In the fourth month of its existence the February régime was already choking from its own contradictions. June had begun with the all-Russian congress of the soviets, whose task was to create a political cover for the advance on the front. The beginning of the advance coincided in Petrograd with a gigantic demonstration of workers and soldiers organised by the Compromisers against the Bolsheviks, but which turned out to be a Bolshevik demonstration against the Compromisers. The growing indignation of the masses led after two weeks to another demonstration, which broke out without any summons from above, led to bloody encounters, and has gone into history under the name of “the July days.” Taking place exactly halfway between the February and the October revolutions, the July semi-insurrection closes the former and constitutes a kind of dress rehearsal for the latter. We shall end this volume on the threshold of the July days, but before passing over to those events whose arena in June was Petrograd, it is necessary to have a glance at certain processes which were taking place in the masses.
To a certain liberal who had affirmed at the beginning of May that the more the government moves to the left, the more the country moves to the right-meaning by “country,” of course, “the possessing classes”-Lenin replied: “the ‘country’ of workers and poorer and poorest peasants, I assure you, citizen, is a thousand times farther to the left than the Chernovs and Tseretellis, and a hundred times farther than we. Live a little and you will see.” Lenin estimated that the workers and peasants were “a hundred times” farther to the left than the Bolsheviks. This may seem a little unfounded: the workers and soldiers were still supporting the Compromisers, and the majority of them were on their guard against the Bolsheviks. But Lenin was delving deeper. The social interests of the masses, their hatred and their hope, were still only seeking a mode of expression. The policy of the Compromisers had been for then a first stage. The masses were immeasurably to the left of the Chernovs and Tseretellis, but were themselves still unconscious of their radicalism. Lenin was right in asserting that the masses were to the left of the Bolsheviks, for the party in its immense majority had not yet realised the mightiness of the revolutionary passions that were simmering in the depths of the awakening people. The indignation of the masses was nourished by the dragging-out of the war, the economic ruin and the malicious inactivity of the government.
The measureless European-Asiatic plain had become a country only thanks to railroads. The war struck them most heavily of all. Transport was steadily breaking down; the number of disabled locomotives on certain roads had reached 50 per cent. At headquarters learned engineers read reports to the effect that no later than in six months the railroad transport would be in a state of complete paralysis. In these calculations there was a certain amount of conscious spreading of panic. But the breakdown of transport had really reached threatening dimensions. It had created tie-ups on the roads, intensified the disturbance of commodity exchange, and augmented the high cost of living.
The food situation in the cities was becoming worse and worse. The agrarian movement had established its centre in 43 provinces. The flow of grain to the army and the towns was dangerously dwindling. In the more fertile regions, to be sure, there were still tens and hundreds of millions of poods of surplus grain, but the purchasing operations at a fixed price gave extremely unsatisfactory results: and moreover it was difficult to deliver the ready grain to the centres owing to the breakdown of transport. From the autumn of 1916 on, an average of about one half of the expected provision trains arrived at the front. Petrograd, Moscow and other industrial centres received no more than 10 per cent of what they needed. They had almost no reserves. The standard of living of the city masses oscillated between under-nourishment and hunger. The arrival of the Coalition Government was signalised with a democratic order forbidding the baking of white bread. It will be several years after that before the “French roll” will again. appear in the capital. There was not enough butter. In June the consumption of sugar was cut down by definite rationing for the whole country.
The mechanism of the market, broken by the war, had not been replaced by that state regulation to which the advanced capitalist governments had been compelled to resort, and which alone permitted Germany to hold on through four years of war.
Threatening symptoms of economic collapse appeared at every step. The fall in productivity in the factories was caused, aside from the breakdown of transport, by the wearing out of equipment, the lack of raw materials and supplies, the flux of personnel, bad financing the universal uncertainty.
The principal plants were still working for the war. Orders had been distributed for two or three years ahead. Meantime the workers were unwilling to believe that the war would continue. The newspapers were publishing appalling figures of war profits. The cost of living was rising. The workers were awaiting a change. The technical and administrative personnel of the factories were uniting in unions and advancing their demands. In this sphere the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries dominated. The régime of the factories was disintegrating. All joints were weakening. The prospects of the war and of the national economy were becoming misty, and property rights unreliable. Profits were falling off, dangers growing, the bosses losing their taste for production under the conditions created by the revolution. The bourgeoisie as a whole was entering upon a policy of economic defeatism. Temporary losses and deficits due to economic paralysis were in their eyes the overhead expenses of a struggle with the revolution which threatened the foundations of “culture.” At the same time the virtuous press was accusing the workers from day to day of maliciously sabotaging industry, stealing raw materials, unnecessarily burning up fuel in order to produce stoppages. The falsity of these accusations exceeded all bounds, and since this was the press of a party which actually stood at the head of the Coalition power, the indignation of the workers naturally transferred itself to the Provisional Government.
The industrialists had not forgotten the experience of 1905 when a correctly organised lockout actively supported by the government had not only broken up the struggle of the workers for an eight-hour day, but also had rendered the monarchy an invaluable service in the matter of wiping out the revolution. The question of a lockout was now again brought up for discussion at a Council of the Congresses of industry and Trade-thus innocently they named the fighting organ of trustified and syndicated capital. One of the leaders of industry, the engineer explained later in his memoirs why the idea of a lockout was rejected: “This would have looked like a blow at the rear of the army . . . The consequences -of such a step, in the absence of governmental support, looked to the majority very dark.” The whole misfortune lay in the absence of a “real” government. The Provisional Government was paralysed by the Soviet; the reasonable leaders of the Soviet were paralysed by the masses; the workers in the factories were armed; moreover, almost every factory had in the neighbourhood a friendly regiment or battalion. In these circumstances these gentlemen industrialists considered a lockout “odious in its national aspect.” But they did not by any means renounce the idea of an offensive, but merely adapted it to existing circumstances, giving it not a simultaneous, but a creeping character. According to the diplomatic expression of Auerbach, the industrialists “finally came to the conclusion that an object lesson would be given by life itself, in the form of an inevitable gradual closing of the factories, so to speak, one at a time-a thing which soon did actually occur.” In other words, renouncing a demonstrative lockout as involving “an enormous responsibility,” this Council of the United Industries recommended to its members to close up the enterprises one at a time, seeking out a respectable pretext.
