Michael Pearson

The Sealed Train
Chapter 10

DURING THAT FIRST WEEK after his return to Russia, Lenin was facing enormous problems.  Until he surmounted them, he could make no progress with his plans to gain the public support he needed for his workers’ revolution.  He could not start to use the vast sums of cash that were available to him.1

His position was precarious in the extreme.  The party leaders, ranged around Kamenev, were violently opposed to his policy.  The revelation of the Sealed Train, of which few of the thousands who had welcomed him at the Finland Station had known, produced so violent a reaction that his very life was in danger.

For his new ideas were a propaganda gift to the right wing—in particular to Paul Milyukov, the Foreign Minister and head of the big Kadet Party.

The Kadets, backed by a powerful newspaper, Rech (“Speech”), had the support of most of the bourgeoisie—civil servants, shopkeepers, military officers, the professions.  In addition, many right-wing reactionaries, deeming it wise in revolutionary Russia to conceal their real views, had now joined the party.

Milyukov was a liberal and a patriot who wanted to restore to Russia the dignity and glory that had been badly frayed by the humiliation of the war’s lost battles.  He was determined to destroy the Soviet and its socialist menace, and he favored an imperialist war policy that even included the ancient Russian aim of Constantinople, but he had to move warily.  The masses—and the troops in particular—desperately wanted an end to the war, but they were prepared to continue fighting to defend Russian territory and their revolution.

For Milyukov, Lenin arrived in Petersburg at an ideal moment.  For he enabled Milyukov to promote the idea that all pacifists were in league with the Germans and, by pillorying Lenin as a friend of the Kaiser, to lay the groundwork for a strike against the Soviet.

It is highly doubtful if Milyukov truly believed that Lenin was in the pay of the Germans, and certainly he would have been astonished to learn the sheer scale of the financial backing they had provided.  But the Foreign Minister was concerned not with truth, but with tactics.

The Sealed Train offered undisputed proof that Lenin had accepted help from the Germans.  Naturally, the Kadet newspaper and agitators implied, Lenin wanted an end to the war, naturally he demanded fraternization between the troops at the front, naturally he preached anarchy in his speech in the Tauride Palace, for this was what the Kaiser wanted.

Milyukov’s plan, conceived in liaison with General Lavr Kornilov, commander of the city’s garrison of a quarter of a million troops, was based on classic techniques that the Tsars had employed for centuries.  At least, this was the charge later made by Trotsky and suspected by many of Lenin’s rivals in the Soviet.  Certainly it was simple :  Milyukov’s Kadets would provide disorder in the streets.  Lenin and the Bolsheviks would be blamed.  And the troops, if their resentment against Lenin as a German agent was strong enough, would agree to repress the troublemakers.  The counterrevolution would then be in full swing, and the socialists in the Soviet would be vulnerable.

The first stage of Milyukov’s plan was brilliantly successful.  Lenin had fully calculated the danger of the Sealed Train.  Because of this, he had appeared with Zinoviev before the Executive Committee of the Soviet—which was noncommittal but did publish in the official Izvestia his explanation of the journey with its emphasis on the role played by the non-Russian Fritz Platten, the “sealing” of the train against any contact with the Germans and the protocol of approval signed by the international socialists.

Lenin had hoped that this would answer much of the criticism.  But his statement made hardly any impact at all against the howls of anger against him both in the press and in the streets.  Throughout the bourgeois newspapers he was attacked for traveling with the aid of the Kaiser and even, for good measure, for the life of luxury he was leading in the Kshesinskaya “Palace.”  Mobs paraded through the city bearing placards demanding his arrest.  Large hooting crowds gathered in the Alexandrovsky Park outside the Kshesinskaya Mansion, yelling, “Down with Lenin—Back to Germany !”

In several regiments, motions demanding his arrest were carried by big votes in the committees.  The Petersburg High School students mounted their own bitterly critical demonstration.  The Soldiers’ Executive Commission of the Moscow Soldiers’ Soviet passed a resolution calling for protection from Lenin and his propaganda.  “ ‘Arrest Lenin’ and ‘Down with the Bolsheviks’ were heard at every street corner,” recorded Sukhanov.

In the war zone, hundreds of miles from Petersburg, the Fourth Front Line Sanitary Ambulance unit branded the travelers on the Sealed Train as “traitors.”

