Tony Cliff

Lenin 2

Chapter 10
Lenin and the Soldiers’ Mutinies

Soldiers Rebel

The central burning issue, more urgent than any other in the Russian Revolution, was the question of the war. By 1917 the suffering of the soldiers had reached its limit. Of the 15.5 million men who had been called up, it is estimated that 7.2 to 8.5 million had been killed or wounded, or were missing. The peasant uprisings provoked and were provoked by soldiers’ mutinies. By the time the peasants were burning manor houses, and sometimes killing their masters, the soldiers had reached the point of lynching unpopular officers and deserting en masse from the front. Furthermore, the soldier – who was a peasant in uniform – on quitting the front or the rear garrison and returning to the village, played a central role in spreading revolutionary ideas in the countryside.

Those cases in which soldiers took the lead in peasant disorders constituted in March, according to Vermenichev’s calculations, 1 percent, in April 8 percent, in September 12 percent and in October 17 percent. These figures cannot pretend to be accurate, but they show the general tendency unmistakably. [1]

The disintegration of the Russian army proceeded rapidly. It was an inevitable product of the revolution.

“Surely, the fact is evident,” wrote Engels to Marx on September 26, 1851, “that a disorganized army and a complete breakdown of discipline has been the condition as well as the result of every victorious revolution.” [2]

The soldier in the Tsarist army was deprived of the most elementary human rights. He was forbidden to smoke in the street, to ride inside tramcars, or to frequent clubs, public dances, restaurants, eating places, and other establishments where drinks were sold. He was prohibited from attending public lectures and theatrical performances, or receiving books or newspapers without the permission of his commanding officer. [3] After the February Revolution, the peasant-soldier was no longer prepared to be used as cannon fodder in a war led by landlord-generals.

The provisional government tried its best to prevent the disintegration of the army. On February 28, Miliukov declared to a group of soldiers that they must all be “organized, united, and subordinated to one authority.” [4]

However, as Sukhanov explains:

[I]n trying to restore the bonds between the officers and the soldiers, [the provisional government] wanted those bonds to be just what they had been under Tsarism. It had every reason for hoping that the officers’ corps, in joining the revolution and placing itself at the disposition of the Duma, would be making itself a faithful servant of the bourgeoisie. [5]

In the months preceding the revolution, discipline in the Tsarist army was already disintegrating. The February Revolution accelerated the process. After all, it took place not only without the officers, but against them. “From the morning of February 28,” says the Cadet Nabokov, then wearing an officer’s uniform, “it was dangerous to go out because they had the gun to rip off the officers’ epaulettes.” [6]

Many of the officers rushed to pin on red ribbons a couple of days after the revolution. But could the soldiers trust them? V.B. Stankevich, political commissar of the provisional government for the northern front, in his memoirs, makes it quite clear what the actual feelings were between officers and soldiers in the early days after the February Revolution.

It was the fact that the soldiers, breaking discipline, left the barracks not merely without their officers but even despite their officers, and in many cases against their officers, even killing some of them who tried to fulfill their duty. And now by universal, popular, official acclaim, obligatory for the officers themselves, the soldiers were supposed to have realized by this a great deed of emancipation. If this was indeed a heroic exploit, and if the officers themselves now proclaimed it, then why had they not themselves led the soldiers out onto the streets – for you see that would have been easier and less dangerous for them than for the soldiers. Now after the victory is won, they adhere to the heroic feat. But is that sincere and for how long? You see during the first moments they were upset, they hid themselves, they changed into civilian clothes – Even though next day all the officers returned. Even though some of the officers came running back and joined us five minutes after the soldiers went out, all the same it was the soldiers who led the officers in this, and not the officers the soldiers. And those five minutes opened an impassable abyss cutting off the troops from all the profoundest and most fundamental assumptions of the old army. [7]

Many officers were very slow to adapt themselves. They hoped for a restoration of the old regime. Thus the Duma deputy, N.O. Yanushkevich, on visiting troops about a fortnight after the revolution, reported:

[T]here are those among the higher officers who behave tactlessly. Everywhere we had to hear the complaint that the red bow, when it is worn, is torn away. We were also told that the portraits [of the Tsar] are not being removed; the soldiers enter and see that the Emperor’s portrait is on the wall; it arouses their indignation. At certain places we received definite information that there were threats of execution by firing squad in the event of the portrait being removed. This tactlessness has created a dreadful atmosphere. [8]

Officers resented the provisional government’s order that they should be more polite towards their subordinates.

