October 15, 2018

Lenin—Organiser of the Victorious October Uprising

First published in the Soviet newspaper Krasnaya Gazeta, November 6, 1927, for the tenth anniversary of the revolution.
By Nikolai Podvoisky

….The evening of October 17 has remained firmly fixed in my memory After a meeting in one of the regiments I hurried to the Smolny Institute The long corridors of the gigantic vaulted building resounded to the trample of many feet. Soldiers' grey greatcoats, the black jackets and smocks of the Red Guards, the dark pea-jackets of sailors with machine-gun belts strapped round them and bristling with hand-grenades, armed men everywhere—such was the picture presented by the Smolny. At the entrance were two quick-firing guns, between them and on their flanks stood machine-guns.

A big former class-room of the Institute, on the ground floor, was the headquarters of the Bolshevik group; the only furniture in the room was the desks moved up against the walls. The room was full of people. An important conference of representatives of all districts of the Petrograd Bolshevik organisation and the Military Organisation of the Central Committee was under way. The question of armed insurrection was being discussed. The chairman was Comrade Sverdlov. In the middle of the room stood a simple little table without a cover. One report after another told that the workers and soldiers of Petrograd were prepared for the insurrection. Party workers from the districts produced facts and figures showing that the time was ripe… As chairman of the Military Organisation of the Bolshevik Party, I reported to the conference on the Red Guards, the army units and the fleet. I began with the Red Guards in Vyborg District. They were in close contact with the factory and district Bolshevik organisations and with the factory committees. I mentioned the names of the organisers of the Red Guards. I made special mention of those secretaries of Party groups and chairmen of factory committees who had shown ability in drawing workers into their in the Red Guard. These organisers of the Red Guards had worked well to put into force the battle slogans of the Bolshevik Party. The former Moscow Regiment of Life Guards had given great assistance to the Red Guards of Vyborg District, where it was quartered. I spoke about the Red Guard of Petrograd District which was developing into an important force. It had had its baptism of fire during the April demonstration when a group of Tsarist officers had attacked the Red Guards in an attempt to take away and tear up their red flag. They were repulsed by armed force. I spoke of Moscow-Narva District and the giant Putilov Works with its forty-thousand strong army of workers. The February Revolution began with the demonstration and strike of the Putilov workers. As early as 5 March 1917, the Putilov workers adopted a resolution not to lay down their arms until the final victory of the proletarian revolution. The Putilov workers were a well-disciplined Red Guard. I reported on the soldiers of the Petrograd garrison, on the famous Armoured-Car Detachment amongst whom were many former Petrograd, Moscow and Kolomna workers. The older soldiers amongst them remembered the battles with the Tsarist government in 1905. They had shown no fear of court-martial when, in April, they took two armoured cars to the Finland Railway Station on the memorable day of Lenin's arrival. The 17 armoured cars in possession of the detachment were an important force. The officers of the Provisional Government had got control of this force and with its aid were guarding the railway stations, telephone exchange, telegraph office, post office, the Winter and Marinskii palaces and the Army Headquarters. Then I spoke about other units. The Bolsheviks of the Motor Transport Company had all the lorries and army cars in their hands. The Bolsheviks of the Armoured-Car Repair Shops had six cars ready—at a moment's notice they were prepared to place the cars and themselves at the disposal of the staff of the armed insurrection. The Flame-Thrower and Chemical Battalion and the Engineer Battalion, the 1st Machine-Gun Regiment and others had been disarmed. The soldiers of these units, however, were eager to wash away in blood the insult of the disarmament that had followed their demand during the July demonstrations that all power be invested in the Soviets. I reported in brief on the ten Guards' regiments. In advance of the others were the Pavlovsky and Grenadier Jaeger regiments and the Petrograd, Lithuanian, Volhynian, Finland and Izmailovsky regiments, where propaganda had taken root. The Bolsheviks had conducted very extensive propaganda in these regiments even before the July events. K.Y.Voroshilov was with the Izmailovsky Regiment and had aroused them to revolt in February.

The 180th Regiment and the Siege Artillery of the Peter and Paul fortress would follow the Bolsheviks. The artillerymen considered it a matter of honour for the fortress garrison that the Colt Machine gun Battalion and the Cyclist Battalion on whose loyalty the Provisional Government had counted, were no longer amongst the defenders of the bourgeoisie.

I listed the troops that would bar the roads to Petrograd from Pskov, Minsk and Mogilev in the event of the General Headquarters making an attempt to come to the aid of the Provisional Government. The garrisons quartered along the Warsaw, Baltic and Vitebsk railways, in Tsarskoye Selo, Gatchina, Luga and other places were all re-electing their company and battalion committees and placing Bolsheviks at the head of them. Groups of the Bolshevik Military Organisation were the only guiding force in these units. All these units would follow the Bolsheviks only in order overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and establish the power of workers and peasants.

These sailors of Kronstadt and Helsingfors, the artillery and infantry at Vyborg, the Lettish Rifles, the soldiers from the armies on the Northern Front, steeled in the battles against the bourgeoisie in the July- August and September days, informed the country of their loyalty to the banner of Lenin in their newspapers Soldat (The Soldier), Volna (The Wave) Okupnaya Pravda (The Trench Truth) The sailors and the soldiers of Vyborg had shown where they stood as early as March when they threw generals and officers into the sea and drowned them. They were confident of the success of the insurrection, confident that theirs was the force that would crush the bourgeoisie.

