The chapter of The History of the Russian Revolution we reproduce here debates the successes of June 1917 (considering the old Russian Julian calendar). June and July were an inflection point in the accelerated revolutionary process in course.
Workers and masses that featured February revolution understood quickly that throwing down the Tsarist regime was not enough to achieve their demands (Peace, Bread, and Land); and the bourgeois provisional governments that came since February (integrated and supported by the reformist left-wing currents, like Mensheviks and Esserists) had no intention to solve that.
On the contrary, they postponed essential questions like agrarian reform and the oppression of minority nationalities by Russia. Also, regarding the hottest topic (the war), the government ordered to mobilize all Petrograd troops (capital of the country and core of the revolution) to attempt an offensive against the German Army.
This generated a state of rebellion in the rank and file of the Russian army: millions of soldiers, most of them peasants that just wanted to come back home, rejected the order to go to the front.
The First Soviets’ National Congress took place in this context, and this was the main debate. These bodies expressed, back then, a deep contradiction: on one side, they were a reference for workers and masses, and they expressed a dual power to the bourgeois government; on the other, reformist currents together still had the majority of deputies and the Soviets’ leadership. The Bolsheviks represented less than 20% of the body: they had increased their influence but they were still a minority. Thus, their proposal of rejecting the government’s military order was rejected.
But this relationship of forces was “behind” the dynamics of workers and the base of poor soldiers and peasants that were increasingly turning to the left. And such “backwardness” was even higher in Petrograd, where the Bolsheviks were already the strongest tendency.
This is the frame of the facts analyzed by Trotsky in this chapter: the canceled demonstration of June 10, the Soviet’s delegations to factories and workers’ neighborhoods of the capital, and the unified demonstration called by the Soviet on June 18 (when the Bolsheviks’ policy was overwhelmingly majoritarian).
For the bourgeoisie, it was clear that the enemies were the Bolsheviks, and so it states publically. The reformist currents followed the same line, repeating the attacks and almost the same words: “the Bolsheviks are the main enemies of the revolution.” (So, the main enemy of the bourgeois State and the construction of a political regime to its service.)
Such as Trotsky said, “There was no direct clash then. But a clash was not to be avoided. It had only been postponed for two weeks.” The revolution was fastening its pace, and violent clashes would take place along the next months, practically uninterrupted, to finally end with the October Revolution, in which the Bolsheviks defeated not only the bourgeoisie but also its “left-wing agents”.
In a balance of June events, Lenin wrote something that could be used in the present just by changing the name of the currents:
“This universal wild cry of spite and rage against the Bolsheviks is the common complaint of Kadets, Social Revolutionaries, and Mensheviks against their own flabbiness. They are in a majority. They are the government. They are all together in a bloc. And they see that nothing comes of it. What can they do but rage against the Bolsheviks?”
The Soviet Congress and the June Demonstration
Leon Trotsky – The History of the Russian Revolution – Chapter 22
The first congress of the soviets, which sanctioned the offensive for Kerensky, assembled in Petrograd on June 3 in the building of the Cadet Corps. There were 820 delegates with a vote and 268 with a voice. They represented 305 local soviets, 53 district and regional organisations at the front, the rear institutions of the army, and a few peasant organisations. The right to a vote was accorded to Soviets containing not less than 25,000 men. Soviets containing from 10,000 to 25,000 had a voice. On the basis of this rule – by the way, none too strictly observed – we may assume that over 20,000,000 people stood behind the soviets. Out of 777 delegates giving information as to their party allegiance, 285 were Social Revolutionaries, 248 Mensheviks, 105 Bolsheviks; a few belonged to less important groups. The left wing – the Bolsheviks, and the Internationalists adhering to them – constituted less than a fifth of the delegates. The congress consisted for the most part of people who had registered as socialists in March but got tired of the revolution by June. Petrograd must have seemed to them a town gone mad.
The Congress began by ratifying the banishment of Grimm, an unhappy Swiss socialist who had been trying to save the Russian revolution and the German social democracy by means of back-stage negotiations with the Hohenzollern diplomats. The demand of the left wing that they take up immediately the question of the coming offensive was rejected by an overwhelming majority. The Bolsheviks looked like a tiny group. But on that very day and perhaps hour, a conference of the factory and shop committees of Petrograd adopted, also with an overwhelming majority, a resolution that only a government of soviets could save the country.
The Compromisers, no matter how near-sighted they were, could not help seeing what was happening around them every day. In the session of June 4 the Bolshevik-hater, Lieber, evidently under the influence of the provincials, denounced the good-for-nothing commissars of the government to whom the power had not been surrendered in the provinces. “A whole series of functions of the governmental organs have as a result gone over into the hands of the soviets, even when the soviets did not want them.” Those people had to complain to somebody even against themselves.
