The October Revolution in the American Press

First Proletarian Republic Greets American Workers

John Reed travelled from New York to Russia in August 1917, representing The Masses, the New York Call, and Seven Arts. Reed arrived in Petrograd in September, and began attending committee-meetings of the Petrograd Soviet and of shop committee delegates at Smolny Institute. During his time in Russia, John Reed interviewed Kerensky, heard Lenin speak, and was present at the All-Russian Congress of Soviets on November 7 when the workers, peasants and soldiers in the Congress hailed the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks. He witnessed the capture of the Winter Palace by soldiers, sailors and the Red Guard, and on November 8 heard Lenin announce at Smolny, “We shall now proceed to construct the Socialist order.” On the morning of November 13, when news reached Smolny of Kerensky’s defeat, Lenin gave Reed a short statement for American Socialists. On November 15, Reed received permission to cable this message, together with an account of Kerensky’s downfall, to the New York Call, the socialist daily newspaper. The dispatch was held up by the censor in the United States, and was released on November 21. On the following day, the Call published it under a seven-column banner.

The Petrograd garrison, the Kronstadt sailors and the Red Guard, comprising as a whole the Bolsheviki army, last night defeated Kerensky’s army of 7,000 Cossacks, junkers (students in military schools) and artillery, who were attacking the capital.

The attempted ‘junker’ insurrection on Sunday, directed by the Committee of Salvation, comprising Mensheviki (moderate Socialists and Cadets (Constitutional emocrats), was put down by the Kronstadt sailors, who took an armored car and telephone station by assault, and also the “junior” school.

Hundreds of delegates arrived at Smolny Institute, the headquarters of the revolutionary government and of the councils, to report the solidarity of the army at the front with the Bolsheviki.

This is the revolution, the class struggle, with the proletariat, the workmen, the soldiers and the peasants lined up against the bourgeoisie. Last February was only the preliminary revolution. At the present moment the proletariat are triumphant.

The rank and file of the Workmen’s, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Councils are in control, with Lenin and Trotsky leading. Their program is to give the land to the peasants, to socialize natural resources and industry and for an armistice and democratic peace conference. The extraordinary and immense power of the Bolsheviki lies in the fact that the Kerensky government absolutely ignored the desires of the masses as expressed in the Bolsheviki program of peace, land and workers’ control of industry...

No one is with the Bolsheviki except the proletariat, but that is solidly for them. All the bourgeoisie and appendages are relentlessly hostile....

The news from the front and from all over the country shows that although some fighting is still going on in various cities the masses are pretty solid for the Bolsheviki, except in the Don region where General Kaledin and the Cossacks have proclaimed a military dictatorship.

The Workmen’s, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ councils through The Call send to the American International Socialists a greeting from the first proletarian republic of the world.

- New York Call, 22 November 1917.

Cleveland Socialists Greet Bolshevik Revolution

The resolution below was distributed throughout Cleveland in leaflet form and produced by the Cleveland local of the Socialist party. The resolution reflected the excitement caused by the news that the first act of the Russian Councils of Workers and Soldiers, after taking of power, was to call for an end to the war.

The effort of the Bolsheviks to establish peace through the action of the workers of all countries, a peace not based upon the interests of the ruling classes of the nations involved nor attained through the trading of diplomats, but based upon the interests of the workers and established through the aggressive action of the workers, a peace without annexations and without indemnities, offers the only hope of saving our civilization from destruction. In this effort we pledge to the workers of Russia our earnest support. We hail the policy of their present government as the true expression of proletarian action, and pledge ourselves to do all in our power to assist in wiping out capitalist imperialism and in establishing the civilization of the future, the commonwealth of the workers united irrespective of nationality.

- Cleveland Socialist News, 25 November 1917.

"Thank God For The Russian Revolution"

One of the first statements issued in the United States hailing the Bolshevik revolution was in this sermon delivered by Dr. John Haynes Holmes, the Socialist pastor of the Church of the Messiah in New York City.

“Thank God for the Russian revolution,” Dr. John Haynes Holmes, pastor of the Church of the Messiah, raised this prayer of thanksgiving yesterday morning during his sermon on “Thanksgiving or Penitence: which?”

Holmes said his spirit “is swinging between penitence and thanksgiving,” that his “mind and heart are confused,” but later declared that his hope in a better world, seconded by such events as the Russian Revolution, was triumphing in his spirit.

His voice registered exultation when he declared. “This is the day of Revolution. They are going to do away with Kaisers and Tsars everywhere,” and he made it clear that he included with the political Kaisers and Tsars the industrial Kaisers and Tsars of democracies....

Speaking of the Russian Revolution, he said:

“The spirit of Tolstoy today is ruling Russia. This is a thing for which we cannot offer too much thanksgiving. The peasants of Russia have overthrown the Tsar, and with him the spirit of autocracy, war, Siberia and oppression.”

