1917: The Russian Revolution

The New York Times




George Sokolsky ’58

George Sokolsky would later become a prominent foe of communism, but in early 1917 he was expelled from the Journalism School for socialist activism and did not receive his degree for 40 years. Unfazed, Sokolsky went to Moscow to cover the Russian Revolution for the Russian Daily News, where watching the Bolshevik coup in “Red October” shattered his idealism forever.

Russian Daily News – November 17, 1917
“Trotsky Fails to Deny Rumour of Rejection of Peace Offer, Attacks ‘Russian Daily News,’
Claims to have Influenced Foreign Ambassadors into Recognizing him”
By George Sokolsky

In the opening of his speech on Friday night Leon Trotsky spoke as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and explained how the Petrograd diplomats were being influenced into recognizing the Bolshevik Government. Representatives from Embassies and Missions, were coming to Smolny Institute, under the official pretext of procuring licences for automobiles, etc., but in reality they desired to get some opportunity of observing the workings of this peculiar Government machinery. Representatives from Allied Technical Missions are even trying to convince Trotsky, that they are in sympathy with the Soviet Government, and opposed to the attitude taken by the Embassies. During the anxious days when Kerensky’s troops were standing before Petrograd, the entire bourgeoisie, and with them the foreign diplomats, thought that the overthrow of the Soviet Government was a mere question of hours. Since Krasnoff’s troops had been defeated, respect for the Soviet Government among the Diplomats had increased fifty per cent, and the triumph in Moscow will raise it another fifty per cent.

The Diplomats are quite right in only recognizing force, but the force of the Soviets is at the same time, a force which will work exclusively for the people. The Government had not inspired much confidence while the gangs of Kerensky were in arms against it, but now it is becoming so solid that the Diplomats are liable to break their teeth if they try to bite it. All hopes of Kerensky’s resurrection have now vanished, therefore the Peace Proclamation will be presented to them officially, and will receive due consideration. Then Trotzky spoke about Ledebour, the German Socialist leader, who had sent his congratulations to the new Government. Ledebour was the organiser of the revolt in the German Navy and has in general an enviable revolutionary record. As regards secret Treaties, the veil from them cannot be completely lifted yet, as Neratoff, the assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Kerensky Government told Trotsky that he had handed them over to the British Embassy. Neratoff himself is now in hiding, and an order for his arrest and the detention of all the higher officials of the Ministry has been issued. Trotsky tried to relieve the disappointment apparent among the audience, owing to such sensational literature having been snatched away from them, by declaring that in accordance with the Peace Manifesto addressed to all nations, these secret treaties were binding only in so far as they were not concluded by the counter-revolutionists in contravention of the interests of labour, and the fact that they are being kept at one of the Embassies does not enhance their sanctity. When Trotsky was shown a copy of the Russian edition, of the “Russian Daily News,” which said that Germany would only talk peace with Russia after Monarchy had been re-established, he made the following comment:

“This only shows that the English papers printed in Russian publish just as many lies as the Russian papers printed in Russian.” When asked why such rumours are not being denied, he stated that the Government would have to devote all of its time to this, if it were going to deny all the false rumours which are being spread in the newspapers. The “Dielo Naroda” has become a reservoir for such baseless rumours.

As the second chief of the Soviet he spoke also about the internal policy of the Council of the People’s Commissioners. He made it very plan that he did not attach much importance to the negotiations which are going on among the Socialist parties for a coalition, he personally does not participate in them. The fundamental principle of the New Government is the power of the Soviets, and not the question of personalities. Any bargaining for seats in the Cabinet is repugnant to him. The final conditions of the Maximalists for an understanding have already been made known, and he knew that they are unacceptable to the right wing of the socialists. The negotiations are being continued in order to please the radical Social-Revolutionists, with whom the Bolsheviks want to avoid a break. As stated briefly in this morning’s communiqué, the conditions are as follows: The Central Body, before which the Government shall be responsible, shall consist of 150 members of the Central Soviet, 75 members of provincial Peasants’ Soviets who are not to be appointed by the present Central Peasants’ Soviet, headed by the “Black Hundred” Avksentieff, 80 members from Army and Navy Committees re-elected within the last three months, 50 members from Socialist groups of the Petrograd and Moscow City Dumas of whom 50% are Bolshevik and 40 members from Labour Unions. (2) At least one half of the Cabinet to be Bolsheviks, and the portfolios of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Labour must be retained by Bolshevik Ministers. Lenin and Trotsky to be Cabinet members. (3) Recognition of the Bolshevik Peace Manifesto, abolition of private property on land, and labour control. (4) Red Guard to be formed all over Russia. This is necessary, as Kerensky was able to terrorise Petrograd with from 1500 to 2000 Cossacks, and such a situation is disgraceful for the proletariat.

