THE DEMOCRATIC CONFERENCE
The Democratic Conference, called together by Tsereteli and his coadjutors towards the end of September, was of an entirely artificial character, consisting, as it did, of a combination of representatives of Soviets with those of the organs of local self-government in such a proportion as to give a preponderance to the Coalitionist parties. The offspring of helplessness and confusion, the Conference ended in a pitiful fiasco. The propertied bourgeoisie regarded it with the greatest animosity, seeing in it an attempt to drive it from the position to which it had advanced at the Moscow gathering, On the other hand, the revolutionary working class and the masses of the peasantry and soldiers had condemned in advance the methods of adulteration used in calling the Conference together. The immediate task of the Coalitionists was to form a “responsible” Ministry. But even this was not attained. Kerensky did not want and would not allow any principle of responsibility, because the bourgeoisie at his back would not allow it. Non-responsibility before the organs of the so-called democracy meant, in effect, responsibility before the Cadets and the Allied Embassies. For the present this was sufficient for the bourgeoisie. On the question of coalition, the Conference revealed its complete insolvency. The number of votes cast for the principle of a coalition with the bourgeoisie was only little more than that cast against all Coalitions, and a majority of votes was cast against a coalition with the Cadets. But With the exception of the latter, there were no parties among the bourgeoisie worth mentioning with whom a Coalition could be entered into. Tsereteli fully explained this to the assembly. If the assembly did not understand this, so much the worse for it! And so behind the back of the Conference pourparlers were carried on unabashed with the very Cadets whom it had rejected, it having been decided that the Cadets should be treated not as Cadets, but as public men Pressed from the right and from the left, the lower middle-class democrats submitted to all this mockery of themselves and thereby demonstrated their complete political impotence.
A Council was elected from the Democratic Conference, which it was decided should be completed by the addition of some representatives of the propertied classes ; and this Provisional “Parliament” was to fill the gap until the meeting of the Constituent Assembly. The new Coalition Ministry, contrary to Tsereteli’s original plan, but in entire accordance with the plans of the bourgeoisie, was to maintain its formal independence as against the Provisional Parliament. The whole proceeding gave the impression of a pitiful and impotent product of a mind divorced from life, behind which could clearly be seen the complete capitulation of the lower middle-class democrats to that same propertied Liberal bourgeoisie which only a month before had openly supported Kornilov's attempt against the Revolution. The whole thing, then, amounted practically to the re-establishment and the perpetuation of the coalition with the Liberal bourgeoisie. There could no longer be any doubt that, quite independent of the composition of the future Constituent Assembly, the Government power would be in the hands of the bourgeoisie, since the Coalitionist parties, in spite of all the preponderance Secured to them by the popular masses, were unalterably bent on a coalition with the Cadets, considering it impossible to form any Government without the aid of the bourgeoisie. The popular masses regarded Miliukov's party with the greatest hostility. At all elections in the course of the Revolution the Cadets invariably suffered severe defeats; yet the very same parties, the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, who smote the Cadet party at the elections hip and thigh, would, after the elections, invariably reserve for them a place of honour in the Coalition Cabinet. It was natural in these circumstances that the masses began to perceive more and more clearly that the Coalitionist parties were in reality playing the r8le of bailiffs and office-holders for the Liberal bourgeoisie.
DIFFICULTIES AT THE FRONT AND THE REAR.
Meanwhile the internal situation was deteriorating and becoming more and more complicated. The war was dragging along without aim, without sense, without any perspective. The Government was taking no steps to extricate itself from the vicious circle. The ridiculous plan was put forward of sending Skobelev to Paris in order to influence the Allied Imperialists, but no sensible person attached to it any serious importance. Kornilov surrendered Riga to the Germans in order to terrorize public opinion and so to gain a favourable opportunity for establishing an iron discipline in the army. Petrograd was threatened, and the middle-class elements were Welcoming the danger with evident malignancy. Rodzianko, the former President of the Duma, openly said that the surrender of demoralized Petrograd to the Germans would constitute no great misfortune. He referred to the case of Riga, where, following upon the entry of the Germans, the Soviets were dissolved and strict order was established with the help of the old police. True, the Baltic Fleet would be lost; but the fleet had been demoralized by revolutionary propaganda, and the loss would, therefore, not be so very great. This cynicism of the garrulous grand seigneur expressed the secret thoughts of wide circles of the bourgeoisie. The handing over of Petrograd to the Germans would not really mean its final loss. By the peace treaty Petrograd would be returned, but it would in the interval have been disciplined by German militarism. The Revolution in the meantime would be decapitated, and could therefore be more easily grappled with. Kerensky’s Government had, in fact, no serious intention of defending the capital, and public opinion was being prepared for its possible surrender. Government offices were being transferred from Petrograd to Moscow and other towns.
It was in such circumstances that the Soldiers’ Section of the Petrograd Soviet met at a full session. The general feeling was tense and agitated. If the Government was unable to defend Petrograd, let it conclude peace. And if it was incapable of concluding peace, let it clear out. This was how the Soldiers’ Section expressed their views of the condition of affairs. This was the first signal of the coming November Revolution.
At the front the position of affairs was going from bad to worse. A cold autumn, wet and muddy, was drawing near. There was the prospect of a fourth winter campaign. The food Supply was becoming worse every day. In the rear they had forgotten about the front. There were no reliefs, no reinforcements, and no warm clothing. The number of deserters was increasing daily. The old army committees, elected at the beginning of the Revolution, still remained in their places and supported Kerensky’s policy Re-elections were prohibited. An abyss was formed between the army committees and the masses of the army, and finally the soldiers began to detest the committees. Again and again delegates from the trenches would arrive at Petrograd and ask point-blank, at the sittings of the Soviet “What are we to do now? Who will end the war, and how shall it be done? Why is the Petrograd Soviet silent?”
THE INEVITABLE STRUGGLE FOR POWER.
The Petrograd Soviet was not silent. It demanded the immediate assumption of authority by the central and local Soviets, the immediate transference of the land to the peasants, the establishment of control by the workers over industry, and the immediate initiation of peace negotiations. So long as we had been in opposition, the cry “All power to the Soviets!” was a battle-cry of propaganda, but since we became a majority on all the chief Soviets it imposed upon us the duty of taking up an immediate and direct struggle for power.
