Civil War i Russia

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Civil war In Russia Vol 1
Civil war In Russia Vol 2


( From the beginning of the War to the beginning of October 1917)


The strike assumed wide dimensions. But it did not accomplish the fundamental purpose of the Bourgeois­ democratic revolution, namely, the overthrow of the autocracy. It aroused and prepared the masses for a higher form of struggle-armed insurrection-and it also indi­cated how ripe the revolution was. It was not the strike that dealt the blow at the old regime. The autocracy was overthrown by the combined action of the workers and the soldiers who joined them.

The decisive part in the overthrow of the autocracy was played by Petrograd, with its proletarian population of over half a million. On February 18, 1917, one of the shops of the Putilov Works went on strike. Meetings were held in all departments. The workers elected a delegation to present their demands to the management. The manager threatened dismissals. On February 22 the factory was closed. The following day 20,000 Putilov workers marched to the city. Serious food riots had taken place in Petrograd the day before. The appearance of the Pu­tilov workers added fuel to the flames. February 23 (1) was. International Women's Day. The Bolshevik Party called. on the workers to come out on strike. About 90,000 workers downed tools. During the day the outskirts of Petrograd were in the hands of the demonstrators. Women predominated in the crowd. They abandoned the bread lines, where they had been standing for hours, and join­ed the strikers. The demonstrators not only struck work themselves, but went to bring out others. A huge crowd of workers surrounded the Cartridge Factory, where 5,000 workers were persuaded to down tools. The demonstrators demanded bread. Quite a number of red flags bearing revolutionary slogans had already appeared, especially in the Vyborg District where the Bolshevik Committee was very active. According to a police report, at about 3 p.m some 4,000 people broke across the Sampsonyevsky Bridge from the Vyborg Side and flocked into Troitsky Square. Speakers appeared in the crowd. Mounted and foot police broke up the demonstrations. Still not strong enough to repulse the police, the workers retaliated by raiding bakeries and beating up the more zealous policemen.

The Bolshevik Committee of the Vyborg District met that evening. It decided to continue the strike and to convert it into a general strike.

On the following day, February 24, the demonstrations were resumed with redoubled vigour. The strike spread. About 200,000 workers had already downed tools. Military pickets were stationed on the bridges, but the workers crossed on the ice. Demonstrations from the out­skirts of the city, bearing red banners, endeavoured to reach the centre, the Nevsky Prospect. Dispersed by the police in one place, they immediately reassembled in an­other.

Revolutionary songs and cries of " Down with the tsar!" and "Give us bread!" were continuously heard on the Nevsky Prospect.

The reliability of the troops had not yet been tested, and they were therefore brought into action with caution. Several incidents seemed to indicate that they were on the verge of insubordination. On Vassilyevsky Island a Cossack patrol refused to come to the aid of an assistant inspector of police who had been surrounded by the crowd; on Znamenskaya Square the Cossacks held aloof while the crowd drove off the mounted police.

The Bureau of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party resolved to enlist the active support of the soldiers.

On February 25 the events of the previous day were repeated on the streets of Petrograd in an even more marked form. The isolated strikes were transformed into a general strike. The collisions between the workers and the police became more and more fierce. The workers passed from the defensive to the offensive. They killed or wounded a number of commanders of police detachments. The demonstrators, however, lacked arms, and the police gamed the upper hand. By the evening the police even succeeded in clearing the streets and restoring a certain degree of "order." Khabalov, Commander of the :E-etro­ grad Military Area, announced that the workers must re­ turn to work on Tuesday, February 28, otherwise all recruits whose call to active service had been postponed would be dispatched to the front.

