The massive facade of Smolny blazed with lights as we drove up, and from every street converged upon it streams of hurrying shapes dim in the gloom. Automobiles and motorcycles came and went; an enormous elephant-coloured armoured automobile, with two red flags flying from the turret, lumbered out with screaming siren. It was cold, and at the outer gate the Red Guards had built themselves a bon-fire. At the inner gate, too, there was a blaze, by the light of which the sentries slowly spelled out our passes and looked us up and down. The canvas covers had been taken off the four rapid-fire guns on each side of the doorway, and the ammunition-belts hung snakelike from their breeches. A dun herd of armoured cars stood under the trees in the court-yard, engines going. The long, bare, dimly-illuminated halls roared with the thunder of feet, calling, shouting…. There was an atmosphere of recklessness. A crowd came pouring down the staircase, workers in black blouses and round black fur hats, many of them with guns slung over their shoulders, soldiers in rough dirt-coloured coats and grey fur shapki pinched flat, a leader or so – Lunatcharsky, Kameniev – hurrying along in the centre of a group all talking at once, with harassed anxious faces, and bulging portfolios under their arms. The extraordinary meeting of the Petrograd Soviet was over. I stopped Kameniev – a quick moving little man, with a wide, vivacious face set close to his shoulders. Without preface he read in rapid French a copy of the resolution just passed:
The Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, saluting the victorious Revolution of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison, particularly emphasises the unity, organisation, discipline, and complete cooperation shown by the masses in this rising; rarely has less blood been spilled, and rarely has an insurrection succeeded so well.
The Soviet expresses its firm conviction that the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government which, as the government of the Soviets, will be created by the Revolution, and which will assure the industrial proletariat of the support of the entire mass of poor peasants, will march firmly toward Socialism, the only means by which the country can be spared the miseries and unheard-of horrors of war.
The new Workers’ and Peasants’ Government will propose immediately a just and democratic peace to all the belligerent countries.
It will suppress immediately the great landed property, and transfer the land to the peasants. It will establish workmen’s control over production and distribution of manufactured products, and will set up a general control over the banks, which it will transform into a state monopoly.
The Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies calls upon the workers and the peasants of Russia to support with all their energy and all their devotion the Proletarian Revolution. The Soviet expresses its conviction that the city workers, allies of the poor peasants, will assure complete revolutionary order, indispensable to the victory of Socialism. The Soviet is convinced that the proletariat of the countries of Western Europe will aid us in conducting the cause of Socialism to a real and lasting victory.
“You consider it won then?”
He lifted his shoulders. “There is much to do. Horribly much. It is just beginning….
On the landing I met Riazanov, vice-president of the Trade Unions, looking black and biting his grey beard. “It’s insane! Insane!” he shouted. “The European working-class won’t move! All Russia – ” He waved his hand distractedly and ran off. Riazanov and Kameniev had both opposed the insurrection, and felt the lash of Lenin’s terrible tongue….
It had been a momentous session. In the name of the Military Revolutionary Committee Trotzky had declared that the Provisional Government no longer existed.
“The characteristic of bourgeois governments,” he said, “is to deceive the people. We, the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, are going to try an experiment unique in history; we are going to found a power which will have no other aim but to satisfy the needs of the soldiers, workers, and peasants.”
Lenin had appeared, welcomed with a mighty ovation, prophesying world-wide Social Revolution…. And Zinoviev, crying, “This day we have paid our debt to the international proletariat, and struck a terrible blow at the war, a terrible body-blow at all the imperialists and particularly at Wilhelm the Executioner….
Then Trotzky, that telegrams had been sent to the front announcing the victorious insurrection, but no reply had come. Troops were said to be marching against Petrograd – a delegation must be sent to tell them the truth.
Cries, “You are anticipating the will of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets!”
Trotzky, coldly, “The will of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets has been anticipated by the rising of the Petrograd workers and soldiers!”
So we came into the great meeting-hall, pushing through the clamorous mob at the door. In the rows of seats, under the white chandeliers, packed immovably in the aisles and on the sides, perched on every window-sill, and even the edge of the platform, the representatives of the workers and soldiers of all Russia waited in anxious silence or wild exultation the ringing of the chairman’s bell. There was no heat in the hall but the stifling heat of unwashed human bodies. A foul blue cloud of cigarette smoke rose from the mass and hung in the thick air. Occasionally some one in authority mounted the tribune and asked the comrades not to smoke; then everybody, smokers and all, took up the cry “Don’t smoke, comrades!” and went on smoking. Petrovsky, Anarchist delegate from the Obukhov factory, made a seat for me beside him. Unshaven and filthy, he was reeling from three nights’ sleepless work on the Military Revolutionary Committee.
