The victory at Petrograd was complete. The Military Revolutionary Committee had the reins of power completely in its hands. We issued our first decrees abolishing the death penalty, ordering new elections to the army committees, and so on. But here we discovered that we were cut off from the provinces. The superior officials at the railways and in the post and telegraph administration were against us. The old army committees, the Town Councils, and Zemstvos continued to bombard the Smolny Institute with minatory telegrams, proclaiming war against us and promising to sweep away the rebels in a very short time. Our telegrams, decrees, and explanations could not reach the provinces, as the Petrograd Telegraph Agency refused to serve us. The capital being thus isolated from the rest of the country, there readily spread very perturbing and fantastic rumours.
On perceiving that the Soviet had really assumed power, that the members of the old Government had been arrested, and that in the streets of Petrograd armed soldiers were masters of the situation, the bourgeois and Coalitionist Press raised a frenzied campaign against us, the like of which had never been known before. Scarcely a lie or calumny existed which they did not hurl against the Military Revolutionary Committee, its directors and Commissioners.
On November 8th a meeting of the Petrograd Soviet took place, at which were also present the delegates of the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, the members of the garrison conference, and numerous members of the party. Here, for the first time after an interval of four months, Lenin and Zinoviev took the platform amidst a most enthusiastic Ovation. But mixed with the joy of our victory was some uneasiness as to how the country would receive the news of the insurrection, and whether the Soviets would be able to maintain their power.
In the evening of the same day a meeting of the Congress of the Soviets took place, which was of prime importance. Lenin introduced two decrees, on peace and on the land. Both were adopted unanimously after a short discussion. At this meeting, too, a new central authority was formed – the Council of People’s Commissioners.
The Central Committee of our party made an effort to come to an agreement with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. They were invited to take part in the formation of a Soviet Government. But they were undecided: they thought that the new Government ought to be formed from all the parties in the Soviet, on the basis of a coalition. The Mensheviks and the Right Socialist Revolutionaries, however, had broken off relations with the Congress of the Soviets, considering imperative a coalition with anti-Soviet parties. We could do nothing else than suggest that the Left Socialist Revolutionaries should endeavour to get their neighbours on the right to rejoin the revolutionary fold. And whilst they were busying themselves with this hopeless task, we considered ourselves bound to take the whole responsibility of government on our own shoulders. The list of People’s Commissioners was consequently made up exclusively of Bolsheviks. There was undoubtedly a certain amount of political danger in this. The transformation was really a bit too, sudden. Just to think of it: the leaders of this party had but yesterday lain under an accusation provided by Article 108 of the Code, that is to say, accused of high treason! But there was no other choice for us. The other Soviet groups hesitated and refused, preferring to wait upon events before committing themselves. And, after all, we had no doubt that our party alone was capable of producing a really revolutionary Government.
The decrees regarding land and peace, confirmed by the Soviet Congress, were printed in vast numbers of copies and distributed throughout the length and breadth of the country by delegates from the front, by peasant messengers coming from the villages, and by propagandists whom we sent to the provinces and trenches. At the same time we continued the organization and arming of the Red Guard, who, together with the old garrison and sailors, were performing the arduous guard duties. The Council of People’s Commissioners was taking over one Government institution after another, but everywhere were meeting with the passive resistance of the higher and middle officials. The former Soviet parties did everything they Could to get support from these classes and thus to organize a sabotage of the new authority. Our enemies were quite certain that the whole business was a mere episode, that it was only a question of a day or two, perhaps of a week, and the Soviet Government would be overthrown ... At the Smolny, the first foreign Consuls and members of the Embassies put in their appearance, impelled as much by business motives as by curiosity. Newspaper correspondents also hurried thither with their notebooks and cameras. All hastened to get a glimpse of the new Government, certain that in a day or two it would be too late.
In the city complete order reigned. The sailors, soldiers, and Red Guards behaved in these first days with exemplary discipline and maintained stern revolutionary order.
Among our enemies there was a growing fear lest the “episode" should continue too long; and very soon they began to organize the first attack against the new Government. The initiative emanated from the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. In the previous phases of the Revolution, they had not been anxious, and indeed had not dared, to take the entire power into their hands. In correspondence with their political position as go-betweens, they contented themselves with serving in the Coalition Government in the capacity of assistants, critics, friendly opponents, and apologists for the bourgeoisie. At all elections they conscientiously cast anathemas on the Liberal bourgeoisie, but in the Government they as regularly united with it. Thanks to these tactics, they succeeded in the course of the first six months of the Revolution in completely forfeiting the confidence of the popular masses and of the army, and now the November Revolution had finally hurled them from power. Yet only yesterday they had still considered themselves masters of the situation. The leaders of the Bolsheviks whom they persecuted had been obliged to live “illegally” and in hiding, just as under the Tsardom. Today, however, the Bolsheviks were in power, and the former Ministers and the Coalitionists and their coadjutors were swept aside and left without any influence on the further course of events. They did not want and could not believe that this sudden transformation signified the beginning of a new epoch. They wanted and forced themselves to think that it was all a mere accident, a misunderstanding, which Could be righted by a few energetic speeches and indicting articles, but at every turn they stumbled upon ever increasing and irresistible obstacles. Hence their blind and truly savage hatred towards us.