This plan of a creeping lockout was carried out with remarkable system. Leaders of Capital like the Kadet Kutler, a former Minister in the cabinet of Witte, read significant reports about the breakdown of industry, laying the blame, not on the three years of war, but on the three months of revolution. “In the course of two or three weeks,” prophesied the impatient newspaper Rech, “the shops and factories will begin to shut down one after another,” A threat was here dressed up in the form of a prophecy. Engineers, professors, journalists started a campaign in both the general and the specialised press, in which a bridling of the workers was presented as the fundamental condition of salvation. The minister-industrialist Konovalov had declared on the 17 of May, just before his demonstrative withdrawal from government: “If there does not soon come a sobering up of cloudy heads ... we will witness a stoppage of tens and hundreds of plants.”
In the middle of June a Congress of Trade and Industry demands of the Provisional Government “a radical break with the system of developing the revolution.” We have already heard this demand made by the generals: “Stop the Revolution.” But the industrialists make it more concise: “The source of all evil is not only the Bolsheviks, but also the socialist parties. Only a firm iron hand can save Russia.”
Having prepared the political setting, the industrialists passed from words to deeds. In the course of March and April, 129 small plants involving 9,000 workers were shut down; in May, 108 with a like number of workers; in June, 125 plants with 38,000 workers were shut down; in July, 206 plants threw out on the streets 48,000 workers. The lockout developed in a geometric progression. But that was only a beginning. Textile Moscow got into motion after Petrograd, and the provinces after Moscow. The manufacturers would refer to an absence of fuel, raw materials, accessories, credits. The factory committees would interfere in the matter and in many cases indubitably establish the fact of a malicious dislocation of industry with the goal of bringing pressure on the workers, or holding up the government for subsidies. Especially impudent were the foreign capitalists acting through the mediation of their embassies. In several cases the sabotage was so obvious that as a result of the exposures of the shop committees the industrialists found themselves compelled to re-open the factories, thus laying bare one contradiction after another. The revolution soon arrived at the chief of them all: that between the social character of industry and the private ownership of its tools and equipment. In the interests of victory over the workers, the entrepreneur closes the factory as though it were a question of a mere snuff box, and not an enterprise necessary to the life of the whole nation.
The banks, having successfully boycotted the Liberty Loan, took a militant attitude against fiscal encroachments on big capital. In a letter addressed to the Ministry of Finance the bankers “prophesied” a flow of capital abroad and a transfer of papers to the safes in case of radical financial reforms. In other words the banker-patriots threatened a financial lockout to complete the industrial one. The government hastened to accede: after all, the organisers of this sabotage were respected people who had been compelled as the result of the war and the revolution to risk their capital, and not any old Kronstadt sailors who risked nothing but their heads.
The Executive Committee could not fail to understand that the responsibility for the economic fate of the country, especially since the open association of the socialists in the government, would lie in the eyes of the masses upon the ruling Soviet majority. The economic department of the Executive Committee had worked out a broad programme of state regulation of the economic life. Under pressure of the threatening situation, the proposals of very moderate economists had proved much more radical than their authors. “For many branches of industry,” read this programme, “the time is ripe for a state trade monopoly (bread, meat, salt. leather); for others, the conditions are ripe for the formation of regulating state trusts (coal, oil, metals, sugar, paper); and finally, for almost all branches of industry contemporary conditions demand a regulative participation of the state in the distribution of raw materials and finished products, and also in the fixation of prices.... Simultaneously with this it is necessary to place under control ... all credit institutions.”
On May 16, the Executive Committee with its bewildered political leadership adopted the proposals of the economists almost without debate, and backed them up with a unique warning addressed to the government: It should take upon itself “the task of a planned organisation of the national industry and labour,” calling to memory that in consequence of the non fulfilment of this task “the old régime fell and it had been necessary to reorganise the Provisional Government.” In order to pump up their courage the Compromisers were scaring themselves.
“The programme is excellent,” wrote Lenin, “both the control and the governmentalising of the trusts, also the struggle with speculation, and liability for labour. . . . It is necessary to recognise this programme of ’frightful’ Bolshevism, for no other programme and no other way out of the actually threatening terrible collapse can be found….” However, the whole question was: Who was to carry out this excellent programme? Would it be the Coalition? The answer was given immediately. The day after the adoption by the Executive Committee of the economic programme, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Konovalov, resigned and slammed the door behind him. He was temporarily replaced by the engineer Palchinsky, a no less loyal but more energetic representative of big capital. The minister-socialists did not even dare seriously propose the programme of the Executive Committee to their liberal colleagues. Chernov, you remember, was vainly trying to get the government to adopt a veto on land sales. In answer to its growing difficulties, the government, on its side, brought forward a programme of unloading Petrograd, that is, transferring shops and factories into the depths of the country. This programme was motivated both by military considerations-the danger that the Germans might seize the capital-and by economic: Petrograd was too far from the sources of fuel and raw materials. This unloading would have meant the liquidation of the Petrograd industries for a series of months and years. The political aim was to scatter throughout the whole country the vanguard of the working class. Parallel with this the military power brought forward one pretext after another for deporting from Petrograd the revolutionary military units.
Palchinsky tried with all his might to convince the workers’ section of the Soviet of the advantages of an unloading. To accomplish this task against the will of the workers was impossible. But the workers would not agree. The unloading scheme got forward as little as the regulation of industry the break down was going deeper. Prices were rising. The silent lockout was broadening, and the therewith unemployment. The government was marking time. Miliukov wrote later: “The ministry was simply swimming with the current, and the current was running in the Bolshevik channel.” Yes, the current was running in the Bolshevik channel.