Even the sailors, the most revolutionary element in Russia, turned angrily against Lenin.  The men who had formed the naval Guard of Honor on the platform at the Finland Station were so appalled to learn about the journey that they issued a public statement :  “Having learned that Comrade Lenin came back to us in Russia with the consent of His Majesty the German Emperor and King of Prussia, we express our profound regret at our participation in his triumphal welcome to Petersburg.”

Maximov, the young ensign who had commanded the guard of honor at the Finland Station, dissociated himself from the Bolshevik leader in a public letter, insisting that he had been completely unaware of the German train.

Day by day, during that first week after Lenin’s return, the reaction to the campaign became more violent and extreme.  “Not a single Bolshevik,” recorded Podvoisky, “was able to enter the barracks without risking arrest or even death.”  Soldiers who were members of the party were beaten up by their comrades, “who had been poisoned against the Bolsheviks,” and were sent to the front out of turn.  Special orders banned Pravda from military buildings.

Lenin made an attempt to stem the wave of hostility in the army by addressing the soldiers’ section of the Soviet, but at that stage his action had little impact.  “Go and preach your ideas in Germany,” they cried.

Even the anarchists, concerned by the attacks on Lenin for preaching anarchy, disowned him firmly, declaring him “completely alien to the present formation of anarchism. . . . His demagogical speeches are unacceptable to us . . . anarchists condemn Lenin’s journey through Germany. . . .”

Strangely, he had a defender in the most right-wing quarter of the capital, presumably because it feared the backlash.  Birzhevye Vedomosti (“The Stock Exchange News”) urged tolerance.  “Citizens, calls for the death of Lenin are as criminal and as dangerous for free Russia as the fury of his speeches. . . .”

Because of the obvious danger, Lenin was given a bodyguard in addition to the armed driver of his car, and thirteen rifle-carrying workers from a factory in the Vyborg provided twenty-four-hour-a-day protection at the Elizarov apartment on Shirokaya.

From a narrow room in the Pravda offices, Lenin defended himself as well as he could through the pages of the Bolshevik newspaper.  He attacked Rech, which had alleged that in effect “the Lenin crew is working for Bethmann-Hollweg and Wilhelm II” for failing even to publish the findings of the Executive Committee of the Soviet which had investigated the Sealed Train.  He accused the Kadet paper of “inciting ignorant people to violence.”

Charging the right-wing press with provoking “a pogrom” that had resulted in “threats of violence and bombing,” he appealed to the “sense of honor of the revolutionary workers and soldiers of Petersburg.”

Throughout his articles, he accused Milyukov and the bourgeoisie of “shameless lying,” of preparing secretly to carry out “threats against the Soviets,” of deceiving the masses.  “If you gentlemen have the majority of the people with you . . .” he taunted in one article, “what do you fear, gentlemen, why do you lie?  All we want to do is to make clear to the workers and the poorest peasants the errors of their tactics. . . . Why then are you afraid . . .?  It is the truth you fear.  You lie in order to suppress with the aid of pogrom makers, slander, violence and filth any chance of expounding the truth.”

Lenin’s cries of outrage in Pravda had little impact in face of the onslaught against him—as Alexander Kerensky noted with satisfaction.  Over dinner at the British embassy, he told Sir George Buchanan that “the communistic doctrines preached by Lenin,” far from being dangerous, “have made the [extremist] socialists lose ground.”  The Mensheviks and SRs were as nervous of his new program, which they saw as sheer anarchism even if the anarchists did not, as the government was.

Kerensky was a leading member of the Soviet—as well as a minister—but his ideas of the kind of government Russia needed were closer to those of Milyukov than of his Soviet colleagues.  He felt passionately about the revolution and regarded it as a kind of holy trust given to him by God, but he was becoming very disillusioned about the Soviet—especially its extreme wing that Lenin was now trying to strengthen.  For Kerensky, the planned Constituent Assembly, the Parliament, was a far better and proved ideal than the Soviet.

By now, Kerensky had been alerted to the fact that Lenin might have closer links to the Wilhelmstrasse than the mere fact of the Sealed Train suggested.  On the very day that Lenin had reached Russia, another visitor had arrived at the Finland Station by an earlier train.  He was Albert Thomas, French Minister of Military Supplies, and he had noted the banners and decorations in the station with interest—for he had information about the man they were erected to honor.

