Red Letter
Daily Left Theory. 15 Minutes or Less. Refreshes at Midnight.
Ten Days that Shook the World: Chapter 4 (The Fall of the Provisional Government; part 3 of 3)
by John Reed
1919
Estimated Reading Time: 5 min


It was now after three in the morning. On the Nevsky all the street-lights were again shining, the cannon gone, and the only signs of war were Red Guards and soldiers squatting around fires. The city was quiet – probably never so quiet in its history; on that night not a single hold-up occurred, not a single robbery.

But the City Duma Building was all illuminated. We mounted to the galleried Alexander Hall, hung with its great, gold-framed, red-shrouded Imperial portraits. About a hundred people were grouped around the platform, where Skobeliev was speaking. He urged that the Committee of Public Safety be expanded, so as to unite all the anti-Bolshevik elements in one huge organisation, to be called the Committee for Salvation of Country and Revolution. And as we looked on, the Committee for Salvation was formed – that Committee which was to develop into the most powerful enemy of the Bolsheviki, appearing, in the next week, sometimes under its own partisan name, and sometimes as the strictly non-partisan Committee of Public Safety….

Dan, Gotz, Avkesntiev were there, some of the insurgent Soviet delegates, members of the Executive Committee of the Peasants’ Soviets, old Prokopovitch, and even members of the Council of the Republic – among whom Vinaver and other Cadets. Lieber cried that the convention of Soviets was not a legal convention, that the old Tsay-ee-kah was still in office…. An appeal to the country was drafted.

We hailed a cab. “Where to?” But when we said “Smolny,” the izvoshtchik shook his head. “Niet!” said he, “there are devils…” It was only after weary wandering that we found a driver willing to take us – and he wanted thirty rubles, and stopped two blocks away.

The windows of Smolny were still ablaze, motors came and went, and around the still-leaping fires the sentries huddled close, eagerly asking everybody the latest news. The corridors were full of hurrying men, hollow-eyed and dirty. In some of the committee-rooms people lay sleeping on the floor, their guns beside them. In spite of the seceding delegates, the hall of meetings was crowded with people, roaring like the sea. As we came in, Kameniev was reading the list of arrested Ministers. The name of Terestchenko was greeted with thunderous applause, shouts of satisfaction, laughter; Rutenburg came in for less; and at the mention of Paltchinsky, a storm of hoots, angry cries, cheers burst forth… It was announced that Tchudnovsky had been appointed Commissar of the Winter Palace.

Now occurred a dramatic interruption. A big peasant, his bearded face convulsed with rage, mounted the platform and pounded with his fist on the presidium table.

“We, Socialist Revolutionaries, insist upon the immediate release of the Socialist Ministers arrested in the Winter Palace! Comrades! Do you know that four comrades who risked their lives and their freedom fighting against tyranny of the Tsar, have been flung into Peter-Paul prison – the historical tomb of Liberty?” In the uproar he pounded and yelled. Another delegate climbed up beside him, and pointed at the presidium.

“Are the representatives of the revolutionary masses going to sit quietly here while the Okhrana of the Bolsheviki tortures their leaders?”

Trotzky was gesturing for silence. “These ‘comrades’ who are now caught plotting the crushing of the Soviets with the adventurer Kerensky – is there any reason to handle them with gloves? After July 16th and 18th they didn’t use much ceremony with us!” With a triumphant ring in his voice he cried, “Now that the oborontsi and the faint-hearted have gone, and the whole task of defending and saving the Revolution rests on our shoulders, it is particularly necessary to work – work – work! We have decided to die rather than give up!”

Followed him a Commissar from Tsarskoye Selo, panting and covered with the mud of his ride. “The garrison of Tsarskoye Selo is on guard at the gates of Petrograd, ready to defend the Soviets and the Military Revolutionary Committee!” Wild cheers. “The Cycle Corps sent from the front has arrived at Tsarskoye, and the soldiers are now with us; they recognise the power of the Soviets, the necessity of immediate transfer of land to the peasants and industrial control to the workers. The Fifth Battalion of Cyclists, stationed at Tsarskoye, is ours….