On the platform sat the leaders of the old Tsay-ee-kah – for the last time dominating the turbulent Soviets, which they had ruled from the first days, and which were now risen against them. It was the end of the first period of the Russian revolution, which these men had attempted to guide in careful ways…. The three greatest of them were not there: Kerensky, flying to the front through country towns all doubtfully heaving up; Tcheidze, the old eagle, who had contemptuously retired to his own Georgian mountains, there to sicken with consumption; and the high-souled Tseretelli, also mortally stricken, who, nevertheless, would return and pour out his beautiful eloquence for a lost cause. Gotz sat there, Dan, Lieber, Bogdanov, Broido, Fillipovsky, – white-faced, hollow-eyed and indignant. Below them the second siezd of the All-Russian Soviets boiled and swirled, and over their heads the Military Revolutionary Committee functioned white-hot, holding in its hands the threads of insurrection and striking with a long arm…. It was 10.40 P.M.
Dan, a mild-faced, baldish figure in a shapeless military surgeon’s uniform, was ringing the bell. Silence fell sharply, intense, broken by the scuffling and disputing of the people at the door….
“We have the power in our hands,” he began sadly, stopped for a moment, and then went on in a low voice. “Comrades! The Congress of Soviets in meeting in such unusual circumstances and in such an extraordinary moment that you will understand why the Tsay-ee-kah considers it unnecessary to address you with a political speech. This will become much clearer to you if you will recollect that I am a member of the Tsay-ee-kah, and that at this very moment our party comrades are in the Winter Palace under bombardment, sacrificing themselves to execute the duty put on them by the Tsay-ee-kah.” (Confused uproar.)
“I declare the first session of the Second Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies open!”
The election of the presidium took place amid stir and moving about. Avanessov announced that by agreement of the Bolsheviki, Left Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviki Internationalists, it was decided to base the presidium upon proportionality. Several Mensheviki leaped to their feet protesting. A bearded soldier shouted at them, “Remember what you did to us Bolsheviki when we were the minority!” Result – 14 Bolsheviki, 7 Socialist Revolutionaries, 3 Mensheviki and 1 Internationalist (Gorky’s group). Hendelmann, for the right and centre Socialist Revolutionaries, said that they refused to take part in the presidium; the same from Kintchuk, for the Mensheviki; and from the Mensheviki Internationalists, that until the verification of certain circumstances, they too could not enter the presidium. Scattering applause and hoots. One voice, “Renegades, you call yourselves Socialists!” A representative of the Ukrainean delegates demanded, and received, a place. Then the old Tsay-ee-kah stepped down, and in their places appeared Trotzky, Kameniev, Lunatcharsky, Madame Kollentai, Nogin…. The hall rose, thundering. How far they had soared, these Bolsheviki, from a despised and hunted sect less than four months ago, to this supreme place, the helm of great Russia in full tide of insurrection!
The order of the day, said Kameniev, was first, Organisation of Power; second, War and Peace; and third, the Constituent Assembly. Lozovsky, rising, announced that upon agreement of the bureau of all factions, it was proposed to hear and discuss the report of the Petrograd Soviet, then to give the floor to members of the Tsay-ee-kah and the different parties, and finally to pass to the order of the day.
But suddenly a new sound made itself heard, deeper than the tumult of the crowd, persistent, disquieting, – the dull shock of guns. People looked anxiously toward the clouded windows, and a sort of fever came over them. Martov, demanding the floor, croaked hoarsely, “The civil war is beginning, comrades! The first question must be a peaceful settlement of the crisis. On principle and from a political standpoint we must urgently discuss a means of averting civil war. Our brothers are being shot down in the streets! At this moment, when before the opening of the Congress of Soviets the question of Power is being settled by means of a military plot organised by one of the revolutionary parties – ” for a moment he could not make himself heard above the noise, “All of the revolutionary parties must face the fact! The first vopros (question) before the Congress is the question of Power, and this question is already being settled by force of arms in the streets! – We must create a power which will be recognised by the whole democracy. If the Congress wishes to be the voice of the revolutionary democracy it must not sit with folded hands before the developing civil war, the result of which may be a dangerous outburst of counter-revolution…. The possibility of a peaceful outcome lies in the formation of a united democratic authority…. We must elect a delegation to negotiate with the other Socialist parties and organisation….
