Stefan T. Possony :
Lenin :  The Compulsive Revolutionary

The Armed Uprising



Through Wiik Lenin resumed contact with Hanecki in Stockholm.  He wrote him an unofficial letter saying he could not consult with the Central Committee, “nor even get in touch with them.”  Yet, in the same paragraph he added that he would forward a report from Stockholm to the Central Committee.

The point of this Aesopian letter was that the comrades in Stockholm should take action themselves.  The Central Committee “cannot help,” hence, how are money affairs ?  Did they manage to collect money “through the Swedish left ?”  Lenin hinted that Karl Moor might provide a source of funds, or since the old channels were clogged, could serve as a cover man for further money “collections.”  Lenin may also have feared that the German link was broken, and wanted Moor to reestablish relations.  Since his letter might have been intercepted, Lenin observed the rules of conspiracy.  He asked :  “But what is Moor like ?  Has it been completely and absolutely proven that he is honest ?  Has he never had any direct, or indirect hobnobbing with German social imperialists ?”  Of course, Lenin had known Moor for years.  (Note that Lenin did not ask whether Moor had connections with the German government but merely professed interest in his associations with the German Social Democratic party.(1))

Lenin’s liaison men must have acted quickly.  On September 29, 1917, the German Foreign Office informed the high command that their military operations were being substantially bolstered by “intensive undermining activities inside Russia on the part of the Foreign Ministry. . . . The Bolshevik movement could never have attained the scale of the influence which it has today without our continual support.  There is every indication that the movement will continue to grow.”(2)  In other words, the Bolsheviks were receiving help again.

The telegram further said that Russia “is only barely held together by English agents,” and added that the English influence depended upon rail communications through Finland.  The message reported :  “The preparations for the Finnish rising are . . . busily underway and are being supported to a considerable extent.”  Lenin was in Finland at that time.

For a number of reasons, the Foreign Office proposed the occupation of the Aaland Isles.  The operation would have to be accomplished in the first half of November in order to improve in an “eminently important manner” the German “position in the West and the North.”  This action would affect “the whole outcome of the war.”  Since the occupation of the Aalands was not feasible, the high command proposed instead—over the signature of General Erich Ludendorff—to continue the revolutionizing of Russia.  The plan gave thanks to the Foreign Office for the generous financial support it had extended to this activity.  (Note the timing on which the Foreign Office insisted :  “first half of November.”)

Lenin had changed his mind on September 16.  But he procrastinated for another nine days.  On September 24, Ludendorff, after considering the lessons of the Kornilov uprising, expressed the fear that another military coup might succeed.  In order to forestall this danger, he asked the Foreign Office to apply more radical measures.  On September 25, Lenin notified the Central Committee that the current strategy would have to be modified :  the Bolsheviks should assume state power.  It is possible that he had learned that the Germans were again backing him.

Lenin took two days to write his message.  The thoughts and suggestions reflected his entire experience of twenty-four years.  He stated that the Bolsheviks were gaining the majority in Petrograd and Moscow, and that it was time to replace speech-making with action.  “History will not forgive us if we do not assume power now. . . . We will win absolutely and unquestionably.”(3)  He felt that an uprising was essential but that it should be carefully prepared.  Lenin outlined his concept of insurrection as an art, offered suggestions concerning organization and tactics, and emphasized that further delays were inadmissible.

The letter horrified the Central Committee.  Kamenev suggested that Lenin’s proposal be rejected.  It was decided to burn the letter, but a vote of six to four with six abstentions resolved to preserve a copy for the party archives.

As had often occurred before, Lenin was out of step with his contemporaries ;  but in this instance he was in step with history.  Chaos was gaining the upper hand.  During September agrarian disorders erupted throughout the countryside and an increasingly intense peasant civil war was underway.  Inflation was rampant and the value of the ruble declined precipitously.  (There were now three types in circulation.)  Labor productivity had declined by one third or more.  Production of many key commodities was at a virtual standstill, and with about 1500 locomotives out of order, transport bottlenecks were disrupting the distribution system.  Food was scarce, especially in the army.  The government, in the midst of a rapidly increasing deficit, was unable to distribute the social benefits it had promised.  There were outbursts in the Urals and Siberia and rebellions by independence movements in Turkestan and the Caucasus.  The situation in Finland gradually became unmanageable.  On October 1, 1917, Ludendorff issued a new directive on front propaganda ;  “fraternization” was immediately stepped up.  The Russian government displayed utter impotence, while running what was alleged, even by Lenin, to be the freest democracy in the world.

Perturbed by the Central Committee’s failure to acknowledge his letter, Lenin concerned himself with the technical aspects of the insurrection.  He pondered the possible means of employing the Baltic fleet, the Kronstadt garrison, and the troops stationed in Finland.

The Central Committee continued on its conciliatory course.  The Bolsheviks attended a democratic conference which resolved to establish a “pre-parliament.”  The Bolsheviks voted to join with the other parties in participating in that body.  Lenin was furious and demanded that the conference and the pre-parliament be boycotted.  Trotsky and Stalin supported him, but the conciliators held the majority.

