Herring and Class Struggle

Capitalism came late to Iceland. At the end of the 19th century this large, wind-swept, thinly populated island was made up of small towns, farms and seasonal fishing stations. Then European capitalists saw another Klondike in the herring-rich waters of the north Atlantic..

Thursday 29 May 2014

Byltingin í Rússlandi: Chapter two - The Revolution

Here is my translation of the second chapter of Byltingin í Rússlandi - The Revolution in Russia. This little book was written by Icelandic communists in 1921 to explain and defend the Revolution to Icelandic workers' against defamation by Iceland's rightwing press and politicians.

The introduction can be found here and Chapter One here.

The Revolution
For a whole century reaction and progress have struggled for power in Russia. Over an entire century many of the best and most progressive people in Russia lost their lives, sat in prison for years or fled the country and lived in exile. Yet it is priceless that they fought this selfless battle and worked for their people against absolutism and reaction. The Russian authorities and their parasites have never been able to force them to drop their standard of liberty, though many of the most important Russian friends of freedom fell in their long, hard battle. But they have not fought in vain.

They woke the love of freedom in their compatriots, they woke their sense of justice and finally after a century of preparation the Russian people rose up and mustered under that flag which the heroes of liberty had long coloured with their blood. Under this standard they fought and threw off their yoke. There, where before signs of arch reaction could be seen, now fluttered the revolutionary red flag.

A new period has begun in Russian history. This is no surprise to anyone who has been familiar with the last century of Russian history. The revolution has been digging itself in all this time. It is the fruit of many excellent people's work. It sprang from Bakunin's brotherly ideals, Herzen's love of freedom, Tolstoy's sense of justice and Kropotkin's demands for cooperation.

No one should be surprised that obsolete and broken things shake and fall, when these forces work together, when they set off they break out of the fetters that have held them down. It has happened like Herzen said; Russia couldn't stand half finished work. They have toppled more than the Tsar's throne. They say that they will not stop before they have toppled the entire old, obsolete system and raised a better one in its place. Experience will show whether they succeed.

As already mentioned, the authorities and the rich were the moving spirit of Russia’s part in the world war. They planned to conquer new and capitalist countries for the Russian empire. For example Galicia,[1] but winning Constantinople and the land around the city played even more on their minds. The Russian authorities had long been tempted to occupy the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. They had often come close. Now they began to take it seriously.                                                                                                                                                                      
The warmongers in Russia painted a golden picture of the nation’s expected success from the war. But almost from the beginning they went to greater lengths than the other warring nations to keep its true causes from Russians. They never joined in with as much fiery zeal as the war parties in Germany, England and France had managed to raise with lies and flattery in their countries. But actually in Russia all the same tricks were tried. The warmongers said how noble it was to shed blood for their country and that they didn't doubt that it would be tremendously successful, and said, “Russia’s god is powerful”.

Abroad the representatives of the warring states stand as one. In Russia it wasn't like that. There was a very small socialist party in the Assembly who weren't fooled. It would not vote for more funds for the army and walked out of the Assembly.[2]

Tsar Nicholas II blesses the troops (not in original)

The war went well for the Russians in the first months. They captured all of Galicia and though there would be huge shocks in East Prussia, it didn't significantly diminish the victories that they won over the Austrians. Russian politicians were hopeful of the war’s outcome, and the cooperation between those in the Assembly and the authorities was generally good. But the course of the war turned suddenly. In the spring of 1915 the forces of the Central Powers launched an offensive on the eastern front and very quickly Russia lost all of Galicia and large chunks of Poland. That's when the amity between the Assembly and the authorities fell apart.

The capitalists in the Assembly—the Cadets[3]—attacked the authorities for their fecklessness in all military production. Their anger was particularly aimed at Sukhomlinov[4] Minister for War, despite their having approved of him when he began the war. Now they blamed him most and were determined to get him sacked. First and foremost he was blamed for the shortage of the army’s ammunition and the disastrous results. But he was also guilty of corruption and everyone thought his administration of the Ministry was so dire that a case was brought against him very quickly.

All this was done by the Assembly which the authorities had become a prominent player. So they decided to practically rule without it and allow the Assembly to only sit briefly. Many of the MPs took this badly and were not prepared to sit by in such troubled times. Recently some had been very vocal about the need to change political structures and adopt a fully representative government, so that the Ministry would be fully responsible to the Assembly for its actions.

The Assembly's members were particularly clear on this when it was recalled in February 1916. They repeatedly complained that neither the Assembly nor the nation had any say over who was in government. This in particular prevented good cooperation between the government and the people. The government’s negligence was to blame for the country’s strength and natural resources not being nearly as well used as they could have been. The Cadets in particular now attacked the government. They were desperate for the war to carry on at full strength because they expected to reap the rewards when the Central Powers were driven into bankruptcy.

