Ariadna Tyrkova

Ariadna Tyrkova

Ariadna Tyrkova, the daughter of a landowner, was born in Novogorod on 13th November, 1869. She studied in St. Petersburg and married an engineer, and in 1891 gave birth to a son. Ariadna took no interest in politics until her brother was arrested and exiled for being a member of the People's Will. As a schoolgirl she became a close friend of Nadezhda Krupskaya.

Ariadna had wanted to become a doctor but the policies of Alexander III made this an impossibility. She joined the illegal Social Democratic Labour Party and in 1903 was arrested and charged with smuggling radical newspapers into Russia. She managed to escape and fled to Germany.

In exile Ariadna lived with Peter Struve and his family in Stuttgart. She returned to Russia after the 1905 Revolution. Ariadna became disillusioned with the various revolutionary groups and helped Paul Milyukov establish the Constitutional Democrat Party (Cadets). Over the next few years she became one of the most important leaders of the Women's Liberation movement in Russia. One wit said that "there was only one real man among the Kadets, and she was a woman." In 1906 she married the English journalist, Harold Williams.

In 1908 she met Nadezhda Krupskaya for the last time in Geneva. She was with her husband, Lenin, who was furious with Tyrkova for abandoning socialism. She told him that she had no desire to live in a Russia ruled by illiterate factory workers. Lenin, smiling coldly, replied that this was why, when the revolution came, she would be amongst the first to hang from a lamp post. Tyrkova said she would never forget the look on his face as he said it.

Ariadna Tyrkova
Ariadna Tyrkova

Tyrkova met the journalist, Arthur Ransome, for the first time in 1914. Ransome spent a great deal of time with Tyrkova and her husband, Harold Williams, in St. Petersburg. Ransome later commented: "He (Williams) opened doors for me that I might have been years in finding for myself... I owe him more than I can say." People he was introduced to included Sir George Buchanan, Bernard Pares, Paul Milyukov and Peter Struve. According to Roland Chambers, the author of The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome (2009): "To Tyrkova, meanwhile, he owed not only many pleasant weekends at the Tyrkov estate, but a first-hand account of the deep internal divisions that would eventually tip the Russian empire into revolution and civil war."

After the abdication of Nicholas II in March, 1917, she was elected to the Petrograd Duma, where she led the Constitutional Democratic faction. George Lvov was asked to head the new Provisional Government in Russia. Ariadna Tyrkova commented: "Prince Lvov had always held aloof from a purely political life. He belonged to no party, and as head of the Government could rise above party issues. Not till later did the four months of his premiership demonstrate the consequences of such aloofness even from that very narrow sphere of political life which in Tsarist Russia was limited to work in the Duma and party activity. Neither a clear, definite, manly programme, nor the ability for firmly and persistently realising certain political problems were to be found in Prince G. Lvov. But these weak points of his character were generally unknown."

On 8th July, 1917, Alexander Kerensky became the new leader of the Provisional Government. In the Duma he had been leader of the moderate socialists and had been seen as the champion of the working-class. Ariadna Tyrkova commented: "Kerensky was perhaps the only member of the Government who knew how to deal with the masses, since he instinctively understood the psychology of the mob. Therein lay his power and the main source of his popularity in the streets, in the Soviet, and in the Government."

Her husband, Harold Williams, believed that the Kornilov Revolt dramatically changed the situation and dramatically increased the influence of the Bolsheviks: "The Kornilov Affair has intensified mutual distrust and completed the work of destruction. The Government is shadowy and unreal, and what personality it had has disappeared before the menace of the Democratic Assembly. Whatever power there is again concentrated in the hands of the Soviets, and, as always happens when the Soviets secure a monopoly of power, the influence of the Bolsheviks has increased enormously. Kerensky has returned from Headquarters, but his prestige has declined, and he is not actively supported either by the right or by the left."

On 26th October, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Vladimir Lenin was elected chairman and other appointments included Leon Trotsky (Foreign Affairs) Alexei Rykov (Internal Affairs), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Education), Alexandra Kollontai (Social Welfare), Felix Dzerzhinsky (Internal Affairs), Joseph Stalin (Nationalities), Peter Stuchka (Justice) and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (War).

