Thursday, November 8th. Day broke on a city in the wildest excitement and confusion, a whole nation having up in long hissing swells of storm. Superficially all was quiet; hundreds of thousands of people retired at a prudent hour, got up early, and went to work. In Petrograd the street-cars were running, the stores and restaurants open, theatres going, an exhibition of paintings advertised&… All the complex routine of common life—humdrum even in war-time—proceeded as usual. Nothing is so astounding as the vitality of the social organism—how it persists, feeding itself, clothing itself, amusing itself, in the face of the worst calamities&…
The air was full of rumours about Kerensky, who was said to have raised the Front, and to be leading a great army against the capital. Volia Naroda published a prikaz launched by him at Pskov:
The disorders caused by the insane attempt of the Bolsheviki place the country on the verge of a precipice, and demand the effort of our entire will, our courage and the devotion of every one of us, to win through the terrible trial which the fatherland is undergoing&…
Until the declaration of the composition of the new Government—if one is formed—every one ought to remain at his post and fulfil his duty toward bleeding Russia. It must be remembered that the least interference with existing Army organisations can bring on irreparable misfortunes, by opening the Front to the enemy. Therefore it is indispensable to preserve at any price the morale of the troops, by assuring complete order and the preservation of the Army from new shocks, and by maintaining absolute confidence between officers and their subordinates. I order all the chiefs and Commissars, in the name of the safety of the country, to stay at their posts, as I myself retain the post of Supreme Commander, until the Provisional Government of the Republic shall declare its will&…
In answer, this placard on all the walls:
From The All-Russian Congress Of Soviets
“The ex-Ministers Konovalov, Kishkin, Terestchenko, Maliantovitch, Nikitin and others have been arrested by the Military Revolutionary Committee. Kerensky has fled. All Army organisations are ordered to take every measure for the immediate arrest of Kerensky and his conveyance to Petrograd.
“All assistance given to Kerensky will be punished as a serious crime against the state.”
With brakes released the Military Revolutionary Committee whirled, throwing off orders, appeals, decrees, like sparks. Kornilov was ordered brought to Petrograd. Members of the Peasant Land Committees imprisoned by the Provisional Government were declared free. Capital punishment in the army was abolished. Government employees were ordered to continue their work, and threatened with severe penalties if they refused. All pillage, disorder and speculation were forbidden under pain of death. Temporary Commissars were appointed to the various Ministries: Foreign Affairs, Vuritsky and Trotzky; Interior and Justice, Rykov; Labor, Shliapnikov; Finance, Menzhinsky; Public Welfare, Madame Kollontai; Commerce, Ways and Communications, Riazanov; Navy, the sailor Korbir; Posts and Telegraphs, Spiro; Theatres, Muraviov; State Printing Office, Gherbychev; for the City of Petrograd, Lieutenant Nesterov; for the Northern Front, Pozern&…
To the Army, appeal to set up Military Revolutionary Committees. To the railway workers, to maintain order, especially not to delay the transport of food to the cities and the front&… In return, they were promised representation in the Ministry of Ways and Communications.
Cossack brothers! (said one proclamation). You are being led against Petrograd. They want to force you into battle with the revolutionary workers and soldiers of the capital. Do not believe a word that is said by our common enemies, the land-owners and the capitalists.
At our Congress are represented all the conscious organisations of workers, soldiers and peasants of Russia. The Congress wishes also to welcome into its midst the worker-Cossacks. The Generals of the Black Band, henchmen of the land-owners, of Nicolai the Cruel, are our enemies.
They tell you that the Soviets wish to confiscate the lands of the Cossacks. This is a lie. It is only from the great Cossack landlords that the Revolution will confiscate the land to give it to the people.
Organise Soviets of Cossacks’ Deputies! Join with the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!