The bourgeois politicians would not, of course, make up their minds to go into the fire themselves. Instead, they were pushing forward the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, who in their struggle against us had acquired all that energy which they had so sadly lacked when they were in semi-power. Their organs were spreading the most fantastic rumours and slanders. In their name appeared proclamations containing direct appeals to the people to destroy the new Government. They, too, organized the officials for sabotage and the cadets for military action against us – throughout November 9th and 10th we continued to receive constant threats by telegram from the army committees, Town Councils, Zemstvos, and the managing committee of the railway union. The Nevsky Prospekt, the chief artery of the bourgeoisie of the capital, became more and more animated. The bourgeois youth were awakening from their torpor, and, urged on by the Press, were unfolding at the Nevsky Prospekt an energetic agitation against the Soviet Government. Helped by crowds of bourgeois cadets, they were disarming individual Red Guardsmen, and in side streets were shooting down sailors and Red Guards. A group of cadets seized the Telephone Exchange. They also made attempts to seize the Telegraph and Post Office. Finally, we were informed that three armoured cars had fallen into the hands of some unknown military organization hostile to us. The bourgeois elements were evidently raising their heads. The press was announcing that we were fast approaching our last hour. Our people intercepted some secret orders from which it was clear that a military organization had been formed against the Petrograd Soviet at the head of which stood a so-called Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, created by the City Council and the old Central Executive Committee. Both in the latter and in the City Council, the Right Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks were the leading parties. This Committee had at its disposal cadets, students, and many counter-revolutionary officers, who, behind the backs of the Coalitionists, were hoping to deliver a death-blow to the Soviets.
The chief basis for the counter-revolutionary organizations was the Cadet and Engineering Schools, where a considerable quantity of arms and munitions were stored and from which raids were carried out against the institutions of the Revolutionary Government.
Detachments of Red Guards and sailors surrounded the Cadet School and sent parlementaires to demand the surrender of arms. The besieged replied with bullets. The besiegers were marking time, and a crowd collected round them. Now and again a stray shot from within would hit a passer-by. The skirmish seemed to be getting prolonged indefinitely and was threatening to have a demoralizing effect on the revolutionary detachments. It was imperative to resort to drastic measures. The duty of disarming the cadets was then placed on the commander of the Peter and Paul Fortress, Ensign B – who closely surrounded the Cadet School, brought up some armoured cars and artillery, and delivered an ultimatum to the cadets to surrender in ten minutes. They answered with renewed fire from the windows. At the end of the ten minutes, B— commanded the artillery to open fire. The first shots made a wide gaping breach in the walls, and the cadets surrendered, although many of them tried to escape and, in so doing, continued firing at their pursuers. The exasperation and bitterness accompanying every civil war was soon engendered. The sailors undoubtedly committed cruelties on individual cadets. The bourgeois Press afterwards accused the sailors and the Soviet Government of inhumanity and savagery. But it was silent on one point that the Revolution of November 7th-8th had been accomplished without a single shot and without a single victim, and that it was only the counter-revolutionary plot which had been organized by the bourgeoisie and which threw its young men into the cauldron of a civil war against the workers, soldiers, and sailors that led to inevitable atrocities and victims. The events of November 11th effected a radical change in the temper of the Petrograd people. The struggle took on a more tragic aspect. At the same time our enemies at length realized that the position of affairs was much more serious than they had thought, and that the Soviet by no means intended to give up the power it had just won, merely at the bidding of the capitalist Press and cadets.
The clearance of Petrograd of all counterrevolutionary hotbeds went on with great intensity. The cadets were disarmed almost entirely, and those who took part in the rising were arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress, or taken to Kronstadt. Those papers which had been openly calling for a rising against the Soviet authority were suppressed. An order was also issued for the arrest of some of the leaders of the former Soviet parties whose names appeared in the intercepted counterrevolutionary correspondence. With this, all military resistance to the new authority was finally broken in the capital.
Then followed a prolonged and exhausting struggle with the “Italian” strike of officials, technical staffs, employees of Government departments, etc. These individuals, although belonging for the most part, in point of pay, to the oppressed class, adhere by their mode of life and their psychology to the bourgeoisie. They had faithfully served the State when Tsarism stood at its head, and they continued to serve it faithfully when authority passed into the hands of the Imperialist bourgeoisie. Afterwards, in the next period of the Revolution, they passed over with all their knowledge and their technical skill to the service of the Coalition Government. When, however, the insurgent workers, soldiers, and peasants hurled the exploiting classes from the helm of the State and tried to take the direction of affairs into their own hands, the officials and employees revolted and absolutely refused to support the new Government in any way whatever. As time went on, this sabotage spread more and more, its organizers being, in the main, Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and its financial support being derived from the banks of the Entente Embassies.
