THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
THE chief watchword of the Bolsheviks was the immediate seizure of power by the proletariat. All the Social-Democrats spoke of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but as Lenin pointed out very truly, the other parties were in no haste to introduce it, considering it premature, while the immediate object of Lenin and his followers was to seize power forthwith.
On the 9th November, Lenin, together with Trotsky, attained this object, fulfilling one of the fundamental commandments of Marxism. Now they, i.e. the Soviets, had to consolidate their position. Therefore the war-cry of the day was, All power to the Soviets.
For the sake of establishing the authority of the Soviets, all other forms of self-government on which the social life of Russia was founded were abolished as an effete regime supported by the bourgeoisie.
Both local government in all its forms and also the Constituent Assembly were classed among such effete institutions, although prior to this the Bolsheviks had given themselves out to be the only true defenders of the latter.
In Russia, with its vast distances and highly centralised system of autocratic government, the zemstvo and municipal institutions played a great part in the development of local public life. They were created in 1864, in the so-called age of great reforms, in the reign of Alexander II. Roads, national education, free medical aid, which had been well organised in Russia much earlier than in Western Europe, assistance to farmers, fire insuranceall this had been managed by the elective zemstvo and municipal institutions. Moreover, in the absence of a parliament and of the political life connected with it, local self-government had been a school for training experienced public men, where forces were grouped and habits formed for wider imperial work. The bureaucratic regime did not love the zemstvo men for their independence, for their way of looking for support to their constituents, and not fawning on official chiefs. The Ministers of the autocracy kept the zemstvo men under supervision, and oppressed and persecuted them. Alexander III. was especially jealous of even the shadow of the love of freedom and independent political activity : he even amended the laws passed by his father concerning local self-government by curtailing both the rights of the latter and also the suffrage. But notwithstanding these reactionary efforts, the Russian zemstvo created in its environment an influential and energetic radical company of men who fought for political liberty. They played an important part in the Revolution of 1904-5, many of them were elected to the Duma, where they continued to develop and introduce ideas of right and liberty connected with representative government. Under the Tsars regime their activity had been rather abstract in character, as Nicholas II., having signed a promise in October 1905 to give political liberty, was so short-sighted that, instead of finding support in national representation, he tenaciously fought against it, preventing the introduction of the most necessary reforms.
One of the first tasks of the Provisional Government was to draw up new laws for local self-government and to introduce them as soon as possible. In the summer of 1917 elections were held all over Russia on the basis of this new democratic law. Every citizen, irrespective of sex, had the right to vote on reaching the age of twenty years. The electors showed a strong Left or Radical tendency in voting, and everywhere Socialists were in the majority. The Cadets got one-third of the urban votes. In the district and provincial zemstvos, where the voters were mostly peasants, comparatively few of the intelligentsia candidates were successful.
These new organs of local self-government, full of new men, many of whom had got in, not because they were acquainted with local affairs, but simply because their party had to have a certain number of candidates on their party lists, were not particularly successful in the practical management of the complicated municipal affairs. Their activity was an additional illustration of the difficulties which inevitably await a Socialistic majority when it has to put its theories into practice.
But in any case they were the lawfully elected representatives of the population. They acted in accordance with a clearly defined, established law ; they were subject both to the superintendence of the Government and to the open criticism of public opinion. They had the right to consider themselves part of the Government machine created by Revolutionary Democracy ; and when, in November, the Bolsheviks overthrew Kerenskys Cabinet, the new organs of self-government opposed the Soviet authorities and tried to defend their independence. But the Bolsheviks, like the Tsarist bureaucrats before them, were intolerant of all independence. As early as January 1918 the zemstvos and municipal councils were everywhere closed and replaced by Soviets.
How this was done may be seen from the story of the short struggle between the Petrograd Municipal Council and the Petrograd Soviet. A Bolshevist struggle always resolves itself into a question of physical force, and the Petrograd Municipal Council was guarded only by a body of Boy Scouts. These boys, with great importance, asked the members of the Council for their tickets, ran errands for us all over the town, and in general were both a guard of honour and a liaison service. Of course no one expected any military protection from them. And indeed the Municipal Council neither expected nor sought protection from any one. It stood outside any physical struggle, yet considered itself bound to defend the interests of the population to the end, to guard that expensive and complicated economic, apparatus which had been entrusted to it. The electric trams, water supply, lighting, schools, hospitals, and lastly, the food supplyall these first requirements of the capital, which then contained 2½ million inhabitantswere in the hands of the Municipal Council. Unfortunately, the proclamations of the Municipality, drawn up by the Socialist Centre in agreement with the Cadets, found sympathisers only among the intelligentsia and a small portion of the working classes, while the masses already looked upon the members of the Council as counter-revolutionaries.
The struggle between the Petrograd Municipal Council, elected according to an exact and clear suffrage law, and the Petrograd Soviet, elected by some unknown persons and unknown procedure, was not very prolonged. The question was decided not by right, but by bayonets, which were undoubtedly in the hands of Lenin and Trotsky. The open and implacable opposition of the Council, its really energetic defence of all the victims of the Bolshevist insurrection, the military Cadets, the Womens Battalion, hundreds of people who were imprisoned no one knew what forall this irritated the Smolny. The time had come to sweep aside this obstacle also, the more so as, according to Lenins theory, the Soviets were to be the sole organs of authority, administration, and government.
The sittings took place every day, but of course the debates were on politics and not municipal business. Civil war raged around. The Red Guards kept appearing in the Town Hall and then disappearing.
No work could be done under such conditions. The only thing to be done was to pass motions of protest, so as to give vent to the indignation felt both by the Council and by those around. The last protest of the Council was the declaration protesting against peace negotiations begun at Brest-Litovsk by the Bolsheviks, and the assertion that they would never be acknowledged by Russia. During this sitting a crowd of workmen appeared in the gallery of the Town Hall. They were noisy, passed remarks on the speeches of the members, and shouted :
You have chattered long enough ! We will soon chuck all of you out !
The Socialist members of the Municipal Council tried to reason with the workmen, saying :
Comrades, you have been deceived ! Comrades, you are betrayed !
What sort of comrades are we of yours ? replied the gallery. You are bourgeois, counter-revolutionaries. We will sweep all of you away with a dirty broom.
There was anger in the voices and the eyes of the workmen. It was clear that the Bolsheviks had managed to build up a dividing wall between the workmen and the Socialists of the Centre.
The day after this insulting and trying scene the Mayor and several members of the Council were arrested. The Izvestia printed a decree dissolving the municipality because it had lost the right of representing the Petrograd population, having become completely antagonistic to its tendencies and wishes. . . . The results of the election to the Constituent Assembly confirm this. The Municipal Council has shown counter-revolutionary opposition to the will of the soldiers, workmen, and peasants, and has taken to obstruction. (1st December.)
The next day the sailors and Red Guards with rifles at the ready burst into the hall where the Municipal Council was sitting, just as if they were attacking a strongly armed enemy. The Socialist members began exhorting these new pretorians, but already the soldiers were deaf to the speeches of their late orators. The Municipality had to yield to force and to disperse, giving up the Town Hall to the Bolsheviks. After that, hoping that Lenin and Trotsky would not be in power very long, the Council still continued to meet clandestinely, almost like conspirators. These meetings were accompanied by a certain risk, but naturally were of no serious value, as the Bolsheviks had practically seized the Municipal Treasury and undertakings, and the Council they had dispersed had nothing to do but talk.
The same short and unequal struggle took place in Moscow and in all other towns taken by the Bolsheviks. The zemstvo boards were also dispersed. The Peoples Commissaries abolished all forms of self-government and replaced them by Soviets. As the right of all the population to decide questions of imperial importance was to have been exercised in the most authoritative form by the Constituent Assembly, therefore for the Bolsheviks it was an obstacle to the establishment of their party authority, and so they swept it aside.
