Chapter 12: The Peasants’ Congress
It was on November 18th that the snow came. In the morning we woke to window-ledges heaped white, and snowflakes falling so whirling thick that it was impossible to see ten feet ahead. The mud was gone; in a twinkling the gloomy city became white, dazzling. The droshki with their padded coachmen turned into sleights, bounding along the uneven street at headlong speed, their drivers’ beards stiff and frozen—. In spite of Revolution, all Russia plunging dizzily into the unknown and terrible future, joy swept the city with the coming of the snow. Everybody was smiling; people ran into the streets, holding out their arms to the soft, falling flakes, laughing. Hidden was all the greyness; only the gold and coloured spires and cupolas, with heightened barbaric splendour, gleamed through the white snow.
Even the sun came out, pale and watery, at noon. The colds and rheumatism of the rainy months vanished. The life of the city grew gay, and the very Revolution ran swifter….
I sat one evening in a traktir—a kind of lower-class inn—across the street from the gates of Smolny; a low-ceilinged, loud place called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” much frequented by Red Guards. They crowded it now, packed close around the little tables with their dirty table-cloths and enormous china tea-pots, filling the place with foul cigarette-smoke, while the harassed waiters ran about crying “Seichass! Seichass! In a minute! Right away!”
In one corner sat a man in the uniform of a captain, addressing the assembly, which interrupted him at every few words.
“You are no better than murderers!” he cried. “Shooting down your Russian brothers on the streets!”
“When did we do that?” asked a worker.
“Last Sunday you did it, when the yunkers——”
“Well, didn’t they shoot us?” One man exhibited his arm in a sling. “Haven’t I got something to remember them by, the devils?”
The captain shouted at the top of his voice. “You should remain neutral! You should remain neutral! Who are you to destroy the legal Government? Who is Lenin? A German——”
“Who are you? A counter-revolutionist! A provocator!” they bellowed at him.
When he could make himself heard the captain stood up. “All right!” said he. “You call yourselves the people of Russia. But you’re not the people of Russia. The peasants are the people of Russia. Wait until the peasants——”
“Yes,” they cried, “wait until the peasants speak. We know what the peasants will say…. Aren’t they workingmen like ourselves?”
In the long run, everything depended upon the peasants. While the peasants had been politically backward, still they had their own peculiar ideas, and they constituted more than eighty per cent of the people of Russia. The Bolsheviki had a comparatively small following among the peasants; and a permanent dictatorship of Russia by the industrial workers was impossible…. The traditional peasant party was the Socialist Revolutionary party; of all the parties now supporting the Soviet Government, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries were the logical inheritors of peasant leadership—and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who were at the mercy of the organised city proletariat, desperately needed the backing of the peasants….
Meanwhile Smolny had not neglected the peasants. After the Land decree, one of the first actions of the new Tsay-ee-kah had been to call a Congress of Peasants, over the head of the Executive Committee of the Peasants’ Soviets. A few days later was issued detailed Regulations for the Volost (Township) Land Committees, followed by Lenin’s “Instruction to Peasants,” which explained the Bolshevik revolution and the new Government in simple terms; and on November 16th, Lenin and Miliutin published the “Instructions to Provincial Emissaries,” of whom thousands were sent by the Soviet Government into the villages.
1. Upon his arrival in the province to which he is accredited, the emissary should call a joint meeting of the Central Executive Committees of the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, to whom he should make a report on the agrarian laws, and then demand that a joint plenary session of the Soviets be summoned….
2. He must study the aspects of the agrarian problem in the province.
a. Has the land-owners’ property been taken over, and if so, in what districts?
b. Who administers the confiscated land—the former proprietor, or the Land Committees?
c. What has been done with the agricultural machinery and with the farm-animals?
3. Has the ground cultivated by the peasants been augmented?
4. How much and in what respect does the amount of land now under cultivation differ from the amount fixed by the Government as an average minimum?