At several meetings, we talked with officers. Some of them understand their task, but others do not wish to realize that the old life has been destroyed, that they must change themselves. They consider that they have been very badly treated; they are indignant at the orders including Guchkov’s regarding politeness; they say that it will ruin the morale of the army – The soldiers accuse their commanders of everything, and it took much effort to explain to them that it was the fault of the old regime, that their immediate superiors had nothing to do with it. [9] [1*]

The soldiers could not forget that one of the disciplinary measures used by the officers under the Tsar had been flogging. Above all, they knew that while they were peasants and workers, the officers were landlords’ sons or members of bourgeois families.

The provisional government and the compromisers in the Soviet hoped against hope that exhortation, if repeated sufficiently often, would create trust between soldiers and officers. On March 9 the minister of war, Guchkov, and the chief of staff, General Alekseev, issued a manifesto to the soldiers and citizens, stating:

The restoration of good and friendly relations between officers and soldiers, and a strengthening of discipline, are among the major cares of the provisional government ...

The provisional government declares that the army has the obligation to obey the orders of its military commanders, and believes that the soldiers will understand it and will form a close circle around their officers, seeing in them the leaders who have always led them to victory. Only by obeying their officers may the soldiers break the resistance of the enemy and deny him victory over free Russia. Soldiers, you are called to complete the great historical task of our fatherland. Follow your officers and remember that without respect for the person and the honor of your officer, there can be no unity, there can be no victory. [11]

Order No.1 – The Soviet Compromises

In the heat of the February Revolution, when soldiers went about tearing off officers’ epaulettes, the idea of electing all officers became popular. The first leaflet calling for this change was issued on the morning of March 1 by the Mezhraiontsy, and read:

Elect your own platoon commanders, company commanders, and regiment commanders, elect company committees for taking charge of food supplies. All the officers must be under the control of these company committees. Accept only those officers whom you know to be friends of the people ... Soldiers! Now that you have revolted and won, former enemies will come to you along with your friends – officers who call themselves your friends. Soldiers! The tail of a fox is more to be feared than the tooth of a wolf. [12]

The SR and Menshevik leaders in the Soviet were so infuriated by this leaflet that they issued a general denunciation of it in their daily, Izvestiia, on March 3. [13] However, the revolutionary mood among the troops was such that the compromisers did not feel it was possible simply to preserve the old disciplinary setup. The result was a compromise, Order No.1, issued by the Petrograd Soviet on March 1:

... In all companies, battalions, regiments, parks, batteries, squadrons, in the special services of the various military administrations, and on the vessels of the navy, committees from the elected representatives of the lower ranks of the above-mentioned military units shall be chosen immediately.

... In all its political actions, the military branch is subordinated to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies and to its own committees.

... The orders of the Military Commission of the State Duma shall be executed only in such cases as do not conflict with the orders and resolutions of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

... All kinds of arms, such as rifles, machine guns, armored automobiles, and others, must be kept at the disposal and under the control of the company and battalion committees, and in no case should they be turned over to officers, even at their demand.

... In the ranks and during their performance of the duties of the service, soldiers must observe the strictest military discipline, but outside the service and the ranks, in their political, general civic, and private life, soldiers cannot in any way be deprived of those rights that all citizens enjoy. In particular, standing at attention and compulsory saluting, when not on duty, is abolished ... Also, the addressing of the officers with the titles “Your excellency,” “Your honor,” etc., is abolished, and these titles are replaced by the address of “Mister general,” “Mister colonel,” etc. Rudeness toward soldiers of any rank, and especially, addressing them as “thou” (ty) is prohibited, and soldiers are required to bring to the attention of the company committees every infraction of this rule, as well as all misunderstandings occurring between officers and privates.

