(POWER to the SOVIETS – continued)
General Lvar Kornilov
in his Tsarist army uniform.
Trotsky (black coat) greeted by
military delegation at Brest-Litovsk.
Tobolsk in Siberia, 1910, when the Bolsheviks
held the tsar and his family before moving
them to their final resting place.
In January 1918, the long-awaited Constituent Assembly convened. Those supporting Lenin and the Bolsheviks were a minority in the Assembly, and, after the Assembly's first day, Soviet militiamen with bayonets dispersed the gathering. Lenin defended the move by saying that "the people" would soon realize that the Constituent Assembly opposed their interests and that by abolishing the Assembly the Bolsheviks were fulfilling their goal of "All power to the Soviets."
The Bolsheviks were still extending their rule to areas distant from the capital. In February, the Bolsheviks won a majority of the votes in the provincial capital of Archangel, where Allied ships were docked, while elsewhere in the province they won only 22 percent of the vote against 63 percent for the moderate SRs. Bolshevik control spread to small cities and towns east of the Ural Mountains, across Siberia – an area without large farming estates and class tensions. And the Bolsheviks won in the city of Vladivostok, on the Pacific Coast, where railway or dock workers resided.
Through January and February, armed detachments of workers and poor peasants continued to confiscate food that farmers had stored, with armed clashes occurring between resisting farmers and the requisition teams. The Bolsheviks distributed food only to those who supported the Soviets, while, in some areas, hungry gangs were making forays into neighboring villages and waylaying people who were carrying bread.
Meanwhile, the hostility of the Eastern Orthodox Church toward the Bolshevik regime festered. The patriarch of the Russia Orthodox Church anathematized the Bolsheviks, and four days later the Soviet regime decreed the separation of church and state.
And a problem with nationalities festered. Finland had been recognized as independent, but the Bolsheviks disliked the government there. Russian Red Guards drove the recognized Finnish government from Finland's capital, Helsinki, and they helped Finnish revolutionary socialists take power. In Estonia, where Bolsheviks had won only 35 percent of the vote, Russia's Bolsheviks were supporting their fellow Bolsheviks trying to establish rule by force. And in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, a force of Bolsheviks from Petrograd (St. Petersburg) arrived by train and drove an anti-Bolshevik regime from power.
In the Cossack region, along the Don River, anti-Bolshevik forces declared a united government of the Don and appealed for aid from the Allies. Britain and France sent a little money but little else, neither having much money nor access to the Don region, and they were still busy warring against Germany. With the Cossacks was Kornilov, now a symbol of resistance to the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks sent an army against the Cossacks, and they entered Rostov on February 25.
Much of what had been the tsarist empire was now in the hands of the Bolsheviks -- except for Poland, western Latvia, and Lithuania, three areas that were occupied by the Germans. Lenin and Trotsky were exultant over the spread of Bolshevik power. But they were still waiting for the rising to take place in Germany in response to Russia's example and withdrawal from the war.
Germany and the Soviet regime were still negotiating at Brest-Litovsk, the Germans demanding Poland, Lithuania, part of Belarus, Estonia, and Finland. And for their ally, the Ottoman Empire, the Germans were demanding Batum, Ardahan, and Kars – all parts of what had been the tsar's empire. The Russian delegation, led by Trotsky, walked out of the conference, declaring "no peace, no war." The Bolsheviks disgusted King Wilhelm of Germany, who saw them as members of a worldwide Jewish and Freemason conspiracy. With his generals he decided to push eastward against the Bolsheviks. And, following Trotsky's walkout, Germany's armies began taking one Russia town after another.
Lenin's exultation turned to fright. He saw Germany as intent upon destroying his revolution, and with others he feared that the Germans would overrun Petrograd. Lenin called for labor battalions made up of "all able bodied members of the bourgeois class" to dig trenches in front of the city, and anyone resisting this draft was to be shot. Seeing his revolution threatened, Lenin ordered his security force, the CHEKA, to execute on the spot all who were "enemy agents, speculators, burglars, hooligans, counter-revolutionary agitators, [or] German spies." And fleeing from Petrograd, Bolshevik leaders moved their base of operations from Petrograd to the Kremlin in Moscow – making Moscow Russia's new capital.
