I remember Ilyich’s speech at the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies, which took place at the military school on Vasilyevsky Island. We walked down long corridors. The classrooms had been turned into dormitories for the delegates. The hall was crowded, and the Bolsheviks sat at the back in a small group. Lenin’s speech was applauded only by the Bolsheviks, but there was no doubt about the strong impression it had made. Kerensky was said to have lain in a faint for three hours after that speech. I do not vouch for the truth of that story, though.
In June elections to the district councils were held. I went to Vasilyevsky Island to see how the election campaign was going. The streets were flooded with working people, most of them employees of the Tube Factory. There were also a lot of women workers from the Laferme Factory. This factory voted for the Socialist-Revolutionaries. Disputes raged all round; people were not discussing candidates or personalities, but the activities of the different parties and what they stood for. I was reminded of the municipal elections in Paris when we were there: we had been struck by the absence of political issues and by the extent to which the personal element predominated everywhere. Here the picture was just the reverse. Another thing that struck one was the extent to which the masses had politically matured since 1905-1907. It was obvious that all read the newspapers of the different political trends. One group was discussing the question whether Bonapartism was possible in this country or not. A squat figure, suspiciously spy-like in its snooping activity, looked oddly out of place among this crowd of workers, who had become so class-conscious during the last few years.
Revolutionary feeling among the masses was mounting.
The Bolsheviks had decided to hold a demonstration on June 10. The Congress of Soviets banned it by a ruling that no demonstrations were to be held in the course of three days. Thereupon Ilyich insisted that the demonstration arranged by the Petrograd Party Committee should be called off. He held that since we recognized the power of the Soviets we were bound to submit to the rulings of the Congress if we did not wish to play into the hands of our opponents. Yielding to the temper of the masses, however, the Congress of Soviets itself called a demonstration for June 18 (Old Style). It was scarcely prepared, however, for what happened. Nearly four hundred thousand workers and soldiers took part in the demonstration. Ninety per cent of the banners and posters bore the slogans of the Bolshevik Central Committee: “All Power to the Soviets!” “Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers!” Only three posters supported the Provisional Government (one was the Bund’s, the other the Plekhanov group’s, and the third the Cossack Regiment’s). Ilyich referred to the 18th of June as one of the days of the turning point. “The demonstration of June 18th,” (July 1st, New Style) he wrote, “became a demonstration of the strength and the policies of the revolutionary proletariat which is giving direction to the revolution, and is showing the way out of the blind alley. Therein lies the colossal historical significance of the Sunday demonstration, and therein does it differ in principle from the demonstration which took place on the day of the funeral of the victims of the revolution, or from that held on the First of May. Then it was a universal tribute to the first victory of the revolution and its heroes, a glance backward, cast by the people over the first lap of the road to freedom and passed by them most quickly and most successfully. The First of May was a holiday of good wishes and hopes bound up with the history of the labor movement of the world, with its ideal of peace and socialism.
“Neither of the demonstrations aimed at pointing out the direction of the further advance of the revolution. Neither could point out that direction. Neither the first nor the second demonstration had placed before the masses, and in the name of the masses, any concrete and definite questions of the hour, questions as to whither and how the revolution must proceed.
“In this sense the 18th of June was the first political demonstration of action; it was an exposition of issues not in a book or in a newspaper, but in the street; not through leaders, but through the masses. It showed how the various classes act, wish to act, and should act, to further the revolution. The bourgeoisie had hidden itself.”
The elections to the district councils were over. I was elected to the Vyborg District Council. Only Bolshevik candidates were returned here, and a few Menshevik-Internationalists. The latter refused to work on the council. Those who worked on it were all Bolsheviks – L. M. Mikhailov, Kuchmenko, Chugurin, another comrade and I. Our council was housed at first in the same building as the Party local, the secretary of which was Zhenya Yegorova. Lacis worked there too. Our council and the Party organization worked in close contact. This work in the Vyborg District taught me a great deal. It was an excellent school of Party and Soviet work. To me, who had lived abroad for so many years and had never had the pluck to address even a small meeting or write a single line for Pravda, such a school was very necessary.
The Vyborg District had a strong and active Bolshevik membership, who enjoyed the confidence of the masses of workers. Shortly after assuming office I took over the business of the Vyborg District branch of the Committee for Relief of Soldiers’ Wives from my old friend and school chum Nina Gerd (Struve’s wife), with whom we had taught together at the Sunday School, and, who, in the early years of the working-class movement, had been a Social-Democrat. Now we held opposing points of view on political matters. In handing over to me, she said: “The soldiers’ wives don’t trust us. No matter what we do they are never satisfied. They believe only in the Bolsheviks. Well then, take things into your own hands, perhaps you’ll make a better job of it.” We were not afraid to tackle the job, believing, that with the active cooperation of the workers, we would succeed in getting things going with a swing.
