Victor Serge

Year One of the Russian Revolution

The First Flames of the Civil War:
The Constituent Assembly


The great decrees of 26 October affirmed only one aspect of the Revolution. It was not enough to proclaim to millions of soldiers that a vigorous revolutionary initiative for peace had begun, not enough to announce to over a hundred million peasants that they were now the masters of their land. The decree on peace shook the yoke of imperialism whose bloody weight bore down upon millions of soldiers. The expropriation of the landlords shook the feudal yoke which had borne down for centuries upon the peasantry. The task remained of delivering a lethal blow against the imperialism which had inherited the domineering traditions of feudal and mercantile Great Russia. As Elisée Reclus had foreseen even in 1905 [1], any genuine Russian revolution, if it was not to undermine its,own future irretrievably, had to give immediate freedom to the nationalities in bondage to the Empire that had now collapsed. In terms of nationalities, the population of the Empire was composed as follows [2]: Great Russians, 56,000,000; Ukrainians, 22,300,000; White-Russians, about 6,000,000; Poles, 8,000,000; Lithuanians, 3,100,000; Germans, 1,800,000; Moldavians, 1,100,000; Jews, 5,100,000; Finns, 2,600,000; peoples of the Caucasus, 1,100,000; peoples of Finnish origin (Estonians, Karelians, etc.), 3,500,000; peoples of Turco-Tartar descent, 13,600,000. The constitution of the Empire was characterized by the absolute hegemony of the conquering Great-Russian nation: its language was the sole official language, its religion (Greek Orthodoxy) the State religion. This though the Great Russians formed no more than a minority, fifty-six million out of 129 million. Between March and October 1917, the Provisional Government, in its concern to hold on to the territorial integrity of the old Empire, especially to the material advantages accruing to the Russian bourgeoisie from the subjection of conquered peoples, simply continued with the national policies of Tsardom, without even flinching before the dangerous conflicts that were now opened with Finland and the Ukraine. It was, for that matter, impossible for the old ruling classes to behave in any other way. And the fall of the autocracy had stimulated the appearance of national movements which became marked, notably in Finland and the Ukraine, by separatist tendencies. We must add, too, that the national question, among most of the non-Russian peoples, was closely related to the agrarian question, since the subject peoples in most of the territories were peasants. On 2 November, while the fighting was still going on in Moscow (it was the very day when the Red artillery was firing on the Kremlin) and while the victorious fighters from Pulkovo were being hailed by the population of Petrograd, the government of the Soviets promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia, which may be summarized by the three points:

  1. Equality and sovereignty of all peoples;
  2. Right of self-determination for the peoples, including that of separating to form independent States;
  3. Abolition of all national and religious privileges; and free development of all national or ethnic minorities.

This essential text contained no more than the programme expounded by Lenin himself from April and May onwards.

It can be compared with an appeal to the Islamic workers of Russia and the East published twenty days later (22 November) under the signatures of Lenin and the Commissar for Nationalities, Dzugashvili-Stalin. Never before in history had Europeans spoken out in this manner to peoples who had been oppressed, enslaved, conquered and ‘protected’ for centuries. We have torn up the secret treaties giving Constantinople to Russia! Gone is the treaty for the partition of Persia! Gone is the treaty for the partition of Turkey! Cancelled, the annexation of Armenia!

‘From now on, your beliefs and your customs, your national and cultural institutions, are declared free and inviolable. Go, organize your national life, freely and without fetters ... You must become the masters in your own countries ... Your destiny is in your hands.’


The General Headquarters – in Russian, the stavka – of a country at war is a sort of capital city no less important than the civilian metropolis. Immediately after the proletarian insurrection, the Stavka became the last hope of the counter-revolution. It held out tenaciously until 18 November. [3]

Fortunately for the Whites, it was situated a fair distance from both Petrograd and Moscow, at Mogilev, a small town in White Russia with 60,000 inhabitants, where the proletariat and the Bolshevik party were both equally weak. At the Stavka the supreme revolutionary authority was the Committee of the Armies, which had been elected at the beginning of the revolution and was controlled by the S-R party. This committee hobnobbed amicably with the General Staff, denounced Bolshevik plots and affirmed the indefatigable loyalty of the army to fatherland and Allies, as well as ‘the fervent desire of the soldiers to continue the war to the very end’. On 31 October it officially announced its intention to ‘resist Bolshevik force by force’. Its troops were to ‘march on Petrograd’ to re-establish order. ‘Not one drop of blood will be spilt unnecessarily,’ the proclamation ran. ‘If the Right wing tries to make capital out of these events for the counter-revolution, we shall turn all our forces against them.’

On the same day, the commander-in-chief, General Dukhonin, summoned the Bolsheviks to surrender unconditionally to the Provisional Government. This forceful language was no more than verbiage. The mass of the troops welcomed the news of the new revolution with joy. The Committee of the Armies had to reduce its pretensions, and said it would be content with a broad Socialist coalition. It changed again on the arrival, at the Stavka, of the leaders of the S-R party, Chernov and Gotz. The Rada, or National Parliament of the Ukraine, had just declared itself against the Bolsheviks. The idea of an alliance with the Rada now became current among the Socialists of counter-revolution.

The Committee of the Armies proposed the establishment of a ‘government of order’ whose Prime Minister was to be V.M. Chernov. These efforts were encouraged by the representatives of the Allies. In the middle of these negotiations, intrigues, faction-meetings and schemes, the soldiers and the masses acted. The armies of the North and the North-West went over to the Bolsheviks. The crack battalions of St George proved to be less than loyal: hostile to the generals and the S-Rs, they prevented the Stavka from moving to the south. Arrests of officers by their soldiers became more and more frequent.

On 9 November, Lenin, Stalin and Krylenko called General Dukhonin to the telephone and ordered him to begin immediate negotiations for an armistice with the Austrians and Germans. As the replies he gave were evasive, they ended the telephone conversation by dismissing Dukhonin from his command: ‘Second Lieutenant Krylenko is appointed commander-in-chief.’

But how could the General Staff be disarmed? The Council of People’s Commissars still had no governmental apparatus at their disposal. They were ignorant of the weakness of their adversary. Once again they relied on the masses. A radio appeal drafted by Lenin [4] called on the troops to intervene:

Soldiers, the cause of peace is in your hands. You cannot let the counter-revolutionary generals sabotage the great work of peace; you will place them under guard in order to prevent lynchings which are unworthy of the revolutionary army, and to ensure that they will not escape the tribunal which awaits them. You will observe the strictest revolutionary and military order.

The front-line regiments are immediately to elect delegates to begin formal negotiations with the enemy for an armistice. The Council of People’s Commissars authorizes you to do this. Inform us by every means possible of the progress of negotiations. The Council of People’s Commissars alone has the authority to sign the final armistice.

This document aroused a discussion in the All-Russian Executive of the Soviets (10 November), in the course of which Lenin explained his ideas. [5]

The only way we can defeat Dukhonin [he said] is by calling on the initiative and self-organization of the masses. Peace will not come about only from the top, it must be won from below. We have not the slightest confidence in the German generals, but we do have confidence in the German people. In the struggle we are waging against the Stavka, we must act thoroughly and without regard for formalities. I am against half-measures.

The Stavka’s own troops turned against it; on 18 November, just as it was on the point of fleeing and transporting itself to the Ukraine, the General Staff was confronted by its soldiers. The emigré Stankevich, who was an eye-witness, writes, ‘The Stavka had barely begun the preparations for its move when crowds of excited soldiers came on the scene, declaring that they would not let the GHQ go ... The Stavka had not a single soldier to defend it. Dukhonin remarked that he was being watched by his own batman.’ [6] The Allied officers, a few generals, and some reactionary units were the only ones to escape. When Krylenko and the Red sailors arrived, Generalissimo Dukhonin was arrested, and summarily done to death in the railway station at Mogilev.

It should be noted that the Stavka’s resistance marks the beginning of the intervention of the Allies against the revolution. General Lavergne, the head of the French Military Mission, and a senior American officer had given official encouragement to Dukhonin. This fact was pointed out in a menacing diplomatic Note from Trotsky.

On every front, the revolution similarly translated itself into a conflict between the masses on one side, and the command and leading officers on the other. And practically everywhere the out-come of the conflict was the same too.


Broken in the two capitals, broken in the Stavka, the counter-revolution’s resistance at once moved to the south. Asylum for the vanquished combatants of Petrograd, Moscow and Mogilev was found beyond the Ukraine (nationalistic and hostile to anything that savoured of the old Great-Russian yoke), in the provinces of the south-east and in the Don and Kuban Cossack territories. The Cossack population, a rural petty-bourgeoisie with strong military traditions enjoying special privileges under Tsardom, appeared to the generals as the ideal base for the recruitment of the counter-revolution’s first troops. Autonomous governments had been set up in these areas. The Donski-Krai, or Don country, was a kind of Cossack Republic, whose president was an elected military leader, or Ataman, General Kaledin, a supporter of the counter-revolution. At Ekaterinodar, the capital of the Kuban, there was a Rada, or vague parliament, composed of Cossacks and Socialist intellectuals whose representation of the wealthy part of the population was so blatant that their ’constitution’ excluded the workers and the poor, non-Cossack peasantry from the franchise.

Thereafter, over many bloody years, the history of the Don and the Kuban Cossacks, a typical rural petty-bourgeoisie, was one of interminable oscillation and internal feuding. Canvassed and attracted by revolution and by counter-revolution in turn, they showed themselves, in short, as absolutely incapable of taking up a definite position. As democrats, opposed to the restoration of Tsardom and hostile to the national patriotism of the Great-Russian bourgeoisie, they were constantly in conflict with the White generals in one way or another. The councils of the national armies were always being preoccupied by an embarrassing ‘Cossack question’. As determined supporters of private property, they battled violently against the proletarian Communists. Following the October Revolution their ideal became one of regional independence: they wanted to maintain their territories intact from ‘Bolshevik anarchy’. Here, as in everything else, the second-rate politicians of the Don and the Kuban displayed a very characteristic blindness.