One of the delegates, a school teacher, complained to the congress that after four months of revolution there had not been the slightest change in the sphere of education. All of the old teachers, inspectors, directors, overseers of districts, many of them former members of the Black Hundreds, all of the old school programmes, reactionary textbooks, even the old assistant ministers, remained peacefully at their posts. Only the czar’s portraits had been removed to the attics, and these might any day be stuck back in their places.
The congress could not make up its mind to lift a hand against the State Duma, or against the State Council. Its timidity before the reaction was covered up by the Menshevik orator Bogdanov with the remark that the Duma and the Soviet are “dead and non-existent organisations anyway.” Martov, with his polemical wit, answered: “Bogdanov proposes that we should declare the Duma dead but not make any attempt upon its life.”
The congress, in spite of its solid government majority, proceeded in an atmosphere of alarm and uncertainty. Patriotism had grown rather damp and gave out only lazy flashes. It was obvious that the masses were dissatisfied, and the Bolsheviks were immeasurably stronger throughout the country, and especially in the capital, than at the congress. Reduced to its elements, the quarrel between the Bolsheviks and the Compromisers invariably revolved around the question: With whom shall the democrats side, the imperialists or the workers? The shadow of the Entente stood over the congress. The question of the offensive was predetermined; the democrats had nothing to do but accede.
“At this critical moment,” preached Tseretelli, “not one social force ought to be thrown out of the scales, so long as it may be useful to the cause of the people.” Such was the justification for a coalition with the bourgeoisie. Seeing that the proletariat, the army, and the peasantry were upsetting their plans at every step, the democrats had to open a war against the people under guise of a war against the Bolsheviks. Thus Tseretelli had declared the Kronstadt sailors apostates in order not to throw out of his scales the Kadet Pepelyaev. The coalition was ratified by a majority of 543 votes against 126, with 52 abstaining.
The work of this enormous and flabby assembly in the Cadet Corps was distinguished by grandeur in the matter of declarations, and conservative stinginess in practical tasks. This laid on all its decisions a stamp of hopelessness and hypocrisy. The congress recognised the right of all Russian nationalities to self. determination, but gave the key to this problematic right not to the oppressed nations themselves, but to a future Constituent Assembly, in which the Compromisers hoped to be in a majority and capitulate before the imperialists, exactly as they had done in the government.
The congress refused to pass a decree on the eight-hour day. Tseretelli explained this side-stepping by the difficulty of reconciling the interests of the different layers of the population. As though any single great need in history was ever accomplished by “reconciling interests,” and not by the victory of progressive interests over reactionary!
Grohman, a Soviet economist, introduced toward the end of the congress his inevitable resolution: as to. the oncoming economic catastrophe and the necessity of governmental regulation. The congress adopted this ritual resolution, but only so that everything might remain as before.
“Having deported Grimm,” wrote Trotsky, on the 7th of June, “the congress returned to the order of the day. But capitalistic profits remain as before inviolable for Skobelev and his colleagues. The food crisis is getting sharper every hour. In the diplomatic sphere the government is taking blow after blow. And finally this so hysterically proclaimed offensive is obviously getting ready to come down on the nation, a monstrous adventure.
“We should be willing to watch peacefully the sanctified activities of the ministers – Lvov–Tereshchenko–Tseretelli – for a number of months. We need time for our own preparations. But the underground mole digs too fast. With the help of the ‘socialist’ ministers the problem of power may rise before the members of this congress a great deal sooner than any of us imagine”
Trying to shield themselves from the masses with a higher authority, the leaders dragged the congress into all current conflicts, pitilessly compromising it in the eyes of the Petrograd workers and soldiers. The most resounding episode of this kind was the incident about the summer home of Durnovo, an old czarist bureaucrat who had made himself famous as Minister of the Interior by putting down the revolution of 1905. The vacant home of this hated, and moreover dirty-handed, bureaucrat was seized by workers’ organisations on the Vyborg side – chiefly because of the enormous gardens which became a favourite playground for children. The bourgeois press represented the place as a lair of pogromists and hold-up men – the Kronstadt of the Vyborg district. No one took the trouble to find out what the facts were. The government, carefully avoiding all important questions, undertook with fresh passion to rescue this house. They demanded sanction for the heroic undertaking from the Executive Committee, and Tseretelli of course did not refuse. The Procuror gave an order to evict the group of anarchists from the place in twenty-four hours. Learning about the military activities in preparation, the workers sounded the alarm. The anarchists on their side threatened armed resistance. Twenty-eight factories proclaimed a protest strike. The Executive Committee issued a proclamation accusing the Vyborg workers of aiding the counter-revolution. After all these preliminaries a representative of justice and the militia penetrated into the lions’ den. They found complete order reigning; the house was occupied by a number of workers’ educational organisations. They were compelled to withdraw in shame. This history had, however, a further development.
