea of ‘modernization’. They knew, for example, that they needed a modern industrial economy in order to compete with the Western powers; yet at the same time they were deeply hostile to the political demands and social transformations of the urban industrial order. Instead of embracing reform they adhered obstinately totheir own archaic vision of autocracy. It was their tragedy that just as Russia was entering the twentieth century they were trying to return it to the seventeenth.
Here, then, were the roots of the revolution, in the growing conflict

between a society rapidly becoming more educated, more urban and more complex, and a fossilized autocracy that would not concede its political demands. That conflict first became acute (indeed revolutionary) following the famine of 1891, as the government floundered in the crisis and liberal society became politicized as it launched its own relief campaign; and it is there that the narrative of Part Two commences. But before that we must look more closely at the main protagonists of the conflict, starting with the Tsar.
iiThe Miniaturist
Four years before the tercentenary the brilliant sculptor, Prince P. N. Trubetskoi, had completed an equestrian statue of the former Tsar Alexander III which stood in Znamenskaya Square opposite the Nikolaevsky Station in St Petersburg. It was such an ingenious and formidable representation of autocracy in human form that after the revolution the Bolsheviks decided to leave it in place as a fearful reminder of the old regime; and there it remained until the 1930s.* The huge bronze figure of Alexander sat rigidly astride a ponderous horse of massive architectural proportions, its four thick legs fixed like pillars to the ground. The rider and horse had been made to appear so heavy and solid that it seemed impossible for them to move. Many people took this to be a symbol of the autocracy’s own inertia, and there was a perhaps not-altogether unintentional element of irony in this. Workers were quick to recognize the statue’s funny side. They christened it the ‘Hippopotamus’ and recited the witty lines:
Here stands a chest of drawers,
On the chest a hippopotamus
And on the hippopotamus sits an idiot.
Even the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, President of the Academy of Arts and the late Tsar’s brother, denounced the statue as a caricature. It was certainly a cruel twist of fate that Trubetskoi had chosen to build the statue in equestrian form, since Alexander III had always been afraid of horses. His difficulties with them had grown in his final years as he put on weight. It became almost impossible to find a horse that he could be persuaded to mount.13
Nicholas was oblivious to such ironies. For him, the Trubetskoi statue symbolized the power and solidity of the autocracy during his father’s reign. He
* After more than fifty years in storage the statue was returned to the city’s streets in 1994. Ironically, the horse now stands in front of the former Lenin Museum, where it has taken the place of the armoured car which, in April 1917, brought Lenin from the Finland Station.

ordered an even larger statue of Alexander to be built for Moscow, his favoured capital, in time for the tercentenary. It took two years to construct the awesome monument, which Nicholas himself unveiled amidst great ceremony during the jubilee celebrations. Unlike its Petersburg brother, which had combined a good representational likeness of the Tsar with a strong symbolic point, the new statue had no pretensions to artistic merit. The Tsar’s giant figure was a mannequin without human expression, a monolithic incarnation of autocratic power. It sat straight-backed on its throne, hands on knees, encumbered with all the symbols of tsarist authority— the crown, the sceptre and orb, the imperial robe and full military dress — staring out towards the Kremlin, its back to the cathedral, in the manner of a pharaoh with nothing to think about except the source of his own illimitable power.14
Since Alexander’s death, in 1894, Nicholas had developed an almost mystical reverence towards the memory of his father. He thought of him as the true autocrat. Alexander had ruled over Russia like a medieval lord over his private patrimony. He had centralized power in his hands and commanded his ministers like a general at war. He even looked like an autocrat should look— a giant of a man, six feet three inches tall, his stern face framed by an imposing black beard. This was a man who liked to amuse his drinking companions by crashing through locked doors and bending silver roubles in his ‘vicelike imperial thumb’. Out of earshot in a private corner of his palace he played the trumpet with similar boisterousness. Legend has it that in 1888 he had even saved his family from certain death by supporting on his Herculean shoulders the collapsed steel roof of the dining carriage in the imperial train, which had been derailed by revolutionaries on its way to theCrimea. His only weakness, it seems, was his fatal addiction to liquor. When he fell ill with kidney disease the Empress forbade him to drink. But he got round this by having a special pair of boots made with hidden compartments large enough to carry a flask of cognac. General P. A. Cherevin, one of his favourite companions, recalled, ‘When the Tsaritsa was beside us, we sat quietly and played like good children. But whenever she went off a little, we would exchange glances. And then — one, two, three! We’d pull out our flasks, take a swig and then it would be as if nothing had happened. He[Alexander] was greatly pleased with this amusement. It was like a game. We named it «Necessity is the mother of invention.» «One, two, three. Necessity, Cherevin?» — «Invention, Your Majesty.» «One, two and three» — and we’d swig.’15
Nicholas grew up in the shadow of this boozy colossus, acutely aware of his own inferiority. Being naturally shy and juvenile in appearance, his parents continued to treat him like a little child (‘Nicky’ was his family name) long after he had outgrown his teenage years. Nicholas retained many of his childish tastes and pursuits. The diaries he wrote in his early twenties are full of silly

little notes about games and pranks. In 1894, at the age of twenty-six, for example, less than a month before his accession to the throne, he recorded an epic chestnut battle with Prince George of Greece in the royal park: ‘We started in front of the house and ended up on the roof A few days later he wrote of another battle, this time with pine cones. Alexander, who knew nothing of physical or emotional complexes, considered his son a weakling and something of an imbecile. He called him ‘girlie’ and thought there was little point in preparing him for the tasks of government. When Count Witte, his Minister of Finance, suggested that the time had come to instruct the heir to the throne in the affairs of state, Alexander seemed surprised. ‘Tell me,’ he asked the Minister, ‘have you ever spoken to his Imperial Highness, the Grand Duke Tsarevich?’ Witte admitted that he had. ‘Then don’t tell me you never noticed that the Grand Duke is a dunce!’16
Through his education Nicholas had all the talents and charms of an English public schoolboy. He danced gracefully, rode beautifully, was a very good shot and excelled in several other sports. He spoke English like an Oxford professor, and French and German well. His manners were, almost needless to say, impeccable. His cousin and boyhood friend, the Grand Duke Alexander, supposed him to be ‘the most polite man in Europe’. But of the practical knowledge required to govern a country the size of Russia— and a country, moreover, in a pre-revolutionary situation — Nicholas possessed almost nothing. His principal tutor, an English gentleman by the name of Mr Heath, painted well in water-colours, and was extremely fond of the outdoor life. But he lacked the advantage of a university education and knew nothing about Russia except for a few basic words of its language. From V O. Kliuchevsky, the distinguished historian, Nicholas learned something of the history of his country, but nothing of its contemporary problems. When Pobedonostsev tried to instruct him in the workings of the state, he became ‘actively absorbed in picking his nose’. Politics bored Nicholas. He was always more at home in the company of officers and society women than ministers and politicians.17
Less than sanguine about his son’s ability to learn the art of kingship from books, Alexander enrolled him in the officer corps of the Guards in the hope that the army would build up his character and teach him something of the world. Nicholas loved the military life. The comradely spirit of the officers’ mess, more like a gentleman’s club than a military barracks, would remain with him for the rest of his life as a fond memory of the days before he had been weighed down by the burdens of office. It was then that he had fallen in love with the ballerina Mathilde Kshesinskaia. His rank of Colonel in the Preobrazhensky Guards, awarded to him by his father, remained a source of immense pride. He refused to take a higher rank, even during the First World

War when he assumed the position of Supreme Commander. This damaged his prestige in the army, where he became known as ‘Colonel Romanov’.
In 1890 Alexander sent his son on a grand tour of Siberia, Japan, Indo-China, Egypt and Greece. The journey was intended to broaden the heir’s political education. But the nature of his travelling suite (the usual complement of dim and hedonistic Guards officers) largely precluded this. During the tour Nicholas filled his diary with the same banal and trivial entries with which he usually filled his diary at home: terse notes on the weather, the distances covered each day, the times of landfall and departure, the company at meals, and so on. It seems that nothing in his travels had encouraged him to broaden his outlook and observations on life. The one lasting effect of the tour was unfortunate. At Otsu in Japan he narrowly escaped an attempt on his life by a deranged terrorist. The experience left him with an ingrained hatred of the Japanese (he called them ‘monkeys’,makakt),and it is often argued that this made him vulnerable to the influence of those at his court who promoted the disastrous war with Japan in 1904-5.
Had Alexander lived three score years and ten then the fate of the Russian Empire might have been very different. But as fortune would have it, he died from kidney disease in 1894 at the age of only forty-nine. As the crowd of relatives, physicians and courtiers gathered around the death-bed of the great autocrat, Nicholas burst into tears and exclaimed pathetically to his cousin, Alexander, ‘What is going to happen to me and to all of Russia? I am not prepared to be a Tsar. I never wanted to become one. I know nothing of the business of ruling. I have no idea of even how to talk to the ministers.’18 Louis XVI, with whom Nicholas had much in common, made a strikingly similar remark when he first learned in 1775 that he was to be the King of France.
The reign of Russia’s last Tsar began disastrously. A few days after the coronation, in May 1896, a celebratory fair was organized on the Khodynka Field, a military training ground just outside Moscow. By the early morning some half a million people had already assembled, expecting to receive from their new Tsar gifts of souvenir tankards and biscuits embossed with the date and the occasion. Vast quantities of free beer and sausage were to be distributed. As more people arrived, a rumour went round that there would not be enough gifts for everyone. The crowd surged forward. People tripped and stumbled into the military ditches, where they were suffocated and crushed to death. Within minutes, 1,400 people had been killed and 600 wounded. Yet the Tsar was persuaded to continue with the celebrations. In the evening, while the corpses were carted away, he even attended a ball given by the French Ambassador, the Marquis de Montebello. During the next few days the rest of the scheduled festivities— banquets, balls and concerts — went ahead as if nothing had happened. Public opinion was outraged. Nicholas tried to atone by appointing

a former Minister of Justice to look into the causes of the catastrophe. But when the Minister found that the Grand Duke Sergius, Governor-General of Moscow and the husband of the Empress’s sister, was to blame, the other Grand Dukes protested furiously. They said it would undermine the principles of autocracy to admit in public the fault of a member of the imperial family. The affair was closed. But it was seen as a bad omen for the new reign and deepened the growing divide between the court and society. Nicholas, who increasingly believed himself to be ill-fated, would later look back at this incident as the start of all his troubles.19
Throughout his reign Nicholas gave the impression of being unable to cope with the task of ruling a vast Empire in the grips of a deepening revolutionary crisis. True, only a genius could have coped with it. And Nicholas was certainly no genius.* Had circumstances and his own inclinations been different, he might have saved his dynasty by moving away from autocratic rule towards a constitutional regime during the first decade of his reign, while there was still hope of appeasing the liberals and isolating the revolutionary movement. Nicholas had many of the personal qualities required to be a good constitutional monarch. In England, where one needed only to be a ‘good man’ in order to be a good king, he would have made an admirable sovereign. He was certainly no dimmer than his look-alike cousin, George V, who was a model of the constitutional king. Nicholas was mild-mannered, had an excellent memory and a perfect sense of decorum, all of which made him potentially ideal for the largely ceremonial tasks of a constitutional monarch. But Nicholas had not been born to that role: he was the Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias.+ Family tradition and pressure from the crown’s traditional allies compelled him not only to reign, but to rule. It would not do for a Romanov to play the role of a ceremonial monarch, leaving the actual business of government to the bureaucracy. Nor would it do to retreat before the demands of the liberals. The Romanov way, in the face of political opposition, was to assert the ‘divine authority’ of the absolute monarch, to trust in the ‘historic bond between the Tsar and the people’, and to rule with
* There used to be a nice Soviet joke that the Supreme Soviet had decided to award the Order of the Red Banner to Nicholas II posthumously ‘for his services to the revolution’. The last Tsar’s achievement, it was said, was to have brought about a revolutionary situation.
+ The full titles of Nicholas II were: Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias; Tsar of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Kazan, Astrakhan, Poland, Siberia, the Tauric Chersonese and Georgia; Lord of Pskov; Grand Prince of Smolensk, Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia and Finland; Prince of Estonia, Livonia, Courland and Semigalia, Samogatia, Belostok, Karelia, Tver, Yugria, Perm, Viatka, Bulgaria and other lands; Lord and Grand Prince of Nizhnyi Novgorod and Chernigov; Ruler of Riazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslavl’, Belo-Ozero, Udoria, Obdoria, Kondia, Vitebsk, Mstislavl and all the Northern Lands; Lord and Sovereign of the Iverian, Kartalinian and Kabardinian lands and of the Armenian provinces; Hereditary Lord and Suzerain of the Circassian Princes and Highland Princes and others; Lord of Turkestan; Heir to the Throne of Norway; Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, Stormarn, the Dithmarschen and Oldenburg.

force and resolution. In spite of her Anglo-German background, the Empress adopted with a vengeance all the medieval traditions of Byzantine despotism, and constantly urged her mild-mannered husband to be more like Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. The veneration which Nicholas felt for his father, and his own growing ambition to rule in the manner of his Muscovite ancestors, made it inevitable that he would endeavour to play the part of a true autocrat. As he warned the liberal nobles of Tver shortly after his coronation, he saw it as his duty before God to ‘maintain the principle of autocracy just as firmly and unflinchingly as it was preserved by my unforgettable dead father’.20
But Nicholas had been blessed with neither his father’s strength of character nor his intelligence. That was Nicholas’s tragedy. With his limitations, he could only play at the part of an autocrat, meddling in (and, in the process, disrupting) the work of government without bringing to it any leadership. He was far too mild-mannered and shy to command any real authority among his subordinates. Being only five feet seven inches tall and feminine in stature, he didn’t even look the part of an autocrat. Domineering figures, like his mother, the Empress Maria Fedorovna, his uncles, the four Grand Dukes, and his ex-tutor, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, towered over him during the early years of his reign. Later his wife would ‘wear the trousers’, as she once put it in a letter to him.
Yet it would be mistaken to assume, as so many historians have done, that Nicholas’s failure stemmed from a fundamental ‘weakness of will’. The generally accepted wisdom has been that Nicholas was a passive victim of history who became increasingly mystical and indifferent towards his own fate as he realized his growing powerlessness against the revolution. This interpretation owes much to the observations of his revolutionary enemies, who dominated the early literature on him. Viktor Chernov, the Social Revolutionary leader, for example, argued that Nicholas had met adversity with ‘a kind of stubborn passivity, as if he wished to escape from life . . . He seemed not a man, but a poor copy of one.’ Trotsky similarly portrayed the last Tsar as opposing ‘only a dumb indifference’ to the ‘historic flood’ that flowed ever closer to the gates of his palace. There is of course an element of truth in all this. Frustrated in his ambitions to rule as he thought a true autocrat should, Nicholas increasingly retreated into the private and equally damaged realm of his family. Yet this covert admission of political failure was not made for want of trying. Beneath his docile exterior Nicholas had a strong sense of his duty to uphold the principles of autocracy. As he grew in confidence during his reign he developed an intense desire to rule, like his Muscovite ancestors, on the basis of his own religious conscience. He stubbornly defended his autocratic prerogatives against the encroachments of his ambitious ministers and even his own wife, whose persistent demands (often in Rasputin’s name) he did his best to ignore and

resist. It was not a ‘weakness of will’ that was the undoing of the last Tsar but, on the contrary, a wilful determination to rule from the throne, despite the fact that he clearly lacked the necessary qualities to do so.21
A complete inability to handle and command his subordinates was one obvious deficiency. Throughout his life Nicholas was burdened by a quite unnatural sense of decorum. He hid his emotions and feelings behind a mask of passive reserve which gave the impression of indifference to those, like Chernov and Trotsky, who observed him from a distance. He tactfully agreed with everyone who spoke to him rather than suffer the embarrassment of having to contradict them. This gave rise to the witticism, which went round the salons of St Petersburg, that the most powerful man in Russia was the last man to have spoken to the Tsar. Nicholas was too polite to confront his ministers with complaints about their work, so he left it to others to inform them of their discharge. Count Witte recalled his own dismissal as President of the Council of Ministers: ‘We [Nicholas and Witte] talked for two solid hours. He shook my hand. He embraced me. He wished me all the luck in the world. I returned home beside myself with happiness and found a written order for my dismissal lying on my desk.’ Witte believed that the Tsar derived some curious satisfaction from tormenting his ministers in this way. ‘Our Tsar’, he wrote in his memoirs, ‘is an Oriental, a hundred per cent Byzantine.’ Such unpredictable behaviour gave rise to feelings of insecurity within the ruling circles. Damaging rumours began to circulate that the Tsar was involved in various court conspiracies, or, even worse, that he did not know his own mind and had become the unwitting tool of dark and hidden forces behind the scenes. The fact that Nicholas relied on a kitchen cabinet of reactionary advisers (including Pobedonostsev, Procurator-General of the Holy Synod, and the notorious newspaper editor, Prince Mesh-chersky, whose homosexual lovers were promoted to prominent positions at court) merely added fuel to this conspiracy theory— as of course in later years Rasputin did.
What Nicholas lacked in leadership he made up for by hard work. He was an industrious and conscientious monarch, especially during the first half of his reign, diligently sitting at his desk until he had finished his daily administrative duties. All this he did in the manner of a clerk— the ‘Chief Clerk of the Empire’ — devoting all his energies to the routine minutiae of his office without ever stopping to consider the broader policy issues. Whereas his father had been briefed on only the major questions of policy and had delegated most of his minor executive functions to his subordinates, Nicholas proved quite incapable of dealing with anything but the most trivial matters. He personally attended to such things as the budget for repairs at an agricultural training school, and the appointment of provincial midwives. It was evident that he found real comfort in these minor bureaucratic routines: they created the illusion of a smoothly

functioning government and gave him a sense of purpose. Every day he carefully recorded in his diary the time and duration of his meetings with his ministers and his other official activities, along with terse notes on the weather, the time of his morning coffee, the company at tea, and so on. These routines became a sort of ritual: at the same time every day he performed the same functions, so much so that his officials often joked that one could set one’s watch by him. To the petty-minded Nicholas, it seemed that the role of the true autocrat, ruling in person from the throne, was precisely to concern himself with every minor detail in the administration of his vast lands. He spent hours, for example, dealing with the petitions to the Chancellery: hundreds of these came in every month, many of them from peasants with rude names (e.g. serf nicknames such as ‘Smelly’ or ‘Ugly’ that had been formalized as their surnames) which they could not change without the Tsar’s consent. Nicholas proved unable to rise above such petty tasks. He grew increasingly jealous of his ministers’ bureaucratic functions, which he confused with the exercise of power, and resented having to delegate authority to them since he saw it as a usurpation of his own autocratic powers. So protective was he of his petty executive prerogatives that he even refused to appoint a private secretary, preferring instead to deal with his own correspondence. Even such simple instructions as the summoning of an official or the readying of a motor car were written out in a note and sealed in an envelope by the Tsar’s own gentle hand. It never occurred to him that an autocrat might be more usefully employed in resolving the larger questions of state. His mind was that of a miniaturist, well attuned to the smallest details of administration yet entirely incapable of synthesizing them into general principles of government. As Pobedonostsev once said of him, ‘He only understands the significance of some isolated fact, without connection with the rest, without appreciating the interrelation of all other pertinent facts, events, trends, occurrences. He sticks to his insignificant, petty point of view.’22
To defend his autocratic prerogatives Nicholas believed that he needed to keep his officials weak and divided. The more powerful a minister became, the more Nicholas grew jealous of his powers. Able prime ministers, such as Count Witte and Petr Stolypin, who alone could have saved the tsarist regime, were forced out in this fog of mistrust. Only grey mediocrities, such as the ‘old man’ Ivan Goremykin, survived long in the highest office. Goremykin’s success was put down by the British commentator Bernard Pares to the fact that he was ‘acceptable’ to both the Tsar and the Tsarina ‘for his attitude of a butler, taking instructions to the other servants’. Indeed, as befits a Tsar who ruled over Russia like a medieval lord, Nicholas regarded his ministers as the servants of his own private household rather than officials of the state. True, he no longer addressed them with the familiartyi(the ‘you’ reserved for animals, serfs and children). But he did expect unthinking devotion from them and placed loyalty far above

competence in his estimation of his ministers. Even Count Witte, who was anything but humble in his normal demeanour, found himself standing to attention in the presence of the Tsar, his thumbs in line with the seams of his trousers, as if he were some private steward.
Nicholas exploited the rivalries and divisions between his different ministries. He would balance the views of the one against the other in order to retain the upper hand. This made for little coherence in government, but in so far as it bolstered his position it did not appear to bother him. Apart from a short time in 1901, Nicholas consistently refused to co-ordinate the work of the different ministries by chairing meetings of the Council of Ministers: it seems he was afraid that powerful factions might be formed there which would force him to adopt policies of which he disapproved. He preferred to see his ministers on a one-to-one basis, which had the effect of keeping them divided but was a recipe for chaos and confusion. These audiences could be extremely frustrating for ministers, for while Nicholas invariably gave the impression that he agreed with a minister’s proposals, he could never be trusted to support them against those of another minister. Sustained and general debates on policy were thus extremely rare. If a minister talked too long on politics, the Tsar would make clear that he was bored and change the conversation to the weather or some other more agreeable topic. Aware that the Tsar found their reports dull, ministers consciously shortened them. Some even scrapped them altogether and amused him instead with anecdotes and gossip.23
The result of all this was to deprive the government of effective leadership or co-ordination during the final years of the tsarist regime. Nicholas was the source of all the problems. If there was a vacuum of power at the centre of the ruling system, then he was the empty space. In a sense, Russia gained in him the worst of both worlds: a Tsar determined to rule from the throne yet quite incapable of exercising power. This was ‘autocracy without an autocrat’. Perhaps nobody could have fulfilled the role which Nicholas had set himself: the work of government had become much too vast and complex for a single man; autocracy itself was out of date. But Nicholas was mistaken to try in the first place. Instead of delegating power he indulged in a fantasy of absolute power. So jealous was he of his own prerogatives that he tried to bypass the state institutions altogether and centre power on the court. Yet none of his amiable but dim-witted courtiers was remotely capable of providing him with sound advice on how to rule the country, coming as they did from a narrow circle of aristocratic Guards officers who knew nothing of the Russia beyond St Petersburg’s fashionable streets. Most of them were contemptuous of Russia, speaking French not Russian and spending more time in Nice or Biarritz than on their landed estates in the provinces. Under the court’s growing domination, Nicholas’s government was unable to create coherent policies to deal with the

mounting problems of society which were leading inexorably towards revolution. During its final years, especially after Stolypin’s downfall in 1911, the government drifted dangerously as one sycophantic mediocrity after another was appointed Prime Minister by the Tsar. Nicholas himself spent more and more time away from his office. Government business had to be delayed for weeks at a time, while he went off on hunting trips, yachting parties and family holidays to the Crimea. But in the apparently secure refuge of his family another tragedy was unfolding.
iiiThe Heir
The Empress Alexandra found the jubilee celebrations a strain. She dragged herself with difficulty to all the public functions, but often left early with obvious signs of distress. At the magnificent ball given by the Moscow nobility she felt so ill that she could scarcely keep her feet. When the Emperor came to her rescue, it was just in time to lead her away and prevent her from fainting in public. During the gala performance at the Marinsky Theatre she appeared pale and sombre. Sitting in the adjacent box, Meriel Buchanan, the British Ambassador’s daughter, observed how the fan she was holding trembled in her hands, and how her laboured breathing:
made the diamonds which covered the bodice of her gown rise and fall, flashing and trembling with a thousand uneasy sparks of light. Presently, it seemed that this emotion or distress mastered her completely, and with a few whispered words to the Emperor she rose and withdrew to the back of the box, to be no more seen that evening. A little wave of resentment rippled over the theatre.24
The fact was that the Empress had not appeared in public on more than a dozen occasions during the previous decade. Since the birth of her haemophiliac son, the Tsarevich Alexis, in 1904, she had secluded herself at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo and other imperial residences away from the capital. It had been hoped that she would use the opportunity of the tercentenary to improve her public image. Having turned her back on society, she had come to be seen as cold and arrogant, while her dependence on the ‘holy man’ Rasputin had long been a matter of political concern because of his growing domination of the court. Yet shortly before the jubilee the illness of her son had taken a turn for the worse, and this was constantly on her mind during the celebrations. To make matters worse, Tatyana, her second daughter, had fallen ill with typhoid after drinking the infected water of the capital.

Alexandra did her best to conceal her inner anguish from the public. But she lacked the heart to go out and win their sympathy.
Alexandra was a stranger to Russia when she became its Empress. Since the eighteenth century, it had become the custom for Romanov rulers to marry foreign princesses. By the end of the nineteenth, inter-marriage had made the Romanovs an integral part of the family of European crowned heads. Their opponents liked to call them the ‘Gottorp-Holstein’ dynasty, which in genealogical terms was not far from the truth. Most statesmen shared the view that the balance of power in Europe would be secured by these dynastic ties. So there was reason to welcome the engagement in April 1894 of the Tsarevich Nicholas to Princess Alexandra, or Alix for short, daughter of the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt and Princess Alice of England. It was expected that the Princess would have plenty of time to prepare herself for the role of Empress. But Alexander III died only six months later, and the 22-year-old woman suddenly found herself on the Russian throne.
Although in later years she was to be cursed by her subjects as ‘the German woman’, Alexandra was in fact in many ways the quintessential English woman. After the death of her mother, in 1878, she had been brought up in England by her grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose strict morals, attitudes and tastes, not to speak of her tenacity of purpose, she had assimilated. Alexandra spoke and wrote with Nicholas in English. Russian she spoke poorly, with a heavy English accent, only to servants, officials and the clergy. Her housekeeping at the Alexander Palace was austerely Victorian. Factory-produced furniture was ordered from Maples, the English middle-class department store, in preference to the fine imperial furniture which much better suited the classic Empire style of the Alexander Palace. Her four daughters shared a bedroom, sleeping on narrow camp-beds; the Empress herself was known to change the sheets. Cold baths were taken every day. It was in many ways the modest ambition of Nicholas and Alexandra to lead the lifestyle of the English middle class. They spoke the cosy domestic language of the Victorian bourgeoisie: ‘Hubby’ and ‘Wifey’ were their nicknames for each other.25 But the Empress was wrong to assume, as she did from her knowledge of the English court, that such a lifestyle, which in England was a result of the monarch’s steady retreat from the domain of executive power, might be enjoyed by a Russian autocrat.
From the beginning, Alexandra gave the impression of resenting the public role which her position obliged her to play. She appeared only rarely at court and social functions and, being naturally shy, adopted a pose of reserve in her first appearances, which made her seem awkward and unsympathetic. She gained a reputation for coldness and hauteur, two very un-Russian vices. ‘No one liked the Tsarina,’ wrote the literary hostess Zinaida Gippius. ‘Her sharp face, beautiful, but ill-tempered and depressed, with thin, tightly pressed lips,

did not please; her German, angular height did not please.’ Learning of her granddaughter’s unpopularity, Queen Victoria wrote to her with some advice:
There is no harder craft than our craft of ruling. I have ruled for more than fifty years in my own country, which I have known since childhood, and, nevertheless, every day I think about what I need to do to retain and strengthen the love of my subjects. How much harder is your situation. You find yourself in a foreign country, a country which you do not know at all, where the customs, the way of thinking and the people themselves are completely alien to you, and nevertheless it is your first duty to win their love and respect.
Alexandra replied with an arrogance suggesting her reputation was deserved:
You are mistaken, my dear grandmama; Russia is not England. Here we do not need to earn the love of the people. The Russian people revere their Tsars as divine beings, from whom all charity and fortune derive. As far as St Petersburg society is concerned, that is something which one may wholly disregard. The opinions of those who make up this society and their mocking have no significance whatsoever.
The contents of this correspondence soon became known in St Petersburg circles, resulting in the complete breakdown of relations between the leaders of high society and the Empress. She steadily reduced her public appearances and limited her circle of friends to those from whom she could expect a slavish devotion. Here lay the roots of her paranoic insistence on dividing court and society into ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’, which was to bring the monarchy to the brink of catastrophe.26
The unpopularity of the Empress would not have mattered so much had she not taken it upon herself to play an active political role. From her letter to Queen Victoria it was clear that the mystical attractions of Byzantine despotism had taken early possession of her. Even more than her mild-mannered husband, Alexandra believed that Russia could still be ruled— and indeed had to be — as it had been ruled by the medieval tsars. She saw the country as the private fiefdom of the crown: Russia existed for the benefit of the dynasty rather than the other way round. Government ministers were the private servants of the Tsar, not public servants of the state. In her bossy way she set out to organize the state as if it was part of her personal household. She constantly urged her husband to be more forceful and to assert his autocratic will. ‘Be more autocratic than Peter the Great’, she would tell her husband, ‘and sterner than Ivan the Terrible.’ Shewanted him to rule, like the medieval tsars, on the

basis of his own religious convictions and without regard for the constraints of the law. ‘You and Russia are one and the same,’ she would tell him as she pushed him this way and that according to her own ambitions, vanities, fears and jealousies. It was the Tsarina and Rasputin who— at least so the public thought — became the real rulers of tsarist Russia during the final catastrophic years. Alexandra liked to compare herself with Catherine the Great. But in fact her role was much more reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, the last queen ofancien-regimeFrance, whose portrait hung over her writing desk in the Alexander Palace.27
Alexandra made it her mission to give the Romanov dynasty a healthy son and heir. But she gave birth to four daughters in succession. In desperation she turned to Dr Philippe, a practitioner of ‘astral medicine’, who had been introduced to the imperial family in 1901 during their visit to France. He convinced her she was pregnant with a son, and she duly expanded until a medical examination revealed that it was no more than a sympathetic pregnancy. Philippe was a charlatan (he had been fined three times in France for posing as a regular practitioner) and left Russia in disgrace. But the episode had revealed the Empress’s susceptibility to bogus forms of mysticism. One could have predicted this from the emotional nature of her conversion to Orthodoxy. After the cold and spartan spiritual world of north German Protestantism, she was ravished by the solemn rituals, the chanted prayers and the soulful singing of the Russian Church. With all the fervour of the newly converted, she came to believe in the power of prayer and of divine miracles. And when, in 1904, she finally gave birth to a son, she was convinced it had been due to the intercession of St Seraphim, a pious old man of the Russian countryside, who in 1903 had been somewhat irregularly canonized on the Tsar’s insistence.
The Tsarevich Alexis grew up into a playful little boy. But it was soon discovered that he suffered from haemophilia, at that time incurable and in most cases fatal. The disease was hereditary in the House of Hesse (one of Alexandra’s uncles, one of her brothers and three of her nephews died from it) and there was no doubt that the Empress had transmitted it. Had the Romanovs been more prudent they might have stopped Nicholas from marrying her; but then haemophilia was so common in the royal houses of Europe that it had become something of an occupational hazard. Alexandra looked upon the illness as a punishment from God and, to atone for her sin, devoted herself to religion and the duties of motherhood. Had the nature of her son’s illness not been kept a secret, she might have won as a mother that measure of sympathy from the public which she so utterly failed to attract from it as an Empress. Alexandra constantly watched over the boy lest he should fall and bring on the deadly internal bleeding from which the victims of haemophilia can suffer. There was no way he could lead the life of a normal child, since the slightest accident

could start the bleeding. A sailor by the name of Derevenko was appointed to go with him wherever he went and to carry him when, as was often the case, he could not walk. Alexandra consulted numerous doctors, but a cure was beyond their science. She became convinced that only a miracle could save her son, and strove to make herself worthy of God’s favour by donating money to churches, performing good works and spending endless hours in prayer. ‘Every time the Tsarina saw him with red cheeks, or heard his merry laugh, or watched his frolics,’ recalled Pierre Gilliard, the Tsarevich’s tutor, ‘her heart would fill with an immense hope, and she would say: «God has heard me. He has pitied my sorrow at last.» Then the disease would suddenly swoop down on the boy, stretch him once more on his bed of pain and take him to the gates of death.’28
It was her desperate need to find a miracle cure that brought Rasputin into her life and into the life of Russia. Grigorii Rasputin was born into a relatively wealthy peasant family in the village of Pokrovskoe in western Siberia. Until recently it was thought that he had been born in the early 1860s; but it is now known that he was younger than people assumed— he was in fact born in 1869. Little more is known about Rasputin’s early years. A commission set up by the Provisional Government in 1917 interviewed a number of his fellow villagers, who remembered him as a dirty and unruly boy. Later he became known as a drunkard, a lecher and a horse thief, which was almost certainly how he acquired his surname, from the wordrasputnyi,meaning ‘dissolute’.* At some point he repented and joined a group of pilgrims on their way to the nearby monastery of Verkhoturye, where he stayed for three months before returning to Pokrovskoe, a much changed man. He had renounced alcohol and meat, learned to read and write a little, and become religious and reclusive. The main cause of his conversion seems to have been the ‘holy man’ orstaretsMakarii, a monk at the Verkhoturye Monastery, whose spiritual powers, like those of thestaretsZosima in Dostoevsky’sBrothers Karamazov,had attracted disciples from all over the region. Makarii had been received by the Tsar and the Tsarina, who were always on the lookout for Men of God among the simple folk, and it was Makarii’s example that Rasputin later claimed had inspired him. There is no question of Rasputin ever having been Makarii’s disciple: he had never received the formal education needed to become a monk, and indeed seemed quite incapable of it. When the post of the Tsar’s confessor fell vacant in 1910, Alexandra insisted on Rasputin being trained for ordination so that he could take up the job. But it soon became clear that he was unable to read anything but the most basic parts of the Scriptures. The capacity for learning by heart, which was essential for the priesthood, proved quite beyond him (Rasputin’s
* It was common for fellow villagers to address one another by nicknames describing their characteristics: ‘Clever’, ‘Calf, ‘Wolf, ‘Heart’, and so on.

memory was in fact so poor that often he even forgot the names of his friends; so he gave them nicknames, such as ‘Beauty’ or ‘Governor’, which were easier to recall). In any case, it was not exactly the Orthodox faith that Rasputin brought with him from the wilds of Siberia to St Petersburg. His strange hybrid of mysticism and eroticism had more similarities with the practices of the Khlysty, an outlawed sect he would certainly have encountered at Verkhoturye, even if the frequent accusations that he was himself a member of the sect were never proved conclusively. The Khlysty believed that sin was the first step towards redemption. At their nocturnal meetings they danced naked to achieve a state of frenzy and engaged in flagellation and group sex. Indeed there was a lot in common between the views of the Khlysty and the semi-pagan beliefs of the Russian peasantry, which Rasputin’s mysticism reflected. The Russian peasant believed that the sinner could be as intimate with God as the pious man; and perhaps even more intimate.29
At the age of twenty-eight, or so Rasputin later claimed, he saw an apparition of the Holy Mother and went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There is no record of this pilgrimage, and it is more likely that he merely joined the trail of peasant wanderers, wise men and prophets, who for centuries had walked the length and breadth of Russia living off the alms of the villagers. He developed an aura of spiritual authority and a gift for preaching which soon attracted the attention of some of Russia’s leading clergymen. In 1903 he appeared for the first time in St Petersburg sponsored by the Archimandrite Theophan, Alexandra’s confessor, Bishop Hermogen of Saratov, and the celebrated Father John of Kronstadt, who was also a close friend of the royal family. The Orthodox Church was looking for holy men, like Rasputin, who came from the common people, to revive its waning influence among the urban masses and increase its prestige at Nicholas’s court.
It was also a time when the court and social circles of St Petersburg were steeped in alternative forms of religion. In the salons of the aristocracy and the drawing-rooms of the middle classes there was a ferment of curiosity about all forms of spiritualism and theosophy, the occult and the supernatural. Seances and ouija boards were all the rage. In part, this reflected a hedonistic quest for new forms of belief and experience. But it was also part of a more general and profound sense of moral disequilibrium, which was echoed in the works of writers such as Blok and Belyi and was symptomatic of European culture during the decade before 1914. Various holy men and spiritualists had established themselves in the palaces of Russia’s great and good long before Rasputin came on to the scene. Their success cleared the way for him. He was presented at parties and soirees as a man of God, a sinner and repentant, who had been graced with extraordinary powers of clairvoyance and healing. His disgusting physical appearance merely added piquancy to his moral charms.

Dressed in a peasant blouse and baggy trousers, his greasy black hair hung down to his shoulders, his beard was encrusted with old bits of food, and his hands and body were never washed. He carried a strong body odour, which many people compared to that of a goat. But it was his eyes that caught his audience’s attention. Their penetrating brilliance and hypnotic power made a lasting impression. Some people even claimed that Rasputin was able to make his pupils expand and contract at will.30
It was as a healer for their son that Rasputin was first introduced to the Tsar and the Tsarina in November 1905. From the beginning, he seemed to possess some mysterious power by which he could check the internal bleeding. He prophesied that Alexis would not die, and that the disease would disappear when he reached the age of thirteen. Alexandra persuaded herself that God had sent Rasputin in answer to her prayers, and his visits to the palace grew more frequent as she came increasingly to rely upon him. It confirmed the prejudices of both Alexandra and Nicholas that a simple Russian peasant who was close to God should be able to do what was beyond all the doctors.
In the many books on this subject there is no final word on the secret of Rasputin’s gift of healing. It is widely testified that his presence had a remarkably soothing effect on both children and animals, and this might well have helped to stop Alexis’s bleeding. It is also known that he had been trained in the art of hypnotism, which may have the power to effect a physical change such as the contraction of the blood vessels. Rasputin himself once confessed to his secretary, Aron Simanovich, that he sometimes used Tibetan drugs or whatever else came to hand, and that sometimes he merely pretended to use remedies or mumbled nonsensical words while he prayed. This is reminiscent of faith healing and it may be that Rasputin’s most remarkable feat can be credited to such methods. In October 1912 the Tsarevich suffered a particularly bad bout of bleeding after accompanying his mother on a carriage ride near Spala, the imperial hunting estate in eastern Poland. The doctors were unable to do anything to prevent a large and painful tumour from forming in his groin, and they told the imperial family to prepare for his imminent death. It was generally thought that only a miracle, such as the spontaneous reabsorption of the tumour, could save the boy. The situation was considered so grave that medical bulletins on the condition of the patient were published for the first time in the national press, though no mention was made of the nature of his illness. Prayer services were held in churches across the land and Alexis was given the last sacraments, as he lay racked with pain. In desperation, Alexandra sent a telegram to Rasputin, who was at his home in Pokrovskoe. According to the testimony of his daughter, he said some prayers and then went to the local telegram office, where he wired the Empress: ‘God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The little one will not die.’ Within hours, the patient had undergone a sudden

recovery: the bleeding had stopped, his temperature had fallen and the flabbergasted doctors confirmed that the danger had passed. Those who are sceptical of the power of prayer to heal through the medium of a telegraph cable may want to put this down to remarkable coincidence. But Alexandra was convinced otherwise, and after the ‘Spala miracle’ Rasputin’s position at her court became unassailable.»31
Rasputin’s status at court brought him immense power and prestige. He became amaitre de requites,accepting bribes, gifts and sexual favours from those who came to him in the hope that he would use his influence on their behalf During the First World War, when his political influence was at its zenith, he developed a lucrative system of placements in the government, the Church and the Civil Service, all of which he boasted were under his control. For the hundreds of lesser mortals who queued outside his apartment every day— women begging for military exemption for their sons and husbands, people looking for somewhere to live — he would simply take a scrap of paper, put a cross on the letter head, and in his semi-literate scrawl write to some official: ‘My dear and valued friend. Do this for me, Grigorii.’ One such note was brought to the head of the court secretariat by a pretty young girl whom Rasputin clearly liked. ‘Fix it up for her. She is all right. Grigorii.’ When the official asked her what she wanted, the girl replied that she wanted to become a prima donna in the Imperial Opera.32
It has often been assumed that because he accepted bribes Rasputin was motivated by financial gain. This is not quite true. He took no pleasure in the accumulation of money, which he spent or gave away as quickly as he earned it. What excited him was power. Rasputin was the supreme egotist. He always had to be the centre of attention. He loved to boast of his connections at the court. ‘I can do anything,’ he often said, and from this the exaggerated rumours spread of his political omnipotence. The gifts he received from his wealthy patrons were important to him not because they were valuable but because they confirmed his personal influence. ‘Look, this carpet is worth 400 roubles,’ he once boasted to a friend, ‘a Grand Duchess sent it to me for blessing her marriage. And do you see, I’ve got a golden cross? The Tsar gave it to me.’ Above all, Rasputin liked the status which his position gave him and also the power it gave him, no more than a peasant, over men and women of a higher social class. He delighted in being rude to the well-born ladies who sat at his feet. He would dip his dirty finger into a dish of jam and turn to one and say, ‘Humble yourself, lick it clean!’ The first time he was received by Varvara Uexkull, the wealthy socialite, he attacked her for her expensive taste in art: ‘What’s this, little mother, pictures on the wall like a real museum? I’ll bet you could feed five villages of starving people with what’s hanging on a single wall.’ When Uexkull introduced him to her guests, he stared intently at each

woman, took her hands, and asked questions such as: ‘Are you married?’, ‘Where is your husband?’, ‘Why did you come alone?’, ‘Had you been here together, I could have looked you over, seen how you eat and live.’ He calculated that such insolence made him even more attractive to the guilt-ridden aristocrats who patronized him. Rich but dissatisfied society ladies were particularly attracted to this charismatic peasant. Many of them got a curious sexual excitement from being humiliated by him. Indeed the pleasure he gained from such sexual conquests probably had as much to do with the psychological domination of his victims as it did with the gratification of his physical desires. He told women that they could gain salvation through the annihilation of their pride, which entailed giving themselves up to him. One woman confessed that the first time she made love to him her orgasm was so violent that she fainted. Perhaps his potency as a lover also had a physical explanation. Rasputin’s assassin and alleged homosexual lover, Felix Yusupov, claimed that his prowess was explained by a large wart strategically situated on his penis, which was of exceptional size. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that Rasputin was in fact impotent and that while he lay naked with many women, he had sex with very few of them. In short, he was a great lecher but not a great lover. When Rasputin was medically examined after being stabbed in a failed murder attempt in 1914, his genitals were found to be so small and shrivelled that the doctor wondered whether he was capable of the sexual act at all. Rasputin himself had once boasted to the monk Iliodor that he could lie with women without feeling passion because his ‘penis did not function’.33
As Rasputin’s power grew so did the legends of his crimes and misdemeanours. There were damaging stories of his sexual advances, some of them unwanted, including rape. Even the Tsar’s sister, Olga Alexandrovna, was rumoured to have found herself the victim of his wandering hands. There were the drunken orgies, the days spent in bath-houses with prostitutes, and the nights spent carousing in resraurants and brothels. The most famous scandal took place at the Yar, a well-known gipsy restaurant, in March 1915. Rasputin had gone there with two journalists and three prostitutes. He became drunk, tried to grab the gypsy girls, and began to boast loudly of his sexual exploits with the Empress. ‘See this belt?’ he bellowed. ‘It’s her majesty’s own work, I can make her do anything. Yes, I Grishka Rasputin. I could make the old girl dance like this if I wished’— and he made a gesture of the sexual act. By now, everyone was looking at Rasputin and several people asked if he really was the famous holy man. Rasputin dropped his pants and waved his penis at the spectators. The British agent, Bruce Lockhart, who was in the restaurant downstairs, heard ‘wildshrieks of women, broken glass and banging doors’. The waiters rushed about, the police were called, but no one dared evict the holy man. Telephone calls to increasingly high officials finally reached the Chief of

the Corps of Gendarmes, who ordered Rasputin’s arrest. He was led away and imprisoned for the night. But the next morning orders came down from the Tsar for his release.34
What made these rumours so damaging politically was the widespread belief, which Rasputin himself encouraged, that he was the Tsarina’s lover. There were even rumours of the Empress and Rasputin engaging in wild orgies with the Tsar and Anna Vyrubova, her lady-in-waiting, who was said to be a lesbian. Similar pornographic tales about Marie Antoinette and the ‘impotent Louis’ circulated on the eve of the French Revolution. There was no evidence for any of these rumours. True, there was the infamous letter from the Empress to Rasputin, leaked to the press in 1912, in which she had written: ‘I kiss your hands and lay my head upon your blessed shoulders. I feel so joyful then. Then all I want is to sleep, sleep for ever on your shoulder, in your embrace.’35 But, given virtually everything else we know of the Empress, it would be a travesty to read this as a love letter. She was a loyal and devotedwifeand mother who had turned to Rasputin in spiritual distress. In any case, she was probably too narrow-minded to take a lover.
Nevertheless, it was the fact that the rumours existed, rather than their truth, which caused such alarm to the Tsar’s supporters. They tried to convince him of Rasputin’s evil influence and to get him expelled from the court. But, although Nicholas knew of his misdemeanours, he would not remove Rasputin so long as the Empress continued to believe that he, and only he, could help their dying son. Rasputin’s calming effect on the Empress was too much appreciated by her henpecked husband, who once let slip in an unguarded moment: ‘Better one Rasputin than ten fits of hysterics every day.’ The Archimandrite Theophan, who had helped to bring Rasputin to St Petersburg, found himself expelled from the capital in 1910 after he tried to acquaint the Empress with the scandalous nature of her Holy Man’s behaviour. The monk Iliodor and Bishop Hermogen were imprisoned in remote monasteries in 1911, after confronting Rasputin with a long chronicle of his misdeeds and calling on him to repent. It was Iliodor, in revenge, who then leaked to the press the Empress’s letters to Rasputin. The Tsar stopped the press printing any more stories about Rasputin, in spite of the pledge he had given in the wake of the 1905 Revolution to abolish preliminary censorship. This effectively silenced the Church, coming as it did with the appointment of Vladimir Sabler, a close ally of Rasputin’s, as Procurator-General of the Holy Synod.36
Politicians were no more successful in their efforts to bring Rasputin down. They presented evidence of his sins to the Tsar, but Nicholas again refused to act. Why was he so tolerant of Rasputin? The answer surely lies in his belief that Rasputin was a simple man, a peasant, from ‘the people’, and that God had sent him to save the Romanov dynasty. Rasputin confirmed his

prejudices and flattered his fantasies of a popular autocracy. He was a symbol of the Tsar’s belief in the Byzantine trinity— God, Tsar, and People — which he thought would help him to recast the regime in the mould of seventeenth-century Muscovy. ‘He is just a good, religious, simple-minded Russian,’ Nicholas once said to one of his courtiers. ‘When I am in trouble or plagued by doubts, I like to have a talk with him and invariably feel at peace with myself afterwards.’ Rasputin consciously played on this fantasy by addressing his royal patrons in the folksy termsbatiushka-Tsarandmatiushka-Tsarina(‘Father-Tsar’ and ‘Mother-Tsarina’) instead of ‘Your Imperial Majesty’. Nicholas believed that only simple people— people who were untainted by their connections with the political factions of St Petersburg — were capable of telling him the truth and of giving him disinterested advice. For nearly twenty years he received direct reports from Anatoly Klopov, a clerk in the Ministry of Finance. Rasputin fitted into the same category. As the embodiment of Nicholas’s ideal of the loyal Russian people, he could do no wrong. Nicholas discounted the rumours about him on the grounds that anyone shown such favour at court, especially a simple peasant like Rasputin, was bound to attract jealous criticisms. Moreover, he clearly considered Rasputin a family matter and looked upon such criticisms as an infringement of his private patrimony. When the Prime Minister, Stolypin, for example, gave him a dossier of secret police reports on Rasputin’s indiscretions, the Tsar made it clear that he regarded this unsolicited warning as a grave breach of etiquette: ‘I know, Petr Arkadevich, that you are sincerely devoted to me. Perhaps everything you say is true. But I ask you never again to speak to me about Rasputin. There is in any case nothing I can do.’ The President of the Duma got no further when he presented an even more damaging dossier based on the materials of Iliodor and the Holy Synod. Nicholas, though clearly disturbed by the evidence, told Rodzianko: ‘Rasputin is a simple peasant who can relieve the sufferings of my son by a strange power. The Tsarina’s reliance upon him is a matter for the family, and I will allow no one to meddle in my affairs.’37 It seems that the Tsar, in his obstinate adherence to the principles of autocracy, considered any questioning of his judgement an act of disloyalty.
And so the Rasputin affair went unresolved. More and more it poisoned the monarchy’s relations with society and its traditional pillars of support in the court, the bureaucracy, the Church and the army. The episode has often been compared to the Diamond Necklace Affair, a similar scandal that irreparably damaged the reputation of Marie Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution, and that is about the sum of it. By the time of Rasputin’s eventual murder, in December 1916, the Romanov dynasty was on the verge of collapse.

2 Unstable Pillars i Bureaucrats and Dressing-Gowns
On the first morning of 1883 the readers ofGovernment News (Pravitel’stvennyi vestnik)opened their newspaper to learn that A. A. Polovtsov had been appointed Imperial Secretary. It was hardly the sort of announcement to make anyone choke on their breakfast. At the age of fifty-one, Polovtsov had all the right credentials for this top Civil Service job. The son of a noble landowner, he had married the heiress to a banking fortune, graduated from the elite School of Law, and steadily risen through the ranks of the imperial bureaucracy. He was, by all accounts, refined, cultured and well mannered; Witte even diought him a little vain. Polovtsov was confident and perfectly at ease in the aristocratic circles of St Petersburg, counting several grand dukes among his closest friends. He even belonged to the Imperial Yacht Club, the after-hours headquarters of Russia’s ruling elite, where on New Year’s Eve he had been told of his promotion.1In short, Alexander Alexandrovich was a model representative of that small and privileged tribe who administered the affairs of the imperial state.
The Russian imperial bureaucracy was an elite caste set above the rest of society. In this sense it was not unlike the Communist bureaucracy that was to succeed it. The tsarist system was based upon a strict social hierarchy. At its apex was the court; below that, its pillars of support in the civil and military service, and the Church, made up by the members of the first two estates; and at the bottom of the social order, the peasantry. There was a close link between the autocracy and this rigid pyramid of social estates (nobles, clergy, merchantry and peasants), which were ranked in accordance with their service to the state. It was a fixed social hierarchy with each estate demarcated by specific legal rights and duties. Nicholas compared it with the patrimonial system. ‘I conceive of Russia as a landed estate,’ he declared in 1902, ‘of which the proprietor is the Tsar, the administrator is the nobility, and the workers are the peasantry.’ He could not have chosen a more archaic metaphor for society at the turn of the twentieth century.
Despite the rapid progress of commerce and industry during the last decades of the nineteenth century, Russia’s ruling elite still came predominantly from the old landed aristocracy. Noblemen accounted for 71 per cent of the

top four Civil Service ranks (i.e. above the rank of civil councillor) in the census of 1897. True, the doors of the Civil Service were being opened to the sons of commoners, so long as they had a university degree or a high-school diploma with honours. True, too, the gap was growing, both in terms of social background and in terms of ethos, between the service nobles and the farming gentry. Many of the service nobles had sold their estates, moving permanently into the city, or indeed had never owned land, having been ennobled for their service to the state. In other words, the Civil Service was becoming just as much a path to nobility as nobility was to the Civil Service. It also had its own elite values, which only the crudest Marxist would seek to portray as synonymous with the ‘class interests’ of the landed nobles. Nevertheless, the aphorism of the writer Iurii Samarin, that ‘the bureaucrat is just a nobleman in uniform, and the nobleman just a bureaucrat in a dressing-gown’, remained generally true in 1900. Russia was still an old agrarian kingdom and its ruling elite was still dominated by the richest landowning families. These were the Stroganovs, the Dolgorukovs, the Sheremetevs, the Obolenskys, the Volkonskys, and so on, powerful dynasties which had stood near the summit of the Muscovite state during its great territorial expansion between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries and had been rewarded with lavish endowments of fertile land, mainly in the south of Russia and the Ukraine.2 Dependence on the state for their wealth, and indeed for most of their employment, had prevented the Russian aristocracy from developing into an independent landowning class counter-balancing the monarchy in the way that thev had done in most of Europe since the sixteenth century.
As readers of Gogol will know, the imperial Civil Service was obsessed by rank and hierarchy. An elaborate set of rules, spelled out in 869 paragraphs of Volume I of the Code of Laws, distinguished between fourteen different Civil Service ranks, each with its own appropriate uniform and title (all of them translations from the German). Polovtsov, for example, on his appointment as Imperial Secretary, received the dark-blue ribbon and the silver star of the Order of the White Eagle. Like all Civil Servants in the top two ranks, he was to be addressed as ‘Your High Excellency’; those in ranks 3 and 4 were to be addressed as ‘Your Excellency’; and so on down the scale, with those in the bottom ranks (9 to 14) addressed simply as ‘Your Honour’. Thecbinovnik,or Civil Servant, was acutely aware of these status symbols. The progression from white to black trousers, the switch from a red to a blue ribbon, or the simple addition of a stripe, were ritual events of immense significance in his well-ordered life. Promotion was determined by the Table of Ranks established in 1722 by Peter the Great. An official could hold only those posts at or below his own personal rank. In 1856 standard intervals were set for promotion: one rank every three years from ranks 14 to 8; and one every four years from ranks 8 to 5. The top four ranks, which brought with them a hereditary title, were appointed directly by the Tsar. This

meant that, barring some heinous sin, even the most average bureaucrat could expect to rise automatically with age, becoming, say, a civil councillor by the age of sixty-five. The system encouraged the sort of time-serving mediocrity which writers like Gogol portrayed as the essence of officialdom in nineteenth-century Russia. By the end of the century, however, this system of automatic advancement was falling into disuse as merit became more important than age.3
Still, the top ranks in St Petersburg were dominated by a very small elite of noble families. This was a tiny political world in which everyone knew each other. All the people who mattered lived in the fashionable residential streets around the Nevsky and the Liteiny Prospekts. They were closely connected through marriage and friendship. Most of them patronized the same elite schools (the Corps des Pages, the School of Guards Sub-Ensigns and Cavalry Junkers, the Alexander Lycee and the School of Law) and their sons joined the same elite regiments (the Chevaliers Gardes, the Horse Guards, the Emperors Own Life Guard Hussar Regiment and the Preobrazhensky), from which they could be certain of a fast lane to the top of the civil or military service. Social connections were essential in this world, as Polovtsov’s diary reveals, for much of the real business of politics was done at balls and banquets, in private salons and drawing-rooms, in the restaurant of the Evropeiskaya Hotel and the bar of the Imperial Yacht Club. This was an exclusive world but not a stuffy one. The St Petersburg aristocracy was far too cosmopolitan to be really snobbish. ‘Petersburg was not Vienna,’ as Dominic Lieven reminds us in his magisterial study of the Russian ruling elite, and there was always a place in its aristocratic circles for charmers and eccentrics. Take, for example, Prince Alexei Lobanov-Rostovsky, one of Nicholas II’s better foreign ministers, an octogenariangrand seigneur,collector of Hebrew books and French mistresses, who ‘sparkled in salons’ and ‘attended church in his dressing-gown’; or Prince M. I. Khilkov, a ‘scion of one of Russia’s oldest aristocratic families’, who worked for a number of years as an engine driver in South America and as a shipwright in Liverpool before becoming Russia’s Minister of Communications.4
Despite its talents, the bureaucracy never really became an effective tool in the hands of the autocracy. There were three main reasons for this. First, its dependence on the nobility became a source of weakness as the noble estate fell into decline during the later nineteenth century. There was an increasing shortfall in expertise (especially in the industrial field) to meet the demands of the modern state. The gap might have been bridged by recruiting Civil Servants from the new industrial middle classes. But the ruling elite was far too committed to its own archaic vision of the tsarist order, in which the gentry had pride of place, and feared the democratic threat posed by these new classes. Second, the apparatus was too poorly financed (it was very difficult to collect enough taxes in such a vast and poor peasant country) so that the ministries, and still more

local government, never really had the resources they needed either to control or reform society. Finally, there were too many overlapping jurisdictions and divisions between the different ministries. This was a result of the way the state had developed, with each ministry growing as a separate, almostad hoc,extension of the autocrat’s own powers. The agencies of government were never properly systematized, nor their work co-ordinated, arguably because it was in the Tsar’s best interests to keep them weak and dependent upon him. Each Tsar would patronize a different set of agencies in a given policy field, often simply bypassing those set up by his predecessors. The result was bureaucratic chaos and confusion. Each ministry was left to develop on its own without a cabinet-like body to coordinate the work between them. The two major ministries (Finance and Interior) recruited people through their own clienteles in the elite families and schools. They competed with each other for resources, for control of policy and for influence over lesser ministries and local government. There was no clear distinction between the functions of the different agencies, nor between the status of different laws—nakaz, ukaz, ustav, zakon, polozhenie, ulozhenie, gramotaandmanifest,to name just a few— so that the Tsar’s personal intervention was constantly required to unhook these knots of competing jurisdiction and legislation. From the perspective of the individual, the effect of this confusion was to make the regime appear arbitrary: it was never clear where the real power lay, whether one law would be overridden by special regulations from the Tsar, or whether the police would respect the law at all. Some complacent philosophers argued on this basis that there was in fact no real autocracy. ‘There is an autocracy of policeman and land captains, of governors, department heads, and ministers,’ wrote Prince Sergei Trubetskoi in 1900. ‘But a unitary tsarist autocracy, in the proper sense of the word, does not and cannot exist.’ To the less privileged it was this arbitrariness (what the Russians cursed asproizvol)that made the regime’s power feel so oppressive. There were no clear principles or regulations which enabled the individual to challenge authority or the state.5
This was, in effect, a bureaucracy that failed to develop into a coherent political force which, like the Prussian bureaucracy analysed by Max Weber, was capable of serving as a tool of reform and modernization. Rather than a ‘rational’ bureaucratic system as distilled in Weber’s ideal type— one based on fixed institutional relations, clear functional divisions, regular procedures, legal principles — Russia had a hybrid state which combined elements of the Prussian system with an older patrimonialism that left the Civil Service subject to the patronage and intervention of the court and thus prevented the complete emergence of a professional bureaucratic ethos.
It did not have to be this way. There was a time, in the mid-nineteenth century, when the imperial bureaucracy could have fulfilled its potential as a creative and modernizing force. After all, the ideals of the ‘enlightened bureau-

crats’, so aptly named by W Bruce Lincoln, shaped the Great Reforms of the 1860s. Here was a new class of career Civil Servants, mostly sons of landless nobles and mixed marriages(raznochintsy)who had entered the profession through the widening channels of higher education in the 1830s and 1840s. They were upright and serious-minded men, like Karenin in Tolstoy’sAnna Karenina,who talked earnestly, if slightly pedantically, about ‘progress’ and statistics; scoffed at the amateur aristocrats in high office, such as Count Vronsky, Anna’s lover, who encroached on their field of expertise; and believed in the bureaucracy’s mission to civilize and reform Russia along Western lines. Most of them stopped short of the liberal demand for a state based upon the rule of law with civil liberties and a parliament: their understanding of theRechtsstaatwas really no more than a bureaucratic state functioning on the basis of rational procedures and general laws. But they called for greater openness in the work of government, what they termedglasnost,as a public check against the abuse of power and a means of involving experts from society in debates about reform. Progressive officials moved in the circles of the liberal intelligentsia in the capital and were dubbed the ‘Party of St Petersburg Progress’. They were seen regularly at the salon of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, and enjoyed the patronage of the Grand Duke Konstantin, who, as President of the State Council, did much to promote reformist officials in the government circles of Alexander II. They also had close ties with public bodies, such as the Imperial Geographic Society, from which they commissioned statistical surveys in preparation for the great reforming legislation of the 1860s.6
The Great Reforms were the high-water mark of this bureaucratic enlightenment. They were conceived as a modernizing process— which in Russia meant a Westernizing one — with the aim of strengthening the state after its defeat in the Crimean War. Limited freedoms and reforms were granted in the hope of activating society and creating a dynamic economy without altering the basic political framework of the autocracy. In this sense they were similar in conception to theperestroikaof Mikhail Gorbachev a century later. In 1861 the serfs werede jure(if notde facto)emancipated from their landlord’s tyranny and given some of the rights of a citizen. They were still tied to the village commune, which enforced the old patriarchal order, deprived of the right to own the land individually, and remained legally inferior to the nobles and other estates. But the groundwork had at least been laid for the development of peasant agriculture. A second major reform of 1864 saw the establishment of local assemblies of self-government, called the zemstvos, in most Russian provinces. To preserve the domination of the landed nobles, they were set up only at the provincial and district level; below that, at the volost and the village level, the peasant communes were left to rule themselves with only minimal supervision by the gentry. The judicial reforms of the same year set up an

independent legal system with public jury trials for all estates except the peasants (who remained under the jurisdiction of local customary law). There were also new laws relaxing censorship (1865), giving more autonomy to universities (1863), reforming primary schools (1864) and modernizing the military (1863—75). Boris Chicherin (with the benefit of hindsight) summed up their progressive ideals:
to remodel completely the enormous state, which had been entrusted to [Alexander’s] care, to abolish an age-old order founded on slavery, to replace it with civic decency and freedom, to establish justice in a country which had never known the meaning of legality, to redesign the entire administration, to introduce freedom of the press in the context of untrammelled authority, to call new forces to life at every turn and set them on firm legal foundations, to put a repressed and humiliated society on its feet and to give it the chance to flex its muscles.7
Had the liberal spirit of the 1860s continued to pervade the work of government, Russia might have become a Western-style society based upon individual property and liberty upheld by the rule of law. The revolution need not have occurred. To be sure, it would still have been a slow and painful progress. The peasantry, in particular, would have remained a revolutionary threat so long as they were excluded from property and civil rights. The old patriarchal system in the countryside, which even after Emancipation preserved the hegemony of the nobles, called out for replacement with a modern system in which the peasants had a greater stake. But there was at least, within the ruling elite, a growing awareness of what was needed— and indeed of what it would cost — for this social transformation to succeed. The problem was, however, that the elite was increasingly divided over the desirability of this transformation. And as a result of these divisions it failed to develop a coherent strategy to deal with the challengesof modernization.
On the one hand were the reformists, the ‘Men of 1864’ like Polovtsov, who broadly accepted the need for a bourgeois social order (even at the expense of the nobility), the need for the concession of political freedoms (especially in local government), and the need for aRechtsstaat(which increasingly they understood to mean not just a state based on universal laws but one based on the rule of law itself). By the end of the 1870s this reformist vision had developed into demands for a constitution. Enlightened statesmen openly argued that the tasks of government in the modern age had become too complex for the Tsar and his bureaucrats to tackle alone, and that the loyal and educated public had to be brought into the work of government. In January 1881 Alexander II instructed his Minister of the Interior, Count Loris-Melikov, to draw up plans

for a limited constitution which would give invited figures from the public an advisory role in legislation. ‘The throne’, argued the Minister of Finance, A. A. Abaza, during the debates on these proposals, ‘cannot rest exclusively on a million bayonets and an army of officials.’ Such reformist sentiments were commonplace among the officials in the Ministry of Finance. Being responsible for industrialization, they were the first to see the need to sweep away obstacles to bourgeois enterprise and initiative. Many of them, moreover, like Polovtsov, who had married into a banking family, were themselves drawn from the ‘new Russia’ of commerce and industry. Witte, the great reforming Finance Minister of the 1890s, who had worked for twenty years in railroad management (to begin with as a lowly ticket clerk) before entering government service, argued that the tsarist system could avoid a revolution only by transforming Russia into a modern industrial society where ‘personal and public initiatives’ were encouraged by a rule-of-law state with guarantees of civil liberties.8
On the other hand were the supporters of the traditional tsarist order. It was no accident that their strongest base was the Ministry of the Interior, since its officials were drawn almost exclusively from ‘old Russia’, noble officers and landowners, who believed most rigidly in thePolizeistaat.The only way, they argued, to prevent a revolution was to rule Russia with an iron hand. This meant defending the autocratic principle (both in central and local government), the unchecked powers of the police, the hegemony of the nobility and the moral domination of the Church, against the liberal and secular challenges of the urban-industrial order. Conceding constitutions and political rights would only serve to weaken the state, argued P. N. Durnovo and Viacheslav von Plehve, the two great Ministers of the Interior during Witte’s time at the Ministry of Finance, because the liberal middle classes who would come to power as a result had no authority among the masses and were even despised by them. Only when economic progress had removed the threat of a social revolution would the time be ripe for political reforms. Russia’s backwardness necessitated such a strategy (economic liberalism plus autocracy). For as Durnovo argued (not without reason): ‘One cannot in the course of a few weeks introduce North American or English systems into Russia.’9 That was to be one of the lessons of 1917.
The arguments of the reactionaries were greatly strengthened by the tragic assassination of Alexander II in March 1881. The new Tsar was persuaded by his tutor and adviser, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, that continuing with the liberal reforms would only help to produce more revolutionaries like the ones who had murdered his father. Alexander III soon abandoned the project for a constitution, claiming he did not want a government of ‘troublesome brawlers and lawyers’; forced the resignation of his reformist ministers (Abaza from Finance, Loris-Melikov from the Interior, and Dmitry Miliutin from War); and proclaimed a Manifesto reasserting the

principles of autocracy.10 This was the signal for a series of counter-reforms during Alexander Ill’s reign. Their purpose was to centralize control and roll back the rights of local government, to reassert the personal rule of the Tsar through the police and his direct agents, and to reinforce the patriarchal order— headed by the nobility — in the countryside. Nothing was more likely to bring about a revolution. For at the same time the liberal classes of provincial society were coming to the view that their common interests and identity entailed defending the rights of local government against the very centralizing bureaucracy upon which the new Tsar staked so much.
ii The Thin Veneer of Civilization
When Prince Sergei Urusov was appointed Governor of Bessarabia in May 1903 the first thing he did was to purchase a guidebook of the area. This southwestern province of the Empire, wedged between the Black Sea and Romania, was totally unknown to the former graduate of Moscow University, thrice-elected Marshal of the Kaluga Nobility. ‘I knew as little of Bessarabia’, he would later admit, ‘as I did of New Zealand, or even less.’
Three weeks later, after stopping in the capital for a briefing with the Tsar, he set off by train from Moscow to Kishinev, the capital of Bessarabia, some 900 miles away. The journey took two nights and three long days, the train chugging ever slower as it moved deeper and deeper into the Ukrainian countryside. Alone in his special compartment, Urusov used the time to study his guidebook in preparation for his first exchanges with the civic dignitaries he expected to meet on his arrival. He had written to the Vice-Governor, asking him to keep the reception party small. But as his train pulled into the station at Bendery, the first major town of the province, he saw through his carriage window a platform crowded with people and what looked like a full orchestral band. At the centre, cordoned off by a ring of policemen, stood the Vice-Governor in full dress uniform and the city’s mayor with the chain of office bearing a platter of bread and salt. This was how the new Governor had always been welcomed in Bessarabia and no exception would be made for Urusov. In Kishinev, an hour and a half later, His Excellency the Governor was driven through the city in an open carriage drawn by six white horses. ‘Men, women and children stood in crowded ranks on the sidewalks,’ Urusov recalled. ‘They bowed, waved their handkerchiefs, and some of them even went down on their knees. I was quite struck by the latter, not having been used to such scenes.’ After a brief stop at the cathedral, where God’s blessing was invoked for the work that lay ahead of him, Urusov was driven to the Governor’s house, an

imposing neo-classical palace in the centre of the city, from which he would rule as the Tsar’s viceroy over this distant corner of the Russian Empire.11
With a population of 120,000 people, Kishinev was a typical provincial city. The administrative centre, situated in the ‘upper city’ on a hill, was a formal grid of broad and straight paved streets bordered by poplars and white acacias. The main boulevard, the Alexandrov, was particularly elegant, its pavements wide enough for horse-drawn trams to run along their edges. In addition to the Governor’s House, it boasted a number of large stone buildings, offices and churches, which in Urusov’s judgement ‘would have made no unfavourable impression even in the streets of St Petersburg’. Yet not a stone’s throw from these elegant neo-classical facades, in the ‘lower city’ straggling down the hillside, was a totally different world— a world of narrow and unpaved winding streets, muddy in the spring and dusty in the summer; of wooden shanties and overcrowded hovels which served as the homes and shops for the Russian, Jewish and Moldavian workers; a world of pigs and cows grazing in the alleys, of open sewers and piles of rubbish on the public squares; a world where cholera epidemics struck on average one year in every three. These were the two faces of every Russian city: the one of imperial power and European civilization, the other of poverty and squalor of Asiatic proportions.12
One could hardly blame Urusov for seeing his appointment as a kind of exile. Many governors felt the same. Accustomed to the cosmopolitan world of the capital cities, they were bound to find provincial society dull and narrow by comparison. The civic culture of provincial Russia was, even at the end of the nineteenth century, still in the early stages of development compared with the societies of the West. Most of Russia’s cities had evolved historically as administrative or military outposts of the tsarist state rather than as commercial or cultural centres in their own right. Typically they comprised a small nobility, mostly employed in the local Civil Service, and a large mass of petty traders, artisans and labourers. But there was no real ‘bourgeoisie’ or ‘middle class’ in the Western sense. The burghers, who in Western Europe had advanced civilization since the Renaissance, were largely missing in peasant Russia. The professions were too weak and dependent on the state to assert their autonomy until the last decades of the nineteenth century. The artisans and merchants were too divided among themselves (they were historically and legally two separate estates) and too divorced from the educated classes to provide the Russian cities with their missingBurgertum.In short, Russia seemed to bear out Petr Struve’s dictum: ‘the further to the East one goes in Europe, the weaker in politics, the more cowardly, and the baser becomes the bourgeoisie’.13
As anyone familiar with Chekhov’s plays will know, the cultural life of the average provincial town was extremely dull and parochial. At least that is how the intelligentsia— steeped in the culture of Western Europe — saw (with

some disgust) the backward life of the Russian provinces. Listen to the brother of theThree Sistersdescribing the place in which they lived:
This town’s been in existence for two hundred years; a hundred thousand people live in it, but there’s not one who’s any different from all the others! There’s never been a scholar or an artist or a saint in this place, never a single man sufficiently outstanding to make you feel passionately that you wanted to emulate him. People here do nothing but eat, drink and sleep. Then they die and some more take their places, and they eat, drink and sleep, too— and just to introduce a bit of variety into their lives, so as to avoid getting completely stupid with boredom, they indulge in their disgusting gossip and vodka and gambling and law-suits.
Kishinev was in this respect a very average town. It had twelve schools, two theatres and an open-air music hall, but no library or gallery. The social centre of the town was the Nobleman’s Club. It was here, according to Urusov, that ‘the general character of Kishinev society found its most conspicuous reflection. The club rooms were always full. The habitues of the club would gather around the card-tables from as early as 2 p.m., not leaving until 3 or 4 a.m. in winter; and in summer not until 6 or 7 a.m.’ In Kishinev, as in most provincial towns, the social habits of the nobility had much more in common with those of the local merchants than with the aristocrats of St Petersburg. Stolypin’s daughter, for example, recalled that in Saratov, where her father was once Governor, the wives of noblemen ‘dressed so informally that on invitations it was necessary to specify «evening dress requested’. Even then, they would sometimes appear at balls in dressing-gowns.’14
In a society such as this the provincial Governor inevitably played the role of a major celebrity. The high point of any social event was the moment when His Excellency arrived to grace the company with his presence. To receive an invitation to the annual ball at the Governors house was to have made it to the top of provincial society. Prince Urusov, being a modest sort of man, was taken aback by the god-like esteem in which he was held by the local residents: ‘According to Kishinev convention, I was to go out exclusively in a carriage, escorted by a mounted guard, with the Chief of Police in the van. To walk or to go out shopping was on my part a grave breach of etiquette.’ But other governors, less modest than himself, took advantage of their lofty status to behave like petty autocrats. One provincial Governor, for example, ordered the police to stop all the traffic whenever he passed through the town. Another would not allow the play to begin before he arrived at the local theatre. To lovers of liberty the provincial Governor was the very personification of tsarist

oppression and despotism. Gorky could find no better way to condemn Tolstoy’s authoritarianism than to compare him to a governor.15
The office Urusov assumed went back to the medieval era, although its exact form was altered many times. In a country as vast and difficult to govern as Russia the tasks of tax collection and maintaining law and order were obviously beyond the capabilities of the tiny medieval state. So they were farmed out to governors, plenipotentiaries of the Tsar, who in exchange for their service to the state were allowed to ‘feed’ themselves at the expense of the districts they ruled (usually with a great deal of violence and venality). The inability of the state to build up an effective system of provincial administration secured the power of these governors. Even in the nineteenth century, when the bureaucracy did extend its agencies to the provinces, the governors were never entirely integrated into the centralized state apparatus.
The provincial governors were in charge of the local police, for whom they were technically answerable to the Ministry of the Interior. They also served as chairmen on the provincial boards whose work fell within the domain of the other ministries, such as Justice, Finance and Transportation. This fragmentation of executive power increasingly obliged the governors to negotiate, persuade and compromise— to play the part of a modern politician — during the later nineteenth century. Nevertheless, because of their close connections with the court, they could still ignore the demands of the ministries in St Petersburg — and indeed often did so when they deemed that these clashed with the interests of the noble estate, from which all the provincial governors were drawn. Stolypin’s local government reforms, for example, which he tried to introduce after 1906, were effectively resisted by the governors who saw them as a challenge to the domination of the nobility. A. A. Khvostov, one of Stolypin’s successors at the Ministry of the Interior, complained that it was ‘virtually impossible’ to prevent the governors from sabotaging the work of his ministry because of their lofty protectors’ at the court: ‘one has an aunt who is friendly with the Empress, another a gentleman-in-waiting for arelative, and a third a cousin who is an Imperial Master of the Horse.’ The governors’ extraordinary power stemmed from the fact that they were the Tsar’s personal viceroys: they embodied the autocratic principle in the provinces. Russia’s last two tsars were particularly adamant against the idea of subordinating the governors to the bureaucracy because they saw them as their most loyal supporters and because, in the words of Richard Robbins, ‘as the personal representatives of the Sovereign, the governors helped keep the emperors from becoming dependent on their ministers and gave [them] a direct connection to the provinces and the people’. Two of Alexander Ill’s counter-reforms, in 1890 and 1892, greatly increased the governors’ powers over the zemstvos and municipal bodies. Like his son, Alexander saw this as a way of moving closer to the fantasy of ruling Russia directly from

the throne. But the result was confusion in the provincial administration: the governors, the agencies of the central ministries and the elected local bodies were all set against each other.16
The power of the imperial government effectively stopped at the eighty-nine provincial capitals where the governors had their offices. Below that there was no real state administration to speak of. Neither the uezd or district towns nor the volost or rural townships had any standing government officials. There was only a series of magistrates who would appear from time to time on some specific mission, usually to collect taxes or sort out a local conflict, and then disappear once again. The affairs of peasant Russia, where 85 per cent of the population lived, were entirely unknown to the city bureaucrats. ‘We knew as much about the Tula countryside’, confessed Prince Lvov, leader of the Tula zemstvo in the 1890s, ‘as we knew about Central Africa.’17
The crucial weakness of the tsarist system was theunder-governmentof the localities. This vital fact is all too often clouded by the revolutionaries’ mythic image of an all-powerful old regime. Nothing could be further from the truth. For every 1,000 inhabitants of the Russian Empire there were only 4 state officials at the turn of the century, compared with 7.3 in England and Wales, 12.6 in Germany and 17.6 in France. The regular police, as opposed to the political branch, was extremely small by European standards. Russia’s expenditure on the policeper capitaof the population was less than half of that in Italy or France and less than one quarter of that in Prussia. For a rural population of 100 million people, Russia in 1900 had no more than 1,852 police sergeants and 6,874 police constables. The average constable was responsible for policing 50,000 people in dozens of settlements stretched across nearly 2,000 square miles. Many of them did not even have a horse and cart. True, from 1903 the constables were aided by the peasant constables, some 40,000 of whom were appointed. But these were notoriously unreliable and, in any case, did very little to reduce the mounting burdens on the police. Without its own effective organs in the countryside, the central bureaucracy was assigning more and more tasks to the local police: not just the maintenance of law and order but also the collection of taxes, the implementation of government laws and military decrees, the enforcement of health and safety regulations, the inspection of public roads and buildings, the collection of statistics, and the general supervision of ‘public morals’ (e.g. making sure that the peasants washed their beards). The police, in short, were being used as a sort of catch-all executive organ. They were often the only agents of the state with whom the peasants ever came into contact.18
Russia’s general backwardness— its small tax-base and poor communications — largely accounts for this under-government. The legacy of serfdom also played a part. Until 1861 the serfs had been under the jurisdiction of their noble owners and, provided they paid their taxes, the state did not intervene in

the relations between them. Only after the Emancipation— and then very slowly — did the tsarist government come round to the problem of how to extend its influence to its new ‘citizens’ in the villages and of how to shape a policy to help the development of peasant agriculture.
Initially, in the 1860s, the regime left the affairs of the country districts in the hands of the local nobles. They dominated the zemstvo assemblies and accounted for nearly three-quarters of the provincial zemstvo boards. The noble assemblies and their elected marshals were left with broad administrative powers, especially at the district level (uezd) where they were virtually the only agents upon whom the tsarist regime could rely. Moreover, the new magistrates(mirovye posredniki)were given broad judicial powers, not unlike those of their predecessors under serfdom, including the right to flog the peasants for minor crimes and misdemeanours.
It was logical for the tsarist regime to seek to base its power in the provinces on the landed nobility, its closest ally. But this was a dangerous strategy, and the danger grew as time went on. The landed nobility was in severe economic decline during the years of agricultural depression in the late nineteenth century, and was turning to the zemstvos to defend its local agrarian interests against the centralizing and industrializing bureaucracy of St Petersburg. In the years leading up to 1905 this resistance was expressed in mainly liberal terms: it was seen as the defence of ‘provincial society’, a term which was now used for the first time and consciously broadened to include the interests of the peasantry. This liberal zemstvo movement culminated in the political demand for more autonomy for local government, for a national parliament and a constitution. Here was the start of the revolution: not in the socialist or labour movements but— as in France in the 1780s — in the aspirations of the regime’s oldest ally, the provincial nobility.
The Emancipation came as a rude shock not just to the economy but also to the whole of the provincial civilization of the gentry. Deprived of their serfs, most of the landed nobles went into terminal decline. Very few were able to respond to the new challenges of the commercial world in which as farmers— and less often industrialists and merchants — they were henceforth obliged to survive. The whole of the period between 1861 and 1917 could be presented as the slow death of the old agrarian elite upon which the tsarist system had always relied.
From Gogol to Chekhov, the figure of the impoverished noble landowner was a perennial of nineteenth-century Russian literature. He was a cultural obsession. Chekhov’s playThe Cherry Orchard(1903) was particularly, and subtly, resonant with the familiar themes of a decaying gentry: the elegant but loss-making estate is sold off to a self-made businessman, the son of a serf on the very same estate, who chops down the orchard to build houses. Most of the

squires, like the Ranevskys in Chekhov’s play, proved incapable of transforming their landed estates into viable commercial farms once the Emancipation had deprived them of the prop of free serf labour and forced them into the capitalist world. They could not follow in the footsteps of the Prussian Junkers. The old Russian serf economy had never been run, in the main, with the intention of making profits. Nobles gained prestige (and sometimes high office) from the number of serfs they owned— whence the story of Chichikov in Gogol’sDead Souk(1842), who travels around the estates of Russia buying up the lists of deceased serfs (or ‘souls’ as they were then called) whose death had not yet been registered— and from the ostentation of their manor houses rather than the success of their farms. Most seigneurial demesnes were farmed by the serfs with the same tools and primitive methods as they used on their own household plots. Many of the squires squandered the small income from their estates on expensive luxuries imported from Europe rather than investing it in their farms. Few appeared to understand that income was not profit.
By the middle of the nineteenth century many of the squires had fallen hopelessly into debt. By 1859, one-third of the estates and two-thirds of the serfs owned by the landed nobles had been mortgaged to the state and aristocratic banks. This, more than anything, helped the government to force Emancipation through against considerable opposition from the gentry. Not that the conditions of the liberation were unfavourable to the landowners: they received good money for the (often inferior) land which they chose to transfer to the peasants.* But now the squires were on their own, deprived of the free labour of the serfs and their tools and animals. They could no longer live a life of ease: their survival depended on the market place. They had to pay for tools and labour and learn the difference between profit and loss. Yet there was almost nothing in their backgrounds to prepare them for the challenge of capitalism. Most of them knew next to nothing about agriculture or accounting and went on spending in the same old lavish way, furnishing their manor houses in the French Empire style and sending their sons to the most expensive schools. Once again their debts increased, forcing them to lease or sell off first one or two and then more and more chunks of land. Between 1861 and 1900 more than 40 per cent of the gentry’s land was sold to the peasants, whose growing land hunger, due to a population boom, led to a seven-fold increase in land values. There was a similar rise in rental values and, by 1900, two-thirds of the gentry’s arable land had been rented out to the peasants. It was ironic that the depression of agricultural prices during the 1880s and the 1890s, which forced the peasants
* Under the terms of the Emancipation the serfs were forced to pay for their newly acquired land through a mortgage arrangement with the state, which paid the gentry for it in full and directly. Thus, in effect, the serfs bought their freedom by paying off their masters’ debts.

to increase the land they ploughed, also made it more profitable for the squires to rent out or sell their land rather than cultivate it. Yet despite these speculative profits, by the turn of the century most of the squires found they could no longer afford to live in the manner to which they had grown accustomed. Their neo-classical manor houses, with their Italian paintings and their libraries, their ballrooms and their formal gardens, slowly fell into decay.19
Not all the squires went willingly to the wall. Many of them made a go of running their estates as commercial enterprises, and it was from these circles that the liberal zemstvo men emerged to challenge the autocracy during the last decades of the century.
Prince G. E. Lvov (1861—1925) — who was to become the first Prime Minister of democratic Russia in 1917 — typified these men. The Lvovs were one of the oldest noble Russian families. They traced their roots back thirty-one generations to Rurik himself, the ninth-century founder of the Russian ‘state’. Popovka, the ancestral home of the Lvovs, was in Tula province, less than 120 miles — but on Russia’s primitive roads at least two days’ travel by coach — from Moscow. The Tolstoy estate at Yasnaya Polyana was only a few miles away, and the Lvovs counted the great writer as one of their closest friends. The manor house at Popovka was rather grand for what, at only 1,000 acres, was a small estate by Russian standards. It was a two-storey residence, built in the Empire style of the 1820s, with over twenty rooms, each with a high ceiling, double-doors and windows, overlooking a formal garden planted with roses and classical statues at the front. There was a park behind the house with a large white-stone chapel, an artificial lake, an orangery, a birch avenue and an orchard. The domestic regime was fairly standard for the nineteenth-century provincial gentry. There was an English governess called ‘Miss Jenny’ (English was the first language Lvov learned to read). Lvov’s father was a reform-liberal, a man of 1864, and spent all his money on his children’s education. The five sons — though not the only daughter — were all sent off to the best Moscow schools. Luxuries were minimal by the spendthrift standards of the Russian noble class: the standard First Empire mahogany furniture; one or two Flemish eighteenth-century landscapes; a few dogs for the autumn hunt; and an English carriage with pedigree horses; but very little to impress the much grander Tolstoys.
Yet, even so, by the end of the 1870s, the Lvovs had managed to clock up massive debts well in excess of 150,000 roubles. ‘With the abolition of serfdom,’ recalled Lvov, ‘we soon fell into the category of landowners who did not have the means to live in the manner to which their circle had become accustomed.’ The family had to sell off its two other landed estates, one in Chernigov for 30,000 roubles, the other in Kostroma for slightly less, as well as a beer factory in Briansk and the Lvovs’ apartment in Moscow. But this still left

them heavily in debt. They now had to choose between selling Popovka or making it profitable as a farm. Despite their inexperience, and the onset of the worst depression in agriculture for a century, the Lvovs had no doubts about opting for the latter. ‘The idea of giving up the home of our ancestors was unthinkable,’ Lvov wrote later. The farm at Popovka had become so run down from decades of neglect that when the Lvovs first returned there to run it even the peasants from the neighbouring villages shook their heads and pitied them. They offered to help them restore the farm buildings and clear the forest of weeds from the fields. The four eldest brothers took charge of the farm— their father was too old and ill to work — while Georgii studied law at Moscow University and returned to Popovka during the holidays. The family laid off the servants, leaving all the housework to Georgii’s sister, and lived like peasants on rye bread and cabbage soup. Later Lvov would look back at this time as a source of his own emancipation — his own personal revolution — from the landowners’ culture of the tsarist order. ‘It separated us from the upper crust and made us democratic. I began to feel uncomfortable in the company of aristocrats and always felt much closer to the peasants.’ Gradually, by their own hard labour in the fields, the Lvovs restored the farm. They learned about farming methods from their peasant neighbours and from agricultural textbooks purchased in Moscow by Georgii. The soil turned out to be good for growing clover and, by switching to it from rye, they even began to make impressive profits. By the late 1880s Popovka was saved, all its debts had been repaid, and the newly graduated Georgii returned to transform it into a commercial farm. He even planted an orchard and built a canning factory near the estate to make apple puree for the Moscowmarket.20 What could be a more fitting counter to Chekhov’s vision of the gentry in decline?
Prince Lvov became a leading member of the Tula zemstvo during the early 1890s. The ideals and limitations which he shared with the liberal ‘zemstvo men’ were to leave their imprint on the government he led between March and July 1917. Prince Lvov was not the sort of man whom one would expect to find at the head of a revolutionary government. As a boy he had dreamed of ‘becoming a forester and of living on my own in the woods’. This mystical aspect of his character— a sort of Tolstoyan naturalism — was never extinguished. Ekaterina Kuskova said that ‘in one conversation he could speak with feeling about mysticism and then turn at once to the price of potatoes’. By temperament he was much better suited to the intimate circles(kruzhki)of the zemstvo activists than to the cut-throat world of modern party politics. The Prince was shy and modest, gentle and withdrawn, and quite incapable of commanding people by anything other than a purely moral authority. None of these were virtues in the eyes of more ambitious politicians, who found him ‘passive’, ‘grey’ and ‘cold’. Lvov’s sad and noble face, which rarely showed signs

of emotion or excitement, made him appear even more remote. The metropolitan and arrogant elite considered Lvov parochial and dim— the liberal leader Pavel Miliukov, for example, called him ‘simple-minded'(shliapa)— and this largely accounts for Lvov’s poor reputation, even neglect, in the history books. But this is both to misunderstand and to underestimate Lvov. He had a practical political mind — one formed by years of zemstvo work dedicated to improving rural conditions — and not a theoretical one like Miliukov’s. The liberal V A. Obolensky, who knew Lvov well, claimed that he ‘never once heard him make a remark of a theoretical nature. The «ideologies» of the intelligentsia were completely alien to him.’ Yet this practicality — what Obolensky called his ‘native wit’ — did not necessarilymake Lvov an inferior politician. He had a sound grasp of technical matters, bags of common sense and a rare ability to judge people — all good political qualities.21
Lvov was not just an unlikely revolutionary: he was also a reluctant one. His ideals were derived from the Great Reforms— he was born symbolically in 1861 — and, in his heart, he was always to remain a liberal monarchist. He believed it was the calling of the noble class to dedicate itself to the service of the people. This sort of paternal populism was commonplace among the zemstvo men. They were well-meaning and dedicated public servants, of the sort who fill the pages of Tolstoy and Chekhov, who dreamt of bringing civilization to the dark and backward countryside. As the liberal (and thus guilt-ridden) sons of ex-serf-owners, many of them no doubt felt that, in this way, they were helping to repay theirdebts to the peasants. Some were ready to make considerable personal sacrifices. Lvov, for example, spent three months a year travelling around the villages inspecting schools and courts. He used some of the profits from the estate at Popovka to build a school and install an improved water system for the nearby villages. Under his leadership in the 1890s, the Tula zemstvo became one of the most progressive in the whole country. It established schools and libraries; set up hospitals and lunatic asylums; built new roads and bridges; provided veterinary and agronomic services for the peasantry; invested in local trades and industries; financed insurance schemes and rural credit; and, in the best liberal tradition, completed ambitious statistical surveys in preparation for further reforms. It was a model of the liberal zemstvo mission: to overcome the backwardness and apathy of provincial life and integrate the peasantry, as ‘citizens’, into the life of ‘the nation’.
The optimistic expectations of the zemstvo liberals were, it is almost needless to say, never realized. Theirs was a vast undertaking, quite beyond the limited capabilities of the zemstvos. There were some achievements, especially in primary education, which were reflected in the general increase of zemstvo expenditure from 15 million roubles per annum in 1868 to 96 million per annum by the turn of the century. However, the overall level of spending was

not very high,considering the zemstvos’ wide range of responsibilities; and the proportion of local to state taxation (about 15 per cent) remained very low compared with most of Europe (where it was over 50 per cent).22 There was, moreover, a fundamental problem— one which undermined the whole liberal project — of how to involve the peasants in the zemstvo’s work. The peasants after the Emancipation were kept isolated in their village communes without legal rights equal to the nobility’s or even the right to elect delegates directly to the district zemstvo. They saw the zemstvo as an institution of the gentry and paid its taxes reluctantly.
But an even more intractable problem for the zemstvos was the growing opposition of the central government to their work under the last two tsars. Alexander III looked upon the zemstvos as a dangerous breeding place of liberalism. Most of his bureaucrats agreed with him. Polovtsov, for example, thought that the zemstvos had ‘brought a whole new breed of urban types— writers, money-lenders, clerks, and the like — into the countryside who were quite alien to the peasantry’. The government was very concerned about the 70,000 professional employees of the zemstvos — teachers, doctors, statisticians and agronomists — who were known collectively as the Third Element. In contrast to the first two zemstvo Elements (the administrators and elected deputies), who were drawn mainly from the landed nobility, these professionals often came from peasant or lower-class backgrounds and this gave their politics a democratic and radical edge. As their numbers increased in the 1880s and 1890s, so they sought to broaden the zemstvos’ social mission. In effect they transformed them from organs for the gentry into organs mainly for the peasantry. Ambitious projects for agricultural reform and improvements in health and sanitation were advanced in the wake of the great famine which struck rural Russia in the early 1890s. Liberal landowners like Lvov went along with them. But the large and more conservative landowners were very hostile to the increased taxes which such projects would demand — after more than a decade of agricultural depression many of them were in dire financial straits — and campaigned against the Third Element. They found a natural and powerful ally in the Ministry of the Interior, which since the start of Alexander’s reign had campaigned to curtail the democratic tendencies of local government. Successive Ministers of the Interior and their police chiefs portrayed the Third Element as revolutionaries — ‘cohorts of the sans-culottes’ in the words of Plehve, Director of the Police Department and later Minister of the Interior — who were using their positions in the zemstvos to stir up the peasantry.
In response to their pressure, a statute was passed in 1890 which increased the landed nobles’ domination of the zemstvos by disenfranchising Jews and peasant landowners from elections to these assemblies. It also brought the zemstvos’ work under the tight control of a new provincial bureau, headed by

the provincial governor and subordinated to the Ministry of the Interior, which was given a wide veto over the appointment of zemstvo personnel, the zemstvos’ budgets and publications, as well as most of their daily resolutions. Armed with these sweeping powers, the Ministry and its provincial agents constantly obstructed the zemstvos’ work. They imposed stringent limits on their budgets on the grounds that some of their expenditures were unnecessary. Some of this was extremely petty. The Perm zemstvo, for example, had its budget capped for commissioning a portrait of Dr Litvinov, the long-serving director of the provincial lunatic asylum. The Suzdal zemstvo was similarly punished for using fifty roubles from a reserve fund to help pay for the building of a library. The police also blocked the zemstvos’ work. They arrested statisticians and agronomists as ‘revolutionaries’ and prevented them from travelling into the countryside. They raided the zemstvo institutions— including hospitals and lunatic asylums — in search of ‘political suspects’. They even arrested local noblewomen for teaching peasant children how to read and write in their spare time.23
The counter-reforms of Alexander’s reign, of which the 1890 Statute was a cornerstone, were essentially an attempt to restore the autocratic principle to local government. The provincial governor, whose powers over the zemstvos and the municipal bodies had been greatly increased by the counter-reforms, was to play the role of a tsar in miniature. The same idea lay behind the institution of the land captains(zemskie nachal’nikt)as a result of another counter-reform in 1889. They remained the central agents of the tsarist regime in the countryside until 1917, although after the 1905 Revolution their powers were considerably diluted. Appointed by the provincial governors and subordinated to the Ministry of the Interior, the 2,000 land captains, mainly from the gentry, were given a wide range of executive and judicial powers over the peasants, to whom they were known as the ‘little tsars’. Their powers included the right to overturn the decisions of the village assemblies, to discharge elected peasant officials, and to decide judicial disputes. Until 1904 they could even order the public flogging of the peasants for minor misdemeanours, such as (and most commonly) for trespassing on the gentry’s land or for failing to pay their taxes. It is hard to overstress the psychological impact of this public flogging— decades after the Emancipation — on the peasant mind. The peasant writer Sergei Semenov* (1868—1922), whom we shall encounter throughout this book, wrote that his fellow peasants saw the land captains as ‘a return to the days of serfdom, when the master squire had lorded it over the village’. Semen* Kanatchikov, another peasant-son we shall encounter, also voiced the resentment caused by the captains’ feudal treatment of the peasantry. One peasant, who had been arrested for failing to remove his hat and bow before the land captain while he delivered a lecture to
* Semenov is pronounced Semyonov and Semen is Semyon.