Those present listened in rapt attention, trying to catch every word. I finished my report and went aside. At that moment Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov came up to me and whispered: ‘Now you can go to Ilyich. He sent for you the report on the preparations’.

Sverdlov took me to Antonov-Ovseenko and Nevsky who were also to go to see Lenin. We were to give him an account of the way in which the Party's Military Organisation was preparing the masses for insurrection.

As a precaution we decided to go separately, each of us with a guide. Night. I was accompanied by Comrade Pavlov, a Petrograd worker born and bred. We went a roundabout way to avoid being followed It was a lot farther but more dependable. There had been a noticeably keener hunt for Ilyich, dozens of plain-clothes men were roaming the city and camouflaged pickets were to be seen everywhere. The Provisional Government felt their rule coming to an end; they realised how much Lenin wan responsible for the masses having become more and more persistent in demanding the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. The plain-clothes men were beside themselves in their effort to find Lenin.

Avoiding the cadet patrols we continued our way along little used back streets.

We crossed Troitsky Bridge, making for Petrograd District, pretending to be going away from Vyborg District.

When we were quite sure that we were not being followed we went over to Vyborg District. At last we came to the street where Lenin was living. We went round the house carefully to make sure there were no suspicious characters about. The street was deserted. We entered the yard and I was naturally very excited.

We went upstairs to the first floor and looked round. Then we knocked giving the prescribed signal. The door opened and an unknown man stood before us. Vladimir Ilyich was so well disguised that I only recognised by his voice when I heard the words, ‘Good-evening, Comrade Podvoisky.’

While we were on the way I had given considerable thought to the sequence in which I would make my ‘report’.

In actual fact there was no report—just a simple, heart-to-heart talk.

When Vladimir Ilyich had seated us he began with Antonov-Ovseenko, asking him to give his views concerning the insurrection. Antonov-Ovseenko said he was not in a position to judge the situation in the Petrograd garrison but he was well acquainted with the Helsingfors fleet and to some extent with the Kronstadt Fleet. The sailors were ready for action. They could come to Petrograd by railway or, in case of necessity, could approach the city from the sea. Good propaganda work had been done amongst the troops quartered in Finland and they supported the uprising in every way. As far as the Petrograd garrison was concerned he believed that after the work done by the Military Organisation the success of the insurrection was assured. He was convinced of this by the numerous meetings held by the Party during September and October and the resolutions passed at them.

Nevsky, whom the Military Organisation had sent specially to Helsingfors to find out whether it would be possible for the fleet to participate in the insurrection directly in Petrograd waters, said that the fleet would certainly take part— Antonov-Ovseenko was right—but that movement of the fleet to Petrograd would be a matter of the greatest difficulty. After the arrest of the officers, which would be necessary in the first hour of the uprising, their places would be taken by men with little experience, and who were not well acquainted with the charts of the minefields, so that it was doubtful whether they would be able to steer the vessels through them. Deployment of the ships should it become necessary to fight at Petrograd would also give trouble since the sailors in command were unable to direct a battle.

Nevsky was in favour of leaving the ships in Helsingfors and bringing the sailors to Petrograd by rail.

I was no better off and felt as uneasy as an inexperienced boxer in the ring…

‘You said that at such and such a factory there is a good military organisation, there are 300 men in the Red Guard, there are rifles and cartridges, and, you said, there are even machine-guns. Who is the commander there, do you know him?’

‘Yes. I know him.’ And I told Ilyich all I knew about him.

‘You say he is an excellent man? Would give his head for the revolution? And what are his military qualifications? Can he shoot, from a revolver, say? And could he handle a cannon if it were necessary? Could he bring up something essential in a car, in case of need! Can he drive a car? And then, do your Red Guard commanders know anything about the tactics street fighting?’

It appeared that I knew nothing about any one of the commanders from that point of view. Vladimir Ilyich stood up, placed his fingers in his waistcoat pockets and shook his head reproachfully.

‘Ai-ai-ai, and that's the chairman of the Military Organisation! How are you going to lead the insurrection if you do not know what your commanders are like? It is not enough for them to be good agitators, good propagandists, that they make good reports and are excellent organisers of the masses. Insurrection is not a meeting to hear reports, insurrection is action with arms in hand. There you not only have to act with self-sacrifice but also with skill, otherwise the slightest mistake may cost the Lives of red guards, revolutionary sailors and soldiers … A mistake may lead to defeat of the insurrection.’

I saw what a tremendous mistake we had been making. I then realised that the Petrograd Organisation of the Bolshevik Party had mustered huge masses of workers and soldiers for the insurrection, but had been paying little attention to purely military matters although that was the primary duty of the Military Organisation. There was only one thing I wanted at that moment—to go straight back, roll up my sleeves and try to make for lost time…

Noting my confusion, Vladimir Ilyich tried to help me out off the awkward position in which I found myself.

