Michael Pearson

The Sealed Train
Chapter 11

FROM THE FRENCH WINDOWS of his office on the second floor of the Kshesinskaya Mansion, Lenin could see across the Neva the whole panorama of bourgeois Petersburg.  It must have made him feel much like a military commander surveying a town he was besieging.  For after that first week in May, Lenin was exactly in this position—and was so seen by his antagonists.1

He knew there was not much time.  “Don’t be complacent,” he warned Nevsky and Podvoisky, who were justly proud of the events of May.  “This was only a small swing to our side. . . . The bourgeoisie will now start preparing itself feverishly for the next clash. . . .”

Agitation and propaganda were Lenin’s top priorities, and he drove his military leaders in an immense campaign to get the simple Bolshevik aims across to the ordinary Russian in the street.  Even in April, before the May Crisis had made conditions easier, he had demanded an army of a thousand agitators who would gain access to the barracks and explain the party’s policy to the troops.  “They don’t need long speeches,” he said.  “A long speech provokes many questions and in the end the soldier’s attention wanders. . . . You do not need to say much.  The soldier will understand in a very few words.”

Then hostility against Lenin had been at its peak.  Any Bolsheviks entering the barracks would have been beaten up.  In any case, Podvoisky and Nevsky queried with wonder, where were all these agitators to come from ?

“The sailors,” Lenin had answered simply.  “Bolshevik sailors.  Send them to the barracks and tell them to say to the soldiers :  ‘You have a rifle and I have a rifle.  You spill blood and I spill blood.’ ”

Lenin’s plan was well conceived.  Underlying it was the theory that if a man could be made to listen for a very few minutes, the sheer simple logic of the Bolshevik line would sway him.  The whole concept of class war and class enemies—those who were smearing Lenin with the German accusation—must have great appeal to a soldier who until very recently had known the hard discipline of Tsar’s officers.

The idea of using sailors was clever, too, for they had played a very prominent role in the March Revolution and were unlikely to be thrown out of the barracks without at least a hearing.

The navy, of course, was as angry about the revelations about the Sealed Train as the army, but the base at Kronstadt on the island of Kotlin, in the Gulf of Finland a few miles from the mouth of the Neva, was very radical, and young Theodor Raskolnikov had a substantial nucleus of loyal men he could rely on.

By the end of April several hundred sailors from Kronstadt were being given training in agitation in the Kshesinskaya Mansion by Podvoisky.  These crude, illiterate men—peasants, most of them, who could barely write their names—were faced with the terrifying prospect of conducting intellectual argument.

“Can you talk about peace?” Podvoisky asked them when they voiced their doubts.  Hesitantly they conceded that perhaps they could.

“Can you talk about land and who should own it ?  Can you talk about power and who should have the power and how the workers should take over control of production ?”

By the time Podvoisky had finished their unaccustomed task seemed easy to them.  If they were asked questions they could not answer, he instructed them, they were to tell the soldiers to choose a delegation and send it to the Kshesinskaya Mansion to talk to Comrade Lenin.

The sailors were sent off in groups, and before they left, Lenin spoke to them.  “Until you reach a successful conclusion,” he urged, “don’t leave the barracks.”

In May, as his sailors were promoting the party’s message to the troops, Lenin mounted a big program to hammer the Bolshevik themes into the man in the city streets—by using groups of ordinary party workers, to set up discussions in public places.

“The party’s peace policy,” he urged, according to Podvoisky, “should be explained in every square, garden, avenue, street corner . . . from early morning until late at night.”  But agitators, he insisted, should never discuss more than three Bolshevik aims at any one time, for otherwise they would confuse their listeners.

At the Kshesinskaya Mansion itself a regimen of continuous propaganda was rigorously maintained.  From the roof of a summer house at the bottom of the walled garden, where the Kronwerk Prospect joined the Bolshaya Dvoryanskaya Street, a Bolshevik orator was addressing a large crowd at all times.  Each man spoke for half an hour and then would be replaced by another comrade.  The party leaders, even Lenin, took their turn on the rota and became star attractions.

“You fools, babblers and idiots,” Lenin would declare to the crowd from the summer house,2 “do you believe that history is made in the salons, where highborn democrats fraternize with titled liberals. . . . History is made in the trenches where, under the foolish pressure of war madness, the soldier thrusts his bayonet into the officer’s body and escapes to his home village to set fire to the manor house. . . .”

“I’ve been there twice . . .” the Countess Irina Skariatina wrote in her diary.  “he is bald, terribly ugly, wears a crumpled old brown suit, speaks without any oratorical power, more like a college professor calmly delivering his daily lecture . . . yet what he says drives the people crazy . . . no, positively it is not the way this man speaks but what he says that electrifies his listeners more than any other orator I have ever heard—even more than Kerensky himself with all his splendid eloquence.”

Soon Lenin was able to start using his new resources.  A press bureau was set up under Vyacheslav Molotov, a militant who helped edit Pravda, and with “special funds” supplied by the Central Committee, it set up ten new provincial papers.  Within a few weeks, there were forty-one newspapers and journals being issued under the party’s control throughout Russia.  Twenty of them were published in minority languages.  Many of them were given away free.  In all, according to Professor Leonard Schapiro in his Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 1,500,000 copies of Bolshevik papers were distributed every week.

One of the most important of these new papers stemmed from an idea of Podvoisky’s.  Toward the end of April he had suggested to Lenin that the party start a special soldiers’ newspaper that would be simpler than Pravda, which many of the troops found hard to understand.

