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The New International, January 1938


Trotsky et al.

Reminiscences of the October Insurrection

From New International, Vol.4 No.1, January 1938, pp.27-29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


On November 7, 1920, a “meeting of the participants in the October revolution at Petersburg” was held in Moscow. The stenographic record was published in October 1922, on the anniversary of the revolution, in the official review of the “Commission on the History of the October Revolution and the Communist Party of Russia”, Proletarskaya Revolutsya, No.10.

The purpose of the meeting was to have the principal protagonists of the revolution exchange recollections on the circumstances in which the memorable event had occurred. In the period preceding the October and immediately following, nobody thought of stenographing the speeches and deliberations, of drawing up minutes, and leaving behind materials for history. It is only after the subsiding of the civil war that a beginning was made in recording the vicissitudes of the action, the evolution of the tactics, the elaboration of the ideas, not only for history’s sake but above all for revolutionary education. The conditions of the October uprising in particular had long remained obscure and required clarification. The meeting in question was called for this purpose.

Among those present were: Olminsky, Kobosev, Smirnov-Deiman, Bogolepov, Kozmin, Koslovsky, Losovsky, Sadovsky, Trotsky, Bonch-Bruyevich, Trotskaya, Podvoisky, Elizarova (Lenin’s sister), Lezhava, Krassikov, Demian-Bedny. The names are significant. During the meeting, Trotsky was called upon in turn to deal with some of the questions to elucidate. We reprint here a part of his souvenirs.

The conscientious reader will be struck immediately by the fact that in these recollections of 1920, printed in 1922 in an official party review, during Lenin’s lifetime, Trotsky says exactly the same things that he repeated in 1923 and 1924, and down to the present day. But whereas no reproach was levelled at him in 1920 and 1922, when his remarks were considered as historical truth, the repetition of them today suffices to draw the abuses and calumnies of the Stalinist press, which carefully waited until Lenin was dead before discovering that Trotsky’s version was animated by counter-revolutionary considerations. – Ed.

Trotsky: I will begin my recollections with the session of the soldiers’ section.

(I do not remember exactly which it was, the presidium of the soldier’s section or the Executive Committee of the Petersburg Soviet.)

In the course of this session, the news was received that the Staff Office of the military district demanded the sending to the front of something like a third of the regiments of the Petersburg garrison. It was probably a session of the Executive Committee; there was the left Social Revolutionist, Verba, and of our people, Mekhonoshin, Sadovsky.

As soon as the news was communicated, we began to deliberate on it in a low voice, establishing the fact that what was involved was the removal of the most revolutionary, the most Bolshevist regiments. What mattered, therefore, was to profit to the maximum from this design, for the question of the armed uprising had already been decided by then. We declared that we were ready to submit to the exigencies of the war, but that it was necessary to investigate first if there wasn’t a Kornilov trick behind it all. It was therefore decided to make a draft of a resolution looking towards the creation of a special organism able to check up, from the military point of view, whether those were really the requirements of the front, or a political stratagem was involved.

The soldier’s section was the political organ of the garrison and it was not adapted to this task. Therefore we organized, for the purpose of the said control, a sort of counter-Staff Office, a purely military institution.

Thereupon, the Mensheviks interpellated us to find out if, with our organism, we were not breaking with the Staff Office of the Petersburg military district. We replied in the negative and said that we were letting our representative remain within it.

At this session was present the left Social Revolutionist Lazimir (who died later on the southern front of Russia), a young comrade who had worked in the Commissariat of the old army. He was one of those left Social Revolutionists who followed us from the word Go. At this session, he supported us and we clung to him. In this way, the demand to create a Revolutionary War Committee had the air of coming not from our side but from that of a left Social Revolutionist. Old Mensheviks more expert in political matters began to say that all this was nothing but the organization of the armed uprising.

Among the latter there was a well-known old Menshevik, a former member of their Central Committee, who then exposed us with particular spitefulness. In short, we proposed to Lazimir to draft a plan of the Revolutionary War Committee, which he agreed to do. Did he surmise that it was a question of a plot, or did he merely reflect the amorphous revolutionary sentiments of the left wing Social Revolutionists? I don’t know. I lean more towards the second supposition. However that may be, he applied himself to this job, while the other Social Revolutionists took an attitude of waiting and of suspicion, but without impeding him in his task. When he had presented his draft, we corrected it by concealing as much as possible its insurrectionary character. The next evening, the draft was submitted to the Petersburg Soviet and was adopted.

The question of founding a Revolutionary War Committee had been raised by the military organization of the Bolsheviks. In September 1917, when the military organization discussed the organizing of an armed uprising, it came to the conclusion that it was indispensable to create an extra-party Soviet organism to direct the insurrection. I notified comrade Lenin of this decision. The moment was especially favorable for us. In the apartment of one of the Rakhias, or in an apartment pointed out by comrade Rakhia, there was a session of the Central Committee, which M.I. Kalinin attended. (I was no doubt mistaken in saying that the day of the uprising had been fixed by the Central Committee; that the uprising would take place, nobody doubted, but the discussion of this question in the Central Committee did not take place until after the birth of the Revolutionary War Committee.) At this session, we discussed the question and, basing ourselves on facts, we came to the conclusion that if a fact as important as the shifting of the garrison could bring the conflict to the point of avowed revolution, then it was just this circumstance that would help us to establish a certain mode of revolution, for we had formed the plan to accomplish it by the simple road of a conspiracy.

