At the Field of Mars I witnessed the comedy of a burial service performed, in the manner of some kind of long-established sacrificial rites, for the so-called fallen heroes of our revolution.
This spectacle was, basically, an outrage to the memory of the dead, who were deprived of an honest Christian burial, nailed shut into coffins of, Lord knows why, a ghastly red hue, and interred against all proprietary in the very centre of a city of the living! This comedy was carried off with the utmost flippancy. Having insulted with vacuous speeches the blameless ashes of those unknown departed, having dug up and trampled all over this one fine park, they violated the grounds with burial mounds, stuck poles bearing long and thin black rags into the ground, and then for some unknown reason hastily threw up a wooden fence around the territory which, given its rushed construction, looked just as slapdash and vile as the barbaric poles.
Burials were held in St Petersburg for the “martyrs of the revolution”. Many of us at the time were attending an exhibition at Dobychina’s Artistic Bureau, and saw through the windows the event unfolding on the Field of Mars. Gorky did not long remain an observer; he was called upon to bless the graves, and he dragged me behind him. They even photographed us in front of an open grave. See more
Our mood was more ironic than anything else. It was even said that, owing to the unsatisfactory quantity of martyrs cut down in the revolutionary fighting, a number of ordinary citizens who had happened to die at the same time were added to the grave to make up the numbers.
The slogan “war until a victorious end” sounds inspiring away from the fighting, where people are busy with their 8-hour day, but in the trenches, where soldiers sit idly for 8-10 hours in waist-high mud, the words ring with a pathetic and false note.
For three days I have sat in the bath, seen no one, and been aware of little more than my cleanliness. Wandering the streets I have been both observer and participant in a unique historical spectacle. The people, running around our unclean streets without the slightest superintendence, are in such high spirits that they are half-crazed. See more
The unaccustomed realization that everything is now possible strikes awe into our souls and fills us with joy and fear in equal measure. Anything can happen, and while this moment - for the country, for the state, for any kinds of “property” - is dangerous, the realisation that a miracle has happened, and that, consequently, more miracles await, conquers all other thoughts. None of us ever dreamed that we would be the witnesses of such daily miracles.
There is nothing to be afraid of, only kitchen maids are afraid. It seems that is possible to be scared of everything, but nothing is frightening, not the unprecedented scale of the events, not the armoured cars and their red flags, nor the soldiers coats and their red ribbons. I’m at a complete loss as to what to do with myself. I have until Fomin’s Saturday off (with good reason) but even then I would willingly not return to the collective if I had something worthwhile to do. Since yesterday I began to shake the cobwebs from my brain, but still I couldn’t think of anything to do, other than to ponder the endless possibilities…
This affair with the Bolsheviks has not induced a great deal of upset. It is very clear that even they feel awkward about the whole thing, and realise that they have acted very shabbily in regards to everyone else in particular…
My dear Mr. President: We have not, as you know, congratulated the Russian Government or people upon the establishment of democratic institutions in that country; merely recognizing the Government as the one with which we desired intercourse. See more
I thought, therefore, that it would be worth while, immediately after the declaration of a state of war, to send a telegram to Francis to be communicated to the Russian Government, going a little further than we did in the telegram of recognition. I submit for your consideration a draft of such a telegram but in doing so I realize that it can be very materially improved in language.
I hope, if you approve of the plan, you will make the corrections which you desire.
I have sent Ribot the following telegram:
Some of the Petrograd papers have reproduced an article in the Radical pointing out the necessity of changing the representative of the Republic in Russia. It is not for me to take the initiative in expressing my desires in this matter. Your Excellency knows me well enough to be sure that in circumstances such as these personal considerations do not count with me at all. See more
But the article in the Radical makes it incumbent upon me to tell you that, having had the signal honour of representing Petrograd in France for more than three years and being conscious that I have spared no effort in that service, I should feel it no hardship to be relieved of my heavy task, and should the Government of the Republic think it desirable to appoint a successor, I should do everything in my power to make the change a simple matter.
The telegram has been inspired by several considerations.
In the first place, there may be an official advantage in my being relieved of my post: I enjoyed the confidence of the old regime and I simply do not believe in the new one. And then, even from here I can guess what a campaign the advanced parties in the Chamber must be carrying on against me. If I am to be recalled, I should at least prefer to take the initiative: I have always seen the force of Sainte-Beuve's aphorism that "You want to leave things just a little before they leave you."
To-day there has been a great ceremony on the Champ-de-Mars, where the victims of the revolutionary rising, the "nation's heroes " and "martyrs to liberty," have been given a state burial.
A long grave has been dug in the transverse axis of the parade-ground. In the centre a platform, draped in red, was raised to serve as vantage-point for the members of the Government.
Since early morning, huge and interminable processions, headed by military bands and carrying black banners, threaded their way through the streets of the city to collect from the hospitals the two hundred and ten coffins destined for revolutionary apotheosis.
