An Excerpt from “March 1917: The Red Wheel, Node III, Book 3,” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

One of the masterpieces of world literature, The Red Wheel is Nobel prize–winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s multivolume epic work about the Russian Revolution told in the form of a historical novel. March 1917—the third node—tells the story, day by day, of the Russian Revolution itself. Until recently, the final two nodes have been unavailable in English. The publication of Book 1 of March 1917 (in 2017) and Book 2 (in 2019) has begun to rectify this situation. In March 1917, Book 3 the forces of revolutionary disintegration spread out from Petrograd all the way to the front lines of World War I, presaging Russia’s collapse.

From Chapter 354

How could you not light up at the thought that you were taking part in Russia’s moments of greatness! While Russia’s future was diving in and out of the hidden swell of negotiations in the Tsar’s train car in Pskov, the engineer Lomonosov was pacing from office to office, from telephone to telephone—taking tiger-claw steps, his boot seeming to grab a piece of the floor each time it separated from it—but mostly to the telegraph, which was still connected to Pskov. Sitting at the other end was a railway inspector who had traveled with Guchkov to secure the road and who was recounting various minutiae from his observations.

This moment—dreamed of, longed for, by so many generations of the Russian intelligentsia, so many revolutionaries who had gone into exile or emigration, this fantastic, unattainable moment—here it had come and was passing in muffled obscurity inside a shuttered train car at the half-dark Pskov train station. How could the former little cadet and student railroader Yuri Lomonosov have imagined that he might be the first man in the Russian capital to catch—snatch—the news of the despot’s abdication and cast it on the waves of a free and exultant Russia! (And would people remember his service?) Right now, Yuri Vladimirovich was reveling in each look, each move, each joke of his, each grasp of the receiver, each fingering of the streaming tape.

In the Tauride Palace, people were terribly agitated, waiting, but they had no direct connection to Pskov. Rodzyanko ordered that the act of abdication, as soon as it appeared, be transmitted by telegraph in code to the Ministry of Roads and Railways and from there by telephone to the Tauride Palace.

While Bublikov, badly wounded over not having been appointed minister, and maybe even especially for that reason, ordered that the first substantive tape from Pskov be delivered to him in his office first.

And so, after Pskov reported that the deputies had left the imperial train, Bublikov stood by the telegraph to await what was to follow.

Another half-hour’s anguish ensued. No tape. He’d refused? Hadn’t abdicated? There, in Pskov, they already knew but weren’t reporting anything. Or they were encoding.

At last, it came! Bublikov took it and carried away the secret. Without opening his door, without sharing—he himself would be the first to transmit it to someone in the Tauride Palace.

Finally he shared it with Lomonosov as a reward. It was a brief telegram from Guchkov to Rodzyanko: “Assent obtained”! But until the Manifesto itself came in, mum’s the word.

So there would be no chance to cast it on the Russian waves, except to whisper to loyal colleagues like Rulevsky or Sosnovsky. Lomonosov didn’t get to strike.

Sic transit . . .! Here he’d been the emperor of a great country, and now in the blink of an eye he’d become a former emperor and no longer would elicit obsequiousness, respect, or regret in anyone.

The tape started flowing again, not encoded, but not about abdication at all. Pskov was asking, on Guchkov’s instruction, to assign the imperial train a route to GHQ.

Lomonosov exploded. They’ve lost their minds! How can an abdicated despot be allowed to go to GHQ? And have the entire army handed over to him? This was another coup!

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