the village, asked Kanatchikov: ‘What’s a poor peasant to a gentleman? Why he’s worse than a dog. At least a dog can bite, but the peasant is meek and humble and tolerates everything.’
Worried by the damage the land captains were causing to the image of the regime in the countryside, many of the more liberal bureaucrats— and even some of the conservatives — pressed for their abolition during the first decade of Nicholas’s reign. They pointed to the low calibre of the land captains — who were often retired army officers or the lesser sons of the local squires too dim to advance within the regular bureaucracy— and warned that their readiness to resort to the whip might provoke the peasants to rebel. But Nicholas would not hear a word against them. He saw the land captains as the ‘knight servitors’ of his personal power in the countryside. They would give him a direct link with the peasantry — a link which the ‘wall’ of the bureaucracy had blocked — and help to realize his dream of a popular autocracy in the Muscovite style. Through their power he sought to restore the traditional order of society, with the landed gentry at its head, thereby counteracting the democratic trends of the modern world.24
The counter-reforms of Alexander’s reign were a vital turning point in the pre-history of the revolution. They set the tsarist regime and Russian society on the path of growing conflict and, to a certain extent, determined the outcome of events between 1905 and 1917. The autocratic reaction against the zem-stvos— like the gentry’s reaction against democracy with which it became associated — had both the intention and the effect of excluding the mass of the people from the realm of politics. The liberal dream of the ‘Men of 1864’ — of turning the peasants into citizens and broadening the base of local government — was undermined as the court and its allies sought to reassert the old paternal system, headed by the Tsar, his clergy and his knights, in which the peasants, like children or savages, were deemed too primitive to play an active part. The demise of the liberal agenda did not become fully clear until the defeat of Prime Minister Stolypin’s reforms — above all his project to establish a volost zemstvo dominated by the peasantry — between 1906 and 1911. But its likely consequences were clear long before that. As their pioneers had often pointed out, the zemstvos were the one institution capable of providing a political base for the regime in the countryside. Had they been allowed to integrate the peasants into the system of local politics, then perhaps the old divide between the ‘two Russias’ (in Herzen’s famous phrase), between official Russia and peasant Russia, might at least have been narrowed if not bridged. That divide defined the whole course of the revolution. Without a stake in the old ruling system, the peasants in 1917 had no hesitation in sweeping away the entire state, thereby creating the political vacuum for the Bolshevik seizure

of power. Tsarism in this sense undermined itself; but it also created the basic conditions for the triumph of Bolshevism.
iii Remnants of a Feudal Army
‘I promise and do hereby swear before the Almighty God, before His Holy Gospels, to serve His Imperial Majesty, the Supreme Autocrat, truly and faithfully, to obey him in all things, and to defend his dynasty, without sparing my body, until the last drop of my blood.’ Every soldier took this oath of allegiance upon entering the imperial army. Significantly, it was to the Tsar and the preservation of his dynasty rather than to the state or even to the nation that the soldier swore his loyalty. Every soldier had to renew this oath on the coronation of each new Tsar. The Russian army belonged to the Tsar in person; its officers and soldiers were in effect in vassalage to him.25
The patrimonial principle survived longer in the army than in any other institution of the Russian state. Nothing was closer to the Romanov court or more important to it than the military. The power of the Empire was founded on it, and the needs of the army and the navy always took precedence in the formulation of tsarist policies. All the most important reforms in Russian history had been motivated by the need to catch up and compete in war with the Empire’s rivals in the west and south: Peter the Great’s reforms had been brought about by the wars with Sweden and the Ottomans; those of Alexander II by military defeat in the Crimea.
The court was steeped in the ethos of the military. Since the late eighteenth century it had become the custom of the tsars to play soldiers with their families. The royal household was run like a huge army staff, with the Tsar as the Supreme Commander, all his courtiers divided by rank, and his sons, who were enrolled in the Guards, subjected from an early age to the sort of cruel humiliations which they would encounter in the officers’ mess, so as to inculcate the principles of discipline and subordination which it was thought they would need in order to rule. Nicholas himself had a passion for the Guards. His fondest memories were of his youthful and carefree days as Colonel in the Preobrazhensky Regiment. He had a weakness for military parades and spared no expense on gold braid for his soldiers. He even restored some of the more archaic and operatic embellishments to the uniforms of the elite Guards regiments which Alexander III had thought better to abolish in the interests of economy. Nicholas was constantly making fussy alterations to the uniforms of his favourite units— an extra button here, another tassel there — as if he was still playing with the toy soldiers of his boyhood. All his daughters, as well as his son, were enrolled in Guards regiments. On namedays and birthdays they wore their

uniforms and received delegations of their officers. They appeared at military parades and reviews, troop departures, flag presentations, regimental dinners, battle anniversaries and other ceremonies. The Guards officers of the Imperial Suite, who accompanied them everywhere they went, were treated almost as extended members of the Romanov family. No other group was as close or as loyal to the person of the Tsar.26
Many historians have depicted the army as a stalwart buttress of the tsarist regime. That was also the view of most observers until the revolution. Major Von Tettau from the German General Staff wrote in 1903, for example, that the Russian soldier ‘is full of selflessnesss and loyalty to his duty’ in a way ‘that is scarcely to be found in any other army of the world’. He did ‘everything with a will’ and was always ‘unassuming, satisfied and jolly— even after labour and deprivation’.27 But in fact there were growing tensions between the military— in every rank — and the Romanov regime.
For the country’s military leaders the root of the problem lay in the army’s dismal record in the nineteenth century, which many of them came to blame on the policies of the government. Defeat in the Crimean War (1853—6), followed by a costly campaign against Turkey (1877—8), and then the humiliation of defeat by the Japanese — the first time a major European power had lost to an Asian country — in 1904—5, left the army and the navy demoralized. The causes of Russia’s military weakness were partly economic: her industrial resources failed to match up to her military commitments in an age of increasing competition between empires. But this incompetence also had a political source: during the later nineteenth century the army had gradually lost its place at the top of government spending priorities. The Crimean defeat had discredited the armed services and highlighted the need to divert resources from the military to the modernization of the economy. The Ministry of War lost the favoured position it had held in the government system of Nicholas I (1825—55) and became overshadowed by the Ministries of Finance and the Interior, which from this point on received between them the lion’s share of state expenditure. Between 1881 and 1902 the military’s share of the budget dropped from 30 per cent to 18 per cent. Ten years before the First World War the Russian army was spending only 57 per cent of the amount spent on each soldier in the German army, and only 63 per cent of that spent in the Austrian. In short, the Russian soldier went to war worse trained, worse equipped and more poorly serviced than his enemy. The army was so short of cash that it relied largely on its own internal economy to clothe and feed itself. Soldiers grew their own food and tobacco, and repaired their own uniforms and boots. They even earned money for the regiment by going off to work as seasonal labourers on landed estates, in factories and mines near their garrisons. Many soldiers spent more time growing vegetables or repairing boots than they did learning how to handle their

guns. By reducing the military budget, the tsarist regime created an army of farmers and cobblers.
The demoralization of the army was also connected to its increasing role in the suppression of civilian protests. The Russian Empire was covered with a network of garrisons. Their job was to provide more or less instant military assistance for the provincial governors or the police to deal with unrest. Between 1883 and 1903 the troops were called out nearly 1,500 times. Officers complained bitterly that this police duty was beneath the dignity of a professional soldier, and that it distracted the army from its proper military purpose. They also warned of the damaging effect it was likely to have on the army’s discipline. History proved them right. The vast majority of the private soldiers were peasants, and their morale was heavily influenced by the news they received from their villages. When the army was called out to put down the peasant uprisings of 1905—6 many of the units, especially in the peasant-dominated infantry, refused to obey and mutinied in support of the revolution. There were over 400 mutinies between the autumn of 1905 and the summer of 1906. The army was brought to the brink of collapse, and it took years to restore a semblance oforder.28
Many of these mutinies were part of a general protest against the feudal conditions prevailing in the army. Tolstoy, who had served as an army officer in the Crimean War, described them in his last novelHadji-Murad.The peasant soldiers, in particular, objected to the way their officers addressed them with the familiar ‘you'(tyi)— normally used for animals and children — rather than the polite ‘you'(vyi).It was how the masters had once addressed their serfs; and since most of the officers were nobles, and most of the soldiers were sons of former serfs, this mode of address symbolized the continuation of the old feudal world inside the army. The first thing a recruit did on joining the army was to learn the different titles of his officers: ‘Your Honour’ up to the rank of colonel; ‘Your Excellency’ for generals; and ‘Your Radiance’ or ‘Most High Radiance’ for titled officers. Colonels and generals were to be greeted not just with the simple hand salute but by halting and standing sideways to attention while the officer passed by for a strictly prescribed number of paces. The soldier was trained to answer his superiors in regulation phrases of deference: ‘Not at all, Your Honour’; ‘Happy to serve you, Your Excellency.’ Any deviations were likely to be punished. Soldiers could expect to be punched in the face, hit in the mouth with the butt of a rifle and sometimes even flogged for relatively minor misdemeanours. Officers were allowed to use a wide range of abusive terms— such as ‘scum’ and ‘scoundrel’ — to humiliate their soldiers and keep them in their place. Even whilst off-duty the common soldier was deprived of the rights of a normal citizen. He could not smoke in public places, go to restaurants or theatres, ride in trams, or occupy a seat in a first- orsecond-class

railway carriage. Civic parks displayed the sign: DOGS AND SOLDIERS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER. The determination of the soldiery to throw off this ‘army serfdom’ and gain the dignity of citizenship was to become a major story of the revolution.29
It was not just the peasant infantry who joined the mutinies after 1905. Even some of the Cossack cavalry— who since the start of the nineteenth century had been a model of loyalty to the Tsar — joined the rebellions. The Cossacks had specific grievances. Since the sixteenth century they had developed as an elite military caste, which in the nineteenth century came under the control of the Ministry of War. In exchange for their military service, the Cossacks were granted generous tracts of fertile land — mainly on the southern borders they were to defend (the Don and Kuban) and the eastern steppes — as well as considerable political freedom for their self-governing communities(yoiskos,from the word for ‘war’). However, during the last decades of the nineteenth century the costs of equipping themselves for the cavalry, of buying saddles, harnesses and military-grade horses, as they were obliged to in the charters of their estate, became increasingly burdensome. Many Cossack farmers, already struggling in the depression, had to sell part of their livestock to meet their obligations and equip their sons to join. Thevoiskosdemanded more and more concessions— both economic and political — as the price of their military service. They began to raise the flag of ‘Cossack nationalism’ — a parochial and nasty form of local patriotism based on the idea of the Cossacks’ ethnic superiority to the Russian peasantry, and the memory of a distant and largely mythic past when the Cossacks had been left to rule themselves through their ‘ancient’ assemblies of elders and their elected atamans.»0
The government’s treatment of the army provoked growing resentment among Russia’s military elite. The fiercest opposition came from the new generation of so-called military professionals emerging within the officer corps and the Ministry of War itself during the last decades of the old regime. Many of them were graduates from the Junker military schools, which had been opened up and revitalized in the wake of the Crimean defeat to provide a means for the sons of non-nobles to rise to the senior ranks. Career officers dedicated to the modernization of the armed services, they were bitterly critical of the archaic military doctrines of the elite academies and the General Staff. To them the main priorities of the court seemed to be the appointment of aristocrats loyal to the Tsar to the top command posts and the pouring of resources into what had become in the modern age a largely ornamental cavalry. They argued, by contrast, that more attention needed to be paid to the new technologies— heavy artillery, machine-guns, motor transportation, trench design and aviation — which were bound to be decisive in coming wars. The strains of

modernization on the politics of the autocracy were just as apparent in the military as they were in all the other institutions of the old regime.
Alexei Brusilov (1853—1926) typified the new professional outlook. He was perhaps the most talented commander produced by the old regime in its final decades; and yet, after 1917, he did more than any other to secure the victory of the Bolsheviks. For this he would later come to be vilified as a ‘traitor to Russia’ by the White Russian emigres. But the whole of his extraordinary career — from his long service as a general in the imperial army to his time as the commander of Kerensky’s army in 1917 and finally to his years as a senior adviser in the Red Army — was dedicated to the military defence of his country. In many ways the bitter life of Brusilov, which we shall be tracing throughout this book, symbolized the tragedy of his class.
There was nothing in Brusilov’s background or early years to suggest the revolutionary path he would later take. Even physically, with his handsome fox-like features and his fine moustache, he cut the figure of a typical nineteenth-century tsarist general. One friend described him as a ‘man of average height with gentle features and a natural easy-going manner but with such an air of commanding dignity that, when one looks at him, one feels duty-bound to love him and at the same time to fear him’. Brusilov came from an old Russian noble family with a long tradition of military service. One of his ancestors in the eighteenth century had distinguished himself in the battle for the Ukraine against the Poles— a feat he would emulate in 1920 — and for this the family had been given a large amount of fertile land in the Ukraine. At the age of nineteen Brusilov graduated from the Corps des Pages, the most elite of all the military academies, where officers were trained for the Imperial Guards. He joined the Dragoons of the Tver Regiment in the Caucasus and fought there with distinction, winning several medals, in the war against Turkey in 1877—8, before returning to St Petersburg and enrolling in the School of Guards Sub-Ensigns and Cavalry Junkers, where he rose to become one of Russia’s topcavalry experts. Not surprisingly, given such a background, he instinctively shared the basic attitudes and prejudices of his peers. He was a monarchist, a Great Russian nationalist, a stern disciplinarian with his soldiers and a patriarch with his family. Above all, he was a devout, even mystical,believer in the Orthodox faith. It was this, according to his wife, that gave him his legendary calmness and self-belief even at moments of impending disaster for his troops.31
But Brusilov’s views were broader and more intelligent than those of the average Guards officer. Although by training a cavalryman, he was among the first to recognize the declining military significance of the horse in an age of modern warfare dominated by the artillery, railways, telephones and motor transportation. ‘We were too well supplied with cavalry,’ he would later recall in his memoirs, ‘especially when trench fighting took the place of open warfare.’32

He believed that everything had to be subordinated to the goal of preparing the imperial army for a modern war. This meant inevitably sacrificing the archaic domination of the cavalry, and if necessary even the dynastic interests of the court, for the good of defending the Russian Fatherland. While he was by instinct a monarchist, he placed the army above politics, and his allegiance to the Tsar weakened as he saw it undermined and destroyed by the leadership of the court.
Brusilov’s disaffection with the monarchy was to conclude in 1917 when he threw in his lot with the revolution. But the roots of this conversion went back to the 1900s, when, like many of the new professionals, he came to see the court’s domination of the military as a major obstacle to its reform and modernization in readiness for the European war that, with every passing year, seemed more likely to break out on Russia’s western borders. The critical turning point was the failure of the General Staff to learn the lessons of the disastrous defeat in the Japanese war of 1904—5. Like many officers, he bitterly resented the way the military had been forced into this campaign, 6,000 miles away and virtually without preparation, by a small clique at court. The war in the Far East had led to the run-down of the country’s defences in the west. When, in 1909, he assumed the command of the Fourteenth Army in the crucial Warsaw border region, Brusilov found a state of ‘utter chaos and disorganization in all our forces’:
In the event of mobilization there would have been no clothes or boots for the men called up, and the lorries would have broken down as soon as they were put on the roads. We had machine-guns, but only eight per regiment, and they had no carriages, so that in case of war they would have had to be mounted on country carts. There were no howitzer batteries, and we knew that we were very short of ammunition, whether for field artillery or for rifles. I [later] learnt that the state of affairs was everywhere the same as with the XIV Army. At that moment it would have been utterly impossible to make war, even if Germany had thought of seizing Poland or the Baltic provinces.33
Very few Russian soldiers received training for trench warfare. The senior generals continued to believe that the cavalry was destined to play the key role in any forthcoming war, just as it had done in the eighteenth century. They dismissed Brusilov’s attempts to involve the soldiers in mock artillery battles as a waste of ammunition. Their notion of training was to march the men up and down in parades and reviews: these were nice to look at and gave them the impression of military discipline and precision, but as a preparation for a modern war they had no value whatsoever. Brusilov believed that such archaic practices were due

to the domination of the General Staff by the court and the aristocracy. These people even seemed to think that whole divisions of the infantry could be commanded by dullards and fools so long as they had gone through one of the elite military schools reserved for noblemen. Attitudes like these alienated the new career soldiers from the Junker schools, who, unlike the prodigal sons of the General Staff, had often made it through the ranks by competence alone. It was not coincidental that, like Brusilov, more than a few of them would later join the Reds.
The grievances of the military professionals gradually forced them into politics. The emergence of the Duma after 1905 gave them an organ through which to express their opposition to the court’s leadership of the military. Many of the more progressive among them, like A. A. Polivanov, the Assistant Minister of War, joined forces with liberal politicians in the Duma, such as Alexander Guchkov, who, whilst arguing for increased spending on the army and especially the navy, wanted this connected with military reforms, including the transfer of certain controls from the court to the Duma and the government. Slowly but surely, the Tsar was losing his authority over the most talented elements of the military elite. Nicholas tried to reassert his influence by appointing the elegant and eminently loyal courtier, V A. Sukhomlinov, to the post of War Minister in 1908. In the naval staff crisis of the following year he made a great show of forcing the Duma and the government to recognize his exclusive control of the military command (see pages 225—6). Yet it was almost certainly too late for the Tsar to win back the hearts and minds of the military professionals like Brusilov. They were already looking to the Duma and its broader vision of reform to restore the strength of their beloved army. Here were the roots of the wartime coalition which helped to bring about the downfall of the Tsar.
iv Not-So-Holy Russia
God grant health to the Orthodox Tsar Grand Prince Mikhail Fedorovich May he hold the Muscovite tsardom And all the Holyrussian land.
According to popular song, Mikhail Romanov had been blessed by his father, the Metropolitan Filaret, in 1619 with this prayer, six years after ascending the Russian throne. The myth of the ‘Holyrussian land’ was the founding idea of the Muscovite tsardom as it was developed by the Romanovs from the start of the seventeenth century. The foundation of their dynasty, as it was presented in the propaganda of the 1913 jubilee, symbolized the awakening of a new

Russian national consciousness based on the defence of Orthodoxy. Mikhail Romanov, so the legend went, had been elected by the entire Russian people following the civil war and Polish intervention during the Time of Troubles (1598—1613). The ‘Holyrussian land’ was thus reunited behind the Romanov dynasty, and Mikhail saved Orthodox Russia from the Catholics. From this point on, the idea of ‘Holy Russia’, of a stronghold for the defence of Orthodoxy, became the fundamental legitimizing myth of the dynasty.
Not that the idea of Holy Russia lacked a popular base. Folksongs and Cossack epics had talked of the Holy Russian land since at least the seventeenth century. It was only natural that Christianity should become a symbol of popular self-identification for the Slavs on this flat Eurasian land-mass so regularly threatened by Mongol and Tatar invasion. To be a Russian was to be Christian and a member of the Orthodox faith. Indeed it was telling that the phrase ‘Holy Russia'(Sviataia Rus’)could only be applied to this older term for Russia, from which the very word for a Russian(russkii)derived; it was impossible to saySviataia Rossiia,sinceRossiia,the newer term for Russia, was connected only with the imperial state.* Even more suggestive is the fact that the word in Russian for a peasant(krest’ianin),which in all other European languages stemmed from the idea of the country or the land, was coupled with the word for a Christian(khrist’ianin).
But where the popular myth of Holy Russia had sanctified the people and their customs, the official one sanctified the state in the person of the Tsar. Moscow became the ‘Third Rome’, heir to the legacy of Byzantium, the last capital of Orthodoxy; and Russia became a ‘holy land’ singled out by God for humanity’s salvation. This messianic mission gave the tsars a unique religious role; to preach the True Word and fight heresies across the world. The image of the tsar was not just of a king, mortal as a man but ruling with a divine right, as in the Western medieval tradition; he was fabricated as a God on earth, divinely ordained as a ruler and saintly as a man. There was a long tradition in Russia of canonizing princes who had laid down their livespro patria et fides,as Michael Cherniavsky has shown in his superb study of Russian myths. The tsars used Church laws, as no Western rulers did, to persecute their political opponents. The whole of Russia became transformed into a sort of vast monastery, under the rule of a tsar-archimandrite, where all heresies were rooted out.34
It was only gradually from the eighteenth century that this religious base of tsarist power was replaced by a secular one. Peter the Great sought to reform the relations between Church and state on Western absolutist lines. In an effort to subordinate it to the state, the Church’s administration was transferred from the patriarchate to the Holy Synod, a body of laymen and clergy
* The difference betweenRusandRossiiawas similar to that between ‘England’ and ‘Britain’.

appointed by the Tsar. By the nineteenth century its secular representative, the Procurator-General, had in effect attained the status of minister for ecclesiastical affairs with control of episcopal appointments, religious education and most of the Church’s finances, although not of questions of theological dogma. The Holy Synod remained, for the most part, a faithful tool in the hands of the Tsar. It was in the Church’s interests not to rock the boat: during the latter half of the eighteenth century it had lost much of its land to the state and it now relied on it for funding to support 100,000 parish clergy and their families.* Still, it would be wrong to portray the Church as a submissive organ of the state. The tsarist system relied on the Church just as much as the Church relied on it: theirs was a mutual dependence. In a vast peasant country like Russia, where most of the population was illiterate, the Church was an essential propaganda weapon and a means of social control.35
The priests were called upon to denounce from the pulpit all forms of dissent and opposition to the Tsar, and to inform the police about subversive elements within their parish, even if they had obtained the information through the confessional. They were burdened with petty administrative duties: helping the police to control vagrants; reading out imperial manifestos and decrees; providing the authorities with statistics on births, deaths and marriages registered in parish books, and so on. Through 41,000 parish schools the Orthodox clergy were also expected to teach the peasant children to show loyalty, deference and obedience not just to the Tsar and his officials but also to their elders and betters. Here is a section of the basic school catechism prepared by the Holy Synod:
Q. How should we show our respect for the Tsar?
A.I. We should feel complete loyalty to the Tsar and be prepared to lay
down our lives for him. 2. We should without objection fulfil his
commands and be obedient to the authorities appointed by him.
3. We should pray for his health and salvation, and also for that of
all the Ruling House. Q. What should we think of those who violate their duty toward their
Sovereign?A.They are guilty not only before the Sovereign, but also before God.
The Word of God says, ‘Whosoever therefore resisteth the power,
resisteth the ordinance of God.’ (Rom. 13: 2)36
For its part the Church was given a pre-eminent position in the moral order of the old regime. It alone was allowed to proselytize and do missionary
* Unlike their Catholic counterparts, Russian Orthodox priests were allowed to marry. Only the monastic clergy were not.

work in the Empire. The regime’s policies of Russification helped to promote the Orthodox cause: in Poland and the Baltic, for example, 40,000 Catholics and Lutherans were converted to the Orthodox Church, albeit only nominally, during the reign of Alexander III. The Church applied a wide range of legal pressures against the dissident religious sects, especially the Old Believers.* Until 1905, it remained an offence for anyone in the Orthodox Church to convert from it to another faith or to publish attacks on it. All books on religion and philosophy had to pass through the Church’s censors. There was, moreover, a whole range of moral and social issues where the Church’s influence remained dominant and sometimes even took precedence over the secular authorities. Cases of adultery, incest, bestiality and blasphemy were tried in the Church’s courts. Convictions resulted in the application of exclusively religious, not to say medieval, punishments, such as penance and incarceration in a monastery, since the state left such questions in the Church’s hands and abstained from formulating its own punishments. Over divorce, too, the Church’s influence remained dominant. The only way to attain a divorce was on the grounds of adultery through the ecclesiastical courts, which was a difficult and often painful process. Attempts to liberalize the divorce laws, and to shift the whole issue to the criminal courts, were successfully blocked in the late nineteenth century by a Church which was becoming more doctrinaire on matters of private sexuality and which, in upholding the old patriarchal order, forged a natural alliance with the last two tsars in their struggle against the modern liberal world. In short, late imperial Russia was still very much an Orthodox state.3′
But was it still holy? That was the question that worried the leaders of the Church. And it was from this concern that many of the more liberal Orthodox clergy called for a reform in Church—state relations during the last decades of the old regime. After 1917 there were many shell-shocked Christians — Brusilov was a typical example — who argued that the revolution had been caused by the decline of the Church’s influence. This of course was a simplistic view. Yet there is no doubt that the social revolution was closely connected with the secularization of society, and to a large extent dependent on it.
Urbanization was the root cause. The growth of the cities far outstripped the pace of church-building in them, with the result that millions of
* The Old Believers rejected the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon during the 1660s as well as the government that enforced them. Fleeing persecution, most of them settled in the remote areas of Siberia, where they remain to this day. At the turn of the century there were estimated to be as many as eighteen million Old Believers. The other main religious sects, closer in spirit to Evangelicalism, were theStundists(Baptists), theDukhobortsy(‘Fighters for the Spirit’) and theMolokane(Milk-Drinkers). They had about one million followers between them. Many of these sects had a radical tradition of dissent, which is both explained by and helps to explain their persecution by the state.

workers, having been uprooted from the village with its church, were consigned to live in a state of Godlessness. The industrial suburb of Orekhovo-Zuevo, just outside Moscow, for example, had only one church for 40,000 residents at the turn of the century. Iuzovka, the mining capital of the Donbass, today called Donetsk, had only two for 20,000. But it was not just a question of bricks. The Church also failed to find an urban mission, to address the new problems of city life in the way that, for example, Methodism had done during the British industrial revolution. The Orthodox clergy proved incapable of creating a popular religion for the world of factories and tenements. Those who tried, such as Father Gapon, the radical preacher of St Petersburg who led the workers’ march to the Winter Palace in January 1905, were soon disavowed by the Church’s conservative leaders, who would have nothing to do with religiously inspired calls for social reform.38
The experience of urbanization was an added pressure towards secularization. Young peasants who migrated to the cities left behind them the old oral culture of the village, in which the priests and peasant elders were dominant, and joined an urban culture where the written word was dominant and where the Church was forced to compete with the new socialist ideologies. One peasant who made this leap was Semen Kanatchikov during his progress through the school of industry and into the ranks of the Bolsheviks. In his memoirs he recalled how his apostasy was slowly nurtured in the 1890s when he left his native village for Moscow and went to work in a machine-building factory where socialists often agitated. To begin with, he was somewhat afraid of these ‘students’ because ‘they didn’t believe in God and might be able to shake my faith as well, which could have resulted in eternal hellish torments in the next world’. But he also admired them ‘because they were so free, so independent, so well informed about everything, and because there was nobody and nothing on earth that they feared’. As the country boy grew in confidence and sought to emulate their individualism, so he became more influenced by them. Stories of corrupt priests and ‘miracles’-cum-frauds began to shake ‘the moral foundations with which I had lived and grown up’. One young worker ‘proved’ to him that God had not created man by showing that, if one filled a box with earth and kept it warm, worms and insects would eventually appear in it. This sort of vulgarized pre-Darwinian science, which was widely found in the left-wing pamphlets of that time, had a tremendous impact on young workers like Kanatchikov. ‘Now my emancipation from my old prejudices moved forward at an accelerated tempo,’ he later wrote. ‘I stopped going to the priest for «confession», no longer attended church, and began to eat «forbidden» food during Lenten fast days. However, for a long time to come I didn’t abandon the habit of crossing myself, especially when I returned to the village for holidays.’39
And what about the countryside itself? This was the bedrock of ‘Holy

Russia’, the supposed stronghold of the Church. The religiosity of the Russian peasant has been one of the most enduring myths— along with the depth of the Russian soul — in the history of Russia. But in reality the Russian peasant had never been more than semi-detached with the Orthodox religion. Only a thin coat of Christianity had been painted over his ancient pagan folk-culture. To be sure, the Russian peasant displayed a great deal of external devotion. He crossed himself continually, pronounced the Lord’s name in every other sentence, regularly went to church, always observed the Lenten fast, never worked on religious holidays, and was even known from time to time to go on pilgrimage to holy shrines. Slavophile intellectuals, like Dostoevsky or Solzhenitsyn, might wish to see this as a sign of the peasant’s deep attachment to the Orthodox faith. And it is certainly true that most of the peasants thought of themselves as Orthodox. If one could go into a Russian village at the turn of the century and ask its inhabitants who they were, one would probably receive the reply: ‘We are Orthodox and from here.’ But the peasants’ religion was far from the bookish Christianity of the clergy. They mixed pagan cults and superstitions, magic and sorcery, with their adherence to Orthodox beliefs. This was thepeasants’ own vernacular religion shaped to fit the needs of their precarious farming lives.
Being illiterate, the average peasant knew very little of the Gospels. The Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments were unknown to him. But he did vaguely understand the concepts of heaven and hell, and no doubt hoped that his lifelong observance of the church rituals would somehow save his soul. He conceived of God as a real human being, not as an abstract spirit. Gorky described one peasant he encountered in a village near Kazan, who:
pictured God as a large, handsome old man, the kindly, clever master of the universe who could not conquer evil only because: ‘He cannot be everywhere at once, too many men have been born for that. But he will succeed, you see. But I can’t understand Christ at all! He serves no purpose as far as I’m concerned. There is God and that’s enough. But now there’s another! The son, they say. So what if he’s God’s son. God isn’t dead, not that I know of.’
The icon was the focus of the peasant’s faith. He followed the Bible stories from the icons in his church and believed that icons had magical powers. The corner in the peasant’s hut, where he positioned the family icon, was, like the stove, a holy place. It sheltered the souls of his deceased ancestors and protected the household from evil spirits. Whenever the peasant entered or left his house he was supposed to take off his hat, bow and cross himself in front of it. And yet, as Belinsky pointed out to Gogol, the peasant also found another use for this

sacred object. ‘He says of the icon: «It’s good for praying— and you can cover the pots with it too.» ’40
The peasant shared in the Church’s cult of the saints in a similarly down-to-earth fashion, adding to it his own pagan gods and spirits connected with the agricultural world. There were Vlas (the patron saint of cattle), Frol and Lavr (the saints of horses), Elijah (the saint of thunder and rain), Muchenitsa Paraskeva (the saint of flax and yarn), as well as countless other spirits and deities— household, river, forest, mountain, lakeland and marine — called on by midwives, healers, witch doctors, bloodletters, bonesetters, sorcerers and witches through their charms and prayers. The peasants were proverbially superstitious. They believed that their lives were plagued by demons and evil spirits who cast their spells on the crops and the cattle, made women infertile, caused misfortune and illness, and brought back the souls of the dead to haunt them. The spells could only be exorcised by a priest or some other gifted person with the help of icons, candles, herbs and primitive alchemy. This was a strange religious world which, despite much good research in recent years, we can never hope to understand in full.41
The position of the parish priest, who lived on the constantly shifting border between the official religion of the Church and the paganism of the peasants, was precarious. By all accounts, the peasants did not hold their priests in high esteem.* The Russian peasants looked upon their local priests, in the words of one contemporary, not so much as ‘spiritual guides or advisers but as a class of tradesmen with wholesale and retail dealings in sacraments’. Unable to support themselves on the meagre subsidies they received from the state, or from the farming of their own small chapel plots, the clergy relied heavily on collecting peasant fees for their services: two roubles for a wedding; a hen for a blessing of the crops; a few bottles of vodka for a funeral; and so on. The crippling poverty of the peasants and the proverbial greed of the priests often made this bargaining process long and heated. Peasant brides would be left standing in the church for hours, or the dead left unburied for several days, while the peasants and the priest haggled over the fee. Such shameless (though often necessary) bargaining by the clergy was bound to harm the prestige of the Church. The low educational level of many of the priests, their tendency to corruption and drunkenness, their well-known connections with the police and their general subservience to the local gentry, all added to the low esteem in which they were held. ‘Everywhere’, wrote a nineteenth-century parish priest, ‘from the most resplendent drawing rooms to smoky peasant huts, people
* When one compares this with the respect and deference shown by the peasants of Catholic Europe towards their priests then one begins to understand why peasant Russia had a revolution and, say, peasant Spain a counter-revolution.

disparage the clergy with the most vicious mockery, with words of the most profound scorn and infinite disgust.’42
This was hardly a position of strength from which the Church could hope to defend its peasant flock from the insidious secular culture of the modern city. Towards the end of the nineteenth century a growing number of Orthodox clergy came to realize this. They were worried about the falling rate of church attendance which they blamed for the rise of ‘hooliganism’, violent attacks on landed property and other social evils in the countryside. It was from this concern for the Christian guidance of the peasants that calls were increasingly made for a radical reform of the Church. They were first voiced by the generation of liberal clergymen who had emerged from the seminaries during the middle decades of the century. Better educated and more conscientious than their predecessors, these ‘clerical liberals’ were inspired by the Great Reforms of the 1860s. They talked of revitalizing the life of the parish and of instilling a ‘conscious’ Christianity into the minds of the peasants. This they thought they could achieve by bringing the parish church closer to the peasants’ lives: parishioners should have more control of their local church; there should be more parish schools; and parish priests should be allowed to concentrate on religious and pastoral affairs instead of being burdened with petty bureaucratic tasks. By the turn of the century, as it became clear that the Church could not be revitalized until it was liberated from its obligations to the state, the demands of the liberal clergy had developed into a broader movement for the wholesale reform of the Church’s relations with the tsarist state. This movement climaxed in 1905 with calls from a broad cross-section of the clergy for a Church Council (Sobor) to replace the Holy Synod. Many also called for the decentralization of ecclesiastical power from St Petersburg and the monastic hierarchy to the dioceses and indeed from there to the parishes. While it would be wrong to claim that this movement was part of the 1905 democratic revolution, there were certainly parallels between the clergy’s demands for church reform and the liberals’ demands for political reform. Like the zemstvo men, the liberal clergy wanted more self-government so that they could better serve society in their local communities.43
This was much further than the conservatives within the ecclesiastical hierarchy were prepared to go. While they supported the general notion of self-government for the Church, they were not prepared to see the authority of the appointed bishops or the monastic clergy weakened in any way. Even less were they inclined to accept the argument put forward by the Prime Minister, Count Witte, on proposing the Law of Religious Toleration in 1905, that ending discrimination against the rivals of Orthodoxy would not harm the Church provided it embraced the reforms that would revive its own religious life. The senior hierarchs of the Church might have flirted for a while with the heady

ideas of self-government being bandied about by their liberal brethren, but Witte s insistence on making religious toleration the price of such autonomy (a policy motivated by the prospect of wooing important commercial groups in the Old Believer and Jewish communities) was guaranteed to drive them back into the arms of reaction. After 1905 they allied themselves with the court and extreme Rightist organizations, such as the Union of the Russian People, in opposing all further attempts by the liberals to reform the Church and extend religious toleration. The old alliance of Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Nationality’ was thus revived against the threat of a liberal moral order. This clash of ideologies was one of the most decisive in shaping Russian history between 1905 and 1917.
With the liberal clergy defeated, the Church was left in a state of terminal division and weakness. The central ideological pillar of the tsarist regime was at last beginning to crumble. Rasputin’s rise to power within the Church signalled its own final fall from grace. ‘The Most Holy Synod has never sunk so low!’ one former minister told the French Ambassador in February 1916. ‘If they wanted to destroy all respect for religion, all religious faith, they would not go about it in any other way. What will be left of the Orthodox Church before long? When Tsarism, in danger, seeks its support, it will find there is nothing left.’44
v Prison of Peoples
The collapse of the tsarist system, like that of its successor, was intimately connected with the growth of nationalist movements in the non-Russian parts of the Empire. In neither the tsarist case nor in the Soviet were these movements the direct cause of the collapse. Rather they developed in reaction to it, at first putting forward moderate proposals for autonomy and then, only when Russia’s impotence became clear, pushing on to the demand for complete independence. But, in both cases, the old regime was weakened by the growth of nationalist aspirations during the decades of gradual decline which led to its final downfall. From the post-Soviet perspective, all this may seem obvious. Nationalism today is such a potent force that we are inclined to believe that it is, and always has been, part of human nature. But, as the late Ernest Gellner warned us, ‘having a nation isnot an inherent attribute of humanity’. The development of a mass national consciousness did not occur in most of Eastern Europe until the final decades of the nineteenth century. It was contingent on many other factors associated with the rise of a modern civil society: the transition from an agrarian society and polity to an urban and industrial one; the shift from a folk to a national culture through the development of schooling, mass literacy and

communication; and an increase in the mobility of the population which not only made it more aware of its own ethnic differences and disadvantages, compared with other groups in the broader world, but also resulted in its literate sons and grandsons joining the leadership of the embryonic nation. In short, the failure of the tsarist system to cope with the growth of nationalism was yet another reflection of its failure to cope with the challenges of the modern world.45
So new were these national movements that, even after the Polish uprisings of the nineteenth century, they took the tsarist regime largely by surprise when they appeared as a political force during the 1905 Revolution. Neither of the two mainstream Russian schools of thought could handle the conceptual problems thrown up by the rise of nationalism. Both the conservatives and the liberals were entrapped by the fact that Russia had become an Empire before it had become a nation: for it obliged them as patriots to identify with Russia’s imperial claims. For right-wing supporters of autocracy the non-Russian lands were simply the possessions of the Tsar. The Russian Empire was indivisible, just as the Tsar’s power was divine. Even Brusilov, who in 1917 would throw in his lot with the Republic, could not give up the idea of the Russian Empire, and it was this that made him join the Reds, whose regime was destined to preserve it. Since, moreover, in the Rightists’ view Orthodoxy was the basis of the Russian nation, the Ukrainians and the Belorussians were not separate peoples but ‘Little’ and ‘White’ Russians; yet by the same token, the Poles, the Muslims and the Jews could never be assimilated into the Russian nation, or given equal rights to the Russian people, but had to be kept within the Empire in a sort of permanent apartheid. Hence the supporters of autocracy had no conceptual means of dealing with the problems of nationalism: for even to recognize the validity of the claims of the non-Russians would be to undermine the racial basis of their own ruling ideology. And yet the liberals were equally unable to meet the challenges of nationalism. They subordinated the question of national rights to the struggle for civil and religious freedoms, in the belief that once these had been achieved the problem of nationalism would somehow disappear. Some liberals were prepared to talk of a Russian federation in which the non-Russians would be granted some rights of self-rule and cultural freedoms, but none of them was ready to concede that the aspirations of the non-Russian peoples might legitimately be extended to the demand for an independent state. Even Prince Lvov could not understand the Ukrainian claims to nationhood: in his view the Ukrainians were Little Russian peasants who had different customs and a different dialect from the Great Russians of the north.
Only the socialist parties in Russia embraced the ideas of national autonomy and independence, although even they tended to subordinate the national question to the broader democratic struggle within Russia. It is hardly

surprising, then, that the national movements for liberation should have formed such a central part of the revolutionary movement as a whole. Indeed this was the pretext for their persecution by the Right: simply to be a Pole or, even worse, a Jew was to be a revolutionary in their eyes. This socialistic aspect of the nationalist movements is worth underlining. For the late twentieth-century reader might be tempted to assume, on the basis of the collapse of Communism and the rise of nationalism in Eastern Europe, that they must have been opposed to socialist goals. What is striking about the nationalist movements within the Russian Empire is that their most successful political variants were nearly always socialist in form: Joseph Pilsudski’s Polish Socialist Party led the national movement in Poland; the Socialist Party became the national party of the Finns; the Baltic movements were led by socialists; the Ukrainian Socialist Revolutionaries were the leading Ukrainian national party; the Mensheviks led the Georgian national movement; and the Dashnak socialists the Armenian one. This was in part because the main ethnic conflict also tended to run along social lines: Estonian and Latvian peasants against German landlords and merchants; Ukrainian peasants against Polish or Russian landlords and officials; Azeri workers, or Georgian peasants, against the Armenian bourgeoisie; Kazakh and Kirghiz pastoralists against Russian farmers; and so on. Parties which appealed exclusively to nationalism effectively deprived themselves of mass support; whereas those which successfully combined the national with the social struggle had an almost unstoppable democratic force. In this sense it is worth repeating, given the understandably bad press which nationalism has received in the twentieth century, that for the subject peoples of the Tsarist Empire, as indeed of the Soviet Empire, nationalism was a means of human liberation from oppression and foreign domination. Lenin himself acknowledged this when, paraphrasing the Marquis de Custine, he called Imperial Russia a ‘prison of peoples’.46
* * * Most of the national movements in the Tsarist Empire began with the growth of a literary cultural nationalism in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Romantic writers, students and artists, alienated by the life of the cities, travelled to the countryside for refreshment and inspiration. They idealized the simple rustic lifestyle of their peasant countrymen and added folk themes to their works in an effort to create a ‘national style’. This appropriation of the native culture— offolksongs and folklore, local customs and dialects, peasant crafts and costumes— was more than a passing fashion for the pastoral. It was part of a broader project by a newly conscious urban middle class: the creation of a set ofethnic symbols as the basis of their own national ethos and identity. This was their ‘imagined community’. The urban intelligentsia did not so much observe peasant life as reinvent and mythologize it in their own image. The folk culture of the countryside, which they believed was the ancient origin of their

nation, was in fact often little more than the product of their own fertile imagination. It was increasingly the urban middle classes, rather than the peasants, who dressed up in folk costumes when they went to church, and who filled their homes with furniture and tableware in the ‘peasant style’. It was they who flocked to the ethnographic and folk museums which were opened in cities throughout Eastern Europe around the turn of the century.* But if instead of these museums they had gone into the villages themselves, to observe this folk culture, so to speak, in its native habitat, they would have found it was disappearing fast. The old handicrafts were dying out under competition from cheaper industry. The peasants were increasingly wearing the same manufactured clothes as the urban workers, buying the same food in tins and jars, the same factory furniture, household utensils and linen. It was only the urban middle classes who could afford to buy the old handicrafts.47
The essentially bourgeois character of this kind of nationalism was clearly visible in Finland. The Grand Duchy of Finland enjoyed more self-rule and autonomy than any other part of the Tsarist Empire because on its capture from Sweden in 1808—9 the Russians confirmed the same rights and privileges that had been granted to the Finns by the more liberal Swedes. These cultural freedoms enabled the growth of a small but nationally conscious native intelligentsia, which took its inspiration from the publication of such Finnish folk-epics as theKalevala,and which, from the 1860s, became increasingly unified through the national campaign for the Finnish language to be put on an equal footing with the historically dominant Swedish.48
In the Baltic provinces there was a similar cultural movement based around the campaign for native language rights in schools and universities, literary publications and official life. It was directed less against the Russians than the Germans (in Estonia and Latvia) or the Poles (in Lithuania), who had dominated these regions before their conquest by the Russians in the eighteenth century. Here the native languages had survived only in the remote rural areas (the native elites had been assimilated into the dominant linguistic culture). They were really no more than peasant dialects, closely related but locally varied, not unlike the Gaelic of the Irish and the Scots. During the nineteenth century linguists and ethnographers collected together and standardized these dialects in the form of a written language with a settled grammar and orthography. Ironically, even if the peasants could have read this ‘national language’, most of them would have found it hard to understand, since it was usually either based on just one of the dominant dialects or was an artificial construction, a sort of
* Warsaw established the first Ethnographic Museum in 1888. It was followed by Sarajevo in 1888, Helsinki in 1893, Prague and Lvov in 1895, Belgrade in 1901, St Petersburg in 1902, and Krakov in 1905.

peasant Esperanto, made up from all the different dialects. Nevertheless, this creation of a literary native language, and the publication of a national literature and history written in its prose, helped to start the process of nation-building and made it possible, in future decades, to educate the peasantry in this emergent national culture. In Estonia the cultural landmarks of this national renaissance were the publication of the epic poemKalevipoegby Kreutzwald in 1857, and the foundation, in the same year, of an Estonian-language newspaper,Postimees,aimed at peasant readers. In Latvia there was also a native-language newspaper,Balss (The Voice),from 1878, which, like the Latvian Association, was committed to the idea of uniting the peoples of the two provinces of Livonia and Kurland— which then comprised the territory of Latvia — to form a single Latvian nation. Finally, in Lithuania, which for so long had been dominated by the Poles, a national written language was also developed during the latter half of the nineteenth century (just to spite the Poles it was based on the Czech alphabet) and a native literature began to appear.49
As on the Baltic, so in post-partition Poland, the nation was an idea and not yet a place. Poland existed only in the imagination and in the memory of the historic Polish kingdom which had existed before its defeat and subjugation to the great powers of Eastern Europe towards the end of the eighteenth century. Its spirit was expressed in the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, in the patriotic hymns of the Catholic Church, and— or so at least the patriots claimed (for he was half-French) — in the music of Chopin. This cultural nationalism was a comfort for the Poles, and a substitute for politics. Very few people were engaged in public life, even fewer in open dissent against Russia. Censorship and the constant danger of arrest forced the literate population to withdraw into the world of poetry (as in Russia, literature in Poland served as a metaphor for politics). The 1830 Polish uprising, even the great 1863 uprising, were the work of a relatively small nationalist minority, mostly students, officers, priests and the more liberal noble landowners. Neither won much support from the peasantry, who had little concept of themselves as Poles and who, in any case, were much more interested in gaining their own land and freedom from the nobles than in fighting for a cause led by noblemen and intellectuals.50
This first and primarily cultural expression of aspiring nationhood was nowhere more in evidence than in the Ukraine, no doubt in part due to the fact that of all the Empire’s subject nationalities the Ukrainians were the closest culturally to the Russians. The Russians called the Ukraine ‘Little Russia’, and made it illegal to print the word ‘Ukraine’. Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, was the tenth-century founding place of Russian Christianity. The cultural differences between Russia and the Ukraine— mainly in language, land rights and customs — had really only developed between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the western Ukraine fell under Polish-Lithuanian domination.

Thus the Ukrainian nationalists had their work cut out to make a case for these distinctions as the basis of a separate national culture.
They took inspiration from the Ukrainian national movement in neighbouring Galicia. As part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Galicia had been granted relatively liberal rights of self-government. This had allowed the Ukrainians, or ‘Ruthenians’ (dog-Latin for ‘Russians’) as they were known by the Austrians, to promote their own Ukrainian language in primary schools and public life, to publish native-language newspapers and books, and to advance the study of Ukrainian history and folk culture. Galicia became a sort of ‘Ukrainian Piedmont’ for the rest of the national movement in tsarist Ukraine: a forcing-house of national consciousness and an oasis of freedom for nationalist intellectuals. Lviv, its capital, also known as Lemberg (by the Germans) and as Lvov (by the Russians), was a thriving centre of Ukrainian culture. Although subjects of the Tsar, both the composer Lysenko and the historian Hrushevsky had found their nation in Galicia. The nationalist intellectuals who pioneered the Ukrainian literary language in the middle decades of the nineteenth century all borrowed terms from the Galician dialect, which they considered the most advanced, although later, as they tried to reach the peasantry with newspapers and books, they were forced to base it on the Poltavan folk idiom, which, as the dialect of the central Ukraine, was the most commonly understood. The seminal texts of this national literary renaissance were published by the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius prior to its dissolution by the tsarist authorites in 1847. The romantic poetry of Taras Shevchenko, which played the same role as Mickiewicz’s poetry in Poland in shaping the intelligentsia’s national consciousness, was the most important of these. Ukrainian-language publications continued to appear, despite the legal restrictions on them. Many were published by the Kiev section of the Russian Geographical Society, whose increasingly nationalist members devoted themselves to the study of Ukrainian folk culture, language and history.51
In the non-European sectors of the Empire this cultural stage of the national movements was much slower to take off. The Armenian intelligentsia had welcomed the extension of tsarist rule to the eastern half of their country after the Russian defeat of Persia in 1827. They now had a Christian ruler to protect them from the Turks, and, or so they hoped, to free the larger half of the Armenian people who remained subjects of the Ottoman Empire. The defence of Armenian culture remained centred on the Gregorian Church and its schools, which, at least until the Russification campaign of the 1880s, aligned the Armenians with the Russians as fellow Christians against the Turks. In neighbouring Georgia, by contrast, language rather than religion was the key to the evolution of national identity. The Georgian Church, unlike the Armenian, had been merged with the Russian Orthodox; while the Georgian social system,

the historic product of a specific type of feudalism, had been, albeit imperfectly, assimilated into the Russian system of estates during the half-century following Georgia’s annexation in 1801. The Georgian nobles, ruined by the Emancipation of their serfs in the 1860s, dominated the intelligentsia. Theirs was a nostalgic nationalism: the romantic poetry of Chavchavadze and Baratashvili lamented the lost greatness of the Georgian kingdoms in the Middle Ages. Finally, in Azerbaijan, conquered by Russia in the 1800s, the emergence of a national consciousness was complicated by the domination of Islam, which tended towards supranational forms and blocked the growth of a secular culture and a written language for the masses. To begin with, ironically, it was the Russians who encouraged the Azeris’ secular culture to develop, promoting the plays of Akhundzada, the ‘Tatar Moliere’, and commissioning histories of the Azeri folk culture and language, as a way of weakening the influence of the Muslim powers to the south.52
Here, more than anywhere, the incipient nationalist intelligentsia found its ability to influence the peasant masses hampered by the general backwardness of society. This was a problem throughout the Tsarist Empire. Isolated in their remote settlements, without schools or communications with the broader world, the vast majority of the peasants had no concept of their nationality. Theirs was a local culture dominated by tradition and the spoken word. It was confined to a small and narrow world: the village and its fields, the parish church, the landowner’s manor and the local market. Beyond that was a foreign country. In Estonia, for example, the peasants simply called themselvesmaarahvas,meaning ‘country people’, while they understood the termsaks(from Saxon— i.e. German) to mean simply a landlord or a master; it was only in the late nineteenth century, when the Tallinn intellectuals spread their influence into the villages, that these terms took on a new ethnic meaning. Much the same was true in Poland. ‘I did not know that I was a Pole till I began to read books and papers,’ recalled one peasant in the 1920s. The people of his region, not far from Warsaw on the Vistula, called themselves Mazurians rather than Poles.53
In Belorussia and the northern Ukraine there was so much ethnic and religious intermingling— in an area the size of Cambridgeshire there might be a mixture of Belorussian, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Jewish and Lithuanian settlements — that it was difficult for anything more than a localized form of ethnic identity to take root in the popular consciousness. One British diplomat — though no doubt a great imperialist and therefore somewhat contemptuous of the claims of small peasant nations like the Ukraine — concluded that this was still the case as late as 1918:
Were one to ask the average peasant in the Ukraine his nationality he would answer that he is Greek Orthodox; if pressed to say whether he is

a Great Russian, a Pole, or an Ukrainian, he would probably reply that he is a peasant; and if one insisted on knowing what language he spoke, he would say that he talked ‘the local tongue’. One might perhaps get him to call himself by a proper national name and say that he is ‘russki’, but this declaration would hardly yet prejudge the question of an Ukrainian relationship; he simply does not think of nationality in the terms familiar to the intelligentsia. Again, if one tried to find out to what state he desires to belong— whether he wants to be ruled by an Ail-Russian or a separate Ukrainian government — one would find that in his opinion all governments alike are a nuisance, and it would be best if the ‘Christian peasant folk’ were left to themselves.
Such localized forms of identity were even more marked in the Muslim regions of the Caucasus (among the Chechens, Daghestanis and Azeris) as well as in much of Central Asia where tribal fiefdoms remained dominant, despite the superimposition of tsarist administrative structures.54
Clearly, then, the process of exposing the peasantry to this emergent national culture, centred in the cities, and of getting them to think in national terms, depended upon the general opening up of their narrow village culture to the outside world. This was a pan-European phenomenon during the latter half of the nineteenth century, as Eugen Weber has shown in his splendid bookPeasants into Frenchmen.It was contingent on the extension of state education in the countryside, on the growth of rural institutions, such as clubs and societies, markets and co-operatives, peasant unions and mass-based parties, which were integrated at the national level, and on the penetration of roads and railways, postal services and telegraphs, newspapers and journals, into the remote rural areas.
In Poland, for example, the development of a national consciousness among the mass of the peasantry followed the spread of rural schooling and rural institutions such as the co-operatives, and the increased movement of the peasants into towns. In Georgia the rise of popular nationalism was linked to similar processes. The Georgian peasants were becoming increasingly integrated into the market economy, selling cereals, fruit, wine and tobacco to Armenian traders, while Tiflis itself, once a predominantly Armenian city, developed a Georgian working class from the poorer and immigrant peasants. As in Tiflis, so in Baku, the domination of Armenian merchants and industrialists served as a focus for the growing national and class consciousness of the immigrant Azeri peasants who flooded into the oil-industrial suburbs of Baku during the last decades of the century. In the Tatar regions of the Volga the origins of pan-Turkic nationalism were to be found in the Jadidist movement, which advocated the secular education of the native masses in opposition to the old elite schooling

provided by the Muslim religious leaders. By 1900 the Volga Jadidists controlled over a thousand primary schools. Meanwhile, in the Kazan Teachers’ School and at Kazan University, there were the makings of a native and increasingly rebellious Tatar intelligentsia, although Kazan itself was mainly Russian.55
In the western Ukraine (Galicia) the development of the peasants’ national consciousness went hand in hand with the formation of a network of rural institutions such as reading clubs, credit unions, co-operative stores, choirs, insurance agencies, volunteer fire departments and gymnastic societies, which were linked with the national movement. The Ukrainian-language newspaperBaktivshchyna(‘Fatherland’) was the nationalists’ main route into the village: it attracted a mass peasant readership through its close attention to local affairs which it mixed with a subtle propaganda for the national cause. The readers ofBaktivshchyna,like the members of the reading clubs and the other primary institutions of the national movement, were mainly the new and ‘conscious type’ of peasants— young and literate, thrifty and sober, and, above all, self-improving — who emerged from the parish schools around the turn of the century. They formed the village cohort of the national movement, together with the local priests, cantors and teachers, who slowly took over local government from the local mayors and their (mainly Jewish) henchmen in the villages, most of whom had been appointed by the Polish landowners. In this sense the national movement was thoroughly democratic: it brought politics to the village.56
The most remarkable thing about the Ukrainian national movement, both under Austrian and tsarist rule, was that it remained based on the peasants. Most nationalist movements are centred on the towns. In the Constituent Assembly elections of November 1917— the first democratic elections in the country’s history — 71 per cent of the Ukrainian peasants voted for the nationalists. In the end, of course, when it came to the naked power struggles of 1917—21, this would be the national movement’s fundamental weakness: the history of almost every country shows that the peasants are too weak politically to sustain a revolutionary regime without the support of the towns. But in the earlier period, when the main concern of the national movement was to build up a popular base, this distinctive peasant character was a source of strength. Ninety percent of the Ukrainian people lived in rural areas. The towns of the Ukraine were dominated by the Russians, the Jews and the Poles; and even those few Ukrainians who lived there, mostly professionals and administrators, easily became Russified. Thus to be a Ukrainian meant in effect to be a peasant(i.e. doubly disadvantaged). Indeed this was symbolized by the fact that the original Ukrainian word for ‘citizen'(hromaijanyn),which in all other European languages is derived from the word for a city, was based on the word for the village assembly(hromada).The Ukrainian national movement developed as a peasant movement against the influence of the ‘foreign’ towns. Nationalist agitators

blamed all the evils which the peasants associated with towns— the oppression of the state, the wealth and privilege of the nobility, the greed and swindling of usurers and merchants — on the Russians, Poles and Jews who lived there. They contrasted the pure and simple lifestyle of the Ukrainian village with the corruption of this alien urban world; and as the influence of the latter grew, with the penetration of capitalism, of factory-made goods and city fashions, into the Ukrainian countryside, so they were able to present this as a threat to the ‘national way of life’. More and more traditional crafts would be pushed aside, they said, by manufactured goods. The ‘honest’ Ukrainian shopkeeper would be superseded by the ‘cheating’ Jewish one. The co-operative movement, which became the backbone of the Ukrainian nationalist organization in the countryside, was developed with the aim — and the rhetoric — of protecting the simple peasants from exploitation by the Jewish traders and money-men.57
But it would be unfair to suggest that the nationalists’ appeal to the peasantry was based solely on xenophobia and hatred of the towns. The peasant land struggle, for example, was intertwined with the nationalist movement in the Ukraine, where three-quarters of the landowners were either Russians or Poles. It is no coincidence that the peasant revolution on the land erupted first, in 1902, in those regions around Poltava province where the Ukrainian nationalist movement was also most advanced. The national movement strengthened and politicized the peasant-landlord conflict. It linked the struggle of an individual village to the national liberation movement of the whole of the Ukrainian people against a foreign class of landowners and officials. How did the nationalists make this link? Let’s take two examples of their rhetoric. One concerns the peasants’ conflict with the landowners over the forests and pasture lands. During the Emancipation in the Ukraine the landowners had enclosed the woods and pastures as their private property, thus depriving the peasants of their traditional rights of access to these lands, granted under serfdom, for timber and grazing. By helping the peasants in their long and bitter struggles for the restoration of these rights, the nationalists were able to involve them in their own broader political movement. Indeed it is telling that much of the romantic, nationalist folk culture of this period played on the theme of the forests and the pastures as a primal symbol of the native soil: nothing would have stirred up more the passions and emotions of the peasantry. A second example concerns the causes of rural poverty. Nationalist agitators explained their poverty to the peasants in the broader context of the semi-colonial exploitation of the Ukraine. They told them that more than half its agricultural surplus was exported to Russia or abroad; and that the Ukrainian peasant was poor because of the high taxes on Russian goods, such as kerosene, vodka and matches, which forced him to sell most of his foodstuffs in order to provide for his basic household needs. The peasant would be better off in an independent Ukraine. Through their exposure

to such arguments, the Ukrainian peasants increasingly interpreted their own economic struggles in a broader national context— and as a result they gained both strength and unity. One recent scholar has found, for example, that the peasants would co-ordinate their voting patterns throughout a whole district in order to secure the defeat of the more powerful Polish-Jewish or Russian candidates in local government elections.58
The nationalist struggle for language rights was also a liberation movement for the peasants. Unless the peasants could understand the language of the government and the courts, they had no direct access to political or civil rights. Unless they could learn to read in their own tongue, they had no hope of social betterment. And unless they could understand their priests, they had reason to fear for their souls. The public use of their native language was not just a matter of necessity, however. It became an issue of personal pride and dignity for the Ukrainian peasant, and this gave the nationalists a profound base of emotional support. As Trotsky himself later acknowledged, looking back on the events of 1917: ‘This political awakening of the peasantry could not have taken place otherwise . . . than through their own native language— with all the consequences ensuing in regard to schools, courts, self-administration. To oppose this would have been to try to drive the peasants back into non-existence.’59
* * * The rise of these nationalist movements need not have spelled the end of the Russian Empire. Not even the most advanced of them had developed as a mass-based political movement before the reign of the last Tsar. Most of them were still mainly limited to cultural goals, which were not necessarily incompatible with the continuation of imperial rule. There was no historical law stating that this cultural nationalism had to evolve into fully fledged national independence movements against Russia. Indeed it was clear that many of the nationalist leaders saw that their country’s interests would best be served by preserving the union with Russia, albeit with looser ties and more autonomy. But tsarist ideology would not tolerate such autonomy— its ruling motto of Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality’ meant subordinating the non-Russian peoples to Russia’s cultural domination. More than anything else, it was this policy of Russification, pursued increasingly by the last two tsars, that politicized the nationalist movements and turnedthem into enemies of Russia. By 1905 nationalist parties had emerged as a major revolutionary force in most of the non-Russian borderlands. By its failure to come to terms with nationalism, the tsarist regime had created another instrument of its own destruction. The same was true of its clumsy handling of the liberal movement before 1905: by repressing this moderate opposition it helped to create a revolutionary one. Sir John Maynard, who as an Englishman writing in the twilight of the British Empire was in a good position to appreciate the dangers of colonial nationalism,

went so far as to say that half the causes of the Russian Revolution resided in the policies of the last two tsars towards their non-Russian subjects.60
There was nothing new in the policy of Russification. It had always been a central aim of the tsarist imperial philosophy to assimilate the non-Russian peoples into the Russian cultural and political system, to turn them into ‘true Christians, loyal subjects, and good Russians’, although different tsars laid different emphases on the three principles of the policy. There was an ethnic hierarchy— parallel to the social one — within the tsarist ruling system that ranked the different nationalities in accordance with their loyalty to the Tsar and gave each a different set of legal rights and privileges. At the top were the Russians and the Baltic Germans, who between them occupied the dominant positions in the court and the civil and military services. Below them were the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Georgians, the Armenians, and so on. The Empire’s five million Jews, at the bottom of its ethnic hierarchy, were subject to a comprehensive range of legal disabilities and discriminations which by the end of the nineteenth century embraced some 1,400 different statutes and regulations as well as thousands of lesser rules, provisions and judicial interpretations. They — alone of all the ethnic groups — were forbidden to own land, to enter the Civil Service, or to serve as officers in the army; there were strict quotas on Jewish admissions into higher schools and universities; and, apart from a few exceptions, the Jews were forced by law to live within the fifteen provinces of the western Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania and Poland which made up the Pale of Settlement. This was a tsarist version of the Hindu caste system, with the Jews in the role of the Untouchables.61
As the regime’s fears about nationalism grew, however, during the later nineteenth century, so its policies of Russification were gradually intensified. One cause for anxiety was that the Russians were losing their demographic domination as a result of the Empire’s territorial expansion into Asia, especially, with its high birth-rates and overpopulation. The census of 1897 showed that the Russians accounted for only 44 per cent of the Empire’s population and that, even more alarmingly, they were one of the slowest-growing ethnic groups.62The Slavophile nationalists, who were responsible for shaping the Russification campaigns of the last two tsars, argued that in this age of growing nationalism and imperial competition the Russian Empire would eventually break up unless something was done to preserve the cultural domination of the Russians. In short, they argued that Russian nationalism should be mobilized as a political force and consolidated at the heart of the tsarist ruling system as a counterweight to the centrifugal forces of the non-Russian nationalities.
Along with the persecution of their religion, the banning of the non-Russians’ native language from schools, literature, streets signs, courts, and public offices, was the most conspicuous and the most oppressive of the Russification

policies pursued after 1881. The language ban was particularly clumsy. One of its effects was to block the path for the growing native-language intelligentsia to make its way up through the education system and bureaucracy, so that it was drawn increasingly into the nationalist and revolutionary opposition. Trying to stamp out the native language was not just an insulting and demoralizing policy as far as the non-Russians were concerned; it was ridiculous as well. Polish students at Warsaw University, for example, had to suffer the absurd indignity of studying their own native literature in Russian translation. High-school students could be expelled for speaking in Polish in their dormitories, as the Bolshevik leader and founder of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, discovered. Even Anton Denikin, the future leader of the Whites, who as a Russian in a Warsaw district high school during the mid-1880s was obliged to monitor the conversations of his Polish classmates, thought that the policy was ‘unrealistically harsh’ and always wrote down ‘nothing to report’. But if forbidding high-school students to speak in Polish was merely harsh (at least they had learned to speak in Russian), to do the same to railway porters (most of whom had never learned Russian, which as ‘public officials’ they were ordered to speak) was to enter into the cruelly surreal. This was not the only act of bureaucratic madness. In 1907 the medical committee in Kiev Province refused to allow cholera epidemic notices to be published in Ukrainian with the result that many of the peasants, who could not read Russian, died from drinking infected water.63
Of all the non-Russian nationalities, the Jews suffered the most from this Great Russian chauvinist backlash during the last years of tsarism. The Jews were widely, if mistakenly, blamed for the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. They were the victims of hundreds of pogroms throughout the Ukraine in that year. Contrary to the old and well-established myth, none of these pogroms— and there were to be many more (e.g. in Kishinev in 1903 and throughout the Empire in 1905—6) — was ever instigated by the government. True, the authorities were slow to restore order and few pogromists were ever brought to trial. But this was not part of a conspiracy, just a reflection of the authorities’ ineffectiveness and their general hostility to Jews. During the 1880s, at a time when both the German and the Austrian Empires were beginning to dismantle their legal restrictions on the Jews, the tsarist regime was continuing to add to its own cumbersome structure of institutionalized anti-Semitism. The last two tsars were vocal anti-Semites — both associated the Jews with the threats of urban modernity, capitalism and socialism — and it became fashionable in official circles to repeat their racial prejudices. Nicholas II, in particular, was increasingly inclined to see the anti-Jewish pogroms of his reign as an act of patriotism and loyalty by the ‘good and simple Russian folk’. Indeed, at the time of the Beiliss Affair in 1911—13, when a Jew was dragged through the Kiev courts on trumped-up charges of ritual murder, Nicholas was clearly looking to

use the widespread anti-Semitism within the population at large, drummed up by extremist nationalist groups such as his own beloved Union of the Russian People, as a banner to rally the masses against the opponents of his faltering regime (see pages 241—6).64
Hardly surprising, then, that such a large and prominent part in the revolutionary movement should have been played by the Jews.* Even Witte, speaking in the wake of the Kishinev pogrom in 1903, was forced to admit that if the Jews ‘comprise about 50 per cent of the membership in the revolutionary parties’ then this was ‘the fault of our government. The Jews are too oppressed.’ The Jewish Bund was Russia’s first mass-based Marxist party. Established in 1897, it had 35,000 members by 1905. It declared the Jews to be a ‘nation’ and demanded full national autonomy for them, with Yiddish as the official language, within a Russian federation. Such demands were rejected by the Russian Marxists (including Iulii Martov and Leon Trotsky, who were themselves Jews), who put class interests above nationalist ones and who, in any case, were deeply hostile to the Jewish nationalism of the Bundists (Georgii Plekhanov accused them of being Zionists who were afraid of sea-sickness). The result was that the two Marxist movements went their separate ways. There was also a large Zionist movement, which the tsarist regime had allowed to grow after the early 1880s because it advocated Jewish emigration in reponse to the pogroms; although it too was banned in 1903 on the grounds that inside Russia it served as a vehicle for Jewish nationalism.65
It was not just the Jews who were turning to nationalism in response to the growing discrimination against them at the turn of the century. Throughout the Empire the effect of the Russification campaign was to drive the non-Russians into the new anti-tsarist parties. Virtually the whole of the Finnish population rallied to the Young Finns, the Social Democrats and the Party of Active Resistance, against the imposition of Russian rule and military conscription, in contravention of Finland’s rights of self-rule, after 1899. In the Baltic provinces the native population turned to the Social Democrats to defend their national rights against the tsarist state. In Poland they turned to the Polish Socialist Party, which argued that the Polish problem could only be solved by the combination of a social and a national revolution. In the Ukraine it was the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party, established in 1902, which made the early running in the national and social revolution, playing a key role in the peasant
* Although, of course, it must never be forgotten that while many revolutionaries were Jews, relatively few Jews were revolutionaries. It was a myth of the anti-Semites that all the Jews were Bolsheviks. In fact, as far as one can tell from the elections to the Constituent Assembly in 1917, most of the Jewish population favoured the Zionist and democratic socialist parties. As the Chief Rabbi of Moscow once remarked, not without his usual Jewish humour: ‘The Trotskys make the revolutions and the Bronsteins pay the bills.’ (Melamed, ‘St Paul and Leon Trotsky’, 8.)

uprisings of 1902, although it was quickly overshadowed by the Ukrainian National Party and the Ukrainian Social Democrats. In Georgia the Social Democrats led the national revolution, which was both anti-Russian and socialist, in 1904-6. Even the Armenians, who had always been the most loyal to their Russian masters, rallied to the Dashnaks after 1903 in opposition to the Russification of their local schools. In short, the whole of the Tsarist Empire was ripe for collapse on the eve of the 1905 Revolution. Its peoples wanted to escape.

3 Icons and Cockroaches
i A World Apart
Early one morning in March 1888 Mikhail Romas left Kazan and sailed thirty miles down the Volga River as far as the village of Krasnovidovo. There he hoped to change the life of the peasants by setting up a co-operative store. Romas was a Populist, a member of the clandestine People’s Right group, who had recently returned from twelve years in prison and exile for trying to organize the peasants. Siberia had not made him change his views. At Krasnovidovo he aimed to rescue the villagers from the clutches of the local merchants by selling them cheap manufactured goods and organizing them into a gardeners’ cooperative selling fruit and vegetables direct to Kazan.
He took with him Alexei Peshkov, later to become known as the writer Maxim Gorky (1868—1936), who was then, at the age of twenty, already known as an ‘old man’ (Tolstoy once said of him that he seemed ‘to have been born a grown-up’). In his first eight years Gorky had experienced more human suffering than the literary Count would see in the whole of his eight decades. His grandfather’s household in Nizhnyi Novgorod where he had been brought up after the death of his father, was, as he described it inMy Childhood,a microcosm of provincial Russia— a place of poverty, cruelty and cholera, where the men took to the bottle in a big way and the women found solace in God. By the age of nine, Gorky had already been put out to work, scavenging for rags, bones and nails, and occasionally thieving timber from the banks of the Volga. Then his mother had died and his grandfather had sent him out into the world to fend for himself. Like countless other abandoned orphans, Gorky had roamed around the booming industrial towns of the Volga, a shoeless street urchin dressed in rags. He had worked as a dish washer on a steamboat, as a stevedore, a watchman, a cobbler’s assistant, an apprentice draughtsman, an icon painter, and finally as a baker in Kazan, where Romas had found him and taken pity on the lad after he had tried to kill himself by shooting himself in the chest.
Krasnovidovo was set on a steep hill overlooking the Volga River. At the top of the hill was a church with a light-blue onion dome, and below it a row of log huts stretching down towards the river. Beyond these were the kitchen gardens, the bath-houses and the rickety animal sheds, and then the dark

ploughed fields which ‘gently rolled away towards the blue ridge of the forest on the horizon’. It was a relatively wealthy village. Its proximity to Kazan had made it a centre of production for the market and its most successful farmers had come to enjoy a modicum of comfort. Their well-built huts had boarded roofs and colourful ornamentation, with animal designs on their wooden shutters and window-frames. Inside them one would find an assortment of factory-made items from Russia’s burgeoning industries: iron pots and pans, samovars, curtains, mirrors, bedsteads, kerosene lamps, accordions, and so on. Slowly but surely, like the rest of peasant Russia, Krasnovidovo was being drawn into the market economy.1
This put it in the front line of the Populists’ battle for the peasantry. Central to their philosophy was the idea that the egalitarian customs of the peasant commune could serve as a model for the socialist reorganization of society. If the village was protected against the intrusions of capitalism, Russia, they believed, could move directly towards the socialist Utopia without going through the ‘bourgeois stage of development’— with all the negative features which that entailed — as had happened in Western Europe. The ancient village commune would be preserved as the basis of Russian communism.
Responding to the calls of the Populist leaders to ‘Go to the People’, thousands of radical students, Mikhail Romas among them, poured into the countryside during the 1870s in the naive belief that they could win over the peasantry to their revolutionary cause. Finding in the world of the village a reflection of their own romantic aspirations, they convinced themselves that they would find in the ordinary peasants soul-mates and allies in their socialist struggle. Some of them tried to dress and talk like peasants, so much did they identify themselves with their ‘simple way of life’. One of them, a Jew, even converted to Orthodoxy in the belief that this would bring him closer to the ‘peasant soul’. These romantics conceived of the village as a collective and harmonious community that testified to the basic socialist instincts of the Russian people. Among the peasantry, wrote one of the Populist leaders, ‘there is more attentiveness to the worth of the individual man, less indifference to what my neighbour is like and what I appear like to my neighbour’. Such was their idealizedviewof the peasants that many Populists even contended that in sexual matters they were more moral and celibate than the corrupted urban population. So, for example, they believed that prostitution did not exist among the peasants (even though the majority of urban prostitutes were originally peasant women); that there was no rape or sexual assault in the village (despite the peasant custom ofsnokhachestvowhich gave the household patriarchs a sexual claim on their daughters-in-law in the absence of their husbands); and that whereas syphilis (which was endemic throughout Russia) might have been

venereal in the depraved cities, in the villages it was caused more innocently by the peasant custom of sharing wooden spoons and bowls.2
These romantic missionaries were shattered by the reality they encountered in the countryside. Most of the students were met by a cautious suspicion or hostility on the part of the peasantry, and were soon arrested by the police. Looking back on the experience from prison and exile, moderate Populists such as Romas were convinced that the basic problem had been the peasantry’s isolation from the rest of society. Through the centuries of serfdom the only outsiders they had met had been the gentry and state officials, so it was hardly surprising that they were wary of the student agitators. What was needed now was years of patient work to build up the bonds of trust between the peasants and the Populist intelligentsia. Hence Romas had come to Krasnovidovo. His efforts were in vain. From the start the villagers were suspicious of
his co-operative. They could not understand why its prices were so much cheaper than the other retail outlets. The richest peasants, who were closely linked with the established merchants, intimidated Romas and his allies. They filled one of his firewood logs with gunpowder, causing a minor explosion. They threatened the poorer peasants who began to show an interest in the co-operative; and brutally murdered one of his assistants, a poor peasant from the village, leaving his horribly mutilated body in several pieces along the river bank. Finally, they blew up the co-operative (along with half the rest of the village) by setting light to the kerosene store. Romas’s enemies blamed him and Gorky for the fire, and set the angry peasants on them. But the ‘heretics’ fought themselves free and fled for their lives.
Romas accepted defeat philosophically, putting it down to the ignorance of the villagers. He refused to give up his belief in the peasants’ socialist potential and when, fifteen years later, Gorky met him again, he had already served another ten-year sentence of exile in Siberia for his involvement in the Populist movement. But for Gorky the experience was a bitter disillusionment. It led him to the conclusion that, however good they may be on their own, the peasants left all that was fine behind them when they ‘gathered in one grey mass’:
Some dog-like desire to please the strong ones in the village took possession of them, and then it disgusted me to look at them. They would howl wildly at each other, ready for a fight— and they would fight, over any trifle. At these moments they were terrifying and they seemed capable of destroying the very church where only the previous evening they had gathered humbly and submissively, like sheep in a fold.3
The ‘noble savage’ whom the Populists had seen in the simple peasant was, as Gorky now concluded, no more than a romantic illusion. And the more he

experienced the everyday life of the peasants, the more he denounced them as savage and barbaric*
Such misunderstandings were a constant theme in the history of relations between educated and peasant Russia— the ‘Two Russias’, as Herzen once called them. The Populists, though perhaps the most conspicuous, were not the only people to impose their own ideals on the peasants. Virtually every trend of Russian social thought fell into the same trap. As Dostoevsky wrote:
We, the lovers of ‘the people’, regard them as part of a theory, and it seems that none us really likes them as they actually are but only as each of us has imagined them. Moreover, should the Russian people, at some future time, turn out to be not what we imagined, then we, despite our love of them, would immediately renounce them without regret.4
Long before the Populists came on to the scene, Slavophile writers had argued for the moral superiority of the ‘ancient’ peasant commune over modern Western values. A commune’, wrote Konstantin Aksakov, ‘is a union of the people who have renounced their egoism, their individuality, and who express their common accord; this is an act of love, a noble Christian act.’ Similar virtues were attributed to the peasants by the great romantic writers of the nineteenth century. Dostoevsky, for example, claimed that the simple Russian peasant— the ‘kitchen muzhik’ as he once called him in a famous dispute — lived on a higher moral plane than the more sophisticated citizens of Western Europe. The peasants, he had written in hisDiary of a Writer, weretruly Christian and long-suffering. It was they who would ‘show us a new road, a new way out of all our apparently insoluble difficulties. For it will not be St Petersburg that finally settles the Russian destiny . . . Light and salvation will come from below.’ Tolstoy also saw the simple peasant as a natural sage. Thus it is from the peasants that Prince Levin learns how to live inAnna Karenina;just as inWar and Peaceit is from Karataev, a humble Russian peasant, that Pierre Bezukhov comes to understand the spiritual meaning of life. Karataev’s character— spontaneous, direct and unselfconscious — was a projection of Tolstoy’s own moral philosophy. He lived in harmony with the world and humanity.5
These romantic visions of the peasantry were constantly undone by contact with reality, often with devastating consequences for their bearers. The Populists, who invested much of themselves in their conception of the peasants, suffered the most in this respect, since the disintegration of that conception
* At the age of twenty-three Gorky was beaten unconscious by a group of peasants when he tried to intervene on behalf of a peasant woman, who had been stripped naked and horsewhipped by her husband and a howling mob after being found guilty of adultery.

threatened to undermine not only their radical beliefs but also their own self-identity. The writer Gleb Uspensky, to cite an extreme and tragic example, drove himself insane after years of trying to reconcile his romantic view of the peasants with the ugly reality of human relations which he was forced to observe in the countryside. Many of the ‘realist’ writers of the 1860s, who described the darker side of the countryside, ended up as alcoholics. There was a general sense ofAngstamongst the liberal educated classes whenever the hard facts of peasant life disturbed their idealized images of it. Witness the storm of debate caused by the unflattering portrait of village life in Chekhov’sPeasants(1897), the short story of a sick Moscow waiter who returns with his wife to his native village, only to find that his poverty-stricken family resents him for bringing another set of mouths to feed. Or the even greater public outrage at the publication of Bunin’s novellaThe Village(1910), which spared nothing in its dark portrayal of peasant poverty and cruelty. ‘What stunned the Russian reader in this book’, a contemporary critic remarked, ‘was not the depiction of the [peasants’] material, cultural and legal poverty .. . but the realization that there was no escape from it. . . The most that the Russian peasant, as depicted by Bunin, was capable of achieving . . . was only the awareness of his hopeless savagery, of being doomed.’6
Gorky wrote aboutThe Villagethat it had forced society to think ‘seriously not just about the peasant but about the grave question of whether Russia was to be or not to be?’7 The enigma of the peasant stood at the heart of the problem of Russia’s national self-identity. The ‘Peasant Question’ was the starting point of all those interminable debates (they fill the largely unread pages of nineteenth-century Russian novels) about the future of Russia itself.
Russia was still a peasant country at the turn of the twentieth century: 80 per cent of the population was classified as belonging to the peasantry; and most of the rest traced their roots back to it. Scratch a Russian townsman and one found a peasant. Most of the workers in the cities’ factories and workshops, laundries and kitchens, bath-houses and shops, were either immigrants from the countryside or the children of such immigrants, who still returned to their farms for harvest and sent money back to their villages. Restaurants employed vast armies of peasant waiters, while the houses of the wealthy relied on peasant domestics in numbers that made European visitors gasp. The vendors on the city streets were mostly peasants by origin, as were the cabmen, doormen, hauliers, builders, gardeners, dustmen, draymen, hawkers, beggars, thieves and prostitutes. Russia’s towns and cities all remained essentially ‘peasant’ in their social composition and character. Only a few miles from any city centre one would find oneself already in the backwoods, where there were bandits living in the forests, where roads turned into muddy bogs in spring, and where the external signs of life in the remote hamlets had remained essentially unchanged since the Middle Ages. Yet, despite living so close to the peasants,

the educated classes of the cities knew next to nothing about their world. It was as exotic and alien to them as the natives of Africa were to their distant colonial rulers. And in this mutual incomprehension, in the cultural gulf between the ‘Two Russias’, lay the roots of the social revolution and its tragic destiny.
* * * The isolation of the peasantry from the rest of society was manifested at almost every level— legal, political, economic, cultural, social and geographic. The peasants inhabited three-quarters of a million rural settlements scattered across one-sixth of the worlds surface. They rarely came across anything beyond the narrow confines of their own village and its fields, the parish church,the squire’s manor and the local market. The village community was the centre of this small and isolated world. Indeed, the old peasant term for it (themir)also carried the meaning in Russian of ‘world’, ‘peace’ and ‘universe’. Themirwas governed by an assembly of peasant elders which, alongside the land commune(obhchina),regulated virtually every aspect of village and agrarian life. Its powers of self-government had been considerably broadened by the Emancipation, when it took over most of the administrative, police and judicial functions of the landlords and became the basic unit of rural administration(obshchestva)subordinate to the rudimentary organs of state administration in the volost township. It controlled the land transferred to the peasants from the landlords during the Emancipation and was made collectively responsible for the payment of redemption dues on the land. In most parts of Russia the arable land was kept in communal tenure and every few years themirwould redistribute the hundreds of arable strips between the peasant households according to the number of workers or ‘eaters’ in each. It also set the common patterns of cultivation and grazing on the stubble necessitated by the open-field system of strip-farming;* managed the woods and communal pasture lands; hired village watchmen and shepherds; collected taxes; carried out the recruitment of soldiers; saw to the repair of roads, bridges and communal buildings; established charity and other welfare schemes; organized village holidays; maintained public order; arbitrated minor disputes; and administered justice in accordance with local custom.
Themircould engender strong feelings of communal solidarity among the peasants, bound as they were by their common ties to the village and to the land. This was reflected in many peasant sayings: ‘What one man can’t bear, themircan’; ‘No one is greater than themir;and so on.8 The existence of such ties can be found in peasant communities throughout the world. They bear
* Since there were no hedges between the strips or the fields it was essential for every household to sow the same crops at the same time (e.g. a three-field rotation of winter/spring/fallow), otherwise the cattle left to graze on the stubble of one strip would trample on the crops of the neighbouring strip.

witness not so much to the ‘natural collectivism’ of the Russian people, so beloved by the Slavophiles and the Populists, as to the functional logic of peasant self-organization in the struggle for survival against the harsh realities of nature and powerful external enemies, such as the landlords and the state. Indeed, beneath the cloak of communal solidarity observed by outsiders, fellow villagers continued to struggle between themselves for individual advantage. The village was a hotbed of intrigue, vendettas, greed, dishonesty, meanness, and sometimes gruesome acts of violence by one peasant neighbour against another; it was not the haven of communal harmony that intellectuals from the city imagined it to be. It was simply that the individual interests of the peasants were often best served by collective activity. The brevity of the agricultural season in Russia, from the thaw and the start of the spring ploughing in April to the first snows in early November, made some form of labour co-operation essential so that the major tasks of the agricultural cycle could be completed in brief bursts of intense activity. That is why the traditional peasant household tended to be much larger than its European counterpart, often containing more than a dozen members with the wives and families of two or three brothers living under the same roof as their parents. Statistical studies consistently highlighted the economic advantages of the bigger households (a higher proportion of adult male labourers, more land and livestock per head and so on) and these had much to do with the benefits of labour co-operation. The difficulties of small-scale peasant farming, which in the vast majority of households was carried out with only one horse and a tiny store of seed and tools, also made simple forms of neighbourly co-operation, such as borrowing and lending, advantageous to all parties. Finally, there were many worthwhile projects that could only be done by the village as a whole, such as clearing woods and swamp-lands, constructing barns, building roads and bridges, and organizing irrigation schemes.
The village assembly, orskhod,where these decisions were taken, was attended by the peasant household elders and usually held on a public holiday in the street or in a meadow, since few villages had a big enough building to accommodate the whole meeting. There was no formal procedure as such. The peasants stood around in loose groups, drinking, smoking and debating different subjects of local interest, until the village elder, having mingled in the crowd and ascertained the feelings of the dominant peasants, called for the meeting to vote on a series of resolutions. Voting was done by shouting, or by standing in groups, and all the resolutions were passed unanimously, for when opinion was divided the minority always submitted to the majority, or, as the peasants put it, to the ‘will of themir.Romantic observers took this self-imposed conformity as a sign of social harmony. In Aksakov’s words, the commune expressed its will as one, like a ‘moral choir’. But in fact the decision-making was usually dominated by a small clique of the oldest household heads, who were often also

the most successful farmers, and the rest of the villagers tended to follow their lead. The unanimity of themirwas not the reflection of some natural peasant harmony, but an imposed conformity set from above by the patriarchal elders of the village.
Some observers of peasant life (and this was to include the Bolsheviks) described these dominant patriarchs as ‘commune-eaters'(miroyeiy)or ‘kulaks’.* These were the so-called ‘rich’ and ‘cunning’ peasants, ‘petty-capitalist entrepreneurs’, ‘usurers’, ‘parasites’ and ‘strongmen’, whom the rest of the villagers feared and whose greed and individualism would eventually lead to the commune’s destruction. ‘At the village assemblies’, wrote one jurist in the early 1900s, ‘the only people to participate are the loud-mouths and the lackeys of the rich. The honest working peasants do not attend, realising that their presence is useless.’9
But this too was by and large the outcome of looking at the peasants not for what they were but for the proof of some abstract theory, in this case the Marxist one. The dominant peasants within the village were, on the whole, the oldest patriarchs, who were often but not necessarily the heads of the richest households too. The late nineteenth-century Russian village still retained many of the features of what anthropologists would call a ‘traditional society’. Although capitalism was certainly developing in Russia as a whole, apart from in a few specific regions it had yet to penetrate the village, where indeed the purpose of the commune was to limit its effects. The domination of the peasant patriarchs was not based on capitalist exploitation but on the fact that, by and large, this was still an oral culture, where the customs of the past, passed down through the generations, served as a model for the collective actions of the village in the present and the future: ‘Our grandfathers did it this way, and so shall we.’ In this sort of culture the old men were invariably deemed to be the most important people in the village— they had the most experience of farming and knew the most about the land — and their opinion was usually decisive. Old women, too, were respected for their expertise in handicrafts, medicine and magic. This was by and large a conservative culture. True, as the social anthropologist Jack Goody’s many works have shown, there are ways in which an oral culture may produce an informal dynamism: since no one knew for sure what their grandfathers did, the peasant elders could remake tradition in every gener-
* The term ‘kulak’, derived from the word for a ‘fist’, was originally used by the peasants to delineate exploitative elements (usurers, sub-renters of land, wheeler-dealers and so on) from the farming peasantry. An entrepreneurial peasant farmer, in their view, could not be a kulak, even if he hired labour. The Bolsheviks, by contrast, misused the term in a Marxist sense to describe any wealthy peasant. They made it synonymous with ‘capitalist’ on the false assumption that die use of hired labour in peasant farming was a form of ‘capitalism’. Under Stalin, the term ‘kulak’ was employed against the smallholding peasantry as a whole. Through collectivization die regime set about the ‘destruction of the kulaks as a class’.