‘My dear fellow’, he said, ‘insurrection is the most crucial form of warfare. It is a great art. Of course, bold commanders can do wonders by their own example, audacity and courage. But what sort of commander for an armed uprising is a man who cannon shoot! Such commanders must immediately replaced by others. Leaders who do not understand the tactics of street fighting will ruin the insurrection. And remember, please, that soldiers are all right in their way, but in our struggle we must depend mostly on the workers.’

From that moment on I began to look at insurrection through the eyes of Vladimir Ilyich. It was now quire clear to me what had to be done in the few days that were left before the uprising. We had to make sure that the Red Guard would not only be the leading political force, but also the leading military force that would determine the success of the insurrection.

‘And are you sure’, continued Vladimir Ilyich, ‘that the commandeers of the army units will not let you down? Are they not Tsarist officers! I informed Comrade Lenin that during the four months of enforced underground existence the influence of the Bolsheviks in the army units had increased very greatly. Only those commanders had remained at their posts in the units who recognised the control of the soldiers' committees.

The soldiers' committees, as I had already reported, were in the majority of cases under the influence of the Bolsheviks.

Even in a regiment like the Semyonovsky, we were able to get resolutions passed without any special difficulty. It was true that Preobrazhenskiy Regiment was still not ours but we were confident we would win it over. I then named all those commanders-mostly of machine-gun companies and some of the Guards' regiments—who during the past few days had unconditionally come over to our side.

‘What tremendous power is wielded by the revolution!’ said Vladimir Ilyich with great satisfaction. ‘The main thing now is to direct it so as to win and without the application of military science we cannot win.’ ’The most important thing now’, continued Lenin, ‘is to select a corps of selfless workers, especially the youth, who are ready to die rather than retreat or give up a position. They must be formed into special detachments beforehand to occupy the telephone exchange, the telegraph office and, most important of all, the bridges.

The bridges… The working-class districts of Petrograd were interconnected and were linked to the centre by eight bridges—Liteiny,

Troitsky, Palace, Nikolayevsky, Okhta, Great and Little Sampson Tuchkov. It was absolutely essential that we keep these bridges in our hands.

After that Lenin touched on the question of arms. ‘You said that the workers were more and more persistently demanding arms. Where do you propose to get them?’

It was our pride, the pride of the Military Organisation, that in most regiments we could take almost all the arms from the storehouses because the Bolshevik military groups in every regiment, on the ships and in artillery were a force to be reckoned with. The Cossacks were the only units we had not yet succeeded in influencing with our propaganda. In all other units in the region and in the nearest front-line areas we were in a position to obtain arms in almost any quantities.

When I told Vladimir Ilyich this his face did not express pleasure or satisfaction but some sort of perplexity: what is the man talking about, he seemed to say. The more arms we take away from the soldiers thee lee will remain for them Is that not so?’ said Vladimir Ilyich. Hmmm. That was something I had not thought about.

‘That won’t do. You must get into closer contact with the arsenals and the munition stores,’ continued comrade Lenin.

‘There are workers : soldiers there, too. Work out a plan and ensure its fulfilment so that can take arms straight from the stores at the very moment they are needed. It is good that we have the Sestroretsk Arsenal, but that is not enough. I’m sure that if you help the Bolsheviks of the Peter and Paul Arsenal, of the New Arsenal on Liteiny and the Old Arsenal in Vyborg District to develop their work in the proper way they will open the storehouses for distribution of arms to the workers the moment they are needed. Is it not so!’

Never before, despite the experience of 1905, had I realised how much an armed insurrection is organically connected with the arming of the widest sections of the working class. Nor did I realise that the greatest revolutionary enthusiasm amongst the masses was far from enough to ensure victory.

Victory could only be achieved by skilled leadership. It was only Lenin's masterly analysis of the problems of the armed uprising and the part to be played by the masses, their leaders and the weapons, that ensured the general participation of the workers and soldiers in the insurrection and guaranteed success. We began to talk of the Military Revolutionary Committee as the body hat must lead the insurrection. The Military Organisation of the Central

Committee of the Bolshevik Party, owing to its great influence amongst masses, had already begun to play an exceptional role in the Military Revolutionary Committee, set up by the Petrograd Soviet. It took little heed of the representatives of other organisations in the committee, and here were many of them. It seemed to us that it was too unwieldy to m operative leadership.

Comrade Lenin asked me what I thought of the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee.

‘The Military Revolutionary Committee’, I answered, ‘is actually an extended bureau of the Military Organisations of the Central Committee of our Party.’

‘And that is wrong!’ said Vladimir Ilyich. ‘It should not be a bureau, but a non-Party insurrectionary body which has full power and is connected with all sections of the workers and soldiers. The committee must ensure that an unlimited number of workers and soldiers are armed and participate in the insurrection. The greater the initiative and activity of each member of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the stronger and more effective will be the influence of the entire committee on the masses.

There must not be the slightest hint of dictatorship by the Military Organisation over the Military Revolutionary Committee. The main task of the Military Organisation is to see the committee follows the correct Bolshevik line.

The main thing is the victory of the insurrection. The Military Revolutionary Committee must serve that purpose and alone.

