No Naked Ads -> Here!
No Naked Ads -> Here! $urlZ
Fall of giants, p.28
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Fall of Giants, p.28

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
slower 1  faster
Chapter 28

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT - October and November 1917

  Walter said angrily: "Admiral von Holtzendorff promised us the British would starve in five months. That was nine months ago. "

  "He made a mistake," said his father.

  Walter suppressed a scornful retort.

  They were in Otto's room at the Foreign Office in Berlin. Otto sat in a carved chair behind a big desk. On the wall behind him hung a painting of Kaiser Wilhelm I, grandfather of the present monarch, being proclaimed German emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

  Walter was infuriated by his father's half-baked excuses. "The admiral gave his word as an officer that no American would reach Europe," he said. "Our intelligence is that fourteen thousand of them landed in France in June. So much for the word of an officer!"

  That stung Otto. "He did what he believed was best for his country," he said irately. "What more can a man do?"

  Walter raised his voice. "You ask me what more a man can do? He can avoid making false promises. When he doesn't know for sure, he can refrain from saying he knows for sure. He can tell the truth, or keep his stupid mouth shut. "

  "Von Holtzendorff gave the best advice he could. "

  The feebleness of these arguments maddened Walter. "Such humility would have been appropriate before the event. But there was none. You were there, at Castle Pless-you know what happened. Von Holtzendorff gave his word. He misled the kaiser. He brought the Americans into the war against us. A man could hardly serve his monarch worse!"

  "I suppose you want him to resign-but then who would take his place?"

  "Resign?" Walter was bursting with fury. "I want him to put the barrel of his revolver in his mouth and pull the trigger. "

  Otto looked severe. "That's a wicked thing to say. "

  "His own death would be small retribution for all those who have died because of his smug foolishness. "

  "You youngsters have no common sense. "

  "You dare to talk to me about common sense? You and your generation took Germany into a war that has crippled us and killed millions-a war that, after three years, we still have not won. "

  Otto looked away. He could hardly deny that Germany had not yet won the war. The opposing sides were deadlocked in France. Unrestricted submarine warfare had failed to choke off supplies to the Allies. Meanwhile, the British naval blockade was slowly starving the German people. "We have to wait and see what happens in Petrograd," said Otto. "If Russia drops out of the war, the balance will change. "

  "Exactly," said Walter. "Everything now depends on the Bolsheviks. "


  Early in October, Grigori and Katerina went to see the midwife.

  Grigori now spent most nights in the one-room apartment near the Putilov works. They no longer made love-she found it too uncomfortable. Her belly was huge. The skin was as taut as a football, and her navel stuck out instead of in. Grigori had never been intimate with a pregnant woman, and he found it frightening as well as thrilling. He knew that everything was normal, but all the same he dreaded the thought of a baby's head cruelly stretching the narrow passage he loved so much.

  They set out for the home of the midwife, Magda, the wife of Konstantin. Vladimir rode on Grigori's shoulders. The boy was almost three, but Grigori still carried him without effort. His personality was emerging: in his childish way he was intelligent and earnest, more like Grigori than his charming, wayward father, Lev. A baby was like a revolution, Grigori thought: you could start one, but you could not control how it would turn out.

  General Kornilov's counterrevolution had been crushed before it got started. The Railwaymen's Union had made sure most of Kornilov's troops got stuck in sidings miles from Petrograd. Those who came anywhere near the city were met by Bolsheviks who undermined them simply by telling them the truth, as Grigori had in the schoolyard. Soldiers then turned on officers who were in on the conspiracy and executed them. Kornilov himself was arrested and imprisoned.

  Grigori became known as the man who turned back Kornilov's army. He protested that this was an exaggeration, but his modesty only increased his stature. He was elected to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party.

  Trotsky got out of jail. The Bolsheviks won 51 percent of the vote in the Moscow city elections. Party membership reached 350,000.

  Grigori had an intoxicating feeling that anything could happen, including total disaster. Every day the revolution might be defeated. That was what he dreaded, for then his child would grow up in a Russia that was no better. Grigori thought of the milestones of his own childhood: the hanging of his father, the death of his mother outside the Winter Palace, the priest who took little Lev's trousers down, the grinding work at the Putilov factory. He wanted a different life for his child.

  "Lenin is calling for an armed uprising," he told Katerina as they walked to Magda's place. Lenin had been in hiding outside the city, but he had been sending a constant stream of furious letters urging the party to action.