ation to fit in with their changing needs. But on the whole the peasant patriarchs had an inbred mistrust of any ideas from the world outside their own experience. They aimed to preserve the village traditions and to defend them against progress. The ‘old way of life’ was always deemed to be better than the new. There was, they believed, a peasant Utopia in the distant past, long before the gentry and the state had imposed their domination on the village.
Of course, it was true that there were broader forces leading to the decline of this patriarchal world. The money economy was slowly penetrating into remote rural areas. Urban manufactures were replacing the old peasant handicrafts. New technologies were becoming available to the enterprising peasant. Railways, roads, postal services and telegraphs were opening up the village to the outside world. Hospitals and schools, reading clubs and libraries, local government and political parties, were all moving closer to the peasantry. The growth of rural schooling, in particular, was giving rise to a new generation of ‘conscious’ peasant men and women— young and literate, thrifty and sober, self-improving and individualistic — who sought to overturn the old village world.
We can see it first in the fragmentation of the patriarchal household during the later nineteenth century. There was a sharp rise in the rate of household partitions following the Emancipation. Between 1861 and 1884 the annual rate of partitions rose from 82,000 to 140,000 households. Over 40 per cent of all peasant households were divided in these years. As a result, the average household size in central Russia declined from 9.5 members to 6.8. The peasants were moving from the traditional extended family to the modern nuclear one. Such partitions made little economic sense— the newly partitioned households, like the ones from which they had split, were left with much less livestock, tools and labour than before — and this was a cause of considerable anxiety to the tsarist government, which for moral and social reasons as much as for economic ones saw the peasantry’s livelihood as dependent upon the survival of the patriarchal family. But it was the individualistic aspirations of the younger peasants that maintained the pressure for these partitions, in spite of their economic costs. Peasant sons and their young wives, fed up with the tyranny of the household elder, were breaking away to set up their own farms rather than wait until his death (when they themselves might be forty or fifty) to take his place at the household head. Their new farms might be small and weak but at least they were working for themselves. ‘In the small family’, explained one young peasant in the 1880s, ‘everyone works for himself, everyone earns for himself; but if the family is large, then he doesn’t end up with anything for himself.’ The rate of partitioning was directly related to the involvement of the peasantry in off-farm employment as labourers. Once the younger peasants were earning wages there was a marked increase in disputes between them and

their household elders over money and property. Peasant sons would refuse to send their wages home, or would set up their own farm rather than share their earnings in the household fund. They made the distinction between their own private earnings off the farm and the family’s common property from its collective labour on it.10 It was a sign of their own growing sense of individual worth: ‘I earn money therefore I am.’
The growing literacy of the younger peasants was another source of their aspiring individualism. Literacy in Russia rose from 21 per cent of the Empire’s population in 1897 to 40 per cent on the eve of the First World War. The highest rural rates were among young men in those regions closest to the cities. Nine out of ten peasant recruits into the imperial army from the two provinces of Petersburg and Moscow were considered literate by 1904. These peasant youths were the main beneficiaries of the boom in rural schooling during the last decades of the old regime. The number of primary schools quadrupled (from 25,000 to 100,000) between 1878 and 1911; and well over half the peasant children of school age (eight to eleven) were enrolled in primary schools by the latter date.11
The link between literacy and revolutions is a well-known historical phenomenon. The three great revolutions of modern European history— the English, the French and the Russian — all took place in societies where the rate of literacy was approaching 50 per cent. The local activists of the Russian Revolution were drawn mainly from this newly literate generation. Ironically, in its belated efforts to educate the common people, the tsarist regime was helping to dig its own grave.
Literacy has a profound effect on the peasant mind and community. It promotes abstract thought and enables the peasant to master new skills and technologies, which in turn help him to accept the concept of progress that fuels change in the modern world. It also weakens the village’s patriarchal order by breaking down the barriers between it and the outside world, and by shifting power within the village to those with access to the written word. The young and literate peasant was much better equipped than his father to deal with the new agricultural technologies of the late nineteenth century; with the accounting methods of the money system; with written contracts, land deeds and loan agreements; and with the whole new world of administration— from the simple recording of clock-time and dates, to the reading of official documents and the formulation of village resolutions and petitions to the higher authorities — into which they entered after 1861. The status of the young and literate peasant rose as the market and bureaucracy filtered down to the village level and the peasant community relied more upon leaders with the skills which this new society demanded.
The written word divided the village into two generational groups. The older and illiterate generation feared and mistrusted too much education (‘You

can’t eat books’) and tried to limit its corrosive effects on the traditional culture of the village. They were worried by the urban-individualistic ways— the fashions and haircuts, the growing disrespect for peasant elders, and the dangerous political ideas — which the young picked up from their reading. As an inspector of church schools — who was clearly sympathetic to these concerns — wrote in I9II:
The only thing observed [as a result of schooling] is a heightened interest in tasteless and useless dandyism. In many areas, the normal peasant dress is being replaced by urban styles, which cut deeply into the peasants’ skimpy budget, hindering major improvements to other, far more important sides of peasant life . .. Family ties, the very foundation of the well-being of state and society, have been deeply shaken. Complaints about insubordination to parents and elders are ubiquitous. Young men and adolescents often verbally abuse their elders and even beat them; they file complaints in the courts and remove from the home whatever [possessions] they can. It seems that parents have lost all authority over their children.12
On the other hand, the younger peasants— and with the explosion of the rural population they were fast becoming the majority (65 per cent of the rural population was aged under thirty by I897)u— placed education at the top of their list of priorities. It was the key to their social betterment. This cultural divide was to be a major feature of the peasant revolution. One part of it was progressive and reforming: it sought to bring the village closer to the influences of the modern urbanworld. But another part of the peasant revolution was restorationist: it tried to defend the traditional village against these very influences. We shall see how these two conflicting forces affected the life of a single village when we turn to the story of Sergei Semenov and the revolution in Andreevskoe.
Nevertheless, despite these modernizing forces, the basic structure of peasant politics remained essentially patriarchal. Indeed the upholders of the patriarchal order had a whole range of social controls with which to stem the tide of modernity. In every aspect of the peasants’ lives, from their material culture to their legal customs, there was a relentless conformity. The peasants all wore the same basic clothes. Even their hairstyles were the same— the men with their hair parted down the middle and cut underneath a bowl, the women’s hair plaited, until they were married, and then covered with a scarf. The peasants in the traditional village were not supposed to assert their individual identity, as the people of the city did, by a particular fashion of dress. They had very little sense of privacy. All household members ate their meals from a common pot and slept together in one room. Lack of private spaces, not to speak of

fertility rites, dictated that the sexual act was kept at least partly in the public domain. It was still a common practice in some parts of Russia for a peasant bride to be deflowered before the whole village; and if the groom proved impotent, his place could be taken by an older man, or by the finger of the matchmaker. Modesty had very little place in the peasant world. Toilets were in the open air. Peasant women were constantly baring their breasts, either to inspect and fondle them or to nurse their babies, while peasant men were quite unselfconscious about playing with their genitals. Urban doctors were shocked by the peasant customs of spitting into a persons eye to get rid of sties, of feeding children mouth to mouth, and of calming baby boys by sucking on their
The huts of the peasants, both in their external aspect and in their internal layout and furnishings, conformed to the same rigid pattern that governed the rest of their lives. Throughout Russia, in fact, there were only three basic types of peasant housing: the northernizba,or log hut, with the living quarters and outbuildings all contained under one roof around a quadrangle; the southernizba,with the outbuildings separate from the living quarters; and the Ukrainiankhata,again a separate building made of wood or clay, but with a thatched roof. Every hut contained the same basic elements: a cooking space, where the stove was located, upon which the peasants (despite the cockroaches) liked to sleep; a ‘red’* or ‘holy’ corner, where the icons were hung, guests were entertained, and the family ate around a whitewashed table; and a sleeping area, where in winter it was common to find goats, foals and calves bedded down in the straw alongside the humans. The moist warmth and smell of the animals, the black fumes of the kerosene lamps, and the pungent odour of the home-cured tobacco, which the peasants smoked rolled up in newspaper, combined to create a unique, noxious atmosphere. ‘The doors are kept vigorously closed, windows are hermetically sealed and the atmosphere cannot be described,’ wrote an English Quaker from one Volga village. ‘Its poisonous quality can only be realised by experience.’ Given such unsanitary conditions, it is hardly surprising that even as late as the 1900s one in four peasant babies died before the age of one. Those who survived could expect to live in poor health for an average of about thirty-five years.15 Peasant life in Russia really was nasty, brutish and short.
It was also cramped by strict conformity to the social mores of the village. Dissident behaviour brought upon its perpetrators various punishments, such as village fines, ostracism, or some sort of public humiliation. The most common form of humiliation was ‘rough music’, orcharivari,as it was known in
* The Russian word for red(krasnyi)is connected with the word for beautiful(krasivyt),a fact of powerful symbolic significance for the revolutionary movement.

southern Europe, where the villagers made a rumpus outside the house of the guilty person until he or she appeared and surrendered to the crowd, who would then subject him or her to public shame or even violent punishment. Adulterous wives and horse-thieves suffered the most brutal punishments. It was not uncommon for cheating wives to be stripped naked and beaten by their husbands, or tied to the end of a wagon and dragged naked through the village. Horse-thieves could be castrated, beaten, branded with hot irons, or hacked to death with sickles. Other transgressors were known to have had their eyes pulled out, nails hammered into their body, legs and arms cut off, or stakes driven down their throat. A favourite punishment was to raise the victim on a pulley with his feet and hands tied together and to drop him so that the vertebrae in his back were broken; this was repeated several times until he was reduced to a spineless sack. In another form of torture the naked victim was wrapped in a wet sack, a pillow was tied around his torso, and his stomach beaten with hammers, logs and stones, so that his internal organs were crushed without leaving any external marks on his body.16
It is difficult to say where this barbarism came from— whether it was the culture of the Russian peasants, or the harsh environment in which they lived. During the revolution and civil war the peasantry developed even more gruesome forms of killing and torture. They mutilated the bodies of their victims, cut off their heads and disgorged their internal organs. Revolution and civil war are extreme situations, and there is no guarantee that anyone else, regardless of their nationality, would not act in a similar fashion given the same circumstances. But it is surely right to ask, as Gorky did in his famous essay ‘On the Russian Peasantry’ (1922), whether in fact the revolution had not merely brought out, as he put it, ‘the exceptional cruelty of the Russian people’? This was a cruelty made by history. Long after serfdom had been abolished the land captains exercised their right to flog the peasants for petty crimes. Liberals rightly warned about the psychological effects of this brutality. One physician, addressing the Kazan Medical Society in 1895, said that it ‘not only debases but even hardens and brutalizes human nature’. Chekhov, who was also a practising physician, denounced corporal punishment, adding that ‘it coarsens and brutalizes not only the offenders but also those who execute the punishments and those who are present at it’.17 The violence and cruelty which the old regime inflicted on the peasant was transformed into a peasant violence which not only disfigured daily village life, but which also rebounded against the regime in the terrible violence of the revolution.
If the Russian village was a violent place, the peasant household was even worse. For centuries the peasants had claimed the right to beat their wives. Russian peasant proverbs were full of advice on the wisdom of such beatings:

‘Hit your wife with the butt of the axe, get down and see if she’s breathing. If she is, she’s shamming and wants some more.’
‘The more you beat the old woman, the tastier the soup will be.’
‘Beat your wife like a fur coat, then there’ll be less noise.’
A wife is nice twice: when she’s brought into the house [as a bride] and when she’s carried out of it to her grave.’
Popular proverbs also put a high value on the beating of men: ‘For a man that has been beaten you have to offer two unbeaten ones, and even then you may not clinch the bargain.’ There were even peasant sayings to suggest that a good life was not complete without violence: ‘Oh, it’s a jolly life, only there’s no one to beat.’ Fighting was a favourite pastime of the peasants. At Christmas, Epiphany and Shrovetide there were huge and often fatal fist-fights between different sections of the village, sometimes even between villages, the women and children included, accompanied by heavy bouts of drinking. Petty village disputes frequently ended in fights. ‘Just because of a broken earthenware pot, worth about 12 kopecks,’ Gorky wrote from his time at Krasnovidovo, ‘three families fought with sticks, an old woman’s arm got broken and a young boy had his skull cracked. Quarrels like this happened every week.’18 This was a culture in which life was cheap and, however one explains the origins of this violence, it was to play a major part in the revolution.
Many people explained the violence of the peasant world by the weakness of the legal order and the general lawlessness of the state. The Emancipation had liberated the serfs from the judicial tyranny of their landlords but it had not incorporated them in the world ruled by law, which included the rest of society. Excluded from the written law administered through the civil courts, the newly liberated peasants were kept in a sort of legal apartheid after 1861. The tsarist regime looked upon them as a cross between savages and children, and subjected them to magistrates appointed from the gentry. Their legal rights were confined to the peasant-class courts, which operated on the basis of local custom. The peasants were deprived of many civil rights taken for granted by the members of other social estates. Until 1906, they did not have the right to own their allotments. Legal restrictions severely limited their mobility. Peasants could not leave the village commune without paying off their share of the collective tax burden or of the redemption payments on the land gained from the nobles during the Emancipation. For a household to separate from the commune, a complex bureaucratic procedure was necessary, requiring the consent of at least two-thirds of the village assembly, and this was difficult to

obtain.* Even a peasant wanting to leave the village for a few weeks on migrant labour could not do so without first obtaining an internal passport from the commune’s elders (who were usually opposed to such migration on the grounds that it weakened the patriarchal household and increased the tax burden on the rest of the village). Statistics show that the issuing of passports was heavily restricted, despite the demands of industrialization and commercial agriculture for such migrant labour.19 The peasants remained tied to the land and, although serfdom had been abolished, it enjoyed a vigorous afterlife in the regulation of the peasant. Deprived of the consciousness and the legal rights of citizenship, it is hardly surprising that the peasants respected neither the state’s law nor its authority when its coercive power over them was removed in 1905 and again in 1917.
* * * It is mistaken to suppose, as so many historians do, that the Russian peasantry had no moral order or ideology at all to substitute for the tsarist state. Richard Pipes, for example, in his recent history of the revolution, portrays the peasants as primitive and ignorant people who could only play a destructive role in the revolution and who were therefore ripe for manipulation by the Bolsheviks. Yet, as we shall see, during 1917—18 the peasants proved themselves quite capable of restructuring the whole of rural society, from the system of land relations and local trade to education and justice, and in so doing they often revealed a remarkable political sophistication, which did not well up from a moral vacuum. The ideals of the peasant revolution had their roots in a long tradition of peasant dreaming and Utopian philosophy. Through peasant proverbs, myths, tales, songs and customary law, a distinctive ideology emerges which expressed itself in the peasants’ actions throughout the revolutionary years from 1902 to 1921. That ideology had been shaped by centuries of opposition to the tsarist state. As Herzen put it, for hundreds of years the peasant’s ‘whole life has been one long, dumb, passive opposition to the existing order of things: he has endured oppression, he has groaned under it; but he has never accepted anything that goes on outside the life of the commune’.20 It was in this cultural confrontation, in the way that the peasant looked at the world outside his village, that the revolution had its roots.
Let us look more closely at this peasant world-view as expressed in customary law. Contrary to the view of some historians, peasant customary law
* Even in communes with hereditary tenure (mainly in the north-west and the Ukraine) it was hardly easier. There the household wishing to separate had either to pay off its share of the communal tax debt in full (a near-impossible task for the vast majority of the peasants) or find another household willing to take over the tax burden in return for its land allotment. Since the taxes usually exceeded the cost of rented land outside the commune, it was difficult to find a household willing to do this.


1 St Petersburg illuminated for the Romanov tercentenary in 1913. This electric display of state power was the biggest light show in tsarist history.

2 The imperial family rides from the Winter Palace to the Kazan Cathedral for the opening ceremony of the tercentenary.

3 Nicholas II rides in public view for the first time since the 1905 Revolution.

4 The famous Yeliseev store on Nevsky Prospekt is decorated for the tercentenary.

5 Guards officers greeting the imperial family at the Kazan Cathedral. Note the icons, the religious banners, and the crosses of the onlookers.

6 Townspeople and peasants come to see the Tsar in Kostroma during the tercentenary provincial tour.

7 The court ball of 1903 was a landmark in the cult of ancient Muscovy. Each guest dressed in the seventeenth-century costume of his twentieth-century rank. The Tsar and Tsarina are standing in the centre of the front row.

8 The Temple of Christ’s Resurrection on the Catherine Canal — a hideous example of the last tsars’ efforts to ‘Muscovitize’ St Petersburg.

9 Trubetskoi’s bronze statue of Alexander III on Znamenskaia Square in St Petersburg. The workers called it ‘the hippopotamus’.

10 The Moscow statue of Alexander III — with its back to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour — at its opening ceremony in 1913.

11 The imperial family(right to left):Olga, Tatyana, Nicholas, Alexandra, Maria, Alexis and Anastasia.

12 Rasputin with his admirers. Anna Vyrubova, the closest friend of both Rasputin and the Empress, is standing fifth from left.

13 The Tsarevich Alexis with his playmate and protector, the sailor Derevenko. After the February Revolution Derevenko joined the Bolsheviks.

contained a fairly comprehensive set of moral concepts. True, these were not always applied uniformly. The peasant-class courts often functioned in a random manner, deciding cases on the basis of the litigants’ reputations and connections, or on the basis of which side was prepared to bribe the elected judges with the most vodka. Yet, amidst all this chaos, there could be discerned some pragmatic concepts of justice, arising fromthepeasants’ daily lives, which had crystallized into more-or-less universal legal norms, albeit with minor regional variations.
Three legal ideas, in particular, shaped the peasant revolutionary mind. The first was the concept of family ownership. The assets of the peasant household (the livestock, the tools, the crops, the buildings and their contents, but not the land beneath them) were regarded as the common property of the family.* Every member of the household was deemed to have an equal right to use these assets, including those not yet born. The patriarch of the household, thebol’shak,it is true, had an authoritarian influence over the running of the farm and the disposal of its assets. But customary law made it clear that he was expected to act with the consent of the other adult members of the family and that, on his death, he could not bequeath any part of the household property, which was to remain in the common ownership of the family under a newbol’shak(usually the eldest son). If thebol’shakmismanaged the family farm, or was too often drunk and violent, the commune could replace him under customary law with another household member. The only way the family property could be divided was through the partition of an extended household into smaller units, according to the methods set out by local customary law. In all regions of Russia this stipulated that the property was to be divided on an equal basis between all the adult males, with provision being made for the elderly and unmarried women.21 The principles of family ownership and egalitarian partition were deeply ingrained in Russian peasant culture. This helps to explain the failure of the Stolypin land reforms (1906—17), which, as part of their programme to create a stratum of well-to-do capitalist farmers, attempted to convert the family property of the peasant household into the private property of thebol’shak,thus enabling him to bequeath it to one or more of his sons.f The peasant revolution of 1917 made a clean sweep of these reforms, returning to the traditional legal principles of family ownership.
The peasant family farm was organized and defined according to the
* The one major exception was the peasant wife’s dowry and other personal effects (e.g. clothing and domestic utensils), which were regarded as her private property and could be passed on to her daughter.
f Whereas the partitioning of household property was entirely controlled by local customary law, Stolypin’s new laws of inheritance came under the Civil Code. Cases concerning peasant inheritance of land were thus heard in the civil (i.e. non-peasant) courts— the first major instance of the peasantry being integrated into the national legal system.

labour principle, the second major peasant legal concept. Membership of the household was defined by active participation in the life of the farm (or, as the peasants put it, ‘eating from the common pot’) rather than by blood or kinship ties. An outsider adopted by the family who lived and worked on the farm was usually viewed as a full member of the household with equal rights to those of the blood relatives, whereas a son of the family who left the village to earn his living elsewhere eventually ceased to be seen as a household member. This same attachment of rights to labour could be seen on the land as well.* The peasants believed in a sacred link between land and labour. The land belonged to no one but God, and could not be bought or sold. But every family had the right to support itself from the land on the basis of its own labour, and the commune was there to ensure its equal distribution between them.22 On this basis— that the land should be in the hands of those who tilled it — the squires did not hold their land rightfully and the hungry peasants were justified in their struggle to take it from them. A constant battle was fought between the written law of the state, framed to defend the property rights of the landowners, and the customary law of the peasants, used by them to defend their own transgressions of those property rights. Under customary law, for example, no one thought it wrong when a peasant stole wood from the landlord’s forest, since the landlord had more wood than he could personallyuse and, as the proverb said, ‘God grew the forest for everyone.’ The state categorized as ‘crimes’ a whole range of activities which peasant custom did not: poaching and grazing livestock on the squire’s land; gathering mushrooms and berries from his forest; picking fruit from his orchards; fishing in his ponds, and so on. Customary law was a tool which the peasants used to subvert a legal order that in their view maintained the unjust domination of the landowners and the biggest landowner of all: the state.f It is no coincidence that the revolutionary land legislation of1917—18 based itself on the labour principles found in customary law.
The subjective approach to the law— judging the merits of a case according to the social and economic position of the parties concerned — was the third specific aspect of the peasantry’s legal thinking which had an affinity with the revolution. It was echoed in the Bolshevik concept of ‘revolutionary justice’, the guiding principle of the People’s Courts of 1917—18, according to
* For example, under customary law a peasant found guilty of tilling another man’s land was always compensated for his labour, though the bulk of the harvest went to the land’s rightful holder. The peasants, in the words of one observer, ‘looked on the right to own the product of one’s own labour on the land with an almost religious respect’ and by custom this had to be balanced against the formal right of land tenure (Efimenko,Isshdovaniia,2, 143).
t This was partly the reason why peasants had so few scruples about perjuring themselves in court and, indeed, why they tended to sympathize with convicted criminals. It was common for peasants to give away food to gangs of prisoners as they passed through the villages on their way to Siberia.

which a man’s social class was taken as the decisive factor in determining his guilt or innocence. The peasants considered stealing from a rich man, especially by the poor, a much less serious offence than stealing from a man who could barely feed himself and his family.* In the peasants’ view it was even justified, as we have seen, to kill someone guilty of a serious offence against the community. And to murder a stranger from outside the village was clearly not as bad as killing a fellow villager. Similarly, whereas deceiving a neighbour was seen by the peasants as obviously immoral, cheating on a landlord or a government official was not subject to any moral censure; such ‘cunning’ was just one of the many everyday forms of passive resistance used by peasants to subvert an unjust established order.23 Within the context of peasant society this subjective approach was not without its own logic, since the peasants viewed justice in terms of its direct practical effects on their own communities rather than in general or abstract terms. But it could often result in the sort of muddled thinking that made people call the peasants ‘dark’. InThe Criminalfor example, Chekhov tells the true story of a peasant who was brought to court for stealing a bolt from the railway tracks to use as a weight on his fishing tackle. He fails to understand his guilt and in trying to justify himself repeatedly talks of ‘we’ (the peasants of his village): ‘Bah! Look how many years we have been removing bolts, and God preserve us, and here you are talking about a crash, people killed. We do not remove all of them— we always leave some. We do not act without thinking. We do understand.’
Here, in this moral subjectivity, was the root of the peasant’s instinctive anarchism. He lived outside the realm of the states laws— and that is where he chose to stay. Centuries of serfdom had bred within the peasant a profound mistrust of all authority outside his own village. What he wanted wasvolia,the ancient peasant concept of freedom and autonomy without restraints from the powers that be. ‘For hundreds of years’, wrote Gorky, ‘the Russian peasant has dreamt of a state with no right to influence the will of the individual and his freedom of action, a state without power over man.’ That peasant dream was kept alive by subversive tales of Stenka Razin and Emelian Pugachev, those peasant revolutionaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, whose mythical images continued as late as the 1900s to be seen by the peasants flying as ravens across the Volga announcing the advent of Utopia. And there were equally fabulous tales of a ‘Kingdom of Opona’, somewhere on the edge of the flat earth, where the peasants lived happily, undisturbed by gentry or state. Groups of peasants even set out on expeditions in the far north in the hope of finding this arcadia.24
* This was connected with the religious belief of the peasants that to be poor was to be virtuous.

As the state attempted to extend its bureaucratic control into the countryside during the late nineteenth century, the peasants sought to defend their autonomy by developing ever more subtle forms of passive resistance to it. What they did, in effect, was to set up a dual structure of administration in the villages: a formal one, with its face to the state, which remained inactive and inefficient; and an informal one, with its face to the peasants, which was quite the opposite. The village elders and tax collectors elected to serve in the organs of state administration in the villages(obshchestva)and the volost townships(upravy)were, in the words of one frustrated official, ‘highly unreliable and unsatisfactory’, many of them having been deliberately chosen for their incompetence in order to sabotage government work. There were even cases where the peasants elected the village idiot as their elder.25 Meanwhile, the real centre of power remained in themir,in the old village assembly dominated by the patriarchs. The power of the tsarist state never really penetrated the village, and this remained its fundamental weakness until 1917, when the power of the state was removed altogether and the village gained itsvolia.
The educated classes had always feared that a peasantvoliawould soon degenerate into anarchic licence and violent revenge against figures of authority. Belinsky wrote in 1837: ‘Our people understand freedom asvolia,andvoliafor the people means to make mischief. The liberated Russian nation will not head for the parliament but will run for the tavern to drink liquor, smash glasses, and hang the nobility, whose only guilt is to shave their beards and wear a frock-coat instead of a peasant tunic.’26 The revolution would, in all too many ways, fulfil Belinsky’s prophecy.
ii The Quest to Banish the Past
As a young girl in the 1900s the writer Nina Berberova used to observe the peasants as they came to consult her grandfather in his study on the family estate near Tver. ‘They were of two kinds,’ she recalled, ‘and it seemed to me that they were two completely different breeds’:
Some muzhiks [peasants] were demure, well bred, important-looking, with greasy hair, fat paunches, and shiny faces. They were dressed in embroidered shirts and caftans of fine cloth. These were the ones who were later called kulaks. They . . . felled trees for new homes in the thick woods that only recently had been Grandfather’s. They walked in the church with collection trays and placed candles before the Saint-Mary-Appease-My-Grief icon. But what kind of grief could they have? The Peasants’ Credit Bank gave them credit. In their houses, which I sometimes visited, there were

geraniums on the window sills and the smell of rich buns from the ovens. Their sons grew into energetic and ambitious men, began new lives for themselves, and created a new class in embryo for Russia.
The other muzhiks wore bast sandals, dressed in rags, bowed fawningly, never went further than the doors, and had faces that had lost all human expression . .. They were undersized, and often lay in ditches near the state-owned wine shop. Their children did not grow because they were underfed. Their consumptive wives seemed always to be in the final month of pregnancy, the infants were covered with weeping eczema, and in their homes, which I also visited, broken windows were stopped up with rags, and calves and hens were kept in the corners. There was a sour stench.27
The differences between rich and poor peasants had been widely debated since the 1870s, when the whole issue of rural poverty and its causes had first come to the shocked attention of the Russian public. To Marxists and many liberals it was axiomatic that the peasantry should be divided into two separate classes— the one of entrepreneurial farmers, the other of landless labourers — as capitalism took root in the Russian countryside. But the Populists, who dreamt of a united peasantry leading Russia directly towards socialism, denied this process was taking place at all. Each side produced a library ofstatistics to prove or disprove that capitalism was leading to the disintegration of the peasantry, and historians today still dispute their significance.
There were, it is true, growing inequalities between the richest and the poorest sections of the peasantry. At one extreme there was a small but growing class of wealthy peasant entrepreneurs; at the other an impoverished peasantry increasingly forced to abandon its farms and join the army of migrant wage-labourers in agriculture, mining, transport and industry. The young Lenin set out to prove in the 1890s that these two extremes were the result of capitalist development. But this is not necessarily true.
The major differences in the living standards of the peasantry were in fact geographic. Commercial farming had taken root in a circular band of regions around the periphery of the old Muscovite centre of Russia during the nineteenth century. In parts of the Baltic the Emancipation of the serfs in 1817 had enabled the local landowners, with access to the Western grain markets, to turn their estates into capitalist farms worked by wage-labourers. In the western Ukraine, too, the nobles had established huge sugar-beet farms. Meanwhile, in the fertile regions of south Russia, the Kuban and the northern Caucasus a wealthy stratum of mixed farmers had emerged from the peasants and the Cossacks. The same was true in western Siberia, where the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway had made it possible for the smallholders to grow rich producing cereals and dairy products for the market. These regions accounted for the national rise in

peasant living standards— reflected in their increased spending-power — which recent historians have detected and used to refute the old historical orthodoxy that the peasants were becoming increasingly impoverished before 1917.28 What was emerging, in fact, was a growing divergence in the economic position of the peasantry between the new and relatively affluent areas of commercial farming in the west, the south and the east, on the one hand, and, on the other, the old and increasingly overpopulated central agricultural zone, where the majority of the gentry’s estates were located, and where backward farming methods were unable to maintain all of the peasants on the land. It is no coincidence that after 1917 the richer agricultural regions became strongholds of counter-revolution, whereas the impoverished central zone remained loyal to the revolution.
In the central agricultural zone of Russia there were few signs of commercialism and the main inequalities in the living standards of the peasants were explained by local differences in the quality of the soil or by historic legacies stretching back to the days of serfdom. So, for example, villages made up of former state peasants (i.e. peasants settled on state land) tended to be more land-rich than villages of former serfs. The market economy was weak in these regions and most peasants were engaged in a natural system of production. They sold a small amount of produce and perhaps some handicrafts, the product of their winter labours, in order to pay off their taxes and buy a few household goods, but otherwise their production was geared towards the basic food requirements of the family. According to a zemstvo survey of the 1880s, two out of three peasant households in the central Russian province of Tambov were unable to feed themselves without getting into debt. ‘In our village’, recalled Semenov, ‘only five or six families managed to survive the whole year on their own. As for the rest, some got by until the Mikhailov holiday [in early November], some until Christmas, and some until Shrovetide, but then they had to borrow to buy grain.’ It was the tragedy of millions of peasants that constant debt and taxes forced them to sell off their grain in the autumn, when supplies were plentiful and prices were low, only to buy it back in the hungry spring, when prices were at their peak. Every volost township had its handful of usurers and merchants— the peasants called them ‘kulaks’ — who bought up the peasants’ grain cheaply in the autumn and, six months later, sold it back to them at twice the price. Theirs was a hard and cruel greed, the sort to be found, as one contemporary put it, in ‘a thoroughly uneducated man who has made his wayfrom poverty to wealth and has come to consider money-making, by whatever means, as the only pursuit to which a rational being should devote himself.’ Whole villages were indebted to these ‘kulaks’, and many were forced to sell part of their land to repay them. If this was ‘capitalism’, as the Bolsheviks insisted, it was of a primitive kind.29
The number of ‘capitalist’ peasants (those employing permanent wage-

labour) was probably no more than I per cent.30 That more of them did not emerge had much to do with the periodic redistribution of the communal allotment land; and with the fact that the richest peasant farms, which also tended to have the most members, customarily divided their property when the adult sons were married and ready to set up new family households of their own.* In other words, the peasants failed to become capitalists because they rarely held on to their property for more than a generation.
Nor did peasant poverty have much to do with the development of capitalism. The basic problem in the central agricultural zone was that the peasantry’s egalitarian customs gave them little incentive to produce anything other than babies. The birth-rate in Russia (at about fifty births for every 1,000 people every year) was nearly twice the European average during the second half of the nineteenth century, and the highest rates of all were in the areas of communal tenure where the holding of land was fixed according to family size. The astronomical rise of the peasant population (from 50 to 79 million during 1861—1897) resulted in a growing shortage of land. By the turn of the century 7 per cent of the peasant households had no land at all, while one in five had only a tiny plot of less than onedesyatina(2.7 acres). This may seem odd in a country the size of Russia. But in central Russia, where most of the peasantry lived, the density of the population was similar to that of Western Europe. The average peasant allotment, at 2.6desyatinyin 1900, was comparable in size to the typical smallholding in France or Germany. But Russian peasant farming was much less intensive, with grain yields at barely half the level reached in the rest of Europe. The light wooden scratch plough used by the majority of Russian peasants with a single horse, or a pair of oxen, was similar to thearatrumused in the Roman Empire and vastly inferior to the heavy iron ploughs used in Western Europe with a four- or six-horse team. The small hand sickle was still being used on most peasant farms in Russia on the eve of the First World War, more than a half-century after it had been replaced by the scythe and the heavy reaping hook in the West. Sowing, threshing and winnowing were all done by hand, long after they had been mechanized elsewhere. The application of manure, let alone of chemical fertilizers, was far behind European standards. And the
* So, for example, a study in Tula province found that 62 per cent of the peasant households with four or more horses had partitioned their property between 1899 and 1911, compared with only 23 per cent of those with one horse (Shanin,Awkward Class,83). Statisticians such as A. V Chayanov believed that the life-cycle of the peasant household largely explained economic inequalities within the village. The newly partitioned household, consisting of a married couple and one or two children, tended to have only a small plot of land and very little livestock. But as the children grew up and began to contribute as workers to the family economy, the household was able to accumulate more land and livestock, until it partitioned itself. Chayanov argued that the statistical surveys used by the Marxists to show the economic differentiation of the peasantry were in fact no more than ‘snapshots’ of the peasant households at different stages of this life-cycle.

advanced field rotations, root crops alternating with cereals, which had been introduced into Western Europe during the agricultural revolution of the eighteenth century, were still largely unknown in backward peasant Russia.31
Under these circumstances, lacking the capital to modernize their farms, the only way for the peasants to feed the growing number of mouths was to bring more land under the plough. The easiest way to achieve this within the three-field system was by reducing the size of the fallow land— and thousands of villages did just that. But the long-term effect was only to make the situation worse, since the soil was exhausted by being overworked, while livestock herds (the main source of fertilizer) were reduced because of the shortage of fallow and other pasture lands. By the turn of the century one in three peasant households did not even have a horse.32 To cultivate their land they had to hire horses or else attach themselves to the plough. There is no sadder symbol of the crippling poverty in which millions of peasants were forced to live than the image of a peasant and his son struggling to drag a plough through the mud.
The most tempting solution to the peasantry’s hunger for land could be seen every day from their villages— in the form of the squire’s estate. ‘Every single peasant’, wrote Prince Lvov, ‘believed from the very bottom of his soul that one day, sooner or later, the squire’s land would belong to him.’ One-third of the arable land in Russia was owned by nobles in the 1870s. By 1905 this proportion had declined to 22 per cent, mainly as a result of peasant communal purchases (the peasant share of landownership had increased in these years from 58 per cent to 68 per cent). Moreover, by this time about one-third of the gentry land was rented out to the peasantry. Yet this should not deceive us into thinking, as so many right-wing historians have claimed, that there was no land problem. Most of the peasants who rented land from the gentry did so under the pressure of poverty rather than of wealth: with the rapid rise of the peasant population they had come to depend on renting extra land to feedthemselves and their families. For this reason, they were often prepared to pay a much higher rent than the land was worth in strictly economic terms. It was the readiness of the peasant family to work itself into the ground in order to feed itself that fuelled the seven-fold increase in rental values, on which the late-nineteenth-century gentry lived.33
There was a clear geographic pattern in peasant—gentry land relations which helps to explain the distinctive distribution of agrarian violence during the revolution. The peasant war against the squires, both in 1905 and 1917, was concentrated in an arc of provinces around the southern edge of the central agricultural zone (from Samara and Saratov in the south-east, through Tambov, Voronezh, Kursk, Kharkov, Chernigov, Ekaterinoslav, Kherson and Poltava, as far as Kiev and Podolia in the south-west). These were regions of peasant overpopulation and large-scale landownership by the gentry. Land rents were high and

wages low. They were also regions where the fertile soil and the relatively long growing season favoured the development of commercial farming in wheat, sugar-beet and other crops suitable for mechanization. In other words, the peasants of these transitional regions were caught in the worst of all possible worlds: between the old pre-capitalist system of agriculture in the centre, and the emergent system of commercial farming at the periphery. As long as the landowners continued to lease out their land to them, albeit at exorbitant prices, then the peasants could just about survive. With the depression of world agricultural prices between 1878 and 1896 most of the landowners had done just that. But then cereal prices rose, freight transportation became cheaper, and, encouraged by the prospect of high profits, many landowners returned to their estates to transform them into commercial farms. Between 1900 and 1914 the amount of arable farmed by the landowning gentry in Russia increased by almost a third, and in these transitional regions the increase was considerably more. In Poltava province, for example, which saw the first wave of real peasant violence in 1902, the amount of land farmed by the squires almost doubled in these years. Land previously leased out to the peasants— and upon which the peasants had relied in order to feed their families — was withdrawn from them, or else rented under even more exploitative conditions. These often involved a switch from money rent to rental payments by labour on the squire’s estate(otrabotka)which the peasants saw as a new type of serfdom. Moreover, many of these large-scale commercial farms were mechanized with the introduction of harvesters and threshing machines so that the need for peasant labour— and thus the wage level — was further reduced. Many peasant families dependent on seasonal labour were forced off the land altogether.34
During the last decades of the old regime millions of peasants were gradually driven off the land by poverty or by some other misfortune, such as a fire or the death of an adult worker, which to the poor family, up to its neck in debt, was enough to make all the difference between survival and catastrophe. Drink was also a growing cause of peasant debt and ruination. Semenov described a whole class of heavy drinkers in Andreevskoe: ‘The adults were always thin and looked down and out; the children were rickety, with swollen necks from scrofula, big frightened eyes in pale anaemic faces, and inflated bellies on spindly legs.’35
Some of these poor peasants managed to scrape a living through local trades, such as weaving, carpentry, pottery, shoe-making, timber-felling and carting, although many of these handicrafts were being squeezed out by factory competition. Others migrated to Siberia, where land was made available to the colonists. Over a million peasants, especially from the Ukraine, made this trek during the decade following the famine of 1891. But the vast majority joined the army of migrant labourers who every spring made their way along the

country’s muddy roads by foot or in carts, sailed down its swollen rivers in home-made rowing-boats or stowed away on steamers, and travelled across Russia by rail in unheated carriages or clinging to the roofs of trains. This nomadic host, some nine million strong by the turn of the century,36 headed for the Easter holiday markets where men were hired for ploughing on the large commercial estates. Later in the summer they were followed by reinforcements for the harvest. And then they dispersed throughout Russia in search of winter work on the railways, in dockyards, mines, construction sites, workshops and factories, only to repeat the whole cycle the following spring.
Every year, in body and spirit, these peasant migrants were taken further away from their villages and drawn into the new world of Russia’s industrial revolution. In the last half-century of the old regime the Empire’s urban population quadrupled, from 7 to 28 million. Most of the increase was accounted for by peasants flooding into the cities in search of work. First came the young peasant men, many of them no more than boys, followed by the married men, then unmarried girls, and finally married women and children. By 1914 three out of four people living in St Petersburg were registered as peasants by birth, compared with less than one-third fifty years before. Half the city’s population of 2.2 million people had arrived in the previous twenty years.37 The effect of this massive peasant in-migration was even more pronounced in Moscow. The crowds of peasants in the streets, the numerous outdoor markets (there was even one on Red Square), the unpaved streets, the wooden housing, and the livestock that roamed freely around the workers’ quarters, gave large sections of the city a rural feel. Moscow is still nicknamed the ‘Big Village’.
* * * Semen Kanatchikov (1879—1940) was just one of the millions of peasants to make this transition from the village to the city during the industrial boom of the 1890s. Many years later, as a minor grandee in the Bolshevik government, he recalled the experience in his memoirs. He was born to a poor peasant family in the village of Gusevo in the Volokolamsk district of Moscow province. His father had been born a serf and, although he had tried to improve his lot by renting land, dabbling in trade and teaching himself to read, he had lived on the margins of poverty like most of the peasants in his district. Every winter he left the village to work as a labourer in the city, leaving his sick and feeble wife, who had lost all but four of her eighteen children, to run the farm on her own. Years of disappointment had turned him into a heavy drinker, and when he was drunk he would beat his wife and children. And yet, like many Russians, he mixed heavy drinking with a deep fear of God; and wanted nothing more than for his son to become a ‘good peasant’. The young Kanatchikov found life unbearable. After his mother’s premature death, for which he blamed his father, he resolved to run away. ‘I wanted to rid myself of the monotony of village life

as quickly as possible,’ he later wrote, ‘to free myself from my father’s despotism and tutelage, to begin to live a self-reliant and independent life.’38 It was not long before poverty forced his father to give in to his requests. At the age of sixteen Kanatchikov finally left for Moscow, where his father had arranged for him to work as an apprentice in the Gustav List metal factory. There, like thousands of other peasant immigrants, he would begin to redefine himself both as a worker and as a ‘comrade’ in the revolutionary movement.
Kanatchikov’s motives for wanting to leave the village were typical of his generation. The dull routines of peasant life and the isolation of the village were a heavy burden for young men like him. It became even more difficult once they had learned to read, for the stories of city life in newspapers and pamphlets could only strengthen their awareness of these restrictions. Virtually any employment in the city seemed exciting and desirable compared with the hardships of peasant life. All the healthy and able young men ran away from our village to Moscow and took whatever jobs they could find,’ recalled Semenov. ‘We eagerly awaited the time when we would be old enough to find something in Moscow and could leave our native village.’ Andreevskoe, Semenov’s village, was, like Gusevo, close to Moscow, and the city was a magnet for the young peasants. ‘The proximity of our village to Moscow’, Semenov wrote to a friend in 1888, ‘has made our peasants sick of the land. The desire for a social life, for fashionable dress, for drinking, for the pursuit of an easier life— all this weighs very heavily on them. They do not care any longer for farming. Everyone is trying as hard as he can to liberate himself from it and find an easier means of existence.’39
The desire for social betterment was very often synonymous with the desire to leave the village and find a job outside agriculture. Becoming a clerk or a shop assistant was seen by the younger peasants as a move up in the world. For young peasant women, in particular, who found themselves at the bottom of the patriarchal pile, working as a domestic servant in the city (which is what most of them did) offered them a better and more independent life. Many social commentators noted such aspirations. A study of rural schoolchildren in the 1900s, for example, found that nearly half of them wanted to pursue an ‘educated profession’ in the city, whereas less than 2 per cent wanted to follow in the footsteps of their peasant parents. ‘I want to be a shop assistant’, remarked one village schoolboy, ‘because I do not like to walk in the mud. I want to be like those people who are cleanly dressed and work as shop assistants.’40 Parents and educators became alarmed that many peasant boys, in particular, once they learned how to read and write, refused to do agricultural work and tried to distinguish themselves from the rest of the village by swaggering around in raffish city clothes.
If social ambition was often the primary motive of those peasants who

went to the towns, more commonly, as in Kanatchikov s case, it was an unexpected consequence of a move enforced by poverty. But either way the experience of the city transformed the way most peasants thought— of the world, of themselves, and of the village life they had left behind. On the whole, it had the effect of making them think in secular, more rational and more humanistic terms, which brought them closer to the socialist intelligentsia, and to reject and even despise village culture, with its superstitions and its dark and backward ways. That was the Russia of ‘icons and cockroaches’, to cite Trotsky’s phrase, whereas the city, and (for many of them) the urban culture of the revolutionary movement, stood for progress, enlightenment and human liberation. The rank and file of the Bolshevik Party were recruited from peasants, like Kanatchikov. The mistrust and indeed contempt which they were to show for the peasantry, once in power, can be explained by this social fact. For they associated the dismal peasant world with their own unhappy past, and it was a vital impulse of their own emerging personal and class identity, as well as of their commitment to the revolution, that this world should be abolished.
Kanatchikov’s father had arranged an apprenticeship for him at the Gustav List factory through a neighbour from Gusevo who had gone to work there several years before. Most immigrants relied on such contacts to get themselves settled in the city. The peasants of one village or region would form an association (either anartel’or azemliachestvo)to secure factory jobs and living quarters for their countrymen. Whole factories and areas of the city were ‘colonized’ by the peasants of one locality or another, especially if they all shared some valuable regional craft, and it was not unusual for employers to use such organizations to recruit workers. The industrial suburb of Sormovo near Nizhnyi Novgorod, for example, where one of the country’s largest engineering works was located, recruited all its workers from a handful of surrounding villages, where metal-working was an established handicraft. Through such associations the peasant immigrants were able to maintain ties with their native villages. Most of them supplemented their factory incomes by holding on to their land allotment in the commune and returning to their village in the summer to help their families with the harvest. The factories suffered much disruption at harvest time.* Other peasants regularly sent home money to their families. In this way they were able to keep one foot in the village, whilst their economic position in
* According to a survey of 1881, over 90 per cent of the workforce in textiles and 71 per cent of all industrial workers returned to their villages during the summer. The proportion declined towards the turn of the century as the urban workforce became more settled. Factories adapted to the situation by stopping work during the agricultural season, or by moving to the countryside. The government encouraged the latter, fearing the build-up of an urban working class. Only 40 per cent of the Empire’s industrial workers lived in the cities at the turn of the century.

the city was still insecure. Indeed in some industrial regions, such as the Urals and the mining areas of the south, it was common for the workers to live in their villages, where their families kept a vegetable plot, and commute to the factories and mines.
Many of these immigrants continued to see themselves as essentially peasants, and looked on industrial work as a means of ‘raiding’ the cash economy to support their family farms. They maintained their peasant appearance— wearing their traditional home-made cotton-print blouses rather than manufactured ones, having their hair cut ‘under a bowl’ rather than in the new urban styles, and refusing to shave off their beards. ‘They lived in crowded, dirty conditions and behaved stingily, denying themselves everything in order to accumulate more money for the village,’ Kanatchikov recalled. ‘On holidays they attended mass and visited their countrymen, and their conversations were mostly about grain, land, the harvest and livestock.’ When they had saved up enough money they would go back to their village and buy up a small piece of land. Others, however, like Kanatchikov, preferred to see their future as urban workers. They regarded their land in the village as a temporary fall-back whilst they set themselves up in the city.41
It was through anartel’of fifteen immigrant workers that Kanatchikov found a ‘corner’ of a room in a ‘large, smelly house inhabited by all kinds of poor folk’. The fifteen men who shared the room bought food and paid for a cook collectively. Every day at noon they hurried home from the factory to eat cabbage soup— just as the peasants did, ‘from a common bowl with wooden spoons’. Kanatchikov slept in a small cot with another apprentice. His windowless ‘corner’ was dirty and full of ‘bed bugs and fleas and the stench of «humanity» ‘. But in fact he was lucky to be in a private room at all. Many workers had to make do with a narrow plank-bed in the factory barracks, where hundreds of men, women and children slept together in rows, with nothing but their own dirty clothes for bedding. In these barracks, which Gorky compared with the ‘dwellings of a prehistoric people’, there were neither washing nor cooking facilities, so the workers had to visit the bath-house and eat in canteens. There were whole families living in such conditions. They tried as best they could to get a little privacy by hanging a curtain around their plank-beds. Others, even less fortunate, were forced to live in the flophouse or eat and sleep by the sides of their machines. Such was the demand for accommodation that workers thought nothing of spending half their income on rent. Landlords divided rooms, hallways, cellars and kitchens to maximize their profits. Speculative developers rushed to build high tenements, whichin turn were quickly sub-divided. Sixteen people lived in the average apartment in St Petersburg, six in every room, according to a survey of 1904. In the workers’ districts the figures were higher. The city council could have relieved the housing crisis by building suburbs and

developing cheap transportation, but pressure from the landlords in the centre blocked all such plans.42
Like most of Russia’s industrial cities, St Petersburg had developed without any proper planning. Factories had been built in the central residential districts and allowed to discharge their industrial waste into rivers and canals. The domestic water supply was a breeding ground for typhus and cholera, as the Tsar’s own daughter, the Grand Duchess Tatyana Nikolaevna, discovered to her cost when she contracted it during the tercentenary celebrations in the capital. The death rate in this City of Tsars was the highest of any European capital, including Constantinople, with a cholera epidemic on average once in every three years. In the workers’ districts fewer than one in three apartments had a toilet or running water. Excrement piled high in the back yards until wooden carts came to collect it at night. Water was fetched in buckets from street pumps and wells and had to be boiled before it was safe to drink. Throughout the city— on house-fronts, inside tramcars, and in hundreds of public places — there were placards in bold red letters warning people not to drink the water, though thirsty workers, and especially those who had recently arrived from the countryside, paid very little attention to them. Nothing of any real consequence was done to improve the city’s water and sewage systems, which remained a national scandal even after 30,000 residents had been struck down by cholera in 1908—9. There was a good deal of talk about building a pipeline to Lake Lagoda, but the project remained on the drawing board until I9I7.43
From his first day at the factory the young Kanatchikov was acutely conscious of his awkward and rustic appearance: ‘The skilled workers looked down on me with scorn, pinched me by the ear, pulled me by the hair, called me a «green country bumpkin» and other insulting names.’ These labour aristocrats became a model for Kanatchikov as he sought to assimilate himself into this new working-class culture. He envied their fashionable dress, with their trouser cuffs left out over their shiny leather boots, their white ‘fantasia’ shirts tucked into their trousers, and their collars fastened with lace. They smelt of soap and eau de Cologne, cut their hair ‘in the Polish style’ (i.e. with a parting down one side rather than in the middle as the peasants wore their hair), and on Sundays dressed in suits and bowler hats. The pride which they took in their physical appearance seemed to convey ‘their consciousness of their own worth’; and it was precisely this sense of dignity that Kanatchikov set out to achieve.44
But for the moment, he found himself at the bottom of the factory hierarchy, an unskilled worker, labouring for six days every week, from 6 a.m. to 7p.m., for a measly wage of 1.5 roubles a week. Russia’s late-flowering industrial revolution depended on cheap labourers from the countryside like Kanatchikov. This was its principal advantage over the older industrial powers, in which organized labour had won better pay and working conditions. As

Count Witte put it in 1900, the Russian worker, ‘raised in the frugal habits of rural life’, was ‘much more easily satisfied’ than his counterpart in Europe or North America, so that ‘low wages appeared as a fortunate gift to Russian enterprise’. Indeed, as the factories became more mechanized, employers were able to exploit the even cheaper labour of women and children. By 1914 women represented 33 per cent of the industrial workforce in Russia, compared to 20 per cent in 1885, and in certain sectors, such as textiles and food processing, women workers were in the majority. The factory took a heavy toll on their health, additionally burdened, as so many of them were, with bawling babies and alcoholic husbands. ‘One cannot help but note the premature decrepitude of the factory women,’ a senior doctor wrote in 1913. ‘A woman worker of fifty sees and hears poorly, her head trembles, her shoulders are sharply hunched over. She looks about seventy. It is obvious that only dire need keeps her at the factory, forcing her to work beyond her strength. While in the West, elderly workers have pensions, our women workers can expect nothing better than to live out their last days as lavatory attendants.’45
The tsarist government was reluctant to better the lot of the workers through factory legislation. This was one of its biggest mistakes, for the buildup of a large and discontented working class in the cities was to be one of the principal causes of its downfall. Part of the problem was that influential reactionaries, like Pobedonostsev, the Procurator-General of the Holy Synod and close adviser to the last two tsars, refused to recognize the labour question’ at all, since in theirviewRussia was still (and should remain) an agrarian society. In other words the workers should be treated as no more than peasants. Others feared that passing such reforms would only raise the workers’ expectations. But the main concern was that so much of Russian industry remained in the hands of foreign owners,* and, if their labour costs were to rise, they might take their capital elsewhere. The gains made by British workers in the 1840s, and by German workers in the 1880s, remained out of reach of Russian workers at the turn of the century. The two most important factory laws— one in 1885 prohibiting the night-time employment of women and children, and the other in 1897 restricting the working day to eleven and a half hours — had to be wrenched from the government, after major strikes. But even these reforms left major loopholes. The small artisanal trades and sweatshops, which probably employed the majority of the country’s workers, were excluded from all such protective legislation. The inspectorates, charged with ensuring that the factories complied with the regulations, lacked effective powers, and employers ignored them with impunity. Working areas were filled with noxious fumes and left
* The percentage of foreign shareholding in joint-stock companies rose from 25 per cent in 1890 to about 40 per cent on the eve of the First World War.

unventilated. Shopfloors were crammed with dangerous machinery, so that accidents occurred frequently. Yet most workers were denied a legal right to insurance and, if they lost an eye or a limb, could expect no more than a few roubles’ compensation.
‘The factory owner is an absolute sovereign and legislator whom no laws constrain,’ declared Professor Yanzhul, a leading proponent of factory regulation during the 1880s. Indeed, by hiring workers on private contracts, employers could bypass most of the government’s labour legislation. All sorts of clauses were inserted into workers’ contracts, depriving them of legal rights. Long after such fines had been outlawed, many workers continued to have their pay docked for low productivity, breakages and petty infringements of the factory rules (sometimes amounting to no more than going to the toilet during working hours). Some employers had their workers degradingly searched for stolen goods whenever they left the factory gates, while others had them flogged for misdemeanours. Others forbade their workers to wear hats, or to turn up for work in their best clothes, as a way of teaching them their proper place. This sort of ‘serf regime’ was bitterly resented by the workers as an affront to their personal dignity. ‘We are not even recognized as people,’ one complained, ‘but we are considered as things which can be thrown out at any moment.’ Another lamented that ‘outside Russia even horses get to rest. But our workers’ existence is worse than a horse’s.’46 As they developed their own sense of self-worth, these workers demanded more respectful treatment by their employers. They wanted them to call them by the polite ‘you’ (vyi) instead of the familiar one (tyi), which they associated with the old serf regime. They wanted to be treated as ‘citizens’. It was often this issue of respectful treatment, rather than the bread-and-butter question of wages, which fuelled workers’ strikes and demonstrations.
Historians have searched exhaustively for the roots of this labour militancy. The size of the factories, the levels of skill and literacy, the movement of wages and prices, the number of years spent living in the city, and the influence of the revolutionary intelligentsia— all these factors have been examined in microscopic detail in countless monographs, each hoping to discover the crucial mix that explained the take-off of the ‘workers’ revolution’. The main argument among historians concerns the effects of urbanization. Some have argued that it was the most urbanized workers, those with the highest levels of skill and literacy, who became the foot soldiers of the revolution.47 But others have argued that the recent immigrants— those who had been ‘snatched from the plough and hurled straight into the factory furnace’, as Trotsky once put it — tended to be the most violent, often adapting the spontaneous forms of rebellion associated with the countryside(buntarstvo)to the new and hostile industrial environment in which they found themselves.48

Now there is no doubt that the peasant immigrants added a volatile and often belligerent element to the urban working class. Labour unrest during the early decades of industrialization tended to take the form of spontaneous outbreaks of violence, such as riots, pogroms, looting and machine-breaking, the sort of actions one might expect from an uprooted but disorganized peasant mass struggling to adapt to the new world of the city and the discipline of the factory. Some of these ‘pre-industrial’ forms of violence became permanent features of the landscape of labour unrest. A good example is the common workers’ practice during strikes and demonstrations of ‘carting out’ their factory boss or foreman in a wheelbarrow and dumping him in a cesspool or a canal. Nevertheless, it is going too far to suggest that such ‘primitive’ forms of industrial protest, or the raw recruits behind them, were the crucial factor in the rise of labour militancy.49 During the 1890s strikes became the principal form of industrial protest and they required the sort of disciplined organization that only the most urbanized workers, with their higher levels of skills and literacy, could provide. In this context, the peasant immigrants were unlikely to play a leading role. Indeed, they were often reluctant to join strikes at all. With a piece of land in the village, to which they could return when times got hard, they had less inclination to take the risks which a strike entailed, compared with those workers who had broken their ties with the village and depended exclusively on their factory wage. The latter stood at the forefront of the labour movement.
Here Russia stood in stark contrast to Europe, where the most skilled and literate workers tended to be the least revolutionary and were being integrated into the wider democratic movement. There were few signs of such a moderate ‘labour aristocracy’ emerging in Russia. The print workers, with their high rates of pay and their close ties with the intelligentsia, were the most likely candidates for such a role. Yet even they stood firmly behind the Marxist and Social Revolutionary parties. Had they been able to develop their own legal trade unions, then these workers might have made enough gains from the status quo not to demand its overthrow. They might then have gone down the path of moderate reform taken by the European labour movements. But the Russian political situation naturally pushed them towards extremes. Unable to develop their own independent organizations, they were forced to rely upon the leadership of the revolutionary underground. To a large extent, then, the workers’ revolutionary movement was created by the tsarist regime.
Militancy is nothing if not a set of attitudes and emotions. And as Kanatchikov’s story illustrates, the roots of the workers’ militancy were essentially psychological. His personality changed as he adapted himself to the lifestyle of the city and acquired new skills. Mastering the precision techniques of the pattern-makers, the elite machine-construction workers who drafted and moulded the metal parts, gave him confidence in his own powers. It also paid him more

money, which gave him a greater sense of his own worth. Learning to read and talking to the other workers exposed him to the secular modes of thought and new ‘scientific’ theories, such as Darwinism and Marxism, which weakened his belief in religion. In other ways, too, the young Kanatchikov was struggling to break free from the influence of the village. He was repelled by the ‘hooliganism’ of his co-inhabitants in theartel’,by their heavy drinking, their fighting and their rough peasant manners. He moved into a room on his own, swore a solemn oath never to drink anything stronger than tea, and set out on a rigorous course of self-improvement to wipe out all traces of his humble peasant roots. He sought to make a new image for himself, to emulate ‘those young urban metalworkers’, as he put it, ‘who earned an independent living and didn’t ruin themselves with vodka’. He saved up to get his hair cut in the Polish style and to buy a stylish jacket with mother-of-pearl buttons, and a cap with a velvet band, such as the labour aristocrats wore. He bought a suit, with a watch for the waistcoat pocket, a straw hat and a pair of fancy shoes, for Sundays. For fifteen kopecks, he even bought aSelf-Teacher of Dance and Good Manners,which warned him not to wipe his nose with his napkin and told him how to eat such delicacies as artichoke and asparagus, although, as he later admitted, he ‘did not even know if these things belonged to the animal, vegetable, or mineral world’.50
Self-improvement was a natural enough aspiration among skilled workers, like Kanatchikov, who were anxious to rise above their peasant origins and attain the status in society which their growing sense of dignity made them feel they deserved. Many harboured dreams of marrying into the petty-bourgeoisie and of setting themselves up in a small shop or business. They read the boulevard dailies, such as thePetersburg Sheet (Peterburgskii listok),which espoused the Victorian ideals of self-help, guided its readers in questions of good taste and decorum, and entertained them with sensational stories about the glamorous and the rich.
It was only to be expected that this search for respectability should be accompanied by a certain priggishness on the part of the labour elite, a fussy concern to set themselves apart from the ‘dark’ mass of the peasant-workers by conducting themselves in a sober and ‘cultured’ way.* But among those peasant-workers, like Kanatchikov, who would later join the Bolsheviks, this prudishness was often reflected in an extreme form. Their sobriety became a militant puritanism, as if by their prim and ascetic manners, by their tea-drinking and self-discipline, they could banish their peasant past completely. ‘We were of the
* Here lay the roots of that peculiar Russian concept ofkul’turnost’,the state of having good manners, rather than being well educated, as in the Western concept of the term ‘cultured’, from which it is derived. This etymological twist could only have happened in a country like Russia, which was struggling to rid itself of its peasant past and attain the external trappings, if not the deeper moral sensibilities, of Western civilization.

opinion that no conscious Socialist should ever drink vodka,’ recalled one such Bolshevik. ‘We even condemned smoking. We propagated morality in the strictest sense of the word.’ It was for this reason that so many rank-and-file Bolsheviks abstained from romantic attachments, although in Kanatchikov’s case this may have had more to do with his own dismal failure with women. The worker-revolutionaries, he later admitted, ‘developed a negative attitude toward the family, toward marriage, and even toward women’. They saw themselves as ‘doomed’ men, their fate tied wholly to the cause of the revolution, which could only be compromised by ‘contact with girls’. So strait-laced were these pioneering proletarians that people often mistook them for the Pashkovites, a pious Bible sect. Even the police sometimes became confused when they were instructed to increase their surveillance of ‘revolutionary’ workers who drank only tea.51
* * * It was through his tea-drinking friends that the young Kanatchikov first became involved in the underground ‘study circles'(kruzhki)devoted to the reading of socialist tracts and the education of the workers. In the early days most of these circles had been organized by Populist students, but by the late 1890s, when Kanatchikov moved to St Petersburg and joined a circle there, the Marxists were making the running. For him, as for many other ‘conscious’ workers, the circle’s main attraction was the opening it gave him to a new world of learning. Through it he was introduced to the writings of Pushkin and Nekrasov, to books on science, history, arithmetic and grammar, to the theatre and to serious concerts, as well as to the popular Marxist tracts of the day. All this gave him the sense of being raised to a higher cultural level than most workers, who spent their leisure time in the tavern. But he and his comrades were still ill at ease in the company of the liberal middle classes who patronized their groups. Occasionally, as Kanatchikov recalls, they would be taken ‘for display’ to fashionable bourgeois homes:
Our intelligentsia guide would introduce us in a loud voice, emphasizing the words: ‘conscious workers’. Then we were regaled with tea and all manner of strange snacks that we were afraid to touch, lest we make some embarrassing blunder. Our conversations with such liberals had a very strained character. They would interrogate us about this or that book we had read, question us about how the mass of workers lived, what they thought, whether they were interested in a constitution. Some would ask us if we’d read Marx. Any stupidity that we uttered in our confusion would be met with condescending approval.
On leaving these parties, Kanatchikov and his friends ‘would breathe a sigh of relief and laugh at our hosts’ lack of understanding about our lives’. While on

the surface they agreed with their student mentors that the liberals might be useful to the revolutionary cause, ‘a kind of hostility toward them, a feeling of distrust, was constantly growing inside us’.52 It was precisely this feeling of distrust, the workers’ awareness that their own aspirations were not the same as the liberals’, that hastened the downfall of the Provisional Government in 1917.
Kanatchikov’s conception of socialism was extremely malleable at this stage. And the same was true of most workers. They found it difficult to take on board complex or abstract ideas, but they were receptive to propaganda in the form of simple pamphlet stories highlighting the exploitation of the workers in their daily lives. Gorky’s stories were very popular. Since escaping from Krasnovidovo, he had roamed across the country doing various casual jobs, until he had met the novelist and critic V G. Korolenko, who had encouraged him to write. By the mid-1890s Gorky had become a national celebrity, the first real writer of any quality to emerge from the urban underworld of migratory labourers, vagabonds and thieves, which his stories represented with vividness and compassion. Dressed like a simple worker, with his walrus moustache and his strongly chiselled face, Gorky was received as a phenomenon in the salons of the radical intelligentsia. The workers could easily identify themselves with his stories, because they drew on the concerns that filled their everyday lives and, like the writer’s pseudonym, captured their own spirit of defiance and revolt(gor’kiimeans ‘bitter’ in Russian). Moreover, Gorky’s obvious sympathy for the industrial worker, and his equal antipathy to the ‘backward’ peasant Russia of the past, gave workers like Kanatchikov, who were trying to break free from their own roots, a new set of moral values and ideals. In a famous passage inMy Childhood(1913), for example, Gorky asked himself why he had recorded all the incidents of cruelty and suffering which had filled his early years; and he gave an answer with which many workers, like Kanatchikov, would have sympathized:
When I try to recall those vile abominations of that barbarous life in Russia, at times I find myself asking the question: is it worth while recording them? And with ever stronger conviction I find the answer is yes, because that was the real loathsome truth and to this day it is still valid. It is that truth which must be known down to the very roots, so that by tearing them up it can be completely erased from the memory, from the soul of man, from our whole oppressive and shameful life.
All the characters in Gorky’s stories were divided into good or bad— both defined in terms of their social class — with little shading or variation. This moral absolutism also appealed to the workers’ growing class and revolutionary consciousness. But, perhaps above all, it was the spirit of revolt in Gorky’s

writing that made it so inspiring. ‘The Stormy Petrel’ (1895), his bombastic eulogy to the romantic revolutionary hero, disguised in the form of a falcon flying above the foamy waves, became the revolutionaries’ hymn and was circulated through the underground in hundreds of printed, typed and hand-written copies. Like most workers, Kanatchikov had learned it by heart:
Intrepid petrel, even though you die,
Yet in the song of the bold and firm in spirit,
You’ll always live as an example,
A proud summons— to freedom and light!53
The workers also liked to read stories about the popular struggle for liberation in foreign lands. ‘Whether it was the Albigenses battling against the Inquisition, the Garibaldians, or the Bulgarian nationalists, we saw them all as our kindred spirits,’ wrote Kanatchikov. It did not matter that these foreign heroes had fought very different battles from their own, since the workers were quick to reinterpret these stories in the Russian context. Indeed the censorship of literature about Russia’s own historic ‘revolutionaries’, such as Pugachev or the Decembrists, obliged them to look abroad for inspiration. In that good old Russian tradition of reading between the lines they seized upon the Netherland-ers’ struggle against the Inquisition as a stirring example of the spirit and organization they would need in their own struggle against the police. It was the stories’ emotional content, their romantic depiction of the rebel as a fighter for freedom and justice, that made them so inspiring. From them, Kanatchikov wrote, ‘we learned the meaning of selflessness, the capacity to sacrifice oneself in the name of the common good’.54 By identifying themselves with the fearless champions of human emancipation everywhere, they became converted to the revolution.
The special attraction of Marxism stemmed from the importance it gave to the role of the working class and to the idea of progress. The popular Marxist pamphlets of the late 1890s, which for the first time attracted large numbers of workers like Kanatchikov to the cause, drove home the lessons of the famine crisis of 1891: that the peasants were doomed to die out as a result of economic progress; that they were a relic of Russia’s backward past who would be swept away by industry; and that the Populists’ belief in the commune (to which many of the peasant-workers still adhered) was no longer tenable. Only Marxism could explain to workers why their peasant parents had become so poor, and why they had been forced into the cities. There was thus a close link between Kanatchikov’s attachment to the Marxist exaltation of industrialization and progress and his own psychological rejection of his peasant past. Like many workers from the countryside, Kanatchikov invested much of his own

personality in the ideal of liberation through industry. He found ‘poetry’ in ‘the rumblings and the puffings’ of the factory. To workers like him Marxism appeared as a modern ‘science’ that explained in simple black-and-white terms why their world was structured the way that it was, and how it could be transformed.
Many people have argued that Marxism acted like a religion, at least in its popular form. But workers like Kanatchikov believed with the utmost seriousness that the teachings of Marx were a science, on a par with the natural sciences; and to claim that their belief was really nothing more than a form of religious faith is unfair to them. There was, however, an obvious dogmatism in the outlook of many such workers, which could easily be mistaken for religious zealotry. It manifested itself in that air of disdain which many workers, having reached the uplands of Marxist understanding, showed towards those who had not yet ascended to such heights. One ‘comrade’, for example, arrogantly told a police officer, who was in the process of arresting him, that he was a ‘fool’ because he had ‘never read Marx’ and did ‘not even know what politics and economics [were]’.55 This dogmatism had much to do with the relative scarcity of alternative political ideas, which might at least have caused the workers to regard the Marxist doctrine with a little more reserve and scepticism. But it also had its roots in the way most of these workers had been educated in philosophy. When people learn as adults what children are normally taught in schools, they often find it difficult to progress beyond the simplest abstract ideas. These tend to lodge deep in their minds, making them resistant to the subsequent absorption of knowledge on a more sophisticated level. They see the world in black-and-white terms because their narrow learning obscures any other coloration. Marxism had much the same effect on workers like Kanatchikov. It gave them a simple solution to the problems of ‘capitalism’ and backwardness without requiring that they think independently.
For a worker to commit himself to the militant labour movement was to invite persecution. Once the local police got wind of his activities he would soon find himself dismissed from his factory as a troublemaker. Yet because of the huge demand for skilled labour during the industrial boom, workers like Kanatchikov were easily able to find jobs again. They roamed from factory to factory, organizing illegal workers’ clubs and associations, until the police caught up with them and again forced them to move on. Faced with a life on the run, the weak-willed militant might have chosen to return to the security of his native village. But for workers like Kanatchikov this was unthinkable. They had already committed themselves to the revolutionary movement, and their identity was invested in it. To return to the backwardness of the village would undermine their hard-won sense of themselves. The only alternative was to join the revolutionary movement underground. The comradeship which they found there partly com-

pensated for the rootlessness which many of them must have felt as they moved from town to town. The party organization became the workers ‘family home and hearth’, as Kanatchikov put it. His ‘comrades in struggle’ took ‘the place of his brothers, sisters, father and mother’. Belonging to this secret community, moreover, had its own romantic appeal, as another Bolshevik worker explained: ‘The constant danger of arrest, the secrecy of our meetings and the awareness that I was no longer just a grain of sand, no longer just another one of the workers, but a member of an organization that was dangerous and threatening to the government and to the rich— all this was new and exciting.’56
This sense of belonging to the party and of being a part of its historic mission acted as a solvent on the social divisions between the workers and the Marxist intelligentsia. Comradeship was, initially, more powerful than class. Yet increasingly the relationship between the two was marked by tension and distrust. The workers were beginning to organize themselves. The strikes of the mid-1890s were the first real breakthrough by the independent labour movement. Most of them were led by the skilled workers themselves, though the Marxist intelligentsia in the Social Democratic Party played an important subsidiary role in spreading the propaganda that helped to make the strikes so widespread and effective. At this stage the Marxists were still committed to the idea of mass agitation for strikes. But towards the end of the decade many began to claim that the labour movement, with its narrow focus on bread-and-butter issues, was not strong enough by itself to bring down the tsarist regime. They demanded a broader political movement, in which the discipline and organization of the Social Democrats, rather than the workers themselves, would play the leading role. Here was the root of the conflict between the economic goals of the labour movement and the political ambitions of the revolutionary intelligentsia, a conflict that would split the whole Marxist movement in Russia.
With one foot in the factory and the other in the revolutionary underground, Kanatchikov now had to choose between them. On the eve of the 1905 Revolution, as we learn from the last proud sentence of his memoirs, he left the factory and became a full-time ‘professional revolutionary’ in the Bolshevik Party.

4 Red Ink
i Inside the Fortress
At the mouth of the Neva River, directly opposite the Winter Palace, stands the Fortress of Peter and Paul. Constructed in 1703 by Peter the Great as a bastion against the Swedish fleet, it was the first building in St Petersburg, and for several years served as the capital of his vast Empire. Once the rest of the city had been constructed— on the bones of the serfs who died building it — the tiny island fortress ceased to be the seat of tsarist rule, but it continued to symbolize its awesome power. The tombs of the tsars were kept in its cathedral, whose golden spire rose like a needle above the centre of the capital. And inside the thick stone walls and beneath the eight towers of the fortress was concealed the most infamous of all the regime’s political prisons. Its list of inmates reads like a roll of honour of the Russian radical and revolutionary movements: Radishchev; the Decembrists; the Petrashevtsy; Kropotkin; Chernyshevsky; Bakunin; Tkachev; Nechaev; Populists and Marxists; workers and students — they all suffered in its damp and gloomy cells. In its two centuries as a jail not a single prisoner ever escaped from the fortress, although many found a different form of deliverance through suicide or insanity.
This ‘Russian Bastille’ not only held captive dangerous subversives; it captured the popular imagination. Folksongs and ballads portrayed the fortress as a living hell. Legends abounded of how its prisoners were tortured, of how they languished in dark and vermin-ridden dungeons, or were driven mad by its tomb-like silence (enforced as part of the prison regime). Tales were told of prisoners kept in cells so small that they could neither stand nor lie down but had to curl up like a ball; after a while their bodies became twisted and deformed. There were stories of secret executions, of prisoners being forced to dig their own graves on the frozen river at night before being drowned beneath theice.In the minds of the common people the fortress became a monstrous symbol of the despotism under which they lived, a symbol of their fears and lack of freedom, and the fact that it was located right in the middle of St Petersburg, that people daily passed by its secret horrors, only made it seem more terrible.
In fact, conditions in the prison were not as bad as people believed. Compared with the conditions which the tyrannies of the twentieth century have

provided for their victims, the fortress was like a comfortable hotel. Most of the inmates had access to food and tobacco, books and writing paper, and could receive letters from their relatives. The Bolshevik, Nikolai Bauman, was even allowed to read Marx’sCapitalduring his stay in the prison. Several classics of Russian literature were composed in the silence of its cells, including Dostoevsky’s storyThe Little Hero,Gorky’s playThe Children of the Sun,and Chernyshevsky’s novelWhat Is To Be Done?,which became a seminal text of the revolutionary movement.* The public image of the prison— crammed full to bursting point with tens of thousands of long-term inmates — could not have been further from the truth. There were never more than a hundred prisoners there at any time, and after 1908 never more than thirty. Few stayed more than a month or so before being transferred to provincial jails. In February 1917, when the fortress was finally taken by the crowd, the anti-climactic reality of liberating a mere nineteen prisoners (all of them mutinous soldiers imprisoned only the previous day) was not allowed to intrude on the revolutionaries’ mythic expectations. The event was portrayed as Freedom’s triumph over Despotism.
This reinvention of the fortress was a vital aspect of the revolutionaries’ demonology. If the tsarist regime was to be depicted as cruel and oppressive, secretive and arbitrary in its penal powers, then the fortress was a perfect symbol of those sins. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, as in reality it became more benign, its prison regime was described in the writings of its former inmates with increasingly exaggerated horror. There was a fashion for gothic prison memoirs during the last decades of the old regime, and these tales fed the public’s appetite for revolutionary martyrs. As Gorky put it, when once asked why he had refused to add his memoirs to the pile: ‘Every Russian who has ever sat in jail, if only for a month, as a «political», or who has spent a year in exile, considers it his holy duty to bestow on Russia his memoirs of how he has suffered.’1
To its critics the Peter and Paul Fortress was a microcosm of the tsarist system. Russia, remarked the Marquis de Custine after visiting the fortress in the 1830s, is ‘in itself a prison; a prison whose vast size only makes it the more formidable’. The basic structure of the tsarist police state had been built up under Nicholas I after the Decembrist uprising of 1825, when a small coterie of liberal noblemen had conspired— as Pushkin put it, ‘between the claret and champagne’ — to impose a constitution on the monarchy after Alexander Is death. Nicholas introduced sweeping laws — including a new code of censorship in 1826 that (uniquely in Europe at the time) obliged all printed matter to gain clearance from the censorbeforepublication— to stamp out all political dissent.
* Chernyshevsky’s novel was published while he was still in the Peter and Paul Fortress— only to be subsequently banned!

The Third Section, or secret police, established that year, had— and this was once again unique in Europe — the power to detain and even send into administrative exile in Siberia anyonesuspectedof ‘political crimes’. No other country in the world had two kinds of police— one to protect the interests of the state, the other to protect its people.
Yet it was not until the late nineteenth century, with the arrival of telegraphs and telephones, that the machinery of the police state became really efficient. The Okhrana, which took over the functions of the Third Section in 1881, fought what can only be described as a secret war, using special powers outside the law, to stamp out revolutionaries. It had thousands of agents and informers, many of them posing as revolutionaries, who reported on conditions in the factories, the universities, the army and the institutions of the state itself. House porters filed daily reports to the police. Hundreds of bureaucrats were employed in a ‘Black Office’ to read people’s intercepted mail. ‘The whole of St Petersburg is aware that its letters are read by the police,’ complained Countess Vorontsova to Nicholas II. There was a huge list of activities— from putting on a concert or opening a shop to consulting the works of Darwin — for which even the most high-born citizen required a licence from the police. Indeed, from the perspective of the individual, it could be said that the single greatest difference between Russia and the West, both under Tsarism and Communism, was that in Western Europe citizens were generally free to do as they pleased so long as their activities had not been specifically prohibited by the state, while the people of Russia were not free to do anything unless the state had given them specific permission to do it. No subject of the Tsar, regardless of his rank or class, could sleep securely in his bed in the knowledge that his house would not be subject to a search, or he himself to arrest.2
This constant battle with the police state engendered a special kind of mentality among its opponents. One can draw a straight line from the penal rigours of the tsarist regime to the terrorism of the revolutionaries and indeed to the police state of the Bolsheviks. As Flaubert put it, ‘inside every revolutionary there is a policeman’. Felix Dzerzhinsky (1877—1926), the founding father of the Cheka, was a classic case in point. By 1917 he had spent the best part of his adult life in jails and penal exile, including the last three in the Orel prison, notorious for its sadistic tortures, where, as the leader of a hunger strike, he was singled out for punishment (his body was said to be covered with scars). Once installed in power, he was to copy many of these torture methods during the Red Terror. Yet Dzerzhinsky was only one of many poachers turned gamekeepers. By 1917, the average Bolshevik Party activist had spent nearly four years in tsarist jails or exile; the average Menshevik nearly five. Prison hardened the revolutionaries. It prepared them for ‘the struggle’, giving them a private reason to hate the old regime and to seek revenge against its representatives. Kanatchikov,

who spent several years in tsarist jails, claimed that for Bolshevized workers like himself prison acted as a form of ‘natural selection’: ‘the weak in spirit left the revolution, and often life, but the strong and steadfast were toughened and prepared for future battles’. Many years later, in 1923, Kanatchikov was told that one of the judges who had sentenced him to jail in 1910 had been shot by the Bolsheviks. ‘When I heard this’, Kanatchikov confessed, ‘it gave me great satisfaction’.3
Justifying violence in the name of revolution was not exclusive to the revolutionaries. Among the educated elite there was a general cult of revolutionism. The Russian ‘intelligentsia’ (a Russian word by derivation) was less a class than a state of mind: it meant by definition a stance of radical and uncompromising opposition to the tsarist regime, and a willingness to take part in the struggle for its overthrow. The history of the revolutionary movement is the history of the intelligentsia. Most of the revolutionary leaders were first and foremost intellectuals. Their heads were full of European literature and history, especially the history of the French Revolutions of 1789 and 1848. ‘I think’, recalled Lydia Dan, a Menshevik, ‘that as people we were much more out of books than out of real life.’4 No other single group of intellectuals has had such a huge impact on the twentieth-century world.
Those who thought of themselves asintelligenty(students, writers, professionals,etc.)had a special set of ethics, and shared codes of dress and language, notions of honour and comradeship, not to mention salons and coffeehouses, clubs and social circles, newspapers and journals, which set them apart as a sort of sub-culture from the rest of the privileged society from which most of them had sprung. Many of them even shared a distinct ‘look’— unkempt, long-haired, bearded and bespectacled — which became the hallmark of left-wingers and revolutionaries across the world.* The philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev once compared the Russian intelligentsia to a ‘monastic order’ or ‘religious sect’; and there was much in their mentality akin to Christianity. Take, for example, their rejection of the existing order as sinful and corrupt; or their self-image as the righteous champions of the ‘people’s cause’; or indeed their almost mystical belief in the existence of absolute truth. The radical intelligentsia had a religious veneration for the revolutionary literary canon. Ariadna Tyrkova-Williams recalls, for example, how in the 1880s her teenage sister ‘used to smuggle a volume of revolutionary verses into Church during afternoon prayers and, while
* Lydia Dan’s father had a nice wayofpoking fun at these self-conscious radicals. Boys, he said, did not cut their hair on the grounds that they did not have time; but women cut their hair short also to save time. Women went to university on the grounds that this was a mark of progress; but men dropped outofthe education system on the grounds that this was also progressive.

the others read from the Bible, she would recite their summons to revolt and terror’.5
This self-conscious tradition stemmed from the Decembrists. Their execution in 1826 produced the first martyrs of ‘the movement’. Younger generations took romantic inspiration from the self-sacrifice of these noble Jacobins. From that point on— and here was born the cult of opposition — it became the fashion for the sons of noblemen to shun careers in the Civil Service ‘out of principle’. It was seen as a moral betrayal to let oneself be used, as Chicherin put it, ‘as a direct tool of a government which was repressing mercilessly every thought and all enlightenment’. Bloody-minded opposition to the tsarist state and all its officials, however petty, was a matter of honour. Consider the story of Anatolii Dubois, a student of the University of St Petersburg in 1902, who refused (‘on principle’) to shake the hand of a police sergeant who, whilst registering his new address, had engaged him in a friendly conversation and had offered to shake hands as a parting gesture. A police report was made to the rector of the university and Dubois was expelled — only to join the revolutionary movement and get himself arrested in 1903.It was a typical example of the tsarist police state, by a stupid act of repression, forcing a middle-class dissident into the revolutionary underground out of which the terrorist tradition developed (Lenin’s own story was very similar). The radical intelligentsia contemptuously rejected any act ofcompromise with ‘the regime’: only violent struggle could bring about its end. Liberalism was denounced as a weak half-measure. The law was despised as a tool of the state: it was said to be morally inferior to the peasants’ ancient customs and to the interests of social justice — which justifiedbreaking the law. This was the shaky moral foundation of the revolutionary sentiment that gripped the minds of the educated middle classes during the later nineteenth century. Vera Figner, who was herself a terrorist, spoke of a ‘cult of the bomb and the gun’ in which ‘murder and the scaffold took on a magnetic charm’. Within the intelligentsia’s circles it was deemed a matter of ‘good taste’ to sympathize with the terrorists and many wealthy citizens donated large sums of money to them.6
It is impossible to understand this political extremism without first considering the cultural isolation of the Russian intelligentsia. This tiny elite was isolated from official Russia by its politics, and from peasant Russia by its education. Both chasms were unbridgeable. But, perhaps even more importantly, it was cut off from the European cultural world which it sought to emulate. The consequence, as Isaiah Berlin has so elegantly argued, was that ideas imported from the West (as nearly all ideas in Russia were) tended to become frozen into abstract dogmas once the Russian intelligentsia took them up. Whereas in Europe new ideas were forced to compete against other doctrines and attitudes, with the result that people tended towards healthy scepticism about claims to

absolute truth, and a climate of pluralism developed, in Russia there was a cultural void. The censor forbade all political expression, so that when ideas were introduced there they easily assumed the status of holy dogma, a panacea for all the world’s ills, beyond questioning or indeed the need to test them in real life. One European intellectual fashion would spread through St Petersburg after another— Hegelianism in the 1840s, Darwinism in the 1860s, Marxism in the 1890s — and each was viewed in turn as a final truth.7 There was much that was endearing in this strangely Russian search for absolutes— such as the passion for big ideas that gave the literature of nineteenth-century Russia its unique character and power — and yet the underside of this idealism was a badgering didacticism, a moral dogmatism and intolerance, which in its own way was just as harmful as the censorship it opposed. Convinced that their own ideas were the key to the future of the world, that the fate of humanity rested on the outcome of their own doctrinal struggles, the Russian intelligentsia divided up the world into the forces of ‘progress’ and ‘reaction’, friends and enemies of the people’s cause, leavingno room for doubters in between. Here were the origins of the totalitarian world-view. Although neither would have liked to admit it, there was much in common between Lenin and Tolstoy.
Guilt was the psychological inspiration of the revolution. Nearly all of these radical intellectuals were acutely conscious of their wealth and privilege. ‘We have come to realise’, the radical thinker Nikolai Mikhailovsky wrote, ‘that our awareness of the universal truth could only have been reached at the cost of the age-old suffering of the people. We are the peoples debtors and this debt weighs down on our conscience.’ As the children of noblemen brought up by serf domestics on the estate, many of them felt a special personal sense of guilt, since, as Marc Raeff has pointed out, these ‘little masters’ had usually been allowed to treat their serf nannies and ‘uncles’ (whose job it had been to play with them) with cruel contempt.* Later in life these conscience-stricken nobles would seek to repay their debt to ‘the people’ by serving them in the revolution. If only, they thought, they could bring about the people’s liberation, then their own original sin— that of being born into privilege — would be redeemed. Nineteenth-century Russian literature was dominated by the theme of repentance for the sin of privilege. Take, for example, Prince Levin in Tolstoy’sAnna Karenina,who works alongside the peasants in his fields and dreams of giving them the profits of his farm so as to bring about a ‘bloodless revolution’: ‘in place of poverty there would be wealth and happiness for all; in place of hostility, concord and a bond of common interest’.8
«These peasant nannies and domestic servants would not even be called by their proper names but by a pet name such as Masha or Vanka. They were thus denied the most basic recognition of a personality.

The first step towards this reconciliation was to immerse oneself in the people’s daily lives. The romantic interest in folk culture which swept through Europe in the nineteenth century was felt nowhere more keenly than among the Russian intelligentsia. As Blok wrote (with just a touch of irony) in 1908:
the intelligentsia cram their bookcases with anthologies of Russian folksongs, epics, legends, incantations, dirges; they investigate Russian mythology, wedding and funeral rites; they grieve for the people; go to the people; are filled with high hopes; fall into despair; they even give up their lives, face execution or starve to death for the people’s cause.
Riddled with the guilt of privilege, the intelligentsia worshipped at the altar of ‘the people’. They believed profoundly in their mission of service to the people, just as their noble fathers had believed in their duty of service to the state. And in their world-view the ‘good of the people’ was the highest interest, to which all other principles, such as law or morals, were subordinate. Here was the root of the revolutionaries’ maxim that any means could be justified in the interests of the revolution.
For all too many of these high-born revolutionaries, the main attraction of ‘the cause’ lay not so much in the satisfaction which they might derive from seeing the people’s daily lives improved, as in their own romantic search for a sense of ‘wholeness’ which might give higher meaning to their lives and end their alienation from the world. This was certainly the case with Mikhail Bakunin, the founding father of Russian Anarchism, as Aileen Kelly has so brilliantly shown in her biography of him. It was, as she puts it, his own need ‘to identify with a meaningful collective entity’ that led this wealthy nobleman to sublimate his (quite enormous) ego in the abstract notion of the people’s cause. The history of the revolutionary movement is to a large extent the prosopography of such noble and bourgeois intellectuals seeking this sense of belonging. They thought they had found it in the clan-like atmosphere of the revolutionary underground.
As for their commitment to ‘the people’, it was essentially abstract. They loved Man but were not so sure of individual men. M. V Petrashevsky, the Utopian theorist, summed it up when he proclaimed: ‘unable to find anything either in women or in men worthy of my adherence, I have turned to devote myself to the service of humanity’. In this idealized abstraction of ‘the people’ there was not a little of that snobbish contempt which aristocrats are inclined to nurture for the habits of the common man. How else can one explain the authoritarian attitudes of such revolutionaries as Bakunin, Speshnev, Tkachev, Plekhanov and Lenin, if not by their noble origins? It was as if they saw the people as agents of their abstract doctrines rather than as suffering individuals

with their own complex needs and ideals. Ironically, the interests of ‘the cause’ sometimes meant that the people’s conditions had to deteriorate even further, to bring about the final cataclysm. ‘The worse, the better,’ as Chernyshevsky often said (meaning the worse things became, the better it was for the revolution). He had advocated, for example, the emancipation of the serfswithoutland in 1861 on the grounds that this would have resulted ‘in an immediate catastrophe’.9* In this contempt for the living conditions of the common people were the roots of the authoritarianism to which the revolution had such a tragic propensity. Its leaders sought to liberate ‘the people’ according to their own abstract notions of Truth and Justice. But if the people were unwilling to be led in that direction, or became too chaotic to control, then they would have to be forced to be free.
* * * Literature in modern Russia always was a surrogate for politics. Nowhere else was Shelley’s maxim— that ‘poets are the unofficial legislators of the world’ — so tragically relevant as in Russia. In the absence of credible politicians, the Russian public looked to its writers for moral leadership in the fight against autocracy. ‘That is why’, Vissarion Belinsky wrote to Gogol in 1847, ‘so much attention is given to every liberal literary trend, even in the case of inferior talent, and why the popularity of even great writers rapidly declines when they enlist in the service of autocracy.’ Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the intelligentsia had shaped its social codes and conventions according to literary models and the morals drawn from them by literary critics.10 Russian literary criticism, which Belinsky founded, served as a vehicle for political ideas, albeit in an Aesopian language that repaid careful reading between the lines. All the early revolutionary theorists (Herzen, Belinsky, Dobroliubov, Chernyshevsky) wrote mainly about literature. It was through the literary journals of the 1850s, such as Herzen’sThe Belland Chernyshevsky’sThe Contemporary,which mixed literature with social comment, that the basic ideas of the revolutionary movement were first publicized to a mass audience. No other culture attached such status to the high-brow periodical. These ‘thick’ literary journals were read and discussed by virtually the whole of educated society.f There was nothing like it in the West, where freedom of expression resulted in widespread political apathy.
* It was a doctrine that Lenin was to follow. During the famine of 1891 he opposed the idea of humanitarian relief on the grounds that the famine would force millions of destitute peasants to flee to the cities and join the ranks of the proletariat: this would bring the revolution one step closer.
f The ‘thick’ literary journals had a similar influence in the Soviet period with publications such asNovyi Mir,which had a readership of tens of millions. They were also vehicles for political ideas in a system where open political debate had been banned.

