Leon Trotsky

The History of the Russian Revolution

Volume Two: The Attempted Counter-Revolution

Chapter 37
The Last Coalition

TRUE to its tradition, not to survive a single serious shock, the Provisional Government went to pieces, as we remember, on the night of August 26. The Kadets withdrew in order to make it easier for Kornilov. The socialists withdrew in order to make it easier for Kerensky. Thus began a new governmental crisis. First of all arose the problem of Kerensky himself. The head of the government had turned out to be an accomplice in the conspiracy. The indignation against him was so great that at the mention of his name the compromise leaders would occasionally even resort to the vocabulary of the Bolsheviks. Chernov, who had recently jumped out of the ministerial train while travelling at full speed, wrote in the central organ of his party about “this general mix-up in which you can’t make out where Kornilov ends and where Filonenko and Savinkov begin, where Savinkov ends and where begins the Provisional Government as such.” The hint was sufficiently clear. “The Provisional Government as such” – that was of course Kerensky, who belonged to the same party as Chernov.

But having relieved their feelings with strong words, the Compromisers decided that they could not get along without Kerensky. Although they would not let Kerensky grant an amnesty to Kornilov, they themselves promptly granted one to Kerensky. By way of compensation he agreed to make concessions on the question of the form of the Russian government. Only yesterday it had been maintained that a Constituent Assembly alone could decide this question. Now the juridical difficulty suddenly disappeared. In the declaration of the government, the removal of Kornilov was explained by the necessity of “saving the fatherland, freedom and the republican régime.” This purely verbal, and moreover belated, donation to the Left did not, of course, in the least strengthen the authority of the government – especially since Kornilov too had declared himself a republican.

On August 30 Kerensky was compelled to discharge Savinkov, who a few days later would even be expelled from the all-embracing party of the Social Revolutionaries. But a political equivalent of Savinkov was immediately appointed to the post of Governor-General – Palchinsky, who began by closing the Bolshevik paper. The Executive Committee protested. Izvestia called this act a “crude provocation.” Palchinsky had to be removed in three more days. How little Kerensky intended to change the course of his policy at large, is demonstrated by the fact that as early as the 31st he had formed a new government with the participation of Kadets. Even the Social Revolutionaries would not go that far: they threatened to recall their representatives. It was Tseretelli who found a new recipe for the power: “Preserve the idea of the Coalition, but remove all those elements which hang like a millstone upon the government.” “The idea of Coalition has been strengthened,” sang Skobelev in chorus, “but there can be no place in the government for that party which was connected with the conspiracy of Kornilov.” Kerensky would not agree to this limitation, and in his way he was right.

A Coalition with the bourgeoisie which excluded the ruling bourgeois party was obviously absurd. This was pointed out at a joint session of the Executive Committees by Kamenev, who in his characteristic tone of admonition drew the conclusions from the recent events. “You want to start us off on the still more dangerous road of Coalition with irresponsible groups. But you have forgotten about that coalition sealed and ratified by the ominous events of these past days – the coalition between the revolutionary proletariat, the peasantry, and the revolutionary army.” The Bolshevik orator recalled the words spoken by Trotsky on May 26, in defending the Kronstadt sailors against the accusation of Tseretelli: “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 recollection hit the mark. To the bombast about a “united democracy” and about an “honest coalition,” Kamenev answered: “The unity of the democracy depends upon whether or not you enter into coalition with the Vyborg district ... Any other coalition is dishonest.” The speech of Kamenev made an indubitable impression, registered by Sukhanov in these words: “Kamenev spoke very intelligently and tactfully.” But it did not go beyond making an impression. The courses of the two sides were predetermined.

From the beginning the break between the Compromisers and the Kadets had been merely a matter of show. The liberal Kornilovists themselves understood that it behooved them to stay in the shadow for a few days. Behind the scenes it was therefore decided – in obvious agreement with the Kadets – to create a government standing to such a degree above all the real forces of the nation, that its temporary character could be a matter of doubt to nobody. Besides Kerensky, the directory of five members included the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tereshchenko, who had already become irreplaceable thanks to his connections with the diplomats of the Entente; the commander of the Moscow military district, Verkhovsky, who was hastily promoted for this purpose from colonel to general; Admiral Verderevsky, who was for this purpose hastily let out of prison; and finally, the dubious Menshevik, Nikitin, whom his own party soon after acknowledged to be sufficiently ripe for expulsion from its ranks.

Having conquered Kornilov with the hands of others, Kerensky had only one concern, it would seem, and that was to carry out Kornilov’s program. Kornilov had wished to unite the power of the commander-in-chief with the power at the head of the government. Kerensky accomplished this. Kornilov had intended to screen a personal dictatorship behind a directory of five members. Kerensky carried out this plan. Chernov, whose resignation had been demanded by the bourgeoisie, Kerensky put out of the Winter Palace. General Alexeiev, the hero of the Kadet party and its candidate for Minister-President, he named chief of the headquarters staff – that is, de facto head of the army. In his order to the army and fleet, Kerensky demanded a cessation of political struggle among the troops – that is, a restoration of the original situation. Lenin from his hiding-place described this situation in the upper circles with the extreme simplicity characteristic of him: “Kerensky is a Kornilovist who has accidentally quarrelled with Kornilov, and continues in intimate union with the other Kornilovists.” There was only one drawback: the victory over the counter-revolution had been far more sweeping than was demanded by the personal plans of Kerensky.

The directory hastened to let out of prison the former War Minister, Guchkov, who was considered one of the instigators of the conspiracy. In general, the Department of Justice did not raise a hand against the Kadet instigators. In these circumstances it became more and more difficult to keep the Bolsheviks under lock and key. The government found a way out: without withdrawing the indictment, it would release the Bolsheviks on bail. The Petrograd soviet and trade unions took upon themselves “the honor of furnishing bail for the esteemed leader of the revolutionary proletariat,” and on the 4th of September Trotsky was set free under the modest – indeed essentially fictitious – bail of 3,000 rubles. In his History of the Russian Disturbance General Denikin writes with unction: “On the 1st of September General Kornilov was arrested, and on the 4th of September Bronstein-Trotsky was set free by the same Provisional Government. Those two dates ought to remain in the memory of Russia.” The liberation of Bolsheviks under bond continued during the next few days. Those liberated from prison wasted no time. The masses were waiting and calling. The party needed men.

