Tue, 21 Jan 1997 16:10:06 +0000
MA&NG Jones (majones@netcomuk.co.uk)

This is a multi-part message in MIME format.


1917 is the 80th anniversary of the February and October Russian
Revolutions. I don't think it is possible to speak of a world system
before then.
One of my self-set tasks this year is to retell the
history of 1917 in a readable, leninist way and to show why
October was both inevitable and necessary.
This essay has been previously published and while I
don't fetishise copyright and am flattered by piracy, I need to
hear aboout it if anyone decides to copy this on a mass basis.

Mark Jones


1917 YEAR OF TWO REVOLUTIONS In the autumn of 1916 the Allied cause began to founder in the mayhem of the trenches. In October, 620,000 British and French casualties were lost in a futile offensive on the Somme which put paid to hopes of early victory, and brought popular discontent in France. In Britain rising food prices and a strike wave in the arms industries followed the shock of the Easter Rising, which was crushed only after five days of bloody fighting in Dublin. But in the East a disaster altogether different in magnitude seemed about to overwhelm the Russian Empire. The Allies had been saved that summer by the sacrificial gallantry of General Brusilov's great offensive in Galicia, the preparations for which had strained the Russian army and war industries to the uttermost. The appalling losses sustained in that struggle destroyed the Russian ability to fight on. As chaos deepened in the rear and on the fronts, the Empire slithered towards a defeat which threatened to destroy tsarism. The British and French, desperately worried about their Eastern ally, found scant reassurance in the behaviour of an obscurantist court. (`Am I to regain the confidence of the people or are they to regain my confidence?' Tsar Nicholas asked Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador, when the latter suggested confidence was a problem). As unrest in the capital grew, even Alexander Guchkov, the right-wing leader in the Duma1, began to discuss the alternatives: better a palace coup than an elemental upsurge on the streets of Petrograd which might destroy the government and finish off the army. When the Allies began to encourage the constitutional schemes of highly-placed reformers like Pavel Miliukov, the Cadet2 leader in the Duma, it seemed the fate of the Romanovs was sealed. War was to be the midwife of a revolution which the allies hoped to prevent by pushing the country in the direction of constitutional reform. But the causes of the revolution lay elsewhere, in a society riven with contradictions which were nowhere more apparent than in the capital city itself. Petrograd, situated on the western seaboard of an immense Empire, was unlike any other Russian city. Founded in 1703 to be Peter the Great's `window on the West', the city was built on malarial marshes, but had served its purpose, and in 1917 its population of 2,400,000 made it the fifth largest in Europe. With its great canals and broad River Neva, spanned by graceful bridges, it was also one of the most beautiful. Peter had made it the focus of Russian culture, as well as the seat of government. Petrograd's straight avenues and magnificent stone buildings contrasted with the disorderly wooden buildings more usual in Russian towns. Aristocratic palaces neighboured huge barracks like the Peter-Paul Fortress (home of the Tsar's secret police, the Okhrana) and administrative complexes like the Admiralty. The city's broad central squares housed the fine mansions of the nation's bourgeoisie. Petrograd's capitalists had connections throughout the national economy. Their fabulous wealth, which supported the capital's theatres, orchestras and its famous ballet, came from the metallurgical and coal industries of the south, from the Baku oilfields which supplied half the country's oil, from Siberian gold, Ukrainian sugar, Volga shipping, and from the vast cotton production of Central Asia. Petrograd's private banks held three-quarters of all Russia's capital. This concentration of wealth and power made what was still a raw, youthful city - the birthplace of Bolshevism - a magnet which sucked in labour from every corner of the Empire. Finance poured in from France and Britain, fusing with Russian private capital and with the gigantic resources of the state. Giant enterprises sprang up; the decade before the war saw the creation of electro-technical, engine- building, precision machine, marine engineering and chemical industries. The mass-production of armaments and vehicles was beginning. The huge Putilov arms factory, employing 30,000, and the Nevsky shipyard (6,000) were both state-controlled but privately-owned. Plants like these made Petrograd an island of technological sophistication in the sea of Russian backwardness; their scale and modernity had no parallel except in Germany and in the heavy industry of northern Italy. Working conditions were often appalling. So great was the risk of explosion in one of the most-modern Artillery Administration plants that the factory Director always crossed himself and muttered a prayer before entering the factory; but shop stewards in Tsarist industry could do little to help matters: the law confined them to such duties as refilling the factory icon-lamps. The new industries were mostly arms-related. The capital had undergone a forced, lop-sided development which would make it vulnerable to the social and economic crisis of the war-years. This arms-economy straddled a city whose traditional occupations drew on settled relations with the countryside, rather than the capital and commodity markets of the West. More than half the workforce were peasant recruits or marginalised women, deepening the poverty and squalor of the capital's proletariat. Industrially-advanced Petrograd was in some respects still in the eighteenth century- a `ruralised town' lacking urban amenities. Tsarism muffled but did not defuse the explosive contradictions which resulted. The peasant tradition of anarchic violence and brawling was continued in the new urban environment. Driven in to the capital by land scarcity, debts and poverty, the new arrivals replenished a populace ravaged by epidemic diseases. In the poorer quarters houses which lacked running water stood in cesspools, and the unlit streets were quagmires in winter. The chairman of Vyborg Duma sanitation committee said the overcrowded residents had less space than those buried in a nearby cemetery. Petrograd's heavy industry was the foundry in which the industrialised Russia of the future was being forged. The Bolsheviks strove, with some success, to cultivate in the city's 400,000 industrial workers a sense of their future social importance. Contemporary diarists record watching these grim-faced, grimy men and women pouring in their thousands from the factories at the end of the shift. Many had a strong desire for self-improvement, and after the working day they went to improvised schools, to learn or pass on basic literacy, hygiene and domestic economy. Voluntary teachers, often Bolsheviks with a burning commitment to `the emancipation of labour', risked prison to teach them about Russian history, or about atheism, or how to organise. A Petrograd worker said: `We will not learn from any but ourselves. We, the conscious working people, have no right to be like the bourgeois.' In the years of underground struggle they had created a labour movement quite unlike that in the West, one imbued with a sharp revolutionary spirit. The war sharpened all the contradictions besetting Russian society. Those who bore its burdens had no say in the decision to fight Germany. The government's own policy created fertile grounds for subversion. Trade union activists and Bolshevik agitators were among the first to be conscripted and sent to the Front - where they carried on their organisational work among the peasant-soldiers instead. Meanwhile soldiers and sailors drafted into the great factories on the Vyborg Side soon made common cause with the workers of this traditional Bolshevik stronghold. Nicholas ignored the ferment seething in the lower depths. Alone among his brother-monarchs, the Tsar led his armies into battle. This quixotry was not rewarded with military success. Nicholas blamed his people: five million soldiers had been killed or wounded, but almost a million more had deserted (often sacking country manors on the way home). People had not conducted themselves in the old way; Russia stumbled to defeat, the secret police were increasingly all Tsardom could rely on. The Tsar had abandoned the government to his wife, the Empress Alexandra. Disliked equally by the middle classes and by the capital's burgeoning industrial proletariat, and isolated from the country, she ruled with the advice of Grigory Rasputin and the aid of a ouija-board. Miliukov accused the Empress of high treason in a speech in November 1916, and a few weeks later Rasputin was murdered - by a monarchist hoping to save the Romanovs from themselves. The war had cut down the flower of Russian manhood, and ravaged the economy. There was chaos on the railways, resulting in food shortages in the cities and industrial decline. The loss to Germany of Poland's industrial and coal-producing regions aggravated the difficulties.3 This had especially serious effects on Petrograd's heavy industry, which was internationally- oriented and dependent on the flow of foreign capital, parts, machinery and technology. The great arms factories had already been hit as war industries in the West diverted their production elsewhere, and by the loss of land routes. Germany's successful deployment of submarines made the supply situation much worse. The crisis in Petrograd's industry deepened. Desperate to import armaments, the government was unable even to find means of payment and was reduced to paying debts literally in blood, by exporting soldiers to France to fight on the western front. The collapse of manufacturing industry meant a shortage of goods for the home market, causing a further worsening in the supply of food to the cities, as peasants withheld their produce (since there was nothing to buy in exchange). The absence of the 15 million peasants conscripted to the army had already resulted in agricultural production falling by a fifth. The countryside was sliding back into pre-commodity production, as the towns started to fill with starving unemployed. All this was a far cry from the heady days in August 1914, when the crowds in the capital had fallen to their knees to greet the Tsar, and the endless columns of peasant conscripts had hailed their `Little Father' as they left for the fronts. The war, hated by the workers and the soldier- masses squatting half-starved in verminous trenches, became unpopular with the employers. They had seen industrial production grow by three-quarters in the decade before the war, and in the heavy industries by nearly half during the war itself. But its prolongation now spelt crisis and ruin from which only the speculators associated with the court could gain. As the Court's inanition deepened and turmoil grew in the cities, a trickle of exiled revolutionaries made their way back to the capital; Alexander Shlyapnikov, Peter Zalutski and Vyacheslav Molotov arrived and set up an underground Russian Bureau of the Bolshevik Central Committee. In his memoirs, Shlyapnikov left a remarkable record of the mood in the capital at the time: By the end of 1916 the idea of `war to the end', to `the final victory', was largely undermined. Anti-war feelings were rampant ...Despair and hatred gripped the labouring masses ... The government ... stepped up their repressive methods of fighting isolated manifestations of protest.Intensive agitation was conducted against us in the press and through the Voluntary Organisations. Every canard was employed: we were accused of being German agents, provocateurs, bribe-takers. But no slander could halt the workers' movement; just like all the ploys of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat could not be aroused to fight ....4 Shlyapnikov spent months in hiding, never sleeping more than a single night under the same roof. The Russian Bureau raced to rebuild the party apparatus while the mounting fury of the Vyborg and the capital's other great proletarian bastions threatened to spill into the streets at any moment. Savage new strikes began in the autumn of 1916 as workers began to link their demands for food supplies, and for wages to match rampant inflation, with opposition to the war. On 17 October they marched to the Finland Station singing the (illegal) Marseillaise, and were joined by soldiers from the 181st Infantry Regiment and the strike spread to the huge Kronstadt naval base. Hoarding, speculation and rocketing prices fuelled popular anger (potatoes, bread, sausages and milk rose five times in price during the war). In savage cartoons and satire,5 the busy underground press portrayed greedy courtiers profiting from hunger and despair. As the crisis deepened, short-time working caused by lack of fuel and raw materials, and industrial bankruptcy, brought 1916 wages below starvation levels. By the New Year of 1917 the capital was on the point of explosion. Petrograd was on a northerly latitude, and it was hardly the season for rioting. Winter clamped an Arctic darkness on the town 19 hours in 24. Trams groaned through biting fogs, and the capital's deserted streets were rivetted with ice. But in the winter of 1917, as the fuel ran out, the citiznry suddenly emerged in their tens of thousands to stamp their anger on the capital's broad squares. A strike movement of unparalleled ferocity exploded in Petrograd, and the Romanov dynasty shook to its foundations. On 9 January 1917, 300,000 demonstrated on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday6. In February 30,000 workers at the giant Putilov arms factory went on strike. Police reports plotted the public's growing anger. There were rumours of a palace coup in the offing, and a few days later Miliukov's Progressive Bloc called for a government of national confidence (Nicholas would respond by dissolving the Duma). But still nobody expected a revolution. In the streets cold and hungry women queued for bread. Contemporary reports testify to the feverish atmosphere of the time, as even normally- acquiescent office workers complained about food shortages and the manifold difficulties of everyday life. Warehouses were looted, and the disorders on the Vyborg Side grew in scale. There, the wives of the locked-out Putilov workers had taken to the streets along with the soldatki - war-wives and widows, who were treated with contempt by the government. Turning the stagnant bread queues into demonstrations, they improvised placards which read `Down with the War!', `Our Children Are Starving!' or simply `Bread!' On 22 February tens of thousands of these women surged across the Neva bridges and into the city centre. They were joined by women workers from the Vasilievski Island tramway terminus, who pounded on the huge wooden doors of the 180th regiment's barracks, calling on the soldiers not to shoot them down in the streets. The proletarian bastion of the Vyborg was seething, as women workers in their thousands came pouring from the great textile mills, taking up the cry of `Bread!' But when Kayurov, a Bolshevik Central Committee member, was asked by a group of women textile workers for advice on how to mark International Women's Day (23 February, old-style)7 he urged them to avoid striking. Kayurov and Shlyapnikov feared the response of Russia's inscrutable peasantry to an attack on Tsardom in wartime and were more cautious than the Duma politicians who sought only a change of monarch, not the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty. With numberless troops at the fronts and - also waiting on events - 300,000 in the Petrograd region alone, the regime did not look broken. Kayurov's instructions were ignored (in any case, the police had suppressed the Party press) and the mass demonstrations traditionally marking International Womens' Day launched the four-day February Revolution. Women textile workers came pouring out of factories like the Bolshaya Sampsionevskaya. They threw snowballs through the windows of neighbouring works, calling on those inside to join them. Already the police estimated 197,000 were on strike (more than half the industrial workforce). Then on Friday 24 February the movement erupted over Petrograd. Nevsky Prospekt and the adjoining squares filled with workers. Mounted Cossacks armed with nagaykas (rawhide whips) arrived, but contemporary accounts speak of their unusual tolerance; when voices from the crowds shouted `if you want to destroy the revolution, shoot me first!' they were answered `We do not shoot our brothers.' Significantly, one of the few one `Cossack excess' reported was when a trooper slashed the hand off a mounted police inspector who had threatened the demonstrators. Next day workers in 13 columns penetrated to the city centre.The Russian Bureau decided to engage the support of the soldiers, but the Bolsheviks were running behind events; the garrison revolt had already begun. During the morning workers, students, party activists and delegates made their way through streets littered with torn-down proclamations, to begin a great round of mass meetings, party caucuses and conferences of workers' movement organisations. At a meeting of Duma representatives, trade unions and co-operative societies, F.A.Cherevanin, an old Menshevik, proposed calling elections in the Petrograd factories for a `Soviet' (`Council') of workers' deputies. Ever-larger crowds filled the streets, the police were unable to disperse the unauthorised meetings, and Cossacks were fraternising. Petrograd was in turmoil. The spontaneous strike movement had paralysed the city. The police vanished from their posts. The factories stopped, then the trams. Troops cordoned off the streets but the crowds sallied through anyway. The city centre was now one continuous mass meeting. News reels of the day conjure up the scene, as tens of thousands of people swirled around Znamensky Square, where socialists denounced the war from the statue of Alexander III. Troops and Cossacks in great numbers, many on horseback, pushed slowly through the crowds, without interfering in any way, except for occasionally removing red banners. Many among the garrison had wives and friends in the crowds; others were wounded veterans of the front, or militant workers conscripted as a punishment. The troops were