But the Russian government’s military production was deeply flawed and it was equally suspected that it was considering negotiating a separate peace with the Central Powers. Some said that the government deliberately allowed the country to totter to incite riots so that there would be an excuse to make peace. For this and much else, Milyukov, leader of the Cadets, poured scorn on the government and particularly on the Prime Minister Sturmer.[5]

Eventually Sturmer was forced to resign at the end of November 1916. From then until the March[6] revolution Protopopov[7], Interior Minister was mostly in charge of the government. He was one of the vilest reactionaries and hated by liberals. Protopopov continued to use violence to make the Assembly clearly understand that the government could send it home if it saw fit. Later he increased inspection of newspapers and threatened to ban some of them. Finally the government committed a crime in February 1917 by arresting 11 worker delegates in their armaments production committee. These men had stood extremely well at their stations and were entirely innocent. These actions appalled people and finally proved what was said about the government—that it had long fulfilled its measure of sins and was beyond people’s endurance.[8]

Around this time the outlook wasn't great for Russians on the front and there seemed to many people very little sense in carrying on the war as it had been fought so far. But though the war had gone badly it became, if it were possible, even more sinister. Hunger worsened and spread widely across the country, not because there was not enough food such as corn. But food had come to very few ports where it had been stockpiled since the war began with almost nothing being moved out. The authorities were so criminally negligent that they had not once moved these corn supplies to the cities and provinces that were faring worst. Now it was getting too late, distribution was going so slowly that it wasn't easy to improve the situation quickly and people were starving.

Out of this came the ruckus in the Assembly in the beginning of March 1917[9], when Milyukov and Kerensky[10], one of the workers’ leaders came together to reprimand the government. But it didn't amount to much. While the Assembly was arguing, hunger was starting to hurt so badly that it became serious even to people in Petrograd. From 5 March there were daily disturbances and riots for bread. Wretched workers mostly took part but more than once soldiers switched to their side.

Women march for bread and peace on International Women's Day March 1917 supported by soldiers
(not in original)

The Tsar, who was at the front, was warned time and again of the danger of revolution but he was deaf to all such warnings. He completely trusted the promises of Protopopov and his aides who said that all riots and attempts at revolution could be suppressed with an iron fist. But this time the authorities’ response was way off the mark.

The first thing that they did to prevent more disturbances was to break up the Assembly. They announced on the 11 March that it would be suspended at least until 1 April. This announcement immediately caused uproar in the city. Soldiers rushed out together to fight the authorities. They opened the armouries and distributed weapons to the people to generalise the uprising. Protopopov made a serious attempt to suppress it but it was useless as the uprising quickly spread. At this the Assembly resolved to use the revolution to topple the ministries and put something else in place and to appoint men trusted by the majority of the Assembly.

Assembly President Rodzianko[11] sent two telegrams, one after the other, to the Tsar to urge him to respect the wishes of the Assembly and warn him of the likely consequences if he refused.
The Tsar didn't answer and it has since come to light that he didn't see either of the telegrams. His officials sat on them in the hope that they could suppress the revolution and regain power as before. Besides, it seems that their side, who were most powerful in the Assembly, such as the Cadets and other capitalists, had not initially expected that the Tsar would be removed from the throne and the Romanov dynasty would completely lose its grip on power.

But when it became known that Rodzianko had got no answer to the telegrams sent, Assembly members thought that it was impossible to hope that the Tsar would cooperate with them. They planned to allow the Tsar's brother, Grand Duke Michael, to take power provisionally, preferably as regent for Alexis the heir to the state. But whatever way, the Assembly had decided to blow away the old ministries. Most ministers were arrested that day or later and slung in jail.

The next day, 12 March, the Assembly elected a Provisional Government[12] with unrestrained joy. It was made up almost entirely of MPs representing the capitalist parties. The Presidency went to Prince Lvov,[13] one of the most respected Cadets who had previously been very active in politics as a leader of the Association of District Councils and all its activities[14]. Milyukov, one of the most determined warmongers in the Assembly was made Foreign Minister; Military Minister was Guchkov and Kerensky Justice Minister. In addition, two of the richest men in Russia were made ministers, Tereshchenko, Finance Minister and Kornovalov[15] Trade and Industry Minister.

The Provisional Government (not in original)

It is remarkable that the socialists had no part in the formation of this new government. Only one workers’ representative, Kerensky, had a seat in it. Bolsheviks and Mensheviks didn't have any representatives there. Of course the Bolsheviks were entirely opposed to all coalition government and the Mensheviks thought it didn't go far enough. They wanted the country to become a democracy immediately. But the socialists and workers didn't plan to allow the fruits of the revolution to be stolen from the people. That’s why that same day in Petrograd they founded a workers’ council (soviet), which originally brought together just workers’ representatives but later soldiers as well. The same kind of council was later set up, gradually, across the country. At first the Mensheviks were by far the majority in the Petrograd Council and one of their most decisive, people, Chkheidze[16] was made president.

The plan of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council was to monitor every action of the Provisional Government, drag all power in the capital into the hands of the workers and work to establish peace as soon as possible. One of the first acts of the Council was to issue an address to soldiers that urged them to vote for their own committee to supervise all administrative and equipment issues particular to the forces. It also declared that all orders that the Assembly issued on these matters were to be considered invalid if they conflicted with the decisions of the Workers’ Council.

Exhausted soldiers seized on these orders gladly because they gave them hope and used the opportunity to get rid of the tyrannical restrictions they faced. While army officers felt cheated and complained that all military discipline would fail, soldiers no longer wanted to follow their orders. But is it any wonder that exhausted and demoralised soldiers were unwilling to be slaughtered for nothing?