TheEdinburgh Review,which was perhaps the nearest equivalent in the nineteenth century, was read by only a tiny elite.
From Belinsky on, the self-imposed mission of Russian literature was both social and didactic: to highlight the motive forces of society and to lead the people towards a new and democratic life. No other literature gave such prominence to the social novel: it dominated the literary canon from the 1840s and Dostoevsky’s PoorFolkto the 1900s and Gorky’sMother.(The latter in turn became the model for the reincarnation of the social novel in its Sovietized version of Socialist Realism.) As a form of moral instruction, the social novel nearly always contained a ‘positive hero’ who embodied the virtues of the New Man. A commitment to the people’s cause, often at the expense of great self-sacrifice, was an essential attribute of such fictional heroes. Characters interested in the aesthetic, or in pursuits unconnected with the cause, were ‘superfluous men, alienated from society.
The most heroic of these positive heroes was Rakhmetev in Chernyshev-sky’s dreadful novelWhat Is To Be Done?(1862). This monolithic titan, who was to serve as a model for a whole generation of revolutionaries (including Lenin), renounces all the pleasures of life in order to harden his superhuman will and make himself insensible to the human suffering which the coming revolution is bound to create. He is a puritan and an ascetic: on one occasion he even sleeps on a bed of nails in order to stifle his sexual urges. He trains his body by gymnastics and lilting weights. He eats nothing but raw steak. He trains his mind in a similar way, reading ‘only trie essential’ (politics and science) for days and nights on end until he has absorbed the wisdom of humankind. Only then does the revolutionary hero set out on his mission to ‘work for the benefit of the people’. Nothing diverts him from the cause, not even the amorous attentions of a young and beautiful widow, whom he rejects. The life he leads is rigorous and disciplined: it proceeds like clockwork, with so much time for reading every day, so much time for exercise and so on. Yet (and here is the message of the story) it is only through such selfless dedication that the New Man is able to transcend the alienated existence of the old ‘superfluous man’. He finds salvation through politics.11
Allowing the publication of Chernyshevsky’s novel was one of the biggest mistakes the tsarist censor ever made: for it converted more people to the cause of the revolution than all the works of Marx and Engels put together (Marx himself learned Russian in order to read it). Plekhanov, the ‘founder of Russian Marxism’, said that from that novel ‘we have all drawn moral strength and faith in a better future’. The revolutionary theorist Tkachev called it the ‘gospel’ of the movement; Kropotkin the ‘banner of Russian youth’. One young revolutionary of the 1860s claimed that there were only three great men in history: Jesus Christ, St Paul and Chernyshevsky. Lenin, whose own ascetic

lifestyle bore a disturbing resemblance to Rakhmetev’s, read the novel five times in one summer. He later acknowledged that it had been crucial in converting him to the revolutionary movement. It completely reshaped me,’ he told Valentinov in 1904. ‘This is a book that changes one for a whole lifetime.’ Chernyshevsky’s importance, in Lenin’sview, wasthat he had ‘not only showed that every right-thinking and really honest man must be a revolutionary, but also— and this is his greatest merit — what a revolutionarymust be like.Rakhmetev, with his superhuman will and selfless dedication to the cause, was the perfect model of the Bolshevik.12
Chernyshevsky’s hero was also an inspiration to the nihilistic students of the 1860s. His asceticism, his belief in science, and his rejection of the old moral order appealed to them. Their ‘nihilism’ entailed a youthful rebellion against the artistic dabbling of their father’s generation (the ‘men of the forties’); a militant utilitarianism, materialism and belief in progress through the application of scientific methods to society; and a general questioning of all authority, moral and religious, which was manifested in a revolutionary passion to destroy. Dmitry Pisarev, one of the student idols of the 1860s, urged his followers to hit out right and left at all institutions, on the grounds that whatever collapsed from their blows was not worth preserving. As Bakunin put it, since the old Russia was rotten to the core, it was ‘a creative urge’ to destroy it. These were the angry young men of their day. Many of them came from relatively humble backgrounds— the sons of priests, such as Chernyshevsky, or of mixed social origins(raznochintsy)— so that their sense of Russia’s worthlessness was reinforced by their own feelings of underprivilege. Chernyshevsky, for example, often expressed a deep hatred and feeling of shame for the backwardness of Saratov province where he had grown up. ‘It would be better’, he once wrote, ‘not to be born at all than to be born a Russian.’ There was a long tradition of national self-hatred among the Russian intelligentsia, stemming from the fact that they were so cut off from the ordinary people and had always modelled themselves on the West.13
These restless youths found another mirror of their attitudes in Bazarov, the young hero of Turgenev’s novelFathers and Sons(1862). Turgenev (a ‘man of the forties’) had intended him as a monstrous caricature of the nihilists, whom he regarded as narrowly materialist, morally slippery and artistically philistine, although later he would pretend otherwise. There was a striking resemblance between Bazarov and the student idol Pisarev. Yet such was the gulf of misunderstanding between the fathers and sons of real life that the young radicals took his faults as virtues and acclaimed Bazarov as their ideal man.
The manifesto of these juvenile Jacobins was written by Zaichnevsky, an imprisoned student agitator, in 1862.Young Russia,as it was called in imitation ofYoung Italy,had little else in common with Mazzini’s creed. It advocated the

violent seizure of power by a small but well-disciplined group of conspirators, followed by the establishment of a revolutionary dictatorship which would carry out the socialist transformation of society and exterminate all its enemies, including democrats and any socialists who opposed it. The manifesto could have passed for a description of what the Bolsheviks actually did (they later claimed Zaichnevsky as their own). It planned to nationalize the land and industry, to bring all children under the care of the state, and to fix the elections to a newly convened constituent assembly to ensure that the government side won. This would be ‘a bloody revolution’ but, Zaichnesvky claimed, ‘we are not afraid of it, even though we know that a river of blood will flow and that many innocent victims will perish’. In one of the most chilling passages of the Russian revolutionary canon, he weighed up the likely costs:
Soon, very soon, the day will come when we shall unfurl the great banner of the future, the red flag, and with a mighty cry of ‘Long Live the Russian Social and Democratic Republic!’ we shall move against the Winter Palace to exterminate all its inhabitants. It may be that it will be sufficient to kill only the imperial family, i.e. about 100 people; but it may also happen, and this is more likely, that the whole imperial party will rise as one man behind the Tsar, because for them it will be a matter of life and death. If this should happen, then with faith in ourselves and our strength, in the support of the people, and in the glorious future of Russia— whose fate it is to be the first country to bring about the triumph of socialism — we shall raise the battle-cry: ‘To your axes!’ and we shall kill the imperial party with no more mercy than they show for us now. We shall kill them in the squares, if the dirty swine ever dare to appear there;kill them in their houses; kill them in the narrow streets of the towns; kill them in the avenues of the capitals; «kill them in the villages. Remember: anyone who is not with us is our enemy, and every method may be used to exterminate our enemies.14
This new spirit of violence and hatred was even more pronounced in the writings of Sergei Nechaev. Lenin placed a high value on them as a theory of revolutionary conspiracy. Born in 1847 into a serf family, Nechaev was the first revolutionary theorist in Russia to emerge from the lower classes rather than the intelligentsia. Put out to factory work from the age of nine, he taught himself to read and write and then qualified, in 1866, as an instructor of religion. His propaganda among the students and workers of St Petersburg during the late 1860s was dominated by the theme of class revenge. ‘Nechaev’, wrote Vera Zasulich, a Populist who would later become a Menshevik, ‘was not a product of our intelligentsia milieu. He was alien to it. It was not opinions,

derived from contact with this milieu, which underlay his revolutionary energy, but burning hatred, and not only hatred against the government. . . but against all of society, all educated strata, all these gentlefolk, rich and poor, conservative, liberal and radical.’ He was, in short, a Bolshevik before the Bolsheviks.
Nechaev is principally remembered for theRevolutionary Catechism,written either by him or possibly by Bakunin in collaboration with him in 1869. Its twenty-six articles, setting out the principles of the professional revolutionary, might have served as the Bolshevik oath. The morals of that party owed as much to Nechaev as they did to Marx. Ruthless discipline and dedication were the key themes of theCatechism.Its essential message was that only ‘Tsarist methods’— i.e. the methods of the police state — were capable of defeating the tsarist regime. Its first article read:
The revolutionary is a dedicated man. He has no personal feelings, no private affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property, and no name. Everything in him is subordinated towards a single exclusive attachment, a single thought and a single passion— the revolution.
Rejecting all morality, the revolutionary must be ready ‘to destroy everyone who stands in his way’. He must harden himself to all suffering: All the soft and tender feelings of the family, friendship and love, even all gratitude and honour, must be stifled, and in their place there must be the cold and single-minded passion for the work of the revolution.’ The revolutionary was to relate to members of society in accordance with their designated purpose in the revolution. So, for example, the ruling elites were to be ‘executed without delay’; the rich exploited for the benefit of the cause; and the democrats compromised and used to create disorder. Even the lower-ranking party comrades were to be thought of as ‘portions of a common fund of revolutionary capital’ which each leader was to expend ‘as he thinks fit’.
One comrade who proved to be expendable was Ivan Ivanov. Together with three of his fellow-conspirators Nechaev murdered him after he refused to carry out Necheev’s dictatorial orders as the leader of a revolutionary student group. The brutality of the killing, which Dostoevsky used inThe Possessedas the basis for Shatov’s murder scene,* led to a widespread feeling of moral revulsion, even among the socialists. Bakunin (who had formerly been Nechaev’s mentor)
* Dostoevsky, who had himself belonged to the Petrashevsky revolutionary circle in the 1850s, used this novel to attack the mentality of the revolutionaries, especially the nihilists. Petr Verkhoven-sky, its central character, is clearly based upon Nechaev. At one point in the novel he says that it would be justified to kill a million people in the struggle against despotism because in the course of a hundred years the despots would kill many more.

wrote to a London friend in 1870, eight months after Ivanov’s murder, warning him not to help the Russian fugitive:
N. does not stop at anything.. . Deeply impressed by the [police repressions] which destroyed the secret organization in Russia, he came to the conclusion that if he was to form a strong organization he would have to base it on the principles of Machiavelli and the motto of the Jesuits: ‘Violence for the body, lies for the soul!’ Truth, mutual trust, solidarity— these can only exist among the dozen comrades who make up the inner sanctum of the Society. All the rest are no more than a blind instrument, expendable by these dozen men. It is allowed, indeed a duty, to cheat them, compromise them, and steal from them; it is even allowed to have them killed.15
The police did eventually catch up with Nechaev. In 1872 he was arrested in Switzerland and extradited to Russia, where he was imprisoned in solitary confinement in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Nothing more was heard of him— he was assumed to have died — until eight years later when a group of terrorists suddenly received a letter from him containing a plan for his escape. By the sheer force of his personality Nechaev had won over his own guards and had (literally) set up an underground revolutionary cell in the dungeons of this tsarist bastion. These guards had smuggled out the letter. Later, when they were brought to trial, they chose to go to jail themselves rather than denounce their leader. Yet it was already too late for Nechaev (he died in the fortress the following year). Since his imprisonment the climate had changed and the new creed, Populism, had turned away from his putschist tactics and begun to look instead to mass propaganda and education as a means of igniting a social revolution.
Populism was less a doctrine than a set of sentiments and attitudes. At its root was the intelligentsia’s adoration of the simple folk, and a belief in their wisdom and goodness. The cult was expressed as much in literature as it was in politics and social theories. Although the term was only really used from the 1870s onwards, the three basic principles of Populism— the primacy of liberty and democracy, the idealization of the peasantry and the belief that Russia’s path to socialism was autochthonous and separate from that of the West — were common to a long tradition of Russian thought beginning in the 1840s with the radical Slavophiles and Herzen and culminating half a century later with the formation of the Social Revolutionary Party.
Disillusioned with bourgeois Europe after the failure of the 1848 Revolutions, Herzen pinned his hopes on peasant Russia— Young Russia, as he called it — to lead the way to socialism. The peasant commune was the bearer of this messianic mission. Herzen saw it as the indestructible repository

of Russia’s ancient freedoms, an organic symbol of her authentic condition before the imposition of the tsarist state and its ‘German’ civilization. This was of course a romantic vision: it stemmed from the same craving for a simple fraternal life, unspoilt by modern civilization, and from the same belief in the ‘noble savage’, which had inspired intellectuals since Rousseau. The commune, argued Herzen, already contained the socialist ideals towards which the rest of Europe— the Old (and ‘dying’) Europe — was still striving. It was democratic and egalitarian, based on the sharing of the land; it fostered a spirit of community and social harmony among the peasants; and through its ancient customs it expressed a deeper sense of social justice and morality than the Western legal tradition, based on the defence of private property. The commune, in short, offered Russia the chance to move directly towards socialism without first experiencing the painful effects of capitalism.
Herzen’s theory of revolution came down to one central proposition: since the source of all freedom was in the people, and the source of all oppression in the tsarist state, Russia could only be liberated through a genuine social revolution. This would have to be a democratic revolution, one that came from below and was based on the will of the people. It would also have to be a total revolution, one that overturned the alien civilization upon which the tsarist system had been based, since the Russian people were too oppressed to be satisfied by the ‘half-freedoms’ of political reform. This had important implications for the methods of the revolutionaries; and it was here that Herzen left his imprint on the later Populist movement. No minority had the right to enforce its abstract ideals on the people. There was to be no more talk of conspiracy and seizing power— which was bound to end in tyranny and terror. Instead of breaking down the tsarist prison walls it would merely ‘give them a new function, as if a plan for a jail could be used for a free existence’.16 The only democratic means of revolution were education and propaganda to help the people understand their own best interests and to prepare them gradually for the tasks of power.
Democratic as this ideal was, it raised a huge dilemma for the Populists (and later for the Marxists). If the revolution was to come from the people themselves then what should the revolutionary leaders do if the people rejected the revolution? What if the peasants proved conservative? Or if the workers were more interested in sharing the benefits of capitalism than in trying to overthrow it? All the revolutionary parties— none of which numbered more than a few hundred at this stage — were divided on this question: where should they draw the line between the rank and file and the leadership, between democracy and dictatorship, within the party? Among the Populists there were, on the one hand, those such as Plekhanov and Pavel Axelrod, who argued that there was no alternative but to wait until propaganda and education had prepared the ground

for a mass social movement. The revolution could not otherwise be justified as democratic and was likely to end in a new dictatorship. The Mensheviks in the Social Democratic Party later espoused the same principles. But, on the other hand, Populists like Tkachev argued that to wait indefinitely for a social revolution, and in the meantime to condemn all forms of revolt and terrorism by its elite vanguard, was to run the risk of allowing the tsarist order to stabilize itself through the advance of capitalism. Only by seizing power first and establishing a revolutionary dictatorship was it possible to secure the necessary political conditions for the transition to socialism. This idea also had its followers in the Social Democratic Party: it became the guiding principle of Lenin’s theory of revolution.
This was the dilemma the Populists faced after the collapse of the ‘To the People’ movement. During the ‘mad summer’ of 1874 thousands of students left their lecture halls to ‘go to the people’. There was no real organization, although many of these missionaries belonged to the circles of Lavrov and Chaikovsky, which believed in spreading propaganda among the peasants in preparation for the inevitable revolution. Dressed like peasants or petty traders, these young idealists flooded into the countryside with the aim of ‘serving the people’ by teaching them how to read and write, by taking jobs as simple labourers, and by helping them to understand the causes of their suffering. Guilt and the desire for self-sacrifice played a large role in this revolutionary passion play. The students were acutely conscious of the need to repay their ‘debt to the people’. They embraced the idea of living with the peasants and sharing in their sufferings. They were ready to run the risks of catching cholera, or of being arrested and sent to jail. Some even welcomed the idea of becoming a martyr ‘for the people’: it would make them into heroes. ‘You will be washing pots and plucking chickens,’ one of these fictionalized students Mariana is told in Turgenev’s novelVirgin Soil.’And, who knows, maybe you will save your country in that way.’ The peasants, however, met these childish crusaders with mistrust and hostility. They found their urban manners and doctrines alien; and while they did not understand their propaganda, they understood enough to know that it was dangerous. ‘Socialism’, one of the Populists later wrote, ‘bounced off the peasants like peas from a wall. They listened to our people as they do to the priest— respectfully but without the slightest effect on their thinking or their actions.’ Most of the radicals were soon rounded up by the police, sometimes tipped off by the local peasants.17
This sobering encounter with the common people led the Populists to turn away disillusioned from propaganda and the social revolution. «We cannot change the thinking of even one in six hundred peasants, let alone of one in sixty,’ Stepniak wrote to Lavrov in 1876. ‘Everyone is beginning to realize the need for organization … A revolt has to be organized.’18 The result was

the emergence of a more centralized party structure than the loose circles of the early 1870s. It took the name of Land and Liberty(Zemlia i Volia),established that year, which turned away from open propaganda to underground conspiracy and political work. On 6 December 1876 it organized the first public demonstration in Russian history.
The wheel was turning full circle: having rejected Jacobinism in favour of a social revolution, the Populists were now returning to the Jacobin methods of conspiracy, terrorism and coups in the name of the people. The writings of Petr Tkachev marked the crucial watershed. They formed a bridge between the Jacobin tradition of Nechaev, the classic Populist tradition of Land and Liberty, and the Marxist tradition of Lenin. The Bolshevik leader owed more to Tkachev than to any other single Russian theorist. Born in 1844 into a minor gentry family, Tkachev had spent several years in the Peter and Paul Fortress after being arrested for his role in the student strikes of 1861. During the late 1860s he had fallen under Nechaev’s spell— for which he spent another term in jail, followed by exile in Switzerland. It was there that, albeit crudely, he began to adopt the sociology of Marx, which led him away from Populism. In the mid-1870s he developed a violent critique of the ‘To the People’ movement. He claimed that propaganda could not bring about a revolution because the laws of social progress (to which Russia, like the rest of Europe, was subordinate) meant that the richer peasants would always support the regime. He argued instead for a seizure of power by the revolutionary vanguard, which would then set up a dictatorship and begin the construction of socialism. Tkachev claimed that the time was ripe for this putsch, which should take place as soon as possible, since as yet there was no real social force prepared to side with the government but there would soon be with the development of capitalism and the bourgeoisie. In a passage which Lenin was to echo in October 1917, Tkachev raised the battlecry: ‘This is why we cannot wait. This is why we claim that a revolution is indispensable, and indispensable now,at this very moment.We cannot allow any postponement. It isnowor— perhaps very soon —never!To carry through thiscoup d’etatTkachev made it clear that there had to be an elitist and conspiratorial party, which, like an army, was highly disciplined and centralized. Here too Lenin was to echo him.19
Returning to the methods of the Jacobins, however, meant that the Populists, like their predecessors, were forced to engage in a hopeless war against the tsarist police state. A vicious cycle started of increasing repression by the police and counter-terror by the Populists. The turning point came in 1878, when Vera Zasulich, one of the leaders of Land and Liberty, shot and wounded General F. F. Trepov, the Governor of St Petersburg, as a reprisal for his order to have a student prisoner flogged who— in a typical gesture of defiance — had refused to take off his hat in the Governor’s presence. Zasulich was hailed

as a martyr for justice by the democratic intelligentsia, and was acquitted by a liberal court. This was the signal for a wave of terror, whose aim was to undermine the autocracy and to force it to make political concessions. Two provincial governors were killed. Six failed attempts were made on the Tsar, including a bomb on the imperial train and a huge explosion in the Winter Palace. Finally, on I March 1881, as Alexander was driving in his carriage through St Petersburg, he was killed by a bomb.
The widespread revulsion felt even amongst the revolutionaries to this wave of terrorism led to a split in Land and Liberty. One branch, calling itself the People’s Will(Narodnaia Volia),espoused the ideals of Tkachev and stayed loyal to the tactics of terrorism leading to the violent seizure of power. Formed in 1879, this faction carried out the murder of the Tsar. Many of its leaders were later arrested— several of them executed — in the repressions that followed the assassination. But the campaign of terror which it had started was carried on by several other smaller groups in the 1880s. One of them included Lenin’s elder brother, Alexander Ul’ianov, who was executed after a failed plot to assassinate Alexander III on the sixth anniversary of his father’s death. The supposed aim of the campaign was to destabilize the state and provide a spark for a popular rebellion. But it soon degenerated — as all terror does — into violence for violence’s sake. It has been estimated that over 17,000 people were killed or wounded by terrorists during the last twenty years of the tsarist regime — more than five times the number of people killed in Northern Ireland during the twenty-five years of ‘the troubles’.20 Some of the terror was little more than criminal violence for personal gain. All the revolutionary parties financed themselves at least partly by robberies (which they euphemistically termed ‘expropriations’), mainly of banks and trains, and there was little to stop those who did the stealing from pocketing the proceeds. This was bad enough for the moral climate of the revolutionary parties. But it was not nearly as damaging as the cumulative effect of years of killing, which resulted in a cynicism, an indifference and callousness, to the victims of their cause.
The rival branch of Land and Liberty called itself the Black Partition(Chernyi Peredel)— a peasant term for the revolution on the land. It was formed in 1880 by three future leading lights of the Social Democratic Party — Plekhanov, Axelrod and Zasulich — who would all convert to Marxism during the early 1880s. They rejected the use of terror, claiming it was bound to end in failure and renewed repression. They argued that only a social revolution, coming from the people themselves, could be both successful and democratic. The failure after Alexander’s assassination to extract political concessions seemed to prove the correctness of their first claim; while the growth of the urban working class gave them new grounds for hope on the second. This was the real beginning of the Marxist movement in Russia.

ii Marx Comes to Russia
In March 1872 a heavy tome of political economy, written in German, landed on the desk of the tsarist censor. Its author was well known for his socialist theories and all his previous books had been banned. The publishers had no right to expect a different fate for this new work. It was an uncompromising critique of the modern factory system and, although the censorship laws had been liberalized in 1865, there was still a clear ban on any work expounding ‘the harmful doctrines of socialism and communism’, or rousing ‘enmity between one class and another’. The new laws were strict enough to ban such dangerous books as Spinoza’sEthics,Hobbes’sLeviathan,Voltaire’sPhilosophy of Historyand Lecky’sHistory of European Morals.And yet this Germanmagnum opus— 674 pages of dense statistical analysis — was deemed much too difficult and abstruse to be seditious. ‘It is possible to state with certainty’, concluded the first of the two censors, ‘that very few people in Russia will read it, and even fewer will understand it.’ Moreover, added the second,since the author attacked the British factory system, his critique was not applicable to Russia, where the ‘capitalist exploitation’ of which he spoke had never been experienced. Neither censor thought it necessary to prevent the publication of this ‘strictly scientific work’.21
Thus Marx’sCapitalwas launched in Russia. It was the book’s first foreign publication, just five years after the original Hamburg edition and fifteen before its first English publication. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, the author’s as well as the censors’, it led to revolution earlier in Russia than in any of the Western societies to which it had been addressed.
The tsarist censors soon realized their mistake. Ten months later they took their revenge on Nikolai Poliakov, Marx’s first Russian publisher, by putting him on trial for his next ‘subversive’ publication, a collection of Diderot’s stories, which were confiscated and burned by the police, forcing Poliakov out of business. But it was too late.Capitalwas an instant hit. Its first print run of 3,000 copies was sold out within the year (the first German edition of 1,000 copies, by comparison, took over five years to sell). Marx himself acknowledged that in Russia his masterpiece was ‘read and valued more than anywhere’. Slavophiles and Populists both welcomed the book as an expose of the horrors of the Western capitalist system, which they wanted Russia to avoid. Marx’s sociology andviewof history, if not yet his politics, spread like a wild craze during the later 1870s. Among students it was ‘almost improper’ not to be a Marxist. ‘Nobody dares to raise a voice against Karl Marx these days’, complained one liberal, ‘without bringing down the wrath of his youthful admirers.’22
After the collapse of the ‘To the People’ movement, with its false idealization of the Russian peasant, the Marxist message seemed like salvation to the radical intelligentsia. All their hopes for a social revolution could now be

switched to the industrial working class. There was clearly no more mileage in the idea of a peasant revolutionary movement; and from the 1880s work among the peasants was condescendingly described by the Marxists as ‘small deeds’ (i.e. the sort of charity work favoured by the gentry and zemstvo types). The famine crisis of 1891 seemed to underline the backwardness of the peasantry. It showed that they were doomed to die out, both as individuals and as a class, under the wheels of economic development. The peasants were a relic of Russia’s savage past— itsAziatchinaor Asiatic way of life— which would inevitably be swept away by the progress of industry. Their cultural backwardness was symbolized by stories that during the cholera epidemic after the famine peasants had attacked the very doctors who were trying to inoculate them because they thought that their medicines were some strange poison. During the 1890s social science publications boomed — whole libraries were filled by the volumes of statistics published in these years; their aim was to find the causes of the famine crisis in the Marxist laws of economic development.
The ‘scientific’ nature of Marxist theory intoxicated the Russian radical mind, already steeped in the rationalism and materialism of the 1860s. Marx’s historical dialectic seemed to do for society what Darwin had done for humanity: provide a logical theory of evolutionary development. It was ‘serious’ and ‘objective’, a comprehensive system that would explain the social world. It was in this sense an answer to that quintessential Russian quest for a knowledge that was absolute. Marxism, moreover, was optimistic. It showed that progress lay in industry, that there was meaning in the chaos of history, and that through the working class, through the conscious striving of humanity, socialism would become the end of history. This message had a special appeal to the Russian intelligentsia, painfully aware as they were of their country’s backwardness, since it implied that Russia would inevitably become more like the advanced countries of the West— Germany, in particular, whose Social Democratic Party was a model for the rest of the Marxist movement in Europe. The Populist belief in Russia’s ‘separate path’, which had seemed to consign her to perpetual peasant-hood, could thus be dismissed as romantic and devoid of scientific content.
The idea that Marxism could bring Russia closer to the West was perhaps its principal appeal. Marxism was seen as a ‘path of reason’, in the words of Lydia Dan, lighting up the way to modernity, enlightenment and civilization. As Valentinov, another veteran of the Marxist movement, recalled in the 1950s:
We seized on Marxism because we were attracted by its sociological and economicoptimism,its strong belief, buttressed by facts and figures, that the development of the economy, the development of capitalism, by demoralizing and eroding the foundations of the old society, was creating new

social forces (including us) which would certainly sweep away the autocratic regime together with its abominations. With the optimism of youth we had been searching for a formula that offered hope, and we found it in Marxism. We were also attracted by itsEuropeannature. Marxism came from Europe. It did not smell and taste of home-grown mould and provincialism, but was new, fresh, and exciting. Marxism held out a promise that we would not stay a semi-Asiatic country, but would become part of the West with its culture, institutions and attributes of a free political system. The West was our guiding light.
Petr Struve, one of the leading Marxist theorists, said he had subscribed to the doctrine because it offered a ‘scientific solution’ to Russia’s twin problems of liberation from autocracy and the misery of backwardness. His famous words of 1894— ‘No, let us admit our lack of culture and enroll in the school of capitalism’ — became one of the mottoes of the movement. Lenin echoed it in 1921. Here perhaps, as Leo Haimson has suggested, was the intellectual root of the movement’s attraction to the Jews.* Whereas Populism offered an archaic vision of peasant Russia — a land of pogroms and discrimination against the Jews — Marxism offered a modern and Western vision. It promised to assimilate the Jews into a movement of universal human liberation — not just the liberation of the peasantry — based on the principles of internationalism.23
Until the middle of the 1890s it was hard to distinguish between the Populists and Marxists in Russia. Even the police (normally well informed in such matters) often confused them. The Populists adopted Marx’s sociology, translated and distributed his works, and, in the final years of his life, even gained the support of Marx himself. The Marxists equally borrowed from the Populists’ rhetoric and tactics and, at least inside Russia, if not in exile, were forced to work alongside them. The revolutionary underground was not large enough for the two factions to fall out: they were forced to share their printing presses and work together in the factories and clubs. There was great fluidity and co-operation between the various workers’ groups— Plekhanov’s Emancipation of Labour, the Workers’ Section of the People’s Will, the student-organized Workers’ Circles, the Polish Marxist Party and the first groupings of Social Democrats — which all combined elements from Marx and the Populists in their propaganda.
This was the context in which the young Lenin, or Ul’ianov, as he was
* Jews played a prominent role in the Social Democratic movement, providing many of its most important leaders (Axelrod, Deich, Martov, Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev, just to name a few). In 1905 the Social Democratic Party in Russia had 8,400 members. The Bund, by contrast, the Jewish workers’ party of the Pale, had 35,000 members.

then known,* entered revolutionary politics. Contrary to the Soviet myth, which had Lenin a fully fledged Marxist theorist in his nappies, the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution came to politics quite late. At the age of sixteen he was still religious and showed no interest in politics at all. Classics and literature were his main studies at the gymnasium in Simbirsk. There, by one of those curious historical ironies, Lenin’s headmaster was Fedor Kerensky, the father of his arch-rival in 1917. During Lenin’s final year at the gymnasium (1887) Kerensky wrote a report on the future Bolshevik describing him as a model student, never giving ’cause for dissatisfaction, by word or by deed, to the school authorities’. This he put down to the ‘moral’ nature of his upbringing. ‘Religion and discipline’, wrote the headmaster, ‘were the basis of this upbringing, the fruits of which are apparent in Ul’ianov’s behaviour.’ So far there was nothing to suggest that Lenin was set to become a revolutionary; on the contrary, all the indications were that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and make a distinguished career in the tsarist bureaucracy.
Ilya Ul’ianov, Lenin’s father, was a typical gentleman-liberal of the type that his son would come to despise. There is no basis to the myth, advanced by Nadezhda Krupskaya in 1938, that he exerted a revolutionary influence on his children. Anna Ul’ianova, Lenin’s sister, recalls that he was a religious man, that he greatly admired Alexander II’s reforms of the 1860s, and that he saw it as his job to protect the young from radicalism. He was the Inspector of Schools for Simbirsk Province, an important office which entitled him to be addressed as ‘Your Excellency’. This noble background was a source of embarrassment to Lenin’s Soviet hagiographers. They chose to dwell instead on the humble origins of his paternal grandfather, Nikolai Ul’ianov, the son of a serf who had worked as a tailor in the lower Volga town of Astrakhan. But here too there was a problem: Nikolai was partly Kalmyk, and his wife Anna wholly so (Lenin’s face had obvious Mongol features), and this was inconvenient to a Stalinist regime peddling its own brand of Great Russian chauvinism. Lenin’s ancestry on his mother’s side was even more embarrassing. Maria Alexandrovna, Lenin’s mother, was the daughter of Alexander Blank, a baptized Jew who rose to become a wealthy doctor and landowner in Kazan. He was the son of Moishe Blank, a Jewish merchant from Volhynia who had married a Swedish woman by the name of Anna Ostedt. Lenin’s Jewish ancestry was always hidden by the Soviet authorities, despite an appeal by Anna Ul’ianova, in a letter to Stalin in 1932, suggesting that ‘this fact could be used to combat anti-Semitism’. Absolutely not one word about this letter!’ was Stalin’s categorical imperative. Alexander Blank married Anna Groschopf, the daughter of a well-to-do Lutheran family from
* The alias and pseudonym ‘Lenin’ was probably derived from the River Lena in Siberia. Lenin first used it in 1901.

Germany and with this newly acquired wealth launched his distinguished medical career, rising to become a police doctor and medical inspector in one of the largest state arms factories. In 1847, having attained the rank of State Councillor, he retired to his estate at Kokushkino and registered himself as a nobleman.24
Lenin’s non-Russian ethnic antecedents— Mongol, Jewish, Swedish and German — may partly explain his often expressed contempt for Russia and the Russians, although to conclude, as the late Dmitry Volkogonov did, that Lenin’s ‘cruel policies’ towards the Russian people were derived from his ‘foreign’ origins is quite unjustified (onemight say the same of the equally ‘foreign’ Romanovs). He often used the phrase ‘Russian idiots’. He complained that the Russians were ‘too soft’ for the tasks of the revolution. And indeed many of its most important tasks were to be entrusted to the non-Russians (Latvians and Jews in particular) in the party. Yet paradoxically — and Lenin’s character was full of such paradoxes — he was in many ways a typical Russian nobleman. He was fond of the Blank estate, where he spent a long time in his youth. When young he was proud to describe himself as ‘a squire’s son’. He once even signed himself before the police as ‘Hereditary Nobleman Vladimir Ul’ianov’. In his private life Lenin was the epitome of the heartless squire whom his government would one day destroy. In 1891, at the height of the famine, he sued his peasant neighbours for causing damage to the family estate. And while he condemned in his early writings the practices of ‘gentry capitalism’, he himself was living handsomely on its profits, drawing nearly all his income from the rents and interest derived from the sale of his mother’s estate.25
Lenin’s noble background was one key to his domineering personality. This is something that has often been ignored by his biographers. Valentinov, who lived with Lenin in Geneva during 1904, recalls how he found a rare and deeply hidden source of sentiment in the Bolshevik leader. Having read Herzen’sMy Past and Thoughts,a work that frequently waxes lyrical on the subject of the Russian countryside, Valentinov had become homesick for his long-abandoned family estate in Tambov province. He told Lenin of these feelings and found him clearly sympathetic. Lenin began asking him about the arrangement of the flower-beds, but their conversation was soon interrupted by a fellow Bolshevik, Olminsky, who, having heard the last part of Valentinov’s confession, attacked him for his ‘schoolgirl’ sentiments: ‘Listen to the landowner’s son giving himself away!’ According to Valentinov, Lenin rounded on Olminsky:
Well, what about me, if it comes to that? I too used to live on a country estate which belonged to my grandfather. In a sense, I too am a scion of the landed gentry. This is all many years ago, but I still haven’t forgotten the pleasant aspects of life on our estate. I have forgotten neither its lime trees nor its flowers. So go on, put me to death. I remember with pleasure how

I used to loll about in haystacks, although I had not made them, how I used to eat strawberries and raspberries, although I had not planted them, and how I used to drink fresh milk, although I had not milked the cows. So am I… unworthy to be called a revolutionary?
It was not just Lenin’s emotions which were rooted in his noble past. So too were many of his political attitudes: his dogmatic outlook and domineering manner; his intolerance of any form of criticism from subordinates; and his tendency to look upon the masses as no more than the human material needed for his own revolutionary plans. As Gorky put it in 1917, ‘Lenin is a «leader» and a Russian nobleman, not without certain psychological traits of this extinct class, and therefore he considers himself justified in performing with the Russian people a cruel experiment which is doomed to failure.’26
While, of course, it is all too easy to impose the Lenin of 1917 on that of the early 1890s, it is clear that many of the characteristics which he would display in power were already visible at this early stage. Witness, for example, Lenin’s callous attitude to the suffering of the peasants during the famine of 1891— his idea that aid should be denied to them to hasten the revolutionary crisis. Thirty years later he would show the same indifference to their suffering — which he was now in a position to exploit politically — during the famine of 1921.
The charmed life of the Ul’ianovs came to an abrupt halt in 1887, when Lenin’s elder brother Alexander was executed for his involvement in the abortive plot to kill the Tsar. Alexander was generally thought to be the most gifted of the Ul’ianov children, the one most likely to leave his mark on the world. Whereas the young Vladimir had a cruel and angry streak— he often told lies and cheated at games — Alexander was honest and kind, serious and hard-working. In 1883 he entered St Petersburg University to read science and seemed set on becoming a biologist. But after his father’s sudden death, in 1886, Alexander fell in with a group of student terrorists who modelled themselves on the People’s Will. All of them were squires’ sons, and many of them Poles, including ironically Joseph Pilsudski, who would later become the ruler of Poland and an arch-enemy of Lenin’s regime. They conspired to blow up the Tsar’s carriage on I March 1887, the sixth anniversary of Alexander II’s assassination, when there would be a procession from the Winter Palace to a special memorial service at St Isaac’s Cathedral. Alexander put his scientific education into practice by designing and making the bombs. But the plot was discovered by the police and the conspirators were arrested (one of them launched one of Alexander’s bombs whilst they were inside the police station but the homemade device failed to go off). The seventy-two conspirators were imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress — fifteen of them were later brought to trial.

Alexander, as one of the ring-leaders, realized that his fate was already sealed, and from the dock made a brave speech justifying the use of terrorism. He and four others were executed.
There is a legend that on hearing of his brother’s death Lenin remarked to his sister Maria: ‘No, we shall not take that road, our road must be different.’ The implication is that Lenin was already committed to the Marxist cause— the ‘we’ of the quotation — with its rejection of terror. But this is absurd. Maria at the time was only nine and thus hardly likely to recall the words accurately when she made this claim in 1924. And while it is true that Alexander’s execution was a catalyst to Lenin’s involvement in the revolutionary movement, his first inclination was, like his brother’s, towards the tradition of the People’s Will. Lenin’s Marxism, which developed slowly after 1889, remained infused with the Jacobin spirit of the terrorists and their belief in the overwhelming importance of the seizure of power.
In 1887 Lenin enrolled as a law student at Kazan University. There, as the brother of a revolutionary martyr, he was drawn into yet another clandestine group modelling itself on the People’s Will. Most of the group was arrested that December during student demonstrations. Lenin was singled out for punishment, no doubt partly because of his name, and, along with thirty-nine others, was expelled from the university. This effectively ended Lenin’s chance of making a successful career for himself within the existing social order, and it is reasonable to suppose that much of his hatred for that order stemmed from this experience of rejection. Lenin was nothing if not ambitious. Having failed to make a name for himself as a lawyer, he now set about trying to make one for himself as a revolutionary opponent of the law. Until 1890, when he was readmitted to take his law exams, he lived the life of an idle squire on his mother’s estate at Kokushkino. He read law, tried unsuccessfully to run his own farm (which his mother had bought for him in the hope that he would make good), and immersed himself in radical books.
Chernyshevsky was his first and greatest love. It was through reading him that Lenin was converted into a revolutionary— long before he read any Marx. Indeed, by the time he came to Marxism, Lenin was already forearmed with the ideas not just of Chernyshevsky but also of Tkachev and the People’s Will, and it was these that made for the distinctive features of his ‘Leninist’ approach to Marx. All the main components of Lenin’s doctrine — the stress on the need for a disciplined revolutionary vanguard; the belief that action (the ‘subjective factor’) could alter the objective course of history (and in particular that seizure of the state apparatus could bring about a social revolution); his defence of Jacobin methods of dictatorship; his contempt for liberals and democrats (and indeed for socialists who compromised with them) — all these stemmed not so much from Marx as from the Russian revolutionary tradition.

Lenin used the ideas of Chernyshevsky, Nechaev, Tkachev and the People’s Will to inject a distinctly Russian dose of conspiratorial politics into a Marxist dialectic that would otherwise have remained passive— content to wait for the revolution to mature through the development of objective conditions rather than eager to bring it about through political action. It was not Marxism that made Lenin a revolutionary but Lenin who made Marxism revolutionary.
Gradually, between 1889 and 1894, Lenin moved towards the Marxist mainstream. But only temporarily. To begin with, like many provincial revolutionaries, he merely added Marx’s sociology to the putschist tactics of the People s Will. The goal of the revolutionary movement was still the seizure of power but the arena for this struggle was to be transferred from the peasantry to the working class. Then, in his first major published work,The Development of Capitalism in Russia(1893), he squared the lessons of Marx’s work— that a capitalist stage of development was necessary before a socialist revolution — with his own preference for such a revolution in the immediate future through the bizarre (not to say preposterous) thesis that peasant Russia was already in the throes of capitalism, classifying no less thanone-fifth of its peasant households as ‘capitalist’ and over half the peasants as ‘proletarians’. This was Tkachev dressed up as Marx. It was only after his arrival in St Petersburg, during the autumn of 1893, that Lenin came round to the standard Marxist view — the view that Russia was only at the start of its capitalist stage and that to bring this to its maturity there had to be a democratic movement uniting the workers with the bourgeoisie in the struggle against autocracy. No more talk of acoup d’etator of terror. It was only after the establishment of a ‘bourgeois democracy’, granting freedoms of speech and association for the organization of the workers, that the second and socialist phase of the revolution could begin.
Plekhanov’s influence was paramount here. It was he who had first mapped out this two-stage revolutionary strategy. With it the Russian Marxists at last had an answer to the problem of how to bring about a post-capitalist society in a pre-capitalist one. After so many years of fruitless terror, it gave them grounds for their belief that in forsaking the seizure of power— which, as Plekhanov put it, could only lead to a ‘despotism in Communist form’ — they could still advance towards socialism. Lenin, in his own words, fell ‘in love’ with Plekhanov, as did all the Marxists in St Petersburg. Although Plekhanov lived in exile, his works made him their undisputedleader and sage. No other Russian Marxist had such a high standing in the European movement. His most famous work of 1895 — a stunningly reductionist interpretation of the Marxist world-view published under the pseudonym of Beltov and, like Marx’sCapital,slipped past the Russian censors with the esoteric titleOn the Question of Developing a Monistic View of History— ‘made people into Marxists overnight’. He was the Moses of the Marxists. His works, in Potresov’s words, brought ‘the ten

commandments of Marxism down from Mount Sinai and handed them to the Russian young’.27
At first, Lenin made a bad impression on the Marxists in St Petersburg. Many of them were repelled by this short and stocky figure with his egg-shaped, balding head, small piercing eyes, dry sarcastic laugh, brusqueness and acerbity. Lenin was a newcomer and his musty and ‘provincial’ appearance was distinctly unimpressive. Potresov described him at their first meeting as a ‘typical middle-aged tradesman from some northern Yaroslavl’ province’.* But through his conscientious dedication and self-discipline, his iron logic and practicality, Lenin soon emerged as a natural leader— a clear man of action — among the Petersburg intellectuals. Many people thought he was a decent man — Lenin could be charming when he wanted and he was nearly always personally decent in his comradely relations — and not a few people fell in love with him. One of these was his future wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, whom Lenin met around this time as a fellow propagandist in St Petersburg.28
The purpose of their propaganda was the education of a vanguard of ‘conscious’ workers— Russian Bebels like Kanatchikov, who would organize the working class for the coming revolution. But education did not necessarily make the workers revolutionary. On the contrary, as Kanatchikov soon discovered, most of the skilled and educated workers were more inclined to improve their lot within the capitalist system than seek to overthrow it. There was a growing tension between the mainly economic concerns of the workers and the political aims of those activists and intellectuals who would be their leaders. The Marxists were thus faced with the same dilemma which the Populists had confronted in relation to the peasantry after the mid-1870s: what should they do when the masses failed to respond to their propaganda? Whereas the Populists had been driven to isolated terrorism, the Marxists found a temporary solution to this problem in the switch from propaganda to mass agitationf as a means of organizing — and in the process politicizing — the working class through specific labour struggles. The new strategy was pioneered in the Vilno strikes of 1893, where the Marxist intelligentsia, instead of preaching to the Jewish workers, participated in the strikes and even learnedYiddish to gain their support. Two of the Wilno Social Democrats, Arkadii Kremer and Yuli Martov, explained their strategy in an influential pamphlet,On Agitation,written in 1895: through their involvement in organized strikes the workers would learn to appreciate the need for a broader political campaign, one led by the Social
* The merchants of Yaroslavl’ had a long-established reputation, stretching back to the Middle Ages, for being much more cunning than the rest.
f For the Marxists of the 1890s ‘propaganda’ meant the gradual education of the workers in small study groups with the goal of inculcating in them a general understanding of the movement and class consciousness. Agitation’ meant a mass campaign on specific labour and political issues.

Democrats, since the tsarist authorities would not tolerate a legal trade union movement. In St Petersburg the new plan was taken up by the short-lived but windily titled Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. It was organized in 1895 by a small group of Marxist intellectuals, Martov and Lenin prominent among them, who were arrested almost at once. However, its local activists could claim some credit for the big but unsuccessful textile strike of 1896, when over 30,000 workers came out in protest.
After a year in prison Lenin was sentenced to three years’ exile in Siberia (1897—1900). Unlike the ‘politicals’ of his own regime, Lenin was allowed to live in considerable comfort. For ‘health reasons’ he was allowed to choose where he would live, and he chose a remote village called Shushenskoe in the southern Minusinsk region, which was well known for its tolerable climate. He took several crates of books and even a hunting gun with him, and kept in constant touch with his comrades. To enable Krupskaya to accompany him he agreed to marry her. The wedding took place in a church, since the Russian government did not recognize civil marriages, although neither bride nor bridegroom ever referred to this embarrassing episode in their later writings.29
During Lenin’s exile the workers’ movement in Russia became increasingly dominated by the new trend of ‘Economism’. The Economists advocated concentrating on purely economic goals. Their aim was to improve the workers’ conditions within the capitalist system rather than seeking to destroy it. To begin with, it was the workers and local factory activists who expressed this view. They believed that the workers should be left alone to run their own affairs, free from the direction of the socialist intelligentsia. But increasingly the same ideas were taken up by the so-called Legal Marxists. Kuskova and Struve, their best-known leaders, were brilliant theorists. Influenced by Eduard Bernstein’s Revisionism, which was convulsing the German workers’ movement at the time, as well as by neo-Kantian ideas, they sought to challenge many of the basic Marxist doctrines. Like Bernstein, they denied that capitalism was leading to a worsening of the workers’ conditions. On the contrary, capitalism could be reconciled with socialism under a democratic system. The two would eventually converge. This meant that the workers should focus their efforts on reform rather than revolution. They should work within the law, in collaboration with the bourgeoisie rather than underground and in violent conflict with it.
For Plekhanov and his followers in Russia, Economism, like Bernstein’s heresy, represented a betrayal of the Marxist movement’s commitment to the goal of revolution. Instead of revolutionary socialism, it threatened to construct an evolutionary version. Instead of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ there would be a parliamentary democracy. Perhaps in Germany, where the Social Democrats could now work within the Reichstag, this new moderation had a certain logic. But in Russia there were no such openings— indeed the new Tsar

had made clear his commitment to tightening the grip of autocracy— and so the strategy of revolution had to be maintained at all costs. This necessity seemed all the more urgent given the developments in Russian politics during the latter 1890s. In the wake of the famine crisis, which politicized society, Neo-Populism, Zemstvo Liberalism and Legal Marxism converged, and together had the makings of a national movement for constitutional reform (see pages 161—5). If this movement was allowed to grow and win supporters from the workers and peasants, it would have the effect of putting back the revolution for at least a generation — and perhaps for good — while driving the revolutionary Marxists to the outer margins of politics.
The exiled Lenin was thrown into a rage by the ‘heresy’. Krupskaya recalled that during 1899, after reading the works of Kuskova and Kautsky, Lenin became depressed and lost weight and sleep.30 The ideological struggle became a profound personal crisis for him. He had embraced Marxism as the surest way to revolution— a revolution that some would say he saw increasingly as an extension of his own power and personality. Yet here was Marxism being stripped of all its revolutionary meaning and transformed into little more than the wishy-washy type of social liberalism of which no doubt his father would have approved. Lenin led the attack on Economism with the sort of violence that would later become the trademark of his rhetoric. Its tactics, he argued, would destroy socialism and the revolution, which could only succeed under the centralized political leadership of a disciplined vanguard party in the mould of the People’s Will.
Lenin’s views were shared at the time by many Russian Marxists— those who called themselves the ‘Politicals’. They sought to organize a centralized party which would take up the leadership of the workers’ movement and direct it towards political ends.* ‘Subconsciously’, Lydia Dan recalled, ‘many of us associated such a party with what the People’s Will had been.’ Although they admired the German Social Democrats, it seemed impossible to construct such an open and democratic party in Russia’s illegal conditions. If the police regime was to be defeated, the party had to be equally centralized and disciplined. It had to mirror the tsarist state. The quickest way to build such a party was to base it on the running of an underground newspaper, which, in the words of Lydia Dan, ‘could be both a collective agitator and a collective organizer’. This was the inspiration ofIskra (The Spark)which Lenin established with Martov in 1900 on his return from exile. Its title echoed the Decembrist poet whose words
* The First Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was held in 1898. This founding moment in the history of the party, which in nineteen years would come to rule the largest country in the world, was attended by no more than nine socialists! They met secretly in the town of Minsk, passed a declaration of standard Marxist goals, and then, almost to a man, were arrested by the police.

appeared on its masthead: ‘Out of this spark will come a conflagration.’Iskrawas not so much a source of news as the command centre of the Social Democrats in their political and ideological struggles against the Economists. Its editorial board— Plekhanov, Axelrod and Zasulich in Geneva; Lenin, Potresov and Martov now in Munich — was in effect the first central committee of the party. Published in Munich, then London and Geneva, it was smuggled into Russia by a network of agents who formed the nucleus of the party’s organization in the years to come.
In his polemics against the Economists Lenin came out with a pamphlet that was to become the primer of his own party through the revolution of 1917 and the founding text of international Leninism. It was entirely fitting that its title,What Is To Be Done?,should have been taken from Chernyshevsky’s famous novel. For the professional revolutionary outlined by Lenin in these pages bore a close resemblance to Rakhmetev, Chernyshevsky’s disciplined and self-denying militant of the peoples cause; while his insistence on a tightly disciplined and centralized party was an echo of the Russian Jacobin tradition of which Chernyshevsky was an ornament. Lenin’s strident prose style, which was imitated by all the great dictators and revolutionaries of the twentieth century, emerged for the first time inWhat Is To Be Done?It had a barking, military rhythm, a manic violence and decisiveness, with cumulative cadences of action or abuse, and opponents lumped together by synecdoche (‘Messrs Bernstein, Martynov, etc’). Here is a typical passage from the opening section, in which Lenin sets out the battle lines between theIskra-ites and the ‘Bernsteinians’:
He who does not deliberately close his eyes cannot fail to see that the new ‘critical’ trend in socialism is nothing more or less than a new variety ofopportunism.And if we judge people, not by the glittering uniforms they don or by the high-sounding appellations they give themselves, but by their actions and by what they actually advocate, it will be clear that ‘freedom of criticism’ means freedom for an opportunist trend in Social Democracy, freedom to convert Social Democracy into a democratic party of reform, freedom to introduce bourgeois ideas and bourgeois elements into socialism.
‘Freedom’ is a grand word, but under the banner of freedom for industry the most predatory wars were waged, under the banner of freedom for labour, the working people were robbed. The modern use of the term ‘freedom of criticism’ contains the same inherent falsehood. Those who are really convinced that they have made progress in science would not demand freedom for the new views to continue side by side with the old, but the substitution of the new views for the old. The cry heard today,

‘Long live freedom of criticism’, is too strongly reminiscent of the fable of the empty barrel.
We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to renderyouevery assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are ‘free’ to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!
When it first appeared, in March 1902, Lenin’s pamphlet seemed to voice the general viewpoint of theIskra-ites. They all wanted a centralized party: it seemed essential in a police state like Russia. The dictatorial implications ofWhat Is To Be Done?— that the party’s rank and file would be forced to obey, in military fashion, the commands of the leadership — were as yet not fully realized. ‘None of us could imagine’, Lydia Dan recalled, ‘that there could be a party that might arrest its own members. There was the thought or the certainty that if a party was truly centralized, each member would submit naturally to the instructions or directives.»11
It was only at the Second Party Congress, which met in Brussels the following year, that the implications of Lenin’s catechism for the party began to emerge. The result was a split in the party and the formation of two distinct Social Democratic factions— the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The immediate cause of the split may seem really quite trivial. Even those inside the party did not at first realize the historic importance which it would later come to assume. It arose over the precise wording of Article One of the Party Statute, in which party membership was defined. Lenin wanted membership limited to those who participated in one of the party’s organizations; whereas Martov, while recognizing the need for a nucleus of disciplined activists, wanted anyone who recognized the Party Programme and was willing to obey its leadership to

be admitted. Beneath the surface of this semantic dispute lay two opposing views of the party’s role. On the one hand, Lenin was proposing a centralized and conspiratorial party of professional revolutionaries in the tradition of the People’s Will. He had a profound mistrust of the revolutionary potential of the masses, who he believed, without the leadership of an elite party vanguard, would inevitably become diverted by the bread-and-butter issues of Economism. ‘Socialist consciousness’, he had written inWhat Is To Be Done?,’cannot exist among the workers. This can be introduced only from without.’ This mistrust of democracy was to form the basis of Lenin’s centralist approach to the trade unions, the Soviets and all the other mass-based organizations after 1917. The masses should in his view be no more than instruments of the party. This was pointed out by Lenin’s critics, who warned that such a centralized party would lead to dictatorship. Socialism, in their view, was unattainable without democracy, which necessitated a broad-based party arising directly from the culture and the consciousness of the working class. Martov’sviewon Article One was at first upheld by 28 votes to 23. But two factions which supported it— the 5 Bundist delegates (who had been denied their demand for autonomy within the party) followed by the 2 Economists (who had been defeated by theIskra-ites)— then walked out of the Congress, leaving Lenin with a slender majority. It was on this basis that his faction was christened the ‘Bolsheviks’ (‘Majoritarians’) and their opponents the ‘Mensheviks’ (‘Minoritarians’). With hindsight it is clear that the Mensheviks were very foolish to allow the adoption of these names. It saddled them with the permanent image of a minority party, which was to be an important disadvantage in their rivalry with the Bolsheviks.
Lenin seized this opportunity to assert his control of the Central Committee and its organ,Iskra,by ejecting the three ‘Menshevik’ veterans— Zasulich, Axelrod and Potresov — from its editorial board. Lenin’s conspiratorial methods hardened the divide between the two factions. Their clash was at first much more to do with personalities, style and emotions than with the articulation of distinctive ideologies. The Mensheviks were outraged by Lenin’s shoddy treatment of the three ousted editors — he had called themIskra’s’least productive members’— and in solidarity with them Martov now refused to serve with Lenin and Plekhanov on the new editorial board. They accused Lenin of trying to become the dictator of the party — one talked of his needing to wield a ‘baton’ like the one used by army commanders to instil discipline in the ranks — and set themselves up as the defenders of democracy in the party. Lenin’s own intransigence, his refusal to patch up his differences with the Mensheviks (differences which, by his own admission, were ‘in substance . . . very unimportant’), and his readiness, once provoked, to admit to his belief that there had to be a dictator of the party to discipline the ‘wavering elements in our midst’, merely heightened the emotional tensions. The meeting broke down

in petty squabbles, with each side accusing the other of having ‘started it’, or of having ‘betrayed’ the other. People took sides on the basis of hurt feelings and outraged sensibilities and established bonds of loyalty. Lydia Dan recalls that she took Martov’s side not so much because she thought that he was right but because:
I felt that I had to support him. And many others felt that way. Martov was poorly suited to be a leader. But he had an inexhaustible charm that attracted people. It was frequently difficult to account for why they followed him. He himself said, ‘I have the nasty privilege of being liked by people.’ And, naturally, if something like a schism occurred, Martov would be noble, Martov would be honourable, while Lenin . . . well, Lenin’s influence was enormous, but still.. . For my own part, it was very tragic to have to say that all my sympathies for Lenin (which were considerable) were based upon misunderstanding.32
For several years the incipient political differences between the Men-sheviks and the Bolsheviks continued to be masked by personal factors. No doubt it was in part because the two factions all lived together— sometimes literally — in small exile communities, so that their arguments over party dogma often became entangled in squabbles over money and lovers. But Lenin’s personality was the crucial issue. Bolshevism was defined by a personal pledge of loyalty to him; and Menshevism, though to a lesser extent, by opposition to him. Valentinov, on his arrival in Geneva in 1904, was shocked by the ‘atmosphere of worship [of Lenin] which people calling themselves Bolsheviks had created’ there. Lenin reinforced this divide by his violent attack on the Mensheviks in his pamphletOne Step Forward, Two Steps Back(1904). He now called them ‘traitors’ to the Marxist cause. Noneofhis Bolshevik lieutenants was even allowed to talk to any of the Menshevik leaders without gaining his prior approval.33
Only very slowly, during and after 1905, were the differences between the two factions spelled out in political terms. In fact for a long time (right up until 1918) the rank and file Social Democrats, particularly on the Menshevik side, sought to stitch the party together again. This was especially so in the provinces, where the party’s forces were simply too small to afford such factional disputes. Here they continued to work together in united SD organizations. But gradually, as the party was forced to confront the dilemmas of real politics, during the 1905 Revolution and then in the Duma period, so its two factions demarcated themselves both in terms of their different ideologies, their strategies and tactics, and in terms of their ever more diverse political styles and cultures.
Menshevism remained a loose movement— high on morals, low on discipline. There was no real Menshevik leader, in the sense that the Bolsheviks

had one, and indeed it was a part of Menshevik ideology to deny the need for one. Only slowly and reluctantly were the Mensheviks dragged towards the type of formal party structure which their rivals had from the start. Their spirit remained that of the friendly and informal circles(kruzhkt)of the 1890s, what Lenin mocked as ‘the loose Oblomov gowns and slippers’ of the movement’s salad days. But the Mensheviks were genuinely more democratic, both in their policies and in their composition, than the Bolsheviks. They tended to attract a broader range of people— more non-Russians, especially Jews and Georgians, more diverse types of workers, petty merchants and members of the intelligentsia — whereas the followers of the Bolsheviks tended to come from a narrower range (the vast majority were Great Russian workers and uprooted peasants). This broader social base may partly explain the Mensheviks’ inclination towards compromise and conciliation with the liberal bourgeoisie. This was certainly the main distinction between them and the Bolsheviks, who, under Lenin’s guidance, became increasingly intransigent in their opposition to democracy. Yet this demarcation — much as it may have been linked with social differences — was essentially an ethical one. The Mensheviks were democrats by instinct, and their actions as revolutionaries were always held back by the moral scruples which this entailed. This was not true of the Bolsheviks. They were simpler and younger men, militant peasant-workers like Kanatchikov; doers rather than thinkers. They were attracted by Lenin’s discipline and firm leadership of the party, by his simple slogans, and by his belief in immediate action to bring down the tsarist regime rather than waiting, as the Mensheviks advised, for it to be eroded by the development of capitalism. This, above all, was what Lenin offered them: the idea that somethingcouldbe done.

Part Two

5 First Blood
i Patriots and Liberators
After a year of meteorological disasters the peasants of the Volga region found themselves facing starvation in the summer of 1891. As they surveyed their ruined crops, they might have been forgiven for believing that God had singled them out for particular punishment. The seeds they had planted the previous autumn barely had time to germinate before the frosts arrived. There had been precious little snow to protect the young plants in the winter, when the temperature averaged 30 degrees below zero. Spring brought with it dusty winds that blew away the topsoil and then, as early as April, the long dry summer began. In Tsaritsyn there had been no rain for 96 consecutive days, in Saratov none for 88, and in Orenburg none for more than 100. Wells and ponds dried up, the scorched earth cracked, forests went prematurely brown, and cattle died by the roadsides. The peasants pinned their last hopes on the harvest. But the crops that survived turned out to be small and burned by the sun. In Voronezh the harvest of rye was less than 0.1pud(1.6 kg) per inhabitant, compared with a normal yield of 15pud.’Here we are getting ready to go hungry,’ wrote Count Vorontsov-Dashkov to the Tsar from Tambov province on 3 July. ‘The peasants’ winter crops have failed completely and the situation demands immediate aid.’
By the autumn the area threatened by famine had spread to seventeen provinces, from the Ural mountains to the Black Sea, an area double the size of France with a population of thirty-six million people. Travellers in the region painted a picture of growing despair, as the peasants weakened and took to their huts. Those who had the strength packed up their meagre belongings and fled wherever they could, jamming the roads with their carts. Those who remained lived on ‘famine bread’ made from rye husks mixed with the weed goosefoot, moss and tree bark, which made the loaves turn yellow and bitter. The peasants stripped the thatch from the roofs of their huts and used it to feed their horses: people may go hungry for a long time but unfed horses simply die, and if this happened there would be no harvest the next year. And then, almost inevitably, cholera and typhus struck, killing half a million people by the end of 1892.
The government struggled to deal with the crisis as best as it could.

But its bureaucracy was far too slow and clumsy, and the transport system proved unable to cope. Politically, its handling of the crisis was disastrous, giving rise to the general impression of official carelessness and callousness. There were widespread rumours, for example, of the obstinate bureaucracy holding back food deliveries until it had received ‘statistical proof that the population for which they were intended had no other means of feeding itself: by which time it was often too late. Then there were stories of the relief schemes set up by the government to employ the destitute peasantry in public works: all too often it turned out that the peasants to be employed had already taken to their deathbeds. There were reports of cholera victims being forced to leave their homes and being packed off to quarantine centres miles away from their villages, so that the peasants became hysterical wherever the medical authorities appeared and riots broke out which had to be put down by troops. But by far the greatest public outrage was caused by the government’s postponement of a proposed ban on cereal exports until the middle of August, several weeks into the crisis. It had given a month’s warning of the ban, so that cereal merchants rushed to fulfil their foreign contracts, and foodstuffs which could have been used for the starving peasants vanished abroad. The ban had been opposed by Vyshnegradsky, the Minister of Finance, whose economic policies (which essentially consisted of raising taxes on consumer goods so that the peasants would be forced to sell more grain) were seen by the public as the main cause of the famine. As the government slogan went: ‘Even if we starve we will export grain.’1
Such cynicism did not seem unjustified. All along, the government had been refusing to admit the existence of a ‘famine'(gohi),preferring instead to speak euphemistically of a ‘poor harvest'(neurozhat).The reactionary dailyMoscow Newshad even warned that it would be an act of disloyalty to use the more ‘alarmist term’, since it would give rise to a ‘dangerous hubbub’ from which only the revolutionaries could gain. Newspapers were forbidden to print reports on the ‘famine’, although many did in all but name. This was enough to convince the liberal public, shocked and concerned by the rumours of the crisis, that there was a government conspiracy to conceal the truth. Gossip now began to paint the situation in the blackest terms. Alexandra Bogdanovich, the St Petersburg salon hostess, noted in her diary on 3 December:
Now they are saying that Durnovo [the Minister of the Interior] already knew of the famine in May and should have forced Vyshnegradsky to ban exports then. Verkhovsky says that the export of wheat was only banned when Abaza [Chairman of the Department of State Economy] had been able to sell his own wheat for a good price. They say that in Simbirsk province all the children have died from starvation; they sent children’s

clothes there but all were returned— there is no one to wear them. Indignation is growing in all quarters.
Even General Kutaisov, a Senator and State Councillor, was heard to complain that ‘there would not have been a famine, if the government had not got itself into such a terrible mess’.2
Unable to cope with the crisis, the government bowed to the inevitable and, on 17 November, issued an imperial order calling on the public to form voluntary organizations to help with famine relief. Politically, this was to prove a historic moment, for it opened the door to a powerful new wave of public activity and debate which the government could not control and which quickly turned from the philanthropic to the political. The ‘dangerous hubbub’ thatMoscow Newshad feared was growing louder and louder.
The public response to the famine was tremendous. ‘People of the most varied persuasions and temperaments threw themselves into the cause,’ recalled Vasilii Maklakov. ‘Many forsook their usual occupations and went about setting up canteens and, during the epidemics, helping the doctors. In this work not a few lost forever their positions and their health.’ The zemstvos were the first off the mark, having already established their own provincial networks to distribute food and medicine. Prince Lvov, who was at that time chairman of the Tula provincial zemstvo, threw himself into the relief campaign as if it was a matter of his own life and death. It was a mark of his love for the peasants, with whom he had lived and worked for the previous ten years, that he should risk his own life to save theirs. And how romantic that at such a time, whilst working in a soup kitchen in Tambov province, he should meet and fall in love with his future wife. Such elevated feelings of compassion for the peasants were by no means unusual among progressive landowners of his sort. Hundreds of committees were formed by nobles and ‘public men’ to help raise money for the famine victims. Doctors volunteered for medical teams. Thousands of well-meaning citizens rushed to join the relief campaigns organized by the Free Economic Society and other voluntary bodies. Impassioned speeches were made at public meetings. Newspapers printed appeals in bold print on their front pages. And the students volunteered for relief work in a new ‘Going to the People’.3
Among these volunteers was Anton Chekhov, who was a doctor as well as a playwright. He put aside his writing to work for his district zemstvo near Moscow. In August 1892 he wrote to a friend:
I have been appointed a cholera doctor, and my district encompasses twenty-five villages, four factories and a monastery. I am organizing things, setting up shelters and so on, and I’m lonely, because everything that has to do with cholera is alien to me, and the work, which requires constant

trips, talks and fuss and bustle, tires me out. There is no time to write. I abandoned literature long ago, and I’m poor and broke because I thought it desirable for myself and my independence to refuse the renumeration cholera doctors receive .. . The peasants are crude, unsanitary and mistrustful, but the thought that our labours will not be in vain makes it all unnoticeable.4
Tolstoy also gave up his writing to join the relief campaign. With his two eldest daughters he organized hundreds of canteens in the famine region, while Sonya, his wife, raised money from abroad. ‘I cannot describe in simple words the utter destitution and suffering of these people,’ he wrote to her at the end of October 1891. According to the peasant Sergei Semenov, who was a follower of Tolstoy and who joined him in his relief campaign, the great writer was so overcome by his experience of the peasants’ suffering that his beard went grey, his hair became thinner and he lost a great deal of weight. The guilt-ridden Count blamed the famine crisis on the social order, the Orthodox Church* and the government. ‘Everything has happened because of our own sin,’ he wrote to a friend in December. ‘We have cut ourselves off from our own brothers, and there is only one remedy— by repentance, by changing our lives, and by destroying the walls between us and the people.’ Tolstoy broadened his condemnation of social inequality in his essay ‘The Kingdom of God’ (1892) and in the press. His message struck a deep chord in the moral conscience of the liberal public, plaguedas they were by feelings of guilt on account of their privilege and alienation from the peasantry. Semenov captured this sense of shame when he wrote of the relief campaign:
With every day the need and misery of the peasants grew. The scenes of starvation were deeply distressing, and it was all the more disturbing to see that amidst all this suffering and death there were sprawling huge estates, beautiful and well-furnished manors, and that the grand old life of the squires, with its jolly hunts and balls, its banquets and its concerts, carried on as usual.5
For the guilt-ridden liberal public, serving ‘the people’ through the relief campaign was a means of paying off their ‘debt’ to them. And they now turned to Tolstoy as their moral leader and their champion against the sins of the old regime. His condemnation of the government turned him into a public hero, a
* The Orthodox Church, which had recently excommunicated Tolstoy, forbade the starving peasants to accept food from his relief campaign.

man of integrity whose word could be trusted as the truth on a subject which the regime had tried so hard to conceal.
Russian society had been activated and politicized by the famine crisis, its social conscience had been stung, and the old bureaucratic system had been discredited. Public mistrust of the government did not diminish once the crisis had passed, but strengthened as the representatives of civil society continued to press for a greater role in the administration of the nation’s affairs. The famine, it was said, had proved the culpability and incompetence of the old regime, and there was now a growing expectation that wider circles of society would have to be drawn into its work if another catastrophe was to be avoided. The zemstvos, which had spent the past decade battling to expand their activities in the face of growing bureaucratic opposition, were now strengthened by widespread support from the liberal public for their work in agronomy, public health and education. The liberal Moscow merchants and industrialists, who had rallied behind the relief campaign, now began to question the government’s policies of industrialization, which seemed so ruinous for the peasantry, the main buyers of their manufactures. From the middle of the 1890s they too supported the various projects of the zemstvos and municipal bodies to revive the rural economy. Physicians, teachers and engineers, who had all been forced to organize themselves as a result of their involvement in the relief campaign, now began to demand more professional autonomy and influence over public policy; and when they failed to make any advances they began to campaign for political reforms. In the press, in the ‘thick journals’, in the universities, and in learned and philanthropic societies, the debates on the causes of the famine— and on the reforms needed to prevent its recurrence — continued to rage throughout the 1890s, long after the immediate crisis had passed.6
The socialist opposition, which had been largely dormant in the 1880s, sprang back into life with a renewed vigour as a result of these debates. There was a revival of the Populist movement (later rechristened Neo-Populism), culminating in 1901 with the establishment of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Under the leadership of Viktor Chernov (1873—1952), a law graduate from Moscow University who had been imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress for his role in the student movement, it embraced the new Marxist sociology whilst still adhering to the Populist belief that all the workers and peasants alike — what it called the ‘labouring people’ — were united by their poverty and their opposition to the regime. Briefly, then, in the wake of the famine, there was growing unity between the Marxists and the Neo-Populists as they put aside their differences about the development of capitalism (which the SRs now accepted as a fact) and concentrated on the democratic struggle. Lydia Dan, from the Marxist side, recalled this as a ‘new era . . . when it was not so much

the struggle for socialism that was important for us as the political struggle … [which] could and should become nationwide’.7
Marxism as a social science was fast becoming the national creed: it alone seemed to explain the causes of the famine. Universities and learned societies were swept along by the new intellectual fashion. Even such well-established institutions as the Free Economic Society fell under the influence of the Marxists, who produced libraries of social statistics, dressed up as studies of the causes of the great starvation, to prove the truth of Marx’s economic laws. Socialists who had previously wavered in their Marxism were now completely converted in the wake of the famine crisis, when, it seemed to them, there was no more hope in the Populist faith in the peasantry. Petr Struve (1870—1944), who had previously thought of himself as a political liberal, found his Marxist passions stirred by the crisis: it ‘made much more of a Marxist out of me than the reading of Marx’sCapital’.Martov also recalled how the crisis had turned him into a Marxist: ‘It suddenly became clear to me how superficial and groundless the whole of my revolutionism had been until then, and how my subjective political romanticism was dwarfed before the philosophical and sociological heights of Marxism.’8 Even the young Lenin only became converted to the Marxist mainstream in the wake of the famine crisis.
In short, the whole of society had been politicized and radicalized as a result of the famine crisis. The conflict between the population and the regime had been set in motion— and there was now no turning back. In the words of Lydia Dan, the famine had been a vital landmark in the history of the revolution because it had shown to the youth of her generation ‘that the Russian system was completely bankrupt. It felt as though Russia was on the brink of something.’9
* * * This political awakening of the public was part of the broader social changes that lie at the root of the revolution. From the 1890s can be dated the emergence of a civil society, a public sphere and an ethic, all in opposition to the tsarist state. The time was passing when, in the words of Miliukov, the autocracy had been ‘the only organized force’ in Russia and had been able to dominate a weak and divided society. Now that relationship was being reversed. The institutions of society were becoming more independent and organized, while the tsarist state was steadily becoming weaker and less able to control them. The famine crisis was the crucial turning-point in this process, the moment when Russian society first became politically aware of itself and its powers, of its duties to ‘the people’, and of the potential it had to govern itself. It was the moment, in a sense, when Russia first became a ‘nation’.
Profound social changes were pulling this public culture on to the political scene. The old hierarchy of social estates(soshviia),which the autocracy

had created to organize society around its own needs, was breaking down as a new and much more mobile social system began to take shape. Men born as peasants, even as serfs, rose to establish themselves as merchants and landowners, teachers, doctors, engineers, writers, publishers and patrons of the arts. The sons and daughters of noblemen entered the liberal professions. Merchants became noblemen. Marriages between the estates became commonplace. Overall, people neither could nor wanted any longer to define themselves in the old and rigid terms.10
This new civil society was too complicated to be described in crude terms of ‘class’. For one thing, it was defined much less by social position than by politics and culture. The world-view of the intelligentsia— based on the notion of public service and the liberal values of the West — defined its identity. The intelligentsia had always been made up of people from diverse social backgrounds, and had claimed to stand for ‘the nation’ as a whole. And this universalist tradition shaped the ethics and the language of this nascent public sphere. Educated liberals talked of serving the ‘public good'(obsbchestvennost’),expressed as ‘society’ or ‘the nation’, as opposed to the old noble ethic of service to the tsarist state. They called their politicians ‘public men'(obsbchestvennye deiateli).And indeed it was an important part of the whole rhetorical process of defining this ‘political nation’— which meant setting it apart from the ‘alien’ tsarist state — that its leaders should be honoured with a generic name that made them patriots of the people’s cause. A national political culture based on the ideals and institutions of the intelligentsia was coalescing in Russia. An active public was emerging in opposition to the old regime and demanding the rights of an independent citizenry. The spread of higher education, of public opinion and activity, shaped this emerging public culture. Between I860 and 1914 the number of university students in Russia grew from 5,000 to 69,000 (45 per cent of them women); the number of daily newspapers rose from 13 to 856; and the number of public bodies from 250 to over 16,000.n
These were the signs of a new middle stratum between the aristocracy and the peasants and the working class. But it was much too fragile in social terms to deserve the robust title of a ‘middle class’. The industrial ‘bourgeoisie’, which in the West had led the way in the forging of a middle-class identity, was too weak and dependent on the state, too fragmented by regional and ethnic divisions, and too isolated from the educated elite, to play the same role in tsarist Russia, although this was the belated aim of the liberal Moscow businessmen of the Riabushinsky circle in the 1900s.12 Indeed an awareness of its own fragility and isolation was a crucial aspect of the self-identity of this fledgling ‘census society'(tsenzovoe obshchestvo). As the liberal and educated public became more conscious of itself and of its leading role in politics, so it also grew more conscious of the huge and frightening gulf— a gulf revealed by the

famine— separating it from the hungry masses. As in South Africa under apartheid, there was always a time-bomb of violent revolution ticking in the cupboard of liberal politics.
Two main groups stood in the forefront of this public campaign during the decade leading up to the Revolution of 1905: the liberal ‘zemstvo men’ and the students.
The ‘zemstvo men’ were unlikely pioneers of the revolution. Most of them were noble landowners, progressive and practical men like Prince Lvov, who simply wanted the monarchy to play a positive role in improving the life of its subjects. They sought to increase the influence of the zemstvos in the framing of government legislation, but the notion of leading a broad opposition movement was repugnant to them. Prince Lvov’s mentor, D. N. Shipov, who organized the zemstvos at a national level, was himself a devoted monarchist and flatly opposed the liberal demand for a constitution. The whole purpose of his work was to strengthen the autocracy by bringing the Tsar closer to his people, organized through the zemstvos and a consultative parliament. In many ways he was trying to create from below the same popular autocracy which Nicholas was aiming to impose from above in the last years of his reign. Central to his liberal Slavophilism was the notion of Russia as ‘a locally self-governing land with an autocratic Sovereign at its head’. He believed in the ancient communion between the Tsar and his people, a union which, in hisview,had been broken only by the ‘autocracy of the bureaucracy’.13
There was plenty of ground, then, for the autocracy to reach an accommodation with the ‘zemstvo men’. But, as so often during its inexorable downfall, the old regime chose repression instead of compromise and thuscreatedthe political hostility of the zemstvos. The chief architect of this suicidal policy was the all-powerful Ministry of the Interior, which regarded the zemstvos as dangerous havens for revolutionaries and subjected them to a relentless campaign of persecution. Armed with the statute of 1890, the provincial governors capped the zemstvos’ budgets, censored their publications and removed or arrested the elected members of their boards.
The famine crisis brought a temporary halt to this conflict, for the government relied on the zemstvos as agencies of food and medical relief. But, by expanding their activities, the crisis also encouraged the zemstvos to reassert their own demands for autonomy and reform. The lead was taken by the zemstvo professionals— the teachers, doctors, statisticians and agronomists commonly known as the Third Element — whose radical influence on the zemstvo assemblies was increased as a result of their direct participation in the relief campaigns. They were followed by many landowners, who blamed the famine on the government’s failure to protect the nation’s farmers and were worried that the destitute peasants would seize their estates. They now rallied behind the

zemstvos to defend the agrarian interests of provincial society against the industrializing bureaucracy of St Petersburg. The more liberal nobles, like Prince Lvov, went on to demand the creation of an all-class zemstvo at the volost level (which they believed would help to integrate the peasants into local government) and the convocation of a national assembly. This was the inspiration behind the Tver Address, presented to Nicholas II on his accession to the throne by the country’s most progressive zemstvo leaders. In a speech that infuriated public opinion the new Tsar denounced such ‘senseless dreams’ and emphasized his ‘firm and unflinching’ adherence to the ‘principle of autocracy’. Within days, the Ministry of the Interior resumed its persecution of the zemstvos. Shipov’s All-Zemstvo Organization was banned soon after its foundation in 1896, forcing the reluctant revolutionary into the arms of the more radical constitutionalists. Together they formedBeseda(Symposium) in 1899, a clandestine discussion circle of liberal ‘zemstvo men’, including some of the grandest names of the Russian aristocracy, as well as Prince Lvov, which met in the Moscow palace of the Dolgorukov princes. To begin with,Besedaconfined its discussion to zemstvo affairs. But in 1900 the government once again stepped up its campaign of persecution, ordering the dismissal of hundreds of liberals from the zemstvos’ elected boards, and this inevitably forced the genteel symposium to confront political questions. Over the next two years it would become the leading force in the constitutional movement, as a wide range of public men, fromcivicleaders to the captains of industry, rallied behind its call for reform.14
The universities had been the organizational centre of opposition to the tsarist regime since the 1860s. In the Russian language the words ‘student’ and ‘revolutionary’ were almost synonymous. Like everyone else, the students had been politicized by the sheer scale of human misery which the famine exposed. The lecture-rooms became hotbeds of socialist agitation and there was a new mood of rebelliousness against the university authorities, which since 1884 had been under police control. Alexander Kerensky (1881—1970) recalls the camaraderie of the dormitory at St Petersburg University: ‘The students lived as a friendly, closely united community, with its own favourite men as leaders in matters of communal concern … If something exceptional happened in the country that touched and hurt the moral feelings of youth, if some order of the educational authorities touched our corporate pride, then all the students rose as one man.’
Kerensky’s early life had many similarities with that of Lentn, who would become his arch-rival in 1917. He was born in the same town of Simbirsk eleven years after Lenin. His father was the headmaster of Lenin’s gymnasium and an acquaintance of Lenin’s father, who was the Chief Inspector of Schools in Simbirsk. In 1889 Kerensky’s father was promoted to the same post in

Tashkent, where the young Kerensky went to school. As with the adolescent Lenin, there was ‘nothing at this stage to suggest the future career of Kerensky as a minister of the revolution’, one of his teachers recalled. ‘He happily complied with the strict discipline of the school, went enthusiastically to church,* and even sang in the church choir.’ At the age of fourteen, Kerensky’s heart was set on an acting career. He even signed a letter to his parents: ‘The future Artist of the Imperial Theatre. A. Kerensky’.16 His belief in his destiny— which would drive his actions in 1917 — had clearly taken root at an early age. Kerensky never made it into the theatre, although as an actor on the revolutionary stage he was to prove as self-dramatizing as any provincial thespian. In 1899 he went up to St Petersburg University to read history and philology, the subjects his father had studied there, although in the second year he switched to law. This too set the pattern for the future: changing from history to law is, obviously, the move of a careerist.
In the year Kerensky matriculated the students at St Petersburg became embroiled in a series of campus demonstrations. On 8 February it was customary for the students to mark the anniversary of the foundation of the university by holding celebrations in the city centre. But in 1899 the government was in no mood for a student street party and banned the event. When some students tried to defy the ban by marching into the city they found their way blocked by police, who beat them with whips. Greatly agitated, the students began a protest strike, which spread to other universities. Their grievances were still not political; they would have been satisfied by an official apology for the brutality of the police and the restoration of the academic and student freedoms removed from the universities in 1884. This, at least, was the finding of a commission appointed later to look into the troubles. Instead the government arrested the student leaders and threatened future demonstrators with military conscription. The students were outraged and, encouraged by socialist agitators, began to condemn the political system root and branch. Even Kerensky, who until this point had been more interested in the theatre than in politics, joined the campus protest. ‘Last year’s insult has not been forgotten, and cannot be,’ he wrote to his parents in February 1900. ‘The repressions were uncivilized, that is what disturbs us, and those who ordered them (i.e. the ministers) do not deserve respect!’17 Once again, the heavy-handed tactics of the government turned a minor protest into a full-blown opposition movement.
The following November there were fresh student demonstrations at Kiev and other universities. Bogolepov, the Minister of Education, responded in January 1901 by enlisting more than 200 student leaders into the army. One month later a student called Karpovich shot Bogolepov in the neck, fatally
* As he would throughout his life.

wounding him in the first of a new wave of terrorist actions. The public were generally unmoved by the murder (Kerensky and his student comrades even saw Karpovich as a saint); its outrage was provoked by Bogolepov’s repressions. ‘I feel, you see,’ wrote Gorky to Bryusov, ‘that to send students into the army is disgusting, it is a flagrant crime against individual freedom, an idiotic measure of power-sated scoundrels.’ On 4 March, two days after Bogolepov’s death, Gorky took part in a massive demonstration in St Petersburg. The capital came to a standstill as 3,000 students converged in front of the Kazan Cathedral. Red flags were unfurled, the Marseillaise was sung, and Gorky made a speech condemning the government s actions. In the crowd were a large number of bourgeois liberals sympathetic to the students and dozens of present and future luminaries of the revolutionary movement. Suddenly, a squadron of mounted Cossacks appeared from behind the cathedral and charged into the crowd, hitting out on all sides with their batons. Struve was one of those struck. As people scrambled for cover some of the crowd broke into the cathedral itself, where a service was in progress. Thirteen people were killed, hundreds came away with bloodied faces and, in all, some 1,500 students were imprisoned, many of them in the Peter and Paul Fortress. It was the first time that such a large number of respectable bourgeois citizens had found themselves within its famous penitentiary walls. The students’ parents and friends visited them daily with lavish food hampers. A well-known tobacco manufacturer, whose son had been jailed, sent 10,000 de-luxe cigarettes and repeated the gift at regular intervals. Thousands of books arrived, allowing the students to catch up with their long-neglected studies, although, according to one of the students, they spent most of their time in chess tournaments and concerts. The whole adventure was described by him as ‘a kind of student picnic’.18
For many of the students this was their first shocking confrontation with the coercive power of the state. It was to prove a radicalizing experience. Thousands of students joined the SR Party, whose Combat Organization took the lead in a campaign of terror which soon claimed the life of D. S. Sipiagin, the Minister of the Interior. Others joined the Social Democrats. But the real home of the democratic students was the Union of Liberation, established in 1903. It was the brainchild of Struve, one of a small but influential group of liberal defectors from the Marxist movement at the turn of the century. He argued that a violent social revolution would be disastrous for Russia. What it needed was a period of social and political evolution on European lines, during which the workers campaigned for their rights within the capitalist system and the whole democracy was united in a constitutional movement. This was the message of Struve’s journalOsvobozhdenie(Liberation), published in Germany, which had inspired the foundation of the Union. Antagonized by the campaign of police persecution organized by Plehve, Sipiagin’s successor at the Ministry of the

Interior, the Union gradually moved to the left and, in 1904, embraced the programme of a constitution based on universal suffrage, self-determination for the nationalities, and far-reaching social reforms.
* * * It was at this moment that Russia went to war with Japan. Plehve is often said to have planned this as ‘a little victorious war to stem the revolution’. But its origins were more complex— and its consequences just the opposite. Russia’s economic penetration of the Far East, made possible by the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway during the 1890s, was bound to bring her into conflict with Japan, which had ambitions in Korea and Manchuria. But a war could have been avoidedif Russia’s foreign policy had been in competent hands. Instead it was left to a narrow court cabal, led by Alexander Bezobrazov, a well-connected speculator with lumber interests in Korea, and this group of lobbyists persuaded the Tsar to reject the Japanese offer of a compromise, thus making war unavoidable. That Nicholas had decided to take a personal interest in the matter only made things worse; unfortunately foreign policy was the one area of government where the Tsar felt competent to lead from the front. Because he had toured the Far East in his youth, he even believed himself to be something of an expert on the region. General Kuropatkin, the Minister of War, believed that Nicholas wanted to extend his Empire across the whole of Asia, conquering not only Manchuria and Korea but also Tibet, Afghanistan and Persia. Most of his ministers encouraged such ambitions. It was a way of flattering the Tsar — who after all had very few talents. Nicholas’s cousin, the Kaiser Wilhelm, also played along with his imperial fantasies, since he wished to divert Russia from the Balkans. On one occasion he had cabled the Tsar from his yacht: ‘The Admiral of the Atlantic greets the Admiral of the Pacific.’19
When the war began, in January 1904, with the Japanese attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur in Manchuria, the Tsar and his advisers took victory for granted. Kuropatkin claimed he would need only two Russian soldiers for every three Japanese, so superior were they to the Asians. Government posters portrayed the Japanese as puny little monkeys, slit-eyed and yellow-skinned, running in panic from the giant white fist of a robust Russian soldier. Another displayed a swarm of spider-like ‘Japs’, faces twisted in fear, struggling to escape from underneath a huge Cossack hat. The caption read ‘Catch them by the hatful!’ This patriotic mood, with its racist overtones, swept through liberal society. Prince S. N. Trubetskoi, the distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Moscow University and a founding member ofBeseda,contended that Russia was defending the whole of European civilization against ‘the yellow danger, the new hordes of Mongols armed by modern technology’. The academic leaders of Kiev University described the war as a Christian crusade against the ‘insolent Mongols’. Even the Legal Marxist Struve felt obliged to bow to the patriotic

mood, urging his followers to rally behind the nation anditsarmed forces whilst continuing to oppose the autocracy.* The provincial zemstvos went even further in their patriotic efforts. To help the Red Cross on the Manchurian Front thirteen of them formed a combined medical brigade of 360 doctors and nurses led by Prince Lvov. It was the first time the zemstvos had been allowed to organize themselves at a national level. The Prince pleaded with the Tsar to let the brigade go and so moved him by his own patriotic sentiments that Nicholas ended up hugging him and kissing him and wishing him well. The mission, which won high praise from the military leaders, turned Lvov into a national hero and enabled the zemstvos to wrap themselves in the national flag.20
Had the war been won, the regime might have been able to make political capital from this patriotic upsurge. The ancient bond between the tsarist state and Russian nationalism could be used to create powerful emotions when the enemy came from the heathen East. The Mongol invasion, which the Muscovite state had been formed to repel, had left a powerful mark on the Russian psyche. It was expressed in a deep anxiety about the mixed Eurasian roots of the people and its culture, which made it easy for an educated liberal such as Trubetskoi to convince himself that this war was nothing less than a defence of Russia’s European identity against the Asian hordes. And it was only a short step from this to theviewthat the Christian tsarist state was the champion of that identity.
But winning the war was far harder than Russia’s rulers imagined. The military turned out to be poorly equipped with modern weaponry, and there were terrible logistical problems in running a war from 6,000 miles away. The biggest problem was the sheer incompetence of the High Command, which stuck rigidly to the military doctrines of the nineteenth century and wasted thousands of Russian lives by ordering hopeless bayonet charges against well-entrenched artillery positions. The Commander-in-Chief himself, Admiral Alexeev, knew almost nothing about the art of war. Afraid of horses, he had to suffer the indignity of inspecting his cavalry on foot. Alexeev’s promotion had been largely due to the patronage of the Grand Duke Alexis, whom he once rescued from the French police after the Grand Duke had been involved in a drunken brawl in a Marseille brothel. Alexeev had offered himself up for arrest, claiming that themaitresseof the brothel had confused his name with that of the Grand Duke.21
As the war went from bad to worse, the liberal opposition revived, accusing the government of incompetence in its handling of the campaign. There was plenty of evidence to support the charge, including the futile despatch of
* For this Struve was treated by the government as a defeatist. He was even approached by a Japanese spy.

the Baltic Fleet on a seven-month trip around the world to relieve Port Arthur. The only shots the squadron fired hit some English fishing trawlers in the North Sea, which the commander had mistaken for Japanese torpedo boats. The case went to international arbitration (the Dogger Bank Inquiry) and Russia was forced to pay damages of?65,000. Even the country’s leading entrepreneurs, who had in the past relied on the state for protection, now joined in the chorus of criticism as they suffered the economic dislocations of the war. A. I. Guchkov (1862—1936), a wealthy Moscow industrialist who fought for the Boers against the British and ran a field hospital in Manchuria, was particularly critical of the monarchy for its failure to equip the military with the tools of modern warfare. The future leader of the Octobrist Party was echoed by much of the press, which blamed the bureaucratic system for Russia’s military decline. The gossip in the salons was cruel. On the news that the Tsar had sent the troops icons to boost their morale, General Dragomirov quipped: ‘The Japanese are beating us with machine-guns, but never mind: we’ll beat them with icons.’ The autocracy had shown itself incapable of defending the nationalinterest and joining the opposition now came to be seen, in the words of one official, as something ‘noble and patriotic’.22
So unpopular had the government become that in July 1904, when Plehve, its Minister of the Interior, was blown to pieces by a bomb planted by the SR Combat Organization (which had already made several attempts on his life), there was hardly a word of public regret.* And such was the ‘cult of the bomb and the gun’ that the public looked upon these terrorists as champions of freedom. In Warsaw, Plehve’s murder was celebrated by crowds in the street. ‘The most striking aspect of the present situation’, noted Count Aerenthal, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to St Petersburg:
is the total indifference of society to an event that constituted a heavy blow to the principles of the government. One could hardly have expected sympathy for a minister who because of his authoritarian bent must have made many enemies. But a certain degree of human compassion, or at least concern and anxiety with respect to the immediate future, would be natural. Not a trace of this is to be found … I have found only totally indifferent people or people so cynical that they say that no other outcome was to be expected. People are prepared to say that further catastrophes similar to Plehve’s murder will be necessary in order to bring about a change of mind on the part of the highest authority.23
«It was organized by Boris Savinkov (1879—1925), who was later to become a minister in the Provisional Government.

