Michael Pearson

The Sealed Train
Chapter 15

In October the Capital was dark by three in the afternoon, and the wind blew chill and damp from the north west across the Gulf of Finland.  It penetrated the heavy coats and fur hats of twelve persons who, on the evening of the twenty-third, made their way singly through slushy, ill-lit streets to a secret meeting in an apartment block overlooking the Karpovka River which enclosed the central island of Old Petersburg from the north.1

For the first time since he had fled from the city in July, Lenin was attending a meeting of the Central Committee, confronting those comrades whom he had threatened and accused of treachery.

From a security viewpoint, the meeting place was ideal.  It had the two entrances that were obligatory for all secret rendezvous.  More important, the apartment belonged to a prominent Menshevik—the last place that Kerensky’s militiamen would search for Lenin.

Sukhanov, the journalist-politician who wrote the fullest day-to-day record of the whole revolutionary period, learned later that one of the most important meetings in the history of Russia had been held in his own home.  “Oh, the novel jokes of the merry muse of history!”: he cried out in his memoirs.

Galina, his wife, was a fervent Bolshevik.  She had suggested to her husband with affectionate concern that since he would be working late, he should sleep near the office, as he sometimes did, instead of making the six-mile journey home late at night.

The participants arrived one by one :  Zinoviev, now bearded and with his black hair cut short to change his appearance, pleased to see his leader but apprehensive of the meeting ;  Kamenev, who greeted Lenin warmly but was firm in his own conviction that an immediate uprising would destroy the party and the revolution;  the emaciated Sverdlov, party secretary and completely reliable;  Stalin, still editor of the party journal (now called Rabochy Put since Pravda had been banned in July) and a man whose loyalties shifted, a conservative in March, a militant in July and now hovering again on the right of the party spectrum;  Trotsky, a man of power in his new role as president of the Petersburg Soviet, but an independent whom Lenin could not completely trust to accept every aspect of his leadership.

Others arrived who, like Trotsky, had been elected to the Central Committee during the party congress in August—men such as Sokolnikov, co-editor with Stalin of the party journal and one of the thirty-two comrades who had traveled on the Sealed Train—Lenin knew him from Switzerland to be another man of independence;  Uritsky, one of Trotsky’s “brilliant generals”:;  Felix Dzerzhinsky, still barely recovered from the illness he had developed in the Lubyanka, Moscow’s grim prison, a dedicated and ruthless revolutionary soon to be feared more than any chief of the Okhrana;  George Lomov, who had traveled to Petersburg from Moscow before Lenin’s return to urge the rest of the Central Committee to accept its leader’s line.

In all, there were twelve sitting at the round table in Sukhanov’s living room beneath a single hanging lamp—plus Varvara Yakovleva, who was taking the minutes.  Outside, Yuri Flakserman, Galina’s brother, kept watch for any sign of danger.

Lenin studied the others intently.  With Sverdlov, he had planned the strategy of the meeting with great care.  He wanted an unequivocal resolution authorizing an immediate uprising to be led by the party, and he expected strong resistance before he got it.

The meeting began quietly enough.2  As was customary, Sverdlov, as party secretary, reported on the general situation.  But, as Trotsky commented later, Sverdlov was preparing the ground for Lenin by concentrating on the reports from the party committees at the front.  For it was the attitude of the front-line troops that had made Lenin sure, in his postmortems of the July Days, that it would have been fatal for the party to have attempted to seize power then.

Now, Sverdlov indicated, the situation was different.  “At the front . . .”: he told them, “they [the troops] will follow us against Kerensky.”:

Ominous signs of counterrevolution had been reported.  On one section of the front a Kornilov type of conspiracy was being prepared with the help of the Cossacks.  On the Northern Front there were rumors of a plan to order a retreat that would open Petersburg, the heart of the revolution, to the Germans.  As everyone around that table knew, many of the bourgeois now saw the Bolsheviks as a greater threat than the enemy.

As soon as Sverdlov had finished, Lenin took over the meeting.  “Since the beginning of September,”: he rasped, “there has been a certain indifference to the question of insurrection.”:

Patiently at first, Lenin explained why the time was now ideal for revolt—why, as he had written from Finland, “to delay means death.”:  There had been a mutiny in several German ships in the Baltic which indicated the international spread of lower-class unrest.  A recent spate of insurrection in the villages throughout Russia—featuring a massive increase in the burning of big houses—showed that the peasants, that enormous but uncertain section of the Russian population, were tired of promises of land and were ready to support an organized revolt.

