Leon Trotsky

The History of the Russian Revolution

Volume Two: The Attempted Counter-Revolution

Chapter 24
The July Days: Preparation
and Beginning

In 1915, the war cost Russia 10 billion rubles; in 1916, 19 billion; during the first half of 1917, 10½ billion; by the beginning of 1918, the national debt would have amounted to 60 billion – would have almost equaled, that is, the entire wealth of the country, estimated at 70 billion. The Central Executive Committee was preparing an appeal for a war loan, under the sugary name of “Liberty Loan,” while the government was arriving at the not very complicated conclusion that without an immense new foreign loan, it not only could not pay for its foreign orders, but could not even handle its domestic obligations. The liability side of the trade balance was continually on the rise. The Entente was evidently getting ready to leave the ruble wholly to its fate. On the very day when the appeal for a Liberty Loan filled the first page of the Soviet Izvestia, the government Vyestnik announced a sharp drop in the value of the ruble. The printing presses could no longer keep up with the tempo of inflation. For the old respectable bank notes, about which there still clung a glamour of their former buying power, they were getting ready to substitute those red bottle-labels which came to be known as “kerenkies.” Both the bourgeois and the worker, each in his own way, embodied in that name a slight note of disgust.

In words the government had adopted a program of state regulation of industry, and had even established towards the end of June some lumbering institutions for this purpose. But the word and deed of the February régime, like the spirit and flesh of the pious Christian, were in a continual state of conflict. These appropriately hand-picked regulative institutions were more concerned to protect the capitalist from the caprices of a shaky and tottering state power, than to curb the interests of private persons. The administrative and technical personnel of industry was becoming stratified; the upper layers, frightened by the leveling tendencies of the workers, were going over decisively to the side of the capitalist. The workers had acquired an attitude of disgust toward the war orders by which the disintegrating factories had been guaranteed for a year or two in advance. But the capitalists also were losing their taste for a production which promised more trouble than profits. The deliberate closing-down of the factories from above was now becoming systematic. Metal production was cut down 40 per cent; the textile industry, 20 per cent. The supply of all the necessities of life was inadequate. Prices were rising at a pace with inflation and the decline of industry. The workers were aspiring towards a control of that administrative – commercial mechanism which in concealment from them decides their destinies. The Minister of Labor, Skobelev, was preaching to the workers in wordy manifestoes the inadvisability of their interference in the administration of the factories. On June 24, Izvestia told about a new proposal for the closing of a series of plants. Similar news was arriving from the provinces. Railroad transport was stricken even more heavily than industry. Half of the locomotives were in need of capital repairs; the greater part of the rolling stock was at the front; fuel was lacking. The Ministry of Communications was in a continual state of struggle with the railroad workers and clerks. The supply of foodstuffs was steadily on the decrease. In Petrograd, the flour reserve was adequate for ten or fifteen days; in other centers, for little longer. With the semi-paralysis of rolling stock and the impending threat of a railroad strike, this meant a continual danger of famine. The future contained no glimmer of hope. This was not what the workers had expected from the revolution.

Things were still worse, if that is possible, in the sphere of politics. Indecisiveness is the worst possible condition in the life of governments, nations, classes – as also of individuals. A revolution is the most ruthless of all methods of solving historic problems. To introduce evasiveness into a revolution is the most destructive policy imaginable. The party of revolution dare not waver – no more than a surgeon dare who has plunged a knife into a sick body. However, that double régime – or régime of duplicity – which issued from the February overturn was indecisiveness organized. Everything was going against the government. Its qualified friends were becoming opponents; its opponents, enemies; its enemies were taking arms. The counterrevolution was mobilizing quite in the open-inspired by the central committee of the Kadet party, the political staff of all those who had something to lose. The Head Committee of the League of Officers at General Headquarters in Moghiliev, representing about a hundred thousand discontented commanders, and the Council of the Union of Cossack troops in Petrograd, were the two military levers of the counter-revolution. The State Duma, in spite of the decision of the June congress of the soviets, had resolved to continue its “private conferences.” Its Provisional Committee supplied a legal covering for the counter-revolutionary work, which was broadly financed by the banks and by the embassies of the Entente. The Compromisers were threatened with dangers both right and left. Glancing uneasily in these two directions, the government secretly resolved to make a disbursement for the organization of a public intelligence service – that is, a secret political police. At about this same time, in the middle of June, the government designated September 17 as the date for elections to the Constituent Assembly. The liberal press, in spite of the participation of Kadets in the ministry, waged a stubborn campaign against this officially designated date – in which nobody believed and which nobody seriously defended. The very image of the Constituent Assembly, so bright in the first days of March, had dissolved and grown dim. Everything was going against the government, even its own thin-blooded good intentions. Only on the 30th of June did it muster the courage to dismiss those aristocratic guardians over the villages, the zemsky nachalniks [1], whose very name had been hateful to the whole country ever since the day of their establishment by Alexander III. And this enforced and belated partial reform only stamped the Provisional Government with a brand of contemptible cowardice. The nobility were by this time recovering from their fright. The landed proprietors were uniting and bringing pressure to bear. Toward the end of June, the Provisional Committee of the Duma addressed to the government a demand that decisive measures be taken to protect the landlords from peasants incited by the “criminal element.” On the first of July there met in Moscow an All-Russian Congress of Landed Proprietors, containing an overwhelming majority of nobles. The government wriggled and tried to hypnotize with words, now the muzhiks, now the landlords.

Worst of all, however, was the situation at the front. The offensive against the enemy, which had also become Kerensky’s decisive play in a domestic struggle, was dying in convulsions. The soldiers did not want to fight. The diplomats of Prince Lvov were afraid to look the diplomats of the Entente in the eyes. They needed a loan to the point of desperation. In order to make a show of firmness, the condemned and impotent government waged an offensive against Finland, carrying it through, as it did all of its very dirtiest work, by the hands of the socialists. At the same time a conflict had arisen with the Ukraine and was moving towards an open break.