The proletariat was the chief motive force of revolution. At the same time the revolution was giving shape to the proletariat. And the proletariat was badly in need of this.
We have observed the decisive rôle of the Petrograd workers in the February days. The most militant positions were occupied by the Bolsheviks. Immediately after the overturn, however, the Bolsheviks retired into the background. The Compromise parties advanced to the front of the political stage. They turned over the power to the liberal bourgeoisie. Patriotism was the countersign of this bloc. Its assault was so strong that at least one half of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party capitulated to it. With Lenin’s arrival the course of the party changed abruptly, and thereafter its influence grew swiftly. In the armed April demonstration the front ranks of the workers and soldiers were already trying to break the chain of the Compromisers. But after a first effort they fell back. The Compromisers remained at the helm.
Later on, after the October revolution, a good deal was written to the effect that the Bolsheviks owed their victory to the peasant army, tired of the war. That is a very superficial explanation. The opposite statement would be nearer to the truth: If the Compromisers got a dominant position in the February revolution, it is thanks most of all to the unusual place occupied in the life of the country by a peasant army. If the revolution had developed in peace time, the leading rôle of the proletariat would have had from the beginning a far more sharply expressed character. Without the war the revolutionary victory would have come later, and if you do not count the victims of the war, would have been paid for at a higher price. But it would not have left a place for an inundation of compromising patriotic moods. At any rate, the Russian Marxists who had prophesied long before these events a conquest of proletariat in the course of the bourgeois revolution did not take for their starting point the temporary moods army, but the class structure of the Russian society. That prophecy was wholly confirmed. But the fundamental correlation of classes was refracted through the war and temporarily shifted by the pressure of the army-that is, by an organisation of declassed and armed peasants. It was just this artificial social formation which so extraordinarily strengthened the hold of the petty bourgeois compromise policy, and made possible an eight-months’ period of experiments, weakening to the country and the revolution.
However, the question as to the roots of compromisism is not exhausted by reference to the peasant army. In the proletariat itself, in its make-up, its political level, we must seek supplementary causes for the temporary entrenchment of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. The war brought vast changes in the constitution and mood of the working class. If the preceding years had been a time of revolutionary afflux, the war sharply broke off that process. The mobilisation was thought out and conducted not only from a military, but still more from a police viewpoint. The government made haste to clean out from the industrial districts the more active and restless groups of workers. We may consider it established that the mobilisation of the first months of war tore away from the industries as many as 40 per cent of the workers, chiefly the skilled workers. Their absence, having a very damaging effect on the course of production, called out hot protests from the industrialists in proportion to their high profits from the war industries. A further destruction of the workers’ cadres was thus stopped. The workers indispensable to the industries remained in the capacity of men on military duty. The breaches effected by the mobilisation were made up by immigrants from the villages, small-town people, badly qualified workers, women, boys. The percentage of women in industry rose from 32 to 40 per cent.
The process of renewal and dilution of the proletariat reached its extreme dimensions in the capital. For the years of the war, 1914-17, the number of workers in large enterprises, those hiring more than 500, almost doubled in the Petrograd province. In consequence of the liquidation of plants and factories in Poland, and especially in the Baltic states, and still more in consequence of the general growth of the war industries, there were concentrated in Petrograd by 1917 about 400,000 workers in plants and factories. Out of these, 335,000 were in the one hundred and forty giant plants. The more militant elements of the Petrograd proletariat played no small part at the front in giving form to the revolutionary moods of the army. But those yesterday’s immigrants from the villages who replaced them, often well-to-do peasants and shopkeepers hiding from the front, women and boys, were far more submissive than the ranking workers. To this we must add that the qualified workers who found themselves in the position of men on military duty-and of these there were hundreds of thousands-observed an extraordinary caution through fear of being, thrown over to the front. Such was the social basis of the patriotic mood, which had prevailed with a part of the workers even under the czar. But there was no stability in this patriotism. The merciless military and police repression, the redoubled exploitation, defeats at the front, and industrial breakdown, pushed the workers into the struggle. Strikes. during the war were predominantly economic in character, however, and distinguished by far more moderation than before the war. The weakening of the class was increased by the weakening of its party. After the arrest and exile of the Bolshevik Duma deputies, there was carried out with the help of a previously prepared hierarchy of provocateurs a general smash-up of the Bolshevik organisations, from which the party did not recover until the February revolution. During 1915 and 1916 the diluted working class had to go through an elementary school of struggle before the partial economic strikes and demonstrations of hungry women could in February 1917 fuse in a general strike, and draw the army into an insurrection.
The Petrograd proletariat thus entered the February revolution not only in a heterogeneous condition, not yet having amalgamated its constituent parts, but with a lowered political level even of its advanced layers. In the provinces it was still worse. It was this revival of political illiteracy and semi-illiteracy in the proletariat, caused by the war, which created the second condition necessary for the temporary dominance of the Compromise parties.
A revolution teaches and teaches fast. In that lies its strength. Every week brings something new to the masses. Every two months creates an epoch. At the end of February, the insurrection. At the end of April, a demonstration of the armed workers and soldiers in Petrograd. At the beginning of July, a new assault, far broader in scope and under more resolute slogans. At the end of August, Kornilov’s attempt at an overthrow beaten off by the masses. At the end of October, conquest of power by the Bolsheviks. Under these events, so striking in their rhythm, molecular processes were taking place, welding the heterogeneous parts of the working class into one political whole. In this again the chief rôle was played by the strike.
Frightened by the lightning of revolution striking in the midst of their bacchanalia of war profits, the industrialists made concessions in the first weeks to the workers. The Petrograd factory owners even agreed, with qualifications and exceptions, to the eight-hour day. But that did not quiet things, since the standard of living continually sank. In May the Executive Committee was obliged to concede that with the increasing cost of living the situation of the workers “borders for many categories upon chronic starvation.” The mood in the worker districts was becoming more and more nervous and tense. What depressed them most of all was the absence of prospects. The masses are capable of enduring the heaviest deprivations when they understand what for, but the new régime was more and more revealing itself to them as a mere camouflage of the old relations against which they had revolted in February. This they would not endure.
