Red Letter
Daily Left Theory. 15 Minutes or Less. Refreshes at Midnight.
Ten Days that Shook the World: Chapter 8 (Counter-Revolution; 2 of 2)
by John Reed
Estimated Reading Time: 7 min

By this time it was dusk. The city had again settled down to normal—shop-shutters up, lights shining, and on the streets great crowds of people slowly moving up and down and arguing….

At Number 86 Nevsky we went through a passage into a courtyard, surrounded by tall apartment buildings. At the door of apartment 229 my friend knocked in a peculiar way. There was a sound of scuffling; an inside door slammed; then the front door opened a crack and a woman’s face appeared. After a minute’s observation she led us in—a placid-looking, middle-aged lady who at once cried, “Kyril, it’s all right!” In the dining-room, where a samovar steamed on the table and there were plates full of bread and raw fish, a man in uniform emerged from behind the window-curtains, and another, dressed like a workman, from a closet. They were delighted to meet an American reporter. With a certain amount of gusto both said that they would certainly be shot if the Bolsheviki caught them. They would not give me their names, but both were Socialist Revolutionaries….

“Why,” I asked, “do you publish such lies in your newspapers?”

Without taking offence the officer replied, “Yes, I know; but what can we do?” He shrugged. “You must admit that it is necessary for us to create a certain frame of mind in the people….”

The other man interrupted. “This is merely an adventure on the part of the Bolsheviki. They have no intellectuals. — The Ministries won’t work…. Russia is not a city, but a whole country…. Realising that they can only last a few days, we have decided to come to the aid of the strongest force opposed to them—Kerensky—and help to restore order.”

“That is all very well,” I said. “But why do you combine with the Cadets?”

The pseudo-workman smiled frankly. “To tell you the truth, at this moment the masses of the people are following the Bolsheviki. We have no following—now. We can’t mobilise a handful of soldiers. There are no arms available…. The Bolsheviki are right to a certain extent; there are at this moment in Russia only two parties with any force—the Bolsheviki and the reactionaries, who are all hiding under the coat-tails of the Cadets. The Cadets think they are using us; but it is really we who are using the Cadets. When we smash the Bolsheviki we shall turn against the Cadets….”

“Will the Bolsheviki be admitted into the new Government?”

He scratched his head. “That’s a problem,” he admitted. “Of course if they are not admitted, they’ll probably do this all over again. At any rate, they will have a chance to hold the balance of power in the Constituent—that is, if there is a Constituent.”

“And then, too,” said the officer, “that brings up the question of admitting the Cadets into the new Government—and for the same reasons. You know the Cadets do not really want the Constituent Assembly—not if the Bolsheviki can be destroyed now.” He shook his head. “It is not easy for us Russians, politics. You Americans are born politicians; you have had politics all your lives. But for us—well, it has only been a year, you know!”

“What do you think of Kerensky?” I asked.

“Oh, Kerensky is guilty of the sins of the Provisional Government,” answered the other man. “Kerensky himself forced us to accept coalition with the bourgeoisie. If he had resigned, as he threatened, it would have meant a new Cabinet crisis only sixteen weeks before the Constituent Assembly, and that we wanted to avoid.”

“But didn’t it amount to that anyway?”

“Yes, but how were we to know? They tricked us—the Kerenskys and Avksentievs. Gotz is a little more radical. I stand with Tchernov, who is a real revolutionist…. Why, only to-day Lenin sent word that he would not object to Tchernov entering the Government.

“We wanted to get rid of the Kerensky Government too, but we thought it better to wait for the Constituent…. At the beginning of this affair I was with the Bolsheviki, but the Central Committee of my party voted unanimously against it—and what could I do? It was a matter of party discipline….

“In a week the Bolshevik Government will go to pieces; if the Socialist Revolutionaries could only stand aside and wait, the Government would fall into their hands. But if we wait a week the country will be so disorganised that the German imperialists will be victorious. That is why we began our revolt with only two regiments of soldiers promising to support us—and they turned against us…. That left only the yunkers….”

“How about the Cossacks?”

The officer sighed. “They did not move. At first they said they would come out if they had infantry support. They said moreover that they had their men with Kerensky, and that they were doing their part…. Then, too, they said that the Cossacks were always accused of being the hereditary enemies of democracy…. And finally, ‘The Bolsheviki promise that they will not take away our land. There is no danger to us. We remain neutral.’”

During this talk people were constantly entering and leaving—most of them officers, their shoulder-straps torn off. We could see them in the hall, and hear their low, vehement voices. Occasionally, through the half-drawn portières, we caught a glimpse of a door opening into a bath-room, where a heavily-built officer in a colonel’s uniform sat on the toilet, writing something on a pad held in his lap. I recognised Colonel Polkovnikov, former commandant of Petrograd, for whose arrest the Military Revolutionary Committee would have paid a fortune.

“Our programme?” said the officer. “This is it. Land to be turned over to the Land Committees. Workmen to have full representation in the control of industry. An energetic peace programme, but not an ultimatum to the world such as the Bolsheviki issued. The Bolsheviki cannot keep their promises to the masses, even in the country itself. We won’t let them…. They stole our land programme in order to get the support of the peasants. That is dishonest. If they had waited for the Constituent Assembly—”

“It doesn’t matter about the Constituent Assembly!” broke in the officer. “If the Bolsheviki want to establish a Socialist state here, we cannot work with them in any event! Kerensky made the great mistake. He let the Bolsheviki know what he was going to do by announcing in the Council of the Republic that he had ordered their arrest….

“But what,” I said, “do you intend to do now?”

