Leon Trotsky


The Revolution

TOWARD the end of the “Democratic Conference,” the 25th of October was set, at our insistence, as the term for the Second Congress of Soviets. In the mood that has been pictured, which increased from hour to hour, not only in the workmen’s quarters, but also in the barracks, it seemed most practical to us to concentrate the attention of the Petersburg garrison on this date, as the day when the Congress of Soviets had to decide the question of power, and the workmen and troops who were already properly prepared must support the Congress. Our strategy was aggressive in its nature; we were beginning an attack on the power, but our agitation was so arranged that the enemy should set about breaking up the Congress of Soviets, and it would in consequence be necessary to oppose them with the most ruthless resistance. This whole plan was based upon the strength of the revolutionary stream which was rising high everywhere and which left the enemy neither rest nor peace. The rearguard regiments would have preserved their neutrality in case of the worst happening to us.

Under such conditions the slightest step of the government against the Petrograd Soviet would at once assure us the decisive ascendancy. Lenin was afraid in the meantime that the enemy might succeed in bringing up small but decidedly counterrevolutionary divisions of troops and attack us first with the weapon of surprise. If the enemy suddenly got the party and the soviets in his power and seized the guiding center in Petersburg he would thereby decapitate the revolutionary movement and gradually make it harmless.

“We dare not wait, we dare not delay,” Lenin repeated more and more frequently.

Under these conditions at the end of September or the beginning of October the famous night session of the Central Committee took place at Suchanof’s home. Lenin came there firmly resolved this time to carry through a resolution in which there was no further place for doubt, hesitation, prolongment, passivity, and delay. However, before he attacked the opponents of the armed rising, he began to storm at those who had brought the rising into connection with the Second Congress of Soviets. Some one had told him of my speech: “We have already fixed the rising for the 25th of October.” I had actually used this sentence several times to those comrades who sought the path of revolution in the preliminary parliament and in a “vigorous” Bolshevist opposition in the Constituent Assembly. “If the Congress of Soviets, Bolshevist in its majority,” I said, “does not seize the power, Bolshevism itself is condemned to death. In all probability then the Constituent Assembly would not even be convened. If, after all that has gone before, we convene the Congress of Soviets with a majority assured in advance for us, we publicly bind ourselves to seize the power not later than the 25th of October.”

Vladimir Ilyich inveighed against this date horribly. The question of the Second Congress of Soviets, he said, was of no interest to him; what meaning did the Congress have? Would it actually meet? And what can the Congress itself do in this case? We must seize the power, but not bind ourselves to the Congress. It was amusing and absurd to announce to the enemy the day of the rising. It would be the best thing to let the 25th of October be a masquerade, but the rising must be begun absolutely before and independent of the Congress. The party must seize the power with armed hand and then we would discuss the Congress. We must immediately get into action.

As in the July days when Lenin definitely expected “they” would overthrow us, he thought over the whole position of the enemy and came to the conclusion that, from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, it would be the best thing to surprise us with arms, to disorganize the revolution and then attack it alone. As in July Lenin overestimated the sagacity and resolution of the enemy, perhaps also its material possibilities. To a considerable degree this overestimation was conscious and tactically quite right; it would double the energy of the party. But in spite of everything the party was not in a position to seize the power on its own responsibility, independent of the Congress and behind its back. That would have been a mistake that would not have been without effects upon the behavior of the workmen and could have made it extraordinarily difficult for the garrison. The soldiers knew the Council of Deputies and the soldier section. They only knew the party through the Congress. And if the rising took place back of the Congress, without connection with it, without being covered by its authority and without clearly and plainly putting an end to the struggle about the power of the Soviets, it might lead to dangerous confusion in the garrison. One must not forget also that there still existed in Petersburg, along with the local Soviet, the old All Russian Central Executive Committee with Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviki at the head. We could only oppose that by the Soviet Congress.