The strikes were especially stormy among the more backward and exploited groups of workers. Laundry workers, dyers, coopers, trade and industrial clerks, structural workers, bronze workers, unskilled workers, shoemakers, paper-box makers, sausage makers, furniture workers, were striking, layer after layer, throughout the month of June. The metal-workers were beginning, on the contrary, to play a restraining rôle. To the advanced workers it was becoming more and more clear that individual economic strikes in the conditions of war, breakdown and inflation could not bring a serious improvement, that there must be some change in the very foundations. The lockout not only made the workers favourable to the demand for the control of industry, but even pushed them toward the thought of the necessity of taking the factories into the hands of the state. This inference seemed the more natural in that the majority of private factories were working for the wax, and that alongside them were state enterprises of the same type. Already in the summer of 1917 delegations began to arrive in the capital from the far ends of Russia, delegations of workers and clerks, with a plea that the factories should be taken over by the treasury, since the shareholders had stopped financing them. But the government would not hear of this; consequently it was necessary to change the government. The Compromisers opposed this. The workers began to shift their front against the Compromisers. The Putilov factory with its 40,000 workers was a stronghold of the Social Revolutionaries during the first months of the revolution. But its garrison did not long defend it against Bolsheviks. At the head of the Bolshevik attack most often was to be seen Volodarsky, a tailor in the past. A Jew who had spent some years in America and spoke English well, Volodarsky was a magnificent mass orator, logical, ingenious and bold. His American intonation gave a unique expressiveness to his resonant voice, ringing out concisely at meetings of many thousands. “From the moment of his arrival in the Narva district,” says the worker Minichev, “the ground in the Putilov factory began to slip under the feet of the Social Revolutionary gentlemen, and in the course of something like two months the Putilov workers had gone over to the Bolsheviks.”
The growth of strikes, and of the class struggle in general, almost automatically raised the influence of the Bolsheviks. In all cases where it was a question of life-interests the workers became convinced that the Bolsheviks had no ulterior motives, that they were concealing nothing, and that you could rely on them. In the hours of conflict all the workers tended toward the Bolsheviks, the non-party workers, the Social Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks. This is explained by the fact that the factory and shop committees, waging a struggle for the life of their factories against the sabotage of the administration and the proprietors, went over to the Bolsheviks much sooner than the Soviet. At a conference of the factory and shop committees of Petrograd and its environs at the beginning of June, the Bolshevik resolution won 885 out of 421 votes. This fact went by utterly unnoticed in the big newspapers. Nevertheless it meant that in the fundamental questions of economic life the Petrograd proletariat, not yet having broken with the Compromisers, had nevertheless as a fact gone over to the Bolsheviks.
At the June conference of trade unions it became known that in Petrograd there were over 50 unions with no less than 250,000 members. The metal workers’ union numbered about 190,000 workers; its membership had doubled in the course of the one month of May. The influence of the Bolsheviks in the union had grown still more swiftly. All the by-elections to the soviets showed a victory for the Bolsheviks. By the 1st of June in the Moscow Soviet there were already 206 Bolsheviks against 176 Mensheviks and 110 Social Revolutionaries. The same shifts occurred in the provinces, only more slowly. The membership of the party was growing steadily. At the end of April the Petrograd organisation had 15,000 members. By the end of June, over 82,000.
The workers’ section of the Petrograd Soviet had at that time already a Bolshevik majority. But at a joint session of both sections the soldier delegates overweighed the Bolsheviks. Pravda as more and more insistently demanding general elections: The 500,000 Petrograd workers have four times fewer delegates in the Soviet than the 150,000 soldiers of the Petrograd garrison.”
At the June congress of the Soviets Lenin demanded serious measures of struggle against lockouts, plunderings and organised disruption of economic life on the part of the industrialists and bankers. “Publish the profits of the capitalist gentlemen, arrest fifty or a hundred of the biggest millionaires. It will be enough to hold them for a few weeks, even on such privileged terms as Nicholas Romanov is held, with the simple aim of compelling them to reveal the threads, the tricky manipulations, the filth, and selfishness, which even under the new government are costing our country millions.” To the Soviet leaders Lenin’s proposal seemed monstrous. “You imagine that you can alter the laws of economic life by acts of violence against individual capitalists?” The circumstance that these industrialists were dictating the laws by way of a conspiracy against the nation was considered a part of the due order of things. Kerensky, who came down on Lenin with thunderous indignation, did not hesitate a month later to arrest many thousands of workers who differed with the industrialists in their understanding of the “laws of economic life”.
The bond between economics and politics was being revealed. The state, accustomed to appear in the quality of a mystic principle, was operating now oftener and oftener in its most primitive form, that is, in the form of detachments of armed men. The workers in various parts of the country were subjecting the bosses who refused to make concessions or even negotiate, now to enforced appearance before the soviet, now to house arrest. It is no wonder that the workers’ militia became an object of special hatred to the possessing classes.
The initial decision of the Executive Committee to arm ten per cent of the workers had not been carried out. But the workers succeeded in arming partially just the same, and moreover the more active elements got into the ranks of the militia. The leadership of the workers’ militia was concentrated in the hands of the factory committees, and the leadership of the factory committees was coming over more and more into the hands of the Bolsheviks. A worker of the Moscow factory, Postavshchik, relates: “On the 1st of June as soon as the new Factory Committee was elected with a Bolshevik majority . . . a detachment of eighty men was formed, which in the absence of weapons drilled with sticks, under the leadership of an old soldier, Comrade Levakov.”
The press accused the militia of acts of violence, requisitions, and illegal arrests. It is indubitable that the militia did employ violence: it was created exactly for that. Its crime consisted, however, in resorting to violence in dealing with representatives of that class which was not accustomed to be the object of violence and did not want to get accustomed to it.