On the day of Trotsky’s liberation, Kerensky issued an order in which, recognizing that the Military Committee had given very substantial help to the governmental power,” he commanded this committee to cease from any further activity. Even Izvestia conceded that the author of this order revealed a rather feeble understanding of the situation. An inter-district conference of the soviets in Petrograd adopted a resolution: “Not to dissolve the revolutionary organizations of struggle with the counter-revolution.” The pressure from below was so strong that the compromisist Military Revolutionary Committee decided not to accede to the order of Kerensky, and summoned its local branches “in view of the continued alarming situation to work with their former energy and restraint.” Kerensky took this in silence. There was nothing else for him to do.

The omnipotent head of the Directory was compelled to observe at every step that the situation had altered, that the opposition had grown, and that it was necessary to make some change at least in words. On September 7, Verkhovsky announced in the press that the program for the revival of the army prepared before the Kornilov rebellion must be set aside for the time being, since “in the present psychological condition of the army it would only bring about its further demoralization.” In token of the beginning of a new era, the War Minister appeared before the Executive Committee. Let them have no fear, he announced, General Alexeiev is going, and along with him everybody who had any connection whatever with the Kornilov insurrection. Healthy principles must be inoculated into the army, he went on, “not with whips and machine guns, but by way of the suggestion of right, justice and firm discipline.” That sounded quite like the spring days of the revolution. But it was September outdoors, and the autumn was coming. Alexeiev was actually removed after a few days, and his place taken by General Dukhonin. The superiority of this general lay in the fact that nobody knew him.

In return for these concessions the Minister of War and Marine demanded immediate help from the Executive Committee: the officers are standing under the sword of Damocles; it is worst of all in the Baltic Fleet; you must pacify the sailors. After long debate it was decided, as usual, to send a delegation to the fleet. The Compromisers insisted, moreover, that the delegation should include Bolsheviks, and above all Trotsky: only upon this condition, they said, could the delegation be sure of success. Trotsky announced: “We decisively reject the form of co-operation with the government which Tseretelli defends ... The government is conducting a policy false to the bottom, against the interests of the people, and uncontrolled by them. But when this policy runs into a bag’s end or produces a catastrophe, then they want to impose upon the revolutionary organizations the hard labor of smoothing out the inevitable consequences ... One of the tasks of this delegation, as you formulate it, is to hunt out in the staff of the garrison the “dark forces” – that is, provocateurs and spies ... Have you forgotten then that I myself am indicted under Article 108? ... In the struggle against lynch-law we will travel our own road ... Not hand in hand with the Attorney General and the Intelligence Service, but as a revolutionary party which is persuading, organizing, and educating.”

The convocation of a “Democratic Conference” had been decided upon in the days of the Kornilov insurrection. Its functions were: to reveal the strength of the democracy, to instil respect for it among its enemies, both right and left, and finally – by no means the least of its tasks – to bridle the too eager Kerensky. The Compromisers seriously intended to subject the government to some sort of improvised representative institution until the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. The bourgeoisie took a hostile attitude in advance, looking upon this Conference as an attempt to fortify the position which the democracy had regained through the victory over Kornilov. “This device of Tseretelli,” writes Miliukov in his history, “was in essence a complete capitulation before the plans of Lenin and Trotsky.” Exactly the contrary: Tseretelli’s device was aimed to paralyze the struggle of the Bolsheviks for a soviet government. The Democratic Conference was set over against the Congress of the Soviets. The Compromisers were creating a new base for themselves, trying to strangle the soviets by an artificial combination of all kinds of organizations. The democrats apportioned the votes at their own discretion, guiding themselves by one thought only: to guarantee themselves an indubitable majority. The higher-up organizations were vastly better represented than the lower. The organs of self-government, among them the undemocratic zemstvos, enormously outbalanced the soviets. The Cooperators [1] appeared in the rôle of masters of destiny.

Having up to this time occupied no place in politics, the Cooperators were first pushed forward into the political arena during the days of that Moscow conference, and from then on they began to appear no otherwise than as the representatives of their 20 million members – or, to put it more simply, of some half the population of Russia. The cooperatives sent their roots down into the village through its upper strata, through those who approved of a “just” expropriation of the nobility on condition that their own landed property, often very considerable, should receive not only defense but augmentation. The leaders of the cooperatives were recruited from the liberal-Narodnik and partly the liberal-Marxist intelligentsia, which formed a natural bridge between the Kadets and the Compromisers. To the Bolsheviks the Cooperators took the same attitude of hatred which the Kulak takes to an unsubmissive hired man. The Compromisers eagerly seized upon the Cooperators, after the latter had thrown off the mask of neutrality, in order to strengthen themselves against the Bolsheviks. Lenin mercilessly denounced these chefs of the democratic kitchen. “Ten convinced soldiers or workers from a backward factory are worth a thousand times more than a hundred of these hand-picked ... delegates.” Trotsky argued in the Petrograd Soviet that the officials of the cooperatives as little expressed the political will of the peasants as a physician the political will of his patients, or a Post Office clerk the views of those who send and receive letters. “The Cooperators have to be good organizers, merchants, bookkeepers, but for the defense of their class rights the peasants, like the workers, trust the soviets.” This did not prevent the Cooperators from receiving 150 seats and, along with the unreformed zemstvos and all sorts of other organizations dragged in by the hair, completely dislocating the representation of the masses.

The Petrograd Soviet included Lenin and Zinoviev in the list of its delegates to the Conference. The government issued an order for the arrest of both delegates at the entrance to the theater building, but not in the actual hall of the Conference. Such was, evidently, the agreement arrived at between the Compromisers and Kerensky. But the matter went no farther than a political demonstration on the part of the Soviet: neither Lenin nor Zinoviev intended to appear at the Conference. Lenin considered that the Bolsheviks had no business there at all.

