Volume III - CHAPTER XII - APRIL 22-MAY 6, 1917
Sunday, Apri1 22, 1917.
At eleven o'clock to-night Albert Thomas arrived at the Finland Station with an impressive escort of officers and secretaries.
From the same train stepped about a score of famous exiles, who have come from France, England and Switzerland; so the station was decorated with red flags. A dense crowd was massed at all the approaches. Numerous delegations, carrying scarlet banners, were grouped at the entrance of the hall and the "Red Guard," which has replaced the civic police, lined the platform with the finest specimens of apaches, sporting red ties and scarves, of which the municipality can boast.
As soon as the train appeared, a storm of cheers burst forth. But the station was badly lit; a clammy and icy fog made the air thick; there was a chaotic accumulation of luggage and boxes all over the place and almost invading the lines, so that the return of the exiles was both triumphal and inauspicious.
Miliukov, Terestchenko and Konovalov went with me to welcome the French mission. After the official salaams, I led Albert Thomas towards my car, to the accompaniment of a general ovation.
This sight, a great contrast to what he had seen in May, 1916, touched him in his revolutionary fibres. His eyes sparkled as he glanced about him. More than once he said to me:
"Now we see the revolution in all its grandeur and beauty!"
At the Hotel de l'Europe, where a suite had been reserved for him, we had a talk. I informed him of all that has happened since he left France; I told him how much worse the situation has become in the last fortnight; I described the dispute that has arisen between Miliukov and Kerensky, and concluded by emphasizing the considerations that in my opinion compel us to support the Minister for Foreign Affairs because he stands for the policy of the Alliance.
Albert Thomas listened carefully and then countered:
"We must be extremely careful not to offend the Russian democracy. The very reason for my coming is to look into all this. We'll resume the conversation to-morrow."
Monday, April 23, 1917.
I had Miliukov, Terestchenko, Konovalov and Neratov, in addition to my personal staff, to luncheon to-day to meet Albert Thomas.
The three Russian ministers affected to be optimistic. We discussed the formation of two parties in the Government which is becoming increasingly clear. With his usual good temper and great broad-mindedness, Miliukov gave his views about the differences of opinion that have arisen between Kerensky and himself. Albert Thomas listened, questioned and said little except to express immense confidence in the Russian revolution and pay it an eloquent and admiring tribute.
When my other guests had left, Albert Thomas asked to have a talk with me privately in my own room. There he said in serious but friendly tones:
"Monsieur Ribot has given me a letter for you; he left it to my discretion when I should hand it over to you. I have much too high a regard for you not to give it you at once. Here it is."
It was dated the 13th April. I read it, without the slightest surprise or emotion.(1) When I had finished, I said to Albert Thomas:
"There is nothing in this letter with which I do not agree and which I do not highly appreciate. Until my departure, which it will be difficult for me to fix earlier than May 10th, I'll give you all the help in my power."
He shook my hand warmly and replied:
"I shall never forget how dignified your attitude has been, and it will be a pleasure to pay it a tribute in the telegram I am sending to the Government of the Republic to-day."
After drawing up a programme of visits and operations with me, he withdrew.
Tuesday, April 24, 1917.
I asked my English and Italian colleagues to lunch with Albert Thomas to-day. Carlotti declared himself entirely in agreement with me when I maintained that we must support Miliukov against Kerensky and that it would be a grave error of judgment not to place the political and moral authority of the Allied Governments in the scale against the Soviet. I concluded with these words:
"With Miliukov and the moderates of the Provisional Government we have still a chance of arresting the progress of anarchy and keeping Russia in the war. Kerensky implies the sure and certain triumph of the Soviet, which means giving the rein to all the passions of the mob, the destruction of the army, the rupture of national ties and the end of the Russian State. And if the disintegration of Russia is now inevitable, at least let us refrain from promoting it!"
Supported by Buchanan, Albert Thomas pronounced emphatically in favour of Kerensky:
"The whole strength of the Russian democracy lies in its revolutionary fervour. Kerensky alone is capable of establishing, with the aid of the Soviet, a government worthy of our confidence."
Wednesday, April 25, 1917.
Albert Thomas and I dined at the British Embassy this evening. But he was in my room as early as half-past seven; he had come to tell me of a long conversation he had with Kerensky this afternoon, the principal topic of which was the revision of "war aims."
Kerensky had insisted strongly on the necessity of undertaking such a revision, in conformity with the resolution of the Soviet; he thinks that the Allied Governments will lose all their credit with the Russian democracy if they do not publicly abandon their programme of annexations and indemnities.
