From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.1, November 1944, pp.344-349.
Originally published in From October to Brest Litovsk, 1919.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
In the period shortly after the October revolution, Leon Trotsky utilized the repeated interruptions between the sessions of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, in order, as he wrote at the time, to “recall the course and the landmarks of the October revolution.” This work was subsequently published as a pamphlet, From October to Brest Litovsk, and remained for many years the official Bolshevik version of the events that led to the establishment of the first workers’ state. From this pamphlet, on the occasion of the 27th Anniversary of October, we republish the sections which deal with the developments in July and August 1917, preceding the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.
It is hardly necessary to point out that the study and correct understanding of the Russian revolution has a direct bearing on the events unfolding today in Europe and throughout the world, when the program and banner of October alone point the way out to humanity from the slaughter-pens of capitalism.
The text which appears below is taken from the authorized English translation from the Russian made in 1919.
After all the preceding experience of the coalition, there would seem to be but one way out of the difficulty – to break with the Cadets [the Constitutional Democrats, party of the Russian bourgeoisie] and set up a Soviet government. The relative forces within the Soviets were such at the time that the Soviet’s power as a political party would fall naturally into the hands of the Social-Revolutionists and the Mensheviks. We deliberately faced the situation. Thanks to the possibility of re-elections at any time, the mechanism of the Soviets assured a sufficiently exact reflection of the progressive shift toward the left in the masses of workers and soldiers. After the break of the coalition with the bourgeoisie, the radical tendencies should, we expected, receive a greater following in the Soviet organizations. Under such circumstances, the proletariat’s struggle for power would naturally move in the channel of Soviet organizations and could take a more normal course. Having broken with the bourgeoisie, the middle-class democracy would itself fall under their ban and would be compelled to seek a closer union with the Socialist proletariat. In this way the indecisiveness and political indefiniteness of the middle-class democratic elements would be overcome sooner or later by the working masses, with the help of our criticism. This is the reason why we demanded that the leading Soviet parties, in which we had no real confidence (and we frankly said so), should take the governing power into their own hands.
But even after the ministerial crisis of the 2nd of July, Tseretelli and his adherents did not abandon the coalition idea. They explained in the Executive Committee that the leading Cadets were, indeed, demoralized by doctrinairism and even by counter-revolutionism, but that in the provinces there were still many bourgeois elements which could still go hand in hand with the revolutionary democrats, and that in order to make sure of their cooperation it was necessary to attract representatives of the bourgeoisie into the membership of the new ministry. Dan already entertained hopes of a radical-democratic party to be hastily built up, at the time, by a few pro-democratic politicians. The report that the coalition governmetn had been broken up, only to be replaced by a new coalition, spread rapidly through Petrograd and provoked a storm of indignation among the workers and soldiers everywhere. Thus the events of July 3-5 were produced.
Already during the session of the Executive Committee we were informed by telephone that a regiment of machine-gunners was making ready for attack. By telephone, too, we adopted measures to check these preparations, but the ferment was working among the people. Representatives of military units that had been disciplined for insubordination brought alarming news from the front, of repressions which aroused the garrison. Among the Petrograd workingmen the displeasure with the official leaders was intensified also by the fact that Tseretelli, Dan and Chkheidze, misrepresented the general views of the proletariat in their endeavor to prevent the Petrograd Soviet from becoming the mouthpiece of the new tendencies of the toilers. The All-Russian Executive Committee, formed in the July Council and depending upon the more backward provinces, put the Petrograd Soviet more and more into the background and took all matters into its own hands, including even local Petrograd affairs.
A clash was inevitable. The workers and soldiers pressed from below, vehemently voiced their discontent with the official Soviet policies and demanded greater resolution from our party. We considered that, in view of the backwardness of the provinces, the time for such a course had not yet arrived. At the same time, we feared that the events taking place at the front might bring extreme chaos into the revolutionary ranks, and desperation to the hearts of the people. The attitude of our party toward the movement of July 3-5 was quite well defined. On the one hand, there was the danger that Petrograd might break away from the more backward parts of the country; while on the other, there was the feeling that only the active and energetic intervention of Petrograd could save the day. The party agitators who worked among the people were working in harmony with the masses, conducting an uncompromising campaign.