On the 9th of June a bomb was exploded at the congress: in the morning’s edition of Pravda appeared an appeal for a demonstration on the following day. Cheidze, who knew how to get scared, and was therefore inclined to scare others, announced in a voice from the tomb: “If measures are not taken by the congress, tomorrow will be fatal.” The delegates lifted their heads in alarm.
The idea of a showdown between the Petrograd workers and soldiers and the congress was suggested by the whole situation. The masses were urging on the Bolsheviks. The garrison especially was seething – fearing that in connection with the offensive they would be distributed among the regiments and scattered along the front. To this was united a bitter satisfaction with the Declaration of the Rights of the Soldier, which had been a big backward step in comparison with Order No.1, and with the régime actually established in the army. The initiative for the demonstration came from the military organisation of the Bolsheviks. Its leaders asserted, and quite rightly as events showed, that if the party did not take the leadership upon itself, the soldiers themselves would go into the streets. That sharp turn in the mood of the masses, however, could not be easily apprehended, and hence there was a certain vacillation in the ranks of the Bolsheviks themselves. Volodarsky was not sure that the workers would come out on the street. There was fear, too, as to the possible character of the demonstration. Representatives of the military organisation declared that the soldiers, fearing attacks and reprisals, would not go out without weapons. “What will come out of the demonstration?” asked the prudent Tomsky, and demanded supplementary deliberations. Stalin thought that “the fermentation among the soldiers is a fact; among the workers there is no such definite mood,” but nevertheless judged it necessary to show resistance to the government. Kalinin, always more inclined to avoid than welcome a battle, spoke emphatically against the demonstration, referring to the absence of any clear motive, especially among the workers: “The demonstration will be purely artificial.” On June 8, at a conference with the representatives of the workers’ sections, after a series of preliminary Votes, 131 hands against 6 were finally raised for the demonstration, with 22 abstaining.
The work of preparation was carried on up to the last moment secretly, in order not to permit the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks to start a counter-agitation. That legitimate measure of caution was afterwards interpreted as evidence of a military conspiracy. The Central Council of Factory and Shop Committees joined in the decision to organise the demonstration. “Upon the insistence of Trotsky and against the objection of Lunacharsky,” writes Yugov, “the Committee of the Mezhrayontzi decided to join the demonstration.” Preparations were carried on with boiling energy.
The manifestation was to raise the banner of “Power to the Soviets.” The fighting slogan ran: “Down with the Ten Minister-Capitalists” That was the simplest possible expression for a break-up of the coalition with the bourgeoisie. The procession was to march to the Cadet Corps where the congress was sitting. This was to emphasise that the question was not of overthrowing the government, but of bringing pressure on the Soviet leaders.
To be sure, other ideas were expressed at the preliminary conferences of the Bolsheviks. For instance, Smilga, then a young member of the Central Committee, proposed that they should not “hesitate to seize the Post Office, telegraph, and arsenal, if events developed to the point of a clash.” Another participant in the conference, a member of the Petrograd Committee, Latsis, comments in his diary upon the rejection of Smilga’s proposal: “I cannot reconcile myself … I arrange with comrades Semashko and Rakhia to be fully armed in case of necessity and seize the railroad terminals, arsenals, banks, post and telegraph offices, with the help of a machine-gun regiment.” Semashko was the officer of a machine-gun regiment. Rakhia, a worker, one of the militant Bolsheviks.
The existence of such moods is easily understandable. The whole course of the party was toward a seizure of power, and the question was merely of appraising the present situation. An obvious break in favour of the Bolsheviks was taking place in Petrograd, but in the provinces the same process was going slower. Moreover the front needed the lesson of an advance before it could shake off its distrust of the Bolsheviks. Lenin therefore stood firm on his April position: “Patiently explain.”
