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Sunday 13 July 2014

Russia 1917: Eyewitnesses to the Revolution

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Just occasionally you can find eyewitness accounts of the Russian Revolution on postcards or in letters. This Registered cover from industrial Druzkovka, Ekaterinoslav [ today's Druzhkivka, 80 km north-east of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine] posted on 5 November 1917 [Old Style] got through the Moscow censorship and then the British censorship of mail to a neutral power and finally did arrive in 'S. Gravenhage in March 1918. It contains a four page letter in French, most of which survived the ravages of the Censor:

The writer, an engineer, starts by saying that foreigners have become undesirables in Russia and that French and Belgians are fleeing en masse, though it is extremely difficult to leave. The majority of factories (in this iron and steel and coal producing area) are on the point of closing because of shortage of coal and because of the excessive wages demanded by the workers who have become absolute masters; "In every factory a workers' committee is formed which gives itself absolute power with the result that the Directors and Engineers no longer have the least authority". Worse, the workers dare to arrest and even assassinate them.

This week, in two villages near to Druzkovka, they have assassinated 75 people in one village and 40 in the other. Recently at Kiev, a passenger train arriving from Odessa was attacked by soldiers, all the doors and windows were broken, all the passengers including women and children thrown out of the carriages. All their hand luggage was stolen. In the stations, passenger trains are taken over by soldiers so that those with tickets cannot board them. Frequenltly, railway stations are looted as are warehouses of wine and spirits. At Bakhmut, according to those who were there, the pillage of the alcohol warehouse was followed by the lamentable spectacle of dozens of men and women in drunken collapse [ "crevés d'ivresse"] on the streets.

The peasants are themselves dividing the land, attacking only cultivated property and not satisfied with taking the land they steal cattle, set fire to buildings and destroy fruit trees. It's vandalism. Whoever has land is a "bourgeois" with the right to be looted ["il a droit aux honneurs de pillage"].

The shortage of coal is very disturbing. Already, parts of the factory are shut down. The workers are agitated and their anger at being spoken to by foreigners [ like himself] is increasing. "Our fate is tied to the operation of the factory".

In the south of Russia, following defeatist propaganda, the peasants no longer sell their wheat believing that by increasing distress they will hasten the end of the war. The slogan Down with the Bourgeois! has resonated in the countryside and has sown there a hatred against the Provisional Government and suspicion of credit institutions.

Anarchy and civil war prevent the defeat of the enemy but equally prevent the overcoming of the food crisis which become more acute by the day and famine - the first cause of revolution - approaches.

Here, the word "Peace" is on everyone's lips. The soviets demand it at any price ... Happily, they form only a part of this democracy, the part which has allowed itself to be swayed by German propaganda. Immediate peace means the loss of Russia, it will be the redistribution of property.

As I write this letter, the strangest rumours are circulating of events of exceptional gravity in Petrograd, Moscow and Kiev ...  [ censored passage ] ...For ten days no news has reached us, the telegraph and telephone lines are cut.

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