F.F. Raskolnikov

Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin

The Tale of a Lost Day[1]

On that bright, frosty January day, people were busily bustling about under the broad glass dome of the Taurida Palace. Moisei Solomonovich Uritsky—short, clean-shaven, with kindly eyes—putting back on his nose his pince-nez, which were attached to his ear by a black cord, and swaying as he walked, passed slowly through the long corridors and well-lit rooms of the palace, and in a hoarse voice gave his final instructions.[2]

Through the iron gate, beside which a detachment of sailors in black pea-jackets, with machine-gun belts criss-crossed on their chests, were checking tickets of admission, I entered the little square, buried in snow-drifts, in front of the Palace.

Up the low flight of stone steps and past the straight columns of white marble I proceeded into the spacious entrance-hall, took off my overcoat, and, along the ancient winding corridors, which smelt of fresh paint, sought out the commission in charge of the elections to the Constituent Assembly. There they gave me an oblong ticket made of thin green cardboard, bearing Uritsky’s signature and the inscription: ‘Member of the Constituent Assembly for Petrograd Province’.

The huge halls of the palace were filling up with the deputies. The working men and women who had gained entrance with passes issued to the public had already taken their seats in the galleries.

In one of the large rooms the Bolshevik fraction were assembling. Here I met the Central Committee members and the Party’s best organisers, Stalin and Sverdlov.[The 1964 edition omits the phrase the Party’s best organisers’.] The delegates from Moscow—Skvortsov.-Stepanov, Bubnov, Lomov, Varvara Yakovleva—kept close together.

Lenin, wearing a padded overcoat with a lambskin collar and a big fur hat with earflaps, entered at a brisk pace and, after nodding to comrades and shaking their hands quickly, then modestly went to his seat, took off his coat, and carefully laid it over the back of the chair.

The winter sunshine and the soft heaps of snow, lying outside the windows, which it caused to sparkle blindingly, made the room unusually bright.

Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov, in a glossy black leather jacket, placed his warm fur hat on the table and declared the fraction-meeting open.

Discussion of the agenda began. Someone set forth a plan for how we should work if the Constituent Assembly were to enjoy a protracted existence. Bukharin stirred impatiently on his chair and lifted his fingero ask permission to speak. ‘Comrades,’ he said, in an angry and sarcastic tone, ‘do you really think we are going to waste an entire week here? We’ll be here for three days at the most.’ A quizzical smile played on Vladimir Ilyich’s pale lips. Comrade Sverdlov, holding in both hands a typewritten sheet of paper, slowly read out the declaration of the rights of the working people.[3] His full lips, bordered with black moustaches and a pointed black beard, moved expressively. This declaration of rights, which was to be presented to the Constituent Assembly, consolidated all the acts taken by the Soviet power in relation to peace, land and workers’ control in the enterprises. When he had finished reading it, Sverdlov slowly sat down and, taking his pince-nez from his nose and wiping them with his handkerchief, looked benevolently about the room with his lively but rather tired dark eyes.

After a brief debate, the Bolshevik fraction voted that, if the Constituent Assembly should fail to accept the declaration that day, we must immediately walk out of it.

We adopted without debate a decision not to put forward a candidate of our own for the chairmanship of the Constituent Assembly, but to support Maria Spiridonova, the candidate of the Left SR fraction.

Somebody reported that all the leaders of the Right SRs had arrived in the palace: Viktor Chernov, Bunakov-Fundaminsky and Gotz. We were amazed at the impudence shown by Gotz, who had led the revolt of the military cadets and then gone underground for some time, but now unexpectedly surfaced.

Suddenly we learnt that the SRs had organised a demonstration which was advancing on the Taurida Palace with anti-Soviet slogans. Soon afterwards the news was brought that this demonstration had been dispersed, at the corner of Kirochnaya Street and Uteiny Avenue, by Red troops who fired in the air.[4] On the bronze dial of the clock the hand was approaching four.

We were summoned to proceed without delay into the hall, as the deputies had already assembled and were getting restless, and even wanted to open the proceedings on their own. We broke off our meeting and entered the hall.