Immediately Lenin saw its immense potential.  Highly excited, he questioned Podvoisky.  How had he got the idea?  Had he discussed it with the troops?  Did he know what they wanted in a newspaper?

“No other media of propaganda could have such impact,” he said enthusiastically, “as a well-edited soldier’s newspaper—but it must not be a paper for soldiers, or nothing will come of it.  It must be a truly soldier’s newspaper . . . with a focus on soldiers’ special interests. . . . What they’re talking about in the barracks. . . . If the soldiers themselves write in it, the paper will command readers.”

In practice, Soldatskaya Pravda became the organ of the Bolshevik Military Organization.  Both Nevsky and Podvoisky were on its editorial board, though most of the detail work was done by the two other board members, Zina Zinovieva and A.F. Ilyin-Genevsky, the soldier brother of Raskolnikov from Kronstadt.  Although the formal office was the Kshesinskaya Mansion, Zina and Genevsky spent most of the time in a large office near the press.  “Here we wrote articles,” recalled Genevsky, “and prepared for publication the big batches of letters which arrived every day from the soldiers at the front and back home.”

Part of the financing of the new paper came from the soldiers themselves—from collections in the barracks and at the front—but this was almost certainly more a promotional technique, designed to make the troops feel a sense of ownership, than a substantial source of finance.  It was an integral part of Podvoisky’s original proposal for the project as he outlined it in his meeting with Lenin.

Soon the idea of cementing close, if informal, links with the troops was developed.  Part of the basement of the Kshesinskaya Mansion was converted into a soldiers’ social club.

Meanwhile, the circulation of Pravda had soared to heights that made the old press on which it had been printed no longer adequate.  At the end of May a jubilant Lenin proudly displayed the new press to the veteran Bolshevik Alexander Shotman.  Since Shotman knew that the paper had been appealing for public funds, he wondered how the press had been financed, Lenin explained that the money had been contributed by the Finnish party, though the expense was certainly high for such a donor.  Yet Shotman apparently did not question the source of the “special funds” that were financing the immense national propaganda effort that Molotov was directing.

Throughout May the Bolshevik campaign continued, with enormous impact at a whole range of levels.  Lenin himself worked desperately hard.  Even though he was editing Pravda and writing articles for it every day, he embarked on a strenuous speaking tour of the factories.  He went to the giant Putilov works in the Narva, to the Nevsky shipyards, to the repair shops of the Nikolaevsky Railway and a whole range of engineering plants.  Everywhere he was followed by trained agitators who, using skillful question-and-answer techniques, urged the workers to hold new elections for their delegates to the Soviet, which could be held at any time.  Were their representatives in the Tauride Palace voting for peace, for worker control of factories, for power to the Soviet?  If not, why not elect someone who would?

At the same time, Nevsky and Podvoisky were conducting a crash training program for Red Guards in the factories.  Instructors, who had fought in 1905, were sent from the Kshesinskaya Mansion to train squads in riflery, formation fighting, drilling—and to recruit new men.  The aim was to organize the guards into 400-man battalions of whom 360 carried arms.  The eventual plan was for each battalion to have its own machine-gun section, communication corps, ambulance unit and armored car corps.  These, though, were refinements of the future.  In May there were not even enough rifles, and many guards had to drill with sticks.

At the front, too, Bolsheviks of the Military Organization exploited the gains of Soldatskaya Pravda which, with its soaring circulation, served as an outlet for the discontent of the troops in the trenches.  Every week hundreds of letters arrived at the Kshesinskaya Mansion from the front.  “Most of them,” recorded Genevsky, were “written in a clumsy, often indecipherable hand writing by soldier correspondents [and] described the hardships that the soldiers had to undergo.”

Every issue carried correspondence columns, but in addition, the staff tried to answer all the letters they did not publish.

As a result of this campaign, recorded Podvoisky, “the political education of the soldiers and worker masses . . . advanced in seven league boots!”

Meanwhile, as the party expanded under the dynamic leadership from the Kshesinskaya Mansion, Lenin had to settle many internal conflicts—especially among the local committees on which the party had been built.  There was a struggle within the hierarchy of the Red Guards, the districts demanding autonomy for the units in their areas, and Lenin had to intervene to insist that control must be centralized in the Military Organization at party HQ, under the immediate orders of the Central Committee.

These were the early indications that Lenin faced a new dilemma :  how to control an unwieldy, fast-growing party of people who had plenty of fervor but little intellect or understanding of practical revolution.

Lenin was alert to the dangers.  When the Kronstadt Soviet suddenly voted to form an independent republic on the island under its own control—a kind of local grasping of control by the Soviet—a furious Lenin summoned Raskolnikov to Petersburg.  “What have you done?” he demanded of the young midshipman.  “How is it possible for you to do such a thing without consulting the Central Committee?  This is a breaking of basic party discipline.  For such things we’re going to shoot people!”

When Raskolnikov explained that the proposal in the Kronstadt Soviet had not been made by the Bolsheviks but by delegates from other parties, Lenin snapped at him, “Then you should have laughed them out of it!  You should have shown them that a declaration of Soviet power in Kronstadt alone, separate from the rest of Russia, was a Utopia, a clear absurdity!  The Provisional Government will bring you to your knees!”

