With the Military Revolutionary Committee in open defiance of government authority, the loyalties of key sections of workers and soldiers are tested and confirmed. Meanwhile, the forces of the Provisional Government are isolated and undermined. Without firing a shot, the Bolsheviks begin transferring power into their hands, while the government forces feel it slipping away.
Petrograd, October 31 (October 18, O.S.): Gorky’s Novaya Zhizn prints attack by Kamenev on Bolshevik leadership
Opposing the decision of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party to prepare for an armed uprising, Lev Kamenev resigns from the CC on October 29 (October 16, O.S.). He demands that his objections to Lenin’s resolution be published in the party’s central organ, Rabochii put’ (The Workers’ Path). When the editorial board rejects this demand, Kamenev sends a brief summary of his position to Maxim Gorky’s newspaper Novaya Zhizn’ (The New Life). Gorky’s newspaper promptly publishes Kamenev’s attack on the Bolshevik leadership and reveals the Bolshevik preparations for an uprising, adding a condemnation of the Bolsheviks by Gorky himself. The letter by Kamenev stated:
Not only Comrade [Grigory] Zinoviev and I, but also a number of practical comrades think that to assume the initiative of an armed insurrection at the present moment, with the given correlation of forces, independently of and several days before the Congress of Soviets, is an inadmissible step ruinous to the proletariat and to the revolution. ...it is our obligation under the given conditions to speak out against any attempt to take the initiative for an armed uprising, which would be doomed to defeat and would entail the most devastating consequences for the party, for the proletariat, for the fate of the revolution...
Lenin, who learns about the letter from a comrade who dictates it to him over the phone, is furious. Fearing that the publication could explode the plans for a seizure of power, he demands that the Central Committee expel Kamenev and Zinoviev for their violation of party discipline. In a letter to Bolshevik party members, written that same day, he denounces their “strike-breaking act:”
It is perfectly clear from the text of Kamenev’s and Zinoviev’s statement that they have gone against the Central Committee, for otherwise their statement would be meaningless. But they do not say what specific decision of the Central Committee they are disputing. Why? The reason is obvious: because it has not been published by the Central Committee. What does this boil down to? On a burning question of supreme importance, on the eve of the critical day of October 20, two “prominent Bolsheviks” attack an unpublished decision of the Party centre and attack it in the non-Party press and, furthermore, in a paper which on this very question is hand in glove with the bourgeoisie against the workers' party! This is a thousand times more despicable and a million times more harmful than all the statements Plekhanov, for example, made in the non-Party press in 1906-07, and which the Party so sharply condemned! At that time it was only a question of elections, whereas now it is a question of an insurrection for the conquest of power! On such a question, after a decision has been taken by the centre, to dispute this unpublished decision in front of the Rodziankos and Kerenskys in a non-Party paper—can you imagine an act more treacherous or blacklegging any worse? I should consider it disgraceful on my part if I were to hesitate to condemn these former comrades because of my earlier close relations with them. I declare outright that I no longer consider either of them comrades and that I will fight with all my might, both in the Central Committee and at the Congress, to secure the expulsion of both of them from the Party.
However, a Central Committee meeting on November 2 (October 20, O.S.) decides against expelling Kamenev and Zinoviev. The main reason for the decision to keep them in the party is the fact that, even with their disloyal and treacherous behavior, Kamenev and Zinoviev reflect a broader tendency within the Bolshevik party as a whole. The positions of Kamenev and Zinoviev are shared, for instance, by several members at a general Bolshevik meeting in Petrograd on October 31 (18, O.S.).
Palestine, October 31: British and allies launch autumn offensive with Battle of Beersheba
The nearly 60,000-strong Allied Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) launches an assault on an Ottoman garrison at Beersheba, which is defended by only 4,400 rifles. This is the first step in the EEF’s autumn offensive, aimed at taking Palestine from the Ottomans. Britain’s desire to capture Palestine is part of a wider strategy throughout the Middle East to isolate Turkish troops in the Levant and Arab peninsula by retaking Mesopotamia and controlling the Persian Gulf. British attempts to push into Palestine earlier this year were frustrated in two bloody battles over Gaza, which cost the lives of more than 10,000 allied soldiers.