The immense amphitheatre, with its glass ceiling and stout white columns, was full of people. There were empty seats only on the left wing. Our sector took up a third of the hall. The SRs were seated in the centre and on the right. In the front row, with his head held high and smiling broadly, Viktor Chernov was talking with friends. Bunakov-Fundaminsky, his long hair combed back, was examining something closely through his pince-nez. The round, rather swarthy face of Gotz expressed inner excitement and alarm, in spite of his attempt to appear composed. The crowded galleries were motley with blouses of black cloth and Russian shirts of coloured sateen.

Amid conversation and joking and the banging of desk-lids, we slowly made our way to our seats. Suddenly, in the middle of the hall, where the SRs were, arose a narrow-shouldered person who, in a voice full of rancour and irritation, impatiently announced: ‘Comrades, it’s now four o’clock. We propose that the oldest member open this session of the Constituent Assembly.’

The SRs were evidently prepared for a triumph, and had distributed the roles among themselves. As though at a signal, a decrepit old man, all overgrown with hair and with a long grey beard, clambered awkwardly and short of breath on to the high tribune. It was the Zemstvo worker and former member of Narodnaya Volya, Shvetsov. Comrade Sverdlov, who was supposed to open the proceedings, had lingered somewhere and was late.

With an old man’s trembling hand Shvetsov picked up the chairman’s bell and shook it hesitantly: its clear tinkling sound rang through the hall.

The SRs intended to open the Constituent Assembly independently of the Soviet power. To us, on the contrary, it was important to emphasise that the Constituent Assembly was being opened not on its own initiative but by the will of the All-Union Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, which had no intention of handing over to this Assembly its rights as master of the Soviet land.

When we saw that Shvetsov was seriously going to open the proceedings, we started frenzied interruptions. We shouted, whistled, stamped our feet and banged our fists on the thin wooden lids of the desks. When all that failed to do the trick, we leapt to our feet and rushed towards the tribune with shouts of ‘Get down!’ The Right SRs hurled themselves forward to defend their doyen. A certain exchange of fisticuffs took place on the parapet-covered steps of the tribune.

Shvetsov rang his bell in dismay and soundlessly, helplessly moved his pale, quivering lips. We drowned with our uproar his feeble old man’s voice. One of us grabbed Shvetsov by the sleeve of his jacket and tried to drag him from the tribune. Then, suddenly, beside the portly, podgy Shvetsov, there appeared, up there on the tribune, the lean, narrowshouldered figure of Sverdlov, in his black leather jacket. In a masterfully confident manner he took the bright nickel-plated bell from the dumbfounded old man and with a careful but firm gesture moved Shvetsov out of his way.

A furious din, with shouts, protests and banging of fists on desks, arose from the benches of the indignant SRs and Mensheviks. But Sverdlov stood firm on the tribune, like a marble monument, calm and unmoved, looking around at his adversaries, with an expression of provocative mockery, through the large, oval lenses of his pince-nez. Coolly he rang the bell, and with a sweeping, authoritative gesture of his thin, hairy hand he silently called the Assembly to order. When the noise gradually subsided, Sverdlov addressed the entire hall, with unusual dignity, in his loud, distinct bass voice. ‘The Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies has authorised me to open the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly.’

‘There’s blood on your hands! There’s been enough bloodshed!’ the Mensheviks and SRs squealed hysterically, like dogs whose tails had been trodden on. Loud applause from our benches drowned these hysterical lamentations.

‘The Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies . . .’, Comrade Sverdlov rapped out solemnly in his metallic voice.

‘A fraud,’ yelped some SR in a thin, piercing falsetto.

‘...expresses the hope,’ Comrade Sverdlov went on, undisturbed, in the same firm tone as before, ‘that the Constituent Assembly will fully recognise all the decrees and decisions of the Council of People’s Commissars. The October Revolution has kindled the fire of socialist revolution not only in Russia but in all countries.’

On the right-wing benches someone sniggered. Yakov Mikhailovich, fixing him with a crushing, contemptuous glance, raised his voice:

‘We do not doubt that sparks from our conflagration will fly all over the world, and that the day is not far distant when the working classes of all countries will rise up against their exploiters just as in October the Russian working class rose up, followed by the Russian peasantry.’

Triumphant applause broke from us like a migrant flock of white swans suddenly taking off into the sky.