Ariadna Tyrkova was a candidate in the elections for the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917. The Constitutional Democratic Party only won 17 seats. The election was won by the Socialist Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks were bitterly disappointed with the result as they hoped it would legitimize the October Revolution. When it opened on 5th January, 1918, Victor Chernov, leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries, was elected President. When the Assembly refused to support the programme of the new Soviet Government, the Bolsheviks walked out in protest. Later that day, Lenin announced that the Constituent Assembly had been dissolved. Soon afterwards all opposition political groups were banned in Russia.

Ariadna and Harold Williams now fled the country. The following year she published her account of the Russian Revolution in her book, From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk (1918). In 1919 she returned to Russia as a supporter of the White Army in the Russian Civil War. She had now moved to the far-right and had completely rejected the idea of democracy. She wrote: "We must support the army first and place the democratic programs in the background. We must create a ruling class and not a dictatorship of the majority. The universal hegemony of Western democracy is a fraud, which politicians have foisted upon us. We must have the courage to look directly into the eye of the wild beast -- which is called the people."

On her return to England she founded the Russian Liberation Committee. Harold Williams, who was foreign editor of The Times, died on 18th November, 1928. Ariadna published a biography of Alexander Pushkin, the Life of Pushkin (1928) and a book about her husband Cheerful Giver (1935). Later she published 3 volumes of memoirs (1952–1956).

Ariadna Tyrkova died in Washington on 12th January, 1962.

Primary Sources

(1) Ariadna Tyrkova, From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk (1918)

The Duma gradually became the authoritative centre of patriotic and therefore opposition elements. It was an opposition rallied around the motto, “ Defence of the Fatherland.” The mere shadow of an agreement with Germany provoked the sharp protest of these circles. For the purpose of a more energetic carrying-on of the war the people’s representatives persistently demanded “a Ministry of confidence,” i.e. that the blind, unpopular, incapable, and unintelligent Ministers should be replaced by universally respected, honourable public men. Nicholas II. remained deaf to these demands, treating them as an insolent infringement of his prerogative as an autocrat. His tenacity augmented the opposition. Throughout Russia, both at the front and at home, rumour grew ever louder concerning the pernicious influence exercised by the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, at whose side rose the sinister figure of Gregory Rasputin. This charlatan and hypnotist had wormed himself into the Tsar’s palace and gradually acquired a limitless power over the hysterical Empress, and through her over the Sovereign. Rasputin’s proximity to the Tsar’s family proved fatal to the dynasty, for no political criticism can harm the prestige of Tsars so effectually as the personal weakness, vice, or debasement of the members of a royal house.

Rumours were current, up to now unrepudiated, but likewise unconfirmed, that the Germans were influencing Alexandra Feodorovna through the medium of Rasputin and Stürmer. Haughty and unapproachable, she lacked popularity, and was all the more readily suspected of almost anything, even of pro-Germanism, since the crowd is always ready to believe anything that tends to augment their suspicions. In November the Duma made an emphatic demand for a change in the Government’s policy. On the 14th of November the leader of the opposition, P.N. Milyukov, made a historical speech, which is considered by many as marking the first day of the revolution. Characterising the policy of the Prime Minister, Stürmer, P.N. Milyukov pointed out that in dwelling upon the conduct of the head of the Government one could not refrain from putting the question, “ What is it, folly or treason ? ”

In those days these words were upon everybody’s lips. The incapacity of the authorities became ever more apparent. Government circles were incapable of realising the necessity of granting concessions. Meanwhile only in unison with trusted statesmen could the Government bring the war with Germany to a victorious end.

The assassination of Rasputin came as a first consequence of the speeches uttered in the Duma. This was a society revolt, a protest of aristocrats and monarchists against the degradation of the Tsar’s dignity. The circles which planned this assassination had not the habit of political reflexion. They did not realise that Rasputin was not a casual phenomenon, but the sign of the profound dissolution of the autocratic principle, which the monarchists aspired to save. The leading part in Rasputin’s murder was played by the young Count Yusupov-Sumarokov-Elston, one of the wealthiest of Russian aristocrats, a relative of the Tsar by his marriage with the daughter of Nicholas II’s sister.

