3 From the Trenches to the Barricades

Trotsky's boat sailed into New York harbour on a cold and rainy Sunday evening in January 1917. It had been a terrible crossing, seventeen stormy days in a small steamboat from Spain, and the revolutionary leader now looked haggard and tired as he disembarked on the quayside before a waiting crowd of comrades and pressmen. His mood was depressed. Expelled as an anti-war campaigner from France, his adopted home since 1914, he felt that 'the doors of Europe' had been finally 'shut behind' him and that, like his fellow passengers on board the Montserrat, a motley bunch of deserters, adventurers and undesirables forced into exile, he would never return. 'This is the last time', he wrote on New Year's Eve as they sailed past Gibraltar, 'that I cast a glance on that old canaille Europe.'64 It was a mark of the party's frustration that three of the leading Social Democrats — Trotsky, Bukharin and Kollontai — should find themselves together in New York, 5,000 miles from Russia, on the eve of the 1917 Revolution. Nikolai Bukharin had arrived from Oslo during the previous autumn and taken over the editorship of Novyi mir (New World), the leading socialist daily of the Russian emigre community. At the age of twenty-nine, he had already established himself as a leading Bolshevik theoretician and squabbled with Lenin on several finer points of party ideology, before leaving Europe with the claim that 'Lenin cannot tolerate any other person with brains.' Short and slight with a boyish, sympathetic face and a thin red beard, he was waiting for Trotsky on the quayside. Unlike the dogmatic Lenin, who had heaped abuse on the left-wing Menshevik, he was keen to include Trotsky in a broad socialist campaign against the war. He had known the Trotskys slightly in Vienna and shared their love for European culture. He greeted them with a bear hug and immediately began to tell them, as Trotskys wife recalled, 'about a public library which stayed open late at night and which he proposed to show us at once'. Although it was late and the Trotskys were very tired, they were dragged across town 'to admire his great discovery'.65 Thus began the close but ultimately tragic friendship between Trotsky and Bukharin.

Trotsky saw less of Alexandra Kollontai. She spent much of her time in the New Jersey town of Paterson, where her son had settled to avoid the military draft. This was her second American trip. The year before she had toured the country proselytizing Lenin's views on the war. An ebullient and emotional woman, prone to fall in love with young men and Utopian ideas, she had thrown herself into the Bolshevik cause with all the fanaticism of the newly converted. 'Nothing was revolutionary enough for her,' recalled a Trotsky still bitter fourteen years later at her denunciation of him, in a letter to Lenin, as a waverer on the war.66 Trotsky was closer to the Bolsheviks than Kollontai appreciated, and the motives for his leftward progression from the Mensheviks were similar to her own.

Like many of the exiled revolutionaries, Trotsky and Kollontai were both driven by their commitment to international socialism. Fluent in several European languages and steeped in classical culture, they saw themselves less as Russians — Kollontai was half-Finnish, half-Ukrainian, while Trotsky was a Jew — than as comrades of the international cause. They were equally at home in the British Museum, in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, or in the cafes of Vienna, Zurich and Berlin, as they were in the underground revolutionary cells of St Petersburg. The Russian Revolution was for them no more than a part of the international struggle against capitalism. Germany, the home of Marx and Engels, was the intellectual centre of their world. 'For us', recalled Trotsky, 'the German Social Democracy was mother, teacher and living example. We idealized it from a distance. The names of Bebel and Kautsky were pronounced reverently.'67

But the German spell had been abruptly broken in August 1914. The Social Democrats rallied behind the Kaiser in support of the war campaign. For the leaders of the Russian Revolution, who thought of themselves as disciples of the European Marxist tradition, the 'betrayal of the Germans' was, as Bukharin put it, 'the greatest tragedy of our lives'. Lenin, then in Switzerland, had been so convinced of the German comrades' commitment to the international cause that he had at first dismissed the press reports of their support for the war as part of a German plot to deceive the socialists abroad. Trotsky, who had heard the news on his way to Zurich, was shocked by it 'even more than the declaration of war'. As for Kollontai, she had been present in the Reichstag to witness her heroes give their approval to the German military budget. She had watched in disbelief as they lined up one by one, some of them even dressed in army uniforms, to declare their allegiance to the Fatherland. 1 could not believe it,' she wrote in her diary that evening; 'I was convinced that either they had all gone mad, or else I had lost my mind.' After the fatal vote had been taken she had run out in distress into the lobby — only to be accosted by one of the socialist deputies who angrily asked her what a Russian was doing inside the Reichstag building. It had suddenly dawned upon her that the old solidarity of the International had been buried, that the socialist cause had been lost in chauvinism, and 'it seemed to me', she wrote in her diary, 'that all was now lost'.68