The present order is to be read to all companies, battalions, regiments, ships’ crews, batteries, and other combatant and non-combatant commands. [14]

This order set up a system of dual power inside the army. It was quite rightly described by Trotsky as “the single worthy document of the February revolution,” [15] and by Sukhanov as “practically the sole independently creative political act of the Soviet Plenum throughout the revolution.” [16]

Order No.1 was drawn up hastily as a response to the specific situation in Petrograd and its authors hoped that it would apply only in the capital. Unfortunately,

it was printed in large numbers and distributed along the entire front in a matter of days ... There was not a single sector of the 2,000-mile front which remained unaffected by its influence, although the northern sectors were more heavily inundated than the rest. Officers noticed immediately how enthusiastically their men followed its prescriptions: soldiers ceased saluting and standing at attention, addressed them as “Mister lieutenant” and insisted on the formal “vy.” Within a matter of days officers were faced with committees which presented demands, requested explanations, countermanded orders, and instituted controls over arms and ammunition. Not infrequently officers were requested to recognize the committee structure by issuing special orders. All attempts by officers to explain that the order was unofficial, and in any event applied only to Petrograd, were in vain. [17]

As dual power was very unstable, pressure was exerted against Order No.1, from both the right and from the left, from the moment it was published.

Order No.2

As soon as the Petrograd Soviet had issued Order No.1, its leaders became afraid of their own handiwork. The executive was no doubt encouraged in this attitude by Kerensky, who detested the order, as Sukhanov remembers:

Kerensky came flying in like a hurricane, completely beside himself and out of breath with rage and despair. Pounding on the table he not only accused the authors and publishers of this leaflet of provocation, but called it the work of the Tsarist secret police. He threatened the culprits with all sorts of punishments. [18]

To pacify Kerensky, and even more important, the generals and the capitalists, the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionaries in the Soviet issued Order No.2; this limited the application of Order No.1 to the Petrograd military district, and emphasized that even in Petrograd the Army Committees should not intervene in military affairs.

Order No.1 of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies proposed to all companies, battalions, and other military units to elect committees (company, battalion, etc.), appropriate to each particular unit, but that order did not provide that these committees should elect the officers of each unit ... The soldiers are bound to submit to all orders of the military authorities that have reference to the military service. [19]

As a symbol of the need to check the soldiers’ appetite for freedom came a new order by the minister of war, about the rights of soldiers to free transport, free attendance at theaters, concerts, etc. When the soldiers had asserted these rights after the February Revolution, they had taken it for granted that freedom meant “free of charge.” Now on March 22, Guchkov issued Order No.114, which made it clear that soldiers were free to go to theaters, use public transport, etc., but that they were not exempt from payment! [20]

Declaration of Soldiers’ Rights

Dual power, as a regime operating in a crisis, led to repeated formulations and reformulations of the rights and duties of soldiers. Thus on May 11, Kerensky, who had replaced Guchkov as minister of war issued a new decree, Order No.8, Declaration of Soldiers’ Rights, which spelled out the rights of the commanders:

... [U]nder combat circumstances, the commander has the right on his own responsibility to take all measures, down to applying armed force inclusive, against his subordinates who fail to carry out his orders. These measures are not considered to be disciplinary penalties ... The right of appointment to duties and of temporary suspension of officers of all grades from duties in instances provided by law belongs exclusively to commanders. Likewise they alone have the right to give orders with regard to combat activity and the preparation for battle of a unit, its training, its special duties, duties in the [departments] of inspection and supply. [21]

This declaration irritated even the moderate left. The All-Russian Congress of Soviets, dominated by SRs and Mensheviks, criticized it for undermining soldiers’ rights.

In the field of civil rights in general, the right of every serviceman to participate in, and to organize, any kind of meeting must be proclaimed ... The restriction on the freedom of speech to “the time when off duty” must be abolished.

The right of the commander to use force of arms against insubordinates (Article 14) must be excluded from the declaration.

