Volume III - CHAPTER XIII - MAY 7-17, 1917
Monday, May 7, 1917.
To my telegram of the 3rd May, Ribot has replied by asking Albert Thomas and myself to give him our respective opinions.
"Draw up your argument," Albert Thomas said to me; I'll then draw up mine and we'll send them as they are to the Government."
These are my views
1. Anarchy is spreading all over Russia and will paralyse her for a long time to come. The quarrel between the Provisional Government and the Soviet shows, by the very length of time it has lasted, that both are important. It is increasingly clear that disgust with the war, abandonment of all the national dreams and a lack of interest in everything save domestic problems are becoming uppermost in the public mind. Cities like Moscow, which a short time past were hot-beds of patriotic feeling, have been contaminated. The revolutionary democracy seems incapable of restoring order in the country and organizing it for the struggle.
2. Ought we to continue to put our trust in Russia and give her more time? No; because even under the most favourable circumstances she will not be in a condition to carry out all her obligations as an ally for many months to come.
3. Sooner or later, the more or less complete paralysis of Russia's effort will compel us to revise the decisions we had all come to on Eastern questions. The sooner the better, as the prolongation of the war involves France in terrible sacrifices of which Russia has not borne her share for a long time past.
4. We must therefore waste no further time but endeavour in all secrecy to find some means of inducing Turkey to propose peace to us. This line of thought necessarily excludes the idea of any reply to the latest note of the Provisional Government, as such a reply would to some extent confirm agreements which have become unrealizable through Russia's fault.
I will now give the views of Albert Thomas:
1. I admit that the situation is difficult and uncertain, but not that it is desperate, as M. Paléologue seems to think.
2. I believe that the best policy is to give the new Russia that confidence we did not refuse to the old.
3. The Government will have to decide about the Eastern policy now put forward by M. Paléologue. I will content myself with the remark that this is not perhaps a well-chosen moment for great new diplomatic combinations in the East. But I have pleasure in observing that, in advising no reply to the Provisional Government's recent note, M. Paléologue himself takes a step in the direction of the revision of agreements. Speaking for myself, I am not opposed to the idea of a strictly secret attempt to induce Turkey to propose peace to us. The only difference between M. Paléologue and myself is that I still believe in the possibility of bringing Russia back into the war by announcing a democratic policy; M. Paléologue thinks that the last chance of attaining that end has gone.
4. Our friendly discussion will put the Government in a better position to view the situation as a whole. I remain of opinion that the policy I suggest is not only the more prudent of the two but more in accordance with things as they are. Nor does it rule out the Turkish scheme; but it strives to bring it about by agreement with the new Russia and not in opposition to her.
Tuesday, May 8, 1917.
I have paid a farewell visit to the Grand Duke Nicholas Michailovich.
Not much left of the splendid optimism he affected at the dawn of the new order. He made no attempt to conceal his grief and anxiety. But he still cherishes a hope for some improvement in the near future, which he thinks would be followed by a general recovery and definite revival.
But his voice trembled as he took me through the saloons to the vestibule:
"When we meet again," he said, "where will Russia have got to? ... . Shall we ever meet again?"
"You're in a very gloomy mood, Monseigneur."
"How can you expect me to forget that I'm marked down for the gallows?"
Wednesday, May 9, 1917.
I have already said that the four representatives of French socialism, Albert Thomas, Lafont, Cachin and Montet, have had a university and classical. training, a fact which makes them peculiarly responsive to the influence of oratory and the magic of rhetoric and style. Hence Kerensky's curious ascendancy over them.
I must certainly admit that the Soviet's young tribune is extraordinarily eloquent. Even his least prepared speech is notable for its wealth of vocabulary, range of ideas, rhythm of phrasing, amplitude of period, the lyrical quality of its metaphors and the dazzling flow of words. And what amazing inflections of voice! What elasticity in his attitude and expression! He is successively haughty and familiar, playful and impetuous, domineering and soothing, cordial and sarcastic, bantering and inspired, lucid and mysterious, trivial and dithyrambic. He plays on all the strings and his genius has all forces and artifices at its command.
