EVENTS at the present time succeed one another so rapidly that it is difficult to reproduce them from memory even in their simple chronological order. I have no. papers or documents at hand. At the same time the periodical breaks in the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk give me a certain amount of leisure Which, under present conditions, is not likely to recur. I shall, therefore, try to sketch from memory the course and development of the November Revolution, reserving to myself the right to complete and correct my narrative at some future date, with the aid of documentary evidence.
What distinguished our party almost from the very first stage of the Revolution was the firm conviction that the logic of events would eventually place it in power. I am not speaking here of the theoreticians of our party, who, many years before the Revolution, even before the Revolution of 1905, had come to the conclusion, from a close analysis of the class relations in Russia, that the victorious Course of a revolution would inevitably place the power of the State in the hands of the proletariat, supported by the wide masses of the poorest peasantry. The main foundation for this belief was the insignificance of the Russian middle-class democracy and the concentrated character of Russian industry, and, therefore, the immense social importance of the Russian working class. The insignificance of the Russian middle-class democracy is but the obverse side of the power and importance of the proletariat. True, the war temporarily deceived many people on this point, and, above all, it deceived the leading sections of middle-class democracy itself. The war assigned the decisive role in the Revolution to the army, and the old army was the peasantry.
Had the Revolution developed more normally, that is, in conditions of peace-time, such as prevailed in 1912, when it really began, the proletariat would inevitably have taken the leading role throughout, whilst the peasant masses would have been gradually towed along by the proletariat into the revolutionary whirlpool ... But the war imparted an entirely different logic to the course of events. The army had organized the peasantry, not on a political, but on a military basis. Before the peasant masses found themselves united on a common platform of definite revolutionary demands and ideas, they had already become united in regiments, divisions, corps, and armies. The lower middle-class democrats, scattered throughout this army, and playing a leading part in it both in a military and intellectual sense, were almost entirely imbued with middle-class revolutionary sentiments. The deep social discontent of the masses grew ever deeper and strove for expression, particularly owing to the military débâcle of Tsardom. Immediately the Revolution broke out, the advanced sections of the proletariat revived the traditions of 1905 by calling upon the popular masses to organize in representative bodies, viz, the “Councils” of delegates (Soviets).
The army thus had to send representatives to revolutionary bodies before its political consciousness in any way corresponded to the level of the rapidly developing revolutionary events. Whom could the soldiers send as their representatives? Naturally, only those intellectuals and semi-intellectuals who were to be found in their midst and who possessed at least a minimum amount of political knowledge, and were capable of giving utterance to it. In this way, by the will of the awakening army, the lower middle-class intellectuals found themselves suddenly raised to a position of enormous influence. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, journalists, who in pre-war days had led a humdrum private life and laid no claim of any sort to political influence, became, overnight, representatives of whole corps and armies, and discovered that they were the “leaders” of the Revolution. The haziness of their political ideas fully corresponded to the formless state of the revolutionary consciousness of the masses themselves. They contemptuously looked down upon us as mere sectarians because we were urging the social demands of the working Class and the peasants in a most resolute and uncompromising fashion. At the same time these lower middle-class democrats, in spite of their proud demeanour of revolutionary upstarts, felt a profound diffidence both in their own capacities and in the masses who had raised them to such an unexpectedly high place. Calling themselves Socialists and really regarding themselves as such, these intellectuals looked up to the political authority of the Liberal bourgeoisie, to its knowledge and its methods, with an ill-concealed respect. Hence the endeavour of the lower middle-class leaders to obtain, at all costs, the co-operation of the Liberal middle class by way of an alliance or coalition. The programme of the party of Socialist Revolutionaries, based as it all is on vague humanitarian formulæ, and employing general sentiments and moral constructions in the place of class-war methods, was the most suitable spiritual dress that could have been found for these improvised leaders. Their efforts to find some sort of support for their own intellectual and political helplessness in the impressive political and scientific knowledge of the bourgeoisie found a theoretical Sanction in the teaching of the Mensheviks, who argued that the present Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, and could not, therefore, be carried through without the participation of the bourgeoisie in the Government. A natural bloc was thus formed between the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, expressing both the timid and hesitating political mind of the middle-class intellectuals and its vassal attitude towards Imperialist Liberalism.