increasingly unwilling to crush the revolt. Police reports grew more alarmist. Nicholas, in his headquarters at Mogilev, heard of the latest disturbances from the Empress at Tsarskoe Selo, and her news contrasted starkly with the bland optimism of the city Governor. The Tsar cabled to `put an end, as from tomorrow, to all disturbances in the streets of the capital'. A warning was issued to the population that troops would shoot to kill, and promising to send strikers (most of the populace) to the front. The proclamation was simply scattered in the streets during the night; the government had run out of glue to paste it up. On the evening of 25 February a special counter- insurgency unit opened fire on demonstrators in Kazansky Square; but this was seen as an act of desperation by the authorities, not firmness, and incensed the people still more. Fights began, bloody encounters often in back-to- backs, in the muddy, dank, ill-lit alleys of the Vyborg, where small groups of workers fought off marauding policemen, answering pistol-shots with volleys of half- bricks, cobbles, lumps of ice. Tramcars were overturned and telegraph poles knocked down for barricades. On Sunday, 26 February, with the city now an armed camp, the Red Cross set up a headquarters. The Bolshevik `Petersburg Committee' was arrested along with many other revolutionary leaders. More than ever, the revolution was to be the work of the people alone. It seemed that the government was belatedly taking decisive action. The crackle of small-arms fire echoed round the city. Working- class suburbs were sealed off, factories besieged, the bridges over the canals cordoned off. At one o'clock Nevsky Prospekt was swept with rifle fire. The police hastily cleared away dozens of bullet-riddled bodies. The streets emptied. By 5 o'clock the city Governor concluded that, as on other occasions, the display of exemplary force had quelled the `disorders'. But as night fell people began to tear the Romanov's double-headed eagle from walls and railings. Next day, soldiers surrendered en masse to the crowds. Workers collected up their weapons and took them to their factories. Women left the bread queues, buttonholing soldiers in friendly argument. When agitators spoke to the cheerful Grenadiers guarding the Peter-Paul their officers simply turned away in disgust. It was clear that the garrison was dissolving; for all its strength on paper, the absolutist state was crumbling. Incidents occurred which represented a fundamental escalation of the disturbances. When a detachment of mounted police, ordered to disperse a crowd by the Catherine Canal, fired on it from the opposite bank. Answering fire came from soldiers of the Pavlovsky Regiment passing through the crowd. This episode, a detail in the huge scale of events, had important repercussions. Mutineers had done hitherto only passively resisted their officers. Opening fire on other units committed them to the outcome of the rising. Since its suppression would mean summary execution for participants, mutineers now had nothing to lose, and no reason not to crush the regime. Exchanges of fire between mutineers and loyal troops represented an equivalent raising of the stakes for the garrison command and the government. They, too, were committed by events to the maximum use of force to crush the rising. They began to rush reinforcements from the front, not hesitating to drown in blood the popular rising. The die was also cast for the vacillating businessmen, bankers and liberals locked in debate in the Duma. News of what seemed the onset of civil war brought an immediate halt to the talk of forcing `minor concessions' from Nicholas. It was no longer possible to use events in the capital as a pretext for imposing constitutional reform on the monarchy. If, after all, the rising should still be crushed, then anyone, even respectable Duma deputies, who had sought to profit from the actions of mutineers, would be at risk of losing their own lives or liberty. Faced with a full-scale revolution, the Duma men had to decide - either denounce the insurgents and affirm their oath of allegiance. Or reject the Tsar, and try to place themselves at the head of the revolution. In practice, the bourgeois politicians had little choice but to repudiate Nicholas8, although this scarecly meant an end to public vacillation and private intrigue by the democrats of the Duma. The climax approached. Crowds returned to the streets in greater numbers than before. Mutineers shot Colonel Ecksten, commander of the Pavlovsky Regiment, in the street by the barracks. Next day, 27 February, the whole garrison rose up; they had been ordered to `shoot to kill'. The revolt began in the special training unit of the Volynski Guards, whose members had opened fire on the crowds the previous day. Two sergeants shot the regimental commander from a barracks window, then ran round neighbouring barracks to win support. Officers were shot, and the rebellion grew.9 By now the factories were deserted for the streets, where workers lynched any policemen they came across. The arsenal was captured, and city prisons emptied of political and common criminals. The Bicycle Battalion resisted for a day, was crushed and its officers shot. On the morning of 27 February, there were 10,200 rebel soldiers. Their numbers grew until by 1 March 170,000 out of 180,200 troops in the city had joined the insurrection. The crowds who invaded the city centre that decisive Monday, 27 February, were no longer content passively to demonstrate their disaffection by holding mass meetings. Mutineers pressed down to the Tauride Palace to make their demands on the Duma. A torrent of red banners poured down the Sadovaya and Nevsky Prospekts and into the palace square. Marching behind their regimental colours, without an officer in sight, the garrison soldiers were cheered on by the watching multitude. Troops passing down Liteiny Prospekt released from the Kresty prison some right-wing Mensheviks jailed on 14 February after calling for a representative government. These middle-class socialists who later fiercely resisted the call for `All power to the Soviet', now were most active in setting it up. They saw it as a little more than a glorified strike committee, as it had been in the 1905 revolution. Nor did they suppose it would play more than a temporary role, serving to restrain the forces unleashed in the rising until a bourgeois government could be installed and a constitutional democracy inaugurated (Marxism decreed that only the bourgeoisie was fitted to rule during Russia's impending capitalist epoch). But the reflexive dogma which informed Menshevik actions in February were falsified from the start. They were surprised to discover that the crisis of authority extended into the Duma, which they had confidently expected would create the new government. Even the Progressive Bloc liberals were frightened by the mass eruption onto the streets of the capital. From day one, much against their will, the parliamentary socialists were face to face with the problem of power. Fearing that mass anger might at any moment turn on them, the Duma men had begun to repent of their attacks on the monarchy. While the crowds invaded the Tauride's left wing (appropriately enough) to begin their noisy deliberations, the Duma deputies were meeting in their quiet offices in its right wing. They did not reach any conclusions. Nothing in their experience had prepared them for this moment. The Tauride's left wing soon became the centre of a vortex which seemed to draw in the entire population of the capital. Contemporary reports describe the frenzy inside its Catherine Hall, resembling a village assembly when the tillers redivided the communal land. Amidst the din of a yelling mob, small knots of people wrangled and argued: the capital's writers, intellectuals, fugitive revolutionaries, working class agitators, trade unionists and officials from the flourishing co-operative movement, who had come to the Tauride as much to find out what was going on as to contribute. The begetters of the Soviet faced tasks on which the immediate fate of the rising depended. They were besieged by tens of thousands of people, with new columns of soldiers marching down Shpalernaya and Basseinaya streets to offer support. They had no idea what counter- measures the government might take, or how to react to them. The leaders of the workers' and peasants' parties had no time even to ask the question, `To whom shall go the power?' (Shlyapnikov, the Bolshevik leader, refused to discuss questions of such import in the absence of the exiled Party leaders). The spontaneous nature of the revolution meant there were no plans for life after it. There were no arrangements even to secure the building where the Soviet was to meet; meanwhile the Treasury, posts and telegraphs, the High Command, even the Secret Police were still in the hands of Tsarist functionaries. The arrest of the government had to be organised. The railway network serving the city had to be secured against the deployment of counter-revolutionary troops from the front. Fires raged unchecked and a huge column of smoke rose over the city where the notorious Litovsky prison had been burned down. The revolution would inherit hunger, and this was not a matter of long-term policy, but of finding grain for the next three days; the collapse of food distribution was a primary cause if the rising. In the streets the endless crowd, leavened with tens of thousands of cold, hungry and now homeless mutineers moved and stirred in a thickening February afternoon. By noon the assembly in the Catherine Hall, with its embryo cliques and caucuses, had somehow formed a committee to convoke the Soviet; messengers were sent to the factories and barracks, and within five hours working- class Petrograd began electing its first delegates: one per 1,000 workers, and one for each company of soldiers or sailors. The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' Deputies - `Petrosoviet' as it was dubbed - was struggling into life. As evening came the crowds surrounding the Tauride impatiently awaited the opening of the first session. Pressing through the enormous thronged ante-chamber and into the Catherine Hall, still (according to Nikolai Sukhanov, the great Menshevik chronicler of the revolution) clad in their furs, proletarian caps and army greatcoats, many bearing arms, the delegates began to arrive, waving their credentials and with loud, cheery voices, demanding to `report to the Soviet'. Meanwhile in the right wing of the palace, a rump of the Duma elected a `Provisional Committee', headed by Mikhail Rodzianko (1859-1923), a Tsarist statesmen and large landowner, who still hoped to save the monarchy despite itself. Rodzianko insisted on a Provisional `Committee' rather than fully-fledged government. He considered that for the Duma to form a government would be in breach of his oath of allegiance to the Tsar. Miliukov rejected this idea for the opposite reason. He did not consider that the Duma could form a Provisional Government acceptable to the nation; it `was clamped in a vice by the prerogatives of autocratic power...what part could such an institution play in the new situation?' This was the beginning of the bourgeois revolution. Rodzianko spent the afternoon of 27 February closeted in his study in the right wing of the Tauride, trying to arrange secret negotiations with Grand Duke Michael, whom he hoped would become a constitutional monarch after Nicholas's abdication. Nothing came of this; public opinion resolutely opposed it, as did Nicholas,who was suspicious of his brother (the latter had entered a morganatic marriage). Rodzianko telegraphed the front commanders to ask their support, and his messages to the generals show the apprehension of the Duma men. To Alekseev, the Chief of Staff, he wired about `the most fearsome of revolutions'. The people, he said, `are murdering their officers ... I fear the same fate may overtake me'. To General Ruszky, who was gathering forces to crush the rising, Rodzianko said `My heart bleeds at the sight of what is happening', and implored him to `stop sending troops - they will not take action against the people. Prevent unnecessary bloodshed.' Hoping to gain control of the army, the Provisional Committee established a Military Commission. In the days which followed the February Revolution, the Military Commission won the allegiance of many officers. But among the millions of trench and garrison soldiers a process had begun which eventually destroyed not only the Military Commission, but the Provisional Government itself and the bourgeois world on which it rested. The furnace of revolt had forged its own weapon: the Soviet. At 9 p.m. the first session of the Petrosoviet was called to order, but before the chairman, Skobelev, could even get a Credentials Committee elected, the floor was taken by the first of many soldier delegates, amid riotous cheering and foot-stamping. A stream of delegates from the Volkhynian Regiment, the Pavlovsky, the Lithuanian, the Kekskholm and other ancient and battle-honoured regiments which had now made a revolution - told the same story, of officers in hiding and of illegal mass meetings where the soldiers voted never again to fight for the Tsar or oppress the people. Sukhanov describes how a simple private with the raw, bony hands of a peasant, stood on a chair and announced: We had a meeting, and the lads told me to say that we are joining the Soviet and refuse to serve against the people any more- that we're joining with our brother workers, all together, to defend the people's cause, and we'll die for it if need be!10

As all these disconnected episodes of revolt and mutiny came together the realisation grew that Tsarism had been destroyed: there could be no going back. It was decided to issue proclamations to the capital and the provinces, and the meeting turned to detailed matters, but the interruptions did not cease, as new soldier-delegates from time to time burst in and told of yet more regiments adhering to the Soviet: the Semyonovsky (which in 1905 had won notoriety in the bloody suppression of the Moscow rising), the Cossacks, the machine-gun regiments, an armoured division - all traditional enemies of the people. While the Soviet continued its noisy deliberations, outside the Catherine Hall a good-natured pandemonium reigned. Thousands of people swirled in and around the great palace. Groups of ragged workers were locked in fierce debate in the rooms and galleries; women organised tea and bread for the milling soldiery, and peasants in army greatcoats thrust their way through carrying enormous sacks of flour and meal, or dried herrings, or ammunition cases and weaponry, which they dumped unceremoniously in huge piles on the muddy marble floors. Beside the entrance stood two duty guards. Bewildered and frightened, they were the last sentries of the old regime, and no one had told them to go off duty. Outside, new groups of workers struggled across the frozen Neva to the Tauride. Contemporary accounts vividly describe the scene as armoured cars with red flags roared in and out of the palace yard and shadowy groups of Red Guards and soldiers huddled around braziers, standing guard over their revolution.11 Information scarcely existed about events at the front or in Moscow or the provinces. In its death-throes the old order still kicked. The Black Hundred death squads were unleashed. Provokatsy shot at passers-by from high windows; there were assaults on women, the burning of Jewish premises, a wave of looting began. The electricity supply grew erratic. To restore order, the Soviet adopted delegate Braunstein's suggestion that `Commissars' (the first time the word was used) be appointed in the districts. A Supply Commission was elected, and left at once to find offices and start work. Its first head, A.V. Peshokhonov, heard of a large food depot still held by Tsarist authorities and sent two guards to take it over. (Next day a huge crowd gathered, began arguing with the sentries, then broke into the depot. Loading the food onto commandeered lorries, they took it down to the Food Commissariat, where everything was triumphantly handed over to Peshokhonov.) The Secret Police was destroyed by the people. Sukhanov relates a dramatic episode, when Shcheglovitov, the feared police minister and sponsor of the Black Hundreds, was arrested by a student who persuaded a group of soldiers to help him. They took him amidst angry crowds to the Catherine Hall where they were met by Kerensky, who, hoping to prevent a lynching, said: `Mr Shcheglovitov, I arrest you in the name of the people!' Less tactfully, Rodzianko pushed through and said to Shcheglovitov with a smile, `Ivan Grigorievich, do please enter my office!' But the student protested and Shcheglovitov was led away.12 Armed resistance to the revolution ended with the surrender of the besieged Admiralty (the garrison commander thought the building - a fine piece of architecture - should be preserved). The Council of Ministers cabled its resignation to Nicholas. The end had come. Almost overnight, the vast edifice of Tsardom had vanished. Later, the Soviet announced that nearly 2,000 had died in the rising, about half of them workers; more than 100 officers were killed by their men, including the Admiral of the Black Sea Fleet. Nicholas II, soon a virtual prisoner of his own elite troops in Mogilev, abdicated 20 minutes before midnight on 2 March. `All around me', he told his diary, `treason, cowardice and deceit.'13 He exchanged heart-rending messages with the Empress, who was preoccupied with tending the royal children (they were ill with measles). The question of power, raised by the fall of the autocracy and seemingly neglected by those at the epicentre of revolution, loomed much larger to observers at a distance. As news of events in Petrograd seeped out US President Woodrow Wilson was quick to welcome the Revolution. He thought it would mean the displacement of a barren autocracy by Western-style democracy. In his declaration of war on Germany, made weeks after the fall of the Tsar, Wilson was to mention of `the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening in the last few weeks in Russia'14. In Switzerland, Lenin, the exiled Bolshevik leader, observed the formation of the Provisional Government, scantily reported though it was, with different feelings. When Alexandra Kollontai wrote from Stockholm for advice (she was on the point of returning to Petrograd), Lenin could only reply: Fancy asking for `directives' from here, where we're completely in the dark! All the leading Party comrades are in Peter [Petrograd] now... A week of bloody workers' battles, and Miliukov, Guchkov and Kerensky are in power! Well, so be it. This `first stage of the revolution', born of the war, will not be the last... 15