There was still some hope that the demonstration of the revolutionary masses in the streets might destroy the blind doctrinairism of the coalitionists and make them understand that they could retain their power only by breaking openly with the bourgeoisie. Despite all that had recently been said and written in the bourgeois press, our party had no intention whatever of seizing power by means of an armed revolt. In point of fact, the revolutionary demonstration started spontaneously, and was guided by us only in a political way.
The Central Executive Committee was holding its session in the Tauride Palace, when turbulent crowds of armed soldiers and workers surrounded it from all sides. Among them was, of course, an insignificant number of anarchistic elements, which were ready to use their arms against the Soviet center. There were also some “pogrom” elements, Black-Hundred elements, and obviously mercenary elements, seeking to utilize the occasion for instigating pogroms and chaos. From among the sundry elements came the demands for the arrest of Chernov and Tseretelli, for the dispersal of the Executive Committee, etc. An attempt was even made to arrest Chernov. Subsequently at Kresty prison, I identified one of the sailors who had participated in this attempt; he was a criminal, imprisoned at Kresty for robbery. But the bourgeois and the coalitionist press represented this movement as a pogromist, counter-revolutionary affair, and, at the same time, as a Bolshevik crusade, the immediate object of which was to seize the reins of Government by the use of armed force against the Central Executive Committee.
The movement of July 3-5 had already disclosed with perfect clearness that a complete impotence reigned within the ruling Soviet parties at Petrograd. The garrison was far from being all on our side. There were still some wavering, undecided, passive elements. But if we ignore the junkers, there were no regiments at all which were ready to fight us in the defense of the Government or the leading Soviet parties. It was necessary to summon troops from the front. The entire strategy of Tseretelli, Chernov, and others on July 3 resolved itself into this: to gain time in order to give Kerensky an opportunity to bring up his “loyal” regiments. One deputation after another entered the hall of the Tauride Palace, which was, surrounded by armed crowds, and demanded a complete separation from the bourgeoisie, positive social reforms, and the opening of peace negotiations.
We, the Bolsheviks, met every new company of disgruntled troops gathered in the yards and streets, with speeches, in which we called upon them to be calm and assured them that, in view of the present temper of the people, the coalitionists could not succeed in forming a new coalition. Especially pronounced was the temper of the Kronstadt sailors, whom we had to restrain from transcending the limits of a peaceful demonstration. The fourth demonstration, which was already controlled by our party, assumed a still more serious character. The Soviet leaders were quite at sea; their speeches assumed an evasive character; the answers given by Chkheidze to the deputies were without any political content. It was clear that the official leaders were marking time.
On the night of the 4th the “loyal” regiments began to arrive. During the session of the Executive Committee the Tauride Palace responded to the strains of the Marseillaise. The expression on the faces of the leaders suddenly changed. They displayed a look of confidence which had been entirely wanting of late. It was produced by the entry into the Tauride Palace of the Volynsk regiment, the same one, which, a few months later, was to lead the vanguard of the October revolution, under our banners. From this moment, everything changed. There was no longer any need to handle the delegates of the Petrograd workmen and soldiers with kid gloves. Speeches were made from the floor of the Executive Committee, which referred to an armed insurrection that had been “suppressed” on that very day by loyal revolutionary forces. The Bolsheviks were declared to be a counter-revolutionary party.
