On the eve of the July uprising the journalist Claude Anet took Joseph Noulens, the new French Ambassador, on an introductory tour of the Russian capital. From the opposite bank of the Neva, outside the French Embassy, he pointed out the Vyborg district, with its factory chimneys and barracks, and explained that the Bolsheviks reigned there as masters: 'If Lenin and Trotsky want to take Petrograd, there is nothing to stop them.' The French Ambassador listened in astonishment: 'How can the government tolerate such a situation?' he asked. 'But what can it do?' replied Anet. 'You must understand that the government has no power but a moral one, and even that seems to me very weak.'28
The barracks of the First Machine-Gun Regiment was without a doubt the most menacing bastion of anti-government power on the Vyborg side. With 10,000 men and 1,000 machine-guns, it was by far the largest unit in the capital. Most of its soldiers had been expelled from their front-line units for insubordination and, as highly literate and militant soldiers, were susceptible to the propaganda of both the Bolsheviks and the Anarchists. The regiment's adopted barracks on the Vyborg side nestled among the most strike-prone metal factories of the capital, right next door to the Bolsheviks' headquarters. So important was it to the Bolsheviks that their Military Organization had its own special cell in the regiment.
* His resignation was not formally announced until 7 July.
On 20 June the First Machine-Gun Regiment was ordered to send 500 machine-guns with their crews to the Front, where, it was said, they were badly needed to support the offensive. Since the February Revolution not a single unit of the Petrograd garrison had been transferred to the Front. This had been one of the conditions set by the Petrograd Soviet on the establishment of the Provisional Government. The soldiers believed that they had 'made the revolution' and that they therefore had the right to remain in Petrograd to defend it against a 'counter-revolution'. The Provisional Government was all too aware that it lived at the mercy of the garrison's quarter of a million troops. Until now, it would not have dared to try to remove them from the capital. But by June the presence of these machine-gunners had become a major threat to the government's existence; and one of the main aims of the offensive was undoubtedly to transfer them to the Front. The Foreign Minister, Tereshchenko, admitted as much to the British Ambassador when he claimed in June that the offensive 'will enable us to take measures against the garrison in Petrograd, which is by far the worst and gives a bad example to the others'; while Kerensky repeatedly stressed that it was the aim of the offensive to restore order in the rear.29 Lvov's private notes, recently discovered in the Russian archives, confirm that during May and June the government was seriously considering removing the capital to Moscow.30 There were constant rumours that Petrograd was about to be abandoned to the Germans; and many of the 'patriotic' middle classes prayed that they were true (it was a dinner-party commonplace that only the Kaiser could restore order). But if the government's aim was to use the offensive as a pretext to remove the machine-gunners, then this was a very clumsy and a foolish way to go about it. The government could have easily transferred the machine-gunners to the rear, say to some backwater like Tambov province, on the grounds of 'defending the revolution' there. By sending them to the Front, and thus reneging on the Soviet's conditions, it gave credibility to the soldiers' claim — voiced by the Bolshevik and Anarchist agitators in their regiment — that the government was using the offensive to break up the garrison and that it was thus 'counter-revolutionary'. Since the April crisis, the soldiers had viewed the government's efforts to continue the war with growing suspicion — didn't this make them 'imperialists'? — and in this climate of mistrust such conspiracy theories were persuasive.
On 21 June the machine-gunners resolved to overthrow the Provisional Government, if it continued with its threat 'to break up this and other revolutionary regiments' by sending them to the Front. Dozens of other garrison units which had orders to join the offensive passed similar resolutions. The Bolshevik Military Organization encouraged the idea of an armed uprising, and effectively transformed itself into the operational staff for the capture of the capital. But the Central Committee continued to urge restraint. It was the same policy clash as on 10 June, with the ultra-leftist leaders of the Vyborg Committee and the Military Organization keen to ride to power on the violence of the Petrograd vanguard, and the more cautious national leaders of the party afraid that a failed uprising might give rise to an anti-Bolshevik backlash in the country at large. The provinces, they said, were not yet ready for a socialist revolution and the premature seizure of power in the capital was likely to result in a civil war, in which Red Petrograd, like the Paris Commune, would be defeated by the provinces. So argued Lenin himself at a Conference of the Bolshevik Military Organizations on 20 June. He stressed the need to delay the armed uprising, resisting all provocations by the 'counter-revolutionaries', until the offensive was over and the Bolsheviks had won a majority in the Soviet:
One wrong move on our part can wreck everything ... if we were now able to seize power, it is naive to think that we would be able to hold it. . . Even in the Soviets of both capitals, not to speak now of the others, we are an insignificant minority . . . This is a basic fact, and it determines the behaviour of our Party . . . Events should not be anticipated. Time is on our side.31
But Lenin had little control over his lieutenants. On 29 June he departed for a friend's country dacha in Finland complaining of headaches and fatigue. Control of the party slipped out of his hands, as the Military Organization prepared the insurrection. Bolshevik and Anarchist agitators urged the machine-gunners to take to the streets in an armed demonstration on 3 July. A regimental concert in the People's House on the 2nd to bid farewell to the soldiers due to leave for the Front was turned into an anti-government rally, with Trotsky and Lunacharsky (although neither was yet formally a Bolshevik) calling for the transfer of all power to the Soviet. The troops returned to their barracks too excited to sleep. They spent the night and the following morning debating whether to join the uprising. Many were reluctant to come out in force against the orders of the Soviet. But others were eager to join the uprising, seeing in it their last chance to resist the call-up to the Front, or perhaps simply the chance, as one of their slogans proposed, to 'Beat the burzhoois!' They elected a Provisional Revolutionary Committee, headed by the Bolshevik, A. I. Semashko, from the Military Organization, which assumed the leadership of the uprising and despatched emissaries to mobilize support from the rest of the garrison units, the factories in Vyborg, and the Kronstadt Naval Base.32