In revoking Article 18 or Order No.8, it must be declared that the soldiers’ organs of self-government shall have the right to challenge or recommend [appointment] of persons in command, as well as the right to participate in army administration on a basis prescribed explicitly in regulations. [22]

The Bolsheviks, were, of course, even more critical than the SRs and the Mensheviks in the Congress of Soviets.

The Army Disintegrates

The class struggle between peasants and landlords was reflected in the army in increasing insubordination by soldiers towards officers. The drive for expropriation of land was feeding the soldiers’ rebellious spirit; even more was the desire for peace, in a situation where the officers were ordering the soldiers to go on fighting the bloody and useless war.

The disintegration of the army accelerated. By October 1917, some two million soldiers had deserted – mostly between February and October. [23] Two hundred thousand had been rounded up, but when they were returned to the front they only increased the speed with which the army was collapsing.

On March 18, General Lukomskii, director of military operations, drew up a report following a conference in Stavka, which stated:

The state of the army. The army is undergoing [a period of] sickness. It will take probably two or three months to readjust the relations between officers and men.

At the present time one observes low spirits among the officer personnel, unrest among the troops, and a great number of desertions.

The fighting capacity of the army is lowered and at the present time it is difficult to anticipate an improvement. [24]

On May 27, the provisional government ordered four regiments – the 45th, 46th, 47th, and 52nd – to be disbanded for insubordination. [25]

A few excerpts follow which have been picked at random from reports to army headquarters:

A telegram from the Rumanian front of 9 June, among other things, states: “X division – The spirit of the troops has improved, but, according to the words of the division commander, ‘as before, however, there is no absolute certainty that an order to attack would be obeyed ...’”

The 5th Army has communicated ... some following details of the conditions under which the regrouping for the operation takes place: in X corps, the order was not carried out; in X division, which had refused to extend its front to the left, individual companies of X regiment set out for the positions, while 1,067 men refused to go; in X regiment, one battalion refused to move. In the rest of the regiments, the situation is as tense, and disorders can be expected when their turn for relief arrives ... In X regiment, the order has not been carried out by five companies. In X corps, X division broke away from its staff and artillery, gathered around X regiment, elected, according to the X Division Commander’s report, its own revolutionary staff, and is sending out agents into other units for propaganda ... In some regiments of the 36th division, they declare that they have no authorities but Lenin.

Telegram received on 7 July from the Rumanian front, signed by Regimental Commander Reko, that on 4 July the 8th Company of the regiment refused to go out to positions for the offensive, and only after lengthy exhortations and admonitions did the regiments set out on the night of the 6th in the strength of eight companies with an insufficient number of riflemen.

The commander of the 11th Army, in a report to Stavka on July 12, said:

It is even hard to conjecture where the enemy might be stopped. The entire commanding and officer personnel is powerless to do anything short of self-sacrifice ... The tragedy of the high command lies in the fact that instead of sending the loyal detachments against the enemy it has to direct them to suppress the mutinying companies and whole divisions in the rear and to stop marauding and pillaging. The need of depending on numbers of loyal troops and companies to restore order leads to dissent within the army, which in turn results in its further demoralization. [26]

At a second conference at Stavka on July 16, General Denikin described the situation on the western front:

It was “in a state of complete disintegration.”

The men were obedient up to a point – while our line of action was passive – but as soon as the men were required to be aggressive, the full extent of disintegration came to light.

In the course of between two and three weeks, we succeeded, by the extraordinary work of the commanding personnel, in deploying the 10th Army, but under what conditions: 48 battalions refused to go into combat. One of the three shock corps was deployed, it took two to three weeks to deploy another one, while the third was not deployed at all. Insubordination, robbery, and looting swept through the units, and distilleries were ravaged. Certain units, like the 703rd Suramskii regiment, for example, disintegrated ...