5. The emissary must insist that, after the peasants have received the land, it is imperative that they increase the amount of cultivated land as quickly as possible, and that they hasten the sending of grain to the cities, as the only means of avoiding famine.
6. What are the measures projected or put into effect for the transfer of land from the land-owners to the Land Committees and similar bodies appointed by the Soviets?
7. It is desirable that agricultural properties well appointed and well organised should be administered by Soviets composed of the regular employees of those properties, under the direction of competent agricultural scientists.
All through the villages a ferment of change was going on, caused not only by the electrifying action of the Land decree, but also by thousands of revolutionary-minded peasant-soldiers returning from the front…. These men, especially, welcomed the call to a Congress of Peasants.
Like the old Tsay-ee-kah in the matter of the second Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets, the Executive Committee tried to prevent the Peasant Congress summoned by Smolny. And like the old Tsay-ee-kah, finding its resistance futile, the Executive Committee sent frantic telegrams ordering the election of Conservative delegates. Word was even spread among the peasants that the Congress would meet at Moghilev, and some delegates went there; but by November 23d about four hundred had gathered in Petrograd, and the party caucuses had begun….
The first session took place in the Alexander Hall of the Duma building, and the first vote showed that more than half of all the delegates were Left Socialist Revolutionaries, while the Bolsheviki controlled a bare fifth, the conservative Socialist Revolutionaries a quarter, and all the rest were united only in their opposition to the old Executive Committee, dominated by Avksentiev, Tchaikovsky and Peshekhonov….
The great hall was jammed with people and shaken with continual clamour; deep, stubborn bitterness divided the delegates into angry groups. To the right was a sprinkling of officers’ epaulettes, and the patriarchal, bearded faces of the older, more substantial peasants; in the centre were a few peasants, non-commissioned officers, and some soldiers; and on the left almost all the delegates wore the uniforms of common soldiers. These last were the young generation, who had been serving in the army…. The galleries were thronged with workers—who, in Russia, still remember their peasant origin….
Unlike the old Tsay-ee-kah, the Executive Committee, in opening the session, did not recognise the Congress as official; the official Congress was called for December 13th; amid a hurricane of applause and angry cries, the speaker declared that this gathering was merely “Extraordinary Conference”— But the “Extraordinary Conference” soon showed its attitude toward the Executive Committee by electing as presiding officer Maria Spiridonova, leader of the Left Socialist Revolution aries.
Most of the first day was taken up by a violent debate as to whether the representatives of Volost Soviets should be seated, or only delegates from the Provincial bodies; and just as in the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Congress, an overwhelming majority declared in favour of the widest possible representation. Whereupon the old Executive Committee left the hall….
Almost immediately it was evident that most of the delegates were hostile to the Government of the People’s Commissars. Zinoviev, attempting to speak for the Bolsheviki, was hooted down, and as he left the platform, amid laughter, there were cries, “There’s how a People’s Commissar sits in a mudpuddle!”
“We Left Socialist Revolutionaries refuse,” cried Nazariev, a delegate from the Provinces, “to recognise this so-called Workers’ and Peasants’ Government until the peasants are represented in it. At present it is nothing but a dictatorship of the workers…. We insist upon the formation of a new Government which will represent the entire democracy!”
The reactionary delegates shrewdly fostered this feeling, declaring, in the face of protests from the Bolshevik benches, that the Council of People’s Commissars intended either to control the Congress or dissolve it by force of arms—an announcement which was received by the peasants with bursts of fury….
On the third day Lenin suddenly mounted the tribune; for ten minutes the room went mad. “Down with him!” they shrieked. “We will not listen to any of your People’s Commissars! We don’t recognise your Government!”
Lenin stood there quite calmly, gripping the desk with both hands, his little eyes thoughtfully surveying the tumult beneath. Finally, except for the right side of the hall, the demonstration wore itself out somewhat.
“I do not come here as a member of the Council of People’s Commissars,” said Lenin, and waited again for the noise to subside, “but as a member of the Bolshevik faction, duly elected to this Congress.” And he held his credentials up to that all might see them.