During the afternoon a vast grey mass of workers and soldiers moved from the outlying districts to the centre of the city. The streets returned to the look of the February Days, though the mood was now much darker and the composition of the crowd more solidly proletarian. The suits of the middle-class citizens, the beards of the students and the hats of the lady sympathizers, which had all been so visible in February, were no longer to be seen. The marchers carried Bolshevik slogans and were mostly armed, the soldiers with bayonets fixed to their rifles, the workers, brought out by the Red Guards, with belts of bullets wrapped around their torsos like Latin American bandits. A prominent place in the crowd was occupied by soldiers aged over forty who had marched through the city in armed ranks several times before. The demonstrators overturned trams, and set up pickets at various intersections. At one of these pickets, at the fashionable end of the Nevsky Prospekt, the Red Guards mounted a machine-gun. Its minders soon got bored and amused themselves by firing at the burzhoois in the streets and houses. Lorries and armoured cars hurtled about the city filled with soldiers firing into the air. Groups of armed men halted passing motor-cars, turned out their terrified passengers, and rode about the streets, their bayonets bristling out in all directions. One official tried to stop the insurgents from confiscating his car by showing them a permit signed by Kerensky. But the soldiers merely laughed, claiming (falsely) that Kerensky had already been arrested: 'You might as well show us a permit with the signature of Nicholas II.'33
The crowd as yet lacked leadership or direction. It did not quite know where it should go, or why. It had nothing but a 'mood' — which wasn't enough to make a revolution. The Bolshevik and Anarchist agitators, who had brought out the insurgent army, failed to set it strategic objectives. 'The street itself will organize us,' the Anarchist Bleichman had claimed. There was an assumption that a large enough show of force was bound to bring the government down, and that the detailed questions of power could somehow be left to sort themselves out later. That, after all, was the experience of the February Days.34
The bulk of the crowd moved towards the Tauride Palace, as it had done in February. Some became involved in gun fights with loyalist and right-wing forces on their way. There was a smell of civil war. The City Council Building on the Nevsky Prospekt was the scene of especially bloody fighting. The Bolshevik leader, Lunacharsky, watched in horror from inside the building. 'The movement developed spontaneously,' he wrote to his wife on the next day. 'Black Hundreds, hooligans, provocateurs, anarchists and desperate people introduced a large amount of chaos and absurdity to the demonstration.' By the early evening, a solid mass of people had assembled in front of the Tauride Palace. The Soviet leaders were in session debating whether to form a socialist government after the collapse of the coalition, and the crowd no doubt hoped to pressurize them into taking power. All Power to the Soviets!' came the roar from the street. The Workers' Section of the Soviet served as a mouthpiece for their demands. That afternoon it had been taken over by the Bolsheviks, who, although still a minority in the Section, had turned up in one solid body for a hastily convened emergency session and — in a premonition of October — provoked the Mensheviks and SRs into walking out by passing a resolution calling for Soviet power. A Special Commission was elected to provide political organization for the crowds outside. But it proved quite ineffective — Sukhanov, who spent the July Days in the Tauride Palace, could not recall any of its activities. The street was thus deprived of any real leverage over the Soviet. Angry demonstrators called out for the arrest of the Soviet leaders, who had 'surrendered to the landlords and the bourgeoisie!' A delegation from the First Machine-Gun Regiment told Chkheidze that it was 'disturbed by rumours that the Executive intended to enter into a new coalition with the reactionary capitalists', and that they 'would not stand for such a policy' because 'they had already suffered enough'. Some of the soldiers penetrated into the Catherine Hall, where they watched the debate. Yet none of them thought to arrest the Soviet leaders, who were quite defenceless. There was no one to tell the soldiers to do it.35
As darkness fell, the crowd began to disperse. The uprising seemed to be coming to an end. There were rumours that the Provisional Government had already been arrested. But nothing of the sort had taken place. The remnants of the cabinet were having a meeting in Prince Lvov's apartment. At around 10 p.m. a group of armed workers and soldiers burst into the entrance hall, where they announced to the hall porter that they had come to arrest the Ministers. Tsereteli was summoned to negotiate with them, but before he got to the entrance the insurgents had lost their nerve and run away with his car.36
Precisely at this moment the Bolshevik Central Committee was meeting in the Kshesinskaya Mansion to decide on its policy towards the uprising. Although it had so far been urging restraint, afraid to risk all in a premature putsch, there seemed no holding back the movement now. The workers and soldiers had virtually taken over the city, the Kronstadt sailors were on their way, and the vast majority of the rank-and-file Bolsheviks in Petrograd were joining the uprising, leaving the Central Committee on the sidelines. Shortly before midnight it was agreed to call for further demonstrations on the following day. The front page of Pravda, which was due to appear with an article by Kamenev and Zinoviev calling for restraint, had to be altered at the final moment and appeared the next morning with a large blank space. Leaflets were hastily printed and distributed in the streets calling for 'organized' demonstrations and a 'new power' based on the Soviet. Meanwhile, a messenger from the Central Committee sped off in a car to Finland to bring Lenin back to the capital.37