When Tsarism was overthrown by the March Revolution, all parties, all influential currents of Russian political thought were united in the universal acknowledgement of the sovereign rights of the Constituent Assembly, which was to decide the fundamental questions arising out of the reconstruction of Russia. Will Russia be a Republic or a Monarchy ? What rights and relations must be established between the numerous nationalities inhabiting the Russian State ? How to settle the agrarian and other social questions ? All this was to have been answered authoritatively by a lawful Constituent Assembly. Its claim was acknowledged both by the Right and the Left, by Rodzianko and by Chheidze, and (at least in words) by Trotsky also.
One of the first tasks of the Provisional Government was to create an All-Russian Election Committee for the Constituent Assembly. The representatives of all parties and all nationalities took part in it. Prominent savants and lawyers were employed on this work, which then seemed uncommonly important and responsible. The President, F.F. Kokoshkin, a Moscow professor, a brilliant and widely-read man, was one of the idealistic leaders of the Cadet party. Even the political opponents of the Cadets acknowledged that F.F. Kokoshkin combined logical exactitude of thought with definiteness of political convictions and an intelligent comprehension of differing points of view.
The Commission had no easy task to perform. There was no serious divergence in fundamental principles. The Socialists and Cadets both supported universal suffrage, based on proportional representation. The disputes were only about the age limit, the property qualification, domicile and soldiers votes.
The Cadets proposed an age limit of twenty-five years, a years residence in one place, and limitations for soldiers. But the more radical elements were victorious. The most democratic suffrage law in the world was drawn up, giving every citizen of either sex who had reached the age of twenty years the right of participating in the settlement of the most important problems of State.
It was necessary to organise and hold elections in a country with an illiterate, scanty population, which spoke different languages, and had hitherto taken no part in political life. The delimitation of the constituencies, the order of voting, the guarantee of its legality and correctness, the drafting of electoral rolls hitherto non-existentall this of course required effort and time.
Now we think, with a bitter smile, of the seriousness, honesty, and thought with which the best Russian lawyers performed this enormous task in the feverish atmosphere of the Revolution. Their conscientiousness bordered on the simplicity of Don Quixote. Even then pessimists predicted that all this was futile, and that anarchy would sweep away all juridical schemes and democratic projects. But at those times the enormous majority of politicians of all shades sincerely considered the Constituent Assembly as the sole hope of the young Democracy of Russia.
Meanwhile the Bolsheviks were already playing a double game, acting a double lie, slandering their political opponents (especially the Cadets), accusing them of obstructing the Constituent Assembly, and representing themselves as the faithful champions of the latter.
In his pamphlet, Political Parties in Russia and Problems of the Proletariat, from which I quoted in detail in Chapter III., Lenin says that the Cadets, in answer to the question : Is it necessary to convene the Constituent Assembly ? replied, Yes, it is ; but no date should be fixed. Let the question be discussed as long as possible by professors of law, first of all because, as Bebel said, lawyers are the most reactionary men in the world, and, secondly, the experience of all revolutions has proved that the cause of national liberty is ruined as soon as it is entrusted to professors. According to Lenin, only the Bolsheviks said, It is necessary to convene the Constitutional Assembly, and as soon as possible. But the guarantee of its success and convocation is one and the same : namely, the increase of the number and strength of the Soviets, the organisation and arming of the working-classes.
Before demonstratively leaving the Council of the Republic, on the eve of their coup detat he had already prepared for, Trotsky read a declaration containing the following :
The Government cannot but be responsible to the Constituent Assembly. Therefore the bourgeois classes, who direct the policy of the Provisional Government, have made it their object to obstruct the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. At present this is the chief aim of the Centre parties, which guides all their policy, both home and foreign. Hail to the Constituent Assembly !
Thus spoke the Bolsheviks, while they were in the Opposition. When they became the Government, they made an abrupt change of front, notwithstanding that their first decree, issued on the 10th November, begins as follows : To form a Provisional Workmens and Peasants Government, to be called the Soviet of Peoples Commissaries, for the purpose of governing the country until the convocation of the Constituent Assembly.
The elections to the Constitutional Assembly were not put off, but, on the contrary, a special ukase confirmed the date which had been fixed by the Provisional Government, i.e. the 25th November.
On this day the elections began ; but they were held at different times in different parts of Russia, as owing to the general disorganisation of life it was impossible to complete the technical preparations. The Bolsheviks created such a wave of disorder and lawlessness that many began to doubt whether they ought to take part in the elections when there was no press, no freedom of meetings, no possibility of canvassing, no personal security, and no law. But the Electoral Commission of the All-Russian Constituent Assembly insisted on the election not being postponed. The following proclamation, signed by V. Nabokov,1 President of the Commission, was addressed to the people :
The attempt to seize power has disorganised communications, created anarchy and terror, and interrupted the business of the Commission. Nevertheless, it is necessary to hold the elections wherever there is the slightest possibility of doing so. The gravest responsibility towards the country will be incurred by all who dare to make an attempt to corrupt the elections to the Constitutent Assembly, on which the whole country is fixing its hopes. (22nd November.)
The Izvestia responded to the challenge by printing its own proclamation on its first page :
The bourgeoisie, the landed gentry, and Berenskys Government have for eight months been doing all they could to delay the elections to the Constituent Assembly. They have been persistently and doggedly preparing to obstruct it, because they knew that in the agrarian question the Constituent Assembly would be on the side of the people. . . . Now the elections to the Constituent Assembly are secure, and must take place at the date fixed. (24th November.)
And in the Petrograd Soviet, Volodarsky, an influential Bolshevik, said : We put the question of the elections as a matter to be fought out. The masses never suffer from parliamentary cretinism, and if the Constituent Assembly goes against the will of the people, the question of a new insurrection will arise. We do not make a fetish of the Constituent Assembly. If we have a majority in the Constituent Assembly, we will manage to make it the last parliamentary meeting. We will establish a Republic of Soviets.
The expression parliamentary cretinism was often repeated in Soviet circles and showed their real attitude not only towards the Constituent Assembly, but to parliamentary politics in general.
But this was too strong even for yesterdays friends and near neighbours of the Bolsheviks.
The Novaia Zhizn wrote : It is pretty difficult to argue on the essence of any matter with public men of the type of Volodarsky, men who suffer from all forms of cretinism except the parliamentary variety. The only argument to convince them is the bayonet. Politicians of this kind can only be shown that their hopes of a defenceless Constituent Assembly are premature and frivolous.2
The elections took place under most unusual conditions, inadmissible in any elections. There was no authority to supervise the legality of the elections. The institutions which carried out the process of election, such, for instance, as election committees and municipal corporations, did not acknowledge the authority of the Soviets. And the Soviet authorities did not acknowledge the laws acknowledged by the aforesaid institutions. There was no Press. The lists of candidates could only be printed here and there at intervals. But printing offices, premises of party committees, and meetings were all liable to have the Reds come in at any moment and pogrom them. In many towns there was shooting in the streets. The prominent men of all parties except the Bolsheviks and Left Social-Revolutionaries had to hide instead of talking to their constituents. Chernov and Avksentiev, Tsereteli, and Kerensky, Mme. Breshko-Breshkovskaia, and Chheidze, all popular Socialists whose names were on the lists, did not show themselves at all, justly fearing Bolshevist attacks.
Those who took the least trouble to hide were the Cadets, perhaps because in general they were not used to conspiring. But they paid dearly for their excess of boldness.
It is impossible to enumerate all the outrages and the lawlessness that took place in connection with the elections.
It was one huge mockery of Democracy and its principles. One need not be a scrupulous jurist to acknowledge that the elections to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, so impatiently looked forward toif not by the whole Russian people, then at least by all the literate and thinking partproved a real and tragic failure.