A few days later Prince Lvov had sent for Kerensky and two other ministers.  The French secret service, he said, had proof which Thomas had confided to him that Lenin was in communication with several German agents.  The prince instructed Kerensky as Minister of Justice and the other two ministers to conduct a secret investigation into the truth of the French intelligence reports.

Kerensky does not report exactly what Thomas told them about Lenin’s links with Germany—but other indications suggest that it was the alleged Parvus-Fürstenberg channel.  Certainly, large sums of money were soon being passed on Fürstenberg’s orders to Petersburg contacts with whom he had extensive business dealings.  One was a lawyer, Mecheslav Kozlovsky, a friend who was Polish like Fürstenberg himself, and a Bolshevik delegate on the Executive Committee of the Petersburg Soviet.

If at that stage, the government investigators were able to monitor any of Lenin’s letters to Fürstenberg—that were probably sent by courier—they would have seemed to confirm Thomas’ tip.  On April 25, Lenin wrote an angry note to Fürstenberg and Karl Radek :  “Up to now we have received nothing, absolutely nothing from you—no letters, no packets, no money.”  Nine days later, however, he was happier.  “The money from Kozlovsky (2 thousand) has been received,” he confirmed.  The figure is small, and the Soviet editors of Lenin’s works explain that these were party funds that had been left abroad.  During the next few weeks, however, Mecheslav Kozlovsky was to receive money in far greater quantity from Fürstenberg’s sources.

Meanwhile, in April, as the Kadet processions paraded daily through the streets of the city with banners campaigning against Bolshevik German agents, Lenin himself was deeply engrossed in his other conflict.  In one sense, his struggle within his own organization, even if it did not carry the physical dangers of the right-wing menace, was the more serious.  For without the party as a nucleus that he could expand, Lenin could neither develop his plans for a socialist world nor deploy his new resources.

His situation was strange, for he was not challenged as a leader.  Even Kamenev, the keenest of his critics, completely acknowledged him as his chief.  The senior Bolsheviks just thought he was crazily wrong, that he had not been in revolutionary Russia long enough to understand the problems.

The day after Lenin’s speeches in the Tauride Palace, Kamenev mounted a major attack on the new policy proposals in the Central Committee.

With almost unanimous support, he demanded that the committee should reject the policy outlined in the theses.  In the public columns of Pravda, he insisted that Lenin’s plan was impractical if the Bolsheviks wanted “to remain the party of the proletarian masses.”  Lenin’s assumption that Marx’s first stage of revolution was over was “unacceptable.”  Stalin was among those who supported Kamenev.

So, too, was the important Petersburg City Committee,* which ran the party within the capital.  It rejected Lenin’s new line by an overwhelming majority vote.

With Pravda engaged in fighting off external assaults from the right-wing press and torn by the internal conflict of the party, it was not strange that behind the scenes in the newspaper’s offices, the atmosphere was strained.  Lenin and Zinoviev had joined Kamenev and Stalin as editors, and according to Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, “it was enough for one of them to read a scrap from an article he had just written for a violent quarrel to break out . . . in that little narrow room,” which the four of them shared.  After the quarrels, “a deadly silence would follow in the editorial room . . . and everyone would bury himself in his work.”  Zinoviev was torn between loyalty to the man he had worked with so closely for years and his friend Kamenev, whose moderate views he tended to share.

It is interesting to consider whether at this stage Kamenev knew that German funds were available or whether Lenin kept the knowledge to himself.  It is hard to believe that the leaders were not aware of the general fact—especially Zinoviev, who had been on the Sealed Train and in Stockholm—even though Lenin may not have discussed his detailed strategy with them.  Certainly, they would have found out as soon as “special funds” began to flow in, for these would presumably have had to be explained, and although a few cover stories were developed, they were inevitably inadequate for the scale of the financing.  In any event, even if Kamenev knew, it would not have affected his view that Lenin’s policy was ideologically wrong—and would be seen to be wrong by the masses.  No amount of money would overcome this basic fact.

Clearly, Lenin did not win all these “tense arguments” in the Pravda office, though he probably won most of them.  He wrote a series of “Letters on Tactics” which argued out his conflict with Kamenev point by point.  He justified the change in policy he was demanding and defended himself against the charge that he had forsaken Marx.

“A Marxist,” he wrote, “must take cognizance of living life, of the true facts of reality . . . not continue clinging to the theory of yesterday, which like every theory at best only outlines the main and the general. . . . Theory, my friend, is gray but green is the eternal tree of life.”