"I confess," Albert Thomas said to me, "that I am very much impressed by the force of his arguments and the warmth he puts into his advocacy."
Then, repeating the metaphor Cachin used a day or two ago, he summed up thus:
"We shall be obliged to throw out some ballast."
I argued contra that the Russian democracy was rather too inexperienced, ignorant and uneducated to start claiming to dictate to the democracies of France, England, Italy and America, and that what is attacked is the whole policy of the Alliance. He repeated:
"It doesn't matter! We must throw out some ballast!"
It was now nearly eight o'clock, so we left for the British Embassy.
Among the other guests were Prince and Princess Sergei Bielosselsky, Princess Marie Troubetzkoï, M. and Madame Polovtsov.
Albert Thomas was extraordinarily pleasant and kind and made himself very popular by his wit, his animated and picturesque conversation and total lack of affectation.
Yet two or three times I thought that his candour would have benefited by being more discreet and less expansive and transparent. For instance, he too obviously enjoyed expatiating on his past as a revolutionary, his part in the railway strike of 1911 and the emotional satisfaction he derives from finding himself here in an atmosphere of popular tempest. Perhaps he only talks as he does to avoid any appearance of disowning his political antecedents.
Thursday, April 26, 1917.
Miliukov remarked to me this morning with a wry face: "You socialists aren't exactly making my task easier!"
Then he told me that Kerensky had boasted to the Soviet of having converted everyone, not excepting Albert Thomas, to his own views, and already thinks himself sole director in matters of foreign policy.
"Have you heard of the trick he's just played me?" he added. "He has got the press to announce, in the form of an official ' communiqué, that the Provisional Government is drafting a note to the Allied Powers, stating in clear and unmistakable language its views on war aims. So it was through the papers that I, the Foreign Minister, first heard of this alleged decision of the Provisional Government. That's the way I'm treated! They are obviously trying to force my hand. I shall bring the matter up before the Council of Ministers to-night!"
I made the best excuses I could for the behaviour of the socialist deputies and said that they were inspired solely by the idea of smoothing away difficulties.
An hour later I rejoined Albert Thomas at the Embassy and found Kokovtsov who had come for lunch. As on the previous evening, Thomas regaled us on anecdotes from the turbulent period of his political past. But his memories of the incidents he talked about were even more detailed and challenging. He not only tried to avoid the appearance of disowning his past actions but tried to demonstrate that, although he is now a minister of the Government of the Republic, it is as a representative of the Socialist Party. Kokovtsov, who is always politeness itself, took little pleasure in these stories which revolted his instinctive feeling for order and discipline and his reverence for tradition and the hierarchical constitution of society.
After they left me, I thought over the new line which, it is becoming increasingly clear, Albert Thomas means his mission to take, and I decided to send Ribot the following telegram:
If, as I very much fear, the Russian Government asks us to revise our previous agreements about peace terms, it is my opinion that we must not hesitate to tell them that we stand firmly by those agreements and insist once more on our determination to continue the war to full and final victory.
If we do not refuse to enter into the negotiations into which the leaders of the Social Democratic Party, and M. Kerensky himself, hope to inveigle us, the consequences may well be irreparable.
The first effect would be to undermine all confidence in those members of the Provisional Government such as Prince Lvov, M. Gutchkov, M. Miliukov, M. Shingarev, etc., who are struggling so heroically to revive Russian patriotism and save the Alliance. We should also paralyse the forces in the rest of the country and the army which have not yet been contaminated by pacifist propaganda. These forces are very slow in reacting against the despotic preponderance of Petrograd because they are ill-organized and scattered, but they are none the less a reserve of national energy which may have an enormous influence on the course of the war.
The determined attitude which I am taking the liberty of recommending to you admittedly involves some risk, in the last resort, of the rupture of the Alliance. But, however serious that eventuality may be, I prefer it to the consequences of the doubtful negotiations which, so I am informed, the Socialist Party is preparing to propose to us. The fact is that, even supposing we had to continue the war without Russia's help, we should be in a position to make our victory yield us a harvest of highly profitable advantages at the expense of our defaulting ally. That prospect is already very seriously agitating a large number of Russian patriots. And if we take the opposite course, I am apprehensive that the Petrograd Soviet will promptly assume control of affairs and, with the complicity of the pacifists of all nations, force a general peace upon us.
Before despatching this telegram, I thought it my duty to read it to Albert Thomas, so I went to see him before dinner at the Hôtel de l'Europe.