‘We do not doubt,’ went on the chairman of the Central Executive Committee, still more boldly and confidently, as though catching fire from the gunpowder of his own words, ‘that the true representatives of the working people who are sitting here in the Constituent Assembly are bound to help the Soviets to put an end to class privileges. The representatives of the workers and peasants have acknowledged the right of the working people to the means and instruments of production, ownership of which has hitherto enabled the ruling classes to exploit the working people in every way. Just as, in their day, the French bourgeoisie, at the time of the great revolution of 1789, proclaimed a declaration of rights for freedom to exploit the people, who were deprived of the instruments and means of production, so our Russian Socialist revolution must make its own declaration.’

Again, all the members of our fraction applauded warmly.

The other fractions, suspicious, maintained a hostile silence.

‘The Central Executive Committee expresses the hope that the Constituent Assembly, in so far as it correctly expresses the interests of the people, will associate itself with the declaration which I am now to have the honour to read to you,’ said Comrade Sverdlov. Calmly and solemnly, without haste, he then read the declaration, ending his address with these words: ‘By authority of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, I declare the Constituent Assembly open.’

We rose to our feet and sang the International. All the members of the Constituent Assembly also got up, with a loud cracking sound as their folding seats sprang back, and one after another they discordantly took up the anthem. Slowly and triumphantly the solemn sounds of the hymn of the international proletariat floated into the air.

In the centre of the hail, in the front row, standing with his stout legs apart and tossing high his curly, greying head, complacently singing and archly smiling, his mouth wide open, was the leader of the Right SRs, Viktor Chernov, that ‘Likhach Kudryavich’.[5] Carried away by the pleasure of the occasion, he closed his eyes like a nightingale absorbed in its singing. Sometimes he turned his obese body towards the other deputies and conducted their singing with his thick, stumpy fingers, like a psalm-reader functioning as precentor with the choir of a parish church.

’No yésli gróm velíky gryánet
‘Nad sbóroy psóv i palachéy, [6]

sang the Constituent Assembly.

At these words Viktor Chernov slyly screwed up his cunning, knavish little eyes, flashed them with his usual provocative skittishness and, finally, with a challenging smile on his full, voluptuous lips, demonstratively made a sweeping gesture in our direction.

When the singing ended we cried out loudly: ‘Long live the Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies: All power to the Soviets!’

‘All power to the Constituent Assembly!’ the Right SR Bykhovsky angrily shouted from his seat.

Sverdlov restored silence by loudly saying: ‘Allow me to express the hope that the foundations of the new society outlined in this declaration, will remain unshakeable and, having become established in Russia, will gradually establish themselves throughout the world.’

‘Long live the Soviet Republic!’ Once more the slogan rose from our benches in a unanimous, triumphant shout. And, in our enthusiasm, we clapped our hands unsparingly, with deafening effect.


The Right SR Lordkipanidze raised a point of order.[7] When he reached the’tribune he spoke hastily and excitedly, as though afraid that he was about to be deprived of the right to speak. Angrily he said: ‘The SR fraction would have thought that the Constituent Assembly should have begun its work long before this. We consider that the Constituent Assembly can itself open its own proceedings: there is no other authority but that of the Constituent Assembly empowered to open them.’

The indignation that filled us burst forth. Whistling, uproar, shouts of ‘Get down!’, rattling and banging of desks drowned the speaker’s words. Behind him, on the high-placed chairman’s seat, Sverdlov remained unmoved. To observe the proprieties he rang his nickel-plated bell and, turning towards us his cheerful, merrily smiling eyes, offhandedly let fall, with assumed impartiality: ‘I must ask you to be quiet.’

In the silence that followed, Lordkipanidze, without turning round, pointed over his shoulder with the thumb of his right hand at Sverdlov, and scornfully remarked: ‘In view of the fact that the citizen who is behind me is directing . .

This insolence caused us finally to lose all control of ourselves. Lordkipanidze’s concluding words were drowned in a fearful, inhuman roar and din, in a frenzied racket and loud, piercing whistles.

With amazing restraint, Yakov Mikhailovich ignored the challenging allusion to himself and, in the calm tones of a man confident of his powers, said: ‘I humbly request you to be quiet. If necessary I will myself, using the power conferred on me by the Soviets, call the speaker to order. Be so good as not to make noises.’

The uproar ceased, and Lordkipanidze, in a choking voice, expressed his anger at the reading of the declaration: ‘We consider,’ he concluded, ‘that the election of the chairman should proceed under the preliminary chairmanship of the oldest deputy. However, gentlemen, we shall not give battle on that question, as you may have wished us to do, we won’t let ourselves be caught by that trick, thereby providing you with a formal excuse to break with the Constituent Assembly.’

