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THE RED ARMY
1918–1941

Cass Series: Strategy and History
Series Editors: Colin Gray and Williamson Murray
ISSN: 1473-6403
This new series will focus on the theory and practice of strategy. Following Clausewitz,
strategy has been understood to mean the use made of force, and the threat of the use of
force, for the ends of policy. This series is as interested in ideas as in historical cases of grand
strategy and military strategy in action. All historical periods, near and past, and even future,
are of interest. In addition to original monographs, the series will from time to time publish
edited reprints of neglected classics as well as collections of essays.
1. Military Logistics and Strategic Performance, Thomas M. Kane
2. Strategy for Chaos: Revolutions in Military Affairs and the Evidence of History, Colin Gray
3. The Myth of Inevitable US Defeat in Vietnam, C. Dale Walton
4. Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age, Everett C. Dolman
5. Anglo-American Strategic Relations and the Far East, 1933–1939: Imperial Crossroads,
Greg Kennedy
6. Power and Policy in the Space and Information Age: Pure Strategy, Everett C. Dolman
7. The Red Army 1918–1941: From Vanguard of World Revolution to US Ally, Earl F. Ziemke
8. Britain and Ballistic Missile Defence, 1942–2002, Jeremy Stocker
9. The Nature of War in the Information Age: Clausewitzian Future, David J. Lonsdale
10. Strategy as Social Science: Thomas Schelling and the Nuclear Age, Robert Ayson

THE RED ARMY
1918–1941:
From Vanguard of World Revolution
to US Ally

EARL F. ZIEMKE

FRANK CASS
LOND ON and NEW YORK

First published in 2004 by
Taylor & Francis Books Ltd
11 New Fetter Lane
London EC4P 4EE
simultaneously published in the USA and Canada
by Taylor & Francis Books
29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2004.
Frank Cass is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group
Copyright © 2004 E. Ziemke
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library
ISBN 0-203-49844-5 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 0-203-58245-4 (Adobe eReader Format)
ISBN 0-7146-5551-1
ISSN 1473-6403
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ziemke, Earl Frederick, 1922–
The Red Army, 1918–1941: from vanguard of world revolution to US ally/Earl F. Ziemke.
p. cm. – (Cass series–strategy and history, ISSN 1473-6403; 7)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7146-5551-1 (cloth)
1. Soviet Union–History, Military. 2. Soviet Union. Raboche-Krest§’ìnskaëì Krasnaëì
Armiëì–History. 3. Soviet Union–Military policy. I. Title. II. Series.
DK266.3.Z54 2004
355’.033047–dc22
2003069681
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or
introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior
written permission of the publisher of this book.

Contents
List of Maps

xi

List of Illustrations

xii

Series Editor’s Preface

xiv

Preface

xvi

Glossary of Terms

xvii

List of Abbreviations
1. The Military Revolutionary Committee

xx
1

The Provisional Government and the Soviet

1

Lenin and Trotskiy on the Scene and Off

5

The Kerenskiy Government Compromised

7

Trotskiy, Chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee

9

Trotskiy’s Military Coup
2. ‘All Power to the Soviets’

11
15

Forming the ‘Socialist State’

15

Trotskiy Defends Petrograd

18

Bolshevik Revolution in the Hinterland

19

The Stavka and the Revolutionary Field Staff

21

Dictatorship, Self-determination, Rights of the Working People,
and Insurgency

24

Offensives against the Don Cossacks

26

Offensives against Kaledin and the Central Rada

28

3. Birth of the Red Army, War, and Peace

30

An Army of a New Type

30

The Red Army in Trotskiy’s Hands

35

the red army 1918–1941
The Fragile Peace

37

Czech Revolt and Foreign Intervention

38

Conscription and the ‘New Army’

41

Muravyev, Stalin, and Trotskiy’s Resolution

46

4. ‘In a Fiery Ring of Fronts’

48

‘Imperialist’ Intervention

48

East Front in Jeopardy

52

Stalin in the South

54

The ‘Apparent Death Agony of the Soviet Regime’

56

A Pact with the Enemy

59

Redeployment East

60

‘Military Action’ and ‘Military Intervention’

61

5. An Armed Camp

63

The Revolutionary Council of the Republic

63

Stalin and the RMCR

68

Stalin, Trotskiy and the ‘Military Question’

72

The ‘Fortress of Socialist Revolution’

73

On the Offensive in the South

77

Gains and Losses

81

The ‘Military Question’ Again

82

6. The Test of Battle on Three Fronts

86

East Front and Kolchak

86

South Front and Denikin

92

West Front and Yudenich

95

East Front and Trotskiy

98

7. The Decisive Battles

101

The Central Committee in Charge

101

Stalemate at Petrograd

103

The Crisis

103

Trotskiy at Petrograd

107

‘The Civil War Has Ended in Victory!’

108

The Mopping Up

112
vi

contents
8. Defeat and Victory

117

The ‘Moment of Victory’

117

Pilsudski versus Tukhachevskiy

118

Stalin and Budennyy at Southwest Front

119

The General Offensive

122

The Vrangel Problem

126

Crises Again and a Peace Conference

128

Frunze versus Vrangel

130

Recriminations

133

9. Class War and Military Reform

135

NEP and the Military System

135

Trotskiy and Unified Military Doctrine

138

Trotskiy under Fire

143

Frunze to the Fore

146

Frunze’s Military Reform

148

Frunze on Military Doctrine

149

Frunze’s Red Army

151

10. The New Order

153

Stalin as Custodian of Leninism

153

Military Reform Continued

156

Strengthening Defensive Capability

157

Tukhachevskiy, Triandafilov, and Military Theory

159

Stalin’s War Leadership

163

Socialist Development versus Red Militarism

164

Military Correctness in a Political Context

167

11. The Red Army and the Reichswehr

169

General Hans von Seeckt and the Treaty of Versailles

169

Rapallo, the Ruhr, and Locarno

171

Resurgence in Germany, Disaster in Russia

174

Lipetsk, Tomka, and Kama

175

Personnel Exchanges

176

Industrial and General Staff Collaboration

178

vii

the red army 1918–1941
Effects of Locarno

179

Tours and Maneuvers

180

How They Saw Each Other

181

Stalin against the German Social Democrats

182

Military Collaboration in Full Bloom

183

Adolf Hitler in Power

185

The Parting

186

12. The Tukhachevskiy Era

188

Technological Reconstruction

188

Stalin’s Peace Policy

191

The Arms Race

193

Tukhachevskiy at the Fore

195

Military Theory in the Tukhachevskiy Era

197

The 1936 Maneuvers

200

Lessons of War

201

13. Stalin’s Military Reform

203

Kirov, Kuybyshev, and Tukhachevskiy

203

The Military Purge

204

The Main Military Council

206

Technological Reconstruction in the Navy

209

Battle at Lake Khasan

211

Lessons of the Spanish Civil War

213

International Crises and the Purge

215

14. Approaching the ‘Second Imperialist War’

217

A Somewhat New Course

217

The Nomonhan Incident

219

The Nazi–Soviet Pact

221

Japan’s About-Face

222

The ‘March of Liberation’

223

The Treaty of Friendship

224

Command Instability

225

The Second Technological Reconstruction

226

viii

contents
The ‘Most Offensive-minded’ Army

228

The Wehrmacht, 1933–39

229

15. The ‘Most Pressing and Deadly Threat’

232

The Winter War

232

Lessons Learned

236

The ‘Deadly Threat’

238

Reform and Reassessment

238

Blitzkrieg Rampant

240

Molotov in Berlin

244

16. War Plans

247

The Lay of the Land

247

‘Considerations’ on Strategic Deployment

248

Readiness Assessment

252

Stalin’s Play for Time

255

Zhukov’s Amendment to ‘Considerations’

256

German Strategic Deployment

257

17. Stalin Deceived

260

The Game Begins

260

A Japanese Connection

261

Stalin, Warrior and Appeaser

263

‘Considerations’, the May Supplement

264

The Covering Plan and Otmobilizatsia

266

The Game Plays Out

268

The Correlation of Forces

270

18. The Red Army at Bay

274

The Battles of the Frontiers

274

Stalin at the Helm

280

A ‘Strategic Offensive’

282

Command Crises

284

August Interlude

285

Zhukov at Yelnya and Leningrad

288

ix

the red army 1918–1941
19. The Heartland in Peril

291

Typhoon, Twin Battles, and the Rasputitsa

291

Preparing for the Worst

297

Typhoon Revived

300

20. The Heartland Preserved

305

Rostov and Tikhvin

305

Build-up at West Front

306

Turned Away at the Gates

308

Disaster

312

Victory in Sight

315

21. Conclusion

320

World War and Global War

320

Patriotic War

322

The ‘Main and Decisive Front’

324

The ‘Greatest Battle in the History of Wars’

324

The ‘Decisive Turning Point in the Patriotic War’

327

Clearing the Soviet Land

328

The Race for Berlin

329

Who Won the World War?

332

Code Names

333

Notes on Historiography

334

Stalin’s War

334

Khrushchev’s War

336

Brezhnev’s War

340

Gorbachev’s ‘Openness’

344

The ‘Global Lie’

345

Notes

350

Bibliography

388

Index

403

x

Maps
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.

The Ring of Fronts
The Destruction of Denikin’s Forces
The 1920 Soviet–Polish War
The German Advance, 22 June–12 November 1941
Army Group Center, 15 November–5 December 1941
Army Group South, 28 November–3 December 1941
Army Group North, 1 December 1941
The Moscow Counteroffensive, 6–15 December 1941
The Moscow Counteroffensive, Phase II: 16 December 1941–
1 January 1942

66
109
123
278
294
302
303
311
317

List of Illustrations
Between pages 202 and 203

I.

Aspects of the War: Operation Barbarossa
1. Self-propelled assault gun stopped to fire
2. Motorcyclists move out
3. Column of Pz IIIs passing a village
4. Heavy machine gun firing from cover
5. Village residents watch their homes burn
6. Light machine gun covering an advance
7. Infantry crossing the Dnepr River
8. Halftrack towing a 37-mm antitank gun
9. Bringing up a 105-mm howitzer
10. A 42-mm antitank gun in action
11. A 150-mm gun being fired
12. Bridge collapsed under the weight of a horse
13. An 88-mm antiaircraft gun ready to fire at ground targets

II. Aspects of the War: Operation Typhoon.
14. Artillery observers during direct fire
15. Machine gun crew in action
16. Pz IIIs crossing the steppe
17. After the battle
18. Self-propelled assault gun passes a burning KV 1
19. Guarding a bridge

20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.