The Social-Revolutionaries got the majority at the elections. Then came a few representatives of various other Socialistic groups. The Cadets were completely beaten, getting only 15 seats out of 600. Their candidates were elected only in large towns which formed separate electoral units. In all other districts the mass of the peasantry completely swamped the urban electors.
In order to show the altered mood of the Petrograd electors, I will give the statistics of the elections to the Municipal Council, which took place on the 2nd September, and the elections to the Constituent Assembly, which took place on the 25th November.
At the Municipal elections in September the Social-Revolutionaries polled 205,000 votes, the Bolsheviks 183,000, and the Cadets 114,000. The remaining votes were split up among uninfluential Socialistic parties. Thus, for example, the Menshevik Social-Democrats got 23,000 votes out of a total of 503,000.
At the Constituent Assembly elections 942,000 votes were recorded. Of this number, the Bolsheviks got 424,000, the Cadets got 246,000,3 the Social Revolutionaries got only 152,000, and the Mensheviks, 17,000. Of the votes given to the Bolsheviks, 63,000 belonged to soldiers.
But while the Bolsheviks were solid and disciplined, the other Socialists were split up into a number of fractions. The largest Social-Revolutionary party had representatives of all its numerous fractions on its Petrograd list of candidates. The same list contained Social-Revolutionaries of national defeatist views, like Kerensky and Avksentiev ; the impudent demagogue Zimmerwaldist, and defeatist V. Chernov ; the hysterical Maria Spiridonova, who, together with the Left Social-Revolutionaries, had gone over openly to the Bolsheviks, and lastly the former employee of the Tsarist Secret Service, Kamkov, also a Left Social-Revolutionary who was on good terms with the Bolsheviks. These persons represented different political and social opinions, and what is more important, different standards of morals. But the poor elector whose sympathies were with the Social-Revolutionary party had to vote for them wholesale, both for the honourable and dishonourable Social-Revolutionaries.4
The level of the political intelligence of the Social-Revolutionary Petrograd candidates for the Constituent Assembly may, in some degree, be determined by the following anecdote, related in the Social-Revolutionary Dielo Naroda, Cause of the People :
The Left Social-Revolutionaries took the Soviet of Peasant Delegates into their own hands. There, with Maria Spiridonova in the Chair, an election meeting was being held. The Socialists who had gathered round the Committee of the Salvation of the Motherland had brought their electioneering literature with them. Maria Spiridonova got angry and demanded that all the pamphlets and leaflets of heterodox Socialists should be confiscated and stored in one room, at the door of which she placed a sentry with a rifle, in order that the harmful books should not get into the hands of the peasants.
This unfortunate revolutionary, who had at one time herself been persecuted by the Tsarist gendarmes, lost her head on getting into power, and began to treat her political opponents in the good old police way. And she had not even the excuse that these were harmful bourgeois pamphlets, as they were the publications of the Socialist Centre.
This instance shows how the November Revolution changed the morals of the Russian Revolution and brought into Russian life an utter contempt for liberty and right. No one knew when the meetings of the Constituent Assembly were to begin. The Provisional Government issued a decree in September stating that the elections would be held on the 25th November, and the Assembly would be opened on the 11th December.
On the 29th November, in a special decree, P. Maliantovitch, Minister of Justice, and S. Prokopovitch, Acting Minister of Justice, confirmed the same in the name of the Provisional Government.
But it was not the intention of the Peoples Commissaries to hurry with the convocation of the Assembly. When the counting of the votes began to show that they were not going to have a majority, they tried in every way to discredit the Constituent Assembly. The Bolshevik Press, i.e. the Izvestia, Pravda, and Znamia Truda, carried on a furious campaign. The Election Committee was arrested. A guard was placed at the doors of the Taurida Palace, where the sittings were to take place. Uritsky, an apothecary, was appointed Commandant of the Taurida Palace ; the members of the Constituent Assembly were obliged to get special permits of admission to the Palace from this Soviet guard.
The legislators elected to carry out the will of the nation were deprived of all possibility of exercising any will whatever, of enjoying their rights and fulfilling their duties.
Nevertheless, the members of the Constituent Assembly made an attempt to meet on the day fixed by the Provisional Government. This is how it was described in the Soviet communiqué :
In the afternoon of the 11th December a crowd of about a thousand people collected at the entrance to the Taurida Palace. The crowd swept aside the guard and part of them burst through to the Taurida Palace, though the number of such was very small. Among the latter were twenty members of the Constituent Assembly. This crowd poured into the meeting-hall in a mixed mass, occupying less than one-tenth of the seats, etc.
The Pravda wrote more definitely :
On the evening of the 11th December some score or so of people, calling themselves delegates, but without presenting their documents, and accompanied by armed former Horse Guards, military cadets, and several thousand bourgeois and saboteur Government employees, burst into the Taurida Palace.
Thus did the Bolshevist Press greet the first appearance of the members of the Assembly in the Taurida Palace. The Social-Revolutionaries, foreseeing obstruction on Uritskys part, did indeed organise something like a demonstration, hoping that at least by this means they might force the Bolsheviks to open the doors of the Taurida Palace, and that the delegates might hold a private meeting. They had no other object in view, as it was impossible to start work, owing to the absence of a quorum. But even this modest desire could not be satisfied. The members of the Constituent Assembly managed somehow to get into the Palace, but there all was in such a turmoil that it was impossible even to discuss anything. On the 13th December the members of the Social-Revolutionary party met in the library of the Duma. A young officer, the commander of the Red Guard, made his appearance and ordered them to disperse.
We consider it not only our right, but our duty to remain here, answered the members of the Constituent Assembly. But the officer insisted, while his soldiers showed an evident desire to take the elected representatives of the Russian people by the scruff of the neck and simply throw them out of the Taurida Palace.
One of the members of the Constituent Assembly, a peasant, said indignantly to the soldiers and sailors :
We have come here to get land, and we find bayonets. Whom are you servingthe people or the oppressors ?
We have our orders. We must preserve discipline, moodily answered a sailor.
It was clear that by their clever propaganda the Bolsheviks had discredited the Constituent Assembly. All efforts on the part of the Socialist Centre to re-establish the confidence of the masses in the democratically elected representatives proved futile. The League for the Protection of the Constituent Assembly, working secretly in Petrograd, issued a proclamation to the army :
We appeal to you, defenders of our country, soldiers of the whole Russian Army. Stand shoulder to shoulder in defence of the Peoples Constituent Assembly. Announce that you place yourself at its disposal. Send delegations, send mandates and resolutions. Loudly announce to the whole of Russia and to all the worldAll power to the Constituent Assembly !
It was hard, it even made one blush, to read this childish babble, this attempt to counteract Bolshevist bayonets by feeble resolutions. The author of this appeal forgot that there was no longer any army ; that Dukhonin, the Commander-in-Chief, was killed ; that the Committee had demolished the organisations ; that the soldiers had turned from being defenders of their country into a terrible mob in which the voices of madmen and criminals silenced the reproaches and warnings of frightened, decent people. It goes without saying that the soldiers were indifferent to such appeals.
Simultaneously with the open persecution of the Constituent Assembly an open persecution of the Cadet party was also begun. The impulse was given by chance, but the persecution was not, of course, a matter of chance. Having driven the Social Centre from the arena, the Bolsheviks found themselves face to face with the Cadets, round whom all the radical, non-Socialistic elements had rallied.
The pretext was found in searching Countess Panins house for the persons who had inspired and guided the strike of Civil Service employees.
The Bolsheviks chanced to find one of the vouchers signed by the Countess Sophia Panin, and issued an order for her arrest, accusing this woman, who had spent millions of her personal money on the peoples cause, of embezzling Rs. 93,000.
When the Red Guards came to her house they happened to find some members of the Constituent Assembly thereA.I. Shingarev and F.F. Kokoshkin. Both had just come up to Petrograd in order to take part in the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly on the 11th December, and had stayed at Countess Panins, where the meetings of the Executive Committee of the Cadet party took place.