In the villages the position of affairs had become complicated and confused to the last degree. The Revolution had promised the land to the peasants, but had forbidden the latter to touch the land till the meeting of the Constituent Assembly. The peasants at first waited patiently, but when they began to lose patience the Coalition Government resorted to measures of repression. In the meantime the prospect of the meeting of the Constituent Assembly was becoming dimmer and dimmer. The bourgeoisie was insisting that the Constituent Assembly should not be summoned until after the conclusion of peace. The peasant masses, on the other hand, were becoming more and more impatient, and what we had predicted at the beginning of the Revolution was now Coming true. The peasant masses began to grab the land on their own authority. Reprisals became more frequent and severe, and the revolutionary land committees began to be arrested – here and there. In some districts Kerensky even proclaimed martial law. Delegates from the villages began to stream to Petrograd, and complained to the Soviet that they were being arrested while trying to carry out the programme of the Soviets and handing over the estates of the private landowners to the peasants’ committees. The peasants demanded our protection. We replied that we could only help them if the government power were in our hands. Hence it followed that if the Soviets did not want to become mere talking-shops they were bound to make an effort to get the power into their own hands.
It was absurd to fight for the authority of the Soviets six or eight weeks before the, meeting of the Constituent Assembly – so we were told by the friends on the Right. But we were not in the least infected by this fetichism of the Constituent Assembly. In the first place, there were no guarantees that it would really be summoned. The break-up of the army, the wholesale desertions, the disorganization of the food supply, the agrarian revolution – all went to create an atmosphere but little favourable to the holding of elections to the Assembly. Moreover, the possible surrender of Petrograd to the Germans threatened to make such elections altogether impossible. In the second place, even if the Constituent Assembly were to be summoned under the direction of the old parties, on the old party lists, it could only become a protection for, and a confirmation of, the coalition principle of government. Neither the Socialist Revolutionaries nor the Mensheviks were capable of assuming authority without the help of the bourgeoisie. Only a revolutionary class Could break the vicious circle in which the Revolution was floundering and disintegrating. It was essential that the authority should be snatched from the hands of those elements which directly or indirectly were serving the interests of the bourgeoisie and used the Government machinery for obstructing the revolutionary demands of the people.
THE STRUGGLE FOR THE SOVIET CONGRESS.
All power to the Soviets: such was the demand of our party. In the preceding period this meant, in terms of party divisions, complete authority for the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks as against the coalition with the Liberal bourgeoisie. Now, however, in November 1917, this demand meant the complete supremacy of the revolutionary proletariat, headed now by the Bolshevik party. The question at issue was the dictatorship of the working class, which was leading, or, to be more correct, was capable of leading, the millions of the poorest peasantry. This was the historical meaning of the November rising.
Everything conspired to lead the party along this path. From the very first days of the Revolution we had insisted on the need and the inevitability of the assumption of the entire government authority by the Soviets. The majority of the Soviets, after an intense internal struggle, adopted our standpoint and took up this demand. We were getting ready for the second All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, at which we expected a complete victory for our party. The Central Executive Committee, on the other hand, under the direction of Dan (the cautious Chkheidze left for the Caucasus in good time) did everything possible to hinder the meeting of the Soviet Congress. After great efforts, supported by the Soviet group at the Democratic Conference, we at last obtained the fixing of a definite date for the Congress November 7th. This date has now become the greatest date in Russian history. As a preliminary, we called together in Petrograd a conference of the Soviets of the Northern Provinces, including also the Baltic Fleet and the Moscow Soviet. We had a definite majority at this conference. We also obtained some protection on the right flank from the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries, and laid the foundation for the business-like organization of the November rising.
THE CONFLICT OVER THE PETROGRAD GARRISON.
But even before that, before the conference of the Northern Soviets, something happened which was destined to play a most important part in the corning political struggle.
In the middle of October there appeared at a sitting of the Executive Committee the Soviet representative attached to the staff of the Petrograd military district, who informed us that the Main Headquarters were demanding the despatch of two-thirds of the Petrograd garrison to the front. What for? For the defence of Petrograd! The despatch was not to take place immediately, but it was necessary to get ready for it at once. The Staff asked the Petrograd Soviet to approve of this plan. We pricked up our ears. Already at the end of August five revolutionary regiments had been, wholly or in part, removed from Petrograd. This had been done on the demand of the then Commander-in-Chief, Kornilov, who at that very time was preparing to throw the Caucasian “Savage” Division against Petrograd with the object of settling with the revolutionary capital once and for all. We had thus already had the experience of a purely political redistribution of troops, carried out on the pretext of military operations. It may be noted here, by way of anticipation, that documents which fell into our hands after the November Revolution showed, without any possibility of doubt, that the proposed evacuation of the Petrograd garrison in reality had absolutely nothing to do with military operations, and was forced on the Commander-in-Chief, Dukhonin, against his will by no other than Kerensky himself, who was anxious to clear Petrograd of the most revolutionary soldiers, that is, of those most hostile to himself.
But this was not known in the middle of October, and our suspicions were met by a storm of patriotic indignation. The military Staff tried to hurry us on, and Kerensky was impatient, as the ground beneath his feet was fast becoming too hot for him. We, however, did not hurry to answer. Certainly, Petrograd was in danger, and the terrible question of the defence of the capital exercised us greatly. But after the experience of the Kornilov days, after Rodzianko’s words regarding salvation by a German occupation of Petrograd, how could we be assured that Petrograd would not be wilfully surrendered to the Germans as a punishment for its rebellious spirit? The Executive Committee refused to give its signature to the demand for the removal of two-thirds of the Petrograd garrison without examination. We declared that we must have proof of the reality of the military need which dictated the demand, and for that purpose some organization to examine the question must be created. Thus arose the idea of establishing, side by side with the Soldiers’ Section of the Soviets, that is, with the political representation of the garrison, a purely operative organ in the form of the Military Revolutionary Committee which ultimately acquired enormous power and became practically the instrument of the November Revolution.
