The October Revolution’s Other Party

spiridonovaLeft SR leader Maria Spiridonova (center, wearing glasses). Photo courtesy of Getty Images and Russia Beyond the Headlines

October’s Number Two Party: Who Helped the Bolsheviks Prevail?
Yaroslav Leontiev
Vedomosti
December 8, 2017

The First All-Russian Congress of the Party of Left Socialist Revolutionaries (Internationalists) took place a hundred years ago in St. Michael’s Castle in Petrograd. The Left SRs were the second largest force in the October Revolution, providing the Bolsheviks with support in rural areas and amongst rank-and-file soldiers. Sixty-eight SR organizations gathered in the building where writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, physiologist Ivan Sechenov, and engineer Pavel Yablochkov had once studied. [From 1823, St. Michael’s Castle housed the Russian Army’s Main Engineering School. Now a branch of the Russian Museum, the castle is thus still alternately referred to as Engineers’ Castle—TRR.]

“Our party’s first congress was, in effect, not a congress, but a hasty review, as it were, of representatives of a certain mindset,” Prosh Proshyan, a Left SR leader and congress attendee, recalled later.

“If I had not been in Petersburg in 1917, the October Revolution would have happened—if Lenin had been present and in charge. But if neither Lenin or I had been in Petersburg, there would have been no October Revolution. […] If Lenin had not been in Petersburg, I would hardly have managed. […] The revolution’s outcome would have been in doubt,” said Trotsky.

Yet if Maria Spiridonova, Boris Kamkov, and other Left SR leaders had not been in Petrograd at the time, it is by no means a fact the revolution’s victory would have been secured at the All-Russian Congresses of Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies. And victory itself for the Bolsheviks would have been a dubious proposition without allies, if we have in mind the Russia beyond the two capitals and the major industrial cities.

After winning the majority of mandates at the Extraordinary All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies in November 1917 (Spiridonova was elected its chair), the Left SRs were heavily involved in the events leading up to the revolution. When the Military Revolutionary Committee was established in Petrograd on October 12, 1917, Pavel Lazimir, an army paramedic and Left SR, was elected its chair. The field headquarters of the Military Revolutionary Committee, headed by Bolshevik Nikolai Podvoisky, would be established later, right before the armed assault on October 25.

In many cities, Left SRs were heavily involved in coups and the armed seizure of power. This forced the SR Central Committee (which had not yet split into factions) to dissolve the Petrograd, Helsingfors (Helsinki), and Voronezh party organizations. In certain cases, Left SRs themselves headed revolutionary committees, in particular, in Kharkov and Pskov. The chair of the Astrakhan People’s Power Committee, which had taken over the region, was Ensign Alexander Perfiliev, a Left SR. In Smolensk, the Bolshevik-dominated revolutionary committee, which included two Left SRs and one anarchist, joined with the provincial congress of peasant deputies and elected Dr. Yevgeny Razumov, who had attended the founding congress of the Left SRs, head of the local Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars). The chief of staff of the revolutionary military units who took power in Tashkent was Pavel Domogatsky, a Left SR and private in the First Siberian Reserve Rifle Regiment. In Kazan, Left SRs organized and headed the revolutionary committee, which competed with the Bolshevik revolutionary HQ in the battle for the hearts and minds of the masses. During General Kornilov’s attempted putsch in September 1917, the Central Staff of the Red Guards in Moscow consisted of seven Bolsheviks, six Left SRs, six Left Mensheviks, and three independents. Ensign Yuri Sablin, a Left SR member of the Moscow Revolutionary Committtee HQ, commanded a special detachment that advanced from the Strastnoi Monastery to the Nikitsky Gates and captured the mayor’s building on Tverskoi Boulevard. Another famous Russian Civil War commander, Vasily Kikvidze, a Left SR and volunteer in a Hussar regiment, was deputy chair of the Military Revolutionary Committee on the Southwestern Front during the First World War.