“Since July,”: Lenin insisted, “our upsurge has been making gigantic strides. . . . The majority are now with us. Politically, the situation has become entirely ripe for the transfer of power. . . .”:

So far the mood at that secret meeting had been relatively, if somewhat artificially, calm.  Lenin, said Trotsky, “was obviously restraining himself :  He had too much feeling piling up in him.”:

Now, characteristically, Lenin moved to the attack.  He “began to storm”: at Trotsky, who was as enthusiastic for an uprising as Lenin himself, but believed that it should be organized by the Petersburg Soviet.  There was no risk in this, since by now, in Lenin’s absence, Trotsky personally controlled the soviet with Bolsheviks in command of every section.

Trotsky’s plan was to give the operation legality by timing the uprising to coincide with the new All-Russian Congress of Soviets that had been summoned amid violent controversy to meet on November 2—in only ten days.

Fiercely, Lenin fought this whole idea.  Despite his statements of the past months, he had personally never trusted Soviets, not even in 1905.3  He preferred the disciplined control of a single party, even if this had broken down in July.

Also, the Soviet, with its delegates and motions, was a cumbersome machine to use.  Trotsky’s plan would involve delay.

Passionately, Lenin demanded “decisive action”: within five days.  October 28 was the latest date he would consider for the revolt since the operation must be completed before November 2, and it might well take a few days to complete.  “We must not wait,”: he insisted.  “We must not postpone.  At the front, as we have heard from Comrade Sverdlov, they [the counterrevolution] are preparing an overturn.  Will the Congress of Soviets ever be held?  We do not know.  We must seize power immediately and not wait for any congresses.”:

Lenin’s main conflict, though, was with his once close comrades of the Troika, the men who had shared his exile, who had been his principal aides, who had joined those long discussions in the cafes of the Avenue d’Orleans in Paris.

Ironically, now at this crucial moment in history, there was no common ground, no room for negotiation, between Lenin and his two closest comrades.  Even Zinoviev, who for months had wavered in his loyalties between his friend and his leader, was now firmly and immovably behind Kamenev.

Their disagreement was simple :  To them there was nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by an armed uprising.  If they waited a few weeks for the Constituent Assembly, their chances of legally winning a big majority in the elections “were excellent.”:  There was no demand among the people for an uprising.  If the party mounted a revolt, they would push the petty bourgeoisie, “the huge third camp”: of shopkeepers, lower-echelon civil servants, better-off peasants into the arms of the counterrevolution.  The support of the troops could not be relied on.  Even more critical, the government forces—with their Cossacks and Junker military cadets in the Petersburg environs—were far stronger than they seemed.

“Comrade Lenin’s proposal,”: insisted Kamenev,4 “means to stake on one card not only the fate of our party, but also the fate of the Russian and International Revolution. . . . We have no right to stake the whole future on the card of an armed uprising.”:

Angrily, Lenin fought his two old friends on the issue.  The party could command far larger forces than the government, he argued.  The people would rise if they were called.  Their apparent lack of enthusiasm was because they were tired of words and resolutions.  The troops would fight in support of the party.

Most vital of all, Lenin could not persuade his stubborn opponents of the danger Kerensky’s plans presented.  This would not be just another abortive Kornilov putsch.  Kerensky and his ally Milyukov would have learned the lessons of September just as the Bolsheviks had learned from July.  This time, the move would be well organized.

Again and again, he repeated, “The success of the Russian and world revolution depends on two or three days struggle.”:  Insistently, his voice rising as he pounded the table, he tried to ram into their heads the basic fact that unless they acted now, it would be too late.  There would be no second chance.  Their conception of gaining power by constitutional means was naive.  Kerensky would never let them.  Once he gained control of the country he would liquidate the Soviet.  This was the party’s last opportunity for a socialist revolution, for the world revolution at least for many years.  At the same time, conditions were such during this short period that an uprising could not fail.

But Kamenev, with his red beard and spectacles, just sat at the other side of the table shaking his head.

