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The Great October Revolution: Lenin’s telegram

Farooque Chowdhury

A group of great scholars unremittingly condemns the Great October Revolution and the Bolsheviks for leading the revolution. They deny looking at the reality the revolution and the Bolsheviks were encountering.
A look at the telegrams and messages Lenin sent, and taking into consideration the circumstances in which those were sent help perceive the reality within which Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades were operating.
The time was full to the brim with counter-revolutionary conspiracies, military offensives and armed revolts by these forces, imperialist interventions, and scarcity of food, coal, salt, etc. All the “holy” rightist souls were bent on crushing down the revolution, the proletariat organized in Russia. At the same time, the proletariat under Lenin’s leadership was organizing the new system designed to serve the exploited.
Following are a few facts from many: 

Krasnov offensive
On the night of October 27, 1917 (November 9) [old and new dates], Lenin informs the members of the Executive Commission of the Petersburg Party Committee of the Krasnov offensive against Petrograd and proposes that the digging of trenches and throwing up of barbed-wire entanglements should be started right away at the approaches to the city. Before to that, Lenin telegraphs an order to Helsingfors on the immediate dispatch to Petrograd of detachments of sailors and warships of the Baltic Fleet and army units to fight the Krasnov-Kerensky troops. (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 26, Progress Publishers, Moscow, erstwhile USSR, 1972)

Krasnov-Kerensky counter-revolutionary revolt
On October 28 (November 10), Lenin directs the operations to defeat the Krasnov-Kerensky counter-revolutionary revolt, and takes part in working out plans for operations against them. Lenin asks the Putilov workers to supply the front with several batteries and an armored train. On the night of October 28, Lenin arrives at the Putilov Works, talks to workers, and asks them to speed up the construction of the armored train and assembly of guns. (ibid.)

Putsch in Petrograd and Moscow
Officer cadets launched counter-revolutionary putsch in Petrograd on the night of October 29 (November 11). There was another counter-revolutionary putsch in Moscow.
On November 7 (20), Lenin, on behalf of the government, orders General Dukhonin, commander-in-chief, to make an offer of an immediate ceasefire to all the belligerent countries. On the night of November 8 (21), Lenin had a direct conversation with Dukhonin from the headquarters of the Petrograd military district. On the same night, Lenin arrives at the Novaya Gollandia radio station, and writes his “Wireless Message” to all regimental, divisional, corps, army and other committees, to all soldiers of the revolutionary army and sailors of the revolutionary navy. (ibid.)

Abolish old judicial institutions
On November 16 (29), Lenin presides at a government meeting to discuss a draft decree on revolutionary courts and the abolition of all the old judicial institutions, transfer of Ukrainian national relics to the Ukrainian people, talks with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries on their participation in the government, and other issues. (ibid.)

More rifles
On November 25 (December 8), Lenin sends a letter to the Factory Committee of the Tula Arms Factory requesting rifles, pistols and other arms for the Red Guard of the Bokovsky Mountain District, Don Region. On November 26 (December 9), Lenin writes a letter to the headquarters of the Petrograd Military District urging the extension of urgent military aid to Orenburg against the white guard Cossack chief Dutov. (ibid.)

Fight General Kaledin and saboteurs
On December 6 (19), Lenin issues instructions to the railway commissars to give green light to the troops train of the First Caucasian Regiment of the Fifth Caucasian Cossack Division on its way to fight the white guard General Kaledin. Next day, Lenin writes a note to Felix Dzerzhinsky on the fight against saboteurs and counter-revolutionaries. (ibid.)
On January 15, 1918 (28), Lenin signs a government decree on the organization of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. (ibid.)

No army
On February 20, 1918, Feldman, member of the executive committee, on behalf of the Bolshevik group, asked Lenin the following:
“(1) What happened after the receipt of the telegram from Berlin;
“(2) What measures have been taken by the Council of People’s Commissars at present;
“(3) Whether or not there was any reply from Berlin apart from Hoffmann’s telegram.
To the first question, Lenin replied:
“There is no army; the Germans are attacking from Riga along the entire front. They have taken Dvinsk and Rezhitsa and are on their way to Lutsk and Minsk. Those who want to do something – and stop talking – must conclude peace and continue the task of consolidating and extending the revolution at home.”
To the second question, Lenin replied:
“Until the offensives are stopped, an order has been issued to put up resistance wherever possible, and destroy everything, down to the last hunk of bread, all along the way.”
To the third question, Lenin replied: “No, there was none.” (ibid.)