The_Soviet_Union_1970_CPA_3921_stamp_(Vasily_Kikvidze)

1970 Soviet four-kopeck postage stamp memorializing Left SR Vasily Kikvidze as a “hero of the Civil War.” Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Left SRs had a huge influence on the sailors of the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets.

“The only Mensheviks and SRs in our midst were left-wing and internationalist,” midshipman and Bolshevik Fyodor Raskolnikov described the circumstances.

Consequently, the Left SRs headed the Kronstadt Soviet. The main bulwark of revolutionary forces in Petrograd, the Kronstadt Soviet commanded the detachment sent to storm the Winter Palace and to the Pulkovo Heights against Krasnov’s troops. The commander of the Petrograd Military District at the time was the future rebel commander of the Eastern Front, Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Muravyov, and the city’s air defense was headed by NCO Konstantin Prokopovich. Both Muravyov and Prokopovich had joined the Left SRs.

Although the Left SRs did not immediately join the government (the first Left SR to be authorized by the peasant congress, on November 19, to join the government was Andrei Kolegayev, appointed People’s Commissar for Agriculture), they did share responsibility for the seizure of power with the Bolsheviks: there was one Bolshevik and one Left SR in each of the thirteen departments of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. At a plenary session of theCentral Executive Committee on November 6, seven Left SR leaders, including Spiridonova, Kamkov, and Mark Natanson, were elected to its presidium, and Grigory Smolyanksy, former chair of the Left SR committee in Kronstadt, was appointed one of the Central Executive Committee’s two secretaries. On December 12, another five prominent Left SRs were added to the Central Executive Committee’s presidium.

1920px-Совет_народных_комиссаров_(Ленин,_Штейнберг,_Комков,_Бонч-Бруевич,_Трутовский...),_1918A meeting of the Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars), circa December 1917–January 1918, featuring (from left to right) Isaac Steinberg, Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov, Boris Kamkov, Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich, Vladimir Trutovsky, Alexander Shlyapnikov, Prosh Proshyan, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Alexandra Kollontai, Pavel Dybenko, E.K. Kosharova, Nikolai Podvoisky, Nikolai Gorbunov, V.I. Nevsky, Alexander Shotman, and Georgy Chicherin. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The second non-Bolshevik member of the government, appointed by the Sovnarkom on November 25, was engineer Lev Kronik, who was made a member of staff at the People’s Commissariat for Posts and Telegraphs. During December 1917, the Sovnarkom and VTsIK appointed seven more Left SRs People’s Commissars. Prosh Proshyan, only son of the classic Armenian writer Pertch Proshyan, was named People’s Commissar for Posts and Telegraphs. Isaac Steinberg was named People’s Commissar of Justice. Vladimir Trutovsky was appointed People’s Commissar for Local Self-Government, and Vladimir Karelin, People’s Commissar for the Republic’s Property. Two more Left SRs were made people’s commissars without portfolios, working on the staffs of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs and the People’s Commissariat of Military and Naval Affairs, respectively. They had the right to vote at sessions of the Sovnarkom.

Later, in January and February 1918, the Left SRs increased their presence in the central government and local governments. They joined nearly all the regional governments (Moscow Region, the Ural Region, the Siberian Soviet Government, etc.). Alexander Malitsky, who headed the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Railway Union, was appointed to the staff of the People’s Commissariat of Railways. Other Left SRs joined the staff of the People’s Commissariat for Food and held key posts in the Red Army, having literally put their hand to the decree founding the Red Army. Left SR Vyacheslav Alexandrovich (Dmitriyevsky) was Felix Dzerzshinsky’s right-hand man in the Cheka, and would be one of the first Left SRs shot by his ex-colleagues in July 1918. The influential Left SR Anastasia Bitsenko was, practically speaking, the first female Soviet diplomat: she was an official member of the Soviet peace delegation at the negotiations in Brest. Meanwhile, Spiridonova was essentially Yakov Sverdlov’s deputy on the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets. She chaired its peasant section, which had its own staff and published the newspaper Voice of the Working Peasantry (Golos trudovogo krestyanstva). It was in the Voice and the party’s central newspaper, Banner of Labor (Znamya truda) that the whole of Russia read the revolutionary poetry of Alexander Blok and Sergei Yesenin, who supported the Left SRs.