The growing stability of the Soviet’s power in Petrograd made the middle-class groups transfer all their hopes to military help from outside. The Petrograd Telegraph Agency, the Railway Telegraph, and the Radio-Telegraph Station of Tsarskoye Selo were sending wire after wire reporting that great military forces were moving on Petrograd with the object of suppressing the rebels and establishing order. Kerensky had fled to the front, and the papers of the bourgeois parties were announcing that he was leading numberless troops against the Bolsheviks. We were cut off from the rest of the country, as the telegraph stations refused to send our messages. But the soldiers who, by tens and hundreds, were daily coming to see us to bring messages from their regiments, divisions, and corps, all kept on saying to us: “Don’t be afraid of the front; the whole front is entirely on your side; give your orders and we are ready at a moment’s notice to send a division or a corps to assist you." The army was in the same state as all the rest; the rank and file were on our side, the upper ten against us. Of course, the upper ten had the technical military machinery in their hands. Various sections of our million-headed army found themselves isolated from one another. We, on our part, were isolated from the army and from the country. Nevertheless, the news of the Soviet’s power at Petrograd and of its decrees was, In spite of all obstacles, spreading all over the country, and stirred the provincial Soviets to revolt against the old authority.
The news of Kerensky’s march on Petrograd at the head of troops was soon confirmed and took a more definite shape. We were informed from Tsarskoye Selo of the approach of Cossack èchelons who had passed through Luga. A proclamation was distributed in the capital, signed by Kerensky and General Krasnoff, inviting the whole garrison to join the Government’s troops who in a few hours’ time would occupy Petrograd. The rebellion of the cadets on November 11th was undoubtedly connected with Kerensky’s enterprise, but it burst out too soon, owing to our energetic action. An order was issued to the garrison of Tsarskoye Selo to call upon the advancing Cossacks’ èchelons to submit to the authority of the Soviet, and, in case of refusal, to disarm them. But the garrison of Tsarskoye Selo was ill-adapted for military operations. It had no artillery and no leaders, as the officers were hostile to the Soviet. The Cossacks seized the radio-telegraph station of Tsarskoye Selo, the most powerful of its kind in the country, and continued to advance. The garrisons of Peterhoff, Krasnoye Selo, and Gatchina showed no initiative and no resolution.
After an almost bloodless victory at Petrograd, the soldiers were convinced that, in future, things would continue the same course: it would be sufficient to send an able agitator to the Cossacks to explain to them the objects of the workers’ revolution, and the Cossacks would lay down their arms. It was by means of speeches and fraternization that the Korniloff counterrevolutionary rebellion had been overpowered. It was by means of agitation and the cleverly planned seizure of offices that Kerensky’s Government had been deposed without any fighting. The same methods were now being applied by the leaders of the Tsarskoye Selo, Krasnoye Selo, and Gatchina Soviets against the Cossacks of General Krasnoff, but this time without success. The Cossacks did not manifest any great enthusiasm or resolve, and continued to advance. Some of the Cossacks’ detached sections reached Gatchina and Krasnoye Selo, a few skirmishes between them and the local garrisons took place, and some of the garrison troops were disarmed. We, at first, had no idea of the size of Kerensky’s forces. Some asserted that General Krasnoff was at the head of ten thousand men, others estimated that he could not have more than one thousand, while the papers and manifestoes of the hostile parties were announcing in huge letters that two corps were concentrated near Tsarskoye Selo.
A state of uncertainty also reigned in the Petrograd garrison. Scarcely had they won one bloodless victory than they had to come out against an enemy whose strength was unknown, and wage battles the issue of which was uncertain. The plan of sending fresh agitators and proclamations to the Cossacks was being constantly discussed at garrison conferences, since it seemed inconceivable to the soldiers that the Cossacks could refuse to adopt the standpoint which the Petrograd garrison had fought to assert. Meanwhile, the advance sections of the Cossacks were approaching Petrograd, and we expected that the decisive struggle would take place in the streets of the capital.
The greatest determination was shown by the soldiers of the Red Guard. They demanded arms, munitions, and leaders. But the whole of the military machine was in a state of complete disorganization, partly from neglect and partly from malice. The officers had gone, many of them had fled; rifles were in one place, munitions in another. Our artillery was in a still worse condition. Guns, gun-carriages, shells were scattered here and there, and had to be searched for in all sorts of places. The regiments were short of engineering tools and field telephones. The revolutionary staff, which tried hard to restore order from above, stumbled against insurmountable obstacles, chiefly in the shape of the sabotage organized by the military technical personnel.
