"Glorious Harbinger of a New Society"


1. Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism? (Ann Arbor, 1961), 80. The reference is to Ulrich von Hutten, German poet and scholar, who led the Protestant Knights’ Revolt of 1522, which inspired the great German Peasants’ War of 1524-1526.

2. Rasputin’s influence stemmed from his role as a “faith healer.” The tsar and tsarina’s son, Alexander, was afflicted with hemophilia, and Rasputin was apparently able to stop the boy’s bleeding with hypnosis.

3. In 1903 two factions emerged within Russia’s newly formed Marxist organization, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP): the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. In 1912 they became separate parties. Initially, they differed over how the RSDLP should be constituted. The Bolsheviks insisted on stringent requirements for membership (Lenin said he wanted a party of “professional [not amateurish] revolutionaries,” members with a high degree of political sophistication and revolutionary expertise), while the Mensheviks favored a looser organization. Soon there were other political differences. The defeat of the 1905 Revolution was blamed by the Bolsheviks on the betrayal of middle-class liberals, while the Mensheviks argued that the workers, by being too militant, had scared the liberals into making their peace with the autocracy. The SRs were a non-Marxist socialist party rooted in the nineteenth-century Russian Populist, or Narodnik, movement. The Narodniks had advocated peasant revolution and waged a campaign of assassination against tsarist officials. But by 1917 they had become more moderate and committed to supporting Russia’s liberals, much like the Mensheviks.

4. Since Russia was still using the Old Style dating system, Feb. 23 was the day the Revolution began according to the Russian calendar. So, even though Russia adopted the New Style calendar a year later, the overthrow of the autocracy has always been known as the February Revolution.

5. Cossacks were a special force of fierce horsemen used by the tsars to suppress riots, strikes, and revolts.

6. The Duma was a virtually powerless parliament created by the tsar in response to the Revolution of 1905.

7. “Soviet” is the Russian word for “council.” Soviets had sprung up during the 1905 Revolution, but were suppressed with the revolution’s defeat.

8. N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: A Personal Record (Princeton University Press, 1984), 6-7. Along with Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution, Sukhanov’s book is a vivid and invaluable first-hand narrative, albeit with a very different interpretation.

9. Sukhanov, 124.

10. Quoted in Tony Cliff, Lenin, vol. 2 (London: Pluto Press, 1976), 90.

11. John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World (Penguin, 1960), 14-15.

12. Quoted in Sukhanov, 273.

13. Quoted in Cliff, 214.

14. Chernov, when he came out to speak to the crowd, was accosted by a group of sailors, one of whom yelled at him, “Take power, you son of a bitch!” Trotsky then appeared and persuaded the sailors to let him go.

15. Old Style, Oct. 25—hence the name, October Revolution.

16. Leon Trotsky, The Russian Revolution: The Overthrow of Tzarism and the Triumph of the Soviets (Doubleday and Co., 1959), 443-444.

17. Trotsky, 446.

18. Back in March the Menshevik and SR leaders of the Soviet had passed a similar resolution, but its call for revolution was aimed at the Central Powers only. In November, having overthrown capitalism in Russia, the Bolsheviks thought they were in a stronger position to ask workers in other countries to do the same.

19. Trotsky, 462.

20. Oliver Radkey, author of the definitive work in English on the Constituent Assembly elections, Russia Goes to the Polls (Harvard University Press, 1950), published evidence in a 1987 addendum that indicated the SRs had won a plurality, not a majority, and that peasant support for the program of the Bolsheviks and Left SRs was actually much broader than the voting indicated. Prior to the election, the leaders of the Right SRs manipulated the ballots to make sure that the Lefts would be substantially under-represented. It was also significant that peasants who lived near cities, garrisons, and railroads, and were therefore more likely to understand what the Bolsheviks and Left SRs stood for, voted for those two parties by large margins.