To us, it was perfectly clear that the logic of the class struggle would sooner or later destroy this temporary combination and fling aside the leaders of this period of transition. The hegemony of the lower middle-class intellectuals was at the bottom the expression of the fact that the peasantry, suddenly called to take part in organized political life through the machinery of the army, had by sheer weight of numbers pushed aside and overwhelmed the proletariat for the time being. Even more, in so far as the middle-class leaders had been raised to a dizzy height by the powerful mass of the army, the working class itself, with the exception of its advanced sections, could not but become imbued with a certain political respect for them and try to maintain political contact with them for fear of finding themselves divorced from the peasantry. And this was a very serious matter, for the older generation still remembered the lesson of 1905, when the proletariat was crushed, just because the massive peasant reserves had not come up in time for the decisive battles. That is why in the first phase of the new Revolution also the proletarian masses showed themselves highly accessible to the political ideology of the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks – specially as the Revolution had aroused the hitherto slumbering backward masses of workers, and thus made the hazy radicalism of the intellectuals a sort of preparatory school for them. The Council of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Delegates meant in these conditions the predominance of peasant amorphousness over proletarian Socialism, and the predominance of intellectual Radicalism over the peasant amorphousness. The structure of Soviets rose so rapidly to a gigantic height mainly because of the leading part played in their labours by the intellectuals, with their technical knowledge and middle-class connections. But to us it was perfectly clear that this grand structure was built on deep internal contradictions and would, inevitably collapse at the next stage of the Revolution.
The Revolution grew directly out of the war, and the latter became the touchstone for all parties and forces of the Revolution. The intellectual leaders had been against the war. Many of them, while the Tsar was still on his throne, considered themselves as belonging to the left wing of the International, and were Zimmerwaldians. But everything changed immediately they felt themselves to be in “responsible” positions. To pursue a revolutionary Socialist policy would have meant in the circumstances a break with their own and the Entente bourgeoisie, but, as we have said, the political impotence of the middle-class intellectuals and semi-intellectuals led them to seek protection in an alliance with bourgeois Liberalism. Hence the pitiful and truly disgraceful role of the middle-class leaders in respect of the question of the war. They confined themselves to lamentations and rhetoric, and addressed secret exhortations and entreaties to the Allied Governments, while, in practice, they walked the same paths as the Liberal bourgeoisie. The soldiers in the trenches were, of course, unable to follow the argument that the war, in which they had fought for three years, had changed its character because certain new personalities, calling themselves Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, were taking part in the Government at Petrograd. Miliukoff had replaced the tchtnovnik Pokrovsky, Terestchenko then succeeded Miliukoff – that meant that bureaucratic perfidy was first replaced by militant Cadet Imperialism, then by unprincipled nebulousness and political servility; but this did not result in any objective changes, and there seemed no way out of the terrible vicious circle of the war. In this lay the primary cause for the further dissolution of the army. The agitators had been telling the masses of soldiers that the Tsarist Government had been driving them to slaughter for no object or senses; but those who replaced the Tsar were able neither to change the character of the war in any way nor to make a fight for peace.
During the first months of the Revolution there had been a mere marking of time. This provoked the impatience alike of the army and of the Allied Governments. Hence the offensive of July 1st. It had been demanded by the Allies, who insisted that the old Tsarist bills must be honoured by the Revolution. Frightened at their own impotence and at the growing discontent of the masses, the lower middle-class leaders readily accepted these demands. They, indeed, began to think that an attack by the Russian Army was all that was wanted in order to attain peace. An offensive began to appear to them as a way out of the wilderness, as a means of solving the problem of the situation, as the one hope of salvation. It is difficult to imagine a more monstrous and more criminal illusion. At that time they spoke of the offensive in exactly the same terms in which the Social-Patriots of all countries had spoken at the beginning of the war about the necessity of supporting the cause of national defence, of strengthening the sacred unity of the nation, etc. All their Zimmerwaldian Internationalism vanished as by magic.
To us, who were in opposition, it was clear that the offensive was a terribly perilous step, that it might even endanger the whole Revolution. We warned all and sundry that the army, newly awakened and shaken as it was by the thunder of events which as yet it had only half understood, could not be sent into battle without previously imparting to it new ideas which it could assimilate We warned, remonstrated, threatened., But the parties in power, bound as they were to the bourgeoisie, had no other way left open to them, and naturally treated us with enmity and implacable hatred.
The future historian will be unable, without deep emotion, to look through the Russian papers for May and June 1917, when the minds of the people were being prepared for the offensive. Almost all the articles, without exception, in all the official and semi-official organs were directed against the Bolsheviks. There was scarcely a charge, scarcely a calumny, that was not levelled against us in that period. Of course, the leading role in this campaign was played by the Cadet bourgeoisie, whose class instinct led it to recognize that the question at issue was not merely the offensive, but the entire further course of the Revolution and, in the first place, the form of Government authority. The whole bourgeois machinery for manufacturing “public opinion” was put into motion at full steam. All the Government offices and institutions, publications, public platforms, and university chairs were drawn into the service of this one general aim: of making the Bolsheviks impossible as a political party. In this concentrated effort and in this dramatic newspaper campaign against the Bolsheviks were already contained the first germs of the civil war which was bound to accompany the next phase of the Revolution. The sole aim of all this incitement and slander was to create an impenetrable wall of estrangement and enmity between the labouring masses on the one hand and “educated society” on the other.