The exact intentions of the Bolshevik leaders have always been a subject of fierce controversy. Some historians have argued that the Bolsheviks were planning to overthrow the Provisional Government by armed force. Richard Pipes, for example, claims that the July affair was orchestrated from the start by the Bolshevik leaders as 'a power seizure'; it was only when the embarrassing failure of the putsch became clear that they sought to conceal their intentions by depicting the uprising as a 'spontaneous demonstration which they sought to direct into peaceful channels'. This last version of events — as a 'spontaneous demonstration' — was the standard Soviet view. It was supported by the American scholar, Alexander Rabinowitch, in his classic account of the July Days. According to Rabinowitch, the Central Committee only joined the uprising under pressure from its rank and file, and never intended it to go any further than a show of force to pressurize the Soviet into taking power.38
The only real piece of evidence in support of the 'failed putsch' thesis comes from Sukhanov's memoirs, written in 1920. Sukhanov claimed that on 7 July Lunacharsky had told him that, on the night of 3—4 July:
Lenin was definitely planning a coup d'etat. The Government, which would in fact be in the hands of the Bolshevik Central Committee, would officially be embodied in a 'Soviet' Cabinet made up of eminent and popular Bolsheviks. For the time being three Ministers had been appointed: Lenin, Trotsky and Lunacharsky . . . The coup d'etat itself was to proceed in this way: the 176th Regiment.. . from Krasnoe Selo* was to arrest the [Soviet] Executive, and at about that time Lenin was to arrive on the scene of action and proclaim the new Government.
Sukhanov himself was the first to acknowledge that 'some elementary facts' told against this version — namely the Bolsheviks' failure to carry through their seizure of power on 4 July, when there were ample opportunities for them to do so. On the face of the evidence, it does appear that the Central Committee had anything but a clear plan. In a manner underestimated by all historians, the events of 4 July were characterized by almost total confusion. The Bolshevik leaders made everything up as they went along. The mass turn-out of 3 July had caught them unprepared, with their leader on vacation in Finland. They were caught in two minds as to whether they should seek to transform the demonstration into the overthrow of the Provisional Government, or whether they should try to limit it to a political demonstration in order to pressurize the Soviet leaders into taking power themselves. When Lenin returned, in the small hours of the morning, the Bolsheviks badgered him for an answer to this question. According to Kalinin, Lenin's tactics were to 'wait and see what happened', leaving open the option of 'throwing regiments into the battle if the correlation of forces should prove favourable'. This may well have been so. But the Bolshevik leader proved utterly unable to make up his own mind if that moment had come. Zinoviev, who spent the whole of the 4th by his side, recalled a Lenin hopelessly paralysed by indecision. He kept asking himself if this was the occasion 'to try for power'.39 Throughout the critical hours of the uprising the Bolshevik leaders continued to sit on the fence waiting to see what would happen. Yet the organized part of the crowd, which had been brought out by the local Bolshevik organizations, would not seize power themselves without specific instructions from them. It was because of this confusion that the demonstrations appeared so badly organized as an attempted putsch — and ended in fiasco.
* Formerly Tsarskoe Selo.
Tuesday, 4 July, began with an eerie silence over the city. Heavy thunder clouds hung low over the city and the river was dark and sullen. The shops were shut and the streets deserted — a certain sign that trouble was brewing in the workers' quarters. By mid-morning the centre of the city was once again taken over by crowds of workers and soldiers. A motley flotilla of tug-boats, trawlers, barges and gun-boats from the Kronstadt Naval Base was meanwhile mooring near the Nikolaevsky Bridge: 20,000 sailors disembarked, armed to the teeth with rifles and revolvers, along with their own medical teams and several marching bands. This was without doubt the Bolsheviks' chief weapon, if they were planning to seize power. The sailors were spoiling for a fight with the Provisional Government. Ever since February they had been trying to set up their own semi-Anarchist version of Soviet power at Kronstadt. Raskolnikov, the Bolshevik leader of the sailors, said they had come to Petrograd ready 'at any moment to turn the demonstration into an armed uprising'. It was clear, however, that the sailors had no strategic plan — and only a vague idea of what to do once they disembarked. Bernard Pares, who was on the scene, thought most of them had come for a holiday, to walk the streets with their girls, who were very much in evidence throughout the July Days. 'Sailors with scantily-dressed and high-heeled ladies were seen everywhere.'40
Looking for leaders, the Kronstadt sailors set off for the Bolshevik headquarters. Led by their bands, which played the Internationale, they marched in armed ranks along the University Embankment, past the Stock Exchange and through the Alexander Park to the Kshesinskaya Mansion, where they amassed in front of the balcony expecting to receive instructions from Lenin. But the Bolshevik leader did not know where he should lead them. At this point it would have been enough for him to give the command, and the sailors would have marched at once to the Tauride, arrested the Soviet leaders, rounded up the cabinet ministers and proclaimed Soviet power. But Lenin was uncharacteristically hesitant, did not want to speak, and when he was finally persuaded to make an appearance on the balcony, gave an ambiguous speech, lasting no more than a few seconds, in which he expressed his confidence in the coming of Soviet power but left the sailors without orders on how to bring it about. He did not even make it clear if he wanted the crowd to continue the demonstration and, according to those who were with him at the time, did not even know himself.41
This was to be Lenin's last public speech until the October seizure of power. It was a telling moment, one of the few in his long career when he was faced with the task of leading a revolutionary crowd that was standing before him. Other Bolshevik leaders were much better at handling the crowd. But Lenin's public appearances had been mostly confined to the congress hall. According to his wife, he became very nervous when forced to address a mass gathering.42 Perhaps at this decisive moment, faced with the raw energy of the street, Lenin lost his nerve. True, what could he say? No doubt he was tongue-tied by the realization that, even if the Bolsheviks won Petrograd, they would still be opposed by the rest of Russia. But none the less his crucial hesitation sealed the fate of the July uprising.
