A. F. Kerensky

The Catastrophe


Source: The Catastrophe
Published: 1927
Transcriber: Jonas Holmgren
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.


THE entire nation was developing a new state and political consciousness. This was, above all, true of the army and navy. The first cabinet crisis of the Provisional Government, which resulted in the inclusion in the ministry of the new forces of the labor democracy, born of the Revolution, produced simultaneously a fundamental change in the administration of the army. Instead of Alexander Gutchkoff, leader of the conservative bourgeoisie, I was obliged to become minister of war and marine.

But, in order to understand the events in the Russian army in the summer and autumn of 1917, it is necessary to have at least some conception of the psychology, the mental and spiritual attitude characterizing the Russian army before the outbreak of the Revolution.

I have spoken already of the conditions in the Russian army before the crash. All those who at that time had any opportunity to look behind the curtain of military secrecy, behind the screen of official reports and official optimism, to see the Russian army in its daily surroundings, were driven to despair by the disorder and disorganization confronting their eyes. A few, like Gutchkoff, foresaw already at the beginning of the War the tragedy which would befall Russia. How could it be otherwise? Criminals and traitors like Sukhomlinoff, Minister of War, were in charge of supplying the army. The Grand Duke Nicholas, cruel and incompetent, was commander-in-chief, while General Yanushkevitch, vengeful, intriguing and meddling in politics, was his chief-of-staff. Following the Grand Duke, this evil genius of the first half of the War, came a whole string of incompetent commanders-in-chief, promoted to their positions because of the services they had rendered to the reaction, men who, having been absorbed by civil and administrative activities, had had no time or inclination to occupy themselves with army problems and were but dimly acquainted with the developments of twentieth-century military science.

This high military oligarchy, surrounded by a crowd of careerists and adventurers, had in its hands the fate of the army and, consequently, of the country. These oligarchs and their satellites looked with contempt upon the millions of human beings whom they commanded, regarding them as just so many "cattle in gray," as just so much cannon fodder. They sneered at those honest officers who suffered painfully but protested in vain against the tragic situation. Then came the debacle of the spring of 1915. It descended upon the army like a mighty thunderbolt, producing some cleansing effects.

The Russian people paid for the crimes of the ruling oligarchy with millions in killed and wounded, with the loss of all frontier fortresses, of the whole of Poland, and of untold quantities of guns, rifles, munitions and supplies. People who curse the Revolution have forgotten all this. They have forgotten the disintegration and despair brought upon the army by Sukhomlinoff, filling the hearts of the troops with poison and hatred against the regime dominated by Rasputin.

A vast network of political espionage was part of the army organization under the rule of Sukhomlinoff. The entire officer corps was utilized for the purposes of special political departments devoted to spying upon the rank and file and the people as a whole. Police agents and agents-provocateur filled the ranks of the soldiers and sailors. Regimental commanders had to spy upon and denounce their subordinates. One hears a great deal about how the Revolution destroyed the authority of the officers and sowed discord in the army. This is downright falsehood.

The authority of the commanding body was killed long before the Revolution, even before the War, by the whole system of army administration. Not the Revolution but the autocracy, in deadly fear of losing its sole support, the army, transformed it into a police organization, making it impossible to develop relationships of friendship, respect and mutual confidence between officers and soldiers.

One must be courageous enough not to close one's eyes to the truth. Remember how the army and navy lived during those sinister years after the collapse of the revolutionary movement of 1905-6 and up until the crash of 1917. How could the nightmare of political espionage in the barracks develop a feeling of loyalty and confidence on the part of subordinates towards their superiors? Did not the honest and conscientious officers suffer and curse the role of police agents imposed upon them against their will? I know thoroughly from my own observation the inner life of the army during the ten years of the Stolypin-Rasputin reaction.

During that decade I was called upon constantly to defend, as counsel, soldiers and sailors prosecuted for political offenses. As a member of the Duma I had to read and listen to hundreds of tales of woe and complaints about the administration of the army and navy. These complaints came to me surreptitiously from all ranks and quarters of the military establishment.