Lordkipanidze left the tribune. On his thin, sharp face shone the consciousness of duty performed. In the centre and on the right of the Assembly he was received back with applause. Lordkipanidze’s speech showed me what the Right SRs game was. It became clear that they had decided to ‘maintain in being’ the Constituent Assembly, just as in their time the Cadets had kept the First Duma[8] going. They wanted to use the Constituent Assembly as their legal basis for overthrowing Soviet power. And I recalled how, a few days before the opening of the Constituent Assembly, I had had to argue till I was hoarse with some SRs in the red-brick barracks of the 2nd Baltic Depot, beside the remote and deserted Crooked Canal. The Right SRs were then going all out, waging a desperate, adventuristic struggle to win over the Petrograd garrison. The underground military organisation of the SRs was striving to get a foothold in every army unit. A meeting of the sailors of the 2nd Baltic Depot was attended by all the great men of the Right SRs, headed by Brushvit, a member of the Constituent Assembly. They were expecting Viktor Chernov, but for some reason he did not turn up. In a cheerless corridor, dimly lit by electric lamps, I unexpectedly encountered the young SR Lazar Alyansky, who, his hands in the pockets of his flared trousers, was strolling about with an important air, dressed in the dark-blue jumper of a sailor, his collar turned outside. When he met me he looked embarrassed, and blushed.

‘Why are you wearing naval uniform?’ I asked him, in amazement.

Alyansky grew even more confused. ‘I’ve just joined the Navy,’ he said, looking me boldly in the eyes and, as always, speaking with a strong burr.

I could not repress a smile.

In order to get into the barracks the SRs were at that time making extensive use of their very own version of ‘going to the people’,[9] which became in practice nothing but a masquerade.

The meeting opened soon after this. From the low platform of the sailors’ club the SRs poured forth their burning speeches, with the merciless howling of provincial tragedians and the loud wailing of hysterical churchwomen, and with frenzied beating of their well-fleshed breasts.

‘You Bolsheviks have blood on your hands,’ growled one Right SR orator, shaking his finger. But these reproaches and accusations met with no sympathy among the sailors. Even the young sailors who had been called up in the autumn were firmly for Soviet power and for the Bolshevik Party. Nor did Alyansky’s self-sacrificing masquerade prove to be of any help. The SRs suffered a striking defeat in the 2nd Baltic Depot. Even the Preobrazhensky and Semyonovsky Regiments, on which the Right SR leaders relied most of all, disappointed them. Despite the tireless, frenzied activity of the SRs, on the day that the Constituent Assembly met not a single unit of the Petrograd garrison, for all their waverings, agreed to give support to the party of Kerensky and Chernov.


Ivan Ivanovich Skvortsov-Stepanov slowly mounted the tribune. Turning his whole body towards the right-wing benches and nervously jerking his close-cropped grey head, he spoke with great feeling, rising to passion, to expose the hypocrisy of the Right SRs.[10]

‘Comrades and citizens!’ boomed Skvortsov-Stepanov, loudly and clearly, emphasising his words with vigorous gestures of his long, thin hand. ‘I must first express my astonishment that the citizen who spoke before me threatened to break with us if we took certain steps. Citizens sitting on the right! The break between us has been consummated long since. You were on one side of the barricades, with the White Guards and the military cadets, and we were on the other, with the soldiers, workers and peasants.’

In passing, Ivan Ivanovich, being a theoretician, gave his opponents a lesson in elementary politics: ‘How can you,’ he wondered, ‘appeal to such a concept as the will of the whole people? For a Marxist "the people" is an inconceivable notion: the people does not act as a single unit. The people as a unit is a mere fiction, and this fiction is needed by the ruling classes. It is all over between us,’ he summed up. ‘You belong to one world, with the cadets and the bourgeoisie, and we to the other, with the peasants and the workers.’

He articulated those last words with special distinctness, abruptly and sharply. His entire speech, delivered with tremendous élan, made a very powerful impression. Afterwards Skvortsov-Stepanov told me, with pride, that his speech had been approved by Lenin.