Lenin was under great strain, but he was standing up to it well.  His writing was firm.  All the reports of his contemporaries indicate a cool confidence.  There were no rages when he was in the throes of a conflict—only when he was in a situation in which he was frustrated by inaction, as he had been in Zurich and would soon be again.  All the same, his stomach—always his weak point—was causing him trouble, and he was not sleeping well.

Every evening he would cross the Neva from the Pravda office on Moika Street and return to the Elizarov apartment on Shirokaya.  For Nadya, those early days after their arrival were trying.  Anna and Maria fussed over their brother, concerning themselves with the food he ate and the clothes he wore—which Nadya had been doing for two decades.  And even though she had for years been secretary of the party and was one of the most experienced revolutionary women among the Bolsheviks, she was given no definite role in the Kshesinskaya Mansion.

She helped in the secretariat which was run by Elena Stasova, whom she had known even before she married Lenin.  But Elena already had four assistants in the bathroom that served as an office and seems to have regarded Nadya, whom she did not even mention in her accounts of this period, as potential competition.  “I talked to the workers who came there,” recalled Nadya, implying she had nothing else to do.  “No special duties were assigned to me and the absence of definite work bored me.”

It is strange that Lenin did not appear to exercise his influence on her behalf, for she outranked Elena in party seniority, and she could have been useful in his struggle to establish his new policy.  But perhaps he did not want to disturb the machine that was operating as smoothly as it could under the circumstances.  He had trouble enough.

In fact, Lenin, though isolated among the Bolshevik leaders and under continual attack from outside the party, was not as alone as he seemed.  Many of the ordinary party workers below the top hierarchy were as extreme revolutionaries as he was.  In the factories in the Vyborg area were Bolsheviks as rabid as any sans-culottes of the French Revolution, and they had, indeed, made some attempt at emulating their atrocities during the violent days of March.

Also, since then, the party membership throughout Russia had grown rapidly—especially in Petersburg, the vortex of the revolution, where there were now 15,000 card-carrying Bolsheviks.

Few of these new party members were intellectuals or even understood the ideological conflicts that were always engrossing the leaders, but they were radical revolutionaries whom Lenin in his speech at the Tauride Palace had offered a rallying point.  That they would accept his offer became evident very fast.  A full conference of the city’s party members gave Lenin’s policy an almost blanket endorsement—despite the fact that their committee had rejected it.  It was obvious that the “old guard”—veterans of Iskra and 1905 though still mostly only in their thirties—had not realized the way their own rank and file were thinking.

Also, Lenin had found two stalwart supporters in the Kshesinskaya Mansion who, though not among the party leaders, were very important.  Vladimir Nevsky and Nicholas Podvoisky ran the newly created Military Organization.  They were in charge of the Red Guards, the units of armed workers—taking their lead from the factory units set up in 1905 to fight the Black Hundreds—which had been created in March when the soldiers had given them rifles.  And they controlled the party contact with the regiments and were in overall charge of agitators.

Both had been Social Democrats since before the 1903 split and had played militant roles in the 1905 uprising.  Podvoisky was thirty-seven, a tall, bearded, rather handsome man whose pictures always reveal him as unsmiling and hard.  Nevsky was older, a short, stocky man who was a brilliant orator and a skilled agitator.  They were a good team.  Podvoisky was the organization man, operating usually from a central desk in the Kshesinskaya Mansion, sending out orders to the agitators on little pink slips or passing urgent messages to the field leaders by phone.  Nevsky was the spellbinder.  Whenever there was trouble, whenever the local agitators were having difficulty, Nevsky would speed there by car to deploy his remarkable powers as a speaker.

The two men were extremist militants.  Under Lenin’s brilliant direction, they would rally many of the masses behind him.  They would also bring him disaster, for they resisted his control when he ordered caution.  They were independent, romantic revolutionaries who believed that the people, when they became angry and united, was quite capable of grasping power.

In mid-April, Nevsky and Podvoisky commanded only a few hundred agitators, and their methods were crude.  The Red Guards—who, with their belted jackets, peaked workers caps and red armbands were to be so prominent a feature of the strike for power in November—were at the earliest stages of training and formation.  The Bolshevik contacts within the regiments of the garrison had only just been established when the revelations about the Sealed Train had virtually destroyed them.