Undoubtedly, already at that time, when we were proposing the Creation of an organ to concentrate in its hands all the threads of the purely military direction of the Petrograd garrison, we were clearly realizing that this organ might become an invaluable revolutionary weapon. We were already at that time deliberately and openly steering for a rising and organizing ourselves for it. The opening of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets was fixed, as we said before, for November 7th, and there could be no longer any doubt that it would declare in favour of the assumption of supreme authority by the Soviets. But such a decision would have to be carried out at once, otherwise it would simply become a worthless platonic demonstration. It would have been in accord with the logic of the situation if we had fixed our rising for November 7th. The bourgeois Press, indeed, took this for granted. But the fate of the Congress depended, in the first instance, on the Petrograd garrison. Would it allow Kerensky to surround the Congress and to break it up with the help of a few hundreds or thousands of ensigns, cadets, and members of shock battalions? The very attempt to get the garrison out of Petrograd – did it not signify that the Government was preparing to break up the Congress of the Soviets? It would have been strange indeed if it were not, seeing that we were mobilizing quite openly, in face of the whole country, all the strength of the Soviets for the purpose of dealing the Coalition Government a mortal blow.
And so the whole conflict in Petrograd was coming to an issue over the question of the fate of its garrison. In the first place, of course, it affected the soldiers, but the workers, too, evinced the liveliest interest in it, as they feared that on the removal of the troops they might be crushed by the military cadets and Cossacks. The conflict was thus assuming a very acute character, and the question over which it was tending to an issue was very unfavourable to the Kerensky Government.
Parallel with this struggle over the garrison was also going on the previously mentioned struggle for the summoning of the Soviet Congress, in connection with which we were proclaiming openly, in the name of the Petrograd Soviet and the conference of the Soviets of the Northern District, that the second Soviet Congress must dismiss the Kerensky Government and become the real master of Russia. Practically the rising was already proceeding, and was developing in the face of the whole country.
During October the question of the rising played also an important part in the internal life of our party. Lenin, who was in hiding in Finland, wrote numerous letters insisting on more energetic tactics. Amongst the rank and file there was great fermentation and growing discontent, because the Bolshevik Party, now in a majority in the Soviets, was not putting its own battle-cries into practice. On October 28th a secret meeting of the Central Committee of our party took place, at which Lenin was present. On the order of the day was the question of the rising. With only two dissenters it was unanimously decided that the only means of saving the Revolution and the country from complete destruction was an armed rising, which must have for its object the conquest of supreme government authority by the Soviets.
THE DEMOCRATIC COUNCIL AND THE PROVISIONAL PARLIAMENT.
The Democratic Council which arose out of the Democratic Conference inherited all the impotence of the latter. The old Soviet parties, the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, had secured for themselves an artificial majority on the Council, apparently for the purpose of exposing still more thoroughly their entire political prostration. Behind the scenes Tsereteli was carrying on intricate negotiations with Kerensky and the representatives of the “propertied elements,” as they began terming them in the Council in order to avoid the “insulting” term “bourgeoisie.” Tsereteli’s report on the progress and results of these negotiations sounded very much like a funeral oration over the grave of a whole revolutionary period. It turned out that neither Kerensky nor the propertied elements would agree to the principle of Ministerial responsibility to the new semi-representative body. On the other hand, it was impossible to find “business-like” public men outside the Cadet Party. The organizers of the business had to give in on both points, which capitulation was so much the more delightful as the Democratic Conference had been called together specially for the purpose of putting an end to the irresponsible regime, the Conference, moreover, explicitly rejecting all Coalition with the Cadets. At the last few meetings of the Democratic Council before the new Revolution there was a general atmosphere of great tension and practical impotence. The Council reflected not the progress of the Revolution, but the dissolution of parties whom the Revolution had left far behind.
Already during the session of the Democratic Conference I had raised the question in our party of making a demonstrative exit from the Conference and of boycotting the Democratic Council. It was necessary to demonstrate to the masses by our action that the Coalitionists had brought the Revolution into an impasse. The struggle for the formation of a Soviet Government could only be carried on by revolutionary methods. It was imperative to wrest the authority from the hands of those who had proved themselves incapable for good and who were fast losing all capability even for active harm. It was necessary to oppose our political method through the mobilization of all forces around the Soviets, through the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, through a rising, to their method of action through an artificially selected “Provisional Parliament” and a problematic Constituent Assembly. This could only be accomplished by an open and public break with the body created by Tsereteli and his friends, and by concentrating all the attention and strength of the working class on the Soviet organizations. It was for these reasons that I proposed a demonstrative exit from the Democratic Conference and a revolutionary agitation in the factories and among the troops against the attempt to adulterate the will of the Revolution and again to direct its further course into the groove of co-operation with the bourgeoisie. Lenin expressed himself in the same sense in a letter which we received a few days later. But among the leaders of the party there was still considerable hesitation. The July Days had left a very deep impression on the party. The masses of workers and soldiers had shaken off the impression made by the July reprisals much more rapidly than many of our leading comrades who feared the break-up of the Revolution by another premature attempt on the part of the masses. In our group at the Democratic Conference I obtained fifty votes for my proposal against seventy cast in favour of participating in the Democratic Council. But our experience on that Council very soon strengthened the left wing of the party. It became only too evident that the method of compromises bordering on mere swindles, which had for its aim to secure the leadership of the Revolution for the propertied classes assisted by the Coalitionists who had lost all footing amongst the wide masses, was not the way out of the impasse into which the flabby middle-class democrats had brought the Revolution. By the time when the Democratic Council, supplemented by representatives of the propertied classes, became transformed into a “Provisional Parliament,” the psychological readiness of our party to break away from this body was already ripe.
THE SOCIALIST REVOLUTIONARIES AND THE MENSHEVIKS.
