The Day That Shook the World

The story of November 7, 1917 — the day the Bolsheviks changed world history.

Lenin with a group of commanders in the Red Square, May 25, 1919. Smirnov_N. / Wikimedia

Dawn of the 25th approached. A desperate Kerensky issued an appeal to the Cossacks “in the name of freedom, honor and the glory of our native land to act to aid the Soviet Central Executive Committee, the revolutionary democracy, and the Provisional Government, and to save the perishing Russian State.”

But the Cossacks wanted to know if the infantry was coming out. When the government’s answer was equivocal, all but a small number of ultraloyalists responded that they were disinclined to act alone, “serving as live targets.”

Repeatedly, easily, at points throughout the city, MRC (Military Revolutionary Committee) disarmed loyalist guards and just told them to go home. And for the most part, they did. Insurgents occupied the Engineers’ Palace by the simple expedient of walking in. “They entered and took their seats, while those who were sitting there got up and left,” one reminiscence has it. At 6:00 AM, forty revolutionary sailors approached the Petrograd State Bank. Its guards, from the Semenovsky Regiment, had pledged neutrality: they would defend the bank from looters and criminals, but would not take sides between reaction and revolution. Nor would they intervene. They stood aside, therefore, and let the MRC take over.

Within an hour, as watery winter light washed over the city, a detachment from the Keksgolmsky regiment, commanded by Zakharov, an unusual military school cadet come over to the revolution, set out to the main telephone exchange. Zakharov had worked there, and he knew its security. When he arrived, he had no difficulty directing his troops to isolate and disarm the sullen, powerless cadets on duty there. The revolutionaries disconnected the government lines.

They missed two. With these, the cabinet ministers holed up and huddled over receivers amid the white-and-gilt filigrees, pilasters, and chandeliers of the Malachite Room of the Winter Palace, maintaining contact with their meagre forces. They issued pointless instructions, bickering in low voices while Kerensky stared at nothing.

Mid-morning. In Kronstadt, as they had before, armed sailors boarded whatever they could find that was seaworthy. From Helsingfors they set forth in five destroyers and a patrol boat, all festooned with revolutionary banners. Across Petrograd, revolutionaries were once more emptying the jails.

At Smolny, a scruffy figure barged into the Bolshevik operations room. The activists stared, disconcerted at the newcomer, until at last Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich cried out and ran forward with his arms open. “Vladimir Ilyich, our father! I did not recognize you, dear one!”

Lenin sat down to draft a proclamation. He was twitching with anxiety about time, desperate for the final overthrow of the government to be complete when Second Congress opened. He well knew the power of the fait accompli.

To the Citizens of Russia. The Provisional Government has been overthrown. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Military Revolutionary Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison.

The cause for which the people have struggled — the immediate proposal of a democratic peace, the elimination of landlord estates, workers’ control over production, the creation of a soviet government — the triumph of this cause has been assured.

Long live the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ revolution!

Quite convinced by now of MRC’s usefulness, Lenin did not sign for the Bolsheviks, but in the name of that “nonparty” body. The proclamation was printed up quickly in the bold text blocks to which Cyrillic lends itself. As fast as copies could be distributed they were plastered as posters across countless walls. Operators keyed its words down telegraph wires.

In fact it was not a truth but an aspiration.

In the Winter Palace, Kerensky used his last channels of communication to arrange to join troops heading for the capital. To actually reach them, however, would not be at all easy. He might get away, but the MRC controlled the stations.

He needed help. The general staff conducted a long and increasingly frantic search, and at last found a suitable car. Pleading, they managed to secure the use of another from the American embassy — a vehicle with handy diplomatic plates.

About 11:00 AM on the 25th, just as Lenin’s prefigurative proclamation began to circulate, the two vehicles sped past MRC roadblocks that were more enthusiastic than efficient.

A broken Kerensky escaped the city with a tiny entourage, to go looking for loyal soldiers.

It seemed to many citizens, the upheaval notwithstanding, almost like a normal day in Petrograd. A certain amount of racket and kerfuffle was impossible to ignore, certainly, but relatively few people were involved in the actual fighting, and only at key points. As those combatants went about their insurrectionary or counterrevolutionary work, reconfiguring the world, most trams were running, most shops stayed open.

At midday, armed revolutionary soldiers and sailors arrived at the Mariinsky Palace. The Preparliamentarians anxiously discussing the unfolding drama were about to become actors in it.