The two men looked at one another. “You will see in a few days. If there are enough troops from the front on our side, we shall not compromise with the Bolsheviki. If not, perhaps we shall be forced to….”

Out again on the Nevsky we swung on the step of a streetcar bulging with people, its platforms bent down from the weight and scraping along the ground, which crawled with agonising slowness the long miles to Smolny.

Meshkovsky, a neat, frail little man, was coming down the hall, looking worried. The strikes in the Ministries, he told us, were having their effect. For instance, the Council of People’s Commissars had promised to publish the Secret Treaties; but Neratov, the functionary in charge, had disappeared, taking the documents with him. They were supposed to be hidden in the British Embassy….

Worst of all, however, was the strike in the banks. “Without money,” said Menzhinsky, “we are helpless. The wages of the railroad men, of the postal and telegraph employees, must be paid…. The banks are closed; and the key to the situation, the State Bank, is also shut. All the bank-clerks in Russia have been bribed to stop work….

“But Lenin has issued an order to dynamite the State Bank vaults, and there is a Decree just out, ordering the private banks to open to-morrow, or we will open them ourselves!”

The Petrograd Soviet was in full swing, thronged with armed men, Trotzky reporting:

“The Cossacks are falling back from Krasnoye Selo.” (Sharp, exultant cheering.) “But the battle is only beginning. At Pulkovo heavy fighting is going on. All available forces must be hurried there….

“From Moscow, bad news. The Kremlin is in the hands of the yunkers, and the workers have only a few arms. The result depends upon Petrograd.

“At the front, the decrees on Peace and Land are provoking great enthusiasm. Kerensky is flooding the trenches with tales of Petrograd burning and bloody, of women and children massacred by the Bolsheviki. But no one believes him….

“The cruisers Oleg, Avrora and Respublica are anchored in the Neva, their guns trained on the approaches to the city….”

“Why aren’t you out there with the Red Guards?” shouted a rough voice.

“I’m going now!” answered Trotzky, and left the platform. His face a little paler than usual, he passed down the side of the room, surrounded by eager friends, and hurried out to the waiting automobile.

Kameniev now spoke, describing the proceedings of the reconciliation conference. The armistice conditions proposed by the Mensheviki, he said, had been contemptuously rejected. Even the branches of the Railwaymen’s Union had voted against such a proposition….

“Now that we’ve won the power and are sweeping all Russia,” he declared, “all they ask of us are three little things: 1. To surrender the power. 2. To make the soldiers continue the war. 3. To make the peasants forget about the land….”

Lenin appeared for a moment, to answer the accusations of the Socialist Revolutionaries:

“They charge us with stealing their land programme…. If that is so, we bow to them. It is good enough for us….”

So the meeting roared on, leader after leader explaining, exhorting, arguing, soldier after soldier, workman after workman, standing up to speak his mind and his heart…. The audience flowed, changing and renewed continually. From time to time men came in, yelling for the members of such and such a detachment, to go to the front; others, relieved, wounded, or coming to Smolny for arms and equipment, poured in….

It was almost three o’clock in the morning when, as we left the hall, Holtzman, of the Military Revolutionary Committee, came running down the hall with a transfigured face.

“It’s all right!” he shouted, grabbing my hands. “Telegram from the front. Kerensky is smashed! Look at this!”

He held out a sheet of paper, scribbled hurriedly in pencil, and then, seeing we couldn’t read it, he declaimed aloud:

Pulkovo. Staff. 2.10 A.M.

The night of October 30th to 31st will go down in history. The attempt of Kerensky to move counter-revolutionary troops against the capital of the Revolution has been decisively repulsed. Kerensky is retreating, we are advancing. The soldiers, sailors and workers of Petrograd have shown that they can and will with arms in their hands enforce the will and authority of the democracy. The bourgeoisie tried to isolate the revolutionary army. Kerensky attempted to break it by the force of the Cossacks. Both plans met a pitiful defeat.

The grand idea of the domination of the worker and peasant democracy closed the ranks of the army and hardened its will. All the country from now on will be convinced that the Power of the Soviets is no ephemeral thing, but an invincible fact…. The repulse of Kerensky is the repulse of the land-owners, the bourgeoisie and the Kornilovists in general. The repulse of Kerensky is the confirmation of the right of the people to a peaceful free life, to land, bread and power. The Pulkovo detachment by its valorous blow has strengthened the cause of the Workers’ and Peasants’s Revolution. There is no return to the past. Before us are struggles, obstacles and sacrifices. But the road is clear and victory is certain.

Revolutionary Russia and the Soviet Power can be proud of their Pulkovo detachment, acting under the command of Colonel Walden. Eternal memory to those who fell! Glory to the warriors of the Revolution, the soldiers and the officers who were faithful to the People!

Long live revolutionary, popular, Socialist Russia!

In the name of the Council,

L. TROTZKY, People’s Commissar….

Driving home across Znamensky Square, we made out an unusual crowd in front of the Nicolai Railway Station. Several thousand sailors were massed there, bristling with rifles.

Standing on the steps, a member of the Vikzhel was pleading with them.

“Comrades, we cannot carry you to Moscow. We are neutral. We do not carry troops for either side. We cannot take you to Moscow, where already there is terrible civil war….”

All the seething Square roared at him; the sailors began to surge forward. Suddenly another door was flung wide; in it stood two or three brakeman, a fireman or so.

“This way, comrades!” cried one. “We will take you to Moscow—or Vladivostok, if you like! Long live the Revolution!”

Counter Revolution
Communism Is How We Forcibly Break Apart the Organized Power of the Capitalist Class
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