In the Putilov factory, which played the leading rôle in the struggle for higher wages, a conference assembled on the 23rd of June, in which participated representatives of the Central Council of Factory and Shop Committees, the Central Bureau of the Trade Unions and 73 plants. Under the influence of the Bolsheviks the conference recognised that the strike of a factory under the given conditions might entail an “unorganised political struggle of the Petrograd workers,” and therefore proposed to the Putilov workers to “restrain their legitimate indignation and prepare their forces for a general attack.
On the eve of that important conference the Bolshevik faction had warned the Executive Committee: “A mass of 40,000 may any day strike and come into the street. It would already have done so if our party had not restrained it. And moreover there is no guarantee that in the future we can restrain it. But a coming out of the Putilov men-there can be no doubt of it-will inevitably bring after it an action of the majority of the workers and soldiers.”
The leaders of the Executive Committee judged these warnings to be demagogy, or else simply let them go in one ear and out the other, preserving their tranquillity. They themselves had almost ceased to visit the factories and barracks, since they had succeeded in making themselves odious in the eyes of the soldiers and workers. Only the Bolsheviks enjoyed sufficient authority to make it possible for them to restrain the workers, and soldiers from scattered action. But the impatience of the masses was already sometimes directed even against the Bolsheviks.
Anarchists appeared in the factories and in the fleet. As always in the face of great events and great masses, they exposed their organic bankruptcy. They found it the more easy to reject the state power in that they completely failed to understand the significance of the soviets as organs of a new state. Moreover, stunned by the revolution, they most often simply kept mum on the subject of the state. They revealed their bankruptcy for the most part by encouraging petty flare-ups. The economic blind alley and the growing embitterment of the Petrograd workers gave certain points of support to the anarchists. Incapable of seriously appraising the correlation of forces on a national scale, ready to regard every little impulse from below, as the last stroke of salvation, they sometimes accused the Bolsheviks of irresolution and even of compromisism. But beyond grumbling they usually did not go. The response of the masses to the action of the anarchists sometimes served the Bolsheviks as a gauge of the steam pressure of the revolution.
The sailors who had met Lenin at the Finland station declared two weeks later, under patriotic pressure from all sides: “If we had known... by what ways he came to us, instead of rapturous cries of hurrah! we would have made heard our indignant shouts: ’Down with you! Back to the country you came through.’” The soldiers’ soviets in the Crimea threatened one after another to prevent with armed fists Lenin’s entry into that patriotic peninsula, where he had no idea of going. The Volynsky regiment, the coryphee of February 27, in the heat of the moment even resolved to arrest Lenin, so that the Executive Committee found itself obliged to take its own measures against such an event. Moods of this kind had not finally dissipated up to the June offensive, and they flared up sharply again after the July days. At the same time in the most far-away garrisons and the most remote parts of the front the soldiers were speaking more and more boldly in the language of Bolshevism, often enough never guessing it. The Bolsheviks in the regiments were only single individuals, but the Bolshevik slogans were penetrating deeper. They seemed to be coming up spontaneously in a the country. Liberal observers saw nothing in this but ignorance and chaos. Rech wrote: “Our Fatherland is veritably turning into a sort of madhouse, where those possessed are in action and command, and people who have not yet lost their reason stand aside in fright and cling along the walls.” In exactly these words the “moderates” have poured out their souls in all revolutions. The Compromisers’ press comforted itself that the soldiers in spite of all misunderstanding did not want to have anything to do with the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile the unconscious Bolshevism of the mass, reflecting the logic of evolution, was constituting the inconquerable power of the Lenin party.
The soldier Pireiko relates how at the elections at the front to the congress of soviets, after a three-day debate, only Social Revolutionaries were elected. But right after that, notwithstanding the protest of the leaders, the soldiers adopted a resolution in favour of taking the land from the landlords, without waiting for the Constituent Assembly. “In general on questions which the soldiers understood, they were inclined farther to the left than the most extreme of extreme Bolsheviks.” That is-what Lenin had in mind when he said that the masses “are a hundred times to the left of us.”
A clerk in a motor-cycle shop somewhere in the Tauride province tells how not infrequently after reading the bourgeois, papers, the soldiers would abuse some sort of unknown creatures called Bolsheviks, and then immediately take up the discussion of the necessity of stopping the war, seizing the land from the landlords, etc. These were those same patriots who swore not to let Lenin into the Crimea. The soldiers in the gigantic rear garrisons were chafing. A vast accumulation of idle people impatiently awaiting a change in their fate created a nervous condition which expressed itself in a continuous readiness to bring their discontent out into the street, in wholesale tramway rides and an epidemical chewing of sunflower seeds. The soldier with his trench-coat thrown over his shoulders, with a seedshell on his lip, became the most hated image to the bourgeois press. This man whom in war time they had crudely flattered, naming him no less than hero-which did not prevent their flogging this hero at the front-he whom after the February revolution they had lifted aloft as a liberator, became suddenly a thug, a traitor, a gunman, a German agent. Really, there was no vileness that the patriotic press would not attribute to the Russian soldiers and sailors.
All the Executive Committee did was to justify itself, struggle with anarchy, abate excesses, distribute frightened questionnaires and moral instructions. The president of the soviet in Czaritsyn-that city was considered a nest of anarcho-Bolshevism-to a questionnaire from the centre as to the state of affairs, answered with a clean-cut phrase: “The more the garrison goes to the left, the more the everyday man goes to the right.” You can extend this formula from Czaritsyn to the whole country. The soldier is moving to the left, the bourgeois to the right.