Lenin was impatient ;  he departed from Helsingfors for Vyborg.  On the pretext that the border crossing was very dangerous, the Central Committee forbade Lenin to return to Petrograd.  Shotman was dispatched to intercept Lenin and inform him that his return to Russia had been “forbidden” by the party.(4)  Strangely enough, although he was infuriated, Lenin not only obeyed this order but apparently did not protest it.  However, one source who should be knowledgeable asserts that Lenin traveled to Petrograd on Friday, October 5.(5)

Lenin’s anger increased when he noted that the “central organ,” then edited by Stalin, was not including his criticism of party tactics.  On October 12, he wrote to the Central Committee that he recognized the “subtle hint of gagging me and of proposing that I retire.”  He continued, “I am compelled to tender my resignation from the Central Committee ... leaving myself freedom of propaganda in the lower ranks of the party and at the party congress .... It is my deepest conviction that if we . . . let the present moment pass, we shall ruin the revolution.”(6)  The party leaders “conciliated” and decided to quit the pre-parliament.

The current dispute concerned the feasibility of awaiting the opening of the Congress of Soviets—in which the Bolsheviks might gain influence and perhaps a majority—before solving the question of a rising.  Lenin considered the discussion “a childish play of formality” and insisted upon immediate action.

On October 16 the Central Committee “approved” Lenin’s move to Petrograd ;  he had not asked for such consent.  This act implies that the Bolsheviks were telling him not to stand at a distance and preach, but to prepare the uprising himself—and to do so at the locale of danger.

Lenin wrote another letter on October 20 demanding immediate insurrection ;  he submitted a detailed tactical program.  In the press he published an article asserting that the “third” period of the world revolution was beginning.  He interpreted the signs as indicating an incipient uprising in Germany.  He wrote, “The crisis is here.  The future of the Russian revolution is at stake.  The future of the international workers’ revolution for socialism is at stake.”

The state of affairs in Russia can be gauged by Lenin’s brazenness in announcing his intentions openly.  But the Central Committee still was not replying to his communications ;  he again offered his resignation.  By October 20 Lenin recognized that he could not accomplish his objectives by remaining in Finland.  This time, a convenient vacation at the critical moment would mean the end of his political career.  Again posing as stoker on the locomotive, he slipped into Petrograd, hiding in the apartment of Marguerite Fofanova, a female party member.  Party writers have attempted to suggest that this was a poor worker’s apartment in a proletarian quarter,(7) but Fofanova was an agronomist, and the apartment, which was situated on a broad thoroughfare, was large and spacious.  The apartment building stood next to a house with garden which formed an approximate border between a district of workers’ dwellings and a suburban villa development.  In October, “the family, including the servant” still were “in the country, where they had gone for the summer,” Krupskaya related.(8)  Yet Marguerite Fofanova indicated that she had been told in August to have her apartment ready and that her sister took the Fofanova children to their grandparents in Ufa province in order to leave the apartment free.

Marguerite Fofanova’s version of the date of Lenin’s arrival in Petrograd is doubtful :  it does not correspond with other reports.  More significantly, Fofanova reported that Lenin was chiefly concerned with the agrarian question ;  she claimed that while he lived at her apartment the literary argument with the party was over.  This story would put his arrival in the middle rather than the early part of October.  Fofanova probably is correct in remembering that Lenin arrived on a Friday afternoon ;  she has a vivid recollection of his staying a long time.  If the arrival date of October 5 is excluded as too early, and if Lenin appeared on a Friday, he may have appeared on October 12 or October 19 (rather than October 20).  The October 12 date is the most plausible.  Thus, Lenin stayed at least eighteen, and perhaps twenty-five, days at Marguerite Fofanova’s apartment.

There is an eerie quality about this interlude.  Lenin had fought a bitter struggle with his own party and he was preparing a violent uprising which might have entailed his own death.  There was chaos and trouble all around.  Yet here he was, by force of circumstances, on a little island of peace, a Robinson Crusoe with a girl Friday who provided him with shelter and food, and who acted as his courier.

Marguerite Vasilyevna Fofanova (born in 1883) was completing the last year of her studies in agronomy.  Apparently an alert and intelligent girl, there is no doubt that there existed a close mental rapport between her and Lenin.  Though they had not met previous to his arrival at her apartment, Lenin soon talked to her confidentially about his tactics in dealing with the peasants and, even more significantly, discussed with her the top secret correspondence he received from Zinovyev.  She reported that Lenin suffered from insomnia and displayed irritability and hastiness.  She also recounted that Krupskaya visited her husband on the first day of Lenin’s arrival and again on October 31, when she “stayed with us overnight.”  The next morning Krupskaya came to Marguerite’s room and inquired about possible treatment for Volodya’s insomnia.  Fofanova’s chronicle hints that she and Lenin kept in contact during the following years and that their letters were often about books, and sometimes discussing Goethe’s Faust, and opera.  It is noteworthy that Communist historians describe this interlude as lasting only a mere two or three days.

Lenin, at forty-seven, was confined for three weeks with a young woman to whom he was attracted.  Normally, the inference would be plain, but Lenin might not have been tempted.  Still, the tone of Fofanova’s reminiscences and also the flavor of Krupskaya’s recollection do suggest a somewhat intimate bond.  Psychologically, the matter is of more than passing interest :  this was the peak of Lenin’s life, the only time when he threw himself into the midst of the fray.  Perhaps he did feel the inner need to prove himself as the great conqueror during the Indian summer of his emotional life.  All that is definitely known is that during these climactic days, Lenin was in close contact only with Fofanova, a woman thirteen years younger than he.  It would be unreasonable to assume that her influence was trivial.