For ten hours they argued, pausing at intervals as Galina Sukhanova served them tea with bread and sausage.  At midnight the electricity was cut off, as it always was at this time in the city, for the current was only on for six out of every twenty-four hours.  They continued the argument by the light of candles and at last, near three o’clock in the morning, Lenin forced the issue.

Leaning forward over a table that by then was littered with crumbs and dirty teacups, he wrote a resolution “with a gnawed pencil”: on a page in a child’s schoolbook of graph paper.  “Recognizing . . . that an armed rising is inevitable and the time perfectly ripe,”: he scrawled in his small, tight writing, “the Central Committee proposes to all the organizations of the party to act accordingly and to discuss and decide from this point of view all the practical questions. . . .”:

Then, formally, in the light of flickering candles, Sverdlov put it to to the vote.  For Lenin it was a tense moment.  Obviously, Trotsky might demur.  So, too, might Uritsky, his comrade from his previous organization who had argued that neither the party nor the Soviet was prepared.  Stalin had been very quiet all evening, but he was likely to support Kamenev as he had in March.  Sokolnikov was clearly closer to Kamenev than he was to Lenin.  Between them Sokolnikov and Stalin had altered Lenin’s articles from Finland, editing out some of the militancy.

Despite Lenin’s fears, ten of the twelve voted with him—all except for Kamenev and Zinoviev.  But if Lenin won a majority of ten votes to two, this very fact leaves unanswered questions.  Why did Uritsky support the uprising when he was so dubious about it?  Why did Stalin desert Kamenev in the crucial vote?  What convinced Sokolnikov?

One possible clue is that within two weeks the Austrian Foreign Minister would inform Kerensky that he was prepared to make a separate peace with Russia.  The vital question is therefore whether, by the evening he met his comrades in Sukhanov’s apartment, Lenin had been warned from Berlin about the possibility of such an approach.  If he had, and this can only be speculation, it puts his demands for urgency in a different light.  For if Kerensky could offer the Russian people an end to the fighting on the large section of the front held by troops of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, he would “trump”: Lenin, as he put it in his memoirs.  The Bolshevik program for peace was, he believed, the key reason for the party’s new surge of support.  For Lenin, it was essential, therefore, that the rising should be staged before Kerensky could act in liaison with Vienna.  Otherwise, it would be too late.

If this hypothesis is correct, there can be little doubt that Lenin was also under great pressure from Berlin—had there been any contact.  For a separate peace with Austria would mark the disintegration of the Central Powers alliance and leave Germany isolated at a time when America had just entered the war.

Was the knowledge of an impending Austrian peace the crucial factor that convinced Uritsky and Stalin?  Did it fail to convince Kamenev and Zinoviev only because they believed that, despite a peace with Austria, the party could still gain its objective through the Constituent Assembly?

The minutes of the meeting are sketchy and provide no support for this contention.  Trotsky, who is the main informant on the events of that night, does not refer to it, but he could hardly have done so without revealing Lenin’s links with Berlin—which he always fiercely refuted, though he must have known of the facts revealed by the German Foreign Office papers.

From Finland, Lenin had made the point in late September that “to offer peace to the people means to win,”: but then he had feared that the party would be “trumped”: by a separate peace between Germany and Britain—which again would have ended in securing Kerensky’s position.  He did not mention Austria in his letters—strange in itself, since Austria’s attitude was certain to be relevant.

Peace, organized by whatever means, clearly presented a major danger and was one reason why the Central Committee committed the party to an immediate uprising that night.  In theory, at least, for in practice it was not quite so simple.

It was raining when Lenin left Sukhanov’s apartment, clad in a raincoat borrowed from Dzerzhinsky, and made his way to Rahja’s flat, where he planned to grab a few hours’ sleep, since it was nearer than Marguerite Fofanova’s home in the Vyborg.  Most of the others spent the rest of the night on the floor of the room where they had made their critical decision before leaving the next morning for Smolny.

Since July, when the Tauride Palace had been vacated to make room for the still nonexistent Constitutent Assembly, the Smolny Institute had been the home of the Soviet.  A massive gray domed and pillared mansion, some two hundred yards long, it stood in a U bend of the Neva at the edge of the city center where the tram lines ended.  It lay in a small park beside the Smolny Cathedral which was painted blue and white, like many Russian churches, and dominated by three immense dull-gold cupolas.