While Krylenko was making his way into the Stavka at Mogilev, the man of September’s unsuccessful coup d’état, the man who had re-introduced the death penalty in the army, the Russian and Allied bourgeoisie’s recent candidate for the role of dictator, Kornilov himself, simply walked out of the monastery at Bykhovskoye where the Provisional Government had interned him. Was it trickery or weak security? A mixture of both: Kerensky had entrusted the surveillance of his accomplice, who was a prisoner for the sake of public form, to a detachment of cavalry entirely devoted to the prisoner! Kornilov placed himself at the head of his squadron and made his way towards the Don country; there he arrived at the beginning of December, alone and disguised as a peasant, having narrowly escaped being handed over to the Bolsheviks by his own loyal soldiery. [7]

In the Don, the old general Alexeyev [8] had been working away at the creation of an army of loyalist volunteers ever since the beginning of November: From all the corners of Russia, officers and Junkers flooded into Novo-Cherkassk and Rostov. The character of these counter-revolutionaries has been described with praiseworthy exactness by General Denikin [9]: the appeal for volunteers was responded to by

officers, Junkers, students, and very, very few others ... The nation did not rise to the call. Under these conditions of recruitment the army from its inception suffered from a grave organic fault: it took on the character of a class army, inevitably ... It was evident that in these circumstances the Army of Volunteers could not fulfil its mission over the whole of Russia.

What, then, did the generals imagine they could do? Their objective, it is clear, was to contain Bolshevism while the latter was still unorganized – its phenomenal power of organization took them unawares – and to await the outcome of events.

The establishment of this army proved difficult. The majority of the officers hesitated, went into hiding, or adapted to the new régime. Once the basis for military authority had been shattered, these army professionals felt utterly lost. And, everywhere, the vigilant hatred of the masses barred their path. Those who managed to reach the Don did so after passing through innumerable perils: the fugitive officer en route for the south became an outlaw-figure for the soldiers, to be killed on sight. Alexeyev had to work with frenzied energy to get his first units going. Money was in short supply. The bourgeoisie in the towns gave too little; it was already hard-pushed. The day very soon came when they could give nothing. Denikin reports that ‘The Embassies of the Allied Powers were in a state of terror.’ Even the Cossacks looked with a jaundiced eye upon this ingathering of armed patriots on their soil. The reactionary generals, in their appeal of 27 December, had to include a reference to the sovereignty of the people, exercised by the Constituent Assembly. All the same, the Cossack Council at the Don decided to keep a strict watch on the Army of Volunteers and ‘purge it of counter-revolutionary elements’. At its best, the army counted no more than three to four thousand men. By contrast, it teemed with senior officers. Two generalissimos, Alexeyev and Kornilov, who also were at loggerheads, held the supreme command. Together with Kaledin, they formed a ruling triumvirate.

The army began its career by putting down workers’ risings at Rostov and at Taganrog (26 November, 2 January) after the Cossacks had refused to intervene. It very quickly found itself in an impossible situation, with the ground cut from beneath its feet. The workers in the nearby Donetz region were threatening; the Cossacks were mutinous, and kept clearing off, since their parochial patriotism moved them to defend no more than their own territory – i.e. the territory of their various villages – against Red incursions. The Red Guards and the Caucasian army, which was back from the front, were soon surrounding the Don and laying siege to the Kuban.

The Council of People’s Commissars outlawed the leaders of the Cossack counter-revolution in an appeal on 28 November:

The local garrisons are urged to act with all possible vigour against the enemies of the people, without waiting for orders. All negotiation with them is forbidden. Any local citizens or railway-workers who give them assistance will be punished with all strictness of the revolutionary law.

The Soviet government did not rest with this: the workers’ Red Guards from Petrograd, Moscow, Kharkhov and the Donetz mines, reinforced with sailors and some army units, began a huge pincer movement under the command of Antonov-Ovseyenko, designed to isolate the Don area from the Ukraine before going on to the capture of Rostov and Kiev.

Inevitably in this guerrilla warfare, fought mostly along the railways with assistance from armoured or simply armed trains, the Red military headquarters for the southern front could give only very general guidance. Under Antonov’s command there were two remarkable leaders: Sablin, a Left S-R who headed the workers’ contingents from Petrograd and Moscow, and Sivers, a Bolshevik NCO who commanded the Don army and was shortly to be killed. At first the Reds suffered some defeats, notably at Matveyev-Kurgan near Taganrog: but a workers’ rising in this city restored the situation by chasing out the Whites. The Cossacks were hesitant, and became subdivided into factions of young and old, rich and poor, frontliner and rearguard. Red Cossack units were formed, and the workers continued their actions: the doom of the counter-revolution, reduced solely to the officers and thrown on to its own resources (for no foreign support was forthcoming), was now assured. The war ended on 29 January with the suicide of the Ataman Kaledin, and Kornilov’s hazardous retreat to the Kuban.

A short extract from Kaledin’s last speech, made before the Don Cossack Council just as the Reds were entering Novo-Cherkassk, forms an admirable summary of the debacle of this first phase of counter-revolution.

When Kornilov goes, we shall have only a handful of men, a hundred to a hundred and forty soldiers ... How can one find words for this shameful disaster? We have been betrayed by the vilest kind of egotism. Instead of defending their native soil against the enemy, Russia’s best sons, its officers, flee shamefully before a handful of usurpers. There is no more sense of duty or sense of honour or love of country, or even simple morality.

All that remained for the Ataman to do was to blow his brains out. His successor Nazarov was, in the collapse of the Cossack democracy, incapable either of organizing resistance or taking flight; the Reds surprised him in the middle of a session of the Cossack Council and shot him (12 February).

At around the same time the Kuban underwent confused fighting, similar to that in the Don area since they involved the same social elements. This ended on 1 March with a Red victory. Soviet power was installed in Ekaterinodar, only for a short time it is true. There was a rising of Cossacks in the Ural region between 25 November and 18 January which, under the command of General Dutov, succeeding in capturing Orenburg. This ended likewise in defeat.

The synchrony among these events is most striking.


The vast region of the Dnieper, situated in the south of the Great Russian plain, is to Russia what Provence is to France. The people of the Ukraine are differentiated from their Great-Russian kin by a milder and sunnier climate, wonderfully fertile soil, a past of greater affluence, gaiety and freedom, and a southern language which is less modulated but more sonorous than Russian. The economic character of this differentiation can be seen clearly. Before the war of 1914-18 three quarters of all coal produced in the Empire came from the Ukraine, as did two thirds of the iron ore, three quarters of the manganese, two thirds of the salt, four fifths of the sugar and nine tenths of the wheat exported from Russia. [10] It was by far the richest land of the Empire. The Ukrainian national movement’s theoreticians, bourgeois ideologists naturally, accused the Tsarist régime of systematically siphoning away the capital and natural wealth of the Ukraine for the benefit of Great Russia. Tsardom, they pointed out, had developed sea-traffic in the Baltic ports to the detriment of Black Sea shipping, and had restricted the growth of industry in the Ukraine. Finally, they waxed eloquent in their denunciations of the insupportable hardships of cultural Russification.

The Ukrainian national movement awoke immediately upon the fall of the autocracy. The Rada, a sort of Ukrainian National Assembly, was speedily constituted, and entered into conflict with the Provisional Government of Prince Lvov. The independence sought by the Ukraine was very far-reaching. The Bolsheviks alone supported the demand. Accordingly, the Rada hailed the October Revolution as an act of liberation, but, once it had shaken off the dominion of the Great-Russian bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie of the Ukraine had no intention of going with the proletariat along the path of social revolution. The Soviets of the Ukraine were now marching in step with those of Great Russia. The Kiev Soviet had organized a Revolutionary Committee on 22 October with the aim of seizing power. For a short while the Soviet and the Rada formed a united front against the Russian Kadets, Mensheviks and S-Rs in the Kiev municipal council who were siding with the Provisional Government in Petrograd. But as soon as Kerensky’s cause was lost, another sort of united front was immediately set up: this time the Kadet party (the Russian Constitutional-Democrats, the party of the big Great-Russian bourgeoisie, be it recalled) joined forces with the Rada against Bolshevism. From now on, the conflict between the ‘People’s Republic of the Ukraine’ and the Kiev Soviet could be resolved only by force of arms.

Our comrade G. Safarov has provided a most interesting analysis of the distribution of populations in the Ukraine. In the countryside, the Great Russians formed minorities often of tiny proportions (less than a thirtieth of the population in the Poltava gubernia, a tenth in the Kiev gubernia, etc.). In the towns on the other hand, i.e. in the industrial and commercial centres, the Great-Russian element was often more numerous than the Ukrainian; small towns were often dominated by the Jews.

More and more, the towns were falling under non-Ukrainian influence. The composition of Ukrainian society can be summarized schematically as follows: at the summit, the Russian bureaucracy, the landlords and the Russian capitalists; next down, the commercial, industrial and artisan petty-bourgeoisie of the towns, which was Russian and Jewish; next, the Ukrainian rural petty-bourgeoisie and its intellectuals; finally, at the bottom, the Russian and Ukrainian proletariat of the towns and the country.

The rural petty-bourgeoisie (rich and middle peasants), along with its intelligentsia, was the backbone of the nationalist movement. As among the Don and Kuban Cossacks, it was both democrat and counter-revolutionary. Independence, property, the republic for these classic’ideals of the young ascendant bourgeoisies of old it was ready to fight ferociously.

The Rada of Kiev was composed of 213 peasant representatives, 132 army representatives, and 100 workers, salaried employees, intellectuals, etc. It tried to manoeuvre with the social current. Its Manifesto of 7 November was a curious mixture drawn from the declarations of the Soviet government. It announced the confiscation of the land belonging to the big proprietors and the Crown, etc., which were henceforth the property of the nation, to be disposed of by a Ukrainian Constituent Assembly. It decreed the eight-hour day and instituted government control over industrial production (government control, be it noted, not workers’ control, though the workers had to participate in it). It promised energetic measures to end the war; abolished the death penalty and decreed a far-reaching political amnesty; announced a reform of the law-courts in accordance with ’the spirit of the people’; proclaimed a large decree of autonomy for local institutions (without saying which); and fixed the date for elections to the Ukrainian Constituent Assembly as 27 December, and the date for its first session as 9 January.

