"Chapter VII." by Louise Bryant (-1936)
THE first meeting of the Preparliament took place in the shabby old hall of the Petrograd City Duma on September 23, and showed that the moderate socialist machine was still in control by the election of Tcheidze as President. Another indication of the drift toward the right wing was the decision to discuss the question of the constitution of the government in secret session, in face of the combined protest of the Bolsheviki, Menshevik Internationalists and the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionists.
During the secret session Tseretelli arrived from the Winter Palace with a report of the alliance, hastily concluded, between the moderate socialists and the bourgeoisie, announcing the bourgeoisie would enter the Preparliament in the proportion of 100 members to each 120 democratic members; that a coalition government would be formed; and that the government would not be responsible to the Preparliament. Then, coalition being a fact, everybody entered into violent debates upon the subject, which were terminated by "Babushka"–Katherine Breshkovsky–announcing in a trembling voice at 2 o'clock in the morning that coalition was right because human life itself is based on the principle of coalition. . . .
The next day a heated debate took place upon the question of the death penalty in the army, followed by passionate addresses by every one altogether upon coalition, the dissolution of the Duma, peace, the threatening railroad strike and the land question which ended in the resolution of the Socialist Revolutionists insisting that the first task of the new government should be the immediate placing of the land under the authority of the General Peasant Land Committees.
At one time such pandemonium reigned that a violent discussion between Trotsky and Tcheidze ended because neither one could hear what the other was saying. In the lull that followed Babushka rebuked the delegates, saying that they had come together to save Russia and that not a single step had been taken.
Avksentieff, at that time president of the Peasants' Soviets, but now completely out of power, declared that if the land amendment had anything to do with endangering coalition the Socialist Revolutionists would retire it. The whole matter was finally disposed of by the representative of the Land Committee himself who got up and remarked bitterly that the whole business was utter absurdity and that the Peasants' Land Committee would have nothing to do with it, whereupon the resolution was rejected. At six o'clock in the morning the delegates went wearily home. . . .
The next morning Tseretelli announced that the official name of the Preparliament would be the "Council of the Russian Republic," and that it would meet in the Marinsky Palace after a few days.
Thus ended the first attempt to establish absolute democratic power in Russia.
The Council of the Russian Republic
Ever since the split of the democratic forces over coalition with the bourgeoisie, which first definitely manifested itself at the Democratic Congress, a new revolution, deeper and in every way more significant than the first, hung like a thundercloud over Russia.
For weeks the Council of the Russian Republic held futile sessions. On the very first evening the Bolsheviki, through their spokesman, Trotsky, hurled a bomb into the gathering from which it never recovered. They accused the sens element–propertied classes–of being represented out of proportion to their numbers as shown from the elections held all over the country, and charged them with the deliberate intention of ruining the Revolution; appealing to the soldiers, workers, peasants of all Russia to be on their guard, the Bolsheviki left the Council never to return.
After that the Council sat day after day a hostile, divided house, unable to carry out a single measure. The Mensheviki, Menshevik Internationalists, Right and Left Socialist Revolutionists, sat on one side, the Cadets on the other, and the vote on every important measure was a tie. Orators from the right got up and heaped recriminations on the left, orators from the left screamed curses on the right. And all this time the mass of the people left their old parties and joined the ranks of the Bolsheviki. Louder grew the cry: All power to the Soviets!
Every few days Kerensky would appear and make impassioned addresses without any effect whatever. He would be received coldly and listened to with indifference; the Cadets often choosing this particular time to read their papers. During one of the last speeches he made in the Marinsky Palace, begging them to forget their differences and somehow pull together until the Constituent Assembly, he was so overcome with the hopelessness of the situation that he rushed from the platform, and having gained his seat, wept openly before the whole assembly.
All those who understood the condition of Russia at that time knew that Kerensky was the symbol of a fictitious union of parties, but how long he could remain so no one could foretell. He was ill and carrying the weight of all Russia on his frail shoulders. Moreover, he had been betrayed by the very Cadets he had worked so hard to keep in the government. The Bolsheviki were offering a definite programme containing the wishes nearest to the hearts of the people, and the people were going over to the Bolsheviki.
