(POWER to the SOVIETS – continued)
To gain power, the Soviets had to succeed militarily. The first challenge came as a showdown with Prime Minister Kerensky and the Provisional Goverment. Kerensky had a difficult time finding troops at the front willing to support him, but he did find support from a Cossack general, P N Krasnov, who, with 700 Cossacks, were advancing on Petrograd from a the southwest on November 8. The Bolsheviks, including Lenin, organized a defense. Railways workers were ordered to halt Krasnov's advance, and this was done. Revolutionary regiments and detachments of Baltic sailors and Red Guards were sent out. On November 13th a battle between the revolutionaries and Krasnov’s force was fought ten miles from Petrograd. It was 5,000 men on the Bolshevik side against 700 men,12 cannons and one armoured vehicle.
Krasnov's forces were defeated. Kerensky narrowly escaped. He spent a few weeks in hiding and went into exile, first to France and then to the US, where he would busy himself denouncing the Bolsheviks. For awhile he taught graduates at Stanford University. He would die at 89 in 1970 in New York City.
For the time being the Bolshevik revolution was secure. But opposition to the Soviet takeover was organizing. Pockets of hostility to the Bolsheviks remained, some in Cossack areas. Latvia, Estonia and Finland declared their independence. Leaders of the Petrograd Soviet, dominated by Lenin, continued to rule by decree in the name of "the people." The Petrograd Soviet ordered postal employees, telegraph operators and railway employees back to work. Postal and telegraph workers who did not recognize the authority of the new Soviet government were to be dismissed from their positions without benefit of their pensions.
Hearing that for Russia the war was over, desertions at the front increased. With what seemed to be the fall of authority, criminal activity was rising. Roaming the countryside were bands of anarchists, reveling in what to them seemed a new freedom. On November 20, a regime of moderate socialists in the Ukraine announced the independence of a new Ukraine republic.
On November 23, the Petrograd Soviet decreed that all "class distinctions, class privileges and class limitations, class organizations and institutions, as well as all civil ranks" were abolished. And the Petrograd Soviet decreed that the property of the nobility was to be confiscated. Where Soviets were in control, especially in Petrograd, the wealthy were giving up space in their homes to members of the "working class," and moving into their attics or basements.
November 25 was the day that had been scheduled for the election of delegates to the Constituent Assembly. Lenin favored postponing these elections. He was opposed by comrades who observed that the Bolsheviks had often attacked the Provisional Government for its postponement of these elections, and they argued that hope for the elections was too widespread to ignore and that their credibility had to be maintained. Some Bolsheviks, moreover, were looking forward to the Constituent Assembly as a means of legitimizing their revolution.
Elections for seats in the Constituent Assembly were held, and for the Bolsheviks it was a disappointment. Bolsheviks won only 25 percent of the vote. With most Russians being peasants, the political party that won the majority of seats were the peasant's party allied with the Bolsheviks, the Socialist Revolutionary party. The majority of the delegates elected to the Constituent Assembly appeared to be sympathetic with socialism but not identical with Bolshevik thinking. The Constituent Assembly was scheduled to open on December 11, but the Bolsheviks postponed the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly to January.
Lavr Kornilov. He saw himself as a man of honor and integrity. He had been critical of Russia's monarchy and was part Kazakh in ancestry.
Meanwhile, the tsar's old empire continued to break apart, and the chance of civil war was rising. On November 28, Estonia proclaimed its independence. In the Don region – near Rostov, where the Don River entered the Sea of Azov – an anti-Bolshevik army was forming. On December 2, General Kornilov and other officers escaped from prison, and with 400 Cossack soldiers they began making their way toward Rostov. On December 7, Trotsky, in charge of military operations, ordered a force against Kornilov. The battle left Kornilov with just a few men, and he escaped, reaching Rostov in the south on December 19.
In the name of the Soviets, Lenin continued to set up his revolution. The Soviet regime issued a decree that replaced the old court system with "People's Courts," its judges to be elected. Originally Lenin had believed that leadership of a communist revolution after acquiring power could turn the revolution over to the masses. But Lenin was not about to try this. He still saw the need for organization and his leadership. Lenin was swamped with practical considerations. He stopped the vengeance of factory workers putting engineers and other skilled white-collar men to cleaning latrines, but he had to take action against managers who were sabotaging what had been their factories. And he faced a strike by teachers, engineers and other white-collar workers. Rather than leave matters to the spontaneity of the masses, a decree was issued establishing a Supreme Economic Council to manage the entire economy. In Russia's cities, meanwhile, hunger had worsened. Grain supplies had dropped to new lows. So Lenin sent armed detachments of workers and poor peasants to confiscate food that peasants had stored, and armed clashes occurred between resisting peasants and the requisition teams.
Fearing counter-revolution and sabotage, the Bolsheviks created a commission to be known by its acronym, CHEKA (the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage). And to combat "counter revolution" in the Ukraine and bring the Ukraine into the Soviet camp, the Bolsheviks mobilized another army.
Russian money, the ruble, was falling precipitously in value on the world currency market. Rather than adopt the anarchist dream of abolishing money, the Bolsheviks nationalized all banking institutions. Also there were negotiations with Germany that could not be left to the spontaneity of the masses. On December 22, the Bolsheviks began negotiating with representatives of Germany at a town of Brest-Litovsk (Brest), approximately 150 kilometers on the other side of the German frontline – a line that ran from a few miles east of the city of Riga in the north, a little west of Minsk, a few miles east of Czernowitz and to the border of Romania and the Russian Empire at the town of Vylkove, by the Black Sea.
Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.