Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917: the memoirs of Fyodor Raskolnikov

1. The February days

The February Revolution found me attending the Special Classes for Naval Cadets. It cannot be said that the revolution happened unexpectedly. Quite apart from the professional revolutionaries, who clearly heard the muffled underground tremors of revolution, even among casual colleagues of mine, pupils at the ‘privileged’ naval school; there had been more and more frequent talk in the preceding period about an inevitable armed rebellion, and a possible victory for the rebels.

Naturally, the young naval cadets who had been allowed to enter the caste milieu of the Navy only because of their noble origins looked upon themselves as a ’blue-blooded’ estate of society destined to enjoy the good things of this world. These beardless ’scions of the nobility’, who reflected in their anxious conversations the mood of the noble salons, had no reason to rejoice at the mutterings of the approaching storm.

‘Today is Women’s Day’, it flashed through my mind on the morning of February 23. ‘Will something happen in the streets today?’ As things turned out, ‘Women’s Day’ was fated to be the first day of the revolution. Working women, driven to despair by their hard conditions, a prey to the torments of hunger, were the first to come out on to the streets demanding ‘bread, freedom and peace’.

On that day, when we were shut up in our quarters, we were able to look out from the window upon a most unusual scene. The trams were not running, which meant the streets were uncharacteristically empty and quiet. But at the corner of Bolshoi Prospekt and Gavanskaya Street groups of working women kept assembling. Mounted policemen tried to disperse them, roughly pushing them apart with the muzzles of their horses and hitting them with the flats of their drawn swords. When the Tsarist oprichniki [1] rose on to the pavement the crowd would, without losing its composure, break up for the moment, heaping curses and threats upon them; but as soon as the mounted policemen had returned to the roadway, the crowd would close up again into a solid mass. In some of the groups we could see men, but the overwhelming majority consisted of working women and workers’ wives.

On Saturday February 25, when I went on leave, the trams were not working. On Vasily Island everything seemed normal. The inhabitants were peacefully bustling about in the streets just as usual. Carts loaded to the very top rumbled clumsily along the cobbled street.

But when we came out into Nevsky Prospekt the first thing that struck us was the huge number of people who were gathered in front of the Kazan Cathedral. When Cadet V and I had passed Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street and wanted to proceed further along the Nevsky, policemen on foot and on horseback roughly blocked our way and obliged us to turn in to one of the side streets. Further on, from the columns of the Kazan Cathedral to the Singer building, [2] a large crowd occupied the whole width of the Nevsky. It seethed, murmured uttered protests: individual cries of anger rang out from the midst of it. Against it stood a solid wall of policemen preventing the crowd from reaching the Admiralty. From time to time mounted gendarmes, their swords drawn, would drive into the crowd, evoking cries of protest from the demonstrators. In Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street a detachment of armoured cars came quickly towards me. These fearful mobile boxes fitted with heavy armour on every side and with the muzzles of machineguns sticking out in all directions, produced a terrifying impression, like some sort of sinister, furious monster. The sharp, alarming and abrupt sounds of their horns added to this disagreeable sensation.

Soon sporadic volleys of rifle-fire were heard coming from the direction of the Nevsky...They resounded loudly in the frosty February air...

On the following day, February 26, I was walking along the deserted streets on my way to my detested classes. Our company’s quarters looked like an armed camp. Cartridge-pouches were laid out on the desks and everywhere stood rifles with bayonets fixed. I found that the commanders of the classes had armed all the cadets. The official reason for doing this was the need to defend ourselves in the event of attacks by violent criminals.

I went up to Cadets V and I, with whom I was more friend than with the rest. They assured me categorically that they would in no case fire on the crowd, that all their shots would be aimed into the air. In the order of battle their allotted post were right up in the vanguard, out in the street, whereas being politically unreliable in the eyes of the commanders, we assigned to the topmost landing of the building, that is to the deepest rear.

On the morning of the 27th we had examinations, but during the evening the Deryabinsk barracks, adjacent to our building was suddenly invested by a regular line of armed workers. Facing them in the yard of the barracks, another line of men lay directly on the snow: a line of armed sailors, recruits from the last autumn call-up. Now and then one of the comrades would emerge from among the workers to try and approach the sailors to negotiate, but no result could be observed so far: the young recruits were at a very low level of political consciousness.