In the end three groups were formed in the Central Committee: the opponents of the seizure of power by the party whom the logic of the situation forced to give up the rallying word, “the power to the soviets”; Lenin, who demanded the immediate organization of the rising, independent of the Soviets; and the last group who considered it necessary to bind the rising closely with the Second Council of Soviets and in consequence wished to postpone it until the latter took place.

“At all events,” Lenin declared emphatically, “the conquest of power must precede the Congress of Soviets, otherwise they will drive you apart and you will not have any Congress.” Finally, a resolution was passed to the effect that the rising must take place not later than the 15th of October. About the fixed date itself, as far as I remember, there was scarcely any discussion. All understood that it only bore an approximate character, an orienting one, so to speak, and that events might shift it to earlier or later. But only the question of the day could be discussed, nothing further. The necessity of a fixed date, and an early one, was quite well known.

The chief debates at the sessions of the Central Committee were naturally devoted to the struggle with that section of the members who were totally opposed to an armed rising. I refrain from introducing here the three or four speeches that Lenin made at the sessions above mentioned on the theme: Must we seize the power? Is it the time to seize the power? Shall we keep the power if we seize it? Lenin wrote then and later some pamphlets and articles about this. His train of thought in the speeches at the meetings was naturally the same. But it is utterly impossible to picture the united spirit of these intense and impassioned improvisations which were filled with the struggle to impress upon the opponents, the hesitating and the doubting, the course of his thought, his will, his conviction, and his courage. Here the fate of the revolution was decided. The session broke up late at night. All felt somewhat as though they had gone through a surgical operation. Part of those present at the session, I among them, passed the rest of the night in Suchanof’s home.

The further course of events helped us much. The attempt to change the Petersburg garrison led to the creation of the Revolutionary Military Committee. It was possible for us to legalize the preparation for the rising through the authority of the Soviet and to tie it up closely with the question which concerned the vital force of the whole Petersburg garrison.

In the interval between the session of the Central Committee above described and the 25th of October I recall only one meeting with Vladimir Ilyich and this only dimly. When did it occur? It must have been between the 15th and 20th of October. I know that I was much interested to see how Lenin would look upon the “defensive” character of my speech at the session of the Petersburg Soviet. I had proved to be false the rumors that we were preparing for the 22nd of October, the “day of the Petrograd Soviet,” an armed rising, and I announced that we would answer any attack with a decided counter-blow and go the extreme. I remember that Vladimir Ilyich’s mood was calmer and steadier, I might say, less suspicious. He not only made no objections to the openly defensive tone of my speech, but even recognized it as quite efficacious in putting to sleep the carefulness of the opposition. None the less he shook his head from time to time and asked: “But will they not steal a march on us? Will they not surprise us?” I pointed out that afterward everything would follow almost automatically. At this meeting or at least a portion of it I think Comrade Stalin was present. Perhaps I am confusing two meetings. I must say in general that the recollections that have stayed in my memory with regard to the last days before the revolution are so mixed that I can only separate them, analyze them, and arrange them in order with much difficulty.

The next time I met Lenin was the very day of October 25th at Smolny itself. At what time? I no longer have any idea. It must have been toward evening. I remember well that Vladimir Ilyich at once asked anxiously about the negotiations that we were carrying on with the staff of the Petersburg military district about the further fate of the garrison. A communication had appeared in the newspapers that the negotiations were approaching a favorable end.

“Are you agreeing to a compromise?” asked Lenin and looked at me piercingly.

I told him that we had purposely given this calming news to the press, and that it was only a stratagem for the moment of beginning the general attack.

“Well, that is g-o-o-d,” said Lenin, drawling his words, full of joy and enthusiasm. He rubbed his hands in excitement and began to pace up and down the room. “That is v-e-r-y good!” Ilyich liked the stratagem especially. To take in the enemy, to get the best of him,—was there anything better than that?