The advance of the Germans gave encouragement to Petrograd's upper middle class, patriotically hostile to Germany before but now hoping for deliverance from the Bolsheviks. In front of the German advance in the Ukraine, peasants were returning land, furniture and silver to farming estates, and they were calling the owners of estates "My Lord" again. And believing that the Germans would shoot on sight any Red Guards, Red Guards were transforming themselves into docile peasants.
Responding to the advance of the Germans, 170 British marines landed at Murmansk (on the coast in the far north, about 20 miles east of the Finnish border), a small settlement of mostly railway workers. This was in agreement with the Soviet government, the purported purpose being to prevent Germany from taking control of the huge stores of ammunition that the Entente powers had sent to Russia. The London Times, meanwhile, described Lenin and his confederates as "adventures of German-Jewish blood whose sole object is to exploit the ignorant masses in the interest of their employers in Berlin."
The Germans were not interested in taking Russian territory, but they were interested in taking control of the Ukraine and shipping food and raw materials from there back to Germany to help offset the British blockade. The German and Austrian force in the Ukraine was not large enough to take control of the entire Ukraine, but it did occupy Kiev, and there the Germans supported a new anti-Bolshevik government.
The Germans wished to bring their advance in the East to a halt so they could withdraw troops to the Western Front for their offensive that was to begin in late March. And they were ready to negotiate with the Bolsheviks again. The Bolsheviks were ready for a settlement, Lenin wanting peace at any price. At Brest-Litovsk they agreed to give up control over Poland, Finland, the Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, western Latvia, Estonia and the Caucasus region – areas that the Germans and Bolsheviks agreed were to be independent but occupied by German and other troops of the Central Powers.
This treaty with Germany had to be ratified by the All Russian Congress of Soviets, and many of the Bolshevik's Left-SR allies were outraged over the surrender of territory. Lenin consulted with an amateur American diplomat in Moscow, Raymond Robins, who was trying to get Britain and U.S. backing to keep Russia in the war. Lenin considered dropping ratification of the treaty and staying in the war – a return, in part at least, to the policy of Kerensky. He considered withdrawing his government to the Ural Mountains. But Robins showed Lenin no evidence that the Allies would agree, and Lenin doubted that the capitalist powers – Britain and the United States – would support a socialist revolution.
Lenin went ahead with ratification of the treaty made at Brest-Litovsk. He argued with his supporters that Russia's soldiers had voted against the war with their feet and that their revolution needed to buy time. When the agreement between the Soviet regime and Germany was concluded and publicized, Lenin's standing in the world among those seeking peace diminished in favor of President Wilson's approach to peace by continuing the war. The Allied powers expressed outrage at Germany's gains at Brest-Litovsk and asked the world to take note of what it was like to negotiate with the Germans.
Nicholas and Alexandra were outraged with both Wilhelm and the Bolsheviks. At Tobolsk, just east of the Ural Mountains, where the tsar and his family were being held at an estate, Nicholas described the agreement at Brest-Litovsk as a disgrace and "suicide for Russia." He saw the agreement as treason and expressed bitterness over support for the Bolsheviks by Russians while his wife, Alexandra, had been thought of as a traitor. Hearing rumors that the Germans were planning to rescue Nicholas and his family, Alexandra announced that she would rather die in Russia.
Alexandra was looking forward to being rescued by "good Russian" friends. And many Russians were scheming and contributing money to support an escape, while contacts with the royal family were being organized by a con artist, Boris Soloviev. Alexandra trusted him, while effective plans failed to develop and Soloviev delivered a little of the donated money to her and kept the rest for himself.
The Russian Revolution, by Richard Pipes, Knopf, 1990.
The Unknown Lenin: From
the Secret Archive (Annals of Communism),
by Richard Pipes, Yale University Press, 1999. (Lenin's letter writing, gathered from Russian archives.)
Copyright © 1998-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.