Those days were far away when Albert Thomas sang hymns to the luminous revolution and to Kerensky. At the beginning of July the French ambassador, Paléologue, who smelled too strongly of the aromas of the Rasputin salons, was replaced by the “radical” Noulens. The journalist, Claude Anet, gave the new ambassador an introductory lecture on Petrograd. Opposite the French embassy – he told him – across the Neva, spreads the Vyborg district. “This is a district of big factories which belongs wholly to the Bolsheviks. Lenin and Trotsky reign there as masters.” In that same district are located the barracks of the Machine Gun regiment, numbering about 10,000 men and over 1,000 machine guns. Neither the Social Revolutionaries nor the Mensheviks have access to the barracks of that regiment. The remaining regiments are either Bolshevik or neutral. “If Lenin and Trotsky want to take Petrograd, what will stop them?” Noulens listened with astonishment. “How can the government tolerate such a situation?” “But what can it do?” answered the journalist. “You must understand that the government has no power but a moral one, and even that seems to me very weak ...”

Finding no channel, the aroused energy of the masses spent itself in self-dependent activities, guerrilla manifestations, sporadic seizures. The workers, soldiers and peasants were trying to solve in a partial way those problems which the power created by them had refused to solve. More than anything else, indecisiveness in their leaders exhausts the nerves of the masses. Fruitless waiting impels them to more and more insistent knockings at that door which will not open to them, or to actual outbreaks of despair. Already in the days of the congress of soviets, when the provincials could hardly withhold the hands of their leaders stretched out against Petrograd, the workers and soldiers had plenty of opportunity to find out what was the feeling and attitude toward them of the soviet leaders. Tseretelli, following Kerensky, had become not only an alien, but a hated figure to the majority of the Petrograd workers and soldiers. On the fringes of the revolution there was a growing influence of the anarchists, whose chief rôle so far had been played in the self-constituted revolutionary committee in the summer home of Durnovo. But even the more disciplined layers of the workers – even broad circles of the party – were beginning to lose patience or at least listen to those who had lost it. The manifestation of June 18 had revealed to everybody that the government was without support. “Why don’t they get busy up there?” the soldiers and workers would ask, having in mind not only the compromise leaders but also the governing bodies of the Bolsheviks.

Under inflation prices the struggle for wages was exciting the workers and getting on their nerves. During June this question became especially sharp in the giant Putilov factory, where 36,000 men worked. On June 21 a strike of skilled workers broke out in certain parts of the factory. The fruitlessness of these scattered outbreaks was only too clear to the party. On the next day a meeting of representatives of the principal workers’ organizations, led by the Bolsheviks, and of 70 factories, announced that “the cause of the Putilov workers is the cause of the whole Petrograd proletariat,” but appealed to the Putilov men to “restrain their legitimate indignation.” The strike was postponed. But the following 12 days brought no change. The factory masses were seething, seeking an outlet. Every plant had its conflict, and all these conflicts tended upward toward the government. A report of the trade union of the Locomotive Brigade to the Minister of Communications reads: “For the last time we announce: patience has its limit; we simply cannot live in such conditions ...” That was a complaint not only against want and hunger, but against duplicity, characterlessness, false dealing. The report protests with especial rage against the “endless exhorting of us to the duties of a citizen and to self-restraint in starvation.”

The March transfer of power by the Executive Committee to the Provisional Government had been made on the condition that the revolutionary troops should not be removed from the capital. But those days were far in the past. Thc garrison had moved to the left, the ruling soviet circles to the right. The struggle with the garrison had never disappeared from the order of the day. Although no whole units were transferred from the capital, nevertheless the more revolutionary – under the pretext of strategic necessities – were systematically weakened by a pumping-out of replacement companies. Rumors from the front of the disbandment of more and more units for disobedience, for refusal to carry out military orders, were continually arriving at the capital. Two Siberian divisions – and were not the Siberian sharpshooters long considered the finest? – had to be disbanded by military force. In a case of mass disobedience in the Fifth Army only – that nearest the capital – 87 officers and 12,725 soldiers were arraigned. The Petrograd garrison – accumulator of discontent from the front, the village, the workers’ districts, and the barracks – was in a continual ferment. Bearded men in their forties were demanding with hysterical insistence that they be sent home for work in the fields. The regiments distributed through the Vyborg district – the 1st Machine Gun, the 1st Grenadier, the Moscow, the 180th Infantry, and others – were continually washed by the hot springs of the proletarian suburb. Thousands of workers were passing the barracks, among them no small number of the tireless agitators of Bolshevism. Under those dirty and dilapidated walls impromptu meetings were being held almost continuously. On the 22nd of June, before the patriotic manifestations called out by the offensive had died out, an automobile of the Executive Committee incautiously drove through the Sampsonevsky Prospect, carrying the placard: “Forward for Kerensky!” The Moscow regiment stopped the agitators, tore up the placard, and turned over the patriotic automobile to the Machine Gun regiment.

In general the soldiers were more impatient than the workers – both because they were directly threatened with a transfer to the front, and because it was much harder for them to understand considerations of political strategy. Moreover, each one had his rifle; and ever since February the soldier had been inclined to overestimate the independent power of a rifle. An old worker-Bolshevik, Lizdin, told later how the soldiers of the 180th Reserve regiment said to him: “What are they doing there, fast asleep in Kshesinskaia’s Palace? Come on, let’s kick out Kerensky!” At meetings of the regiments, resolutions would be adopted continually, proclaiming the necessity of taking final action against the government. Delegations from individual factories would come to a regiment with the query: Will the soldiers go into the streets? The machine-gunners sent representatives to the other units of the garrison with an appeal to rise against the prolongation of the war. The more impatient of these delegates added: The Pavlov and Moscow regiments and forty thousand Putilov men are coming out “tomorrow.” Official admonitions from the Executive Committee had no effect. The danger was growing every minute that Petrograd, lacking the support of the front and the provinces, would be broken down bit by bit. On the 21st of June, Lenin appealed in Pravda to the Petrograd workers and soldiers to wait until events should bring over the heavy reserves to the side of Petrograd. “We understand your bitterness, we understand the excitement of the Petersburg workers, but we say to them: Comrades, an immediate attack would be inexpedient.” On the next day a private conference of leading Bolsheviks – standing, apparently, “to the left” of Lenin – came to the conclusion that in spite of the mood of the soldier and worker masses, they must not give battle: “Better wait until the ruling parties have disgraced themselves completely with their offensive, and then the game is ours.” Thus reports the district organizer, Latsis, one of the most impatient in those days. The Central Committee was oftener and oftener compelled to send agitators to the troops and the factories to restrain them from untimely action. With an embarrassed shake of the head, the Vyborg Bolsheviks would complain to their friends: “We have to play the part of the fire hose.” Appeals to come into the street did not cease, however, for a single day. Some of them were obviously provocative in character. The Military Organization of the Bolsheviks felt compelled to address the soldiers and workers with an appeal: “Do not trust any summons to go into the street in the name of the Military Organization. The Military Organization is not summoning you to action.” And then, even more insistently: “Demand of any agitator or orator who summons you to come out in the name of the Military Organization credentials signed by the president and secretary.”

