John Reed Internet Archive
First Published: The Liberator Vol. 1, No. 1 March, 1918 pp.14-21
Transcription/Markup: Brian Bagsen and Damon Maxwell
Online Version: John Reed Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2009
THE real revolution has begun. All the swift events of the last eight crowded months – the sudden debacle of Czarism in February, the brief inglorious attempt of Miliukov to establish a safe and sane bourgeois republic, the rise of Kerensky and the precarious structure of hasty compromise which constituted the Provisional Government – these were merely the prologue to the great drama of naked class-struggle which has now opened. For the first time in history the working-class has seized the power of the state, for its own purposes – and means to keep it.
Today the Bolsheviki are supreme in Russia. The ominous onward march of Kaledine, self-proclaimed military dictator and restorer of middle-class order, has stopped – his own Cossacks are turning against him. Yesterday Kerensky, after his defeat and the surrender of his staff at Galchina, fled in disguise. The news has just come that Moscow, after a bloody battle that wrecked the Kremlin and smashed thousands of lives, is undisputedly in the possession of the military Revolutionary Committee. As far as anyone can see, there is no force in Russia to challenge the Bolshevik power. And yet, as I write this, in the flush of their success, the new-born revolution of the proletariat is ringed round with a vast fear and hatred.
Last night two thousand Red Guards – the proletarian militia organized and armed by Trotzky just before the final clash – swung down the Zagarodny in triumph. Ahead a military band was playing – and never did it sound so appropriate – the Marseillaise. Blood-red flags drooped over the dark ranks of the marching workers. They were going to meet and welcome home to “Red Petrograd” the saviors of the new proletarian revolution – the troops who had just fought so desperately and so successfully against Kerensky and his Cossacks. In the bitter dusk they tramped, singing, men and women, their tall bayonets swinging, through streets faintly lighted and slippery with mud. And as they marched they passed always between crowds that were hostile, contemptuous, fearful.
The proletarian revolution has no friends except the proletariat. The bourgeoisie – business men, shop-keepers, students, land-owners, officers, political office holders and their fringe of clerks and servants and hangers-on, are solidly in opposition to the new order. The moderate Socialist parties – though they may find themselves forced by circumstances to combine with the Bolsheviks – hate them bitterly. But these elements are so far powerless. Their military strength is represented only by part of the Cossacks, and the Junkers – cadets of the Officers Schools. While on the side of the Bolsheviks are ranged the whole rank and file of the workers and the poorer peasants; and the soldiers and sailors are with and of them. On one side the workers, on the other side, everybody else. For the moment the cleavage has all the clear and beautiful distinctness of familiar theory...
And at this date – I am writing Nov. 4 – the workers are in complete control. No one can know what the next few days may bring forth. If they can persuade the other Socialist parties to join with them in accomplishing their gigantic immediate program of Bread, Peace and Land for the Peasants, this proletarian government will probably last until the Constituent Assembly – and after that, in history, a pillar of fire for mankind forever.
This is the moment toward which all revolutions tend. The course of every revolution is toward the left, swifter and swifter. And the Government which would retain power in revolutionary times must do the will of the revolutionary masses – or smash it with cannon. The Provisional Government did neither.
Since last February, when the roaring torrents of work-men and soldiers bearing upon the. Tauride Palace compelled the frightened Duma to assume the supreme power in Russia, it is the masses of the people – workmen, soldiers and peasants – who have forced every change in the course of the Revolution. It was they who hurled down the Miliukov ministry. It was their Soviets, their Council of Workingmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates which proclaimed to the world the Russian peace terms: “no annexations, no indemnities, the right of peoples to dispose of themselves!” And again in July, it was the spontaneous rising up of the unorganized masses, again storming the Tauride Palace, which forced the Soviets to assume power in the name of the proletariat.
The Bolshevik party was the ultimate political expression of this popular will. It was useless to hunt down the Bolsheviks as rioters and imprison them – as was done after the riots which grew out of the July demonstrations. Useless, too, to fling at them the accusation manufactured by provocateurs and reactionaries, and repeated until it was believed by all the world, that they were the paid agents of Germany. Unable to substantiate the accusations against the arrested Bolsheviks, the Provisional Government was obliged to release them, one by one, without trial, until of the original hundred less than twenty remained in prison.