His chief assistant and accomplice was one of the most gifted and energetic defenders of the autocracy, a member of the Duma, Vl. Purishkevich. By exterminating the evil genius of the Tsar’s family these men hoped to purify the principle of autocracy itself and save the old regime. But nothing was changed with Rasputin’s removal, nothing improved either in affairs of the State or in the Tsar’s situation. Formerly the Tsar’s various mistakes and weaknesses were attributed to Rasputin’s evil influence - now the last veil had been withdrawn and the insignificant little officer, slightly educated, unintelligent, incapable of following and grasping all the complexity of contemporary social and political life - stood out, a lonely figure attracting the ever more malevolent attention of public opinion. Rasputin was no more, but the Ministers appointed by this half-illiterate rascal remained at their posts and conducted the affairs of the State as if still guided by his shadow.

(2) Ariadna Tyrkova, From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk (1918)

On Saturday machine-guns were brought into action. The Minister of the Interior, Protopopov, determined to suppress the ferment by force of arms. Machine-guns distributed long beforehand among the police stations were posted throughout the city. Policemen were ordered to fire at the crowd. Whether many people did not realise the danger, or whether the popular feeling had swelled into an as yet unexpressed but universal determination to end with the old police régime once for all—at all events the machine-guns excited no panic. The crowds dispersed, flocked into a neighbouring street, but would not go home. They waited. Nevertheless some were killed and wounded both on Saturday and Sunday. The police were the only ones to fire in those two days. The crowds did not retaliate, nor was there any show of fighting-spirit on their part. It was difficult to understand whether this was merely a popular agitation or a revolution ? What would be the outcome of it all ?

On Monday the 12th of March all doubts were dispelled. The revolution had begun. The Volynsky, Litovsky, and Kexholm regiments revolted. Several officers were killed for ordering the soldiers to come out and help the police. The soldiers poured out of their barracks into the street, but did not know what to do next. They had no one to guide them. Tumultuous, absolutely unorganised crowds of soldiers rushed hither and thither for some unknown reason, gradually rallying towards the Liteiny Prospect.

(3) Ariadna Tyrkova, From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk (1918)

The Provisional Government was organised without any compromise with the autocracy, as a result of a real all-national democratic movement. Nicholas II. was still Emperor of All the Russias, when a new list of Ministers was drawn up and the draft of the new Constitution outlined in the Duma. More than that. When the Provisional Committee of the Duma, under the chairmanship of Rodzianko, was laying the foundations of a people’s government, no one knew which side would prove the stronger. The Petrograd garrison was on the side of Revolution. But these were home units. They had a special psychology of their own.

Whither would the front troops turn ? What were they thinking of ? Were there any units ready to support the Tsar by armed force ? Maybe Nicholas II. was leading them against the mutinous capital to transform the victorious Revolution into a mere revolt suppressed by gunfire?

(4) Ariadna Tyrkova, From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk (1918)

At the head of the Government stood Prince George Lvov. He was known to all Russia as a Zemstvo worker, as the President of the Zemstvo Union. This organisation, which united all the provincial Zemstvos (local government councils), came into being during the war and rendered important services in the task of caring for the sick and wounded soldiers. Prince Lvov had always held aloof from a purely political life. He belonged to no party, and as head of the Government could rise above party issues. Not till later did the four months of his premiership demonstrate the consequences of such aloofness even from that very narrow sphere of political life which in Tsarist Russia was limited to work in the Duma and party activity. Neither a clear, definite, manly programme, nor the ability for firmly and persistently realising certain political problems were to be found in Prince G. Lvov. But these weak points of his character were generally unknown.

All rejoiced at having got rid of mercenary, dishonest nonentities, like the Ministers Sukhomlinov or Protopopov, and were glad to see an irreproachably honest patriot, such as Prince G. Lvov always was and will be, placed at last at the head of the Russian Government. Among the members of the Government Paul Milyukov was the one who possessed the most strongly marked political individuality. He was a historian, and his works on the history of Russian culture are still looked upon as leading studies in the subject. But his academic career was soon ended. The Tsar’s Government regarded P.N. Milyukov with great suspicion, and he was forbidden to lecture or to reside in university towns. He himself gradually abandoned scientific research and gave himself up to politics, preferring to make history rather than to study it. Milyukov took an energetic part in the Constitutional movement, when it still bore a conspirative character (before the Treaty of Portsmouth), and after the first revolution in 1905 became one of the leaders of the newly formed Constitutional-Democratic (Cadet) party.