“However,” he went on, in an unmoved voice, “nobody will deny that the present Government of Russia has been formed by the Bolshevik party—” he had to wait a moment, “so that for all purposes it is the same thing….” Here the right benches broke into deafening clamour, but the centre and left were curious, and compelled silence.
Lenin’s argument was simple. “Tell me frankly, you peasants, to whom we have given the lands of the pomieshtchiki; do you want now to prevent the workers from getting control of industry? This is class war. The pomieshtchiki of course oppose the peasants, and the manufactures oppose the workers. Are you going to allow the ranks of the proletariat to be divided? Which side will you be on?
“We, the Bolsheviki, are the party of the proletariat—of the peasant proletariat as well as the industrial proletariat. We, the Bolsheviki, are the protectors of the Soviets—of the Peasants’ Soviets as well as those of the Workers and Soldiers. The present Government is a Government of Soviets; we have not only invited the Peasants’ Soviets to join that Government, but we have also invited representatives of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries to enter the Council of People’s Commissars….
“The Soviets are the most perfect representatives of the people—of the workers in the factories and mines, of the workers in the fields. Anybody who attempts to destroy the Soviets is guilty of an anti-democratic and counter-revolutionary act. And I serve notice here on you, comrades Right Socialist Revolutionaries—and on you, Messrs. Cadets—that if the Constituent Assembly attempts to destroy the Soviets, we shall not permit the Constituent Assembly to do this thing!”
On the afternoon of November 25th Tchernov arrived in hot haste from Moghilev, summoned by the Executive Committee. Only two months before considered an extreme revolutionist, and very popular with the peasants, he was now called to check the dangerous drift of the Congress toward the Left. Upon his arrival Tchernov was arrested and taken to Smolny, where, after a short conversation, he was released.
His first act was to bitterly rebuke the Executive Committee for leaving the Congress. They agreed to return, and Tchernov entered the hall, welcomed with great applause by the majority, and the hoots and jeers of the Bolsheviki.
“Comrades! I have been away. I participated in the Conference of the Twelfth Army on the question of calling a Congress of all the Peasant delegates of the armies of the Western Front, and I know very little about the insurrection which occurred here——”
Zinoviev rose in his seat, and shouted, “Yes, you were away—for a few minutes!” Fearful tumult. Cries, “Down with the Bolsheviki!”
Tchernov continued. “The accusation that I helped lead an army on Petrograd has no foundation, and is entirely false. Where does such an accusation come from? Show me the source!”
Zinoviev: “Izviestia and Dielo Naroda—your own paper —that’s where it comes from!”
Tchernov’s wide face, with the small eyes, waving hair and greyish beard, became red with wrath, but he controlled himself and went on. “I repeat, I know practically nothing about what has happened here, and I did not lead any army except this army, (he pointed to the peasant delegates), which I am largely responsible for bringing here!” Laughter, and shouts of “Bravo!”
“Upon my return I visited Smolny. No such accusation was made against me there…. After a brief conversation I left—and that’s all! Let any one present make such an accusation!”
An uproar followed, in which the Bolsheviki and some of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries were on their feet all at once, shaking their fists and yelling, and the rest of the assembly tried to yell them down.
“This is an outrage, not a session!” cried Tchernov, and he left the hall; the meeting was adjourned because of the noise and disorder….
Meanwhile, the question of the status of the Executive Committee was agitating all minds. By declaring the assembly “Extraordinary Conference,” it had been planned to block the reelection of the Executive Committee. But this worked both ways; the Left Socialist Revolutionists decided that if the Congress had no power over the Executive Committee, then the Executive Committee had no power over the Congress. On November 25th the assembly resolved that the powers of the Executive Committee be assumed by the Extraordinary Conference, in which only members of the Executive who had been elected as delegates might vote….