An MRC commissar stormed in. He ordered the Preparliament’s chair, Avksentiev, to clear the palace. Soldiers and sailors waving weapons shoved their way inside, scattering terrified deputies. In a daze, Avksentiev quickly gathered together as many of the steering committee as he could. They knew resistance was pointless, but departed under protest as formal as they could manage to make it, committed to reconvening as soon as possible.

As they stepped out into stinging cold, the building’s new guards checked their papers, but did not detain them. The pitiful Preparliament was not the prize that, to Lenin’s maddened exasperation, still eluded them.

That prize, now Kerenskyless, was in the Winter Palace. There, their world collapsing, the sullen embers of the Provisional Government still glowed.

At noon in the grand Malachite Room, the textile magnate and Kadet Konovalov convened the cabinet.

“I don’t know why this session was called,” muttered the naval minister, Admiral Verderevsky. “We have no tangible military force and consequently are incapable of taking any action whatever.” Perhaps, he posited, they should have convened with the Preparliament — and even as he spoke, news came that it had been dismissed.

The ministers received reports and issued appeals to their dwindling interlocutors. Those not afflicted by Verderevsky’s mournful realism spun out fantasies. With the last shreds of their power gusting away, they dreamed up a new authority.

With all the seriousness in the world, like burnt-out matches telling grim stories of the conflagration they will soon start, the ashes of Russia’s Provisional Government debated which of them to make dictator.

This time the Kronstadt forces reached Petrograd’s waters in a former pleasure yacht, two minelayers, a training vessel, an antique battleship, and a phalanx of tiny barges. Another madcap flotilla.

Close by where the cabinet was fantasizing of dictatorship, revolutionary sailors captured the Admiralty and arrested the naval high command. The Pavlovsky regiment set up pickets on bridges. The Keksgolmsky Regiment took control north of the Moika River.

Noon, the original time slated for the seizure of the Winter Palace, had come and gone. The deadline was pushed forward by three hours, which scheduled the arrest of the government for after the 2:00 PM opening of the Congress of Soviets — exactly what Lenin wanted to avoid. So that opening was postponed.

But the hall of Smolny was now teeming with delegates from the Petrograd and provincial soviets. They demanded news. They could not be put off forever.

At 2:35 PM, therefore, Trotsky opened an emergency session of the Petrograd Soviet.

“On behalf of the Military Revolutionary Committee,” he exclaimed, “I declare that the Provisional Government no longer exists.”

His words aroused a storm of joy. Key institutions were in MRC hands, Trotsky went on over the commotion. The Winter Palace would fall “momentarily.” Another huge cheer came: Lenin was entering the hall.

“Long live Comrade Lenin,” Trotsky cried, “back with us again!”

Lenin’s first public appearance since July was brief and exultant. He offered no details, but announced “the beginning of a new period,” and exhorted: “Long live the world socialist revolution!”

Most of those present responded with delight. But there was dissent.

“You are anticipating the will of the Second Congress of Soviets,” someone shouted.

“The will of the Second Congress of Soviets has already been predetermined by the fact of the workers’ and soldiers’ uprising,” Trotsky called back. “Now we have only to develop this triumph.”

But amid proclamations from Volodarsky, Zinoviev and Lunacharsky, a small number of moderates, mostly Mensheviks, withdrew from the Soviet’s executive organs. They warned of terrible consequences from this conspiracy.
. . .
After almost eight hours of stalling, the soviet delegates could be put off no longer. An hour after that first shot, in the grand colonnaded Assembly Hall of Smolny, the Second Congress of Soviets opened.

The room was heavy with the fug of cigarettes, despite repeated shouts, many cheerfully taken up by the smokers themselves, that smoking was not allowed. The delegates, Sukhanov recorded with a shudder, mostly bore “the grey features of the Bolshevik provinces.” They looked, to his refined and intellectual eye, “morose” and “primitive” and “dark,” “crude and ignorant.”

Of 670 delegates, 300 were Bolsheviks. 193 were SRs, more than half of them of the party’s left; 68 Mensheviks, and 14 Menshevik-Internationalists. The rest were unaffiliated, or members of tiny groups. The size of the Bolshevik presence illustrated that support for the party was soaring among those who voted in the representatives — and was also bolstered by somewhat lax organizational arrangements that had given them more than their proportional share. Even so, without the Left SRs, they had no majority.

