HISTORY || Travel through the Russian world in the time of Lenin's revolution


In the history of mankind are events that become and remain memorable through the transformations they produce through their impact on humanity. 1917 is precisely one of the years that heavily cripples the history of the twentieth century, but not because it was the third year of the Great War, but through the shaking that took place in the Russian world: two revolutions that generated the collapse of the Eastern Front and the twilight The Russian Empire. As for Russia's participation in the Great War, it has somehow been forgotten in the Revolution, the Civil War, and today things have not changed much. The contemporaries perceived that ultimately Russia would survive these endeavors, but the consequences of the Russian revolutions of 1917 were profound and long-lasting and, above all, an overwhelming impact on world history.

About Russia of 1917 was written a lot - the history of that year was interpreted in a certain key, long time, imposed by the official propaganda of the Russian Communist state. On the one hand, the leaders of the revolution, their ideals and principles were glorified, on the other, the world of the old regime, the enemies of the revolution, was overwhelmed.

It was history written, of course, by the winners, but there were also written versions of losers. The Centennial of Revolutions in Russia brought back the phenomenon under the careful eye of historians, and the disappearance of the USSR, the product of the Bolshevik Revolution, gives Russian historians the freedom to revise the year 1917. And not only Russian historians have this opportunity, for the passage of time, the disappearance of protagonists, new outcomes, modern methods and means provide a wide range of maneuver to researchers interested in the subject.

An original source on the mass of today's history is memorialist literature. Memories, journals, memoirs have the advantage of being published long after the author's, contemporaries' disappearance, but also the disadvantage of subjectivism of reflecting events on partisan positions or through the lenses of the narrator's personal boundaries. Of course, the traitor's skill can overcome these traps, and the use of memorialist literature often becomes a contributing factor to knowing and understanding the past as it was.

A painting depicting Lenin during a speech in front of the Bolsheviks

This article proposes precisely such an approach to the Russian world of the years 1917-1919, through the eyes of witnesses of the events there. I used the inscriptions of some Romanians, Belgians or French people present in Russia during the Revolution, as well as works of recent European historiography, such as Alexandre Sumpf's book La Grande Guerre oubliée. Russie 1914-1918, Paris, Perin, 2017.

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The multiple faces of the Russian revolution

The years 1917-1921 represent a period of internal polarization of universal violence, crime, hunger and cold1. The Russian state and the Russian economy collapse under internal and external shocks. In 1920, Russia's industrial output represents only 20% of the 1914 level, only 60% of the land cultivated in 1914 is still used in 19202.

It is, therefore, also a struggle for the redistribution of resources, a struggle that opposes communities and sometimes ethnicities. Let us not forget that the February 1917 revolution broke out in Petrograd precisely because of the shortage of food, industrial products, fuel. What a contrast to Russia in 1915, when Transylvania Gheorghe Todea, a fresh prisoner to the Russians, remarked that "I believed myself in the land of butter and butter, for so many loaves, butter and flesh I no longer saw as in Russia."

Russia in 1917 and the following years is a mass of people on the move, 15 million soldiers on the front, another 3 million also serve their army, 6 million evacuees from the front area4, hundreds of thousands of deserters , fugitives, refugees are misbehaving the country. It is a mobile world that allows the circulation of ideas, but especially the revolutionary factors - and the speed of the uncontrolled movement of the masses also contributes to a certain propagation of acts of violence and vandalism.

A German historian, Dietrich Beyrau, appreciates that the February revolution has degraded the state, but the grace blow was given in the winter of 1917-1918, defined as a period of violence and anarchy, fueled by excessive alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol has been seen as a form of protest and prohibitive law violation since the beginning of the war by the Czarist authorities. In fact, the key to the success of the revolution lies precisely in this spiral of anarchy, the violence that a political group led by Lenin and Trotsky took advantage of to take over the reins of leadership. The power of the Old Regime was concentrated in the coercive force of its army.

The huge losses of human flocks, the too long war, the increasingly poor supply of equipment, food and ammunition shook the strength and balance of the imperial army. The first Russian revolution of 1917, the one in February, is due precisely because the former troops of the Tsar are no longer available. The Petrograd garrison, made up of wounded soldiers on the front, from peasants and youngsters who did not want to fight, is fraternizing with the crowd.

This is the starting point for Russia's transformation and collapse. Anarchy extends in the front area, at the time of the famous Day Order no. 1 of March 14, 1917, through which the first steps are taken to politicize the army and abolish the military salute. From here to the unrecognizance of officers and the choice of other leaders among the soldiers is just a small step. After three difficult years of war, scattered by countless abuses over soldiers, the authority of the officers is drifting. Soldiers decide whether or not to fight, soldiers control the front.