The next day, in spite of the bitter opposition of the Bolsheviki, the resolution was amended to give all the members of the Executive Committee, whether elected as delegates or not, voice and vote in the assembly.
On the 27th occurred the debate on the Land question, which revealed the differences between the agrarian programme of the Bolsheviki and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries.
Kolchinsky, for the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, outlined the history of the Land question during the Revolution. The first Congress of Peasants’ Soviets, he said, had voted a precise and formal resolution in favour of putting the landed estates immediately into the hands of the Land Committees. But the directors of the Revolution, and the bourgeois in the Government, had insisted that the question could not be solved until the Constituent Assembly met…. The second period of the Revolution, the period of “compromise,”was signalled by the entrance of Tchernov into the Cabinet. The peasants were convinced that now the practical solution of the Land question would begin; but in spite of the imperative decision of the first Peasant Congress, the reactionaries and conciliators in the Executive Committee had prevented any action. This policy provoked a series of agrarian disorders, which appeared as the natural expression of impatience and thwarted energy on the part of the peasants. The peasants understood the exact meaning of the Revolution—they tried to turn words into action….
“The recent events,” said the orator, “do not indicate a simple riot, or a ‘Bolshevik adventure,’ but on the contrary, a real popular rising, which has been greeted with sympathy by the whole country….
“The Bolsheviki in general took the correct attitude toward the Land question; but in recommending that the peasants seize the land by force, they committed a profound error…. From the first days, the Bolsheviki declared that the peasants should take over the land ‘by revolutionary massaction.’ This is nothing but anarchy; the land can be taken over in an organised manner…. For the Bolsheviki it was important that the problems of the Revolution should be solved in the quickest possible manner—but the Bolsheviki were not interested in how these problems were to be solved….
“The Land decree of the Congress of Soviets is identical in its fundamentals with the decisions of the first Peasants’ Congress. Why then did not the new Government follow the tactics outlined by that Congress? Because the Council of People’s Commissars wanted to hasten the settlement of the Land question, so that the Constituent Assembly would have nothing to do….
“But also the Government saw that it was necessary to adopt practical measures, so without further reflection, it adopted the Regulations for Land Committees, thus creating a strange situation; for the Council of People’s Commissars abolished private property in land, but the Regulations drawn up by the Land Committees are based on private property…. However, no harm has been done by that; for the Land Committees are paying no attention to the Soviet decrees, but are putting into operation their own practical decisions—decisions based on the will of the vast majority of the peasants….
“These Land Committees are not attempting the legislative solution of the Land question, which belongs to the Constituent Assembly alone…. But will the Constituent Assembly desire to do the will of the Russian peasants? Of that we cannot be sure…. All we can be sure of is that the revolutionary determination of the peasants is now aroused, and that the Constituent will be forced to settle the Land question the way the peasants want it settled…. The Constituent Assembly will not dare to break with the will of the people….”
Followed him Lenin, listened to now with absorbing intensity. “At this moment we are not only trying to solve the Land question, but the question of Social Revolution—not only here in Russia, but all over the world. The Land question cannot be solved independently of the other problems of the Social Revolution…. For example, the confiscation of the landed estates will provoke the resistance not only of Russian land-owners, but also of foreign capital—with whom the great landed properties are connected through the intermediary of the banks….
“The ownership of the land in Russia is the basis for immense oppression, and the confiscation of the land by the peasants is the most important step of our Revolution. But it cannot be separated from the other steps, as is clearly manifested by the stages through which the Revolution has had to pass. The first stage was the crushing of autocracy and the crushing of the power of the industrial capitalists and land-owners, whose interests are closely related. The second stage was the strengthening of the Soviets and the political compromise with the bourgeoisie. The mistake of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries lies in the fact that at that time they did not oppose the policy of compromise, because they held the theory that the consciousness of the masses was not yet fully developed….
“If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least five hundred years…. The Socialist political party—this is the vanguard of the working-class; it must not allow itself to be halted by the lack of education of the mass average, but it must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative…. But in order to lead the wavering, the comrades Left Socialist Revolutionaries themselves must stop hesitating….