On the famous Yakorny Square in Kronstadt, where the anarchists were more and more confidently lifting their voices, one ultimatum was drawn up after another. On the 23rd of June, delegates from Yakorny Square, acting over the head of the Kronstadt soviet, demanded from the Ministry of Justice the liberation of a group of Petrograd anarchists, threatening, in case their demand was not granted, that the sailors would march on the prison. Upon the following day, representatives from Oranienbaum informed the Ministry of Justice that their garrison was as much disturbed about the arrests in the summer home of Durnovo as Kronstadt, and that they were “already cleaning the machine guns.” The bourgeois press caught these threats on the wing, and shook them under the very noses of their compromisist allies. On June 26, delegates from the Grenadier Guard regiment came from the front to their reserve battalion with the announcement: “The regiment is against the Provisional Government and demands the transfer of power to the soviets, it declines the offensive begun by Kerensky, and expresses an apprehension lest the Executive Committee has gone over along with the minister-socialists to the side of the Bourjui.” The organ of the Executive Committee published a reproachful account of this visit.

Not only Kronstadt was boiling like a kettle, but also the whole Baltic fleet with its principal base in Helsingfors. The head boss of the Bolsheviks in the fleet was undoubtedly Antonov-Ovseenko, who years ago as a young officer had taken part in the Sebastopol insurrection of 1905. A Menshevik during the reaction years, an emigrant-internationalist during the war, a colleague of Trotsky on Nashe Slovo, in Paris, he joined the Bolsheviks after his return from abroad. Politically shaky, but personally courageous – impulsive and disorderly, but capable of initiative and improvisation – Antonov-Ovseenko, although still little known in those days, was to play by no means the smallest rôle in the future events of the revolution. “We in the Helsingfors committee of the Party,” he relates in his memoirs, “understood the necessity of restraint and serious preparation. We had directions to that effect, moreover, from the Central Committee. But we saw the utter inevitability of an explosion, and were looking with alarm towards Petersburg.” And in Petersburg the elements of an explosion were piling up day by day. The 2nd Machine Gun regiment, which was less advanced than the first, adopted a resolution demanding the transfer of power to the Soviet. The 3rd Infantry regiment refused to send out fourteen replacement companies. Meetings in the barracks were acquiring a more and more stormy character. A meeting of the Grenadier regiment on July 1st was signalized by the arrest of the president of the committee, and by the obstructive heckling of the Menshevik orators: Down with the offensive! Down with Kerensky! At the focus of the garrison stood the machine gun men. It was they who opened the sluices for the July flood.

We have already met with the name of the 1st Machine Gun regiment in the events of the first month of the revolution. Arriving shortly after the overturn, having marched from Oranienbaum to Petrograd upon its own initiative “for the defense of the revolution,” this regiment immediately ran into the opposition of the Executive Committee, which adopted a resolution: to send the regiment back with thanks to Oranienbaum. The machine-gunners flatly refused to leave the capital: “Counter-revolutionists might attack the Soviet and restore the old régime.” The Executive Committee surrendered, and several thousand machine-gunners remained in Petrograd along with their machine guns. They took up their quarters in the House of the People, and wondered what their further destiny was to be. They had among them, however, a good many Petrograd workers, and therefore by no accident the Bolshevik Committee took upon itself the care of these machine-gunners. Through its intercession they were assured provisions from Peter and Paul fortress. A friendship began. It soon became indestructible. On the 21st of June, the machine-gunners introduced at a mass meeting a resolution: “In the future detachments shall be sent to the front only when the war has a revolutionary character.” On the 2nd of July, the regiment called a farewell meeting in the House of the People for the “last” replacement company to depart for the front. The speakers were Lunacharsky and Trotsky. The authorities tried subsequently to attribute unusual significance to this accidental fact. Responses were made in the name of the regiment by the soldier, Zhilin, and the old Bolshevik non-commissioned officer, Lashevich. The mood was exalted. They denounced Kerensky and swore fealty to the revolution – but nobody made any practical proposal for the immediate future. However, during those last days the city persisted in expecting something to happen. The “July Days” were casting their shadow before them. “Everywhere,” Sukhanov remembers, “in all corners, in the Soviet, in the Mariinsky Palace, in people’s apartments, on the public squares and boulevards, in the barracks, in the factories, they were talking about some sort of manifestation to be expected, if not today, tomorrow ... Nobody knew exactly who was going to manifest what, or where, but the city felt itself to be upon the verge of some sort of explosion.” And the explosion did actually come. The stimulus was given from above – from the ruling circles.

On the same day when Trotsky and Lunacharsky were speaking to the machine gun men about the bankruptcy of the coalition, four Kadet ministers exploded the coalition by withdrawing from the government. They chose as pretext an agreement which their compromisist colleagues had concluded with the Ukraine, an agreement unacceptable to their imperial ambitions. The real cause of this demonstrative break lay in the fact that the Compromisers had been dilatory about bridling the masses. The moment chosen was suggested by the collapse of the offensive – not yet officially acknowledged, but no longer a matter of doubt to the well-informed. These Liberals considered it expedient to leave their left allies face to face with defeat, and with the Bolsheviks. The rumor of the resignation of the Kadets immediately spread through the capital, and generalized all the existing conflicts politically in one slogan – or rather, one cry to heaven: “Let us have an end of this coalition rigmarôle!” The soldiers and workers considered that all other questions – that of wages, of the price of bread, and of whether it is necessary to die at the front for nobody knows what – depended upon the question who was to rule the country in the future, the bourgeoisie or their own Soviet. In these expectations there was a certain element of illusion – in so far, at least, as the masses hoped with a change of power to achieve an immediate solution of all sore problems. But in the last analysis they were right: the question of power determined the direction of the revolution as a whole, and that means that it decided the fate of everyone in particular. To imagine that the Kadets may not have foreseen the effect of this act of open sabotage of the Soviet would be decidedly to underestimate Miliukov. The leader of liberalism was obviously trying to drag the Compromisers into a difficult situation from which they could make a way out only with bayonets. In those days Miliukov firmly believed that the situation could be saved with a bold bloodletting.

