In his article of November 5, 1921, entitled "The importance of Gold Now and After the Complete Victory of Socialism," Ilyich wrote:
"At such dizzy speed, in a few weeks, from October 25, 1917, to the Brest Peace, we built up the Soviet state, extricated ourselves from the imperialist war in a revolutionary manner and completed the bourgeois-democratic revolution so that even the great receding movement (the Brest Peace) left us sufficient room in which to take advantage of the "respite" and to march forward victoriously against Kolchak, Denikin, Yudenich, Pilsudski and Wrangel." (Works, Vol. 33, pp. 91-92.)
The few weeks which Lenin referred to for the most part cover the period of our stay at Smolny in Petrograd up to the middle of March, when we left for Moscow. Ilyich was the centre of all that activity, he organized it. That work was more than strenuous, it was work at high pressure that absorbed all of one's energies and strained one's nerves to breaking point. Tremendous difficulties had to be overcome and a desperate fight had to be waged, often a fight against one's closest colleagues. No wonder that, coming into his room behind the partition of our Smolny apartment late in the night, Ilyich could not fall asleep, he would get up again to ring someone up on the telephone and issue some urgent orders, and when he did fall asleep at last he would talk business in his sleep. Work at Smolny went on day and night. In the early days it was the centre of all activities—Party meetings and sittings of the Council of People's Commissars were held there, the different Commissariats carried on their work there, telegrams and orders were issued from there, and people flocked there from all over. And to think that the Council of People's Commissars at the beginning had an office staff of four wholly inexperienced people, who worked without a moment's respite, and did everything that had to be done in the course of business. Their functions were so vague and universal that it never entered anyone's mind to define and limit them. They were swamped with work, and Ilyich was often obliged to do ordinary office jobs, such as putting phone calls through, etc., etc. Use was made, of course, of the Party's clerical staff and the offices of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and other bodies, but even that required a good deal of organizational work. It was all extremely primitive. The old machinery of state had to be broken up link by link. The bureaucratic apparatus resisted, and the personnel of the old ministerial and government offices went out of their way to sabotage the work and so prevent the Soviet power from setting up a new machinery of state. I remember how we "took power" at the Ministry of Education. Lunacharsky and we, a small group of Party people, went to the building of the Ministry which was situated at Chernyshov Bridge. The saboteurs had pickets outside the Ministry who warned all members of the staff and visitors that there was a walk-out there. Someone even tried to argue with us on the subject. Apart from the messengers and office cleaners there were no employees at the Ministry. We walked through empty rooms with desks from which the papers had not been cleared away. Then we went into a private office and there held the first meeting of the Board of the People's Commissariat of Education. The various functions were assigned among us. We decided that Lunacharsky was to make a speech to the junior office force, which he did. His warm speech was listened to with a kind of puzzled attention by the numerous audience, who had never before had the powers that be talk to them on such matters.
The state of affairs at the People's Commissariat of Education was not so bad, comparatively speaking. The bourgeoisie did not attach any great importance to it for one thing, and for another we had no great difficulty in getting the hang of things. Most of us were familiar with the organization of education. The Menzhinskys, for example, had worked for years in St. Petersburg as elementary school teachers. I had a lot of school experience, too, and all of us were propagandists and agitators. During our work at the district councils preceding the October Revolution we had acquired considerable organizing experience and contacts. My job was extra-school education (Politprosvet), a line in which I had the necessary experience and where the most important thing was to have the support of the Party and the working-class mass. This work could be started at once on entirely new lines with the backing of the mass. We were worse off in regard to financing, administration, accounting and planning, but quick progress was made under pressure from below, where the craving for knowledge was tremendous. Things here got under way.
Less favourable was the situation in such essential fields as food supply, finance and the banks. These strong points were strenuously defended by the bourgeoisie. Sabotage here was conducted with a vengeance. On the other hand, we had least experience and practical knowledge in these affairs. That is just what our enemies counted on—"they will not be able to do it." We were not very good at pushing things on either. Our young people—and not only the young, but those who came to the job in later years—often imagine that everything was simple—we took the Winter Palace, we defeated the cadets, we beat off Kerensky's offensive—and that was all. But when it comes to knowing how we set up the machinery of state and organized the work of the Commissariats, less interest is shown, although our first steps in the field of administration and the story of how we learned to fight for the cause of the proletariat in the everyday work of government are matters of considerable interest. The story of how we "took power" on the financial front, for example, is told with epic force by N. P Gorbunov in his memoirs describing how the office staff of the Council of People's Commissars was created during the October days. "In spite of the government's decrees and its demands that funds should be made available," writes Gorbunov, "the State Bank brazenly sabotaged. The People's Commissar of Finance Menzhinsky could do nothing to make the bank place at the government's disposal the funds that were necessary for the revolution. Not even the arrest of Shipov, the Director of the State Bank, helped. Shipov was brought to Smolny and kept there for a time under arrest. He slept in the same room with Menzhinsky and me. In the daytime this room was used as an office (of the Commissariat of Finance, I believe). I was obliged, as a mark of special courtesy and greatly to my annoyance, to let him have my bed while I slept on chairs." Pyatakov was appointed Director of the State Bank. He could do nothing at first, either. Gorbunov relates how Vladimir Ilyich handed him a decree signed by his own hand in which the State Bank was ordered to waive all rules and formalities and hand over to the Secretary of the Council of People's Commissars the sum of ten million rubles to be disposed of by the government. Osinsky was appointed government Commissar at the State Bank. When handing them—Gorbunov and Osinskythe decree, Ilyich said: "Don't come back without money." The money was received. In face of the support given by the junior staff and messengers and the threat of having the Red Guard called in, the teller was compelled to pay out the required sum. The operation was made under the cocked guns of the Bank's military guard. "We had difficulty with the bags for taking the money away in," writes Gorbunov. "We had not brought anything with us. At last one of the messengers lent us a couple of old sacks. We stuffed them full to the top with money, swung them on our shoulders and hauled them out to the motor-car. We rode back to Smolny, beaming. At Smolny we shouldered the bags again and lugged them into the private office of Vladimir Ilyich. Ilyich was not there. While waiting for him to come, I sat down on the sacks with a revolver in my hand, 'mounting guard.' I handed the money over to Vladimir Ilyich with great solemnity. He received it as a matter of course, but actually he was very pleased. A wardrobe was requisitioned in the next room to house the first Soviet treasury. Chairs were put round it in a semicircle and a sentry put on guard there. The Council of People's Commissars issued a special decree fixing the manner in which this money was to be kept and used. Thus originated our first Soviet budget."