Sukhanov in his Notes describes the plan of the demonstration of June 10, as a direct device of Lenin for seizing the power “if the situation proves favourable.” As a matter of fact, only individual Bolsheviks tried to put the matter this way, aiming according to the ironic expression of Lenin, “just a wee bit too far to the left.” Strangely enough, Sukhanov does not even try to compare his arbitrary guesses with the political line of Lenin expressed in innumerable speeches and articles. [seeAppendix 3 for more information on this]
The Bureau of the Executive Committee immediately presented the Bolsheviks with a demand to call off the demonstration. On what grounds? Only the state power, obviously, could formally forbid a demonstration; but the state power did not dare think of it. How could the Soviet, itself a “private organisation,” led by a bloc composed of two political parties, prevent a third party from demonstrating? The Bolshevik Central Committee refused to accede to the demand, but decided to emphasise more sharply the peaceful character of the demonstration. On the 9th of June, a Bolshevik proclamation was pasted up in the workers’ districts. “We are free citizens, we have the right to protest, and we ought to use this right before it is too late. The right to a peaceful demonstration is ours.”
The Compromisers carried the question before the congress. It was at that moment that Cheidze pronounced his words about the fatal outcome, and that it would be necessary for the congress to sit all night. A member of the presidium, Gegechkori, also one of the sons of the Gironde, concluded his speech with a rude cry in the direction of the Bolsheviks: “Take your dirty hands off a glorious cause!” They did not give the Bolsheviks time, though it was demanded, to take up the question in a meeting of their faction. The congress passed a resolution forbidding all demonstrations for three days. Besides being an act of violence with relation to the Bolsheviks, this was an act of usurpation with relation to the government. The soviets continued to steal the power from under their own pillow.
Miliukov was speaking at this time at a Cossack conference, and called the Bolsheviks “the chief enemies of the Russian revolution.” Its chief friend, he allowed them to infer, was Miliukov himself, who just before February had agreed to accept defeat from the Germans rather than revolution from the Russian people. To a question from the Cossacks as to the attitude towards Leninists, Miliukov answered: “It’s time to make an end of these people.” The leader of the bourgeoisie was in too great a hurry. However, he really could not afford to waste time.
Meanwhile meetings were being held in factories and regiments, adopting resolutions to go into the streets the next day with the slogan “All Power to the Soviets.” Under the noise of the soviet and Cossack congresses, the fact passed unnoticed that 37 Bolsheviks were elected to the duma of the Vyborg district, only 22 from the Social Revolutionary-Menshevik bloc, and 4 Kadets.
Confronted with the categorical resolution of the congress – and moreover with a mysterious reference to a threatening blow from the right – the Bolsheviks decided to reconsider the question. They wanted a peaceful demonstration, not an insurrection, and they could not have any motive for converting a for bidden demonstration into a half-insurrection. On its side the presidium of the congress decided to take measures. Several hundred delegates were grouped in tens and sent out to the workers’ districts and the barracks to prevent the demonstration. They were to meet in the morning at the Tauride Palace and compare notes. The executive committee of the peasant deputies joined in this expedition, appointing 70 from its membership.
Thus, in however unexpected a manner, the Bolsheviks achieved their goal. The delegates of the congress found themselves obliged to get acquainted with the workers and soldiers of the capital. If the mountain was not allowed to come to the prophet, the prophet at least went to the mountain. The meeting proved instructive in the highest degree. In the Izvestia of the Moscow Soviet, a Menshevik correspondent paints the following picture: “All night long, without a wink of sleep, a majority of the congress, more than 500 members, dividing themselves into tens, travelled through the factories and shops and military units of Petrograd, urging everybody to stay away from the demonstration … The congress had no authority in a good many of the factories and shops, and also in several regiments of the garrison … The members were frequently met in a far from friendly manner, sometimes hostilely, and quite often they were sent away with insults.” This official Soviet organ does not exaggerate in the least. On the contrary, it gives a very much softened picture of this nocturnal meeting of two different worlds.
The Petrograd masses at least left no doubt among the dele gates as to who was able henceforth to summon a demonstration, or to call it off. The workers of the Putilov factory agreed to paste up the declaration of the congress against the demonstration only after they learned from Pravda that it did not contradict the resolution of the Bolsheviks. The first machine gun regiment – which played the leading rôle in the garrison, as did the Putilov factory among the workers – after hearing the speeches of Cheidze and Avksentiev representing the two executive committees, adopted the following resolution: “In agreement with the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks and their military organisation, the regiment postpones its action.”
This brigade of pacifiers arrived at the Tauride Palace after their sleepless night in a condition of complete demoralisation. They had assumed that the authority of the congress was in violable, but had run into a stone wall of distrust and hostility. “The masses are thick with Bolsheviks.” “The attitude to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries is hostile.” “They trust only Pravda.” “In some places they shouted: ’We are not your comrades.’” One after another the delegates reported how, although they had called off the battle, they were defeated.
