Special pages :
The Czecho-Slovaks and the Left Social Revolutionaries
THE early part of 1918 weighed heavily upon us. There were moments when one had the feeling that everything was slipping and snapping, that there was nothing to hold fast to, nothing to support oneself on. On the one side, it was quite clear that without the October revolution the country would long ago have rotted. But on the other hand, in the spring of 1918 one asked the question unconsciously whether the life forces of the exhausted, shattered despairing land would last until the new regime was in the saddle. Provisions were not at hand. There was no army. The state apparatus was being put together. Conspiracies were festering everywhere. The Czecho-Slovak army stood on our soil as an independent power. We could offer almost no opposition to them.
Once Vladimir Ilyich said to me in a particularly difficult hour of 1918, “Today a delegation of workmen came to me. And at my words one of them said, ‘One sees that you too, Comrade Lenin, take the side of the capitalists.’ You know that was the first time I have heard such words. I confess that I was disconcerted and did not know what to answer. If that was no malicious type, no Menshevik, then it is a disquieting symptom.”
When Lenin related this episode he seemed more troubled and alarmed than later when the dismal news came from the front of the fall of Kazan or the immediate threatening of Petersburg. And that too is comprehensible: Kazan and even Petersburg we can lose and win back. But the confidence of the workmen is the foundation capital of the party.
“I have the impression I then said to Vladimir Ilyich, “that the country, after the fearfully severe illnesses that it has gone through, now needs better nourishment, rest, and care, to live on and recover; the slightest blow can overturn it now.
“I have the same impression,” Vladimir Ilyich replied, “a terrible poverty of blood! Every further blow is dangerous now.”
However, history threatened to let the Czecho-Slovaks strike this dangerous blow. The Czecho-Slovak corps penetrated, without opposition, into the disorderly body of southeastern Russia and united with the Social Revolutionaries and other heroes of still whiter colors. Even though the Boisheviki were already in power everywhere, still the structure was very loose in the country. That is not surprising. In reality the October revolution had only been carried through in Petrograd and Moscow. In the majority of the provincial cities the October, as well as the February, revolution, was accomplished by telegraph. They came and went because it had already happened thus in the capital. The lax social milieu, the lack of opposition on the part of yesterday’s rulers, had, on the side of the revolution too, a less compact body as a result. The entry of the Czecho-Slovaks modified the situation, at first, against us, finally, however, in our favor. The Whites had gained a military crystallization point and in answer to that there first began an actual revolutionary crystallizing of the Reds. It can be said that the Volga district only completed its October revolution at the appearance of the Czecho-Slovaks. But it did not happen all at once. On July 3rd Vladimir Ilyich called me to the war commissariat.
“Do you know what has happened?” he asked in the muffled voice that in him indicated excitement.
“No, what is it?”
“The Left Social Democrats have thrown a bomb at Mirbach. It is reported he is badly wounded. Come to the Kremlin, we must discuss it.”
A few minutes later I was in Lenin’s office. He told me the main circumstances and every moment asked by telephone for new details.
“Nice stories, indeed,” I said, and digested the news which could not be called ordinary. “We cannot complain about a monotonous life.”
“Ha,” laughed Lenin troubled, “that is the customary monstrous excess of the bourgeois” –he said excess ironically – “it is the position that Engels pictures as ‘the frenzied little bourgeois’.”
Again rapid telephone conversation, curt questions and answers from the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, from the All Russian Extraordinary Commission and other institutions. Lenin’s mind worked as always in critical moments on two planes simultaneously. As a Marxist he enriched his historical experience, and appraised with interest this new manifestation, this “excess” of bourgeois radicalism, while at the same time as leader of the revolution, he Unweariedly stretched the threads of information and controlled the practical steps. News came of a mutiny among the troops of the All Russian Extraordinary Commission.
“It seems as though the Left Social Revolutionaries would be the cherry stone that we are destined to stumble over ...”
“I have thought that very thing,” Lenin answered. “The fate of the wavering bourgeoisie lies in that very point; they come to the help of the White Guard like a cherry stone ... Now at any price we must influence the character of the German report to Berlin. The motive for military interference is quite sufficient, particularly when you take into consideration that Mirbach has continually reported that we are weak and a single blow would suffice ...” Soon after Sverdlof entered. He was the same as always.
“Now,” he said, as he greeted me laughingly, “now we must again change from a Council of People’s Commissars to a Revolutionary Committee.”
Lenin in the meantime received further information. I do not remember whether it was at this moment or later that the news came that Mirbach was dead. We had to go to the Embassy to express our “sympathy.” It was decided that Lenin, Sverdlof, and, I think, Tchitcherin should go. There was a question as to whether I should go too. After a hasty exchange of views I was absolved from this.
“What ought we to say there,” said Vladimir Ilyich shaking his head, “I have already talked with Radek about it. I wanted to say ‘Mitleid,’ but we must say ‘Beileid’.”