At the same time as it issued this shrewd proclamation, the Rada gave free passage over its territory to the White officers and the troop-units who were on their way to the Don, refused the same right to the Red troops going south, and disarmed the Soviet formations. On 4 December, the Council of People’s Commissars presented it with an ultimatum which began with the significant sentence: ‘We recognize, without reservation or condition, the national rights and the national independence of the Ukrainian people ...’

The Rada had to drop its mask. Its reply attacked, in a blanket of confused reproof, the elements of the extreme Right and the Bolsheviks, the anarchy of the Red soldiery and the fratricidal struggle in the People’s Commissars’ own territory. The Rada demanded a broad Socialist coalition and a federal republic. This document, signed by Vinnichenko, Petlyura and Mirny, was a declaration of war.

Fighting had already begun. A general strike broke out in Kiev. The Rada collapsed under the combined blows of the Red Guards from Petrograd, Moscow and Kharkov, who were commanded by Muraviev, the victor of Pulkovo, and of detachments of Red troops from the Rumanian front. The Reds entered Kiev on 26 January. Their victory was not a total one: guerrilla warfare was to continue in the south of Russia until 1921. A government of the Soviets of the Ukraine was set up at Kharkov.

France’s intervention on the side of the counter-revolution did not stop with its prompt recognition of the independence of the Ukraine, complete with the despatch of a Military Mission to Kiev. At the beginning of January, M. Stephen Pichon had agreed a loan of 180 million francs to the Rada. At the same time as it leant on the support of the French government and enjoyed the advice of French agents like General Berthelot, the Rada also sought the assistance of the Central Powers for the struggle against Bolshevism.


For several months, the monarchy of Rumania, now under crushing pressure from the Central Powers, had been harassed by the behaviour of the Russian army of about a million men, under the command of General Shcherbachev, an incorrigible reactionary. The Court and the General Staff had taken refuge at Jassy after the capture of Bucharest by the Austrians and Germans; there, on 1 May, they saw to their horror – the Russian regiments release Rakovsky from prison, hail him with ovations and applaud the idea of a Rumanian Republic. For a few hours, Jassy was within the pull of the Russian revolution: but this had yet to find its way forward, and the Rumanian monarchy was allowed to survive.

The Russian generals made haste to join with the Rumanian government, the Allied representatives and the reactionary officer-cliques, against the ‘Bolshevist anarchy’ they all dreaded. When the Ukrainian Rada announced its independence, Shcherbachev concluded an agreement with it. A confused and bloody struggle now opened out, destined to last for months, between revolutionary soldiers and a grand coalition against the second revolution formed by the generals, the officers, the Allies, the Rumanian government, the pro-government Socialists (Mensheviks and S-Rs) and Ukrainian nationalism.

For a short spell a handful of Bolsheviks led by Semyon Roshal, a young militant of great talent, managed to get the better of the General Staff and take command of the army. They were arrested after a few days (10 December). Roshal was murdered after capture by a group of Ukrainian officers, and his seventy-three fellow-prisoners were treated harshly and threatened each day with the same fate. (Later, in March, they were exchanged for representatives of the Rumanian bourgeoisie who had been arrested in Russia.) The Rumanian army, commanded by General Averescu, acquired enormous stocks of war material which were gladly left for it by the Russian high command. White fighting units were now formed by Russian officers: one of these, that led by General Drozdovsky, later took part in the establishment of Denikin’s army. A number of Red units from the army in Rumania managed to fight their way through to the Ukraine.

With encouragement from the Allies, the Rumanian government had for some time been preparing the annexation of Bessarabia, which the Allies appear to have endorsed at the beginning of the revolution. The Central Powers had made the same offer previously. The ‘Moldavian national movement’ in Bessarabia [11] had a character similar to that of Ukrainian nationalism – except that its strongest base was in the funds it received from the Secret Service of the Rumanian General Staff. The Rumanian bourgeoisie’s ancient appetites for expansion were fanned by the imperious fears of the present: in order to check the revolution, it had to be robbed of territory. Bessarabia was a dangerous focus of revolutionary contagion: the Wallachian and Moldavian boyars [12] were still haunted by the memories of the peasant rising of 1907, a repercussion from Russia’s revolution. Their agents set up a so-called ‘National Council’, the Sfatul Tarii: it was elected from non-existent organizations and Moldavians had the majority in it. [13] The Moldavian National Party began to recruit an army. However, the spirit of the soldiers was such that when, at the beginning of January, the Rumanians made a first attempt to enter Kishinev, the Moldavian soldiers acted in concert with the revolutionary Russian troops to halt the move. Around twenty revolutionary soldiers had to be sent to the firing-squad before obedience could be restored.

The Sfatul Tarii, chaired by a former commissar of Kerensky’s administration, who was also an S-R, assembled on 21 November to talk in a language similar to that of the Ukrainian Rada. The opposition of some honest Socialists was not enough to prevent the establishment of a Directorate which was at the bidding of Rumanian interests. Every tactic of intrigue, intimidation, corruption and demagogy was used by this body, in which the Rumanian agents even went so far as to take the guise of Bolsheviks, like a certain Buzdugan who, later, on 27 March, was to read the loyal address of the Sfatul Tarii to the King of Rumania.

The Rumanians, assisted by General Shcherbachev, meanwhile occupied strategic points and cut off the supplies of the revolutionary soldiers. Finally they occupied Kishinev, but only after a fierce battle lasting several days in which they broke the resistance of the Moldavian peasants and the Russian revolutionary fighters. [14]


It is against the background of this period and these events that the spontaneous beginnings of the Red terror must be viewed. It was the direct consequence of a whole series of factors. The General Staffs had maintained discipline in the army only through the death penalty, that is, by a systematic practice of legalized terror. The memory of the merciless repressions of 1905-6 was still active in the army and the fleet. Then too, the officers now appeared everywhere to be the most active agents of the counter-revolution. For months they had insistently demanded the reintroduction of the death penalty in the armed forces, the only guarantee of discipline. Accustomed in the course of war to treat mutiny as a dangerous beast to be dispatched without any pretence of a trial, they themselves were devotees of terror. Episodes like the massacre of the Kremlin arsenal workers became current almost every-where whenever the officers secured a temporary control. The seeds of hate that they sowed so liberally became a rich harvest in a few weeks. General Denisov gives some interesting statistics on the massacre of officers by soldiers, in the Don region alone, between 13 February and 14 April 1918: fourteen generals, twenty-three colonels and 292 commissioned officers were killed in this period. [15]

A few reports of episodes will prove revealing on the nature of this wave of terror.

An officer was walking along a street in a small town of the Crimea. Nobody paid any attention to him. A beggar, who was a legless cripple, caught sight of him. This human trunk started off on the heels of the officer shouting: ‘Off with your epaulettes, comrade, take them off!’ The officer hurried on. At this, the beggar roused a mob with cries of ‘Comrades, look! There goes the counter-revolution!’ This scene is recounted by an eye-witness. [16]

The same witness tells the story of the execution of some naval officers at Sebastopol. The Red sailors took over the railway station, and every officer who arrived there was summarily interrogated. If he had served in 1905-6, the period of the ruthless suppression by the tribunals of the fleet, he was at once stood up against the wall and shot. Any other officers could pass unmolested through this bloody checkpoint, under the hard eyes of the sailors.

After the first engagements of the civil war, the betrayals on the Rumanian front, the conspiracies and risings of the Ukraine, the Don, the Kuban, the Ural and the Crimea, the fury of the sailors and soldiers ceased to make any distinctions among the officers.

The first messages from the south announcing mass executions of officers were published in Petrograd during the second half of January. They described events in the Crimea. The officers, at the head of Tartar detachments, had gained control over the peninsula for a short time, and proceeded to shoot their Bolshevik prisoners. The arrival of Red sailors restored the situation. A telegram dated 20 January told of the bombardment of Yalta by two Red torpedo-boats, and ended with these lines: ‘Several dozen officers were executed. They were led to the edge of the sea with heavy stones tied round their necks, and thrown in to drown. The corpses are floating in the harbour ... Two big merchants have been shot.’

Similar episodes took place in most of the small towns of the Crimea. Here, in some of the gayest and most beautiful places in the whole of Russia, the Red terror was born.

So far it was confined to the massacre of officers-by their own soldiers, in the areas where the civil war had begun. In the capitals and over the greater part of its territory, the revolution treated its enemies with a magnanimity which was still to last for some months.


The Council of People’s Commissars was beginning its difficult struggle for peace.

The risks implicit in its initiatives were colossal. Could anything at all accurate be known about the internal situation of the other belligerent nations? Suppose that the Bolsheviks’ calculations were correct, based as they were on their faith in the revolutionary proletariat and their sure knowledge of the devastation among the contending nations: then their tactic of audacity was the right one, for it could only assist in the maturation of events. But what if they were wrong? Supposing that they were wrong even on the degree to which events had matured? Would not the generals of the Central Powers reply to the armistice proposals by an overwhelming offensive against an army so obviously disintegrating, whose officers were no longer obeyed, whose soldiers were demobilizing themselves in entire units to return to their villages, without waiting for orders? The Bolsheviks seemed to be burning the revolution’s boats. If Germany was still powerful enough to reject the peace proposals, would the Bolsheviks on their side be able to undertake the revolutionary war which they accepted in principle?

The success of Lenin’s strategy in the struggle for peace should not cause us to forget the uncertainties amidst which action had to be framed.

On 18 November, just as the Stavka was collapsing, a special train went off to Brest-Litovsk with the Soviet delegation in charge of the armistice negotiations. It consisted of nine persons: A.A. Yoffe, a former political exile and Trotsky’s old colleague on the Vienna Pravda; L.B. Kamenev; S.G. Mstislavsky, a Left S-R officer and a talented journalist; G.Y. Sokolnikov; a woman, another Left S-R, A.A. Bitsenko, who had lately been a terrorist; plus a sailor, a soldier, a peasant and a worker. Senior officers accompanied the delegation as advisers. Its secretary was a modest militant named Karakhan. When it reached the German lines, Prince Leopold of Bavaria came forward with a salute. The plenipotentiaries of the Central Powers were headed by General Hoffmann. [17]

These negotiations were a sort of duel. It was the first time in modern history that men so different, representing not hostile States, but warring social classes, faced each other calmly across a green tablecloth: polite, reserved, observant, dominated by a coldly calculating hatred. On the one side, embroidered uniforms, sparkling with decorations, the decorations of princes and generals: on the other, the insolence of a sailor’s jerkin, a peasant’s smock, a trooper’s greatcoat, the blouse of the perpetual student-girl, sombre garments without a badge of rank, the plain dress of yesterday’s exiles, who now had the sober bearing of victorious insurgents.