Confused and disappointed by the lack of a clear call for the insurrection to begin, the Kronstadters marched off towards the Tauride Palace, where thousands of armed workers and soldiers were already assembling. On the Nevsky Prospekt they merged with another vast crowd of workers from the Putilov plant, perhaps 20,000 in all. Middle-class Petrograders strolling along the Prospekt looked on in horror at their massed grey ranks. Suddenly, as the column turned into the Liteiny, shots were fired by the Cossacks and cadets from the roof-tops and the upper windows of the buildings, causing the marchers to scatter in panic. Some of the marchers fired back, shooting without aim in all directions, since they did not know where the snipers were hidden. Dozens of their comrades were killed or wounded by their own stray bullets. The rest abandoned their rifles and flags and started to break down the doors and windows of the houses. When the shooting stopped, the leaders of the demonstration tried to restore order by reforming ranks and marching off to an up-beat tune from the military bands. But the equilibrium of the crowd had been upset and, as they marched through the affluent residential streets approaching the Tauride Palace, their columns broke down into a riotous mob, firing wildly into the windows, beating up well-dressed passers-by and looting shops and houses. By 4 p.m. hundreds of people had been wounded or killed; dead horses lay here and there; and the streets were littered with rifles, hats, umbrellas and banners. Gorky, who witnessed the terrible scenes, later wrote to Ekaterina in disgust:
The worst of it all was the crowd, the philistines, the 'worker' and soldier, who is in fact no more than a brute, cowardly and brainless, without an ounce of self-respect and not understanding why he is on the streets, what he is needed for, or who is leading him and where. Whole companies of soldiers threw away their rifles and banners when the shooting began and smashed the shop windows and doors. Is this the revolutionary army of a free people?
It is clear that the crowds on the street had absolutely no idea of what they were doing — it was all a nightmare. Nobody knew the aims of the uprising or its leaders. Were there any leaders at all? I doubt it. Trotsky, Lunacharsky and tutti grandi jabbered something or other, but it was all lost to the mood of the crowd.43
With 50,000 armed and angry men surrounding the Tauride Palace, there was nothing to prevent a Bolshevik coup d'etat. V S. Woytinsky, who was placed in charge of defending the palace, had only eighteen soldiers from the Pavlovsky Regiment at his disposal. There were not even enough soldiers to guard the posts at the entrance to the building, so Woytinsky relied on deception, placing all his men at the huge French windows which spanned the facade of the palace to make it appear as if it was properly defended. To the Soviet leaders inside the palace debating the question of power, it seemed 'completely obvious' that they were about to be stormed. At any moment', recalled the Menshevik, Bogdanov, 'the armed mobs could have broken in, wrecked the Tauride Palace, and arrested or shot us if we refused to take the power into our hands.'44 The Provisional Government, or what remained of it, was equally defenceless. During the morning the cabinet ministers had taken refuge in the building of the General Staff opposite the Winter Palace. Apart from a few dozen Cossacks, there were no available forces willing to defend them. Kerensky had run off to the Front, leaving the Warsaw Station only minutes before his Bolshevik chasers arrived there. The Marinsky Palace, the seat of government power, stood wide open for the taking. The strategic points of the city — the arsenals, the telephone exchange, the supply depots and the railway stations — were all undefended. With a single order from Lenin, the insurgents could easily have taken them as the first step towards the seizure of power.
But that order did not come, and the crowd in front of the Tauride Palace, not quite sure of what it should do, soon lost all its organization. The hand of God, in the form of the weather, also contributed to the collapse of the uprising. At 5 p.m. the storm clouds finally broke and there was a torrential rainstorm. Most of the crowd ran for cover and did not bother to come back. But the unruly elements stayed on. Perhaps because they were soaked by the rain, they lost their self-control and began to fire wildly at the Tauride Palace. This caused the rest of the crowd to scream and stampede in panic: dozens of people were crushed. Some sailors began to penetrate into the palace, climbing in through the open windows. They called for the socialist ministers to come out and explain their reluctance to take power. Chernov was sent out to calm the crowd. But as soon as he appeared on the steps angry shouts were heard from the sailors. The crowd surged forward and seized hold of him, searching him for weapons. One worker raised his fist and shouted at him in anger: 'Take power, you son of a bitch, when it's handed to you.'' Several armed men bundled the SR leader into an open car. They declared him under arrest and said they would not release him until the Soviet had taken power. Chernov had gone one better than his old rival, Kerensky. He was now a real 'hostage of the democracy'.