Under the exterior mask of consideration for the welfare of the troops, behind the screen of a patriarchal, feudal system there was being waged a silent struggle between the rank and file and their commanders. Increasingly bitter grew the hatred of the plain soldiers until the last vestiges of authority were wiped out.

The best men, who, according to the frequent testimony of their commanders, were most conscientious, most capable and most desirable for the military service, came inevitably under the influence of political propaganda and were quickly transformed into "untrustworthy" political "criminals." I remember one case before the Petrograd Military District Court in 1908-9. The case involved a revolutionary organization in the First Artillery Brigade of the Guards. Some fifteen soldiers stood before the court, accused of reading forbidden literature, of political propaganda and of organizing a social-revolutionary circle in the brigade. The witnesses against the men were their own commanders, the best officers in the brigade, the most educated and the most conscientious. One of them, the commanding officer of the battery, said with bitter emphasis: "But they are our best soldiers!" Yet, it had been his duty to spy upon them, to tolerate patiently the intrusion of police agents in the life of the battery, to follow the development of political propaganda in order to obtain evidence against his best men. The soldiers regarded their officers as agents of the police department, failing to realize that very frequently the officers resented and despised the espionage duties forced upon them by army regulations. When the verdict against the accused soldiers was pronounced, they tore off their shoulder straps and threw them into the faces of the judges.

And what was the situation in the fleet, particularly in the Baltic Fleet, where the level of culture was higher than in the army? The officers' quarters and the sailors' holds were two enemy camps, always at war with each other, always suspicious of one another. Scarcely a year went by without some disturbances on one vessel or another, or without discovery of some political propaganda. Prosecutions inevitably followed, in the course of which the officers were always witnesses against the men. With savage joy and satisfaction did the sailors after the Revolution go through the archives of the fleet, extracting the records of all past sins of their officers, revealing their espionage upon the crews and the secret service roles of the respective officers and commanders of the fleet. "How could we tolerate that officer!" was the repeated statement made to me by men in the fleet after the Revolution. "It was due to him that so many of our people went into penal servitude!"

In justice, however, it must be said that few of the officers took up the work of spies voluntarily. The great majority did not go beyond the minimum duty required of them by the authorities with regard to spying on their subordinates, and that with great aversion. They could not refuse or did not have the courage not to fulfill the least measure of what was required of them in this connection, because they themselves were surrounded on all sides by espionage and supervision. The high command in the army and navy was quite ready to pardon almost any offense on the part of officers, except the one deadly sin of political "untrustworthiness." In many cases this meant expulsion from the army and navy. To incur the suspicion of untrustworthiness one had only to show sympathy with such moderate political parties as the Constitutional-Democrats. Suspicion of sympathy with parties like the Social-Revolutionaries or Social-Democrats was, of course, downright high treason. To show the slightest liberal inclination meant falling into the category of a dangerous suspect. Even to a civilian it was aggravating to see how the police department made itself at home in the army and navy, assuming the role of supervisor and giving orders.

Many communications from the police department and the local gendarmerie fell into my hands, informing commanders in the army and fleet that such and such a soldier was in the employ of the political secret service. The commander in question was instructed not to interfere with the work of such "collaborators" among his subordinates and men. Just before the Revolution, in the winter of 1916, there was a trial before the Petrograd Admiralty Court, involving a Social-Democratic organization in the Baltic Fleet.

The political police interfered brazenly in the inner life of the army and navy, undermining mercilessly all normal relations between officers and men and destroying authority and discipline.

The officer was quite helpless in the matter. He had no ideas wherewith to oppose extreme political propaganda, because he had been taught to defend only official policy, hateful to the rank and file and frequently to the officer himself. He could not combat the nefarious activity of the political police because he himself was in its tentacles and often an unwilling and unconscious tool in its hands. The heartless initiation into the service; the breaking-in, as Gutchkoff characterized it; the cold, lifeless official patriotism demanded by the government in its insistence on obedience to the Czarist trinity of "absolutism, orthodoxy, nationality"; the utter defenselessness of the weak before the strong— such was the system governing the life of the army and navy in 1914. Nowhere in Russia were the remains of serfdom more conspicuous than in the daily life in the army barracks. This serfdom persisted not only in the attitude and contact of the aristocratic officer class towards the good and simple peasant soldier, not only in the lack of responsibility on the part of the officers with regard to the plain human dignity and self-respect of the men, who were compelled to tolerate physical punishment without protest, but in the entire blind code of brutal discipline, and obedience, in the absence of any invigorating idea of national service. This idea was replaced by the detested empty formula, "for the Czar, the Faith and the Fatherland." The general conception of the service prevalent everywhere was one of a difficult, uninteresting and detestable task. The commanding bodies were marked by an astonishing absence of any feeling of personal responsibility. The result was an icy officialdom and soulless bureaucracy.