Until the past spring it had been a school for the daughters of the Tsarist aristocracy, and there was a certain irony in the fact that the Petersburg Soviet met in the ballroom where the girls had learned the dance steps of a world that was now extinct.

It was at Smolny that Trotsky—Lenin’s onetime protégé, his antagonist for years and now once more his firm ally even if Lenin did not entirely trust him—was to perform the star role in the party’s bid for power.  For as always, Lenin remained in the background.  This time he had to do so, for he was still under indictment and Kerensky’s police were scouring the city following rumors he had returned.

In Trotsky, history had given Lenin a perfect chief executive—a complement to himself.  For Trotsky excelled in those facets of character and personality in which Lenin was weak.  He was a natural public performer—which Lenin was not—and his oratory and style were coupled with a rare depth of intellect and a great talent for organization and command.

By that crucial night meeting of the twenty-third Trotsky had begun to prepare his base.  The previous evening the Petersburg Soviet had agreed to set up a Military Revolutionary Committee to defend the revolution and, in particular, Petersburg.

The Germans were close.  There was constant talk of moving the capital to Moscow—talk which acquired a new impetus when the Germans badly mauled part of the Russian fleet in a naval battle off Riga on the very day Lenin was engaged in his bitter dispute with his party leaders.  The commander in chief seized the opportunity provided by this critical news to order a third of the regiments of the city to leave for the front.

This gave Trotsky his chance to start developing the theme for the uprising, cloaking a strike for power in the guise of defense.  The commander’s order, he alleged, was the first move in a counterrevolutionary plot to evacuate the capital.  Under Trotsky’s direction, plans were made for the Military Revolutionary Committee to oppose the order and defend the city, the heartland of the revolution.

Technically, the MRC did not yet exist, for, as Lenin had argued, it took time for the Soviet to act, but in practice it now became the hub of plans for the rising.

Trotsky was never officially a member of the MRC, though he directed it.  Its titular head was an eighteen-year-old member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party.  “We made use of him,”: wrote Trotsky.  “Whether or not he perceived this . . . I don’t know.”:

Ostensibly, the MRC was an instrument of the Petersburg Soviet, formed to defend the city against counterrevolution.  In practice, it was the old Bolshevik Military Organization.  One of its chiefs of staff was Nicholas Podvoisky.  Another was Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, who had known Lenin in Paris.  He was a slim young man who looked more like a poet than a militant revolutionary, but he was to play a central role in the events ahead.  Nevsky, too, was prominent, but since July, he seemed to have lost some of his previous status.

Smolny was also the home of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets which was still dominated by SRs and Mensheviks.  It was, therefore, under the eyes of the Bolsheviks’ enemies that the MRC quickly developed as the headquarters of a revolutionary force.  The party cadres in the army were alerted for revolt.  The Red Guards in the factories were fast shaped into fighting units under rigorous instruction.  Almost every night, meetings were held at Smolny to establish the lines of command and the network of liaison between workers and soldiers.

To counter the efforts of the opposition parties to sabotage the Congress of Soviets, Trotsky made a dramatic national appeal by radio, summoning all the Soviets of Russia and the army to send delegates to Petersburg.

Meanwhile, as Trotsky was setting up his command structure, Lenin was facing yet another mutiny—by far the most critical since the party had been established.  Refusing to accept the Central Committee decision of the twenty-third, Kamenev and Zinoviev had appealed over Lenin’s head to the party—where many of the upper-echelon comrades agreed with their views.  Even Nevsky, the overzealous militant of July, was highly dubious that the country would support an uprising.  Although some peasants were in revolt, others had warned that they would cut off bread supplies in the event of an insurrection.  Nevsky was even doubtful about Moscow.

Most of his comrades believed the Central Committee’s decision was premature, that they needed time to prepare the masses.

Watching events from the seclusion of Fofanova’s apartment, Lenin realized that he would again have to intervene personally to force the party to act.  On October 29, six days after the night meeting in Sukhanov’s apartment, he trudged through the rain with Rahja to attend a large conference of the entire Bolshevik leadership—including the party chiefs in the factories, the railways, the Military Organization and the Petersburg districts—in the building of the Vyborg Duma.