Comrade Sverdlov, putting aside the sandglass, proposed that we proceed to the election of a chairman. Each fraction appointed two representatives to act as tellers. Our fraction chose me and P.G. Smidovich. He had soft grey hair and blue, short-sighted eyes which always looked surprised, behind the round lenses of his gold-rimmed spectacles. We ascended the steps of the tribune, where two wooden boxes were placed and hidden on one side by a curtain of black calico. These were the ballot-boxes. One bore the inscription ‘Chernov’, the other ‘Spiridonova’. In the stern tones of a teacher Sverdlov called the deputies up in alphabetical order. At the tribune they received from us two balls, one black and one white. Each deputy dropped his white ball, in favour of election, into one box, and his black ball, against election, into the other.

Sverdlov, who was obviously bored with this wearisome procedure, summoned the deputies faster and faster, so that soon there was a long queue in front of the ballot-boxes. At last the voting was completed. With a sigh of relief we set about counting the balls in the two boxes. Then we informed Sverdlov of the result.

With his chairman’s hell he invited all to resume their seats and in his metallic voice impassively said: ‘Permit me to announce the results of the voting. For Chernov there were 244 votes in favour of his election and 151 against. For Spiridonova there were 151 votes in favour of her election and 244 against. Consequently, Constituent Assembly member Chernov has been elected. I invite him to take his place.’

And Yakov Mikhailovich stepped down with dignity from the chairman’s seat, giving way to a beaming Chernov. Without sitting down Chernov delivered a flowery speech. He was evidently not in good form that day, and spoke flabbily, with difficulty and strain, working himself up artificially in the most emotional passages. ‘All the weary, those who must return to their homes, those who cannot live without that, just as the hungry cannot live without food...’ he orated.

‘He can’t call a spade a spade,’ I thought, weary of this monotonous and dreary rhetoric. And I recalled that longhaired phrasemonger Professor Valentin Speransky, the idol of the first-year Bestuzhev girls,[11] who, even at home, would say, when iii, in his bombastic ‘lofty style’: ‘I have been overtaken by a malignant influenza.’

‘The very fact that the first session of the Constituent Assembly has opened proclaims the end of civil war among the peoples who inhabit Russia,’ declaimed Viktor Chernov mellifluously as he cast his wide-open eyes in triumph around the hail. The audience was not particularly attentive: even the SRs chattered among themselves, yawned, or left the hail. Our people continually interrupted him with scornful laughter, ironical remarks and mockery.

The public who filled the galleries were also bored by Chernov’s empty and tedious verbiage, and kept answering him back from up there. He lost patience, invited the interrupters to go away, and at last threatened ‘to raise the question whether some persons here are in a condition to conduct themselves as befits members of the Constituent Assembly’.

Chernov’s impotent threats eventually caused us to lose control of ourselves, and the resulting uproar smothered his voice. Like a drowning man clutching at a lifebeit he snatched up the chairman’s bell and tinkled it—then helplessly sank back into the broad and massive armchair, so that only his shaggy grey head was visible.

A succession of dull speeches dripped upon us in the hall, like doleful autumn rain. Long since had the electric lights been lit: they were concealed behind the cornices of the glass ceiling, and illuminated the hail with a suffused radiance. Increasingly the soft, restful seats in the great amphitheatre were being deserted. Members went for a stroll across the smooth, slippery, brilliantly clean parquet of the luxurious Catherine Hall, with its round marble columns; they were drinking tea and smoking in the buffet, and unburdening their hearts in conversation with their party colleagues.

We were summoned to a meeting of our fraction. On Lenin’s initiative we resolved to quit the Constituent Assembly on the grounds that it had rejected the declaration of the rights of the working and exploited people. Lomov and I were entrusted with the task of announcing our departure. Somebody proposed that we all return to the meeting-hall, but Vladimir Ilyich stopped us from doing that.

‘Don’t you realise,’ he said, ‘that if we go back in there, and then, after reading our statement, walk out of the hail, the sailors on guard, electrified by our action, will at once, on the spot, shoot down everybody who stays behind? We must not do that, on any account,’ said Vladimir Ilyich in a categorical tone. After the fraction meeting I and other members of the government were called to the Ministerial wing of the palace for a meeting of the Council of People’s Commissars. I was at that time Deputy People’s Commissar for Naval Affairs. (Zamkornpo morde[12] was how certain wits abbreviated my title).

