ANOTHER winter is bearing down upon hungry, heartsick Russia. The last October leaves are falling from the trees, and the last bit of confidence in the government is falling with them.
Everywhere recklessness ---and orgies of speculation. Food trains are looted. Floods of paper money pour from the presses. In the newspapers endless columns of hold-ups, murders and suicides. Night life and gambling-halls run full blast with enormous stakes won and lost.
Reaction is open and arrogant. Kornilov, instead of being tried for high treason, is lauded as the Great Patriot by the bourgeoisie. But with them patriotism is tawdry talk and a sham. They pray for the Germans to come and cut off Petrograd, the Head of the Revolution.
Rodzianko, ex-President of the Duma, brazenly writes: "Let the Germans take the city. Tho they destroy the fleet they will throttle the Soviets." The big insurance companies announce one-third off in rates after the German occupation. "Winter always was Russia's best friend," say the bourgeoisie. "It may rid us of this cursed Revolution."
Winter, sweeping down out of the North, hailed by the privileged, brings terror to the suffering masses. As the mercury drops toward zero, the prices of food and fuel go soaring up. The bread ration grows shorter. The queues of shivering women standing all night in the icy streets grow longer. Lockouts and strikes add to the millions of workless. The rancor in the hearts of the masses flares out in bitter speeches like this from a Viborg workingman:
"Patience, patience, they are always counselling us. But what have they done to make us patient? Has Kerensky given us more to eat than the Czar? More words and promises---yes! But not more food. All night long we wait in the lines for shoes and bread and meat, while, like fools, we write 'Liberty' on our banners. The only liberty we have is the same old liberty to slave and starve."
It is a sorry showing after eight months of pleading and parading thru the streets. All they have got are lame feet, aching arms, and the privilege of starving and freezing in the presence of mocking red banners: "Land to the Peasants!" "Factories to the Workers!" "Peace to all the World!"
But no longer do they carry their red banners thru the streets. They are done with appealing and beseeching. In a mood born of despair and disillusion they are acting now----reckless, violent, iconoclastic, but---acting.
In the cities revolting employees are driving mill-owners out of their offices. Managers try to stop it, and are thrown into wheel-barrows and ridden out of the plant. Machinery is put out of gear, materials spoiled, industry brought to a standstill.
In the army soldiers are throwing down their guns and deserting the front in hundreds of thousands. Emissaries try to stop them with frantic appeals. They may as well appeal to a landslide. "If no decisive steps for peace are taken by November first," the soldiers say, "all the trenches will be emptied. The entire army will rush to the rear." In the fleet is open insubordination.
In the country, peasants are overrunning the estates. I ask Baron Nolde, "What is it that the peasants want on your estate?"
"My estate," he answers.
"How are they going to get it?"
"They've got it."
In some places these seizures are accompanied by wanton spoliation. The skies around Tambov are reddened with flames from the burning hay-ricks and manor-houses. Landlords flee for their lives. The infuriated peasants laugh at the orators trying to quiet them. Troops sent down to suppress the outbursts go over to the side of the peasants.
Russia is plunging headlong towards the abyss
Over this spectacle of misery and ruin presides a handful of talkers called the Provisional Government. It is almost a corpse, treated to hypodermic injections of threats and promises from the Allies. Before tasks calling for the strength of a giant it is weak as a baby. To all demands of the people it has just one reply, "Wait." First, it was "Wait till the end of the war." Now, "Wait till the Constituent Assembly."
But the people will wait no longer. Their last shred of faith in the government is gone. They have faith in themselves; faith that they alone can save Russia from going over the precipice to ruin and night; faith alone in the institutions of their own making. They look now to the new authority created out of their own midst. They look to the Soviets.
Summer and fall have seen the steady growth of the Soviets. They have drawn to themselves the vital forces in each community. They have been schools for the training of the people, giving them confidence. The net-work of local Soviets has been wrought into a wide firmly built organization, a new structure which has risen within the shell of the old. As the old apparatus was going to pieces, the new one was taking over its functions. The Soviets in many ways were already acting as a government. It was necessary only to proclaim them the government. Then the Soviets would be in name what they were already in reality.
From the depths now lifted up a mighty cry: "All power to the Soviets." The demand of the capital in July became the demand of the country. Like wildfire it swept thru the land. Sailors on the Baltic Fleet flung it out to their comrades on the Black and White and Yellow seas, and from them it came echoing back. Farm and factory, barracks and battlefront joined in the cry, swelling louder, more insistent every hour.
Petrograd came thundering into the chorus on Sunday, November 4th, in sixty enormous mass meetings. Trotzky having read the Reply of the Baltic Fleet to my Greetings asked me to speak at the People's House.
Here great waves of human beings dashed against the doors, swirled inside and sluiced along the corridors. They poured into the halls, filling them full, splashing hundreds up on the girders where they hung like garlands of foam. Out of the eddying throngs, a mighty voice rose and fell and broke like surf, thundering on the shore---hundreds of thousands of throats roaring "Down with the Provisional Government." "All Power to the Soviets." Hundreds of thousands of hands were raised in a pledge to fight and die for the Soviets.
The patience of the poor at an end; the pawns and cannon-fodder in revolt! The dark masses, long inert, but roused at last, refusing longer to be brow-beaten or hypnotized by the word-juggling of statesmen, scorning their threats, laughing at their promises, take the initiative into their own hands, demanding of their "leaders" to move forward into revolution or resign. For the first time the slaves and the exploited, consciously choosing the time of their deliverance, vote for insurrection, investing themselves with the government of one-sixth of the world. A big venture for men unschooled in. state affairs. Are they equal to these tasks? Can they control the currents now being loosed in the city? At any rate these masses show complete control of themselves. From these blood-stirring revolutionary. meetings they pour forth in orderly fashion.