The mass of the workers displayed an amazing activity in the cultural as well as the political fields. Very soon we set up an Education Council on which all the factories and mills of the Vyborg District were represented. Of the various factory representatives I remember Purishev, Kayurov, Yurkin and Gordienko. We met every week and discussed practical measures. When the question of general literacy came up, the workers at the factories very quickly drew up a registry of all the illiterates. The employers were asked to provide premises for reading and writing classes, and when one of them refused to comply, the women workers kicked up a terrific row in the course of which it came to light that one of the rooms at the factory was occupied by a special squad of soldiers picked from the most chauvinistic battalions. In the end the employer was obliged to rent outside premises for the school. Class attendance and the teachers work were supervised by the workers. A machine-gun regiment was quartered not far from the District Council. It was considered highly reliable at first, but this “reliability” quickly melted away. The moment the regiment was quartered in the Vyborg District agitation was started among the soldiers. The first to agitate in favour of the Bolsheviks were the women vendors of sunflower seeds, kvass, etc. Many of them were women workers whom I had known in the nineties and even during the Revolution of 1905. They were well-dressed, active at meetings, and politically alert. One of them told me: “My husband’s at the front. We got on well together, but I don’t know how things will be when he gets back. I’m for the Bolsheviks now, I’m going with them, but I don’t know about him there at the front – whether he realizes that we’ve got to go with the Bolsheviks. I often lie thinking at night – what if he hasn’t grasped it yet? I don’t know whether I’ll see him again, though. He may be killed, and I’m spitting blood, you know – I am going to the hospital.” I shall never forget the thin face of that woman worker with the hectic flush in her cheeks, and her worrying about her and her husband possibly having to part because of differing views. But it was the working men and not the women who then took the lead in educational activities. They went deep into every detail. Gordienko, for instance, gave a good deal of his time to kindergarten work. Kuklin closely followed the work of the young people.
I, too, closely tackled the work among the youth. The Light and Knowledge League had worked out a programme of its own. Its members consisted of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Anarchists and non-Party people. The programme was naive and primitive to a degree, but the dispute it gave rise to was very interesting. One of the clauses, for example, said that all members must learn to sew. One lad – a Bolshevik – remarked: “Why should we all learn to sew? I can understand if it’s a girl having to learn it, because otherwise she won’t be able to sew a button on her husband’s trousers when the time comes, but why should we all learn!” This remark raised a storm of indignation. The boys as well as the girls protested, and jumped up from their seats. “Who said the wife must sew buttons on trousers? What do you mean? So you stand for the old domestic slavery of women? A wife is her husband’s comrade, not his servant!” The unfortunate mover of the women-only-learning-to-sew resolution was obliged to climb down. I remember a conversation with Murashov, another young man, who was a warm supporter of the Bolsheviks. “Why don’t you join the Bolshevik organization?” I asked him. “Well, you see,” he said, “there were several of us young people in the organization. But why did we join? Do you think it was because we understood that the Bolsheviks were right? No, the reason was that the Bolsheviks were distributing revolvers to their people. That’s no good at all. You’ve got to have an intelligent reason for joining. So I returned my Party card until I got the thing straight in my own mind.” I must say, though, that only revolutionary-minded young people belonged to the Light and Knowledge League; they would not have tolerated anyone in their midst who upheld Right views. They were all active members, who spoke at meetings at their factories. Their trouble was that they were much too credulous. This credulity had to be combated.
I had a lot of work to do among the women too. I had got over my former shyness and spoke wherever I had to.
I threw myself into the job with enthusiasm. I wanted to draw all the masses into social work, make possible that “people’s militia” of which Vladimir Ilyich had spoken.
I saw still less of Ilyich when I started work in the Vyborg District. Those were crucial days and the struggle was mounting high. June 18 was not only a day when four hundred thousand workers and soldiers demonstrated under Bolshevik slogans, it was a day when the Provisional Government, after three months of vacillation, gave way at last to pressure from the Allies and launched an offensive at the front. The Bolsheviks had already started to agitate in the press and at meetings. The Provisional Government felt that the ground was slipping from under its feet. June 28 saw the beginning of the rout of the Russian army at the front; this greatly disturbed the soldiers.
N.K. Krupskaya, “In Petrograd,” Reminiscences of Lenin