Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917: the memoirs of Fyodor Raskolnikov

As the October Revolution drew nearer, Kerensky’s government, losing its head in proportion to the increase in pressure from the working class, began releasing, one after another, the Bolsheviks arrested during the ‘July days’. One day in September Comrade Trotsky was released, quite out of the blue.

...At last, on October 11, my turn came. The prison governor, that SR Ensign, came in person to gladden me with the order of release. Comrade Roshal was rather surprised, and sorry that on this occasion he was being separated from me. After our harmonious joint work at Kronstadt our names had been so inseparably linked together in the trickery of the ‘July 3’ case and the campaign in the bourgeois press that even our Party comrades sometimes got us mixed up. I was no less surprised than Roshal that they were separating me from my political twin, against whom, moreover, the investigation had assembled less material for an indictment than against me. I tried to reassure Semyon, promising him that I would do all I could to restore the truth which had been trampled on.

Awaiting me in the entrance-hall of the prison was a Kronstadt sailor, Comrade Pelikhov, who had personally brought to the prison the order for my release, and had already managed to obtain from Party sources the sum of 3,000 roubles to be paid as surety, since, formally, like the other comrades who had been released before me, I was regarded as having been released ‘on bail’.

But our ‘case of July 3-5’, plentifully adorned with the slander of the repentant German spy Yermolenko and the falsification of the Tsarist examining magistrate Alexandrov, not being closed, and Messrs Alexinsky and Co. were continuing to weave their monstrous web around it. Exactly a fortnight later, however, the revolt of the working class shut the file of the ‘case of July 3-5’ and consigned it to the history archives as a glaring example of judicial bias and forgery. Stepping out of the prison on to the Vyborg-Side embankment and breathing in deeply the cool evening breeze that blew from the river, I felt that joyous sense of freedom which is known only to those who have learnt to value it while behind bars. I took a tram at the Finland station and quickly reached Smolny. It was already dark and lights were on everywhere. At the entrance, between the columns, I was met by Comrade P. Dybenko. “I’m off to Kolpino, to smash the Mensheviks,” boomed my naval comrade, rejoicing in anticipation of a victory soon to be won. Comrade Dybenko’s cheerful excitement came across to me from his big, strapping figure, filled with political enthusiasm. We were both in a hurry and so parted at once.

Smolny made a strange, unusual impression on me. I felt that the atmosphere was incandescent, that there was thunder in the air. In the mood of the delegates to the Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region which was taking place at the time, and in that of the central Party workers, an unusual elation, an extreme animation was noticeable. Comrades were excitedly discussing, in groups and pairs. They told straightaway that the CC had decided on armed insurrection. But there was a group of comrades, headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev, who did not agree with this decision and regarded rising as premature and doomed to defeat. There, in the dining-room, they gave me to read a typescript statement of the reasons for this view, signed by the two CC members mentioned, which was intended for the information of Party workers.

Already while in prison, during our recent lengthy discussions about the prospects before the Russian Revolution, we had all ultimately come to the conclusion that the revolution’s fate depended on an armed uprising, and that it was hard imagine a more favourable moment for this than now, when the Party, strengthened to some degree by the Kornilov revolt, had at last gained colossal influence among the worker, soldier and even the peasant masses. In prison we had not been able to visualise graphically the actual scale of the movement, but my very first day at Smolny and the numerous talks I had with comrades, finally convinced me that the mood of the masses had reached boiling point, that they were truly ready for battle, and the Party must at once put itself at the head of the movement, calling on the working class and the peasantry for a new revolution, so as not to let slip and lose for a long time an exceptionally favourable moment.

When I met my old friend L.B. Kamenev I immediately launched into a discussion with him about our differences. The starting point of Lev Borisovich’s argument was that our Party was not yet ready for insurrection. True, we had large masses of various kinds behind us, and they readily passed our resolutions, but there was still a long way to go from paper voting to active participation in an armed uprising. It was uncertain that the Petrograd garrison would show itself resolute in battle, ready to conquer or die. When the first critical circumstances arose the soldiers would desert us and run away.

“The Government, on the other hand,” said Comrade Kamenev, “has splendidly organised troops at its disposal, devoted to its cause – Cossacks and Cadets who have been worked up against us and will fight desperately to the end.” Drawing from all this depressing conclusions about our chances of victory, Comrade Kamenev had arrived at the view that an unsuccessful attempt at insurrection would result in defeat and downfall for our Party, which would throw us back and delay for a long time the development of the revolution. I could not share his opinion and frankly expressed my own to Comrade Kamenev. However, as always happens between convinced people, we separated with our respective convictions unchanged.

Comrade Pelikhov, who was still with me, had already for some time been insisting that we leave, because he had promised the Kronstadt Committee to bring me straight from prison to Kronstadt, and, in fact, the ‘lads’ had by now been waiting for quite a long time at the landing-stage. We left Smolny and, going aboard the launch that stood ready, set out for Kronstadt.

What a splendid fellow that Pelikhov was! An ardent, quick tempered, resolute and courageous sailor with an honest revolutionary heart. The February Revolution had found him in penal servitude, to which he had been consigned after one of the many trials of Kronstadt sailors. His health had broken down in the Tsarist prison and that was probably the reason for the feverish brightness of his eyes, his sunken cheeks, thin body and consumptive cough. He was elected to the Kronstadt Soviet in the first days of the revolution. An impetuous enthusiast, he could not sit still for one moment when some stirring topic was being discussed. He would get excited, start to speak, and deliver an agitated speech, but, at last, his voice would break, he would choke and, unable to express all the feelings that had him in their grip, would helplessly wave his fist, clutching his sailor’s cap, and irritably resume his seat.

Comrade Pelikhov was looked upon among us as one of the Lefts, so that comrade Roshal sometimes jokingly called him ‘the Anarchist’. Now, on the boat, Comrade Pelikhov informed me of the state of feeling at Kronstadt, which had reached the highest level of revolutionary intensity, and supplemented what I knew already about Party affairs. He gave me to read Comrade Lenin’s letter addressed to Party members.

This letter finally strengthened to the full my conviction of the correctness of my views on the urgency of insurrection. [1] Comrade Lenin defended this idea very convincingly, starting from an analysis of the actual relation of forces. In support of his view he not only adduced logical arguments but also backed them with the figures of the elections to the Soviets and the municipal councils. His final argument was that the overwhelming majority of the working class and a substantial section of the peasantry were decisively for us. The yearning for peace ensured a majority for us among the soldier masses. The political atmosphere was extremely incandescent. The time had come for a proletarian revolution, for overthrowing the hated government of Kerensky and establishing the dictatorship of the working class and the peasantry. This moment must not be let slip. It was not possible to wait any longer. Danger threatened the revolution. Certain victory awaited us.

Ilyich’s brilliant letter, this revolutionary call to rise in revolt, this ardent summons to the barricades, lifted my morale as nothing else could have done.