But the Bolshevik-Left SR coalition proved fragile: it did not last long. In January 1918, when, at the behest of the Left SRs, the All-Russian Congresses of Workers’ and Soldier’s Deputies, and Peasants’ Deputies merged, and the Left SR “Basic Law on the Socialization of Land” was adopted, nothing foreshadowed the imminent break between the allies. Rejection of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsky and anti-peasant Bolshevik decrees would move the Left SRs to engage in peaceful and, later, armed struggle against the Bolsheviks. On July 6, 1918, after Left SR uprisings in Moscow and the cities of the Volga region, a full-fledged war broke out between the erstwhile allies. But this is another story.

Yaroslav Leontiev is a professor in the Faculty of State Management of Moscow State University. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yaroslav Leontiev: Open Letter to NOD

Prizewinners and mentors at the awards ceremony for the 2012 history research competition The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century.
Prizewinners and mentors at the awards ceremony for the 2012 history research competition for high school seniors, The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century.

Yaroslav V. Leontiev, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, Moscow State University
Open Letter to the Headquarters of the National Liberation Movement (NOD)
Facebook
June 29, 2016

A year ago, a friend of mine joked on the topic of what the participants in its school program and their schoolteacher mentors would be called after the International Memorial Society was declared a “foreign agent”? Accomplices of “foreign agents” or what? He was joking, but the idiots have taken it at face value.

So, messieurs idiots, with your escapade [see article, below] you have insulted, first of all, the cherished memory of Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt, the longtime jury chair of The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century, a nationwide historical research competition for high school seniors. The son of a Hero of the Soviet Union, the legendary polar explorer and scientist Otto Schmidt, Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt was a Teacher and a Historian with a capital “t” and a capital “h,” a man who educated many generations of professional source studies experts, archivists, and local history specialists. Schmidt was the founder and chair of the Russian Union of Local Historians.

At the same time, you have insulted the memory of the son of another Hero of the Soviet Union, a man decorated with the Gold Hero Star for the Berlin operation, Gennady Demyanovich Kuzov. Kuzov and I handed out the awards to the young participants of a previous competition onstage together.

For many years, I, a pupil of Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt, served as an expert for the competition The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century. I personally pored over hundreds of submitted works, and I detected no “national treachery” or “rewriting of history” in any of them.

The competition was a ticket into big-time scholarship for Lyosha Rakov, a wonderful boy from the Ural backwoods who was a winner of the first contest. While still a high schooler, he did a serious research project on the dispossessed kulaks and exiled special settlers who built the manufacturing plants in Chelyabinsk. Nowadays, Alexey Rakov has a Ph.D. in history and is an associate professor at the Higher School of Economics.

It was at the competition that I met a magnificent educator from the town of Kashin, history teacher Tatyana Mikhailovna Golubyova, who now heads the local history society. Along with her and her pupils, I walked hundreds of kilometers during historical hiking trips to study the military campaigns against the Polish-Lithuanian invaders during the early seventeenth century.

The same competition was the occasion for several encounters with Nikolai Makarov, a village schoolteacher from Voronezh Region who had compiled a genuine encyclopedia of the local villages and towns along with his pupils. The anthology We Are All from the Same Village, written by schoolchildren from the town of Novyi Kurlak in the Anna District, has been one of the best works on the history of everyday life published by Memorial.

And how can I forget the mother of a large family from the town of Likhoslavl, capital of the Tver Karelians, who herself served as a mentor for the competition, and her children, who were winners several years in a row? Or the girl from the Old Believers trading post of Sym? On the map of our immense country there is such a town on the Yenisei River, reachable only by helicopter. She wrote what is perhaps the only documentary history of the most remote and northerly point of the Yeniseysk District of Krasnoyarsk Territory.