During those few days after Lenin’s arrival, with the Kadet processions howling insults about the party through the streets of the city, with their agitators facing angry hostility, the two militants felt a little lost.  Lenin realized that their morale needed stiffening.  Sending for Podvoisky, he told him the daily Kadet processions should be answered.

“Nikolai Ilyich,” he said, according to Podvoisky’s memoirs, “we’ve got to show the bourgeoisie that we have armed forces behind us, too. . . . It’s vital that you bring out onto the streets some troops marching under Bolshevik slogans—even if it’s only one company.”

The order was not easy for Podvoisky to carry out, but there was one regiment in which Bolshevik influence was still strong.  During the revolution, the First Machine Gun Regiment had marched into the city from their barracks at Oranienbaum, some thirty miles away, and refused to leave.  “Counterrevolutionists might attack the Soviet,” they had insisted.  The Bolsheviks had arranged quarters for them in a hall in the Vyborg and organized daily victualing at the Fortress of Peter and Paul.  So the regiment was in the party’s debt.

Podvoisky organized a demonstration.  It was very small—a few companies of machine gunners, backed up by several squads of party workers—and it was not too provocative.  But at least armed men were marching on the city’s streets under party banners.

Lenin did not leave all the action to his military commanders—and this is a measure of the desperate situation he faced.  For whenever he could, Lenin would avoid being in the foreground in any kind of conflict.  His instinctive habitat was in the background at the controls.  He rarely spoke in the Soviet, Kamenev being the party’s main spokesman.  He was virtually never present among the demonstrators in the street battles.

However, when absolutely necessary, Lenin would expose himself.

On April 24, six days after his arrival in Russia, Lenin was in the editorial room of the Pravda office when a comrade rushed in with the news that the men of the Izmailovsky Regiment were at that moment holding a meeting on their parade ground.  Incited by agitators, they had voted a resolution against him and declared that if they had the chance, they would give him a hostile reception.

Lenin put down his pen.  “I’ll go to them at once,” he announced—according to Praskovya Kudelli, secretary to the Pravda office.

The others in the editorial room were appalled.  “They’ll tear you to pieces,” someone said.

“No, they won’t,” Lenin said, and taking Zinoviev with him, he went to the parade ground.  And they did not.  Although he started speaking to the sound of angry yells, at the end of his speech two soldiers hoisted him onto their shoulders and carried him triumphantly around the parade ground.  He returned to the Pravda office with a broad smile on his face.  “As far as I can see, the comrades were mistaken about the mood of the masses of soldiers,” he remarked as he sat down as his desk.

A few days later, he had another chance to address troops in the city.  A delegation arrived at the Kshesinskaya Mansion from several thousand soldiers assembled on the parade ground of the Mikhailovsky Artillery Regiment and asked if Lenin would explain his journey through Germany.  Lenin was in a conference, and for all his success with the Izmailovsky, the party officials who received the delegation were nervous for his safety.  They sent Nevsky instead.

As soon as Nevsky mounted the rostrum, he realized he was facing trouble.  The mood of the thousands of men was angry.  The soldiers began to sing the revolutionary song “Victim of the Cause.”  Then they began to yell, “Let’s have Lenin here !  Let’s have the traitors here !”

Nevsky was well seasoned in handling mass meetings, and he could sense that this one was about to erupt in a very ugly manner.  He jumped down from the rostrum, intent on disappearing before it did.  He felt a touch on his back.  To his horror, he found Lenin standing there.

“Tell them that Lenin wants to speak,” ordered the veteran agitator.

Nevsky began to argue, pointing out that the situation was very dangerous indeed, but Lenin just pushed him toward the platform.

“I’m waiting,” he said.

Nevsky clambered back onto the rostrum and began to say what Lenin had ordered, but he was interrupted by one of the men on the platform.  “Comrades,” he yelled, “Lenin is here.”

The announcement was greeted by an angry roar from the crowd.  “Vladimir Ilyich,” wrote Nevsky, “discarded his overcoat and appeared on the platform . . . before the eyes of an armed mob of 3,000. . . . ‘I am Lenin,’ he began and a graveyard hush descended upon the mass. . . . In a simple, lucid, understandable way he exposed . . . the Provisional Government’s policy of . . . predatory war.”

