MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events
October 25, 1917
On October 24 - 25, 1917, the Bolshevik party combined with the soviets of the major cities of Russia toppled the Provisional Government. The revolution was followed by the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, where the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic was established and the Soviet Government was created.
An account of the revolution:
“Brokers, lawyers, ballerinas are cursing the oncoming eclipse of public morals. Faith in the Constituent Assembly is evaporating day by day. Gorky in his newspaper is prophesying the approaching downfall of culture. The flight from raving and hungry Petrograd to a more peaceful and well-fed province, on the increase ever since the July Days, now becomes a stampede. Respectable families who have not succeeded in getting away from the capital, try in vain to insulate themselves from reality behind stone wall and under iron roof. But the echoes of the storm penetrate on every side: through the market, where everything is getting dear and nothing to be had; through the respectable press, which is turning into one yelp of hatred and fear; through the seething streets where from time to time shootings are to be heard under the windows; and finally through the back entrance, through the servants, who are no longer humbly submissive. It is here that the revolution strikes home to the most sensitive spot. The resistance of the household slaves destroys utterly the stability of the family régime.
“Nevertheless the everyday routine defends itself with all its might. School-boys are still studying the old text-books, functionaries drawing up the same useless papers, poets scribbling the verses that nobody reads, nurses telling the fairy-tales about Ivan Czarevich. The nobility's and merchants' daughters, coming in from the provinces, are studying music or hunting husbands. The same old cannon on the wall of the Peter and Paul fortress continues to announce the noon hour. A new ballet is going on in the Mariinsky Theatre, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tereshchenko, stronger on choreography than diplomacy, finds time, we may assume, to admire the steel toes of the ballerina and thus demonstrate the stability of the régime.
“The remnants of the old banquet are still very plentiful and everything can be had for big money. The Guard officers still click their spurs accurately and go after adventures. Wild parties are in progress in the private dining-rooms of expensive restaurants. The shutting-off of the electric lights at midnight does not prevent the flourishing of gambling-clubs where champagne sparkles by candlelight, where illustrious peculators swindle no less illustrious German spies, where monarchist conspirators call the bets of Semitic smugglers, and where the astronomical figures of the stakes played for indicate both the scale of debauchery and the scale of inflation.
“Can it be that a mere tram-car, run-down, dirty, dilatory, draped with clusters of people, leads from this St. Petersburg in its death-agony into the workers' quarters so passionately and tensely alive with a new hope? The blue-and-gold cupola of Smolny Convent announces from afar the headquarters of the Insurrection. It is on the edge of the city where the tram-line ends and the Neva describes a sharp turn south, separating the centre of the capital from the suburbs. That long grey three story building, an educative barrack for the daughters of the nobility, is now the stronghold of the soviets. Its long echoing corridors seem to have been made for teaching the laws of perspective. Over the doors of many of the rooms along the corridors little enamelled tablets are still preserved: “Teacher's Room,” “Third Grade,” “Fourth Grade,” “Grade Supervisor.” But alongside the old tablets, or covering them, sheets of paper have been tacked up as best they might, bearing the mysterious hieroglyphics of the revolution: Tz-K P-S-k, S-fl Mensheviki, S-D-Bolsheviki, Left S-R, Anarchist-Communists, Despatching Room of the Tz-I-K, etc., etc. The observant John Reed notices a placard on the walls: “Comrades, for the sake of your own health, observe cleanliness.” Alas, nobody observes cleanliness, not even nature. October Petrograd is living under a canopy of rain. The streets, long unswept, are dirty. Enormous puddles are standing in the court of Smolny. The mud is carried Into the corridors and halls by the soldiers' boots. But nobody is looking down now underfoot. All are looking forward.