Supply train bivouacking on the steppe
Crossing a tank trap
Captured Red Army men march to the rear
A four-barreled 20-mm antiaircraft gun protects a bridge
First snow
Trucks waiting to resume their advance
Loading a 105-mm medium gun

list of illustrations
III. Aspects of the War: The Counteroffensive
27. Heading into the storm
28. A hopeless case
29. Antitank gun snowbound
30. The horses have had enough
31. Digging out
32. Trekking to the rear

Photographs reproduced courtesy of US Photographic Agency, Washington, DC.

xiii

Series Editor’s Preface
When I was still an undergraduate, not even yet decided upon pursuing a career
in academia, Earl Ziemke was already a major figure in the field of German
military history – highly regarded for his thoughtful, penetrating analysis of the
terrible battles on the Eastern Front. Thus, I regard it as an enormous honor to
have been asked to write a forward to Professor Ziemke’s history of the Red Army.
And I feel particularly lucky for having played a small role in persuading him to
publish this work, which he has worked on over the course of the past decade
when he was supposedly in retirement and which he was not entirely sure would
even find a publisher. He was wrong, because this book rests on the accumulated
wisdom of over fifty years of thinking and analysis by one of the most important
military historians of the twentieth century.
This book is indeed an extraordinary work that brings together the coherent
and fascinating history of the Red Army from its inception in the earliest days of
the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolshevik revolutionaries struggled to
establish themselves in control of Russia, through to the terrible killing battles and
disastrous defeats of 1941, when Operation Barbarossa threatened the very
existence of the Soviet Union. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Professor
Ziemke’s story lies in his examination of Leon Trotsky’s role in the creation of the
Red Army. Trotsky himself almost missed the revolution. On his way back to a
Russia in turmoil in spring 1917, the Canadians pulled him off his ship and tossed
him in jail. Only considerable efforts by the Tsar’s successors got him out and on
his way.
That Canadian action may well have turned out to be a disaster for world
history, because Trotsky’s role was to be crucial in the Revolution’s survival. Without Trotsky’s presence, it is doubtful the revolutionaries would have put together
any successful military forces at all. Even if they had, the consistently bizarre
positions taken by so many of the Bolsheviks would almost inevitably have led to
the Revolution’s demise. It was Trotsky who knew what was needed and who
consistently provided Lenin with intelligent advice about not only organizational
but operational matters. And all the while Stalin and his ilk were urging insane
courses of action that could only have led to defeat. Not surprisingly, Stalin saw
class enemies everywhere in the woodwork; to him it was the internal enemies
who represented the danger. In the end, for the most part Lenin listened to Trotsky

series editor’s preface
and supported him. The result was the creation of the Red Army and eventual
victory in the Civil War against the Whites.
But for all of his organizational skill and strategic wisdom, Trotsky was ever
the child in political matters. In the ensuing struggle after Lenin’s death, Stalin
established an ever more powerful tyranny. The aim of the new revolution under
the man of steel and his murderous cronies was to establish socialism in one
country by driving the Soviet Union into the industrial age at whatever the cost.
The result was that a steadily improving economy – although one that achieved
those gains only at the most terrible cost — provided the wherewithal to make the
Red Army one of the most innovative and far seeing of all the world’s military
organizations at least through 1937. In 1931 it created the world’s first armored
divisions; the maneuvers in the mid-1930s saw the first massed airborne drops;
and perhaps even more important young generals like Tukhachevskii and
Triandafilov were developing operational concepts that were far in advance of
anything that was being thought of in the West, including Germany.
However in 1937 Stalin’s baleful paranoia caught up with the Red Army. By the
thousands, the NKVD shot the Red Army’s best and brightest. The results would
show with devastating effect in the catastrophic defeats of 1941. And yet the
tyranny that Stalin had created would be able through its economic power and
ruthless ideological staying power weather the German storm.
This is the story that Earl tells with extraordinary lucidity and power. It
represents a major contribution to our understanding of the history of the Red
Army, the Soviet Union, and the course of events in the twentieth century.
Williamson Murray
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

xv

Preface
This book concludes a trilogy in which the first volume appears in print 46 years
after the last. In 1960, the Office of the Chief of Military History (OCMH), US
Department of the Army, established a requirement for a three-volume account
of the German–Soviet War, 1941–45, based on an immense body of captured
German military records then in Army custody. It appeared at the time that the
research and writing could be completed in three to four years. The first volume
was to cover planning and preparations and the 1941 campaign to the battle for
Moscow; the second, the 1942 campaign to Stalingrad; and the third, the period
of Soviet resurgence. Under the title Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in
the East, I completed the manuscript for Volume III in 1964, and it was published
by the US Government Printing Office in 1968, by which time I had joined the
faculty of the history department at the University of Georgia.
My departure from OCMH was somewhat deficient in finality. On leaving,
I took with me the results of several years’ research, which were published in 1974
in the Army Historical Series as The US Army in the Occupation of Germany,
1944–1946; and by then I was at work on Volume 2 of The German–Soviet War,
Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East, published by the Government Printing
Office in 1985.
The wholly unanticipated collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union in
December 1991 and the events and disclosures thereafter offered both an opportunity to do an autopsy on the Red Army and to meet the requirements for
Volume I of The German–Soviet War more fully on the Soviet side than would
previously have been possible. Although my working relationship with OCMH,
by then renamed the Center of Military History (CMH) ended with the publication
of Moscow to Stalingrad, the opportunity gradually became irresistible. I am
grateful to CMH for enabling me to embark on this venture in the first place
and to Frank Cass Publishers and Senior Book Editor Andrew Humphrys for
bringing it to an expeditious conclusion. I owe long-standing debts for assistance
to the staffs of the National Archives and Records Service and the University
of Georgia Libraries, particularly those in the Interlibrary Loan Department.
Dr Caroline F. Ziemke has also provided crucial support.

Glossary of Terms
army group

An army field command consisting of two or
more armies.

ataman

A Cossack chieftain.

Bolshevik

Soviet branch of the Communist Party.

Bundeswehr

Armed forces of the Federal Republic of
Germany.

Cheka

The first Soviet secret political police, 1918–28.

commissar

A political official at the ministerial level; also a
civilian assigned to keep a military command
under surveillance.

commissariat

A state ministry.

‘Considerations’

The Red Army’s 1941 plan for war with Germany.

correlation of forces

An adjustment of forces undertaken before
engaging an opposing force.

cult of personality

An excessive claim for credit by a high-ranking
figure.

FRG

Federal Republic of Germany

front

The line on which belligerants engage each other.

front

A Red Army army group.

GKO

The State Defense Committee, the highest Soviet
authority in the years 1941–45

Gosplan

The Soviet state economic planning agency.

Hutier tactics

Tactics for deep operations developed by General
Oscar von Hutier late in World War I.

IGHQ

Japanese Imperial General Headquarters.

the red army 1918–1941
Kuomintang

The Chinese nationalist party.

Leibstandarte

The SS unit, eventually a division, designated as
Hitler’s personal guard.

member of a military council The commissar in a military command at the
division level and higher.
NEP

New Economic Policy of the 1920s.

NKVD

The Soviet political police. Replaced the OGPU
in 1934.

OGPU

Soviet political police. Replaced the Cheka in
1923.

OKW

The German armed forces high command.

opolcheniya

Soviet home guards.

otmobilizatsia

Covert deployment before opening hostilities.

Polevoy Ustav, PU

Field service regulations. An army’s statement of
the doctrine on which it proposes to base its war
plans and conduct operations.

preventive strike

An attempt to forestall an anticipated attack on
one’s self.

rasputitsa

‘Time without roads’, the periods of several
weeks when the spring thaw and fall rains
inundate the Russian countryside.

rassekayushchiy udar

The ‘splitting blow’ employed in Soviet deep
operations.

razvedka boyem

Reconnaissance in force employed immediately
before battle.

Reichswehr

The German armed forces 1919 to 1933,
consisting of the Reichs Heer (Army) and the
Reichs Marine (Navy).

RMC, RMCR, RMCU

Revolutionary Military Councils of field
commands, of the Russian Republic, and of the
Soviet Union.

RU, GRU

Soviet military intelligence.

salient

A triangular projection in a battle line.
xviii

glossary of terms
sbornik

A collection of documentary information.

soviet

A council of some sort.

Stavka

General headquarters of the Soviet armed forces
in the German–Soviet War.

sturmovik

‘Stormer’, a heavily armored Soviet groundsupport aircraft.

Wehrmacht

The German armed forces, 1935–45.

xix

Abbreviations
BSE

Bolshaya sovetskaya entsiklopediya (Great Soviet Encyclopedia).
First published in 1928, it was frequently revised thereafter to
keep it in agreement with the party line.

Dekrety

Dekrety sovetskoy vlasti. Decrees of the Soviet governmental
agencies published in multi-volume compilations.

DGFP

US Department of State, Documents on German Foreign Policy,
1918–1945.

FRG, Zweite
Weltkrieg

Federal Republic of Germany, Das Deutsche Reich und der
Zweite Weltkrieg (The German Reich and the Second World
War).

FRUS

US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, a
massive serial publication of diplomatic correspondence
subdivided after first mention by geographic area, time period
and volume number (if any), for example, FRUS, Russia, v. 2,
1931–32.

GVE

S. S. Khromov, ed., Grazhdanskaya voyna i voyennaya
interventsiya v SSSR entsiklopediya (Civil War and Military
Intervention in the USSR Encyclopedia).

IVMV

Ministerstva Oborony SSSR, Istoriya vtoroy mirovoy voyny,
1939–1945 (History of the Second World War), ten volumes.

IVOVSS

Institut Marksizma-Leninizma, Istoriya velikoy otechestvennoy
voyny sovetskogo soyuze, 1941–1945 (History of the Great
Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, 1941–1945), six volumes.

KVR

L. Trotskiy, Kak Vooruzhalas revolyutsiya (How the Revolution
Armed [itself]). Trotskiy’s account of the revolution and civil
war

OKW Ktb.

P. E. Schramm, ed., Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommandos der
Wehrmacht. War diary of the German armed forces high
command.

abbreviations
NARS

National Archives and Records Service (US).

PU 1936, 39,
40, 44

Narodny Komisariat Oborony, Polevoy Ustav. Soviet field
service regulations, in which armies formulated conceptions of
how they expected to fight the next war.

Rezoliutsiyakh See Institut Marksizm-Leninizma, Kommunisticheskaya partiya
v rezolyutsiyakh i resheniyakh syezdov, konferentsiyi, i plenumov
TsK. The Communist Party in resolutions and decisions of
congresses, conferences and Central Committee plenums, a
multi-volume compilation of actions at the highest level.
SVE, SVE2

Ministerstvo Oborony SSSR, Sovetskaya Voyennaya
Entsiklopediya (Soviet Military Encyclopedia), eight volumes.
SVE2 is the 1994 revised edition of which only three volumes
have been released.

ViZh

Voyenno-istoricheskiy Zhurnal (Military History Journal). The
journal of the Soviet/Russian Army General Staff.

VOE

G. N. Golikov, ed., Velikaya Oktyabrskaya sotsialistcheskaya
revolutsiya Entsiklopediya (Great October Socialist Revolution
Encyclopedia).