The fear experienced by the liberal bourgeoisie during the two days of armed demonstration betrayed itself in a hatred that was crystallized not only in the columns of the newspapers, but also in the streets of Petrograd, and more especially on the Nevsky Prospect, where individual workmen and soldiers caught in the act of “criminal” agitation were mercilessly beaten up. The junkers, army officers, policemen, and the cavaliers of St. George were now the masters of the situation. And all these were headed by the savage counter-revolutionists. The workers’ organizations and establishments of our party were being ruthlessly crushed and demolished. Arrests, searches, assaults and even murders came to be common occurrences. On the night of the 4th the then Attorney-General Pereverzev handed over to the press “documents” which were intended to prove that the Bolshevist party was headed by bribed agents of Germany.
The leaders of the Social-Revolutionist and Menshevik parties had known us too long and too well to believe these accusations. At the same time, they were too deeply interested in their success to repudiate them publicly. And even now one cannot recall without disgust that saturnalia of lies which was celebrated and broadcast in all the bourgeois and coalition newspapers. Our organs were suppressed. Revolutionary Petrograd felt that the provinces and the army were still far from being with it. In workingmen’s sections of the city a short period of tyrannical infringements set in, while in the garrison repressive measures were introduced against the disorganized regiments, and certain of its units were disarmed. At the same time, the political leaders manufactured a new ministry, with the inclusion of representatives of third-rate bourgeois groups, which, although adding nothing to the government, robbed it of its last vestige of revolutionary initiative.
Meanwhile events at the front ran their own course. The organic unity of the army was shaken to its very depths. The soldiers were becoming convinced that the great majority of the officers, who, at the beginning of the revolution, bedaubed themselves with red revolutionary paint, were still very inimical to the new regime. An open selection of counter-revolutionary elements was being made in the lines. Bolshevik publications were ruthlessly persecuted. The military advance had long ago changed into a tragic retreat. The bourgeois press madly libelled the army. Whereas, on the eve of the advance, the ruling parties told us that we were an insignificant gang and that the army had never heard of us and would not have anything to do with us, now, when the gamble of the offensive had ended so disastrously, these same persons and parties laid the whole blame for its failure on our shoulders. The prisons were crowded with revolutionary workers and soldiers. All the old legal bloodhounds of Czarism were employed in investigating the July 3-5 affair. Under these circumstances, the Social-Revolutionists and the Mensheviks went so far as to demand that Lenin, Zinoviev and others of their group should surrender themselves to the “Courts of Justice.”
The infringements of liberty in the workingmen’s quarters lasted but a little while and were followed by accessions of revolutionary spirit, not only among the proletariat, but also in the Petrograd garrison. The coalitionists were losing all influence. The wave of Bolshevism began to spread from the urban centers to every part of the country and, despite all obstacles, penetrated into the army ranks. The new coalition government, with Kerensky at its head, had already openly embarked upon a policy of repression. The ministry had restored the death penalty in the army. Our papers were suppressed and our agitators were arrested; but this only increased our influence. In spite of all the obstacles involved in the new elections for the Petrograd Soviet, the distribution of power in it had become so changed that on certain important questions we already commanded a majority vote. The same was the case in the Moscow Soviet.
At that time, together with many others, I was imprisoned at Kresty, having been arrested for instigating and organizing the armed revolt of July 3-5 in collusion with the German authorities, and with the object of furthering the military ends of the Hohenzollerns. The famous prosecutor of the Czarist regime, Aleksandrov, who had prosecuted numerous revolutionists, was now entrusted with the task of protecting the public from the counter-revolutionary Bolsheviks. Under the old regime the inmates of prisons used to be divided into political prisoners and criminals. Now a new terminology was established: Criminals and Bolsheviks. Great perplexity reigned among the imprisoned soldiers. The boys came from the country and had previously taken no part in political life. They thought that the revolution had set them free, once and for all. Hence they viewed with amazement their doorlocks and grated windows. While taking their exercise in the prison-yard, they would always ask me what all this meant and how it would end. I comforted them with the hope of our ultimate victory.