Our little launch was now approaching Kronstadt. The lights of the Red island sparkled from afar, they became ever nearer and brighter, and at last the launch crept into the Naval Harbour.

Despite the late hour, a large crowd of sailors and workers were standing on the summer landing-stage and in the park, before the monument to Peter the Great. The comrades had prepared a welcome for me. The familiar sound of a ship’s band rang out. The launch tied up.

Comrade Entin, standing on the landing-stage, spoke a few warm words of greeting. Still under the impression of Comrade Lenin’s stimulating words, I delivered a fervent speech, dotting all the i’s. After a brief, annihilating characterisation of Kerensky’s regime, I concluded thus: “The Provisional Government convicted me of calling for an armed uprising. That was an impudent lie. At that time I called you, men of Kronstadt, not to an uprising but merely to an armed demonstration. But today I say to you: rise up and overthrow this hated bourgeois government of Kerensky, which lets Bolsheviks rot in prison, forces Lenin to remain in illegality, and, stopping at nothing, strangles the revolution.”

I noticed at once that the sharper, more resolute and more determined were the words spoken, the more sympathetic was the response they received. Even for Kronstadt, which literally seethed in the spring and summer months of 1917, this atmosphere of extreme revolutionary elan was exceptional. I felt that hatred for the Provisional Government had reached its highest pitch, and the notion of overthrowing that government was banging away in the brain of every conscious worker, sailor and soldier.

When the speeches were over we went to the building of the Party committee. In accordance with established Kronstadt custom, the comrades who had arranged my welcome now picked me up and carried me along, high above the crowd. I had not collected myself when strong, muscular sailors’ arms laid hold of me from several directions and slowly lifted me in the air. I must confess that I did not feel quite comfortable: the awkward sensation was something like what I felt in Japan when I once had occasion to travel by rickshaw.

Fortunately, the Party’s premises were very near, only a few yards from the landing-stage. The Kronstadt committee had comparatively recently moved into the building of the former Naval Court. We went up to the first floor. The huge courtroom, in which the red cloth that ceremonially covered the long table had been preserved, together with the high-backed, stately judges’ chairs, was full of people. There, where not so long ago they had sat in judgement on revolutionary sailors and passed merciless sentences on them, now sat those same revolutionary sailors, but with the proud, independent air of judges of the bourgeois class and masters of the fate of the revolution.

I had to make a long speech. Having enjoyed extensive leisure in prison, and used it to read conscientiously almost all the Russian newspapers, I possessed a fair amount of material, and it was not difficult for me to spend an hour and a half acquainting the comrades with it, in spite of the physical fatigue that was coming over me at the end of this tiring first day of freedom.

At the end of my report, when it was already late at night, we old friends of the Kronstadt committee gathered in a separate room, round a tea-table. Here were nearly all the active workers of Kronstadt, with whom I had lived for only a short time but with whom I had experienced so much in the four stormy months between February and July.

All the ‘old guard’ of Kronstadt were present.

The young doctor L.A. Bregman, who had just graduated from Yuriev (Dorpat) University, was shy, with a cordial smile and soft, kind eyes: he was a general favourite among us. Though he spoke little at meetings he took part in leading the Party’s work, and the Kronstadt Committee frequently assigned him tasks of various sorts, mostly organisational. In addition, Comrade Bergman carried on political activity among the crew of the training ship Zarya Svobody, the former Alexander II, which, though by that time she had declined to the condition of an old coffin, still retained her armament, consisting of eight 12-inch 40 calibre guns.

This archaic vessel was our principal armed force, and primary importance was attributed to the morale of its crew. To the credit of Zarya Svobody, it must be said that her crew always gave staunch and unwavering support to the Bolshevik Party. Later, during the October Revolution, Zarya Svobody was sent into the Sea Canal, in order to open fire on the bands of Kerensky and Krasnov if they should get close to Petrograd.

Another Kronstadt activist, Comrade VJ. Deshevoy, spoke at meetings in Anchor Square, wrote articles for Golos Pravdy, the organ of the Kronstadt Committee edited by Smirnov and me, and also conducted scientific and propagandist study-groups among the workers and sailors of Kronstadt.

Comrade P.I. Smirnov, a student from the Polytechnical Institute, took great pleasure in literary work: he read through the material we received, wrote articles, looked after the technical side of our paper, and spent his nights at the printing-press. Comrade I.P. Flerovsky took a direct part in the work of the Party Committee, attended the meeting of the Kronstadt Soviet in which he led, along with other comrades, the activity of the Bolshevik fraction, and also did propaganda work, regularly giving lectures.

Comrade Entin functioned as an agitator at meetings, speaking on behalf of the Kronstadt Committee whenever our Party’s participation was required: as a result of his frequent speeches he became well trained in polemic with the Mensheviks and Anarchists. In addition, Comrade Entin helped with Golos Pravdy, for which at one time he provided the ‘Review of the Press’.

To complete our close-knit company of friends that night we needed only one more comrade – S.G. Roshal, a first-class agitator at meetings who was extremely popular with the Kronstadters.

We sat talking till long after midnight, and when, at last, we decided to break up, I went off to my ship, Osvoboditel (formerly Rynda), where I was listed as officer of the watch. When I got to the ship I learnt that while I had been in prison the crew had elected me Senior Officer. This was, of course, merely a gesture of sympathy, since, in view of my burden of political work, I was physically incapable of serving on the ship in that or any other capacity. The ward-room, which under the old regime had been a closed, unattainable place for the sailors, was quickly filled with members of the ship’s committee and other sailors from the crew of Osvoboditel, who made me once again spend a long time telling them about the Kresty and sharing with them my views of the political situation.

I slept on Osvoboditel and next morning returned to Petrograd, accompanied by the inseparable Pelikhov.

At Smolny the session of the congress of Soviets of the Northern Region was already in full swing. The Mensheviks and SRs, having become convinced that the decisive majority was not on their side, had just left the congress. This was a dress-rehearsal of that treacherous tactic which they used later on at the All-Russia Congress of Soviets. But this walk-out proved to be symbolic: it signified the departure of the Mensheviks and SRs from the historical scene on which, during the whole of the first period of the revolution, they had played such a miserable and shameful role.

Comrade Lashevich was speaking. In the loud, booming voice of a good cathedral archdeacon, accompanying his words with vigorous gesticulations, he delivered a vigorous condemnation of the traitors to the revolution. It sounded like an anathema.

Finally, Comrade Trotsky spoke. He drew the balance-sheet of the moribund regime of Kerensky and of the Menshevik and SR parties which had linked their fate with it. He devoted particular attention to the Kornilov adventure and Kerensky’s involvement in this shameful plot against the Revolution.

While denouncing the compromisers, Comrade Trotsky at the same time carefully stressed that he meant only the Right wing of the SRs, thereby distinguishing between them and the Left-SRs.