I moved the 20th Corps to replace the right flank corps, because I considered it to be the best one. However, as soon as it received an order to advance, one of its divisions marched 30 versts in the very first night, but then returned to its original position. Another division refused to advance altogether. After lengthy negotiations it was finally deployed. [27]

At the same conference General Alekseev said: “We have no army, either on the front or in the rear ... all that remains is human dust.” [28]

The Army Generals Try to Reimpose Discipline

The generals realized that unless iron discipline was imposed in the army everything would be lost. The call for the reimposition of strict discipline became more and more strident. Thus on July 11 the supreme commander, General Brusilov, wrote to the minister of war, Kerensky:

Time does not wait. It is necessary to restore immediately iron discipline in all its plenitude and the death penalty for traitors. If we do not do it at once, without delay, then the army will perish, Russia will perish. [29]

On the same day, the government decided to restore the death penalty at the front – reverting to the situation before March 12, when it had been abolished. But this did not satisfy the generals. On July 16, General Denikin told a conference in the presence of Kerensky: “The death penalty [should] be introduced not only in the theater of war but also in the rear where replacements are stationed.” [30] General Lukomskii remarked that the death penalty should apply to “civilians who are corrupting the army.” [31]

But not all the generals were as convinced of the effectiveness of the death penalty in restoring discipline. Thus General Klembovskii remarked:

What can help? The death penalty? But is it really possible to execute entire divisions? Prosecution? Then half the army would turn out to be in Siberia. You will not frighten the soldier by penal servitude. “Penal servitude? So what? After five years I will come back,” they say, “and at least I will be uninjured.” [32]

The re-introduction of the death sentence met with bitter opposition, even from the compromising left. Thus on August 19, Iakovlev, on behalf of the SR group in the Petrograd Soviet, moved a resolution demanding the abrogation of the death penalty, arguing that “the death penalty, introduced by the new regime under the pretext of combatting crime, is beginning to take form with ever greater clarity as a means of frightening the soldiers with a view to subjugating them to the officers.” [33]

Although the SRs and the Mensheviks in the government had been responsible for its reintroduction, only four members of the Soviet (including Tsereteli) voted against this resolution.

At the same time, the generals were increasing their pressure from the right against the situation of dual power in the army and the multiplicity of authorities tearing it apart. Thus General Denikin stated at the Stavka conference:

In touring the front, the Supreme Commander received the impression that the soldiers were good, [but] that the commanders were frightened and had permitted their authority to slip out of their hands. This is not quite correct. Authority did not slip out of the hands of the commanders, it was torn out of their hands ... Another cause for disintegration in the army is the commissars ... There cannot be dual authority in the army. The army must have one head and one authority ...

Thus, this institution cannot be tolerated in the army.

A further cause for disintegration in the army is the committees ...

The committees are removing commanders. Thus, they removed the commanders of the corps, the Chief of Staff of the corps, and the commander of the 1st Siberian division of the 1st Siberian corps. I did not give permission for this removal, but the commander of the corps came to me crying and sobbing and I had to let him leave.

I have statistical data at my disposal; there were 50 cases of commanders being removed from the front. [34]

The officers’ corps is in a terrible position ...

Yes, they are martyrs ... They are abused ... they are beaten. Yes, they are beaten. Hiding in their tents, they sob, but they will not tell about this. They are being killed. [35]

Detachment and regiment committees enter into discussions of virtually every question ... The committees bring multiple authority into the army, and discredit, rather than strengthen, the authority of the commanders. [36]

In order to regenerate the army [General Denikin went on to say], it is necessary that ... politics be completely excluded from the army; the declaration be abolished; commissars and committees be abolished; authority be restored to the commanders; discipline be introduced ... The death penalty be introduced not only in the theater of war but also in the rear where replacements are stationed. Revolutionary courts must be established for the reserve regiments as well. [37]

All the generals present at the conference agreed with Denikin. But the question was: how to go about abolishing the committees and the commissars? Kerensky came to the rescue with the advice to do it gradually and by stealth.

If we were to adopt the maximal program of General Denikin ... we must expect tremendous disorders. Personally, I have nothing against ... recalling the commissars, and closing down the committees. But I am convinced that on the very next day, a state of complete anarchy would start spreading over Russia and the commanding personnel would start being butchered. Such sharp transitions must not occur. [38]

Kerensky received support from the Cadet foreign affairs minister, Tereshchenko.

One must become reconciled to the commissars, albeit reluctantly for they cannot be abolished at the present time.