However, Lenin knew Raskolnikov’s value to the party.  Finishing his angry rebuke, he softened and held out his hand in almost friendly dismissal.  “Instruct the Kronstadt comrades that never in future must they make so serious a decision without full consultation with the Central Committee.”

At this stage in the party’s development, the enthusiasm of keen militants like Raskolnikov was vital to Lenin’s program, but he knew that the time would come very soon when his ability to control them would be crucial.  To help him, he now had strong assistance at the center.  Jacob Sverdlov, one of the party leaders, had taken over from Elena Stasova the ever-expanding post of secretary of the party.  Elena was his principal assistant, and as before, Nadya seemed only to be tolerated in the secretariat.

Physically, Sverdlov appeared surprisingly frail and delicate.  He was dark-haired and swarthy—“Black as tar,” according to Trotsky—and wore steel-rimmed glasses over a thin, mournful face.  He had a loud, booming voice that was strangely inconsistent with his slight body.

Sverdlov, who had been in exile in Siberia with Stalin when the revolution broke out, had only recently returned to Petersburg from a party assignment to the Urals.

He was a mere thirty-two, but like so many of the party leaders, he had been hardened by experience into a veteran since, while still a teen-ager, he had become a Bolshevik after the 1903 split.

Brisk and efficient, he was capable of working at such a pace that often his team of secretaries and assistants could not keep up with his output.  He operated the party machine under tight control, insisting that all letters should be answered on the day of receipt and maintaining a record of all future party activities and the people assigned to them in a series of notebooks from which he tore the relevant page when each project was completed.

All day and through much of the night the corridors of the Kshesinskaya Mansion were crowded with workers waiting for instructions either from Sverdlov or one of his assistants in the Secretariat or from the Military Organization.  Messengers constantly pushed their way through the thronged passageways either to bring information from the local committees or on their way to deliver instructions.

Lenin now had the support of an important new arrival in Petersburg.  Leon Trotsky, his onetime protégé and later antagonist, had at last been released by the British in Halifax and welcomed at the Finland Station with a triumphant reception.  The two men had lashed each other often enough in print and in speeches, but their destiny was now clearly together, for Lenin’s new policy was close to the theory of continuous revolution that Trotsky had developed with Parvus.  And the compromist attitude of the Mensheviks had killed Trotsky’s dream of reuniting the Russian Social Democratic Party.

In a meeting in the Pravda office, organized by Kamenev, who was Trotsky’s brother-in-law, Lenin invited the new arrival to join the party.  Trotsky suggested he should not become a Bolshevik at once.  He himself had a small party whose few members included several men of great quality such as Lenin’s friend Anatol Lunacharsky, D.B. Ryazanov and Moses Uritsky—“a pleiade of brilliant generals without an army,” as Trotsky’s biographer Isaac Deutscher described them.  To bring them all into the Bolshevik fold would take time.  In the meanwhile, they would work closely with Lenin.

Another newcomer to the city was Julius Martov, Lenin’s erstwhile friend and bitter enemy in exile.  Martov had long occupied roughly the same position among the Mensheviks as Lenin did among the Bolsheviks—a kind of undisputed intellectual architect—but he, too, was shocked by the party he found in Russia.  He became isolated, surrounded only by a few faithful followers.  Lenin invited him to join the Bolsheviks, but he declined.  Perhaps he felt the rigidity of the party hierarchy would be too oppressive—which, after all, was what the quarrel in 1903 had been all about.

While Lenin’s policy was being promoted with such effect through the regiments and the city streets and in ever-increasing number of newspapers throughout the nation, his main antagonist was also enjoying an enormous personal success.  Since his appointment as Minister for War, Alexander Kerensky had been engaged on an elaborate speaking tour which was intended both to combat Lenin and to rally the nation.  He visited troops at the front and toured the naval and military bases from Finland to the Black Sea.  He attended mass meetings in Petersburg, Moscow and other cities.

“He spoke of freedom,” recorded Sukhanov, “of the land, of the brotherhood of nations, and of the imminent glowing future of the country.  He called upon the soldiers and citizens to . . . show themselves worthy of the great revolution.”

The impression he created was dazzling.  “Everywhere he was carried shoulder high and pelted with flowers.  Everywhere scenes of unprecedented enthusiasm took place.”  Men tore their crosses of St. George from their breasts and flung them at his feet.  Women stripped off their jewels and threw them onto the platforms from which he addressed them with such effect.

Even among the soldiers in the trenches, Kerensky was able to command an astonishing response.  “Tens of thousands of fighting soldiers, at tremendous meetings, vowed to go into battle at the word of command and die for ‘land and freedom,’” wrote Sukhanov.

In mid-May, while Kerensky was enjoying his triumph, the evidence that Lenin might have connections with the Germans seemed to develop dramatically.  At headquarters at the front, he was shown a copy of the notes taken during the interrogation of a young Russian officer named Lieutenant Ermolenko, who had been taken prisoner by the Germans—and then released under strange circumstances.

Ermolenko claimed he had been freed on the condition he agree to become a spy for the Germans and agitate for a separate peace.  The German intelligence officers had told him that Lenin was receiving German money and was working “to undermine the confidence of the Russian people in the government.”

Ermolenko was a suspect character, and corroboration of his story was all but impossible.  But one item in his statement conformed closely with the picture that the investigating committee of three ministers whom Lvov had appointed in April were already examining.  The funds that Lenin was using, the young officer had been told, were being passed to Lenin by way of an official named Svendson in the German Legation in Stockholm.