The cadets crowded round the window and gazed with interest at the scene taking place before their eyes. So as to be able to see better we put out the electric light in the room. The more extrovert of the young men proceeded to give expression to their feelings. It became clear at once that most of them sympathised with the recruits, the defenders - that is, their attitude was counter-revolutionary.

“Look at them, the swine!“ exclaimed the Greek Ipotimatopoulo, referring to the workers. “Now they should be given the punishment they deserve!”

A group of comrades who favoured the revolution and sympathised wholeheartedly with the attacking workers reacted sharply to these words and launched into a brisk argument with Ipotimatopoulo. Diplomatic parleying between the workers and the young sailors went on until a late hour, when, at last, the workers said that they would give the sailors the whole night to make up their minds and would approach them again in the morning. There had been no exchange of fire between the two sides.

Soon, however, the sound of rifle fire began to reach us from the city. It was clear that a struggle was going on in the streets of Petrograd. I went to the telephone and rang Comrade Stark. His wife answered. To my question about what the situation was in the streets of Petrograd she replied: “Wait a moment, I’ll just go and see.” She did not keep me waiting long, but soon came back, to say: “I must tell you that we have decided that it’s not convenient to talk about this matter over the telephone.” There was nothing to do but say goodbye and hang up the receiver. Nevertheless, burning with impatience, I rang my old acquaintance Professor Semyon Afanasyevich Vengerov. He told me, excitedly, that a Duma Committee had been formed in the State Duma, that not a single police man was to be seen in the streets of Petrograd, and that motorcars containing groups of armed workers and soldiers were rushing about the city in all directions. From what he said it was obvious that the situation had not yet become defined, but that, all the same, at that moment, the revolutionary, anti-government forces had the upper hand. With profound emotion I passed on all I had heard to the cadets gathered round me. Just then someone phoned from Cadet V’s home to tell him that the police had killed, in Basseinaya Street, someone he knew, the wife of the barrister I.I. Tarkhovsky. She was one of the first casual victims of Protopopov’s executioners, shooting from their attic lairs. Despite the lateness of the hour, V was quickly sent off on leave. In the frosty silence of the February night the sound of firearms rang out more and more frequently, and more and more loudly both bursts and single shots. The fight to overthrow the old regime had not yet finished. Soon the officer commanding the Special Classes for Naval Cadets was telephoned by the commander of the Second Baltic Sub-Depot, [3] Girs, who said to him: “Sergei Ivanovich, do you know what’s happened? Armoured cars came up to the building of our Depot and aimed their machineguns at the windows. Well, what was there to do? I surrendered.” This put everyone in a cheerful mood. The cadets began exchanging their impressions. This was when I was first struck by the ease with which many inveterate Tsarists gave up and disowned their old monarchist views at once after suffering the first setback. In these cases, the course of ideas was determined in the twinkling of an eye by the course of events. “After all, if it all takes place painlessly, without bloodshed, that will be a very good thing,” said the Pole K, who liked to spend his free time reading the works of Adam Mickiewicz. Nevertheless, there were to be found among the cadets a few fervent monarchists who were unwilling to give up their positions.

Next morning the building occupied by the cadet classes was approached by an enormous crowd, many thousands strong, among whom the khaki-coloured greatcoats worn by soldiers especially caught the eye. We could not see where this crowd ended, stretching as it did a long way down Gavanskaya Street. The commanding officer of the Special Classes for Naval Cadets, Frolov, went to the entrance to meet them. The crowd told him that they wanted all the cadets to be sent home forthwith, and all weapons, firearms and side-arms alike, to be surrendered unreservedly.

“Gentlemen, that’s not possible,” Frolov tried to object. “We are holding examinations, the cadets are taking their examinations.” “What examinations are being held here?” someone in the crowd shouted in a loud voice: “All Russia is now taking an examination.” Such pointed, unusually apt expressions, tossed from the very depths of the crowd and uttered nobody knows by whom, are often a feature of historic, revolutionary moments.