On the morning of July 3, several thousand machine-gunners, after breaking up a meeting of the company and regimental committees of their regiment, elected a chairman of their own and demanded immediate consideration of the question of an armed manifestation. The meeting was a storm from the first moment. The problem of the front intercrossed with the crisis in the government. The chairman of the meeting, a Bolshevik, Golovin, tried to apply the brakes, proposing that they have a preliminary talk with other units and with the Military Organization. But every suggestion of delay set the soldiers on edge. There appeared at this meeting the anarchist, Bleichman, a small but colorful figure on the background of 1917, with a very modest equipment of ideas but a certain feeling for the masses – sincere in his limited and ever inflammable intelligence – his shirt open at the breast and curly hair flying out on all sides. Bleichman was greeted at such meetings with a certain amount of semi-ironical sympathy. The workers, it is true, treated him somewhat coolly, a little impatiently – specially the metalworkers. But the soldiers smiled delightedly at his speeches, nudging each other with their elbows and egging the orator on with pithy comments. They plainly liked his eccentric looks, his unreasoning decisiveness, and his Jewish-American accent sharp as vinegar. By the end of June, Bleichman was swimming in all these impromptu meetings like a fish in a river. His opinion he had always with him: It is necessary to come out with arms in our hands. Organization? “The street will organize us.” The task? “To overthrow the Provisional Government just as it overthrew the tzar although no party was then demanding it.” These speeches perfectly met the feelings of the machine-gunners at that moment – and not theirs alone. Many of the Bolsheviks did not conceal their satisfaction when the lower ranks pressed forward against their official admonition. The progressive workers remembered that in February their leaders had been ready to beat a retreat just on the eve of the victory; that in March the eight hour day had been won by action from below; that in April Miliukov had been thrown out by regiments who went into the street on their own initiative. A recollection of these facts augmented the tense and impatient mood of the masses.

The Military Organization of the Bolsheviks, being promptly informed that a meeting of the machine-gunners was at the boiling point, sent over one agitator after another. Soon came Nevsky himself, the leader of the Military Organization, a man respected by the soldiers. They seemed to listen to him. But the mood of that endless meeting changed with its ingredients. “It was an immense surprise to us,” relates Podvoisky, another leader of the Military Organization, “when at seven o’clock in the evening a horseman galloped up to inform us that ... the machine-gunners had again resolved to come out.” In place of the old regimental committee they had elected a provisional revolutionary committee consisting of two men from each company under the presidency of ensign Semashko. Specially appointed delegates were already making the rounds of the shops and regiments with an appeal for support. The machine-gunners had not forgotten, either, to send their men to Kronstadt. In this way, one step below the official organizations, and partly under their protection, new temporary relations were established between the more restive regiments and the factories. The masses had no intention of breaking with the Soviet; on the contrary, they wanted the Soviet to seize the power. Still less did the masses intend to break with the Bolshevik party. But they did feel that the party was irresolute. They wanted to get their shoulder under it – shake a fist at the Executive Committee, give the Bolsheviks a little shove. Thus impromptu systems of representation were created, new knots were tied, new centers of activity formed – not permanently, but for the given situation. Changes in circumstance and mood were taking place so fast and sharply, that even such extremely flexible organizations as the soviets inevitably lagged behind, and the masses were compelled at every new turn to create auxiliary organs for the demands of the moment. In the course of these improvisations accidental and not always reliable elements would often spring into prominence. The anarchists poured oil on the fire. But so did some of the new and impatient Bolsheviks. Provocateurs also undoubtedly mixed in – perhaps also German agents, but surest of all the agents of the 100 per cent Russian secret police. How can one analyze the complicated web of a mass movement into its separate threads? The general character of the event emerges at least with complete clarity. Petrograd was feeling its strength, was straining at the leash, not glancing round at either the provinces or the front, and even the Bolshevik party was no longer able to hold it back. Only experience could teach them.

In calling the factories and regiments into the street, the delegates of the machine-gunners did not forget to add that the manifestation was to be armed. Yes, and how could it be otherwise? You wouldn’t present yourself unarmed to the blows of an enemy? Moreover – and this perhaps was the chief thing – we must show our force, and a soldier without weapons is not a force. Upon this point all the regiments and all the factories were of one mind: if we do go out, we must go with plenty of lead. The machine-gunners lost no time: having started a big job, they intended to push it through as fast as possible. The report of a Court of Inquiry subsequently characterized the activities of ensign Semashko, one of the principal leaders of the regiment in these words: “He demanded automobiles from the factories, armed them with machine guns, sent them to the Tauride Palace and other points, designating the route, personally led out his regiment from the barracks into the town, rode out to the reserve battalion of the Moscow regiment to persuade it to come out, in which he was successful, promised the soldiers of the Machine Gun regiment support from the regiments of the Military Organization, kept in continual touch with this organization, quartered in the house of Kshesinskaia, and with the leader of the Bolsheviks, Lenin, dispatched sentries for the protection of the Military Organization ...” The reference to Lenin here is inserted only to fill out the picture. Lenin was not in Petrograd either on that day or the days preceding. Since the 29th of June he had been ill in a bungalow in Finland. But for the rest, the compressed language of the military court official conveys not at all badly the feverish preparations of the machine-gunners. In the yard of the barracks a no less feverish work was going on. They were giving out rifles to the soldiers who did not possess them, giving bombs to some, installing three machine guns with operators on each motor truck supplied by the factories. The regiment was to go into the street in full military array.