At the same time Lenin pointed out the way in which the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee would take on a mass character. ‘Call daily conferences of representatives of all army units in Petrograd and act through them.’

Towards the end of our talk I asked Vladimir Ilyich a question: ‘Would it not be expedient to print beforehand millions of copies of decrees on land, peace, workers' control of production and the organisation of a Soviet Republic?’ Vladimir Ilyich looked up at me and burst out laughing. ‘You’re getting a long way ahead of yourself! First we have to win then print decrees.

We parted with great warmth. It was long past midnight. I flew back though on wings. Lenin's words kept hammering at my head: the masses are there. Organise their military leadership. Put as many weapons as possible into their hands. That is what must be done. That same night every sing]e member of the Military Organisation immediately got down to the job of putting Lenin's instructions into effect.

The Smolny was as crowded with people as it had been five days before. The workers had been armed and were setting out to defend Petrograd against the attacking troops of General Krasnov's army corps. On occasion they again displayed their extraordinary might and the strength of their organisation. The Smolny had practically been turned into armed camp; units were being hurriedly formed from workers sent by their districts; they were equipped somehow by the Red Guard Headquarters: or rather they were given greatcoats, cartridge pouches, haversacks, rifles and cartridges.

Many of the workers had taken up rifles and formed ranks for the first time in their lives. The Republic, however, was in danger. A blow was being struck at socialist power and the volunteers, sent by factory committees, had only one thing on their minds: to fight for Petrograd and to prevent the counter revolution capturing the city and crushing Soviet power. The workers elected their own commanders on the spot each unit set up a minimum staff—officers in charge of supplies, munitions, communications and a commandant. The marching feet of the Red Guards resounded through the streets. Behind them followed a motor lorry with stores, equipment and munitions.

This was but one of the Red Guard battalions and it was followed by a second and a third. The fourth was awaiting its turn, the men excited and with their nerves on edge. News from the Front was scanty. We knew that Comrade Chudnovsky's advanced troops had been unable to stem the attack and were in a difficult position. Chudnovsky was wounded and his detachment had lost contact with other units at the front and was threatened with annihilation. T was no commander-in-chief; the Krasnoye Selo and Tsarskoye garrisons and the Red Guard units were all operating on their own. Comrade Antonov-Ovseenko went to the front himself but returned: dismayed at the lack of order and the confusion there. Tired out depressed, he had scarcely realised what was going on and had reacted weakly to an extremely critical situation. Weeks of sleepless nights sapped his energy and will-power. We settled down to a discussion o: situation. With the command disunited and improperly organised seemed that the enemy could defeat us easily with very small forces, during the ensuing panic and the retreat of our troops to Petrograd, c effect the counter-revolution.

The situation was extremely serious.

Despite the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses and their real to sacrifice themselves, there was little organised resistance to Kerensky's advance owing to our poor leadership. The tone of his proclamations ‘orders' became more and more confident. The chief difficulty arose from the fact that the soldiers were flushed with recent victory and did not all appreciate the approaching danger. regiments that had accomplished the socialist revolution in co-operation with and under the leadership of the Petrograd workers, considered their work was done and that they were heroes. They were ready to admit that the defence of Petrograd from enemies within the city was their affair but as far as Kerensky's troops were concerned—well, they were somewhere near Gatchina, let the local garrisons fight them, they were nearer …

Orders, in the soldiers' sense of the word, had long since ceased to effective. This had been a positive factor when it had helped us get the regiments out of the hands of the counter-revolutionary officers. Now however, it had become the opposite—the soldiers had got into the habit of deciding for themselves what they should and should not do. My order to the troops of the Petrograd garrison to move against Kerensky was obeyed by only a few of the regiments, the majority refused to go to the front on the excuse that it was essential to defend Petrograd.

Krylenko went round the barracks. When he returned he told us that his persuasions and exhortations had met everywhere with rebuff. In order to put an end to that mood I went to the regiment that had been

the first to rise against Tsarism, the Volhynian. I mustered the soldiers and demanded action. The regiment, through its committee, informed me unceremoniously that it would not fulfil the order. The same thing happened in a number of other regiments.

I felt that the whole of our front line of defence was beginning to collapse as a result of this refusal. I got into my car and rushed off to the Smolny to ask Vladimir Ilyich for his advice.

Hurriedly I told him of the failure to get the soldiers to act. I said Is the Volhynian and other tried and trusted regiments refused absolutely to leave we would not be able to get a single army unit out of the city Lenin answered calmly:

‘You must get them out. This very moment. At no matter what cost.’ ‘Krylenko tried and failed’, I answered, ‘nor did they listen to me.’ Then I added, ‘We can’t do anything with the regiments.’ Lenin went into a terrible rage, his face became unrecognisable, he fixed his sharp eyes on me and, without raising his voice, although it seemed to me that he was shouting, said:’You will answer to the Central Committee if the regiments do not leave the city instantly. Do you hear me, at this very moment!’

I shot out of the room like a bullet and in a few minutes was again at the barracks of the Volhynian Regiment. I mustered the soldiers and said very few words to them…

The soldiers must have seen something extraordinary in my face. Silently, they rose to their feet and began to get ready for the campaign. Other regiments followed them. That evening, rain set in. It poured all night long. At 2 o’clock in the morning Vladimir Ilyich unexpectedly arrived at the regional headquarters where a conference of Military Organisation workers was in progress…

Lenin's overcoat was soaked through and the water ran off his cap in streams….