The poor frightened bourgeoisie are reassured. They see no houses looted, no shops wrecked, no white-collared gentry shot down in the streets. To their minds, therefore, all is well; there will be no insurrection. The true import of this restraint quite escapes them. The people indulge in no sporadic outbursts because they have better use for their energies. They have a Revolution to make, not a riot. And a Revolution requires order, plan, labor---much hard intensive labor.
These insurgent masses go home to organize Committees, draw up lists, form Red Cross units, collect rifles. Hands lifted in a vote for Revolution now are holding guns.
They get ready for the forces of the Counter-Revolution now mobilizing against them. In Smolny sits the Military Revolutionary Committee from which these masses take orders. There is another committee, the Committee of a Hundred Thousand; that is, the masses themselves. There are no bystreets, no barracks, no buildings where this committee does not penetrate. It reaches into the councils of the Black Hundred, the Kerensky Government, the intelligentsia. With porters, waiters, cabmen, conductors, soldiers and sailors, it covers the city like a net. They see everything, hear everything, report everything to headquarters. Thus, forewarned, they can checkmate every move of the enemy. Every attempt to strangle or sidetrack the Revolution they paralyze at once.
Attempt is made to break the faith of the masses in their leaders by furious assault upon them. Kerensky cries from the tribunal "Lenin, the state criminal, inciting to pillage . . . and the most terrible massacres which will cover with eternal shame the name of free Russia." Immediately the masses reply by bringing Lenin out of hiding with a tremendous ovation and turning Smolny into an arsenal to guard him.
Attempt is made to drown the Revolution in blood and disorder. The Dark Forces keep calling the people to rise up and slaughter Jews and Socialist leaders. Forthwith the workmen placard the city with posters saying "Citizens! We call upon you to maintain complete quiet and self-possession. The cause of order is in strong hands. At the first instance of robbery and shooting, the criminals will be wiped off the face of the earth."
Attempts are made to isolate the different sections of the revolutionists. Telephones are cut off between Soviets and barracks; immediately communications are established by setting up telephonograph apparatus. The Yunkers turn the bridges, cutting off the working-class districts; the Kronstadt sailors close them again. The offices (if the Communist papers are locked and sealed, cutting off the flow of news; the Red Guards break the seals and set the presses running again.
Attempt is made to suppress the Revolution by force of arms. Kerensky begins calling "dependable" troops into the city; that is, troops that may be depended upon to shoot down the rising workers. Among these are the Zenith Battery and the Cyclists' Battalion. Along the highroads, on which these units are advancing into the city the Revolution posts its forces. They attack the enemy, not with guns but with ideas. They subject these troops to a withering fire of arguments and pleas. Result: these troops that are being rushed to the city to crush the Revolution enter instead to aid and abet it.
THE RED PEASANT, SOLDIER AND WORKINGMAN (on the left) TO THE COSSACK (center) : COSSACK, WITH WHOM ARE YOU? WITH US OR WITH THEM?---(THE LANDLORDS, GENERALS AND CAPITALISTS).
To these zealots of the Communist faith, all soldiers succumb, even the Cossacks. "Brother Cossacks!" reads the appeal to them, "You are being incited against us by grafters, parasites, landlords and by our own Cossack generals who wish to crush our Revolution. Comrade Cossacks! Do not fall in with this plan of Cain." And the Cossacks likewise line up under the banner of the Revolution.
WHILE Petrograd is in a tumult of clashing patrols and contending voices, men from all over Russia come pouring into the city. They are delegates to the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets convening at Smolny. All eyes are turned towards Smolny.
Formerly a school for the daughters of the nobility, Smolny is now the center of the Soviets. It stands on the Neva, a huge stately structure, cold and grey by day. But by night, glowing with a hundred lamp-lit windows, it looms up like a great temple---a temple of Revolution. The two watch fires before its porticos, tended by long-coated soldiers, flame like altar-fires. Here are centered the hopes and prayers of untold millions of the poor and disinherited. Here they look for release from age-long suffering and tyranny. Here are wrought out for them issues of life and death.
That night I saw a laborer, gaunt, shabbily-clad, plodding down a dark street. Lifting his head suddenly he saw the massive façade of Smolny, glowing golden thru the falling snow. Pulling off his cap, he stood a moment with bared head and outstretched arms. Then crying out, "The Commune! The People! The Revolution!" he ran forward and merged with the throng streaming thru the gates.
Out of war, exile, dungeons, Siberia, come these delegates to Smolny. For years no news of old comrades. Suddenly, cries of recognition, a rush into one another's arms, a few words, a moment's embrace, then a hastening on to conferences, caucuses, endless meetings.
Smolny is now one big forum, roaring like a gigantic smithy with orators calling to arms, audiences whistling or stamping, the gavel pounding for order, the sentries grounding arms, machine-guns rumbling across the cement floors, crashing choruses of revolutionary hymns, thundering ovations for Lenin and Zinoviev as they emerge from underground.
Everything at high speed, tense and growing tenser every minute. The leading workers are dynamos of energy; sleepless, tireless, nerveless miracles of men, facing momentous questions of Revolution.
At ten-forty on this night of November 7th, opens the historic meeting so big with consequences for the future of Russia and the whole world. From their party caucuses the delegates file into the great assembly-hall. Dan, the anti-Bolshevik chairman, is on the platform ringing the bell for order and declares, "The first session of the Second Congress of Soviets is now open."