It was not, however, a Bolshevik who rang the opening bell, but a Menshevik. The Bolsheviks played on Dan’s vanity by offering him this role. But he instantly quashed any hopes of cross-party camaraderie or congeniality.

“The Central Executive Committee considers our customary opening political address superfluous,” he announced. “Even now, our comrades who are selflessly fulfilling the obligations we placed on them are under fire at the Winter Palace.”

Dan and the other moderates who had led the Soviet since March vacated their seats to be replaced by the new, proportionally allotted presidium. To uproarious approval, fourteen Bolsheviks — including Kollontai, Lunacharsky, Trotsky, Zinoviev — and seven Left SRs, including the great Maria Spiridonova, ascended the platform. The Mensheviks, in dudgeon, abjured their three seats. One place was held for the Menshevik-Internationalists: in a move simultaneously dignified and pathetic, Martov’s group declined to take it, but reserved the right to do so later.

As the new revolutionary leadership sat and prepared for business, the room suddenly reverberated with another cannon boom.

Everybody froze.

This time the shot came from the Peter and Paul Fortress. Unlike the Aurora’s, its round was not a blank.

The oily flash of detonations reflected in the Neva. Shells soared up, arcing in the night and screaming as they descended towards their target. Many, in mercy or incompetence, combusted loud, spectacular, and harmless in the air. Many more plunged with crashing splashes deep into the water.

From their own emplacements, the Red Guards fired too. Their bullets peppered the Winter Palace walls. The vestiges of government within cowered under the table as glass rained down around them.

At Smolny, as the ominous echoes of the onslaught sounded, Martov raised his tremulous voice. He insisted on a peaceful solution. He called hoarsely for a ceasefire. For negotiations to begin on a cross-party, united, socialist government.

There came a great tumult of applause from the audience. From the Presidium itself, Mstislavsky of the Left SRs offered Martov full-throated support. As, and vocally, did most of those present — including many grassroots Bolsheviks.

For the party leadership, Lunacharsky rose. And then, sensationally, he announced that “the Bolshevik fraction has absolutely nothing against the proposal made by Martov.”

The delegates voted on Martov’s call. Support was unanimous.

Bessie Beatty, correspondent for the San Francisco Bulletin, was in the room. She understood the stakes of what she saw. “It was,” she wrote, “a critical moment in the history of the Russian Revolution.” It seemed as if a democratic socialist coalition was about to be born.

But as the moment stretched out, the guns on the Neva sounded again. Their echoes shook the room — and the chasms between parties reappeared.

“A criminal political venture has been going on behind the back of the All-Russian Congress,” announced a Menshevik officer, Kharash. “The Mensheviks and SRs repudiate all that is going on here, and stubbornly resist all attempts to seize the government.”

“He does not represent the Twelfth Army!” cried an angry soldier. “The army demands all power to the soviets!”

A barrage of heckles. Right SRs and Mensheviks took turns now to shout denunciations of the Bolsheviks, and to warn that they would withdraw from proceedings, as the Left howled them down.

The mood grew more bitter. Khinchuk of the Moscow Soviet took his turn to speak. “The only possible peaceful solution to the present crisis,” he insisted, “continues to lie in negotiations with the Provisional Government.”

Bedlam. Khinchuk’s intervention was either a catastrophic underestimate of the hatred for Kerensky, or a deliberate provocation. It drew fury from far more than just the incredulous Bolsheviks. At last, into the din Khinchuk yelled, “We leave the present congress!”

But amid the stamping, booing and whistling that greeted that call, the Mensheviks and SRs hesitated. The threat to leave, after all, was a last card.

Across Petrograd, the Duma discussed Maslov’s doom-laden phone call. “Let our comrades know that we have not abandoned them, let them know we will die with them,” proclaimed the SR Naum Bykhovsky. Liberals and conservatives rose to vote yes, that they would join those bunkered in the Winter Palace under fire, that they, too, were ready to die for the regime. The Kadet Countess Sofia Panina declared she would “stand in front of the cannon.”

Full of scorn, the Bolshevik representatives voted no. They would go too, they said, but not to the palace: to the Soviet.

The roll call done, the two competing pilgrimages set out in the darkness.