“In July last a series of open breaks began between the popular masses and the ‘compromisers’; but now, in November, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries are still holding out their hand to Avksentiev, who is pulling the people with his little finger…. If Compromise continues, the Revolution disappears. No compromise with the bourgeoisie is possible; its power must be absolutely crushed….
“We Bolsheviki have not changed our Land programme; we have not given up the abolition of private property in the land, and we do not intend to do so. We adopted the Regulations for Land Committees,—which are not based on private property at all—because we want to accomplish the popular will in the way the people have themselves decided to do it, so as to draw closer the coalition of all the elements who are fighting for the Social Revolution.
“We invite the Left Socialist Revolutionaries to enter that coalition, insisting, however, that they cease looking backward, and that they break with the ‘conciliators’ of their party….
“As far as the Constituent Assembly is concerned, it is true, as the preceding speaker has said, that the work of the Constituent will depend on the revolutionary determination of the masses. I say, ‘Count on that revolutionary determination, but don’t forget your gun!’”
Lenin then read the Bolshevik resolution:
The Peasants’ Congress, fully supporting the Land decree of November 8th— approves of the Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of the Russian Republic, established by the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
The Peasants’ Congress— invites all peasants unanimously to sustain that law, and to apply it immediately themselves; and at the same time invites the peasants to appoint to posts and positions of responsibility only persons who have proved, not by words but by acts, their entire devotion to the interests of the exploited peasant-workers, their desire and their ability to defend these interests against all resistance on the part of the great land-owners, the capitalists, their partisans and accomplices….
The Peasants’ Congress, at the same time, expresses its conviction that the complete realisation of all the measures which make up the Land decree can only be successful through the triumph of the Workers’ Social Revolution, which began November 7th, 1917; for only the Social Revolution can accomplish the definite transfer, without possibility of return, of the land to the peasant-workers, the confiscation of model farms and their surrender to the peasant communes, the confiscation of agricultural machinery belonging to the great land-owners, the safe-guarding of the interests of the agricultural workers by the complete abolition of wage-slavery, the regular and methodical distribution among all regions of Russia of the products of agriculture and industry, and the seizure of the banks (without which the possession of land by the whole people would be impossible, after the abolition of private property), and all sorts of assistance by the State to the workers….
For these reasons the Peasants’ Congress sustains entirely the Revolution of November 7th— as a social revolution, and expresses its unalterable will to put into operation, with whatever modifications are necessary, but without any hesitation, the social transformation of the Russian Republic.
The indispensable conditions of the victory of the Social Revolution, which alone will secure the lasting success and the complete realisation of the Land decree, is the close union of the peasant-workers with the industrial working-class, with the proletariat of all advanced countries. From now on, in the Russian Republic, all the organisation and administration of the State, from top to bottom, must rest on that union. That union, crushing all attempts, direct or indirect, open or dissimulated, to return to the policy of conciliation with the bourgeoisie—conciliation, damned by experience, with the chiefs of bourgeois politics—can alone insure the victory of Socialism throughout the world….
The reactionaries of the Executive Committee no longer dared openly to appear. Tchernov, however, spoke several times, with a modest and winning impartiality. He was invited to sit on the platform…. On the second night of the Congress an anonymous note was handed up to the chairman, requesting that Tchernov be made honorary President. Ustinov read the note aloud, and immediately Zinoviev was on his feet, screaming that this was a trick of the old Executive Committee to capture the convention; in a moment the hall was one bellowing mass of waving arms and angry faces, on both sides…. Nevertheless, Tchernov remained very popular.
In the stormy debates on the Land question and the Lenin resolution, the Bolsheviki were twice on the point of quitting the assembly, both times restrained by their leaders…. It seemed to me as if the Congress were hopelessly deadlocked.