The citizens of Russia were after their rulers’ blood.
The opposition now rallied behind the campaign for a national zemstvo assembly. The liberal ‘zemstvo men’ had been calling for this since 1902, but Plehve always stood in their way. Now there were hopeful signs. Plehve’s murder had deeply shocked the Tsar and, although his natural inclination had been to replace him with another hardliner, the bad news from the Front and the strength of the opposition at home had convinced him of the need to appoint a man enjoying the ‘confidence of society’. The new Minister of the Interior, Prince Sviatopolk-Mirsky (or Mirsky for short) was made for the role. Liberal, good-natured and decent, he was a typical product of the enlightened bureaucracy that espoused the ideals of theRechtsstaat.He spoke of the need to strengthen the rule of law, to end the despotism of the police, and to break down the barriers of mistrust between the government and society. He called himself a ‘zemstvo man’— in the sense that as a bureaucrat he saw his primary duty as to serve the public rather than the Tsar — and sought to conciliate the zemstvo liberals. They took his appointment, on 25 August, as a cue to revive their campaign for a national assembly.
Such expectations placed Mirsky in an impossible situation. ‘I am afraid’, wrote his wife in her diary on 22 September, ‘that so much is expected from Pepka [Mirsky] and yet so little will be possible; the only thing he can do is to act in accordance with his conscience, so God willing.’ The Minister was trapped between the demands of the liberals and the stubborn determination of the Tsar to stand firm on the principle of autocracy. He was not the last to be caught in this way. If there is a single, repetitive theme in the history of Russia during the last twenty years of the old regime, it is that of the need for reform and the failure of successive governments to achieve it in the face of the Tsar’s opposition. Not that sweeping reforms would have been necessary: most of the liberals would have been satisfied by such moderate changes as the convocation of a consultative assembly, the expansion of local self-government and greater civil rights, which need not have undermined the monarchy. But Nicholas was opposed to the idea of any limitation upon his autocratic prerogatives. Naively perhaps, Mirsky continued through gentle persuasion to try and bring the Tsar round to the idea of reform. But Nicholas was impervious to reason, and the Minister’s frustration grew. On one occasion, when Mirsky explained that the whole of the country was clamouring for a national zemstvo assembly, the Tsar replied: ‘Yes, it is needed, then they will be able to look into the veterinary problem.’ When Mirsky explained that the issue was the right of elected representatives to participate in the work of government, and warned that, if nothing was conceded, there would soon be a revolution, the Tsar remained silent. ‘He lets everything unpleasant run off him’, the exasperated Minister complained later to his wife.24

Mirsky initially thought to give the zemstvo assembly his official approval on the understanding that it would confine itself to local affairs. But when it produced a revised agenda that included discussion of a legislative parliament, he tried to have it postponed, or moved to the provinces, where it would attract less attention. But the ‘zemstvo men’ stood firm and the mild-mannered Mirsky at last gave way, allowing the assembly to meet in private quarters in the capital— ‘for a cup of tea’, as he put it. On 6—9 November 1904, 103 zemstvo representatives assembled in various residences, including the apartment of Vladimir Nabokov, father of the future novelist. Shipov was elected chairman, Prince Lvov and Petrunkevich vice-chairmen. It was, in effect, the first national assembly in Russian history. People compared it with the FrenchEtats Generauxof 1789, and, despite Mirsky’s ban on publicity, more than 5,000 congratulatory telegrams arrived from all over the country. Civic bodies and associations held meetings to support its resolutions, which condemned the existing state of affairs and called, in all but name, for a constitution. Even the Provincial Marshals of the Nobility, normally the most conservative of gentry office-holders, held a congress to support the idea of a national assembly. Professional organizations held public banquets, modelled on the Paris banquet campaign that preceded the Revolution of 1848, where speakers called for political reforms and toasts were proposed to the future constitution. Gorky was at the biggest of these in St Petersburg on 20 November, and the following morning he wrote to his wife in Yalta:
I have just returned from the banquet in the Pavlova Hall. There were more than 600 diners— writers, lawyers, ‘zemstvo men’, in general, the intelligentsia .. . Outspoken speeches were made and people chanted in unison ‘Down with the autocracy!’, Long live the Constituent Assembly!’, and ‘Give us a constitution!’ … A resolution was passed unanimously calling for a Constituent Assembly elected by universal suffrage. It was all very heated and very democratic . . . For the first time a woman even stood up to speak. She said that universal suffrage would give the vote to policemen, but no one had yet mentioned women. All this time they have struggled alongside the men — yet nowpeople have forgotten about them. Shame! Her speech was very good.25
Mirsky presented the Tsar with a carefully worded digest of the zemstvo assembly’s resolutions, in the hope of winning him over to a programme of moderate reforms. The most controversial recommendation was the one for elected zemstvo representatives to sit on the State Council. But it also declared, in terms that must have offended the Supreme Autocrat, that the ‘old patrimonial order’ with its ‘notions of personal rule’ had been dead since the 1860s. Russia

was no longer ‘the personal property and fiefdom of its ruler’, but an ‘an impersonal state with its own body politic’, its own ‘public interest’ and ‘public opinion’, which made it ‘separate from the person of the ruler’. It was no doubt this challenge to his cherished ideals of patrimonialism that convinced the Tsar, under pressure from the Empress and his court advisers, to reject the most progressive parts of Mirsky’s draft decree. ‘I will never agree to the representative form of government’, Nicholas proclaimed, ‘because I consider it harmful to the people whom God thas entrusted to me.’ The decree, which was finally passed on 12 December, promised to strengthen the rule of law, to ease restrictions on the press and to expand the rights of the zemstvos. But it said nothing on the all-important subject of a parliamentary body, on which concessions were essential if a revolution was to be averted. Hearing of its contents, Mirsky at once fell into despair. ‘Everything has failed,’ he said despondently to one of his colleagues. ‘Let us build jails.’26
ii ‘There is no Tsar’
Snow had fallen in the night and St Petersburg awoke to an eerie silence on that Sunday morning, 9 January 1905. Soon after dawn the workers and their families congregated in churches to pray for a peaceful end to the day. Later, 150,000 of them would march in columns from various quarters of the city and converge in front of the Winter Palace, where their leader, a priest called Father Gapon, was to present a Humble and Loyal Address to the Tsar begging him to improve the conditions of the workers. Singing hymns and carrying icons and crosses, they formed something more like a religious procession than a workers’ demonstration. Bystanders took off their hats and crossed themselves as they passed. And yet there was no doubt that the marchers’ lives were in danger. During the night 12,000 troops had been posted in the city to prevent them from reaching the palace. Many of the marchers had been up all night preparing themselves for death. One of them, Ivan Vasilev, left a note for his wife as he left her asleep with his young son in the small hours of the morning:
If I fail to return and am killed, Niusha, do not cry. You’ll get along somehow to begin with, and then you’ll find work at a factory. Bring up Vaniura and tell him I died a martyr for the people’s freedom and happiness. I shall have died, if such be the case, for our own happiness as well. . .
Your loving father and husband, Vania P.S. Niusha, if I die, you’ll know of it from one of my comrades; otherwise,

I’ll write to you or come to see you. I kiss you, farewell. Regards to father, our brothers and all our relations. Farewell, your Vania27
He never returned.
It was ironic but somehow fitting that the 1905 Revolution should have been started by an organization dreamed up by the tsarist regime itself. No one believed more than Father Gapon in the bond between Tsar and people. As a student at the St Petersburg Theological Academy he had made a name for himself as a preacher in the workers’ districts of the city. He told the urban poor who flocked to his church that the Tsar, their paternal guardian, had a holy obligation to care for them, his most humble subjects. Gapon’s popularity attracted the attention of S.V Zubatov, Chief of the Moscow Okhrana, who since 1900 had been organizing his own police-sponsored trade unions with the blessing of the Grand Duke Sergei, Governor-General of Moscow. Zubatov began his remarkable career as a schoolboy terrorist in the Populist underground, but soon became disillusioned with the revolutionary movement and turned police informer. The rest of his life he devoted to the Okhrana and its campaign against the revolutionaries.
Zubatov acknowledged that the workers had real and legitimate grievances, and that these could make them into a revolutionary threat. If they were left to the mercy of their factory employers, the workers were almost bound to come under the influence of the socialists. But if, as he advocated, the government set up its own workers’ organizations, the initiative would lie with the Tsar’s loyal servants. Zubatov’s unions aimed to satisfy the workers’ demands for education, mutual aid and organization, whilst serving as a channel for monarchist propaganda. To his masters at court, they offered the prospect of a popular autocracy, where the Tsar could appear as the workers’ paternal guardian, protecting them from the greed of their bosses and the ‘alien contamination of the revolutionaries. It was the old imperial strategy of divide and rule: the workers would be used to weaken the main threats to the autocracy— the industrial bourgeoisie and the socialist intelligentsia.
By 1903, when Gapon began to organize his own workers’ clubs and tea-rooms under the patronage of the police, Zubatov’s star was already falling. In the previous year he had organized a march of 50,000 workers to commemorate the Emancipation of the serfs. Although the march was peaceful and utterly loyalist in its intentions, grave concerns were expressed about its unprecedented size and about Zubatov’s ability to contain it and indeed his movement in general. Such doubts were confirmed in July 1903, when one of Zubatov’s unions became involved in a general strike in Odessa. Zubatov was dismissed and his experiment abruptly terminated. But his supporters now joined Gapon’s

organization, which sought to establish similar unions under the patronage of the Church. Once again the movement was radicalized from below, as growing numbers of workers joined it to campaign for their own reform agenda. It had begun as a cultural mission for tea-drinking for ‘respectable’ workers. There were evenings of dancing, concerts and lectures on various forms of self-help. Meetings began with the Lord’s Prayer and ended with the national anthem. But the movement was soon transformed into an independent labour union, the Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers, which, despite its loyal surface, demanded radical reforms, including the establishment of a government responsible to the people, a progressive income tax, trade union rights, and an eight-hour day.28
The reform programme would have required the complete restructuring of the state, yet said nothing about how this was to be achieved. Gapon himself was completely ignorant of political theory: he could not even pronounce the word ‘constitutionalism’. He saw himself as a man of destiny sent by God for the deliverance of the workers. Driven by vanity and restless ambition, he never stopped to think that he might be raising their expectations too high. He told his followers in simple terms, with arguments drawn from the Bible, that the Tsar was obliged before God to satisfy their demands if ‘the people’ went directly to him. He consciously drew on the myth of the benevolent Tsar— ‘The Tsar wants justice but the boyars resist’ — that had fuelled and legitimized so many protest movements in Russian history. On 3—8 January 1905, when 120,000 workers went on strike in St Petersburg and began to speak about going to the Tsar in order to ‘seek truth and justice’, Gapon took up their cause. Encouraged by the Liberation Movement, he drew up a list of demands to be presented to the Tsar in a mass demonstration scheduled for the following Sunday. Supplicating and sentimental, the petition moved to tears whole crowds of workers. It began:
We, the workers and inhabitants of St Petersburg, of various estates, our wives, our children, and our aged, helpless parents, come to THEE, O SIRE to seek justice and protection. We are impoverished; we are oppressed, overburdened with excessive toil, contemptuously treated . . . We are suffocating in despotism and lawlessness. O SIRE we have no strength left, and our endurance is at an end. We have reached that frightful moment when death is better than the prolongation of our unbearable sufferings . . .29
On 7 January the government ordered Gapon to call off the march and posted notices in the city centre warning of ‘resolute measures’ against any gatherings on the streets. Aware of the imminent tragedy, Gorky led a delegation of intellectuals to the offices of Witte and Mirsky in a vain effort to get them to negotiate with the demonstrators. But the government, which continued to

entertain the illusion that it could control Gapon, was confident that force would not be required. Nicholas thought so little of the danger that he even left the capital for his palace at Tsarskoe Selo and another quiet weekend of country walks and games of dominoes. But by then the workers were far too determined to be put off by simple prohibitions. At a series of mass rallies Gapon worked them up into a hysterical religious fervour, using all the oratorical tricks of the fundamentalist preacher:
Gapon:Do the police and soldiers dare stop us from passing, comrades?
Hundreds of voices in unison:They do not dare.
Gapon:Comrades, it is better for us to die for our demands than live as
we have lived until now.Voices:We will die.Gapon:Do you swear to die?Voices:We swear!Gapon:Let the ones who swear raise their hands …
And hundreds of people raised their hands and with their fingers made the sign of the cross.
Despite their private fears, the workers put their faith in the Tsar receiving them: they saw him as a man of God, and knew their cause was just. The soldiers would surely not fire on a peaceful demonstration. To boost the marchers’ spirits it was even said that refreshments had been prepared for them inside the Winter Palace and that a parade would be held to celebrate the great occasion.30
Church bells rang and their golden domes sparkled in the sun on that Sunday morning as the long columns marched across theicetowards the centre of the city. In the front ranks were the women and children, dressed in their Sunday best, who had been placed there to deter the soldiers from shooting. At the head of the largest column was the bearded figure of Father Gapon in a long white cassock carrying a crucifix. Behind him was a portrait of the Tsar and a large white banner with the words: ‘Soldiers do not shoot at the people!’ Red flags had been banned.
As the column approached the Narva Gates it was suddenly charged by a squadron of cavalry. Some of the marchers scattered but others continued to advance towards the lines of infantry, whose rifles were pointing directly at them. Two warning salvoes were fired into the air, and then at close range a third volley was aimed at the unarmed crowd. People screamed and fell to the ground but the soldiers, now panicking themselves, continued to fire steadily into the mass of people. Forty people were killed and hundreds wounded as they tried to flee. Gapon was knocked down in the rush. But he got up and, staring in

disbelief at the carnage around him, was heard to say over and over again: ‘There is no God any longer. There is no Tsar.’31
There were similar massacres in other parts of the city. At the Troitsky Bridge, near the Peter and Paul Fortress, the marchers were mown down by gunfire and sabred by the Cossack cavalry. Gorky, who was in the crowd, recalls the death of one worker:
The dragoon circled round him and, shrieking like a woman, waved his sabre in the air . . . Swooping down from his dancing horse … he slashed him across the face, cutting him open from the eyes to the chin. I remember the strangely enlarged eyes of the worker and . . . the murderer’s face, blushed from the cold and excitement, his teeth clenched in a grin and the hairs of his moustache standing up on his elevated lip. Brandishing his tarnished shaft of steel he let out another shriek and, with a wheeze, spat at the dead man through his teeth.32
Stunned and confused, the survivors made their way to Nevsky Prospekt in a last desperate bid to reach the Palace Square. The sunshine had brought out more than the usual number of Sunday afternoon promenaders, and many of them were to witness the shocking events that followed. A huge body of cavalry and several cannons had been posted in front of the palace to prevent the marchers from moving on to the square. But the crowd, some 60,000 of them, continued to build up, swollen by students and onlookers. As news of the massacres reached them, they began to push forward, jeering at the soldiers. Some of the Guards of the Preobrazhensky Regiment were ordered to clear the crowds around the Alexandrovsky Gardens, using whips and the flats of their sabres. But when this proved unsuccessful they took up firing positions. Seeing the rifles pointed at them, the demonstrators fell to their knees, took off their caps and crossed themselves in supplication. Suddenly, a bugle sounded and the soldiers fired into the crowd. A young girl, who had climbed up on to an iron fence to get a betterview,was crucified to it by the hail of bullets. A small boy, who had mounted the equestrian statue of Prince Przewalski, was hurled into the air by a volley of artillery. Other children were hit and fell from the trees where they had been perching.
When the firing finally stopped and the survivors looked around at the dead and wounded bodies on the ground there was one vital moment, the turning-point of the whole revolution, when their mood suddenly changed from disbelief to anger. ‘I observed the faces around me’, recalled a Bolshevik in the crowd, ‘and I detected neither fear nor panic. No, the reverend and almost prayerful expressions were replaced by hostility and even hatred. I saw these looks of hatred and vengeance on literally every face— old and young, men and women.

The revolution had been truly born, and it had been born in the very core, in the very bowels of the people.’ In that one vital moment the popular myth of a Good Tsar which had sustained the regime through the centuries was suddenly destroyed. Only moments after the shooting had ceased an old man turned to a boy of fourteen and said to him, with his voice full of anger: ‘Remember, son, remember and swear to repay the Tsar. You saw how much blood he spilled, did you see? Then swear, son, swear!’33
Later, as the Sunday promenaders hurried home in a state of shock, the workers went on a rampage through the fashionable streets around the Winter Palace. They smashed windows, beat up policemen, threw rocks at the soldiers, and broke into the houses of the well-to-do. As darkness fell, the crowds began to build barricades in front of the Kazan Cathedral using benches, telegraph poles and furniture taken from buildings. More barricades were built in the workers’ districts. Gangs went round looting liquor and gun shops. The streets were momentarily in the hands of the mob and the first red flags appeared. But these revolutionaries had no leaders and by midnight most of them had gone home.
Gapon, meanwhile, had taken refuge in Gorky’s apartment. His beard was cut off, his hair cropped short and his face made up by one of Gorky’s theatrical friends, who, according to the writer, ‘did not quite understand the tragedy of the moment and made him look like a hairdresser or a salesman in a fashionable shop’. That evening Gorky took the revolutionary priest to a meeting at the Free Economic Society in order to dispel the growing rumours of his death. Practically the whole of the St Petersburg intelligentsia was crammed into the small building on Zabalkansky Avenue. They were outraged by the news that ‘thousands’ of people had been slaughtered (the true figures were probably in the region of 200 killed and 800 wounded). ‘Peaceful means have failed,’ the disguised figure shouted. ‘Now we must go over to other means.’ He appealed for money to help the ‘workers’ party’ in its ‘struggle for freedom’. Suddenly, chaos broke out in the hall as people recognized Gapon. But the priest managed to escape through a back door and returned to Gorky’s apartment. There he wrote an address to his ‘Comrade Workers’ in which he urged them to ‘tear up all portraits of the blood-sucking Tsar and say to him: Be Thou damned with all Thine August Reptilian Progeny!’ Hours later, in a new disguise, Gapon fled to Finland and then abroad.34*
* At the end of January Gapon turned up in Geneva, where he fell in with the revolutionaries in exile. Their theoretical disputes were above him and, seduced by international fame, he soon left for London to write his autobiography. Having made himself a celebrity, Gapon had no more use for the revolutionary movement. In December he returned to Russia, where he supported the Witte government and even co-operated with the secret police against the socialists. In March 1906, for reasons that are unclear, he was brutally murdered by agents of the secret police, including his closest associate, who on 9 January had rescued him from the massacre at the Narva Gates.

That night Gorky wrote to his separated wife, Ekaterina, in Nizhnyi Novgorod: And so, my friend, the Russian Revolution has begun: I send you my sincere congratulations. People have died— but don’t let that trouble you — only blood can change the colour of history.’35
Two days later he was arrested, along with the other members of the deputation to Witte and Mirsky on 8 January (they had foolishly left their visiting cards). All of them were charged (quite ridiculously, though it showed the extent of the regime’s fears) with belonging to a ‘revolutionary convention’ which had planned to seize power and establish a ‘provisional government’. They were imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress.36
* * * The events of ‘Bloody Sunday’, as 9 January became known, brought Gorky closer to the Bolsheviks. Gorky had first met Lenin in 1902 and had quickly fallen into a love-hate relationship with him. He had since been active in attracting funds for the Social Democrats from rich industrialists, such as Savva Morozov, who clearly saw the writing on the wall (‘These days it is necessary to be friends with one’s enemies,’ Morozov had once said to the Bolshevik Krasin). Gorky’s relationship with the Bolsheviks was never easy or straightforward. As with many intellectuals, his commitment to the revolution was romantic and idealist. He saw it as a vast struggle of the human spirit for freedom, brotherhood and spiritual improvement. His was essentially a humanist view,one which placed the individual at its heart, and he could never quite bring himself to accept the iron discipline or the narrow dogmatism of the Bolsheviks. ‘I belong to none of our parties’, he once wrote to the painter Repin, ‘and I am glad of it. For this is freedom, and man is greatly in need of that.’ The gipsies, gamblers, beggars and swindlers who filled the pages of his stories were all struggling in their own small way for individual freedom and dignity: they were not the representatives of an organized ‘proletariat’. People struggled, classes did not struggle, that was Gorky’sview.Gorky, in his own words, ‘could admire but not like’ wooden dogmatists like Lenin who tried to compress life’s diversity into their abstract theory. Being fully human meant, in his view, loving passionately and painfully the living, sinning, and— forgive me — pitiful Russian’.37 It was almost a Christianviewof human redemption through revolution (and Gorky flirted with Christianity). Such ideas were common among the radical intelligentsia. Witness the writings of Merezhkovsky (on ‘Christianity without Christ’), Solovyov (on ‘Godmanhood’) and Bogdanov (on ‘God-Building’), with whom Gorky was closely linked. During and after 1917 this contradiction between the party and the human goals of the revolution would bring Gorky into conflict with the Bolsheviks. But for the moment, in 1905, they were brought together by their commonviewthat the workers’ movement had to be radicalized. This was why Gorky, in his letter to Ekaterina, had seen some good in Bloody Sunday; the

effect of the massacre would be to radicalize the mood on the streets. The workers needed something like this to shake them out of their naive belief in the existence of a benevolent Tsar. Only blood could change the colour of history. Now it was time to organize the workers and to move them away from their attachment to the liberals towards socialist goals.
There was a huge wave of strikes during the weeks after Bloody Sunday. In January alone, more than 400,000 workers downed tools across the country. It was the largest ever labour protest in Russian history. But the strikes were not really organized; they were more like a spontaneous outburst of anger; and the workers’ demands were often not even formulated until after the strike had begun. The socialist parties were still much too weak to play a leading role. Their main leaders— Lenin, Martov, Trotsky, Plekhanov and Chernov — were all in exile, and although they were undoubtedly excited by what they agreed was the long-awaited start of the revolution, very few of them were in a hurry to leave the comfortable environment of their coffee houses in Geneva or Paris for the dangerous and harsh existence awaiting them back in Russia. It was only later during 1905 that they began to return and the workers rallied to the left-wing parties as they became more politicized.*
In the meantime the running continued to be made by the liberal and democratic opposition. Educated society was outraged by the massacre of Bloody Sunday. The student Kerensky, who had witnessed the shooting on Nevsky Prospekt, went home that evening and wrote a furious protest letter to his schoolfriends in the Guards. Two weeks later he wrote to his parents in Tashkent:
I am sorry not to have written to you earlier, but we have been living here in such a state of shock that it was impossible to write. Oh, ‘these awful days’ in Peter will remain for ever in the memory of everybody who lived through them. Now there is silence, but it is the silence before the storm. Both sides are preparing and reviewing their own forces. Only one side can prevail. Either the demands of society will be satisfied (i.e. a freely elected legislature of people’s representatives) or there will be a bloody and terrible conflict, no doubt ending in the victory of the reaction.
Alexander Pasternak, a twelve-year-old schoolboy and brother of the poet to be, was so disturbed by the shootings that he declared himself to be a ‘wholehearted revolutionary’ and marched with his friends through his affluent St Petersburg
* The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks probably had something in the region of 10,000 members each by the end of 1905, although at this early stage party membership was not clearly defined. There are no reliable figures for SR party membership in 1905. But in November 1906 there were 50,000 members, compared with a total of 40,000 members for the two Marxist factions.

neighbourhood shouting, ‘We are Social Democrats!’ Students across the country went on strike and turned their campuses into centres of political agitation. At Moscow University 3,000 students held a rally, at which they burned a portrait of the Tsar and hung red flags on the faculty buildings. By the end of February the government had been forced to close down virtually all the institutions of higher learning until the end of the academic year. Even the theological academies were affected by student disorders.38
Meanwhile, the zemstvo constitutionalists revived their campaign and at their Second National Congress in April called for the convocation of a Constituent Assembly. Professional unions organized themselves at a national level into a Union of Unions to rally their members behind the liberal cause. The Unions of Writers, Lawyers, Professors and Engineers were the first such unions to be formed. They were later joined (despite the opposition of some reluctant males in the leadership of the Union of Unions) by a Women’s Union for Equality which campaigned for voting rights. Semi-professional groups, such as the Pharmaceutical Assistants, the Clerks and Book-keepers, and the Railway Workers and Employees, also established affiliated unions. Their participation in the Union of Unions gave the intelligentsia a direct link with the masses.* Hundreds of zemstvos, city councils and voluntary bodies sent petitions to the government demanding political reforms. The press publicized them and highlighted other grievances in a way that gave the public anger a single national voice. ‘We can no longer live like this,’ declared the headline of a leading liberal newspaper on 21 May, and soon everyone was repeating the phrase.39
The literary intelligentsia also sought to play a leading role. ‘We have to serve the people,’ Gorky admonished a fellow writer who had turned his back on politics. ‘The blood of the people is being spilt, the blood of the workers, everywhere the regime is cynically killing the best people— the young Rus’ — and you write only about yourself Like most of Russia’s intellectuals, Gorky threw himself into politics and journalism. He had been released from the Peter and Paul Fortress after a European-wide campaign, joined by (among others) Auguste Rodin, Anatole France and Marie Curie, which lent the weight of Western opinion to the democratic cause against autocracy. Shortly after his release, on 5 March, he wrote to Tolstoy criticizing him for not involving himself more in politics:
In these grim times when blood is flowing on the soil of your country, and when hundreds and thousands of decent, honest people are dying for
* Since the professions had taken the lead in forming these unions, other blue-collar unions, even in Communist Russia, continued to be called ‘professional unions'(profsoiuzy)rather than trade or industrial unions.

the right to live like human beings, instead of cattle, you whose word is heeded by the whole world, you find it possible merely to repeat once again the fundamental idea behind your philosophy: ‘Moral perfection of individuals— this is the meaning and aim of life for all people’. But just think, Lev Nikolaevich, is it possible for a man to occupy himself with morally perfecting his character at a time when men and women are being shot down in the streets?40
The social engagement of the writer, in which Gorky passionately believed, and which at the time of the famine crisis had made Tolstoy the country’s moral conscience, was now becoming rather harder for some, like Tolstoy, to maintain. For it now obliged them to support a revolution that might itself spill the people’s blood. Gorky would later come to share these doubts; but for now they were suppressed in the urgency of the revolutionary moment.
The mood of rebellion soon spread to the countryside. Seeing the government’s weakness, the peasants took their chance and organized rent strikes to force the landowners to increase their wages as labourers. They trespassed on the gentry’s land, felled their trees and cut their hay. By the early summer, when it became clear that the harvest had failed once again, they began to launch full-scale attacks on their estates, seizing property and setting fire to the manors, forcing the landowners to flee. Witnesses spoke of the night sky lit up by the blaze of burning manors and of lines of horse-drawn carts moving along the roads, loaded with plundered property. There was a good deal of vandalism— ‘culture smashing’ — as the peasants set out to destroy anything that smacked of superfluous wealth. They burned libraries, destroyed antiques and left shit on the Oriental carpets. Some villagers even took the paintings and statues, the Bohemian crystal and the English porcelain, the satin dresses and powdered wigs, which they then divided among themselves, along with the livestock, the grain and the tools. In one village the peasants broke up a grand piano, which they had hauled away from the manor, and shared out the ivory keys. Nearly 3,000 manors were destroyed (15 per cent of the total) during the Jacquerie of 1905—6. Most of the violence was concentrated in the central agricultural zone, where peasant poverty was most acute and the largest estates were located. Once the local squires had been ‘smoked out’, the peasants retreated into their own communal world. Local officials were replaced by the peasants, conservative priests driven out, and government laws and tax demands ignored.41
The struggle for the land was not the only form of peasant revolution in 1905—6, although because of the gentry’s fears it was the main concern of official records (and has thus since dominated the historiography). Alongside the violence on the land there grew up a whole range of peasant unions, agricultural societies and co-operatives. They were generally more moderate and

sophisticated in their aims and methods than the majority of traditional village communes, and they tended to attract the sort of young and ‘conscious’ peasants who had emerged with the spread of rural schools. Many of the peasant unions, in particular, had close connections with the local teachers and the rural intelligentsia. For these reasons, they tended to develop in the largest villages, where there were more cultural institutions, such as schools and reading-rooms, and where the peasantry was most exposed to the influence of the outside world (e.g. in the form of markets and railways, state officials and police). Some of these organizations became famous throughout Russia for establishing what were in effect independent peasant republics (for example, the Sumy Republic in Kharkov province). They espoused the ideals of political reform, of a constitution and a parliament, and of better education for the peasants, in addition to land reform. Their aim was to end the ‘dark’ and ‘backward’ ways of the villages, to bring them the benefits of the modern world, and to end their isolation by integrating them into national politics.42
Sergei Semenov, peasant, local writer and Tolstoyan from the village of Andreevskoe, was among the founders of the Markovo Republic, one of the most famous and impressive examples of progressive peasant politics during the 1905 Revolution. For the best part of a year, whilst the tsarist state was paralysed, the ‘Republic’ instituted a sophisticated system of ‘peasant rule’ in several volosts of the Volokolamsk district. It was formed by a group of activists, teachers and peasants (among them Semenov) from Markovo and other nearby villages, who had been meeting since 1901 in the reading-clubs and tea-rooms of the region to discuss the Moscow newspapers. They organized the Peasant Union, which provided the political structure of the Markovo Republic. In October 1905 a general meeting of the peasants passed a resolution calling for a radical overhaul of the whole political system. Its demands included the convocation of a national parliament, secret and universal adult suffrage, equal civil rights for the peasantry, progressive taxes, land for the landless, free and universal education, freedom of movement and a political amnesty. The peasants declared that they would not obey the existing authorities, nor pay their taxes, nor provide any army recruits, until their demands were satisfied. They elected a ‘Republican Government’, headed by a ‘President’ (one of the local commune’s elders), and declared their allegiance to the Peasant Union. Local branchesofthe union were established— Semenov set up one in Andreevskoe — which effectively ran the villages. Rents were controlled. Agronomic measures were introduced. The volost authorities were democratized and the church schools ‘nationalized’. The tsarist regime was powerless — there was no land captain and only one policesergeant in the volost — and could only watch with increasing frustration as this ‘free territory’ of peasant self-rule, under eighty miles from Moscow itself, continued to spread and to grow in fame. A professor

from Chicago, who had read about the Republic in the US newspapers, arrived in Markovo to lend it his support. For several months the authorities tried unsuccessfully to defeat the Republic by political means. It dismissed the elected volost elder, one of the Republic’s leaders, called Ryzhkov. But the Schweikian peasants counteracted this by refusing to elect a successor, while Ryzhkov declared that to his sorrow he could not relinquish his powers, because there was no one to whom he could hand them. It was only in July 1906, six months after the revolution had been put down in the cities, that this peasant republic was finally destroyed. Ryzhkov was removed by a police trick. All the villages were then raided and their leaders, Semenov among them, rounded up and imprisoned in Moscow. During his eight months as the leader of the Peasant Union in Andreevskoe, Semenov had established a new village school, an agricultural society, two co-operatives, a reading club, and, remarkably, a peasant theatre.43
The local gentry appealed for help against the peasants, and the government sent in the troops. From January to October the army was used no fewer than 2,700 times to put down peasant uprisings, accelerating the breakdown of army discipline which had begun with the despatch of the troops to Manchuria.44It was the growing threat of a mutinous revolution at home combined with the prospect of defeat abroad— signalled by the navy’s humiliation at Tsushima in May 1905 — which forced the Tsar to sue for peace with Japan. It proved impossible — as it would again in 1917 — to conduct a foreign war in the midst of a domestic social revolution. The vast majority of the infantry were peasants, and resented being used to suppress agrarian discontent. Whole units refused to carry out orders and mutinies spread through the ranks; even the Cossack cavalry was affected. And then, on 14 June, the unrest spread to the Black Sea Fleet.
It all began with a piece of maggoty meat, which the ship’s doctor on board the battleshipPotemkindeclared was fit to eat. When the sailors complained to the captain, he had their spokesman, Vakulenchuk, shot. The crew rebelled, murdered seven officers and raised the red flag. A small group of active revolutionaries leading the mutiny hoped it would spread to the rest of the fleet. They sailed overnight to Odessa, where striking workers had been in a virtual state of war with the city government for the past two weeks. There they placed Vakulenchuk’s body, surrounded by a guard of honour, at the foot of a set of marble steps (later immortalized by Eisenstein’s film) leading from the harbour to the city. During the next day thousands of people gathered on the harbour front, placing wreaths around the bier of the martyred revolutionary and offering food to the sailors. As night approached troops were sent in to quell the crowd. Moving down the steps, they fired indiscriminately into the hemmed-in civilians below. Hundreds of people jumped into the sea. By dawn, when the massacre finally ended, 2,000 people had been killed and 3,000

wounded. ThePotemkinset sail from Odessa but, without the support of the rest of the fleet, it was eventually forced to surrender. On 25 June the sailors docked at Constanza in Romania and exchanged thePotemkinfor safe refuge.45 In itself, the mutiny had been a minor threat. But it was a major embarrassment to the regime, for it showed the world that the revolution had spread to the heart of its own military machine.
The subject nationalities of the Empire had been equally quick to take advantage of the regime’s temporary weakness. The strikes and protests which followed the Bloody Sunday revolt in St Petersburg were especially intense in the non-Russian borderlands— Latvia and Poland in particular — where social and political tensions were reinforced by a widespread hatred of Russian rule. In Riga up to 15,000 workers marched through the city on 13 January in protest against the tsarist regime and the ruthlessness of the Russian Governor-General, A. N. Meller-Zakomelsky. He gave further cruel evidence of this when he ordered his soldiers to fire on the crowd. Seventy were killed and 200 injured. Meller-Zakomelsky was proud of the way his men had handled the situation and wrote to the Tsar suggesting that if more local authorities were willing to act with such decisiveness there would be no further trouble. In the ten Polish provinces there were more strikes in the spring and summer of 1905 than in the rest of the Empire combined. The textile city of Lodz was particularly turbulent: in mid-June, weeks before anything like it happened in Russia, barricades went up, and there were five days of street-fighting between workers and police. Warsaw was even more violent: up to 100,000 workers took part in demonstrations after Bloody Sunday. Russian troops fired at the crowds, killing ninety-three people, and a state of siege was declared. Laterin the summer news of Russia’s defeat by Japan was met by further demonstrations in the Polish capital with such slogans as ‘Down with Tsarism!’, Long Live an Independent Socialist Poland!’ and Long Live Japan!’46 Nationalists everywhere welcomed Russia’s defeat in the belief that it would bring down the Tsar and thus pave the way for their own autonomy. Pilsudski, the leader of the Polish Socialists, had even gone to Japan to discuss Polish action against Russia’s war effort.
In many of these non-Russian lands virtually the whole of the population became involved in the national liberation movement. In Finland, for example, where the imposition of Russian rule had destroyed the autonomy of the Grand Duchy, there was a mass campaign of passive resistance led by the nationalist intelligentsia. Nearly everyone joined it, including the Finnish Swedes, who had enjoyed many privileges under Russia’s domination which they were likely to lose under Finnish rule. The Russian Governor-General, an imperialist hardliner by the name of Bobrikov, was assassinated in 1904, and by the following year Finland was engaged in a full-scale war of passive resistance against St Petersburg. In Georgia the Mensheviks led this national revolution. Theirs was

the first Marxist national-liberation movement in history to enjoy the support of the peasantry: between 1904 and 1906 it effectively replaced the tsarist state in western Georgia.
* * * With the Russian Empire teetering on the brink of collapse, the tsarist regime responded to the crisis with its usual incompetence and obstinacy. Witte called it a ‘mixture of cowardice, blindness and stupidity’. The basic problem was that Nicholas himself remained totally oblivious to the extremity of the situation. While the country sank deeper into chaos he continued to fill his diary with terse and trivial notes on the weather, the company at tea and the number of birds he had shot that day. His advisers convinced him that foreign agents had been responsible for the demonstration on Bloody Sunday and he duly filled the prisons with suitable political suspects. A carefully picked delegation of ‘reliable’ workers was summoned to Tsarskoe Selo, where they were lined up like children to hear a short address from the Tsar, in which he blamed the workers for allowing themselves to be deceived by ‘foreign revolutionaries’ but promised to ‘forgive them their sins’ because he believed in their ‘unshakeable devotion’ to him. Meanwhile, the liberal Mirsky was replaced as Minister of the Interior by the decent but malleable A. G. Bulygin, who in effect took orders from his own deputy and chief of police, D. F. Trepov, a strict disciplinarian from the Horse Guards whom Nicholas liked for his straightforward, soldierly approach, and whom he had therefore allowed to become a dominant force at court. When Bulygin suggested that political concessions might be needed to calm the country, Nicholas was taken aback and told the Minister: ‘One would think you are afraid a revolution will break out.’ ‘Your Majesty,’ came the reply, ‘the revolution has already begun.’47
The remark must have been enough to make Nicholas a little uncomfortable, for he soon made promises of political reform. On 18 February he issued an Imperial Manifesto and Decree, which, while condemning the disorders, acknowledged the shortcomings of the bureaucracy and summoned the ‘well-meaning people of all estates’ to unite behind the throne and send in ideas for ‘improvements in the state organization’. Bulygin was instructed to draw up proposals for a national assembly. The Manifesto was a tactical manoeuvre, its sole purpose to buy time; there was no sign that it came from the heart. The educated circles on the whole remained sceptical. ‘The main aim of this Manifesto’, Kerensky wrote to his parents on 18 February, ‘is to calm and silence the revolutionary movement that has just begun so that all the forces of the government can be consolidated for one purpose in the future: to prevent any of its promises from being delivered.’ Indeed it was typical of the Tsar’s obstinate adherence to the archaic principles of patrimonial autocracy that at such a moment he should have attempted to shift the blame for the crisis on to the

bureaucracy while at the same time appealing to the direct bond between himself and his subjects. If the people had grievances, or so his Manifesto had implied, they should bring them directly to him and they would be satisfied.
And indeed in the following weeks tens of thousands of reform petitions were sent in to the Tsar from village assemblies, army regiments, towns and factories. Like thecahiers,the letters of grievance of 1789, they gave expression to the evolving language of political and social democracy. But their demands were far too radical for Nicholas. Most of them called for a national parliament with sovereign rights of legislation. Yet the sort of assembly which the Tsar had in mind— and which Bulygin finally presented for his signature on 6 August — was a purely consultative one elected on a limited franchise to ensure the domination of the nobles. This was to be a king’s parliament, like theZemskii Soborof the seventeeth century, which was compatible with the preservation of the Tsar’s own personal rule. Its main purpose, as Nicholas saw it, would be to inform him of his subjects’ needs and thus enable him to rule on their behalf without the mediation of the self-aggrandizing bureaucracy.48
The Bulygin Duma was yet another example of too little too late. Six months earlier it would have been welcomed, and enabled the government to regain the political initiative. But now all but the most moderate reformers found it quite unsatisfactory. The liberal newspapers, having carefully scrutinized the complex provisions of the new electoral law, claimed that less than I per cent of St Petersburg’s adult residents would qualify for the vote, while in many provincial cities the proportion would be even tinier. Despite their criticisms, the liberals chose not to boycott the Duma elections. But the Social Democrats and the radicals in the Union of Unions were now more determined than ever to use mass civil disobedience to pressurize the government into making further concessions. The culmination of their efforts was the general strike of September and October, the first general strike in history, which forced the reluctant government to concede real political reforms.
During 1905 there was a marked increase in the level of organization and militancy of the workers’ strikes and protests. This was partly the result of the socialists taking over the labour movement. But it was also— and probably much more so — the result of the workers themselves becoming more class conscious and violent as their conflicts with employers and police became more bitter and intense. Gorky noted the workers’ growing aggression after witnessing a clash on Znamenskaya Square in St Petersburg in early September. An officer struck a soldier in the street, and an angry crowd of workers gathered to defend the soldier. They tore the epaulettes from the officer’s uniform and, so Gorky thought, would have killed him too had it not been for the timely intervention of the police and Cossacks. ‘The crowd conducted itself with remarkable simplicity and openness,’ Gorky wrote to Ekaterina, ‘they said and chanted everything

they wanted right there and then in front of the police and in general displayed a great deal of moral strength and even tact. There is a world of difference between this crowd and the supplicant people of 9 January.’49
Not all the violence in the cities was the result of the growing militancy of the labour movement. There was a marked increase in all forms of violence, from muggings and murders to drunken riots and vandalism, as law and order broke down. Indeed, as the police withdrew from the scene, so the public added to the violence by forming groups of vigilantes and lynching criminals in the streets. Every day the press reported dozens of these cases of ‘mob law'(samosud),along with robberies and murders. Mobs of a different kind went round the streets beating up students and well-dressed passers-by. There were pogroms against Jews. In short, the whole country seemed locked into a downward spiral of violence and anarchy. As the US Consul in Batumi reported:
[Russia] is permeated with sedition and reeking with revolution, racial hatred and warfare, murder, incendiarism, brigandage, robbery and crime of every kind … As far as can be seen we are on the high road to complete anarchy and social chaos . . . One of the worst signs is that the public under this long reign of anarchy and crime is growing callous and the news of the murder of an acquaintance or friend is, by the bulk of the population, received with indifference whilst cases of brigandage are looked upon as being quite in the ordinary course of events.50
Because of the preoccupation of many historians with the organized labour movement— and their seduction by the Soviet myth of the armed workers on the barricades — the role of this everyday criminal violence in the revolutionary crowd has been either ignored or, even more misleadingly, confused with the violence of industrial war. Yet the closer one looks at the crowds on the streets, the harder it becomes to distinguish clearly between organized forms of protest — the marching workers with banners and songs — and criminal acts of looting and violence. The one could easily — and often did — break down into the other. It was not just a question of ‘hooligans’ orcriminals joining in labour protests or taking advantage of the chaos they created to vandalize, assault and loot. Such acts seem to have been an integral element of labour militancy, a means of asserting the power of the plebeian crowd and of despoiling and destroying symbols of wealth and privilege. What the frightened middle classes termed ‘hooliganism’ — mob attacks on the well-to-do and on figures of authority, looting and vandalism, drunken brawling and rioting — could just as easily be categorized as ‘revolutionary acts’. And in part that is what they were: the revolutionary violence of 1905—17 was expressed in just these sorts of act. It was driven by the same feelings of hatred for the rich and all

figures of authority, by the same desire of the poor and the powerless to assert themselves and claim the streets as their own. From the perspective of the propertied there was very little to distinguish between the ‘rough’ and ‘rude’ behaviour of the ‘hooligans’— their cocky way of dressing, their drunkenness and vulgar language, their ‘insolence’ and licence’ — and the behaviour of the revolutionary crowd.51 Even the most organized labour protests could, on the slightest provocation, break down into violence and looting. It was to become a major problem for all the revolutionary parties, the Bolsheviks in particular, who tried to use the violence of the crowd for their own political ends. Such violence was a double-edged sword and could lead to anarchy rather than controlled revolutionary force. This was the lesson the Bolsheviks would learn during the July and October Days in 1917— outbursts of violence which were far removed from the Soviet image of heroic proletarian power.
If, however, there was some genuine inspiration for the Soviet myth of the factory worker, gun in hand, fighting for the revolution on the barricades, then that was the general strike of 1905. For it was the classic example of a spontaneous yet disciplined uprising of the working class. It began on 20 September with a walk-out by the Moscow printers— the most educated group of workers — for better pay and conditions. The strikers made contact with the students and held a mass street demonstration, which was attacked by the police. The workers threw stones at the police, smashed shop windows, overturned benches and knocked down trees to make barricades. By the start of October the printers of St Petersburg and several other cities had come out in solidarity with their comrades: middle-class homes went without their newspapers for several weeks. Then the railway workers came out on strike. The Union of Railway Employees and Workers was affiliated to the Union of Unions, which had been discussing the idea of a general political strike to further its campaign for political reform since the summer. By 10 October virtually the entire railway network had come to a halt. Millions of other workers — factory, shop and transport workers, bank and office employees, hospital staff, students, lecturers, even the actors of the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg — came out in support of what had become in effect a national strike against the autocracy. The cities were brought to a standstill. All transport stopped. The lights went out at night. Telegraphs and telephones ceased to work. Shops were closed and their windows boarded up. Food became scarce. Robberies and looting exploded out of control. The gentry and the bourgeoisie took fright at the breakdown of law and order. When the Moscow water system began to malfunction there was panic; rumours spread that the strikers had deliberately contaminated the water. Workers, students and professionals joined together in demonstrations against the authorities. Many ended in the hasty building of barricades and in violent clashes with the police and Cossacks. The political demands of the demonstrators were

remarkably uniform— the convocation of a constituent assembly elected by universal suffrage — which was a sign of the co-ordinating role played by the Union of Unions as well as the increased discipline and organization of the workers themselves.52
This last had much to do with the Petersburg Soviet. The word ‘soviet’ means ‘council’ in Russian and the Petersburg Soviet was really no more than anad hoccouncil of workers established to direct the general strike. It owed its origins partly to the Union of Unions, which first came up with the idea, and partly to the Mensheviks, who took the lead in organizing the workers at factory level. On 17 October 562 factory deputies, most of them metalworkers, assembled in the building of the Free Economic Society and elected an executive of fifty members, including seven delegates from each of the three main socialist parties (Mensheviks, Bolsheviks and SRs). From the beginning it assumed the tatus and form— which it would assume again in 1917 — of a workers’ government and an alternative source of power to the tsarist authorities. It organized the strikes, published its own newspaper,Izvestiia,which the workers eagerly read, established a militia, saw to the distribution of food supplies, and by its example inspired workers in fifty other cities to set up Soviets of their own. The Mensheviks dominated the Petersburg Soviet. They saw it as the embodiment of their ideology. The Bolsheviks, by contrast, were mistrustful of working-class initiatives and hostile to the idea of the Soviet as an independent workers’ council, although this no doubt had something to do with the fact that they themselves had very little influence over it. Not even Lenin, who returned from exile in early November, got to speak in the Soviet, although there is still a desk in the building that housed the workers’ council with a plaque on it claiming that he did.53
The nominal chairman of the Soviet Executive was the lawyer (and future Menshevik) G. S. Khrustalev-Nosar. But Leon Trotsky was the real force behind it. He framed its resolutions and wrote the editorials forIzvestiia.After Khrustalev-Nosar’s arrest on 26 November, he also became its chairman. Trotsky had been the first of the major socialist leaders to return from exile after Bloody Sunday. He lived under various guises, including that of a patient in an eye hospital, where he had written revolutionary proclamations from his bed as the nurses gave him foot-baths. During the general strike he had emerged in the Soviet under the name of Yanovsky, the village where he was born. His support for a working-class insurrection and his brilliant journalistic attacks on the liberals had certainly brought him closer to the Bolshevik wing of the Social Democrats since the great party schism of 1903. Yet in essence he remained a revolutionary Menshevik and, as George Denike later recalled, it was he more than anyone else who ‘stood for Menshevism’ at this stage.54

The Tsar’s advisers now looked to Count Witte to save the country from disaster. Yet Nicholas himself remained quite impassive. He spent most of his time that autumn hunting. ‘The tragic aspect of the situation’, remarked a courtier in his diary on I October, ‘is that the Tsar is living in an utter fool’s paradise, thinking that He is as strong and all-powerful as before.’ On 9 October Witte was finally received in the Winter Palace. With brutal frankness he told Nicholas that the country was on the verge of a cataclysmic revolution which would ‘sweep away a thousand years of history’. The Tsar had one of two choices: either to appoint a military dictator or introduce major reforms. Witte outlined the needed reforms in a memorandum arguing for a Manifesto, which he had brought with him: the granting of civil liberties; a constitutional order; cabinet government; and a legislative Duma elected on a democratic franchise. It was in effect the political programme of the Liberation Movement. His aim was clearly to isolate the Left by pacifying the liberals. He stressed that repression could only be a temporary solution, and a risky one at that, for the loyalty of the armed services was in doubt and if they were used to put down the general strike they might fall apart altogether. Most of the Tsar’s senior military advisers agreed with Witte, as did Trepov, the Governor of St Petersburg, whose influence at court was now paramount. Nicholas remained unconvinced and asked his uncle, the Grand Duke Nikolai, to assume the role of dictator. But the Grand Duke, an excitable and outspoken man, took out a revolver and threatened to shoot himself there and then if the Tsar refused to endorse Witte’s memorandum. The Empress would henceforth always blame the Grand Duke for Russia’s ‘constitution’. Hiscoup de theatrewas certainly the decisive factor in her husband’s change of mind, for the Grand Duke was the one man capable of playing the role of dictator and it was only when he took the side of reform that it finally dawned on the Tsar that repression was no longer an option and he agreed to sign the Manifesto. ‘My dear Mama,’ he wrote to the Empress Maria two days later on 19 October, ‘you can’t imagine what I went through before that moment . . . From all over Russia they cried for it, they begged for it, and around me many— very many — held the same views . . . There was no other way out than to cross oneself and give what everyone was asking for.’55
From the start, then, the Tsar was reluctant in the extreme to play the role of a constitutional monarch. The image of Nicholas as an ‘enlightened Tsar’ who ‘introduced democracy to Russia’ could not be further from the truth, although it is one that apologists for the tsarist regime as well as peddlers of nostalgia in post-Soviet Russia would have us accept. For an autocrat like Nicholas, who saw himself as ruling from the throne in the good old Byzantine tradition, there could have been no deeper humiliation than to be forced by a bureaucrat like Witte (who was merely a ‘businessman’ and, moreover, a former railway clerk’) to grant his subjects the rights of citizenship. Not even the

eventual act of abdication in 1917— which he said he had signed so as not to be forced to relinquish his coronation oath to uphold the principles of autocracy — was such a bitter pill to him. Witte later claimed that the court set out to use his Manifesto as a temporary concession and that it had always intended to return to its old autocratic ways once the danger passed.56 He was almost certainly correct. By the spring of 1906 the Tsar was already going back on the promises he made the previous October, claiming that the Manifesto had not in fact placed any limits on his own autocratic prerogatives, only on the bureaucracy.
The Manifesto’s proclamation was met with jubilation in the streets. Despite the rainy weather, huge numbers of people converged in front of the Winter Palace with a large red flag bearing the inscription ‘Freedom of Assembly’. As they must have been aware, they had at last managed to do what their fellow subjects had failed to do on 9 January. Bloody Sunday had not been in vain, after all. In Moscow 50,000 people gathered in front of the Bolshoi Theatre. Officers and society ladies wore red armbands and sang the Marseillaise in solidarity with the workers and students. The general strike was called off, a partial political amnesty was proclaimed, and there was a euphoric sense that Russia was now entering a new era of Western constitutionalism The whole country, in the words of one liberal, ‘buzzed like a huge garden full of bees on a hot summer’s day’57 The newspapers were filled with daring editorials and hideous caricatures of the country’s rulers, as the old censorship laws ceased to function. There was a sudden boom in pornography, as the limits of the new laws were tested. In Kiev, Warsaw and other capitals of the Empire, a flood of new publications appeared in the language of the local population as Russification policies were suspended. Political meetings were held in the streets, in squares and in parks, in all public places, as people no longer feared arrest. A new and foreign-sounding word was now invented—mitingovanie— to describe the craze for meetings displayed by these newborn citizens. Nevsky Prospekt became a sort of Speakers’ Corner, a people’s parliament on the street, where orators would stand on barrels, or cling to lamp-posts, and huge crowds would instantly gather to listen to them and grab the leaflets which they handed out. Socialist leaders returned from exile. New political parties were formed. People talked of a new Russia being born. These were the first heady days of freedom.
iii A Parting of Ways
It was in October 1905 that Prince Lvov, the liberal zemstvo man’, enrolled as a member of the Kadets. The decision had not been an easy one for him to make, for Lvov, by nature, was not a ‘party man’. His political outlook was

essentially practical— that is what had drawn him into zemstvo affairs — and he could not easily confine himself to the political dogma of any one party. His knowledge of party politics was almost non-existent. He regularly confused the SDs with the SRs and, according to his friends, did not even know the main points of the Kadet programme. ‘In all my years of acquaintance with Prince Lvov’, recalled V A. Obolensky, ‘I never once heard him discuss an abstract theoretical point.’ The Prince was a ‘sceptical Kadet’, as Miliukov, the party’s leader, once put it. He was always on the edge of the party’s platform and rarely took part in its debates. Yet his opinions were eagerly sought by the Kadet party leaders and he himself was frequently called on to act as a mediator between them. (It was his practical common sense, his experience of local politics, and his detachment from factional squabbles, that would eventually make Lvov the favoured candidate to become the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government in March I9I7.)58
Of all the political parties which sprang up in the wake of the October Manifesto, the Constitutional Democrats, or Kadets for short, was the obvious one for Lvov to join. It was full of liberal zemstvo men who, like him, had come to the party through the Liberation Movement. The agenda of the movement was in the forefront of the Kadet party programme passed at its founding congress in October 1905. The manifesto concentrated almost exclusively on political reforms— a legislative parliament elected on the basis of universal suffrage, guarantees of civil rights, the democratization of local government, and more autonomy for Poland and Finland — not least because the left and right wings of the party were so divided on social issues, the land question above all. But perhaps this concentration was to be expected in a party so dominated by the professional intelligentsia, a party of professors, academics, lawyers, writers, journalists, teachers, doctors, officials and liberal zemstvo men. Of its estimated 100,000 members, nobles made up at least 60 percent. Its central committee was a veritable ‘faculty’ of scholars: 21 of its 47 members were university professors, including its chairman, Pavel Miliukov (1859—1943), who was the outstanding historian of his day. These were the ‘men of the eighties’ — all now in their forties. They had a strong sense of public duty and Western-liberal values, but very little idea of mass politics. In the true tradition of the nineteenth-century intelligentsia they liked to think of themselves as the leaders of ‘the people’, standing above narrow party or class interests, yet they themselves made very little effort to win the people over to their cause.59 For in their hearts, as in their dinner-party conversations, they were both afraid and contemptuous of the masses.
Among the other liberal groups to emerge at this time, the most important was the Octobrist Party. It took its name from the October Manifesto of 1905, which it saw as the basis for an era of compromise and co-operation

between the government and public forces and the creation of a new legal order. It attracted some 20,000 members, most of them landowners, businessmen and officials of one sort or another, who favoured moderate political reforms but opposed universal suffrage as a challenge to the monarchy, not to mention to their own positions in central and local government.60 If the Kadets were liberal-radicals’, in the sense that they kept at least one foot in the democratic opposition, the Octobrists were ‘conservative-liberals’, in the sense that they were prepared to work for reform only within the existing order and only in order to strengthen it.
Lvov himself might have been tempted to join the Octobrists, for D. N. Shipov, his old political mentor and friend from the national zemstvo movement was one of the party’s principal founders, while Alexander Guchkov, a comrade-in-arms from the relief campaign in Manchuria, became its leader. But the bitter reform struggle of the previous ten years had taught him not to trust so blindly in the willingness of the Tsar to deliver the promises he had made in his Manifesto. The Prince preferred to remain with the Kadets in a stance of scepticism and half-opposition to the government, rather than join the Octobrists in declarations of loyal support.
This was, in truth, the main dilemma that the liberals faced after the October Manifesto— whether to support or oppose the government. So far the revolution had been a broad assault by the whole nation united against the autocracy. But now the Manifesto held out the prospect of a new constitutional order in which both monarchy and society might — just might — develop along European lines. The situation was delicately balanced. There was always the danger that the Tsar might renege on his constitutional promises, or that the masses might become impatient with the gradual process of political reform and look instead to a violent social revolution. Much would depend on the role of the liberals, who had so far led the opposition movement and who were now strategically placed between the rulers and the ruled. Their task was bound to be difficult, for they had to appear both moderate (so as not to alarm the former) and at the same time radical (so as not to alienate the latter).
Witte, who was charged with forming the first cabinet government in October, offered several portfolios to the liberals. Shipov was offered the Ministry of Agriculture, Guchkov the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the liberal jurist A. F. Koni was selected for the Ministry of Justice, and E. N. Trubetskoi for Education. Prince Urusov, whom we encountered as the Governor of Bessarabia (see pages 42—5), and who sympathized with the Kadets, was considered for the all-important post of Minister of the Interior (although he was soon rejected on the grounds that, while ‘decent’ and even ‘fairly intelligent’, he ‘was not a commanding personality’). Two other Kadets, Miliukov and Lvov, were also offered ministerial posts. But not one of these ‘public men’ agreed to join Witte’s


14 The city mayors of Russia in St Petersburg for the tercentenary in 1913.

15 The upholders of the patriarchal order in the countryside: a group of volost elders in 1912.

16 A newspaper kiosk in St Petersburg, 1910. There was a boom in newspapers and pamphlets as literacy expanded and censorship was relaxed following the 1905 Revolution.

17 A grocery store in St Petersburg, circa 1900. Note the icon in the top-left corner, a sign of the omnipresence of the Church.

18-19 A society of extreme rich and poor.Above:dinner at a ball given by Countess Shuvalov in her splendid palace on the Fontanka Canal in St Petersburg at the beginning of 1914.Below:a soup kitchen for the unemployed in pre-war St Petersburg.

20 Peasants of a northern Russian village, mid-1890s. Note the lack of shoes and the uniformity of their clothing and their houses.

21-2 Peasant women were expected to do heavy labour in addition to their domestic duties.Above:a peasant’s two daughters help him thresh the wheat.Below,peasant women haul a barge on the Sura River under the eye of a labour contractor.

23 Serfdom was still within living memory. Twin brothers, former serfs, from Chernigov province, 1914.

24 A typical Russian peasant household — two brothers, one widowed, each with four children — from the Volokolamsk district, circa 1910.

25 A meeting of village elders, 1910. Most village meetings were less orderly than this.

26 A religious procession in Smolensk province. Not all the peasants were equally devoted to the Orthodox Church.

27 The living space of four Moscow workers in the Sukon-Butikovy factory dormitory before 1917.

28 Inside a Moscow engineering works, circa 1910.

government, which in the end had to be made up of tsarist bureaucrats and appointees lacking public confidence.61
It is a commonplace that by their refusal to join Witte’s cabinet the liberals threw away their best chance to steer the tsarist regime towards constitutional reform. But this is unfair. The ostensible reason for the breakdown of negotiations was the liberals’ refusal to work with P. N. Durnovo, a man of known rightist views and a scandalous past,* who had, it seems, been promised the post of Minister of the Interior, and who was now suddenly offered it in preference to Urusov. But the Kadets were also doubtful that Witte would be able to deliver on the promises of the October Manifesto in view of the Tsar’s hostility to reform. They were afraid of compromising themselves by joining a government which might be powerless against the autocracy. Their fears were partly conditioned by their own habitual mistrust of the government and their natural predilection towards opposition. ‘No enemies on the Left’— that had been their rallying cry during the struggles of 1904—5. And the triumph of October had only confirmed their commitment to the policy of mass agitation from below. Their doubts were hardly groundless. Witte himself had expressed the fear that the court might be using him as a temporary expedient, and this had come out in his conversations with the Kadets. On one occasion Miliukov had asked him point blank why he would not commit himself to a constitution: Witte had been forced to admit that he could not ‘because the Tsar does not wish it’.62 Since the Premier could not guarantee that the Manifesto would be carried out, it was not unreasonable for the liberals to conclude that their energies might be better spent in opposition rather than in fruitless collaboration with the government.
In any case, it soon became clear that the ‘liberal moment’ would be very brief. Only hours after the declaration of the October Manifesto there was renewed fighting on the streets as the country became polarized between Left and Right. This violence was in many ways a foretaste of the conflicts of 1917. It showed that social divisions were already far too deep for a merely liberal settlement. On 18 October, the day the Manifesto was proclaimed, some of the jubilant Moscow crowds resolved to march on the city’s main jail, the Butyrka, to demonstrate for the immediate release of all political prisoners. The protest passed off peacefully and 140 prisoners were released. But on their way back to the city centre the demonstrators were attacked by a large and well-armed mob carrying national flags and a portrait of the Tsar. There was a similar clash
* In 1893, when he was working in the Department of Police, Durnovo had ordered his agents to steal the Spanish Ambassador’s correspondence with his prostitute mistress, with whom Durnovo was also in love. The Ambassador complained to Alexander III, who ordered Durnovo’s immediate dismissal. But after Alexander’s death he somehow managed to revive his career.

outside the Taganka jail, where one of the prisoners who had just been released, the Bolshevik activist N. E. Bauman, was beaten to death.
For the extreme Rightists this was to be the start of a street war against the revolutionaries. Several Rightist groups had been established since the start of 1905. There was the Russian Monarchist Party, established by V A. Gringmut, the reactionary editor ofMoscow News,in February, which called for the restoration of a strong autocracy, martial law, dictatorship and the suppression of the Jews, who, it was claimed, were mainly the ‘instigators’ of all the disorders. Then there was the Russian Assembly, led by Prince Golitsyn and made up mainly of right-wing Civil Servants and officers in St Petersburg, which opposed the introduction of Western parliamentary institutions, and espoused the old formula of Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Nationality.
But by far the most important was the Union of the Russian People, which was established in October by two minor government officials, A. I. Dubrovin and V M. Purishkevich, as a movement to mobilize the masses against the forces of the Left. It was an early Russian version of the Fascist movement. Anti-liberal, anti-socialist and above all anti-Semitic, it spoke of the restoration of the popular autocracy which it believed had existed before Russia was taken over by the Jews and intellectuals. The Tsar and his supporters at the court, who shared this fantasy, patronized the Union, as did several leading Churchmen, including Father John of Kronstadt, a close friend of the royal family, Bishop Hermogen and the monk Iliodor. Nicholas himself wore the Union’s badge and wished its leaders ‘total success’ in their efforts to unify the ‘loyal Russians’ behind the autocracy. Acting on the Tsar’s instructions, the Ministry of the Interior financed its newspapers and secretly channelled arms to it. The Union itself was appalled, however, by what it saw as the Tsar’s own weakness and his feeble failure to suppress the Left. It resolved to do this for him by forming paramilitary groups and confronting the revolutionaries in the street. The Black Hundreds,* as the democrats called them, marched with patriotic banners, icons, crosses and portraits of the Tsar, knives and knuckle-dusters in their pockets. By the end of 1906 there were 1,000 branches of the Union with a combined total of up to 300,000 members.63 As with the Fascist movements of inter-war Europe, most of their support came from those embitteredlumpenelements who had either lost— or were afraid of losing — their petty status in the social hierarchy as a result of modernization and reform: uprooted peasants forced into the towns as casual labourers; small shopkeepers and artisans squeezed by competition from big business; low-ranking officials and policemen, the threat
* The name was a derogatory one, adapted from the term ‘White Hundreds’, which was used in medieval Russia for the privileged caste of nobles and wealthy merchants. The lower-class types who joined the Black Hundreds were not in this class, hence their ironic nomenclature.

to whose power from the new democratic institutions rankled; and pub patriots of all kinds disturbed by the sight of ‘upstart’ workers, students and Jews challenging the God-given power of the Tsar. Fighting revolution in the streets was their way of revenging themselves, a means of putting the clock back and restoring the social and racial hierarchy. Their gangs were also joined by common criminals— thousands of whom had been released under the October amnesty — who saw in them an opportunity for looting and violence. Often encouraged by the police, the Black Hundreds marched through the streets beating up anyone they suspected of democratic sympathies. Sometimes they forced their victims to kneel in homage before a portrait of the Tsar, or dragged them into churches and made them kiss the imperial flag.
The worst violence was reserved for the Jews. There were 690 documented pogroms— with over 3,000 reported murders — during the two weeks following the declaration of the October Manifesto. The Rightist groups played a leading role in these pogroms, either by inciting the crowd against the Jews or by planning them from the start. The worst pogrom took place in Odessa, where 800 Jews were murdered, 5,000 wounded and more than 100,000 made homeless. An official investigation ordered by Witte revealed that the police had not only organized, armed and supplied the crowd with vodka, but had helped it root out the Jews from their hiding places and taken part in the killings. The police headquarters in St Petersburg even had its own secret printing press, which produced thousands of pamphlets accusing the Jews of trying to ruin Russia and calling upon the people to ‘tear them to pieces and kill them’. Trepov, the virtual dictator of the country, had personally edited the pamphlets. Durnovo, the Minister of the Interior, subsidized them to the tune of 70,000 roubles. But when Witte called for the prosecution of the police chief responsible, the Tsar intervened to protect him. Nicholas was evidently pleased with the pogroms. He agreed with the anti-Semites that the revolution was largely the work of Jews, and naively regarded the pogroms as a justified form of revenge by his ‘loyal subjects’. He made this clear in a letter to his mother on 27 October:
My Dearest Mama . . .
I’ll begin by saying that the whole situation is better than it was a week ago … In the first days after the Manifesto the subversive elements raised their heads, but a strong reaction set in quickly and a whole mass of loyal people suddenly made their power felt. The result was obvious, and what one would expect in our country. The impertinence of the socialists and revolutionaries had angered the people once more; and because nine-tenths of the trouble-makers are Jews, the people’s whole anger turned against them. That’s how the pogroms happened. It is amazing how they took placesimultaneouslyin all the towns of Russia and Siberia . . . Cases as far

apart as in Tomsk, Simferopol, Tver and Odessa show clearly what an infuriated mob can do: they surrounded the houses where revolutionaries had taken refuge, set fire to them and killed everybody trying to escape.64
What was emerging was the start of the counter-revolution which would culminate in the civil war. From this point on anti-Semitism became one of the principal weapons used by the court and its supporters to rally the ‘loyal people’ behind them in their struggle against the revolution and the emerging liberal order.
For the revolutionaries Bauman’s murder was a powerful reminder of the regime’s bloody habits. Overnight the Bolshevik became a martyr of the revolution. Later, under the Soviet regime, his name would be given to streets, schools, factories, and even a whole district of Moscow. But in fact Bauman was quite unworthy of such inflated honours. He was fond of practical jokes, and on one occasion had been so malicious to a sensitive party comrade, drawing a cruel cartoon of her as the Virgin Mary with a baby in her womb and a question mark asking who the baby looked like, that she was driven to hang herself. Many Social Democrats, including Martov, wanted Bauman expelled from the party. But Lenin disagreed on the grounds that he was a good party worker and that that was all that mattered in the end. The scandal continued to divide the party— it was one of the many personal clashes which came to define the ethical distinctions between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks after 1903 — until Bauman himself was arrested and imprisoned in the Taganka jail. Death cleansed Bauman of his sins. Through his martyrdom the Bolsheviks were able,for the first time, to play on the sympathies of a mass audience. For in the highly charged atmosphere of late October 1905 people from across the whole of the democratic spectrum saw in Bauman’s corpse a symbol of the fate awaiting the revolution if they did not unite against reaction. And they turned out in their tens of thousands for his funeral.
If there was one thing the Bolsheviks really mastered, that was the art of burying their dead. Six herculean leather-clad comrades carried Bauman’s coffin, draped in a scarlet pall, through the streets of Moscow. At their head was a Bolshevik dressed in Jesuitical-black with a palm branch in his hand which he swung from side to side in time with the music and his own slow steps. The party leaders followed with wreaths, red flags and heavy velvet banners, bearing the slogans of their struggle in ornate gold. They were flanked by an armed militia of students and workers. And behind them row upon row of mourners, some 100,000 in all, marched ten abreast in military formation. This religiouslike procession continued all day, stopping at various points in the city to pick up reinforcements. As it passed the Conservatory it was joined by a student orchestra, which played, over and over again, the funeral dirge of the revolution:

‘You Fell Victim to a Fateful Struggle’. The measured heaviness of the marchers, their melancholy music and their military organization filled the streets with dark menace. As night fell, thousands of torches were lit, making the red flags glow. The graveside orations were emotional, defiant and uplifting. Bauman’s widow called on the crowds to avenge her husband’s death and, as they made their way back to the city centre, sporadic fighting broke out with Black Hundred gangs/15
By this stage the Bolsheviks were already planning an armed insurrection. Their resolve was stiffened by Lenin’s return from Geneva at the start of November, for he was insistent on the need to launch a revolt. Since Bloody Sunday much of his correspondence from Switzerland had been dominated by detailed instructions on how to build barricades and how to fight the Cossacks using bombs and pistols. The Petersburg Soviet was also preparing for a showdown with the government. During November it supported a series of strikes which were distinguished by their militancy. Under Trotsky’s leadership and the influence of the street crowds, which at least in Petersburg were starting to show signs of readiness for a socialist revolution, many of the Mensheviks moved away from their broad alliance with the liberals and embraced the idea of an armed revolt to assert the ‘hegemony of the working class’. There was little prospect of success, but this was buried under all the emotion. Some of the Social Democrats were carried away by their own rhetoric of defiance— after all, it made them popular with the angry workers — and somehow talk slid into actual plans of action. Others took the view that it would be better to go down with a fight than not to try and seize power at all. In the words of one Menshevik, ‘we were certain in our hearts that defeat was inevitable. But we were all young and seized with revolutionary enthusiasm and to us it seemed better to perish in a struggle than to be paralysed without even engaging in one.The honour of the Revolution was at stake’.Indeed for Lenin (the ‘Jacobin’) it did not even matter if the putsch should fail. ‘Victory?!’, he was heard to say in mid-November. That for us is not the point at all! . . . We should not harbour any illusions, we are realists, and let no one imagine that we have to win. For that we are still too weak. The point is not about victory but about giving the regime a shake and attracting the masses to the movement. That is the whole point. And to say that because we cannot win we should not stage an insurrection— that is simply the talk of cowards. And we have nothing to do with them!’66
The turning-point came on 3 December with the arrest of the Petersburg Soviet leaders. Despite their own poor preparations and the absence of any clear signs of mass support, the Moscow Social Democrats declared a general strike and began to distribute arms to the workers. There were feverish preparations— some of them quite comical. A group of Petersburg Social Democrats became involved, for example, in a hare-brained scheme to develop a ‘chemical

compound that, if sprinkled on a policeman, would supposedly make him lose consciousness immediately so that you could grab his weapon’. Gorky lent a hand with the preparations. He converted his Moscow apartment into the headquarters of the insurrection and, dressed in a black leather tunic and knee-high military boots, supervised the operations like a Bolshevik commissar. Bombs were made in his study and food was prepared and sent from his kitchens to the workers and students on the barricades. ‘The whole of Moscow has become a battleground,’ he wrote to his publisher on 10 December. ‘The windows have all lost their glass. What’s going on in the suburbs and factories I don’t know, but from all directions there is the sound of gun-fire. No doubt the authorities will win, but their victory will be a pyrrhic one and it will teach the public an excellent lesson. It will be costly. Today we saw three wounded officers pass our windows. One of them was dead.’67
Ironically, with just a little more strategic planning, the insurgents might have taken Moscow, although in the end, given the lack of nationwide support and the collapse of the army mutinies, the authorities were bound to prevail. By 12 December the rebel militias had gained control of all the railway stations and several districts of the city. Barricades went up in the major streets. Students and well-dressed citizens, incensed by the deployment of artillery against the workers and unarmed crowds, joined in building the barricades from telegraph poles, broken fences, iron gates, overturned trams, lamp-posts, market stalls, doors ripped out of houses, and whatever else came to hand. What had started as a working-class strike was now turning into a general street war against the authorities. The police and the troops would dismantle the barricades at night, only to find them rebuilt in the morning. The outer ring of boulevards which encircles the centre of Moscow became one vast battlefield, with troops and artillery concentrated in the major squares and the rebels controlling most of the streets in between. At this moment, had they struck towards the Kremlin, the rebels might have won. But their plans were largely dictated by the goals of the workers themselves, who preferred to concentrate on the defence of their own rebel strongholds. In the Presnia district, for example, the centre of the textile industry and the home of the most militant workers, there was certainly no thought of marching on the centre. Instead the rebels turned Presnia into a workers’ republic, with its own police and a revolutionary council, which in many ways anticipated the future system of the Soviets.
By 15 December the tide was already turning against the rebels. Long-awaited reinforcements from St Peterbsurg arrived in the form of the Semenovsky Regiment and began to bombard the Presnia district, shelling buildings indiscriminately. The Prokhorov cotton mill and the Schmidt furniture factory, which, thanks to their Left-inclined owners, had been turned into fortresses of the uprising in Presnia, were bombarded for two days and nights, despite Schmidt’s

readiness to negotiate a surrender. Much of the Presnia district was destroyed. House fires burned out of control. By the time the uprising was crushed, more than a thousand people had been killed, most of them civilians caught in the crossfire or in burning buildings. During the weeks that followed the authorities launched a brutal crackdown with mass arrests and summary executions. Workers’ children were rounded up in barracks and beaten by police to ‘teach them a lesson’. The prisons filled up, militant workers lost their jobs, and the socialist parties were forced underground. Slowly, through terror, order was restored.68
The Moscow uprising failed to raise the banner of social revolution, but it did act as a red rag to the bull of counter-revolution. Witte told Polovtsov in April 1906 that after the success of the Moscow repressions he lost all his influence over the Tsar and, despite his protestations, Durnovo was allowed to ‘carry out a brutal and excessive, and often totally unjustified, series of repressive measures’. Throughout the country the socialists were rounded up and imprisoned, or forced into exile or underground. Semen Kanatchikov, who had played a leading part in the Bolshevik revolutionary organizations of Moscow and Petrograd during 1905, was arrested and imprisoned no fewer than three times between 1906 and 1910, whereupon he was sentenced to a life term of exile in Siberia. The newly won freedoms of the socialist parties were now lost as the old police regime was restored. Between 1906 and 1909 over 5,000 ‘politicals’ were sentenced to death, and a further 38,000 were either imprisoned or sent into penal servitude. In the Baltic lands punitive army units went through the towns and villages. During a six-month campaign of terror, starting in December, they executed 1,200 people, destroyed tens of thousands of buildings, and flogged thousands of workers and peasants. The Tsar was delighted with the operation and praised its commanding officer for ‘acting splendidly’. In Russia itself the regime did not hesitate to launch a war of terror against its own people. In the areas of peasant revolt whole villages were destroyed by the army and thousands of peasants were imprisoned. When there was no more room in the county jails, orders were given to shoot the guilty peasants instead. ‘Arrests alone will not achieve our goals,’ Durnovo wrote to his provincial governors in December. ‘It is impossible to judge hundreds of thousands of people. I propose to shoot the rioters and in cases of resistance to burn their homes.’ The regime aimed to break the spirits of the peasants by humiliating and beating them into submission. Whole communities were forced to take off their hats and scarves and prostrate themselves like serfs before the Cossack troops. Interrogating officers then rode on horses through the villagers, whipping them on the back whenever their answers displeased them, until they gave up their rebel leaders for summary execution. Liberally plied with vodka, the Cossacks committed terrible atrocities against the peasant population. Women and girls were raped in front of their menfolk. Hundreds of peasants were hanged from the trees

without any pretence of a trial. In all it has been estimated that the tsarist regime executed 15,000 people, shot or wounded at least 20,000 and deported or exiled 45,000, between mid-October and the opening of the first State Duma in April 1906.69 It was hardly a promising start to the new parliamentary order.
During the suppression of the Moscow uprising Gorky’s flat was raided by the Black Hundred gangs and he was forced to flee under cover to Finland. ‘I am staying near a waterfall, deep in the woods on the shores of Lake Saimaa,’ he wrote to his separated wife Ekaterina on 6 January. ‘It’s beautiful here, like a fairy tale.’70 Given the new political climate it would have been suicidal for Gorky to return to Russia. The government was doing its best to slander the writer’s name. Witte even paid a correspondent of the LondonDaily Telegraph— a newspaper not known for its fairness to the Left — to spread the libel that Gorky was an anti-Semite. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Gorky despised the popular anti-Semitism of his day, seeing it as a symptom of Russia’s backwardness. The fact that pogroms were often an expression of the people’s own revolutionary impulses was to become one of his own anxieties about the revolution.
In the spring of 1906 Gorky set sail for America with his common-law wife, the actress Marya Andreeva. At first he was welcomed in the Land of the Free as a champion of the struggle against tyrannical monarchs. To the Americans, as to the French, Gorky appeared as a modern version of their own republican heroes. Cheering crowds greeted his ship as it docked in New York and Mark Twain spoke at a banquet in his honour. But the arms of the tsarist police were very long indeed, and when the American press was informed by them that the woman travelling with Gorky was not his wife there was public outrage. Newspapers accused Gorky of spreading licentious anarchism in the Land of the Righteous. Twain refused to appear with him again, and angry protesters stopped him from making any more public speeches. Returning to their hotel one evening, Gorky and Andreeva discovered that their luggage had been packed and was waiting for them in the lobby. The manager explained that he could not risk the good reputation of his establishment by giving them a bed for the night. No other hotel in Manhattan would put up the immoral couple and they were forced to find sanctuary in the home of the Martins, a broad-minded couple in Staten Island.71
* * * What were the lessons of 1905? Although the tsarist regime had been shaken, it was not brought down. The reasons for this were clear enough. First, the various opposition movements— the urban public and the workers, the peasant revolution, the mutinies in the armed services, and the national independence movements — had all followed their own separate rhythms and failed to combine politically. This would be different in February 1917, when the Duma and the

Soviet performed the essential role of co-ordination. Second, the armed forces remained loyal, despite the rash of mutinies, and helped the regime to stabilize itself. This too would be different in future— for in February 1917 the crucial units of the army and the navy quickly went over to the people’s side. Third, following the victory of October there was a fatal split within the revolutionary camp between the liberals and democrats, who, on the one hand, were mainly interested in political reforms, and the socialists and their followers, who wanted to push on to a social revolution. By issuing the October Manifesto the tsarist regime succeeded in driving a wedge between the liberals and the socialists. Never again would the Russian masses support the constitutional democratic movement asthey did in 1905.
‘The reaction is triumphant— but its victory cannot last long,’ Gorky wrote to a friend before leaving for New York. And indeed, although the regime succeeded in restoring order, it could not hope to put the clock back. 1905 changed society for good. It was a formative experience for all those who had lived through it. Many of the younger comrades of 1905 were the elders of 1917. They were inspired by its memory and instructed by its lessons. The writer Boris Pasternak (1890—1960) summed up its importance for his generation in the poem ‘1905’:
This night of guns,
Put asleep
By a strike.
This night—
Was our childhood
And the youth of our teachers.72
The Russian people— and many of the non-Russians too — won new political freedoms in 1905 and these could not be simply withdrawn once the regime had regained its grip on power. The boom in newspapers and journals, the convocation of the Duma, the formation of political parties and the growth of public institutions — all these ensured that politics would no longer be the state’s exclusive preserve but would have to be openly discussed, even if the real levers of power remained firmly in the hands of the Tsar.
Once they had tasted these new freedoms, the mass of the people could never again put their trust in the Tsar. Fear alone kept them in their place. Bernard Pares cites a conversation he had with a Russian peasant in 1907. The Englishman had asked him what he thought had been the main change in the country during the past five years. After some thought the peasant replied: ‘Five years ago there was a belief [in the Tsar] as well as fear. Now the belief is all gone and only the fear remains.’73

It was not just a change in public mood that ruled out a return to the pre-revolutionary order. Too many of the regime’s own institutional supports had lost the will for power. Even the prisons, the last resort of the autocracy, were now infected by the new liberal spirit. When, in August 1905, Miliukov, the Kadet leader, was imprisoned in the Kresty jail, he found that even the prison governor showed ‘all the symptoms of liberalism. He acquainted me with the prison system and discussed with me ways of organizing the prisoners’ labour, entertainment and the running of the prison library.’ Trotsky found the prison regime at the Peter and Paul Fortress equally lenient:
The cells were not locked during the day, and we could take our walks all together. For hours at a time we would go into raptures over playing leapfrog. My wife came to visit me twice a week. The officials on duty winked at our exchange of letters and manuscripts. One of them, a middle-aged man, was especially well disposed towards us. At his request I presented him with a copy of my book and my photograph with an inscription. ‘My daughters are all college students,’ he whispered delightedly, as he winked mysteriously at me. I met him later under the Soviet, and did what I could for him in those years of famine.
His jailers in this top security penitentiary allowed him to receive the latest socialist tracts, along with a pile of French and German novels, which he read with ‘the same sense of physical delight that the gourmet has in sipping choice wines or in inhaling the fragrant smoke of a fine cigar’. He even managed to write a history of the Petersburg Soviet and several other pieces of revolutionary propaganda during his stay. ‘I feel splendid,’ he liked to joke with his visitors. ‘I sit and work and feel perfectly sure that I cannot be arrested.’ When he left the Fortress it was, as he later recalled, ‘with a slight tinge of regret’. There is a photograph of Trotsky in his cell. Dressed in a black suit, a stiff-collared white shirt and well-polished shoes, this could have been, in the words of Isaac Deutscher, ‘a prosperous western Europeanfin-de-siecleintellectual, just about to attend a somewhat formal reception, rather than … a revolutionary awaiting trial in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Only the austerity of the bare wall and the peephole in the door offer a hint of the real background.’74
With his usual panache Trotsky transformed the trial of the fifty-one Soviet leaders into a brilliant propaganda exercise against the tsarist regime. The trial began in October 1906. Every day the court was besieged with petitions, letters, boxes of food and flowers sent by well-wishers for the defendants. The court-room began to resemble a florists’ shop. The defendants and their supporters in the public gallery wore flowers in their buttonholes and dresses. The dock was covered in blooms. The judge did not have the courage to remove this

fragrant demonstration and the demoralized court attendants were obliged to cope as best they could with the growing barrage of deliveries. At one stage the defendants rose to pay homage to one of their comrades, who had been executed shortly before the trial. Even the prosecuting attorneys felt obliged to stand for a minute’s silence.
Trotsky was called to speak for the defence. He turned the dock into a revolutionary tribune, sermonizing to the court on the justice of the workers’ uprising and occasionally pointing an accusatory finger towards the judge behind him. His speech turned the prosecution on its head: the Soviet leaders had not misled the workers into the insurrection but had followed them to it; if they were guilty of treason then so were thousands of workers, who would also have to be tried. The political order against which they had risen was not a ‘form of government’, argued Trotsky, but an ‘automaton for mass murder . . . And if you tell me that the pogroms, the arson and the violence . . . represent the form of government of the Russian Empire, then— yes, then I recognize, together with the prosecution, that in October and November we were arming ourselves against the form of government of the Russian Empire.’75 When he left the dock there was an outburst of emotion. The defence lawyers crowded around him wanting to shake his hand.* They had won a clear moral victory. On 2 November the jury delivered its verdict: all but fifteen of the Soviet leaders were acquitted. But Trotsky and fourteen others were exiled to the Arctic Circle.
For the peasants and the workers these new political liberties were of little direct interest. None of their own demands for social reform had been met. The experience of 1905 taught them to look to the social revolution and not to follow the political lead of the liberals. Their disillusionment became even deeper with the failures of the Duma years. There was a growing gulf, which had been exposed by the polarization of the opposition movement after the October Manifesto, between the constitutional ideals of the liberal propertied classes and the socio-economic grievances of the mass of workers and peasants: a general parting of the ways between the political and the social revolutions.
The workers returned to their factories to find that the old work regime was still in place. Having had their bosses briefly on the run, the brutal conditions must now have seemed even more intolerable to them. With the suppression of the socialist movement the working-class organizations were besieged and isolated. And yet the number of politicized workers ready and willing to join them grew with every month.
For their part, the peasants had been frustrated but not defeated in their struggle for the gentry’s land. When the squires returned to their estates,
* Among them, ironically, was A.A. Zarudny, who in 1917, as the Minister of Justice in Kerensky’s government, would imprison Trotsky on charges of state treason.

they noticed a change in the peasants’ mood. Their old deference was gone, replaced by a sullen rudeness in their behaviour towards their masters. Instead of the peasants’ previous courtesy, their friendliness and humility,’ one landowner remarked on returning to his estate in Samara in 1906, ‘there was only hatred on their faces, and the manner of their greetings was such as to underline their rudeness.’ Another landowner remarked on returning to his Tula estate in 1908:
Externally everything appeared to have returned to normal. But something essential, something irreparable had occurred within the people themselves. A general feeling of fear had undermined all trust. After a lifetime of security— no one ever locked their doors and windows in the evening — the nobles concerned themselves with weapons and personally made the rounds to test their security measures.
Many nobles complained of a rise in peasant crime, vandalism and ‘hooliganism’. They would find farm buildings and machines smashed, or would have to deal with distraught daughters who had been harassed by the villagers. This new militant assertiveness and impatience with the nobles was reflected in village songs, such as this one from 1912:
At night I strut around, And rich men don’t get in my way. Just let some rich guy try, And I’ll screw his head on upside-down.76
The revolution luridly exposed the peasants’ deep hatred of the gentry. They resented having to give back the land they had briefly taken in the ‘days of freedom’. Through hostile looks and petty acts of vandalism they were letting it be known that the land was ‘theirs’ and that as soon as the old regime was weakened once more they would again reclaim it.
The provincial squires, many of whom supported the liberal reform movement in 1904—5, now became, for the most part, inactive or stalwart supporters of reaction. Many of them took fright from the peasant violence and sold their estates to move back to the city: between 1906 and 1914 the gentry sold one-fifth of its land to the peasants; and in the most rebellious regions in 1905—6 the proportion was nearer one-third. But among the majority who chose to remain on the land there was a hardening resolution to defend their property rights. They called loudly for the restoration of law and order. Some local squires hired their own private armies to protect their estates from vandalism and arson. Many of the largest, in particular, joined the United Nobility and the other landowners’ organizations established after 1905. This ‘gentry reaction’

was reflected in the changing nature of the zemstvos, which were transformed from liberal institutions into pillars of conservatism. In their liberal days the zemstvos had sought to improve conditions for the peasantry, but after 1905 they became increasingly focused on the gentry’s narrowest concerns. Even the liberal-minded Prince Lvov was voted off the provincial board of the Tula zemstvo during the winter of 1905—6, and had to stand again as an urban delegate. Count Bobrinsky, the leader of the United Nobility, and ironically Lvov’s brother-in-law, condemned him as a ‘dangerous liberal’.77
The squires were not the only gentlemen who feared the lower classes more and more. Propertied society in general had been forced to confront the frightening reality of a violent revolution, and the prospect of it erupting again— no doubt with still more violence — filled its members with horror. The next revolution, it now seemed clear, would not be a bloodless celebration of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. It would come as a terrible storm, a violent explosion of suppressed anger and hatred from the dispossessed, which would sweep away the old civilization. Here was the awesome vision of poets such as Blok and Belyi, who portrayed Russia after 1905 as an active and unstable volcano.
Such fears were reflected in the darkening mood of bourgeois language towards the ‘mob’ in the wake of 1905. In place of the earlier benign view of the urban poor as a ‘colourful lot, worthy of compassion’, there was now a growing fear of what Belyi called the ‘many-thousand human swarm’. The boulevard press and periodicals fed on this growing bourgeois moral panic— reminiscent of our own concerns today about the rise of an ‘underclass’ — and editorialized on the breakdown of the social order, juvenile crime and delinquency, violent attacks on the well-to-do, disrespect towards authority, and even working-class promiscuity. All ‘rough’ behaviour by the lower classes was increasingly seen as aggressive and condemned as ‘hooliganism’ — as indeed were organized labour protests which liberal society in previous years had viewed with some sympathy. In other words, there was no longer any clear distinction in the minds of the respectable classes between criminal hooliganism and violent but justifiable protest. The Revolution of 1905 was now roundly condemned as a form of ‘madness’, a ‘psychic epidemic’, in the words of one psychologist, which had merely stirred up the ‘base instincts’ of the mob. There was less compassion for the poor on the partof this frightened bourgeoisie, and this was reflected in the falling rate of their contributions to charity.78
As the liberal conscience of their class, the {Cadets agonized over the dilemmas which this growing threat of violence raised for their support of the revolution. On the one hand, they had been drawn into an alliance with the street, if only because there were no political alternatives. And as they themselves proclaimed, there were ‘No enemies on the Left’. But, on the other hand, most

of the Kadets were bourgeois, both in terms of their social status and in terms of their general world-view, and as such they were terrified of any further violence from the streets. As E. N. Trubetskoi warned in November:
The wave of anarchy that is advancing from all sides, and that at the present time threatens the legal government, would quickly sweep away any revolutionary government: the embittered masses would then turn against the real or presumed culprits; they would seek the destruction of the entire intelligentsia; they would begin indiscriminately to slaughter anyone who wears German clothes [i.e. is well-dressed].79
Most of the Kadets now came to the conclusion that they did not want a revolution after all. They were intelligent enough to realize that they themselves would be its next victims. At its second conference in February 1906 the Kadet Party condemned the strikes, the Moscow uprising and the land seizures of the previous autumn. It then breathed a sigh of relief: its dishonest marriage with the revolution had at last been brought to an end.
This turning away from the masses was nowhere more marked than within the intelligentsia. The defeat of the 1905 Revolution and the threat of a new and more violent social revolution evoked a wide range of responses from the writers and publicists who had always championed the ‘people’s cause’. Many became disillusioned and gave up politics for comfortable careers in law and business. They settled down, grew fat and complacent, and looked back with embarrassment at their left-wing student days. Others abandoned political debate for aesthetic pursuits, Bohemian lifestyles, discussions about language and sexuality, or esoteric mystical philosophies. This was the heyday of exotic and pretentious intellectualism. The religious idealism of Vladimir Solovyov gained a particular hold over the Symbolist poets, such as Blok, Merezhkovsky and Belyi, as well as philosophers such as S. L. Frank, Sergei Bulgakov and Berdyaev, who rejected the materialism of the Marxist intelligentsia and sought to reassert the primacy of moral and spiritual values. Common to all of these trends was a deep sense of unease about the prospects for liberal progress in Russia.
There was a general feeling that Russian civilization was doomed. In Belyi’s novelPetersburg(1913) one of the characters is a bomb. Fear and loathing of the ‘dark’ masses lay at the root of this cultural pessimism. ‘The people’ had lost their abstract purity: in 1905 they had behaved as ordinary people, driven by envy, hatred and greed. One could not build a new civilization on such foundations. Even Gorky, the self-proclaimed champion of the common man, expressed his deepest fears forcefully. ‘You are right 666 times over,’ he wrote to a literary friend in July 1905, ‘[the revolution] is giving birth to real barbarians, just like those that ravaged Rome.’80 From this point on, Gorky was plagued by

the fear— and after 1917 by the terrible realization — that the ‘people’s revolution’ for which he had struggled all his life would destroy Russian civilization.
Many of these themes came together inVekhi (Landmarks),a collection of essays published in 1909 by a group of philosophers critical of the radical intelligentsia and its role in the 1905 Revolution. The essays caused a storm of controversy— not least because their writers all had had spotless intelligentsia (i.e. politically radical) credentials — which in itself was symptomatic of the intelligentsias new mood of doubt and self-questioning. Much of the uproar was caused by their portrayal — echoed by Boris Savinkov’s novelThe Pale Horse(1909)— of the revolutionary as a crippled personality driven to pathological destruction, amoral violence and cruelty, and the pursuit of personal power. The cult of the revolutionary hero was so intrinsic to the intelligentsia’s self-identity that such debunking was bound to throw it into existentialcrisis. In one of theVekhiessays Struve condemned the intelligentsia for its failure to recognize the need to co-operate with the state in the construction of a legal order after the October Manifesto. Until the intelligentsia abandoned its habits of revolutionary opposition and sought instead to teach the masses respect for the law, the tsarist state would remain the only real protection against the threat of anarchy.
Frank and Berdyaev argued that the atheist and materialist attitudes of the intelligentsia had tempted it to subordinate absolute truths and moral values to ‘the good of the people’. On this utilitarian principle the revolutionaries would end by dividing society into victims and oppressors, and out of a great love for humanity would be a born a great hatred and desire for vengeance against particular men. B. A. Kistiakovsky condemned the tendency of the radical intelligentsia to dismiss the ‘formality’ of law as inferior to the inner justice of ‘the people’. The law, argued Kistiakovsky, was an absolute value, the only real guarantee of freedom, and any attempt to subordinate it to the interests of the revolution was bound to end in despotism. Another essayist, A. S. Izgoev, ridiculed the infantile Leftism of the students, who blamed the government for every ill, and adopted the most extreme views in the belief that it made them more ‘noble’. Finally, M. O. Gershenzon summed up the duties that now confronted the endangered intelligentsia:
The intelligentsia should stop dreaming of the liberation of the people— we should fear the people more than all the executions carried out by the government, and hail this government which alone, with its bayonets and its prisons, still protects us from the fury of the masses.81

In the long run the Bolsheviks were the real victors of the 1905 Revolution. Not that they came out from it any stronger than their main rivals; in many ways they suffered relatively more from the repressions after 1905 and, but for the financial support of wealthy patrons such as Gorky, might well not have survived the next twelve years. The few openings that remained for the socialist press and the trade unions were better exploited by the Mensheviks, whose dominant right wing (the so-called Liquidators) ceased all underground activities in order to concentrate on developing legal organizations. By 1910 not a single underground newspaper was still in print in Russia. Of the 10,000 Social Democrats who remained in the country, fewer than 10 per cent were Bolsheviks. Mass arrests, the exile of its leaders and constant surveillance by the police reduced the Bolsheviks to a tiny underground sect. The Okhrana’s infiltration of their party was such that several of Lenin’s most trusted lieutenants turned out to be police spies, including both secretaries of the Petersburg Committee and the head of the Bolshevik faction in the Fourth Duma, Roman Malinovsky.
Nor were the Bolsheviks immune to the factional splits that crippled all the socialist parties after 1905, despite the Soviet (and anti-Soviet) myth of a unified party under Lenin’s command. As with the Mensheviks and SRs, the most heated argument among the Bolsheviks concerned the use of legal and illegal methods. All Bolsheviks were agreed on the primacy of the revolutionary underground. But some, like Lenin, also wanted to exploit the available legal channels, such as the Duma and the trade unions, if only as a ‘front’ for their own mass agitation; whereas others, like Bogdanov, Lenin’s co-founder of the Bolshevik faction, argued that this would only encourage the workers to believe in ‘constitutional illusions’. The conflict was mixed up with two other issues: the Bolsheviks’ controversial use of ‘expropriations’ (i.e. bank robberies) to finance their activities; and the desire of many Bolsheviks, especially among the rank and file, for the two Social Democratic factions to mend their differences and reunite.
Yet the consequences of 1905 were set to divide the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks even more than the Party Congress of 1903. It was only after 1905 that the rival wings of the Social Democratic movement emerged as two distinctive parties, each with its own political culture, system of ethics, philosophy and methods. Lenin’s tactical shifts made all the difference. The basic tenets of the Bolshevik political philosophy had already been formed by 1903, but it was only after 1905, as Lenin digested the practical lessons of the failed revolution, that its unique strategic features began to emerge. Hence Lenin’s reference, fifteen years later, to the 1905 Revolution as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the Bolshevik seizure of power.82
As Lenin later came to see it, three things had been made clear by 1905: the bankruptcy of the ‘bourgeoisie’ and its liberal parties as a revolutionary force; the immense revolutionary potential of the peasantry; and the capacity of

the nationalist movements in the borderlands to weaken the Empire fatally. He argued for a break with the orthodox Marxist assumption, held as a matter of faith by most of the Mensheviks, that a backward country like Russia would have to go through a ‘bourgeois-democratic revolution’, accompanied by several decades of capitalist development, before its working class would be sufficiently advanced to take power and install a socialist system. It was not true, Lenin claimed, that the workers would have to follow the lead of the liberal ‘bourgeoisie’ in overthrowing Tsarism, since they could form a revolutionary government of their own in alliance with the peasants and the national minorities. This concept of working-class autonomy was to become a powerful weapon in the hands of the Bolsheviks. When the workers renewed their strikes and protests after 1912 they turned increasingly to the leadership of the Bolsheviks, whose support for militant action against the ‘bourgeoisie’ matched their own growing sense of working-class solidarity in the wake of 1905.
Trotsky advanced a similar idea in his theory of the ‘permanent revolution’ which he had taken from the Marxist theoretician Parvus and developed from his analysis of the 1905 Revolution,Results and Prospects.Although still a Menshevik (pride prevented him from joining Lenin’s party), Trotsky’s theory fitted better with the revolutionary Bolshevism which he would espouse in 1917 than with the mainstream of Menshevism, as voiced by Plekhanov and Axelrod, which insisted that the bourgeois revolution was a prerequisite of real socialism.* The Russian bourgeoisie, Trotsky said, had shown itself to be incapable of leading the democratic revolution. And yet this feebleness of capitalism’s own agents would make it possible for the working class to carry out its revolution earlier than in the more advanced countries of the West. Here was historical paradox raised to the level of strategy. To begin with, the Russian Revolution would have to win the support of the peasants, the vast majority of the population, by allowing them to seize the gentry’s estates. But as the revolution moved towards socialism, and the resistance of the ‘petty-bourgeois’ peasantry increased, further advance would depend on the spread of revolution to the industrial countries of the West, without whose support the socialist order would not be able to sustain itself. ‘Workers of the World Unite!’
In this aspect of his theory— and in this alone — Trotsky remained a Menshevik. For the one thing which united all the various strains of the Menshevik credo after 1905 was the belief that in the absence of a socialist revolution in the West the revolutionary struggle of the Russian working class
* F. I. Dan and E. I. Martynov had also broken with this old Menshevik view (which went back to the 1880s). Their theory of the ‘unbroken revolution’, which they advanced in the newspaperNachaloduring the autumn of 1905, differed little from that of the ‘permanent revolution’.

was bound to fail without the support, or at least the neutrality, of the bourgeoisie. This, in the view of the Mensheviks, demanded a flexible approach to the liberal parties after 1905; it was in their mutual interests to campaign for the dismantling of the despotic state and the establishment of a democracy. The years in which the Duma operated would serve as the last test for this experiment in political reform.