Meanwhile, day by day, the Bolshevik power was growing. It was bound to grow. For the whole Bolshevik program was simply a formulation of the desires of the masses of Russia. It called for a general, democratic immediate peace (that got the army, sick of war); the land to be immediately at the disposal of the Peasant Land Committees (that got the peasants); and control of industry by the workers (that got Labor). The demand that the government should be simply the Soviets of the Workingmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates, without participation by the propertied classes, until the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the end of November, when the political form of the new Russia should be definitely decided – this completed their program. And it is worthy of remark that when the Bolsheviks first demanded that all power should be given to the Soviets, the majority of the Soviets were still bitterly anti-Bolshevik. It is a mark both of their utter consistency and of their complete confidence in the approaching triumph of their cause. Their cry, “All power to the Soviets !” was the voice of the Russian masses; and in the face of the increasing impotence and indecision of the ever-changing Provisional Government, it grew louder day by day.
So it was that, while the “center” Socialist parties, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionist moderates, involved themselves in compromise with the bourgeoisie, the Bolsheviks were rapidly capturing the Russian masses. In July they had been hunted and despised; by September the metropolitan workingmen, the sailors of the Baltic fleet, and the hotly of the army, had been won almost entirely to their cause.
It was the fate of the hesitating successive ministries of the Provisional Government to be blind to this inexorable trend of affairs. To the Soviets’ call for peace without annexations or indemnities, the Government replied by ordering the June offensive into Austrian Galicia. In answer to the whole country’s longing for peace, the Government permitted the Allies to postpone and again postpone the promised Conference on the Aims of the War, and finally to announce that war aims would not be discussed at all. In regard to the land question, the Government’s course was equally indecisive. In the summer, Peasant Land Committees had been appointed for the purpose of temporary disposal of the great estates; but when they began to act, they were arrested and imprisoned. To the agrarian disorders that resulted from the holding back of the long-promised land, the Government replied by sending Cossacks to put down the “anarchy.” The army was demoralized by suspicion of its officers; the Government, instead of attempting the democratization of the reactionary staffs, tried to suppress the Soldiers’ Committees, and restored the death-penalty in behalf of discipline. Industry was in a terrible state of disorganization, a struggle to the death between manufacturers and workingmen; but instead of establishing some sort of state control over the factories, and making use of the immensely valuable democratic workingmen’s organizations, Minister of Labor Skobelev tried to abolish the Shop Committees.
But the final collapse of the Provisional Government may be laid most of all to three colossal blunders: the Galician offensive of June, the Kornilov affair, and Coalition with the bourgeoisie.
After the Soviets’ worldwide call for peace without annexations and indemnities, the Russian and German armies had fraternized for several months, until, according to the testimony of Rosa Luxembourg, the German troops were thoroughly unwilling to fight. In June, by tricks, exhortations and lies, the Russians were cajoled into advancing the whole movement crumbling and crashing down in disaster at Kalusz and Tarnopol; and as a result, the morale of the Russian armies and their faith in their officers irreparably ruined.
Then, after the fall of Riga, came the Kornilov attempt to march on Petrograd and establish a military dictatorship. All the details of the story have not yet come out, but it is plain that Kerensky and other members of the Government were in some way involved in the scheme. Whatever the secret facts might be, enough was disclosed to make the masses utterly lose faith in Kerensky as a friend of the revolution. After that event, the Provisional Government was doomed.
Then the Coalition, the last chapter of preparation for the final struggle. At the time of the Kornilov attempt, the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets proposed that an All-Russian Congress be called at Petrograd, to broaden the base of the Provisional Government and create some sort of temporary organ or pre-Parliament to which the Ministry could be responsible until the Constituent Assembly. The basis of the new body was, of course, to be the Soviets; but as the Bolshevik power continued to grow, the Central Committee became anxious, and began to invite all sorts of non-political and conservative organizations, such as the Cooperatives, to participate. With the same object, to keep the pre-Parliament from being Bolshevik, it reduced the Soviet membership and increased the representation of the bourgeoisie in the last few days, until, even though the propertied classes had been expressly excluded, it was certain that the majority of the gathering would be “safe.”
It was a pre-Parliament carefully calculated to vote for the sharing of governmental power with the liberal bourgeois party. So far as plans could effect it, even the pretense of a Socialist regime was at an end.
But these plans were not easy to carry out. Russia had been shocked and frightened by the Kornilov affair, with its ominous threat against the very existence of the Republic. Investigation had proved how widespread was the responsibility for that affair, and there was profound distrust of the bourgeois politicians. In spite of Kerensky’s impassioned speech of self-defense, the Assembly proved to be overwhelmingly against his project of Coalition. But on the Government’s plea that the national danger demanded it, Coalition was pushed through by a narrow majority. Compromise had won. The Bolsheviks left the Assembly. The new “representative-consultative” body, the Council of the Russian Republic, with its immense proportion of business men and cadets, was officially instituted.