Always the methodical muffled boom of cannon through the windows, and the delegates, screaming at each other…. So, with the crash of artillery, in the dark, with hatred, and fear, and reckless daring, new Russia was being born.
The Left Socialist Revolutionaries and the United Social Democrats supported Martov’s proposition. It was accepted. A soldier announced that the All-Russian Peasants’ Soviets had refused to send delegates to the Congress; he proposed that a committee be sent with a formal invitation. “Some delegates are present,” he said. “I move that they be given votes.” Accepted.
Kharash, wearing the epaulets of a captain, passionately demanded the floor. “The political hypocrites who control this Congress,” he shouted, “told us we were to settle the question of Power – and it is being settled behind our backs, before the Congress opens! Blows are being struck against the Winter Palace, and it is by such blows that the nails are being driven into the coffin of the political party which has risked such an adventure!” Uproar. Followed him Gharra: “While we are here discussing propositions of peace, there is a battle on in the streets…. The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviki refuse to be involved in what is happening, and call upon all public forces to resist the attempt to capture the power….” Kutchin, delegate of the 12th Army and representative of the Troudoviki: “I was sent here only for information, and I am returning at once to the Front, where all the Army Committees consider that the taking of power by the Soviets, only three weeks before the Constituent Assembly, is a stab in the back of the Army and a crime against the people – !” Shouts of “Lie! You lie!” – When he could be heard again, “Let’s make an end of this adventure in Petrograd! I call upon all delegates to leave this hall in order to save the country and the Revolution!” As he went down the aisle in the midst of a deafening noise, people surged in upon him, threatening…. Then Khintchuk, an officer with a long brown goatee, speaking suavely and persuasively: “I speak for the delegates from the Front. The Army is imperfectly represented in this Congress, and furthermore, the Army does not consider the Congress of Soviets necessary at this time, only three weeks before the opening of the Constituent – ” shouts and stamping, always growing more violent. “The Army does not consider that the Congress of Soviets has the necessary authority – ” Soldiers began to stand up all over the hall.
“Who are you speaking for? What do you represent?” they cried.
“The Central Executive Committee of the Soviet of the Fifth Army, the Second F – regiment, the First N – Regiment, the Third S – Rifles….”
“When were you elected? You represent the officers, not the soldiers! What do the soldiers say about it?” Jeers and hoots.
“We, the Front group, disclaim all responsibility for what has happened and is happening, and we consider it necessary to mobilise all self-conscious revolutionary forces for the salvation of the Revolution! The Front group will leave the Congress…. The place to fight is out on the streets!”
Immense bawling outcry. “You speak for the Staff – not for the Army!”
“I appeal to all reasonable soldiers to leave this Congress!”
“Kornilovitz! Counter-revolutionist! Provocator!” were hurled at him.
On behalf of the Mensheviki, Khintchuk then announced that the only possibility of a peaceful solution was to begin negotiations with the Provisional Government for the formation of a new Cabinet, which would find support in all strata of society. He could not proceed for several minutes. Raising his voice to a shout he read the Menshevik declaration:
“Because the Bolsheviki have made a military conspiracy with the aid of the Petrograd Soviet, without consulting the other factions and parties, we find it impossible to remain in the Congress, and therefore withdraw, inviting the other groups to follow us and to meet for discussion of the situation!”
“Deserter!” At intervals in the almost continuous disturbance Hendelman, for the Socialist Revolutionaries, could be heard protesting against the bombardment of the Winter Palace…. “We are opposed to this kind of anarchy….”
Scarcely had he stepped down than a young, lean-faced soldier, with flashing eyes, leaped to the platform, and dramatically lifted his hand:
“Comrades!” he cried and there was a hush. “My familia (name) is Peterson – I speak for the Second Lettish Rifles. You have heard the statements of two representatives of the Army committees; these statements would have some value if their authors had been representatives of the Army – ” Wild applause. “But they do not represent the soldiers!” Shaking his fist. “The Twelfth Army has been insisting for a long time upon the re-election of the Great Soviet and the Army Committee, but just as your own Tsay-ee-kah, our Committee refused to call a meeting of the representatives of the masses until the end of September, so that the reactionaries could elect their own false delegates to this Congress. I tell you now, the Lettish soldiers have many times said, ‘No more resolutions! No more talk! We want deeds – the Power must be in our hands!’ Let these impostor delegates leave the Congress! The Army is not with them!”