In many respects the army organization was an actual fragment of the Russia of serfdom. Its duty throughout the century-old fight between the people and Czarism had been, first and foremost, to defend the existing regime, without reasoning or consideration. Nowhere were men of independent thought and action feared more than in the army, especially in the commanding body.

"This man is guilty—he has tried to think," Nicholas I is said to have remarked about one of the Decembrists. This aphorism epitomizes the attitude of the autocracy towards the army officer. Only his body was wanted, not his brain. General Vannovsky, favorite war minister of Alexander III, was thoroughly convinced that education was bad for the army. Himself a man of no education, it was his deliberate policy to give no promotions to officers of academic training.

Ignorance and blind devotion at the top; ignorance and automatic obedience) at the bottom—that was the autocracy's conception of an ideal army.

Of course, such an ideal was even more Utopian and unattainable than any ill considered socialist schemes. It was good to dream about, to strive for, but the more one strove for it, the more energetically one sought to realize it, the more unattainable it became. The more severe and the more merciless the autocracy was in its efforts to exterminate all the vital, living elements in the army, the greater grew the discontent and "disloyalty" in army circles. Military objectives were relegated more and more to the background with each year. More and more the army was carried away in its life and activity by the inner political struggle. "The army must be kept outside of politics," was the repeated assertion of the Czarist war ministers, but in reality the army was not kept outside of politics any more than was the school system, which was surrendered to the mercies of reactionary political wirepulling and intrigue. It is not very far from the truth to say that there was nothing but politics in the army. The army was intended to be the chief rampart of the autocracy. Was this not politics? Was not every officer duty bound to inspire the rank and file with a definite political creed? Was he not himself inspired from earliest childhood, from the elementary classes of the military school to his exit from the military academy with a definite, primitive political creed?

We schoolboys in the gymnasiums and other "civilian" schools also had to swallow large doses of politics, the prescribed quantity of official patriotism. Our teachers and mentors dealt it out to us in a rather perfunctory, desultory manner, for the sake of going through the motions to please the authorities. There was not time enough to steep our minds and souls in government politics, for we spent the greater part of the day outside the school walls, under more salutary influences. It was otherwise, however, with our brothers and chums who entered the Cadet Corps.

For a period of from seven to ten years they fell into an atmosphere of darkness, where they were transformed into a special species of man. My childhood and youth were spent in close contact with the officer milieu. My closest chum entered the Cadet Corps when very young. We met every year on our vacations. He had been an able, well informed, independent young man. Yet we, his comrades who remained free, observed from year to year the effects of military education upon his soul. Mutual misunderstanding and estrangement developed between us. The cause was not that he had different manuals and books, but in the inevitable estrangement of every cadet from the life that pulsated outside the walls of his military school, in the artificial surroundings in which he lived ten months out of the year, in the slow, systematic process of inoculating him with a distinct set of ideas and conceptions intended to become imperceptibly part of the future officer's nature and to insure him forever against undesirable political influences. In the military hothouses, where a special species of man was cultivated to meet the special needs of the autocracy, the official gardeners had to produce an ideal compound of a military specialist, honest and faithful to his duty, devoted to the Czar, but hostile to the political dreams, hopes and aspirations of civilian Russia.

The conceptions of civic duty, honor, fatherland, state, service, demanded from the future officer were quite different from those of the rest of Russia. After some ten years of such hothouse training and education the officer was "ready." He went into some army unit, quite ignorant of the rest of Russia, quite incapable of adapting himself outside the military surroundings in which he had been brought up. In this way was part of Russia's youth torn away from its comrades to become the defense of the autocracy against "the enemy within."