Soon after he had spoken, a break was announced. I put on my coat and left Smolny. Having found the Ministry of Justice, in Yekaterinskaya Street, I entered a large, typically bureaucratic entrance-hall, with chairs formally arranged along the walls. On these chairs sat lonely suppliants and petitioners with downcast looks. At the door opposite the entrance stood a sleek young man, a paper in his hand, writing something down with a preoccupied air. This was the Minister’s secretary, a barrister named Danchich. Without hurrying, I went up to him and announced that I had to see the Minister Malyantovich. “Would you be so good as to tell me your name?” this dyed-blond fellow asked me, his face displaying the obsequious smile he kept ready-prepared for every visitor.

I gave him my name. The smile on Danchich’s face was replaced by a look of astonishment. “Are you the Raskolnikov from Kronstadt?” he asked, with searching curiosity, looking me straight in the eye.

I replied that, before my arrest, I had been working at Kronstadt.

“But what is it you want to see the Minister about?” Danchich asked me, inquisitively.

“I shall tell that to the Minister himself,” I said, and broke off our undesirably prolonged conversation.

Danchich wrote my name on his list, and asked me to wait.

A small boy of about ten came in from the street, wearing a greatcoat that was awkwardly puckered; being too big for him. Weeping and sobbing, he began to relate his sad family history: his father had been killed at the front, and he himself had just returned from there, to learn that his mother had died in poverty. He had already been to see Kerensky, but had met with neither sympathy nor help. In search of truth and justice he had now come to the Ministry of Justice. Danchich coldly redirected him to some other bureaucratic institution and the boy, dazed with grief, wiped the tears from his dirty face, and with a helpless look disappeared into the corridor. After waiting for about two hours I was at last invited into Malyantovich’s office.

This former Bolshevik, who had once readily given shelter in his Moscow barrister’s chambers to illegal Party workers, had, as a Menshevik, become a ‘socialist minister’ in Kerensky’s government.

As I crossed the threshold of this spacious but dark and loamy office, its walls lined with safes and bookshelves laden with many-volumed collections of laws and stout legal reference-books, Malyantovich politely came towards me, extending his hand.

“What can I do for you?” he asked, more in the manner of a barrister than a minister.

I explained that I had come to see him not to ask for anything but merely in order to find the explanation of a fact which I did not understand: why was Roshal being kept in prison, when I had been released? Pointing out that we had been involved in one and the same case, which meant that there were no grounds for putting me in a more privileged position than him, I particularly stressed that my comrades in the leadership of the demonstration, including Roshal, had asked me, as a serviceman, to assume one-man command during the march in Petrograd, which I had done. Consequently, I bore greater responsibility than the other Kronstadt comrades, and all the more so because I had become commandant of Kshesinskaya’s house, and had used armed force in its defence, whereas no such charge could be brought against Roshal.

Malyantovich, fixing upon me his lively eyes, which had seen much in their time, and stroking his greying hair, replied in an unhurried way, carefully weighing his words, that on the basis of the testimony we had given, the Provisional Government had become convinced that I would not try to evade trial, whereas where Roshal was concerned, the Minister emphasised, “we have no such confidence”.

I said that this mistrust was refuted by the fact that Comrade Roshal had voluntarily presented himself at the Kresty. The Minister spread his hands in a suave gesture and repeated his last phrase.

Having established that Comrade Roshal was not to be released, and realising that, having served throughout as a bogey for the bourgeoisie, he was now to be made a scapegoat, I considered my mission at an end, said goodbye to the Minister, and returned to Smolny.

In the Institute’s long corridors I encountered Comrade L.B. Kamenev.

“There’s the one to go instead of me: Raskolnikov,” said Comrade Kamenev to the military men who surrounded him, as he impetuously seized me by the arm, smiling broadly.

But the comrades, while agreeing with his proposal as it affected me, nevertheless went on insisting that Kamenev must go along with me, because the Chemical Warfare Battalion had already been told that he would speak to them, and they had even printed posters and stuck them up. Lev Borisovich tried hard to get out of this assignment, but the representatives of the Chemical Warfare Battalion remained implacable. There was nothing to be done about it: Lev Borisovich had to submit.

“Very well,” he said, “but wait a minute. I’ve got to talk to somebody about something.” He quickly returned and, seating ourselves in S.Ya. Bodgatyev’s car, we set off to the Reserve Flamethrowing and Chemical Warfare Battalion.

Arriving on the Petersburg Side, we proceeded to a large drill-hall. It was half-occupied by benches on which were already seated the men of the Chemical Warfare Battalion, soldiers from neighbouring regiments and members of the working-class public. Many were standing, for lack of anywhere to sit down. We went up on to an improvised stage, in the midst of which stood the chairman’s table. Comrade Kamenev asked me to speak first.

I began by saying that the iron doors of the prison had opened for me only the day before. Then, after describing the whole crying scandal of our case, the rascally tricks payed by the Tsarist examining magistrates and prosecutors, who had dragged into our case, which arose from a political demonstration, the exploits in speculation and spying of some Citizeness Sumenson, who was unknown to us, the dirty doings of the dubious Ukrainian activist Skoropys-Ioltukhovsky and the lying, provocational testimony of the repentant German spy Yermolenko, I passed from this particular question to a general criticism of Kerensky’s political regime. I concluded my speech with literally the same words I had spoken at the Kronstadt landing-stage, that is, with a call to insurrection.

From my opening words I felt close contact with my audience, the closest interaction between us. The speech evidently found an echo in my listeners, and their mood in turn influenced me. Consequently, the tone of the speech steadily rose, and the conclusions grew sharper and sharper.

I was amazed at the militant mood of revolutionary impatience I found at this meeting. I felt that every one of these thousands of soldiers and workers was ready at any moment to take to the streets, arms in hand. Their ebullient feelings, their seething hatred of the Provisional Government was not at all disposed towards passivity. Only at Kronstadt, on the eve of the July affair, had I observed a similar ferment of revolutionary passion yearning for action. This still further strengthened my profound conviction that the cause of the proletarian revolution was on the right road.

Comrade Kamenev rose after me. He at once began to speak with great fervour. The sharpness of his speech met with marked success. From outside, judging by what he said, it was hard to realise that, actually, he was against an immediate insurrection; On the contrary, sparks of revolutionary fire flashed from his inflammatory speech.

What followed logically from all his critique, from his entire estimate of the situation was the inevitability and expediency of immediate armed struggle. All that was left to his listeners was to draw the practical conclusions. By his speeches, which were truly revolutionary both in content and tone Comrade Kamenev rendered very great services to the cause of the proletarian revolution, and in face of their grandeur the mistake he made, and which he quickly repudiated, fades into insignificance.