  "I think he's right," said Katerina. "Everyone is fed up with governments who speak about democracy but do nothing about the price of bread. "

  As usual, Katerina said what most Petrograd workers were thinking.

  Magda was expecting them and had made tea. "I'm sorry there's no sugar," she said. "I haven't been able to get sugar for weeks. "

  "I can't wait to get this over with," said Katerina. "I'm so tired of carrying all this weight. "

  Magda felt Katerina's belly and said she had about two weeks to go. Katerina said: "It was awful when Vladimir was born. I had no friends, and the midwife was a hard-faced Siberian bitch called Kseniya. "

  "I know Kseniya," said Magda. "She's competent, but a bit stern. "

  "I'll say. "

  Konstantin was leaving for the Smolny Institute. Although the soviet was not in session every day, there were constant meetings of committees and ad hoc groups. Kerensky's provisional government was now so weak that the soviet gained authority by default. "I hear Lenin is back in town," Konstantin said to Grigori.

  "Yes, he got back last night. "

  "Where is he staying?"

  "It's a secret. The police are still keen to arrest him. "

  "What made him return?"

  "We'll find out tomorrow. He's called a meeting of the Central Committee. "

  Konstantin left to catch a streetcar to the city center. Grigori walked Katerina home. When he was about to leave for the barracks, she said: "I feel better, knowing Magda will be with me. "

  "Good. " Grigori still felt that childbirth seemed more dangerous than an armed uprising.

  "And you'll be there too," Katerina added.

  "Not actually in the room," Grigori said nervously.

  "No, of course not. But you'll be outside, pacing up and down, and that will make me feel safe. "

  "Good. "

  "You will be there, won't you?"

  "Yes," he said. "Whatever happens, I'll be there. "

  When he got to the barracks an hour later he found the place in turmoil. On the parade ground, officers were trying to get guns and ammunition loaded onto wagons, with little success: every battalion committee was either holding a meeting or preparing to hold one. "Kerensky has done it now!" said Isaak jubilantly. "He's trying to send us to the front. "

  Grigori's heart sank. "Send who?"

  "The entire Petrograd garrison! The orders have come down. We're to change places with soldiers at the front. "

  "What's their reason?"

  "They say it's because of the German advance. " The Germans had taken the islands in the Gulf of Riga and were heading toward Petrograd.

  "Rubbish," said Grigori angrily. "It's an attempt to undermine the soviet. " And it was a clever attempt, he realized as he thought it through. If the troops in Petrograd were replaced by others coming back from the front, it would take days, perhaps weeks of organization to form new soldiers' committees and elect new dep
uties to the soviet. Worse, the new men would lack the experience of the last six months' political battles-which would have to be fought all over again. "What do the soldiers say?"

  "They're furious. They want Kerensky to negotiate peace, not send them to die. "

  "Will they refuse to leave Petrograd?"

  "I don't know. It will help if they get the backing of the soviet. "

  "I'll take care of that. "

  Grigori took an armored car and two bodyguards and drove over the Liteiny Bridge to the Smolny. This looked like a setback, he reflected, but it might turn into an opportunity. Until now, not all troops had supported the Bolsheviks, but Kerensky's attempt to send them to the front might swing the waverers over. The more he thought about it, the more he believed this could be Kerensky's big mistake.

  The Smolny was a grand building that had been a school for daughters of the wealthy. Two machine guns from Grigori's regiment guarded the entrance. Red Guards attempted to verify everyone's identity-but, Grigori noted uneasily, the crowds going in and out were so numerous that the check was not rigorous.

  The courtyard was a scene of frenetic activity. Armored cars, motorcycles, trucks, and cars came and went constantly, competing for space. A broad flight of steps led up to a row of arches and a classical colonnade. In an upstairs room Grigori found the executive committee of the soviet in session.

  The Mensheviks were calling on the garrison soldiers to prepare to move to the front. As usual, Grigori thought with disgust, the Mensheviks were surrendering without a fight; and he suffered a sudden panicky fear that the revolution was slipping away from him.

  He went into a huddle with the other Bolsheviks on the executive to compose a more militant resolution. "The only way to defend Petrograd against the Germans is to mobilize the workers," Trotsky said.

  "As we did at the time of the Kornilov Putsch," Grigori said with enthusiasm. "We need another Committee for Struggle to take charge of the defense of the city. "

  Trotsky scribbled a draft, then stood up to propose the motion.