Each side’s every word was carefully weighed. Over the heads of the generals, the Russians wanted to speak to the troops, to the masses; over the heads of the Central Powers, to all the belligerents. Their adversaries on the other hand were in pursuit of immediate and very practical objectives. The Bolsheviks’ outrageous declarations of principle, read out impassively by Kamenev, were received in the same spirit. It was time to formulate concrete proposals; when the Russians were asked to present theirs, they were taken by surprise. Matters had been improvised so rapidly nothing of the sort had been prepared. They had to gain time. Hoffmann would not agree to speak first; he who makes the first proposal reveals his armament. After some reflection, the Russians proposed the following conditions; an armistice of six months; no switching of Austrian or German troops from the eastern to the western front; freedom of propaganda; fraternization among the troops; the Central Powers to evacuate the key strategic position of Moonsund. [18] This last clause was regarded by the Austro-Germans as an outrage, which, however, they submitted to without flinching. For their part they offered an armistice of fourteen days. They were taken aback when the Russians refused to accept this; the parties separated after agreeing on a simple suspension of hostilities.

When negotiations were resumed, the armistice was concluded on 2 December, for twenty-eight days, renewable for a further period. The Austrians and Germans were to desist from any movement of troops from one front to another, a pledge that was much more formal than real. The pact allowed the fraternization of troops in the form of ‘organized contacts’. For a long time Hoffmann tried to keep this clause out, but Kamenev succeeded in having it included. ‘Come now,’ Hoffmann said to him, ‘don’t be so unreasonable: no prohibition will stop the troops from fraternizing.’ General Hoffmann was a realist.


The period from the first days of November to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (7 January 1918) was marked, on the home front, by the economic resistance of the old ruling classes, by the political struggle around the Constituent Assembly, and by the struggle for peace. We shall have to analyse these three sets of events separately, although in reality they were aspects of a single process.

The general situation at this time has been outlined. A simple enumeration of the main decrees of the Soviet government will show the enormous amount of work accomplished.

It was a formidable agenda, a tremendous creative labour. Sabotage lay everywhere, and counter-revolution seeped through every crack. The actively counter-revolutionary elements were the big bourgeoisie round the Kadet party, some tens of thousands of officers, and the Socialist-Revolutionary party. On 6 November, Purishkevich, the old leader of the ultra-reactionary ‘True Russians’, was arrested. On his person was a letter addressed to Ataman Kaledin, part of which ran: ‘The situation can only be saved by establishing regiments of officers and Junkers ... Authority is in the hands of a criminal mob who will only be brought to their senses by public shootings and hangings.’ [20]

In a document drawn up by Trotsky and published by the Military Revolutionary Committee, dated 7 November, we can see the first intimations of the measures which will later form the system of ‘War Communism’. The MRC notes that sabotage is driving the country into famine, and warns the wealthy classes that they are ‘playing with fire’. ‘They themselves will bear the first consequences of the situation they are creating. The rich and their abettors will be deprived of the right to purchase supplies. All their stocks will be requisitioned. The property of the principal offenders will be confiscated.’ The working population is urged to boycott those responsible for sabotage.

At the beginning of December, the situation in Petrograd took a sharp turn for the worse, as a result of the ransacking of the wine-cellars. Drunken, angry, demoralized crowds menaced the capital with anarchy. In order to stop a riot from occurring, an Extraordinary Commission had to be selected, equipped with full powers.

In reply to the activities of the counter-revolution, Lenin proposed, in his speech of 1 December to the All-Russian Soviet Executive, to declare the Constitutional-Democrats (Kadets) enemies of the people. ‘When a revolutionary class is at grips,’ he said, ‘with propertied classes who are resisting it, it must break that resistance. And we shall break the resistance of the property-owners by the same methods that they are using against the proletariat. No others have yet been invented.’ [21]

Lenin was asked to confine the measures to particular individuals, but he refused; ‘It is the general staff of an entire class that we have to strike at.’ It was, in short, not a matter of picking on individuals, to weigh out degrees .of justice. Milyukov’s party found unexpected champions among the Left S-Rs and in Maxim Gorky. Once again, the great writer was misled by his love of culture. ‘The Kadet party,’ he wrote in Novaya Zhizn on 7 December, ‘numbers the most cultivated men in the country.’ As if the party of Thiers and Galliffet, in 1871, did not number the most cultivated men in France! Lenin’s measures, in fact, were relatively mild. A few arrests followed.

A few days after this, after the majority of the Second All-Russian Congress of Rural Soviets had voted to support the October Revolution, the Left S-Rs decided to enter the government. Six of their leaders (Proshyan, Algasov, Trutovsky, Steinberg, Mikhailov and Ismailovich) became members of the Council of People’s Commissars. Lenin believed that the bloc between Bolsheviks and Left S-Rs, who were influential in the countryside, ‘could be an honest coalition, for there is no fundamental disagreement between the interests of the workers and the interests of the toiling and exploited peasants’. [22]

Lenin’s general views at this point are best expounded in a speech he made on 22 November to the Congress of the Fleet. [23] Here are a few lines from it:

The oppressed masses are confronted with the most difficult task in the world: they have to build a state unaided. You see what powers of resistance the bourgeoisie has, now they are trying to block our activity by sabotage, the floods of lies and slanders that are poured upon us at every excuse and without excuse ...

We say: there must be a strong power, there must be constraint and violence. But we shall use it against a handful of capitalists, against the bourgeois class.

The labouring classes have nothing to rely on except themselves. We must have confidence in our own forces! ... Divided, the masses are powerless: when united, they are strong.


The elections to the Constituent Assembly, which had been postponed for so long by the Provisional Government under pressure from the bourgeoisie, took place in the middle of November.

Every class and every party participated in the elections, but with very varied expectations and attitudes. The bourgeoisie proper hoped for very little from the future Assembly. Numerous witnesses at this time recount its profound disarray: headless, leaderless, without a plan of action or a definite tactic. General Alexeyev’s Army of Volunteers received no more than pitiful subventions from’ commercial and industrial circles: the military leaders were not understood, and individual egoism triumphed over bourgeois class solidarity.

Armed resistance to the revolution was in the hands of the reactionary generals and the military caste, a social stratum much swollen through the war. Among the career officers, the aristocracy and bourgeoisie were dominant; among the reserve officers, who were much more numerous, the intelligentsia and petty-bourgeoisie.. It is the officers who are the virile elements of the counter-revolution. They laugh at the idea of the Assembly. For them, what has to be done is to organize loyal regiments around a new centre of authority and to restore order just as one makes war, without skimping the ammunition.

It was only the S-R party that awaited the Constituent Assembly with an almost mystical faith. For long months this party had for-gotten its revolutionary traditions and lived in a state of democratic befuddlement. Fortified by votes from millions of peasants, from the intellectuals and from the urban middle classes, and even from radical elements of the bourgeoisie, encouraged by the international Socialist movement and the Allied governments, certain of a large majority at the coming Constituent Assembly – which would assuredly be followed by a Legislative Assembly! – the S-R party believed itself to be the great parliamentary and governmental party of tomorrow. How could it not be so?

The prospect of an S-R electoral victory embarrassed the Bolsheviks. Lenin wanted to amend the electoral law so as to give the vote at eighteen years, legalize the recall of candidates and delegates, and refuse the Kadets and counter-revolutionaries the right to vote. But the Bolsheviks had themselves urged the Assembly’s convocation, which would indeed have marked a step of progress under the Provisional Government. And the provinces were looking expectantly towards its meeting.

‘Will we be any better off,’ asked Lenin, ‘if the Constituent Assembly turns out to be composed of Kadets, Mensheviks and S-Rs?’ Other Bolsheviks replied that ‘We shall be stronger at the moment when it meets than we are today.’ Lenin gave in to the majority, but vowed that ‘this error shall not cost us the revolution’. [24]

He expounded his ideas on the Assembly in some theses he published in Pravda at the end of December. These ran as follows. The Constituent Assembly realized the highest form of democracy possible in a bourgeois republic, and therefore had its legitimate place in the programme of Social-Democracy. However, the Soviets were a form of higher democracy, the only form ensuring an uninterrupted transition to Socialism. The reckoning of the votes was false, because it was made on the basis of outdated electoral lists that had been drawn up before the great changes in the country. The party that was most popular among the peasantry, the S-Rs, went to the polls on the basis of single lists when it was in fact split. [25] The majority of the people had still not had time to take account of the implications of the Soviet revolution. Fresh elections in the Army Committees, Provisional Committees, etc., indicated that political regroupments were still taking place. Besides, the counter-revolutionaries had begun civil war in the south and in Finland, ‘thereby removing any possibility of settling the most pressing questions by methods of formal democracy’.

These questions could be settled only by the complete victory of the workers and peasants, by the ‘pitiless suppression of the slave-owners’ rebellion’. To consider the Constituent Assembly outside the class struggle and the civil war was to take the viewpoint of the bourgeoisie. If the Constituent Assembly ‘opposes Soviet power it is condemned to inevitable political death’. ‘The interests of the revolution take precedence over the formal rights of the Constituent Assembly.’ In order to’ resolve the crisis, the people must use their right to re-elect the members of the Assembly, and the Assembly itself must declare itself for the Soviets and against the counter-revolution. Otherwise ‘the crisis can be resolved only. by reactionary methods ’. [26]

The elections were over by the end of November, and showed the following results on 30 December: ‘520 delegates were elected, of whom 161 were Bolsheviks, 267 S-Rs, forty-one Ukrainian S-Rs and Mensheviks, fifteen Kadets, three Mensheviks and thirty-three (most of these S-R) from national minorities or small parties.’ [27] 36,262,560 voters took part in the ballot, with the following distribution of votes:

Bourgeois parties (Kadets, etc.)      4,600,000 13
S-Rs 20,900,000 58
Mensheviks   1,700,000   4
Bolsheviks   9,023,963 25

Thus the Mensheviks and S-Rs together obtained 22,600,000 votes, or sixty-two per cent of the total. These figures, from a work of N.V. Svyatitsky [28], an S-R, were discussed by Lenin in 1919 in a remarkable study entitled The Elections to the Constituent Assembly and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The figures speak volumes if they are read aright. The rural areas had voted for S-Rs, the industrial cities for the Bolsheviks. The immense majority of the proletariat had gone over to the Bolsheviks. (The relatively imposing Menshevik vote was misleading, as they obtained 800,000 non-proletarian votes from their base in the Caucasus.) For the two capitals, Moscow and Petrograd, the combined results were:

Kadets    515,000
S-Rs 218,000
Bolsheviks 837,000

The distribution of votes in the army and fleet was equally significant:

S-Rs    1,885,000
Kadets 51,000
National minorities 756,000
Bolsheviks 1,791,000

‘More than half the army,’ concluded Lenin, ‘was with the Bolsheviks, or we could not have won.’ Another decisive fact he noted was that on the fronts nearest the capital, which were the best informed and most decisive sections, i.e. on the western and the northern front, the Bolsheviks had an overwhelming majority: a million votes to 420,000 for the S-Rs.