Show the Black Band that you are not traitors to the People, and that you do not wish to be cursed by the whole of revolutionary Russia!—
Cossack brothers, execute no orders of the enemies of the people. Send your delegates to Petrograd to talk it over with us&… The Cossacks of the Petrograd garrison, to their honour, have not justified the hope of the People’s enemies&…
Cossack brothers! The All-Russian Congress of Soviets extends to you a fraternal hand. Long live the brotherhood of the Cossacks with the soldiers, workers and peasants of all Russia!
On the other side, what a storm of proclamations posted up, hand-bills scattered everywhere, newspapers—screaming and cursing and prophesying evil. Now raged the battle of the printing press—all other weapons being in the hands of the Soviets.
First, the appeal of the Committee for Salvation of Country and Revolution, flung broadcast over Russia and Europe:
To The Citizens Of The Russian Republic!
Contrary to the will of the revolutionary masses, on November 7th the Bolsheviki of Petrograd criminally arrested part of the Provisional Government, dispersed the Council of the Republic, and proclaimed an illegal power. Such violence committed against the Government of revolutionary Russia at the moment of its greatest external danger, is an indescribable crime against the fatherland.
The insurrection of the Bolsheviki deals a mortal blow to the cause of national defence, and postpones immeasurably the moment of peace so greatly desired.
Civil war, begun by the Bolsheviki, threatens to deliver the country to the horrors of anarchy and counter-revolution, and cause the failure of the Constituent Assembly, which must affirm the republican régime and transmit to the People forever their right to the land.
Preserving the continuity of the only legal Governmental power, the Committee for Salvation of Country and Revolution, established on the night of November 7th, takes the initiative in forming a new Provisional Government; which, basing itself on the forces of democracy, will conduct the country to the Constituent Assembly and save it from anarchy and counter-revolution. The Committee for Salvation summons you, citizens, to refuse to recognise the power of violence. Do not obey its orders!
Rise for the defence of the country and Revolution!
Support the Committee for Salvation!
Signed by the Council of the Russian Republic, the Municipal Duma of Petrograd, the Tsay-ee-kah (First Congress), the Executive Committee of the Peasants’ Soviets, and from the Congress itself the Front group, the factions of Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviki, Populist Socialists, Unified Social Democrats, and the group “Yedinstvo.”
Then posters from the Socialist Revolutionary party, the Mensheviki oborontsi, Peasants’ Soviets again; from the Central Army Committee, the Tsentroflot&…
— Famine will crush Petrograd! (they cried). The German armies will trample on our liberty. Black Hundred pogroms will spread over Russia, if we all—conscious workers, soldiers, citizens—do not unite&…
Do not trust the promises of the Bolsheviki! The promise of immediate peace—is a lie! The promise of bread—a hoax! The promise of land—a fairy tale!—
They were all in this manner.
Comrades! You have been basely and cruelly deceived! The seizure of power has been accomplished by the Bolsheviki alone&… They concealed their plot from the other Socialist parties composing the Soviet&…
You have been promised land and freedom, but the counter-revolution will profit by the anarchy called forth by the Bolsheviki, and will deprive you of land and freedom&…
The newspapers were as violent.
Our duty (said the Dielo Naroda) is to unmask these traitors to the working-class. Our duty is to mobilise all our forces and mount guard over the cause of the Revolution!—
Izviestia, for the last time speaking in the name of the old Tsay-ee-kah, threatened awful retribution.
As for the Congress of Soviets, we affirm that there has been no Congress of Soviets! We affirm that it was merely a private conference of the Bolshevik faction! And in that case, they have no right to cancel the powers of the Tsay-ee-kah&…
Novaya Zhizn, while pleading for a new Government that should unite all the Socialist parties, criticised severely the action of the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviki in quitting the Congress, and pointed out that the Bolshevik insurrection meant one thing very clearly: that all illusions about coalition with the bourgeoisie were henceforth demonstrated vain—
Rabotchi Put blossomed out as Pravda, Lenin’s newspaper which had been suppressed in July. It crowed, bristling:
Workers, soldiers, peasants! In March you struck down the tyranny of the clique of nobles. Yesterday you struck down the tyranny of the bourgeois gang&…
The first task now is to guard the approaches to Petrograd.