This idea took hold quite naturally, all the more so because the majority of the garrison was won over to us and this state of mind had to be realized. At that moment, we had a purely military concatenation of a great conflict on the basis of which the intervention could be launched. Perhaps someone here remembers when the decision of the Central Committee on this subject was adopted? It must have been at the beginning of October, along about the 10th or maybe earlier.

Podvoisky: The 9th, or a little later, after the 12th.

Trotsky: No, for the second Congress of the Soviets was fixed for the 25th. I said that basically we had fixed the armed uprising for the 25th also, but then there seemed to remain still a fairly long time until that date.

Kozmin: On the 18th there was the interpellation of Martov: What is this Revolutionary War Committee? – And you replied with the question: Who has given Martov the right to interpellate us in this manner?

Trotsky: That’s right. But I say that the session of the Executive Committee where it was decided in principle to organize the Committee was held even before the decisive session of the Central Committee; and if you say that the session of the Central Committee was held on the 10th or 12th, the decision might have been made on the 7th. That’s only an approximation. As to the War Committee itself, if I were asked to tell its composition, I would no longer be able to say, even on penalty of death, even though I played a big role in it. But that affair had become a bloc of three parties and, in short, each party supplied its people, sent substitutes who replaced those that were fatigued, so that it is very difficult to name the official members. The names might be established from the newspapers. Was comrade Joffe an official member?

A Voice: He was.

Trotsky: And Uritsky? He did a lot of work in it.

Podvoisky: Unschlicht developed above all after the revolution.

Trotsky: Lazimir did a great deal of work.

Kozmin: I remember that after the 18th of October there were continuous sessions of the Council, that you kept on giving orders as to [arms] distribution. Perhaps you could tell us about that, about how it was all done.

Trotsky: As to arms, here is how matters went. The first source of supplies in arms was the Siestrorietsk factory. When a delegation of workers would arrive stating that they needed arms, I said: “But the arsenal is not in our hands.” And they would reply: “We have been to the Siestrorietsk factory.” “Well?” They said: “If the Soviet orders it, we will give.” That was the first experience. I gave an order for 5,000 rifles and they had them that very day. And all the bourgeois journals published the news. I remember very well how the Novoye Vremya spoke about it in an article, perhaps even in a leading editorial. And this fact alone legalized our orders for arms. Later on, everything moved at an accelerated speed. After the revolution, when we, the Revolutionary War Committee, began to name commissars in all the military institutions, in all the troop corps of the garrison and in all the commissariats where there were arms, our commissars transmitted the military organization to the party and the disposition of the arms passed naturally into our hands.

I still remember a not very important but picturesque incident. It was at the moment when we were attempting to organize ourselves militarily in the very building of Smolny. The machine gunners’ detachment, charged with its functions by Kerensky, did not prove very useful, even though the machine gunners had become Bolsheviks at the moment of the revolution. Grekov was then the commandant of Smolny. He passed for a syndicalistic Social Revolutionist and was often imprisoned under the Bolsheviks. At that moment, he was very hostile to us. After a meeting at the Peter-and-Paul fortress, where I gained the certainty that we were not only moving towards victory but towards a victory almost without resistance, Grekov, driving me in an automobile, said to me: “Certainly, you might perhaps make a coup d’état, but that wouldn’t last long; you would be smothered.” And he didn’t want to tie up with us. But the commandant of the detachment came over to me and said: “We’re with you.”

But when we began to examine the machine guns, we found them all to be out of commission. The soldiers were run down at the heel and likewise unfit for the struggle. We decided to introduce into Smolny some company of machine gunners or other, I no longer recall which. It was only at the dawn of the 25th that this company arrived. An insignificant number of Mensheviks and Social Revolutionists were still located at Smolny. At the break of day, none of us had yet had any sleep. Early in the morning, the air foggy, the nervous tension – and all of a sudden, in the corridor, those machine guns: rrrrrrrr ... The Mensheviks looked at each other, pale, alarmed. The slightest noise created an alarm. And out in the corridors, the stamping of feet and general bustle. It is then that the Mensheviks evacuated Smolny for good.

On the 25th the Second Congress of the Soviets opened. That’s when Dan and Skobelev arrived at Smolny and walked right through the room, where I was staying with Vladimir Ilyich. The latter was muffled up in a handkerchief as if he had a toothache, wore huge glasses, a raggedy cap, and looked rather odd. But Dan, who had a trained, penetrating eye, looked all around when he had perceived us, nudged Skobelev with his elbow, winked at him, and went on. Vladimir Ilych nudged me with his elbow too: “They’ve recognized us, the blackguards!”

