The Society for the Study of Revolution and the Interview (Polievktov) Commission of the Tauride Palace

In early March, 1917, M.A. Polievktov and his friend and fellow historian A.E. Presniakov launched an effort to collect materials on the historic events of the February Revolution; by April, the new Society for the Study of the [Russian] Revolution (SSR) was formed and officially recognized. The SSR sent out an official announcement urging citizens of the new Russia to collect any materials pertaining to the history of the February Revolution—from official documents, memoirs, notes, diaries and personal accounts to books, leaflets, songs and verses, drawings and photographs, advertisements, and records of meetings by political and social organizations—and send them to the SSR. It was also decided to divide the SSR into several sections, each collecting materials documenting the contribution of a particular group to the overthrow of the old regime. The section called the Interview Commission of the Tauride Palace, headed by Polievktov, set out “to interview those participants of the [February] coup who were active during the revolutionary days inside the Tauride Palace or were involved in forming the Temporary Committee of the State Duma, the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, and the other entities organized there” (from the Letter of Introduction by Presniakov).

Exactly how many people responded to this appeal remains unknown, but in the end the Interview or Polievktov Commission produced transcripts of thirteen complete interviews and half a dozen brief summaries of conversations with active participants of the February Days, including Nikolai Nikolaevich Krasnov , Stepan Vasil’evich Sufshchinskii, Aleksandr Fedorovich Kerenskii, and Matvei Ivanovich Skobelev.

May 1917 was the Commission’s most productive period; all but one interview was conducted during that month. The interview sessions lasted anywhere from one to several hours and, with only two exceptions, took place either in the Tauride Palace or in government offices. The length of the interviews, which varied greatly, seemed to depend more on the interviewee’s readiness to talk than on the prominence of his position. Some were recorded over the course of two or more sessions. Each interviewee was asked about his participation in the revolutionary events of February 25–March 3, 1917, that is, from the outbreak of the popular uprising in Petrograd to the formation of the Provisional Government and the abdications of Nicholas II and Grand Duke Michael. Following this initial testimony, the interviewers posed more pointed questions. Though the specific questions were suppressed from the available transcripts, they could be surmised from the interviewees’ answers. Recurring among these were queries on the soldiers’ uprising; conspiracies against Nicholas II; the arrests and initial custody of the most notorious of tsarist ministers and other police, military and government officials; the formation of the Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government; the origins of dual power and of Order Number One; and the abdications. As May 1917 witnessed the break up of the first revolutionary government and formation of the first coalition cabinet, some of the more politically involved interviewees were also asked about the events leading up to the most recent crisis, including Miliukov’s diplomatic note to the Allies and the April demonstrations in Petrograd. By and large, however, the interviews remained focused on the February Days, and as far as we can determine, the interviewees were not intentionally drawn into making normative evaluations.

Each interview was conducted by three or four members of the Interview Commission, one leading the conversation and everyone taking minutes. All transcripts were then read and compared, corrected, and transcribed into an aggregate master version. This, depending on the circumstances of the moment, would normally be accomplished on the day of the interview or shortly thereafter. The master versions would then be turned over to Polievktov for a final editing that—as far as we can establish—focused on matters of presentation and consistency, not historical accuracy. Polievktov did the bulk of the editing in fairly short order, not long after master versions were prepared by his assistants and handed over to him, and certainly no later than September 1917.

Convincing former participants, many of whom continued to be politically active under the transitional regime, to sit down for an interview session was no easy task. Rusudana Polievktova-Nikoladze recalled that those on the Left were far less cooperative (many simply refused to be interviewed) than their more moderate colleagues. Chkheidze, for example, demanded the questions in advance, had to be chased after, and in general proved difficult to accommodate. Kerenskii, on the other hand, was noted by the memoirist to be the only representative of the Left genuinely excited about the project. He brought the interviewing team to his office in his ministerial automobile and was quite expansive in his deposition. Skobelev, too, was cooperative and forthcoming, even talkative, though his willingness to be interviewed was probably a result of personal connections with the Nikoladze sisters, in particular with their cousin Kaki Tsereteli. In fact, Tsereteli was present during part of Skobelev’s three-session long interview and even inserted a qualifying remark concerning the origins of dual power.