It was a mortifying experience.  The men who had been his two aides for years in exile had grown confident in their opposition to him.  “Apparently,”: Zinoviev mocked him, “the resolution [by the Central Committee for the uprising] is not considered ordered.  Otherwise, why are we discussing it?”:

“A week has passed,”: challenged Kamenev—“shamelessly shouted,”: as Lenin put it.  “The Central Committee has been defeated, for it has done nothing for a whole week.”:

Lenin sat fuming as his former friends tried to tear his policy to ribbons—and, even more heinous, to sabotage what he knew must be done.  “I could not refute”: Kamenev’s argument, he explained later, “because I could not tell what really was done.”:  For Trotsky was not present to inform him.  Lenin, therefore, could do nothing but listen helplessly as Kamenev insisted, “We have no machinery for an uprising.  Our enemies have a much stronger machinery and it has probably increased further this week.”:

Just a little triumphantly, Zinoviev rose and “with an innocent air,”: as Lenin described it bitterly, put a resolution to the meeting that the decision on the uprising should be postponed until it could be considered by the Bolshevik delegates to the All-Russian Congress, now scheduled for November 2, four days away.

But Kamenev and Zinoviev were too optimistic.  Many of the party agreed with them, but in the black or white decision Lenin demanded, they were reluctant to vote down their leader on so crucial an issue.

For Lenin was adamant.  “There are only two alternatives—a dictatorship by Kornilov [the Kornilov forces now were ranged behind Kerensky] or a dictatorship of the proletariat.”:

To the surprise of Kamenev and Zinoviev, Lenin won the vote by an overwhelming majority.  The rising was to proceed as ordered.  His objective was achieved.  He could return to the seclusion of Fofanova’s apartment.

During these few weeks, Lenin took enormous pains as to his security.  He was convinced that Kerensky would execute him if he could find him and that police were scouring the city for him, for he was now a serious threat.

Lenin rarely left the small room that Fofanova had given him, and on the occasions that he ventured into other parts of the flat he always wore his wig—presumably in fear of sudden visitors.  It caused him trouble.  “He kept trying to straighten it,”: Fofanova wrote, “and he was always asking people if he had put it on properly.”:

There were not many people to ask.  To avoid attracting the attention of the police, he held no meetings there at the apartment, always going elsewhere instead.  Apart from Fofanova herself, Nadya, Maria and Rahja were the only visitors.

He even rejected Fofanova’s suggestion that he should take some air sometimes on the balcony of the fifth-floor apartment.  He went out onto it only once, and that was to check the drainpipes in case he had to use them as an emergency exit.

Fofanova was a married woman of thirty-four who had been a Bolshevik delegate to the Petersburg Soviet and to the Vyborg District Duma where Nadya had met her.  She also had a job with a publishing house on Vasilevsky Island.  On party orders, she had in August sent her two children and their nurse to live with her parents in the country.  Her husband did not live with her.

As always, Lenin spent a lot of time reading the newspapers, and since they were not all on sale locally in the Vyborg, Fofanova had to take a streetcar into the center of the city to get them for him every morning before setting off to work.  He would sit hunched over them, marking passages he was interested in with blue pencil.

Two evenings after the party conference in the Vyborg Duma, Lenin was working in his room when Fofanova called him to the phone.  At first, so he said later, he could not believe what the comrade told him at the other end of the line.  It was only after he had heard, read out aloud to him over the phone, what Kamenev had written in Novaya Zhizn, the newspaper owned by Maxim Gorky and edited by Sukhanov, that he realized there could be no doubt.  Incredibly, Kamenev and Zinoviev had still refused to accept defeat.  They had now published a public appeal to the party and to the people of Petersburg warning that the plans for “an armed insurrection . . . a few days before the Congress of Soviets would be . . . fatal to both the Proletariat and the Revolution.”:

From any standpoint, it was a fantastic betrayal by men trained in the rigors of party discipline throughout their long hard illegal years as revolutionaries.  They had revealed the plan for the uprising, indicated the timing and, almost worse, exposed the deep division within the party.

It took Lenin a strangely long time to absorb the enormity of what his friends had done.  He waited twenty-four hours before writing a bitter reply to his “former comrades”: in Rabochy Put.  “I do not consider them comrades any longer . . .”: he declared. “I will fight with all my power in the Central Committee and at the [Bolshevik] Congress to expel them from the party.”:

But the Central Committee stubbornly refused to comply with his expulsion demand—possibly because he was not himself present at the session, relying on Sverdlov to argue the case.