After Lenin had focussed upon the uprising as a military operation, he became anxious to broaden his political base.  He sent Marguerite to obtain for him back numbers of Krestyanskiye Izvestiya, the organ of the peasant soviet, in which the left Social Revolutionaries were playing the radical role.  Many of their leaders had returned to Russia through Germany.  Lenin’s political strategy was designed to neutralize the Mensheviks in order to confuse public opinion and to seek a temporary alliance with the leftist Social Revolutionaries in order to obtain peasant support.  Winning the good will of this revolutionary group presented a problem.  The Bolsheviks had no convincing agrarian program.  Lenin studied the copies of Krestyanskiye Izvestiya for two full days, working late into the night.  After he had read thoroughly the articles and speeches of left Social Revolutionaries, he found a “mandate” which local peasant electors had produced.  Lenin showed the paper to Marguerite, saying, “Here’s a ready-made agreement with the left Social Revolutionaries. . . . We shall use [this mandate] as the basis for our law concerning the land and see if the left Social Revolutionaries dare to reject it.”(9)

Lenin carried out the plan and the left Social Revolutionaries behaved as he anticipated.  Lenin abandoned, temporarily, the notion of the large farm run like a factory and advocated partition of the land.  In order to achieve power, he promised the peasants exactly what they wanted, and thus was empowered to accomplish, later, what he wanted.  This procedure is offensive to the ideologist, but displays great tactical skill.

On October 21 Lenin turned to a purely military argumentation.  He said, “Only the immediate movement of the Baltic fleet, of the Finnish troops, of Reval and Kronstadt . . . is capable of saving the Russian and the world revolution. . . . Delay means death.”(10)  Two days later he wrote to Ivan T. Smilga, who controlled the Bolshevik units within the forces stationed in Finland, telling him to be ready within approximately two weeks.  Lenin later asked Podvoisky to brief him on the military units at Petrograd which might be sympathetic to the Bolsheviks.

On October 22, Trotsky, skillfully exploiting the unexpected announcement by the government that the Petrograd garrison no longer would be exempted from front duty, suggested to the soviet the establishment of a military-revolutionary committee to supervise military moves.  The moderates were unconcerned and the soldiers, who were anxious to avoid the discomforts of the trenches, applauded.  Trotsky appointed a committee consisting of Bolsheviks and one member of the left Social Revolutionaries.  This representative was a boy of eighteen.

Trotsky, upon announcing that all orders to the garrison would have to be approved by his committee, dispatched committee representatives to the units.  This was the decisive military move :(11) his commissars had the “legal” and moral power to prevent the government from using the garrison against the Bolsheviks and, in some instances, the commissars succeeded in switching the units to Trotsky’s command.

At this point Lenin could not tolerate his isolation any longer.  On October 23, (still wearing his wig) he participated in a ten-hour meeting of the Central Committee held in Petrograd.  The meeting was attended by only twelve members and took place in the apartment of N.N. Sukhanov, a Menshevik whose absence had been contrived by his Bolshevik wife.  Lenin argued, entirely fictitiously, that the Entente was going to make a separate peace with Germany and that the result would be the crushing of the revolution.  He insisted that if the Bolsheviks took control, the West would follow suit.  Kamenev and Zinovyev argued with him, but Lenin had a more forceful personality and was in a violent state.  He persuaded the Central Committee to accept the uprising on the grounds (as they stated mendaciously in their resolution) that the government was about to deliver Petrograd to the Germans.(12)  Thus, the uprising was accepted in principle, but the persons to whom the technical preparations were entrusted were unsure about what steps to take.  One leading Bolshevik thought that, although lengthy preparation was required, the uprising eventually would take place, perhaps within a year.

Zinovyev and Kamenev, who had voted against the resolution deciding upon the insurrection, wrote a secret letter to party committees warning against uprising and revolutionary war.(13)  The Bolsheviks, though they were increasing in mass strength, still did not have the majority.  Hence they were unwilling “to stake on one card not only the fate of our party, but also the fate of the Russian and international revolution.”  Not realizing that Lenin and Trotsky were planning to use military detachments, in addition to party forces, the two oppositionists proposed to make every effort to win electorally in an attempt to establish a radical coalition government which the Bolsheviks could dominate.

German agents were busy buying, almost openly, machine guns and rifles from delinquent soldiers.  The weapons were distributed to the Bolshevik Red guards.  Such activities had been occurring for several weeks.

At that time, foreign currency was the preferred tender in Russia.  The German Minister in Berne had been requested to procure Swiss francs without revealing the involvement of the legation.  This operation was accomplished.  On October 25, 1917, Diego von Bergen, who controlled political warfare in the Wilhelmstrasse, and who had been masterminding the revolutionizing of Russia,(14) before Dr. Jordan, one of his aides in the Russian business, handed a sealed envelope to Herr Sennefelder, a courier.  Sennefelder signed a receipt and it was noted that he did not have knowledge of the contents of the sealed envelope (100,000 francs) but would transmit the packet instantly to the Vertrauensmann (confidential agent).  It was perhaps not a very large sum but the Swiss franc was valuable in inflation-ridden Russia.

