Petrograd

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Date: 1918

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CHAPTER XL

Scenes of the Russian Revolution

1

189.

The Gathering Storm

2

Meanwhile from all sides came the complaints of a people wearied by the war, disillusioned, lost in what seemed an endless circle of mistakes. General Polivanov had been replaced by a weak, colorless man who did nothing to stem the rising tide of discontent in the army. Monsieur Sazonov, who had been minister of foreign affairs for close on six years, and whose love for his country and for England had helped to draw the two great nations together, resigned, and his place was taken by Stürmer, the man with the German name and German sympathies.

Food was growing ever scarcer, the queues outside the bread shops stretched right down the length of the streets. It was said in all directions that the merchants and shopkeepers were building up huge profits at the expense of the people. It was whispered that the empress trafficked with Germans. Even the emperor was no longer held in the same awe and reverence. Rasputin’s3 power at court seemed to increase every day; his name had become a byword, though many people, held in a kind of superstitious fear, dared not pronounce it, believing that by so doing they brought down ill luck on their heads. "The Unmentionable" — "The Nameless One," so they would whisper about him, with nervous glances behind them, as if they feared even then the power of some evil presence.

And still the endless trains of wounded and sick came in. There were advances and retreats, and long periods of almost inaction. The lack of ammunition had been slightly bettered, but still there was not enough, or what there was did not get to the front. Organization failed, mistakes were made that caused a useless sacrifice of thousands of lives. More and more every day the signs of trouble multiplied, and yet nothing was done to save the inevitable catastrophe. . . .

And meanwhile the evil tongues continued their gossip, catching here and there a shadow of truth, embroidering on it, exaggerating it, and insinuating even more terrible things that were left unsaid.

In great shadowed drawing-rooms, in the more intellectual circles, where men with long hair and scrubby beards gathered round tables to discuss profound philosophy over innumerable cups of tea, and in smoke-filled cabarets in the lower quarter of the town — everywhere the slander spread and ripened.

There was nothing bad or vile enough that was not insinuated. The dark powers behind the throne! German influence at court! The suspicion of a separate, treacherous peace! The power of Rasputin! . . .

Evil influences there were no doubt at work, and yet they were perhaps not quite what the world imagines. The tragedy is real enough, but for its cause one would have to look deeper than the melodramatic scandal that has been spread broadcast through the world. One must look further back, one must take into consideration a thousand causes, a thousand, thousand reasons. And above all one must account for the Russian character, with its child-like simplicity and utterly bewildering complexities. It is impossible for us to try and judge them after our own standards, just as it is impossible for us to really understand them. . . .

"Russia has betrayed us! Russia has let us down! We really don’t care what happens to Russia"! How often does one not hear those phrases, but do the people who say them know what Russia has suffered! Do they know all the causes and reasons of that terrible war-weariness? Have they lived in Russia those first years of the war, seen the shortage of every kind of ammunition, the appalling suffering of the troops, the heartbreaking losses during those retreats when the soldiers, having no guns with which to defend themselves, had to fight with sticks and stones? Have they worked in the hospitals and seen the wounded pouring in, and not even quarter enough bandages to dress those terrible wounds, and no beds for them to lie on, and no sheets to cover them? Do they know the fearful sacrifice of human life with which each victory was bought? Do they know of the breaking hearts that waited, and perhaps still wait, for those thousands of nameless dead, who gave their lives for some general’s mistake, and whose sacrifice has never been recorded? Do they know what the gradual break-down of the railways, the lack of transport, the shortage of factories meant? Have they seen those long, long queues of patient women standing from three on some ice-cold winter morning till ten or eleven to obtain even the bare necessaries of life?

I think hardly any other soldiers in the world would have endured what the Russian soldiers endured, or would have fought under the same conditions without questioning the powers that seemed to look on them, not as an army of human men, but just so many cattle whose sufferings were of very little account and whose lives were of no value.

And Germany, with her marvelous organization, knew how to make Russia’s agony serve her own ends, and one can hardly wonder that the Bolshevik’s promises of "Bread — Peace — and Freedom" should have tempted a people uneducated and untaught, and worn out by three years of untold suffering.

But most assuredly the emperor never for one moment hesitated in his loyalty to the Allies. And his name would never have been signed on a treaty of separate peace. Neither is it true that the empress was in German pay or worked for German interests. Her one wish was to hand the autocracy down intact to her son, and for this reason she forced the emperor to carry out a reactionary policy, and chose ministers who would help her in this form of government. And Germany used her as an unconscious tool, encouraging this government of repression while they preached revolution through all the country. Protopotov, suspected of German sympathies, was allowed a free hand, and his restrictions of the press and general policy provoked the most serious dissatisfaction. Stürmer was hated for his German name and pro-German influence. And Rasputin, whose power seemed supreme, was loathed and dreaded throughout all Russia. A palace revolution was openly spoken of, and even in political drawing-rooms the assassination of the empress — and perhaps the emperor — was mentioned as being the only way of saving Russia.

1 Meriel Buchanan, . London, 1918. W. Collins Sons and Company, Ltd.

2 Buchanan, , pp. 62–63, 70–74.

3 An illiterate Russian monk who, strangely enough, acquired a great influence over the emperor and empress. His interference in religious and political affairs provoked strong opposition among the liberal classes, who regarded him as a tool of the reactionaries. He was assassinated on December 15, 1916.

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Chicago: "The Gathering Storm," Petrograd in Readings in Modern European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1926), 473–475. Original Sources, accessed July 3, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FJYM18TP7XDKHNE.

MLA: . "The Gathering Storm." Petrograd, in Readings in Modern European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, D.C. Heath, 1926, pp. 473–475. Original Sources. 3 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FJYM18TP7XDKHNE.

Harvard: , 'The Gathering Storm' in Petrograd. cited in 1926, Readings in Modern European History, ed. , D.C. Heath, Boston, pp.473–475. Original Sources, retrieved 3 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FJYM18TP7XDKHNE.