6 Last Hopes
i Parliaments and Peasants
The State Duma finally opened on 27 April 1906. It was a hot and sunny day, one of many in an exceptional Russian spring, and it was with some discomfort that Vladimir Obolensky, the elected deputy for the district of Yalta, squeezed himself into his old tail-coat and set off by carriage for the Winter Palace, where the new parliamentarians were to be received in the Coronation Hall. The Tsar and the Duma deputies regarded each other with the utmost suspicion, both being reluctant to share its power with the other. So the whole occasion was marked by a hostile posturing from each side, as if all the pomp and ceremony, the bowing and genuflections, were really delicate manoeuvres in a beautifully camouflaged battle.
Nicholas had already scored the first victory in having the deputies come to him, not he to the Duma, for the opening ceremony. Indeed it was not until February 1916, in the midst of a grave political crisis, that the Tsar finally-deigned to make an appearance in the Tauride Palace, the seat of the Duma. And as if to underline this royal supremacy, the Coronation Hall of the Winter Palace was sumptuously furnished to greet the parliamentary deputies. The throne was draped in ermine with the crown, the sceptre, the seal and the orb placed at its feet on four little camp-stools. The miraculous icon of Christ was placed, like a holy protector, before it, and solemnly guarded by a retinue of high priests. The deep basses of the choir, dressed in cassocks of crimson and gold, sang verse after verse of ‘God Save the Tsar’, as if on purpose to keep the congregation standing, until, at the height of the fanfare’s crescendo, the royal procession arrived.
On one side of the hall stood the great and the good of autocratic Russia: state councillors, senators, ministers, admirals, generals and members of the court, all of them turned out in their brilliant dress uniforms dripping with medals and golden braid. Facing them were the parliamentary leaders of the new democratic Russia, a motley collection of peasants in cotton shirts and tunics, professional men in lounge suits, monks and priests in black, Ukrainians, Poles, Tatars and others in colourful national costumes, and a small number of nobles in evening dress. ‘The two hostile sides stood confronting each other’, recalled

Obolensky. ‘The old and grey court dignitaries, keepers of etiquette and tradition, looked across in a haughty manner, though not without fear and confusion, at the «people off the street», whom the revolution had swept into the palace, and quietly whispered to one another. The other side looked across at them with no less disdain or contempt.’ One of the socialist deputies, a tall man in a worker’s blouse, scrutinized the throne and the courtiers around it with obvious disgust. As the Tsar and his entourage entered the hall, he lurched forward and stared at them with an anguished expression of hatred. For a moment it was feared that he might throw a bomb.
The court side of the hall resounded with orchestrated cheers as the Tsar approached the throne. But the Duma deputies remained completely silent. ‘It was’, Obolensky recalled, ‘a natural expression of our feelings towards the monarch, who in the twelve years of his reign had managed to destroy all the prestige enjoyed by his predecessors.’ The feeling was mutual: not once did the Tsar glance towards the Duma side of the hall. Sitting on his throne he delivered a short and perfunctory speech in which he promised to uphold the principles of autocracy ‘with unwavering firmness’ and, in a tone of obvious insincerity, greeted the Duma deputies as ‘the best people’ of his Empire. With that, he got up to leave. The parliamentary era had begun. As the royal procession filed out of the hall, tears could be seen on the face of the Tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress. It had been a ‘terrible ceremony’, she later confided to the Minister of Finance. For several days she had been unable to calm herself from the shock of seeing so many commoners inside the palace. ‘They looked at us as upon their enemies and I could not stop myself from looking at certain faces, so much did they seem to reflect a strange hatred for us all.’1
This ceremonial confrontation was only a foretaste of the war to come. The whole period of Russian political history between the two revolutions of 1905 and February 1917 could be characterized as a battle between the royalist and parliamentary forces. To begin with, when the country was still emerging from the revolutionary crisis, the court was forced to concede ground to the Duma. But as the memory of 1905 passed, it tried to roll back its powers and restore the old autocracy.
The constitutional reforms of 1905—6 were ambiguous enough to give both sides grounds for hope. Nicholas had never accepted the October Manifesto as a necessary limitation upon his own autocratic prerogatives. He had reluctantly granted the Manifesto under pressure from Witte in order to save his throne. But at no time had he sworn to act upon it as a ‘constitution’ (the crucial word had nowhere been mentioned) and therefore, at least in his own mind, his coronation oath to uphold the principles of autocracy remained in force. The Tsar’s sovereignty was in his view still handed to him directly from God. The mystical basis of the Tsar’s power — which put it beyond any challenge —

remained intact. There was nothing in the new Fundamental Laws (passed in April 1906) to suggest that from now on the Tsar’s authority should be deemed to derive from the people, as in Western constitutional theories.
In this sense, Miliukov was correct to insist (against the advice of most of his Kadet colleagues) that Russia would not have a real constitution until the Tsar had specifically acknowledged one in the form of a new oath of allegiance. For until then Nicholas was bound to feel no real obligation to uphold the constitutional principles of his own Manifesto, and there was nothing the Duma could do to prevent him from returning to the old autocratic ways once the revolutionary crisis had passed. Indeed the Fundamental Laws were deliberately framed to fulfil the promises of the October Manifesto whilst preserving the Tsar’s prerogatives. They forced the new constitutional liberties into the old legal framework of the autocracy. The Tsar even explicitly retained the title of ‘Autocrat’, albeit only with the prefix ‘Supreme’ in place of the former ‘Unlimited’. Nicholas took this to mean business as usual. As he saw it, the limitations imposed by the Fundamental Laws applied only to the tsaristadministration,not to his own rights of unfettered rule. Indeed, in so far as the bureaucracy was viewed as a ‘wall’ between himself and the people, he could even comfort himself with the thought that the reforms would strengthen his personal powers.
And the Tsar held most of the trump cards in the post-1905 system. He was the supreme commander of the armed services and retained the exclusive right to declare war and to make peace. He could dissolve the Duma, and did so twice when its conduct failed to please him. According to Article 87 of the Fundamental Laws he could also legislate by emergency decree when the Duma was not in session, and his government used this loophole to bypass parliamentary opposition. The Duma Electoral Law established an indirect system of voting by estates heavily weighted in favour of the crown’s traditional allies, the nobility and the peasants (still quite mistakenly assumed to be monarchists at heart). The government (the Council of Ministers) was appointed exclusively by the Tsar, while the Duma had a veto over its bills. But there was no effective parliamentary sanction against the abuses of the executive, which remained subordinate to the crown (as in the German system) rather than to parliament (as in the English). There was nothing the Duma could do, for example, to prevent the government from subsidizing Rightist newspapers and organizations, which were known to incite pogroms and which even tried to assassinate prominent liberal Duma leaders. The Ministry of the Interior and the police, both of which retained close ties with the court, were quite beyond the Duma’s control. Thanks to their sweeping and arbitrary powers, the civil rights and freedoms contained in the October Manifesto remained little more than empty promises. Indeed there is no more accurate reflection of the Duma’s true position than the fact that whenever it met in the Tauride Palace a group of plain-clothes

policemen could be seen on the pavement outside waiting for those deputies to emerge whom they had been assigned to follow and keep under surveillance.2
The Duma was a legislative parliament. Yet it could not enact its own laws. Its legislative proposals could not become effective until they received the endorsement of both the Tsar and the State Council, an old consultative assembly of mostly reactionary nobles, half of them elected by the zemstvos, half of them appointed by the Tsar, which was transformed into the upper house, with equal legislative powers to the Duma itself, by a statute of February 1906. The State Council met in the splendid hall of the Marinsky Palace. Its elderly members, most of them retired bureaucrats and generals, sat (or dozed) in its comfortable velvet armchairs whilst stately footmen in white livery moved silently about serving tea and coffee. The State Council was more like an English gentleman’s club than a parliamentary chamber (since it emulated the House of Lords this was perhaps a mark of its success). Its debates were not exactly heated since most of the councillors shared the same royalist attitudes, while some of the octogenarians— of which there were more than a few — had clearly lost most of their critical faculties. At the end of one debate, for example, a General Stiirler announced that he intended to vote with the majority. When it was explained to him that no majority had yet been formed since the voting had only just begun, he replied with irritation: ‘I still insist that I am with the majority!’ Nevertheless, it would be mistaken to present the State Council as either ridiculous or benign. The domination of the United Nobility — to which one-third of the councillors belonged — ensured that it would actas a force of reaction, and it voted down all the liberal Duma bills. It was not for nothing that the State Council became known as the ‘graveyard of Duma hopes’.3
And yet on that first day, when the Duma deputies took their seats in the Tauride Palace, there was nothing but hope in their hearts. Seated on the Kadet benches, Obolensky found himself next to Prince Lvov, who was ‘full of optimism’ about the new parliamentary era. ‘Don’t believe the rumours that the government will close us down,’ Lvov told him with confidence. ‘You’ll see everything will be all right. I know from the best sources that the government is ready to make concessions.’4 Most of the Duma members shared his naive faith that Russia had at last won its ‘House of Commons’ and would now move towards joining the club of Western liberal parliamentary states. The time for tyrants was passing. Tomorrow belonged to the people. This was the ‘Duma of National Hopes’.
No one believed that the Tsar would dare to dissolve the Duma and risk a storm of criticism from the liberal public at home and abroad. It was confidently assumed that Russia’s dependence on Western finance, renewed in 1906 with the biggest foreign loan in its history, would force him to retain the liberal structure of the state. That Nicholas despised ‘public opinion’, and had

no legal obligation to respect it, was forgotten. So too was the fact that Witte, the architect of the new parliamentary order, had just been replaced by Ivan Goremykin, an old-fashioned reactionary and favourite of the court who regarded the Duma as an unnecessary obstacle to his government. The young parliamentarians innocently believed that, so long as they had ‘the people’ behind them, they would be able to force the Tsar to concede a fully sovereign parliament. Russia would follow the path of France after 1789, from the Estates-General to the Constituent Assembly.
The Tauride Palace was the birthplace, the citadel and the burial ground of Russian democracy. Until February 1917 it was the seat of the Duma. During the first weeks of the revolution it housed both the Provisional Government (which moved to the Marinsky Palace on 7 March) and the Petrograd Soviet (which moved to the Smolny Institute in July). Then, for a day, 6 January 1918, it played host to the first fully democratic parliament in Russia’s history— the Constituent Assembly — until it was closed down by the Bolsheviks. No other building on Russian soil has ever been the scene of such turbulent political drama. How incongruous, then, that the palace should have been so graceful and serene. It was built in 1783 by Catherine the Great for one of her favourites, Grigorii Potemkin, who assumed the title of Prince of Tauride after his conquest of the Crimea. Designed in the style of a pantheon, decorated with Doric pillars and classical statues, it was a peaceful suburban refuge from the noise of the capital and was surrounded by its ownprivate park and lakes. The Catherine Hall, where the deputies assembled, had semi-circular rows of seats and a dais at one end bearing Repin’s portrait of Nicholas II. Behind the dais were three large bay windows looking out on to a landscaped vista that could have been painted by Watteau.
To this elegant palace the peasant Duma deputies brought the political culture of their village barns. ‘It was enough to take a look at this motley mob of «deputies» ‘, remarked one shocked senior official, ‘to feel horror at the sight of Russia’s first representative body. It was a gathering of savages. It seemed as if the Russian Land had sent to Petersburg everything that was barbarian in it.’ Hundreds of peasant petitioners came to the Tauride Palace from every corner of Russia: some to appeal about a decision of their local court; some to complain about their taxes; others simply to check up on the activities of their elected delegates. Sergei Semenov found himself among them. He had been sent by a meeting of the peasants in his volost of Andreevskoe with a mandate on the land reforms which, as he recalled, ‘I was supposed to make sure the Duma passed.’ The musty smell of the peasants’ cheap tobacco and their farmyard clothes filled the long corridors of the palace. The floors were covered with the chewed husks of their sunflower seeds, which they spat out regardless of public notices that most of them could not read. Some peasant deputies got drunk in

taverns, became involved in brawls, and when attempts were made to arrest them claimed immunity as Duma members. Two were even found selling ‘entrance tickets’ to the Tauride Palace. It turned out that they had been convicted for petty thefts and swindles, for which they should have been disqualified from standing for election.5
Partly because of this village element, the Duma proceedings had a decidedly informal air. The English journalist Maurice Baring compared the sessions to ‘a meeting of acquaintances in a club or a cafe’.6 A deputy might begin to speak from his seat and continue to address the hall as he strolled up to the tribune. He might break off his speech in mid-sentence to talk to the President or offer a brief explanation of some detail. Sometimes the deputies at the back of the hall would engage in a private debate of their own, and when the President called for order would move out into the corridor. It was as if the politics of the street, or rather of the field, had been brought inside the parliament building. Perhaps the Duma was bound to be disorganized: this, after all, was Russia’s first parliamentary experience; and there were many similar conventions— the National Assembly of 1789 or the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848 immediately come to mind — where novice politicians made a hash of things. And yet it seems that the Russians were by nature especially ill-prepared for the disciplines of parliamentary practice. Even today, in the post-Communist Duma, a similar informality is on display, verging on the manners of the beer-house. Russian democracy can be rather like the Russians themselves: chaotic and disorganized.
Most of the peasant deputies, about a hundred in all, sat with the Trudovik group (Labour), a loosely knit agrarian party, whose main plank was the need for a radical solution of the land question through the compulsory expropriation of all the gentry’s property. This made it the obvious choice of the peasants once their usual party of choice, the SRs, had decided, along with the SDs, to boycott the Duma elections. The Kadets were the biggest party in the Duma, with 179 deputies (including Obolensky and Lvov) out of a total of 478. This was a gross exaggeration of their true level of support in the country, since the Kadets had won much of the vote that would otherwise have gone to the SRs and SDs. But their electoral success had none the less given them a sense of their own legitimacy as spokesmen for ‘the people’. Inspired by this historic role— and a little frightened of it lest they should fail to match the radical expectations of the masses — the Kadets adopted a militant posture of opposition to the government which set the tone for the Duma’s short and troubled existence.
From its opening session, the Duma was turned into a revolutionary tribune. It became a rhetorical battering ram against the fortress of autocracy. On that first day the deputies arrived at the Tauride Palace in a militant mood

and at once began to condemn the repressive violence of the government (no condemnation was made of the left-wing terror). They had come by steamboat down the Neva from the Winter Palace and as they passed the Kresty jail they saw the prisoners waving to them through the bars of their windows. The deputies waved their hats in reply and the symbolism of that moment— the thought that they were being carried into the new parliamentary era thanks to the sacrifices of these ‘politicals’ — brought tears to many eyes. As they took up their seats in the Catherine Hall, the Kadet leader Petrunkevich called on the delegates ‘to devote our first thought and our first free word to those who have sacrificed their own freedom for the liberation of our dear Russia. The prisons are full but Free Russia demands the liberation of all political prisoners.’ His words struck a deep emotional chord among the deputies. Almost to a man they rose to their feet and, turning to the ministers who had come to watch the opening session, cried out, ‘Amnesty! Amnesty!’7
According to the Fundamental Laws, the granting of political amnesties remained the exclusive prerogative of the Tsar. But the aim of the deputies was to force the crown to concede its executive powers to the Duma and, since this seemed a suitable place to start, they included it in their list of demands. These they presented as an Address to the Throne, which also included the appointment of a government responsible to the Duma, the abolition of the State Council, radical land reform and universal male suffrage. For two weeks there was silence, as the crown considered how to respond to theseultra viresdemands. There were various attempts to neutralize the liberals by co-opting their leaders into the government. But, believing they stood on the brink of a second and decisive revolution, they stood firm. Then on 14 May the government finally passed down its first two bills for the Duma’s approval: one for a new laundry, the other for a greenhouse at the University of Dorpat. It was a clear declaration of legislative war. The government was obviously unwilling to co-operate with the Duma. It would not even acknowledge its reform demands.
From this point on it could only be a matter of time before the Duma was dissolved. A battle of nerves ensued as the parliamentarians continued to show their defiance in a series of radical speeches from the tribune of the Tauride Palace. The tension was such that many deputies later claimed to have lost weight in these weeks, though the hot June weather probably helped. From the government’s point of view, the revolutionary mood in the country was still a threat— the peasant war on the manors had revived in the spring with a ferocity equal to the previous autumn’s, while the SR terrorist campaign had still not been quelled — and the Duma’s militant stance was bound to encourage it.
The crux of the matter was the Duma’s determination to appease the peasants with radical land reform. Both the Kadets and the Trudoviks were loudly advocating the compulsory expropriation of all the gentry’s surplus land

(the former with compensation and the latter without). There had been a time, during the ‘Great Fear’ of 1905, when many landowners might have been prepared to accept some form of expropriation in order to save their skins. ‘If we do not make some concessions,’ one besieged squire had argued before his local council of nobles, ‘the revolution will come from below and fires will flare up everywhere from one end of the country to the other.’ Even Trepov had once said to Witte: ‘I myself am a landowner and I would be glad to relinquish half of my land if I were convinced that under these conditions I could keep the remainder.’ But as the revolutionary tide receded, the landowners became less inclined to compromise. The Tsar spoke for them when he said, ‘What belongs to the landowner belongs to him.’ The provincial zemstvos, once strongholds of the liberal opposition, now became bastions of law and order. The United Nobility, which was formed to defend property rights, had powerful supporters in the court, the State Council and the Civil Service. It led the campaign against the Duma’s reform proposals on the grounds that granting additional land to the peasants would not help solve their problems, since these were caused by the inefficiencies of the communal system and not by the shortage of land. The argument was strongly coloured by recent experience: having always viewed the commune as the bulwark of the old rural order, these conservatives had learned in 1905 that it could easily become the organizing mechanism of the peasant revolution. ‘In other countries there is much less land per capita than in Russia,’ declared Prince A. P. Urusov to a meeting of landowners in May 1906, ‘yet there is no talk of land shortage because the concept of property is clear in the minds of the people. But we have the commune— which is to say that the principle of socialism has destroyed this concept. The result is that nowhere else do we see such unceremonious destruction of property as we see in Russia.’8The abolition of the commune and the creation of a peasant landowning class were now seized upon by the gentry as an alternative to the Duma’s radical land reform.
On 8 July the Duma was finally dissolved, seventy-two days after its convocation. New elections were called for a second Duma session the following February. The Premier Goremykin was replaced by Stolypin, a well-known advocate of the commune’s abolition and a proven executor of repressive measures to restore order in the countryside. The liberals were outraged by the dissolution. Prince Lvov, who had been so confident that it would not happen, now wrote of his ‘anger at this blatant attack on the parliamentary principle’, although as a landowner he had opposed the Duma’s land reform. The dissolution transformed Lvov from a moderate liberal into a radical. He was among those Kadets who, as a protest against it, fled to the Finnish resort town of Vyborg, where they signed a manifesto calling on ‘the people’ to rise up against the government by refusing to pay any more taxes or to give any more recruits to

the army.* The Vyborg Manifesto was a typical example of the Kadets’ militant posturing since the opening of the Duma. As for ‘the people’, they were clearly not listening to these liberals. For their Manifesto was greeted with universal indifference. And so the government could now take repressive measures with a quiet mind to silence its brave but naive liberal critics. More than 100 leading Kadets were brought to trial and suspended from the Duma for their part in the Vyborg Manifesto. The Kadets who took their places in the second and third Dumas were on the whole much less radical— and less talented — than those who had sat in the first. Living under the shadow of their party’s ‘Vyborg complex’, they pursued a more conservative line, keeping well within the confines of the tsarist laws, in the defence of the Duma.9 Never again would the Kadets place their trust in the support of ‘the people’. Nor would they claim to represent them. From this point on, they would consciously become what in fact they had been all along: the natural party of the bourgeoisie. Liberalism and the people went their separate ways.
ii The Statesman
Few figures in Russian history have aroused so much controversy as Petr Arkadev-ich Stolypin (1862—1911), Russia’s Prime Minister from 1906 until his assassination five years later. The socialists condemned him as one of the last bloody defenders of the tsarist order. He gave his name to the hangman’s noose (‘Stolypin’s neckties’) administered by the military field courts to quell the peasantrevolution on the land. The railway cars that were used to carry the ‘politicals’ to Siberia were called ‘Stolypin carriages’ (as they still were when they went to the Gulags). After 1917 the most hardened followers of the Tsar would come to denounce Stolypin as an upstart bureaucrat whose dangerous reform policies had only served to undermine the sacred principles of autocracy. But to his admirers — and there are many of them in post-Soviet Russia — Stolypin was the greatest statesman Russia ever had, the one man who could have saved the country from the revolution and the civil war. Hisreforms, they argue, given enough time, would have transformed Russia into a liberal capitalist society, but they were cut short by his death and the war. A popular tale relates that when the Tsar was signing his abdication order he said that if Stolypin had still been alive, this would never have come about. But this of course is a very big ‘if’. Could one man have saved the Tsar? The truth is that Nicholas himself
* Lvov was taken ill on the way to Vyborg and had to return to St Petersburg. So he never signed the Manifesto, although he clearly sympathized with it.

had been sympathetic to Stolypin’s opponents on the Right; and, frustrated by this royalist reaction, his reforms were doomed long before his death.
Stolypin’s fate had in it much that was tragic. Yet his failure had as much to do with the weaknesses of his own personality as it did with the opposition he encountered from both the Left and the Right in Russia. His story is in many ways similar to that of Mikhail Gorbachev. Both were brave, intelligent and single-minded statesmen committed to the liberal reform of an old and decaying authoritarian system of which they themselves were products. Both trod a narrow path between the powerful vested interests of the old ruling elites and the radical opposition of the democrats. They failed in their different ways to see that the two opposing sides were set on a collision course, and that trying to mediate between them could only create enemies in both camps whilst winning few friends. Trained in the monolithic world of bureaucratic politics, both men failed to appreciate that their reforms could only succeed if they gained the support of a mass-based party or some other broad community of interests. They tried to impose their reforms from above, bureaucratically, without attempting to build a popular base, and that, more than anything else, is the key to their political demise.
In his appearance and background Stolypin was typical of that charmed circle of aristocrats that dominated the imperial bureaucracy. Tall, bearded and distinguished, he had considerable personal charm. The Englishman Bernard Pares compared him to ‘a big naive friendly bear’.10 Stolypin came from an ancient noble family which had served the tsars since the sixteenth century and, as a reward for their service, had accumulated huge estates in several provinces. Stolypin’s great-aunt was related to Lermontov and his parents were friends of Gogol and Tolstoy. During his childhood the family had travelled extensively in Europe, and he himself was fluent in French, German and English by the time he enrolled, in 1881, at the Physical-Mathematical Faculty of St Petersburg University.
In one important respect, however, Stolypin was different from the rest of the ruling elite: he had not made his way up the ranks of the St Petersburg bureaucracy but had been appointed head of the government directly from the provinces. This was to become a dangerous source of friction with his rivals. Stolypin’s political outlook was directly shaped by his provincial experience. Even as Prime Minister he remained in essence a country squire, whose primary interest was in agriculture and local administration. His first thirteen years in office (1889—1902) had been spent as Marshal of the Kovno Nobility, a Polish-Lithuanian province where his wife, O. B. Neidgardt, owned an estate. It was here that Stolypin first became preoccupied with the problems of Russian peasant farming. The Kovno region, like most of the west of the Russian Empire, had never experienced the communal system. The peasants owned their plots of land

privately and their farming techniques, as in neighbouring Prussia, were much more efficient than those of the peasants in central Russia where the communal system prevailed. The contrast was strengthened for him in 1903, when Stolypin became Governor of Saratov, a land-extensive province with the communal system. Its peasants were among the poorest and the most rebellious in the whole of the country. In 1905—6 more of the gentry’s property was destroyed in Saratov than in any other province of the Empire. Stolypin’s daughter recalled the sight of ‘the steppe lit up at night by the burning manor houses’ and long lines of carts moving along the red horizon like ‘a peasant army coming back from its wars’.11 All this confirmed Stolypin’s conviction— which he brought with him to St Petersburg and made the cornerstone of his agrarian reform — that the land question would not be resolved and the threat of revolution averted until the communal system was abolished and a stable landowning class of peasants created, which would have an equal stake in the status quo to that of the gentry.
Largely as a result of his resolute measures to restore order in Saratov, Stolypin was appointed Minister of the Interior in April 1906. The following July he became Prime Minister, or Chairman of the Council of Ministers. The Tsar wanted a ‘strong man’ to deal with the country in crisis and stories of Stolypin’s personal bravery circulated freely around the capital. Unlike other provincial governors, who had barricaded themselves into their official residences or fled their posts in terror during the recent upheavals, Stolypin visited the most rebellious villages in Saratov and, in confronting the radical agitators, put to good use what his daughter referred to as ‘his country gentleman’s knowledge of how to dominate peasants’. In one village he persuaded a would-be assassin to lay down his gun by opening his coat to the man and challenging him in front of the crowd to shoot him in cold blood. On another occasion, whilst addressing a village meeting, he became aware of a peasant agitator standing beside him with apparently dangerous intentions. Stolypin broke off his speech and, turning to the agitator, told him to hand him his overcoat. The peasant obediently took the overcoat from the hand of a courier and passed it to the Governor.12 With one arrogant gesture, Stolypin had managed to assert his mastery— the mastery of a squire — over his peasant adversary. This vignette said a great deal about the nature of power in Russia.
These were not isolated examples of Stolypin’s personal bravery. During his premiership there were several attempts on his life, including a bomb blast at his house which killed several servants and wounded one of his daughters. He was not deterred. He wore a bullet-proof vest and surrounded himself with security men— but he seemed to expect nonetheless that he would eventually die violently. The first line of his will, written shortly after he had become Prime Minister, read: ‘Bury me where I am assassinated.’13

‘I am fighting on two fronts,’ Stolypin told Bernard Pares in 1906. ‘I am fighting against revolution, but for reform. You may say that such a position is beyond human strength and you might be right.’ In this, as in all his public statements, there was a certain amount of self-dramatization. Stolypin was nothing if not vain. He liked to picture himself as a man of destiny, fighting in the name of progress against all the odds. His appearances in the Duma always contained an element of theatre. He liked to play to the gallery, making the most of his shortness of breath and the natural spasms in his speech (the result of an unsuccessful operation) to evoke sympathy from the deputies. He encouraged the legend that he had been wounded in a duel.14
Nevertheless, the task he had set himself would truly require an almost Herculean effort. His first aim was simply to restore order. This he accomplished by measures that earned him opprobrium from the liberals. Hundreds of radical newspapers and trade unions were closed down, while nearly 60,000 political detainees were executed, sentenced to penal servitude or exiled without trial during his first three years in office. Thousands of peasants were tried in military field courts. Yet repression alone, as Stolypin well knew, was not enough to strengthen the established order and so he simultaneously mapped out a comprehensive programme of reforms to conciliate the opposition and seize the initiative for the state. He introduced reforms to dismantle the commune and give the peasants property rights and full civil equality; to modernize local government on the basis of citizenship and property rather than membership of an estate; to improve the local courts and regulate the police; to protect civil liberties and end discrimination against the Jews; to provide for universal and compulsory primary schooling; and, among many others, to improve the conditions of the factory workers. In each of these there was a clear political motive: to strengthen the government. Perhaps in this sense, like his hero Bismarck, Stolypin should be described, as Leontovitsch once suggested, as a ‘conservative liberal’.15 For the whole purpose of his reforms was not to create a democratic order, as such, but to strengthen the tsarist system.
The same statist instrumentalism determined Stolypin’s attitude towards the Duma. He saw it as an appendage to the state, a public body to endorse government policies, but not to check or direct the administration. His constitutional model was more Prussian than English. Sovereignty was to remain with the monarch and his executive, and was never to be conceded to parliament. The Second Duma, which convened in February 1907, was tolerated by Stolypin only in so far as it did what he wanted. His administration had done its best to influence the elections and secure the return of its allies, the Octobrists, who had declared themselves a ‘party of state order’. But the 54 elected Octobrists, even if supported by the 98 Kadets and the 60 other Centrist and Rightist deputies, were hardly enough to give the government a workable majority against

the huge bloc of 222 socialists (65 SDs, 37 SRs, 16 Popular Socialists and 104 Trudoviks) now that all the parties of the Left had ended their boycott of the Duma. The 25-year-old Georgian Menshevik, Irakli Tsereteli, who would lead the Soviet in 1917, soon became the hero of this so-called ‘Duma of National Anger’ through his fiery and radical speeches condemning the policies of the government. Nor could Stolypin rely on the peasants to be their usual humble selves. One peasant deputy, from Stolypin’s own Saratov province, caused a great sensation during the debate on the land reforms when he said to a delegate of the nobility: ‘We know about your property, for we were your property once. My uncle was exchanged for a greyhound.’16
With little prospect of finding support for his reforms, Stolypin had no qualms about dissolving the Duma and changing the electoral law so that when the next assembly convened it would be dominated by conservative elements. The electoral weight of the peasants, the workers and the national minorities was drastically reduced, while the representation of the gentry was even more exaggerated. When the Third Duma assembled in November 1907 the pro-government parties (Octobrists, Rightists and Nationalists) controlled 287 of the 443 seats. The Kadets and the socialists were reduced to small and fragmented minorities. Even Prince Lvov, the mildest of liberals, could not find a seat. This, at last, was a Duma with which Stolypin could do business. It was, he believed, a parliament dominated by ‘responsible’ and ‘statesmanlike’ people, who would be able to see the need for a new and constructive partnership between state and nation for the purpose of gradual reform. The radicals called it a ‘Duma of Lords and Lackeys’.
Yet even this ‘king’s parliament’ proved too hard for Stolypin to manage, as he found himself under growing pressure from both Left and Right. The electoral decree of 3 June was technically an infringement of the Fundamental Laws and the liberals were quick to denounce it as acoup d’etat.Even the Octobrists, the new law’s chief beneficiaries, felt uncomfortable with it and aimed to atone for their ‘illegal’ gains by trying to defend and expand the Duma’s powers.
Alexander Guchkov, their leader, had special ambitions for the Duma in the military field. As an industrialist who had served as a Red Cross official in the war against Japan, he could see both the military need and the economic advantage of a big rearmaments programme. The Octobrists were increasingly committed to a policy of imperial expansion, but in their view this could only be achieved if responsibility for the military was shifted from the court to the institutions of the state. There was no point spending more money on the army without at the same time reforming its command, which was dominated by the aristocracy and the military doctrines of the eighteenth century. Russia needed heavy artillery, not more elegant Horseguards. In this conviction

Guchkov was supported by the ‘military professionals’, such as General Brusilov and Stolypin’s own Assistant Minister of War, A.A. Polivanov. Guchkov was Chairman of the Duma’s Committee of Imperial Defence, which had a veto over the military budget, and he used this position to launch an attack on the court’s supreme command. In 1909 the Duma threatened to refuse the navy credits unless its strategic planning agency, the Naval General Staff, came under the control of the Ministry rather than the court. Nicholas was furious. He saw in this ultimatum a brazen attempt by the Duma to wrest military command from the crown, and used his veto to block its Naval General Staff Bill. The fact that Stolypin and his Council of Ministers had supported the bill made matters worse, since now there was a fundamental conflict of interests, with the government taking the view that it should control the armed forces and the court and its allies insisting that this was the sole right of the Tsar. Stolypin offered to resign, and Nicholas was pressed by his more reactionary allies to accept his resignation. But at this moment, having restored the country to a kind of order, Stolypin was indispensable and the royalists had to be satisfied with the lesser triumph of forcing him to reconfirm the Tsar’s exclusive prerogatives in the military sphere.17
Beneath the technicalities of the naval staff crisis lay a fundamental problem that was to undermine Stolypin’s efforts to save the tsarist system by reforming it. As far as the Tsar was concerned, Stolypin’s political programme threatened to shift the balance of power from the court to the state institutions. The Naval General Staff Bill was an obvious signal of this intention. Stolypin stood foursquare in the Petrine tradition of bureaucratic modernization so detested by Nicholas. Everything in his Prime Minister’s conduct was intended to break with the old patrimonial system. Whereas previous chief ministers had been treated as little more than household servants by the Tsar, Stolypin deliberately avoided the court and preferred to spend his weekends at home with his family, as a Western Prime Minister would, rather than on hunting parties with the Tsar and his lackeys. Stolypin viewed the state as a neutral and universal agent of reform and modernization which would protect Russia’s imperial interests. In his view, the state stood above the interests of the aristocracy— even above the dynasty itself — which negated the notion of a social order based on the old estate rankings. Everyone, from the peasant to the prince, was a citizen (so long as he owned property). This essentially Western view of the state was a direct challenge to the Muscovite ideology so favoured by the Tsar and his courtiers, who imagined the autocracy as a steep and mystically sanctioned pyramid of patrimonial power based on a strict social hierarchy headed by the nobility. If Stolypin’s reforms were allowed to succeed, then the Tsar’s personal rule would be overshadowed by the institutions of his state, while the traditional social order would be undermined.

Such fears were fuelled by the old elite groups who all had their own reasons to oppose Stolypin’s reforms and who now rallied to the defence of the Tsar’s autocratic prerogatives. This legitimist bloc was brought together by the naval staff crisis, which presented an obvious threat to the crowns traditional rights. It had powerful institutional support within court circles, the State Council, the United Nobility, the Orthodox Church, the Union of the Russian People, the police and certain sections of the bureaucracy and, although it operated through informal channels, was strong enough to defeat virtually all Stolypin’s political innovations.
His proposal to expand the state system of primary education was defeated by reactionaries in the Church, who had their own interest in the schools. The same fate awaited his legislation to ease discrimination against religious minorities, the Old Believers and the Jews in particular. His efforts to curb the illegal behaviour of the bureaucracy and the police were doomed, since he never had full control of either. The provincial governors, with their family ties at court, constantly sabotaged his reforms, while senior bureaucrats in St Petersburg intrigued against him. As for the actual control of the police, Stolypin was virtually powerless. The Empress’s own candidate, General P. G. Kurlov, was appointed chief of the secret police, over Stolypin’s protests. Kurlov used his position to divert large sums of government money to extremist Rightist groups and newspapers. He placed Stolypin himself under surveillance, intercepted his mail, and kept the Empress informed about his intentions, especially with regard to her favourite Rasputin. When Stolypin was finally assassinated, in August 1911, rumours immediately began to circulate that Kurlov had commissioned the murder. To this day, the rumours have never been proved. But they tell us a good deal about the public perception of the relations between Stolypin and his enemies on the Right.
The United Nobility was by far the most vociferous of these groups. It had been formed in the wake of the 1905 Revolution to defend the gentry’s property rights and its domination of rural politics. Stolypin’s local government reforms threatened the latter by giving the peasants, as landowners, representation in the zemstvos equal to that of the nobles. They also proposed to abolish the peasant-class courts, bringing the peasants fully into the system of civil law. Stolypin saw these reforms as essential for the success of his land reform programme (see pages 232-41). The new class of conservative peasant landowners which he hoped to create would not support the existing order unless they were made citizens with equal political and legal rights to those enjoyed by other estates. ‘First of all,’ Stolypin said, ‘we have to create a citizen, a small landowner, and then the peasant problem will be solved.’
The provincial gentry, however, interpreted this inclusive gesture as a threat to their own privileged position in the rural social and political order.

Stolypin was proposing to establish a new tier of zemstvo representation at the volost level, in which the franchise would be based on property rather than birth. He was also planning to increase the powers of the zemstvos and abolish the land captains, who had previously ruled the roost in the countryside. The effect of all this, as the outraged squires pointed out, would be to end their ancient domination of the system of rural government. The local zemstvos would be transformed from gentry into peasant organs, since for every squire at the volost level there would be several hundred newly-enfranchised peasant smallholders. The squires accused Stolypin of trying to undermine ‘provincial society’ (i.e. themselves) through bureaucratic centralization, and on this basis rallied their forces against him in the Duma, the State Council, the United Nobility and among their allies at court. Too vain to suffer certain defeat, Stolypin gave up the battle. The system of rural administration, by far the weakest link in the tsarist state, stayed in the hands of 20,000 nobles, a tiny and outdated social group which, thanks to its supporters in high places, was able to fend off all reform in defence of its own narrow interests. Had Stolypin succeeded in broadening the social base of local government in the countryside, then perhaps in 1917 it would not have collapsed so disastrously and Soviet power might never have filled the subsequent political vacuum as successfully as it did.
Much the same clash of interests lay behind the famous western zemstvo crisis of 1911, which marked Stolypin’s final demise. With the decline of the Octobrists, as a result of the naval staff crisis and the rightward shift of the landowning squires, Stolypin was obliged to tailor his policies to the other main government party in the Duma, the Nationalists, which had been established in 1909 with strong support among the Russian landowners of the nine Polish provinces. The party, in the words of its historian Robert Edelman, was ‘not so much a party of nationalism as a party of the dominant Russian nationality in a multinational Empire’.18 The zemstvos had never been established in these western provinces, since most of the landowners were Poles and the Polish Rebellion of 1863 was still fresh in the memory of Alexander II. But the Nationalist Party campaigned for a western zemstvo bill, arguing that Russia’s imperial interests in these crucial borderlands could be guaranteed by a complex voting procedure based on nationality as well as property. Stolypin knew this western region from his days in Kovno. The peasant smallholders, who were mainly Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian, were among the most advanced in the Empire and he expected them to develop rapidly into yeoman farmers under his agrarian reforms. If they were given the largest share of the vote in the zemstvos, as planned by the lower property franchise of his Western Zemstvo Bill, they might become the model yeoman-citizens of the Russian imperial state.

An area formerly dominated by Polish landowners would be ruled by Russians,* albeit of peasant origin.
The bill was passed by the Duma but defeated in the State Council, where the gentry’s fundamentalists were unwilling to see the privileges of the noble estate (even its Polish element) sacrificed to ensure the domination of Russian interests; the fact that the Poles were aristocrats should in their view take precedence over the fact that the peasants were Russian. Their opposition was encouraged by Trepov and Durnovo, favourites at court, who sought to use this opportunity to bring down their rival. They ensured the bill’s defeat by persuading the Tsar to go behind Stolypin’s back and issue a statement encouraging the deputies to vote as their ‘conscience’ dictated (i.e. implying they should vote against the government). It was a clear vote of no confidence in Stolypin engineered by the court and its camp followers on the Right. But there was still one glimmer of hope. Nicholas had second thoughts about his role in the plot and promised Stolypin that if the bill was reintroduced, he would support its passage through the upper chamber. Stolypin, however, was not a man to compromise. He was unaccustomed to opposition and was poorly versed in the skills of the modern politician, skills which might have enabled him to negotiate a way through. Rather than wait for a second reading of the bill he chose to make a firm stand on the first, realizing in any case that his career was probably finished. He threatened to resign unless the Tsar prorogued the Duma and the State Council and passed the bill by emergency decree under Article 87 of the Fundamental Laws. He also demanded that Durnovo and Trepov should be expelled from the capital. After four days of consideration Nicholas finally agreed to Stolypin’s demands. On 14 March, with the two chambers closed, he promulgated the Western Zemstvo Bill and ordered Durnovo and Trepov to leave St Petersburg until the end of the year. It had taken several hours of persuasion by his mother, the eminently sensible Dowager Empress, to get the Tsar to go against the advice of his wife (who was at the centre of the plot against Stolypin). When he received Stolypin at the Gatchina Palace his face was ‘red from weeping’.19
Stolypin had prevailed by sheer force of character. But his high-handed tactics in the western zemstvo crisis alienated almost everyone and his political fortunes now declined rapidly. The Tsar had been deeply humiliated by his own Prime Minister and, spurred on by his royalist cronies, now sought revenge. The liberals were outraged by Stolypin’s contemptuous treatment of the Duma. Guchkov resigned from its presidency and the Octobrists moved into opposition; the Nationalists were the only Duma faction to support Stolypin in a motion
* Like all Great-Russian nationalists, Stolypin counted the Ukrainians and Belorussians as bearers of the Russian national idea.

of censure. Isolated and spurned, Stolypin himself lost all his former confidence, lost sleep and became moody.20 He sensed that his days were numbered.
At the end of August 1911 Stolypin arrived in Kiev for celebrations to mark the unveiling of a monument to Alexander II. He had long been prepared for a violent death and before he left St Petersburg had entrusted one of his senior aides with a box of secret papers which he ordered to be destroyed should he fail to return. He ignored police warnings of a plot to kill him and travelled to Kiev without bodyguards. He refused even to wear his bullet-proof vest. On I September the Kiev Opera put on a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’sThe Legend of Tsar Sultan.Nicholas and his four daughters occupied the royal box near the orchestra, while Stolypin sat in the front row of the stalls. During the second interval, while he stood talking with Count Fredericks in front of the orchestra pit, a young man in evening dress approached and, drawing a revolver from under his programme, fired twice at Stolypin. One bullet struck him in the right arm, the other in his chest, where a medal deflected it into his liver. Slowly, as if unaware of what had happened, Stolypin took off his gloves, carefully placed them on the barrier and unbuttoned his jacket, whereupon he saw his waistcoat covered in blood and sank into a chair. In a voice audible to all those around him, he said, ‘I am happy to die for the Tsar,’ and, on seeing him in the royal box above, lifted his hands and motioned him to withdraw to safety. Nicholas remained standing there and Stolypin, in a last theatrical gesture, blessed him with a sign of the cross. For four days the Prime Minister’s condition remained stable. The Tsar continued with the programme of celebrations in Kiev and visited him in hospital. But on 5 September, Stolypin began to slip away. He died that evening. The Tsar came the next morning and said prayers by his bedside. Over and over he repeated the words, ‘Forgive me.’21
* * * The man who shot Stolypin was D. G. Bogrov, a student-revolutionary turned police informer through financial need. Nobody ever managed to discover which side Bogrov was working for— the Right or the Left — and in a sense that is the real point. For Stolypin had many enemies on either side. Long before Bogrov’s bullet killed him, he was politically dead.
Stolypin’s political demise must be explained by his failure as a politician. Had he been better versed in ‘the art of the possible’, perhaps he could have gained more time for himself and his reforms. Stolypin had said that he needed twenty years to transform Russia. But partly through his own fault he had only five. He adhered so rigidly to his own aims and principles that he lost sight of the need to negotiate and compromise with his opponents. He antagonized the old political elites by riding roughshod over their traditional privileges and lost the support of the liberals by suppressing the Duma whenever it stood in his way. This political inflexibility stemmed from his narrow bureaucratic outlook.

He acted as if everything had to be subordinated to the interests of the state, as these were defined by his reforms, and believed that this placed him above the need to involve himself in the dirty business of party manoeuvring. He thought he could get his reforms by administrative that, and never moved outside the bureacracy to mobilize a broader base of support. Although he acknowledged that the key to his programme was the creation of a conservative peasant landowning class, he never considered the idea of sponsoring the foundation of a smallholders’ party. There was a Stolypin but no Stolypinites. And so when Stolypin died his reforms died with him.
According to some historians, the tsarist regime’s last real hope was wiped out by the assassin’s bullets. Stolypin’s reforms, they argue, were its one real chance to reform itself on Western lines. If only they had been given more time, instead of being disrupted by the First World War, then perhaps the Revolution of 1917 would not have taken place. This optimistic view rests on two assumptions: that Stolypin’s reforms were succeeding in their aims; and that they were capable of stabilizing Russia’s social system after the crisis of 1905. Both assumptions are patently false.
First, the reforms made relatively little headway in moving Russia towards a constitutional parliamentary order. Indeed some of Stolypin’s own methods— such as thecoup d’etatof June 1907 and his tactics over the Western Zemstvo Bill— were a flagrant abuse of that system’s ideals. True, there were some gains in civil liberties, in the freedom of the press, and in the fact that the Duma itself continued to exist, if only as a symbol and a school for the new culture of constitutionalism, between 1906 and 1914.* But this hardlymeant that tsarist Russia was necessarily moving towards some sort of Western liberal normality. The nature of the tsarist regime was the single biggest guarantee of its own political irreformability. The Muscovite ideology of patrimonial autocracy which Nicholas and the Rightists increasingly favoured was deeply hostile to the Western constitutional vision entailed in Stolypin’s programme of reforms; and the entrenched powers of the court, together with the vested interests of the Church and the provincial nobility, were quite strong enough to prevent that programme from ever being realized.Once the revolutionary crisis of 1905—7 had passed, the monarchy no longer needed the protection of Stolypin, and increasingly detached itself from his government, paralysed its programme,
* This last cultural aspect was a crucial one— and itself a sign of the mountain to be climbed — for the introduction of a constitutional order in a country such as Russia which then (as today) had no real traditions of constitutionalism. Whereas in Western countries the constitution merely had to guarantee the rights of a pre-existing civil society and culture, in Russia it also had tocreatethese. It had to educate society— and the state itself — into the values and ideas of liberal constitutionalism.

and began to pursue its own separate agenda, based increasingly after 1912 on the use of Russian nationalism to rally ‘the loyal people’ behind the throne.
Second, by 1912, if not before, it had already become clear that no package of political reforms could ever resolve the profound social crisis that had caused the first crack in the system during 1905. True, for a while, largely as a result of government repressions, the labour movement subsided and showed signs of greater moderation, enough to give grounds for the Menshevik hope that it might evolve on European lines. But in the two years after 1912 there was a dramatic increase in both the number of industrial strikes and in their level of militancy, culminating in July 1914 with a general strike in St Petersburg, where in the midst of a state visit by the French President there was street fighting and barricades. The workers of the capital cities, according to Leo Haimson’s seminal work of thirty years ago, were rapidly turning away from all the democratic parties— including even the Mensheviks — which advocated the adoption of constitutional or gradualist methods, and were moving over to the Bolsheviks, who encouraged direct workers’ action and a violent struggle against the regime.22 Despite all the efforts at political reform, urban Russia on the eve of the First World War found itself on the brink of a new and potentially more violent revolution than the ‘dress rehearsal’ of 1905.
inThe Wager on the Strong
The exiled peasant returned to his village on a cold April morning in 1908. It had taken him nearly three days by train, horse and cart to travel the one hundred miles from Moscow, and as he neared his birthplace his hopes of finding some improvement made during his two years of absence increased. But the village of Andreevskoe had never been a dynamic sort of place. The currents of modern civilization had somehow passed it by, and as he returned to it now, fresh from the sights of England and France, Sergei Semenov saw only familiar signs of backwardness and decay. The black strips of ploughed land seemed narrower and more ragged than ever, the tussocks in the meadow had grown to the size of small bushes, the woods had been cut down, the cattle allowed to roam freely over the gardens, and weeds sprouted in the main village street. Semenov’s neighbour, once a hard-working peasant, had taken to the bottle, while his eight children went without shoes. But what depressed Semenov most was to learn that the elders of the village were the same old patriarchs who had been there when he left. For they would now have even more reason to regard his plans for reform with hostility and mistrust.23
Chief among the elders was Grigorii Maliutin, a heavy-built and heavy-drinking septuagenarian, with a big red-blistered face and a long white beard,

who had been the dominant elder for as long as anyone could remember. Maliutin was the richest peasant in Andreevskoe, living partly on the profits from his son’s soap factory near Moscow, and for his age he was surprisingly strong. Vain and jealous of his power, he was a strict disciplinarian, a village despot of the old school, who still beat his elderly wife and, as the elder of the village, flogged any peasant found guilty of a crime. Most of the villagers lived in fear of him. Maliutin’s main ally was another relic from the days of serfdom, Yefim Stepanov, who over the years had made himself rich by scrimping and saving like a miser. He always wore the same old dirty clothes, fed his animals only just enough to keep them alive, and never once gave anything to the beggars outside church. Both men were illiterate Old Believers, and they were united by their fear of change. Their power over the village depended on keeping it sealed off from the modern world. Maliutin made a habit of denouncing every new invention, from the samovar to the sowing machine, as ruinously wasteful. Even to think of them caused him pain.24
What could be worse, then, than for them to see the return of their arch-rival Sergei Semenov. Semenov had been born in 1868 into a poor peasant family in Andreevskoe. Like Semen Kanatchikov, whose village of Gusevo was in the same district of Volokolamsk, he was sent out as a young boy to earn his own living in Moscow. His father, like Kanatchikov’s, was an alcoholic, and his mother did most of the work on the farm, which did not yield enough to support him. Between the ages of ten and eighteen Semenov roamed from factory to factory, at first in Moscow and then in Petersburg, Poltava and Ekaterinoslav, sending money home to his family and returning to the village at harvest time. He taught himself to read and at the age of eighteen began to write stories of village life. One day he turned up on Tolstoy’s doorstep at Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy admired Semenov’s tales— here was his ideal of the ‘peasant writer’ — and the two men became life-long friends. Semenov was a quiet and a modest man. ‘Small and thin, with a red goatee beard, a sad intelligent face, and a sensitive, almost child-like, shyness, he always dressed like a peasant in a tunic and’, according to one of his Moscow friends, ‘looked more like a village clerk than a litterateur.’ Unlike Kanatchikov, he never hankered for the bright lights of the city. At the age of twenty he returned to Andreevskoe, married a local village girl, and took over the running of his father’s farm. His bitter childhood had turned him into a firm believer in reform. ‘I was always driven by a burning desire to improve the life of my village, to end its dark and backward ways,’ he later wrote. This belief in progress was the source of his commitment to the revolution and — closely connected — to his own self-improvement. He gave up drink and saved up to buy handbooks on agriculture. The Volokolamsk district was fast becoming a major centre of flax cultivation — perhaps the most important form of intensification on the Russian peasant farm — and handsome

profits could be made from it. Semenov was in the forefront of this movement. He rented extra land from a nearby squire and grew not only flax but a variety of other market crops with the latest farming methods. He began to campaign for land reform in Andreevskoe, and so came into bitter conflict with Maliutin.25
The feud between them had begun with a skeleton. Maliutin’s daughter, Vera, had given birth to a baby out of wedlock. Out of shame she murdered it and buried its body in the woods. Somehow the authorities found out and the police arrived in the village to investigate. Maliutin managed to buy them off, and the matter was quietly dropped. But for a long time he accused Semenov of having informed the authorities. With his supporters he began a campaign of intimidation to drive Semenov out of the village. They burned down his barn, killed his livestock, took away his tools and accused him of sorcery. The local church added its voice to this charge. Semenov was an atheist. He refused to receive priests in his house, and on Sundays and other holidays was the only peasant to be seen working in the fields. But even worse, he was also a follower of Tolstoy, who had been excommunicated. In 1902 Semenov was finally convicted of sorcery in the ecclesiastical courts and imprisoned for six months.26
On his release, he returned to his village, this time to join the peasant revolutionary struggle. He was among that remarkable group of local peasants, agronomists and teachers, who established the reading clubs, the co-operatives and the peasant unions in Volokolamsk district, culminating in the Markovo Republic of 1905—6 (see pages 183—4-). This gave Maliutin a second chance to strike a blow at his rival, and he now informed the police that the village contained a dangerous revolutionary. Semenov was arrested in July 1906, along with the peasant leaders of Markovo, and imprisoned for two months in Moscow before being sent into exile abroad. With Tolstoy’s financial help, Semenov spent the next eighteen months touring the countryside of England and France. Seeing the farming methods practised in the West merely strengthened his conviction of the need for a complete overhaul of the communal system in Russia. It burdened the Russian peasants with an inefficient system of land use and stifled their initiative as individual farmers. Under the communal system, the peasants held their land in dozens of narrow arable strips scattered across the village domain. Semenov’s own 10desyatiny(27 acres) consisted of over 50 different strips in a dozen different locations. The strips were far too narrow— some of them no more than three feet wide — for modern ploughs and harrows; and far too much time was wasted in moving from one to another. The periodic redistribution of the strips left little incentive to improve the soil, since any benefits from this might be lost in the subsequent reallocation of the strips. There was little prospect of introducing advanced crop-rotations because in the open-field system everyone was obliged to follow the same pattern of cultivation so as to allow the cattle to graze on the stubble simultaneously, and, if only by

force of numbers, inertia set in. ‘It was my dream’, Semenov wrote, ‘to set up an enclosed farm of my own with a seven-field rotation and no more narrow strips.’27
Having left the village as a revolutionary, he was now returning to it as a pioneer of the government’s own policies. His dream had also become that of Stolypin: the dismantling of the commune. But unlike Semenov, who saw this only in agronomic terms, Stolypin also linked it to the creation of a new class of peasant landowners, who, by owning property and growing more wealthy, would learn to respect the rights of the squires and give up their revolutionary aspirations. ‘The government’, Stolypin told the Duma in 1908, ‘has placed its wager, not on the needy and the drunken, but on the sturdy and the strong.’28Entrepreneurial peasants like Semenov were now encouraged to break away from the commune and set up their own private enclosed farms. By a Law of 9 November 1906 they were given the right to convert their communal strips of land into private property on fully enclosed farms outside the village(khutora)or consolidated holdings within it(otruba).The whole village could make this transformation by a vote of two-thirds majority of the household heads. Further legislation followed to speed up the process of land reorganization and to help the separators purchase additional land from the gentry and the state with low-interest credit from the Peasant Land Bank. There was little doubt of the high priority the government gave to this project. This was the first time it had ever really tried to effect a major change in the everyday life of the peasants and the more intelligent ministers and officials knew that, unless a dramatic improvement was made, it was also likely to be the last. Conscious of its historic powerlessness in the countryside, the government pulled out all the bureaucratic stops to facilitate the enclosure process. Four different ministries, hundreds of provincial and district land commissions and thousands of surveyors, agronomists, statisticians and engineers were employed in its administration. The land captains and the other local officials were bombarded with directives from the centre urging them to encourage the separators, and tens of millions of roubles were earmarked to help them. It was as if the regime realized that its own political survival had come to depend on this ‘wager on the strong’.
Stolypin could not have wished for a better pioneer than Sergei Semenov. He embodied the spirit of peasant self-improvement and enterprise upon which Stolypin’s reforms relied. Like Stolypin, he took a dim view of his neighbours’ ways— their disrespect for property, their fear of books and science, their constant drinking and their fighting — which he blamed on the ‘serf-like habits of the commune and the Maliutins of this world’.29
To the Maliutins of Andreevskoe, who saw no need to change the old communal ways, Semenov was nothing but a trouble-maker. They continued to denounce him as an ‘arteist’ (atheist) and a ‘lootinary’ (revolutionary) because

he attacked the Church and the Tsar. They tried to block him from attending the village assembly on the grounds that his old and alcoholic father, whom Semenov continued to support, was still legally the household head. Maliutin argued that to invest time and money in reforms would be a waste. ‘Our grandfathers did it this way— and so shall we.’
Maliutin’s arguments had much to recommend them to the peasantry, who were by their nature wary of reform. There were profound cultural reasons for the peasants to oppose the break-up of the commune, which had been the focus of their lives for centuries. The basic worry was that giving some peasants the right to own part of the communal land, or to hold it privately in perpetuity, would deprive others of their rights of access to this land as their basic means of livelihood. This fear was strongest amongst the junior members of the family, especially the women, for once a household consolidated its land as private property, family ownership ceased to function and the land became the legal property of the household elder. He could bequeath it to one or more of his sons, or sell it altogether, thus depriving the other household members of their inheritance. ‘The peasants’, declared one official, ‘are very hostile to the Law of 9 November,’ because ‘they fear that the peasant elders will sell up the land and their children will become paupers. They say no one should sell land— let them trade what they like but not land.’30 Many peasants were afraid that allowing the communal land to become private property would enable the richest members to buy it all up. There was also a widespread fear that the government surveyors, who had been instructed to encourage the process of enclosure, would reward the separators with more than their fair share of the best land.
And indeed the peasants had real cause to wonder just how the old patchwork of strips, which were often intermingled within the commune, could be disentangled at all. On what terms was a good bit of land in one place to be exchanged for a poor one in another? How were they to divide the meadows, the woods and the rivers, which had always been held in common? And if the new enclosed farms were to build their own roads, wouldn’t these cut across existing boundaries and private rights of way? The peasants were attached to their land in a very particular sense. Most of them had farmed the same strips for many years, knew their peculiar traits and would not easily be parted from them. No one had ever taught them how to calculate the area of a piece of land by multiplying its width by its length, so they had no reliable means of satisfying themselves that two equal plots were in fact the same size. Their fields were divided ‘by eye’ or by pacing out the width of the strips and making rough adjustments where their length or the quality of their soil was uneven. They had no doubt that this primitive method, used by their grandfathers, was a good deal more accurate than the complex scientific methods of the government’s land surveyors, with their suits, their rulers and their tripods. For one thing, the

surveyors could not take into account the detailed variations in the quality of each strip, as the peasants themselves did in endless debates during the land division. Nor could they take into account the various social factors that inevitably influenced the peasants’ allocation of the strips: for giving the best land to the most powerful families had become an important means of preserving traditional peasant hierarchies. It was the biggest farmers, with the most to lose from the break-up of the commune, who usually led the campaign against land reform. And it was not hard for them to stir up a general fear of reform among the peasants, for the existing dispensation had become a part of their everyday life, their family histories and the social structure of the village.31
All these factors played their part in Semenov’s struggle to separate from the commune. To begin with he and his supporters, who were mostly the younger and more literate peasants, tried to persuade the rest of the village to consolidate all their land together, or at least to carry out a communal redivision of the land to reduce the number of narrow strips. But Maliutin and his supporters raised all sorts of objections, and the rest of the peasants were either too fearful of them, or else too fearful of change, to give Semenov and his supporters the two-thirds majority they required to enforce a general consolidation. So Semenov’s group now began to campaign for the right to consolidate their own allotments asotruba.But again they encountered hostile opposition from Maliutin and the other elders. The village broke down into two warring minority camps— one trying to break away from the commune and the other trying to stop them — whilst the majority of the peasants did not know what to think but tried, like sheep, to stay with the largest group. To frighten Semenov, the elders barred his children from the village school and deprived him of access to the communal pastures and woods. Maliutin’s followers beat up his wife, killed his livestock and burned the houses of his supporters. They even threatened to kill the land surveyors when they came to the village; and for eighteen months no surveyor dared re-appear.
Such intimidation was by no means unusual (in many villages troops had to be brought in and martial law imposed to end the violence). It was certainly effective in putting off many potential peasant pioneers. Of the six million individual applications for land consolidation received before 1915, over one-third were subsequently withdrawn by the applicants themselves, largely because of pressure from their neighbours. Of those that were completed (about one million individual consolidations in all), two-thirds had to be forced through by the authorities against the opposition of the commune.32 And yet, as Semenov was to learn, even with the state on their side, it would need considerable determination by the separators to see the thing through to the end.
Bureaucratically, the fate of Stolypin’s reforms was in the hands of the local land captains. They were charged with explaining to the peasants the

advantages of the new mode of farming and with approving their petitions to the land commission, the Peasant Land Bank, and other sources of financial support. Semenov’s land captain, Makarov, was a liberal and educated noble driven to this relatively humble office by bankruptcy and a tragic love affair. Like the provincial governor, he was quite sympathetic to the enclosure movement. This was unusual. The majority of their colleagues in the provincial bureaucracy were opponents of reform. They saw the enclosures as part of a general campaign by Stolypin to undermine the gentry’s domination of the countryside, and tried to block their implementation through inaction and delay. The need to involve the land captain turned out in itself to be a major deterrent to potential separators. For in many areas the captain had played the key role in putting down the agrarian disorders of 1905—7 and peasant mistrust of the captain, as of all government officials, still ran very deep.33
But there was still not much that even Makarov could or would do to help Semenov. The Marshal of the Nobility and the other land captains in Volokolamsk were strongly opposed to the reforms, and Makarov was not prepared to step out of line for fear of losing his job. Nor was he brave enough to use his coercive powers and force through Semenov’s rights in the face of hostile opposition from his fellow villagers. Indeed he never once came to the village for fear of his life. All this played into the hands of Semenov’s opponents, who now stepped up their resistance. Led by Maliutin, they bombarded the local authorities with petty complaints against Semenov. These complaints were cleverly planned to give the authorities an excuse for endless bureaucratic delays over the land reform. They denounced Semenov to the district police for defiling a portrait of the Tsar, so that a detailed investigation had to be carried out before Semenov was deemed worthy enough to own a private plot. They took the question of whether Semenov or his father was to have rights at the village assembly to the volost court, and, when it failed to reach a decision, they took it to the district courts. All of this took up nearly two years. Maliutin also dragged him through the courts with a bogus claim to his allotment land, so that while the case wassub judicehe would be unable to enclose his strips since he had no clear legal right to them.
Semenov’s determination to cut through all these obstacles was quite extraordinary. Most peasants were deterred by far less difficulty, and the enclosure movement lost much of its impetus as a result. The rate of consolidations, after a strong initial spurt, fell sharply after 1909—10. Between 1906 and the eve of the revolution something in the region of 15 per cent of all the peasant households in European Russia consolidated their land as private plots, either in groups or individually, bringing the total of peasant farms in hereditary tenure to somewhere between 27 and 33 per cent.34 Yet for every household that enclosed its land there was another that had tried and failed, either because of

communal resistance or bureaucratic delays, with the result that they lost interest. Most of the separations took place in the west, the south and south-east of the country, where the market was most developed. The separators tended to be either the more market-oriented farmers or, conversely, the poorest peasants, who quickly sold up their private plots and often moved into the cities. The mass of the peasants in the central region of Russia— precisely those who would lead the agrarian revolution of 1917 — were not affected. Stolypin’s reform had failed to alter their communal way of life.
In the end, after more than two years of wrangling, the land surveyors arrived in Andreevskoe with armed bodyguards and the final details of the land consolidation were completed. Of the forty-five households which had originally applied to consolidate their strips along with Semenov, only eight remained. To appease their opponents they were forced to make do with a piece of poor scrubland on the edge of the village. Since it had no suitable pasture, they remained dependent on the village commune’s permission to graze their cattle on its land. Such compromises were a fact of life. Most of the peasant separators preferred to keep one foot in the village, as they could do if they held anotrub(which gave them rights of access to the communal pastures and the woods), rather than run the risks of setting up an enclosed but dangerously isolatedkhutoron their own. The vast majority of Stolypin’s land enclosures were consolidations ofotruba;and the government, despite its preference forkhutora,had little choice but to give them its blessing.
Despite the continued opposition of the communal peasants, who occasionally vandalized their property, Semenov and his fellow separators gradually turned their scrubland into model private farms. They introduced big square fields with advanced crop rotations, sorted seed, chemical fertilizers and modern tools. Their cereal and flax yields increased by nearly half. They built winter sheds for their cows, imported better livestock breeds from Europe, exported milk to Moscow and established a dairy farmers’ union. They also grew fruit and vegetables, which they took by train for sale in Moscow every Saturday. ‘My experience over the past three years’, Semenov wrote in 1913, ‘has convinced me that a bright new future lies ahead of the peasants.’35 And these newly enclosed farmers were the pioneers of a brief agricultural revolution in Russia before the First World War. To a large extent it was they who accounted for the marked rise in peasant living standards noted by recent historians. Thekhutorfarmers, who were generally the strongest of the strong, had three or four horses and perhaps a dozen cows, compared with one of each for most of the communal peasants. They hired labour, bought more land from the gentry and began to set up in business. Here were the winners of the ‘wager on the strong’.
But there were others, especially among theotrubniki,who failed to make it on their own. Many of theirotrubawere actually smaller than the neighbouring

communal allotments, suggesting that they belonged to the weaker peasant households. No doubt some of them had set up on their own with the aim of selling the land and moving into the cities: over one million peasants did just that between 1908 and 1915. But others did attempt to cultivate their enclosed plots, believing that once they were free of the commune they too could become successful farmers. The truth was, of course, that farming an enclosed plot entailed many more costs and risks than the peasants had faced within the village commune, and that trying to do it with inadequate means was bound to end in disaster. The separators had to pay interest on loans from the bank and invest in roads, fencing and water. They also had to provide their own means of transport, tools, timber, pasture and stocks of seed and grain, some of which they would previously have shared with their communal neighbours. The range of communal services which had always made the village the centre of the peasant’s life— the church, the school, the shops and small trades, as well as the personal networks between neighbours — was now closed to them, at least partly. By 1917, many of the private farmers had fallen into desperate poverty and were only too ready to liquidate their farms in order to rejoin the commune and share in the division of spoils as it renewed its war on the gentry’s estates.
The majority of Western historians have tended to assume— often more on the basis of their own ideological prejudices than empirical evidence — that Stolypin’s land reform ‘must have been’ a success. It is argued that were it not for the First World War, which brought the separations to a halt, the reform might have averted the agrarian revolution by converting the peasants into a class of yeoman landowners. This fits with theviewof those historians who stress that tsarist Russia after 1905wasbecoming stabilized and strengthened as a result of its evolution towards a modern society and that, if it had not been for the war, the revolution would never have happened. The bad old days of autocracy were receding, a parliamentary order was taking shape, and Russia, so the argument goes, was fast becoming a real industrial power with a peasantry that not merely fed itself but, thanks to Stolypin’s reforms, was able to export food as well.
In fact, long before 1914, Stolypin’s land reforms had ground to a halt. Stolypin had claimed that they would need at least twenty years to transform rural Russia. But even if they had continued at the same rate as they had been progressing before the First World War, it would have taken the best part of a century for the regime to create the strong agrarian bourgeoisie on which it had evidently decided to stake its future. The land enclosure movement, like every other reform of the tsarist regime, came too late.
Part of the problem was the lack of an adequate bureaucratic structure to implement the reforms, so that they suffered endless delays. The government

was attempting to transform the peasantry’s way of life without any real political leverage in the countryside. Most of the gentry, from the provincial governors down to the local land captains, opposed the reforms and did their best to stop them. Meanwhile, at village level there was no state administration at all, although Stolypin, to be fair, had tried to create a volost zemstvo dominated by the new peasant landowners and it was only the political opposition of the gentry, defending their traditional hegemony over local government, which buried his proposals. The peasant pioneers, like Semenov, thus had no political authority of their own to which they could turn in their uphill struggle to break away from the commune and unless, like him, they showed extraordinary perseverance they had very little hope of succeeding. Without the democratization of local government Stolypin’s reforms were doomed to fail.
Perhaps above all the reforms were fated by their sheer ambition. It turned out to be much harder to impose foreign capitalist ways on the backward Russian countryside than the senior bureaucrats, sitting in their offices in St Petersburg, had been prepared to acknowledge. The village commune was an old institution, in many ways quite defunct, but in others still responsive to the basic needs of the peasants, living as they did on the margins of poverty, afraid of taking risks, suspicious of change and hostile to outsiders. Stolypin assumed that the peasants were poor because they had the commune: by getting them to break from it he could improve their lives. But the reverse was closer to the truth: the commune existedbecausethe peasants were poor, it served to distribute the burden of their poverty, and as long as they were poor there would be little incentive for them to leave it. For better or worse, the commune’s egalitarian customs had come to embody the peasantry’s basic notions of social justice and, as the events of 1917 would prove, these were ideals for which they would fight long and hard.
iv For God, Tsar and Fatherland
In the hills overlooking the western districts of Kiev there are some caves where before the revolution children used to play and, on fine Sundays in the summer, families would come with picnics. One day in the spring of 1911 some children found the corpse of a schoolboy in one of the caves. There were forty-seven stab wounds in the head, the neck and the torso, and the boy’s clothing was caked dry with blood. Nearby were his school cap and some notebooks, identifying the victim as Andrei Yustshinsky, a thirteen-year-old pupil at the Sofia Ecclesiastical College.
Kiev was outraged by the murder. It filled the city’s papers. Because of the large number of wounds on the victim’s body some Black Hundred groups

said that it had to be a ritual murder by the Jews. At the funeral they distributed leaflets to the mourners in which it was claimed that ‘every year before their Passover the Jews torture to death several dozen Christian children in order to get their blood to mix with their matzos’. They called upon the ‘Christians to kill all the Jews until not a single Yid is left in Russia’.36
The ritual murder theory received spurious backing from the so-calledProtocols of the Elders of Zion,a forgery by the tsarist police which had first been published in St Petersburg in 1902, and which long before its enormous success in Hitler’s Europe provided a popular basis in Russia for the myth that the Jews formed a worldwide conspiracy to deprave and subjugate the Christian nations. But it was only after 1917, when many Russians blamed the calamities of the war and the revolution on the Jews, that theProtocolswere widely read. A copy was found among the last effects of Nicholas II after his murder in July 1918. But they were published in several editions between 1905 and Andrei’s murder, and so the charge of the Black Hundred groups that he had been killed for Jewish ritual ends would have sounded familiar and thus perhaps half convincing to many tens of thousands of citizens. There was, moreover, in these years a large ‘scientific’ literature on Jewish ritual murders, vampirism and white slavery, which gave the charges of the Black Hundred groups a certain cachet. In short, as Witte put it, anti-Semitism was ‘considered fashionable’ among the elite.37
During the weeks after Andrei’s funeral rumours spread through Kiev of an organized ritual murder campaign by the Jewish population of the city. The Rightist press repeated the charge and used it to argue against the granting of civil and religious rights to the Jews. ‘The Jewish people’, it was claimed by Russian Banner(Russkoe znamia),had been transformed by their religion into a ‘criminal species of murderers, ritual torturers, and consumers of Christian blood’. Thirty-seven right-wing Duma deputies, including eleven Orthodox priests, signed a petition demanding that the government bring to justice the ‘criminal sect of Jews’. The Ministers of Justice (I. G. Shcheglovitov) and the Interior (N. A. Maklakov) were both convinced of the ritual murder theory, as were most of the government and the court, and it was with the personal blessing of the Tsar himself that they now went in search of a Jewish suspect.38
The man they finally chose was Mendel Beiliss, a middle-aged clerk in a Jewish-owned factory which happened to be near the caves where Andrei’s body had been found. There was nothing unusual about this quiet family man, of average height and build with a short black beard and glasses. He wasn’t even particularly religious and rarely attended the synagogue. Yet for the next two years, as he sat in prison awaiting trial, the most terrible portrait of him was built up by the police. Witnesses were paid to testify that they had seen him violently kidnap Andrei, or had heard him confess to the murder and to his participation in secret Jewish cults. The two physicians in charge of the autopsy

were forced to change their report in line with the ritual murder theory. An eminent psychiatrist, Professor Sikorsky, was even wheeled on to confirm that, based on the soundest ‘anthropological evidence’, Andrei’s murder was ‘typical’ of the ritual killings regularly carried out by Jews. The press had a field day with fantastic stories on ‘Mendel Beiliss, the Drinker of Christian Blood’ and articles by various ‘experts’ on the historical and scientific background to the case.39
Meanwhile, the real cause of Andrei’s murder had already been discovered by two junior policemen. Andrei had been the playmate of Yevgeny Cheberiak, whose mother, Vera, was a member of a criminal gang which had recently carried out a series of robberies in Kiev. Stolen goods were stored in her house before being transported to other cities for resale. On one occasion Andrei had discovered their secret cache. In an argument with his friend he had threatened to tell the police, who were already suspicious. When Yevgeny told his mother, the gang took fright, murdered Andrei, and dumped his body in the caves. All this was covered up by the District Attorney in charge of the investigations, a fanatical anti-Semite called Chaplinsky, who was eager to get promotion by satisfying Shcheglovitov with the head of Beiliss. The two junior policemen were dismissed and others with doubts about the case were forced to keep silent. Chaplinsky even concealed the fact that Vera, who would testify at the trial that she had seen Beiliss kidnap Andrei, had poisoned her own son for fear that he might reveal her role in the affair. Yevgeny, after all, was the one witness who could spoil the prosecution case.
In 1917, when the full extent of this conspiracy became known, it emerged that the Minister of Justice and the Tsar himself had both acknowledged Beiliss’s innocence long before he came to trial, but they had carried on with the prosecution in the belief that his conviction would be justified in order to ‘prove’ that the Jewish cult of ritual murder was a fact. By the opening of the trial, in September 1913, the identity of the real murderers had already been disclosed in the liberal press on the basis of information supplied by the two policemen sacked by Chaplinsky. There were large public demonstrations against the trial. Dozens of attorneys, including the young Kerensky, staged a protest at the Petersburg bar, for which they were suspended. Gorky, who was now living in Capri, wrote a passionate appeal against the ‘Jewish witch hunt’ which was signed by Thomas Mann, Anatole France, H. G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, the heads of all the Oxbridge colleges and dozens of leading politicians throughout Europe. In the United States the Jewish lobby campaigned for the cessation of all financial credits to Russia. But the tsarist government was undaunted by the international scandal and even increased its efforts to get Beiliss convicted. On the eve of his trial a number of key defence witnesses were arrested and sent into secret exile. The judge was received by the Tsar, given a gold watch and

promised promotion if there was a ‘government victory’. During the trial he repeatedly interrupted the proceedings and instructed the jury, which was packed with peasants from an area notorious for anti-Jewish pogroms, to accept what the prosecution had just told them as ‘established fact’. Yet even this was not enough to secure a conviction. The prosecution witnesses— tramps, convicted criminals and prostitutes — all exposed themselves as liars paid by the police. In the five weeks of the trial the name of the defendant was barely mentioned at all, as the prosecution relied entirely on denigrating his religion. ‘How can we convict Beiliss’, asked one of the jurors, evidently realizing that this was what was expected of them, ‘if nothing is even said about him?’40
In the end, amidst widespread rejoicing at home and abroad, Beiliss was acquitted. Six months later he emigrated to Palestine and from there went to the United States, where he died in 1934. Charges were never brought against the criminal gang responsible for the murder of Andrei. Vera Cheberiak was asked by the circus to appear in a pantomime about the Beiliss affair— and a pantomime is more or less what the whole thing was. She continued to live in Kiev until 1918, when she was arrested and shot by the Bolsheviks during the Red Terror (one of its few justifiable victims, one might almost say). As for the tsarist government, it continued to act as if nothinghad happened, awarding titles, promotions and valuable gifts of money to those who had taken part on ‘its side’ in the trial. Chaplinsky was promoted to a senior position in the Senate, while the trial judge was appointed Chief Justice of the Appeal Court. In the eyes of the Western world, however,the Beiliss Affair came to symbolize the struggle between the despotism of medieval Russia and the new European-style society of twentieth-century Russia based upon the civil liberties of the Duma era. The tsarist regime, by siding with the former, had committed moral suicide in the eyes of the civilized world.
Why was the monarchy ready to go so far in the Beiliss trial? The answer surely lies in the general political situation. By 1911 the Duma system had broken down. The two main parties willing to work with the government, the Octobrists and the Nationalists, were both deeply divided and, in the elections of 1912 to the Fourth Duma, their share of the vote collapsed. The old centre-right majority had disintegrated and the Duma was weakened as it drifted through a series of fragile alliances, unable to find a working consensus.* Kokovtsov’s government (1911—14) ignored the Duma, sending it petty, ‘vermicelli’, bills. The Tauride Palace gradually emptied as the influence of parliament declined. Meanwhile, the workers’ movement, which had been largely dormant
* The parties of the Right (the Nationalists and the Rightists) had 154 deputies in the Fourth Duma, those of the Centre (Octobrists and Centre Group) 126, and those of the Left (Kadets, Progressists and Socialists) 152.

since 1906, had revived with a vengeance in April 1912, following the massacre of 500 demonstrating miners on the Lena River in the northern wilderness of Siberia. During the next two years three million workers were involved in 9,000 strikes, and a growing proportion of these were organized under the Bolsheviks’ militant slogans in preference to the more cautious leadership of their Menshevik rivals. The Bolsheviks won six of the nine labour curiae in the Duma elections of 1912 and by 1914 had gained control of all the biggest trade unions in Moscow and St Petersburg. Their newspaper,Pravda,established in 1912 with financial help from Gorky among others, had the largest circulation of all the socialist press, with about 40,000 copies bought (and many more read) by workers every day.41
To the Tsar and his supporters in the court, the Church and Rightist circles, this doubtless seemed both an opportune moment (with the Duma weakened) and a pressing one (with the rise of the militant Left) to roll back the gains of the constitutional era and mobilize the urban masses behind a popular autocracy. Maklakov and Shcheglovitov, the two main government patrons of the Beiliss Affair, had long been pressing the Tsar to close down the Duma altogether, or at least to demote it to the status of a consultative body. It was only Western pressure and the fear of a popular reaction that restrained the Tsar. To these two ministers, in particular, but no doubt to the Tsar as well, who was naive and easily misled, the Beiliss Affair must have appeared as a prime chance (and perhaps the last) to exploit xenophobia for monarchical ends. They must have hoped to mobilize the loyal Russian people’ behind the defence of the Tsar and the traditional social order against the evils of modernity— the depravity of urban life, the insidious influence of the intelligentsia and the militancy of the Left — which many simple-minded Russians readily associated with the Jews. As the pogroms of 1905—6 had already shown, popular anti-Semitism was a vital weapon in the armoury of the counter-revolution. The Union of the Russian People (URP), which was its leading exponent, had been among the first Black Hundred groups to proclaim the ritual murder charge; and it provided an anti-Jewish claque for the prosecution throughout the Beiliss trial. The Tsar patronized the URP (and the government secretly financed it) in the hope that it might one day become a popular monarchist party capable of taking support away from the socialists. Its manifesto expressed a plebeian mistrust of all the political parties, the intelligentsia and the bureaucracy, which it claimed were obstacles to the ‘direct communion between the Tsar and his people’. This was music to Nicholas’s ears: he too shared the fantasy of reestablishing the Tsar’s personal rule, as it had existed in the seventeenth century. The mystical bond between the Tsar and his people was theleitmotivof the Romanov tercentenary year. Even Rasputin’s success was largely based on Nicholas’s wilful self-delusion that the ‘Holy Man’ was ‘just a simple peasant’. In

short, to enter the highest ruling circles it was becoming necessary to flatter the Tsar’s fantasy of a popular autocracy; and expressing support for the URP was the easiest way to achieve this. Leading members of the Church, the court and the government, including the Minister of the Interior Maklakov, all supported the URP.42
The URP was nothing if not a Great Russian nationalist movement. Its first declared aim was a ‘Great Russia, United and Indivisible’. But the nationalist card was a hazardous one for the tsarist regime to play. Its consequences were so difficult to predict. The concept of ‘the nation’ played a key role in the politics of 1905—17. Both the monarchists and the Duma parties used it increasingly in their rhetoric, as they competed with each other for popular support. The idea of ‘Russia’ served as a vital reference point during this era of transition when the old political certainties seemed to be being undermined and yet the new ones had still to be formed. It served as north on the compass Russians used to steer their way through the new politics — much as it does in post-Communist Russia. Every strand of political thought had its own different nationalism. In the case of the URP it was based on racism and xenophobia. The supremacy of the Great Russians was to be defended in the Empire. For the Rightist leaders of the Church it was similarly based on the supremacy of Orthodoxy. But such Great Russian chauvinism was not limited to the Right. All the centre-right parties of the Duma shared the conviction after 1907 that Russia’s best interests, as an Empire in increasing rivalry with the Great Powers of the West, depended on the encouragement of popular nationalist sentiment (for how else were they to raise a strong army?) and on the maintenance of Russia’s domination over the non-Russian borderlands.Stolypin’s government was forced to tailor its programme to meet the demands of this nationalism, especially after 1909 when the support of the Octobrists declined and the government was forced to turn to the Nationalist Party for a majority in the Duma. The detachment of Kholm from Poland (1909), the re-imposition of Russian rule over Finland in most matters (1910), and the measures to guarantee the domination of the Russian minority over the Polish majority in the Western Zemstvo Bill (1911) were all signs of this new official line in Great Russian nationalism. Many of the concessions won by the non-Russians as a result of the 1905 Revolution were taken away again in these years. Stolypin justified his policies on the grounds of imperial defence. After all, he explained to Bernard Pares, the Finnish border was only twenty miles from St Petersburg: and England would hardly tolerate an autonomous state as near as Gravesend.43
* * * The threat of a war in Europe was increasing. The two great Balkan empires, the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian, were both breaking apart under pressure

from nationalist movements. Germany and Russia were lining up for conflict over the spoils, as each sought to advance its interests in the region. The occupation of Constantinople and the control of the Dardanelles, through which half her foreign trade passed, had been Russia’s main imperial ambition since the time of Peter the Great. But she also harboured broader hopes of her own Slavic Empire in the Balkans, hopes raised by the nationalist movements in Serbia, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzogovina.
For a long time such pan-Slavist dreams were seen as the stuff of poetry, not practical politics. The country’s military and economic weakness demanded a cautious foreign policy. As Polovtsov had put it in 1885, ‘Russia needs roads and schools, not victories or honour, otherwise we’ll become another Lapland.’44It was left to the diplomats to defend Russia’s interests in Europe; and this, for the most part, meant conciliating her two powerful neighbours in Berlin and Vienna. The Romanov court had long been in favour of this pro-German policy, partly because of the strong dynastic ties between the ruling families and partly because of their mutual opposition to European liberalism. There was even talk of reviving the old Three Emperors’ League.
After 1905, however, foreign policy could no longer be carried out regardless of public opinion. The Duma and the press both took an active interest in imperial matters and increasingly called for a more aggressive policy in defence of Russia’s Balkan interests. The Octobrists led the way, seeking to stop the decline of their own political fortunes by sponsoring a nationalist crusade. Guchkov, their leader, condemned the diplomats’ decision not to go to war in 1908, when Austria annexed Bosnia-Herzogovina, as a betrayal of Russia’s historic mission to defend the Balkan Slavs. The Russian people, he declared, in contrast with the ‘flabby indolence of official Russia’, was ready for the ‘inevitable war with the German races’, and it was their patriotic sentiments that ‘foreign and indeed our own diplomats must reckon with’. Not to be outdone by such bluster, the right-wing Kadets fashioned their own liberal version of Slavic imperialism. Struve denounced the Bosnian affair as ‘a national disgrace’. Russia’s destiny, he argued in a celebrated essay of that year, was to extend its civilization ‘to the whole of the Black Sea basin’. This was to be achieved (contradictory though it may seem) by a combination of imperial might and the free association of all the Slavic nations— which in hisviewwould look upon Russia as a constitutional haven from Teutonic oppression. Equally anxious to wave the patriotic flag was the liberal business elite of Moscow, led by Alexander Konovalov and the Riabushinskys, who in 1912 established their own Progressist Party on the grounds that the time had come for the bourgeoisie to assume the leadership of the nation. Russia’s control of the Black Sea and the shipping routes through the straits was a principal target of their trading ambitions.45

Much of this bourgeois patriotism was informed by the idea that Europe was heading unavoidably towards a titanic clash between the Teutons and the Slavs. Pan-Slavism and pan-Germanism were two mutually self-justifying credos: the one could not exist without the other. The fear of Russia united all German patriots, while the fear of Germany did the same in Russia. Germano-phobia ran extremely deep in Russian society. The revolution was partly based on it— both as a reaction against the war and as a rejection of the German-dominated Romanov court. This fear of Germany stemmed in part from the Russians’ cultural insecurity — the feeling that they were living on the edge of a backward, semi-Asian society and that everything modern and progressivecame to it from the West. There was, as Dominic Lieven has put it, ‘an instinctive sense that Germanic arrogance towards the Slavs entailed an implicit denial of the Russian people’s own dignity and of their equality with the other leading races of Europe’. The wealth of the Germans in Russia, their prominence in the Civil Service, and the growing domination of German exports in Russia’s traditional markets only served to underline this sense of a racial threat. ‘In the past twenty years’, declared a 1914 editorial inNovoe vremia,’our Western neighbour has held firmly in its teeth the vital sources of our well-being and like a vampire has sucked the blood of the Russian peasant.’ Many people feared that theDrang nach Ostenwas part of a broader German plan to annihilate Slavic civilization and concluded that, unless she now made a firm stand on behalf of her Balkan allies, Russia would suffer a long period of imperial decline and subjugation to Germany. This pan-Slavist sentiment grew as the public became frustrated with the government’s conciliatory approach towards the ‘German aggressors’.Novoe vremialed the way, denouncing the government’s decision, brought about by pressure from Berlin, to recognize the Bosnian annexation as a ‘diplomatic Tsushima’.* The newspaper called on the government to counteract the growing influence of Germany in the Balkans with a Slavic campaign of its own. Numerous Slavic societies were established after 1908. A Slavic Congress was even convened in Prague, where the Russians attempted to persuade their sceptical ‘brothers’ from the Czech lands that they would be better off under the Tsar. By the Balkan Wars of 1912—13 this pro-Slav sentiment had brought together many elements of Russian society. Hundreds of public organizations declared their support for the Slavs, the capital cities witnessed huge demonstrations, and at a series of political banquets public figures called for a firmer assertion of Russia’s imperial power. ‘The straits must become ours,’ Mikhail Rodzianko, President of the Duma, told the Tsar in March 1913. A war will be joyfully welcomed and it will raise the government’s prestige.’46
There is no doubt that the pressure of public opinion played an
* Tsushima was the site of Russia’s biggest defeat in the war against Japan.

important part in the complex series of events leading towards Russia’s involvement in the First World War. By the beginning of 1914 the mood of pro-Slav belligerence had spread to the court, the officer corps and much of the state itself. Prince G. N. Trubetskoi, placed in charge of the Balkan and Ottoman sections of the Foreign Ministry in the summer of 1912, was a well-known pan-Slavist determined to gain control of Constantinople and its Balkan hinterland. Similar views were held by the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, a military man with a powerful influence over the Tsar who in August 1914 was appointed Commander-in-Chief. His father had fought in the Balkan campaigns of 1877—8 and his wife, an ardent Slav patriot, was the daughter of the King of Montenegro. Many generals shared the Grand Duke’s Slavic sympathies. Brusilov was a case in point. Concerned by Russia’s lack of moral preparation for the coming war, he looked to pan-Slav nationalism as a means of uniting the people behind the army. ‘If the Tsar had appealed to all his subjects’, he later wrote, ‘to combine to save their country from its present peril and deliver all their brother Slavs from the German yoke, public enthusiasm would have been boundless, and his personal popularity would have become unassailable.’47
The Tsar himself was slowly coming round to the pan-Slavist camp. By the beginning of 1914 he was of theviewthat the time had come for a firm stand against Austria, if not against her more powerful ally in Berlin. ‘We will not let ourselves be trampled upon,’ he told Delcasse in January. Foreign ambassadors explained this new resolve by the pressure of public opinion. But for the moment Nicholas supported the cautious approach of his Foreign Minister, S. D. Sazonov. Recognizing that a war with the Central Powers was almost certainly unavoidable, they sought to delay it by diplomatic means. Russia’s army, according to the military experts, would not be ready for war until 1917. Nor was the diplomatic groundwork complete: for while the support of France was assured, that of Britain was not. But by far the most pressing concern was the threat of a revolution if Russia got bogged down in a long and exhausting campaign. The memory of 1904—5 was still fresh, and there was nothing the revolutionary leaders would now welcome more than a war. A war between Russia and Austria would be a very useful thing for the revolution,’ Lenin told Gorky in 1913, but the chances are small that Franz Joseph and Nicky will give us such a treat.’48
All this strengthened the arguments of the pro-German faction at court against the headlong drift towards war. In a prophetic memorandum of February 1914 Durnovo warned the Tsar that Russia was too weak to withstand the long war of attrition which the Anglo-German rivalry was likely to produce. A violent social revolution was bound to be the result in Russia, for the liberal intelligentsia lacked the trust of the masses and was thus incapable of holding power for long in a purely political revolution. Durnovo outlined the course of this revolution in remarkably prescient terms:

The trouble will start with the blaming of the Government for all disasters. In the legislative institutions a bitter campaign against the Government will begin, followed by revolutionary agitations throughout the country, with Socialist slogans, capable of arousing and rallying the masses, beginning with the division of the land and succeeded by a division of all valuables and property. The defeated army, having lost its most dependable men, and carried away by the tide of the primitive peasant desire for land, will find itself too demoralized to serve as a bulwark of law and order. The legislative institutions and the intellectual opposition parties, lacking real authority in the eyes of the people, will be powerless to stem the popular tide, aroused by themselves, and Russia will be flung into hopeless anarchy, the issue of which cannot be foreseen.49
Caution was the key-word of the pro-German faction at court. But from Germany’s point of view, if there was to be a war with Russia, then it was better fought sooner than later. ‘Russia grows and grows, and weighs upon us like a nightmare,’ the German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg declared. When the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated by Serbian nationalists it was not in Germany’s interests to restrain its Austrian ally from threatening war against Russia’s last real Balkan ally. This threw the delicate balance of Russia’s foreign policy into disarray. The Russian press clamoured for war in defence of Serbia and there were large public demonstrations outside the Austrian Embassy in St Petersburg. On 24 July 1914 the Council of Ministers recommended military preparations. Otherwise, argued A. V Krivoshein, the influential Minister of Agriculture, ‘public opinion would fail to understand why, at the critical moment involving Russia’s interests, the Imperial Government was reluctant to act boldly’. It was more important ‘to believe in the Russian people and its age-old love for the fatherland than any chance preparedness or unpreparedness for war’.50
This placed Nicholas in an impossible situation. If he went to war, he ran the risk of defeat and a social revolution; but if he didn’t, there might equally be a sudden uprising of patriotic feeling against him which could also result in a complete loss of political control. There was little time to reach a decision, for if Russia was to mobilize its forces it would need a head start on its enemies, who could mobilize theirs very much more quickly. On 28 July Austria finally declared war on Serbia. Nicholas ordered the partial mobilization of his troops and made one last appeal to the Kaiser to forestall the Austrian attack on Belgrade. ‘I foresee’, he warned, ‘that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure brought upon me and forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war.’ Two days later the Kaiser replied, renouncing Germany’s neutrality in the Serbian question. Sazonov recommended a general mobilization, realizing that a German declaration of war against Russia was now imminent (it came on

I August). He warned the Tsar that ‘unless he yielded to the popular demand for war and unsheathed the sword in Serbia’s behalf, he would run the risk of a revolution and perhaps the loss of his throne’. Nicholas went pale. ‘Just think of the responsibility you’re advising me to assume!’ he said to Sazonov. But the force of his Ministers argument was incontrovertible and, reluctantly, the Tsar called for the general mobilization on 31 July.51
Brusilov later claimed that the Tsar had been forced to go to war by the strength of his own people’s patriotic fervour: ‘Had he not done so, public resentment would have turned on him with such ferocity that he would have been tumbled from his throne, and the Revolution, with the support of the whole intelligentsia, would have taken place in 1914 instead of 1917.’ This is undoubtedly an overstatement of the case. The middle-class patriots who assembled in front of the Winter Palace to greet the Tsar’s declaration of war on Sunday 2 August— clerks, officials, high-school students and housewives — were hardly the people to start a revolution. Many of them, according to foreign observers, had been ordered to turn out by their employers or masters. But on that sunny afternoon, as Nicholas stood on the balcony of his Winter Palace and surveyed in the square below him the vast flag-waving and cheering crowds, who then, as one, knelt down before him and sang the national anthem, the thought must have crossed his mind that the war had at last united his subjects with him and that perhaps, after all, there was some reason for hope. ‘You see,’ he told his children’s tutor shortly after in a state of great emotion, ‘there will now be a national movement in Russia like that which took place in the great war of 1812.’52
And indeed in those first heady weeks of August there was every outward sign of a nationalralliement.The workers’ strikes came to a halt. Socialists united behind the defence of the Fatherland, while pacifists, defeatists and internationalists were forced into exile. Patriotic demonstrators attacked German shops and offices. They ransacked the German Embassy in Marinskaya Square, smashing the windows and throwing out the furniture, the fine paintings and even the Ambassador’s own personal collection of Renaissance sculptures on to a bonfire in the street below. Then, to the cheers of the crowd, they sent two huge bronze horses crashing down from the Embassy roof. In this wave of anti-German feeling people even changed their names to make them sound more Russian: thus, for example, the orientalist Wilhelm Wilhelmovich Struve became Vasilii Vasilievich Struve. Bowing to the strength of this xenophobia, the government also changed the German-sounding name of St Petersburg to the more Slavonic Petrograd. Nicholas welcomed the change. He had never liked St Petersburg, or its Western traditions, and had long been trying to Russify its appearance by adding Muscovite motifs to its classical buildings.
‘Everyone has gone out of their minds,’ lamented Zinaida Gippius, the

poet, philosopher and salon hostess of St Petersburg. ‘Why is it that, in general, war is evil yet this war alone is somehow good?’ Most of the country’s leading writers supported the war, and more than a few even volunteered for the army. There was a common assumption among the intelligentsia, searching as ever for a sense of belonging, that the war would bring about Russia’s spiritual renewal by forcing the individual to sacrifice himself for the good of the nation. The meaning of the war, lectured one Moscow Professor of Philosophy, lay ‘in the renovation of life through the acceptance of death for one’s country’. War should be seen as a kind of ‘Final Judgement’. Few intellectuals would have shared the gloomy verdict of Gorky, recently returned from exile abroad: ‘One thing is clear: we are entering the first act of a worldwide tragedy.’53
The press waxed lyrical on this new-found unity of the Russian people.Utro Rossii,the Progressist paper, pronounced that ‘there are now neither Rights nor Lefts, neither government nor society, but only one United Russian Nation’. Finally, as if to consummate thisunion sacr?e,the Duma dissolved itself in a single session of patriotic pomp on 8 August in order, as its resolution declared, not to burden the government with ‘unnecessary politics’ during its war effort. ‘We shall only get in your way,’ Rodzianko, the Duma President, informed the ministers in the Tauride Palace. ‘It is therefore better to dismiss us altogether until the end of hostilities.’54
But such declarations of loyalty were deceptive. The mass of the people had yet to be touched by the war; and the millions of peasants and workers who departed for the Front felt little of the middle-class patriotism that had done so much to raise the Tsar’s hopes. There were no flags or military bands to see them off at the stations and, according to foreign observers, the expression on most of the soldiers’ faces was sombre and resigned. It was their terrible experience of war that would ignite the revolution. The Tsar’s desperate gamble was destined to bring the destruction of his regime.