  The Mensheviks were outraged. "You would be creating a second military command center alongside army headquarters!" said Mark Broido. "No man can serve two masters. "

  To Grigori's disgust, most committeemen agreed with that. The Menshevik motion was passed and Trotsky's was defeated. Grigori left the meeting in despair. Could the soldiers' loyalty to the soviet survive such a rebuff?

  That afternoon the Bolsheviks met in Room 36 and decided they could not accept this decision. They agreed to propose their motion again that evening, at the meeting of the full soviet.

  The second time, the Bolsheviks won the vote.

  Grigori was relieved. The soviet had backed the soldiers and set up an alternative military command.

  They were one large step closer to power.


  Next day, feeling optimistic, Grigori and the other leading Bolsheviks slipped quietly away from the Smolny in ones and twos, careful not to attract the attention of the secret police, and made their way to the large apartment of a comrade, Galina Flakserman, for the meeting of the Central Committee.

  Grigori was nervous about the meeting and arrived early. He circled the block, looking for idlers who might be police spies, but he saw no one suspicious. Inside the building he reconnoitered the different exits-there were three-and determined the fastest way out.

  The Bolsheviks sat around a big dining table, many wearing the leather coats that were becoming a kind of uniform for them. Lenin was not there, so they started without him. Grigori fretted about him-he might have been arrested-but he arrived at ten o'clock, disguised in a wig that kept slipping and almost made him look foolish.

  However, there was nothing laughable about the resolution he proposed, calling for an armed uprising, led by the Bolsheviks, to overthrow the provisional government and take power.

  Grigori was elated. Everyone wanted an armed uprising, of course, but most revolutionaries said the time was not yet ripe. At last the most powerful of them was saying now.

  Lenin spoke for an hour. As always he was strident, banging the table, shouting, and abusing those who disagreed with him. His style worked against him-you wanted to vote down someone who was so rude. But despite that he was persuasive. His knowledge was wide, his political instinct was unerring, and few men could stand firm against the hammer blows of his logical arguments.

  Grigori was on Lenin's side from the start. The important thing was to seize power and end the dithering, he thought. All other problems could be solved later. But would the others agree?

  Zinoviev spoke against. Normally a handsome man, he, too, had changed his appearance to confuse the police. He had grown a beard and cropped his luxuriant thatch of curly black hair. He thought Lenin's strategy was too risky. He was afraid an uprising would give the right wing an excuse for a military coup. He wanted the Bolshevik party to concentrate on winning the elections for the Constituent Assembly.

  This timid argument infuriated Lenin. "The provisional government is never going to hold a national election!" he said. "Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool and a dupe. "

  Trotsky and Stalin backed the uprising, but Trotsky angered Lenin by saying they should wait for the All-Russia Congress of Soviets, scheduled to begin in ten days' time.

  That struck Grigori as a good idea-Trotsky was always reasonable-but Lenin surprised him by roaring: "No!"

  Trotsky said: "We're likely to have a majority among the delegates-"

  "If the congress forms a government, it is bound to be a coalition!" Lenin said angrily. "The Bolsheviks admitted to the government will be centrists. Who could wish for that-other than a counterrevolutionary traitor?"

  Trotsky flushed at the insult, but he said nothing.

  Grigori realized Lenin was right. As usual, Lenin had thought farther ahead than anyone else. In a coalition, the Mensheviks' first demand would be that the prime minister must be a moderate-and they would probably settle for anyone but Lenin.

  It dawned on Grigori-and at the same time on the rest of the committee, he guessed-that the only way Lenin could become prime minister was by a coup.

  The dispute raged until the small hours. In the end they voted by ten to two in favor of an armed uprising.

  However, Lenin did not get all his own way. No date was set for the coup.

  When the meeting was over, Galina produced a samovar and put out cheese, sausage, and bread for the hungry revolutionaries.


  As a child on Prince Andrei's estate, Grigori had once witnessed the climax of a deer hunt. The dogs had brought down a stag just outside the village, and everyone had gone to look. When Grigori got there the deer was dying, the dogs already greedily eating the intestines spilling out of its ripped belly while the huntsmen on their horses swigged brandy in celebration. Yet even then the wretched beast had made one last attempt to fight back. It had swung its mighty antlers, impaling one dog and slashing another, and had, for a moment, almost looked as if it might struggle to its feet; then it had sunk back to the bloodstained earth and closed its eyes.

