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CIA-MI6: Bolsheviks enjoyed overwhelming popularity during October Revolution & Civil War

 

 

The History of the USSR & the Peoples’ Democracies

Chapter 2, Sections 1 & 5 (C2S1, C2S5) 

 

Saed Teymuri

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The successes of the German imperialist war effort against Tsarist Russia, however, destabilized the reactionary class forces dominating the Russian state, rolled back the reactionary class forces dominating Russia, while giving greater operational freedom for the agents of the proletariat. This resulted in the revolution of March 1917, which overthrew the Tsarist government and established a more bourgeois-democratic form of governance. The establishment of a democracy as a replacement for autocracy increased the influence of the proletariat over the Russian state, since democracy ‘opens up’ the state for the influence of the masses, in this case especially the proletarian masses. Throughout the territory of the Russian Empire, ‘soviets’ – meaning ‘councils’ – were established. The soviets were the councils of the workers and the mechanism through which the proletariat was to exercise its influence. Furthermore, the Bolshevik party was able to drastically increase its presence in Russia. (…). Further successes in the German war effort only further weakened the reactionary class enemies of the proletariat in the Russian state while giving greater operational freedom for the agents of the proletariat in Russia. The result was the expansion of the influence of the Bolsheviks, the communist party in Russian Empire. October Revolution. The CIA confirmed that the workers and peasant masses were attracted to the Bolsheviks:

In March 1917 the Tsarist government collapsed because reverses suffered in the course of World War I had exposed its inherent incompetence. The moderate coalition government that succeeded it also proved unable to cope with the deteriorating military and domestic situation, and on November 7, 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power under the slogans of peace, bread, and land for the peasants. The promise of peace appealed to the masses of the proletariat and the peasantry. The promise of bread applied to the city workers, while the poor peasants, many of whom still lacked land, were attracted by the promise of land. (JOINT ARMY NAVY INTELLIGENCE STUDY EUROPEAN U.S.S.R. PEOPLE AND GOVERNMENT, Joint Army Navy Intelligence Group, (in CIA archives), p. X-3. Bold added) (IMG)

Since Petrograd (later renamed Leningrad) was one of the most industrial, and hence most proletarian-populated, cities in Russia, the Petrograd Soviet emerged as the most prominent of the workers’ soviets. The increased operational freedom of the Bolsheviks was manifested in the expansion of Bolshevik propaganda and agitation in the workers’ soviets. Quickly, the Party began to grow in influence in the soviets. The Bolshevik hostility to the reactionary war waged by the Russian regime appealed to the general masses, Bolshevik opposition to colonialism appealed to the anti-colonial national bourgeois forces, Bolshevik call for the dictatorship of the proletariat appealed to the proletarians, the Bolshevik call for land reform appealed to the peasants, and the Bolshevik call for a republic of soviets appealed to the soviets. 

The CIA document ‘THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917’ states in its introduction that some of the remarks it makes are ‘open to question’. It does not clarify exactly what kinds of remarks it regards as ‘open to question’, but surely one aspect of the conclusions is not ‘open to question’: the growth of the popularity of the Bolsheviks amongst the proletarian and peasant masses who participated in the soviets. The Bolshevik popularity is already confirmed by the US Joint Army Navy Intelligence report cited above, whose conclusions are not tentative but rather definitive. As those aspects of the remarks by the ‘THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917’ document are confirmed and cannot be tentative either, the relevant excerpts will be cited here to describe the process of the growth of the Bolsheviks movement amongst the masses of the Russian Empire.

Already at the time, there was much dissatisfaction with the war and the inefficiency of the Russian regime itself. The US intelligence reported:

The growth of the Party, and more importantly, the growth of its influence, was due to its skillful exploitation of social and economic discontent growing out of the war. The railway transport system had all but broken down and made the already bad food situation even worse. Prices were high. There was a general decline in industrial productivity – and consequently, in workers' incomes – owing to the wearing out of machinery, personnel turn-over, unionization of technical and administrative personnel, declining profits, and a general closing- down of factories by owners unwilling to risk their capital to increasing worker unrest. Continuing military defeats ate into morale. The Bolsheviks sent agitators into the plants and army units and organised the discontent around their slogans for "peace" and "land" and workers' control of production. The regime could not offer what the Bolsheviks demanded and promised. The Bolsheviks harped on these matters and made the regime and the parties supporting it appear both unwilling and unable to better conditions. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, pp. 4-5. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

Thus, the Bolshevik line against Russian participation in the imperialist war resonated with the masses. Anti-imperialist:

demonstrations reached violent proportions in Petrograd early in May. The Petrograd Committee of the Party was responsible for at least one of these. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 5. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