V. Bonch-Bruyevich describes the subsequent nationalization of the banks. This operation was directed by Stalin; Bonch-Bruyevich consulted him, made all the preparations, wrote out orders, and organized the transportation, twenty-eight detachments of riflemen, and so on. Twenty-eight banks had to be occupied, and twenty-eight bank directors arrested. "I told Malkov, the commandant of Smolny," Bonch-Bruyevich writes in his memoirs, "to have a good room prepared, completely isolated from the public, with twenty-eight beds in it, tables and chairs, and to make arrangements to have twenty-eight men put on the supply list, and first of all to have tea and breakfast ready for them at eight the next morning." The twenty eight banks were occupied without any trouble. It took place on December 27, 1917. "Soon afterwards the Commissar of Finance put new men in charge of the banks. Many of the directors who had been arrested expressed a desire to continue work under the Soviet Government, and these were immediately released. Commissars were set up at the banks, and the work continued in so far as this was necessary for concentrating all currency and operations at the State Bank."
That is how we took power.
Our people were terribly nervous. Most of them were quite new to the business and lacked confidence in themselves. Often you would hear a comrade say: "I can't work like this any longer," but he went on working nevertheless, and picked things up quickly in the process of work.
New fields of state activity, new forms of work were being created.
On November 12 a decree was published establishing an 8-hour working day.
Workers' control having been mentioned in the appeal of the Second Congress of the Soviets, the workers started to put it into practice at once on a wide scale. As a matter of fact, the period preceding October had already prepared them for it. The employers had begun to reckon with the workers, and the workers had learnt to get what they wanted. All this had been sporadic, however. A committee met at Smolny under the chairmanship of Vladimir Ilyich, among the members of which were M. Tomsky, A. Shlyapnikov, V. Schmidt, Glebov-Avilov, Lozovsky and Tsiperovich. Some of the comrades stood for state control in place of the spontaneous workers' control, which very often took the form of seizure of the factories, mines and mills; others believed control should be introduced not at all the factories, but only at the big metal-works, on the railways, etc. Ilyich, however, did not think this activity should be narrowed and the workers' initiative restricted. Although a good deal might be done the wrong way, it was only in the struggle that the workers would learn real control. This point of view followed from his basic view of socialism: "Socialism cannot be built up by decrees from above... living constructive socialism is the creation of the masses of the people themselves." (Works, Vol. 26, p. 255.) The committee came round to Ilyich's point of view. A decree was drafted, submitted to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, and published on November 29. The mass of the workers was very active. Wide initiative came from below. Soon after the seizure of power the Factory Committees Council suggested the idea of setting up a Supreme Council of the National Economy, a fighting body of the proletarian dictatorship to direct all industry. The S.C.N.E. was to incorporate representatives of the workers and peasants. It was to be an organ of a new type. The decree instituting the S.C.N.E. was published on December 18, 1917.
The land questions were making slow progress. Teodorovich, the first Commissar of Agriculture, resigned in connection with the affair of the Railwaymen's Executive and went to Siberia. Schlichter had been nominated for the post, but he was living in Moscow and had not been told that his presence was required immediately in Petrograd, where Vladimir Ilyich, meanwhile, was besieged by peasants asking what was to be done with the land. On November 18 Vladimir Ilyich wrote "Reply to Peasants' Questions" and "To the Population." (Works, Vol. 26, pp. 263-67.) In his "Reply" he confirms the decree abolishing landlord ownership and calls upon the rural committees to take over the landowners' land themselves. In his "To the Population" he calls upon the population to "be watchful and guard like the apple of the eye your land, grain, factories, equipment, products, transport—all that henceforth will be wholly your property, public property." The same aim was pursued here as in the decree on workers' control, namely, to stir the masses to activity and build up their consciousness in the struggle. When Schlichter arrived Ilyich instructed him to proceed without delay to organize the reception of local peasant delegates and to give them concrete directions in connection with the land confiscation law. The next thing to do, said Ilyich, was to take over the ministerial machinery, to break down the sabotage and urgently draw up regulations concerning the land.
A special congress of Soviets of Peasants' Deputies opened on November 23. Vladimir Ilyich spoke twice at this congress, to which he attached great importance. Of the 330 delegates 195 were Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, who formed the decisive group; there was a struggle at the congress with the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries (of whom there were 65 delegates). After Lenin's second speech a resolution was carried, approving the work of the Council of People's Commissars and the terms of the agreement with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. The Left S.-R.'s consented to participate in the government and after some delay, they sent their representatives to the People's Commissariats. Kolegayev, a Left S.-R., became People's Commissar of Agriculture, but some time passed before he started work.
I saw very little of Ilyich during our stay in Petrograd. He was busy all the time interviewing soldiers', workers and peasants' delegates, holding numerous conferences and working hard on the decrees that became the basis of the newly organized Soviet state. Sometimes, in the evening, or late at night, we would go for a little walk together around Smolny; more than ever before Ilyich felt a need to unburden his mind. He had little time to spare however. I got to know how things were going not so much from him as from outside. There were always lots of Party people to be met with in the corridors of Smolny. Comrades whom we had met abroad, during the events of 1905, or in Vyborg District work, discussed their affairs with me through old habit, and so I was kept in close touch with all that was doing. I had also many visitors at the Extra-School Department of the Commissariat of Education in which I was working. We had no Army Political Departments or trade—union culture departments in those days, and everyone used to come to the Commissariat of Education. Incidentally, I got to know many interesting details about the temper of the masses. I particularly remember the story of a comrade who had come from the front to get advice on how to organize educational work among the troops there. He spoke about the deep hatred which the mass of the soldiers bore towards the gymnasium schools and all the old culture of the master class. Soldiers were put up for the night in a high-school building, and they tore up and stamped on all the books, maps and copy-books which they could find in the desks and book-cases, and smashed up all the school supplies and appliances. "The damned masters taught their children here." I was reminded of the nineties, when a worker attending the Sunday School, after giving a detailed account proving the Earth to be a globe, wound up with a mocking sceptical smile: "Only you can't believe that, the masters made it up." Ilyich and I often spoke about this distrust towards the old science and learning on the part of the masses. Later on, at the Third Congress of the Soviets, Ilyich said:
"Previously the human mind and all its genius created solely for the purpose of providing some with all the blessings of technics and culture while denying to others the bare necessities—education and development. Now all the marvels of technics, all the conquests of culture will belong to all the people, and from now on the human mind and genius will never be used as a means of oppression, a means of exploitation. We know that—and is not that great historical task worth working for, worth giving all our energies to? The working people will perform that titanic historic job, for within them dwell the great slumbering forces of revolution, regeneration and renewal." (Works, Vol. 26, p. 436-37.) These words of Ilyich's showed the backward masses that the old hateful science was becoming a thing of the past, and that the new science would work only for the benefit of the masses. The masses had to master it.