We then decided to make a direct appeal to the working classes. We explained to them that all the conquests of the Revolution were at stake, and that only their energy, initiative, and self-sacrifice could save them and consolidate the new regime of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government. This appeal was crowned almost instantly with great practical success. Thousands of workmen came out and moved towards the positions occupied by Kerensky’s troops and began to dig trenches. The workmen in the gun factories took in hand the fitting up of guns, the supply of munitions from the military stores, the requisition of horses; they placed the guns in position, organized the commissariat department, obtained engines, motors, and cars, requisitioned the stocks of provisions and fodder, arranged sanitary colunms – in a word, they built up and prepared for battle that military machine which we had in vain tried to create from above by the authority of the revolutionary General Staff.
When dozens of guns appeared in position, the spirit of our soldiers changed at once. Under cover of artillery they were ready to resist the attack of the Cossacks. The first line consisted of sailors and Red Guards. A few officers, whose political ideas were not ours, but who were honestly devoted to their regiments, led their soldiers to their positions and superintended their activities against Krasnoff’s Cossacks.
Meantime the telegraph here and abroad was busy spreading news according to which the Bolsheviks’ adventure was at an end. Kerensky had entered Petrograd, and order had been restored by his iron hand. At the same time, the bourgeois Press of Petrograd, comforted by the proximity of Kerensky’s troops, was telling its readers about the complete demoralization of the Petrograd garrison, about the Cossacks’ irresistible advance and their numerous artillery, and was predicting the coming doom of the Smolny. Our greatest difficulty, as already stated, consisted in the absence of an efficient technical apparatus and of men able to direct the military activities. Even those officers who had conscientiously accompanied their soldiers to the positions declined to accept the post of Commander-in-Chief.
After various attempts to solve the problem we selected, the following combination: a garrison meeting elected a committee of five persons who were charged with supreme control over all operations against the counter-revolutionary troops advancing on Petrograd. This committee then came to an agreement with the Colonel of the General Staff, Muravieff, who during Kerensky’s regime had been in opposition, and now, on his own initiative, had offered his services to the Soviet Government.
On November 12th, in the night which was very cold, Muravieff and I motored to the military positions. Carts loaded with provisions, fodder, guns, and munitions were moving all along the road in the same direction. All that had been organized by the workers of various factories. Pickets of Red Guards stopped our car several times in order to verify our pass. Since the first days of the November Revolution all the cars of the city had been commandeered, and without a pass from Smolny no car was allowed to move in the streets or suburbs of the capital. The vigilance of the Red Guard was beyond all praise. Armed with rifles, they had been standing round the small bonfires for hours and hours, and the sight of these young armed workmen standing in the snow in the light of bonfires was the best symbol of the proletarian Revolution.
We found a good number of guns at the positions, and there was no lack of munitions. The decisive action took place on that very day, between Krasnoye Selo and Tsarskoye Selo. After a fierce artillery bombardment, the Cossacks, who had advanced as long as they met with no serious resistance, hastily fell back. They had all along been misled by tales about the atrocities of the Bolsheviks who intended to sell Russia to the Kaiser. They had been made to believe that the whole garrison of Petrograd was impatiently expecting them as liberators. The first serious resistance made havoc in their lines and doomed the whole of Kerensky’s adventure.
The retreat of General Krasnoff’s Cossacks gave us a chance of retaking the radio station of Tsarskoye Selo, and I at once wired the news of the victory over Kerensky’s troops.
Here is the text of the wire –
PULKOVO VILLAGE STAFF, 2.10 a.m.
The night of November 12th-13th will become historical. The attempt of Kerensky to lead counter-revolutionary troops against the capital, the seat of the Revolution, has met with a decisive repulse. Kerensky is in retreat; we are advancing. Soldiers, sailors, and workmen of Petrograd have shown that they are anxious to, and know how to, assert the will and power of the workers’ democracy with their arms. The bourgeoisie strove to isolate the revolutionary army; Kerensky attempted to crush it under the Cossack’s heel. Both attempts have proved a miserable failure.
The great idea of the supreme power of the workers and peasants’ democracy has consolidated the ranks of our army and steeled its will. The whole country will now perceive that the power of the Soviets is not a passing event, but an irrefutable fact of the rule of workers, soldiers, and peasants. The repulse of Kerensky is a repulse of the bourgeoisie, the landlords, and the Kornilovites. The repulse of Kerensky is the establishment of the people’s right to a peaceful and free life, to land, bread, and power. The Pulkovo detachment has, by its valiant deeds, consolidated the cause of the Workers and Peasants’ Revolution. A return to the past is impossible. There are still struggle, obstacles, and sacrifices in front of us. But the road is open and victory is certain.
Revolutionary Russia and the Soviet Government have a right to be proud of their Pulkovo detachment and its Commander, Colonel Walden.
Eternal memory to the fallen! Glory to the warriors of the Revolution, soldiers and officers faithful to the people!