VOV

Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voyny (Great Patriotic War). Used in
combinations: VOV, Kratkaya istoriya (Short History);
Rzheshevskiy, VOV; Zhilin, ed., VOV, kratkiy nauchno
popularnyy ocherk (Short, scientific, popular story [sic]).

xxi

1
The Military Revolutionary
Committee
Two events that would transform the world occurred within a month of each
other in early 1917. On 12 March, in Russia, the troops of the Petrograd garrison
mutinied, thereby converting a workers’ strike begun four days earlier into an
outright revolution, and on 6 April, the United States declared war on Germany.
The United States therewith converted the European war then going on into a world
war and before the war was over, established itself as a world power and a
paradigm advocate of the capitalist system and democracy. The revolution in
Russia brought about an immediate political and military collapse, a prolonged
power struggle, and the rise of an authoritarian regime committed to a deterministic political and economic doctrine. Under that regime, Russia would pass
through a 28-year metamorphosis from which it would emerge alongside the
United States at the end of another world war as a military superpower.

the provisional government and the soviet
But on 12 March 1917, Russia’s future was an absolute blank. What had happened
was something no one had expected and revolutionary theory did not even seriously
contemplate: a successful spontaneous revolution from below. The women textile
workers who walked off their jobs and took to the streets in Petrograd on 8 March
had set a train of events in motion that defeated the imperial government and
nonplussed its opponents. On the 12th, in the Taurida Palace, the seat of the State
Duma, a committee of middle-class delegates to the Duma formed the nucleus of
a provisional government and those leaders of the Russian Social Democratic
Labor Party (Marxist socialists) and the Social Revolutionary Party (populists)
that happened to be in the city appointed themselves the Executive Committee of
a workers’ soviet (council) to be elected. Since the Duma Committee derived from a
nationally elected body, it had a certain legitimacy, but its middle-class orientation
made it suspect in the eyes of the workers and common soldiers. The idea of the
soviet established a tie with the 1905 revolution, but the workers had created

the red army 1918–1941
the soviet then. In 1917, the Executive Committee came into existence first
and was a self-appointed body of revolutionary intellectuals who were only
relatively better attuned than the Duma Committee to the workers’ and soldiers’
concerns.
The Social Democrats were in a quandary; the proletarian uprising that had
occurred did not conform to Marxist theory, which, as it applied to Russia,
required a period of bourgeois predominance to come before the revolution of
the proletariat. Moreover, their most active leaders were either exiles in Siberia
or emigrants abroad, and the party had been divided for 14 years on the question
of how it should organize and conduct the revolution in the first place. One
faction, the Mensheviks, wanted open party membership and an overt mass
movement; another, the Bolsheviks, insisted on conspiratorial guidance of the masses
through a centralized and professionalized party; a third, the Mezhraiontsy, stood
for party reunification and engaged in polemics against both of the others. The
Social Revolutionaries, who traditionally had looked to the peasants rather than
the working class for their support, were divided into two parties, Right Social
Revolutionaries holding to the established doctrine and Left Social Revolutionaries
with leanings toward Marxism and internationalism. The only individual who
stood out in the turmoil was Alexander Kerenskiy, a Right Social Revolutionary
and a Duma delegate, who managed on the basis of those credentials to become
a member of the Duma Committee and deputy chairman of the Petrograd
Soviet’s Executive Committee.
The Petrograd Workers’ Soviet came into actual being on 13 March, some 600
delegates having been elected by then, but it did not retain that form for long.
A day later, in part to keep the mutinous troops from getting out of hand and in
part to assure itself of their support, the Soviet became the Petrograd Workers’
and Soldiers’ Soviet and issued Order No. 1, a document that although it was
addressed only to the troops and naval personnel of the Petrograd district, was to
have far-reaching military and political effects. The order assigned control of all
weapons in every unit to committees to be elected from the lower ranks, abolished
honorific forms of address for officers, and prohibited officers’ addressing soldiers
in coarse terms. Paragraph 4 read, ‘Orders of the military commission of the State
Duma are to be carried out only when they do not contradict the orders and
resolutions of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.’1 That paragraph, in
effect, obligated the troops to question orders and established the Soviet as the
arbiter of military policy in matters on which it chose to act. The Soviet approved
Order No. 1, and the Soviet’s newspaper, Izvestiya, published it, but it had no
official standing since the Soviet did not possess the authority in military affairs
implied in Paragraph 4; nevertheless, circulation in Petrograd and at the front
and the absence of any other equally comprehensible declaration made it
the manifesto of the revolution, which would, consequently, henceforth be tied
willy-nilly to military concerns.
On 15 March, Nicholas II abdicated and the Provisional Government came
into being in the form of a cabinet under Prince G. E. Lvov as Minister President.
2

the military revolutionary committee
Although the abdication gave the Provisional Government a claim to legitimacy,
particularly since a majority in the Lvov cabinet still favored preserving the
monarchy, the two events were almost merely coincidental. The Provisional
Government owed its existence to the Executive Committee and to the Soviet.
On the 14th, the Executive Committee had tentatively agreed to support the
Provisional Government in return for the Duma Committee’s committing
the Provisional Government to adopt a program of the Soviet’s demands. The
program, published as the Provisional Government’s first proclamation, granted
full civil rights to citizens and soldiers; abolished class, religious, and nationality
distinctions; promised ‘immediate’ preparation for a constituent assembly; gave
an ‘immediate and complete’ amnesty to all political offenders; and stated that
‘those military units which took part in the revolutionary movement shall be
neither disarmed nor withdrawn from Petrograd’.2 The Soviet in full session had
subsequently decided not to contest the Provisional Government’s right to exist
but had restricted its ‘support’ to the execution of the program the Executive
Committee had imposed. For its part, the Executive Committee had prohibited
its members from serving in the Provisional Government (except for Kerenskiy,
who succeeded through an emotional appeal to the Soviet in securing a mandate
for himself to continue as deputy chairman of the Executive Committee and
become minister of justice in the Provisional Government).
After 15 March, Russia had two governments and none. The Provisional
Government had the responsibility and the Soviet the power. The Soviet’s real
power, however, was in the hands of the elected members and their constituencies,
and the composition of that body was changing. The membership would number
2,000 before the end of the month, and three-fifths would be soldiers. The workingclass contingent and the socialist politicians in the Executive Committee were
themselves on the verge of being overwhelmed by the mass of unruly, politically
primitive, predominantly peasant soldiers. That Kerenskiy, whose primary commitments were to the Duma Committee and the Provisional Government, could outshine them at will, exposed another weakness in the Soviet’s leadership: it was
composed in the main of men who had either been too insignificant to have aroused
the interest even of the tsarist police or ones like N. S. Chkheidze, the chairman of
the Executive Committee, who had watered down their revolutionary sentiments
sufficiently to keep out of trouble.
The Social Democrats would have had more effective leadership if the revolution had occurred in Zurich, Switzerland, instead of Petrograd. Vladimir Illyich
Lenin, the founder, principal theorist, and acknowledged chief of the Bolshevik
faction, and Leonid Martov, Lenin’s Menshevik counterpart, were there, as were
also a number of their closest associates and some Mezhraiontsy and Social
Revolutionaries. Although the amnesty and the change in government made them
respectable, even important, Russian citizens and Russia continued in the
wartime alliance, they were unwilling to risk returning home across French or
British territory. When the Germans, who saw the political turmoil in Russia as a
strategic godsend to themselves, offered a free trip by rail to Sassnitz on the Baltic
3

the red army 1918–1941
coast, Lenin overruled his followers’ opposition to what could be construed as
consorting with the enemy and left Zurich on 9 April with a dozen and a half other
Bolsheviks and a few Mensheviks. Martov, most of the Mensheviks, and all of the
Social Revolutionaries had refused to go without approval from Petrograd.
The one of the émigrés who had actually led an attempted revolution – singlehandedly, at that – Leon Trotskiy, had arrived at New York in January 1917 after
having been ushered out of France under police escort in the previous October
and expelled from Spain in December. Having broken with Lenin in 1903 and
with Martov and the Mensheviks a year later, Trotskiy had only a loose following
in the Mezhraiontsy, but he had been the guiding spirit and chairman of the
Menshevik-dominated St Petersburg Workers’ Soviet in 1905, and in the international social democratic movement, he had consistently outperformed Lenin as
a writer and a speaker. As the war correspondent in Paris from August 1914 to
October 1916 for a legal but antigovernment Kiev newspaper, he had also
acquired something none of the other professional revolutionaries had, a
reasonably close acquaintance with war as it was being fought on the Western
Front. On 25 March 1917, the amnesty having by then erased a sentence to
lifelong banishment in Siberia imposed in 1906, Trotskiy secured a passport at
the Russian consulate in New York. Two days later, he and his family embarked
aboard a Norwegian ship on a voyage that terminated temporarily on 3 March
at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where British naval police took them off the ship and
locked them in a camp for captured German submarine crews. Trotskiy was
well on the way toward making Marxists of the German sailors within a few
days, but it took him four weeks to get an explicit request for his release from
Petrograd.
Three Bolsheviks of sufficient stature to have been exiled to Siberia, Josef
Stalin, L. B. Kamenev, and M. K. Muranov, arrived in Petrograd on 25 March.
Before his arrest in 1913, Stalin had edited the Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda.
Kamenev, Stalin’s successor in the editorial post, and Muranov, a Bolshevik
deputy in the Duma, had been convicted of treason in 1915. On the basis of an
appointment to the Bolshevik Central Committee he had held five years earlier,
Stalin became the ranking Bolshevik on the scene in Petrograd and claimed
a place on the Executive Committee of the Soviet. He, Kamenev, and Muranov
supplanted the younger men who had been setting the Bolshevik tone in the
Soviet and editing Pravda.3 The Bolshevik position in the Soviet was weak.
That they had boycotted the St Petersburg Soviet of 1905 on Lenin’s orders had
been remembered, and the Petrograd Soviet had almost automatically become
a Menshevik institution. The Bolsheviks had only 50 elected delegates in the
Soviet and no clear idea of what course they, the presumed most revolutionary
faction, ought to pursue. Those in the Soviet on 15 March had opposed the
formation of the Provisional Government but had not offered an alternative.
Stalin and Kamenev proposed compromises: limited support for the Provisional
Government, a common front with the Mensheviks, and postponement of the
proletarian revolution.
4