Whatever their initial hesitation, almost all loosened up and began talking as soon as they sat down for the actual interview. It is important to note that only four of the twelve interviewees later wrote memoirs or left behind additional testimonies, but these proved to be far less revealing than their May 1917 interviews. For the rest of the interviewees, these depositions would become their only recorded testimonies.

Select Bibliography


Letter of Introduction by A. E. Presniakov, 1917

An example of the letter sent to prospective interviewees by the Polievktov Commission. The letter is signed by Presniakov in his capacity as chairman of the Society for the Study of the Russian Revolution.


The Society for the Study of the [Russian] Revolution Questionnaire. 1917

This questionnaire is a late example of the form used by the Society for the Study of the Revolution (SSR)

Translation (Excerpts)

Members of the interviewing team.

The Arrest of the Tsarina Aleksandra Fedorovna Romanov, March 8, 1917—as recounted by Captain N.N. Krasnov.

During March 2-10, 1917 General Staff Captain Nikolai Nikolaevich Krasnov served as an orderly under the first revolutionary Commander-in-Chief of the Petrograd Military District, General L. G. Kornilov. On March 8, Krasnov accompanied Kornikov to Tsarskoe Selo, the favorite residence of Nicholas II and his family, to arrest the former empress Aleksandra Fedorovna


An excerpt from the interview with the Duma’s chancellery junior staffer Stepan Vasil’evich Sufshchinskii (1895-?). Recorded on May 1, 1917, in room no. 2 of the Tauride Palace.

Translation (Excerpt)

An excerpt from the interview with A.F. Kerenskii as recorded on May 31, 1917 by Tamara Nikoladze. The interview represents Kerenskii’s earliest, most expansive, and most reliable testimony on the February Revolution.

Translation (Excerpt)

An excerpt from the interview with M. I. Skobelev, as recorded on May 31, 1917”

Translation (Excerpt)

The Military Commission (MC) of the Temporary Committee of the State Duma


Military Commission (of the Temporary Committee of the State Duma), Organizational Chart, March 1, 1917



D[ear] S[ir]

The Society for the Study of the 1917 Revolution has recently formed in Petrograd, the membership of which includes primarily professors of the University and other institutions of higher education. The Society’s goal is the collection of materials—written as well as oral—which can shed light on the history of the great [February] coup d’état. For this reason, the Society has formed a number of sections: interviews with military units, interviews with workers, collection of printed materials, and so on. There is also a “Section on studying the Tauride Palace [later called the Interview Commission of the Tauride Palace],” the task of which is to interview those participants of the coup whose activities in the days of the revolution took place primarily inside the Tauride Palace or were related to the organizations that were formed there—the Temporary Committee of the State Duma and the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, and the other entities [organized there]. The Society considers the entirety of such materials as having exceptional scholarly value and does not intend it for immediate release to the press. Persons providing the information are guaranteed confidentiality for a particular period of time, according to their wishes.

The Society is addressing you, as one of the persons who took part in the revolutionary events, with a request to share [with the Society] what you know. In the case of your kind agreement, please indicate—to Mikhail Aleksandrovich Polievktov, the chair of the aforementioned section—a time when it would be possible to contact to you. You may write to Polievktov at Furshtatskaia Street 27, or telephone him at 245-92 between 9-10 o’clock in the morning or between 6-7 o’clock in the evening.

Chairman of “The Society for the Study of the 1917 Revolution.”

[Signature] A. E. Presniakov



1) Considering it to be of highest desirability and importance to inquire thoroughly into the origins and growth of the socio-political movement that overthrew the monarchical regime, and 2) assuming that for the achievement of this goal it is essential to collect as many records as possible about persons who directly participated in the liberation movement, The Society for the Study of the Russian Revolution is asking you to answer the following questions as thoroughly and precisely as possible.

A. Biographical Data

1) How did you spend your childhood (place and year of birth? Your father’s occupation?) What was the nature of your family relations? Were there participants in the liberation movement among your family members? Were there any particular events or impressions in your childhood that strongly influenced your way of thinking and feeling?

2) How did your life and your views develop further? Did you attend school? Which school, and for how long? Did any of the teachers have an influence on you? Did religion have an influence on you? Did you attend, or are you still attending, religious services? What is your occupation? Have you changed your profession? Are you married and do you have a family?

3) When and at what age did you become interested in politics? Did you first join the same party of which you are now a member, or were you previously a member of some other party? Which one? What contributed the most to your interest in political questions? (reading books or newspapers, attending meetings, self-education circles, military service, conversations with comrades?) Which authors and orators do you favor the most? What memories do you have about distinguished party members?