The Democratic Conference opened on the 14th of September, exactly a month after the State Conference, in the auditorium of the Alexandrinsky Theatre. The credentials of 1,775 representatives were accepted; about 1,200 were present at the opening. The Bolsheviks of course were in the minority, but in spite of all the tricks of the elective method, they constituted a very considerable group, which upon certain questions gathered around itself more than a third of the whole assembly.

Would it be suitable for a strong government to appear before a mere “private” conference of this sort? That question became a matter of enormous indecision in the Winter Palace, and of reflected excitements in the Alexandrinsky. In the long run the head of the government decided to show himself to the democracy. “He was met with applause,” says Shliapnikov, describing the arrival of Kerensky, “and went over to the praesidium to shake hands with those sitting at the table. We (the Bolsheviks) were sitting not far from each other, and when it came our turn, we glanced at each other and agreed not to extend our hands. A theatrical gesture across the table – I drew back from the hand offered me, and Kerensky with his hand extended, not meeting ours, passed along the table!” The head of the government got a like greeting on the opposite wing from the Kornilovists – and besides the Bolsheviks and the Kornilovists there were now no real forces left.

Being compelled by the whole situation to offer an explanation on the subject of his rôle in the conspiracy, Kerensky once again relied too much upon improvisation.

“I knew what they wanted,” he let fall. “Before they went to Kornilov they came to me and suggested that I take the same course.” Cries on the left: “Who came? Who suggested?” Frightened by the echo of his own words, Kerensky closed up. But the political background of the plot had already been revealed to the most naïve. The Ukrainian Compromiser Porsh reported to the rada [2] in Kiev upon his return: “Kerensky did not succeed in proving his non-participation in the Kornilov uprising.” But the head of the government dealt himself another no less heavy blow in his speech, when in answer to those phrases that everybody was sick of – “In the moment of danger all will come forward and give an account of themselves,” etc., somebody shouted: “And the death penalty?” The orator, losing his equilibrium, cried out, to the complete surprise of everybody probably including himself: “Wait a little. When one single death penalty has been signed by me, the supreme commander-in-chief, then I will permit you to curse me.” A soldier came right up to the edge of the platform and shouted at close quarters. “You are the calamity of the country!” So that is what it had come to! He, Kerensky, had been ready to forget the high place which he occupied, and talk things over with the conference as a man. “But not all here understand a man.” Therefore he would speak in the language of authority: “Anyone who dares ...” Alas, that had been heard before in Moscow, and Kornilov nevertheless had dared.

“If the death penalty was necessary,” asked Trotsky in his speech, “then how does he, Kerensky, dare say that he will not make use of it? And if he considers it possible to give his promise to the democracy not to apply the death penalty, then ... its restoration becomes an act of light-mindedness transcending the limits of criminality.” The whole assembly agreed to that – some silently, some with an uproar. “With that confession Kerensky seriously discredited both himself and the Provisional Government,” says his colleague and admirer, the Assistant Minister of Justice, Demianov.

Not one of the ministers was able to report anything that the government had done besides solving the problem of how to exist. Economic measures? Not one could be named. Peace policy? “I do not know,” said the former Minister of Justice, Zarudny – more frank than the others – “whether the Provisional Government has done anything in this regard. I have not seen it.” Zarudny complained perplexedly that “the whole power has arrived in the hands of a man” at whose nod ministers come and go. Tseretelli incautiously took up this theme: “Let the democracy upbraid itself, if on the heights its representative has got a little dizzy.” But it was Tseretelli who most fully incarnated all those traits of the democracy which had given rise to Bonapartist tendencies in the government. “Why does Kerensky occupy the place which he occupies today?” retorted Trotsky. “A place was opened for Kerensky by the weakness and irresolution of the democracy ... I have not heard a single speaker here who would take upon himself the unenviable honor of defending the directory or its president ...” After an outbreak of protests the speaker continued: “I am sorry to say that the point of view which now finds such a stormy expression in the hall has not found any deliberated expression from this tribune. Not one speaker has come out here and said to us: ‘Why are you arguing about the past of the Coalition? Why are you worrying about the future? We have Kerensky and that is enough ...’” But the Bolshevik presentation of the question almost automatically united Tseretelli with Zarudny, and united them both with Kerensky. Of this Miliukov has pointedly written: Zarudny could complain of the arbitrary power of Kerensky; Tseretelli could throw out a hint that the government was getting dizzy – “those were mere words”. But when Trotsky stated that nobody in the conference would undertake the open defense of Kerensky “the assembly immediately felt that this was spoken by a common enemy.”

The power was spoken of by these people who embodied it no otherwise than as a burden and a misfortune. A struggle for power? Minister Peshekhonov instructed the delegates: “The power has now become a thing from which everybody is trying to protect himself.” Was this true? Kornilov had not tried to protect himself. But that quite fresh lesson was already half forgotten. Tseretelli stormed at the Bolsheviks because they did not take the power themselves, but were pushing the soviets toward the power. Others took up the thought of Tseretelli. Yes, the Bolsheviks ought to take the power! – murmured the praesidium, as they sat around the table. Avksentiev turned to Shliapnikov who sat near him: “Take the power, the masses will follow you. Answering his neighbor in the same tone, Shliapnikov suggested that they first lay the power on the table of the praesidium. These semi-ironical challenges to the Bolsheviks, issued both through speeches in the tribune and conversations in the couloir, were partly taunts and partly reconnoiters. What are these people going to do next, now that they have come to the head of the Petrograd, the Moscow, and many of the provincial soviets? Can it be that they will really dare seize the power? This could hardly be believed. Ten days before the challenging speech of Tseretelli, Rech had declared that the best way to get rid of Bolshevism for many years would be to turn the country over to its leaders. “But those sorry heroes of the day are themselves far from desirous of seizing the whole power ... Practically their position cannot be taken seriously from any standpoint.” This proud conclusion was, to say the least, a little hasty.

An immense advantage of the Bolsheviks – and one up to this time, it seems to me, not adequately appreciated – was the fact that they excellently understood their enemies, that they completely saw through them. They were aided in this by the materialistic method, the Leninist school of clarity and simplicity, and the keen vigilance proper to people who have decided to carry a struggle through to the end. On the other hand, the Liberals and Compromisers invented Bolsheviks to suit themselves and the demands of the moment. It could not have been otherwise. Those parties for whom evolution has left no future never prove capable of looking reality in the face – just as a hopeless invalid dares not look in the face of his disease.