The struggle for peace and the rule of the Soviets increased Bolshevik Party representation in the Soviets. Indeed:

Committees in the factories and lower army units began to pass Bolshevik slogans (against the Government, etc.) and to elect Bolshevik delegates to the soviets. Party representation in the soviets grew. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 5. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

Throughout the Russian Empire, the Bolsheviks enjoyed popularity in the elections. Indeed, in the words of the US intelligence:

The Party chalked up appreciable gains in factory [committee], trade union, soviet, and municipal elections elsewhere: Finland, Kiev, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Kronstadt, Urals; Baltic and Black Sea Fleets. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 9. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

The “Bolshevik Revolution,” the CIA stated,:

was prepared for by organized penetration … of non-Bolshevik organizations: factory committees of workers, soldiers' committees in army, units (both front-line and garrison), sailors' committees in the fleets, and the semi-official political assemblies of workers' and soldiers' representatives called "soviets." (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 2. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

For example,:

In elections for district dumas in Moscow, the Party more than doubled its vote, winning about 52% of the total. The "compromisists" Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary Parties lost enormous chunks of their previous vote. Whereas the Socialist-Revolutionary candidates had won 375,000 votes in June, they got only 54,000 in October. Mensheviks dropped from 76,000 to 16,000. Significantly, the bourgeois Constitutional Democrats lost only 8,000 votes. The lower middle class stayed away from the polls, and this accounted for much of the decline of the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary votes. Evidently, considerable numbers in Moscow were either moving to the left or being politically "neutralized." It is also significant that in the Moscow garrison, Bolsheviks won 90% of the vote. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 8. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

Bolshevik influence continued to spread throughout the Russian Empire:

The Bolshevik Party, in addition to capturing control of many soviets, was able to put considerable pressure on non-Bolshevik soviets – by getting control of factory committees and having them refuse to support the soviet financially. The Bolshevik soviets similarly refused to support the [pro-regime] "compromisist" Central Executive Committee. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 9. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

During the summer” of 1917, the US intelligence noted,:

a great number of strikes were carried out throughout the country, an increasing proportion of these were engineered by Bolshevik controlled factory committees. In most cases the strikes were local and were called in opposition to trade union leadership, which in many unions remained loyal to the regime right up to the Revolution. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 9. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

The Bolsheviks also succeeded in getting the soldiers on their side. Indeed, in the words of US intelligence:

The military success of the October Revolution was largely due to the successful subversion of the Army, particularly of the Petrograd garrison. Bolshevik political and organizing work in the Army and Navy was carried on by a Party auxiliary called the Military Organization of the Bolshevik Party. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 12. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

The Russian soldiers began to side with the Bolsheviks against the imperialist war:

On 16 July several thousand machine-gunners threw out their regimental committees, elected a Bolshevik chairman, and discussed the feasibility of an armed demonstration. They organised a provisional revolutionary committee, consisting of two men from each company, to replace the old regimental committee. They sent delegates to other units of the Petrograd garrison, to Kronstadt, and into the factories asking for support for an armed demonstration. One of the principal leaders of the machine-gunners commandeered vehicles from the factories, armed them with machine-guns, posted them at strategic points along the proposed line of march, got promises from other units that they would go with the machine-gunners. He kept the Military Organization of the Bolshevik Party informed of all his activities and sent sentries to guard Kshesinskaya Palace, where the Party had headquarters. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 5. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

Large segments of the Tsarist army were compositionally proletarianized. Feeling threatened by the rise of communist sympathies amongst the workers, the anti-proletarian classes dominating pre-socialist Russia had deliberately demoted the communistic-minded workers to the level of being soldiers and sent them to war as cannon-fodder – on the one hand, the rivals of Tsarist colonialism would be killed, and on the other hand the proletarians of the Russian Empire would be expended and killed. While such was the agenda of the regime, and while it did work to a large extent, the defeats of the Russian military weakened the reactionary enemies enough to give room for communist organization of these soldiers who came from proletarian backgrounds. Indeed,:

[one] factor that worked in the Party's favor was the fact that the Monarchy had made a practice of drafting worker malcontents for the army. Many of these had taken part in the 1905 uprising and were generally sympathetic to Bolshevik ideas. The practice also contributed to the further deterioration of economic health and the further expansion of the proletariat: unskilled peasants were brought into industrial centers to replace the drafted workers: they were less productive than the old workers and suffered the more with the economic decline. The "hereditary proletariat" that was drafted naturally sympathised strongly with the development of revolutionary sentiment among the workers who remained in the cities. A large party of the Petrograd garrison consisted of drafted workers. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 15. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

In addition,:

Party work in the army capitalized on the peace and land slogans: the army consisted largely of peasants who, especially since the February Revolution, were easily persuaded that they had no real stake in continuation of the "imperialist war," particularly since they were suffering continual defeats. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 15. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

Owing to their petit-bourgeois class mentality, the peasant-background soldiers were less against the fascist war than the proletarian-background soldiers, and they began to doubt the very ‘philosophy’ of the fascist war only when the Russian Empire began to lose. 
 