Toward the end of August occurred the revolt of Kornilov; this was the immediate result of the mobilization of the counterrevolutionary forces to which a forceful impulse had been imparted by the attack of July 18. At the celebrated Moscow Congress, which took place in the middle of August, Kerensky attempted to take a middle ground between the propertied elements and the democracy of the small bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks were on the whole considered as standing beyond the bounds of the “legal.” Kerensky threatened them with blood and iron, which met with vehement applause from the propertied half of the gathering, and treacherous silence on the part of the bourgeois democracy. But the hysterical outcries and threats of Kerensky did not satisfy the chiefs of the counter-revolutionary interests. They had only too clearly observed the revolutionary tide flooding every portion of the country, among the working class, in the villages, in the army; and they considered it imperative to adopt without any delay the most extreme measures to curb the masses. After reaching an understanding with the property-owning bourgeoisie – who saw in him their hero – Kornilov took it upon himself to accomplish this hazardous task.
Kerensky, Savinkov, Filomenko and other Socialist-Revolutionists of the government or semi-government class participated in this conspiracy, but each and every one of them at a certain stage of the altering circumstances betrayed Kornilov, for they. knew that in the case of his defeat, they would turn out to have been on the wrong side of the fence. We lived through the events connected with Kornilov, while we were in jail, and followed them in the newspapers; the unhindered delivery of newspapers was the only important respect in which the jails of Kerensky differed from those of the old regime.
The Cossack General’s adventure miscarried; six months of revolution had created in the consciousness of the masses and in their organization a sufficient resistance against an open counterrevolutionary attack. The conciliationist Soviet parties were terribly frightened at the prospect of the possible results of the Kornilov conspiracy, which threatened to sweep away, not only the Bolsheviks, but also the whole revolution, together with its governing parties. The Social-Revolutionists and the Mensheviks, proceeded to legalize the Bolsheviks – this, to be sure, only retrospectively and only half-way, inasmuch as they scented possible dangers in the future. The very same Kronstadt sailors – whom they had dubbed bandits and counter-revolutionists in the days following the July uprising – were summoned during the Kornilov danger to Petrograd for the defense of the revolution. They came without a murmur, without a word of reproach, without recalling the past, and occupied the most responsible posts.
I had the fullest right to recall to Tseretelli these words which I had addressed to him in May, when he was occupied in persecuting the Kronstadt sailors:
“When a counter-revolutionary general attempts to throw the noose around the neck of the revolution, the Cadets will grease the rope with soap, while the Kronstadt sailors will come to fight and die together with us.”
The Soviet organizations had revealed everywhere, in the rear and at the front, their vitality and their power in the struggle with the Kornilov uprising. In almost no instance did things ever come to a military conflict. The revolutionary masses ground into nothingness the general’s conspiracy. Just as the moderates in July found no soldiers among the Petrograd garrison to fight against us, so now Kornilov found no soldiers on the whole front to fight against the revolution. He had acted by virtue of a delusion and the words of our propaganda easily destroyed his designs.
According to information in the newspapers, I had expected a more rapid unfolding of subsequent events in the direction of the passing of the power into the hands of the Soviets. The growth of the influence and power of the Bolsheviks became indubitable and had gained an irresistible momentum. The Bolsheviks had warned against the coalition, against the attack of July 18, they predicted the Kornilov affair – the masses of the people became convinced by experience that we were right. During the most terrifying moments of the Kornilov conspiracy, when the Caucasian [Savage] division was approaching Petrograd, the Petrograd Soviet was arming the workingmen with the extorted consent of the authorities. Army divisions which had been brought up against us had long since achieved their successful rebirth in the stimulating atmosphere of Petrograd and were now altogether on our side.
The Kornilov uprising was destined to open definitely the eyes of the army to the inadmissibility of any continued policy of conciliation with the bourgeois counter-revolution. Hence it was possible to expect that the crushing of the Kornilov uprising would prove to be only an introduction to an immediate aggressive action on the part of the revolutionary forces under the leadership of our party for the purpose of seizing sole power. But events unfolded more slowly. With all the tension of their revolutionary feeling, the masses had become more cautious after the bitter lesson of the July days, and renounced all isolated demonstrations, awaiting a direct instruction and direction from above. And, also, among the leadership of the party there developed a “watchful-waiting” policy. Under these circumstances, the liquidation of the Kornilov adventure, irrespective of the profound regrouping of forces to our advantage, did not bring about any immediate political changes.