He listened, but without surprise as he knows what my views are; but no sooner had I begun than a hard and uncompromising look came into his eyes. When I had finished, he remarked in snappy tones:
"I entirely disagree with you. Are you absolutely set on sending this telegram?"
"Yes; I've thought over it very carefully."
"All right! Send it! But it will be your last!"
I told him that until I was officially relieved of my post it was my duty to supply the Government with information. All that I could do not to impede his mission was to refrain from any kind of action. I added:
"I am sure that the course you are taking is wrong. So when we are talking as man to man, I try to convince you of the mistake and tell you everything that is in my mind. But in conversation with third parties, I assure you I always endeavour to present your views in the best possible light."
"I know you do, and I'm very grateful for it."
As we were separating, he pointed to some books on his table which included some volumes of poems by Alfred de Vigny:
"Those books, he said, are my regular travelling companions. You see what good taste I have."
We parted with a friendly handshake.
Friday, April 27, 1917.
Albert Thomas, in his anxiety to define his standpoint, has sent Ribot a long telegram:
I have raised no objection to M. Paléologue's sending the telegram of yesterday in which he reiterates his belief that Russia will desert us in the near future, and recommends the adoption of a firm attitude. That telegram will be his last. Henceforth I have decided, on my own responsibility, to be the Government's sole source of information and to determine with it the course to be followed.
Whatever may be the difficulties - and they are exceedingly formidable - with which the Provisional Government is struggling, and however great the agitation of the anti-annexationist socialists, it seems to me that neither the result of the war nor the fate of the alliance is threatened.
In my view, the actual situation is as follows:
The socialists are requiring the Government, and more. particularly M. Kerensky, to draft a diplomatic note inviting the Allies to revise their war aims in concert. M. Miliukov thinks he cannot yield to this demand. The Government is hesitating between. the two courses. I think I shall be able to offer my services in finding some provisional solution which will prevent the present Government from being shaken or breaking up - a point I consider of the very first importance.
Even if M. Miliukov should not get his own way and the Provisional Government were to propose that we revise the agreements, I earnestly hope that it will be taken calmly. We shall no doubt see some more incidents, and perhaps even disorders. But all who are in touch with the army assure me that a real improvement in the situation is gradually taking place.
With encouragement and action on our side, revolutionary patriotism over here can and must shake itself free. We must not allow an unwise policy to alienate its sympathies from us.
I saw Albert Thomas again to-day. He said to me:
"I've made a point of accurately defining the issues on which our two views are at variance. In a word, what divides us is that you have no faith at all in the merits of the revolutionary forces while I place implicit trust in them."
"I'm ready to admit that among the Latin and Anglo-Saxon nations, revolutionary forces sometimes have an astonishing power of organization and reconstruction. But with the Slav races they can only be disruptive and destructive: they inevitably lead to anarchy."
This evening I dined at Tsarkoïe-Selo with the Grand Duke Paul and Princess Paley. It was purely a family party, including the young Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, Vladimir Paley, and the two girls, Irene and Natalia.
It was the first time I had been in the house since the revolution.
The Grand Duke was wearing a general's uniform, with the St. George's Cross (though without the imperial monogram) but without the shoulder knots of an aide-de-camp. He has preserved his calm and unaffected dignity, but lines of woe are deeply etched upon his haggard face. The Princess was simply trembling with grief and exasperation.
Day by day and hour by hour, we reconstructed together the tragic weeks through which we have just passed.
As we traversed the rooms on our way to lunch, the same thought struck us all simultaneously. We feasted our eyes on all this splendour, the pictures, the tapestries, the profusion of furniture and treasures of art. What was the good of all that now? What would become of all these marvels and glories? With tears in her eyes, the poor Princess said to me:
"Perhaps this house will be taken from us quite soon - and I've put so much of myself into it!
For the remainder of the evening we were exceedingly depressed; the Grand Duke and his wife are no less pessimistic than myself.
The Princess told me that as she was passing the railings of the Alexander Park yesterday she had a distant glimpse of the Emperor and his daughters. He was passing the time by breaking the ice in a fountain with an iron-shod pole. He had been amusing himself thus for more than an hour! A number of soldiers who were also watching him through the railings, called out: "What'll you be up to a few days hence, when the ice has melted?" But the Emperor was too far away to hear.