It was not just their European comrades who had abandoned the international cause. Most Russian socialists had also rallied to the cry of their Fatherland. The Menshevik Party, home and school of both Trotsky and Kollontai, was split between a large Defensist majority, led by the elderly Plekhanov, which supported the Tsar's war effort on the grounds that Russia had the right to defend itself against a foreign aggressor, and a small Internationalist minority, led by Martov, which favoured a democratic peace campaign. The SR Party was similarly divided, with the Defensists placing Allied military victory before revolution, and Internationalists advocating revolution as the only way to end what they saw as an imperialist war in which all the belligerents were equally to blame. These divisions were to cripple both parties during the crucial struggles for power in 1917. At their heart lay a fundamental difference of world-view between those, on the one hand, who acknowledged the legitimacy of nation states and the inevitability of conflict between them, and those, on the other, who placed class divisions above national interests. Feelings on this could run high. Gorky, for example, who considered himself an ardent Internationalist, broke off all relations with his adopted son, Zinovy Peshkov, when he volunteered for the French Legion. Gorky even refused to write to him when his hand was shot off whilst leading an attack on the German positions during his first battle.* To the patriots, the Internationalists' opposition to the war seemed dangerously close to helping the enemy. To the Internationalists, the patriots' call to arms seemed tantamount to adopting the slogan 'Workers of the World, Seize Each Other by the Throat!'69

* Zinovy Peshkov (1884-1966) was the brother of Yakov Sverdlov, the Bolshevik leader and first Soviet President. After recovering from his wound, he enlisted in the French military intelligence. He supported Kornilov's movement against the Provisional Government. In 1918 he joined Semenov's anti-Bolshevik army in the Far East and then Kolchak's White government in Omsk. In 1920 he was sent to the Crimea as a French military agent in Wrangel's government and left Russia with Wrangel's army. He later became a close associate of Charles de Gaulle and a prominent French politician. What is strange is that until 1933 Peshkov maintained good relations with Gorky in Russia, and that Gorky knew about his intelligence activities. See Delmas, Legionnaire et diplomate'.


The Bolsheviks were the only socialist party to remain broadly united in their opposition to the war, although they too had their own defensists during the early days before Lenin had imposed his views. His opposition to the war was uncompromising. Unlike the Menshevik and SR Internationalists, who sought to bring the war to an end through peaceful demonstration and negotiation, Lenin called on the workers of the world to use their arms against their own governments, to end the war by turning it into a series of civil wars, or revolutions, across the whole of Europe. It was to be a 'war against war'.

For Trotsky and Kollontai, who had both come to see the Russian revolution as part of a European-wide struggle against imperialism, there was an iron logic at the heart of Lenin's slogan which increasingly appealed to their own left-wing Menshevik internationalism. To begin with, in the first year of the war, both had similar doubts about the Bolshevik leader. Whereas Lenin had argued that Russia's defeat would be a lesser evil' than that of the more advanced Germany, they opposed the whole idea of military victors and losers. The dispute, though minor in itself, related to a broader difference of opinion. Lenin had recently come to stress the revolutionary potential of nationalist movements within colonial systems, and he argued that Russia's defeat would help to bring about the collapse of the Tsarist Empire. But Trotsky and Kollontai (like Bukharin for that matter) believed that the nation-state would soon become a thing of the past and thus denied it as a revolutionary force. Nor could they quite yet bring themselves to embrace the Leninist call for a 'war against war'. They preferred the pacifist slogans of their old friends and allies among the Menshevik Internationalists. Neither Trotsky nor Kollontai was ready to cut loose from the Mensheviks, whose doubts about Lenin's rigid dogma on party organization they still shared. And while it was true that both were moving towards the Bolsheviks, they still harboured hopes of reuniting the two wings of the SD Party through a broad campaign for peace.

