Tag Archives: October

1917: Into the Dustbin of History

Trotsky speaking in Red Square

Leon Trotsky speaking before a crowd in Petrograd, October, 1917.

“I am certainly not radical enough. One can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself.” -Vladimir Lenin, in conversation with Valeriu Marcu while exiled in Switzerland.

On this day, one hundred years ago, the October Revolution began. In the Gregorian Calendar, the Revolution started on November 7, but in the old Russian Julian calendar, it was October 25. In memory, it marked the beginning of the state that would become the Soviet Union. For those involved, it was something more important: the end of the Provisional Government and what might be called a de facto state of anarchy.

The word anarchy is worth interrogating. Recent abuses of the word in popular culture suggest that anarchy is a kind of directionless physical violence, which removes it from its more valuable political usage. Anarchy was a widespread political ideology at the turn of the century, seen as the antithesis to monarchy, oligarchy, and above all, hierarchy. These words stem from the Greek arkhon, meaning “ruler,” and in the Athenian Democracy indicated certain offices that one could hold as religious kings, generals, or administrators. Anarchy, then, is the absence of rulers, but specifically the absence of hierarchy, or the stratification of rulers over the ruled. In the context of an oppressive Tsarist empire whose police shot protestors while stoking antisemitism and nationalism and fought a useless war for political ambitions and allegiances, the concept of anarchy would have been quite appealing.

The problem with the Provisional Government that formed after February, 1917, was not that it was explicitly authoritarian. The problem, from its inception, was that it was a balancing act between traditional hierarchies and the growing desire for the end of those hierarchies. Alexander Kerensky came to control the Provisional Government, sharing power with the soviets while trying to maintain the war.  What Trotsky called “dual power” between Kerensky’s Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet (representing workers, peasants, and soldiers), Lenin called “Bonapartism,” in reference to Napoleon Bonaparte. In mid-1917, Lenin wrote that Kerensky was maneuvering “state power, which leans on the military clique (on the worst elements of the army) for support, between two hostile classes and forces which more or less balance each other out.” Lenin was not alone in criticizing the Provisional Government, which was a primary point of contention among Russia’s revolutionaries.

Apart from Kerensky’s perpetuation of the war effort, he was shown to be an unhelpful leader in August, during what became known as the Kornilov Affair. Lavr Kornilov was a general who, in August, attempted to overthrow the Provisional Government and install a right-wing military dictatorship, a proto-fascist regime that would have undermined the February Revolution and reinstated a new Tsarism. As China Mieville writes of the affair, “. . . there was more than one conspiracy simmering away on the right. Various shadowy groups–the Union of Officers, the Republican Centre and Military League–were meeting to discuss plans for martial law” (213). Add to these the threat of the antisemitic Black Hundreds, responsible for mass murders and pogroms across Russia, as well as counterrevolutionary efforts to win the war, the bleak regime Kornilov almost created would have been as oppressive, if not more so, than the regime of Tsar Nicholas II. But the coup failed because Kerensky managed to work alongside the Petrograd Soviet in time to stop Kornilov’s renegades from invading the capitol.

There was leadership, then, but no ruler. Christopher Read writes that one consequence of the Kornilov Affair was “a sort of reverse of the July Days,” that the “right had discredited itself and restored the ascendancy of the left.” He also writes that there were consequences for Kerensky, too, who “made an agreement with the Petrograd Soviet, armed it, withdrew the ban on its members, primarily the Bolsheviks, and released Soviet prisoners from jail. . . But it was not enough. Kerensky was seen to have cultivated Kornilov in the first place, not least in appointing him C-in-C” (Read 92-93). Indeed, Kerensky was seen as having worked with Kornilov, and many believed that he was sympathetic to an authoritarian coup that would relieve him of his duties. If nothing else, the affair proved that the Provisional Government had become dysfunctional, barely clinging to life.

In the months that followed, popular support for the Bolsheviks rose while support for Kerensky plummeted. It is important to note that the goal of most on the far left, including some Mensheviks, was to pass power to the soviets completely, and end the power of the Provisional Government. As early as September, “eighty soviets in large and medium towns backed the call for a soviet government. In towns such as Tsaritsyn, Narva, Krasnoiarsk, and Kostroma soviet power was already a reality” (Smith 147). During this time, the Bolsheviks were actively campaigning from the ground up, organizing factories, speaking in public, and stoking public support for a soviet antithesis to the Provisional Government. It was around this time that Lenin suggested that the Bolsheviks, “‘having obtained a majority in the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies in both capitols, can and must take state power into their own hands‘” (Mieville 246), and should make no compromise with the Provisional Government by simply walking away from it.