4) When did you officially join the party? What was the nature of your participation in political life? Did you, or do you still, occupy any position in the party or professional organizations? What memories do you have about more prominent party members? Did you suffer in any way under the old government for participation in political activity? Did you participate in the Russo-Japanese War? In the 1905-06 revolutionary movement? In the war of 1914? What influence did these events have on you?

B. Personal Memories and Experience of 1917

1) How did you experience the days of February Revolution? Did it take you by surprise? What was your part in the events of the revolution? What did you see and hear during that time?

2) Speak about your experience during the following months.

3) How did you experience the October Revolution? Did it take you by surprise? What was your part in its events? What did you see and hear during that time?

C. Additional Questions

1) How do you explain the downfall of monarchical power?

2) Where, in your opinion, is the Russian Revolution headed?

NOTE. It would be highly important for the Society to know the first and last names of a person who has answered the proposed questions. Therefore, it asks for a full name with the signature, unless there are serious impediments to doing so. The names will not be published under any circumstances, and, generally, the materials delivered as questionnaire sheets will become available for general use only in processed form.

The Society for the Study of the Russian Revolution
Secretariat: Petrograd, Sadovaia Street, 15, Apt. 20


Lyandres, Semion, The Fall of Tsarism: Untold Stories of the February 1917 Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).


The trip to Tsarskoe Selo by the Commander-in-Chief of the Petrograd Military District General L. G. Kornilov as recounted by N. N. Krasnov

Recorded on June 5, 1917 by M. Polievktov

On the night of March 8, around 4 o’clock in the morning, I received an order by telephone from the District Headquarters—to appear by 8 o’clock at the Tsarskoe Selo Train Station in order to accompany the Commander-in-Chief, General Kornilov, to Tsarskoe Selo; the purpose of the trip was not revealed. I reported to the Station; Besides myself, Kornilov was accompanied by Colonel Kobylinskii who had been appointed chief of the military garrison of Tsarskoe Selo, and by his adjutant whose surname I cannot recall ([Colonel] Balabin can probably provide this information). As we departed, the Commander-in-Chief informed us about the decree of the Provisional Government to arrest the former empress and the order of the Minister of War Guchkov assigning Kornilov to carry out this task.

Upon our arrival at the station of Tsarskoe Selo, the Commander-in-Chief ordered to telephone the Palace and alert Count Benkendorf that the Commander-in-Chief wishes to see the former empress between 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning; Benkendorf was not asked to reply. [Soon] the Staff Cavalry Captain Kotsebu, who had just been appointed Commandant of the Palace and a representative of the units of the local garrison that were patrolling the Palace also came to the train station. These were the former Palace Guards and soldiers from His Majesty’s Personal Convoy.

At about 10 o’clock we departed in automobiles to the Aleksandrovskii Palace. Before the Palace gates the guards stopped and questioned us, but finding out that it was the arrival of the Commander-in-Chief, they let us through without further hassle. The Palace police were still on guard duty, but without weapons. When we arrived at the entrance we were greeted by a Convoy officer and a guard officer on duty who came down to greet us.

After entering the palace the Commander-in-Chief, without taking off his coat, walked into the guardroom, where the guards were already standing at attention. The Commander-in-Chief announced to the guards the decree of the Provisional Government and the order of the Minister of War, and declared that both went into effect from the moment he entered the Palace. From this moment, nobody could enter or leave the Palace.

The Commander-in-Chief ordered me to bring Count Benkendorf. I found Benkendorf in the hallway on the second floor and brought him to the Commander-in-Chief. General Kornilov first wished to talk to Count Benkendorf and to all those who administered the Palace. Benkendorf led us to the reception room of the former sovereign, where he used to receive his ministers. There also came Count Apraksin, the Commander of the former His Majesty’s Combined Infantry Regiment Lazarev, a former Commander of the same regiment General Resin who had been dismissed …, and two officers of the same regiment.

Kornilov announced to all those present the decree of the Provisional Government and the order of the Minister of War. They seemed surprised and the order made a deep impression on them, especially on Benkendorf.