The second is definitely to disarm the counter-revolutionary elements of Petrograd.
The third is definitely to organise the revolutionary power and assure the realisation of the popular programme&…
What few Cadet organs appeared, and the bourgeoisie generally, adopted a detached, ironical attitude toward the whole business, a sort of contemptuous “I-told-you-so” to the other parties. Influential Cadets were to be seen hovering around the Municipal Duma, and on the outskirts of the Committee for Salvation. Other than that, the bourgeoisie lay low, biding its hour—which could not far off. That the Bolsheviki would remain in power longer than three days never occurred to anybody—except perhaps to Lenin, Trotzky, the Petrograd workers and the simpler soldiers&…
In the high, amphitheatrical Nicolai Hall that afternoon I saw the Duma sitting in permanence, tempestuous, grouping around it all the forces of opposition. The old Mayer, Schreider, majestic with his white hair and beard, was describing his visit to Smolny the night before, to protest in the name of the Municipal Self-Government. “The Duma, being the only existing legal Government in the city, elected by equal, direct and secret suffrage, would not recognise the new power,” he had told Trotzky. And Trotzky had answered, “There is a constitutional remedy for that. The Duma can be dissolved and re-elected&…” At this report there was a furious outcry.
“If one recognises a Government by bayonet,” continued the old man, addressing the Duma, “well, we have one; but I consider legitimate only a Government recognised by the majority, and not one created by the usurpation of a minority!” Wild applause on all benches except those of the Bolsheviki. Amid renewed tumult the Mayor announced that the Bolsheviki already were violating Municipal autonomy by appointing Commissars in many departments.
The Bolshevik speaker shouted, trying to make himself heard, that the decision of the Congress of Soviets meant that all Russia backed up the action of the Bolsheviki.
“You!” he cried. “You are not the real representative of the people of Petrograd!” Shrieks of “Insult! Insult!” The old Mayor, with dignity, reminded him that the Duma was elected by the freest possible popular vote. “Yes,” he answered, “but that was a long time ago—like the Tsay-ee-kah—like the Army Committee.”
“There has been no new Congress of Soviets!” they yelled at him.
“The Bolshevik faction refuses to remain any longer in this nest of counter-revolution—” Uproar. “—and we demand a re-election of the Duma&…” Whereupon the Bolsheviki left the chamber, followed by cries of “German agents! Down with the traitors!”
Shingariov, Cadet, then demanded that all Municipal functionaries who had consented to be Commissars of the Military Revolutionary Committee be discharged from their position and indicted. Schreider was on his feet, putting a motion to the effect that the Duma protested against the menace of the Bolsheviki to dissolve it, and as the legal representative of the population, it would refuse to leave its post.
Outside, the Alexander Hall was crowded for the meeting of the Committee for Salvation, and Skobeliev was again speaking. “Never yet,” he said, “was the fate of the Revolution so acute, never yet did the question of the existence of the Russian state excite so much anxiety, never yet did history put so harshly and categorically the question—is Russia to be or not to be! The great hour for the salvation of the Revolution has arrived, and in consciousness thereof we observe the close union of the live forces of the revolutionary democracy, by whose organised will a centre for the salvation of the country and the Revolution has already been created&…” And much of the same sort. “We shall die sooner than surrender our post!”
Amid violent applause it was announced that the Union of Railway Workers had joined the Committee for Salvation. A few moments later the Post and Telegraph Employees came in; then some Mensheviki Internationalists entered the hall, to cheers. The Railway men said they did not recognise the Bolsheviki and had taken the entire railroad apparatus into their own hands, refusing to entrust it to any usurpatory power. The Telegraphers’ delegate declared that the operators had flatly refused to work their instruments as long as the Bolshevik Commissar was in the office. The Postmen would not deliver or accept mail at Smolny&… All the Smolny telephones were cut off. With great glee it was reported how Uritzky had gone to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to demand the secret treaties, and how Neratov had put him out. The Government employees were all stopping work&…
It was war—war deliberately planned, Russian fashion; war by strike and sabotage. As we sat there the chairman read a list of names and assignments; so-and-so was to make the round of the Ministries; another was to visit the banks; some ten or twelve were to work the barracks and persuade the soldiers to remain neutral—“Russian soldiers, do not shed the blood of your brothers!”; a committee was to go and confer with Kerensky; still others were despatched to provincial cities, to form branches of the Committee for Salvation, and link together the anti-Bolshevik elements.