Such an enemy was particularly the Russian intelligentsia, whose ranks were filled with the brothers and chums of the very same young men who became the buttresses of the Czar and the fatherland. In time, a deep gulf developed between members of the same class or circle, only because some went in for a military career while others chose civilian occupations, because some became officers and others students.

I remember the frequent disputes our company of military young men and students fell into the moment we began to speak of matters political. Immediately we began to speak different tongues. We ceased to understand each other, we grew irritated, we offended each other, because the things sacred to some were the incarnation of evil to others. I am convinced that all of us loved Russia equally well and wished her nothing but good. But our interpretations of Russia were as different as were our conceptions of Russia's welfare and Russia's good, so that involuntarily we saw in each other Russia's enemies, the enemies of the Russian people.

Yes, it was a terrible, fratricidal enmity and hatred!

Particularly deep, nay, bottomless grew the gulf between military and civil Russia, between the military and civil intelligentsia, during the period of the Russo-Japanese War and the revolutionary movement that followed upon it.

We appeared then on opposite sides of the barricade. The vast majority of the officers were still with the autocracy or remained quite neutral in the political struggle, performing mechanically their duty of defending the throne against the inner foe.

The rest of Russia, civil, cultured Russia, the entire intelligentsia plunged into the struggle of liberation. In the army, or rather in the officers, who then saved the autocracy, thus delaying the death agony of the old regime for another twelve years, we saw the worst enemies of the people, of the greatness, welfare and future of the country. There were many, too many, officers at that time who believed candidly that the students, the intelligentsia in general, the rebellious workers, and the peasants who were destroying and burning the landed estates, were the cause of all of Russia's misfortunes. Yes, a great deal of water had gone over the dam since December 17, 1825, when a group of brave Guard officers, the "Decembrists," standing quite alone in the feudal Russia of that epoch, appeared on the Senate Square in Petrograd and raised the banner of revolt against the autocracy, in the name of liberty and constitutional government. At that time the soldier masses looked on indifferently upon the tragic fate that befell those great sons of the nobility, those early forerunners of the liberation movement, who perished so gladly and so willingly for the cause of freedom. Eighty years later, in 1905, the army officers alone, and particularly the Guard officers, remained faithful to the autocracy to the end. They failed to recognize in the masses of the students and workers they shot down the direct heirs and descendants of the Decembrists.

But the year 1905 was a turning point in the life of the army, and particularly in the life of the army officers. For the first time military and civil Russia met face to face and tried to speak with each other. At first the pourparlers served only to accentuate the mutual enmity, but both sides were deeply shaken by the events. The Revolution, although drowned in blood, compelled people to think and to look deeper into the ills and sufferings of Russia. The officers who survived the Russo-Japanese War began to ponder upon what had happened. They began to think and to understand. Here and there officers participated and even played a leading part in the military mutinies of 1905-6.

Time passed. Russia began to change.

The ideas of liberty and emancipation sown in the years 1905-6 among the masses began to show results. The new conscripts drawn into the army were quite different from those who preceded them. The inner foe penetrated deeper and deeper into the army ranks. The ancient patriarchal order in the army gave way more and more to one of frank police surveillance. The forces of life beating upon the army from all sides cracked the traditional creed followed by the officer class, based upon the three pillars of "Absolutism, Orthodoxy, Nationality."

Parallel with the political fermentation and tempests of the last decade of the autocracy (1906-16) there was in progress within the ranks of the officers a concealed but stubborn process of political thought. A new consciousness developed. The feeling of discontent gained momentum with the reestimation of many values. Many began to burn what but yesterday they had worshiped, and were ready to worship that which but yesterday they had burned. The blind began to see and the deaf to hear. Rasputin and his clique did more to destroy the old psychology of loyalty of the officers than did thousands of revolutionary proclamations and leaflets.

On the other hand, the lesson of the Russo-Japanese War was not without effect. A whole school of nonconformists arose, who gave battle to the old military hierarchy, striving to do away with the musty traditions and obsolete methods of army organization which had been in vogue since the conquest of the Crimea. But here, too, in the domain of pure military technique, the young reformers met with obstacles which compelled them to think not of military problems alone but also of politics. In such manner did the process of awakening in the army proceed until the honest, conscientious elements of the officer class were confronted clearly by the alternative: the autocracy or Russia.