In Smolny, Erlich of the Jewish Bund interrupted proceedings with news of the city duma deputies’ decisions. It was time, he said, for those who “did not wish a bloodbath” to join the march to the palace, in solidarity with the cabinet. Again the Left shouted imprecations, as Mensheviks, Bund, SRs and a smattering of others rose and at last walked out. Leaving the Bolsheviks, the Left SRs, and the agitated Menshevik-Internationalists behind.

Trudging through cold night rain, the self-exiled moderates from Smolny reached Nevsky Prospect and the Duma. There they joined forces with its deputies, with the Menshevik and SR members of the Executive Committee of the Peasants’ Soviets, and together they set out to show their solidarity with the cabinet. They walked four abreast behind Shreider, the mayor, and Sergei Prokopovich, the minister of supplies. Carrying bread and sausages for the ministers’ sustenance, quavering the Marseillaise, the three-hundred-strong group sallied forth to die for the Provisional Government.

They did not make it a block. At the corner of the canal, revolutionaries blocked their way.

“We demand to pass!” Shreider and Prokopovich shouted. “We are going to the Winter Palace!”

A sailor, bemused, refused to let them through.

“Shoot us if you want to!” the marchers challenged. “We are ready to die, if you have the heart to fire on Russians and comradesa  . . . We bare our breasts to your guns!”

The peculiar standoff continued. The Left refused to shoot, the Right demanded their right to pass and/or be shot.

“What will you do?” yelled someone at the sailor who doggedly refused to murder him.

John Reed’s eyewitness account of what happened next is famous.

Another sailor came up, very much irritated. “We will spank you!” he cried energetically. “And if necessary we will shoot you too. Go home now, and leave us in peace.”

That would be no fit fate for champions of democracy. Standing on a box, waving his umbrella, Prokopovich anounced to his followers that they would save these sailors from themselves. “We cannot have our innocent blood upon the hands of these ignorant men!  . . . It is beneath our dignity to be shot down” — let alone spanked — “here in the street by switchmen. Let us return to the Duma, and discuss the best means of saving the country and the Revolution!”

With that, the self-declared morituri for liberal democracy turned and set out on their embarrassingly short return journey, taking their sausages with them.

Martov remained in the Assembly Hall with the mass meeting. He was still desperate for compromise. Now he tabled a motion criticizing the Bolsheviks for pre-empting Congress’s will, suggesting — again — that negotiations begin for a broad, inclusive socialist government. This was close to his proposal of two hours before — which, Lenin’s desire to break with moderates notwithstanding, the Bolsheviks had not opposed.

But two hours was a long time.

As Martov sat, there was a commotion, and the Bolsheviks’ Duma fraction pushed into the hall, to the delegates’ delight and surprise. They had come, they said, “to triumph or die with the All-Russian Congress.”

When the cheering subsided, Trotsky himself rose to respond to Martov.

“A rising of the masses of the people requires no justification,” he said. “What has happened is an insurrection, and not a conspiracy. We hardened the revolutionary energy of the Petersburg workers and soldiers. We openly forged the will of the masses for an insurrection, and not a conspiracy. The masses of the people followed our banner and our insurrection was victorious. And now we are told: renounce your victory, make concessions, compromise. With whom? I ask: with whom ought we to compromise? With those wretched groups which have left us or who are making this proposal? But after all we’ve had a full view of them. No one in Russia is with them any longer. A compromise is supposed to be made, as between two equal sides, by the millions of workers and peasants represented in this congress, whom they are ready, not for the first time or the last, to barter away as the bourgeoisie sees fit. No, here no compromise is possible. To those who have left and to those who tell us to do this we must say: you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out. Go where you ought to go: into the dustbin of history!”

The room erupted. Amid the loud sustained applause, Martov stood up. “Then we’ll leave!” he shouted.

As he turned, a delegate barred his way. The man stared at him with an expression between sorrow and accusation.

“And we had thought,” he said, “that Martov at least would remain with us.”

“One day you will understand,” said Martov, his voice shaking, “the crime in which you are taking part.”

He walked out.

Congress quickly passed a spiteful denunciation of the departed, including of Martov. Such barbs were unwelcome and unnecessary as far as the remaining Left SRs and Menshevik-Internationalists were concerned — as they were, too, to many Bolsheviks.

Boris Kamkov was warmly clapped when he announced that his group, the Left SRs, had stayed. He tried to revive Martov’s proposal, gently criticizing the Bolshevik majority. They had not carried the peasantry, or the bulk of the army, he reminded his listeners. Compromise was still necessary.