In the Petrograd Soviet, the domination of our party was definitely strengthened from that time on. This was evidenced in dramatic fashion when the question of the personnel of its presiding body came up. At that epoch, when the Social-Revolutionists and the Mensheviks held sway in the Soviets, they isolated the Bolsheviks by every means in their power. They did not admit even one Bolshevik into the membership of the Executive Committee at Petrograd, even when our party represented at least one-third of all the Soviet members. Afterwards, when the Petrograd Soviet, by a dwindling majority, passed the resolution for the transferring of all power into the hands of the Soviet, our party put forth the demand to establish a coalition Executive Committee formed on a proportional basis.
The old presiding body, the members of which were Chkheidze, Tseretelli, Kerensky, Skebelev, Chernov, flatly refused this demand. It may not be out of place to mention this here, inasmuch as representatives of the parties broken up by the revolution speak of the necessity of presenting one front for the sake of democracy, and accuse us of separatism. There was called at that time a special meeting of the Petrograd Soviet, which was to decide the question of the presiding body’s fate. All forces, all reserves had been mobilized on both sides. Tseretelli came out with a speech embodying a program, wherein he pointed out that the question of the presiding body was a question of orientation. We reckoned that we would sway somewhat less than half of the vote and were ready to consider that a sign of our progress. Actually, however, the vote showed that we had a majority of nearly one hundred.
“For six months,” said Tseretelli at that time, “we have stood at the head of the Petrograd Soviet and led it from victory to victory; we wish that you may hold for at least half of that time the positions which you are now preparing to occupy.”
In the Moscow Soviet a similar change of leadership among the parties took place.
One after the other the provincial Soviets joined the Bolshevik position. The date of convoking the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets was approaching. But the leading group of the Central Executive Committee was striving with all its might to put off the Congress to an indefinite future in order thus to destroy it in advance. It was evident .that the new Congress of Soviets would give our party a majority, would correspondingly alter the make-up of the Central Executive Commitlee, and deprive the conciliators of their most important position. The struggle for the convocation of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets assumed the greatest importance for us.
To counterbalance this, the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionists put forth the Democratic Conference idea. They needed this move against both us and Kerensky.
By this time the head of the Ministry assumed an absolutely independent and irresponsible position. He had been raised to power by the Petrograd Soviet during the first epoch of the revolution: Kerensky had entered the Ministry without a preliminary decision of the Soviets, but his entry into the Ministry was subsequently approved. After the First Congress of Soviets, the Socialist ministers were held accountable to the Central Executive Committee. Their allies, the Cadets were responsible only to their party. To meet the bourgeoisie’s wishes, the General Executive Committee, after the July days, released the Socialist Ministers from all responsibility to the Soviets, in order, as it were, to create a revolutionary dictatorship. It is rather well to mention this, too, now that the same persons who built up the dictatorship of a coterie, come forth with accusations and imprecations against the dictatorship of a class.
The Moscow Conference, at which the skillfully manipulated professional and democratic elements balanced each other, aimed to strengthen Kerensky’s power over classes and parties. This aim was attained only in appearance. In reality, the Moscow Conference revealed Kerensky’s utter impotence, for he was equally remote from both the professional elements and the bourgeois democracy. But since the liberals and conservatives applauded his onslaughts against democracy, and the conciliators gave him ovations when he cautiously upbraided the counter-revolutionaries, the impression was growing upon him that he was supported, as it were, by both the former and the latter, and, accordingly, commanded unlimited power. Over workingmen and revolutionary soldiers he held the threat of blood and iron. His policy continued the bargaining with Kornilov behind the scenes – a bargaining which compromised him even in the conclliationists’ eyes: in evasively diplomatic terms, so characteristic of him, Tseretelli spoke of “personal” movements in politics and of the necessity of curbing these personal movements. This task was to be accomplished by the Democratic Conference, which was called, according to arbitrary forms, from among representatives of Soviets, dumas, zemstvos, trade unions and cooperative societies. Still, the main task was to secure a sufficiently conservative composition of the Conference to dissolve the Soviets once for all in the formless mass of democracy, and, on the new organizational basis, to gain a firm footing against the Bolshevik tide.