the military revolutionary committee

lenin and trotskiy on the scene and off
Lenin arrived at the Finland Station in Petrograd at around midnight on 16 April
after a train trip through Sweden and Finland. The Bolsheviks staged a tumultuous
welcome with placards, red banners, searchlights, and an armored car to take him
to their headquarters, the Kshesinskaya Palace. His mood was anything but festive.
He had already let Kamenev, who had boarded the train outside Petrograd, know
that what had been done thus far was all wrong; and he spent most of the rest of the
night laying down his program. The proletariat, he maintained, had overthrown
the autocracy; hence, a parliamentary democracy would be a step backward. The
revolution was merely passing through its first stage in which the proletariat,
through insufficient class consciousness, had given power to the bourgeoisie; in
the second, power would have to pass to the proletariat and the poorer peasants.
A republic of soviets, a higher form of democracy, would be the instrument to
exercise power for the benefit of the workers and peasants. The Bolsheviks’program,
therefore, would have to be to terminate the war, expropriate the factories and the
land, and abolish the army, replacing it by arming the whole people. Their slogan
would be ‘All power to the Soviets’; but because they were a small minority,
they would not attempt an armed uprising against the Provisional Government
and would try, instead, through opposition to the Provisional Government and
education of the masses, to achieve a peaceful transfer of power.
The British had released Trotskiy on 29 April, and he arrived at the Finland
Station a month after Lenin, on 17 May. Before the train passed out of Finland,
he had read in newspapers that the Provisional Government was to be reorganized
that day with Kerenskiy becoming Minister of War and three Menshevik members
of the Soviet Executive Committee assuming posts in the cabinet; and he had
decided to launch ‘an implacable fight, allied with the Bolsheviks, against the
Mensheviks and Populists [Social Revolutionaries]’.4 From a welcome at the station
almost as large as Lenin’s, in which Bolshevik and Menshevik delegations took
part, he went straight to the Executive Committee. There the new Menshevik
ministers greeted him as ‘dear and beloved teacher’, and he responded, ‘I believe
our next step must be to transfer all power to the Soviets. Long live the Russian
revolution, prologue to the world revolution!’5 The Bolsheviks moved that he be
made a member of the Executive Committee on the spot. That being too much
for the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries, he was given membership as
an advisor, which did not permit him to vote but entitled him to speak in the
Soviet.
When Lenin and Trotskiy met on 23 May, agreement on practical matters
almost totally overshadowed their past differences on theory. Trotskiy had no
trouble at all accepting Lenin’s recent decisions to regard Russia as a suitable stage
for a revolution of the proletariat and the soviets as the nucleus of a revolutionary
government. Knowing that those were, in fact, positions Trotskiy had originated
during the 1905 revolution, Lenin offered more than an alliance to achieve them:
5

the red army 1918–1941
he invited Trotskiy and his followers in the Mezhraiontsy to join the Bolsheviks
on terms that for Trotskiy, amounted virtually to a partnership. However, on that
score some of the old animosity lingered, and what one called oneself was still
important. Trotskiy conceded that the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party was
irrevocably split but proposed forming a separate party. Lenin, who had regarded
himself as the head of a party all along, was not prepared to start a new one to
accommodate Trotskiy. Even so, had the rush of events not prevented it, the question
of the party label might also have been resolved to Trotskiy’s satisfaction. Lenin
had already written, though not yet published, a pamphlet in which he announced
that the Bolsheviks would have to drop the association with social democracy and
become the Communist Party.6
Regardless of labels, party and personal lines were clearly drawn in the First
All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which began on 16 June. The Mensheviks and
Social Revolutionaries, who had an overwhelming majority among the delegates
from some 350 city, town, and military-unit soviets, supported the Provisional
Government, approved an offensive Minister of War Kerenskiy was preparing to
launch in Galicia against the Austrians, and scoffed at the notion that the soviets
could assume power. The Bolsheviks, outnumbered by seven to one, were forced into
impotent – though vocal – opposition. Trotskiy, although he declared his support
for the Bolsheviks, was the acknowledged star of the congress, outperforming
Lenin and Kerenskiy on the platform. The Bolsheviks did better in the streets
than in the meeting hall. Their influence was growing among the workers and
soldiers in Leningrad to whom Lenin’s promises of ‘peace’ and ‘bread’ had great
appeal, and on 1 July, a peaceful demonstration the congress had authorized
brought nearly a half million people to Mars Field in front of the Tauride Palace,
most of them carrying Bolshevik banners and placards and shouting Bolshevik
slogans.
Success in the demonstration and frustration in the congress led the Bolsheviks
close to their undoing. Kerenskiy had managed to keep the Bolsheviks on the
outer fringe of the congress, and with the offensive, started on 1 July, he kindled
a degree of patriotic support for the Provisional Government. On the other hand,
food shortages, inflation, the return to active participation in the war, and Bolshevik
agitation kept the workers and soldiers in Petrograd aware that their concerns
were being ignored and led the soldiers in particular to think in terms of something more forceful, an armed demonstration. After the demonstration began, on
16 July, the Bolshevik leaders and Trotskiy, who by then regarded himself as one
of them, decided they could not betray their constituency, as they had since May
been accusing the Mensheviks of having done, but worked to keep the demonstration peaceful. By and large, they succeeded in doing that until the 19th, when
exhaustion and a few pro-government troops brought from outside the city were
enough to send the demonstrators back to their homes and barracks.
The Provisional Government claimed a victory for itself, which it needed badly,
because, on the 19th, it had to reveal the failure of the offensive at the front. That
day and the next brought greater shifts in political fortunes all around than
6

the military revolutionary committee
any since 12 March. The government ordered Lenin and several other leading
Bolsheviks arrested for having attempted an armed insurrection and charged
Lenin also with having received large sums of money from the Germans. Lenin
went into hiding, first in Petrograd, then several days later, in Finland. Within the
government, the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets), middle-class politicians who
had been the majority in the Duma Committee and the first Provisional Government, resigned in a dispute allegedly over the status of the Ukraine. When Prince
Lvov relinquished his post as well, Kerenskiy became the Minister-President.
On 23 July, Trotskiy called on the government to order his arrest along with
those of Lenin and the other Bolsheviks with whom he said he agreed ‘in principle’,
defended Lenin in the Executive Committee against the charge of having been in
German pay, and himself disappeared for a week. When he returned to the Soviet
in early August, he was jailed. Later in the month, the Sixth Bolshevik Party
Congress accepted him and his fellow Mezhraiontsy into membership and elected
him, in absentia, to the 21-member Central Committee. The timing hardly
seemed propitious. The charge of complicity with the Germans was causing even
working-class Bolshevik support to drop, and a mob had wrecked the Pravda
offices. The congress, at which Stalin presided as the most prominent member not
in jail or in hiding, was having to meet in semi-secrecy in the working-class
Vyborg district of Petrograd, while Kerenskiy’s cabinet was being acclaimed as the
‘Government to Save the Revolution’.

the kerenskiy government compromised
Unfortunately for Kerenskiy, his image as the savior of the revolution was fragile.
His success against the Bolsheviks had encouraged outright counterrevolutionary
elements in the capital and in the army but had not drawn either their support or
proved that the Bolsheviks had lost more than superficially to him. On 2 September,
the Germans, in an offensive begun two days earlier, took Riga, the northern
cornerpost of the Russian front.
Although the Germans were still almost 300 miles from Petrograd and not
likely to expend the effort just traversing that distance would require, Kerenskiy
and his recently appointed Supreme Commander in Chief, General L. G. Kornilov,
acted as if the Germans could be expected to appear at the city gates any day.
Kerenskiy placed the Petrograd Military District under Kornilov’s command, and
they agreed to station a cavalry corps close to the city. Discussions they conducted
through intermediaries who commuted between the capital and the Stavka, the
military general headquarters in Mogilev, appeared to be leading toward an action
against the Bolsheviks until 8 September when Kerenskiy learned that Kornilov
was about to attempt a coup on his own against the Provisional Government and
the Soviet as well as the Bolsheviks. Kerenskiy thereupon ordered Kornilov to
relinquish his post, and Kornilov, calling on the Russian people to support him,
7

the red army 1918–1941
accused the Provisional Government of working in harmony with the plans of the
German General Staff.
After four days in which Kerenskiy and Kornilov bombarded each other with
threats neither was able to carry out, Kornilov meekly surrendered his command
and submitted to arrest on 13 September. He had only managed to assemble a
couple of regiments, not the cavalry corps he had counted on, and those had
turned out to be as thoroughly disaffected as the troops in Petrograd. Meanwhile,
however, a widespread suspicion had developed that Kerenskiy and Kornilov had
been accomplices in a plot to restore the monarchy and the Menshevik–Social
Revolutionary majority in the Exectuive Committee of the Soviet had been
probable accessories.
The Bolsheviks were the only ones untainted by the affair and, at the end, its
sole and great beneficiaries. In an initial panic at the thought of Kornilov’s cossacks
descending on the capital, the Provisional Government had issued several thousand
weapons to the Red Guards, a previously unarmed, pro-Bolshevik workers’ militia
it had suppressed in July. Afterward, on 17 September, to restore its credibility as
an organ of the revolution, it released Trotskiy and the other jailed Bolsheviks. In
the popular mind, particularly among the workers and soldiers, the Bolsheviks,
meanwhile, were coming to be regarded as the only party steadfastly loyal to the
revolution. On 12 September, for the first time since March, the Petrograd Soviet
passed a Bolshevik resolution. Entitled ‘On Power’, it called for the exclusion from
power not only of those who had participated in and abetted Kornilov’s revolt,
but also those – among the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks – who
‘through a policy of compromise and irresponsibility allowed the Supreme
Command and the government apparatus to be converted into hotbeds and
instruments of conspiracy against the revolution’.7
Ten days later, after the chairman, Chkheidze, declared the vote invalid because
it had been taken with barely a quorum present, the Soviet passed the resolution
again and refused Chkheidze a vote of confidence. Lenin, who stayed in hiding
because the Provisional Government had announced it still meant to prosecute
him and the Bolsheviks it had released, seeing the majority votes in the Soviet
as a decided but very likely temporary turn in the Bolshevik fortunes, urged his
colleagues on the scene in Petrograd to launch a campaign for a mass uprising against
the Provisional Government. In a debate on Lenin’s proposal on 28 September,
the Central Committee split and decided to do nothing.
During the next several weeks, while the Central Committee temporized and
Lenin tried to prod it into mounting an uprising, Trotskiy acted, although also not
as Lenin wanted. As his biographer, Isaac Deutscher has put it, ‘He did not try to
impose from the outside a scheme of insurrection on the course of events. He
developed the insurrection out of the situations as they arose.’8 He did the latter
mainly in the halls of the Smolnyy Institute, a former upper-class girls’ school in
which the Petrograd Soviet had been meeting since the government moved it out
of the Tauride Palace in August. His influence there, in both the workers’ and the
soldiers’ sections, was great and growing. On 4 October, he persuaded the Soviet
8

the military revolutionary committee
to address a resolution to the soviets all over the country alerting them to ‘the
threat of a new danger from … the counterrevolutionaries’ and calling on them
to ‘do their utmost to strengthen their positions, keep their organizations in a state
of alertness, create special organs as the need arises for combating the counterrevolution’, and to convene another All-Russian Congress of Soviets ‘at once’.9
Two days later, the Soviet elected Trotskiy to replace Chkheidze as its chairman.