First comes the election of the governing body of the congress (the presidium). The Bolsheviks get 314 members. All other parties get 11, The old governing body steps down and the Bolshevik leaders, recently the outcasts and outlaws of Russia, take their places. The Right parties, composed largely of intelligentsia, open with an attack on credentials and orders of the day. Discussion is their forte. They delight in academic issues. They raise fine points of principle and procedure.
Then, suddenly out of the night, a rumbling shock brings the delegates to their feet, wondering. It is the boom of cannon, the cruiser Aurora firing over the Winter Palace. Dull and muffled out of the distance it comes with steady, regular rhythm, a requiem tolling the death of the old order, a salutation to the new. It is the voice of the masses thundering to the delegates the demand for "All Power to the Soviets." So the question is acutely put to the Congress: "Will you now declare the Soviets the government of Russia, and give legal basis to the new authority?"
Now comes one of the startling paradoxes of history, and one of its colossal tragedies---the refusal of the intelligentsia. Among the delegates were scores of these intellectuals. They had made the "dark people" the object of their devotion. "Going to the people" was a religion. For them they had suffered poverty, prison and exile. They had stirred the quiescent masses with revolutionary ideas, inciting them to revolt. The character and nobility of the masses had been ceaselessly extolled. In short, the intelligentsia had made a god of the people. Now the people were rising with the wrath and thunder of a god, imperious ---and arbitrary. They were acting like a god.
But the intelligentsia reject a god who will not listen to them and over whom they have lost control. Straightway the intelligentsia became atheists. They disavow all faith in their former god, the people. They deny their right to rebellion.
Like Frankenstein before this monster of their own creation, the intelligentsia quail, trembling with fear, trembling with rage. It is a bastard thing, a devil, a terrible calamity, plunging Russia into chaos, "a criminal rebellion against authority." They hurl themselves against it, storming, cursing, beseeching, raving. As delegates they refuse to recognize this Revolution. They refuse to allow this Congress to declare the Soviets the government of Russia.
So futile! So impotent! They may as well refuse to recognize a tidal wave, or an erupting volcano as to refuse to recognize this Revolution. This Revolution is elemental, inexorable. It is everywhere, in the barracks, in the trenches, in the factories, in the streets. It is here in this congress, officially, in hundreds of workmen, soldier and peasant delegates. It is here unofficially in the masses crowding every inch of space, climbing up on pillars and windowsills, making the assembly hall white with fog from their close-packed steaming bodies, electric with the intensity of their feelings.
The people are here to see that their revolutionary will is done; that the congress declares the Soviets the government of Russia. On this point they are inflexible. Every attempt to becloud the issue, every effort to paralyze or evade their will evokes blasts of angry protest.
The parties of the Right have long resolutions to offer. The crowd is impatient. "No more resolutions! No more words! We want deeds! We want the Soviet!"
The intelligentsia, as usual, wish to compromise the issue by a coalition of all parties. "Only one coalition possible," is the retort. "The coalition of workers, soldiers and peasants."
Martov calls out for "a peaceful solution of the impending civil war." "Victory! Victory! ---the only possible solution," is the answering cry.
The officer Kutchin tries to terrify them with the idea that the Soviets are isolated, and that the whole army is against them. "Liar! Staff!" yell the soldiers. "You speak for the staff---not the men in the trenches. We soldiers demand 'All Power to the Soviets!' "
Their will is steel. No entreaties or threats avail to break or bend it. Nothing can deflect them from their goal.
Finally stung to fury, Abramovich cries out, "We cannot remain here and be responsible for these crimes. We invite all delegates to leave this congress." With a dramatic gesture he steps from the platform and stalks towards the door. About eighty delegates rise from their seats and push their way after him.
"Let them go," cries Trotzky, "let them go! They are just so much refuse that will be swept into the garbage-heap of history."
In a storm of hoots, jeers and taunts of "Renegades! Traitors!" from the proletarians, the intelligentsia pass out of the hall and out of the Revolution. A supreme tragedy! The intelligentsia rejecting the Revolution they had helped to create, deserting the masses in the crisis of their struggle. Supreme folly, too. They do not isolate the Soviets, they only isolate themselves. Behind the Soviets are rolling up solid battalions of support.
Every minute brings news of fresh conquests of the Revolution---the arrest of ministers, the seizure of the State Bank, telegraph station, telephone station, the staff headquarters. One by one the centers of power are passing into the hands of the people. The spectral authority of the old government is crumbling before the hammer strokes of the insurgents.
A commissar, breathless and mud-spattered from riding, climbs the platform to announce: "The garrison of Tsarskoye Selo for the Soviets. It stands guard at the gates of Petrograd." From another: "The Cyclists' Battalion for the Soviets. Not a single man found willing to shed the blood of his brothers." Then Krylenko, staggering up, telegram in hand: "Greetings to the Soviet from the Twelfth Army! The Soldiers' Committee is taking over the command of the Northern Front."
And finally at the end of this tumultuous night, out of this strife of tongues and clash of wills, the simple declaration: "The Provisional Government is deposed. Based upon the will of the great majority of workers, soldiers and peasants, the Congress of Soviets assumes the power. The Soviet authority will at once propose an immediate democratic peace to all nations, an immediate truce on all fronts. It will assure the free transfer of lands . . . etc."
Pandemonium! Men weeping in one another's arms. Couriers jumping up and racing away. Telegraph and telephone buzzing and humming. Autos starting off to the battle-front; aeroplanes speeding away across rivers and plains. Wireless flashing across the seas. All messengers of the great news!
The will of the revolutionary masses has triumphed. The Soviets are the government.
This historic session ends at six o'clock in the morning. The delegates, reeling from the toxin of fatigue, hollow-eyed from sleeplessness, but exultant, stumble down the stone stairs and thru the gates of Smolny. Outside it is still dark and chill, but a red dawn is breaking in the east.