The masses submitted to the decision of the Bolsheviks, but not without protest and indignation. In certain factories they adopted resolutions of censure of the Central Committee. The more fiery members of the patty in the sections tore up their membership cards. That was a serious warning.
The Compromisers had motivated their three-day veto of demonstrations by references to a monarchist plot, which hoped to avail itself of the action of the Bolsheviks; they mentioned the participation in it of a part of the Cossack congress and the approach to Petrograd of counter-revolutionary troops.
It is not surprising if after calling off the demonstration the Bolsheviks demanded an explanation as to this conspiracy. In place of an answer the leaders of the congress accused the Bolsheviks themselves of a conspiracy. They found this happy way out of the situation.
It must be acknowledged that on the night of June 10 the Compromisers did discover a conspiracy, and one which shook them badly – a conspiracy of the masses with the Bolsheviks against the Compromisers. However, the submission of the Bolsheviks to the resolution of the congress encouraged them and permitted their panic to turn into madness. The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries decided to show an iron energy. On the 10th of June the Menshevik paper wrote: “It is time to brand the Leninists as traitors and betrayers of the revolution.” A representative of the Executive Committee appeared at the Cossack congress and requested them to support the Soviet against the Bolsheviks. He was answered by the chairman, the ataman of the Urals, Dutov: “We, Cossacks, will never go against the Soviet.” Against the Bolsheviks the reactionaries were ready to go hand in hand even with the Soviet – in order the better to strangle it later on.
On June 11 there assembles a formidable court of justice: the Executive Committee, members of the presidium of the congress, leaders of the lactions – in all about a hundred men. Tseretelli as usual appears in the rôle of prosecutor. Choking with rage, he demands deadly measures, and scornfully waves away Dan, who is always ready to bait the Bolsheviks, but still not quite ready to destroy them. “What the Bolsheviks are now doing is not ideological propaganda, but a conspiracy. The Bolsheviks must excuse us. Now we are going to adopt different methods of struggle … We have got to disarm the Bolsheviks. We cannot leave in their hands those two great technical instruments which they have possessed up to now. We cannot leave machine guns and rifles in their hands. We will not tolerate conspiracies.” That was a new note. What did it mean exactly to disarm the Bolsheviks? Sukhanov writes on this subject: “The Bolsheviks really did not have any special stores of weapons. All the weapons were actually in the hands of soldiers and workers, the immense mass of whom were following the Bolsheviks. Disarming the Bolsheviks could mean only disarming the proletariat. More than that, it meant disarming the troops.”
In other words, that classic moment of the revolution had arrived when the bourgeois democracy, upon the demand of the reaction, undertakes to disarm the workers who had guaranteed the revolutionary victory. These democratic gentlemen, among whom were well-read people, had invariably given their sympathy to the disarmed, not to the disarmers – so long as it was a question of reading old books. But when this question presented itself in reality, they did not recognise it. The mere fact that Tseretelli, a revolutionist, a man who had spent years at hard labour, a Zimmerwaldist of yesterday, was undertaking to disarm the workers, had some difficulty in making its way into people’s heads. The hall was stunned into silence. The provincial delegates nevertheless felt that someone was pushing them into an abyss. One of the officers went into hysterics.
No less pale than Tseretelli, Kamenev rose in his seat and cried out with a dignity the strength of which was felt by the audience: “Mr. Minister, if you are not merely talking into the wind, you have no right to confine yourself to speech. Arrest me, and try me for conspiracy against the revolution.” The Bolsheviks left the hall with a protest, refusing to participate in this mockery of their own party. The tenseness in the hall became almost unbearable. Lieber hastened to the aid of Tseretelli. Restrained rage was replaced by hysterical fury. Lieber called for ruthless measures. “If you want to win the masses who follow the Bolsheviks, then break with Bolshevism.” But he was heard without sympathy, even with a half-hostility.
Impressionable as always, Lunacharsky immediately tried to find a common ground with the majority: Although the Bolsheviks had assured him that they had in mind only a peaceful demonstration, nevertheless his own experience had convinced him that “it was a mistake to organise a demonstration”; however, we must not sharpen the conflicts. Without pacifying his enemies, Lunacharsky irritated his friends.
“We are not fighting with the left tendency,” said Dan jesuitically – he was the most experienced, but also most futile of the leaders of the swamp. “We are fighting with the counter revolution. It is not our fault if behind your shoulders stand the agents of Germany.” The reference to Germans was merely a substitute for an argument. Of course these gentlemen could not point to any agents of Germany.