Only a month ago, it seemed impossible to introduce the death penalty. Now it is accepted unanimously by the government, and its introduction did not give rise to difficulties, and the people accepted it with calm.

However, the death penalty cannot now be introduced in the rear. The masses must be made aware of the necessity of the measure as soon as possible.

To abolish the committees, as everyone is suggesting, cannot be done now. This must be approached gradually. [39]

The compromising leaders of the soviet, afraid of their own shadows, unable to trust the generals, and frightened of the “dark masses” were not prepared to allow abolition of the committees and commissars. On July 18, the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies and the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Peasants’ Deputies issued a statement that

no encroachment on the rights and freedom of action of these organs [the committees] must be permitted, especially with regard to army organizations, since their work represents an absolute condition for the restoration of discipline and the combat efficiency of the army. [40]

Lenin Lances the Ulcer

Lenin’s thoughts and feelings coincided completely with those of the soldiers. On the question of soldier/officer relations, he completely rejected not only the Alekseevs and Denikins, but also the Tseretelis and Chkheidzes, who wanted to compromise between the two camps.

Lenin asked the question: “Should officers be elected by the soldiers?” And he answered unequivocally: “Not only must they be elected, but every step of every officer and general must be supervised by persons especially elected for the purpose by the soldiers.”

Then he asked: “Is it desirable for the soldiers, on their own decision, to displace their superiors?” And answered: “It is desirable and essential in every way. The soldiers will obey and respect only elected authority.” [41]

The soldiers’ efforts to achieve peace received Lenin’s complete and unreserved support. For him, the struggle for peace meant that the soldiers did not have to wait to act, but should do so straightaway, by fraternizing with the German soldiers. Again and again, Lenin refers to this fraternization as a central weapon in achieving peace.

By starting to fraternize, the Russian and German soldiers, the proletarians and peasants of both countries dressed in soldiers’ uniforms, have proved to the whole world that intuitively the classes oppressed by the capitalists have discovered the right road to the cessation of the butchery of peoples. [42]

Fraternization, he wrote, was an instinctive expression of the wish of the soldiers for peace.

The class-conscious workers, followed by the mass of semi-proletarians and poor peasants guided by the true instinct of oppressed classes, regard fraternization with profound sympathy. Clearly, fraternization is a path to peace. Clearly, this path does not run through the capitalist governments, through an alliance with them, but runs against them. Clearly, this path tends to develop, strengthen, and consolidate fraternal confidence between the workers of different countries. Clearly, this path is beginning to wreck the hateful discipline of the barrack prisons, the discipline of blind obedience of the soldier to “his” officers and generals, to his capitalists (for most of the officers and generals either belong to the capitalist class or protect its interests). Clearly, fraternization is the revolutionary initiative of the masses, it is the awakening of the conscience, the mind, the courage of the oppressed classes; in other words, it is a rung in the ladder leading up to the socialist proletarian revolution. [43]

This movement must go beyond the instinctive level; must be translated into a clear political program:

... [I]s instinct alone sufficient? You would not get far if you relied on instinct alone. This instinct must be transformed into political awareness. In our Appeal to the Soldiers of All the Belligerent Countries, we explain into what this fraternization should develop – into the passing of political power to the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. [44]

Bolshevik Influence in the Armed Forces Increases

Desertion from the army grew and grew. In one month alone, June, 30,507 soldiers deserted (8,540 from the western front; 13,755 from the southwestern front; 3,790 from the Rumanian front). [45]

By October, as already mentioned, there were two million army deserters dispersed all over the country. The Russian soldier, one historian wrote, demobilized or deserting,

went home – and shattered the matrix. He established his authority in the village, and wrenched it out of the age-old ruts, imparting to it a leftward twist which served the Soviet power well for years to come ... When the SRs lost the soldiers they lost the peasants too, and so the revolutions. [46]

Soldiers were moving towards Bolshevism because of their increasing anger against the war. One expression of this anger was an article in the Moscow Soldat-Grazhdanin (Citizen-Soldier) of May 25:

“Until the end,” croaks the crow, picking the human bones on the battlefield. What does he care about the old mother who awaits the return of her son or the octogenarian who with trembling hand leads the plow?