In Petrograd, however, matters did not advance.  On October 29, a Central Committee meeting was attended by representatives from the Petrograd Bolshevik organizations.  Lenin, who briefly emerged from hiding, called for an immediate insurrection and managed to have the dissenting voices overruled.

Suddenly, the struggle within the Central Committee broke into open print.  There had been a leak and Kamenev and Zinovyev immediately denied that a day had been fixed for an uprising.  Furious about the leak Lenin attacked his opponents in three articles.  Without mentioning names, Zinovyev replied.  Stalin published a mollifying note.  Kamenev, writing in Gorky’s paper, strongly opposed the uprising.  Lenin demanded the expulsion of Zinovyev and Kamenev from the party.  Stalin was determined to preserve unity, but Kamenev resigned.  An anti-Bolshevik newspaper published the Bolshevik operational plan, whereupon Trotsky and his friends launched deceptive rumors to discredit the new leak.  But the disorganization of the government had gone too far.  Even the disclosure that the Bolsheviks were about to initiate an insurrection did not stimulate effective counter-actions.

On November 3, a party council was convened.  Theoretically such a council consisted of the Central Committee and the leading party functionaries.  If a genuine council with the appropriate membership had been convened, the uprising probably would have been cancelled.  Hence, Lenin resorted to one of his old tricks :  the participants were not invited ex officio but were selected by Sverdlov, Shotman, and Rakhya’s brother ;  Stalin later added two or three names.  Those who were invited were notified by trusted persons like Shotman—or not notified if the wrong name had slipped on the list.  In the end, twenty-five persons assembled in the municipal building of the Vyborg district, which was close to Lenin’s hiding place.  Lenin talked for two hours, then a long debate followed.  Many of the participants withdrew to adjoining rooms to nap.  By seven the next morning Lenin’s resolution to seize state power was accepted by a vote of nineteen to two, with four voters abstaining.  The council had been well selected.

November 4 was a holiday (the Day of the Soviet), complete with street demonstrations, manifestations, and mass meetings.  The Bolsheviks used the opportunity to hold trial maneuvers, concealing this bold operation by mingling their troops with the demonstrators and strollers.(15)  On November 5 Trotsky persuaded the soldiers of Peter-Paul Fortress to change sides ;  this daring coup gave the Bolsheviks about 20,000 rifles and a topographical position commanding the capital.  On the evening of Tuesday, November 6, the Bolshevik leaders assembled in their Petrograd headquarters.  Lenin wrote :  “The matter must absolutely be decided this evening or tonight.  History will not forgive delay by revolutionists who could be victorious today (and will surely be victorious today) ;  while they risk losing much tomorrow, they risk losing all .... The government is tottering, we must deal it the death blow at any cost.”

The government, which expected the rising to occur on the next day, was positioning guards on the Neva Bridges.  Lenin was warned that if the bridges were raised, the city would be divided and the uprising could be suppressed piecemeal.  Lenin sent Marguerite with a note to the Vyborg headquarters, his liaison point, and called for immediate action.  She was told that Lenin should stay in hiding.  Lenin sent her back.  She returned with the same answer and apparently tried to convince Lenin to exercise caution.  But he sent her off for a third time saying, “Ask them . . . what they are afraid of ? . . . Do they have a hundred reliable soldiers . . . with rifles ?  I don’t need more for my protection.”  The Vyborg committee denied Lenin for the third time during the night.

When Marguerite returned to the apartment, Lenin had gone.  On the table there was an unfinished dinner.  A note was fastened to his napkin.  It read, “I went where you did not want me to go.  Au revoir, Ilyich.”

Marguerite fell into her bed.  Suddenly, the doorbell rang and Marguerite saw Krupskaya standing there.  Fofanova told her through the closed door that Lenin had gone to the Smolny.(16)  Krupskaya returned to the Vyborg committee.

Lenin had good reason to leave.  He was worried that his comrades might hesitate or draw back and feared that the bridges might be raised after all.  But he did not go alone :  he met Ejno Rakhya who had appeared suddenly, perhaps with an order to keep Lenin away, and ended by going with Lenin, who could no longer be restrained.  Armed with false papers, Lenin put a bandage over his face as though he had a toothache and donned an old cap.  At eight in the evening, accompanied by Rakhya acting as his bodyguard, Lenin began his trek.  A streetcar took them a good part of the way ;  during the rest of the distance they walked and were stopped twice.  When Lenin reached headquarters in the Smolny Institute, the guard did not recognize him and he was forced to sneak into the house.  Everything went according to his fondest hopes.  The order to rise had been issued hours before, the telegraph agency already had been seized, and the insurrection was in full swing.

Now, when for the first time in his life Lenin had moved to the battlefield himself, he occupied himself with drafting proclamations and statements.  Fully convinced that his words were as necessary as bullets and shells, he worked until he was utterly exhausted.  He interfered with military operations to a point where Podvoisky, who was acting as chief of staff, became furious and resigned.  Lenin ordered him to continue if he did not wish to be shot.  Podvoisky wrote later that at that moment, “I felt for the first time that we had a dictatorship.”(17)

The Smolny was brilliantly lighted.  Couriers came in rapid succession to receive instructions, the telephone worked perfectly, girls were sorting incoming telegrams and typing order.(18)  The house was protected by a field gun, machine guns, and armored cars.  The Bolsheviks did not even erect barricades.  There was no government interference.