Here, Lenin believed that the time was ripe for the soviets to lead the soviets in taking power. Earlier, he had encouraged the Bolsheviks to refrain from leaving the Provisional Government in July because they were not popularly supported, and it was important for him to recognize that the support of the workers, peasants, and soldiers was more important than overthrowing a weak Provisional Government. It had to be done for the soviets and all they represented. Now that it was clear the Bolsheviks were going to gain popular recognition in an upcoming pre-parliament session (which would begin October 7), the Bolsheviks would declare their legitimacy among the soviets and then walk out.

The Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai, who helped exiled leaders like Lenin correspond with the party and without whom the revolution would not have succeeded, articulated the main argument against working with the Provisional Government in her text “Why the Bolsheviks Must Win.” She wrote that the “February revolution could remove none of the factors which caused it, namely war, rising prices, famine and privation. At the same time, the Russian bourgeoisie calmly continued their rule” (Kollontai). In other words, the horrors that motivated widespread protests across Russia continued to inflict damage, and needed to be addressed with different means. For many Bolsheviks, this meant an armed insurrection to precipitate the transfer of power to the soviets.

After walking out on the pre-parliament, the Bolshevik Central Committee met in secret on October 10 to vote on whether or not to implement an insurrection. By ten to two, after numerous speeches from numerous members, they voted in favor of insurrection. They were now popular representatives of the peasants and workers, and the time had come for another, more radical change necessitated by the moment’s urgency. For the Central Committee members, waiting for more elections would result only in more casualties as the German army approached and increase the chance of another Kornilov-inspired coup. If they waited any longer, the comatose Provisional Government might be toppled and a military dictator might be installed.

The insurrection began on October 25. Fittingly, this was also Trotsky’s birthday.

That day, Trotsky spoke to an “emergency session of the Petrograd Soviet” and announced, “‘On behalf of the Military Revolutionary Committee, I declare that the Provisional Government no longer exists‘” (Mieville 289). The Second Congress of Soviets opened to debate a new soviet-led government. Meanwhile, Red Guards (a paramilitary branch of the Bolsheviks), seized key areas of Petrograd, including bridges, train stations, the post office, and eventually the Winter Palace, where they arrested the remaining members of the Provisional Government, who surrendered peacefully. All except Kerensky, who had long since fled the city.

A number of elected officials who opposed the insurrection walked out of the Second Congress of Soviets, while Trotsky pontificated on the legitimacy of the move he and the Bolsheviks made: “A rising of the masses of the people requires no justification. What has happened is an insurrection, and not a conspiracy.” While those who dissented walked up and left, just as the Bolsheviks had at the pre-parliament weeks before, Trotsky denounced them, shouting, “you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out. Go where you ought to go: to the dustbin of history” (298-299). On those words, the opposition left the Congress to continue debating a new regime, one without monarchy, oligarchy, or hierarchy.

By early morning on October 26, after tense nightlong debates, the Second Congress of Soviets passed a resolution drafted by Lenin to build a soviet-exclusive government, end the war, grant self-determination to nations Russia had subjugated, and transfer land to the peasants (303-304), thus creating an all-soviet state.

The October Revolution occurred without a single loss of life. It was armed, but bloodless. A ship controlled by the Red Guards, the Aurora, fired a blank shot, and some shots were fired periodically during the arrest of the Provisional Government, but nobody died in the October Revolution, partly because of how well organized the Red Guards were, but mostly because the government in place was apathetic to its own demise. It did not resist arrest and cancellation, which suggests that the October Revolution was not a coup, as some historians contest. As S. A. Smith puts it, “. . . a coup implies the seizure of a functioning state machine. Arguably, Russia had not had this since February” (43).

It is telling that the document announcing the insurrection’s success, titled “To the Citizens of Russia,” begins not by declaring a new soviet regime but by iterating that “The Provisional Government has been deposed” (Lenin). A bottom-up regime change was important, but it was more important to end what was in place, a doomed, if not failed, attempt to sustain a fraction of the old guard through the exhausted imitation of the old guard’s strategies. It was not a state of anarchy the way contemporary anarchists would have preferred. Kerensky held together a stitched-up government of poorly balanced provisions and hierarchy beyond its health. He was not a competent ruler, but he still ruled, and as such, he presided over a kind of anarchy by leaving the Provisional Government open to coups that favored hierarchy, which would have been a return to pre-revolutionary Russia.