And just about the same thing was going on in the factories. Delegates would arrive from the machine-gunners, or from a neighboring factory, and summon the workers into the street. It would seem as though they had been waiting for the delegates. Work would stop instantly. A worker of the Renaud Factory tells this story: “After dinner a number of machine gun men came running with the request that we give them some motor trucks. In spite of the protest of our group (the Bolsheviks), we had to give up the cars ... They promptly loaded the trucks with ’Maxims’ (machine guns) and drove down the Nevsky. At this point we could no longer restrain our workers ... They all, just as they were, in overalls, rushed straight outdoors from the benches ...” The protests of the factory Bolsheviks were not always, we may assume, very insistent. The longest struggle took place at the Putilov Factory. At about two in the afternoon a rumour went round that a delegation had come from the machine gun unit, and was calling a meeting. About ten thousand men assembled. To shouts of encouragement, the machine-gunners told how they had received an order to go to the front on the 4th of July, but they had decided “to go not to the German front, against the German proletariat, but against their own capitalist ministers.” Feeling ran high. “Come on, let’s get moving!” cried the workers. The secretary of the factory committee, a Bolshevik, objected, suggesting that they ask instructions from the party. Protests from all sides: “Down with it! Again you want to postpone things. We can’t live that way any longer. Towards six o’clock came representatives from the Executive Committee, but they succeeded still less with the workers. The meeting continued, the everlasting nervous obstinate meeting of innumerable masses seeking a way out and unwilling to be told that there is none. It was proposed that they send a delegation to the Executive Committee-still another delay, but, as before, the meeting did not disperse. About this time a group of workers and soldiers brought news that the Vyborg Side was already on its way to the Tauride Palace. To hold them back longer was impossible. They decided to go. A Putilov worker, Efimov, ran to the district committee of the party to ask: “What shall we do?” The answer he got was: “We will not join the manifestation, but we can’t leave the workers to their fate. We must go along with them.” At that moment appeared a member of the committee, Chudin, with the word that the workers were going out in all the districts, and that it was up to the party men to “maintain order.” In this way the Bolsheviks were caught up by the movement and dragged into it, looking around the while for some justification for an action which flatly contravened the official decision of the party.

By seven o’clock the industrial life of the capital was at a complete standstill. Factory after factory came out, lined up and armed its detachment of the Red Guard. “Amid an innumerable mass of workers,” relates the Vyborg Worker, Metelev, “hundreds of young Red Guards were working away loading their rifles. Others were piling cartridges into the cartridge-chambers, tightening up their belts, tying on their knapsacks or cartridge boxes, adjusting their bayonets. And the workers without arms were helping the Red Guards get ready ...” Sampsonevsky Prospect, the chief artery of the Vyborg Side, was packed full of people. To the right and left of it stood solid columns of workers. In the middle of the Prospect marched the Machine Gun regiment, the spinal column of the procession. At the head of each company went an automobile truck with its Maxims. After the Machine Gun regiment came the workers. Covering the manifestation as a rear guard, came detachments of the Moscow regiment. Over every detachment streamed a banner: “All Power to the Soviets!” The funeral procession in March and the First of May demonstration were probably more numerous, but the July procession was incomparably more eager, more threatening, and – more homogeneous in its composition. “Under the red banners marched only workers and soldiers,” writes one of the participants. “The cockades of the officials, the shiny buttons of students, the hats of ‘lady sympathizers’ were not to be seen. All that belonged to four months ago, to February. In today’s movement there was none of that. Today only the common slaves of capital were marching.” As before, automobiles flew through the streets in all directions full of armed workers and soldiers – delegates, agitators, reconnoiterers, telephone men, and detachments for calling out workers and regiments. They all held their bayonets advanced. The bristling motor trucks completed a picture of the February days, electrifying some, terrorizing others. The Kadet Nabokov writes: “The same insane, dumb, beastlike faces which we all remember from the February days” – that is, the days of that very revolution which the liberals had officially pronounced glorious and bloodless. By nine o’clock seven regiments were already moving toward the Tauride Palace. They were joined on the way by columns from the factories and by new military detachments. The movement of the Machine Gun regiment developed a colossal power of contagion. The “July days” had begun.

Meetings were held on the march. Shots rang out. According to a worker, Korotkov, “they dragged out of a cellar on the Liteiny a machine gun and an officer whom they killed on the spot.” All conceivable rumours ran ahead of the demonstration. Fears rayed out from it on all sides like beams of light. What imaginable thing was not reported over the telephones from the frightened central districts? It was said that about eight o’clock in the evening an armed automobile dashed up to the Warsaw station seeking Kerensky who had left that very day for the front, intending to arrest him, but that the train had gone and the arrest did not occur. That episode was subsequently repeated more than once as proving a conspiracy. Just who was in the automobile and who discovered its mysterious intentions, has nevertheless remained unknown. On that evening automobiles with armed men were careering in all directions – doubtless, therefore, in the vicinity of the Warsaw station. Strong words were to be heard about Kerensky in many places. This evidently served as a basis for the myth – if it was not indeed simply manufactured out of whole cloth.

Izvestia sketched the following outline of the events of July 3rd: “At five o’clock in the afternoon there came out, armed, the First Machine Gun, a part of the Moscow, a part of the Grenadier, and a part of the Pavlovsky regiments. They were joined by crowds of workers ... By eight o’clock in the evening, separate parts of regiments began to pour towards the Palace of Kshesinskaia, armed to the teeth and with red banners and placards demanding the transfer of power to the soviets. Speeches were made from the balcony ... At ten-thirty a meeting was held on the square in front of the Tauride Palace ... The troops elected a deputation to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee which presented in their name the following demands: Removal of the ten bourgeois ministers, all power to the soviets, cessation of the offensive, confiscation of the printing plants of the bourgeois press, the land to be state property, state control of production.” Aside from certain prunings – “parts of regiments” instead of regiments, “crowds of workers” instead of entire factories – you may say that the official report of Tseretelli and Dan does not distort the general picture of what happened. In particular it correctly notes the two focal points of the demonstration: the private residence of Kshesinskaia and the Tauride Palace. Both spiritually and physically the movement revolved around those two antagonistic centers: It came to the house of Kshesinskaia for instructions, leadership, inspirational speeches; to the Tauride Palace it came to present demands and even to threaten a little with its power.