Rarely, if ever, had the headquarters of an uprising functioned so openly.  This was possible because of the strong influence Trotsky’s military revolutionary committee exerted upon most units of the Petrograd garrison.  The insurgents claimed that they were simply defending the garrison and the democratic regime against the counter-revolution.(19)  The government was relying upon the Cossack regiments, but the Cossacks distrusted Kerensky and were unwilling to fight without infantry support.  They decided to spend the night discussing politics and saddling their horses.(20)  The City Commander took an ambiguous attitude, displaying no energy whatever, and soon disappeared.  The Minister of War, to whom the city commander reported directly, had been relieved of his duties.(21)

But was there really an uprising ?  The workers had remained on their jobs and there were no mass strikes—not even workers in the streets.  The Red guards, few in number, played an insignificant role ;  some detachments were mainly composed of Chinese laborers, released prisoners of war, and unemployed Letts.  The ultimately decisive factor was the landing of 2,000 or 3,000 Kronstadt sailors and the demonstration by seven warships.  These forces participated on their own initiative, not because they had been called from Smolny headquarters.

The fall of the government was announced prematurely.  At ten in the morning of November 7 Lenin issued a proclamation about the change of government and, again prematurely, claimed that power was in the hands of the soviets.  He stated, “Here is the cause for which the people fought :  immediate peace offer on democratic principles ;  abolition of land ownership by landowners ;  workers’ control of production and creation of a soviet government.”(22)

Lenin did not remind Russia that the uprising contradicted Engels’ declaration of 1895 which read, “The time has passed for revolutions to be accomplished through the sudden seizure of power by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses.”(23)

Later in the day, four insurgent battleships were in operation in the Neva estuary and 1,500 sailors arrived by train from Helsingfors.  Sufficient troops were available to lay siege to the winter palace, the seat of the government.  As the Bolsheviks were massing, the government forces disappeared.  At six that evening, Gregory I. Chudnovsky, a former assistant to Parvus, asked the government to surrender.(24)  Lenin became impatient about eight !  He decided to speak to the All-Russian soviet as soon as the government had been deposed.  Between nine and ten o’clock there occurred desultory shooting and sailors penetrated the palace through a back door that conveniently was left open.  About eleven, the guns of Peter-Paul Fortress fired a few shots, achieving two hits.  The light cruiser Aurora fired a blank shell.  At two in the morning of November 8, Chudnovsky negotiated the withdrawal of the troops who were “defending” the palace.  After the defenders had departed, the palace was taken by “assault.”

The Petrograd insurrection could have been easily suppressed by one or two front divisions.  Kerensky issued the requisite orders but before action was taken the orders were countermanded by General V.A. Cheremisov, commander of the northern front, who was acting in close liaison with the military revolutionary committee of his headquarters in Pskov.(25)  Cheremisov, a political careerist, behaved more radically than the radicals :  his personal ambitions made him thoroughly unreliable.  He justified his action by claiming that the task of the army was to hold the positions currently occupied and not to concern itself with the political struggle at Petrograd.  (The most interesting aspect of this story is that late in 1915 or early 1916 Cheremisov was involved in an affair of German espionage.(26)  He maneuvered to become commander-in-chief under Lenin but found he betrayed in vain :  Lenin did not want him.)

On November 8, 1917, Riezler asked Berlin for two million in war bonds.(27)  He also asked for Jansson, whom he needed urgently, On the following day, the Wilhelmstrasse requested fifteen million marks for political propaganda in Russia.  On November 15, Vorovskyl the Bolshevik contact man in Stockholm, sent a telegram to an agent in Switzerland (probably Moor) who was organizing the transfer of German money to the party in Russia :  “Please fulfill your promise immediately.  We have committed ourselves on this basis.”  He added, “Great demands are being made on us.”(28)

On November 10, one million rubles were on their way.  Riezler was informed, by means of an ultra-secret code, that the balance would follow shortly and that more was available.(29)  Insurrections can be less costly than the retention of power.(30)  The German military elatedly told the foreign office on November 9 that the victory of the soviets was in the German interest.




1 The editors of Lenin’s Sochineniya (3rd edition, XXIV, 365) asserted that on October 7 the Central Committee declined a money offer by Moor because it was not feasible to check the real source of these funds.  There may have been such a vote, especially since most members of the Central Committee were left in the dark about these affairs ... but the funds were hardly declined.

2 Zeman, p. 70.

3 Selected Works, Vol. VI, p. 217.

4 Shotman, op. cit., p. 415.  For a biography of Shotman, see Istariocheskii Arkhiv (1960), No. 2, p. 34.

5 M.V. Fofanova, “Posledneye podpolye V.I. Lenina,” Istoricheskii Arkhiv (1956), No. 4, pp. 166-172.

6 Sochineniya, 4th ed., Vol. 26, p. 61f.

7 Krupskaya, op. cit., p. 373.

8 Ibid.

9 Krupskaya, op. cit., p. 390f.

10 Selected Works, Vol. VI, p. 302.

11 For further details, see my A Century of Conflict (Chicago :  Regnery, 1953), pp. 62-66.

12 Lenin, Sochineniya, 4th ed., Vol. 26, p. 157f.

13 Text of the letter in Bunyan and Fisher, pp. 59-62.  See also Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. VI, pp. 325, 329ff.

