Red Letter
Daily Left Theory. 15 Minutes or Less. Refreshes at Midnight.
Ten Days that Shook the World: Chapter 3 (On The Eve; 2 of 3)
by John Reed
1919
Estimated Reading Time: 14 min


It's a difficult to keep track of, the fervor, the names, who is arguing what. If we were an IRL reading group, we could have a screening of Warren Beatty's Reds and discuss this over beers. But instead, we read in our various places.

On its side the Government was preparing. Inconspicuously certain of the most loyal regiments, from widely-separated divisions, were ordered to Petrograd. The yunker artillery was drawn into the Winter Palace. Patrols of Cossacks made their appearance in the streets, for the first time since the July days. Polkovnikov issued order after order, threatening to repress all insubordination with the “utmost energy.” Kishkin, Minister of Public Instruction, the worst hated member of the Cabinet, was appointed Special Commissar to keep order in Petrograd; he named as assistants two men no less unpopular, Rutenburg and Paltchinsky. Petrograd, Cronstadt and Finland were declared in a state of siege—upon which the bourgeois Novoye Vremya (New Times) remarked ironically:

Why the state of siege? The Government is no longer a power. It has no moral authority and it does not possess the necessary apparatus to use force. In the most favourable circumstances it can only negotiate with any one who consents to parley. Its authority goes no farther.

Monday morning, the 5th, I dropped in at the Marinsky Palace, to see what was happening in the Council of the Russian Republic. Bitter debate on Terestchenko’s foreign policy. Echoes of the Burtzev-Verkhovski affair. All the diplomats present except the Italian ambassador, who everybody said was prostrated by the Carso disaster.

As I came in, the Left Socialist Revolutionary Karelin was reading aloud an editorial from the London Times which said, “The remedy for Bolshevism is bullets!” Turning to the Cadets he cried, “That’s what you think, too!”

Voices from the Right, “Yes! Yes!”

“Yes, I know you think so,” answered Karelin, hotly. “But you haven’t the courage to try it!”

Then Skobeliev, looking like a matinée idol with his soft blond beard and wavy yellow hair, rather apologetically defending the Soviet nakaz. Terestchenko followed, assailed from the Left by cries of “Resignation! Resignation!” He insisted that the delegates of the Government and of the Tsay-ee-kah to Paris should have a common point of view—his own. A few words about the restoration of discipline in the army, about war to victory. Tumult, and over the stubborn opposition of the truculent Left, the Council of the Republic passed to the simple order of the day.

There stretched the rows of Bolshevik seats—empty since that first day when they left the Council, carrying with them so much life. As I went down the stairs it seemed to me that in spite of the bitter wrangling, no real voice from the rough world outside could penetrate this high, cold hall, and that the Provisional Government was wrecked—on the same rock of War and Peace that had wrecked the Miliukov Ministry. The doorman grumbled as he put on my coat, “I don’t know what is becoming of poor Russia. All these Mensheviki and Bolsheviki and Trudoviki. This Ukraine and this Finland and the German imperialists and the English imperialists. I am forty-five years old, and in all my life I never heard so many words as in this place.”

In the corridor I met Professor Shatsky, a rat-faced individual in a dapper frock-coat, very influential in the councils of the Cadet party. I asked him what he thought of the much-talked-of Bolshevik vystuplennie. He shrugged, sneering.

“They are cattle—canaille,” he answered. “They will not dare, or if they dare they will soon be sent flying. From our point of view it will not be bad, for then they will ruin themselves and have no power in the Constituent Assembly.

“But, my dear sir, allow me to outline to you my plan for a form of Government to be submitted to the Constituent Assembly. You see, I am chairman of a commission appointed from this body, in conjunction with the Provisional Government, to work out a constitutional project. We will have a legislative assembly of two chambers, such as you have in the United States. In the lower chamber will be territorial representatives; in the upper, representatives of the liberal professions, zemstvos, Cooperatives—and Trade Unions.”