What had they to gain if the war were to carry on, even if Russia were to win? Nothing in the slightest! The war was not for their benefit but for the relatively small group of politicians and capitalists. Because of the loathsome greed and lust for power of these people millions of ordinary Russians had been laid out on bloody fields. Wasn't it time to end to put an end to such depravity?

Just as the Provisional Government took power in Russia it broadcast an address to the nation laying out its main policies. It declared that everyone in prison for their politics or for their beliefs would be released. Everyone would now have full freedom to speak, write, hold meetings, go on strike and soldiers would be equally free to enjoy all these rights as much as possible. All classes of people, all religions and all nationalities would now be treated equally.

Preparation would shortly be underway to convene a National Assembly that could agree a constitution for the country based on general suffrage. The announcement ended with the government stating that it would not use the war as an excuse to postpone its promised reforms.

While these momentous events were happening in the capital, Tsar Nicholas was at the front and it wasn't clear that he had had the slightest idea of the revolution before 13 or 14 March. He was stationed a short distance from the city of Pskov[17] and had made his way there before he heard the news. Of course there was nothing he could do, since it would have been clear to him that he had no choice but to renounce the Imperial Court.

In the evening of 15 March he was visited by two Assembly members who challenged him to hand over power to his son. This idea had occurred to the Tsar but it seemed to him ill advised to lay such a burden on his son’s shoulders, as young and weak as he was. So he asked that he be allowed to hand power to his brother, Grand Duke Michael. They agreed and the Tsar signed his name to it.

A few days later he was moved to Czarskoje Selo[18] and was held there with the Tsarina and their children. But later that summer the government decided to send them east to Tobolsk in Siberia to remove them from the capital and anything that might happen. Because the government feared that the most reactionary parties in the country, who made a serious attempt in August and September to grab power, would try to get the Tsar out of prison in Czarskoje Selo and use him to gather men under the banners of counter revolution and reaction.

Nikulás II - in original

Now Grand Duke Michael stood ready to take over government. But he did not want to tackle the problem as it stood, and declared that he would only take power if it was the will of the upcoming National Assembly. The likelihood that the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council would be influential probably discouraged him, however, republicans were in the overwhelming majority and therefore it was impossible to know how the country would be governed by the National Assembly.

After the government had rid itself of the Tsar it really got down to work. The first task was to try to alleviate the most serious needs of Petrograd and the other hardest hit cities. The government was partly successful in that it got food moved to the cities and great teams were gathered to see that it was distributed with the utmost speed. Then it cleaned out the civil service across the country and imposed its rule everywhere to make way for the adherents of the new authorities.

To show their goodwill to the Finns and the Poles, who were now stirring, the government told them that they had a right to freedom. The Finns took the opportunity to form their own government but it wasn't enough for them. Many people in the country wanted above all to break all connection with Russia. Such demands were not what the Provisional Government had meant by “rights” so it completely refused all such petitions and even sent in troops to keep the Finns on a tight rein, but allowed that in future Finnish matters would be taken into account in the proposed Russian national assembly.

What the Russian Provisional Government overwhelmingly wanted to change was the war. It wanted to use the entire nation’s strength to continue the war. Everyone in the government was agreed on that. But initially they discussed the reason to continue the war. Foreign Minister Milyukov wanted to continue the war ruthlessly until the Central Powers were utterly defeated and would have to bear whatever costs the Allies charged them. Then Russia would get Galicia and Constantinople and would rule over the channel between Europe and Asia Minor. Milyukov’s capitalist party, the Cadets, fully agreed with this.

Kerensky was the only man in the government, as yet, against this policy but he wanted to carry on the war till all enemy soldiers were thrown out of the country. Then the government would promote an agreement for a general peace without annexing land. Someone else was not on the Provisional Government’s side about this. The Petrograd Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council had made their position clear many times and had told the General Staff that peace should be agreed immediately. Here was the real difference between the Council and the Provisional Government. This was the basis of the titanic struggle between the two powers.

In the Provisional Government the capitalists were the overwhelming majority. They were obviously very concerned to spoil the influence of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council and get its followers to recognise the pre-eminence of the Provisional Government. In the Council the gradual socialists, Mensheviks were in the majority and wanted very much to work with the Provisional Government but could hardly follow its war policy and respond to the workers’ opposite position. Because of this Kerensky tried to come to an agreement.

The Council agreed that the war would continue until the soldiers of the Central Powers were expelled from Russia and the Provisional Government made the announcement that Russia would not fight for land annexation. The capitalist parties were happy with this. In their eyes, its main purpose was to win the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council to follow the war policy and for that it needed Kerensky’s effort. He enjoyed so much influence in the Council that it was the one way of offering guaranteed support for the Provisional Government.

Poor Kerensky! History’s judgement will be very hard on him for allowing himself be used to get the Council to fail the people’s cause. But getting the Council’s agreement to follow the Provisional Government didn't go quietly. The Bolsheviks, who were the minority of the Council, fought with all their strength against the idea of the war continuing. They had various good advocates in the Council, though probably no-one better than Lenin who had recently been allowed to come home to Russia and on arriving had joined the leadership of the Bolsheviks. He demonstrated what an absurdity it would be for workers to allow themselves to fight on. Were they to allow themselves to be killed to satisfy the contemptible cravings for profit of Russian capitalists? Was it their lot to shoot down their class-brothers, workers of other countries?