The crowd was in high spirits. “These Bolsheviki will try to dictate to the intelligentzia? We’ll show them!”— Nothing could be more striking than the contrast between this assemblage and the Congress of Soviets. There, great masses of shabby soldiers, grimy workmen, peasants—poor men, bent and scarred in the brute struggle for existence; here the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary leaders—Avksentievs, Dans, Liebers,—the former Socialist Ministers—Skobelievs, Tchernovs,—rubbed shoulders with Cadets like oily Shatsky, sleek Vinaver; with journalists, students, intellectuals of almost all camps. This Duma crowd was well-fed, well-dressed; I did not see more than three proletarians among them all&…Footnote 1 is reproduced at bottom.
News came. Kornilov’s faithful Tekhintsi1 had slaughtered his guards at Bykhov, and he had escaped. Kaledin was marching north&… The Soviet of Moscow had set up a Military Revolutionary Committee, and was negotiating with the commandant of the city for possession of the arsenal, so that the workers might be armed.
With these facts was mixed an astounding jumble of rumours, distortions, and plain lies. For instance, an intelligent young Cadet, formerly private secretary to Miliukov and then to Terestchenko, drew us aside and told us all about the taking of the Winter Palace.
“The Bolsheviki were led by German and Austrian officers,” he affirmed.
“Is that so?” we replied, politely. “How do you know?”
“A friend of mine was there and saw them.”
“How could he tell they were German officers?”
“Oh, because they wore German uniforms!”
There were hundreds of such absurd tales, and they were not only solemnly published by the anti-Bolshevik press, but believed by the most unlikely persons—Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviki who had always been distinguished by their sober devotion to facts&…
But more serious were the stories of Bolshevik violence and terrorism. For example, it was said printed that the Red Guards had not only thoroughly looted the Winter Palace, but that they had massacred the yunkers after disarming them, had killed some of the Ministers in cold blood; and as for the woman soldiers, most of them had been violated, and many had committed suicide because of the tortures they had gone through&… All these stories were swallowed whole by the crowd in the Duma. And worse still, the mothers and fathers of the students and of the women read these frightful details, often accompanied by lists of names, and toward nightfall the Duma began to be besieged by frantic citizens&…
A typical case is that of Prince Tumanov, whose body, it was announced in many newspapers, had been found floating in the Moika Canal. A few hours later this was denied by the Prince’s family, who added that the Prince was under arrest so the press identified the dead man as General Demissov. The General having also come to life, we investigated, and could find no trace of any body found whatever&…2. Protest Of The Municipal Duma “The Central City Duma, elected on the most democratic principles, has undertaken the burden of managing Municipal affairs and food supplies at the time of the greatest disorganisation. At the present moment the Bolshevik party, three weeks before the elections to the Constituent Assembly, and in spite of the menace of the external enemy, having removed by armed force the only legal revolutionary authority, is making an attempt against the rights and independence of the Municipal Self-Government, demanding submission to its Commissars and its illegal authority.
“In this terrible and tragic moment the Petrograd City Duma, in the face of its constituents, and of all Russia, declares loudly that it will not submit to any encroachments on its rights and its independence, and will remain at the post of responsibility to which it has been called by the will of the population of the capital.
“The Central City Duma of Petrograd appeals to all Dumas and Zemstvos of the Russian Republic to rally to the defence of one of the greatest conquests of the Russian Revolution—the independence and inviolability of popular self-government.”
As we left the Duma building two boy scouts were distributing hand-bills2 to the enormous crowd which blocked the Nevsky in front of the door—a crowd composed almost entirely of business men, shop-keepers, tchinouniki, clerks. One read!