The Grand Duke also told me something:
"The confinement of our unhappy sovereigns has become so rigorous that we know practically nothing of what they are thinking and doing. But last week I had a talk about them with Father Vassiliev, who had just been taking the Easter services in the palace chapel. He told me that he had been left alone with the Emperor several times to carry out his religious duties, and that at first he had found him extremely melancholy and dejected: he spoke in low tones and seemed to be picking his words. But after communion on Holy Thursday, the dear Emperor suddenly recovered his spirits, and two days later his new mood inspired a very touching little scene! No doubt you know that after the Resurrection mass on Easter Eve, all true believers embrace each other to the accompaniment of the words: 'Christ is risen!' That night the officer on duty and several men of the guard had quietly followed the imperial family into the palace chapel. When mass was over, the Emperor went up to these men, who had kept to themselves, and disdaining to regard them now as anything but Christian brothers, he gave them all a reverent kiss on the mouth."
I started back for Petrograd at ten o'clock.
Saturday, April 28, 1917.
As Miliukov told me the day before yesterday, the French socialists, with Albert Thomas to lead them, are making a fine mess of it here!
Disconcerted by the insulting frigidity of the Soviet's attitude towards them, they are under the impression that they can soothe its susceptibilities and gain its goodwill by concessions, obsequiousness and flattery. Their latest invention is to make the restitution of Alsace-Lorraine subject to a plebiscite. They are forgetting that Germany would hear nothing of a plebiscite in 1871, and they affect to be unable to see that an appeal to a popular vote which was organized by the German authorities would necessarily be fictitious, and that the condition precedent to a free vote would be the departure of the Germans across the Rhine - so that we must first win the war at any cost. They also seem to ignore the fact that France, in claiming Alsace-Lorraine, is simply asking that a wrong shall be redressed.
Russian society, by which I mean the highest society in the land, is a curious study at the present moment.
I have observed three currents of opinion, or rather three attitudes of mind, towards the revolution.
In principle, all the former clientèle of tsarism, by which I mean all families contributing, by virtue of birth or office, to the splendour of the imperial order, have remained loyal to the fallen sovereigns. But I have also observed that I hardly ever hear that loyalty expressed unless coupled with severe, acrimonious, angry and bitter criticisms of the weakness of Nicholas II, the errors of the Empress and the baneful intrigues of their camarilla.
As always happens when parties are ejected from power, infinite time is wasted over reminiscences of what has happened, the frantic search for scapegoats and the futile interchange of retrospective hypotheses and personal recrimination. In a political sense, this section, large though it is, will soon cease to count, because it lives on its memories more and more every day, and its only concern with the present is to smother it with sarcasm and invective.
Yet even in these social circles I occasionally derive a different impression, and usually at the close of some evening party when the place-hunters and feather-heads have gone and the conversation takes a more intimate turn. It is then that the possibility of enlisting under the new order is examined in discreet, studied and cautious terms. Is it not making a grave mistake not to support the Provisional Government? Are we not playing the game of the anarchists by refusing the present rulers the help of the conservative forces? Usually there is but a feeble response to this language, a fact which does not make it any less creditable and courageous; for it is inspired by the loftiest patriotism and dictated solely by the realization of public necessities and recognition of the mortal perils with which Russia is menaced. But, so far as I know, not one of those whom I have heard expressing this view has yet dared to cross the Rubicon.
In the higher ranks of society I detect a third attitude towards the new order.
To describe it fittingly would require nothing less than the amusing verve and acid pen of Rivard. I am alluding to the secret activities of certain salons, and the manœuvres of certain pridvorny, clever and ambitious officers or officials whom one sees haunting the antechambers of the Provisional Government, offering their help, cadging for jobs, impudently emphasizing what a valuable example their political conversion would be, speculating with calm effrontery in the prestige of their name and the undeniable worth of their administrative or military talents. Some of them seem to me to have done the turncoat business with remarkable speed and agility. As Norvins said in 1814, "I had no idea that snakes could change their skins so quickly." There is nothing like a revolution to lay bare the depths of human nature, to reveal the reverse of the social facade and show up what goes on behind the scenes of the political masquerade.
Sunday, April 29, 1917.
Since the revolutionary drama began, not a day has passed without its ceremonies, processions, charity performances and "triumphs." There has been an uninterrupted series of demonstrations, demonstrations of victory or protest demonstrations, inaugural, expiatory and valedictory. The Slav soul, with its vague and fervent sensibilities, its intuitive notion of the bond of humanity and its violent passion for æsthetic and picturesque emotions, revels and wallows in them. All the clubs and corporations, the political, professional, religious and ethnical associations, have been here to lay their grievances and aspirations before the Soviet.