The circumstances were stronger than the men, and even the supporters of more cautious tactics were obliged at this time to make most trenchant speeches. Besides, regardless of their subjective feelings, Party discipline compelled them to do this. I went straight from the meeting to spend the night on the Vyborg Side, and on the morning of October 13 proceeded to the Central Committee, which was then housed in quiet, gentlemanly Furshtadtskaya Street.

After passing through large rooms filled from top to bottom with packages of literature I went down a few steps and, passing along a corridor, found Ya. M. Sverdlov in a small room on the left. [2]

He greeted me with that organic, inward goodwill which was in general characteristic of many old Party workers, who had learnt the value of comradely relations in prison, exile and penal servitude. Without wasting time, Yakov Mikhailovich took me at once into the thick of practical matters. After first acquainting me with the latest decisions of the CC Comrade Sverdlov explained that all the Party’s work was now concentrated on preparing the overthrow of the Provisional Government.

“At Kronstadt, of course, there’s nothing for you to do: everything’s already well in hand there,” said Comrade Sverdlov, in his deep voice, and in a tone that brooked no objection, as he removed his pince-nez and wiped them with his handkerchief. “So what you must do is go at once to Luga: not everything is as it should be there.”

Comrade Sverdlov then described to me the situation at Luga, where the Soviet was in the hands of the compromisers and where a concentration of troops loyal to the Provisional Government had recently been observed. He emphasised the outstanding strategical importance of Luga, as the most important intermediate point on the railway between Petrograd and the front. I was charged with the task of carrying out a deep reconnaissance mission to ascertain the state of feeling among the Luga garrison, and of creating there an atmosphere favourable to us.

Hardly had we finished our conversation, so far as the main points were concerned, than into the room came a group of leading members of the Novgorod Party Committee, headed by Mikhail Roshal, Semyon’s young brother. The Novgorod comrades said that in a day or two a provincial congress of Soviets was to be held in their town, and they needed to have present a speaker “from the centre”.

“Go on, give us Raskolnikov,” they asked.

At first Yakov Mikhailovich would not agree, on the grounds that I had another responsible job to do, but eventually, after pondering awhile, he gave in – but only on condition that, after spending two or three days at Novgorod, I should go from there to Luga.

I still had to see Semyon Roshal, to tell him both about the general political situation and about his personal position. I went to the Kresty, and was shown into the prison governor’s office. The post of governor was still held by that long-moustached ensign, a member of the SR party, whom the prisoners definitely suspected of acts of embezzlement. Whether or not that was so, he certainly left the cells unheated despite the October cold, and fed the inmates such stinking food that one sniff of it was enough to nauseate even a hungry man.

At this time the governor, taking note of the growth in the Bolsheviks’ political influence, was trying in the most shameless fashion to ingratiate himself with us. Drawing over his mean rascal’s face a mask of unctuous politeness, he summoned Roshal to his office, although as a rule, visits were supposed to take place in a special room and through a double grating. Nor was that all. He courteously left the office, so that we were on our own. This, of course, made it much easier for me to convey my secret information. Semyon seemed despondent and even hinted at suicide. It was clear that during the last two days he had become very discouraged.

I initiated him into what the Party was doing, told him of the latest decisions by the Central Committee, and shared with him my impressions and observations, not concealing my own optimistic estimate of what lay ahead. Semyon, in whose spiritual life mood usually played a major role, cheered up noticeably.

Regarding his personal fate, I could not hide it from Semyon that, in all probability he was destined to be used as the scapegoat, but, as against that, I assured him that within a few days the proletarian revolution would set him free.

And in fact, on October 25, with the first shot from the Aurora, Semyon was freed, and at once threw himself into the intense militant activity of an energetic devoted revolutionary – soon, alas, to be tragically broken off by the shooting of Comrade Roshal on the Romanian front. [3]

From the Kresty I went to Smolny, to a meeting of the Bureau of the Soviets of the Northern Region, to which I had been elected at the concluding session of their congress. Before the meeting began I was approached by Filippovsky, a naval engineer-mechanic, a Right-SR who made a more agreeable impression than other members of his party, but who had undeservedly and unexpectedly become one of the leaders of the Petrograd Soviet and its Executive Committee. Filippovsky began to ask me, in my capacity as a Kronstadter, whether I agreed with the removal of the heavy artillery from the ‘Obruchev’ fort, in view of the fact that strategic considerations required the placing of these guns in the Rear Sea Position.

I replied that I did not agree, making the point that, at the given moment, any attempt at partial disarmament of Kronstadt had a political character and might be interpreted by the masses, not without reason, as a counter-revolutionary move on the part of the Provisional Government. Other Kronstadters who were present – I.P. Flerovsky and Lyudmila Stal – warmly supported me.

Filippovsky tried to argue with us. Breaking off this fruitless dispute, I went over to the table where the members of the Bureau of the Soviets of the Northern Region were sitting – Comrades Krylenko, Breslav and others. The first question to come up was the election of a presidium for the Bureau. Two candidates were nominated for the post of chairman: Comrade Krylenko and me. But Nikolai Vasilyevich (Krylenko) categorically refused the nomination, because of his very great burden of work, and so I was elected. We then had to allot the areas of responsibility among the individual members of the Bureau. I mentioned that the Party’s CC had already entrusted me with a mission to Novgorod and Luga. The Bureau of the Soviets, for their part, directed me to look into the work of the Soviets in those same two towns.

Our meeting did not take long, all the straightforward questions on the agenda being quickly disposed of.

Next day I set off with Roshal junior and other comrades on my mission to other towns. We travelled in a great crush of people, and on arrival at Novgorod went at once to the Bolshevik commune where lived Mikhail Roshal, Valentinov and other members of the Novgorod Committee. There I found a Bolshevik soldier who had just arrived from Staraya Russa. I was thus able to get information about Party work both in Novgorod and in Staraya Russa. In Staraya Russa the local Soviet had 36 members, but there were so few Bolsheviks among them that they did not even constitute a fraction. However, the four delegates who had been sent to the provincial congress at Novgorod were Bolsheviks, which meant that there had recently been a sharp increase in sympathy with the Bolshevik Party.

Generally speaking, the scene was identical at Staraya Russa and at Novgorod. The sympathies of the overwhelming majority of the soldiers and workers definitely inclined towards us. The officers and the bourgeoisie, together with the well-to-do section of the intelligentsia, favoured the Provisional Government, and these strata found support among the Cossacks and the Shock Battalions. Outside the town boundaries, among the peasants, very little work had been done.

All the information about Party work, about the numbers in organisations, about the fighting capacity of the Red Guard, about the attitude of the units of the Novgorod garrison, about the number of troops ready to defend the Provisional Government or to oppose it – all these figures I carefully recorded in my notebook.

