Nikolai Sukhanov

Nikolai Sukhanov

Nikolai Sukhanov was born in Moscow in 1882. At high school he joined a socialist group and later joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party. He was arrested in 1904 after being caught in possession of illegal literature. This resulted in a one-year spell in the Taganka Prison.

Sukhanov participated in the 1905 Revolution and published a series of academic books on agricultural economics. He also contributed to Russkoe Bogatstvo (Russian Wealth).

In 1910 he was arrested again and exiled to Archangel. Released in 1913 he returned to St. Petersburg and became editor of the radical journal Sovremennik (Contemporary) and Letopis (Chronicle).

During the February Revolution Sukhanov became a member of the Petrograd Soviet and helped to negotiate the formation of the Provisional Government. An advocate of peace negotiations, Sukhanov opposed the aggressive war policies of Alexander Kerensky. After the October Revolution Sukhanov became a strong critic of the Bolshevik government, especially its decision to ban political parties and its censorship of the press.

Sukhanov published his Russian Revolution in 1922. He worked at the Agrarian Institute of the Communist Academy until his dismissal in 1930. The following year he was arrested and charged and convicted of being a member of a "counter-revolutionary organization of the Menshevik-Interventionists.

Sukhanov was shot on the orders of Joseph Stalin on 27th August, 1939.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Nikolai Sukhanov, was a leading member of the Petrograd Soviet. In his book The Russian Revolution 1917, he recalled George Plekhanov visiting the Executive Committee during the Russian Revolution.

The next morning, in my absence, Plekhanov paid a visit to the Executive Committee. This was apparently the first and last visit to leading Soviet circles. Against my expectations, illness prevented him from assuming a worthy place in the Soviet and the revolution. Perhaps it was not illness alone that hindered him: there was such a sharp dividing line between Plekhanov's position and that of the Soviet that Plekhanov may have thought he had to keep away from this alien institution.

Plekhanov's part in the events of 1917 was limited to his writings in the tiny, little-read and completely un-influential paper Yedinstvo (Unity). His adherents constituted a small group, not represented in the Soviet precisely because of their complete negligibility.

(2) In his book The Russian Revolution 1917, Nikolai Sukhanov recalled his impression of Jules Martov.

I had seen Martov for the first in Paris in 1903. He was then 29 years old. At that time he, with Lenin and Plekhanov, made up the editorial board of Iskra, and he gave propaganda lectures to the Russian colonies abroad, waged a bitter battle with the SRs, who were increasing in strength.

Although I was not convinced by his arguments at that time, I remember very well the enormous impression made on me by his erudition and his intellectual and dialectical power. I was, to be sure, an absolute fledgeling, but I felt Martov's speeches filled my head with new ideas. Trotsky, in spite of his showiness, did not produce a tenth of the effect and seemed no more than his echo.

In those days Martov also revealed his qualities as an orator. He has not a single external oratorical gift. A completely unimpressive, puny little body, standing if possible half-turned away from the audience, with stiff monotonous gestures; indistinct diction, a weak and muffled voice; his speech in general far from smooth, with clipped words and full of pauses; finally, an abstractness in exposition exhausting to a mass audience.

But all this doesn't prevent him from being a remarkable orator. for a man's qualities should be judged not by what he does but by what he may do, and Martov the orator is, of course, capable of making you forget all his oratorical faults. At some moments he rises to an extraordinary, breath-taking height. These are either critical moments, or occasions of special excitement, among a lively, heckling crowd actively "participating in the debate". When Martov's speech turns into a dazzling firework display of images, epithets, and similes; his blows acquire enormous power, his sarcasm's extraordinary sharpness, his improvisations the quality of a magnificently staged artistic production.

(3) In his book The Russian Revolution 1917, Nikolai Sukhanov recalled his impression of Victor Chernov.

In the creation of the SR Party Chernov had played an absolutely exceptional role. Chernov was the only substantial theoretician of any kind it had - and a universal one at that. If Chernov's writings were removed from the SR party literature almost nothing would be left.

Without Chernov the SR Party would not have existed, any more than the Bolshevik Party without Lenin - inasmuch as no serious political organization can take shape round an intellectual vacuum.

But Chernov - unlike Lenin - only performed half the work in the SR Party. During the period of pre-Revolutionary conspiracy he was not the party organizing centre, and in the broad area of the revolution, in spite of his vast authority amongst the SRs, Chernov proved bankrupt as a political leader.

Chernov never showed the slightest stability, striking power, or fighting ability - qualities vital for a political leader in a revolutionary situation. He proved inwardly feeble and outwardly unattractive, disagreeable and ridiculous.

(4) Nikolai Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution of 1917 (1922)

Antonov-Ovseenko's plan was accepted. It consisted in occupying first of all those parts of the city adjoining the Finland Station: the Vyborg Side, the outskirts of the Petersburg Side, etc. Together with the units arriving from Finland it would then be possible to launch an offensive against the centre of the capital.

Beginning at 2 in the morning the stations, bridges, lighting installations, telegraphs, and telegraphic agency were gradually occupied by small forces brought from the barracks. The little groups of cadets could not resist and didn't think of it. In general the military operations in the politically important centres of the city rather resembled a changing of the guard. The weaker defence force, of cadets retired; and a strengthened defence force, of Red Guards, took its place.