Long live revolutionary, popular, Socialist Russia
On behalf of the Council of the People’s Commissioners,
We subsequently learnt from our friends abroad that the German wireless stations had received an order from the High Command not to intercept this message. Thus the first action of the German Government, in respect of the November events, betrayed the fear lest they should cause a fermentation in Germany itself. Austria-Hungary intercepted a portion of our message, and, as far as we know, it became the source of information from which all Europe learned that Kerensky’s luckless attempt to regain power had ended in a miserable failure. Signs of fermentation were now apparent among Krasnoff’s Cossacks. They began sending scouts to Petrograd and even official delegates to the Smolny. There they were able to see for themselves that perfect order reigned at Petrograd, maintained by the garrison which was supporting the Soviet Government. The disorganization among the Cossacks became the greater as they soon realized the absurdity of the idea of capturing Petrograd by means of a thousand or so cavalrymen, since the promised support from the front was not forthcoming.
Krasnoff, with his Cossacks, retreated towards Gatchina, and when we reached there the following day, the members of his staff were already practically prisoners in the hands of the Cossacks themselves. Our garrison at Gatchina was in occupation of all the most important positions. The Cossacks, although not disarmed, were absolutely incapable of further resistance. They desired one thing only, viz. to be allowed to return to the Don as soon as possible, or at least to the front.
The Gatchina Palace was a curious sight. All the entrances were guarded by strong pickets.
At the gates were artillery and armoured cars. The spacious rooms of the Palace, the walls of which were covered with valuable paintings, were crowded with soldiers and sailors and Red Guardsmen. On the tables of costly wood were scattered soldiers’ clothes, pipes, and sardine boxes. One of the rooms was occupied by the staff of General Krasnoff. The floor was covered with mattresses, soldiers’ coats, and caps. The representative of the Military Revolutionary Committee who accompanied me entered the room occupied by the staff, lowered his rifle upside down with a clang, and, leaning on it, declared “General Krasnoff, you and your staff are prisoners of the Soviet.” Armed Red Guardsmen immediately took up posts at both doors of the room. Kerensky was not there; he had fled, as he fled previously from the Winter Palace. General Krasnoff described the circumstances of his escape in his written evidence handed in on November 14th. I publish here this curious document verbatim –
November 14, 1917, 6 p.m.
It was about 3 p.m. when I was summoned by the Commander-in-Chief [Kerensky]. He was very agitated and nervous.
“General,” said he, “you have betrayed me: your own Cossacks here definitely say that they will arrest me and hand me over to the sailors.”
“Yes,” said I “they talk a good deal about it, and I know that there is no sympathy with you anywhere.”
“Do the officers say the same?"
“Yes; the officers are exactly those who are the most discontented with you.”
“What shall I do? I shall have to take my life.”
“If you are an honest man you will go. at once with a white flag to Petrograd and appear before the Revolutionary Committee and talk the matter over as the head of the Government.”
“Yes, I will do that, General”
“I will give you a guard and I will get a sailor to go with you.”
“No ; any one but a sailor. You know Dybenko is here."
“I do not know who Dybenko is.”
“He is my enemy.”
“Well, nothing is to be done. You have engaged in a big game and you must take risks.”
“Very well; I will go to-night.”
“Why in the night? That would he a flight. Go openly and calmly; let everybody see that you are not trying to escape.”
“Very well. Only give me a convoy which I can trust.”
I went out, called a Cossack of the 10th Don Cossacks’ Regiment, Russkoff, and ordered him to appoint eight Cossacks to form a bodyguard for the Commander-in-Chief.
Half an hour later the Cossacks came in to tell me that they could not find Kerensky anywhere – that he had fled. I raised the alarm and ordered a search to be made for him ; I am inclined to think that he could not have fled from Gatchina and is still hiding somewhere here.
Such was the end of this business.
Nevertheless, our opponents did not want to surrender or to admit that the question of government authority had been settled. They Still nourished hopes of help from the front. The leaders of the ex-Soviet parties – Tchernoff, Tsereteli, Avksentieff, Gotz, and others, one after another, went to the front to negotiate with the old army committees gathered at Dukhonin’s headquarters, tried to incite him to resist, and, according to the Press, even attempted to form at his quarters a new Ministry. But nothing came of it. The old army committees had lost all their influence, and the front was feverishly busy calling together conferences for the new elections to all the army organizations at the front. At these re-elections the Soviets’ regime was everywhere victorious.
Meanwhile our detachments were moving by rail further from Gatchina towards Luga and Pskoff. There they met several trains with “shockers” and Cossacks, who had either been summoned by Kerensky or despatched by various generals. An armed conflict occurred between our troops and one of these Cossack èchelons. But the majority of the soldiers sent from the front to Petrograd, on meeting with the representatives of the Soviet troops, immediately declared that they had been deceived and that they would not raise their arms against the authority of the workers and soldiers.