The commissaries who were making the search were loth to let such important prey out of their hands. They telephoned to the Soviet for directions. The answer was simple : Arrest them. All three were taken off to the Smolny. In the evening Countess S. Panin was taken to the Viborg Prison, and the former Ministers were taken to St. Peter and Pauls Fortress, where the Ministers who had been arrested at the Winter Palace were still imprisoned.
The same day the Soviet of Peoples Commissaries issued a short, but solemn decree :
ON THE ARREST OF THE LEADERS OF THE CIVIL WAR AGAINST THE REVOLUTION
The members of the leading institutions of the Cadet party, as a party of the enemies of the people, are liable to be arrested and brought up for trial by Revolutionary tribunals. The local Soviets are charged with the duty of special supervision over the Cadet party in view of its connection with the Kornilov-Kaledin war on the Revolution.
In a more detailed official communication the Soviet of Peoples Commissaries supplemented its accusations against the Cadets. I shall quote it in detail, because all the argumentation is so characteristic both of the way the Bolsheviks treat the truth and of their methods of influencing the masses. The Bolsheviks act systematically. They establish certain propositions, most frequently clothing them in short and catchy warcries such as, Peace to cottages and war on palaces, Down with capitalist Ministers, etc., and then they ceaselessly repeat and paraphrase these war-cries, attracting attention to them by the very repetition and, as it were, hammering them into the minds of the masses. In this respect they can teach us something. While they were pressing on as an Opposition they only required war-cries. In order to consolidate their power they were obliged to modify these war-cries gradually and, above all, to give more and more food to the hatred they had aroused in the masses. In this respect the Cadet party was a tit-bit. Distrust and animosity to the Cadets had been sown by all the preceding Socialist agitation. Menshevik and Social-Revolutionary orators grew black in the face trying to prove that Milyukov was an Imperialist, that the Cadets were bourgeois flunkeys, etc. Sometimes they even went so far as to declare that it was better to be under the Kaiser than under Milyukov. Many understood very well that they were talking nonsense, but they felt bound to vituperate the party which placed the interests of the State and the nation as a whole above the interests of the workmen, the peasants, or any other class, and insisted on the necessity of continuing the war until Germany was defeated.
The Soviet proclamation to all who laboured and were exploited had been drawn up in haste, and was not distinguished by the usual smoothness of the Bolshevist lie. It began thus :
The Bourgeoisie, led by the Cadet party, got all its forces ready for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly in order to start a counter-revolution.
Then followed an enumeration of military conflicts with Kornilov, Kaledin, Dutov, and other White Guards who, the Bolsheviks pretended, had declared that the insurrection had been begun at the direct demand of the Cadet party.
Thus a regular Civil War has been started on the initiative and under the guidance of the Cadet party. The Central Committee of this organisation is at present the political headquarters of all the counter-revolutionary forces of the country. This work, which is a direct menace to the cause of peace and all conquests of the Revolution, is carried on under the cover of the Constituent Assembly.
Then follows the foregoing story of how the bourgeoisie burst into the Taurida Palace. The Cadets wanted to make the Constituent Assembly into a legal cover for a Cadet-Kaledin counter-Revolutionary insurrection. The voice of several bourgeois delegates was to be represented as that of the Constituent Assembly.
The Soviet of Peoples Commissaries informs the masses of this conspiracy :
It will take all measures necessary, fully recognising the enormous responsibility which must lie on the Soviet authorities for the fate of the people and the Revolution. The Soviet of the Peoples Commissaries declares the Cadet party, as an organisation of counter-revolutionary insurrection, to be enemies of the people. . . . The Political leaders of the counter-Revolutionary Civil War will be arrested. The bourgeois insurrection will be put down at any cost. . . . Down with the bourgeoisie ! The foes of the people, landlords, and capitalists ought not to have any place in the Constituent Assembly.
Having declared a party which had just in the capital got 240,000 votes to be enemies of the people, the Bolsheviks gave the Provincial Soviets a free hand in dealing with the local Cadet leaders and electors, and the Soviets took full advantage of this. But the Central Committee continued to live a semi-public life. Meetings were held almost every day. It is true the venue was often changed, as the club of the party was closed and all the furniture, including the property of the servants and housekeeper, had been looted and carried away by the Red Guards. Prominent Cadets sometimes did not pass the night at home for fear of being arrested, but they spoke at great public meetings. The Cadet newspaper, Rech, was sometimes closed and sometimes appeared under another name, but all the time invariably attacked the Bolsheviks. In it appeared the protests of various organisations against Bolshevist oppression ; among others, the protest of the Cadets against the arrest of the members of the Constituent Assembly :
Contemptuously sweeping aside the slanderous accusation that our party is inimical to the people, the Committee of the party consider that outlawing any one is a return to mediaeval barbarity. . . . The party declares that no persecutions, no threats, no oppression will make it turn aside from the path it has taken ever since the old regime, or will force it to cease its struggle for the rights, liberties, and welfare of the people.
The Cadets were mistaken. The Bolshevist gendarmerie turned out to be infinitely more implacable than the Tsarist gendarmes had been, and the old path of strugglea struggle of ideas and principleswas soon barred. It was replaced by stark physical force. But to do the Bolsheviks justice, they forced their way not by means of bayonets, but by war-cries. The resolutions passed by them at meetings and Soldiers Committees helped them to make the Constituent Assembly powerless and futile. Here is one of these resolutions :
We, soldiers of the Izmailovsky and Petrograd regiments, declare that the policy of the Cadets is also the policy of Kerensky, Kornilov, and Kaledin, entailing the enslavement of the Russian people, and perpetual wars and exploitation of workmens labour. We soldiers, who are defending with our blood the interests of the labouring people all the world over, will not permit our hard-won revolutionary rights to be violated by Milyukov and Co., who want, by means of false elections to the Constituent Assembly, to get their illegal regulations passed in order to enslave anew the rights of Russian citizens....
Away with the policy of the Cadets in the Constituent Assembly. We demand that reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries, all the Milyukov gang, should not be admitted to the Constituent Assembly where the liberty and Revolution of the Russian people must be consolidated, and not the Counter-Revolution and Sabotage of the Milyukov gang, whose place is in St. Peter and Pauls fortress.
The soldiers who passed this resolution did not understand even half of what the expert Bolshevist agitator had palmed off on them. The very word Cadet, which had its origin from the initials C and D (Constitutional-Democrats), was taken by the masses to mean officers and military cadets. One thing the soldiers were quick to understand correctly, and that was that Lenin was against the war, and Kerensky, Milyukov, Kaledin, and the Cadets wanted to fight the Germans. If their demand should be supported by the Constituent Assembly, then perhaps it would again be necessary to go to war. The Bolsheviks cleverly took advantage of this pusillanimity of the soldiers. Of all the parties the Cadets, with Milyukov at the head, were most insistent in their demands for war to the end. Therefore the Bolsheviks nick-named the Constituent Assembly the Cadet Assembly, although there were only fifteen Cadets in it, and all the rest of the delegates were Socialists. This was the lie on which the Bolsheviks founded their power over the mob, and at the same time justified the reprisals against the theoretically immune national representatives.
The Bolsheviks kept declaring that the Constituent Assembly was not the supreme organ of the national will. The electors, politically undeveloped and unaccustomed to appreciate and guard the inviolability of political elections, readily accepted the Bolshevist theory, that as they had elected the delegates they had also the right at any moment to withdraw their confidence from the latter. Universal suffrage, which Russian democracy, both Socialist and Radical, had sentimentally dreamed of for several decades, lost all its glamour in the eyes of the very masses for whose sake the Russian champions of political liberty had won it at the cost of such sacrifice.
The Petrograd Soviet no longer promised bread, as the food supply was palpably decreasing day by day. Instead of that, promises of peace, shamelessly intermingled with calls to start a civil war, were regularly repeated.