One of the crack Bolshevik regiments marching to Smolny under banners emblazoned with All Power to the Soviets, Long Live the Revolution.
On the night of November 7 we saw the Winter Palace (left) stormed by the Red Guards. Here they are massed before the base of the Alexander column (right).
THE Russian poet, Tyutchev, writes:
"Blessed is he who visited this world
In moments of its fateful deeds:
The highest Gods invited him to come,
A guest, with them to sit at feast
And be a witness of their mighty spectacle."
Twice blessed were five Americans: Louise Bryant, John Reed, Bessie Beatty, Gumberg and myself. We were spectators of the great drama enacted in the halls of Smolny: we also saw the other big event of the night of November 7th---the taking of the Winter Palace.
We had been sitting in Smolny, gripped by the pleas of the speakers, when out of the night that other voice crashed into the lighted hall---the cannon of the cruiser Aurora, firing at the Winter Palace. Steady, insistent, came the ominous beat of the cannon, breaking the spell of the speakers upon us. We could not resist its call and hurried away.
Outside, a big motor-truck with engines throbbing was starting for the city. We climbed aboard and tore thru the night, a plunging comet, flying a tail of white posters in our wake. From alleys and doorways dim figures darted out to snatch them up and read:
This announcement is a trifle previous. The ministers of the Provisional Government, minus Kerensky, still sit at council in the Winter Palace. That is why the guns of the Aurora are in action. They are thundering into the ears of the ministers the summons to surrender. True, only blank shells are firing now, but they set the air shivering, shaking the building and the nerves of the ministers within.
As we come into the Palace Square the booming of the guns dies away. The rifles no longer crackle thru the dark. The Red Guards are crawling out to carry off their dead and dying. Out of the night a voice cries, "The Yunkers surrender." But mindful of their losses, the besieging sailors and soldiers cling to cover.
New throngs gather on the Nevsky. Forming a column, they pour thru the Red Arch and creep forward, silent. Near the barricade they emerge into the light blazing from within the Palace. They scale the rampart of logs, and storm thru the iron gateway into the open doors of the east wing---the mob swarming in behind them.
From cold and darkness, these proletarians come suddenly into warmth and light. From huts and barracks they pass into glittering salons and gilded chambers. This is indeed Revolution---the builders entering into the Palace they built.
And such a building! Ornate with statues of gold and bronze, and carpeted with Oriental rugs, its rooms hung with tapestries and paintings, and flooded with a million lights from the twinkling crystal chandeliers, its cellars crammed with rare wines and liquors of ancient vintage. Riches beyond their dreams are within their grasp. Why not grasp them?
A terrible lust lays hold of the mob---the lust that ravishing beauty incites in the long starved and long denied---the lust of loot. Even we, as spectators, are not immune to it. It burns up the last vestige of restraint and leaves one passion flaming in the veins---the passion to sack and pillage. Their eyes fall upon this treasure-trove, and their hands follow.
Along the walls of the vaulted chamber we enter there runs a row of huge packing-cases. With the butts of their rifles, the soldiers batter open the boxes, spilling out streams of curtains, linen, clocks, vases and plates.
Scorning such petty booty, the throngs swirl past to richer hunting-grounds. The vanguard presses forward thru gorgeous chambers opening into ever more gorgeous ones, lined with cabinets and wardrobes. They fall upon them with shouts of expectant joy. Then cries of anger and chagrin. They find mirrors shattered, panels kicked in, drawers rifled---everywhere the trail of vandals who have gone before. The Yunkers have taken the cream of the plunder.
So much is gone! So much intenser, then, the struggle for what remains. Who shall gainsay them the right to this Palace and its contents? All of it came out of their sweat and the sweat of their fathers. It is theirs by right of creation. It is theirs, too, by right of conquest. By the smoking guns in their hands and the courage in their hearts they have taken it. But how long can they keep it? For a century it was the Czar's. Yesterday it was Kerensky's. Today it is theirs. Tomorrow it shall be---whose? No one can tell. This day the Revolution gives. Next day the Counter-Revolution may snatch away. Now while the prize is theirs shall they not make the most of it? Here where courtiers wantoned for a century shall they not revel for a night? Their outraged past, the feverish present, the uncertain future---everything urges them to grasp what they can now.
Pandemonium breaks loose in the Palace. It rolls and echoes with myriad sounds. Tearing of cloth and wood, clatter of glass from splintered windows, clumping of heavy boots upon the parquet floor, the crashing of a thousand voices against the ceiling. Voices jubilant, then jangling over division of the spoils. Voices hoarse, high-pitched, muttering, cursing.
Then another voice breaks into this babel---the clear, compelling voice of the Revolution. It speaks thru the tongues of its ardent votaries, the Petrograd workingmen. There is just a handful of them, weazened and undersized, but into the ranks of these big peasant soldiers they plunge, crying out---"Take nothing. The Revolution forbids it. No looting. This is the property of the people."
Children piping against a cyclone, dwarfs attacking an army of giants. So seem these protesters, trying to stem with words the onslaught of soldiers flushed with conquest, pillage-bent. The mob goes on pillaging. Why should it heed the protest of a handful of workmen?
But these workmen will be heeded. Back of their words they feel the will of the Revolution. It makes them fearless and aggressive. They turn upon the big soldiers with fury, hurl epithets into their faces, wrest the booty out of their hands. In a short time they have them on the defensive.
A big peasant making off with a heavy woolen blanket is waylaid by a little workingman. He grabs hold of the blanket, tugs away at one end of it, scolding the big fellow like a child.