trotskiy, chairman of the military revolutionary
committee
The fall of Riga and subsequent continuation of the German offensive had given
the Bolsheviks and the Petrograd garrison an urgent common concern that
because the troops were mainly peasants, political doctrine had formerly not been
able to provide, namely, to keep themselves and the Provisional Government in
Petrograd. Lenin, in his letters to the Central Committee, cited rumors that the
Provisional Government was about to abandon Petrograd to the Germans and
thereby deprive the Bolsheviks of their strongest power base. The soldiers knew
that the government wanted to abrogate its 14 March commitment to them and
order them to the front. Their dedication to not being transformed into defenders
of the capital became Trotskiy’s crucial asset.
The situation he needed most, one that would enable him to organize the overthrow of the Provisional Government within the Soviet without appearing to do
that, developed on 22 October when the Soviet approved a motion to set up a
‘Committee of Revolutionary Defense’ to gather information relating to the
defense of the capital and to a projected government order transferring the troops
out of the city. Trotskiy gave the appointment as the committee’s chairman to a
young Left Social Revolutionary, P. E. Lazimir, who, he said, was ‘already traveling
with the Bolsheviks … although, to be sure, not always foreseeing whither the
course would lead’.10 With Trotskiy’s ‘editorial’ assistance, Lazimir, in two or three
days, wrote a charge that without betraying any insurrectional intent, converted the
committee from an investigative body into the Military Revolutionary Committee,
a staff claiming authority over all military and naval personnel in the Petrograd
area and responsible solely to Trotskiy as chairman of the Soviet. In the meantime,
on the 23rd, the Bolshevik Central Committee, in a secret meeting which Lenin
attended in disguise, had adopted a resolution to mount an uprising.
Meanwhile, also, the Executive Committee of the Soviet had issued a call for an
All-Russian Congress of Soviets to be convened ‘around’ 2 November. For Trotskiy,
the meeting constituted an opportunity and established a deadline: an uprising
that took place while the congress was in session could instantly be legitimized
as a national seizure of power in the name of the soviets. Lenin, who suspected – as
Trotskiy, in fact, also did – that the Provisional Government or the Executive
Committee, in which the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries were still in the
9

the red army 1918–1941
majority, might yet find an excuse for cancelling the congress, did not want to
wait; but he was having to stay in hiding, out of personal contact with all but a few
colleagues, and the Central Committee did not move toward putting its resolution
into force. Two of its leading members, Kamenev and G. E. Zinoviev, both of
whom had opposed the resolution, openly campaigned in the lower ranks of the
party against an uprising.
Lenin, again in disguise, attended another Central Committee meeting on the
night of 29 October. After debating the whole question of an uprising once more,
the committee, at the last, elected a five-man group, the Military Revolutionary
Center, to maintain liaison with the Military Revolutionary Committee in the
Soviet. Four of them did later work individually with Trotskiy. The fifth, Stalin,
busied himself with his duties as editor of Rabochiy Put (Workers’ Road), the
Bolsheviks’ substitute for Pravda, which had been prohibited since July. Trotskiy
was not present at the Central Committee meeting. On the 25th, he had presented
Lazimir’s and his scheme for giving the Military Revolutionary Committee command in Petrograd to the Executive Committee as a device for restoring discipline
in the garrison. The next day, he had offered it to the soldiers’ section of the Soviet
as a guarantee that the troops could not be ordered out of the city and had secured
an overwhelming vote of approval. While the Central Committee was meeting on
the night of the 29th, he was at the Smolnyy getting final approval from the full
Soviet.
Although he maintained later that preparations for the uprising did not begin
until the Military Revolutionary Committee was fully staffed on 2 November,
Trotskiy actually began the final deployment on 29 October. (Either way, he would
have been hard pressed to meet the deadline had the Executive Committee not –
over his insincere protests – postponed the opening of the congress for five days
on the 30th.) During the day on the 29th, Trotskiy signed an order directing one
of the Petrograd arsenals to issue 5,000 rifles to the Red Guards. Other than as
political window dressing, the Red Guards were not particularly important to his
plans. They only numbered about 20,000 loosely organized, untrained men and
boys, and he was counting on some 150,000 pro-Soviet soldiers from the
garrison to give him a better than three to one superiority over the troops
the Provisional Government could muster. What was essential for him was to
know whether his command authority would be accepted outside the Soviet. It
was. On the 31st, in answer to questions about the arms given to the Red Guards,
he declared, ‘in the name of the Soviet’, that no decision had been taken on armed
action of any kind; but using, probably for the first time, a formulation that was
destined to become standard in statements of Soviet military doctrine, he added,
‘We will, however, respond to the first counterrevolutionary attempt to attack us
with a counterattack that we will carry ruthlessly to the finish.’11
To make certain that the military commands would execute his and the Military
Revolutionary Committee’s orders, Trotskiy appropriated a device the Provisional
Government had already instituted in the front commands, control of the military
through political commissars. The government’s commissars had two functions:
10

the military revolutionary committee
to give the higher commands political guidance and to help them keep the troops
in hand. Trotskiy’s had just one: to detect and prevent treachery on the part of
commanders at all levels. On 3 November, he created the Bureau of the Military
Revolutionary Committee, a body of some 60 Bolshevik soldiers who were to serve
as commissars. Lazimir’s appointment as its chief made it look – very superficially
– as if it were merely an extension of the government’s system to the Petrograd
garrison. The commissars went to their assigned units on the night of the 3rd,
and Lazimir and two others went to the headquarters of the Petrograd Military
District, where the commander, a Colonel Polkovnikov, refused to accept them.
While the commissars were taking up their stations, Lenin was meeting in the
Vyborg district, not far from his place of concealment, with a group of Central
Committee members and other ranking Bolsheviks whom he had hand picked to
exclude the most vocal opponents of an uprising. Nevertheless, the session lasted
through the night, and Lenin, who brought all of his authority and rhetorical skill
to bear in a two-hour speech, did not get an assenting vote until seven o’clock the
next morning. Trotskiy, who was not in a position at that stage to be making
clandestine excursions into outlying parts of the city, was not present; and Lenin,
who knew almost nothing about what Trotskiy had been doing, still envisioned a
party-sponsored mass uprising.
On the 4th, all the parties expected something to happen before the Second
All-Russian Congress of Soviets opened, and each was confident it could determine the outcome. The moderates, ‘compromisers’ as Trotskiy called them, in the
Executive Committee of the Soviet undertook to co-opt the Military Revolutionary
Committee’s commissars by appointing a general commissar in the military
district headquarters and subordinating the others to him. Trotskiy’s response was
to send a Bolshevik second lieutenant to the headquarters with a message that
henceforth none of its orders to the garrison would be valid unless they were
countersigned by the Military Revolutionary Committee. To the troops he
announced that the headquarters had ‘broken with the organized garrison’ and
become an instrument of counterrevolution: therefore, the Military Revolutionary
Committee, ‘standing at the head of the garrison’, was taking upon itself ‘the
defense of revolutionary order’. This, he wrote later,‘was a decisive step on the road
to insurrection’.12

trotskiy’s military coup
Insisting publicly, as he always had, that the Bolsheviks were not preparing an
insurrection, Trotskiy waited for the government to ‘provoke’ a defensive response
from the Military Revolutionary Committee. To hasten it along that hazardous
road, he went, on the afternoon of the 5th, to the Peter and Paul Fortress on
Zayachiy Island in the Neva River opposite the Provisional Government’s headquarters in the Winter Palace. The fortress was thought to be the government’s
11

the red army 1918–1941
stronghold. The commandant had threatened to put the corporal assigned to him
as a commissar under arrest, and the troops had all along been the least radical in
the garrison. When Trotskiy left the fortress after an hour or so, the troops had
pledged to take orders only from the Military Revolutionary Committee. That
night Kerenskiy and his cabinet decided to initiate legal proceedings against the
Military Revolutionary Committee, bring in loyal troops from outside the city, and
close the Bolsheviks’ printing plant. Early the next morning, an officer candidate
detachment locked and sealed the building in which the plant was situated.
The last was the least of the government’s proposed moves but the only one it
could carry out quickly. Trotskiy, himself in a hurry since the congress was due to
open the next day, made it do as the provocation he wanted. After sending soldiers
to reopen the printing plant and countermanding a government order that would
have moved the cruiser Aurora and its dissident crew from its mooring place at
the Admiralty Quay alongside the Winter Palace, Trotskiy issued an order to all
the regiments in the garrison. It read, ‘The Petrograd Soviet is in danger. I hereby
order the regiments to be in complete readiness for action and to await further
instructions.’13 At about noon, Kerenskiy went before the Council of the Republic,
a temporary parliament created in October in which all the parties except the
Bolsheviks participated, to get its approval on legal action against the Bolsheviks.
In the midst of his speech, his deputy handed him a copy of Trotskiy’s order. He
paused to read it and then, declaring the city to be in ‘a state of insurrection’,
demanded that the council,‘this very day, at this afternoon’s session’, authorize the
Provisional Government to subject ‘those groups and parties which have dared to
raise a hand against the free will of the Russian people … to immediate, final, and
definite liquidation’.14 The lines were drawn, and the battle was about to be joined
– with vastly unequal forces. Trotskiy had machine gunners posted around the
Smolnyy in the early afternoon and had the commandant of the Peter and Paul
Fortress locked up, which was easy since the fortress had for more than a century
been mainly used as a prison for political offenders. Later, sailors, Trotskiy’s most
enthusiastic constituents, began arriving in the city from the Kronstadt naval base,
and Trotskiy summoned all the members of the Bolshevik Central Committee to
the Smolnyy. Stalin did not appear. Lenin, who was not expected, came after dark,
his face concealed in bandages and wearing a wig. Not having talked to Trotskiy
for several weeks, he apparently was still thinking in terms of a popular uprising
when he arrived. Afterward he wrote a letter to the Central Committee saying it
was not important who overthrew the Provisional Government; the Military Revolutionary Committee could do it or ‘some other institution which will declare
that it will relinquish power only to the true representatives of the interests of the
people’.15 It was also dark before the Council of the Republic passed Kerenskiy’s
resolution – by a small majority, the Mensheviks having voted a resolution of their
own blaming the Provisional Government as well as the Bolsheviks.
The Petrograd Soviet, with delegates to the congress as invited observers, went
into full session shortly after midnight on the morning of 7 November (25 October
by the Russian calendar, hence, the October Revolution). By then, the Bolshevik
12

the military revolutionary committee
newspaper for the Soviet, Rabochiy i Soldat (Worker and Soldier), had come out
bearing a full-page proclamation which declared that the enemies of the revolution
had attacked and the garrison and proletariat of Petrograd were ready to deal
them a crushing blow under the direction of the Military Revolutionary Committee.
After a stormy debate in which Trotskiy admitted for the first time that the
Bolsheviks had prepared to use armed force against the government, the Soviet
passed a resolution appealing to the soldiers and workers not to respond to provocations. The Bolsheviks, knowing the time had passed when such resolutions
could make a difference one way or another, walked out during the vote.
At about 2:00 a.m., detachments of soldiers and some Red Guards, the latter
appearing to John Reed, an American journalist present at the Smolnyy that night,
to be mostly adolescent boys, began setting up road blocks and occupying vital
points around the city, bridges, railroad stations, and power plants. Kerenskiy,
after having spent the first half of the night trying to persuade the Menshevik
leadership to change their party’s vote on the previous day’s resolution in the
Council of the Republic, passed the rest of it at the military district headquarters
adjacent to the Winter Palace, first listening to Polkovnikov’s plans for smashing
the insurrection and then to his and other officers’ excuses for not being able to
muster the troops to put them into effect.
The insurgents waited until 7:00 a.m. to move on the central telephone
exchange and the State Bank, which they had thought would be strongly defended
– but were not. An hour later, an orderly aroused Kerenskiy, who had returned to
his study in the Winter Palace for a brief rest, to tell him all the telephone lines had
been cut. From his window he could see Bolshevik sailors on the palace bridge. In
another hour, he was in a car headed out of Petrograd toward Gatchina 25 miles
to the south, where he expected to meet troops he had ordered sent from the
North Front (army group).
John Reed went out late that morning. The streetcars were running, and the
shops were open. The streets were crowded, but to him the people seemed less
uneasy than they had the day before. Exactly at noon, as it had for many years, a
cannon boomed in the Fortress of Peter and Paul.
Trotskiy opened the Soviet’s second session of the day at 2:30 p.m. with
an announcement that the Provisional Government had ceased to exist. Lenin
then mounted the rostrum to declare, ‘Comrades, the workers’ and peasants’
revolution, about the necessity of which the Bolsheviks have always spoken, has
been accomplished.’16 Lenin indicated in his speech that the soviets would provide
the structure on which a new government would be built, and committees of the
congress began meeting in the afternoon to prepare for its opening the following
day.
The Provisional Government had not yet actually ceased to exist. Believing that
the Winter Palace, the Admiralty, and the military district headquarters clustered
on the Neva and surrounded by open squares and broad avenues would be
heavily defended, the Military Revolutionary Committee had decided to encircle
the whole area first, using troops – mostly sailors from Kronstadt, who were
13