The October Revolution was an attempt to replace the lasting remains of the Tsarist regime with something new, something untried, something that could create a state without hierarchy. It was a somewhat democratic effort to reaffirm the rule of the soviets, to make every worker, peasant, and soldier free of status. It seems that in the moment, the only other option was a cynical return to military dictatorship, well-known to those many who survived it before. The Bolsheviks wanted to give the Congress an alternative, however strange and frightening it may have been, to what Russians had spent decades suffering through. After the bloody Civil War, Lenin’s too-soon passing, and Stalin’s hijacking of the state, the Second Congress is easily obscured in its long, cold aftermath.

One step forward, one step back.

Trotsky condemned those who refused to try for an alternative to hierarchy to the “dustbin of history,” where, now that Russia is under a new brand of right-wing authoritarianism, the entire Soviet Union now rests, sometimes even in peace.


Mieville, China. October. Verso, 2017.

Read, Christopher. War and Revolution in Russia, 1914-1922. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Smith, S. A. Russia in Revolution. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Smith, S. A. The Russian Revolution. Sterling, 2011.

Thorley, John. Athenian Democracy. Routledge, 1996.

I Bought a Pumpkin. Now What?

Orange

Leaves are changing colors, candy is getting cheaper and oranger, and the farmer’s market is filled with freshly harvested pumpkins. Resisting temptation is hard; now I have a pumpkin. What does one even do with a pumpkin?

Orange Triptych

The first thing to do is get to know the pumpkin. Give it a cute name, something like Fred. Spend a few nights drinking with Fred. Really get to know him. From there, it’ll be easier to figure out what you want to do with Fred. In my case, I wanted to make Fred into a pie.

Fred 1

Give Fred a good bath, remove Fred’s stem, and slice Fred laterally with a large cutting knife. This might upset Fred, but he’ll just have to learn to live with it. Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, remove all of Fred’s insides, scraping against the flesh to get all the strands and seeds out. It goes without saying you can save Fred’s inside for later consumption. Dash a little salt onto Fred’s flesh, place his two halves flesh-side down on a covered cookie sheet, and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about thirty minutes, or until Fred is nice and mushy, like he always gets after a few beers.

Fred 2

Again, using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scrape out Fred’s flesh, which should come out easily after baking Fred. He may be confused at this point, but just remind him it’s for a good cause. Mash (or blend in a food processor) Fred’s flesh, until it’s nice and smooth. You can store some of Fred’s flesh in the freezer for future endeavors. For example, you can make muffins out of Fred, too.

Toss 1 cup of Fred’s pureed flesh into a sauce pan and cook until it simmers. Add 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves. Feel free to adjust the spices to make Fred as spicy as you like. Fred, of course, prefers to be very spicy, if his sass didn’t tell you anything. Mix well and let simmer.

Fred 5

In a separate bowl, combine two eggs and 1 cup of brown sugar. Add this to Fred’s simmering remains and stir to combine.

Fred 4

Once the eggs, sugar, cream, and Fred are thoroughly combined, pour into a pie dish with a prepared crust. You can make your own crust (like I did, in a completely unpretentious way), or buy a premade crust. Place the pie dish on a cleaned cookie sheet and bake Fred at 350 degrees for forty to fifty minutes. Fred will be very disappointed, but delicious. You can make it up to Fred by covering him in whipped cream and serving him with hot beverages. Like all gingers, Fred loves whipped cream and hot beverages.

Fred 6

-jk

The Ghost of the Liberal Arts Building

A very seasonal short story about Karl, who wonders if the Liberal Arts building is haunted.