When Lenin finished, there was complete silence among “the crowd standing there, a mute subdued force.  A mad thought flashed into my mind.  But suddenly . . . there was . . . a unanimous yell . . . that filled the parade ground and the entire mass surged toward the rostrum.”  Lenin was seized by the soldiers, carried shoulder high out of the parade ground alongside his car, which moved slowly beside him.  When eventually they allowed him to get into it, the troops ran after it, shouting and cheering as it gathered speed.

Toward the end of April, Milyukov’s campaign against Lenin grew in intensity.  Every day there were new demonstrations in the streets by students, civil servants, regiments—parades demanding support for the Provisional Government to pursue the war and, of course, to arrest Lenin, the German agent who was calling for peace.  The yelling crowd outside the Kshesinskaya Mansion grew ever more threatening.

At last, on April 30, two weeks after Lenin’s arrival in Russia, came the horrifying climax to the campaign against him—a vivid and macabre denunciation of his pacifist views on the war.  Thousands of the wounded from the city’s military hospitals paraded—legless men hobbling on crutches, men with stubs for arms, men in bandages with disfigured faces, men who were so immobile they had to travel in trucks—crawled slowly along the Nevsky Prospect, and curled left into the long, straight Liteiny toward the Tauride Palace.  Their banners called for “war to the end,” included the now-inevitable “Down with Lenin” and insisted that “Our wounds demand victory.”

At the Tauride Palace, some of the marchers went inside to demand that Lenin be arrested and exiled “back to Germany.”  Others stood up and harangued the crowd of mutilated men with speeches in which Lenin was the prime target.

The Soviet leaders, however—especially the Mensheviks—were growing anxious about the persecution, realizing what could lie behind it.  The Menshevik leaders M.I. Skobelov and Irakli Tseretelli, who disapproved of Lenin quite as much as the maimed soldiers, went out into the square in front of the palace to defend him on the ground that he was not being given a fair hearing.  They were shouted down with yells of “Lenin is a spy and provocateur.”

That morning Izvestia, the official journal of the Soviet, attacked the “dark forces” that were exploiting Lenin, “who has given his whole life to the service of the working class” as a way of discrediting socialists in general.  This was a preliminary to an assault on the Soviet, the newspaper declared, “after which they hope to revert to the old system.”

The Soviet leaders were not the only ones to be concerned.  In Berlin, Arthur Zimmermann sent a wire to his minister in Stockholm :  “According to the telegraph agency in Petersburg there has been a demonstration of the wounded and the maimed, supposedly attended by over 50,000 people, directed against Lenin. . . . Request further details as soon as possible.”

The next day Milyukov took the gamble that he had been working toward since Lenin’s return.  He sent a note to the Allied ambassadors which was intended to settle all discussion of Russia’s war aims.  These, he said, had not been weakened by the revolution.  Russia was still determined to fight with its Allies for “those guarantees and sanctions which are necessary for the prevention of new bloody conflicts in the future.”  He was promising to run an imperialist war, not the defensive war that the Soviet had agreed to back.

It was a direct challenge to the Soviet, which he regarded as ineffective—a chamber of debaters, not men of action.  If his move was successful, the Soviet would soon cease to exist.  Lenin, of course, was delighted, for Milyukov’s actions supported everything he had been saying.  “The cards are on the table . . .” he heralded in Pravda.  “Short and clear.  War to a decisive victory.  The alliance with the British and French bankers has been declared sacred. . . . Fight—because we want the spoils.  Die, tens of thousands of you every day—because ‘we’ . . . have not yet received our share of the loot !”

As Milyukov intended, the masses rose, almost as they had in March in protest against the Foreign Minister’s note.  By three o’clock in the afternoon, five regiments were on the march toward the center of the city.  So, too, were men and women from the factories—tens of thousands of angry people who were, what is more, entirely proletariat.

In fact, the Bolsheviks did not promote the crisis, although there were Bolsheviks among the crowds and they probably provided the banners emblazoned “Down with Milyukov !”

The Soviet acted with surprising firmness.  Its leaders met the long processions as they streamed into the city center and urged them to return home and trust their representatives in the Soviet to force the government to amend its policy.

The main processions did turn back, but the city continued to seethe all evening.  For Milyukov did not want the crisis ended ;  he sought confrontation.  Throughout the center of Petersburg, orators harangued groups of people, attacking Lenin, “sent from Germany to overthrow the great patriot Milyukov.”  The Kadet Party held a big parade in Mariinsky Square, and Milyukov, speaking from a balcony of the dark palace that Tsar Nicholas I had given to his daughter Maria, assured them that the government would “preserve the dignity and freedom of Great Russia.”