From The Municipal Duma
The Municipal Duma in its meeting of October 26th, in view of the events of the day decrees: To announce the inviolability of private dwellings. Through the House Committees it calls upon the population of the town of Petrograd to meet with decisive repulse all attempts to enter by force private apartments, not stopping at the use of arms, in the interests of the self-defence of citizens.
Up on the corner of the Liteiny, five or six Red Guards and a couple of sailors had surrounded a news-dealer and were demanding that he hand over his copies of the Menshevik Rabot-chaya Gazeta (Workers’ Gazette). Angrily he shouted at them, shaking his fist, as one of the sailors tore the papers from his stand. An ugly crowd had gathered around, abusing the patrol. One little workman kept explaining doggedly to the people and the news-dealer, over and over again, “It has Kerensky’s proclamation in it. It says we killed Russian people. It will make bloodshed&…”
Smolny was tenser than ever, if that were possible. The same running men in the dark corridors, 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—men unshaven, filthy, with burning eyes, who drove upon their fixed purpose full speed on engines of exaltation. So much they had to do, so much! Take over the Government, organise the City, keep the garrison loyal, fight the Duma and the Committee for Salvation, keep out the Germans, prepare to do battle with Kerensky, inform the provinces what had happened, Propagandise from Archangel to Vladivostok&… Government and Municipal employees refusing to obey their Commissars, post and telegraph refusing them communication, railroads roads stonily ignoring their appeals for trains, Kerensky coming, the garrison not altogether to be trusted, the Cossacks waiting to come out&… Against them not only the organised bourgeoisie, but all the other Socialist parties except the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, a few Mensheviki Internationalists and the Social Democrat Internationalists, and even they undecided whether to stand by or not. With them, it is true, the workers and the soldier-masses—the peasants an unknown quantity—but after all the Bolsheviki were a political faction not rich in trained and educated men&…
Riazanov was coming up the front steps, explaining in a sort of humorous panic that he, Commissar of Commerce, knew nothing whatever of business. In the upstairs cafe sat a man all by himself in the corner, in a goat-skin cape and clothes which had been—I was going to say “slept in,” but of course he hadn’t slept—and a three days’ growth of beard. He was anxiously figuring on a dirty envelope, and biting his pencil meanwhile. This was Menzhinsky, Commissar of Finance, whose qualifications were that he had once been clerk in a French bank&… And these four half-running down the hall from the office of the Military Revolutionary Committee, and scribbling on bits of paper as they run—these were Commissars despatched to the four corners of Russia to carry the news, argue, or fight—with whatever arguments or weapons came to hand&…
The Congress was to meet at one o’clock, and long since the great meeting-hall had filled, but by seven there was yet no sign of the presidium&… The Bolshevik and Left Social Revolutionary factions were in session in their own rooms. All the livelong afternoon Lenin and Trotzky had fought against compromise. A considerable part of the Bolsheviki were in favour of giving way so far as to create a joint all-Socialist government. “We can’t hold on!” they cried.
“Too much is against us. We haven’t got the men. We will be isolated, and the whole thing will fall.” So Kameniev, Riazanov and others.
But Lenin, with Trotzky beside him, stood firm as a rock. “Let the compromisers accept our programme and they can come in! We won’t give way an inch. If there are comrades here who haven’t the courage and the will to dare what we dare, let them leave with the rest of the cowards and conciliators! Backed by the workers and soldiers we shall go on.”
At five minutes past seven came word from the left Socialist Revolutionaries to say that they would remain in the Military Revolutionary Committee.
“See!” said Lenin. “They are following!”