On Easter Monday, the 16th April, I passed, not far from the St. Alexander Nevski Monastery, a long line of pilgrims who were marching to the Tauride Palace, reciting prayers as they went. They carried large red flags on which could be read: "Christ is Risen! Long live the free Church!" or, "A free and democratic Church for a free People!"
The Tauride Gardens have thus witnessed processions of Jews, Mohammedans, Buddhists, working men and women, peasants of both sexes, school teachers, young apprentices, orphans, deaf mutes and midwives! There has even been a procession of prostitutes! Shades of Tolstoï! What an epilogue to Resurrection!
To-day it was the turn of mutilés of the war, who came in their thousands to protest against the pacifist theories of the war. At their head was a military band, and the front file carried scarlet banners inscribed thus: "War for liberty to our last breath!" or: "Let not our glorious dead have died in vain!" or: "Look at our wounds! They call for victory!" or: "The pacifists are disgracing Russia. Down with Lenin!"
An heroic and pitiable sight! The least damaged of the victims dragged themselves slowly along, keeping line as best they could. Most of them had lost one or more limbs. The worst cases, swathed in bandages, were fixed up on lorries. The blind were led by Red Cross sisters.
This mournful troop seemed a living embodiment of all the horrors of war and to stand for all that human flesh can endure in the way of mutilation and torture. A religious silence greeted them; heads were bared as they passed and eyes filled with tears; a woman in mourning fell to her knees and sobbed as if her heart would break.
At the corner of the Liteïny, where the crowd was thickest and the working-class element best represented, there was loud cheering.
But, alas, I very much fear that among these spectators who came to cheer there is more than one who will go to welcome Lenin to-night. The Russian nation is enthusiastic over "spectacles," whatever their purpose, so long as they affect its emotions and stir its imagination.
Monday, April 30, 1917.
The forces of anarchy are swelling and raging with the uncontrollable force of an equinoctial tide.
All discipline has vanished in the army. Officers are everywhere being insulted, ragged and - if they object - massacred. It is calculated that more than 1,200,000 deserters are wandering over Russia, filling the stations, storming the carriages, stopping the trains, and thus paralysing all the military and civil transport services. At junctions in particular they seem positively to swarm. A train arrives: they make its occupants get out, take their places and compel the stationmaster to switch the train off in any direction they like. Or it may be a train laden with troops for the front. The men get out at some station, arrange a meeting, confer together for an hour or two, and wind up by demanding to be taken back to their starting point.
In the Civil Service there is no less disorder. The heads have lost all authority over their subordinates, who in any case spend most of their time in speechifying in the Soviets or demonstrating in the streets.
Of course the food shortage shows no sign of improvement, if indeed it is not getting worse. And yet there are in the stations of Petrograd four thousand wagons loaded with flour. But the lorry drivers refuse to work. Then the Soviet publishes an eloquent appeal:
Do not imitate the infamies of the old regime! Do not let your brothers die of hunger! Unload the wagons!"
The comrade lorry-drivers answer as one man: "We will not unload the wagons, because it is not our pleasure to do so. We are free!!"
Then when the day comes in which it pleases the comrade lorry-drivers to unload the wagons of flour, it is the turn of the bakers to refuse to work. Then the Soviet publishes an eloquent appeal:
Do not imitate the infamies of the old regime! Do not let your brothers die of hunger! Make bread!"
The comrade bakers answer as one man: "We will not make bread, because it is not our pleasure to do so. We are free!"
In the streets many of the izvochtchiks are refusing to keep to the left, because they are free. But as they are not agreed about it, the result is continual collision.
The police, which was the main, if not the only, framework of this enormous country, has simply ceased to exist, for the "Red Guard, a kind of municipal militia instituted in some of the large cities, is nothing but a hoard of outcasts and apaches. And as all the prisons have been opened, it is miraculous that more attacks on persons and property have not been reported.
Yet agrarian disorder is greatly on the increase, particularly in the districts of Kursk, Voronej, Tambov and Saratov.
One of the oddest signs of the general derangement is the attitude of the Soviets and their following towards the prisoners of war.
At Schlusselburg the German prisoners are allowed to go about unattended in the town. Within a distance of five versts from the front one of my officers has seen bodies of Austrian prisoners walking about without let or hindrance. To crown everything, a regional conference of German, Turkish and Austro-Hungarian prisoners has demanded - and successfully - that the "eight-hour day" should be applied to them!
Tuesday, May 1, 1917.