Kamenev stepped down tactfully from the Central Committee, but apart from this, the two men were barely disciplined.

Alone, impotent and frustrated in Fofanova’s apartment, Lenin fumed at the Central Committee’s attitude and grew even more suspicious than he had been before.  He was consumed by dark fears that the leaders would suddenly and openly side with Kamenev and Zinoviev and call off the uprising.

Even Trotsky, who had been too busy preparing the revolt to take part in any way in the party quarrel, was the object of Lenin’s morose uncertainty—with some reason, for Trotsky had given his leader little information about the insurrection he was planning.  And he was of course preparing it under the name of the Petersburg Soviet instead of that of the party as Lenin had demanded.

In fact, he was making enormous progress.  On October 29—the day that Kamenev mocked Lenin that the party had no machinery—Trotsky produced his first results.  The regiments of the garrison declared their refusal to accept the transfer directive to the front.  Within hours, to test the authority of the Soviet in its new militant stance, Trotsky signed an order in its name to the arsenals to release 5,000 rifles to the Red Guards.

The action opened him up to inevitable attack in the Soviet from the Mensheviks.  But even as a young man of twenty-three in the 1905 Soviet Trotsky had been a skilled debator.  Questioned on the Bolsheviks’ plans for a coup, he demanded, “In whose name?”: the question was asked.  “In the name of Kerensky, the counterintelligence, the secret police or some other body?”:

When challenged on his order to the arsenals, he declared “on behalf of the Soviet that we have not decided on any armed action,”: which, of course, was technically true.  The Soviet had not made any decisions, though the party had.  Justifying the arming of the workers, he warned, “We must be ready. . . . We must be constantly prepared for the counterrevolution.”:

His denial was enough to alarm the already-suspicious Lenin in his refuge in the Vyborg—especially since the opening date of the Congress of Soviets had been put back five days to November 7, though this was not Trotsky’s fault.

Lenin summoned Trotsky to his apartment and his anxiety was soothed to some extent by his field commander’s explanations.  Grudgingly, he conceded that Trotsky’s tactics in the Soviet had been adroit.

Even so, he was still afraid that Kerensky might act before they were ready to strike.  “Are you sure they won’t steal a march on us?”: he asked Trotsky anxiously.  “Are you sure they won’t surprise us?”:

Trotsky was reassuring.  “Now everything will follow automatically,”: he said.

The mood in the city was strange, for a Bolshevik uprising was discussed daily in the newspapers—as was the possibility of a right-wing coup.  The city grew tenser with each passing day.

“On the streets,”: wrote John Reed in Ten Days That Shook the World, “the crowds thickened toward gloomy evening, pouring in slow voluble tides up and down the Nevsky, fighting for the newspapers. . . . Hold-ups increased to such an extent that it was dangerous to walk down side streets. . . . On the Sadovaya one afternoon I saw a crowd of several hundred people beat and trample to death a soldier caught stealing. . . . Mysterious individuals circulated around the shivering women who waited in queues long cold hours for bread and milk, whispering that the Jews had cornered the food supply—and that while the people starved, the Soviet members lived luxuriously. . . .”:

All day and most of the night, Smolny was alive with activity.  Men and women worked continuously in the committee rooms.  Upstairs in the great hall, beneath crystal chandeliers, the hundreds of delegates to the Petersburg Soviet shouted, argued, objected and demanded the floor.  At night, the long passages were thick with the sleeping figures of soldiers and workers.  From outside with the lights blazing all night at three levels in the long façade, Smolny resembled an ocean liner.

The mood of the city was strangely unreal.  The cafés of the Nevsky were crowded until the early hours of the morning as fur-clad prostitutes paraded on the pavements as they had under the Tsar.  Patrons in the gambling clubs played for enormous stakes with a lemminglike intensity.