From the first the Bolsheviks refused to sanction the existence of the Council. At its first meeting in the Marinsky Palace, Trotzky took the tribune in the name of the Bolsheviks, and made a speech which contains the full premises of the Bolshevik insurrection. And when it became clear that there was nothing more to be said in opposition to the compromisers, but only something to be done, the Bolsheviks quitted the Council of the Russian Republic in a body.
That was on October 5th.
The true revolution may be said to have begun on that day. For their withdrawal was a sign of the withdrawal of confidence from the Government by the whole mass of the Russian people. Those who were left behind, the hostile Cadets, Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, realized what it meant, and there were many pale faces. Shrieks, curses, execrations, and imploring cries of “Come back!” followed the departing Bolsheviks. But they did not come back. And it was a blow from which the Council never recovered. It was to go on deliberating and speech-making, amid lethargic silence or uproarious tumult, for three weeks-appointing commissions, on land, on foreign affairs; Terestchenko was to come and make a dull, non-committal statement of international policy ; Kerensky was to come twice to appeal with tears for national unity, and once to curse the Bolsheviks, along with the reactionaries, as traitors; there were to be illusory conflicts between the Right and the Left, and a multitude of words added to the immense torrent of hot Russian talk that flows, turbulent and endless, on and on. Only in the last days of its existence did the denatured Council hurriedly pass a resolution to solve the land question at once and to adopt an energetic foreign policy to secure peace. It was too late, then. But they would keep on discussing until that cold grey morning, three weeks after the departure of the Bolsheviks, when they were to be interrupted – all the doors of the great imperial council room suddenly filled with rough-looking big soldiers and sailors, bristling with bayonets, and a sailor shouting, “No more Council. Run along home.”
I had seen the Bolsheviks leave the earlier Assembly. In the corridor I stopped Volodarski. “Why are you fellows going?” I asked. “We can’t work with that counter-revolutionary gang,” he replied. “They’ve packed the hall, and now they’ve put over a combination with the Kornilovtsi, to wreck the revolution.” “What are you going to do?” I asked, “We’re going to call a new All-Russian Convention of the Soviets. That’s where the real revolutionary force lies. Then we’ll take over the power. All power to the Soviets, where it belongs!”
It was this All-Russian Congress of Soviets that now loomed over Russia like a thunder-cloud. It was recognized to be the beginning of the Bolshevik regime, and by the bourgeoisie, the “center” Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists, the Central Army and Fleet Committees, the Peasants Soviets, and especially the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Soviets itself, no pains were spared to try to prevent it. Solemn resolutions, declarations in the press, delegations from the front, the fleet, from factories, Peasants’ Union (reactionary), Union of Cossacks, Knights of St. George, Death Battalions. ... In the Isvestia, official organ of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, a determined campaign against the Congress was carried on. The “center” Mensheviks and Social Revolutionists, led by the “Lieber-Dans” as they are called, sent instructions far and wide over the country for their party members to influence local Soviets into refusing to send delegates. But the Petrograd Soviet stubbornly insisted. At the date set, October 10, only fifteen delegates out of a possible 900 odd had arrived; the Petrograd Soviet merely postponed the meeting until October 25, and sent another call. The next day more than a hundred arrived – among them many who had been delegated irregularly, over the heads of hostile executive committees. Confident of a majority, the Bolshevik Petrograd Soviet sent word that it would grant increased representation to small Soviets, and seat all delegates. The Central Executive Committee realized that it was beaten, and sent frantic calls over the country to the Soviets to elect Menshevik and Social Revolutionist delegates – a despairing attempt to get a majority of the “right” and “center.”
In the meantime there were more sinister signs of resistance to the will of the masses. The Government was making preparations to evacuate Petrograd; and Rodzianko, former president of the Duma and one of the Cadet leaders, declared before a conference of business men in Moscow that the loss of Petrograd would not be a serious blow; for in the first place the revolutionary Petrograd workers would not cause any more trouble and in the second place, the revolutionary Baltic fleet would be disposed of. And then came the declaration of the new government: suppression of mutiny at the front and anarchy in the country by force, and the transfer of the power of “irresponsible organizations” (that is, the Soviets) to the Dumas and Zemstvos.
