Oct 16, 2017
This article continues our series on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
At the beginning of October 1917, the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Petrograd, Moscow, Northern District, and Baltic Fleet Soviets, which reflected the spectacular progression of their influence among the working masses and soldiers. Soldiers from the trenches sent delegates to the Petrograd Soviet: “How long will this unbearable situation last? The soldiers have authorized us to tell you that if by the 1st of November [the 15th of November by our calendar], no decisive steps are taken towards peace, the trenches will be evacuated, and the whole army will march back to the rear!” they insisted. The countryside was also rising up. Trotsky described this period in the History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk:
“We were already at that time deliberately and openly steering for a rising and organizing ourselves for it. The opening of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets was fixed, as we said before, for October 25th [November 7th by our calendar], and there could be no longer any doubt that it would declare in favor of the assumption of supreme authority by the Soviets. But such a decision would have to be carried out at once, otherwise it would simply become a worthless platonic demonstration. … We were proclaiming openly, in the name of the Petrograd Soviet and the conference of the Soviets of the Northern District, that the Second Soviet Congress must dismiss the Kerensky Government and become the real master of Russia.
Practically the rising was already proceeding, and was developing in the face of the whole country. … It was a period of incessant meetings at factories, in the Modern and Ciniselli Circuses, in the clubs and barracks. The atmosphere at all these meetings was decidedly electric. Every mention of an insurrection was met with a storm of applause and cries of approval.”
The bourgeoisie cried out about the danger. Kerensky’s government and its supporters, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks in the Soviets, felt the ground shift beneath their feet. The power was escaping them. When the Main Headquarters of the army called for a two-thirds of the Petrograd garrison to be sent to the front under the pretext of protecting the capital from a German advance, the Petrograd Soviet stood in opposition. It did not trust the general staff, especially since Kornilov’s attempted coup at the end of August had been preceded by several revolutionary regiments being moved away from the capital.
“The Executive Committee of the Soviet refused to give its signature to the demand for the removal of two-thirds of the Petrograd garrison without examination. We declared that we must have proof of the reality of the military need which dictated the demand, and for that purpose some organization to examine the question must be created. Thus arose the idea of establishing, side by side with the Soldiers’ Section of the Soviets, that is, with the political representation of the garrison, a purely operative organ in the form of the Military Revolutionary Committee which ultimately acquired enormous power and became practically the instrument of the October Revolution. …
The first business of the Military Revolutionary Committee was to appoint Commissioners to all sections of the Petrograd garrison and to all the most important institutions of the capital and suburbs.
We received intelligence from various quarters that the Government, or, rather, the Government parties, were busily organizing and arming their forces. From different stores, Government and private, they were removing rifles, revolvers, machine guns and cartridges for the purpose of arming the cadets, students, and, generally, the young bourgeoisie.
It was essential to take some preventive measures at once. Commissioners were appointed to all stores and depots of arms, and they became masters of the situation practically without opposition. True, the commandants and proprietors of the stores tried to refuse them recognition, but it was sufficient for the Commissioners to appeal to the soldiers’ committee or to the employees of the particular store in order to break down the opposition almost immediately. Henceforth arms were only issued under direct orders from our Commissioners. … Regiment after regiment would declare, at the end of meetings addressed by speakers from various parties, that they would only recognize the Commissioners appointed by the Petrograd Soviet, and would do nothing without their sanction.”