But in the given case the stratagem had quite peculiar significance: it showed that we had already entered directly into the zone of decisive actions. I began to tell him that the military operations were succeeding rather widely, and that at the moment we had already taken possession of a number of important points in the city. Vladimir Ilyich had seen on a placard printed the evening before—or perhaps I showed it to him, too,—that every one who attempted to make use of the revolution for plundering was threatened with execution on the spot. At first Lenin was thoughtful; it even seemed to me as though he felt misgivings about it. But then he said, “R-i-g-h-t.”

He greedily examined all details of the rising. They furnished him with the indisputable evidence that the affair was in full swing, the Rubicon passed, and that no recall and no retreat were possible now. I remember the strong impression made upon Lenin by the news that, by written command, I had ordered out a company of the Pavlovsky regiment in order to assure the appearance of our party and Soviet newspapers.

“Has the company marched out?”

“It has.”

“And the newspapers are set up?”

“Yes, indeed.”

Lenin was delighted, which he showed by exclamations, laughter, and by rubbing his hands.

I realized that, at this moment, at last he had made his peace with our refusal to seize the power by a conspiracy. Up to the last hour he had feared the enemy might thwart our plans and surprise us. Only now, on the evening of the 25th of October, he composed himself and gave his sanction finally to the course that events had taken. I say “he composed himself,”—but only to again get excited over a whole mass of questions, more and more concrete, big and little, that were connected with the further course of the uprising: “But listen, ought we not do so and so? Ought we not undertake that and that? Ought we not bring up this and that?” These endless questions and suggestions were superficially without any connection, but they had their origin in one and the same intense inner comprehension, which had grasped at once the whole extent of the uprising.

One must stop trying not to hasten too quickly into the events of the revolution. When the revolutionary stream mounts steadily, and the forces of the uprising grow automatically, while those of the reaction waver according to fate and fall to pieces, the temptation is very near to yield to the elementary course of events. Quick success disarms as much as defeat. One dare not lose sight of the clew to the events. After every new success one must say: Nothing is yet attained, nothing is yet assured; five minutes before the decisive victory the direction of events requires the same vigilance and the same energy and the same force as five minutes before the beginning of armed actions; five minutes after the victory, before the first exclamations of greeting have calmed down, one must say to himself: What has been conquered is not yet assured, there is not a minute to lose. That was Lenin’s grasp of the situation, his way of action and method, the organic essence of his political character, of his revolutionary spirit.

I have already told once how Dan, on the way to a partial-session of the Mensheviki, recognized Lenin in disguise at the Second Congress of Soviets, as he sat with us at a little table in a passageway. This subject has been preserved in a picture, which, so far as I can judge from the reproduction, has nothing in common with the reality of the time. That is, however, the fate of historical painting in general and not its fate alone.

I no longer remember on what occasion, but at all events, considerably later, I said to Vladimir Ilyich: “This ought to be sketched, or they will lie about it.”

Jokingly he made a hopeless gesture: “They will lie in spite of that, without stopping

The first session of the Second Council of Soviets took place in Smolny. Lenin was not present at it. He remained in his room at Smolny, which, according to my recollection, had no, or almost no, furniture. Later some one spread rugs on the floor and laid two cushions on them. Vladimir Ilyich and I lay down to rest. But in a few minutes I was called: “Dan is speaking; you must answer.” When I came back after my reply, I again lay down near Vladimir Ilyich, who naturally could not sleep. It would not have been possible. Every five or ten minutes some one came running in from the session hall to inform us what was going on there. In addition, messengers came from the city, where, under the leadership of Antonof-Ovsejenko, the siege of the Winter Palace was going on which ended with its capture.

It must have been the next morning, for a sleepless night separated it from the preceding day. a Vladimir Ilyich looked tired. He smiled and said: “The transition from the state of illegality, being driven in every direction, to power—is too rough.” “It makes one dizzy,” he at once added in German, and made the sign of the cross before his face. After this one more or less personal remark that I heard him make about the acquisition of power, he went about the tasks of the day.

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Last updated on: 14.4.2007