But none of us knew that a series of secret conferences were already going on between the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviki at Smolny. At first the Left Socialist Revolutionaries had demanded that there be a Government composed of all the Socialist parties in and out of the Soviets, to be responsible to a People’s Council, composed of an equal number of delegates from the Workers’ and Soldiers’ organisation, and that of the Peasants, and completed by representatives of the City Dumas and the Zemstvos; Lenin and Trotzky were to be eliminated, and the Military Revolutionary Committee and other repressive organs dissolved.
Wednesday morning, November 28th, after a terrible all-night struggle, an agreement was reached. The Tsay-ee-kah,composed of 108 members, was to be augumented by 108 members elected proportionally from the Peasants’ Congress; by 100 delegates elected directly from the Army and the Fleet; and by 50 representatives of the Trade Unions (35 from the general Unions, 10 Railway Workers, and 5 from the Post and Telegraph Workers). The Dumas and Zemstvos were dropped. Lenin and Trotzky remained in the Government, and the Military Revolutionary Committee continued to function.
The sessions of the Congress had now been removed to the Imperial Law School building, Fontanka 6, headquarters of the Peasants’ Soviets. There in the great meeting-hall the delegates gathered on Wednesday afternoon. The old Executive Committee had withdrawn, and was holding a rump convention of its own in another room of the same building, made up of bolting delegates and representatives of the Army Committees.
Tchernov went from one meeting to the other, keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings. He knew that an agreement with the Bolsheviki was being discussed, but he did not know that it had been concluded.
He spoke to the rump convention. “At present, when everybody is in favour of forming an all-Socialist Government, many people forget the first Ministry, which was not a coalition Government, and in which there was only one Socialist—Kerensky; a Government which, in its time, was very popular. Now people accuse Kerensky; they forget that he was raised to power, not only by the Soviets, but also by the popular masses….
“Why did public opinion change toward Kerensky? The savages set up gods to which they pray, and which they punish if one of their prayers is not answered…. That is what is happening at this moment…. Yesterday Kerensky; today Lenin and Trotzky; another to-morrow….
“We have proposed to both Kerensky and the Bolsheviki to retire from the power. Kerensky has accepted—to-day he announced from his hiding-place that he has resigned as Premier; but the Bolsheviki wish to retain the power, and they do not know how to use it….
“If the Bolsheviki succeed, or if they fail, the fate of Russia will not be changed. The Russian villages understand perfectly what they want, and they are now carrying out their own measures…. The villages will save us in the end….”
In the meanwhile, in the great hall Ustinov had announced the agreement between the Peasants’ Congress and Smolny, received by the delegates with the wildest joy. Suddenly Tchernov appeared, and demanded the floor.
“I understand,” he began, “that an agreement is being concluded between the Peasants’ Congress and Smolny. Such an agreement would be illegal, seeing that the true Congress of Peasants’ Soviets does not meet until next week….
“Moreover, I want to warn you now that the Bolsheviki will never accept your demands….”
He was interrupted by a great burst of laughter; and realising the situation, he left the platform and the room, taking his popularity with him….
Late in the afternoon of Thursday, November 16th, the Congress met in extraordinary session. There was a holiday feeling in the air; on every face was a smile…. The remainder of the business before the assembly was hurried through, and then old Nathanson, the white-bearded dean of the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries, his voice trembling and tears in his eyes, read the report of the “wedding” of the Peasants’ Soviets with the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets. At every mention of the word “union” there was ecstatic applause…. At the end Ustinov announced the arrival rival of a delegation from Smolny, accompanied by representatives of the Red Army, greeted with a rising ovation. One after another a workman, a soldier and a sailor took the floor, hailing them.
Then Boris Reinstein, delegate of the American Socialist Labor Party: “The day of the union of the Congress of Peasants and the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies is one of the great days of the Revolution. The sound of it will ring with resounding echoes throughout the whole world—in Paris, in London, and across the ocean—in New York. This union will fill with happiness the hearts of all toilers.