The hall rocked with cheering. In the first moments of the session, stunned by the rapidity of events, startled by the sound of cannon, the delegates had hesitated. For an hour hammer-blow after hammer-blow had fallen from that tribune, welding them together but beating them down. Did they stand then alone? Was Russia rising against them? Was it true that the Army was marching on Petrograd? Then this clear-eyed young soldier had spoken, and in a flash they knew it for the truth…. This was the voice of the soldiers – the stirring millions of uniformed workers and peasants were men like them, and their thoughts and feelings were the same –
More soldiers – Gzhelshakh; for the Front delegates, announcing that they had only decided to leave the Congress by a small majority, and that the Bolshevik members had not even taken part in the vote, as they stood for division according to political parties, and not groups. “Hundreds of delegates from the Front,” he said, “are being elected without the participation of the soldiers because the Army Committees are no longer the real representatives of the rank and file….” Lukianov, crying that officers like Kharash and Khintchuk could not represent the Army in this congress, – but only the high command. “The real inhabitants of the trenches want with all their hearts the transfer of Power into the hands of the Soviets, and they expect very much from it!” – The tide was turning.
Then came Abramovitch, for the Bund, the organ of the Jewish Social Democrats – his eyes snapping behind thick glasses, trembling with rage.
“What is taking place now in Petrograd is a monstrous calamity! The Bund group joins with the declaration of the Mensheviki and Socialist Revolutionaries and will leave the Congress!” He raised his voice and hand. “Our duty to the Russian proletariat doesn’t permit us to remain here and be responsible for these crimes. Because the firing on the Winter Palace doesn’t cease, the Municipal Duma together with the Mensheviki and Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Executive Committee of the Peasants’ Soviet, has decided to perish with the Provisional Government, and we are going with them! Unarmed we will expose our breasts to the machine guns of the Terrorists…. We invite all delegates to this Congress – ” The rest was lost in a storm of hoots, menaces and curses which rose to a hellish pitch as fifty delegates got up and pushed their way out….
Kameniev jangled the bell, shouting, “Keep your seats and we’ll go on with our business!” And Trotzky, standing up with a pale, cruel face, letting out his rich voice in cool contempt, “All these so-called Socialist compromisers, these frightened Mensheviki, Socialist Revolutionaries, Bund – let them go! They are just so much refuse which will be swept into the garbage-heap of history!”
Riazanov, for the Bolsheviki, stated that at the request of the City Duma the Military Revolutionary Committee had sent a delegation to offer negotiations to the Winter Palace. “In this way we have done everything possible to avoid blood-shed….”
We hurried from the place, stopping for a moment at the room where the Military Revolutionary Committee worked at furious speed, engulfing and spitting out panting couriers, despatching Commissars armed with power of life and death to all the corners of the city, amid the buzz of the telephonographs. The door opened, a blast of stale air and cigarette smoke rushed out, we caught a glimpse of dishevelled men bending over a map under the glare of a shaded electric-light…. Comrade Josephov-Dukhvinski, a smiling youth with a mop of pale yellow hair, made out passes for us.
When we came into the chill night, all the front of Smolny was one huge park of arriving and departing automobiles, above the sound of which could be heard the far-off slow beat of the cannon. A great motor-truck stood there, shaking to the roar of its engine. Men were tossing bundles into it, and others receiving them, with guns beside them.
“Where are you going?” I shouted.
“Down-town – all over – everywhere!” answered a little workman, grinning, with a large exultant gesture.
We showed our passes. “Come along!” they invited. “But there’ll probably be shooting – ” We climbed in; the clutch slid home with a raking jar, the great car jerked forward, we all toppled backward on top of those who were climbing in; past the huge fire by the gate, and then the fire by the outer gate, glowing red on the faces of the workmen with rifles who squatted around it, and went bumping at top speed down the Suvorovsky Prospect, swaying from side to side…. One man tore the wrapping from a bundle and began to hurl handfuls of papers into the air. We imitated him, plunging down through the dark street with a tail of white papers floating and eddying out behind. The late passerby stooped to pick them up; the patrols around bonfires on the corners ran out with uplifted arms to catch them. Sometimes armed men loomed up ahead, crying “Shtoi!” and raising their guns, but our chauffeur only yelled something unintelligible and we hurtled on….