Finally, came the War of 1914. The weakness and inadequacy of the entire military establishment manifested itself without delay. The terrible reality of the situation became immediately apparent. The relation between the corrupt and inefficient army system and the autocracy was revealed with tragic clarity to every one.

On the battlefields of Galicia, under the walls of Warsaw, Brest, Kovno, in the Mazurian Lakes in East Prussia, the Romanoff dynasty perished, killed by the bullets of German machine guns striking the hearts of Russian officers and troops.

Gutchkoff was not alone when in 1915 he definitely turned revolutionist. The majority of Russia's officers shared his sentiments or were ready for revolution by that time. The dream of generations of the Russian intelligentsia found realization—in the army. The whole army united with the people in a common love and a common hatred.

Alas, it was too late! In the army itself there had accumulated too many painful emotions of wrath and hatred on the part of the lower against the upper ranks and, as usual, the crimes of the system had to be expiated by those who were least guilty.

The soldier in the trenches, who only the day before had been flogged, beaten and humiliated, could not understand the real causes of his suffering. He could not look beyond his immediate superiors, and sought to find the culprits close at hand. The more politically conscious soldier could not forget the recent devotion of his chiefs to the autocracy, for which his comrades suspected or accused of "disloyalty" had paid so dearly. And all these individual sensations were overshadowed by a common distrust of the "master," which seized the masses the day after the Revolution. To the mind of the average soldier the "master" was, of course, the officer.

I have tried purposely to restore in some detail the psychology of officers and soldiers under the old regime and upon the outbreak of the Revolution, because no one who does not know or has forgotten the gulf that only so recently had separated civil and military Russia, who has forgotten the relations between the loweir and upper ranks as late as January, 1917, can understand the main cause of the horrible tragedy which developed in the army and navy with the downfall of the autocracy.

The old officers, who are now so embittered and inclined to curse the Revolution and every one and everything concerned with it, should find the moral courage to look into the past without prejudice and try to find there the answer to the terrible question— "Why?" I do not refer to the officers who came into the army during the War. I speak of the officer class that emanated from the old Cadet Corps.

No one able to think even a little can fail to understand that the officers who suffered so grievously from the anarchy in the Revolution were, perhaps, least to be blamed for the dark aspects of the soldier's life under the autocracy. The officers themselves could not escape from the clutches of the system and rebuild the army in accordance with their own ideas. Brought up from childhood under the old system of education and amidst their peculiar surroundings and traditions, they had carried out orders from above passively, trying to think as little as possible when they felt that these orders were in contradiction with the higher duties of efficiency and honor. All this is true. But the officers themselves should realize how it came to pass that the soldier sought to express his satisfaction with the downfall of the system not in mere abstract realization but in revenge upon his nearest chiefs. What is needed is a little more analysis, a little more broadmindedness and a little self-criticism. One cannot ascribe everything to the ill will of separate individuals, one cannot explain everything by pointing to the propaganda which turned the soldiers against the officers. All this did exist, but it was not the main thing, not even the secondary factor. The main cause lay in the past, in the whole feudal army system, in the cruel, artificial relations between the officers and men. The main cause of the human tragedy in the army after the Revolution must be sought in the barrack interiors as they existed before the Revolution.

And also: One must not idealize that past, as many are now inclined to do. It was a sad, an accursed past. Unfortunately, the masses do not deliberate. They cannot grasp and explain quickly new phenomena, especially if old forms, old appearances remain, as they necessarily must. The masses of the army rank and file had too long been accustomed to see in the officer the symbol of the system of oppression, and they could not, therefore, suppress immediately the instinctive desire for a bloody sequel. Still, in the army this desire expressed itself in comparatively weak form. In the army the officer suffered rather because he was a noble, or a bourgeois, than because he was an officer.