At three o’clock in the afternoon, two delegates from the machine-gunners came to an all-city conference of the Bolsheviks, sitting that day in the house of Kshesinskaia, with the information that their regiment had decided to come out. Nobody had expected this, and nobody wanted it. Tomsky declared: “The regiments which have come out have acted in an uncomradely manner, not having invited the Central Committee of our party to consider the question of a manifestation. The Central Committee proposes to the conference: in the first place, to issue an appeal in order to hold back the masses; in the second, to prepare an address to the Executive Committee urging them to take the power in their hands. It is impossible to talk of a manifestation at this moment unless we want a new revolution.” Tomsky, an old worker-Bolshevik who had certified his loyalty to the party with years at hard labor – famous subsequently as leader of the trade unions – was in general more inclined by character to restrain the masses from action than summon them to it. But on this occasion he was merely carrying out the thought of Lenin: “It is impossible to talk of a manifestation at this moment unless we want a new revolution.” Even the attempt at a peaceful demonstration on June 10th had been denounced by the Compromisers as a conspiracy. An overwhelming majority of the conference was at one with Tomsky. We must at all costs postpone the final conflict. The offensive at the front is holding the whole country at high tension. Its failure is inevitable – as also the determination of the government to throw all the responsibility for the defeat upon the Bolsheviks. We must give the Compromisers time to ruin themselves completely. Volodarsky answered the machine-gunners in the name of the conference to the effect that the regiment must submit to the decisions of the party. The machine-gunners departed with a protest. At four o’clock the Central Committee confirmed the decision of the conference. Its members dispersed to the districts and factories to restrain the masses from going out. Appeals to the same effect were sent to Pravda to be printed on the front page the following morning. Stalin was appointed to bring the decision to the attention of the joint session of the Executive Committees. There remains, therefore, no doubt whatever as to the intention of the Bolsheviks. Their Central Committee addressed an appeal to the workers and soldiers: “Unknown persons ... are summoning you into the streets under arms,” and that proves that the summons does not come from any one of the soviet parties ... Thus the central committees – both of the party and the Soviet – proposed, but the masses disposed.

At eight o’clock in the evening, the Machine Gun regiment, and soon after it the Moscow regiment, came up to the palace of Kshesinskaia. Popular Bolsheviks – Nevsky, Lashevich, Podvoisky – speaking from the balcony, tried to send the regiments home. They were answered from below: Doloi! Doloi! Such cries the Bolshevik balcony had never yet heard from the soldiers; it was an alarming sign. Behind the regiments the factories began to march up: “All Power to the Soviets!” “Down with the ten minister capitalists!” Those had been the banners of June 18th, but now they were hedged with bayonets. The demonstration had become a mighty fact. What was to be done? Could the Bolsheviks possibly stand aside? The members of the Petrograd committee, together with the delegates to the conference and representatives from the regiments and factories, passed a resolution: to reconsider the question, to end all fruitless attempts to restrain the masses and guide the developing movement in such a way that the governmental crisis may be decided in the interests of the people; with this goal, to appeal to the soldiers and workers to go peacefully to the Tauride Palace, elect delegates, and through them present their demands to the Executive Committee. The members of the Central Committee who were present sanctioned this change of tactics. This new decision, announced from the balcony, was met with welcoming shouts and with singing of the Marseillaise. The movement had been legalized by the party. The machine-gunners could heave a sigh of relief. A part of the regiment immediately went to the Peter and Paul fortress to influence its garrison, and in case of necessity protect from its blows the Palace of Kshesinskaia, which was separated from the fortress only by the narrow Kronverksky canal.

The principal ranks of the demonstration moved out into the Nevsky, the artery of the bourgeoisie, bureaucracy and officers, as though into a foreign country. From the sidewalks, windows, balconies, thousands of eyes looked out with no good wishes. regiment pressed upon factory, factory upon regiment. Fresh masses arrived continually. All the banners, in gold letters on red, cried out with one voice: “All Power to the Soviets!” The procession brimmed the Nevsky and poured like a river at the flood to the Tauride Palace. The placards “Down with the war!” provoke the bitterest hostility from the officers – among them many war-invalids. Waving their arms and straining their voices, students, college girls, officials, endeavor to persuade the soldiers that German agents behind them are aiming to let Wilhelm’s troops into Petrograd to strangle freedom. To these orators their own conclusions seem irrefutable. “They are deceived by spies,” say the officials, pointing at the workers, and the workers’ answer is a surly growl. “Led astray by fanatics!” say the more indulgent. “Ignorant elements,” others agree. But the workers have their own way of measuring things. They did not learn from German spies those ideas which have brought them into the streets today. The demonstrators impolitely push aside their importunate tutors, and move forward. This drives the patriots of the Nevsky out of their heads. Shock groups, led for the most part by war-cripples and Cavaliers of St. George, fall upon individual sections of the demonstration, trying to snatch away the banners. Clashes occur here and there. The atmosphere grows hot. Shots ring out. One, and then another. From a window? From the Anichkin Palace? The pavement answers with a volley in the air, aimed nowhere. In a short time the whole street is in confusion. At about midnight – relates a worker from the “Vulcan” Factory – as the Grenadier regiment was passing through the Nevsky in the vicinity of the Public Library, somebody opened fire on them from somewhere, and the shooting continued several minutes. A panic followed. The workers began to scatter into the side streets. The soldiers lay down under fire – they had learned that in the war school. That midnight scene on the Nevsky, with Grenadier Guards lying down on the pavement, was a fantastic spectacle. Neither Pushkin nor Gogol, singers of the Nevsky, ever imagined it thus. Moreover, there was reality in this fantasia: dead and wounded men stayed there on the pavement.

THE TAURIDE was living a life of its own in those days. In view of the resignation of the Kadets, both Executive Committees, the worker-soldier’s and the peasant’s, had met in joint session to consider a discourse of Tseretelli on how to pour out the coalition bath without the baby. The secret of this operation would undoubtedly have been discovered in the long run, if the restless suburbs had not intervened. A telephone communication about the manifestation under preparation by the Machine Gun regiment produced frowns of anger and vexation on the faces of the leaders. Can it be that the soldiers and workers will not wait until our newspapers bring them salvation in the form of a resolution? Oblique glances were cast in the direction of the Bolsheviks. But for them too, this time, the demonstration was a surprise. Kamenev, and other representatives of the party who happened to be present, even agreed at the end of the day’s session to go to the factories and barracks and attempt to restrain the masses from going out. This gesture was afterward interpreted by the Compromisers as a military trick. The Executive Committee as usual hastily adopted a proclamation declaring any manifestation an act of treachery to the revolution. But even so, how were they going to deal with the governmental crisis? A way out was found: they would leave the mutilated cabinet as it was, postponing the whole question until the provincial members of the Executive Committee could be summoned. To drag things out, to gain time for your own vacillations – is not that the most ingenious of all p0litical policies?