A group of workers broke into the Catherine Hall and interrupted the session: 'Comrade Chernov has been arrested by the mob! They're tearing him to pieces right now! To the rescue! Everyone out into the street!' Chkheidze proposed that Kamenev, Martov and Trotsky should be sent out to rescue the Minister. But Trotsky was the first to get there. Pushing his way through the shouting crowds, he went straight to the car, where the hatless, dishevelled and terrified Chernov sat under arrest in the back seat, and climbed up on to the bonnet. The Kronstadters all knew the figure of Trotsky and waited for his instructions. Had the Bolsheviks planned for the seizure of power, this was surely the moment to urge the sailors on to the storming of the Tauride, the arrest of the Soviet leaders and the proclamation of a socialist government. Raskolnikov, who was standing by Trotsky, asked Chernov's captors where they were planning to take their hostage. 'We don't know,' they answered. 'Wherever you wish, Comrade Raskolnikov. He is at your disposal.' But Trotsky called for Chernov to be released. 'Comrade Kronstadters, pride and glory of the Russian Revolution!', he began in his clear metallic voice; 'you've come to declare your will and show the Soviet that the working class no longer wants to see the bourgeoisie in power. But why hurt your own cause by petty acts of violence against casual individuals? Individuals are not worthy of your attention.' The sailors shouted angrily at Trotsky: they could not understand why Chernov was to be let go, if the aim of their mission was to overthrow the government. But not knowing what to do on their own, they sullenly agreed to release the Minister. 'Citizen Chernov, you are free,' declared Comrade Trotsky, opening the car door and motioning him to get out. Chernov was half-dead and plainly did not understand what was happening to him. He had to be helped out of the car and led, like a frail old man, back into the Tauride Palace.45 A critical moment had passed, one of the most famous in the history of the revolution, and with it had also passed the initiative for a seizure of power.
According to Sukhanov's account of his conversation with Lunacharsky, the key to the Bolshevik 'plan' for the seizure of power was the 176th Regiment from Krasnoe Selo. It was supposed to arrive at the Tauride Palace and arrest the Soviet leaders. At around 6 o'clock it finally appeared, led by its regimental band. The soldiers were tired and soaked by the rain. With their packs and greatcoats on their shoulders, their mess tins and cooking pots clanging as they walked, they settled themselves in the forecourt of the palace and began to unpack their wet things and prepare their rifles. They had not the slightest idea what they were supposed to do, and only knew that they had been called out to 'defend the revolution'. But where were their leaders? An officer and six men climbed the Tauride steps and asked to see someone from the Soviet. The Menshevik, Dan, came out to greet them. He did not know what the regiment was, or why it had come to the palace, but he soon found a use for it. The 'insurrectionary' soldiers were posted as sentries at various points of the building to protect the Soviet leaders against the insurrection.46 Having come to demonstrate against the Soviet leaders, they had ended up defending them against the demonstrators. Such things happen in a revolution, when the crowd does not know its leaders.
From this point on, the insurrection was effectively over. By itself, the crowd was unable to bring about political change. The Soviet leaders, discussing the question of whether to assume power, were all the more determined not to be pushed into it by the mob in the street. 'The decision of the revolutionary democracy cannot be dictated by bayonets,' declared Tsereteli.47 Once the Soviet had resolved not to take power, there was nothing the crowd could do. It did not know how to force the Soviet leaders into changing their minds, or how to complete a Soviet revolution without them. If the Soviet leaders were reluctant to take power, how could they give All Power to the Soviet'?
One final event on that day symbolized the powerlessness of the crowd. At around 7 p.m. a group of armed and angry workers from the Putilov plant burst into the Catherine Hall. The Soviet deputies leaped from their seats. Some threw themselves on to the ground in panic. One of the workers, a 'classical sans-culotte' dressed in a blue factory tunic and cap, jumped up on to the speakers' platform. Shaking his rifle in the air, he shouted incoherently at the deputies:
Comrades! How long must we workers put up with treachery? You're all here debating and making deals with the bourgeoisie and the landlords . . . You're busy betraying the working class. Well, just understand that the working class won't put up with it! There are 30,000 of us all told here from Putilov. We're going to have our way. All power to the Soviets! We have a firm grip on our rifles! Your Kerenskys and Tseretelis are not going to fool us!
Chkheidze, the Soviet chairman, was sitting next to the hysterical worker. He calmly leaned across and placed a piece of paper into his hand. It was a manifesto, printed the evening before, in which it was said that the demonstrators should go home, or be condemned as traitors to the revolution. 'Here, please take this, Comrade,' Chkheidze said to him in an imperious tone. 'It says here what you and your Putilov comrades should do. Please read it carefully and don't interrupt our business.'48 The confused worker, not knowing what he should do, took the manifesto and left the hall with the rest of the Putilovites. No doubt he was fuming with anger and frustration at his profound humiliation; and yet he was powerless to resist, not because he lacked the guns, but because he lacked the will. Centuries of serfdom and subservience had not prepared him to stand up to his political masters — and in that lay the tragedy of the Russian people as a whole. This was one of the finest scenes of the whole revolution — one of those rare moments in history when the hidden relations of power are flashed up on to the surface of events and the broader course of developments becomes clear.
