The Second Day
The meeting place of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, is the former ballroom and reception hall, of Smolny Institute
under the old regime a famous convent-school
for the daughters of the Russian nobility,
patronized by the Czar himself. A great
white room, with two rows of massive columns, lighted by a pair of glazed-white
chandeliers holding hundreds of ornate electric bulbs; at one end a dais, with two tall
many-branched light-standards, and a great
gold frame behind, from which the Imperial
portrait has been cut. Here on graduation
days and festival days had been banked brilliant military and ecclesiastical uniforms, a
setting for some Grand Duchess. . . .
A thousand chairs are ranked in the space
between the columns. Most of the delegates
are in the uniform of private soldiers. The
rest wear the plain black blouse of the Russian
workers, with a few colored peasant blouses.
A few women. Rarely gleam the gold and
red epaulettes of an officer, and an occasional
white collar. All around, in the spaces between the columns, on the window-ledges,
massed on the steps of the stage and on its
edge, are the public—also common workers,
common peasants, and common soldiers.
Bayonets bristle among them. Exhausted
Red Guards, girdled with cartridge-belts, sleep
at the base of the columns.
There is no heat but the animal heat of
bodies, which stand in hoar frost on the panes
of the long windows. The air is blue with
cigarette-smoke and breath.
Through this hundreds of faces are lifted in
the direction of the stage, at whose back is
bunched a cluster of red banners, lettered in
gold. Flat, simple faces, unconscious and determined, faces tanned almost black with
exposure in winter trenches, wide-set eyes,
great beards—or perhaps the thin, hawk-like
faces of Caucasians, or of Asiatics from Turkestan—and many with the sparse mustaches
of Tatars. . . . All these faces turned one way,
with an expression of unsophisticated and
child-like interest. No self-consciousness
visible, and apparently no thought that what
is being done is in any way unique; just the
look of peasants intensely concerned with a
new and wonderful harvest. . . .
The session was called for sixr o'clock in
the evening, but it is now ten and the meeting
is not yet opened.
It is November seventh, the second day of
the Bolshevik insurrection. The Land Decree
has been passed, the Winter Palace taken. In
the hall of the City Duma the counter-revolutionary forces are gathering—Mensheviki
and Socialist Revolutionaries, as well as
Cadets, Monarchists, the Union of Officers.
Kaledine is reported to be on the move north,
and Kerensky is marching from the front with
five Cossack Divisions. . . .
At the press table sits a well-dressed, attractive young intellectual, a Russian Jew, a
follower of Kropotkin, who has been exiled in
Paris for many years. He observes the crude,
intense assembly with amused detachment,
making witty remarks. It is incredible to him
that these rough and ignorant people should
think that they can rule great Russia.
"Come," he says to me, in French, "I am
bored. Let us appoint ourselves a committee
to go and find the presidium, so that the show
can start." As we go out, he adds, "Not that
there is any particular hurry. These animals
will be running for their lives in forty-eight
Now, twelve months later, this remark
comes often to my mind.
We go through the dimly lit vaulted corridors, thronged with the huge, hurrying
shapes of workers and soldiers, and bitterly
cold. To right and left are doors, placarded
with the innumerable activities of the Soviets:
International Section, Soldiers' Section, Office
of the Isvicstia, Literature and Publication,
Union of Democratic Military Men, Professional Unions, Factory Shop Committees, and
the headquarters of the different political parties. Through the door of room 28, where the
Left Socialist Revolutionaries were in session,
rages mass-debate; the door is locked. Room
18, on the first floor, is the "Lenine Section"; a
close-packed throng of several hundred Bolsheviks intently listening to Trotzky. Nobody
seems to care whether we enter or not. Trotzky is saying, "Do not falter. Do not give way.
When they ask to compromise, it is because
they know the power is in our hands. If we