As part of our build up to the 93rd anniversary of the Russian Revolution of Nov 1917, we reproduce the second of two extracts from Lenin's widow Krupskaya's book 'Reminiscences of Lenin." Dealing wth the October events and the build up to the revolution itself, this account provides a marvelous picture of the unfolding struggle.
One note of caution however. This book (currently out of print but available to read online at www.marxists.org) was published in 1933, by which time Stalin had seized control of the Bolshevik party and the machinery of state. To even mention Trotsky (or for that matter any other Old Bolshevik who had fallen foul of Stalin anf his cohorts) let alone give praise, was a virtual sentence of death. As such, the book was shaped by a need to emphasize the role of certain people. not least Stalin, and eliminate others e.g Trotsky. Krupskaya's actual feelings about Stalin are now well known but at the time to have written openly, or even 'in code,' would have quickly resulted in only one outcome, even for a widow of Lenin.
Krupskaya's “Reminiscences of Lenin”:
The October Days (Part Two)
November 9-15 were days of struggle for the very existence of the Soviet power.
As a result of a thorough study of the experience of the Paris Commune, the world's first proletarian state, Ilyich noted what a ruinous effect the lenity which the working masses and the workers' government had shown towards their avowed enemies had had upon the fate of the Paris Commune. In speaking of the fight against the enemies, therefore, Ilyich was always inclined to put the case strongly for fear of the masses and himself showing too great lenity.
At the beginning of the October Revolution there had been far too much forbearance of this kind. Kerensky and a number of ministers had been allowed to escape, the cadets who had defended the Winter Palace had been set free on parole, and General Krasnov, who commanded Kerensky's advancing troops, had been left under domiciliary arrest. One day, while sitting in one of the waiting rooms at Smolny on a heap of army coats, I heard a conversation between Krylenko and General Krasnov, who had been brought to Petrograd under arrest. They had come in together, sat down at a small table standing all by itself in the middle of the large room, and dropped into a calm easy conversation. I remember being surprised at the peaceful nature of their talk. Speaking at a meeting of the Central Executive Committee on November 17, Ilyich had said: "Krasnov was treated leniently. He was merely put under domiciliary arrest. We are against civil war. But if, nevertheless, it continues, what are we to do?" (Works, Vol. 26, p. 252.)
Released by the Pskov comrades, Kerensky had engineered an attack on Petrograd; set free on parole, the cadets had revolted on November 11, and Krasnov, escaping from under domiciliary arrest, had organized a hundred-thousand-strong White army in the Don with aid of the German Government.
The people were tired of the imperialist carnage and wanted a bloodless revolution, but the enemies compelled them to fight. Engrossed completely in the problems of socialist reconstruction of the entire social system, Ilyich was compelled to turn his attention to the defence of the cause of the revolution.
On November 9 Kerensky succeeded in capturing Gatchina. In an article "Lenin During the Days of the Uprising" (Krasnaya Gazeta, November 6, 1927) Podvoisky gives a vivid description of the tremendous work Lenin did during the days of Petrograd's defence. He describes how Lenin came to the Area Staff Headquarters and demanded a report on the situation. Antonov Ovseyenko began to explain the general plan of operations, pointing out on the map the disposition of our forces and the probable disposition and strength of the enemy's forces. "Lenin examined the map closely. With the keenness of a profound and attentive strategist and general, he demanded explanations–why this point was not being guarded, why that point was undefended, why such a step was being contemplated instead of another, why Kronstadt, Vyborg, Helsingfors had not been called on for support, and so on. After comparing notes, it became clear that we had really made quite a number of blunders and not acted with the prompt urgency which the menacing situation in Petrograd called for in the matter of organizing the means and forces for its defence."
On the evening of the 9th Ilyich spoke with Helsingfors on the private line and arranged for two destroyers and the battleship Respublika to be sent to guard the approaches to Petrograd.