Stockholm—where Jacob Fürstenberg, of course, lived and worked—was the focus of most of the conspiracy evidence relating to the German links to the Bolsheviks.

Even with Ermolenko, the evidence against Lenin was still not adequate to mount a prosecution, but the dossier was growing bigger.  And there could be no doubt that the allegation by the German officers that Lenin was working to undermine popular support of the government was true.  For there was no attempt to conceal this in the torrent of propaganda from the Kshesinskaya Mansion that urged the troops to fraternize with the enemy and exhorted workers in the factories to stop contributing to the fantastic profits that the capitalists were making out of their labor.

Under this barrage, it was not strange that anarchy and lawlessness increased.  Marauding bands of troops roamed the countryside.  Mutinies were frequent.  Armed holdups became so regular in Petersburg that Rech compared the city with Texas and the Wild West.  Factory after factory was closed down by frustrated managers as control broke down—for which they were accused by the Bolsheviks of using the “creeping lockout” as a weapon of counterrevolution.

And looming over the whole country—but particularly in the cities—was the threat of starvation.  As the weeks went by, the breadlines grew longer.  This was not Lenin’s fault, but he exploited it.  “Peace, bread, land” was the triple promise offered in the Bolshevik message that, the party insisted, would follow the transfer of power to the Soviet.

Kerensky’s success on his tour astonished everyone who witnessed it, but—against a background of the continuous Bolshevik propaganda throughout a nation as large as Russia—its impact was geographically limited.  He could not go everywhere—or remain to consolidate his personal victories.

Kerensky, of course, had his own government propaganda machine, and the Soviet was now working closely to support him in an effort to prevent the total collapse of the nation.  Desperately they sought to establish order—which, of course, was what Lenin was working to prevent.  For as long as there was growing chaos, he could continue to present “power to the Soviet” as a panacea.  As long as people were discontented, they were more likely to obey the continuing calls of the party agitators to vote Bolsheviks into the Soviet.  And the Bolshevik slogans had an obvious, simple appeal.  Wake up!  You are in a class war!  You are being exploited in the factories and killed in the trenches to enrich the capitalists!  Only when you, the working class, the people, take power through the Soviet will your miseries end.

To prevent a complete breakdown of army morale, Kerensky attempted to tighten discipline, restored the power to punish—including the death sentence, though it was not invoked—and warned the thousands of deserters to return to their units or face the consequences.

The Soviet supported him with a passionate appeal to the troops to ignore the insidious propaganda of the Bolsheviks.  “Have we overthrown Nicholas to kneel before Wilhelm?” demanded the manifesto.  “Those who assure you that fraternization is the road to peace are leading you to your ruin. . . .”

Each move by the Soviet or the government was greeted by Pravda with a howl of mockery.  Kerensky’s “Declaration of Soldiers’ Rights,” which laid down the new rules of discipline, was pilloried as a “Declaration of Soldiers’ Lack of Rights.”  On the Soviet appeal to the troops, Lenin taunted that the Mensheviks and the SRs had “sunk to the level of defending Russian Imperialism.”  When commissars were sent from Petersburg to give guidance to distant district Soviets that were trying to cope with local chaos, he warned that this was “a sure step toward the restoration of the monarchy.”

The Bolsheviks were still very much a minority party, but they had a loud and beguiling voice.  They were making steady progress.

In Berlin, Arthur Zimmermann was delighted with the results of his investment.  “Secret reports,” he noted on June 3, “show that the governments of the Entente countries continue to show great anxiety about Russia. . . . Lenin’s peace propaganda is growing steadily stronger and his newspaper Pravda already prints 300,000 copies.  Work in the armament factories is either at a standstill or has sunk to very low production figures . . . the supply of food to the towns and the army is suffering.  There is therefore absolutely no possibility of the Entente receiving help from that quarter.”

Already, the German High Command had grown confident enough to start transferring regiments from the Eastern line to the Western Front.  For in the race with time that the war had now become, the crucial question was :  Could Germany, with its all-out U-boat effort, cripple the Allies before America could deploy its massive aid of men and supplies?

The Allied governments understood the situation just as clearly as the men in Berlin.  Their ambassadors were levering heavy pressure on Kerensky to mount an offensive to stiffen the German presence in the East—for their spring offensive in the West had failed—and demanded this as the price of a new war loan that Russia desperately needed.  Kerensky was in favor of an offensive, for he believed that a military victory would provide the Russians with a boost to morale that was so lacking.

From every point of view, the army had to be persuaded to fight, and when Kerensky returned to Petersburg from his tour at the end of May, he believed he had achieved this aim—and he probably would have done so if it had not been for Lenin.  The inevitable clash was growing closer every day, for while the Bolsheviks were winning gains among the workers, the middle classes were closing their ranks around Kerensky.  By June the first battle was imminent.  But before it occurred, as in the preliminary contests of ancient battles, the two men met personally in a public duel.

The occasion was the opening of the Congress of Soviets from all over Russia—convened primarily to take over the central role that until now had been carried by the Petersburg Soviet.*  The 1,000 delegates who assembled in the Naval Cadet building on Vasilevsky Island formed a colorful polyglot gathering—“slant eyed tartars and fair haired Cossacks,” as reporter Albert Rhys Williams described them, “Russians big and little, Poles, Letts and Lithuanians—all tribes and tongues and costumes.”