After this, the Commander-in-Chief asked Benkendorf if it was possible to see the former empress. Count Apraksin, who had left the room, now returned and answered positively, and the Commander-in-Chief offered that we—those who had arrived with him, as well as Benkendorf and Apraksin—could accompany him. Lazarev followed us too, but Resin decided not to go. I had the following conversation with him:

“I do not understand why I need to go there. There are sick children there!”

“I am fulfilling the order of the Commander-in-Chief. You can do as you wish.”

“I prefer not to go!”

All of this was happening in the so-called children’s half of the Palace. We ascended a very narrow staircase to the third floor. Upon entering the hallway, I saw Aleksandra Fedorovna through the open door. She was standing by the table. She was wearing long morning dress. I think the dress was light, and in any case she was not wearing black as it was later described in newspapers. She looked tired, pale, and disoriented. Yet she held herself firmly. We entered the room, which was filled with the most ordinary household items. Aleksandra Fedorovna gave Kornilov her hand. He kissed her hand and announced that he had to explain the reason for his visit. Aleksandra Fedorovna tilted her head. When the Commander-in-Chief told her about the decree of the Provisional Government, she announced that she would comply. But [after that] she could no longer contain herself; there appeared floods of tears in her eyes; it seemed that she was about to fall.

The Commander-in-Chief ordered us to leave the room. On my way out, I noticed that he helped her to sit down. The doors shut. The Commander-in-Chief spent no more than 5-6 minutes alone with Aleksandra Fedorovna. What kind of conversation they had I do not know, but, as it turned out later, Aleksandra Fedorovna wanted to know the nature of the new regime, about her servants, etc. The Commander-in-Chief told her that special instructions would be issued regarding all of these matters. As of now he could only tell her that there should not be any contacts with the outside world except through specially designated persons. Aleksandra Fedorovna was the only one who lost her freedom, but all who decided to remain in the Palace voluntarily had to obey the same rules. Two children were sick—I do not know which ones—they had the temperature above 40 degrees [Celsius] that morning, as I accidentally overheard from doctors as we passed through the hallway. By the way, it should be noted that the newspaper reports about an alleged shooting at the palace before we arrived were a fabrication, as I was told by Count Apraksin.

After this, we again went to the guardroom, where General Kornilov announced the main points of his instructions for conduct. We took a diagram of the palace (I was a bit familiar with the layout of the Palace and the [adjacent] park, which helped us to orient ourselves quicker and to designate the location of [outside] security posts and for internal guards). All the telephones were confiscated, except for three service phones, which had to be under the constant control of the Commandant of the Palace and the guard on duty, who alone could communicate over these telephones.

Kornilov once again reiterated his order about those who remained voluntarily. Those who wanted to leave the Palace had to do so immediately. Resin was the only one who wished to leave the palace. Benkendorf and Apraksin announced that they constituted the only house administration left and considered it morally wrong to leave a family with five sick people. Though for Apraksin it was difficult to stay due to his responsibilities at the Red Cross.

All servants who wanted to stay had to declare so, and by the evening a precise list of all staff had to be composed. Former His Majesty’s Combined Regiment that had been constantly guarding the palace was to take turns with one of the regiments of Tsarskoe Selo garrison. The service of the Convoy was suspended since it had to maintain order in the city.

Around half an hour before one o’clock we left the Palace and drove to the City Hall; here assembled the commanders of military units and representatives of the local population. The Commander-in-Chief announced to them the decree of the Provisional Government and that it had to be implemented: a detailed instruction would be conveyed that evening to the Commandant of the Palace and the commander of the garrison. After this we left Tsarskoe Selo.

In Petrograd Kornilov wrote the instruction and it was approved by the Minister of War. I have a draft of this instruction with Kornilov’s corrections and signature. Some other related documents I also hope to give to the archive of your Society [for the Study of the Russian Revolution].

By three o’clock I was already at the District Headquarters. At that time Staff Cavalry Captain Katsebu, the Palace Commandant, called me from one of the service telephones from Tsarskoe Selo and reported that the empress is petitioning, through Benkendorf, to hold [religious] service in the Palace and to allow the clergy inside. Kornilov ordered to respond that at the present moment, to avoid any misunderstandings, he could not allow it—I passed this on to Katsebu for communication to Benkendorf.