"Let go the blanket," growls the peasant, his face convulsed with rage. "It's mine."
"No, no," the workingman cries, "it's not yours. It belongs to all the people. Nothing goes out of the Palace tonight."
"Well, this blanket goes out tonight. It's cold in the barracks!"
"I'm sorry you're cold, tovarish. Better for you to suffer cold than the Revolution to suffer disgrace by your looting."
"Devil take you," exclaims the peasant. "What did we make the Revolution for, anyhow? Wasn't it to give clothes and food to the people?"
"Yes, tovarish, the Revolution will give everything you need in due time, but not tonight. If anything goes out of here we will be called hooligans and robbers---not true Socialists. Our enemies will say that we came here not for revolution, but for loot. So we must take nothing. For this is the property of the people. Let us guard it for the honor of the Revolution."
"Socialism! The Revolution! Property of the People!" With this formula the peasant saw his blanket taken away from him. Always these abstract ideas adorned with capital letters taking things away from him. Once it was done with "Czardom, The Glory of God." Now it was being done with "Socialism, Revolution, Property of the People."
Still there was something in this last concept that the peasant could grasp. It was in line with his communal training. As it took hold of his brain his hold on the blanket relaxed, and with a last tragic look at his precious treasure he shambled away. Later I saw him expounding to another soldier. He was talking about the "Property of the People."
Relentlessly the workingmen press home their advantage, using every tactic, pleading, explaining, threatening. In an alcove is a Bolshevik workingman, furiously shaking one hand at three soldiers, the other hand on his revolver.
"I hold you responsible, if you touch that desk," he cries.
"Hold us responsible!" jeer the soldiers. "Who are you? You broke into the Palace just as we did. We are responsible to no one but ourselves."
"You are responsible to the Revolution," retorts the workingman sternly. So deadly earnest is he that these men feel in him the authority of the Revolution. They hear and obey.
The Revolution loosed the daring and ardor in these masses. It used them to storm the Palace. Now it leashes them in. Out of bedlam it brings forth a controlling power---quieting, imposing order, posting sentries.
"All out! Clear the Palace!" sounds thru the corridors, and the throng begins to flow toward the doors. At each exit stands a self-appointed Committee of Search and Inspection. They lay hold of each man as he comes along, exploring his pockets, shirt and even his boots, gathering in a varied line of souvenirs; statuettes, candles, clothes-hangers, damask, vases. The owners plead like children for their trophies, but the committee is adamant repeating constantly, "Nothing goes out of the Palace tonight."
And nothing does go out that night on the persons of the Red Guards, tho prowlers and vandals later on make off with many valuables.
The commissars now turn to the Provisional Government and their defenders. They are rounded up and escorted to the exit. First, come the ministers, seized in session around the green baize table in the Hall of State. They file down in silence. From the crowd inside not a word or a jeer. But from the mob outside rises a blast of denunciation when a sailor calls for an automobile. "Make them walk, they have ridden long enough," the mob yells, making a lunge at the frightened ministers. The Red Sailors, with fixed bayonets, close around their captives and lead them out across the bridges of the Neva. Towering above all the convoy is Tereschenko, the Ukrainian capitalist, bound now from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Prison of Peter-Paul, reversing the journey of the Bolshevik, Trotzky, from the Prison of Peter-Paul to the office of Foreign Affairs.
The Yunkers were led out to cries of "Provocators! Traitors! Murderers!"---a sorry crestfallen lot. That morning each Yunker had vowed to us that he would fight until just one bullet was left. This last one, he would put thru his own brain rather than surrender to the Bolsheviks. Now he was giving up his arms to these Bolsheviks, solemnly promising never to take weapons against them again (Unhappy fellows! They were to break their promise.)
Last of the captives to leave the Palace were the members of the Women's Battalion. Most of them were of proletarian birth. "Shame! Shame!" cried the Red Guards, "Working-women fighting against workingmen." To drive home the indignation they felt, some grabbed the girls by the arms, shaking and scolding them.
This was about the sum total of the casualties among the soldier girls, tho later one of them committed suicide. Next day the hostile press spread tales of gruesome atrocities against the Women's Battalion, alongside of stories of sack and pillage of the Palace by the Red Guards.
Yet nothing is more alien to the essential nature of the working-class than destructiveness. Were it not so, history might have a different story to tell of the morning of November eighth. It might have to record that the magnificent edifice of the Czars was left a heap of crumbling stones and smoking embers by the vengeance of a long-suffering people.
For a century it had stood there upon the Neva, a cold and heartless thing. The people had looked to it for light, and it had brought forth darkness. They had cried to it for. compassion, and it had answered with the lash, the knout, the burning of villages, exile in Siberia. One winter morning in 1905 thousands of them had come here, defenseless, petitioning the Little Father for redress of wrongs. The Palace had answered with rifle and cannon, reddening the snow with their blood. To the masses the building was a monument of cruelty and oppression. Had they razed it to the ground, it would have been but one more instance of the wrath of an outraged people, removing from their eyes forever the hated symbol of their suffering.
Instead they proceeded to remove the historic landmark from all likelihood of damage.
Kerensky had done the opposite. He had recklessly put the Winter Palace in the arena of conflict by making it the center of his cabinet and his own sleeping quarters. But the representatives of these storming masses who had captured the Palace, declared that it was not theirs nor the Soviets', but the heritage of all. By Soviet decree it was made the Museum of the People. The custody of it was formally placed in the hands of a committee of artists.
So events gave the lie to another dire prophecy. Kerensky, Dan and other of the intelligentsia had shrieked against the Revolution, predicting a hideous orgy of crime and plunder, the loosing of the basest passions of the mob. Once the hungry and embittered masses got in motion, they said, like a maddened herd they would go trampling down, wrecking, and destroying everything. "Even Gorky was prophesying the end of the world" (Trotzky).