The February Revolution had come as a complete surprise to the revolutionary diaspora. One evening Lenin had given a lecture to a youth meeting at the Zurich People's Hall. Subject: the 1905 revolution. Many in the audience were war-resisters from France and Germany. Lenin wanted to explain what a revolution feels like. The coming European revolution would be both proletarian and socialist: `Only stern battles, only civil wars, can free humanity from the yoke of capital'16, Lenin had said. And it would be class conscious workers who would come forth to lead the masses in titanic struggles. But he could not say when these events might begin: `We of the older generation may not live to see the coming decisive battles.' That was on 22 January - just six weeks before the revolution. Yet Lenin was in constant touch with events. Letters were sent to Berne from all over Russia. Lenin's Letters from Afar, sent to Pravda (now openly published in Petrograd) were the first evidence of Lenin's uncanny anticipation of the problems thrown up by the revolution. He discussed the nuts and bolts of a socialist state - the possibility of which still seemed not merely remote, but completely unreal, to the Bolsheviks in Petrograd. What, for instance, would be the role of the future proletarian militia? The police had disappeared overnight after the February revolution (and were never replaced). Lenin wanted a general arming of the citizens, with a workers' militia not only keeping order but distributing bread and acting as sanitarki, (lay health workers), to see that every family was provisioned and `each child given a bottle of good milk', rich and poor alike. And the militia would ensure that the palaces of the rich were not left unoccupied while the poor were destitute. `Who can carry out these measures except a people's militia, to which women must belong equally with men?'17 he wrote. And then, while arguing about whether militiamen delivering infants' milk was `socialism' or not, Lenin characteristically struck at the question which was to dog the Russian revolution: was the bourgeois revolution (which had now happened) the beginning of a capitalist era, as traditional Marxist theory seemed to suggest? Or could the proletarian revolution follow, in an unbroken process? Lenin said: It is not a matter of finding a theoretical classification. We would be committing a great mistake if we attempted to force the complex, urgent, rapidly unfolding tasks of the revolution into the procrustean bed of a narrowly conceived `theory', instead of regarding theory first of all and above all as a guide to action18. And he went on to reject the theory of revolutionary `stages', which said the socialist parties would be no more than the legal opposition during a prolonged period of capitalist development. There was no reason why the bourgeois should not be followed immediately by the proletarian revolution. The institution of the Soviet - a spontaneous creation of the working class - was the harbinger of the workers' state: therefore the Bolshevik slogan should be `All Power to the Soviet!' Lenin's Letters >From Afar were mostly published posthumously - his cautious Petrograd comrades decided Vladimir Ilyich had gone mad. But the questions he raised in them were to prove central to the Bolshevik rising, and Lenin would refer to them again and again, particularly in State and Revolution. Could a backward country like Russia build socialism in isolation? This, too, was a key question if World Revolution should turn out to be a chimera. At this stage, at any rate- when the main thing was somehow to get back to Russia- (from where Lenin had been absent for 15 years) Lenin allowed no room for doubt. World capitalism had entered a period of dramatic crisis. The struggle, the horrors, misery, ruin and brutalisation caused by the imperialist war had opened an era of proletarian socialist revolution. And the Russian proletariat had led the way. To talk of confining the tasks of revolutionaries to being the midwives of Russian capitalism stood history on its head, and ignored everything that was happening in the world outside. `Imperialist war is the eve of socialist revolution', Lenin said. `Judge for yourselves, can the war continue, can the capitalist domination continue on earth, if the Russian people, always sustained by the living memories of the great Revolution of 1905, win complete freedom and transfer all political power to the Soviets of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies? 19 Soon, Lenin's call to arms would ring out in Russia itself: We are out to rebuild the world. We are out to put an end to the imperialist world war into which hundreds of millions of people have been drawn and in which the interests of billions and billions of capital are involved, a war which cannot end in a truly democratic peace without the greatest proletarian revolution in the history of mankind20. Petrograd was drunk on revolution. In the icy depths of March a holiday was declared, and Nevsky Prospekt flowed with banners and bunting, blood-red against the snow. Workers scrambling on perilous roof-tops decanted the symbols of Tsarism into the streets below. One morning deputies arriving for a session of the Soviet watched two soldiers climb on the platform and take their bayonets to Repin's portrait of Tsar Nicholas. The great gilt frame would gape down on the Catherine Hall until October. Outside, groups of armed workers, soldiers and sailors stood by cheery braziers on the corners of streets, watching for Black Hundreds and greeting with loud `Hurrahs!' new detachments marching under their red banners. It seemed that nothing could break the revolution. An elemental force had been freed, its energy surprising no-one more than the insurrectionists. Telegraphed across the country, the February Revolution everywhere led to a joyous outburst. From sleepy provincial towns and great river ports, from arid steppes and the fertile Ukraine, and from the regions of ice and the fiery deserts, came a tumult of greetings to the `fighters of the capital', support for the Soviet `to the last breath', and ardent requests not to give up until the last relics of Tsardom were swept away. Soon delegates from local soviets (whichsprang up overnight in every city and village, and throughout the war fronts) began arriving in Petrograd. To cater for this flood of visitors, the Soviet plenum (now in continuous session) was moved from the cramped Tauride to the huge White Hall. Everything had to be improvised. Since there were no typists, secretaries or printers, no telecommunications or transport, and no support staff of any kind, the newly-elected officers had to go out into the blistering cold and agitate among soldiers and workers to carry out whatever had just been decided. Cajoling troops to guard premises, printers to publish Izvestia, (the Soviet's newspaper), catering workers to organise food, and a hundred and one other things, they began to create a fledgling bureaucracy21. Petrograd's factories, barracks and suburbs were still electing their deputies. Men and women straight from the workplace were dazzled by the brilliant, fractious oratory of the Soviet, and bewildered by the tide of proclamations, pamphlets and newspapers which some were unable even to read. These makers of the new Russia were soon joined by the representatives of the professional classes - teachers, doctors, lawyers, radicalised officers, engineers and Zemstvo functionaries. In the electric atmosphere of the White Hall it seemed that each new deputy, worker or intellectual, peasant or soldier, arrived with some scheme for the future of Russia. Working for days on end in the vortex of the Soviet, snatching rest when they could, they were possessed by dreams which one by one became real or were broken, as the first weeks of freedom passed and the vast sweep of the revolution unfolded. Tsardom, buttressed by Church and Land (atavistic symbols of the national destiny), and by immense reserves of patronage and corruption, had seemed impregnable. Its fall opened glittering prospects for the middle classes. In speeches and articles liberals used their new freedom to speculate on the enticing vistas which had opened up. A coherent `bourgeois programme' emerged, one from which it seemed all Russia's social classes and national minorities could hope to gain. The destruction of the pro-German court, which cleared the way for the installation of a popular government, could lead the country to victory. Then, strong and free, the new republic would end the war consolidated within the boundaries of the old Empire, perhaps even extending them at the expense of the Central Powers. A parliamentary democracy, uniting the social classes and national minorities, and freeing business from the petty tutelage of the autocracy, might (they dreamed) usher in a golden age of prosperity and progress for Russia. Political and business leaders were quick to try to use the Soviet to further these ends. In the mood of national joy after February, it was possible to ignore the underlying social divisions. The war was a fount of unity and only the `bourgeois programme' offered a chance of avoiding ruinous defeat. As yet no political force existed which put forward a credible alternative. Even the Bolsheviks were caught in the undertow of `conciliationism', the Menshevik goal of a `sacred union' in the interests of victory and the postwar consolidation of capitalism. The most probable outcome to the war was the victory of the Allies. This would consolidate the supremacy of the leading capitalist powers, ruling out the transition to socialism, to the dreamed-of `World Revolution'. Postwar Russia would be capitalist, its constitution thrown round property like a rampart. The land would not go to the tiller. Production would not be socialised. Menshevik arguments that this was, in any case, in line with the Marxist theory of `revolutionary stages', seemed unanswerable, Lenin's notion of transition to a communist utopia, incomprehensible. The consensus around the `bourgeois programme' was immensely strong. Cadets who had been pre-eminent in the Tsar's Duma found political bed-fellows among Socialists who still had Tsarist arrest-warrants outstanding. Even Plekhanov, the founding father of Russian Marxism, supported the `bourgeois programme'. There might be disagreement about war aims, but there could scarcely be argument about the fundamental issue of support for the war. The self-confidence of the bourgeois revolution was manifest in Pavel Miliukov's Note to Russian ambassadors, announcing the government's `determination to strictly observe the international obligations undertaken by the Old Regime and its will to fight the war to a victorious end' and adding that `the exaltation which now moves the entire nation would increase its strength and would bring the final triumph of Russia and its glorious allies much closer.' The vision of 1789, moving but anachronistic, seemed to hover above the well-to-do revolutionists of the Tauride's right wing - the bankers, lawyers and industrialists in their sleek black cassocks and gleaming starched shirt-fronts. They were helped by the fact that the first leaders of the Soviet would not have been revolutionaries in a parliamentary country. They had no programme for power, and were fatally trapped by their attitude to the war. Some amongst the delegation which negotiated the establishment of a Provisional Government were `patriotic' socialists in favour of the war. This was particularly true of Alexander Kerensky, the Trudovik (Labour Party) leader destined to play a key role in the months ahead. Despised by Miliukov for his Bonapartist pretensions, Kerensky argued that a separate peace with `Butcher Wilhelm' would leave the country abandoned by the West, to be torn to pieces by the Germans. The leaders of a successful revolution thus felt themselves hopelessly trapped from the start. As Sukhanov said, they `furled the banner of Zimmerwald' in order to create a propertied government. But, Sukhanov added, they were under `a restraint and submission to circumstances which to the outsider's eye might look like a betrayal of their basic principles and be misunderstood by the masses they were leading'22. The bourgeois slogan of the day was `A Ministry responsible to the Duma' - and the socialists agreed. >From his remote exile Lenin, on the other hand, (like Molotov on the spot in Petrograd), news of the revolution left him in no doubt about the issues at stake. It was the moment of truth, not just for the autocracy, but for Russian capitalism itself. The flower of Russian manhood lay in bloody trenches. The Germans advanced and no-one knew how to stop them. The countryside was sliding into chaos. How was bread to be brought to the hungry cities, without first reconstructing the rural economy? Lenin was to laugh such day-dreams to scorn: the best they would achieve was `hunger organised with genius' - on the German model. Even that meant a peasantry ground under the heel of forced grain collections. Meanwhile, in the great industrial centres, where enslaving ignorance still chained millions to hopeless labour, the tribunes of the Soviet could only offer freedom in a fantasised future, in exchange for intensified exploitation in the present. All depended on a quick end to the war, but the Soviet Eexecutive Committee would only `call on' the government it now created, to `renounce' a war of annexation, a meaningless demand since the only annexations going on were of Russian soil. They had no peace policy. If this was the reality of the `bourgeois programme', then for the Soviet to collude in it could only be, as Lenin said, `a nonsense, a crying mockery'. On 1 March, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Tsar, a delegation from the fledgling Soviet turned up in the right wing of the Tauride to negotiate the creation of the first bourgeois government. Miliukov received them in his elegant chambers. There, amongst handsome men of business and sleek officers, the exhausted members of the Soviet's Executive Committee, who had not eaten since the previous day, sipped tea and talked of Russia, while Miliukov's silent aides produced plates heaped with rich foodstuffs. After prolonged negotiations the Soviet delegation agreed to support a propertied government. As the Soviet's deferential deputies, whose lives had been a wasteland of police wanted lists, exile and prison, now (in Lenin's words) `voluntarily surrendered the power', Miliukov said in an undertone: `Yes, I was thinking as I listened to you, how far our working class movement has advanced since 1905.23' Next day the Menshevik paper Rabochaya Gazeta said: `Members of the Provisional Government, the proletariat and the army await your orders to consolidate the revolution and make Russia a democracy'... Miliukov's victory was easier because of the disarray in the Bolshevik camp. Not until 27 February did the party begin to address the enormity of the event which had eclipsed Tsardom, and only on 5 March did Molotov bring out the first legal issue of Pravda, which sold 100,000 copies; it called the world war a `civil war' between the capitalists of the belligerent countries. But this `defeatist' position was not sustained; the Party was already moving towards the conciliation of the bourgeoisie preached by the Mensheviks. Rodzianko's Provisional Committee anticipated the new government's struggle to restore traditional discipline in the armed forces by issuing a decree on its own behalf, scarcely before the dust had settled aftedr the collapse of the autocracy. On 1 March an angry Soviet plenum listened as the wealthy lawyer Sokolov, a Bolshevik sympathiser, stood up and, surrounded by soldiers, read their reply. They had come straight from the Tauride's Room 13 where for an hour the wealthy lawyer sat taking notes while the soldiers spoke as they felt, without agenda or formalities. The result, which entered history as `Order No.1', was published by Izvestia the next morning. It was a momentous event in the revolution. It destroyed the omnipotence of officers in the army and the spirit of servility they fostered. It was also the first nail in the coffin of Menshevik `conciliationism'. Its eight points included the election of Army Committees, which would take control of weaponry and supervise the officers, and the election of deputies to the Soviets, which would exercise a final say in military policy. While on duty strict discipline would be observed, but off-duty soldiers would have the same rights as other citizens. Honorific titles like `Your Excellency' were abolished and all coarse conduct by officers to men was forbidden - especially the demeaning use of the familiar `thou'. Order No.1 bound the mass of soldiery to the Soviet, but the initiative for it came from the people and from their directly expressed anger, rather than from any party's programme or manifesto. The Order destroyed any chance of the Provisional Government asserting its authority over the army. This was confirmed in the days that followed, as the capital filled with tens of thousands of soldiers, who came pouring in along every road, and by every train. They had been sent from the front to crush the rising. Obediently they arrived, were met at the railway stations by garrison soldiers and workers, heard about Order No.1, and changed sides en masse. On 6 March, the Soviet heard that Nicholas II was fleeing to England; the Provisional Government had negotiated with the British, and Kerensky decided to let him go. But the Soviet EC intervened, and the Tsar and his family were taken into `protective custody' at Tsarskoye Selo. Later the British Government decided that because of `strong feelings hostile to the Tsar in working-class circles, asylum was not possible'. The unwanted Romanovs remained in Russia. But symbolic problems were easier to deal with than the fundamental crisis gripping the country. The bread queues were as long as ever, and in them disgruntled women (according to Sukhanov) said `liberty-flibberty, it's all the same, there's nothing to be had. It's just the same, the rich keep on fleecing the poor. The shopkeepers are the only ones making money.24' A deputation of working class women went to see the City Governor to complain about high prices and food shortages; a