King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences

Contemporary press reports

The first of the two Russian Revolutions of 1917 overthrew the Tsarist regime of Nicholas II, a ruler out of touch with the urban and rural poor of the country, and who believed in his own divine right to rule. In 1905, discontent with the Tsar’s rule had led to mass demonstrations and strikes throughout Russia, though the imperial government remained in power until 1917. In the intervening period, limited reforms were implemented, including the creation of a Duma (parliament) and a new constitution. However, continued unrest amongst the poor and an increasingly organised Bolshevik party machine culminated in the February Revolution and the Tsar’s abdication.

Press cutting from the Manchester guardian, 2 May 1917Press cutting from the Manchester guardian, 2 May 1917The images reproduced here show extracts from original newspaper articles reporting on the two revolutions of 1917 and are part of a set of 33 volumes of press cuttings relating to the First World War and its aftermath, which were compiled for the Foreign Office.

Articles from early May 1917 report on the initial period of what Lenin termed ‘dual power’, following the February Revolution, when the moderate provisional government ruled with the more radical Soviet workers’ councils. To the left, the Manchester guardian reports that greetings have been sent from members of parliament to the Russian people expressing ‘joy and admiration at the mighty revolution’ and the list of signatories includes the Labour leader and future prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald.

Press cutting from the Daily news, May 1917Press cutting from the Daily news, May 1917To the right, the Daily news foreign correspondent Arthur Ransome (1884-1967), later to be better known for his children’s fiction, files sympathetic reports on the upheaval occurring in Petrograd (St Petersburg) and remarks on the changing perceptions of England caused by the suspicious reactions to the revolution. Compassion for the Tsar and the refusing of passports to citizens wishing to attend a wartime socialist conference have evidently not been well-received in parts of revolutionary Russia. Ransome was a close friend of Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders, so these sympathetic reports are unsurprising. However, it has been more recently claimed that he was in fact a British secret agent.

Press cutting from the Morning post, May 1917Press cutting from the Morning post, May 1917The Morning post, to the left, a more conservative newspaper, appraises the situation six weeks into the dual power sharing agreement and remarks that while ‘the populace in Petrograd is still engaged mainly in demonstrating its joy over the glorious victory’, conditions of life have not improved, felonies are increasing and the bread queues ‘are longer and denser than ever before’.

Headline and by-line from a press cutting from The Times, 2 November 2017Headline and by-line from a press cutting from The Times, 2 November 2017In the remaining images, displayed to the right and below, reports are shown from the day following Lenin’s seizure of power, and the overthrow of Kerensky’s interim government.

The famous slogan ‘Peace and bread’ is employed as a by-line by The Times; and the rest of the article is concerned with the first Bolshevik Decree, which is described by the newspaper as ‘the extremist document’. It includes the four tenets of the military revolutionary government, that of an ‘immediate democratic peace … an immediate handing over of the large proprietorial lands to the peasants, the transmission of all authority to the Soviets and an honest convocation of the Constituent Assembly’.

Press cutting from the Morning post, 2 November 2017Press cutting from the Morning post, 2 November 2017The Morning post article, to the left, notes fears that the revolution will aid Germany by opening the door to a separate peace between the two nations, garnered by the ‘German agent, Lenin’. In its remarks on ‘the role of Russian Jews of German extraction ... who have opened the gates of Russia to the Germans’, a thinly veiled antisemitism is present, with unpleasant suggestions of a Jewish conspiracy.

Profiles of Lenin and the other Bolshevik leaders also feature in the set compiled for the Foreign Office, introducing newspaper readers to the figures who now hold power in Russia, who lead wartime negotiations and who will shape future international relations across Europe.

In this exhibition

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