“No, it’s not them that are our enemies. It is the capitalists in our own and all other countries. It is against these that you must fight.”

Russian troops wait for a German attack 1917
(not in original)

What the Russian people needed first and foremost is peace with the Central Powers, said the Bolsheviks. When that was achieved it would be possible to concentrate fully on our domestic problems. There is great work to do, they said. The capitalists and their parasites must be overturned. The state, the nation, must take the land and expropriate the means of production, seize the banks and undertake the supervision of all businesses, all production. This was the only way to improve the conditions of the people. But for this to succeed workers and soldiers would have to take power into their own hands.

The Bolsheviks enthusiastically spread these lessons in the Council’s meetings and in their main newspaper “Pravda” (Truth). This paper raged against the disasters of the war and the capitalist parties which wanted to continue it, its influence was extremely high and it ended up being widely read.

“Soldiers! Stop slaughtering your brothers in other countries!” said Pravda. “Don’t shed your blood and theirs for the capitalists. Refuse to fight and go home to till the land and alleviate the people’s distress!

“Workers! Stop working for the profiteers! Don’t let yourselves be used to feed the parasites! Take the factories into your own hands and run them in the name of the whole nation!”

But despite everything they did the Bolsheviks were not able to stop the war. This time the bourgeoisie—capitalists and Mensheviks were stronger and preparations were begun for an offensive at the front. Although the soldiers were forced to advance they were exhausted and tired of war. Military discipline had evaporated and officers complained bitterly about it. Soldiers were beginning to be convinced by the Bolsheviks’ persuasion. They started to refuse to fight.

The Military Minister, Guchkov,[19] was discouraged by all these problems and resigned in mid-May. And then none other than Kerensky was put in his place to recover military discipline and speak for the soldiers.  His ability to do this was in many respects very good. He was a great orator. He had been and was still considered a workers’ leader. He had worked to get the Petrograd Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council to follow the Provisional Government, and for this reason he now took on rousing the soldiers to a new offensive—new bloodshed.

At the same time as Kerensky was made Military Minister in Guchkov’s place he got the Council Mensheviks to join in the formation of this changing government. From now on the gradual socialists and the capitalist parties united to continue the war. The Mensheviks were ready to forget that it was overwhelmingly ordinary people who bore the brunt of the war. They were ready to forget that on their backs hung the heavy costs of the war, now and in the future.

Why should ordinary Russians fight? The government and the ruling class said that it was holy to sacrifice their last drop of blood for the fatherland. What was the fatherland worth in wartime? And was it really the fatherland who demanded these precious sacrifices? Wasn't it just a rulers’ trick? Wasn't it transparent that patriotism had been used in all centuries as bait to rouse the nation to horrifying acts of brutality, to get them to use the most harrowing injustice? And so it still is. Kerensky and the Mensheviks took the bait. The seduction of patriotism made them blind.

When Kerensky became Military Minister he threw himself into the fight. He lived either in the capital or at the front and moved everyone with his oratory.

“Soldiers, sailors and officers” he said in one of his speeches. “I challenge you to muster all that you have! I will do what I can. Help me to show other countries that Russia’s army is still so powerful that nothing can exhaust it. Demonstrate, soldiers, that you will defend Russia’s freedom from all attacks!”

Kerensky went crazy against all of the soldiers’ opposition. “I have never known military discipline,” he said, “but I shall still create iron discipline in the army!”

He refused to accept requests for leave from officers; nobody might leave their troops; and he ordered the soldiers to obey their officers in everything. If they didn't do it properly nothing would prevent the imposition of military discipline[20]. With this speech, egging on and threats, Kerensky tried to drive the soldiers to a new offensive. But it was doomed to failure because the soldiers had long given up on the war and no threats could make them fight on.

The Bolsheviks did everything in their power to prevent this offensive. They said that though Russia might be victorious in the offensive, it couldn't in reality be anything but cursed by the majority of the population. New victories could only strengthen the capitalists’ regime; they could only consolidate the chains that the capitalist oppressors had laid on the working class.

Because of all the years before the offensive - or at least the years that it failed - the government could not blow smoke in the people's eyes and trap it in this new maze to continue the war, burden itself unbearably and destroy all the ordinary people of central Europe.

The offensive was to have begun 1 July. That day the people in Petrograd called out by the Bolsheviks gathered in the streets to protest against the continuation of the war. Red revolutionary flags flew everywhere, and the crowd of people who followed them shouted down the government of the bourgeoisie and demanded that the offensive be stopped and that the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council take power. But it was unsuccessful. The government sat tight and the offensive began as planned.

The Bolsheviks though weren't discouraged. In mid-July they began an uprising in Petrograd against the government which temporarily became serious because soldiers in the city and from Kronstadt sided with the people. Hard clashes grew in the streets and for a while it looked as though the days of the capitalists' government were numbered. But it got reinforcements and quickly suppressed the uprising. Many of the leading Bolsheviks, including Trotsky and Lunarchevsky[21], were arrested and thrown in jail. But they didn't get their accursed Lenin. He fled to Finland and for a while hid out there.