huge crowd gathered in the street to hear him and his Menshevik deputy, Nkitsky, explain the laws of economics. The crowd shouted about greedy shopkeepers and the meeting dispersed, no-one satisfied. The bread ration was cut from 800 grammes to 500 grammes per day; in the countryside the peasants were spending more time settling accounts with landlords and moneylenders than providing food for the hungry cities. The Soviet EC established an `Economic Department' to begin economic planning and regulation. Despite the crisis of everyday life, the mood of national euphoria did not abate overnight, and the revolution continued to deepen. The great national upswelling continued without let-up. Everyday hundreds of mass meetings took place as trade unions, co-operatives, clubs and women's societies were set up; Soviets mushroomed everywhere. The newspapers were full of appeals, proclamations, announcements, dates of meetings and classes, invitations. The working-class parties frenziedly organised and propagandised, to the unconcealed dismay of the Provisional Government and the middle classes. Russia was, in Lenin's words, `the freest land in Europe'. Trench-soldiers bombarded the Soviet with requests and pleas for a solution to the land question, without waiting for a Constituent Assembly. Mostly they wanted to hear of peace talks. None of this was welcome to the Menshevik Executive Committee which was often absent from Soviet sessions on `urgent business' - usually discussions with government ministers. But day by day the work of the Soviet broadened, taking on more and more of the tasks of the government its leaders did not wish it to become. It issued an appeal on the preservation of monuments and works of art, which Maxim Gorky penned: Citiizens! The old rulers have gone, and a great heritage is left behind. Now it belongs to the whole people. Citizens, take care of this heritage, take care of the palaces- they will become palaces of your national art; take care of the pictures, the statues, the buildings- they are the embodiment of the spiritual power of yourselves and your forefathers. Art is the beauty which talented people were able to create even under despotic oppression, bearing witness to the strength and beauty of the human spirit. Citizens, do not touch one stone; preserve the monuments, the buildings, the old things, the documents- all this is your history, your pride ... While soldiers and sailors acted on Order No.1, shaking out the Tsar's officer corps like moths from an old coat, the workers quickly smashed the `absolutist' order in the great engineering works like the Aivaz, Baranovsky, Vulcan, New Lessner and the Phoenix, where the Bolsheviks were already entrenched25. Contracts of employment, rulebooks and black lists were torn up and police informers, bribe-takers and tyrannical managers expelled. At the Putilov the Director and his aide were killed and their bodies flung in the Obvodny canal. 40 managers were thrown out in the first three days of freedom. In the engine-assembly shop, Puzanov, leader of the factory's Black Hundreds, was thrown into a wheelbarrow, red lead poured over his head, and dumped in street. The workforce elected the Bolshevik Leonid Krasin as the plant's new director. He had just returned from exile in Germany where he worked as an engineer (a skill he had once used to boost Party funds by robbing banks). In a ferment of meetings, factories and offices elected delegates to the Soviet, chose factory committees, and discussed how to gain control of production. Ironically, it was the Mensheviks who began setting up the factory committees which later played such a role in the October Revolution. `Defencism' dominated the huge state-run arms factories like the Pipe and Cartridge works, and the shop stewards who called for `Workers' Control of Production' were mostly concerned with the war-effort. The February Revolution made popular a war of `just defence' which deserved sacrificial efforts and the postponing of reform. But `defencism' was a tangle of contradictions in practice. The Mensheviks could scarcely deny the very real grievances felt by workers, but their priority was speeding up production in what were already militarised factories. Workers rejected this. Early in April a conference of workers in naval enterprises discussed the factory committees, and a bitter row took place when a Menshevik member of the Soviet EC, G.E.Breido, opposed suggestions that the committees should take direct control of production26. The workers had other ideas: bosses should be elected, and supervised by the factory committee, which would keep the firm's accounts and decide pay and conditions. This decision was the beginning of their break with Menshevism and the whole `bourgeois programme', although the notion of `workers' control' was still hopelessly vague and presented no real alternative. How was it possible to have `control' without actual responsibility for production, that is, without eliminating private ownership? The eclipse of Menshevism merely began the argument. Bill Shatov, who returned from American exile (where he had won notoriety as organiser of the `Wobblies'27) saw the factory committees fitting into his anarcho-syndicalist conception of factory and rural communes forming a society with no state or government, no central authorities, no plan and no political struggle. These beguiling prospects were none the less rejected by the mass of workers; nor was this only because anarchist fantasies were utopian in the circumstances. In practice it was impossible to envisage any future without capitalism which did not also mean more, not less, planning. This became increasingly obvious as the economy spiralled to disaster in the spring and summer of 1917 and employers began to opt out (often simply disappearing with their assets and even factory machinery). The Central Council of Factory Committees had to step in to co- ordinate production, the distribution of manufactured goods to the countryside, and the supply of raw materials and especially of food. Factory committee conferences called for centralised, planned control over the economy, and `workers' control' was increasingly linked to the transfer of state power to the soviets, land to peasants, and nationalisation of the `commanding heights' of the economy. Lenin would argue: the question of workers' control boils down to who controls whom, which class is controlling and which is being controlled... we must resolutely and irrevocably move on to control over the landowners and capitalists by the workers and peasants...28 While workers began to take the economy into their own hands, the bosses found support in, of all places, Izvestia, the newspaper published by the Soviet EC. It spoke of `the wartime situation' which `made caution necessary' in using `the sharper weapons of class struggle such as strikes and lockouts'; `open conflict' was to be avoided in preference for `negotiation and agreement'29. The Provisional Government, hamstrung in economic affairs, tried to win support with an apparently ambitious programme of reforms. It set up an industrial relations conciliation machinery, set new health and safety standards and established a social insurance scheme. At the instigation of the Soviet, it made other reforms too: the death penalty was abolished and on 17 March the corporal punishment of peasants was abolished. Decrees guaranteeing religious freedom and the rights of national minorities (of which there were more than 100 in the Russian Empire) were promulgated. The main purpose of this was to encourage the Poles to rise up against their German occupiers (they didn't). But Finland, also part of the Empire and still in Russian hands, was denied its freedom. On 17 April the police force (which had disappeared anyway) was replaced by a militia. Like all its reforms, the Provisional Government's decree on the militia was ambiguous. It ratified one of the results of the revolution while trying to reverse it in practice. It was supposed to eliminate a duplication between the City Duma's own militia and the Red Guard detachments. Needless to say, the new `regular' force made the volunteer militias unnecessary, and they were to disband. Would the militia be given the traditional police role of protecting private property? Or would it be `the people in arms'? A police force would empty the factories of strikers, but a militia would defend the workers, who many saw as the real source of social wealth. The militia suddenly came into the foreground as a focus of the struggle between workers and capital, between Provisional Government and the Soviet.The secretary of the Vasilievski Island Bolshevik committee, Vera Slutskaya (who had once been a medical student) threw herself into training the sanitarki and these young militia-women in their red kerchiefs became a familiar sight in the slums and factories, visiting mothers and children and combining some elementary health education with a stark political lesson: only ending the war would end the hunger, disease and squalor of the Vyborg Side and Vasilievski. These initiatives did not go down well with the Mensheviks, and Kerensky was more interested in organising middle class women into `Death's Head Battalions', intended to shame trench-soldiers into a new offensive spirit. By the end of March 10,000 out of 20,000 militiamen were workers, but the campaign by the Government reduced their number to 2,000 two months later. But in factory after factory the officially disbanded militia came together again as a Red Guard, committed, as a resolution of the Vyborg District Soviet put it, to fight counter-revolution and defend `weapons in hand, all the gains of the working class'. The Soviet EC dismissed this as the work of `leninists' which `directly threatened the unity of the revolutionary forces'. In the aftermath of the February Revolution a patriotic euphoria swept the country. The regiments which had made the revolution marched in parades, bearing banners which read `The 8-Hour Day!' `Long Live Democracy, Land and Freedom!' but which also said `Conquer or Die!' and `Soldiers to the Trenches, Workers to their Benches!' or (from a cavalry detachment): `Comrades, Forge the Weapons!, Let's Bathe our Horses in German Blood!' In the last two weeks of March the pro-war agitation reached a climax. `Pacifists and 8-Hour Day Mongers' were denounced under the endlessly-repeated slogan `War till Victory'. The gutter press began to vilify trade unionists, soldatki self-help groups and the factory committees, which were all presented as not only unpatriotic in time of war, but unworthy of Russians anyway. A constant stream of delegations from the front visited the capital, as the soldiery tried to make up its mind about the issues at stake. Shabby men stained with the mud of the trenches took their earnest simplicity and endless questions first to the Marian Palace, where they sipped tea with bourgeois ministers. Then they went to the Soviet and drank in its heady atmosphere. The Soviet continued to grow, reflecting the steady emergence of those huge, subterranean forces which constantly confounded the expectations of liberal political and business circles. By the end of March there were more than 3,000 delegates. The plenum moved to the Naval Academy on Vasilievski Island, which boasted the biggest hall in the capital. The EC, which had kept its offices in the Tauride, travelled there in a column of cars. The Soviet's sessions were more extraordinary than ever. Sometimes visitors from the front spoke, hesitant at first but drawing strength from the meeting. These were always emotional occasions, as even that dry intellectual, Sukhanov, was moved to record. Peasants, he wrote: so ignorant and illiterate they could barely pronounce the word `revolution', in a self-oblivious flood of words pouring out of their soul, seemed the voice of the people and its revolution. And all around ... the `conscious' vanguard, the marxist thinkers sat and listened in rapt silence, with burning eyes and set smiles... Sukhanov described what became a familiar event: A peasant mounted the rostrum with (as was often the case) his sack on his back. In a soft, urgent voice, so that the silent multitude strained to hear, he spoke of his comrades in the trenches who sent him to salute the fighters at this, other, front- to thank them for the great deeds, for the freedom won. Not knowing how to repay this debt and help the cause of the nation, or how to show their devotion to the revolution and support of their kinsmen in the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, the soldiers decided to send `the most precious thing we've got. So in this sack are all the decorations we've won with our blood; no-one kept anything for himself. I've been sent to give them to you, together with our sacred, unbreakable vow to give our lives for the freedom that's been won and to serve the revolution and obey without question all the orders of the Soviet.30' Support for the Provisional Government, but only if it sought an equitable peace and convoked a Constituent Assembly. No support for `War till Victory'. On the other hand, the Soviet received unconditional loyalty from the soldier-masses freed by its `Order No. 1'. The message was clear and (as the war dragged on) ominous for the Provisional Government. The exiles were returning, seemingly from all quarters of the globe. Leon Trotsky arrived , the Menshevik leader Chernov arrived, and the founder of `Scientific Anarchism', Peter Kropotkin. Almost every day military bands and honour guards were dispatched to the Finland Station and the other great terminals, to hail a returning grandee of the revolutionary diaspora. The less well known came in without fanfare, rolled up their sleeves without fuss, and went to work. The opening act was over; a new stage in the revolution was beginning, and the cast too had begun to change. The Menshevik leaders, Lieber and Dan, returned. Joseph Stalin came from Siberia on 13 March, together with Lev Kamenev, and at once joined the Soviet EC. Stalin, a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee since 1912, took over from Shlyapnikov as leader in Petrograd. Kamenev, who was no great thinker or writer (his main gift was oratory), was far more cautious, passive and conciliationist than Molotov, from whom he took over Pravda, at once swinging the paper sharply to the right. Thus when Kerensky told the world that Russia `would proudly defend its freedom' and `not retreat before the bayonets of the aggressors', Kamenev followed up with the first of an extraordinary series of articles which overnight began to drag the Bolsheviks into the `conciliationist' camp. When army faces army, [he wrote in Pravda] it would be the most inane policy to suggest to one of those armies that it lay down its arms and go home. This is not a policy of peace but of slavery, which a free people will reject with disgust31. This about-face dismayed Bolshevik factory workers, and the paper was deluged with protests. It seemed that now even the Bolsheviks were falling into what Lenin called `the profound and fatal error of revolutionary defencism'. Georgy Plekhanov, the grand old man of Russian socialism, arrived on 31 March, to a triumphal welcome. At one time the teacher and collaborator in exile of the young Lenin, certainly the founder of Marxism in Russia, Plekhanov's name was hallowed in the ears of all revolutionaries, despite his support of the war and break with Bolshevism. But in fact, Plekhanov and his tiny Yedinstvo (Unity) group were to play no role in the Revolution, and he died of TB in 1918. Exiles were not the only import from the outside world; the new religious freedom encouraged evangelical missions, and for a while the Salvation Army won the poster battle. Its placards crammed the walls, and huge congregations attended its services at the People's House (a Temperance Hall). As the economy worsened, life in Russia's towns slid into a chaos of hunger and darkness and the countryside boiled with discontent. People began to call for the convening of an All-Russian Congress of Soviets and on 28 March a preliminary conference opened, with 400 delegates from around the country. When it closed six days later they had adopted the slogan `Peace, Land and Bread!' The chauvinist campaign for `war till victory' had won support for the idea of a new offensive, but had also triggered off a backlash. Spurred on by the Bolsheviks, whose numbers grew daily, the Menshevik and SR parties organised great mass meetings against continuing with the Tsar's war aims. The Provisional Government split, with Kerensky, Lvov and Nekrasov opposing Miliukov, who was determined to stick by the Tsar's annexationist demands. On 27 March Miliukov was forced to renounce annexations, a decision greeted with jubilation in the Soviet. On the same day a national conference of the Bolsheviks opened in the palace belonging to Kshesinskaya, the Tsar's favourite ballerina. The conference was meant to prepare the party for Lenin's return from exile. It turned out to be a dispiriting affair. The leadership was trapped in a grey realism, seemingly the product of a weary seniority among the leadership, which blanketed the revolutionary elan of the young faithful. The Party was moving towards unity with the Mensheviks. While the conference was still in session, a telegram arrived from Lenin, then travelling across Germany in a sealed train, along with 31 other exiles. Its terse urgency conflicted with the mood of resignation spreading through the conference. `Our only guarantee - to arm the workers', it said. `No agreement with the other parties. Last is sine qua non. We do not trust Chkheidze.' Lenin was due to arrive on Easter Sunday. A party of Central Committee members, including Kamenev and Alexandra Kollontai, went ahead to meet his train at Belo- Ostrov on the Finnish border. Kamenev tried to brief Lenin on the situation in the capital and was brusquely cut short: `What is this you are writing in Pravda?' Lenin asked. `We saw some of your articles and roundly abused you.' (`We must answer bullet with bullet and shell with shell', Kamenev had said). At Petrograd's Finland Station, the party's Russian Bureau had organised a theatrical welcome for the emigres. Huge crowds had gathered in the station square and the adjoining streets. Hundreds of red flags fluttered overhead, lit by arc lights and dominated by a magnificent banner embroidered in gold with the legend: `Central Committee of the RS-DWP (Bolsheviks)'. Armoured cars bearing Bolshevik agitators began to arrive, while