Thus, although the Bolsheviks had only gathered a quarter of the votes, they were certain to win because of the distribution of their forces.

Have a crushing majority at the critical points at the decisive moment: this rule for military success also applies to political success, above all in the bitter class war which is called revolution.

In all the capitalist countries, the forces of the proletariat are infinitely greater than its numerical strength as a proportion of the population. The proletariat has economic domination over the centres and sinews of the entire capitalist economy.

The votes of the peasant masses, said Lenin, can only be won by the proletariat after it has seized power. ‘Political power in the hands of the proletariat can and must become the means of drawing the non-proletarian toiling masses to its side, the means of wresting these masses from the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeois parties.’

Lenin was not to draw these lessons until the following year. In the days before the Constituent Assembly met, the Bolsheviks, while extremely sure of themselves, made every possible preparation to break the anticipated resistance of the S-R ‘democracy’.

Our mistake is obvious, said Lenin. We took power; and now we have put ourselves into a situation where we are forced to seize it all over again. [29] He doubted the reliability of the peasant regiments.


It was impossible to foresee how powerless, in the event, the petty-bourgeois democracy would turn out to be. We owe to a militant of the S-R party the detailed record of the preparation for the defence and consolidation of the Constituent Assembly. These are fascinating documents. [30]

The author remarks that the Constituent Assembly was above all the ideal of the S-R party, the party of the democracy: it was an ideal rather remote from the people, who preferred the Soviets, which they understood better. ‘The Soviets are ours!’ was the current saying. The peasants were glad to vote for the S-R party, ‘their’ party, and were quite definite that they wanted land: but they had only a vague idea of the Assembly, and even then as a means rather than an end.

Since the S-R majority in the Assembly was bound inevitably to collide with the ‘Bolshevik usurpers’, they had to think of defence and armament. A ‘Committee for the Defence of the Constituent Assembly’ was set up, quite openly, in premises that were a hive of activity, in the centre of the city. As B. Sokolov admits, it was purely a committee of intellectuals, without contact with the workers or inside the garrison.

The S-R party’s Military Organization was much more a force to be reckoned with. It had a controlling influence on two regiments, the Semyonovsky and the Preobrazhensky, that were part of the garrison. Here it could count on as many as 600 of its members. It could also call on the armoured-car division, and published an anti-Bolshevik newspaper, Seraya Shinel (The Grey Greatcoat). Several dozen S-R soldiers, who had been recalled from the front, were organized under the cover of a ‘People’s University for Soldiers’. There was also the Battle Organization of the party’s terrorists, thirty or so hardened men led by one Onipko.

These forces were quite considerable. Had they been deployed properly, they would have been a power for the Bolsheviks to reckon with; since they were not deployed at all, they became demoralized and soon disintegrated.

The S-R leaders, dominated by a parliamentary obsession hard to match in history, seemed to have lost all contact with reality. Sokolov’s account of events is more comical than tragic. The S-R fraction in the Constituent Assembly established an office not far from the Tautide Palace, in which it proceeded to a laborious work of preparation, under inspiration from Chernov and Avksentiev, the oracles of the party. Committees, sub-committees, working parties, all deliberated at length every day, detailing draft laws, studying the future democratic Constitution, preparing, in short, to legislate and govern, complete with an appropriate Western-style ceremonial.

Absorbed in their parliamentary antics, the deputies would not hear of any plans for resistance against possible Bolshevik violence. Their house was open to all. They had no idea of the invigilation being exercised over their telephone conversations. Dedicated to their labours, they never set foot in the barracks or in the factories, where their Bolshevik colleagues were busy recruiting.

The Federation of Employees and Public Officers offered to support them with a general strike; they turned down the offer. When the tasks of defence were mentioned, the reply was: ‘Defend ourselves? Are we not the elected representatives of the sovereign people?’ As Sokolov puts it: ‘They thought that the Constituent Assembly was protected by some vague power: the great people of Russia would not permit any profanation of the noblest ideal which had sprung from the revolution ...’ Mouthing such words, they mistook them for ideas.

The S-R leadership, and particularly Chernov, lived in this parliamentary hallucination, which was no doubt reinforced by the awareness of their fundamental impotence. ‘The Bolsheviks will not dare ...’, they kept declaring.

Gotz seems to have been a little less befuddled. He took an active part in preparing for the ‘peaceful demonstration’ of 5 January, which was intended to rally the streets for the Assembly on the day it had its opening. The S-R Central Committee decided on this move only at the last moment. Everything was ready to transform the event into an insurrection. Thirty armoured cars were to advance against Smolny: the S-R regiments would have supported the coup. But the Constituent Assembly fraction condemned the initiative just as it was ready.

Onipko’s S-R terrorist group made efficient preparations for the kidnapping, or assassination, of Lenin and Trotsky. Its members had managed to infiltrate the Smolny staff: one of them had become Lenin’s chauffeur, and another was the porter at a house that Lenin often visited. An equally effective trap had been arranged around Trotsky. At the last minute the party’s Central Committee refused to authorize these ventures. Their reasons? The two leaders of the revolution were too popular; their disappearance would have provoked terrible reprisals; besides, the era of terrorism was over. It was a strange mixture of political commonsense and sheer timidity. (All the same, two of the terrorists tried to kill Lenin, whose car was shot at with revolvers, on 2 January, in the city centre.)

In the factories under their influence, the S-Rs who came to urge a struggle against the Bolsheviks were rudely received. They were asked if they couldn’t ‘reach some better understanding with the Bolsheviks, who are devoted to the people’s cause’. Through the work of the Bolshevik agitators, the Committees of the Semyonovsky and Preobrazhensky regiments eventually gave way.

The demonstration of 5 January was both numerous and pathetic. [31] It was attended en masse by the petty-bourgeois citizens, who thronged the main thoroughfares of the city. A few rifle-shots fired here and there by the sailors scattered this ineffectual crowd, deserted and disarmed as it was by irresolute leaders. In Sokolov’s words, ‘it was absurd, ridiculous’. He judges that the Bolsheviks would not have had the forces at their disposal to resist an armed demonstration that was led vigorously. This assessment is doubtless very misguided; all the same, the nervous fatigue among the masses that follows their greatest efforts sometimes makes it difficult for them to renew the pace. The weariness of the Petrograd proletariat might have put the situation in the balance for a day or so.

Meeting in this atmosphere of botched insurrection, the Constituent Assembly felt itself doomed. All that was left of its old illusions was a mixture of fear, stoic resignation and posturing. The delegates had nothing to do except vanish gracefully, posing before history and enunciating memorable words. Such at least, seems to have been the principal concern of the first Parliament of the Russian petty-bourgeoisie, this most piteous of parliamentary assemblies.

A number of us from the Chamber came to ask our leaders, ‘If the Bolsheviks use violence, hit us, kill us even, what is to be done?’ A very definite answer was made to us, which perfectly fitted the ideology of our fraction: ‘Let us remember that we are the people’s elected representatives ... and must be ready for the sacrifice of our lives.’

The deputies decided not to separate, so as to be ready to confront tragedy together. And they assembled a stock of ... sandwiches and candles – in case the Bolsheviks cut off electricity and supplies.

To sum up, the S-R party, on the day of the Constituent Assembly, lost its nerve at the moment it was due to launch its decisive battle before history. The bloody failures of the resistance to the revolution in Moscow, the Junkers’ coup and the Stavka’s struggle had produced their effect. The politicians of the democratic counter-revolution trembled before the masses.


Y.M. Sverdlov, the Chairman of the All-Russian Soviet Executive [32], opened the session of the Constituent Assembly. A tall, broad-shouldered man, his thick hair brushed back from his forehead, his features clear and delicate, his eyes sharp and steely behind pince-nez, his beard pointed: Sverdlov, who was one of the best organizers in the Bolshevik party, had no difficulty in quelling the indescribable din in the first minutes of the gathering. The huge hall of the Tauride Palace, newly decorated for the occasion, had a festive air. Smartly dressed, with red ribbons in their buttonholes, the deputies of the majority filled the benches of the right and the centre of the hall. The less numerous left side, on the other hand, had noisy support from the public galleries, which were thronged with soldiers, sailors and workers.

Sverdlov proposed that the Assembly should endorse the Declaration of the Rights of the Labouring and Exploited Masses, an authoritative document composed by Lenin and promulgated by the All-Russian Soviet Executive. In it Russia was proclaimed to be a Federative Republic of Soviets, ‘a free union of free nations’. According to the text, the Assembly was to associate itself unreservedly with the Socialist revolution; approve the nationalization of the land, ‘distributed to the toilers, without payment, on the basis of equal access and use’; approve the Soviet laws on workers’ control of production and the establishment of the Supreme Economic Council. ‘to consolidate the power of the workers over their exploiters and as a first step towards total expropriation’ of the means of production and transport; approve the nationalization of the banks; decree the universal obligation to labour, the formation of a Socialist Red Army and the total disarmament of the propertied classes. In the international field, the Decree once again affirmed the principle of a democratic peace, without annexations or indemnities, the repudiation of the colonial politics of bourgeois society, and ‘the annulment of the debts owed by the Tsar, the landlords and the bourgeoisie, as a first blow against the international bankers and finance capital’. Finally, the Assembly was to decree that the exploiters could have no place in any of the institutions of authority. It was to limit its own work to ‘the general elaboration of the fundamental principles for the Socialist transformation of society’.