On the whole, the relation of forces in Novgorod province seemed to be in our favour. The 177th Reserve Regiment, quartered in Novgorod itself, was pro-Bolshevik. The Cossacks and Shock Battalions were for the Provisional Government, but among them, too, there were Bolsheviks. At Krechevitsy Bolsheviks and SRs contended for influence over the Reserve Regiment of Guards Cavalry. At Staraya Russa the garrison was emphatically pro-Bolshevik. Stationed there were the 178th Reserve Regiment and the motor-car workshop of the Fifth Army (300 men – all Bolsheviks). The two squadrons of Cossacks at Staiaya Russa were hostile towards the soldiers. In the village of Medved the 175th Reserve Regiment and at Borovichy the 174th Reserve Regiment were on our side. In Novgorod itself the Party organisation consisted of 176 members (ten days before my arrival it had had only 102). As regards social composition, 150 of the Party members were soldiers and the rest workers. No groups had so far been organised in the enterprises. The provincial Executive Committee consisted of 30 members, who were almost all SRs or Mensheviks, with only three Bolsheviks. It was clear that this Executive Committee did not reflect the actual relation of forces at this moment.

The comrades decided to lose no time, and that very day called a meeting of the 177th Reserve Regiment of Infantry, which was stationed in the town. We went to the barracks to convene the meeting. The place was filthy and stuffy, and smelt of soused herrings. The soldiers were eating their dinner off dirty wooden planks. Comrade Roshal went to find the members of the regimental committee. After a few minutes he announced that the meeting would be held in the open air.

We went out into the yard and on into the square adjoining the barracks. Here there was a small tribune which had evidently been improvised in a hurry at some time. When we arrived there was not a soul about. Soon, though, apparently in response to some call or signal, soldiers began to hurry into the square, individually and in groups. There were several hundred of them altogether. That was enough for one regiment. Nearly all who were free from work or duties had assembled to hear the Bolshevik speakers. I mounted the tribune and began to speak.

The audience listened attentively, but without any special enthusiasm. Only when I came to the question of war and peace, which closely touched the feelings and thoughts of every peasant in a grey soldier’s greatcoat, did my listeners wake up, and their faces at once expressed the profound inner experiences that each of them had suffered in connection with that painful subject. The danger of being suddenly sent to the front hung over the head of every one of these soldiers like the sword of Damocles, and their natural, healthy revulsion from the monstrous imperialist slaughter created favourable soil for the reception of anti-militarist ideas. This attitude was not a matter of mere concern for their own skins, which was how the bourgeois press accounted for the success of the Bolshevik propaganda. Individuals may be egoistic, self-seeking cowards, but not the enormous masses involved in a tremendous revolutionary movement.

Several local activists spoke after me. On the whole we managed to clarify the situation and raise the morale of the soldier masses. We felt that, even if this military unit did not show great enthusiasm for the struggle, at least it would never act against us. The entire meeting lasted a little over an hour.

Next day we went to a meeting at the quarters of the cavalry regiment, which were a long way out of town, in the Krechevitsy barracks. We travelled to meet this regiment in a lorry, over a bad, bumpy road which had had no maintenance for a long time and had been washed away by the rains. While we were waiting for the comrades to assemble for the meeting, the chairman of the regimental committee invited Mikhail Roshal, Valentinov and me to come into the officers’ mess, and we agreed.

In the officers’ mess everything exuded the specific aroma of the old regime. Clean, neat curtains hung before the windows, the tables were covered with snow-white, starched tablecloths, and at the tables sat tightly-corseted captains and cornets, in riding breeches and jackets with golden epaulettes. Attentive waiters were offering elegantly-served zalruski. [4]

Our group alone, with its lively and informal behaviour and democratic air, brought in a discord, roughly disrupting the illusion of the old regime so assiduously cultivated in these cosy rooms, which seemed to have been licked clean. We caught sidelong malevolent looks directed at us from the neighbouring tables. Then there walked past, moving his hips in a dashing way, with the gait of a self-confident fool, an officer who wore riding-breeches that were so fantastically wide, they looked like something in a caricature.

Mikhail Roshal, being a volunteer, was in army uniform. When he saw this stallion in gold epaulettes a sense of discipline made him rise from his chair. But the officer in question was not satisfied with that. Turning about in military style, he fixed his eyes, normally impassive but now suddenly bloodshot with anger, upon Roshal, and with his habitual intonation, developed during long years of service in barracks and on parade grounds, shouted angrily: “Volunteer, how dare you keep your hands in your pockets when in the presence of an officer? I’ll teach you discipline ...” – and so forth.

We hastened to intervene and put an end to this disgraceful scene, reminding the over-excited officer that the days of the old regime had passed and we had fortunately had a revolution. He shut up at once, but, going over to a group of his gold-epauletted friends, continued for a long time to voice his indignation at the sacrilegious undermining of the very foundations of military discipline. I decided to bring this relapse into officers’ tyranny to the attention of the soldier masses.

Soon, we were called to the regimental theatre, where the meeting was to be held. This was a quite separate building, a great barn of a place, with a stage and long rows of benches. The hall was full of soldiers.

I spoke for about two hours. After characterising Kerensky’s entire regime, I dwelt particularly on the Kornilov affair, and showed in detail the role which Kerensky had undoubtedly played in this adventure. The soldiers of this neglected and out-of-the-way regiment had evidently not been spoiled by too many visits by speakers from Novgorod. They hung with amazing interest on every word. Some generally-known facts I mentioned were fresh news to them, and almost sensational, and Kerensky’s participation in Kornilov’s counter-revolutionary plot, which out of cowardice he had betrayed when it had gone half-way, was for this audience an unexpected discovery, arousing extraordinary anger against the Provisional Government and passionate outcries against Kerensky: “Shame on the traitor to the revolution!”

After I had finished, the Novgorod comrades, Roshal and Valentinov, spoke. The atmosphere of the meeting was at white heat. Rarely had I seen such a violent upsurge, such passionate anger and furious political hatred. There was no doubt that men in the grip of such burning enthusiasm were ready to go into battle, ready to conquer or die in struggle against the hated Provisional Government. To the indescribable joy of the Novgorod Party organisation, the cavalry regiment had proved by its reaction to be not only fully reliable but even, perhaps, a better support for the proletarian revolution than the other army units, which were stationed in the town. As regards the latter there were also neither doubts nor suspicions. Our Party could expect only support from the entire garrison of Novgorod.

It was interesting that we had met with no opposition at either meeting. The Mensheviks and SRs had thought it best not to go up to the tribune.

At the end of the political speeches, I took the floor again and told the meeting about the ‘dressing-down’ that had occurred in the officers’ mess. This produced great excitement. Soldiers jumped up and, brandishing their fists and shouting angrily, were ready to go to the officers’ mess and punish the offender. We had great difficulty in calming them down and persuading them not to lynch the upholder of Tsarist discipline. When we left to return to Novgorod in our lorry, the cavalrymen came out of the meeting to see us off, cheerfully waving their caps.