However, although they did not believe in the insurrection of the Bolsheviks, the Compromisers feared it. This was best of all expressed by Kerensky. “Make no mistake,” he cried out suddenly in the midst of his speech. “Do not think that when the Bolsheviks bait me, the forces of the democracy are not there to support me. Do not think that I am hanging in the air. Remember that if you start something, the railroads will stop. There will be no transmission of dispatches ...” A part of the hall applauded, a part kept an embarrassed silence. The Bolshevik section laughed outright. It is a poor dictatorship which is compelled to argue that it is not hanging in the air!

To these ironical challenges, accusations of cowardice, and clumsy threats, the Bolsheviks made answer in their Declaration: “In struggling for the power in order to realize its program, our party has never desired and does not desire to seize the power against the organized will of the majority of the toiling masses of the country. – That meant: We will take the power as the party of the soviet majority. Those words about “the organized will of the toiling masses” referred to the coming Congress of Soviets. “Only such decisions and proposals of the present Conference ... can find their way to realization” said the Declaration, “as are recognized by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets.

During the reading of the Bolshevik Declaration by Trotsky, its mention of the necessity of immediately arming the workers evoked persistent cries from the benches of the majority: “What for? What for?” Here was that same note of alarm and provocation. What for? “In order to create a real bulwark against the counter-revolution,” answered the orator. But not only for that: “I say to you in the name of our party and the proletarian masses adhering to it that the armed workers ... will defend the country of the revolution against the armies of imperialism with a heroism such as Russian history has never known ...” Tseretelli characterized this promise, which sharply divided the hall, as an empty phrase. The history of the Red Army subsequently refuted him.

Those hot moments when the compromise chiefs had renounced their coalition with the Kadets were now far behind: without the Kadets a coalition had proved impossible. Surely you wouldn’t ask us to take the power ourselves! “We might have seized the power on the 27th of February,” meditated Skobelev, “but ... we employed all our influence in helping the bourgeois elements recover from their confusion ... and come into the power.” Why then had these gentlemen prevented the Kornilovists, as they recovered from their confusion, from taking the power? A purely bourgeois government, explained Tseretelli, is still impossible: that would cause a civil war. It was necessary to break Kornilov in order that with his adventure he should not prevent the bourgeoisie from coming to power through a series of stages. “Now when the revolutionary democracy has proven victorious, the moment is especially favorable for a coalition.”

The political philosophy of the cooperatives was expressed by their leader, Berkenheim: “Whether we want it or not, the bourgeoisie is the class to whom the power will belong.” The old revolutionary Narodnik, Minor, beseeched the conference to adopt a unanimous decision in favor of coalition. Otherwise “there is no use deceiving ourselves. Otherwise we will slaughter ...” “Whom?” cried the Left benches. “We will slaughter each other,” concluded Minor in an ominous silence. But in reality what made a governmental bloc necessary according to the views of the Kadets, was the struggle against the “anarchist hooliganism” of the Bolsheviks. “That really constitutes the essence of the idea of the coalition,” as Miliukov quite frankly explained. While Minor was hoping that a coalition would make it possible for the Compromisers and the Bolsheviks not to slaughter each other, Miliukov, on the contrary, was firmly calculating that the coalition would make it possible for the joint forces of the Compromisers and the Kadets to slaughter the Bolsheviks.

During the debate about a coalition, Riazanov read an editorial from Rech of August 29 which Miliukov had withdrawn at the last moment, leaving a blank space in the paper: “Yes, we do not fear to state that General Kornilov was pursuing those same objects which we consider necessary for the salvation of the fatherland.” The reading made a sensation. “They will save it all right!” somebody shouted on the left. But the Kadets found their defenders: After all, the editorial had not been printed! Moreover, not all the Kadets had stood for Kornilov, and we must learn to distinguish the sinners from the saints.

“They say that we must not accuse the whole Kadet Party of participation in the Kornilov insurrection,” Trotsky answered. “Znamensky has said to us Bolsheviks here and not for the first time: ‘You protested when we held your whole party responsible for the movement of July 3-5; do not repeat the same mistake; do not hold all the Kadets responsible for the insurrection of Kornilov.’ But in my opinion there is a slight inaccuracy in this comparison. When they accused the Bolsheviks of calling out the movement of July 3-5, it was not a question of inviting them into the ministry, but of inviting them into the jails. Zarudny (the Minister of Justice) will not, I trust, deny this difference. We say now too: If you want to drag the Kadets to prison for the Kornilov movement, don’t do this wholesale, but inspect each individual Kadet from all sides (Laughter; voice: ‘Bravo!’). When it is a question of introducing the Kadet Party into the ministry, then the decisive thing is not the circumstance that this or that Kadet was in contact with Kornilov behind the scenes – not that Maklakov stood at the telegraph apparatus while Savinkov conducted his negotiations with Kornilov – not that Rodichev went to the Don and conducted political negotiations with Kaledin – not that is the essence of the thing; the essence of it is that the whole bourgeois press either openly welcomed Kornilov or cautiously kept mum awaiting his victory ... That is why I tell you that you have no partners for a coalition!” The next day a representative from Helsingfors and Sveaborg, the sailor Shishkin, spoke more briefly and suggestively on the same theme: “A Coalition Ministry will have neither confidence nor support among the sailors of the Baltic Fleet and the garrison of Finland ... Against the creation of a Coalition Ministry the sailors have raised their battle flag!” Arguments from reason had been ineffective. The sailor Shishkin advanced the argument of the naval guns. He was heartily supported by other sailors doing sentry duty at the entrance to the hall. Bukharin subsequently related how “the sailors posted by Kerensky to defend the Democratic Conference against us, the Bolsheviks, turned to Trotsky and asked him, shaking their bayonets: ‘How soon can we get to work with these things?’” That was merely a repetition of the question asked by the sailors of the Aurora at the interview in Kresty prison. But now the moment was drawing near.