The question before us at the time was whether the Socialist Revolutionaries of the Left would follow us along this path. This group was then in the process of formation, which from our party point of view was much too slow and hesitating. At the beginning of the Revolution, the Socialist Revolutionary Party became by far the strongest in the whole political field. The peasants, soldiers, and even the masses of the workers voted for the Socialist Revolutionaries. They themselves had not expected anything of the kind, and more than once it had seemed as though there was a danger that the party might choke in the waves of its own success. With the exception of the purely capitalist and landowning classes and the well-to-do intellectuals, all and everybody flocked to the banners of the Socialist Revolutionaries. And this entirely corresponded to the first stage in the Revolution, when the class boundaries had not yet had time to make themselves visible, when the yearning after a united revolutionary front found expression in the nebulous programme of a party which was ready to shelter alike the workers afraid of losing contact with the peasantry, the peasants seeking land and freedom, the intellectuals anxious to guide both these classes, and the official trying to adapt himself to the new order of things. When Kerensky, who, under the Tsarist Government, had belonged to the “Group of Toil,” joined the Socialist Revolutionaries after the victory of the Revolution, the popularity of this party began to grow in correspondence with the advance of Kerensky himself along the road of power. Many colonels and generals, out of respect – not always platonic – for the War Minister, hastened to inscribe their names in the rolls of the party of the erstwhile terrorists. The old Socialist Revolutionaries, belonging to the old revolutionary school, were already at that time regarding somewhat uneasily the ever-growing number of “March” Socialist Revolutionaries, that is to say, those members who had only found their revolutionary souls in March, after the Revolution had overthrown the old regime and had raised the Socialist Revolutionaries to power. In this way the party contained in its amorphousness not only the internal contradictions of the developing Revolution, but also all the prejudices of the backward peasant masses and all the sentimentalism, instability, and ambitions of the intellectual sections of the population. It was quite evident that the party could not exist long in such a form. In point of ideas it proved to be impotent from the very beginning. It was the Mensheviks who played the leading political role in the first stages of the Revolution. They had passed through the Marxian school, and had derived from it certain methods and habits which had helped them to find their way sufficiently in the political situation to adulterate “scientifically” the real meaning of the present class struggle and to secure, in the highest degree possible under the given conditions, the supremacy of the Liberal bourgeoisie. This is the reason why the Mensheviks, who were the direct advocates of the right of the bourgeoisie to power, so quickly spent themselves and were, by the time of the November Revolution, finally reduced almost to a cipher.
The Socialist Revolutionaries were also losing their influence more and more, first among the workers, then in the army, and finally also in the villages. Nevertheless, at the time of the November Revolution they were still numerically a very powerful party. But class antagonisms were undermining it from within. As against its right wing, which in the persons of its most chauvinist elements, such as Avksentieff, Breshko-Breshkovskaya, Savinkoff and others, finally went over to the counter-revolutionaries, a left wing was in process of formation, which tried to maintain a contact with the labouring masses. If we bear in mind the fact that the Socialist Revolutionary Avksentieff, in his capacity as Minister of the Interior, was arresting the peasant land committees consisting almost entirely of Socialist Revolutionaries, for their grappling with the agrarian question on their own authority, the amplitude of disagreements within this party will become sufficiently clear.
In the centre stood the traditional leader of the party, Tchernoff, an experienced writer, well read in Socialist literature, an old hand in party struggles, he was the invariable leader of the party at the time when the party’s life concentrated in refugees’ circles abroad. The Revolution, which, in its first indiscriminate onward rush, had raised the Socialist Revolutionaries to a tremendous height, automatically also raised Tchernoff, but only to show his complete incapability even among the leading political personages of the first period. Those minor qualifications which secured for Tchernov a preponderance in the foreign circles of the party proved to be far too light in the scales of the Revolution. He confined himself to abstaining from all responsible decisions, to avoiding and evading all critical issues, to waiting upon events, and to refraining from all positive activity. Such tactics secured to him, for the time being, the position of a centre between the two flanks of the party, the distance between which was growing ever wider and wider. But the unity of the party could no longer be maintained. Savinkoff, the erstwhile terrorist, had taken part in the Kornilov plot, was on most cordial terms with the counter revolutionary circles of the Cossack officers, and was preparing a crushing blow for the Petrograd workers and soldiers, amongst whom were not a few Socialist Revolutionaries of the Left. As a sop to this left wing, the Centre expelled Savinkoff from the party, but it dared not raise its hand against Kerensky.
In the Provisional Parliament the party showed itself to be hopelessly divided. The three groups acted independently of one another, although all were marching under the same party banner. At the same time none of these groups had any clear idea as to what it wanted. The formal predominance of this party in the Constituent Assembly would only have meant the continuation of the same political sterility and impotence.
THE VOICE OF THE FRONT.
Before leaving the Provisional Parliament, where, according to the political statistics of Kerensky and Tsereteli, we only had about fifty seats, we organized a meeting with the Left Socialist Revolutionary group. They, however, refused to follow us, on the ground that it was necessary for them to prove to the peasantry by a practical experiment the hopelessness of that Parliament. “We think it our duty to warn you,” said one of their leaders, “that if you mean to leave the Provisional Parliament with the object of immediately descending into the street for an open struggle, we shall not follow you.” The bourgeois and Coalitionist Press accused us of aiming at a break-up of the Provisional Parliament for the sole purpose of creating a revolutionary situation. Our group in the Provisional Parliament decided not to wait for the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, but to act independently. The declaration of our party, read from the rostrum of the Provisional Parliament and explaining our reason for breaking away from this institution, was met with a howl of execration and impotent rage from the majority groups. In the Petrograd Soviet, where our action was approved by an overwhelming majority, the leader of the small group of “Internationalist” Mensheviks, Martov, argued with us that our exit from the Provisional Council of the Republic (such was the official designation of this disreputable institution) would only then have any sense if we intended to pass immediately to an open offensive against the present Government. But that was just what we did intend doing. The agents of the Liberal bourgeoisie were quite right when they accused us of desiring to create a revolutionary situation. We saw that the only way out of the hopeless state of affairs was by means of an open rising and a direct seizure of power.