Tseretelli wanted to deal a blow; Dan merely wanted to show his fist. In its helplessness the Executive Committee sided with Dan. The resolution offered to the congress next day had the character of an exceptional law against Bolsheviks, but without immediate practical inferences.
“You can have no doubt after the visit of your delegates to the factories and regiments,” said a declaration addressed to the congress in writing by the Bolsheviks, “that if the demonstration did not take place, it was not because of your veto, but because our party called it off … The fiction of a military conspiracy was created by the members of the Provisional Government in order to carry out the disarming of the proletariat of Petrograd and the disbanding of the Petrograd garrison … Even if the state power went over wholly into the hands of the Soviet – which we advocate – and the Soviet tried to put fetters upon our agitation, that would not make us passively submit; we should go to meet imprisonment and other punishments in the name of the idea of international socialism which separates us from you.”
The Soviet majority and the Soviet minority confronted each other breast to breast three days as though for a decisive battle. But both sides stepped back at the last moment. The Bolsheviks gave up the demonstration. The Compromisers abandoned the idea of disarming the workers.
Tseretelli remained in the minority among his own people. But nevertheless from his point of view he was right. The policy of union with the bourgeoisie had arrived at a point where it became necessary to paralyse the masses who were not reconciled to the coalition. To carry the Compromise policy through to a successful end – that is, to the establishment of a parliamentary rule of the bourgeoisie – demanded the disarming of the workers and soldiers. But Tseretelli was not only right. He was besides that powerless. Neither the soldiers nor the workers would have voluntarily given up their arms. It would have been necessary to employ force against them. But Tseretelli was already without forces. He could procure them, if at all, only from the hands of the reaction. But they, In case of a successful crushing of the Bolsheviks, would have immediately taken up the job of crushing the Compromise soviets, and would not have failed to remind Tseretelli that he was a former hard-labour convict and nothing more. However, the further course of events will show that even the reaction did not have forces enough for this.
Politically Tseretelli grounded his argument for fighting the Bolsheviks upon the assertion that they were separating the proletariat from the peasantry. Martov answered him: Tseretelli does not get his guiding ideas “from the depth of the peasantry. A group of right Kadets, a group of capitalists, a group of landlords, a group of imperialists, the bourgeoisie of the West” – these are the ones who are demanding the disarmament of the workers and soldiers. Martov was right: the possessing classes have more than once in history hidden their pretensions behind the backs of a peasantry.
From the moment of publication of Lenin’s April theses, a reference to the danger of isolating the proletariat from the peasants became the principal argument of all those who wanted to drag the revolution backward. It was no accident that Lenin compared Tseretelli to the “old Bolsheviks.”
In one of his works of the year 1917, Trotsky wrote on this theme: “The isolation of our party from the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, even its extreme isolation, even by way of solitary confinement, would still in no case mean the isolation of the proletariat from the oppressed peasantry and the oppressed city masses. On the contrary, a sharp demarcation of the policy of the revolutionary proletariat from the treacherous apostacy of the present leaders of the Soviet, can alone bring a saving political differentiation into the peasant millions, draw away the poor peasants from the traitorous leadership of the aggressive Social Revolutionary type of muzhik and convert the socialist proletariat into genuine leaders of the national plebeian revolution.”
But Tseretelli’s totally false argument remained alive. On the eve of the October revolution it reappeared with redoubled force as the argument of many “old Bolsheviks” against the uprising. Several years later when the intellectual reaction against October began, Tseretelli’s formula became the chief theoretical weapon of the school of the epigones.
At the same session of the congress which condemned the Bolsheviks in their absence, a representative of the Mensheviks unexpectedly moved to appoint for the following Sunday, the 18th of June, a manifestation of workers and soldiers in Petrograd and other important cities, in order to demonstrate to the enemy the unity and strength of the democracy. The motion was carried, although not without bewilderment. Something over a month later Miliukov fairly well explained this un expected turn on the part of the Compromisers: “In delivering Kadet speeches at the congress of the soviets, in disorganising the armed demonstration of June 10 … the minister-socialists felt that they had gone too far in our direction, that the ground was slipping under their feet. They got frightened and backed away abruptly toward the Bolsheviks.” The decision to hold a demonstration on June 18 was, of course not a step in the direction of the Bolsheviks, but an attempt to turn toward the masses as against the Bolsheviks. Their nocturnal experience with the workers and soldiers bad caused a certain amount of trepidation among the heads of the soviets. Thus, for instance, in direct opposition to what had been in mind at the beginning of the congress, they hastily produced in the name of the government a resolution calling for the abolition of the State Duma and the summoning of a Constituent Assembly for the 30th of September. The slogans of the demonstration were chosen with this same idea of not causing any irritation to the masses: “Universal Peace,” “Immediate Convocation of a Constituent Assembly,” “Democratic Republic.” Not a word either about the offensive or the coalition. Lenin asked in Pravda: “And what has become of ’Complete Confidence to the Provisional Government,’ gentlemen? . . Why does your tongue stick in your throat?” This irony was accurately to the point: the Compromisers did not dare demand of the masses confidence in that government of which they themselves were members.