It seemed as if the power of the autocracy had not yet been shaken, but serious symptoms of its impending collapse were already in evidence. Such were the cases of refusal to assist the police, and even of direct attacks on• the police, by the troops. Near the Kazan Cathedral a platoon of the Fourth Don Cossack Regimen:, released certain arrested citizens and beat up the police who were defending the courtyard where the prisoners were detained.­ On the Vyborg Side Cossacks belonging to the First Don Cossack Regiment retreated, leaving Colonel Shalfeyev, the commander of a mixed detachment, and the police to face the crowd alone. On Znamenskaya Square Cossacks re­ pulsed police who tried to break up the meeting, and in the collision Krylov, a police inspector, was killed. It was the Cossacks-whom the tsar's intimates, against the wishes of General Headquarters, had endeavoured to retain in Petrograd-that were the first to give way.

An account of the first outbreaks of insubordination in the army is given by P. D. Skuratov, a worker at the PutBov Works, later a Red Guard:

'' At the end of Bogomolovskaya Street we organised a small group of 300 or 400 people. who later, when we reached the Peterh of Chaussee, were joined by a large mass of workers. We tied red kerchiefs to sticks-a red banner appeared, and, singing the 'Marseillaise,' we proceeded towards the Narva Gate. When we reached Ushakovskaya Street, we were charged head-on by a column of mounted police who began to strike right and left, so that we were forced to disperse ... Thousands of Putilov workers and worl{ers from the chemical plant re­ assembled at the Narva Gate. It was decided to lend the march an organised character. The front ranks joined hands and advanced in this way ... We had just turned from Sadovaya Street on to the Nevsky Prospectwhen a squadron of cavalry with drawn sabres came galloping towards us from the Anichkov Palace. We divided, and they rode through our ranks. We set up a concerted cheer, but they made no reply.

·· On reaching the Liteiny Prospect we were met by workers from the Vyborg District and together with him continued our march to Znamenskaya Square. There a general meeting was held. At this moment a squad of" mounted police dashed out from behind the Balabinskaya Hotel, and the inspector who rode at their head struck with his sword at a woman--.she worked in the sick be­nefit society of our factory-who carrying a flag. We did not get away. We dragged him from his horse, cari:ied him to the Fontanka and t'hrew him into the water. Cossacks came galloping along Ligovka Street from the Central Hotel, whereupon the police turned tall and rode back along the Suvorov Prospect. while the Cossacks followed us.

'' We discussed among ourselves what the disharmony that had appeared among the troops could mean, and the conclusion we came to was that the revolution had won.'1
But this conclusion was premature. The troops were still acting in conjunction with the police. Towards the end of the day, General Khabalov, Commander of the Petrograd Military Area, informed the Chief of Staff of the Supreme Commander that "the crowd has been dispersed." That evening Khabalov received the following order from General Headquarters:

"I command you, not later than to-morrow, to put a stop to the disorders in the capital, which are intolerable in this grave time of war with Germany and Austria. Nicholas II.''2
Khabalov was disturbed by the tsar's orders. When questioned by the Investigation Committee after the Feb­ruary Revolution, he admitted,

" This telegram-how shall I put it?-to tell the frank and honest truth, it was like a thunderbolt to me ... How was I to put a stop to the disorders not later than to­ morrow? That is what it said: 'not later than to­ morrow' ... What was I to do? How was I to put a stop to the disorders? When they said, 'Give us bread!' we gave them bread-and that was the end of it. But when the flags said, 'Down with the autocracy!'-how could you appease them with bread? But what was to be done? The tsar had given his orders. We had to shoot.''3

Khabalov ordered the regimental commanders and the chief of police to open fire after a triple warning. General Alexeyev, Chief of Staff of the Supreme Commander, ordered the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern and Western Fronts immediately to prepare to dispatch one brigade of cavalry each to Petrograd. He got into communication by direct wire with the Chief of Staff of the Northern Front and said:

".The hour is a grave one, and everything must be done to expedite the arrival of reliable troops. On this our future depends."4

1 P. D. Skuratov, uoctober in Pctrobrrad, • ••History of the Proletariat in the U.S.S.R.," 1932, No. 11, pp. 110-11.

2 "Fnll of the Tsarist 'ilegime. Stenographic Report of the Interrogation and v!dencc Heard in 1917 by the Extraordinary Investigation Commission of the Pro­ vis10nal Gop, em ment," Vol. I, Leningrad, 1926 p. 220.
3 Ibid., p. 220. .