the red army 1918–1941
thought likely to be the most determined fighters – on the land side and naval
vessels in the river. The scheme turned out to be too complicated for the insurgents
to handle quickly; consequently, passage to and from the area was possible until
well into the day, and the attackers passed the afternoon waiting for two cannon
to be hoisted to the parapet of the Peter and Paul Fortress, which otherwise had
only the one used to signal the noon hour. Random rifle and machine gun fire
began at dark. The Aurora’s guns and the cannon in the fortress joined in later,
firing blanks and some live rounds, only two of which hit the palace. The decisive
tactical move of the day (if it was not an accident) was made by some unknown
person who thought to turn off the palace’s electricity, thereby enabling a few
enterprising sailors to infiltrate the building. Their presence in the dark rooms
and hallways sufficiently unsettled the defenders, cadets from military schools and
a women’s battalion, to bring about their surrender two hours after midnight.17
The ‘storming’ of the Winter Palace gave the new government its first battle
victory, in not much of a battle, to be sure, but symbolically important as a political
point made with armed force.
On the other hand, the whole uprising can probably be better described as
an exercise in military technique than as a revolutionary political act. It was a
thoroughly planned, in the main, precisely timed employment of mostly regular
troops that defeated the enemy before the battle had properly begun. In doing so,
it released the Bolshevik leadership from dependence on the proletariat and on
political doctrine as an instrument of power. Its course brought into conjunction
two personalities who changed Russia and the world. Lenin provided the will that
braced the Bolsheviks to make the bid for power. Trotskiy organized and managed
the military coup that gave them Petrograd and an example on which to build. On
7 November 1917, however, the revolution was nowhere near being accomplished.
Before that could really be said to have been done, three years would pass during
which the – in the Marxist view – classical instrument for oppression of the
masses, organized armed force, again counted for more than the Bolshevik effort
to rally the workers and peasants to the red banner of revolution.

14

2
‘All Power to the Soviets’
forming the ‘socialist state ’
The Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets opened on the night of 7 November,
at 10:40 p.m., John Reed, who was in the chamber at the Smolnyy, noted. The
Bolsheviks had a solid majority, 390 out of 670 delegates, and on the basis of it
received 14 seats and the chairmanship in the 21-member presidium. On the other
hand, the Bolshevik position was not quite as strong as it had seemed to be in the
afternoon. The Provisional Government was still barricaded in the Winter Palace,
and the surprise had begun to wear off. When Kamenev, who had renounced his
opposition to the uprising and been elected chairman of the presidium, put forward the question of power as the first order of business, the Menshevik and Right
Social Revolutionary leadership, having already refused to sit in the presidium,
accused the Bolsheviks of having conducted a conspiracy against the revolution and
demanded that the decision on power be made outside the congress by negotiation
with all the parties and the Provisional Government. After Trotskiy told them to
go where they belonged,‘into the garbage can of history’, they withdrew to the city
hall to join other anti-Bolshevik groups in forming the Committee for Salvation
of the Motherland and the Revolution. By 3:00 a.m., when Kamenev announced
that the Winter Palace had been taken and the members of the Provisional
Government were under arrest, the Bolsheviks and Left Social Revolutionaries
were the only parties officially represented in the congress. A.V. Lunacharskiy then
read a Bolshevik-written proclamation, which was approved. It declared that the
Provisional Government had been deposed, the congress had assumed power, and
all local power throughout the country should pass to the soviets.
The proclamation appealed also to the Army to hold the front and not support
Kerenskiy. What the response would be was by no means certain. Officer delegates
from front soviets had condemned the insurrection as a stab in the back to the
Army. In the last minutes of the long night’s session joyful pandemonium broke
loose on the floor after Nikolai Krylenko, a member of the Petrograd Military
Revolutionary Committee and the Bolshevik majority in the presidium, read a
telegram from the Twelfth Army stating that its military revolutionary committee
had taken control of North Front, the army group headquarters closest to Petrograd.1
Although the Twelfth Army, which was stationed in the vital sector north and east

the red army 1918–1941
of Riga, was going to be important for some time to come to the Bolshevik
assumption of power, the celebration was premature. The military revolutionary
committee did not control the North Front, and it only represented the Latvian
infantry regiments, about 30,000 troops in all, assigned to Twelfth Army. The
Latvians were pro-Bolshevik and were willing to fight in the Bolshevik cause,
which most of them including some officers saw as the way to secure Latvia’s independence. On 6 November, the military revolutionary committee in Twelfth Army
had ordered the 5th Zemgale Latvian Rifle Regiment to prepare for a march to
Petrograd, and the commander, Colonel Ioakim Vatsetis, had agreed to lead the
regiment wherever it went.2 Kerenskiy, meanwhile, had continued south past
Gatchina expecting any minute to meet the troops he had summoned. By 9:00
p.m., he had driven 140 miles, all the way to the North Front headquarters in
Pskov. The front commander, General Cheremissov, talked about trouble he was
having with his military revolutionary committee and refused to associate himself
with the Provisional Government in any way. In the early morning hours, Kerenskiy
had made contact with General P. N. Krasnov, whose Headquarters, III Cavalry
Corps had commanded the Cossacks Kornilov had sent against the Provisional
Government in September. Krasnov was willing to fight the Bolsheviks, though
manifestly not enthusiastic about doing so in Kerenskiy’s company. At about the
time Krylenko read the telegram from Twelfth Army to the delegates in the Smolnyy,
Kerenskiy and Krasnov were heading south 30 miles, from Pskov to Ostrov, to
gather up what were left of Krasnov’s troops.3
Lenin, who had not yet appeared in the congress, and the Bolshevik Central
Committee worked through the day on the 8th on a program and to devise a
government, which had to be entirely Bolshevik because the Left Social Revolutionaries refused to form a coalition with the Bolsheviks alone. The result was not
strikingly original: a 14-post cabinet under Lenin as chairman for whose members
Trotskiy invented the revolutionary-sounding title ‘people’s commissar’ and which
called itself the Council (soviet) of People’s Commissars. Trotskiy became People’s
Commissar for Foreign Affairs. A three-man committee composed of Vladimir
Antonov-Ovseenko, Nikolai Krylenko, and Pavel Dybenko took over military and
naval affairs. All were members of the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee of which Antonov-Ovseenko was the field commander during the uprising,
and they continued to serve with the other leading members of the Military Revolutionary Committee in the Council of People’s Commissars for Military and Naval
Affairs, which was created on 9 November. Antonov-Ovseenko had gone through
cadet school and been a junior officer for about a year before being court-martialed
in 1905 for revolutionary activity. Krylenko, a trained lawyer and professional
revolutionary, had served briefly at the front as a junior officer after being drafted
into the army in 1916.4 Dybenko, a peasant and ordinary seaman in the Baltic
Fleet, had wielded considerable power since May 1917 as chairman of the Central
Committee of the Baltic Fleet, a revolutionary sailors’ organization that controlled
all ship movements in the fleet. The last commissariat on the roster, railroads, was
left vacant. The next to the last, nationalities, went to Stalin.
16

‘all

power to the soviets’

Stalin was not a visible participant in the November events. Outside observers
like the American reporters John Reed and Albert Rhys Williams seldom came
across his name and apparently never saw him in person. His collected works do
not contain anything he said or wrote between 6 and 27 November. The People’s
Commissariat for Nationalities was a completely new creation without a predecessor
in the old government, hence without a bureaucracy, offices, or established functions
to be taken over. On the other hand, racing through the capital in armored cars
and appearing on the rostrum in the Smolnyy was not the ultimate reward to be
expected for decades in exile and in the underground; and in a government that was
likely to exist mostly on promises for some time to come, the People’s Commissar
for Nationalities possessed a valuable piece of the future.
The presidium, with Lenin among them, returned to the platform at 8:40 p.m.
on the night of the 8th. After reading several orders from the Military Revolutionary Committee, Kamenev called on Lenin who opened the session with the
words, ‘Comrades, we shall now take up the formation of the socialist state.’5
He then presented a proclamation calling on all nations at war to negotiate an
armistice immediately and seek a peace without annexations or indemnities.
Next, after the proclamation on peace had passed unanimously, he offered a
decree on land that abolished private land ownership, confiscated all large holdings, and offered every peasant family as much land as it could farm without hired
labor. When that had been passed – to the manifest joy of the peasants – Kamenev
read a decree authorizing the Council of People’s Commissars and its slate of
Bolshevik members to function as a provisional government until a constituent
assembly could be elected and convened. It was accepted over renewed demands
for a coalition reinforced by a threat from the Vikzhel, the central executive
committee of the railroad workers’ union, to deny a Bolshevik government the use
of the railroads.
The congress adjourned shortly before dawn on 9 November, after having
elected a 102-member All-Russia Central Executive Committee to exercise its
legislative function until the next congress was called. As the delegates left the
Smolnyy by streetcar, for most the first stage of long journeys back to their local
soviets, trains with Kerenskiy, Krasnov, several Cossack companies, and some
artillery on board were nearing Gatchina. The town, barely 20 miles from
Petrograd and the main rail and road junction on the south, was full of soldiers,
sailors, and Red Guards, who had artillery and armored cars but – the next few
hours showed – no inclination to face mounted Cossacks. By mid-afternoon,
Krasnov had won a battle in which very few shots had been fired and Kerenskiy
possessed a headquarters in Gatchina from which he could dispatch telegrams in
all directions: one to the troops in Petrograd ordering them to return to duty,
others to the field commands demanding reinforcements.