The contrary was true in the fleet. And the explanation of this lies not in the fact that the navy crews were politically more class conscious than the army masses, nor in the fact that in a revolution the fleet goes to greater extremes than the army (it is sufficient to recall the events in the fleet during the great French Revolution and the revolutions in Russia and Germany). No, I attribute the particularly difficult position of the officers in the fleet, especially in the Baltic Fleet, to the fact that contrary to the situation in the army, the entire naval officer corps remained almost intact throughout the War. The regular officer corps in the army was very quickly diluted in the mass of reserve and militia officers, and it melted away still quicker in the fire of the bloody battles early in the War. The active campaigning, the stream of new impressions constantly flowing into the minds of the troops contributed to the eradication of old grievances in the hearts of many soldiers. The fleet remained almost untouched and unchanged by the War. With the exception of minor shifts in personnel and the presence of naval reservists called into service with the outbreak of the War, few changes occurred. When the thunderbolt of revolution struck in the navy there was no place for people to go, where to hide from old, painful questions, from old grievances and the peril of long-postponed reckonings. On the contrary, with each succeeding hour and each succeeding day everything served to recall to mind the bitter past. I am quite certain that had not the general crash come on March twelfth there would have been a great mutiny in the fleet before the end of the summer. The entire atmosphere in the fleet, so far as the men were concerned, was surcharged with electricity. If in the army there remained some semblance of authority and discipline, in the navy these disappeared altogether immediately upon the collapse of the old regime. If in the army the commanders and officers were put merely under control, in the navy they were taken at once by the crews under open or secret suspicion. The officers' quarters were immediately transformed into prison cells by the crew committees.

A navy officer said to me:

"On the morning of the Revolution I summoned my men, informed them of the upheaval, declared that the officers had joined the Revolution and had placed themselves under the authority of the Temporary Committee of the Duma, and requested the men to do likewise. The men replied: 'All right, as you command, your honor.' On the same day, in the evening, the crews summoned me, demanded the surrender of my sword, declared their allegiance to the Soviet of Workmen and Soldiers and proclaimed the authority of their own committee on the ship."

All this, accompanied by the slaughter of officers, took place on March thirteenth or fourteenth, before the issuance of the much discussed "Order No. 1."

Generally speaking, the developments in the Baltic Fleet illustrate well the spontaneity of the movement against the officers. Here everything happened before any instructions or directions could arrive from any revolutionary center in Petrograd. It is necessary, once and for all, to put an end to the silly legend that the collapse of authority and discipline in the army and navy, with all its tragic accompaniments, followed upon some signal from the Soviet of Workmen and Soldiers or from me personally in agreement with the Soviet. All this is nonsense and invention.

The anarchy in the army was already a fact when the Provisional Government assumed power on March sixteenth. This was true also of the entire country. The Provisional Government did not create the anarchy, but had only to deal with its consequences. Neither did the Soviet of Workmen and Soldiers play any conscious part in fomenting the disintegration or in the movement against the officers. I emphasize the word "conscious" because the Soviet did make some fatal mistakes, due, however, to the conditions prevailing in the Petrograd garrison in the first days of the Revolution, mistakes which had grievous repercussions in the entire army.

I have already mentioned these conditions in passing, in my description of the first four days of the Revolution. I wish now to come back to them in detail. I spoke of the disappearance of all officers from the barracks in Petrograd with the outbreak of the garrison's revolt. I want to show now how this fact was reflected in the consciousness and action of all the revolutionary leaders in the Tauride Palace, from Rodzianko to Stekloff inclusively. One must not forget that although the Revolution destroyed Czarism without difficulty and without serious resistance, the actual difficulties and possibilities of the situation could not have been known to us in the Tauride Palace on that day of March twelfth, when everything was in a state of flux and uncertainty. It was impossible for us under the circumstances to have any clear conception of the progress and probable outcome of the struggle. We even did not know what was happening outside of Petrograd, nor were we certain of whether the capital itself was ours. We had no idea of the plans of the old government, nor had we any positive knowledge of the attitude of the officers, especially those in the rear. Nor did we have any means of finding out what the disappearance of the commanding body of the Petrograd garrison meant. Was it fear, perplexity, a passive withdrawal from the scene in watchful waiting upon developments, or was it something worse?