a searchlight mounted on a lorry cut swaths of light through the startled crowd and slashed the cloudy sky. Drawn up near the station entrance were companies of troops and bands, which played the Marseillaise as the train drew in. Lenin's speeches to the waiting crowds- made standing on an armoured car - caused consternation among Bolshevik leaders present, and set the pattern for what was to come: Dear comrades, soldiers, sailors and workers! I greet you, with joy, as the embodiment of the victorious Russian revolution, and I greet you as the vanguard of the worldwide proletarian army. The piratical imperialist war is the beginning of civil war throughout Europe. The hour is not far distant when at the call of our comrade, Karl Liebknecht, the German people will take up arms against their own capitalist exploiters... The worldwide Socialist Revolution has already dawned!32 This was the first time any party leader had used the word `socialist' in connection with the Russian revolution. At the Kshesinskaya palace he spoke again, and as he spoke, there were cries from the audience. `It seemed', Alexandra Kollontai was to say, `that Vladimir Ilyich had lost his reason.' `Delirium, the delirium of a madman', cried Bogdanov, a former Bolshevik. `Lenin has proposed himself as candidate for a throne vacant for 30 years, the throne of Bakunin' (the anarchist leader), said another. Of the party leadership, only Kollontai spoke in his support; but among the ardent rank-and-file the reaction to Lenin's speech was much more enthusiastic. `Vladimir Ilyich was a man who knew better than anyone else before him how to stop people leading their customary lives', Maxim Gorky was to say. According to Gorky, he spoke in a matter-of-fact, direct way, without histrionics, but his eyes had `the cold glitter of steel shavings'33. And never was Lenin more fiery, more determined or more irresistible than in the first days and weeks of his return from exile. These first speeches, published in millions of copies as the April Theses, affected the national mood and the eventual course of the revolution. Lenin believed that removing Tsarism had served only to propel the country into the deeper international crisis of capitalism. Whichever alliance of capitalist powers was victorious on the battlefield, capitalism as a whole, as a world-system, stood to be defeated in the World War. In 1871, an earlier war between France and Prussia had led to the first socialist revolution. The Paris Commune, though drowned in blood, was a model for any future socialist government. In the age of imperialism- capitalism's `highest, final stage' - inter-imperialist war would always end in social revolution - something lost sight of when the Socialist parties of Europe rallied to their national flags in 1914 (despite the Second International). The defeated countries (starting with Russia) would undergo a social revolution. In the period since 1871, world capitalism had undergone enormous growth and transformation. Its contradictions were more explosive in 1917 than half a century earlier. The insurrectionary impulse spawned by the crisis of war must unleash a tidal wave of revolution, dwarfing the Commune in power and scope. Revolution in any one country would be the prelude to World Revolution. Revolutionaries had to assume this and act accordingly. Even if the Russian socialist revolution, which now seemed inevitable, was annihilated like the Commune, there would be other revolutions, as world capitalism bred new and deeper crises, until the system was finally breached. But the difference in circumstances from 1871 meant the socialist revolution in Russia would not be destroyed. Lenin's April Theses were true in the sense that Russia was already finished militarily. The longer hostilities continued, the more certain was the second, socialist revolution. But suppose the front collapsed overnight? Nearly one half of German and Austro-Hungarian forces were fighting in the East. Would not the prospect then be, not socialist revolution, but national annihilation? This argument for `revolutionary defence' did not deter Lenin. A complex evolution of events was in train, both at the front and in the rear, and the timing of the second revolution depended on this. The Bolsheviks must also wait, confining themselves to patient explanation and agitation. Only when there were Bolshevik majorities on the Soviets would conditions finally be ready for insurrection. In the meantime, there was nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by embracing `defencism'. Despite the clamour of treason, the Bolsheviks would continue to argue that the workers and peasants had no stake in this war and should `vote with their feet' against it. Lenin did not believe that the Germans were socially or militarily capable of swallowing up Russia. When, if, the country was finally defeated, there would still be something more than the Muscovite rump left, and that something would be a socialist republic of workers and peasants. Lenin's arguments gave people a licence to dream. The age-old hopes of socialists and populists began to seem not just feasible, but historically inevitable and even the only possible future for Russia. The April Theses pointed beyond Russia's wartime predicament into a different future. They called for unconditional opposition to the Provisional Government and to `revolutionary defencism', proposing instead to organise mass fraternisation between Russian and German soldiers at the fronts. The Bolsheviks should resolutely oppose a parliamentary republic and organise the seizure of power by the proletariat and poor peasantry, the abolition of the standing army and the formation of workers militias. Land must be nationalised, and the future Soviet Republic would rest upon the alliance of workers and peasants. Lenin's Theses gained credence when they melded with a sudden turn of events which threatened to overwhelm the Provisional Government. On 18 April Miliukov informed the Allies that Russia would continue the war and fulfil all treaty obligations. The result was an explosion of public anger, and it became clear not only that Foreign Minister Miliukov and War Minister Guchkov would have to resign but that the whole bourgeois government might collapse, leaving the Soviet EC to carry the can for prolonging the war. The Menshevik Rabochaya Gazeta said on 20 April: Miliukov's Note, published yesterday, called forth great indignation on the streets.... Everywhere, at street meetings, in trams, passionate, heated disputes over the war take place. The caps and handkerchiefs stand for peace, the derbies and bonnets for war...From time to time, counter-demonstrations... small, disorderly crowds, among them officers and women, run along Nevsky Prospekt with placards and shout `Long Live the Provisional Government!' and `Down with Lenin!'... As fierce demonstrations erupted in the capital and throughout the provinces, the Soviet debated Miliukov's Note in an atmosphere governed by the opportunistic majority's fear of civil war and determination to coat-tail the Provisional Government. It was decided to negotiate with the Provisional Government. Then, two days later, as the tide of popular anger grew, Lenin said `The time has come to seize power.' Rallies both for and against the war grew in scale. Once again, gunfire could be heard around the city. On 21 April thousands of women textile workers paraded down the odd-numbered side of Nevsky; on the even-numbered side crowds of well-dressed women, officers, merchants and lawyers walked in the same direction with placards reading `Long Live the PG', `Arrest Lenin' and the like. At the corner with Sadovaya they began shouting insults at the poor women: `Trollops! Illiterate rabble! Filthy scum!' A textile worker shouted back `The hats you're wearing are made from our blood!' and the women flew at each other, tearing and scratching. A detachment of sailors arrived, complete with the customary brass band, and the middle class women beat a hasty retreat. As a consequence of the rioting Miliukov and Guchkov were driven from the government, which was obliged publicly to repudiate Miliukov's Note. Only the support of the Soviet prevented the bourgeois government from collapsing. In the April Theses, Lenin had called for the abolition of the armed forces, at a time when parts of the country were still under German occupation. The politicians and publicists of the capital were treated to the spectacle of a major public figure urging his supporters to visit the frontlines and to prevail upon the defenders of desperate trenches to abandon the struggle. Such a thing was unthinkable in any other combatant country. Nor was this all. Lenin spurned the Constituent Assembly, urging people to take matters in their own hands. `For us it is the revolutionary act which is important', he said, `while the law should be its consequence.'34 To the lawyers and politicians of the other parties this was an outrage against constitutional principle. It made political outlaws of the Bolsheviks. Telling the soldiers to `vote with their feet', Lenin's encouragement to workers to take control of industry, to peasants to seize the land, and to the minority nations to decide their own futures, threatened the survival of the nation. Fuelling the ferment, a tide of propaganda published by all the parties, according to John Reed, `went out every day [by] tons, car-loads, train-loads, saturating the land'. Agitators fanned out from the capital, to `lectures, debates, speeches- in theatres, circuses, school-houses, clubs, Soviet meeting-rooms, Union headquarters, barracks ... Meetings in the trenches at the front, in village-squares, in factories.' In words, cartoons for the illiterate, simple plays and music, in street-theatre, in the hundreds of newspapers and thousands of books, pamphlets and brochures, Russia explored its past and future. Not all was Bolshevik propaganda, of course but neither, as Reed said, were Russians reading `fables, falsified history, diluted religion and the cheap religion which corrupts- but social and economic theories, philosophy, the works of Tolstoy, Gogol and Gorky...' 35 February had roused a hurricane of expectations. They seemed incompatible with the survival of the nation in wartime. National self-determination implied the secession of the Ukraine, Finland and the Baltikum, a disaster that would ensure defeat. Yet the Soviet was hoist on the petard of its own commitment to a peace without annexations, a peace of self-determination. It had no moral authority to resist any minority nation's determination to secede. Attacking Lenin when the latter merely traced out the logic of this commitment was hypocrisy. Jews, Armenians, Georgians, Ukrainians, all began to stir. Muslims representing the great Central Asian nations - the Uzbeks, Azerbaijanis, Tadjiks, Kazakhs, Turkmen and Kirghizes - called for an All-Russian Conference, which was held in Moscow on 1 May. A women - Selima Yakubova - was elected president of the Congress, in a vote which outraged the clerics, who had tried to exclude women from even attending. Many of the participants were radicalised intellectuals living in the capital and for this reason the conference was not truly representative of feeling in the Central Asian national minorities36. None the less its proceedings raised what were to become enduring themes in the modernising of Islamic societies during the twentieth century. The conference tried to balance the conflict between demands for national autonomy, and for the rights of oppressed groups - women, workers and peasants - within the minority nations, which were generally backward, patriarchal-feudal societies. It debated a resolution opposing federal autonomy and arguing instead for unity within a Russian state, on the grounds that: In the so-called Muslim states, the workers would not know how to profit from All-Russian social legislation ... the immaturity and disorganisation of the working class will keep it in abominable conditions of exploitation. There will be many struggles before... the 8-hour day, social security, disability and unemployment benefits [are won and federalism] will split Islam... throttling the unity of Shi-ites and Sunni muslims, and lead to heresies. Self-determination taken too far might also `make the emancipation of women difficult in Turkestan and the Caucasus, because the legislators will still be men accustomed to treating women as slaves'. Despite these considerations, the balance of opinion came down in favour of seeking national autonomy within a future federal state. The reason was clear: the emancipation of oppressed social groups within the national minorities depended on the nation being first liberated from exploitation by a chauvinistic Russian Empire. The conference decided that Islam's `two great tasks' - the rebirth of Asia's Muslim culture and the smashing of European tutelage, required national self-determination. This was a recurrent refrain in the months after the February Revolution. But of all the parties, only the Bolsheviks enshrined the yearning for national liberation unreservedly into their programme, offering all nations the right to secede. Bolshevik nationalities policy combined principle with calculation. Lenin and Stalin, its authors, believed that, with the possible exceptions of Finland, Poland and the Ukraine, the national-chauvinist groupings (mostly bourgeois) in the minorities would be torn between fear of going it alone and the desire to quit the old Empire. The Bolsheviks tried to expose nationalist pretensions while emphasising the fundamental right of self-determination which alone could ensure working class support among the minorities for a `Republic of Soviets'. Their propaganda resulted in the steady Bolshevisation of Soviets in the nationalities. The revolution was gathering pace in the countryside, as the peasantry began expropriating the great estates. Somehow this vast upheaval was ignored by the politicians in the capital, for whom the war dominated everything. The price of Soviet support for continuing a war of defence (Tsarist dreams of conquest were abandoned after the April Days) was the pursuit of a peace of no annexations or indemnities and the democratisation of the army. Resolutions calling for peace talks poured in, as the chaos in the army deepened. There was growing fraternisation across enemy lines. Units who disliked their orders arrested their own commanders, imprisoned, tried and sometimes executed them; were themselves threatened with arrest and were indeed imprisoned, denied property and civil rights and disbanded, resulting in many desertions but in not a few cases a new submission by the chastened troops to military discipline. The Soldier-Citizen, a Moscow Bolshevik paper, soliloquised about the insistent demands for more discipline and for a restoration of the military death penalty: `Until the end', croaks the crow, picking clean the bones on the battlefield. What does he care about the old woman awaiting her son, or the eighty-year old forced to lead the plough with trembling hands? `War to the End!' cries the student to thousands on the public square, assuring them that `our' hardships are due to the Germans. Meanwhile his father, seller of oats at 16 roubles a pud, sits in a festive cabaret where he expounds the same theory37. This propaganda had a devastating effect; the General Staff wrung its hands while Bolshevik agitators toured the fronts with impunity. General Cheglov telegraphed headquarters about a typical episode on the front: An agitator from the Petrograd Soviet [it was the Bolshevik leader, Frunze], armed with authorisation dated 25 April, No.126, has arrived at our division. Among other things, he urges fraternisation with the Germans, and only today has organised fraternisations with the 220th Regt. They are spreading ... Does [Frunze] really have authority to do such things?38 In province after province usurers, rack-renting landlords, gluttonous priests and the land-captains with their flogging-courts, began to disappear. The peasantry, in and out of uniform, was turning the Russian countryside, for the first and perhaps only time, into the vast rural commune dreamt of by an earlier generation of revolutionaries. Forced grain exactions, commodities, finally money itself began to disappear from the rural economy. Meanwhile the politicians of all parties except the Bolsheviks consoled themselves with the thought that `dual power' - supposedly fatal to the army and the nation - had now been ended by the coalition set up after the April Days. However, the coalition's peace policy soon began to flounder. The Central Powers were at their zenith, while the allies were in disarray after the disasters of the Somme, Verdun and the failed Nivelle offensive. There were mutinies in the British army and the French soldiery politely told their General Staff that there would be no more offensives. Germany's unexpected success in the submarine war played havoc with the Allied war effort; the US had yet to become involved (indeed, it only did so when the likelihood of German victory imperilled its vast war-loans to Britain and France). During the summer of 1917 the Central Powers were able massively to reinforce their armies in the East. The Germans had every reason to impose a punitive peace. To do otherwise would be seen as weakness by the Allies (as the Germans themselves saw Soviet talk of a peace without annexations and indemnities). Besides, Germany had too much at stake in Alsace-Lorraine and in the vast, ramshackle Habsburg empire, to offer a Wilsonian peace of self-determination. A generous peace would leave a stronger rather than weaker Russia poised at Germany's back door. Thus the Soviet's peace policy was no more credible than Miliukov's war policy had been. Only the fear of civil war sustained the remarkable self- deception of the Cadets and Soviet moderates, and the parliamentary charades that went with it. At their conference in April, the Bolsheviks adopted the agrarian programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the traditional party of the peasantry, in whose hands, according to Lenin, agrarian reform would nevertheless be mere 'deception' of the peasantry. Under the Bolsheviks, this same programme would inaugurate `the kingdom of socialism, the kingdom of peace, the kingdom of the toilers.' These were heady words. Many dismissed them as nonsense. Maxim Gorky was among the doubters: When in the year 1917, on his arrival in Russia, Lenin published his `thesis', I thought that the thesis sacrificed