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Three Bolshevik heroes you may never have heard of

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Issue 2575
Smilga (bottom row, to the right of Trotsky) sits with the Left Opposition
Smilga (bottom row, to the right of Trotsky) sits with the Left Opposition

Many people will be familiar with prominent figures of the Russian Revolution such as Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Alexandra Kollontai.

But there were many others who played a leading role who are barely mentioned by most histories.

Ivar Tenisovich Smilga was born into a peasant family in Latvia in 1892. He abandoned his childhood right wing views after experiencing the rise of workers’ struggle at the turn of the century.

His father took part in the land seizures during the 1905 revolution—and faced the full force of the landlords’ repression. He was tortured and executed in front of his family.

Smilga became involved in the Bolshevik organisation at 14 and faced several periods of imprisonment and exile.

He was freed by the revolution of February 1917, elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee and was sent to organise among the sailors at Kronstadt.

Then he went to Finland where with his help the Bolsheviks won a majority on the workers’ committee.

Smilga played a key role in backing up Lenin’s view that the working class, led by the Bolsheviks, must take power from the Provisional Government.


Lenin gave Smilga the responsibility of reinforcing the insurrection in Petrograd with the armed forces of Finland and the Baltic Fleet.

When he received the secret code message “Send regulations”, Smilga set off with 1,500 heavily-armed sailors. In fact the October Revolution in Petrograd was quickly successful. By the time Smilga’s troops arrived all that was needed was to take the Winter Palace.

Smilga played a leading role during the Civil War.

He later joined the Left Opposition that opposed the growing bureaucratisation of the workers’ state, and supported Trotsky against the rise of Joseph Stalin. For this Smilga was expelled from the party, condemned to icy exile, and eventually shot.

Anastasia Deviatkina started work in a military factory at the age of 12. She joined the Bolsheviks in 1904 and her agitation led to her arrest and imprisonment.

She took part in the February Revolution and led one of the first demonstrations of women workers and soldiers’ wives that sparked the uprising.

Deviatkina was then elected to the district workers’ council, or Soviet. She played an important role in the October Revolution, coordinating the various detachments that were fighting for power.

Arishina Kruglova was another important Bolshevik woman worker. She had a job in a munitions factory in the First World War and would pack Bolshevik leaflets into the boxes of grenades.


She led militant demonstrations during the February Revolution. China Mieville writes in his book October, “Seeing workers from the Promet factory marching behind a woman, a Cossack officer jeered that they were following a baba, a hag.

“Arishina Kruglova, the Bolshevik in question, yelled back that she was an independent woman worker, a wife and sister of soldiers at the front.

“At her riposte, the troops who faced her lowered their guns.”

She was elected to two Soviets in St Petersburg and organised the Red Guards who defended the revolution. She was also in charge of raids into the wealthier districts to seize weapons.

Leadership matters in revolutions—the leadership by parties and the leadership by individuals. The Bolsheviks had leadership at every level.

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