As darkness fell, the crowds dispersed. Most of them made their way back home, damp and dejected, to the workers' districts and barracks. The Kronstadt sailors wandered around the city, not knowing where to go. Throughout the night the affluent residential streets reverberated to the sounds of broken windows, sporadic shots and screams, as the last survivors of the failed uprising took out their anger in acts of looting and violence against the burzhoois. The Petrograd military headquarters were inundated with telephone calls from terrified shopkeepers, bankers and housewives. In a last desperate act of defiance, 2,000 Kronstadters seized control of the Peter and Paul Fortress. They did not know what to do with the conquered fortress — it was just a symbol of the old regime which it seemed a good idea to capture as a final hostage of the uprising. The sailors slept in the prisons empty cells, and the following day agreed to leave it on condition that they were allowed to make their own way back to Kronstadt, keeping all their weapons.49
By this stage, loyal troops were flocking to defend the Tauride Palace. The Izmailovsky Regiment was the first to arrive, on the evening of the 4th, with a thunderous rendering of the Marseillaise — as if in response to the Internationale of the Kronstadters — from its military band. As they heard the sound of it approaching, the Soviet leaders embraced each other with tears of relief: the siege of the Tauride Palace was finally over. Standing arm in arm, they broke spontaneously into the stirring chorus of Aux armes, citoyens'. It was, as Martov angrily muttered, a 'classic scene from the start of a counterrevolution'.50
* * * Like most of the loyalist troops, the Izmailovksy Regiment had been turned against the Bolsheviks by leaflets released that evening by the Minister of Justice Pereverzev accusing them of being German agents. On the next day, 5 July, the right-wing press was full of so-called 'evidence' to that effect. Much of it was based on the dubious testimony of a Lieutenant Yermolenko, who claimed to have been told by the Germans, whilst he was a prisoner of war, that Lenin was working for them. There is no doubt that the Germans had financed the Bolshevik Party — the Provisional Government had known that since April. But this did not prove Pereverzev's claim, still repeated by many historians, that the Bolsheviks were German agents. For one thing, the actual amount of German finance was not very great, given the party's financial problems during the summer; and, for another, there is no evidence that the Bolsheviks planned their policies to suit Berlin. Yet the timely release of these charges had an explosive effect, turning many soldiers against the Bolsheviks. Acting under orders from Pereverzev, a large detachment of military cadets ransacked the Pravda offices at dawn on 5 July. They only just missed Lenin, who had left for the first of his pre-October hide-outs, the flat of the Bolshevik worker, Sergei Alliluyev,* only minutes before.51
Lenin had been given early warning of the treason charges by a secret contact in the Ministry of Justice. Hoping to mitigate the xenophobic reaction which was bound to follow, he called for an end to the demonstrations in an article on the back page of Pravda. But it was too late. By the morning of the 5th, the capital was seized with anti-Bolshevik hysteria. The right-wing tabloids bayed for Bolshevik blood, instantly blaming the 'German agents' for the reverses at the Front. It seemed self-evident that the Bolsheviks had planned their uprising to coincide with the German advance. General Polovtsov, who was responsible for the repressions as the head of the Petrograd Military District, later acknowledged that the Bolshevik-baiting contained 'a strong anti-Semitic tendency'; but in the usual way that Russians of his class justified pogroms he put it down 'to the Jews themselves because among the Bolshevik leaders their percentage was not far from a hundred. It was beginning to annoy the soldiers to see that Jews ruled everything, and the remarks I heard in the barracks plainly showed what the soldiers thought about it.'52
Early in the morning of 6 July a massive task force of loyalist troops, complete with eight armoured cars and several batteries of heavy artillery, moved up to liberate the Kshesinskaya Mansion. Amidst the anti-Bolshevik hysteria, there had been outrage in the right-wing press at the thought of the unwashed Bolshevik workers and soldiers rummaging through the velvets and silks of Kshesinskaya's boudoir. Not a single shot was fired in the recapture of the ballerina's former mansion. The 500 Bolsheviks still inside surrendered without resistance, despite the large store of weapons at their disposal. The Bolshevik leaders had been too busy burning party files to organize resistance.53
Later that day, Pereverzev ordered Lenin's arrest, along with eleven other Bolshevik leaders. They were all charged with high treason. Most of them stayed in the open, risking arrest, and in some cases even giving themselves up. But
* His daughter, Nadezhda, would later marry Stalin.
Lenin fled underground — first to a series of safe houses in the capital and then, on 9 July, along with Zinoviev, travelling through the countryside to Finland. Lenin shaved off his beard and wore a worker's tunic and cap to disguise himself. During the following days dozens of houses in the capital were turned over by troops in search of him. Even Gorky's flat was raided. Some 800 Bolsheviks in all were imprisoned, including Kamenev, Lunacharsky, Kollontai and Trotsky — the last not yet a member of the party, though he had declared his allegiance to it.54 The Peter and Paul Fortress, whose cells had been empty since the February Revolution, once again began to be filled with 'politicals'.