Again, as during the July days, the Press and all other organs of so-called public opinion were set in motion against us. The most poisonous weapons were once more got out of the arsenals of the July days, where they had been deposited after the Kornilov rising. Vain efforts! The masses flocked to us irresistibly, and their spirit rose hourly higher and higher. Delegates would arrive from the trenches and ask us, at the sittings of the Petrograd Soviet: “How long will this unbearable situation last? The soldiers have authorized us to tell you that if by the 15th of November no decisive steps are taken towards peace, the trenches will be evacuated, and the whole army will march back to the rear!” Such a resolve had really spread all along the front. The soldiers were distributing from one sector to the other proclamations drawn up by themselves, Calling on all soldiers not to remain in the trenches after the first snow. “You have forgotten all about us,” the trench delegates would exclaim at the sittings of the Soviet “if you do not find some way out, we shall come here ourselves and scatter our enemies with our bayonets, but you, too, together with them.” Within a few weeks the Petrograd Soviet became the centre of attraction for the whole army. After the change of its policy and the new election of its Presidential Bureau, its resolutions had been infusing into the exhausted and despairing troops new hopes that a way out of the impossible situation might at length be found on the lines laid down by the Bolsheviks, namely, by the publication of the secret treaties and the immediate proposal of an armistice on all fronts. “You say that full authority should pass into the hands of the Soviets? Then take it. Are you afraid that the front may not support you? Cast aside all doubt; the overwhelming mass of the soldiers are entirely on your side.”
In the meantime the conflict regarding the evacuation of the Petrograd garrison was proceeding apace. There were almost daily meetings of the garrison, consisting of company, regimental, and other committees. The influence of our party in the garrison became absolute and quite undivided. The Staff of the Petrograd military district was in a state of extreme confusion. At one time they would try to enter into regular relations with us; at other times, urged on by the leaders of the Central Executive Committee, they would threaten us with repression.
THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE MILITARY
We have already mentioned the formation of a special Military Revolutionary Committee attached to the Petrograd Soviet, which was intended by us as a sort of Soviet Staff of the Petrograd garrison, by way of a counter-weight to Kerensky's Staff. “But the existence of two Staffs cannot be tolerated,” urged the doctrinaire representatives of the Coalitionist parties. “Is, however,” we replied, “a state of things tolerable in which the garrison has no confidence in the official Staff and fears that the removal of troops from Petrograd may be dictated by some new counter-revolutionary design?” “But the creation of a new Staff means an insurrection,” argued the Right; “your Military Revolutionary Committee will have for its aim not so much the examination of the military intentions and orders of the military authorities, as the preparation and execution of a revolt against the present Government.” This argument was perfectly just, but for this very reason it did not frighten any of us. The necessity of overthrowing the Coalition Government was recognized by the overwhelming majority of the Soviet. The more convincingly the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were demonstrating that the Military Revolutionary Committee would inevitably become an instrument of revolt, the more readily did the Petrograd Soviet support this new militant organ.
The first business of the Military Revolutionary Committee was to appoint Commissioners to all sections of the Petrograd garrison and to all the most important institutions of the capital and suburbs. We received intelligence from various quarters that the Government, or, rather, the Government parties, were busily organizing and arming their forces. From different stores, Government and private, they were removing rifles, revolvers, machine guns and cartridges for the purpose of arming the cadets, students, and, generally, the young bourgeoisie. It was essential to take some preventive measures at once. Commissioners were appointed to all stores and depots of arms, and they became masters of the situation practically without opposition. True, the commandants and proprietors of the stores tried to refuse them recognition, but it was sufficient for the Commissioners to appeal to the soldiers’ committee or to the employees of the particular store in order to break down the opposition almost immediately. Henceforth arms were only issued under direct orders from our Commissioners.
The regiments of the Petrograd garrison, indeed, had had their Commissioners before this, but they used to be appointed by the Central Executive Committee. We have already mentioned that after the June Congress of the Soviets, and particularly after the demonstration of July 1st, which showed the growing strength of the Bolsheviks, the Coalitionist parties had almost entirely shut out the Petrograd Soviet from all practical influence on the course of events m the revolutionary capital. The direction of the affairs of the Petrograd garrison was concentrated in the hands of the Central Executive Committee. Now the question was how to install Soviet Commissioners everywhere. This was only accomplished thanks to the energetic co-operation of the masses of the soldiers. Regiment after regiment would declare, at the end of meetings addressed by speakers from various parties, that they would only recognize the Commissioners appointed by the Petrograd Soviet, and would do nothing without their sanction.
In the appointment of these Commissioners the military organization of the Bolsheviks played a very important part. Already before the July days this organization had done a great deal of propaganda work. On July 18th the cycling battalion, brought into Petrograd by Kerensky, had sacked the villa of Mlle. Krzesinska, where the military organization of our party was located. The majority of its leaders and many of the rank and file were arrested, the papers were suppressed, and the printing machinery was destroyed. Only very slowly did the party again set up its press, but this time underground. Its military organization embraced only a few hundred men of the Petrograd garrison, but they included many determined and absolutely devoted revolutionary soldiers, young officers, and, principally, ensigns who had been imprisoned by Kerensky during July and August. All these now placed themselves at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee and were appointed to the most responsible militant posts.
It will not be out of place, however, to note here that it was exactly the members of the military organization of our party who, in November, adopted an attitude of extreme caution and even of some scepticism towards the idea of an immediate rising. The exclusive character of the organization and its avowedly military character involuntarily inclined its leaders to overestimate the importance of the purely technical means of an insurrection, and from this point of view we were undoubtedly very weak. Our strength lay in the revolutionary spirit of the masses and in their readiness to fight under our banner.
THE SWELLING TIDE
Side by side with the work of organization a raging and tearing agitation was being carried on. It was a period of incessant meetings at factories, in the Modern and Ciniselli Circuses, in the clubs and barracks. The atmosphere at all these meetings was decidedly electric. Every mention of an insurrection was met with a storm of applause and cries of approval. The bourgeois Press only intensified the general state of alarm. My order to the Sestroretski Small Arms Factory about the issue of 5,000 rifles to the Red Guard called forth an indescribable panic in bourgeois circles. They talked and wrote constantly about a general massacre that was being prepared. This, of course, did not in the least prevent the workers of the Sestroretski Factory from issuing arms to the Red Guards. The more furiously the bourgeois Press slandered and execrated us, the more ardently did the masses respond to our call. It became more and more evident to both sides that the crisis was bound to come to a head in the course of the next few days. The Socialist Revolutionary and Menshevik Press were frantically agitated: “The Revolution is in the greatest danger! A repetition of the July days is being prepared on an immensely greater scale and will therefore be bound to have still more ruinous results.”