7 A War on Three Fronts
i Metal Against Men
General A.A. Brusilov on 10 August 1914:
My Dear, Priceless Little Wife, Nadyushenka!
It was exceedingly hard to part from you, my darling Sunny. But my duty to my country and my Tsar, the great responsibility which has been cast upon me and my love for the military, which I have studied all my life, compel me not to give in to any weakening of the will and to prepare with tripled energy for the bloody test which confronts us.
As yet, thank God, all goes well. This morning we are going by automobile to inspect the brave 4th Rifle Brigade. It presents a fine appearance, excellent officers with their regiment commanders and heads of brigades. Very reliable troops.
The spirit of the soldiers is excellent. They are all animated by a firm belief in the righteousness and honour of their cause and so there is fortunately no ground for nervousness or unease. That is remarkably comforting.
I constantly pray to our Lord Jesus Christ that He may grant us, His Orthodox Christians, victory over the enemy. I myself am inverygood spirits. Do not worry, my dearest, be brave, have faith and pray for me .. .
I kiss you passionately.
To the men who led Russia to war there seemed good cause for optimism in August 1914. The memory of the shameful defeat by Japan had been drowned in the bouts of military expenditure during recent years. By 1914, Russia was spending more than Germany on her armed forces: over one-third of all government expenditures.2 It is not true, as historians later claimed, that the Russian army was unprepared for war. In manpower andmaterielit was at least the equal of the German army, and, thanks to the recent improvement of Russia’s western railways, took only three days more than its enemy to complete its mobilization. The Schlieffen Plan— which had been counting on Russia

taking three weeks longer so that the German forces would be able to knock out France before Russia attacked them— was thus confounded and the Germans became bogged down in fighting on two Fronts. But this also saw the end of the widespread expectation that this would be a short war — All over by Christmas’, as the saying went — and it was here that Russia’s real weakness became exposed. For while Russia might have been ready for a short campaign of up to six months, she had no real contingency plans for a long war of attrition. Few indeed had expected such an ordeal. But whereas the other European powers managed to adapt and improvise, the tsarist system proved much too rigid and unwieldy, too inflexible and set in its ways, too authoritarian and inefficient, to adapt itself to the situation as it changed. The First World War was a titanic test for the states of Europe — and it was one that Tsarism failed in a singular and catastrophic way. Few people foresaw this in the first days of theconflict. It was only in the autumn, when the opening campaigns ended in bloody stalemate and the two opposing armies dug themselves in, that the weaknesses on the Russian side first became apparent.
Brusilov had been placed in command of the Eighth Army on the South-Western Front. With his foxy face and cavalry moustache, his genteel manners and clipped style of speech, he was in many ways the perfect image of the aristocratic general. But he was also a professional and was well versed in the new technology of warfare. To begin with, his name was scarcely known among the troops. He had spent the better part of his career in the elite School for Cavalry Officers. But he would soon win the soldiers’ confidence with his brilliant command of them and his tireless efforts on their behalf; and by the autumn of 1916 his name would be famous not just in Russia but throughout the Allied world. As a commander, Brusilov was strictly disciplinarian. He believed that the only guarantee of military success was the army’s own internal cohesion. In this respect he made unusually high demands on his men. Drinking, for example, was strictly forbidden, even among the officers. Yet he also worked day and night to make sure that the soldiers were fed, that they were suitably clothed and armed, and he never hesitated to punish any officer found to be corrupt or indigent in the distribution of supplies. He was at ease in conversation with the soldiers, a talent shared by very few generals, and knew how to raise their spirits on the eve of a battle. Some observers thought that his own deep religious conviction that Russia was destined to win the war rubbed off on his men.3
The original plan of the Russian high command had been to launch an offensive on the South-Western Front against the weaker Austrian forces, whilst defending the North-Western Front against the stronger Germans. But under pressure from France this plan was changed to an all-out offensive on both Fronts to force the Germans to transfer troops from the theatre in the

west and thus relieve the French. The Russian commanders were happy to accede to the French request. Steeped in the military doctrines of the nineteenth century, they believed that a bold attack with plenty of cavalry charges and liberal use of the bayonet would best reflect the bravery of the Russian character. They failed to consider the huge loss of life that such an offensive was likely to entail once it was met with modern artillery and machine-guns.
On the South-Western Front things went well enough. In mid-August the Russians broke through in Galicia, forcing the Austrians to retreat. Brusilov’s reputation as a brilliant Front commander was established here. His Eighth Army advanced 220 versts (130 miles) in the course of the following fortnight, capturing Lvov after heavy fighting (210,000 Russians and 300,000 Austrians were killed or wounded). Brusilov wrote to his wife from the Front at Grodek:
The entire field of battle, for a distance of almost a hundred versts, was piled high with corpses, and there weren’t enough people or stretchers to clear them away .. . Even to give drink and food to all those who were suffering proved impossible. This is the painful and seamy side of war . . . But we have to continue our difficult and terrible task for the good of the Fatherland, and I only pray that God may grant me the strength of mind and spirit to fulfil my duty. As I sit here and write to you I can hear in the distance the booming of cannon and guns, pursuing the enemy. Blood is flowing in endless streams, but there is no other way to fight. The more blood flows the better the results and the sooner the war will end. As you see, it’s a hard and bitter task but a necessary one for victory. But it weighs , terribly on my heart.4
On the North-Western Front, by contrast, the Russian advance soon ended in disaster. An ambitious but hastily concocted plan had envisaged the First Army under General von Rennenkampf invading the Junker heartland of East Prussia, while General Samsonov’s Second Army advanced from the southeast to meet it near the Masurian Lakes, where they would combine and march on Berlin. The plan called for boldness, tactical precision and sound intelligence of the enemy’s movements. None of these qualities was in evidence. On the fifteenth day of mobilization 408 battalions of infantry and 235 squadrons of cavalry moved rapidly west, pushing back the German Eighth Army, which they outnumbered almost two to one. General Prittwitz, the German commander, was thrown into panic and urged a withdrawal to the western banks of the Vistula, abandoning East Prussia to the Russians. Had they followed up their early successes, the Russians might have forced the Germans back. But the Russian commanders delayed their advance and dispersed vital troops and artillery to protect what turned out to be useless fortresses on their flanks and in their rear.

Meanwhile, the demoralized Prittwitz was replaced by Hindenburg and Ludendorff, whose vast superiority over the Russians in tactics and intelligence enabled them to ambush and rout their larger armies. From intercepted wireless transmissions, which the Russians had carelessly sent unciphered, they learned that Rennenkampf’s army had stopped for supplies, and gambled on the assumption that it would go no further. Leaving only a small screening force to deceive Rennenkampf, the Germans transferred the rest of their forces south by train to meet Samsonov’s advancing army. Had Rennenkampf realized what was happening and attacked, he could have won a decisive victory against the German left and possibly brought the war to an end. But the Russians had only a primitive system of military intelligence and no one had any idea of the German troop movements. Unprepared for the massive forces that lay in ambush for it in the forests near Tannenberg, Samsonov’s army was surrounded and destroyed in four of the bloodiest days of carnage the world had ever known until that time. By the end of the battle, on 31 August, the Germans had killed or wounded 70,000 Russians and taken 100,000 prisoners at a loss to themselves of 15,000 men. They named it the Battle of Tannenberg in a symbolic gesture intended to avenge the defeat of the Teutonic Knights at the hands of the Slavs five hundred years before. Unable to bear the humiliation, Samsonov shot himself.
Moving troops back to the north by rail, and with fresh reinforcements from the Western Front, Hindenburg and Ludendorff once again outmanoeuvred the Russians in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes. Fearing a second Tannenberg, Rennenkampf now ordered a panic retreat. The Germans joked that he should no longer be called ‘von Rennenkampf but ‘Rennen von Kampf (‘flight from the battle’). The cost of his incompetence and cowardice was 60,000 Russian lives.5
One of the striking features of this debacle was the callous response of the Russian commanders to its enormous human cost. It was as if any expression of regret for the needless loss of a quarter of a million men was seen as a sign of weakness in the aristocratic circles at Supreme Headquarters. When the French representative there condoled with the Grand Duke Nikolai over the losses, the Commander-in-Chief casually replied: ‘Nous sommes heureux de faire de tels sacrifices pour nos alliees.’6 By forcing the Germans to withdraw troops from the Western theatre, the Russian advance had in fact helped to stall the Schlieffen Plan and enabled the French to launch their counter-offensive on the Marne. But at what a price!
From the autumn the Eastern Front began to stabilize as the war of mobility gave way to a war of position. Neither side was strong enough to push the enemy back and stalemate resulted. Sweeping offensives like those of the first month were abandoned as the armies discovered the advantages of defensive warfare and dug themselves in. One entrenched machine-gunner was enough to

repel a hundred infantrymen, and railways could bring up defenders much faster than the advancing troops could fill gaps in the front line.
It was at this point that Russia’s military weaknesses began to make themselves felt. She was not prepared for a war of attrition. Her single greatest asset, her seemingly inexhaustible supply of peasant soldiers, was not such an advantage as her allies had presumed when they had talked of the ‘Russian steamroller’ trundling unstoppably towards Berlin. It was true that Russia had by far the largest population of any belligerent country, yet she was also the first to suffer from manpower shortages. Because of the high birth-rate in Russia a large proportion of the population was younger than the minimum draft age. The entire pool of recruitable men was only twenty-seven million, and 48 per cent of these were exempt as only sons or the sole adult male workers in their family, or else on account of their ethnic background (Muslims were exempt, for example). Where 12 per cent of the German population and 16 per cent of the French was mobilized for military service, the figure for Russia was only 5 per cent.
More serious still was the weakness of the Russian reserves. The Russians had adopted the German reserve system. After three years of active duty from the age of twenty-one, recruits spent seven years in the First Levy reserves, followed by eight in the Second and five in the National Militia. To save money the army gave little formal training beyond the First Levy. Yet the casualties of 1914 were so muchgreater than anyone had ever expected (about 1.8 million) that the army soon found itself having to call on the untrained men of the Second Levy. The Battle of Przemysl in October was the last with which Brusilov could fight with ‘an army that had been properly taught and trained before the war’:
After hardly three months of war the greater part of our regular, professional officers and trained men had vanished, leaving only skeleton forces which had to be hastily filled with men wretchedly instructed who were sent to me from the depots .. . From this period onwards the professional character of our forces disappeared, and the army became more and more like a sort of badly trained militia. .. The men sent to replace casualties generally knew nothing except how to march .. . many could not even load their rifles and, as for their shooting, the less saidabout it the better .. . Such people could not really be considered soldiers at all.7
The soldier of the Russian army was, for the most part, a stranger to the sentiment of patriotism. Perhaps, to a certain extent, he could identify with the war as a defence of the Tsar, or of his religion, but defence of the

Russian nation, especially if he himself was not Russian, meant very little to him. He was a peasant with little direct knowledge of the world outside his village, and his sense of himself as a ‘Russian’ was only very weakly developed. He thought of himself as a native of his local region and, as long as the enemy did not threaten to invade that area, saw little reason to fight with him. ‘We are Tambov men,’ the reluctant recruits would proclaim. ‘The Germans will not get as far as that.’ A farm agent from Smolensk, who served in the rear garrisons, heard such comments from the peasant soldiers during the first weeks of the war:
‘What devil has brought this war on us? We are butting into other people’s business.’
‘We have talked it over among ourselves; if the Germans want payment, it would be better to pay ten roubles a head than to kill people.’
‘Is it not all the same what Tsar we live under? It cannot be worse under the German one.’
‘Let them go and fight themselves. Wait a while, we will settle accounts with you.’
These sorts of attitudes became more common in the ranks as the war went on, as Brusilov had cause to complain:
The drafts arriving from the interior of Russia had not the slightest notion of what the war had to do with them. Time after time I asked my men in the trenches why we were at war; the inevitable senseless answer was that a certain Archduke and his wife had been murdered and that consequently the Austrians had tried to humiliate the Serbians. Practically no one knew who these Serbians were; they were equally doubtful as to what a Slav was. Why Germany should want to make war on us because of these Serbians, no one could say . . . They had never heard of the ambitions of Germanv; they did not even know that such a country existed.8
All this hardly boded well for an army whose commanders were intent on marching to Berlin, let alone one that was committed to the capture of Constantinople. The Russian peasant took no pride in his country’s imperial gains, being a natural pacifist.
The lack of a clear command structure was one of the army’s biggest weaknesses. Military authority was divided between the War Ministry, Supreme Headquarters (Stavka) and the Front commands. Each pursued its own particular ends, so that no clear war plan emerged. ‘From the beginning’, complained

Brusilov, ‘I had never been able to find out anything about our general plan of campaign.’ It was, as General Bezobrazov once quipped, all ‘order, counter-order and disorder’.9 The bitter conflicts between the two main Front commands, the North-West and the South-West, were especially damaging. The stubborn refusal of the former to send reinforcements to the latter was a major cause of the collapse of the Carpathian offensive in the winter of 1914—15.
The division between the aristocratic elite of the Cavalry Guards and the new military professionals— Brusilov stood with one foot in each camp — was a major element in these conflicts. The top commanders were drawn from a narrow circle of aristocratic cavalrymen and courtiers with little military expertise. The Supreme Commander himself, die Grand Duke Nikolai, had never taken part in any serious fighting and was little more than a figurehead at Stavka. He entertained foreign visitors, signed the papers put in front of him, and surrounded himself with aides-de-camp, including his brothers, whom he called his ‘sleeping pills’. But in strategic matters he failed to lead. At a conference of the Front commands in September he stayed in a separate room from the generals ‘so as not to get in their way’. General Yanushkevich, his Chief of Staff, had nothing to recommend him but the personal favour of the Tsar, who had discovered him as a young Guardsman at the palace. He had never even commanded a battalion. Colonel Knox, the British military attach? at Stavka, gained the impression of a courtier rather than a soldier’. The whole atmosphere at Stavka, situated at a small Belorussian railway town called Baranovichi, could not have been less warlike. ‘We were in the midst of a charming fir wood and everything was quiet and peaceful,’ Knox recalled. Senior officers had plenty of time for leisurely conversations, a cigar and a walk in the forest after lunch. Many of them found time to write voluminous diaries or, like Brusilov, long daily letters to their wives.10
The same courtly manners were shared by most of the top commanders. Since 1909, when General Sukhomlinov (a perfect example of the military courtier) became War Minister, there had been a deliberate policy of promoting senior officers on the basis of their personal loyalty to the Tsar. Aristocratic but incompetent cavalrymen of the old Suvorov school were favoured over the military professionals, who had a far better understanding of the needs of modern warfare. The Tsar’s constant interventions in the appointment of senior officers, sometimes at the insistence of his wife, ensured that connections and allegiance to him would continue to take precedence over military competence. Even in war Nicholas struggled to assert his patrimonial autocracy.
In the spring of 1915 Nicholas paid a visit to Brusilov’s army in Galicia and appointed him one of his General-Adjutants. Brusilov assumed that this honour was in recognition of his services in the field, but he was informed by the Tsar himself that in fact it had been awarded for no other reason than that

‘he had visited my headquarters and had lunched with me’. News of the honour was suppressed, for the court was not entirely convinced of Brusilov’s allegiance (he had criticized the army’s leadership). Polivanov, the Deputy War Minister, later admitted to Brusilov’s wife that throughout the war ‘secret arrangements’ had been made to ‘hush up’ her husband’s name lest his military successes should turn him into a focus of public opposition to the court’s command of the armed forces. This pathetic tale sums up the way the war was conducted by the Russian ruling elite.11
As long as commanders were appointed for their loyalty to the court rather than their abilities there was little prospect of any effective military leadership. The aristocratic generals committed endless blunders (one even had the distinction of ordering his artillery to fire on his own infantry’s trenches). They conducted the war after the pattern of a nineteenth-century campaign, asking their men to storm enemy artillery positions regardless of casualties; wasting resources on the expensive and ineffective cavalry; defending useless fortresses in the rear; and neglecting the technological needs of modern artillery war. They scorned the art of building trenches, since they regarded the war of position as beneath contempt. The primitive nature of the Russians’ trenches, really no more than graves, caused huge loss of life once the war had developed into a slugging match of heavy artillery bombardment. Brusilov, one of the few army commanders to recognize the vital importance of trench warfare, was amazed by his officers’ negligence:
I ordered my army to dig themselves in thoroughly and to construct a system of at least three lines with plenty of communicating trenches. I received a quantity of reports as to the impossibility of carrying out these instructions, but repeated my order explicitly, and was told that it was being obeyed. But when … I went round the various Army Corps to inspect the work, it transpired that practically nothing had been done, and what little had been done was so completely filled with snow that it was difficult to discover where the trenches had been dug.
‘How are you going to get into these lines, supposing the enemy attacks us?’ I asked.
‘Oh,’ they replied, ‘we’ll clean them out when that happens’ . ..
In one Army Corps there was a case where neither the Corps Commander, nor the Divisional Commander, nor the Brigadier, nor the Colonel of the Regiment, nor even the officer commanding the Corps Engineers, could tell me where the trenches had been dug.12
One of the obvious reasons for the East Prussian debacle was the Russian army’s lack of mobility. Knox compared it to a ‘heavy-weight, muscle-

bound prize-fighter, who because of his enormous bulk, lacked activity and quickness, and would therefore be at the mercy of a lighter but more wiry and intelligent opponent’. The primitiveness of the Russian railway system ruled out the possibility of following the Germans’ example; they moved troops rapidly by train from one part of the Front to another in response to the changing fortunes of war. Russia’s military trains could not travel more than 200 miles a day and, in any case, most of them were filled with horses and fodder, such was the preoccupation of the military commanders with the cavalry. Once the army entered German territory it was dependent on captured rolling stock, since Russian trains ran on a different gauge. Russian motor transportation was even more basic. In 1914 there were no more than 679 motor cars (and two motorized ambulances!) for the whole of the army. Military equipment, senior personnel and the wounded had to be moved away from the railhead by peasant carts on muddy country roads. But it was the primitive state of Russia’s military communications that really lay at the root of her defeat. Samsonov’s Second Army had twenty-five telephones, a few morse-coding machines, a sort of primitive telex called a Hughes apparatus, and a tele-printer capable of printing 1,200 words per hour but which often broke down, which meant that the commander had to move around on horseback to find out what was going on. Telegraphic communications were constantly breaking down between Stavka, the Front commands and the armies, so that orders had to be sent by train or motorbike, which often took days. On the eve of the Battle of Tannenberg the North-West Front commander communicated with Samsonov by sending telegrams to the Warsaw Central Post Office, where an adjutant collected them once a day and took them by car more than sixty miles to Second Army headquarters. Many of these breakdowns in communication were caused by the errors of badly educated soldiers. Too many telephonists were unable to mend a broken line, too many drivers unable to read a map. The telegraphs would suddenly cease to function and an investigation of the lines to the rear would reveal a party of soldiers cooking their tea on a bonfire made of chopped-up telegraph poles.13
As the war dragged on through the winter the army began to experience terrible shortages ofmateriel.The breakdown of the supply system in the rear was partly to blame. The transport network could not cope with the massive deliveries of munitions, food, clothing and medical care to the fronts. But the lack of any real pre-war planning was also to blame. Counting on a short campaign, the War Ministry had made no plans for the wartime production ofmateriel,assuming that existing stocks would be enough to see them through. As it turned out, the stocks lasted no longer than the first few weeks of the war.
The problem was particularly acute with regard to munitions. A reserve of seven million shells was expected to last the whole war, enough for a thousand

rounds per field gun, or ten days of fighting at 1916 levels. The Russian armaments industry, which could have kept the army well supplied, was deliberately run down by the War Ministry (in the first seven months of 1914 it ordered just 41 rifles), so once shortages became apparent orders had to be placed abroad and delays were inevitable. By the end of the war, there were ten different models of imported rifle, each firing a different type of bullet, in use with the Russian army. Part of the problem was the wastefulness of the soldiers themselves: they used their rifles to prop up improvised roofs over their trenches; chopped them up for firewood; and all too often threw them away, along with the heavy supplies of ammunition, when they were wounded or suddenly forced to retreat. But the crisis would undoubtedly have been less severe if the War Ministry had responded more quickly to the calls of alarm from the generals, instead of dismissing them. In mid-October, when General Karavaev, Chief of the Artillery Department, warned the War Minister that Russia would soon have to sue for peace because of the lack of munitions, Sukhomlinov told him to ‘go to the devil and quiet himself. And yet by the following spring the shortage was such that whole battalions had to be trained without rifles, while many second-line troops at the Front were relying on rifles picked up from the men shot in front of them. Soldiers were told to limit themselves to ten shots a day and in many cases, when the German heavy artillery bombarded their trenches, the Russian gunners were forbidden to return fire. ‘Our position is bad,’ one soldier wrote to his father, ‘and all because we have no ammunition. That’s where we’ve got to, thanks to our ministers of war, making unarmed people face up to the enemy’s guns because we don’t have any of our own. That’s what they have done!’14
Brusilov’s army, having fought its way to the top of the Carpathian mountains, found itself stuck there for much of the winter without enough ammunition to fight its way down on to the Hungarian plain. ‘I was disheartened to learn’, he later wrote, ‘that the Front Headquarters could hardly promise any improvement before the autumn of 1915, and even in these promises I had no confidence. I therefore no longer aimed at any fresh successes on this front, but attempted merely to hold my ground with as few losses as possible.’ But spending the winter in the mountains was a cruel reward for his men, without warm clothes and boots or enough food to see them through the frosts. Brusilov spent the month of December bombarding the War Ministry with demands for winter kit, but his appeals were only part of a growing chorus from all parts of the army and the sad truth was that, having expected the war to be over by Christmas, the Ministry had made no provisions for the huge demand it now encountered. There were not even plans for the mass manufacture of boots and when the Ministry finally looked to its soldiers’ footware, it discovered that the whole Russian Empire contained one factory capable of producing tanning extract, and

that before 1914 virtually all of the country’s tannin had been imported from Germany. New boots had to be ordered from the United States, but meanwhile thousands of soldiers fought barefoot. ‘They stillhaven’t given out overcoats,’ one frozen soldier wrote to his mother. ‘We run around in thin topcoats .. . There is not much to eat and what we get is foul. Perhaps we’d be better off dead!’ Another soldier wrote home after the visit of the Tsar to his unit: ‘For the Tsar’s inspection they prepared one company and collected all the best uniforms from the other regiments for it to wear, leaving the rest of the men in the trenches without boots, knapsacks, bandoliers, trousers, uniforms, hats, or anything else.’15
It was not long before the army was ridden with disease. Cholera, typhus, typhoid, scurvy and dysentery epidemics decimated the troops. The unexpectedly high rate of casualties placed the medical services under terrible pressure. Brusilov wrote to his wife after visiting one field hospital in the rear of his army:
Instead of the 200 patients, for which the hospital had been built, there were over 3,000 sick and wounded men. What could four doctors do for them? They worked day and night, ate on their feet, but still couldn’t bandage everyone … I went around several wards, rooms in vacated houses, where the sick and wounded lay on the floor, on straw, dressed, unwashed and covered in blood. I thanked them on behalf of the Tsar and the Fatherland, and gave out money and St George’s crosses, but there was nothing more I could do. I could only try to speed up their evacuation to the rear.
Evacuation, however, was no guarantee of any better treatment. At the Warsaw railway station Rodzianko found 17,000 wounded soldiers lying unattended ‘in the cold rain and mud without so much as straw litter’. The Duma President complained angrily to the local medical department, only to find that their ‘heartless indifference to the fate of these suffering men’ was supported by a host of bureaucratic regulations.16
As conditions at the Front worsened and the scale of the slaughter increased, the army’s morale and discipline began to fall apart. The war in this sense was the social architect of 1917 as the army gradually turned into one vast revolutionary mob. Part of the problem was the weakening grip of the officers over their men. The army expanded too fast for the officers to retain control (nine million men were called up in the first twelve months of the war). Officer casualties (at 60,000) were meanwhile unusually high, which no doubt owed something to their colourful uniforms and their old-fashioned practice of leading frontal charges. The old officer corps below the level of captain was

almost completely wiped out, while a new generation of lower-ranking officers (what in the West would be called NCOs) was hastily trained to replace them. The number of NCOs was never enough— the artisan classes who usually made up this tier of the army were generally weak in Russia — and it was unusual after the first year of the war for a front-line regiment of 3,000 men to have more than a dozen officers. Moreover, 60 per cent of the NCOs came from a peasant background, very few had more than four years’ education, and nearly all of them were in their early twenties.17 The war was thus a great democratizer, opening channels of advancement for millions of peasant sons. Their sympathies lay firmly with the ordinary soldiers, and any hopes that they might form a bridge between the high-born officers and their low-born troops were badly misplaced. This was the radical military cohort— literate, upwardly mobile, socially disoriented and brutalized by war — who would lead the mutiny of February, the revolutionary soldiers’ committees, and eventually the drive to Soviet power during 1917. Many of the Red Army’s best commanders (e.g. Chapaev, Zhukov and Rokossovsky) had been NCOs in the tsarist army, much as the marshals of Napoleon’s wars had begun as subalterns in the king’s army. The sergeants of the First World War would become the marshals of the Second.
Dmitry Os’kin (1892—1934), whose story is told throughout this book, was a typical example of this war-created officer class. For a peasant lad like him — literate and bright despite his country-bumpkin looks — the army offered a means of escape from the poverty of the village. In the summer of 1913 he volunteered for the infantry regiment in his local town of Tula, and soon found himself on a training course for NCOs. When the war broke out he was made a platoon commander. Os’kin was a brave and conscientious soldier, thoroughly deserving of the four St George’s Crosses he would win in the course of the war.18 Some part of his character, self-discipline or ambition, compelled him to carry out the commands of his senior officers, despite his ‘peasant’ animosity towards all figures of authority. Perhaps it was the realization that, unless he established some discipline among his men, they were likely to be slaughtered on the battlefield. Certainly, as the war took its toll on the senior officers, the burden increased on NCOs like him to hold the ranks together.
Os’kin’s senior commanders were a swinish lot. On several occasions their reckless orders led his men to the brink of disaster and it was only by his own improvised initiatives that they managed to come out alive. Captain Tsit-seron, a gambler, syphilitic and shameless coward, was always in a quandary on the battlefield. Once, when facing some well-entrenched Austrian guns on a hill, he ordered Os’kin’s men to cut a way through the rows of barbed wire in full view of their artillery. Crawling forward, they soon came under heavy fire and Os’kin looked up to see countless Russian corpses hanging on the wire. Cursing

Tsitseron, he brought his men back to safety. Captain Samfarov, another of Os’kin’s commanders, was an ice-cream glutton, too fat to fit into his uniform, who hid in his private dug-out whenever the shelling began. He liked to ‘keep his men on their toes’ by ordering midnight attacks, despite the obvious lack of strategic preparations for nocturnal fighting. Once, when such an assault nearly destroyed the whole battalion and Os’kin’s men returned the following day in a terrible state, Samfarov had them lined up in their ranks and shouted at them for half an hour because they had failed to polish their boots.19
Not all the commanders were so incompetent or cruel. But there was a growing feeling among the soldiers that so much blood need not be spilled, if the officers thought less of themselves and more of the safety of their men. The fact that the mass of the soldiers were peasants, and that many of their officers were noble landowners (often from the same region as their men), added a dimension of social conflict; and this was exacerbated by the ‘feudal’ customs between the ranks (e.g. the obligation of the soldiers to address their officers by their honorary titles, to clean their boots, run private errands for them, and so on). ‘Look at the way our high-up officers live, the landowners whom we have always served,’ wrote one peasant soldier to his local newspaper at home. ‘They get good food, their families are given everything they need, and although they may live at the Front, they do not live in the trenches where we are but four or five versts away’ For literate and thinking peasants like Os’kin, this was a powerful source of political radicalization, the realization that the war was being fought in very different ways by two very different Russias: the Russia of the rich and the senior officers, and the Russia of the peasants, whose lives were being squandered. Os’kin’s diary, April 1915:
What are we doing in this war? Several hundred men have already passed through my platoon alone and at least half of them have ended up on the fields of battle either killed or wounded. What will they get at the end of the war? . . . My year and a half of military service, with almost a year at the Front, has stopped me from thinking about this, for the task of the platoon commander demands strict discipline and that means, above all, not letting the soldier think freely for himself. But these are the things we must think about.20
Others less able to draw political lessons simply voted with their feet. Discipline broke down as soldiers refused to take up positions, cut off their fingers and hands to get themselves discharged, surrendered to the enemy or deserted to the rear. There were drunken outbursts of looting and riots at the recruiting stations as the older reservists, many with families to support, were mobilized. Their despatch to the Front merely accelerated the ferment of

rebellion, since they brought bad news from home and sometimes revolutionary propaganda too. The officers responded all too often with more force. Reluctant soldiers were flogged or sent into battle with their own side’s artillery aimed at their backs. This internal war between the officers and their men began to overshadow the war itself. ‘The officers are trying to break our spirits by terrorizing us,’ one soldier wrote to his wife in the spring of 1915. ‘They want to make us into lifeless puppets.’ Another wrote that a group of officers had ‘flogged five men in front of 28,000 troops because they had left their barracks without permission to go and buy bread’.21
At this point, after a long winter of demoralization, the army faced the biggest German offensive of the war. With the Western Front bogged down in stalemate, the Germans were pinning their hopes on a decisive breakthrough in the east. It began on the night of 2 May 1915 with a massive four-hour bombardment of the unprepared Third Army near Gorlice. A thousand shells a minute reduced the Russian trenches to rubble. When the German infantry stormed them the following morning they found only a handful of shell-shocked survivors. The rest had all run away. The Russians ‘jumped up and ran back weaponless’, recalled one German soldier. ‘In their grey fur caps and fluttering unbuttoned great coats [they looked] like a flock of sheep in wild confusion.’ Without a defensive strategy (Dmitriev, the Third Army commander, had left his headquarters to attend the annual celebration of the Order of the Knights of St George), the Russians were forced into headlong retreat. General Denikin described it as ‘one vast tragedy for the Russian army. No cartridges, no shells. Bloody fighting and difficult marches day after day.’ Within ten days the Third Army’s shattered remnants— a mere 40,000 of its 220,000 troops — had fallen back to the San River, the last natural barrier between the Germans and Przemysl. They prepared to make a stand on its banks, only to find that corrupt officers had sold all the spades, barbed wire and timber needed to build the trenches. Without artillery or supplies of ammunition, they held out as best they could, suffering heavy losses. Many men fought with nothing but bayonets fixed to their empty rifles. But by the end of May they were finally forced to abandon Przemysl. Lvov (Lemberg) was soon to follow, as the Germans approached the borders of Russia itself. It had been, as Knox was to put it, a barrage of ‘metal against men’.22
The German breakthrough exposed the northern flank of Brusilov’s army in the Carpathians. To avoid the danger of being cut off and surrounded, it was forced to retreat and abandon the hard-won heights it had spent the winter desperately defending. ‘My dear Nadiushenka,’ Brusilov wrote on II June:
We have had to give up Przemysl and Lvov. You cannot imagine how

painful that is … I am trying to give the appearance that things really are not so bad, but inside it hurts, my heart is grieving, and my spirits are depressed. Let’s suppose, and I am convinced, that we shall regain the land we have just lost and that we shall win the war, it is just a matter of time, but none the less it is terribly painful. One has to show strength of will at such times, not just when everything is going well, that is easy, but when things are bad, so as to encourage the demoralized and those on the brink of losing their morale, of which there are many.23
Meanwhile, in mid-July, the Germans also launched an offensive in East Prussia. They pushed north towards Riga, east towards Vilnius and south to join the other German forces advancing through Poland. The ‘impregnable’ fortresses of Kovno, Grodno, Osowiec, Novogeorgievsk and Ivangorod, which the Russians had placed at the centre of their defensive strategy, filling them up with precious supplies of munitions, were abandoned one by one as the Germans advanced with their heavy artillery. It was yet another example of the Russian military elite trying to fight a twentieth-century conflict with tactics more appropriate to the Crimean War. The huge stone bastions turned out to be useless museums, concrete traps for men and supplies, and Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who had made their names on the Western Front by storming the fortress of Liege, had little difficulty repeating their success in the east. The fortifications at Kovno (Kaunas) were so poor that the Grand Duke Nikolai said the fortress ought to be renamed ‘Govno’ (the Russian word for ‘shit’). Its aged commander, to make matters even worse, had secretly fled the fortress on the eve of its capture. He was finally tracked down to the bar of the Bristol Hotel in Wilno (Vilnius) and sentenced to fifteen years’ hard labour.24
With all its armies pushed back by the force of German steel, the Russian command had little choice but to order a general retreat. No real plans were made. There were vague romantic notions of repeating the scorched-earth tactics of General Kutuzov which, in Tolstoy’s version at least, had so brilliantly entrapped Napoleon’s troops in the winter wastelands of Russia. ‘The retreat will continue as far— and for as long — as necessary,’ the Tsar told Maurice Paleologue at the end of July. ‘The Russian people are as unanimous in their will to conquer as they were in 1812.’ But in all other respects — the sequence of evacuation, the selection of things to destroy and the planning of strategicpositions at which to make a new stand — there were only confusion and panic. Troops destroyed buildings, bridges, animals and crops in a totally random way. This often broke down into pillaging, especially of Jewish property. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, their homes and farms demolished, trudged east along the railway lines with their few belongings piled on to carts, while trains sped past carrying senior officers, their mistresses, and, in the words of one officer,

‘all sorts of useless junk, including cages with canaries’. No provision was made for the care of the refugees, most of whom ended up living on station floors and the streets of Russia’s cities. ‘Sickness, misery and poverty are speading across the whole of Russia,’ Krivoshein, the Minister of Agriculture, warned the Council of Ministers in August. ‘Starving and ragged masses are sowing panic everywhere. Surely no country ever saved itself by its own destruction.’25
The summer months of unending retreat dealt another crippling blow to the troops’ morale. It was hard for them to see territory which they had fought and died for so easily sacrificed to the enemy. The destruction of military stores in the rear, full of the clothing and food they had so badly needed, was especially hard to bear. ‘Every day’, wrote Os’kin, ‘we would come across another store of food and munitions in some village or other. They were all just left there and destroyed.’ Here was the final damning proof of the military leaders’ incompetence. ‘They’ve screwed it all up,’ Brusilov overheard one of his soldiers mutter, ‘and we’ve been landed with cleaning up the mess.’ Demoralization in the rear was even more advanced. Nadezhda Brusilova wrote to her husband:
You are so naive, if you still believe in victory. We in the rear have a much better idea of what is going on and we are already convinced that the Germans will win the war. They will be in Moscow by 1916. This is the catastrophe and collapse of Russia.
There were widespread rumours in the rear about treason in high places, which soon spread to the Front. The German background of the Tsarina and other government figures, and the execution in March 1915 of Colonel Miasoyedov, one of Sukhomlinov’s proteges, for spying for Germany seemed to confirm such conspiracy theories. A Bolshevik soldier recalls the efforts of one NCO, for example, to explain to his soldiers the reason for the retreat: ‘There are many traitors and spies in the high command of our army, like the War Minister Sukhomlinov, whose fault it is that we don’t have any shell, and Miasoyedov, who betrayed the fortresses to the enemy.’ When he had finished a soldier-cook drew the conclusion: A fish begins to stink from the head. What kind of a Tsar would surround himself with thieves and cheats? It’s as clear as day that we’re going to lose the war.’26
For many soldiers this was the vital psychological moment of the revolution— the moment when their loyalty to the monarchy finally snapped. A government which had dragged them into a war which they could not hope to win, had failed to provide them with adequate weapons and supplies, and now was in league with the enemy was certainly not worthy of further sacrifices. A million men surrendered to the German and Austrian forces during the Great

Retreat, most of them preferring to spend the rest of the war in the enemies’ prisoner-of-war camps than vainly trying to fight their superior armies. An unknown number, but certainly tens of thousands, deserted to the rear, where many of them put their guns to a different use and lived from banditry. Even Sergeant Os’kin, who was wounded in the knee and eventually (after being forced to march on his wounded leg) evacuated to a Moscow hospital, felt so humiliated by the Great Retreat that, after his leg had been amputated, he deserted from his regiment and went to a friend’s farm in Siberia. But the farm had been burned down by the Cossacks, who had also requisitioned all its cattle for the government and had raped his friend’s wife and mother. This was the last straw for Os’kin, who now joined the SR Party underground in Siberia and watched with growing interest the political crisis unfolding as a result of the Great Retreat. In a final desperate effort to raise the morale of the troops, the Chief of Staff General Yanushkevich urged the Tsar to promise that in the event of a Russian victory every loyal soldier would be given 16desyatiny(43 acres) of land. But it was too late for such measures and even Yanushkevich called it ‘clutching at straws’. The army was falling apart. By September, when the enemy’s advance was finally bogged down in the Russian mud, its front-line forces had been reduced to one-third of their strength at the start of the war.27
* * * ‘It cannot go on like this,’ Nicholas wrote in his diary on hearing the news of Warsaw’s fall. Three weeks later he took what many people believed at the time was the most fateful decision of his entire reign. On 22 August he dismissed the Grand Duke Nikolai and assumed the supreme command of the army himself. Stavka was moved 200 miles eastward to Mogilev, a dirty and dreary provincial town whose name derives from the word in Russian for a ‘grave’. Here the Tsar’s regime buried itself.
It seems there were two reasons (both equally flawed) for Nicholas’s decision— and it was his decision — to assume the command of the army. First, that at this critical moment the supreme ruler should stand at the head of the armed forces. There was a certain logic to this. Since the war began there had been in effect a dual power system — one led by the Grand Duke and the other by the Tsar — without any real co-ordination between them. However by moving to the Front, Nicholas merely undermined his own authority in the rear, where, in his absence, a sort of bureaucratic anarchy developed with the Tsarina, the ministers and the representatives of the Duma, the zemstvos and the war industries all at loggerheads. Second, the Tsar had hoped that by placing himself at the head of the army, he might help to restore its morale: if the soldiers would not fight for ‘Russia’, then perhaps they would fight for him. But Nicholas had no experience of military commandand, although the important decisions were all taken by his new Chief of Staff, General M. V Alexeev, who was a

gifted strategist, the Tsar’s presence had a bad effect overall on morale. For, in the words of Brusilov, ‘Everyone knew that Nicholas understood next to nothing about military matters and, although the word «Tsar» still had a magical power over the troops, he utterly lacked the charisma to bring that magic to life. Faced with a group of soldiers, he was nervous and did not know what to say.’28
The Council of Ministers, in a unique act of loyal criticism, pleaded with the Tsar to change his mind. ‘The decision you have taken’, it warned, ‘threatens Russia, You, and Your dynasty with the gravest consequences.’ But Nicholas would not be dissuaded. No doubt the influence of his wife, who had put him up to thiscoup de main,helped to strengthen his resolve. He may well have seen the move as his last chance to silence the growing public criticism of the war campaign, and the urgent sense that his own throne was threatened drove him on to take what was a huge risk. Coinciding as it did with his decision to close down the Duma, which had been in session since July, it signalled a new resolve on his part to reassert his personal rule. Perhaps he still harboured fantasies that his ‘mystical union’ with ‘the people’ would save the country from catastrophe. Krivoshein, for one, thought that the Tsar’s decision was ‘fully in tune with his spiritual frame of mind and his mystical understanding of his imperial calling’.29 The support he received from the Tsarina and Rasputin, who encouraged his dreams of personal rule, was in line with this, although their real concern was no doubt in part to get him out of their way. With the Tsar absent at the Front, power in the capital would pass to them.
iiThe Mad Chauffeur
The war found Prince Lvov at the head of the Zemstvo Union. As in the war against Japan, the needs of the Front had sparked a patriotic movement of public organization. Civic committees and clubs volunteered helpers to pack up supplies of linen, food and medicine in their hours after work, while hundreds of young women enrolled as nurses and coped as best they could with the legions of wounded and dying. The Tsarina turned part of the Winter Palace into a surgical bandage factory, and the best society ladies turned up in droves to roll up their sleeves and work. Brusilov’s wife, Nadezhda, volunteered for the Russian Red Cross in the Ukraine. ‘I work day and night’, she wrote to him in August 1914, ‘and thank God for that, since it keeps me from thinking and makes me feel I am of use.’ Kerensky’s wife, Olga, who worked in a Belgian hospital, looked back on this as ‘one of the happiest periods of my life’.
When I bent down to wash the soldiers’ dirty feet, or cleaned and dressed their nasty-smelling and decaying wounds, I experienced an almost religious

ecstasy. I bowed before all these soldiers, who had given their lives for Russia. I have never felt such ecstasy.30
Here at last, for these idle bourgeois ladies, was a chance to ‘serve the people’ and thus to redeem their own guilt.
Lvov’s Zemstvo Union, established with its sister organization the Union of Towns during the first few weeks of the war, took the lead in most of these activities. It virtually ran the military supply campaign in the absence of any effective governmental grasp of logistics. Russia’s war effort, but for Lvov’s efforts, would have quickly collapsed altogether. To begin with the Union was supported by the gifts of money and property that poured in from the public. One landowner donated his whole estate, a fertile expanse of 10,000 acres. Peasants delivered cartloads of cabbages, potatoes and homespun linen to its depots in the rear. But it soon became clear that the government itself would have to provide most of the finance, as the failings of its own bureaucracy became apparent and it came to rely on the Union. Increasingly its volunteers took the lead in setting up field canteens and medical units at the Front, evacuating the wounded and giving them hospital care, purchasing military supplies, combating disease, helping refugees and providing support for the poverty-stricken soldiers’ families. By 1916 it had grown into a huge national infrastructure, a state within a state, with 8,000 affiliated institutions, several hundred thousand employees (the so-calledzemgussars)and a budget of two billion roubles. Lvov, at the head of this unofficial government, worked tirelessly from eight in the morning to two or three at night. The queue outside his office stretched into the Moscow streets. As one minister grudgingly acknowledged in the autumn of 1915, he was ‘virtually becoming the chairman of a special government. At the Front they talk only of him and say that he has saved the country. He supplies the army, feeds the hungry, cures the sick, establishes barber shops for the soldiers— in a word, he is some kind of a ubiquitous Miur and Mereliz.* One must either end all this or hand over power to him.’31
The remark was prophetic. For Lvov was to become the first Prime Minister of democratic Russia in March 1917. His experience in the Zemstvo Union, which demanded administrative boldness and an ability to improvise, equipped him for the role above all else. The civic spirit of the February Revolution had its roots in the wartime activities of the voluntary organizations. It was from these that most of the democratic revolution’s leaders, including all but three of the ministers of the First Provisional Government, were to emerge. And yet Lvov had always been a reluctant revolutionary. Had the Tsar liberalized his regime and appointed a government of public confidence, Lvov would not
* The largest department store in Moscow.

have joined the opposition. Politics were of much less interest to him than the direct effect he could have on the lives of ‘the people’. It was this desire for practical work that had drawn him into the zemstvo movement during the 1890s and, although he had joined the {Cadets, he had never been at ease with the party. In short, he was made for public wartime work.
Lvov’s leadership of the Zemstvo Union began with the same essentially practical aims (the good of ‘the nation’) as he had displayed in the Tula zemstvo (the good of ‘the people’). At the heart of Lvov’s political being was what one acquaintance described as ‘a down-to-earth organic patriotism’. It was rooted in his love of the peasants and his belief in their creative powers as the basic strength of Russia. A similar patriotism lay at the heart of his commitment to the Zemstvo Union. Its duty, as he saw it in 1914, was to reconcile the people with the government by uniting the two behind the war effort. Executive meetings finished with his tenor voice breaking into the national anthem.32
By the following autumn, however, even Lvov could no longer stand apart from the growing political opposition to the government and its army command, whose gross mismanagement was being blamed by an angry public for the recent crushing defeats. His own organization had been struggling for some time against constant obstruction by the bureaucracy, and by now he was at the end of his tether. Maklakov, the reactionary Interior Minister of Beiliss trial fame, regarded the Union as little more than a Trojan horse usurping the functions of the government, and had been doing his best to limit its independent powers. He even objected to its labour brigades, some 80,000 strong, which dug trenches and graves in the rear, on the grounds that a public organization should not be allowed to have its own ‘army’. Although it had been pointed out that it would be armed with nothing more dangerous than axes and spades, Maklakov stood his ground and ordered Lvov to demobilize the brigades. By September, with the Duma prorogued, the mild-mannered prince was ready to join the fray. ‘We are no longer prepared to remain in the passive position of being governed,’ he told the Third Zemstvo Union Congress. The Russian people, he went on, were developing into a ‘state-like force’, and through their service to the nation would earn the right to demand a constitutional system from the government at the end of the war. The work of the public organizations was thus no longer a means of uniting the people behind the Tsar, as he had seen it previously, but a means of transition to self-government by the people.»»
The Prince’s wartime progress along the path of political radicalization was common among the liberal propertied classes. Theunion sacreeof August 1914, when the Duma dissolved itself in a symbolic gesture of patriotic solidarity with the government, had not lasted the winter. The shells crisis and the Miasoyedov scandal saw to that. In fact neither had been as bad in reality as the public perceived them to be— Miasoyedov was no more a German spy

than the shortage of shells was solely to blame for the country’s military setbacks— yet in a sense that was their real point. For both the shortage of shells and Miasoyedov’s tainted reputation became emotive symbols of the regime’s treacherous and incompetent handling of the war. ‘Respectable Russia’ now rallied behind the growing demand for the reconvocation of the Duma and a Ministry which enjoyed public confidence. Miliukov’s Kadets were prepared to settle for a three-day Duma session at the end of January to approve the military budget. But the radicals, led by Kerensky, continued the campaign of public criticism. On 11 June Miasoyedov’s patron, Sukhomlinov, was finally forced out of office. The disgraced War Minister was summarily arrested and brought before a High Commission of Enquiry, which sentenced him to imprisonment in the Peter and Paul Fortress as a traitor. The dismissal of Maklakov (Interior), Shcheglovitov (Justice) and Sabler (Holy Synod) soon followed, as Nicholas tried to pacify growing public opposition by ditching his most reactionary ministers.
But this was only the start of a summer of political retreat for the Tsar. Calls for reform by the Duma and public organizations were soon joined by those from the liberal business community. The shells crisis and the military defeats of the spring forced the government to set up a Special Council for the Improvement of Artillery Supplies in June. It included three Octobrists from the Duma and the owners of Petrograd’s biggest arms firms, as well as officials from the War Ministry. For the liberal business leaders of Moscow this was a slap in the face. Since 1908 they had campaigned aggressively to increase their role in the nation’s economy and political life (‘The merchant on the move,’ as Riabushinsky put it). They had financed their own national newspaper (UtroRossii),established their own political party (the Progressists) and lavishly spent money on the arts (the Tretyakov Gallery and Shekhtel’s magnificentstyle modernebuildings, for example, were both commissioned by these industrialists) to advance their own Muscovite version of liberal Manchesterism. The Special Council, from their point of view, was a small coterie of the Petrograd industrial barons and their patrons in government (what would one day come under the title of a ‘military-industrial complex’) designed to exclude the smaller businesses in the provinces from the lucrative contracts for military production. There was much in the set-up to justify the resentment of the Moscow industrialists. Far too many orders were given to big Petrograd metal firms friendly to the government, while the smaller provincial firms were not properly used. The huge Putilov plant, for example, received 113 million roubles worth of orders for shells— far more than it could deliver on time — at a price six times higher than the average market price. Putilov used the cash to subsidize the loss-making parts of his business, including his own fabulous lifestyle, so that his company eventually went bankrupt and had to be sequestered by the state in 1916.

Medium-sized producers were meanwhile going out of business because, without government orders, they could not afford to buy fuel or raw materials. The Petrograd bureaucracy was indifferent to their fate, as one businessman discovered when he wrote to the War Ministry offering the services of his family factory. Afewweeks later he received his letter back with a short note saying it had not been furnished with the required government stamp.
To break down the monopoly of the big munitions producers Moscow’s business leaders organized the War Industries Committees. Through their central office, established in July 1915, they succeeded in winning a modest but life-saving share of the government’s military orders for their provincial firms. But the committees’ real significance was less economic than political. The leaders of the Central War Industries Committees were all liberal critics of the autocracy. Half the ministers of the First Provisional Government of 1917 were to come from their ranks. They sought a greater voice for themselves in the wartime regulation of industry, and more say for their allies in the Duma and other public organizations in the structure of government. There were close connections between these different bodies. Lvov, for example, was the head of the Zemstvo Union, an ex-Duma deputy and a member of the Central War Industries Committee. Through their combined initiatives, these public bodies were able to form an effective political force. They enjoyed the support of several of the more liberal-minded ministers, who had come to realize the need for political change, as well as a number of senior generals, such as Brusilov, who knew from experience the value of their work.34 Together they embarked on a struggle for power.
Under growing pressure, the Tsar finally agreed to recall the Duma on 19 July 1915. The liberal opposition now had a platform on which to renew its demands for a ministry of national confidence. Two-thirds of the Duma deputies, from the moderate Right to the moderate Left, along with like-minded members of the State Council, formed themselves into a Progressive Bloc to consolidate this campaign. It was a ‘tricoloured’ union, as one of its members remarked, designed to wrap political reforms in the imperial flag. The Bloc’s aim was to prevent the country slipping into revolution (which its well-to-do members feared as much as anyone else) by persuading the Tsar to appoint a new government capable of winning the people’s support. Only this, they argued, could lead the country to victory. After four months of unrelieved gloom, with daily reports of defeats at the Front, industrial strikes and growing social chaos, the leaders of the Bloc saw their programme, with some justification, as the last real chance for the regime to find a political solution to its crisis of authority. They bent over backwards to make their proposals acceptable to the Tsar. The calls of the more radical elements— the left-wing Kadets, Kerensky’s Trudoviks and the socialists — for a parliamentary government responsible to

the Duma were flatly opposed by Miliukov, the Kadet leader and principal architect of the Bloc, despite the risk he thus ran of splitting his party in two. Lvov even pledged that during the war the Bloc would go no further ‘on the path of a parliamentary struggle’ once a government of confidence had been appointed.35
Within the Council of Ministers there was a growing majority in favour of a compromise with the Progressive Bloc. Krivoshein and Polivanov, Sukhomlinov’s replacement, led the way. But eight others soon followed, especially after the Tsar had announced his decision to take over the military command, thus leaving the government to the mercy of the Tsarina and Rasputin. On 28 August the ‘revolt of the ministers’ came to a head with a direct appeal to the Tsar to appoint a new ministry enjoying the confidence of the Duma. Only ‘the old man’ Goremykin, the discredited Premier, refused to join the demands for reform, blindly convinced to the end of his absolute duty to obey the Tsar. The next day he hurried to Mogilev and urged Nicholas to close down the Duma and sack his disobedient ministers in order to reassert his autocratic power. The Tsarina, who had always believed in her husband’s mission to rule ‘like Ivan the Terrible’, added her own voice, condemning the rebel ministers as ‘fiends worse than the Duma’ who ‘needed smacking’.
It was not hard, by this stage, to convince the Tsar that he should reassert his autocratic authority. That, after all, had probably been his main objective in assuming the supreme command. As he saw it, none of his concessions to the liberal opposition had stemmed the public criticisms of his government, in fact they had only grown louder, and it was time to stop any further erosion of his authority. He deemed it intolerable that at this critical moment for the Empire, when the firm hand of autocracy was needed more than ever, his ministers should think fit to ask him to renounce his personal rule. On 2 September he ordered the dissolution of the Duma and reconfirmed his confidence in the government of his old and faithful servant, Goremykin. When the Premier returned to Petrograd and announced this decision to the Council of Ministers there was uproar. ‘Il est fou, ce vieillard,’ Sazonov, the Foreign Minister, was heard to say.36
There followed a two-day general strike in Petrograd against the Duma’s closure. But otherwise the opposition’s response was muted. Lvov was elected to lead a delegation of the public organizations to plead with the Tsar to ‘place the heavy burden of power upon the shoulders of men made strong by the nation’s confidence’. But Nicholas refused to receive them. They were summoned instead to the Ministry of the Interior where they were told that their ‘intrusion into state politics’ had been presumptuous. The Tsar had made up his mind to rule as an autocrat should, and no counsel, however wise or loyal, could make him change his mind. On 16 September the ministers were summoned to

Mogilev for a final dressing down. ‘Show your fist,’ the Tsarina had urged her weak-willed husband. ‘You are theAutocratand they dare not forget it.’ She even implored him to comb his hair with Rasputin’s comb in order to strengthen his will.37 The magic must have worked. For the ministers, having come determined to argue their case for reform, lost their nerve when confronted by the Tsar. The ‘revolt of the ministers’ was over and the monarchy’s final chance to save itself by political means had now been thrown away.
The dissolution of the Duma highlighted the liberals’ impotence. Power lay firmly with the Romanov court and, even with ten of the highest government officials on their side, there was nothing, short of revolution, the liberals could do to prevent the Tsar from taking power into his own hands. The Kadet politician, V A. Maklakov, summed up the liberals’ dilemma in a widely quoted article in September. He compared Russia to an automobile being driven down a steep and dangerous hill at uncontrollable speed by a mad chauffeur (Nicholas). Among the passengers there are one’s mother (Russia) plus competent drivers, who recognize that they are being driven to inevitable doom. But no one dares grab the steering wheel for fear of causing a fatal accident. The chauffeur knows this and mocks the helplessness and anxiety of the passengers: ‘You will not dare touch me,’ he tells them. And, indeed, in these terrible circumstances, Maklakov concluded:
you will not dare touch him, for even if you might risk your own life, you are travelling with your mother, and you will not dare endanger your life for fear that she too might be killed. So you will leave the steering wheel in the hands of the chauffeur. Moreover, you will try not to hinder him— you will even help him with advice, warning and assistance. And you will be right, for this is what has to be done.38
The liberals’ paralysis was determined, above all, by their fear of sparking violence on the streets. They were caught between the devil of autocracy and the deep red sea of a social revolution that would undoubtedly drown them too. Miliukov was afraid that if the Duma went into open conflict with the regime and encouraged a popular revolt, as some on the left of his party advocated, it would lead to an ‘orgy of the mob’.39 Pushkin’s nightmare of the ‘Russian riot, senseless and without mercy’ would finally come to pass. Rather than risk this, the liberals played a waiting game: if they could hold out until an Allied victory, new channels for reform would open up. It was not the most dignified stance (a ‘revolt on their knees’ is how Stalin described it) but, short of moving to the barricades, there was little more that they could do. Essentially, it marked a return to the position of 1906, when the failure of the Vyborg Manifesto to rally the masses in the defence of the Duma had left the liberals high and dry,

with nothing more to cling to than the hope of persuading the regime to liberalize itself. Ten years later, with the lessons of Vyborg behind them, they were even more frightened of the masses, who now were hardly more likely— at the height of the war with all its hardships — to limit themselves to the narrow political revolution envisaged by the liberals.
Encouraged by the success of his own show of strength, Nicholas followed it up with a series of further measures to roll back the liberal challenge to his autocracy. The promised Duma session in November, granted to appease the critics of its prorogation in September, was postponed indefinitely. The status of the War Industries Committees was gradually downgraded as the government returned to its old alliance with the big business interests of Petro-grad. And, one by one, the main rebel ministers were dismissed. Samarin, the new Procurator of the Holy Synod and a prominent critic of Rasputin, was the first to be forced out, much to the fury of the Church and conservative opinion. Krivoshein, the Agriculture Minister, followed soon after. Next Shcher-batov, the Interior Minister, was replaced by Khvostov, an ally of Rasputin’s, distinguished only by the huge size of his belly, who immediately pledged to silence all public criticism of the government. He stepped up police surveillance of the Duma politicians, banned meetings of public organizations, tightened censorship and lavished government funds on the Black Hundred groups, which blamed the Jews for the army’s defeats and all the ills of war.
In all these personnel changes the Tsarina’s hand was at work. With the Tsar at the Front, she now became the real autocrat (in so far as there was one) in Petrograd. ‘Lovy,’ she wrote to her husband, ‘I am your wall in the rear. I am here, don’t laugh at silly old wify, but she has «trousers» on unseen.’ The main telephone in the Winter Palace was in her drawing-room, where she sat at her writing desk before a portrait of Marie Antoinette. She liked to boast that she was the first woman in Russia to receive government ministers since Catherine the Great, and in these delusions she was encouraged by Rasputin, who effectively used her as a mouthpiece for his own pretensions to power. Her letters to Nicholas were filled with advice from ‘Our Friend’, as she liked to call the ‘holy’ peasant. ‘It’s not my wisdom’, she would write, ‘but a certain instinct given by God beyond myself so as to be your help.’ Or: ‘We, who have been taught to look at all from another side see what the struggle here really is and means— you showing your mastery, proving yourself the Autocrat without which Russia cannot exist.’ It seems there was almost no matter of state beyond Rasputin’s expertise. She would write to the Tsar with his recommendations on food supply, transport, finance and land reform, although she herself admitted that such things made her own head spin. She even tried to persuade her husband to base his military strategy on what Rasputin had ‘seen in the night’, although here Nicholas put his foot down.40

Most of the Tsarina’s ink was used on recommendations for appointments. She saw the world in terms of friends and enemies of the ‘hidden cause’ waged by Rasputin and herself. Ministers, commanders of the armed forces and members of the court all rose or fell in her favour according to where they stood in relation to the ’cause’. The patronage of Rasputin was the quickest way up the greasy pole— and criticism of him the quickest way down. In the seventeen months of the ‘Tsarina’s rule’, from September 1915 to February 1917, Russia had four Prime Ministers, five Ministers of the Interior, three Foreign Ministers, three War Ministers, three Ministers of Transport and four Ministers of Agriculture. This ‘ministerial leapfrog’, as it came to be known, not only removed competent men from power, but also disorganized the work of government since no one remained long enough in office to master their responsibilities. Bureaucratic anarchy developed with competing chains of authority: some ministers would defer to the Tsarina or Rasputin, while others remained loyal to the Tsar, or at least to what they thought the Tsar was, although when it came to the crunch he never seemed to know what he stood for and in any case never really dared to oppose his wife. Boris Sturmer, the longest-lasting Prime Minister of the ‘Tsarina’s rule’, who replaced the senile Goremykin in January 1916, was best known as a provincial governor who had been accused of venality, and as an Assistant Minister of Interior who had been charged with incompetence. In Sazonov’s memorable phrase, he was ‘a man who had left behind a bad memory wherever he had occupied an administrative post’. The affairs of state proved utterly beyond him. He ran to the Tsarina and Rasputin so often for advice that even the extreme monarchist V M. Purishkevich began to compare this ridiculous figure to Chichikov in Gogol’sDead Souls,who, after calling on all the dignitaries of the provincial town, sat for a long time in his carriage wondering who to visit next.41
* * * Perhaps the most damaging change of personnel was the dismissal of Polivanov in March 1916. More than any other man he was responsible for the rebuilding of the Russian army after the terrible losses of the Great Retreat. Major-General Knox, the British military attache in Russia, thought him ‘undoubtedly the ablest military organizer in Russia’ and called his dismissal ‘a disaster’. Polivanov’s crime, in the eyes of the Tsarina, had been his readiness to work with the public organizations in improving army supplies. ‘Oh, how I wish you could get rid of Polivanov,’ she wrote to her husband in January. ‘He is simply a revolutionist.’ His friendship with Guchkov, head of the War Industries Committees, was seen by the court with special alarm, since in November the Octobrist leader had invited elected workers’ representatives to sit with him on the committees’ central governing body. ‘I wish you could shut up that rotten war industries committee’, the Tsarina implored her husband in March, ‘as they prepare simply anti-dynastic

questions for their meetings.’ As for Guchkov, she asked, ‘Could one not hang him?’42
The appointment of General Shuvaev, Polivanov’s successor, proved beyond doubt that unthinking obedience was now deemed far more important for a Minister of War than military expertise. Shuvaev himself once told Knox that if the Tsar ordered him to jump from the window he would gladly oblige. And when his gross mismanagement of the war led to growing public charges of ‘treason in high places’, all he could honestly say in self-defence was ‘I may be a fool, but I am no traitor.’43
With the help of the public organizations Polivanov had greatly improved the supply and morale of the army. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the South-Western Front, where Brusilov had been appointed the Front commander in March. He brought in a new style of military professionalism to the Front headquarters, promoting talented officers such as Klembovsky and Velichko (who along with Brusilov and Polivanov himself would later help inject a similar professionalism into the Red Army). Brusilov was quick to establish a good working relationship with the public organizations, and the effects of this were soon felt on his Front. ‘Little by little’, he recalled:
our technical equipment improved; rifles were supplied, of various types perhaps, but anyhow with a sufficiency of cartridges; while ammunition for the artillery, especially the light guns, arrived in abundance . . . We had every cause to reckon on being able to defeat the enemy and drive him across our frontier.44
Brusilov’s optimism marked him out at the Council of War on 15 April, when Russia’s Front commanders met with the Tsar at Stavka to plan out the summer’s operations. Generals Kuropatkin and Evert, commanders of the North-Western and Western Fronts respectively, were pessimistic about the prospects for an offensive. But Brusilov promised to make things easier for them by launching an attack against the Austrians on his own South-Western Front, despite being warned that no extra men or supplies would be spared from the north. The other commanders were shocked and annoyed by his boldness. ‘You have only just been appointed Front commander,’ one of them told him as they sat down to dinner, ‘and you are lucky enough not to be one of those picked out to take the offensive, and so aren’t called upon like them to risk your military reputation. Fancy rushing into such colossal dangers!’ But this complacent attitude, so typical of the Tsar’s favourite generals, was a long way from Brusilov’s own determination and, perhaps naive, optimism. He was sure that God was leading Russia to victory, a faith reflected throughout the war in his letters to

his wife. ‘I remain convinced’, he wrote to her at the height of the Great Retreat, ‘that somehow things will work out and we will win the war.’45
Nor did the scorn of Brusilov’s colleagues take into account the sheer ingenuity of his tactics, which were set to make his offensive, in the words of Norman Stone, the main historian of the Eastern Front, ‘the most brilliant victory of the war’.46 What distinguished Brusilov’s military genius was his willingness to learn from the tactical lessons of 1914—15. Ever since the Fronts had become fixed and the war of mobility had given way to the war of position, Europe’s generals had attempted to break through the enemy lines by concentrating men and munitions at a single point of the Front. The German breakthrough at Gorlice was a classic example ofthis ‘phalanx’ method, which Russia’s generals slavishly followed thereafter. Brusilov was the one exception. He argued that the Russians, with their primitive railways, could not hope to concentrate their forces in one place without the enemy learning of it with plenty of time to bring up defensive reserves. As long as the element of surprise continued to be sacrificed on the altar of strength, Russia could not hope to gain a decisive breakthrough. He proposed instead to attack simultaneously at several points along the Front, thus making it difficult for the enemy, even with intelligence ofthe offensive positions, to guess where defensive reserves would be needed most.
Intensive preparations were made for the offensive. Nothing quite like it had ever been seen before. The key to Brusilov’s plan was surprise, so everything was done to safeguard secrecy (even the Tsarina could not find out when or where the attack would begin). Offensive trenches were dug deeper than usual and camouflaged by a novel device of spraying the ground with paint. Assault tunnels were built under the Austrian barbed wire to within a hundred yards of their lines, so that when the assault was launched the first wave of attackers could reach their trenches in one rush. The enemy’s positions were carefully studied with the benefit of aerial photography. This enabled Brusilov to build full-scale models of the Austrian trenches and train his assault troops on them. It also meant that when the offensive began the Russians knew the precise location of the Austrian batteries and, in some places, even of individual machine-guns. Despite its inferior numbers, the Russian artillery thus had the one decisive advantage of knowing its targets, and this was to ensure the offensive’s initial success.47
The offensive began on 4 June, in Brusilov’s words, ‘with a thunderous artillery barrage all along the South-Western Front’. ‘The entire zone of battle was covered by a huge, thick cloud of dust and smoke,’ an Austrian officer wrote, which ‘allowed the Russians to come over the ruined wire-obstacles in thick waves and into our trenches.’ Within forty-eight hours the Russians had broken through the Austrian defences along a fifty-mile front, capturing more than

40,000 prisoners. By day nine the number had risen to 200,000 men, more than half the Habsburg forces on the Eastern Front, and Conrad, the Austrian Chief of Staff, was starting to talk of the need to sue for peace.48
If Evert and Kuropatkin had followed up Brusilov’s advance with their own promised attacks on the Western and North-Western Fronts, the enemy might have been pushed back and the course of the war changed entirely. Hindenburg later confessed that with a second offensive, ‘We [would have been] faced with the menace of a complete collapse.’ According to the original war plan, Brusilov’s Front was considered secondary to both Evert’s and Kuroptakin’s. Yet neither of them was prepared to attack. To be fair, their task would have been much harder than Brusilov’s. For they would have had to fight the German troops, which were much stronger than the Austro-Hungarian forces whom Brusiloy had overcome on the South-Western Front. But their vanity was also a factor: the increased risk of defeat made them all the more afraid of losing their own precious reputations. Perhaps the real blame lay with Stavka. Alexeev had served under Kuropatkin and Evert during the Japanese War and was still too frightened of them to force them to attack. The Tsar also indulged the cowardly generals— they were the favourites of his court — and ignored Brusilov’s daily requests to order an offensive. The Tsarina was partly behind this. She bombarded her indecisive husband with Rasputin’s ‘expert’ advice against an offensive in the north ‘because’, in his words, ‘if our successes in the south continue, then they [the Germans] will themselves retreat in the north’.49
Such military stupidity was largely to blame for the slow-down of Brusilov’s advance. Instead of starting a second offensive Stavka transferred troops from the north to Brusilov’s Front. They were not enough to maintain the momentum of his offensive, however, since the Germans, with their position eased by the inactivity of Evert and Kuropatkin, were also able to transfer reinforcements to the south. Conscious of his declining advantage, Brusilov now reverted to orthodox tactics, advancing towards Kovel but fighting, in his own words, ‘at a lower pressure … to spare my men as far as possible’. Slowly but surely, the Russian advance was grinding to a halt. In eight weeks of fighting Brusilov’s armies had captured 425,000 men and a large part of Galicia; the enemy had been forced to withdraw troops from the Western Front, thus relieving pressure on Italy and the French at Verdun; while Romania, for what it was worth, was at last persuaded to join the war on the side of the Russians. Ludendorff called it ‘the crisis in the East’. In 1918 he would pay the ultimate compliment to Brusilov’s tactics by using them himself on the Western Front.50
Coming as it did after a long year of defeat in the east, and of bloody stalemate in the west, Brusilov’s offensive turned him overnight into a hero not just in Russia but throughout the Allied countries. Giliarovsky wrote a collection of panegyric poems ‘To Brusilov’ which sold in their tens of thousands in leaflet

form. French and Italian composers dedicated cantatas, marches and songs to the war hero. And throughout Europe people flocked to see the film calledBrusilov.The General himself later wrote:
I received hundreds of telegrams congratulating and blessing me from every class of Russian society. Everyone would have his say; peasants, mechanics, aristocrats, the clergy, the intelligentsia, and the children in the schools, all wanted to let me know that the great heart of the country was beating in sympathy with the well-loved soldiers of my victorious armies.
Brusilov had shown that under competent commanders the imperial army was still capable of military success. Had it not been undermined by Stavka, his offensive might have served as the springboard for the restoration of the army’s morale— perhaps even one day leading towards its eventual victory. But it is doubtful whether even this would have been enough to save the tsarist regime, such was the extent of the political crisis in the country at large. In any case, with the failure of the offensive it now became clearer than ever,even to a monarchist like Brusilov, that, in his own words, ‘Russia could not win the war with its present system of government.’51 Victory would not stop the revolution; but only a revolution could help bring about victory.
For Brusilov the final damning proof of the old regime’s incompetence had come at the start of July, when Alexeev transferred the elite Imperial Guards to his Front in a last desperate bid to save the offensive. These young blue-bloods were described by Knox as ‘physically the finest human animals in Europe’. In their dark-green parade uniforms, trimmed with golden braid, each guard stood over six feet tall. But they came with a gormless commander, General Bezobrazov, another favourite of the court, who disobeyed Brusilov’s orders and sent them into attack through an exposed swamp. As the warriors waded chest-high through the mud, the German planes flew overhead, raking them with their machine-guns. Knox watched in horror as the planes swooped down to hit their targets and ‘the wounded sank slowly into the marsh’.52 In one stupid action the core of the country’s finest fighting force had been lost, and with it the final chance of victory under the old regime.
* * * Brusilov’s impatience with the government was increasingly shared by the rest of society as 1916, the third long year of the war, dragged on. Patriotic nobles like Brusilov and Lvov had hoped that a successful war campaign would bring the government and society together and thus forestall the need for radical reforms. They now realized that the opposite was true: radical reforms were a necessary precondition for military success. The growing shortages of food, fuel and basic

household goods, the rapid inflation of prices, the breakdown of transport, the widespread corruption of the government and its military suppliers, and the steep increase in crime and social disorder— all these combined with the endless slaughter of the war to create a growing sense of public panic and hysteria. ‘More and more’, Gorky wrote to a friend in November 1915, ‘people are behaving like animals and madmen. They spread stupid rumours and this creates an atmosphere of universal fear which poisons even the intelligent.’ Among the propertied classes there was a general feeling that Russia was on the brink of a terrible catastrophe, a violent social explosion, against which the government was totally unprepared to defend them. People spoke of the Tsar and his government with open contempt. The word ‘revolution’ was on everybody’s lips. A deluge is approaching,’ Guchkov wrote to Alexeev in August 1916, ‘and a pitiful, wretched and flabby Government is preparing to face that cataclysm by taking measures only good enough to protect oneself from a shower. It puts on galoshes and opens an umbrella!’53
Sensing the coming disaster, the rich and the high-born lost themselves in a last desperate binge of personal pleasure. They drank their stocks of champagne, spent huge sums of money on black-market caviar, sturgeon and other peacetime delicacies, threw lavish parties, deceived their wives and husbands and gambled away fortunes in casinos. Foreigners were shocked by their luxurious lifestyles and, even more so, by the indiscretion with which they flaunted their enjoyment. ‘Their wealth and the lavish use they made of it dazzled me after the austere conditions of wartime life in England,’ wrote Sir Samuel Hoare, the British intelligence officer in Petrograd. This hysterical hedonism was best expressed in some anonymous satirical verses of early 1916:
We do not take defeat amiss, And victory gives us no delight The source of all our cares is this: Can we get vodka for tonight.
The victories we can do without. No! Peace and quiet is our line, Intrigues and scandal, evenings out Trimmed up with women and with wine.
We only want to know, next day What Ministers will be on view, Or who takes who to see the play, Or who at Cuba’s sat next who:…

And does Rasputin still prevail Or do we need another saint, And is Kshesinskaya quite well, And how the feast at Shubin’s went:
If the Grand Duke took Dina home, What kind of luck MacDiddie had— Oh, if a Zeppelin would come. And smash the whole or Petrograd.54
Much of the public hysteria was focused on the court, where a pro-German clique around the Tsarina was widely believed to be conspiring to bring about Russia’s defeat. The idea of treason in high places, which started with the Miasoyedov affair and the Great Retreat, gained momentum in 1916 as rumours spread of the existence of a ‘Black Bloc’ at court, which was said to be seeking a separate peace with Berlin. The growing domination of the Tsarina (the ‘German woman’), the anti-war sentiments of Rasputin, the large number of German names at the court, and the Tsar’s promotion of Sturmer to the status of a virtual ‘dictator’ (by June he had assumed the powers of Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior, Foreign Minister and Supreme Minister for State Defence) all helped to fuel speculation. It was widely claimed that the Tsarina and Rasputin were working for the Germans; that they had a direct line to Berlin; and that Nicholas regularly warned his uncle, the Kaiser Wilhelm, of the movements of his troops. Such rumours became even more distorted by the time they reached the Front. Judging from their letters home, demoralized soldiers were prepared to believe that Sturmer had been paid by the Germans to starve the peasants to death; and that Count Fredericks, the Minister of the Imperial Court, had agreed to sell the western half of Russia to the enemy.
Similar credence was given to rumours of various sexual scandals surrounding the Tsarina. Alexandra’s ‘sexual corruption’ became a kind of metaphor for the diseased condition of the tsarist regime. She was said to be a slut, the mistress of Rasputin and the lesbian lover of Anna Vyrubova, her lady-in-waiting, who was said to share her bed with Rasputin and the Tsar. None of these rumours had any basis in fact. Vyrubova was a naive and dim-witted spinster, infatuated with the mystical powers of Rasputin and the cosy domestic lifestyle of the imperial family. In 1917 she was medically certified to be a virgin by a special commission appointed by the Provisional Government to examine the charges against her. As for the Tsarina, she was much too strait-laced to indulge in any sexual act that was not strictly necessary for the reproduction of the dynasty. Nor was there any foundation to the charges of treason against her, although it is possible that German agents picked up information from Rasputin’s

loud and boastful talk. He regularly dined at the house of a Petrograd banker whom the French Ambassador believed to be the leading German agent in Russia.
The point of these rumours was not their truth or untruth, but their power to mobilize an angry public against the dynasty. In a revolutionary crisis it is perceptions and beliefs that count rather than realities. The demonization of the Romanov court enabled its opponents to point the finger of blame at conspicuous culprits for the people’s wartime hardships. Condemning the court as ‘German’ was a way of defining and legitimizing this revolutionary anger as the patriotic mood of ‘the nation’, as if all the country’s problems were due to the evil influence of a few highly placed foreigners and could be solved by getting rid of them. The February Revolution of 1917 was identified as a patriotic revolution. Anti-German and anti-monarchist attitudes were closely interwoven in the new democratic consciousness which February’s leaders sought to cultivate as the basis for Russia’s national renewal. In this sense the anti-German riots of June 1915, at the height of the Great Retreat, were the first sign of an upswing in the popular revolutionary mood. Angry Moscow mobs burned and looted German shops and offices. Piano stores were attacked and Bechsteins and Bluthners hurled from the windows. Anyone suspected of being German (which often meant no more than being well dressed) was attacked and robbed. In Red Square crowds shouted insults at the ‘German woman’ and called for her to be shut up in a convent. There were also calls for the Tsar to abdicate in favour of the Grand Duke Nikolai. The hysterical public was determined to see German sabotage in everything, from the shortage of shells to the corruption of minor officials, and by raising the battle-cry of ‘treason in high places’ the new pretenders to power became popular national heroes.55
It was difficult for the liberals, despite their fear of the masses, to resist this opportunity for political gain. By speaking for ‘the nation’ against the dynasty they might place themselves once again at the head of the opposition movement. This seemed increasingly important now that the protests against the war and its economic hardships were taking a more radical form, with mass strikes and demonstrations, many of them led by the socialists. ‘I am afraid’, one Kadet leader told his colleagues in the autumn of 1916, ‘that the policy of the government will lead to a situation in which the Duma will be powerless to do anything for the pacification of the masses.’ The reports of the secret police made it clear that ‘the broad mass of the people’ were becoming increasingly hostile to the Duma and were accusing it ‘of deliberately refusing to come to the aid of the masses; the most bitter accusations in this respect are levelled not only at the Octobrists, but at the Kadets too’. If the Duma was to avoid becoming obsolete and ineffective, it would have to move closer to the mood of the streets and add its own voice to the revolutionary movement. That was the

view of the left Kadets, of Kerensky’s Trudoviks, and of a growing number of public figures, including Prince Lvov, who told a meeting of the Progressive Bloc that Russia’s only hope of salvation lay in a revolution. ‘Abandon all further attempts at constructive collaboration with the present government,’ he wrote in December; ‘they are all doomed to failure and are only an impediment to our aim. Do not indulge in illusion; turn away from ghosts. There is no longer a government we can recognize.’56
Such arguments were strengthened by the continued intransigence of the regime. The appointment in September of A.D. Protopopov as acting Minister of the Interior had raised the hopes of the moderate liberals, men like Miliukov, who still sought to win reforms from the government through conciliation. Protopopov was an Octobrist landowner and textile manufacturer, a member of the Progressive Bloc, and Deputy Chairman of the Duma. His appointment was widely seen as government capitulation to the liberal opposition— one soon to be followed by the appointment of a Duma ministry. But in fact it was no more than a clever political manoeuvre by the court. The Duma was due to convene on I November and Protopopov, as a ‘Duma man’, was seen as the best man to control it. ‘Please take Protopopov as Minister of theInterior,’ the Tsarina had urged her husband. ‘As he is one of the Duma it will make a great effect and shut their mouths.’ Protopopov was a fanatical mystic (he once told Kerensky that he ruled with the help of Jesus Christ) and, unknown to the liberals, a protege of Rasputin (who, as he once toldBrusilov, was ‘saving Russia from a revolution’). He was ambitious and ridiculously vain — he was clearly overwhelmed by the honour bestowed on him by the Tsar — and was thus unlikely to endanger his own position by making common cause with the opposition. When the real nature of his role became clear — he soon donned the uniform of the Imperial Gendarmerie, an archetypal symbol of tsarist oppression — an old Duma colleague begged him to resign. Protopopov replied: ‘How can you ask me to resign? All my life it was my dream to be a Vice-Governor, and here I am a Minister.’57
Disillusionment with the new minister set in very quickly. Hope gave way to hatred in Duma circles. Protopopov’s obsequiousness to the imperial couple was nauseating. Instead of providing a bridge between the liberal opposition and the government he turned himself into a lackey of the court and was roundly condemned as a traitor to the parliamentary cause. On Rasputin’s request, he ordered Sukhomlinov’s release from prison— most of the country would have had him hanged for treason — and banned public organizations from meeting without the police in attendance.
By the time the Duma reassembled, on I November, even the moderate Miliukov was finally forced to acknowledge that the time for co-operation with the government was rapidly passing. With the radicals in his own Kadet party

calling for open revolt, he now decided to seize the initiative by condemning the government in his opening speech to the Duma. He listed its abuses of power, denouncing each in turn and ending each time with the question: Is this folly or treason?’ The effect of his speech, as Miliukov later recalled, was ‘as if a blister filled with pus had burst and the basic evil, which was known to everyone but had awaited public exposure, had now been pinpointed’. He succeeded in turning the Tauride Palace into the Tribune of the Revolution once again. There were other more fiery speeches in the Duma that day— from Kerensky, for example — but the fact that a statesman as cautious as Miliukov, and one, moreover, with such close connections to Allied diplomats, had openly used the word ‘treason’ was enough for the public to conclude that treason there had been. This had not been Miliukov’s aim. To his own rhetorical question he himself would have answered ‘folly’. Yet the public was so charged up with emotion that by the time it read his speech it was almost bound to answer ‘treason’. The fact that the speech was banned from the press and had to be read in well-thumbed typescripts passed from hand to hand only further inclined people to read it as being more radical than it was. In some versions of the typescript a particular social grievance would appear inserted into the middle of the speech (for example, claiming that in addition to its other abuses the government treated teachers verybadly). ‘My speech acquired the reputation of a storm-signal for the revolution,’ Miliukov recalled. ‘Such was not my intention. But the prevailing mood in the country served as a megaphone for my words.’58It was to be a salutary lesson for any future liberals— especially those of 1917 — trying to halt a social revolution by the power of words. Having stoked up his rhetoric in order to help his Duma colleagues let off steam, Miliukov had succeeded in firing the engines of radical protest in the country at large.
What Miliukov had failed to appreciate was the extent to which a revolution had now come to be seen as unstoppable, and even desirable, not just by the radicals but by conservatives too. His own strategy of conciliation and parliamentary struggle, with the aim of reaching a compromise with the government, was rapidly losing ground. As one general at Stavka remarked, there was a ‘widespread conviction that something had to be broken and annihilated, a conviction that tormented people and gave them no peace’.59 Even the Tsar’s immediate family were now lining up behind the liberal opposition. On 7 November the Grand Duke Nikolai urged him to let the Duma appoint a government. The Moscow and Petrograd branches of the United Nobility, since 1905 the firmest pillar of the autocracy, gave him similar advice. In short, there was practically no one outside the narrow ruling clique at the court who did not see the need for a fundamental change in the structure of the government.
Yet again Nicholas tried to manoeuvre himself out of a corner by

making half-hearted concessions. On 8 November Sturmer was dismissed, to the Duma’s rejoicing, and A. F. Trepov became the new Prime Minister. Here was a final chance for the liberals to make their peace with the government. For Trepov,
win the support of the moderate elements in the Duma by making concessions. Miliukov was ready to accept his olive branch (and no doubt a seat in his cabinet). But the radical and socialist deputies, spurred on by the inflammatory speeches of the Trudovik Kerensky and the Menshevik Nikolai Chkheidze, were determined to bring down the government and called for an alliance with ‘the masses’ in preparation for a popular revolt.
This was essentially how the Duma remained divided through the following weeks of complex political manoeuvring between November and the February Revolution. Miliukov’s Kadets, in the words of the secret police, looked on the prospect of a revolution ‘with feelings of horror and panic’, and ‘if the government offered the slightest concession would run to meet it with joy’. Yet the hope of concessions was fading fast. For the Tsarina was flatly opposed to Trepov (she wanted him hanged like Guchkov), while the threat of the radical left was growing all the time. This increasingly gave the initiative to Kerensky and the other Duma radicals, who would open the doors of the Tauride Palace, if not directly to the crowds on the streets, then at least to their more polite representatives. The language of their speeches became increasingly violent, as they sought to express— and thus capture — the mood on the streets. They openlv called on the people to overthrow the regime and ridiculed the moderates’ calls for calm as a pretext, in the words of Kerensky, to stay in their ‘warm armchairs’. Yet they also had cause to worry that the popular mood was passing over their heads too, that the crowds on the streets were becoming contemptuous of the Duma and looking elsewhere for their leaders. For as Vasilii Shulgin, the Nationalist leader, put it, ‘no one believes in words any longer’.60
From now on it was a question of whether the revolution would start from below or above. The idea of a ‘palace coup’ had been circulating for some time. Guchkov was at the centre of one such conspiracy. It aimed to seize the imperial trainen routefrom Stavka to Tsarskoe Selo and to force the Tsar to abdicate in favour of his son, with the Grand Duke Mikhail, Nicholas’s brother, serving as Regent. In this way the conspirators hoped to forestall the social revolution by appointing a new government of confidence. However, with only limited support from the military, the liberals and the imperial family, they put off the plans for their coup until March 1917— by which time it was too late. A second conspiracy was meanwhile being hatched by Prince Lvov with the help of the Chief of Staff, General Alexeev. They planned to arrest the Tsarina and compel Nicholas to hand over authority to the Grand Duke Nikolai. Lvov would then be appointed as the Premier of a new government of confidence. Several

liberal politicians and generals supported the plan, including Brusilov, who told the Grand Duke: ‘If I must choose between the Emperor and Russia, then I march for Russia.’ But this plot was also scotched— by the Grand Duke’s reluctance to become involved. There were various other conspiracies, some of them originating with the Tsar’s distant relatives, to force an abdication in favour of some other Romanov capable of appeasing the Duma. Historians differ widely on these plots, some seeing them as the opening acts of the February Revolution, others as nothing but idle chit-chat. Neither is probably true. For even if the conspirators had been serious in their intentions, and had succeeded in carrying them out, they could hardly have expected to hold on to power for long before they too were swept aside by the revolution on the streets.61
The only plot to succeed was the murder of Rasputin. Several efforts had been made to remove him before. Khvostov had tried to have his former patron murdered after being dismissed as Minister of the Interior in January 1916. Trepov had offered him 200,000 roubles in cash to return to Siberia and keep out of politics. But the Tsarina had foiled both plans and, as a result, Rasputin’s prestige at court had only risen further. It was this that had finally persuaded a powerful group of conspirators on the fringes of the court to murder Rasputin. The central figure in this plot was Prince Felix Yusupov, a 29-year-old graduate of Oxford, son of the richest woman in Russia, and, although a homosexual, recently married to the Grand Duchess Irina Alexandrovna, daughter of the Tsar’s favourite sister. Two other homosexuals in the Romanov court— the Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich, a favourite nephew of the Tsar, and the Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich — were also involved. Rasputin had become increasingly involved with the homosexual circles of the high aristocracy. He liked to ‘lie with’ men as much as with women. Yusupov had approached him after his wedding in the hope that he might ‘cure’ him from his sexual ‘illness’. But Rasputin had tried to seduce him instead. Yusupov turned violently against him and, together with the Grand Dukes Dmitry and Nikolai, plotted his downfall. Along with their own homosexual vendetta (and perhaps in order to conceal it) they had grave political concerns which they voiced to the right-wing Duma leader and outspoken critic of Rasputin, V M. Purishkevich, who joined them in their plot. They were outraged by Rasputin’s influence on the Tsar and by the rumours that because of this Russia would sign a separate peace with Germany. They pledged to ‘eliminate’ Rasputin and to confine the Tsarina to a mental institution, naively believing that once the Tsar had been freed of their influence, he would see sense and turn himself into a good constitutional king.
Together the three conspirators planned to lure Rasputin to Yusupov’s riverside palace on the pretext of meeting his beautiful wife, the Grand Duchess Irina. There they would kill him with poison and sink his body to the bottom

of the Neva so that he would be counted as missing rather than dead. The plotters were anything but discreet: half the journalists of Petrograd seem to have known all the details of the murder days before it took place. It is frankly a miracle that, despite the plotters’ immunity from police investigation, nothing was done to prevent them.
On the fatal day, 16 December, Rasputin was explicitly warned not to go to the Yusupov palace. He seems to have sensed his fate, for he spent most of the day destroying correspondence, depositing money in his daughter’s account and praying. But the worldly attractions of the Grand Duchess Irina were too much for him to resist. Shortly after midnight he arrived in Yusupov’s car smelling of cheap soap, his hair greased down and dressed in his most seductive clothes: black velvet trousers, squeaky leather boots and a white silk shirt with a satin-gold waistband given to him by the Tsarina. Yusupov showed his guest to a basement salon, claiming his wife was still entertaining guests in the main part of the palace and would join them later. Rasputin drank several poisoned glasses of his favourite sweet Madeira and helped himself to one or two cyanide-filled gateaux. But over an hour later neither had taken effect and Yusupov, his patience exhausted, turned to desperate measures. Taking a Browning pistol from his writing desk upstairs, he rejoined the basement party, invited Rasputin to inspect a crystal crucifix standing on a commode, and, as the ‘holy man’ bent down to do so, shot him in the side. With a wild scream Rasputin fell to the floor. The conspirators presumed he was dead and went off to dispose of his overcoat. But meanwhile he regained consciousness and made his way to a side door that led into a courtyard and out on to the embankment. Purishkevich found him in the courtyard, staggering through the snow towards the outside gate, shouting, ‘Felix, Felix, I will tell the Tsarina everything!’ Purishkevich fired and missed him twice. But two more shots brought his victim down in a heap and, just to make sure that he was dead, Purishkevich kicked him in the temple. Weighed down with iron chains, Rasputin’s corpse was driven to a remote spot of the city and dumped into the Neva, where it was finally washed up on 18 December. For several days thereafter, crowds of women gathered at the spot to collect the ‘holy water’ from the river sanctified by Rasputin’s flesh.62
The news of Rasputin’s murder was greeted with joy among aristocratic circles. The Grand Duke Dmitry was given a standing ovation when he appeared in the Mikhailovsky Theatre on the evening of 17 December. The Tsarina’s sister, the Grand Duchess Elisaveta, wrote to Yusupov’s mother offering prayers of thanks for her ‘dear son’s patriotic act’. She and fifteen other members of the imperial family pleaded with the Tsar not to punish Dmitry. But Nicholas rejected their appeal, replying that ‘No one has the right to engage in murder.’63Dmitry was exiled to Persia. On special orders from the Tsar, no one was allowed


29 General Brusilov in 1917, shortly after his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army. One of his subordinates described him as ‘a man of average height with gentle features and a natural easy-going manner but with such an air of commanding dignity that, when one looks at him, one feels duty-bound to love him and at the same time to fear him’.

