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Witnesses to change

This article is over 16 years, 5 months old
Eye witness accounts of the revolution
Issue 2075
Victor Serge
Victor Serge

“The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historic events.

In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business – kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists.

But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime.

Whether this is good or bad we leave to the judgment of moralists. We ourselves will take the facts as they are given by the objective course of development.

The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.”

Leon Trotsky, from History of the Russian Revolution

“At Smolny [headquaters of the soviet], just now, a comrade from the executive committee of the soviet was giving a vivid account of her inspection visit to the front line the previous night, and how she had a battery of light artillery urgently moved.

This militant, who now holds an important position of responsibility, used to be a tailoring worker.

Her improvised strategy is probably better than that of a highly trained specialist who sympathises with the enemy.”

Victor Serge, from Revolution in Danger, Writings from Russia 1919-1921

“All Russia was learning to read, and reading – politics, economics, history – because the people wanted to know…

The thirst for education, so long thwarted, burst with the revolution into a frenzy of expression. From Smolny Institute alone, in the first six months, went out every day tons, car-loads, train-loads of literature, saturating the land.

Russia absorbed reading matter like hot sand drinks water, insatiable. And it was not fables, falsified history, diluted religion, and the cheap fiction that corrupts – but social and economic theories, philosophy, the works of Tolstoy, Gogol, and Gorky…

We came down to the front of the 12th Army, back of Riga, where gaunt and bootless men sickened in the mud of desperate trenches; and when they saw us they started up, with their pinched faces and the flesh showing blue through their torn clothing, demanding eagerly, ‘Did you bring anything to read?’”

John Reed, from Ten days that Shook the World, Penguin Classics

“The revolution has taught me three things:

That in the last analysis the property owning class is loyal only to its property.

That the property owning class will never readily compromise with the working class.

That the masses of the workers are capable not only of great dreams, but that they have in them the power to make dreams come true.”

John Reed, writing in the US newspaper The Liberator in 1918

“The streets in those days presented a curious spectacle: everywhere people stood about in knots, arguing heatedly and discussing the latest events.…

These street meetings were so interesting, that it once took me three hours to walk from Shirokaya Street to the Krzesinska Mansion.

The house in which we lived overlooked a courtyard, and even here, if you opened the window at night, you could hear a heated dispute. A soldier would be sitting there, and he always had an audience – usually some of the cooks, or housemaids from next door, or some young people.

An hour after midnight you could catch snatches of talk – ‘Bolsheviks, Mensheviks…’ At three in the morning ‘Miliukov, Bolsheviks.…’ At five – still the same street-corner-meeting talk, politics, etc.

Petrograd’s white nights are always associated in my mind with those all-night political disputes.”

Nadezhda Krupskaya, from Reminiscences of Lenin

John Reed
John Reed
Nadezhda Krupskaya
Nadezhda Krupskaya


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