At eight o’clock that evening I received the order from the Commander-in-Chief to return to Tsarskoe Selo (together with the commander of the guard’s staff who carried the instruction) to verify the [new] security arrangements. We arrived at Tsarskoe Selo around half past ten. We alerted the commander of the garrison about our visit, and together with him and the guard on duty checked on the guards’ positions inside the Aleksandrovskii Palace, walked through the cellars, and confirmed that everything is in order and the Commander-in-Chief’s instructions had been followed. Upon my return to Petrograd at half past midnight, I reported the results to the Commander-in-Chief.

Any further instructions on guarding the Palace and other related measures are unknown to me. On March 10, I was again sent to the place of my previous service—to the Chief Administration of the General Staff.

I have to add that all the newspaper reports about our trip to Tsarskoe Selo are very imprecise. We were besieged by reporters at the train station; we referred them to the [District] Headquarters… It seems that the most reliable report was published in Russkoe slovo [Russian Word], but I myself didn’t see that [newspaper’s] issue.

Layout of the room where Aleksandra Fedorovna was arrested.

The Palace’ Façade
Main Entrance

A. Aleksandrovna Fedorovna’s Room
Work table
Another table
C, c. Embroidering frames
X. Place where stood Aleksandra Fedorovna
X. Place where Kornilov stood
D. Stairs
B. Hallway
X.....Y Approximate location of doctors in white gowns


The last meeting of the State Duma ended on 24 February, before the menacing events had started. The mood was one of elation. The shortages of bread and the conditions in the factories were at the forefront of everyone’s minds. There was no plenary session of the Duma on 25 February, only a number of committee meetings. Something was brewing in the city because of the shortage of bread. On the corner of the Catherine Canal, not far from the Hotel Europe, there was a big crowd moving toward the Admiralty, around three to four in the afternoon. The first organized shooting (by a cavalry unit) took place there. I personally saw a few of the wounded, who were taken to hospitals. The shooting caused an acute panic. A bomb was thrown near the Anichkov Bridge, and there was panic there as well. When the news of the shootings reached the Duma, at about 7:00 in the evening, the mood was exultant. At that time, only deputies were in the Duma. The shooting was quite inaccurate. Perhaps not all of the rifles were loaded. As evening fell, the mood among the masses became more anxious. On Nevskii Prospekt, and especially at Znamenskii Square, Cossacks and other troops appeared, and they began to side with the people. This was around 9:00 in the evening. At the same time the Duma deputies displayed enormous anxiety and alarm.

On Sunday morning [26 February], the scene in Petrograd changed drastically. Troops were stationed on all the streets; Nevskii Prospekt was cordoned off. At 12:00 noon, rumors circulated in the Duma that shooting had broken out in several places. Skobelev was at the State Duma, while Chkheidze and Kerenskii were in the City Duma, and reported every five minutes on what was happening on Nevskii Prospekt. The mood in the Duma was such that nothing good could be expected. Everything that was going on was passionately discussed. The Duma was full of deputies. There was already talk that the troops would not shoot at their own people. The Duma was animated. Some said that the Duma should convene on Tuesday instead of Monday. Some asked where the sovereign was, and wanted to know what was happening in the ministries. Some agitated for the publication of the Khabalov order. That evening, I went to the Aleksandrinskii Theater, where they were performing “The Masquerade.” Nevskii Prospekt was impassable—there was shooting—but I made it. Inside the theater the mood was elevated. I saw Guchkov there.

On Monday [27 February], there were patrols everywhere. At 11:00 in the morning, two medical students, representatives of the colossal demonstration on the Vyborg Side, came to the Duma. They were not allowed to cross the bridge until it became clear where they came from and where they were going. They came to find out what the Duma was up to. The deputies were learning about the tsar’s prorogation of the Duma as they arrived. The meeting of the deputies lasted for an hour. After that, Rodzianko came out to the students and told them that the Duma was taking matters into its own hands, and that they should not worry.