I picked up a copy of the paper, and under a fleeting street-light read:
TO THE CITIZENS OF RUSSIA!
The Provisional Government is deposed. The 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 were fighting: immediate proposal of a democratic peace, abolition of landlord property-rights over the land, labor control over production, creation of a Soviet Government – that cause is securely achieved.
LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION OF WORKMEN, SOLDIERS AND PEASANTS!
Military Revolutionary Committee
Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
Proclamation of the Fall of the Provisional Government issued by the Military Revolutionary Committee on the night of November 7th (our calendar), which we helped to distribute from a motor-truck just after the surrender of the Winter Palace.
A slant-eyed, Mongolian-faced man who sat beside me, dressed in a goat-skin Caucasian cape, snapped, “Look out! Here the provocators always shoot from the windows!” We turned into Znamensky Square, dark and almost deserted, careened around Trubetskoy’s brutal statue and swung down the wide Nevsky, three men standing up with rifles ready, peering at the windows. Behind us the street was alive with people running and stooping. We could no longer hear the cannon, and the nearer we drew to the Winter Palace end of the city the quieter and more deserted were the streets. The City Duma was all brightly lighted. Beyond that we made out a dark mass of people, and a line of sailors, who yelled furiously at us to stop. The machine slowed down, and we climbed out.
It was an astonishing scene. Just at the corner of the Ekaterina Canal, under an arc-light, a cordon of armed sailors was drawn across the Nevsky, blocking the way to a crowd of people in column of fours. There were about three or four hundred of them, men in frock coats, well-dressed women, officers – all sorts and conditions of people. Among them we recognised many of the delegates from the Congress, leaders of the Mensheviki and Socialist Revolutionaries; Avksentiev, the lean, red-bearded president of the Peasants’ Soviets, Sarokin, Kerensky’s spokesman, Khintchuk, Abramovitch; and at the head white-bearded old Schreider, Mayor of Petrograd, and Prokopovitch, Minister of Supplies in the Provisional Government, arrested that morning and released. I caught sight of Malkin, reporter for the Russian Daily News. “Going to die in the Winter Palace,” he shouted cheerfully. The procession stood still, but from the front of it came loud argument. Schreider and Prokopovitch were bellowing at the big sailor who seemed in command.
“We demand to pass!” they cried. “See, these comrades come from the Congress of Soviets! Look at their tickets! We are going to the Winter Palace!”
The sailor was plainly puzzled. He scratched his head with an enormous hand, frowning. “I have orders from the Committee not to let anybody go to the Winter Palace,” he grumbled. “But I will send a comrade to telephone to Smolny….”
“We Insist upon passing! We are unarmed! We will march on whether you permit us or not!” cried old Schreider, very much excited.
“I have orders – ” repeated the sailor sullenly.
“Shoot us if you want to! We will pass! Forward!” came from all sides. “We are ready to die, if you have the heart to fire on Russians and comrades! We bare our breasts to your guns!”
“No,” said the sailor, looking stubborn, “I can’t allow you to pass.”
“What will you do if we go forward? Will you shoot?”
“No, I’m not going to shoot people who haven’t any guns. We won’t shoot unarmed Russian people….”
“We will go forward! What can you do?”
“We will do something,”replied the sailor, evidently at a loss. “We can’t let you pass. We will do something.”
“What will you do? What will you do?”
Another sailor came up, very much irritated. “We will spank you!” he cried, energetically. “And if necessary we will shoot you too. Go home now, and leave us in peace!”
At this there was a great clamour of anger and resentment, Prokopovitch had mounted some sort of box, and, waving his umbrella, he made a speech:
“Comrades and citizens!” he said. “Force is being used against us! We cannot have our innocent blood upon the hands of these ignorant men! It is beneath our dignity to be shot down here in the street by switchmen – ” (What he meant by “switchmen” I never discovered.) “Let us return to the Duma and discuss the best means of saving the country and the Revolution!”
Whereupon, in dignified silence, the procession marched around and back up the Nevsky, always in column of fours. And taking advantage of the diversion we slipped past the guards and set off in the direction of the Winter Palace.