Hail to the universal Democratic Peace ! Hail to the International Labour Revolution ! Long live the Soviet power, opening the way to the Peace of Nations ! Down with those who want compromises ! Down with the traitors to the Ukrainian Rada ! 5
This last cry was a sort of justification of the war started by the Bolsheviks on the Ukraine, and therefore all the more outrageous was the next war-cry : Long live the Liberty and Brotherhood of the Peoples of Russia !
The Soviet called for a fraternal union of revolutionary workmen, peasants, soldiers, sailors, and labouring Cossacks, but required them to carry on a ruthless war against all who did not acknowledge the authority of the Soviets.
The Constituent Assembly must acknowledge the authority of the Soviets and the decrees on the land, peace, workmens control, etc. The Cadets are enemies of the people. There is no place in the Constituent Assembly for the enemies of the people. The people ought to recall the flunkeys of Russia from the Constituent Assembly. Shame on the Avksentevistes and Chernovistes !
On the day after the demonstration in which banners with such devices were carried, an order was issued for the arrest of Avksentiev and Chernov. They managed to escape, but the Socialist Centre, which so short a time before was the centre of authority, was broken and disorganised.
The majority of the soldiers very soon learned the formula that suited them, namely : We do not want to shed our brethrens blood, and, remaining neutral, enjoyed all the advantages of the soldiers position, but showed no desire to take part in the civil war to which they were at bottom thoroughly indifferent. In vain did the Socialist opposition call upon the Petrograd garrison to make a demonstration in favour of the Constituent Assembly, which was to be opened on the 18th January. It was proposed to hold a peaceful demonstration, and indeed it could be no other, as the defenders of the Constituent Assembly had no arms. Some one or other was carrying on hazy negotiations with the officers, persuading them to stand up for the Constituent Assembly. The officers asked plainly, Is it necessary to be prepared for armed resistance ? The answer was, It is proposed to have a peaceful demonstration ; but, of course, anything might happen. . . The other party, the Bolsheviks, made far more definite preparations for this day. They got out 2000 sailors from Cronstadt and, arming them with machine-guns, ordered them to occupy the Taurida Palace. Only those who had permits from Uritsky were admitted. The members of the Constituent Assembly justly considered such a permit derogatory to them, but they were obliged to submit.
Two days before the opening day an attempt was made to assassinate Lenin under very strange circumstances, which made people think that it was a simulated attack. Some one shot at his motor-car and missed ; but this shot gave the opportunity the Bolsheviks wanted. They talked loudly of the Terror. At a meeting of the Soviet (16th January) Zinoviev, who had replaced Trotsky while the latter was engrossed in Brest-Litovsk diplomacy, made the following declaration :
Only one accusation will be brought against the Soviet authoritiesthat of being too lenient with their opponents.
The same spirit was shown by Bonch-Bruyevich, Secretary of the Soviet Government and Peoples Commissary, who under the Tsarist regime had acquired a certain degree of fame by his articles and researches in defence of religious liberty. Under the Bolsheviks he came out as an enemy to all liberty, and advised the soldiers to allow no agitation in favour of the Constituent Assembly in the barracks.
The following motion was passed at this meeting On the day the Constituent Assembly is opened it is proposed to hold a demonstration in honour of the Constituent Assembly, the watchword of this demonstration being Down with the Soviet authority ! Saboteurs, bourgeois, and their minions will take part in this demonstration. In view of this the workmen and soldiers were requested not to leave their works or barracks, and the Soviet authorities promised to put down most ruthlessly the movement directed against itself.
Such promises they knew how to keep.
On the 18th January the first and last sitting of the Constituent Assembly took place.
On the same day the demonstration took place, in spite of all obstacles and threatsa demonstration made in answer to the appeal of the Committee of the Defence of the Constituent Assembly. In the centre of the town, on the Liteiny, near the Field of Mars, and on the outskirts of the town, a considerable crowd of demonstrators collected. The bulk of them belonged to the educated classes : there were many women, schoolboys and students, clerks and officials. There were also some workmen. Again red revolutionary banners were carried, which such a short time ago had waved victoriously in all the streets of Petrograd. But now the Red Guards took away these banners of Liberty and tore them into shreds. Both sides were boiling with hatred against each other, and the rifles went off of themselves. A volley was fired on the Liteinaia, injuring not only the demonstrators, but likewise chance passers-by, children and women. Gorbachevskaia, a young girl-student who was carrying the red banner of the Social-Revolutionaries, was shot down, a similar fate overtaking Loginov, a Social-Revolutionary peasant member of the Constituent Assembly, and several other persons. The obstinate demonstrators would disperse when fired on, and then again walk on in a crowd, carrying their cherished banners with the device, Hail to the Constituent Assembly ! And in the very hour while the rifle-fire was rattling, in the Taurida Palace, surrounded by machine-guns and guarded by inimical sailors, the elected representatives of Russia began their vast and onerous task of reconstructing the State on new, free, and democratic principles.
The Revolution had cleared a way for them for constructive work, and had thrown among the masses Socialistic ideas, or rather Socialistic appetites, because it was difficult for semi-illiterate people to grasp Socialistic ideology. The people had given their votes, their confidence, their fate to the representatives of the Socialist parties. All other political groups were set aside. It might have seemed that the Revolutionary Democracy, which since March 1917 had reigned in the Taurida Palace, might now celebrate its complete victory. But this day was no holidayrather a day of mourning. Incautious words, a theory not fully worked out, irresponsible promisesall that the Revolutionary Democracy had lived for during the months of its spiritual dominion over the masseshad borne poisonous fruit. Like dragons teeth cast into the earth by the hand of the sorceress did the evil spirits of hate and anarchy arise out of the earth, and there was no escaping them.
A series of scandalous scenes took place in the Constituent Assembly. Quarrels arose about everything about the right of entry ; about who should open the session. The Soviet of Peoples Commissaries considered itself privileged, and wanted to determine the procedure. The Social-Revolutionaries, who were in the majority, wanted the chairman to be elected from their party. Two chairmen were elected simultaneously. There was a struggle, and Sverdlov, the nominee of the Soviet, was victorious. This took place to the accompaniment of a clamour of shouts and shrill cries, the public taking a lively part in all this. With their caps on their heads, rifles in their hands, and cigarettes between their lips, the soldiers and sailors strolled all over the Palace, even in the hall where the members were sitting : they occupied the gallery, the passages between the members seats, and behaved themselves not like a guard in a legislative assembly, but like ill-disciplined warders in a prison. When the delegates wanted to enter the hall, at first the sailors would not let them in. One of the delegates said indignantly :
How dare you exclude us ! Dont you know who we are ?
The young sailor answered in an off-hand manner I know : you are the servants of the People. We will give you orders and you shall obey us.
The Bolsheviks got their own way. The All-Russian Constituent Assembly was turned into a barrack-room meeting, where it was not the voices of the national representatives that predominated, but the voices of those who leant on their rifles.
After Sverdlov had read the declaration of the Soviet, a president was elected. The Bolsheviks, perhaps as a joke, took Maria Spiridonova for their candidate. She was a Left Social-Revolutionary. Her name had made a stir not only in Russia, but also abroad. During the Revolution of 1905 she was about twenty when she killed a provincial official who had been very brutal in suppressing the Revolution, and M. Spiridonova won fame not so much as a bold terrorist as by those insults and tortures to which she was subjected by the gendarmes. After a trying period in prison she was tried and sentenced to hard labour in Siberia. The Revolution set her free. Her one-time martyrs halo secured her a prominent place in her party. But all her speeches and actions showed an unbalanced and hysterical nature. Her escapades were at first found amusing, but later roused indignation not only among the Radicals, but also among such Socialists as had not lost their heads. Her association with an unmasked agent-provocateur, whom she made every effort to save from trial, was especially repulsive. In the Social-Revolutionary party she occupied a far more prominent place than the old Revolutionary Breshko-Bresbkovskaia, Vera Figner, etc., with whom Spiridonova could not, of course, compete, either as regards ability, education, or stability of moral principles.