“War to the end,” cries the student to thousands of people on the public square and assures them that our hardships are due to the Germans. During this time, his father, who has sold oats at sixteen rubles a pud, sits in a noisy cabaret where he maintains the same ideas.

“To the end,” clamor the agents of the allied government while touring the battlefields strewn with the bodies of the proletarians. Can the soldier in the trenches cry “War to the end” ? No. He says something else:

Until the end of the war, we’ll be without food.

Until the end of the war, Russia won’t be free.

Comrades, let him who cries “War to the end” be sent to the front lines. Then we’ll see what he says. [47]

Many soldiers were spontaneously reaching a position on the war similar to that of the Bolshevik Party, if not more extreme. As Sukhanov recounts:

As early as 21 September, at a Petersburg Soviet session an officer who had been at the front made a speech saying:

“The soldiers in the trenches don’t want either freedom or land now. They want only one thing now – the end of the war. Whatever you may say here, the soldiers are not going to fight any more ... “ This caused a sensation even in the Bolshevik Soviet. Exclamations were heard: “Even the Bolsheviks don’t say that!” But the officer, no Bolshevik, calmly waited, conscious of duty done. “We don’t know and we don’t care what the Bolsheviks say. I’m reporting what I know and what the soldiers have sent me to tell you.” [48]

In organizational terms, the strength of the Bolshevik Party in the army to start with – at the time of the February Revolution – was infinitesimal. In Petrograd, two months after the revolution, there were only 500 members of the Bolshevik Military Organization in a garrison of some 160,000. However, numbers grew quite quickly in the following weeks and months. There were 1,800 at the end of July, and 5,800 by the end of October. In Moscow, the number of organized Bolsheviks in the local garrison grew from 200 in April to 2,000 at the end of July, and to 5,000 in November. The total number of Bolsheviks in the army at the time of the February Revolution was a couple of thousand. By the time of the April Conference, it had risen to 6,000, and on June 16 it was 26,000. After that, soldiers in practically all corps, divisions, batteries, and other units began to join the party. On October 5, on the northwestern front alone, there were 48,994 party members and 7,452 candidates. On October 15, on the northern front there were 13,000 party members. At the party conference of the southwestern front in September, 7,000 members were represented. In November, there were more than 6,500 members in the 9th Army alone. In the 12th Army, there were 1,700 Bolsheviks at the beginning of July; 3,897 at the end of July; and 5,000 on December 23. [49]

The influence of the Bolsheviks in the army was disproportionately large. Thus Stankevich writes in his memoirs:

Practically every division had its Bolshevik, with a name better known than the name of the Division Commander – Since it was clear that without removing them it would be impossible to deal with the dissolution of the army, we gradually got rid of one celebrity after another. [50]

The fear aroused among the generals – by a single Bolshevik – is graphically shown in the case of one Bolshevik soldier, Dmitri Petrovich Mikhailov, who put the highest generals in the land into a lengthy correspondence about him.

To General V.I. Gurko:

An agitator from the Petrograd Soviet, Dmitri Petrovich Mikhailov, armed with authorization dated 25 April, No.126, has visited our division. Among other things, he urges fraternization with the Germans and only today has organized fraternizations in the 220th regiment. They have spread to the 218th. The officers’ arguments have been unavailing. Does Mikhailov really have such authority to act thus? Forwarded to headquarters.

– General Cheglov

In view of the formal disapproval by the Petrograd Soviet of all fraternization at the front, affirmed by the appeal of 30 April, Mikhailov must realize that he is contravening said declaration ... It would be advisable to persuade the “Front Committee’ to arrest Mikhailov pending clarification by the Soviet.

– General Gurko

Following your telegram of 2 May. Due to impossibility of acting by force, have been unable to arrest Mikhailov. In the 55th Division, he is agitating against the officers, wants them replaced by elected officers.

It has already been done in some regiments.

Something must absolutely be done to cause the Petrograd Soviet to recall Mikhailov by telegram to end this disintegration which is beginning in this army corps.