The Liberal bourgeoisie understood that it could not win the support of the masses without the help of the lower middle-class democrats, who, as we pointed out above, had temporarily become the leaders of the revolutionary organizations. Consequently, the immediate aim of the political incitements against the Bolsheviks was to bring about an irreconcilable feeling of enmity between our party and the wide ranks of the Socialist intellectuals, who, having broken away from the proletariat, could not but fall into political bondage to the Liberal bourgeoisie.
It was during the first All-Russian Congress of the Soviets that the first alarming crash of thunder occurred, which warned of the coming storm. Our party had projected an armed demonstration at Petrograd for June 23rd. Its proximate object was to bring pressure to bear upon the Congress. “Take over the power in the State ” – this it was that the Petrograd workers wanted to tell the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks who had, come from all parts of the country. “Spurn the bourgeoisie! Have done with the idea of coalition, and take the reins of power into your own hands!” We were quite certain that if the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks broke with the Liberal bourgeoisie, they would be compelled to seek support from the most energetic and most advanced elements of the proletariat, which would thus obtain the leading role in the Revolution. But that was just what frightened the lower middle-class leaders. In conjunction with the Government, in which they had their own representatives, and shoulder to shoulder with the Liberal and counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie, they opened a truly savage campaign against the projected demonstration so soon as they got, wind of it. Everything possible was set in motion against us. We were at that time a small minority at the Congress, and we gave way; the demonstration did not take place. But all the same it left a very deep mark in the minds of the two contending parties, and made the gulf between them deeper and their mutual antagonism more acute. At the closed sitting of the Presidential Bureau of the Congress, in which also representatives of the various parties took place, Tsereteli, then a member of the Coalition Government, speaking with all the resoluteness of a narrow-minded lower middle-class doctrinaire, declared that the only danger threatening the Revolution was the Bolsheviks and the Petrograd workers who had been armed by them. He therefore argued that the people “who did not know how to use arms” must be disarmed. Of course, he had in mind the Petrograd workers and that portion of the Petrograd garrison which supported our party. However, no disarming took place, as the political and psychological conditions were not yet ripe enough for such an extreme measure.
To compensate the masses for the loss of their demonstration, the Congress of the Soviets itself organized an unarmed demonstration on July 1st. And that day became the day of our political triumph. The masses turned out in overwhelming numbers, but although they came out in answer to the call of the official Soviet authority – a sort of counterblast to the miscarried demonstration of June 23rd – the workers and soldiers had inscribed on their banners and placards the demands and battle-cries of our party: “Down with the secret treaties!” “Down with the policy of strategical offensives!” “Long live an honourable peace!” “Down with the ten capitalist Ministers!” “All power for the Soviets!” There were only three placards with expressions of confidence in the Coalition Government: one from a Cossack regiment, another from the Plekhanoff group, and a third from the Petrograd “Bund,” an organization consisting largely of non-proletarian elements. This demonstration proved not only to our opponents, but also, to ourselves, that we were far stronger in Petrograd than had been imagined.
As a result of this demonstration of the revolutionary masses a Government crisis seemed inevitable. But the impression made by the demonstration was wiped out by the news from the front announcing that the revolutionary army had taken the offensive. On the very same day when the workers and garrison of Petrograd had been demanding the publication of the secret treaties and a public offer of peace, Kerensky had thrown the revolutionary troops into the offensive. This, of course, was no fortuitous coincidence. Everything had been arranged beforehand, and the moment for the offensive had been chosen not on military, but on political grounds. On July 2nd there was a series of so-called patriotic demonstrations in the streets of Petrograd. The Nevsky Prospekt, the main bourgeois artery, was full of excited groups of people, amongst which officers, journalists, and well-dressed ladies were carrying on a bitter campaign against the Bolsheviks.
The first news of the results of the offensive was favourable, and the leading Liberal organs considered that the chief task had been accomplished – that the blow struck on July 1st, quite apart from what might be its subsequent military developments, would prove fatal to the further progress of the Revolution. It would lead to the re-establishment of the old army discipline and strengthen the commanding position of the Liberal bourgeoisie in the country. We, however, had predicted something else besides. In a special declaration which we read out at the first Congress of the Soviets a few days before the offensive, we had stated that that offensive would inevitably destroy the internal coherence of the army, that it would put different sections of it against one another, and that it would lend an enormous preponderance to the counterrevolutionary elements, since the maintenance of discipline in a shattered army, whose vigour had not been renewed by new ideals, would be impossible without the employment of brutal measures of repression. In other words, we had predicted in that declaration all those consequences which were subsequently comprised under the name of Kornilovism. We considered that the Revolution was running the greatest danger alike in the case of the offensive succeeding (which, however, we did not believe) and in the case of its failing, as we thought to be almost inevitable. The success of the offensive would have the effect of uniting the lower with the upper middle class in common chauvinistic aspirations, thus isolating the revolutionary proletariat, while its failure might lead to the complete collapse of the army, to a chaotic retreat, the loss of more provinces, and the disappointment and despair of the masses.