The government had won in the capital this time. But at the same time it had invited defeat at the front. The offensive had failed badly as had been widely expected and now the military outlook was worse than ever. In desperation the government’s followers tried to shovel blame for the defeats onto the Bolsheviks and tried for a while to rouse people against them. Because they feared attacks on the bourgeoisie for these results, they had to take special measures to discipline the soldiers and defeat the Bolsheviks, so that opposition to the war would eventually stop. And the decision that they took was to make Kerensky head of the government and greatly increase his power.

The majority of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council fell for it and Kerensky took office on 21 July. He went on to play an important role especially in foreign affairs and the war. The Allied governments explained to him that the Russian government should fully cooperate with them to continue the war and at home in Russia he must do all that he could to preach courage to the nation, to get it to accept it all.

Early in August he published a speech to the people, in which he said among other things, “Only a government backed enthusiastically by the entire nation, authorities full of self-sacrifice can summon the strength needed to expel all enemy troops from the homeland and work for Russia’s restoration. Fully conscious of the holy duty which rests on it, the government must resolve to finish that fateful struggle upon which our gloriously noble nation now depends”.

Kerensky - similar in original

In this grim way he announced to the nation the government’s plan to carry on the war whatever the cost. Things had gone so far that Kerensky an old workers’ leader was foremost in the war party. He had completely embraced it. Although many of the capitalists were unhappy with Kerensky saying that he was a socialist and rebuking their leadership for working with such a man, Milyukov said that this stemmed from a serious misunderstanding, “Because it is precisely the bourgeoisie which has power and Kerensky strives for its policies.”

Milyukov was right. Kerensky was no longer a working class leader. He was now an employee of the capitalist s. Kerensky didn't think that as the war stood the elections for the National Assembly could go on. Either way he was in trouble because he didn't have the strong unanimous support of the people needed at such a time when everything in Russia was shaking at the front and at home too. This is why he decided to call a kind of national meeting in Moscow late in August. But before discussing that it’s only right to mention the one man that was recently starting to make his mark in Russia and had a considerable flurry of support.

This man was Kornilov.[22] He had long been an army officer, had a fine reputation and had so much influence over army commanders that Kerensky saw no one else likely to take over military high command after the failed July offensive. Kornilov took over the army on 1 August insisting that the government accept various proposals to rebuild the army. One of these was that capital punishment should be reintroduced to the army as before the March Revolution, so that it could be disciplined and soldiers forced to obey their superiors. He also proposed that the government give the army control of the railways behind the lines so that he could have complete control of the movement of all goods to the army.

When it came to it Kerensky was no more impressed by this proposal than various others that Kornilov suggested. Certainly death sentences were reinstated in the army but it caused great resentment in the Petrograd Council. This was overall people’s greatest concern and the most important unresolved matter when the national meeting began in Moscow on 27 August.

This meeting was so remarkable because it clearly showed that the Kerensky government’s sun was setting, that power was slipping from the grasp of the capitalists. They were losing control of the country and the spirit of revolution in the army was growing over their heads. The administration more or less acknowledged this at the meeting. All their troubles were compounded by a conspiracy for the Tsar. It failed and the authorities arrested and held the most dangerous conspirators. But this couldn't be more than a little consolation. 

It couldn't solve the problems that it had to listen to; that Riga, one of the biggest ports on the Baltic had fallen into the hands of the Germans, that soldiers refused to fight, that they had risen up against their officers and ran off in the night and that industry lay in ruins. No, all of this just showed that the Kerensky government and indeed all such parties were past their prime. At the conference Kerensky spoke first. It was immediately obvious that he knew that the government was on shaky ground.

“All attempts”, he said, “made to use the conference to attack the government will be crushed with blood and iron”. Kerensky complained bitterly about all opposition to the government that had reached its high tide among soldiers.

“But understand this. Those who have tried the limits of our patience shall submit to a power that is no softer than the iron grip of the Tsar’s government.”

Various ministers spoke describing the parlous state of the economy and the country’s industries. Then Kornilov gave an ugly description of the conditions in the army. Army officers were no longer in control, he said. It was also unlikely that imminent starvation in some parts of the front would subdue disorder and discontent because indiscipline in the army was spreading. And on top of everything else shortages of the most vital military equipment were getting worse. In the last year production of shells had fallen by 60 percent and the aeroplanes needed to use them by 80 percent. Special measures would have to be taken if it were not all to end horribly. At the end of the conference everyone agreed with Kornilov about that.

But Kerensky was not satisfied with the outcome of the conference. It was far from the support that he had expected. On the contrary, it had shown that he and his government were fighting a losing battle to restore the nation. Many people had become deeply unsatisfied with Kerensky though probably none more so than Kornilov. He even made it perfectly clear to his friends. It appears that he and various others planned to change the government and put in more energetic men. Kerensky was aware of this because between him and Kornilov were various men trying to get them to co-operate. Kornilov for his part said that he thought that the only way to bring order to the country and get the better of Russia’s enemies was to establish a dictatorship backed by military force. But he denied that he intended to do it himself. However, he absolutely insisted on his previous demand to control the railways behind the front and get unlimited control over all military activity.