Meanwhile, the crowd’s representatives came boldly into the company quarters, seized the rifles without meeting any hindrance, and demanded the keys to the armoury. Sub-Lieutenant Yezhov, who was in charge of the armoury and was drunk as usual, personally conducted them thither. On the whole everything proceeded in an orderly ad peaceful manner, unlike what happened at the Naval College, where Black Hundred-minded Cadets [4] led by Prince Baryatinsky offered armed resistance, barricading the entrances and exits of their building and opening fire from the upper floor.

Joyfully I left the stuffy barracks and joined the risen people. That same day I went to the Taurida Palace. [5] There were an unusually large number of people there: regiments kept coming, one after another, to announce that they had rallied to the revolution. The department responsible for supplying food to the units of the revolted garrison was working at full blast. An energetic part was played, among the first of the political activists to turn up at the Palace, by G. K. Sukhanova. Stark and I were entrusted with a load of bread and tinned goods for the soldiers guarding the premises of the Savings Bank, who had had nothing to eat since the morning, and we took this food to them.

Outside the Palace, in the street and the square, the crush of people was inconceivable. From external impressions one might have supposed that the Duma Committee had huge forces at its disposal. In actual fact, however, the revolutionary troops which had definitely manifested themselves as such were still so disorganised that they could have been dealt with by a single Cossack division, untainted by propaganda, if this had been brought in from the front.

Inside, in the Catherine Hall, ceaseless meetings went on. The orators spoke from the long, wide galleries, which stretched along both sides, in the Catherine Hall and in the conference room. The audience, which was made up mostly of soldiers, received each speaker with unanimous shouts of: “Who’s speaking? What party? What’s your name? What’s the speaker called?” It was clear that the masses were relating quite consciously to the events taking place and did not intend to listen to any speeches unthinkingly.

One day there appeared in the gallery, struck an oratorical pose and began to hold forth, a rather elderly but well-preserved man wearing a tall, light-coloured fur cap such as was worn at that time by military officials of the Army’s medical service and employees of the Union of Zemstvos and Towns. [6] Over his shoulders was thrown a grey officer’s great-coat. In reply to the crowd’s demand for his name he loudly rapped out: “Member of the State Duma Purishkevich.” Despite having heard the hated name of the Black Hundred deputy, the crowd let him speak.

“The Government, having shown itself incapable of coping with disorder, has now been overthrown”: that was how Purishkevich began. The gist of the long speech made by this diehard was that he, too, had rallied to the February Revolution. In the middle of his speech a shot rang out: one of the soldiers had accidentally let off his rifle. Purishkevich went on with his speech, and brought it safely to a close. The soldiers were at that time in festive mood, and Purishkevich’s mere unsubstantiated statement that he had broken with the order that had been overthrown, the order which in reality he was tirelessly to defend to the last day of his life, was sufficient for even him to be received with applause.

On that day also there spoke from the gallery of the Catherine Hall a certain middle-aged, clean-shaven citizen, looking like a barrister, who, having introduced himself as a left-wing Cadet, [7] solemnly announced the decision which had just been taken to call Alexei [8] to the throne, with Mikhail as regent. It is hard to convey the depth of the wave of indignation that rolled through the hall. Instead of the enthusiastic shout of ‘Hurrah’ on which the Cadet speaker had probably counted there broke from the throats of hundreds of soldiers a unanimous cry of protest: “Down with the Romanovs! Long live the democratic republic!” The Cadet, confused and shaken by the unexpected effect of his speech, hastened to explain that he was not expressing the opinion of his party but merely passing on information, and that the Cadet Party would give its opinion on the matter somewhat later. However, this attempt to get out of an awkward situation did not in the least appease the crowd of soldiers, who for a long time after filled the air with their curses addressed to the hated dynasty. From the very first days of the February Revolution the worker and soldier masses were unwilling to hear of anything short of a republic.

In one of the corridors I accidentally encountered my former professor in the economics department of the Petrograd Polytechnic, P.B. Struve. As we passed each other we shook hands. An exultant smile spread like a pancake over his face, and with joyful emotion he said: ‘What a festive occasion!’ At that time it seemed to him that the revolution signified a festive occasion for him and his like.