A heavy artillery bombardment on the fortified Ottoman positions begins at 5:55 a.m., and British troops also successfully cut through barbed wire defenses in two places. Ottoman counter-fire targets assembled British infantry troops, causing severe losses. A member of the Queens Westminster Rifles writes, “High explosive is bursting between us and the guns. Shrapnel comes over. Burst above us and rains down on us. Steady stream of wounds. Young Morrison, elbow. Brown, arm. Low, head, and so on and so on. We ought to move back to our old position. Stupid to be in front of these guns which are banging away all the time, kicking up hells delight, and drawing fire which we are a catching.”
A succession of attacks culminates in a cavalry charge by the Australian Mounted Division’s 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments. Savage fighting ensues, with cavalrymen wielding their bayonets in their hands. The EEF suffers 171 casualties and the Ottoman forces around 1,000, with an additional 2,000 Ottoman soldiers taken prisoner. This action effectively ends the stalemate that has existed in Southern Palestine for the past six months, resulting in the construction of trenches like those on the Western Front along a 30-mile line from Gaza to Beersheba.
On November 1, following the success at Beersheba, the British Empire units launch a series of attacks along the Ottoman defensive lines, leading to the Battle of Tel el Khuweilfe. On November 1-2, the Third Battle of Gaza is launched. Over the course of several days of fighting, Ottoman troops finally evacuate the fortress November 7. The Allied forces suffer around 3,000 casualties, while the vastly outnumbered Ottoman forces suffer 1,000 casualties, with 300 taken prisoner. The Ottoman Seventh and Eighth armies, which had previously formed a defensive line from Gaza to Beersheba, are forced to retreat. Allied troops are now advancing on Jerusalem.
Berlin, November 1: Kaiser Wilhelm II names Georg Friedrich Graf von Hertling new chancellor
After the second downfall of a chancellor in three months, Kaiser Wilhelm appoints the arch-conservative Bavarian Centre Party politician Georg Friedrich Graf von Hertling as chancellor and minister president of Prussia.
His appointment has been preceded by a days-long tug of war between the various parliamentary groups of the parties in the Reichstag, the government bureaucracy and the Supreme Army Command (OHL), out of which the military emerges strengthened. The new chancellor, Graf von Hertling, is a puppet of the dictatorial clique of military commanders led by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff. The OHL favors him because, notwithstanding his physical fragility and age (74), he is a steadfast advocate of the goals of imperialist conquest contained in former Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg’s September Program, agreed in September 1914, and the war aims promulgated at the Bad Kreuznach conference in April 1917. In addition, as a representative of the Catholic large landowners and grand burghers, he has been a bitter enemy of Social Democracy for decades.
Graf von Hertling’s predecessor, Georg Michaelis, also saw himself as a political proxy of the OHL. However, he had only been in power a few weeks when he rashly confronted the centrist split-off from the SPD, the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), accusing them of having acted in a treasonous manner by inciting the sailors’ revolt in the summer. Under conditions of ongoing strikes in the arms, metalwork and mining industries, this move only threw oil on the fire of the class struggle. To suppress the outbreak of open revolutionary struggles, an alliance of the SPD, Catholic Centre Party and Progressive People’s Party (FVP) compelled Michaelis to tender his resignation October 20.
London, November 2: British Foreign Secretary authors Balfour Declaration
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur James Balfour, writes a letter in response to Lord Rothschild and the Zionist Federation that will subsequently become known as the Balfour Declaration. The letter, which commits Britain to support the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, is authorized at a meeting of the British War Cabinet on October 31. In it, Balfour writes:
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
The Balfour Declaration paves the way for the establishment of the Jewish Legion to fight alongside British forces in Palestine; the limited emigration of European Jews into post-war Palestine, which would be ruled by Britain under the victors’ carve-up of the Ottoman Empire; the emergence of the State of Israel; and a century of conflict between Arabs and Jews, both of which seek to establish nation-states on the small former Ottoman province.