Events turned out in accordance with the second part of the alternative. The news of the victorious advance of the army did not continue long. It was succeeded by gloomy communications regarding the refusal of many sections of the army to support the attacking troops, the terrible losses among the officers, who sometimes alone formed shock battalions, and so on.
The background to these military events was formed by growing difficulties in the internal life of the country. The Coalition Government had not made a single decisive step forward in the solution of the agrarian, industrial, or national questions. The food supply and transport were becoming more and more dislocated. Local conflicts became more and more frequent. The Socialist Ministers tried to persuade the masses to wait. All decisions and measures were being put off, including the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. The insolvency and instability of the regime were obvious. There were two possible ways out: either to hurl the bourgeoisie from power and allow the Revolution to go forward, or to “restrain” the masses by means of brutal repression. Kerensky and Tsereteli were pursuing a middle course, and only succeeded in making the confusion worse confounded. When once the Cadets, by far the cleverer and more far-seeing representatives in the Coalition, saw that the failure of the July offensive might strike a heavy blow not only at the Revolution, but also at the parties standing at the head of affairs, they hastened to step aside for the time being, thus throwing the whole weight of the responsibility on their colleagues of the Left. On July 15th a Ministerial crisis broke out, ostensibly over the Ukrainian question. This was altogether a moment of great political tension in every sense. Deputations and individual delegates arrived from different parts of the front, bearing the tale of the chaos which now reigned supreme in the army as a result of the offensive. The so-called Government Press demanded stern measures of repression. Similar demands commenced to appear more and more frequently in the so-called Socialist Press. Kerensky was more and more rapidly, or, rather, more and more openly, passing over to the side of the Cadets and the Cadet generals, ostentatiously displaying his enmity and, indeed, hatred towards the revolutionary parties in general. The Allied Embassies were exerting pressure on the Government, demanding the re-establishment of discipline and the continuation of the offensive. Confusion reigned supreme in Government circles, whilst the indignation of the workers grew apace and imperatively demanded some outlet. “Seize the opportunity of the resignation of the Cadet Ministers and assume complete control over the Government”: such was the call of the Petrograd workers on the leading Soviet parties, the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. I remember the sitting of the Executive Committee of July 15th. The Socialist Ministers reported on the new Government crisis. We waited with intense interest to hear what position they would take up now that the Government had ingloriously gone to pieces at the first serious test provoked by the Coalition policy itself. Tsereteli was the reporter. He explained to us very fully that the concessions he and Terestchenko had made to the Kieff Rada in no way meant the dismemberment of the country, and did not justify the action of the Cadets in leaving the Ministry. Tsereteli charged the Cadet leaders with being doctrinaires on the question of centralism, with a want of understanding of the need of a compromise with the Ukrainians, and so forth. The impression made by the reporter was really a pitiful one. The hopeless doctrinaire of the Coalition accusing the Cadets of being doctrinaires – the Cadets, those sober-minded political champions of Capitalism, who had seized the first opportunity for making their political bailiffs pay the cost for the fateful turn which they had imparted to the course of events by the July offensive. After all the experiences of the Coalition, it might have seemed that there could be only one way out, viz, to break with the Cadets and to form a purely Soviet Government. The correlation of forces inside the Soviets at the time was such that a Soviet Government would have meant, from a party point of view, the concentration of power in the hands of the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. We were deliberately aiming at such a result, since the constant re-elections to the Soviets provided the necessary machinery for securing a sufficiently faithful reflection of the growing radicalization of the masses of the workers and soldiers. We foresaw that after the break of the Coalition with the bourgeoisie the radical tendencies would necessarily gain the upper hand on the Soviets. In such conditions the struggle of the proletariat for power would naturally shift to the floor of the Soviet organizations, and would proceed in a painless fashion. On their part, having broken with the bourgeoisie, the lower middle-class democrats would themselves become the target for its attacks, and would, therefore be Compelled to seek a closer alliance with the Socialist Working class, and sooner or later their political amorphousness and irresolution would be overcome by the labouring masses under the influence of our criticism. This is why we urged the two leading Soviet parties to take the reins of power into their own hands, although we ourselves had no confidence in them, and frankly said so.
But even after the Ministerial crisis of July 15th, Tsereteli and those who thought with him did not give up their pet idea of a coalition. They explained to the Executive Committee that the chief Cadet leaders were, it was true, demoralized by doctrinairism and even by counter-revolutionary sympathies, but that in the provinces there were many bourgeois elements who would march side by side with the revolutionary democracy and whose co-operation would be secured by the co-option of some representatives of the upper middle class, in the new Ministry. Dan was already placing high hopes on a new Radical-Democratic party which had been concocted about that time by a few doubtful politicians. The news that the Coalition had broken to pieces only to give rise to a new Coalition spread rapidly throughout Petrograd, and created a wave of dismay and indignation in the workers’ and soldiers’ quarters. This was the origin of the events of July 16th-18th.