This hysterical woman, this mistress of a Secret Police employee, was the person whom the Bolsheviks wanted to make President of the Constituent Assembly. They did not succeed. The Bolsheviks, even including the Left Social- Revolutionaries who joined them, were in the minority. Spiridonova got 158 votes, and Chernov, the Social-Revolutionary candidate, got 244. But even this signified little, and was of no practical importance. The national assembly was already doomed. The Bolsheviks demanded that the Constituent Assembly should confirm the decrees and resolutions of the Soviet of Peoples Commissaries enumerated in Sverdlovs declaration. These were not few in number. They were in substance as follows : Russia is to be declared a Republic of Soviets, who hold all power. Society is to be organised on Socialistic principles. Private property in land is abolished and replaced by nationalisation. Workmens control is established, the banks become the property of the Workmens and Peasants Government. Universal compulsory labour is introduced. A Socialistic Red Army is to be formed and the propertied classes are to be totally disarmed. All loans are repudiated. The Constituent Assembly is to put the stamp of its approval on all the decrees and, besides that, to join in the foreign policy of the Soviet authorities in cancelling all secret treaties for the attainment, by revolutionary measures and at any cost, of a democratic peace between nations, without annexations or indemnities, on the basis of the free self-determination of nations.
But this was not all. The Soviet of Peoples Commissaries demandedand this showed their haughty, deep-seated contempt of the peoples willthat the Constituent Assembly (whose sovereign right all parties without exception had proclaimed and acknowledged) should renounce its rights and transfer them to the Soviets. I quote this clause in its entirety, as it shows clearly the theoretical attitude of the Bolsheviks to the essence of Soviet authority. Their theoretical attitude, I say, for in practice they were obliged to simplify everything, making the bayonet the source of their authority.
Having been elected on the basis of party lists made prior to the November Revolution, while the people could not, as a whole, rise up against their exploiters, did not know the full force of their opposition in defending the privileges of their class, and had not practically begun to construct a Socialistic Society, the Constituent Assembly would consider it radically wrong, even from a formal point of view, to place itself on a level with the authority of the Soviets. . . . Power must belong exclusively and wholly to the working-classes, to their fully empowered representativesthe Soviets of Workmens, Soldiers, and Peasants delegates. Supporting the authority of the Soviet and the decrees of the Soviet of Peoples Commissaries, the Constituent Assembly acknowledges that its objects are limited to the general working out of the fundamental principles of the Socialistic reconstruction of society. At the same time, striving to create a freer and more voluntaryand therefore fuller and firmer union of the working-classes of all nationalities of Russia, the Constituent Assembly limits itself to establishing the fundamental principles of the federation of the Soviet Republics of Russia, allowing the workmen and peasants of each nationality to come to an independent decision at its own authoritative Soviet Congress as to whether they wish to join in the Federal Government and other federal Soviet institutions, and if so, then on what basis.
The position of the Social-Revolutionaries, to whom this ultimatum was presented, was not an easy one. Much in the Soviet declarations was a repetition of their programme and formulae. The Bolsheviks had the right to point the finger of scorn at the Social-Revolutionaries, who did not applaud the clause about the nationalisation of land, the liberation of the working-classes, a revolutionary democratic peace without annexations and indemnities. When it was the turn of the Social-Revolutionaries to explain their programme and V. Chernov began to read his declaration, at times he seemed to be repeating the declaration of the Bolsheviks themselves. They shouted to him :
You are too late ! We have already passed all this !
And they were right.
But V. Chernov still hoped to regain his lost popularity. He began by praising Zimmerwald : That mighty protest of the Socialists of all countries against the fratricidal butchery. The Russian Revolution was born with words of peace on its lips, and the Russian Revolution cannot but remain true to the watchwords of democratic peacewithout victors or vanquished. . . . All the land must become the property of the nation, without any indemnity to former owners. . . . It is of course necessary for the working-classes to take into their own hands the management of all the production in the country, and after a period of control of production, to pass from factory autocracy to an era of compulsory labour in all branches of production.
The same old trite Socialistic speeches !
But still, to the demand for submission to the Soviet, Chernov answered evasively, and haughtily :
I cannot conceive how the lawful will of the majority of the population, expressed by means of votes recorded by the most perfect system in the world, can be subjected to any kind of obstruction (sabotage), unless that of madmen.
His speech, like the speeches of two other former Socialist MinistersPrince Tsereteli and M. Skobelevwas interrupted by hostile cries. After the Bolshevist coup detat, this was the first public engagement between the Socialist Centre and the Left wing. The Bolsheviks behaved with the impudence of victors.
Hangman ! ! Traitor ! You would down soldiers and workmen ! Your hands are bloody ! they shouted during Tseretelis speech.
This evidently touched him to the quick, for he began to assure them that the Constituent Assembly would abolish capital punishment. The Bolsheviks threw another accusation in his face :
Saboteur ? Well, if you have undertaken to introduce Socialism, and throw the blame of the non-success of the Socialistic experiment on the bourgeoisie, then you stand self-condemned as unfit, he replied ; but it was too refined an answer and was above the heads of his audience.
Poor Tsereteli ! It was the second time that in the fine hall of the Taurida Palace he had had to make his farewell speech before political enemies whose hands were raised to strike him down.
Ten years before he had parried the blows which were showered on him by Stolypin, the omnipotent Tsarist Minister, who wanted to break, not only the Revolution, but also the independence of the young representative regime. Stolypin ordered all members of the Social-Democrat party to be arrested. Prince Tsereteli, who was then quite a young man, knew of this, but instead of saving himself by disappearing, as his friends proposed, he mounted the rostrum in order to expound his views for the last time boldly before the whole of Russia. Then his fiery, eloquent speech breathed a proud faith in the righteousness and the strength of the Marxist doctrines and in the saving significance of the future Revolution. Even those who did not share his views listened to him with involuntary respect.
And now again Tsereteli is a representative of the people. Again he stands in that high rostrum. Again, as before, the open prison doors are ready to receive the bold leader of the Social-Democrats. But what a change ! The Revolutionthat ennobling, abstract Revolution he had dreamed of, for the sake of which he had suffered penal servitudewas shattered, disfigured, broken. Now it was not the Tsarist but the Socialistic police who were ready to take him to prison, and perhaps to execution.
No wonder that Tseretelis speech breathed bitterness and impotence. For it was not from his foes but from erstwhile friends that he had to defend what he still styled the democratic conquests of the Russian Revolution, what might be simply called Russias right to life and liberty. The tragedy of his position was increased by the fact that he could not help remembering his own former speeches. Speaking of peace, he said : You may cry, Kaledinist ! to every sentence of mine; and perhaps at that moment the supporter of the ruinous policy of Army Committees understood how the Soviet as first elected had cleared the way to Brest-Litovsk.
The Bolsheviks interrupted all the speakers and would not listen to them. Their plans were already made. By their scandalous behaviour they had compromised the Constituent Assembly as much as they could, and then they employed the favourite method which they always used for breaking up a meetingthey left the hall after having entered a reasoned declaration of the cause of their withdrawal. They announced that the Constituent Assembly, in refusing to carry out the will of the Commissaries, had thrown down the glove to all labouring Russia.
In the Constituent Assembly, Kerenskys, Avksentievs, and Chernovs party of Right Social-Revolutionaries have got the majority. This party, which calls itself Socialistic and Revolutionary, is guiding the struggle of the bourgeois elements against the workmens and peasants Revolution, and is really a bourgeois party. The present counter-revolutionary majority in the Constituent Assembly, elected by out-of-date party lists, is a Revolutionary back number.