  Grigori thought Prime Minister Kerensky, the leader of the provisional government, was like that stag. Everyone knew he was finished-except him.

  As the bitter cold of a Russian winter closed around Petrograd like a fist, the crisis came to a head.

  The Committee for Struggle, soon renamed the Military Revolutionary Committee, was dominated by the charismatic figure of Trotsky. He was not handsome, with his big nose, high forehead, and bulging eyes staring through rimless glasses, but he was charming and persuasive. Where Lenin shouted and bullied, Trotsky reasoned and beguiled. Grigori suspected that Trotsky was as tough as Lenin but better at hiding it.

  On Monday, November 5, two days before the All-Russia Congress was due to start, Grigori went to a mass meeting, called by the Military Revolutionary Committee, of all the troops in the Peter and Paul Fo
rtress. The meeting started at noon and went on all afternoon, hundreds of soldiers debating politics in the square in front of the fort while their officers fumed impotently. Then Trotsky arrived, to thunderous applause, and after listening to him they voted to obey the committee rather than the government, Trotsky, not Kerensky.

  Walking away from the square, Grigori reflected that the government could not possibly tolerate a key army unit declaring its loyalty to someone else. The cannon of the fortress were directly across the river from the Winter Palace, where the provisional government was headquartered. Surely, he thought, Kerensky would now admit defeat and resign.

  Next day Trotsky announced precautions against a counterrevolutionary coup by the army. He ordered Red Guards and troops loyal to the soviet to take over the bridges, railway stations, and police stations, plus the post office, the telegraph office, the telephone exchange, and the state bank.

  Grigori was at Trotsky's side, turning the great man's stream of commands into detailed instructions for specific military units and dispatching the orders around the city by messengers on horseback, on bicycles, and in cars. He thought Trotsky's "precautions" seemed very similar to a takeover.

  To his amazement and delight, there was little resistance.

  A spy at the Marinsky Palace reported that Prime Minister Kerensky had asked the preparliament-the body that had so miserably failed in its task of setting up the Constituent Assembly-for a vote of confidence. The preparliament refused. No one took much notice. Kerensky was history, just another inadequate man who had tried and failed to rule Russia. He returned to the Winter Palace, where his impotent government continued to pretend to rule.

  Lenin was hiding at the apartment of a comrade, Margarita Fofanova. The Central Committee had ordered him not to move about the city, fearing he would be arrested. Grigori was one of the few people who knew his location. At eight o'clock in the evening Margarita arrived at the Smolny with a note from Lenin ordering the Bolsheviks to launch an armed insurrection immediately. Trotsky said tetchily: "What does he imagine we're doing?"

  But Grigori thought Lenin was right. In spite of everything, the Bolsheviks had not quite seized power. Once the Congress of Soviets assembled it would have all authority-and then, even if the Bolsheviks were in a majority, the result would be yet another coalition government based on compromise.

  The congress was scheduled to begin tomorrow afternoon at two o'clock. Only Lenin seemed to understand the urgency of the situation, Grigori thought with a sense of desperation. He was needed here, at the heart of things.

  Grigori decided to go and get him.

  It was a freezing night, with a north wind that seemed to blow straight through the leather coat Grigori wore over his sergeant's uniform. The center of the city was shockingly normal: well-dressed middle-class people were coming out of theaters and walking to brightly lit restaurants, while beggars pestered them for change and prostitutes smiled on street corners. Grigori nodded to a comrade who was selling a pamphlet by Lenin called Will the Bolsheviks Be Able to Hold the Power? Grigori did not buy one. He already knew the answer to that question.

  Margarita's flat was on the northern edge of the Vyborg district. Grigori could not drive there for fear of calling attention to Lenin's hideout. He walked to the Finland Station, then caught a streetcar. The journey was long, and he spent most of it wondering if Lenin would refuse to come.

  However, to his great relief Lenin did not need much persuading. "Without you, I don't believe the other comrades will take the final decisive step," Grigori said, and that was all it took to convince Lenin to come.

  He left a note on the kitchen table, so that Margarita would not imagine he had been arrested. It said: "I have gone where you wanted me not to go. Good-bye, Ilich. " Party members called him Ilich, his middle name.

  Grigori checked his pistol while Lenin put on his wig, a worker's cap, and a shabby overcoat. Then they set out.