After registering with the Military Commission I was given a certificate and a special document which entitled me to bear arms. When I left the Taurida Palace I elbowed my way with great difficulty through the crowd gathered on the pavement. While the roadway of Shpalernaya Street was occupied by demonstrators, its pavement was crowded with members of the intellectual and bourgeois public. In those days every philistine saw it as his duty to decorate his breast with a magnificent bow of red silk or calico. And suddenly, amid this motley crowd, I recognised, with amazement, the familiar bulldog visage of a gendarmerie officer who in 1912 had been present, as the unwinkingly watchful eye of authority, at all meetings between political prisoners in the pre-trial detention centre. [9] On the broad chest of this stout gendarme, who had already reached the rank of general, fluttered a red bow of colossal size. I was about to detain him, but the surging crowd swept me up and carried me away.

Right there in Shpalernaya Street, but just a bit further along, nearer to the Liteiny, I managed to deliver, from bollard or a lamp-standard, my first speech against the Cadets who were preparing to call Alexei to the throne and thereby preserve the dynasty and save the autocracy, whereas the working class, backed by the peasant masses dressed in soldiers’ greatcoats, had risen as one man in order to overthrow Tsardom.

A few days later I was summoned to the cadet classes. The commander, S.I. Frolov, came excitedly into the recreation room and said with fervour to the cadets gathered round him: “I consider that a democratic republic must be established, there is no other solution. Only a democratic republic can restore a peaceful situation.” “Aha”, I thought. “It is clear indeed how the revolution has gone when even rear-admirals become fervent champions of a democratic republic.” In the cloakroom some cadets were talking about the killings which had recently taken place at Kronstadt and Helsingfors. [10] In the doorway the orderly officer’s room a hot argument was going on between our company commander, Lieutenant Smirnov, and a handful of cadets. The latter were advocating that we go to the Taurida Palace and swear allegiance to the revolution. Smirnov, however, objected categorically. “Gentlemen, please remember that the Provisional Government is losing its footing. There is continual friction between it and the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. The Soviet already possesses great influence. What would the point of going to the Taurida Palace?” It was clear that purpose of these arguments was to prevent the proposed march of the cadets to the Taurida Palace. In the end, though, company commander agreed, and even went along with cadets.

I stayed at the Taurida Palace until evening. There, as before, meetings continued without interruption. Suddenly, amidst the orators speaking from the galleries of the Catherine Hall, appeared the figure of Sub-Lieutenant Krainev. “Comrades, the previous speakers have directed some sharp reproaches at the officers,” Krainev began, speaking passionately, almost screaming on the high notes. “But that’s not right. Among the officers there are some who have gone over to the people’s side and who sympathise wholeheartedly with the revolution.” At that time it was so unusual to hear expressions of solidarity with the revolution uttered by officers that Krainev was even carried shoulder-high.

2. The first legal meetings of the Petersburg Committee

The first legal meetings of the Petersburg Committee of our Party, before it settled permanently in Kshesinskaya’s house, were held on Kronverksky Prospekt, in the Labour Exchange building.

In order to get into the premises of the Petersburg Committee one had to go down a lane to the unimpressive entrance to some store, and then mount dusty stairs to the topmost floor, almost the attic, and pass through several offices, full of desks, which seemed crushed beneath the low ceiling. In the middle of the room where the Petersburg Committee met when it first emerged into the open water of legal existence stood a long wooden table, at which the committee members sat. The few visitors usually set themselves down on the benches along the walls, just as in a good old village hut.

As soon as the sound of machinegun fire died down in the streets of Petrograd, and the street fighting, which had absorbed all my time, came to an end, I made my way to the Petersburg Committee, the natural centre for every Party worker.

It was obvious to me that the danger, not yet eliminated, of a counter-revolutionary coup by Tsarist Generals called urgently for the adoption of emergency measures. The struggle in the streets against the police ambuscades had only just finished, and had shown that the revolution still lacked organisation from the military standpoint. Bursts of machinegun fire from a roof or an attic would attract the attention of some brave lad, he would gather round him the first soldiers and workers he happened upon, and this hastily put-together, improvised squad would hurl itself into the attack. In fighting with small gangs of policemen this guerrilla method of waging war was crowned with success, but it was perfectly plain that in the event of a clash with real militia units, welded by organisation and discipline, the Petrograd garrison would not stand up to the test of battle. [11]

And yet rumours were already circulating in the streets of Petrograd that large forces were approaching from the front, to put down the revolution. This potential threat had to be countered by revolutionary organisation, revolutionary solidarity and revolutionary discipline.