The Social-Revolutionaries interrupted them by laughter or by indignant cries of Lies ! And the soldiers and sailors kept thumping the butts of their rifles on the floor of the hall. And this noise announced more plainly than any declaration that the Constituent Assembly was a failure. The powerless majority hastened to pass several resolutions. The Russian State was declared to be a Federal Republic. It was declared that the right of property in land within the limits of the Russian Republic is abolished henceforth and for ever. Their declaration concerning the war was hazy and ambiguous, owing to an attempt to combine obligations to the Allies with Zimmerwald :
In the name of the peoples of the Russian Republic, the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, expressing the immutable will of the people to terminate the war immediately, and to conclude a just and universal peace, proposes to the Allied Powers that the exact terms of peace should be determined in concert, for the purpose of presenting these conditions to the Central Powers.
At the same time, regretting that the negotiations with Germany, begun without any preliminary agreement with the Allied democracies, have assumed the character of negotiations for a separate peace, the Constituent Assembly continues to preserve the Armistice established, and has taken upon itself the further conduct of the negotiations with the hostile Powers, in order that while defending Russian interests a universal democratic peace may be concluded in accordance with the will of the people.
All these three declarations were passed at four oclock in the morning without any debate. The voters could hardly hear the text of the declarations. The soldiers and sailors who crowded near the delegates benches became clamorous. One of the sailors came up to the President and announced :
I have been ordered to inform you that all present are to leave the hall as the Guards are tired.
The delegates shouted : We dont need any guard ! The sailor insisted, and made Chernov adjourn the meeting.
The Secretary had barely time to read out the above-mentioned declarations when, hastened by the soldiers mockery, and partly by their rifle-butts, the elected representatives of the Russian people were obliged to quit the Taurida Palace, the doors of which closed on them for ever.
The next day a decree was published dissolving the Constituent Assembly. The real essence of the decree was as follows :
The old bourgeois Parliamentarianism is effete and incompatible with the aims of realising Socialism. It is not general, national institutions, but only class institutions, such as the Soviets, that can overcome the resistance of the propertied classes, and lay the foundations of Socialistic society. The part of the Constituent Assembly left after the withdrawal of the Bolsheviks can only serve as a cloak for the attempts of bourgeois counter-revolutionaries to overthrow the power of the Soviets. Therefore the Central Executive Committee has resolved that the Constituent Assembly be dissolved.
The Soviet of Peoples Commissaries entrusted this to the Central Executive Committee, so as to be able to assert that the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly was in accordance with the will of the people, which they could now counterfeit with still greater impunity. This destroyed the last hope not only of the Revolutionary Democracy, but also of all who still dreamed that it was possible to organise the new regime in free Russia by peaceful methods, without civil war. Now came the terrible days of disappointments and calamities which, in a greater or less degree, had gradually to be experienced by all classes of the population, but first by the leading circles of intellectuals, who at once grasped the full extent of the political catastrophe. It was a real tragedy for those members of the Provisional Government who were imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress, N.M. Kishkin, A.I. Konovalov, M.I. Terestchenko, A. V. Kartashev, Paltchinsky, M. Tretiakov, M. Bernatsky, and Smirnov. In the beginning of December these were joined by three members of the Constituent Assembly, A.I. Shingarev, F.F. Kokoshkin, and Prince Dolgorukov. The conditions of their imprisonment were truly awful. The Russian educated classes, fighting against Tsarism, were not accustomed to dread imprisonment. Many brutalities were practised in the Tsarist prisons. But the brutality and lawlessness of Bolshevist prisons exceeded anything that had been known under the Tsars. In the fortress it was damp, cold, and dark. At first the prisoners were allowed no outdoor exercise ; then they were permitted to go out, but for a very short time. Food could be brought to them from home, but everything had to be eaten cold. The chief thought of the imprisoned Ministers was how to keep warm. However, all these physical privations could not be compared with their moral sufferings. The arrested Ministers were in the so-called Trubetskoy Bastion, enwrapped in heroic legends of the martyrs of Russian liberty who had been imprisoned there during the nineteenth century. The bastion had its own guards with a sailor at the head, so that the fortress was under two masters. The young and honest sailor behaved with great decency towards the prisoners, and formed, as it were, their own inner guard. This was absolutely necessary, as the rowdy garrison, composed of shady, if not criminal elements, was capable of any crime. At its head was their elected commander, an orderly named Pavlov. This coarse, savage, almost illiterate soldier mocked the prisoners with all the shamelessness of a petty adventurer who was maddened by the prisoners mental and moral superiority.
The former Minister of Public Worship, A.V. Kartashev, an inspired philosopher, who had the passionate saintliness of an early Christian, was placed by the soldier Pavlov for-several days in a wet cell, without any light, bed, or food, except a piece of bread. And this was not a solitary case. The arrested politicians lived in an atmosphere of constant degrading annoyances and mockery, behind which ever lurked the terrible phantom of a bloody death.
Most of the Ministers were Cadets, i.e. according to the terminology of the Bolsheviks, counter-revolutionaries, Kaledinists, and enemies of the people. The soldiers considered themselves free to treat them as they liked.
More than once threatening shouts were heard in the corridors : Give them to us ! What is the use of being on ceremony with bourgeois ? We will show them a thing or two. These were the same cries that were heard before General Dukhonins death.
The relatives, the numerous friends, and political adherents of the prisoners were in constant alarm for their lives. Having made the members of the Provisional Government prisoners, the Peoples Commissaries brought no accusations against them, did not put them on trial before any court, but kept them as hostages in the fortress under conditions which remind one of mediaeval torture chambers. All efforts to obtain their release proved futile. The only hope was the Constituent Assembly. The Ministers talked of it when they met during their short outings in the prison yard ; they prepared for it, hoping to render an account of the activity of the Provisional Government to the nations representatives. Konovalov, who had replaced Kerensky the day of the latters flight, had been elected to the Constituent Assembly. He was entrusted with the task of preparing for the Governments appearance in the Taurida Palace, and he did draft a speech. It seemed impossible that the Supreme Master of the Land of Russia, as it was the custom to call the Constituent Assembly, would not release from prison those who had so diligently cleared the way for national representation.
This hope and the friendly relations which had arisen among the prisoners in the tragic environment of life in the fortress gave them strength to bear the physical and moral sufferings and privations. Nevertheless, the health of the prisoners was undermined, and their relatives, with the aid of the doctors, managed to get some of the Ministers transferred to the hospital.
On the evening of the day when the Constituent Assembly was opened two Ministers of the Provisional Government, F.F. Kokoshkin and A.I. Shingarev, were taken from the fortress to the Marie Hospital.
The same night sailors and Red Guards came to the hospital and brutally murdered both. Kokoshkin was killed at once, probably without waking from sleep. Shingarev lingered for several hours, one mass of wounds, those in his head and stomach causing him tortures. His relatives could not be fetched, as by some ones mysterious orders that night all the telephones in the hospital had been disconnected with the Exchange. Shingarev died in delirium, speaking of his children with anxiety and alarm, and then whispering something about his murderers. The doctors who were present said that he seemed to be murmuring words of forgiveness. That is very possible, and very like him. Shingarev was one of those Russian intellectuals who made a cult of self-sacrificing service and love for the people.
Imprisoned in the Fortress, and expecting death at any moment, not only did Shingarev not abandon his faith in the people, but with the incurable obstinacy of an idealist wrote in his diary :
If I were offered to begin everything all over again or stop it, I would not hesitate for a moment to begin all over again, notwithstanding all the horrors the country has gone through. And this is why. The Revolution was inevitable, because the old state of things had outlived its time. The equilibrium had been disturbed a long while ago, and the foundations of the Russian State, which we so aptly termed a colossus with feet of clay, were supported by the ignorant masses of the people, deprived of any connection with the State, frequently deprived of even common patriotism. The striking disparity between the heads of society and the lower strata at its base, between the leaders of the State in its past forms, as well as the leaders of the future, and the mass of the populationstruck me while I was yet a young man, during my first years of university life. It was not only a danger to the existing order (which would not have mattered much), but it was a great danger to the State. These ideas led me to the conclusion that it was necessary to draw the higher and lower strata of society together, to establish a firm and real connection between them. Then everything seemed useless to mescience, art, politicsunless they had that object in view. That is why I gave up my previous plans of devoting myself to science (which had an attraction for me) in order to go to the people as a doctor.