The entire Tauride Palace did not trust the Petrograd officers in the first moment of the Revolution. This is a positive historical fact.

Note the spirit and contents of orders and declarations issued by men belonging to that wing of the Revolution quite opposite to the one occupied by the Soviet. For instance, on March twelfth, Rodzianko issued instructions "to the officers of the Petrograd garrison and to all officers now in Petrograd," calling upon them to report, not later than March fifteenth, to the Military Commission of the Duma "to obtain passports for unrestricted movement, to register and to carry out the orders of the Commission with regard to the organization of the troops who have joined the people's representatives for the defense of the metropolis."

Rodzianko's instructions continued:

Any delay in the appearance of officers will unavoidably prejudice the interests of the officer class. At this moment, in the face of the enemy striking at the very heart of Russia and ready to take advantage of her momentary weakness, it is urgently necessary to make all efforts to restore the organization of all military units. The blood of our comrades who have fallen in the past two and a half years of the War places a duty upon us. Gentlemen officers do not lose a single minute of precious time.

On the same day appeared the declaration of Colonel Engelhardt, temporary commander of the Petrograd garrison, which ran as follows:

Owing to rumors alleging that officers in the regiments are depriving the soldiers of arms, which rumors, after investigation in two regiments, have proven groundless, the commander of the Petrograd garrison hereby declares that the most decisive measures will be taken to prevent such action by officers, not excluding the execution of those guilty.


It was at this very time of complete absence of authority in the Petrograd garrison that there appeared the famous "Order No. 1," which has created so much stormy discussion. It remains to this day one of the chief points of accusation on the part of the Russian reactionaries against the Provisional Government. "Order No. 1," they maintain, promulgated allegedly by the government, destroyed the army. The truth of the matter is as follows: Late in the evening, March fourteenth, a delegation of the newly formed soldiers' section of the Petrograd Soviet appeared before the aforementioned Colonel Engelhardt, a colonel of the General Staff and a member of the Duma, at the office of the Military Commission of the Duma. The soldier delegates requested the colonel to collaborate with them in formulating an order to the tens of thousands of troops of the Petrograd garrison, who had no idea of how to conduct themselves, having been deprived suddenly of their commanders.

Following consultation with some members of the Military Commission, Colonel Engelhardt refused to take a hand in drafting the order, it being his opinion that the first order to the troops of the Petrograd military district should be left to the new minister of war, who, he believed, was to assume his duties within a day or two.

Engelhardt's refusal produced a vexing impression upon the soldier delegates. They left him with words of defiance: "Very well, if you refuse, we'll draft it ourselves."

On the same night, in the tense atmosphere of the Tauride Palace, "Order No. 1" was drawn up at a casual meeting of the Soviet. In the morning it was published. This hothouse product of the soldier mind, created in cooperation with some civilian members of the Soviet, who merely edited the grammar of the soldiers' demands, was from a military point of view not only unsuccessful but also detrimental. Nevertheless, it corresponded to the Petrograd atmosphere of the moment. So far as the officers were concerned it was considerably milder than the aforementioned order threatening executions issued by Colonel Engelhardt, chairman of the Military Commission of the Duma, a political figure belonging to the most conservative wing of the revolutionary upheaval.

Here is the text of "Order No. 1":

March 14, 1917. To the garrison of the Petrograd Military Police. To all soldiers of the Guards, the army, the artillery, and to the navy, for immediate and precise execution, and for the information of the workers of Petrograd:

1. All companies, battalions, regiments, artillery parks, batteries and individual units of all categories and on vessels of the navy are to choose committees of elected representatives from the rank and file of the aforementioned military units.

2. All military units which have not yet chosen representatives to the Soviet of Workmen's Deputies are to do so, on the basis of one representative for each company, who is to appear with a written certificate in the Duma building, at ten o'clock in the morning, March seventeenth.

3. In all their political activities military units are to regard themselves as subordinate to the Soviet of Workmen's and Soldiers' Deputies and to their respective committees.

4. All kinds of arms, such as rifles, guns, armored automobiles, etc., must remain in the hands and under the control of district and battalion committees and must under no circumstances be placed at the disposal of officers, even upon their demand.