14 Zeman, p. IX.

15 Curzio Malaparte, Tecnica del Colpo di Stato (Milan, Bompiani :  1948), p. 117f.;  James Mavor, The Russian Revolution (London :  Allen and Unwin, 1928), p. 147f.

16 Fofanova, “Ilitch à la veille d’Octobre 1917”, Lènnie tel qu’il fut, Vol. I, p. 732.

17 Podvoisky, “Les journées d’Octobre,” ibid., p. 752.

18 The government had disconnected the telephone but the Bolsheviks had seized the central switchboard and reestablished service.

19 For an example—the line taken by Gorky’s Novaya Zhizn—see Novy Zhurnal, No. 69, New York, 1961, pp. 199.

20 Serge Oldenbourg, Le coup d’ètat bolcheviste, 20 octobre-3 dècembre 1917, Paris, Payot, 1929, p. 154ff.

21 The Minister of War, A.I. Verkhovsky, was a socialist general who, on November 2, had openly called for separate peace.  There were over ten million men in the army, of whom five million were fighters, but two million could not be fed ;  in addition, there were two million deserters.  Verkhovsky had changed his line without consulting the government and was furloughed.  The impression is that he changed when he recognized that the government was hopeless.  Verkhovsky had been assistant military attaché at Belgrad during 1914 and probably played a minor role in the Serb-Russian intelligence arrangements which led to the assassination of the Austrian crown prince.  He later served in the Red Army.

22 Sochineniya, 4th ed., Vol. 26, p. 207.

23 Marx and Engels, Werke, Vol. 7, p. 523.

24 According to an Okhrana report of February 2, 1916, Chudnovsky had then resigned from Parvus’ organization and wanted to go to London.  He later  came to the United States and returned to Russia with Trotsky.  It is possible that he was an intermediary between Trotsky and Parvus.

25 The food situation in the army had become critical.  Deliveries during October were down by one-third, partly due to troubles with the railroads.  Stocks were down to a two to three day supply.  The situation in Cheremisov’s command was so “catastrophic” that even the baking of bread had stopped.  (Browder-Kerensky, op. cit., 11, 651, 657.)  For further details, see my A Century of Conflict, p. 72f.

26 Browder-Kerensky, op. cit., 111, 1526, 1804 ;  See also W.S. Woytinski, Stormy Passage (New York :  Vanguard, 1961), pp. 355, 374 and Mikhail Bonch-Bruyevich, op. cit., p. 92ff.  Bonch-Bruyevich added that he should have been relieved of his post and, at best, retired, but someone helped the “dear fellow.”  He was promoted and given command of an infantry division.  He owed his later promotions to Kerensky, whom he betrayed.

27 War bonds had held their value better than ruble banknotes, whose value had dropped to about one-third of parity.  The telegram (Zeman, p. 72) did not specify the currency, but obviously rubles were requested.

28 Zeman, p. 85.

29 Ibid., p. 79.

30 On November 28, Berlin wired Romberg that the Petrograd government was in financial difficulties ;  hence it was desirable to send money.  Zeman, pp. 75 and 93.


Lenin :  The Compulsive Revolutionary

Chief of Government



The term “seizure of power” aptly describes what had happened :  there was no insurrection, for the democratic government had become utterly impotent, so that the Bolsheviks simply took possession of the power that no one claimed.  Lenin’s critics contended that forceful seizure was unnecessary and that the Bolsheviks possibly could have assumed power by democratic means.  But the elections which were soon held proved that the Bolsheviks had no chance of winning a majority.  The Bolsheviks did not merely aim at ministerial chairs ;  their goal was to establish a dictatorship.  This could be attained only through force ;  that the operation entailed few risks was their sheer good fortune.  The application of force created the myth of the October revolution :  it was this important tale that provided bolshevism with its world-wide significance and established Lenin as a first-rank leader.  Lenin’s mystical faith in force and violence was better attuned to the irrationality of the historical process than the “reasonableness” of those who hoped that the revolution would evolve naturally and needed not to be artificially executed.

On November 7 at 10:45 P.M. the Second All-Russian Soviet Congress was called to order while the winter palace still was under siege.  The opening of the session was delayed to provide Lenin time to speak.  Since Lenin’s opponents had left the soviet, the Bolsheviks functioned as the majority party.

The Presidium consisted of fourteen Bolsheviks and seven left Social Revolutionaries who occupied the seats vacated by right Social Revolutionaries.  The Kronstadt sailors who participated in the coup were mostly left Social Revolutionaries and anarchists.  The left-wing Mensheviks also sat in this rump congress along with a single Ukrainian socialist.  Lenin could have made his victory appearance by three in the morning after the fall of the palace, but he did not appear.  Lenin was too exhausted.  He went to the home of Bonch-Bruyevich, could not fall asleep, and worked on the land decree.(1)  The soviet waited until six o’clock and then adjourned.