The majority did not regard this as their function. Once Sverdlov had finished reading the declaration, they refused any discussion, on the grounds that ‘too much time was being wasted’, and passed on to the election of a Chairman. The Left (Bolsheviks and Left S-Rs) proposed the Left S-R leader Maria Spiridonova, the former terrorist, whose excellent character and total Socialist dedication were known to all. The majority had previously fixed its choice on V.M. Chernov, the official head of the S-R party, its most discredited politician and the least respected by the other parties: a candidate that nobody wanted, in fact. The S-Rs, in the belief that a Jew could not assume the leading office in their ‘popular republic’, failed to nominate Abraham Gotz for the chairmanship, though he was their real and respected leader. Chernov was elected by 244 votes, against 153 for Maria Spiridonova. He at once ascended the rostrum to deliver an inordinately long and rambling presidential speech, with the flavour of a ministerial announcement. It was a masterpiece of sweet evasiveness. The speaker invoked the Zimmerwald Conference [33]. advocated ‘a general peace of the peoples’ as distinct from a separate peace (thereby hiding his loyalty to the Allies beneath the flowery language of Socialist rhetoric), and spoke of the ‘Socialist army’ which had to be organized. He outlined a complicated constitution which envisaged the collaboration of the Constituent Assembly with the Soviets and the Constituent Assemblies of the different nationalities, proclaimed the definite liberation of the Ukraine and the Russian Moslems, and announced the Popular Federative Republic of Russia. Several times he touched upon the nation’s ‘will for Socialism’, remarking, ‘The revolution has merely begun ... The people want actions, not words ... socialism is not equality among poverty ... We desire controlled Socialist construction ... We shall pass from the control of production to the republic of labour ...’ Finally, he endorsed the nationalization of the land without compensation.

He was then inept enough to invoke the dead, fallen for the nation in war, at which point he was interrupted by shouts from the galleries and from the benches on the left:

‘Murdered by Rudnev [34], Chernov and Kerensky!’

Chernov’s variety of Radical-Socialist eloquence, diplomatic and empty, couched entirely in vague formulas, could now deceive nobody. Bukharin refuted his ‘chatter’ in a short speech, as brutal as the other had been unctuous. ‘How,’ he asked, ‘can a man talk of the “will to Socialism” and at the same time be the assassin of Socialism?’ Was it a matter of a Socialism to be won in two centuries? Of Socialists who were collaborating with the counter-revolution? Which side are you on – with Kaledin and the bourgeoisie, or with the workers, soldiers and peasants? Who is to have the power now? ‘Is what you want a miserable little bourgeois parliamentary republic? In the name of the great Soviet republic of labour, we declare war to the death on such a government!’ Bukharin concluded: ‘Let the ruling classes and their servants tremble before the Communist revolution. The workers have nothing to lose but their chains!’

Tseretelli, the only Menshevik present, presented his party’s position with firmness and dignity,, and without any attempt to evade: ‘He is not a Socialist who incites the proletariat to aim for its final goal without having passed through the stage of democracy which alone can make it strong.’ You have taken over production, he challenged the Bolsheviks: have you succeeded in organizing it? The land taken by the peasants has in reality been taken by the kulaks, the rich peasants who possess the farming equipment. Your peace negotiations are risking the destiny of Russian Socialism and democracy on the hazardous throw of a European revolution. You are trampling under foot the bourgeois-democratic freedoms for which we have gone to the gallows. The revolution is in danger of collapsing under the burden it has massed. My party, he said, is not afraid of unpopularity: we shall guard the torch of the working class for the future. He ended his address with an appeal for conciliation among the different parties present. No, dictatorship of a minority, or the result will be anarchy, followed by reaction. Let there be instead: a democratic republic, with universal suffrage; expropriation of the land-owners, without compensation; revival, control and regularization of production by the State; an eight-hour day and social’ insurance for the workers; restoration of democratic liberties; equality for the nationalities, and a struggle for peace.

The debate went on, confused and stormy, but adding nothing to these first basic declarations. Then Raskolnikov [35], to the applause of the galleries and the jeers of the majority of delegates, read out the declaration of the Bolsheviks which Lenin had drafted:

Not wishing to draw a veil for a single minute over the crimes committed by the enemies of the people, we declare our withdrawal from the Constituent Assembly, relying on the power of the Soviets to decide definitely on the attitude to be adopted towards the counter-revolutionary section of this Assembly ...

After a moment of surprise, the Assembly proceeded with its agenda. Imperturbably riveted to the presidential chair, V.M. Chernov bent his greying forelock and his Second Empire goatee over the papers in front of him. An endless chain of speeches and declarations unrolled in the void. High in the public galleries, the crowd brooded malevolently over this wan gathering. At about 4 a.m., after. the Left S-Rs had also withdrawn, with a declaration similar to that of the Bolsheviks, the Chairman was just reading out the ten articles of the ‘fundamental draft law on the land’, when the anarchist sailor Zheleznyakov, who was a member of the guard for the Assembly, came up to the presidential rostrum.

There was silence in the hall. The sailor leaned over slightly and said something which could not be heard. Shocked and anxious, Chernov flopped against the back of his ornamental chair.

‘But,’ he said, ‘the members of the Constituent Assembly are tired too. No amount of tiredness can interrupt the reading of the agrarian law which is awaited by the whole of Russia!’

The sailor spoke again. This time his firm tones, ironic, unthreatening and calm, came out into the hall:

‘The guards are tired. Please leave the hall.’ [36]

Chernov looked down over the astonished Assembly. ‘I have a proposal before me,’ he said, ‘to close the session without further debate, after adopting the basic draft of the agrarian law.’ The phrase ‘I have a proposal before me ...’ provoked laughter from the galleries. Votes were taken hastily, solemn texts were seen off in a feverish hurry, to the menacing interruptions of the gallery, which chanted with insistent fury: ‘ That’s enough! That’s enough!

It was boredom, and sheer exasperation with the comedy below, that drummed this sombre fury into the brains of the listeners. Inside the hall, the catches of rifles could be heard clicking back. Comedy was about to turn into drama. But then the goatee of the Chairman could be seen retiring. The session was over.

It was not until the following night that the decree dissolving the Constituent Assembly came out.

The toiling masses have become convinced by their experience that bourgeois parliamentarianism is outdated; that it is completely incompatible with the construction of Socialism; for only class institutions, not national institutions, can break the resistance of the propertied classes and lay the foundations for the Socialist society. [37]

Lenin spoke in justification of the measure before the All-Russian Soviet Executive. We shall quote a few lines from his speech:

While no Parliament has ever, anywhere, given the slightest support to the revolutionary movement, the Soviets blow into the fire of revolution and say imperiously to the people: ‘Fight: take everything in your own hands: organize yourselves!’ It is a mystery to nobody that every revolutionary movement is accompanied by chaos, ruination and temporary troubles ... But bourgeois society is also war, is also the slaughterhouse. [38]

The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly made a great sensation abroad. In Russia, it passed almost unnoticed. [39]


The economic programme of the Bolsheviks called for workers’ control of production and the nationalization of the banks. The decree for workers’ control in industry was passed on 14 November. It legalized the intervention of workers in the management of factories; the decisions of the organs of control were binding and all commercial secrets were abolished. [40] The leaders of the revolution had no further plans at this stage. By exercising its control, the working class would learn to direct industry. Through the nationalization of banking and credit institutions, the workers would recover, for the benefit of the State, part of the proceeds levied by capital from their labour, thus diminishing their exploitation. In this way the class would progress towards the complete expropriation of the exploiters (as envisaged in the Declaration of the Rights of the Labouring and Exploited People).

This rational form of progress towards Socialism was not at all to the taste of the employers, who were still confident in their own strength and convinced that it was impossible for the proletariat to keep its power. The innumerable economic conflicts that had gone on before October now multiplied, and indeed became more serious as the combativity of the contestants was everywhere greater. The initiatives for acts of expropriation, undertaken as necessities of struggle rather than according to any design for Socialism, came from the masses rather than from the government. It was only eight months later, in June 1918, that the government adopted the great decrees of nationalization, under the pressure of foreign intervention. Even in April 1918 it was envisaging the formation of mixed companies which would have been floated jointly by the State and by Russian and foreign capital.  [41]

The liquidation of the political defences of their capitalist exploiters launched a spontaneous movement among the workers to take over the means of production. Since they were perfectly able to take control of the factories and workshops, why should they abstain? If they could, they ought. The employers’ sabotage of production entailed expropriation as an act of reprisal. When the boss brought work to a halt, the workers themselves, on their own responsibility, got the establishment going again. Later, there was also the necessity to deprive the counter-revolution of the economic base it had in its wealth.

The Council of People’s Commissars had to decree the nationalization of the Russo-Belgian Metal Company’s factories, the Putilov Works, the Smirnov spinning-mills, and the power station belonging to the 1886 Electrical Company. Shlyapnikov relates how the management of some of the big factories – notably the Franco-Russian Works in Petrograd – immediately insisted that their works be nationalized: they wanted to get out of the responsibilities of demobilizing industry from war production. Belgian, Swedish and French companies made similar approaches, which were received with a categorical refusal. Some of these managers wanted to avoid answering to their shareholders for the increasingly difficult problems of organization in industry. [42]

The state of war had previously necessitated a system of rationing and requisitions. This path had to be continued, only in a class spirit. The Soviet authorities everywhere undertook the requisitioning of food supplies from merchants, and of warm clothing, footwear and bedding from the rich. Houses were raided for this purpose. Taxation was at a standstill, and so the local authorities imposed levies on the wealthier classes, purely on local initiative and for local use. The following examples will give a picture of the nationalizations that went on. At Ivanovo-Voznesensk; the workers took over two textile mills after sabotage from the employers. In the Nizhni-Novgorod gubernia, various enterprises were nationalized after the management had shown themselves unwilling to resume production. In the Kursk province, sugar refineries, tram undertakings, a tannery and several engineering works passed into the workers’ hands for similar reasons. In the Donetz basin, the managers of the coal-mines joined forces with the Whites, and so the miners from seventy-two pits set up an Economic Council which took over their functions. At Romanovo-Borisoglebsk, the flour-mills and oil-works were nationalized following a lock-out. [43]

The Supreme Council for the National Economy was formed on 5 December to co-ordinate the activities of all the local and central organs which managed or controlled production. It ineluded the economic Commissariats: Industry, Food, Agriculture, Finance and Transport. These Commissariats were not, however, subordinated to the Council, which acquired its authority only gradually, after months of work. In the period which we are studying, the local authority is practically the only one which counts. The trade unions, even though apparently fitted to play a capital role in situations of this description, were totally over-taken by events. Too often they were run by Mensheviks, S-Rs or pure trade-unionists. Their Central Council was paralysed by factional battles. The leaderships of the railwaymen’s and post office unions were anti-Bolshevik. Other unions were often more interested in ‘getting out of the mess’ than in serving the general interests of the working class.