Already during the sitting of the Executive Committee we had been informed over the telephone that the machine-gun regiment was getting ready for a demonstration. We then took measures, also over the telephone, to restrain it; but important events were preparing underneath. Representatives of army units disbanded for insubordination were coming from the front with alarming accounts of repressions, which made the Petrograd garrison very uneasy. The discontent of the Petrograd workers with the official leaders was proving the more acute, as Tsereteli, Dan, and Tshkheidze were obviously bent on falsifying the sentiments of the proletariat by trying to prevent the Petrograd Soviet from giving expression to the new views of the labouring masses. The All-Russian Executive Committee, elected at the June Congress and depending for support on the more backward provinces, was pushing the Petrograd Soviet more and more to the background and was taking into its own hands even the conduct of purely Petrograd affairs. A conflict was inevitable. The workers and soldiers were exerting pressure from below, giving violent expression to their discontent with the official policy of the Soviet, and demanded from our party more drastic action. We considered that in view of the still backward condition of the provinces the hour for such action had not yet struck; but at the same time we feared lest the events at the front might produce an immense confusion in the ranks of the revolutionary workers and create despair among them.
In the ranks of our party, the attitude towards the events of July 16th-18th was perfectly definite. On the one hand, there was the fear that Petrograd might become isolated from the more backward provinces; on the other hand, there was the hope that an active and energetic intervention of Petrograd might save the situation. The party propagandists in the lower ranks went hand to hand with the masses and carried on an uncompromising agitation.
There was still some hope that a demonstration of the revolutionary masses might break down the obstinate doctrinairism of the Coalitionists and compel them to realize at last that they could only maintain themselves in power if they completely broke with the bourgeoisie. Contrary to what was said and written at the time in the bourgeois Press, there was no intention whatever in our party of seizing the reins of power by means of an armed rising. It was only a revolutionary demonstration which broke out spontaneously, though guided by us politically. The Central Executive Committee was sitting at the Taurida Palace when the stormy waves of armed soldiers and workers surrounded the Palace on every side. Among the demonstrators there was, undoubtedly, an insignificant minority of Anarchists who were ready to use arms against the Soviet Centre. There were also some, obviously hired, Black Hundred elements who tried to seize the occasion for causing a riot and pogroms. It was from these elements that demands emanated for the arrest of Tchernoff and Tsereteli, for the forcible suppression of the Central Committee, etc. There was even an actual attempt made to arrest Tchernoff. Subsequently, at Kresty Prison, I met a sailor who had taken part in that attempt. He turned out to have been an ordinary criminal and had been imprisoned at the Kresky for burglary. But the bourgeois and compromise-mongers’ press had described the whole movement as being merely of a pogrom and counter-revolutionary character, and yet, at the same time, as a Bolshevik maneuver, having as its direct object the seizure of power by armed coercion of the Central Executive Committee.
The movement of July 16th-18th showed with perfect clearness that the leading parties of the Soviet lived in Petrograd in a complete political vacuum. It is true that the garrison was by no means entirely with us at that time. There were among it units which still hesitated, were still undecided and passive. But apart from the ensigns, there was not a single unit among the garrison, which was willing to fight against us in defence of the Government or the leading parties in the Soviet. It was from the front that troops had to be fetched. The entire strategy of Tsereteli, Tchernoff, and others, during those July days was to gain time so as to enable Kerensky to draw “reliable” troops into Petrograd. Delegation after delegation entered the Taurida Palace, which was surrounded by a huge armed crowd, and demanded a complete break with the bourgeoisie, energetic measures of social reform, and the commencement of peace negotiations. We, Bolsheviks, met every new detachment of demonstrators, either in the street or in the Palace, with harangues, calling on them to be calm, and assuring them that with the masses in their present mood the compromise-mongers would be unable to form a new Coalition Ministry. The men of Kronstadt were particularly determined, and it was only with difficulty that we could keep them within the bounds of a bare demonstration. On July 17th the demonstration assumed a still more formidable character – this time under the direct leadership of our party. The Soviet leaders seemed to have lost their heads; their speeches were of an evasive character ; the answers given by Tchkheidze, the Ulysses, to the delegations were bereft of all political sense. It was clear that the political leaders were but marking time.
On the night of July 17th “trustworthy” troops commenced to arrive from the front. During the sitting of the Executive Committee, the Taurida Palace was suddenly filled with the brass notes of the Marseillaise. The faces of the members of the Presidential Bureau changed immediately. Confidence, which had been so conspicuously lacking during the last few days, once more made its appearance. It was the Volhynian Regiment of the Guards which had arrived, the same regiment which a few months later marched at the head of the November Revolution under our banners.