“Early in the morning the authorities began their preparations for aggressive action. The military schools of the capital were ordered to make ready for battle. The cruiser Aurora moored in the Neva, its crew favourable to the Bolsheviks, was ordered to put out and join the rest of the fleet. Military detachments were called in from neighbouring points: a battalion of shock troops from Tsarskoe Selo, the junkers from Oranienbaum, the artillery from Pavlovsk. The headquarters of the Northern front was asked to send reliable troops to the capital immediately. In the way of direct measures of military precaution, the following orders were given: to increase the guard of the Winter Palace; to raise the bridges over the Neva; to have all automobiles inspected by the junkers; to cut Smolny out of the telephone system. The Minister of Justice, Maliantovich, gave an order for the immediate arrest of those Bolsheviks released under bail who had again brought themselves to attention by anti-governmental activity.
“Somewhat belatedly the Military Revolutionary Committee undertook a more serious fortification of Smolny. In leaving the building at three o'clock on the night of the 24th, John Reed noticed machine-guns at the entrances and strong patrols guarding the gates and the adjacent street corners. The patrols had been reinforced the day before by a company of the Litovsky regiment and a company of machine-gunners with twenty-four machine-guns. During the day the guard increased continually. ‘In the Smolny region,’ writes Shliapnikov, ‘I saw a familiar picture, reminding me of the first days of the February revolution around the Tauride Palace.’ The same multitude of soldiers, workers and weapons of all kinds. Innumerable cords of firewood had been piled up in the court – a perfect cover against rifle-fire. Motor-trucks were bringing up foodstuffs and munitions. ‘All Smolny,’ says Raskolnikov, ‘was converted into an armed camp. Cannon were in position out in front of the columns. Machine-guns alongside them. ... Almost on every step those same “maxims,” looking like toy-cannon. And through all the corridors ... the swift, loud, happy tramp of workers, soldiers, sailors and agitators.’
“In the capital, to be sure, it was still quiet, but alarming rumours were on foot. The mayor put these questions: Does the Soviet intend to make an insurrection, and how about keeping order in the city? And what will become of the duma itself if it does not recognise the revolution? These respected gentlemen wanted to know too much. The answer was: The question of power is to be decided by the Congress of Soviets. Whether this will lead to an armed struggle ‘depends not so much upon the soviets, as upon those who in conflict with the unanimous will of the people, are retaining the state of power in their hands.’
“The Peter and Paul fortress, won over politically only yesterday, is to-day completely taken possession of by the Military Revolutionary Committee. All the troops of the fortress garrison accepted the arrest of the commandant with complete satisfaction, but the bicycle men bore themselves evasively. What lay concealed behind their sulky silence a hidden hostility or the last waverings? “We decided to hold a special meeting for the bicycle men,” writes Blagonravov, “and invite our best agitational forces, and above all Trotsky, who had enormous authority and influence over the soldier masses.” At four o'clock in the afternoon the whole battalion met in the neighbouring building of the Cirque Moderne. As governmental opponent, Quartermaster-General Poradelov, considered to be a Social-Revolutionary, took the floor. His objections were so cautious as to seem equivocal; and so much the more destructive was the attack of the Committee's representatives. This supplementary oratorical battle for the Peter and Paul fortress ended as might have been foreseen: by all voices except thirty the battalion supported the resolution of Trotsky. One more of the potential bloody conflicts was settled before the fighting and without bloodshed. That was the October insurrection. Such was its style.
“From two to six o'clock the Winter Palace was busy with factional and inter-factional conferences, striving to work out a formula. The conferees did not understand that they were working out a formula for their own funeral. Not one of the compromisist groups had the courage to identify itself with the government. Dan said: “We Mensheviks are ready to defend the Provisional Government with the last drop of our blood; but let the government make it possible for the democracy to unite around it." Towards evening the left faction of the Pre-Parliament, worn out with the search for a solution, united on a formula borrowed by Dan from Martov, a formula which laid the responsibility for insurrection not only on the Bolsheviks, but also on the government, and demanded immediate transfer of the land to the Land Committees, intercession with the Allies in favour of peace negotiations, etc. Thus the apostles of moderation tried at the last moment to counterfeit those slogans which only yesterday they had been denouncing as demagogy and adventurism. Unqualified support to the government was promised by the Kadets and Cossacks – that is, by those two groups who intended to throw Kerensky over at the very first opportunity – but they were a minority. The support of the Pre-Parliament could have added little to the government, but Miliukov is right: this refusal of support robbed the government of the last remnants of its authority. Had not the government itself only a few weeks before determined the composition of the Pre-Parliament?