As Lenin travelled into the northern wilderness, it must have seemed to him that the Bolshevik cause was finished. Before leaving the capital he had handed to Kamenev the manuscript of what was later to become The State and Revolution, with instructions for it to be published if he should be killed. Lenin was always prone to overestimate the physical danger to himself: in this respect he was something of a coward. It cannot be said that his life was ever at direct risk during his summer on the run: at one point he even stayed with the Chief of Police in Helsingfors, who happened to be a Bolshevik sympathizer. After Lenin's death, during the cult of Lenin, fantastic stories would be told of his personal bravery during countless narrow escapes from the police. But none of them was true. One true incident during this summer, although it hardly spoke of Lenin's courage, took place in a village near Sestoretsk on the Gulf of Finland, where Lenin and Zinoviev spent several weeks sleeping in the hay loft of a party worker. One day they saw two men with guns approaching and assumed that they were the police coming to arrest them. The two leaders of the world revolution dived for cover into a haystack. 'The only thing left to do now', Lenin whispered to Zinoviev, 'is to die an honourable death.' The strangers, however, walked right past: it turned out that they were hunting for ducks.55
However, given the frenzied anti-Bolshevik atmosphere, it is not hard to see why Lenin should have been so concerned for his personal safety. This was a time of lynch law, and the tabloid press was full of cartoons showing Lenin on the scaffold. Some of the Bolshevik leaders, Kamenev in particular, wanted Lenin to give himself up and stand trial. They thought he could use his appearance in the courts to reject the treason charges and denounce the authorities. By fleeing abroad, they argued, he risked making the workers suspect that he must have had something to hide. Besides, there was a long tradition of socialists making propaganda from the dock: Trotsky had done it quite brilliantly in 1906; and Lenin's own brother had done it at his trial in 1887. But Lenin was not the sort of man to play the role of a revolutionary martyr: his life was much too important for that. As he saw it, there was no question of getting a fair trial (that, he said, was a 'constitutional illusion'), since the rule of law had been suspended and the state itself had been taken over by the 'counter-revolution'. 'It is not a question of "the courts", but of an episode in the civil war.' Underlying this was a fundamental shift in Lenin's thinking which was to have important consequences. Since the April Theses he had accepted the need to base the party's work on peaceful or political means. But in the wake of the July Days, when, as he saw it, the state had been taken over by 'the military dictatorship', he moved towards the idea of an armed uprising for the seizure of power.56 Lenin's refusal to appear in the courts was in effect his own declaration of a civil war.
The Soviet leaders were equally fearful of a right-wing backlash and, although they denounced the July uprising and the part the Bolsheviks had played in it, they were also inclined to defend them against the punitive measures of the government. Gorky summed up the ambivalent views of the revolutionary intelligentsia in a letter to Ekaterina on 10 July:
You will know from the newspapers about the atrocities that have taken place here. My own immediate impression of them is immensely hard to put into words. What has happened and is happening now is repulsively stupid, cowardly and loutish. But it is wrong to assume that everything can be blamed on 'the Bolsheviks' and these so-called German agents, who undoubtedly took no part in the events. The Kadets are to blame here for stirring up trouble, along with the usual philistines and, generally, the whole mass of Petersburg. I am not trying to defend 'the Bolsheviks' — they know themselves there is no justification for what they have done . . . The Bolshevism of the emotions, which played on the dark instincts of the masses, has mortally wounded itself — and that is good. But the Democracy, England, France and Germany, may see the rout of the Bolsheviks as the defeat of the whole Revolution, and that is desperately bad, for it will deflate the revolutionary mood in the West and endlessly prolong the war ... I fear that Lenin has come to an awkward end. He of course is not too bad, but his closest comrades, it seems, are truly rogues and scoundrels. They have all been arrested. Now the bourgeois press is after Novaia zhizri, and will probably get it closed down, And then the campaign will start against you and your SRs. The counter-revolution is no longer some idle intention, but a fact. The Kadets stand at its head, people used to intrigue and not ashamed to use such means of struggle.57
The Soviet Executive protested against the arrest of the Bolshevik leaders and dismissed the treason charges against them as Black Hundred slander designed to split the revolutionary democracy. The old traditions of socialist camaraderie — in which there were 'no enemies on the Left!' — died hard. Most of the Soviet leaders continued to view the Bolsheviks as 'comrades'. They agreed that the witch-hunt against them was in danger of leading to a right-wing backlash against all socialists in general. As Novaia zhizri put it: 'Today they accuse the Bolsheviks; tomorrow they will cast suspicions on the Soviet; and then they will declare a Holy War Against the Revolution.'58 The left-wing Mensheviks, many of whom still harboured hopes of reuniting their party with the Bolsheviks, were especially assiduous in their opposition to government repressions; and it was largely due to their efforts that the public trial and commission set up to examine the treason charges lost momentum and came to naught. It was this, more than anything else, that ensured the survival of the Bolsheviks. Because of the reluctance of the Soviet leaders to cut their ties with them, a prime opportunity had been missed to end the Leninist threat once and for all. Twelve months later, when many of these same Soviet leaders sat in Bolshevik jails, they would come to regret it.
The Soviet leaders, in choosing to close ranks with the Bolsheviks, had no doubt overreacted to the threat of a 'counter-revolution'. As in February, they had looked at reality through the distorting prism of history: the shadows of 1849 and 1906 had obscured their vision. It was partly the same fear of counterrevolution which also prevented them, as in February, from taking power themselves. This too would prove a fatal mistake — for only a Soviet government could have filled the power vacuum left by the collapse of the coalition. True, it might not have brought about peace, bread or land; nor could it have ended the spiral into chaos and violence in the country; but at least it would have denied the Bolsheviks the chance to rally mass support under the slogan of All Power to the Soviets!' During the July Days the streets had begged the Soviet leaders to take power. Yet the latter had calmly dismissed this as no more than Bolshevik demagogy. It did not occur to them that such calls might express the wishes of the rest of the democracy. After all, as its self-appointed leaders, wasn't it their task to decide that? 'I have been in the provinces and on the Front,' Tsereteli reassured the Soviet deputies on 4 July, 'and I am stating that the authority of the Provisional Government in the country is extremely great.'59 Their rigid party dogma told the Mensheviks and the SRs that a socialist government could not be formed because the 'bourgeois stage of the revolution' had still not been completed. This higher logic drove these philosophers to the conclusion that a new coalition had to be patched together at all costs and that, if the Kadets still refused to join it, then a bloc would have to be formed with other bourgeois groups. 'The coalition is dead! Long live the coalition!'