The Extra-School Department worked in close contact with the workers, first and foremost those of the Vyborg District. I remember how we cooperated with them in drafting "The ABC of a Citizen"—a course of training which every worker had to master if he wished to take part in social work and in the activities of the Soviets and the various organizations that would grow up around them more and more as time went on. The workers for their part kept us informed of what was going on in the district. Production was being cut down, young workers were being laid off at the factories, and food shortages were becoming acute. On December 10 the Council of People's Commissars, on Lenin's motion, set up a special committee to elaborate the basic questions of the government's economic policy and organize a conference of food supply workers to discuss practical measures for combatting acts of pillage and improving the conditions of the workers. Two days after this the Council of People's Commissars adopted a number of resolutions drafted by Ilyich under which factories handling naval orders were to be switched over to productive work more needful to the people. It was no good simply closing down war production, as this would only create unemployment.
Ilyich pressed for the speedy organization of work at the Commissariat of Food Supply, which was to replace the Ministry of Provisions. The resistance of the old staff here was very strong. Besides, new ways had to be sought for drawing the mass of the workers into this activity, forms had to be discovered for organizing this cooperation.
In this wise the Soviet machinery of state was built up soon after the October Revolution; the old ministerial machinery of administration was scrapped, and Soviet organs of government were built up in its stead by hands that were as yet inexperienced and unskilful. There was still a lot left to do, but judging from what had been done in this respect by the beginning of 1918, tremendous progress had been made.
The Vyborg District arranged a New Year's Eve rally as a send-off for the Red Guards of the district who were leaving for the front. Many of these comrades had taken part in the fighting against the troops of Kerensky during their march on Petrograd. They were now going to the front to carry on propaganda for the Soviet Government, to rouse the activity of the soldiers, put a revolutionary spirit into the whole struggle. The New Year's Eve rally was organized in the spacious premises of the Mikhailovskoye Military Cadet School. The comrades who were going to the front were keen to see Ilyich, as was everyone else in the Vyborg District, and I suggested that he go there to celebrate the First Soviet New Year together with the workers. The idea appealed to Ilyich. We started out. We had a job getting out of the square. What with the janitors having been done away with and there being no one to clear the snow away, it required great skill on the part of the chauffeur to steer a passage through the piled up snow. We arrived at 11.30 p.m. The big "white" hall of the Mikhailovskoye School resembled a manege. Greeted warmly by the workers, Ilyich stepped up on the platform. Stimulated by the enthusiastic reception, he made a speech, which, although simple and unadorned, touched upon everything that had been uppermost in his mind of late. He spoke about what the workers had to do in order to organize their life anew through the medium of the Soviets. He spoke about how the comrades who were going to the front had to carry on their work there among the soldiers. When Ilyich finished he was given an ovation. Four workers grasped the legs of the chair on which he was sitting and raised it aloft amid loud cheers. I underwent the same treatment. After that a concert was given in the hall, then Ilyich had some tea in the staff room and chatted with the people there, and then we contrived to slip away unnoticed. Ilyich preserved a very pleasant memory of that evening. In 1920 he made me go with him to the workers' districts—that was already in Moscowwhere he was eager to meet the workers again on New Year's Eve. We visited three districts that time.
At Christmas (Jan. 6-11, New Style) Ilyich and I and Maria Ilyinichna went to some place in Finland. Rosyura, who was working then in Smolny, fixed us up at some Finnish rest home, where Berzins happened to be taking his holiday. That spotless Finnish cleanliness with its white curtains everywhere reminded Ilyich of the days of his secret residence in Helsingfors in 1907 and again in 1917 on the eve of the October Revolution, when he had been writing his book The State and Revolution there. As a holiday, it wasn't much of a success. Ilyich sometimes even dropped his voice when speaking, the way we used to do when we were in hiding, and although we went for walks every day, there was no real zest in them. Ilyich's mind was occupied and he spent most of his time writing. The things he wrote during those four days, however, were not made use of, as he considered them unfinished. The articles that he then wrote, namely, "Those Scared by the Collapse of the Old and Those Fighting for the New," "How To Organize Competition," and "Draft Decree on Consumers Communes," were not published until five years after his death, but they best show what problems his mind was wrestling with at the time. The questions that engrossed him most of all were how best to organize the everyday economic life, how best to arrange the workers' lives and improve the hard conditions they were living under at the time; how to organize consumers' communes, the supply of milk for the children, the removal of the workers to better apartments, and the organization of proper accounting and control which this involved; how to organize things in such a way as to draw the masses themselves into this work, to stir their initiative. Ilyich thought of ways for advancing the most gifted organizers from the midst of the workers. He wrote about emulation, and the organizing role it was destined to play.
We could not be long "holidaying," though. After four days of it we had to be getting back to Petrograd. I have a memory of a winter road, a ride through Finnish pine woods, a glorious morning, and Ilyich's thoughtful face. He was thinking about the coming struggle. The question of the Constituent Assembly, which was due to meet on January 18, had to be decided within the next few days. By the beginning of 1918 the question of the Constituent Assembly was quite clear. When the Second Party Congress in 1903 had adopted the Party programme, the socialist revolution had seemed a thing of the distant future. The immediate aim of the working-class struggle had been the overthrow of the autocracy. The Constituent Assembly had then been a militant slogan for which the Bolsheviks had fought ever since the congress with much greater persistency and determination than the Mensheviks. At that time no one yet clearly envisaged any concrete form of democratic organization of government other than that of a bourgeois democratic republic. During the Revolution of 1905 the Soviets of Workers' Deputies which had originated spontaneously in the process of struggle, represented in embryo a new form of state power closely related to the masses. During the years of reaction Ilyich had deeply pondered that new type of organization and compared it with the forms of state organization that had been set up in the days of the Paris Commune. In addition to the Provisional Government, the February Revolution of 1917 had created an all-Russian organization of workers' and soldiers' deputies. At first the Soviets had followed the lead of the bourgeoisie, who, through their henchmen—the Mensheviks and the Right Socialist-Revolutionarieshad tried to convert the Soviets into instruments for obscuring the mass consciousness. Beginning from April, with Lenin's arrival in Russia, the Bolsheviks launched a wide campaign among the masses with the aim of raising the class consciousness of the workers and the poorest strata of the peasantry, and helped in every way to develop the class struggle.
The slogan "All Power to the Soviets," which the workers and peasants had inscribed upon their banners, virtually predetermined the direction which the struggle in the Constituent Assembly would take. One side would stand for the power of the Soviets, the other for the power of the bourgeoisie in the form of this or that type of bourgeois republic. The Second Congress of the Soviets had decided the question of the type of power beforehand, and the Constituent Assembly was called upon merely to form it and fill in the details. That is how the Bolsheviks saw it. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, considered that the Constituent Assembly would be able to reverse the wheel of history, and by setting up a government of the bourgeois-republican type, liquidate the Soviets or, st least, reduce their role to naught. On the eve of the October Revolution new elections to the Soviets were held in which the Bolsheviks, carrying out the decisions of the Party, received a majority.