October 29, 2011

LAThe other night I was in the Liberal Arts building talking to Dr. Corddry about my paper and what classes to take next semester. I was there late cause his class is already late to begin with, and his office hours got pushed to the absolute latest at night they could be. I left his room planning on taking a creative writing class and another literature class with him, and that’s when I saw my friend Vince sitting on one of the horrible benches in the halls. Vince is a weird guy. He never wears anything on his feet, and he has a knack for finding situations where he gets free food. It’s like a sixth sense or a fifth element or whatever that movie with the alien kid was called. He always smells like coconuts, and he thinks the FBI is spying on him, which might actually be true given how paranoid he is.
I asked him what he was doing.
“I got stuck in here cause a skinwalker is chasing me.”
“A skinwalker?”
“Yeah, like the shape-shifting monsters. I was outside enjoying a smoke, and suddenly this big hairy guy pops out from the bushes and tries to kill me. I ran as fast as I could.”
Behind me, Dr. Corddry locked up his office and walked away, putting on a baseball cap and using his tie to wipe food from his mouth, like he always did.
“So you get chased by a big hairy monster, and the first place you think to go is Liberal Arts?”
Vince shrugged. “It’s safer than out there. You know, Maxwell vanished, too. Maybe the skinwalkers got him. Maybe he was eaten or something.”
“You sure it was a skinwalker, and not, like, one of the janitors or something? They can be pretty scary sometimes, especially late at night.”
I said I’d walk with him back to Cowden. He’s kinda paranoid, to be honest. Maybe that’s a good thing, cause the janitors and librarians and RAs all steal things from the lost and found and sell them for liquor or cigarettes, but he was more paranoid than usual. So I thought, maybe he really did see a giant hairy monster, but that could describe like twenty dudes in my psychology class. We got to the first floor of Liberal Arts. They have these motion-sensor lights that turn off when nobody’s around and turn on the second you walk past them. Only this time, the lights didn’t turn on. All we had were the red exit signs to light up the hall. We were in almost total darkness. I said they must be broken, but Vince, whose bare feet kept making slapping sounds when he walked on the tiles, said it was the skinwalker.
“They always cut off the power first,” he said, “to mess with us first.”
“That’s what aliens do.”
“Maybe there’s an alien invasion, too.”
We went to the front door, and the lights were still broken. I gotta be honest, Liberal Arts is already a pretty spooky building in the day, but at night, it’s way creepier. Nobody was around, not even the janitors. Vince kept foot-slapping on the floor, but stopped suddenly.
“Maybe I should use my phone for a light.”
“Good idea.”
We both took our our phones, but the lights barely did any use. So we put them back and just went in the darkness, which we were actually starting to adjust to. Then I heard a door open behind us. We turned around, not wanting to make any noise. For like ten minutes, we didn’t move or breathe. Maybe Liberal Arts really was haunted, I thought. Or maybe it was zombies, or something. We kept going, but Vince tried not to make any noise when he walked.
When we got to the front doors, I heard somebody grumbling. Then the doors opened, and in the red exit-sign lights, I saw the person in the gorilla suit who’d been chasing me since September. That’s when I realized, that’s what Vince meant when he said he saw a skinwalker. He screamed and turned around, but slipped because his feet didn’t have any grip cause I guess he keeps them smooth and silky or something, and fell to the floor. I tried helping him up, but the gorilla lumbered forward. Then Vince, the stupid jerk, pulled me down with him, and kicked me closer to the gorilla. He got up and ran, but slipped again.
The gorilla stood over me. How the hell does NAU get away with this sort of thing? Broken lights, no security guards, weirdos who where gorilla costumes.
“Who are you?” I asked. “Seriously, I see you like everywhere. You’re in Cowden and Cline and everywhere else I go. What’s your deal?” Of course those would be my last words.
The gorilla grabbed my legs and dragged me across the tiles. What the hell! Who does that? I slid pretty well, though, cause they just polished the floor, I guess, so it wasn’t actually that uncomfortable. Then he took me to this corner with snack machines that glow brightly, and stepped back. I was sure he was going to kill me or eat me or stuff me into the snack machine one limb at a time, but then he took the gorilla head off.
And it was Maxwell! I thought the lost-and-found people killed him, but he was alive! But then I remembered that it was kinda my fault the lost-and-found people hunted him down in the first place.
“You stupid jackass,” he said. I was so glad he wasn’t going to stab me with a broken soda can that I agreed with him completely. He ranted for a bit, cause he found out it was me who stole the pot he was supposed to drop off for the lost-and-found people, and how he had to go into hiding.
“So have you been the gorilla all along?” I asked.
“No. The real gorilla person is temporarily indisposed right now.”
“Well, how can I pay you back? I lost one of the joints. I still have the other.”
“Give me what you have and pay me back in double.”
I did some math in my head that took like five minutes.
“Is that like three joints, then?”
He also did some math in his head.
“Close enough.”
I was glad Maxwell was still technically alive, and that I didn’t have to die yet.
Down the hall, I heard slapping and screaming. Vince came running down the hallway shouting, and he jumped over one of the gray plastic tables at us. He had a cross in one hand and a linguistics book in the other (cause those linguistics text books can kill people, and probably have). He tripped again, threw the cross at Maxwell, and then dropped the book. The cross bounced off his furry gorilla shoulders, and we glared at him. The lights came back on, and Vince saw that it was Maxwell. He screamed that it was Maxwell’s ghost haunting the Liberal Arts building, but we convinced him that Maxwell was just alive, and not the living dead.
So that’s how my night went. I owed Maxwell like a million cigarettes. But he never really told me what happened to the person who normally wore the gorilla suit. I guess I’ll never know, unless the person comes back for the costume or for revenge or something.
That’s my life. Good luck with your own.
-Karl