From that moment everything changed. There was no longer any need to stand on ceremony with the delegations of workers and soldiers or the representatives of the Baltic Fleet. Speeches were delivered from the tribune of the Executive Committee about an armed “rebellion” which had now been “suppressed” by the faithful revolutionary troops. The Bolsheviks were declared to be a counter-revolutionary party.
The fright which the bourgeoisie had undergone during the two days of armed demonstration now became transformed into a raging hate which was displayed not only in the columns of their papers, but also in the streets of Petrograd, especially on the Nevsky Prospekt, where individual workers and soldiers were mercilessly beaten when caught carrying on their “criminal” agitation. Ensigns, officers, members of shock battalions, Knights of St. George, became masters of the situation, and rabid counter-revolutionaries placed themselves at their head. A ruthless suppression of workers’ organizations and of institutions of our party was carried out throughout the city. There were arrests, raids, physical ill-treatment, and individual murders. In the night of July 17th-18th the then Minister of Justice, Pereverzeff, issued to the Press “documents” purporting to prove that at the head of the Bolshevik party there stood paid agents of Germany.
The leaders of the Socialist Revolutionary and Menshevik parties had known us too long and too well to believe this accusation, but at the same time they were too closely interested in its success against us to protest against it publicly. Even now one cannot recall, without disgust, the orgy of lies poured forth in the columns of all the bourgeois and Coalitionist Press. Our papers were suppressed. Revolutionary Petrograd then felt that the provinces and the army were as yet far from being with it. For a brief moment the workers were stricken with dismay. In the Petrograd garrison the disbanded regiments were sternly repressed, and individual units were disarmed. All this time the Soviet leaders were busy fabricating a new Ministry to include third-rate middle-class groups which, without in any way strengthening the Government, only deprived it of the last vestiges of revolutionary initiative.
In the meantime, events at the front were taking their course. The whole army had been shaken to its foundation. The soldiers saw that the vast majority of the officers who had camouflaged themselves at the beginning of the Revolution were, in reality, deeply hostile to the new regime. At the Main Headquarters there was now going on quite openly a selection of counter-revolutionary elements. The Bolshevik publications were ruthlessly persecuted. The offensive had long ago given way to a tragic retreat. The bourgeois Press was savagely slandering the army, and although on the eve of the offensive the governing parties had declared that we were an insignificant handful, that the army knew nothing of us and cared less, now that their adventure of the offensive had ended so tragically, these same people and parties were throwing the whole responsibility for the failure on us. The prisons were packed to overflowing with revolutionary soldiers and workers. For the investigation of the affair of July 16th-18th all the old wolves of Tsarist judiciary were recalled; yet the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks dared demand of Lenin, Zinovieff, and other comrades that they should voluntarily give themselves up to “justice!”
The feeling of dismay in the workers’ quarters soon passed, and gave way to a new wave of revolutionary enthusiasm, not only among the proletariat, but even among the Petrograd garrison. The Coalitionists were losing all influence, and the wave of Bolshevism commenced to spread throughout the country and penetrated, in spite of all obstacles, even into the army.
The new Coalition Ministry, with Kerensky at its head, now openly entered on the path of repressions. The Ministry re-established the death penalty for soldiers, our papers were put down and our propagandists were arrested. But all this only increased our influence. In spite of all hindrances placed in the way of re-elections to the Petrograd Soviet, the relative strength of the parties had altered to such an extent that on many important questions we were already in a majority. Exactly the same happened in the Moscow Soviet. At that time, in company with many other comrades, I was already in prison at Kresty, having been arrested for taking part in the agitation and organization of the armed rising of July 16th-18th in agreement with the German Government and with the object of aiding the military plans of the Hohenzollerns. The well-known examining magistrate of the Tsarist regime, Alexandroff, who had conducted several prosecutions against revolutionaries, now received the mission to protect the Republic against the counter-revolutionary Bolsheviks. Under the old regime prisoners used to be divided into political and criminal; now a new terminology was introduced: criminals and Bolsheviks. Amongst the arrested soldiers bitter perplexity reigned. Young men from the villages who had never before taken part in politics, but who had thought that the Revolution had made them free once for all, now stared with amazement at the bolted doors and the grated windows. During our walks in the courtyard they anxiously asked me each time what it all meant and how it would all end. I comforted them by saying that we should come out victorious in the end.