Here it will not be out of place to note, in a few words, the difference between the political role of the Soviets and that of the democratic organs of self-government. More than once, the Philistines called our attention to the fact that the new dumas and zemstvos elected on the basis of universal suffrage, were incomparably more democratic than the Soviets and were more suited to represent the population. However, this formal democratic criterion is devoid of serious content in a revolutionary epoch. The significance of the Revolution lies in the rapid changing of the judgment of the masses, in the fact that new and ever new strata of population acquire experience, verify their views of the day before, sweep them aside, work out new ones, desert old leaders and follow new ones in the forward march. During the revolutionary times, formally democratic organizations, based upon the ponderous apparatus of universal suffrage, inevitably fall behind the development of the political consciousness of the masses. Quite different are the Soviets. They rely immediately upon organic groupings, such as shop, mill, factory, county, regiment, etc. To be sure, there are guarantees, just as legal, of the strictness of elections, as are used in creating democratic dumas and zemstvos. But there are in the Soviet incomparably more serious, more profound guarantees of the direct and immediate relation between the deputy and the electors. A town-duma or zemstvo member is supported by the amorphous mass of electors, which entrusts its full powers to him for a year and then breaks up. The Soviet electors remain always united by the conditions of their work and their existence; their deputy is ever before their eyes, at any moment they can prepare a mandate to him, censure him, recall or replace him with another person.
If during the preceding revolutionary month the general political evolution expressed itself in the fact that the influence of the conciliationist parties was being replaced by a decisive influence of the Bolsheviks, it is quite plain that this process found its most striking and fullest expression in the Soviets, while the dumas and zemstvos, nothwithstanding all their formal democratism, expressed yesterday’s status of the popular masses and not today’s. This is exactly what explains the gravitation toward dumas and zemstvos on the part of those parties which were losing more and more ground in the esteem of the revolutionary class. We shall meet with the same question, only on a larger scale, later, when we come to the Constituent Assembly.
The Democratic Conference, called by Tseretelli and his fellow-combatants in mid-September, was totally artificial in character, representing as it did a combination of Soviets and organs of self-government in a ratio calculated to secure a preponderance of the conciliationist parties. Born of helplessness and confusion, the Conference ended in a pitiful fiasco. The professional bourgeoisie treated the Conference with the greatest hostility, beholding in it an endeavor to push the bourgeoisie away from the positions it had approached at the Moscow Conference. The revolutionary proletariat, and the masses of soldiers and peasants connected with it, condemned in advance the fraudulent method of calling together the Democratic Conference.
The immediate task of the conciliators was to create a responsible ministry. But even this was not achieved. Kerensky neither wanted nor permitted responsibility, because this was not permitted by the bourgeoisie, which was backing him. Irresponsibility, towards the organs of the so-called democracy meant, in fact, responsibility to the Cadets and the Allied Embassies. For the time being this was sufficient for the bourgeoisie. On the question of coalition the Democratic Conference revealed its utter insolvency: the votes in favor of a coalition with the bourgeoisie slightly outnumbered those against the coalition; the majority voted against a coalition with the Cadets. But with the Cadets left out, there proved to be, among the bourgeoisie, no serious counter-agencies for the coalition. Tseretelli explained this in detail to the conference. If the conference did not grasp it, so much the worse for the conference. Behind the backs of the conference, negotiations were carried on without concealment with the Cadets, whom they had repudiated, and it was decided that the Cadets should not appear as Cadets, but as “social workers.” Pressed hard on both right and left, the bourgeois democracy tolerated all this dickering, and thereby demonstrated its utter political prostration.