He became the leader of the opposition in the Third and Fourth Dumas, and his speeches caused far greater irritation in Government circles than did the sharper but narrowly Socialistic speeches of the extreme Left orators.

A man of rare erudition and of an enormous power for work, Milyukov had numerous adherents and friends, but also not a few enemies. He was considered by many as a doctrinaire on account of the stubbornness of his political views, while his endeavours to effect a compromise for the sake of rallying larger circles to the opposition were blamed as opportunism. As a matter of fact almost identical accusations were showered upon him both from Right and Left. This may partly be explained by the fact that it is easier for Milyukov to grasp an idea than to deal with men, as he is not a good judge of either their psychology or their character.

Not merely able but honest and courageous, he was one of the first who in the days of boundless revolutionary dreams and raptures uttered warnings against the dangers lurking on all sides, and even had the temerity to declare aloud that it would be better to settle on a constitutional monarchy, without being carried away by the idea of a republic which Russia as yet was incapable of realising.

These words, as well as his persistent and constant reminder that Russia would become free and powerful if only she, together with her Allies, succeeded in completely defeating Germany, gave Milyukov’s enemies the opportunity of raising a campaign against him from the very outset. He also added strength to the enemy’s position by emphasising in his statement of war aims that the possession of the Dardanelles was Russia’s vital need. This gave the Revolutionary Democracy occasion to clamour about Milyukov’s predatory aspirations and imperialism. During the Revolution all those to the right of him rather supported him. Those to the left feared or even hated him.

(5) Ariadna Tyrkova, From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk (1918)

A.F. Kerensky and P. Milyukov presented the two most characteristic and influential figures of the Cabinet. Unfortunately they were divided not merely by a divergence of views, but also by personal ill-will. Kerensky, as the more emotional and impulsive of the two, gave way to this sentiment of enmity and made no endeavours to conceal it even at Cabinet meetings. On his part P. Milyukov lost no opportunity of emphasising the logical unsteadiness and political immaturity of the Revolutionary Democracy, and incidentally of Kerensky himself, as its gifted representative.

A.F. Kerensky was considerably younger than P.N. Milyukov. In a revolutionary epoch this is an important privilege, as the stormy vacillations accompanying each upheaval claim great versatility and flexibility from revolutionary leaders. A lawyer by education, A. Kerensky possessed the pleader’s superficial eloquence. His speeches in the Duma - he was a member of the Third and Fourth Dumas - were neither profound nor original, yet nevertheless Kerensky occupied a prominent place upon the Left benches, for in both these Dumas the Socialists were rather feebly represented and lacked prominent members. Although a member of the Social Revolutionary party Kerensky officially belonged to the party of Toil. This was a compulsory conspirative camouflage, for members of the Social Revolutionary party, which employed terroristic methods, were cruelly persecuted by the Tsarist Government. Even before the Revolution A. Kerensky was extremely popular in Socialist circles of various shades. Later, as Head of the Provisional Government, he exhibited the meagreness of his political outlook and the instability and levity of his character. But at the beginning of the Revolution it seemed as if some inner fire had been kindled within him, and he at once became enormously popular. In those early days Kerensky, protecting the honour of the Revolution at the risk of his own life, saved the Tsarist Ministers, whom he hated, from the ever-growing wrath of the mob. This was a magnanimous and daring act. He gave proof of a similar courage when at the risk of losing his rapidly increasing popularity he consented to enter the Provisional Government without asking permission of the Soviet. This was an act of temerity. The Socialists grouped around Chheidze preferred that Prince Lvov’s Cabinet should remain a purely bourgeois one, so that they might assume the position of an irresponsible opposition. But Kerensky first consented to accept a portfolio and then placed before the Soviet a fait accompli, forcing their approval of his act by a short but powerful and skilfully framed speech.