The Soviet delegates, having a second time made the rounds of the workers’ districts and the barracks, gave wholly encouraging reports on the eve of the demonstration to the Executive Committee. Tseretelli, to whom these communications restored his equilibrium and inclination towards complacent sermonising, addressed some remarks to the Bolsheviks:
“Now we shall have an open and honest review of the revolutionary forces … Now we shall see whom the majority is following, you or us.” The Bolsheviks had accepted the challenge even before it was so incautiously formulated. “We shall join the demonstration on the 18th,” wrote Pravda, “in order to struggle for those aims for which we had intended to demonstrate on the 10th.”
The line of march – evidently in memory of the funeral procession of three months before, which had been, at least superficially, a gigantic manifestation of the unity of the democracy – again led to Mars Field and the grave of the February martyrs. But aside from the line of march nothing whatever was reminiscent of those earlier days. About 400,000 people paraded, considerably less than at the funeral: absent from the Soviet demonstration were not only the bourgeoisie with whom the soviets were in coalition, but also the radical intelligentsia, which had occupied so prominent a place in the former parades of the democracy. Few but the factories and barracks marched.
The delegates of the congress, assembled on Mars Field, read and counted the placards. The first Bolshevik slogans were met half-laughingly – Tseretelli had so confidently thrown down his challenge the day before. But these same slogans were repeated again and again. “Down with the Ten Minister-Capitalists!” “Down with the Offensive” “All Power to the Soviets!” The ironical smiles froze, and then gradually disappeared. Bolshevik banners floated everywhere. The delegates stopped counting the uncomfortable totals. The triumph of the Bolsheviks was too obvious. “Here and there,” writes Sukhanov, “the chain of Bolshevik banners and columns would be broken by specifically Social Revolutionary or official Soviet slogans. But these were drowned in the mass. Soviet officialdom was recounting the next day ‘how fiercely here and there the crowd tore up banners bearing the slogan “Confidence to the Provisional Government.”’” There is obvious exaggeration in this. Only three small groups carried placards in honour of the Provisional Government: the circle of Plekhanov, a Cossack detachment, and a handful of Jewish intellectuals who belonged to the Bund. This threefold combination, which gave the impression with its variegated membership of a political curio, seemed to have set itself the task of publicly exhibiting the impotence of the régime. Under the hostile cries of the crowd the Plekhanovites and the Bund lowered their placards. The Cossacks were stubborn, and their banners were literally torn from them by the demonstrators, and destroyed. “The stream which had been flowing quietly along until then,” writesIzvestia, “turned into a veritable river at the flood, just at the point of overflowing its banks.” That was the Vyborg section, all under the banners of the Bolsheviks. “Down with the Ten Minister-Capitalists” One of the factories carried a placard: “The right to Life is Higher than the rights of Private Property.” This slogan had not been suggested by the party.
Dismayed provincials were looking everywhere for their leaders. The latter lowered their eyes or simply went into hiding. The Bolsheviks went after the provincials. Does this look like a gang of conspirators? The delegates agreed that it did not. “In Petrograd you are the power,” they conceded in a totally different tone from that in which they had spoken at the official sessions, “but not in the provinces, not at the front. Petrograd cannot go against the whole country.” That’s all right, answered the Bolsheviks, your turn will soon come – the same slogans will be raised.
“During this demonstration,” wrote the old man Plekhanov, “I stood on Mars Field beside Cheidze: I saw in his face that he was not deceiving himself in the least about the significance of the astonishing number of placards demanding the overthrow of the capitalist ministers. It was emphasised as though intentionally by the veritably imperious commands with which some of the Leninists addressed him as they passed by like people celebrating a holiday.” The Bolsheviks certainly had ground for a holiday feeling. “Judging by the placards and slogans of the demonstrators,” wrote Gorky’s paper, “the Sunday demonstration revealed the complete triumph of Bolshevism among the Petersburg proletariat.” It was a great victory, and moreover it was won on the arena and with the weapons chosen by the enemy. While sanctioning the offensive, recognising the coalition, and condemning the Bolsheviks, the soviet congress had called the masses on its own initiative into the streets. They came with the announcement: We don’t want either offensive or coalition; we are for Bolshevism. Such was the political meaning of the demonstration. No wonder the papers of the Mensheviks, who had initiated the demonstration, asked themselves mournfully the next day: Who suggested that unhappy idea?