In the meantime the struggle for the establishment of the Soviet regime was spreading all over the country. In Moscow this struggle was particularly protracted and bloody. Perhaps this was due not the least to the fact that the leaders of the Revolution did not act at once with all the determination needed in offensive operations. In a civil war, more than in any other, victory can be secured only by a prompt and continuous offensive. Hesitation is dangerous, negotiations are risky, the policy of marking time is ruinous. One must always remember that the masses of the people have never been in possession of power, that they have always been under the heel of other classes, and that therefore they lack political self-confidence. Any hesitation shown in the revolutionary centres has an immediate deteriorating effect on them. Only when the revolutionary party firmly and unflinchingly speeds to its goal can it help the working masses to overcome all the slavish instincts inherited from centuries and lead the masses to victory. Only a resolute offensive secures victory with a minimum expenditure of strength and with the least losses.
But the attainment of resolute and firm tactics is just the difficulty. The lack of confidence of the masses in their own strength, the lack of experience of power, are reflected also in the leaders who, besides, are all the time under the powerful pressure of bourgeois public opinion.
The bare idea of the possibility of the establishment of a Workers’ Government filled our bourgeois Liberals with hatred and spite. These feelings they expressed in the numberless papers they had at their disposal. Next came our intellectuals, who, with all their profession of Radicalism and the socialistic colouring of their thought, were yet harbouring in the depth of their consciousness a most slavish admission of the bourgeoisie’s might and its art of ruling. All these intellectuals, with their socialistic plumage, at once shifted towards the Right, regarding the consolidation of the power of the Soviets as the beginning of the end. Following on the heels of the representatives of Liberal professions walked the old bureaucracy, the administrative and technical personnel, all! those elements who, morally and materially, live on the crumbs falling from the table of the bourgeoisie. The opposition of all these classes was mostly of a passive character, especially after the suppression of the cadet rebellion, but for that very reason it often seemed insurmountable. At every step we were refused assistance. The officials would either leave the Government offices or, remaining there, refused point-blank to work for us. They would not surrender the books or funds. The telephone exchanges refused to connect us. The telegraph offices would mutilate or delay our messages. We could not find translators, stenographers, or even copyists, etc. All that created such an atmosphere that some among us, even some of those at the head of our party, began to doubt whether the working masses would be able, in face of such resistance on the part of the bourgeois classes, to set in order the machinery of Government and remain in power. Here and there were heard voices advising an agreement. But with whom? With the bourgeois Liberals? Such a coalition had been already tried, and it drove the Revolution into a terrible bog. The insurrection of Novemher 7th was an act of self-preservation on the part of the masses, after a period of impotence and treason on the part of the Coalition Government. The only coalition which still remained to be tried was the coalition within the ranks of the so-called revolutionary democracy, that is, of all Soviet parties. Such a coalition we had virtually proposed from the very beginning, at the sitting of the second All-Russian Congress on November 7th. The Kerensky Government had just been overturned and we had proposed to the Soviet Congress to take over the government authority. But the parties of the Right had left us and banged the door behind them. And it was the very best they could have done. They represented but an insignificant section at the Congress. They were no longer supported by the masses, since even those sections of the people who, by their apathy, were still supporting them, were gradually drifting over to our side. The coalition with the Right wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks would not have broadened the social basis of the Soviet Government; at the same time it would have introduced into its personnel elements demoralized through and through by political skepticism and by worship of bourgeois Liberalism. All the strength of the new authority lay in the radicalism of its programme, in the determination with which it acted. To tie oneself to the groups of Tchernoff and Tsereteli would have meant to put shackles on the arms and legs of the new authority and to cause the masses to lose confidence in it in no time.
Our nearest neighbours on the right were the so-called “Left” Socialist Revolutionaries. On the whole they were quite ready to support us, but at the same time they desired to form a Coalition Socialist Government. The Central Committee of the Railway Union, the Central Committee of the Post and Telegraph Employees, the Union of Government Officials – all these organizations were against us. At the head of our own party some were urging the need of coming to an agreement with these organizations in some way or other. But on what basis? All those above mentioned leading organizations of the past regime had already outlived themselves. Their relationship to the lower officials was roughly the same as that of the old army committees to the soldier masses in the trenches. History had drawn a deep line of demarcation between the higher and lower strata. An unprincipled alliance with these worn-out leading organizations of yesterday was doomed to an inevitable collapse. In order to overpower the sabotage and the aristocratic pretensions of those above, it was necessary to lean for support firmly and resolutely on the rank and file. We left to the Socialist Revolutionaries the task of continuing the hopeless attempts to effect a compromise. Our own policy was, on the contrary, to mobilize those who laboured at the bottom of the scale against all those representative bodies which had supported the Kerensky regime. This uncompromising policy caused friction and even a split amongst the leaders of our own party. At the Central Executive Committee, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries protested against the severity of the measures adopted by the new Government, and insisted on the necessity of compromises. The protest was supported by a section of the Bolsheviks, and three People’s Commissioners resigned and left the Government. Some other active members of the party expressed their fundamental solidarity with those who had resigned. This made a tremendous impression in various bourgeois and intellectual circles: it was now evident that the Bolsheviks, whom the cadets and the Cossacks of General Krasnoff had failed to crush, were bound to perish, together with the Soviet regime, as a result of internal dissolution. However, the masses never noticed the split at all, and unanimously supported the Council of the People’s Commissioners not only against the counterrevolutionary plotters and the saboteurs, but also against all compromise-mongers and sceptics.