Outside a chill, damp wind came from the west, and the cold mud underfoot soaked through my shoes. Two companies of yunkers passed swinging up the Morskaya, tramping stiffly in their long coats and singing an old-time crashing chorus, such as the soldiers used to sing under the Tsar. At the first cross-street I noticed that the City Militiamen were mounted, and armed with revolvers in bright new holsters; a little group of people stood silently staring at them. At the corner of the Nevsky I bought a pamphlet by Lenin, “Will the Bolsheviki be Able to Hold the Power?” paying for it with one of the stamps which did duty for small change. The usual street-cars crawled past, citizens and soldiers clinging to the outside in a way to make Theodore P. Shonts green with envy. Along the sidewalk a row of deserters in uniform sold cigarettes and sunflower seeds.

6. Appeal Against Insurrection From the Central Army Committee “&… Above everything we insist upon the inflexible execution of the organised will of the majority of the people, expressed by the Provisional Government in accord with the Council of the Republic and the Tsay-ee-kah, as organ of the popular power….
“Any demonstration to depose this power by violence, at a moment when a Government crisis will infallibly create disorganisation, the ruin of the country, and civil war, will be considered by the Army as a counter-revolutionary act, and repressed by force of arms….
“The interests of private groups and classes should be submitted to a single interest—that of augmenting industrial production, and distributing the necessities of life with fairness….
“All who are capable of sabotage, disorganisation, or disorder, all deserters, all slackers, all looters, should be forced to do auxiliary service in the rear of the Army….
“We invite the Provisional Government to form, out of these violators of the people’s will, these enemies of the Revolution, labour detachments to work in the rear, on the Front, in the trenches under enemy fire….”

Up the Nevsky in the sour twilight crowds were battling for the latest papers, and knots of people were trying to make out the multitudes of appeals6 and proclamations pasted in every flat place; from the Tsay-ee-kah, the Peasants’ Soviets, the “moderate” Socialist parties, the Army Committees—threatening, cursing, beseeching the workers and soldiers to stay home, to support the Government.

An armoured automobile went slowly up and down, siren screaming. On every corner, in every open space, thick groups were clustered; arguing soldiers and students. Night came swiftly down, the wide-spaced street-lights flickered on, the tides of people flowed endlessly. It is always like that in Petrograd just before trouble.

The city was nervous, starting at every sharp sound. But still no sign from the Bolsheviki; the soldiers stayed in the barracks, the workmen in the factories. We went to a moving picture show near the Kazan Cathedral—a bloody Italian film of passion and intrigue. Down front were some soldiers and sailors, staring at the screen in childlike wonder, totally unable to comprehend why there should be so much violent running about, and so much homicide.

From there I hurried to Smolny. In room 10 on the top floor, the Military Revolutionary Committee sat in continuous session, under the chairmanship of a tow-headed, eighteen-year-old boy named Lazimir. He stopped, as he passed, to shake hands rather bashfully.

“Peter-Paul Fortress has just come over to us,” said he, with a pleased grin. “A minute ago we got word from a regiment that was ordered by the Government to come to Petrograd. The men were suspicious, so they stopped the train at Gatchina and sent a delegation to us. ‘What’s the matter?’ they asked. ‘What have you got to say? We have just passed a resolution, “All Power to the Soviets.”’— The Military Revolutionary Committee sent back word, ‘Brothers! We greet you in the name of the Revolution. Stay where you are until further instructions!’”

All telephones, he said, were cut off: but communication with the factories and barracks was established by means of military telephonograph apparatus.

A steady stream of couriers and Commissars came and went. Outside the door waited a dozen volunteers, ready to carry word to the farthest quarters of the city. One of them, a gypsy-faced man in the uniform of a lieutenant, said in French, “Everything is ready to move at the push of a button.”