Lenin—“having left his underground cave for the light of day,” Sukhanov commented sarcastically—made one of his rare appearances in public, sitting surrounded by his comrades at the back of the big auditorium.

The tall elegant Irakli Tseretelli, who had returned to Petersburg from years in Siberia to become the outstanding personality among the Menshevik leaders, used the occasion to attack the Bolsheviks.  Accusing them of gross irresponsibility, he asserted, “Only by pooling our efforts can we achieve democracy and victory.  Today Russia has no political party which would say :  ‘Give us power, go yourselves and we will take your place.’ ”

At that moment, a voice rang out from the back of the big hall.  “There is such a party!”  To the astonishment of his comrades who knew his careful reticence in public, Lenin had stood up.  “There is such a party,” he repeated.  “It is the Bolshevik Party!”

The shocked silence was broken by a wave of laughter from the big audience.  To men from outside Petersburg, the idea that so small a party as the Bolsheviks—which only had 105 voting delegates among them—could form a government seemed absurd.  By contrast, the other parties were represented by 822 delegates.

They laughed again when Lenin mounted the platform to demand that the Soviet should at once seize power from the Provisional Government.

“Laugh all you want,” he challenged them.  “Our program in relation to the economic crisis is this—to demand the publication of all those unheard-of profits, reaching from five hundred to eight hundred percent, which the capitalists make on war orders;  to arrest fifty or one hundred of the more important capitalists and in this way to break all the threads of intrigue . . . to announce to all nations, separate from their governments, that we regard all capitalists—French, English, all—as robbers. . . .”

“You’ve lived through 1905 and 1917,” he challenged.  “You know that revolution is not made to order;  that in other countries it was brought about through bloody uprisings, but in Russia there is no group or class that could oppose the power of the Soviets.”

Deliberately, Kerensky—present not as War Minister, but as a member of the Petersburg Soviet—took up the challenge.  The two men had a background and a hometown in common, but they had not seen each other for years.

Early in 1914, Kerensky had met one of Lenin’s sisters on a Volga steamboat.  “Don’t worry,” he had told her, “you will soon see him again.  There will be war, and it will open to him the road to Russia.”

It is doubtful if, when he made that prediction on the riverboat, Kerensky could have foreseen that in only three years’ time he would be engaged in a bitter struggle with Lenin for the leadership of Russia.

He stood before that big audience, stiffly upright, his arm in the black sling from his neck.  “You’ve been told of 1792 and 1905,” he said.  “How did 1792 end in France?  It ended in the fall of the republic and the rise of a dictator.  How did 1905 end?  With the triumph of reaction. . . .

“The problem for the Russian socialist parties is . . . to prevent such an end as was in France . . . to see to it that our comrades who have been let out of prison do not return there :  that Comrade Lenin . . . may have the opportunity to speak here again and not be obliged to flee back to Switzerland. . . .”

Through the roar of applause, Kerensky began to mock his adversary.  “We have been told,” he asserted sarcastically “that we should not fight with words . . . but show by deed that we are fighting against capitalism.  What means are recommended for this fight?”  Kerensky paused carefully, his eyes scanning his audience, and then gave the scornful answer :  “To arrest Russian capitalists.”  And again a great wav of laughter swept through the delegates.

“Comrades,” Kerensky went on, “I’m not a Marxist, but have the highest respect for Marx . . . but Marxism never taught such childlike and primitive means. . . . Socialism nowhere recommends the settling of questions . . . by arresting people, as is done by Asiatic despots. . . . You Bolshevik recommend childish prescriptions—‘arrest, kill, destroy!’  What are you, socialists or the police of the old regime!”

Amid the uproar, Lenin was on his feet, flushed with anger.  “Call him to order!” he shouted at the chairman on the platform.

But Kerensky continued as soon as he could make himself heard.  “You recommend that we follow the road of the French Revolution of 1789.  You recommend the way to further disorganization of the country. . . . When you, in alliance with reaction, destroy our power, then you will have a real dictator.  It is our duty, the duty of Russian democracy, to say :  ‘Don’t repeat the historic mistakes.’ ”

Lenin did not wait to hear the end of the speech—so Kerensky recorded—but “picking up his briefcase, with his head bent, he stole out of the hall, almost unnoticed.”

Kerensky believed he had won the contest.  Lenin had retired from the field and the delegates to the Soviet did as Kerensky urged them and rejected all the important Bolshevik resolutions by large majorities.

No doubt he was pleased, too, by the progress in the secret investigation of his antagonist’s links with the enemy.  Only a few days before their clash in the Congress, Pereverzev, who was now Minister of Justice, had sent for Colonel Nikitin, the chief of counterintelligence who had tried to prevent Lenin and the Sealed Train party from being admitted to Russia.

“I have been informed by a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee,” the minister told the colonel, “that Lenin is communicating with Parvus by means of letters carried by special couriers.”

Nikitin acted promptly.  His men searched anyone suspicious passing through the Finnish frontier post at Beloostrov.  Within a week they had found a letter to Parvus concealed on a Bolshevik on his way through Finland.  It asked for the delivery of as much “material” as possible—material being assumed by Nikitin to mean money.  Handwriting experts examined it and declared it was written by Lenin.

Actually it is unlikely Lenin would ever have written directly to Parvus, so the experts were almost certainly wrong.  But to the investigators at the time it seemed a highly valuable piece of evidence for the case they were preparing.  Nikitin’s men began shadowing all the Bolshevik leaders.