The end of August was marked by the rising of General Korniloff. It was the immediate result of the mobilisation of the counter-revolutionary forces, to which the offensive of July had given a great impetus. At the celebrated State Conference at Moscow in the latter half of August, Kerensky tried to take up a position midway between the propertied classes and lower middleclass democrats. The Bolsheviks were regarded as standing altogether outside the law. Kerensky threatened them with “blood and iron” amidst a storm of applause from the propertied sections of the Conference and the traitorous silence of the lower middle-class democrats. But Kerensky’s hysterical cries and threats did not satisfy the leaders of the counter-revolutionary cause. They saw only too well the revolutionary wave that was spreading throughout the country, enveloping the workers, the peasants, and the army, and they considered it imperative to employ immediately the most extreme measures in order to teach the masses an unforgettable lesson. In agreement with the propertied bourgeoisie, which saw in him its hero, Korniloff took this risky matter on his shoulders. Kerensky, Savinkoff, Filonenko, and other Socialist Revolutionaries in or about office took part in his plot, but all of them betrayed Korniloff as soon as they saw that if he should come out victorious they themselves would be thrown overboard. I lived through the episode in prison and followed it up in the papers: free access to the papers was the only important difference between Kerensky’s prison regime and the old one. The adventure of the Cossack General fell through; in six months of the Revolution the masses had developed sufficient spirit and strength of organization to repel any open counter-revolutionary attack. The Coalitionist Soviet parties were frightened to the last degree by the possible developments of the Korniloff plot, which threatened to sweep away not only the Bolsheviks, but the whole of the Revolution, together with its leading parties. The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks then set out to “legalize” the position of the Bolsheviks, but only by half and with numerous reservations, scenting possible dangers in the future. The same Kronstadt sailors who, after the July occurrence, had been branded as hooligans and counter-revolutionaries, were now summoned to Petrograd to defend the Revolution against the Korniloff danger. They came without demur, without taunts, without any reminders of the past, and took up the most responsible positions. I had then a perfect right to remind Tsereteli of the words I had thrown at him in May when he was abusing the men of Kronstadt: “When a counter-revolutionary general tries to tie a knot round the throat of the Revolution, the Cadets will be soaping the rope and the Kronstadt sailors will come to help us and to die with us.”
The Soviet organizations displayed everywhere at the rear and at the front their vitality and strength in the fight against the Korniloff rising. Scarcely anywhere did matters come to actual fighting. The revolutionary masses simply paralysed the General's plot. Just as in July the Coalitionists could find no soldiers to fight against us among the Petrograd garrison, so now Korniloff could find no soldiers at the front to fight against the Revolution. He could only act at all by deceit, and the efforts of the propagandists soon put an end to his designs.
Judging by the papers, I hoped for a very rapid development of events and for an early passing of the Government authority into the hands of the Soviets. The growth of the influence and strength of the Bolsheviks was undoubted, and it had now received an irresistible impetus. The Bolsheviks had warned against the Coalition, against the July offensive, and had foretold the Korniloff rebellion. The popular masses could now see that we had been right. At the most anxious moments of the Korniloff plot, when the Caucasian “Savage” Division was marching on Petrograd, the Petrograd Soviet, with the unwilling connivance of the Government, had armed the workers. The regiments which had been summoned against us had long ago become transformed in the hot atmosphere of Petrograd, and were now entirely on our side. The Korniloff attempt was bound finally to open the eyes of the army to the inadmissibility of any further understanding with the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries. One might, therefore, well have expected that the suppression of the Korniloff attempt would be followed by an immediate effort of the revolutionary forces, guided by our party, to obtain power. But events developed more slowly. In spite of the intensity of revolutionary feeling, the masses had become more wary since the severe lesson of the July days, and forswore all spontaneous action, waiting for a direct call and guidance from their leaders. But the leaders of our party, too, were in a waiting mood. In these circumstances the winding up of the Korniloff adventure, although it had fundamentally altered the correlation of forces in our favour, did not lead to any immediate political changes.
By that time the predominance of our party in the Petrograd Soviet became definite. This was made evident in a dramatic form in connection with the question of the constitution of the Presidential Bureau. At the time when the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks reigned supreme in the Soviets, they tried all they could to isolate the Bolsheviks. Even when we had at least one-third of the total seats on the Petrograd Soviet, they would not admit a single representative of our party to the Presidential Bureau. After the Petrograd Soviet had passed a resolution in favour of a purely Soviet Government by a somewhat precarious majority, our group demanded the constitution of a Coalition Presidency on the basis of proportional representation. The old Bureau, which included Tchkheidze, Tsereteli, Kerensky, Skobeleff, and Tchernoff, would not hear of this. It is worth while remembering this just now, when the other parties talk of the need of a “united democratic front” and accuse us of exclusiveness. A special meeting of the Petrograd Soviet was called to decide the constitution of the Bureau. Both sides mobilized all their forces and reserves for this struggle. Tsereteli came out with a programmatic speech and argued that the question of the Presidential Bureau was really a question of policy. We thought we should get a little less than half of the votes, and were prepared to consider this as a success. To our own great surprise the voting by roll-call showed more than a hundred majority in our favour. “During six months,” said Tsereteli, “we stood at the head of the Petrograd Soviet and led it from victory to victory. We hope that you will at least remain half that time at the posts you are about to take up.” A similar change of the directing parties took place in the Moscow Soviet. The provincial Soviets, too, passed one after the other into the hands of the Bolsheviks. The time was getting near for the summoning of an All-Russian Congress of Soviets. But the leading group of the Central Executive Committee was trying all it could to put the Congress off to the dim and distant future, in the hope of making it altogether impossible. It was evident that the new Congress would give our party a majority, would elect a new Central Executive Committee corresponding to the new orientation of the parties, and would rob the Coalitionists of their most important stronghold. The struggle for the calling together of the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets thus became a matter of the greatest importance to us.