The Party understood long before the October Revolution that the Constituent Assembly would not take place in a classless society. As far back as 1905, in his pamphlet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution dealing with the resolution of the Menshevik "conference," which took place during the Bolsheviks Third Congress of the Party in the summer of 1905, Vladimir Ilyich said that the Mensheviks, in their resolutions, called the slogan of the "Constituent Assembly" "a decisive victory," whereas "...the slogan of a popular constituent assembly has been accepted by the monarchist bourgeoisie (see the programme of the Osvobozhdenipe League) and accepted for the very purpose of conjuring away the revolution, of preventing the complete victory of the revolution, and of enabling the big bourgeoisie to strike a huckster's bargain with tsarism." (Works, Vol. 9, p. 29.)
And in 1917—twelve years laterthe Bolsheviks took the power in October without waiting for any Constituent Assembly.
However, the Provisional Government had cultivated certain illusions around the idea of the Constituent Assembly. To shatter those illusions it was necessary for the Constituent Assembly to be convoked and an effort made to convert it to the service of the revolution, and if that proved impossible, to show the masses how harmful it was, to dispel all the illusions about it, and wrest this instrument of agitation against the new power from the hands of the enemy. There was no sense in postponing the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, and already on November 10 the Council of People's Commissars announced its decision for the Constituent Assembly to be convoked at the appointed time. On November 21 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee adopted a corresponding resolution. Did the Bolsheviks have a majority in the Constituent Assembly? They had the proletariat, the vast majority of the proletariat behind them, while the Mensheviks at that time had lost almost all influence among the workers. At the decisive points—in Petrograd and Moscowthe proletariat was not only Bolshevik-minded, but was a class-conscious revolutionary force steeled in fifteen years of struggle. In addition, it had succeeded in ranging the peasantry behind it. The slogans demanding peace and land, adopted at the Second Congress of the Soviets, had won for the Bolsheviks half the votes of the army and navy. The Socialist-Revolutionaries collected the vast majority of the peasants' votes. The Socialist-Revolutionaries split up into Rights and Lefts. The Left S.-R.'s were in the majority and had the backing of the poor peasants and most of the middle peasants. After the Second Congress of the Soviets the Central Committee of the Socialist-Revolutionaries expelled the Left members of the party who had taken part in that congress. The Special Congress of the Soviets of Peasants' Deputies held on December 8Lenin spoke thererecognized the Soviet power. The day after Ilyich made his speech the congress went to Smolny in a body and joined the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies which was in session there. The Special Congress of the Soviets of Peasants' Deputies ruled that representatives of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries were to join the government. The same day Ilyich wrote an article in Pravda "Alliance Between the Workers and the Toiling and Exploited Peasants." (Works, Vol. 26, pp. 298-300.)
The Special Congress of Soviets of Peasants' Deputies showed that the influence of the October Revolution and of the letters from soldiers at the front, who were siding more and more with the Bolsheviks, was making itself felt in the countryside, where the poor and middle peasants were lining up with the Soviet power. The peasants had not yet learned the difference between the Left and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries. They had voted for the S.-R.'s in general, but actually the majority clearly stood for the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. Vladimir Ilyich submitted to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee the idea of introducing the right of recall in regard to previously elected deputies. That right, he said, was virtually the right of the constituency to control what its deputy was saying and doing. It still existed, by virtue of former revolutionary traditions, in the U.S.A. and in certain Swiss cantons. The right of recall was sanctioned by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, and a corresponding decree was issued on December 6, 1917. The Provisional Government, as far back as August, had set up a committee for elections to the Constituent Assembly consisting of Constitutional Democrats (Cadets) and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries. This committee had gone out of its way to side-track the work of preparing for the elections and refused to submit its progress report to the Council of People's Commissars. On December 6, the day the decree instituting the right of recall was passed, Uritsky was appointed Commissar to direct the activities of this committee. The latter refused to work under his direction and was arrested, but on December 10, on Lenin's order, the committee members were released. On December 6 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee resolved that the Constituent Assembly would be opened upon the arrival of its four hundred delegates in Petrograd. On December 11 the right Socialist-Revolutionaries and Constitutional Democrats attempted to organize a demonstration, but apart from a comparatively insignificant number of intellectuals no workers or soldiers took any part in it. On December 13 the electoral committee was dismissed. The Bolsheviks launched a wide campaign explaining the issues involved. On December 14 Lenin addressed a meeting of the A.R.C.E.C. on the question of the Constituent Assembly. He said: "We are told to convoke the Constituent Assembly as planned. No fear! It was planned against the people. We made the revolution in order to be guaranteed that the Constituent Assembly would not be used against the people.... Let the people know that the Constituent Assembly will not be convened the way Kerensky wanted it. We have introduced the right of recall, and the Constituent Assembly will not be what the bourgeoisie have planned it to be. With the assembly only a few days off, the bourgeoisie are organizing civil war, increasing sabotage, and jeopardizing the truce. We shall not let ourselves be deceived by formal slogans. They want to sit in the Constituent Assembly and organize civil wars at the same time." (At that time, in the south, near Rostov-on-Don, sanguinary fighting, organized by General Kaledin, was in progress.—N.K.) "...We shall tell the truth to the people. We shall tell the people that its interests are above those of a democratic institution. We should not go back to the old prejudices under which the interests of the people are subservient to formal democratism. The Cadets shout: 'All power to the Constituent Assembly,' but actually they mean 'All power to Kaledin.' We must tell that to the people, and the people will approve of us." (Works, Vol. 26, pp. 316, 317-18.)
On the next day, December 15, Ilyich spoke at the Second All-Russian Congress of Peasants' Deputies at which Spiridonova presided. The congress was a very stormy one. The Right S.-R.'s walked out.
It became increasingly clear that a sharp struggle would break out over the Constituent Assembly, vacillations and Right-wing moods began to make themselves felt among the Bolshevik group of the Constituent Assembly. A meeting of the Party Central Committee devoted to this question was held on December 24. It was decided to have a C.C. report made at the group of the Constituent Assembly and theses drafted on the question of the Constituent Assembly. Lenin was entrusted with both tasks. He drew up the theses and the next day made a report in Smolny at a meeting of the Bolshevik group or the Constituent Assembly. The theses were unanimously adopted and published the next day in Pravda. They set before the Constituent Assembly a clear demand: recognition of the Soviet Government and of the revolutionary policy that it was pursuing on the questions of peace, the land, workers' inspection and the struggle with the counter-revolution.