The reformation of the coalition became inevitable with Kerensky's appointment as the new Prime Minister. He had returned to the capital on 6 July and, on his own insistence, had been met by a lavish guard of honour, with Cossacks and cavalry lining the streets from the Warsaw Station. This was to be the triumphant entry of a national hero, the man who was said to have saved the country from the Bolshevik menace by rallying loyal troops at the Front. On the next day Prince Lvov resigned and named Kerensky as his successor. For Lvov, it was a great relief. He had already decided to step down, when he had written to his parents on 3 July. He was tired of politics — the burdens of office had turned his hair grey — and he did not have the heart to carry out the repressions demanded in the wake of the July Days. 'The only way to save the country now', Lvov told his old friend T. I. Polner on 9 July, 'is to close down the Soviet and shoot at the people. I cannot do that. But Kerensky can.' Right until the end, the gentle Prince would not use coercion against 'the people'. His life-long faith in their 'goodness and wisdom', however mistaken that may now have seemed, would not allow him to do so. Four days later, he left the capital and retired to a monastery.60
Kerensky was hailed as the man to reunite the country and halt the drift towards civil war. He was the only major politician who had a base of popular support yet who was also broadly acceptable to the military leaders and the bourgeoisie. Tsereteli was the senior Soviet leader, to be sure, yet it was precisely this which ruled him out. For if the coalition was to be reformed, it would have to cut its ties with the Soviet programme, or else the Kadets would have nothing to do with it. Kerensky was the ideal figure to bring the coalition back together: as a member of both the Soviet and the Duma circles which had formed the Provisional Government he made a human bridge between the socialist and liberal camps. This placed him in a unique position — and the fate of Russia now seemed to depend upon this one young man. In itself this was a tragic situation, for it was without doubt much too heavy a burden for a man of Kerensky s tender years and rather modest talents.
Kerensky had always liked to see himself as a 'national leader', straddling Right and Left, and his rise to power merely fuelled this vanity. He began to cultivate the image of himself as a man of destiny, summoned by 'the people' to 'save Russia'. This was the high summer of the Kerensky cult. It was engineered with the help of his friends in the Petrograd literary intelligentsia — the Merezhkovskys, Filosofov, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko* — who all eulogized the young Prime Minister as 'the ideal citizen' and the 'embodiment of Russian Liberty'.61 Success and adulation went to Kerensky's head. He began to strut around with comic self-importance, puffing up his puny chest and striking the pose of a Bonaparte. His offices were transferred to the Winter Palace, where he took over the opulent suite of Alexander III. He slept in the
* Dmitni Merezhkovsky (1865—1941), poet, literary and religious philosopher; Zinaida Gip-pius (1869-1945), writer and essayist, married to Merezhkovsky; Dmitrii Filosofov (1872-1940), literary critic and co-inhabitant with the Merezhkovskys; Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938), founder, along with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko (1858-1943), of the Moscow Arts Theatre.
Tsar's enormous bed, and had a photo of himself taken sitting behind his swimming-pool-sized desk which he had distributed in postcard form for publicity. Nicholas II's cherished billiard table, which had been packed up for despatch to Tobolsk, was retained by Kerensky for his own amusement. He also kept on the old palace servants, and changed the guards outside his suite several times a day. As he came and left, the red flag on the palace roof was raised and lowered, just as it had been for the tsars. Was this the man who had called himself the 'hostage of democracy'?
The three-week interregnum between the fall of the First Coalition and the formation of the Second certainly saw Kerensky break his ties with the Soviet movement. As the power broker in the party talks, he was prepared to sacrifice most of the Soviet's basic demands — as expressed in the government's own declaration of 8 July — in the interests of persuading the Kadets to rejoin the coalition. On the insistence of the Kadets, he passed decrees imposing tough restrictions on public gatherings, restored the death penalty at the Front and agreed to roll back the influence of the soldiers' committees. The programme of the new coalition, finally formed on 25 July, was no longer to be based on the principles of the Soviet, as had been agreed in February. The nine socialist ministers, though they comprised a majority, entered the cabinet as private individuals rather than Soviet representatives, and thus, in a formal sense at least, were obliged to recognize the sole authority of the Provisional Government. All the socialist ministers, with the exception of Chernov, came from the right wings of their parties and stood much closer to the liberal Duma circles than the Soviet movement itself. Tsereteli, who as the undisputed leader of the Soviet could not accept this erosion of its influence, had no choice but to step aside. Already suffering from TB, he went into semi-retirement. His resignation marked the demise of the Soviet. On 18 July, on the same day that Kerensky's government moved into the Winter Palace, the Soviet was expelled from the Tauride Palace and transferred to the Smolny Institute, a school for the daughters of the nobility, on the outskirts of the capital. It was both a symbol of the Soviet's decline and of the elevation of Kerensky's government to a position where it stood, like its tsarist predecessors, above and apart from the people.