The air was full of talk of the Bolshevik “demonstration” – the vistuplenntie, or “coming out” of the workers and soldiers. Bolshevik agitators went the rounds of the Petrograd barracks and factories, insisting that the counter-revolutionary Government wanted to open the front to the Germans, wreck the Constituent Assembly, destroy the Revolution. Lenine made his appearance – in print in the columns of the Bolshevik paper “Rabotchi Poot” preaching armed insurrection. On the extreme right the reactionary papers “Novaia Rus” and “Jivoe Slovo” called for a bloody drowning of the left elements in blood, a pitiless military dictatorship. Burtsev’s paper, “Obshee Dielo,” advocated a strong patriotic government of Kornilov, Kaledine and Kerensky ! Evidently some of the Bolshevik chiefs themselves opposed the idea of an uprising, preferring to wait for the Constituent Assembly, but Lenine’s great voice roared continuously, “Either armed insurrection or abandon the program of All Power to the Soviets! The counter-revolutionists are preparing to destroy the All-Russian Congress and the Revolution !” Volodarski told me in the corridors of Smolny that the will of the masses of all Russia was that the power should immediately be given to the Soviets. “The Lieber Dan crowd are sabotaging this Congress,” he said. “But if they succeed in preventing enough delegates to come here to make a quorum, well, we are realists enough not to depend on that!” Kamenev was of the opinion that as soon as the All-Russian Soviets had declared themselves, the Provisional Government would be forced to resign...
Finally, the intention of the Bolsheviks in general was, I think, expressed best by Trotsky, who made a categorical public statement that the workers and soldiers would make no vistuplennie unless provoked, or unless some counter-revolutionary attempt was made. He was perfectly clear in his opinion that the masses of Russia, as represented in the Congress of Soviets, would demand by a huge majority that the power should pass to the Soviets; and of course if the government resisted!
At the meeting of the Petrograd Soviet in Smolny, the night of October 17th, Trotsky branded the assertions of the bourgeois press that the Bolsheviks contemplated armed insurrection as “an attempt of the reactionaries to discredit and wreck the Congress of Soviets... The Petrograd Soviet,” he declared, “has not ordered any demonstration in the streets. When it will be necessary we will do so, and we are sure we will be supported by the workers and the Petrograd garrison...They (the Government) are preparing a counter-revolution ; and we will answer with an offensive which will be merciless and to the end !”
That very day Trotsky gave me an interview about the projects of the new power – the “dictatorship of the proletariat” – which Volodarski had described to me as being in form “a loose government, sensitive to popular will, giving local forces full play.” He said:
“The Provisional Government is absolutely powerless. The bourgeoisie is in control, but this control is masked by a fictitious coalition with the moderate parties. Now, during the revolution, one sees revolts of peasants who are tired of waiting for their promised land, and all over the country, in all the toiling classes, the same disgust is evident. The domination of the bourgeoisie is only possible by civil war. The Kornilov method is the only way by which the bourgeoisie can dominate. But it is force which the bourgeoisie lacks...The army is with us. The conciliators and pacificators, Social-Revolutionists and Mensheviks, have lost all authority – because the struggle between the peasants and the landlords, between the workers and the bankers, between the soldiers and the Kornilovist officers, has become more bitter, more irreconcileable than ever. Only by the struggle of this popular mass, only by the victory of the proletarian dictatorship, can the revolution be achieved and the people saved! The Soviets are the most perfect representatives of the people – perfect in their revolutionary experience, in their ideas and objects. Based directly on the army in the trenches, the workers in the factories, and the peasants in the fields, they are the backbone of the Revolution.
“They have tried to create a power disdaining the Soviets, and they have created only powerlessness. Counter-revolutionary schemes of all sorts organize now in the corridors of the Council of the Russian Republic. The Cadet party represents the counter-revolution militant. On the other side, the Soviets represent the cause of the people. Between the two camps there are no serious groups. It is the inevitable lutte finale. The bourgeois counter-revolution organizes all its forces and waits for a moment to attack us. Our answer will be decisive. We will finish the work scarcely begun in February, and advanced during the Kornilov affair...”
He described to me how the new government would he composed; instead of a ministry, the different departments of the state would be directed by a series of collegia, headed by titulary commissars, who would be responsible to the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Soviets – the new parliament. I asked about the new government’s foreign policy.
“Our first act,” said Trotsky, “will be to call for an immediate armistice on all fronts, and a conference of the peoples to discuss democratic peace terms. The quantity of democracy we get in the peace settlement depends upon the quantity of revolutionary response there is in Europe. If we create here a government of the Soviets, that will be a powerful factor for immediate peace in Europe; for this government will address itself immediately and directly to the peoples, over the heads of their governments, proposing an armistice. At the moment of the conclusion of peace the pressure of the Russian Revolution will be in the direction of : no annexations, no indemnities, the rights of peoples to dispose of themselves, and a Federated Republic of Europe.