The opening of the Constituent Assembly was fixed for January 18, 1918.
The preparations for the Constituent Assembly, which the Party, under Ilyich's leadership, had been making with such care and thoroughness, were an important phase in the consolidation of the Soviet power; it was a struggle against formal bourgeois democracy for genuine democracy enabling the working masses to develop immense revolutionary activities in all fields of socialist construction.
The work done in connection with the convocation of the Constituent Assembly showed how, step by step, it had struck deep-root among the masses and gained their support, how it had organized the masses for the struggle, and helped the Soviet and Party cadres to form close links with the masses.
A great deal still remained to be done in the way of organizing preparations for and conducting the Constituent Assembly.
The Right Socialist-Revolutionaries were pressing for a fight against the Bolsheviks. The extreme Right-wingers set up a military organization, which made an abortive attempt on Lenin's life on January 1. This organization made active preparations for an armed revolt, which was planned for January 18, the opening day of the Constituent Assembly. Although the Central Committee of the S.-R. party did not officially support this military organization, it was aware of its activities and shut its eyes to them. This military organization associated itself with the Constituent Assembly Defence League, whose object was to coordinate the activities of all the anti-Bolshevik organizations. The Defence League consisted of extreme Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, Menshevik Defencists, Popular Socialists, and certain Constitutional Democrats. Although it developed a great activity, the Defence League did not succeed in winning over to its side either the workers or the garrison of Petrograd.
The demonstration of January 18 was a one-sided limited affair, but rumours were rife in town that an armed revolt was being prepared. The Bolsheviks got ready to face it. The Constituent Assembly was to meet at the Taurida Palace. A military staff was set up. Among its members were Sverdlov, Podvoisky, Proshyan, Uritsky and Bonch-Bruyevich. The city and the Smolny area were marked off into sectors, and the workers volunteered to guard them. The crew of the cruiser Aurora and two companies of the battleship Respublika were called out to guard the Palace and patrol the streets in the vicinity. The armed revolt which the Constituent Assembly Defence League had been planning did not come off. Its hybrid demonstration, held under the slogan of "All Power to the Constituent Assembly," came up against our workers demonstration marching under the slogan of "Long Live the Soviet Power" at the corner of Nevsky and Liteiny prospekts. There was an armed clash, which was quickly liquidated. Bonch-Bruyevich was as busy as can be, phoning, giving orders, and surrounding Ilyich's trip to the Palace with the greatest secrecy. He rode with Ilyich in the car himself, I, Maria Ilyinichna, and Vera Bench Bruyevich being the other occupants. We drove up to the Taurida Palace by way of a side-street. The gates were locked, but on the horn giving the pre-arranged signal, they were opened to let us through and then locked again. The guard conducted us into a special apartment set aside for Ilyich. It was somewhere on the right side of the main entrance, and the way to the meeting hall ran through a glassed-in passage. The main entrance had a queue of delegates and crowds of spectators standing round it, and of course it was more convenient for Ilyich to use a different entrance. But all this mysterious theatricality rather irritated him. We sat drinking tea, talking to the different comrades who came in. I remember Kollontai and Dybenko among others. We sat there rather long, as a meeting of the Bolshevik group was in progress, and it was a pretty stormy one. Varvara Yakovleva, a Muscovite was in the chair. The Muscovites stood firm on the question of the Constituent Assembly, and some of them even went a bit too far—they were for breaking up the Constituent Assembly at once, overlooking the fact that things had to be done in such a way that the masses would clearly realize why the Constituent Assembly had to be dismissed.
The Constituent Assembly was to be opened by Yakov Sverdlov.
The sitting opened at 4 p.m. On his way to the hall Ilyich reminded himself that he had left his revolver in his overcoat pocket. He went back for it, but the revolver wasn't there, although no strangers had entered the apartment. Obviously one of the guards had removed it. Ilyich rebuked Dybenko for the lack of discipline among the guards. Dybenko was very upset. When Ilyich came back from the meeting hall Dybenko handed him his revolver, which the guard had returned.
Sverdlov was a bit late, and the Constituent Assembly decided to have its session opened by its eldest member Shvetsov, a Socialist-Revolutionary. The latter had got up on the platform and started maundering, when Sverdlov came hurrying in. He went up to the speaker's desk, took the bell away from Shvetsov, pushed him aside, and announced in his deep loud voice that the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies had authorized him to open the meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Then, on behalf of the C.E.C. he read out the text of the Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited Peoples written by Lenin and edited by him in cooperation with Stalin and Bukharin, the text of which had been published in Pravda the day before. The Declaration had been adopted by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee together with a ruling that "any attempt on the part of any person or institution whatsoever to assume one or another function of state power will be regarded as a counter-revolutionary act. Any such attempt will be suppressed by the Soviet Government by every means at its disposal, including the use of armed force." (Works, Vol. 26, p. 389.)
The Declaration announced that "Russia is hereby declared a Republic of Soviets of Workers,' Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies. All power centrally and locally belongs to the Soviets.... The Soviet Russian Republic shall be constituted on the basis of a free union of free nations as a federation of Soviet National Republics." It approved the laws passed by the Second Congress of Soviets. The decisions adopted by the Council of People's Commissars were to have been endorsed by the Constituent Assembly. "While supporting the Soviet Government and the decrees of the Council of People's Commissars, the Constituent Assembly considers its tasks completed with the establishment of the fundamental bases for a socialist remodelling of society." (Ibid., pp. 385, 387.)
The Right wing of the Constituent Assembly had quite different ideas concerning the activities of the Assembly, which, they believed, would do nothing less than take all the power into its hands. The Right Socialist-Revolutionaries were in the majority. They nominated Chernov Chairman of the Assembly, while the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries nominated Spiridonova. Chernov received 244 votes, Spiridonova—151.
The Bolsheviks voted for Spiridonova because the issue at stake was whether the Constituent Assembly would vote for the Soviet power or not. The Left Socialist-Revolutionaries at the time sided with the Bolsheviks, and the nomination of Spiridonova was calculated to bring home to the peasantry the fact that the working class aimed at a close alliance with the peasantry, that the Bolsheviks stood for such an alliance. The propaganda value of Spiridonova's nomination was therefore an important factor.
After the election of the chairman (Chernov), the proceedings were opened. Chernov, on behalf of the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, spoke on the land question. His words were greeted with a shout from the Left benches: "Long live the Soviets, who have given the peasants the land!" Bukharin, who took the floor after Chernov, submitted a motion for the Declaration of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee to be considered first. The first thing that had to be decided was who the Assembly stood for—"Kaledin, the cadets, the factory owners, the merchants, the directors of the discount banks, or the grey army coats, the workers, soldiers and sailors?" Tsereteli spoke on behalf of the Mensheviks. He attacked the Bolsheviks, trotted out the bogy of civil war, and suggested that all the power be taken over by the Constituent Assembly.