This time it was not Trotsky who responded, but the popular Lunacharsky — who had previously agreed to Martov’s move. The tasks ahead were onerous, he concurred, but “Kamkov’s criticism of us is unfounded.”

“If starting this session we had initiated any steps whatever to reject or remove other elements, Kamkov would be right,” Lunacharsky continued. ‘But all of us unanimously accepted Martov’s proposal to discuss peaceful ways of solving the crisis. And we were deluged by a hail of declarations. A systematic attack was conducted against us  . . . Without hearing us out, not even bothering to discuss their own proposal, they [the Mensheviks and SRs] immediately sought to fence themselves off from us.”

In response, it could have been pointed out to Lunacharsky that Lenin had, for weeks, been insisting that his party must take power alone. And yet, all such cynicism notwithstanding, Lunacharsky was right.

Whether in joyful solidarity, truculently, in confusion, or whatever it might be, like everyone else of every other party, all the Bolsheviks in the hall had supported cooperation — a socialist unity government — when Martov first mooted it.

Bessie Beatty suggested that Trotsky failed to move as fast as he could in response to that first proposal, perhaps out of “some bitter memory of insults he had suffered at the hands of these other leaders.” That was debatable, and even if true, the Mensheviks, the Right SRs, and others had chosen to throw the vote back in the faces of the Bolsheviks. They had gone straight from it to opposition, denouncing those to their left.

Lunacharsky’s question was reasonable: how do you cooperate with those who have rejected cooperation?

As if to underline the point, the departed moderates were, at that very moment, labelling the meeting only “a private gathering of Bolshevik delegates.” “The Central Executive Committee,” they announced, “considers the Second Congress as not having taken Place.”

In the hall, the debate about conciliation dragged into the darkest hours. But by now the weight of opinion was with Lunacharsky, and with Trotsky.

It was endgame at the Winter Palace.

Wind intruded through smashed glass. The vast chambers were cold. Disconsolate soldiers, deprived of purpose, wandered past the double-headed eagles of the throne room. Invaders reached the emperor’s personal chamber. It was empty. They took their time attacking images of the man himself, hacking with their bayonets at the stiff, sedate life-sized Nicholas II watching from the wall. They scored the painting like beasts with talons, left long scratches, from the ex-tsar’s head to his booted feet.

Figures drifted in and out of sight, unsure of who each other was.

One Lieutenant Sinegub remained committed to defend the government. He patrolled the besieged corridors for disjointed hours, awaiting attack, adrift in a kind of sedate panic, extreme, narcotic exhaustion, passing scenes like snips from some half-heard story: an old gentleman in the uniform of an admiral, sitting motionless in an armchair; an unlit, deserted switchboard; soldiers hunkered below the watching eyes of portraits in a gallery.

Men skirmished in stairwells. Any creak on the floorboards might be the revolution. Here came a junker heading somewhere, on some mission. He warned with a stilted calm that the person Sinegub had just passed — he had just walked past someone, yes — was probably one of the enemy. “Good, excellent,” said Sinegub. “Watch! I will make sure at once.” He turned and immobilized him – the other man, he saw, was indeed of the insurgency’s party — by pulling his coat down, like a child in a playground fight, so he could not move his arms.

About 2:00 AM, MRC forces pushed into the palace in sudden numbers.

Frantic, Konovalov telephoned Shreider. “All we have is a small force of cadets,” he said. ‘Our arrest is imminent.” The connection broke.

From the hallways, the ministers heard futile shots. The last of their defense. Footsteps. A breathless cadet came running in for orders. “Fight to the last man?” he asked.

“No bloodshed!” they shouted. “We must surrender.”

They waited. A strange awkwardness. How best to be found? Not, surely, hovering embarrassedly, coats over their arm, like businessmen awaiting a train.

Kishkin the dictator took control. He issued the final two orders of his reign.

“Leave your overcoats,” he said. “Let us sit down at the table.”

They obeyed. And thus they were, a frozen tableau of a cabinet meeting, when Antonov burst dramatically in, his eccentric artist’s hat pushed back over his red hair. Behind him, soldiers, sailors, Red Guards.

“The Provisional Government is here,” said Konovalov with impressive decorum, as if in answer to a knock rather than an insurrection. “What do you want?”

“I inform you, all of you,” said Antonov, “members of the Provisional Government, that you are under arrest.”