The core of the Zionist idea, set out by Theodore Herzl in 1896 as the solution to the persecution and oppression faced by European Jewry, entails the rebirth of a Jewish nation within a political entity in which they are a tiny minority, estimated as no more than 3 to 5 percent. Such a project required the sponsorship of a dominant power. Britain gradually became receptive to the idea after Turkey, contrary to expectations, entered the war on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The Balfour Declaration is the outcome of extensive lobbying for a Jewish state over several years by Zionists in Britain, including Chaim Weizmann. The Declaration is aimed at securing a client for Britain—and thus an excuse for intervention—in a strategic location that would join the various parts of the British Empire from the Atlantic to the middle of the Pacific.
The Balfour Declaration thus figures in a series of secret, fraudulent and mutually irreconcilable agreements designed to bring the territories of the Ottoman Empire, with their oil supplies and trade, under British control. These agreements include London’s promise in 1915 to the Hashemite Sherif Hussein of Mecca of independence for the territories that would later be known known as Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, in return for his support against the Turks. These promises are directly contradicted by the Sykes-Picot agreement with France in 1916, which contained provisions for the carve-up of the region between British and French colonial rule after the war.
Petrograd, November 3 (October 21, O.S.): Openly defying the government, Military Revolutionary Committee asserts control over the army
On November 2, the Military Revolutionary Committee schedules a session of the garrison conference of soldiers for the following day. That meeting opens with a speech by Trotsky, who appeals for soldiers to support the Petrograd Soviet and the Revolutionary Military Committee in the direct struggle for power. One observer recalls:
After Trotsky’s speech, a whole series of people spoke out in regard to the necessity of immediately transferring power to the soviets . . .
The representative of the Fourth Don Cossack Regiment informed the assembly that his regimental committee had decided against participation in the next day’s religious procession [i.e., a demonstration by right-wing forces].
The representative of the Fourteenth Don Cossack Regiment caused a sensation when he declared that his regiment not only would not support counterrevolutionary moves, irrespective of whence they came, but would fight the counterrevolution with all its strength. “In this sense, [he said,] I shake hands with my comrade Cossack from the Fourth Don Cossack Regiment.” (At this the orator bent down and shook hands with the Cossack from the Fourth Regiment.) And, in response, the assembly exploded in a roar of enthusiastic approval and thunderous applause which did not die down for a long time.
The conference passes a series of resolutions aligned with the insurrection, including a demand that the upcoming All-Russian Congress of Soviets “take power in its hands and provide peace, bread, and land for the people,” as well as a pledge by the soldiers to support and defend the transfer of power to the soviets.
Trotsky appears in the middle of a mass meeting of soldiers the following day, and the speakers immediately yield to let him ascend the podium. The meeting lasts late into the evening and becomes tense as a vote approaches as to whether the soldiers will support the Military Revolutionary Committee. Finally, soldiers who support the Military Revolutionary Committee are asked to step to the left, with those opposed to step to the right. “With cries of hurrah, an overwhelming majority rushed to the left,” the Bolshevik Mikhail Lashevich later recalls.
The Provisional Government, fearing the insurrection, has ordered the soldiers out of the city. Amid great excitement, the soldiers are refusing to leave, and Trotsky has instructed soldiers not to obey any commands not approved by the Military Revolutionary Committee.
(Source: Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks Come to Power, Haymarket Books 2009, pp. 240-241)
Boston, November 3: Conductor of Boston Symphony Orchestra offers resignation over alleged German sympathies
The American government and mainstream press are whipping up anti-German hysteria. The latest target is the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which has allegedly failed to play the American national anthem, the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Its German-born conductor, Dr. Karl Muck, is forced to tender his resignation. So far, Henry Lee Higginson, the BSO’s founder and financier, has refused to accept the resignation. Muck, previously director of the Royal Opera of Berlin and the Vienna Philharmonic and one of the leading interpreters of Wagner, assumed his role with the BSO in 1912.