And there is something else: the disappearance of the Tsar from the landscape. The old Russia had a belief: "A God in heaven and a land on earth" 5. Lack of experience, without understanding the course of history, the new government emanating from the February Revolution decides to continue the war, and thereby seals the fate of the country and its own. It is the time to take advantage of the Bolsheviks - their political program is simple: peace without annexes and indemnities, land for peasants. For the one million soldiers in the garrisons of the big cities, soldiers who no longer want to leave on the front, this is a decisive message.

They are on the side of the revolution, and they are more and more. The classic approach to the history of the 1917 Russian Revolution, especially the Bolshevik revolution, was that of a univariate revolution - workers and peasants gathered around the leaders in a call, omitting what, more recently, the scholars of the phenomenon they realized, that there are actually several centers and somehow the phenomenon is plurivocal.

Petrograd is the capital and the crucible of the revolution, but the phenomenon is also developing in Moscow - the neuralgic center of transport, commerce, industry. The centers of the revolution are also Riga, Kharkov, Ekaterinburg, Irkutsk. Here the revolution is followed by other rules, according to singular models. There is therefore a complex relationship between the center and the periphery6.

Not even the mass of peasants remain inert, the fire touches it too: in the autumn of 1917, the Jacquereans are taking place, the agrarian revolution being basically a wave of crimes, disorder, arsonists, which are only part of a logic of eradicating of the agrarian past7. The Revolution and the Civil War reveal a lot of crashes accumulated in Russian society: ethnic tensions, anti-Semitism, hatred towards certain social classes.

Above all, there is a shortage of resources, the need for redistribution of wealth. Generalized chaos and violence are born out of this crucible. There are areas captured by military groups led by true "war lords," who do not have a political agenda, but only a purpose - robbery, and the military elite and educated classes come to see the Bolsheviks as agents of order, in this chaos8.

How are the Russians of 1917?

In the Romanian memorialistic literature of the Great War there are some nuances of the description of Russia and the Russians. During the First World War, Russia had its own, great empire interests. A strong Romania disturbs its interests in the Balkans. That is why the Russian ally hesitated to help Romania in the difficult times of 1916 and 1917.

Romanians have been expecting too much from the Russians, and the absence of the materialization of our expectations has led to a profound disappointment with the Russians, fact reflected in all memorialist writings where they are described in an unfavorable light. The Russians are doing well, the Russians are pulling away from the enemy and avoiding fighting, they are cowards, the Russians have a superior attitude towards us, they do not behave like allies but as rulers, the Russians plunder the inhabitants of Moldova - are the labels for the Russians most of our memoirs.

On the other hand, we also note moments when the Russians are described positively. These are moments of solidarity in the face of human suffering, the drama that the Tsarist elite lives in full revolution. Russia's officers, generals, ambassadors until yesterday's almighty and overflowing with the superiority of belonging to the great empire awaken sympathy and receive the support of the Romanians when they stand alone in the face of the Bolshevik assault. And there is a nuance of Romanian memorialism, different from experience and place of action.

To describe the Russian world and its people, of course, you must know them, interact with them, live in their environment for a while. This is precisely the great advantage of the memoirs whose writings we have used in this study - people who, for various reasons, whether military or civil, lived for months or years there in Russia in the years 1917-1919.

They have witnessed the collapse of the old social order, the birth of another order. Against this backdrop, they have noticed and recorded about people and their deeds. There are two Russians: a brilliant, abundant, gold-plated, aristocratic and bourgeoisie who, in 1917, spends the last balls and sucks the last champagne cups. An aristocracy, as exemplified by Tolstoy's descriptions, especially given by the French memorialists, the generals Maurice Janine, Henri Berthelot, the Count of Saint-Aulaire, who by virtue of their function interact with the Czarist elites - or even by a remarkable member of the imperial elite, Alexandre Mossolof.

The latter, formerly the tsar sent to Romania, offers a true lesson of dignity and chivalry when, in October 1917, he returned to Petrograd under the bullets of Lenin's revolution, although he is in danger, finds time to go to the jeweler Faberge to repair a jewelery entrusted by Queen Maria. The other Russia is the common man, whom most of our memorialists describe, and on which we will bend in the ranks below.

Not even the mass of peasants remain inert, the fire touches it too: in the autumn of 1917, the Jacquereans are taking place, the agrarian revolution being basically a wave of crimes, disorder, arsonists, which are only part of a logic of eradicating of the agrarian past7. The Revolution and the Civil War reveal a lot of crashes accumulated in Russian society: ethnic tensions, anti-Semitism, hatred towards certain social classes.