Before the revolution, a political lifetime ago, one of those ministers present, Maliantovich, had sheltered Antonov in his house. The two men eyed each other, but did not mention it.

The Red Guards were furious to realize that Kerensky was long gone. Blood up, one shouted, “Bayonet all the sons of bitches!”

“I will not allow any violence against them,” Antonov calmly replied.

With that he led the ministers away, leaving behind them their rough drafts of proclamations, crossed out, those crisscrosses meandering like the dreams of dictatorship into fanciful designs. A telephone began to ring.

Sinegub watched from the corridor. When it was over, his government gone, his duty done, he turned quietly and walked away, out into the blaze of searchlights.

Looters ferreted through the warren of rooms. They ignored the artworks and took clothes and knickknacks. They trampled papers across the floors. As they left, revolutionary soldiers checked them and confiscated their souvenirs. “This is the people’s palace,” one Bolshevik lieutenant chided. “This is our palace. Do not steal from the people.”

A broken sword handle, a wax candle. The pilferers surrendered their booty. A blanket, a sofa cushion.

Antonov led the ex-ministers outside, where a rough, fired-up, and angry crowd met them. He stood protectively in front of his prisoners. “Don’t hit them,” he and other experienced — proud — Bolsheviks insisted. It is uncultured.”

But the growling anger of the streets would not be appeased so easily. After anxious moments, it was by luck, when the noise of nearby machine-gun fire sent people scattering in alarm, that Antonov took the opportunity to run across the bridge, shoving and dragging the detainees to incarceration in the Fortress of Peter and Paul.

As the door to his cell was about to close, the Menshevik internal affairs minister Nikitin found a telegram from the Ukrainian Rada in his pocket.

“I received this yesterday,” he said. He handed it to Antonov. “Now it’s your problem.”

In Smolny, it was that dogged naysayer Kamenev who gave the delegates the news: “The leaders of the counterrevolution ensconced in the Winter Palace have been seized by the revolutionary garrison.” He unleashed joyful pandemonium.

It was past 3:00 AM, but there was still business to be done. For two more hours Congress heard reports come in — of units coming over to their side, of generals accepting MRC authority. There was still dissent, too. Someone called for the release of those SR ministers in prison: Trotsky lambasted them as false comrades.

Around 4:00 AM, in an undignified afterword to his exit, a delegation from Martov’s group sheepishly re-entered, and tried to resubmit his call for a collaborative socialist government. Kamenev reminded the hall that those with whom Martov advocated compromise had turned their backs on his proposal. Still, ever the moderate, he moved to table Trotsky’s condemnation of the SRs and Mensheviks, putting it discreetly into procedural limbo, to spare blushes should talks resume.

Lenin would not return to the meeting that night. He was making plans. But he had written a document, which it was for Lunacharsky to present.

Addressed “To all Workers, Soldiers, and Peasants,” Lenin proclaimed Soviet power and undertook to propose a democratic peace immediately. Land would be transferred to the peasants. The cities would be supplied with bread, the nations of the empire offered self-determination. But Lenin also warned that the revolution remained in danger — from without and from within.

“The Kornilovites  . . . are endeavoring to lead troops against Petrograd.  . . . Soldiers! Resist Kerensky, who is a Kornilovite!  . . . Railway men! Stop all echelons sent by Kerensky against Petrograd! Soldiers, Workers, Employees! The fate of the revolution and democratic peace is in your hands!”

It took a long time to read the whole document aloud, interrupted as it was, so often, by such cheers of approval. One tiny verbal tweak ensured Left SR assent. A minuscule Menshevik faction abstained, preparing a path for reconciliation between left-Martovism and the Bolsheviks. No matter. At 5:00 AM on October 26, Lenin’s manifesto was overwhelmingly voted through.

A roar. The echo of it faded as the magnitude of the shouted resolution became slowly clear. Men and women looked around at each other. That was passed. That was done.

Revolutionary government was proclaimed.

Revolutionary government had been proclaimed, and that was enough for one night. It would more than do for a first meeting,


Exhausted, drunk on history, nerves still taut as wires, the delegates to the Second Congress of Soviets stumbled out of Smolny. They stepped out of the finishing school into a new moment of history, a new kind of first day, that of workers’ government, morning in a new city, the capital of a workers’ state.

They walked into the winter under a dim but lightening sky.