The attacks on Muck begin this week in the Providence Journal after a BSO Rhode Island performance did not include the anthem. A subsequent performance in Baltimore is canceled. All during the week denunciations against Muck escalate, coming from major newspapers as well as public comments from the likes of former President Theodore Roosevelt, the Roman Catholic Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, and a rival conductor, the German-born Walter Damrosch of the New York Philharmonic.
In fact, Muck has not “refused” to play the American national anthem, which is a romantic war poem set to a popular British drinking song. It is simply not part of the repertoire of the BSO. Muck states,
Art is a thing by itself, and not related to any particular nation or group. Therefore, it would be a gross mistake, a violation of artistic taste and principles for such an organization as ours to play patriotic airs. Does the public think that the Symphony Orchestra is a military band or a ballroom orchestra?
However, buckling before the nationalist onslaught, the BSO, starting November 3, plays the national anthem after each performance, with Muck conducting. In a strong show of support, Muck is greeted with a standing ovation on the first night.
None of this will spare Muck from the police state created by the Wilson administration. Muck will be arrested as an “enemy alien” on March 25, 1918 under the absurd evidence that his markings on a copy of the score of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” to have been performed the very next day, are military code. He will be interned at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia until August 21, 1919. He will then be deported, never again to return to Boston.
Petrograd, November 4 (October 22, O.S.): Leading Bolsheviks campaign for insurrection on “Petrograd Soviet Day”
Sunday, October 22 (O.S.), has been designated as “Petrograd Soviet Day.” All of the Bolsheviks’ most popular orators—including Trotsky, Volodarsky, Lashevich, Kollontai, Raskolnikov, and Krylenko—address mass meetings and huge rallies throughout the city.
The House of the People, located on the bank of the Neva River, is packed with a massive crowd anxious to hear the featured speaker, Trotsky. In his speech, Trotsky declares that the revolutionary fire ignited by the imminent revolution will engulf the entire world. The Menshevik-Internationalist Sukhanov, who is present, later recalls:
All around me was a mood bordering on ecstasy. It seemed as if the crowd, spontaneously and of its own accord, would break into some religious hymn. Trotsky formulated a brief and general resolution …
[Who was in favor of the resolution?] The crowd of thousands, as one man, raised its hands…
Trotsky went on speaking. The innumerable crowd continued to hold up its hands. Trotsky rapped out the words: “Let this vote of yours be your vow – with all your strength and at any sacrifice to support the Soviet that has taken on itself the glorious burden of bringing the victory of the revolution to a conclusion and of giving land, bread, and peace!”
The vast crowd was holding up its hands. It agreed. It vowed …
A reporter for the newspaper Rech’—which is hostile to the Bolsheviks—records that the massive crowd had raised its hands and was chanting, “We swear it!” (Source: Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks Come to Power, Haymarket Books 2009, p. 242). In The History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky writes:
The same scene was to be observed on a smaller scale in all parts of the city from centre to suburbs. Hundreds of thousands of people, at one and the same hour, lifted their hands and took a vow to carry the struggle through to the end. The daily meetings of the Soviet, the soldiers’ section, the Garrison Conference, the factory and shop committees, had given inner solidarity to a big group of leaders; separate mass meetings had united the factories and regiments; but that day, the 22nd of October, welded in one gigantic cauldron and under high temperature the authentic popular masses. The masses saw themselves and their leaders; the leaders saw and listened to the masses. Each side was satisfied with the other. The leaders were convinced: We can postpone no longer! The masses said to themselves: This time the thing will be done!
November 4-5 (October 22-23, O.S.): Provisional Government tries to rally counter-revolution in Petrograd
The “supreme head” and dictator of the regime of “blood and iron,” Alexander Kerensky, can only listen helplessly to reports of one after another mass rally held by the Bolsheviks. His government is paralyzed. Kerensky and his ministers are afraid that if they make any move against the Bolsheviks, it will be widely perceived as a counterrevolutionary measure that will only further inflame pro-Bolshevik sentiments. There are proposals to bring in troops from the front to “restore law and order”—another march on Petrograd like the one already attempted by Kornilov—but these proposals are ultimately rejected amid fears that any soldiers brought into the capital will merely go over to the Bolsheviks.