The provincial congress of Soviets opened next day in Novgorod. A Novaya-Zhiznite from Petrograd was elected chairman: A.P. Pinkevich, a writer of popular-science books on natural history. The Bolshevik fraction had put my name forward, but we did not have a majority in the congress and, having come second in the voting, I joined the presidium as deputy-chairman.

The election of a Novaya-Zhiznite as leader of the congress defined very clearly the physiognomy of the majority therein. These were mostly peasant delegates from various uyezd and volost soviets. The working class, which in any case formed a comparatively small element in this province, was poorly represented. The soldier delegates were to an overwhelming extent also peasants. In this respect, the Novgorod provincial congress was fairly typical of the mood of the peasants in the pre-October period.

The Mensheviks and SRs, who had supported the Provisional Government, were by this time utterly bankrupt. The question of the land, the burning concern of all the peasants of the former Russian Empire, had been postponed till the Constituent Assembly, and the convening of the Constituent Assembly had, in its turn, been postponed indefinitely. Yet the invincible striving to enlarge their land-holdings, the ancient yearning for land, the passionate yet timid desire to divide up the estates belonging to the landlords and the state, was the intimate dream of the entire peasantry. The scientific-statistical activity of Chernov, the Minister of Agriculture, engaged in investigations and calculations concerning agriculture, filled the peasants with a sense of disappointment and acute, oppressive discontent. This fruitless marking-time of the Provisional Government, this fear to undertake a final solution to the agrarian problem, depressed the peasants’ hopes and put them in an oppositional mood.

On the other hand, however, the middle peasants still at times held aloof from the working-class, instinctively though unjustifiably fearing the sharp, uncompromising tactics of its political party, and fearing too, that it would nationalise small and medium-sized landed property. Consequently, apart from the village paupers, the poor peasants who owned no horses and little land, and the representatives of the agricultural proletariat, the countryfolk at that time had little sympathy for Bolshevism and were not yet drawn towards the Party of working-class.

It was natural that the most suitable embodiment of the sentiments of the peasantry should be the in-between groupings, the Novaya-Zhiznites and Left-SRs, and they did indeed enjoy influence among the peasants of Novgorod province, giving a particular colouring to the whole congress.

After the reports from the localities, which drew more or less uniformly a cheerless picture of ruin in the province, political struggle began.

It was I who gave the report on the current situation. Pinkevich, the Left-SR, Romm and others joined in the debate. Pinkevich, who made, on the whole, a very good impression, argued moderately. Objecting to our tactics, he particularly blamed the Bolsheviks for preparing an insurrection which threatened to lead to civil war. When I replied to him I ended my reply with the slogan: “Long live civil war!”

The leader of Novgorod’s Left-SRs, the volunteer Romm directed his speech mainly against the policy of the Provisional Government, and carefully refrained from making any thrusts at us. At that time the Left-SRs were adjusting their line to that of the Bolsheviks and deliberately avoiding disagreement with us. The Right-SRs and Mensheviks, who were represented in very small numbers, kept absolutely quiet.

The congress lasted two days. Before it closed, elections were held for delegates to the second All-Russia Congress of Soviets. During the preliminary meeting of the Bolshevik fraction, the comrades nominated me as a candidate for the delegation to this congress, but I declined and proposed that they choose Novgorod activists.

In the elections to the All-Russia Congress our Party obtained a quite decent minority representation. We made up about one-third of the Novgorod delegation, and if the Left-SRs were to be counted in with us, we commanded a good half of the votes.

At that time, though, the Left-SRs were still formally united with the Right-SRs under the aegis of a common central committee, and this stubborn unwillingness of theirs to break with the Right-SRs and form themselves into an independent party, together with their continual vacillations, gave us serious reason to doubt the reliability of these allies, in whom we always saw only temporary petty-bourgeois fellow-travellers. Given these conditions, it was difficult to make a precise calculation of our forces, and on my return to Petersburg I considered it more prudent to report to our Party leadership that Novgorod province would be represented at the Congress of Soviets by a majority consisting of parties alien to us, though there would be a substantial percentage of Bolshevik delegates. Late in the evening of the day after the Novgorod congress I returned to Petrograd. The train had come from Staraya Russa and was crowded with passengers. I managed to squeeze into the first third-class carriage that came along, and therein, amid a frightful crush, dragged out my existence on the platform at the end of the corridor. Later, however, as the carriage’s population decreased, I was able to make my way into the corridor, and at last found a place on an upper bunk, where I spent the whole night in a sitting position.

When I arrived in Petrograd, early in the morning, I decided to set off for Luga that same day. I went to the Warsaw railway station and fixed myself up in a fourth-class carriage with broken windows. That evening I was in Luga, and went first to the local soviet, which was located in the station building.

In a small, typical railway-station room the members of the Soviet’s presidium sat at a table. They were army doctors and officers, all wearing their uniform jackets with epaulettes. When they learnt that I was a Bolshevik they treated me very coldly, but nevertheless tried to remain within the bounds of decorum. When I was telling them of my intention to give a report on the tasks and tactics of the Bolsheviks, I was informed that a session of the Luga Soviet was just about to begin. Naturally, I did not miss this opportunity to sound local attitudes. The members of the Soviet assembled in the hall of the railway station. They were mostly representatives of the Luga garrison. I spotted several Cossacks, with their caps on the side of their heads and thick locks of hair sticking out from under them. These Cossack deputies vividly reminded me, by their appearance, of those figures of stone which, under the old regime, constantly stood on guard outside the Tsar’s palaces.

I began my report. The audience listened with expressions of morose and indifferent lack of interest in the most stormy and burning problems. It seemed that the Luga Soviet was, philistine-like, little concerned with political questions. Instead of the uproar I had expected, with angry interruptions to my speech, and perhaps even bigger trouble, even the Cossacks maintained a grave-like silence. I concluded my speech in unbroken tranquillity. There was meagre applause: we had few supporters in the Luga Soviet.

Kuzmin, a Right-SR from Petrograd, got up to reply to me. A member of the Congress of Peasants’ Deputies, he gave the impression of being an intellectual of the old school, who had spent a fair amount of time in prison and exile. Tall and thin and already getting on in years, he answered me in a quiet, even voice and calm, imperturbable tone. Lacking the quick-tempered sharpness which was usually characteristic of SR speakers, he tried to weaken my criticism of the Provisional Government by referring to our inability, in the given circumstances, to improve the state of affairs. “If,” said Kuzmin, “the Bolshevik Party were to take power, would it succeed in making peace with Germany and putting an end to the decline of the economy? I answer – no!” Altogether, his defence of the Provisional Government was flabby. It seemed that he himself sensed that power would inevitably pass to the Bolsheviks.

