‘Petrograd workers & soldiers wanted soviet to be the government’

Only Petrograd’s long experience in barricade and street fighting, and the native good sense of the people, prevented the, shambles from being more bloody than they were. Upon the chaotic insurgent masses was brought to bear a stabilizing force in tens of thousands of workingmen, backed by the directing mind of the Bolshevik Party. The Bolsheviks saw clearly that this uprising was a spontaneous elemental thing. They saw these masses striking out powerfully but rather blindly. They determined that they should strike to some purpose. They determined to let the full force of this demonstration reach the Soviet Central Executive Committee. This was a committee of 200 selected by the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets before it adjourned. It was in permanent session in the Tauride Palace, and upon it the masses were converging.

The Bolsheviks alone had influence over these masses. All parties implored them to use it. Placing their speakers upon the central portico, they met each regiment and delegation with a short address.

From our vantage point we could view the whole concourse crammed with people, with here and there a man lifted upon his artillery horse, while many banners marked out a red current thru the solid mass.

Below us was a sea of upturned faces, the fears, and hopes, and angers written on them but half legible in the twilight of the Russian night. From down the. street could be heard the roar of marching hosts, cheering the armored cars. The automobile searchlights focusing on the speaker, silhouetted him against the walls of the Palace, a gigantic figure in black. Every gesture, ten times magnified, cut a sweeping shadow across the white façade.

“Comrades,” said this giant Bolshevik, “you want revolutionary action. The only way to get it is thru a revolutionary government. The Kerensky Government is revolutionary in name only. They promise land, but the landlords still have it. They promise bread, but the speculators still hold it. They promise to get from the Allies a declaration of the objects of the war, but the Allies simply tell us to go on fighting.

“In the cabinet a fundamental conflict rages between the Socialist and the bourgeois ministers. The result is a deadlock and nothing at all is done.

“You men of Petrograd come here to the Soviet Executive Committee saying, ‘Take the Government. Here are the bayonets to back you!’ You want the Soviets to be the government. So do we Bolsheviks. But we remember that Petrograd is not all of Russia. So we are demanding that the Central Executive Committee call delegates from all over Russia. It is for this new congress to declare the Soviets the government of Russia.”

“Petrograd Demonstrates — The river of red flowing by the Admiralty. To the left is the Street of Grand Noblemen, now called the Street of Village Poverty, to remind men forever whence came the splendorous buildings.”

Each crowd met this declaration with cheers and loud cries, “Down with Kerensky”; “Down with the Bourgeois Government”; “All Power to the Soviets.”

“Avoid all violence and bloodshed,” was the parting admonition to each contingent. “Do not listen to provocateurs. Do not delight your enemies by killing each other. You have amply shown your power. Now go home quietly. When the occasion for force arises we will call you.”

In the swirling flood were cross currents made by the Anarchists, the Black Hundreds, German agents, hoodlums, and those volatile elements which always join the side with the most machine-guns. One thing was now clear to the Bolsheviks: the revolutionary workmen and soldiers around Petrograd were overwhelmingly against the Provisional Government and for the Soviet. They wanted the Soviet to be the government. But the Bolsheviks were afraid this would be a premature step. As they said, “Petrograd is not Russia. The other cities and the army at the front may not be ripe for such drastic action. Only delegates from the Soviets of all Russia can decide that.”

Inside the Tauride the Bolsheviks were using every argument to persuade the members of the Soviet Executive Committee to call another All-Russian Congress. Outside the Tauride, they were using every exhortation to quiet and appease the clamoring masses. This was a task that taxed all their wits and resources.

Albert Rhys Williams, “The Bolsheviks and the City,” Through the Russian Revolution


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