“A great idea has triumphed. The West, and America, expected from Russia, from the Russian proletariat, something tremendous…. The proletariat of the world is waiting for the Russian Revolution, waiting for the great things that it is accomplishing….”
Sverdlov, president of the Tsay-ee-kah, greeted them. And with the shout, “Long live the end of civil war! Long live the United Democracy!” the peasants poured out of the building.
It was already dark, and on the ice-covered snow glittered the pale light of moon and star. Along the bank of the canal were drawn up in full marching order the soldiers of the Pavlovsky Regiment, with their band, which broke into the Marseillaise. Amid the crashing full-throated shouts of the soldiers, the peasants formed in line, unfurling the great red banner of the Executive Committee of the All-Russian Peasants’ Soviets, embroidered newly in gold, “Long live the union of the revolutionary and toiling masses!” Following were other banners; of the District Soviets—of Putilov Factory, which read, “We bow to this flag in order to create the brotherhood of all people!”
From somewhere torches appeared, blazing orange in the night, a thousand times reflected in the facets of the ice, streaming out smokily over the throng as it moved down the bank of the Fontanka singing, between crowds that stood in astonished silence.
“Long live the Revolutionary Army! Long live the Red Guard! Long live the Peasants!”
So the great procession wound through the city, growing and unfurling ever new red banners lettered in gold. Two old peasants, bowed with toil, were walking hand in hand, their faces illumined with child-like bliss.
“Well,” said one, “I’d like to see them take away our land again, now!
Near Smolny the Red Guard was lined up on both sides of the street, wild with delight. The other old peasant spoke to his comrade, “I am not tired,” he said. “I walked on air all the way!”
On the steps of Smolny about a hundred Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies were massed, with their banner, dark against the blaze of light streaming out between the arches. Like a wave they rushed down, clasping the peasants in their arms and kissing them; and the procession poured in through the great door and up the stairs, with a noise like thunder….
In the immense white meeting-room the Tsay-ee-kah was waiting, with the whole Petrograd Soviet and a thousand spectators beside, with that solemnity which attends great conscious moments in history.
Zinoviev announced the agreement with the Peasants’ Congress, to a shaking roar which rose and burst into storm as the sound of music blared down the corridor, and the head of the procession came in. On the platform the presidium rose and made place for the Peasants’ presidium, the two embracing; behind them the two banners were intertwined against the white wall, over the empty frame from which the Tsar’s picture had been torn….
Then opened the “triumphal session.” After a few words of welcome from Sverdlov, Maria Spiridonova, slight, pale, with spectacles and hair drawn flatly down, and the air of a New England school-teacher, took the tribune—the most loved and the most powerful woman in all Russia.
“— Before the workers of Russia open now horizons which history has never known…. All workers’ movements in the past have been defeated. But the present movement is international, and that is why it is invincible. There is no force in the world which can put out the fire of the Revolution! The old world crumbles down, the new world begins….”
Then Trotzky, full of fire: “I wish you welcome, comrades peasants! You come here not as guests, but as masters of this house, which holds the heart of the Russian Revolution. The will of millions of workers is now concentrated in this hall…. There is now only one master of the Russian land: the union of the workers, soldiers and peasants….”
With biting sarcasm he went on to speak of the Allied diplomats, till then contemptuous of Russia’s invitation to an armistice, which had been accepted by the Central Powers.
“A new humanity will be born of this war…. In this hall we swear to workers of all lands to remain at our revolutionary post. If we are broken, then it will be in defending our flag….”
Krylenko followed him, explaining the situation at the front, where Dukhonin was preparing to resist the Council of People’s Commissars. “Let Dukhonin and those with him understand well that we shall not deal gently with those who bar the road to peace!”