“At the end of this war I see Europe recreated, not by diplomats, but by the proletariat. The Federated Republic of Europe – the United States of Europe – that is what must be. National autonomy no longer suffices. Economic evolution demands the abolition of national frontiers. If Europe is to remain in national groups, then Imperialism will recommence its work. Only a Federated Republic can give peace to Europe and to the world.” He smiled, that singularly fine and somewhat melancholy smile of his. “But without the action of the European masses, these ends cannot be realized now.”
It is fashionable among the bourgeoisie to speak of the Bolshevik coup d’état as an “adventure.” Adventure it is, and one of the most splendid mankind ever embarked on, sweeping into history at the head of the toiling masses, and staking everything on their vast and simple desires. Peace, land, bread. Why not? Already the machinery was created by which the land of the great estates could be taken over and distributed to the peasants, each according to his powers. Already the factory shop committees were ready to put into operation workmen’s control of industry. The different nationalities of Russia were all ready for months to assume the administration of their own people. In every village, town, city, district and government, Soviets of Workmen’s, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Delegates were prepared to assume the local powers of government. Liberate the local forces of Russia – how simple, and how tremendous! As for peace – well unless all signs lied, the peoples of the world were sick of and disillusioned with the War... What it meant was simply the liberation of the local forces of the world!
At that same meeting of the Petrograd Soviet, on October lath, some soldiers, workmen and peasants spoke, revealing very clearly the feeling of the masses, and some officers, members of the Army Central Committees, the Central Committee of Soviets, etc., opposed them. As for these last, suffice it to say that they opposed with all their might “All power to the Soviets” – and there was not a proletarian among them, just as there were no bourgeois among the representatives of the masses. The division was clean...
The peasant described the agrarian disorders in Kaluga Government, which he said were caused by the Government’s arresting members of the Land Committees who were trying to distribute the uncultivated fields of the local great estates. “This Kerensky is nothing but a comrade to the pomiestchiks (landlords),” he cried. “And they know we will take the land anyway at the Constituent Assembly, so they are trying to destroy the Constituent Assembly!”
A workman from the Obukovsky Zavod, a government shop, described how the superintendents and managers were trying to close down certain departments one by one, complaining of lack of material, of fuel, etc., and how the shop committee had discovered that there was no real necessity for closing down. “They are trying to drive the revolutionary Petrograd workers out of the city,” he declared. “It is provocaisi, they want to starve us to death, or drive us to violence...”
Among the soldiers one began, “Comrades! I bring you greetings from the spot where men are digging their own graves and call them trenches! We must have peace!”
Another man told of the electoral campaign now being waged in the Fifth Army for the Constituent Assembly. “The officers, and especially the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, are trying deliberately to cripple the Bolshevik campaign. Our papers are not allowed to go to the trenches. Our speakers are arrested. Our mail is censored.”
“Why don’t you speak about the lack of bread?” cried a voice. “They are sabotaging the food supply. They want to starve Red Petrograd !”
And so it went. Now is there any truth in the accusation that the bourgeoisie were trying to wreck the Revolution? I happened, barely two weeks before, to have an exceedingly significant talk with one of the Great Russian capitalists, Stepan Georgevitch Lianosov –“the Russian Rockefeller,” as he is called.
“We manufacturers,” he said, among other things, “will never consent to allow the workmen, through their unions or any other way, any voice whatsoever in the administration or control of production in our business. ... In the government which is to cone there will be no coalition with the democratic parties – an all-Cadet ministry...
“How will this new government come into being? I will explain. The Bolsheviks threaten to make an insurrection on the twentieth of October. We are prepared. This uprising will be crushed by military force, and from this military force will come the new government... Kornilov is not dead yet; he failed, but he still has enough support among the people to succeed...And if the Bolsheviks do not rise, the propertied class will make a coup d’état at the Constituent Assembly? No, we do not fear the Bolsheviks. They are cowards, and will run at the first few shots of the troops. They will be suppressed by the military... There are the Cossacks, several guard regiments, and the Junkers. That will be more than enough...It is my personal opinion that the republic will not last long in Russia. There will be a monarchy.”
At the last meeting of the Council of the Russian Republic I was wandering around the corridors and chanced upon Professor Shatsky, a little, mean-faced, dapper man, who is influential in the councils of the Cadet party. I asked what he thought of the much-talked of Bolshevik vistuplennie. He shrugged, sneering:
“They are cattle-canaille,” he answered. “They will not dare, or if they dare they will be soon sent flying. From our point of view it will not be bad, for then they will ruin themselves and have no power in the Constituent Assembly... But, my dear sir, allow me to outline to you my plan for a form of government to be submitted to the Constituent Assembly. You see, I am chairman of a commission appointed from this body, in conjunction with the Government, to work out a constitutional project...We will have a legislative body of two chambers, much as you have in the United States. In the lower chamber will be territorial representatives, and in the upper, representatives of the liberal professions, Zemstvos, trades unions, cooperatives...”