There passed Podvoisky, the thin, bearded civillian whose brain conceived the strategy of insurrection; Antonov, unshaven, his collar filthy, drunk with loss of sleep; Krylenko, the squat, wide-faced soldier, always smiling, with his violent gestures and tumbling speech; and Dybenko, the giant bearded sailor with the placid face. These were the men of the hour—and of other hours to come.

Downstairs in the office of the Factory-Shop Committees sat Seratov, signing orders on the Government Arsenal for arms—one hundred and fifty rifles for each factory. Delegates waited in line, forty of them.

In the hall I ran into some of the minor Bolshevik leaders. One showed me a revolver. “The game is on,” he said, and his face was pale. “Whether we move or not the other side knows it must finish us or be finished.”

The Petrograd Soviet was meeting day and night. As I came into the great hall Trotzky was just finishing.

“We are asked,” he said, “if we intend to have a vystuplennie. I can give a clear answer to that question. The Petrograd Soviet feels that at last the moment has arrived when the power must fall into the hands of the Soviets. This transfer of government will be accomplished by the All-Russian Congress. Whether an armed demonstration is necessary will depend on— those who wish to interfere with the All-Russian Congress.

7. Events Of The Night, November 6th Toward evening bands of Red Guards began to occupy the printing shops of the bourgeois press, where they printed Rabotchi Put, Soldat, and various proclamations by the hundred thousand. The City Militia was ordered to clear these places, but found the offices barricaded, and armed men defending them. Soldiers who were ordered to attack the print-shops refused.
About midnight a Colonel with a company of yunkers arrived at the club “Free Mind,” with a warrant to arrest the editor of Rabotchi Put. Immediately an enormous mob gathered in the street outside and threatened to lynch the yunkers. The Colonel thereupon begged that he and the yunkers be arrested and taken to Peter-Paul prison for safety. This request was granted.
At 1 A. M. a detachment of soldiers and sailors from Smolny occupied the Telegraph Agency. At 1.35 the Post Office was occupied. Toward morning the Military Hotel was taken, and at 5 o’clock the Telephone Exchange. At dawn the State Bank was surrounded. And at 10 A. M. a cordon of troops was drawn about the Winter Palace.

“We feel that our Government, entrusted to the personnel of the Provisional Cabinet, is a pitiful and helpless Government, which only awaits the sweep of the broom of History to give way to a really popular Government. But we are trying to avoid a conflict, even now, to-day. We hope that the All-Russian Congress will take— into its hands that power and authority which rests upon the organised freedom of the people. If, however, the Government wants to utilise the short period it is expected to live—twenty-four, forty eight, or seventy-two hours—to attack us, then we shall answer with counter-attacks, blow for blow, steel for iron!”7

Amid cheers he announced that the Left Socialist Revolutionaries had agreed to send representatives into the Military Revolutionary Committee.

As I left Smolny, at three o’clock in the morning, I noticed that two rapid-firing guns had been mounted, one on each side of the door, and that strong patrols of soldiers guarded the gates and the near-by street-corners. Bill Shatov[2] came bounding up the steps. “Well,” he cried, “We’re off! Kerensky sent the yunkers to close down our papers, Soldat and Rabotchi Put. But our troops went down and smashed the Government seals, and now we’re sending detachments to seize the bourgeois newspaper offices!” Exultantly he slapped me on the shoulder, and ran in.

On the morning of the 6th I had business with the censor, whose office was in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Everywhere, on all the walls, hysterical appeals to the people to remain “calm.” Polkovnikov emitted prikaz after prikaz:

I order all military units and detachments to remain in their barracks until further orders from the Staff of the Military District. All officers who act without orders from their superiors will be court-martialled for mutiny. I forbid absolutely any execution by soldiers of instructions from other organisations.

The morning papers announced that the Government had suppressed the papers Novaya Rus, Zhivoye Slovo, Rabotchi Put and Soldat, and decreed the arrest of the leaders of the Petrograd Soviet and the members of the Military Revolutionary Committee.

 
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