4 "The Revolution of February 1017," "Krassny Arkhiv (Red Archives) " 1027 2 (21), p. 10.

Not content with this, on the night of February 25 th 'Secret Police Department crowded all the Petrograd prisons, ;arresting everybody who was in the least suspect: Among the arrested were five members of the Petrograd Commitl:ee of the Bolshevik Party. The leadership of the struggle passed to the Vyborg District Committee of the Bolshevik Party. The tsarist government prepared to meet the revolution by mass arrests and by summoning armed reinforcements from the front.

On the morning of February 26 the atmosphere seem­ ed much calmer than the previous day. It was Sunday, and the workers came into the city at a later hour than the day before. The streets wore a holiday appearance. Deceived by the superficial calm, Khabalov sent a jubilant report to General Headquarters:
" To-day, February 26, all has been quiet in the city since morning."1
1 ° The Revolution or February 1017," et .. p. 5.

The government troops were concentrated in the centre of the city. Machine guns were posted on the roofs of high buildings and at the police stations. The plan of the tsarist authorities was to meet the workers with rifle and machine-gun fire. The River Neva was cut off from the working-class districts by police and military pickets. Towards midday numerous demonstrations, led by Bol­sheviks, began to make their way towards the centre of the city-the Nevsky Prospect.

The factory workers marched to the Nevsky Prospect with the idea of encountering the enemy in the
very heart of the capital. They were met by a merciless hail of lead. It was impossible to reach the Nevsky. Firing continued all day.

A soldier belonging to the non-commissioned officers' training company of the Volhynia Regiment relates the part played by his regiment in the firing on the workers as follows:

" Now the company had taken up its position. The whole square in front of the Nikolayevsky Station was filled with workers. The soldiers still cherished the hope that they had been called out only for effect, in order to inspire fear. But as the hands on the station clock neared the hour of twelve, the soldiers' doubts were dispelled-the order was given to shoot. A volley was fired. The workers started running in all directions. There were practically no casualties from the first volleys: the soldiers, as though by common consent, fired in the air. But now a machine gun, turned on the crowd by officers, began to rattle, and the snow-covered square became stained with the blood of workers. The crowd made in disorder for the courtyards of the surrounding ' houses, crushing one another in their haste. The mounted gendarmes began to pursue the 'enemy' thus. driven from his position, and the pursuit lasted late into the night. Only then were the troops returned to bar­racks. Our company, commanded by Vice-Captain Laskhevich, returned to barracks exactly at 1 a.m."1
1 K. I. Pazhclnykh, n The Vollt:ynia Ile-g,mcnt in the February Revolution..Reminiscences." Manuscript records of the Hilitory of the CiYil War, No. 188.

According to information supplied by the secret police. that day about forty killed and approximately as many wounded were gathered up by the police on Znamenskaya Square alone, not counting those the demonstrators had carried away with them.

February 26, which had begun so calmly. ended in open civil war. It is characteristic that the Fourth Company of the Reserve Battalion of the Pavlovsky Regiment, indignant that the non-commissioned officers' training company of this regiment had taken part in shooting down the workers, opened fire on a detachment of mounted police. Unsupported by other companies, they were overcome, and surrendered their weapons-only twenty-one men went over to the insurrectionary people with their rifles. The officers picked out nineteen ringleaders. They were imprisoned under menace of death in the Trubetskoi Bastion of the Fortress of Peter and Paul.

The first day of civil war ended in a victory for he tsarist government.

By the evening the city was cleared of demonstrators. One more "command of His Imperial Majesty" had been executed.

But the protectors of the autocracy failed in observe the influence exercised by the workers on the soldiers who fired on the demonstrators. The revolutionary influence of the proletariat outweighed the victory gained by the autocracy. With every volley fired, the rage of the soldiers against their officers mounted. This the ·' victors " failed to notice, so accustomed were they to being hated by the soldiers.