Here it was absolutely dark, and nothing moved but pickets of soldiers and Red Guards grimly intent. In front of the Kazan Cathedral a three-inch field-gun lay in the middle of the street, slewed sideways from the recoil of its last shot over the roofs. Soldiers were standing in every doorway talking in low tones and peering down toward the Police Bridge. I heard one voice saying: “It is possible that we have done wrong….” At the corners patrols stopped all passersby – and the composition of these patrols was interesting, for in command of the regular troops was invariably a Red Guard…. The shooting had ceased.
Just as we came to the Morskaya somebody was shouting: “The yunkers have sent word they want us to go and get them out!” Voices began to give commands, and in the thick gloom we made out a dark mass moving forward, silent but for the shuffle of feet and the clinking of arms. We fell in with the first ranks.
Like a black river, filling all the street, without song or cheer we poured through the Red Arch, where the man just ahead of me said in a low voice: “Look out, comrades! Don’t trust them. They will fire, surely!” In the open we began to run, stooping low and bunching together, and jammed up suddenly behind the pedestal of the Alexander Column.
“How many of you did they kill?” I asked.
“I don’t know. About ten….”
After a few minutes huddling there, some hundreds of men, the army seemed reassured and without any orders suddenly began again to flow forward. By this time, in the light that streamed out of all the Winter Palace windows, I could see that the first two or three hundred men were Red Guards, with only a few scattered soldiers. Over the barricade of firewood we clambered, and leaping down inside gave a triumphant shout as we stumbled on a heap of rifles thrown down by the yunkers who had stood there. On both sides of the main gateway the doors stood wide open, light streamed out, and from the huge pile came not the slightest sound.
Carried along by the eager wave of men we were swept into the right hand entrance, opening into a great bare vaulted room, the cellar of the East wing, from which issued a maze of corridors and stair-cases. A number of huge packing cases stood about, and upon these the Red Guards and soldiers fell furiously, battering them open with the butts of their rifles, and pulling out carpets, curtains, linen, porcelain plates, glassware…. One man went strutting around with a bronze clock perched on his shoulder; another found a plume of ostrich feathers, which he stuck in his hat. The looting was just beginning when somebody cried, “Comrades! Don’t touch anything! Don’t take anything! This is the property of the People!” Immediately twenty voices were crying, “Stop! Put everything back! Don’t take anything! Property of the People!” Many hands dragged the spoilers down. Damask and tapestry were snatched from the arms of those who had them; two men took away the bronze clock. Roughly and hastily the things were crammed back in their cases, and self-appointed sentinels stood guard. It was all utterly spontaneous. Through corridors and up stair-cases the cry could be heard growing fainter and fainter in the distance, “Revolutionary discipline! Property of the People….”
We crossed back over to the left entrance, in the West wing. There order was also being established. “Clear the Palace!” bawled a Red Guard, sticking his head through an inner door. “Come, comrades, let’s show that we’re not thieves and bandits. Everybody out of the Palace except the Commissars, until we get sentries posted.”
Two Red Guards, a soldier and an officer, stood with revolvers in their hands. Another soldier sat at a table behind them, with pen and paper. Shouts of “All out! All out!” were heard far and near within, and the Army began to pour through the door, jostling, expostulating, arguing. As each man appeared he was seized by the self-appointed committee, who went through his pockets and looked under his coat. Everything that was plainly not his property was taken away, the man at the table noted it on his paper, and it was carried into a little room. The most amazing assortment of objects were thus confiscated; statuettes, bottles of ink, bed-spreads worked with the Imperial monogram, candles, a small oil-painting, desk blotters, gold-handled swords, cakes of soap, clothes of every description, blankets. One Red Guard carried three rifles, two of which he had taken away from yunkers; another had four portfolios bulging with written documents. The culprits either sullenly surrendered or pleaded like children. All footnotes are at the bottom of the page All talking at once the committee explained that stealing was not worthy of the people’s champions; often those who had been caught turned around and began to help go through the rest of the comrades.3
Yunkers came out, in bunches of three or four. The committee seized upon them with an excess of zeal, accompanying the search with remarks like, “Ah, Provocators! Kornilovists! Counter-revolutionists! Murderers of the People!” But there was no violence done, although the yunkers were terrified. They too had their pockets full of small plunder. It was carefully noted down by the scribe, and piled in the little room…. The yunkers were disarmed. “Now, will you take up arms against the People any more?” demanded clamouring voices.
“No,” answered the yunkers, one by one. Whereupon they were allowed to go free.
We asked if we might go inside. The committee was doubtful, but the big Red Guard answered firmly that it was forbidden. “Who are you anyway?” he asked. “How do I know that you are not all Kerenskys?” (There were five of us, two women.)