Of course not all the workers and soldiers in the capital took part in the demonstration, and not all the demonstrators were Bolsheviks. But by this time not one of them wanted a coalition. Those workers who still remained hostile to Bolshevism did not know what to oppose to it. Their hostility was thus converted into a watchful neutrality. Under the Bolshevik slogans marched no small number of Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries who had not yet broken with their party, but had already lost faith in its slogans.
The demonstration of June18 made an enormous impression on its own participants. The masses saw that the Bolsheviks had become a power, and the vacillating were drawn to them. In Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, and many other provincial towns the demonstrations revealed an immense growth of the influence of the Bolsheviks. Everywhere the same slogans were advanced, and they struck at the very heart of the February régime. It was impossible not to draw conclusions. It seemed as though the Compromisers had nowhere to go. But the offensive helped them at the very last moment. On the 19th of June, there was a patriotic demonstration on the Nevsky under the leadership of Kadets, and with a portrait of Kerensky. In the words of Miliukov, “It was so different from what happened on the same street the day before that there mingled with the feeling of triumph an involuntary feeling of uneasiness.” Legitimate feeling! But the Compromisers gave a sigh of relief. Their thoughts immediately soared above both demonstrations in the form of a democratic synthesis. Those people were fated to drain the cup of illusion and humiliation to the dregs.
In the April days two simultaneous demonstrations, one revolutionary and the other patriotic, had gone to meet each other, and their clash resulted in casualties. The hostile demonstrations of the 18th and 19th of June followed one after the other. There was no direct clash then. But a clash was not to be avoided. It had only been postponed for two weeks.
The anarchists, not knowing how else to show their independence, availed themselves of the demonstration of June 18 for an attack on the Vyborg prisons. The prisoners, a majority of them criminal, were liberated without a fight and without casualties – and not from one prison, but from several simultaneously. It seems obvious that the attack had not caught the administration unawares – that the administration had gladly gone halfway to meet actual and pretended anarchists. That whole enigmatical episode had nothing whatever to do with the demonstration. But the patriotic press linked them together. The Bolsheviks proposed to the congress of soviets a strict investigation of the manner in which 460 criminals had been let loose from various prisons. However, the Compromisers could not permit themselves this luxury: they were afraid they would run into men higher up in the administration and their own allies in a political bloc. Moreover, they had no desire to defend their own demonstration against malicious slanders.
The Minister of Justice, Pereverzev – who had disgraced himself a few days before in connection with the summer house of Durnovo – decided to have vengeance, and under the pretext of a search for escaped convicts made a new raid on the place. The anarchists resisted; one of them was killed, and the house wrecked. The workers of the Vyborg side, considering the house their own, sounded the alarm. Several factories quit work; the alarm spread to other sections and even to the barracks.
The last days of June pass in a continual commotion. A machine gun regiment prepares for an immediate attack on the Provisional Government. Workers from the striking factories make the rounds of the regiments calling them into the streets. Bearded peasants in soldiers’ coats, many of them grey-haired, pass in processions of protest along the pavements: these middle-aged peasants are demanding that they be discharged for work in the fields. The Bolsheviks are carrying on an agitation against going into the streets: The demonstration of the 18th has said all that can be said: in order to produce a change, demonstrating is not enough; and yet the hour of revolution has not yet struck. On the 22nd of June, the Bolshevik press appeals to the garrison: “Do not trust any summons to action in the Street delivered in the name of the Military Organisation.” Delegates are arriving from the front with complaints of violence and punishments. Threats to reorganise the unsubmissive regiments pour oil on the fire. “In many regiments the soldiers are sleeping with weapons in their hands,” says a declaration of the Bolsheviks to the Executive Committee. Patriotic demonstrations, often armed, lead to street fights. These are small discharges of the accumulated electricity. Neither side directly intends to attack: the reaction is too weak, the revolution is not yet fully confident of its power. But the streets of the town seem paved with explosive material. A battle hovers in the air. The Bolshevik press explains and restrains. The patriotic press gives away its fright with an un bridled baiting of Bolsheviks. On the 25th, Lenin writes: “This universal wild cry of spite and rage against the Bolsheviks is the common complaint of Kadets, Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks against their own flabbiness. They are in a majority. They are the government. They are all together in a bloc. And they see that nothing comes of it. What can they do but rage against the Bolsheviks?”