His very first questions showed that he was closely following Kerensky's offensive and had a very real appreciation of the critical situation at the front. He turned to Antonov-Ovseenko, Mekhonoshin and demanded that we give him a detailed report on the situation at the front.

In answer to my question as to the meaning of this sudden arrival - he Council of People's Commissars not trust the military leadership that had only just been elected at the congress?—Lenin answered simply but firmly:

‘It is not a question of mistrust but simply that the workers' and peasants' government wants to know how its military authorities are functioning, how they are organising the defence of Petrograd.’ In Vladimir Ilyich's tone, now and a few hours before when the question of the regiments leaving for the front had been discussed, I felt the full power of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Until then my relations with Vladimir Ilyich had been most cordial. But at that moment, from the way he spoke I saw the full extent of the responsibility for the fate of the country and the revolution, which the people had laid on the shoulders of Vladimir Ilyich as the leader of workers' and peasants' state, the full extent of the responsibility which the people had laid on each of us as members of the Party.

Lenin sat down at the map of operations spread out on a table. Antonov- Ovseenko began outlining the general plan of operations, pointing positions held by our forces and the positions and strength of enemy forces that he knew hardly anything about.

His lack of information and the condition of Antonov-Ovseenko himself were all too obvious, although Lenin pretended not to notice anything and fixed his eyes on the map. After the report, to which he listened with great attention and without once interrupting the speaker, Lenin began to ask questions with the keenness of a profound strategist and military leader. Why was this point nor guarded, had the strategic importance of this station been taken into consideration, why had this step been taken and not another, why had the support of Kronstadt, Viborg and Helsingfors not been assured, why had that point not been worked out in detail or this opening blocked. Owing to his weariness Antonov-Ovseenko's answers to Lenin's poignant questions were far from satisfactory. The impression created was that we were not fully aware of the seriousness of our position at the front, that we were not capable of weighing up the situation fully, in short, that we were not to be trusted to conduct operations against Kerensky.

Lenin continued asking questions and each of them, in reality, contained the answer of a masterly strategist—he was telling us what we had to do.

‘How is the railway line Gatchina-Lissino-Tosno defended? What forces are there on that line, are they reliable?’ he asked. Not only the question itself but the tone in which it was asked told us of a tremendous anxiety to strengthen that line and in that way make it impossible for the enemy to seize the Petrograd-Moscow Railway which would mean that Moscow would be deprived of Petrograd's help.

His question about where the Red Guards from the Lessner, Putilov, Baltic, Tube works and other big factories were operating showed that Lenin regarded it as very important that the armed forces of the workers should be on the decisive sectors.

‘Why has the cavalry not been brought from Novgorod and sent into Chudovo and Volkhov districts to defend that highly-important railway?’ ‘Are the soldiers and the Red Guards ensured all the necessary supplies?’ ‘How do you propose to arrange this?’ ‘What task has been allotted the garrison of Luga?’ ‘Have you thought of demolishing the railway bridges and lines, and has provision been made for it so that the enemy will be prevented from advancing?’ ‘What about the artillery?’

Lenin's questions so clearly showed the essence of his strategic and tactical plan, which was so obviously calculated to rout the Krasnov- Kerensky gang rapidly and effectively, that we were anxious to do only one thing: to end that conference and immediately set about putting Lenin’ ideas into effect. The trouble was, however, that the front had no commander-in-chief. It was no use depending on Antonov-Ovseenko—he simply had to be put to bed.

I did not feel it convenient to place the question of the command before Lenin in such a sharp form: it would have looked as if we regarded Antonov-Ovseenko as responsible for our failures whereas it was perfectly clear that all of us, workers of the Military Organisation, including myself, were responsible for the failures.

We had made a large number of mistakes, we had not been as active a the situation demanded and had not made use of all forces and means a our disposal for the defence of Petrograd. We had been following the masses but had done nothing to make ourselves the military leaders, the strategists of the masses.

There were only two ways out of the situation: either tell Comrade Lenin that we were unsuitable, that we could not take responsibility for operations, or somebody else must undertake the command.

I asked for an interval of a few minutes and called into another room those members of the Military Organisation who were present at the staff conference which Comrade Lenin had interrupted. I told the comrades that we had made a great mistake in nominating Comrade Antonov-Ovseenko Commander-in-Chief of the Petrograd Military District, that he had been several weeks without sleep and was so worn out that he had lost the energy necessary for the task.

I asked which of the comrades thought he could assume command of the front. No one answered.

I thereupon put forward my own candidature and said that in face of the great danger I considered it my duty to the Party to take upon myself this terrific responsibility, ignoring all the conventions and the ’awkwardness' of self-nomination. The Military Organisation of the Party, whose chairman I was, were used to me, we worked well together and I was sure that they would help me much more actively than another whom the y did not know. Krylenko, Mekhonoshin, Nevsky and other comrades gave me their hearty support. I asked Antonov-Ovseenko his opinion. He was against my candidature, he said that I could not do any better than he had done. The other comrades, however, did not agree with him.