He had built up all his life on the idealisation of the people, on defending the principles of the widest democracy. Both he and Kokoshkin were real spiritual champions, who cast aside all that was personal, all that was egotistical, in order to serve the abstract principles of Truth and Right. And their murder, so brutal and meaningless, is one of the most terrible and repulsive proofs of the criminal venom with which the Bolshevist Revolution had poisoned the national soul.
The crime remained unpunished, and not finally investigated. There is reason to think that Lenin took no part in planning it. At any rate, when, on the morning after the murder, the friends of the surviving Ministers went to the Smolny, as dark threats had also been uttered against the latter, Lenin was thunderstruck and apparently even disturbed by the news of the crime. Articles appeared in the Izvestia, condemning the murderit is true, from a special Bolshevist point of view, but still, condemning it. Apart from everything else, it is bad from a political point of view. This is a fearful blow aimed at the Revolution, at the Soviet authorities. Such crimes are capable of undermining the faith of the masses in the Revolution, and the Revolution lives and rests only on the sympathies and faith of the masses.
As the assassins were sailors the Naval Commissary, Dybenko, who had himself taken part in the massacre of officers at Petropavlovsk, published the following order :
This affair must be thoroughly investigated. The honour of the Revolutionary Fleet must not bear the stain of an accusation of Revolutionary sailors having murdered their helpless enemies, rendered harmless by imprisonment. I call upon all who took part in the murderif these were misguided persons, and not counter-revolutionary oppressorsto appear of their own accord before the Revolutionary tribunal.
It goes without saying that this original method of discovering the criminals led to nothing. No one gave himself up of his own accord, though several persons were arrested. Among the latter was Private Bassov, who had accompanied Shingarev and Kokoshkin from the Fortress to the Hospital, and then had brought in the murderers and held the lamp over the beds while the scoundrels were shooting their sleeping victims. Thus one of the accomplices was found. But it was not known whether they had acted on their own initiative or had been instigated by others, If so, by whom ? By a small gang ? Or by some more responsible organisation ? There is cause to think that the last is most probable. The local district Soviet took some sort of part in the crime. At any rate, the detachment of sailors and Red Guards, before bursting into the Hospital, called at the Soviet for some reason or other. But the people who tried to discover the chief criminals were firmly assured that the principal clues led to the Commission for fighting the Counter-Revolution, Sabotage, and Profiteering. Many deeds of darkness were (and are) perpetrated in this institution.
This Commission had occupied the house of the former Prefecture of Petrograd, 2, Gorokhovaia Street, and some of the former policemen, spies and secret agents had entered the service of their new masters. Apparently, German agents also found easy access to this secret office of the Inquisition, where the fanatical and lunatic political formulae of the Smolny were converted into regular crimes.
Such division of labour had the effect of making Lenins position easier, removing from him, as it were, part of the responsibility for the specially bestial acts of the Soviet.
It was no easy matter for the uninitiated to penetrate into the secrets of Bolshevist actions, and, especially, to understand the division of jurisdiction between the Soviet of Peoples Commissaries and the Commission for fighting the Counter-Revolution, and Lenin always reserved the right of throwing the blame on the latter. But it goes without saying that the moral responsibility for the murder of Shingarev, Kokoshkin, and many others falls wholly on the Soviet.
It was the Soviet which roused that blind fury in the soul of the people, egging on the masses against the educated classes, and foully slandering the most honourable statesmen.
Under the influence of their furious, lying agitation, the unfortunate, uneducated, embittered, bewitched people took its friends for its foes, and its bitterest enemies, who were driving Russia to ruinfor its friends.
Possibly the sailors who shot the sleeping arrested ministers imagined that they were administering Revolutionary justice, executing counter-revolutionaries. They could have had no intention of robbing, for they took nothing, stole nothing. They came, murdered, and then vanished. They went to report their achievement to some one who had sent them.
But to whom ? That is the question. Who wanted the death of these two men ? Kokoshkin was a scholar, for whom politics were what military service is to a conscripted soldier. He fulfilled his duty honestly and boldly, but loved thought better than action. Shingarev, from the time when the Bolsheviks seized power, fought openly, attacked, exposed, constantly called upon his hearers to struggle against the usurpers. His words about the German mark found in a room after a Bolshevist raid, his constant reminder of the connexion between the Bolsheviks and the Germans, lead to fearsome suspicions. Who knows but that German marks had something to do with this murder ?
Only judicial authorities, independent, accustomed to the support of the law, could have discovered the real culprits. But there was no justice. There were only Revolutionary tribunalscaricatures of courts of justice.
The murdered men were members of the Constituent Assembly. Both believed in Russian democracy. Both hated oppression and lawlessness. During both Tsarist despotism and revolutionary demagogy they were bold and honest champions of freedom. They bore, and even overcame, the persecutions of Stolypin and other Tsarist ministers. But Left despotism, with the red banner of Socialism waving over it, proved incomparably harsher and more perfidious than the old regime. The friends and political adherents of the murdered men, and indeed all thoughtful and honest Russians, felt this heavy sacrifice to the Revolution very keenly. The death of these two prominent politicians was a terrible loss to Russia. At that time, people had not grown accustomed to crime. But even the details of the murder committed in the capital bear witness to the powerlessness and moral degradation already permeating the people. For if the indignation roused by the murder had been active, then the Soviet of Peoples Commissaries would have been forced, if not to lay down its power, then at least to discover and punish the culprits.
But the conscience of the mob had already been poisoned. Already the passion for destruction which follows upon a revolution was assuming more and more terrible and criminal forms. That is why there was no difficulty in dispersing the Constituent Assembly, or in persecuting and murdering the peoples representatives with impunity.
By their work of destruction the Bolsheviks seemed, as it were, to pander to the secret desires of the masses roused by revolutionary licence. And the Bolsheviks proved past-masters of destruction, and of defending their work of destruction by words that were lying and cynical, but intoxicating to the mob.
In the end of January, when reporting to the Third Congress of Soviets on the dispersion of the Constituent Assembly, Lenin said haughtily :
Yes, we are oppressors.
Trotsky supported him.
We have trodden underfoot the principles of Democracy for the sake of the loftier principles of Social Revolution. We are against oppression, but we will not yield our power without a ruthless struggle.
And the sailor Zhelezniakov, who took part in the dispersion of the Constituent Assembly, formulated his political creed of Bolshevism in still simpler terms :
We will not exchange our rifles for a voting-paper.
At least this was candid, and more sincere than the first watchword of the Bolsheviks : Hail to the Constituent Assembly !
1 F.F. Kokoshkin had resigned that post several days before.
2 The author seems to have foretold Volodarskys fate. The latter was killed in the summer of 1918, when he was Press Commissary and treated the Press with a contumely exceeding that of the darkest periods of autocratic reaction.
3 So little did the Socialists understand the catastrophe which had overtaken the Russian Revolution, that the moderate Socialistic paper Dien wrote : The Cadets owe their success to Bolshevism. Bolshevism has discredited democracy in the eyes of the masses. For if this be Revolution and Socialism, if this be Revolutionary Democracythen long live the Cadets ! A strong poison needs a strong antidote : let Milyukov stand against Lenin.
4 According to the Russian proportional representation law, each party has to present its list of candidates, and the voter cannot alter one single name in the list. This is a great defect of the system, as the central committees of the parties thus dominate the will of the electors.