- New York Call, 26 November 1917

Bolsheviks’ Peace Plan Urged on Senate

One of the first American organizations to support the Bolshevik revolution was the Friends of the Russian Revolution. It was organized less than a month after the revolution and focused on supporting the Soviet demand for an immediate peace without annexations or indemnities.

A mass meeting to urge support of the peace move of the Bolsheviki, and recognition of the strategic value of Lord Lansdowne’s suggestion that the Allies restate their terms of peace with a view to winning the confidence of the German people, is the first move in what its sponsors describe as a “political offensive for the settlement of the war.”

The announcement of the meeting is signed by a committee calling itself the “Friends of the Russian Revolution,” consisting of Roger Baldwin, Mary Ware Dennett, Crystal Eastman, Vida Milholland, Lou Rogers, Rebecca Shelly, Alexander Trachtenberg, James P. Warbasse, Margaret Sanger, Dr. A. Goldwater, Pauline K. Angell, Merrill Rogers, and others.

In a statement issued today it is said that the purpose of the meeting is to urge upon Congress “that the friendly relations between America and the Russian democracy be continuously maintained, and that food supplies, money, and such assistance as can be given by America to the builders of the New Russia be offered without reserve. There is every evidence that the leaders in Russia today are prompted in everything they are doing by the will of the Russian people, and it is believed that such democratic action should be vigorously encouraged by nations fighting for the ideals of democracy.”

Congress will also be urged “to support the demand of the Russian democracy for a peace parley and to immediately cooperate with new Russia in arranging a time and place where representatives of the people of all belligerent nations can undertake a sane solution of this world problem.” And Colonel House is to be instructed by Congress “to press this point of view upon the envoys of the allied powers now assembled in Paris and to demand from them a clear statement of war aims.”

It is said further that the publication of the secret treaties by the Russian foreign office disclosing “the bargain made by the allies to fight for Italy’s territorial ambitions” has emphasized the need for such a restatement of terms.

“The American people have a right to know how far the motives of the allies are consistent with our own avowed ideals in the war. Moreover, as Lord Lansdowne has pointed out, an unequivocal statement by the allies that they do not intend to crush the German people will put courage into the forces now in revolt in Germany, and will thus do more than a military drive to overthrow the power of the military autocracy.”

Miss Rebecca Shelly, well known for her connection with various peace organizations, is in charge of the meeting.

“There is a growing discontent among the people of all nations,” she said, “because one opportunity after another for the opening of peace negotiations is cast aside by those in power without serious consideration, or any earnest effort to utilize the opportunity. The platitude that the time is not yet ripe for peace negotiations no longer satisfies. When will the time be ripe? We can see no reason for continuing the war one single hour until it has been positively demonstrated that Germany will not yield to an agreement which will insure a just and lasting peace, and this can only be discovered when envoys of all belligerents have gathered to discuss the issues.”

- New York Evening Call, 3 December 1917.

Hourwich Tells Of Bolshevik Revolt

“Peace, peace, we want peace,” cried 3,000 people at New Star Casino, 107th street and Park avenue, last night when Dr. Isaac Hourwich, speaking on the Russian revolution, said:

“We were told it was a bloodless revolution started by the liberals. It was started by the workers marching through Petrograd crying for bread, as the women of this city marched to the city hall last year, but the Russian workers also cried for peace.”

The meeting was held under the direction of the Friends of Russian Freedom to support the Bolsheviki peace terms. Mary Ware Dennett, formerly National Secretary of the Women’s Bureau of the National Democratic Committee, acted as chairman.

Dr. Isaac Hourwich was the first speaker. He explained the internal situation in Russia, the meaning of the names of the different parties, and described the growth of the Bolsheviki since the revolution.

“The Constituent Assembly of the Milyukov party met and formulated plans for conquest, they wanted territory, they wanted Constantinople, but the Russian people did not want Constantinople or any other nation’s territory and so they were forced to resign.

“Then came Kerensky, and the peace without annexations or indemnities. Kerensky thought that in order to secure peace he must start an offensive, so he ordered the soldiers to go west, but they went east. In their ignorance they did not want to fight.

“The people were promised an early peace, but eight months passed and no peace came. So the Bolsheviki leapt into power and within three weeks plans for an armistice and a general peace were already formulated.”

He predicted that the Bolsheviki would remain in power till the Constituent Assembly meets in a few weeks, and that the new government of Russia would be a Socialist government.

Miss Vida Milholland, who was introduced as one of the women fighters for democracy in this country, sang the song Russian Freedom, a song inspired by the revolution, the audience rising while she sang. Wild encores recalled her when she finished, and when she sang for the second time, the audience, catching the spirit she put into the song, sang with her…

“To me,” said Art Young of the Masses, “it seems that the lesson of the Russian revolution is that you can’t kill an idea by either prosecution or persecution. The Tsar thought by banishing scholars and thinkers and censoring the press that he could put an end to the spirit of liberty…

“What are we thinking of?” asked Rebecca Shelly. “What do we want? We want peace!” Here the audience again rose to its feet and awoke the echoes with cries for peace. When the applause died down she continued.