German troops advancing
The German troops were moving against the Russian Soviet Republic although the Soviet Republic had declared the state of war ended and had started to demobilize its army on all fronts. The government of the Soviet Republic had not expected such a step as neither of the parties to the armistice had directly or indirectly made any announcement that the armistice was at an end. On this situation, Lenin’s wireless message to the German government said: “The Council of People’s Commissars finds itself forced, in the situation that has arisen, to declare its readiness formally to conclude peace on the terms the German Government demanded at Brest-Litovsk.” (ibid.)
The wireless message to the German government was sent to Berlin on the February 19-morning. But the German government’s reply, containing even harsher terms, was handed to the Soviet courier only on February 22. It reached Petrograd on February 23-morning. It demanded that the new terms should be studied within 48 hours. The Germans, while delaying their own reply, continued their offesnsive, and in those few days covered a great deal of territory. They occupied a number of towns and came within striking distance of Petrograd. (ibid.)

War is not joke
Lenin summarized the situation in a speech at the evening sitting of the central committee of the RSDLP (B) on February 18, 1918:
“[W]e have neither war nor peace, and we are being drawn into a revolutionary war. War is no joke. We are losing railway cars, and our transport is breaking down. [….] The people will not understand this: since there is a war on, there should have been no demobilization; the Germans will now take everything. This thing has gone so far that continued sitting on the fence will inevitably ruin the revolution. [….] If we apply to the Germans, all we have is a piece of paper. You can’t call it a policy. [….] While we engage in paperwork, they take warehouses and railway cars, leaving us to perish. The issue now is that while playing with war we have been surrendering the revolution to the Germans.
“History will say that you have surrendered the revolution. We could have concluded a peace, which held no threat to the revolution. We have nothing, we have not even got the time to blow up anything as we retreat. [….]
“The peasants do not want war and will not fight. Can we now tell the peasants to fight a revolutionary war? [….]
“Our soldiers are in a poor state; the Germans want grain, they will take it and go back, making it impossible for the Soviet power to continue in existence.” (ibid.)
This sitting was held in a highly tense atmosphere. The sitting was called in the backdrop of the German offensive that day (February 18, 1918). The German army by that time had taken Dvinsk. The Left Communists again opposed Lenin’s proposal. However, Trotsky proposed that inquiries should be sent to Berlin and Vienna about the German government’s demands, without informing it of the consent to conclude a peace. Sverdlov, Stalin and Zinoviev favored the dispatch of a telegram to the German government informing it of readiness to resume the talks. It was at this sitting that Lenin first succeeded after a bitter struggle, to secure a majority in favor of concluding a peace. His proposal for an immediate message to the German government offering to conclude peace was adopted by a 7 to 6 votes. (ibid.)
The German command officially informed the Soviet representatives at Brest-Litovsk that the ceasefire between Russia and Germany would be terminated at noon on February 18, and a state of war resumed. Under the Brest-Litovsk armistice agreement, the parties were bound to give a seven-days notice of their intention to abrogate the agreement. The German command violated this commitment. (ibid.)

A snapped telephone line
In January 1918 (February), telephone communication between Moscow and Brest-Litovsk broke down due to German tempering. (ibid., vol. 26)

A quarter of a pound of bread a day
Food situation was precarious. On January 14 (27) 1918, presidium of the Petrograd Soviet met delegates from food supply organizations.
The discussed the grave food supply situation of the workers and soldiers of Petrograd, who received only a quarter of a pound of bread a day. A decision of the Council of People’s Commissars on January 19 (February 1) increased the food ration to one-half pound for the whole population of Petrograd. In this meeting, Lenin said: “The Petrograd workers and soldiers must understand that they have no one to look to but themselves. The facts of abuse are glaring, the speculation, monstrous [….] The rich section of the population […] have stocks of […] foodstuffs and can afford to pay the speculators the higher price.” (ibid.)

