The Revolutionary Masses
aftermath of the failed military coup Bolshevik popularity soared
again, and by early September the Bolsheviks for the first time
secured a majority in the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. Encouraged
by the indications of a renewed upsurge of Bolshevik support, Lenin,
still in hiding, now revived the slogan ‘All power to the Soviets’.
Over the next few weeks he bombarded the party’s Central Committee
with letters, demanding an immediate insurrection of the armed
proletariat, the overthrow of ‘Kerensky and Company’, and the
seizure of political power:
The point is to make the task clear to the Party. The present task must be an
Petrograd and Moscow (with its region), the seizing of power and the
overthrow of the government.
History will not forgive us if we do not assume power now.
However, the party’s Central Committee was
not yet totally convinced by Lenin’s arguments about the timing of the
insurrection. The lessons of the failed ‘July uprising’, which had let to the
suppression of the Party and arrests of its activists, were still fresh in the
minds of the leading Bolsheviks and now made them more cautious. Moreover, some
of the Bolshevik leaders had serious doubts about the European proletariat’s
readiness to support a socialist breakthrough in Russia by rising in an
‘international proletarian revolution’. Indeed, they were unsure even of their
support among Petrograd workers.
of the Bolshevik Central Committee in particular, Zinoviev and
Kamenev, counseled patience, proposing to wait for elections to the
Constituent Assembly, or at least the planned meeting of the Second
Congress of Soviets. They argued that by using the elections and by
relying on their majority in the Soviets the Bolsheviks could seize
power gradually and peacefully without resorting to arms.
by these objections, Lenin, on 10 October, returned incognito to the
capital to attend a Central Committee meeting that was to consider
the issue of the insurrection. His ferocious argumentation succeeded
in sweeping aside the hesitations of his comrades and persuading the
Bolshevik Central Committee to adopt his line for an immediate armed
uprising. However, their decision was not unanimous, as Kamenev and
Zinoviev still voted against and publicized the fact in the press.
Their behavior showed that, despite his prestige, Lenin’s authority
was by no means absolute.
middle of October, the Bolsheviks had established their firm control
over the Petrograd Soviet. Its newly elected chairman was Lev
Trotsky, a Bolshevik leader whose standing in the Party was by now
second only to that of Lenin. A maverick Marxist, Trotsky had
finally joined the Bolshevik party in July. Together with Lenin they
made a formidable team of the two most determined and possibly most
brilliant Russian revolutionary leaders totally committed to an
immediate overthrow of capitalism.
October the Petrograd Soviet elected a
(MRC), nominally to defend Petrograd against counter-revolution and
a possible German assault. Its real task, however, was to plan the
armed insurrection. The MRC was dominated by Bolsheviks, but also
contained some radical Socialist-Revolutionaries who supported the
plan of deposing the Provisional Government by force. The Mensheviks
and the majority of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, however, were
strongly against the Bolshevik plan and refused to join.
Trotsky, the MRC coordinated the activities of the pro-Bolshevik
troops and detachments of the ‘Red Guards’ (a part-time militia formed mainly from younger
factory workers) on the eve and during the Bolshevik take-over. It
asserted its military control over the capital by appointing
commissars, or representatives, to all military units of the
Petrograd garrison. These persuaded most units to obey them rather
than the Provisional Government and thus effectively deprived the
Provisional Government of its control over the troops.