– Chief of Staff for Alexeev [51]

In their fear of Bolshevism, the authorities tried to obstruct the distribution of the Bolshevik papers. Thus the Executive Committee of the Tiflis Soviet confiscated forty thousand copies of Pravda, which Georgian workers were preparing to dispatch to the Caucasian front. [52] Soldiers were complaining bitterly that they paid subscriptions for Pravda but could only get the Cadet Rech and the Menshevik Den. [53] The circulation of the Bolshevik papers in the army was extremely small: Soldatskaia Pravda at the beginning of July was distributing fifty thousand copies. [54] The numbers in the armed forces were some nine million!

Nevertheless things were moving ahead fast, because, as Lenin put it: “Revolution enlightens all classes with a rapidity and thoroughness unknown in normal, peaceful times.” [55] The land program and the peace program of Bolshevism were linked inseparably with the soldiers’ rebellion against their officers, against the old Tsarist discipline.

The provisional government, with the generals, was trying to reestablish discipline in the war-weary and revolutionary army, in which soldiers refused to obey officers and listened only to their own elected committees. The Menshevik and SR leaders had pledged themselves to help the government in this task, yet they called on their soldiers to defend Order No.1 against the Tsarist officers. [2*]

The government wanted to protect the gentry’s property while the peasants, including those in uniform, were clamoring for the large estates to be shared out. The Menshevik and SR leaders tried to postpone the solution of this burning question until the convention of the constituent assembly, which was indefinitely postponed.

It was inevitable that this structure, built on equivocation and delusion, should topple onto the heads of those who had erected it. The mass of the soldiers did just that. Lenin was their voice and inspiration.




1*. General Alekseev, the chief of staff, used to refer in private to the Soviets of Soldiers’ (soldatskikh) Deputies as the Soviets of Dogs’ (sobachikh) Deputies. [10]

2*. General Brusilov, looking back over the stormy events of 1917, uttered a well justified criticism when he wrote: “The position of the Bolsheviks I understood, because they preached: ‘Down with the war and immediate peace at any price,’ but I couldn’t understand at all the tactics of the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, who first broke up the army, as if to avoid counter-revolution, and at the same time desired the continuation of the war to a victorious end.” [56]




1. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.875.

2. Marx and Engels, Correspondence, vol.2, Paris 1931, p.228.

3. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, vol.2, p.102.

4. Browder and Kerensky, vol.1, p.51.

5. Sukhanov, p.76.

6. Quoted in Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.264.

7. Stankevich, p.72.

8. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.860.

9. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.860.

10. Radkey,p. 343.

11. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.855-56.

12. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.845.

13. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.849-50.

14. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.848-49.

15. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.291.

16. Sukhanov, p.114.

17. A. Wildman, The February Revolution in the Russian Army, Soviet Studies, July 1970.

18. Sukhanov, p.129.

19. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.851-52.

20. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.853.

21. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.882.

22. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.886.

23. N.N. Golovine, The Russian Army in the World War, New Haven 1931, pp.124-25.

24. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.925.

25. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.887.

26. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.959-61, 968-69.

27. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.991.

28. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.1009.

29. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.981.

30. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.996.

31. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.1000.

32. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.997-98.

33. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.985.

34. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.992-93.

35. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.995-96.

36. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.993.

37. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.996.

38. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.1003.

39. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.1007.

40. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.1019.

41. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, pp.100-01.

42. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.165.

43. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.318.

44. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.268.

45. Kutuzov, vol.2, p.446.

46. O.H. Radkey, The Sickle Under the Hammer, New York 1967, pp.278-79.

47. Ferro, p.252.

48. Sukhanov, p.534.

49. Anikeev, in Voprosy istorii KPSS, nos.2 and 3.

50. Stankevich, pp.182-84, 186-90.

51. Sidorov, vol.2, pp.481-565, and vol.3, pp.329-89; Ferro, p.364.

52. Shestoi sezd, p.85.

53. Sidorov, vol.3, p.358.

54. Shestoi sezd, p.147.

55. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25. p.232.

56. A.A. Brusilov, Moi vospominaniia, Moscow-Leningrad 1929, p.214.


Last updated on 25.10.2007