“During those days when Petrograd was full of the transfer of the garrison, Moscow was living in an atmosphere of continual strike conflicts. On the initiative of a factory committee the Bolshevik faction of the soviet put forward a plan to settle economic conflicts by means of decrees. The preparatory steps took a good deal of time. Only on the 23rd of October was “Revolutionary Decree No. I” adopted by the soviet bodies. It provided that: Workers and clerks in factories and shops shall henceforth be employed and discharged only with the consent of the shop committees.
“For eight months the masses had been living an intense political life. They had not only been creating events, but learning to understand their connections. After each action they had critically weighed its results. Soviet parliamentarism had become the daily mechanics of the political life of the people. When they were deciding by a vote questions of strikes, of street manifestations, of the transfer of regiments to the front, could the masses forgo an independent decision on the question of insurrection?
“Demonstrations, street fights, barricades – everything comprised in the usual idea of insurrection – were almost entirely absent. The revolution had no need of solving a problem already solved. The seizure of the governmental machine could be carried through according to plan with the help of comparatively small armed detachments guided from a single centre. The barracks, the fortress, the storehouses, all those enterprises in which workers and soldiers functioned, could be taken possession of by their own internal forces. But the Winter Palace, the Pre-Parliament, the district headquarters, the ministries, the military schools, could not be captured from within. This was true also of the telephone, the telegraph, the Post Office and the State Bank. The workers in these institutions, although of little weight in the general combination of forces, nevertheless ruled within their four walls, and these were, moreover, strongly guarded with sentries. It was necessary to penetrate these bureaucratic high points from without. Political conquest was here replaced by forcible seizure. But since the preceding crowding-out of the government from its military bases had made resistance almost impossible, this military seizure of the final commanding heights passed off as a general rule without conflicts.
“To be sure, the thing was not after all settled without fighting. The Winter Palace had to be taken by storm. But the very fact that the resistance of the government came down to a defence of the Winter Palace, clearly defines the place occupied by October 25th in the whole course of the struggle. The Winter Palace was the last redoubt of a régime politically shattered during its eight months' existence, and conclusively disarmed during the preceding two weeks.
“The tranquillity of the October streets, the absence of crowds and battles, gave the enemy a pretext to talk of the conspiracy of an insignificant minority, of the adventure of a handful of Bolsheviks. This formula was repeated unnumbered times in the days, months, and even years, following the insurrection. It is obviously with a view to mending the reputation of the proletarian revolution that Yaroslavsky writes of the 25th of October: “Thick masses of the Petrograd proletariat summoned by the Military Revolutionary Committee stood under its banners and overflowed the streets of Petrograd.” This official historian only forgets to explain for what purpose the Military Revolutionary Committee had summoned these masses to the streets, and just what they did when they got there.
“From the combination of its strong and weak points has grown up an official idealisation of the February revolution as an all-national revolution, in contrast to the October one which is held to be a conspiracy. But in reality the Bolsheviks could reduce the struggle for power at the last moment to a ‘conspiracy,’ not because they were a small minority, but for the opposite reason – because they had behind them in the workers' districts and the barracks an overwhelming majority, consolidated, organised, disciplined. ”
History of the Russian Revolution
Chapters 43 - 46
See also October Revolution History Archive including a timeline of the year 1917, more eye-witness accounts and contemporary analyses, and a glossary of political leaders and organisations.
October 16, 1926
On October 16, 1926, the Russian Left Opposition, faced with the threat of expulsion, issued a statement to the party pledging that it would discontinue advocating its views in the intensely sharp struggle that had assumed. The increasingly repressive measures taken by the Stalinist leadership and the decisive importance of the events that occurred in China soon pushed the Left Opposition to break its pledge and continue advocating its position.