the small and heroic band of politically educated workers, as well as all the truly revolutionary intelligentsia, to the Russian peasantry. The only active force in Russia would be thrown, like a pinch of salt, into the flat bog of the village, and it would dissolve without a trace, without changing the spirit, the life, the history, of the Russian nation39. This seemed but melancholy realism to anyone who, like Gorky himself, was acquainted with `the beastly individualism of the peasants, and their almost complete lack of social emotions'. But the Bolsheviks were not disposed to pessimism. They were now the most dynamic and well-organised party in Russia. Their rank and file steadily grew while the other parties shrank. Bolshevik cells multiplied in the fleet and on the fronts. In the capital and in many other towns Bolshevik cells in working-class districts and workplaces organised their Red Guard detachments. What fuelled their rising popularity was the endless crisis which deepened for workers and middle classes alike. Prices rose 2,300 per cent between February and October, and real wages fell by almost half. Strikes proved ineffective as bankruptcies and closures soared. Instead workers occupied factories and took control. The failure of the coalition government's attempts to interest the other belligerents in peace talks left them with no alternative but to resume the war. Kerensky's offensive, planned for June, loomed, a desperate gamble whose failure would precipitate the country into civil war. As preparations for the offensive intensified, alarm grew at the chaos enveloping the country; the yellow press was filled with stories of mutiny, lynchings, arson, attacks on property by peasants in Bessarabia, Orel, Samara and many other places. Stories of fields left fallow while peasants burned out landowners led to fear of famine. There were reports that marauding bands of deserters were instituting their own `governments' like the `republic' founded by the `pro-German Corporal Shilov' in the Caucasus, and `run on Bolshevik lines'. As the right-wing backlash developed, anti-semitic pogroms took place in Nizhni-Novgorod, Elisavetgrad, Kishnev and some Ukrainian cities; in Moscow a regiment refused to accept Jewish officers and turned away Soviet agitators because `the Soviet was in Jewish hands'. Irredentism, obscurantism, chauvinism; the call of `blood and soil' began to tell. The Soviet sent teams of agitators to Odessa where they fanned out through the South and West to combat the tide of anti-semitism being whipped up by the right. The officers' clubs, the Church, the Cossacks, were all involved, as were the shadowy remnants of the Black Hundreds, well funded by landlords. `The time of the Anti-Christ has come! Do you not see that you should confess and not revolt against God!' cried a priest at Buguronslansky, brandishing a horsewhip at the soldiery. While the Old Society thus girded itself, elections were being held for the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which was convened on 3 June. A total of 20 million votes was cast, and the coalition parties, the Mensheviks and SRs, won a huge majority. The Bolsheviks were outnumbered. Lenin took a different view, arguing that `public opinion is more left than our left', and driving the Bolsheviks on their course to power. As the Congress opened, Lenin, Trotsky and Lunacharsky called again for a Soviet government. When Tsereteli, defending the coalition, said from the rostrum `There is no political party in Russia which at the present time would say: Give us power', from his seat Lenin replied: `There is such a party', adding `No party has the right to refuse power and ours does not'; but the applause which greeted him was drowned out by laughter. Kerensky began touring the fronts in preparation for his offensive, making the fervent speeches for which he became famous. `What has happened now?' he asked one unit. Can't you suffer any longer? Or has free Russia become steadily a nation of revolted slaves? ... Ah! Comrades! It's too bad I didn't die two months ago - then I would have died with the sweetest dreams ... The country is in danger! It's destiny is in your hands! 40 Kerensky ordered the great summer offensive to begin on 18 June. It was a disaster. The Germans knew of every preparation. The half-starved, often diseased troops, short of every kind of war materiel, advanced briefly then fell back in disorder. The operation was not just a defeat, but the death-knell of the Tsarist military tradition. A new army and a new tradition would have to be created before Russians would take the field again. The catastrophe at the front left the `patriotic' gentry, the officers, general staff, Cadet leaders and the big capitalists and landowners, in a bitter and frightened mood. They blamed the disaster on the cowardice of the foot-soldiery, on the despised Soviet and most of all on the Bolsheviks. A common parlour topic became the need for an `exemplary' German victory, to chasten the proletariat. Then came a new upheaval in the capital itself. In the first days of July the High Command used Czech mercenaries to drive recalled veterans into the lines. Garrison regiments poured onto the streets of the capital to protest. They were joined by hundreds of thousands of workers. An angry mob invaded the Soviet; white with rage, a worker jumped on the platform and shook his fist at the SR Minister of Agriculture, Chernov, yelling `take power, you son of a bitch, when it's given to you!' Chernov escaped being lynched by sailors only because an electrifying speech by Trotsky, in which he called the Kronstadters `the pride and beauty of the Revolution', persuaded them otherwise. Later that day Lenin told Bonch-Bruevich, his secretary, there must be an armed rising `not later than the autumn'. As insurgent soldiers, sailors and workers took control of the streets, the government bombarded the fronts with pleas for help. There was desperate confusion on all sides. In a typical incident, the 176th Regiment, based at Tsarskoye Selo, marched through the rain to Petrograd. A Bolshevik regiment, it had come only to demand `All Power to the Soviets!' But at the Tauride, Tsereteli warmly greeted the troops, who without more ado agreed to mount guard on the palace to fend off `counter- revolutionaries'. The Bolshevik troops kept the Bolshevik workers at bay until more reliable reinforcements arrived, and the government was able to restore order on the streets ... Immediately after the July Days, the Ministry of Justice published allegations that Lenin was a German agent. The allegations had a dramatic effect. Regiments which had proclaimed their neutrality now came out against the Bolsheviks. The loyalists went on the offensive, clearing the city of anti-government demonstrators, smashing Bolshevik printing presses, arresting and killing those suspected of Bolshevik sympathies. A special squad was formed on Kerensky's orders, to hunt down Lenin and shoot him on sight. The July Days - a spontaneous rising of the insurgent population of the capital - had failed, and the lesson was clear to many. Lenin called the episode `more than a demonstration and less than a revolution'. He told Ordzhonikidze `now it is possible to take power only by means of an armed rising'. But now a vicious reaction began as the government stepped up its drive against the Bolsheviks. Lenin went into hiding rather than submit to arrest, whatever openings for scurrility this gave his enemies. For `there are no guarantees of a fair trial in Russia at present ...' Lenin hid in Sestroretsk (20 miles from Petrograd) in a loft belonging to a Bolshevik worker, then moved with Zinoviev and a few followers to a shagash (an igloo- shaped hut made of straw) concealed in the deep forests overlooking the gulf of Finland. It was late summer; the sky was still pale at night. The next 26 days were a strange interlude in a time so saturated with event. The fugitives fished and swam in the steel-blue, mirror-flat waters of the Gulf. During this period Lenin worked on that extraordinary testament to the optimism of the period, State and Revolution, every day receiving a constant stream of messengers and party officials from the capital. Finally Lenin was smuggled over the administrative frontier with Finland, disguised as a locomotive fireman. As the tide of reaction reached high water. Kamenev, Lunacharsky and many others were arrested. Incarcerated in the Peter-Paul, Alexandra Kollontai was subjected to brutal humiliation; her bourgeois breeding and looks seemed to provoke her captors. Perhaps characteristically, Trotsky asked the Provisional Government for the same treatment and was duly arrested. Bolshevised regiments like the Machine-gun Regiment, were broken up. Factories were searched for arms caches. On 12 July the death penalty was reintroduced at the front: in fact, Kerensky, now Minister-President, had already authorised a policy of `exemplary executions'. New decrees restricted press freedom. But the repression was not enough to destroy the Bolsheviks, with all their experience of underground work, and their popularity began to rise again as the war dragged on and the prospect loomed of another winter in the trenches. The Bolsheviks had begun to eclipse their competitors. The Mensheviks had by now all but disappeared as an organised party, while the Socialist Revolutionaries were in the process of a split which would soon yield a major new ally for the Bolsheviks. The whole country was splitting, as the slide towards civil war continued. Miliukov considered Kerensky to be `too socialist', but he thought the Cadets must support the government formed after the July Days, because `not only does catastrophe threaten us; we are already in the vortex. If it turns out that we have to do not with a declining influence of the Soviets and of socialist utopianism, if ... the Bolsheviki again appear on the streets of Petrograd, then we shall talk in a different tone.' At a Duma conference, deputy Maslennikov said: The population is scrounging, thinking only of looting. Our valiant army has become a horde of cowards ... The revolution was made thanks to the Duma; but in that great, tragic moment of history, a handful of crazy fanatics, adventurers and traitors, calling themselves the Executive Committee of the Council of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, attached itself to the Revolution ...41 At a Congress of Industrialists on 3 August, stormy applause greeted a speaker who announced `the need for the long bony hand of hunger and national immiseration to seize by the throat those false friends of the people. the soviets', and there weed afre open calls for a `military dictatorship' or a `strongman'. 42 On the other hand, the clear and almost universal reaction of workers to the deepening crisis after the July Days was finally to turn away from conciliation and defencism. Skilled workers had already abandoned Menshevism, whose electoral support collapsed. The unskilled `worker- peasant' stratum was beginning to desert its traditional SR affiliation as well. But the working class of the capital was still in retreat after the defeat of the July Days. Conscious of their political and social isolation, Petrograd's militant workers and soldiers had learnt their lesson; in future the insurgent population of the capital unswervingly accepted Bolshevik leadership, no matter how impatient it grew with Lenin's sometimes tortuous, painstaking tactics. On 31 July General Kornilov was appointed Commander- in-Chief. A group of Moscow business leaders, headed by Rodzianko, sent him a telegram: `In this threatening hour of heavy trial all thinking Russia looks to you with faith and hope.' The Cossacks' Council, the Knights of St George, and other `Junker' bodies rallied around the new saviour. But none had mass support; even the Union of Cossack Troops was out of touch with rank and file Cossack opinion. Kornilov had already begun plotting to take power, placing his most reliable Cossack and mountain-Caucasian troops within striking distance of Petrograd and Moscow. On 10 August he visited Kerensky, arriving at the Winter Palace with a spectacular bodyguard of Tekintsi and Turkmen warriors. Kerensky seemed a broken man; his moment had come and gone. Kornilov on the other hand had only recently felt the touch of destiny's wings. There was to be no meeting of the minds. Kornilov was a political primitive, unable to make a distinction between any of the socialist parties and regarding them all as no better than paid German spies. He saw himself as the Saviour of the Motherland, thought Kerensky was pathetic, temporising, and said to his Chief of Staff, General Lukomsky: It's time to hang the German supporters and spies, with Lenin at their head. And to disperse the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies so that it would never reassemble ... I am bringing the Cavalry Corps to Petrograd by the end of August ... if necessary, [we'll] hang every member of the Soviet43. Kornilov wanted `nothing for myself. I only want to save Russia and I will obey unconditionally a cleaned-up, strong Provisional Government.' Before Kornilov got his chance a `State Conference' was convened by the government in Moscow between 12 - 15 August. It was to rally all the `forces of revolutionary democracy'. Moscow's workforce greeted the conference with a general strike. Delegates watched in dismay as the cooks, porters and cleaning staff walked out of the conference hall. The event had been staged away from the capital to avoid such scenes (`many are those who have sung the meekness and patriarchal spirit of Moscow', said Sukhanov). The conference split into two opposed camps at its first session. On the right side of the auditorium sat representatives of the old propertied and military classes. Bemedalled generals and officers, some in picturesque Caucasian uniforms, mixed with businessmen, Duma politicians, lawyers and professors. On the left sat the `democratic forces': journalists, radical lawyers, moderate socialists, trade union officials, and a sprinkling of junior officers and NCOs. The Bolsheviks were not invited. A sense of dread seems to have pervaded the proceedings, of disaster creeping and rushing up. Meanwhile Kornilov arrived in Moscow and was greeted by a huge guard of honour, with bands playing. Amidst deferential deputations and garlanded with flowers, he went first to the Chapel of the Iberian Virgin, there to pray as had the Tsars before their coronation. The atmosphere of bathos and despair at the State Conference reached a climax with Kerensky's closing speech, a rambling affair during which he said: `Let my heart become stone; let all the springs of faith in man perish, let all the flowers and wreaths of man dry up ... I shall throw far away the keys of my heart, which loves men; I will think only of the state.' 44 Kerensky continued in this vein until the audience tried to applaud him into silence. Women cried as Kerensky, near collapse, wandered off the stage, only to be led back by his minders. The Minister-President had forgotten to close the conference. On 28 August, Kornilov moved his Cossacks against the capital's insurgent garrison. Prices on the Petrograd Stock Exchange soared, as a jubilant bourgeoisie anticipated the crushing of the Soviet and the emergence of a `strong man'. It was a false dawn. The previous night the factory hooters had sounded as the working class rallied to the defence of their revolution. The passivity and despair following the defeat of the July Days was dispelled, and the great arms factories worked feverishly to provide arms for the defence of the capital. Men and women streamed out of the Vyborg towards Kornilov's advancing Cossacks; as the railway workers shunted troop trains around the capital, frustrating the planned encirclement, agitators argued and pleaded with the confused soldiery, who soon melted away as had the Tsar's armies in February. After this, the Menshevik-dominated Soviet lost its last shreds of popular legitimacy. Kerensky, though supposedly at one with the 'revolutionary democracy' in the crushing of Kornilov, maintained the fiction of a government of coalition in which Cadet ministers retained their posts. It could not last. Across the country towns and cities came out for an end to the Provisional Government and for all power to the Soviets. Now the capital began to lag behind the rest of the country as the revolution deepened and accelerated. In many towns the Soviet took power during the Kornilov Days and refused to relinquish it subsequently. Meanwhile food shortages, industrial closures and hardships of every kind pressed harder and harder on the capital's population. The nights were growing cold; it seemed unthinkable that the troops would winter again in the trenches; yet the same immobility as before the Kornilov Days seemed once more to be glaciating over the surface of the revolution. Lenin was still in hiding. In the public prints, among the political parties, in all the teeming discourse of everyday life, there was scant sense of the momentous events to come. The fatalism of bourgeois and right-wing politicians grew more pronounced after the Kornilov revolt. Suddenly the whole of political Russia, apart from the Bolsheviks, found itself staring into an abyss. The result was a kind of reckless indifference. `Petrograd is in danger', Mikhail Rodzianko wrote in a Cadet newspaper, as the Germans pressed on from Riga. `I say to myself: Let God take care of Petrograd.'45 Contemplating the destruction of the capital with feelings akin to relish, the arbiter of revolutionary fortunes in February added: `With the taking of Petrograd the Baltic Fleet will also be destroyed ... But there will be nothing to regret ...' On 9 September, the Bolsheviks won a majority on the Petrograd Soviet. Trotsky was elected President - something which in 1905, he told the cheering delegates, had swiftly been followed by the bloody repression of the people and by his own imprisonment. `We are stronger now than then!' he said. A few days later, the Moscow Soviet went Bolshevik; in Siberian Krasnoyarsk, in Ekaterinburg and throughout the industrial Urals, in the Ukraine, down the Volga, in the Donetz Basin, it was the same story.The Baltic Fleet urged `the adventurer Kerensky' to be `removed from the ranks': `to you, betrayer of the Revolution, Bonaparte Kerensky, we send our curses.' Elections to the city councils in Moscow and other towns showed a dramatic rise in the Bolshevik vote, the sweeping aside of the Right SRs and Mensheviks - and