The meeting of the Council of People’s Commissars began with Lenin, as always, in the chair. He sat by the window, at a desk which was lit with a soft, homely light, by a table lamp with a round green shade.

There was only one item on the agenda: what was to be done with the Constituent Assembly after our fraction’s departure from it?

Vladimir Ilyich proposed that the Assembly be not dispersed but allowed to spend that night in talk for as long as they liked. Then the members should be allowed freely to go home. But when morning came, nobody should be allowed back into the Taurida Palace. The Council of People’s Commissars adopted Lenin’s proposal. It was time for Lomov and me to go into the meeting hall. ‘Right, then—off you go,’ were Vladimir Ilyich’s parting words.

Armed with the typewritten text of our statement, we two hastened into the meeting hail, while all the other Bolsheviks made their way into the corridors. I agreed with Lomov that I should be the one to read out our statement.

On entering the hall we went to the Government box, which was situated next to the tribune. With a badly sharpened pencil I scribbled on a piece of paper torn from my notebook: ‘On the instructions of the Bolshevik fraction I ask permission to make a special statement. Raskolnikov.’

Rising on tiptoe I reached out to hand this message to a grave, already no longer smiling Chernov, who sat up there on the high platform, looking as majestically severe as an Egyptian priest during the performance of some solemn rite. When the member who was speaking had finished, Chernov announced: ‘I call on Constituent Assembly member Raskolnikov to make a special statement.’

I mounted the tribune and, in a quite ordinary voice, without false emotionalism, but as clearly and expressively as I could, I read the statement about our departure from the Assembly, stressing the most important passages.[13] Conscious of the seriousness of the document they were hearing read to them, everyone in the hall pricked up their ears and at once stopped talking.

5 The empty benches on the left side of the hail, where the Bolsheviks had been sitting not long before, yawned like a black abyss. In his sailor’s cap, worn at a jaunty angle and with a thick tuft ofjet-black hair sticking rakishly out from under it, and with his chest swathed in machine-gun belts, the cheerful commander of the guard, Zheleznyakov, stood by the door. Beside him were clustered in the doorway several Bolshevik deputies, tensely observing what was happening in the hall.

Amid deathly quiet I openly called the SRs enemies of the people, who had refused to accept as binding upon them the will of the immense majority of the working people. The entire hall was frozen into silence.

Despite the sharp language of our statement, nobody interrupted me. After explaining that we were not taking the path of the Constituent Assembly, which reflected the yesterday of the revolution, I announced our departure, and got down from the tribune. The public in the galleries, which had met every sentence of my statement with loud applause, now raved with joy, quickly and deafeningly clapping their hands, stamping, their feet and shouting ‘Bravo!’ and ‘Hurrah!’.

One of the sailors in the guard raised his rifle to his shoulder and took aim at bald-headed Minor, who was sitting on the right-wing benches. Another sailor angrily grabbed the rifle, saying: ‘Put it down, you fool!’

In the Ministerial wing Vladimir Ilyich, wearing a black overcoat with an Astrakhan collar and a hat with earflaps, gave us our last instructions.

‘lam leaving now, but you must keep an eye on your sailors,’ said Comrade Lenin to me, with a smile. ‘There is no need to disperse the Constituent Assembly: just let them go on chattering as long as they like and then break up, and tomorrow we won’t let a single one of them come in.’

Vladimir Ilyich gave me a firm handshake and then, leaning against the wall, put on his galoshes and went out through the snow-laden porch of the Ministerial wing into the street.

A frosty freshness burst in through the half-open door, which was covered with felt and oilcloth. Then, with a slight squeak of its spring, the heavy door closed. The dimly-lit entrance-hall was left filled with piercing cold and the sharp smell of frost.

Moisei Solomonovich Uritsky, screwing up his short-sighted eyes and adjusting his dangling pince-nez, took me gently by the arm and invited me to have tea with him. Through a long corridor with glass walls, like an orangery, we made our way round the meeting-hail, which was still rustling with longwinded speeches, crossed in a leisurely way the broad Catherine Hall with its white marble columns, and sat ourselves down in a spacious side-room. Uritsky poured me some tea and, with his mild, shy smile, offered me a plate of thinlysliced pieces of lemon. Stirring our glasses with our spoons, we got down to a heart-to-heart talk.