The Provisional Committee of the State Duma tried to cope with these tasks of increasing the military capacity of the revolutionary forces, appointing as military commandant for this purpose one Engelhardt: until the appointment of Kornilov he was the de facto commander-in-chief of the garrison Petrograd.

However, this task proved too much for the bourgeois Provisional Committee. The soldiers naturally felt unable to trust it. It seemed to me that we, the Bolsheviks, must at once form our own military organisation both for spreading our ideas among the soldier masses and for organising forces in order to strengthen, defend and further extend the conquests of the revolution. This idea suggested itself so strongly that I think there was hardly any Bolshevik serving in the armed forces who was not filled with it.

It was with this proposal to create a military organisation within our Party that I approached the Petersburg Committee. The chairman of the committee at that time, Comrade L. Mikhailov (Politicus), came out from the meeting to see me. He reacted favourably to my plan for a military organisation and invited me in. I entered the room where the meeting was in progress, at a moment when B.V. Avilov was speaking.

It is funny to recall that this liberal from the ranks of Marxism was then still a member of our Party. Boris Avilov was making a programmatic speech. He unmercifully quoted from old articles of his own, he cited in their support excerpts from the resolutions of Party Congresses, and all this merely so as to substantiate the typically Menshevik proposition that we were experiencing a bourgeois revolution and that therefore the task of the proletariat consisted in giving support, fully and wholly, not from fear but for conscience sake, to the Provisional Government.

Avilov made a strange impression. He seemed to be a Menshevik in the Bolshevik camp, an opportunist who had turned up through some mistake in our Petersburg Committee. He delivered a verbose, doctrinaire speech, equipped with ponderous scientific references, so out-of-place in those days of street fighting and of seething, intense activity, when life had insistently set before the Party’s leading organ a whole series of urgent, pressing problems, and demanded quick and brief answers. And at such a time Avilov (who was, indeed, a theoretician remote from life) was trying to turn the only fighting organ of the proletariat into a scientific-academic society. To do our comrades justice, though, Avilov found no followers among them, and when it came to the vote he was invariably in the minority, and very often alone, in supporting his resolution. The leading nucleus of the Petersburg Committee then shared the view of which the fundamental thesis was that, in so far as the Provisional Government was carrying out the tasks of the revolution and upholding its conquests against counter­revolutionary infringements, to that extent our Party ought to give it support, struggling against it only in so far as it retreated from the programme of the revolution.

This platform thus, unlike Avilov’s, did not bind the Party to anyone, but left its hands free for any method of struggle.

Those views were expounded in their speeches most often by two old Party workers of the underground period, namely, the present chairman of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee M.I. Kalinin (Ivanov), who already at that time enjoyed in the Party the general respect he deserved, and Comrade Vladimir (whose real surname was Zalezhsky), another out-standing activist in the underground struggle.

So far as I could judge by my impressions, this point of view was then the dominant one in our Petrograd organisation, and was shared by the majority of the members of the Petersburg Committee as at first constituted. Comrade L.M. Mikhailov (Politicus) conducted the meeting in a very lively and witty way; but made comparatively infrequent contributions on the substance of the issues being discussed.

Comrade Nikolai (V.Schmidt), now the People’s Commissar of Labour, was then the secretary of the Petersburg Committee. A notable part was played in the committee’s work by Comrade Ariatoly (Antipov). Comrade Zhemchuzhin (who was later shot by the Finnish Whites in Helsingfors) and Comrade Sulimov did not usually speak at the committee meetings. Other district representatives were also not distinguished for loquacity and usually stayed silent, but voted unanimously for resolutions.

It was Comrade Podvoisky who first uttered the phrase: “The revolution is not over, it is just beginning.”