If we disregard fine shades, it is easy to distinguish three groupings in the Democratic Conference: an extensive but very unstable center which does not dare seize the power, agrees to a coalition, but does not want the Kadets; a weak Right Wing which stands unconditionally for Kerensky and a coalition with the bourgeoisie; a Left Wing, twice as strong, which stands for a government of the soviets or a socialist government. At a caucus of the soviet delegates to the Democratic Conference, Trotsky spoke for the transfer of power to the soviets, Martov for a homogeneous socialist ministry. The first formula got 86 votes, the second 97. Formally only about one-half of the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets were at that moment in control of the Bolsheviks; the other half were wavering between the Bolsheviks and the Compromisers. But the Bolsheviks spoke in the name of the powerful soviets of the more industrial and cultural centers of the country. In the soviets they were immeasurably stronger than at the Conference, and in the proletariat and army immeasurably stronger than in the soviets. The backward soviets were, moreover, rapidly drawing up to the advanced ones.

At the Democratic Conference 766 deputies against 688 voted for a coalition, with 38 abstaining. The two camps were almost equal! An amendment excluding the Kadets from the coalition got a majority: 595 against 493, with 72 abstaining. But the removal of the Kadets made a coalition entirely purposeless. For that reason the resolution as a whole was voted down by a majority of 813 – that is, a bloc of the extreme wings, the resolute partisans and implacable enemies of the coalition, against the center, which had melted to 133 votes, with 80 abstaining. That was the most united of all the votes, but it was just as meaningless as the idea of a coalition without the Kadets which it rejected.

“Upon the basic question ...” as Miliukov just observes, “the Conference thus remained without an opinion and without a formula.”

What remained for the leaders to do? To trample on the will of “the democracy which had rejected their own will. A praesidium was assembled consisting of representatives of separate parties and groups to re-decide a question which had already been decided by a plenary session. The result: 50 votes for a coalition, 60 against. Now it would seem that the thing was clear? The question whether the government should be responsible to the Democratic Conference as a permanent body, was unanimously decided in the affirmative by this same enlarged praesidium. 56 hands against 48 with 10 abstaining were raised in favor of filling out the body with representatives of the bourgeoisie. Kerensky then appeared and announced that he would refuse to participate in a homogeneous government. After that the only thing left to do was to send the unhappy Conference home, and replace it with institutions in which the partisans of unconditional coalition would be in the majority. To attain this desired consummation it was only necessary to understand the rules of arithmetic. In the name of the praesidium Tseretelli introduced a resolution in the Conference to the effect that this representative body had been summoned “to co-operate in the creation of a government,” and that the government would have to “sanction this body.” The dream of putting a bridle on Kerensky was thus filed in the archives. Having been filled out with the necessary proportion of bourgeois representatives, the future Council of the Republic, or Pre-Parliament, would have as its task the sanctioning of a coalition government with the Kadets. The resolution of Tseretelli meant the exact opposite of what the conference wanted, and what the praesidium had just now resolved upon, but the general breakdown, decay and demoralization were so great that the assembly adopted the slightly disguised capitulation presented to it by 829 votes against 106, with 69 abstaining. “And so for the moment you have conquered, Messrs. Compromisers and Kadets,” wrote the Bolshevik paper. “Play your game. Make your new experiment. It will be your last – we will vouch for that.”

“The Democratic Conference,” says Stankevich, “astonished even its own initiators with its extraordinary looseness of thought.” In the compromise parties – “complete confusion”; on the Right, in the bourgeois circles – “a noise of muttering, slanders conveyed in a whisper, a slow corroding of the last remnants of governmental authority ...; and only on the Left, a consolidation of moods and forces.” This was spoken by an opponent. This is the testimony of an enemy who will again be shooting at the Bolsheviks in October. This Petrograd parade of the democracy proved to be for the Compromisers what the Moscow parade of national unity had been for Kerensky – a public confession of bankruptcy, a review of political prostration. Whereas the State Conference gave an impetus to the insurrection of Kornilov, the Democratic Conference finally cleared the road for the Bolshevik insurrection.

Before dispersing, the Conference appointed from its members a permanent body composed of 15 per cent of the membership of each of its groups – in all, about 350 delegates. The institutions of the possessing classes were to receive in addition to this 120 seats. The government in its own name added 20 seats for the Cossacks. All these together were to constitute a Council of the Republic, or Pre-Parliament, which was to represent the nation until the Constituent Assembly.

What attitude to adopt toward the Council of the Republic immediately became for the Bolsheviks an acute tactical problem. Should they enter it or not? The boycott of parliamentary institutions on the part of anarchists and semi-anarchists is dictated by a desire not to submit their weakness to a test on the part of the masses, thus preserving their right to an inactive hauteur which makes no difference to anybody. A revolutionary party can turn its back to a parliament only if it has set itself the immediate task of overthrowing the existing régime. During the years between the two revolutions, Lenin had gone with great profundity into this problem of revolutionary parliamentarism.

Even a parliament based on the most limited franchise may become, and has more than once in history become, an expression of the actual correlation of classes. Such were, for example, the State Dumas after the defeated revolution of 1905-7. To boycott such parliaments is to boycott the actual correlation of forces, instead of trying to change it to the advantage of the revolution. But the Pre-Parliament of Tseretelli and Kerensky did not correspond in the slightest degree to the correlation of forces. It was created by the impotence and trickery of the upper circles – by their mystic faith in institutions, their fetishism of forms, their hope of subjecting to this fetishism an incomparably more powerful enemy and therewith disciplining him.

In order to compel the revolution, hunching its shoulders and bending its back, to pass submissively under the yoke of the Pre-Parliament, it was first necessary to shatter the revolution, or in any case to inflict upon it a serious defeat. In reality, however, it was only three weeks ago that the vanguard of the bourgeoisie had suffered a defeat. The revolution had experienced an influx of forces. It had taken for its goal not a bourgeois republic, but a republic of workers and peasants. It had no reason for crawling under the yoke of the Pre-Parliament when it was steadily broadening its power in the soviets.