Suddenly into our room cam(., with quick, firm tread, Dyhcnko—a strapping, broad-shouldered figure with thick black hair and a short, neatly-clipped heard, and wearing a new, grey winter overcoat gathered at the waist.

Choking with laughter he told us, in his booming bass voice, that the sailor Zhelcznyakov had just gone up to the chairman of the Assembly, placed his broad hand on the shoulder of a Chernov numb with astonishment, and said to him in a peremptory tone: ‘The guard are tired. I propose that you close the meeting and let everybody go home.’ With trembling hands Chernov hastily gathered up his papers and declared the meeting closed. It was 4:40a.m. A starry, frosty night looked in through the curtainless windows of the palace. The happy deputies rushed noisily to the cloakroom, where sleepy porters in shabby gilded liveries slackly helped them on with their overcoats.

In England there was once a ‘Long Parliament’. The Constituent Assembly of the RSFSR was the shortest parliament in the entire history of the world. It ended its inglorious and joyless life after 12 hours and 40 minutes.

When, in the morning, Dybenko and I told Vladimir Ilyich of the miserable way the Constituent Assembly had ended, he screwed up his dark eyes and at once grew cheerful.

‘Did Viktor Chernov really submit unquestioningly to the guard-commander’s demand, without making the slightest attempt to resist?’, Lenin asked, in amazement. And, leaning right back in his chair, he laughed long and infectiously.[14]


[1] ‘ "Friends, I have lost a day," says an old Latin tag. One cannot help but recall it when one remembers how the fifth of January was lost . ..’ (Lenin, ‘People from another world,’ Collected Works, Vol.25, pp.43 1-433).

[2] As head of the Petrograd Cheka, Uritsky controlled acess to the Taurida Palace. Only, persons who held passes signed by him were allowed into the public galleries.

[3] The text of the Declaration of the Rights of the Working and Exploited People’, which had been adopted onjanuary 3 (16) 1918 by the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets, is given in Lenin’s Collected Works (4th edition, English version), Vol.25, pp.423-425.

[4] According to other Bolshevik sources, seven or eight persons were killed when this demonstration was dispersed. The dead included C.I. Logvinov, a Socialist-Revolutionary peasants’ leader, and a girl student, also an SR activist, named Gorbachevskaya. Non-Bolshevik accounts claim that nearly one hundred people were killed or wounded.

[5] It is not clear what the author means by this epithet. Possibly ‘Curly the Daredevil’, or else ‘Kudeyar’s daredevil son’—Kudeyar being a famous brigand in Russian folklore.

[6] From the Russian version of the International. Literally, it means: ‘But if the mighty thunder crashes over the pack of curs and hangmen’; the verse goes on to say that ‘the sun will still warm us with its rays’. Compare this verse from the American version of the song: ‘How many on our flesh have fattened! /But if the bloody birds of prey/Shall vanish from the sky one morning,/The golden sun will stay.’

[7] This was S. M. Lordkipanidze—not to be confused with two other politicians with this surname who were active in the same period.

[8] ‘First’ is probably a slip of the pen for ‘Second’. When the Second State Duma met, in February 1907, the Cadets adopted a policy of ‘making it last as long as possible’ by avoiding too flagrant provocation of the Tsar’s government—in spite of which the assembly was dissolved in June.

[9] In 1873 the SRs’ spiritual fathers, the Narodniks, organised what they called a ‘going to the people’, when several thousand young people from the intelligentsia went into the villages to mix with peasants and try to spread revolutionary ideas among them.

[10] According to Krupskaya’s Reminiscences of Lenin, Skvortsov-Stepanov did not speak until after the election of Chernov as chairman, and he was preceded by Bukharin and the Menshevik Tsereteli.

[11] The ‘Bestuzhev higher-education courses for women’, established in Petersburg in 1879, were so named after their first director, K.N. Bestuzhev-Ryumin.

[12] Acronyms of the titles of institutions and appointments enjoyed a great vogue in Russia at this time. The acronym of Raskolnikov’s title produces words meaning ‘with a lock on his snout’.

[13] The text of the declaration read by Raskolnikov is given in Lenin’s Collected llorks, Volume 25, pp.429-430.

[14] An account of the meeting of the Constituent Assembly as seen from the SR5 point of view is given by OH. Radkey in The Sickle under the Hammer (1963), Chapter VIII.