In a quarter of an hour, soldiers from the Volynskii regiment came in a spontaneous mass. At that point we learned about clashes in the street, and also that the prisons and armories were being opened. Trucks showed up from somewhere bringing in large quantities of machine guns, artillery shells, and the like. All these arms were piled up in room number 2. The Volynskii soldiers wanted to occupy the palace, but Kerenskii told them that they should take up the guard instead—thus becoming the first guard of the revolution. …


Aleksandr Fedorovich Kerenskii (1881-1970) stands out as the best known yet most controversial figure interviewed by the Polievktov Commission. He was born to a noble family in the city of Simbirsk, where his father was director of the male gymnasium (among the Kerenskii père’s earlier students was Vladimir Ul’ianov, who would later become V.I. Lenin). When Kerenskii was eight years old, the family moved to Tashkent. In 1899, Kerenskii graduated with a gold medal from gymnasium and in the fall of the same year matriculated at St. Petersburg University, eventually graduating from the faculty of law. Kerenskii joined the St. Petersburg bar in 1904; a year later, he became a member of the Socialist Revolutionary party. For the next seven years—notwithstanding brief imprisonment and administrative exile—he successfully combined political activism with the practice of law. In the fall of 1912, he was elected deputy to the last Imperial Duma from Saratov Province. There he was a leader of the Labor Group (SRs). In 1913, he served as the group’s Deputy Chairman and from 1914 to 1917 as its Chairman and representative on the Duma Council of Elders. By 1915, his radical speeches in the Duma, combined with his growing fame as a highly successful lawyer specializing in political trials, made him a “household name” in a variety of opposition circles.

Historians usually focus on Kerenskii’s leadership position in both institutions of revolutionary authority, the Duma Committee and the Petrograd Soviet. His later inclusion in the Provisional Government is also explained by this dual membership that guaranteed a “vital link” between the two. While his interview clarifies some of the aspects of this unique position “in between the two camps,” it also underscores two additional aspects of his role in defeating the old regime. First, he was the organizer and first commander of the Military Commission (described in this exhibit). Secondly, it was Kerenskii who on March 3 played the single most important role in convincing Grand Duke Mikhail to renounce the throne, thereby ending the three-hundred-year reign of the Romanov dynasty and effectively eliminating any realistic prospects for its restoration. Kerenskii’s subsequent (and better known) performance as a statesman (Minister of Justice from March 2-May 5; Minister of War and Navy from May 5–September 1; Minister-President starting on July 8; head of the Directorate from September 1-25; Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces starting on September 1) was marred by a succession of blunders and crises that led to the Provisional Government’s demise in October.

Kerenskii fled Russia in June 1918. He spent the rest of his life first in Paris and Berlin, and after 1940 in the United States and London, writing, lecturing, and teaching. He died in New York at the age of 89.


I did not keep a day-by-day chronology. For me, it was one long day. My adjutants kept a very detailed diary starting on 28 February. Each evening, the two of them recalled and summarized events. On the eve of the events, there was a meeting in my apartment. It must be said that these meetings had begun taking place sometime before the events, and among the permanent participants were myself, N.D. Sokolov, Skobelev, and I don’t remember who else. We wanted to reach an agreement between parties; we engaged in the organization of various agreements and the formation of unifying blocks of SRs, SDs, and P[opular]S[ocialist]s. We thought that the events were inevitable, the dispersal of forces was undesirable, and that it was necessary to form a core group. However, this was not going well because the majority did not think that the events were imminent. The organizational bureau consisted of representatives from two [Duma] factions (Skobelev and Chkheidze, and myself); Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, the Interdistrict Group, SRs and PSs. We met fairly regularly. By the way, in anticipation of disturbances on 14 February we organized an observation post in the City Duma and set up a meeting of representatives from various public groups to maintain contact with the population. But nothing came of this, and skepticism increased. Many started taunting us. The organizational bureau subsequently held meetings. Bread riots erupted. On the eve of the events, I hosted the last meeting with the representatives of the parties (Peshekhonov, Gor’kii, and others). Tellingly, those who are now the most uncompromising hotheaded revolutionaries were then very pessimistic in their analysis of the troops’ moods (this was exactly at the time when the news of the Pavlovskii soldiers came in); they were very skeptical about the possibility of a soldiers’ uprising and pointed to the declining mood. They thought it necessary to concentrate their attention on propaganda, on literature. Representatives of the Interregional Group, exactly those who would soon adopt the most radical attitudes, were very poorly oriented in what was happening. Those of us who remembered 1905 came away from this meeting quite discouraged by their narrow parochialism and their inability to analyze the situation or to understand events. This took place in my flat on the evening of the 26th. I want to say that a majority of those who later claimed that they had prepared the revolution and created it acted haphazardly during the days preceding the events of 27 February.