Meanwhile, despite Kerensky’s satisfaction with the results in the Congress of Soviets, Lenin’s campaign was constantly gaining ground among the workers.  Gregory Zinoviev had recently organized a conference of representatives of all the Petersburg factories and trade unions.  More than three-quarters of the delegates had voted the Bolshevik line and agreed to set up a permanent center in the city to coordinate action in the industrial plants.  Steadily, too, the number of seats the Bolsheviks held in the Petersburg Soviet was increasing.  Although, as Sukhanov wrote, “they still had no majority, it would come . . . there was no doubt of that.”

It was against this setting that Lenin agreed to promote a clash between the forces at his disposal and those of the opposition.  On Wednesday, June 19, two days after his duel with Kerensky, Lenin presided at a big meeting in the Kshesinskaya Mansion which was attended by the entire Bolshevik leadership :  the Central Committee, the heads of the Military Organization, the Petersburg City District Committee and one or two others, such as Nadya, who, disillusioned at last by her treatment in the secretariat, was now a member of the district Duma—the local council—in the Vyborg.

Podvoisky and Nevsky had called the meeting because the Military Organization was under heavy pressure from some of the troops in the garrison—now in danger of being transferred to the front—to mount a mass demonstration against the offensive that Kerensky was preparing.

When the idea of a demonstration had been first mooted two weeks before, Lenin had vetoed it, holding it was far too soon.  Now Podvoisky insisted that the party should reconsider.  Several regiments were threatening to go out onto the streets on their own unless the party led them—and the anarchists were urging them to do so.  The anarchists constituted two small parties that had their headquarters in the Vyborg and were as extreme and vocal as the Bolsheviks but differed from them on one important aspect.  They wanted no state apparatus at all, no power in any real sense in government.

Podvoisky and his military comrades believed it vital the party should accept the leadership of the demonstration.  For Lenin, since his clash with Kerensky, there were now arguments in favor of it.  The sight of thousands of troops marching under Bolshevik banners would certainly show the provincial delegates to the congress how powerful the party was in the capital.  Those who had mocked him should be taught some realities.  Also, as Lenin admitted later, it was essential that Kerensky’s offensive be sabotaged.

On the other hand, the danger of the demonstration’s escalating into violence that the party could not control was clearly very great.  Many of the militants in the MO and the Petersburg Committee wanted just this to happen, but Lenin knew that the party’s support was not yet adequate for any real strike for power.

The Central Committee, which had to make the final decision, split into the two usual groups.  Kamenev, like a friendly bear, wagged his head and insisted that the party’s following was still too small.  “To act now would be rash and premature.”  Zinoviev supported his friend, asserting in his strange high-pitched voice that the party would be “risking its life.”

Sverdlov, who was now the key Lenin man on the Central Committee, was fully behind the military leaders.  So was Stalin, displaying his new militant left-wing role.

Even Nadya joined in at one point when the issue of how the demonstration could be kept peaceful was being discussed.  “It won’t be peaceful,” she said flatly, “so perhaps it shouldn’t be staged.”

At last Lenin took command—and did nothing, as he so often did when the risks were high and he was not certain of success.  Probably he was wise, for while his military leaders were full of enthusiasm, their ideas as to how to organize a demonstration were limited.  They never truly knew who was going to respond to their impassioned calls for action.  When Lenin finally ordered Nevsky to conduct a survey of the troops who would definitely march with them, the militant was irritated.  “This seemed insignificant to me . . .” he admitted later.  “We will start a demonstration, and that will be enough.”

It was not enough for Lenin.  They would meet again on Friday in two days’ time, he said, and make the final decision when Nevsky had supplied the information on which to base it.

In fact, events overtook the time schedule—events that had nothing to do with the Bolsheviks.  The government, provoked at last by militant acts by the anarchists, suddenly surrounded their headquarters—a villa in the Vyborg—and gave them twenty-four hours to vacate the premises.  The anarchists appealed for help to the Vyborg workers, and by Thursday evening twenty-eight factories in the district were on strike.

It provided Lenin with the element that had been lacking in the proposals of his military leaders—emotion among the workers.  Hurriedly, he advanced his scheduled meeting by twenty-four hours to that night—and invited representatives from the factories and the regiments to attend it.

That evening the Central Committee formally authorized a peaceful demonstration to start at 2 P.M. on Saturday—in less than two days’ time.  News of it was to be kept secret as long as possible.  The Bolshevik press would not even mention it until Saturday morning, the day it was to be staged.

All that night, in the Kshesinskaya Mansion, the Military Organization was at work planning the demonstration—dispatching orders to its members in the barracks and in the Red Guard contingents in the factories.  So, too, was the Petersburg Committee, operating through the party hierarchy in the districts.

The Central Committee orders were that the demonstration was to be peaceful—which politically was sound—but the planners in the Kshesinskaya Mansion that night were preparing for violence.  The columns of workers were to be escorted by military units at the head and tail of the processions as well as at strategic intervals between.  The massive march was to begin from three starting points, one of which was the Field of Mars.

On Friday morning, agitators from the mansion fanned out through the regiments and the factories of the city.  Leaflets, written by Stalin, were distributed.  Mass appeals were set up in type for the next day’s issues of Pravda and, especially, Soldatskaya Pravda, which laid down the directions for marching.

By Friday afternoon news of the plans had reached the Petersburg Soviet in the Tauride Palace—and caused acute alarm.  Promptly, the Executive Committee banned the demonstration and appealed to the Congress of Soviets to add its authority to its own ruling.