Later in the morning Lenin delivered his victory speech.  He claimed that the old state apparatus would be demolished.  A new soviet government would be created without the bourgeoisie.  Lenin’s government would report to the soviet.  The third Russian revolution would bring the victory of socialism, but the liquidation of the war was the immediate task.  The international proletariat would help the Russian proletariat.  The second task was to expropriate agrarian property.  (In 1921, Lenin was to explain to the Third Congress of the Communist International that the “masses” wanted peace and the soldiers did not want to fight.  But one cause was insufficient.  The congress stole the left Social Revolutionary agrarian program and soon the majority of the peasants were persuaded.  This was the strategy which, according to Lenin, rendered victory simple.)

During the evening of November 9, Lenin participated in another meeting ;  thereafter he did not appear for three days in the Smolny, the Bolshevik headquarters which had now become the seat of government.  During the following week he was busy at the headquarters, then eclipsed himself again on November 19, 20, and 21.  The Bolsheviks introduced the eight-hour working day and expropriated land and certain other types of property.  They bestowed upon all nationalities in Russia the right to self-determination (including the right to secede) and abolished religious privileges.  All existing secret treaties were cancelled.  A three-month armistice was offered to all belligerents, and hostilities were suspended early in December.  Hostile newspapers and counter-revolutionary activities were suppressed.

Many Bolsheviks argued that, since a purely Bolshevik government could maintain itself only through terror, a coalition government should be established.  Lenin demurred.  The first government crisis occurred within the first week of Lenin’s administration.

The Poles, Ukrainians, and Finns declared their independence.  By contrast the Bolsheviks maintained their power in Russia by relying on Lettish and Chinese mercenaries :  those were the only troops they could depend on.  The Germans paid for the military services rendered in behalf of the Bolsheviks.  A few weeks earlier, Lenin had told Shotman that for the Bolsheviks to stay in power all money would have to be “annulled.”  Shotman asked what would replace the currency.  Lenin replied, “We shall put all printing presses in motion and within a few days print as much as we need.”(2)  Things were not that simple, but the printing presses were run for more than eight hours every day.

The Germans had used fraternization tactics throughout the preceding months in an attempt to weaken the Russian army and stimulate the Bolshevik revolution.  Now this same weapon was available to the Bolsheviks to initiate the next round of the world revolution and to revolutionize Germany and Austria-Hungary.  Quite a few prisoners of war had joined the Bolsheviks so the maneuver was entirely feasible and fraternization was increased.  Yet the Germans forced Lenin to stop all fraternization with German soldiers immediately.(3)  The Germans obviously could hold the threat of blackmail over Lenin, who was now beginning to pay the penalty for his Machiavellian politics.  His great dream of using the Germans to make revolution in Russia and then carry the revolution into Germany could not be fulfilled.  This much became evident within the first month of his rule.  And to leave no doubt about this, the German Minister at Stockholm, Hellmuth Freiherr Lucius von Stoedten, warned Vorovsky “in a discussion lasting several hours . . . emphatically against trying any experiments with internal German affairs.”(4)

On December 15 a formal armistice was concluded with Germany, and on December 17, Lenin signed a decree ordering the demobilization of the Russian army.(5)  Simultaneously, the Bolsheviks established a terror machine, the dreaded “Cheka” or Extraordinary Commission.  On December 23, 1917, the Menshevik organ, Novy Luch, summarized the situation by saying that the Bolsheviks were ruining the country by controlling production and creating unemployment.  The Bolsheviks had originally favored the dismemberment of the Russian empire, but now they were fighting the autonomous states which refused to submit to their rule.  They resuscitated the tsarist police system ;  and, instead of introducing a dictatorship of the proletariat, they established a personal dictatorship by Lenin.

On January 11, 1918, in the midst of a war which had merely been interrupted by a truce arrangement, two additional military decrees were issued.  One abolished all ranks ;  the other stipulated that commanders were to be elected by soldiers’ committees and commanders of units larger than regiments be chosen by soldiers’ congresses.  The military commanders were to have no disciplinary prerogatives.  These decrees effectively destroyed the army.  The massive desertion rate, which had characterized events so far, degenerated into a spontaneous demobilization.(6)  The Bolsheviks claimed that the army had to be destroyed to preclude army counterrevolutionary attempts ;  naturally, other measures could have been taken to attain the same objective.  No attempt was made to build up new and dependable units or to halt progressive demoralization.  For two months, the Bolshevik strategists eagerly busied themselves destroying the remnants of Russia’s military power.  The Germans could not have asked for more.

Indeed, on January 3, 1918, an unnamed German socialist—probably Kurt Eisner—complained in Gorky’s newspaper, Novaya Zhizn (which had been partially financed by German money[7]), that the Bolsheviks were enabling the Germans to start an offensive in the West.  The German socialist warned that by resuming economic relations with Germany, the Bolsheviks would replenish the Kaiser’s food and raw material reserves ;  thus, the Bolsheviks were saving Imperial Germany and were aiding in the preparation of “the most cruel triumph of German militarism.”  Gorky’s paper commented that the Bolsheviks were misleading the masses by claiming they could obtain a “democratic peace” from Germany.  Gorky described the delaying tactics as a sham.  In response, the Bolsheviks spread the rumor that they were delaying negotiations until a revolution would break out in Central Europe.