In order to understand the events, it is quite telling, very enlightening and helpful to recognize the extent to which everything was consciously prepared by those elements that were later destined to play a role. I am not saying that there were no other elements. Organization proceeded, but not in those circles. We shared no common language with them. They were totally green and had no continuity with revolutionary traditions, mostly because of ceaseless persecution. In other words, they were very primitive, elementary, and politically illiterate. I heatedly disputed their prognosis together with Nikolai Dmitrievich Sokolov and someone else whom I can’t recall. We argued instead that the events were unavoidable because of all the developments, the warning signs among the troops…but our opinion is well known.

The disturbances continued for three to four days in a row. At the State Duma, everything changed suddenly—deputies on the Right fell silent and disappeared, the [Progressive] Bloc lost all status and clout, and attitudes towards our wing changed radically. We were taken seriously, and some of our directives started to be heard and followed. All came to the realization that the events were unavoidable and wanted to survive them with minimal damage to the war effort. There were a great many conferences and consultations; Duma deputies planned trips and meetings for the purpose of persuasion [uveshchaniia]. Members of the [Progressive] Bloc (blokisty) were meeting in perpetual session. Five days earlier, we had been approached by sizeable groups of Bloc members (Shul’gin and others) in the lobbies, who asked what might be “enough”. We responded with: immediate promulgation of a [new] course, amnesty, and liberties.

The complete translation of this interview is available in Lyandres, Semion, The Fall of Tsarism: Untold Stories of the February 1917 Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013): 218-244.


Matvei Ivanovich Skobelev (1885-1938) was a Menshevik deputy in the Fourth Duma, Assistant Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet Executive Committee from February 27 to early September 1917, and Minister of Labor in the coalition cabinet of the Provisional Government from May to August 1917. Skobelev grew up in Baku where his father owned mill factories and was a rich real estate magnate. While still in his teens he and his brothers inherited a large mill factory but instead of looking after the family business, Skobelev turned his energies and talents to “the service of the people.” By the time of the 1905 revolution, he was already a locally recognized Social Democratic activist and a seasoned labor organizer. In 1906, he left Baku in the wake of the post-revolutionary crackdown and from 1907 to 1912 lived in Vienna, studying (though he did not graduate) in the Polytechnic but paying considerably more attention to revolutionary politics and to forging ties among Russian political exiles. One of his closest acquaintances there was Lev Trotskii. Their association continued through the second half of 1912 when Skobelev, with Trotskii’s blessing, returned to Baku in time for elections to the Fourth Duma. In October 1912, thanks to his old labor connections and family resources, he was elected to the national legislature to represent the Russian population of the Caucasus.

By all accounts, Skobelev’s contribution to the success of the February Revolution was enormous. He was among the chief organizers of the insurgent forces and the founders of the Petrograd Soviet. His many roles and responsibilities during and in the aftermath of the February Days—some self-assumed, others requested by his revolutionary colleagues—are recounted in his long and informative interview with lucidity, conviction, and detail. In this interview he was unusually forthcoming, not hesitating to contradict his Socialist colleagues or to challenge conventional wisdoms. Not an original thinker or strategist, Skobelev proved himself a capable, energetic, and pragmatic organizer ideally suited to occupy important, if secondary roles.

In early September, the Menshevik-SR leadership lost their majority on the Soviet Executive Committee and collectively resigned. During the same week, Skobelev also gave up his labor portfolio and left the Provisional Government. Then, two months later, he resigned from the Menshevik Central Committee in disagreement over the party’s negotiations with the Bolsheviks, which he saw as damaging to the workers’ cause and harmful to the revolution. This marked the end of his association with the Menshevik party.

Initially, he strongly objected to the Bolshevik seizure of power and even attempted to organize a military expedition to recapture Petrograd. Yet he later changed his mind and remained there in the former capital until the end of 1918. In 1919-1920 he lived in Baku and was reportedly involved in unseemly financial operations and war profiteering. Following the Communist takeover, he moved to Paris, but soon established contact with the Soviet diplomatic mission and from 1921 to 1925 served as Soviet trade representative in France. In 1922, he joined the Bolshevik Party over the objections of both Lenin and his former mentor Trotskii. He returned to the USSR in 1925 and until his arrest in 1938 served in various trade, state planning, and propaganda institutions. He was executed in Moscow on July 29, 1938.

This interview account was given in three sessions, impromptu: part one on the evening of May 29, before a meeting of the Provisional Government; part two on the same night at 2:00-4:00 am, in the presence of Tsereteli; part three on the next night, May 31, at 3:00-5:00 am.