One thing might have saved that pitiful Preparliament even in the last days, and that was the Allied Conference to Discuss War Aims which new Russia had demanded at the beginning of the revolution and which was to be held in June, was postponed to September, then to November, and finally, apparently, given up altogether. With the final decision of the Allies and the now famous speech of Bonar Law, the last shred of influence of the Council of the Russian Republic disappeared. All Russia was slowly starving, another terrible winter was coming on, and there was nothing definite to hang their hopes on. Kerensky himself was not unaware of the danger or of the confusion. He told me himself a few days before the Provisional Government fell, that the people had lost confidence and were too economically tired to put up further effective resistance against the Germans.
"The Constituent Assembly must be the deciding factor, one way or the other," he said. He hoped that he could hold the country together until then, but I do not think for a moment that he thought he could hold it any longer. I do not think he dared prophesy what would come out of the Constituent when it did meet.
On the 25th of October the meeting of the All-Russian Soviets was due to be held in Petrograd. That that tremendously powerful body would demand immediate action on all the burning issues there was no doubt and that if the Provisional Government refused those demands they would take over the power there was also no doubt. Kerensky believed that he ought to prevent this meeting by any means possible, even by force of arms. He did not realise how far the Bolshevik influence had spread. The masses moved fast in those days and the army had gone solidly Bolshevik.
Kerensky took into account, however, that the Petrograd garrison was composed largely of Bolsheviki and so on the 14th of October he ordered this garrison to the front to be replaced by troops less Bolshevik. Naturally, the Petrograd garrison protested and appealed to the Petrograd Soviet. The Petrograd Soviet appointed a commission to go to the front and confer with General Tcherimissov, and demand of him that if he did send regiments to replace the Petrograd garrison the Petrograd Soviet should be allowed to choose them. This General Tcherimissov flatly refused, saying that he was the Commander-in-Chief of the army and that his orders should be obeyed.
In the meantime members of the Petrograd garrison held a meeting and elected the now famous Military Revolutionary Committee, and demanded that a representative of the committee be allowed in the General Staff of the Petrograd District. This proposition the Petrograd Staff refused to consider. In reply the Petrograd garrison declared that it would take no orders from anybody unless countersigned by the Military Revolutionary Committee, as they maintained that the General Staff was secretly taking measures to violently disperse the meeting of the All-Russian Soviets.
On the 23rd of October Kerensky announced before the Council of the Republic that an order had been issued for the arrest of the Military Revolutionary Committee. The next night several of the members of the Pavlovsk regiment secreted themselves in the office of the General Staff and discovered that plans were being made to seize the city with the aid of the Junker regiments, and forcibly prevent the meeting of the All-Russian Soviets scheduled for the following day. That night Kerensky ordered all the extreme radical papers and the extreme conservative papers suppressed. But it was too late; it was like sweeping back the sea with a broom. The Soviets had become the ultimate political expression of the popular will, and the Bolsheviki were the champions of the Soviets.
After the Pavlovsk regiment discovered the plans of the Provisional Government, they set sentries and began to arrest all persons entering or leaving the General Staff. Before this time the Junkers had begun to seize automobiles and take them to the Winter Palace. They also seized the editorial offices and the printing shops of the Bolshevik papers. During all this confusion a meeting of the old Executive Committee of the Soviets was taking place at Smolny. The old Central Executive Committee was composed largely of Mensheviki and Left Socialist Revolutionists, and the new delegates were almost solidly Bolshevik. There was nothing to do but speedily elect a new Central Executive Committee.
The next afternoon I started out as usual to attend the regular session of the Council of the Russian Republic. One glance around the square before the Marinsky Palace assured me that the long looked for storm of civil war had come. Soldiers and sailors were guarding the little bridges over the Moika, a great crowd of sailors were at the door of the palace and barricades were being hastily constructed. Word flew round that they were arresting the Council of the Republic. As a matter of fact no one thought the Council of the Republic was important enough to arrest. What really happened was tragically funny. A big Cronstadt sailor marched into the great elaborate red and gold assembly chamber and announced in a loud voice "No more Council! Go along home!" And the Council went–disappearing forever as an influence in the political life of Russia.