On today’s date, November 7 in 1917 the Bolshevik Party of Vladimir Lenin (left) took over power in Russia by means of a nearly bloodless coup d’etat in the Russian city of Petrograd (St. Petersburg). The coup was against the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky, which had been set up when the government of the Czar, Nicholas II had been deposed in March of 1917. Kerensky’s government had been able to garner only limited support to begin with, and his insistence on keeping Russia involved in World War I had doomed his regime from the start. The Bolsheviks had promised “Peace, land and Bread” to a peasant population who were war-weary, starving, and wanted their own land to work. Here are a few different view points of that momentous day when Russia was taken into the iron grip of the Communists.
November 7, 1917 – John Reed (below)
Wednesday 7 November, I rose very late. The noon cannon boomed from Peter-Paul (Fortress) as I went down the Nevsky. It was a raw, chill day. In front of the State Bank some soldiers with fixed bayonets were standing at the closed gates.
‘What side do you belong to?’ I asked. ‘The Government?’
‘No more government,’ one answered with a grin. ‘Slava Bogu! Glory to God!’ That was all I could get out of him. The street cars were running on the Nevsky, men, women, and small boys hanging on every projection. Shops were open, and there seemed to be less uneasiness among the street crowds than there had been the day before…”
The “relative bloodlessness…” – W.H. Chamberlin
The Bolsheviks had placed armed detachments at all of the major pulse points of Petrograd: The Power stations, the Train Stations, the State Bank and the Central Telephone Exchange. Thus with only a few thousand dedicated followers in arms, they were able to take over the government of Russia from a weak Provisional Government with ease.
“The most striking thing about the Bolshevik overturn in Petrograd was it relative bloodlessness. Both the March Revolution and the July disturbances cost far more lives. At first sight it seems amazing that the decisive act, the seizure of power in the capital… should have been accomplished with so little resistance. There was a noteworthy absence of rioting and looting; theaters and moving picture houses remained open as usual.”
Not much looting, but at the Winter Palace…
John Reed was with a crowd of soldiers later that day, when they surged into the Winter Palace wherein the Provisional Government had been seated. All of it’s members were arrested. Kerensky himself had escaped in an unsuccessful attempt to rouse support among the troops for his regime. He found none. Meanwhile in Petrograd Reed found himself in the middle of a riotous scene:
“Carried along by the eager wave of men we were swept into… a great bare vaulted room. A number of huge packing cases stood about, and upon these the Red Guard and the soldiers fell furiously, battering them open with the butts of their rifles, and pulling out carpets, curtains, linen, porcelain, plates, glassware… one man went strutting around with a brass clock perched on his shoulder. Another found a plume of Ostrich feathers, which he stuck in his hat.”
According to Chamberlin, Lenin himself remained in the background…
“While Congress rolled on its course, the master strategist of the victorious uprising, Lenin remained in the background, saving his strength for the next night, when the decisive decrees on land and peace would be promulgated, perhaps resting from the ‘giddiness,’ which, as he once told Trotsky (above), the sudden leap to power inspired in him. For a short time Lenin and Trotsky lay side by side on covers and cushions in a little room…”
“Ten Days That Shook the World” by John Reed, Penguin Books, New York, 1977
“The Russian Revolution” by William Henry Chamberlin, Vol. 1, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1965
“Eyewitness to History” Ed. by John Carey, Avon Books, New York, 1987