|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 212 October 2017
October: the transfer of power
The following items are extracts from speeches made by LEON TROTSKY to the extraordinary session of the Petrograd Soviet on the eve of the second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Presented as ‘reports on the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee’ they are in reality a defence of the transfer of power to the new Soviet government. The opening and final parts were published in the Bolshevik newspaper, Rabochii Put (Workers’ Path – No.46, 26 October 1917). The second part appeared in the newspaper of the Petrograd Soviet, Izvestia (News – No.206, 25 October 1917). This is the first translation into English – by Pete Dickenson.
Outlining the history of the conflict with the headquarters of the military district, comrade Trotsky reports on a whole series of attempts by the Provisional Government to bring up to Petrograd troops hostile to the revolution. All such attempts have been paralysed by the Military Revolutionary Committee.
We are not afraid to take responsibility for maintaining revolutionary order in the city. Today, the Military Revolutionary Committee declares to the people of Petrograd that the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies is undertaking the defence of revolutionary order against counter-revolutionary and pogromist encroachments.
We saw a delegation today from the city administration. They asked us how will we see to the preservation of order in the city. They realise that the Kerensky government has neither forces nor power.1 The delegation passed on a rumour that the government even intends to transfer power to the city administration.
We replied to the city government delegation that to keep revolutionary order we are ready to agree to harmonise our action with the city duma. Since the Kornilov days, a representative of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet has been delegated to the city administration.2 On its side, the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet includes a representative of the city government.
The delegation then asked us about insurrection and intervention on the streets. We told them that this question has been put to us more than once. In relation to this, it is not necessary to change a single word. We responded to the delegation that ‘all power to the soviets’ is our slogan. In the coming epoch, the epoch of the meeting of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets, this slogan must become reality. Whether this leads to intervention or insurrection depends not only and not so much on the soviets but on those who, despite the unanimous will of the people, hold in their hands state power.
The Military Revolutionary Committee arose not as an organ of insurrection but on the basis of self-defence of the revolution. When the government of Kerensky decided to disarm Petrograd and withdraw the troops, we said that in order to protect the revolution we would not allow it. When yesterday this government closed two newspapers that had a huge influence on the Petrograd proletariat and garrison, we said that we could not tolerate this suppression of free speech and decided to resume publication of the papers.3 We placed the honourable duty to safeguard the presses of the revolutionary papers on the valiant soldiers of the Litovsky Regiment and the 6th Reserve Engineers Battalion.
Is this an insurrection? We have a semi-government that does not trust the people and does not believe in itself, because it is dead internally. This semi-government is waiting for the broom of history to sweep it away, to clear the way for a genuine revolutionary people’s power.
The government began to mobilise cadets and at the same time ordered the cruiser Aurora to withdraw. Why call up the cadets and withdraw the sailors? The reason is clear. These are the sailors that Skobelev had to go to, cap in hand, in the Kornilov days to guard the Winter Palace from the Kornilovists.4 The sailors on the Aurora carried out this request of Skobelev and now the government is trying to remove them. But the comrade sailors asked for advice from the Military Revolutionary Committee and the Aurora today stands where it stood last night.
The Congress of Soviets opens tomorrow. The task of the garrison and the proletariat is to place at the disposal of the congress the power they have accumulated, a power on which any provocation by the government will founder. Our task is to deliver to the congress this power, undamaged and united.
When congress says that it is organising for power this will be the culmination of work accomplished throughout the country. This will mean that the people have freed themselves from the authority of the counter-revolutionary government and are convening their own congress and will create their own government.
If the sham government makes a desperate attempt to revive its own corpse, then the popular masses, organised and armed, will deliver a decisive rebuff which will be stronger the stronger the attack by the government. If the government tries to use the 24 or 48 hours that remain to it in order to stab the revolution in the back then we declare that the vanguard of the revolution will reply blow for blow, iron with steel.
Replying to a question about the relationship with the Left SRs, comrade Trotsky clarifies that two out of the five members of the Military Revolutionary Committee are Left SRs – comrades Lazimir and Sakharov.
Their work is excellent and we have no differences in principle with them. This evening they reported to us that the Left SR fraction is leaving the Pre-Parliament and is sending its representative to the Military Revolutionary Committee.5 So, in the struggle against the common enemy – the counter-revolution – we found each other.
Report in Izvestia
Tonight there was an alarm for the Petrograd Soviet and the Military Revolutionary Committee.
During the night we got information that the Provisional Government had called up a battalion of shock troops from Tsarskoye Selo from the Oranienbaum Ensign School, from the Pavlovsk Artillery. Early in the morning we received information about the closure of two newspapers, Soldat and Rabochii Put.
But the Military Revolutionary Committee did not remain passive and, as a result, the elements called out by the Provisional Government, with the exception of a small group of cadets, refused to take the field. In addition, the Military Revolutionary Committee ordered the Litovsky Regiment to take responsibility for the security of our papers’ presses, and this was rapidly carried out. At the moment, these presses are fully operational. What was not carried out was the demand of the Provisional Government to weigh the anchor of the cruiser Aurora and move it from Petrograd. Following the order of the Military Revolutionary Committee the cruiser Aurora is in the same place it was yesterday.
Today the Petrograd Soviet received a delegation from the Petrograd city administration, comprising six people, three SRs, one Menshevik and two Bolsheviks. They asked us what measures have been taken to maintain order in the city, and also reported that the Provisional Government apparently is intending to transfer power into the hands of the Petrograd city duma.
We replied that the Petrograd Soviet is concerned for the safety of the inhabitants of the city, and will harmonise its work with the Petrograd city duma. We proposed also that they have a seat on the Military Revolutionary Committee.