After Kuzmin some unknown sailor spoke. Beating his breast with his fist, he hysterically screamed out disconnected phrases: “I was on Oesel Island...I’ve been under attack by German aeroplanes...I escaped from captivity in Germany¦” and so on and so forth. From this brief narrative of his personal misfortune in the war he quite illogically drew the defencist conclusion that it was necessary to continue to fight the war “to a finish,” “until complete victory over Germany”. Yet the bash-your-teeth-in chauvinism of this defencist sailor’s speech did not prevent him from coming up to me on the following day and conversing in the friendliest of tones.

When the bloodthirsty defencist had sat down I asked to speak again. In this concluding speech I hit back at both the speakers from the compromiser camp. What struck me most strongly was the way this hostile audience constituted by the Luga Soviet preserved a phlegmatic silence. Even in the most ‘Bolshevik’ passages of my speech, when I touched sharply on the most sensitive and topical matters, nobody tried to interrupt me or to make an angry, venomous retort. This mood of despondency, this absence of any feeling of struggle, this lack of confidence in their own strength, which bordered on despair was extremely noticeable in our opponents.

Whereas an audience that was sympathetic to us always expressed its political feelings noisily and passionately, the elements hostile to us somehow stayed quiet, and even in assemblies where they were sure of being in the majority they preferred to keep silence. I am not, of course, talking about particular leaders of the compromiser parties, who continued in all circumstances to sustain one and the same note, but about the rank-and-file of the Mensheviks and SRs who felt more closely than did their leaders the breath of the approaching storm. One sensed among them a morbid sinking of the heart which prevented them from giving vigorous expression to their disagreement with the speeches made by Bolsheviks. There was a smell of decay and death in that hall where the overwhelming majority of the benches were occupied by SRs and Mensheviks. My speech was heard amid a silence as of the tomb, and sounded like a funeral epitaph on these parties that were living out their last days.

After spending the night in the Luga Party comrades’ hostel, I went with them next morning to the outskirts of the town, where the gunners were stationed. A la guerre comme a la guerre.

While waiting for the meeting to assemble, I withdrew along with the Bolshevik leaders of this unit and took down in my notebook the information they gave me about the number of weapons, the relation of forces and the attitude of the soldiers. We were preparing for a serious, decisive battle, and so we greatly needed a calculation of our own forces and a precise notion of the numbers of men and of weapons at the disposal of our adversary, the Provisional Government.

At the Tillmans factory there were 80 Party members. Among the army units the most Bolshevik reputation was that of the 1st Reserve Artillery Battalion (No. 1 Battery – 1,200 men: No.2 Battery – between 1,200 and 1,300 men: No.3 Battery – 400 men).

There were Bolsheviks in all three batteries, but no Party groups had been formed. Among the trench-based gunners of the mortar regiment (1,500 men) the majority were for us, but, again, no group had yet been formed, although premises for this had already been got ready and it was intended, any day now, to hold a Party organisation meeting. Among the officers of this mortar regiment Ensign Krutov was considered to be a Bolshevik sympathiser. In the light-draught horse detachment of the 1st Cuirassier Regiment (100 men) more than half of the soldiers were for our Party. The armoury and the light-draught horse detachment (100 men) of the 5th Dragoon Regiment were also ours. The armament of the 5th Dragoons consisted of 20 machineguns and 2,500 rifles, but its attitude was still undefined and vacillating. The Provisional Government might find some support there. The 4th Rear Motor-Car Workshop of the Northern Front (800 men) was half pro-Bolshevik and half pro-SR. Organised members of our Party in this unit numbered 35. The Labour Battalion of the 12th Army, which had recently returned from the Riga front, had already elected two Bolsheviks to the Soviet. Only the previous Sunday a meeting of gunners and motor-car drivers had been held at Luga at which the defencists were routed. Besides the units mentioned there were at Luga two mortar battalions, each with five batteries, each battery having eight mortars – 80 mortars in all, firing 2 V2-pood shells. The attitude of these units was of immense importance, but their political physiognomy had not yet been clarified. Anyway, we did not include them in the list of our own forces. The permanent complement of the artillery battalion numbered 1,303 men, of whom No. 1 Battery (300 men, with six three-inch guns) was definitely on our side. After all, our position in the Luga garrison was not a hopeless one.

Soon we were called to the meeting. In the big wooden barn all the benches were filled with soldiers clad in khaki. Many, for lack of room, stood at the back, in the aisles and at the sides, by the doors. The meeting was opened by that same phlegmatic SR, Kuzmin, who gave, in a weak voice, a brief report on ‘the current situation’. His address was followed by applause. Then I spoke. The mood of the audience was stormy. At any rate, when some members of the soldiers’ committee who were sitting on the tribune – volunteers who were SRs – tried to interrupt my speech with hostile exclamations uttered from where they sat, the audience called them to order in such an unfriendly way that they were obliged to shut up.

There was clearly observable an irreconcilable difference between the ‘committee-men’, who were almost all compromisers, and the broad mass of the soldiers, who were already beginning to sympathise wholly with the Bolsheviks. When the SR ‘committee-men” asked me the provocational question: “On what day does your Party intend to make its revolution?” I replied that nobody could forecast the day and the hour of the revolution. I drew an analogy with the February Revolution, regarding which also it was impossible to say with certainty on what particular day it would break out, though even philistines sensed its inexorable approach. Similarly, now, certainty that the Provisional Government must fall was in the air, but nobody was in a position to fix precisely the date of that happy event.

The frankness and sincerity with which we Bolsheviks dealt with the question of the forthcoming revolution won the sympathy of the soldiers to a very great extent. The Bolshevik speakers were loudly applauded after every one of their speeches. The feeling of the audience was, beyond any doubt, wholly on our side.

The SRs tried to instil distrust and suspicion towards me by asking about the purpose of my visit to Luga. But this was an attempt made with inadequate resources. We did not even have to answer. Every soldier understood perfectly well at that time the purpose for which the Bolsheviks were developing their campaign. For my night’s rest I was taken to the home of a worker who had a small flat in a one-storey house. He was an elderly man with a family, a good, staunch Bolshevik, an old Party member. He understood very well what was going on, and a talk with him gave me great satisfaction.

On my return to Petrograd next morning I went first to the Central Committee, and made a detailed report to Comrade Sverdlov on both my trips into the provinces. Yakov Mikhailovich listened with close attention to what I had to say, disregarding the passage of time and going into the smallest details with me. He was particularly interested in the figures I gave him, which depicted the actual relation of actual forces. In that period of active preparation for the armed insurrection, both through the Military Organisation and directly through the CC, all the separate threads of the work came together in the hands of Comrade Ya.M. Sverdlov.

He was an outstanding organiser – one can say, without exaggeration, that he was a genius at organisation. With a rare psychological flair, he quickly grasped what the individual capacities of every activist were and directed each one into the work that best corresponded to his powers. Comrade Sverdlov’s apt characterisations, delivered sometimes in just two or three words, would provide an exhaustive description of any comrade.