Today, you gave these already-grown children a slap in the face, just as you gave a slap in the face to the hundreds of other children who visited Moscow for the first time thanks to this contest, and then went on to enroll in universities and become friends for years. You have insulted the dozens of teachers from the Russian hinterland, including those who went on to become winners of the nationwide Russian Teacher of the Year contest. (Such as Tatyana Mikhailovna Golubyova, whom I have already mentioned, but she is not alone.)

It is not for you idiots to teach them and me love for the Motherland and the graves of our ancestors. I happen to have spearheaded the raising of a monument to the heroic military commander of the Time of Troubles Prince Mikhail Vasilyevich Skopin-Shuisky in the town of Kalyazin, the second and most famous such monument in the country. In many respects, I spearheaded the raising of the first monument to the heroes of the First World War in Tver Region, the unveiling of a memorial plaque on the anniversary of Sergei Yesenin’s visit to Tver, and a number of other memorials honoring the heroes of the past in Tver, Vladimir, and Yaroslavl Regions. My ancestor was awarded the highest military honor for regimental priests, a gold pectoral cross on a Saint George’s Ribbon. The heroes of the First World War were later “awarded” arrests and exile. Our common ancestor had been decorated for the capture of Paris in 1814. My grandfather was awarded the main decoration for soldiers, the Medal for Valor, and two holes in his body, made by fascist bullets and shrapnel, that never did heal over.

Lazar Lazarev, the longtime editor-in-chief of the journal Problems of Literature, and father of Irina Shcherbakov, head of educational programs at Memorial and coordinator of the School Competitions project, was the highly decorated commander of a reconnaissance company. It is not for you idiot mummers to teach us patriotism. Authentic Saint George’s Ribbons are soaked in blood, while the sham ones you wear smack of bad slapstick or, to put it in Russian, of baboonery and buffonery.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Memorial

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Human Rights Event Attacked in Moscow
Anastasia Bazenkova
Moscow Times
April 28, 2016

Photo courtesy of @MemorialMoscow/Twitter

Guests at an event organized by Russia’s leading human rights group Memorial have been attacked by nationalist activists, the organization’s executive director told the Moscow Times Thursday.

Participants at an award ceremony for high school history students were sprayed with disinfectant and ammonia, said executive director Yelena Zhemkova.

“Memorial was holding a very important event at Dom Kino in central Moscow, but the guests and the participants were attacked by a group of aggressive protesters who threw green disinfectant and ammonia at them as they tried to enter the building,” Zhemkova said.

The protests in front of the Dom Kino building were organized by the National Liberation Movement (NOD), local media sources reported.

Roughly twenty NOD activists congregated outside Dom Kino, holding banners reading, “We don’t need alternative history,” and shouting, “Fascists!”

Among those attacked was acclaimed Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya. The writer, who headed the jury at the competition, was sprayed in the face with a green disinfectant.

A number of international guests were also present, including the German ambassador to Russia Rüdiger von Fritsch, Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported. The activists also attacked a delegate from a similar school history contest in Norway.

NOD’s youth wing coordinator, Maria Katasonova, denied the attack on Ulitskaya in an interview with Govorit Moskva radio station.

“We don’t know who sprayed Ulitskaya,” she said. “I only saw her turn around and she was already covered in green disinfectant.”

The high school competition, The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century, is an annual event held by Memorial. Students from around the country are encouraged to research local history by studying historical archives, interviewing witnesses, and examining newspapers and other sources.

Winning students are then invited to Moscow, where they visit a number of places and attend events organized by Memorial. The culmination of their Moscow program is the awards ceremony.

Police arriving on the scene said the protest was a one-man picket and took no action.

“Usually, even if it is a real one-man protest, the police will come and put everybody in the back of a van. This time the police did nothing, even though our college suffered an eye injury,” Zhemkova said.

Zhemkova said that although there had been protests during previous Memorial events, it was the first time counter-activists had been so aggressive.

There had been a picket in front of the Sakharov Center, where Memorial held an exhibition dealing with the First Chechen War last month, but no one had been attacked, she said.

NB. I edited this article, because no one at the Moscow Times bothered to do it before publication, thus making it practically unreadable. TRR