On the 20th of September, the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks called a party conference consisting of the Bolshevik delegates to the Democratic Conference, the members of the Central Committee itself, and of the Petrograd committee. As spokesman for the Central Committee, Trotsky proposed the slogan of boycotting the Pre-Parliament. The proposal was met with decisive resistance by some (Kamenev, Rykov, Riazanov) and with sympathy by others (Sverdlov, Joffé, Stalin). The Central Committee, having divided in two on the debated question, had found itself compelled, in conflict with the constitution and traditions of the party, to submit the question to the decision of the conference. Two spokesmen, Trotsky and Rykov, took the floor as champions of the opposing views. It might seem, and for the majority it did seem, that this hot debate was purely tactical in character. In reality the quarrel revived the April disagreements and initiated the disagreements of October. The question was whether the party should accommodate its tasks to the development of a bourgeois republic, or should really set itself the goal of conquering the power. By a majority of 77 votes against 50, this party conference rejected the slogan of boycott. On September 22nd, Riazanov had the satisfaction of announcing at the Democratic Conference in the name of the party that the Bolsheviks would send their representatives to the Pre-Parliament, in order “in this new fortress of compromisism to expose all attempts at a new coalition with the bourgeoisie.” That sounded very radical, but it really meant substituting a policy of oppositional exposure for a policy of revolutionary action.

Lenin’s April theses had been appropriated by the whole party; but upon every big question that arose, the March attitudes would swim out from under them. And these attitudes were very strong in the upper layers of the party, which in many parts of the country had only just now divided from the Mensheviks. Lenin was able to take his part in this argument only after the event. On the 23rd of September he wrote: “We must boycott the Pre-Parliament. We must go out into the soviets of workers, soldiers, and peasants’ deputies, go out into the trade unions, go out in general to the masses. We must summon them to the struggle. We must give them a correct and clear slogan: To drive out the Bonapartist gang of Kerensky with its fake Pre-Parliament ... The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries even after the Kornilov events refused to accept our offer of compromise ... Ruthless struggle against them! Ruthless expulsion of them from all revolutionary organizations! ... Trotsky was for the boycott. Bravo, Comrade Trotsky! Boycottism was defeated in the faction of the Bolsheviks who attended the Democratic Conference. Long live the boycott!”

The deeper down this question went into the party, the more decisively did the correlation of forces change in favor of the boycott. Almost all the local organizations formed into majorities and minorities. In the Kiev committee, for example, the advocates of boycott, Efgenia Bosh at their head, were a weak minority. But only a few days later at a general city conference, a resolution in favor of boycotting the Pre-Parliament was adopted by an overwhelming majority. “There is no use wasting time,” the resolution declared, “in chattering and spreading illusions.” Thus the party promptly corrected its leaders.

During this time Kerensky, having abandoned all languid pretenses at democracy, was trying with all his might to show the Kadets that he had a firm hand. On September 18 he issued an unexpected order dissolving the central committee of the fleet. The sailors answered: “The order dissolving the Centroflot, being unlawful, is to be considered inoperative, and its immediate annulment is demanded.” The Executive Committee intervened, and supplied Kerensky with a formal pretext for annulling his decision after three days. In Tashkent the soviet, which had a Social Revolutionary majority, seized the power and removed the old officials. Kerensky sent the general designated to put down Tashkent a telegram: “No negotiations whatever with the rebels ... The most decisive measures are necessary.” The troops occupied the city, and arrested the representatives of the soviet power. A general strike occurred immediately with forty trade unions participating. For a week no papers were published, and the garrison was in a ferment. Thus in pursuit of a phantom law and order, the government was sowing bureaucratic anarchy.

On the day the Conference adopted its decision against a coalition with the Kadets, the central committee of the Kadet party had proposed to Konovalov and Kishkin that they accept Kerensky’s offer of a place in the ministry. The move, it is said, was directed by Buchanan. That, however, you need not take too literally. If Buchanan was not himself the director, his shadow was: a government acceptable to the Allies had to be born. The Moscow industrialists and brokers had got their backs up. They had raised their price, and presented an ultimatum. The Democratic Conference passed off in voting, imagining that its votes had a real significance. In reality the question had been decided in the Winter Palace at a joint session of the fragments of the government with the representatives of the coalition parties. The Kadets had sent here their most frank Kornilovists. All joined in persuading each other of the necessity of unity. Tseretelli, that inexhaustible layer-down of commonplaces, discovered that the chief obstacle to an agreement “has consisted up to this point in mutual distrust ... This distrust ought to be removed.” The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tereshchenko, figured up and reported that out of the 197 days’ existence of the revolutionary government, 56 days had been occupied in crises. How the remaining days had been occupied he did not state.

Even before the Democratic Conference in direct conflict with its own intentions had swallowed Tseretelli’s resolution, the correspondents of the English and American papers had cabled home that a Coalition with the Kadets was assured, and had confidently given the names of the new ministers. On its part, the Moscow Council of Public Men, with our old friend Rodzianko in the chair, sent congratulations to its member Tretiakov who had been invited to enter the government. On the 9th of August these same gentlemen had sent Kornilov a telegram: “In this threatening hour of severe trial all thinking Russia looks to you with hope and faith.”

Kerensky graciously consented to the existence of the Pre-Parliament on condition that “it be recognized that the organization of the power and the appointment of the staff of the government belong to the Provisional Government only.” This humiliating condition was dictated by the Kadets. The bourgeoisie could not, of course, fail to understand that the membership of a Constituent Assembly would be far less favorable to it than the membership of the Pre-Parliament. “The elections for the Constituent Assembly” – to quote Miliukov – “can only give the most accidental and perhaps pernicious results.” If in spite of this, the Kadet party – which had not long ago tried to subject the government to the tzarist Duma-absolutely refused legislative rights to the Pre-Parliament, this could only mean that it had not given up hope of quashing the Constituent Assembly.

“Either Kornilov or Lenin”: thus Miliukov defined the alternative. Lenin on his part wrote: “Either a Soviet government or Kornilovism. There is no middle course.” To this extent Miliukov and Lenin coincided in their appraisal of the situation – and not accidentally. In contrast to the heroes of the compromise phrase, these two were serious representatives of the basic classes of society. According to Miliukov the Moscow State Conference had already made it clearly obvious that “the country is dividing into two camps, between which there can be no essential conciliation or agreement.” But where there can be no agreement between two social camps, the issue is decided by civil war.