An inquiry as to resignation of the Commissioner of Education Lunacharsky inspired Trotsky to make a declaration, which may realize Trotsky’s ambition of being mentioned in the same breath with Robespierre by future generations. Lunacharsky is eminently a litterateur and art critic, and he was so agitated by the destruction of art treasures in Moscow, that he temporarily felt unable to continue his work.

“During the world conflagration caused by the Capitalist rule, more art treasures had been destroyed, and no lover of art could think, without indignation, of the injury done to the Rheims Cathedral. And while we are deeply aggrieved at the destruction of every art treasure, we must keep it before our eyes that we are fighting for the liberation of labour from the yoke of capitalism, a cause to which everything must be sacrificed. The era of Socialism would release such wondrous creative forces, as would compensate in the sphere of art for everything that has been lost. We are now initiating this era, and when the establishment of a direct Government of the people, placing all power in the hands of the Soviets, is only possible after breaking the resistance of the bourgeoisie through civil war, then I exclaim: ‘Long live the Civil War.’”

A delegate from the Revolutionary Committee in Moscow reported that a complete victory had been gained there. He left Moscow on Nov. 15th, at 11 p.m., and when he announced that the Cadets had capitulated at 5 p.m., the audience went frantic with joy. He claimed that the struggle which lasted six days might have ended in two days, if it were not for the fact that the Cadets had fortified themselves at the City Duma, at various public buildings, and at the Kremlin, and artillery fire could therefore not be directed at them unsparingly. During these six days, the arsenal in the Kremlin had been in the hands of the Bolsheviks. The Moscow delegate accused the Cadets of having also occupied hospitals, and having used Red Cross cars for troop transportation. Besides they are alleged to have maltreated their prisoners. The feeling against them ran very high on this account, and the Moscow delegate had to concede the “deplorable fact” that 150 Cadets were killed by soldiers from the Dvinsk Regiment who were recently released from prison when the Metropol Hotel was taken. The Cadets were supported by the so-called White Guards, which is recruited from students, doctors, lawyers, and other members of the liberal professions. The entire garrison sided with the Revolutionary Committee. A battle only raged in the centre of town, while there had been few incidents in the outskirts. Drunken excesses were denied. During searches in private houses the Bolsheviks troops may have confiscated some wine, and drunk it, but there were no excesses on an extensive scale. If any outrages occurred, it was the work of the criminal elements and not of the Red Guard. In one district a detachment of French troops had participated in bombarding the Regional Soviet building, but all other reports about the participation of French troops in the fighting could not be verified. In Kaluga the Cossacks are in possession of the town, and a punitive expedition will have to be sent to the town. The agreement signed with the Cadets in Moscow provides the latter surrendering their arms.

A representative from the employees of the Petrograd City Duma read a resolution, in which they pledged their support to the Soviet Government. A similar resolution was read by the representative of the workers of the Military Port of Petrograd.

A sailor spoke in threatening tones about the negotiations going on between the Bolsheviks and other Socialist parties. The presidium were rather startled, and felt apparently uncomfortable when he shouted to the audience, which was almost unanimously with him, that the soldiers and workingmen will not tolerate any further bargaining, that for them it was not a party issue. They were Bolsheviks because the Bolshevik leaders were for a Soviet Government, they wanted this and nothing else. The revolution was made by the masses, the Bolshevik leaders had only placed themselves at its head. It is a lie that the peasants did not want a Soviet Government. He came himself from the peasants, and knew what he was talking about. If the Bolsheviks were also going to compromise, they would be thrown on to the rubbish heap along with the other Socialists. He proposed a resolution demanding that the Government should not make any further concessions. Volodarski, one of the Vice-Presidents, moved a resolution stipulating the terms on which an agreement with the other Socialist parties is possible, and it was passed unanimously. It is identical with the terms outlined.

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