As against this, the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries made a proposal for the calling together of a Democratic Conference. This body, they thought, they would be able to play off both against us and against Kerensky.
The head of the Government had by this time taken up quite an independent and irresponsible position. He had been raised to power in the first period of the Revolution by the Petrograd Soviet. Kerensky had entered the Ministry in the first instance without any provisional decision of the Soviet, but the latter subsequently approved of the step. After the first Congress of the Soviets the Socialist Ministers were considered to be responsible to the Central Executive Committee. Their Cadet allies were only answerable to their own party. After the July days the Central Executive Committee, meeting the wishes of the bourgeoisie, freed the Socialist Ministers from their responsibility to the Soviets, for the purpose, as it was alleged at the time, of creating a revolutionary dictatorship. This also is worth while remembering just now, when the very same people who were concocting the dictatorship of a small circle are now hurling charges and slanders against the dictatorship of a class.
The Moscow State Conference, at which the artificially selected propertied and democratic representatives balanced one another, had had for its chief aim the consolidation of Kerensky’s power over the classes and parties. This aim had only been attained in appearance. In reality the Moscow Conference only revealed Kerensky’s complete impotence, for he was almost equally a stranger to the propertied elements and to the lower middle-class democracy. But as the Liberals and the Conservatives applauded his tirades against the democracy, while the Coalitionists gave him a great ovation when he very guardedly disowned the counter-revolutionaries, he gained the impression that he was supported by both sides and disposed of unlimited authority. He threatened the workers and the revolutionary soldiers with blood and iron. His policy went still further along the road of conspiracies with Korniloff, which compromised him in the eyes of the Coalitionists. Tsereteli, in his characteristically vague diplomatic phrases, spoke of “personal” factors in politics and the necessity of circumscribing them. It was this task that the Democratic Conference had to discharge, composed as it was of representatives of the Soviets, Municipal Councils, Zemstvos, trade unions and co-operative societies – all selected in an arbitrary manner. The chief problem, however, was to provide for a sufficiently Conservative complexion of the Conference, to dissolve the Soviets once for all in the amorphous mass of democracy, and to consolidate their own power by means of this new organization against the tide of Bolshevism.
It will not be out of place here to note in a few words the difference between the political role of the Soviets and the democratic organs of self-government. Philistines have more than once pointed out to us that the new Municipal Councils and Zemstvos elected by universal suffrage are incomparably more democratic than the Soviets, and possess a more valid right to represent the whole population. This formal democratic criterion, however, has no real meaning in revolutionary times. Revolution is distinguished by this: that, the, consciousness of the masses undergoes rapid changes. New sections of the population constantly gain experience, revise their views of yesterday, work out new ones, reject old leaders, follow others, and press ever forward. In times of Revolution the (formally) democratic organizations, based on the ponderous mechanism of universal suffrage, inevitably lag behind the development of the political views of the masses. Not so the Soviets. They depend directly on organic groups, such as workshops, factories, mines, companies, regiments, etc. In these cases, of course, there are no such legal guarantees for the perfect accuracy of the elections as in those to Municipal Councils and Zemstvos, but there is the far more important guarantee of the direct and immediate contact of the deputy with his electors. The member of the Town Council or Zemstvo depends on an amorphous mass of electors who invest him with authority for one year, and then dissolve. The Soviet electors, on the other hand, remain in permanent contact with one another by the very conditions of their life and work; their deputy is always under their direct observation and may at any moment be given new instructions, and, if necessary, may be censured, recalled, and replaced by somebody else.
As the general political evolution of the preceding months of the Revolution had been marked by the growing influence of the Bolsheviks at the expense of the Coalitionist parties, it was quite natural that this process should have been reflected most clearly and fully on the Soviets the Town Councils and Zemstvos, in spite of all their formal democratic character, expressing not so much the sentiments of the masses today as those of yesterday. This explains the gravitation towards the Town Councils and Zemstvos on the part of those parties which have been losing ever more and more their footing in the revolutionary class. This question will again crop up, only on a larger scale, when we come to the Constituent Assembly.
Last updated on: 11.12.2006