“When do we want it and how? We want it now, and by the Bolsheviki plan, for the Bolsheviki plan means that the people rule supreme.”

A resolution endorsing the Bolsheviki peace terms, and calling on the government to support the demand for an immediate armistice on all battle fronts, was passed unanimously and a delegation will present it to congress.

- New York Call, 5 December 1917.

The Red Dawn by Harrison George

The first pamphlet published in America explaining and supporting the October Revolution was Harrison George’s The Red Dawn: The Bolsheviki and the IWW. It was written early in December 1917 and published in Chicago that same month by the IWW Publishing Bureau. George was in prison awaiting trial along with other IWW members when he decided to write about the background of the Bolshevik Revolution. He obtained much of his information from a fellow Wobbly and prisoner, Leo Laukki, who had participated in the Russian revolutionary movement before leaving for the United States. He ended his pamphlet with an appeal to American workers to join the IWW if they wanted to show their support for the Bolsheviks. Later George wrote regularly for the Communist and Socialist press. The following is the introductory section of George’s pamphlet.

Today, locked behind several sets of steel bars in one of those dungeons Capitalism has prepared for workers who challenge its rule, the writer watches the play of social forces in the greatest of crises ever yet facing this stage of civilization. Someone has said that the people of any given period do not grasp the significance of events transpiring under their eyes; that events are only historically understood as they move into the past and afford perspective. It may be that my interested isolation, my severance from active participation in the great drama affords such perspective. But, be that as it may, the writer feels constrained to point out what, in his opinion, is the lesson to the workers contained in recent and current history—what means that inspiring light that penetrates even the prison windows and floods my cell with the glory of the Red Dawn?

For, out of the bloody mist that rises off the quagmires of mangled men that have fought each other like wild beasts and have ended by mixing their blood and bones in Death’s Democracy, there marches, upright and unafraid, rebellious Labor, and the hope of the ages, the Industrial State, approaches realization as at this hour the fighting proletariat of Russia, the herald of a new world, presses its victory to completion and binds and consolidates its 175,000,000 people into a cohesive unit of Industrial Democracy.

And if it can be, as if it is possible, that by outer intrigue and inner treachery, the brave workers of Russia now under the Bolsheviki, valiantly fighting these dark forces are betrayed, beaten and go down heroically in seas of blood as did Ennus, Spartacus and the Communards, yet the world of Labor will have profited and—success or failure—their brave attempt, their magnificent spirit and bold deeds will live forever and their story shall be told “in lands remote and accents yet unknown.”

…To clarify the Russian situation in the minds of the workers of other lands is a duty. To explain to those who read the lies of the capitalist press and who believe that the Bolsheviki rule is a mushroom growth to be lightly swept aside by shooting Lenin and Trotsky who are pictured as the long-haired stage anarchist and “East Side vendor of collar buttons” is a service to the working-class.

- The Red Dawn: The Bolsheviki and the IWW, 1-4.

Lenin, Master Statesman

So little was known about Lenin in the United States after the revolution that his name was most often incorrectly spelled in the American press. The article below attempted to dispel the notion that Lenin seized leadership of the Russian revolution by sheer accident, and traced his long career in the revolutionary movement. Although it appeared originally in Truth, a British publication, it was widely reprinted in the United States.

At last the world witnesses the ascendancy of a real statesman —Nicolai Ilyich Ulyanov, known to the world as Nicolai Lenin, premier of the world’s first industrial democracy—mighty Russia!

A meteor across the political sky as Lenin appears to the uninformed, this doughty champion of real democracy has long been known in the Socialist movement as orator, organizer, author and Maximalist economist.

As early as 1897, Lenin, then a resident of St. Petersburg, was at the very front of the Socialist movement, being honored by the exploiters with the appellation “dangerous nihilist.” The appearance of a radical article in a Russian journal, treating boldly of the economic development of Russia, served as an excuse for the Tsar’s agents to arrest its author, and he was sent on a long and bitter journey to Siberia... Despite the hardships of prison camp, Lenin wrote his scholarly work on The Development of Capitalism in Russia.

After four years of suffering, the astute Lenin managed to outwit his keepers and escaped from Siberia, making his way to western Europe, where he remained in exile, part of the time in France and some of the time in Switzerland. In the latter republic Lenin gained fame as one of the editors of the Iskra [Spark] central organ of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor party. In 1912, a split took place in the party, Lenin resigning from the editorial staff of the paper... Lenin was strongly opposed to any compromise tactics, or dallying with governmental officials. He was openly and above board in opposition to the government and against any and all who were willing to support the government. He was not a ’patriot,’ judging him from ruling class standards. He despised the Russian autocracy.

