A woman on the February Revolution in Kursk (1917)

Ekaterina Olitskaia was a Russian woman living in Kursk, approximately 300 miles south of Moscow. Here she records her participation in the February Revolution, adding some views on the development of the new society:

“On February 18th the workers of the Putilov plant went out on strike. The strike spread, and by February 22nd almost all the large factories of Petrograd had joined in. Our institute was supposed to go on strike and stage a demonstration on the 23rd, but revolutionary events forced us to change our plans.

On the morning of the 22nd, we were still lying in bed when Olia’s mother, who had gone out to buy some bread, came rushing in very excited. She told us that all the stores were closed, and the streetcars were not running. She had seen large crowds in the streets and heard shots being fired. Olia and I leapt out of bed, threw on our clothes, and, ignoring her mother’s desperate pleas, ran out the door to go to our institute.

On that first day of the insurrection, Olia and I never did make it to our institute. All day long we just walked in the streets among the crowds, not knowing where we were going or why. We shouted greetings to the soldiers who had joined the people. We yelled “Never again!” in front of burning police stations. Somewhere in the distance, we could hear shooting. On some streets, the secret police were shooting at people from their attic hiding places. I was very happy. I was also quite lucky. During the entire February Revolution, I never saw a single dead body, a single lynching. The February Revolution that I witnessed was bloodless. I had no doubt that the revolution was going to triumph.

As we watched the police and court archives going down in flames, I felt humbled by the majesty of the fire but a little upset about the destruction of the archives. Then someone explained to me that they were being burnt not only out of hatred but also as part of the revolutionary plan, in case we lost. So I tossed my head and laughed at the doubters.

Both my mother and Raia’s had joined the Social Democrats. My sister, Dutia, who had also returned to Kursk, signed up with the Bolsheviks. I, along with several friends, became a Socialist Revolutionary. Joining a party was extremely easy, and people were joining in droves. Our student community also split into parties, and from the very beginning, the Congress was divided into factions… It was clear that there could be no unity among student socialists. We had been able to join forces against the tsar, but a joint effort to build a new society was proving impossible…

The October coup swept away the old leaders and brought in new ones. The Bolsheviks and Left SRs began running Kursk. Many young people found themselves in responsible positions… In 1918 all industry, factories, plants, banks, houses, and trade were nationalised. It was a difficult time of ruin and disintegration, of total confusion both in the army and at workplaces. It was a lot easier to destroy than to create something new.

Some people boycotted the new regime; others were not trusted; others wanted to build a new life but did not know how. Millions of petty entrepreneurs and artisans, both in town and in the villages, took advantage of the shortages and engaged in rampant speculation. The violent methods of War Communism corrupted the leaders and infuriated the people. Crude anti-religious propaganda, the confiscation of church property, the mockery of popular beliefs, and the attendant moral collapse–all this I saw with my own eyes in Kursk. All this was, in one way or another, a part of my life…”