Every soldier who expressed a little more boldly than the rest what they were all feeling, was so persistently shouted at from above as a Bolshevik that he was obliged in the long run to believe it. From peace and land the soldiers’ thoughts began to pass over to the question of power. Responsiveness to the scattered slogans of Bolshevism changed into a conscious sympathy for the Bolshevik Party. In the Volynsky regiment, which in April had intended to arrest Lenin, the mood shifted in the course of two months in favour of the Bolsheviks. The same in the Egersky and Litovsky regiments. The Lettish sharpshooters had been brought into being by the autocracy in order to use for the ends of war the hatred of parcelled-out peasants and farm-hands against the Baltic barons. These regiments fought magnificently. But that spirit of class hatred on which the monarchy thought to rely, found a road of its own. The Lettish sharpshooters were among the first to break with the monarchy, and afterwards with the Compromisers. As early as May 17, the representatives of eight Lettish regiments almost unanimously adhered to the Bolshevik slogan: “All Power to the Soviets.” In the further course of the revolution they will play a mighty rôle.
An unknown soldier writes from the front: “Today, June 13, we had a little meeting at headquarters, and they talked of Lenin and Kerensky. The soldiers for the most part were for Lenin, but the officers said that Lenin was very ’bourgui.’” After the collapse of the offensive Kerensky’s name became utterly hateful to the army.
On June 21 the military students in Peterhof marched through the streets with banners and placards : “Down with the Spies,” “Long Live Kerensky and Brussilov.” It was Brussilov, of’ course, that the military students themselves stood for. Soldiers of the 4th Battalion attacked the military students and roughhoused them, scattering the demonstration. The placard in honour of Kerensky was what provoked the most hatred.
The June demonstration greatly accelerated the political evolution of the army. The popularity of the Bolsheviks, the only party which had raised its voice in advance against the offensive, began to grow with extraordinary speed. It is true that the Bolshevik papers only with great difficulty found access to the army. Their circulation was extremely small in comparison with the liberal press and the patriotic press in general. “There is not even one of your papers to be seen anywhere,” writes to Moscow a clumsy soldier’s hand, “and we only make use of the rumour of your papers. They sprinkle us here with free bourgeois papers, carrying them along the front in whole bales.” But it was just these patriotic papers which gave the Bolsheviks an incomparable popularity. Every case of protest from the oppressed, of land seizure, of accounts squared with the hated officers, these papers attributed to Bolsheviks. The soldiers concluded that the Bolsheviks are a righteous folk.
The commissar of the 12th Army reports to Kerensky at the beginning of July as to the mood of the soldiers: “Everything is in the long run blamed on the bourgeois ministers and the Soviet, which has sold out to the bourgeoisie. But in general in the immense mass is an opaque darkness; I am unhappy to report that even the newspapers axe but little read lately complete distrust of the printed word: ’They write pretty,’ They are good at the tall talk.’” In the first months the reports of the patriotic commissars were ordinarily a hymn to the revolutionary army, its consciousness, its discipline. Then, after four months of uninterrupted disappointments, when the army had lost confidence in the government orators and journalists, these same commissars discovered in it nothing but opaque darkness.
The more the garrison moves to the left, the more the everyday man moves to the right. Stimulated by the offensive, counter-revolutionary unions sprang up in Petrograd like mushrooms after rain. They gave themselves names, one more resonant than the other: Union of the Honour of the Fatherland, Union of Military Duty, Battalion of Freedom, Organisation of the Spirit, etc. These admirable signboards concealed the ambitions and attempts of the nobility, the officers, the officialdom, the bureaucracy, the bourgeoisie. Some of these organisations, such as the Military League, the Union of the Cavaliers of St. George, or the Volunteers’ Division, were the finished nuclei of a military plot. Coming forward as flaming patriots, these knights of “honour” and “the spirit” not only found easy access to the Allied Missions, but even at times received governmental subsidies, a thing which had in its day been refused to the Soviet as a “private organisation.” One of the offshoots of the family of the newspaper magnate Suvorin undertook the publication in those days of a Little Newspaper, which as an organ of “independent socialism” advocated an iron dictatorship, advancing Admiral Kolchak as its candidate. The more solid press, without as yet quite dotting its i’s, tried in every way to create a popularity for Kolchak. The further career of the admiral testifies that already in the summer of 1917 there was a broad plan connected with his name, and that there were influential circles behind Suvorin’s back.
In obedience to a simple tactical calculation, the reaction, aside from certain individual explosions, pretended that it was directing its blows only against Leninists. The word “Bolshevik” became a synonym for satanic origin. Just as before the revolution the czarist commanders had put the responsibility for all misfortunes, including their own stupidity, upon German spies and more particularly upon “Yids,” so now, after the collapse of the June offensive, the blame for failure and defeat was unceasingly laid upon Bolsheviks. In this matter democrats such as Kerensky and Tseretelli were almost in nowise distinguished, not only from liberals like Miliukov, but from outspoken feudalists like General Denikin.
As always happens when contradictions are intensified to the limit but the moment of explosion has not yet come, the grouping of political forces revealed itself more frankly and clearly not on fundamental questions, but on accidental side issues. One of the lightening rods for the diversion of political passions in those days was Kronstadt. That old fortress which was to have been a loyal sentry at the sea gates of the imperial capital, had in the past more than once lifted the banner of revolt. In spite of ruthless vengeances, the flame of rebellion never went out in Kronstadt. It flared up threateningly after the revolution. The name of this naval fortress soon became on the pages of the patriotic press a synonym of the worst aspect of the revolution, a synonym of Bolshevism. In reality, the Kronstadt Soviet was not yet Bolshevik. It contained in May 107 Bolsheviks, 112 Social Revolutionaries, 30 Mensheviks, and 97 non-party men. But these were Kronstadt Social Revolutionaries and Kronstadt non-party men, living under high pressure: a majority of them on important questions followed the Bolsheviks.
In the political sphere the Kronstadt sailors were not inclined either toward manoeuvring or toward diplomacy. They had their own rule: no sooner said than done. It is no wonder that in relation to a phantom government they tended toward an extremely simplified method of action. On May 13 the soviet resolved: “The sole power in Kronstadt is the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.” The removal of the government commissar, the Kadet Pepelyaev, who occupied the position of fifth wheel in a wagon, passed off in the fortress totally unnoticed. Model order was maintained. Card playing in the city was forbidden. All brothels were closed, and their inmates deported. Under threat of “confiscation of property and banishment to the front,” the soviet forbade drunkenness in the streets. The threat was more than once carried into action.