  Grigori kept a sharp lookout, fearful that they would run into a detachment of police or an army patrol and Lenin would be recognized. He made up his mind that, rather than let Lenin be arrested, he would shoot without hesitation.

  They were the only passengers on the streetcar. Lenin questioned the conductress on what she thought of the latest political developments.

  Walking from the Finland Station they heard hoofbeats and hid from what turned out to be a troop of loyalist cadets looking for trouble.

  Grigori triumphantly delivered Lenin to the Smolny at midnight.

  Lenin went at once to Room 36 and called a meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee. Trotsky reported that Red Guards now controlled many of the city's key points. But that was not enough for Lenin. For symbolic reasons, he argued, the revolutionary troops had to seize the Winter Palace and arrest the ministers of the provisional government. That would be the act that convinced people that power had passed, finally and irrevocably, to the revolutionaries.

  Grigori knew he was right.

  So did everyone else.

  Trotsky began to plan the taking of the Winter Palace.

  Grigori did not get home to Katerina that night.


  There could be no mistakes.

  The final act of the revolution had to be decisive, Grigori knew. He made sure the orders were clear and reached their destinations in good time.

  The plan was not complicated, but Grigori worried that Trotsky's timetable was optimistic. The bulk of the attacking force would consist of revolutionary sailors. The majority were coming from Helsingfors, capital of the Finnish region, by train and ship. They left at three A. M. More were coming from Kronstadt, the island naval base twenty miles offshore.

  The attack was scheduled to begin at twelve noon.

  Like a battlefield operation, it would start with an artillery barrage: the guns of the Peter and Paul Fortress would fire across the river and batter down the walls of the palace. Then the sailors and soldiers would take over the building. Trotsky said it would be over by two o'clock, when the Congress of Soviets was due to start.

  Lenin wanted to stand up at the opening and announce that the Bolsheviks had already taken power. It was the only way to prevent another indecisive, ineffective compromise government, the only way to ensure that Lenin ended up in charge.

  Grigori worried that things might not go as fast as Trotsky hoped.

  Security was poor at the Winter Palace, and at dawn Grigori was able to send Isaak inside to reconnoiter. He reported that there were about three thousand loyalist troops in the building. If they were properly organized and fought bravely, there would be a mighty battle.

  Isaak also discovered that Kerensky had left town. Because the Red Guards controlled the railway stations he had been unable to leave by train, and he had eventually departed in a commandeered car. "What kind of prime minister can't catch a train in his own capital?" Isaak said.

  "Anyway, he's gone," Grigori said with satisfaction. "And I don't suppose he'll ever come back. "

  However, Grigori's mood turned pessimistic when noon came around and none of the sailors had appeared.

  He crossed the bridge to the Peter and Paul Fortress to make sure the cannon were ready. To his horror he found that they were museum pieces, there only for show, and could not be fired. He ordered Isaak to find some working artillery.

  He hurried back to the Smolny to tell Trotsky his plan was behind schedule. The guard at the door said: "There was someone here looking for you, comrade. Something about a midwife. "

  "I can't deal with that now," Grigori said.

  Events were moving very fast. Grigori learned that the Red Guards had taken the Marinsky Palace and dispersed the preparliament without bloodshed. Those Bolsheviks in jail had been released. Trotsky had ordered all troops outside Petrograd to remain where they were, and they were obeying him, not their officers. Lenin was writing a manifesto that began: "To the citizens of Russia: The provisi
onal government has been overthrown!"

  "But the assault has not begun," Grigori told Trotsky miserably. "I don't see how it can be managed before three o'clock. "

  "Don't worry," said Trotsky. "We can delay the opening of the congress. "

  Grigori returned to the square in front of the Winter Palace. At two in the afternoon, at long last, he saw the minelayer Amur sail into the Neva with a thousand sailors from Kronstadt on its deck, and the workers of Petrograd lined the banks to cheer them.

  If Kerensky had thought to put a few mines in the narrow channel he could have kept the sailors out of the city and defeated the revolution. But there were no mines, and the sailors in their black pea jackets began to disembark, carrying their rifles. Grigori prepared to deploy them around the Winter Palace.

  But the plan was still bedeviled by snags, to Grigori's immense exasperation. Isaak found a cannon and, with much effort, got it dragged into place, only to find that there were no shells for it. Meanwhile, loyalist troops at the palace were building barricades.