the continuing solidarity of the Cadet bastions. In the Petrosoviet, the Menshevik Lieber won a roar of half-ironic cheers when he angrily called on `Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev and Lenin to take power - they won't find it so easy.' The revolution was accelerating, blown before an economic hurricane, as fuel, raw material and food shortages worsened, factories closed or were occupied, and the class war deepened. At the Fourth Factory Committee Conference the Bolshevik Skrypnik could say: `We are no longer standing in the antechamber of economic collapse; we have entered the zone of collapse itself.' On 23 September the Soviet EC reluctantly agreed to convoke the long-postponed Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets on 20 October. It was under immense pressure from the rank and file; typical of the resolutions passed was one from workers of the Military Horseshoe Factory, who: look with scorn upon the pitiful conciliators, trying by means of detours and machinations to avoid the approaching new wave of revolution ... we will not be fooled by any `democratic conferences', and `pre- parliaments'. We believe only in our Soviets. For their power we will fight to the death ... Hail the last decisive battle and our victory!46 In John Reed's phrase, the Congress `loomed over Russia like a thundercloud'. It could not be rigged. It would represent the real wishes of the submerged masses on the issues of peace, bread and land. Many opposed it. According to Reed: Delegates were sent through the country, messages flashed by wire to committees in charge of local Soviets, to Army Committees, instructing them to halt or delay elections to the Congress. Solemn public resolutions against the Congress, declarations that the democracy was opposed to the meeting so near the date of the Constituent Assembly. ... The Council of the Russian Republic was one chorus of disapproval. The entire machinery set up by the Russian Revolution of [February] functioned to block the Congress of Soviets ...47 On the other hand was the shapeless will of the proletariat - the workmen, common soldiers and poor peasants. Winter approached. Petrograd's workers were in a race against time; while the second revolution swept the country, the factory-owners sought to grind them down by unemployment, hunger and forced evacuations. But as October neared the factories grew quiet. There were few demands for wage rises, and almost no demonstrations. An eerie calm settled on Petrograd, in stark contrast to the vast upheaval in the rest of Russia. Many have commented on this strange prelude to the second revolution. Trams ran to schedule, factory shifts were normal, the crowds so characteristic of February were by-and-large absent. But this did not mean that the revolutionary wave had receded, or that a Bolshevik rising would be a putsch organised by a minority. As Russia capsized,so did the logic of everyday life also seem inverted. In the midst of the first proletarian revolution, the working class clung for dear life to the routines of normal living and working. It was the employers who sabotaged; the workers meant to inherit a going concern. The Bolshevik Central Committee received a letter from the `state criminal, Ulyanov-Lenin', who was still in hiding (`we are searching for him', said Kerensky). `Now the Bolsheviks have a majority in the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies in both capitals, they can and must take state power into their own hands.' The Bolsheviks were never more popular, he wrote, while the Democratic Conference was completely unrepresentative. The need to take power was even more urgent because of the danger of Germany capturing Petrograd which `will make our chances one hundred times worse. ... We must remember and reflect on Marx's words ... insurrection is an art ... The patience of the Peter and Moscow workers is exhausted ....History will not forgive us if we do not take power now ....48 On 24 September, a Party Conference called for the transfer of power to the soviets, but the CC continued, in its own words, to `mark time' - while noting that the popular mood was now `extremely tense' - that `the masses are putting forward the demand for concrete measures of some kind.' They decided to `suggest to Ilyich that he move to Petrograd', and Lenin returned illegally on 7 October. The last `Defencists' lost their places on the Soviet. In the Cartridge Works the Menshevik and SR delegates were voted out when they admitted voting against the land to the tiller and the publication of the secret treaties. A worker told the Bolshevik newspaper Workers' Way `they advised us to leave these matters to the Constituent Assembly. And that was the final straw.' The same at the Obukhovsky Factory. `Who could have conceived of this a month ago?' said Workers' Way. `Thus fall the last bastions of defencism.'49 On 13 October Lenin wrote to the Central Committee, demanding immediate preparations for a rising. This was a step from which they still shrank. Would it not, Kamenev asked, be irresponsible to jeopardise everything in an act which by its very desperation seemed to imply that history, the working class, the people, were not ready? If socialism was already prepared in the womb of history, it would not need forcing upon events by an act of the will. But Lenin was prepared to be the midwife even if others still drew back, and according to him the moment was ripe. There was a revolutionary upsurge of the people, the backing of the vanguard class, and a vacillating enemy. Unlike July, when workers and soldiers were not ready to die for Petrograd, there was now `such "savageness", such seething hatred' against the counter-revolutionaries, particularly among peasants who had become convinced that the SRs would never give them the land. The Central Committee suppressed Lenin's inflammatory letters, voting to take no action. Lenin had them circulated in the Vyborg where, according to Malakhovsky, the Red Guard Commander, they created a feverish atmosphere. Lenin said they must prepare to strike into the enemy's vitals: Without losing a moment, organise the command of insurgent detachments, distribute our forces, send loyal regiments to strongpoints, surround the Alexandrine Theatre [seat of the Council of the Republic], occupy the Peter-Paul, arrest the General Staff, arrest the government.50 The Party should `summon the armed workers to a desperate and final fight, occupy the telephone exchange and move our insurrection headquarters there ... all this ... illustrates that now it is impossible to stay true to Marxism, true to the revolution, without treating insurrection as an art.' Five days later the CC met again. Among those present were Trotsky, Bukharin, Dzerzhinsky, Sverdlov, Smilga, Kollontai, Ioffe, Rykov (not Stalin): the Bolshevik creme de la creme. Their response to Lenin's urgings showed why the October Revolution would not have happened without him. His arguments passed them by. The CC was gripped by a reflexive routinism, seemingly incapable of registering the import of his words. Their agenda ignored the call for insurrection. Within days another meeting was held, and, astoundingly, the CC this time discussed etiquette, resolving that: `After hearing a report that Comrade Ryazanov called Tsereteli "comrade" ... the CC suggests to comrades that people whose description as "comrades" might offend the revolutionary feelings of the workers should not be addressed this way in public.' Lenin, in agonies of impatience, wrote: To wait is a crime. The Bolsheviks have no right to wait for the Congress of Soviets, they must take power at once .... To delay is a crime. To wait for the Congress of Soviets is an infantile formality, a shameful play at formality, treachery to the revolution ...51 And his pen flamed out at Gorky's Novaya Zhizn for daring to suggest that the Bolsheviks could not hold power: Since the 1905 revolution, Russia has been governed by 130,000 landowners, who have perpetrated endless violence against 150,000,000 people, heaped unconstrained abuse upon them, and condemned the vast majority to inhuman toil and semi-starvation. Yet we are told that the 240,000 members of the Bolshevik Party will not be able to govern Russia, govern her in the interests of the poor, and against the rich.52 The climax neared. A German squadron appeared in the Baltic and German forces broaching Finnish soil were fiercely resisted by the Baltic Fleet, whose Soviet told the proletarians of the world: The slandered fleet fulfils its duty before the great revolution. We vowed to hold the front firmly and to guard the approaches to Petrograd ... We send you a last flaming appeal, oppressed of the whole world! Lift the banner of insurrection! Long live the world revolution! Long live the just general peace! Long live socialism!53 The Germans did not advance on the capital, and the revolution rushed on unimpeded. Lenin's letters appeared on the streets in pamphlet form: `The Bolsheviks Must Take Power', `Marxism and Insurrection', `The Crisis is Ripe!'. On 10 October, three days after his return, Lenin attended his first Central Committee meeting. It was held in Nikolai Sukhanov's flat. His wife was a Bolshevik sympathiser, and she made sure that the future chronicler of the revolution was not present to record what turned out to be a historic meeting. Lenin and Zinoviev - both of whom were still being hunted down - arrived; the meeting went on till late, and Mme Sukhanov served a supper of tea and sausage sandwiches. Scourging irony, exhortations to act, bitter denunciations of the Committee's prevarications: Lenin scolded them to the starting-line. Did they want `All ,Power to the Soviets,' or not? `Since the beginning of September a certain indifference to the question of insurrection has been noticeable,' Lenin said. `Nothing has been done, considerable time' for preparation has been lost. Meanwhile, the enemy is closing on Petrograd, evidently with the government's connivance. `The international situation is ripe; the majority is now behind us. The moment has arrived for the transfer of power. Yet we seem to regard insurrection as a political sin.' There was a violent debate - `we have passed a mass of resolutions' said one speaker. `But done nothing.' Kamenev and Zinoviev furiously opposed: `We can and must confine ourselves to a defensive position.' Later they would circulate a statement through the Bolshevik organisations - and leak it to the press. They argued the Bolsheviks would be the strongest opposition party in the Constituent Assembly, and that things were still moving their way. `We do not have the right before history, before the international proletariat, before the Russian revolution and the Russian working class, to stake the whole future on the card of an armed insurrection now.' Powerful forces were arrayed against `the proletarian party': shock troops, cossacks, thousands of `magnificently armed' junkers, and `artillery deployed in a fan round Peter'. The Menshevik/SRs who had fought alongside the Bolsheviks against Kornilov this time would side with the government. Moreover, `if everyone oppressed by poverty were always ready to support an armed rising of socialists, we should have won socialism long ago,' they said, claiming that the slogan `All power to the Soviets' signified only `the most determined resistance to the slightest encroachment by the authorities on their rights.' But the mood had begun to change; Lenin's passionate arguments overwhelmed all resistance, and the meeting voted that the Party should prepare itself for an armed rising. The imperialist powers threatened a separate peace, the resolution argued, in order to turn on Russia and strangle the revolution instead. But the uprush of revolution in the countryside, the growing trust of the people in the Party, coupled with the danger of a second Kornilov, together meant `that armed insurrection is inevitable, and the time is ripe' ... Orders were given to begin preparations, and a Political Bureau was established; its members were: Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Sokolnikov, Bubnov - and Zinoviev and Kamenev, the only dissenters in the vote for a rising54. 14 October. In the Menshevik paper Rabochaya Gazeta: `As a great revolutionist said: "Let us hasten, friends, to terminate the Revolution. He who makes it last too long will not gather the fruits" ...' That same day the Moscow Bolsheviks resolved `to proceed to the organisation of armed insurrection ...' Among the intelligentsia the joke was to call the Soviet `Sobachikh Deputatov' (`Dogs' Deputies) rather than `Rabochikh (Workers') Deputatov'. At the Troitsky Farce Theatre, acording to John Reed, monarchists attacked actors performing `Sins of the Tsar', for `insulting the Emperor'. 55 15 October. Industrialist Stepan Lianozov told John Reed `starvation and defeat may bring the Russian people to their senses'; the government should abandon the capital so that the military `can deal with these gentlemen [the Bolsheviks] without any legal formalities' - a fate also reserved for the Constituent Assembly, should it `manifest any Utopian tendencies.'56 On the same day the Sestroretsk arms factory delivered 5,000 rifles intended for General Kaledin's cossacks, to the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC). Colonel Polkovnikov, Petrograd Military Commander, warned against `irresponsible armed outbreaks' and promised `the most extreme measures' in defence of order - as had General Khabalov, the Tsar's garrison commander, seven months before. Then on 16 October came the decisive meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee, when the decision to overthrow the Provisional Government was taken in earnest. Speaking in haste, under enormous pressure, the Central Committee at last crossed the Rubicon. `The spirit of the resolution is the need ... to use the first suitable opportunity to grab power,' argued Ioffe, expressing the majority view as it emerged in the course of the meeting. 'There is bread for just one day', Lenin said. 'We cannot wait for the Constituent Assembly. I move the resolution be affirmed, and that we get a move on with preparations. Let the CC and the Soviet decide just when to do it.' The Bolsheviks convened a Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region; Trotsky told it `the hour has come' and the delegates voted 148-2 to smash the Provisional Government. A ring of towns and cities, of garrisons and fleets, had voted for insurrection within the capital city they encircled. The Lettish delegate, Peterson, promised `40,000 riflemen' to defend the All-Russian Congress of Soviets. Kerensky would have to bring reinforcements, if he had any, through an enfilade ... As the storm of the Second Congress loomed over the capital, and rumours flew of the counter-revolution, in meetings in the factories and in great halls like the Cirque Moderne, workers would rise from their seats saying it would be better `to die with honour than live with shame'. All `to the last man' should `fight for the power of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies'. Wednesday, 18 October. Kamenev and Zinoviev published their opposition to insurrection in Gorky's Novaya Zhizn. Lenin fulminated against the dissident two, calling them `strike-breaking, blacklegs, despicable, treacherous.' `I do not regard either of them as comrades any more ...' The leaders, the party, the insurrectionary working class, were poised on a cusp of fate. An air of terrible expectancy lurked beneath the capital's seeming normality. It was autumn, and pouring rain turned the streets into seas of mud, through which clanked the city's overloaded trams. The Nevsky's cafes were crowded as usual. Meyerhold's Death of Ivan the Terrible was on at the Alexandrinsky, and the great singer, Fyodor Chaliapin, performed in Boris Godunov. In the mills and factories the shifts clocked on and off; but the Red Guards drilled constantly. Appeals and proclamations were plastered on every wall: from the government, the Soviet EC, the Mensheviks and SR parties, from Polkovnikov, the garrison commander - all exhorting and demanding soldiers and workers, the whole populace, to `stay at their posts', to support the government, to ignore the `cursed Bolsheviki', `friends of the Dark Forces'. Kerensky paced his quarters in the Winter Palace, nervous and irascible and taking drugs to lift his mood, and announced he was planning a holiday on the Volga; he expected to be away `for a long time'. Four days before the Bolshevik Revolution, he pacified a prominent Cadet by saying `I could pray for such an uprising. I have more strength than I need. They will be irrevocably smashed.' As preparations intensified, they indiscernibly merged into the rising itself. It had begun! Still the decisive moment had yet to arrive; the Congress was yet to meet, the Provisional Government was still at large, Lenin still waited in hiding, in agonies of impatient worry for the outcome.Early in the afternoon of 24 October, Kerensky went to the Pre-parliament to arraign Lenin and the leaders of what was now clearly an assault on the state created by the February Revolution.57 As he spoke, a minister, Konovalov, handed him a proclamation just issued by the MRC to the garrison: We order the regiments to be put in a state of military preparedness and to await new orders. Any delay or non- execution of the order will be regarded as treason to the Revolution; signed, For the President: Podvoisky; Secretary: Antonov.58 The Pre-parliament had been set up on the initiative of the Petrosoviet and the Executive Committee elected by the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets. Now the Petrosoviet had voted for `All Power to the Soviets'; the Second All-Russian Congress was about to convene, and was the only lawful body in Russia which could decide the future dispensation. The Provisional Government had no mandate, no support and had effectively ceased to exist. Something had to take its place, and that could only be a Soviet government. On the day of the revolution, the factories worked normally. There were no great crowds in the streets as in February. Rabochaya Gazeta, reporting two days later, used this circumstance to denounce the Bolshevik insurrection: Look at the streets.They are empty in the working class districts. There are no triumphal processions, no delegations to meet the victors with red banners ... The Bolsheviks will hardly last a week.59 But this was to ignore the essential nature of the rising. It was a planned operation carried out by the