Gorki, in his paper Novaya Zhizn (New Life), daily prophesied the coming collapse of the whole cultural life of the country. In general, the Socialist red paint was vanishing with astonishing rapidly from the bourgeois intellectuals as the stern reign of the working-class dictatorship drew nearer. On the other hand, the soldiers, even of the more backward regiments, were greeting the Commissioners of the Military Revolutionary Committee with enthusiasm. Delegates were arriving from Cossack troops and from the Socialist minority amongst the cadets, promising, in case of an open collision, to secure, at least, the neutrality of their men. It was evident that Kerensky’s Government was simply hanging in the air, without any firm ground under its feet.
The Military Staff of the district entered into negotiations with us and proposed a compromise. In order to get an idea of the strength of resistance of our foe we entered into pourparlers. But the nerves of the Staff were all on edge. Now they would admonish, then they would threaten us, and even declared that our Commissioners were illegal – which ban, of course, did not in the least interfere with their work. The Central Executive Committee, in agreement with the Military Staff, appointed Staff Captain Malevsky to be Chief Commissioner for the Petrograd military district, and generously consented to recognize our Commissioners, provided they were subordinated to their Chief Commissioner. This proposal was rejected and the negotiations were broken off.
Prominent Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries would come to us as mediators, reason with and threaten us, foretelling our doom and the doom of the Revolution.
THE PETROGRAD SOVIET DAY
The building of the Smolny Institute was at that time already in the hands of the Petrograd Soviet and of our party. The Mensheviks and the Right Socialist Revolutionaries had moved to Marie Palace, where the scarcely born Provisional Parliament was almost breathing its last. Kerensky made a great speech in the Provisional Parliament, in which, accompanied by the stormy applause of the bourgeois section, he attempted to conceal his impotence behind hysterical threats. The Military Staff made a last attempt at resistance. It sent an invitation to various units of the garrison, asking them to appoint two delegates from each unit to discuss the question of the evacuation of troops from the capital. The conference was fixed for one o’clock, November 4th. The regiments immediately informed us of this invitation, and we at once called a meeting of the garrison over the telephone for eleven o’clock in the morning. Some of the delegates, however, found their way to the Staff, but only to declare that without the permission of the Petrograd Soviet they would not go an inch anywhere. The garrison meeting almost unanimously reaffirmed its loyalty to the Military Revolutionary Committee. Opposition came only from the official representatives of the former Soviet parties, but it found no support whatever among the delegates of the regiments. The attempt of the Military Staff only showed the more clearly that the ground beneath our feet was firm. In the front ranks stood the Volhynian Regiment – the same one which, on the night of July 16th-17th, had marched to the strains of its band into the Taurida Palace for the purpose of putting down the Bolsheviks.
The Central Executive Committee, as was stated above, held possession of the funds and the Press of the Petrograd Soviet. All efforts to obtain possession even of one of these papers had proved of no avail. Hence about the middle of October steps had been taken to establish an independent paper for the Petrograd Soviet. But all the printing establishments were occupied, and their owners boycotted us, with the connivance of the Central Executive Committee. It was, therefore, decided to organize a Petrograd Soviet Day for the purpose of promoting an extended propaganda and collecting money for the establishment of a paper. This day had been fixed a fortnight previously for November 4th, and thus coincided with the date when the insurrection was publicly coming to view. The hostile Press was announcing it as an established fact that in November there would be an armed rising of the Bolsheviks in the streets of Petrograd. No one doubted that there would be a revolt. The only question was when. Efforts were made to guess and to predict, in order to elicit from us either a denial or an admission. All in vain. The Soviet calmly and confidently was forging ahead, paying no heed to the howl of bourgeois public opinion.
November 4th became the day of the review of the forces of the proletarian army. It went off splendidly in all respects. In spite of the warnings emanating from the Right that rivers of blood would flow in the streets of Petrograd on that day, the masses of the people poured out into the streets in huge waves to take part in the meetings of the Soviet. All our oratorical strength was made full use of; all public places were packed; meetings went on continuously for hours. These were addressed by speakers from our party; by delegates who had come from different parts of the country to take part in the Congress of Soviets; by speakers from the front, from the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and from the Anarchists. The halls were simply overwhelmed by the masses of workers and soldiers. There had been few such meetings in Petrograd even during the Revolution.
A considerable section of the lower middle class was greatly disturbed – not so much actually frightened as made uneasy by the warnings and slanders of the bourgeois Press. Tens of thousands of people beat in huge waves against the walls of the People’s Palace, overflowed into the corridors, and filled the halls. From the columns enormous garlands of human heads, hands, and feet were hanging down like bunches of grapes. The air seemed impregnated with an electric current, such as is fclt at the most critical moments of a revolution. “Down with Kerensky’s Government!” “Down with the war!” “All authority to the Soviets!” Not one of the representatives of the former Soviet parties dared step forward before this colossal gathering with a word of opposition. The triumph of the Petrograd Soviet was unique and undivided. The campaign was in reality already won. All that remained was to deal the phantom Government a final military blow.
THE GAINING OVER OF THE WAVERING UNITS
The more cautious elements in our own midst, however, warned us that there were still some units of troops which were not with us – the Cossacks, the Cavalry Regiment, the Semenoff Guards, and the Cyclist Regiment. Propagandists and Commissioners were appointed to these units. Their reports seemed perfectly satisfactory. The heated atmosphere was affecting everyone and everything, and even the most conservative elements of the army were unable to withstand the general tendency of the Petrograd garrison.
I went to an open-air meeting of the Semenoff regiment which was considered to be the chief support of the Kerensky Government. The best-known speakers of the Right wing were there. They clung to the conservative regiment of the Guards as to the last prop of the Coalition Ministry. But it was of no avail. The regiment declared in our favour by an overwhelming majority, and did not even allow the former Ministers to finish their speeches. Those groups which still opposed the demands of the Soviet consisted mainly of officers, volunteers, and, generally, of the middle-class intellectuals and semi-intellectuals. The workers and peasant masses were wholly on our side. The cleavage was pretty well along a straight social line.