  Maddened by frustration, Grigori drove back to the Smolny.

  An emergency session of the Petrograd soviet was about to start. The spacious hall of the girls' school, painted a virginal white, was packed full with hundreds of delegates. Grigori went up onto the stage and sat beside Trotsky, who was about to open the session. "The assault has been delayed by a series of problems," he said.

  Trotsky took the bad news calmly. Lenin would have thrown a fit. Trotsky said: "When can you take the palace?"

  "Realistically, six o'clock. "

  Trotsky nodded calmly and stood up to address the meeting. "On behalf of the Military Revolutionary Committee, I declare that the provisional government no longer exists!" he shouted.

  There was a storm of cheering and shouting. Grigori thought: I hope I can make that lie true.

  When the noise died down, Trotsky listed the achievements of the Red Guards: the overnight seizure of railway stations and other key buildings, and the dispersal of the preparliament. He also announced that several government ministers had been individually arrested. "The Winter Palace has not been taken, but its fate will be decided momentarily!" There were more cheers.

  A dissenter shouted: "You are anticipating the will of the Congress of Soviets!"

  This was the soft democratic argument, one that Grigori himself would have advanced in the old days, before he became a realist.

  Trotsky's response was so quick that he must have expected this criticism. "The will of the congress has already been anticipated by the uprising of workers and soldiers," he replied.

  Suddenly there was a murmur around the hall. People began to stand up. Grigori looked toward the door, wondering why. He saw Lenin walking in. The deputies began to cheer. The noise became thunderous as Lenin came up onto the stage. He and Trotsky stood side by side, smiling and bowing in acknowledgment of the standing ovation, as the crowd acclaimed the coup that had not yet taken place.

  The tension between the victory being proclaimed in the hall and the reality of muddle and delay outside was too much for Grigori to bear, and he slipped away.

  The sailors still had not arrived from Helsingfors, and the cannon at the fortress were not yet ready to fire. As night fell, a cold drizzling rain began. Standing at the edge of Palace Square, with the Winter Palace in front of him and general staff headquarters behind, Grigori saw a force of cadets emerge from the palace. Their uniform badges said they were from the Mikhailovsky Artillery School, and they were leaving, taking four heavy guns with them. Grigori let them go.

  At seven o'clock he ordered a force of soldiers and sailors to enter general staff headquarters and seize control. They did so without opposition.

  At eight o'clock the two hundred Cossacks on guard at the palace decided to return to their barracks, and Grigori let them through the cordon. He realized that the irksome delays might not be a total catastrophe: the forces he had to overcome were diminishing with time.

  Just before ten, Isaak reported that the cannon were finally ready at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Grigori ordered one blank round to be fired, followed by a pause. As he had expected, more troops fled the palace.

  Could it be this easy?

  Out on the water, an alarm sounded aboard the Amur. Seeking the cause, Grigori looked downriver and saw the lights of approaching ships. His heart went cold. Had Kerensky succeeded in sending loyal forces to save his government at the last gasp? But then a cheer went up on the deck of the Amur, and Grigori realized the newcomers were the sailors from Helsingfors.

  When they were safely anchored, he gave the order for the shelling to begin-at last.

  There was a thunder of guns. Some shells exploded in midair, lighting up the ships on the river and the besieged palace. Grigori saw a hit on a third-floor corner window, and wondered if there had been anyone in the room. To his amazement, the brightly lit streetcars continued without interruption to trundle across the nearby Troitsky Bridge and Palace Bridge.

  It was nothing like the battlefield, of course. At the front there were hundreds of guns firing, perhaps thousands; here, just four. There were long intervals between shots, and it was shocking to see how many were wasted, falling short and dropping harmlessly into the river.

  Grigori called a halt and sent small groups of troops into the palace to reconnoiter. They came back to say that those few guards left were offering no resistance.

  Shortly after midnight, Grigori led a larger contingent inside. In accordance with prearranged tactics they spread through the palace, running along the grand dark corridors, neutralizing opposition and searching for government ministers. The palace looked like a disorderly barracks, with soldiers' mattresses on the parquet floors of the gilded staterooms, and everywhere a filthy litter of cigarette ends, crusts of bread, and empty bottles with French labels that the guards had presumably taken from the costly cellars of the tsar.

  Grigori heard a few scattered shots but there was not much fighting. He found no government ministers on the ground floor. The thought occurred to him they might have sneaked away, and he suffered a panicky moment. He did not want to have to report to Trotsky and Lenin that the members of Kerensky's government had slipped through his fingers.