“And in the rain, the bitter chill,”: wrote Reed, “the great throbbing city under gray skies, rushing faster and faster towards . . . what?”:

On the evening of November 1, at one of the nightly meetings at Smolny, Podvoisky outlined the progress of the plans for the uprising.  In the big industrial areas of Vyborg and Narva, the Red Guards and the troops from the local barracks were working closely together.  Through the party cells in the Armored Car Division the party controlled most of the military vehicles in the city.  The Artillery regiments and the Guards regiments were prepared for the uprising.  So, too, were the sailors.  Troops had already been assigned to hold the roads leading from the city against any movement from Cossacks or other troops loyal to the government.

As the conference ended, Sverdlov, who had been presiding, told Podvoisky that Ilyich wanted to see him together with Antonov-Ovseenko and Nevsky.  For security, they were to travel to the Vyborg by different routes and meet in the apartment of Dmitri Pavlov, where, in the old illegal days before March, the Bureau of the Central Committee used to hold its secret meetings.  It was in Serdobolskaya Street, close to the block where Lenin was living.

Lenin was waiting for them in the apartment in his elaborate bewigged disguise.  He demanded a report of the detailed military plans for the uprising.  Then he led Podvoisky to a sofa and sat down beside him.  “Tell me, Nikolai Ilyich,”: he said, “have you checked everything?”:

“Certainly, Vladimir Ilyich,”: Podvoisky assured him.  “The commanders of the Military Organization, including myself, visit all Red Guard units and the military divisions every day.”:

Because the party organization had been so poor in July, Lenin grilled the three men on detail—especially about the Red Guards, who were vitally important politically since they were workers in a working-class revolt, but who were inexperienced as fighting instruments.  In particular, he questioned Podvoisky about the Red Guard commanders.  “Is he a good shot?”: he asked about one man Podvoisky described as a “wonderful fellow.”:  “Can he fire a big gun . . .?  Will he be able to drive a vehicle if necessary?  Does he know anything about the tactics of street fighting?”:

Embarrassed, Podvoisky admitted he did not know.  “I haven’t looked at the Red Guard commanders from that angle, Vladimir Ilyich,”: he said.

“Ai, ai, ai!”: Lenin exclaimed.  “What a fine chairman of the Military Organization!  How are you going to direct a rising if you do not know what sort of men your commanders are?  It’s not enough that they are good agitators . . . that they give good speeches.  An uprising is not a meeting to listen to speeches. . . .”:

He demanded that all Red Guard commanders who had not been trained in street fighting should be immediately replaced, no matter how reliable they were politically.  “And are you convinced that the commanders of the regular troops will not give way?”: he asked.  “After all, they are Tsarist officers.”:

Podvoisky was on surer ground here.  “Only those commanders who accept the control of the soldiers’ committees are still in their posts,”: he said.

Lenin strode about the room, looking like a little old man in his wig, lying down points of strategy he believed they should adopt.

At one moment Podvoisky suggested that he should order the printing of the decrees that the new government would enact on assuming power.  Lenin burst out laughing.  “What are you thinking of, Nikolai Ilyich?”: he asked.  “The first thing we must do is to achieve victory and afterwards we can print decrees. . . .”:

In the early hours of the morning the three men returned through the damp darkness of the city to Room 17 on the third floor of Smolny and immediately began a review of the whole organization, studying it carefully for the weaknesses that Lenin’s grilling had revealed, tightening it, dispatching commissars to issue new orders.  In particular, the party organization in Finland—a vital area since it was a Cossack base, the home of much of the Navy and close to Petersburg—needed more attention.  By dawn Nevsky was on his way to Helsinki.

This meeting with the planning staff appears to have been a sop to Lenin—probably instigated by Sverdlov, who understood his frustration.  For Lenin was in an unhappy position.  The revolution he had planned all his life, that would not be taking place if he had not returned to Petersburg to insist on it, was now happening despite him.  In the Vyborg he was on the sidelines, almost ignored.  The leaders were working so hard they barely had time to sleep, let alone travel out to the far end of Bolshoy Sampsonievsky Prospect to discuss events with their leader.

Trotsky, in fact, had the operation well under control, building up his power base surely and methodically.  He had the pledged support of most of the regiments in the city and of all the barracks in a large ring around Petersburg which reached almost as far as Moscow.  He had the Red Guards poised for action.  The sailors of the fleet awaited the order to act.

