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Project 1917 is a series of events that took place a hundred years ago as described by those involved. It is composed only of diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers and other documents

Kerensky 's work among the troops at the front has throughout been hampered by the anti-war pro- paganda of the agitators, whom the Bolsheviks are constantly sending there to dissuade the men from joining in the offensive. The political atmosphere is such that he does not venture to appeal to the troops to fight for victory, but for the speedy conclusion of peace. For peace is the universal desideratum. It is this fact that renders it essential for us to do nothing to give the pacifists here a pretext for contending that the Allies are prolonging the war for imperialistic aims. A refusal of the proposal for a conference, which Tereschenko submitted to Albert Thomas about a month ago, would certainly be interpreted in this sense ; and, great as will be the difficulties with which we shall be confronted at such a conference, they will have to be faced sooner or later. To postpone the discussion of our war aims will but discourage Russia from continuing her active participation in the war.

From what Tereschenko has said to me about the proposed conference, I do not think that he wants to bind us down to any definite peace terms. Those terms would, as he remarked to me one day, depend on the course of the military operations, and it would, there- fore, be difficult to define them with precision so long as the war was in progress. On another occasion he spoke of the elaboration of a minimum and maximum peace programme as being worth considering. He is not an idealist, as are most of his Socialist colleagues, and we can, I think, count on his doing his best to induce them to take a practical view of things.

Letter to the Foreign Office:

"Kerensky 's work among the troops at the front has throughout been hampered by the anti-war pro- paganda of the agitators, whom the Bolsheviks are constantly sending there to dissuade the men from joining in the offensive. The political atmosphere is such that he does not venture to appeal to the troops to fight for victory, but for the speedy conclusion of peace. For peace is the universal desideratum. See more

On this Tuesday afternoon I really was afraid that the Government would have to capitulate, as they were really at the mercy of the disloyal troops, had the latter had an ounce of courage and been properly led. The Cossacks and a few loyal regiments who came out to protect the Government saved the situation. As it was, Tchernoff, the Socialist Minister of Agriculture, was roughly handled by the disloyal troops and temporarily arrested. See more

On the following day telegrams were received from Kerensky from the front announcing a brilliant com- mencement of the long-projected offensive. In the evening there were several patriotic demonstrations in front of the Embassy, and at the head of one of them came Miliukoff, who made me a speech from his auto- mobile, to which I replied from the balcony. It was, however, rather a case of " save me from my friends," as the sight of Miliukoff caused a group of soldiers of the Pavlovski Regiment to start a counter-demonstra- tion. Some of them were even heard to say, " Let's go for that house and kill them all ' ' — but nothing came of it.

The hopes inspired by Kerensky's optimistic telegrams were not destined to be long-lived. He had done all that a man could do who relied on speeches and on speeches alone to produce a sustained offensive in a war-weary army whose discipline had already been undermined. The main offensive was launched on the south-western front, and was to have been followed by minor offensives on other fronts, and as the Russians had a superiority both of guns and bayonets, there was no reason why, had it been vigorously pushed, it should not have been successful. It began with an initial success, and on July 8 the army under General Korniloff broke the Austrian front and occupied Halicz and Kaluscz. But while at various points along the line Kerensky had been preach- ing discipline and a fight to the death, he had allowed Bolshevik agitators at other points to preach peace and fraternization with the Germans. Instead, moreover, of restoring the disciplinary powers of the officers, he had sent commissaries to assist in the maintenance of discipline in the different armies. While some of the regiments fought gallantly, and while the officers sacrificed their lives heroically in what was too often but a vain attempt to induce their men to follow their example, no reliance could be placed on troops that had acquired the habit of debating whether the orders to attack should be obeyed or not. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that when, on July 19, the enemy attacked, one of the regiments engaged beat a precipi- tate retreat and the front was broken. In the course of a few days the rout became general, and in addition to the places occupied during the offensive, Tarnopol and Stanislau were abandoned.

At the opening of the congress Lenin delivered an energetic speech, which condemned goals of the Allience, which, as Kerensky showed, was borrowed word for word from the last German radio programm.

The Soviet, on the other hand, had not been idle. They had already, in May, addressed an appeal to the Socialists of all countries to send representatives to an international conference at Stockholm for the purpose of securing a general peace, on principles acceptable to the proletariat, in accordance with the prescribed formula, " without annexations or contributions." In June a new factor was introduced into the situation by the convocation of an all-Russian congress of delegates from the workmen's councils throughout Russia. The idea of its promoters had been to transform the local Petrograd council into a national one, that would be invested with greater authority and influence, while the admission of workmen's and soldiers' deputies from the provinces would, it was thought, act in a moderating sense and establish closer co-operation with the Govern- ment. It had also been their intention to include in it representatives of the peasants, but as the latter demanded representation on a proportional basis — namely, about 80 per cent. — the proposal fell through, and the peasants, who had already an independent council of their own, took no part in it. At the open- ing sitting of the congress Lenin made a violent speech denouncing the war aims of the Allies, which, as Kerensky showed, was taken word for word from the latest German wireless. 