Above all, there is a shortage of resources, the need for redistribution of wealth. Generalized chaos and violence are born out of this crucible. There are areas captured by military groups led by true "war lords," who do not have a political agenda, but only a purpose - robbery, and the military elite and educated classes come to see the Bolsheviks as agents of order, in this chaos8.

How are the Russians of 1917?

In the Romanian memorialistic literature of the Great War there are some nuances of the description of Russia and the Russians. During the First World War, Russia had its own, great empire interests. A strong Romania disturbs its interests in the Balkans. That is why the Russian ally hesitated to help Romania in the difficult times of 1916 and 1917.

Romanians have been expecting too much from the Russians, and the absence of the materialization of our expectations has led to a profound disappointment with the Russians, fact reflected in all memorialist writings where they are described in an unfavorable light. The Russians are doing well, the Russians are pulling away from the enemy and avoiding fighting, they are cowards, the Russians have a superior attitude towards us, they do not behave like allies but as rulers, the Russians plunder the inhabitants of Moldova - are the labels for the Russians most of our memoirs.

On the other hand, we also note moments when the Russians are described positively. These are moments of solidarity in the face of human suffering, the drama that the Tsarist elite lives in full revolution. Russia's officers, generals, ambassadors until yesterday's almighty and overflowing with the superiority of belonging to the great empire awaken sympathy and receive the support of the Romanians when they stand alone in the face of the Bolshevik assault. And there is a nuance of Romanian memorialism, different from experience and place of action.

To describe the Russian world and its people, of course, you must know them, interact with them, live in their environment for a while. This is precisely the great advantage of the memoirs whose writings we have used in this study - people who, for various reasons, whether military or civil, lived for months or years there in Russia in the years 1917-1919.

They have witnessed the collapse of the old social order, the birth of another order. Against this backdrop, they have noticed and recorded about people and their deeds. There are two Russians: a brilliant, abundant, gold-plated, aristocratic and bourgeoisie who, in 1917, spends the last balls and sucks the last champagne cups. An aristocracy, as exemplified by Tolstoy's descriptions, especially given by the French memorialists, the generals Maurice Janine, Henri Berthelot, the Count of Saint-Aulaire, who by virtue of their function interact with the Czarist elites - or even by a remarkable member of the imperial elite, Alexandre Mossolof.

The latter, formerly the tsar sent to Romania, offers a true lesson of dignity and chivalry when, in October 1917, he returned to Petrograd under the bullets of Lenin's revolution, although he is in danger, finds time to go to the jeweler Faberge to repair a jewelery entrusted by Queen Maria. The other Russia is the common man, whom most of our memorialists describe, and on which we will bend in the ranks below.

"Nicevo", "Seicias"

The Slavic soul is full of contradictions, sometimes sophisticated, sometimes simple. The Russians are described as anchored between two words that represent their feelings: "The philosophy of the Russian: nicevo which means indifference to unconsciousness, spontaneous reconciliation with any blow, have a word - seicias - which means immediately, have transformed into today, tomorrow, in a week, hanging over man, mood and circumstances. "

And another memorialist, who has spent much of his life in Minsk, observes the Russian spirit: "It's a fatalism and a resignation behind a word - Nicevo (do not be afraid, it will not be great, they all have to straighten). In this nicevo is all his mentality, it's all his philosophy. Only a people with such a mentality could bear Bolshevism. "

"That's how the Russians are. Not only the lower ones, but also those above, so-called "Intelighentia". They pass by the greatest ease from one state of mind to another, from positive to negative, from joy to sorrow, from laughter to crying, from cunning to sincerity, and returns. " "Russians can be drunk by not only vodka, but also cold water," says a Transylvanian prisoner in a Siberian train station. Russia is a collapsing world where some - the revolutionaries - act, and the others stand and wait for implacable transformations.

A good recipe for killing time, says a memorialist, is the drink, for "the Russians are perhaps the greatest drinkers of all peoples" 13, while another notes the massive consumption of sunflower seeds: "Russia is also the land of the semicons seed). Everyone, from morning till evening, only spits sunflower seeds. Some stations have paved platforms with such shells. "

And the psychology of the Russian peasant is very curious, observes an observer of the era: "His nature oscillates between two extreme poles: the positive and the negative are fraternizing. It's a mixture of goodness and wickedness, mercy and sometimes cruelty. This is an excessive politeness ... of such a moody mood. Mystical nature, the Russian bigot and superstitious peasant is a very reserved, almost suspicious type. The same peasant who, in the hard winters, showed pity for the birds by making them shelters ... in the course of the revolution he sometimes proved to his fellowmen and cruelty ... "15

Gheorghe Todea, an Ardelean combatant in the Austro-Hungarian army, was captured by the Russians, the experience of the prisoner gives him the opportunity to describe in a neutral manner the Russians, as he knew them: the Russians, the peasants not stealing, but only the administrators the peasants, but also the state, and no one trusts the rulers. The Russians are brave with the prisoners, especially those of the same religion with them, and the love of the Russians does not make ethnic distinction.