Many years have passed since then. We have seen how the Social-Democrats of Germany and other capitalist countries, using the same old methods of soft-soaping, the scare of civil war, and all kinds of promises, have betrayed the working class and paved the way to power for the fascists, those brutal thugs and bestial champions of the perishing class of landowners and capitalists, who stand in mortal fear of the Communists and preach civil peace by word while helping the landowners and capitalists by deed to arrogantly exploit the working people and plunge them into another world war more devastating than the first.
The Bolsheviks, however, saw clearly where conciliation with the Right S.-R.'s and the Mensheviks led to. Addressing himself to the Right S.-R.'s and Mensheviks, Skvortsov said: "It is all over between us. We shall see the October Revolution against the bourgeoisie through to the end. You and we are on different sides of the barricades."
Vladimir Ilyich did not speak. He sat on the platform steps, smiling ironically, joking and jotting down notes. He obviously felt out of it all. Among his papers is the beginning of an article in which he describes his impressions of that meeting of the Constituent Assembly: "A tiresome, painful, dreary day in the elegant rooms of the Taurida Palace, whose very appearance differs from that of Smolny as elegant but lifeless bourgeois parliamentarism differs from the proletarian, simple Soviet apparatus, which, though in many ways still disorderly and unfinished, is alive and vital." "After the real live Soviet work among the workers and peasants who are engaged in the real job of felling the forest and grubbing up by the roots landlord and capitalist exploitation, I suddenly found myself transported to a 'strange world' among visitors from the other world, from the camp of the bourgeoisie and its voluntary and involuntary, conscious and unconscious followers, hangers-on, servants and defenders. From a world of struggle of the working masses and their Soviet organization against exploitation to a world of sweetish phrases, smooth empty declarations, promises and promises based as before on conciliation with the capitalists." (Works, Vol. 26, pp. 393, 392.)
Only 146 deputies voted in favour of discussing the Declaration of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, with 247 against. The Bolsheviks and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries demanded an adjournment. The Bolshevik group of the Assembly met to discuss their further course of action. It was decided not to return to the meeting hall. Raskolnikov and Lobov were sent there to announce that the Bolsheviks were quitting the Assembly, and to state the reasons why. The group also decided not to dismiss the Assembly, but give it a chance to see the session through. It lasted until 4.40 a.m. on January 6, after which it broke up. The next day the All-Russian Central Executive Committee decreed that the Constituent Assembly was to be dissolved. No more meetings of the Assembly were held.
The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly was received by the masses with passive indifference. Its prestige stood very low and its dismissal caused no stir whatever. A stumbling block to further work had been removed from the path. A check had been put to all conciliatory moods.
While this stumbling block to progress had been removed, the more formidable task of extricating the country from the hole of imperialist war in which it was floundering still remained to be tackled.
On November 8, the Second Congress of Soviets adopted the Decree on Peace. The early days of the Soviet power's existence had passed in military struggle—with the advancing troops of Kerensky and the rebel cadets-and in a fight with conciliatory vacillations within the Central Committee of the Party. On November 20 General Dukhonin, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, was ordered to suspend hostilities and begin negotiations for an armistice with the Central Powers. On November 22, when a telephone conversation with General Dukhonin made it clear that he was sabotaging the order of the Council of People's Commissars, he was dismissed and Krylenko was appointed Supreme Commander-in-Chief in his stead. Later in the day Vladimir Ilyich drew up a radio message to all regimental, divisional, corps, army and other committees, to all soldiers of the revolutionary army and sailors of the revolutionary fleet, calling upon them to take matters into their own hands. His chief hope was the soldier mass, not the generals.
"Soldiers!" ran the message. "The cause of peace is in your hands! Do not allow the counter-revolutionary generals to frustrate the great cause of peace, surround them by a guard in order to avert acts of summary justice unworthy of a revolutionary army and to prevent these generals from evading the trial that awaits them. Maintain the strictest revolutionary and military order.
"Let the regiments at the front immediately elect plenipotentiaries to start formal negotiations for an armistice with the enemy.
"The Council of People's Commissars empowers you to do so.
"Keep us informed in every possible way of every step in the negotiations. The Council of People's Commissars is alone empowered to sign the final treaty of armistice.
"Soldiers, the cause of peace is in your hands! Vigilance, restraint and energy, and the cause of peace will triumph!
"In the name of the Government of the Russian Republic,
V. Ulyanov (Lenin),
Chairman of the Council of
N. Krylenko, People's Commissar of War and
Supreme Commander." (Works,
Vol. 26, p. 280.)
On November 21, the Soviet Government submitted the Decree on Peace to the representatives of the Entente in Russia for their consideration.
On November 23, Ilyich spoke at the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. He said that our chances were very favourable. He spoke about revolutionary fraternization. "We have a chance to get in touch with Paris by radio telegraph, and when the peace treaty will have been drawn up we shall be able to tell the French people that it is ready to be signed within two hours and that it depends on them whether an armistice will be concluded. We shall see what Clemenceau then has to say." (Ibid., p. 282.) On November 23, the press began publication of the secret treaties with other countries. They clearly revealed how brazenly the governments had been lying to the masses and fooling them.
On November 23 the Soviet Government requested the neutral countries to officially notify the enemy governments of its readiness to start peace negotiations.
On November 27 a reply was received from the German Commander-in-Chief consenting to start negotiations for an armistice.
Speaking at a meeting of the A.R.C.E.C, on November 23, Ilyich said:
"Peace cannot be concluded only from above. Peace must be secured from below. We do not believe the German General Staff an iota, but we do believe the German people. Without the active participation of the soldiers peace concluded by the commanders-in-chief is unstable." (Ibid., p. 284.)
In Germany the situation was none too good. There was an acute food shortage, and the people were tired of the war. Germany believed that an armistice with Russia would leave her hands free to deal with France, and with Paris under her heel, she would then be able to tackle Russia.
Upon receiving the reply of the German command, the Council of People's Commissars immediately got in touch with the Allies (France, Britain, Italy and the U.S.A.), asking whether they agreed to start negotiations for an armistice with the enemy powers on December 1.
The Allies did not answer, and over the head of the Soviet Government wrote to General Dukhonin, who had been dismissed, protesting against the conclusion of a separate peace.
On December 1 our delegation, headed by Ioffe, left for the front. The other members were Karakhan, Kamenev, Sokolnikov, Bitsenko, Mstislavsky, and one representative each from the workers, peasants, sailors and soldiers.