  With Isaak and two other men he ran up a broad staircase to check the next floor. Together they burst through a pair of double doors into a meeting room and there found what was left of the provisional government: a small group of frightened men in suits and ties, sitting at a table and on armchairs around the room, wide-eyed with apprehension.

  One of them mustered a remnant of authority. "The provisional government is here-what do you want?" he said.

  Grigori recognized Alexander Konovalov, the wealthy textile manufacturer who was Kerensky's deputy prime minister.

  Grigori replied: "You are all under arrest. " It was a good moment, and he savored it.

  He turned to Isaak. "Write down their names. " He recognized all of them. "Konovalov, Maliantovich, Nikitin, Tereschenko. . . " When the list was complete he said: "Take them to the Peter and Paul Fortress and put them in the cells. I'll go to the Smolny and give Trotsky and Lenin the good news. "

  He left the building. Crossing Palace Square, he stopped for a minute, remembering his mother. She had died on this spot twelve years ago, shot by the tsar's guards. He turned around and looked at the vast palace, with its rows of white columns and the moonlight glinting off hundreds of windows. In a sudden fit of rage, he shook his fist at the building. "That's what you get, you devils," he said aloud. "That's what you get for killing her. "

  He waited until he felt calm again. I don't even know who I'm talking to, he thought. He jumped into his dust-colored armored car, waiting beside a dismantled barricade. "To the Smolny," he told the driver.

  As he drove the short distance he began to feel elated. Now we really have won, he told himself. We are the victors. The people have overthrown their opp

  He ran up the steps of the Smolny and into the hall. The place was packed, and the Congress of Soviets had opened. Trotsky had not been able to keep on postponing it. That was bad news. It would be just like the Mensheviks, and the other milquetoast revolutionaries, to demand a place in the new government even though they had done nothing to overthrow the old.

  A fog of tobacco smoke hung around the chandeliers. The members of the presidium were seated on the platform. Grigori knew most of them, and he studied the composition of the group. The Bolsheviks occupied fourteen of the twenty-five seats, he noted. That meant the party had the largest number of delegates. But he was horrified to see that the chairman was Kamenev-a moderate Bolshevik who had voted against an armed uprising! As Lenin had warned, the congress was shaping up for another feeble compromise.

  Grigori scanned the delegates in the hall and spotted Lenin in the front row. He went over and said to the man in the next seat: "I have to talk to Ilich-let me have your chair. " The man looked resentful, but after a moment he got up.

  Grigori spoke into Lenin's ear. "The Winter Palace is in our hands," he said. He gave the names of the ministers who had been arrested.

  "Too late," said Lenin bleakly.

  That was what Grigori had feared. "What's happening here?"

  Lenin looked black. "Martov proposed the motion. " Julius Martov was Lenin's old enemy. Martov had always wanted the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party to be like the British Labour Party, and fight for working people by democratic means; and his quarrel with Lenin over this issue had split the SDLP, back in 1903, into its two factions, Lenin's Bolsheviks and Martov's Mensheviks. "He argued for an end to street fighting followed by negotiations for a democratic government. "

  "Negotiations?" Grigori said incredulously. "We've seized power!"

  "We supported the motion," Lenin said tonelessly.

  Grigori was surprised. "Why?"

  "We would have lost if we opposed it. We have three hundred of the six hundred and seventy delegates. We're the largest party by a big margin, but we don't have an overall majority. "

  Grigori could have wept. The coup had come too late. There would be another coalition, its composition dictated by deals and compromises, and the government would dither on while Russians starved at home and died at the front.

  "But they're attacking us anyway," Lenin added.

  Grigori listened to the current speaker, someone he did not know. "This congress was called to discuss the new government, yet what do we find?" the man was saying angrily. "An irresponsible seizure of power has already occurred and the will of the congress has been preempted! We must save the revolution from this mad venture. "

  There was a storm of protest from the Bolshevik delegates. Grigori heard Lenin saying: "Swine! Bastard! Traitor!"

  Kamenev called for order.

  But the next speech was also bitterly hostile to the Bolsheviks and their coup, and it was followed by more in the same vein. Lev Khinchuk, a Menshevik, called for negotiations with the provisional government, and the eruption of indignation among the delegates was so violent that Khinchuk could not continue for some minutes. Finally, shouting over the noise, he said: "We leave the present congress!" Then he walked out of the hall.