From the Democratic Conference a council was picked, and it was decided to complete it by adding representatives of the professional elements; this Pre-Parliament was to fill the vacant period before the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. Contrary to Tseretelli’s original plan, but in full accord with the plans of the bourgeoisie, the new coalition ministry retained its formal independence with regard to the Pre-Parliament. Everything together produced the impression of a pitiful and impotent creation of an office clerk behind which was concealed the complete capitulation of the petty bourgeois democracy before the professional liberalism which, a month previously, had openly supported Kornilov’s attack on the Revolution. The sum total of the whole affair was, therefore, the restoration and perpetuation of the coalition with the liberal bourgeoisie. No longer could there be any doubt that quite independently of the make-up of the future Constituent Assembly, the governmental power would, in fact, be held by the bourgeoisie, as despite all the preponderance given them by the masses of the people the conciliationist parties invariably arrived at a coalition with the Cadets, deeming it impossible, as they did, to create a state power without the bourgeoisie. The attitude of the masses toward Milyukov’s party was one of the deepest hostility. At all elections during the revolutionary period, the Cadets suffered merciless defeat, and yet, the very parties – i.e., the Social-Revolutionists and Mensheviks – which victoriously defeated the Cadet party at the elections, after election gave it the place of honor in the coalition government. It is natural that the masses realized more and more that in reality the conciliationist parties were playing the role of stewards to the liberal bourgeoisie.
Meantime, the internal situation was becoming more and more complicated and unfavorable. The war dragged on aimlessly, senselessly and interminably. The Government took no steps whatever to extricate itself from the vicious circle. The laughable scheme was proposed of sending the Menshevik Skobelev to Paris to influence the Allied imperialists. But no sane man attached any importance to this scheme. Kornilov gave up Riga to the Germans in order to terrorize public opinion, and having brought about this condition, to establish the discipline of the knout in the army. Danger threatened Petrograd. And the bourgeois elements greeted this peril with unconcealed malicious joy. The former President of the Duma, Rodzyanko, openly said again and again that the surrender of debauched Petrograd to the Germans would not be a great misfortune. For illustration he cited Riga, where the Soviets had been done away with after the coming of the Germans, and firm order, together with the old police system, had been established.
Would the Baltic fleet be lost? But the fleet had been debauched by the Revolutionary propaganda; ergo the loss was not so great. The cynicism of a garrulous nobleman expressed the hidden thoughts of the greater part of the bourgeoisie, that to surrender Petrograd to the Germans did not mean to lose it. Under the peace treaty it would be restored, but restored ravaged by German militarism. By that time the revolution would be decapitated, and it would be easier to manage. Kerensky’s government did not think of seriously defending the capital. On the contrary, public opinion was being prepared for its possible surrender. Public institutions were being removed from Petrograd to Moscow and other cities.
In this setting, the soldiers’ section of the Petrograd Soviet had its meeting. Feeling was tense and turbulent. Was the Government incapable of defending Petrograd? If so, let it make peace. And if incapable of making peace, let it clear out. The frame of mind of the soldiers’ section found expression in this resolution. This was already the heat-lightning of the October Revolution.
At the front, the situation grew worse day by day. Chilly autumn, with its rains and winds, was drawing nigh. And there was looming up a fourth winter campaign. Supplies deteriorated every day. In the rear, the front had been forgotten – no reliefs, no new contingents, no warm winter clothing, which was indispensable. Desertions grew in number. The old army committees, elected in the first period of the Revolution, remained at their places, and supported Kerensky’s policy. Re-elections were forbidden. An abyss sprang up between the committees and the soldier masses. Finally the soldiers began to regard the committees with hatred. With increasing frequency delegates from the trenches were arriving in Petrograd and at the session of the Petrograd Soviet put the question point blank.
“What is to be done further? By whom and how will the war be ended? Why is the Petrograd Soviet silent?”