Vladimir Ilyich went to the Putilov Works with Antonov-Ovseyenko to check up whether the armoured train, which was so badly needed, was being built quickly enough. He talked with the workers there. Staff Headquarters was transferred to Smolny, and Lenin took a close interest in all its work, and helped it to mobilize the activity of the masses. Podvoisky writes that he began to appreciate Lenin's work after a delegate conference of workers' organizations, district Soviets, factory committees, trade unions and military units, which Lenin had called. "I saw here wherein Lenin's power lay," he writes. "During an emergency, he kept the concentration of our forces and means at its highest pitch of intensity. We squandered our energies, mustered and used our forces without plan, as a result of which our efforts lost much of their impact, and blunted the edge of the masses' activity, initiative and determination. The masses had not felt that iron will and iron plan which keeps all parts together as in a finely adjusted machine. Lenin kept driving home the idea that it was essential to make the utmost concentrated efforts for defence. Elaborating on this idea he unfolded to the conference an intelligible plan in which, as in an integral machine, everyone found a place for himself, for his factory or his unit. Right there, at the conference, every man was able to envisage concretely the plan of further work, and to feel his work to be linked with that of the whole collective body of the republic. As a result, he felt the responsibility which, from that moment, the dictatorship of the proletariat was imposing upon him. To attract the masses and bring it home to them that no leaders would do their job for them, but that they themselves would have to get down to work with their own hands if they wanted to arrange their lives on new lines and defend their state–this is what Lenin constantly strove to achieve,this is where he showed himself to be a true leader of the people, a leader who was able to make the masses face up to vital and essential issues and take the step towards their solution themselves, not by unconsciously following a leader, but by being profoundly conscious themselves of what they were doing."
In this Podvoisky was absolutely right. Ilyich was able to alert the masses, was able always to set concrete aims before them.
The workers of Petrograd rose in defence of their city. Old and young went off to the front to meet the troops of Kerensky. The Cossacks and the units that had been called up from the provinces were none too keen on fighting, and the Petrograd workers carried on agitation among them, argued with them. The Cossacks and soldiers whom Kerensky had mobilized simply quitted the front, taking guns and rifles with them. Kerensky's front was disintegrating. Nevertheless, many Petrograd workers lost their lives in defending the city. Among them was Vera Slutskaya, who had been an active Party worker in the Vasileostrovsky District. She went out to the front in a lorry and had her head blown off by a shell. Quite a number of our Vyborg District comrades were killed too. The whole district turned out to attend the funeral.
On November 11, when Kerensky was marching on Petrograd in full force, the military cadets, who had been released from the Winter Palace on parole, decided to help Kerensky and engineered a revolt. I was still living in Petrograd District at the time with Ilyich's relatives–this was before I moved to Smolny. Early in the morning fighting started near the Pavlovskoye Military School not far from where we lived. On hearing of the revolt of the cadets, the Red Guards and workers from the factories in the Vyborg District came to suppress it. Guns were used in the fighting, and our house shook. The people around us were scared to death. Early in the morning of that day, when I was leaving the house to go to the District Council, a housemaid from next door had come running towards me crying horrified: "You ought to see what they're doing! I just saw them bayonet a cadet just like a fly on a pin!" On the way I had met a fresh force of the Vyborg Red Guards coming up with another cannon. The revolt of the cadets was quickly suppressed.
The same day Ilyich addressed a conference of regimental representatives of the Petrograd garrison. In the course of his speech he said: "Kerensky's attempt was as pitiful an adventure as Kornilov's. It is a difficult moment, though. Energetic measures are needed to improve the food supply and put an end to the hardships of war. We cannot wait, and we cannot tolerate a revolt of Kerensky's for a single day. If the Kornilovites organize a new offensive they will get the same answer as the cadet revolt received today. The cadets have themselves to blame. We have taken the power almost without any bloodshed. If there were any casualties they were on our side alone.... The government created by the will of the workers', soldiers' and peasants' deputies, will not tolerate any insults on the part of the Kornilovites." (Works, Vol. 26, p. 236.)