No idea of his eloquence can be gained by simply reading his speeches, for his physical personality is perhaps the most effective element of his power to fascinate the crowd. He must be heard in one of those popular meetings in which he harangues his audience nightly as Robespierre used to harangue the Jacobins. There is nothing more impressive than to see him appear on the platform with his pallid, fevered, hysterical and contorted countenance.
In his eyes is a look which is misty at one moment and in the next evasive, all but impenetrable between the half-closed lids, or piercing, challenging and flashing. The same contrasts can be observed in his voice, which is usually cavernous and raucous, with sudden explosions of marvellous stridence and sonority. And then from time to time a mysteriously prophetic or apocalyptic inspiration transfigures the orator and seems to radiate from him in magnetic waves. The fierce intensity of his features, the flow of words, alternately halting and torrential, the sudden vagaries of his train of thought, the somnambulistic deliberation of his gestures, the fixity of his gaze and his twitching lips and bristling hair make him look like a monomaniac or one possessed. At such times his audience shudders visibly. All interruptions cease; all opposition is brushed aside; individual wills melt into nothingness and the whole assembly communes together in a sort of hypnotic trance.
But what is there behind this theatrical grandiloquence and these platform and stage triumphs? Nothing but Utopian fantasies, low comedy and self-infatuation.
Thursday, May 10, 1917.
Countess Adam Lamoyska, who arrived here from Kiev yesterday, tells me that she dare not return to her family place at Petchara, in Podolia, which has been her refuge since the invasion of Poland; a dangerous agitation is on foot among the peasants.
"Hitherto," she told me, "they have all been faithful and attached to my mother, who has certainly done everything she could for them. But since the revolution everything has changed. We see them standing about at the castle gate or in the park, pretending to divide up our lands in dumb show. One of them will affect to want the wood by the river; another puts in for the gardens and proposes to turn them into folds. They go on talking like that for hours and do not stop even when my mother, one of my. sisters or myself go up to them."
The same attitude is observable in all the provinces, so it is clear that Lenin's propaganda among the peasants is beginning to bear fruit.
In the eyes of the moujiks that great reform of 1861, the emancipation of the serfs, has always been regarded as a prelude to the general expropriation they have been obstinately expecting for centuries; their idea is that the partition of all land, the tcherny peredel, or "black partition," as they call it, is due to them by virtue of a natural, imprescriptible and primordial right. Lenin's apostles have an easy task in persuading them that the hour for this last act of justice is at length about to strike.
Friday, May 11, 1917.
I lunched at the Italian Embassy with Miliukov, Buchanan, Bratiano (the President of, the Rumanian Council), who has just arrived in Petrograd to confer with the Provisional Government, Prince Scipio. Borghese, Count Nani Mocenigo, and others.
For the first time Miliukov seemed to me shaken in his brave optimism and his confidence and pugnacity. In conversation he affects more or less his old assurance; but the dull tones of his voice and his haggard look reveal only too clearly the gnawing anxiety within. We were all struck by it.
After luncheon Bratiano remarked to me in a woebegone tone:
"We shall lose Miliukov before long... . It will be Gutchkov's turn next, then Prince Lvov, then Shingarev... After that the Russian revolution will sink into anarchy, and we Rumanians will be lost!"
Tears stood in his eyes; but he suddenly flung up his head and recovered himself.
Nor did Carlotti or Prince Borghese conceal their anxiety. The paralysis which has overtaken the Russian army must necessarily release a large number of Austrian and German divisions. Will not those divisions be transferred to the Trentino or the Isonzo to resume the terrible offensive of last May, and in even greater force?
Saturday, May 12, 1917.
My company of Russian friends has already been widely scattered. Some have gone to take up residence in Moscow, hoping to find the atmosphere there less stormy. Others have retired to their estates, with the idea that their presence will have a good moral effect on the peasants. Others have emigrated to Stockholm.
But for all that I managed to raise a company of a dozen or so for a last dinner this evening.