Threatening famine
Lenin described the situation: “The main cause of the chaos which threatens the towns and industrial areas with famine is the sway of saboteurs, and the economic chaos these saboteurs keep stirring up, while blaming on us. […] [T]here is enough grain in Russia and that it is stored in Kaledin’s realm, in far-away Siberia and in the grain producing gubernias. [….] [W]e know the addresses at which sabotaging civil servants called to collect and sign for a three-month advance on their salaries, to which Ryabushinsky contributed 5 million, the Anglo-French imperialists so much, and the Rumanians, so much.” (ibid., “Extraordinary all-Russia railwaymen’s congress”)

A conversation
Lenin had the following conversation with Trotsky:
“Lenin here. I have just received your special letter. Stalin is away and I have not yet been able to show it to him. [….] I shall show the letter to Stalin as soon as he returns.” (1st conversation)
“I should like to consult Stalin before replying to your question.” (2nd)
“Stalin has just arrived. I shall discuss it with him, and will shortly let you know our joint reply.” (3rd) (ibid., “Direct-line conversation with Trotsky, chairman of the Soviet peace delegation at Brest-Litovsk”)

Another insurrection
The Left Social-Revolutionaries (LSR) were demanding scrapping of the Brest peace, and initiating war against the Germans. The Bolsheviks were telling that the people are not in a position to fight, and they don’t want to fight. An insurrection was organized by the LSR on July 7-8, 1918. The insurrection was organized in accordance with the decision of the CC of the LSR of June 24. It was part of a general attack by the internal counter-revolution and the imperialists of the Entente against Soviet Russia. Foreign diplomatic missions supported the insurrectionists. The insurrection was launched during the 5th All-Russia Congress of Soviets. The LSRs in their speeches in the congress pursued their aim of sabotaging the Brest Treaty, and dragging Soviet Russia into war with Germany by assassinating Count Mirbach, the German ambassador in Moscow, on July 6. This was followed by an insurrection. The main rebel force was a detachment commanded by D I Popov, a LSR and member of Chekha. About 1,800 persons took part in the insurrection. The insurrectionists bombarded Kremlin with artillery and seized the telephone exchange and telegraph office. During the two hours that they remained in control there, they sent out several provocatory manifestos, bulletins and telegrams in the name of the LSR CC claiming that the LSR had taken over power and that their action had been welcomed by the whole population. The congress instructed the government to suppress the insurrection at once. The group of LSRs in the congress was arrested. The insurrection was put down with the united action of the Moscow workers and garrison. By 2 p.m., it was over. The LSRs also tried to start insurrection in Petrograd, Vologda and other cities. A telegraph from the LSR CC was sent to M A Muravyov, a LSR and commander of the Eastern Front. The telegraph stated that LSRs had seized power in Moscow. On the pretext of attacking the Germans Muravyov tried to seize Simbirsk and march his forces on Moscow to support the insurrectionists. But, Muravyov’s attempt was foiled. (ibid., vol. 27)

A conversation on food
The following conversation of Lenin tells about the food situation:
“Lenin speaking.
“Next about food. I must tell you that today none at all is being issued; neither in Petrograd nor in Moscow. The situation is very bad. Inform us whether you can take extraordinary measures, for there is nowhere we can get anything except from you. In Yaroslav the rising of the Whites has been put down. Simbirsk has been captured by the Whites or Czechs. I wait your reply.” (ibid., “Conversation with J V Stalin by direct line, July 24, 1918)

Things will be better
Stalin replied: “Two nights ago we sent to Turkestan all that could be sent. The wireless message has been transmitted to Baku. There are large stocks of grain in the North Caucasus, but the railway line being cut prevents sending them to the North. Until the line is restored delivery of grain is out of question. An expedition has been sent to Samara with grain within the next few days. We hope to restore the line in about ten days. Hold out somehow, distribute meat and fish, which we can send you in plenty. In a week’s time things will be better.” (ibid.)