The central military basis of Petrograd is the Peter and Paul Fortress. We appointed as its commandant a young ensign who soon proved himself to be almost born for the place and in a few hours became complete master of the situation. The “lawful” military authorities stepped aside to wait and see what might happen.
For reasons given above, the Cyclist Regiment was considered by us a very unreliable unit. On November 5th I went to the fortress at about two o’clock in the afternoon. In the courtyard a meeting was being held. The speakers of the Right wing were most cautious and evasive, carefully avoiding any question about Kerensky, whose name, even in soldiers’ circles, always gave rise to cries of protest and indignation. They, however, listened to us and adhered to us. At four o’clock the cyclists held a battalion meeting in a neighbouring place, in the Modern Circus. Amongst the speakers was the Quartermaster-General Paradeloff. He, too, spoke very, very cautiously. Far gone were the days when the official and semi-official orators never spoke of the workers’ party otherwise than as a band of traitors and hirelings of the German Kaiser. The Assistant-Chief of the Staff came up to me and said: “Let us, for goodness’ sake, come to some understanding.” But it was now too late. Against only thirty votes, the battalion declared itself, after a debate, in favour of the assumption of authority by the Soviets.
THE BEGINNING OF THE INSURRECTION
The Kerensky Government was casting about for help from’ one quarter to another. It recalled two new cyclist battalions from the front and a mortar battery, and tried to call out some cavalry. The cyclists, when on their way, sent a telegram to the Petrograd Soviet: “We are being taken to Petrograd. We do not know for what purpose. Kindly explain.” We asked them to stop and to send a delegation to us. When the latter arrived, they declared at the meeting of the Soviet that the battalion was entirely on our side. This aroused a new storm of enthusiasm. The battalion was ordered to enter the town immediately.
The number of delegates from the front increased day by day. They came for information on the position of affairs. They took our literature and went back to the front in order to: spread the news that the Petrograd Soviet was carrying on a struggle for the assumption of authority by the workers, soldiers, and peasants. “The trenches will support you,” they told us. The old army committees, on the other hand, which had not been re-elected for the last four or five months, were sending us threatening telegrams. But these frightened no one. We knew perfectly well that the committees were quite out of touch with the masses of the soldiers, as was the Central Executive Committee in regard to the local Soviets.
The Military Revolutionary Committee appointed Commissioners to all the railway stations. They kept all incoming and outgoing trains under close observation, and particularly watched all movements of troops. A continuous telephonic and motor connection was set up with all neighbouring towns and their garrisons. It was the duty of all the Soviets in agreement with the Petrograd Soviet to see to it that no counter revolutionary troops, or rather troops deceived by the Government, entered Petrograd. The lower ranks of the railway servants at the stations and railway workers gave ready recognition to our Commissioners.
On November 6th a difficulty arose at the Telephone Exchange. We were refused connection. The cadets had entrenched themselves at the Central Telephone Exchange, and under their protection the telephone girls came out in opposition to the Soviet. This was the first manifestation of the future sabotage of the officials and civil servants. The Military Revolutionary Committee sent a detachment to the Telephone Exchange and put two small guns at the entrance. So began thc seizure of the administrative offices. Sailors and Red Guards were stationed in small detachments at the Telegraph Office, at the Post Office, and other public offices, and measures were taken to gain possession of the State Bank. The Soviet Centre, the Smolny Institute, was converted into a fortress. In the attic there we still had, as a legacy from the Central Executive Committee, a score or so of machine guns, but they had been neglected, and the men in charge of them had lost all discipline. We summoned to the Smolny an additional machine-gun detachment, and early in the morning the soldiers were loudly wheeling their machine guns along the long stone Corridors of the Smolny Institute. Some Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, who, were still at the Institute, would now and then put their heads out of the doors with astonished or frightened faces. The Soviet and also the garrison held daily meetings at the Institute.
On the third floor, in a small corner room, the Military Revolutionary Committee was in permanent session. Hither flowed all information regarding the movements of troops, the frame of mind of soldiers and workers, the progress of propaganda in the barracks, the doings of the hooligans, the conferences held by the bourgeois politicians, life in the Winter Palace, and the intentions of the former Soviet parties. Our informants came from every quarter, and included workers, officers, house porters, Socialist cadets, servants, and fashionable ladies. Many brought only ridiculous nonsense; others, however, gave us very valuable information. The decisive moment was drawing near. It was clear that there could be no turning back.
On November 6th, in the evening, Kerensky came to the Provisional Parliament and demanded its approval of repressive measures against the Bolsheviks – but the Provisional Parliament was in a pitiful state of confusion and well-nigh dissolution. The Cadets were urging the Right Socialist Revolutionaries to accept a vote of confidence; the Right Socialist Revolutionaries were exerting pressure on the Centre; the Centre wavered; and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries were carrying on a policy of Parliamentary opposition. After a number of conferences, discussions and hesitations, the resolution of the Left wing was adopted, condemning the seditious movement of the Soviet, but placing the responsibility for this on the anti-democratic policy of the Government. At the same time, we were daily receiving by post letters informing us of the numberless death sentences passed on us, of infernal machines, of the imminent blowing up of the Smolny Institute, etc. The bourgeois Press was savage with hatred and fear. Gorki, completely forgetting his own Song of the Falcon, continued to prophesy in his paper, the Novaya Zhizn, the coming end of the world.
The members of the Military Revolutionary Committee had not left the Smolny Institute for the last week. They slept in snatches on sofas, constantly wakened by couriers, scouts, cyclists, telegraphists, and telephone bells. The most anxious night was that of November 6th-7th. We were informed from Pavlovsk by telephone that the Government was summoning the artillerists from there and the ensigns from the Peterhoff School. Kerensky had collected in the Winter Palace cadets, officers, and “shockers.” We ordered, by telephone, detachments of trustworthy military guards to bar all entrances to Petrograd and to send agitators to meet the detachments summoned by the Government. If they could not be kept back by reason, then arms were to be employed. All our conversations were carried on perfectly openly over the telephone, and were, therefore, accessible to the Government’s agents.