By saying that “the revolution is not over, it is just beginning,” Comrade Podvoisky meant that the proletariat had not yet reaped the fruits of victory and still faced a desperate struggle for power. This gave the Party’s thinking the shake-up it needed, provided a true Marxist prospect of development, and inspired in us a militant, revolutionary mood.

Active support for this standpoint was received from Comrade V.M. Molotov (Skryabin). He was then a member of the Bureau of the Petersburg Committee and gave the report on the current situation at one of the committee’s first meetings. His report was serious and circumstantial, but without Avilov’s unwieldy academicism, and could not have been more to the point.

The theses of Molotov’s report were distinctly Bolshevik. There was no question of support for the Provisional Government, even “in so far that extent”. From a class analysis of the contending forces, Comrade Molotov drew the conclusion that it was necessary for the working class, and consequently for its Party, to continue the struggle against the bourgeoisie which had come to power. The slogan of deepening and broadening the revolution ran like a red thread through his entire report.

While Comrade Molotov was giving his report M.S Olminsky (Aleksandrov) arrived from Moscow. Comrade Olminsky gave a brief account of the development of revolutionary events in Moscow and of the mood of the Moscow workers and the Party’s Moscow Committee. From what he said one could conclude that the comrades in Moscow were more to the Left and the Moscow Committee was working more harmoniously.

After Comrade Olminsky’s contribution, debate began on Comrade Molotov’s report, and when somebody showed an inclination towards theoretical abstractions a la Avilov Mikhail Stepanovich [Olminsky] was unable to control himself and indignantly broke in: “We comrades in Moscow are able to understand each other without a lot of talk, and don’t waste time in idle arguments.” When Comrade Molotov had finished his concluding speech, Comrade Olminsky and I went up to him and discussed the theses of his report.

Essentially, there were no differences between the three of us where fundamentals were concerned. But Comrade Olminsky and I considered that, despite the correctness of the class analysis of the revolution given by the rapporteur, and the Party tactics indicated by him, his conclusions were in need of some rectification. Personally, I held the following views at that time. Our Party could not have the slightest confidence in the Provisional Government, given its bourgeois composition, with only one ‘socialist’ in it, namely, Kerensky – mere hostage in the hands of the bourgeoisie. From this it followed that our Party would be drawn by the objective process of history into a fight for power against the Provisional Government. But, since the revolution was still threatened by the ‘black danger’ of a Tsarist restoration, we should, while not ceasing to struggle against the Provisional Government, give it support insofar as it was combating the survival of Tsardom, but only until the immediate threat of counter-revolution had passed.

Comrade Olminsky advocated more or less the same rectification, and, in general, we backed each other up in the discussion. Such minor differences in shades of opinion were not, of course, of substantial importance.

We were given cause in those very same days to be convinced of the possibility of counter-revolutionary outbreaks by expiring Tsardom. I recall that during one of our meetings we had a visitor from Tsarskoye Selo, [12] one of the local inhabitants who was a member of our Party. She told us that a detachment of Knights of St George [13] was advancing from the front towards Petrograd under the command of General Ivanov. She added that, before their train could reach Tsarskoye Selo, the railway track had been torn up in front of it, and the Tsarskoye Selo area committee of the Party had sent agitators to meet the approaching soldiers. Further information communicated by the comrade from Tsarskoye Selo showed that the Knights of St George had been deceived by stories of anarchy and massacre in Petrograd. These forerunners of the subsequent counter-revolutionary marchers on Petrograd had been deluded by the same methods as were used later. All the political intriguers, all the enemies of the revolution employed, in order to arouse hatred among the soldier masses with a low level of consciousness, against the revolutionary vanguard, the workers of Petrograd, one and the-same set of fables about anarchy in the capital. This was the method used by the Provisional Government on July 3-5, by Kornilov at the end of August, and, finally, by Kerensky during the historic days of the great October Revolution.

Unlike, however, all the other White Guard marches on Petrograd, this first counter-revolutionary deception of frontline soldiers did not give rise to any concern for the fate of the Revolution and did not call for intense effort by the Party. The Petersburg Committee reacted very calmly to the news of General Ivanov’s advance. Evidently, nobody took this threat seriously. The whole affair amounted merely to a few comrades volunteering to go at once to General Ivanov’s echelon in order to explain the political situation to the Knights of St George. Among the volunteers was Comrade Olga Solskaya, who spoke mainly in order to analyse class relations in the countryside and in those days showed a slight tendency towards syndicalism.