However, neither the Kadets nor the Bolsheviks withdrew the slogan of the Constituent Assembly. It was needful to the Kadets as the last court of appeal against immediate social reform, against the soviets, against the revolution. That shadow which democracy cast before it in the form of the Constituent Assembly, was employed by the bourgeoisie in opposition to the living democracy. The bourgeoisie could openly reject the Constituent Assembly only after they had crushed the Bolsheviks. They were far from that. At the given stage the Kadets were trying to assure the government’s independence of those organizations bound up with the masses, in order afterward the more surely and completely to subject the government to themselves.

But the Bolsheviks also, although finding no way out on the road of formal democracy, had not yet renounced the idea of the Constituent Assembly. Moreover, they could not do this without abandoning revolutionary realism. Whether the future course of events would create the conditions for a complete victory of the proletariat, could not with absolute certainty be foreseen. Exactly as the Bolsheviks defended the compromisist soviets and the democratic municipalities against Kornilov, so they were ready to defend the Constituent Assembly against the attempts of the bourgeoisie.

The thirty day crisis ended at last in the creation of a new government. The chief rôle, after Kerensky, was to be played by the very rich Moscow industrialist, Konovalov, who at the beginning of the revolution had financed Gorky’s paper, had thereafter become a member of the first coalition government, had resigned in protest after the first congress of the soviets, entered the Kadet party when it was ripe for the Kornilov events, and now returned into the government in the capacity of Vice-President and Minister of Commerce and Industry. Along with Konovalov, ministerial posts were occupied by Tretiakov, the president of the Moscow stock exchange committee, and Smirnov, president of the Moscow Military Industrial Committee. The sugar manufacturer from Kiev, Tereshchenko, remained Minister of Foreign Affairs. The other ministers – among them the Socialists – had no traits of identification, but were wholly prepared to sing in tune. The Entente could be the more satisfied with the government in that the old diplomatic official, Nabokov, remained ambassador in London; the Kadet Maklakov, an ally of Kornilov and Savinkov, went as an ambassador to Paris; and to Berne, the “progressive” Efremov. The struggle for a democratic peace was thus placed in reliable hands. The Declaration of the new government was a spiteful parody of the Moscow Declaration of the democracy. The meaning of the Coalition lay, however, not in its program of transformations, but in its attempt to carry through the business of the July days: to behead the revolution by shattering the Bolsheviks. But here Rabochy Put, one of the reincarnations of Pravda, impudently reminded the partners: “You have forgotten that the Bolsheviks are now the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.” This reminder touched a sore point. As Miliukov recognizes: “The fatal question presented itself: Is it not now too late to declare war on the Bolsheviks?”

And indeed it actually was too late. On the day the new government was formed, with six bourgeois and ten semi-socialist ministers, the Petrograd Soviet completed the formation of a new Executive Committee, consisting of thirteen Bolsheviks, six Social Revolutionaries and three Mensheviks. The Soviet greeted the governmental coalition with a resolution introduced by its new president, Trotsky. “The new government ... will go into the history of the revolution as the civil war government ... The news of the formation of the government will be met by the whole revolutionary democracy with one answer: Resign! Relying upon this unanimous voice of the authentic democracy, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets will create a genuinely revolutionary government.” The enemy tried to see in this resolution a mere ritual vote of non-confidence. In reality it was a program of revolution. Exactly a month was required for its realization.

The curve of industry continued sharply downward. The government, the Central Executive Committee, and soon the newly created Pre-Parliament, registered the facts and symptoms of decline as arguments against anarchy, the Bolsheviks, and the revolution. But they had not themselves the ghost of an industrial plan. A body constituted by the government for the regulation of industry did not take one single serious step. The capitalists were shutting down the factories; the movement of the railroads was decreasing through lack of coal; electric power stations were dying down in the cities; the press was wailing about a catastrophe; prices were rising; the workers were striking, layer after layer, in spite of the warnings of parties, soviets, and trade unions. Only those layers of the working class did not enter the strike conflict, which were already consciously moving towards a revolution. The most peaceful city of all, perhaps, was Petrograd.

The government, with its inattention to the masses, its light-minded indifference to their needs, its impudent phrasemongering in answer to protests and cries of despair, was raising up everybody against it. It seemed as though the government were deliberately seeking a conflict. The railroad workers and clerks almost since the February revolution had been demanding a raise. Commission had followed commission, nobody had made an answer, and this was getting on the nerves of the railroad workers. The Compromisers had pacified them; the Vikzhel had held them back. But on the 24th of September the explosion came. Only then did the government wake up to the situation. Some sort of concessions were made to the railroad workers, and on September 27th the strike, which had already seized a large section of the railroads, was called off.

August and September were months of swift deterioration in the food situation. Already in the Kornilov days the bread ration had been cut down in Moscow and Petrograd to half a pound a day. In Moscow county they began to give out no more than two pounds a week. The Volga, the South, the Front, and the immediate rear – all parts of the country were experiencing a sharp food crisis. In the textile district near Moscow a number of factories had already begun to starve in the literal sense of the word. The working-men and women of the Smirnov factory – whose owner was in those very days invited as State Auditor into the new coalition ministry – held a demonstration in the neighboring town of Orekhov-Zuyev with placards reading: “We are starving”, “Our children are starving”, “Whoever is not for us is against us.” The workers of Orekhov and the soldiers of the local military hospital divided their scanty rations with the demonstrators. That was another coalition rising against the Coalition Government.

The newspapers were every day recording new centers of conflict and rebellion. Workers, soldiers and the town petty bourgeoisie were protesting. Soldiers’ wives were demanding increased subventions, living quarters, wood for the winter. Black Hundred agitation was trying to find fuel in the hunger of the masses. The Moscow Kadet paper Russkie Vedornosti, which in the old times united Liberalism with Narodnikism, now looked with hatred and disgust upon the authentic narod – the people. “A broad wave of disorders has swept through all Russia,” wrote the liberal professors. “The spontaneousness and meaninglessness of these pogroms ... more than anything else, makes it difficult to struggle with them ...” Resort to measures of repression, to the aid of armed forces? But it is exactly the armed forces, in the shape of soldiers from the local garrison, that play the chief part in these pogroms. The crowd comes into the streets and begins to feel itself master of the situation.