And now the Revolution has come. There are, indeed, isolated acts of vandalism; rich-clad bourgeois still return home minus their great fur coats; mobs work havoc before the Revolution can rein them in.
But there is one outstanding fact. The first fruits of the Revolution are law and order. Never was Petrograd safer than after passing into the hands of the masses. Unprecedented quiet reigns in the streets. Hold-ups and robberies drop almost to zero. Robbers and thugs quail before the iron hand of the proletariat.
It is not merely negative restraint---order rising out of fear. The Revolution begets a singular respect for the rights of property. In the shattered windows of the shops, within hands' reach of passing men in desperate need, are foodstuffs and clothing. They remain untouched. There is something pathetic in the sight of hungry men having food within their grasp and not grasping it, something awesome in the constraint engendered by the Revolution. It exerts its subtle influence everywhere. Into the far off villages it reaches. No longer are the peasants burning the great estates. Yet it is the upper classes who assert that in them lies true respect of the sanctity of property. A curious claim at the end of the World War for which the governing classes are responsible. By their fiat, cities were given to the torch, the face of the land covered with ashes, the bottom of the sea strewn with ships, the structure of civilization shot to pieces, and even now still more terrible instruments of destruction are being prepared.
What basis is there for true respect of property in the bourgeoisie? Actually they produce little or nothing. To the privileged, property is something that comes by cleverness, by chance inheritance, by stroke of fortune. With them it is largely a matter of titles, deeds and papers.
But to the working classes, property is a thing of tears and blood. It is an exhausting act of creation. They know its cost in aching muscles and breaking backs.
"With shoulders back and breast astrain,
And bathed in sweat that falls like rain,
Thru midday heat with gasping song,
He drags the heavy barge along."
...goes the song of the Volga boatmen.
What men have brought forth in pain and labor they cannot wantonly annihilate, any more than a mother can destroy her child. They, out of whose thews and muscles the thing has issued, will best guard and cherish it. Knowing its cost, they feel its sacredness. Even before works of art the rude, untaught masses stand with reverence. Only vaguely do they glimpse their meaning. But they see in them the incarnation of effort. And all labor is holy.
The Social Revolution is in truth the apotheosis of the rights of property. It invests it with a new sanctity. By transferring property into the hands of the producers it gives the keeping of wealth into the hands of its natural and zealous guardians,---the makers of it. The creators are the best conservators.
THE Soviets declared themselves the government on November 7. But it was one thing to take power; another thing to keep it. It was one thing to write out decrees; another to back them with bayonets.
The Soviets soon found a big fight on their hands. They found, too, a crippled military-apparatus to fight with. It was all out of gear, sabotaged by officers. The Revolutionary General Staff could not straighten out the tangle from above. It appealed directly to the workers.
They uncovered stores of benzine and motors, whipping the transport into shape. They assembled guns, gun-carriages, and horses, to form artillery units. They requisitioned provisions, forage, and Red Cross supplies, rushing them to the front. They seized 10,000 rifles being shipped to Kaledin and distributed them among the factories.
The stamp of hammers in the factories gives way to the tramp of marching feet. The foreman's orders give way to the commands of sailors drilling awkward squads. Thru the streets hurry the motor cars spreading this call to arms:
In answer, everywhere appear workmen with cartridge belts outside of overcoats, blankets strapped on their backs, spades, tea-kettles and revolvers tied on with strings. Long, irregular lines of slanting bayonets winding thru the dark.
Red Petrograd rises in arms to repel the Counter-Revolutionary forces marching up out of the south. Over the roofs, now hoarse, now shrill, comes the sound of factory-whistles blowing the tocsin to war.
On all roads leading out of the city pours a torrent of men, women and boys, carrying kit-bags, picks, rifles and bombs. A drab and motley throng. No banners, no drums to cheer them on. Plunging trucks splash them with mud, freezing slush oozes thru their shoes, winds from the Baltic chill to the bone. But they push on to the front, unresting, as the grey day turns to sullen night. Behind them the city flings its lights into the sky, and still they press forward into the dark. Fields and forests are swarming now with dim shapes, pitching tents, building camp-fires, cutting trenches, stretching wire. One brief day, and tens of thousands have moved out twenty miles from Petrograd, and stand, a bulwark of living flesh against the forces of the Counter-Revolution.
To military experts it is a rag-tag army, a rabble. But in this "rabble" there is a drive and power not reckoned with in the books of strategy. These dark masses are exalted with visions of a new world. Their veins burn with a crusading fire. They fight with reckless abandon, often with skill. They plunge forward into the black copse against hidden foes. They stand up to the charging Cossacks and tear them from their horses. They lie flat before the machine gun fire. Bursting shells send them fleeing but they rally again. They carry back the stricken, binding their wounds. Into the ears of their dying comrades they whisper, "The Revolution! The People!" They die, gasping out "Long live the Soviet! Peace is coming!"
Disorder, confusion, panic, of course, in these raw levies of the shops and slums. But the ardor of these hungry, work-scarred men and women, fighting for their faith, is more effective than the organized battalions of their foes. It destroys these battalions. It shatters their morale. Hardened Cossacks come, see and are conquered by it. "Loyal" divisions, ordered to the front, flatly refuse to shoot down these workmen-soldiers. The whole opposition crumples up or melts away. Kerensky flees from the front in disguise. The commander of the grand armies that were to crush the Bolsheviks cannot find a corporal's guard to fly with him. The proletarians are victors all along the line.