We received… information… that the tsar, who was at Stavka, had gotten permission from the Provisional Government to travel in a special train through Petersburg to Murman[sk], so that he could leave from there for England. Alarmed, we at once called an urgent meeting of the Executive Committee. It was decided to take every measure to keep him from doing so, even to arrest him in the name of the Executive Committee. We prepared military units. Some of them were called in to take over all of the railway stations. A radio-telegram was composed immediately. We presented the situation as if our measures had been undertaken with the knowledge of the Provisional Government. Therefore, the text of the radio-telegram went like this: “According to information we have received, the former tsar is trying to escape to England. We consider it to be the duty of a revolutionary, or of anyone who is able, to detain him. To all executive committees; to all soviets of soldiers’ and workers’ deputies; to all railway committees, railway employees, and other citizens.”

The radio-telegram was sent out immediately. It created a big stir in Finland. At the same time, we sent a contact commission to the Provisional Government to clarify the matter. At that time, we received information that the train was traveling along the Tsarskoe Selo Railway Line, and that it was approaching Tsarskoe Selo—but then the flow of information was interrupted.

In the Provisional Government, we learned that the tsar was at his palace in Tsarskoe Selo. From Stavka [General Headquarters], however, he had indeed petitioned the Provisional Government to travel to Murman via Tsarskoe Selo and Petrograd, and the government had given him permission. Miliukov told us about this. Then we said that this should not be, and that we would not allow it. It was clear that Guchkov and Miliukov were maintaining a position of quiet non-resistance. In return, they promised to keep him in Tsarskoe Selo, not allowing him to leave, and to take no steps without our consent. This was the last revolutionary step in the activity of the Soviet as a rebuff of the Provisional Government. (On the eve of our negotiations with the Provisional Government, Chkheidze made a presentation to the Soviet.) At that time, we were also told that England was offering its services to take the former tsar into “safekeeping.” The British ambassador, under pressure from Guchkov and Miliukov, conducted negotiations in this regard. We pressured the Provisional Government to stop these negotiations. The whole time, Chkheidze and I insisted on the tsar’s arrest. Because they were apparently conducting negotiations behind the Soviet’s back, they gave us evasive answers.

The complete translation of this interview is available in Lyandres, Semion, The Fall of Tsarism: Untold Stories of the February 1917 Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013): 166-217.


The Military Commission (MC) of the Temporary Committee of the State Duma was created in the early afternoon hours on the first day of the February Revolution (27 February 1917) to organize the insurgent units of the Petrograd garrison and coordinate efforts against the forces of the old regime. Organized by Kerenskii, the Commission brought under its command insurgent soldiers, sympathetic officers, and left-leaning politicians and activists, including future ministers in the Provisional Government N. V. Nekrasov and M. I. Skobelev. On Kerenskii’s orders, the commission seized key government buildings, carried out the first arrests of tsarist officials, and successfully neutralized or fought against loyal government forces.

By March 3, the MC had sixteen departments and more than one hundred members, and included representatives from the Petrograd Soviet, the Duma Committee, and the War Ministry. However, the MC soon became a source of continuous friction between the Duma Committee and the Petrograd Soviet leadership, and was dissolved by the Provisional Government on May 10, 1917. Some of its members were transferred to the War Ministry; others were placed under the command of the commander of the Petrograd Military District.

This is an original organizational chart of the MC, sketched probably by Pal’chinskii and A.A. Chikolini in the early morning hours on March 1, 1917. It was provided to the Polievktov Commission by the Moscow attorney (and wartime noncommissioned officer) Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Chikolini (1872-?), who served as the MC Manager of Affairs throughout its existence. It includes a list of institutions and offices that reported directly to the MC Chairman and his assistants; the offices in circles constitute the main institutions for the office of Manager of Affairs; departments and offices in squares at the bottom indicated by roman numerals reported to the Manager of Affairs.


[Handwritten inscription on verso (right)]:

“At 4:00 in the morning on 1 March, a meeting took place of the members of the Military Commission, including Pal’chinskii and Chikolini. This flow chart depicting the organization of the Military Commission was sketched out.” [Signature] A. Chikolini

[Organizational Chart Heading]
Military Commission
Chairman and Assistants

[Red markings indicate offices presumed for creation]
[Green makings indicate offices presumed for elimination]