On the most modest estimate, the number of demonstrators exceeded nine hundred thousand. Yet there was neither confusion nor delay at any point on the route. In their formation, marching, stops and singing all the processions kept perfect order. In spite of the icy wind, I was curious to see them manœuvre across the Champ-de-Mars. Under a snow-laden and wind-lashed sky, these endless crowds, which filed slowly past with their red coffins, presented an amazingly impressive spectacle, and to heighten the tragic effect the guns of the Fortress boomed at one-minute intervals. The art of mise en scene is native to the Russians.
But what struck me most was the absence of one element from the ceremony---the clergy. No priests, no ikons, no prayers, no crosses. The only anthem was The Workmen's Marseillaise.
Since the archaic age of Saint Olga and Saint Vladimir, and indeed since the Russian people first appeared in the light of history, it is the first time that a great national act has been performed without the help of the Church. It is but a short while since religion was still guiding and controlling all public and private life; it intervened incessantly with its pomp and pageantry, its dazzling ascendancy, its unchallenged domination of imagination and heart, if not of reason and soul. Only a few days ago, all the thousands of soldiers and workmen whom I saw marching past me could not see the smallest ikon in the street without stopping, lifting their caps and crossing themselves fervently. What a contrast was presented to-day! But why should one be surprised? In the field of ideas, the Russian always rushes to the extreme and the absolute.
Slowly the Champ-de-Mars emptied itself. The light waned; a dismal and icy mist rose from the Neva. The square, deserted once more, became desolate and sinister. As I returned to the Embassy by the solitary paths of the Summer Garden, I reflected that I had perhaps witnessed one of the most considerable events in modern history. For what has been buried in the red coffins is the Byzantine and Muscovite tradition of the Russian people, nay the whole past of orthodox Holy Russia.
It is difficult to say how many lives were lost in the "bloodless" revolution, but according to most accounts they were under a thousand. It was at Viborg and Cronstadt where the worst scenes were enacted. In both these places a number of officers of the army and of the fleet were either subjected to the most brutal treatment or massacred by the insurgents. See more
In Petrograd, thanks to the measures taken by the Government, the town rapidly resumed its normal aspect and, in spite of the absence of any police force, order generally prevailed. This was especially notice- able on the occasion of the burial of the victims of the revolution in the Champ de Mars on April 5, when a never-ending procession filed past in the most perfect order from ten in the morning till late in the evening. There were in all but some two hundred coffins, and as each one was lowered into the grave a salute was fired from the fortress; but no priests officiated at the ceremony, which was divested of any religious character. Though the Government had, on assuming office, issued a proclamation calling on citizens and soldiers alike to present a united front to the enemy, and telling the latter that they must obey their officers, their efforts to ensure an energetic prosecution of the war were paralysed by the action of the Soviet.
A well-disciplined army was regarded by the majority of its members as a dangerous weapon that might be one day turned against the revolution, while the Bolsheviks foresaw that the break-up of the army would place at their disposal a mass of armed peasants and workmen who would help them to rise to power.
The US entered the war. President Wilson’s address to Congress, translated into German, is being distributed liberally over the German lines by British aviators. It is understood the same thing is being done by French aviators.
Of course, a frenzied crowd smashing a town and killing people is appalling. Man is terrible, and is capable of destroying everything when blinded by hatred. Beastly anger, anger, and insanity. But a hundred times worse is the cruelty of a cold, sober mind, it’s a death sentence for an entire country, carried out for strategic or diplomatic purposes. See more
I saw what the Germans did to Suason and Picardy before they were eliminated. This is not the revelry of a drunken soldier. Nor is it a military necessity. It's not even the barbarity of a commander. It’s the calculating work of a rival.
In the last two years, the Germans have tormented the population. Some were forced to work, others were imprisoned, and still others were shot. What were they punished for? Well, villagers had to report every egg smashed by a hen. Old Louisa hid an egg—straight to the commandant. Paul forgot the new street names and didn’t say "Hindenburgstrasse" but used the old name "Rue de Leglize" and he was sent straight to the commandant.
Before leaving, the Germans ordered the villagers to move to the towns, and in the towns they gathered everyone on the outskirts. Special teams of "arsonists" went around the countryside on bicycles burning everything along the way—factories, estates, farms, and houses.
In Chaulnes, there were delicate pink pear trees arranged on a trellis. I walked closer to the walls and saw that all the trees—more than two hundred—were cut to the root. Peasant soldiers stood next to me.
One of them said:
--The bastards! Why? You know how much work it takes to grow these.
There were tears in his eyes from offense or anger. He couldn't understand how it was possible to destroy the work of so many years in just a minute. Perhaps the person who carried out the order to destroy this garden was also a peasant, and now somewhere in Bavaria, the same pears are now blossoming in his garden.
Anger has no boundries, and if this Frenchman ever gets into the German's garden, he will also chop down his delicate rosy trees.