At a Cabinet meeting within the palace, General Lavr Kornilov, the belligerent commander of the Petersburg garrison, assured the ministers that he could quickly crush any disturbance.  Armored cars and Cossacks were standing by.  That night Milyukov told the British ambassador :  “The troops are ready to arrest Lenin. . . The Government is just waiting for the right psychological moment. . . .”

Meanwhile, in the Kshesinskaya Mansion, Lenin and the Central Committee were facing a problem that was to confront it repeatedly.  To what extent should it associate itself with an uncontrollable mob demonstration that it had not organized ?  Should it attempt to lead it—and accept the blame for it ?  On the other hand, could it as a party of the workers stand back from it ?

Late that night Lenin’s hand was forced.  Rech and the right-wing papers published a scream of abuse, blaming the Bolsheviks for inciting the people and threatening civil war.  A threat of civil war, of course, would justify retaliatory action—which was why Lenin was being so cautious.

The next morning action was forced on him.  In leaflets, distributed throughout the city and in a front-page appeal in Rech, “all who stand for Russia and her freedom” were summoned onto the streets by the Kadets to support the Provisional Government.

It was a challenge that Lenin had to accept, even though he knew its dangers.  By that night the Cossacks could well be charging.  But in the face of the planned Kadet parade, following the workers’ retreat the night before, he could not stand back any longer.  The party called the workers of the city to an organized demonstration.  Under the direction of Nevsky and Podvoisky, agitators hurried to the factories.

Lenin, leaning on his military studies in 1905, gave strict orders on tactics in a planning meeting in the mansion.  Inevitably, the Nevsky Prospect would be the focus of the clash.  Thus, as one worker column marched straight along the avenue, others should be moving simultaneously in streets on either side, thus forming a “three-pronged claw.”  By this technique, they could block attempts to attack them in the Nevsky from side streets.

By three o’clock in the afternoon an enormous Kadet procession was moving through the Nevsky—and long columns of workers were approaching from the industrial suburbs on the edge of Petersburg.

No troops were marching, for the Soviet had ordered them to remain within their barracks and to obey no orders—not even those of Kornilov, their commander—without its authority.  In fact, at one moment news reached the Tauride Palace that Kornilov had ordered guns to be set up in Mariinsky Square, but the troops at the artillery barracks refused to comply.

As was inevitable, it was an afternoon of violent clashes—especially in the Nevsky, where the workers’ column moved between pavements crowded with bourgeois.  Near the intersection of the broad Sadovaya Prospect, there was shooting.  All along the column there were sorties by Kadets.

Throughout the center of the city, trucks full of Kadets were stopping workers’ columns, breaking them into small sections and ripping down their banners.

On Pushkinskaya, a side street off the Nevsky about a mile east of Sadovaya, one truck was even filled with girls.  Here mounted men, who had been waiting, charged the halted column of 4,000 workers from the Rozhdestvensky District, heeling their horses into the marchers and grabbing their placards.

One procession which consisted entirely of women from a cotton mill was carrying a banner worded “Long live the international unity of workers.”  As they moved along the Nevsky, Kadets, lashing at the women marchers with sticks, fought their way through the column to rip down the offending slogan.

At one point on the Nevsky, students staged a mock trial of Lenin and the “German spies.”

Late that afternoon the Soviet firmly stopped the crisis.  Declaring that anyone “who called for armed demonstration” would be “a traitor to the revolution,” it banned any street meetings or parades for two days.  The Bolshevik Central Committee gave it full backing.  The order, it decreed, “must be unconditionally obeyed by every member of our party.”

The crisis was over, but in that mercurial city nothing was quite the same again.  The Kadets claimed the day as their victory, but in fact Milyukov’s gamble had failed.  Within two weeks he was forced to resign—together with Alexander Guchkov, the hard-line war minister.  General Kornilov, too, furious over the Soviet order to his troops, relinquished command of the garrison.

Prince Lvov reorganized his government, this time with six members of the Soviet among his ministers.  In the new administration Alexander Kerensky, now elevated to the War Ministry, emerged as the rising star.

He had been popular with the masses ever since his spirited courtroom defense of the men accused of promoting the Lena Gold Fields strike in 1912.  Now thirty-six years old, with close-cropped hair and handsome, youthful features, he was a dramatic orator, deploying techniques which included tears and even fits of fainting.