After that I returned to Lenin and told him that I would undertake the task of clearing up the situation at the front. Without another word Lenin ordered me, in the name of the government, to take over command of the front as Commander-in-Chief of the Petrograd Military District. I told him that next day I would report on what measures I had adopted during the night and then asked for permission to get down to work.

Lenin went away. No doubt he had had a very clear conception of the confusion prevailing even before he came to us. At a conference of regimental representatives of the Petrograd garrison Vladimir Ilyich spoke very sharply of the faults of our command.

‘This cannot be denied. On account of this we have lost some ground. Those faults, however, can be overcome. Without losing a single hour, single minute, we must organise ourselves, organise a general staff; it is essential that it be done today… The political and military task is: the organisation of the general staff, the concentration of all material forces, the provision of everything needed by the soldiers; that must be done without losing a single hour, a single minute.’

Lenin went away and we settled down to work with renewed energy. In the first place I transferred our headquarters to the Smolny—all the threads led to that place—and set about regrouping our forces according to a plan that had formed in my mind on the basis of the questions and remarks made by Vladimir Ilyich.

I appointed Comrade Yeremeyev as chief of staff. The Military Organisation personnel were ordered to go immediately to army units and arrange for those that still remained to leave for the front next day and to call to arms the workers of all the factories, stopping some of the factories if there was no other way out. They were to make the first call on the Putilov Works and the big factories in Viborg, Vasilevsky Island and Moscow districts.

At that moment I was given a note from Comrade Antonov-Ovseenko in which he said he would do everything to help me. I proposed that he sleep well and then go to the front to set up a central command, organise communications between units and their bases and the centre, and the delivery of supplies and munitions.

Representatives of our district Party organisations, district Soviets and factory committees were called to headquarters and instructions were given to send those workers incapable of bearing arms to dig trenches, and to requisition shovels for this purpose. The line of trenches was mapped out and engineers mobilised from the 6th Reserve Sapper Battalion and from the factories.

We felt desperately in need of a highly-qualified military specialist as a consultant, but could not find one. The most suitable man would have been the commander of the Preobrazhensky Regiment, but he had been wounded and was unable to take part in the work. In drawing up the plan of operations and in carrying it out we had to depend on untried people We decided to entrust the plan of operations to a battalion commander from the Izmailovsky Regiment. When they had studied the plan the commanders of the regiments and other units immediately began to reform as brigades. Brigade commanders were appointed.

Early in the morning of the 30th Dybenko appeared at the Smolny. He was ordered to occupy a certain sector of the line and take command of the left group. Without losing any time Dybenko set out with a detachment of sailors for the positions.

Very soon the sailors Lenin had sent for arrived from Helsingfors. They occupied the positions allotted them on the coast. The cruiser Oleg and the destroyer Pobeditel stood by to defend the approaches to the Petrograd- Moscow Railway in fulfilment of Lenin's instructions.

That same day thousands of Petrograd workers went out to dig trenches and six regiments, made up to strength, left for the front. The arrival of these regiments at the front, the appearance of the artillery organised by Comrade Sklyansky who had just arrived, the strengthening of the front by the Helsingfors sailors who cemented the units together, the direction of operations directly at the front by Antonov-Ovseenko—all served to bring about a sharp change at the front. The turning-point had come and in this a decisive role was played by the help Vladimir Ilyich gave us.

At 12 o'clock noon Lenin again visited our headquarters—it was now quartered in the Smolny—and insisted on a table being placed in my office for him so that he could be kept up to date on all instructions and reports. Soon he sent V. Bonch-Bruevich, an executive of the Council of People's Commissars, to help me and he brought with him his secretary and wife V.M. Velichkina. Every five or ten minutes Lenin kept sending somebody to help me—in the matter of supplies, mobilisation of the workers, demolitions. Airmen, agitators, doctors, gunners, all came to me… Vladimir Ilyich was gradually carried away by the work and, without apparently noticing it, whenever he left my room, gave direct instructions to one comrade or another. The work was kept going at top speed, every cog in the Petrograd defences was kept turning, but Lenin was still not satisfied. It seemed to him that things were going too slowly, without sufficient determination, without the necessary energy, and he himself, parallel to me, in his own office, began calling representatives of one organisation or another, or from this or that factory, asking for information on the number of men capable of carrying arms, on technical equipment on what, in general, they could provide for the front, and in what way this or that factory could be of use for the defence. Then came his order to the Putilov workers to put armour-plating on railway engines and wagons, place guns on them and send them to the front. He proposed to Narva District that they requisition cab-horses and harness to take the forty guns that stood ready at that factory to the front.

Representatives of the Baltic Fleet came on some business or another and Vladimir Ilyich instructed them to check up on the readiness of the crews to put to sea at a moment's notice and to report at such and such a time.

The officers of the Motor Transport Company arrived. Lenin arranged with them for the company to send all its lorries to the front and instructed them to send out soldier-drivers to mobilise in Petrograd a sufficient number of lorries to transport munitions to the front. ’Give them credentials with special authority’, he said. The motor transport people took hurried leave of Lenin to carry out his instructions.