  Grigori saw that their tactic would be to say that the congress had no authority once they had withdrawn. "Deserters!" someone shouted, and the cry was taken up around the hall.

  Grigori was appalled. They had waited so long for this congress. The delegates represented the will of the Russian people. But it was falling apart.

  He looked at Lenin. To Grigori's astonishment, Lenin's eyes glittered with delight. "This is wonderful," he said. "We're saved! I never imagined they would make such a mistake. "

  Grigori had no idea what he was talking about. Had Lenin become irrational?

  The next speaker was Mikhail Gendelman, a leading Socialist Revolutionary. He said: "Taking cognizance of the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, holding them responsible for this insane and criminal action, and finding it impossible to collaborate with them, the Socialist Revolutionary faction is leaving the congress!" And he walked out, followed by all the Socialist Revolutionaries. They were jeered, booed, and whistled at by the remaining delegates.

  Grigori was mortified. How could his triumph have degenerated, so quickly, into this kind of rowdyism?

  But Lenin looked even more pleased.

  A series of soldier-delegates spoke in favor of the Bolshevik coup, and Grigori began to brighten, but he still did not understand Lenin's jubilation. Ilich was now scribbling something on a notepad. As speech followed speech he corrected and rewrote. Finally he handed two sheets of paper to Grigori. "This must be presented to the congress for immediate adoption," he said.

  It was a long statement, full of the usual rhetoric, but Grigori homed in on the key sentence: "The congress hereby resolves to take governmental power into its own hands. "

  That was what Grigori wanted.

  "For Trotsky to read out?" said Grigori.

  "No, not Trotsky. " Lenin scanned the men-and one woman-on the platform. "Lunacharsky," he said.

  Grigori guessed Lenin felt Trotsky had already gained enough glory.

  Grigori took the proclamation to Lunarcharsky, who made a signal to the chairman. A few minutes later Kamenev called on Lunarcharsky, who stood up and read out Lenin's words.

  Every sentence was greeted with a roar of approval.

  The chairman called for a vote.

  And now, at last, Grigori began to see why Lenin was happy. With the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries out of the room, the Bolsheviks had an overwhelming majority. They could do anything they liked. There was no need for compromise.

  A vote was taken. Only two delegates were against.

  The Bolsheviks had the power, and now they had the legitimacy.

  The chairman closed the session. It was five A. M. on Thursday, November 8. The Russian Revolution was victorious. And the Bolsheviks were in charge.

  Grigori left the room behind Josef Stalin, the Georgian revolutionary, and another man. Stalin's companion wore a leather coat and a cartridge belt, as did many of the Bolsheviks, but something about him rang an alarm bell in Grigori's memory. When the man turned to say something to Stalin, Grigori recognized him, and a tremor of shock and horror ran through him.

  It was Mikhail Pinsky.

  He had joined the revolution.


  Grigori was exhausted. He had not slept for two nights. There had been so much to do that he had hardly noticed the passage of days. The armored car was the most uncomfortable vehicle he had ever traveled in, but all the same he fell asleep as it drove him home. When Isaak woke him he saw that they were outside the house. He wondered how much Katerina knew of what had happened. He hoped she had not heard too much, for that would give him the pleasure of telling her about the triumph of the revolution.

  He went into the house and stumbled up the stairs. There was a light under the door. "It's me," he said, and went into the room.

  Katerina was sitting up in bed with a tiny baby in her arms.

  Grigori was suffused with delight. "The baby came!" he said. "He's beautiful. "

  "It's a girl. "

  "A girl!"

  "You promised you would be here," Katerina said accusingly.

  "I didn't know!" He looked at the baby. "She has dark hair, like me. What shall we call her?"

  "I sent you a message. "

  Grigori recalled the guard who had told him someone was looking for him. Something about a midwife, the man had said. "Oh, my God," Grigori said. "I was so busy. . . "

  "Magda was attending to another birth," Katerina said. "I had to have Kseniya. "

  Grigori was concerned. "Did you suffer?"

  "Of course I suffered," Katerina snapped.

  "I'm so sorry. But listen! There's been a revolution! A
real one, this time-we've taken power! The Bolsheviks are forming a government. " He bent down to kiss her.

  "That's what I thought," she said, and she turned her face away.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Add comment

Add comment