30 Maxim Gorky in 1917. ‘It was impossible to argue with Gorky. You couldn’t convince him of anything, because he had an astonishing ability: not to listen to what he didn’t like, not to respond when a question was asked which he had no answer to’ (Nina Berberova). It was no doubt this ability which enabled Gorky to live in Lenin’s Russia.

31 Prince G. E. Lvov, democratic Russia’s first Prime Minister, in March 1917. During his four months in office Lvov’s hair turned white.

32 Sergei Semenov in 1917. The peasant activist was sufficiently well known in his native district of Volokolamsk to warrant this portrait.

33 Dmitry Os’kin(seated centre)with the Tula Military Commissariat in 1919. The story of his rise from the peasantry to the senior ranks of the Red Army was later told by Os’kin in two autobiographical volumes of 1926 and 1931. Like Kanatchikov’s autobiography, they were part of the Soviet genre of memoirs by the masses.

34 Alexander Kerensky in 1917. This was just one of many portraits of Kerensky circulated to the masses in postcard form as part of the cult of his personality.

35 Lenin harangues the crowd, 1918. The photographer was Petr Otsup, one of the pioneers of the Soviet school of photo-journalism.

36 Trotsky in the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1906. Trotsky was a dapper dresser, even when in jail. Here, in the words of Isaac Deutscher, he looks more like ‘a prosperous western Europeanfin-de-siecleintellectual just about to attend a somewhat formal reception [than] a revolutionary awaiting trial in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Only the austerity of the bare wall and the peephole in the door offer a hint of the real background.’

37 Alexandra Kollontai in 1921, when she threw her lot in with the Workers’ Opposition. Kollontai’s break with Lenin was especially significant because she had been the only senior Bolshevik to support hisApril Thesesfrom the start.

to bid him farewell at the station, and the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna was put under house arrest for trying to.
Contrary to the intentions of the conspirators, Rasputin’s death drew Nicholas closer to his grief-stricken wife. He was now more determined than ever to resist all advocates of reform. He even banished four dissident grand dukes from Petrograd. As the revolution drew nearer, he retreated more and more into the quiet life of his family at Tsarskoe Selo, cutting off all ties with the outside world and even the rest of the court. There was no customary exchange of gifts between the imperial couple and the Romanovs at the dynasty’s final Christmas of 1916.
Rasputin’s embalmed body was finally buried outside the palace at Tsarskoe Selo on a freezing January day in1917.After the February Revolution a group of soldiers exhumed the grave, packed up the corpse in a piano case and took it off to a clearing in the Pargolovo Forest, where they drenched it with kerosene and burned it on top of a pyre. His ashes were scattered in the wind.
iiiFrom the Trenches to the Barricades
Trotsky’s boat sailed into New York harbour on a cold and rainy Sunday evening in January 1917. It had been a terrible crossing, seventeen stormy days in a small steamboat from Spain, and the revolutionary leader now looked haggard and tired as he disembarked on the quayside before a waiting crowd of comrades and pressmen. His mood was depressed. Expelled as an anti-war campaigner from France, his adopted home since 1914, he felt that ‘the doors of Europe’ had been finally ‘shut behind’ him and that, like his fellow passengers on board theMontserrat,a motley bunch of deserters, adventurers and undesirables forced into exile, he would never return. ‘This is the last time’, he wrote on New Year’s Eve as they sailed past Gibraltar, ‘that I cast a glance on that oldcanailleEurope.’64It was a mark of the party’s frustration that three of the leading Social Democrats— Trotsky, Bukharin and Kollontai — should find themselves together in New York, 5,000 miles from Russia, on the eve of the 1917 Revolution. Nikolai Bukharin had arrived from Oslo during the previous autumn and taken over the editorship ofNovyi mir(New World), the leading socialist daily of the Russian emigre community. At the age of twenty-nine, he had already established himself as a leading Bolshevik theoretician and squabbled with Lenin on several finer points of party ideology, before leaving Europe with the claim that ‘Lenin cannot tolerate any other person with brains.’ Short and slight with a boyish, sympathetic face and a thin red beard, he was waiting for Trotsky on the quayside. Unlike the dogmatic Lenin, who had heaped abuse on

the left-wing Menshevik, he was keen to include Trotsky in a broad socialist campaign against the war. He had known the Trotskys slightly in Vienna and shared their love for European culture. He greeted them with a bear hug and immediately began to tell them, as Trotskys wife recalled, ‘about a public library which stayed open late at night and which he proposed to show us at once’. Although it was late and the Trotskys were very tired, they were dragged across town ‘to admire his great discovery’.65 Thus began the close but ultimately tragic friendship between Trotsky and Bukharin.
Trotsky saw less of Alexandra Kollontai. She spent much of her time in the New Jersey town of Paterson, where her son had settled to avoid the military draft. This was her second American trip. The year before she had toured the country proselytizing Lenin’s views on the war. An ebullient and emotional woman, prone to fall in love with young men and Utopian ideas, she had thrown herself into the Bolshevik cause with all the fanaticism of the newly converted. ‘Nothing was revolutionary enough for her,’ recalled a Trotsky still bitter fourteen years later at her denunciation of him, in a letter to Lenin, as a waverer on the war.66 Trotsky was closer to the Bolsheviks than Kollontai appreciated, and the motives for his leftward progression from the Mensheviks were similar to her own.
Like many of the exiled revolutionaries, Trotsky and Kollontai were both driven by their commitment to international socialism. Fluent in several European languages and steeped in classical culture, they saw themselves less as Russians— Kollontai was half-Finnish, half-Ukrainian, while Trotsky was a Jew — than as comrades of the international cause. They were equally at home in the British Museum, in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, or in the cafes of Vienna, Zurich and Berlin, as they were in the underground revolutionary cells of St Petersburg. The Russian Revolution was for them no more than a part of the international struggle against capitalism. Germany, the home of Marx and Engels, was the intellectual centre of their world. ‘For us’, recalled Trotsky, ‘the German Social Democracy was mother, teacher and living example. We idealized it from a distance. The names of Bebel and Kautsky were pronounced reverently.’67
But the German spell had been abruptly broken in August 1914. The Social Democrats rallied behind the Kaiser in support of the war campaign. For the leaders of the Russian Revolution, who thought of themselves as disciples of the European Marxist tradition, the ‘betrayal of the Germans’ was, as Bukharin put it, ‘the greatest tragedy of our lives’. Lenin, then in Switzerland, had been so convinced of the German comrades’ commitment to the international cause that he had at first dismissed the press reports of their support for the war as part of a German plot to deceive the socialists abroad. Trotsky, who had heard the news on his way to Zurich, was shocked by it ‘even more than the declaration

of war’. As for Kollontai, she had been present in the Reichstag to witness her heroes give their approval to the German military budget. She had watched in disbelief as they lined up one by one, some of them even dressed in army uniforms, to declare their allegiance to the Fatherland. 1 could not believe it,’ she wrote in her diary that evening; ‘I was convinced that either they had all gone mad, or else I had lost my mind.’ After the fatal vote had been taken she had run out in distress into the lobby— only to be accosted by one of the socialist deputies who angrily asked her what a Russian was doing inside the Reichstag building. It had suddenly dawned upon her that the old solidarity of the International had been buried, that the socialist cause had been lost in chauvinism, and ‘it seemed to me’, she wrote in her diary, ‘that all was now lost’.68
It was not just their European comrades who had abandoned the international cause. Most Russian socialists had also rallied to the cry of their Fatherland. The Menshevik Party, home and school of both Trotsky and Kollontai, was split between a large Defensist majority, led by the elderly Plekhanov, which supported the Tsar’s war effort on the grounds that Russia had the right to defend itself against a foreign aggressor, and a small Internationalist minority, led by Martov, which favoured a democratic peace campaign. The SR Party was similarly divided, with the Defensists placing Allied military victory before revolution, and Internationalists advocating revolution as the only way to end what they saw as an imperialist war in which all the belligerents were equally to blame. These divisions were to cripple both parties during the crucial struggles for power in 1917. At their heart lay a fundamental difference of world-view between those, on the one hand, who acknowledged the legitimacy of nation states and the inevitability of conflict between them, and those, on the other, who placed class divisions above national interests. Feelings on this could run high. Gorky, for example, who considered himself an ardent Internationalist, broke off all relations with his adopted son, Zinovy Peshkov, when he volunteered for the French Legion. Gorky even refused to write to him when his hand was shot off whilst leading an attack on the German positions during his first battle.* To the patriots, the Internationalists’ opposition to the war seemed dangerously close to helping the enemy. To the Internationalists, the patriots’ call to arms
* Zinovy Peshkov (1884-1966) was the brother of Yakov Sverdlov, the Bolshevik leader and first Soviet President. After recovering from his wound, he enlisted in the French military intelligence. He supported Kornilov’s movement against the Provisional Government. In 1918 he joined Semenov’s anti-Bolshevik army in the Far East and then Kolchak’s White government in Omsk. In 1920 he was sent to the Crimea as a French military agent in Wrangel’s government and left Russia with Wrangel’s army. He later became a close associate of Charles de Gaulle and a prominent French politician. What is strange is that until 1933 Peshkov maintained good relations with Gorky in Russia, and that Gorky knew about his intelligence activities. See Delmas, Legionnaire et diplomate’.

seemed tantamount to adopting the slogan ‘Workers of the World, Seize Each Other by the Throat!’69
The Bolsheviks were the only socialist party to remain broadly united in their opposition to the war, although they too had their own defensists during the early days before Lenin had imposed his views. His opposition to the war was uncompromising. Unlike the Menshevik and SR Internationalists, who sought to bring the war to an end through peaceful demonstration and negotiation, Lenin called on the workers of the world to use their arms against their own governments, to end the war by turning it into a series of civil wars, or revolutions, across the whole of Europe. It was to be a ‘war against war’.
For Trotsky and Kollontai, who had both come to see the Russian revolution as part of a European-wide struggle against imperialism, there was an iron logic at the heart of Lenin’s slogan which increasingly appealed to their own left-wing Menshevik internationalism. To begin with, in the first year of the war, both had similar doubts about the Bolshevik leader. Whereas Lenin had argued that Russia’s defeat would be a lesser evil’ than that of the more advanced Germany, they opposed the whole idea of military victors and losers. The dispute, though minor in itself, related to a broader difference of opinion. Lenin had recently come to stress the revolutionary potential of nationalist movements within colonial systems, and he argued that Russia’s defeat would help to bring about the collapse of the Tsarist Empire. But Trotsky and Kollontai (like Bukharin for that matter) believed that the nation-state would soon become a thing of the past and thus denied it as a revolutionary force. Nor could they quite yet bring themselves to embrace the Leninist call for a ‘war against war’. They preferred the pacifist slogans of their old friends and allies among the Menshevik Internationalists. Neither Trotsky nor Kollontai was ready to cut loose from the Mensheviks, whose doubts about Lenin’s rigid dogma on party organization they still shared. And while it was true that both were moving towards the Bolsheviks, they still harboured hopes of reuniting the two wings of the SD Party through a broad campaign for peace.
Trotsky had joined Martov in Paris in November 1914 and collaborated with him onNashe slovo (Our Word),without doubt the most brilliant pacifist organ in Europe. He represented its views at the Zimmerwald Conference in September 1915, a secret gathering of thirty-eight Internationalists from various countries in a tiny mountain village outside Berne. Its rousing manifesto against the war, passed in opposition to Lenin’s civil war resolution, was drawn up by Trotsky himself:
Working men and women! Mothers and fathers! Widows and orphans! Wounded and crippled! To all who are suffering from the war or in consequence of the war, we cry out, over the frontiers, over the smoking

battlefields, over the devastated cities and hamlets: ‘WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!’70
By this stage, Kollontai had already thrown in her lot with Lenin. Her love affair with Alexander Shliapnikov, a handsome worker-Bolshevik twelve years her junior, no doubt had something to do with this. He had joined her in Stockholm in the autumn of 1914 and spent the rest of the war years running errands to Russia for Lenin. Yet perhaps it was not so much this romance as her own emotional commitment to the international cause and to ending the war at all costs that brought her under Lenin’s spell. The war’s oppressive influence was omnipresent. It seemed to be driving civilization to the edge of an abyss. ‘So much blood is spilled, so many crimes are committed every day, every hour,’ she wrote in her diary at Christmas 1915:
And the war— it rules over all. Unseen, it decides the fate of each one of us. Before it the individual will is powerless. It was precisely this feeling of helplessness in the face of the war, this sense of the war as an unstoppable force, that had overcome me from the very first days, when I was still in Berlin.
To Kollontai, only Lenin’s call for an armed uprising seemed capable of bringing the war to an end. It alone held out the prospect of restoring the power of human will and action over objective forces. ‘This is not just «analysis» ‘, she wrote of Lenin’s warThesesin her diary. ‘This isaction.This is a political programme .. . Let the barricades answer the war.’71
For Trotsky, too, the stress that Lenin placed on the power of proletarian will and action gradually brought him closer to the Bolsheviks. Increasingly it appeared to him that his old friend and teacher Martov and the other Menshevik Internationalists had become trapped in their own analysis of objective conditions— which at that time were all workingagainstthe revolution— and that they had thus ignored the possibility of cultivating the revolutionary will (the subjective’ side of the revolution) in order to overcome these. Through excessive study, the Mensheviks had turned themselves into the prisoners of their own social determinism. Their revolutionary sloganswere in danger of becoming no more than phrases. What was called for was action, a ‘proletarian revolution’ across Europe to bring the war to an end. Martov had agreed with this to begin with, raising Trotsky’s hopes of a broad anti-war campaign to reunite the left-wing Mensheviks with the Bolshevik Party. Yet by the autumn of 1915, when the Menshevik Defensists joined the war campaign, Martov had already pulled back from the call to arms and adopted more passive and pacifist views in line with the rest of his parry. Now Trotsky had nowhere to go but leftwards. It was

not, as he later pretended, a straightforward transition. He still harboured typically Menshevik doubts about Lenin’s strict centralism and extremism. It was not until July 1917 that he finally joined the Bolshevik Party, and only then, as he put it, because the Bolsheviks were ‘becoming less Bolshevik’. Yet he was moving slowly towards the Bolsheviks and surrounding himself with future Bolshevik leaders. All the main contributors toNashe shvo,with the exception of Martov, were to align themselves with Lenin during 1917. Some became commissars in the first Soviet government, such as Kollontai (Social Welfare), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Enlightenment), Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (Military Affairs) and Trotsky himself (Foreign Affairs).72
For this reason, the trip to New York in 1917 and the collaboration with Bukharin and Kollontai was an important staging post in Trotsky’s drift to the left. He rented a three-room apartment in the Bronx which, though cheap by American standards, gave him the unaccustomed luxuries of electric light, a chute for garbage and a telephone. Later there were legends that Trotsky had worked in New York as a dish-washer, as a tailor, and even as an actor. But in fact he scraped a living from emigre journalism and lecturing (in English and German) to half-empty halls on the need for a world revolution. He ate in Jewish delicatessens and made himself unpopular with the waiters by refusing to tip them on the grounds that it was injurious to their dignity. He bought some furniture on an instalment plan, $200 of which remained unpaid when the family left for Russia in the spring. By the time the credit company caught up with him, Trotsky had become Foreign Minister of the largest country in the world.73
* * * There was a fundamental division within the Bolshevik leadership, one scarcely noticed by historians, between those who spent the war years abroad and those who spent them in Russia. The exiles (e.g. Trotsky, Lunacharsky, Bukharin and Kollontai) tended to be more international and cosmopolitan in their outlook. Steeped in European culture, they were all too aware of Russia’s relative backwardness. Many of them had once been Mensheviks, so they understood well the theoretical problems of trying to introduce socialism into Russia without a simultaneous revolution in the more advanced countries of the West. Those Bolsheviks, by contrast, who had spent the war years in Russia (e.g. Stalin and Dzerzhinsky) tended to adopt a more narrow outlook. Many of them came from non-intelligentsia backgrounds and few had any knowledge of Europe, its culture or its languages. Having spent the war in the underground organizations, in prisons, or in Siberian exile, they tended to emerge from it with a fortresslike, embattled mentality towards the party, the country and its relations with the outside world. Many of them harboured xenophobic attitudes— not least towards the Jewish intellectuals in the party (especially Trotsky). After February

1917 many of them implied in their speeches that the returning Bolshevik exiles (although conspicuously not Lenin) had been less than patriotic in the war. Here, in this clash between (if you will) the ‘nativists’ and the ‘cosmopolitans’, were the social roots of the party’s ideological struggles of the 1920s between ‘Socialism in one Country’ and ‘World Revolution’. It is no coincidence that all Stalin’s main allies in his rise to power (Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Kalinin, Kirov, Kuibyshev and Ordzhonikidze) had spent the war years in Russia itself; and that most of his victims in the party (Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, AntonovOvseenko) had spent them abroad.
While the revolutionary exiles debated ideology, their beleaguered comrades at home were concerned with more practical problems. Arrests, deportations and exile had crippled the Bolshevik Party in Russia (as well as the underground organizations of the Mensheviks and SRs). Orphaned by their leaders, and with their newspaperPravdasuppressed, the Bolshevik organizations had little to guide them. Shliapnikov maintained their last thin line of communication with Lenin, smuggling propaganda into Russia inside the soles of his shoes. It was like returning to the conspiratorial practices of the pre-1905 period. The Bolsheviks in Petrograd numbered fewer than 500 members, once the mass arrests of autumn 1914 had taken their toll. The provincial networks had only a handful of members each. The party’s greatest weakness was its shortage of intellectual ability: according to Shliapnikov, there was no one in the capital capable of writing even a leaflet. But there was also the worrying problem of the workers’ declining support, both in moral and financial terms, largely as a result of police surveillance and harassment. Trade unions and educational societies were outlawed and militant workers sent into the army. The arrest of five Bolshevik Duma deputies in November 1914 and their trial for sedition the following February evoked little protest from the mass of the workers. Some no doubt had succumbed to the dominant mood of patriotism. But most were afraid of dismissal or, worse, imprisonment, if they should join the 2,000 strikers who came out in support of the deputies. This, after all, was a time when the Black Hundred mobs were encouraged by the police to go round working-class districts singing ‘God Save the Tsar’ and beat up anyone who failed to take off their hats.74
Yet, as the war dragged on and the economic crisis deepened, so the majority of the workers swung back towards the militant Left, resuming the pattern of labour protests begun in 1912—14. It was not so much a crisis of economic decline and stagnation as one of hectic inflationary growth. The war witnessed an industrial boom, mainly to meet the needs of the army. The number of railway workers increased by half a million, the building industry grew by a third, and a million of the poorest peasants, most of them women and youths, poured into the factories, where they could be employed on the

mechanized assembly lines at cheaper rates and for longer hours than older and more skilled workers. To pay for its huge war demands the government printed roubles: the money supply increased eightfold between 1914 and 1917. The resulting boom in consumer demand far outstripped the dwindling supply of consumer goods, as manufacturing switched to war production. Workers had too much money in their pockets and not enough to spend it on, so prices rocketed. The ban on vodka sales— a government monopoly which had soaked up roughly 10 per cent of the workers’ incomes before 1914 — only worsened this monetary overhang (which we call inflation). Such were the drinking habits of the Russians that it also caused all manner of social abuses, such as the drinking of eau-de-Cologne, methylated spirits, balsams, varnishes, black-market moonshine(samogon)and the notorious spirit calledkhanja,made and sold by Chinese workers, which killed hundreds.75 The vodka ban became a major source of plebeian complaint against the government and resentment against the well-to-do, since expensive wines and liqueurs were not subject to the prohibition. All in all, weighing up the minor gains in sobriety against the major losses in revenue, controls on inflation, public health and political authority, the ban on vodka was nothing less than a disaster, which in no small way contributed to the downfall of the old regime.
But the basic problem was the workers’ growing inability to turn their money wages into food. It was a shocking paradox that whereas Russia before the war had exported grain and still been able to feed its urban population, during the war, when all such exports were suspended, it could not always do even this. It was not so much a problem of agricultural production as one of distribution and exchange. Partly it was due to the chronic disruption of transport. Whereas the railways were timetabled to run from east to west in order to supply the army, foodstuffs for the major industrial centres travelled from south to north and, as the army always came first, often ended up rotting in railway sidings waiting for an engine to take them to Moscow or Petrograd. The other part of the problem related to the shift from commercial to peasant farms. The big estates and commercial farms were badly hit by the war. The mobilization of soldiers left them short of hired labour, while the industrial switch to munitions left them short of tools and machines. Overall, agricultural production did not decline but large amounts of estate land were rented out to the better-off peasants, who were less affected by labour shortages (the army on the whole took away only the excess peasant population) and who generally made their own primitive tools. Thus, for example, the private estates of the central agricultural zone reduced their productive area from 21 to 7 milliondesyatinibetween 1913 and 1916, whereas the region’s peasant farms increased theirs from 47 to 64 milliondesyatini.For several years before the agrarian

revolution of 1917—18 the demise of the landed gentry’s estates and their replacement by the peasant farms was already under way.
This shift: towards the smallholding sector led to a decline in the overall rate of marketed grain, since most peasants produced for the needs of their own family farms and usually sold no more than a small proportion of their crops. The growing shortage of consumer goods— and their inflated prices — in the countryside further encouraged these autarkic trends. From 1913 to 1915 the share of peasant grain sold on the market declined from 16 per cent to 9 per cent. With less and less to buy with their money, the peasants increasingly switched from cash crops (wheat, barley and sugar beet) to subsistence crops (rye, oats and potatoes). They ate more, fed their livestock better, stocked up their barns, and turned their grain into vodka rather than sell it on the market for declining profits. Some smallholders also geared their production towards their own domestic handicrafts (wool, hides and cotton), thus making themselves almost self-sufficient. For many peasants, life had never been so good as it was for them at the height of the war. Even their cows were better fed than many of the workers in the city.76
In August 1915, the government, concerned by the growing problems of food supply in the cities, established a Special Council with extensive powers to purchase grain at fixed prices through local commissioners. But attempting to control the market only further discouraged the peasants from selling their grain: the unregulated prices of manufactures now rose much faster than the fixed prices of food. It was the so-called ‘scissors crisis’. In the Moscow markets, for example, the price of rye went up by 47 per cent in the first two years of the war, while the price of a pair of boots increased by 334 per cent and the price of a box of matches by as much as 500 per cent.77 An economic war developed as the peasants withdrew their foodstuffs from the market and the government resorted to increasingly coercive measures in an effort to extract supplies from them. In November 1916, with the food supply of the army and the cities reaching a critical level, the government finally introduced a system of compulsory requisitioning similar to that of the Provisional Government. Yet short of building a massive state of terror, such as the Bolsheviks did with their ‘Food Dictatorship’, it proved impossible to force the grain from the peasants. Only the black-marketeers (who could lay their hands on hard-to-come-by goods) and the soldiers (who could trade their army boots and coats) managed to persuade the peasants to unlock their barns.
From the autumn of 1915 the cities of the north began to experience growing food shortages. Long queues appeared outside the bakeries and meat shops. After a ten-hour shift in their factories women would set up stools and benches to wait in line for pitifully small amounts of bread or sugar. By the following autumn they were bringing their beds to sleep outside the food stores,

often because, with so many local shops closed for lack of provisions, they did not have the time to walk across town and return home in one evening. On the eve of 1917 the average working woman in Petrograd was probably spending around forty hours per week in various queues for provisions.78 The bread queues, in particular, became a sort of political forum or club, where rumours, information and views were exchanged. It was in these queues that the streets began to organize themselves for the coming revolution. The February Revolution was born in the bread queue. It began when a group of women textile workers on the Vyborg side of Petrograd became impatient with waiting in line and went off to rally their menfolk in the neighbouring metal factories for a protest march to the centre of the city.
The economic crisis had the worst effect on the lowest paid. Skilled metal-workers, in great demand at munitions factories, enjoyed an average rise of 30 per cent in their real wages up to 1916. But unskilled workers and petty officials on fixed salaries, such as teachers, clerks and policemen, found their wages falling further and further behind the rising costs of food and housing. Between 1914 and 1916 the calorie intake of unskilled workers fell by a quarter; infant mortality doubled; crime rates tripled; and the number of prostitutes increased by four or five times. From Petrograd, where he had been living since the start of the war, Gorky wrote to Ekaterina in November 1915:
We will soon have a famine. I advise you to buy ten pounds of bread and hide it. In the suburbs of Petrograd you can see well-dressed women begging on the streets. It is very cold. People have nothing to burn in their stoves. Here and there, at night, they tear down the wooden fences. What has happened to the Twentieth Century! What has happened to Civilization! The number of child prostitutes is shocking. On your way somewhere at night you see them shuffling along the sidewalks, just like cockroaches, blue with cold and hungry. Last Tuesday I talked to one of them. I put some money into her hand and hurried away, in tears, in such a state of sadness that I felt like banging my head against a wall. Oh, to hell with it all, how hard it has become to live.79
peace the war
capital resumed in the summer of 1915 with a series of strikes. To begin with they were mostly minor stoppages over pay and conditions, but they gradually grew into larger political strikes as workers came to understand that the only way to end their economic plight was to end the war and change the government. The main anniversaries in the revolutionary calendar— Bloody Sunday on 9 January, International Women’s Day on 23 February and Labour Day on 18 April (I May) — became set dates for strikes and rallies across the country. They

usually began with calls for bread, but went on to demand an eight-hour day, an end to the war and the overthrow of the Tsar.
The revolutionary parties played only a secondary role in these strikes. True, some of the biggest and most militant strikes of 1916, at the New Lessner factory in the spring for example, were largely due to the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, whose organization was slowly gaining in strength. Shliapnikov, who returned to Russia in autumn 1916, estimated that the party had as many as 10,000 members at the beginning of 1917, with as many as 3,000 in Petrograd itself. Gorky’s apartment on the Kronversky Prospekt was a ‘unique central point’ of the underground revolutionary organization and Shliapnikov visited it daily for the latest information. The real strike leaders, however, were the skilled and literate workers on the shop-floor, daring young men in their twenties and thirties, such as Kanatchikov, though, unlike him, most of them did not belong to any political party. Although many had seen their real wages rise in the war, they resented the huge war profits of their employers,* and this increasingly defined their sense of class solidarity with the unskilled workers, many of them fresh from the countryside, who followed them into industrial battle.80 Here were those unnamed leaders of the crowd during the February Days in Petrograd.                            ,
There had been a time when such working-class heroes would have rallied behind the Menshevik call to join the Labour Group, an adjunct of the War Industries Committees established in the autumn of 1915. Its aim was to bring the strikes to an end by giving the workers’ representatives a chance to sit round a table with their employers and voice their grievances. It was a perfect product of that liberal democratic hope, still so fresh in 1915, that a broad front of all classes might steer the nation towards victory and the government towards reform. There was, it is true, a large number of workers still prepared to try the path of conciliation, especially in the big state munitions factories where the Menshevik influence remained strong. But elsewhere barely half the workers bothered to vote for factory delegates to the Labour Group, although this probably had more to do with their general apathy than any conscious adherence to the calls of the Bolsheviks and the SRs for a boycott of the elections. Either way, their lack of enthusiasm proved justified, as the Labour Group failed to extract either of its main demands— a National Workers’ Congress and a system of conciliation boards to arbitrate industrial disputes — from a dominant bloc of employers and bureaucrats who were steadily moving away from the idea of making concessions to the working class. With its policy of conciliation discredited in the eyesof the workers, who now turned increasingly
*The big metal factories of Petrograd, to cite the most extreme example, enjoyed a five-fold increase in profits during the war.

towards militant strikes, the Labour Group found itself caught in the widening gap between the two sides of the industrial war. No longer able to stop the strikes, it decided to join them during the autumn of 1916 with a slogan calling for a ‘provisional revolutionary government’.81
On 17 October the workers of the New Lessner and Russian Renault factories on the Vyborg side of Petrograd downed tools and took to the streets singing revolutionary songs. As they approached the nearby barracks of the 181st Infantry Regiment, the police set upon them with sabres and whips. The soldiers, who had been watching and cheering on the demonstrators through their barrack fences, came out to defend them, throwing rocks and bricks at the police, and only after a training detachment of mounted Cossacks arrived on the scene was order restored. The military authorities arrested 130 soldiers and removed the mutinous regiment from the capital. But the next day more workers came out in solidarity with them and by 19 October as many as 75,000 workers from 63 factories in all parts of the city had joined the political strike.82
For the tsarist regime it was an ominous sign of the army’s reluctance to control the growing rebellion on the streets. The Petrograd garrison, closest to the sources of revolutionary propaganda, was more reluctant than most. It was filled with older reservists, most of them family men, and wounded evacuees from the Front, perhaps the two most anti-war groups in the entire army, making the regime’s decision to rely almost exclusively on it in the event of a revolution all the more ill-conceived. The military authorities clearly had no idea of the soldiers’ feelings. The secret police had agents reporting on the political mood in virtually every civilian institution, yet, incredibly, none in the army itself, which was left to the tiny department of army intelligence. Major-General Khabalov, chief of the Petrograd Military District, assured Protopopov that his garrison troops would carry out all commands when he was questioned about their reliability shortly before the February Revolution. He even overruled the Minister of the Interior’s recommendation that some unreliable units should be removed from the capital. And yet Colonel Engelhardt, an Octobrist member of the Duma who was soon to replace Khabalov as Military Commissar of the Provisional Government, described the reservists of the Petrograd garrison as nothing less than ‘armed mobs’. They were more like ‘flammable material than a prop of the regime’. The Rasputin affair, noted Viktor Shklovsky, an instructor in one of the garrison’s armoured divisions, had finally broken the soldiers’ loyalty to the Tsar. They despised the police— whom they called the ‘two-kopeck men'(semishniki)because that is what they were thought to receive for each man they arrested— and all looked forward to the revolution as ‘an established fact — everyone knew it would come’.83
The Petrograd garrison was not the only unreliable part of the army. In many units on the Northern and Western Fronts, and even more so in the

army garrisons in the rear, the discipline of the troops was rapidly breaking down. Soldiers were increasingly refusing to take up attacking positions, fraternizing with the enemy, and rejecting the authority of their officers, whom, as peasants eager to return to their farms, they now saw more clearly than ever as their old class enemies, the landowners, in uniform. Only on the Southwestern Front, a thousand miles from the revolutionary capital, were there whole army units upon which the tsarist regime could readily rely. But even there Brusilov, the Front commander, regularly received unsigned letters from his men warning him ‘that they did not want any more fighting, and that if peace was not concluded shortly, I should be killed’.84
As they entered the third and by far the coldest winter of the war, the morale of the soldiers took a sudden turn for the worse. It was no longer a crisis of supplies: if anything, the supply of clothes and munitions had improved since the previous year, thanks to the increase of domestic production and orders from abroad, although the food situation remained as grim as ever. It was now more a crisis of authority, of utter despair and exhaustion: the soldiers could see no end to the slaughter while the present regime remained in command. As one soldier wrote to his wife in November 1916:
Everyone pretends that the war will end soon, that the longed-for peace will arrive, but that is only to keep their spirits up. People are so worn out and destroyed, they have suffered so much, that it’s all they can do to stop their hearts from breaking and to keep themselves from losing their mind . . . Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I don’t understand the mood of the men and it only seems to me like this because I myself am exhausted and have come to realise in the past few days that I may lose my own mind in all this chaos . . . Liulya, I have written all this to you so that you may understand what sort of a man you love.85

Part Three

8 Glorious February
i The Power of the Streets
It all began with bread. For several weeks the bakeries in Petrograd had been running out, especially in the workers’ districts, and long bread queues were beginning to appear. The problem was not shortage of supplies. According to Balk, the city’s governor, there was enough flour in the warehouses to feed the population for at least a week when what had started as a series of bread riots turned into a revolution. True, the shops were not full. This was the end of the war’s third winter and there was a general feeling of austerity. Buns, pies, cakes and biscuits were no longer baked. ‘The shops are not carrying such a full line of articles and provisions,’ an Englishman wrote home on 13 February. ‘Restaurants no longer have the big fine pastries, owing to the scarcity of sugar.’ This, moreover, was the coldest winter Russia had experienced for several years. In Petrograd the average February temperature was fifteen degrees below zero. ‘It’s as cold here as in Lapland,’ Gorky wrote to Ekaterina on the 4th. Arctic frosts and blizzards had brought the railways to a virtual standstill. Factories closed. Thousands of laid-off workers milled around the streets.1
It was this that turned the supply problem into a crisis. Because of the breakdown of the transport system, Petrograd was starved of regular supplies of flour and fuel. For want of the one or the other, bakeries were frequently forced to close. Women would queue all night for a loaf of bread, only to be told in the early hours of the morning that there would be none for sale that day. This constant interruption to the bread supply naturally gave rise to rumours in the queues. People said that ‘speculators’ and ‘capitalists’— which in the xenophobic wartime atmosphere usually meant German or Jewish merchants — were deliberately forcing up the bread prices by withholding stocks. Many people blamed the government (wasn’t it also full of Germans?). Even educated liberals were inclined to see the shortages as the evildoing of a treasonable government. On 19 February the Petrograd authorities announced that rationing would start from I March. Rumours spread that there would soon be no bread stocks at all and the unemployed would be left to starve. In the panic buying that followed the shelves were laid bare, scuffles broke out, and several bakeries had their windows smashed.2

On Thursday, 23 February, the temperature in Petrograd rose to a spring-like minus five degrees. People emerged from their winter hibernation to enjoy the sun and join in the hunt for food. Nevsky Prospekt was crowded with shoppers. The mild weather was set to continue until 3 March— by which time the tsarist regime would have collapsed. Not for the first time in Russian history the weather was to play a decisive role.
February 23rd was International Women’s Day, an important date in the socialist calendar, and towards noon huge crowds of women began to march towards the city centre to protest for equal rights. Balk described the crowds as ‘ladies from society, lots more peasant women, student girls and, compared with the earlier demonstrations, not many workers’. Photographs show the women were in good humour as they marched along the Nevsky Prospekt.
But in the afternoon the mood began to change. Women textile workers from the Vyborg district had come out on strike that morning in protest against the shortages of bread. Joined by their menfolk from the neighbouring metal works, they had marched towards the city centre, drawing in workers from other factories on the way, and in some cases forcing them out, with shouts of ‘Bread!’ and ‘Down with the Tsar!’ By the end of the afternoon, some 100,000 workers had come out on strike. There were clashes with the police as the workers tried to cross the Liteiny Bridge, linking the Vyborg side with the city centre. Most of the workers, having been forced back, dispersed and went home, some of them looting shops on the way. But several thousand crossed on theiceand marched towards the Nevsky Prospekt, where they joined the women with cries of ‘Bread!’ The thickest crowds were around the city Duma. Balk’s Cossacks could not clear them and even showed an unwillingness to do so: they would ride up to the women, only to stop short and retreat. Later it emerged that most of the Cossacks were reserves without experience of dealing with crowds, and with horses that were new to the city streets. By some oversight they had not been supplied with their usual whips. It was to prove a fatal mistake by the authorities. For this show of weakness by the Cossacks emboldened the workers over the coming days.3
The following morning saw bright sunshine. Workers held factory meetings throughout the city and, urged on by socialist agitators, resolved to march again to the centre. Many armed themselves with knives, spanners, hammers and pieces of iron, partly to fight their way through the squadrons of Cossacks and police who had been brought in overnight to bar their way, and partly to help them loot the well-stocked food shops of the affluent downtown areas. The expedition had the feel of a hungry workers’ army going off to war. ‘Comrades,’ urged one factory agitator, ‘if we cannot get a loaf of bread for ourselves in a righteous way, then we must do everything: we must go ahead and solve our problem by force . . . Comrades, arm yourselves with everything

possible— bolts, screws, rocks, and go out of the factory and start smashing the first shops you find.’
By mid-morning about 150,000 workers had taken to the streets. They made their way to the bridges connecting the industrial suburbs with the city’s administrative centre. Some of them smashed windows, looted shops and overturned trams and carriages. At the Liteiny Bridge a crowd of 40,000 Vyborg workers overran a small brigade of Cossacks, who were clearly unprepared for them. ‘But nobody told me there would be a revolution!’, a policeman was heard to say as he saw the vast army of workers approach. On the Troitsky Bridge the workers fought their way past mounted police by throwing rocks and ice. The huge crowds converged on the Nevsky Prospekt. The mounted Cossacks were unable to disperse them: they would ride across the street and on to the pavements, forcing the demonstrators to run in all directions; but as soon as they stopped the crowds would reassemble and begin to approach the troops, offering them bread and calling out to them. By this stage, the crowds of workers had been swollen with students, shopkeepers, bank clerks, cabbies, children, well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, who were either sympathizers or just spectators. Balk described the crowds on Nevsky Prospekt as ‘consisting of the ordinary people’. There was a holiday mood on the streets, no doubt partly because of the fine weather. One witness compared it to ‘an enormous circus’. Arthur Ransome, then the correspondent for theDaily News,described the feeling on that day as one of ‘rather precarious excitement like a Bank Holiday with thunder in the air’. There was a huge rally on Znamenskaya Square. The equestrian statue of Alexander III, an awesome monument to the principles of autocracy, was conquered by the revolutionary orators. Few in the vast crowd could hear what they were saying, but this did not matter. The people knew what they wanted to hear, and the mere sight of this brave act of free speech— performed from the top of such a monument and in full view of the police — was enough to confirm it in their minds: a revolution was taking place. Later that evening, after the crowds had finally dispersed, the police found the word ‘HIPPOPOTAMUS’ — the popular nickname for the statue — engraved in large letters on its plinth.4
Emboldened by the absence of vigorous repressive measures, even larger crowds came out on to the streets the following day, Saturday 25 February, in what was virtually a general strike. All the city’s major factories ceased to operate, as some 200,000 workers joined the demonstrations. Newspapers failed to appear. Trams and cabs were hard to find. Many shops and restaurants closed their doors. All sorts of people joined the ranks of marching workers heading into the centre of the city. Balk thought the movement ‘bore the character of a people’s uprising’. Compared to the previous two days, the demonstrations now had a more political flavour. Red flags and banners began to appear, and their

slogans were calling not so much for ‘Bread!’ as for the overthrow of the autocracy. ‘Down with the Tsar!’ and ‘Down with the War!’ were now their main demands.
Once again there were clashes with police as the demonstrators tried to cross the bridges connecting the suburbs with the centre of the city. At the Liteiny Bridge the chief of police, Shalfeev, made a last desperate bid to halt the marchers by charging headlong into the crowd. The marchers parted to the sides and then closed ranks to surround Shalfeev, who tried to force his way out by lashing out on all sides with his whip. But the demonstrators dragged him off his horse. One of the workers beat him on the ground with a piece of wood, while another, taking Shalfeev’s revolver, shot him in the heart. None of the Cossacks defending the bridge attempted to intervene.
Increasingly this became the pattern— violent clashes with the police combined with efforts to win over the soldiers — as the crowds took over the city centre. The police were ‘theirs’ — hated agents of the regime. The people called them ‘pharaohs’ (much as some today might call the police ‘pigs’) and they had no doubts that the police would fight to the end.* The soldiers, by contrast, were seen as ‘ours’ — peasants and workers in uniforms — and it was hoped that, if they were ordered to use force against the crowds, they would be as likely to come over to the people’s side. Once it became clear that this was so — from the soldiers’ hesitation to disperse the demonstrators, from the expressions on the soldiers’ faces, and from the odd wink by a soldier to the crowd — the initiative passed to the people’s side. It was a crucial psychological moment in the revolution.
The first symbolic battle of this war of nerves was fought out on the Nevsky Prospekt— and won decisively by the people — on the afternoon of the 25th. Part of the crowd was brought to a halt by a squadron of Cossacks blocking their way near the Kazan Cathedral. It was not far from the spot where, twelve years before, on Bloody Sunday 1905, the Horseguards had shot down a similar crowd. A young girl appeared from the ranks of the demonstrators and walked slowly towards the Cossacks. Everyone watched her in nervous silence: surely the Cossacks would not fire at her? From under her cloak the girl brought out a bouquet of red roses and held it out towards the officer. There was a pause. The bouquet was a symbol of both peace and revolution. And then, leaning down from his horse, the officer smiled and took the flowers. With as much relief as jubilation, the crowd burst into a thunderous ‘Oorah!’5 From this moment the people started to speak of the ‘comrade Cossacks’, a term which at first sounded rather odd.
*It was rumoured that Protopopov had promised each policeman 500 roubles for every wound he received from the crowd.

The officers were finding it increasingly difficult to get their men to obey orders. Colonel Khodnev, a commander of the Finland Reserve Regiment, complained bitterly about the Cossacks. They were ‘extremely slack and indecisive’ and their ‘inaction was particularly apparent when they formed an individual patrol or platoon under the command of a young sergeant or a junior lieutenant. More than once I heard them say: «This isn’t 1905. We won’t carry whips. We won’t move against our own kind, against the people.» True, there were some soldiers who were still prepared— usually on their own initiative or on the orders of a junior officer when scared or provoked — to take violent measures against the crowd. A platoon of dragoons opened fire near a row of shops at the Gostiny Dvor, killing three and wounding ten, while near the city Duma nine more demonstrators were shot dead. But a growing proportion of the soldiers were either refusing to obey orders to fire, or were deliberately shooting over the heads of the people in the street. Some were even joining them against the police. In one incident on Znamenskaya Square the Cossacks intervened to rescue the crowd when the mounted police, having been frustrated in their efforts to capture a red banner, threatened to charge the people down. The Cossacks, sabres drawn, rode into the crowd and began to attack the mounted police, who then galloped away pursued by the crowd throwing stones. Meanwhile the police commander lay dead on the ground, his body covered with wounds from the Cossacks’ sabres and revolver shots.6
* * * Even at this point, on the evening of the 25th, the authorities could still have contained the situation, despite the growing self-assertion of the crowd. The important thing, as the Council of Ministers seemed to sense at its midnight meeting, was to hold back from open conflict with the crowd, which would merely pour fuel on the flames and run the risk of a mutiny among the soldiers in the garrison. There was still some reason to suppose— or at least to act upon the assumption — that the anger of the demonstrators was mainly focused on the shortages of bread and that once this problem had been solved they would become tired of protest and return to work. That had been the outcome of several bread riots in the recent past and, although this one was more ominous, there was no real reason yet to believe that it would end any differently. This was certainly the assumption of the socialist leaders in the capital. Nikolai Sukhanov, perhaps the revolution’s most famous memoirist, thought that so far there had only been ‘ «disorders» — there was still no revolution’. Shliapnikov, the leading Bolshevik in the capital, scoffed at the idea that this was the start of a revolution. ‘What revolution?’ he asked a local meeting of the party leaders on the 25th. ‘Give the workers a pound of bread and the movement will peter out.’7
But whatever chances there might have been of containing the disorders

were destroyed that evening by the Tsar. Having been informed of the situation at his headquarters in Mogilev, he sent a cable to General Khabalov, Chief of the Petrograd Military District, ordering him to use military force to ‘put down the disorders by tomorrow’.8 There could be no better illustration of the extent to which the Tsar had lost touch with reality. Nor could there be any better guarantee of a revolution. To be fair, Nicholas had been badly advised from the start. He had left the capital for Mogilev on22February, after being assured by Protopopov that he had nothing to worry about. Since then the police and Khabalov had played down the seriousness of the situation in their reports to Nicholas: it was embarrassing for them to have to admit that it might be getting out of their control. The Tsar thus had little real idea of the finely balanced nature of the situation, or of the risks involved in using force, when he sent his fatal order to Khabalov. But then it was his job to know— and the job of his advisers to inform him — what was going on in the capital. Only the Tsar could issue the final order to use force against the crowds, and once that order had been issued none of his advisers could challenge it. In other words, if the regime fell because of a breakdown in communications, then one can only say that it deserved to fall.
By Sunday morning, 26 February, the centre of Petrograd had been turned into a militarized camp. Soldiers’ pickets and armed policemen stood at the major intersections and strategic buildings; mounted patrols rode through the streets; officers communicated by field telephone; machine-guns, set up in Palace Square, pointed down the Nevsky Prospekt; and in the side streets were military ambulances standing by. During the morning everything was quiet: it was Sunday and people slept in late. But around midday huge crowds of workers once again assembled in the suburbs and marched towards the city centre. As they converged on the Nevsky Prospekt, the police and soldiers fired upon them from several different points. At the junction of the Nevsky and Vladimir Prospekts the Semenovsky Regiment— which had put down the Moscow uprising in 1905 — shot dead several marchers. On the Nevsky, near the Gostiny Dvor, a training detachment of the Pavlovsky Regiment shot a round of blanks and then opened fire on the crowd. The people scattered behind buildings and into shops, re-emerging moments later to throw bricks and pieces of ice at the troops. Dozens of people were wounded or killed. The bloodiest incident took place on Znamenskaya Square, where more than fifty people were shot dead by a training detachment of the Volynsky Regiment. It was a terrible atrocity. An officer, who had been unable to get his young and obviously nervous soldiers to shoot at the demonstrators, grabbed a rifle from one of his men and began to fire wildly at the crowd. Among the dead bodies, which were later piled up around the ‘Hippopotamus’, were two soldiers from the regiment who had gone over to theside of the people.9

This shedding of blood— Russia’s second Bloody Sunday — proved a critical turning point. From this moment on the demonstrators knew that they were involved in a life-or-death struggle against the regime. Paradoxically, now that the worst had happened and some of their comrades had been killed, they felt less afraid for their own lives.* As for the soldiers, they were now confronted with a choice between their moral duty to the people and their oath of allegiance to the Tsar. If they followed the former, a full-scale revolution would occur. But if they stuck to their oath of allegiance, then the regime might still manage to survive, as it had done in 1905—6.
After the shooting on the Nevsky Prospekt an angry crowd of demonstrators broke into the barracks of the Pavlovsky Regiment near the Mars Field and shouted at the soldiers that some of their trainees had been firing at the people. Visibly shaken by the news, the 4th Company of the Pavlovskys resolved to march to the Nevsky at once in order to stop the massacre. ‘They are shooting at our mothers and our sisters!’ was their rallying cry as they mutinied. About a hundred soldiers broke into the arsenal of the barracks and, taking thirty rifles, began to march towards the Nevsky. Almost immediately, they ran into a mounted police patrol on the bank of the Griboyedov Canal. They fired at them, killing one policeman, until they ran out of cartridges, whereupon they decided to return to barracks to bring out the rest of the men. But Khabalov’s troops were waiting for them there and, upon the mutineers’ arrival, disarmed them and confined them to barracks. Nineteen ringleaders were arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress. They were to be its last prisoners— at least under the tsarist regime.10
But it was too late for repression by this stage. All the prisons in Russia could not have contained the revolutionaries on the streets. The training detachment of the Volynsky Regiment which had been involved in the shooting on Znamenskaya Square had, like their comrades in the Pavlovsky, returned to their barracks during the evening full of doubts and remorse about what they had done. One of the soldiers claimed to have recognized his own mother amongst the people they had killed. All these teenage conscripts were badly shaken by the massacre and it did not take much for their young sergeant, an Os’kin-type peasant called Sergei Kirpichnikov, to talk them into a protest of their own. ‘I told them’, Kirpichnikov recalled:
that it would be better to die with honour than to obey any further orders to shoot at the crowds: ‘Our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and brides
* People said the same thing in 1989 after the East German authorities had shot at the demonstrators in Leipzig. Crowds are afraid of the threat of bloodshed but emboldened after it occurs.

are begging for bread,’ I said. Are we going to kill them? Did you see the blood on the streets today? I say we shouldn’t take up positions tomorrow. I myself refuse to go.’ And, as one, the soldiers cried out: ‘We shall stay with you!’
Having sworn their allegiance to Kirpichnikov, the soldiers were determined to defy their commanding officer when, once again, he ordered them to march against the demonstrators the following morning. At this stage the soldiers did not intend a full-scale mutiny, only a vocal and abusive protest against their officer for having ordered them to fire on the crowds, and a refusal to obey his commands. But when the officer found himself confronted by his angry men he made the fatal error of walking away— and then, even worse, of starting to run across the barracks yard. Sensing their power over him, the soldiers pointed their rifles towards him, and one of them shot him in the back. Suddenly the soldiers were mutineers. They scattered through the barracks, in panic as much as revolutionary fervour, calling on the other soldiers to join their mutiny. Relatively few from the Volynsky joined them but there were many more who were willing in the neighbouring barracks of the Preobrazhensky Regiment, the Lithuanian Regiment and the 6th Engineer Battalion. Fights broke out between loyal and rebel soldiers. The victorious mutineers stormed the regimental arsenals, killed several of their officers and spilled in their thousands on to the streets, where they spread out in all directions, some moving towards the centre of the city, others crossing over to the Vyborg side in order to raise the Moscow Regiment and link up with the workers.11
In all these mutinies the decisive role was played by the junior officers, most of whom came from lower-class backgrounds or had democratic sympathies. Fedor Linde (1881—1917), a sergeant in the Finland Regiment, was typical in this respect. He played an unsung but crucial role in turning the tide of the February Revolution. Tall, blond and handsome, Linde was the son of a German chemist and a Polish peasant-woman who had grown up on a small farm near St Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland. There his mother ran a little inn which was popular with the capital’s revolutionaries when they wanted to escape the gaze of the police. And it was by socializing with the hotel guests that the teenage Linde, who was by nature a romantic idealist, first became involved in the revolutionary underground. In 1899 he enrolled in the Mathematics Faculty of St Petersburg University, and immediately became a leading light in the student protest movement. During the 1905 Revolution Linde worked alongside the SDs in the capital, and organized the students in an ‘academic legion’ to spread propaganda to the working class. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Kresty jail, and then forced to go into exile in Europe, before being allowed to return to Russia under the amnesty of 1913 to celebrate the Romanov tercentenary.

The next year he was mobilized by the Finland Regiment, where his courageous leadership of the soldiers soon saw him promoted to sergeant. It was precisely this same quality which distinguished Linde in the mutiny of the February Days. In a letter to the SR Boris Sokolov, written in the spring of 1917, Linde recalled how he persuaded the 5,000 soldiers of the Preobrazhensky Regiment, in whose barracks near the Tauride Palace he was staying at the time, to join the mutiny:
I don’t know what happened to me. I was lying on a couch in the barracks and reading a book by Haldane. I was so absorbed in it that I didn’t hear shouts and roars coming from the street. A wild bullet broke the window near my couch . .. The Cossacks were firing on defenceless and unarmed crowds, striking people with their whips, crushing the fallen with their horses. And then I saw a young girl trying to evade the galloping horse of a Cossack officer. She was too slow. A severe blow on her head brought her down under the horse’s feet. She screamed. It was her inhuman, penetrating scream that caused something in me to snap. I jumped to the table and cried out wildly: ‘Friends! Friends! Long live the revolution! To arms! To arms! They are killing innocent people, our brothers and sisters!’ Later they said there was something in my voice that made it impossible to resist my call. . . They followed me without realizing where or in the name of what cause they went. . . They all joined me in the attack against the Cossacks and police. We killed a few of them. The rest retreated. By night, the fight was over. The revolution had become a reality . . . And I, well, I returned that same night to my book by Haldane.12
* * * The mutiny of the Petrograd garrison turned the disorders of the previous four days into a full-scale revolution. The tsarist authorities were virtually deprived of military power in the capital. ‘It had now become clear to me’, Balk later wrote of the 27th, ‘that we had lost all authority.’ The spilling of the soldiers on to the streets, moreover, gave a military strength and organization to the revolutionary crowds. Instead of vague and aimless protest they focused on the capture of strategic targets and the armed struggle against the regime. Soldiers and workers fought together for the capture of the Arsenal, where they armed themselves with 40,000 rifles and 30,000 revolvers, followed by the major weapons factories, where at least another 100,000 guns fell into their hands. They occupied the Artillery Department, the telephone exchange and some (though not all) of the railway stations. They spread the mutiny to the remaining barracks (Linde himself led a guard of soldiers from the Preobrazhensky and Lithuanian Regiments to bring out his own Finland Regiment). Thanks to the soldiers and officers like Linde, the first signs of real organization— armed pickets on the bridges and major intersections, barricades, field-telephones and

structures of command— began to appear on the streets. Many of the soldiers were also kept busy by the task of arresting — and sometimes beating up or even murdering — their commanding officers. This was a revolution in the ranks.13
But the main attention of the insurgents was now focused on the bloody street war against the police. There were hundreds of police snipers hidden on the flat roofs of the buildings, some of them armed with machine-guns, who were firing at the crowds below and at anyone who showed themselves in the windows opposite. Other police snipers had positioned themselves in the belfries of the churches, hoping that the people’s respect for religion would prevent them from firing back. The snipers deliberately used smokeless ammunition so the people could not easily tell where the shooting had come from. Suddenly there would be a crack of gunfire, and the crowds would run for cover, leaving little heaps of wounded and dead bodies lying in the streets. Workers and soldiers ‘would begin to shoot wildly’ at the house from where they thought the firing had come, recalls Viktor Shklovsky, who led a group of fighters against the police, but this usually proved counter-productive. ‘The dust rising from where our bullets hit the plaster was taken for return fire,’ setting off more shooting and confusion. Many people were killed by ‘our own bullets’ bouncing off the buildings or by falling masonry.14
Even less effective were the motor-cars that went hurtling about the streets filled with soldiers waving red flags and shooting wildly into the air. Virtually every car and lorry had been requisitioned by the crowds, no matter to whom it might belong. Linde and his men commandeered a lorry, upon which they hung a banner with the words: ‘The First Revolutionary Flying Squad’. The Grand Duke Gavril Konstantinovich even had his Rolls-Royce requisitioned. It was later seen cruising down the Nevsky Prospekt, with two soldiers lying on the front bonnet, several others riding on the sides, and two with a machine-gun mounted on the roof, although this proved to be of little use since the car was swerving too much for it to be held still and fired properly. Smaller cars, bristling with bayonets, presented an even stranger image. Gorky compared them to ‘huge hedgehogs running amok’. Much of the fighting was done from these cars: this was the first revolution on wheels. The vehicles would speed through the streets, pull up alongside a building from which the police were thought to be firing, and start to shoot in the direction of the roof. But since the snipers could see and hear the vehicles coming— what with their horns sounding and their red flags waving — they had plenty of time to conceal themselves. In the end, the only way to defeat them was to climb up and fight them on the roofs. Many snipers were thrown off the roofs — to the cheers of the crowds below. As for the motor-cars, most of them were crashed, since their drivers had no idea how to drive and in any case they were usually drunk. The

streets ‘resounded’ to the noise of car crashes, recalls Shklovsky. ‘I don’t know how many collisions I saw during those days. Later on the city was jammed with automobiles left by the wayside.’15
Much of the crowds’ destructive violence was directed against the institutions of the police regime. Armed crowds attacked police stations, setting fire to the buildings and making sure to destroy the police records. Sometimes the contents of the buildings were burned in bonfires on the streets. Gorky, who was charged with the seizure of the Police Headquarters on Kronversky Prospekt, arrived to find it vandalized and most of its records taken or destroyed. Court buildings were similarly targeted by the crowd. Gorky found a crowd of people watching the Palace of Justice go up in flames:
The roof had already fallen in, the fire crackled between the walls, and red and yellow wisps like wool were creeping out of the windows, throwing a sheaf of paper ashes into the black sky of the night. No one made any attempt to extinguish the fire … A tall stooping man in a shaggy sheepskin hat was walking about like a sentinel. He stopped and asked in a dull voice: ‘Well— it means that all justice is to be abolished, doesn’t it? Punishments all done away with, is that it?’ No one answered him.
Last but not least the crowd turned its destructive anger on the prisons, bashing down the gates, opening the cells, and, together with the released prisoners, vandalizing and sometimes burning down the buildings. The destruction of the prisons had a powerful symbolic significance for the revolutionary crowd: it was a sign that the old regime was dead, that the longed-for days of liberty— ‘prisonless and crimeless’ — were about to come.16
No prison was more symbolic than the Peter and Paul Fortress. The crowds were convinced that the fortress was still full of ‘politicals’, heroes of the revolutionary struggle languishing in its dark and dingy cells: that, after all, was the well-established myth of the revolutionaries’ propaganda. There were also rumours that the fortress was being used as a military base by the tsarist military forces (Balk did propose this). On the 28th a huge and angry crowd threatened to storm this ‘Russian Bastille’. They brought up lorries with heavy mounted guns ready to fire at its thick stone walls. The fortress commandant telephoned the Duma appealing for help, and Shulgin (for the Duma) and Skobelev (for the Soviet) were sent to negotiate with him. They returned to report that the prison was completely empty— apart from the nineteen mutinous soldiers of the Pavlovsky Regiment who had been imprisoned in it on the 26th — and proposed to calm the crowds by allowing them to send representatives to inspect its cells. But even this was not sufficient to convince the crowds that the fortress was ‘for therevolution’. Some of the mutinous soldiers accused Shulgin of

working for the counter-revolution. There was some fighting between them and the fortress guards. And then, finally, the red flag was raised above this bastion of the old regime.17
* * * The crowds displayed extraordinary levels of self-organization and solidarity during all these actions. ‘The entire civil population felt itself to be in one camp against the enemy— the police and the military,’ Sukhanov wrote. ‘Strangers passing by conversed with each other, asking questions and talking about the news, about clashes with and the diversionary movements of the enemy.’ The LondonTimeswas equally impressed. ‘The astounding, and to the stranger unacquainted with the Russian character almost uncanny, orderliness and good nature of the crowds are perhaps the most striking feature of this great Russian Revolution.’ People wore red armbands, or tied red ribbons in their buttonholes, to display their support for the revolution. Not to do so was to invite persecution as a ‘counter-revolutionary’. Bonfires were lit throughout the city so that people could warm themselves during the long hours of street-fighting. Residents fed the revolutionaries from their kitchens, and allowed them to sleep— in so far as anyone slept — on their floors. Cafe and restaurant owners fed the soldiers and workers free of charge, or placed boxes outside for passers-by to contribute towards their meals. One cafe displayed the following sign:
FELLOW-CITIZENS! In honour of the great days of freedom, I bid you all welcome. Come inside, and eat and drink to your hearts’ content.
Shopkeepers turned their shops into bases for the soldiers, and into shelters for the people when the police were firing in the streets. Cab-men declared that they would take ‘only the leaders of the revolution’. Students and children ran about with errands— and veteran soldiers obeyed their commands. All sorts of people volunteered to help the doctors deal with the wounded. It was as if the people on the streets had suddenly become united by a vast network of invisible threads; and it was this that secured their victory.18
The tsarist authorities assumed that the crowds must have been organized by the socialist parties; but, although their rank and file were present in the crowds, the socialist leaders were quite unprepared to take on this role and, if anything, followed the people. The street generated its own leaders: students, workers and NCOs, like Linde or Kirpichnikov, whose names, for the most part, have remained hidden from the history books. During the first weeks after February their portraits were displayed in shop windows— often with the heading ‘Heroes of the Revolution’. There was one of Kirpichnikov in the windows of the Avantso store.19 But then these people’s leaders faded out of view and were forgotten.

Part of this extraordinary crowd cohesion may be explained by geography. There was, for a start, a long-established spatial-cultural code of street demonstrations in the capital with a number of clear points of orientation for the crowd (e.g. the Kazan Cathedral and the Tauride Palace) which stretched back to the student demonstrations of 1899. Petrograd’s industrial suburbs, moreover, were physically separated from the affluent governmental downtown by a series of canals and rivers. Marching into the centre thus became an expression of working-class solidarity and self-assertion, a means for the workers to claim the streets as ‘theirs’. This may help to explain some of the carnival aspects of the revolutionary crowd: the celebratory vandalism and destruction of symbols of state power and authority, wealth and privilege; the acts of mockery and humiliation, of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour, often ending in wanton acts of violence, which the crowds performed, as if they were some sport, against the well dressed and the well-to-do; the self-assertive body language and dress of the soldiers (wearing their caps back to front, or tilted to one side, or wearing their coats and tunics unbuttoned, contrary to military regulations); women wearing men’s clothes (soldiers’ headgear, boots and breeches), as if by reversing the sexual codes of dress they were also overturning the social order; and the sexual acts, from kissing and fondling to full intercourse, which people openly performed on the streets in the euphoria of the February Days.20
And yet, contrary to Soviet myth, the crowds were far from solidly proletarian, although it is true that the workers took the lead and tended to do much of the street-fighting. Balk described the February Days as a general uprising of the people. Harold Williams of theDaily Chroniclethought the crowds on the 24th were ‘mostly women and boys’ with only a ‘sprinkling of workmen’. Robert Wilton ofThe Timesreported that on the 26th the fine weather had ‘brought everybody out of doors’ and that ‘crowds of all ages and conditions’ had made their way to the Nevsky Prospekt.21
Most of the people on the streets were not ‘revolutionaries’ at all but simply spectators or the in-between types who wavered between acting and spectating. They would cheer the mutinous soldiers as they sped past in their cars, or when a police sniper was thrown from the roofs. They would gather in small groups around the dead bodies and horses, which at this time were still something of a novelty (soon they would become accustomed to them and would walk past them with indifference). They would wear red ribbons, wave red flags and declare their sympathy for ‘the revolution’. But they rarely took a part in the fighting themselves, and would usually scatter when the firing began. This is the psychology of the crowds’, wrote one witness:
everything they see is both fascinating and terrifying. They stare, and they stare, and then suddenly— they run away. Look, here is a well-dressed

gentleman, fat with short legs, standing on the corner. The crowd suddenly runs behind the building— and he follows them, running as fast as his little legs allow, his fat belly shaking, and he clearly out of breath. He runs a few yards, looks back at the scene again, and then runs on.
Many of these onlookers were young children. Little boys delighted in playing with the guns that were left lying in the streets. They made sport of throwing cartridges into the bonfires and watching them explode. Dozens of people were accidentally killed. Stinton Jones, an English journalist, witnessed the following scene:
One little boy of about twelve years of age had secured an automatic pistol and, together with a large number of soldiers, was warming himself at one of these fires. Suddenly he pulled the trigger and one of the soldiers fell dead. This so alarmed the boy, who had no idea of the mechanism of the deadly weapon he held, that he kept the trigger pulled back and the automatic pistol proceeded to empty itself. It contained seven bullets, and it was not until they were all discharged that the boy released his hold of the trigger. The result was that three soldiers were killed, and four seriously injured.22
From the 27th the nature of the crowds grew much darker. The soldier element dramatically increased, along with the level of violence, as a result of the mutiny. So did the criminal element, and the level of criminality, as a result of the opening of the jails. Both had the effect, as Jones put it:
of clearing the streets of the more serious-minded and nervous citizens. The mobs presented a strange, almost grotesque appearance. Soldiers, workmen, students, hooligans and freed criminals wandered aimlessly about in detached companies, all armed, but with a strange variety of weapons. Here would be a hooligan with an officer’s sword fastened over his overcoat, a rifle in one hand and a revolver in the other; there a small boy with a large butcher’s knife on his shoulder. Close by a workman would be seen awkwardly holding an officer’s sword in one hand and a bayonet in the other. One man had two revolvers, another a rifle in one hand and a tramline cleaner in the other. A student with two rifles and a belt of machine-gun bullets round his waist was walking beside another with a bayonet tied to the end of a stick. A drunken soldier had only the barrel of a rifle remaining, the stock having been broken off in forcing an entry into some shop. A steady, quiet business man grasped a large rifle and a formidable belt of cartridges.

Some 8,000 prisoners were liberated on the 27th, the vast majority of them common criminals. They had a vested interest— and took the lead — in the destruction of the police stations, along with their records, the Palace of Justice, the court buildings and the prisons. And they were to blame for much of the crime which took over the streets from this time. ‘Tonight the city reverberates with the most terrifyingnoises: broken glass, screams, and gunshots,’ wrote the Director of the Hermitage in the early hours of the 28th. Armed gangs looted shops and liquor stores. They broke into the houses of the well-to-do and robbed and raped their inhabitants. Well-dressed passers-by were mugged in the streets. Evenwearing spectacles or a white starched collar was enough to mark one out as aburzhooi.A retired professor, who had been a Populist for nearly fifty years, came on to the streets on the evening of the 27th to celebrate the ‘victory of the revolution’ and immediately had his glasses smashed and his gold watch stolen by the very ‘people’ he had sought to liberate. This was clearly not the bloodless victory of liberty, equality and fraternity which the democratic intelligentsia had so long hoped for— and which they later mythologized as the ‘Glorious February Revolution’ — but more like a Russian peasant riot, ‘senseless and merciless’, as Pushkin had predicted, which sought to destroy all signs of privilege. The idea that the February Days were a ‘bloodless revolution’ — and that the violence of the crowd did not really take off until October — was a liberal myth. The democratic leaders of 1917 needed it to legitimize their own fragile power. In fact many more people were killed by the crowd in February than in the Bolsheviks’ October coup. The February Revolution in Helsingfors and Kronstadt was especially violent, with hundreds of naval officers killed gruesomely by the sailors. According to the official figures of the Provisional Government, 1,443 people were killed or wounded in Petrograd alone. But a friend of Prince Lvov’s told Claude Anet, the French journalist, that the true figure was up to 1,500 people killed and about 6,000 people wounded.23
Gorky took a dimviewof all this violence and destruction. On the 28th Sukhanov found him in a gloomy mood:
For an hour by the clock he snarled and grumbled at the chaos, the disorder, the excesses, at the displays of political ignorance, at the girls driving around the city, God knows where, in God knows whose cars— and forecast that the movement would probably collapse in ruin worthy of our Asiatic savagery.
It seemed to Gorky that all this was just ‘chaos’ and not a ‘revolution at all. The next day he wrote to Ekaterina:

Too many people are falsely according a revolutionary character to what in fact is no more than a lack of discipline and organization on the part of the crowd… There is much more here of an absurd than a heroic nature. Looting has started. What will happen? I don’t know… Much blood will be spilled, much more than ever has been spilled before.24
These, of course, as Sukhanov noted, ‘were the impressions of a man of letters’, of a man who hated violence in all its forms. Many people today might be similarly inclined to condemn the ‘needless killing’ of the crowds. That certainly has been the recent trend among conservative historians of both the Russian and the French Revolutions.25 But one may prefer Sukhanov’s view:
that the excesses, the man-in-the-street’s stupidity, vulgarity, and cowardice, the muddles, the motor cars, the girls— all this was only what the revolution could not in any circumstances avoid, and without which nothing similar hadeverhappened anywhere.26
This is not to condone the violence but to understand it as the almost unavoidable reaction of a people angry and with much to avenge. It is to recognize that all social revolutions are bound by their nature to spill blood; and that to condemn them for doing so is tantamount to saying that any form of social protest which might end in violence is morally wrong. Of course there are distinctions that need to be made: the blood spilled by the people on the streets is different from the blood spilled by parties, movements, or armies, claiming to be acting in their name; and it must be analysed and judged in different ways.
The crowd violence of the February Days was not orchestrated by any revolutionary party or movement. It was by and large a spontaneous reaction to the bloody repressions of the 26th, and an expression of the people’s long-felt hatred for the old regime. Symbols of the old state power were destroyed. Tsarist statues were smashed or beheaded. A movie camera filmed a group of laughing workers throwing the stone head of Alexander II into the air like a football. Police stations, court houses and prisons were attacked. The crowd exacted a violent revenge against the officials of the old regime. Policemen were hunted down, lynched and killed brutally. Sorokin watched a crowd of soldiers beating one policeman with the butts of their revolvers and kicking him in the head with their heels. Another was thrown on to the street from a fourth-floor window, and when his body thumped, lifeless, on to the ground, people rushed to stamp on it and beat it with sticks.
Once it became clear that any further resistance was doomed to failure, many of these policemen tried to give themselves up to the Tauride Palace, where the Duma and the Soviet were struggling to restore order, in the belief

that it would be better to be imprisoned by the new government than to be the victim of this ‘mob law’ on the streets. Others tried to escape the capital, knowing that their chances of survival would be better in the provinces. Two burly policemen were discovered heading for the Finland Station dressed in women’s clothes. Only their large size and awkward gait, and the heavy police boots under their skirts, betrayed their identity to the crowd.27
ii Reluctant Revolutionaries
‘The revolution found us, the party members, fast asleep, just like the Foolish Virgins in the Gospel,’ recalled Sergei Mstislavsky, one of the SR leaders, in 1922. Much the same could be said for all the revolutionary parties in the capital. ‘There were no authoritative leaders on the spot in any of the parties,’ Sukhanov recalled. ‘They were all in exile, in prison, or abroad.’ Lenin and Martov were in Zurich, Trotsky in New York, Chernov in Paris. Tsereteli, Dan and Gots were in Siberia. Cut off from the pulse of the capital, the leaders failed to sense what Mstislavsky called ‘the approaching storm in the ever mounting waves of the February disturbances’. Having spent their whole lives waiting for the revolution, they failed to recognize it when it came. Lenin himself had predicted in January that ‘we older men perhaps will not live to see the coming revolution’. Even as late as 26 February, Shliapnikov, the leading Bolshevik in Petrograd, had told a meeting of socialists in Kerensky’s flat: ‘There is no and will be no revolution. We have to prepare for a long period of reaction.’28In the absence of the major party leaders, the task of leading the revolution fell on to the shoulders of the secondary ones. They were not just second-ranking but also second-rate. Shliapnikov was an experienced trade unionist and party worker underground. But as a politician, in Sukhanov’s words, he ‘was quite incapable of grasping the essence’ of the situation that had been created. His ideas were ‘cliches of ancient party resolutions’. Not much more could be said of the Mensheviks in the capital. Chkheidze, the ‘Papa’ of the revolution, was an amiable and competent but sleepy-headed Georgian, who, in the words of Sukhanov, could not have been ‘less suited to be a working-class or party leader, and he never led anyone anywhere’. Skobelev, a Duma deputy from Baku, was a provincial intellectual, designed on a small-town rather than a national scale. As for Sukhanov, he was on the fringes of all the party factions, being much too undecided to declare his views. Like all too many of the socialist leaders, he was always inclined to look at politics as an intellectual rather than as a politician. Trotsky described him as ‘a conscientious observer rather than a statesman, a journalist rather than a revolutionist, a rationaliser rather than a journalist— he was capable of standing by a revolutionary conception only

up to the time when it was necessary to carry it into action’. N. D. Sokolov was a similarly floating figure, too vague in his beliefs to fit into any party. This bearded lawyer, with his little pince-nez, would have been more at home in a library or a lecture hall than in a revolutionary crowd. Finally, the SRs were no better off for leaders in the capital. Mstislavsky and Filipovsky found themselves as the closest things the Soviet had to ‘military men’ (Mstislavsky was merely a librarian at the Military Academy but Filipovsky was a naval engineer) thrown into positions of leadership for which they were suited neither by their temperament nor their skills. Zenzinov was a party hack.29 And as for Kerensky— well more on him below.
These second-ranking leaders chased after events in the February Days. They telephoned from one apartment to another trying to find out what was happening on the streets. Gorky’s apartment on the Kronversky served as a central telephone exchange. Leaders would assemble there to share their impressions and make enquiries. Gorky himself had connections throughout Petrograd. It was only on the 27th, when the revolution had already become an established fact, that the party leaders sprang into action and assumed the leadership of the uprising on the streets. It was a classic example of ‘We are their leaders, so we must follow them.’
Everything was focused on the Tauride Palace, seat of the Duma and citadel of democracy. By the early afternoon of the 27th a crowd of 25,000 people— many of them soldiers from the nearby Preobrazhensky and Volynsky barracks — had gathered in front of the palace. They were looking for political leaders. The first to appear were the Mensheviks Khrustalev-Nosar (Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet in 1905), and Gvozdev and Bogdanov (leaders of the Workers’ Group), escorted by the crowd that had just released them from the Kresty jail. In the palace they met Chkheidze, Skobelev and Kerensky, and then announced to the crowds outside that a ‘Provisional Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies’ had been established. They appealed to the workers to elect and send their representatives to the first assembly of the Soviet scheduled for that evening. The appeal was printed in a makeshift first issue ofIzvestiia,the only newspaper to appear that day, and widely circulated in the streets.
Despite its name, there were very few workers among the fifty voting delegates and 200 observers packed into the smoke-filled Room 12 of the Tauride Palace for that first chaotic session of the Soviet. Most of the workers were still on the streets and were either drunk or completely unaware of the Soviet’s existence. Their voting places were largely occupied by socialist intellectuals. Sokolov assumed the preliminary chairmanship of the meeting, which immediately proceeded to set up an Executive Committee of 6 Mensheviks, 2 Bolsheviks, 2 SRs and 5 non-party intellectuals. It was not so much a democratic

body as a self-appointed one made up of the various socialist factions and then superimposed on the Soviet. The next day, as 600 Soviet deputies were elected by the workers and soldiers of Petrograd, two more representatives from each of the major socialist parties— the Trudoviks, the Popular Socialists, the SRs, the Bund, the Mensheviks, the Inter-District group* and the Bolsheviks — were added to the Executive Committee. The effect was to strengthen its right wing, those who were most opposed to taking power. The voice of the workers, who might well have demanded that they did take power, was not heard. There was not a single factory delegate on the Soviet Executive — and that in a body claiming to represent the working class.
Chkheidze was appointed Chairman with Skobelev and Kerensky ViceChairmen. But there was really no order to the meeting. Executive members were summoned every minute to meet delegations outside the hall. Business was constantly interrupted by ‘urgent announcements’ or ’emergency reports’. All sorts of unelected groups— post and telegraph officials, zemstvo employees, doctors’ and teachers’ representatives — demanded admission and sometimes got in to declare their allegiance to the Soviet. Then there were the soldiers’ delegations, whose demands for the floor to make their reports were warmly welcomed by thedelegates. Standing on stools, their rifles in their hands, they told in simple language of what had been happening in their garrisons and declared the allegiance of their regiments to the Soviet. The delegates were so enthralled, greeting each declaration with thunderous applause, that it was resolved unanimously, without even taking a formal vote, to create a united Soviet henceforth known as the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
For those who had wanted a genuine workers’ Soviet this was the final kiss of death. Organized in their platoons and companies, the soldiers were in a much better position than the workers to elect their delegates to the Soviet. It often turned out, moreover, that a single platoon of a dozen or so soldiers sent its own representative who was on a par with one from a factory with several thousand workers. There was little real control of voting procedures. The blue of the workers’ tunics was lost in the sea of grey uniforms when the first combined session of the Soviet assembled in the Catherine Hall on the evening of the 28th. Of the 3,000 delegates, more than two-thirds were servicemen— and this in a city where workers outnumbered soldiers by three or four to one. The fact that most of the soldiers were peasants may help to account for the chaotic nature of these early sessions, along with the general confusion of events.
* The Inter-District group, or Mezhraionka, was a left-wing faction of the Social Democrats in Petrograd. It favoured the reunification of the Menshevik and Bolshevik wings of the party. Trotsky and Lunacharsky belonged to it until the summer of 1917, when they joined the Bolsheviks.

‘A mass meeting! Anyone who wants to gets up and says whatever he likes,’ is how one delegate described the first session. There were no formal agendas, minutes or procedures for decision-making in the Soviet. Every decision was arrived at through open debate, with speakers in different parts of the hall all talking at once, and the resolutions passed by general acclamation, much as at a village assembly. Because such a body was incapable of any constructive work it soon took on a purely symbolic role, with the real decisions being made by the Executive and the socialist party caucuses to which most of its members belonged. The workers and soldiers who had made the revolution had in effect lost their political voice to the socialist intelligentsia, which claimed to speak in their name.30
Meanwhile, over in the right wing of the Tauride Palace the Duma members of the Progressive Bloc and the Council of Elders were meeting to decide whether they should obey the Tsar’s order of the previous night to prorogue the Duma, or whether they should defy it and place themselves at the head of the revolutionary movement. The radicals and socialists, whose spokesman was Kerensky, urged the latter course. But the more moderate Duma members, and none more than Miliukov, who acted as their ‘boss’, were clearly terrified by the sight of the crowds. From inside the palace the noise of the ‘mobs’, as they were inclined to call them, was growing louder and more threatening all the time. For a while these moderates sought to play for time by hiding, as it were, behind the thick volumes of constitutional law. It would be illegal, they pontificated, to usurp the powers of the Tsar by forming a cabinet on their own initiative; but it would be possible to cable the sovereign with a request for his permission to do so. In a strictly legal sense there was some logic to this reasoning: the crowds on the street had no authority to hand over power to the Duma and any government formed on that basis would lack formal legitimacy. But such legal niceties were hardly the point now. This, after all, was a revolution; and all revolutions, by their nature, are illegal. The only real power— the power of violence — now lay in the streets and the refusal of the Duma moderates to recognize this fact was an act of cowardice and shortsightedness. No doubt they were afraid that if they assumed power, the masses in the streets would try to impose on them a socialist programme of reforms and peace. In other words, they were reluctant to place themselves at the head of a revolutionary government, even though a revolution had just taken place. Rodzianko, the Duma President, and, in his own words, ‘the fattest man in Russia’, still spoke in terms of a ‘government of public confidence’ (which could mean one appointed by the Tsar) rather than a public or Duma government.
During the afternoon, however, as the Petrograd Soviet began to emerge as a rival contender for power in the left wing of the palace, twelve Duma members from the Progressive Bloc, along with Kerensky and Chkheidze, took

one more cautious step towards the assumption of power. They formed themselves into a ‘Temporary Committee of Duma Members for the Restoration of Order in the Capital and the Establishment of Relations with Individuals and Institutions’. The length of its name betrayed the timidity of its intentions. This was a ‘private’ body of Duma members formed to help ‘restore order’ in the capital, not a Duma organ for the assumption of power. It was only later that night, when the Soviet plenum was in session and reports came in that the capital was sinking deeper into anarchy, that these reluctant revolutionaries, having failed in one last effort to persuade the Grand Duke Mikhail to become dictator, finally seized the initiative and proclaimed themselves in authority. There was simply no alternative— except Soviet power.31
By 28 February, then, two rival centres of power had emerged: in the right wing of the Tauride Palace there was the Temporary Committee of the Duma, which had the closest thing to formal power but no authority in the streets; while in the left wing there was the Soviet, which had the closest thing to power in the streets but no formal authority.
* * * Meanwhile, there were still some battles to be fought. Although the crowd had captured most of the city, there was still a danger that Major-General Khabalov might crush the uprising with the aid of troops from the Front, as the Tsar had ordered on the 27th. ‘In conventional military terms’, Mstislavsky recalled, ‘our situation was quite catastrophic. We had neither artillery, nor machine-guns; neither commanding officers, nor field communications,’ and if Khabalov attacked with disciplined troops, ‘we had as much chance as a snowball in hell.’ Everything depended on the fighting spirit of the mutinous soldiers and their willingness to carry out the orders of the Soviet. Many of the soldiers seemed much less interestedin fighting for it than in ‘joining the people’ and getting drunk. Shklovsky, who was placed in charge of guarding the railway stations, found it almost impossible to convince the troops coming into Petrograd to assume even basic guard duties. The entire guard of the Nikolaevsky Station, where the vital trains from Moscow came in, consisted of a ‘one-armed student and an ancient naval officer in what seemed to be the uniform of an ensign’. At the Tauride Palace things were rather better. Catherine the Great’s graceful palace was now turned into the military headquarters of Red Petrograd. The Soviet established a Military Commission, which issued orders toad hocbrigades placed at strategic points in the city. Hundreds of soldiers had encamped in the corridors of the Tauride Palace waiting for the order to defend this bastion of the revolution. Linde, having put aside his volume of Haldane, took up the command of the guard at the gates. Having been elected by his Finland Regiment to represent it in the Soviet, he had an extra reason to defend the palace with gun in hand. Here was the new politician armed. Stocks of food and guns were piled up high

in the rooms and corridors of the palace. In the middle of the Circular Hall there was a sewing machine: nobody knew how it had got there, or what it was supposed to be for. Perhaps someone had been planning for a long war and had thought it might be needed to mend uniforms. Nabokov described the scene inside the palace:
Soldiers, soldiers, and more soldiers, with tired, dull faces; everywhere were signs of an improvised camp, rubbish, straw; the air was thick like some kind of dense fog, there was a smell of soldiers’ boots, cloth, sweat; from somewhere we could hear the hysterical voices of orators addressing a meeting in the Catherine Hall— everywhere crowding and bustling confusion.32
There were still, moreover, some troublesome pockets of resistance in the capital: in the Winter Palace, in the General Staff building, at the Admiralty and in the Astoria Hotel. Some of the bloodiest fighting of the whole revolution took place in the hotel on the 28th. It was packed with senior officers and their families and, when snipers on its roof opened fire on the crowds below, the revolutionary soldiers brought up three machine-guns on armoured cars and began to fire through all the windows. Meanwhile, armed crowds stormed the building, wrecking the plush interior, looting the wine stores and searching the rooms for ‘counter-revolutionaries’. Several dozen officers were shot or bayoneted. There was a long pitched battle amidst the broken chandeliers and mirrors of the vestibule, and at the end of it, according to one eye-witness, ‘the revolving door was running in a pool of blood’.33
* * * The main aim of the leaders in the Tauride Palace— both in the left wing and in the right — was to restore order on the streets. There was a real danger of the revolution degenerating into anarchy. Thousands of drunken workers and soldiers were roaming through the city looting stores, breaking into houses, beating up and robbing people in thestreets. The revolutionary struggle against the police and the army officers was breaking down into uncontrolled violence and retribution. ‘Unless all this is brought to a halt,’ warned one deputy in the Soviet, ‘the revolution will end in defeat and shame.’
One cause for concern was the safe and orderly detention of the tsarist ministers and officials. On the evening of the 27th the Council of Ministers had held its last meeting in the Marinsky Palace and formally submitted its resignation to the Tsar. At one stage in the meeting the lights had gone out and it was assumed that the revolutionaries were about to storm the palace. In fact it was just a power-cut and when the lights came back on after a few minutes, several of the ministers were found hiding under the table. None the less, their

panic was not without cause. Some 4,000 tsarist government officials were seized by the crowd in the February Days, and the fate of many of them was not one that anyone would envy. The Temporary Committee of the Duma ordered the arrest of all ex-ministers and senior officials, and their delivery to the Duma ‘for justice’, partly to save them from the horrors of ‘mob law’. It was fitting and symbolic that Shcheglovitov, the former Minister of Justice, should have been the first to be brought by the crowds to the Tauride Palace. There he was met by Kerensky, shortly to become the next Minister of Justice, who, clearly aware of the drama of the situation, announced to the prisoner: ‘Ivan Grigorievich Shcheglovitov, you are under arrest! Your life is not in danger!’ And then with irony added the words: ‘Know that the State Duma does not shed blood.’ Several ex-ministers even turned themselves in to the Duma rather than run the risk of being captured by the crowds. Protopopov was among these. He tried to save himself by turning evidence against the Tsar and, when this failed, broke down into tears and whined pathetically. Sukhomlinov, the ex-Minister of War, arrived on I March with his own armed escort, causing wild excitement among the soldiers. They were only just dissuaded from executing him on the spot. But they did succeed in tearing off his epaulettes as a rejection of the old military order.’14
All these fallen officials were detained in the Ministerial Pavilion of the Tauride Palace and then transferred to the Peter and Paul Fortress for interrogation and imprisonment. It was one of those small but nicely symbolic ironies of the revolution that the man who was placed in charge of escorting the ministers to the Peter and Paul should have been a man, Viktor Zenzinov, who had himself once been a prisoner there. He recalls what must have been a very strange sensation as he, now a government official, arrived at the prison gates with Shcheglovitov, once the Minister of Justice himself, but now just another ‘political’:
We drove through the gates, did a turn or two, went under the arch and came to a stop in front of the door. Just the same guards stood there now as I remembered from seven years before. Then out came to meet us— I could scarcely believe my eyes — Captain Ivanishin, the same Captain Ivanishin, who seven years before had run the Trubetskoi Bastion, where the solitary confinement prisoners were kept and where I had been kept under him in a damp stone cell for six months during 1910 . . . Now he was conducting himself politely with me. I have no doubt that Ivanishin recognized me immediately, just as I recognized him, but he did not give any sign of recognition.
On Zenzinov’s request, Kerensky ordered the removal of Ivanishin. But the order

was not carried out. It was only later, after several weeks, whe