According to the orthodox calendar to-day is the 18th April; but the Soviet has decided that we shall nationally adopt the Western style so as to fall in time with the proletariats of all countries and illustrate the international solidarity of the working classes, in spite of the war and the illusions of the bourgeoisie.
During the last few days preparations have been in progress for a colossal demonstration on the Champ-de-Mars. The weather has not been favourable. The sky has been livid, the wind cold and biting, and the Neva, which had begun to thaw, has piled up its floes again.
From early morning all the bridges and avenues have been thronged with processions proceeding towards the centre of the city, processions of workmen, soldiers, moujiks, women, and children, - each preceded by tall red banners which had a fierce struggle with the wind.
Perfect order prevailed. The long snaky lines advanced, retreated and manœuvred as easily as a troop of supers on the stage. The Russian people has a rare sense of theatrical effect.
About eleven o'clock I went to the Champ-de-Mars with my secretaries, Chambrun and Dulong.
The huge square was like a human ocean in which the swaying of the crowd resembled the motion of waves. Thousands of red flags fluttered above these living billows. A dozen military orchestras, distributed at various points, made the welkin ring with the strains of the Marseillaise, alternating with operatic and dance selections. You cannot have a ceremony in Russia without music.
Nor can you have a ceremony without speeches. So the Soviet had posted at fixed intervals motor lorries, hung with red cloth, to serve as platforms. Orators followed each other in endless succession, all of them men of the people, whether wearing the workman's jacket, the soldier's greatcoat, the peasant's sheepskin, the priest's cassock or the Jew's gabardine. They spoke as if they would never stop, gesticulating vigorously. The audience gave them the closest attention. There was no interruption and everyone listened with glazed eye and strained car to these naive, grave, confused and fervent outpourings, replete with illusions and dreams, which have been germinating for centuries in the inarticulate soul of the Russian people. The subject of most of the speeches was social reforms and the partition of the land. The war was only mentioned incidentally, and as an affliction which will soon end in a brotherly reconciliation of all the nations. I spent an hour walking about the Champ-de-Mars and in that time counted about thirty-two banners bearing inscriptions such as: "Down with the War! ... . Long Live the Internationale! ... . We want Liberty, Land and Peace!"
As I was returning to the Embassy I passed Albert Thomas, escorted by "Russian comrades"; his face fairly beamed with revolutionary enthusiasm. As we met, he burst out:
"Isn't it splendid! Perfectly splendid!"
It was certainly a splendid spectacle; but I should appreciate its beauty more if there were no war, France were not invaded and the Germans had not been in Lille and Saint-Quentin for the past thirty-two months.
Not until evening did the processions cease to file into the Champ-de-Mars and the orators to follow each other in unbroken succession on the platforms draped in scarlet.
To-day has made a very deep impression upon me; it marks the end of a social order and the collapse of a world. The Russian revolution is composed of elements too discordant, illogical, subconscious and ignorant for anyone to judge at the present time what its historical significance may be or its power of self-diffusion. But if one thinks of the world drama of which it forms part, there is a temptation to apply to it the remark which Joseph de Maistre, in this very city, made about the trench Revolution: " It is not a revolution but an epoch."
Wednesday, May 2, 1917.
A "concert-meeting" took place at the Michael Theatre this evening: the proceeds are earmarked for the assistance of former political prisoners. Several ministers were present and Miliukov and Kerensky were down to speak. I accompanied Albert Thomas in the great front box which used to be the imperial box.
After a symphonic prelude of Tchaikovsky, Miliukov made a speech, a speech glowing with patriotism and energy. It was received with approving cheers from the gallery to the stalls.
After him Kousnietzova appeared on the stage. Shrouded in her tragic beauty, she sang the great air from Tosca in her voluptuous and moving voice. The applause was vociferous.
But even before the audience had calmed down, a hirsute, sinister and fierce-eyed figure rose from a box and yelled out angrily:
"I want to speak against the war, and in favour of peace!"
Uproar. Shouts from all sides:
"Who are you? Where have you come from? What were you doing before the revolution?"
The man hesitated in answering. Then he suddenly folded his arms and thundered out as if in defiance of his audience:
"I've come from Siberia; I was in prison!"
"Oh! Were you a political prisoner?"
"No, I was an ordinary criminal; but I had my conscience on my side!"
This answer, fully worthy of Dostoïevski, aroused a tempest of cheers:
"Hurrah! Hurrah! Speak! Speak!"
He jumped out of the box. He was seized, raised aloft and carried to the stage over the heads of those sitting in the stalls.
Albert Thomas, sitting next to me, was in the seventh heaven of delight. His face beaming, he snatched my hand and whispered:
"It's absolutely glorious! Wonderfully beautiful!"