military arms of the Soviets. As Lenin had said in July, demonstrations were a thing of the past. Also on the 24th, the Central Committee met and at the insistence of Kamenev (who had recanted and been reinstated), decided that none of its members should leave the Smolny while the issue of power was being decided ... Jobs were allocated: Bubnov, to the railway workers; Dzerzhinsky, the communications workers; Milyutin, food supply; Sverdlov, to monitor the last acts of the Provisional Government. Trotsky proposed to prepare Peter-Paul as a reserve base should Smolny be taken by government forces. The Kronstadt sailors and the boisterous Red Guards were to spearhead the final assault on the key government centres and the Winter Palace itself. Everything was in readiness. The Smolny burned like a fever; outside, the city fell silent, waiting and watching. From hiding Lenin addressed a last letter to the Central Committee, who were still hesitating, and to other party bodies: `Comrades! ... the situation is critical in the extreme. In fact it is now absolutely clear that to delay the uprising would be fatal ... power must not be left in the hands of Kerensky & Co until the 25th ...' Later that same evening he left a note for his hostess: `I am going where you did not want me to go. Good bye' and crossed the city on foot and by tram, with one companion, arriving at Smolny at 11 pm; from that moment the pace of events quickened. That night Trotsky told an exultant Petrosoviet, `the government awaits the broom of history.' At midnight the old Soviet Executive Committee, themselves about to be swept away, called a meeting of delegates to the new Congress and to the Petrosoviet. Dan, wearing the uniform of a military doctor, spoke of the `counter- revolution', which `was never so strong as now; the Black Hundred press is more widely read in the factories and barracks than is the Socialist press'; in the wake of a Bolshevik rising, the provinces would quarantine and starve the capital, but `only over the corpse of the EC will the bayonets of the two sides clash.' `That corpse has been stiff for a long time', a voice shouted back. Trotsky was on his feet, shouting to the mass of Soviet deputies which had invaded the EC meeting: `Don't back down ... our enemies will immediately capitulate, and you will occupy the place that belongs to you by right - masters of the Russian land ...' As John Reed left the meeting he bumped into Zorin, a Bolshevik former exile back from the US and now sporting a rifle: `We're moving', he said. `We've pinched the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Religions. They're in the cellar now. One regiment is on the march to capture the Telephone Exchange, another the Telegraph Agency, another the State Bank. The Red Guard is out ....'60 Kerensky tried in vain to summon up support; his lonely figure could be seen from time to time crossing the huge windswept parade ground between the Winter Palace and the quarters of the General Staff. The Cossack cavalry told him they were `preparing to saddle up', but soon they stopped answering his calls. The situation was hopeless; the government had for its defence no more than one or two thousand junkers and a few hundred women's battalion troops. Ministers swamped the telegraph lines with pleas and proclamations to the army, the fronts, the country, to no avail. At ten in the morning of 25 October, Kerensky went to the American Embassy to borrow a car, and left for the front. As he slipped away, the MRC issued the following message:

To the Citizens of Russia The Provisional Government is overthrown. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies - the Military Revolutionary Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison. The cause for which the people fought - the immediate proposal of a democratic peace, abolition of landlords' property rights, workers' control of production, the creation of a Soviet government - all this is assured. Long live the revolution of the workers, soldiers and peasants. 61 While Kerensky was escaping under American colours, sailors from the MRC arrived at the Marian Palace and told the Pre-parliament to `run along home'. Many of the delegates went to the Duma building, which was already besieged by frantic middle class citizens, as rumours spread of Bolshevik atrocities During the night of 26 October the Petrograd City Duma set up a `Committee for the Salvation of the Revolution', and under its banner gathered the remnants of the old Soviet EC, the old front Committees, the presidium of the pre-parliament, officials of the railway and other unions, and many others who had lost, or would soon lose, their positions, who had turned their backs on the risen people and would soon be swept into oblivion. At 2.35 in afternoon of the 25th Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev addressed the Petrosoviet at the Smolny. It was Lenin's first public appearance since July. Their reception was tumultuous. Trotsky told the Soviet that `power had passed to the people', amid thunderous applause. Then Lenin and Zinoviev spoke. Each word burned the soul, according to Arsenev, a Menshevik - Internationalist delegate to the Soviet, `saw that many people were clenching their fists, that an unshakable determination was forming in them to struggle to the end.' Lenin said: We shall have a Soviet government, our own instrument of power, in which the bourgeoisie shall not share. The oppressed will create their own power. The old state will be shattered ... we shall be helped by the world's working class, already thrusting forward in Italy, Germany, Britain .... All the secret treaties will be published immediately, to strengthen the confidence of the proletariat ... A single decree annihilating landed property will win the peasants to us ... we have the power of mass organisation, it will overcome every obstacle and lead the proletariat to the world revolution.62 At 6.30 pm the Military Revolutionary Committee ordered the final assault on the Winter Palace. Blank shots were fired from the cruiser Aurora, and sailors and Red Guards began to infiltrate the Palace. At 9.30 pm a final despairing appeal came over the last open line available to the ex- Ministers holed up in the palace: `Let the country and the people reply to the mad effort of the Bolsheviks to raise an uprising in the rear of the fighting army.' There was no reply. About midnight the invaders penetrated the Palace as far as the Malachite Chamber, with its columns and ornaments of lustrous green stone, where the ministers were guarded by a thin line of junkers, who were soon entreated to surrender. The thin figure of Antonov-Ovseenko, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and pince-nez, burst in on the ministers and arrested them `in the name of the Military Revolutionary Committee'. Narrowly rescuing them from being lynched, he had the ex-government escorted over the Neva to the dungeons of the Peter-Paul; they were soon released into house-arrest. Six people had died in the storming of the Winter Palace - five soldiers and one sailor. None of the defenders was killed. Others arrested in the hours after the fall of the Provisional Government included Mme Kerensky, who was found wandering the streets, tearing down Bolshevik posters; she was released when the guard found out who she was. The Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies was due to begin at 1 pm on 25 October. Of 670 delegates, 350 were Bolsheviks, 80 Mensheviks and 60 Right SRs; the remainder were Left SRs. The Mensheviks and SRs quit the Congress almost at once. Reduced as they were, they represented still less, coming for the most part from the gerrymandered rumps of old army and regional committees. They left for the city Duma, where the Committee for the Salvation of the Revolution was being set up. The deposed Soviet EC members wired to all Soviets and Army Committees saying that the `Soviet EC considers the Second Congress of Soviets has not taken place, and regards it as a conference of Bolshevik delegates.' John Reed described the scene in the Smolny that night: Smolny was tenser than ever, if that were possible. The same running men in the dark corridros, squads of workers with rifles, leaders with bulging portfolios, arguing, explaining, giving orders as they hurried anxiously along, surrounded by friends and lieutenants, Men literally out of themselves, living prodigies of sleeplessness and work ....63 The opening of the Congress was delayed while a fierce argument raged behind the scenes about the composition of the first Soviet government. The Left SRs and Menshevik-Internationalists - the main non-Bolshevik groups left - could not bring themselves to join. There was a strong current of opinion arguing for a new coalition, excluding only the Cadets. The Bolsheviks seemed isolated, and there were still few reports about the progress of the revolution in other parts of the country. Martov's Menshevik Internationalists strove to mediate between the various groups to form a new coalition. They were keenly supported by Kamenev and Zinoviev, who remained unconvinced that the Bolsheviks could go it alone. Finally, according to John Reed, at 8.40 pm a thundering wave of cheers announced the entrance of the presidium, with Lenin - great Lenin - among them. A short stocky figure, with a big head set down on his shoulders, bald and bulging. Little eyes, a snubbish nose, wide generous mouth, and heavy chin; clean-shaven now but already beginning to bristle with the well - known beard of his past and future. Dressed in shabby clothes, his trousers much too long for him. Unimpressive, to be the idol of a mob, loved and revered as perhaps few leaders in history have been ...64 Kamenev reported on the progress of the insurrection, and a succession of speakers followed, some for, some against, the Bolshevik rising. Soldier delegates fresh from the front brought, Reed said, `enthusiastic greetings'. Then Lenin: gripping the edge of the reading-stand, letting his little winking eyes travel over the crowd as he stood there waiting, apparently oblivious to the long-rolling ovation, which lasted several minutes. When it finished, he said simply, `We shall now proceeed to construct the Socialist order!' Again that overwhelming human roar ...65 The first session of the Congress adjourned at 6 am on the morning of 26 October. During the night it heard many items of cheering news: the fall of the Winter Palace, the pledges of loyalty of new divisions, fronts and units (even some, like the cyclists, who were thought to be Kerensky loyalists), the fleeing of Kerensky. And it had voted to take power, and to elect the first Soviet government, a Council of People's Commissars, headed by Lenin. On 26 October Izvestia, which a short time before was preparing to put itself and the whole soviet movement out of business, flamed out with a new message, hailing the victorious proletarian revolution and, in the words of the Petrosoviet resolution, emphasising `particularly the solidarity, organisation, discipline and complete unanimity displayed by the masses in this unusually bloodless and unusually successful uprising ...The Soviet is convinced that the urban workers, allies of the poor peasants, will display strict, comradely discipline and establish the strictest revolutionary order, essential for the victory of socialism.' The resolution was drafted by Lenin. He also drafted a proclamation passed by the Petrosoviet and delegates from the peasant Soviets and published in `Worker and Soldier'. `The Congress takes power into its own hands', it began, announcing the arrest of the Provisional Government, and proposing an immediate armistice on all fronts and a democratic peace, the expropriation of landed, crown and church property, workers' control of industry, complete democracy in the army, the convocation `at the time appointed' of the Constituent Assembly, and a guarantee of self- determination to all the nations inhabiting Russia. And Lenin ended by appealing to soldiers, railwaymen and other workers to defend the revolution against Kerensky's troops. The same day Lenin reported to the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets on `the burning question of peace'. `Plenty has been said and written, and all of you, no doubt, have discussed it endlessly. Permit me, therefore, to read a declaration which a government you elect ought to publish.' `Exhausted, tormented, racked by war', the decree read, working people in all the belligerent countries crave a just, democratic peace', without annexations or indemnities. Annexation was `seizure and violence', the forcible incorporation of small, weak and backward nations, in Europe and overseas, into larger states. `The government considers it the worst crime against humanity to continue the war for the division among strong and rich states of the weaker nations they have conquered, and solemnly announces its determination ... to stop this war on terms which are equally just for all nationalities without exception.' The secret treaties would be published and `the government proclaims the immediate and unconditional annulment of everything they contain which, as is mostly the case, is intended to secure advantages and privileges for Russian landowners and capitalists.' Calling for `negotiations conducted openly in the full view of the people', Lenin appealed to `the class- conscious workers of the three most advanced nations of mankind, ... Great Britain, France and Germany', whose workers `have made the greatest contribution to the cause of progress and socialism, including the great examples of the English Chartists, the revolutions of historic importance effected by the French working class, and the heroic struggle against the Anti-Socialist law in Germany.'66 The Decree on Peace was carefully presented not as an ultimatum to the imperialist powers `for that would give our enemies the opportunity to say ... that it is useless to start negotiations with us. ... We are willing to consider any peace terms and all proposals. ...War cannot be ended by refusal, it cannot be ended by one side ... In the Manifesto of March 14 we called for the overthrow of the bankers, but we didn't smash our own bankers, we entered into alliance with them. But now we have cast down the government of the bankers. The governments and the bourgeoisie will make every effort to unite their forces and drown the workers' and peasants' revolution in blood. But .... the workers' movement will triumph, will pave the way to peace and socialism. Pravda and Izvestia blazoned the Decree on Land on their front pages on 28 October. `The Menshevik and SR appeasers,' they said, `committed a crime when they kept putting off settlement of the land question ... Their talk of riots and anarchy in the countryside was lies, cowardice, deceit. Where and when has good government provoked riots and anarchy? If they had acted wisely, and their measures had met the needs of the poor peasants, there would have been no unrest ... Having provoked a revolt, ....they were going to crush it in blood and iron, but were themselves swept away.' Lenin told the Congress that the Decree on Land `can pacify and satisfy the vast masses of poor peasants': Lenin went on: `Voices are being raised that the decree itself and the Mandate were the work of the Socialist- Revolutionaries. What of it? ...We cannot ignore the decision of the people, even if we disagree with it. In the furnace of experience, putting the decree into life, enacting it in their own localities, the peasants will realise where the truth lies. And even were the peasants to follow the Socialist-Revolutionaries, to the point of giving this party a majority in the Constituent - then we shall say: What of it? Life is the best teacher! Life will show who is right. Let the peasants solve this problem from one end and we shall solve it from the other ...they want to settle all land problems themselves: and we are opposed to any amending this draft law. We don't want any details in it, because this is a decree, not a programme of action ... the peasants must know that now there are no more landowners, and they must decide all questions for themselves, they must arrange their own lives ...'67 Gorky's Novaya Zhizn wrote: At present, a purely Soviet government can only be Bolshevik. But with each day it becomes clearer that the Bolsheviks cannot govern - they issue decrees like hot cakes and cannot carry them into life. Why cannot a government supported by the broad masses of workers and soldiers rule? The Bolsheviks say: sabotage of the intelligentsia led by the defencist parties ... There is also the striking ignorance of the Bolsheviks in state affairs and legislation. Decrees read more like newspaper editorials ... The proletariat cannot rule without the intelligentsia.68 The counter-revolution began. Kerensky tried to move on Petrograd from Pskov, where the headquarters of the Northern Front were situated. He could only mobilise some cossacks from the Savage Division, who occupied Gatchina on 27 October and Tsarskoye Selo on the 28 October. During those few days Petrograd's workers organised to defend their revolution. On a snow-swept morning, 25 degrees below zero, thousands upon thousands of people, in thin, tattered clothes, with white pinched faces, women and men, even children, poured forth from the factories and working class quarters; with `infinite courage, infinite faith', as eye-witness Louise Bryant recorded, they marched out `untrained and unequipped to meet the traditional bullies of Russia, the paid fighters, the paid enemies of freedom.' No-one knew where the advancing cossacks were so they followed the sound of gunfire rolling back from the battlefield. These were the same working-class women who on International Women's Day, eight long months before, had begun the revolution which overthrew Tsardom. Of their commitment, Angelica Balabanova said to Bryant: `Women have to go through such a tremendous struggle before they are free in their own minds that freedom is more precious to them than to men.' On the 30th the workers and a large force of Kronstadt sailors destroyed the remnants of Kerensky's Savage Division. These were the first skirmishes in a civil war which was to rage across the territory of the former Russian Empire for a further four years, during which up to seven million would lose their lives, as armies from 14 different countries, including Japan, Germany, the USA, Great Britain and France, tested with fire and sword the Great October Socialist Revolution.

[footnotes omitted]