In those days his speeches were full of an infectious revolutionary passion. Amid the roar and clamour of the ever-growing popular movement Kerensky rose to heights of real eloquence. And he did not become a tribune, only because he lacked what seems to be the primary and absolutely necessary quality - the intellect of a statesman. And, it may be, also a more delicate conscience.

Kerensky was perhaps the only member of the Government who knew how to deal with the masses, since he instinctively understood the psychology of the mob. Therein lay his power and the main source of his popularity in the streets, in the Soviet, and in the Government.

(6) Ariadna Tyrkova, From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk (1918)

Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov-Lenin is, certainly, above all a revolutionist. The son of a schoolmaster belonging to the nobility of the Simbirsk province, he became a conspirator in his university days. Towards the end of the ’eighties his brother took part in an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Alexander III and was condemned to death. Vladimir Ulianov, who most frequently wrote under the pseudonym of Lenin, had also undergone persecution, had been in prison and in Siberia after the usual fate of the Russian intelligentsia. From exile he escaped abroad and was an emigré for many years. When the revolution of 1905-6 broke out he returned, then fled once more abroad. A man of cold and scholarly intellect, he began by writing several works upon economics, but soon became totally absorbed in party journalism and party struggles in all their polemic, tactical, and organising details.

He was a Marxist for whom the theory of the class-struggle was an irrefutable dogma, entitling its adepts to hold in contempt all scruples of conscience and all demands of logic. From his youth his revolutionary work was characterised by the spirit of cold intrigue and by the cruel arrogance of a man convinced that he was the bearer of absolute truth, and, therefore, absolved from all moral obligations.

Ambitious and domineering, utterly unscrupulous in his choice of means, Lenin acted upon the principles of Divide et impera and sowed discord among his own party. It was he who broke up the party into the two factions of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the beginning of the twentieth century. The difference between those factions lies chiefly in their tactics, or rather in their moral standard. The Bolsheviks, who were Maximalists, did not admit of any political compromise, and demanded the immediate realisation of Marxist doctrines. But they admitted all kinds of moral compromise and were on easy terms with conscience. Members of the “Okhrana” (the Imperial secret police) were more often to be found among the Bolsheviks than among the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks, moreover, were not overscrupulous as to breaches of criminal law, only that they dignified robbery by calling it expropriation. Between the various factions at all Social-Democratic party conferences and in the party Press, dissension was the invariable rule, but, officially, the party still remained one. The general public knew little of these theoretical differences, for till the downfall of Tsarism all Socialists were persecuted. All alike were obliged to wear a mask, to plot and hide, and use underhand methods for propaganda and organisation. This developed habits of deceit, concealment, and evasion, and imparted a strange bias to the character of a multitude of Russian Socialists. They became estranged from real life; they lost the sense of political responsibility and statesmanship. Special types were evolved in this constant shifting from prison into Siberia, from Siberia to life in exile, in an all-pervading atmosphere of persecution and conspiracy. Some were true martyrs of their idea, strong, clean-minded men of delicate conscience. But not a few were unscrupulous, devoid of all moral standards, revelling in intrigues and conspiracies.

The Jesuit motto - the aim justifies the means - explains much in Lenin’s life : his attitude towards his comrades, his party intrigues, his unscrupulousness in money matters, his relations with Germany, and his entire conduct as dictator. His aim is to kindle a universal social revolution, and, knee-deep in mire and blood, he marches towards its realisation with the cold ardour of fanaticism and insatiable ambition. Yet in justice to him it must be said that no sooner did he make his appearance in Russia than he openly announced his Bolshevist programme. Ways and means remained obscure ; nor did he consider it necessary to make them clear and clean, but his theories and plans, his conception of the Socialistic problems of the hour, were made perfectly definite. If for months the rest of the Russian Socialists of various shades zealously endeavoured to draw a veil over the Bolshevist tendencies of his demands, as well as to blot out the dark stains upon his past career, he was not to blame. By so doing, they not only became responsible for his activity, but led astray millions of simple folk who were incapable of unravelling the subtleties of intelligentsia politics. Yet the people felt something was wrong. At first when Bolshevist influence was still slight, protests against certain Bolshevist watchwords or the Bolshevist actions of individuals might be heard even from crowds of soldiers.