No idea of revolution
Lenin described the situation in the following way:
“Everyone knows the difficulties of a revolution. It may begin with brilliant success in one country and then go through agonizing periods, since final victory is only possible on a world scale, and only by joint efforts of the workers of all countries. Our task consists in being restrained and prudent, we must maneuver and retreat until we receive reinforcements. A changeover to these tactics is inevitable, how much they are mocked by so-called revolutionaries with no ideas of what revolution means.” (ibid., “Report on foreign policy delivered at a joint meeting of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee and the Moscow Soviet”, May 14, 1918)

Imperialist intervention
Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, imperialist powers intervened. Britain played a leading role in this intervention. The British role had a significant effect on the course of the war. Without this intervention on the White side, the Bolsheviks would have quickly overwhelmed their opponents. The British military mission arrived in South Russia in late 1918, and started to provide General Denikin’s White army with ample supplies. Denikin would have not been able to build his army of more than 200,000 men or to make his operation against Moscow without the British support. The British mission organized the training. It equipped Denikin’s troops with weapons. Many British instructors also took part in fighting the Bolsheviks. (Lauri Kopisto, The British Intervention in South Russia 1918-1920, academic dissertation, University of Helsinki, 2011)
German troops occupied Belorussia, Transcaucasia and Ukraine, all former tsarist territories. At the same time, from late 1917, anti-Bolshevik forces began organizing the White Guards. In 1918, about 30,000 troops of countries embroiled in the World War were deployed in Murmansk and Archangel in Russia. General Edmund Ironside led them. Almost half of this deployed force was British troops. Similar number of soldiers was deployed in the Caucus and southern Russia. General Denikin, the leading white general, led this force. There were the white Admiral Kolchak led forces in Siberia. These forces included 70,000 soldiers from the Czech Legion. British, US, French and Japanese soldiers were also in this force. The civil war, with a loss of at least 1.2 million lives, continued until 1921.
There was the whiteguard offensive, treason, frequent blowing-up of bridges on the main lines leading to Petrograd. The enemy was confident that the proletariat had no organized armed forces of any importance to resist. Lenin suggested Stalin: Please pay greater attention to these circumstances and take extraordinary measures to expose the plots.” (ibid., vol. 29, “Telegram to J V Stalin”, May 19, 1919)
“If situation on the Petrograd Front is favorable bend all efforts for a speedy and decisive offensive, because troops are greatly needed in other places.” (ibid., June 4, 1919)
“Desperate munitions situation in the South. Since you have received three million cartridges and the stocks at Vidlitsa you must exercise the greatest economy of cartridges and other munitions.” (ibid., June 30, 1919)
In this situation, Lenin advised Stalin: “My advice: (1) protect the coal […] and send reinforcements quickly to the Caucasusian Front. […]; (2) protect the salt […] [award] bread and salt to the poor; […]” (ibid., vol. 30, February 18, 1919)
Nevertheless, the situation remained critical after the battle of Simbirsk. The English and American troops landed in Murmansk and Archangelsk in July and August. The Far East was occupied; an Allied army was formed under the command of a Japanese general, with whom the English General Knox was associated. It was made up of two Japanese divisions, 7,000 Americans, two English battalions and 3,000 French and Italians. According to the statistics of the Russian General Staff, the interventionist forces in February 1919 reached 300,000 men. Of these, 50,000 men composed the northern army, while Franco-Greek troops to the number of 20,000 along with 7,000 Americans occupied the Black Sea coast. There were 40,000 men in the Finnish sector and another 37,000 in Estonia and Latvia. The Polish forces numbered 64,000 and the Czechoslovaks 40,000. The Japanese sent three divisions, and finally there were the 31,000 German Baits. These figures do not include the sailors of the British and French Fleets in the Baltic and Black Seas. (Erich Wollenberg, The Red Army, New York Publications Ltd., 1978)
This description is only of a tiny fraction of the reality the Great October Revolution was going through at its initial days. A number of scholars regularly condemn the revolution and ignore these facts although at least a part of these scholars have no idea about revolution, taking power by a class and politics based on class. By denying taking into consideration these facts while evaluating the revolution is loving lies instead of facts, preferring bourgeois propaganda, brushing out the perspective and analyzing historical class actions superficially.

Note: The article is the 3rd section of part 7 of a series commemorating the Great October Revolution Centenary. Countercurrents.org and Frontier, Kolkata originally carried parts 1-6 and 8, and 1st and 2nd sections of the part 7 of the series.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.   

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Nov 8, 2019


Farooque Chowdhury [email protected]

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