Trotsky had joined Martov in Paris in November 1914 and collaborated with him on Nashe slovo (Our Word), without doubt the most brilliant pacifist organ in Europe. He represented its views at the Zimmerwald Conference in September 1915, a secret gathering of thirty-eight Internationalists from various countries in a tiny mountain village outside Berne. Its rousing manifesto against the war, passed in opposition to Lenin's civil war resolution, was drawn up by Trotsky himself:

Working men and women! Mothers and fathers! Widows and orphans! Wounded and crippled! To all who are suffering from the war or in consequence of the war, we cry out, over the frontiers, over the smoking battlefields, over the devastated cities and hamlets: 'WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!'70

By this stage, Kollontai had already thrown in her lot with Lenin. Her love affair with Alexander Shliapnikov, a handsome worker-Bolshevik twelve years her junior, no doubt had something to do with this. He had joined her in Stockholm in the autumn of 1914 and spent the rest of the war years running errands to Russia for Lenin. Yet perhaps it was not so much this romance as her own emotional commitment to the international cause and to ending the war at all costs that brought her under Lenin's spell. The war's oppressive influence was omnipresent. It seemed to be driving civilization to the edge of an abyss. 'So much blood is spilled, so many crimes are committed every day, every hour,' she wrote in her diary at Christmas 1915:

And the war — it rules over all. Unseen, it decides the fate of each one of us. Before it the individual will is powerless. It was precisely this feeling of helplessness in the face of the war, this sense of the war as an unstoppable force, that had overcome me from the very first days, when I was still in Berlin.

To Kollontai, only Lenin's call for an armed uprising seemed capable of bringing the war to an end. It alone held out the prospect of restoring the power of human will and action over objective forces. 'This is not just "analysis" ', she wrote of Lenin's war Theses in her diary. 'This is action. This is a political programme .. . Let the barricades answer the war.'71

For Trotsky, too, the stress that Lenin placed on the power of proletarian will and action gradually brought him closer to the Bolsheviks. Increasingly it appeared to him that his old friend and teacher Martov and the other Menshevik Internationalists had become trapped in their own analysis of objective conditions — which at that time were all working against the revolution — and that they had thus ignored the possibility of cultivating the revolutionary will (the subjective' side of the revolution) in order to overcome these. Through excessive study, the Mensheviks had turned themselves into the prisoners of their own social determinism. Their revolutionary slogans were in danger of becoming no more than phrases. What was called for was action, a 'proletarian revolution' across Europe to bring the war to an end. Martov had agreed with this to begin with, raising Trotsky's hopes of a broad anti-war campaign to reunite the left-wing Mensheviks with the Bolshevik Party. Yet by the autumn of 1915, when the Menshevik Defensists joined the war campaign, Martov had already pulled back from the call to arms and adopted more passive and pacifist views in line with the rest of his parry. Now Trotsky had nowhere to go but leftwards. It was not, as he later pretended, a straightforward transition. He still harboured typically Menshevik doubts about Lenin's strict centralism and extremism. It was not until July 1917 that he finally joined the Bolshevik Party, and only then, as he put it, because the Bolsheviks were 'becoming less Bolshevik'. Yet he was moving slowly towards the Bolsheviks and surrounding himself with future Bolshevik leaders. All the main contributors to Nashe shvo, with the exception of Martov, were to align themselves with Lenin during 1917. Some became commissars in the first Soviet government, such as Kollontai (Social Welfare), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Enlightenment), Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (Military Affairs) and Trotsky himself (Foreign Affairs).72

For this reason, the trip to New York in 1917 and the collaboration with Bukharin and Kollontai was an important staging post in Trotsky's drift to the left. He rented a three-room apartment in the Bronx which, though cheap by American standards, gave him the unaccustomed luxuries of electric light, a chute for garbage and a telephone. Later there were legends that Trotsky had worked in New York as a dish-washer, as a tailor, and even as an actor. But in fact he scraped a living from emigre journalism and lecturing (in English and German) to half-empty halls on the need for a world revolution. He ate in Jewish delicatessens and made himself unpopular with the waiters by refusing to tip them on the grounds that it was injurious to their dignity. He bought some furniture on an instalment plan, $200 of which remained unpaid when the family left for Russia in the spring. By the time the credit company caught up with him, Trotsky had become Foreign Minister of the largest country in the world. 73