When, after Korniloff’s adventure, the paramount parties on the Soviets made an attempt to make amends for their previous attitude of indulgence towards the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, they demanded the speedy convocation of the Constituent Assembly. Kerensky, who had just been saved by the Soviets from the too close embrace of his ally Korniloff, was obliged to give in. The Constituent Assembly was fixed for the end of November. But the circumstances had by that time become such that no guarantee whatsoever was available that the Constituent Assembly would, indeed, be called together. Complete disorganization reigned at the front, the number of deserters was growing every day, and the soldiers threatened to leave the trenches in regiments and corps and to withdraw to the rear, devastating everything on their way. In the country districts seizures of private lands and livestock were going on in a most haphazard fashion. Martial law was in consequence proclaimed in many places. Meanwhile the German troops continued to advance, took Riga and threatened Petrograd. The Right wing of the bourgeoisie was openly rejoicing over the danger threatening the revolutionary capital. The Government offices had been evacuated from Petrograd. and Kerensky intended to transfer the seat of his Government to Moscow. All that made the possibility of the Constituent Assembly being called together not only remote, but well-nigh unlikely. From this point of view the November coup d’ètat may have been regarded as the salvation of the Constituent Assembly as well as of the Revolution as a whole. And when we argued that the road to the Constituent Assembly lay not through Tsereteli’s Provisional Parliament, but through the seizure of power by the Soviets, we were absolutely sincere. But the endless postponements of the summoning of the Constituent Assembly had not been without effect on it. Announced in the first days of the Revolution, it made its appearance after eight or nine months of a severe struggle between classes and parties. It came too late to have still a chance of playing a constructive r6le. Its intrinsic futility had been predetermined by one single fact which at first might have appeared as of small importance, but which later on affected the fate of the Constituent Assembly tremendously.
During the first phases of the Revolution the party of the Socialist Revolutionaries had been numerically the strongest. I have already mentioned its amorphous condition and its mixed social composition. The Revolution had been irresistibly leading to the internal differentiation among those who were marching under the Populist banner. The left wing of this party, representing a portion of the industrial workers and the great masses of the poorer peasantry, was separating more and more from the rest, and ultimately found itself in an irreconcilable opposition to the leaders of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, who represented the lower and middle bourgeoisie. But the inertia of the party frame and traditions delayed the inevitable split. The proportional system of elections rests, as is well known, entirely on party lists. As these lists had been drawn up two or three months before the November Revolution, the names of the Left and the Right Socialist Revolutionaries figured pêlemêle in the same list, under the banner of the same party. In this way, by the time of the November Revolution, when the Right Socialist Revolutionaries were already arresting members of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Left were joining the Bolsheviks for the overthrow of the Government of the Socialist Revolutionary Kerensky, the old lists were still retaining their validity, and peasants at the elections for the Constituent Assembly were obliged to vote for lists headed by Kerensky’s name and containing names of Left Socialist Revolutionaries who were taking part in the conspiracy against him.
The months preceding the November Revolution were marked by an incessant orientation of the masses towards the Left and a wholesale flow of the workers, soldiers, and peasants into the ranks of the Bolsheviks. During the same period the same process was manifesting itself in the ranks of the Socialist Revolutionary Party in the shape of the extension of the Left wing at the expense of the Right. Yet three-fourths of the names figuring on the party lists of the Socialist Revolutionaries were those of the old leaders of the Right wing, whose revolutionary reputation had been forfeited completely during their coalition with the Liberal bourgeoisie.
To this must be added the fact that the elections took place during the first weeks following the November Revolution. The news of the change was spreading in slowly widening circles from the capital to the provinces, from the towns to the villages. In many places the masses of peasantry had a very vague idea of what had taken place in Petrograd and Moscow. They nominally voted for “Land and Liberty,” for their representatives on the land committees, who, for the most part, were following the Populist banner. In effect, they were voting for Kerensky and Avksentieff, who were dissolving those very land committees and arresting their members. The result of it all was a most incredible political paradox: one of the two parties which were to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, viz. the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, was actually elected on the same lists as the party which had obtained the majority in the Constituent Assembly. These facts show clearly what a belated product the Constituent Assembly was in comparison with the actual progress of party warfare and party differentiations. We must now examine the question also from the point of view of principle.