The government issued an ominous warning that any use of force would be countered with all “the power at its disposal”—which, to the men who had been up all night in party headquarters, sounded as though Kerensky were hoping for an excuse for action.

On that light evening-when there would be no darkness for, in that northern latitude, it was the season of the “white nights”—Lenin waited in the Kshesinskaya Mansion as reports were brought in constantly from the districts by messengers on horses or motorcycles.  He was far from the activity, giving no orders—waiting as the party executives carried out the duties they had been allocated.  It was soon clear that the situation was developing well.  The response to the party’s appeal appeared to be strong.  Tomorrow thousands would be marching under Bolshevik slogans—and they would be armed.  Even the workers’ units had rejected every suggestion that they should demonstrate without rifles.

Once a rumor came into the mansion that Kerensky had summoned troops to the city to stop the marchers.  But as soon as the War Minister heard of it, he issued an immediate denial.  He was relying on political pressure—and it was formidable.

At eight-thirty in the evening, a harassed Kamenev arrived in the mansion and demanded that Lenin call a meeting to consider cancellation.  In the Congress of Soviets, he reported, feelings against the Bolsheviks were too strong to ignore.  But at the meeting of sixteen party leaders which was hurriedly convened, Kamenev won no support, apart from Nogin, the conservative.  Even Zinoviev deserted him.  The demonstration was still on.

At the congress, as soon as Chkheidze learned that the Bolsheviks were going ahead with their plans, he interrupted the debate to demand the floor.  Dramatically he warned the congress that unless it took decisive action, the next day “could be fatal.”

Responding to this appeal, the congress barred all demonstrations in the city for three days and appealed to the masses to ignore the Bolshevik call to the streets.  “Do not do what you are called upon to do. . . . Those who call you cannot but know that your peaceful demonstration could develop into bloody disorder. . . .”  To back up their appeal, delegates agreed to split into small groups and tour the factories and regiments all night to urge them to obey the order of the congress.

At two o’clock in the morning Lenin was still at the crowded Kshesinskaya Mansion assessing the developments when once again Kamenev arrived, with Nogin and Zinoviev, to plead with him, even at this late hour, to prevent what he was convinced could only be a disastrous day for the party.  The Bolsheviks were even in danger of expulsion from the Soviets.  This would mean political isolation and make nonsense of the central element of Lenin’s strategy.

The order from the congress not to demonstrate also put Lenin in a difficult position.  How could he ignore an order from the Soviet when he was campaigning for it to be given power?

Wearily five members of the Central Committee—all who were then in the mansion—sat down for the second time in six hours to consider a decision to cancel.  It was still light, of course—that strange endless evening light—and through the french windows they could see the trees of the park and the golden spire of the Fortress of Peter and Paul.

All of them knew that the repercussions of canceling at this late hour would be enormous.  They might lose control, be discredited.  Almost certainly, they would relinquish some of the recent gains they had made in the sympathies of the masses.  Lenin especially knew that the flame of revolutionary feeling he had been so carefully fanning would not just subside.  There would be frustration, discontent, anger.

On the other hand, the dangers of continuing could be even greater.

Kamenev and Nogin, of course, had no doubts.  They had not had doubts from the start.  Firmly they voted to cancel.  Zinoviev, changing his mind yet again, voted with them.

It now made no difference what Lenin and Sverdlov did, for the majority had spoken.  But Lenin appeared, almost instinctively, to be avoiding the issue, as though he could not bring himself to vote formally for a backdown from an action to which he had tacitly agreed.

When it was his turn to speak, he hesitated, then grimly he said, “I abstain.”

The four men looked at Sverdlov.  He appeared even smaller, more mournful, than usual.  He followed Lenin’s example.  “I abstain,” he mumbled.

At the last minute, the party had bowed to the Congress of Soviets, but the crucial issue now was :  Would the masses obey the party?

Comrades were dispatched to the barracks, to district party headquarters, to the factories.  Telephone calls ordered Pravda and Soldatskaya Pravda to change their front-page calls to the streets to cancellation orders.

The order was greeted by impotent fury.  In some factories, Bolsheviks tore up their party cards in disgust.  Many of the touring delegates from the congress were angrily abused.  The radical First Machine Gun Regiment insisted that they would go out anyway in a few days and “crush the bourgeoisie.”  At Kronstadt it required “inhuman measures” by the Bolshevik leaders to prevent thousands of furious sailors from invading the city—as indeed they were being urged to by the anarchists.

There were signs of mutiny within Soldatskaya Pravda, run as it was by the MO, for copies were still being distributed two hours after the cancellation order with the original summons unchanged.  But the staff was at last brought to heel.

Lenin gained some solace from the fact that the order was obeyed, but the cancellation caused so traumatic a crisis within the party that he had to make a personal attempt to appease his angry critics.  He appeared on Monday at a joint meeting of the Central and Petersburg Committees almost in the role of a delinquent.  The atmosphere was icy.

“Your resentment,” he told them simply in his guttural voice, “is completely justified, but, in the face of the order of the Congress of Soviets, the Central Committee had no alternative.”  He pleaded that news of an impending attack by the counterrevolution was one reason for the cancellation, though there is no evidence of this.  “Even in simple warfare,” he explained, “it happens that scheduled offensives must be cancelled.”

