Lenin’s arrival: ‘Masses of Petrograd came to welcome their leader’

The masses of Petrograd – workers, soldiers and sailors – came to welcome their leader. Many of our close comrades were there, too, among them Chugurin, a student of the Longjumeau school, with a broad crimson sash across his shoulder and his face wet with tears. We were in the midst of a surging sea of people.

No one who has not lived through the revolution can have any idea of its solemn grandeur. Red banners, a guard of honour of Kronstadt sailors, searchlights from the Peter and Paul Fortress lighting up the way from the Finland Station to the Krzesinska Mansion, armoured cars, files of working men and women guarding the road.

Chkheidze and Skobelev met us at the station in the capacity of official representatives of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Comrades conducted Ilyich to the royal waiting room where Chkheidze and Skobelev met us. When Ilyich stepped out on to the platform, a captain came up to him, stood at attention and reported. Taken by surprise, Ilyich returned the salute. A guard of honour was lined up on the platform, and Ilyich was led past it with all the rest of the emigrant fraternity following. Then we were seated in motor-cars, while Ilyich was placed on an armoured car, and all of us were driven to the Krzesinska Mansion. “Long live the socialist world revolution!” Ilyich shouted into the vast crowd swarming around us.

Ilyich already felt the beginning of that revolution in every fibre of his being.

Arkadii Viktorovich Rusin - Lenins Arrival at the Finland-Station in 1917
‘Lenin’s Arrival at the Finland Station in 1917″ by Arkadi Viktrovich Rusin

We were taken to the Krzesinska Mansion, which then housed the Central Committee and Petrograd Committee of the Party. The comrades arranged a tea party upstairs and wanted to organize speeches of welcome, but Ilyich switched the talk over to a subject that interested him now most of all – the tactics that had to be pursued. Crowds of workers and soldiers stood outside the Krzesinska Mansion, and Ilyich was obliged to address them from the balcony. The impressions of this meeting, and the tremendous revolutionary enthusiasm threw everything else into the shade.

We then went home to Lenin’s sister, Anna Ilyinichna and her husband Mark Yelizarov. Maria Ilyinichna was living with them too. They lived in Shirokaya Street, on Petrograd Side. We were given a separate room. Little Gora, Anna Ilyinichna’s foster son, had hung a slogan over our beds in honour of our arrival, reading: “Workers of All Countries, Unite!” Ilyich and I hardly spoke a word that night – no words could express what we felt that day; things were clear enough without words.

We were living at a time when every moment was precious. Ilyich had scarcely got up when comrades called for him to go to a meeting of Bolshevik members of the All-Russian Conference of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. It was on an upper floor of the Taurida Palace. Lenin expounded his views as to what had to be done in a number of theses [Lenin’s April Theses]. In these theses he weighed the situation, and clearly set forth the aims that had to be striven for and the ways that had to be followed to attain them. The comrades were somewhat taken aback for the moment. Many of them thought that Ilyich was presenting the case in much too blunt a manner, and that it was too early yet to speak of a socialist revolution.

Downstairs a meeting of the Mensheviks was in progress. A comrade came from there insisting that Ilyich should make a similar report at a joint meeting of Menshevik and Bolshevik delegates. The Bolshevik meeting decided that Ilyich was to repeat his report at a general meeting of all the Social-Democrats. Ilyich did so. The meeting took place downstairs in the large hall of the palace. The first thing that struck me, I remember, was Goldenberg (Meshkovsky) sitting in the presiding committee. During the Revolution of 1905 he had been a staunch Bolshevik, one of our closest comrades in the struggle. Now he sided with Plekhanov and had become a defencist. Lenin spoke for about two hours. Goldenberg took the floor against him. He spoke very sharply, saying that Lenin had raised the banner of civil war in the midst of the revolutionary democrats. We could see now how far apart we had drifted. I also remember Kollontai’s speech, in which she warmly defended Lenin’s theses.

In his newspaper Yedinstvo, Plekhanov called Lenin’s theses “ravings.”

Three days later, on April 7, Lenin’s theses were printed in Pravda. This was followed the next day by an article in Pravda by Kamenev “Our Disagreements,” in which he dissociated himself from these theses. Kamenev’s article stated that they were the expression of Lenin’s private views, which neither Pravda nor the Bureau of the Central Committee shared. It was not these theses of Lenin’s that the Bolshevik delegates had accepted, but those of the Central Committee Bureau, Kamenev alleged. Pravda stood on its former positions, he declared.

A struggle started within the Bolshevik organization. It did not last long. A week later a general city conference of the Bolsheviks of Petrograd took place, at which Ilyich’s point of view was upheld. The conference lasted eight days (from April 14 to 22), during which time a number of important events took place which showed that Lenin had been right.

On April 7, the day Lenin’s theses were first published, the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet voted in favour of the “Liberty Loan.”

The bourgeois and defencist newspapers started a furious hounding campaign against Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Kamenev’s opinion meant nothing – everyone knew that Lenin’s point of view would win the backing of the Bolshevik organization. The campaign against Lenin was the most effective way of popularizing his theses. Lenin had called the war an imperialist war of plunder, and everyone saw that he stood for peace in real earnest. This stirred the sailors and soldiers, stirred all those for whom the war was a life-and-death issue. On April 10 Ilyich addressed the soldiers of the Izmailovsky Regiment; on the 15th Soldatskaya Pravda (Soldiers’ Truth) began to appear, and on the 16th the soldiers and sailors of Petrograd held a demonstration of protest against the campaign that was against Lenin and the Bolsheviks. On April 18 (May 1, New Style) a great May Day demonstration was held throughout Russia such as had never been seen before.

On the same day Milyukov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement in the name of the Provisional Government to the effect that it would continue the war to a victorious end and would fulfil all its obligations to the Allies. What did the Bolsheviks do? They showed up in the press what those obligations were. The Provisional Government, they pointed out, had pledged itself to fulfil the obligations incurred by the government of Nicholas II and the whole tsarist clique. They showed that those obligations had been incurred on behalf of the bourgeoisie.

When this became clear to the masses, they came out on the streets. On April 21 they demonstrated on Nevsky Prospekt. A counter-demonstration was held there by supporters of the Provisional Government.

These events united the Bolshevik ranks. The Petrograd organization of the Bolsheviks passed resolutions in the spirit of Lenin’s views.

N.K. Krupskaya, “In Petrograd,” Reminiscences of Lenin


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