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“Party agitators,” the CIA remarked,:

were sent into the countryside to talk to soldiers on leave and deserters. Peasants were encouraged to seize land and engage in political activities, and to write about it to soldier relatives at the front. Conversely, Bolshevized soldiers wrote home encouraging their families to engage in the political struggle. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 15. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

Thus, in the fight for Soviet power:

Wherever Bolsheviks got control of the committee of a military command, they set up a revolutionary committee, which took control of the command, helped local soviets seize power, and prevented commanders from sending reinforcements to the aid of the regime during the uprising. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 16. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

In each soviet, there arose revolutionary guards, known as the Red Guards, on which the Bolsheviks had a large influence:

Factories organized and armed detachments of workers (Red Guards) to take part in the demonstration. Seven garrison regiments joined with the machine-gunners and workers’ detachments in the march to the Tauride Palace (then the headquarters of the Soviet), carrying the slogan "All Power to the Soviet!" (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 5. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

Given the overwhelming support which the Bolshevik Party enjoyed in the factory and soldiers’ committees:

The Bolshevik Party gradually got control of increasing numbers of factory and soldiers' committees, which elected the members of the Soviet, and thereby got control of Soviets in the Districts of the city, and finally, of the Executive Committees of the Soviets in Petrograd, Moscow, and several other cities. (THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION, 1917, CIA, p. 4. Part of: Clandestine Communist Organization, SECRET, CIA, March 1952) (IMG)

(…). Sir Robert Hamilton Bruce Lockhart – the prominent anti-Soviet MI6 operative and British Consul General in Moscow – in a memorandum to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and former British Prime Minister Lord Balfour, acknowledged:

Bolshevism and the Soviet idea have entered deeply into the mind of the Russian people and may be difficult to eradicate. (MEMORANDUM ON THE INTERNAL SITUATION IN RUSSIA, R. H. B. Lockhart. In: Mr. Lockhart to Mr. Balfour, November 7, 1918, Received: November 8, 1918. In: Foreign Office (1917-1918), p. 36) (IMG)

The workers, Lockhart continued, were strongly supportive of the communists. In the words of the MI6 operative:

In spite of all reports to the contrary the workmen are still true to their Bolshevik leaders. This … is … due … chiefly to the fact that under the Bolshevik regime the working man is in a peculiarly favoured position. Of such food as is available he has the first choice. He receives large wages, and his working hours are short. He complains, it is true, of the cost of living and of the dearth of food and manufactured goods. He is, however, better educated than the peasant, has been brought up on Socialistic doctrines, and readily believes that his present difficulties are due to the efforts of the capitalistic Governments of Germany and the Allies to suppress the anti-capitalistic proletariat revolution of Russia. He is inspired to a certain extent by the ideals of Bolshevism and class-warfare. (MEMORANDUM ON THE INTERNAL SITUATION IN RUSSIA, R. H. B. Lockhart. In: Mr. Lockhart to Mr. Balfour, November 7, 1918, Received: November 8, 1918. In: Foreign Office (1917-1918), pp. 35-36) (IMG)

The MI6 official’s remarks regarding the communists and Soviet power, in the following paragraph, contained the usual hostile anti-Soviet propaganda. Nonetheless, as can be seen throughout the paragraph, Lockhart indeed admits that the peasants supported the communists:

It would seem at first sight that a regime of this kind would soon render itself hated to a large percentage of the population. (…). Since November of last year practically every Russian politician, and certainly every English expert on Russia, have assured us that the Bolsheviks could not last for more than a few weeks. There have been moments when the Bolsheviks believed themselves that their end was near; for example, after the first Brest peace, after the Czecho-Slovak revolt, after Count Mirbach’s murder, and again on the 5th August, when Dr. Helferich left Moscow for berlin with the avowed purpose of persuading his Government to suppress the Bolshevik regime in Russia. In spite, however, of numerous crises the Bolshevik Government has maintained its position, and even if one makes the wildest allowances of the terroristic measures by which [the Trotskyite elements of] the Bolsheviks rule, it must be admitted that the success of Bolshevism in Russia is due to some more deep-rooted cause than the mere terrorism of a band of workmen. (…). In Russia the aristocracy and bourgeoisie (including the [urban] petite bourgeoisie) do not number more than 15 to 20 percent of the entire population and this small percentage is divided against itself into Monarchists, Constitutional Monarchists, Republicans, and [Kautskyite] Socialists. Some 70 per cent of the population, i.e. the majority of the peasantry, remain amorphous and inactive. But this very inactivity is in itself a certain advantage to the Bolsheviks whose influence amongst a non-Bolshevik peasantry is to be ascribed almost entirely to the Brest peace and the land reform. At every congress, at every Soviet election, at every meeting, the Brest peace has saved the Bolsheviks time and again. Condemned as it was by many of the Bolsheviks themselves, the Brest peace from the Bolshevik point of view is a further proof of Lenin’s clear-sightedness and sagacity. The peasant is by instinct petit bourgeois, and with certain reservations it seems probable that Russia will become a land of small holdings. The peasant however, must have land. He really requires it to live, and for years almost every party has encouraged him to expect it. The Bolsheviks gave him the land – not exactly as he desired, perhaps, and without any very great security of tenure,  but still without any restriction or delay. Skillfully nursed by Bolshevik propaganda, and warned by the concrete example of the Skoropadsky regime in Ukraine, he believes that counter-revolution means the restoration of the land to the landowners, and as all other parties urge him to break the Brest treaty he prefers with his limited understanding a regime which gives him both land and peace to a regime which he does not know, and which will send him back to the trenches. The result of the German occupation in the Ukraine is an example and a warning of what one may expect from a reactionary and purely military intervention in Russia. The peasant, it is true, objects strongly to the Bolshevik requisitions of grain and foodstuffs. this may lead to trouble in the future, but in his present disorganized state it is unwise to hope too much from the peasant as an anti-Bolshevik element. He might welcome a deliverer who would relieve his wants, but he will, and can do little on his own account. And certainly he does not want to do any more fighting either for himself or for anyone else. (MEMORANDUM ON THE INTERNAL SITUATION IN RUSSIA, R. H. B. Lockhart. In: Mr. Lockhart to Mr. Balfour, November 7, 1918, Received: November 8, 1918. In: Foreign Office (1917-1918), p. 35) (IMG)

The Tsarist regime, Lockhart continued, was extremely unpopular among the Soviets:

It is impossible to believe that the Russian people will ever accept Tsardom under its ancient form. Much as we like the educated Russian, we must not close our eyes to the fact that when the British press makes use of the phrase “all the best-thinking Russians,” it is referring to a small minority amongst a vast … population. Nor should it be forgotten that it is largely owing to the inherent weakness and incapacity of this class that we owe the present chaotic condition of Russia. (MEMORANDUM ON THE INTERNAL SITUATION IN RUSSIA, R. H. B. Lockhart. In: Mr. Lockhart to Mr. Balfour, November 7, 1918, Received: November 8, 1918. In: Foreign Office (1917-1918), p. 36) (IMG)

MI6 operative Lockhart was by no means alone in maintaining such stances. Another British intelligence document states that communism appealed to 80% of the peoples of the Russian Empire:

The great mistake made by so many, especially the Russians, is that the combat against Bolshevism merely consists of killing Bolsheviks and conquering the territory they occupy, whereas the fight against Bolsheviks is in reality a struggle against an idea or doctrine. it is a doctrine which appeals to the uneducated classes in Russia of which there are over 80 per cent of the total population. Bolshevism appeals to them by holding out the achievement of the ideal socialistic state in a minimum of time. (Report on the Georgian Government by Major McDonnell, Constantinople, Major McDonnell, January 27, 1919. In: Foreign Office (1917-1919), p. 57) (IMG)

As late as 1922, William Lyon Mackenzie King – who during 1921-1926 served as the Prime Minister of Canada, a member state of the British commonwealth – admitted in his diaries:

I believe … that the Soviet Govt. is after all the people’s govt. as vs. the corrupt autocracy and vicious secret service allied to privileged classes. (Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Saturday, January 28, 1922. Handwritten – p. 28. Item 8076 in the Library and Archives of Canada.) (IMG)

 

 

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Image Credits

‘LENIN PROCLAIMS SOVIET POWER IN SMOLNY PALACE, PETROGRAD, 1917’ Painting by Vladimir Serov

From: labour Historian website. https://labourhistorian.wordpress.com/art-emblems-and-images/russian-revolution-centenary/