"I note - says Todea - that I have seen good things in the Russian. One would be, in my opinion, the bathroom. They regularly make bathing at least once a week. Adding to this positive chapter is the drinking of tea as well as the tea itself ... "

This fresco is not complete, for it is the main characters missing - the Russian revolutionaries, the urban world, the rural world and their way of experiencing the revolution, but we will detail all these elements in the following ranks.

Oratori, bandits, tyrants

"The Bolshevik is a man who has broken the past, he is not religious, he is not a patriot, he has no respect for anything that in the past had for man a moral or material value ..." 16

All memoirs describing the vast Russian space are on the move, in fact, telling their trip by train to a destination - Vladivostok, Arhanghelsk, Odessa. Therefore, train stations, trains are most often invoked in their accounts. Train stations are, in particular, neuralgic points where travelers' movements are controlled, where information and supply resources are concentrated. They are also political tribes and spaces of Bolshevik propaganda.

The trains carry thousands of propagandists and tons of propaganda brochures, and on wagons are written so-called letters of Lenin, the magic words: Earth, Peace, Freedom. Vagabonds, deserter soldiers, thieves, disguised bourgeois who are fleeing the revolution are mostly those who inhabit the train stations, the Russian trains.

The Romanian memorialists in Russia in 1917 are members of the Romanian Parliament who were refugees in Odessa, subjected to the tsar of Bessarabia or Bucovina occupied by Russians or Transylvanian prisoners arrested by the Russian army, subsequently becoming volunteers and fighters in the Russian civil war. All of them capture and describe the army's dissolution, the atmosphere of terror in the cities and villages of the empire, as well as the countless acts of revolutionary abuse.

On the other hand, the French memorialists (General Berthelot, Janin, Officer Marcel Fontaine), Belgians (Marcel Thiry) mirror the same world of abuse, chronicle robbery, only that they have something extra. Marcel Thiry17, a Belgian who is part of the Belgian expeditionary body sent to Russia to assist the Russian army, witnesses to the revolutionary upheaval, invokes the spirit of the French Revolution, since for the French or the Belgians a revolution always leads to the Great Revolution of 1789.

All over the French are received with respect by the people and by the Bolsheviks, for the people of the revolution of 1789 can not fail to understand the revolution of 1917. That is why, Marseilleza, the French flag, the speeches are omnipresent elements in the railway stations Russia where ceremonies are held in honor of these guests. Let us not forget that the Romanian memorialists in Russia note the presence here of the French socialist Albert Thomas who, together with Kerensky, through fierce speeches determined the Russian army to fight for several months on the front.

The Russian world at the time of the Revolution is a world in which it is intensely debating, and in parallel it plunder more intensely, for Lenin said - "rob all that was robbed." Money, the goods quickly change their owners. Obviously the lion's share is revolutionary. That is why more and more people are attracted to the revolution. The world of the revolution is a world of orators, of Bolshevik propagandists, many of them, in fact, profiteers of the disorder of society. They are surprised and described not in the most flattering terms by the witnesses who publish their memories: "Their appearance was that of the rebel against the existing social order, incurable and brutal and sometimes criminal, who finally reached a temporal dominion, is rushed to take advantage of it as soon as possible and more of it "19.

"Everything that was brutal, deceptive, all that was wretched and miserable, all the chaff and rubbish of villages and towns, all the bandits and prisoners, all scammers and merchants became Bolsheviks. And you imagine them in the role of the rulers of the people. For if the center, Moscow and Petrograd could be honest men and could be a control of the activity of these Bolsheviks ... in the province all this channel did everything it wanted in the name of international socialism ... "20, records a physician born in Romania about the actors of the Russian Revolution.

Another memoirist observes: "There is much talk in large cities, in fairs, and cities are even more spoken. They are all orators. The Russian Revolution has drowned in an ocean of public meetings and gatherings. " It is a great improvisation, romanticism and revolutionary enthusiasm, the rallies are held on the front, in the stations, on the boulevards of the big cities. Lenin, Trotsky, Bela Kun are the characters evoked and surprised by the witnesses of the revolution.