On November 14 Kerensky's revolt was suppressed. Gatchina was recaptured. Kerensky escaped. In Petrograd victory was complete. But in the country at large civil war was breaking out. On November 8 General Kaledin had proclaimed martial law in the Don Region and began to organize the Cossacks against the Soviet power. On November 9 the Cossack ataman Dutov had captured Orenburg. In Moscow things were dragging. The Whites had seized the Kremlin there. The fight was fiercer than in Petrograd.
The Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks and other factions, who had quitted the Second Congress of Soviets on November 8, organized a Committee for the Salvation of the Motherland and the Revolution, around which they thought to rally all the opponents of the Soviet power. The committee had on it nine representatives of the Central Town Council, the whole presidium of the Pre-parliament, three representatives from each of the executive committees of the All-Russian Soviet of Workers and Soldiers' Deputies, the Soviet of Peasants' Deputies, and of the S.-R. and Menshevik factions, representatives of the Unity-Mensheviks, the Centroflot and two representatives of Plekhanov's Unity group. They were out to save the country and the revolution from the Bolshevik "adventurers" who had seized the power behind their backs. But they could not do much. The slogans "For Peace," "For Land" were so popular among the masses that the latter rallied unhesitatingly around the Bolsheviks with tremendous enthusiasm. The Committee of Public Security, which had been formed in Moscow, joined the Petrograd Committee for the Salvation of the Motherland and the Revolution. It had been formed on the initiative of the Moscow Town Council, at the head of which stood the Right Socialist-Revolutionary Rudnev. The Moscow Committee of Public Security openly sided with the counter-revolution.
Troops had to be sent to Moscow to give a helping hand, but this could not be done on account of the stand which the All-Russian Executive Committee of Railway Employees had taken. The Railwaymen's Executive backed the dissentient factions that had quitted the congress, and the workers had no influence there. The Railwaymen's Executive declared that it took a "neutral stand" in the civil war that had started, and would not allow the troops of either side to pass. Actually, this "neutrality" hit the Bolsheviks and prevented them from sending troops to the assistance of Moscow. The sabotage of the Railwaymen's Executive was broken by the railway workers, who undertook to transport the troops themselves. On November 16 the Military Revolutionary Committee in Petrograd sent a force to Moscow. The resistance of the Whites, however, was overcome in Moscow before those troops arrived.
At the most difficult moment, when the revolt of the military cadets had only just been suppressed in Petrograd, when Kerensky was still advancing, and fighting in Moscow was still in progress, a number of members of the Party Central Committee began to vacillate. They believed that concessions ought to be made, that the situation was desperate. These vacillations were most strikingly revealed in the negotiations with the Railwaymen's Executive. On November 9, the latter passed a resolution calling for the formation of a government of all the Socialist parties, from the Bolsheviks to the Popular Socialists, and offering to act as mediators. At first only the Left wing of the Railwaymen's Executive entered into negotiations with the Central Committee, who authorized L. B. Ramenev and G. Y. Sokolnikov to represent it. The Mensheviks and the Right S.-R.'s took no part in the talks at first, but when they saw, as they thought, that the Bolsheviks had been driven into a corner as a result of Kerensky's attack and the state of affairs in Moscow, and learned that vacillations had started within the Central Committee, they became brazen to a degree. They came to the meeting of the Railwaymen's Executive on November 12-13 and demanded the repudiation of the power of the Soviets, the exclusion from participation in the government of those guilty of the October uprising, the removal, first and foremost, of Lenin, and the setting up of a new government headed by Chernov or Avksentyev. The Bolshevik delegation led by Kamenev did not withdraw from the meeting, thereby permitting discussion of the proposals submitted by the Mensheviks and the Right S.-R.'s. The next day, on November 14, a meeting of the Central Committee was called, at which Lenin demanded that the talks with the Railwaymen's Executive, who had gone over to the side of the Kaledins and Kornilovs, should be broken off immediately. A resolution to that effect was adopted by the Central Committee. On the 17th, Nogin, Rykov, V. Milyutin and Teodorovich announced their resignation from the Council of People's Commissars on the grounds that they considered it necessary to form a socialist government of all the Socialist parties. They were joined by a number of other Commissars. Kamenev, Rykov, Zinoviev, Nogin and Milyutin announced their resignation from the Central Committee. All of them had stood for the formation of an all-party coalition government right after the victory of the October Revolution. The Central Committee demanded that they should submit to Party discipline. Ilyich was indignant and fought hard on this point. Zinoviev published a statement announcing his return to the Central Committee.