Besides despatching these agitators, the Petersburg Committee also took some measures to strengthen work among the men of the Petersburg garrison and to ensure particular vigilance.

It was of course the case that the Petersburg Committee had its living, direct roots among the workers who delegated district representatives to it, while, on the other hand, old worker members of the Petersburg Committee in the underground period, had automatically become members of the new committee when they emerged from prison in the February days. But even then, in the first days of its legal existence, the Petersburg Committee also possessed strong links with soldiers of the city’s garrison.

Almost the first unit to make living contact with us was the 1st Machinegun Regiment, which later became a bulwark of Bolshevism and took the initiative in the demonstration of July 3-5. At this time its political physiognomy was not clear, any more than was that of the other regiments stationed in Petrograd. They were all going through a period of primary ideological formation and greedily devoured the words of speakers of the various parties, straining to understand political differences between them.

One day in this period Comrade Sulimov reported to the committee that that evening there was to be a general meeting of the 1st Machinegun Regiment, for elections to the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, and he proposed that we draw up a mandate. The Petersburg Committee agreed and the task of drafting the mandate was assigned to Comrade Sulimov and me. We went off into the next room and set to work. Within an hour the mandate was ready. Written in the spirit of ‘Order No. 1’ [14] it went further than that, however, demanding, for example, election of officers. The Petersburg Committee approved our text. Comrade Sulimov went straight from the meeting to the People’s House. There, before an audience of soldiers, our Party gained one of its first victories: the mandate was adopted and Bolsheviks entered the Soviet. At the time we were overjoyed at our success. But actually, it was just an isolated success in a single regiment: to bring about the political arousal of the entire garrison of many thousands a special organisation was needed. I did not manage to promote this idea, however. I did not want to bring it up at a meeting of the Petersburg Committee, until I had discussed the details with leading members of the committee. But current work absorbed all the comrades’ time and soon afterward I left for Kronstadt.

Later on, a military organisation was formed under the aegis of the Central Committee of our Party. Comrade Podvoisky took an active part in its formation and activity. But that was after Comrade V. I. Lenin’s return to Russia. Vladimir Ilyich’s arrival marked in general a decisive turning-point in our Party’s tactics. It must be confessed that before his arrival there was rather a lot of confusion in the Party. There was no definite, consistent line. The task of taking state power was depicted by the majority as a sort of distant ideal and not, as a rule, presented as a close, urgent and immediate aim. It was considered sufficient to support the Provisional Government, using one formula or another, with these or those reservations and, of course, retaining the right to apply the widest criticism. Inside the Party there was no unit of thought: vacillation and disunity were typical, everyday phenomena especially showing themselves at broad Party and fraction meetings. The Party had no authoritative leader to weld it into unity and draw it behind him. In the person ‘Ilyich’ the Party received back its old, experienced leader, who took that task upon himself.

After Comrade Lenin’s arrival I did not see Avilov again even on the threshold of our Party institutions. The Right-wing Bolsheviks were swept away as though by a mop. By the current of life they were cast into the camp of the ‘in-between’ Novaya Zhizn. [15] All the rest of the comrades were quickly united under Lenin’s leadership and the Party became of one mind, gradually and not without internal struggle and wavering, adopting Comrade Lenin’s slogans and tactics. [16]

And yet, when on the day that he arrived Comrade Lenin loudly uttered in his first speeches the words: “Long live the socialist revolution!” I remember that this slogan really alarmed not only the Novaya Zhiznite Sukhanov, who was mortally afraid of the revolution, but also certain Party comrades. At that time not everyone was able rapidly to appreciate this call, which seemed almost Maximalist, [17] for the socialist revolution that was within a few months to create the RSFSR, this call which already at that time Comrade Lenin gave out as a practical slogan, as something for the immediate future.