* * * There was a fundamental division within the Bolshevik leadership, one scarcely noticed by historians, between those who spent the war years abroad and those who spent them in Russia. The exiles (e.g. Trotsky, Lunacharsky, Bukharin and Kollontai) tended to be more international and cosmopolitan in their outlook. Steeped in European culture, they were all too aware of Russia's relative backwardness. Many of them had once been Mensheviks, so they understood well the theoretical problems of trying to introduce socialism into Russia without a simultaneous revolution in the more advanced countries of the West. Those Bolsheviks, by contrast, who had spent the war years in Russia (e.g. Stalin and Dzerzhinsky) tended to adopt a more narrow outlook. Many of them came from non-intelligentsia backgrounds and few had any knowledge of Europe, its culture or its languages. Having spent the war in the underground organizations, in prisons, or in Siberian exile, they tended to emerge from it with a fortresslike, embattled mentality towards the party, the country and its relations with the outside world. Many of them harboured xenophobic attitudes — not least towards the Jewish intellectuals in the party (especially Trotsky). After February 1917 many of them implied in their speeches that the returning Bolshevik exiles (although conspicuously not Lenin) had been less than patriotic in the war. Here, in this clash between (if you will) the 'nativists' and the 'cosmopolitans', were the social roots of the party's ideological struggles of the 1920s between 'Socialism in one Country' and 'World Revolution'. It is no coincidence that all Stalin's main allies in his rise to power (Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Kalinin, Kirov, Kuibyshev and Ordzhonikidze) had spent the war years in Russia itself; and that most of his victims in the party (Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, AntonovOvseenko) had spent them abroad.

While the revolutionary exiles debated ideology, their beleaguered comrades at home were concerned with more practical problems. Arrests, deportations and exile had crippled the Bolshevik Party in Russia (as well as the underground organizations of the Mensheviks and SRs). Orphaned by their leaders, and with their newspaper Pravda suppressed, the Bolshevik organizations had little to guide them. Shliapnikov maintained their last thin line of communication with Lenin, smuggling propaganda into Russia inside the soles of his shoes. It was like returning to the conspiratorial practices of the pre-1905 period. The Bolsheviks in Petrograd numbered fewer than 500 members, once the mass arrests of autumn 1914 had taken their toll. The provincial networks had only a handful of members each. The party's greatest weakness was its shortage of intellectual ability: according to Shliapnikov, there was no one in the capital capable of writing even a leaflet. But there was also the worrying problem of the workers' declining support, both in moral and financial terms, largely as a result of police surveillance and harassment. Trade unions and educational societies were outlawed and militant workers sent into the army. The arrest of five Bolshevik Duma deputies in November 1914 and their trial for sedition the following February evoked little protest from the mass of the workers. Some no doubt had succumbed to the dominant mood of patriotism. But most were afraid of dismissal or, worse, imprisonment, if they should join the 2,000 strikers who came out in support of the deputies. This, after all, was a time when the Black Hundred mobs were encouraged by the police to go round working-class districts singing 'God Save the Tsar' and beat up anyone who failed to take off their hats.74

Yet, as the war dragged on and the economic crisis deepened, so the majority of the workers swung back towards the militant Left, resuming the pattern of labour protests begun in 1912—14. It was not so much a crisis of economic decline and stagnation as one of hectic inflationary growth. The war witnessed an industrial boom, mainly to meet the needs of the army. The number of railway workers increased by half a million, the building industry grew by a third, and a million of the poorest peasants, most of them women and youths, poured into the factories, where they could be employed on the mechanized assembly lines at cheaper rates and for longer hours than older and more skilled workers. To pay for its huge war demands the government printed roubles: the money supply increased eightfold between 1914 and 1917. The resulting boom in consumer demand far outstripped the dwindling supply of consumer goods, as manufacturing switched to war production. Workers had too much money in their pockets and not enough to spend it on, so prices rocketed. The ban on vodka sales — a government monopoly which had soaked up roughly 10 per cent of the workers' incomes before 1914 — only worsened this monetary overhang (which we call inflation). Such were the drinking habits of the Russians that it also caused all manner of social abuses, such as the drinking of eau-de-Cologne, methylated spirits, balsams, varnishes, black-market moonshine (samogon) and the notorious spirit called khanja, made and sold by Chinese workers, which killed hundreds.75 The vodka ban became a major source of plebeian complaint against the government and resentment against the well-to-do, since expensive wines and liqueurs were not subject to the prohibition. All in all, weighing up the minor gains in sobriety against the major losses in revenue, controls on inflation, public health and political authority, the ban on vodka was nothing less than a disaster, which in no small way contributed to the downfall of the old regime.