The next day the Council of People's Commissars issued an appeal to the German workers.
Peace negotiations were started on December 3. The Soviet delegation announced its declaration in which the aims of the negotiations were proclaimed to be "the achievement of universal peace without annexations or indemnities in which the right to national self-determination would be guaranteed." It also proposed that an offer be made to all the other belligerents to take part in the negotiations. On December 5 an agreement was signed suspending military operations for one week. On the 7th the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs wrote once more to the representatives of the Allies to "define their attitude towards peace negotiations." No reply was received.
On the 11th our delegation, augmented by Pokrovsky and Weltman (Pavlovich), left for Brest again.
Peace negotiations were resumed on December 13, and the armistice prolonged until January 14. The negotiations fell through.
On December 25 the Germans announced on behalf of the Central Powers that they agreed to peace without annexations or indemnities on condition that the peace treaty was signed by all the belligerents. They knew that I the latter would not agree, and their declaration was merely designed to shift all the responsibility for the continuation of the war on to the Entente.
Until the end of December the nature of the negotiations was agitational rather than anything else. The advantage gained from them was a temporary armistice and the development of a wide agitation for peace among the German troops and ours.
From the beginning of 1918 the negotiations assumed a different character. Early in January Ludendorf and Hindenburg, who stood for a militarist policy of annexation, sent an ultimatum to Wilhelm II threatening to resign unless their demand for the prosecution of a vigorous annexationist policy at Brest-Litovsk and the taking over of negotiations by the military command was complied with. The conduct of negotiations passed into the hands of General Hoffman.
On January 7 our delegation, now headed by Trotsky, left for Brest again. Peace negotiations were resumed on January 9. This time the German delegation began to issue ultimatums. By January 20 the German attitude was clear. The only alternative to continued war was an annexationist peace, that is, peace on the conditions that we ceded to them all the territory that they occupied and paid them indemnity (under the guise of defraying the cost of maintenance of prisoners of war) to the amount of about three thousand million rubles payable over a number of years.
In the middle of January 1918 a general strike broke out in Vienna, provoked by the acute food shortage, the desire for peace and the indignation of the workers at the annexationst policy of the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk. The strike affected almost the whole country and led to the setting up of a Soviet of Workers' Deputies. A few days later a strike broke out in Berlin, which, according to official reports, involved half a million workers. Strikes occurred in other cities as well. Soviets of Workers' Deputies were formed. The strikers demanded the proclamation of a republic and the conclusion of peace. However, no revolution was yet in sight. All the power was in the hands of Wilhelm II, Hindenburg, Ludendorf, in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
Ilyich pinned his hopes in a coming world revolution. On January 14 at the send-off given to the first socialist troop trains leaving for the front, he said: "The peoples are already awakening, they already hear the ardent call of our revolution, and soon we shall no longer be alone. Our army will be joined by the proletarian forces of other countries." (Works, Vol. 26, p. 381.)
But that was still a thing of the future. It was characteristic of Ilyich that he never deceived himself, no matter how sad the realities were; he was never drunk with success, and always had a sober outlook. He did not always find it easy, though. Ilyich was anything but coldly rational, a sort of calculating chess-player. He felt things very intensely, but he had a strong will, he had lived through a good deal and thought things out for himself, and was able to face the truth without flinching. In this particular case he put the matter bluntly: an annexationist peace is a dreadful thing, but are we in a position to fight? Ilyich was constantly talking with soldiers delegations that came from the front; he carefully studied the situation at the front and the state of our army, and attended a delegate conference of the First Army Congress on Demobilization. Writing of that congress in his memoirs, Podvoisky says: "The congress was due to take place on December 25, 1917, but it was opened on December 30.... During the five intervening days conferences were held with the most prominent delegates. Though they were of a preliminary nature, those conferences were of decisive importance. One of them was attended by Lenin, Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, who, after listening to the detailed reports of the delegates from the most important armies, put to them three questions: 1. Was there any reason to believe that the Germans would attack us? 2. Would the army be able, in the event of a German offensive, to remove the munitions, materiel and artillery from the front-line area to the rear? 3. Would the army, in its present condition, be able to hold the German advance?
"The majority of the conference answered the first question in the affirmative, and the second and third in the negative, owing to the spirit of demobilization that prevailed among the soldiers, their increasing defection, and the exhausted state of the horses as a result of short fodder supplies." About three hundred delegates were present at that conference. It fully convinced Ilyich of the impossibility of continuing the fight with the Germans at that particular moment. Without yielding to pessimism—indeed, he was conducting an intensive campaign at the time for organizing the Red Army for the country's defence—he framed the question clearly: at the moment we cannot fight. "Go to the front," Ilyich advised the comrades who thought that war was possible. "Hear what the soldiers have to say about it."
Kravchenko recently told me about a talk she had had with Ilyich at that period. She had been working at Motovilikha, in the Urals. Petrograd was one thing, Perm and the Urals another. There was no immediate threat of an enemy advance there, and the homeward-bound soldiers had not come that far yet. The fighting spirit in the Urals stood high. The workers were organizing military detachments and preparing guns. Kravchenko was sent to see Ilyich and tell him that the Urals would back the country. On arriving in Petrograd Kravchenko called on Spunde, a Urals comrade, who was working at the State Bank. He lived on the premises. The simple iron cot on which he slept stood lonesomely and incongruously in one of the large conference halls. This little detail gives a picture of those days and is reminiscent of the conditions under which the arrested director of the State Bank Shipov was kept in custody. Spunde directed Kravchenko to Smolny, where Ilyich was. There, in the corridors, she met Goloshchokin, who had come from the Urals on the same mission. He was also going to see Ilyich. While they stood there talking, Ilyich came out of his office. Seeing Goloshchokin, he went up to them and started asking how things were going in the Urals. They told him what the feeling was among the Urals workers and what they had come here for. "We'll have a talk in the evening," Ilyich said. All of a sudden he looked ill. "Meanwhile go and take a walk, hear what the soldiers say in the streets," he added. "And we heard such an earful," Kravchenko related, "that our heads were splitting by that evening. The impressions of it were so strong that they overshadowed all else." Kravchenko does not even remember whether they had that talk with Ilyich or not.
Goloshchokin, too, recollects that meeting. Ilyich had asked him to interview the soldiers' delegations. Goloshchokin heard out their reports, ascertained the prevailing temper, then went and reported to Ilyich about it. Ilyich came out to the delegates, answered their questions, and told them what the state of affairs was; he kindled them with the fire of his enthusiasm. On this job Goloshchokin had it forcibly brought home to him that Ilyich was right. At the Seventh Congress he no longer needed convincing, he had no more vacillations.
