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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX entury

Krupskaya's Reminiscences of Lenin

Krupskaya's Reminiscences of Lenin

From the October Revolution to the Peace of Brest

In his article of November 5, 1921, entitled "The importance of Gold Now and After the Complete Victory of Socialism," Ilyich wrote:

"At such dizzy speed, in a few weeks, from October 25, 1917, to the Brest Peace, we built up the Soviet state, extricated ourselves from the imperialist war in a revolutionary manner and completed the bourgeois-democratic revolution so that even the great receding movement (the Brest Peace) left us sufficient room in which to take advantage of the "respite" and to march forward victoriously against Kolchak, Denikin, Yudenich, Pilsudski and Wrangel." (Works, Vol. 33, pp. 91-92.)

The few weeks which Lenin referred to for the most part cover the period of our stay at Smolny in Petrograd up to the middle of March, when we left for Moscow. Ilyich was the centre of all that activity, he organized it. That work was more than strenuous, it was work at high pressure that absorbed all of one's energies and strained one's nerves to breaking point. Tremendous difficulties had to be overcome and a desperate fight had to be waged, often a fight against one's closest colleagues. No wonder that, coming into his room behind the partition of our Smolny apartment late in the night, Ilyich could not fall asleep, he would get up again to ring someone up on the telephone and issue some urgent orders, and when he did fall asleep at last he would talk business in his sleep. Work at Smolny went on day and night. In the early days it was the centre of all activitiesParty meetings and sittings of the Council of People's Commissars were held there, the different Commissariats carried on their work there, telegrams and orders were issued from there, and people flocked there from all over. And to think that the Council of People's Commissars at the beginning had an office staff of four wholly inexperienced people, who worked without a moment's respite, and did everything that had to be done in the course of business. Their functions were so vague and universal that it never entered anyone's mind to define and limit them. They were swamped with work, and Ilyich was often obliged to do ordinary office jobs, such as putting phone calls through, etc., etc. Use was made, of course, of the Party's clerical staff and the offices of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and other bodies, but even that required a good deal of organizational work. It was all extremely primitive. The old machinery of state had to be broken up link by link. The bureaucratic apparatus resisted, and the personnel of the old ministerial and government offices went out of their way to sabotage the work and so prevent the Soviet power from setting up a new machinery of state. I remember how we "took power" at the Ministry of Education. Lunacharsky and we, a small group of Party people, went to the building of the Ministry which was situated at Chernyshov Bridge. The saboteurs had pickets outside the Ministry who warned all members of the staff and visitors that there was a walk-out there. Someone even tried to argue with us on the subject. Apart from the messengers and office cleaners there were no employees at the Ministry. We walked through empty rooms with desks from which the papers had not been cleared away. Then we went into a private office and there held the first meeting of the Board of the People's Commissariat of Education. The various functions were assigned among us. We decided that Lunacharsky was to make a speech to the junior office force, which he did. His warm speech was listened to with a kind of puzzled attention by the numerous audience, who had never before had the powers that be talk to them on such matters.

The state of affairs at the People's Commissariat of Education was not so bad, comparatively speaking. The bourgeoisie did not attach any great importance to it for one thing, and for another we had no great difficulty in getting the hang of things. Most of us were familiar with the organization of education. The Menzhinskys, for example, had worked for years in St. Petersburg as elementary school teachers. I had a lot of school experience, too, and all of us were propagandists and agitators. During our work at the district councils preceding the October Revolution we had acquired considerable organizing experience and contacts. My job was extra-school education (Politprosvet), a line in which I had the necessary experience and where the most important thing was to have the support of the Party and the working-class mass. This work could be started at once on entirely new lines with the backing of the mass. We were worse off in regard to financing, administration, accounting and planning, but quick progress was made under pressure from below, where the craving for knowledge was tremendous. Things here got under way.

Less favourable was the situation in such essential fields as food supply, finance and the banks. These strong points were strenuously defended by the bourgeoisie. Sabotage here was conducted with a vengeance. On the other hand, we had least experience and practical knowledge in these affairs. That is just what our enemies counted on"they will not be able to do it." We were not very good at pushing things on either. Our young peopleand not only the young, but those who came to the job in later yearsoften imagine that everything was simplewe took the Winter Palace, we defeated the cadets, we beat off Kerensky's offensiveand that was all. But when it comes to knowing how we set up the machinery of state and organized the work of the Commissariats, less interest is shown, although our first steps in the field of administration and the story of how we learned to fight for the cause of the proletariat in the everyday work of government are matters of considerable interest. The story of how we "took power" on the financial front, for example, is told with epic force by N. P Gorbunov in his memoirs describing how the office staff of the Council of People's Commissars was created during the October days. "In spite of the government's decrees and its demands that funds should be made available," writes Gorbunov, "the State Bank brazenly sabotaged. The People's Commissar of Finance Menzhinsky could do nothing to make the bank place at the government's disposal the funds that were necessary for the revolution. Not even the arrest of Shipov, the Director of the State Bank, helped. Shipov was brought to Smolny and kept there for a time under arrest. He slept in the same room with Menzhinsky and me. In the daytime this room was used as an office (of the Commissariat of Finance, I believe). I was obliged, as a mark of special courtesy and greatly to my annoyance, to let him have my bed while I slept on chairs." Pyatakov was appointed Director of the State Bank. He could do nothing at first, either. Gorbunov relates how Vladimir Ilyich handed him a decree signed by his own hand in which the State Bank was ordered to waive all rules and formalities and hand over to the Secretary of the Council of People's Commissars the sum of ten million rubles to be disposed of by the government. Osinsky was appointed government Commissar at the State Bank. When handing themGorbunov and Osinskythe decree, Ilyich said: "Don't come back without money." The money was received. In face of the support given by the junior staff and messengers and the threat of having the Red Guard called in, the teller was compelled to pay out the required sum. The operation was made under the cocked guns of the Bank's military guard. "We had difficulty with the bags for taking the money away in," writes Gorbunov. "We had not brought anything with us. At last one of the messengers lent us a couple of old sacks. We stuffed them full to the top with money, swung them on our shoulders and hauled them out to the motor-car. We rode back to Smolny, beaming. At Smolny we shouldered the bags again and lugged them into the private office of Vladimir Ilyich. Ilyich was not there. While waiting for him to come, I sat down on the sacks with a revolver in my hand, 'mounting guard.' I handed the money over to Vladimir Ilyich with great solemnity. He received it as a matter of course, but actually he was very pleased. A wardrobe was requisitioned in the next room to house the first Soviet treasury. Chairs were put round it in a semicircle and a sentry put on guard there. The Council of People's Commissars issued a special decree fixing the manner in which this money was to be kept and used. Thus originated our first Soviet budget."

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