Lavr Kornilov in 1916 - not in original

Although both Kerensky and the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council fiercely rejected these demands some of the ministers were warming to them. One of them agreed to Kornilov sending send a regiment of soldiers to Petrograd to crush the Council’s opposition, particularly the Bolsheviks because then the government would accept it. Kornilov took this advice but its outcome was totally different from what was planned. The government took fright and Kerensky got unlimited power to play his hand. He didn't hesitate and sent Kornilov a telegram to immediately recall the troops and relinquish command of the military. Meanwhile, Kerensky himself took over as chief of the military and appointed an old, experienced general called Alekseyev.[23] These measures took Kornilov by surprise and he reacted badly. So when Kerensky saw that Kornilov was not going to obey, he announced that Kornilov was guilty of treason and hostility to the revolution and was now expected to use force against it.

Kornilov, however, didn't want to go off half-cocked, he planned to take an army to Petrograd and make up charges against Kerensky there. This civil war, however, only lasted a few days. When push came to shove, Kornilov had precious little support and he had to surrender to the government on 11 September. He was convicted of mutiny before a revolutionary court and thrown in jail. Many of the politicians who had followed him got the same treatment.

The victory over Kornilov gave Kerensky an opportunity to appoint the government as he saw fit. He announced that Russia would become a republic, that a five-member committee had been assigned all government administration for the time being and Kerensky had become president of this committee. This new government immediately declared that its priorities were to bring order to the country and to continue the war with all its might.

But the tension in Kerensky's bow had become unbearable. His eloquent and goading words no longer influenced people. The time was rapidly approaching when they refused to back him over the war. All the remarkable events of the last weeks had also given the Bolsheviks wind under their wings. They were the only political party that demanded peace immediately which increased their following massively. The emergency across the country was so dire yet the Kerensky government wanted to continue the war until its conclusion for the Allies and the Central Powers.

How could the people continue to follow such a government? No, it had to fall and the people were rallying under the Bolshevik flag so that it would. They had to take over the government. They had to take over the nation in the bottomless morass that the capitalist government had dragged it into.

Of course the Bolsheviks were in the minority in the Petrograd Council but their followers were growing with every day that passed. And in various ways they were now very well placed. They controlled, for instance, almost all the armoured vehicles in the capital and the country’s radio transmitters were all in their hands. You may imagine that this would have made their next move considerably easier. But most importantly the army was rapidly turning to follow them and refused to continue the war.

Bolsheviks didn't take these forces for granted. They used every opportunity to explain their policies to their followers. In the Petrograd Council they and the Mensheviks struggled for power and for a while it was not clear who would come out strongest. About the same time as the five-member government was set up, the Bolsheviks got a resolution agreed in the Council that the bourgeoisie and all those that had taken part in the Kornilov uprising should be stripped of their powers. They pointed out the enormity of allowing these men, the seat of treachery to the revolution to be in risky positions. 

It would form a new government made up of representatives of workers and peasants; first Russia would become a republic, individual property rights would be abolished and land put provisionally into the hands of the peasants’ committees; industry and the distribution of products would come under workers’ control; it would take all war profits into its own hands and impose high taxes on large properties, to put an end to the disorder in all the country’s industry. And lastly it would invalidate all the secret deals the old imperial government had made with foreign states and challenge all warring states to negotiate a just peace.

Mensheviks hated having been overruled at this meeting and when the Council next met they had gathered their forces to overturn this Bolshevik resolution and get another agreed. Although various schemes were suggested it was decided to call a workers assembly in the capital to form a new government in place of the government of the bourgeoisie. This final resolution challenged all supporters of the revolution to support the current government faithfully until the workers assembly came together to form the new government.

Petrograd workers assembly 1917 - not in original

President of the Council, Chkheidze and his biggest supporters were absolutely condemned by the radical socialists for their behaviour and for a while it was the biggest row among the Council members because Mensheviks and other supporters of the Kerensky government were gradually losing followers in the Council. This was how the Bolsheviks grew. First a few men from the Menshevik party switched sides but then the majority of the Social Revolutionaries. So much so that Chkheidze felt he could no longer continue as president of the Council and Trotsky, one of the main leaders of the Bolsheviks took over.

Finally after a great struggle they were the absolute majority in the Council. All this time they had fought so hard against the bourgeois government, they had done everything in their power to overthrow the regime, to end the war and achieve a government of the proletariat—a workers’ government.

Now they had control of the Council it was expected that the days of the Kerensky government were numbered. The most momentous events were about to happen. The government’s behaviour quickly showed that the Council’s attitude to it had changed.

The Army Minister made it known that all military officers would be purged of those who had opposed the revolution. By this and much else the government showed that it was paying more attention to the Bolsheviks and that it was fully aware that the Petrograd Workers’ Council wouldn't in future be as restrained as it had been recently.

Meanwhile a workers’ assembly met in the capital in the beginning of October in agreement with the Petrograd Council. The assembly was made up of representatives of all Workers’ Councils in Russia and it formed the basis for a new government. Mensheviks were in the majority in the assembly and got it agreed, after a hard tussle with the Bolsheviks that on 9 October a coalition government would form under Kerensky who was still president.

In this government sat moderate socialists and capitalists and yet Mensheviks expected it to solve all the country’s problems. The newly formed government declared that it would make serious attempts to get a peace treaty, a peace without land annexation but it added that it would also fully co-operate with the other Allied governments. After which it was barely credible that it meant to achieve this.