We continued the game of the Revolutionary War Committee with the Staff Office of the military district. We discussed the question of the relations to establish with the commissars so that there would be no friction between the soldiers’ section and the garrison. They submitted the proposal that their commissar should likewise be commissar of the military district. The appointment of our commissars in the regiments did not vex them, provided that they obeyed their commissar.

Podvoisky: The decisive session where Zinoviev and Kamenev protested against the insurrection was held on the 13th.

Trotsky: This session took place in the apartment of the Menshevik, Sukhanov. It was the night of the 14th. But if that was the date, comrades, there remained very little time between the Soviet Congress and the session where Martov’s address was delivered. No, it was earlier. The first time that the Social Revolutionists arrived from the Staff Office of the military district and announced that the order had been given to send off three regiments, was at the Executive Committee. Or perhaps it was at the Executive Committee of the soldiers’ section?

Sadovsky: I think it was at the presidium. There was a session under the chairmanship of Zavadye.

Trotsky: I did not attend the session of the responsible militants. I attended the preliminary meeting with comrade Lenin, to which Zinoviev and Kalinin came. When Kalinin was asked the question about whether the workers were ready for the uprising, he answered in the affirmative, saying that we mustn’t let the moment escape us. At the same time, the conversation with Vladimir Ilyich revolved rather around the moment when the insurrection had to be begun. A definite period was fixed until the beginning of the insurrection, by means of a military conspiracy, utilizing all events, the departure of the garrison included. For Vladimir Ilych, who had come from Finland, the events that were unfolding were not sufficiently clear, so that all we had were deliberations. This session took place after a council of responsible militants at Sukhanov’s. Present: Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Lomov, Yakovleva, Sverdlov. From Moscow, Oppokov; Nogin, I believe, was not there; neither was Rykov; Stalin was there; Shaoumian, it seems to me, also. No minutes were taken down. Only votes were counted.

The discussions were over principles and the comrades who spoke against the armed insurrection were more numerous than had been expected. In their argumentation, they went so far as to repudiate the power of the Soviets. The objections boiled down to this: the armed uprising may get somewhere, but afterwards? Afterwards, we shall be unable to hold out for economic-social reasons, and so on. In this way, there was a fairly thorough discussion. Parallels were drawn with the July days, it was argued that the masses might not come down into the street, and that we would beat a retreat. Among other arguments, it was said that we would never be able to solve the food problem, that we would founder in the first fortnight, that Petersburg would remain a little island, that the Executive Committee of the Railroaders, the technicians, the specialists, the intellectuals, would have us by the throat. The discussions were very impassioned, but I find it difficult now to recall all the arguments. What was most striking, comrades, was that when they began to deny the possibility of an armed uprising, the opponents, in the heat of the discussion, came to the point of rejecting the idea of the Soviet power. We asked them: “Then what is your position?” They replied: “Carry on agitation, propaganda, discipline the masses.”“And after that?”

I no longer remember the division of the votes, but I know that there were five or six votes against and something like nine votes for the insurrection.

I do not, of course, guarantee the exactness of the figures. The session lasted through the night. We separated at dawn. A few comrades and I remained behind to sleep.

There were two nuances with regard to the insurrection. On the one side, the Petersburgers (those who worked in the Petersburg Soviet) made the fate of the uprising dependent upon the conflict resulting from the garrison’s evacuation of the city. Vladimir Ilych was not afraid of the uprising and even insisted on carrying it out, but would not let it depend exclusively on the development of the conflict in St. Petersburg alone. It wasn’t even a nuance any longer, but rather a firm point of view.

Ours was that of Petersburg, that is, that Petersburg would carry off the affair in that manner; but Lenin departed from the point of view of a general uprising in the entire country and did not accord such a big place to the uprising of the Petersburg garrison.

The date of the uprising was fixed for October 15.

Podvoisky: As I recall, I believe the session was held earlier, otherwise there would have been a delay.

Trotsky: The meeting of the responsible militants undoubtedly took place after the meeting of the Central Committee, when the question was already resolved. It was then that Zinoviev and Kamenev were authorized to defend their points of view. But the decision of the Central Committee was made. From that, I conclude that the meeting of the Central Committee took place at the beginning of October, the 3rd, I think, for I recall that the uprising was foreseen for the 15th at the latest. A nuance appeared precisely over the fixing of the date. I insisted that the Revolutionary War Committee be charged with preparing the moment of the uprising for the day of the Soviet Congress. This did not arouse a big discussion, but it was decided that the uprising would take place either at the end of October or the beginning of November.

Kozmin: Was this decision made before or after the departure of the Bolsheviks from the Pre-Parliament?

Trotsky: It was after. When did that departure occur?

Podvoisky: In September.

Trotsky: I said that it was after the Bolsheviks had left the Pre-Parliament. But I cannot say exactly. In any case, this decision was made after the session of the fraction where the question was being discussed: should we enter the Pre-Parliament or not? I was a supporter of the boycott. Rykov did not share my standpoint. Only later did we receive a letter from Lenin in Finland, in which he pronounced himself for the boycott. After that, the session of the Central Committee presented the character of an effort towards getting down to exact details, dotting the i’s. In the behavior of the party nuclei, in the regiments, among the commissars, we felt a good deal of indecision ...

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