On October sixteenth a special commission of the Council of the Russian Republic and the Ministry hurriedly hammered out two projects for giving the land temporarily to the peasants and for pushing an energetic foreign policy of peace. On the seventeenth Kerensky suspended the death penalty in the army. Too late. I went over to the Cirque Moderne to one of the Bolshevik meetings which grew more and more numerous every day. The bare, gloomy wooden amphitheater, with its five tiny lights hanging from a thin wire, was packed from the ring up the steep sweep of grimy benches to the very roof – soldiers, sailors, workmen, women, listening as if their lives depended upon it, and roaring applause. A soldier was speaking, from the 548th Division, whatever and wherever that is:
“Comrades!” he cried, and there was real anguish in his drawn face and despairing gestures. “The people at the head of things are always appealing to us to sacrifice more, sacrifice more, while those who have everything are left unmolested... We are at war with Germany, and we wouldn’t invite German generals to serve on our staff. Well, we’re at war with the capitalists, and yet we invite capitalists into our government... The soldier says, ‘Show me what I am fighting for. Is it the Dardanelles, or is it free Russia? Is it the democracy, or is it the capitalists? If you can prove to me that I am fighting for the Revolution, then I’ll go out and fight with capital punishment.’
“When the land is to the peasants, and the mills to the workers, and the power to the Soviets, then we’ll know we have something to fight for, and we’ll fight for it !”
Under date of October 16, I find entered in my notebook the following news culled from different newspapers:
Mogilev (Staff Headquarters). – Concentration here of Cossacks, the “Savage Division,” several guard regiments, and the “Death Battalions” – for action against the Bolsheviks.
The Junker regiments from the officers’ schools of Pavlovak, Tsarkow Selo, Peterhof, ordered by the government to be ready to come to Petrograd. Oranienbaum Junkers arrived in the city.
Part of the Armored Car Division of the Petrograd Garrison stationed at the Winter Palace.
At a meeting of the City Militia of the low-Liteiny district a resolution was passed demanding that all power be pivett to the Soviets.
Upon orders signed by Trotsky, several thousand rifles delivered by the Sestroretzk government arms factory. Petrograd workers being armed, and assigned in regiments. (This was the creation of the famous Red Guard.)
At Smolny, first meeting since Kornilov days of the Committee to Fight the Counter-Revolution.
At Smolny, meeting of representatives of the Petrograd garrison, and formation of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet.
This is just a fragmentary sample of the confused, violent happenings of those feverish clays, when everybody sensed that something was going to happen, but no one knew just what. On Sunday, the 22nd, the Cossacks had planned a “Chrestni Chod” – Procession of the Cross – in honor of the Ikon of 1624, by whose virtue Napoleon was driven from Moscow. The Petrograd Soviet published broadcast a proclamation, headed, “Brothers-Cossacks !”
“You, Cossacks, are wanted to be up against us, workmen and soldiers. This plan of Cain is being put into operation by our common enemies – oppressors of the privileged classes, generals, bankers, landlords, former officials, former servants of the Tsar. . . . We are hated by all grafters, rich men, princes, nobility, generals, including your Cossack generals. They are ready at any moment to destroy the Petrograd Council, and crush the Revolution. . . . On the 22nd of October somebody is organizing a Cossack religious procession. It is a question of the free consciousness of every individual whether he will or will not take part in this procession. We do not interfere in this matter and do not cause any obstruction to anybody. . . . However, we warn you, Cossacks! Look out and see to it that under the pretext of a Chrestni Chad, your Kaledines do not instigate you against workmen, against soldiers.”
The Military Commander of the Petrograd district hastily called off the procession. On the 19th all the newspapers and all the house-walls of Petrograd carried a government proclamation, signed by Polkovnikov, Commander of Petrograd, ordering the arrest of all persons inciting the soldiers to armed manifestations, forbidding all street meetings, demonstrations, and processions, and ordering the soldiers and the militia to prevent by military force all unauthorized arrests and searches in houses. As if by magic, the walls were covered with proclamations, appeals, warnings, from all the Central Committees, from the Executive Committees of the moderate and conservative parties, calling upon the workmen and soldiers not to come out, not to obey the Petrograd Soviet. For instance, this from the Military Section of the Central Committee of the Social Revolutionist Party:
“Again rumors are spreading around the town of an intended vistuplennie. What is the source of these rumors? What organisation authorizes these agitators who talk of the insurrection? The Bolsheviks, to a question addressed to them in the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, replied in the negative. ... But these rumors themselves carry with them a great danger. It may easily happen that, not taking into consideration the state of mind of the majority of the workers, soldiers and peasants, the individual hot-heads will call out part of the workmen and soldiers on the streets, exciting them to rise. ... In this terrible hard time which revolutionary Russia is passing through, this insurrection can easily become civil war, and there can result from it the destruction of all organizations of the proletariat, founded with so much pains. ... The counter-revolutionary plotters are planning to take advantage of this insurrection to destroy the revolution, open the front to Wilhelm, and wreck the Constituent Assembly. ... Stick stubbornly to your posts! Do not come out! ...