At the Seventh Congress of the Party, held at the beginning of March, 1918, Ilyich said that during the first weeks and months following the October Revolution—in October, November and Decemberwe had passed from triumph to triumph on the internal front of struggle against the counter-revolution, against the enemies of the Soviet power. The reason for this was that world imperialism had trouble enough of its own to be bothered with us. Our revolution had taken place at a time when cataclysmic disasters in the shape of the extermination of millions of people had overwhelmed the vast majority of the imperialist countries, when, after three years of fighting, the belligerent countries were at a deadlock, and the question arose objectively as to whether the nations, reduced to such a state, could go on fighting. It was a moment when neither of the two gigantic predacious groups could immediately throw themselves at one another or unite against us. Ilyich, at the Seventh Congress, described the first period of the Brest negotiations in the following words: "A tame domestic animal lay beside a tiger and tried to persuade him that peace should be without annexations and indemnities." In the latter half of January the Brest negotiations had assumed a different character: the preying wolf of German imperialism had seized us by the throat, and we had to answer immediately, either by agreeing to an annexationist peace or by continuing the war, knowing beforehand that we would be beaten in it. Lenin's point of view, in the long run, prevailed, but the inner-Party struggle, which had lasted two months, told on him very painfully. Ilyich had been pressing for the conclusion of peace. He had been backed whole-heartedly by Sverdlov and Stalin, supported without vacillation by Smilga and Sokolnikov. But the overwhelming majority of the Central Committee members and their following, the men with whom the October Revolution had been made, had been against Lenin. They had challenged his point of view, and drawn the local committees into the struggle. The Petrograd Committee and the Moscow Regional Committee had been against him too. The "Left" Communist faction had begun to issue their own daily paper in Petrograd (Communist) in which they had talked themselves into such ridiculous statements as that it were better to let the Soviet power perish than to conclude a shameful peace, and argued about a revolutionary fight without regard for the actual balance of forces. They held that concluding peace with the German imperialist government was tantamount to surrendering all our revolutionary positions and betraying the cause of the international proletariat. Among the "Left" Communists were quite a number of intimate comrades with whom Ilyich had been working hand in hand for years and whom he had been accustomed to look to for support during critical moments of the struggle. Now a void had been formed round him. The things he was accused of! Trotsky had a good deal to say. A lover of fine words, who liked to strike an attitude, he thought not so much of how to get the Soviet Republic out of the war and give it a respite to recuperate and rally the masses, as to cut a figure ("We conclude no degrading peace, we fight no war"). Ilyich called this a lordly, grand-seignior pose, and the slogan an adventurist gamble which gave the country over to pillage and anarchy, a country where the proletariat had taken over the helm of power and great construction was being started.
The majority of votes on the Central Committee had been against Lenin at first. On January 24 the majority (nine members) voted for Trotsky's motion—we conclude no peace and demobilize the army—with seven voting against. On February 3, on the question whether peace should be concluded now or not, five voted for and nine against; on February 17 five voted for an immediate offer of peace to Germany and six against; on February 18, on the question of whether we should offer the Germans to resume peace negotiations, six voted for and seven against.
Not until the Germans, on February 23, had presented their terms and demanded a reply within forty-eight hours, while their troops began to advance and take town after town, did the situation change. Lenin declared that if this policy of revolutionary phrasemongery continued he would resign from the Central Committee and the government. Voting on the question of whether to accept the German terms or not gave the following result: seven in favour and four against, with four abstentions including Trotsky, who shrank from taking upon himself responsibility on such a momentous issue at such an important time. The leading five who voted for concluding peace even on the Germans' terms (Lenin, Sverdlov, Stalin, Sokolnikov and Smilga) were joined by Zinoviev and Stasova. The opponents of peace were allowed freedom of agitation.
The advance of the Germans, however, had had an instantaneous sobering effect. By the time the Seventh Congress of the Party took place Lenin's standpoint had won over the vast majority. On March 8 the congress adopted a resolution in favour of endorsing the peace treaty signed at Brest-Litovsk by thirty votes against twelve, with four abstentions. On March 16 the Fourth Congress of Soviets, held in Moscow, ratified the Brest treaty by 704 votes against 285 with 115 abstentions.
Of this period of struggle for the peace of Brest two moments stand out in my memory. An extended meeting of the Party Central Committee was held on January 21, 1918. Winding up the debates, Ilyich felt the hostile glances of his comrades upon him. He had set forth his view with apparently little hope of being able to convince those present. I can almost hear the unutterably weary and bitter tone in which he said to me, when his speech was over: "Ah, well, let's go!" No one would have been more pleased than Ilyich if our army had been able to fight back, or if a revolution had broken out in Germany, which would have put an end to the war. He would have been glad to know that he had been wrong. But the more optimistic his comrades were, the more wary and guarded did Ilyich become. I remember another moment. During the very difficult time between the middle of January and the end of February Ilyich and I often went for walks together along the Neva around Smolny. Ilyich was worried, and at such moments he felt a need to unburden his mind to someone who stood close to him. I do not remember now exactly what he said, but it was in the same vein as his speech at the Seventh Congress of the Party. Even today I cannot read that speech without emotion. I hear Ilyich's voice and all his intonations in the words: "It will be a good thing if the German proletariat will be able to come out. But have you measured, have you discovered such an instrument that will determine that the German revolution will break out on such and such a day? No, that you do not know, and neither do we. You are staking everything on this card. If the revolution breaks out, everything is saved. Of course! But if it does not turn out as we desire, supposing it does not achieve victory tomorrow—what then? Then the masses will say to you: you acted like gamblersyou staked everything on a fortunate turn of events that did not take place, you proved unfit for the situation that actually arose in place of an international revolution, which will inevitably come, but which has not ripened yet." (Works, Vol. 27, pp. 79-80.)
Reading this, memory takes me back to the Neva, to our stroll there along the embankment in the dusk. The western sky over the river is flooded with the crimson glow of Petrograd's winter sunset. That sunset reminds me of my first meeting with Ilyich at the pancake party at Klasson's in 1894. Going back from the Okhta District along the Neva my comrades told me about Ilyich's brother. And here we were, Ilyich and I, walking down the Neva again, while he kept repeating over and over again the reasons why the standpoint of "no peace, no war" was fundamentally wrong. On our way back, Ilyich suddenly stops, and his tired face lights up as he lets fall: "You never know!"—meaning, a revolution may have started in Germany for all we know. In Smolny he reads the latest telegrams reporting that the Germans are advancing. His face becomes clouded and drawn, and he goes into his office to ring up. The revolution in Germany did not start until November 9, 1918. On November 13, 1918, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee annulled the treaty of Brest-Litovsk.