Heading a radical group known as “Porashenzi” who were anti-patriots, hoping for the defeat of the ’little Father’s’ army in the great conflict. Only after such a defeat, he declared, could the democratization of Russia be effected. It was in this sense only that Lenin could be called pro-German. He was pro-anything that would lead to the overthrow of the Russian autocracy. Now that the insane Tsar and his soothsayers are relegated to the farm, Lenin is a patriot to the limit, as well as an internationalist, ready to fight for the world as the workers’ country and defend their homes from capitalist aggressions.

In 1905, when the first revolutionary outbreak occurred, bringing with it some measure of freedom and amnesty to political exiles, Lenin promptly returned to St. Petersburg, and was made editor of the Socialist daily, the New Life. Later came the reaction, and Lenin was obliged to flee the country.

Lenin is well known to European Socialists as a member of the International Socialist Bureau, and as a permanent delegate to the International Socialist congresses.

Among his published works is an excellent Russian translation of Webb’s The History of Trade Unionism.

From the foregoing brief sketch, it may be seen that the premier of free Russia is no upstart demagogue or politician, but a tried and true soldier in the fight for world-wide industrial Democracy.

- Truth, 12 December 1917.

Call On The U.S. To Recognize Bolsheviks

The Friends of the Russian Revolution changed its name to the Friends of New Russia and sponsored a mass meeting in Carnegie Hall to ask for recognition of the Soviet government. Despite the efforts of the Police marshal to intimidate the people gathered at the meeting, they refused to be swerved from expressing their opinion that the United States should recognize the Bolshevik government.

Marshal Thomas D. McCarthy was present ... at a mass meeting of the Friends of New Russia, held in Carnegie Hall, at which it was resolved to ask the government of the United States to recognize the Bolshevik government of Russia, and to back up their attempt at an armistice and general peace.

The speakers of the evening were Rebecca Shelly, Dr. A. Goldwater, chairman; Joseph D. Cannon, organizer for the International Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers’ union; Ludwig Lore, associate editor of the Volkszeitung, and Patrick Quinlan.

The marshal did not interfere with the meeting in any way, but his own particular form caused a thrill as he marched down the aisle during the proceedings and took a seat in the front row. It is not known if he became converted as a result of the arguments he heard advanced, but when Vida Milholland sang the new Russian national hymn and the audience arose, the marshal retained his seat. After a while he must have become bored, because he left before the meeting was over.

“We are going to ask the government to recognize the Bolshevik government as the authentic spokesman of the Russian people,” Rebecca Shelly declared to applause in explaining the purpose of the meeting, “and ask that the government back up the Bolsheviki in their demand for an immediate armistice and general peace.”

Ludwig Lore referred to Kerensky as “the Russian Scheidemann.” Narrating the events which led to Kerensky’s fall, he said that the Russian people had been driven to the conclusion that the only way to get peace “is to force peace.” The mention of Lenin and Trotsky was wildly cheered by the audience.

“Revolutionary Socialists in Germany are very active,” he said, and he declared that that radical group, in common with the Socialists of the world, will force peace eventually.

Joseph D. Cannon declared that the world will never go back to antebellum conditions. “No nation can withdraw from the war,” he continued, “but we can devise ways and means by which it may be brought to an end.” He declared that “the hope of an early peace” lies in the familiar Russian formula of no annexations, etc.

“I won’t quote the Declaration of Independence,” he said, “they’re throwing men into jail in Philadelphia for that.” He read the audience a portion of the President’s last war message, in which it was said that if the purposes of the allies in the war had been made clear, the sympathy and aid of the Russian people would not have been lost.

“President Wilson conceded that if we had taken the position in the earlier part of the war in favor of Russia’s terms, Russia might not have been lost to us. Why don’t we take that stand now and win Russia back?”

He declared that Congress should be made publicly to resolve that the United States wanted no territory either for herself or for her allies. Such a stand would unite the German Socialists on our side, Cannon said, and the result would be that “the German people would stand with the Bolsheviki of Russia and the radicals of the world.” He made a plea for Ireland at the peace conference, declaring that she must be included with the other small nations which are entitled to choose their own government.

Resolutions were passed favoring the recognition of the Bolsheviki and the support of their peace aims by the government A resolution was also passed which will be sent to Russia and given to the people there through Maxim Gorky’s paper, in which it was said that “we pledge our cooperation with your efforts to defeat all imperialist aims and to secure a people’s peace which will abolish the cause of international war.”

Patrick Quinlan introduced a resolution from the Irish Progressive League favoring the granting of a place to Ireland at the peace conference. All the resolutions were passed unanimously.

- New York Evening Call, 22 December 1917.