But the basic problem was the workers' growing inability to turn their money wages into food. It was a shocking paradox that whereas Russia before the war had exported grain and still been able to feed its urban population, during the war, when all such exports were suspended, it could not always do even this. It was not so much a problem of agricultural production as one of distribution and exchange. Partly it was due to the chronic disruption of transport. Whereas the railways were timetabled to run from east to west in order to supply the army, foodstuffs for the major industrial centres travelled from south to north and, as the army always came first, often ended up rotting in railway sidings waiting for an engine to take them to Moscow or Petrograd. The other part of the problem related to the shift from commercial to peasant farms. The big estates and commercial farms were badly hit by the war. The mobilization of soldiers left them short of hired labour, while the industrial switch to munitions left them short of tools and machines. Overall, agricultural production did not decline but large amounts of estate land were rented out to the better-off peasants, who were less affected by labour shortages (the army on the whole took away only the excess peasant population) and who generally made their own primitive tools. Thus, for example, the private estates of the central agricultural zone reduced their productive area from 21 to 7 million desyatini between 1913 and 1916, whereas the region's peasant farms increased theirs from 47 to 64 million desyatini. For several years before the agrarian revolution of 1917—18 the demise of the landed gentry's estates and their replacement by the peasant farms was already under way.

This shift: towards the smallholding sector led to a decline in the overall rate of marketed grain, since most peasants produced for the needs of their own family farms and usually sold no more than a small proportion of their crops. The growing shortage of consumer goods — and their inflated prices — in the countryside further encouraged these autarkic trends. From 1913 to 1915 the share of peasant grain sold on the market declined from 16 per cent to 9 per cent. With less and less to buy with their money, the peasants increasingly switched from cash crops (wheat, barley and sugar beet) to subsistence crops (rye, oats and potatoes). They ate more, fed their livestock better, stocked up their barns, and turned their grain into vodka rather than sell it on the market for declining profits. Some smallholders also geared their production towards their own domestic handicrafts (wool, hides and cotton), thus making themselves almost self-sufficient. For many peasants, life had never been so good as it was for them at the height of the war. Even their cows were better fed than many of the workers in the city.76

In August 1915, the government, concerned by the growing problems of food supply in the cities, established a Special Council with extensive powers to purchase grain at fixed prices through local commissioners. But attempting to control the market only further discouraged the peasants from selling their grain: the unregulated prices of manufactures now rose much faster than the fixed prices of food. It was the so-called 'scissors crisis'. In the Moscow markets, for example, the price of rye went up by 47 per cent in the first two years of the war, while the price of a pair of boots increased by 334 per cent and the price of a box of matches by as much as 500 per cent.77 An economic war developed as the peasants withdrew their foodstuffs from the market and the government resorted to increasingly coercive measures in an effort to extract supplies from them. In November 1916, with the food supply of the army and the cities reaching a critical level, the government finally introduced a system of compulsory requisitioning similar to that of the Provisional Government. Yet short of building a massive state of terror, such as the Bolsheviks did with their 'Food Dictatorship', it proved impossible to force the grain from the peasants. Only the black-marketeers (who could lay their hands on hard-to-come-by goods) and the soldiers (who could trade their army boots and coats) managed to persuade the peasants to unlock their barns.