A little later, as we sat at the press table in the big hall, an Anarchist who was writing for the bourgeois papers proposed to me that we go and find out what had become of the presidium. There was nobody in the Tsay-ee-kah office, nor in the bureau of the Petrograd Soviet. From room to room we wandered, through vast Smolny. Nobody seemed to have the slightest idea where to find the governing body of the Congress. As we went my companion described his ancient revolutionary activities, his long and pleasant exile in France&… As for the Bolsheviki, he confided to me that they were common, rude, ignorant persons, without aesthetic sensibilities. He was a real specimen of the Russian intelligentzia&… So he came at last to Room 17, office of the Military Revolutionary Committee, and stood there in the midst of all the furious coming and going. The door opened, and out shot a squat, flat-faced man in a uniform without insignia, who seemed to be smiling—which smile, after a minute, one saw to be the fixed grin of extreme fatigue. It was Krylenko.
My friend, who was a dapper, civilized-looking young man, gave a cry of pleasure and stepped forward.
“Nicolai Vasilievitch!” he said, holding out his hand. “Don’t you remember me, comrade? We were in prison together.”
Krylenko made an effort and concentrated his mind and sight. “Why yes,” he answered finally, looking the other up and down with an expression of great friendliness. “You are S&… Zdra’stvuitye!” They kissed. “What are you doing in all this?” He waved his arm around.
“Oh, I’am just looking on&… You seem very successful.”
“Yes,” replied Krylenko, with a sort of doggedness, “The proletarian Revolution is a great success.” He laughed. “Perhaps—perhaps, however, we’ll meet in prison again!”
When we got out into the corridor again my friend went on with his explanations. “You see, I’am a follower of Kropotkin. To us the Revolution is a great failure; it has not aroused the patriotism of the masses. Of course that only proves that the people are not ready for Revolution&…”
It was just 8:40 when 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 in 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. A strange popular leader—a leader purely by virtue of intellect; colourless, humourless, uncompromising and detached, without picturesque idiosyncrasies—but with the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms, of analysing a concrete situation. And combined with shrewdness, the greatest intellectual audacity.
Kameniev was reading the report of the actions of the Military Revolutionary Committee; abolition of capital punishment in the Army, restoration of the free right of propaganda, release of officers and soldiers arrested for political crimes, orders to arrest Kerensky and confiscation of food supplies in private store-houses&… Tremendous applause.
Again the representative of the Bund. The uncompromising attitude of the Bolsheviki would mean the crushing of the Revolution; therefore, the Bund delegates must refuse any longer to sit in the Congress. Cries from the audience, “We thought you walked out last night! How many times are you going to walk out?”
Then the representative of the Mensheviki Internationalists. Shouts, “What! You here still?” The speaker explained that only part of the Mensheviki Internationalists left the Congress; the rest were going to stay—
“We consider it dangerous and perhaps even mortal for the Revolution to transfer the power to the Soviets”—Interruptions—“but we feel it our duty to remain in the Congress and vote against the transfer here!”
Other speakers followed, apparently without any order. A delegate of the coal-miners of the Don Basin called upon the Congress to take measures against Kaledin, who might cut off coal and food from the capital. Several soldiers just arrived from the Front brought the enthusiastic greetings of their regiments&… Now 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 proceed to construct the Socialist order!” Again that overwhelming human roar.
“The first thing is the adoption of practical measures to realise peace&… We shall offer peace to the peoples of all the belligerent countries upon the basis of the Soviet terms—no annexations, no indemnities, and the right of self-determination of peoples. At the same time, according to our promise, we shall publish and repudiate the secret treaties&… The question of War and Peace is so clear that I think that I may, without preamble, read the project of a Proclamation to the Peoples of All the Belligerent Countries&…”
His great mouth, seeming to smile, opened wide as he spoke; his voice was hoarse—not unpleasantly so, but as if it had hardened that way after years and years of speaking—and went on monotonously, with the effect of being able to go on forever&… For emphasis he bent forward slightly. No gestures. And before him, a thousand simple faces looking up in intent adoration.
Proclamation To The Peoples And Governments Of All The Belligerent Nations.
The Workers’ and Peasants’ Government, created by the revolution of November 6th and 7th and based on the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, proposes to all the belligerent peoples and to their Governments to begin immediately negotiations for a just and democratic peace.