While the Soviet masses are battling on the plains outside Petrograd, the Counter-Revolution rises suddenly, in the rear. It sets out to paralyze the Soviet power at its base in the city.
The Yunkers, who were paroled after their capture at the Winter Palace, break their parole to join this White Guard uprising. They are detailed to seize the telephone station.
The telephone station is one of the vital centers of the city; from it run a million wires, which like a million nerves, help make the city a unit. In Petrograd the telephone station is housed in a massive stone citadel on the Morskaya. Here some Soviet sentries are posted. Thru the tedium of the day they have one thing to look forward to---the change of sentries at night.
Night comes and with it twenty men marching down the street. The sentries think it is the relief-squad bringing them liberty. But it is not. It is a squad of officers and Yunkers disguised as Reds. Their guns are slung slant-wise in orthodox Red Guard fashion. They give the Red Guard pass-word to the sentries. In good faith the sentries stack guns and turn to go. In a flash twenty revolvers are pointed at their heads.
"Tovarishe!" (Comrades!) exclaim the astounded Reds.
"You damned swine!" shout the officers. "Get into that hall there, and keep your mouths shut or we will blow your heads open."
The doors slam behind the bewildered sentries, who find, not release and freedom, but imprisonment at the hands of the Whites. The telephone station is in the hands of the Counter-Revolution.
In the morning the new masters finished fortifying the place under the supervision of a French officer. Suddenly the officer turned on me with a stern, "What are you doing here?"
"Correspondent-American," I replied. "Dropped in to see what was up."
"Your passport," he demanded. I produced it. He was impressed and apologized. "Of course, this is none of my business. Like you, I just glanced in to see what was happening." But he went on directing the work.
On both sides of the archway the Yunkers ran out barricades of boxes, automobiles and piles of logs. They levied toll on passing autos, bringing in supplies and weapons, and corralled all passers-by who might possibly serve as soldiers of the Soviet.
A great prize came their way in the person of Antonov, the Soviet Commissar of War. Driving by in his auto, he was suddenly yanked from the seat; and before he could recover from the shock, he was behind barred doors. With the fate of the Revolution hanging in the balance, he found himself a prisoner of the Counter-Revolutionists. His anguish at being jailed was only exceeded by their joy at jailing him. They were jubilant. For among the unorganized masses of revolutionary Petrograd, leaders were as yet desperately few. They knew---according to all the laws of military science---that the masses, leaderless, could not move effectively against their citadel; and the master military brain of the Reds was now in their hands.
Some things these officers did not know. They did not know that the Revolution was not dependent upon any single brain, or set of brains, but upon the collective brains of the Russian masses. They did not know how deeply the Revolution had roused the brain, the initiative, and the resources of these masses, and wrought them into a living unit. They did not know that the Revolution was a living organism, self-sustaining, self-directing, rallying at the danger-call all its latent powers for self-preservation.
When an evil germ enters the blood of the human organism the whole body senses the danger, as if an alarm had been sent out. Along a hundred arteries the special corpuscles or phagocytes come hurrying to attack the poison-centre. Fastening on the intruder, they attempt to expel it. This is not the conscious act of the brain. It is the unconscious intelligence inherent in the human organism.
Now into the body of Red Petrograd, threatening its very life, enters the malignant poison of the Counter-Revolution. The reaction is immediate. Spontaneously along a hundred streets and arteries, the corpuscles (in this case red ones) come hurrying to the contagion centre---the telephone station.
Ping! Crash! A bullet splintering a log announces, the arrival of the first Red corpuscle carrying a gun. Ping! Ping! Crash! Crash! A gust of lead, biting stone-chips from the wall, heralds the advent of more attacking units.
Peering thru the barricades, the Counter-Revolutionists already see swarms of Red Guards at the ends of the street. The sight of them arouses an old Czarist officer to savagery. "Turn on the guns!" he shouts. "Kill the rabble!" Up and down, the streets they let loose a storm of rifle and machinegun fire. Like a canyon the street is filled with noise and ricochetting bullets, But there are no Red corpses. The revolutionary masses have no appetite for martyrdom. Provokingly they refuse to be killed.
It is different from former days. Then the mobs obligingly put themselves in the way of the guns.
In hundreds they were spattered over the Winter Palace Square, blown to pieces by the artillery, trampled under the hoofs of the Cossacks, massacred by machine guns. It was so easy! How easy now, too, to annihilate them, if they would but rush the barricades.
But the Revolution is careful of its material. It has made these masses cautious. It has taught them the first lesson in strategy: find out what your enemy wants you to do, and then don't do it. The barricades, the Reds see, are intended to destroy them; they intend to destroy the barricades.
They inspect them and decide the tactics of assault. They pick out every vantage-point. They hide behind stone pillars. They scale walls. They crawl along the copings. They lie flat upon the roofs. They ambuscade themselves in windows and chimney-pots. From every angle they train their guns upon the barricades. Then suddenly they open fire, raking the barricades with hails of lead. As precipitately as they began, they stop, and steal up into new positions. Another outburst and another silence. The officers begin to feel like trapped animals, around whom invisible hunters are drawing a circle of fire.
New units are constantly arriving, filling the gaps in the circle. The ring draws tighter and tighter and seals up the Counter-Revolution in the centre. Then, having isolated its plague-spot the Revolution prepares to eradicate it.
A gale of bullets forces the Whites to abandon the barricade and find refuge under the archway. Behind stone ramparts, now, they pause for counsel. The first plan is to make a sortie, break thru the Red cordon and escape. But this they see is suicide. A scout crawls out on the roof and is driven back, a ball thru his shoulder. They play for time, begging a peace parley, but the besiegers reply:
"Three days ago we captured you in the Winter Palace; we paroled you then. You broke your parole. You shot down our comrades. We do not trust you."