Meanwhile, soldiers everywhere are declaring their loyalty to the Military Revolutionary Committee. Soldiers will not obey any commands unless they are approved by the soviet commissars. The government, out of options, decides to summon to the Winter Palace the officer cadets from military academies, the First Petrograd Women’s Shock Battalion from Leshova, and a tiny cluster of other units whose loyalty they believe can be counted upon.
In The History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky describes a scene from the streets of Petrograd on the eve of the armed insurrection:
It is October. Cold and raw Baltic winds from the direction of Kronstadt are blowing through the squares and along the quays of Petrograd. Junkers in long coats to their heels are patrolling the streets, drowning their anxiety in songs of triumph.
The mounted police are riding up and down, prancing, their revolvers in brand-new holsters. No. The power still looks imposing enough! Or is this perhaps an optical illusion? At a corner of the Nevsky, John Reed, an American with naïve and intelligent eyes in his head, buys a brochure of Lenin’s entitled Will the Bolsheviks Be Able To Hold the State Power? paying for it with one of those postage stamps which are now circulating in place of money.
At the last moment Kerensky lashes out desperately, giving orders for the arrest of Bolshevik leaders, including Trotsky. The cabinet also orders the Bolshevik papers Rabochii Put’ and Soldat to be shut down (and also, to preserve a pretense of impartiality, two far-right papers). Warrants issue for the arrest of the editors of these papers. On the night of October 23-24 (O.S.), government forces raid and shut down the Bolshevik printing presses. This move, while intended to be a show of strength, is one of the last acts of the Provisional Government in power.
Berlin, November 5: Conference between Germany and Austria-Hungary affirms war until “final victory”
Under the leadership of Germany’s State Secretary for External Affairs (foreign minister) Richard von Kühlmann, a two-day-long conference between Germany and Austria-Hungary gathers to reevaluate the war aims of the Axis Powers. The delegation from Vienna is led by Imperial and Royal Foreign Minister Ottikar Czernin.
Over recent days, since the appointment of new German Chancellor Graf von Hertling, Germany’s war aims have been confirmed between the government, OHL, the Prussian Ministry of State, the Crown Council, and the Kaiser. These must now in effect be dictated to the Austro-Hungarian ally.
In Eastern and Southeast Europe in particular, the war booty is to be divided up differently than previously planned. One year ago, the German government proclaimed an independent Poland, which in reality was dominated by the German Empire so as to expand Germany’s political, economic and military spheres of influence further east to the Russian borders. The territorial losses for Austria-Hungary were to be compensated by granting the Habsburgs total control over Romania.
This strategy is now abandoned because, among other things, the past 12 months have shown that even a nominally independent Poland is encouraging the emergence of oppositional tendencies among the many Poles living in the east of the German Empire, endangering the empire’s stability. Instead, Congress Poland, Galicia and the areas of Poland controlled by Russia will be given to Austria-Hungary.
However, Berlin imposes conditions on its ally: (1) a broad strip of territory on the Polish border will be controlled by the German Empire; (2) Germany will retain a dominant economic and military influence in a Poland administered by Austria-Hungary; (3) the Baltic states of Lithuania and Kurland will be fully integrated into the German Empire; (4) Austria must abandon all claims in Romania, which immediately becomes a German sphere of interest; and (5) Austria-Hungary will reach no separate peace with the Entente as a whole or any of its members. Instead, it will fight with Germany until “final victory,” and until Berlin has secured its goals in the west, economic union with Belgium, annexation of the French iron ore and coal mines in Longwy-Briey, the incorporation of Luxembourg, and its aims in Central Africa.
The Habsburg delegation finds these demands difficult to swallow, but accepts them without protest. Given the disastrous condition of the Austrian army, which in Berlin is viewed with contempt, Vienna has no other choice.
With this new shift in its war aims, the German empire’s military and political leadership is returning once again to the conceptions of former Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg’s September Program adopted at the beginning of the war: no end to the war except by a peace dictated by Germany as a victorious power; expansion and consolidation of a central European economic association under German leadership; and integration of Romania as a military and economic bridge to the Near East, so that German imperialism can confront its British rival in the region.