Lenin began sending commissars to different factories and organisations to take everything that was necessary for defence.

Several times in the course of three to five hours I had ‘tussles' with Comrade Lenin, protesting against his ‘predatory’ methods of defence work. He apparently took notice of my protests, but in a few minutes they were forgotten and ignored. In actual fact there were two headquarters: in Lenin's office and in mine. Lenin's office was a sort of mobile staff since he also had a table in my office, but the more often Lenin went to his own office where all kinds of operatives were being constantly sent for on his instructions, the clearer it became that separate, casual instructions were merging into one single chain, into a regular system, welded together by some invisible but clearly felt general plan.

It is true that these instructions did not have anything to do with operations or the army units and were, in essence, merely the mobilisation of everything and everybody for defence. Nevertheless this seeming dualism got on my nerves to such an extent that I demanded very sharply and quite unjustly that he release me from my post of commander-in-chief.

Lenin lost his temper completely as he had never been known to do before.

‘I'll hand you over to the Party court, we'll shoot you! I order you to continue your work and not to interfere with mine!’ I had to submit…

Only next day did I appreciate the significance of the tremendous work Lenin had done, especially after I had analysed the conference he had called of representatives of working-class organisations, district Soviets factory committees, trade unions and army units. Vladimir Ilyich ordered me to attend that conference.

‘The workers of Petrograd’, said Lenin at the conference, ‘are going as volunteers to the Pulkovo Heights, without commanders, without transport, without food and supplies, often without warm clothing. It is our duty to organise assistance for these heroes.’ And Lenin, addressing himself in turn to the leaders of the Party group and factory committees of the Putilov Works, the Arsenal, the Obukhov Works, the Tube Works and other factories, appealed to them to make use of all the resources of their factories for the defeat of the counter-revolution that had raised its head. And he there and then gave an example of initiative in dealing with this problem.

‘The Putilov workers make cannon but there is no way of getting them to the Front—there are no horses. Nevertheless a way out of the situation can be found: a branch railway line passes the Putilov Works where the guns can be loaded on to wagons and sent to the front-line positions.

‘We have not got enough artillerymen. Can we not find the necessary gun-layers and gunners at the Arsenal, the Obukhov Works and other factories? Of course we can!’

‘We should take those cadets who fought against Soviet power by the scruff of the neck and force them to fight against the Cossack officers.’ ‘The Bolsheviks of the Baltic and Neva shipyards and the naval port must ensure that the naval vessels undergoing repairs there be commissioned without loss of time.’

Later when I thought over that conference I realised more and more that Lenin had a special ability to concentrate our forces and resources to the extreme limit in time of need. We had dispersed our forces, mustered and then distributed them again without any plan. As a result our actions were not co-ordinated and this led to irresolution and lack of initiative among the masses. They did not feel the iron will and the iron plan where, as in a machine, everything fitted perfectly and worked smoothly in its proper place. Lenin hammered one single idea into everybody`s head: everything must be concentrated on defence. Out of this basic idea he evolved a plan which could be understood by all, a plan in which there was a place for everyone, for his factory and for his fighting unit. Everyone at the conference had a clear conception of his own plan of future work and saw what contribution he could make towards the defence of the Republic. Therefore, each one was fully aware of the responsibility placed upon him by the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin strove constantly to get the people to understand that the leaders could not do everything for them, that they themselves, with their own hands, would have to build a new life and defend their own state; in this he proved himself to be a real people's leader, able to show the people the way forward and induce them to take the first step forward fully conscious of their aim, instead of following blindly behind the leaders. After the conference Lenin spoke separately to those of the workers' representatives who had come late.

That day Lenin's method of selecting all organiser became clear to us; he not only made the comrade personally responsible for the work given him, but also told him that he really would be held personally responsible; this was method that Lenin usually adopted with the People's Commissars under him, as well as with all Party and Soviet officials.

With this in mind, Lenin tried to show everyone at the conference with whom he spoke that he had noted his name and would see to it that the job he had given him would be carried out. He wrote down the names of those comrades and exactly what they had to do by a certain day and hour.

Everything that Lenin did in those days was for all of us the first school of state administration, a broad and peerless school of practical education.

Next day, I tried to estimate all that Lenin had said and realised that to make a good practical leader one must not fix all one's attention on one separate question, but be able to see the connection between his work and all the active forces of the revolution.

Immediately after the conference, workers' detachments, lorries, carts, guns, improvised cavalry, the squadrons of the 9th Cavalry Regiment began pouring day and night through the Moscow Gate and along the Moscow Highway.

Cars with messengers and liaison officers raced to and from the front line. A real workers' and peasants' war, embracing gigantic masses of people, developed to defeat the counter-revolution.

All Petrograd was on its feet. Under such conditions victory was certain.

The enthusiasm with which the workers went to the front, their desire to fight, their readiness to give up their lives for the happiness of the Republic made heroes of those who, for the first time in their lives, held a rifle in their hands. This enthusiasm welded the front into a single whole.