The Government means by a just and democratic peace, which is desired by the immense majority of the workers and the labouring classes, exhausted and depleted by the war—that peace which the Russian workers and peasants, after having struck down the Tsarist monarchy, have not ceased to demand categorically—immediate peace without annexations (that is to say, without conquest of foreign territory, without forcible annexation of other nationalities), and without indemnities.
The Government of Russia Proposes to all the belligerent peoples immediately to conclude such a peace, by showing themselves willing to enter upon the decisive steps of negotiations aiming at such a peace, at once, without the slightest delay, before the definitive ratification of all the conditions of such a peace by the authorised assemblies of the people of all countries and of all nationalities.
By annexation or conquest of foreign territory, the Government means—conformably to the conception of democratic rights in general, and the rights of the working-class in particular—all union to a great and strong State of a small or weak nationality, without the voluntary, clear and precise expression of its consent and desire; whatever be the moment when such an annexation by force was accomplished, whatever be the degree civilisation of the nation annexed by force or maintained outside the frontiers of another State, no matter if that nation be in Europe or in the far countries across the sea.
If any nation is retained by force within the limits of another State; if, in spite of the desire expressed by it, (it matters little if that desire be expressed by the press, by popular meetings, decisions of political parties, or by disorders and riots against national oppression), that nation is not given the right of deciding by free vote—without the slightest constraint, after the complete departure of the armed forces of the nation which has annexed it or wishes to annex it or is stronger in general—the form of its national and political organisation, such a union constitutes an annexation—that is to say, conquest and an act of violence.
To continue this war in order to permit the strong and rich nations to divide among themselves the weak and conquered nationalities is considered by the Government the greatest possible crime against humanity; and the Government solemnly proclaims its decision to sign a treaty of peace which will put an end to this war upon the above conditions, equally fair for all nationalities without exception.
The Government abolishes secret diplomacy, expressing before the whole country its firm decision to conduct all the negotiations in the light of day before the people, and will proceed immediately to the full publication of all secret treaties confirmed or concluded by the Government of land-owners and capitalists, from March until November 7th, 1917. All the clauses of the secret treaties which, as occur in a majority of cases, have for their object to procure advantages and privileges for Russian capitalists, to maintain or augment the annexations of the Russian imperialists, are denounced by the Government immediately and without discussion.
In proposing to all Governments and all peoples to engage in public negotiations for peace, the Government declares itself ready to carry on these negotiations by telegraph, by post, or by pourparlers between the representatives of the different countries, or at a conference of these representatives. To facilitate these pourparlers, the Government appoints its authorised representatives in the neutral countries.
The Government proposes to all the governments and to the peoples of all the belligerent countries to conclude an immediate armistice, at the same time suggesting that the armistice ought to last three months, during which time it is perfectly possible, not only to hold the necessary pourparlers between the representatives of all the nations and nationalities without exception drawn into the war or forced to take part in it, but also to convoke authorised assemblies of representatives of the people of all countries, for the purpose of the definite acceptance of the conditions of peace.
In addressing this offer of peace to the Governments and to the peoples of all the belligerent countries, the Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of Russia addresses equally and in particular the conscious workers of the three nations most devoted to humanity and the three most important nations among those taking part in the present war—England, France, and Germany. The workers of these countries have rendered the greatest services to the cause of progress and of Socialism. The splendid examples of the Chartist movement in England, the series of revolutions, of world-wide historical significance, accomplished by the French proletariat—and finally, in Germany, the historic struggle against the Laws of Exception, an example for the workers of the whole world of prolonged and stubborn action, and the creation of the formidable organisations of German proletarians—all these models of proletarian heroism, these monuments of history, are for us a sure guarantee that the workers of these countries will understand the duty imposed upon them to liberate humanity from the horrors and consequences of war; and that these workers, by decisive, energetic and continued action, will help us to bring to a successful conclusion the cause of peace—and at the same time, the cause of the liberation of the exploited working masses from all slavery and all exploitation.
When the grave thunder of applause had died away, Lenin spoke again: ...