29 November 2017

A much-anticipated revolution

In reality the 'plot' [of the October Revolution] was the worst-kept secret in history. Everyone in Petrograd had heard that the Bolsheviks were preparing an imminent coup. It had been discussed in the press for the past ten days. The main right-wing newspaper Rech (Speech) had even revealed the date, 25 October, and the leftist Novaya Zhizn (New Life), run by the writer Maxim Gorky, had warned the Bolsheviks against using violence and 'shedding more blood in Russia'. The supposedly perfect clockwork timekeeping of the insurrection was so vague that nobody could tell for certain exactly when it began. At one stage the Mayor of Petrograd sent a delegation to the participants of both sides wondering if the uprising had started. He could not get an accurate answer. The Bolsheviks had little military experience. Alexander Genevsky, one of their main commanders on the ground, had been a temporary lieutenant in the Tsarist army, declared unfit after he was gassed early in the First World War. He had been asked to become a 'general' in the rebel forces. His orders were to keep the military planners at the Smolny up to date with events by ring­ing a number that he was told would always be available, 148-11. The few times it wasn't out of order, it was engaged. The Bolsheviks failed to master the Petrograd telephone system and had to send runners through­out the city streets. The key force of sailors from the Kronstadt naval base -- reliable Bolshevik supporters -- arrived in Petrograd a day late.

They won because the other side, the Provisional Government and its backers -- a coalition of the centre-right, liberals and moderate so­cialists -- were even more incompetent and divided, and because they didn't take the Bolsheviks seriously until it was too late. But mainly it was because most of the people didn't care which side won. In fact, few people realised anything significant had happened until it was all over.

- Victor Sebestyen, Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror, 2017 [quoted by Delanceyplace.com]
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