His power of observation and knowledge of people never let him down. Exceptional strength of will, shrewdness, Communist nobility and unlimited devotion to the cause of the workers’ struggle made him one of the best of our Party workers.

After seeing Comrade Sverdlov I went on to the Military Organisation. This was located at that time on Liteiny Prospekt, between the burned-down building of the district court and the Liteiny Bridge, in a big house looking out on one side to Shpalernaya Street and on the other to the Neva embankment.

Having found Comrade N.I. Podvoisky, I began telling him enthusiastically about my impressions of the situation in the provinces, which had still further reinforced my optimism. Nikolai Ilyich listened with interest to what I said, but then told me, with a worried and gloomy air, that the military activists in Petrograd who had connections with the local regiments held to a pessimistic view of the way things were. Comrade Podvoisky asked me to wait for the meeting of the Military Organisation, which was about to take place. I agreed, and was thus able personally to appreciate the gloomy mood of the leaders of the Petrograd garrison. Only a few comrades sounded a cheerful note amid the generally rather diffident estimation of the immediate prospects. It may be that, fearing to take responsibility for hopeful declarations, the Bolshevik leaders of the army units unconsciously tended to lay it on thick, depicting the situation in colours darker than corresponded to reality. In any case, this mood of the ‘military’ Bolsheviks in Petrograd was typical.

From the Voyenka I went straight down Shpalernaya Street to Smolny. In those days, on the eve of the October Revolution, I had occasion to take part in the numerous meetings which were held, almost without a break, both in the assembly hall and in other rooms of the former Smolny Institute. Especially deeply engraved in my memory are three of these meetings.

The great hall of Smolny was flooded with light from the huge chandeliers. The regular meeting of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee was in progress. Gotz was in the chair. Instead of a discussion of the items on the agenda, instead of speeches by the official party spokesmen, delegates from the front-line soldiers came to the tribune, one after the other. Their entire appearance, their unshaven faces, their heads overgrown with uncut hair, their thread bare, dirty greatcoats and muddy, long-uncleaned boots, bore the imprint of the trenches. In their speeches they all called for one and the same thing – for peace, whatever the cost, peace at any price. “Let’s have even a foul peace,” said one soldier, worn out and exhausted by the war.

Gotz jumped up, snatched his bell and rang it agitatedly, but it was already too late. The deputy from the trenches had succeeded in saying everything he had been empowered to say by the tens of thousands of front-line soldiers who stood behind him.

Some of the soldiers’ representatives read out brief resolutions, written in pencil on dirty, half-torn bits of paper, worn at the folds. The resolutions demanded peace and gave a dead-line for the soldiers’ patience: the front-line soldiers threatened that when winter began they would all, en masse, leave the trenches of their own volition. It was obvious that the army could no longer fight, and that the Provisional Government, being bound by ties of alliance with the Entente, was unable to make peace. The speeches of the delegates from the front indirectly confirmed the expediency of an immediate insurrection.

Another meeting. The same hall, but with less grand illumination. In the chairman’s seat, instead of Gotz, Comrade Trotsky. A briefcase under his arm, the secretary of the Petrograd Executive Committee, L.M. Karakhan, hurries past with a business-like air, greeting me as he goes.

The chairs are occupied exclusively by soldiers in greatcoat and blouses – a sea of khaki. A meeting of representatives of the garrison is in progress. All the speakers without exception take our line. Rarely do we glimpse at the tribune the shadow of a compromiser, who meets with general disapproval. The mood of the Petrograd garrison eloquently testified that it had matured for the proletarian revolution and is ready to stand up for it.

A third meeting. One of the spacious rooms which evidently used to be either the apartment of a teacher or a dormitory for the pupils of the Institute. Today, however, it is the scene of secret meeting of responsible district representatives. Entry to this room is subject to strict control. Behind the table, close to the wall, stands A.A. Joffe. He is making a fervent speech. He takes up a position on the Left wing and, as a supporter of the insurrection, supports the line of the Central Committee. Comrade Volodarsky is evidently uncertain: his point of view is not quite clear to me. But the ardent temperament of the speaker urges him Leftward, in favour of an immediate revolutionary fight with the stranglers of the revolution. Then Comrade Chudnovsky speaks – that heroic soldier of the revolution who fell on the Red front soon after the October Revolution. Supporting his bandaged arm, which had recently been wounded in the war, he sits on the edge of the chairman’s table and in a voice broken with emotion delivers an animated speech. He is doubtful whether an insurrection would succeed.

He brings forward the familiar arguments. But it is clear that the majority of the audience is not with him. Still further to the Right is Comrade D.B. Ryazanov. He is definitely against an armed uprising. At last I ask to speak. While declaring in favour of overthrowing the Provisional Government, I recognise the seriousness of the obstacles in our path. Briefly reporting the state of affairs at Novgorod and Luga, I say that the Luga Soviet’s attitude is counter-revolutionary and, if Luga were to be occupied by the troops of the Provisional Government, would willingly put its Soviet banner at the disposal of the enemies of the proletarian revolution. In this way our enemies would be able to mislead the masses by exploiting the glamour of the Soviet. Other comrades spoke after me, and the meeting went on late into the night.

On October 20 the Central Committee directed me to give a talk at the Modern Circus on the subject: “Prospects before the proletarian revolution”. The subject gave me plenty of scope for raising sharply the question, which had matured, of overthrowing the Provisional Government. I made extensive use of this fortunate opportunity and, without any inhibition, after criticising the policy of the Provisional Government, I concluded by calling on the proletariat and garrison of Petrograd to launch an armed uprising. The great crowd of workers, working women and soldiers who filled the ancient building from top to bottom were wholly with me.


1. The letter shown by Pelikhov to Raskolnikov was Lenin’s letter of October 8 (21) 1917: ‘To Bolshevik comrades participating in the regional congress of Soviets of the Northern Region’. The text is in Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th edition, English version, Vol.26, pp. 182-187.

2. In his brief biography of Sverdlov, Lunacharsky wrote, about the period following the ‘July days’: “For some strange reason, when the order was issued for the arrest of Lenin and Zinoviev, and when Trotsky, myself and many more Bolsheviks and Left SRs were put in prison, Sverdlov was not arrested - although the bourgeois press had directly indicated his leading role in what they called the ‘uprising’. At all events, this made Sverdlov the effective leader of the Party at that fateful moment, the man who braced its spirit despite the defeats that it had suffered.” (Revolutionary Silhouettes, 1967, p.104).

3. Soldiers of the Pavlovsky Regiment broke into the Kresty prison and released Roshal. He went to the Romanian front to agitate among the Russian troops there, which were under the command of General Shcherbachev. He was arrested and executed at Jassy on the orders of the local Romanian governor.

4. Zalruski are the savoury snacks - like canapes or hors d’oeuvres - which Russians eat when drinking.