That day many of the units, with great fortitude, began flanking movements on the front. The heroic Red battalions had no experienced commanders, they were often cut off from their bases, tormented by hunger and cold, and menaced by the most terrible thing of all—to be encircled by the enemy. Many of the Red Guards wore light, torn boots and their working clothes. They had to carry huge supplies of cartridges on their backs as transport had not yet been organised. The scene of the fighting was a swampy plain with a few elevated points. The daily rains made the terrain of each hollow almost impassable. Some of the troops moved up to their knees in water the whole day. A detachment of sailors stood in icy water a whole night waiting to attack Kerensky's armoured train.

The enemy were suffering appreciable losses. We struck blow after blow. Our troops would have brought matters to a head by 1 November but for the fact that we had an insignificant number of cavalry, scarcely enough for reconnaissance, while the enemy forces consisted mainly of cavalry. This made it possible for them to transfer troops rapidly to any threatened point and, as our reconnaissance was nor functioning properly, we got that false impression that the enemy possessed greater forces than they did. Then, as formerly (and also later, during the Civil War), our agitators played an important role in the defeat of Krasnov. They made their way into the enemy's ranks and exposed to the Cossacks the real objects which the opposing sides pursued in the newly begun war. The Cossacks lost all desire to die for a cause alien to their interests. After five days of fighting, exhausted by our constantly increasing attacks, the Cossacks surrendered.

Kerensky fled The Cossacks arrested Krasnov and sent a delegation to the Gatchina Soviet (that had just been arrested by Krasnov with the surrender on condition that they be allowed to return to the Don. I proposed to the Gatchina Soviet that they send the delegation to us in the Smolny. In the meantime, however, Dybenko, on his own initiative sent representatives to Krasnov to demand his surrender. Krasnov got Dybenko to agree to his departure to the Don together with the Cossacks who would retain their arms. An agreement consisting of eight points was drawn up between them.

In this way Dybenko had tied the hands of the government. We were opposed to the Cossacks being allowed to return to the Don with their arms, as we had no reason to believe that they would fulfil their promise not to fight against Soviet power. I insisted on Dybenko's being tried by court-martial and the agreement with Krasnov renounced.

Lenin shared my opinion. Other comrades, however, who considered themselves well informed with regard to the mood of the Cossacks demanded that the agreement be ratified on the grounds that the Cossacks would under no circumstances permit themselves to be disarmed and would fight to the last man since they would not want to return to the Don ‘dishonoured’ and that they would not be accepted their without their arms. They argued that it was to the advantage of Soviet power to accept Krasnov's surrender and thus put an end to Kerensky's offensive because every delay in crushing the revolt would strengthen the impression amongst the masses that Kerensky had greater forces and greater possibilities for resistance than was actually the case, while the speedy crushing of the revolt, on the contrary, would raise the prestige of Soviet power. The rout of Kerensky's revolt outside Petrograd would deprive him of the forces necessary to launch revolts against Soviet power in other places. The situation at the front and in the army units would also be undermined by the defeat of Kerensky.

The impression created by the statements of the seventeen Cossacks delegated direct from the masses of the Cossack troops participating in the revolt gave these arguments still greater strength. The Cossacks said that they had not been fighting against the working-class government or against the new regime but against the Bolsheviks who, they had been informed had seized power with the aid of the Germans, German gold and German prisoners of war for the purpose of betraying Russia and selling her to the Germans. As they learned more about what had been happening in Petrograd they began to understand the real nature of the October Revolution and a conference of Cossacks from the various units demanded that a delegation be sent to the new government. Until then they had considered it their duty to support Kerensky. The delegation defended Krasnov, a slippery demagogue who knew how to play on the feelings of the Cossacks. The delegates insisted that Krasnov, too, had only been doing his duty and could not disobey orders given by Kerensky in Gatchina when the revolution in Petrograd was still unknown to the troops at the front. The Cossacks agreed to arrest and hand over the other officers but insisted that Krasnov go with them.

The question was placed before the Petrograd Soviet which was in session at the time. The Soviet took a decision to allow the Cossacks, headed by Krasnov, to proceed to the Don under arms. The Military Revolutionary Committee issued them a pass to the Don Region and Krasnov and the Cossacks gave their word of honour that they would not fight against Soviet power.

It is an interesting fact that the 1st and 4th Cossack regiments, quartered in Petrograd, at first wavered when Krasnov sent delegates to them asking or their support, and then decided to come over to our side. The presence of the Cossacks in our ranks had a serious moral effect on the insurrectionists and did a great deal towards demoralising them. This greatly influenced the outcome of the struggle.

The Petrograd Cossacks, who had elected their own Cossack Committee also spoke in favour of allowing Krasnov and his Cossacks to leave for the Don under arms.

After the departure of the Cossacks (some of them who did not wish to return remained in Petrograd), the local Soviets of Gatchina, Peterhof, Krasnoye Selo and Tsarskoye Selo dealt very speedily with the cadet and officer groups that had taken part in the revolt.

After Kerensky's offensive against Petrograd had been defeated we received almost daily reports that Kerensky's supporters were raising revolts first in one place, then in another, and that in some places they even succeeded in restoring the old regime. All this, however, was their death agony. The revolution was celebrating its victory, or as Lenin put it, Soviet power marched in triumph throughout Russia…

From the book Storming the Heavens