5. In the execution of their service duties and in their respective units, soldiers must maintain the strictest military discipline, but outside the service, in their political, civic and private life, soldiers cannot in any way be restricted in their rights, such as are enjoyed by citizens.

6. Simultaneously, all titles in addressing officers are abolished, such as "Your Excellency,"

"Your Honor," etc., being substituted by the salutation: "Mr. General," "Mr. Colonel," etc. Impolite and rough behavior towards soldiers on the part of officers of all ranks, including the salutation "thou," is forbidden, and all violations of this, as well as all misunderstandings between officers and soldiers are to be brought by the latter to the attention of the company committees. The present order is to be read to all companies, battalions, regiments, crews, batteries and other commands.


This complete text of the order destroys, first of all, the legend concerning the participation of the Provisional Government in its formulation, for the Provisional Government was formed on the night of March fifteenth, whereas the order was written on the night of March fourteenth. Second, as will be seen from the heading of the order, it applied exclusively to the troops of the Petrograd garrison, and, finally, the order contains no reference whatever to the right of the soldiers to "choose" their commanders, but, on the contrary, it summons the soldiers to the "strictest military discipline" while on duty.

So far as the newly proclaimed civil rights of the soldiers are concerned, the order was likewise in harmony with the spirit of the first days of the Revolution. In proof it is only necessary to cite the eighth point of the manifesto issued by the Provisional Government upon its assumption of office. This manifesto, representing the basic program of the new government, was signed by Rodzianko as president of the Duma, Premier Lvoff and all the ministers. The point in question read:

"Hand in hand with the preservation of the strictest military discipline in the ranks and in the exercise of military duty, all limitations circumscribing the enjoyment of civil rights by soldiers are abolished."

Even the creation of elected committees and their representation in the Soviet was not the result of any one's personal or party notions, but was the expression of the general attitude, cropping up at times in quarters where it was most unexpected. The same Colonel Engelhardt in his first communication to the garrison wrote:

"It is suggested to all troops of the Petrograd garrison to introduce immediately in their units a system based on new principles. Each unit is to delegate to the Military Commission of the Duma one representative from the officers and men, accompanied by certification of his identity."

I have just mentioned that in the Baltic Fleet the committees appeared before the promulgation and, at any rate, before the receipt at Helsingfors of "Order No. 1." On the Rumanian Front, very distant from Petrograd, there developed a circumstance even more characteristic, proving vividly that the Russian army, after the destruction of the old administrative apparatus, had to pass inevitably through some sort of a new phase on the basis of "new principles." There, the commander of the sixth army, General Tsurikoff, without awaiting instructions from Petrograd, introduced the committee system among the troops and telegraphed to the authorities in the capital urging the desirability of the measure, in the light of circumstances.

But the historical inevitability of developments does not, of course, affect the attitude assumed towards them by contemporaries. A report from General Alexeyeff, from General Headquarters, received on the second or third day of the life of the Provisional Government, to the effect that "Order No. 1" (wired to the front by persons whose identity has never been discovered) was creating great mischief all along the line, provoked an immediate reaction in the cabinet

On March nineteenth, Premier Lvoff and War Minister Gutchkoff published a proclamation to the army, making it clear that "Order No. 1" was not meant for the army as a whole and that the troops must give obedience only to the orders and instructions of their commanders, acting under the authority of the new government. A similar communication was addressed to the army by the Petrograd Soviet, signed by Vice-President Skobeleff, a Social-Democrat, and countersigned by Gutchkoff. In addition, the Petrograd Soviet promulgated the so-called "Order No. 2," which stated clearly that the Soviet had issued no instructions regarding the election of officers and that "Order No. 1," promulgated previous to the formation of the Provisional Government, concerned only the troops of the Petrograd district. Such are the facts.

The legend concerning "Order No. 1," formed and circulated subsequently, is simply evidence of how people, stricken and shaken by extraordinary events, cannot refrain from trying to find concrete and detachable sources of their misfortunes. To them the whole tragic history of the disintegration of the old, imperial Russian army is simply the result of some one's deliberate plans, of the mischief and intrigues—of the Soviet, the Provisional Government, Kerensky, etc.



Last updated on: 2.17.2008