“Pazhal’st’, touarishtchi! Way, Comrades!” A soldier and a Red Guard appeared in the door, waving the crowd aside, and other guards with fixed bayonets. After them followed single file half a dozen men in civilian dress – the members of the Provisional Government. First came Kishkin, his face drawn and pale, then Rutenberg, looking sullenly at the floor; Terestchenko was next, glancing sharply around; he stared at us with cold fixity…. They passed in silence; the victorious insurrectionists crowded to see, but there were only a few angry mutterings. It was only later that we learned how the people in the street wanted to lynch them, and shots were fired – but the sailors brought them safely to Peter-Paul….
In the meanwhile unrebuked we walked into the Palace. There was still a great deal of coming and going, of exploring new-found apartments in the vast edifice, of searching for hidden garrisons of yunkers which did not exist. We went upstairs and wandered through room after room. This part of the Palace had been entered also by other detachments from the side of the Neva. The paintings, statues, tapestries and rugs of the great state apartments were unharmed; in the offices, however, every desk and cabinet had been ransacked, the papers scattered over the floor, and in the living rooms beds had been stripped of their coverings and ward-robes wrenched open. The most highly prized loot was clothing, which the working people needed. In a room where furniture was stored we came upon two soldiers ripping the elaborate Spanish leather upholstery from chairs. They explained it was to make boots with….
The old Palace servants in their blue and red and gold uniforms stood nervously about, from force of habit repeating, “You can’t go in there, barin! It is forbidden – ” We penetrated at length to the gold and malachite chamber with crimson brocade hangings where the Ministers had been in session all that day and night, and where the shveitzari had betrayed them to the Red Guards. The long table covered with green baize was just as they had left it, under arrest. Before each empty seat was pen and ink and paper; the papers were scribbled over with beginnings of plans of action, rough drafts of proclamations and manifestos. Most of these were scratched out, as their futility became evident, and the rest of the sheet covered with absent-minded geometrical designs, as the writers sat despondently listening while Minister after Minister proposed chimerical schemes. I took one of these scribbled pages, in the hand writing of Konovalov, which read, “The Provisional Government appeals to all classes to support the Provisional Government – ”
All this time, it must be remembered, although the Winter Palace was surrounded, the Government was in constant communication with the Front and with provincial Russia. The Bolsheviki had captured the Ministry of War early in the morning, but they did not know of the military telegraph office in the attic, nor of the private telephone line connecting it with the Winter Palace. In that attic a young officer sat all day, pouring out over the country a flood of appeals and proclamations; and when he heard that the Palace had fallen, put on his hat and walked calmly out of the building….
Interested as we were, for a considerable time we didn’t notice a change in the attitude of the soldiers and Red Guards around us. As we strolled from room to room a small group followed us, until by the time we reached the great picture-gallery where we had spent the afternoon with the yunkers, about a hundred men surged in after us. One giant of a soldier stood in our path, his face dark with sullen suspicion.
“Who are you?” he growled. “What are you doing here?” The others massed slowly around, staring and beginning to mutter. “Provocatori!” I heard somebody say. “Looters!”
I produced our passes from the Military Revolutionary Committee. The soldier took them gingerly, turned them upside down and looked at them without comprehension. Evidently he could not read. He handed them back and spat on the floor. “Bumagi! Papers!” said he with contempt. The mass slowly began to close in, like wild cattle around a cowpuncher on foot. Over their heads I caught sight of an officer, looking helpless, and shouted to him. He made for us, shouldering his way through.
“I’m the Commissar,” he said to me. “Who are you? What is it?” The others held back, waiting. I produced the papers.
“You are foreigners?” he rapidly asked in Franch. “It is very dangerous….” Then he turned to the mob, holding up our documents. “Comrades!” he cried. “These people are foreign comrades – from America. They have come here to be able to tell their countrymen about the bravery and the revolutionary discipline of the proletarian army!”
“How do you know that?” replied the big soldier. “I tell you they are provocators! They say they came here to observe the revolutionary discipline of the proletarian army, but they have been wandering freely through the Palace, and how do we know they haven’t got their pockets full of loot?”
“Pravilno!” snarled the others, pressing forward.
“Comrades! Comrades!” appealed the officer, sweat standing out on his forehead. “I am Commissar of the Military Revolutionary Committee. Do you trust me? Well, I tell you that these passes are signed with the same names that are signed to my pass!”