The Saratov district attorney reported to the Minister of Justice Maliantovich, who in the epoch of the first revolution had counted himself a Bolshevik: “The chief evil against which we have no power to fight is the soldiers. Lynch-law, arbitrary arrests and searches, requisitions of every kind – all these things are carried out in the majority of cases either exclusively by the soldiers, or with their immediate participation.” In Saratov itself, in the county seats, in the villages, there is “a complete absence on all sides of assistance to the Department of Justice.” The district attorney’s offices have no time even to register the crimes which a whole people are committing.

The Bolsheviks had no illusions about the difficulties which would fall upon them along with the power. “In advancing the slogan ‘All power to the soviets,’” said the new president of the Petrograd Soviet, “we know that it will not heal all sores in a minute. We need a power created in the image of the executive of the trade unions, which will give the strikers all that it can, which will conceal nothing, and when it cannot give, will openly acknowledge the fact.”

One of the first sittings of the government was devoted to the problem of “anarchy” in the localities, especially in the villages. Once more it was declared necessary “not to stop at the most decisive measures.” In passing, the government discovered that the cause of the failure of the struggle against disorders lay in the “inadequate popularity” of the government commissars among the masses of the peasant population. In order to help out, it was decided to organize immediately in all provinces affected by disorders “special committees of the Provisional Government.” Henceforth the peasantry were expected to meet punitive detachments with shouts of welcome.

Inexorable historic forces were dragging the rulers down. Nobody seriously believed in the success of the new government. Kerensky’s isolation was beyond mending. The ruling classes could not forget his betrayal of Kornilov. “Those who were ready to fight against the Bolsheviks,” writes the Cossack officer Kakliugin, “did not want to do it in the name of, or in defense of, the power of the Provisional Government.” Although hanging on to the power, Kerensky himself feared to make any use of it. The growing force of the opposition paralyzed his will to the last fibre. He evaded any decisions whatever, and avoided the Winter Palace where the situation compelled him to act. Almost immediately after the formation of the new government he slipped the presidency to Konovalov, and himself went to headquarters where there was the least possible need of him. He came back to Petrograd only to open the Pre-Parliament. Although urged to remain by his ministers, he nevertheless returned to the front on the 14th. Kerensky was running away from a fate which followed at his heels.

Konovalov, the closest colleague of Kerensky and his Vice-President, got into a state of despair, according to Nabokov, over Kerensky’s instability and the complete impossibility of relying upon his word. But the mood of the other members of the cabinet differed little from that of their chief. The ministers kept looking round and listening in alarm, waiting, jotting down little notes of evasion, occupying themselves with trifles. The Minister of Justice, Maliantovich, was dreadfully troubled, according to Nabokov, over the fact that the senators would not admit into their body the new colleague Sokolov, who wore a black business suit. “What do you think must be done?” asked Maliantovich with alarm. According to the ritual established by Kerensky, and carefully observed, the ministers addressed each other, not by the first and middle name as simple mortals do, but by the title of their position – “Mr. Minister of this or that” – as the representatives of a strong power are supposed to. The memoirs of the members sound like a satire. Kerensky himself subsequently wrote about his own war minister: “That was the most unfortunate of all my appointments. Verkhovsky introduced something indescribably comic into his activities.” But the misfortune was that a tint of the involuntary comic lay over the whole activity of the Provisional Government. These people did not know what to do or where to turn. They did not govern, they played at government as little boys play soldier, though far more amusingly.

Speaking as an eye-witness, Miliukov has depicted in very definite strokes the condition of the head of the government at this period: “Having lost the ground under his feet, the further he went the more Kerensky revealed all the signs of that pathological condition of spirit which may be called in medical language ‘psychic neurasthenia.’ It had long been known to a close circle of his friends that from periods of extreme failure of energy in the morning, Kerensky would pass over in the latter half of the day into a condition of extreme excitement under the influence of the drugs he was taking.” Miliukov explains the special influence of the Kadet minister, Kishkin, a psychiatrist by profession, on the ground of his skilful handling of the patient. These testimonies we leave entirely upon the responsibility of the liberal historian, who had, to be sure, every possibility of knowing the truth, but was far from choosing truth as his supreme criterion.

The testimony of a man as near to Kerensky as Stankevich confirms, if not the psychiatric, at least the psychological, characterization given by Miliukov. “Kerensky gave me the impression,” writes Stankevich, “of a kind of emptiness in the whole situation, and a strange unprecedented tranquillity. He had around him his invariable ’little aides-de-camp,’ but there was no longer the continual crowd surrounding him, neither delegations nor lime-lights ... There appeared strange periods of a kind of leisure, and I got the rare opportunity to converse with him for whole hours, during which he would manifest a strange unhurriedness.”

Every new transformation of the government was accomplished in the name of a strong power, and each new ministry would open on a major key, only to fall in a very few days into nervous prostration. It would then only wait for an external impetus in order to fall apart. The impetus would be given each time by a movement of the masses. The transformations of the government, if you penetrate below the deceiving exterior, moved in every case in a direction opposite to that of the mass movement. The passage from one government to another would be accompanied by a crisis becoming every time more long drawn out and morbid in its character. Each new crisis squandered a part of the governmental power, enfeebled the revolution, demoralized the ruling groups. The Executive Committee of the first two months could do anything – even summon the bourgeoisie to a nominal power. In the next two months the Provisional Government together with the Executive Committee could still do much – even start an offensive on the front. The third government, together with the enfeebled Executive Committee, was able to begin the destruction of the Bolsheviks, but powerless to carry it through. The fourth government, arising after the longest crisis of all, was incapable of doing anything. Hardly born, it began to die and sat waiting with wide open eyes for the undertaker.


1. Official personnel of the cooperatives.

2. Parliament.

Last Chapter    |    History of the Russian Revolution    |    Next Chapter

return return return return return

Last updated on: 125 December 2014