Tempered in the terrible régime of the czarist fleet and the naval fortress, accustomed to stern work, to sacrifices, but also to fury, these sailors, now when the curtain of the new life was beginning to rise before them, a life in which they felt themselves to be the coming masters, tightened all their sinews in order to prove themselves worthy of the revolution. They thirstily threw themselves upon both friends and enemies in Petrograd and almost dragged them by force to Kronstadt, in order to show them what revolutionary seamen are in action. Such moral tension could not of course last for ever, but it lasted a long time. The Kronstadt sailors became a kind of fighting crusaders of the revolution. But what revolution? Not that, in any case incarnated in the minister Tseretelli and his commissar Pepelyaev. Kronstadt stood there as a herald of the advancing second revolution. For that reason it was hated by all those for whom the first revolution had been more than enough.
The peaceful and unnoticed removal of Pepelyaev was portrayed in the press of the existing order almost as an armed insurrection against the unity of the state. The government complained to the Soviet. The Soviet immediately appointed a delegation to exert influence. The machine of the double sovereignty came into action with a creak. On May 24 the Kronstadt Soviet, with Tseretelli and Skobelev present, agreed, upon the insistence of the Bolsheviks, to acknowledge that in prolonging its struggle for the power of the soviets, it was practically obliged to submit to the power of the Provisional Government until the power of the soviets was established throughout the land. However, the next day, under pressure from the sailors, indignant at this submissiveness, the Soviet announced that the ministers had received only an “explanation” of the point of view of Kronstadt which remained unchanged. This was clearly a tactical mistake, but one behind which nothing was concealed except revolutionary ambition.
It was decided up above to make use of this lucky chance to give the Kronstadters a lesson, making them pay at the same time for their previous sins. The prosecutor, of course, was Tseretelli. With heartbreaking references to his prison days Tseretelli thundered especially against the Kronstadters for holding eighty officers behind the fortress bars. All the virtuous press backed him up. However, even the Compromisist, that is, the ministerial, papers had to acknowledge that it was a question of “direct embezzlement” and of “men who carried fist rule to a point of horror.” “ The sailor witnesses”-according to Izvestia, the official paper of Tseretelli himself “testify to the putting down (by the arrested officers) of the insurrection of 1906, to mass shootings, to barges filled with the corpses of men executed and drowned in the sea, and to other horrors.... They tell of these things quite simply as of everyday events.”
The Kronstadters stubbornly refused to give up the arrestees to the government, to whom the hangmen and the peculators of noble birth were incomparably nearer than were those tortured sailors of 1906 and other years. It was no accident that the Minister of Justice, Pereverzev, whom Sukhanov mildly describes as “one of the most suspicious figures in the Coalition Government,” systematically liberated from the Peter and Paul fortress the vilest agents of the czarist political police. The democratic upstarts were above all striving to compel the reactionary bureaucracy to acknowledge their nobleness.
To Tseretelli’s indictment the Kronstadters answered in their appeal: “The officers, gendarmes and police arrested by us in the days of the revolution have themselves declared to representatives of the government that they have nothing to complain of in the treatment they have received from the prison management. It is true that the prison buildings of Kronstadt are horrible, but those are the same prisons which were built by czarism for us. We haven’t any others. And if we keep the enemies of the people in those prisons it is not out of vengeance, but from considerations of revolutionary self-preservation.”
On the 27th of May the Petrograd Soviet tried the Kronstadters. Appearing in their defence, Trotsky warned Tseretelli that in case of danger “when a counter-revolutionary general tries to throw a noose around the neck of the revolution, the Kadets will soap the rope, and the Kronstadt sailors will come to fight and die with us.” This warning came true three months later with unexpected literalness: when General Kornilov raised his revolt and led troops against the capital, Kerensky, Tseretelli and Skobelev summoned the Kronstadt sailors to defend the Winter Palace. But what of that? In June the democratic gentlemen were defending law and order against anarchy, and no arguments or prophecies had weight with them. By a majority of 580 votes against 162, with 74 abstaining, Tseretelli carried through the Petrograd Soviet a resolution denouncing the “apostasy” of “anarchist” Kronstadt from the revolutionary democracy. No sooner had the impatiently awaited news reached the Mariinsky Palace that this bull of excommunication had been adopted than the government immediately cut off telephone communication for private people between the capital and the fortress in order to prevent the Bolshevik centre from influencing the Kronstadters, ordered all the training ships to leave the Kronstadt waters, and demanded of its soviet “unconditional submission.” The congress of peasant deputies sitting at that time threatened to “refuse foodstuffs to Kronstadt.” The reaction standing behind the back of the Compromisers sought a decisive and, to the extent possible, a bloody settlement.
“The reckless step of the Kronstadt Soviet,” writes one of the young historians, Yugov, “might have brought undesirable consequences. It was necessary to find a suitable way to get out of the situation created. With this aim Trotsky went to Kronstadt, where he addressed the soviet and wrote a declaration which was adopted by the soviet and afterwards carried unanimously-by Trotsky at a meeting on Yakorny Square.” Preserving their position in principle, the Kronstadters yielded upon the practical issue.
The peaceful settlement of the conflict left the bourgeois press completely beside themselves: There is anarchy in the fortress; the Kronstadters are printing their own money-fantastic specimens of it were reproduced in the papers-they are plundering state property, the women are nationalised, robberies and drunken orgies are in progress. The sailors, so proud of their austere order, doubled their horny fists on reading these papers which in millions of copies were distributing slanders against them throughout all Russia.
Having got the Kronstadt officers in their hands the judicial institutions of Pereverzev freed them one after another. It would be very instructive to find out how many of them subsequently participated in the civil war, and how many sailors, soldiers, workers and peasants were shot and hung by them. Unfortunately, we are not here in a position to carry out this instructive census.