Meanwhile from all sides the situation was growing tenser day by day. The Bolshevik papers steadily counseled that the All-Russian Soviets should assume the power, end the war, give the land to the peasants. On the extreme right, such organs as Purishkevitch’s “Narodny Tribun,” the illegal monarchist paper – and the “Novaia Rus,” “Jivoe Slam,” etc., openly advocated pogroms – massacres of the Jews, of the Soviets. Mysterious individuals circulated around the long lines of miserable people waiting in queue, long cold hours for bread and milk, whispering that the Jews had cornered the food supply –and that while the people starved, the Soviet members at Smolny lived luxuriously. But the Bolshevik papers spoke, and the masses listened, and were quiet – waiting.
Petrograd presented a curious spectacle in those days. Ira the factories the committee rooms filled with stacks of arms, couriers came and went, the Red Guard drilled. ... In all the barracks meetings every night, and all day long interminable hot arguments. On the streets the crowds thickened toward gloomy evening, pouring in slow, voluble tides up and down the Nevski, bunched by the hundreds around some new proclamation pasted on a wall, and fighting for the newspapers. ... At Smolny there were new strict guards at the door, at both the gates and outer gates, demanding everybody’s pass. Inside the committee rooms :hummed and whirled all day and all night, hundreds of soldiers and armed workmen slept on the floor, wherever they could find room. Upstairs in the great hail which had been the ballroom of that one-time convent school for aristocratic girls, a thousand soldiers and workmen crowded for the uproarious all-night meetings of the Petrograd Soviet. From the thousand miles of battle-front the twelve millions of men in Russia’s armies, moved under the wind of revolt, with a noise like the sea rising, poured their hundreds upon hundreds of delegations into the capital, crying “Peace! Peace!” There was a convention of the All-Russian Factory Shop Committees at Smolny, passing hot resolutions about the control of workers over industry. The peasants were doming in, denouncing the Central Committee of the Peasants’ Soviets as traitors, and demanding that all power be given to the Soviets. ...
And in the city the theatres were all going, the Russian Ballet appearing in new and extravagant spectacles, Chaliapine singing at the Narodny Dom. Hundreds of gambling clubs functioned feverishly all night long, with much champagne flowing, stakes of 2o,ooo roubles. ... Private entertainments were given by the millionaire speculators, who were buying and selling for fabulous prices the food, the munitions, the clothing. ... On the Nevski every night thousands of prostitutes in jewels and expensive furs walked up and down, crowded the cafes. ... Monarchist plots, German spying, smugglers hatching schemes. ... And in the rain, the bitter chill, the great throbbing city under gray skies rushing faster and faster toward – what?
Now while everybody was waiting for the Bolsheviks to appear suddenly on the streets one morning and begin to shoat down people with white collars on, the real insurrection took its way quite naturally and openly.
One of the recent blundering actions of the Provisional Government had been to order the Petrograd garrison to the front, with the object of replacing it with loyal troops. To this order the Petrograd Soviet protested, alleging that it was the intention of the Government to remove from the revolutionary capital the revolutionary troops defending it. The General Staff insisted. Thereupon the Petrograd Soviet .agreed in principle, at the same time stipulating that it be allowed to send a delegation to the front to confer with General-in-Chief Tcheremissov, and agree with him on the troops which were to come to Petrograd. The Petrograd garrison also appointed a delegation; but an order from the General Staff forbade the committee to leave the city. To the Soviet delegation General Tcheremissov insisted that the .Petrograd garrison should obey his orders without question: .and that the General Staff would send to Petrograd whatever troops it saw fit.
At the same time the Staff in command of the Petrograd District began quietly to act. The Junker artillery was drawn into the Winter Palace. Patrols of Cossacks made their appearance, the first since July, and great heavy armored motor cars mounted with machine-guns began to lumber tap and down the Nevski. ... The military section of the Petrograd Soviet demanded that a Soviet representative be admitted to the meetings of the Staff. Refused. Petrograd Soviet asked that no orders be issued without the approval of the military section. Refused. On the sixteenth the representatives of all the regiments of the Petrograd garrison held a meeting at Smolny, at which they formed the famous Military Revolutionary Committee, and declared formally, “The Petrograd garrison no longer recognizes the Provisional Government. The Soviet is our government. We will obey only the orders of the Petrograd Soviet, through the Military Revolutionary Committee.”