As Marxists, we have never been worshippers of formal democracy. In a society split into classes, the democratic institutions, far from abolishing the class struggle, only lend the class interests a highly imperfect form of expression. The possessing classes have always at their disposal thousands of means to, pervert and adulterate the will of the labouring masses. In time of revolution democratic institutions form a still less perfect apparatus for the expression of the class struggle. Marx called Revolution “the locomotive of history.” The open and direct struggle for power enables the labouring masses to acquire in a short time a wealth of political experience and thus rapidly to pass from one, stage to another in the process of their mental evolution. The ponderous mechanism of democratic institutions cannot keep pace with this evolution – and this in proportion to the vastness of the country and the imperfection of the technical apparatus at its disposal.
The Right Socialist Revolutionaries were in a majority at the Constituent Assembly. In accordance with parliamentary usage, they should have formed the Government. But the Right Socialist Revolutionaries had had the chance of forming such a Government during the whole period of Revolution before November. Yet they had refrained from doing so, had handed over the lion’s share of power to the Liberal bourgeoisie, and exactly for that reason they had lost the last vestige of influence among the most revolutionary sections of the people by the very time when the numerical composition of the Constituent Assembly placed them under the formal obligation to assume the reins of government. The working class, together with the Red Guard, were deeply hostile to the Right Socialist Revolutionaries. The overwhelming majority of the army supported the Bolsheviks. The revolutionary elements in the villages divided their sympathies between the. Left Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks. The sailors, who had been so prominent in all the incidents of the Revolution, were almost to a man with our party. The Right Socialist Revolutionaries had, in fact, been compelled to leave the Soviets, which had assumed power in November, that is, before the Constituent Assembly. On what support could a Ministry formed by such a majority of the Constituent Assembly depend? It would have had behind it the rich of the villages, intellectuals, and the old officialdom, and perhaps would have found support, for the time being, among the middle class. But such a Government would have been completely deprived of the material apparatus of power. In the centres of political life, like Petrograd, it would have met at once with an uncompromising resistance. If the Soviets had, in accordance with the formal logic of democratic institutions, handed over their power to the party of Kerensky and Tchernoff, the new Govemment, discredited and impotent, would have only succeeded in temporarily confusing the political life of the country, and would have been overthrown by a new rising within a few weeks. The Soviets decided to reduce this belated historical experiment to a minimum, and dissolved the Constituent Assembly on the very day when it assembled.
On this account our party has been made the butt of most violent accusations. No doubt the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly made a very unfavourable impression in the leading quarters of the Socialist parties of the West, and the politically unavoidable and necessary act was denounced there as a piece of party tyranny and sectarian arbitrariness. Kautsky, with his customary pedantry, explained in a series of articles the mutual relationship between the Socialist and Revolutionary tasks of the proletariat and the regime of political democracy. He endeavoured to prove that the observance of the principle of democracy was always, in the last resort, advantageous to the working class. Of course, in a general way, and on the whole, that is true. But Kautsky reduced this historical truth to a piece of professorial banality. If it always, in the end, pays the proletariat to wage its class struggle and even to exercise its dictatorship within the frame of democratic institutions, it does not at all follow that history always affords the chance of such a combination. It does not follow from the Marxian theory at all that history invariably creates conditions which are the most “advantageous” to the proletariat. It is at present difficult to say what course the Revolution would have taken if the Constituent Assembly had been summoned in its second or third month. Very probably the parties of the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, which then predominated, would have discredited themselves, together with: the Constituent Assembly, in the eyes not only of the more active elements which were supporting the Soviets, but even in those of the backward popular masses, whose hopes would have been bound up, not with the Soviets, but with the Constituent Assembly. In such circumstances the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly might have been followed by new elections from which the parties of the Left would have emerged in a majority. But the course of events went in a different direction. The elections to the Constituent Assembly took place in the ninth month of the Revolution, and by that time the class struggle had reached such a degree of intensity that it burst, by its internal pressure, the formal framework of democracy.
The proletariat led the army and lower masses of peasantry. These classes were in a state of direct and fierce revolt against the Right Socialist Revolutionaries. Yet, thanks to the cumbrous machinery of democratic elections, this party obtained a majority in the Constituent Assembly, representing the pre-November phase of the Revolution. This was a contradiction which could not be solved within the framework of formal democracy, and only political pedants, who do not clearly realize the revolutionary logic of the relations of classes, can, in face of the situation resulting from the November events, preach to the proletariat banal truths concerning the advantages of democracy for waging the class war.
History chose to put the problem in a form much more concrete and acute. The Constituent Assembly, by its composition, was obliged to hand over the reins of power to the Tchernoff-Kerensky-Tsereteli group. Was this group capable of guiding the Revolution? Could they find support In the class which formed the backbone of the Revolution? No. The material class-contents of the Revolution came into an irreconcilable conflict with its democratic forms. Thereby the fate of the Constituent Assembly was decided in advance. Its dissolution appeared as the only Conceivable surgical way out of the contradictory situation which was not of our making, but had been brought about by the preceding course of events.
Last updated on: 17.12.2006