Everything about him was melodramatic.  In public he wore a simple soldier’s tunic and contrived an added effect by carrying his arm, which he had recently hurt, in a black sling from his neck.  At home, he received visitors in a beautiful dressing gown.

Kerensky was neither so extreme nor so inflexible as Milyukov, but he, too, was a patriot.  The vision of “Mother Russia” was present in all his speeches.  He did not aspire to gain Constantinople, but he did want to reestablish the sense of national pride in his country that had been so frayed by the long conflict with Germany.

It was ironic that the May crisis should advance the fortunes of both the men from Simbirsk—for Lenin’s position, too, was immensely strengthened.  It is strange also that a single small Volga river town should have produced two men who saw themselves as selected by destiny to lead revolutionary Russia, yet were so different in ideology and personality.  For there could hardly have been a greater contrast from Kerensky’s high flamboyance and emotional oratory than Lenin’s low-key intellectualism and hard, factual speaking style.

By May it had become clearly inevitable, as Lenin had known even when he was still in Zurich piecing together the situation in Russia from scraps of news in the press, that the final battle would be fought out between them.

During the crucial weeks that followed, they never met, but they were always highly conscious of each other.  They recognized that they were the ultimate rivals, for Kerensky, in his new position, now commanded the army.  He planned to achieve his ambitions for Russia through military victory, confident that his brilliance as an orator, his compelling personality could win over the troops and transform them into an efficient and successful army.  He laid himself wide open to Lenin’s charges in Pravda that he was a “Bonaparte.”

Lenin, too, needed the army.  Without its support he could never gain power, could never create a socialist society, could never ignite the world revolution.  So while Kerensky embarked on a dazzling personal tour of the frontline troops, Lenin in Pravda urged them to fraternize and warned that their enemy at the rear was more of a danger than the enemy in front.

In May the conflict was muted and conducted at arm’s length.  Both leaders were engrossed with their immediate situations, but the positions were being established, the preparations made, for the first open clash.

For Lenin, the May Crisis crystallized the conflicts that had clouded events since his arrival in Russia three weeks before.  Tens of thousands of workers had been organized and had marched as a class.  The fact that few of those marchers had been Bolsheviks did not matter.  Many of them had responded to the party’s leadership, even though most were supporters of other Soviet parties.  The sight of those long columns moving steadily through the streets had thrilled Lenin and, as he said later, “really opened my eyes for the first time to the true meaning and role of a popular uprising.”  Most important, though, was the fact that they had won the first clash with the counterrevolution—small in scale though it had been.  Morale in the Kshesinskaya Mansion had soared.

The crisis had also ended Lenin’s battle—at least this phase of the battle—with Kamenev and the party conservatives.  An All-Russian Conference of the party—called to complete business that remained unfinished in April—endorsed Lenin’s new policy and elected a new Central Committee on which he now had a majority who favored his policy.  Apart from Zinoviev—always uncertain in his conflict, but voting so far for Lenin—it was a majority of only one.  Significantly, that “one” was Joseph Stalin, previously a staunch supporter of Kamenev on the right wing of the party.  But Stalin had noted the change in the direction of the wind.

Sukhanov, in his role of observer and political commentator, could hardly believe that Lenin in only three weeks had succeeded in swinging the party behind him.  “What the oldest Bolsheviks a month before had thought wild and absurd,” he wrote, “had now become the official platform of the party that was hourly capturing more of the Russian proletariat.”

Lenin now had his base of party unity.  He could begin deploying the enormous resources he had behind him and exploiting his brilliant talent for promotion.




1 Main sources :  As for Chapter 9.  Also, F.F. Raskolnikov, In Kronstadt and “Peter” 1917 (R);  A.E. Ross, The Russian Bolshevik Revolution;  A. Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution.

* The Bolshevik organization was structured on a hierarchy of committees.  Each city or area had its own committee.  So, lower down, did each small district, and, lower still, each factory or regiment.  At the head of the pyramid was the Central Committee of the party.
    Of all areas in Russia in 1917, Petersburg was unique because it was the focus of most of the important events.  The Petersburg Committee, responsible for the party within the city, played an unusually vital role alongside the Central Committee that also operated from the Kshesinskaya Mansion.  Naturally, their activities overlapped at this time.