The Petrograd Soviet was not silent. It demanded the immediate transfer of all power into the hands of the Soviets in the capitals and in the provinces, the immediate transfer of the land to the peasants, workers’ control of production, and immediate opening of peace negotiations. So long as we remained an opposition party, the slogan, All Power to the Soviets, was a propaganda slogan. But as soon as we found ourselves in the majority in all the principal Soviets, this slogan imposed upon us the duty of a direct and immediate fight for power.
In the country villages, the situation had grown entangled and complicated in the extreme. The Revolution had promised land to the peasant, but at the same time, the leading parties demanded that the peasant should not touch this land until the Constituent Assembly should meet. At first the peasants waited patiently, but when they began to lose patience, the coalition ministry showered repressive measures upon them. Meanwhile the Constituent Assembly was receding to even remoter distances. The bourgeoisie insisted upon calling the Constituent Assembly after the conclusion of peace. The peasant masses were growing more and more impatient. What we had foretold at the very beginning of the Revolution, was being realized: the peasants were seizing the land of their own accord. Repressive measures grew, arrests of revolutionary land committees began. In certain districts Kerensky introduced martial law. A line of delegates, who came on foot, flowed from the villages to the Petrograd Soviet. They complained that they had been arrested when they attempted to carry out the Petrograd Soviet’s program and to transfer the landlords’ estates into the hands of the peasant committees. The peasants demanded protection of us. We replied that we should be in a position to protect them only if the power were in our hands. From this, however, it followed that the Soviets must seize the power if they did not wish to become mere debating societies.
“It is senseless to fight for the power of the Soviets, six or eight weeks before the Constituent Assembly,” our neighbors on the right told us. We, however, were in no degree infected with this fetish worship of the Constituent Assembly. In the first place, there were no guarantees that it really would be called. The breaking up of the army, mass desertions, disorganization of the supplies department, agrarian revolution – all this created an environment which was unfavorable to the elections for the Constituent Assembly. The surrender of Petrograd to the Germans, furthermore, threatened to remove altogether the question of elections from the order of the day. And, besides, even if it were called according to the old registration lists under the leadership of the old parties, the Constituent Assembly would be but a cover and a sanction for the coalition power. Without the bourgeoisie neither the SRs nor the Mensheviks were in a position to assume power. Only the revolutionary class was destined to break the vicious circle wherein the Revolution was revolving and going to pieces. The power had to be snatched from the hands of the elements which were directly or indirectly serving the bourgeoisie and making use of the state apparatus as a tool of obstruction against the revolutionary demands of the people.
All Power to the Soviets! demanded our party. Translated into party language, this had meant in the preceding period, the power of the SRs and Mensheviks, as opposed to a coalition with the liberal bourgeoisie. Now, in October 1917, the same slogan meant handing over all power to the revolutionary proletariat, at the head of which, at this period, stood the Bolshevik party. It was a question of the dictatorship of the working class, which was leading, or, more correctly, was capable of leading the many millions of the poorest peasantry. This was the historical significance of the October uprising.
Everything led the party to this path. Since the first days of the Revolution, we had been preaching the necessity and inevitability of the power passing to the Soviets. After a great internal struggle, the majority of the Soviets made this demand their own, having accepted our point of view. We were preparing the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets at which we expected our party’s complete victory. Under Dan’s leadership (the cautious Chkheidze had departed for the Caucasus), the Central Executive Committee attempted to block in every way the calling of the Congress of the Soviets. After great exertions, supported by the Soviet fraction of the Democratic Assembly, we finally secured the setting of the date of the Congress for October 25. This date was destined to become the greatest day in the history of Russia. As a preliminary, we called in Petrograd a Congress of Soviets of the Northern regions, including the Baltic fleet and Moscow. At this Congress, we had a solid majority, and obtained a certain support on the right in the persons of the left SR faction, besides laying important organizational premises for the October uprising.
Last updated on 4.9.2008