The backward attitude of various sections of workers was all too evident. Sometimes it was a matter of trade unions founding cooperative shops which came all too close, inevitably, to speculating in the midst of famine. Sometimes deplorable conflicts resulted from the pursuit of immediate demands in an irrationally sectional spirit. The revolution is over, let’s have double wages! Now is the time for everybody to get easy money! Similarly, in the field of requisitions and expropriations, there were strong anarchistic tendencies, in which workers would exploit a factory they occupied purely for their own benefit, or confiscate the first food train which went through the station nearest to them.

The counter-revolutionaries were well aware of the backward mentality of certain workers and took every advantage of it. Manufacturers working for the State sometimes went to the length of implementing fantastically high wage increases. When factories closed down, the Mensheviks demanded payment of wages in advance. The Mensheviks in the chemical workers’ union at Petrograd demanded exceptionally high wage-rates, hinting as a bargain ploy that they controlled large quantities of explosive. [44] At the height of the battle of the barricades, Moscow almost ran out of bread, as the loaders in the flour mills, who cared nothing for the revolution, were out on strike for a wage increase. [45]

The nationalization of the banks was one of the most important measures undertaken before the meeting of the Constituent Assembly. It was made necessary by the resistance of the financial institutions to outside control, their refusal to cooperate with the workers’ government, and the part they were playing in the sabotage of economic life. The decree making banking a State monopoly was passed on 14 December. All private banks were amalgamated with the State Bank. The interests of small depositors were completely safeguarded. A second decree ordered an inventory of all individual safe deposits, under penalty of confiscation. Gold coin and bullion was to be requisitioned, and all funds were to be placed in current accounts at the State Bank. The banks were occupied by Red Guards, and any recalcitrant managers were imprisoned. In several areas the staff decided to go on strike against the Bolsheviks’ violence.

On the day the decree was passed, there was a lively debate in the All-Russian Soviet Executive between Lenin and a member of the Menshevik-Internationalist fraction, Avilov. The latter, though agreeing ‘in principle’ with the measure, stressed the great complexity and seriousness of financial matters. ‘We must touch nothing,’ he said, ‘without great caution and then after mature reflection, having assured ourselves the support of the various departments. All that violence will achieve is a fall in the value of the rouble.’ Lenin’s reply is as typical as the timidity of his adversary:

You talk of the complexity of the matter, and these are first truths known to us all. But anyone who uses this complexity only to interfere with Socialist initiatives is a demagogue, and a mischievous demagogue at that.

You accept the dictatorship of the proletariat in principle, but when we call it by its proper name in Russian, when we speak of a mailed fist, you bring in the delicacy and complexity of things.

You refuse to see that this mailed fist creates as it destroys. If we are passing from a principle to its practice, that is very much to our credit. ... We are perfectly aware that the measure under discussion is complicated. But none of us, even those of us with economic training, is going to try to administer it. We shall call in financial experts, but once we have the keys we shall get all the advice the former millionaires used to have. Anybody who wants to work will be welcome, on the condition that he does not try to reduce every revolutionary initiative to a dead letter. [46]

The central machinery of food-supply (cooperatives, etc.) eluded the control of the Soviet government for several months; they were in the hands of various democratic elements. They were too crucial in importance to be touched at the beginning.


The facts examined in this chapter suggest a number of theoretical observations.

(1) In January the proletarian and peasant revolution finished its initial phase, its march of triumph through the whole of this immense country. Everywhere, from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, the masses make the revolution, hail it, defend it, impose it irresistibly. Its victory is complete: yet already, in this very period, it comes into collision with the two belligerent coalitions of imperialism, the Central Powers and the Allies. The civil war will continue, or rather be. kindled again by foreign intervention. Victorious at home, the revolution finds itself face to face with the capitalist world.

Its victory at home, repeatedly won in the very different circumstances of Petrograd, the Stavka, the Ural, the Don, the Kuban, the Ukraine, Bessarabia, the Crimea and Siberia, proves to be astonishingly easy despite the ferocious resistance it en-countered. It is easy to see why: the revolution is the work of the most active, the most powerful, the best-armed section of the population, i.e. the majority of the proletariat and the majority of the army, which, moreover, has assured itself the sympathy of the great majority of the peasantry. This remarkable conjuncture of circumstances is due to the simultaneous occurrence of the completed bourgeois revolution – which satisfies the rural masses by suppressing the feudal land-owners – and the proletarian revolution in its first beginnings. The proletariat consciously completes the work begun by the bourgeoisie in its struggle for free capitalist development against the old régime. Having completed this work, the proletariat inevitably went beyond it, although with a certain sluggishness. The incompatibility of the exercise of political power with the absence of ownership over the means of production was only revealed gradually, in the course of the struggle, as a result of the struggle against the bourgeoise. The great nationalization decrees will be called forth, in a few months’ time, as the result of the civil war rather than through any plan for a speedy Socialist transformation. Reality will bend theory, bend the proletarian consciousness which would have preferred a more rational, less hasty and brutal transition in the conquest of production. In the period we have reviewed, the first hints of this struggle and of its solution may be plainly seen.

(2) Through fear of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie has been unable to achieve its own revolution (that is, to satisfy the peasant masses at the expense of the land-owners): this is one of the deepest causes of its defeat. Through fear of the peasantry, it postponed the summoning of the Constituent Assembly under Kerensky, and formed a bloc with the feudal proprietors, the most reactionary element of the old Russian society. By trailing after the bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeois Socialist parties condemned themselves to unpopularity. As they had received some revolutionary education under Tsardom, and were subject to a powerful current of influence from the proletariat, these parties remained far enough from the direct influence of the bourgeoisie to be prevented from giving it unconditional support. Victims of their democratic illusions, they tried to maintain an independent form of politics and establish a democratic republic conceived on the French model. The bourgeoisie itself was more perceptive, particularly in its assessment of working-class strength. They wanted a class dictatorship (Kornilov). But at the last moment the middle classes refused to support them: left to its own resources, which numerically were very weak (as always, the disparity between the capitalists’ economic power and their numerical strength was enormous) the Russian bourgeoisie was doomed to collapse. From November 1917 to the spring of 1918 it appears to be crushed, reduced to almost total impotence. It has no leader, no policy of any strength, and not one serious party. Its disarray is total. Alone, and in desperation, a few thousand men at the most, mainly officers led by a handful of generals, took up the defence of its cause. The terrorized bourgeoisie in the capitals was not even intelligent enough to give effective support to the escapades of Kaledin, Alexeyev and Kornilov: these, cold-shouldered by the democratic middle classes, were beaten by the Red Guards in every engagement. The very ease with which they were defeated arose from the refusal of the ‘advanced’ petty-bourgeoisie to lend them aid.

The division between the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie displays the powerlessness of the class of capitalists and land-owners when they are thrown back on themselves. Once beaten, this class is unable to re-establish itself by its own efforts.

(3) This last point holds good to such an extent that a most curious re-grouping of social forces is detectable in these events: the bourgeoisie begins to follow in the wake of the middle classes, instead of leading them, especially as the latter’s conflict with the proletariat worsens.

During the insurrection, the petty-bourgeoisie of the cities, led by Socialists, rallies wholesale to the counter-revolution. Those in the countryside, the rich and middle peasants who are appeased by the decree of land, fail to follow this movement. After its defeat, the urban petty-bourgeoisie, which still believes itself to be revolutionary by virtue of its hatred of Tsarism and its democratic faith, still clings to its governmental illusions without daring to venture on another armed battle; the experiences of the recent period (end of October, beginning of November) have cut too near the bone. The rout of the Constituent Assembly registers the total political incapacity of the middle classes [47], and confirms us in our conviction that the only classes which are able to decide the destiny of modern societies are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.


[1] Elisee Reclus [the theoretician of anarchism], in his writings on the Russian revolution, remarked in 1905, in an analysis whose penetration might almost be termed prophetic: ‘Russia will be shaken from corner to corner, down to the remotest cabin in the land. But inevitably, in addition to the class question, another problem will erupt: that of the peoples with different languages and distinct national cultures. What is termed Russia is in fact an immense tract of conquests within which twenty enslaved nationalities are penned ...’ This is a remarkable page to read over (Reclus, Correspondance, Vol. 3 (Paris, 1912)).

[2] According to the 1897 census. Obviously the population increased appreciably over the next twenty years, but on the whole its composition will not have varied.

[3] G. Lelevich, October at the Stavka (Oktyabr v Stavke) (Moscow, 1922).

[4] N. Lenin, Collected Works (London, 1969), Vol.26, p.312.

[5] ibid., p.318.

[6] V.B. Stankevich, Memoirs (Vospominaniya), Pt.III (Berlin, 1920).

[7] ‘The cavalrymen, exhausted, confused by events and deeply upset, said that they had done their utmost and were still as loyal to the general as in the past. But – “Ah, boyar!” they asked their officers. “What else could we do when all Russia has gone Bolshevik?”’ (A. Denikin, Sketches of the Russian Turmoil (Ocherki Russkoi Smuty) (Paris and Berlin, 1921-5).

[8] Alexeyev had been in supreme command of the Russian army during the imperialist war, in his capacity of Chief of Staff of the Tsar-Generalissimo.

[9] Denikin, op. cit.

[10] G. Safarov, The National Question and the Proletariat (Natsionalny Vopros i Proletaryat) (Petrograd, 1922).