On the twenty-third, the Government announced that it had sufficient force to suppress any attempted rising. That night Kerensky ordered the suppression both of the extreme right papers, “Novaia Rus” and “Jivoe Slovo,” and of the Bolshevik papers, “Rabotchi Poot” and “Saida.” An hour after the Junkers had closed the offices and printing shops, and put the Government seals on the doors, a company of soldiers from one of the Guard regiments broke the seals in the name of the Military Revolutionary Committee. At the same time other troops from Smolny seized the printing plant of the “Rousskaia Volia,” a bourgeois paper, and began to print the “Rabotchi Poor.” In trying to prevent this, Mayer, Chief of the Militia, was shot by the Red Guard.
During the night several transports full of Bolshevik sailors came from Kronstadt, with the cruiser “Aurora.” The Government ordered that the bridges over the Nova be raised, so that the regiments across the river and the work-men from the Viborg district could not come to aid the rebels. The Cronstadt sailors made a landing under fire, in which several people were killed, and closed the bridges. In the evening bands of Junkers stationed themselves at street corners near the Winter Palace and began to requisition automobiles; and after some hours the Bolshevik troops began to do the same.
Tuesday morning, the 24th, the people of Petrograd awoke to find the city plastered with proclamations signed “Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Work-men’s and Soldiers’ Delegates”:
“To the Population of Petrograd. Citizens! Counter-Revolution has raised its criminal head. The Kornilovtsi are mobilizing their forces in order to crush down the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets and break up the Convention of the Constituent. At the same time the pogromists may attempt to call upon the people of Petrograd for trouble and bloodshed. The Petrograd Soviet of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates takes upon itself the guarding of revolutionary order in the city against counter-revolutionary and pogrom attempts.
“The Petrograd garrison will not allow any violence or disorders. The population is invited to arrest hooligans and Black Hundred agitators and take them to the Soviet commissars at the nearest barracks. At the first attempt of the dark forces to make trouble on the streets of Petrograd, whether robbery or fighting, the criminals will be rubbed away from the face of the earth!
“Citizens! We call upon you to maintain complete quiet and self-possession. The cause of order and Revolution is in strong hands.”
At Smolny that night meeting of the old Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Soviets – its last – to welcome the delegates to the new Convention. Futile resolutions against the demonstration, in favor of complete submission to the Provisional Government. ... At the Council of the Republic, Kerensky thundered that the Government would, suppress all uprisings mercilessly. ... At the Winter Palace heated conferences, expulsion of impotent Colonel Polkovnikov as Commander of Petrograd, appointment of a special committee, headed by Kishkine, to reestablish order. . . Call to the Junkers of Pavlovsk, of Tsarkoe, to come – and replies that they dare not, Bolshevik troops in the way. ... Calls to the Cossacks – who reply that they will not come out unless they are supported by infantry. ...
At midnight members of the Pavlovsk regiment, who have secreted themselves in the meeting-room of the General Staff, overhear the plans that are being made to arrest the Bolshevik leaders, capture the Smolny and disperse the All-Russian convention. Immediately they post guards at all the entrances to the Staff, begin arresting officers and members of the Ministry, take them to Smolny – where no one knows what to do with them. Released with apologies. And then, two hours later, Junkers seizing the principal points of the city, the Military Revolutionary Committee gets into action. Ministers and Staff officers to be arrested, armored cars ordered out to hold the street-corners. Bolshevik troops sent to seize the State Bank, the Telephone Station, drive the Junkers out of the Telegraph Station, and draw a cordon around the Winter Palace. ... But Kerensky has already fled.
The masses are in power. ... And on the morning of October 31, after the defeat of Kerensky’s Cossack army, Lenine and Trotzky sent through me to the revolutionary proletariat of the world this message:
“Comrades! Greeting from the first proletarian republic of the world. We call you to arms for the international social revolution.”
1. All dates according to Russian calendar. 0dr dates thirteen days earlier.
2. “So, you have broken the peace! The Russian revolution was everything to us, too. Everything in Germany was tottering, falling... For months the soldiers of the two armies fraternized, and our officers were powerless to stop it. Then suddenly the Russians fired upon their German comrades! After that it was easy to convince the Germans that the Russian peace was false. Alas, my poor friends! Germany will destroy you now, and for us is black despair come again...” – Letter of Rosa Luxembourg to a Russian Socialist, July, 1917.