17

the red army 1918–1941

trotskiy defends petrograd
The only executive organ actually functioning in the capital was the Military
Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet under Trotskiy as chairman of
the Soviet. The people’s commissars’ new titles could not be transmuted into
authority because the staffs in the government departments had all gone on strike.
Colonel Polkovnikov, the commander of the Petrograd Military District, had aligned
himself with the Committee for Salvation of the Motherland and the Revolution.
Participants in the battle at Gatchina who retreated all the way to the Smolnyy in
the afternoon on the 9th confirmed a lesson Trotskiy had already drawn from the
previous two days’ experience, namely, that the Bolsheviks were exceedingly short on
military capability. Not hesitating to give necessity priority over political principle
and over his personal standing in the Soviet and the party, Trotskiy revised the
Military Revolutionary Committee’s field staff putting a professional officer,
Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Muravyev, in command. Muravyev was a Left Social
Revolutionary who was regarded with suspicion in his own party. He had taken
part in Kerenskiy’s effort to suppress the Bolsheviks in June 1917, but he had
apparently decided on 7 November that Kerenskiy was finished and had offered
his services to the Soviet. Antonov-Ovseenko became Muravyev’s assistant;
Colonel P. B. Valden, another officer who had volunteered, the chief of staff; and
a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee, K. S. Eremeev, the commissar.6
Before Kerenskiy, halfway between Gatchina and Petrograd, lay Tsarskoye Selo,
the site of the imperial summer palace, and two miles farther north were the
Pulkovo Heights, a range of hills the tallest of which was about 200 feet. In
the afternoon on 10 November, Antonov-Ovseenko and Dybenko arrived at the
field staff command post in Pulkovo. Valden told them that the troops had given
up Tsarskoye Selo without a fight and most of them would probably also drift
away from Pulkovo after nightfall. On the railroad, which ran a mile or two east
of Pulkovo, an evening commuter train took Reed and Williams straight through
to Tsarskoye Selo where they dined in the station restaurant before exploring the
town. Soldiers guarding the palace grounds, when asked whether they supported
the Bolsheviks or Kerenskiy, said they were neutral. Their colonel, who had his
headquarters in the palace, said he was holding the town for Kerenskiy, but most
of his troops had gone away and those who stayed did not want to fight. At about
the time the Americans took a train back to Petrograd, Kerenskiy was ordering
Krasnov, whose Cossacks had been stopped in the suburbs since mid-morning, to
occupy the town, which he did around midnight.
On the 11th, Kerenskiy acquired, in addition to the 600–700 Cossacks and
artillery he already had, an infantry regiment, a well-outfitted armored train, and
a sheaf of telegrams reporting 50 or so troop-trains on the way from various parts
of the front. Lenin and Trotskiy were having to find means to defend the power
they had seized. In the morning, cadets from the military schools acting for the
Committee for Salvation occupied the central telephone exchange and the telegraph
18

‘all

power to the soviets’

office. Workers, eventually some 20,000 of them, streamed southward out of the
city to dig trenches and string barbed wire. Red Guards, soldiers, and sailors from
the Kronstadt and Helsingfors naval bases broke the cadets’ resistance and locked
them up in the Fortress of Peter and Paul before dark. About 3,000 sailors went
out during the night to man positions on the Pulkovo Heights and in Krasnoye
Selo three miles to the west. Until then, a bare 5,000 soldiers of the many thousands
in the garrison had responded. The Red Guards showed some enthusiasm but had
little experience and no training.
Krasnov advanced toward Pulkovo on the morning of the 12th. He and Kerenskiy
had, perhaps, 5,000 men. Muravyev had around 12,000, but the soldiers and the
Red Guards, as they had been before, were quick to leave the field. The sailors,
however, stood fast, and Krasnov, who seemed to think the sailors were under
German command, broke off the attack in the afternoon and took his forces back
all the way to Gatchina. When they realized what had happened, which they did
not do until late in the night, Trotskiy and Muravyev proclaimed a victory but
did not carry the pursuit beyond the southern edge of Tsarskoye Selo, where
Muravyev ordered his men to dig in. A day later, Dybenko made a deal in which
the Cossacks agreed to turn over Kerenskiy and Krasnov. Kerenskiy escaped and
eventually left the country; Krasnov was taken to the Smolnyy and released after
giving his word not to take up arms against the revolution again.7
The Bolsheviks had defeated the first attempt to overthrow their government
by armed force. They had turned an outrageous act of military effrontery into a
successful operation. ‘Red Petrograd’ did not ‘rise unanimously against the reactionary conspirators and insurgents’ as one Soviet history claims, nor did the Red
Guard detachments ‘beat off all the enemy’s assaults and go over to a decisive
counterattack’ on the Pulkovo Heights as another maintains.8 The Bolsheviks’
best-organized military support, the Latvian rifle regiments, could not keep
their grip on the Twelfth Army. On the day after the success at Pulkovo, several
Petrograd regiments called on the rest of the garrison to join them in refusing to
fight. What had in fact enabled the Bolsheviks to seize and begin to consolidate
power was the soldiers’ compelling desire to evade an irrevocable commitment,
as Trotskiy put it, ‘the struggle of a peasant garrison for self-preservation’.9

bolshevik revolution in the hinterland
Had the defeat of the so-called Kerenskiy–Krasnov insurgency not been accomplished as quickly and decisively as it was, the Bolshevik insurgency itself would
very likely have sputtered and died out elsewhere in the land. Outside Petrograd,
the Bolsheviks had not dominated the soviets and the military revolutionary
committees, most of which were formed on or after 7 November, did not have
the advantage of surprise. In Moscow, the Russian ethnic and cultural capital, the
Bolsheviks only had a majority in the workers’ soviet. The soldiers’ soviet had
19

the red army 1918–1941
stayed separate, and the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries predominated in
it. Apparently, as in Petrograd, the greater part of the troops in the garrison
refused to fight for the Bolsheviks or against them. A military revolutionary committee organized on the night of the 7th found enough soldiers and Red Guards
to occupy the Moscow Kremlin the next day. Cadets under the military district
commander retook the Kremlin on the 10th, and thereafter both sides stood by
while awaiting the outcome of Kerenskiy’s march on Petrograd.
After Kerenskiy failed, the victory in Moscow was going to the Bolsheviks by
default when Mikhail Frunze arrived on the scene with a detachment of soldiers
and Red Guards from the industrial towns Shui, Kovrov, and Vladimir situated
about a hundred miles to the northeast. Frunze was a 32-year-old professional
revolutionary who had organized a fighting detachment in the 1905 revolution
and subsequently been sentenced to death twice. He had been an agitator among
the troops at the front in 1916, chief of police in Minsk after the February
Revolution of 1917, and had become party chairman in Shui in September 1917.
He had taken over the local government and garrison on 7 November and begun
to look for a wider field of action. During the night of 14 November, he took 800
soldiers from Shui and 1,200 Red Guards from Vladimir and Kovrov to Moscow
by train. The next morning they captured the Metropole Hotel, a cadet strongpoint around which the local Red Guards had been skirmishing for two days. On
the 16th, the officers and cadets evacuated the Kremlin and the city hall on terms
which those in the Metropole Hotel would probably also have accepted had
Frunze’s intervention not given Moscow a last-minute counterpart for the storming
of the Winter Palace.10
On 18 November, Lenin wrote a message ‘To the Population’ proclaiming the
triumph of the ‘workers’ and peasants’ revolution’ in Petrograd and Moscow. In
another message, ‘To All Party Members and to All the Working Classes of Russia’,
he condemned as ‘desertion’ a wave of resignations that had hit the Central Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars.11 During the Kerenskiy–Krasnov
affair, those who believed, for reasons that went beyond just the current crisis, that
the Bolsheviks could not sustain themselves in power alone had negotiated a basis
for a coalition with the Mensheviks and Right Social Revolutionaries. When a
majority in the Central Committee upheld Lenin’s and Trotskiy’s refusal to accept
the proposal, five of its members, including Kamenev and Zinoviev, and five
people’s commissars had resigned on 17 November. Lenin defended the decision
to form an all-Bolshevik government in the message to the party members and
working classes but declared that the party was willing to share power ‘with the
minority in the soviets’.
Opposition and defections in the Central Committee, resignations from the
government, negotiations to bring at least the Left Social Revolutionaries into
the Council of People’s Commissars, and impending national elections to choose
a constituent assembly, added to the already existing turmoil and uncertainty,
were producing a fundamental change in the party’s structure. On the eve of the
uprising, the Central Committee had appointed a seven-member Politburo to
20

‘all

power to the soviets’

make decisions in case the whole committee could not be assembled. It had not
functioned, partly because it had not been needed and partly because while Lenin,
Trotskiy and Stalin were members, Kamenev and Zinoviev, the chief opponents of
the uprising, also were. After 7 November, as dissension in the Central Committee
impaired its reliability as an instrument for dealing with outside pressures and
problems, Lenin, Trotskiy, Stalin, and Yakov Sverdlov constituted an informal
Politburo in which Lenin and Trotskiy exercised the authority and Stalin and
Sverdlov provided administrative support and a sufficient appearance of collegiality
to satisfy the party’s requirement.
The Bolsheviks’ successes in Petrograd and Moscow also had not much enhanced
their ability to exert power elsewhere. The ataman of the Don Cossacks, General
Alexey Kaledin, whose people were settled in the lower Don River basin astride
the communications lines into the Caucasus swore opposition to the Bolshevik
regime on 7 November. Colonel Aleksandr Dutov, ataman of the Orenburg Cossacks,
whose territory lay in the southern Ural Mountains, allied himself with Kaledin a
week later. In the western Ukraine, Kiev, the third city in the empire, did not fall
as the Russian capital had. The Ukrainian Central Rada (council), formed in
March 1917 under Simon Petlyura, possessed nationalist support that transcended
class differences, and the military district command had declared martial law in
Kiev on 6 November. When a Bolshevik-led military revolutionary committee
attempted an uprising on the 10th, the Rada, the military, and the opposition
parties cooperated in squelching it. On the 14th, the Rada proclaimed itself the
government of Kiev and the entire Ukraine, and, a week later, it announced
the formation of a Ukrainian National Republic within the Russian state.
After 7 November, military revolutionary committees had sprung up in the
armies and army groups, but they in most instances had fallen into factional
squabbles that produced many meetings and resolutions and few concrete results
of any kind. The commands’ authority was practically nonexistent and so was that
of the Bolshevik government. The sailors were full of revolutionary spirit but not
disposed to take orders that did not suit them from any source. Episodes of mass
drunkenness among the troops and the garrison regiments’ slack response to the
Kerenskiy–Krasnov threat put the Bolsheviks’ ability even to keep control in
Petrograd into question, and Lenin called for a Latvian regiment on 14 November.
The Latvians, however, were tied down in a struggle within Twelfth Army until the
20th, when Colonel Vatsetis led a successful attack on the anti-Bolshevik faction
and himself took command of the army.12

the stavka and the revolutionary field staff
Technically the whole military manpower of the country, almost ten million men,
was still under the Stavka (general headquarters) of the Supreme High Command.13
Its location in Mogilev 400 miles south of Petrograd insulated the Stavka from the
21