This situation in Petrograd is as bad as ever, which is hardly to be wondered at seeing that there is no proper police force to maintain order; and the uncertain attitude of the troops causes the Government considerable anxiety. There are however, signs of a reaction, not in favour of a monarchy, but of a stable Government capable of maintaining order and putting an end to the existing anarchy that is steadily spreading over the country. See more

Henderson arrived with George Young, afterwards first secretary at Vienna, who proved most helpful in many ways. In my first conversation with Henderson I expressed my feelings and wishes in the frankest language ; but, though quite friendly, he gave me clearly to understand that I should have to go. As regarded the genesis of his mission, he told me that he had one day been asked to come to the War Cabinet half an hour after his colleagues, and that when he got there he had been informed by the Prime Minister that the Cabinet had decided that he was to go to Petrograd on a special mission, and that they wished him to start on the following day. It had subsequently been suggested to him that he should, in a few weeks' time, intimate to me that I had better go home on leave. He had refused to do this, and had told the Foreign Office that they ought to tell me so themselves — and to tell me at once.

Henderson dined with us next night to meet Prince Lvoff and Tereschenko. Among our other guests were Vandervelde, the Belgian Socialist Minister, and Albert Thomas, the French Minister of Munitions, who had taken over charge of the Embassy when Paleologue left. During the two months which he had spent in Russia Thomas had not only tried to bring home to Ministers the need of firmness in dealing with the internal situation, but had endeavoured to rouse with his fiery eloquence the fighting spirit of the people. At Petrograd, at Moscow and at the front he had addressed numberless meetings of soldiers and work- men, and it was not his fault if the seed which he sowed fell on barren soil. We were always delighted to see him, as his whole personality radiated cheerful- ness and prevented our feeling depressed. Talking to me after dinner, he asked : " What would you have said had you been told five years ago that I and two other Socialists would one day be guests at your table?" "The very idea of such a thing would," I replied, "have appalled me." But now la guerre a change tout ceJa — and we are all " comrades." A fortnight later, when he was dining with us on the night before his return to France, he told me that as soon as he had heard that I was going home he had telegraphed to the Prime Minister, saying that if I went there would, after his own departure, be no one left who understood the situation. He hoped that it would now be all right, as Henderson had, in the course of his last conversation with him, said, " I have decided to leave Buchanan."

I received the following reply from Lord Robert:

"It is difficult to give you even an approximate date for coming on leave until we see how things shape after Henderson's arrival. In any case, I think it very desirable that you should not start until he has got thoroughly into touch with the Russian Government and the Socialist leaders. See more

On going one afternoon towards the end of the month to call on Tereschenko, I found him in con- ference with the three new Socialist Ministers — Tsere- telli, Chernoff and Scobeleff — who had later in the day to attend a meeting of the Soviet to give an account of their stewardship. Hearing that I was there, they expressed the wish to see me, and I was accordingly invited to join them. After I had been introduced by Tereschenko, Tseretelli, who acted throughout as spokesman, proceeded to catechize me for nearly two hours on various matters connected with the revolution, the war and our agreements. Had the revolution, he asked, had any repercussion in England ; was it likely to bring the views of the British and Russian democracies into harmony, more especially as regarded the war; and did His Majesty's Government really repre- sent British public opinion? I replied that a great revolution like that through which Russia had just passed could not fail to react on all countries to a greater or less extent, and that, as it would certainly exercise a democratizing influence on British public opinion, it would tend to bring our views into closer touch with those of the Russian people. Though w^e had retained the monarchical system, we were the freest people in the world, and we had long since adopted the maxim, " Vox populi - suprema lex.'' I could assure him that no British Government could retain office that did not represent public opinion.

If, as my critics would have people believe, I really was responsible for th^ revolution, I can only say that my services were very ill-requited, for only a couple of months after its consummation I was categorically disavowed by the official organ of the Council of Work- men's and Soldiers' Delegates. In an article published on May 26, 1917, that journal stated: See more

After having been accused by Princess Paley of JjL having made the Embassy a fojjer de propagande revolutionnaire, it was really hard that I should, shortly after my conversation with the Socialist Ministers, have been attacked by the Bolsheviks on the charge of its being the centre of the counter- revolutionary movement. Tseretelli's name — and this, considering his antecedents, was rather surprising — was also coupled with mine, and we were represented as being the chief promoters of the aforesaid movement. See more

I received a telegram from Lord Robert Cecil, who was then in charge of the Foreign Ofl&ce, informing me that the War Cabinet were impressed with the necessity of creating a more favour- able attitude among Russian Socialists and workmen towards the war, and of rectifying the false impressions that were being circulated in Russia about our aims. Feeling that this could be done with better chance of success by a Labour leader than by anyone else, they had decided to send out Mr. Henderson on a special mission. See more

On May 21 I wrote as follows to the Foreign Office:

" The last two weeks have been very anxious ones, as the victory which the Government had won over the Soviet in the matter of the note to the Powers was not nearly sx) complete as Mihukoff had imagined. So long as the Soviet maintained its exclusive right to dispose of the troops, the Government, as Prince Lvoff remarked, .was * an authority without power,' while the Workmen's Council was ' a power without authority/ Under such conditions it was impossible for Guchkoff, as Minister of War, and for Korniloff, as military governor of Petrograd, to accept responsibility for the maintenance of discipline in the army. See more

One unfortunate result of the reconstruction of the Government was the cancelling of Sazonoff's appointment as Ambassador in London. Sazonoff was so identified with the policy of the Imperial Government, more especially as regarded the question of Constanti- nople, that he was no longer considered a suitable representative of the new Russia. In telling me this, Tereschenko explained that, as he hoped to retain his services for the final peace negotiations, he was anxious that Sazonoff should not undertake a mission that might sooner or later discredit him in the eyes of the Russian public. See more

Age: 62
Lives in: Petrograd, Russian Empire
Occupation: Diplomat
Job: Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Russia


in Petrograd
in Moscow