They sue for amnesty, offering to give up Antonov.
"Antonov! We'll take him ourselves," the Reds reply. "Harm him and we'll kill you---every one of you. "
Desperate situations induce desperate ventures.
"Oh, for a Red Cross car," sighed an officer. "The Reds might let that thru their lines."
"Well, if we haven't the car, we've got the crosses, said another officer, producing four big Red Cross labels. He pasted them on front, sides and back of an auto. At once it looked like a Red Cross car.
Two officers took the front seat. One at the wheel, the other with his hand on the auto pocket and a revolver in his hand. A haggard man, half crazed with fear, the father of one of the Yunkers, climbed into the rear.
"Jump in and come along," said the officers to me. The Whites always took it for granted that anyone in bourgeois dress was on the bourgeois side. Even many who knew of the revolutionary activity of men like John Reed, for example, and myself, assumed it was only a ruse to get the confidence of the Bolsheviks.
I climbed into the car and the hood was pushed thru the archway. At sight of the Red Cross the firing of the Red Guard ceased. Slowly and anxiously we drove up to the Red lines. The soldiers, sailors and workmen received us, guns in hand.
"Well, what do you want?" they glowered.
"Many of our men are badly wounded. No bandages, no medicines," the officer at the wheel explained. "We want to go to Red Cross quarters and get supplies. Our men are suffering terribly."
"Let 'em. suffer," growled one of the sailors with an oath. "Haven't they made our men suffer? And we had just paroled them---the damned liars."
To this, one of the other sailors cried, "No, tovarish." To us in the car they said, "All right. Pass thru. Hurry."
We swept on up the street, while behind us the fusillade against the telephone station began again.
"Not bad fellows after all, those Red Guards," I interjected.
"Fools! (Doorake). What you call in English 'damn fools', eh?" They laughed hysterically again.
We ran down the French Quay at terrific speed, making a wide detour in order to throw possible pursuers off our track. A sharp turn brought us up before the Engineers' Castle. The big gates opened to let us in and a minute later we were in a salon filled with officers---Russian, French and British. The staff heard the report on the crisis at the telephone station and ordered the immediate dispatch of an armored car and reinforcements. There were a few other details, some words with a Czarist general, and we turned to go.
"Wait a minute," interrupted the general, "let me give you something useful to take back with you." He sat down at a table and laid out some papers, in size and shape like credentials of the Soviet. Picking up a stamp he brought it down sharply on the first credential. There were the. magic words "War Revolutionary Committee" in form and letter just like the seal of the Soviet. If that was not a stolen Soviet stamp it was an exact replica. No one could detect the imitation. In Russia this sort of forgery is a fine art.
"Trotzky himself couldn't give you a better credential than that," the general remarked, handing it over. "In uncertain times like these, one always carries the proper kind of papers," he continued facetiously, imprinting the Soviet seal on two more credentials. "There you are! Ready for any emergency. Fill it out with bad writing and misspelled words and you have a first-class Bolshevik pass for any place you want to go. And by the way," he added, passing over some black iron globes about the size of baseballs, "a few of these will come in handy."
"Hand grenades?" I queried.
"No," the general answered. "They are pills. Capsules. Medicine for Reds. Give a Red Guard one of these in the right place and it's a sure cure for Bolshevism, Revolution, Socialism and everything else that ails him. What, eh?" he cried, tremendously pleased with his wit. "A Red Cross car full of pills!"
Again our car was headed back to the telephone station. But in the last half hour the streets had changed. Red sentries were posted on nearly every corner. They were largely peasants whom fate had torn from the country quiet and thrown down into this city, all agog with Revolutionists and Counter-Revolutionists and no mark to tell the two apart.
They were puzzled as we bore down on them waving our papers, pointing to the Red Cross sign on our car and yelling out, "Aid to the wounded tovarishe." While they were trying to collect their wits we went sweeping past. One after another was rushed off his feet, until we came to a big peasant standing guard in the center of the Millionaya. With rifle raised he barred the way and brought us up with a sudden halt.
"Idiot!" shouted the officers. "Don't you see that this is a Red Cross car? Don't waste time while the tovarishe are dying."
"Are you tovarishe too?" asked the peasant, eyeing the officers' uniforms suspiciously.
"Of course we are. Too long have the bourgeoisie drunk the people's blood! Down with the traitor Counter-Revolutionists," said the officers, mouthing shibboleths of the Revolution.
"And do I live to see the day when officers come over to the help of the dark people?" said the old peasant half to himself. It was too much. He couldn't quite believe it and asked for our papers.
With his finger tracing the lines he painfully spelled out each word. As the peasant read the officer's paper the officer, hand on pistol, read the peasant's face. That peasant never knew how close he stood to death. If he had said "No. You cannot pass," the officer would have blown out his brains. His permit to let us go was his own permit to live. He didn't know the seal on our paper was forged. He only saw it was like his own, so he said, "Yes!" and we were off again.
Once more we came to the Red cordon around the telephone station. It was a nervous moment for the officers. Under pretence of bringing life and succor to wounded Whites they were bringing death and wounds to the Reds. These Reds did not know that. Tho they had had a taste of the treachery of the Counter-Revolution, they did not suspect that it would flout all moral laws and violate its own codes. So when these officers begged quick passage for their car in the name of humanity, the Red Guards answered, "All right, Red Cross. Hurry thru."
The lines opened and a minute later our car with its load of hand-grenades slipped under the archway of the station, hailed by shouts of joy from the imprisoned Whites. They were glad for the hand-grenades and for the latest military information
But they were gladdest of all to learn of the armored car coming to their relief.
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