His speech made little impact on his angry militants.  Comrade after comrade stood up to attack the late-night decision to cancel, coldly reminding him that the Soviet veto and the threat of attack by the counterrevolution had been fully considered at the planning stage.

The decision was “hysterical,” “hasty,” “a political mistake,” revealing “intolerable wavering.”

In the sequence of events in which the Bolsheviks were now enmeshed, this was a crucial confrontation.  The left-wingers believed that Lenin had been wrong and even weak.  Their leader, who had so transformed the party and its prospects in only three months, had been exposed as fallible.  As a result, he had lost some of his stature, a degree of their faith.  Almost certainly this was the main reason why he was unable to control the party at the next crisis.

Just temporarily, he was able to divert some of their resentment into other channels.  The Soviet leaders, badly frightened by the realization that the city had moved to the brink of conflict, had reacted in fury against the Bolsheviks.  But they realized that a release was needed for the tensions of the city, and they decided to organize a demonstration of their own, open to all parties, to demonstrate the unity of the “revolutionary democracy.”

Lenin saw this as a great opportunity.  The Bolsheviks could now mount the canceled demonstration under the cover of official Soviet respectability.  After his savaging, he did not face the militants himself but sent Zinoviev to deploy his skill “to bewitch,” as Trotsky called it.  They grumbled at him but at last agreed to obey the Soviet order to participate.

July 1—a brilliant day with a clear blue sky and the sun glistening off the golden cupolas and spires of the city—was a fantastic success for the party and, superficially at any rate, made up for the humiliations of a week before.  Marchers from regiment after regiment, factory after factory, paraded past the saluting base on the tomb of the martyrs in the Field of Mars under red and gold Bolshevik banners :  “All power to the Soviets !  Down with the ten capitalist ministers !  Down with the War?”

“Soldiers in drab and olive,” recorded one eyewitness, “horsemen in blue and gold, white-bloused sailors from the fleet, black-bloused workmen from the mills, girls in varicolored waists surging through the main arteries of the city, on each marcher a streamer, a flower, a ribbon of red;  scarlet kerchiefs around the women’s heads, red rubashkas on the men.  Above . . . tossed a thousand banners of red.

“As this human river flowed, it sang . . . the spontaneous outpouring of a people’s soul.  Someone would strike up a revolutionary hymn;  the deep resonant voices of the soldiers would lift the refrain, joined by the plaintive voices of the working women;  the hymn would rise, and fall, and die away;  then down the line, it would burst forth again—the whole street singing in harmony.”

“Here and there,” recorded Sukhanov, “the chain of Bolshevik flags and columns was interrupted by specifically Social Revolutionary and official Soviet slogans.  But they were submerged in the mass;  they seemed to be exceptions.  Again and again, like the unchanging summons of the very depths of the revolutionary capital, like fate itself . . . there advanced toward us :  ‘All power to the Soviets!  Down with the ten capitalist ministers !’ ”3

As each contingent marched silently by the tomb, they lowered their fluttering banners in tribute to the dead and then raised them again as they continued toward Sadovaya Prospect.

One of the Menshevik leaders standing on the saluting base sneered :  “The Bolsheviks distributed ready-made posters and they are carrying them without understanding anything.”

Lenin, who was standing near him, winked one eye and asked with a smile, “Why aren’t they marching along with your slogans?  After all you have the power!”  But his enjoyment in the day’s achievement was marred by its dangers.  Could he hold the people back until the moment was favorable?

That night, in the dining room of the Elizarov apartment on Shirokaya Street, the Central Committee and some of the MO leaders sat around the table on which Maria had placed a vase of red carnations that had been handed to Lenin as a bouquet during the demonstration.  They reviewed the day’s events, and Podvoisky, bearded, sallow, grim Podvoisky, warned them of what was imminent.  “After this,” he insisted, “the workers and soldiers will seek to stage an uprising.”

Lenin knew his military leader was right but insisted that he must do what he could to curb them.  “At this stage,” he said, “a rebellion would be doomed to defeat because the workers in Petersburg would receive no support from the armies at the front or from the people in the provinces. . . .

“Nikolai Ilyich,” he told Podvoisky.  “This must be explained to the masses. . . . Forces must be alerted for a decisive assault but the party will indicate the time. . . .”




1  Main sources :  As for Chapters 9 and 10.  Also, Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed ;  N.V. Sorokin, Leaves from My Russian Diary;  Leon Trotsky, Lenin and My Life; K.T. Sverdlova, Jakob Mihailovich Sverdlov (R); Albert Rhys Williams, Through the Russian Revolution; B.V. Nikitin, The Fatal Years.

2 According to Trotsky in Lenin.

* The Congress of Soviets was attended by delegates from district Soviets all over Russia, including, of course, the Petersburg Soviet.  Until now, the Executive Committee of the Petersburg Soviet had been a kind of caretaker body that supervised the government.  From June, a new permanent committee—the Central Executive Committee of the all-Russian Congress of Soviets—took over this responsibility, and the Petersburg Soviet became a district organization like the Moscow Soviet or the Kiev Soviet.
    In fact, the most important members of the Executive Committee of the Petersburg Soviet were also members of the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets—so the same characters were usually involved with the future crises as had been in the past, even though the body they represented was sometimes different.
    To avoid elaborate and confusing description of the two Soviet bodies, references to the “Soviet" on future pages refer to the Congress of Soviets unless I specifically state otherwise.

3 In other words, the ten ministers in the Cabinet who were not socialists.