They asked us if we intended to come out onto the streets. I replied that the Petrograd Soviet stands for the transfer of all power into the hands of the soviets. In the present epoch, at this time when the All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies opens imminently, this slogan will be implemented in practice – but whether this will lead to an intervention on the streets will depend not on us but on our opponents.
We believe that the state power we now have, in the shape of the Provisional Government, is really a semi-government, pathetic and helpless, waiting for the broom of history to sweep it away, to clear a place for a genuine people’s power. This government has lost everything: support, moral authority and right.
But on the eve of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets, armed conflict is not included in our plans, today or tomorrow. We believe that the All-Russia Congress of Soviets will carry through our slogan with great force and authority. But if the government wants to use the time that remains to it, 24, 48, or 72 hours, to come out against us, we will reply with a counter-attack, blow for blow, iron with steel.
After the report, L Trotsky replied to several questions submitted to him by individual members of the assembly. Are the bridges open? Is it true that cadets are conducting searches on the streets, etc? L Trotsky, it turned out, had no information on this and referred all enquiries to the Military Revolutionary Committee. After this factual supplement, he reported that in respect of such uncertain times it is important to have constant communication between workers and soldiers, district soviets, factory committees, military units and the Smolny Institute. Trotsky finished his report with the statement that the Left SR fraction in the Pre-Parliament, after today’s session, were in the Smolny and expressed the wish to join the Military Revolutionary Committee.
Second report in Rabochii Put
In the name of the Military Revolutionary Committee I announce that the Provisional Government no longer exists. (Applause) Some ministers are under arrest. (‘Bravo!’) Others will be arrested in the coming days or hours. (Applause) The revolutionary garrison which is at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee has dispersed the meeting of the Pre-Parliament. (Stormy applause. A cry: ‘Long live the Military Revolutionary Committee!’)
They said that an insurrection of the garrison at the present time would lead to a pogrom and drown the revolution in rivers of blood. So far it has been bloodless. We don’t know of a single victim. In the history of the revolutionary movement I do not know of an example where such huge masses were involved and which passed off bloodlessly. The authority of the Provisional Government headed by Kerensky was dead, waiting to be swept away by the broom of history.
We must acknowledge the heroism and dedication of the Petrograd soldiers and workers. Here, we were up all night, and on the telephones followed how detachments of revolutionary soldiers and workers’ guards quietly went about their task. The inhabitants slept peacefully and didn’t know that during this time one power was being replaced by another. The stations, post, telegraph, the Petrograd telegram agency and the state bank are occupied. (Stormy applause) The Winter Palace is not yet taken, but its fate will be decided in the course of the next few minutes. (Applause) The Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies is right to be proud of the soldiers and workers who it relies on, and who it led into battle to a glorious victory.
The nature of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois governments is to deceive the masses. For us now – for us, the soviets of soldiers’ workers’ and peasants’ deputies – the test is posed, unprecedented in history, of the creation of a government which will have no other aim than the satisfaction of the needs of the soldiers, workers and peasants. The state must be the instrument of the masses in the struggle for their emancipation from all slavery.
The best forces of bourgeois science will understand that the conditions created by the soviets of soldiers’ workers’ and peasants’ deputies will be the best for their work. It is imperative to establish control over production. The peasants, workers and soldiers must feel that the national economy is their economy. This is the basic principle of constructing power. The introduction of universal labour service is an urgent task of a genuine revolutionary government…
During the night, telegrams about the real situation were sent in the name of the Petrograd Soviet to all Russia. Radio-telegrams have been sent to the serving army about the fall of the old government and the imminent formation of a new one. The first steps of the new government must be the following: an immediate truce on all fronts, the transfer of land to the peasants, the speediest convocation of a genuine, democratic Constituent Assembly. The whereabouts of the former minister-president, Kerensky, are unknown but we believe that they will soon be known…
One of the immediate tasks of the Military Revolutionary Committee is to send a delegation to the front to inform it about the revolution in Petrograd.
The Petrograd Soviet must designate commissars from its ranks to send to the fronts. The Military Revolutionary Committee and its members cannot make a report now because it is occupied all the time with urgent work. I can report that a telegram has just been received that troops are moving up to Petrograd from the front. The dispatch of commissars is vital, it would be criminal from our side not to send out revolutionary commissars to the whole country to tell the broad masses about the events. (Voice: ‘You are predetermining the will of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets’.) The will of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets was predetermined by the great fact of the insurrection of the Petrograd workers and soldiers that took place tonight. Now it remains only to consolidate our victory.
1. Alexander Kerensky was the head of the Provisional Government and a member of the Social Revolutionary (SR) party. Drawing its support mainly from the peasantry, it had spilt by this time into right and left-wing factions.
2. General Kornilov was the commander-in-chief of the Russian army until his failed coup attempt in August 1917.
3. Soldat (Soldier) and Rabochii Put (Workers’ Path) were Bolshevik newspapers suppressed by the Provisional Government. They had been set up to replace Pravda, the Bolsheviks’ flagship paper which had been shut down by the government in July.
4. Matvey Skobelev was labour minister in the Provisional Government and a member of the Menshevik party. Formerly a close associate of Trotsky, he opposed the October revolution and went into exile. He returned to posts in the Soviet government in 1922, against the objections of Trotsky. He was executed in 1938 during Stalin’s purges.
5. The Pre-Parliament was prepared in September by the parties in the Provisional Government coalition (right-wing socialists and capitalists) as a counterweight to the growing strength of the soviets and the Bolshevik party.