[11] [Bessarabia: the territory between the Dniester and the Pruth, formerly a Russian province, annexed by Rumania after the First World War; incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Moldavian SSR in 1940.]

[12] The Rumanian boyars formed a sort of landlord nobility: they had suppressed the 1907 peasant rising, killing 15,000 peasants.

[13] The following figures will give an idea of what the Sfatul Tarii represented. The elections to the Constituent Assembly were held at the same time at which this false ‘national parliament’ established itself. 600,000 persons, or a quarter of the population, took part in the vote, with the results: Soviet list, 200,000; S-Rs, 229,000; Jewish minority, 60,000; Kadets, 40,000; ‘National Moldavian Party’, 14,000. Thus the party which dominated the Sfatul Tarii received only 2.3 per cent of the votes; it did not gain a single seat in the Constituent Assembly.

[14] On the annexation of Bessarabia, see Chapter 6, p.208.

[15] S.V. Denisov, Memoirs (Vospominaniya) (Constantinople, 1921).

[16] N. Krichevsky, In the Crimea, in Archives of the Russian Revolution (Arkhiv Russkoi Revoliutsii), Vol.III (Berlin, 1924) (an emigré publication).

[17] Mstislavsky in Brest-Litovsk: The Armistice Negotiations [no other reference given].

[18] Moonsund or Muhuis is a channel between the Estonian islands of Dagoe [Hiiu Maa] and Oesel [Saare Maa] and the coast of Estonia.

[19] The Tsarist hierarchy designated by Peter the Great in 1722 was made up of the civil class, the ecclesiastical class, the military, the naval, that of the Court and that of the sciences. The civil hierarchy, for example, contained fourteen grades, from ‘State Chancellor’ (corresponding to the rank of General and Field-Marshal in the army) and ‘Trusted Secret Counsellor’ to ‘Collegial Registrar’ (a civil rank corresponding to the military grade of Second Lieutenant). Both in conversation and in correspondence, persons had to be addressed according to their rank: Your Nobility, Your High Nobility, Your Most High Nobility, Your Excellency, Your High Excellency, etc.

[20] Such was the leniency of the Soviet government that Purishkevich, one of the main instigators of Russian anti-semitism, later regained his liberty and was able to go abroad. He died in exile. His book on How I Killed Rasputin is well known.

[21] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.26, p.354.

[22] In a broadsheet of 18 November. See ibid., pp.323-5.

[23] See ibid., pp.341-6.

[24] See L.D. Trotsky, Sur Lenine (Paris, 1926), Chapter 4.

[25] The seriousness of this error (very characteristic of their politics) committed by the Left S-Rs must be emphasized. Separated by an unbridgeable gap from the Right S-Rs, but attached to a common tradition, to the party’s old name and to old illusions about majority decisions, they presented common electoral lists. Their popularity redounded to the credit of the S-Rs of counter-revolution.

[26] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.26, pp.379-83.

[27] Actually more than 600 deputies were returned, bit over 150 did not have time to get to Petrograd.

[28] N. Sviatitsky, The Elections to the Constituent Assembly, in One Year of Russian Revolution (God Russkoi Revoliutsii) (Moscow, 1918), cited in Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.30, pp.253-61. The author’s statistics take in Russia and Siberia, with the exception of certain regions (Olonetz, Estonia, Kaluga, Bessarabia, Podolia, Orenburg, Yakutia and the Don). [For a full analysis of the Constituent Assembly election, bearing out the urban-rural split between Bolsheviks and the rest, see Oliver H. Radkey, The Election to the Russian Constituent Assembly of 1917 (Cambridge, Mass., 1950). Serge’s conclusions pay little attention to the great importance of the vote attracted by the highly centrifugal national-minority parties: it is misleading to lump in the vote of the Ukrainian and Moslem S-Rs with that of the Russian Right S-Rs, since the latter were hostile to the decentralizing national aspirations of the former. Radkey in The Sickle under the Hammer (New York, 1963), pp.456ff., even calculates that the Right S-Rs could not have mustered a majority in the Assembly against the Bolsheviks, Left S-Rs, Ukrainian S-Rs and smaller S-R nationalist groups: ‘... on the opposite extreme [to the Bolsheviks] a sentence of death was hanging over the ill-fated assembly, as certain as Lenin’s if less immediate’.]

[29] Trotsky, op. cit.

[30] Boris Sokolov, The Defence of the Constituent Assembly in Archives of the Russian Revolution (Arkhiv Russkoi Revoliutsii) (Berlin, 1924), Vol.3. The author of this article remained a believer in the Constituent Assembly.

[31] Boris Sokolov admits that most of the demonstrators came from sections of the population (bourgeois or middle-class) who were motivated much more by hatred of Bolshevism than by any sympathy for the authority of the Assembly. These actual reactionary elements were already rallying instinctively, as the first important battles of the civil war would soon show, behind the S-Rs and the Constituent Assembly. Sokolov’s admission is to be noted.

[32] The biography of Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov is that of a dauntless revolutionary. Born of an artisan family in Nizhni-Novgorod, a pharmacist by profession, Sverdlov was a Bolshevik militant, working in illegality, ever since 1903. Five times arrested, condemned first to 2½ years in fortress confinement (a sentence he served to the full), then to four years’ exile in the remote icy region of Narym, he was placed under the most rigorous conditions there after a demonstration of exiled prisoners and nearly died of cold and hunger: he survived only by a miracle of endurance. Five attempts to escape, two successful escapes at the risk of his life. He returned in 1912 to Petrograd to organize the party’s clandestine network and was delivered to the authorities by the agent-provocateur Malinovsky. He was again exiled, this time to the Turukhansk region inside the Arctic Circle, where he stayed three years until the fall of Tsarism. On the news of the revolution he made a journey of 5,000 miles by sledge over the Yenisei, at the risk of being caught by the thawing of the ice, and influenced the Krasnoyarsk Soviet in a Bolshevik direction; he then returned to Petrograd, where he became one of the most valued organizers of the party. After the government crisis at the beginning of November he replaced Kamenev as Chairman of the All-Russian Soviet Executive Committee. He died in 1919, of tuberculosis, at the age of thirty-four.

[33] [Zimmerwald was the venue, in Switzerland, of the international conference of anti-war Socialists in September 1915, which repudiated all the trends of Socialism who supported the war and looked to the foundation of a new International. A follow-up conference was held at Kienthal in April 1916.]

[34] [V.V. Rudnev, a Right S-R and Mayor of Moscow between the fall of Tsardom.and the Bolshevik revolution.]

[35] F.F. Raskolnikov, a Bolshevik militant from the days of illegality, member of the party’s military organization, a naval officer in the Baltic fleet during the war; a leader of the Kronstadt Soviet in 1917, jailed under Kerensky following the July days, and a fighter in October. Later represented the USSR in Afghanistan and elsewhere. [Author of a notable ‘open letter’ denouncing Stalin as a traitor to the revolution, published in 1939; died in exile in 1943.]

[36] Quoted from S. Mstislavsky, Five Days (Pyat Dnei) (Berlin, 1922).

[37] Decree of the Assembly’s dissolution, drafted by Lenin.

[38] On the Constituent Assembly, see further: the stenographic transcript of the first day of the Assembly’s proceedings (Petrograd, 1918); Mstislavsky, op. cit.; Trotsky, op. cit.; Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.26.

[39] [cf. Radkey (The Election to the Russian Constituent Assembly, p.2): ‘while the democratic parties heaped opprobium upon him [Lenin] for this act of despotism, their following showed little inclination to defend an institution which the Russian people had ceased to regard as necessary to the fulfilment of its cherished desires. For the Constituent Assembly ... no longer commanded the interest and allegiance of the general population which alone could have secured it against a violent death.’ W. H. Chamberlin also remarks that ‘the dissolution of Russia’s first and sole freely elected parliament evoked scarcely a ripple of interest and protest, so far as the masses were concerned’ (The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921 (London, 1935), Vol.1, p.370).]

[40] ‘Article 2: Workers’ control is exercised by all the workers of a given enterprise through their elected bodies (factory committees, etc.) ... representatives of the employees and of the technical staff are included in these bodies.... Article 7: The organs of workers’ control have the right to control all business correspondence. Commercial secrecy is abolished. The owners are obliged to submit to the organs of control all books and accounts, both for the current year and for past years. Article 8: Decisions of the control organs are obligatory for owners of enterprises and may be cancelled only by the decision of the higher organs of workers’ control.... Article 10: Owners and the representatives of workers and employees, elected to carry out workers’ control, are responsible before the State ...’

The employers were granted three days’ grace in which to appeal against the decisions of the lower organs of control to the higher organs. Local Councils of Workers’ Control were instituted, with the task of summoning an All-Russian Congress: their activity was centralized by an All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control.

[41] See L. Kritsman, The Heroic Period of the Great Russian Revolution (Geroicheskii Period Velikoi Russkoi Revoliutsii) (Moscow, 1925) and G. Tsyperovich, Trade Unions and Trusts in Russia (Sindikaty i Tresty v Rossii) (Moscow, 1920).

[42] A.G. Shlyapnikov, Reminiscences, in Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, No.10, 1922.

[43] A. Anishev, Sketches of the History of the Civil War (Ocherky Istorii Grazhdanskoi Voiny) (Leningrad, 1925).

[44] Shlyapnikov, op. cit.

[45] A. Schlichter, Memorable Days in Moscow, Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, No.10, 1922.

[46] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 26, pp. 388-90.

[47] On this point it is worth quoting some reflections by L. Trotsky in a short book written in 1918 [The History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk, reprinted in The Essential Trotsky (London, 1963)]:

‘On what support could a ministry formed by such a majority of the Constituent Assembly depend? It would have had behind it the rich of the villages, the intellectuals and the old officialdom, and perhaps would have found support, for the time being, among the middle class. But such a government would have been completely deprived of the material apparatus of power. In the centres of political life, like Petrograd, it would have met at once with an uncompromising resistance. If the Soviets had, in accordance with the formal logic of democratic institutions, handed over their power to the party of Kerensky and Chernov, the new government, discredited and impotent, would have only succeeded in temporarily confusing the political life of the country, and would have been overthrown by a new rising within a few weeks.’

Last updated on: 7.2.2009