It said it would cap food prices to pull the country out of its emergency and would speed up distribution of food. Everything would be done to sort out industry and make deals and equality between employers and workers. To increase government income it would fight for progressive taxation, property tax and raise all indirect taxes. And finally it declared that the allocation of land would be equalised but without compromising the property rights of those who now possessed it.

The Bolsheviks and other radical socialists resented these developments enormously. Had the success of the workers’ assembly been for this? They asked.  Were workers now to accept the war policy of Kerensky's government, to allow it to work “in cooperation with the Allied governments”, which obviously meant that it should be allowed to do what it wanted exactly as before?

Was this assembly to work in “cooperation” with capitalists, to work in future under their command and in their interests? Would it then keep its promises this amalgam-government of “cooperation and equality” between workers and employers, rather than common ownership of land, industry businesses and workers’ control of it and the distribution of the products?

Wasn't it really just a way to allow the bourgeoisie and war mongers multiple seats in the government? Hadn't they shown for ages that they neither could nor wanted to take a single measure to save the country? It was not a minor point since there was little agreement between the parties of the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks at the workers’ assembly. There were enough Mensheviks there to form the majority and so they made their move. But they and the bourgeoisie hadn't reckoned on the first vote being for the upcoming National Assembly and that was because the workers’ assembly had decided to call a provisional assembly in Petrograd to support the government.

The bourgeoisie took this decision badly at first and said they would have no part in such an institution, which would exist purely to restrain the government’s actions. They were, however, eventually persuaded to have a representative at this assembly like other parties on condition that the government bore no responsibility for its actions and cooperation between themselves and Mensheviks was managed on this basis.

But now the Bolsheviks had had enough. When the provisional assembly first met on 30 October their leader Trotsky stood up and made serious allegations against both the assembly and government. The government would favour the richer classes in every case, he said. Their involvement in the dispute over land and the allocation of food would continually increase the misery and anarchy caused by the war. The rich were going to let famine strangle the revolution and National Assembly. 

The government’s conduct in foreign policy was equally criminal. Now when it had pushed the country to fight for 40 months the government was talking about moving to Moscow and from there carrying on the merciless killing and terror, instead of recognising that the only hope of saving the Russian people was to agree peace as quickly as possible.

Instead of taking a lead in the governments of warring countries to agree a just peace immediately, the government of the Cadets, which contained many enemies of the revolution and Allied politicians were determined to continue the war and send thousands of soldiers to their death for nothing.

“We revolutionary socialists” continued Trotsky, “proclaim that we want no part in policies of this treasonous government nor in the assembly which is hostile to the revolution. The revolution is in imminent danger. The moment that Wilhelm’s soldiers reach the capital, Kerensky's government expects to flee to Moscow and make that city the capital of opposition to the revolution. We expect immediate measures to save our country. We demand peace at once! All power to the workers and soldiers!”

When Trotsky had spoken, he and the other Bolsheviks walked out of the meeting. The dice had been cast.

After this the Bolsheviks decided to take up arms against the Kerensky government. They had to appoint resolute leaders, including Trotsky and Lenin who had recently back from Finland to take part in the leadership of the revolution.

Over the next few days the revolutionaries made all possible preparations and they proved to be relatively easy because throughout the country, especially in the cities, people were revolting against the regime that had completely failed to solve the country's problems.

Famine was making its mark everywhere but nowhere as seriously as in the largest cities. In Petrograd, the capital itself, the emergency had got so bad that people were fleeing in large groups in the hope that they would find food in other places which wasn't always possible. News spread of the phantom of hunger and far and wide people were utterly defenceless before it.

This was the situation when Bolsheviks made their move in the capital. The Council had elected a revolutionary committee to maximise its connections to the soldiers in the city. On 6 November Trotsky challenged the troops, in the name of this committee, to obey no other orders but those signed by it. The Kerensky government’s machinations would have failed utterly were such a challenge to succeed and the government decided later that same day to arrest the revolutionary committee and begin investigating it. This only poured oil on the fire so immediately revolution rose through the city. That night Bolsheviks took over the telegraph office. Overnight the uprising only grew. The troops sided with the revolutionaries and before 7 November broke they had taken over all the railway stations and banks in the city.

Lenin - similar in original

All that day they fought for supremacy but it was easy to see how the struggle would end. The Kerensky government could no longer cope with anything and soon most ministers fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks. Kerensky himself escaped from the city with difficulty.

Suddenly at 10 o'clock in the morning the revolutionary committee announced that the old government was overthrown and the Workers’ Council had taken all power into its own hands.

In Moscow the revolution had begun at the same time as in Petrograd but it was a much tougher struggle there. In that week there were rough street battles but the outcome there was the same as in the capital—the Bolsheviks won total victory over the government’s supporters.

As soon as the Kerensky government had been driven from power the Petrograd Council took the reins of government under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. There in the capital began the Union of Russian Workers Councils. On 9 November it announced that it provisionally held supreme power on behalf of the workers, peasants and soldiers who had made ​​the revolution.

This announcement referred to the revolutionaries’ main policies. They intended to pursue the establishment of a just peace as soon as possible. After that, they would turn to domestic matters, abolish individual property rights over land so that peasants could use it; they would protect workers’ rights and establish workers’ control over all production. A national assembly should be called shortly but otherwise workers’ councils across the country would take charge of all the issues particular to the countryside and regions. All peoples within the limits of Russia’s empire had the right to rule themselves.