He laughed a little, put on his coat and said firmly to Sverdlof: “Let us go.” His face changed and became stone-gray. The drive to the Hohenzollern Embassy, to offer condolences over the death of Count Mirbach, was not an easy thing for Ilyich. As an inward experience it was probably one of the most difficult moments of his life.
In such days one learns to know men. Sverdlof was really incomparable – confident, courageous, firm, alert – the best type of Bolsheviki. In these difficult months Lenin learned to know and appreciate Sverdlof. Often Vladimir Ilyich summoned Sverdlof to suggest to him this or that speedy measure, and mostly received the answer:
“Already!” That is to say, the measure had already been attended to. We often joked about it and said: “Sverdlof will probably again say ‘already!’
“And at first we were opposed to his entrance into the Central Committee,” Lenin once said to me. “How falsely we can judge a man! There were regular disputes about it; but in the Congress we were corrected from below, and as it turned out with perfect right.”
The move on the part of the Left Social Revolutionaries deprived us of political comrades and allies, but in the end it did not weaken us but strengthened us. Our party united more firmly. In the institutions and the army the influence of the communistic groups increased. The policy of the government was surer.
The move of the Czecho-Slovaks undoubtedly contributed to this also, as it roused the party from the depressed mood it had been in since the peace of Brest-Litovsk. The period of party mobilization for the east front began. Vladimir Ilyich and I dismissed the first group to which the Left Social Revolutionaries still belonged. Here was already noticeable, even though it was somewhat indefinite, the organization of the future “political divisions.” Meanwhile, the news from the Volga was more unfavorable. Muravief’s treachery and the move of the Left Social Revolutionaries brought for the time new confusion at the east front. The danger suddenly became more acute. But now a radical change was brought about.
“We must mobilize everybody and everything and send them to the front,” said Lenin. “We must take from behind the ‘veil’ all troops capable of fighting and throw them on the Volga.”
I remember that the thin cordon of troops opposing the German occupation district in the west was called the “veil.”
“And the Germans?” they said to Lenin.
“The Germans will not move, they have other things to do, and they are themselves interested that we should finish with the Czecho-Slovaks.”
This plan was adopted and supplied the raw material for the future Fifth Army. Then my journey to the Volga was also decided upon. I busied myself in forming a train, which was no simple thing at that time. Vladimir Ilyich agreed to everything, wrote me short notes, and telephoned me unceasingly.
“Have you a strong automobile? Take one from the Kremlin garage.”
And half an hour later: “Are you taking an aviator? You should do it in any case.”
“There are aviators with the army,” I replied. “In case of need I will use them.”
And half an hour later: “But I mean that you should have an aviator with the train. You do not know what might happen.” Etc., etc.
The motley pieced-together regiments and divisions consisted chiefly of disorganized soldiers of the old army, who scattered most lamentably at the first conflict with the Czecho-Slovaks.
“In order to overcome this dangerous lack of resistance we need absolutely strong shock divisions of Communists and especially men fit for fighting,” I said to Lenin before my departure for the east front. “We must face them to fight. If we wait until the peasant comes to his senses perhaps it will be too late.”
“Naturally, that is right,” he replied, “I am only afraid that even the shock divisions will not display the necessary firmness. The Russian man is tender-hearted, and the decided measures of the revolutionary terror do not interest him. But try we must.”
The news of the attack on Lenin and the assassination of Urizky reached me at Swijaschsk. In these tragic days the revolution suffered an inward change. Its “good nature” gave way. The party steel received its last tempering. Firmness and, when necessary, ruthlessness grew out of it ... At the front the political divisions struggled hand in hand with the shock troops and the tribunals to develop the power of the young army.
The change was evident at once. We took back Kazan and Simbirsk. In Kazan I received a despatch about the first victory at the Volga from Lenin who had recovered from the attack upon him.
When I reached Moscow soon after, I went with Sverdlof to Gorky to see Vladimir Ilyich, who recovered quickly, but had not yet returned to Moscow to his work. We found him in excellent spirits. He asked at once about the organization of the army, its mood, the r6le of the communists, the increase of discipline and he repeated gayly, “Yes; that is good, that is excellent. The firmness of the army will prove effectual to the whole land at once by the increase of discipline and responsibility ...”
The autumn the great revolution really occurred. Of the pallid weakness that the spring months had shown there was no longer a trace. Something had taken its place, had grown stronger, and it is remarkable that this time it was not a new pause for breath that had saved the revolution but, on the contrary, a new acute danger which had released the subterranean waves of revolutionary energy in the proletariat.
When Sverdlof and I entered the automobile, Lenin stood on the balcony calm and happy. I remember seeing him as calm as this only on the 25th of October, as he heard in Smolny of the first military results of the rising.
The Left Social Revolutionaries we had politically liquidated. The Volga was cleared. Lenin had recovered from his wounds; the revolution was strong in men.