Sailors demand ‘All power to the Soviets!’

Some contingents came to the Tauride very belligerent. The Kronstadt sailors arrived in a particularly ugly temper. In barges they came up the river, eight thousand strong. Two of their number had been killed along the way. It had been no holiday excursion, and they had no intention of gazing at the walls of the Palace, filling the courtyard with futile clamor, then turning around and going home. They sent in a demand that the Soviet produce a Socialist Minister, and produce him at once.

Chernov, Minister of Agriculture, came out. He took for his rostrum the top of a cab.

“I come to tell you that three bourgeois Ministers have resigned. We now look to the future with great hope. Here are the laws which give the land to the peasant.”

“Good,” cried the hearers. “Will these laws be put into operation at once?”

“As soon as possible,” Chernov answered.

“Soon as possible!” they mocked him. “No, no! We want it now, now. All the land for the peasant now! What have you been doing all these weeks anyhow?”

“I am not answerable to you for my deeds,” Chernov replied, white with rage. “It is not you that put me in my office. It was the Peasants’ Soviet. To them alone I make my reckoning.”

At this rebuff a howl of derision went up from the sailors. With it went the cry: “Arrest Chernov! Arrest him!” A dozen hands stretched out to clutch the Minister and drag him off. Others sought to drag him back. In a vortex of fighting friends and foes, his clothes torn, the Minister was being borne away. But Trotzky, coming up, secured his release.

Meanwhile, Saakian scrambled up on the cab. He struck an attitude of stern command.

“Listen!” he cried. “Do you know who is now addressing you?”

“No,” a voice called out. “And we don’t give a damn.”

“The man who is now addressing you,” resumed Saakian, “is the Vice-President of the Central Executive Committee of the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Soldiers’ and Workmen’s Deputies.”

This prodigious title instead of serving to impress and quiet the crowd, was greeted by laughter and cries of “Down with him!” (doloi, doloi). But he had come out to tame this mob, and with great vim he fired into it a fusillade of short abrupt sentences.

“My name—Saakian!” (The mob: “Down with him!”)

“My party-Socialist Revolutionary!” (“Down with him!”)

“My official religion—according to the passport—Armenian-Gregorian!” (“Down with him!”)

“My real religion—Socialism!” (“Down with him!”)

“My relation to the war—two brothers killed.” A voice: “There should have been a third.”

“My advice to you—trust us, your leaders and best friends. Stop this foolish demonstration. You are disgracing yourself, disgracing the Revolution, bringing disaster to Russia.”

These sailors were already enraged. To slap them in the face thus was an idiotic act. Pandemonium broke loose. Again Trotsky to the rescue.

He steps upon the platform, the hero and idol of the Kronstadt sailors. He knows the temper of his hearers. He knows, today, they have no ears for censure.

“Revolutionary sailors, pride and flower of the revolutionary forces of Russia! ” he began. “In this battle for the Social Revolution we fight together. Together, comrades, our fists beat upon the doors of this Palace until the ideals for which our blood has flowed shall at last be incarnated in the constitution of this country. Hard and long has been the heroic struggle! But out of it will come a free life for free men in a great free land. Am I not right?”

“Right you are, Trotsky,” yells the crowd.

Trotsky moves away.

“But you haven’t told us anything,” they cry. “What are you going to do about the Cabinet?” They may be a mob, with an appetite for flattery, but they are not so unthinking as to be pacified by phrases, even from Trotsky.

“I am too hoarse to talk more,” he pleads. “Riazanov will tell you.”

‘No, you tell us!” Trotsky again mounts the cab.

“Only the All-Russian Congress can assume full power of government. The Labor Section has agreed to call this congress. The Military Section will without doubt follow. In two weeks the delegates can be here.”

“Two weeks!” they cry in astonishment. “Two weeks is too long. We want it now!”

But Trotsky prevails. The sailors acquiesce, cheering the Soviets and the coming Revolution.

They move peacefully away, convinced that the Second All-Russian Congress will be called.

This is precisely what the leaders in the Soviet Executive Committee do not want. They are dead set against the Soviet becoming the government. They have many reasons to give. But the real reason is fear of these very masses by whom they have been lifted to their exalted stations. The intelligentsia distrust the masses below them. At the same time they exaggerate the abilities and good intentions of the grand bourgeoisie above them.

They do not want the Soviets to take the power. They have no intention of calling a Second All-Russian Congress in two weeks, two months, or at all. But they are frightened by these turbulent crowds crashing into the courtyard, hammering at the doors. Their tactics are to placate the mob, and they seek help from the Bolsheviks. At the same time these intelligentsia play another game. They join the Provisional Government in calling regiments from the front “to quell the mutiny and restore order in the city.”

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

 

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