The convict began by reading letters he had received from the front to the effect that all the Germans ask is to fraternize with their Russian comrades. He developed his theme, but expressed himself awkwardly and groped for his words. The audience was bored and became noisy.
At that moment Kerensky turned up. He was received with cheers and asked to speak at once.
The convict, whom everyone had forgotten, protested vigorously. A few hearty blows convinced him that his presence on the stage was superfluous. He shook his fist and vanished into the wings.
But before Kerensky began his speech, a tenor appeared and sang some of Glazounov's popular airs. As he had a delightful voice and his diction was excellent, the audience, which was now feeling sentimental again, had him back for three more songs.
At length Kerensky occupied the stage; he was even paler than usual and seemed utterly worn out. In a few words he knocked the convict's argument to pieces. But as if another train of thought had passed through his mind, he suddenly gave utterance to the following odd conclusion:
"If you will not believe in me and follow me, I shall give up power. I will never use force to secure the acceptance of my opinions ... . When a country means to cast itself into the gulf, no human power can prevent it and those who conduct its government have only one course open to them - to retire."
As he was coming down from the stage with a tired and dispirited air, I turned his strange theory over in my mind and felt like replying: "When a country means to cast itself into the gulf, the duty of its rulers is not to retire but to place themselves in its path even at the risk of their lives."
There was another orchestral item and at length came the turn of Albert Thomas to speak. In a short and vehement speech, he greeted the proletariat of Russia and boasted of the patriotism of the French socialists; he again proclaimed the necessity of victory, in the very interest of the future of society, and so forth.
At least nine-tenths of the audience did not understand him. But his voice was so sonorous, his eyes flashed forth such fire, and his gestures were so superb that a torrent of frantic and approving cheers greeted the conclusion of his speech.
Thursday, May 3, 1917.
Yielding to the pressure of the Soviet, Kerensky and, unfortunately, Albert Thomas too, Miliukov has bowed to the necessity of informing the Allied Governments of the manifesto issued on the 9th April to enlighten the Russian nation about the views of the Government of free Russia on the subject of war aims, a manifesto which can be summarized in the famous expression: "No annexations, no indemnities." But he has added an explanatory note which, couched in intentionally vague and diffuse terms, does what is possible to counteract the arguments of the manifesto.
The Soviet has been sitting all night, proclaiming its determination to have this note withdrawn and make Miliukov "harmless" in future. In fact, a fierce dispute with the Government is in progress.
There has been much excitement in the streets since early morning. Groups have gathered at all points to listen to impromptu speeches. About two o'clock the character of the demonstrations became more serious. A collision between Miliukov's supporters and opponents took place in front of Our Lady of Kazan and the former gained the day.
Before long the regiments of the garrison emerged from their barracks and marched through the streets of the city, shouting: "Down with Miliukov! Down with the war!"
The Government is in permanent session at the Marie Palace, having firmly decided that this time it will make no further concessions to the tyranny of the extremists. Kerensky alone has refrained from taking any part in its deliberations; he feels that his position as Vice-President of the Soviet leaves him no other course.
This evening the agitation became more intense. More than 25,000 armed men and a huge mob of workmen collected round the Marie Palace.
The Government's position is critical; but its resolution has not wavered. From the top of the steps which give a splendid view of the Marie and St. Isaac Squares, Miliukov, General Kornilov and Rodzianko have been bravely haranguing the crowd.
At length a rumour began to spread that the Tsarskoe Selo regiments, which have remained faithful to the Government, are marching on Petrograd. The Soviet seems to think it is true, as it hastily issued an order that the demonstrations are to cease. What will happen to-morrow?
I have been thinking all day over the lamentable mistake Albert Thomas has made in supporting Kerensky against Miliukov. In view of his persistence in what may be called "the revolutionary illusion," I decided to-night to send Ribot the following telegram:
The gravity of the events in progress and the sense of my responsibility compel me to ask you to confirm by direct and express order that you have instructed M. Albert Thomas I am not to communicate with you.
Friday, May 4th, 1917.
About ten o'clock this morning Albert Thomas came to the Embassy as usual: I immediately told him of yesterday's telegram.
He flew into a rage. Striding up and down, he treated me to a torrent of reproach and invective.
But the storm was too violent to last.
After a moment's silence, he crossed the room twice, frowning fiercely' his arms folded and his lips moving as if he were talking to himself. Then his face cleared up, and in a calmer tone he asked:
"What is your objection to my policy?"