The further victories of the Bolsheviks and the Petrograd and Moscow organizations' sharp disapproval of these comrades' conduct (their resignation from the Central Committee and their official posts) enabled the Party to liquidate this incident fairly quickly. It took one's thoughts back to the past–to the Second Congress of the Party fourteen years earlier, in 1903. The Party then had only just begun to form, and Martov's refusal to join the editorial board of Iskra had provoked a serious crisis in the Party, which had caused Ilyich great distress. The present resignation of a number of comrades from the Central Committee and from their posts of Commissars merely created temporary difficulties. The uplift of the revolutionary movement had helped to quickly liquidate this incident, and Ilyich, who always spoke about what was on his mind at the moment during our walks together, never once mentioned this incident. His mind was set entirely on the problem of how to begin building up the socialist system of life, how to put into effect the resolutions passed at the Second Congress of Soviets.
On November 17, Ilyich spoke at the meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the meeting of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies held jointly with army delegates from the front. His speeches breathed absolute confidence in victory, confidence in the correctness of the line which the Bolsheviks had taken, confidence in the support of the masses.
"The criminal inertia of the Kerensky Government brought the country and the revolution to the brink of disaster; truly, delay spells death, and in issuing laws that meet the hopes and wishes of the broad masses of the people, the new government is setting landmarks upon the path of development of new forms of life. The local Soviets, in keeping with local conditions, may modify, extend or supplement the basic principles which the government establishes. The basic factor of the new public life is the live creative effort of the masses. Let the workers set up a workers' control of their factories, let them supply the countryside with manufactures, barter them for grain. Every single commodity, every pound of bread should he accounted for, for socialism, above all, means accounting. Socialism cannot be built up by decrees from above. Official bureaucratic automatism is alien to its spirit; living constructive socialism is the creation of the masses of the people themselves." (My italics.–N.K.) (Works, Vol. 26, pp. 254-55.)
"The power belongs to our Party, which has the support and trust of the broad masses of the people. Some of our comrades may have taken a stand that has nothing in common with Bolshevism. But the working masses of Moscow will not follow the lead of Rykov and Nogin," said Ilyich. (Ibid., p. 256.)
He concluded his speech with the following words:
"The Central Executive Committee charges the Council of People's Commissars to nominate candidates for the posts of People's Commissars for Internal Affairs and Trade and Industry for the next meeting, and offers Kolegayev the post of People's Commissar of Agriculture." (Ibid., p. 259.) Kolegayev was a Left Socialist-Revolutionary. He did not accept the proffered post. The party of Left Socialist-Revolutionaries still shirked responsibility.
The Mensheviks, Right S.-R.'s and others agitated for sabotage. The old government officials refused to work under the Bolsheviks, and did not come to their offices. Addressing the Petrograd Soviet on November 17, Lenin said: "They say we are isolated. The bourgeoisie has created an atmosphere of lies and slander around us, but I have not seen a soldier yet who has not hailed the passing of power into the hands of the Soviets with enthusiasm. I have not seen a peasant who was against the Soviets." (Works, Vol. 26, p. 262.)
And this gave Lenin confidence in victory.