Dybenko saluted the assembly in the name of the Fleet, and Krushinsky, member of the Vikzhel, said, “From this moment, when the union of all true Socialists is realised, the whole army of railway workers places itself absolutely at the disposition of the revolutionary democracy!” And Lunatcharsky, almost weeping, and Proshian, for the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and finally Saharashvili, for the United Social Democrats Internationalists, composed of members of the Martov’s and of Gorky’s groups, who declared:
“We left the Tsay-ee-kah because of the uncompromising policy of the Bolsheviki, and to force them to make concessions in order to realise the union of all the revolutionary democracy. Now that that union is brought about, we consider it a sacred duty to take our places once more in the Tsay-ee-kah…. We declare that all those who have withdrawn from the Tsay-ee-kah should now return.”
Stachkov, a dignified old peasant of the presidium of the Peasants’ Congress, bowed to the four corners of the room. “I greet you with the christening of a new Russian life and freedom!”
Gronsky, in the name of the Polish Social Democracy; Skripnik, for the Factory-Shop Committees; Tifonov, for the Russian soldiers at Salonika; and others, interminably, speaking out of full hearts, with the happy eloquence of hopes fulfilled….
It was late in the night when the following resolution was put and passed unanimously:
“The Tsay-ee-kah, united in extraordinary session with the Petrograd Soviet and the Peasants’ Congress, confirms the Land and Peace decrees adopted by the second Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, and also the decree on Workers’ Control adopted by the Tsay-ee-kah.
“The joint session of the Tsay-ee-kah and the Peasants’ Congress expresses its firm conviction that the union of workers, soldiers and peasants, this fraternal union of all the workers and all exploited, will consolidate the power conquered by them, that it will take all revolutionary measures to hasten the passing of the power into the hands of the working-class in other countries, and that it will assure in this manner the lasting accomplishment of a just peace and the victory of Socialism.” 
 Instruction To Peasants In answer to the numerous enquiries coming from peasants, it is hereby explained that the whole power in the country is from now on held by the Soviets of the Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies. The Workers’ Revolution, after having conquered in Petrograd and in Moscow, is now conquering in all other centres of Russia. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Government safeguards the interests of the masses of peasantry, the poorest of them; it is with the majority of peasants and workers against the landowners, and against the capitalists.
Hence the Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies, and before all the District Soviets, and subsequently those of the Provinces, are from now on and until the Constituent Assembly meets, full-powered bodies of State authority in their localities. All landlords’ titles to the land are cancelled by the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. A decree regarding the land has already been issued by the present Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government. On the basis of the above decree all lands hitherto belonging to landlords now pass entirely and wholly into the hands of the Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies. The Volost (a group of several villages forms a Volost) Land Committees are immediately to take over all land from the landlords, and to keep a strict account over it, watching that order be maintained, and that the whole estate be well guarded, seeing that from now on all private estates become public property and must therefore be protected by the people themselves.
All orders given by the Volost Land Committees, adopted with the assent of the District Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies, in fulfilment of the decrees issued by the revolutionary power, are absolutely legal and are to be forthwith and irrefutably brought into execution.
The Workers’ and Peasants’ Government appointed by the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets has received the name of the Council of People’s Commissars.
The Council of People’s Commissars summons the Peasants to take the whole power into their hands in every locality.
The workers will in every way absolutely and entirely support the peasants, arrange for them all that is required in connection with machines and tools, and in return they request the peasants to help with the transport of grain.
President of the Council of People’s Commissars,
V. Ulianov (Lenin)
Petrograd, November 18th, 1917.
 The full-powered Congress of Peasants’ Soviets met about a week later, and continued for several weeks. Its history is merely an expanded version of the history of the “Extraordinary Conference.” At first the great majority of the delegates were hostile to the Soviet Government, and supported the reactionary wing. Several days later the assembly was supporting the moderates with Tchernov. And several days after that the vast majority of the Congress were voting for the faction of Maria Spiridonova, and sending their representatives into the Tsay-ee-kah at Smolny…. The Right Wing then walked out of the Congress and called a Congress of its own, which went on, dwindling from day to day, until it finally dissolved….
Source: Marxist Internet Archive.
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