The proletariat drew widely on the chief lesson of the 1905 Revolution-the necessity of winning over the troops. Workers, and especially working women, would form a close ring around the soldiers. They would seize the latters' bayonets with their hands and plead with the soldiers not to drown the revolution in the blood of their brothers, the workers. The soldiers would slip from their ranks indi­vidually and in small groups. The insurrectionaries would fervently plead with them. The soldiers who had been re­cently mobilised-a large part of the Petrograd garrison consisted of second category reserves or of young recruits , who had just been called up-would be profoundly affected by the excited workers. The soldiers would maintain a gloomy silence, turn away in vexation from the importunate crowd, but it would be clear that they were being affected by the revolutionary atmosphere. Some of the soldiers would defend themselves against the criticisms and accusations. Others would angrily accuse the officers of responsibility for the firing on the defenseless crowd. Others still, showing that their rifles were unloaded, would openly recommend the people to attack with greater determination.

The resolution and self-sacrificing spirit of the proletarians caused vacillation in the ranks of the army and aroused the sympathy of the soldiers.

The ease with which the soldiers of the Pavlovsky Regiment had been dealt with inspired the tsarist authori­ties with confidence. Protopopov, Minister of the Interior, wrote to the tsar in evident relief:

"The troops acted zealously, the only exception being the independent action of the 4th Evacuated Company of the Pavlovsky Regiment." 1
And he concluded with the brazen falsehood:
''A part of the workers intend to resume work on Feb­ruary 27."2
This confident lie showed how little the obtuse gendarmes understood what was going on.

Growing arrogant the tsarist satraps hastened to withdraw the few insignificant concessions that has re­cently been made. The Governor of the City of Petrograd rescinded his decision to hand over the charge of food affairs to the City Duma. The State Duma, in which it was expected that an interpellation would be made on the shooting of February 26, was dissolved by a ukase of the tsar.

This ukase had been prepared as far back as Nov­ember 1916. When handing it to Golitsyn, the Prime Minister. the tsar had said:
' Keep it, and when necessary use it."3

1 A. Blok, ''The Last Days of the Imperial Power unpublished documents",Petrograd, 1921, pp. GG-67.
2 lbid, p. 67.

3 "Fall of the Tsarist Regime", Stenograpluc Report of the interrogation and Evidence Heard in 1917 by the- Extraordinary İnvestigation of the Provisional Government Vol. l 1 Leningrad, 1925, p. 2\l5.

But the ministers need not have been in such a hurry. In those unquiet days the state Duma relieved its feelings by questioning the government , not about the shootings, but about the food situation in Petrograd. The sacred representatives of the big bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie --the Cadet Rodiçhev, the Socialist-Revolutionary Kerensky, and the Menshevik Chkheidze-stuffing their fingers into their ears and pretending not to hear the shooting in the streets. continued to implore the tsar in the old way. The intellectual dabblers in politics rushed in confusion from one apartment to another in pursuit of the latest "news." Rodzyanko. President of the State Duma, realised the grave and tragic nature of the events a little better than the rest. Being in close contact with the monarchy. Rodzy­anko sensed that the hour of its utter collapse was at hand. He implored Nicholas II to form a new government, a government which would enjoy the " confidence " of the country.

"Procrastination is fatal," he wired the tsar. "I pray God that responsibility should not fall on the crowned head at this hour."1

But the tsar was impatient of his over-faithful servitor. Nicholas wrote to Fredericks, the Court Councillor, in re­ference to Rodzyanko's telegram:

"Fat Rodzyanko has again written me a lot of nonsense to which I shall not even reply."2

1 Mr. Y. Hodzrtinko, "'The Statc Duma and Revolution or February 1917," Rostov­ on-Don, 1919
p. 42

2 A. Blok, "'The last days of İmperial Power" published Document, ," Petrograd, 1921, p. 64.