Reassuring news had come in from the front :  New elections to the regimental committees showed a surge to the Bolsheviks.  Systematically, Trotsky set the machine of insurrection in motion under careful control.  On November 3 he instructed all regiments in the garrison to obey no orders that were not approved by the MRC—and a meeting of delegates of the regiments the next day declared their acceptance of the committee’s authority.  In one move, the garrison commander had been stripped of all power.

Only four days now remained before the convening of the controversial Congress of Soviets—four days during which power must be seized.  Already delegates from all over Russia had begun to arrive in the city.  They reported somewhat apprehensively to Smolny, whose approaches were crowded with Red Guards demanding passes that were changed every few hours.

Although time seemed short, Trotsky and Sverdlov were preparing the strike with deliberate care.  Sverdlov was the heart, the basic channel of incoming information and outgoing instruction.  Trotsky was the dynamic force.  The MRC leaders in Room 17 with their big map of the city were the planning staff.

Sunday, November 4, was to be the final day of preparation—a kind of last review of the forces at the MRC’s disposal, a search for undetected signs of weakness.  “The Day of the Petersburg Soviet,”: as it was rather grandiosely named, was not to be marked by the provocative street demonstrations that had featured similar days in the past but by meetings everywherein factories, barracks, public halls, theaters.

Trotsky drove out to a large hall near the Peter and Paul Fortress.  “All around me,”: wrote Sukhanov of the thousands at the meeting, “was a mood bordering on ecstasy.  It seemed as though the crowd, spontaneously and of its own accord, would break into some religious hymn.”:

“The Soviet government,”: Trotsky told his audience of thousands, “will give everything the country contains to the poor and the men in the trenches.”:

He demanded a mass expression of support, a unanimous vote for the revolution.  The crowd of thousands raised their hands.  “Let this vote of yours be your vow—with all your strength and at any sacrifice to support the Soviet that has taken upon itself the glorious burden of bringing to a conclusion the victory of the revolution and of giving land, bread and peace.”:

The vast crowd voted and vowed—like other crowds of thousands throughout Petersburg.  “This actually was already an insurrection . . .”: wrote Sukhanov.

More precisely, it was a demand, an enthusiasm for an insurrection that only days before Kamenev and Zinoviev had insisted did not exist.

Lenin had been right.  He had sent out the call, and the people had responded.  As he hid in Fofanova’s flat in his wig, the news of that Sunday must have given him pleasure and reassurance, though he does not refer to it.  He was still ravaged by agonies that his Central Committee which had refused to expel Kamenev and Zinoviev would back down, still haunted by the suspicion that it would compromise with Kerensky, who was sure to offer a deal—as, indeed, he did.  But Lenin need not have worried, for by now Kerensky had little enough to offer.

1 Main sources :  Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Lenin, and My Life;  N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917;  N.I. Podvoisky, The Year 1917 (R);  John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World ;  Louise Bryant, Six Months in Red Russia ;  V.A. Antonov-Ovseenko, In 1917 (R);  V.I. Lenin, Toward the Seizure of Power;  M. Fofanova, Memories of 1917 (R);  V. Nevsky, October 1917;  A. Kerensky, The Catastrophe and The Kerensky Memoirs ;  V. Mushtakov and Kruchina-Bogdanov, i.Lenin and the Revolution;  E.A. Ross, The Russian Bolshevik Revolution;  O.H. Gankin, and H.H. Fisher, The Bolsheviks and the World War.

2 The sources of this important meeting are the minutes of the meeting;  Trotsky’s descriptions in The History of the Russian Revolution and in Lenin;  Sukhanov ;  the letter written by Kamenev and Zinoviev to the party (see Gankin and Fisher);  V. Mushtakov etc., Lenin and the Revolution;  Gankin and Fisher, The Bolsheviks and the World War.  Although Sukhanov states in his Russian Revolution that he was unaware of this meeting in his apartment until he learned of it later and plays up the fact considerably, Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago asserts he was fully aware of it.

3 When Lenin was on his way to Russia in 1905, he wrote from Stockholm that the Soviet could be “the germ of a provisional revolutionary government,”: but he changed his mind when he arrived in Petersburg and saw it in operation.  He regarded it then more as “a fighting organization for specific purposes.”:  Later this transient concept hardened in his mind and he suggested that the Soviet “may actually become superfluous.”:

4 Assuming that Kamenev said at the meeting what he wrote of the issue the following day.