Our Commissioners informed us that our friends were keeping watch over all entrances to Petrograd. A portion of the Oranienbaum cadets did, however, get past our barriers in the night, and we followed up their further movements by telephone. We strengthened the outside guards of the Smolny by summoning another company. We maintained a continuous connection with all parts of the garrison. Squads on duty kept watch in all regiments. Delegates from every unit were constantly, day and night, at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee. An order was issued to put down ruthlessly every Black Hundred agitation, to use arms at the first attempts at street pogroms, and to act, if necessary, without mercy. During this decisive night all the most important points in the city passed into our hands almost without resistance, without fighting, without victims. The State Bank was guarded by Government sentries and an armoured car. The building was surrounded from all sides by our detachments, the armoured car was seized unawares, and the Bank passed into the hands of the Military Revolutionary Committee without a single shot.
On the Neva, below the Franco-Russian Works, stood the cruiser Aurora undergoing repair. Her crew consisted entirely of sailors wholeheartedly devoted to the Revolution. When, at the end of August, Kornilov was threatening Petrograd, the sailors of the Aurora were summoned to protect the Winter Palace. And although they were already extremely hostile to Kerensky’s Government, they knew that their duty was to repel the attempt of the counterrevolutionaries, and they took up their positions without a word. When the danger passed, they were again pushed aside. Now, in these days of the November insurrection, they were too dangerous. The Ministry of the Marine gave orders to the Aurora to get under way and leave Petrograd waters. The crew immediately informed us of this fact. We countermanded the order, and the cruiser remained ready, at any moment, to use all her forces on behalf of the Soviet authority.
THE DECISIVE DAY
At the dawn of November 7th the men and women employed at the party’s printing works came to the Smolny and informed us that the Government had stopped our chief party paper and also the new organ of the Petrograd Soviet. The printing works had had their doors sealed up by some Government agents. The Military Revolutionary Committee at once countermanded the order, took both papers under its protection, and placed the high honour of protecting the freedom of the Socialist Press from counter-revolutionary attempts on the valiant Volhynian Regiment. After this, work was resumed and went on continuously at the printing office, and both papers came out at the appointed hour.
The Government was still in session in the Winter Palace, but it had already become a mere shadow of its former self. It had ceased to exist politically. In the course of November 7th the Winter Palace was gradually surrounded from all sides by our troops. At one o’clock in the afternoon, in the name of the Military Revolutionary Committee, I announced at the sitting of the Petrograd Soviet that Kerensky’s Government no longer existed, and that, pending the decision of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, the Government authority would be assumed by the Military Revolutionary Committee.
Lenin had left Finland some days previously and was living in hiding in a working-class quarter in a suburb. On November 7th he came secretly to the Smolny. Judging by the newspapers, he had gained the impression that we were coming to a compromise with the Kerensky Government. The bourgeois Press had shrieked so much about the coming revolt, the march of armed soldiers in the streets, the pillage, and the inevitable rivers of blood, that it did not perceive the insurrection which, in reality, was now taking place, and accepted the negotiations between ourselves and the Military Staff at their face value. All this time, quietly, without any street fighting, without firing or bloodshed, one Government institution after another was being seized by highly disciplined detachments of soldiers, sailors, and Red Guards, in accordance with the exact telephone instructions emanating from the little room on the third floor of the Smolny Institute.
In the evening, the second All-Russian Congress of the Soviets held a preliminary meeting.
The report of the Central Executive Committee was submitted by Dan. He delivered an indictment against the rebels, the usurpers, and sedition-mongers, and tried to frighten the meeting by predicting the inevitable collapse of the insurrection, which in a day or two, he said, would be suppressed by troops from the front. His speech sounded exceedingly unconvincing and very much out of place in a hall in which the overwhelming majority of delegates were following with the greatest enthusiasm the victorious march of the Petrograd rising.
By this time the Winter Palace was surrounded, though not yet taken. From time to time shots were fired from the windows at the besiegers who were slowly and very carefully closing in upon the building. From the Peter and Paul Fortress a few shells were fired at the Palace, their distant sounds reaching the Smolny. Martoff, with impotent indignation, was speaking from the rostrum of civil war, and particularly of the siege of the Winter Palace where, among the other Ministers, there were – oh, horror of horrors! – members of the Menshevik Party. Two sailors, who had come to give news from the scenes of struggle, took the platform against him. They reminded our accusers of the July offensive, of the whole perfidious policy of the old Government, of the re-establishment of the death penalty for soldiers, of the arrests, of the sacking of revolutionary organizations, and vowed that they would either conquer or die. They it was who brought us the news of the first victims on our side on the Palace Square.
Every one rose as though moved by some invisible signal, and with a unanimity which is only provoked by a deep moral intensity of feeling sung a Funeral March. He who lived through this moment will never forget it. The meeting came to an abrupt end. It was impossible to sit there, calmly discussing the theoretical question as to the method of constructing the Government, with the echo reaching our ears of the fighting and firing at the walls of the Winter Palace, where, as a matter of fact, the fate of this very Government was already being decided.
The taking of the Palace, however, was a protracted business, and this caused some wavering amongst the less determined elements of the Congress. The Right wing, through its spokesmen, prophesied our early doom. All were waiting anxiously for news from the Winter Palace. After some time, Antonoff, who, had been directing the operations, arrived. At once there was dead silence in the hail. The Winter Palace had been taken. Kerensky had taken flight. The other Ministers had been arrested and conveyed to the Peter and Paul Fortress. The first chapter of the November Revolution was at an end.
The Right Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, numbering altogether about sixty persons, that is, about one-tenth of the Congress, left the meeting under protest. As they could do nothing else, they “threw the whole responsibility” for whatever might now happen on the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. The latter were still wavering. Their past bound them closely to Tchernov’s party. The Right wing of this party had now shifted entirely towards the lower middle class and their intellectuals, to the well-to-do peasants in the villages; in all, decisive questions it was marching hand in hand with the Liberal bourgeoisie against us. The more revolutionary elements of the party, reflecting the Radicalism of the social aspirations of the poorest peasantry, gravitated to the proletariat and its party. They were afraid, however, to cut the umbilical cord which bound them with the old party. When we were about to leave the Provisional Parliament, they refused to follow us and warned us against “adventures.” But the insurrection forced them to choose either for or against the Soviet. Not without hesitation, they were concentrating their forces on the same side of the barricade where we stood.