In a short time, however, all serious opposition had died away. It was then already not difficult to grasp what our Party’s tasks in the revolution were and to understand that without an immediate transfer of power into the hands of the Soviets the conquests won by whole generations of the working class were threatened with inevitable doom. But at the very beginning of the revolution, in the first days of March when the meetings of the Petersburg Committee which I have described were taking place, it was very much harder to find one’s way amid the intricate conjuncture of events.

It is easy to see that those comrades who were on the left wing of the Petersburg Committee were advocating before Comrade Lenin’s return what was essentially his tactical line. This line, as experience showed, was the shortest distance between the two points of the revolution: between February and October 1917.


1. The oprichniki were the praetorian guard of Ivan the Terrible, in the 16th century. Their reputation for atrocities caused their name to be applied ever afterwards as a term of abuse to the ‘forces of law and order’ when these were thought to be acting too severely.

2. The building of the Singer Sewing-Machine Company, which now houses the largest bookshop in Leningrad. The glass globe on the roof (the Singer trademark) was and is one of the city’s landmarks.

3. The word here translated as ‘sub-depot’ means literally ‘half-depot’: the difference from a ‘depot’ is one of size, not of subordination.

4. The Black Hundreds were thugs of the Union of the Russian People, an ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic group which often attacked revolutionaries. Among the latter the term ‘Black Hundred’ came to be used rather loosely, for any militant reactionary opponents, much as ‘fascist’ is used today.

5. The right wing (literally!) of the Taurida Palace was occupied by the Provisional Committee of the Duma, from which the Provisional Government emerged, while the left wing was taken over by the Petrograd Soviet.

6. The Union of Zemstvos and Towns was a voluntary grouping of leading members of local authorities, in country and town, which came into being during the war in order to supplement by private initiative the deficiencies of the Tsarist administration in relation to the war effort.

7. The Constitutional Democratic Party, which emerged as the principal party of the liberal bourgeoisie, was popularly called the ‘Cadet’ Party, from the Russian initials of its name.

8. ‘Alexei’ was the Tsar's son, then aged 13. ‘Mikhail’ was the Tsar's brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich.

9. Raskolnikov had been arrested in May 1912, when acting as editorial secretary of Pravda.

10. Helsinki was then still usually known to non-Finns by its Swedish name, Helsingfors. In the first days of the February Revolution a number of unpopular officers were lynched by the sailors stationed there.

11. The rank-and-file policemen showed a great deal more devotion in defence of the Tsarist regime than did most of their social ‘betters’ and political masters. Raskolnikov's brother Ilyin-Zhenevsky wrote, in his book From the February Revolution to the October Revolution (partial English translation published in 1931): “Now, when passions have died down somewhat, we can state impartially that the Petersburg police during these days displayed rare though utterly futile heroism. Locked in their attics, they did not leave their posts until they were driven out by force.” (p. 18), Revolutionary banner, March 1917.

12. Tsarskoye Selo was renamed, after the Revolution, Detskoye Seto (Children's Village) and is now called Pushkin.

13. Soldiers who had been decorated with the Cross of St. George for bravery in battle. At this time they were sometimes formed into special units in the hope that they would show more zeal than other soldiers.

14. ‘Order No. 1’, issued by the Petrograd Soviet, provided for the election of rank-and-file committees in all units of the army and navy, for the extension of ordinary civil rights to members of the armed forces, and various other reforms aimed at democratising the latter. The text is given in The Russian Provisional Government, ed. R.P. Browder and A.F. Kerensky, 1961, Vol.II, pp. 845-849.

15. Novaya Zhizn (‘The New Life’), published between April 1917 and July 1918, edited by Maxim Gorky, was the paper of the ‘Menshevik-Internationalists’.

16. Raskolnikov tends to gloss over the resistance to Lenin's ‘April Theses’. At the meeting of the Bureau of the Central Committee on April 6 both Kamenev and Stalin spoke against, and the Petersburg Committee rejected the theses by 13 votes to 2, with one abstention.

17. The Maximalists were a semi-anarchist group, which had broken away from the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. (In the early days of the October Revolution the British Press often referred to the Bolsheviks as ‘Maximalists’ through a misunderstanding of the meaning of their name - ‘majority men’.)