Only in their struggle against the masses did the Compromisers consider it unwise to lose time. The official apparatus was immediately set in motion to prepare arms against the “insurrection” – for so they named the demonstration from the very beginning. The leaders searched everywhere for armed forces to defend the government and the Executive Committee. Over the signature of Cheidze and other members of the præsidium , demands were sent to various military institutions to send to the Tauride Palace armored cars, three-inch guns and shells. At the same time almost every regiment received orders to send armed detachments for the defense of the palace. But they did not stop there. Their bureau telegraphed an order that same day to the front – to the Fifth Army, stationed nearest the capital – to “send to Petrograd a cavalry division, a brigade of infantry, and armored cars.” The Menshevik, Voitinsky, to whom was allotted the task of protecting the Executive Committee, let the whole thing out later in his retrospective survey: “The entire day of July 3rd was spent in getting together troops to fortify the Tauride Palace ... Our problem was to bring in at least a few companies ... At one time we had absolutely no forces. Six men stood at the doors of the Tauride Palace without power to hold back the crowd ...” And again: “On the first day of the demonstration we had at our disposal only a hundred men – we had no other forces. We sent out commissars to all the regiments with a request to give us soldiers to form a patrol . But each regiment looked to the next to see what it was going to do. We were compelled at whatever cost to put a stop to this outrage, and we summoned troops from the front.” It would be difficult, even with malice aforethought, to devise a more vicious satire upon the Compromisers. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were demanding the transfer of power to the soviets. Cheidze, standing at the head of the soviet system and thus the logical candidate for premier, was hunting for armed forces to employ against the demonstrators. This colossal movement in favor of power to the democracy, was denounced by the democratic leaders as an attack upon the democracy by an armed gang.

In the Tauride Palace at that same time the workers’ section of the Soviet was meeting after a long intermission. In the course of the last two months this section had so far changed its composition, as a result of by-elections in the factories, that the Executive Committee had well-grounded fears of a predominance of Bolsheviks. The artificially delayed meeting of the section – finally called a few days before by the Compromisers themselves – accidentally coincided with the armed demonstration. In this the newspapers saw the hand of the Bolsheviks. Zinoviev in a speech to the section convincingly developed the thought that the Compromisers, being allies of the bourgeoisie, were unable and unwilling to struggle against the counter-revolution, since that word meant to them only individual manifestations of Black Hundred hooliganism; it did not mean what it was – a political union of the possessing classes for the purpose of strangling the soviets as centers of the resistance of the toiling masses. His speech hit the mark. The Mensheviks, finding themselves for the first time in a minority on soviet soil, proposed that no decision should be arrived at, and that they should disperse to the districts to preserve order. But it was already too late! The news that armed workers and machine-gunners were approaching the Tauride Palace produced a mighty excitement in the hall. Kamenev ascended the tribune: “We did not summon the manifestation,” he said. “The popular masses themselves came into the street ... But once the masses have come out, our place is among them... Our present task is to give the movement an organized character.” Kamenev concluded with a proposal that they elect a commission of twenty-five men for the leadership of the movement. Trotsky seconded the motion. Cheidze feared a Bolshevik commission, and vainly insisted that the question be turned over to the Executive Committee. The debate became fiercer. Convinced finally that all together they constituted only a third of the assembly, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries left the hall. This was becoming a favorite tactic with the democrats; they began to boycott the soviets from the moment they lost the majority there. A resolution summoning the Executive Committee to take the power was adopted in the absence of the opposition by 276 votes. Elections were immediately held for the fifteen members of the commission. Ten places were left for the minority – and these ten would remain unoccupied. This fact of the election of a Bolshevik commission signified both to friends and enemies that the workers’ section of the Petrograd soviet would henceforth become a Bolshevik base. A vast step forward! In April the influence of the Bolsheviks had extended to approximately a third of the Petrograd workers; in the Soviet of those days they occupied a wholly insignificant sector. Now, at the beginning of July, the Bolsheviks were sending to the workers’ section about two-thirds of its members. That meant that among the masses their influence had become decisive.

Through the streets leading to the Tauride Palace there is flowing a steady column of working men and women and soldiers, with banners, songs and bands playing. The light artillery comes along, its commander reporting amid rapture that all the batteries of his division are at one with the workers. The thoroughfares and square near the Tauride are filled with people. All are trying to crowd in around the tribune at the chief entrance to the palace. Cheidze comes out to the demonstrators with the gloomy look of a man who has been unnecessarily torn from his work. The popular soviet president is met with an unfriendly silence. In a tired and hoarse voice Cheidze repeats those commonplaces which have long puckered his mouth. Voitinsky, who comes out to help him, is no better received. “Trotsky, however “ – according to the account of Miliukov – “having announced that the moment was now come when the power should go over to the soviets, was met with loud applause.” This sentence of Miliukov’s is purposely ambiguous. None of the Bolsheviks declared that “the moment was come.” A machinist from the small Duflon factory on the Petrograd side said later about that meeting under the wall of the Tauride Palace: “I remember the speech of Trotsky, who said that it was not yet time to seize the power in our hands.” The machinist reports the essence of the speech more correctly than the professor of history. From the lips of the Bolshevik orators the demonstrators learned of the victory just won in the Workers’ Section, and that fact gave them almost as palpable a satisfaction as would an entrance upon the epoch of soviet power.

The joint session of the Executive Committees met again a little before midnight. (Just then the grenadiers were lying down on the Nevsky.) On a motion from Dan, it was resolved that only those could remain at the meeting who should bind themselves in advance to defend and carry out its decisions. This was a new note! From a workers’ and soldiers’ parliament, which was what the Mensheviks had declared the Soviet to be, they were trying to convert it into an administrative organ of the compromise majority. After they have become a minority – and this is only two months away – the Compromisers will passionately defend the principle of democracy in the soviet. Today, however – as indeed at all decisive moments in social life – democracy is held in reserve. A number of Mezhrayontsi [1] left the hall with a protest. The Bolsheviks were not there; they were in the Palace of Kshesinskaia getting ready for tomorrow. During the further course of the meeting the Mezhrayontsi and the Bolsheviks appeared in the hall with the announcement that no one could take from them the mandate given them by their electors. The majority greeted this announcement with silence, and Dan’s resolution was quietly dropped into oblivion. The session dragged out like a death agony. In tired voices the Compromisers kept on assuring each other that they were right. Tseretelli, in his character of Postmaster General, entered a complaint against his employees: “I just now learned of the strike of the postal and telegraph workers ... As to their political demands, their slogans are the same: “All Power to the Soviets!”