the red army 1918–1941
direct effects of events in the capital. Kerenskiy, who had assumed the post himself
after dismissing Kornilov in September, was the Supreme Commander in Chief
until 16 November when, after his disappearance, the authority passed automatically
to the chief of staff, General Nikolay Dukhonin. Dukhonin was an officer of no
distinction whose appointment as chief of staff in September 1917 had already
pushed him far beyond his depth. On the night of 20 November, Lenin, Trotskiy,
and Krylenko signed a telegram to Dukhonin, ordering him in the name of the
Council of People’s Commissars to open armistice negotiations with Germany
and her allies at once. After Dukhonin first failed to acknowledge the order and
then, on the 22nd, declared himself unable to execute it because the Council of
People’s Commissars did not constitute a legitimate government, Krylenko was
appointed to be his replacement as Supreme Commander in Chief.
Dukhonin’s dismissal confronted the Bolshevik government with a test it had
not yet faced and would probably just as soon have delayed a while longer, the
necessity to enforce a major decision outside the reach of the Petrograd Military
Revolutionary Committee. Lenin’s first move was to disavow Dukhonin and the
other counterrevolutionary generals and call on the soldiers’ committees in
the regiments at the front to initiate armistice negotiations. It resulted at once
in a wave of unilateral cease-fires in which regiments simply abandoned their
positions. Within two days, one of Lenin’s oldest associates, Vladimir BonchBruyevich, sent an urgent telegram from Petrograd asking his brother, General
Mikhail Bonch-Bruyevich, who was the headquarters commandant in Mogilev, to
take over as Supreme Commander in Chief. Although Bonch-Bruyevich was more
sympathetic toward the revolution than the others in his class, he refused the
appointment because he did not believe he could restore order at the front.
Soviets were established in Mogilev and the surrounding Byelorussian cities,
but Bolshevik influence was virtually nonexistent in the Mogilev Soviet, not yet
securely dominant elsewhere, and the local party leadership was inexperienced. A
hundred and some miles west of Mogilev, in Minsk, the largest Byelorussian city
and the site of the North Front headquarters, a veteran Bolshevik, Aleksandr
Myasnikov, chaired the soviet. He and Mikhail Ter-Arutyunyants, an advisor sent
from the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee who had been a commissar
in the assault on the Fortress of Peter and Paul and in the fighting on the Pulkovo
Heights, undertook to organize a march on the Stavka, but the collapse of the
front threatened to outrun their effort. At the end of the month, Krylenko set out
from Petrograd with an escort of eight trainloads of sailors, Lithuanian guards
riflemen, and Red Guards to claim his headquarters.
Dukhonin had six shock battalions, supposedly picked troops, in Mogilev, but
neither he nor they wanted to fight, and he informed Krylenko on 2 December that
there would be no resistance. When Krylenko’s train arrived the next afternoon,
the shock troops were gone, and Dukhonin appeared on the station platform
alone and in civilian clothes. When his identity became known, a mob of sailors
gathered and killed him outside Krylenko’s private car. Some hours later, after he
had moved into the headquarters, Krylenko summoned Bonch-Bruyevich and
22

‘all

power to the soviets’

appointed him chief of staff. The Supreme Commander in Chief ’s assignment to
open armistice negotiations had in the meantime been resolved. On 26 November,
the German Army High Command had expressed willingness to open talks.
A delegation under Adolphe Joffe, one of Trotskiy’s associates in the People’s
Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, arrived at the German Eastern Front headquarters in Brest-Litovsk on 3 December.14
The Stavka had become a relic of what was coming to be called ‘the old army’.
Its officers and others might still have to be used for a while as ‘military specialists’ under the close watch of commissars as Muravyev and Valden had been. The
troops had already demonstrated that they were no more willing to fight for
the new government than they had been for the old. On 6 December, the Council
of People’s Commissars for Military and Naval Affairs became the Collegium of
People’s Commissars for Military Affairs and began dismantling and reorganizing
the War Ministry. A naval collegium under Dybenko had taken over the Navy
Ministry some days earlier. The military collegium’s principal tasks were to
demobilize the old army (as a practical matter, more to regulate the spontaneous
demobilization already going on sufficiently to preserve some sort of military
presence at the front until peace had been secured) and to create a politically
reliable force that could deal with internal military threats. Dybenko had charge
of the old army, Antonov-Ovseenko of developing and deploying forces to replace
it. When the armistice was concluded on 15 December, it appeared in Petrograd
that the end was near and at the front that the war was over. Two decrees issued
on 29 December abolished military ranks, empowered enlisted men’s committees
and soviets to make command decisions, and authorized the election of officers.
In the meantime, a select Latvian battalion had taken over the guard duties at the
Smolnyy, and the 6th Tukums Latvian Rifle Regiment had assumed responsibility
for keeping order in Petrograd. Both observed the traditional military forms.15
For the Stavka, Krylenko was an absentee Supreme Commander in Chief. His
visits in Mogilev were infrequent and brief. Myasnikov, who was also the elected
commander in chief of the West Front, served as his part-time deputy, shunting
back and forth between Minsk and Mogilev in a private railroad car. The Bolsheviks’
virtually sole interest was in the Revolutionary Field Staff, which they activated in
December alongside the Stavka but separate and very much aloof from it. The
Field Staff came under Antonov-Ovseenko, for whom Myasnikov apparently also
acted as deputy, and it was the first functional element of the forces being formed
for internal employment. Ter-Arutyunyants was its chief of staff, and Vatsetis was
brought in as chief of plans and operations. On 25 December, while the Field Staff
was still being formed, Antonov-Ovseenko with Muravyev as his chief of staff,
bringing with them Red Guards from Petrograd and the 3rd Kurzem Latvian Rifle
Regiment, set up a headquarters in Kharkov for operations against Kaledin and the
Central Rada. By then, Kornilov, General Anton Denikin, the former commander
of the Southwest Front, and several other counterrevolutionary officers whom
Dukhonin had released from arrest in Mogilev on the morning of 3 December,
had joined Kaledin in Rostov-on-the-Don.16
23

the red army 1918–1941

dictatorship, self-determination, rights of the working
people, and insurgency
On 18 December, the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee transferred
the executive powers it had exercised to the people’s commissariats. Expanded and
reorganized, the Council of People’s Commissars had by then acquired seven Left
Social Revolutionary members, none in crucial posts, two in newly created commissariats of municipal affairs and ‘palaces of the Republic’, two without portfolio.
Earlier in the month also, the party Central Committee had formally established
the Politburo composed of Lenin, Trotskiy, Stalin, and Sverdlov as the ‘Bureau of
the Central Committee’.
Three problems confronted the Bolshevik government: the insurgency in the
south, peace negotiations with the Central Powers, and the Constituent Assembly.
The peace conference opened in Brest-Litovsk on 22 December. The date on
which the Constituent Assembly was to have convened, 11 December, was already
past. The elections had given the Bolsheviks only 25 per cent of the delegates. The
Social Revolutionaries had 58 per cent; but the Left Social Revolutionaries’ share
and decrees excluding the Constitutional Democrats as enemies of the people and
permitting recall votes had not been enough to give the Bolsheviks a working
majority. On 19 December, to counter rumors that the Constituent Assembly
would not be allowed to meet, Lenin announced that the assembly would go to
work as soon as half the delegates were in Petrograd and duly registered.
A decree drafted on 20 December created the Cheka (Extraordinary Commission)
within the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. Its chairman was Feliks
Dzerzhinskiy, and its mission was ‘to suppress and liquidate all counterrevolutionary
and sabotage efforts and actions in all of Russia from whatever side they may
come’. The Cheka’s mandate was broad, and it had almost complete autonomy.
Lenin ruled that jurisdictional disputes between the Cheka and the peoples
commissariats, ‘including the NKVD’ (the People’s Commissariat for Internal
Affairs), would be decided in the Council of People’s Commissars, but ‘without
curtailing’ the commission’s authority to conduct its activities as it saw fit.17
One of those involved in organizing the Cheka was Kliment Voroshilov. Born
near Lugansk (Voroshilovgrad) in the eastern Ukraine, he was 37 years old and an
active Bolshevik Party member since 1904. He had met Lenin at party congresses
before the war and had worked with Stalin for a time in an underground party
group in Baku. He was a rare type among the party’s professionals, an authentic
member of the working class, an electrician, but he had not achieved a place in
the party’s inner circle. His best prospect had seemed to lie in Lugansk, to which
he returned as local party chairman in April 1917 after having served briefly in the
Petrograd Soviet. After having been a delegate to the first and second all-Russian
congresses of soviets, he had returned again to Petrograd as an elected member
of the constituent assembly in early December. The party was putting all of its
delegates to the assembly to work, and Voroshilov became the Cheka commissar
24

‘all

power to the soviets’

for Petrograd where Lenin had instructed Dzerzhinskiy to set up a ‘special’ organ
to keep the bourgeoisie and government employees under surveillance.18 The
opposition to Bolshevism in the south raised possibilities of a civil war and of
dismemberment of the Russian empire. Whether or not he managed to stage a
march on Petrograd as he threatened to do, Kaledin was in position to block access
to the whole vast region of the Caucasus. Dutov, who held Uralsk, Orenburg,
Orsk, Troitsk, and Verkhneuralsk, could do the same with respect to even larger
areas in southern Siberia and central Asia. Following the Central Rada by a day,
the Finnish Diet had voted in favor of national independence on 15 November. In
his platform ‘for the Proletarian Party’, published in April 1917, Lenin had stated,
‘as regards the national question’, that the party ‘first of all must advocate the
proclamation and immediate realization of complete freedom of secession from
Russia for all the [non-Russian] nations and peoples’.19
In his first public statement as People’s Commissar for Nationalities, Stalin, on
27 November, asserted an unconditional policy of national self-determination;
and at the opening session of the Brest-Litovsk peace conference on 22 December,
the Russian delegation proposed national self-determination as a guiding principle
for the negotiations. On the other hand, the Council of People’s Commissars had
sent a 48-hour ultimatum to Kiev on 16 December demanding that the Central
Rada give up its ‘double-dealing bourgeois policy’ and stop supporting Kaledin;
and no reply having been received, considered itself to be at war with the Rada
after 18 December.
On 31 December, even though the Finnish Social Democratic Party had not
responded to urgings from Petrograd to seize power and had fallen into the
minority in the Diet, the Council of People’s Commissars formally recognized
Finland’s independence. Two days earlier, the Brest-Litovsk peace conference had
gone into a ten-day recess to await the Allies’ response to a proposed general peace
treaty that embodied the principle of national self-determination. Stalin said that
the grant of independence to Finland, although the ‘unaccountable cowardice’ of
the Finnish Social Democrats made it a ‘tragedy for the Finnish proletariat’,
demonstrated that ‘no force on earth’ could compel the Council of People’s
Commissars to break its promises.20 Self-determination, however, was becoming
a less than absolute principle. Stalin indicated that the Ukraine’s right to secede
did not include a right to reject the slogan ‘All power to the Soviets’.
In a set of theses on the Constituent Assembly, which was finally scheduled to
open on 18 January 1918, Lenin asserted that ‘the interests of this revolution stand
higher than the formal rights of the Constituent Assembly’.21 On 17 January,
Dybenko brought 5,000 sailors into Petrograd, where they manned roadblocks
around the Taurida Palace in which the Constituent Assembly was to meet. When
the assembly convened the following afternoon, they also provided a boisterously
ominous guard in the hall that enabled Sverdlov to elbow the elected Social
Revolutionary chairman aside and take the chair. Sverdlov then presented a
Declaration of Rights of the Working and Exploited People as the basis for the
constitution of ‘a federation of Soviet national republics’. It affirmed two principles:
25


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