Here is, for example, the description of a rally for the soldiers on the front: "What does a rally mean in the times of disaster of 1917? Imagine a whole regiment crammed around a circle in the middle of which there are "orators." The speakers have a seat, a wagon, a table or a barrel overturned, on which they climb and hold speeches in which "the revolution has to be deepened." What are the speakers talking about? It's hard to say. It insists on the right of man, provided he is primitive and without culture. So, those who came from Petrograd, before opening the rally, start by dividing the last manifestations and orders printed in Petrograd by the audience ... "22.

"Everything that was brutal, deceptive, all that was wretched and miserable, all the chaff and rubbish of villages and towns, all the bandits and prisoners, all scammers and merchants became Bolsheviks. And you imagine them in the role of the rulers of the people. For if the center, Moscow and Petrograd could be honest men and could be a control of the activity of these Bolsheviks ... in the province all this channel did everything it wanted in the name of international socialism ... "20, records a physician born in Romania about the actors of the Russian Revolution.

Another memoirist observes: "There is much talk in large cities, in fairs, and cities are even more spoken. They are all orators. The Russian Revolution has drowned in an ocean of public meetings and gatherings. " It is a great improvisation, romanticism and revolutionary enthusiasm, the rallies are held on the front, in the stations, on the boulevards of the big cities. Lenin, Trotsky, Bela Kun are the characters evoked and surprised by the witnesses of the revolution.

Here is, for example, the description of a rally for the soldiers on the front: "What does a rally mean in the times of disaster of 1917? Imagine a whole regiment crammed around a circle in the middle of which there are "orators." The speakers have a seat, a wagon, a table or a barrel overturned, on which they climb and hold speeches in which "the revolution has to be deepened." What are the speakers talking about? It's hard to say. It insists on the right of man, provided he is primitive and without culture. So, those who came from Petrograd, before opening the rally, start by dividing the last manifestations and orders printed in Petrograd by the audience ... "22.

In Moscow, in a school hall, Bela Kun gives a speech to Austro-Hungarian prisoners, Germans, in a broken German language, about the benefits of communism23. On the boulevards of Moscow always the same orators, with the same ideas ... In the village the situation is identical, the peasants rob all that is robbed, the land is rapidly changing its owners. A Romanian, a prisoner in Kursk, describes to volunteer Elie Bufnea the factual situation of Russia: "You know from me: this is now the land of nobody. The Emperor killed him and put the hell in his place. "

Another traveler, Russian this time, concludes: our theoretical revolution, the practical revolution does not belong to us ... Of course, the Romanian testimonies of Russian space in the time of the revolution contain a lot of other information, which space considerations prevent us from developing them more at large. Nevertheless, they will always constitute inexhaustible sources that capture an ongoing revolution, a world that collapses with their people and their sufferings, with aspirations in a future that was not necessarily better, as the makers of the new world have promised.

The Romanian world in the vision of revolutionary Bolsheviks

About Romania and the Romanians, the Russian world of 1917 does not know much, and what he knows is a reflection of propaganda slogans. That is why the Romanian prisoners in Transylvania are not particularly badly treated, but the situation is more sensitive when it comes to the Romanians in the Old Kingdom. From time to time, some revolutionaries who have had contacts with the Romanian space pour hatred over the bourgeois and imperialist regime over Bratianu, King Ferdinand, Take Ionescu.

The Bessarabian peasants are told that they will be the slaves of the Romanian boyars, the Romanian army is accused of occupying Bessarabia, and the Romanian troops are blamed for disarming the Bolsheviks or forcing them to fight against Ukraine. Amounts of the Romanian treasure seized by Bolsheviks in Moscow are entrusted for anti-Romanian propaganda and the undermining of the Romanian state to Bulgarian revolutionary Christian Racovsky. Racovsky's sinister figure appears, in fact, most often in Romanian memoirs.

This is due to the fact that Racovsky comes to Odessa, overwhelmed by the Romanian elite - many politicians, Romanian lawmakers are simply robbed of real fortunes, terrorized and maltreated by the Bulgarian-led revolutionaries. The Romanians' remarks about the Russian revolution constituted, in the first place, a warning to our world and our people about the communist plagues that would turn as a hurricane on the European East after 1945, fulfilling the prophecy of a Russian who hated a Transylvanian prisoner: "Goodbye, in Bolshevik Romania!" 25

About the Russian Revolutions of 1917, the crimes, heroes and their errors will be written much in the future. Certainly, other voices, other ideas and interpretations will make a substantial contribution to the knowledge of this historic founding phenomenon of the first totalitarianism of the twentieth century - communism. We end this peril through the world of the Russian Revolution with the words of a memorialist: "The Russian has always been above all the dream. In everything, even in politics, they dream ... "26

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