The Bolsheviks were not sufficiently accommodating to the Germans.  On January 7, 1918, the German Foreign Secretary cabled his agents that the time had come to provide a few broad hints through the available safe channels but not in public.  “If the truth were to become known in Russia . . . then the Bolsheviks will be finished.  Their own dishonesty will ruin them.”(8)  Subsequently, Lenin improved delivery and the Germans never found it necessary to disclose the truth.

Lenin, Krupskaya, and Maria Ulyanova spent Christmas at an unnamed place in Finland.  They apparently left Russia on Christmas Eve (January 6, 1918, New Style) and enjoyed “that spotless Finnish cleanliness with its white curtains everywhere.”(9)

Lenin was experiencing his customary health troubles.  He began the composition of three articles but could not finish them.  The Germans reported from Petrograd that he was spending a few days in a Finnish sanatorium but had been recalled to the capital.  There was not much opportunity for relaxation after his return.  Krupskaya reported that between the middle of January and the end of February she and Lenin went for walks along the Neva.  This sounds a bit too hazardous for a dictator’s health treatment.

On January 15 someone fired at Lenin while he was riding in his car.  The vehicle was struck by four bullets.  Lenin’s life was saved by Platten, who was sitting beside him and pushed his head down.(10)  Platten was slightly wounded in the hand.

In an extremely difficult situation, Lenin had insisted upon coming to power.  It seems that he should have had a formulated program through which the great promise of socialism (or communism) could be fulfilled.  The old vexatious system of ranks and classes (chin) had been abolished by the democratic regime.  The Bolsheviks instituted a few reforms, such as the adoption of the Western calendar and the eight-hour day (which for many years was ignored), whose introduction required no revolution.  They abolished the institutions through which the economy had been directed, but were unable to invent better instruments.  They advocated self-determination but did not permit it.  They adopted the agricultural program of the Social Revolutionaries, but did not fulfill this program either ;  yet they destroyed genuine agrarian reforms which had been accomplished by the tsarist regime.

Thus, the Bolsheviks cheated both the minority nationalities and the peasants, and alienated and destroyed the middle and upper classes.  They claimed to speak for the proletariat but betrayed the workers.  The Bolsheviks in power were not a labor government but a group of intellectuals with a slanted education.  They claimed they knew how to build socialism and they promised the proletariat better treatment.  While they were able to disrupt the existing system, they did not know how to fashion a workable socialist system.  They even betrayed the soldiers :  though they released many from duty, they failed to tell them that this act was at Germany’s bidding.  They cared nothing about democratic peace, but soon were to establish a new army to fight a protracted civil war.  They had lied and cheated their way to power.  Now that they had seized the government, they knew how to preserve and enlarge their power but proved unable to use their strength constructively for their professed purposes.

Several socialist parties and socialists from practically all groups were willing to participate in constructive work.  If there had been a positive program, a broadly based government could have command ed the loyalty of the people in the true sense of the word.  In the absence of constructive ideas, it would have been advisable to permit—in fact, stimulate—discussion on socialist policy.  But the Bolsheviks were terrified of free debate and abolished free speech without delay.  Nor did the Bolsheviks wish to share their power.  They intended to rule by unrestricted dictatorship, not in the sense Lenin originally had promised (i.e., active participation by the masses in public affairs and total suppression of bureaucracy), but in the sense of unrestricted power exercised by a small minority.  The Bolsheviks had so little confidence in their own ability to create that they preferred fear to mass support.  They lacked the wisdom and humility to use their undoubted victory to make peace with their fellow socialists and thus spare their country an era of endless anguish.

Some of the Bolsheviks with more intelligence and integrity recognized that this policy would have catastrophic results.  But this program was Lenin’s brainchild and reflected his psychology.  He had become the inviolate and infallible ruler.  To paraphrase Santayana :  after he had forgotten his aims, he was strongly motivated to redouble his efforts.




1 Vladimir D. Bonch-Bruyevich, Na Boyevikh Postakh Fevralskoi i Oktyabrskoi Revolyutsii (Moscow, 1981), p. 119f.

2 Shotman, p. 417

3 Fraternization was stopped on November 13, 1917, at 11 P.M., and on November 14, Prikaz No. 3, signed by Krylenko, ordered the immediate cessation of firing and fraternization on all fronts (Istoricheskii Arkhiv [1957], No. 5, p. 156-160).

4 Zeman, p. 105.

5 Istoricheskii Arkhiv, op. cit., p. 154.

6 Mikhail Bonch-Bruyevich, op. cit., p. 260ff.

7 Zeman, p. 92.

8 Zeman, p. 112f., prints an instruction from Berlin to the legation at Stockholm that it was “necessary to have serious words with Vorovsky.”  “Appeals to our nation, which include revolutionary matter and calls to our soldiers to disobey orders and lay down their arms . . . we must regard as improper and intolerable interferences in our internal affairs.”

9 Krupskaya, op. cit., p. 425.

10 Platten had succeeded finally in being admitted to Russia ;  Radek also had arrived.  On December 20, 1917, the Associated Press offered Radek the post of chief Russian correspondent, which he declined.