Everyone seemed absorbed in his thoughts; conversation lagged, and the atmosphere was doleful.
Before leaving, all my guests gave utterance to the same sentiment: "To us your departure marks the end of an order. So we shall have long and happy memories of your term of office."
The news of the Russian army is bad. The practice of fraternization with the German soldiers is making headway all along the front.
Sunday, May 13, 1917.
After several farewell visits at various points on the English Quay, I passed Falconet's monument of Peter the Great. It was bound to be my last chance of seeing this superb evocation of the Tsar legislator and conqueror, a masterpiece of equestrian statuary; so I had my car stopped.
During the three and a half years in which I have been living on the banks of the Neva, I have never tired of admiring the imperious effigy of the proud autocrat, the haughty assurance of his features, the despotic force of his gestures, the fine fury of his prancing horse, the marvellous animation of both man and beast, the plastic beauty of the whole group and the grandeur of the architectural substructure.
But to-day one thought and one alone obsessed me. If Peter Alexeievitch could come back to life for a moment, could anything describe his passionate grief on beholding the ruin, or approaching ruin, of his work, the repudiation of his inheritance, the abandonment of his dreams, the dissolution of his empire and the end of Russia's power!
Monday, May 14,1917.
The War Minister, Gutchkov, has sent in his resignation on the ground that he is powerless to change the conditions under which supreme authority is held, "conditions which threaten to have consequences fatal to the liberty, safety, and indeed the very existence, of Russia."
Generals Gourko and Brussilov have asked to be relieved of their commands.
This means the final bankruptcy of Russian liberalism and the approaching triumph of the Soviet.
Tuesday, May 15, 1917.
Miliukov gave a farewell luncheon to me, to which the Marquis Carlotti, Albert Thomas, Sazonov, Neratov, Tatischev, etc., were invited.
Gutchkov's resignation and alarmist protest have made them all very gloomy.
The tone in which Miliukov thanked me for the help I have given him made me certain that he too feels that his hour has come.
During the last few weeks the Provisional Government has been pressing Sazonov to take up his embassy in London. But he had evaded complying with its request, being apprehensive - only too naturally - about what he would leave behind him and the line of policy Petrograd would impose upon him. In deference to Miliukov's personal request, he has given way and agreed to go.
We leave together to-morrow morning.
The British Admiralty is to send a swift despatch-boat and two destroyers to convey us from Bergen to Scotland.
Between Petrograd and Bielo-Ostrov,
Wednesday, May 16, 1917.
When I reached the Finland Station this morning, I found Sazonov by the carriage which had been reserved for us. In grave tones he said to me:
"All our plans are changed; I'm not coming with you. . ... Read this!"
He gave me a letter, dated the same night and just put in his hands, in which Prince Lvov asked him to postpone his departure as Miliukov had sent in his resignation.
"I go and you stay behind," I said. "Isn't it symbolical?"
"Yes, it marks the end of a political era! ... Miliukov's presence was a last guarantee of fidelity to our diplomatic tradition. What could I do in London now? I very much fear that the immediate future will show Monsieur Albert Thomas what a mistake he has made in siding so openly with the Soviet against Miliukov!"
The arrival of friends, who had come to see me off, put an end to our conversation.
The two French socialist deputies, Cachin and Montet, and the two delegates of English socialism, O'Grady and Thorne, then entered the train. They had come straight from the Tauride Palace where they had spent the whole night conferring with the Soviet.
The train left at 7:40 a.m.
Thursday, May. 17,1917.
We spent the whole of yesterday crossing Finland "of the thousand lakes."
The moment the frontier was passed, how far we felt from Russia! In every town, and even the smallest village, the appearance of the houses with their clean windows, spotless shutters, shiny tiled floors and straight fences, indicated decency, order, domestic economy, a sense of comfort and home. Under the grey sky, the landscape was deliciously pretty and varied, particularly towards evening, when we were between Tavastehus and Tammerfors. The woods, gardens. and meadows wore their young spring green; the rivers tumbled along with a happy murmur, and the limpid lakes were streaked with dark shadows.