From the autumn of 1915 the cities of the north began to experience growing food shortages. Long queues appeared outside the bakeries and meat shops. After a ten-hour shift in their factories women would set up stools and benches to wait in line for pitifully small amounts of bread or sugar. By the following autumn they were bringing their beds to sleep outside the food stores, often because, with so many local shops closed for lack of provisions, they did not have the time to walk across town and return home in one evening. On the eve of 1917 the average working woman in Petrograd was probably spending around forty hours per week in various queues for provisions.78 The bread queues, in particular, became a sort of political forum or club, where rumours, information and views were exchanged. It was in these queues that the streets began to organize themselves for the coming revolution. The February Revolution was born in the bread queue. It began when a group of women textile workers on the Vyborg side of Petrograd became impatient with waiting in line and went off to rally their menfolk in the neighbouring metal factories for a protest march to the centre of the city.

The economic crisis had the worst effect on the lowest paid. Skilled metal-workers, in great demand at munitions factories, enjoyed an average rise of 30 per cent in their real wages up to 1916. But unskilled workers and petty officials on fixed salaries, such as teachers, clerks and policemen, found their wages falling further and further behind the rising costs of food and housing. Between 1914 and 1916 the calorie intake of unskilled workers fell by a quarter; infant mortality doubled; crime rates tripled; and the number of prostitutes increased by four or five times. From Petrograd, where he had been living since the start of the war, Gorky wrote to Ekaterina in November 1915:

We will soon have a famine. I advise you to buy ten pounds of bread and hide it. In the suburbs of Petrograd you can see well-dressed women begging on the streets. It is very cold. People have nothing to burn in their stoves. Here and there, at night, they tear down the wooden fences. What has happened to the Twentieth Century! What has happened to Civilization! The number of child prostitutes is shocking. On your way somewhere at night you see them shuffling along the sidewalks, just like cockroaches, blue with cold and hungry. Last Tuesday I talked to one of them. I put some money into her hand and hurried away, in tears, in such a state of sadness that I felt like banging my head against a wall. Oh, to hell with it all, how hard it has become to live.79

After a year of industrial peace the war between labour and capital resumed in the summer of 1915 with a series of strikes. To begin with they were mostly minor stoppages over pay and conditions, but they gradually grew into larger political strikes as workers came to understand that the only way to end their economic plight was to end the war and change the government. The main anniversaries in the revolutionary calendar — Bloody Sunday on 9 January, International Women's Day on 23 February and Labour Day on 18 April (I May) — became set dates for strikes and rallies across the country. They usually began with calls for bread, but went on to demand an eight-hour day, an end to the war and the overthrow of the Tsar.

The revolutionary parties played only a secondary role in these strikes. True, some of the biggest and most militant strikes of 1916, at the New Lessner factory in the spring for example, were largely due to the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, whose organization was slowly gaining in strength. Shliapnikov, who returned to Russia in autumn 1916, estimated that the party had as many as 10,000 members at the beginning of 1917, with as many as 3,000 in Petrograd itself. Gorky's apartment on the Kronversky Prospekt was a 'unique central point' of the underground revolutionary organization and Shliapnikov visited it daily for the latest information. The real strike leaders, however, were the skilled and literate workers on the shop-floor, daring young men in their twenties and thirties, such as Kanatchikov, though, unlike him, most of them did not belong to any political party. Although many had seen their real wages rise in the war, they resented the huge war profits of their employers,* and this increasingly defined their sense of class solidarity with the unskilled workers, many of them fresh from the countryside, who followed them into industrial battle.80Here were those unnamed leaders of the crowd during the February Days in Petrograd.                            ,

There had been a time when such working-class heroes would have rallied behind the Menshevik call to join the Labour Group, an adjunct of the War Industries Committees established in the autumn of 1915. Its aim was to bring the strikes to an end by giving the workers' representatives a chance to sit round a table with their employers and voice their grievances. It was a perfect product of that liberal democratic hope, still so fresh in 1915, that a broad front of all classes might steer the nation towards victory and the government towards reform. There was, it is true, a large number of workers still prepared to try the path of conciliation, especially in the big state munitions factories where the Menshevik influence remained strong. But elsewhere barely half the workers bothered to vote for factory delegates to the Labour Group, although this probably had more to do with their general apathy than any conscious adherence to the calls of the Bolsheviks and the SRs for a boycott of the elections. Either way, their lack of enthusiasm proved justified, as the Labour Group failed to extract either of its main demands — a National Workers' Congress and a system of conciliation boards to arbitrate industrial disputes — from a dominant bloc of employers and bureaucrats who were steadily moving away from the idea of making concessions to the working class. With its policy of conciliation discredited in the eyes of the workers, who now turned increasingly towards militant strikes, the Labour Group found itself caught in the widening gap between the two sides of the industrial war. No longer able to stop the strikes, it decided to join them during the autumn of 1916 with a slogan calling for a 'provisional revolutionary government'.81

The big metal factories of Petrograd, to cite the most extreme example, enjoyed a five-fold increase in profits during the war.