The authority of the government was saved. But the sailors soon got satisfaction for the indignities suffered. From all corners of the country there began to arrive resolutions of greeting to Red Kronstadt: from individual left soviets, from factories, regiments, mass-meetings. The first machine-gun regiment demonstrated in solid ranks on the streets of Petrograd its respect for the Kronstadters “for their firm attitude of non-confidence in the Provisional Government.”
Kronstadt was getting ready, however, to take a more significant revenge. The baiting of the bourgeois press had-made it a factor of all-national importance. “Fortifying itself in Kronstadt,” writes Miliukov, “Bolshevism with the help of suitably trained agitators threw out widely over Russia a net of propaganda. Kronstadt emissaries were sent also to the front, where they undermined discipline, and to the rear, into the villages, where they incited to the sacking of estates. The Kronstadt Soviet gave these emissaries special mandates: ’N. N. has been sent to his province to be present with the right of a deciding vote in the county, district and village committees, and also to speak at meetings and call meetings at his own discretion where ever he wants to,’ with ’the right to bear arms, with unhindered and free transportation on all railroads and steamships.’ And therewith ’the inviolability of the person of the said agitator is guaranteed by the Soviet of the City of Kronstadt.’ ”
In exposing the undermining work of the Baltic sailors Miliukov only forgets to explain how and why, notwithstanding the presence of learned authorities, institutions and newspapers, solitary sailors armed with this strange mandate of the Kronstadt Soviet travelled all over the country without hindrance, found food and lodging everywhere, were admitted to all popular meetings, everywhere attentively listened to, and left the imprint of a sailor’s hand on the events of history. The historian in the service of liberal politics does not ask himself this simple question. But the Kronstadt miracle was thinkable only because the sailors far more deeply expressed the demands of historic evolution than the very intelligent professors. The semi-literate mandate was, to speak in the language of Hegel real because it was reasonable, whereas the subjectively most intelligent plans were spectral because the reason of history was not even camping in them for the night.
The soviets lagged behind the shop committees. The shop committees lagged behind the masses. The soldiers lagged behind the workers. Still more the provinces lagged behind the capital. Such is the inevitable dynamic of a revolutionary process, which creates thousands of contradictions only in order accidentally and in passing, as though in play, to resolve them and immediately create new ones. The party also lagged behind the revolutionary dynamic-an organisation which has the least right to lag, especially in a time of revolution. In such workers’ centres as Ekaterinburg, Perm, Tula, Nizhni-Novgorod, Sormovo, Kolomna, Yuzovka, the Bolsheviks separated from the Mensheviks only at the end of May. In Odessa, Nikolaev, Elisavetgrad, Poltava and other points in the Ukraine, the Bolsheviks did not have independent organisations even in the middle of June. In Baku, Zlatioust, Bezhetsk, Kostroma, the Bolsheviks divided from the Mensheviks only towards the end of June. These facts cannot but seem surprising when you take into consideration that within four months the Bolsheviks are going to seize the power. How far the party during the war had fallen behind the molecular process in the masses, and how far the March leadership of Kamenev and Stalin lagged behind the gigantic historic tasks! The most revolutionary party which human history until this time had ever known was nevertheless caught unawares by the events of history. It reconstructed itself in the fires, and straightened out its ranks under the onslaught, of events. The masses at the turning point were “a hundred times” to the left of the extreme left party. The growth of the Bolshevik influence, which took place with the force of a natural historical process, reveals its own contradiction upon a closer examination, its zigzags, its ebbs and flows. The masses are not homogeneous, and more over they learn to handle the fire of revolution only by burning their hands and jumping away. The Bolsheviks could only accelerate the process of education of the masses. They patiently explained. And history this time did not take advantage of their patience.
While the Bolsheviks were resolutely winning the shops, factories and regiments, the elections to the democratic dumas gave an enormous and apparently growing advantage to the Compromisers. This was one of the sharpest and most enigmatical contradictions of the revolution. To be sure, the duma of the Vyborg district, which was purely prôletarian, prided itself upon its Bolshevik majority. But that was an exception. In the city elections of Moscow in June, the Social Revolutionaries got more than 60 per cent of the votes. They themselves were astonished at this figure, for they could not but feel that their influence was swiftly dwindling. In the effort to understand the mutual relation between the real development of the revolution and its reflection in the mirrors of democracy the Moscow elections have an extraordinary interest. The vast layers of workers and soldiers were already hastily shaking off their Compromisist illusions. Meanwhile, the broadest layers of the small town people were also beginning to stir. For these scattered masses the democratic elections offered almost the first, and in any case one of the very rare opportunities to show themselves politically. While the worker, yesterday’s Menshevik or Social Revolutionary, gave his vote to the Bolshevik Party and drew the soldier along with him, the cabman, the deliveryman, the janitor, the market woman, the shopkeeper, his assistant, the teacher, in performing so heroic a deed as giving their vote to the Social Revolutionaries, for the first time emerged from political non-existence. The petty bourgeois layers belatedly voted for Kerensky because he personified in their eyes the February revolution, which had only today seeped down to them. With its 60 per cent Social Revolutionary majority the Moscow Duma glowed with the last flare of a dying luminary. It was so also with all the other organs of democratic self-administration. Having barely arrived, they were already stricken with the impotence of belatedness. That meant that the course of the revolution depended upon the workers and soldiers, and not upon that human dust which had been kicked up and was dancing in the whirlwind of the revolution.
Such is the deep and at the same time simple dialectic of the revolutionary awakening of the oppressed classes. The most dangerous of the aberrations of the revolution arises when the mechanical accountant of democracy balances in one column yesterday, today and tomorrow, and thereby impels the formal democrats to look for the head of the revolution where in reality is to be found its very heavy tail. Lenin taught his party to distinguish head from tail.
Last updated on: 125 December 2014