Then the delegate of the Third Cycle Battalion. In the midst of delirious enthusiasm he told how the cycle corps had been ordered three days before from the South-west front to the “defence of Petrograd.” They suspected, however, the meaning of the order; and at the station of Peredolsk were met by representatives of the Fifth Battalion from Tsarskoye. A joint meeting was held, and it was discovered that “among the cyclists not a single man was found willing to shed the blood of his brothers, or to support a Government of bourgeois and land-owners!”

Kapelinski, for the Mensheviki Internationalists, proposed to elect a special committee to find a peaceful solution to the civil war. “There isn’t any peaceful solution!” bellowed the crowed. “Victory is the only solution!” The vote was overwhelmingly against, and the Mensheviki Internationalists left the Congress in a Whirlwind of Jocular insults. There was no longer any panic fear…. Kameniev from the platform shouted after them, “The Mensheviki Internationalists claimed ‘emergency’ for the question of a ‘peaceful solution,’ but they always voted for suspension of the order of the day in favour of declarations of factions which wanted to leave the Congress. It is evident,” finished Kameniev, “that the withdrawal of all these renegades was decided upon beforehand!”

The assembly decided to ignore the withdrawal of the factions, and proceed to the appeal to the workers, soldiers and peasants of all Russia:

To Workers, Soldiers And Peasants

The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies has opened. It represents the great majority of the Soviets. There are also a number of Peasant deputies. Based upon the will of the great majority of the workers’, soldiers and peasants, based upon the triumphant uprising of the Petrograd workmen and soldiers, the Congress assumes the Power.

The Provisional Government is deposed. Most of the members of the Provisional Government are already arrested.

The Soviet authority will at once propose an immediate democratic peace to all nations, and an immediate truce on all fronts. It will assure the free transfer of landlord, crown and monastery lands to the Land Committees, defend the soldiers rights, enforcing a complete democratisation of the Army, establish workers’ control over production, ensure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the proper date, take means to supply bread to the cities and articles of first necessity to the villages, and secure to all nationalities living in Russia a real right to independent existence.

The Congress resolves: that all local power shall be transferred to the Soviets of Workers,’ Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, which must enforce revolutionary order.

The Congress calls upon the soldiers in the trenches to be watchful and steadfast. The Congress of Soviets is sure that the revolutionary Army will know how to defend the Revolution against all attacks of Imperialism, until the new Government shall have brought about the conclusion of the democratic peace which it will directly propose to all nations. The new Government will take all necessary steps to secure everything needful to the revolutionary Army, by means of a determined policy of requisition and taxation of the propertied classes, and also to improve the situation of soldiers’ families.

The Kornilovitz – Kerensky, Kaledin and others – are endeavouring to lead troops against Petrograd. Several regiments, deceived by Kerensky, have sided with the insurgent People.

Soldiers! Make active resistance to the Kornilovitz – Kerensky! Be on guard!

Railway men! Stop all troop-trains being sent by Kerensky against Petrograd!

Soldiers, Workers, Clerical employees! The destiny of the Revolution and democratic peace is in your hands!

Long live the Revolution!

The All-Russian Congress of Soviets of
Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
Delegates from the Peasants’ Soviets.

It was exactly 5:17 A.M. when Krylenko, staggering with fatigue, climbed to the tribune with a telegram in his hand.

“Comrades! From the Northern Front. The Twelfth Army sends greetings to the Congress of Soviets, announcing the formation of a Military Revolutionary Committee which has taken over the command of the Northern Front!” Pandemonium, men weeping, embracing each other. “General Tchermissov has recognised the Committee – Commissar of the Provisional Government Voitinsky has resigned!”

So. Lenin and the Petrograd workers had decided on insurrection, the Petrograd Soviet had overthrown the Provisional Government, and thrust the coup d’etat upon the Congress of Soviets. Now there was all great Russia to win – and then the world! Would Russia follow and rise? And the world – what of it? Would the peoples answer and rise, a red world-tide?

Although it was six in the morning, night was yet heavy and chill. There was only a faint unearthly pallor stealing over the silent streets, dimming the watch-fires, the shadow of a terrible dawn grey-rising over Russia….

 
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