On 17 October the workers of the New Lessner and Russian Renault factories on the Vyborg side of Petrograd downed tools and took to the streets singing revolutionary songs. As they approached the nearby barracks of the 181st Infantry Regiment, the police set upon them with sabres and whips. The soldiers, who had been watching and cheering on the demonstrators through their barrack fences, came out to defend them, throwing rocks and bricks at the police, and only after a training detachment of mounted Cossacks arrived on the scene was order restored. The military authorities arrested 130 soldiers and removed the mutinous regiment from the capital. But the next day more workers came out in solidarity with them and by 19 October as many as 75,000 workers from 63 factories in all parts of the city had joined the political strike.82

For the tsarist regime it was an ominous sign of the army's reluctance to control the growing rebellion on the streets. The Petrograd garrison, closest to the sources of revolutionary propaganda, was more reluctant than most. It was filled with older reservists, most of them family men, and wounded evacuees from the Front, perhaps the two most anti-war groups in the entire army, making the regime's decision to rely almost exclusively on it in the event of a revolution all the more ill-conceived. The military authorities clearly had no idea of the soldiers' feelings. The secret police had agents reporting on the political mood in virtually every civilian institution, yet, incredibly, none in the army itself, which was left to the tiny department of army intelligence. Major-General Khabalov, chief of the Petrograd Military District, assured Protopopov that his garrison troops would carry out all commands when he was questioned about their reliability shortly before the February Revolution. He even overruled the Minister of the Interior's recommendation that some unreliable units should be removed from the capital. And yet Colonel Engelhardt, an Octobrist member of the Duma who was soon to replace Khabalov as Military Commissar of the Provisional Government, described the reservists of the Petrograd garrison as nothing less than 'armed mobs'. They were more like 'flammable material than a prop of the regime'. The Rasputin affair, noted Viktor Shklovsky, an instructor in one of the garrison's armoured divisions, had finally broken the soldiers' loyalty to the Tsar. They despised the police — whom they called the 'two-kopeck men' (semishniki) because that is what they were thought to receive for each man they arrested — and all looked forward to the revolution as 'an established fact — everyone knew it would come'.83

The Petrograd garrison was not the only unreliable part of the army. In many units on the Northern and Western Fronts, and even more so in the army garrisons in the rear, the discipline of the troops was rapidly breaking down. Soldiers were increasingly refusing to take up attacking positions, fraternizing with the enemy, and rejecting the authority of their officers, whom, as peasants eager to return to their farms, they now saw more clearly than ever as their old class enemies, the landowners, in uniform. Only on the Southwestern Front, a thousand miles from the revolutionary capital, were there whole army units upon which the tsarist regime could readily rely. But even there Brusilov, the Front commander, regularly received unsigned letters from his men warning him 'that they did not want any more fighting, and that if peace was not concluded shortly, I should be killed'.84

As they entered the third and by far the coldest winter of the war, the morale of the soldiers took a sudden turn for the worse. It was no longer a crisis of supplies: if anything, the supply of clothes and munitions had improved since the previous year, thanks to the increase of domestic production and orders from abroad, although the food situation remained as grim as ever. It was now more a crisis of authority, of utter despair and exhaustion: the soldiers could see no end to the slaughter while the present regime remained in command. As one soldier wrote to his wife in November 1916:

Everyone pretends that the war will end soon, that the longed-for peace will arrive, but that is only to keep their spirits up. People are so worn out and destroyed, they have suffered so much, that it's all they can do to stop their hearts from breaking and to keep themselves from losing their mind . . . Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I don't understand the mood of the men and it only seems to me like this because I myself am exhausted and have come to realise in the past few days that I may lose my own mind in all this chaos . . . Liulya, I have written all this to you so that you may understand what sort of a man you love.85

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