He led us down through the Palace and out through a door opening onto the Neva quay, before which stood the usual committee going through pockets – “You have narrowly escaped,” he kept muttering, wiping his face.
“What happened to the Women’s Battalion?” we asked.
“Oh – the women!” He laughed. “They were all huddled up in a back room. We had a terrible time deciding what to do with them – many were in hysterics, and so on. So finally we marched them up to the Finland Station and put them on a train for Levashovo, where they have a camp.”4
We came out into the cold, nervous night, murmurous with obscure armies on the move, electric with patrols. From across the river, where loomed the darker mass of Peter-Paul, came a hoarse shout…. Underfoot the sidewalk was littered with broken stucco, from the cornice of the Palace where two shells from the battleship Avrora had struck; that was the only damage done by the bombardment….
3. Looting Of The Winter Palace: I do not mean to maintain that there was no looting, in the Winter Palace. Both after and before the Winter Palace fell, there was considerable pilfering. The statement of the Socialist Revolutionary paper Narod, and of members of the City Duma, to the effect that precious objects to the value of 500,000,000 rubles had been stolen, was, however, a gross exaggeration.
The most important art treasures of the Palace – paintings, statues, tapestries, rare porcelains and armorie, – had been transferred to Moscow during the month of September; and they were still in good order in the basement of the Imperial Palace there ten days after the capture of the Kremlin by Bolshevik troops. I can personally testify to this…
Individuals, however, especially the general public, which was allowed to circulate freely through the Winter Palace for several days after its capture, made away with table silver, clocks, bedding, mirrors and some odd vases of valuable porcelain and semi-precious stone, to the value of about $50,000.
The Soviet Government immediately created a special commission, composed of artists and archæologists, to recover the stolen objects. On November 1st two proclamations were issued:
“CITIZENS OF PETROGRAD!
“We urgently ask all citizens to exert every effort to find whatever possible of the objects stolen from the Winter Palace in the night of November 7–8, and to forward them to the Commandant of the Winter Palace.
“Receivers of stolen goods, antiquarians, and all who are proved to be hiding such objects will be held legally responsible and punished with all severity.
“Commissars for the Protection of Museums and Artistic Collections,
G. Yatmanov, B. Mandelbaum”
“To Regimental And Fleet Committees
“In the night of November 7–8, in the Winter Palace, which is the inalienable property of the Russian people, valuable objects of art were stolen.
“We urgently appeal to all to exert every effort, so that the stolen objects are returned to the Winter Palace.
G. Yatmanov, B. Mandelbaum”
About half the loot was recovered, some of it in the baggage of foreigners leaving Russia.
A conference of artists and archæologists, held at the suggestion of Smolny, appointed a commission of make an inventory of the Winter Palace treasures, which was given complete charge of the Palace and of all artistic collections and State museums in Petrograd. On November 16th the Winter Palace was closed to the public while the inventory was being made…
During the last week in November a decree was issued by the Council of People’s Commissars, changing the name of the Winter Palace to “People’s Museum,” entrusting it to the complete charge of the artistic-archæological commission, and declaring that henceforth all Governmental activities within its wall were prohibited….
4. Rape Of The Women’s Battalion: Immediately following the taking of the Winter Palace all sorts of sensational stories were published in the anti-Bolshevik press, and told in the City Duma, about the fate of the Women’s Battalion defending the Palace. It was said that some of the girl-soldiers had been thrown from the windows into the street, most of the rest had been violated, and many had committed suicide as a result of the horrors they had gone through.
The City Duma appointed a commission to investigate the matter. On November 16th the commission returned from Levashovo, headquarters of the Women’s Battalion. Madame Tyrkova reported that the girls had been at first taken to the barracks of the Pavlovsky Regiment, and that there some of them had been badly treated; but that at present most of them were at Levashovo, and the rest scattered about the city in private houses. Dr. Mandelbaum, another of the commission, testified drily that none of the women had been thrown out of the windows of the Winter Palace, that none were wounded, that three had been violated, and that one had committed suicide, leaving a note which said that she had been “disappointed in her ideals.”
On November 21st the Military Revolutionary Committee officially dissolved the Women’s Battalion, at the request of the girls themselves, who returned to civilian clothes.
In Louise Bryant’s book, Six Red Months in Russia, there is an interesting description of the girl-soldiers during this time.