Near Uleaborg, this morning, nature assumed a sterner mood. Here and there snowdrifts lay scattered over a barren heath, where scraggy birch trees fought for their lives against' a hostile climate. The rivers foamed in their beds, carrying down huge ice-floes.
Cachin and Montet joined me for a talk in my compartment.
Montet, who had been sullen and self-absorbed since we left Petrograd, suddenly challenged me with:
"Fundamentally, the Russian revolution is right. It is not so much a political as an international revolution. The bourgeois, capitalist and imperialist classes have plunged the world into a frightful crisis they are now unable to overcome. Peace can only be brought about in accordance with the principles of the Internationale. I have come to a very clear conclusion: I've been thinking about it all night: the French socialists must go to the Stockholm Conference to summon a full assembly of the Internationale and draw up the general scheme of peace terms."
"But if the German social democracy refuses the Soviet's invitation, it will be a disaster for the Russian revolution; and France will be involved in that disaster!"
"We gave tsarism a pretty long term of credit; we mustn't be stingy with our confidence in the new regime. The Soviet has assured us that if the Entente will honestly revise its war aims and the Russian army knows that it is now fighting for a genuinely democratic peace, a splendid national revival throughout Russia will result which will be a guarantee of our victory."
I endeavoured to convince him that the Soviet's assurance was quite worthless, because the Soviet can no longer control the mob passions it has released:
"Look at what is happening at Kronstadt and Schlusselburg - only thirty-five versts from Petrograd. At Kronstadt, the commune is master of the town and forts; two-thirds of the officers have been massacred; a hundred and twenty officers are still under lock and key, and a hundred and fifty are compelled to sweep the streets every day. At Schlusselburg, too, the commune reigns supreme, but with the assistance of German prisoners-of-war who have formed themselves into a trade union and impose their will on the workshops. Faced with this intolerable situation, the Soviet is utterly helpless. Admitted, for the sake of argument, that Kerensky succeeds in restoring the semblance of discipline among the troops and even galvanizing them into action, how on earth is he to cope with the administrative disorganization, the agrarian movement, the financial crisis, the economic débâcle the universal spread of strikes and the progress of separatism? ... I tell you, even a Peter the Great would not suffice!"
Montet asked me:
"Is it really your opinion that the Russian army is incapable of any effort?"
"I believe it is still possible to get the Russian army in hand again, and even that it could undertake certain secondary operations before long. But any intense and continuous action, such as a mighty and sustained offensive, is now out of its power owing to the anarchy in its rear. That's why I attach no importance to the sudden national revival the Soviet has promised you; it would simply be a futile demonstration. So the only effect of the pilgrimage to Stockholm would be to demoralize and divide the Allies."
About half-past twelve the train stopped at some tumbledown sheds in a desolate and deserted region. We had reached Torneo.
While the police and customs formalities were in progress. Cachin remarked, pointing to the red flag flying over the station - a dirty, faded, tattered flag:
"Our revolutionary friends might at least afford newer flag to display at the frontier."
To which Montet replied, with a smile:
"Don't mention the red flag; you'll upset the Ambassador."
"Upset me? Not in the least. The Russian revolution can have any flag it likes, even a black flag, provided it is an emblem of power and order. But just look at that rag, which was once purple. It's a fitting symbol of the new Russia: a dirty bit of cloth falling in pieces
The Torneo, which is the frontier here, was still icebound. I crossed it on foot, behind the sledges taking my luggage to Haparanda.
A lugubrious procession passed us - a convoy of Russian wounded, all serious cases, coming from Germany through Sweden. As might be expected, the transport collected to receive them was wholly inadequate, and about a hundred stretchers were laid on the ice, on which these wretched human relics shivered under a thin blanket. What a return to their native land! ... But will they even have a native land to return to?
With A final glance backward, I repeated the doleful prophecy with which a village idiot, a yourodivi, ends the revolt scene in Boris Godunov: "Weep, my holy Russia, weep! For thou art entering into darkness. Weep, my, holy Russia, weep! For thou shalt shortly die."