"I don't find any difficulty in answering you," I said.
"Yours is a mind formed in the socialistic and revolutionary school; you are also very emotional and possess oratorical imagination. You have arrived here in highly inflammable, stirring and intoxicating surroundings and you've been captured by your milieu."
"Can't you see I'm always keeping a tight hold on myself?"
"Yes, but there are times when you let yourself go. The other night, at the Michael Theatre, for instance... ."
Our talk continued in the same strain, incidentally leaving us both exactly where we were before.
Stormy yesterday was unquestionably a triumph for the Government over the Soviet. I have had confirmation of the report that the Tsarskoe Selo garrison had threatened to march on Petrograd.
During this afternoon there have been renewed demonstrations.
Whilst I was having tea with Madame P - - on the Moïka about five o'clock, we heard a great din coming from the Nevsky Prospekt, followed by the sound of rifle fire. Fighting was in progress before Our Lady of Kazan.
As I was returning to the Embassy I passed some armed bands of Leninists who were yelling: "Long live the Internationale! Down with Miliukov! Down with the war!"
Bloody collisions continued in the evening.
But the Soviet has taken fright, as it did yesterday. It is afraid of finding itself thrust on one side and supplanted by Lenin. It is also afraid that the Tsarskoe Selo troops will march on the city; so it has hastily issued posters with an appeal for restraint and order, "to save the revolution from the catastrophe with which it is threatened."
By midnight peace had been restored.
Saturday, May 5, 1917.
The city now wears its wonted appearance.
But, judging from the arrogant tone of the extremist press, the Government's victory is a precarious one . the days of Miliukov, Gutchkov and Prince Lvov are numbered
Sunday, May 6, 1917.
I have had a talk with the great metallurgist and financier, Pertilov; we exchanged gloomy forecasts of the inevitable consequences of present events.
"A Russian revolution," I said, "can only be disruptive and destructive. because the first effect of a revolution is to liberate popular instincts, and the instincts of the Russian people are essentially anarchic. Never before have I so well understood the prayer wrung out of Pushkin by Pugatchev's adventure: May God spare us the sight of another Russian revolution, a thing of horror and absurdity!"
"You're familiar with my views on the subject. I believe Russia is entering upon a very, very long period of disorder, misery and ruin."
After a moment's solemn silence, he continued with a very tense expression:
"Monsieur l'Ambassadeur, I'll answer your question with a Persian parable:
"In the plains of Khorassan there was once a great drought, from which the cattle suffered cruelly. A shepherd, seeing his sheep on the point of death, sought out a famous sorcerer and said to him: 'Thou art clever and powerful: canst thou not make the grass of my fields grow again?' 'Nothing easier,' replied the other. 'It will cost you only two tomans.' A bargain was struck on the spot, and the magician proceeded at once to his incantations. But neither on the next day nor the days following could the smallest cloud be seen in the sky; the ground became harder and harder; the sheep continued to starve and die. In his alarm the shepherd soon returned to the sorcerer, who overwhelmed him with words of comfort and counsels of patience. But the drought still continued and the ground became utterly baked up. Then the shepherd became desperate, rushed back to the sorcerer and asked him anxiously: 'Are you quite sure you can make the grass of my fields grow again?' 'Absolutely; I've done things far more difficult hundreds of times! I'll guarantee that your fields will be green again. But I cannot guarantee that between now and then your sheep will not all be dead.'
The Government has considered it a wise step to send the Minister of Munitions of War to Petrograd on an extraordinary mission. You told me that M. Albert Thomas, in view of the pleasant memories he left behind him in Russia and the influence he may be able to exert in certain quarters, would be well received by the Provisional Government, and particularly M. Miliukov.
In order that he may have a full and fair field for his activities, I should be glad if you would be good enough to return to France on leave, after settling with him the time of your departure. You will hand over the business of the embassy to M. Doulet, who will carry it on as Chargé d'Affaires until the appointment of your successor.
It has seemed to the Government that your position of favour with the Emperor would make it more difficult for you to carry on your duties under the present government. You will realize that in new circumstances a new man is required, and you have told me, with a delicacy of feeling I highly appreciate, that you were ready to sacrifice yourself by laying aside all personal considerations. I take this opportunity of thanking you for this proof of your disinterestedness, which does not surprise me in a man like you, and of telling you at the same time that we will not forget the great services you have rendered our country.
When you return to France, we will discuss together what sort of position we can find for you, and do everything in our power to meet your convenience and interest.
With the assurance of my highest regard,