These policies have no connection to reality or the actual relation of military forces in the world war. Just over six months since the entry of the United States into the war, it is now completely out of the question that the Axis Powers will ever be able to dictate peace to the superior forces of the Entente Powers, which is the precondition for the realization of any of these deranged war aims.
But the news of the weakening of their opponent on the eastern front due to the revolutionary sentiments gripping the Russian army, and limited victories such as at the Battle of Karfreit (known as Caporetto in Italy), create a euphoric atmosphere among the military high command, Kaiser and court camarilla. They are emboldened to adopt an even more aggressive and ruthless approach to their external opponents and domestically against opposition from soldiers and the population.
Also this year: Futurism in Italy
During the war, many artists turned away from their initial enthusiasm for the war and toward a pacifist position. Not so the Italian Futurists. They praised the war even before it had begun: “We want to glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive acts of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas for which men die, and the contempt of women” (Futurist Manifesto, Thesis 9).
In 1909, the Futurist Manifesto written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), appeared on the front page of the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro. Its third thesis read: “We will celebrate the aggressive action, the feverish insomnia, the runner’s pace, the salto mortale [deadly jump], the slap in the face and the punch.”
During this time, Marinetti, the son of an Italian millionaire, could be found in the literary circles of the French capital with poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Joris Karl Huysmans and Stéphane Mallarmé. The rapid technological development prior to the war and the rejection of the official academic art establishment generated among many painters, sculptors, poets and musicians the desire to bring together art and life in new ways. They searched for new methods and forms of expression. Many were influenced by anarchism as well as the philosophy of George Sorel and Friedrich Nietzsche.
With their manifestos and the works of art that follow, the Futurists sought to break taboos, radically settle scores with the past and make anti-bourgeois gestures. But even when they spoke of revolution, it lacked any connection with social reality, to the contradictions of capitalist society and the class struggle.
Any reference to history was also emphatically rejected. Thus, the manifesto demanded in point 10: “We will destroy the museums, the libraries and academies of every kind and fight moralism, feminism and every cowardice based on expediency and selfishness.” They considered Italy to be a “market of junk dealers” with its museums nothing more than cemeteries, dormitories or “slaughterhouses of painters and sculptors … for the dying, for the sick, for the prisoners, this might do—the admirable past is perhaps a balm for their suffering since the future is closed to them … But we want nothing to do with the past, we young and strong Futurists! Set fire to the library shelves! …Redirect the canals to flood the museums!”
The Futurists see the war not as a catastrophe but as an aesthetic phenomenon, as a sensual excitation that should improve one’s awareness of life. In 1914, they pushed vehemently for the entrance of the initially neutral Italy into the war. In the manifesto Futurist Synthesis of the War, they expressed their support for Italy’s intervention. Many of the Futurists volunteered for military service and fought in the Battles of the Isonzo against Austria in which heavy losses were suffered. A total of 13 Futurists lost their lives, including the architect Sant’Elia and the painter and sculptor Umberto Boccioni. Forty-one others were wounded, including Marinetti, Luigi Russolo and Carlo Carrà.
In 1914, Marinetti became a personal acquaintance of ex-socialist and war supporter Benito Mussolini. He joined Mussolini’s fascist organization, Fasci of Revolutionary Action, and organized meetings at which Mussolini speaks. In 1918, Marinetti will found his own Futurist Political Party which later merges by and large with the fascists.
Marinetti later claims, not entirely without justification, that Futurism is the spiritual precursor of fascism and through it at least a “futurist minimal program” is guaranteed. In 1924, he publishes the anthology Futurism and Fascism, which he dedicates to “my dear and great friend Benito Mussolini.”
With this he confirms Trotsky’s assessment that Futurism is “an eddy of bourgeois art” and that “[f]or its war, the bourgeoisie used extensively the feelings and moods which were destined by their nature to feed rebellion … It is not an accident, it is not a misunderstanding, that Italian Futurism has merged into the torrent of Fascism” (Literature and Revolution).