Delegates from the demonstrators, now surrounding the Tauride Palace on all sides, demanded admission to the meeting. They were admitted with alarm and hostility. The delegates, however, sincerely believed that this time the Compromisers could not help coming to meet them. Had not today’s issues of the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary papers, wrought up over the resignation of the Kadets, themselves exposed the intrigues and sabotage of their bourgeois allies? Moreover the workers’ section had come out in favor of a soviet government. What else was there to wait for? But their fervent appeals, in which hope still mingled with indignation, dropped impotent and inappropriate into the stagnant atmosphere of that parliament of compromise. The leaders had but one thought: how quickest to get rid of their uninvited guests. To suggest that they withdraw to the gallery, to drive them back into the street to the demonstrators, would be indiscreet. In the gallery machine gun men were listening with amazement to the evolving debate, which had only one goal – to gain time. The Compromisers were waiting for reliable regiments. “A revolutionary people is in the streets,” cried Dan, “but that people is engaged in a counter-revolutionary work.” Dan was supported by Abramovich, one of the leaders of the Jewish Bund, a conservative pedant whose every instinct had been outraged by the revolution. “We are witnesses to a conspiracy,” he asserts, in defiance of the obvious, and he proposes to the Bolsheviks that they openly announce that “this is their work.” Tseretelli deepens the discussion: “To go out into the streets with the demand, ‘All Power to the Soviets’ – is that to support the soviets? If the soviets so desired, the power could pass to them. There is no obstacle anywhere to the will of the soviets ... Such a manifestation is not along the road of revolution, but of counter-revolution.” These considerations the workers’ delegates could not possibly understand. It seemed to them that the high-up leaders were a little bit out of their heads. The meeting at last resolved once more, by all votes except 11, that an armed manifestation would be a stab in the back at the revolutionary army, etc., etc. The meeting adjourned at five o’clock in the morning.

The masses were gradually gathered back into their districts. Armed automobiles traveled all night, uniting regiments, factories and district centers. As in the last days of February, the masses spent the night casting the balance of the day’s struggle. But now they did this with the aid of a complicated system of organizations-factory, party and regimental-which conferred continually. In the districts it was considered self-evident that the movement could not stop half way. The Executive Committee had postponed the decision about the power. The masses regarded that as wavering. The conclusion was clear: we must bring more pressure to bear. A night session of Bolsheviks and Mezhrayontsi [2], meeting in the Tauride Palace simultaneously with the Executive Committees, also cast the balance of the day and tried to foretell what the morrow would bring. Reports from the districts testified that today’s demonstration had merely set the masses in motion, presenting to their minds nakedly for the first time the question of power. Tomorrow the factories and regiments would go after the answer, and no force in the world could hold them in the suburbs. The debate was not about whether to summon the masses to a seizure of power – as enemies later asserted – but about whether to try to call off the demonstration the next morning or to stand at the head of it.

Late in the night, or rather at about three o’clock in the morning, the Putilov factory approached the Tauride Palace – a mass of eighty thousand workers, many with wives and children. The procession had started at eleven o’clock in the evening, and other belated factories had joined it on the road. In spite of the late hour, there was such a mass of people at the Narva Gate as to suggest that nobody stayed home that night in the whole district. The women had exclaimed: “Everybody must go – we will watch the houses.” At a signal from the belfry of the Church of the Savior shots had rattled out as though from a machine gun. From below a volley was fired at the belfry. “Near Gostiny Dvor a company of junkers and students fell upon the demonstrators and tried to tear away their placards. The workers resisted. The crowd piled up. Somebody fired a shot. The writer of these lines got his head broken, his sides and chest badly mashed by tramping feet.” These are the words of the worker Efimov, already known to us. Passing across the whole town, silent now, the Putilov men finally arrived at the Tauride Palace. Thanks to the insistent efforts of Riazanov, closely associated at that time with the trade unions, a delegation was admitted to the Executive Committee. The throng of workers, hungry and dead-tired, scattered about on the street and in the garden, a majority immediately stretching themselves out, thinking to wait there for an answer. The entire Putilov factory lying there on the ground at three o’clock in the morning around the Tauride Palace, where the democratic leaders were waiting for the arrival of troops from the front – that is one of the most startling pictures offered by the revolution on this summit of the pass between February and October. Twelve years before no small numbers of these same workers had participated in the January procession to the Winter Palace with ikons and religious standards. Ages had passed since that Sunday afternoon; other ages will pass during the next four months.

The sombre image of these Putilov workers lying down in the courtyard hung over the conference of Bolshevik leaders and organizers as they debated about the next day’s plans. Tomorrow the Putilovtsi will refuse to work – yes, and what work would they be good for after the night’s vigil? Zinoviev was summoned to the telephone. Raskolnikov had rung up from Kronstadt to say that tomorrow early in the morning the garrison of the fortress would start for Petrograd and nobody and nothing could stop it. The young midshipman was holding on in suspense at the other end of the wire: Would the central committee order him to break with the soviets, and ruin himself in their eyes? To the picture of the Putilov factory as a gypsy camp was thus joined the no less suggestive picture of the sailors’ island getting ready in those sleepless hours of the night to support workers’ and soldiers’ Petrograd. No, the situation was too clear. There was no more room for wavering. Trotsky inquired for the last time: Can we, nevertheless, try to make it an unarmed demonstration? No, there can be no question of that. One squad of Junkers can scatter tens of thousands of unarmed workers like a flock of sheep. The soldiers and the workers, too, will regard that proposal as a trap. The answer was categorical and convincing. All unanimously decided to summon the masses in the name of the party to prolong the demonstration on the next day. Zinoviev hastened to relieve the mind of Raskolnikov, languishing at the other end of the telephone. An address to the workers and soldiers was immediately drawn up: Into the streets! The afternoon’s summons from the Central Committee to stop the demonstration, was torn from the presses-but too late to replace it with a new text. A white page in Pravda the next morning will be deadly evidence against the Bolsheviks: Evidently getting frightened at the last moment, they withdrew the appeal for an insurrection; or maybe, just the opposite – maybe they renounced an earlier appeal for a peaceful demonstration in order to go in for insurrection. Meanwhile the real decision of the Bolsheviks was issued on a separate leaflet. It summoned the workers and soldiers “by way of a peaceful and organized demonstration to bring their will to the attention of the Executive Committees now in session.” No, that was not a summons to insurrection.


1. Appointed officials having both administrative and judicial power over the local peasant population.

2. Members of the “Inter-district” organization to which the author at that time belonged. – Trans.

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Last updated on: 25 December 2014