At the end of the announcement the Council urged the army to rally strongly to the support of the revolutionaries, to defend the revolution attacked by both domestic counterrevolutionaries and foreign enemies.

The same day as this speech was published the Council contacted the Allied ambassadors in Petrograd and the Central Powers and urged the governments of all the warring nations to quickly negotiate a just peace—peace without land annexation or military reparations. The Council proposed that a three-month ceasefire should be negotiated immediately and appealed to the powerful comradeship of workers particularly German, English and French who had forced this issue.

Finally, the Council elected an executive committee until a final decree was made about the government of the country. Lenin became president of this committee and Trotsky took on the acute problems connected to foreign policy.

At last the Bolsheviks had come to power in Russia. More than half a year after the Russian Revolution began. The reaction and violence of the monarchy and its representatives, the greedy and oppressive rich who had hindered the spirit of the revolution were no longer in control.
The first victories of the revolution were achieved by workers—the urban proletariat.
They expected that these victories would make them free, that they would be relieved of burdens laid on them by other classes, that they would be well fed and secure to create a new and better life. But others were able to capitalise on this first victory—the rich who had by far the most MPs in the old Assembly. They blamed the monarchy for all privations and so were able to deflect their responsibility.

The party of the rich took the Assembly into its own hands and tried to use it to gain wealth and power to create a new country and new state. This is why this party did everything they could to continue the world war until the Central Powers capitulated. And the “money is everything” faction called on the workers and peasants to follow them. It tried to tell them it was their sacred duty to continue fighting. Some were duped by fine persuasion. Because of this it took another six months for any significant attempt to improve the conditions of ordinary people who starved and died for the profiteering and financial interests of these people. But many people were not fooled, mostly the Bolsheviks. They did everything they could to strengthen their muscles. They waged six months of hard struggle before they could overthrow the government of the rich and take power.

The November Revolution gave them power but also huge problems because that “money is everything” had left the Russian people in a disastrous condition—injured, exhausted, starved. The leadership of the Bolsheviks had serious problems to satisfy the hunger, lift the heaviest burdens and heals the wounds. What they had achieved was just a little of the huge tasks ahead. In reality the revolution was just beginning.


[1] East Prussia

[2] The author appears not to have heard of German Social Democrat Karl Liebknecht, Member of the Reichstag who not only voted against the war budget (war credits) but went to prison for organising anti-war protests. Liebknecht “handed in an explanation of his vote, which the President of the Reichstag refused to allow to be read, nor was it printed in the Parliamentary report. The President banned it on the pretext that it would entail calls to order. The document was sent to the German Press, but not one paper published it.” Read Karl Liebknecht’s speech against war credits here, http://www.marxists.org/archive/liebknecht-k/works/1916/future-belongs-people/ch06.htm

[3] The Cadets, the Constitutional Democratic Party founded by Pavel Milyukov Member of  Parliament and foreign minister in the Provisional Government set up to organise elections for a national constituent assembly

[4] Vladimir Aleksandrovich Sukhomlinov, minister of war until 1915

[5] Boris Vladimirovich Stürmer, 27 July 1848 – 9 Sept 1917

[6] Bylting í Rússlandi uses the New Style Russian calendar—the Gregorian calendarintroduced in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1918 which added thirteen days to the Old Style Julian calendar. This is why the author refers to the revolutions in February and October as the March Revolution and the November Revolution. I have not altered the dates.

[7] Alexander Dmitriyevich Protopopov 18 Dec 1866 – 27 Oct 1918, Interior Minister Sept 1916 to Feb 1917

[8] A full measure of sin refers to Genesis 15:16 in the Hebrew Bible, an idea reused in the Christian New Testament

[9] A detailed timeline of events in 1917 can be found at www.marxists.org/history/ussr/events/timeline/1917.htm 

[10] Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky, 22 Apr 1881 – 11 June 1970

[11] Mikhail Vladimirovich Rodzianko, 21 Feb 1859 – 24 Jan 1924

[12] The Provisional Government was set up to organise elections for a national constituent assembly.

[13] Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov, 2 Nov 1861 – 7 March 1925

[14] Lvov was leader of the All-Russian Union of Zemstvos (District Councils) in 1915 and a member of a joint committee of Zemstvos and towns to help supply the military and look after the war wounded.

[15] Mikhail Ivanovich Tereshchenko, 18 March 1886 – 1 April 1956 & Alexander Ivanovich Konovalov, 17 Sept 1875 – 28 Jan 1949

[16] Nikolay Semyonovich Chkheidze, also called Karlo Chkheidze or Nicolas Cheidze, 1864 – 13 June 1926

[17] 160 km from Petrograd

[18] “Tsar’s village”, the town housing the imperial family’s residence 24 km south of Petrograd

[19] Alexander Ivanovich Guchkov, 14 Oct 1862 – 14 Feb 1936

[20] Floggings for disobedience etc.

[21] Anatoly Vasilyevich Lunacharsky, 23 Nov 1875 – 26 Dec 1933, the first Soviet People’s Commissar for culture and education.

[22] Lavr Georgiyevich Kornilov 18 Aug 1870 – 13 Apr 1918.

[23] Mikhail Vasiliyevich Alekseyev 3 Nov 1857 – 25 Sept 1918.

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